Sunday, January 29, 2023

Innovation is a Journey

Quick post to share a campaign that just launched: Innovation is a journey

I am honoured to have been part of this project and to support the work being done by life-saving pharmaceutical companies in the cancer space. Their research and development in innovative medicines is invaluable. 

Thank you BMS - you saved my life!



There is also an accompanying article for which I was interviewed, please feel free to check it out, here

“Even if something only works temporarily, that option could buy time until another treatment — and potentially a cure — comes along.” 

Wise words Mike, thank you. We live by this. 


Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Brought in the New Year like the Old Days!

Claire and Cass came to visit us in Prince George BC!

The main annual holiday celebration for the three of us girls has always been New Year's Eve (in addition to our birthdays - we declare holidays on those days too ๐Ÿ˜‡). Family fun NYEs being a lifelong favourite of mine, I passed down the tradition, and this year, we were reunited for bringing in 2023.

Travel was involved - the girls made the trek from Toronto on the two flights it takes to get here, including "the propeller plane" that Claire hasn't been super impressed with the thought of since I moved to the wild northwest. They arrived late afternoon Dec-31 and we were all ready for a full week together, relaxing, sightseeing, meeting our family and friends here, visiting Reese, enjoying the great outdoors, and talking, talking, talking!  

I can't help but think about the funny paths life can take us on, as I sometimes still do when looking around here pondering where I have come to live, in far-off PG. Alongside that - what an odd place for the girls to take a winter vacation! haha

Travel with the girls was a priority of mine while they were growing up as I feel it is important for kids to see the world outside of their bubble. We were fortunate to have family help on some trips over the years, and of course, my work opened the door to a few of our adventures together as well. Thankfully all of this experience made my trusty traveler daughters adept at flying here and open to all that the trip and location could offer. 

Our first airplane trip together was to Florida to visit their Baba and GeeGee when they were little munchkins. (Enter a few photos to support my reminiscing... hopefully the girls are too busy to see this blog so I won't get in trouble for posting these old photos! ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

 
Florida, 2011

Then we went to California in 2017

And we got to go to London, and Manchester, UK together in 2018! That was quite a trip, I'd love to go back to London again. 


London

Manchester, England



And I have to post this famous moment in our lives LOL 
- the photo which to this day is my phone's home screen:

A boat ride on the Thames after we visited the Tower of London


The girls' first time to BC was in 2019 - Vancouver, and Chilliwack for a friend's wedding.

Lonsdale Quay, North Van captured their hearts

Notable mentions also - in high school Cass went to Italy and Spain on a school trip, and Claire went across Canada a couple of times in a big truck.

Ahhh travel... I could talk about it all day. And the girls' travel to Prince George! SO thrilled to have been able to ring in the new year all together, and have a week to hang out.

We had a blast showing them the sights. Mr. PG of course, and we took them to their first winery, and brewery, grown-up women that they are now. We had a spa day, and spent lots of time on the deck with the fire pit, listening to the trains. We went bowling with Mike's kids and grands, had a meet'n'greet with several of our friends, and we went to a few of our favourite restaurants in between home-cooking our family-favourite meals. 





Oh - and giant trees! Unlike Ontario trees... this giant Cottonwood:
(that's me tree-hugging)

One of the highlights of the visit was the afternoon we went for a back-roads tour to show the girls some forest service roads and try to spot a moose. We went out to Blackwater Canyon for tailgate-BBQ smokies and to "pretend" we were camping for an afternoon. It was pretty wild! They've certainly never done anything like that before (as I hadn't before Mike showed me the ropes), and because they were here in January we couldn't camp, but we could do a day trip, give them a taste of how we do it here. They loved it!






Alas, reality called, and Claire and Cass had to go home to their lives in Toronto, but they plan to come back in the summer. We'll go camping then, and scout out more big trees - and bears! And the elusive moose we missed this time. I can't wait!! ๐Ÿ˜ In the meantime I'll go back to visit them in the spring, and we'll plan more adventures then.


We๐ŸงกPG


Happy New Year!! All the best in 2023


***


Aside... something I'd love to share here too - I've mentioned before our stops at Mr. PG when we have company from out of town - we noticed a couple of interesting "offerings" at the base of Mr. PG this time. Pretty cute, and I'll be curious to see if it catches on. Here is a photo of one of the items we found at his feet...well, base.  

Cool video about him recently too! Check it out here: Landmarks S1 EP 2 Mr.PG



Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Blogging @ GetSkinHelp.com

Over the last couple of years I have had the pleasure of doing some work with the GetSkinHelp team, and I’m pleased to continue! Wrote a blog for them – click here to read:

What to Expect at the Dermatologist


GetSkinHelp is leading the charge when it comes to digitizing the complete patient circle-of-care.

Not only are they providing quality virtual services across Canada, but they are collaborating with government agencies and hospitals to bring their technology and services to more people.

GetSkinHelp found its footing amid the Spring 2020 lockdown, when Dr. Colin Hong saw a surge in people coming in for skin cancer. Teaming up with entrepreneur, Keith Loo, the two began planning how to help patients right from their own homes. From there, what started simply as an online skin cancer screening tool, has quickly amassed to become a company that covers a variety of skin conditions.

They are also working to demystify the Canadian healthcare sector, particularly as it relates to dermatology, chronic skin conditions, and skin cancers. They investigate how drugs are developed, how AI will affect healthcare, and the forces at play in society that affect our wellbeing.

Some of the challenging questions they investigate include:

Why are there so few Dermatologists in Canada?

And

How much do you think it costs to remove a melanoma?

I'm fascinated to learn the answers to these questions - much of it is news even to me!  So thanks for your great work GetSkinHelp, I look forward to continuing to support your initiatives.


To learn all about how the GetSkinHelp app works click here to go to their website.  They also have their informative discussions and interviews on their youTube channel, and their podcasts are on Spotify and iTunes


Monday, November 28, 2022

Once a Nosy Patient, Always a Nosy Patient (Advocate)

Note from a reader: Enough gallivanting around Natalie, get back to work!  

OK, back to work I go - I have cancer to write about, experience to share, fellow patients and warriors to help through their crappy time the way others helped me through mine (and still do). 

Earlier this year I wrote about my most recent surgery (not cancer-related), and the results of that - not anemic anymore - good stuff! But there is more... I have learned a lot in the past couple of years about my health and options. Thanks to a move in provinces, I basically qualified for a whole new round of Physician referrals and perspectives, which is pretty interesting to experience. I was very happy with my care before, but now I have some new tools to add to my repertoire.

First off, I am fortunate to have another great family doctor (GP), who has been fantastic acting as my advocate and connecting me with specialists I may not have discovered otherwise. 

Right out of the gate he got me referred to the BC Cancer Agency (the equivalent of the formerly named Cancer Care Ontario, which governs all cancer care in the province - in the western provinces and some of the east, they actually refer to it as "Cancer Agency," which I had learned in my work with SYSF, but hadn't encountered personally, in Ontario). Every province has its own health care budget so if you move you get a new health card and you fall into that province's budget, and you no longer get services in the other province. There are times when patients can qualify for out-of-province treatment/care, but I'll save that topic for another day.

BC Cancer (BCCA) has a beautiful Cancer Centre here in Prince George, and a couple of CT scanners in the adjacent hospital UHNBC, as well as MRI (though for PET we have to go to Vancouver). My first experience with the centre here was interesting, as, being new to BC Cancer, I was to follow the "new patient intake" pathway. My intake interview was conducted by a nurse over the phone (thanks covid), and I was struck by the complete line of questioning as it was almost exactly what I had experienced seven years prior, when I was first diagnosed with melanoma. 

It was rather surreal, and to the surprise of the nurse, so many of my answers were detailed and knowledgeable. In 2014, being brand new on the scene I had stumbled with many of the questions, not understanding what the staff were saying to me, not knowing my family/cancer history, being in shock in general as a brand new cancer patient. They were very sensitive and gentle with the questioning, but to be asked again this far down the line if I had a Will in place and a Personal Care representative and my affairs in order was a stark reminder of the deadly disease I am dealing with.

This time around I heard the questions and knew what to say and what to expect, from my years of personal research as well as work in the space, but I couldn't help being taken back to my first cancer centre experience, sitting in the waiting room holding that tell-tale newly-diagnosed envelope. It was emotionally difficult to answer some of the interview, as I had entered the process knowing I was new to this centre, but not comprehending that they wouldn't just read my file, they would treat me as an entirely new patient. 

Overall it was interesting to have that experience and it reminded me of the compassion all newly diagnosed patients require.

Image source: All.Can Canada

Intake complete, I was referred to the Medical Oncologist who travels here to cover melanoma patient care, among other indications. My first impression - aside from knowing no one could compare to The Boss - was that I would have to advocate for myself right out of the gate. Because I was past five years with no evidence of disease since melanoma diagnosis, in this Oncologist's opinion, I no longer needed to be followed. Well I know otherwise! 

A metastatic melanoma diagnosis is forever. It is a sneaky disease too, in which one might not experience symptoms of recurrence for months, and if not for being followed, one would not find out they have recurred until it is potentially too late to treat. 

A patient has the right to choose their follow schedule based on guidance from their medical team, but also on how they are feeling and doing, and any symptoms they may or may not be experiencing. I am clearly aware that I can request a CT scan any time I wish. I want one annually even in good health, so annually one I will get.

Simultaneously I received a referral to a Dermatologist for a full skin exam, which I should also have every year, but hadn't in I won't say how long. That one I'm not as hot to pursue, as I was educated from my first Derm years ago, my metastatic melanoma would not cause new moles or lesions. I may get new ones, but they would be unrelated to the first. While of course I do my monthly skin self-exams, it's the internal melanoma spread to lymph nodes and beyond I need the cancer centre's help watching out for. 

There are not official guidelines in place across Canada for metastatic melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers at this time. There are some guidelines in a few provinces, but not a complete set, so this explains why patients in some centres will receive completely different information about their disease than patients in other areas. 

It is a disparity that continues, and that should be addressed so that patients will no longer fall through cracks in the system, as I could for example, if I wasn't being scanned. Or as melanoma friends I have met on many occasion could, when they receive outdated treatment information or options. It is discouraging that we still see many of the same things happening in skin cancer care now as Mike experienced when he was first (mis-)diagnosed in 2007. But I digress...

Got a clear bill of skin health from the visiting Dermatologist, and that's great. Since then though, I'm happy to report that PG has gotten two new Dermatologists here full time, so that will help to address the Derm shortage for everyone in the Northern Health region of BC. I go see my new Derm for the first time in January so stay tuned for updates on that. You can be sure I'll be doing my usual dig-for-info-as-informed-patient at that one!

Alongside all this melanoma-maintenance, my GP referred me to an Endocrinologist. You may know from my thyroid cancer battle that I had dabbled in Endocrinology lessons in 2015-2016 at the same time as melanoma, and that involved neck surgery and radioactive iodine treatment. Completely different experience from skin cancer, but again a whole bunch of information a patient needs to know.

My new Endocrinologist here in PG was extremely compassionate and thorough, and once more it was like I was a new patient all over again. He requested all of my surgery and pathology reports from Sunnybrook, and explained things to me in a way I had not heard before. We did bloodwork several times to get full stats on my TSH/T3/T4/Thyroxine/Thyroglobulin, and he ordered an ultrasound on my neck/throat to get a baseline in case we needed it for future. 

It hadn't occurred to me to get an ultrasound sooner, as since my thyroidectomy and follow-ups in Toronto I was on a maintenance-dose of daily thyroid hormone supplement to keep my system running and keep any potential thyroid cancer cells away. Plus with the head to toe CT scans for melanoma I figured I was covered for metastasis-checks. 

Turns out an ultrasound every few years is a good idea as well, to check for any lumps or bumps that may not show up on a CT scan. In any case, ultrasound was clear, bloodwork was good, he adjusted my dose gradually down a little bit, and I'm rolling with that for the foreseeable future, consistent bloodwork pending.

So that's my informal cancer lesson for the day, work done - check and check! Though I do continue to look for ways to help myself and others in this disease space, so consider this an open invitation: if you have any questions you need help answering, about cancer, but especially skin cancer or thyroid cancer, I may be able to steer you toward the right source of information. I hang out with lots of health care providers and patient advocates alike and am always open to helping someone get the support they need. With gratitude, chat again soon. ๐Ÿ’



Friday, November 18, 2022

the Blog Dog moved to BC too!

If you don't already know this guy, let me tell you about him: 

Reese, my chocolate Lab (a.k.a. my husband) for many years, loves getting treats, having car rides, going for walks, swimming, eating treats, cuddling, napping, mooching snacks, going for more walks, napping some more, oh and did I mention - treats?!!

He has his own tag on this blog, as he kept me company for much of my writing time. He was my cancer dog. He liked to photo bomb my posts every chance he got, and he inspired me to keep going, always. I love him so very much!

When I moved to Prince George, he stayed in Ontario, moving from Meaford to Toronto with the girls to their new house. They were good for each other, I got to see him when I visited the girls, and Reese also had his little buddy Diego. 

As time went on and the girls got busier and I got Prince George-ier, we made the family decision to move Reese here to a new home where he could enjoy the fresh northern BC air and I could visit him lots. There were definitely stressful moments in this process, but in the end it was infinitely worth it. 

A blur of activity finding Reese the perfect home here, booking flights, planning the drive, having a giant kennel delivered to the girls' house (getting Reese used to being in a kennel), vet appointments, a wee bit of doggy sedative (and a lot of human sedatives!) and we were set to go: Reese would arrive in PG on March 20, 2022. Mike and I had even bought him a new collar from our fave brewery here in town! 


For the first time, I drove on my own all the way from PG to Vancouver - a full day's drive to arrive at the airport for my red-eye flight to Toronto that night, parking the Jeep there for the few days I'd be away. Had a whirlwind visit with the girls, and prepped for the tearful parting and our big journey home. 

In all the planning, we decided it would be best for Reese to have only one flight Toronto to Van, rather than add the second one from Vancouver to PG.  Plus then I could spend a couple of days with him coming back, let him recover from the flight and not land at his new home jetlagged, and "show him" the sights driving up the roads I mentioned in my post the other day

Labs are very intelligent, malleable, and reactive dogs, with human-like tendencies and charm. Knowing Reese's personality so well, I had full confidence he would roll with the trip and it would be fun, so I was looking forward to spending the weekend with him in this way.

A shout-out to WestJet - they were awesome. From booking the large pet flight to the helpful staff at check-in, to the compassionate care they took of Reese while he was in their possession, everything was outstanding. I was a nervous wreck, but the WestJet staff kept my pieces together, and delivered my favourite four-legged man to Vancouver, happy as a clam. 

   

We made our way out of the airport, onto the park 'n' fly bus, and to my Jeep in the parking lot (with MUCH help from random strangers - this dog and kennel combo was veeeeerry heavy) where I could finally release him from the kennel. He was pretty thirsty when he got out but I had brought a bunch of water, and clippers to undo the zip tie locks on the kennel (thanks for the tip Kath!) so in no time flat Reese was free, walked, quenched, and reunited with my Jeep. I swear he looked at me like... what the heck...I know this car! 

He waited patiently while I took the kennel all apart and jigsaw puzzled it and all of our bags and stuff into my baby SUV. It must have been a comical sight for anyone who may have seen us! I didn't care, I just wanted to get on the road and start showing Reese the BC sights.

We were going a relatively short distance to our first pet-friendly hotel, as we both needed to unwind after our long day. Reese had never been to a hotel before, or in an elevator, but he waltzed right through all of it like a pro. I had brought his blankets from home so he had lots of familiar smells and padding for the road trip and hotel rooms. Judging by how quickly he settled in, he felt like the royalty he is!

We went for walks, ordered-in pizza, watched TV, and cuddled. It was so much fun! Had a great sleep and a good re-set for the rest of the trip home. Woke up ready to explore and just soak up my brown fuzzy guy. 

He sat patiently in the front seat while I re-organized the Jeep, and we decided the kennel just had to go. It was too big to fit, and Reese needed the full back seat to nap between sights and stops. I found a local animal shelter to donate it to, so after a stop for *hashbrowns!* *doggy eyes!!* we offloaded the kennel, re-packed the Jeep again, and headed up the highway. 

First stop? Whistler of course!


We got a bit soaked from the March snow-rain, but we walked all around the village and Reese posed for pictures wherever we went. He always was a ham for photos so this was working out just as I had hoped it would. Too cute! Good stretch of the legs, toweled ourselves off, and got back on the road to head north. Over the Duffy Lake road through the scenic - and often harrowing - curvy roads up and down, we stopped a few times for photo ops, to go for walks, and have water and snacks. 

He's a mountain dog at heart


Seton Lake - look familiar? ๐Ÿ˜

(Let's not talk about the dirty shape the Jeep was in, inside and out, by the time I got home)

Destination that evening was our motel in 100 Mile House, about four hours south of PG. We had taken all day to get there, Mike suggested that I had set the family record for the taking the longest to make the drive from Whistler to 100 Mile. LOL - well we had to stop and sniff at every place!!

We checked in to our motel with kitchenette, ran over to the grocery store to get some dinner to make later, and then went to the pet store, for a BATH. Everybody appreciates a good shower after flying on an airplane, right? Hhmm.... turns out no, not everybody does appreciate that....but we did it anyway. Reese needed to be spiffy for his new family tomorrow!

He's always been tolerant of baths, not impressed, but gets the job done.

Got back to the motel, cranked up the heat for the wet-fur baby, unpacked and settled in. Lots of cuddles again, honestly I could hardly believe we were doing this trip together, it was so fun, and funny!

After Reese had thoroughly dried, we went for a night walk around 100 Mile House, which now holds a sweet place in my heart, I'll always think of Reese and the time we spent there. I love that Mike and I drove through it a few times again later this year.

More walks in the morning, and we got all packed up and ready to head up the last leg of our trip. 

Lots of tourist stops in this stretch too - and I don't even feel like a crazy person for telling you I wanted to show Reese all the cool places I love. He was about to become a BC dog after all, he needed to know about mountains, gold, and jade! 

So we stopped at the jade place I mentioned on a previous blog - the folks from Jade Fever were planning on opening a smaller store south of Quesnel, and had already placed a bunch of their giant jade chunks on the property. We stopped to take a walk around. Claudia wasn't there, but we checked out the place and then went on our way. 


And the giant gold nugget pan in Quesnel!

Next stop - Prince George. I was starting to get a bit weepy-eyed, knowing we were getting close to home. I was thrilled to be introducing Reese to his new family later in the day, but it was bittersweet at the same time. I just love him to bits and miss him all the time.

We drove straight to see Mike, gather his supportive hugs, ask him to take our picture together, and then all go together to Reese's new home. 


WITH a stop at Mr. PG of course!!

And with that, it was time to take Reese to his new family, who were having a little welcome party for him. I had regaled them with stories, photos, and videos but they had never met Reese in person so I was deeply hoping that they would hit it off right away. 

Thankfully, our instincts about this family were bang on! In addition to being absolutely lovely in general, they are very experienced with Labs and understood his personality right away. By the time we got there Reese was a bit tired and worked up from all of the excitement, so Mike and I made a fairly quick exit so that they could all get to know each other, and Reese would be able to calm down without me there. I didn't say goodbye as I knew I would see him again soon.

And I did! I have several times and will be seeing him again soon. It's wonderful! I join his new owner on his morning walks every now and then, and this summer they even invited us to a banquet event for which Reese was the official mascot! It was awesome.

And here he is in all his BC glory, when we went for a walk together on my birthday:

๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ๐ŸคŽ


OK well, two of my family imported here, now two to go... Claire and Cass - PG is coming for youuuuuu!  ๐Ÿ˜‰