Some Thoughts on 2017

Well, everyone else is reflecting on the past year today, so I guess I’ll one-up all of you by pulling a classic Brandy move & writing a miniature novella. Here’s a fly-by version of what had happened in my life prior to 2017 even beginning:
On May 12th, 2016, I underwent the most difficult thing I have ever experienced in my life to date: a laparoscopic low anterior bowel resection surgery. Less than two weeks later, I collapsed to the floor when my colon perforated at the join. I was sliced open from pelvis to bellybutton, hip to hip for what they call a “complete abdominal washout”, and woke up with an ileostomy at the age of 30. Twenty-seven long, excruciatingly painful, absolutely terrifying days later, I was discharged from the hospital with the “ability” to shit through my abdomen, a drain that went in through my ass cheek and sat in my pelvis that felt like a wasp sting 24 hours a day, and the promise that undergoing a reversal surgery for my ostomy would be possible once my bowels sealed back up again, on their own time. And this is when the wait began.
With several bizarre tests having been completed throughout the remainder of 2016, I got a phone call from my surgeon on December 9th, which just so happened to mark the one-year “anniversary” of the day I was first diagnosed with stage 3a colorectal cancer. He told me then that I had come a long way, but that all of my test results had shown that the perforation itself was not healing on it’s own, as he had expected it to. He wished me a Merry Christmas and reassured me that we would touch base in the new year: 2017.
And here we are on the last day of it. This is it. Twelve months have passed… three hundred and sixty-five days… four seasons. This entire year has been a year of waiting to be able to move forward with my life, in one way or another. When you don’t know if you’ll be “ready” to have your small intestine un-sutured from the outside of your abdomen and placed back into your body, subsequently having to re-learn how to make it to a bathroom without shitting your pants in public – a person can’t exactly commit to very much for very long.
On November 6th, I endured a fucking traumatic experience at the hospital while I underwent the same procedure I’ve had several times before to see if the perforation had healed completely, having been over a year since it had originally burst at the seams (you can read the details here). The answer, once again, was no. On November 15th, I walked into my surgeon’s office, pen-in-hand, ready to sign the fucking consent forms that give this man permission to perform a SECOND low-anterior resection, effectively removing even more of my large intestine, in an attempt to create a nice, clean, smooth, un-ruptured and un-perforated reconnect. Based on my first experience, I am expecting to be out of commission for at least a few months. And then… guess what? I wait. We wait. Me and my friends and my family and the ones who have been by my side for this entire thing, we wait. We wait until enough time has passed to undergo this extremely long-awaited reversal surgery, so that I don’t have to poop into a bag anymore. And I’m not sure exactly how that’s going to go, or when.
Beyond all of this, 2017 was also the year I finally tapped into the confidence to cut the final threads on a cord tethered to one of the most toxic jobs I have ever had in my entire life (I’m not joking when I say I’m fairly certain my energetically abusive relationship to this particular work environment played a significant role in facilitating my body in developing cancer as a defense mechanism to get me the FUCK out of there). It was the year I started working at Blush Lane, The Coup, AND The Light Cellar – three places whose resources were indispensable during my treatment and recovery – and it was the year I finished Reiki I and II, through which I learned to stop accepting and playing out the bullshit roles defined for me by other people that my ego had so willingly believed as true and, instead, uncovered a steadfast belief in my own self-worth alongside the infinite depths of courage birthed from raw, unadulterated vulnerability.
2017 was the year my little sister got married, the year I died my hair pink, and the year Jonas got run over by a bicycle and survived to tell the tale. It was the year I wore a turban to the fireworks on Canada Day, the year I discovered the potential transformative power of drum circles, and the year I slept in a bed with five wobbly kittens in it who had just opened their eyes. 2017 was the year I lost the light of my life in the most traumatic and horrible way possible, but it was also the year I opened my arms to Fern and Ivy, regardless of judgement and criticism, who continue to act as a soothing balm for a broken heart. So many small, seemingly insignificant moments have woven themselves in between this grander, self-constructed theme of “waiting” – every hug from my Mom, every kiss from Tristan, every wag of Chloe’s tail, every snuggle with Jonas, every flat tire, every bite of food, every moment of laughter, every road trip to BC, every carboy filled with spring water, every cup of coffee, every movie watched, every book read, every moment of joy, and every moment of grief – these are all moments that have slowly accumulated and, without skipping a beat, continue to write my human experience, almost as if it were being penned by the hand of God and not my own.
As for 2018, I don’t even fucking know. At this point, all I can really do is keep on waiting – keep on checking my mailbox and watching my phone for more information about this elusive, semi-unexpected yet long-awaited surgery date; I invite you all on the ride, as sharing the things that hurt does, in fact, make them hurt less. And in-between the waiting, all of those things I mentioned above are what creates that idea of “living in the moment”, of being mindful, of staying “present”. I mean, it takes practice, especially when you reflect on these things as living in the moment after-the-fact. I haven’t really been able to think about the future too seriously for a while now. It’s frustrating, but I get the idea that it’s probably important to stay here, right here, in all of those small and fleeting moments that envelope the idea of waiting for the future, which is a funny thing to do. I really don’t mean for this to sound like I’m experiencing some profound moment of clarity, because I’ve always known this on some level, which by no means makes me some sort of wise woman – I’m constantly just flying by the seat of my pants.
I’m an extremely introverted person. I have no problem sharing my life on Facebook and Instagram with all of you – it actually does make me feel socially connected, despite it’s criticisms. When I do run into you out there in the world, sharing this now, in this way, makes it so that some of you are aware of certain information I wouldn’t share in a momentary run-in, anyway. It takes me a really long time under extremely controlled circumstances to expend the energy sharing this complex and personal story to a single human being, but it takes me an hour to write it and fire it off into the ether.
This photo was taken immediately after I wrote these words. Perhaps I could have attached some bright & happy image of me seizing the day that I went out of my way to take for the purpose of this status update – but, this is it. I’m laying in bed alone on New Years eve, cradling Jonas like an infant, as the words I write cause this weird cocktail of tears that smudged my mascara – grief, joy, sadness, love, trauma, loyalty, fear, bravery, anger, gratitude.
I want to thank-you all for reading this and giving me your time, if you’ve made it to the end.
Happy New Year, whatever it may bring ❤

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Epilogue: December 9th, 2017 marked 2 years since my original diagnoses. I was going to make a big post about it, but the closer the date got, the less I felt like bringing it back to life. As far as anyone can tell, and as far as anyone knows to date, my beautiful body is cancer-free.

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When a Doctor Mistakes your Vagina for your Anus

Disclaimer: this post has a lot to do with my butt, and it might be a bit of an overshare for some. If you feel like it is, you can stop reading at anytime.

I’ve had this test done two or three times before. What happens is that I lie down on a hydraulic table and have contrast fluid “released” into my colon via a rectal catheter. An x-ray machine is pulled down close to my body, and multiple radiographs are taken while the table moves my body around. The purpose of this test is to see if any fluid is able to leak outside of my colon.

 

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For those of you who don’t know what happened to me in 2016, I underwent a bowel resection procedure that resulted in my colon perforating at the join, leaving me with a “temporary” ostomy until the perforation “healed itself”. Since then, I’ve been getting test after test after test, waiting and waiting and waiting, only to hear the words, “there’s still a leak”, over and over and over again. My surgeon won’t perform the surgery to reverse my ostomy until imaging shows absolutely no sign of any sort of residual leaking, as this could result in another perforation if I were to start eliminating out the bottom end again.

Anyway, I’m no stranger to being poked and prodded at this point. I started out as the “perfect patient”, cool with everything and anything. But I don’t have the tolerance for it anymore. I’m beyond sick and tired of being a “practice body” for doctors-in-training. I’ve been waiting months for this test, preparing for it in every way that I could, hoping that it would be the one that would finally give me an answer that would allow me to move forward with my life, or at least make the next decision – I’ve literally been waiting, doing nothing, for the past 18 months. It’s absolutely hilarious to me to think of my surgeon once upon a time telling me that I would have this ostomy for a couple of months until everything healed up properly. I woke up yesterday morning feeling ready to submit to having strangers I had never met before give me a rectal exam and start sticking tubes up my ass, all before most people have their first cup of coffee in the morning.

There were 5 to 6 people in the room, and the lights were dimmed. An older woman introduced herself as the supervising doctor, and a younger man (younger than me, maybe), introduced himself as the resident doctor. There was another guy there, too, also very young, and 2 or 3 other girls, possibly nurses or techs of some sort. As I was laying on my side, naked under my hospital gown, knees tucked up to my chest, the supervising doctor started giving instructions and guidance to the resident doctor regarding what to do. He was trying to perform a rectal exam in an attempt to feel the join, which my surgeon can feel with ease, since it is so low down. I am so grateful that I am not a victim of sexual abuse, because this felt like letting someone who had literally never touched another human being sexually (let alone professionally!) in their whole entire life fumble around trying to figure out how to get in. He could not find where he was supposed to go for the life of him, for a solid 15 to 20 seconds, which feels like an eternity when you’re lying there wondering if you should give a “doctor” some “direction” – I was literally in the middle of thinking, do I need to physically show this “doctor” where my anus is located? – when I experienced this man’s index finger going up my VAGINA.

As I started to wreathe my body away, uttering the words “wrong hole”, the supervising doctor told the resident doctor to stop doing what he was doing immediately. He sheepishly apologized, and then continued the search. When he finally found where he was supposed to be, he barely inserted his index finger before saying he couldn’t feel anything and retracting his hand. If I hadn’t of figured out he had no idea what he was doing when he thought my vagina was my anus, I definitely knew now.

The supervising doctor instructed him to insert the rectal catheter and inflate the balloon, which is supposed to keep it in place for the contrast fluid to be released and distributed. You guys, I swear to god, this “doctor” placed the tube in between my ass cheeks and tried to call it a day. I knew it wasn’t inserted at all, but I didn’t say anything at this point. When they released the contrast, it went fucking everywhere; all over me, all over the bed… everywhere. I yelled out that the catheter wasn’t inserted at all, and that I was completely soaked in contrast fluid. The supervising doctor demanded that the resident “doctor” stop the procedure and attempt to re-insert the catheter. I swear to fuck, you guys, he did the same thing. Again, he “inserted” this rubber tube in between my ass cheeks, and released the fluid again. After this second failed attempt, I was laying in a puddle of about a litre of contrast fluid. My entire hospital gown was soaked, up my back, down my legs, everywhere. I was kind of pinned under this massive x-ray machine that had been pulled down and placed really close to my abdomen, but I had had enough. I think I am still suffering from some deeply repressed emotions from everything I experienced in the hospital last year; the way people treated me, the things that I submitted to, the number of people’s hands who touched me in ways I never want to be touched again. I shot up from the bed as far as I could go, being held down by this machine, and exhibited a full-blown anxiety attack. I started yelling; I started demanding that an “actual” doctor who knew what the fuck they were doing complete this procedure. At first, the supervising doctor got defensive of the resident doctor, trying to explain that he “was a doctor”, but I kept going; I yelled how I had just had someone’s finger up my vagina, that I had undergone this test several times before and that NONE of what was happening had EVER happened before – I yelled about how I had been waiting months for this test, and that today’s results were REALLY important to me, and about how here I was, lying in a puddle of contrast fluid from absolutely NOTHING being done correctly. FUCK this shit. I am SO SICK of giving up my body for practice and training purposes.

I kicked my feet off the the bed and slid my entire body out from under the machine. I started panicking and ripping away at the soaked hospital gown, and stood there, naked, wearing socks with my ostomy pouch just hanging off of my stomach. Dripping with contrast fluid, hyperventilating, pressing on my eyeballs with the palms of my hands. VULNERABLE.

The supervising doctor and the nurses dressed me in a clean, dry gown as I cried. They changed all of the towels, sheets, blankets, and pillows on the exam bed. When they were done, I hastily climbed back up on the bed and under the xray machine, flipped over onto my side, curled up in fetal position, sobbing. The supervising doctor told me that it was just her now. That everybody else had left. She apologized. She inserted the catheter, released the contrast fluid, and took the images.

When we were finished, I jumped down, ignoring the offer for a stool or any help at all. I grabbed my belongings and headed straight to the bathroom to get dressed. On my way out, as I was walking passed her in the hallway, one of the techs covered the mouth of the telephone she was talking at and quickly tried to explain to me how I should call my doctor in a few days to discuss the results. My follow-up appointment with my surgeon to discuss the results of this imaging was scheduled eight weeks ago. I walked passed her and found my way to the elevators, to the main floor, to my car, and back home.

I don’t have any time to edit this or comb through it, because I have to get ready to go to work. I don’t even know if it was completely necessary to share the details of all of this on Facebook, but I will tell you this: I have experienced more things like this, and things worse than this, than I could even find the time right now to share with you, in the last two years. I’ve kept so quiet on social media about everything I’ve been dealing with in regards to my health; I was pretty open about everything when I was first diagnosed, which seems like a completely different era of my life. After I had surgery, everything crumbled, and it was a rough climb up. The past year and a half have been the hardest years of my entire life, not only healing from surgery itself, but dealing with the aftermath of what it left me with; dealing with our “cancer care system” and trying to dodge bullets in regards to what “they” want from me; and experiencing things like I did yesterday. Throw all of this on top of trying to navigate my way through a world outside of “cancer”; dealing with my family, with my relationship, with my career and my place in the world; loosing the brightest light in my life, Chloe, this summer; trying to heal and understand why this happened to me in the first place; trying to figure out the psychological shifts in perception I can come to understand so that I can apply them and move beyond this, so that I don’t experience a recurrence – yeah, I’ve kept it all quiet on social media, and in fact, I’ve kept a lot of it in my head. And this is just the very tip of the iceberg.

And at the end of it all, there’s this: I still have a leak. A year and a half later since my colon completely ripped open and wreaked havoc and I was left with an ostomy on my 31-year-old tummy – and I still can’t see a future for myself where I can look at my body without it.

Thank-you for everyone who left comments on my previous post. I read them all after I finished having my freak out at the hospital, at which point they were bitter-sweet. I don’t know what to expect in 2018 – I still feel like I can’t make “normal” plans, I can’t follow through with “normal” goals, and I can’t quite keep up with all of the “normal” things that everyone else in my life seems to be following the linear progression of. I’ve never been normal, mind you, but this isn’t exactly the type of abnormal life I was expecting. Fuck, it’s going to be one hell of an “abnormal” year.

Thank-you for reading this, if you’ve made it this far. I want to start writing more, completely unapologetically. If you’re interested in the progression and development of this story, you probably won’t be dissapointed. xoxoxox

Update: December 10th, 2016 ~ My One-Year Cancer Diagnoses “Anniversary”

You know how in the movies, when someone learns they have cancer for the first time, they’re usually sitting in a doctors office discussing the results of a recent biopsy when they hear “those three words”: you have cancer…?

Well, it didn’t happen to me like that.

One year ago today, I learned that I had cancer – but no medical professional has ever straight up said it to me. I was wide awake when they performed my first colonoscopy (a sigmoidoscopy, to be precise) and I will never forget the look on everyone’s face when they saw what they saw. I knew immediately that they regretted giving me the option to watch. I remember asking, when I saw the tumor on the massive flat-screen directly beside my face, “what’s that?”, and how the room fell silent. I’ll never forget how the answer to that question was simply, “yep, that’s what’s bleeding”. I’ll never forget watching that little tiny little fine-toothed creature tear biopsy samples away from me; and I’ll never forget how, when the technician or nurse or doctor or whoever it was performing the procedure, said to me: “Branden, I’ll be right back so we can have a little chat, okay?”

My version of a doctor telling me “you have cancer” was a combination of that woman saying, “This is very concerning – it looks cancerous to me”, numerous doctors asking me to recount my memory of what I understood might be happening, and then a nervous intern mumbling under his breath that the biopsies came back positive for carcinoma several days later. The entire diagnostic process, from sigmoidoscopy to full colonoscopy CT to MRI, I had been admitted to the hospital, and didn’t leave for eleven days. It took about this amount of time for my official diagnoses to come together, and for my “care” to be “transferred” to the GI team (who were responsible for diagnosing me) to Dr. Buie and his surgical team (who were responsible for my surgery & recovery from surgery). It was tough, because I didn’t check in to emergency at Foothills because I was experiencing anything that made me feel sick – I felt totally normal. But for ten days, I was hooked up to IV fluids and getting bloodwork taken every night at 3 am, simply waiting for the process of a diagnoses to come together. And through all of this, not once did I ever hear, from anybody, “you have cancer”.

I feel like there are so many small details I didn’t have the time or energy or wherewithal to explain to anybody while I was experiencing it all. It was a very, “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” typed sort of situation – there wasn’t much time to prepare, if you know what I’m saying. It all happened so fast. As I look back on my experiences throughout the year, I can recall them with much more clarity and understanding. The time I spent undergoing chemotherapy prior to my surgery (they call this neoadjuvent treatment), from January to March, was the happiest and the best I have felt in my entire life. When I look back at how much everyone around me contributed financially so that I was able to focus on my treatment as well as work integratively with a naturopathic oncologist (even with all of my conventional oncologists kicking and screaming about it), I actually don’t know what I would have done without that support. I honestly don’t believe I would have achieved the results I did without the support of everything that Dr. Matt Pyatt (my naturopathic doctor) helped me with while I was hooked up to chemo. It’s not like I have anything to compare my experience to, except for other people’s stories, but while I was undergoing chemotherapy, I experienced more energy and more of a sense of overall well-being and purpose than I ever had in my entire life. I attribute that about 25% to not having to work, and 75% to everything I did with Dr. Pyatt and the staff at his clinic – I would recommend it to absolutely anyone who decides to go forward with conventional treatment, regardless of how much or in how many ways your oncologist tries to scare you out of it. If your oncologist isn’t receptive to your desire to craft an integrative treatment plan for yourself – fire them. I did. They don’t want you anyway.

My surgery is an entirely different story. Since my Dad had been diagnosed with the same cancer earlier in the year, and had underwent the same surgery several months prior, I had witnessed first-hand how quickly he recovered. And since my body’s response to neo-adjuvent treatment was so extreme, Dr. Buie was able to perform my surgery laproscopically, which is far less invasive and comes with a shorter recovery period. But things went wrong. Things went terribly, terribly wrong. A three-to-five day recovery period in the hospital turned out to be six weeks in total, with about a month’s worth of care from a nurse who came directly to my living room to check up on me & change bandages and dressings once I was discharged. In my whole thirty years of life on earth, that was the singular hardest thing I have ever experienced – it was the darkest place I have ever been. I swear, the depths to which I was witness to while I was in that place are depths in which the Devil himself resides. But God is there too. I learned that.

I didn’t want to see a single soul while I was there – or, more accurately, I didn’t want a single soul to see me, aside from my immediate family and Tristan. I declined visits from friends, and even fought against visits from Tristan’s family. I was too tired. I was too fucking messed up! …and looking back, I have to thank those people who came anyway… I have to thank those people who found a way to figure out where I was, and stopped by without notice. I have to thank those people who knew me saying no was bullshit, because even though I knew what I wanted at the time, I had very little idea how much I needed that presence. Someone I met on Facebook who had also been experiencing something similar managed to find out where I was, brought me flowers, and validated my struggle. He was there for less than five minutes, and I will never forget his kindness. Thank-you to those who not only offered their support in so many different ways, but pushed back when they felt me pushing them away. Thank-you to those who came to sit by my side, whether it was for five minutes or every single day while I was there.

I’m fully recovered, now – I’ve been fully recovered for about four months now. It took me about four months from my original surgery to feel normal again, and it’s been eight months total since I took the blow. I did mention this in my original update, but I did end up having to come out of surgery with a stoma (a loop ileostomy). I’ve gotten pretty pro at living with this thing, and most of the time I don’t mind it at all. However, we are still waiting for this perforation to heal completely before Dr. Buie can perform a reversal surgery. We thought I might be ready by the end of this month, but a recent test showed that there is still a bit of an internal leak (although compared to the original imaging I had done when I was in the hospital, things are healing – just slowly). My next follow-up appointment with Dr. Buie is scheduled for the end of January, where we will re-assess and probably book another test to check on my progress.

As far as “the cancer” goes, I know a lot of people are interested to know if I’m “cancer-free” or “in remission” after this whole ordeal. Since I was in the hospital for so long recovering from surgery, too much time had passed for any adjuvant (post-op) treatment to have any “benefits” – or, for it to do far more harm than “good”. My original oncologist had moved to Vancouver, or Edmonton, or somewhere (nobody at the hospital could seem to come up with a common answer), so I had a new oncologist to follow-up with once I was out of the hospital. It was her suggestion that we do NOT go forward with any additional treatment, although I was prepared to politely decline anyway. Regardless, it was a relief. Instead, I have been put on a “high observation” schedule, which means a follow-up appointment with the same nurse once every 4-6 months, accompanied by bloodwork, as well as a CT scan once every 8-12 months or so, for around the next 2 years. After that, if nothing comes up, the frequency of my follow up visits, bloodwork, and CT scans will decrease, until we hit 5 years. Once 5 years has passed, according to the cancer industry, I can consider myself “cancer-free”. I think this is only because cancer research doesn’t follow anybody after 5 years, and so all of the statistics are based on this 5-year survival rate. I believe I am cancer-free at the moment, although it gets complicated saying that because we all have cancer cells in our bodies – however, I believe I am tumor-free, and that my immune system’s got a handle on it. I’ll do my very best to support my body and work with it to help me stay tumor-free, not just up until the 5-year point (which doesn’t carry much meaning for me), but for the rest of my life. I have a supplementation routine that I am very proud of and take very seriously – I’ve been thinking about writing a post just going through all of that alone.

So, other than being under high observation and waiting patiently to undergo a reversal surgery, I am simply working to pay the bills & trying to come up with a plan for the future (it will most definitely involve going back to school in some way, shape, or form). Unlike a lot of cancer “survivor” stories I have read or heard of, “the answer” hasn’t magically appeared for me – I still haven’t realized my true purpose or reason for my life on earth. I’ve learned a fuck ton of other things, but nothing magically became crystal clear. I was in the zone while I was undergoing treatment – I wish I could still feel that way, but it feels like it was such a luxury, not having to work. Now that I’ve both experienced how bad things can get, and now that I’ve healed (physically) from it, it’s back to what feels like a never-ending grind to make ends meet, with precious little moments scattered in-between to keep me going. I have a lot to work through, emotionally – psychologically. I think I harbor a minor bit of PTSD from the things I went through while I was hospitalized. I kept my surgery bracelet and when I came across it recently, a lot of emotions bubbled to the surface. I cry at the drop of a hat all the time now – everything is sad. There are some deep-seated emotions regarding a variety of things that need to be worked through, I just don’t know where to start or how to do it.

One big change that has happened is that we did finally move from our basement apartment (which was located, strangely enough, within sight of my hospital room and made the most perfect basecamp for my family while I was there) to a bright, new, modern, upper-level apartment in Bowness. I am grateful to our old place for what it was able to provide for us at the time, but I am beyond relieved to live in an area where I don’t have to see the hospital every time I walk the dogs.

The purpose of writing this update was, first and foremost, to update everyone who was even aware what was going on with me, and especially those who contributed to my GoFundMe campaign. But my other big reason for writing this update was so that I could finally close it, and send out a final thank-you to everyone who contributed. I never really understoof these GoFundMe campaigns when I saw them popping up for other people, but now I realize what an unbelievable platform it is to make crowdfunding so accessible. I especially want to say thank-you to those who donated more than once – it was so unexpected to see some of the names I saw popping up on this campaign, but even more unexpected to see them repeating themselves. You have all made an unbelievable difference regarding my experience with cancer, and quite possibly my life.

I don’t have many pictures to share, but I do have this one-and-only photo of me and my colorectal surgeon, Dr. Donald Buie, from before he operated on my bowels. He called me this morning – I’ve never spoken to him on the phone before, as he is very difficult to even book a hot minute with outside of regularly scheduled follow-ups. I had to pull teeth to get that phonecall, and it took six weeks – funny how it landed on today, of all days. I told him what day it was, and he validated how far I had come in a year. That felt good, being acknowledged for that, by him.

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Anyway, I hope you all have a peaceful, non-chaotic,  beautiful, sparkly Christmas filled with an abundance of food, love, laughter, joy, gratitude, and inspiration. 2016 has equally been the best and the most challenging year thus far for me, and my healing will continue into 2017 and beyond.

Thank you so much for your continued love and support!

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Limiting Beliefs & the Purpose of This Blog

I’ve always been a perfectionist. This is why I struggled so much harder than I had to when I was in University – everything had to be perfect, including my knowledge of stuff and things. When I didn’t “get it”, or when I didn’t understand how to do it, it would literally feel like I was probably going to die… or at least that I’d rather be dead than suffer with the belief that I was stupid, slow, or incapable. I hear so much about “limiting beliefs” in the yoga and self-help community; about identifying them, overcoming them, and as a result, living your best life. I think the process of identifying my limiting beliefs is almost as hard as overcoming them, but reflecting back on my experience in University, I recognize quite a few that I would like to work with; most notably, the idea I just mentioned regarding my lack of confidence in believing I am capable of learning something new and challenging, and the accompanying belief that I am on my own and that nobody is there to help me.

I remember a particular university course that sent me over the edge. It was actually the course that made me decide to quit school altogether (for the time being); an introductory course to geography. I enrolled in this course because I thought I would learn about the lay of the land. I thought it might relate to the study of animals in the sense that I would learn about the different types of habitats and ecosystems that animals lived in, and the different parts of the world those habitats and ecosystems existed… but it wasn’t about those things at all. It was about, like… drones, and modern mapping technology, and how temperature works and stuff. There were mathematical equations, and questions involving physics, and all of this stuff I had never heard of before in my life. During every lecture, I didn’t even know how to take notes, this stuff was so over my head! I had been out of high school for over a decade at the time, and although I did do some high school upgrading a few years prior, I had only completed English and Social Studies for admission to the faculty of arts to study communication… I wasn’t mentally prepared for university-level science and math courses! So I’d be sitting at my desk with a hot tea in a travel mug sitting in front of me, my MacBook open, a new Microsoft Word document pulled up on the screen, that little cursor just blinking, taunting me to write something, anything… and I’d have my scarf wrapped around my entire face, and I would literally be hyperventilating, boiling hot tears running down my cheeks, choking back the urge to break down into a full-blown sobbing, blubbering mess. There was a mathematical equation on the overhead projector that related to… something I can’t even remember. And this prof kept saying, “This is easy you guys!!! This is simple highschool mathematics. This is so, so EASY!!!” …and I remember feeling resentment towards this guy for not taking into consideration that not everyone in that lecture theatre was fresh out of grade 12 diploma exams – that this might be very old knowledge for some of us.

The part that contributed to these limiting beliefs that were now creepy-crawling to the forefront of my consciousness were the students that actively engaged in the lecture, both answering and asking questions that gave me the impression these people were aspiring Geographers with nothing but geography on the brain. Every single time these people raised their hands or opened their mouths, I silently whispered “go and fuck yourself” under my big huge scarf, wishing they would just curb their enthusiasm for like a minute. It’s funny, though, because those few select people, maybe 2 or 3 out of a couple hundred, seemed to speak for the entire class; I mean, to me, at the time, I believed they represented everyone present, as if I was psychologically underdeveloped child in a room full of professional geographers at some kind of industry meeting overseas. I don’t know. But you know what I realize now? The other 98% of the class were most likely just as dumbfounded as I was, they just didn’t feel the urge to fall into a full-blown anxiety attack in a dark, isolated corner somewhere in the classroom, fully believing one hundred percent that the end was nigh. I don’t know what their secret was then, and I still don’t know what it is now. How did everyone else who was just as confused as I was not run for the hills in order to escape their impending doom over the course of the entire semester? How did they continue showing up, even if they didn’t understand a word? How did they make it to the end?

Those smarty-pants who wouldn’t shut up in class made me feel so inferior. They made me feel so genuinely stupid, unprepared, and under-qualified to even be a part of this particular student body. I was convinced it was a mistake that I was even able to successfully enroll myself to be a part of this class and learn this material. And then one day, three weeks into the semester, I snapped. I left the lecture hall and remember bumbling through the crowd on campus wondering why the fuck nobody else was kicking and screaming. The shit storm happening between my ears and inside my skull had the effect of physically debilitating my body to understand direction. I found myself in a random study cubicle, desperately researching the repercussions of withdrawing from all of my courses and going home to writhe in agony on the couch.

I wrote an e-mail to my geography prof. I told him that the material he was teaching was scaring the living fuck out of me. I let him know that I was a mature student, and that I hadn’t studied or practiced math or science in over a decade. I explained how I felt I didn’t have the necessary prerequisites to successfully complete the course, and asked for his advice. He wrote back shortly after, first to complement me on my writing skills, and second, to tell me to take a breath and calm down. I think he told me that I was taking everything way too seriously, and that I was absolutely capable of successfully completing the course. He told me the math and physics parts of his lectures roused panic in many other students, as well. He told me he would help me through it. But even after all of that reassurance, I was still convinced I wasn’t smart enough to make it out alive. I ended up withdrawing from all of my courses and driving to see a walk-in clinic that same day. I explained to some random doctor that I had recently weaned myself off of my antidepressants (which I had been on for almost as long as I had been out of high school), had just experienced a severe and prolonged anxiety attack on campus, and needed both a) a new prescription, and b) a doctor’s note explaining how the withdrawal from my studies was due to medical concerns so as to save my transcript and my rapport with the government student loans system. I was provided with both plus a prescription for some good ‘ol Ativan. Shortly after, I returned to the job that drove me to pursue post secondary education in the first place in order to find more meaning in, and passion for, what I was contributing to the world. Things went back to the way they were before.

And guess what? During what would have been finals week for that same semester, I was diagnosed with cancer, and the whole cancer “journey” brings me to today, right here, right now, recovering from a second, unexpected surgery. And so I have come to believe the following.

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…anyway. Back to those complicated and sometimes elusive “limiting beliefs” of mine. During the course of my university studies, I full-on believed I was incapable of being a successful student. I fully believed that I was unable to complete anything at all. I believed I was stupid, I believed I couldn’t understand anything, and I believed I was alone. Nothing anybody said – professors, advisors, friends, family, my partner – could have convinced me otherwise. It was, and continues to be, all in my head – I know that these rock-solid beliefs are the result of my ego’s vice-like grip on my psyche. Of course, I am none of these things. Of course I am capable of being a successful student. Of course I am able to complete projects and assignments (and complete them well). Of course I can come to understand new things, and of course I’m not alone. The most ridiculous thing is, is that time and time again, when I did manage to make it through to the end of a paper I had to write or a presentation I had to prepare and deliver, I came out of it all with praise and A’s. I even had one TA and prof approach me for permission to use my paper as an example for future students. Even more baffling is when I came across an old essay I wrote for a women’s studies class – an essay I remember crying, and crying, and crying over – and thinking it was a rogue piece of academic research I had downloaded from the U of C library website and forgotten to delete… my jaw hit the floor and stayed there once I realized that I had created the thing. Although everyone in my life saw it with crystal clarity, I truly hadn’t realized what I was capable of creating while going through it… I was only capable of believing what I could not create. And that limiting belief put me through so much unnecessary grief. Every moment of my experience on campus was a continual mantra of “I can’t do it! I can’t do it! I can’t do it!” …and although that belief led me to (temporarily) give up in the end, I always came through with something I had no idea I had the capacity to create.

So, my point in writing any of this actually relates back to this blog. I’ve wanted to start, contribute to, and maintain a blog for a really long time, but I never knew where to begin (I still don’t), and I had so many doubts, concerns, and insecurities about having one (I still do). Most blogs I’ve seen have a theme, or a purpose, or are branded in a way that has some kind of continuity; you know, crafts, or entertainment, or food. Well my life’s one big fuckin’ mess. I’m still so confused about what my identity is – and from that stems my insecurity about what kind of knowledge I even have to offer the world. I’ve experienced so much in regards to the cancer experience, but in all honesty, I don’t want that to be a part of my identity. I don’t want to launch a cancer blog and create a community around people who have experienced what it’s like. I’m okay with being open and honest about what I’m going through, but I don’t want it to become my life – I do, eventually, want to let it go and put it behind me. I’m not inspired to write or talk about it over and over and over again. I am traumatized from everything I have experienced. and moving on from this is going to take me a lifetime. “Moving on” from cancer doesn’t necessarily mean bypassing, ignoring, or dismissing the life lessons learned from it all… I just can’t imagine logging onto WordPress every day to write about and discuss a topic that I one day hope to put far, far behind me.

And then there’s me as a piercer, which has just as much to do with me as a person as waiting tables to get through school does to someone else. I pierce so that I don’t have to wait tables. I don’t hate piercing, but it is so, so far from my soul calling that I sometimes get completely lost in the abyss.

So what else is there? Aside from what I do from work, and the fact that I’m currently going through the motions of having been diagnosed with cancer, what else defines my identity? What else do I even have enough knowledge about or experience with that would validate and support an entire blog dedicated to it? The only thing I can think of is my constant effort to develop and refine my identity in the first place – some kind of chronological documentation of the choices I make, the realizations I make, the experiences I have, and the things I learn as life goes on. You know, and in that sense, maybe I can capture a couple of things that could serve as proof of personal growth or change. Maybe my shit storm of a life, paired with my haphazard attempts to find a clearing, could inspire someone else, or at the very least, be publicly available for some form of entertainment. Or like, I don’t know. I just want to transparently share my life experience, no matter how erratic or random it might be. And you know what else I want to do? I want to publicly, and loudly, state my truth, and then fucking stand in it. I don’t know if I’m ready to do that in entirety quite yet – which is interesting, because I can fully recognize that holding certain things back makes it painfully obvious that I am dancing with fear. There are things I am struggling with that I fear if I was truthful about would negatively affect my life, which is so ironic because these things are the very things I know are negatively affecting my life to begin with. These things… are the very same things I want to write about overcoming, but I feel like I can’t write about them in the first place. What the eff? What’s the deal?

So where does this leave this blog? I think it leaves it as a work in progress. I think a super random collection of posts that have no theme, rhyme, or reason perfectly reflects my life at the moment. I’m all over the place. I have no solid identity, I haven’t found my passion (okay, I’m pretty sure I have, but I’ll write about that another time) – let’s just say I haven’t found a way to embody it. At the same time, though, I feel like I have several passions that aren’t really connected, which is part of my struggle. I am interested in just about as many things as I’m not interested in at all. And that makes it so difficult to start a blog with a theme. If this blog were to have a theme, it would simply be a collection of random experiences derived from certain choices I made for whatever reason, and stories of what I learned from them. Like… basically a diary of how I currently live my life, what I do and don’t like about it, and the ways in which I attempt to understand and cultivate an inspired, passionate way of living day-to-day.

So anyways. Here is where I’m at today.

I woke up at 7 am to Jonas coughing and retching and swallowing non-stop in my face (he essentially sleeps wrapped around my head like a scarf or something). I dislike days where I wake up to doggie problems. He’s asleep and snoring now, so I’ll just pretend that everything is fine until it isn’t.

I love getting the dogs’ food ready in the fridge before I go to bed. That way, I can feed them as quickly as possible in the morning, because they are rabid beasts when it comes to breakfast and suppertime. Jonas actually starts foaming at the mouth as he waits. While they’re eating, I pull back the kitchen window curtains for some light and open the kitchen door to the backyard, so that when they’re finished, they can waddle up the steps to go peepee poopoo. While they’re barking their asses off at nothing, waking up our entire block, I’m boiling water for coffee, I’m preparing my supplements and medication, and I’m writing a to-do list in my head.

Here’s what I wish my morning looked like instead. I wish I woke up at 5:30 or 6, because early mornings inspire the fuck outta me. I wish I fed the dogs and let them outside to terrorize the neighborhood even earlier. I wish I drank a tall glass of lemon water, and then I wish I lit a candle and sat down on a meditation cushion in my living room for twenty minutes, followed by a quick written reflection in my journal. Then, I wish I whisked up a steaming hot thermos of matcha, leashed up the dogs, and went for a long, cool, refreshing walk before the majority of the rest of the city got out of bed. Once I got home, I wish I worked out or went to yoga (neither of which I can do right now), showered, and got ready for the day. Boom. I wish, I wish, I wish.

My to-do list today includes things like cleaning the microwave and compiling a collection of clothing to drop off at a consignment store. Purging. Going through random items that are taking up space and really trying to understand why I’m holding onto it. Cleaning and organizing my nightmare of a second bedroom. Walking the dogs, doing the dishes, finishing laundry, reading my book, responding to e-mails and messages, watching Netflix, blah blah blah. There is a job opening at the Calgary Zoo for a zookeeper position. My Dad had put me in touch with a very important contact at the zoo who I had been in touch with regarding employment there, but at the time, there was nothing available. I might make a cup of tea and set that in motion later. What a day, what a day.

I’m off to see the wizard!

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_______

Currently reading:

h

…I do not know why.

Currently watching:

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…again.

The last movie I watched:

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…I have no fucking idea why. I don’t like these kinds of movies. I lost interest halfway through and started wandering around the house, but I’m still going to say I’ve seen it. And for some reason, I’ll probably still watch the other two.

Currently on my mind:

  • Having this drain in my ass cheek removed and the ridiculous amount of discomfort I will be relieved from when it happens.
  • Jonas and whatever it is about his throat that is bothering him.
  • The green juice I made that is sitting nice and cold for me in a mason jar in the fridge.
  • Where and how to find interesting and relevant podcasts to listen to and learn from.
  • Beginning the process of upgrading my high school math and science through BVC, once again.
  • Doing some old-person exercises and stretches in my living room later this afternoon.

 

SoSave

Complications, Emergency Surgery & My 27-day Hospital Stay Nightmare

*deepest of sighs* …let me start with this quote by this person I have never heard of before named Ijeoma Umebinyuo, I guess. I found it on Pinterest and it makes me bawl.

healing comes in waves

and maybe today

the wave hits the rocks

and that’s ok,

that’s ok, darling

you are still healing

you are still healing.

I think the last status update I posted on Facebook was in regards to the fact that I had just rode my bike in the sunshine to the Lazy Loaf in Parkdale with Tristan. Hopping on that thing and cruising through my neighborhood on one of the first few really nice days of spring, less than two weeks after having undergone major bowel surgery, was pretty cathartic to say the least.

The last photo I posted on Instagram was the cutest picture of Jonas lying in his favorite spot on the couch. I was relaxing there with him, basking in the gratitude of being home, feeling stronger and stronger every day.

The last thing I did before the shit hit the “fan” was go to one of Tristan’s slow pitch games. We drove there together, I set up a blanket on the grass, I drank one singular organic hemp beer (delicious, and the first alcoholic beverage I had consumed in a very long time), and I brought my coloring books and pencil crayons. Chloe came with me. I got to see some of Tristan’s co-workers who have been asking after me. The sun was shining, and it felt… normal.

Afterwards, I drove way down south to pick up a care package put together by one of Peggy’s friends, and I was actually kind of surprised by how well I felt. I remember thinking that this woman was probably wondering how in need of a “care package” I actually was. When she asked how I was feeling, I remember telling her that it was my best day yet, and that I felt amazing. I was moving normally, and felt strong. And capable. And able-bodied.

When I got home, I put the items in this care package away in the fridge and elsewhere, and made some tea. That’s when it happened. I don’t know how to describe how it felt, but it was instantaneous, and the feeling shot up straight from my lower right pelvis, up the entire right side of my body, and down my arm. I collapsed to the floor. I started to rock back and forth while the panic built up inside of my head. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t fathom the idea of going back to the hospital. It was too awful. Tristan had gone out after his slow pitch game anyway, and nobody would have been able to drive me there. So, instead, I waited for it to pass, and while it never did, it did subside enough for me to reach for a couple of T3’s and crawl into bed.

The entire next day, I stayed in bed, still waiting for the pain to go away, but it didn’t. I kept popping T3’s and forcing myself to go to sleep. The following afternoon, I started throwing up, consistently, and I knew I had to go to emergency. My Mom came over and we actually walked up the hill together so that we didn’t have to pay for parking (how wrong is that?). Once I got to emergency, I was in pretty rough shape – nearly on all fours on the hospital floor, moaning, groaning, writhing in pain, making frequent trips to the bathroom to puke. They put me in a bed right away and and gave me intervenous fentanyl. Fucking fentanyl! I quote, from Wikipedia: Fentanyl is approximately 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine and roughly 40 to 50 times more potent than pharmaceutical grade (100% pure) heroin. Fuck.

I was quickly sent down for a CT scan – the first of many – and it was decided, almost immediately, that I would be sent into the OR for an emergency surgical procedure called an “abdominal washout”. The recently re-sected portion of my colon had blown apart. Totally perforated – sending all of it’s contents, along with gas and air, floating around my system. A possibility of the risk for sepsis; a risk my surgeon had explained to me during one of my pre-op meetings with him.

So, down the rabbit hole I went. My surgeon was actually at a function that evening, a retirement party for a colleague, but after being paged and told what was going on, he came swooping in. I was admitted for surgery at 12:30 am with my Mom and Tristan by my side to bid me farewell. I don’t remember much of what happened after I was wheeled back to my unit several hours later.

In fact, it’s hard for me to recall much of what happened during the next 27 days I was in the hospital. It’s even harder for me to try and explain what I do recall. I don’t know if it’s worth the remembering to try and document what I experienced, here on the internet. I was taken to parts of my psyche I never knew existed. It was the singular darkest, most frightening journey of my life. I spent the entire time screaming at the top of my lungs, silently and not-so-silently. Take the most debilitating emotional pain, and the absolute worst physical pain, blend ’em up in a Vitamix ~ and voila, there you have what I went through for the entire month of June.

I’m home now, and this is something I’ve realized. When I “announce” that I have been discharged from the hospital, I think a lot of people assume that I am healed – that a person isn’t discharged from the hospital until they are strong and healthy enough to resume their normal life. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Waking up every day, and every seemingly insignificant task throughout the day, takes a tremendous amount of effort. There is an excruciating amount of pain involved. All of the things I used to be able to do, don’t exist anymore (not right now, anyway). Try not being able to walk your dogs, or wash your dishes, or cook your own food. Try barely being able to physically move your body from the bed, or the couch. Try not being able to shower, or dress yourself, or bend over to pick something up off the ground. And on top of all of those things, try having to be responsible for the maintenance hospital property spilling from your body – I have a massive drain coming out of my backside that is attempting to keep the area of infection in my bowels free from contamination as my body heals this perforation. I have to flush, irrigate, and aspirate this drain with syringes full of saline. I have to change the bandages and monitor the site. And additionally? I have an ileostomy bag now, which, although (hopefully) temporary, I have to learn to live with and maintain for possibly the rest of this year.

I feel… robbed. I grieve HARD for my life pre-surgery; I grieve for my body and the way it felt and worked before I was cut open and fucked around with. It was so strong, so willing, and so able. And now, it’s so weak, so fragile, and in so much pain. I cry constantly, all the time, at everything. It’s uncomfortable and very painful to lie down and rest, and it’s beyond exhausting to move. I can’t catch a break. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how else to explain it so that anybody will understand how genuinely hard I am struggling to get through each day, but it’s not my responsibility to try and make people understand. It is what it is.

Throughout the pain and discomfort, I am reading The Hobbit and The Alchemist, and re-watching Breaking Bad. I bumble around the house intermittently and try to put things in their place – everything is a disaster, because I can’t keep up with housework or organizing anything.

I forgot to mention that while I was in the hospital, my Nursing Assistant, who changes my bedding, scooped up all of my dirty sheets and blankets while I was in the bathroom and sent them down the laundry chute, along with my fucking iPhone which was wrapped up inside them. The hospital’s laundry gets processed in Edmonton. I watched my phone sit at the Foothills hospital for close to a day using Find my iPhone, and then watched it drive away in the morning before losing service. They couldn’t retrieve it because of like, biohazard reasons. It’s gone for good now. Which, in the end, actually doesn’t matter, because I had to cancel my cell service regardless, seeing as how I couldn’t afford to pay anything anyway.

Tristan and I are struggling financially more than we’ve ever experienced. I am hoping to be back doing some kind of work in the next 4-6 weeks, if all goes well, but we are falling behind in ways that are going to take us a very long time to make up for. If it weren’t for the small handful of amazing people who are cooking heat-and-serve meals for us and filling our freezer, Tristan and I would be headed to the food bank. It’s pretty scary, actually.

So, I’m firing up the old Go Fund Me again. You have no idea how sick I am of asking for help. If this second surgery had never happened, I would have been back working by now, moving forward, but that’s not the case. The original money I raised on Go Fund Me was to pay for my naturopathic cancer treatments while I was undergoing chemotherapy, which I was able to achieve (thank god). Now, I’m just asking for a little more to help me get through this last, final stretch – to pay my utilities, to buy some shampoo, to pick up some almond milk and bread, feed the dogs. It’s almost over, everyone – I’ll be back up on my feet soon, able to provide for myself and be financially independent. But it’s just not possible right now, not with this drain coming out of my right ass cheek and the fact I can’t walk with my back straight. I just need to pull through this next little while, somehow. I feel like such a mooch, but I don’t know what else to do.

Anyway, here are some photos – because what’s a whiney, moochey blog post without photos?

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Tristan and I trying to get some sun and fresh air.
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Trying to keep is casual.
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Cool cloths, warm blankets… hospital protocol.
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Attempting to shave my legs while sitting on a chair. This took me about 45 minutes.
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Combing my hair after a shower in the hospital bathroom. Also took me about 45 minutes.
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We snuck little Archie in for a visit.

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The nurses loved him, but “the boss” wasn’t allowed to find out…
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Here’s a picture of me crying.
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Here is a picture of me in pain.
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Here is a picture of me refusing to get into my hospital bed, and instead, sitting on the floor.
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My depressing home for 27 days.
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I did a lot of coloring.
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Agony. When will it be over?
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Signing my discharge papers the afternoon I finally got to go home.
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Eating Indian food at home from Skip The Dishes, a gift from an amazing human being.

…well, that’s about all I’ve got. Today, with Tristan’s help, my major goals are to do the dishes, walk the dogs, pick up some milk, and give the dogs a bath. Considering how slowly I move, this will take me the entire day.

The link to my GoFundMe account can be found here. I’m serious – 50 cents would help. I don’t know how else to ask or say thank-you.

Have a good day everyone.

Brandy

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Harvie Heights/Canmore Spring

Good morning, everyone. 🙂

Today marks 2 weeks + 1 day post-op. Something big happened today: for the first time, I was able to roll out of bed at 7:55 and take the dogs for a walk at the park across the street! Up until today, no longer being able to sleep in bed meant slowly making my way to the couch to lay down, read a book, watch Netflix, and fall back asleep for a nap. So this is good news! To wake up and feel like I can function and accomplish things straight away instead of having to write off the first half of the morning feels really good. Go me! #onehundredemoji

Okay, so before I went in for surgery I actually went and did something really cool with my friends. I made a really big effort to make this happen before I knew I wouldn’t have the physical strength to do it anymore, and it was so totally worth it. I drafted a post about the experience, and wanted to post it now, because it was just so awesome. Enjoy!

~Brando


May 7th, 2016

It’s time to sit my butt down and write about this.

So, I’d say probably over the past year or so, I’ve seen photos and videos of people clutching huge glass carboys while filling them up with this miscellaneous water coming from a random pipe that seemed to be tapped into the side of an arbitrary hill. I never paid too much attention, because I was like, that seems like so much work, and who cares? It’s just water. But then, over time, I slowly started to connect what these people were doing to the type of people that were doing it. Only then, did it start to pique my interest…

A couple of weeks ago, a darling friend of mine made the trip to my place with a friend of his, and the three of us spent the afternoon doing something I’ve been wanting to do so super badly: Brewing. Dandelion. Mead. It was literally one of the cutest, most adorable things I have ever spent my time doing; we talked and laughed under the sun while plucking dandelion flowers from my front lawn, filling up baskets and bowls and admiring how soft and fluffy it felt to press down on what we had gathered with our bare hands. Don was teaching us – he brought all of the things, and dropped all of the knowledge – most of which he described as “arbitrary”, which was hard for me accept because I am SUCH a “follow the recipe” kind of person, both in cooking, and sometimes in life (something to ponder, for sure…)

The reason I bring this up is because the first thing Don showed us was how to boil honey in order to bring any impurities to the surface. He had brought a tub of honey, and two 1-gallon glass jugs full of spring water. He taught us that the kind of water you use to brew mead or beer (or anything, really) was of utmost importance – and that spring water was the only way to go. When he said this, it reminded me of the many times I had seen or come across images, media, and information about people “harvesting” spring water from those seemingly indiscriminate taps. He told me that he had made the trip down to Canmore with some friends to collect this water himself. This magical-sounding source of spring water in Canmore – I had heard of it before. Both the idea of this place in the mountains, and the act of collecting water there, seemed to be coming closer and closer to the forefront of my consciousness. I must go there… I whispered to myself silently, whilst staring off into space with a dreamy gaze. HAHA.

Alright, but seriously. I had to fucking go there. And it seems simple enough, right? Gather the vessels, make the trip. But as with anything I am pursuing for the first time, I had a million logistics my detail-oriented brain wanted answers to before I could make a move – where do I procure enough carboys to make the trip worthwhile? How do I find this fucking elusive place? Is is actually safe, or is Don plotting to kill me? What’s the deal?! …so, as any professional knowledge-seeker would do, I spent some time with Google to find the answers.

The process of clarifying my understanding of what this whole “harvesting spring water” thing actually meant took way longer than I expected, and was far more frustrating and confusing than it should have been. I came across this website called Find a Spring, which is where I found this video:

(Disclaimer: K. I don’t know who this Daniel Vitalis guy is, but he’s got two fucking solid blackwork sleeves and I am in complete and total love with him. I trust him whole-heartedly. Be mine.)

The video above vibed with me instantly – sold. So totally sold. So I used the website’s “Locate a Spring” thingamajig and searched for the spring closest to me in Harvie Heights. The directions seemed simple enough; I grew up in Canmore, and knew exactly how to get to where this website was telling me to go. I asked a girlfriend of mine if her and her son would be interested in joining me for the adventure on Mother’s Day, and she said *yes*. Tristan, to my surprise, said yes too – I say “to my surprise” because Amy and I had planned to be on the road by 7:30 am, and early mornings make Tristan sad. Don graciously lent us five huge carboys, and we were set to go.

On Sunday, the four of us were on the road by 8:30 instead, and once we got there, spent close to an hour searching the wrong part of the woods near Harvie Heights. It just seemed too difficult for how easy the directions sounded on Find a Spring. It’s ten in the morning and here I am with spiders in my hair frantically calling Don for help – he wasn’t answering, so after re-reading the information a couple of dozen times, I finally realized that we had taken the wrong exit. We backtracked a slight ways down the road, and the site itself couldn’t have been more obvious; there was a patch of grass that bore serious signs of wear-and-tear from vehicles making a spring water pitstop, and there was water trickling down the rubble pathway emerging from the trees. A few steps up and around the corner, and boom – it looked so familiar from everything I had seen online!

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We definitely weren’t the only ones there ~ several joggers and typical hyper-active Canmore/triathlete-looking mountain-hobbit folk (lol) came in and out consistently to fill up their water bottles. Amy, Tristan and I carried up the carboys from the van, and started filling up 🙂

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Yeah, that was a lot of media. Cool. We didn’t have lids or caps or corks or stoppers of any kind for these carboys, so we loaded them up in the back of the van and covered them with Ziplock bags and elastics because that’s how we do.

I’ve been using this water for everything. I fill up my water bottle with it, I cook with it, I use it in the kettle when I’m brewing or decocting tea. It’s the water I used when I made my first batch of bone broth last night. I gave some to the dogs – they’re obsessed. I fed some to my wheatgrass trays – I swear to you, they grew twice as tall over night. It’s amazing. And to be honest, I’m actually quite surprised how quickly I’m burning through these carboys – I’ve already used half of what we bottled, and it’s only been four days!

I wish I could bring an entire carboy up with me to the hospital to use during my hospital stay this week – maybe I’ll pour some into mason jars and bring some with me that way. Fresh. Super fresh.

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If anyone wants to carpool down together sometime this spring/summer/whenever – get at yo girl!!!

Ok byeeeeeeeeeeeee!

~Brando

 

Hospital Recap & Update from Home

Good morning, everyone. 🙂

I just went through my Facebook feed and deleted all of the posts/updates I shared while I was in the hospital. I was thinking of doing the same on my Instagram, but I haven’t decided. Looking back on the whole debacle makes me feel sick all over again. I had so many people reaching out to me in so many different ways, through so many different platforms, and since I barely had the energy or whereabouts to lift my phone up from the bedside table for more than a couple of seconds (if at all), I figured the best way to keep everybody in the know was to write these long, gross updates accompanied by bland, repetitive, sickly hospital-bed photos of myself or of my room. Yuck.

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This is the first photo my Mom took of me when I was wheeled in from the recovery room. It looks as though I am clutching a Styrofoam cup of ice chips even though I am obviously sleeping. This trend continued for the duration of my stay.
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The first selfie I took after I woke up from surgery.
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When the drainage tube was still inside my stomach. #sickemoji
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This was taken the day I thought I was going to be discharged, before I spiked a fever and learned I had E. Coli.
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…and here I am, still waiting to go home a couple of days later.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, because I’m totally PTSD about it, but I’ll give you the drive-by version: I have been to hell and back. If I had known that my experience in the hospital would have went the way it did, a person would have had a very hard time convincing me to show up for the surgery at all. I woke up with a catheter coming out of my vagina and a drainage tube coming out of the right side of my abdomen. For several days straight, I suffered from a type of all-consuming nausea I will never be able to describe – I was pretty close to having a tube put up my nostril and fed down my throat to evacuate the residual contents of my stomach. There were points that were so low, for me, that I was psychologically convinced that I might die.

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I debated sharing this photo, but in the end, decided, fuck it. This is what I looked like for about 4 or 5 days straight. Thanks, mom.
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This is also what I looked like for the majority of my stay – cold towels and hot blankets. They were, once again, trying to find a vein for an IV here.

So, as it turns out, the catheter helped me contract a strain of E. Coli about five days in, which brought me even further down the rabbit hole; at this point, the only thing I could think of that brought any sense of comfort was the reality of a God/ess, asking that He/She make it stop, in whatever way that meant.

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I had my very own pee-hat! When my brother, sister, and I drove to Vernon to surprise my Dad in the hospital after his surgery, we walked passed a patient who was wearing one of these on his head.
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Justin brings a little laughter to the table. I had to wear these every night to prevent blood from clotting in my legs.

I have officially experienced a new level of suffering that I didn’t know existed before, and I feel a tiny bit “broken open”. There wasn’t a single person in my ward that didn’t feel or experience the same things I went through these past two weeks. The few times I was able to get myself up and walking, I witnessed so much pain, and so much suffering around me, that I can officially consider myself traumatized.

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Saying goodnight to everyone and having the nurses “tuck me in” was always pretty hard.

On one of my harder days (as each day was either slightly or dramatically different than the last), Tristan tempted me to get out of bed and make the trek down 10 stories to see Jonas and Chloe, whom he was walking up the hospital hill with to say hello. I hadn’t seen them in a week. It was unknown, at this point, if I could walk more than 15 seconds without projectile vomiting stomach acid, but those pugs… I would assume their driving power is similar to that of someone’s children, although the only difference is, is that children can be brought up to visit you. These kids I had to work for. And as painfully crippled as I looked, and felt, I unplugged my IV pole and began to granny-shuffle myself, hunchback and all, down the artificially-lit linoleum hallway to the elevators. Once I made it down to the main floor, I wandered towards the main entrance, and sat down in the lobby to wait. I was in an excruciating amount of pain. It was then that some guy, a very sickly looking middle-aged guy, ambled toward me with his walker and oxygen-tank of sorts, and sat himself down while moaning and groaning.

“It hurts,” he said.

“I know,” I said.

“Did you just have a baby?” he said.

“I wish,” I said.

“Probably would have been less painful,” he said.

He explained how he had colon cancer. I explained how I had the same thing. He explained how this was his fifth colon surgery, and that, this time, they were taking a graft from his leg and using it to reconstruct his bowels. I shuddered at the thought of having to come back for additional surgeries.

A few moments of silence passed before he asked me if I wanted some of his frappuccino from Good Earth, holding the dreadful plastic cup out in my direction.

“Oh, no thank you,” I said. “It has too much sugar.”

He chortled.

“Well shit,” he said. “I put five extra sugars in this one!”

The day I got discharged, I saw this same man outside in the rain, smoking cigarettes.

Anyway, shortly after the sugar interaction, Jonas and Chloe appeared right outside of the sliding glass doors. I slowly clambered out and made my way towards a bench; one that was under a tree so that it wasn’t wet. I was in so much pain and discomfort that I couldn’t concentrate. I had pushed myself passed my limit and I was not feeling good about it. However, this was my first time outside in a week, and it was raining – my favorite. Jonas and Chloe were happy to see me for a hot minute, maybe, and then got distracted by all of the action happening around them. I had to cut it short and I told Tristan I needed to make it back up to the 10th floor before I passed out or something. With great effort, I found myself back in bed, huddled under my blankets, pressing the call button for my nurse to bring me a couple of percocets, stat.

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The patient across from me is Italian and owns a pizza restaurant on 17th avenue. He has a host of other health issues alongside recovering from a bowel resection, which was painful to both listen to and watch. His family is massive and exuberant, with throngs of them visiting at a time in a non-stop cycle, which sounds wonderful, but was very hard to deal with as a roommate. The food they ate together as a family, from the time the sun rose to the time the sun set, was unbelievable. It’s no wonder this poor guy has diabetes. It’s no wonder this poor guy was in for a bowel resection. When he was discharged, the number of take-out boxes the janitor had to throw away was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. How he was able to eat like this, I have no idea. The only thing I could stomach for over a week was a half a jar of baby food.

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Surprisingly good.

The gentleman across from me and myself ended up bonding slightly over time. Him and his family carried a healthy skepticism of the hospital business. He experienced the same debilitating nausea that I did, although I was a few days ahead of him, recovery-wise. He ended up getting discharged a couple of days before me in the end, and on that day, his wife came to pick him up. When she was saying goodbye to me, she told me she hoped I was out of there soon. She said, “I was just telling my husband – that first steak and beer sure is going to taste good after being in this place!”

Steak. And. Beer.

After surgery for colon cancer.

…WHAT IS GOING ON??? I don’t want this to sound like I’m simply judging these people for doing the things I saw and saying the things I heard, but doesn’t anybody understand that a doctor CANNOT cure cancer? That you cannot continue with the same life patterns and habits that led to the manifestation of this disease in the first place?

When I was in Canmore for a psychology sesh a few months back, I popped into a metaphysical store and found a greeting card with a quote by Rumi on the front. I framed it and it sits on my bedside table. It reads,

Healing does not mean going back to the way things were before.

I think a lot of people have this understanding of “healing” as being this challenge or battle they need to get through so as to return to their idea of normalcy as soon as possible – the way things were before the obstacle presented itself in their lives. As if the idea of “healing” is just a temporary setback or challenge that must be overcome and defeated in order to keep moving forward in the same direction. Now, I know not everybody thinks this way – but I saw it a lot in the hospital. No, you do not eat processed corned beef in between your insulin shots following major bowel surgery. No, you do not go home from a colon resection and enjoy a beer and a steak. No, you do not spend your fifth visit to the hospital drinking frappuccinos with 5 added sugar packets and smoking cigarettes. You just don’t.

Anyway, those were my observations… and I’d never been so inspired to get my ass home so as to start the real healing process.

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The first day I made it outside the hospital doors without my IV pole. This was the evening before I was discharged, I think. I was walking my Mom to the parkade. It was raining and the magic of sensory deprivation almost knocked me to my feet.

I was discharged early Sunday morning. Tristan drove up the hill and helped me pack up the remainder of my things. When we got home, he went straight back to bed – I was sick of bed! I didn’t want to go back to bed for as long as my body could handle it. While Tristan slept, I practiced walking around the house, re-acquainting myself with its layout. I slowly started unpacking my bags, one singular item at a time, placing it carefully and mindfully back where it belonged. I can’t remember everything I did that first day, but I do remember realizing how much I missed being able to lay out fully on a hard surface to stretch, or rock, or sway. Those hospital beds try way too hard to be comfortable. They’re always micro-adjusting, filling up with air and deflating. A solid, static, open space to starfish feels amazing. The ability to crack open a door or window for some fresh air feels amazing. Being left alone, not poked and prodded by nurses and blood lab techs every day on the regs, feels amazing. The peace and quiet is amazing (sans Jonas, his supersonic hearing, and the subsequent barking at what appears to be, quite literally, nothing.)

Today is day 4. Last night was the most comfortable sleep I’ve had so far. Today, I’m picking up itty bitty tasks and working on them slowly – organizing a filing cabinet, writing a couple of thank-you cards. Coloring? Maybe. A hot shower… definitely. Sitting in the backyard with Archie while he eats grass and I soak up some vitamin D like an upturned mushroom. A single cup of coffee in the AM; endless cups of tea for the rest of the day. Water water water. This is how I do.

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Wounded. About 12 days post-op.
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These steri-strips will stay on for about a month.

A mind-blowingly phenomenal friend and healer came over yesterday to sit on the couch with me. She made me an essential oil mist to lift my spirits. She also brought me a piece of artwork that her magical little son created during his yoga class that morning. He also  brought me a teddy bear, but accidentally took it home with him when they left (…OR WAS IT ACCIDENTAL?!). This friend of mine studies TCM, and gifted me two types of dried roots  which, when decocted together, create a recipe that… does something fun to my blood. Haha. TCM is absolutely unreal – those who study it have my full respect. This friend of mine has become such a precious resource of support, love, and encouragement to me, that I can’t figure out a way to express my gratitude for her existence in any tangible way. Which is okay, because I know she can feel it.

Another friend of mine, who I hold very very close to my heart, came by yesterday with a full pot of soup and a bag full of amazing things to put in said soup. She also brought me a necklace, and a card, and some really beautiful flowers. I was in a pretty bad way when she showed up, and was barely able to function, but I’m going to make up for my low energy and what felt like lack of gratitude the second I get a chance. Without that soup in the fridge, I’d be eating cauliflower and hummus all day. My girl. ❤

So, it feels better to be home… what the hospital environment had to offer was definitely tapped out. It takes an excruciating amount of effort to shower and get dressed, and I haven’t even attempted trying to do anything with my hair. Most of my physical effort is put into trying to develop spidey-senses for when I need to run to the bathroom.

I’ll update a little more in a few days if there is anything worth sharing. Thank you for your love. ❤

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Instagram: @grittygracious

Twitter: @grittygracious