3 Dec 2019

New job!

A very exhausting day today, and all of it good! No med appointments, no scans, no needles. I was at work all day, met with several people, then started my new position.

No, not a new 'job' - more of an enhancement of my current job. I had my first meeting as chair of the "Animal Research Ethics Board" at McMaster University. Although I was previously on this board for ~14 years, today I got to officially sit at the head of the table!

I am excited about this new opportunity to help contribute to the research process, not to mention the chance to exercise my remaining vocal cord.   ;-)

29 Nov 2019

Weird and normal

I've got to say - it has been a bit weird and normal around our place since my recent diagnosis. I got quickly referred by my surgeon to the new patient radiation oncology clinic at the Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton. It was kind of weird to go there again, as I worked there for more than 15 years in cancer research. It was also kind of normal, as so many people I saw were quite familiar to me - including my radiation oncologist. Being on a first name basis really does help.
Back to the Cancer Centre in a different capacity
During the rad onc appointment, we decided to skip ahead and get prepared for radiation treatment, even though we have not yet decided if that is the right direction to go. The main decision will be made once we know more from the pathology reports still to be received as to what type of treatment might be the best in my case.

At some point in the last few weeks I realized that what made me feel better and feel almost normal was to, quite literally, try to do normal things. I did go back to work periodically during the state of shock period, and my friends at the university gave me a proper Health Sciences sweater (I am always cold now) plus a stuffed thyroid! Receiving a thyroid was weird, but somehow felt like the most normal thing to me. It was the best thyroid I have ever received!

Not long after, my older brother from Winnipeg drove (yes, drove) out to see us for a few days. Below is one evening when we decided to drink up the last few drops from a bottle of Mirabelle schnapps made in the 1980s by our landlady (from the early 1960s) in France. I picked it up in 1995 when Wendy and I visited her and we still had a little of it remaining.  Karl was even able to come with us to a medical oncologist (also on a first name basis) appointment to lend his support. I think the reality of the situation was quite clear after that appointment. We did come to the conclusion that there is no cure for this type of cancer, so we are going to do our best to find something that will slow it down and give me more time with those who are important to me. The appointment was also useful to hear of all the options that may be available to me - something that we really couldn't grasp right after the initial diagnosis.
Eric and Karl drinking the last drops
Our son, Adam, came down from North Bay the same day that his uncle headed back to Manitoba (they didn't get a chance to see each other). Adam brought a bunch of colleagues from his college to go to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. He needed a few extra bodies to get the group rate, so myself and Sally (PhD student who lives with us) decided to go along. It was great to get a private tour of the museum, and it definitely felt more normal than weird. That evening we also had a family meeting to be able to hear what everyone was feeling and what was important to each of us as this process unfolds. The meeting was difficult to do, but well worth the effort and the tears.

I decided that just going to work was not enough for me, so I started doing teaching again. I have done multiple lectures since then, even with my paralyzed vocal cords, and it felt very normal to be in front of the students again.

It did feel a little weird when the warm (and noisy) reaction of the students to seeing me walk in the room hit me. I just had to take a selfie in one of the classes! That was probably the most weird part of my day, but it felt great!

As I write this, all of my classes are over for the term, and Wendy and I are looking forward to our Caribbean cruise starting next weekend. However, we have to wade through all the medical appointments next week before we can go. I did have a CT scan this past week to check whether I have any other targets elsewhere (never thought I would ever do that with a smile). We expect to get the results of that plus more pathology results next week to help us make the right decisions as I begin fighting this disease. We won't start anything until we get back - and that decision was a little of my stubbornness coming through.

I had many people tell me in that last few weeks that they are happy to see that I am so positive about things. The strange thing is that I don't think that is particularly weird for me, it is normal. When I thought about it more, I believe that I am almost always positive about things. My positive outlook is actually quite normal for me, so there is no big change from before cancer. I am just being me, and that is likely another bit of my stubbornness being expressed. Weird would be if I was always falling apart and was either sad or angry all the time. Yes, I do fall apart, although less frequently every day. Though all that is coming my way, I am determined to always be conscious of the fact that I want to still be me.

Here is my philosophical view at this point in my journey. To me, being miserable is just plain weird. I truly don't know if being so positive about things will help to prolong my life, but it damn well will make what time I have left a lot more enjoyable.


12 Nov 2019

My new favourite charity

Well, today was not a good day for us. We found out the results of the pathology following my recent surgery. The short version is that my new favourite charity is likely going to be the Thyroid Foundation of Canada (https://thyroid.ca/).

I have been diagnosed with stage 4 anaplastic thyroid cancer (https://columbiasurgery.org/conditions-and-treatments/anaplastic-thyroid-cancer). This is probably the worst diagnosis that was possible under the circumstances, although the pathology results suggest that it is not completely consistent with classical anaplastic thyroid cancer. This is one of those times when my 'being weird' might be an advantage! Let's hope that this is a less aggressive version of the disease that we can combat effectively.

As for the near future, I will likely begin treatment planning by the end of this week (this is an aggressive cancer - not something you want to delay for long). Depending on the plan, I may have a long road ahead of me with regards to medical appointments and not feeling well.


6 Nov 2019

Post-surgical recovery...

Hi everyone,

I am back!  I had surgery just over a week ago and am slowly and painfully trying to heal. Unfortunately, the surgery was far more challenging than expected (for the surgeon and for me). I woke up in the operating room and felt far better with regards to the pain I had been in - night and day different.  Then I saw the clock... it was many hours later than I had expected. The surgery was challenging from the beginning (intubation was not the standard put you out and away they go) as I had a significantly shifted trachea because of the tumour in my left side of the thyroid. The tumour was not able to be completely removed and I did lose a significant function during the procedure - part of my voice. 

After an overnight stay (not the original plan) and a horrible breakfast (apparently the normal plan), I was able to go home reasonably early in the morning. I only saw one person I knew in the hospital on the way to the car!

My recovery has been slow and I have had lots of issues keeping warm and keeping cool, but I am improving every day. The most notable issue is that I have a permanent loss of the vocal cords on my left side, as the surgeon needed to cut the nerve to get most of the tumour out. This will be something that I will have to get used to over the coming months, and I am definitely sensitive about my voice. Being on opiates for several months has been the most significant challenge, but I think that I am now through the worst of it. We will learn soon whether this journey is over or whether it is just beginning - the pathology results should come at my follow-up visit with the surgeon next week.

Yesterday, I was able to go for a walk to the local plaza and freeze my butt off in the cold weather!  I went for coffee at the local bagel house and as I asked (in my hoarse voice) for my order, the always friendly owner said that his humidifier broke and he could barely speak when he woke up. I didn't quite know what to say, so I lifted my chin, pointed to my very new scar and said that mine wasn't a humidifier problem. I think I shocked the poor guy...

On the way home, I found this perfect leaf that I just had to digitally preserve. The fall colours are still great, even with all of the wind we have been having recently knocking most of them down.

All I need to do now is to rest, get my energy back, and start doing some of the normal things that will get me back closer to the way things were. Cooking is one of the things that has fallen by the wayside, so hopefully soon I will start making food again. 

As I write this, it is exactly one month before Wendy and I go on our cruise to the Caribbean! I definitely have to get back enough energy to do that! 

17 Oct 2019

Surgeon, coins, elections, helicopters... just a typical October

In early October, Eric and Wendy went to the specialist surgeon (a graduate of the program in which Eric teaches!). He explained what he saw in the image and later showed us the CT so we could take a look at the enemy.  

Essentially, he needed several biopsies (an absolutely horrible procedure!!!!) and an ultrasound of the thyroid. It appears that the mass (nodule/goiter/tumour.... so many names) fills one half of the thyroid, but the main functions of the thyroid seem normal. The only choices really were to take out half the thyroid (several advantages over the long term with this option), the whole thing (not a great option, but might be needed), or the whole thing plus all lymph nodes in the neck (the worst case scenario).  The surgery is now booked for October 28th and Eric is eagerly awaiting that day. 

The fall has been moving quickly and the temperatures are getting lower. Our crabapple tree has been very productive, and Maddy has been vocal about all the friends who come to stand on her lawn to eat the crabapples. 
Seeing several deer at a time is normal in the evening - they are not afraid of much
Adam finally got his commission in the Cadet Instructor Cadre (CIC) from the Canadian Armed Forces. He is now an officer cadet. He was happy to get it at the same ceremony as his favourite Prof at the college (Mike). He also received a CADPAT badge and was coined (received a special coin from the CIC). Unfortunately, we could not drive up to attend the event (Eric will likely be many months before getting his licence back). A few photos were sent our way after the event. 
Adam received his commission Oct 7 to become an Officer Cadet

CADPAT  badge for the squadron he works with

CIC coin

CIC coin

Adam recently threw his hat into the ring up at Canadore to be one of the candidates for the position of student representative for the Aviation campus.  Wendy helped to design some infographic posters and suggested that he give away candy at a drop in session that he planned. The election happened this week, and he won!!! By two whole votes! The candy may have done the trick! Now he has additional responsibilities at the college, and he seems to be fully up to the task. He needed to send his bio and a photo to the main campus (as the new rep), so here is one of the pictures from the photoshoot that he and a friend did a few days ago. 

Adam at Canadore Aviation campus

Will try to post again soon, likely after the surgery.

The blur they called September

We thought August was busy, and it seemed that even more stuff piled on in September.  Both Adam and Parker went back to school (Adam to finish the Aviation Maintenance program at Canadore College, and Parker to begin the Paralegal program at Mohawk College).

We had planned to have our back yard ripped up and a new patio get installed, and that is what happened for most of the month of September.  Essentially, we had our 1964 original pink and green 2x2 patio stones removed and a new patio designed that would allow us access to the the new shed (which Adam finished last August) and be able to get to the front yard. We decided on 'exposed aggregate' rather than plain concrete, and added a permanent patio roof similar to what we had originally but needed to remove for our major upstairs renovation.

Here is what it looked like before the contractors started:
Faded pink and green... so lovely! We will miss the weeds.

Initially put in place to handle a stroller (Adam), but it never worked well. 

Used to have an awning above the patio door - we missed it more than we thought.

It has looked unfinished like this for over 20 years!

A few during photos:
Stones were the first to go!

A curving edge was our choice

Sono tubes for the awning/patio roof

The final finished back yard:
Awning will give shade and shelter all year round

Looks much more finished

Full width step for Maddy (and Eric)

Wie walkway to the driveway, through the gate

Translucent awning makes the back room very bright

A great place to sit/stand when it is raining and the dog is out on the grass

The final product!

In all of this construction mess, Ying and Fanfan got everything packed up and prepared to move back home to China after a whole year in our family.  We also had someone new move in!  Sally, a Ph.D. student at McMaster, moved in to our small guest room and planned to move to the larger guest room when Ying and Fanfan returned home.

We had some visits with the "Canadian cousins" (our great nieces and great nephew) so everyone could say their goodbye's.
Fanfan, Brynn, Elyse, and Laura
On the evening that they left for China, Wendy read a new book to Fanfan (which she brought home to read to her sister) and took a few pictures.
The last 'book time' in Canada for Fanfan

There were hugs and tears all around

We will miss our Chinese family.
We have had a few video calls between us and Ying and Fanfan, and it seems like things are settling back into a routine for them. Maddy was a bit sad after they left, and Wendy noticed how quiet it was - so much so, that we had to replace our loudly ticking wall clocks that we had not previously noticed were so loud.

Eric continued to wait for medical appointments and also still had his sore neck that appeared at the end of July. He also started noticing lumps on his neck that should not be there.  Our family doctor made many referrals, and the internal medicine clinic at McMaster was the winner of that race. The specialist decided they needed to get an urgent CT image of Eric's neck and arranged it within an hour (that is very unusual!). Even before the radiologist had read the image and reported the results, the specialist called Eric at home as urged him to go to the ER at the Hamilton General Hospital. Not knowing what it was we were dealing with, off we went. 
Here we go again!
Essentially, they found a very large tumour/mass (roughly 8cm x 6cm x 5cm) in his left thyroid that was pushing his trachea (windpipe) off to the opposite side of the neck. They were worried about his airway being blocked, but eventually settled on it not being quite so urgent. They made some calls and got connected to a surgeon who would see him a few days later at St. Joseph's hospital.  Eric continued to deal with the significant and relentless pain from the mass as best he could, and monitored for any drastic changes.

Somehow, this puts the August 'losing the licence nightmare' into a different light.... priorities completely changed once faced with this new problem.

August ended up being more eventful than planned!

Sorry for the blog going quiet for such a long time. Things kind of got out of control as August moved along. We had just finished our fantastic trip out to Banff and were embarking on the final planned trip of the summer - a week at Sauble Beach in a rented cottage.
First time mini-golfer!

We didn't always eat what we should eat on this trip...

Wendy set up a puzzle station in the cottage
Wendy, Carolyn, and Bill finishing a challenging puzzle
Around the camp fire... where it all went down hill

The moment the relaxation started to set in (i.e. the day after Ying, Fanfan, Wendy, and I had arrived), our plans changed.  Big time. Eric had a sudden unexpected medical event (neuroelectrical) that had him head to the hospital in an ambulance, get an urgent CT scan, and lose his driver's licence. We were very lucky that our friends Carolyn and Bill were there, as the chaos associated with essentially losing our only driver was a bit overwhelming.
Eric, at it again...

We stuck it out at the cottage for the whole week and had Adam come down from North Bay to be one of the drivers. Carolyn thankfully was able to stay and be our other driver (the car was too full to fit anyone other than the original 4 of us!).

One of our side trips was to pick up some fresh corn, and wouldn't you know it - we saw 3 bear running across the road. We had just had our bear experiences in Alberta and said that bears were not likely going to be around the cottage area.

The weather turned out to be cool and windy for most of the week, but we did run the 2 blocks down to the beach the odd time.

Ying and Fanfan had a lot of fun playing with the sand once they figured out how to make it into different shapes.

Adam was a big help around the cottage (Eric wasn't up to much), and he also drove us to visit some friends one day and Wendy's Aunt and Uncle another day.

Adam, Wendy, Eric, Bruce, Mary
On our last night, with a nice sunset.

We got home OK from the cottage and started the inevitable arrangements for medical appointments and continued to work with Ying getting ready for their departure in early September.

Parker also turned 19 at the end of the month. What do you do on your 19th birthday? You buy a lottery ticket, you go to the liquor store and buy something to drink (cherry vodka and rum), you pick up pizza and an ice cream cake (Baskin and Robbins), then you take your parents to the Casino!
First time buying at the liquor store!

Pizza and presents

Ice cream pizza

First time at a casino!