May 29, 2012

Let's End Cancer.

Before September, 2010 my understanding of cancer was limited mostly to the tragic story of Camrose teenager, Peter Jang who – you guessed it – fought a long, difficult battle with a rare form of cancer -lymphoblastic leukemia. My grandma passed away from a... hard life. I would estimate that about 50 years of smoking shortened that hard life. A good life – especially between 1984 and 1999 – but certainly not an easy one. Otherwise, to me, cancer has remained just one of those scary words that I have often tried to put out of my mind.

15 years later, the internet, networking, and medical progress has taken the scary word “cancer” to the mainstream. Ignoring this scary word and idea isn’t at all as possible with the prevalence of these 3 things, and the prevalence of cancer itself. Especially, I think, with an aging, “sickening” population – awareness and anger are both exploding. Here are some of the more blatant facts published by the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Ovarian Cancer Canada, and the Canadian Cancer Society that I have found interesting:
  • Nearly 1 in 2 people will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime (ACF)
  • In 2011,1750 women died from ovarian cancer in Canada (CCS)
  • In 2011, 2600 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Canada (CCS)
  • While 1 in 9 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, only 1 in 70 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer (CCS)
  • Most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will be diagnosed with Stage III or IV because of the poor screening options and very subtle side effects. (OCC)
  • 75% of women will see a recurrence of ovarian cancer. Longer treatment-free intervals coorespend to a better prognosis

  • Breast cancer treatments are diverse and unique to each individual but may include:
      • daily radiation 5 days a week for a month (in addition to:) 
      • chemotherapy IV
      • surgery
      • complete mastectomy
  • Ovarian cancer treatments are diverse and “case-by-case”:     
    • Standard protocol:
      • 6 – 8 hours of a chemotherapy cocktail one day over a 21 day cycle
      • Repeat for 3 cycles
      • Complete abdominal hysterectomy and hope for “ultimate debulking”
      • Continue with 3 additional cycles
      •  Wait. If >1 year before recurrence, then “standard protocol” is deemed effective and patient might benefit from this treatment again 
    • At time of recurrence, other chemo drugs might be viable alternatives whether > 1 year cancer free or not
    • Clinical trials are good but may or may not be available depending on: stage of cancer, previous treatment, any number of other things...

  • Treatment is defined as being free from any sign of cancer after completing treatment for 5 years:
    • Ovarian cancer 5 year survival rates is 15th out of a list of 23 cancers (Stats Canada)
    • Breast cancer 5 year survival rates is 5th out of a list of 23 cancers (Stats Canada)


Family. These are the people who love you. Who take the time out of their own lives to stop and think about what's realllly, realllllly important in life – especially in adverse, tragic times. Some family is incredibly interested in learning about the intricacies and challenges of my Mom's cancer. So much of our family has been nothing but supportive and wishing they could only do more. Others would like to do more – at their own convenience. And some family have just outright ignored us. The more frustrating situations are when family members might ignorantly suggest, or have their own ideas about how the person living with cancer is, could be, or should be doing. Some people are clueless. Or selfish. But mostly, family has been great.


Friends are great. Friends are the ones put into terribly awkward situations. Friends are the ones that never think it’s going to be their friend who gets sick. To me, it makes sense that friends would be more comfortable being perhaps a further step removed than the family that is typically there for the person going through any type of hardship. My comrades have been great. People from work, people from outside of work – they will try and distract me with positive energies or they will offer to help me do things to make life easier. Oh, and my Mom's friends are my friends too, and they have all been really damn' terrific. I couldn’t ask for better friends.


Mom has been incredibly strong. She talks about how exhausted she is and I believe her. I think she is even more exhausted than she appears at times. This round, chemo treatments are weekly for 3 weeks in a row then 1 week off, so we really look forward to that 1 week off. She is still active and wanting to do more, but it’s just not possible. At this time, anyways. She is eating. The nausea is there – but not too, too bad. The anti-nausea meds are not covered. Nor are the medical supplies required to maintain her central line. She is dealing with all of this. It is a lot to deal with.

The central line is the most recent change that Mom has had to adjust to. A tube that goes into her chest and tucks up and around to administer chemotherapy directly into a vein next to her heart. This allows for stopping the weekly IV needles into her hand. The gemcitibine is made into a chemotherapy solution with a pH of 3.5 that is also irritating upon injection when done in the veins in the hand. But having 2 7” plastic tubes sticking out of her chest for the next few months isn’t much fun for her either. In addition to this, she gets to contend with ascites - fluid that accumulates around the belly. It limits her wardrobe and can be very uncomfortable. Drains are possible, but sometimes not required. Without getting drained, it may be more apparent on how well the chemo is actually working.

And recurrence. It's exhausting. On Mom. On me. It is the game we play now though. The game of seeking continual positive response to treatment. The game of seeking minimal side effects and coping with ever-increasing amounts of fatigue. The game of hoping that in whatever time Mom is off of treatment, researchers and scientists develop additional clinical trials, or the Canadian government approve new fandangled drugs that work. The game of hoping that the manufacturer of ovarian cancer drug Caelyx that Health Canada shut down last August, will re-open soon. The game of me trying to “be there” when I am required to be in the field work for extended periods of time. The game of me trying to “move forward with my life” and whatever that might entail…


It is such a beautiful world. Especially for the dying. They will see it in a different way than us angry, bitter, selfish souls. And when they are, well, not dying anymore because treatments are completed, then they tend to do anything and everything that they are capable of and with those around them that they are closest too. Especially if you know this 2 year Battle with Cancer – as difficult as it has been already, could end up being a 4 or 7 or 12 or 15 year war with continual highs, lows, and lowers. I just try and focus on what I can do to make life a more positive experience for me and my Mom when the world can be so tough.

You see, I still believe that other ailments in the world – MS, ALS, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer's, and when kids get sick in any shape or form are tragedies in their own right as well. It's the most blessed of people that have had no real tragedies in their lives who might have the strength to choose to work towards spending a significant amount of their personal or professional time to any of these worthwhile causes.

Today I had a hamburger at the tent at the greenhouse that was raising money for the Rona Ride to End Multiple Sclerosis. My own 2nd Ride To Conquer Cancer event is less than a month away – the idea of it is especially daunting due to the lack of personal time I have made for myself to do anything – including training. But I am still hoping to do well with it. I would have enjoyed to play a larger part in the whole “team” thing again this year, but I was optimistically registered for this ride prior to Mom's recurrence. I hope that Dr. Capstick finds a good treatment option for Mom with the fundraising I have done. There are sooo many people that can benefit from the work done by these amazing specialists at the incredible cancer centre. At the Cross Cancer Institute, Mom is one of the 120 to 125 patients that will receive a chemotherapy treatment from the compassionate, loving nursing staff every single weekday. In the basement, radiology techs and doctors treat an incredible 500 people per day. And on the 3rd and 4th floor, 50 to 60 patients call this hospital home for the end of their days. Let’s end cancer.