Wednesday 20 November 2013

Chemo-Cocktail for Consolidation

                                                                       Hair affair ^ 

Out of Induction (phase 1) and into Consolidation (phase 2), my hair barely survived. Although the new drugs on consolidation will result in more chemo-brain, as well as ‘hair loss’, it doesn’t phase me...

Ha! But in all seriousness, I’ve got a tough month ahead of me with this new phase. Consolidation officially started on Tuesday at Children’s hospital when my body began its absorption of this month’s cancer-killers. Although, 3 days in and I haven’t felt the anticipated affects of chemo-brain yet (I say this while knocking on wood.) I plan on taking advantage of feeling normal, as I have been all week; as in going to school and doing non-cancer-patient like things. It feels fantastic.

I drove into the hospital this afternoon to get another injection of cancer-killers through my VAD (This wouldn’t be one of the non-cancer-patient like things).
It’s sardonic, really, how so often in my past I’ve gone to the doctor: I’m sick, He gives me drugs, I feel better. But now, I go to the doctor (oncologist): I’m sick, He gives me drugs, and I am merely confined to the expectance of feeling worse.
My customary assumption, similar to most peoples, was that you get medicine to feel better. For me, this now only remains true to the extent of long term pain as I know that only until the end of my treatment will I feel better, cured and back to normal. But it’s hard to think long term with chemotherapy; I continually am taking it day by day. And within this short term lifestyle, these words, ‘medicine,’ ‘pills’ and ‘drugs,’ have grown to haunt me. What were formerly reassuring words that would bring anticipation of wellness, I’ve now associated with illness, pain and chemo-brain.

       But being optimists, we look at the positive side of things. This phase’s combination of drugs, chemo cocktail, should typically only lower my neutrophils while my hemoglobin’s stay fairly high. For those of you who are of non-sciencey-sort, this means although I will be more prone to viruses, the affects of this month’s chemo-cocktail will leave me with decent energy levels. Yay for more energy!
I would like to mention thanks to Sarah Massah, reporter from Peace Arch News, for writing a humbling article about my story and journey. Also to Kolby Solinsky for another inspiring article, written and posted in the Surrey Leader. Thank you for all the support but more importantly, thanks to all who’ve helped to spread awareness about this disease: it’s all making a difference for future fighters.

Breeding optimism with shorter hair,

             -          Serena Bonneville J

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Steroid Withdrawal

"Hey, hey, stay positive, pal.
Most people, they lose,they whine and quit.
But you got to be there for the turns.
Everybody's got good luck, everybody's got bad luck.
Don't run when you lose. Don't whine when it hurts."

-          Michael Douglas, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Well, today is my fourth full day off that dreaded prednisone. I went for a bone marrow test today to ensure that this was, in fact, my last week of induction (Results will be in sometime next week). But for now, I’m beyond thrilled to publicize that I have the week off of treatment. As in no drugs, full body recovery before beginning the next phase.  

But looking back, this past week has been a blur; a steroid haze. The days and nights distorted, moments split into mere fragments in my memory and any activities, I recall undertaking with minimal focus and energy. Reflecting on the week, I struggle to highlight the events that occurred in between the naps and the haze: a couple delicious dinner parties, reading half a book, finishing a couple movies (I distinctively remember watching American Beauty: a compellingly twisted film. I highly recommend watching it if you’re on steroids/chemo though, because it’s humanly impossible to lose focus on Kevin Spacey when he’s in the zone.)

The other film I distinctly remember watching was Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Michael Douglas quotes in the movie with such poise, “Most people they lose, they whine and quit.” Although in the movie, it’s in complete irrelevant context to my situation, as I processed his words through my chemo brain, I began to realize that his lines were nothing but applicable. Because even though the past week has become a consuming blob of steroid haze, I realized, yes while watching Michael Douglas’s speech from Wall Street, that I can’t sit around and feel sorry for myself. "Everybody's got good luck, everybody's got bad luck. Don't run when you lose. Don't whine when it hurts." 
I can’t become homestead, curl up in a ball and linger on the sideline while my body fights this battle. Whatever physical struggle I have to fight through, I will be mentally fighting harder just so that I remain in control. So this is why I went for a hair cut this weekend ... not in spite of the steroid haze but so that I can mentally remain in control.   

I didn’t get a buzz cut, I decided it wasn’t necessary. I didn’t have the guts to do a Miley Cyrus, call me weak but I don’t think I could rock the bleach. I also chickened out on the Emma Watson Pixie Cut; With the prednisone chipmunk cheeks, I thought the change would be too drastic. I DID manage to lose 9 inches, which for me, was a radical step in itself.

So thank you Michael Douglas.
Even though your intention was to fictionally inspire stock brokers to never give-up the fight to regain power through manipulation of the economy....
Your words motivated me to cut off 9 inches of my hair so that this chemotherapy doesn't mentally take control over my life.
Never underestimate the influence of a well-executed movie monologue.

Thankful to finally be rid of these steroids, looking forward to a drug-free week,
Breeding optimism, as always,

-          Serena Bonneville J       

Monday 11 November 2013

Kegger for Cancer

When you’re young, trying to live life to the full, cancer kinda takes the cake for the biggest buzz-kill ever. But when life hits hard, you hit it back harder. And if you’re too weak to hit .. well then you get your big brother to do it for you.

Last week, a party was thrown in Edmonton by my brother Braxton and Nicole Quinn. It was hosted by Braxton and his roomies: Spencer, Jake and Jack. Brave boys, letting over 100 university students into their home .. But this was no habitual, uni house party; This was a Kegger for Cancer.
With a full house, over $2500 clear was raised for cancer. Heads were shaved, awareness was spread and no buzz-kill, even cancer, stopped the night from being a success. Shout-out to everyone who partied for the cause that night; to everyone who went out of their way and raised money on their own time; and to everyone who had to part with their, I’m sure, beautifully lavish hair.

After a long week of chemo-brain and steroid haze, hearing stories from that night and all the support was truly inspiring. 

Almost done induction and will give a full on, detailed update on the diagnosis as soon as these steroids wear off. On Saturday I attempted to write a History test on the Russian Revolutions. It's a 45 minute test that took me a net total of 4 hours to complete. My concentration and focus is not something I'm priding myself with at the moment so bear with me.  

Continuing to breed optimism thanks to my big bro,

-          Serena Bonneville :)

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Chemo and Chipotle

Yesterday I spent the beautifully brisk morning in Vancouver: down to Childrens’ for my fourth helping of Chemotherapy and then to Chipotle for my second helping of Mexican food; equally noteworthy milestones.

But after spending the weekend alone at home, adjusting to the continued erratic demands of my body, it was nice to talk to my oncologist and get an update on how my treatment is actually going. And since my purpose is to breed optimism, I sit here, happy to share with you the updated report on my experience so far:

Mental breakdowns:
These were more frequent this past week. As I mentioned in my last post, they are annoyingly sporadic and uncontrollable. The worst part for me isn’t the depression or lack of enthusiasm, but after a while, it’s that I start to lose sense of who I am and the normalities of my old life. Locked up in my room, in complete isolation, all I can think about is the sickness. And then in a flash, like my abrupt cravings for salt, my focus shifts. Suddenly, I’m consumed by another emotion: hunger, fatigue, nausea. Or I’ll become dangerously happy, excited, motivated... lately, hunger’s been the most common of the bunch J

Physical changes:
Well for starters, still no significant hair loss ... it is getting ridiculous. The chemo has controlled enough of my life thus far so I’ve decided, whether my hair likes it or not, to get it cut this weekend. I don’t care if my hair were to keep growing throughout the entire treatment, this is my decision; and finally a decision that my Cancer doesn’t have control over.

Another big change in my look has been the swelling of my cheeks: I look like a chipmunk. It’s fascinating, really, how the face can change so drastically over just a few weeks. But the oncologist did say it’s inevitable that my cheeks will get significantly puffier-so I’m learning to adjust!

 Lastly, and the most intriguing, has been my weight distribution. Because of the steroids, I was expected to gain weight quite quickly (understandably seeing how I’m eating 6 meals a day). But despite my constant food consumption, since treatment I’ve lost a net total of 9 pounds. This initially worried my oncologist. Between the Triple O burgers and Chipotle Taco Burritos, there was no doubt in my mind I was putting on weight. But after consulting with a nutritionist and physiotherapist, we came to the conclusion that I have been losing most of the muscle in my legs. Playing competitive soccer 3 times a week and field hockey in between to spending 4 straight weeks in bed... I can hardly walk up the stairs with these Bambi twigs.

But of course, with every negative we look at the positive:

1)     Losing my hair isn’t a corollary of chemotherapy, it’s an opportunity for statement; a change in my style. I may even feel inclined to take on the Miley Cyrus and whip out some bleach... I plan on making my decision impulsively.

2)     My cheeks have gotten to the point of extreme chipmunk inflammation; so much so that my Marlin Brando Godfather impression can actually pass as identifiable.

3)     My body’s been slightly redistributed and I’ve noticed my clothes fitting differently; I guess I have no choice but to go on a shopping spree and purchase a complete new wardrobe.

And above all, the best news is that most of these side effects, mental and physical, are results of the heavy steroids that I’ve been taking twice a day (Predisone). If all goes well, I’m scheduled to finish my induction phase by next week and move on to remission-No more steroids!!!

My cheeks will deflate, appetite will decrease and mood swings will hopefully lessen. Of course, with a new phase comes new drugs with I’m sure new, just as crazy demands... but we will cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, I’ll try to endure the irregularities as they come, moment by moment, day by day.

Dealing with the impulsive demands of Prednisone while continuing to breed optimism,

-          - Serena Bonneville J

Friday 1 November 2013


After what seemed like an endless week trapped in isolation, I finally mustered up enough energy to drop by my school for Halloween; couldn't pass up my last ever high-school costume contest on an account of low hemoglobin’s... Although I only lasted a couple hour’s yesterday morning, I realized that I’d truly underestimated the power of support when you are fully immersed in it. But regardless of support, the mere social exposure in itself was worth this drastic loss of energy that my body’s still seems to be recovering from ... 48 hours later ..

However, with all the fun festivities of Halloween, and as much as I tried to embrace the normality, there is no denying that this week has been the most brutal since the start of my treatment. 3 weeks in, and although I was starting to adapt to the physical changes, the mental affects of chemo had never really hit me so hard. 

For the first time I woke up feeling depressed, cynical and erratically insensitive. No desire to welcome the day; It was a confusing mix of emotions for me (I usually wake up feeling perky, especially when I sleep in as late as I had). Typically we’re able to reason with our emotions, recognize why we feel a certain way and provide a solution for ourselves. The first phase of my treatment is called induction and with the combination of drugs I’ve been taking for the past 3 weeks, I’m supposed to inhabit a feeling known as “chemo-brain.” (Chemo brain: Trouble concentrating, short attention span, multiple space-outs, trouble multi-tasking, lack of focus and motivation.) I spent most of Wednesday morning staring at my computer screen. There could have been a movie playing or just a blank screen-either way my feelings and motivation were indifferent. The good news is that all of these feelings are totally, completely, normal and expected! In fact, this foreign feeling of anguish was supposed to have set in during the first week of chemotherapy. My oncologist reminded me how rare it is for patients to leave the house during induction let alone spend the day at school. But like I said, I can’t begin to express the magnitude of community and the power it has to overcome a troubled state of mind (like chemo-brain.) Sometimes we underestimate the strength of a community and the power it has when brought together through mutual support and compassion. 

The above photo was taken yesterday of a group of faculty members at my school. I’d notice their ‘costumes’ when I walked through the halls but couldn’t put the individual letters together: Breeding Optimism.

We are constantly presented with unexpected circumstances and the way in which we take action and respond to them is what will define us; as individuals and as a community at whole. Whether you’re battling through an issue or supporting someone else through theirs, a strong community, like the one I’m so fortunate to be a part of, is no match for any challenger. Spending just a few normal hours at school, surrounded by this sense of belonging, has proven to me that no one is alone in their fight.
Even as I lay in bed now, consumed by the crazy demands of my body, I will continue to remind myself of this. I couldn’t believe how spending a morning at school and attending a class would make such a positive impact on my mental distress, who woulda thought ... J
Looking forward to the extinction of chemo-brain, it’s getting hard to maintain steady blog posts when I’m just as content staring at a blank screen.

Continuing to breed optimism through, hopefully, my last week of induction,

Battling through the side effects as they come, taking it day by day,

-     -  Serena Bonneville J