Monday 28 October 2013

Waiting ...

Today I went in for my third round of chemotherapy treatment at Children’s Hospital. They injected me with some cancer-killers, took out some blood and then sent me home without any pricks or scars; 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.      

But the reason I’m waiting... Like I said, I’m on round three of chemotherapy and, although past the point of expectance, still no sign of any hair-loss. I’ve yet to start balding.
You’d think this is something to be fortunate about, but to be honest, I’ve been instinctively preparing myself for this certainty since day 1. In fact, I’ve already invested quite a horde of my savings into some stylin’ hats, have gone for a wig consultation and fitting, and have even been wandering around the house with my hair pulled back tight, just to get used to the exposure. I’ve become impatient. And impatience has driven me to paranoia. When I shower, I’ve been strategically gathering my hair in a feeble attempt to trace any excess strands. I brush it constantly, thoroughly searching the bristles on my comb for any clusters of hair. Nothing. The suspense is maddening.
I guess it’s bittersweet. Although I do claim to be ‘prepared’ for this, inevitable yet slow-approaching event, my doctor did warn me that the affects will start to happen quite abruptly. So although I believe I’m as prepared as one can be to lose 14 inches of natural healthy hair, I can’t say for sure how calmly I’ll react. And regardless of my self-reassurance, there is no denying that I will wake up each day to a physical reminder of my diagnostic. I’ll wake up to face a weaker, vulnerable, more exposed version of myself. But as I’ve expressed from the start, we are optimists. And because of this outlook that I’ve pledged to maintain and breed, I must persist with positivity. So, I’m waiting ... continuing to mentally prepare for the rush of emotions that will follow gently pulling out that first clump of hair. Waiting ... longing to kill the suspense, the crazy paranoia and just move on to a satisfied state of balding  acceptance.

Starting to wonder if the hair could fall out due to stress before it does due to chemo ..

Continuing to breed optimism either way,

-         -  Serena Bonneville J

Saturday 26 October 2013

Appreciating the Little Things

Food tastes SO good.
Almost 3 weeks into my chemotherapy and food, amongst other things, has been quite the highlight for me. I’m currently taking 8 drugs a day. 4 in the morning, 4 at night. During this phase of chemotherapy, one of these drugs is a powerful steroid known as Predinsone.

Predinsone: (Pred- ni-sone): A synthetic corticosteroid drug used to treat the symptoms of low corticosteroid levels: lack of certain substances that are usually produced by the body and are needed for normal body functioning. Thanks to Predinsone, the thought of a Triple O’s Spicy Ultimate Chicken Crunch burger leaves me drooling every night and when I finally indulge in a long-awaited salty meal, the magnitude of satisfaction consumes all other customary senses. Flavours are louder, textures are sharper, and sensations are heightened with each bite. Consider my perspective on food changed.

In a world that’s constantly changing every day, it’s easy to get lost along the way. Life moves fast. Like Ferris Bueller so brusquely puts it, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. It’s an insightful quote to think about but in reality, implementing Ferris’s adventurous, spontaneous lifestyle has always seemed impractical with such a fast-paced life.

But perspectives change and with the outlook I’ve recently assumed, this quote is more than just a witty line from a once handsome Broderick’s. It’s become a reference much more relatable to me in this new reality: living life to its full purpose and taking advantage of each moment. And don’t think you have to be experiencing a life threatening disease, or be skilfully faking one like Ferris, to justify an appreciative lifestyle.  It may seem unfair and trivial of me to convey such an idealistic opinion (especially when just a couple weeks ago I was lost in a hectic, non-stop schedule like everyone else) but now, with the concentration and attention span of a sloth, I’ve grown ignorant to contemptuous routine worries. I’m realizing, finally recognizing with Ferris, that buried underneath these trivial distractions are lifes’ simplicities, waiting to be valued and appreciated: like the explosive flavours of a Triple O’s Ultimate Chicken Crunch Burger. With extra fries. 

Breeding Optimism,

- Serena Bonneville :)

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Chemotherapy day 10

My first full day after being discharged from the hospital; thank god. No more hourly vitals from the nurse, no more infuriating whines from the baby next door, no more bland hospital meals and most importantly, no more isolation. I`m home. However, as comfortable as I am back in my own bedroom, I have no choice but to accept that nothing is the same as before. The physical toll that my body is undergoing at the moment is too painful to ignore, even amongst all the excitement of homecoming. I`m beginning to understand, realistically, just how tough this journey is about to get.

It`s hard to explain what it`s like being induced on chemotherapy drugs, but my overall impression is a lack of stimulant and motivation to do anything. My moods are completely unpredictable and will continue on like that as long as these drug combinations keep changing.
I can only best describe it as consistently inconsistent. I seem to be exuding all the symptoms of a pregnant maniac while also encompassing the overall concentration and motivation of a 6-year old. Quite the unexpected blend of commotion.
What were once simple, daily tasks have suddenly become exasperating obstacles that require much more energy than normal: getting out of bed, making breakfast, walking up stairs. It`s pathetic and discouraging; but sometimes, I guess we have no choice but to endure and persist. These are our battles no matter how small yet unbearable and we fight regardless of limitation; despite the weakness of our own challenger.
And as pregnant mothers learn to endure the difficulties within their trimesters, I`m learning to bear these unpredictable affects as they come. Like an inattentive 6-year old, I`m forced to take on each small project with tolerance and patience; accepting of the energy now required to reach completion.
We are all fighters; and whether through chemotherapy, pregnancy, or that age of reckless adolescence, we get through our battles one month, one phase and one project at a time.

Finally home and continuing to breed optimism,

-     -      Serena Bonneville :)

Saturday 19 October 2013

Chemotherapy Day 7

I go to sleep hoping to be woken by the sound of that shrill alarm; expecting to drag myself to the closet, slip on my scratchy kilt, fitted blazer and tie; head to school where I`d start the day on stage, addressing the students about the upcoming week; go to my classes, talk with my friends; come home to my family, a home-cooked meal; maybe head off to soccer practice in the pouring rain, enjoyably burning off my energy. Like clockwork.

Instead, I wake up in my hospital bed. And this routine, this habitual schedule that I am so accustomed to, has seize to be reinstated. My days have been altered from here on out and I can no longer fall asleep expecting to awake in that familiar reality. I have a new future that awaits me: One with less routine and more spontaneity. One with unpredictable outcomes, not knowing how the day will unfold, how it`ll begin or how it`ll end. Whether the stress will consume me or merely distract. Whether the day will be spent at school or the hospital; if I’ll be visiting with friends or with nurses.

But bring it on. Let me wake up to a new, foreign unpredictable routine and let me muster up the strength to fight because sometimes our dreams need to encompass terror. Sometimes we need to endure the unknowing to find our force. A path with no obstacles in life won`t lead to much so greet difficulty with open arms. Know that there will be days of indefinite trauma, nights of unexpected fear, but at the end of it all you will wake to a new perspective: A stronger outlook that will change you completely.

I lay in this bed tonight, scared for morning. Dreading the peaceful silence of an alarm and the absence of a home-cooked meal. But I also fall asleep prepared to face the unpredicted challenges that the morning will bring, because we can`t always wake up to familiarity or routine; and no matter how much resilience it takes, we must accept that with courage and with confidence.

We must accept our obstacles before we overcome them,

Continuing to breed optimism,

-         - Serena Bonneville J

Thursday 17 October 2013

Chemotherapy Day 5

Not sure if I could have handled being born in any other decade.

I’ve been spontaneously pulled out of my habitual routine and tossed into this surreal alternate where I have no choice but to adapt. The physical isolation in this hospital alone is nearly unbearable. But, like I said, living as an adolescent in any other time period would’ve made this enduring week an even more intolerable challenge. Without hospital wifi, 3G texting, imessage, facebook, instagram, twitter, facetime, I probably would’ve escaped through that tiny skylight in the corner of my room which taunts me with its blinding glow day in and day out.  I’ve spent 7 ½ days straight, living and sleeping in room 17, ward 4B (It’s beginning to resemble a less exciting university residence life).
The most physical exertion I’ve undergone while living here has been the 9 step journey to the washroom and back-it’s more likely that I’ve burnt most calories while typing. The hardest part of it all though, is that infuriating window that continues to mock me with the utmost stunning weather possible, during mid-October in Vancouver.
Technology, social media; It all helps cope with the physical isolation but the lack of encounter with the outdoors is maddening. So please, for my sake, and in ridicule of this infuriating window, go outside. If I can put a pause on my life for chemo, you can take a break and breathe in what looks like air crisper than the fumes from those scented car fresheners. Let me know how it feels, I look forward to breathing non-processed-hospital-air by this time next week.

-          Enraged by this restrictive glass window, but continuing to breed optimism J

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Chemotherapy Day 4

Love is infectious. Luckily, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) is not.

The support has been overwhelming and I could not be more appreciative given my current situation. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that although there is emotional and spiritual support, not many know exactly what I am going through at the moment and what I have planned for the future. This is completely understandable, so I’ve attempted to explain my diagnosis in a somewhat relatable way.
When you hear Leukemia, Cancer and Chemotherapy, the mind can only grasp hold of familiarities that are present as a result of past experiences and exposure. For example, when I sat in the child-friendly brightly decorated emergency room on Thursday, October 10th, I didn’t have much to go off of when the Oncologist addressed the possibility of Leukemia, Cancer and Chemotherapy.
Familiarities that my mind immediately drew from:
-          A walk to Remember
-          50/50
-          Breaking Bad
-          My Sister’s Keeper

But as we know, media and pop culture can be misleading (my blog does not fall under this category). So after receiving persistent information about my condition, there are some new familiarities that I now draw from when I hear about my diagnosis:

Leukemia: The type of cells that have taken over my body. I picture them as mindless zombies like from The Walking Dead. Their sole purpose is to kill and infect the living as they senselessly wander about unaware that their fate is threatened by the strength of courageous fighters. I, like Rick Grimes, intend on wiping out each and every walker that dared to threaten the human spirit.

Cancer: according to a handy-dandy information pamphlet given to me by my oncologist, cancer is just a name for a group of diseases. It occurs when the DNA in cells give out the wrong instructions. Cancer cells grow out of control, dividing when they shouldn’t, crowding out normal cells and staying alive way too long. So basically, cancer cells are like the citizens of the Capitol, surrounded by the 12 districts which must undergo the annual Hunger Games. The wealthy people of the Capitol, the cancer cells, slowly begin to impose rules and restrictions that result in a life of suffering for the Districts. They grow out of control, reproducing while the rest of Panem falls deeper into impoverishment; they crowd out the rest of the Districts, abusing their resources and cutting off means of development. But like Katniss Everdeen and the courageous rebels of District 12, my body is leading a revolt against these unwanted cells and the redundant infestation that has no right to claim any sense of power.

Chemotherapy: This, in my case, is an 8-month program where I am to take a combination of several drugs which change monthly; the goal of the program is to completely rid the body of all cancer cells. Major side effects include: loss of hair, weight gain, Nausea, short of breath, etc. I like to think of my chemotherapy as a team, made up of the different drugs that work together to obliterate all other intruders.
Each drug has different attributes that result in the teams’ greater efficiency; I like to relate this team to the three parapsychologists that ruthlessly fought against supernatural crime in the 80s: The Ghostbusters. Each unique contribution of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis all made up the bold, supernatural-fighting group that defeated all threats and overcame each obstacle; as a team.

I am a bit of a movie buff and tend to draw connections from feature films in order to help me understand medical information that, to me is usually quite dry and tedious. I hope this helped you understand a little bit more of what I am going through and how I’m going to fight this. If you have any questions about Leukemia, Cancer, Chemotherapy, etc, here are some fantastic websites that probably make my attempt at explaining seem quite pathetic.

Keeping in touch with my artsy-fartsy side as I continue to breed optimism,

-          Serena Bonneville :) 

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Chemotherapy Day 3

One's ability to hold on, to love and to build dependence comes easily to us humans. We make connections, not just with people but with surroundings. We become attached to ideas and theories, dreams and desires. The risk of this deep bond we create is that we're never prepared for the breaking of it. We can never fully ready ourselves for the loss of a loved one or the flaw in an idea or the realization of a broken dream. 
However, when these inevitabilities expose a presence in our lives, we, as victims, have no choice but to grow accepting. Whatever the challenge, it’s our job to integrate them into our daily routine and realise that from here on out, life will be different. Normalities will change, habits will evolve and perspectives will adjust.

But we are optimists! And suitably, we must respond to these events with positivity.
Ways of which I’ve responded positively and tactics of integration:

Lymphoblastic Leukemia has no dietary restrictions. After a long list of disheartening news, this tidbit of information gave me my first sense of hope. Not only can I eat whatever I please, but one of my Chemotherapy drugs has a wonderful side affect: Cravings for fatty and salty foods. Not only did the Oncologist inform me of this inevitability, but she also encouraged me to indulge in these cravings. Fan-flipping-tastic news. Although I will in turn receive probable weight gain, I consider the evolvement of this new normality to be quite positive.

Three days into my Chemo, I sit here consumed by social media, while finishing off a family pack of Maynards Swedish Fish and gulping down a Starbucks Vanilla Iced Latte. 

As I try to shutout the negative long term affects of Chemo, I begin to focus on these short term benefits which aren’t looking too shabby. With the help of sugars and fats, I continue to breed optimism.

-         Serena Bonneville :)

Monday 14 October 2013

Astonishing Support

That first post seemed too depressing for my liking. I wanted to follow up with an update of the abundance of support I've received over the past three days. It's hard to grasp an awareness of the love and care that constantly surrounds each and every one of us on a daily basis. It's hard to comprehend how much we affect the lives of others and how much the lives of others affects us. I'm not saying that it takes the threat of health to realize how much love is evident in my own life, but sometimes we take our relationships for granted.
Thank you to all who have sent wonderful, supportive messages and to all my visitors who've shared their love (and unnecessary yet tastey and wonderful gifts)

- Friends registered for Light the Night Leukemia walk "For Serena"
- Kara making calculus video to help me catch up on school
- Drew offering to shave his head along with me for grad
- DCSG Soccer team registered for Light the Night Leukemia walk "Serena's Squad"
- DCSG Soccer team "Loves Serena" youtube video
"We stand together as a team. Always. Through good and bad. No matter the challenger. We stand together strong."
(^link to video)

Again, can't begin to express how appreciative I am of everyone's overwhelming support.
Breeding optimism thanks to all of you,

- Serena Bonneville :)

Chemotherapy Day 1

Well I leave my fate in the hands of internal organs and tenacious blood cells; ironically it's always been my job to take care of them up till' now. Eating healthy, staying fit, taking my vitamins. Of course, I still hadn't the perfect track record for illness. Does anyone really?

Getting told by a doctor that you've caught a common cold, typically plants a feeling of suitable normality: 'Well I didn't wear a jacket last night, so go figure.' There’s an evident action followed by a fitting reaction.

A physiotherapist giving news of a sprained ankle, embedding the mind with justification: 'Well, I did go hard into that battle knowing it was a 50/50 ball.' There's an expectation of infirmity, a responsibility that we take as rightful victims to restore our health.

Getting told by an oncologist that leukemia cells had invaded my bone marrow; this one left me seared. She gave me the news with such grace; all my expected emotions were consumed by guilt when I stood there speechless, unable to reciprocate her same flawless composure. I scanned my mind for a familiar justification, a sense of reasoning, an action that could’ve resulted in this inescapable reaction.

But sometimes in life you aren’t given reason. Sometimes the effects are unjustifiable, prospects are inconclusive and outcomes aren’t always direct results of actions. My first day of Chemotherapy was today, the first of an 8 month program. No one can tell me why I was diagnosed with blood cancer; there was nothing I did, no actions I made that would conclude my diagnostic. Some things will indefinitely remain unknown. But regardless of the news I’ve received over the past couple of days, I know that the only thing I have control over is my outlook. It’s up to my body how hard it’ll fight and how well it will cooperate with the chemotherapy. So I go into my first day of recovery with a sense of hope; confident that my body can fight this. And while it takes care of the physical battle, in return, I’ll be emotionally fighting Leukemia to the death. These cancer cells really better watch their back because they picked the wrong body to mess with.

Enclosed by the walls of a dreary medical unit, fueled by the unadorned hospital food, I will continue to breed optimism.

Appreciating all the support,

Taking it day by day,

-          Serena Bonneville J