Monday, March 18, 2024

Update - We Got Married!

Today Mike and I posted on social media the news of our recent marriage. On facebook and the other personal and professional social media platforms, we shared a few short words and a photo and drone-video, keeping it brief and true to us. But... on my blog I hold a bit more creative (aka wordy) license, and cannot resist saying a few extra things about our happy news!

Mike is the man of my dreams, a truly wonderful person inside and out, a fellow melanoma warrior - though he is brave and strong enough to call himself a melanoma survivor! - a true inspiration, and my best friend. Mike is intelligent and insightful, can always be relied upon by his friends and family, is invariably adventure-driven, and the funnest person I know. I am unspeakably honoured to share with him this crazy thing called life, and I thank my blessed stars every day that we found each other. 

Mr. Allan and I eloped last weekend, had a quiet ceremony at home, and shared this sacred moment between us with every emotion in our hearts and on our faces. We take this union very seriously, cherishing each other, knowing how quickly life can change and how important every moment is to live to the fullest. As the marriage commissioner prompted our words, the sweetness in the air was tangible, and we vowed to love and care for each other as husband and wife for the rest of our days. 

With an overflowing abundance of love and gratitude, yours truly,

๐Ÿ’— Mrs. Natalie Allan

~ with photography - and love-filled heart! - creds to Mr. Michael Allan ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ’•

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

March is Lymphedema Awareness Month

Over the years I have written quite a bit about my experience with lymphedema - secondary lymphedema in my right thigh, from surgery for melanoma skin cancer. Lymphedema (lim-fa-DEE-ma): lymphedema is a lifelong condition caused by a buildup of lymph fluid. This happens when the lymphatic system is either faulty or damaged and cannot function as normal. It leads to chronic swelling in the tissues where the lymph flow is blocked.*  I've dabbled in pursuing treatment for this but will admit I have not yet established ongoing management of it. Still on my to-do list. Mike also has lymphedema, from the same surgical procedure for melanoma, but it settled more in his foot. 

In any case, having bolstered a bunch of melanoma-related patient support and education initiatives with Save Your Skin Foundation and on my own over the years, I am now adding a lane, and lending a hand with lymphedema patient support. Recently I have joined a team in Prince George who are planning a Lymphedema Education Conference later this year for Physicians and allied HCPs in the Northern Health region of BC. I am happy to be working with an esteemed local Physiotherapist who is leading the initiative; I will support with my event planning and tech experience. 

Not only am I learning more about lymphedema, and the needs of patients, but through this project I am learning more about the health care system in our region, and the access to resources that Physicians may or may not have. 

Our group is excited to be planning this informative event, which will consist of a full day for Physicians, including a lymphedema care doctor guest speaker from Ontario, and then a half-day for allied health care providers on lymphedema care and bandaging, etc. While planning all of this we are learning about the process of hosting - and funding - an accredited conference for Physicians. It's a big undertaking! But a necessary one, as continuing lymphedema education fights for attention just as many other medical infirmities have to. 

View this video from Shirley Bond, MLA, Prince George-Valemount speaking about World Lymphedema Day and the local work and recent initiatives underway in our area:

I'll update with more information when I can, but in the meantime, I'll end with a shout-out to the 1 million Canadians impacted by lymphedema and bid them a healthy Lymphedema Awareness Day

For more information, please check out the Canadian Lymphedema Framework, and/or the lymphedema association in your province:

Canadian Lymphedema Framework

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Us - in our neighbourhood magazine!

Well... honestly I'm not even sure where to start with this one. I've frequently reported how I tend to find myself in interesting situations at the most interesting times. Today is no different! And now Mike and I are "in it" together ๐Ÿ˜ 

We have landed on the cover of a magazine! We did submit ourselves to this - after several months of viewing non-local families being featured in our residential-neighbourhood magazine available in print and delivered to our mailbox monthly, we decided to put our voices to task and contribute to the local publication and share our family story to save the reading masses from random United States etc. family features from flooding our mail. 

Simply enough, we contacted the College Heights (Prince George suburb we live in and love) magazine publisher Best Version Media to submit our story for local interest coverage. Lo and behold, they said "Yes! Fill out this questionnaire and we'll feature you!" And here we are. 

Mike Allan and I wrote every word of this article together:

(I'm pretty sure this supports my BC Citizenship application!!)

Words cannot express how grateful I am for this incredible man with whom I now share my life - he is my dream come true, literally! Mike - amazing human, my partner, I love you. ๐Ÿ’– I am SO grateful we are on this crazy path together. Your openness in sharing your cancer journey - and your life journey - with me is something I cherish deeply, identify with, and will always protect and hold dear. 


There is no link to a digital version of this article, so you'll have to bear with us on reading the pdf version scanned from the paper magazine. We are still giggling (and snuffling) over this whole thing, and are grateful for the many people who responded to our call for extra copies so that we can share the print magazine with our kids and family members. Thank you College Heights community - this is what it's all about! 

Please also note - our sweet sphynx cat Archer has the centrefold of the magazine, Save Your Skin Foundation is our chosen feature charity, and there is an honourable mention for my long-time pal Reese, the eternal blog dog ๐ŸคŽ

SO much love xoxoxoxo

Friday, January 12, 2024

A Year to Review

As I prepare to spend the next year writing a book and pursuing a career as a freelancer and advocate in the oncology space, I have been reviewing the multitude of resources collected in my cancer travels over the last nine-plus years. I am inspired to share the knowledge I have gained through my work, but also to re-visit it with the additional perspective I have developed since first being diagnosed with advanced cancer. 

Some resources I'll mention in the coming months you will have heard me touch on before, some might be familiar only to those who follow Save Your Skin Foundation (where I wrote about them but didn't share on my personal blog), and others will be completely new to all of us. I will be expanding on my experiences with these items, and in some cases, I expect my extended thoughts on the topic will reveal some new context. 

January is as great a time as any to kick off a new plan - I'll start with a plug for those who enjoy setting new years resolutions. An easy one for the year is to perform a monthly skin self-exam to stay on top of any changing skin spots, moles, or conditions. Our skin is our body's largest organ, and we need to check it to protect it. Set a reminder in your calendar, google, or Alexa, and/or align your skin check with the full moon every month - easy peasy!  (Just saying... if I hadn't neglected my weird mole all those years ago, I wouldn't now be sitting here talking about metastatic cancer.)

Also in January, it is Children Impacted by a Parent’s Cancer Month (CIBAPC), in the United States.

I have set a plan for my blogging to align with a calendar of cancer awareness days for 2024. As you know, through my work I have inadvertently become an "unofficial expert" on melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, as well as ocular (or uveal) melanoma. Also having had a simultaneous diagnosis of thyroid cancer, and becoming extensively familiar with the treatments for all of these, as well as related conditions and topics such as lymphedema, gene testing, and treatment side effects, I will share news and insights on each of the ones I feel equipped to speak about.

You may have already noticed I added an image with a link in my blog sidebar to the right showing the I Had Cancer calendar for 2024. This calendar is the most comprehensive of its kind, that I've seen. I Had Cancer is an online patient support community I have been a part of for many years, wrote a blog for them once upon a time too. I'm inspired to share their excellent resources and to be able to do so on a wider array of cancer indications and related topics. 

My journey with melanoma skin cancer has many similarities to that of folks with other cancers, so I will speak to that throughout the year. 

Also, I realize that you know people other than myself who have cancer - it isn't all about me.... so you may find some interesting information and additional cancer resources such as awareness months/days and ribbon colours, and support resources for a wider community.

This calendar is free to download so if you'd like a copy you can click here to get it. I'll keep it in the sidebar this year and refer to it in upcoming posts, but also please feel free to get it and share with your family and friends. 

Why do I feel cancer or health-related awareness activities are important? For the same reason I still write about my journey almost ten years after it began: to be part of a community of support. When I was first diagnosed, I felt very isolated, filled with fear, and like no one understood what I was going through. When I started to research melanoma and found people who had survived it, I felt hopeful. They helped me, and now I can help others.

Everyone everywhere who is diagnosed with any life-changing disease or condition goes through a unique and often terrible range of emotions as they learn about their condition, their "new normal" - or wonder if there will ever be anything "normal" again. Cancer, diabetes, MS, heart disease, lung disease, Crohn's, lupus, hepatitis - too many to list. We all have something. And, pack animals that we are, we often find comfort in engaging with others who are in the same community. It is part of coping, learning, sharing, and giving back.  

Another great resource for patients and caregivers includes the National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®) Guidelines on melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, and many other indications, as well as supportive topics such as immunotherapy or treatment side effects, mental wellness, and survivorship.

I wish I had had NCCN® guides for melanoma and thyroid cancers back in 2014-2015, though these have been newly developed in recent years. Through my work at SYSF I got to research and endorse many of these guides, and provide patient quotes from our community, and somehow my little face is even on the cover of the 2021 melanoma guide. That is how much I love these guides and recommend them to patients and caregivers. 

(Clicking this image will take you to the most current 
Melanoma Patient Guide from NCCN, updated in 2023)

Though these guidelines are developed with best practices in use in the United States, the resources do apply to patients and clinicians in Canada (where treatment options and access apply), as I have personally confirmed with members of the SYSF Medical Advisory Board. Canadian doctors do refer to the NCCN® clinical guidelines, and they do support the distribution of NCCN® patient guidelines to Canadian patients.

Plus - the other day when I was researching NCCN® updates I found they have published a new guide on thyroid cancer in late 2022! This is exciting, as I have never really understood the details of my thyroid cancer diagnosis. I knew I had papillary thyroid cancer, and that they were happy the tumour wasn't melanoma, so I had a complete thyroidectomy and radioactive iodine treatment. That's kind of it. Until now - I just finished reading this and I'm clearer now on more of my details. Check it out: Thyroid Cancer

Also please feel free to see other NCCN® guides related to this community, including the Survivorship books, which contain quotes from yours truly: 

NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Melanoma

NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Basal Cell Skin Cancer

NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Immunotherapy Side Effects series:  
Immunotherapy Side Effects: CAR T-Cell Therapy and Immunotherapy Side Effects: Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors

NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Survivorship Care for Healthy Living and Survivorship Care for Cancer-Related Late and Long-Term Effects 

NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Distress During Cancer Care

NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer

The Patient books are easy to read, well-illustrated, and are all available for free to view and print at or via the NCCN® Patient Guides for Cancer App: Virtual Library of NCCN Guidelines® App – Available for iPhone/iPad and Android Smartphone/Tablet.  Keep an eye out for new guides all the time, they are ever-expanding. 

So there, that is my plan for the year - laid out in January - how organized! I'm also set for a couple of my own appointments in the coming months, including my annual CT scan in March. I'm also happy to be co-supporting, with a lovely group of inspired volunteers, an accredited 'Lymphedema Education Day' to take place later this year for Physicians and allied health care professionals in the Northern Health region. Stay tuned!

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. 


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.


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