Cancer Free!

*Note: Graphic pictures in this blog post might be disturbing to some readers.

I am cancer free now.

A few months ago, after waiting nearly 9 months, I finally had my Mohs cancer surgery at the hospital.

My cancer journey began on February 2, 2016 when I met with a dermatologist who diagnosed basal cell carcinoma – skin cancer – on my upper lip. The surgery she recommended was called Mohs surgery after the Doctor who developed it in the 1930s and is the single most effective technique for removing Basal Cell Carcinoma. My research confirmed that Mohs surgery has the lowest recurrence rates, highest cure rates, and best cosmetic results of any skin cancer treatment. Okay, sold.

1-biopsyfebwm

February biopsy

I waited several weeks beyond the expected surgery date of three months without hearing a word from the hospital so I phoned the surgeon’s office, who told me to phone the Mohs clinic at the hospital. The kind receptionist assured me that the wait time wasn’t three months but more like 6 months! After 6 months had come and gone, I went to my family doctor and asked her office to call the clinic and find out what’s going on – did they forget about me? We were informed that the wait time was now 8-9 months! Then one sunny day in late September, I received a letter in the mail from the hospital notifying me of my surgery appointment – on the only day that I was scheduled to fly to Moncton for a weekend meeting! After all this waiting and waiting! But it was easy enough to change my appointment to the next week.

The day arrived and I had to be at the hospital, with an ‘escort’, by 7 a.m.. My daughter Nellie and I drove into the city to my other daughter Kristi’s house near the hospital and parked there. Then Kristi drove us to the hospital and was on-call all day in case Nellie needed a break. I was informed, in the letter, that I must bring someone with me or my surgery would be cancelled.

By 7:30 a.m., the staff started trickling in for the day – I have no idea why they made the six of us patients come at 7 a.m.! The nurse explained the process: one-by-one, each patient would be called in for their first surgery, wait for lab results, then maybe more surgery, and this would go on all day until the last patient was treated. I went in for my first surgery at 9:30 a.m.

The staff was SO young! My Mohs surgeon and the plastic surgeon were as young as my own kids! Extremely pleasant and happy people. Everyone was positive and outgoing. I was invited to participate in cancer research which was studying the effects of viruses to kill cancer cells. I signed up immediately – if my cancer cells can help cure cancer, well it was a no-brainer – why wouldn’t I! Sadly, only 2 of the 6 patients that day agreed to participate in this research. My surgeon was almost giddy about my cancer because the procedure she was about to perform was uncommon. She asked if she could take pictures for teaching medical students and I agreed with the condition that she show me and email them to me.

When all the permissions were done, I laid back in the ‘dentist-like’ chair and she froze the area with local anesthetic with about 9 needles. Okay, you can stop shivering now. After the first one, I barely felt the others. Then the cutting began. The doctor, Jillian, chatted about her upcoming trip to New Zealand and her love of photography. I was able to talk in between excising layers of cancer – it was actually a pleasant experience. The wound was cauterized and a wad of gauze placed over it – I was asked to press firmly and sent out to the waiting room. My cancer was then sent to the hospital lab for immediate examination. Mohs surgery is done in stages while the patient waits for lab results.

2-cancercutout

Cancer cut out

I waited for 3 hours. I tried to eat lunch that we brought and even tried to drink with a straw but found it difficult with a part of my upper lip missing! Finally, I was called in for Part 2. There was still more cancer in my face. I guess the small spot I could see was more like an iceberg with more cancer under the skin. Another 7 or 8 needles to freeze the area again and more cancer and skin was removed and sent to the lab. Out I went, covered by a bigger piece of gauze, this time with a very droopy lip because half of the right side of my upper lip was also removed and went to the lab.

After another couple of hours of waiting and reading Readers Digest cover-to-cover, my lab results were back and I was called back in. Almost all the other patients were done for the day and had left. I felt bad for Nellie who loyally waited for me and even chatted with the other patients and their family members. This time the news was good – Kate got all the cancer! It was time for reconstruction of my face. There was a hole the size of a loonie or silver dollar and I had absolutely no idea how the plastic surgeon was EVER going to patch me back together again. I asked to see it and was handed a mirror. Wow. Oh well, I thought, at least I don’t have cancer anymore even though I’m going to have one mother of a scar.

The surgeon, Jill, and the plastic surgeon, Kate, and I discussed how to patch me up. The two doctors talked like they were decorating a birthday cake with all kinds of creative ideas using my current smile lines and face characteristics. Then I was given another 10 or so needles of freezing.

I had the option of having a skin graft from another area of my face or neck to patch the open wound but I opted for only one place to heal (thank you very much). The doctor suggested that she do a bit more cutting along my ‘smile line’ to enable her to pull up my skin and make a kind of flap to cover the gaping hole in my face. The inside of the lip is very stretchy, so she made me a new upper right lip by pulling up some of that skin. I had around 48 stitches, almost half of them inside.

4-48stitches

48 Stitches

I was given instructions for care of my wound and we had to stop at the store on the way home to pick up supplies. I wish they had given us this list so I could purchase them ahead of time and go straight home after a long day in the hospital. The pain wasn’t too bad. Even after all the freezing came out, it was manageable but I took a tylenol anyway for good measure. Two days after surgery, I had to remove the bandage. I wasn’t looking forward to this but it went very well. I had to change my bandages every day for the next week until I went back to have my outside stitches removed. I was told to apply vaseline with a Qtip to slow the healing of the stitches which results in a less visible scar.

3-postsurgery

Post surgery day

I was treated like a rock star when I arrived at the clinic for my stitches removal – the doctors called other doctors and nurses in to see the fantastic surgery and reconstructive repair. They were very pleased how well it was healing and took more pictures for medical education. I was told that I wouldn’t need to return but that my scars would take a year to heal. I’m supposed to massage the scar tissue every day and wear sunscreen faithfully because the sun will change the colour of my scar.

The other day, I went to lunch with friends that I hadn’t seen for 6 months and they had trouble finding the scar. So I guess, all is good.

I’m cancer free!

5-threemonthspostsurgery

3 Months after surgery

Advertisements

What a Year!

 

2016 has been quite a year for me. It began with a shocking diagnosis of cancer and is ending with family game nights and Star Wars movies.

But l shouldn’t get ahead of myself. Let’s review 2016.

Winter was quite mild with very little snow compared to other years. Taylor was home for the winter, staying here and in the city. We celebrated birthdays in January & February which brightened up the cold days. In early February, I was diagnosed with cancer – basal cell carcinoma – and was told I’d need surgery in ‘two or three months’. I thought, oh great, I’ll get it over with before summer so I can get outdoors and garden. Ah, nope, it didn’t go as planned. I waited for nearly 9 long months before I had surgery at the end of October.

1

Little snow at the end of February

In March, we sadly observed 8 years since Chris‘ passing – eight years. It seems like time has just flown by but at other times, time seems to stand still. I still miss him more than you can imagine.

Taylor and I made the two hour trek to the site of the Holleford Crater in March – we had talked about it for a few years and he wanted to drive there in his car before he left for work in Northern Canada in April. It was a great experience and I had a really nice time spending the day with my son.

When spring arrived, I was all gung-ho about getting outside and getting everything done all at once. I guess that’s what happens when you’re cooped up all winter long! I had some reservations about being in the sun since my diagnosis of skin cancer in February but I started slathering on SPF 60 sunscreen recommended by the dermatologist. I was glad to get out and tap my maple trees to gather maple sap for boiling down to maple syrup again this year. It was late March before all the ice melted off the river. There was no chance of flooding this year because the amount of snow was so minimal that there was very little run-off. In fact, the river was down about 3 feet and remained that way for months during the summer drought.

In my enthusiasm to work outside every day, I got my annual dose of poison ivy! But that didn’t stop me since I love the outdoors too much. My 20+ year old lawn tractor faithfully helped cut my large lawn again this year – a task that I thoroughly enjoy! My big project was to plant in the steep ditch that I’m unable to maintain any longer. I spent weeks transplanting and mulching and watering the new plants only to have a distracted city mower come down the road and completely shear off my entire month’s work. It was unexpected since they’ve only mowed the ditches three times in 35 years! And just when the plants started to grow again and near bloom, they slashed it down again! Unbelievable, twice in one year! I give up and I’ll just hope these plants come back next year…..

2-bumper-crop-of-wild-raspberries

Bumper crop of wild raspberries

During the wintertime, I researched the Little Free Libraries which were popping up all over North America. I thought to myself that I’d like to offer a Little Free Library too! So I worked on this project for weeks and placed my Library at the end of my dock for boaters and snowmobilers alike to use freely.

We were blessed with lots of new babies this year! First and foremost, my little granddaughter Elsie was born in British Columbia! Our whole family is ecstatic for Robin and Nici as they venture into parenthood (of a human being, in addition to their other ‘kids’ > goats, that is). I finally got to meet Elsie in September when I traveled to B.C. to visit – she’s absolutely perfect!

We also discovered baby kittens – 4 of them born to a feral cat who lived in our woodshed. This mother cat was just a kitten herself! Nellie and I knew that we needed to ‘rescue’ this wild litter and get them used to humans so we could get them spayed/neutered to end this insanity of feral cats in the neighbourhood. Mission accomplished …………. and we now have 4 new fixed, indoor kittens. The mother cat, Mochi, was also spayed and continues to live outside with her brother. Nellie constructed little ‘outdoor cat shelters’ for each of them to protect them from the cold winter.

While I was hanging my laundry outside, Nellie worried that I was going to fall through our rotting back deck. She sent Darin a text and said that they must do something before I fall through and break something! The hot summer weekends of deck building began. Melvin and Cassidy came to help when they could and grandgirls Kalia and Olivia chipped in too, to work with Darin, Nellie, and I in dismantling the old deck and rebuilding a new one. It’s beautiful and solid!

My cousin Maureen from down east came for a brief visit in August. We shopped till we dropped and enjoyed a tour of the Rideau Canal.

3-goose-spit-comox-bc

Goose Spit, Comox, B.C.

At the end of August, I flew out west to British Columbia to visit my sisters Betty and Faye and my son Robin, Nici, and new granddaughter Elsie. I spent three glorious weeks with my sisters shopping at every thrift store for miles around and as many garage sales as we could find within a 50 mile radius! We visited Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria (where we had an amazing fish & chips lunch), Cathedral Grove, and Goats On The Roof in Coombs. Then we took the ferry over to spend a few days with Robin, Nici, and Elsie and enjoyed a relaxing time on their farm while getting to know adorable little Elsie. It was hard to leave…….

4-elsie-and-grammom

Grammom & baby Elsie

I arrived back home to a surprise bathroom renovation by Nellie: she sanded, then white-washed the darkened pine boards and painted the doors and cabinets with the sea blue paint we’d chosen and purchased a few years ago. It looks so bright and awesome! We went to IKEA and bought a new mirrored medicine cabinet and another storage cabinet. Then we upgraded the faucet and cabinet hardware.

In October, I traveled to Moncton, New Brunswick for the Annual General Meeting of La Leche League Canada. The week after, I finally had my cancer surgery that I had been waiting for since February 2nd. Nellie came with me for the day in the hospital while Kristi drove us from her house nearby and picked us up, being on standby. It was a very long day involving 3 surgeries and 45 stitches to repair the loonie-size hole in my face. Recovery took longer than I anticipated and healing will continue for a full year.

Marty arrived for a visit at the end of October after driving with Taylor, Darin, and Carly from the Yukon down to visit Robin, Nici, and Elsie on the sunshine coast of B.C. then driving clear across Canada! It was great having him home but we missed seeing Jeanette, who stayed at home in the far north.

Another big announcement this year is that I’m going to be a Grammom again! Kristi and Mike are expecting a baby in April 2017. There have been challenges with this pregnancy though, as Kristi has been put on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy. Jasmine turned 3 in January and Joshua turned 2 in September so they are pretty active children. They still have their 9 yr. old former foster child visit nearly every weekend too.

5-grandkids

Grandchildren Josh, Kalia, Livi, & Jasmine

Melvin comes home to visit whenever he can – he works hard, full time now and lives in Ottawa. His girlfriend Cassidy is a lovely girl who fits right in to our family. My ‘baby’ just celebrated his 22nd birthday.

Nellie continues to work hard with her online business, The Black Lory, successfully selling crocheted toys and items to people around the world. She received dozens of orders this Christmas and got them all made and sent in record time.

Darin got a promotion at work in the fall and is working harder than ever. Teenager Kalia grew taller than both Darin and I.  Eleven year old Livi continues to excel at gymnastics and has the most beautiful smile ever! Amanda keeps the ‘ship’ running smoothly.

I continue to volunteer for La Leche League Canada supporting breastfeeding families here locally and across the country. There have been additional challenges in the organization this year which have taxed me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Nuff said about that.

So 2017 is just around the corner. It’s hard to believe we are on the backside of this decade already! The more things change, the more they remain the same.

I wonder what 2017 will bring …….

Best wishes to everyone for a Happy New Year!

Grammom

6-autumn-sunset

Autumn Sunset – ‘prime time’

My Cancer Journey

I have skin cancer – a type called basal cell carcinoma.
I want to share my experience right from the beginning through my blog. Don’t worry, it won’t dominate this blog – there are recipes to share and other experiences to write about. Cancer does not define me. I won’t let it. It’s part of my whole life journey. It’s part of me. I own it.
One might think, whew, it’s only skin cancer….. good thing it’s not a more serious cancer. Cancer is cancer. Those mutant cells have now been identified in my body. I AM grateful that basal cell carcinoma has a very good success rate of treatment and survival rate of 95% at five years.
This kind of skin cancer is attributed to UV rays from sun exposure or tanning beds (which I’ve never used). Some scientists say that the sun’s rays were doing their damage decades ago unbeknownst to me. When I was a kid in the 1950s , we practically LIVED outside, summer and winter. Sunscreen hadn’t been invented yet and climate change wasn’t recognized. We played outside in the summer wearing as few clothes as possible with our bodies becoming browner as the summer progressed.

DaisyWM
I felt suspicious about a few spots on my face several years ago so I went to my former family Doctor. He thought they were insigificant, cosmetic spots and proceeded to do a freezing-like treatment on each one – it’s called Cryosurgery which uses liquid nitrogen to destroy the pre-cancerous cells. It didn’t help. I changed physicians to a young woman who was only 4 minutes from home – I ‘interviewed’ her and decided she was easy to communicate with, up-to-date on the latest research, and had no problem with addressing each other by our first names. Last year, I showed her my little ‘spots of concern’ on my face and asked for a dermatologist appointment to get them checked out. She suggested that first we try the freezing treatment (again). After a month, it was clear that it didn’t work (again) so a referral was made to a dermatologist. My concerns centered around one particular area on my upper lip which bled off-and-on and never healed completely. It looked almost like a roundish scar, but I had never been cut there. And it was growing in size.
Finally, my dermatologist appointment arrived after 8 months of waiting – I could have gone earlier into the city but I didn’t want to drive there as parking is a nightmare. The Doc walked in and introduced herself and her collegue, asking for my permission that he be there. She walked up to me sitting on the examining table half dressed and stated matter-of-factly “I see you have skin cancer”. Just like that. A family doctor couldn’t identify a suspicious skin anomaly? Anyone can ‘google’ my symptoms and get a probable answer. She checked me over but was focused on that one spot. She thought that it was a large basal cell carcinoma. Her and her collegue talked about various treatments and even called in the plastic surgeon from the clinic next door. They all agreed that Mohs surgery was called for: basically, at the Ottawa Hospital I will be under local anesthetic and the surgeon will scrape away layers of the cancer, testing it after each layer until no cancer remains. It’s quite successful for the treatment of this kind of cancer. The surgery will likely be in about 3 months.
While I was there, the dermatologist did a biopsy by injecting freezing into my upper lip and removing a portion of the cancer with a scalpel to send off to the lab for confirmation. I had no problem looking at the needle with freezing going in but when I saw her coming close to my face with the scalpel, I thought to myself “it’s okay to close your eyes now” hehehe. Then she proceeded to cauterize the area, which hurt because some of it had no freezing. I said that I shouldn’t be such a baby since I gave birth to seven children without as much as an aspirin for the pain.
She talked about sunscreen… calling for biopsy results in 3 weeks… the surgeon’s name… Mohs surgery… reconstruction…. and other things and I was worried that I wouldn’t remember it all. Then she handed me a sheet of paper where she kindly wrote it all down.
I’ve been thinking alot about being outside and gardening this summer and driving with the sun pouring through the window and forgetting to lather on my 60 SPF sunscreen and a whole lot of other things that never concerned me before.
Biopsy results confirmed basal cell carcinoma.
Let the journey begin

8wm

PERC

The Ottawa Peace and Environment Resource Centre (PERC) is an incorporated, registered charity. It is primarily a volunteer-run, grassroots organization with a Board of Directors to govern its operations.

Where Meeples Meet

Great Board Games Reviews

Wilderness Return

My Wilderness Return Return to Nature, bushcraft, scrounge craft, writing

Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness

Practical advice for off-gridders, homesteaders, preppers. 37 years off-grid homesteading experience. Blog, videos, podcasts, book (print, ebook, audio)

Powell River Books Blog

Life, Family, Friends.....

The Radical Homemaker

Warning: Blending authenticity with joy may arouse contempt.

Mother Matters Burlington

Pregnancy, birth and postpartum support. Conscious parenting too!

B&H Your Community Grocer

Supporting Your Community Since 1963

Just another Day on the Farm

Living a step back in time

Natural Life Magazine's

green living blog by Editor Wendy Priesnitz

Vulnerable Watersheds

Life, Family, Friends.....

Pete's Alaska

Pete's Alaska — God, family, country my view out the cabin window.

Tiny House Ontario

To fill this life, with words, art, and maintain a lovely living forest.

Cam Mather

Books • Speaking • Consulting • etc.

Wuppenif

wuppenif...in other words, "what would happen if?"

Lactation Matters

The official blog of the International Lactation Consultant Association