I was really pissed when I started writing this blog a few weeks ago. It was originally titled “It’s Okay To Be Angry,” but with the passage of time I’ve mellowed. My mood was triggered by an episode where I was ditched by a friend at an event. After an hour or so I packed it in and went home. I was not the best version of myself in this moment.
When you are diagnosed with cancer, you are blindsided. None of us with cancer picked this change in our life paths. I believe we all think we’re in complete control and somewhat invincible, but a cancer diagnosis (or any life-threatening disease for that matter) is a wake-up call that we are fragile and live in a world where you body is in a constant battle to ward off infection, disease, and accidental damage. What we can control is how how we react and I personally plan to be the best possible version of myself for what ever time remaining on this blue dot called Earth. Allowing anger to fester is not being the best version of myself but it’s human.
I attempt to be the best version of myself by looking for the joy in every moment and sharing that with others including family, friends, and all those with whom I cross paths. With a COVID mask, it is difficult to share a smile with others, but it is easy to share a complement. For example, when I encounter someone with colourful hair, I routinely let them know that it looks good; even occasionally when it doesn’t but I think their courage to be expressive is important to acknowledge. On a different note, I keep loonies and toonies in the car to give to the folks at the street lights holding a sign asking for anything a driver can spare; I don’t know why they’re on the street but I suspect mental health is involved and it is not my place to judge. If the time ever comes that I can’t spare a loonie or a toonie for someone on the street, it will be because I’m in the ground hanging out with God.
With that said, I go through highs and lows and moments where my anger eats away at my soul. But my thoughts around that will come later in the article. Let me give you a health update followed by a summary of my return to cycling.
Prior to every Chemo treatment, I have blood drawn to track of my levels. There are lots of tests done but the four important values are Neutrophils, White Blood Cells, Hemoglobin, and Platelets. If you click on any of the titles in the “Test” column below, a new tab will open with a summary of the role of each blood component listed.
|Test||Units||Normal||Nov 9||Nov 23||Dec 7|
|Neutrophils (Neut)||Billion/Litre||2.00 – 7.50||1.49||1.45||2.13|
|White Blood Cells (WBC)||Billion/Litre||4.50 – 11.00||2.53||2.77||3.26|
|Hemoglobin (HGB)||Grams/Litre||140 – 180||81||89||84|
|Platelets (PLT)||Billion/Litre||150 – 350||117||74||71|
The green and red colouring of the values above indicate improvement in green and decline in red. If the values decline, it may be necessary to reduce the strength of my medication or possible cancel a session to allow my body to recover. The November 23rd values are green/red compared to the November 9th values. The December 7th values are green/red compared to November 23rd The numbers shown for November 9th are green/red compared to the October 26th blood work which is not shown here.
A decline in Neutrophils means it will take longer for my immune system to start dealing with infection or other diseases. The White Blood Cells follow the Neutrophils to a problem location and bring bigger guns to the battle to destroy the infection. The Hemoglobin in Red Blood Cells carry oxygen to all body tissues. An improvement in Hemoglobin will help me be more active as I attempt to become more physically fit. The decline in Platelets is cause for concern as their role is to create blood clots to fix damage to cells such as when I cut myself shaving. It will take longer to stop bleeding at the location of a cut or deep scrape and for the injury to heal. The same is true of bruises which are under the skin but still visible. Arteries, veins, and internal organs are subject to damage and need platelets to repair. By the way I have bruises in places I don’t remember bumping. Clearly it doesn’t take much for me to bruise these days. I understand it is normal to bruise more easily at my platelet count drops.
As a side story, for those of you who donate at Canadian Blood Services regularly, iron is checked with a finger prick on every visit. If it is below a cut-off point, you won’t be able to give. Our body does not create iron. It comes from diet. It is a building block the body needs to construct hemoglobin. Consequently, a low iron count is an indicator that you have a low hemoglobin count. My count which is currently at 84 grams per litre is well below normal. Should it drop below 80, I will be sent for a blood transfusion to force an increase in my hemoglobin and possibly an iron transfusion to help my body construct more hemoglobin.
Overall, I feel healthy and strong even though my blood counts tell a different story. I have started to cycle again after a break of more than a year. There is lots of evidence that physically fit patients heal and recover more quickly from a health setback than overweight individuals. In my case, I think my good health is why I survived the blood clots that invaded my lungs last May shortly after my surgery.
On a final note, I’m coping well with chemotherapy and my Oncologist indicates it is directly related to my level of fitness. If you’ve been considering lifestyle changes (i.e. weight loss, dietary changes, fitness improvements), I encourage you to get going and feel welcome to contact me for any advise I can offer. If like me you learn you have health crisis on the horizon, it’s too late then to get physically prepared. I just lucked out that I started cycling a little over three years ago and worked hard to live healthier with dietary changes and physical workouts. You can too.
Return to Cycling
I got back in the saddle earlier last week. The picture is from last Saturday when the temperature was around 12˚C (54˚F). We live near the Chain of Lakes Trail which is paved and in great shape for riding, running, or hiking. It is a rail-to-trail route and happens to be a gentle uphill in the direction I headed. I rode about 3.5 km (2.2 miles) and was pretty exhausted. I used the Dunbrack Street bridge as my turnaround and headed home. In total my ride was about 6.6 km (5 miles) and pretty slow. Regardless I was pleased with this ride as a start. I didn’t care for route I picked to get to the trail. There was a hill that is slightly more of a challenge that I’m ready for yet but there’s no shame in walking a bike from time to time.
On Sunday I headed out again. This time I took a different route to the trail which bypassed the hill and got me off streets and on the trail sooner. I rode to Chain Lake Drive which is on the edge of the Bayers Lake Industrial Park. The distance to that spot was 6.6 km (4.1 miles) so I picked that as my turnaround point. The best part of this route after the gently uphill most of the way is that the ride home is all downhill. In total the ride was 11.2 km (7 miles) which I felt was a good second day. It was longer and more challenging than the first day so that’s improvement. However, the temperature was around 5˚C (41˚F). I was bundled up with huge gloves and big socks but I didn’t have my face fully covered. My hands were cold and went numb quickly. The exposed part of my face went numb and then became painful shortly after the turnaround where I was headed downhill and going faster.
In spite of the cold, it was a good ride and I felt strong throughout. I’m ready to go further and be more aggressive but clearly the temperature will be a problem. If you don’t know, my chemotherapy has a side-effect of extreme sensitivity to cold which is any temperature under 6˚C (43˚F). Given that we are just at the start of the winter cold, it is clear that I won’t be able to ride outside as a way to get ready for the Race Around the Netherlands #RATN2021 in May.
My solution for the cold was to head indoors. There are lots of good bike trainers on the market. For some time now, when Coach Brad and I work out, we use a basic mag trainer. The bike mounts on it and the trainer provided consistent resistance. It is not fancy and for me too boring for continuous use. Giant Halifax set me up with an Elite Suito trainer which can fully integrate with Zwift. It allows me to ride in different global locations with people from around the planet. It is brilliant technology that I expect to enjoy tremendously.
I titled this article “It’s Okay To Be Angry” originally because I’ve been feeling angry for the last while. This emotional swing was triggered by a pretty minor incident where I felt ditched by a friend. I don’t think the people around me were aware how enraged I became. As fired up as I was when I started to write this post, as my anger dissipated, and I decided to chill out before finishing.
Anger is a powerful and unhealthy emotion but it’s part of our makeup. If unchecked, it festers and negatively impacts our health. By the same token, if suppressed, the long term outcome is negative and I believe it is a recipe for mental illness. Each of us, healthy or with a life-threatening disease, need to deal with it in our own personal way. I’ve got no suggestions how but in my case I usually need time.
If you have cancer like me, you have every right to be angry. Regardless of whether you win your battle and end up cancer free or like me are incurable, your life will never be the same again. You will move forward and find a new way to live. Eventually you’ll regain your hair, weight, or whatever else the treatment side-effects took away. But you’ll never be the same. In my case, as long as the chemotherapy is slowing the progress of the disease, I’ll be on chemo indefinitely. The effects are cumulative so things like the numbness in my hands will never dissipate. As well, my extreme sensitivity to cold is something I will simply find ways to tolerate.
No one picks cancer, it picked you. Sadly, there are no do-overs so you’re stuck with it. There are lots of things we can control but getting cancer is not on that list. Although I’ve said it multiple times, its worth repeating; what you can choose is how you handle it.
I understand that those who approach treatment with a positive attitude do better, suffer less, and become healthier sooner. Those who become depressed and focused on the “why me,” point-of-view struggle. Personally, I think state-of-mind is under our control for most people. The exception are those diagnosed with mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, bipolar affective disorder, depression, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, paranoia, etc. They are dealing wit a host of challenges and are not so fortunate.
I see obvious changes in my own emotions. This is not positive or negative; it is simply change. For example, there are moments when others might see me as OCD. As a case in point, it bothers me when people are finished eating and leave the table with the chair still out. It only takes a few seconds and push it back in where it belongs. It bothers me when people start a job and leave it unfinished while starting another job. It bothers me when people take something out of a drawer and don’t put it back when done. It bothers me when people take something out of a cupboard in the kitchen and return it to a different cupboard. These are all small things but they set me off and I have to work hard to not allow these molehills to become mountains. I don’t think this is new but nowadays it is more acute than before cancer.
In September, a 74-year old friend Rod went to bed Friday and died of a heart attack. Rod invited my little brother Brad for a drink Thursday night but Brad was tired and declined. There is no way Brad could predict Rod was going to die but he regrets not spending Thursday night with him. It would have been his last chance.
It’s kind of like that when you have cancer. The future is unknown and each encounter with a family member or friend might be your last. I have friends who say things like, “I’ll call you tomorrow,” and don’t. I find this particular annoying; if you commit then follow through.
Recently I’ve had a chance to go out for a fun evening with friends. To do so, I need to take the day to prepare which involves a lot of rest, ensure I eat correctly, and take all the drugs that prevent any problems (i.e. diarrhea) when out.
In one case, I planned to meet people I hadn’t see for some time and arranged that we’d gather on my boat around 6:00 pm. I spent four hours cleaning out the boat so it was ready for a few hours of socializing and I had a lot of beer to consume left over from the sailing season. For reasons unknown, the guy who looked after invitees, etc. switched the time to 9:00 pm in a local pub. I debated whether bother go as that was not the event I was ready to enjoy. My point is when you commit to a plan with someone coping with a disease, it sucks when you go in a different direction. I no longer have the luxury of spontaneity.
I love when friends invite me out to spend time. Recently I was asked to spend the evening with a collection of friends at a concert. I enjoy a concert as much as anyone but the most important aspect of any event is spending time with the person who asked my out. In this case, because of social distancing, the group had to split into two bubbles. My friend did not include me in his bubble. I was with some people I knew and some I didn’t. I left after the first set. This was not the experience I spent the day preparing to enjoy.
There are other things I can vent about but frankly I’m past the anger that festered in me for more than a week. I know on a practical level there is no value but emotions don’t adhere to a discipled rule set.
Let me finish with advice for the healthy folks out there. We love the support you express. It is wonderful when you ask what you can do to help. I personally have heard from so many people from my past and that is a source of great comfort. However, I think most with a disease realize our time on this blue dot is limited and value every moment. If you commit to spending time, make sure you follow through and in the manner expected by the person with a disease.
Allow me to apologize for this negative post. I needed to vent and put it behind me.
I really value having you as a support pillar. It is a source of constant encouragement.
Peace, Love and Laughter