Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone!

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Family. Friends. Food. Laughs. Love. Its a time where we are able to come together as one and enjoy each other’s company (and not be judged by our mountainous plates of food). It’s also a time to really sit back and reflect on the past, present, and future. What we are grateful for and the things that we cherish most. When it really comes down to it, family and those close to our hearts are what really matter. I think the reason why Christmas, and the holidays, have always been such a pivotal time of the year for me is because they symbolize so many important things. Within religious contexts, it signifies hope, light, and love. There is a warmth that emanates from the very thought of being together with my loved ones, enjoying each others company and eating together. I am so grateful to be able to have opportunities to come together like this. It truly is a blessing. For those of you spending the holidays alone, my heart goes out to you. There is always an extra space at the table here for you. And for everyone, I hope your hearts and your bellies are full tonight :).

Merry Christmas!

L
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Truth?

When a pharmaceutical company tells you they “aspire to cure cancer”, do you really believe them? Color me a cynic, but wouldn’t that be the worst business model ever? You’ll have to forgive my attitude. I feel like I’m bipolar today, going from disappointed and letdown to inspired and motivated to frustrated and scared, and then back again. I just learned that my mom may need to go through another transplant, and before Christmas too. This has NOT made me a happy camper. And while I realize that this is the case for many others, that doesn’t change the fact that it completely fucking blows. To go through that procedure AGAIN!? How did this day go from hoping everything we’ve done would be enough to wash, rinse, **REPEAT**?! And to clarify on my previous post, I knew something was off with my mom’s biopsy numbers… And now I know why. Her most recent biopsy before the last showed 16% and from that time to transplant, it went UP almost 10%! TEN!!!! I knew we should have tried more chemo before collection, but our doctors insisted that that wouldve damaged the stem cells. And I’m sure they were probably right, but I feel like something else could have been done… So now, our predicament now is whether or not to go with a transplant (time is of the essence) or continue with treatment. With Thalidomides new availability in Canada, I want to say treatment. But would that be best? Lost and Confused…
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Fly

It’s been transposed a few keys up, but take a listen. A great feel-good song to get you through the day :)

Cheers

After a week of painstaking agony and stress, the results of the biopsy have finally come back. The percentage of myeloma cells now present in Mama Bear are about 12%. Definitely not what we were hoping for. I think I can speak on behalf of everyone when I say we were disappointed. After SUCH a huge procedure, our hopes were that it would be down to zero. So, that was definitely a letdown. I guess you could say we were hoping to get more bang for our buck. Apparently, however, my mom went into the transplant with about 24%. So, it was reduced by about half, which is great. But from my understanding, I thought doctors normally wouldn’t proceed with a transplant unless you were 20% or below? Which leaves me a bit confused, as our information seems to be a bit contradictory… It’s not that i’m not grateful or anything, because 50% is huge. But I was really really hoping that the transplant would have been the end of it. Seriously, I have never prayed so hard for anything in my life. To exert so much hope and trust into something, and then to have results come back with… not the best results, it puts you into a bit of a slump. Sometimes, on this journey, you grow weary of constantly trying to be grateful. Sometimes, you just want a damn break. Sometimes, you just want to have a bad day. Today would probably be one of those days… But i’m **trying** to look at the bright side, because 50% IS a lot. I’m trying to keep myself busy with school and everything, because I really don’t have the time or energy to mope. So.. CHEERS to a significant reduction! Because the important thing is that the myeloma cells went down. That’s all that matters. One woman we know, her biopsy showed only a 1% decrease post-transplant, which i’m sure, must have been devastating. But after a few additional rounds of treatment, she was able to get to a place where her myeloma was untraceable. I realize that getting down to 0% after a transplant, depending on where you start, is not that common (which actually makes me question the validity of this procedure…). And truthfully, at the back of my head, I had a feeling that we wouldn’t get down to zero, just because of how high we started off at. Granted, the path of those impacted by cancer are filled with many highs and lows. And so far, our highs have outnumbered the lows. We have a lot to be thankful for, compared to many others. SO. We’ll roll with the punches just continue to chip away, like we’ve been doing since January, until we get to where we need to be. If we can get through what we’ve gone through, then there’s nothing that can bring us down.

Wish Bone

So tomorrow is the big day. Mama and Papa bear are going into the clinic to get a bone marrow biopsy done, which will basically tell us whether or not the stem cell transplant was effective. For those of you who aren’t aware, this procedure is the best way of getting the most accurate image of “where you’re at” because it gets a direct sample of the myeloma cells residing within the bone. Needless to say, i’m pretty sure I can speak on behalf of everyone when I say that we’re a little nervous… Since my mom was discharged, we’ve been living in this magical land that goes by the name of ignorance. Ok well, maybe not ignorance, as we are not choosing to ignore anything here. But after a stem cell transplant has occurred, there is usually a period afterwards where you go medication-free and just focus on recovering, on healing. It’s been absolutely amazing, almost as if nothing ever happened. As if our lives had returned back to normal, whatever that means anymore. But subtle hints, like my mother’s lack of hair and an ever-present cloud hovering above my head (although small), show that reality exists, and gives this dreamscape away. Ignorance truly is bliss. The truth is terrifying. If I could stay in this moment of not knowing forever, I would be satisfied. But alas, the world does not work that way, and we all must come to face reality sooner or later. Whether that is a good or bad thing remains yet unseen. Sometimes, the truth is a hard thing to face. Yet we all manage to derive strength from within in order to do so. I will be honest, since the transplant, not a day has gone by where I do not think about the mortality of my mother. I have gotten better over time at ignoring or shunning these thoughts to the recesses of my mind, but that does not mean it isn’t easy, that it doesn’t cause me great pain. I don’t think my brother, or even my father sometimes, realize to the full extent of what we have gone through and what may lay ahead. A blessing indeed, to not be burdened with such thoughts. Or maybe they do, and they just don’t show it. I try my best not to. But there are times where I feel the lessons we’ve learned, such precious lessons, have already been forgotten among them. I hope not, because those are lessons that no one should have to re-learn. Since the transplant, I have literally prayed every.single.day for the same thing, hoping that they be heard by someone above. That this transplant, and all the treatments beforehand, be all that my mother needs in order to obtain a strong, sturdy, everlasting remission until a cure is found for her, that will work for her. Every day I have prayed for this, and the general well-being of those close to me. Every day. I have never prayed so much for anything in my entire life. And so now, here we are already, turning the page of a new chapter that will hopefully be filled with good health, hope, and happiness. Tomorrow is the day, and I am praying with everything i’ve got. Please pray for us.

Vive Ut Vivas!

Hi!

I was just contemplating writing another post or studying for my (ugh) Management Science exam coming up (it sounds as bad as it is) and realized that my last post was almost a MONTH ago! Shame on me *slaps wrist*. So here I am, almost a month later, bringing you all up to speed on what’s been going on in our lives.

Since my mom was set free from the transplant ward, things have been quite calm, serene, and almost surreal-like. At least compared to when we were in for the transplant. Looking back, it seems as if we live in an entirely different WORLD now. My mom is like… Superwoman. The rate that she was able to recover exceeded even my own expectations. I knew she had her relatively young age, otherwise very healthy body, etc. on her side, but I was still shocked to hear when I called home one day (within the same week she was discharged) that she was “out for a drive”………BY.HER.SELF!

..umm WHAT?! Her naivety was cute, but DANG! I almost had a baby heart attack when I heard that. She was supposed to be at home resting and recovering, partitioning herself from the outside world and its GERMS. But I guess I couldn’t really blame her for wanting to get a little air. Who wouldn’t want a little adventure after spending almost two weeks cooped up inside a hospital room? Regardless, my mom was pretty much back to her normal strength and eating habits before she even left the hospital. From what I read and have heard, that can take anywhere from 4-6 months to get back to! And yet mama bear hadn’t even been discharged??? We were talking about why we thought she was feeling so great post-transplant and came up with this: Organic vegetables and fruits, elimination of sugars, TONS of water, regular exercise, lots of laughs and smiles, and aloe vera juice PRE-TRANSPLANT(!!!). We had been seeing a naturopath (shhhh) for a little while and he had recommended taking aloe vera juice because it was supposed to help protect and regenerate the digestive tract. As i’m sure many of you know, the digestive tract is probably the part of the body that is hit the hardest – primarily due to the megadose of Melphalan. When your digestive tract goes, so too does your appetite and ability to hold down food and thus, your rate of recovery. My mom was pretty adamant and determined with her aloe-juice-taking and really credits it for why she was able to recover so fast. There were a couple days where she threw up, while we were in the transplant ward. But other than that, she didn’t lose any weight (she had actually GAINED a couple pounds within the first week after discharge!). I’m not trying to sell or endorse anything to you guys at all, but I encourage you to do your research on it. If it is the reason why my mom was able to recover so fast, then many, MANY others would be able to benefit from this knowledge as well.

On another note, I had tried to.. well, fatty my mom up before she was admitted in order to offset the weight loss that was associated with the transplant. But apparently, this isn’t really a good idea because the weight loss is due to a decrease in MUSCLE mass, not fat. So if you are someone you know is going into transplant, make sure they try to build as much muscle beforehand as possible.

I’m happy to report that mama bear is doing incredibly well :) Everyone is commenting on how good she looks, so that is great! We got back into Church when we were diagnosed (funny how that happens huh?) and really got back in touch with God (as I’m sure many of you can relate). My mom had to miss out on about a month’s worth of Church when she was in transplant, and went right back afterwards – and no one noticed a thing! That’s how good she looked! We have a couple doctor appointments ahead of us that entail a biopsy and re-staging. We’re all a bit nervous… But hoping for the best. What else can you do, right?

Mama Bear and her cub

Family Thanksgiving :)

Friend Thanksgiving :)

With Thanksgiving weekend (here in Canada) just past, i’ve been able to reflect on what it really means to be thankful for what you have. Having my entire family in one gathering, eating and laughing (truly the BEST that this world has to offer!) – it was just incredible. I’m truly, truly thankful for everything that I have, the people in my life, and the lessons that I have learned. That weekend was definitely one massive moment of reflection. To think that one year ago, we had not yet been diagnosed…and then everything that we have learned since then? It’s absolutely staggering, incredible, and humbling. Our journey with cancer has not yet ended, but for now, everything is perfect. Fall, my favourite season, is upon us and i’ve come to learn that it is essential to live in the moment. So naturally, I got a tattoo! I’d been wanting to get another one for awhile, so what better a time then Thanksgiving?! It says “Vive ut vivas“, which means “Live so that you may live” in Latin. I thought it was fitting :)


Some Fall pictures on campus :)


So basically, that’s pretty much you being up to speed :) My brother and I are currently back in school, and my parents are back home doing their thing. And i’m so very grateful to have such a simple luxury like that. I will admit, once everything was back to “normal”, I felt this great pressure to do something amazing and life-changing. Coming from an experience like cancer and a stem-cell transplant, with all the lessons you learn and perspective you gain, I felt like going back to the ho-hum days of school weren’t worthy of my newfound outlook. But i’ve come to realize that this “ho-hum” normality is exactly what we’ve been fighting so VERY hard to regain. This lifestyle, this ability to be somewhat “normal” again, really is a luxury, it is not a right. These lessons that i’ve learned, they are something that I am extremely grateful for, things that I will carry in my pocket for the rest of my life, wherever I go. This year has, undoubtedly, been the hardest year of my life. But it’s also been the greatest (not … “happy”-greatest, but more along the lines of “epic”-greatest, if that makes any sense). I feel like i’ve just returned from some grand adventure, a lifetime’s worth of sorrow, gratitude, and wisdom on my back. I’m a changed person. We are changed people. And even though I know our adventure isn’t over, I do know that if we were able to survive (and pass with flying colors!) the last 9 months, we’re capable of overcoming anything set before us. And so are you. Never forget that! YOU can get THROUGH this! And if you ever need someone, know that I will always be here for you.

Ra Ra

You ready Salt Lake City? Paws Up… ;)

FREEDOM!

Mama Bear is OUT of the hospital!!!

THANK GOD!!!

My brother and I went down to see her over the weekend, and her counts were slowly rising (with the help of G-CSF shots). Saturday her neutrophils (a type of WBC) were at 0.4. The doctors usually want you to get to a CONSISTENT level of 0.5 before they discharge you, so we were close. But on Sunday, when we left, they actually dropped to 0.3. To our big surprise, I found out that yesterday (Monday), my mom was discharged from the hospital. Um, EXCUSE ME?! As much as I want her out of there and at home, I want to make sure these things are done properly so as to avoid any unnecessary issues in the future. But apparently her counts went from 0.3 on Sunday to 4.0(!!!) on Monday! So, I guess it was a safe assumption that it would be ok to discharge my mom.

Today, they went in for an appointment with our Onc and her counts remained good. Our visits to the hospital have now gone from live-in patient to ONCE a week!!! What a blessing! Once she gets home, I know she’ll recover even faster. Nothing feels as good as home right?

The storm is over and it is a huge, HUGE relief to know that we can just focus on recovery now. Although I can’t really say much (because i’m not the patient, myself), the whole transplant process seems to have gone without a hitch! The side-effects were somewhat minimal and, all in all, everything was quite tolerable. My mom’s biggest issue towards the tail-end was boredom, which of course, isn’t really an issue at all. So i’m very thankful for that. Just goes to show the power of support and prayer.

To anyone that is just about to embark down the road of a transplant, know this: It’s not as bad as it seems. It really isn’t. I think the fact that it’s a TRANSPLANT is what makes the situation seem so intimidating and terrifying. While it IS a major procedure, most people are more afraid of the word than they are of the actual process. All the connotations and associations with that word seem to imply some grand, DRAMATIC procedure. But in all honesty, it’s not that bad. In truth, the amount of work-up to get to the actual transplant is probably harder than the transplant itself. The anxiety, the stress, the planning, the re-planning, the research. It takes a toll. My advice to you? Take it day by day. The work-up schedule is…intimidating and overwhelming, to say the least. But instead of looking at the overall view of the million things you have to do in a month, just think about what you should do that day, or even the week. It makes things a LOT easier. And ALWAYS remain optimistic, strong, and positive :) I want to talk more on this, but I currently have an assignment due tomorrow that I have yet to start hehe :) First week of school and i’m already getting my ass handed to me. JOY!

Much Love,

L

The Cancer Diaries 2010-09-08 04:15:00

Lying in bed right now, trying to rest my body, my mind, my soul. Tomorrow is the first day of school. It's a bittersweet experience for me. On one hand, I'm genuinely excited to be going back (yes, you read that correct). I haven't seen a lot of my friends in a while, so it's something that I'm actually looking forward to. Last term, I dropped out of school to stay at home and help take care of my mom. There was no questioning my decision and I am so glad that I did it, even if it meant that I would be graduating a term later (in the grand scheme of things, this is a teensy weensy blip on my radar). To me, going back to school just wouldn't have been right, especially when *we* (I highlight this because we all faced the challenges TOGETHER, as one) were diagnosed just days earlier. My decision to stay meant that I would be out of school for almost nine months. To put that into perspective, I have never taken that long of a break from school since before kindergarten! So, I am happy to be back, not only because I get to see some great familiar faces again, but also because it means there will be a sense of normalcy again. In a day and age where people strive so hard to be different, I pray to be the same. In this sense at least. But the experience also leaves a bitter taste in my mouth because, while I am here trying to be happy that I am back at school, my mom is back at the hospital (3 hours away) recovering from an autologous stem cell transplant, with my dad by her side. I've been with her since the very beginning of this roller coaster journey, through all the ups and downs, the triumphs and struggles. It doesn't feel right to me that I leave her now, at SUCH an important time. The scheduling of the transplant and the start of school was a little shitty. Driving up for school, I felt this resounding sense of guilt inside me the whole three hours. I know I'm not, but it almost feels like a sense of abandonment. On the plus side (because we must always remember that there exists one), ill be driving back down to see her on the weekends at least for the month of september. So, that makes me feel a little better. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I want to be by her side and see her through this until she's in the clear. We start together, we finish together. But my dad is there and gives her a surplus of love and attention. her progress so far has been not too bad. I don't think people can heal properly (or at the very least, it is slowed down) when they are in the hospital. The docs let us take mama bear back home for the weekend after the transplant and she did pretty great. Yes, there has been nausea. Yes, there has been vomiting. But it's actually not as bad as we thought it would be. If taken in the correct doses and time, anti-nausea medications can make an enormous difference. Her appetite took a nosedive, but that was expected. Ensure seems to be the only thing that she can tolerate on a consistent basis. It's not the best, but right now, a calorie is a calorie, and we don't have the luxury of being picky and choosy (healthy vs. Not-as-healthy). Today, however, my prayers were acknowledged. I've been praying that God ease us of our pains and struggles and give us strength, give us health, hope, and happiness. But last night I decided to take it a step further and go into specifics, for my mom to get her appetite back, for her nausea to go away, for her to have enough energy to exercise and move around. Well, when I called my dad today to check in and see how things were going, he told me that he was on a food-run for (get this)…. ETHNIC FOOD. Specifically, seaweed and rice hahaha (a korean comfort food, you understand). Before, my mom could barely stomach plain, boring broth. Now she's asking for seaweed and rice!?!? Her appetite MUST be back. Not only that, but she also sounded GREAT on the phone, bright, loud, and full of energy, a typical family trait (emphasis on the loud). She also told me she did four laps around the ward with my dad, so she got her body moving too! (13 laps=1K). So, for any family members reading this post, mom is doing better :) I'm hoping that everything stayed down for the rest of the day. Tomorrow she receives her first G-CSF shot, post-transplant. If you remember, she was given these before transplant to help mobilize her stem cells, so much so that they were pushed out of the bone marrow and into the blood from all the buildup. Well, now that she is post-transplant, that means that her stem cells were completely wiped out (which is why we collected them before to put them back in after) from the chemo. The G-CSF stimulates her small supply of re-introduced stem cells to start producing WBCs, RBCs, etc. I'm not quite sure yet, but I **think** this might mean that she is neutropenic (zero neutrophils aka WBCs). If so, then that means the worst is OVER. Now, the road ahead is just a matter of recovery and rebuilding her strength, health, etc. Did I mention that its also DRUG-FREE!?! Its a great opportunity to really take advantage of, and something that we all look forward to. To only have to focus on healing the body and not have to worry about drugs and side effects? 'Tis a gift and a blessing.

Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

The Cancer Diaries 2010-09-08 03:15:00

Lying in bed right now, trying to rest my body, my mind, my soul. Tomorrow is the first day of school. It's a bittersweet experience for me. On one hand, I'm genuinely excited to be going back (yes, you read that correct). I haven't seen a lot of my friends in a while, so it's something that I'm actually looking forward to. Last term, I dropped out of school to stay at home and help take care of my mom. There was no questioning my decision and I am so glad that I did it, even if it meant that I would be graduating a term later (in the grand scheme of things, this is a teensy weensy blip on my radar). To me, going back to school just wouldn't have been right, especially when *we* (I highlight this because we all faced the challenges TOGETHER, as one) were diagnosed just days earlier. My decision to stay meant that I would be out of school for almost nine months. To put that into perspective, I have never taken that long of a break from school since before kindergarten! So, I am happy to be back, not only because I get to see some great familiar faces again, but also because it means there will be a sense of normalcy again. In a day and age where people strive so hard to be different, I pray to be the same. In this sense at least. But the experience also leaves a bitter taste in my mouth because, while I am here trying to be happy that I am back at school, my mom is back at the hospital (3 hours away) recovering from an autologous stem cell transplant, with my dad by her side. I've been with her since the very beginning of this roller coaster journey, through all the ups and downs, the triumphs and struggles. It doesn't feel right to me that I leave her now, at SUCH an important time. The scheduling of the transplant and the start of school was a little shitty. Driving up for school, I felt this resounding sense of guilt inside me the whole three hours. I know I'm not, but it almost feels like a sense of abandonment. On the plus side (because we must always remember that there exists one), ill be driving back down to see her on the weekends at least for the month of september. So, that makes me feel a little better. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I want to be by her side and see her through this until she's in the clear. We start together, we finish together. But my dad is there and gives her a surplus of love and attention. her progress so far has been not too bad. I don't think people can heal properly (or at the very least, it is slowed down) when they are in the hospital. The docs let us take mama bear back home for the weekend after the transplant and she did pretty great. Yes, there has been nausea. Yes, there has been vomiting. But it's actually not as bad as we thought it would be. If taken in the correct doses and time, anti-nausea medications can make an enormous difference. Her appetite took a nosedive, but that was expected. Ensure seems to be the only thing that she can tolerate on a consistent basis. It's not the best, but right now, a calorie is a calorie, and we don't have the luxury of being picky and choosy (healthy vs. Not-as-healthy). Today, however, my prayers were acknowledged. I've been praying that God ease us of our pains and struggles and give us strength, give us health, hope, and happiness. But last night I decided to take it a step further and go into specifics, for my mom to get her appetite back, for her nausea to go away, for her to have enough energy to exercise and move around. Well, when I called my dad today to check in and see how things were going, he told me that he was on a food-run for (get this)…. ETHNIC FOOD. Specifically, seaweed and rice hahaha (a korean comfort food, you understand). Before, my mom could barely stomach plain, boring broth. Now she's asking for seaweed and rice!?!? Her appetite MUST be back. Not only that, but she also sounded GREAT on the phone, bright, loud, and full of energy, a typical family trait (emphasis on the loud). She also told me she did four laps around the ward with my dad, so she got her body moving too! (13 laps=1K). So, for any family members reading this post, mom is doing better :) I'm hoping that everything stayed down for the rest of the day. Tomorrow she receives her first G-CSF shot, post-transplant. If you remember, she was given these before transplant to help mobilize her stem cells, so much so that they were pushed out of the bone marrow and into the blood from all the buildup. Well, now that she is post-transplant, that means that her stem cells were completely wiped out (which is why we collected them before to put them back in after) from the chemo. The G-CSF stimulates her small supply of re-introduced stem cells to start producing WBCs, RBCs, etc. I'm not quite sure yet, but I **think** this might mean that she is neutropenic (zero neutrophils aka WBCs). If so, then that means the worst is OVER. Now, the road ahead is just a matter of recovery and rebuilding her strength, health, etc. Did I mention that its also DRUG-FREE!?! Its a great opportunity to really take advantage of, and something that we all look forward to. To only have to focus on healing the body and not have to worry about drugs and side effects? 'Tis a gift and a blessing.

Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

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