Sunday, 2 April 2017

YACC Saved a Life Yesterday

When you think of a support group for young adults with cancer, you probably just envision a bunch of people in a circle talking about treatments and life expectancy.  I'll tell you now that that is not how any retreat or conference works, it is so much more than merely that.  It helps create friendships and connections that are so different from your typical ones.  There's something deeper in the relationships that you make while attending a YACC event.  And, yesterday that helped save someone's life.

I'm not going to say anything specific because of several reasons, but I think people need to understand both that it's okay to have dark feelings, and to also know there's a couple ideas that you can do to help friends that are away.

Yesterday hubby and I had taken all the children to grandparents' houses for the night (whooo! We get to sleep in!), and I received a message asking if I was not busy by any chance.  A friend was trying to reach me to let me know our mutual YACC friend had delved into a dark place and refused to look for help as much as they had begged them to call - they wanted to end it all, they didn't see any point in living.  I told my husband I had to go call the friend, he knew who they were, soon I was on the phone with them.  They didn't want to deal with the daily pain anymore, they were dealing with so much and it was weighing down their soul.  I didn't know how to deal with this, I'm not a trained crisis counselor, I'm just their friend, thousands and thousands of kilometers from them.  I had a heartbreaking moment of a thought of finding out that this friend was gone, like so many others that we had lost recently, and I said the only words I could think of.  "I'm selfish, I want to keep you here.  It's okay to have bad thoughts, it's okay to be tired of the pain, but I don't want to lose you.  Please call the crisis line!  Promise me you'll call them when we hang up.  I'm selfish and I want you here."  They agreed and promised they would.

When I spoke to the first friend that had messaged me about the our friend, it didn't consol them at all that they had promised.  They had told them they would call crisis line.  Our next thought was who could get to them so they had someone physically with them.  We think of two people, one that wasn't close enough to physically go there but that they are close to so a phone call would probably go a long way, and another that could probably be there in half an hour, someone that is very loving and that could give support in-person.  We contact the latter to get that ball rolling, the sooner someone is with the "darkened" YACCer, the better.  When contacting the first person mentioned, they are amazingly near the YACCer even though they're not normally within driving distance.  They would first call though, see if that can help in any way.  When they have no response to the call, my heart sunk, and they said they were turning around immediately to go to the YACCer's house.

Still terrified that something would happen before the other two arrived, I texted a connection to the YACC office.  They offered to call and talk with the YACCer.  Right now, keeping them busy and in contact until someone showed up in person was the best we could do.  And, the more people contacting them, the more they knew we loved them.

Things went amazingly well after that.  The friend from the office was on the phone with them until one person arrived, and had found out the YACCer did finally contact the crisis line.  They aren't normally this darkened, but it happened, and they were at risk of spiraling downward to the point of no return.  The second friend showed up and this gave the first arriving on the ability to be able to leave to reach work on time, but not before letting the YACCer know that they would be putting a lot more effort into making it out their way from now on.  That awesome friend that had arrived stayed with them for a long time.  The YACCer finally was able to eat and knew the crisis line was sending a counselor to see them soon.

Many will read this and think, that wasn't YACC, why would you say that YACC saved someone's life?  Well, everyone mentioned, other than the one at the office, was a person that had or has cancer and the only reason we know each other, the only reason we had each other's phone numbers and ability to message each other was because we met through YACC.  If we had not known each other, if we didn't all know that YACCer, they might not have seen today.  The world would be that much darker for losing their light in such a tragic way.  Our friend is alive and knows they are loved.  That is all thanks to the connection YACC has given us.  So, yes, I say, "YACC saved a life, yesterday."

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Brave Day

Today is YACC's Brave Day.  Today is a day to talk about everything YACC is about and why Shave For the Brave is so important.  I'm going to write something here to help get my feelings across.

There's a lot that can go wrong in pregnancy, even when you're 40 weeks along.  There's a lot that still has a mother on edge other than feeling like a mobile bowling ball.  One thing I was not expecting was the surprise I got that morning.  I was slowly getting up to get my daughter ready for daycare. I didn't have to rush because my son had stayed the night at my father's so I didn't need to run out the door to get him to school.  I started for her room and did something I had been doing a lot lately: rub the sore spot on my chest.  This time I froze.  There was a bump on my bone.  Not a small dot, this felt about the size of a tangerine cut in half.  Survival mode kicked in as I heard my daughter calling me, I got her dressed and set up some breakfast for her.  After I had her distracted I frantically grabbed the pregnancy paperwork for the hospital and savagely dialed the cell phone at the top, it was my GP's (general practitioner) number in case I went into labour.  I knew he was going away on vacation so I didn't know what to expect.  Doing my best to not cry and blubber on the phone I tell him there's a lump coming out of my sternum, I don't know what to do.  He says he'll call right back, he's calling the local emergency centre to see about getting me in for some form of scan right away.  I took that moment to break down. My daughter was blissfully munching and watching a movie, I hid out of sight and fell apart - I know what this is, I'm scared, I know the only thing this can be, there's no way around it - the cancer came back.

This was in May, in September it would have been five years since my breast cancer diagnosis.  I would be called "cured" by a lot of standards, then.  I would have been "cancer-free".  Would have.  Back to that day, May 15th:

My doctor was actually pretty quick getting back to me, he told me to head in to the emergency centre, he had talked it out with the head of radiology at that location and had figured out that an ultrasound would give us a good idea of what what happening.  I agreed and hung up.  I called my husband's ship to tell him what was going on, one problem, no one has seen him and he's not answering pipes. Enter panicked Julie.  I remembered his ship that he had been posted to had returned early so I took a chance and called that ship, luckily he was there.  I don't know how much I said clearly because I couldn't stay calm with talking to him, I was terrified and I couldn't do anything about it.  He told me he was on his way, I hung up.  It was time to kick in survivor mode again, and get my daughter to daycare, faking a smile to everyone I had to face.

When my husband and I got to the centre, they had him wait in the waiting area while they looked at the bone.  They let him come in after and showed him exactly what they had explained to me: the lump wasn't on the bone, it was coming out of the bone.  Of course, everyone is trying to tell us not to call it the "C" word until testing is done, but if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, flies like a duck, it's not a freaking unicorn.  The good news was that the baby was still happy and healthy as could be.

We got to spend the long weekend freaking out and trying to stay calm.  We only told two people, I think, what had occurred that morning.  I got a call Tuesday telling me to come in to start induction for baby, he was just too comfy and they wanted to do tests to confirm the lump and see if there were any others.  He was born Wednesday.  Thursday morning I had scans.  Thursday afternoon I had a panic attack after seeing the bone scan on the monitor as it was being done.  IT was back.

Many say to you when they hear you have cancer, "You'll beat it!", "You just need to fight!", "You'll be fine!", and they mean well.  But I was thinking of all the friends I had that had had late stage cancer and didn't live a year after the diagnosis.  Not even a year.  That's not a lot when you look at your newborn in your arms, your toddler playing around, your school aged child working on homework.  The average lifespan after a stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis? 33 months.  My son wouldn't even be 3 years old.

I was lucky in a couple ways, and one of them was that I was already connected with YACC.  I had late stage friends that I could talk to, find out methods of handling treatments, the questions that are best to ask your oncologist, someone I could say my fears to and they would understand completely.  I know it was hard to have the first diagnosis without knowing anyone my age with cancer, but that second time around...  If I didn't have that support...  That panic attack I had in the hospital had me not breathing, I was terrified and in shock.  I don't know how the days would have played out from then on without my YACC friends.  I don't want to think about it.

I'm stable, the cancer isn't in my lungs any longer, the cancer in my bones is staying put but not growing or spreading.  This is a miracle for now and I'll hold onto it.  I get to spend a little longer playing with my kids, hugging my husband, and talking with friends and family.  I am so thankful that I have YACC to fall back on when days are rough.  My husband supports me every second of the day, but even he needs a break and the support that they have provided for him.  YACC helps not just those living with cancer, but their supporters, too.  They help us be connected.  They help us be weak.  They help us be strong.  They help us be brave.

Please help support YACC and Shave For the Brave

Monday, 6 February 2017

Survivor Guilt

Ever watch a movie or read a book about an immortal or long-lifed creature?  One without a delusional god-complex?  They at some point tell the heartache of being blessed with living and watching those not like them dying around them.  The curse of immortality.  It's not just for the eternal, for those of us that still have an end-date looming over our mortality, it's survivor's guilt.

Survivor's guilt comes at you strongest after someone you cared about, related to, loved, and admired passes away, especially if it is sudden.  Salt in the wound is if you're a ticking time bomb, yourself.  An unfortunate catch to getting to know other people living with cancer is that you are all on borrowed time.  You don't know how much any of you have, of course doctors can speculate, percentages are given, but no one truly knows the amount of seconds you will get to enjoy in this life.

Today's post is brought to you by seeing that another friend has passed.  She was a kind, wonderous woman, a devoted mother, and as many would say, take too soon, that she was too young.  I've seen many, many friends pass over the last years, this last year especially.  We're all terminal.  But, I'm still here.  My scans have been stable for some time now.  The chemotherapy was really effective against my tumours.  Their cancer got to the point where the treatments, no matter which they tried, were now useless.  Some tried alternative options towards the end, some decided to not try delaying it any longer, some opted for even ending things before their body shut itself down.  No matter what they chose, it was their choice.  A choice no one should ever have to make.  I don't know what I'll do when I get to that point.  I hate thinking about it.  I also hate knowing that my friends' children won't have their parent by their side, any longer.  They'll miss the hugs, the kisses, the fights, the getaways, the trips, the advice...  Some will still have some memories.  Some will have things to help them along, cards, letters, videos, books, pictures, but they won't have the person.

So why do I get to be here and watch my friends go?  Some say that I'm so lucky.  How is it luck?  You get to feel the heart break every time you are notified that someone passed.  You feel death's hand a little tighter around your neck.  You watch your children and know that could be them soon, one parent less.

You to take comfort in that you are still here, but the weight on your chest is real.  The darkness in your mind is there.  You feel guilty because you are on this side of the grass and all you can do is try to honour them by living.  Try to live so that you can give reason for being the "lucky one".

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

When is it too much?

I guess it's something that I have asked many times.  When is enough, enough?  When should I just say, okay, I need to stop?  When should I tell myself to cut the stress off?  When should I give up?

It's not always about something big and important.  Small things should be easy to say "That's it" to but that's not always the way.  I had a couple instances where I knew right away that the line was crossed.  I acted accordingly.  I find myself, however, constantly turning back to this question at some point in the year. 

To be a bit morbid on the subject, this is something that any advanced cancer patient has to face.  When will there be no more options?  What will I do then?  Will I choose to end things on my terms or to let nature seize me?  What is too much when it comes to treatment side effects?  When is the quality of life diminished to the point of not being life any longer?  It's something no one should have to face and decide on.  But some of us do.

On a less deadly topic, sometimes you do your best but the effects are toxic and you need to just walk away.  It can be a relationship, a job, a career, a hobby, a volunteer event, or a situation that you turned around and realized you fell into it long ago.  In those instances it is best for your mental sanity to try to stop.  That's when you need to look out for your mental well-being.  The stress that something, even out of good intentions, has turned toxic and it can do a lot to you.  Stress can effect a lot of your body and you don't generally realize it until you get a chance to detox.  If you step away from the cause, sometimes just as your mind has decided that you finally need to stop, that can start the healing process. 

Once you have accepted the path you need to take, even if it means burning bridges, or temporarily cutting ties, you might find the air less dense or less thin as it had been.  Your shoulders may stop slumping.  Your heart might feel lighter.  It'll still take time to fully recover, but you might be able to feel that you did what was best for you and your well-being.  Even if it isn't the best for all parties involved.