Sunday, February 5, 2017

One Third Through Chemo

January seemed exceptionally long this winter and yet the days melted into one another in an odd sort of blur. It was after chemo treatment four that my hair began to thin, slowly at first and then to the point of being annoying. I took Debie up on her offer to cut all my hair off, in the privacy of her home. Now the 1/4 inch stubble is falling out. I want to know when will the leg hair go? 

Gussied up for guests in Janice's wig January 27th

Having been down this road a couple of years ago, Janice has graciously loaned me her wig, its accompanying products and many head coverings. 

January 25th - vanity prevents me from showing you a photo of my shorn head

January 9th was a day to celebrate, that's when my bladder resumed full function. Oh joy, the self catheterizing was over! However, using antiseptic wipes, each time I voided for six weeks, created a chemical imbalance and an external, perineum yeast infection which had to be treated with an anti-fungal cream for two weeks.  


The day after treatment two I had a Power Port implanted just under my right collarbone. This eliminates repeated IVs in my hands or wrists and facilitates a speedier administration of the chemo drugs directly into my jugular vein.  

Power Port is installed January 6th at South Health Campus, Calgary

In my last medical blogpost I mentioned how the chemo drugs seemed to check the pain in my left hip, well that wasn't the case after all. I'm very fortunate in not suffering from any of the nasty side effects you hear other people enduring through chemotherapy. The great thorn in my life is the wretched pain of my left hip. I've been prescribed it all, first Percocet, then Oxycodone and lastly Lyrica but not even these scary drugs touched the pain, so I quit them all. I asked my GP and my Nurse Practitioner for cannabis oil but was denied by the former and discouraged by the latter. January 16th, at my monthly follow-up appointment with my surgeon/oncologist, I thought why not ask her? "Sure" she said "Go get yourself some." Well blow me down! She also approved a cortisone shot which our GP gave me on January 23rd. Other injections I've had over the years have worked well and lasted months. Sadly this one lasted less than two days. 

On February 28th, I have an appointment with Chinook Bone and Joint Clinic about a hip replacement but I simply can't imagine having that surgery this year. Counting on the waiting list being so long that it will be 2018 before I have to face that.  

Thanks Esme for coming out to treatment #3, January 12th

Now, desperate for pain relief, a friend passed along the name of the 420 Clinic in Calgary, for medicinal marijuana. We had an appointment with them January 26th. I required and secured a referral from our GP who oddly, and suddenly was prepared to offer me a synthetic form which I declined. The 420 Clinic selects a strain that is right for the individual and sends you to the doctor, they work with, who prescribes it. On February 3rd we had an appointment with Dr. Abounaja who agreed with 420's recommendations and faxed his prescription to them. With the prescription in place I promptly phoned 420 to get the account number I need to proceed in ordering directly from the provider (in Ontario) but being as it was late on a Friday afternoon they were gone for the day. It all seems rather convoluted but I rest assured knowing that what I will be getting is regulated and within the law. The strain I've been prescribed has less than 1% THC and 9% CBD. THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana which I have no interest in. CBD (Cannabidiol) is one of many cannabinoids in marijuana which reduces inflammation and helps fight cancer cells. You see, in surgery, Dr. Glaze removed everything she could see that had cancer but she can't be sure about microscopic cells, doing what cells do, multiplying and dividing, hence the chemotherapy.  


A visit to a Naturopath on January 21st yielded helpful information and recommendations for an alkaline diet which is to help with the inflammation causing the pain in my hip. I responded rather too well to a high fibre diet. Diarrhea is the last thing someone with a colostomy needs. 

One of the side effects of both my chemo drugs is diarrhea. Neupogen injections (a man-made form of protein that stimulates the growth of white blood cells) began on January 22 (the first of 40 I will have in all) also has a side effect of diarrhea. As I can't discontinue chemo or these shots I've opted to stop taking the magnesium supplement because it too promotes diarrhea. I've also adjusted my diet.


I'm still instantly affected by the Benadryl (which forestalls allergic reactions to the chemo drugs) that is administered at the beginning of treatments (along with Dexamethasone which prevents nausea) and doze my way through them. God love Bill for sitting by my side throughout. 

I'd be lying if I say I never get down over all of this but at my core I'm a strong, relentless person. I keep telling myself to buck up and bear it. To remember that at the end of it all I've requested perfect health please. 

It's every bit as hard on Bill as it is on me and so your continued support, kind words, visits, food and love are an enormous boost to our morale. Thanks for continuing to stick with us.    

Treatment #6 February 2nd, 2017


Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Friendship Tour - part four

June 2nd we caught yet another VIA Rail train from Ottawa to Montreal followed by a metro ride to Longueuil, on the south shore, where cousin Claudine, her husband Sebastien were living with their daughter Ericka. We spent several lovely days with this accommodating, fun loving bunch of cool relatives. Laura and I had stayed with them on our mother/daughter trip to Montreal and Quebec the month before she married Adam in August, 2010. I was so pleased to return with Bill this time because, since this visit, the Cicchillitti's have sold their suburban home in favour of a duplex in the old village of Longueuil. 

A warm welcome at the Cicchillitti's, yours truly, cousins Claudine and Marc Leblanc, aunt Loretta, Bill and Sebastien
My beautiful, 82 year old, aunt Loretta
With aunt Loretta's kids, Claudine and her younger brother Marc

On my mother's side of the family the scales are tipped the opposite way to how it is with my agnate side. In this case I'm the elder cousin. Aunt Loretta is six years younger than my mother and was fourteen years old when I was born. I was fourteen when Loretta had her first child, Claudine. When Bill and I married, Claudine was seven. In essence, I had no cousins of playable age when I was growing up, but now, well now it's different. 

When Sebastien married Claudine he adopted her sonsAdam and Nick. They are a tightly knit unit who care deeply for one another. Being with this family makes me feel as though I've come home. They are intelligent, engaging, artistic and enjoy life to the fullest.

Ericka is not only a painter, she has an exceptional voice, as do her mother and grandmother
While we were there, Claudine and Sebastien celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary so I presented them with a painting ...

Do they like it?
The Roses 12" x 16" oil on board

I first visited Montreal during Expo 1967, when I was almost nineteen, but I spent most of my time at the wondrous spectacle that it was without really exploring the city. In the two trips, of this past decade, I feel that we have only scratched its surface.  

The lovely, urban Saint-Louis Square Park in Montreal's Plateau area
Claudine and the colourful Victorian homes at Saint Louis Square
Claudine, Ericka and Bill in Old Montreal
We got a bit thirsty touring around The Port and Old Montreal so we stopped here for a beverage and a snack
An exceptionally cold and rainy day in The Village on St. Catherine's Street 
At St-Viateur Bagel Shop they make the best bagels in the land
We had a feast at aunt Loretta's where we got to see two of cousin Marc's three sons. Bill with William 
Daniel and Sebastien
Mount Royal, is a park on top of the hill over-looking the entire city of Montreal. From here you can see the Olympic Stadium
The fake goodbye photo, me, aunt Loretta, Claudine, Bill, Sebastien and Ericka

On June 7th we bid the LeBlanc/Cicchillitti family goodbye pretending that was the last we would see of them this trip. We may have fooled Sebastien (the kids knew otherwise) but no one can fool Claudine who was not at all surprised to find us at their wedding anniversary celebration, June 11th!

Bill with Sebastien who was either really surprised or faked surprise well to find us among their guests
Sebastien and Claudine in 2016 ...
... and on their wedding day, in 1991
Adam played amazing classical pieces for his parents and guests ...
... and Nick played and sang a wonderful rendition of It's a Wonderful World
Here they were engaged, but now they are married, Virginie and Adam 
That night I shared a very special time with aunt Loretta
Ericka, Virginie, Nick, Sebastien, Claudine, Adam and aunt Loretta

We departed Montreal for home the day following the celebration but there is still one last instalment of the trip left to be told. It's not officially part of The Friendship Tour as it didn't involve seaking out anyone. Our solo run away to Quebec City is up next.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Friendship Tour - part three

On May 29th we took another VIA Rail train from Toronto to Ottawa. Neither Bill nor I had been there since were were kids and clearly we were overdue for a visit to our nation's capital. Cousin Virginia Saltiel-Adams (youngest daughter of my father's eldest brother) lives at Bancroft, Ontario a three hour drive from Ottawa. I have a close relationship with Virginia now that wasn't really possible when we were young because of the age difference. She was raising her own family when I was still playing with dolls. We were delighted when she said that she'd come and spend a couple of nights, at our same hotel, enabling us to spend a few days together. 

 Bill and Virginia at the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill

Just inside the main entrance to The Centre Block, under the Peace Tower, is Confederation Hall (or the Rotunda) with the Hall of Honour beyond that takes you to the Library of Parliament. 

Confederation Hall/the Rotunda
The Library of Parliament is a magnificent work of art with the statue of Queen Victoria presiding over all
Up and inside the Peace Tower
Peace Tower Clock
The Ottawa River and one of many views from the observation platform in the Peace Tower

The House of Commons was in session over the days that we were in Ottawa and I hoped to catch a glimpse of Justin Trudeau. As Canadian citizens we are permitted to sit in the gallery of the House of Commons to observe and listen. Trudeau was not present during the hour we chose to do that. It was May 31st and assisted dying was being debated. I confess to finding it rather tedious listening to politicians pontificating. The discussions just seemed to go around and around without really going anywhere. As we were leaving, there was a great crowd of people in the Hall of Honour and I spied Trudeau in it. He was engaging a group of students. When he came close to us, in the Rotunda, he and the kids looked up to the press in the balcony above. I was so pleased to be able to take this photo. I did have to zoom in to get it, but I could have reached out to touch him as he walked by leaving the building - but I didn't for fear of getting arrested! 

A thrill for me to see Justin Trudeau and capture this photo!
Locks on the Rideau Canal just before it spills into the Ottawa River

According to the tour guide on Lady Dive, in preparation for Canada's 150th birthday, this year, the capital was undergoing some 39 revitalization or construction projects. Everywhere you looked you would see at east two cranes piercing the sky. The National War Memorial in Confederation Square was off limits completely ...

The National War Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were inaccessible

And then there was the long anticipated, first ever visit to The National Gallery ...

Here at last

Knowing there would be two visits, Bill begged off the first but Virginia accompanied me on both.

Cousin Virginia sneaks a peak into a gallery.  On the right are Group of Seven field works
Tom Thompson's Jack Pine (1916–17) oil on canvas, 50.35 x 55.04 inches  is so exquisite it makes an artist weep

J.E.H. MacDonald is another Group of Seven favourite and I adore his Tangled Garden oil ...

The Tangled Garden, 1916 - J. E. H. MacDonald oil on beaver board 47.80 x 60 inches

 More thick luscious paint ...

Detail of J. E. H. MacDonald's Tangled Garden

Grandson of my mother's sister, Loretta, and son of cousin Claudine and Sebastien is Adam Cicchillitti which makes him my second-cousin-once-removed. He is one of the finest classical guitarists I have ever heard. He teaches guitar to children in the Montessori system and lives in Ottawa with his lovely wife, Virginie. It was terrific that he could steal an hour from his busy day to join Bill and me for lunch at the Byward Market.

With cousin Adam 
Mural on the York Steps rising up out of the Byward Market 

There's an fascinating tour on land and in the waters of the Ottawa River, called LADY DIVE  that we simply had to take ...

Internet image of the Lady Dive amphibus
On our Lady Dive tour where the Rideau Canal empties into the Ottawa River 
Cousins listening intently to the guide on the Lady Dive tour

Leaving Ottawa we concluded part three of the Friendship Tour by stopping to spend a night with Terry, and her husband James, who live at Dunvegan some 45 minutes south of the city. They have an amazing home at this rural, crossroads community. The house below, on their property, was one they always thought they would restore but didn't.

Terry and Bill
Terry's and James' home, the old log house has had additions

In October, 1968 I answered an ad which Terry had placed in the Toronto Star which read something like this: "Active single woman seeking roommate two share apartment. Please call before 6pm." The last few words had me wondering if she was an exotic dancer. Turns out she was a nurse at Sick Children's Hospital on the evening shift that week. Her apartment was on the main floor at the back of 650 Parliament Street and it looked out onto the pool. Then, Toronto's St. James Town was a brand new development of high rise apartments catering to the young working set. Sadly, today it's a densely populated ghetto.

Internet image of 650 Parliament Street  

Terry interviewed a few potential roommate candidates. Athough I was five years her junior (she was 25) I was chosen because I owned a sofa bed and a Marconi TV/stereo console similar to the one on the left. We adopted an unconventional way to deal with the sleeping arrangements ... whoever went to be first got the bedroom, hey it worked for us!

The night I moved in, Terry's boyfriend and one of his roommates, Bill, came to pick her up, and so we consider Terry responsible for introducing us - and we're most grateful. 

I was young and keen to pose, February 1969

Above is yours truly at Terry's dining room table with the pastel drawing I gave to her when we moved out of the apartment. She later told me how she regretted passing it on to a friend and so, in 2013 when she turned seventy, I gifted her with this oil as a replacement ...

2011, 16" x 20" oil on canvas of the live model in Ingrid Christensen's Figure Painting Workshop at the U of C
With Terry at our wedding, September 13th, 1969

By the time the apartment lease was up at the end of August 1969, both Terry and I had made other plans. I married Bill and she moved to Montreal. We stayed in touch for a few years before loosing track of one another. Over time I tried to find her but all I was able to learn was that she had married, changed her name, moved to Nova Scotia and had a daughter. Meanwhile we had moved to Alberta. When computers and the Internet were common place at home I tried again, this time with success. We were reunited in the late 1990s. 

I've truly gone off on a wild memory lane tangent here - but you see it's all a part of my story.