December 29, 2014

One Year Ago...

December 28th was my first "cancerversary". One year ago, I was given my lung cancer diagnosis. I am happy to say, despite beginning with hopelessness, despair and grief, this past year turned out pretty amazing after all. 

Once I got over the initial shock and devastation, I spent the year trying to find ways to live a better life--physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Cancer gave me a different outlook. I destressed, detoxified, decluttered, unburdened, simplified, connected.  I learned to let go of obligations. I became truer to myself. I slept... a lot and don't regret it. One of the more important things I learned was to accept the fact that I have limited time on this earth, as we all do. I think all cancer patients are forced to realize this earlier than we should. So be it. Accepting that I have limited time on this earth is not to say that I have less of a drive to live. Quite the opposite actually. I now have a better appreciation for the life I have been given and try to live everyday to the fullest. I've come to understand that living life to the fullest doesn't mean dropping normal daily routines to achieve everything I ever wanted to do or spending every second with those dearest to me. No, to me it means taking better care of myself, listening to the needs of my body and soul. Allowing my mind time to linger in the peacefulness of silence.  Waking up grateful for every new day. Being constantly amazed by the beauty of this Earth. Learning not to feed the fear in me but rather focus on my hopes and dreams. It also means learning to accept people for who they are. Understanding that compassion means believing that every person on this earth is trying to live their best life, to whatever capacity they can. It means realizing that my purpose in life doesn't need to be anything grand. It could be as simple as being happy with who I am, sharing what I have learned with others, or using my abilities to contribute to a better world.  Yes, the devastating diagnosis of cancer made me realize all the above. For that, I thank you cancer.

Thank you friends and family for helping me enjoy another holiday season, and I look forward to many more with you! Any monetary gifts to us will be donated to the Lung Cancer Translational Research Initiative, because helping to fund lung cancer research is more important than anything we can ever buy ourselves. Thank you so much for your generosity! Anyone looking to donate to a charity or worthy cause before the end of 2014, please consider the University of Calgary's lung cancer program (

With much love and gratitude, we wish you all a very healthy, happy and extraordinary 2015! 

December 10, 2014

Bermuda Shorts and Shores

I added one more country to the list of places I've been :).  I was dreading the cold winter weather even before it arrived, probably because of bad memories from last fall/winter when it was quite uncomfortable for me to breathe in cold air, and, frankly, the travel bug was biting me again;). This time, I felt no hesitation because of my health. Regardless of what the CT scan would reveal, I felt healthy enough again to travel abroad especially for some sun and relaxation! 

Bermuda seems but a distant memory now that we are entrenched in this cold "fall" weather. This small subtropical island is only 22 miles long and 1 mile wide in most places.  It has a population of about 65,000, not counting tourists. The currency is the Bermudian dollar, although I never saw it since they also readily accept the US dollar at par.  Bermuda weather is not too hot (about 30 degrees Celsius at the peak of summer) and not too cold (no colder than 10 degrees Celsius at the peak of winter). In November, Bermuda averages about +25C which is just right for us! November is also the end of cruise ship season for Bermuda so we didn't have to contend with the crowds anywhere we went... although, there's only so much one can see and do on a 22 mile long island. The residents all speak a fluent dialect of English.  I don't really know what Bermudian English is, but a lot of the locals seriously sounded like New Yorkers! Because Bermuda is a British colony, they drive on the left-hand side of the road.  Tourists are only allowed to rent scooters, not cars, apparently for the safety of the island residents. The main industry here is actually insurance and banking, not tourism. 
Note red Bermuda shorts with suit!
Men like to wear bright coloured knee length shorts, pulled up dress socks with dress shoes, a tie and blazer as their business attire. That's when the term "bermuda shorts" made sense to me! One other interesting fact about Bermuda, every house is mandated to have limestone white roofs designed to direct rainwater into an underground water tank, which is used to supply homes with their water needs--a very green idea! We initially wondered if our accommodation would run out of water but, as it turns out, we didn't need to worry... It rains a lot in Bermuda!
The white limestone rooftops

Hurricane Gonzalo ravaged Bermuda two weeks before we were to depart. They experienced extensive tree damage, floods, and a week-long power outage. But there wasn't much damage seen by the time we arrived. Anyway, no long story here. We opted for a small studio apartment in Southampton, a friendly community 40 minutes cab ride from the airport and 20 minute bus ride from the capital city of Hamilton.  An older Canadian couple on our flight warned us to expect things to be expensive. We agree! Our first  dinner (nothing to write about) cost us over $100 USD! Most restaurants didn't even offer anything gluten-free so it wasn't easy to stick to our diets when we dined out.  Instead of our gluten-free vegetarian diet, we had to be "flexitarians", someone who has to be flexible with their diet restrictions especially when traveling. Our best meals were had at the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Dining Room and the Southampton Fairmont Hotel (they were the only place that catered to gluten-free diets! The waiter even brought us rice snacks instead of bread to start!). Not surprisingly, Bermuda is known for its seafood (rockfish, spiny lobster, and wahoo fish [tastes like chicken], and fish chowder seasoned with black pepper rum). Our favourite food stop was the Juice n Beans Cafe in Hamilton. They make yummy vegan power smoothies and vegan breakfast burritos! We ended up cooking our own meals most of the time, which our wallets and my stomach really appreciated. But enough about eating! ... The touristy things to do in Bermuda include the Royal Naval Dockyard (shopping mall, rum cakes, glass art gallery, arts centre, and a large mini-golf centre which I was looking forward to but didn't get to do since it was closed when we arrived--darn off-season!), the Crystal Caves, Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, and St. George's (picturesque old town). We walked (more like bushwhacked because of extensive tree damage that had not yet been cleared) the Railway Trail, and, of course, explored the many pink sand beaches! Public transportation (buses) was frequent and reliable so we opted not to rent a scooter, since it unfortunately rained almost every day. We saw the entire island from tip to tip via the bus and lots of walking! Frankly, most of our time was actually spent sleeping in, deciding what to eat, walking up and down hills to find beaches, and watching old movies :). It was a whole week of time well wasted! How I miss thee, Bermuda!

I'll let the photos tell the rest of the story. Hopefully, they get you out of the winter blues. Enjoy :). 

The many fallen trees on Railway Trail

Gibbs Hill Lighthouse

The local bus stop

The Victualling Yard at the Royal Naval Dockyard

The beautiful Crystal Caves

Why did this stray rooster want to cross the road? We did notice there were stray hens on the other side;)

Colourful buildings in historic St. George's

The famous Horseshoe Bay Beach 

Church Bay
Arch on the beach! A great place to practise my levitation :)

Warwick Bay Beach

November 20, 2014

11 Month Health Update

It's already time for my 11 month post-diagnosis reality health check! A little activity review first! In the past two months, I underwent 11 hyperthermia and iv vitamin C treatments (was too close to the scheduled CT scan to do the 12th session, apparently that can mess up your scans), attended a great friend's wedding in Vancouver (so nice to see the old gang and congrats to S&F!!), quietly celebrated my birthday with our wonderful friends (yum yum dim sum!), savoured several nice long fall walks/hikes in our urban nature reserve, enjoyed a fantastically relaxing vacation abroad (blog post to follow:) to escape the pre-scan anxiety and the increasingly colder weather, came back home to -20 degree Celsius and a pile of snow in addition to a sore back and achey left shoulder :(, and went through the usual bloodwork and CT scans (chest, abdomen and neck). I have to admit my scanxiety was through the roof this past week while I waited to hear the CT scan results. If it wasn't for the back and shoulder pains, reminiscent of my pains prediagnosis, I think I would not have been so restless, irritable and mentally elsewhere. Poor Zoey, who did not fare well after returning from her lovely week at the pet resort (kennel), seemed to pick up on our anxiousness too (or could be because she ate too much dirt and snow in the frigid outdoors). She developed a mild case of doggie flu and now battling doggie diarrhea. I can totally sympathize! She is now on the mend with antibiotics and probiotics, and lots of rest! But I digress... 

We met the oncologist yesterday to hear the news that would determine my fate. Amazing how one little report can determine my "fate", ergo the scanxiety!!! Results? Not great news. All of my lung nodules have increased in size, especially the two new ones on the upper left lobe. At least no additional nodules formed and other organs are still unremarkable. We discussed with Dr. B, at length, what my next step should be. Long story short, continue with Iressa and, watch and wait... AGAIN. Ugh, I hate watching and waiting. The long list of reasons: the new nodules are still too small and in a difficult location to properly biopsy, the clinical trial in Edmonton has closed recruitment because the trial drug (AZD9291) is now preparing to move to Phase III clinical trials which could be established by March 2015 at my cancer centre (!!!), I shot down the option to try the approved next generation tyrosine kinase inhibitor (Afatinib) because of reports of its toxicity, starting chemotherapy would exclude me from the clinical trial I want to enter into, I am not likely a candidate for radiotherapy since I have too many active nodules for the treatment to make any difference "overall", and we discussed doing a PET scan but its results likely won't change my course of treatment so why expose myself to that much radiation? Massive road block. **[insert expletives]**. So, I have no option but to wait for my lung nodules to grow large enough to biopsy successfully, and hope that my symptoms don't skyrocket waiting for the clinical trial to open, if I am lucky enough to meet their mutation requirement. Yikes. We actually don't know for certain whether my shoulder pains are caused by the new growths or me lugging around stuff while on vacation (my confidence is my weakness!). Let's hope it's the latter. In the meantime, time to pick my naturopathic oncologist's brain. If you can't tell yet, I am not the type to sit around and feel sorry for myself. However, I would be lying if I said this news didn't bother me. Frankly, it's scary waiting to see what happens. But I am learning not to linger in the past or worry about the future--that would be wasting my time. My new favourite quote, shared by our nutritional therapist, "Embrace the present and surrender to uncertainty". Words to (try to) live by...

Now, time to look for our Christmas tree! 

November 7, 2014

Wear White to Raise Lung Cancer Awareness!

It's Lung Cancer Awareness Month!!!

Thank you to all my family, friends, readers, supporters who have already donated to the Lung Cancer Translational Research Initiative!  You have made a difference!  For those who haven't donated yet, please consider doing so now.  The sooner we can raise the remainder of the $10 million goal, the sooner the program can take off, help find a cure and give hope to the millions of people affected by lung cancer.

As for Lung Cancer Awareness Month, please help spread the awareness!!! Not too many people know what the ribbon colour for lung cancer is.  It used to be clear, presumably for the air we breathe or the invisibility of lung cancer, but it changed to white or pearl. Here's how you can all help:

1. Who says you can't wear white after Labour Day? Put on something white, pearl or clear (!!).  Don't be tempted to buy anything to participate. Use the money you save for donations instead. Be creative. Have fun with it! Take a selfie and post it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Indicate somewhere that "WE SUPPORT LUNG CANCER AWARENESS!".  Invite your friends, family and coworkers to join in and spread the awareness. To all my friends on Facebook, please share your photo with me so I can see how dapper everyone looks in white! Thanks for joining the fight!

2. If you are not a photogenic person ;),  you can help just by starting a conversation:
"Did you know that November is lung cancer awareness month?"
"Did you know lung cancer kills 2x as many women as breast cancer and 3x as many men as prostate cancer and yet still receives very little funding for research?"
"Did you know non-smokers get lung cancer too? In fact, 15-20% have never smoked and another 40-60% quit smoking years, even decades, before their diagnosis."
"Why don't people care about lung cancer? It killed 1.6 million people last year."
"Do smokers DESERVE to get lung cancer? Are they not battling an addiction, one that used to be socially acceptable? What about those who managed to quit smoking but got diagnosed with lung cancer anyway?"

3. Donate! There are many lung cancer specific organizations you can donate to: in Canada, Lung Cancer Translational Research Initiative (via the University of Calgary), Lung Cancer Canada, or, in the US, Bonnie J Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, LUNGevity, Lung Cancer Alliance, or the lung cancer foundation of your choice in your community.  Despite being the biggest cancer killer worldwide, lung cancer research lacks public support and, thus, continues to be very underfunded. Please help change that. 

4. Change your way of thinking. Everyone, despite their lifestyle choices, addictions or bad habits, deserves our respect, support and compassion. Stop the smoking stigma! No one deserves cancer.

October 17, 2014

8 Reasons Why You Should Donate to Lung Cancer Research

Did you know November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month?  Probably not.  Lung cancer has been in the shadows for far too long.  Why? Maybe because it doesn't have anywhere near as many survivors alive to rally the people, the media and corporate sponsors, unlike  breast cancer (way to go girls!... and boys).  Maybe it's because of the smoking stigma that make even those diagnosed with lung cancer believe that they truly deserve this, so why would the general public think otherwise?  It's time to change that. I started this blog to share my experiences and what I have learned in all areas of life with cancer, and raise awareness for lung cancer.  I truly do believe that everything happens for a reason.  Even though it's not yet perfectly clear to me where my new path will lead me, I do know that I have a purpose.

A long time ago, when my symptoms started to improve with Iressa, my husband and I asked my oncologist where or how we should donate to lung cancer research.  You meet every person in your life for a reason. As it turns out, Dr. B is among a group of physicians, researchers and volunteers/advocates who have established the Lung Cancer Translational Research Initiative, centered at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine.  Their vision: "To achieve a world without lung cancer".  Their goal is to raise $10 million to build a world-renowned lung cancer research program in Calgary. 

8 Reasons Why You Should Donate to Lung Cancer Research:

1. Lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer in the world.  According to the WHO, in 2012 lung cancer killed 1.59 million people worldwide.  Liver cancer was second at 745,000.  Breast cancer was fifth at 521,000. 

2.  Lung cancer accounts for 27% of all cancer related deaths, more than breast, colorectal and prostate cancers combined.

3. Lung cancer can affect anyone with lungs, smoker or not.  Over 15% of people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked, and this number continues to increase. Everyday things we are exposed to, such as air pollution, pesticides and radon gas, also cause lung cancer. Consider your donation an investment into your or a loved one's future health. 

4.  Despite the number of people affected by lung cancer, it continues to receive a disproportionately low amount of funding for research.  Lung cancer receives 7% of cancer specific funding and 0.1 % of charitable donations.

5. The 5 year survival rate for lung cancer is 17% (compared to 96%, 88% and 65% for prostate, breast and colorectal cancer, respectively).

 6. By donating to lung cancer research, you could potentially save thousands of lives.

7. You would be giving to a very worthy cause, helping to end human suffering and contributing to the happiness and well-being of others. 

8. If it's my birthday or Christmas, any other occasion or just because you want to help, please donate to lung cancer research. That is the best gift anyone can ever give me (other than your love and support :). With much love and gratitude, thank you so much!

To donate online to the Lung Cancer Translational Research Initiative (via the University of Calgary), CLICK HERE.   The fundraising goal is big, but every donation, regardless of amount, makes a difference!  If you don't mind helping me track my fundraising efforts, please type "for Hope" under the Comments section. Thank you in advance for considering donating to something near and dear to my heart... and lungs :).   


September 15, 2014

9 Month Health Update

It's been 9 months since my diagnosis and 8 months that I have been on targeted drug therapy for lung cancer. The latest results show that the old nodules remain stable, and my blood work is still awesome. Here's the bad news: the two new nodules they found 2 months ago have grown :(. So we are now at an impasse. These nodules are still too small to detect on a PET scan and too small yet to biopsy successfully. Dr. B. says we should just continue on Iressa and watch and wait. Not liking the idea of watching and waiting, I spoke to my naturopath about my "unconventional" options. After little contemplation, I agreed to start hyperthermia treatments. My first session starts at the end of the month. To keep it simple, the treatment involves a one hour nap on a heated waterbed while radiowaves target and heat up cancer cells to hopefully destroy them. Healthy cells are largely left unaffected.  I will undergo 2-3 treatments per week for a total of 12 treatments. This, of course, is a private service so we pay out of pocket. Hyperthermia treatment for cancer is actually well established in Germany. Some clinical trials have proven this treatment to be quite effective in shrinking tumours while others have found no significant difference in overall survival.  That's likely why it is not readily available in North America. It is almost always done alongside conventional treatments, like chemo or radiation and even targeted drug therapy.  The way I see things, what do I have to lose? Best case scenario, it shrinks the tumours. Worst case scenario, it does nothing (or I get a sunburn) and I lose some vacation money. At least I am forced to take a nice long, warm nap several days a week :). Wish me luck!

By the way, I am happy to report that I ran the entire 5km at the annual Terry Fox Run yesterday. A lady came up to me afterward and asked how I could be breathing so calmly after a run. Well, it was obviously my newly discovered breathing technique! ...Not sure if she knew I had lung cancer. She never did introduce herself. Our Terry Fox group which meets yearly for lunch after participating in this event were super supportive and ran for little old ME.  Thanks guys!!! Totally feeling the love and support :). 

Update October 15, 2014:

This is what the hyperthermia treatment bed looks like. The water pad you see on the arm to the left is placed snugly on my chest (over my lungs). That's how I nap while getting "cooked" by electromagnetic radiation. In addition to hyperthermia, I also opted for simultaneous megadose intravenous vitamin C (50-70 grams per infusion).  Doing both vitamin C and hyperthermia together is thought to be more effective at killing cancer cells. The mechanism of action of both these treatments is based on the differences in cellular function between cancer vs healthy cells. I have now had 6 treatments with no real side effects other than a transient hot or tender spot on my skin and negligible bruising from the i.v.  Symptoms-wise, I feel more energetic, have stopped coughing and can breathe a little easier :). So far so good! 

September 12, 2014

Summer and Snow!... WTF

Wow, it's been awhile. My apologies for the long absence. I was just out enjoying life! 

Summer seems to have come and gone overnight, seriously. We have been dealing with SNOW for the past 3 days here!  Oh the hazards of living near the mountains. On the fun side, Zoey had her first experience with snow and, although reluctant to leave the house at first, she actually was ecstatic to play in it. She was hilarious to watch! On the not-so-fun side, we awoke yesterday to fallen trees and branches strewn along streets and yards throughout the city! The heavy, wet snow was apparently too much for the summer trees. Unfortunately, our backyard was not spared the devastation. Looks like it's Snowtember clean up this weekend:(.

Anyway, back to those distant summer memories in August. We had a fun and eventful August. First was our annual trip to Victoria, BC relaxing and strolling with friends, followed by a week of adventures with visiting family, and I finished the month in Steinbach, Manitoba with my best friend from highschool, living off of her parent's garden (thank you Manitoba mom and dad!). 

Then it was already time for my next set of CT scans! ...And the scanxiety that followed. I thought I was totally fine waiting this time because I still feel well, I added a naturopath (specializing in oncology) and energy healer to my recovery team, and, frankly, I was tired of worrying. Nope, I was just in denial. I was still nervous the day of our follow up visit with Dr. B... That was today. The result in a nutshell: good and bad with a little uncertainty. I know many of you have been wondering about my health since I haven't written in awhile. Sorry, you have to wait one more day for the details. I am meeting with my naturopath tomorrow to discuss some complementary treatment options, after which I will piece together a full report. But know that I am still alive and well ;). 

Wishing you all a healthy, memorable and snow-free last couple of weeks of summer.  Thank you as always for your support, emails, messages, thoughts and prayers. I think of you all often with much love and gratitude. 

July 24, 2014

7 Month Health Update

We met with my oncologist last week for the results of my latest round of blood tests, CT scans (neck, chest, abdomen) and MRI (brain). A bit of info I didn't disclose at my 5 month health update; before our trip to Iceland, I had discovered some swollen lymph nodes on the right side of my neck, which frankly worried me until I developed a sore throat and fever a week later. I immediately saw my GP for antibiotics before the symptoms worsened and got better in two days, just in time for Iceland! Unfortunately, the swollen lymph nodes didn't change much. But fortunately, we had prearranged to add a CT of my neck and insisted on the brain MRI (provides more detail than a CT head scan) in my next set of tests.

The results? The good news is my tumour markers are still within the healthy normal range, my liver is doing great, my brain MRI was clear, abdomen is unremarkable, and the previous lung nodules appear to be stable. The bad news is there are two NEW but small lung nodules in the left upper lobe (!!), and they confirmed the swollen lymph nodes on my neck (surprisingly not that worried about those). Dr. B speculated that the supposed new nodules may have been missed previously. There are often differences in what the CT scan picks up (8mm slices) and how each radiologist reads the scans. This is evident in how we see "spots" come and go or how some details are not mentioned by one radiologist but emphasized by another. So hoping that I am actually stable and not already showing resistance to Iressa. We also, unfortunately, found out that the clinical trial for AZD9291 (one of my trial drugs of choice) was cancelled in our location:(.  However, that same trial is on in another city about 3 hours away. Totally doable should we ever have to cross that bridge. 

So for now, Dr. B. wants me to continue on Iressa, and watch and wait another 2 months. After some contemplating, I decided to go along with that, instead of pushing for a PET scan or lymph node biopsy... Risk:benefit ratio = not worth it. And fact is, I still feel pretty good! Maybe even been too active lately, much to the dismay of my overprotective husband;). In the past month, we have gone camping, enjoyed four scenic but steep hikes, and went on two bike rides, in addition to keeping up with our social calendar, and training and taking care of Z. And we already have trips and visitors planned for the month of August! I really should take that nap now... 

July 16, 2014

Introducing Zoey!

All smiles the day we picked her up @ 8 wks old

This is our new family member! We have had her for about a month now. And we couldn't ask for a better puppy! Z is adorable, super smart, somewhat obedient (as much as a puppy can be), social (moreso with people than dogs) and a little bit crazy (who isn't nowadays?). But puppies are a lot of work! Where has my time gone? However, I can't imagine life without her already. She's taught me more life lessons: the value of patience and persistence, and of being calm and assertive (as per Cesar Millan), as well as learning to let go of things that really don't matter.  Z has been a great distraction (with both cuddles and antics!) as I await the results of my most recent CT and MRI scans. Thank you Z!!! 

3 months old (after her first hair cut)

June 21, 2014

The Land of Fire and Ice, Puffins and... Hotdogs?

Iceland has always been on my list of countries to visit. Those who know my husband and I know we are avid travellers.  When I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I wasn't sure whether I could travel abroad again. Am I healthy enough? What do we do in an emergency? What about health care insurance abroad? More importantly, how is my stomach going to cope?? But with the help of modern medicine (Iressa!), a more laid back travel pace, a good health plan, a bottle of Imodium and some determination, we just returned from a fabulous trip to Iceland!  
For those of you who want the details of the trip, please read on. Especially if you are interested in visiting Iceland yourself, which I highly recommend. But if you are short on time and are a picture-oriented reader, scroll down to enjoy the photos :). 

Iceland is a country full of not just "ice", as many people seem to believe, but volcanoes, glaciers, geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, hillside green pastures, fjords and picturesque Scandinavian villages.  Iceland has a total population of 320,000 with two-thirds living in its capital, Reykjavik.  The currency is the Icelandic Kronur (ISK); 100 ISK is equivalent to $1 CAD. The official language is Icelandic but everyone speaks fluent English, fortunately. I can usually pick up languages fairly easily but I couldn't even pronounce the names of most towns here!  In early June, we enjoyed about 22 hours of daylight and temperatures varied around 12-20 degrees Celsius, depending on what part of the country we were in. I even came back with a slight tan! Glacial water comes out of the faucets and water is heated geothermally. How awesome is that?! The livestock (an overabundance of sheep) were seen grazing grass all day along the countryside. Restaurants proudly serve locally raised meats, and locally caught wild fish and seafood. I actually felt safe trying a little meat here. We explored the country by driving along the Ring Road. The interior highlands require off road vehicles, especially for glaciers and river crossings. Our little Chevy Spark had a hard enough time maneuvering through "safe", narrow gravel roads on some excursions so we didn't venture off into the "F Roads".

The Capital:
Reykjavik is about 45 minutes drive from Keflavik Airport. Hallgrimskirkja, the landmark Lutheran church in the centre of downtown Reykjavik, gave us a panoramic view of this quaint, colourful city as seen from the church tower. The streets fanning from Hallgrimskirkja has many restaurants, cafes, shops and tourist centres. Notable food stops (I am still a foodie despite my drastic diet change) include: Cafe Loki (authentic light Icelandic dishes but quite pricey, although that was the norm in Iceland), The Noodle Station (the best pho noodle soup ever!!), and Babalu Cafe (desserts and beverages, a sunny back patio to enjoy it, and a funky Star Wars themed bathroom). There are quite a few authentic Icelandic restaurants on the main strip but we never had a chance to try them. Cured shark, reindeer, lamb, whale, horse and various local birds and fish were often seen on the menus. Interestingly enough, the Icelandics love their hotdogs!  Apparently they make the best in all of Europe, must be the garnishes. Yes, we tried it and it was actually good! There's a seawall along the harbour that goes for miles but be prepared to be blown away, literally.

Enjoying the Icelandic Hotdog!

Downtown Reykjavik

The biggest attraction, about 45 minutes southeast of Reykjavik, is the Golden Circle, a circular drive that takes you into Thingvellir National Park, including Pingvellir (a 7km stretch of land that separates the North American and European tectonic plates and also where the world's first parliament was established in 930 AD), Geysir (one of many geysers to see) and Gulfoss (a beautiful, massive waterfall).  No notable food stops here though :(. 


North Iceland:
Along the way to Akureyri, we took a gravel road detour, 1/2h drive on Road #711, to find Hvitserkur, a coastal rock formation that looked like a grazing buffalo, in my opinion.  It was worth a look and a refreshing way to break up the journey. We spent 2 days in Akureyri in the north which is Iceland's second largest city, population 18000. It also has a good number of great restaurants all within walking distance (Rub 23, Noa, Bautinn and Peng's). Interestingly enough, we had the warmest and sunniest weather here. From Akureyri, it was an hour's drive to the Mynvatn region or what I like to call the Hot Zone.  We visited Dimmuborgir (lava rock pillars, but beware of swarming flies and trolls! And they only come out in December, the trolls that is), Viti Crater (lake filled volcanic crater), Namafjall Hverir (bubbling mud pots and steaming fumaroles), and the Nature Baths of Jardbodin (so relaxing after a long day!). 


Jardbodin Nature Baths

East Fjords:
It was a long drive from Akureyri to our accommodation in the east fjords, Stodvarfjordur, although the scenery was amazingly diverse.  Godafoss waterfalls is about 45 minutes from Akureyri and worth a short hike to see, even if we had already seen over a dozen roadside waterfalls by this time. Egilsstadir was a perfect stopover for a late lunch. In fact, this is where we should have based ourselves since Egilsstadir was a hub for many touristy places like Seydisfjordur and Skalanes, and Borgafjordur Eystri, and it had a number of great restaurants, like Guesthouse Egilsstadir, Cafe Nielsen and Salt.  The east fjords were all about finding puffins! At least it was for me. Poor S was just tagging along. Borgafjordur Eystri is a small green peninsula, a breeding ground for many seabirds including puffins, but the route there was a long narrow gravel road through a winding mountain pass. At times it was scary! But was totally worth the effort once we saw how beautiful the area is.  There were magnificent views of the harbour and dozens of puffins, kitiwakes and other seabirds and waterfowl (binoculars essential). Skalanes, a 1/2 h bumpy drive plus a 1.5h hike from Seydisfjordur, is also a good place to find puffins, although in smaller numbers. One caveat: As you approach Skalanes (a house and cafe), you trespass through a colony of arctic terns that will not hesitate to attack you (just like in The Birds!! NOT fun). Poor S got pecked in the head several times, which eventually resulted in a few cuts. One of the girls residing in Skalanes advised us to carry a stick above our heads to deter the birds. Happy to report that it does work! After that traumatic experience, we celebrated our survival with dinner at Hotel Aldan (minke whale sashimi, chickpea pattie and locally raised lamb... Yum! But I couldn't try the lamb... Saw too many of those cute little guys playing in the countryside. S enjoyed it though). 


The drive to Borgafjordur

The many sheep along the roadside.  Nice of the farmers to let them keep their pants :)

The panoramic view from Borgafjordur Eystri

The hike to Skalanes, BEFORE the arctic terns

Cute little puffin at Skalanes

South Iceland:
The southern east fjords was foggy and extremely windy but, again, so scenic!  The small town of Hofn is well known for its langoustine (or Norwegian lobster, which is a smaller version of Atlantic lobster). Here, we devoured delicious grilled langoustine and tasty skyr cake (Iceland's version of cheesecake but much lighter and less sweet) at Pakkus. Only an hour's drive away from Hofn is Jokulsarlon (Iceberg Lagoon), a definite stopover for easy photo masterpieces of icebergs and glaciers. By the time we arrived at our guesthouse near Vik, we were exhausted. We decided to take it easy for the last two days of our trip.  We slept in, had lunch in Vik and took a slow but challenging hike in Dyrholaey where you can see multiple coastal rock formations, and more puffins!  A short drive away from here is Skogafoss, a tall waterfall that was the trailhead to one of South Iceland's many glaciers, but it takes more than 20km to get there; otherwise, we would have hiked it (maybe next time).  Our final Icelandic supper was at Hotel Skogar Restaurant, 1 minute away from Skogafoss; they make a great apple pie!

Our last day in Iceland was spent driving 3 hours to Keflavik airport with a stopover at Kaffi Krus, known for their burgers and pizza, in Selfoss for one final delicious meal in Iceland (sigh). 

It was a fantastic trip of great scenery, new experiences (I also learned how to drive a manual transmission car finally), good health, and, of course, awesome food! S and I were able to forget about cancer and simply enjoy our time together :). Iceland is one of the most beautiful, friendly and clean countries I have ever visited.  We would not hesitate to go back. I am so grateful that I was physically able to enjoy another great trip with S and add one more country to my list of places I have been.

Langoustine lunch at Pakkus in Hofn




May 25, 2014

5 Month Health Update

It's that time again! More blood tests, CT scans and the follow up visit with Dr. B. The usual scenarios we needed to prepare for are: more tumour shrinkage, no change, or progression. The problem with some cancer drugs is the cancer cells will eventually figure out a way around them. For medications like Iressa, it averages about 8 months before drug resistance occurs, marked by tumour progression. I tried not to think about that but you can understand the anxiety I go through before each follow up. Scanxiety hit me hard this time, ie. restless nights, doubts and fears. May was a busy month so I noticed I was more fatigued than usual too. I kept reassuring myself and S that I still felt "healthy" and I am still quite active.... But you never know. But there is always HOPE; fact is, some patients remain on first line targeted drug therapy for years. As usual, we have to prepare ourselves for the worst but hope for the best.  Before the appointment (it seemed to take for ever to arrive!), we tried to take our minds off the upcoming results by preoccupying ourselves with preparing for the arrival of our puppy* and planning the details of a much needed vacation.

The big day came on May 22nd, my almost 5 month follow up.  As Dr. B described it, the results  were "good".  What does that mean? Well, nothing really changed... Stable.  Nothing new and nothing grew. Not exactly what I was hoping for but it was "good" news.  So we continue on with Iressa and continue hoping for the best! Please keep sending positive thoughts and prayers this way! 

*Aside: We got to select our puppy from a litter of five super cute, tiny puppies yesterday! It was so difficult to decide. After an hour of playing and observing, we picked the "independent" one, or she could been anxious and antisocial... I guess we will find out! We pick her up in about 3 weeks. I have added some pictures of her and her siblings below. Enjoy :). 

May 7, 2014

With Much Love and Gratitude for Yeay

My grandmother (we called her "Yeay") passed away last night. She was 92 years old. It was not unexpected, but it still saddens me regardless.  Because we had a language barrier and then she had difficulty hearing, we couldn't communicate much--only hand gestures and smiles. But I loved, appreciated and respected her nonetheless. She was the only grandparent I knew; she outlived the others by almost 30 years. Most importantly, if it wasn't for her, my mother and aunt wouldn't be alive, nor my brothers, sisters and cousins, nor my nephews and nieces, nor I. Yeay gave us life. In fact, she continues to live in all of us. I inherited her hairline and her stubbornness (some see it as determination :). 

I will always remember how she smiled every time she saw me, and pulled me to her side or held my hand. She was a strong woman and always very kind to her grandchildren (9) and great-grand kids (10). She never asked anything from us but yet was so generous to us. She would always force money on me if she knew I was going away on a trip. I remember some of her favourite foods was Tim Horton's iced cappuccino and pizza; I tried to get her some whenever I could.  She is at peace now, free from any suffering or fear. It gives me comfort to know that she is reunited with her family, those who have gone before her. But her death also makes me think of my own mortality (more on that another time)...  it makes me so much more grateful for the life I was given, and the wonderful family that I have. 

But life, as does all things, will eventually come to an end. And this weekend, we will remember my grandmother's life.  With much love and gratitude Yeay, I wish you eternal peace.  Know that you made a difference, that you are loved and will be missed, and someday, hopefully many decades later, we will see each other again.  

April 22, 2014

Springtime News

Happy Earth Day! Yes, I lean toward environmentalism :). Reduce, reuse and recycle! We only have one beautiful Earth, let's all try to keep her that way. 

It finally feels like Spring here. The last bit of snow has finally melted, although we usually get a little bit more here until late May--gotta love the prairies! The green grass is peaking through the sea of brown lawns. The sun is shining... Or it was just a short time ago? I am dreaming of my flower garden and hoping for a small crop of vegetables to make it through this summer. As much as I enjoy living here, I sometimes wish we lived in the tropics instead.  Anyway, we've been lucky enough here to have a few days of warm weather. I finally went out for my first outdoor run a couple of weeks ago; and a few more since then. I'll admit I was a little nervous, not knowing how my body would cope. Treadmill running is nothing like outdoor running. I discovered a few things on that first outdoor run. One, there is a right way and a wrong way to breathe when running; I wish I knew this 20 years ago when I took up running! With controlled deep breathing, you can actually run longer with less fatigue and lactic acid buildup. Putting my new breathing technique into practice, I have noticed an improvement in endurance, comfort and recovery. Two, I have indeed sustained some nerve damage from the lung tumours and/or pleural effusion. After my run, I noticed only half of my face was red and hot. My left side (face, shoulder, arm, fingers) was cool and pale. Do I still have feeling on that side? Yes, thankfully. I will have to mention this to my oncologist when I see him next. It doesn't bother me, I just look a little odd for awhile after I run. Three, I am able to run a comfortable 3km outdoors, not as fast as in my prime running years but not bad considering the circumstances. I am working my way up to 5km so I can participate in the annual Mother's Day Run, as we usually do every year.

In other news, we had been waiting patiently to hear back from our Schnoodle (schnauzer+poodle) breeder; we signed up for a puppy in February! We just got word that our puppy was born on April 18th!! We will have to pick her out from a litter of five! I have asked the breeder to send pictures so those are coming. We have now switched from researching cancer to researching how to train a puppy! Hopefully our experience of fostering rescue dogs will come in handy. If everything works out according to the breeder's plans, we will be picking her up in June. We are so excited (and somewhat anxious) to finally add a family pet to our home! 

March 27, 2014

3 Month Health Update

It's been almost three months since my lung cancer journey started, when my world got turned upside down.  Despite feeling quite well and looking "normal", we spent the last few weeks researching my second line therapy options just in case the first follow up doesn't go well.  We looked into clinical trials. I became more accepting of the possibility of chemotherapy. I slowly started to purge the house in case we needed to move.  I wanted to be prepared for plan B... Whatever that may be.  

Last week, I had my follow up CT scan (chest, abdomen and head). I thought I could ignore the anxiety that comes after every follow up scan but no.  I think it will always affect me.  Instead, I decided to lose myself in the Divergent book series, although not sure if that was helpful to my mood; those who have read the trilogy will understand why.  I was too busy ranting about the ending to S to pay much attention to my scanxiety... So maybe it did help. 

Today, we met with my oncologist for the CT scan results. Phew. Good news! The largest tumour in the lower lobe of my left lung has shrunk by over 50%!!! Some of the smaller nodules elsewhere in/around my lung are now only 2-4mm or less. Some have even completely resolved! The thickening in the pleura has decreased substantially.  In addition, no new lesions were found... Other organs and brain still intact :). We were ecstatic to hear that Iressa and the changes we had made to diet, lifestyle and attitude was working.  A huge burden was lifted off our chests.  We couldn't wipe the smiles off our faces :).  On top of that, the clinical trial drug I was interested in, which I thought wasn't available in Canada yet, will be coming to our cancer centre and run by my oncologist! Although it's too early for me to decide, Dr. B even asked if I would be interested in speaking to a lung cancer group later this year. Wow, what a difference three months makes. S and I celebrated with a yummy vegetarian lunch and a peaceful stroll through our favourite park under gently falling snow.  

So my next follow up with the CT scan and oncologist is in two months.  In the meantime, I will continue with Iressa, continue imagining my tumours shrinking, continue enjoying my new life.  Another bonus, Iressa's first few side effects of diarrhea, acne, rash and dry skin have largely subsided.  Instead, I am now dealing with darker and longer eyelashes... Which is fantastic! Another late side effect is some hair thinning, which has not been an issue for me yet since I have a good mane of hair.  I'm just going to enjoy those lashes:).  Hope your day was awesome too!