The Good Fight: My Battle with Pancreatic Cancer

A blog by Carrie Ng Grace for Pancreatic Cancer Canada

Lindsay first came to us in August 2010. By then, she was a veteran at living with this terrible disease. She was diagnosed at the age of 20, five years before. The disease had already spread to her liver and she wasn’t expected to live more than 12 months. But Lindsay defied the odds. Her cancer was stabilized after a clinical trial, she had surgery and went into remission, writing “I got my life back. It was incredible! I did everything I could, lived every moment to the fullest, took nothing for granted.”

By the time we met her, the cancer had returned, but she was still determined to live life with gusto and to give back. “Currently, I am still undergoing treatment, but I’ve also made it to my third year of law school, and I refuse to let the disease get me down,” she told us. “I’m interested in doing some advocacy work for Pancreatic Cancer Canada, because I know how underfunded research for this disease is, and how invisible it is in the public eye relative to other cancers.” 

Lindsay decided to write under a pseudonym because she worried that being honest about her condition would make it impossible for her to get work. We agreed. And so, Carrie Ng Grace was born. She chose that name because: ” ‘Carrie’ pays homage to Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City who was one of my favourite tv characters and I see a lot of myself in her  (she’s a writer, a romantic, she loves fashion/has great style, she’s a small built girl and very passionate about life).”Ng” sounds Chinese; “Grace” is what I try to exemplify in the face of adversity and every day life (except maybe when I’m eating!! haha) and strung altogether, it sounds like “Carrying Grace.”

She had the courage to write a searingly honest blog about her experiences as probably the youngest person ever diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in this country. Lindsay hoped that her blog would continue to inspire others to FIGHT the GOOD FIGHT. 

Lindsay passed away on November 4, 2011, at age 26, after battling with the disease for over five years. Lindsay left behind memories of a beautiful young woman with a wide smile and infectious laugh, she also left behind the virtues of what it means to fight a good fight. Although she is no longer physically with us, she won her battle with pancreatic cancer in the sense that she now has an army of people continuing her fight.

We are honoured to share with you Lindsay’s, a.k.a. Carrie Ng Grace, incredible journey and inspirational blog.

Happy Times

October 22, 2011

Unfortunately, it appears that things have taken a turn for the worst right now with my health. I planned to finish my last semester of law school in December, but things spiralled out of control very suddenly and I had to rush home to be taken care of by my family. I am too weak to tolerate any more chemo treatments and have basically been told I’m on my deathbed. But I still say fuck that – nobody is going to tell me when to die. This is just a rough patch along the way. This is why there have been no blog posts since September. I refuse to give up.

At this point, I have set aside pursuing my law degree because I believe in the grand scheme of things – it never really meant as much as the experience along the way and all it taught me about myself as a person. Tons of people are lawyers – some of them special, some of them not. I do not define myself by my career path alone – I am so much more as a human being ,and was meant to be so much more than this (yes I have a big ego).

Through my journey, there is so much to be thankful for – but it is mostly the people who have constantly been supporting me and cheering me on, sending me positive energy. First: my amazing family – my mom, older brother, aunts, cousins, family friends, friends from childhood, high school, university, law school, access and equity manager at law school, teachers, and professors, employers, Canadian Cancer Society volunteers, nurses etc. They have constantly given me hope and never faltered in their faith for me.

Also, my amazing team of chemo doctors and my palliative care doctor have been in my corner all along with world class healthcare for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. I could not have asked for anything more.

The ladies at the Pancreatic Cancer Canada Foundation have supported me personally through this experience.

My naturopath has been amazing and treated me with alternative therapies, including dealing with spiritual, mental, and emotional issues, and changing my lifestyle and diet.

Even new friends have become close friends right away.

I have taken trips this summer to Vegas and Montreal with close girlfriends, as well as completed an internship for my law degree with the Children’s Aid Society in Child Protection, which was an amazing practical experience for me. I learned so much just observing court proceedings in a single day than I would probably than in an entire month in law school. It really opened up my eyes to realize how fortunate I’ve been and taken for granted that I come from an amazing family/support system and there is an entire world out there I could have never imagined where children and families go through intense and complicated struggles.

I have led a charmed life. I really have. I’ve been spoiled and surrounded by love and happiness. But I do not take anything for granted.

I hope that by writing this, I can help others going through similar journeys in some small way.

Living Between Two Worlds

September 19, 2011

For nearly 8 years now I’ve lived between two worlds. I’ve gone to school in one city for 8 months and then spend my summers at home. Since I started law school I’ve also tended to travel home more to visit for doctor’s appointments and scans due to the nature of my cancer progressing.

Although I should be used to it by now, it still catches me off guard every time I make a move from one place to the other. The last month I was home (August), I couldn’t wait to get back to school. I was actually excited to head back and I was counting the days down till I could move away from home and be on my own again. I looked forward to freedom, independence, and the chance to finish off my degree. As much as I loved being at home, I had been there since April and I felt ready to be on my own again. Things were going relatively well with my treatments with the only real problematic side effects being my low hemoglobin (red blood cell) counts – which make me very tired and weak and make my skin extra-sensitive/dry. But compared to where I was at last winter when I was missing half of my classes, I am doing so much better now. I was excited to return to school and to see my friends in this city again.

But now that I’m back, I am reminded of all the things I hate about this city and I miss home. First, going to school with Type-A, narcissistic, socially-incompetent law students is exhausting. Sitting in a classroom with them for 15 minutes makes me want to shoot myself in the face. Their pretentious comments, stupid questions, and fake laughter are just too much to handle.

Also, living on a major street close to campus means that undergrad students are seething everywhere like cockroaches being loud and obnoxious/partying both in my building and on the street. I picked up some earplugs today.

The food here is soooooo expensive and there is very little selection/variety (I could not even find a cantaloupe to buy and I live within 5 minutes of TWO major grocery stores; plus the fresh fruit market that I was SO looking forward to taking advantage of this year, closed down) – also because those cockroach undergrads buy everything up and take up the aisles of the grocery store with their huge carts, telling their boy story drama to their friends, while coughing into their hands instead of their elbows with the nasty cold/flu going around this city. DISGUSTING.

Speaking of disgusting, everybody in this city smokes. So as I’m walking down the street, I’m constantly getting cigarette smoke blown in my face. This is great for my cancer probably. It doesn’t make sense for me to speed up and pass them because the next person in front of them is smoking too. Maybe I should also invest in a mask/air filter.

And by far the thing that irritates me most is that people here don’t know how to walk or get out of the way. There is absolutely no common courteousy. People don’t hold doors for each other. Walk on the right and pass on the left? — Totally foreign concept in this land. People will walk in rows of 3 or 4 towards you and don’t have the sense to get out of the way or step aside into a line so you can squeeze by. Instead you are expected to walk around them. Last year I ran through a few people when I just got fed up with it. One girl I ran through dropped her coffee and looked at me in awe. Idiot. Maybe I will start doing that again.

So why did I fight so hard to get back here again? I came here for the program/ curriculum that the law school in this city offers. Not that many law schools in Ontario place as large an emphasis on social justice as mine. And we have some amazing professors on our faculty. I like the academic program and the class material/content and opportunities they offer for internships and practical placements like working at different legal clinics.

Also, my school has been amazing in terms of accommodating my health situation. There is an Access and Equity manager who has been following me all along and knows about my diagnosis of cancer and all the treatments that I’ve been going through. Support services and accommodations have been made for me as a result like I can get notes from a note-taker for classes I miss due to appointments or if I’m feeling unwell. I’ve also had exams deferred or moved around depending on when I have my chemo treatments. Most schools (esp. law schools), would not go to such great lengths to accommodate their students. It is because of these supports that I’ve been able to continue to pursue my law degree through all of my treatments. So I’m very thankful for that.

Other things that I do like about being back here: I’m forced to walk a lot more instead of drive since I don’t have a car. This means more exercise for me, which is probably what I need at this point. I used to run a lot but right now with my low hemoglobin I don’t think I’d be able to because my counts are so low – I get tired and short of breath really easily – even just walking. So walking is a good place to start. And there’s also a yoga studio here I’ve been going to for years and I’m back doing that again, which really calms and grounds me.

Also, I’ve made some really great friends here that I’m really glad to be close to again. I missed seeing them when I was home so it’s kinda cool that we’re back in the same city now and we can hang out. I’m thankful for this time I have with them because I know it will be short-lived since I’m only here until December.

I’m headed home next weekend for a CT scan to check on the progress of the treatments. It will only be for a few days but I am really looking forward to it already. It will be nice to see my family, to have dinner with other people around, to be able to sleep in my own bed… it will be short and sweet. But I’ll be back again in two weeks for Thanksgiving as well. So there will be some reprieve from this awful city lacking in life, vigour, culture, style, and basic civilization.

It’s really not so bad and I shouldn’t be complaining especially because this is what I wanted so badly all along. And I do still want it. I just forgot how much this city sucks.

Time to Change the Way We Live!

September 15, 2011

A few months back, I wrote a post entitled “We Must Change” (originally posted May 10, 2011) about the importance of changing our lifestyles and the way we run this world … Since it got lost in the website redux, I will re-post this post. I am raising the issue again because a “legitimate research” study (meaning someone who actually invested money into asserting a worldview), was done supporting my arguments. Please see below for my


We Must Change – May 10, 2011
A couple weeks ago as I sat in chemo with a fever and chills running down my spine, I came to an epiphany. I was struck by the sight of rows and rows of people of all different walks and stages of their lives, in chairs or on beds, hooked up to dripping IV bags. Machines ding-ed, nurses scrambled about, doctors popped in occasionally, as friends and family members sat attentively by their loved ones sides. People still smiled and cracked jokes. I could tell they were still human. But my realization was tragic.

This is not life. It can’t be. This is not how things should be. How did we get to this treacherous place?

The scene felt worse to me than any novel or film dystopia I had ever experienced. That’s because this was reality. Not some imaginary nightmare or story. This is ACTUALLY the world we live in.

So many people are affected by illness, and particularly cancer these days. If not ourselves, it is a family member, friend, colleague… and we only hear about it more and more. Cancer does not discriminate based on age, colour, gender, class, sexual orientation; it can happen to anyone. And if we do not change the way we live, I suspect one day that it is going to happen to all of us.

I’m sure there is obviously a complex interplay of factors, which brought humanity to our current unhealthy state. The way our food is produced, the radiation we are exposed to through different technologies, the pollution we have created, the culture of insatiable consumption we live within, unresolved emotional/mental/spiritual conflicts we refuse to face, etc. We cannot continue to sustain ourselves this way. And even if we could, it is sad that our lives would merely consist of “sustenance” rather than actually living and enjoying life to the fullest.

For patients like myself, chemotherapy is my best option for “survival”. But even chemo we know is a temporary solution to a much bigger problem for which there is no cure at the present time. Throughout my experience with this disease, I have always tried to treat my cancer as a chronic condition rather than a terminal one because I have always had hope that a cure would be discovered eventually or I’d be able to heal myself.

But treating cancer as a chronic illness should not be our standard. Enduring chemotherapy regimens for the rest of our lives is not the answer. Eliminating cancer’s potential to develop altogether in our systems should be the real goal. But this can only happen if we as a society change. This means changing our lifestyles (what we eat, where we buy our food, what kind of food we consume, how we prepare it), our mentality towards environmental sustainability (making different choices/taking different approaches to industrialization, urban sprawl, transportation systems) and our culture of overzealous consumption (taking only what we need and sharing more with others). All easier said than done I’m sure.

But if we don’t change, nothing will, and the suffering continues. Will you be ok with that?

THE STUDY ARTICLE:–healthier-living-could-cut-2-8-million-cancer-cases-a-year?bn=1

Sending out Prayers and Positive Energy to Mr. Park!

September 4, 2011

This morning in the Toronto Star, I came across an article entitled “Son seeks worldwide prayers for cancer-stricken dad”. Mr. Kunsil Park immigrated to Canada many years ago and raised his family here. In 2009 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent treatment to overcome the disease but was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer as well. His son, Daniel Park, has created a youtube video in an effort to reach out to people all over the world to ask for their prayers and positive energy to heal his father. They are asking for a collective prayer effort on September 9, 2011. You can read the article and watch the video here:–son-seeks-worldwide-prayers-for-cancer-stricken-dad?bn=1

Together let’s build a community of hope and healing! We can help Mr. Park by sending out our positive energy!!

The Return to School

August 30, 2011

This summer has been incredible. After the rough transition through spring in April-May when I rushed home from school and dropped everything, I have had the best summer probably since childhood when I used to hang out with my grampa everyday – going shopping, lunches at Swiss Chalet (with shirley temples, ice cream, and coffee), watching TV, and spending time with friends in the neighbourhood playing outside.

Don’t get my wrong – the start to summer was uncertain and probably one of the scariest/darkest times of my life. I thought I was dying. But with the support of my family, friends, doctors, and a naturopath, I turned my life around and started to get better. For the rest of the summer, I pretty much took it easy – with the exception of the few weeks I studied for my exams and put in my articling applications in July. And I just finished my internship last week but it was quite laid back since I could spread out my hours the way I wanted to and according to my chemo schedule. Having completed the internship also means that I’ll only have half a year left to go to finish school!

I’m looking forward to being on my own again – to having my own apartment, being close to many of my friends in a different city – to the student life! I know I am blessed to be able to enjoy this time for just a little while longer since most of my peers/friends have started their articling jobs in these past couple of months but tell me they wish they were going back to school in September! I know it is just a transition period for them; it sort of indicates the official introduction to their adult life where they become completely responsible for themselves. The upside is is that they’ll finally start making some money, even if most of that money is going to be paying off student debt or parents who have helped along the way. At least they are starting their “real” lives!!

I have been going to school for a long time now. And although I will be glad to finish, I am really going to cherish this final leg of law school. I have fought so hard to be here and to be able to go back. I took the time away that I needed. Also, since the side effects from this chemo treatment are much more tolerable and I will have my weekends to enjoy rther than having to re-coup or trying to catch up/stay on top of school. My mom won’t have to travel back and forth every second week to take care of me. That will free up her time and cause less stress for her as well, so she can take better care of herself and the rest of our family.

I’m looking forward to getting back into shape – walking longer distances, perhaps even getting up to running again, and definitely yoga. There’s also a pool/gym around the corner, 2 blocks from my apartment that I plan to use for swimming. Right now I feel pretty weak – especially b/c the chemo suppresses my red blood cell counts, so I’ll have to work on getting my strength up and eating properly. It also helps that I live directly across the street from the grocery store and I’m excited to continue on experimenting with my food adventures. Since my naturopath has told me to avoid wheat, dairy, sugar, soy, corn, and non-organic meats, I have been experimenting with new recipes this summer and discovering a whole new world of food and different way to eat.

I’m also thankful to have my appetite back. For a long while through winter/spring I did not want to eat because the nausea and chemo drugs made all of my food taste different (like metal – especially chicken and other meats), so I didn’t want to eat. That was such a terrible time, since food is one of my favourite things in life.

I also live quite close to a number of fresh food markets, so I will be spoiled as I can walk to them to get fresh produce and other interesting food items. I look forward to having dinner parties for my friends as I did in the past.

I will miss all of my friends who have graduated. A number of them will still be around because they’re articling in the same city but it will be different not seeing them at school. I know a few people in the year behind me (the class that I’ll be in this year) but not nearly as many as close/comfortably as the class that I entered with. I suppose this is just an opportunity to make new/more friends.

I know the time is going to fly by quickly because of the sheer workload of law school – most days are spent with hours and hours of reading, plus sitting in class. I have to tread carefully and remember not to push myself too far/hard, which I believe is what brought me to my ill health last year in the first place.

The biggest challenge for me will be to maintain a balance between pursuing my goal of completing law school and taking care of myself/enjoying my life. I will have to be very conscious of this but I’m confident that given my experience last year and the time that I’ve had to reflect upon everything in my life this summer, that I will be able to handle this challenge.

In the weeks leading up to the return to school, I finished up my internship, attended doctor’s appointments, had to go to chemo, and now started packing up this week. Last weekend I got to spend some quality time with friends and family. I went to the Ex on Saturday in Toronto and tried all kinds of deep fried delicious food, including a deep fried Mars bar!! On Sunday, we had a BBQ at my cousin’s house in Niagara Falls. I’m so sad that summer is ending but I’m also equally excited to begin school again. I’m having bouts of insomnia I’m so excited! I’ll be heading back this Friday – it will be here before I know it!! But first I’m going to enjoy the rest of my summer and ride out these next two days to the fullest!!

Orange Crush: Reflections on Jack Layton’s Passing

August 24, 2011

The passing of Jack Layton came as a shock to me earlier this week. It was one of those moments where I will always remember where I was and exactly what I was doing when I received the news (like when Lady Di passed away, or when the twin towers fell on September 11). This time I was watching a trial in North York and at the break, I heard from one of the lawyers who had been talking on the phone with his colleague. He announced it to the rest of the courtroom as he hung up.

We heard earlier this summer that Jack decided to take some time away from politics to look after his health. Shots of him in the media revealed his extremely physically fragile and gaunt state. This should have been an indication of what was to come but Layton remained so positive and certain that he would return to parliament in the fall to “fight for Canadian families” that his spirit and confidence made us all believe him. That is why despite all this foreshadowing, the news still came as a shock to Canadians. Just like Layton and his family, we were not prepared or willing to accept his death and the end of his battle with cancer.

To be completely honest, Jack Layton has never been my favourite politician. I found that he came across like a used-car salesman in electoral debates. But I was and am in agreement with many of the NDP’s values such as social justice/equality/welfare for minorities, women, the LGBQT community, the poor; and protection of the environment/more sustainable living, and promotion of civic engagement amongst young people. And since he was leader of the party that championed such values, I respected him as a human being. I will also always remember the moment in the last national leaders debate when he threw in the term “hashtag fail”. It was a clear indicator that Jack was in tune with young, socially-connected, every day Canadians. It made him seem more human and affable than Harper and Ignatieff who appeared stiff, rigid, and simply repeating pre-written campaign lines.

Furthermore, the huge feat the party achieved in winning the official opposition in parliament for the first time in Canadian history can very much be attributed to Layton’s leadership, and specifically his strategy to reach out to constituencies in Quebec. Arguably, this marked the peak of his career – and he was only on his way up.

That is why his death is so dually tragic and celebratory. It is tragic because this country has lost a great leader on the brink of enabling change. At the same time, it is an inspirational story for Layton and his family that he could achieve such an amazing feat in his lifetime. In his letter to Canadians, he writes, “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” Obviously he has chosen to leave a legacy of optimism and power, asking us as Canadians not to view these circumstances as a tragedy. This is truly inspirational.

Many Canadians (especially young Canadians) are worried about our futures now that the opposition’s leader is gone. Although there will be an interim leader and search for a new permanent one, they will have big shoes to fill and inevitably be constantly compared to Jack. The party has a lot to figure out with some very young MPs who unexpectedly won their ridings (especially in Quebec).

But perhaps the death of Jack Layton will be a blessing in disguise. Canadians all over are mourning the loss of a leader that championed socially-conscious values. Perhaps with his passing, these values will be amplified and rise to the forefront of public debate in parliament. Maybe this is naïve of me to think/hope for/believe in but given the public reaction I’ve witnessed in Toronto and Ottawa in the past couple of days, it doesn’t seem impossible and at least it will get people thinking and talking about what he stood for. Layton’s unwavering belief manifested itself in his battle with cancer, in his commitment to his party, in his values, in Canadians, and in the basic decency of human beings. We can all learn from this.

Another aspect of his humility that strikes/moves me was the reasons for his decision not to share what his second type of cancer was. It was revealed that he consciously made the decision not to publicly release what the latest cancer was because should he die, he did not want other families and patients facing the same disease to feel discouraged or hopeless in their own fight. This is truly compassionate, profound, and insightful. I think something that only families and patients facing cancer could really understand and appreciate. Again, Layton was leaving a legacy of hope and optimism for Canadians, rather than despair and fear for the future. How powerful and forward thinking.

As someone dealing with a type of cancer that has been deemed “terminal” (a term which I continue to reject), I take great refuge in his final words. They give me hope and serve as a reminder that everyone’s situation is individual/unique and that just because something happens to one patient, doesn’t mean that the outcome must be the same for everyone else. I’ve talked about this before with respect to my father and aunt who were animate believers to the end that they would survive their diseases, and finally accepted that my situation can be different.

So thank you Jack Layton for your humility, for your wisdom, for your hope, and for your big heart. I, along with many other Canadians, will work hard to keep your legacy alive. This I promise.

Another Rant: Don’t Make my Cancer About You

August 22, 2011

Recently, a close family friend went a way to a cottage with our other family friend in common. Apparently my friend with the cottage had wanted to invite me too but was afraid to ask because she assumed I would be feeling too unwell from the treatments to endure the three hour drive to the cottage. In the end, my family and I didn’t get an invite, I didn’t get to enjoy the beauty and relaxation of the great outdoors, and we missed out on spending precious time with loved ones. All because my friend was afraid to step on my toes or make me feel bad. I would have loved to have gone to the cottage and I was well enough to endure a 9-hour drive to Michigan last weekend for a cousin’s wedding. So her assumption without asking was just silly.

But actually it really bothers me when people make my disease about their own insecurities/worries. I had a similar encounter with an aunt a few years ago at a Christmas party. She approached me to apologize for not contacting me or my family after my diagnosis, explaining that she did not know how to react or what to say to us.

The truth is that we don’t expect anything from anyone more than just to know that you are there, present, and thinking of us going through this journey. Of course I expect my mother to take care of me, for my brother to provide support to both of us, and for our immediate family to help us with little things like drives to appointments, or running errands to the grocery store. But beyond that, we don’t expect anything specific in terms of obligations from anyone else. It’d just be nice to have the acknowledgement that hey, I know this situation might be terrible, but we are cheering for you.

The worst thing to find is silence. I’d rather be offended by intrusive questions or potentially offensive comments when I know that they are coming from a place of genuine intention and love. Otherwise, I just feel neglected and alienated. And I feel disappointment that you could be selfish enough to put your own comforts ahead of mine so that you would not have to feel bad about yourself.

When people get sick, do not allow yourself to make the situation about you. Cancer is something that I have to deal with. I need all the love and support that I can get. If that is expressed in the form of repetitive questions, awkward comments, and jumbled words/sentences, I’ll accept them with open arms. Because at least it means that you care enough about me to reach out, to go beyond your own fear of feeling bad about yourself for potentially offending me. You do not have to treat me like I am going to break at anything you say/do.

I realize that there is no handbook for dealing with cancer. Everyone deals with it differently – from patients to their families, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and communities. I’m not trying to fault anyone for anything that’s transpired. I’m sure culture also influences a lot of how people deal with the circumstances. I’m just saying from my personal experience, I’d rather have those who are close to me ask me about it directly rather than being silent altogether or asking/talking to everyone else but me about it. Real friends should be able to communicate openly – no matter how difficult, or awkward the conversation may be. We should never give cancer the power to silence us or hamper our relationships. That would be a real shame.

Learning How to Fail with Grace

August 19, 2011

So after the 18 articling applications I threw together in a panic in the midst of studying for my exams back in July, I only landed one interview. It was kind of a blow to my ego – I had a chart all drawn out to schedule interviews over three days, but didn’t have anything to write in it. Ouch. BUT at least I got ONE (so I was not totally crushed), and more importantly, it was for one of my very top choices: the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Crown Law Office Criminal Division (CLOC). It was actually my second choice after the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Office of the Children’s Lawyer, but in hindsight, CLOC would have been an even better opportunity than working at the OCL because I’d get a much broader-based experience. In short, even though I only got one interview, it was one that I was very happy about and confident that would actually lead to an articling position for me.

Academically, criminal and constitutional law have been my favourite subjects. However, they are also areas in which I don’t have much practical experience yet. I was hoping that I could get that through this articling position since the CLOC deals with the majority of criminal prosecutions at the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. Because this Crown office only works on appeal cases, it means I would be dealing with/analyzing contentious legal issues, questions of law, and Charter issues, rather than trying to prove facts. To me appeal work seemed like it would be much more interesting, rewarding, and better matched to my personality and skill sets. This would have been my articling dream job.

For legal positions with the government, the interviews are essentially oral exams. They rank you based on a scoring system. An interviewing committee has a list of questions and if you answer correctly according to their checklist, you get the points. This is supposed to ensure that hiring is done through a merit-based process, rather than through nepotism. I suppose that this is fair and it good practice, but it is also kind of a myth because there is still some subjectivity involved. Not every candidate gets asked the exact same questions (there is a bank to choose from), and in this office, there were 2 different committees – one interviewed one half of the candidates and one interviewed the other. I also heard through the grapevine that in this office, one of the hiring committees tended to ask much tougher questions than the other one. Whether or not that is true I can’t confirm, and it would probably just be my own subjective assessment anyway. In the end, what I can tell you is that the interview was really hard. I didn’t expect it to be how it was even though I had anticipated a lot.

I had prepared quite extensively. I reviewed my criminal law and evidence notes from school. I read through a bunch of Supreme Court cases and gave some thought to how I felt about each one of them and why. I consulted with my friend’s father who is a Crown Attorney. I even took out books from the library on extraordinary criminal appeal routes. But in the end, it was a matter of applying myself. I had all the information there – but it was a question of whether I could use it effectively. This is where I fell short. I made one little stupid mistake, but for the last question, I was a little bit lost for what exactly they were asking me altogether (I was given a hypothetical fact pattern but I had a hard time narrowing in on the question/issue).

I had walked into the interview feeling very confident and not the least bit nervous. I knew I had prepared myself well and studied hard. And while I knew the process was going to be competitive, I really believed in myself this time. So what if the other candidates were crazy over achieving, straight A students, and the kids of judges? I went to McGill – the best university in Canada, and probably one of the best in the world. I have stared death in the face before and said FUCK YOU when I was told that I wouldn’t have time to finish my undergraduate degree. I have fought tooth and nail to be in law school through on-going chemo (and other) treatments fighting one of the deadliest cancers. I could compete with these people. Plus my naturopath constantly stresses the importance of positive thinking, belief, and visualization in order to make things happen/turn to reality. So I really really believed that I was going to get this. I believed it until the very end (of the interview).

I walked out of the interview feeling deflated. I knew I had screwed up in a few places. But at that time I wasn’t sure how bad I had screwed up. And it would be hard to gauge as well since I couldn’t listen in on/observe any of the other interviews. I still held out some hope though that maybe some of the other candidates did worse than me and by some stroke of God’s grace, I’d still get the position. But 5 o’clock rolled around on call day (the day when the employer offers you the position if you’ve gotten it), and my phone remained silent. 5:15… 5:30… 5:45…

ball starts to rise in my throat …

burning ears …

tightness in chest,

and tears, tears, tears come streaming down my face.

I throw a few things around in my room. How is this happening?? How did I not get it?? I curse at God. Everything that my naturopath told me was a croc of shit. I believed right down to my inner core that I was going to get this. I had visualized myself in the role over and over again just like she told me. So how come I still failed?

For the rest of the night I was miserable. And for the next few days I kept obsessing about it. I re-played the interview over and over again in my mind, thinking about all the things I should have said instead. I couldn’t let it go. I hate losing/failing. I remember in middle and high school I used to cry when we lost our basketball games. People might think that it’s just a game – but it’s not… not when you’ve invested your time, hard work, commitment, and heart into it. If you give all that and still don’t win – it is absolutely devastating.

I know I will have opportunities to do other things. I am not panicking at this point for not having secured an articling position a year in advance of when I need to start. That is not the issue. The issue is that this was my dream job, that it was totally within my grasp, and I let it get away. I only have myself to blame for this. I know with time that things will get better, I’ll have a bit more perspective, and that this will have been a learning experience for me. But right now it is still raw, I am still bitter, and I still have the taste of failure in my mouth. It sucks.

The Great Hair Dilemma

July 27, 2011

Although I still have enough of my own hair that I didn‘t have to shave it, I started wearing a wig a few months ago because my face started to bloat with the steroids and I felt that my pixie cut made me look chubby. So, I bought a few different wigs – cheap ones for fun, and one was given to me by a good friend. For the first time, I felt comfortable wearing them. Years ago when I first lost my hair and tried to wear wigs, I never ended up wearing them – mostly because of a skin condition from one of the drugs that already made me feel/look so unlike myself, and secondly because they weren‘t very suitable wigs for me in the first place. But I‘ve finally found a wig I feel comfortable in now, that I wear almost every day as if it‘s my own hair.

It is big, auburn, and curly – very different from my own hair. As a chinese girl with thin, dead straight hair, the only other time I had curly hair was in high school when I got a perm, but it was no where near as voluminous and the colour was still my own (dark brown/black). I bought this wig from a shop that caters to black women. But as soon as I tried it on, I loved it and felt that it suited me well. The sales lady was also convinced I could rock it. She had given me other similar ones to try on and did not like them, but as soon as we both saw this one, we were in love.

The other great thing about it is because it looks so real. Most times I don‘t even feel like I am wearing a wig and I am never self-conscious of it. People constantly approach me to comment on my hair and tell me how much they love it or how beautiful it is. But now I have quite the dilemma. Women tell me my hair looks amazing and then ask me where I get my hair done and all kinds of questions about details of how to get my hair the way it is. So far I‘ve been quietly whispering to them that it‘s actually just a wig, and then they are blown away. Most of them say, ―Good for you!! – It probably makes it easier to take care of‖… but then one lady last weekend told me I shouldn‘t tell people that it‘s a wig if they are convinced it‘s real anyway.

At my internship this week, the dilemma arose again! Some of the other female lawyers in the office were
sitting around chatting and as I walked by, they asked me where I got my hair done. Keeping in mind what that other lady had said to me about lying, I just said, ―Oh this Chinese place close to where I live…it‘s probably too far for you to get to from downtown in the city.‖ But then they kept pressing. ―Oh, what‘s it called?‖ So I said I wasn‘t sure of the English name. Then they asked me if I knew about this other place – which I had never heard of – and then I ran away, saying I‘d be back because I had to run down the hall to attend to another lawyer. Of course I never went back to the conversation. I hope they didn‘t think I was rude and they thought I was just too busy to engage in office chatter.

So here‘s the dilemma: if I tell people it‘s a wig, other questions will arise – like why are you wearing a wig? Do you have cancer? (even if people don‘t have the gall – and I hope they don‘t – to ask me these questions directly, they are going to think them in their head/minds. In a work environment, I want to maintain my privacy over issues like this). BUT, if I make up something about where I get my hair done, I am lying – which I am sooooo not good at. Especially making up lies on the spot… and when people start asking about details.

So WHAT TO DO????????????? ADVICE?? Please!!

A Weekend in Vegas, 3 Years in the Making…

July 24, 2011

So how did it feel to go from writing exams, submitting articling applications, and getting a blood transfusion to partying in Vegas?? AMAAAAAAAAAAAAZING!!!!

I‘d been to Vegas before a few years ago but the first time was with my mother and brother – so a much
different experience. We spent a lot of time checking out what the different hotels had to offer (and there
was a lot!!), eating, shopping, and watching shows (my first Cirque show was the Beatles one). Although it was fun, it was bitter sweet because I had trouble managing the side effects from chemo that time – mostly fatigue and nauseousness. I remember coming back and being sick for weeks feeling nauseous because I think the heat was too much for my body to handle at that time (we went in August). I feared this might happen again on this trip since I was having trouble with my energy levels lately due to low hemoglobin counts. But my doctor and I decided to skip chemo the week of the trip and do a blood transfusion instead in hopes that it could prop me up and give me some more energy. Seemed to have worked!!

This time I went with my girlfriends – so it was about partying, freedom, and wildin‘ out in every way
imaginable!! … the things that frustratingly sometimes in my 20-something-year-old life, I rarely get to do. For years, I have watched my friends travel to Cuba, the Dominican, etc. to party and hang out by the beach but I was never able to go because I was too sick to be traveling to those sorts of places. With a weakened immune system, I couldn‘t risk food poisoning or ingesting dirty water. And I didn‘t just miss out on fun trips. For so many weekends I was too sick to even go out and party at school with my peers/friends. And when I was feeling ok, my hours were spent catching up with school work. In short, this weekend in Vegas was really a culmination of many years of waiting to just have a good time.

It made me a little bit sad to think that I‘ve waited for YEARS to have a weekend like this (and that it lasted only a weekend. This was due to a few factors – mostly because it would have been too expensive for me to spend any longer there and I don‘t have a source of income right now… but also because I planned to come back and start an internship to get course credit for school so I can finish sooner next year). Was it really worth it for me to pursue law school while I was so sick? Would I have been in better health if I had pursued a less stressful path? Would I have been happier?

One of my best friends always says he doesn‘t get why people would want to pursue law school or med
school since it takes up so many years of their youth when they should be having the most fun and then they go straight into their careers and won‘t have a life afterwards either because of their commitments to their clients and patients. Kinda like one of my girlfriends who told me if she found out she had terminal cancer that she would travel the world and thought I was crazy to continue with school (although she admired me for it). I take a different view because I think a balance can be struck… for the most part. I think people can work hard and enjoy their life too. It just makes it a lot harder when you‘re dealing with a life-threatening disease at the same time.

I guess ultimately the question I‘ve got to ask myself is – do I see a future for myself? Do I really believe that my disease is ―terminal‖ (but what does this phrase even mean since we all will die anyway and can‘t predict when or how)?? If I thought my disease was ―terminal‖, then I would probably drop everything, make a bucket list, and travel the world. But if I know in my heart that I won‘t let this disease defeat me, then I choose to carry on living as anyone else would pursue their dreams/careers.

I sometimes wish that I had the freedom to enjoy my life as my peers do. I am jealous of the fact that they
don‘t have to worry about going to bed early, what they eat/drink, having to spend so much time in hospitals and in doctors‘ offices, etc. But if I spent my time/energy being resentful and feeling sorry for myself, I‘d plunge into a deep oblivion of depression and get nothing done with my limited time here on earth.

I don‘t regret having chosen to pursue law school. It has not been easy but it has taught me a lot about
myself and given me a lot of opportunities that I otherwise probably would never have had. It has opened up my eyes and made me look at the world in an entirely different way. Although I struggled sometimes to enjoy the city I was in or tolerating the people in my program, I loved my classes and professors, and I managed to find an amazing group of friends eventually.

I think most importantly – I‘ve been able to find joy/happiness in other ways. I may not have been able to go out partying on the weekends like everyone else, but I had dim sum dates, shopping expeditions, high tea in a castle, and friends that came to visit. To me, these moments were just as valuable as the days I spent in Vegas lounging carefree by the pool, dining in chic restaurants, gambling at the casino, and partying in wild clubs.

Now, I just can‘t wait to finish school, so I can start making some $$$, and head back to Vegas before another 3 years passes me by!!

Another One Down!

July 13, 2011

I made it to the other side –I got through the week from hell!! YAAAAAAAAAAAY!! Thank God.

I wrote three exams last week, but actually what was stressing me out the most was prepping articling
applications. They all asked for different things (transcripts, letters of recommendation, course selection for next year, writing samples, etc.), so I had to carefully tailor each application and cover letter. Plus with the Canada Post strike going on, it was such a pain in the ass to get my hands on a lot of these documents.

I mostly applied to jobs with the provincial government but also to a few NGOs as well. I decided on the fly a couple of weeks ago that it was probably a good idea to submit them, even though I knew the process is going to be super competitive. I‘m still not certain what I want to do yet next year but I figured it‘s best to keep my options as wide as possible at this point. And at least getting some interview experience would be good for me (let‘s hope I get an interview at least…). I applied to about 20 different jobs… but I know people who applied to 40, and even a hundred!! I couldn‘t be bothered right now, lol.

For that week I didn‘t take care of myself as well – though I tried as best I could to take breaks when I needed to. But my eating habits fell by the wayside and I was just eating whatever was in the house/available instead of going grocery shopping to buy things that were good for me. I even ate ramen noodles on the day of my first exam!! Yikes!! I was also having fevers every morning again, which was a little bit worrisome, but they were controlled through Tylenol at least so it wasn‘t too bad.

I am just happy that all of that is done and I can finally breathe now. I had a relaxing weekend and enjoyed TWO Summerlicious dinners! I went with two of my girlfriends to Toula at the Westin Harbour Castle and with a couple of my friends from school and childhood to The King Street Social on King West. I was very impressed/satisfied with both. Two days of foodie indulgence: Chilean Seabass w/ Risotto… Home-made Mint Chocolate Chip Gelato… Tomato Salad Calamari… Boulabaise … Sorbet w/ Fresh Berries) and great company!! I also just spent a lot of time catching up on sleep.

I was scheduled for chemo yesterday but didn‘t end up getting treatment because my hemoglobin was still really low, and I‘m leaving for Vegas on Thursday. If I got treatment again without getting a blood transfusion to top me up, I‘d probably feel even more sick/tired this weekend, so we decided it best to skip and give my body some more rest. Even though technically last week was supposed to be my ―rest‖ week from chemo, I wasn‘t really resting, given the exams and articling drama. Instead now, I‘ll be getting a blood transfusion today to top me up so hopefully that will give me more energy for Vegas at least.

With Gemcitabine, the most prominent side effect is that it attacks your blood counts – all kinds: red, white, platelets… I‘m having the biggest problems with the red right now. This is because the drug interferes with your bone marrow‘s ability to reproduce red blood cells. I‘ve had 9 rounds of this treatment since April, plus that‘s all on top of the many years of other chemo I‘ve been subjected to, so my body can‘t handle as much as it used to. I have to tread carefully. I don‘t want it to come to the point where the chemo makes me sicker/weaker than I need to be to get benefit from it, especially if chemo is not a curative treatment.

I‘m hoping all goes smoothly with the transfusion today. I‘ll be laying up in the hospital basically all day again since it takes 2-3 hours to transfuse each unit and I‘ll probably get a couple. Plan to bring a couple movies to watch… and then Thursday, it‘s off to Vegas!!

Life Update!!

June 30, 2011

Don‘t worry, I haven‘t fallen off the face of the earth. The pace has just picked up in the past couple of weeks because I‘ve been studying for exams. I write next week on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday… also Articling applications for next year are also due next week so I‘ve been preparing for those. So much for a long weekend.

I can‘t really complain though honestly, because I still have been having fun along the way as well. Last
weekend I went to see the ballet for the first time in my life. Alice and Wonderland was playing at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, and it was absolutely incredible. The sets were elaborate, the
costumes so bright, and the choreography was beautiful. I also found it fascinating to people watch and
observe what audience members were wearing. Some people were dressed to the nines (and there were a
lot of young children at this show – they were so cute!!) and others strolled in casually cool with dark jeans. I will definitely be going back to the ballet again.

Between that and having lots of visitors from abroad this past week (my Godmother from Hong Kong, my
father‘s old friends, and my uncle and aunty from New Jersey), I‘ve been trying to balance the rest of my life. I had treatment on Tuesday, and a little bit of a scare because the nurse told me that since the previous week, my hemoglobin had dropped significantly. Combined with some other symptoms like acid reflux, swollen feet, cramps in my calves, and dark stool, there was a fear that maybe I was having some internal bleeding in my stomach. It could have been caused by the increased dose of chemo I‘ve been getting for the past couple of weeks and if it really was too low, I‘d have to get a blood transfusion. We‘re still waiting on results from samples that were taken, but I went back to the hospital the next day after chemo and my hemoglobin seemed to have risen by then already. So it seems like I‘m ok for now! Thank goodness.

And when this ―stressful‖ week is over with, I will have something to look forward to. I‘ve booked a trip to Vegas with two of my girlfriends to celebrate life!! I have been to Vegas once before with my mom and
brother, but this time it‘s going to be totally different. Plus both of my friends have never been so it will be even more exciting. I cannot wait!

But first things first… gotta knock down these exams and submit these applications.

Waiting to Exhale

June 19, 2011

My apologies for leaving you in suspense for the past week. My last entry anticipated the results of my CT
scan, and although I received some preliminary information last Tuesday when I went to the hospital for
chemo, the official results had not been reported by the radiologist at that time. I did not want to jump to
conclusions or share any ―news‖ until the results had been confirmed (there have been times in the past
where the information I got from doctors‘ unofficial assessments have differed from the final results). So this past week I‘ve been holding my breath to get the confirmation and details.

Also, there were some fears with the accuracy of this scan because for the first time, it was done without CT contrast dye. When I went in this time, the radiologist on duty refused to administer the dye because of my past allergic reactions to it (even with pre-medication I still react to the dye – getting hives on my face. With each time that I am injected, I increase my chances of having a serious anaphylactic reaction to it, so he didn‘t want to take the chance). But because the scan was done without the dye, the image would not be as clear and comparison with past scans could be compromised. For all of these reasons, I was apprehensive to fully accept and share any preliminary news I received until the radiologist‘s official report had come out.

Well, on Friday morning, I finally saw and read the final report with my own eyes and I can now share the
results with you. THE CANCER IS STABILIZING!!!! Some of the spots in my liver and my lungs are even shrinking!!!!

PRAISE GOD!! My liver is smaller than it was in April when it was inflamed, and fluid building up in my belly has reduced significantly. Lymph nodes look relatively stable/unchanged. There are a couple of spots in the liver that do look like they got a little bigger, but the radiologist is attributing this to perhaps the quality of the image from the scan being done without the dye, making it difficult to fully see/compare accurately. Overall though, the picture looks much better than it did 2 months ago. Furthermore, the fact that I‘m feeling 100x better than I was in April, assures me that IAM getting better, and that I have the power to win this fight.

My family and I are absolutely ecstatic! All our hard work, as well as the prayers, support, and love I‘ve
received from all of you out there has made all the difference. With this chemo (Gemcitabine + Tarceva), my doctors were hoping for stable disease since it had been able to keep things under control for me for a long time before when I was on it. But to have some of the spots shrink has me certain that there is something more here at play.

I truly believe my work with the naturopath – the changes to my diet/lifestyle, emotional/spiritual soul
searching, meditation/visualization, and BioEnergetic Intolerance Elimination (BIE) treatments with her, have made a huge impact. I have always believed in a mind-body connection where our mental/emotional states manifest themselves physically. I‘d been given books before about visualization and self-healing. I believed in them, but mostly on the basis of faith (part of me still had doubts because as I‘ve mentioned before, my dad had such a great attitude and always thought positively, and he still died of cancer). But I know now that things are not so simple/black and white. Everyone‘s journey is unique. Everyone‘s life is made to be different. I can‘t keep comparing myself to my dad and his situation. I am my own person, with my own life to live, my own fight to battle. My outcome doesn‘t have to be the same.

Over these past couple of months, I‘ve learned a lot more about the power of the mind to control the body and the scientific basis behind these processes, and decided to commit to taking control of my life and my body. One of the most important things I‘ve learned is that genes do not dictate your ultimate physical wellbeing/outcome. Genes are merely pre-dispositions. Other factors like the environment (i.e. air, water, food quality) and energies (emotional/mental states) are what awaken certain genetic predispositions, but if we can control those factors, we can keep our bad genes check (for more information, see Bruce Lipton – The Biology of Belief). This is so crucial to me, because I have a lot of bad genes. Not only did my father have cancer – on my mother‘s side of the family, every single one of her 4 siblings has had some form of cancer. In fact, one of my maternal aunts had pancreatic cancer – the very same kind as I do. So, to know that I have some sort of control over my genes and cell development, gives me great certainty that I will be able to get rid of this cancer, relying not only on chemo drugs but on the work of my own mind and will to get 100% better/cancer free.

Each morning I wake up and I‘m bursting at the seams with joy and peace. I have never felt his way before. I‘m attributing this part to the fact that I‘ve re-established my relationship to God. I have always believed in a higher power – that there was some sort of life force out there bigger than any of
us in control, but I have big qualms with organized religion. In high school I used to go to a Chinese Baptist Christian church (attending youth groups and Sunday services). I developed a lot of animosity and doubts towards my experiences there and perhaps used that as an excuse not to have a relationship with God. Even though I believed, I stopped praying and asking God for help. I thought I didn‘t need Him. I realize now though that I really do. Once I started praying again, I immediately found comfort – like a weight was lifting off my shoulders. Life is too big a burden to carry on our own. Since April, I‘ve attended a friend‘s nondenominational church a couple of times and I could feel a connection to God again through the music and the sermons. I don‘t believe that someone has to go to church all the time to have a relationship with God, but I do think it makes that connection more real. To me it has at least.

Another thing I‘ve learned is that although each and everyone is special and amazing, we are all just little
specks that are part of a much grander picture. We don‘t exist in isolation; we all have an important role to play and God is there to back us up. When I think about things this way, suddenly facing cancer and death doesn‘t seem so bad. I know now that whatever happens, I can find peace in God.

What more can I ask for beyond that?

Moment of Truth

June 9, 2011

After being home for the past 2 months and a bit, undergoing radiation, 6 cycles of chemotherapy
(Gemcitabine + Tarceva) and changing my diet & lifestyle with the help of a naturopath, tomorrow I will have my moment of truth. I have a CT scan, which will show what‘s been going on inside my body throughout this time.

I feel like I should be nervous about it – but honestly, I‘m not yet. In fact, I‘m more just dreading having to fast, drinking that Barium crap, and then having to feel drowsy from the pre-meds that I‘ll have to take because of my allergy to the the contrast dye. I know I‘ll feel crappy and tired after the scan, so tomorrow is pretty much a write off.

But back to the lack of nerves. Maybe it‘s just because I‘m having the scan done tomorrow and I won‘t get
the results until next week. I‘ll probably be more nervous as Tuesday (when I should get the results)
approaches. No point in worrying about something I won‘t have the answers to yet.
I can say that in the past week, I have been feeling much better than I was 2 months ago. My pain is under control, I have a lot more energy, I‘m not getting fevers and chills, and emotionally, mentally, spiritually, I feel a lot more positive. Also, it helps that this was my break week from chemo, so my body got a chance to rest.

I‘m over my latest cough/cold, which lasted for about 3 weeks. I started studying more seriously this week for my exams, which I‘ll be writing in about a month. The weather‘s been great so I‘ve tried to spend more of my time outside – going for walks (around the neighbourhood and in parks). I also spent some leisure time downtown with friends – lunching, shopping, patio-ing it up in the beautiful sun. So thankful that summer is finally here!!

Throughout my journey, I‘ve learned to appreciate the good days/moments and not waste them on worrying about things beyond my control. Right now my world is perfect. So I‘ll enjoy it, thank you.


June 4, 2011

I just want to sleep. I miss REM. Since I began this treatment (about 2 months ago now), I have not slept a full night through without waking up. It has to do with the drugs I am taking (and I am taking so many), but most likely it‘s attributable to the steroids. Days that I‘ve tried to cut back on the steroids, I feel terrible – tired, weak, sick, loss of appetite, pain, etc. and I decided I‘d rather have a bit of a messed up sleep pattern than feel sick/non-functional all day.

But I can‘t even remember how it feels to crash onto my pillow after a full day, blink my eyes, and wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and renewed. Now, every night is a battle. A war to wage.

Usually I don‘t have a problem falling asleep. But it‘s like perfect clockwork. Without fail – 3 hours later, I will be up again. At that time my bladder is usually raging because of all the fluid I take in during throughout the day and into the evening. But even after I relieve myself, every hour after that, on the hour, I will wake up. Very rarely can I go back to sleep right away, try as I may.

So, I try to occupy myself with books, writing, or listening to music/audio books until I get tired enough again to fall back asleep. Usually I do this for about 45 minutes before I can fall back asleep again. Then after that I generally fall back asleep but I still open my eyes every hour to look at the clock and have to force myself to keep sleeping until past 6am at least.

The whole situation was actually giving me anxiety, which was making it even more difficult for me to get
good sleep. I know how important it is to rest and get quality sleep. When you‘re sick, your body needs to rest – and especially when you‘re sick, it needs time to repair. But because I am having broken sleep, I fear that I‘m not getting the sufficient rest that I need to get better. Furthermore, lack of sleep leads to so many other health problems – heart disease, depression/mental health disorders, diabetes – I don‘t want to develop these too on top of the cancer I‘m trying to fight off!!

My doctor says it‘s ok as long as I also take naps during the day when I get tired then (because I do – I
eventually crash mid-afternoon for about an hour-an hour an half), but it still just doesn‘t feel like enough.

Even after the nap I am tired, but I can‘t sleep more than a couple of hours during the day- nor do I really
want to because I know if I did, I would even more trouble sleeping at night. So I usually just lay in bed
watching TV for another couple of hours because I am tired still. But I feel like I‘m wasting the entire day. I try not to feel guilty about it – and I don‘t think I am anymore, but I still feel frustrated because it‘s not what I‘m used to and I feel like I could get a lot more accomplished during the day if I had energy then.

Also, my naturopath advised me that I should be going to bed at 9:30pm so I can be asleep by 10pm in order to adhere to my circadian rhythms. I‘ve also been doing quite a bit of reading and the general consensus is certainly that to be healthy, people should be going to bed early (like when the sun goes down). I tried this for a while, and a few times it felt good to go to bed really early (and subsequently wake up really early still), but it ended up giving me even more anxiety than I had to begin with because I had trouble staying asleep the whole time. I would get restless, frustrated, and start to worry that I wasn‘t getting the sleep needed for my sick cells to repair and for new healthy ones to be produced. Since this routine ended up making me more frustrated and anxious about sleeping than I was to begin with, I decided to give up on this practice and just go to sleep when I am tired. I still try to go to bed earlier than I would have 6 months ago or as a teenager,but it is usually around 11-11:30pm.

Aside from occupying myself with books and activities, I‘ve also tried smoking medical marijuana. It works at first in terms of getting me to fall back asleep, but then I wake up again a couple of hours later again. And then I am drowsy for the morning. I‘ve also tried sleeping pills. Again, they help me initially get to sleep when I‘m having too much anxiety about falling asleep in the first place, but ultimately fail to keep me asleep throughout the night. I‘ll still wake up like clockwork. If I take them at the halfway mark when I wake up in the middle of the night, they may help me to fall asleep till morning, but then I am a zombie for the morning/early afternoon of my day. Hardly a desirable compromise.

I am a person who hates wasting time. I like having a whole day in front of me so that I can fill it with
activities/tasks. I suppose, like the adjustment I have to make in slowing down everything this summer (i.e. not taking on those internships/work opportunities and just focusing on my health), I have to teach myself to go with the flow and take moments as they come in terms of my energy. I am trying, but it is hard. I suppose it‘s not that I don‘t have a routine anymore, it‘s just become a different one.

The biggest thing that I think will help me is if I can learn to relax about the whole situation and accept it as it is. The more I worry about it, the more frustrating it‘s going to become, the more anxiety I will have, and the more trouble I‘ll have actually getting to sleep.

I just miss that feeling you know? Of being so tired – your head hits the pillow, your eyes close, you blink, and it‘s morning. I just want to be normal again. I‘m so tired of having to be different – it‘s exhausting.

Any advice/suggestions out there?

The Preciousness of Time: MY RANT

May 26, 2011

At some point in our lives, we can all relate to the feeling that there aren‘t enough hours in the day to
accomplish what we want to do. In North American culture, between having to go to work, school, preparing meals, socializing with family and friends, taking care of someone sick – it seems as though there really isn‘t much time left over for ourselves. By ―ourselves‖, I mean, doing the things that you, as an individual, would like to do out of your own will and without having any obligation to anyone else. This is sad.

It wasn‘t until I let my health deteriorate to a point where my body was shutting down that I came to the
realization that maybe I should pause for a second to take care of myself. In fact, I had never really thought about what I would want to do/how I would want to spend my time if I wasn‘t pursuing law school. A friend once told me if she were in my situation, school would be the last thing she‘d think of doing. Instead she‘d travel the world. In my mind, I viewed this approach as ―giving up‖ and accepting that I was soon going to die so I should make the most of my time by seeing all the places I‘ve always dreamed of traveling to. Which is why I opted to pursue law school instead of jet set around the world.

But I did try to find balance when I could. When I was well enough, I managed to make it to Paris and the
Bahamas – two places I‘ve always wanted to go. Paris: to see the art, fashion, culture, history. The Bahamas: to swim with dolphins, laze on beautiful beaches, and take in the happiness of the people there.

I would have loved to do a more extensive trip around Europe to see Barcelona and Berlin or spent more than 4 days in the Bahamas but that would have compromised my treatment schedules (which ultimately is still my choice, but I made my health my priority). So, I just tried to squeeze the joy out of every single moment I had in those places.

Living with cancer gives you a very different perspective on time. Each moment becomes so much more
precious, which can make our lives all the more blissful, while at other times, extremely frustrating and

I have always been a patient person. People who know me can attest to this. But lately, I find myself waiting a lot and I hate it.

When it happens, I want to yell at someone. Pull out my hair. Throw things.

I have a lot less patience these days for people who are late or who I have to wait for.

When you‘re sick most of the time and can‘t predict how you‘re going to feel tomorrow or even a few hours from now, it makes it very hard to plan/enjoy things. On the days that I am feeling good, I want to be able to take advantage of them and spend them outside my house, with friends/family, doing things – LIVING. But I never know when those days are going to be. So sometimes it‘s the day my nurse has to come check on me. I may be feeling great but I have to sit at home and wait around for her all day until she comes because they have a window of hours where they can drop in to see you, depending on what other patients they have to visit. I think of all the things I could be enjoying outside but am instead confined to waiting at home.

Then, I had an appointment with my naturopath last week, scheduled for a Thursday at 5:30pm. The secretary called me on Wednesday afternoon to confirm my appointment time for Thursday. A couple of hours later, she called me back saying something had come up so my naturopath couldn‘t see me at 5:30 – could I make it in for 2pm instead? I said fine because I could still make arrangements to go, but my mom had already re-scheduled her work hours so that she could come with me to the 5:30 appointment.

There was no way she could make it for the 2pm appointment, so I had to ask my aunt if she could take me.

This was not the first time my naturopath has re-arranged the schedule at the very last minute. As if I have all the time in the world to wait around at home and go by her schedule. It turned out I was too sick to travel to see her anyway that day, but I called in that morning to ask if we could do some of the appointment over the phone since the time was blocked off for me. The secretary assured me that this would not be a problem and told me to call in at 2pm to have the phone appointment.

I called in a few minutes after 2pm and the secretary told me my naturopath had just stepped out and she
would be back in 15 minutes – could I call back then? I sat up in my bed for 15 minutes, twiddling my thumbs.

15 minutes isn‘t enough time to start reading and get into a good book. Or to start some other task for that matter.

I called back 15 minutes later. Nobody picked up. I waited for another 5 minutes, and called again. This time a different secretary picked up and I asked to be patched through. She told me there had been a mix-up with the scheduling and my naturopath would have to call me back in 30-45 minutes. I was exhausted at this point and so ready to take a nap. But I said fine knowing that I wouldn‘t get to see her for the next couple of weeks because she‘d be away at a conference. I didn‘t want to miss this appointment. I‘d just leave the phone by my bed so when she called I could pick up. But I would be groggy and out of it. She called me just after 3pm and spent about 30 minutes on the phone with me.

Things were fine once we finally connected, but the entire situation leading up to the appointment had me cursing out loud and crying to myself in my bed.

Who do these people think they are?

Do you just assume because I am sick, I have nothing better to do than wait around for you and plan around your schedule/life?

It‘s not just waiting for medical personnel that‘s frustrating. It‘s waiting for friends and loved ones too.

Last weekend my friend planned to visit me on Saturday morning. He told me he would be at my place for 11am. As a bonus, he was bringing over his new bulldog so I would get to play with him. I thought we could have lunch with my family at home and then play with the dog for the rest of the afternoon. It was a gorgeous day.

With all this unrelenting rain we‘ve been having, it was one of the first days that the sun was out and it was warm. I couldn‘t wait to take the doggy for a walk.

That morning, my family and I had gone to visit my father at the cemetery. We got home just before 11,
knowing that my friend was going to be there soon. I thought about pulling out some books to start studying while I waited to make use of my precious time, but I didn‘t because I reasoned it wouldn‘t make sense to try to start something without really getting into it before my friend arrived.

By 11:20, my friend still hadn‘t arrived and I hadn‘t heard from him. No text, call, bbm, facebook msg. Nothing. So I called him and he told me he was still at home. Not only had he not left, he was still running errands and hadn‘t showered. He lives downtown, and the highway was closed last weekend, so that meant it would be at least another hour. Thanks a lot. He told me he would be at my place in about an hour and that my family should go ahead with lunch first so we didn‘t have to wait for him. My mom placed the take out order a little bit later, anticipating that my friend was going to be later than he proposed anyway. Even then, she went and picked it up and came home, we started eating, and he still hadn‘t shown up. It was now past 1pm.

Nearing 1:30 in fact. And he told me he had to leave around 3, because he had to get downtown by 4pm to make a delivery. So that meant I‘d waited all morning, to spend an hour and a half with them. He got there just before 1:30. So much for making use of my precious time.

I was fuming. I gulped spoons of rice noodles with beef down my throat without chewing and ate way more than I should have. I started having a fit at the table, nearly crying and choking on my food: “He’s over two hours late! He said he’d be here in an hour! It’s almost 1:30!” (I don‘t know if this has to do with the steroids as well, because they can make you more emotional, but I was raging).

This was all compounded by the fact that my other friend had called that morning to ask if I wanted to go
downtown shopping with them for the early afternoon. I would have loved to!! But I declined because I
already had plans with this friend, who I was still waiting for. I could have been enjoying the beautiful weather downtown with my other friends who I hadn‘t seen in a while, but instead I was waiting inside again on someone else‘s time.

When my friend finally arrived with the dog, I didn‘t yell at him (I didn‘t have a chance to because the dog
was so goddamn cute and ran into our house right away so I got distracted). But I was very upset in the
moments leading up to his arrival. It is inconsiderate not to tell someone that you‘re going to be 2 hours late.

I spend enough of my time waiting around in the hospital to see doctors, get my blood work done, get my treatments, and scans, etc. I don‘t need to be waiting at home for other people too. Especially for people who have control over what happens and how they spend their time. They have no idea what they take for granted. This week for chemo, I left my house at 9:30am and got home after 6pm. My entire day was spent in the hospital.

I don‘t think this would have been such a big deal if at least there was some consideration given to my time. If you‘re going to be late, please just tell me, and be honest in your assessments. I want to be able to use my time too. So please, please please, if you know someone who is dealing with cancer, try to be more mindful of their time and respect that it is just as precious as yours, if not a million times more.


The Rapture

May 20, 2011

Some extreme evangelical Christian groups from the United States are calling for the End of the World (aka Judgement Day), tomorrow: Saturday, May 21, 2011 @ 6pm. Whether or not you are religious or believe in this sort of thing, it brings up a question I often find myself facing in my battle with cancer – what would you do if today was your last day to live?

Here‘s my list for fun (and in no particular order):

  • Fire up the grill and have a bbq
  • Buy a car and joyride it around
  • Get dressed up and go dancing
  • Hug and kiss everyone I love around me
  • Get a bikini wax
  • Audition for Canadian Idol
  • Lie down in an open field and reflect/meditate
  • Shower in a hot spring/spa
  • Adopt a puppy
  • Write a blog entry
  • Wear bright red lipstick
  • Go for a swim at the beach
  • Find somewhere to watch fireworks
  • Start a parade on the street
  • Give some money to panhandlers
  • Chase down an ice cream truck for ice cream
  • Paint my walls with my favourite quotes
  • Climb up and sit on a roof with a good view
  • Go apple picking in an orchard
  • Play with children in the park
  • Take pictures of everything I‘m doing and post them to FB before Saturday

What would you do???

Food Adventures!!!!

May 14, 2011

Anyone that knows me, knows how much I love food. One of my closest friends lists my favourite things in life as being (in this order):
1. shopping
2. food
3. men

I would probably have to agree. Really, the only thing in life that trumps food for me, is shopping (at school I would try to spend less of the grocery money my mom gave me so that I could spend it on clothes instead).

Aside from my shopping addiction, food is such an essential part of my life. Not only for the nourishment and nutritional sustenance it provides but also for the enjoyment of sharing the social experience with other people and all the memories that come with it. PAR EXAMPLE…
… Dim sum on weekends with family after Chinese school siu mai, pork buns, curry squid!
… Chef Boyardee out of a hot thermos in grade school snacks: fruit cups, pudding, cheesestrings, seaweed
… Baskin Robbins Ice Cream Cakes on birthdays Jamoca Almond Fudge
… Street meat in front of the Dome before Jays Games all the fixin’s: ketchup, mustard, relish, onions
… Salt and pepper Fried Porkchop at Chinese restaurants – my favourite dish!!
… Schwartz‘s Smoked Meat Sandwiches in Montreal with my friends from the Greenbriar medium sandwich, dill pickle, fries, ketchup, and a coke
… Shawarma plates from Boustan‘s during late night study sessions or after partying on Crescent chicken
shawarma plate/wrap with potatoes, garlic sauce, and coke
… Laura Secord Superkid ice cream in the mall with B swirls of strawberry, banana, and blueberry ice cream!
… Greasy pizza and poutine from Pizza Exquise after late nights on St. Laurent pepperoni pizza, traditional
… All-you-can-eat-sushi weekends at Maki-Maki with R & P and my fam crunchy spicy salmon rolls, chicken teriyaki skewers, grilled steak, salmon sashimi, garlic mushrooms, popcorn chicken, mango ice cream
… Ruth‘s Chris Steakhouse in Jersey with my Great Uncle and family filet mignon, potatoes, shrimp, spinach, asparagus, mushrooms
… Summerlicious and Winterlicious hotspots in Toronto with J and family too many to dishes to
… Wings at Wild Wing with AK on Wednesday nights after Evidence Class dill pickle flavour
– And these are just the most immediate memories that come to mind. I‘m sure I could write volumes of books about my life in food. Le sigh.

My last entry was about re-evaluating our lifestyles and approach to eating – personally for myself, and as well as a society at large. I really do believe this must change. Given how much I love food, I thought it would be a difficult transition for me to change my diet and make better food choices, but surprisingly so far, it hasn‘t been at all.

As soon as I spoke to my naturopath – before I even met her – she asked me to cut out dairy, sugar, caffeine, and wheat completely from my diet. HUH??!! No more pasta? Bread? Ice cream? Cheese? Black teas and coffee? Candy? WAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!―So what can I eat? I asked her.

Colourful veggies…
brown rice…
ancient grains…
organic animal protein…

Sounded bland. She even apologized and said it‘s a lot to ask of me, admitting that the food would be more bland. But shockingly, I don‘t think it‘s been boring at all!! I‘ve departed on a brand new food adventure!!!! I guess maybe because I love food so much to begin with, there is so much variety out there these days that there are even healthy foods that are delicious and I would enjoy!

I have a friend who can spend hours in the grocery store and be entertained. I was always amused by this,
but now I‘m starting to understand why. There are so many interesting things to discover there! For example, my aunty Jane bought me these organic rice crackers to go with my hummus, and they were soooooooo delicious!! I never even knew they existed before. But they are crunchy, light, and tasty enough that they can even be eaten on their own without hummus/dip! I also bought an ancient grain cereal and added an organic enriched strawberry-flavoured soy milk to have for breakfast, and it tastes like Strawberry Pockey (one of my favourite childhood Chinese snacks)!! Ice cream has been replaced by Sorbet – I bought a Rainbow flavoured one with passionfruit, orange, and raspberry. Even my mom, who loves ice cream, really loves it! I realize it‘s still not good for me (still has some sugar and dairy), but it‘s an improvement, and I limit its consumption to rare occasions when I want to treat myself.

At first I still had cravings for things like pasta with cream sauces, sweet pastries, fried foods like chicken wings and burgers. But lately, these thoughts have been replaced with the excitement of trying a whole new world of food out there. I‘ve always liked fish, so that hasn‘t been a difficult transition for me. I love sushi, sashimi, salmon, tuna, haddock… I‘ve also always liked rainbow trout, and now I‘ve discovered seabass, which is ethereal. Since trading in other animal protein for fish, I feel a lot lighter after I eat, and as if I have more energy. My digestive tract feels cleaner. This is also probably because I‘ve increased my intake of veggies and whole grains. I‘ve also transitioned to brown rice (never tried it before), but it actually tastes really good! I have always loved fruits (mangos, berries, bananas, melons, lychees, apples…), so increasing fruit consumption to replace my sweet tooth cravings hasn‘t really been an issue for me.

Another huge influence in my dietary choices has been my upbringing. Chinese culture revolves around food, family, and dining together- whether it‘s in our own home or out a restaurant. Even now as adult children, my brother and I are expected to eat with our families on the regular. It is just something we do.

So of course, a lot of what I was eating growing up was influenced by our family and culture. Now that I‘m changing my diet, it seems at odds with Chinese culture, since we are used to consuming tons of meat. In one meal, we may have chicken, beef, pork, fish, and shrimp. For me, meat was the staple, then rice on the side, and veggies were an afterthought. Now my proportions are being completely flipped around.

I‘m trying to eat mostly vegetables, with some protein (they recommend the size of your fist- but if you see me, you‘ll know I have a very tiny fist!! :S), and starches/grains. In addition, I‘ve reduced my portion sizes but eat more frequently. My naturopath has instructed me to eat every 2 hours (until dinner- then after that stop so my body can digest properly before I go to sleep). To be honest, so far this seems to be working out better because I don‘t starve myself in between meals and then stuff/gorge myself when I do get a chance to eat and go comatose afterwards. This way, I almost get to eat constantly and enjoy my food throughout the day!! Can you imagine, every couple of hours looking forward to eating something else delicious and nourishing for your body?? It feels great!!

So, as much as I will miss my past food experiences and memories, I am very excited to embark on this new adventure of discovering an entirely new approach to eating and food. Believe it or not, there are healthy foods out there for you that are delicious!! Go out and explore what the world has to offer!! I‘m anxious to share these new experiences and discoveries with you!!

Learning to Pick My Battles

May 5, 2011

So the world is not perfect. Despite a good run for a couple of weeks after the radiation and discharge from the hospital, I ran into a roadblock again last week. The day I had chemo, I went into the hospital not feeling the greatest – I thought I was just cold because it was still a wintry day outside and I probably should have been wearing my toque instead of a a scarf alone. Anyhow, by that afternoon I was having chills in the waiting room and the treatment was delayed for hours because the schedule had been backed up from Easter weekend and hordes of patients were waiting anxiously.

By the time they gave me a chair in chemo and the nurse took my vitals, we found out I had a temperature.

So, the nurse had to call my doctor to report this and wait for instructions. Docs still decided to go ahead with my treatment because my bloodwork from earlier in the day looked solid and they were thinking the fever was more related to the liver tumor, rather than being from an actual infection. Still, blood cultures were drawn as precautionary measures. Again I was exhausted that evening after chemo but I went home and slept it off.

The next day I was feeling all right for the most part. Had a slight fever in the morning again so took some Tylenol and it subsided. I really wanted to be better ASAP because my faculty was having a Ball on the Friday and I wanted more than anything to be able to make it up there to celebrate with my friends. I don‘t remember the last time I got to wear a formal dress and hot shoes! Plus most of my friends were graduating and this would be the last time I could celebrate with all of them in one place. I had bought the ticket months ago and I got a dress a while ago that was just perfect… I needed to go!!

I was planning to take the train up Thursday evening but when I woke up Thursday morning, again I had a
high fever and wasn‘t feeling my best. I took some Tylenol and tried to sleep off the fever and malaise for the rest of the morning/early afternoon. By afternoon I felt a lot better and decided I would be ok to travel so I did.

The ball was fabulous!! It was so nice to see my friends and to celebrate the last three years together. I was so happy to be able to rock my dress and shoes on top of everything, I am glad that I made the decision to go.

Unfortunately however, by Saturday I started to feel unwell again. The fever went from coming on just in the morning- to morning, late afternoon, and evening before bed. So I was taking Tylenol constantly throughout the day trying to regulate them. They would come and go but I‘d have chills one minute and then be burning up an hour later. Not fun. I tried to rest up and take it easy most of Saturday and a lot of it was spent in bed.

I also started to feel some discomfort/pain on Friday underneath the right side of my ribs again- where I had radiated (the location of the largest tumor on my liver). Saturday it was starting to get worse. By Sunday morning it was brutal. It hurt to roll or move in bed and I was having some trouble standing up straight and walking. But I had to make it home that day so I hopped on the train and slept most of the ride.

When I got home I was exhausted and cold and wet (it had been raining outside). That evening I had a lot of trouble sleeping because my fevers were so intense. I‘d have really bad chills and this time, despite taking Tylenol, the fevers refused to go down. They might subside for about an hour or so but then they would start up again. So the whole night I felt cold. And by morning the pain in my ribs was so intense, I tried to roll over and without knowing how bad it was, I yelled out an expletive and started crying reflexively. It took me a good 10 minutes to roll over to my other side. I couldn‘t even get out of my own bed and it hurt to breathe.

Thank goodness my cell phone was within arm‘s reach. I called my doctor and she told me to come down to the hospital so she could take a look at me.

I have an aunt staying with me but I was too weak to get out of bed or even to shout out to her to ask her to help me. So I used my celly to call another aunt who lives close by and has access to our house, to ask her if she could drive over and bring me water from downstairs and my pain meds so I could take them.

She came over right away and also said she could take me to the hospital to see the doc. My mom was at work downtown already so she would just meet us at the hospital.

When my doctor saw me, she could see I was in bad shape. I couldn‘t even stand up straight and I could
barely walk. I was given longer acting pain meds and instructed to up the dose of the immediate release pain meds I was already on. With some Tylenol and the steroid I took that morning, my fever started to finally settle that afternoon. Thank goodness. That made a huge difference.

Chemo got postponed because I was feeling so terrible. So, I‘m going to be getting it tomorrow instead. It‘s 3 days since this crazy bout (which took place on Monday, May 2) and I‘m feeling much better now. Haven‘t had a fever for the past two days (YAY!), and the pain is still there but starting to get managed better now.

The meds do make me a bit zombie-like- they dull my senses… especially the first couple of days, but the docs said my body should adjust with time. Hopefully with time the pain and the meds will be completely
manageable and I‘ll be able to get around and do more things each day. But I‘m trying my best to face one day at a time and deal with each moment as it comes.

The uncertainty can be frustrating at times. I wanted so badly this summer to be able to do an internship for school. I had a couple of opportunities – one in a courthouse working alongside Duty Counsel, and another for the Children‘s Aid Society. I was planning to do at least one of them, but after Monday, I decided that I would not do either this summer. I even had an interview with the Crown‘s office for a summer student position a couple of weeks ago, and in the end I chose to forego that too. These were all very difficult decisions for me to come to terms with and I experienced a lot of anxiety over them. I did not want to give any of them up, especially because I‘d hustled so hard to find them.

For so long, I‘ve pushed and done so well. For the most part, I‘ve been able to do a lot of the things that I
want to do. But I‘ve also had to make a lot of compromises as well. Taking time off school. Missing social
events. Not being able to travel/visit people when I want to. Now it feels like I have to give up even more
things I want to do, and I hate it. But I realize it‘s because I have to get better first and get to a point where I am actually physically able to do the things I want to do again. And unless I have my physical wellbeing/health in tact, I can‘t do anything. If I can‘t roll out of bed or walk properly, there is a problem here. So right now that is going to be my #1. Getting better.

My biggest fear is that if I‘m not pursuing school or working, that I‘d become idle. This is how I felt the first time I was on treatment after my diagnosis. I was out of school, and my life consisted of chemo visits, drug reactions, side effects, visits from friends and family, visits to a Wellness centre… but nothing tangible from my past life. I went back to an engineering firm to work for a while as an admin assistant- it gave me something to do and I earned a little money which was nice, but it wasn‘t really what I wanted to do with my life. All of this started breaking me down and had I kept going like that I think I would have become depressed. I felt like everyone else‘s life was going on and continuing around me and I was just being left behind. So I pushed to be able to go back to school. And when I did, it made the world of a difference in terms of my outlook, my emotional/mental state, and my will to fight. Having personal pursuits has definitely kept me around this long.

But this time around, I have to realize that things are different. I am not feeling as physically strong/well as I once was. I am very fragile, even though on the good days it seems I‘m just fine and from outside
appearances you‘d never be able to tell that I have one of the deadliest cancers in the world. I still trick
myself into believing it‘s no biggie- because I know I will get through it… but at the same time I have to come to terms with the fact that my situation is serious and right now I have to put ALL of my energy into getting better. That means: resting when I need to. Taking the pain meds when I need to. Asking for help when I need to. Saying no when I need to. All things I need to learn how to do.

I am not giving up on my goals and dreams; I am learning to pick my battles. Tough lessons to learn, but ones I think that will make me all the more wise. I‘m here for the long haul. I‘m here to win the war. I am going to kick pancreatic cancer‘s ass.

And then I‘ll finish becoming a lawyer and making the rest of the world a better place.

I, Alone Must Do This

April 23, 2011

It‘s amazing how dramatically your state of mind can change when you‘re feeling physically better. After
coming home from the hospital, resting for a few days, recovering from the radiation, and starting on a steroid called Dexamethasone, this past week I‘ve felt better than I have in the last couple of months!! I can finally get through a day without feeling like I‘m about to collapse from weakness and I‘m not constantly wrapped in sweaters and blankets from being too cold. I can get around without having being confined to my bed for many hours of the day.

I wake up early in the morning, have a nice breakfast (because I finally have an appetite again!!), read the
newspaper, catch up on correspondence, and do little tasks throughout the day. Last week I was able to do my own laundry, unpack a little bit of my stuff from school (albeit very slowly), and even opened up my textbook to study for a few hours. This has been a complete 360 change.

I‘ll admit, for the past month and a half, I actually felt as if I was dying. I could feel the cancer growing inside me as I withered away. With each stab of pain I felt under my ribs, each chill that came down my back around dinner time, the overwhelming weakness that washed over me – the life was escaping out of my being. Every time I took a breath and winced, I pictured the tumors in my liver growing in size pressing against my abdominal walls. There were nights I went to bed shaking and so exhausted, and I wondered if I would get up in the morning. That is why I knew that even with only a couple of weeks to go to finish off my semester at school, I had to drop everything and come home.

When I landed in the hospital, my fears escalated even more. The few days leading up to it I had been feeling worse. I was getting jaundiced (which never happened to me before), my urine was extremely dark, and my skin was intolerably itchy as if I‘d suddenly developed Eczema.

Although I wanted to be positive, I was tired. I‘ve been positive for so long. I‘ve been fighting for 5 years.
Maybe I just didn‘t have enough steam left in me. And when the docs told me that maybe the disease had gotten to a point where we could no longer control it, I had to accept this potential reality. I was devastated, but part of me believed it. Thank God this wasn‘t the case.

By the grace of a higher power, I am still here. And not only am I still here – I feel better than I have in quite a while! This has taught me a few things.

First, now is not my time to go yet. Second, I am not alone in this universe – there is a greater being watching over me. I‘ve been given a chance and although I had a moment of weakness, now is the time to get back on my game. Now is the time to stand up and fight.

I, Alone, must do this.

Everyone around me felt helpless. Friends, family, doctors. They kept apologizing and saying they wish there was something they could do. My family and friends keep asking what are the next steps or potential options.

My doctors – they all tell me they wish there were more options, or treatments they could offer me. I know everyone is doing their best. But in the end, where they can no longer help, it is up to me completely to decide whether I‘m going to continue living or not.

I believe in the power of the mind and its connection to the body. I believe that there are ways to heal
oneself and to preserve one‘s life through willing ourselves and our subconscious to keep our bodies physically in check. We are all beings made up of an integrated system of spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical energies and I believe that we have the power to determine what happens to ourselves.
But it has been hard for me … I often compare myself to my father and my aunt who both passed away from cancer as well. They were both extremely positive people and very mentally and emotionally strong. I always fear putting myself on a pedestal to say that I am tougher than either of them was, especially because I don‘t really believe that. But right now, I have to learn to separate my experience from theirs because ultimately I am not them. Not only are the circumstances different – they were older, my dad didn‘t have the same kind of cancer as me, technology/treatments were different then, etc. – but they are not the same people as me.

I am an individual, battling this disease, on my terms. Although I look to them as heroes, I cannot accept their fate as my own.

I‘m not sure exactly what went through their minds, what they wrestled with, what they really believed deep down inside… I only saw what they projected outwardly to me. My father was always positive, always looking for ways to keep himself busy and active. When he had to stay home from work, he created an incentive/reward program for himself for completing certain tasks throughout the day like doing daily physical exercises, or managing the household expenses, or teaching himself new things (he capitalized on this and purchased a sweetass Bose stereo system!!). When he started going blind, he started teaching himself to play piano. I was never sad because he never seemed sad. He carried on with such effortlessness. But after his death, we found some of his journals later where he had expressed fear and desolation. I wonder if he ever shared this with anyone else or if he kept it to himself. I will never know what he felt deep down inside or what he believed and at what point. All I can be sure of now, is what I choose to believe and what I choose to do with my life.

All of this trauma and being sick is a wake-up call for me. I wasn‘t taking care of myself emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically. This is a chance for me to step back and re-evaluate everything that‘s gone on in my life.

The choices that I‘ve made. How much stress I place on myself. How hard I push myself in school. The types of relationships I have with people. The kinds of food I put in my body. The (lack of) physical fitness/activity that was once so important to me. It is a reminder that I‘m not invincible. In fact, I have to finally face the reality that I‘m more fragile than everyone else and can‘t just live and do like everyone else. I wanted so bad to be―normal. But the truth is I‘m not. And no matter how badly I wish, I cannot change that.

Some may look at my situation as a tragedy or a curse. But I choose to see everything that comes out of it as a blessing.

So I will fight for every breath, every fibre, every dream that comes from within me.

First Stop at Home: Full O’ Drama

April 15, 2011

Not even home a week and I already landed myself in the hospital last Thursday evening (this is why you have not heard from me in a while). I had radiation to the right side of my liver the day before in hopes that it would reduce the pain I was having in that area (my docs and I decided on this on the Tuesday I got back, with chemo to start on the 19th).

The day after radiation, my brother stayed home with me but I was so tired and weak that all I did was sleep all day. I went from extremes of feeling hot and cold but was so out of it, I did not even to think to take my temperature, since most of the day I was passed out on my bed or couch. When my mom came home, she felt my head and said I was burning up. My temperature was 103.4. She called my doctor who instructed us to go to the ER so that I could get antibiotics in case I had an infection. We got to the ER and I was hooked up to IVs with antibiotics that evening. The docs decided to admit me because they had to investigate what was going on and wanted to get the fever under control before they could send me home. Plus they wanted to get to the bottom of what was causing this. They had a few ideas about what could be happening ranging from comprehendible/bearable to terrifying.

First, my reaction could have been related to the radiation I had received the day prior. But my radiation
oncologist thought that was weird/unlikely because radiation doesn‘t cause fevers (not like the one I was
having anyway) and because my bilirubin (liver enzymes) had shot up to 100 (normal people‘s are around 20, and in the couple days before, mine was 46- already high but explicable given my deteriorating liver
condition). She didn‘t think radiation would induce that either. But she did say the radiation could have
caused irritation and inflammation to the liver, temporarily blocking some small bile ducts, backing up fluid in the liver, which might lead to an infection. Also, the jaundice the radiation oncologist noticed only a day before had gotten much worse. Perhaps the radiation aggravated my liver so much that it caused it to act out all crazy.

Another possibility was that the cancer/tumors had been growing in a way for the past while that were
causing blockages to bile ducts, backing up fluid in the liver, causing an infection and fevers. If this were the case, surgeons could either put in a stent or tube to drain the fluid backing up. This was a tad scarier but I had been through surgeries and other procedures before to drain things before so I knew I could handle it. Plus it might even make me feel better and give me some relief even from the pain and feeling of unwellness I‘ve been experiencing over the past couple of months.

Finally, our biggest fear was that in a short period of time, the cancer had become very aggressive and was growing out of control, causing my liver to shut down. The doctors talked to me about my wishes regarding resuscitation if my heart stopped. I had thought about this before but never came to a finite conclusion about how I felt about it. I remember when my dad was in palliative care they said when he stopped eating, they were not going to feed him anymore, even intraveneously. At the time I was upset about this because even at that point, he was still so sure he was going to beat his disease even though he would come in and out of lucid mental states. It felt like they were pulling the plug on him… albeit only passively. This is what always had me thinking about what I would choose regarding resuscitation if my own heart stopped. I have always been torn because I feel like it‘s giving up the fight… but at the same time, seeing what my father went through, I really just wanted him to let go at the end. I saw him fighting so hard but I also saw the suffering and it broke my heart. I wanted him to know that we would all be ok and it was ok for him to let go and finally rest. I was actually relieved when he finally left.

This time in the hospital, the doctors explained to me that resuscitation is used in patients that still have a hope of treating and curing their underlying health problems that brought them to that state. But for cancer patients with an advanced incurable disease, it doesn‘t make sense to resuscitate if in the end there is no way ultimately to make the patient better. In effect, you would only be prolonging their death and potentially putting the patient through more suffering since the resuscitation process itself is quite traumatic. My doctor said they would not write anything on my chart yet and let me think about it some more. I could tell them when I was ready.

All of this talk was daunting. And dreadful. The initial ultrasound results showed no blockages in my bile ducts. It didn‘t seem to be an infection causing all these symptoms. This was worrisome because it meant it was quite possible the disease was now out of control. I cried. My medical oncologist and mom cried with me. I had come so far and was doing well for so long. How could everything come crashing down so quickly? I was not ready for my life to be over. It just wouldn‘t be fair. But always in the back of my mind, I remember that my dad lived for 13 years with his disease and how he had tricked us into believing he wasn‘t even sick because he had done so well for so long. We were lulled into this sense of security that he would always be ok. Always good. But in less than 2 weeks everything changed. His cancer was in his nasopharnyx (part of his nose) and in the end stages, spread up to his brain. One day he became completely unresponsive to us and we had to bring him to the hospital. His eyes were still open and he was breathing but he was frozen and couldn‘t speak to us or even blink. Little did we know at the time that he would not be coming home again. In only a couple of weeks he was gone. Things happened so fast. On my ride to the ER last week, part of me feared (even if only a teeny tiny part, the thought was there) that I might not be coming out of that hospital to go home.

Thank goodness that wasn‘t the case.

The docs did a CT scan to get a clearer image to find out what was going on for sure. When the results came in, the images did not show any blockages that would cause an infection BUT they also showed that the disease hadn‘t progressed significantly since the last scan in March. There was some progression but nothing like they were fearing. WAHOOOOO!!!!!!!!!! This meant that all the fears they had about the disease going rampant/out of control were quelled and that they could attribute how I was feeling to the radiation treatment. Still, the doctors wanted to keep me for a couple more days to observe me and ensure that my condition stabilized before sending me home.

The nurses continued to monitor my vitals and blood was taken every day. My fever was gone and my
bilirubin (liver enzyme levels) were even better than they had been the previous Tuesday before the radiation treatment. It had gone all the way down to 36. I was also feeling much better in terms of energy. I was finally allowed to come home on Monday, April 10. But not before I met with the palliative care planning team.

Again this was a harrowing experience. Not because the team wasn‘t great- they were AMAZING
(informative, compassionate, reassuring, patient)… but just the fact that we even have to think and plan for this stuff is sad and feels unjust. I‘m 26 years old. I should be worrying about my career, trips to fun places, nights out with my friends… not how me and my family are going to deal when I become too sick to take care of myself or when it becomes too much for even my family to take care of me at home. Even if nothing so ―bad is going to happen for a while, the docs explained it is better to discuss these sorts of things now when I‘m still clear minded and we‘re not in a crises situation, so that when the time arises, we will know what to do already. In a way it is comforting to know that we are planning ahead, but in the same instance it is tragic and heartbreaking to come to terms with this eventual reality. For now, all I can do is just reassure myself that we have laid down a safety net, doing what we need to do as a family to get through all this, but hope and fight that we won‘t have to put any of this into action for a very long time.

I started taking one of the pill form chemo drugs (Tarceva/Erlotonib) a couple days ago, and I will be starting the IV drug (Gemcitabine) next week. This is actually the first cocktail I was on when I began treatment and it got me through a lot. It stopped working eventually, but the docs are hoping because my body/the cancer hasn‘t seen it in a while, maybe it can be effective again. There aren‘t really any other viable options in terms of chemo for me at this point since what‘s out there are still really early Phase I trials and the docs don‘t want to put me through all that given all the toxicity my liver has already seen, and given that it‘s continuing to weaken. They can see this because of the jaundice I‘m experiencing, the heightened bilirubin levels, the darkening urine, my overall loss of energy and feeling of malaise/weakness… and because one of the tumors is getting pretty big (the one they tried to radiate to reduce some of the pain). The plan right now is to: 1) make me as comfortable as possible and manage any pain, and 2) to stabilize the cancer growth.

I am so grateful to be out of the hospital, back at home, and slowly getting back up on my feet. We had
quite the scare. Sorry guys!! Even though we are not out of the clear by any means, I‘m feeling a lot better
and hoping that I‘ll have less pain now after the radiation. Send me your positive energy, love, warmth, and strength. I need it now more than ever.

Love love to all.

My Decision

April 1, 2011

I‘ve decided to defer my exams and go home this weekend. I was trying so hard to push through but all last week and this week but I was feeling terrible almost everyday (pain, weakness, fatigue, chills) and missing most of my classes. As I‘ve said in previous posts, I always said I would pursue school/my dreams until such point I was not physically able.

For right now, I‘ve reached a threshold where my physical health is interfering with my ability to go to school (missed classes, difficulty concentrating, restlessness). Both my mind and body are elsewhere. So I figured the best thing to do is to pick up everything and head home, take care of me first, and I will come back and tackle the school beast when I‘m healthy enough to do so. I don‘t want to sit here and be stubborn. At this rate, I‘d doubt I‘d do very well on my exams anyway. I know the best thing to do is to go home, make getting better my #1 priority, and tapping into the support network of family and friends I‘ve got at home.

This is not the first time I‘ve had to leave everything in my life at school to go home. But the second time
around doesn‘t make it any less difficult. I will miss all my friends, I will hate the fact that their lives will go on while mine is suspended, I will miss my independence… I will miss my life here.

But I know I must do this. But only so I can get better and come back to finish what I started here.

Another Milestone

March 28, 2011

This past weekend, I celebrated my 26th birthday. I feel so much older than I am (no offense to anyone).
People may cringe and still insist “You’re only a baby!” But I can bet that I‘ve probably been through more
and experienced life more vividly than some people twice my age. And every year since 20 (when I was
diagnosed) has been a real milestone since my initial prognosis was 12 months. Only 6% of pancreatic cancer patients are alive 5 years after their diagnoses. I am one of the few lucky ones to be part of this category. So how did I celebrate??

Saturday, I spent the day with one of my girlfriend‘s in Montreal shopping with total self-indulgence. We
conquered Ste. Catherine until the stores shut down. From the very first store we hit up, I tried on things and bought something. Highlights include: a pastel pink bolero from H&M made of fluffy hearts (which I ended up wearing for my bday celebration dinner on Sunday), a tank top from Adidas, and a delicate Marc Jacobs necklace with heart charms from Holt Renfrew. But the happiest purchase was not even mine. It was convincing my friend to buy this spectacular but casually cool and chic gold-sequined t-shirt dress (with pockets!!) from San Remo on the corner of Peel and Sherbrooke. My friend has wicked style, but she still felt that this dress was a little out of her comfort zone (I think if it was black instead of gold, we wouldn‘t have had this dilemma). BUT, after some very persistent convincing, victory was mine! She purchased the dress. I was so excited because I know when she wears it that everyone is going to turn, stop, and look at her and be- utterly jealous, in awe, or a combination of the two. The thing that made me the happiest was that she told me she actually really liked the dress. I was happy I hadn‘t just pushed/imposed my style/opinion on her, and that she herself actually liked the dress but maybe she was too modest to ever think of buying it for herself.

All day, she had been looking for black flats for work this summer but the next store we went into after the dress purchase, she picked up a fire-engine red pair of flats and said, ―I like these!‖ SOOOOOOOO
exciting!!!! I loved to see that she would become more daring and have the confidence to take chances with fashion, especially since she is such a beautiful girl. It‘s like when people push you to drink and say “Live a little bit!” That is how I feel with fashion!! I hate the ordinary. The typical. The overdone. The trend.

Fashion is like a palette- you can take inspiration from what‘s out there but then be an artist and make it your own!! Be whimsical!! Switch it up! Make it fun! I‘m so happy that my friend was able to self-indulge with me and share in seizing the day mentality!!

Since it was her first time in Montreal, she requested to try Poutine. Since we were out of time and too tired to travel to the Plateau, I just took her to the most amazing food court of life (in the Centre Eaton) and told her she would have to settle for a chain-restaurant Poutine called La Belle Province. But even that is better than most of the Poutine you will ever find in Ontario… and she was quite satisfied. My stomach and insides were not in any shape to handle a Poutine unfortunately, so I just grabbed some California Rolls from a sushi place run by Chinese people. It was ok I guess. But we were too busy gossiping and recovering from our shopping expedition anyhow for me to really care. Saturday turned out to be a perfect day. And that was just the first of two…

On Sunday morning, I had brunch with a good friend at Eggspectations. This time I was hungry enough to
indulge in food so I ordered a huge breakfast that included toast, eggs, ham, beans, potatoes, crepes, and
maple syrup. It wasyuuuuuuuuuuummy. Then we went shopping for toys and treats for my friends‘ new puppy (I also got to play with his puppy who is the cutest thing in the world at only 2 pounds with a teddy bear face).

I tried to drop hints that I‘d gladly accept the puppy for my birthday but this was a definite no-go with my
friend. Too bad… But as a consolation (and not a bad one), we went shopping for me! I made out with a
SuperKid ice cream from Laura Secord, and a Dior eye-shadow compact, which I could never bring myself to buy in the past because of the extortionate price. But I didn‘t have to worry about that this time as it was gifted to me this day. So spoiled.

I came home and rested for a bit. Meaning I took a nap… waking up only 45 minutes before my guests were to arrive. I hadn‘t showered or anything and my place was still kind of a mess. I scrambled to clean up a bit and get ready. Of course I was not ready by the time my first friend arrived. I hopped in the shower, threw together an outfit that included the only jeans I have that look good on me right now (so no real choices to make there), a white camisole, and the flirty pastel pink bolero made of hearts I got on Saturday from H&M. I also put on the Marc Jacobs chain I got on Saturday as well to match the heart theme. I knew this day was going to be a day filled with love <3. I blow-dryed my hair and rubbed some product into it and just pushed the hair around to try and cover the thinning areas, which are starting to become more and more apparent. I did my make up real quick so my guests wouldn‘t be waiting outside without a host. I told people to come for 6 (because it was Sunday and figured they‘d have to work/go to school the next morning), but I didn‘t expect everyone to be so punctual (to my surprise)!!

Anyhow, as panicked as I was at the beginning, it turned out to be a perfect evening. Thank goodness for
how cool and calm my friends are. We ordered four gourmet pizzas from this place next door to my building.

We all just sat around and shot the shit. Fell into some law school talk/debate at times… but managed to
keep things interesting (especially because I had some friends there who weren‘t in law school). Had an
awesome birthday cake- Strawberry Shortcake (my favourite)! And one of my friends also made a bunch of delicious cupcakes from scratch. Talk about indulgence. But I didn‘t feel guilty for any of it. Nor should I.

Being able to celebrate this milestone surrounded by my friends was so amazing. They say that friends are a reflection of who you are as a person. Judging by that, I‘d venture to say that I‘m a pretty awesome/amazing person. Hahaha! But really- to see the warmth, the humility, the light-heartedness/humour, strength, compassion, and personal accomplishments of all of these people, it really touched me and made me feel honoured to have them surrounding me on my day. They reminded me of where I‘ve been, how I got here, as well as where I‘m going. And to have that sort of energy, love, and faith all around me, assures me that I will have many more milestones to look forward to. This was a big and important one, but it will not be my last.

Balancing Hope with the Inevitable

March 21, 2011

On March 11, I went home for a CT scan to check on the effectiveness of the FOLFIRI chemo treatment I
began at the end of January. It was a wonderful weekend filled with love, good company, and great food.
Unfortunately, I was not really feeling well enough to enjoy the awesome food, but the company made up for it. I was happy to be home with my family and friends but I was also quite anxious because of how I felt physically. People ask me all the time how I‘m feeling. This time I couldn‘t tell them “Good” or even “Fine”.

For the past few weeks I have been feeling pain underneath my ribs, in my lower back, referred pain in my
right shoulder, upper abdominal bloating, and acid reflux. This worried me because these were all symptoms that I had experienced before I was first diagnosed. Since beginning treatment, I had never really felt these symptoms ever again – except the acid reflux and sometimes rib pain. I felt that something was wrong. But I tried to stay positive and wait patiently for the scan results. There were times before where I hadn‘t felt well (not with these same symptoms though) but the scan results came back positive. Even though I was preparing myself for the worst, I still had hope that the results would show this chemo was helping. Especially because it was going so hard at my good cells – making me lose my hair, darkening and drying out my hands and fingers, brittling my nails, giving me nausea, etc. In the first clinical trial I did back in 2006, I experienced horrible reactions/side effects, and that study showed that those who had the most violent side effects also gained the most benefit from the treatment in terms of stabilizing the disease. I thought maybe this would be the same.

Unfortunately, it wasn‘t. My oncologist called me last Thursday morning. She told me that the results were not what we had been hoping for. FOLFIRI was not effective in stabilizing my disease. The existing spots on my liver increased in size, and there were new spots appearing in my liver as well as my lungs. My team of doctors would have to consult with one another about alternative potential options for me and get back to me but it sounded like we are reaching our limits.

I was not surprised by the news given my symptoms as of late, but it was still not what I wanted to hear. My doctor asked me how I was feeling (with the reception of the news). I was fine when I spoke to her since I had anticipated some bad news and I remained undaunted for the rest of the morning/early afternoon because I spent it with good friends (had a dim sum lunch with close girlfriends) and coffee with another friend afterwards. It wasn‘t until early evening that feelings of doom started to creep up on me.

I felt angry. I felt that this was not fair. I am sooooooo close to finishing off this semester at school and I really want to do it. We only have 4 more weeks of classes and then we‘re into exams. On top of this, if I can do a couple of internships this summer, I will only need one more semester to finish my degree. It feels so close within my reach!!!!

But I also know that pancreatic cancer is an aggressive cancer. When my aunt was diagnosed with it, she
died within months. It is so hard for me to gauge what my situation will be. I don‘t know if I should drop
everything and run home immediately to be close to my family and loved ones, or if I should continue school and my internships this summer. Maybe I could try to finish off the semester with classes and write my exams early or have them deferred? Maybe just do one internship instead of 2 and spend more time on myself and with loved ones?

I was not expected to survive beyond 12 months and it has been 5 years now. Only 6% of pancreatic cancer patients are alive 5 years after their diagnosis. From the beginning I knew the statistics, but I‘ve also always considered them to never apply to me, especially since I am not a typical pancreatic cancer patient. When I was diagnosed I was only 20 (and most people are in their 60s). A lot of the older patients cannot tolerate the types of treatments I went through. Also, in comparison, my cancer appears to be slow growing. Although I had liver metastases, the cancer for a long time did not spread to other organs (even when I took breaks from any kind of treatment). I was extremely lucky in this regard.

Since I began this journey, I have had to balance hope with the inevitable. I remember the first week after
being diagnosed, I was so confused where to focus my mind and heart. Should I accept my ―fate‖ and just do all the things I wished to do immediately? If I only had 12 months to live, what would I do with that time? Withdraw from school indefinitely? Travel around the world? Swim with dolphins? Write goodbye notes to my loved ones? At the same time, I didn‘t want to give up hope that by some miracle, I would be ok. When she found out, one of my high school teachers mailed me a book called “Love, Medicine and Miracles” by a surgeon named Bernie M. Siegal who wrote about patients he had treated or who had healed themselves with visualization and mind-body techniques. Reading this book gave me hope that there were also unconventional paths to survival. I was so confused. Would I short-change myself believing I was going to live much longer than I really was, or oppositely by assuming that I was sentenced to death within 12 months?

My brother said something really important to me in that first week that I will always remember. He told me: “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or believes. The only thing that matters is what you believe or tell yourself.” In that moment I decided, I was going to err on the side of hope and put all my energy into fighting to live long enough to experience a miracle or reap the benefits of medical breakthroughs in
treatments/cures for pancreatic cancer. I was not going to be a statistic. I would be a survivor.

For the most part, I have maintained this same attitude and outlook. That I would be a survivor and that I will win my battle. There were moments when I faltered… when I was ready to throw in the towel. Namely, when I asked if I could go back to school part-time and one doctor told me that I would not have time to finish my undergraduate degree and that she did not want me to get my hopes up. I was ready to accept my ―fate at that point, but the people who loved me most responded with: “Fuck that!” Not all of them used those exact words… but that one was my favourite response.

Because of the support and belief loved ones had in me, I was able to push on. We pushed for surgery after the clinical trial seemed to contain my disease progression a bit, even though it would be risky. Because of that surgery, I enjoyed being in remission for almost 9 months. During that time, scans showed no visible signs of cancer. I finished my undergraduate degree and got accepted to law school. I am now nearly finishing my Juris Doctor. Lol, so fuck that.

I have had many loved ones tell me, “I just know you’re going to be ok. I just know it because you have to
be.” I often wonder though, if they are saying this for me, or for themselves. I don‘t want to make anyone cry here or hurt anyone‘s feelings but I wonder if they say this because it would be too devastating to imagine the unfairness of me dying from this disease … so they tell themselves that I have to win it? Because imagining the alternative would be too heart-wrenching?

Don‘t get me wrong, these words and their sentiments are precious to me and I hold them dear to my heart.

These words are expressions of my loved ones‘ faith, love and confidence in me. And they have made me
strong at times when I was weak or had doubts about my ability to conquer this disease. They are the kinds of sentiments/supports that got me this far. As much as I want to however, I also cannot whole-heartedly believe in the truth of these words. The reality right now is that there is still no cure for this disease, and I have come so far… further than I was ever meant to. We can‘t all be lucky forever right? And it is truly inevitable… the only thing we can be sure of, is that we all will die one day. Most of us just don‘t know how it‘s going to happen.

My friend once told me, “Carrie, you are no different. I could die just as easily as you tomorrow in a car
accident or something. We are all going to die one day.” This is true. The thing is though, that I have a better idea than most people of how I‘m going to die. And that just means that I‘ve thought about it more than most (young) people. I‘ve had to face this very real possibility, every single day of my life since my diagnosis.

Death doesn‘t scare me anymore. I think I stopped being afraid of it a couple of years after my diagnosis.
When I started to realize how far I‘d come and all that I‘ve accomplished in my life. I feel that I‘ve lived a way more fulfilling life than most. I‘m happy nearly all the time. Sure there were some periods that were really, really tough and depressing, but that means that all the other times became so much more important and precious to me when things were good. All the little everyday things that most people cannot or do not appreciate became huge sources of inspiration to me. I‘ve been blessed with an amazing family and group of friends who have become as close as my family. I‘ve developed extraordinary relationships with people I likely otherwise would never have had the opportunity to. I have a perspective that allows me to let go of the little things and not be angry because I know that life for me is just too short to hold negative emotions inside me. In many ways, I have been truly blessed.

Instead of brooding over thoughts of death, my constant preoccupation has been what I‘m going to do
to make the most of my life. It is moments like this (receiving the news that I didn‘t want to hear) that I find the most difficult. It means I have to confront this tension again between balancing hope with the inevitable. Do I continue with my studies for the next month and a half? How am I going to use my time this summer? Do I visit all the friends I that are far away and I really want to see? Should I still push myself to work to gain practical experience in fields of law that I’m interested in? Should I completely delve into advocacy work for the Pancreatic Cancer Foundation? Should I just focus on me and getting better (but then what does that even mean)?

I feel like there is so much to do, and I don‘t know how to do it all/prioritize what to do when because I never know for sure how much time I will have. I have fallen behind on my studies trying just to take care of my physically and emotionally fragile state over the past few weeks. I suppose I will have a better idea of how to deal once my doctors get a chance to consult and get back to me with my options for other treatments. For now, I just have to live each day as it comes and treat everything like it is going to be okay. No freak outs till we get to the point of necessarily having to freak out.

I‘ve always told myself that I would live as normally as possible and continue to pursue my dreams/goals for as long I was physically able or until such point where I felt I could not handle it anymore. With each scan, I‘m always afraid that I may come closer to reaching that tipping point. There were times I had to take breaks from school or had to be flexible and creative in finding alternative arrangements (like moving home and studying at a school closer to home) but I‘ve always managed to find a way to continue living my life. So far, I‘ve been lucky enough to escape the terrifying realization that my time is running out (terrifying not because I‘m afraid of death but because I want the time to do all the things I wish to do). I hope that this time will be no different. I‘ve been in grave(r) circumstances before and managed to make it through so I have great confidence that we will find a way to get through this new challenge.

But in the back of my mind and deep down in my heart, I also always have to be prepared to deal with the inevitable reality that we all will die. And as morose as this entry is, I want to believe that that being able to see death coming is actually somewhat of a blessing. Because it means that I will be so much more mindful of how I am going to use my time here and now, today, to make the most of it.

I Should Be So Lucky

March 14, 2011

“The most important thing in life is your family. … they’re the people you always come home to. Sometimes it’s
the family you’re born into and sometimes it’s the one you make for yourself.”
– Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City

I go to school in a different city from home but my incredible mama makes the long journey (a 5-hour train ride) bi-weekly to be with me during treatment so she can take care of me for the few days afterwards. She has been doing this for over a year now. Last week though, she had a fever and wasn‘t feeling well. Even with that, she was prepared to come, saying she could just stay in a hotel nearby so as not to pass on her germs to me. She told me that she would be close by to do things for me like making phone calls to the nursing agency for homecare, running errands, preparing meals, etc. Of course this was ridiculous, so I told her she should stay at home and rest. I know that she is somewhat of a superwoman, but she is still human and I wanted her to rest because she has been on the go taking care of me for so long now. I knew at some point she would need a break and for me it was important that she take care of herself when she needed to.

I could tell she felt really bad about not being able to come take care of me. And I knew she was anxious
about everything going smoothly without her there. After all, she is the one that takes care of the logistics and arrangements for my treatments, works out things with the pharmacy when there are issues, and makes sure I am eating even when I don‘t feel like eating anything at all. She is the one that calls my volunteer driver from the hospital to tell him what time to pick us up, the one that goes to the cafeteria to buy me lunch, the one to confirm all the homecare arrangements, and the one to sit by my side while I‘m sleeping through my treatment. She must have been thinking- Who was going to do all this if she wasn’t there?? I told her just to make a checklist of all the things she usually does that I would need to take care of on my own and email it to me. She is very good at making lists and giving thorough instructions (she was even told once by my radiation study co-ordinator that she should teach other caregivers or write a book on how to organize their stuff and ask questions!! Haha!), so I knew this would come in handy and I would be just fine.

As I have said in previous posts, people say to me all the time how ―unfair‖ my situation is. To some extent I agree (more because of how it affects everyone else in my life around me that loves and cares about me- I sometimes think it is more unfair to them…) but it is because of my situation that I am constantly reminded of how truly lucky I am to have the people and support in my life that I do. I have a mom who loves and supports me unconditionally, who will be strong for me, and who will do absolutely anything for me. She advocates for me when I am too tired, too sick, too busy… she does the things I do not have the strength or energy to do. She travels back and forth so that I can continue to pursue my education. I should be so lucky to have such an amazing mom.

And beyond this, I should be so lucky to have so many other people willing to lend me strength when I need it most. Because my ma couldn‘t come down last week, one of my closest friends from school said she would come with me to the hospital for my treatment. I told her it wasn‘t necessary since I would be sleeping most of the time anyway, but she told me to say no more, that she would be there. She woke up super early to go with me and even skipped her class to be with me. She sat with me through the treatment, called my driver for me, got me lunch, and made sure all was well. My mom also called into the hospital to check on me and the nurses assured her I was well taken care of and fast asleep. When we got back to my place, I figured my friend would want to go home and get on with the rest of her day. I told her I would be passed out anyway for the next four hours or so. But she insisted on staying in case I needed anything (and I did- I was still battling a cold so she went to pick up tissues and orange juice for me from the grocery store). Then when I woke up, she got us dinner, and we hung out, visiting the ridiculous gossip blogs she frequents and watched hilarious Charlie Sheen youtube videos. She had me in fits of laughter, my eyes splashing with happy tears. She even slept over to make sure I was ok till the next morning. Who else has friends as amazing as this?? Like really??

Then after she left, that evening another friend came over to check on me and bring me things I needed (like a new can opener for my soups since that is all I can really stomach the few days after treatment). I was in dire need of a new can opener, no joke. My old one wasn‘t catching the side of the can anymore.

The night before, I struggled for a good 20 minutes trying to open a can of soup… I blamed it on the medical marijuana but I also remembered my mom struggling with it the couple weeks before. Anyway, I was presented with the fanciest, coolest, new can opener and my friend kept me company for a while watching shows online, helping me to forget the crappiness of my situation. I went to bed feeling well taken care of and loved.

And on the third day- which is when the homecare nurse comes to disconnect me, so I‘m free from the infusor bottle finally (yay!), but also the day when I feel the crappiest, another good friend from school came to check in on me. This was on a day where tons of snow had just fallen outside, it was cold, windy, and it took her nearly half an hour to clear her car off so she could get to me. She brought me limes for my water and Italian soda, which is one of the things I could tolerate drinking when I‘m nauseous. We caught up on gossip and girl-talk. For two hours, I felt like a normal 20-something-year-old woman.

The next day I had to go to back to school. I was still extremely fatigued but the nausea was starting to get better. Even though I was tired, it was good to get my mind off of feeling like crap. I got texts/msgs from the friends who had visited me as well as others, and loved ones from afar to check in on me and see how I was doing (even from people who didn‘t know that my mom couldn‘t make it that weekend). It sucks to have to endure these treatments… especially through these dreary unending winter days. But it helps to know I have love on my side, keeping me warm, protected, and never alone.

I should be so lucky.

If I Could Change One Thing

March 5, 2011

So I put in applications for a summer position for four big national law firms. I had gone back and forth in my mind a number of times about whether to participate in the application process because I heard so many horror stories about the corporate law world eating (young women in particular) alive but at the same time, for the most part these were full-service firms or had niche areas that I was interested in exploring (more on the side of tech law, IP law, and privacy). I came to the conclusion that I shouldn‘t deselect myself in the process before even trying and that I would at least go to the interviews, see for myself what these firms were about, make my own judgments about the people who worked there, before deciding whether or not I could or would want to fit in. But I didn‘t get offered one single interview.

This was a devastating to me. With each rejection letter/email, I played it cool and assured myself that ‖ there will be an offer from at least one of them. And one is all you really need to get a job.‖ When I received the fourth and final rejection, I felt like I was punched in the stomach. And chest. And face. All along, I was certain I would get at least one interview. I know securing the final job would be competitive, but at least I expected to make it to the interview process. I had a lot more practical experience in legal work than most of my peers applying. I‘d already summered at a law firm, I worked in a legal clinic, I was a law review editor on an accredited journal, and I put together a public education presentation on my own. I was very confident about my resumé. I went to the Career Services Centre at my school to have my resumé and cover letter looked over. My counselor ripped my first drafts to shreds, then I re-worked them and came back and she was very happy with the final product. She assured me that I put together a great application package.

I felt confident in my application package. My marks from first year were not very good but in the past two years, I think I‘ve done respectably. Plus I‘ve had a number of people tell me (even before I came to law school) not to expect As in law school because hardly anybody gets them, and that a B+ is already very good and considered to what one would expect to be an A- in undergrad. A number of my friends who got offers on Bay Street told me they were hovering at B+ averages, tendings towards A-s. I even remember a first-year professor sharing with us this old saying/hierarchical belief/semi-joke that: in law school, the A-students become judges and academics, the B-students get good/prestigious jobs in the big firms, and C-students become ambulance chasers (those skeezy-looking personal injury lawyers who always promise that you will only pay if they win your case). All along, I accepted the view that I did not have to strive for an A because it was near impossible, and that I could do well and fend for myself on the job market with B+ average.

The truth is that these notions could not have been more wrong and inapplicable to me. The only thing that I was nervous/concerned about in my application packages were the gaps in my transcripts from the periods when I had to take breaks from school for treatment/surgery/radiation, etc. It was apparent that I had taken time off. These firms review literally hundreds of applications. If they see one student with a mediocre average and who has had more time than everyone else to do their studies, that does not come across as being a very competitive candidate. I could try to explain my situation, but if I did that, they could discriminate against me. If they hired me, they would have to accommodate me to the point of ―undue hardship and these corporate firms have a bottom line to meet. Lawyers are expendable, so why take one on that could break and leave any second because her health is so volatile? “It just makes good business sense.”

I approached my career counselor with this conundrum. She said I could choose to bury my head in the sand and not say anything at all about it or I could address the issue in an addendum to the transcripts saying I had physical health problems, which required me to take some time away from school. In the end, I attached an addendum saying my program had been staggered, and that I would be available to article the following year. However, I chose not to refer to physical health problems. I will never know what impact this did or did not make but the question will always linger in my mind. Would they see my transcript and assume: I was just taking it easy? Cruising through life? “Taking breaks for personal issues”? Looking for myself? Or maybe that I couldn’t handle the pressure? Having a baby? Hell, who knows, they might even give me the benefit of the doubt and assumed that I was sick. But then that would probably have cut me out of the running at that point. When I told my career counselor my marks were a B+ average now (although just barely), she nodded her head and assured me that they were good, as if I had a chance. At the time, I thought I did too. I had never thought about things differently until a breakfast date with a judge and professor from our faculty recently. They were both black. I don‘t remember exactly what the question was that a fellow student asked, but the professor said something that really resonated with me, which had never thought of before. She said when she was working as a bencher, she felt that she had to work 10 times as hard and be 10 times better than her white, male, colleagues, all day, everyday, from day one on the job. She felt as a black female professional, that she could never have an off-day because she wanted to prove that she had made it there because of her competence and on her merits, not (merely) because of some affirmative action program/policy. She thought the moment she slipped or made a mistake that people would start to question her qualification to be there. I had never thought about things that way. That minorities, women, people with disabilities, or anybody not part of the dominant class have to work harder and perform exceptionally compared to everyone else to achieve the same levels of success/positions in their professions and be respected. Maybe this is because I had never really considered myself to be ―disadvantaged‖ in any sense.

This is the first time in my life that I really felt I was ―disadvantaged. When it comes to job prospects for me now, it is immediately transparent in my applications that something is wrong/abnormal and I want to be able to explain why, but there are also competing reasons (which I think outweigh) I have for not disclosing my health situation.

Then, last weekend I was in Toronto for the Black Law Students Association Conference. There were many
interesting panellists who were practitioners, all working in different fields, all doing different things, but the one resounding message and common piece of advice that stuck with me was that to be a successful lawyer: 1) you need to get the marks (the As), and 2) you need to be an exceptional lawyer that wins. They made it sound so easy (even though I know in truth it isn‘t). But this advice came from the mouths of lawyers who had come from a position of disadvantage, survived law school, established successful practices, and are well respected in their profession. One of the panelists said it most aptly: ―If you‘re a great/the best lawyer, you get the job done, you win the cases, people are going to know your name. And then nobody is going to care what colour/sex you are if you are the best at what you do. Great lawyers can have anything. How true. I realized that this could be analogized to law students and their marks.

Those with A averages have their pick of the lot. They will always at least get the interview – in the private sector, in government, at NGOs, with professors, for clerkships, etc. etc. And then they have the freedom to choose where they want to go.

If I could do one thing differently now from the beginning of my law school experience, it would have been to take it more seriously and to have worked harder. People kept telling me to take it easy, not to over exert myself, and that law school students tend to get riled up and super-competitive with their study habits for no good reason. There is a term we use in law school, known as “gunners”. They are the exceptionally keen students who will read ahead 10 chapters and take detailed notes for all of them and bring them up in class to kiss ass even when the professor hasn‘t covered the material for those sections yet. Generally, gunners are extremely obnoxious and like hearing the sound of their own voice. They are also the students who go religiously to the library everyday, in lieu of eating or breathing. They bring suitcases with wheels and book stands to school as if they are going to court. They have the healthiest snacks but the most annoying sounding to listen to in class. Some of them wore full three-piece suits on the first day of school and had their own business cards in cases already. They are the people who decided they wanted to be litigators sometime between the age of 4 and 7. Their law school colleagues do not exist to them except if they need/want something from them. I despise these characters and everything they stand for. I wanted to define myself to be the complete opposite of ―them. At the other end of the spectrum, I also have a couple of friends who are just brilliant, and effortlessly smart.

They barely have to go to class or read the textbooks, and they can get A+s, As and A-s. Curse these people!!

Some of them are my best friends so I knew it could be done. Making it through law school without having to work that hard and still scoring great marks?! It gave me hope. I‘d never been a person to worry about school (I always took it seriously and I have worked hard) but I was never anything like a ―gunner‖. I looked at my brilliant friends and thought, hey they don‘t have to work hard, they just work smart. Really though, they are geniuses, and sadly, I am not. It was not fair of me to compare myself to them. I know now I could and should have worked harder. I couldn‘t get away with what they were doing.

What I didn‘t know then and am only starting to slowly realize now… is that I was also surrounded
by silent gunners (my own term)!! I‘m realizing more and more as I become closer to some of my colleagues than in the first two years, that I have a number of friends who have been quiet little gunners all along. What I mean is, is that they worked their asses off but they weren‘t blabbering out loud to everyone about how smart they were or that they stayed till 2am in the library every morning in first year, or that they consistently got As.

They just went and did it. For themselves and not for anyone else‘s validation. And the thing is, I never saw them do it because they never talked about it. I wish I could have been this kind of person. I am someone who can get great/excellent grades but it takes a huge investment of time for me. I am not one of those―naturally brilliant people. I have to put in many hours to really understand something but once I know it, I can talk about it, write about it, debate about it, whatever. I did not put in this time as much as I could have.

Now a lot of people will say, don’t be so hard on yourself, you were going through chemo. All the time my mom was telling me, ―don‘t over-exert yourself. But the truth is, I could have pushed myself harder. I actively took it easy because I knew it was important to enjoy life‘s other pleasures and for me school could not be everything. I did not want to only be in treatment and in school, without every getting to spend time with the people I love or do things for myself. I know it is hard to find that balance and when to know how much is not enough or too much, but I really do believe I could have done more (work).

First year, we had cable in my apartment, so a lot of nights were spent watching tv. Also, I must confess, I
spend way too much time on facebook trolling through other people‘s lives, pictures, dramas, etc. This
wouldn‘t seem like such a sin, except that my classmates were in the library studying and getting ahead of
me. I rarely attended those first year workshops or info sessions about how to succeed in law school. I thought they were for gunners or people who didn‘t know how to manage their time. I read my books, but not as scrupulously as my peers. I almost never raised my hand to participate in class. I mostly only spoke when called upon by the professors. By second year, I was much more engaged, spoke up in class, and came back feeling like I had something to prove (because I missed the entire first month of classes while I was going through radiation treatments). I worked hard, and did really well compared to my first year. I got my first A on a law school exam. My marks started looking a lot more respectable and by the end of the year I finished with a B+ average. But I still pissed away a lot of time on facebook, wandering around the mall, having social dinner dates, etc.

I am realizing now that it was not good enough. As somebody in a position of disadvantage, I would have
benefited from striving for and achieving the top marks. But all the people giving me advice in early days
never told me this – and not to their fault by any means; I understand maybe they never had to think about the situation in these terms (from the vantage point of being disadvantaged). Hell, I didn‘t even think about things this way until 3 weeks ago. Although I do remembering my great-godfather saying to me before I started law school, ―Don‘t listen to your mom and what your great-godmother are saying.

You should push yourself. I smiled and nodded. At the time, I held those words so close to my heart and appreciated it because I thought he was saying it to remind me that I‘m just like everyone else, that I don‘t get a free pass for being sick, that I am just as capable and strong. It showed he believed in me and I should never give up on myself or who I was. But his words mean so much more to me now that I‘m realizing that actually I am not like everyone else, and that is precisely why I must work even harder. I believed that making it to law school through cancer and chemo was already the achievement. But I think I short-changed myself in believing this.

They say your vision is 20-20 in retrospect. I don‘t regret many things in my life, and I don‘t necessarily regret this, but if I could do one thing different since starting law school, it would have been to work harder and have taken it a little more seriously. I arrogantly believed I could casually walk through it and still get the marks and get a job. The thought of being a gunner repelled me (until I learned about the silent ones recently). I know it is too late to go back now, but I am going to try to work harder and take things more seriously for my last couple of legs before finishing up at school. I will also carry this knew found wisdom with me into my practice and become the best lawyer I can be. And of course I will continue networking, talking to people, meeting people, exploring new opportunities. … finding other ways in. Because I know that nepotism is also how the world works. And I believe having meaningful human relationships with all different kinds of people from all different walks of life, in all different places – high and low, is just as important – if not more, than having the highest letter grade …

Cold, Cold Go Away

March 1, 2011

I AM ALIVE!! Barely… but still here. I caught a terrible cold/cough that started last Monday and has
progressively gotten worse. I do not understand how one can produce so much and seemingly endless
mucuous. Yuck. I was just sick for the entire month of January already! So frustrating!!

I am hoping this doesn‘t delay my chemo again. I want to stay on schedule… I‘m supposed to have a CT
scan in a couple of weeks to see the progress of this new regimen on FOLFIRI. Anxiety!

Anyway, haircut is on the agenda for Thursday so I will update then. Just wanted to check in and say I am

Hair Everywhere!

February 17, 2011

Ughghghghghgh my hair is everywhere!!!! On the bathroom floor, in the sink, all over my pillows, on my
clothes… I was told hair thinning is an uncommon side effect of FOLFIRI but it already started coming out like crazy for me after only 2 treatments. Tomorrow is my third…

I may have to get my hair cut pixie short again and if it still continues to fall out/be obvious, I might just buzz it all the way down.

POSH Pixie: this is what my hair kinda looks like now but mine is less tousled and i’m missing the matching cleavage… but gives you an idea…

PINK Pompadour: this is the style I rocked last summer but I feel like everyone else is doing it now so I want something different…

Unknown ASIAN MODEL Fun: I’m really liking this one… but I don’t know if I’ll have enough hair left in the middle to do it… also – too racy for job interviews?

“I Wish I Knew NATALIE PORTMAN”: I might actually get away with this one b/c I have a similar face shape.. Hopefully I’ll still have enough hair to spike up

MARION COTILLARD Glam: And if I had hair, I would do this… maybe I’ll get a wig and get an awesome stylist to cut it like this anyway…

Thoughts? Votes? Advice out there?

I had my hair cut last Thursday and I trusted my stylist to decide what was best, and he chose a Michelle
Williams style boyish pixie, except my version is a little shorter on the sides and in the back.
It is very cute and I’m happy about it, except I’m not too sure if he cut my bangs the right length. I found mine cut a little more severely/harshly but I know they grow out very quickly so that could have been why. If all else fails, I’ll just spike the front up again.

Back to the Pool

February 13, 2011

Today I swam for the first time in as long as I can remember. It‘s probably been more than a year. Eeek. I
made a lot of excuses for not going: the school pool is too disgusting (and the change rooms are taken
straight out of a horror film) … I didn‘t want to catch a cold walking in the winter with wet hair… running
replaced swimming as my cardio (although I haven‘t even been doing that regularly) … I was too busy in the summer between work, volunteering, treatment, and friends… etc. Then this morning, although I knew I had a jam-packed day already of things to do, I got up, gathered my things and headed to the pool (a community one that my friends told me about- not the putrid one at school).

I had to get away. From beginning a new semester of all new classes and an intense course schedule. From the obnoxious and vapid personalities of law school classmates. From the stress of lining up a job for the summer. From the dread of my next treatment. I just needed to find me again, alone. Me, my stroke, my breath.

I jumped into the cold chlorine water so familiar to me.
Splash! Splash!
Blur. Stroke.
Push. Kick.

I‘ve been swimming for most of my life. I can remember being as young as 3, holding onto a flotation device being dragged through the YMCA pool close to our house. I loved being in swimming lessons until I was about 7. I enjoyed the songs, the games… I could do all the floats and glides. Then all of a sudden I got to a level where I was expected to swim 25 metres!? I failed that level probably 7 times in semi-private lessons. My instructor and mom kept saying I just had to build up my endurance (granted I was a small kid for that level) but in retrospect I think it was more my fear of drowning that held me back.

I would take two strokes in front crawl and then try to grab on to the wall to make sure it was still there. The instructor tried to keep me off it and yelled at me to keep going. I remember telling my mom every week that I had a terrible belly-ache and couldn‘t go to my lessons. She let me get away with it a couple of times but she knew what was going on and forced me to go anyway. There were also weeks when I cried hysterically in front of my instructor telling her I just couldn‘t do it. Then one day she moved me away from the wall and put me in the middle of the lane where I couldn‘t grab the rope either. She started me off in the deep end and told me to swim to the shallow end. How dare she. It actually worked (almost) as I swam about 2/3rds of the length and right as I approached the drop-off between the deep-end and shallow end, I lifted my head and tried to put my feet down to touch the ground and realized I still couldn‘t reach. I panicked and tried to climb up to the surface but I inhaled a bunch of water. The instructor watched me for a few seconds, blew her whistle, and dove in to save me. I vomited a bunch of water and started crying and choking on my tears. I never wanted to swim again.

But the next week, my mom still made me go to my lesson. I had a huge knot in my stomach and still I did not have a choice. Why was she doing this? Did she enjoy watching me be tortured??? That session, again I failed. And probably for the next few sessions I failed as well. Eventually, someone recommended to my mom to put me in public lessons where there were more kids instead of just three to an instructor.

Maybe it was seeing other kids being able to do the entire length, or maybe it was that I had finally built up my stamina to swim the 25 metres. Maybe it was both. But I finally did it. And I passed!! And all the levels after that, I passed each time on my first try, never having to repeat. Front crawl, back crawl, elementary backstroke, breaststroke, sculling, treading, egg-beatering – I could do it all. Plus the CPR/first aid stuff. By the age of 11, I went as far as I could go with the lessons. I wasn‘t allowed to go onto the next levels because I didn‘t meet the age requirement. So I started volunteering as a junior instructor at the pool my brother worked at. I was teaching other kids (and in some cases even adults!) how to swim. I had gone from nearly drowning and hating swimming — to a little pool rat prodigy.

But the challenges did not end there. When I turned 14 and got to the Bronze Cross level, I struggled to meet the timing requirement to swim a certain number of laps (I think it was something like 24 laps in 14 minutes). I did well at everything else. I just couldn‘t meet the fitness standard. I would go to the pool on my own time and practice, practice, practice. I finally passed the level on my third try. If I hadn‘t passed that time, I think I might have given up. I felt like maybe I just wasn‘t cut out for this lifesaving/lifeguarding stuff. It was a miracle that I made it! At least that‘s how it felt. But the obstacles kept coming.

In NLS (the class to get your lifeguarding certification), again I struggled with the fitness component. I had to pick up a 20 pound brick from the bottom of the pool, bring it up to the surface, and swim with it for 5 metres, keeping it above the surface. I could bring the brick to the surface but as soon as I got up there, the weight of it started pushing me under, and I‘d be near the bottom of the pool again by the time I reached the wall. I struggled from week to week with this drill… some nights I could do it and others I‘d be at the bottom of the pool choking on the water I inhaled. I had dreams about being able (and not being able) to do this. But on the night of the exam, I took a deep breath, dove down, took the time to steady my legs, pushed up to the surface, put in a solid egg-beater kick all the way 5 metres to the wall, and threw the brick up on the ledge with my head above the water. Done.

I was 16.

I was a lifeguard.

The world was perfect.

I felt like I could do anything. I finally appreciated the tough love in early years when I wanted to quit and my mom made me go to my lessons anyway. My struggles through learning how to swim built the foundation for my character. I went from near drowning to being a lifeguard and later a swimming instructor as well. Beyond that, swimming has been my constant over the years. Whenever I go back, I feel like I‘m rediscovering myself.

Refreshed. Renewed. Ready to take on the next challenge.

Reasons Why I Fight

February 9, 2011

… Because I can
… Because there is still so much to do
… Because my family and friends won‘t let me give up
… Because I think the world is still good
… Because I like winning (and hate losing)
… Because I am inspired by the strength of others
… Because I want people to remember that I fought
… Because I don‘t want to miss out
… Because there is hope
… Because this too shall pass…

… Why do you/will you fight?

Into The Fire

February 4, 2011

After taking a break from chemo for the past 3 months (because the side effects were running me down so badly physically that mentally and emotionally I was starting to lose my will to fight), I re-started my treatments on January 21st. I was supposed to start at the beginning of January but got hit with a flu that kept me out of commission for three weeks. My doctors didn‘t want to treat me while my immune system was already compromised – a wise choice. Still, it was critical for me to get back on treatment ASAP because my last scan showed significant disease progression (the spots in my liver had doubled in size and there was evidence of potentially new developments in my lungs and kidneys). I worried about this but also felt I was not ready to step back into the fire when I could barely stay awake for more than a couple of hours at a time because of my flu. So I just had to be patient and hope that I was going to get better. I did.

The new treatment regimen would be slightly different from what I‘d been getting for the past year. I had
been on FOLFOX (a combination of Leucovorin, Fluorouracil, and Oxaliplatin). I would be switching to FOLFIRI, which was essentially the same except instead of getting Oxaliplatin, I would be getting Irinotecan. I had a lot of problems with the Oxaliplatin. My side effects on FOLFOX were significant- the nausea was severe (even on 4 different anti-emetics, I still felt it up to 5 days out after treatment), the neuropathy in my fingers and toes lasted between treatments without ever letting up, and I was so physically fatigued that I could no longer run or do the level of physical activity I was used to. It also made everything I ate taste like metal. I stopped eating chicken because I couldn‘t chew or swallow it without gagging. I couldn‘t enjoy food, the physical activities I used to love, and I was missing out on social events all the time because I felt so sick. The treatment started not being worth it. I wanted a break.

I should note that both FOLFOX and FOLFIRI are not traditionally used to treat pancreatic cancer (they are
typically used to treat colon cancer). However, they have been shown to provide some benefit as 2nd-line
options to pancreatic cancer patients who have gone through other chemotherapy regimens, which ceased to be effective and basically have no other options. This is the situation that I was in. Furthermore, I had responded to treatments before that other pancreatic cancer patients hadn‘t benefited from and my age likely played a favourable factor. That‘s why my doctors and I decided these were worth a try.

My Treatment Background in Brief…

January 2006: I am diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer. Scans show a very large tumor on the tail
end of my pancreas and a few small spots on my liver. I begin a clinical trial that combines Gemcitabine,
Tarceva, and possibly Avastin (it was a double-blind study so I’ll never know if I received the Avastin or not). Best case scenario, the doctors are hoping for the treatment to stop the tumors from growing and slow down disease progression for a few months to a year. The results are incredible. The combination manages to stop growth of the tumor on my pancreas and even shrink a couple of the spots in my liver. The treatment stabilizes the disease to the point where we could consider surgery as an option.

September 2006: Surgery (pancreatectomy and liver re-section) to remove the tumor on my pancreas and
cut out the part of my liver that had the metastases. Success! Post-scans show no visible signs of cancer. I am in remission.

July 2007: Scan shows recurrence of disease in my liver.

August 2007: We try a targeted therapy called radiofrequency ablation (RFA). Basically, needles are inserted directly into my liver where the tumors are and micro-waves are sent through to burn them.

October 2007: Scan shows RFA is successful at containing the targeted lesions but occurrence of new lesions in the liver appear.

January 2008: I go back to chemotherapy on a combo of Gemcitabine and Tarceva. It stabilizes things for a while.

July 2009: Scan shows disease progression despite chemotherapy. Gemcitabine and Tarceva have ceased to be effective in controlling the disease.

August 2009: Clinical Trial combining radiation and a chemotherapy pill called Sorafenib. Targeted spots
seem to be under control in subsequent scans but new spots in the liver continue to appear.

October 2009: RFA to the latest spots in my liver to buy time while we plan my next move.

January 2010: Start chemotherapy on FOLFOX. Appears to stabilize the disease. Spots in the liver remain
relatively the same size and no new spots appear.

November 2010: Break from FOLFOX due to worsening neuropathy and unbearable side effects.

December 2010: Scan shows disease progression in the liver and possibly lung and kidney.

January 2011: Start chemotherapy on FOLFIRI.

I was nervous about going back on chemo again. I had just enjoyed 2 months of a normal life (kind of- I was also inundated with writing two major papers and studying for exams but at least I felt like a regular student in the crunch) without hospital visits or treatments and the resulting side effects to worry about.

The doctors told me that with the FOLFIRI I wouldn‘t get the neuropathy at least. They were most concerned with this because if I kept getting the Oxaliplatin on FOLFOX, the nerve damage could eventually become permanent/irreversible. So we decided to leave that treatment behind and try FOLFIRI instead. Still, I dreaded the nausea and fatigue that would come. Plus with FOLFIRI, I learned that another side effect could be severe diarrhea. Yay, lucky me!

Little did I know, that this time on this treatment, I would have to go through hell during the infusion itself. On other chemotherapies, most of the time the drug just drips from an IV into my portecath (an implanted device over my chest where IVs can be attached to so I don‘t have to get the infusion the veins in my arms, which could be very painful- especially because I have such tiny and difficult veins). With the Gemcitabine-Tarceva and the FOLFOX, I never actually felt anything during the infusion. But with FOLFIRI, I had all sorts of reactions.

I was advised that many patients on this regimen do get reactions during the infusion. Many patients have abdominal discomfort and cramping and I was told to tell the nurse right away because they could give me a shot to counteract this sort of reaction. About 15 minutes into the infusion, I started feeling discomfort but not in my abdomen. I flushed with heat and started getting sweats. My ears burned. I couldn‘t focus my eyes on anything and the room started spinning. I felt a pulsing in my forehead. I explained all of this to the nurse and she stopped the infusion right away. They administered the Atropine shot and decided to wait to see if my reaction would subside.

After about 45 minutes, I felt a bit better- but still as though my consciousness was impaired, and they began the infusion again. The nurse checked up on me after about 10 minutes this time and when I opened my mouth to speak to her, suddenly I realized that my tongue was numb. It felt so heavy, I could barely speak. It was like going to the dentist when they freeze your tongue. The inside of my mouth went dry. Again the nurse stopped the infusion. I was given another shot of Atropine as well as some Benadryl and had to wait again until things calmed down. The numbness of the tongue didn‘t go away but we learned later from another nurse that actually that was likely the result of the shot I‘d been given and not the FOLFIRI itself.

After waiting it out again, the infusion was re-started and I knocked out (kind of) because of the Benadryl. I say kind of because I had been pumped with so much fluid through the IVs and drank so much water in
attempts to hydrate my parched mouth, that I was running to the bathroom every 10 minutes to urinate.

That was a pain because I was hooked up to the IV station, which had cords plugged into an outlet so every time I got up from the bed, I had to unplug, walk over to the bathroom half conscious, pee, then come back, plug back into the wall and untwirl all the IV lines so I could lay back down on the bed again.

Every ten minutes this was happening. Maybe next time I should just ask for my bed to be wheeled over and camped out right beside the washroom so I wouldn‘t have to constantly relay back and forth… or better yet I should reserve one of the washrooms and just have my bed and IV station set up in there!! If only.

Finally, the infusion finished, the nurses hooked me up to my take-home bottle, which was attached to me via my portecathe and would drip over another 46 hours. I have to carry this with me in a pouch for the next two days. I was the very last patient to leave. We had such a long day. The Benadryl still had me semi-conscious, my tongue still numb, mouth and throat still scratchy as sandpaper. We got home just before 6pm. I collapsed on my bed.

I had officially stepped back into the fire …

A Call to Arms

January 23, 2011

The Stats

Taken from  accessed 23 January 2011, which compiled this information from various websites including the: Ontario Ministry of Health, National Cancer Institute (NCI), American Cancer Society, Canadian Cancer Society, Mount Sinai Hospital, and John Hopkins University.

  • Pancreatic cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women in both Canada and
    the US.Currently there is no cure
  • The 99% mortality rate is the highest of any cancer; by the time pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, it is
    usually too late for a promising outcome as the cancer has metastasized and spread to surrounding
    organs. Options for treatment are minimal at this stage
  • 3 out of 4 patients with pancreatic cancer will die within one year of their diagnosis
  • The 5 year survival rate is a dismal 5 %; the lowest of all cancers
  • It is estimated that 3,900 Canadians (42,470 in the US and more than 250,000 worldwide) will be
    diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2009. Approximately 3,800 Canadians will die (35,240 in the US)
  • The lifetime probability of developing pancreatic cancer is approximately 1 in 79
  • September 2010: An article published by the Toronto Star notes an improvement in survival rates for
    many other forms of cancer according to StatsCan but cited Pancreatic as being still the most

Please learn more about pancreatic cancer, current research initiatives, and ways to donate at

The Good Fight: My Battle With Pancreatic Cancer and Advocacy for a Cure

January 21, 2011

They say only the strong survive. I don‘t know if that‘s really true. My dad died at the age of 53 and he was the strongest person I knew. 2Pac died when he was 25. He was an iconic image of strength for my generation but foretold his own untimely death. In truth, I think luck has more to do with who lives and who doesn‘t. I wasn‘t supposed to survive beyond 12 months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer but here I am, years later soldiering on. It‘s not because I was stronger than either of them, and I know that at any moment, I could die too.

The saying would make a lot more sense to me if it referred to survival of one‘s legacy and memory long after their physical demise. When someone returns to dust – to linger on in the minds of those that knew them, to come to life in the dreams of their loved ones, to continue to inspire their fans‘ and friends‘ life choices and actions – that‘s real power. That‘s real strength. This is also true of cancer survivors (and I use this term to refer to both living, breathing survivors, as well as those who have physically passed on but survive in their legacy. I say legacy because they are more than a memory- my dad‘s strength and character continue to manifest in me – a living, breathing human being. His life has taken on another form that continues to resonate in the world).

I can‘t stand whenever the media says so and so ―loses their battle with cancer‖ or they ―succumbed to their disease. I know people who have fought cancer valiantly believing to the very end that they were going to live. They did not die because they were weak-minded or physically unfit. I refuse to accept such offensive and inaccurate terms. So, I am here ―to fight the good fight. This resonates on three levels: first – I fight to live and win my battle against pancreatic cancer, second – to shed light on what it means to live with a life threatening disease and show people that survival encompasses so much more than our material existence, and third – to bring awareness to a cause that doesn‘t get nearly enough attention and advocate for a cure.

Before his death, Professor Randy Pausch told the US Congressional Committee that “we don’t have
advocates for the disease because they don’t live long enough”. The fact that I am still alive despite the odds means that I have a responsibility to fight for a cure for this devastating disease.

This blog will tell my story as it unfolds as well as reflect on the experiences I‘ve already been through. I hope that it helps others out there facing cancer realize that they are not alone, that there is hope, and that no matter how bad your situation is – there is a reason to fight. I can‘t promise that I‘ll always be positive or share stories of triumph, but I will try my best to remain honest in every entry. So let me begin by introducing myself and my story.

I am a twenty-something-year-old woman on the cusp of completing a law degree and looking towards
starting my career. I live for fashion, food, and fun with family and friends. My favourite sport both to play and watch is basketball. I love hip hop but my favourite band is Oasis. I grew up in Canada in a very multicultural city and am attracted to all people and things different. Since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to make the world a better place. I have always been passionate about human rights, equality, and social justice. I have a soft spot for the underdog. Interestingly enough now, I find myself in a position facing harrowing odds.

I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 20 (which is extremely rare – most people who get it
are into their 60′s). My case was (and still is) considered ―terminal because currently there is no cure.

When the doctors found my disease it had already metastasized to my liver. My prognosis was less than a year. I was not going to finish school, have a career, get married, or have children. So how was I to reconcile my faith in notions of justice when my situation seemed so unbelievably unfair?

There are moments I wish I did not have to deal with what I have to face as a young person: not being able to make long-term plans for the future, not being able to travel to certain places because my immune-system is compromised, missing social events because I am too sick, having to face potential discrimination from employers and rejection from dating prospects, etc. People always tell me: ―Your situation seems so unfair.

But then I am always reminded that I am not the only person in the world facing hardship.

It may not seem like it on the surface, but everyone has some shit to deal with. The world is full of poverty, violence, dysfunctional relationships, mental illness, etc. – we all experience hardship in different forms. So at times, it may not seem fair to me that the girl sitting beside me in class doesn‘t have to worry about feeling sick for a week out after chemotherapy. But who knows, maybe she had to fight tooth and nail through poverty to get that seat in law school. Or on the other end of the spectrum, maybe she doesn‘t even want to really be here and is only doing it because her parents and social class expect her to be, and one day she is going to wake up devastated that she wasted her life pursuing a dream that wasn‘t hers. All of this to say that, my situation may not be as unfair as it seems.

I‘ve had a pretty great life otherwise. I have very loving and supportive family and friends. I‘ve never had to worry about not having enough money for food, clothes, or school. I was allowed to choose the educational path I wanted. I‘ve travelled to some very interesting places. What I‘ve learned from my situation is that I can take nothing for granted. I must seize every moment that I‘m given. I appreciate everything so much more than I would if I thought I was going to live forever. All of my emotions and experiences are heightened. I pursued goals (like going to law school) that I would have otherwise been too intimidated to go after. I am a true believer now that things happen for a reason.

Justice and fairness are about striking a balance. Life is about constantly negotiating our ups and downs –
coming to terms with the situations we are given, suffering through heartbreak and loss, and celebrating our survival despite all odds.

Each morning I wake up, I am like everyone else. I am walking on a tightrope, and I am fighting the good
fight. Come join me

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