Friday, July 13, 2012

5 years later...

On Thursday, July 12, 2007, I was diagnosed with stage 3 locally advanced ductal carcinoma of the triple negative kind. Back then, those were just a bunch of big words that I didn't understand. I could not have foreseen the impact that diagnosis would have on my life. But here I am, five years and one day later, Friday, July 13, 2012, writing these words. And where am I exactly?

I'm at gate D24 in the airport at Toronto, waiting for my flight back to Vancouver. I was here for a cocktail party given by my literary agency. Yes, I came all this way for a cocktail party for my own personal celebration (though no one else knew it as such). You see, this year has been a big year in a good way. I got my Canadian citizenship, I got my MFA degree from UBC, and I finished writing my first memoir. Originally, I was writing a memoir about growing up with the scant memories my parents shared about the Vietnam War and how I unearthed more history and stories as I became older. But when I was diagnosed with and treated for cancer, those stories and experiences became more layered and profound. Because my parents so generously came to help take care of me and my family during my treatment, I began to identify with their histories in a new way. Throughout my treatment, I experienced isolation, solitude, disorientation...psychic chaos. Everything that I had believed in about myself was being challenged. And it wasn't just a struggle for me, but for everyone around me. Five years later, I'm grateful for my parents for coming to live with me for almost a year, but admittedly, back then, I wasn't.

When I finished treatment and got through my surgery, I thought life that would resume as planned. I'd go back to school, write the book I had intended to write, graduate, and live happily ever after. Of course, we all know that's not what happened. I went back to school, started writing a new book about my cancer journey and how I began identifying with my parents' experiences...and then my marriage fell apart, and I stopped writing. A little over a year after my bilateral mastectomy, I attempted suicide. Then I did the work to get better, tried to pick up the pieces, and move on.

Still, the writing was nonexistent, while life kept happening. But the more that happened, good and bad, the more I kept seeing my life paralleling my parents'. And when I was ready to truly heal from all the devastation, the writing started up again. The result is my book, What Doesn't Kill Me.

As heavy as all that sounds, I can assure you that there's plenty of hilarity in the book, or so I've been told by those who have read it. I've had the tremendous fortune to have a number of agents offer to represent me, and I believe I chose the perfect agency, Anne McDermid Agency. Her team has been fantastic in the early stages of putting together a package to shop around to the publishers. I'm really excited to see that this is all coming together. My wonderful husband, Anton, is creating my website, and you can sneak a peek at It's not finished yet, but we hope to launch it in a couple days. Also, if you haven't already done so, hop on over to Facebook to like my author page,

So I'm here in Toronto, waiting to go back to Vancouver, where upon arrival, I have to go to the emergency room! Sadly, five years later, I'm still dealing with medical crap. In May, I had two procedures done. One was called a capsulotomy, where my plastic surgeon, who's been with me from the beginning, opened up my right breast and scored the hardened scar tissue. Hardened tissue in the breast is a long-term effect from radiation (which no one bothered to tell me about back then), and the tissue became so hard that it was causing pain. My surgeon told me it's very possible that she will have to do this again in the future.

The second procedure I had done was a hernia repair. Because of the mesh in my stomach not bending when I was pregnant with Moxie, I developed a hernia two inches above my bellybutton. Two weeks after surgery, I noticed that my belly had a waterbed effect. Apparently, I developed a seroma, which is a pocket of fluid built up in a cavity where there was surgery. I saw my plastic surgeon four times, during which she used a gigantic syringe to drain the fluid. She then decided that perhaps it'd be best to insert a drainage catheter and leave it there until the fluid cleared up.

Unfortunately, I developed a nasty infection that won't go away no matter what. That's why I have to go to the hospital after I get off the plane. Way to celebrate the fifth anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, right? It's too fucking fitting, is what.

But hey, I'm still here. Some of the friends I've met along the way these past five years are not. After I get off these damn antibiotics, I'm going to drink to them and to this crazy gig called life.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, April 19, 2012

April 15, Karmic Tax Day

On my favourite food blog, Smitten Kitchen, blogger, chef, and humorist extraordinaire Deb does a quick look back at the recipes she's posted throughout the years at the end of her current post. For example, at the end of this week's recipe, "Banana Bread Crepe Cake with Buttterscotch" (I'm about ready to explode from sheer joy looking at the pictures of it), she tells her loyal, devoted fans and wannabe recipients of her creations that one year ago, she posted French Onion Soup and another recipe for Blackberry and Coconut Macaroon Tart; two years ago, it was New York Cheesecake, Shakshuka, and Easy Jam Tart; three years ago it was Chocolate Caramel Crack, Simple Potato Gratin, and Cinnamon Swirl Buns. I have to stop there because I haven't had breakfast yet, but I already know that whatever I have will pale dreadfully in comparison to what I'm fantasizing about for breakfast. I'm not trying to torture you too, but rather make a point. When April 15th rolls around, I do a similar look back, though not as delicious and savoury. April 15th is more like a bittersweet Thanksgiving dinner in my book.

Four years ago on April 15th, I had a bilateral mastectomy and TRAM-flap reconstruction. The night before, I thought I was going to die. Three years ago on April 15th, my marriage was falling apart. I wanted to die. Two years ago on April 15th, my son Véo was born and had several fatal birth defects. He died, and so did a large part of me. One year ago on April 15th, I was in tremendous pain and two weeks away from giving birth to the most perfect little baby girl. I was hoping that everyone would be okay and not die. This year on April 15th, something miraculous happened: everything was fine. I was grateful. Very.

To be honest, I was moody and out of sorts in the few days leading up to April 15th, but I didn't know why. Actually, when you're moody, do you really think about why you're moody? Or do you just brood? I mostly just brood. And then on the night of April 14th, it dawned on me while I was so blah. The realization came when Mylo brought up Véo out of nowhere. He asked what it would have been like to have Véo and Moxie, if Véo hadn't died. I said it would have been great--like another pair of Chloe&Mylo--but in reality, that's not how things would have been. I told Mylo that if Véo had lived, we probably wouldn't have had Moxie because my body takes an extra beating from having had cancer and going through a pregnancy afterwards. We were all dumbfounded by that realization.

It's hard not to think of how all our trials have a purpose and a path. And I do believe that there is Véo's spirit in Moxie. After all, Moxie was conceived the month that Véo would have been born, and now, Véo and Moxie's birthdays are exactly two weeks apart. How could you not believe in such a connection, such a cyclical wholeness? And perhaps that's why she's so spunky, this one--there's all that experience, challenge, and survival contained in that tiny body. So much energy!

Like I said, pregnancy took a toll on my body. In two weeks, I'm having surgery to repair the damage that giving birth Moxie has done: my lower left abdominal wall became weakened despite the Kevlar mesh, and I have a hernia above the mesh, above my bellybutton--both areas are painful, so it will be good to get that fixed. Also, my right breast has an excessive amount of scar tissue built up from the long-term, ongoing effects of radiation and is obstructing my saline implant, causing a lot of pain and immobility in my arm, shoulder, and neck. So my surgeon is opening me up there and removing all that scar tissue. After that and an estimated one-month recovery, I should be good as new, and maybe even better than that!

I used to be so scared every time I had to go under the knife, and I still deal with some fears, which are mostly based on past experiences with fear and surgery, but this time around, I am not as scared. I know that I have a beautiful family to wake up to. The only thing I really worry about is how I'm going to have to try not to laugh because laughing fucking hurts when you have abdominal surgery. Unfortunately, we have a house full of comedians. I guess there could be worse things in the world to anticipate dealing with. :)