I have been taking stock of the losses and accomplishments my family and I have experienced in the last year.
It occurred to me when I was at Sunnybrook on Monday, that a year has passed since my most dismal cancer-related days. I had had my thyroidectomy at the beginning of December, missed Claire and Cassie's theatre production, had an extremely painful incision and infection around my throat, was on bed rest trying to recover, and was just barely coping with the task of adjusting to my impending to-do list... calcium supplements, thyroid hormone replacement drug, inevitable radioactive iodine treatment, continued melanoma treatments, and... smile for Christmas!
At the same time, we received so much love and support... a catered turkey dinner gift, a raft of treats and gift certificates from members of our business community, a huge tasty delivery from my silent partners (in crime LOL) at my place of employ, even help with snow removal as I couldn't even lift a shovel at the time. The support was priceless, and it carried us through a rough time. My gratitude remains, and I continue to convey it through small gestures as I am able. I will return the favours if it's the last thing I do!
Thankfully it appears I will still have some time to do so. All of the work my medical team has done and all the chomping my personal pacmen have done have bought me some time. My diagnosis at the beginning was pretty dismal - average time of survival for my type of situation is around nine months - but the speed with which the oncologists at Sunnybrook helped me (and the swiftness with which my family physician booted me to them) saved my life. I sit here a year and a half after diagnosis contemplating my past and my future, and I am deeply grateful for that.
On Monday I saw my surgical oncologist for a 12-month checkup. She is a lovely lady, strikingly tiny, obviously intelligent, and very kind. The last time I saw her was the day I was to get the staples out of my neck/thyroid incision (performed by a different surgeon), and I had to show her my right leg which was at the time six months post-surgery she had performed in May 2014. That day we had set the appointment for this year's follow-up, and it felt like neither of us were sure I would see her again.
I was looking forward to seeing her Monday, and surprisingly she came into the room smiling as well and with questions about my long drive into the city - she actually remembered me! We chatted for a bit, she examined the scars she had given me, and she slapped my wrist for procrastinating on the lymphedema therapy.
Happy to report she did not feel any tumours or ominous tissue around the sites of my two surgeries (mole excision and lymph node dissection). She then moved to examine the lymph nodes in my neck and I joked that there were 37 less nodes in there from last time she saw me and she commented back "well he was generous! How many did I take?" I replied 13! (I can't recall my own postal code but these numbers are stuck in my brain) "Hhmm," she said, "but I did more damage." I told her it was okay, it was worth it. I thanked her for saving my life. And she smiled "don't thank me, it's a team effort." How modest.
We also discussed my CT scan reports of the last year, and I told her about the enlarged nodes in my neck. She offered the perspective that the ipilimumab immunotherapy treatment I had been receiving was quite likely to affect lymph nodes. Fair enough, that echoed my medical oncologists comments as well. Surgeon also suggested that this treatment would wreak havoc on my thyroid (or lack thereof) situation, and she concurred that I should start feeling better in the new year as we move farther away from my last ipi treatment in September.
All in all it was a good follow-up, and we agreed to meet again next December. 12-month check up with surgical oncologist, that is good. I am still in the 3-month check-up zone with medical oncologist (melanoma) for a while, and still 6-months with endocrinologist (thyroid cancer related).
I did my bloodwork and had meeting with medical oncologist on Monday as well, we had just seen each other four weeks prior so not much new to discuss. So far so good!
Did my CT scans Monday as well, and that went better than usual! I learned something new that day - you can put clear liquid flavouring in the huge jug of yucky chemical water stuff you have to consume prior to a CT scan. I was being whiny to my favourite CT nurse about the water and she said well you can flavour it! She squirted in some of her Mio orange-flavoured stuff and I was able to drink the whole bottle without gagging. I told her she changed my life! True story. That's how much I hate that stuff.
My tummy hates it too, and I was pretty much bed-ridden Tuesday after late return home Monday night and lots of bathroom stops, but I am feeling better today. Which is good, because it is Christmassy-chaos around here, plus I have a big day tomorrow.
Back to the city tomorrow: I am going for the filming of an interview with a team producing a video about living with skin cancer for the purpose of educating people about the dangers of frivolous sun-tanning. This video is a collaboration between a pharmaceutical company and a couple of other teams, and it will launch in February. I have been jotting down some notes on how to concisely express my perspective, Wordy-Me has to keep it to a few short seconds!?!
I have yet to be able to explain my feelings about the sun and how I feel about it's role in my life and also in my illness, but I am keen to share with others that they should not take risks when it comes to their skin health. Sun-tanning for vanity or cosmetic reasons is not safe. It can ruin your life. I'm living proof.
Speaking of "I'm Living Proof," I am also working on a written bio and short video for the SYSF "Melanoma Connect" initiative to help melanoma patients find peers to help support them in their diagnosis and cancer journey. Via social media including their new website "I'm Living Proof.ca" the folks at Save Your Skin Foundation are working to help people feel less alone in their melanoma diagnoses.
It is indeed a frightening disease, and patients need every tool they can possibly embrace to help them through it. I am part of this community and I will put my star on their map, perhaps to help someone recently diagnosed, but also to receive support myself as I live with metastatic melanoma.
Otherwise around here things are running as quickly as always, the three girls and I put up our tree last weekend, yesterday I attended Claire and Cass' school Christmas Dance Extravaganza, today they are having their classroom gift exchanges, and tomorrow is their dance and continued partying at school while I venture to Toronto. One cool thing, their homeroom teacher is showing them the movie One Magic Christmas, which was filmed in part here in Meaford in 1985.
All in all this December is so far better than last December, different challenges lie ahead, but they are bouyed by hope and definitely ambition.
Thank you again for your continued friendship and support. Merry Christmas!