Sunday 7 February 2016

Post-chemotherapy Day 1

    ‘Healthy’ as it were. After two and a half years of drugs, I have finally reached a finishline. Not many words can sum up how I feel at this exact moment – mostly due to the fact that I have still yet to process everything. Although, I don’t think that I have emotionally processed anything during the past two and a half years of my life.. so I guess it makes sense that I lack a sense of closure for the time being.

Post VAD Day 1

    Finishing cancer treatment on January 29th (post-chemo day 1) was as anti-climactic as anticipated. I washed down my last chemo-cocktail pills with a celebratory glass of wine, then went out for pasta with the family. It was a happy day no doubt, but the degree of relief did not quite bear up to the 2.5 years of pain and anxiety that preceded it. The pill box was empty, the congratulatory support was overwhelming and the pasta was delicious. Although, this long-awaited finish date was nothing but that: a day with such connotative significance, built-up over 2.5 years, that when it actually arrived, I don’t think I had the stamina to fully digest it - but the pasta went down fine. How does one process ‘no longer having cancer'? It's a pill not easily swallowed - mind you slightly easier than swallowing the 'having cancer' pill.
It had come out of nowhere, sucked up my life, took what it wanted, left what it didn't, pulled at my hair (literally), tossed me around, and spit me back out with no sense of remorse. And just like that.. I take my last chemo pill, which was much easier to swallow than the idea itself. 
    Well, it wasn’t until yesterday – hopefully my last ‘long’ hospital day – that I came home having processed, acknowledged, and accepted all that had just happened. The forthcoming realization left me with no reaction except “did that just happen?”
    Despite having taken my last chemo drug a week prior, I was called in to the hospital last minute to get my VAD removed. VAD remember? The foreign object inside my ribcage, which has slackly imparted me the title, ex-machina:

“… all thanks to my wonderful, ‘bionic-woman-like’ VAD. It’s all quite exciting!!! .. If you’re one to get excited about biomedical ventricular engineered ports. But it really is amazing. When I was first diagnosed, they surgically placed an access port under my breast that’s directly connected to a small tube they ran underneath my skin. It goes up all the way through near my neckline where it can access and pump blood to the rest of my body. Aside from a small poke to access the line, treatments and blood tests have been completely painless; so to speak. “

-                 Serena Bonneville, Induction phase chemotherapy treatment, October 28th 2013

    There was something about going back to the OR and removing a piece of plastic from my body that just got me right riled up. Maybe it was that I had grown emotionally attached to this toonie-sized lump, or that it had always been my body’s main facilitator for my IV chemo-cocktails – a part of me which had served with the only purpose of accepting and dispersing liquid cancer-killers into my body.
    Or maybe it was the IV fentanyl, the T-3’s or the lingering anesthesia; all I know is that waking up post-surgery with the absence of a lump under my boob struck a chord of emotional closure for the first time since finishing treatment.
My body is back to normal? The stomach churning chemo-cocktails flushed from my bloodstream and the foreign object that transported them, gone. No physical trace of the cancer fighters that once were. Although realistically, it is going to take my body time to recover from the surgery, some time to fully detox, and god knows how much time until I actually start feeling like myself again. Deteriorating under chemo’s tyranny for so long has left me with little knowledge as to what my ‘normal’ is or was. So like I said on my first day of chemo, (although this time with more confidence, joy and optimism) I’ll be taking it day by day.
    Expressing too much happiness to really put into words, knowing that things can only really go up from here – except for pasta, that commemorative dish set a new bar for food, which has left all my meals since seeming inadequate.
    Not sure what happens next, but I will continue to share and document my post-chemo adventures. Thankful for all of the support, from you, my friends, and most importantly, my family.

Breeding optimism a little easier than before,

-      - Serena Bonneville

Sunday 3 January 2016

Chapters and Books; Scenes and Films

This New Year holds significance to many, for reasons which I am sure vary far past trivial conventions. I would consider myself one of many. As I inch closer to my last treatment on January 29th, a date that still seems fanciful, I am reminded of another date: June 22nd, 2014 otherwise known as “my graduation.” The day that we have all, as a community, agreed to mark the end of Said chapter in our life and the beginning of said new chapter. I cant help but to critique such an odd belief that we all attach to this custom of graduation– it is much like that of the New Year: New beginnings, new resolutions, new chapter. And much like how graduation, for me, felt like a bridge that was never crossed, so did the new years and “new chapters” that trailed on behind it. But man that’s much too dark for my liking – just because I haven’t had the luxury of fresh starts and new beginnings lately, does not mean I have missed out. Like I say, this New Year is anticipated (with high hopes) to mark the first “fresh start” I have had in quite a while. Much like in pretty Woman or My Fair Lady, I’m hoping for the future turn of events to play out rather pleasantly. Although I may not share many situational commonalities with Julia Roberts or Hepburn, I like to think that my fresh start will have some comparable “glamour-like” qualities to it – although they will be less physically visible from those ladies, given that my looks and wardrobe will probably remain as is.

But everyone has their “difficulties”/“rough patches”/"curve balls" – their own reasons and longing for a fresh start. Whether it comes in the form as trivial as a graduation or NYE, or as customized as treatment finish dates, the point is that these new beginnings really cannot come a second sooner.
Chapters in our lives will start and end at their own leisure and not by our own hands – one of those darned happenings in life that can’t seem to stick to a conventional rhythm. 2.5 years and I’d say it’s about time for my chapter to come to a close.

Looking forward to a new year, as I am sure we all are J As I compare the current chapter of my life to that of an early 1900s Flower Girl and a troubled prostitute, I will as always, continue to breed optimism

-          Serena Bonneville                

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Bambi legs and Neverland

After more than two years of tolerating the cancer-killing drugs, I can only blame Murphy’s Law for the complications that I’m having now with merely 3 months to go. Yes, despite my complaining about the ghastly side effects, my body thus far has had no real unexpected issues with chemotherapy – until now.

But of course, it’s nothing I can’t handle and something that I probably incited with my own ignorance. One of my maintenance chemo drugs, prednisone (the one that I can thank for giving me moon face, weight gain, ridiculous-pregnant-like cravings and a bottomless stomach) also has warning for side effects of weakening the joints. Woopdy-frigen-doo, I have mutating killer cells threatening to take over my body and here I am supposed to be worried about a little achiness in my knees?

“POPPYCOCK!” – I respond to this dust-bunny of a side effect like Mr. Darling does to stories of Neverland. So much so that when I began to take notice of “my weak knees” it was such a pitiful issue that I may have put off mentioning it to anybody.. for a little longer than I should have … Being in maintenance and only having monthly hospital chemo visits – with very tolerable after-effects of nausea and fatigue – I was really starting to feel a bit like myself again. I guess somewhere along the way I started to overestimate the physical state of my body: Taking on regular day-to-day activities, full course load at school, exercising every day; It was easy to overlook my (still) current state as a “chemo patient” because the reality was practically in reach. But nonetheless, this ignorance was most likely to blame now for the severe weakness of my joints and thus, I take two steps back: reduced course load, no exercise prioritizing rest, and no exercise. I say that twice because, as an athlete who seemed to be at least inching toward recovering the physical state that I was once in, hearing that I have to cease all attempts at reviving my athleticism has led to frustration. POPPYCOCK. ABSOLUTE POPPYCOCK.

Of course with three months to go (everyone knock on wood) All I have to say is that once that finish line has been reached, this body better make up for its years of dormancy. I have a build-up of athletic energy you would not believe.

So now I wait – more impatiently than ever before – sitting on my butt and resting my useless bambi-like knees. I guess I should be grateful that this has been the only major side effect that’s required unexpected attention (Overworking my joints now could lead to severe long term damage: knee replacements, etc.) I go in tonight for an MRI, assuring that no further medical attention is needed. I’d tell myself not to worry, “you’ll break a leg!” but some jokes are better left unsaid.

Hopeful that the MRI shows no permanent damage while trying to put this POPPYCOCK of a side effect in perspective. 
Apologies for the gap in postings, but I promise that I am – as always – breeding optimism.   

Thursday 3 September 2015

Forza Italia

Feeling like a true Italian at heart lately.

Steroids (Predisone to be exact) have been a focal chemo drug during this extensive maintenance phase. I’ve been taking the high dose medicine each month for five consecutive days, but for some reason, the effects never seem to wear off.

But as I’ve mentioned in the past, this powerful-food loving drug has just as many pros as it does cons. The constant need to be satisfied by each consumption of food is as strenuous as the demand for lengthened slumbers and rest. In fact, since taking this drug not once have I gone to a restaurant without first inspecting its menu. Not once have I left a morsel of food on my plate after scarfing down my thoroughly calculated order. And as I once expressed this love of food through my cravings of Triple O’s burgers’ and pickles and cheese, I once again cannot stress how much Prednisone makes me love food. It’s hazardous.

Even though I lack gauge of fullness, thanks to these steroids, and have had to deal with crazy weight inflation's, I find that it is all justified when I take a bite of my meal, and am brought to a place of satisfying bliss. No exaggeration, the consumption of my next meal is what gets me out of bed.

“How do you ‘forget’ to eat? My entire day is planned around what I am going to have for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, and in between.” – The Diary of Nonna’s

With only 5 months left of treatment (knock on wood), I am wondering how I’ll adapt to life without food obsession and cravings – or if I even want to... All I know is that the most prominent side effect I’ve experienced over the past several months of Maintenance has been hunger. Appetite. Incessant snacking.

Probably the most fortunate side effect I could ask for.

Feeling like a true Italian with a bottomless stomach, mangiare mangiare, keeping Nonna happy, breeding optimism,

-        Serena Bonneville J  

Sunday 9 August 2015

Disarray and Plot Twists

Pray you never feel the abrupt rush of panic when looking back on your life – as an eighteen year old - and already finding yourself asking what if?. That feeling when your story line doesn’t fall parallel to that of Boyhood or your coming of age experiences don’t meet up to the standards of John Hughes. I was always a long-term planner who did whatever it took to mimic the happy life of a Molly Ringwald character, and live out all my passions through into my golden years. I knew what made me happy and If I found myself veering even slightly off my home-grown plan, I’d simply stop what I’m doing and change it.    

So looking back on an unaligned, inconsistent and scattered storyline has left me with nothing but sheer fright. A horrific reminder that no matter how adventurous or innovative your friends are, YOU WILL NEVER LIVE OUT THE PLOTLINE OF THE GOONIES. Its a slap in the face.

I hadn’t realized how detrimental life’s curve ball of the past 2 years has really been on my story. How much it has shattered my allusion for what I thought would be my future now. But regardless of the panic I feel as I look back and wonder what if, I have in turn come to worry less about the future and how to control it. Like how Robin Williams stands up on his desk in Dead Poets Society to “look at things in a different way”, I can now look at tomorrow - and the day after, and after – without fear of disorder and turmoil. Hell I welcome lack of structure.

Because the coming of age story lines that throw massive curve balls, are always the best ones anyway.

Realizing why fiction movies are called "fiction," and as always, breeding optimism,

- Serena Bonneville :)

Monday 9 March 2015

Girl, Interrupted

This month in Film studies (words I find myself saying much too frequently…) I learnt how director Alfred Hitchcock incorporates his iconic MacGuffin’s into his films and how they impose distinctive significance to storylines. For those of you who aren’t familiar, a MacGuffin

 “…is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation; a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot.” – Wikipedia

I like to think of a MacGuffin, therefore, as a mere distraction: Something put forth by the director to distract the viewer from the driving purpose of the film; something that offers no explanation or reasoning; something that the film could still subsist without and that’s existence only helps develop the given story.

As my first year at University comes to a close (only a month left of school before exams) I can’t help but believe that these upcoming months will be yet another step into the real world and my new life as an adult. Although I am still in treatment, I feel the healthiest that I have since being diagnosed and can better anticipate the experience of my “adult-life” that lies ahead. However, I can’t help but wonder how heavily my diagnosis has influenced this future – where I’d be now if it weren’t for this MacGuffin that some higher-power (for the lack of a better word) decided to throw into the middle of my story. How much has it really affected the overarching purpose? How dominant has this distraction become? As Alfred Hitchcock purposely imposed his MacGuffins without reasoning or explanation, I can only assume that my inexplicable cancer mutant’s similarly exist as a mere development within my story.  

What I have lost as a result, and in some cases gained, are forms of this device which will ultimately contribute to an overall end goal. Cancer is my MacGuffin. With my finish date of January 2016, I hope that this wavering detour will finally come to a close and that the story can move along as it once did – without interruption or distraction.

--> Side note, my weird obsession with food continues as per usual. Recently it's justified cause for a new social networking profile on Instagram: @postcansir.eats
Those of you who have undergone chemotherapy can sympathize with me and this inexplicable obsession. Since force-feeding myself chemo-chemicals for over 2 years, my body seems to have built up an undeniable craving for natural nutrients (My body’s words, not mine). In response and respect to these instincts, I have decided to create this yummy foodie Instagram account. If you would like to be reminded of how yummy food is or want to muster-up some cooking inspiration, checkout my feeble attempt at documenting various food consumptions. Follow on Instagram! @postcansir.eats

Breeding optimism while I wait for this MacGuffin to bid adieu,

-          Serena Bonneville    

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Run Lola Run

Starting the 12-month countdown. As of January 2015, I’ll have 12 more treatments left of what has seemed like an endless battle. While things should be getting easier, as this final 12 month stage of chemo is less intense, in a truthful simplification, it’s actually been quite the opposite.  

         1)      The effects of the steroids that I take once a month (turning me into a raging, munchie-consuming maniac) accumulate with each dose; meaning each time I ferry back to Vctoria after receiving treatment, the effects of the steroids are more intensified and my meal purchases from Triple O’s are consequently increased more in size – but as always, I view my food cravings as positives.

         2)      The more normalized and routine my life becomes, the harder it is to accept that I am still in the midst of treatment. Each month I come home for my dose of chemo-cocktail, a sense of unease reminds me that “moving on” and “University Life” are mere distractions from a fight that is still very real – void of reassurance.  

In Film class we were asked to analyze Lola Rent – A film about a young girl named Lola who is given 20 minutes to save her boyfriend’s life; when she fails at doing so, she’s able to turn back the clock and try again. The film speaks a larger message – that of time and its limitations. Lola corrects her mistakes with each re-attempt until she’s able to complete her mission, reflecting on how each minor decision we make in life can greatly affect the overall outcome. It’s tough to reflect on a life that you want nothing more than to forget about – to analyse events you wish you could simply erase from your memory. But without looking back and learning from our past, how else are we supposed to grow? I’ve realized that reflection is necessary for acceptance, and in turn, optimism - especially when I’ve got another tough year ahead. And like Lola, I’m hoping that with each month of treatment, I can better learn from the one before. While I don’t have the supernatural ability to turn back time, I’ve got 12-months to learn how to better accept the hardships that come before reaching the finish-line and ways to make this home stretch a little easier.

Lola Rent (Run Lola Run) is a stellar German film that I recommend everyone watch – especially if you’re so inclined to consider new philosophies in life … it ignites some profound thought.
Some positive thoughts, how I plan on staying optimistic during the upcoming year:

         1)      Surrounding myself with awesome people – very easy to do in university. Shout-out to Bryan Froh, one of the best guys out there, who although I haven’t seen in months, still manages to consistently make me smile.

         2)      Surround myself with awesome food – this is a universal tactic, effective even if you’re not on 60mg of prednisone. People underestimate the power of good food: the most convenient source of satisfied happiness.

         3)       Surround myself with movies – for obvious reasons.
Time is a limitation so when life is hard or days are unhappy, there should be nothing more important than pursuing positivity.
With a 12 month countdown to a clean bill of health (knock on wood), I’ll be doing my best to forget that the effects of these treatments will accumulate and I’ll remind myself of little things that will keep me going like a. it’s Christmas in 2 days b. it’s my birthday in 2 days and c. I’ll be feasting on a non-campus, home-cooked family dinner in 2 days. I’ve come too far to lose optimism now.
Forcing myself to reflect in order to look on the bright side, learning from Lola, and as always, breeding optimism,

-          Serena Bonneville :)