Sunday, 30 December 2012

My first year as a survivor, and what is next

2012 was an interesting year year for a lot of reasons, both good and bad.

It was my first year as a cancer survivor, with many more to come hopefully, so I am hoping this gave me a good start on how to do that.

I learned a lot about myself, both good and bad things and am going to post about some of those things today.

I think I learned what it meant to be stressed. I used to think I did with work and school, but lead ups to scans and tests about what is going on in my body far trump anything else that goes on in life. I think with this I learned how to be a better person by enjoying some things more than I used to, stopping to smell the roses so to speak means a lot more to me now.

I learned that my career will most likely change. Not because I want to, but because working in a small field that I do in Canada, everyone knows what happened to me, so when I apply for jobs, although technically not allowed to use cancer as a reason, of course it will be in peoples minds, it is in mine after all. Fear of failure is still a great motivator for me for being successful in work (always has been).

I learned who my good friends are. I know I damaged a lot through things that have happened over the last two years, but I need to start making more of an effort to get back to who I used to be in a sense, and fix some of these broken bridges. You only get the chance to live once after all.

I need to focus on my health more. Both physically and mentally. I did a good job with the physical part so far (went from being in a hospital bed unable to really walk to biking to Seattle from Vancouver in about six months) but there is still work to be done. I also need to work on my mental health. "Getting over" cancer is not a simple task, and I think maybe I thought it would be. But is has effected parts of my life that need to get sorted out. This is a big goal of mine in 2013. This is something I was ashamed or scared of, but I think I am ready to deal with it now. (If you feel this way too, don't worry, I will post on how it goes as I get started!).

Last year was great, I met new and exciting personal goals. I volunteer at the cancer agency, I did the "Ride to Conquer Cancer". and am doing it again this year as a team captain ( and I am excited about more opportunities like these.

I know I still have many flaws.Some related to cancer, some not. But I feel like I can continue to improve and get my life back on the "right" track. It has been an eventful year, never thought I would blog, never thought I would cycle, and never thought I would have this much trouble finding a new job, but here we are. I will set more goals as the year goes on, and try my best to stick with them, and help people out anyway I can, and myself along the way.

This is my last post of the year, but I will be back in January. Thanks to everyone who reads and leaves comments. I appreciate it all and hope the blog helps in some way.

Happy New Year,


Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Going to Hawaii

Over the holidays, it can be that much more stressful for people who have had cancer, have it, or are caregivers, friends and supporters of all makings. So I decided with this post to kind of talk about something a little more uplifting, and to try and think about some positive things in my life since I have gone through my diagnosis.

The last month has been really hard for me mentally, but I am getting through it, so I thought looking at some "good" things might help out.

When I finished treatment (chemo, surgery and radiation) I needed a break badly, but I didn't get one. Most people are in this boat I think. I went back to work during radiation (was basically useless but what can you do) because I needed the money. My doctor told me if I could, I should take a vacation, but I didn't couldn't. I think most people would like to after chemo, just relax, get better and do some "normal" fun things again.

So I started saving money as I went back to work, getting better and trying to get a few bucks for my honeymoon with Sara that was coming up in August. We decided to go to Hawaii and do everything we wanted to when we were there. I don't think I ever looked forward to something so much. Me and Sara could finally be away from everything (and everyone) and go see a part of the world we never thought we would go to. So in August 2012, we flew to Kona, Hawaii.
View from our condo in Kona
It is very hot in Kona in August, but it is okay, there are plenty of beaches and cool things to see! It was exactly what I needed. The hardest part was being patient to getting there. All during treatment, and all while I was back at work I just wanted to go, but I was either not healthy enough or didn't have the money. And to be honest, I was scared too that I may never get there due to my health condition.
Me and Sara at an active volcano!
But we got there. I got there. I got to experience things I never thought I would, and I probably would have never made the effort to leave work for a bit, and go do something like this before. I always tell people not to be like me, I didn't appreciate things outside of work as much as I do now. I try to take every opportunity I can to travel and see more of the world, and do cool things while I can. With each check up or test, I don't know how my life is going to change, so I need to make each day count. This is also the reason I try to do so much fundraising for cancer research as well these days, to give as many of these days to people as I can.
View of the lava covered coast from a helicopter
One day I really hope to go back to Hawaii (already planning for it!). I loved the place, but I also loved what it meant to me. A step forward, and a step away from cancer. I did that as best as I could when I was sick too, doing things I enjoyed, like watching movies, or reading sports magazines, they don't always have to be as grand as traveling to some place far away. I learned to enjoy each day best I could when I was sick, even on the worst days (sleeping through the whole day = successful day when I was in lots of pain). So just do the best you can with each day, that is all I tried to do, and all I am still trying to do.
Photography Skills, I was in a moving car
Hope everyone out there has a good holiday season, and take care of yourselves. Just added a few extra pics below that I really enjoy. Take care!


Me on an old lava flow ~1970's

Some coastline on the way from Kona to Hilo

Greatest burger ever found in Kona

Sunday, 23 December 2012

"This is the Song I die to" and other things Cancer has made me think

First, I will explain the title soon enough, but I think part of it speaks for itself.

When you are diagnosed with cancer, you think about some things differently, some things not at all anymore, and some new things that maybe you didn't think would ever cross your mind. This post is about those types of things you never thought you would think, but happen, after diagnosis.

When I was diagnosed, it was really just a blur for me. I don't recall a whole lot, except having the oncologist tell me what was going on. And I cried a lot. I remember that. Two days later I would have the first surgery of my life to deal with something serious. When I went into surgery in a cold room (as they are), Katie Perry's "Firework" was playing on the radio. As I went under for surgery, I thought "This is the song I die to". Well, as it turns out, I didn't die, which was great for me, but it really set the tone for many odd thoughts over the course of a year. Here are some of my "favorites" or most memorable, if you prefer to call them that, with a little explanation of each one. I am sure everyone has their own list.

"More Stairs...." Living in a building with no elevators and getting chemo, bad idea. I grew to hate stairs as I was simply too tired to get up them most the time. Looking back now, it is easy to see how out of shape I was, I find stairs quite easy now thankfully.

"What's up with those scrubs?" This was more of a relic of being at a hospital so much. Some nurses wear the most ridiculous patterns on their scrubs. My personal least favorite was one of "Betty Boop". I guess this doesn't matter, but you need something to pass the time when you are in the chemo ward so much.

"Shouldn't you be more concerned with my operation?" Upon getting my third surgery for infection, my surgical oncologist was talking with nurses (flirting?) about jobs he had turned down. I was in the room, I would have preferred a discussion about my leg, surgery, or hey, even pretend I was there, but what can you do? Guess he wasn't too concerned because it was "minor" surgery, which leads too....

"MINOR SURGERY!" How can cutting my leg open when I am on chemo "minor"?

"Guess it is another trip to the hospital...routine." Unfortunately for me,  I got sick a lot when I was going through chemo. I had neutropenia (basically your body cannot fight infection) all the time (about eight times total), and regularly had to go to the hospital for antibiotics. This became the "norm". People can die from this, and I guess it never really got to me until after chemo. I was pretty lucky at the end of the day.  But it was routine.

"I can't wait until my butt doesn't hurt anymore" "Chemoroids" is quite possibly the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life. I don't even like talking about it. But this is a side effect of chemo for some people, and is extremely painful. Basically, your hemorrhoids  get swollen and sore, like real bad, I don't need to explain why this is a bad thing. Glad it is gone though, that was easily the worst side effect of chemo for me.

"This whole radiation thing isn't so bad" Radiation is very painful and burns your skin badly. I had mine after my chemo. Radiation was sweet relief for me compared to chemo. It was local pain! chemo made my whole body hurt mercilessly, but radiation only made my hip hurt. I always felt jealous of people who "just" needed radiation. But don't get me wrong, it is miserable in its own special way.

"I hope I don't end up a red head" My oncologist told me, that after chemo sometimes your hair can grow back a different colour or texture. Curly red hair was my nightmare.

These are just a few randoms that I had, some are kind of funny I think looking back. Share any ones you had!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Snow day!

Hey everyone,

My blog is taking a snow day today. There is a ton of snow in Vancouver and I am completely exhausted. I will be back on Sunday per usual though!

Take care!


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Remission, a Perfect Word

I find the word "remission" an interesting and probably perfect choice for someone who has gone through cancer treatment.

From what I have seen, the doctors at my hospital, don't use the word "cure" very often. Even though the cancer I had, Ewings sarcoma, was "curable", and I believe I have been cured, no one really knows for sure. It is just the nature of the beast. Some treatments work well, some not so well for all types of cancers, but sometimes treatment just doesn't work, and sometimes it works better than expected.

After going through chemo, radiation and surgery, even though the cancer is no longer visible, and no longer there, I don't know if I will ever be "cured" of the side effects. I think this is why remission is such a perfect, or appropriate word. I still think about getting sick, still have lingering side effects, and although my cancer is gone, it is still a part of my mentality.

I think this is the case for many cancer survivors and caregivers as well. It may be gone, as far as you can tell, but you never really know. I wish we could all be cured but for now I will take remission, it is certainly not a "bad" word, and to me, I think it perfectly describes the "almost back to normal, but never quite normal" way I feel. I am in remission, and although not perfect, it is perfect for me these days.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Being Proud of my Body

I am proud of my body. I am not particularly the strongest or fittest man in the world. But I put my body through hell and it came out with me on the right side of things. I never treated it the best, sometimes I ate or drank too much, or didn't give it the exercise it deserved, but I won't look at it the same way after cancer.

Little things that I never thought I would be proud of. My veins deserve an award. The amount of chemo that went through them and the scaring that has followed. They were so beat up at one point that I could not straighten my arms without pain. They are getting better now.

I am proud of my skin. Chemo sure does dry it out, while radiation made it blister and burn. Must be worth than traveling through the desert without water. The amount of skin cream I used to keep it in tolerable shape was probably worth a small fortune. All that is left now is some patches where the radiation goes went where there used to be some hair.

I am proud of my leg and hip. Particularly proud if I do say so. These were the areas that were attacked by Ewings Sarcoma. And although I lost bits of my body, some muscle, some fat, they too proved how strong and resilient they were. They didn't ask for this but who does? my leg will always be badly scarred but now it is a source of pride for me. I fought hard to stop the cancer in my body, and although it will be a constant reminder of many painful days it also serves as my motivation to keep going.

I am proud of my stomach. The amount of drugs it had to deal with, and as sick as it felt some days, it came through for me too. It tolerated what it could (which some days wasn't much) but it did what it could.

I am proud of my brain. It kept telling me to keep going, and kept things from falling apart. Kept convincing me that this was the right thing to do and not to quit. Even though I had battered everything it was connected too. Letting me know that everything would be better, whether I believed it or not.

Me in Hawaii about seven months after treatment
My body is truly amazing is what I have learned from all this. The ability of a body to heal and deal with trauma I don't think I ever really understood until this. I will always be grateful for what it did for me. I will still eat too much and drink too much sometimes, but I will treat it better now, and I will always be proud of it. I still have a long way to go to get where it deserves, but we are getting there, and most importantly, we will.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Living in the chemo ward

There are two ways to get chemotherapy that I know of from an IV like me, as an in patient or an outpatient.

I had both ways, but I found in patient to be much more difficult to deal with. As an out patient at least I could go feel like garbage at home.

I didn't have a lot of visitors when I was an In patient. I got used to being without a lot of people around me, and only Sara and the nursing staff to keep me company. Sara was great, she made sure I never spent a night in the chemo ward alone. For whatever reason, patients didn't seem to talk too much to one another. Not much to say I guess. It may have been the age gap. Everyone except one guy was older then me, by a wide margin. I don't view this as a bad thing. I will never forget the first day I was in the chemo ward, someone came in with a fever/infection and died a few hours later. This would set the tone for the fear for me with every chemo treatment and every infection I had. The. mans mother crying and screaming is something I won't ever forget

I found it really hard being in the chemo ward, but I won't complain about it.  Some people had to stay much longer than me. Some people were there for weeks, or even months at a time. I am sure some people I met never left. That is the saddest part. I had to stay five days at a time, longer if I got sick. the first day in was always really long, blood tests, meeting with the doctors. Making sure I was in good enough shape to get the chemo. Some days you weren't. It was really hard to go home and prepare yourself mentally again for the next week. But even though these days were long, the week itself was really more difficult. Thursday was the worst. Knowing I only had one more day to go. I always wanted to leave so bad. My doctor would let me leave for an hour or so when I finished chemo each day, it was the best part of my day. Sometimes I would get out at breakfast too if chemo was delayed, it felt like escaping from prison.

I always had to go in when I got sick too in their emergency room. This would usually end up with another three to four day stay. This happened basically happen a week after every chemo treatment, save a few times. I never felt like it was an "emergency" but when you have a fever and people are calling in doctors from their homes at midnight, as much as you don't want to believe it is serious, you know it is. I was usually too sick to care though. The chemo ward is depressing is easily the most depressing place I have ever been. The smell, the pain, it was hard. I have gone back though, stepping back onto that floor, after all I had been through, it was tough, but as I volunteer there now, i do it on my own terms, which makes it manageable. I am not scared of it any more.

I am glad for the people that work their though, they are easily some of the most dedicated and important people I have ever met. They were professional, honest, and  organized! I could not imagine how busy and difficult that job must be!

I spent the better part of half a year in the chemo ward. It is one of the biggest things that drives me to continue to volunteer and fundraise and help people who are there, and keep people from having to go there. I look forward to a day where the chemo ward is not a prison for anyone, and is completely unnecessary.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

My "Cancerversary"

Today was my one year checkup after a year of treatment of Ewings Sarcoma.

I am one year free of cancer, and a solid year in remission. This is probably the biggest thing I have accomplished in my life.

It has been a wild two years. From diagnosis to treatment to everything in between and after. All the side effects and all the emotion was crazy. I still find it really hard to think about but needless to say this was a milestone day for me.

For the first time in a long time I fell "better". It was great to see the look on my doctors faces, telling me my tests look excellent and that we can start spreading out check ups further apart (from 3 months to 4). Not a huge step and I am sure I will still worry about aches and pains and freak out from time to time (hopefully less frequently!) but a step forward none the less.

The other day I saw this comic strip on XKCD and I was amazed at how accurate it was describing what I went through, its called "Two years".
I am still alive, and still doing science (chemistry is my job after all!) But I really liked this, I actually cried a bit when I first saw it. it hit so close to home.

I am keeping it short today, my family is visiting, it is a big day for all of us. I have never been prouder to be a survivor then I am today.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

My First "Cancer" Speech

This previous week, while I am still waiting for test results, I was asked to give a speech by Dr. Dave Perrin (UBC Chemistry, Cancer imaging agents) to the department at the holiday party to raise awareness for the "Ride to Conquer Cancer" that I (along with many others do). So I decided this blog post would be that speech. I can't believe how hard it was to give while I am still waiting for test results.

It was received very well, except one person that told me I shouldn't talk about cancer at a holiday party because "It is too depressing to think about sick people at Christmas". To which I responded, some people don't have the choice. Anyways, here it is, I think it went well.

Hello and Good evening,

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Eamonn Conrad and I am a post-Doctoral fellow in Derek Gates lab here at UBC. I like to start by thanking Dr. Perrin for giving me the opportunity to speak at this great event tonight. I thought a lot about what I was going to say tonight, but realized that I mainly would like to thank the department for its support. 

As many of you know, in January 2011 I was diagnosed with cancer (Ewings Sarcoma) and took a one year leave of absence to get treatment at the BC Cancer Agency. This holiday party marks my one year anniversary of returning to work. The support I received while on leave from the department, were second to none. To me, it is moments of support like this that define people and the places they work in, more so than any course offered, degree granted or publication ever could. I am proud to work in a department where support is always there for its students and colleagues in their time of need.

While in treatment I made it a personal goal to give back to the research that saved my life, as well as many others, and found a way to do this through The Ride to Conquer Cancer.  This past June I rode my bike from Vancouver to Seattle fundraising for the BC Cancer Foundation. I raised almost $5000 personally, and the event raised $11.2 million for cancer research, making it the biggest and most successful fundraiser of its type in Canada. I would like to thank everyone in the department who donated last year. I am happy to report that your dollars helped with some of the most recent breakthroughs in breast cancer. Oncologists at the BCCA have discovered that breast cancer is not four types of cancer as previously thought, but at least 10. Though at the surface this may seem troubling, this is allowing for more specific treatment to many people and most importantly, saving people’s lives.  

The Ride to Conquer Cancer not only changed my life but no doubt saved it. Last Year, I rode for myself to thank those who helped me. This year I have started my own team getting more people involved and we are riding for everyone who cannot, so people will not lose friends and family to this disease. I am riding because it makes a difference. Many of you have already joined me in this fight – professors, students, and even the CGSS with your donations and I am asking for others to join as well because together we truly can make a difference in the lives of so many people.  Most importantly, this ride gives people hope, which is really what the holidays are all about. 

If you’re interested, please come talk to me about it and join the fight - I would be happy to get anyone involved, and don’t worry about contact info for it, I will be sending out emails throughout the year! I hope tonight that I have convinced more of you to take up this fight with me. Thank you again for those who already have committed to this year, it is greatly appreciated, and to all the previous donors who help make this event a success. My last request of tonight is that over this holiday season reflect on what is important to you. If you feel this isn’t the cause for you, I encourage you to find a cause this year that you are passionate about and will make a difference in people’s lives. I guarantee you will find it rewarding, and it will make a positive impact in peoples lives. I will end with this, advice from one of Canadas and the CBCs comedian “Red Green”, “keep your stick on the ice, we’re all in this together”.

Thank you.

Eamonn Conrad (

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Losing your hair and yourself a bit too

Hey world, this is going to be a short one this week, I have my checkup this week, so not much time to write.

Most chemo treatments make your hair fall out. This I was prepared for.

Or so I thought.

The first round of chemo treatments no hair fell out. I thought this was a big success and that it would just gradually fall out over time. The first few weeks went by and it was still quite strongly bound to my head.

My second chemo treatment was quite a different experience. It was a different set of drugs and I found it hard to believe but my hair started falling out in clumps off the top of my head within half an hour. My pillow was covered. It is not something I like to think about. Some hair held on, but the drive home from the hospital it fell out a bit more in the car. When I changed my clothes my chest hair fell out. Although a smooth chest is some guys dream, this was not something I was looking forward to.

Hair falling out everywhere. I tried to "hang on" to as much as I could but it was a losing battle, so I armed myself with my trimmers and cut it all off the top of my head. As a guy this wasn't a huge deal, I don't style my hair per se, I felt I looked a bit weird bald but it wasn't terrible. I can only imagine how a women feels, or a guy who cares about his hair for that matter.

What I wasn't prepared for, and something I never really thought about was when my eyebrows and eye lashes fell out. When this happened it was obvious to the world I was sick. I always liked hiding from people that I was undergoing chemo but I couldn't anymore. It was one of the things that made me feel super self conscious. I couldn't even look at myself in the mirror most days. I didn't see myself anymore. Just some sick hairless pasty thing. I have been told that loss of identity is a common problem chemo patients have. So if you have this problem, you are not alone. I just stopped looking in the mirror and pretended everything was fine most days, and that I looked fine, even though I didn't.

As chemo went on, my treatments got spread out more. My eye lashes would grow in a bit, fall out again, the cycle was really hard to deal with mentally. Eventually though, as I finished chemo, my hair grew back...and then fell out again. Apparently this happens to a lot of chemo patients too, something I wasn't aware of. It is one final slap in the face.

But my hair did grow back. It was very mentally tough to wait it out coming back. It didn't grow back as full, and my facial hair is patchy, but it was a real sign that I was recovering.

I won't soon forget what it felt like to lose all my hair, and the mental trauma it causes. But at the end of the day, I needed the treatment, so I can't complain too much. That is basically how I deal with those thoughts in my memory these days.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

My Biggest Fears

I always get really stressed out when I have check ups. I have a check up this week, hence this topic.

I know they are there for my benefit, and at the end of the day, I need them, but the thought of walking back into that hospital and getting round after round of chemo put in my body is really the thing I fear most. I have one this coming week. The "regular" set of tests, and then the appointment with my oncologist the following week.

I don't mind being in the hospital. I volunteer there once a week. I am there on my own terms. When you are sick, you have no choice. You have to go, and the pain, although it is helping you, is quite an ordeal to go through. I know I made it through my treatment, and I believe it has worked, I in that. However, as any cancer survivor will tell you, the fear isn't there everyday, but it always seems to be there.

I worry about the needles, the constant pain, and the hardship on my family. I know I am tough, but I prefer not to have to go through any of that again. 

I recently got married. I don't want to leave Sara on her own. I promised her I would take care of her. And to start a family and not be able to see it through almost makes me feel like I would be abandoning them. Even when I would never do something like that.

 Not being able to contribute and help people out is a big fear. It took me getting sick to start getting involved in helping cancer patients. Last year I raised $4820 for cancer research and am going again this year. But I feel I have many years to make up for, so I need to double my efforts. I work hard to make sure that people weren't as ignorant as I perceive myself to have been. You can still have a successful career and make a difference in your community. I try to show this to people as often as I can.

I was reminded recently why we must keep fighting. A young women, aged 23 who worked in the lab beside me passed away from malignant skin cancer. She had done quite a bit in her 23 years, more than most, but she still had a lot that she could accomplish. I knew she had not been doing well, but I didn't know it had gotten that bad, it had been awhile since we had talked.

This is The Fear we all have all cancer patients have. To fight hard, but it not be enough. But I will continue to push on, I have no other choice really.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Getting back into "normal" shape

After your body has been pounded with surgery, chemo, and/or radiation there are two big things standing in your way to getting "better". First, the physical aspect, and secondly the mental aspect.

First of all I will deal with the physical side today, for me, this seemed to be like a more straight forward thing to deal with.

By the time I was finished a year of cancer treatments, I was left with no hair, no muscle, and barely the ability to go up and down stairs. I was easily in the worst shape of my life. Further to that, my leg where I had surgery (which had not really healed properly) had issues, and I had a pretty bad hip burn from radiation. A lot of things to overcome.

The first thing I did was let my body rest. Not having treatments anymore allowed me to start recovering. I still did not eat a ton, or eat "regular" foods, but I gave myself about a month to heal. Not having chemo or radiation any more allowed my leg to heal up a bit more, and my radiation burn to heal up as well.

After this month I found my apatite was returning, and I physically could eat some food again. I made sure to eat as often as I could and importantly, very healthy. i used to eat healthy before I was sick, but this became imperative now. Since my body could tolerate food, I made sure to give it what it needed.

I found I could start exercising again as well. After a few more weeks. I bought a gym pass and started to go there a couple times a week. Nothing strenuous at first, I honestly could not do weights, so I would use the exercise bike a few times a week, at very low resistance, for about twenty minutes.

As the weeks rolled by, I was able to increase my biking and start doing weights. I had lost basically all my muscle mass when going through chemo, so the weights I started with were very low. Lifting a five pound weight with one arm was my starting point. That was how out of shape I was. I started with machine weights as well as these were much easier. The big thing was to not overdo it. One time I tried to increase the weight at a pace of what a "normal" person would and hurt myself. It took what seemed like forever to heal. After getting chemo your body does not recover as quickly as it did before, I learned this the hard way. Don't rush. As frustrating as it is to go slow, I found I basically had to. Anyone who doubts my determination though should see my scars, I will not quit.

As the months moved by I was able to incorporate free weights, and gradually increase the weight, as well as get off the stationary bike and on to a real road bike. This was a huge step for me. I started biking all the time, and after a few months went from doing 5 km rides to doing 120 km rides (albeit very slow, everyone tells me I do it on grit and determination rather then being in the shape to do it), but I achieved my goal of biking from Vancouver to Seattle this year. And with weights although still not doing anything impressive, I have built my body back up to a good starting point for weight training again.

This whole process took almost eight months, and is still going on eleven months later. It is slow, but it is getting better. I have continued to bike, and although slow, I am working on speed, and working on strength training now too. If anyone out there has tips and advice, I will gladly listen!

I look forward to being in "good" shape again, not to be proud of my body, I am proud of my body for withstanding cancer, but to gain a bit of my strength that was taken away from me. It is a long road, but I am determined to get back into great shape!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Giving Back

One way I have found to really help the "healing process" is to give back to the doctors, nurses and support staff who took care of me when I was so ill.

I have found a few ways to do this, some I did while I was still getting treated and some afterwards that continue to today.

The first way I tried to "give back" or help was to try and be as pleasant as possible to the staff. Anyone who works at a hospital has a hard job, and for the most part, they do try their best. As such I figured I would make their lives as easy as possible. It is easy to complain when you are that sick, but I found it would probably not help anything.

The other ways I started giving back was through raising money and volunteering for the BCCA (BC Cancer Agency). The fundraising I could do while I was sick, the volunteering not so much.

My plan for fundraising started by signing up for the "Ride to Conquer Cancer" (I know I post about this all the time, but it is important to me, Just by sending out emails, which I could easily do from the hospital where I was getting treated, to people I knew, I could start raising money to support cancer research. Within just a few short months, I was able to raise almost $5000 which was pretty exciting for me. And I could tell when I would talk to the staff, that they appreciated what I was trying to do for them. Putting money in their hands to help them do their jobs.

I have continued doing this event this year. Last year I rode as part of an already established team named "Riders for Ryders". It was a great success and the team raised about $480,000. however, this year , I have started my own team named "Team Phoenix". We are a much smaller team (only about ten so far) but we have already surpassed our first $1000 in fundraising. Pretty exciting stuff. I had the opportunity recently to say a few words at a ride orientation and it was great, people seemed really interested in helping out. Many were already signed up. I had trouble holding back tears when I talk about things like this, I know the money raised really helps people, and the event itself is a lot of fun, and easily one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I am looking forward to finding more ways to raise money for the BCCA and top my efforts from last year.

I also volunteer now to give back at the BCCA. I help out in radiation therapy and the funny part is, I actually work for my radiation oncologist, by complete accident. It is quite nice to work their, everyone has been really nice, and I feel like I am making a difference with patients, although I cannot say too much due to confidentiality agreement!

Most recently, I have started helping out with F--K Cancer (, an organization based out of Vancouver that promotes early detection of cancers. This has been a large amount of work, analyzing data from medical journals and reports to tabulate how successful treatment is in stage one of many types of "common" cancers in Canada and the USA. the people their have been great and I really encourage anyone reading this to check their site out, their is lots of great things on it! Soon I am hoping to help out with the "board" that is run from their as well, not sure what is fully entailed in this but it should be interesting!

These are just a few of the things I do now, it really has been a lot of work, but it has been really rewarding, more so then my actual job! I feel like the people who are trying to help out in these fields deserve all the support in the world. I am doing my part now, and hopefully it will give me some good karma at least!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


I count myself lucky and extremely blessed to have someone like Sara in my life. Sara was my fiance at the time, and is now, happily my wife.

When I first was diagnosed, it was hard on everyone. Me, my friends and my family, but one thing it taught me was who my friends were and who really cared about me. I always read about how some really good friends leave, and some you barely talked to might all of a sudden become a big part of your life again. I have to say I found this to be true. A lot of my good friends left, but the ones who stayed I have to say I am much closer to, and they are all great people.

I know what it is like to get sick, I do not know what it is like to see the person you care most about get that ill. I am sure it was a terrible thing to watch, but  Sara showed her courage and how amazing a person she was through the whole ordeal. I know it was very tough on her, but she never wilted under pressure.

The whole thing was tough for both of us. I used to take care of most of the household chores so Sara could focus on work. Everything changed when I got sick, plus we had so many more things that needed to be done. Sara took care of every appointment (made sure I knew when I was going, I was there on time, etc.). Any prescription I needed, she would go and get, when I wasn't feeling well she would contact all the emergency lines for me, and on top of that took care of things like groceries, cleaning, and anything else you could think of around the house.

Sara was, and is my rock. Writing a short blog post does nothing to give her the credit she deserves. But it is a start. Too much of this fell on her because we live really far away from our families (not that they didn't want to help, most times they were just too far away, but they came whenever they could!). She was a champ the whole time, and needless to say, I am not sure how well I would of done without her. It makes me so amazed and impressed by people who do it all on their own, unfortunately this happens too often.

She has stuck with me the whole time, and I owe her everything. Lately we have been traveling more, and going after bigger goals in life. Last year we did the Ride to Conquer Cancer in Vancouver and raised almost $9000 for cancer research, and we are doing it again this year! ( We got married, something I thought would never happen, and most importantly we are healing. It is a slow process, every day I realize how lucky I am to have her.

I wish everyone, sick or healthy had someone like Sara. When so many people left, she proved what an amazing person she is, not just to me, but to the world.
    Me and Sara at the Ride to Conquer Cancer start line (raining!)

Monday, 12 November 2012

Career Planning

Whatever job or career you have in mine can take a big hit when you get sick.

For me, before I ever had cancer, I was very driven in my work. I graduated with a B.Sc. in chemistry and had my Ph.D. in chemistry by the time I was 25. I was very motivated, and although not naturally the smartest man in the work, I was very hard working, I always felt that was my greatest asset. I tried to get my work done and help others in the field, it didn't always work, but I felt I gave it my best effort.

I mover from Halifax to Vancouver in 2010 to start working as a post-doctoral fellow at UBC. Not six months in I was diagnosed and all of a sudden I couldn't really work in my field anymore, doing lab work was basically impossible, I just was not in the shape to do it, as much as I may have wanted to at the start.

As the months were on with treatment, I found the thing I missed most about work was being around people. My views changed quite drastically on what "work" meant to me. Getting back to work was always a big motivator to me, but I began to question what that work would be. It requires you to be at your best to do what I did, and I wasn't.

Time went by, and I stopped thinking about completely, but when I finally did get back to work, at first it was great. But I began to ask myself if this is what I wanted to do. I still had my work ethic but many problems occurred.  First of all, I had spent so much time away, I had to relearn and regain confidence in my skills. I had a good friend in the lab (another post-doc) who helped me with much of this. It was nice to have someone not judge me when I got back to work, as most people seemed more interested to see how bad I was rather than help me get back to my old level. I will always be thankful for that.

One big obstacle I still have to overcome with finding work is how to get work without cancer being a "problem". Being sick like that does effect your job prospects (I have found), some people simply will not hire you with a condition like this, even when you are cured. It is very discouraging some days. The chemistry field in Canada is quite small, so people know what happened to me, I can't hide it, and it does effect my prospects for long term employment. But I am confident I will find opportunities out there.

Now a days, I feel I am motivated to work as hard but in more and different ways before. I will admit I didn't use to see the value in volunteer work, I wanted to get paid. Now I volunteer at the BCCA and it is fantastic. I work towards fundraising to cancer research. So far I have raised over $5000 at the Ride to conquer cancer And even more I intern finding and compiling data for to help them with their education about early detection of cancers.

All of these have added to what I want to do. Maybe one day I will get paid for those kind of things, but I find now maybe my career path is more complete. I can still work towards my goals in chemistry and I am doing things I never thought I would be involved in, and it is extremely rewarding. And most importantly, they make a difference to people living with illness.

 So although your career path will no doubt change. Try to stay positive. If nothing else you may try some new things and find out you like them, and that they do make a big difference in peoples lives.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

You are Better! Oh wait? What now? Am I?

The day treatment is completed, is a weird day.

You leave the hospital and if you were anything like me, you spent a lot of time there. Between chemo, radiation, doctors appointments, side effects, (I got sick all the time being having no white blood cells), in for pain, meeting with surgeons, going to surgery, recovery in hospitals and so many many more things.

Then all of sudden, you are leaving! Great! trust me when I say no one wanted to be done more with everything than me. But everyone around you wants it to be done too, and this is where I had some major problems. Everyone around me was so ready to be done, and I had a lot of side effects. More so than just health, I had the weakness, all that stuff, dealing with chemo fog (not being able to think clearly), survivor guilt (that is a weird one) and just dealing with a lot of fear and emotions you didn't have to deal with before. getting back to normal is a tough thing to do, something I still struggle with almost ten months after finishing treatment.

I went back to work as soon as I could because I needed the money. Perhaps too soon. My boss didn't understand, I couldn't really work nearly as well as I used too. I used to be a workhorse, and I simply couldn't when I got back, I didn't want to, I wanted to do other things, like have fun again. But I didn't really have that option. Work has been a constant source of frustration for me, but I won't get into it so much of the details. This as well carries on.

It strained relationships. I had someone ask me why I just didn't "get over it". trust me I would if I could. Check ups still stress me out, and I usually get really worked up around them.

Survivors guilt is weird. I am so happy to be alive, and be living my life much better than I did before. You just question sometimes why you were okay and why someone else wasn't.

Physically, I can't do a lot of things I used to. Soccer, baseball, football, can't do it. But I found cycling. This has been my escape. It is low impact, and I get to be by myself. It is one of the rare times I get to do that, I feeling I needed after a year of everyone else taking care of me. It gave me some of my freedom back. This is me and Sara biking in the rain at the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer 2012. I am happy to say we are doing this again, biking from Vancouver to Seattle to raise money for cancer research.

Sometimes I get really short with people when they complain about how bad their day is, it could be worse and I know that, but I can't fault others for not knowing how bad it can be. It is a good thing that some people do not have to deal with things like this. Everyone has problems, and I think I need to respect that a bit more. Just because I had big problems doesn't mean others are not important.

Problems and side effects linger. And to be honest most people don't get it in my experience, but not because they don't want to. I try to deal with it the best I can, and get help, but I can't always find it.

I just try to make the best of everyday, as best I can. Smiling helps.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Radiation Therapy

The radiation treatment I received was over about six weeks. It was a long and involved process, seems almost more complicated than chemo but it was more straightforward for me.

The process started with getting my leg (where the radiation site was) tattooed so they could align my leg for radiation each day. This process was pretty straightforward. Each day (five times a week) I would go to the hospital and lie on a bed for a few minutes and get my treatment. I had to lay in a "body mould" so I would not move and be in the same exact spot each time.

Radiation itself has its own set of side effects, but all in all I found it much more tolerable than chemotherapy. Some people get quite tired or have other problems, but as I had finished chemo and the area being radiated was on my leg and not near any internal organs it was not so bad. I didn't feel tired I believe because my body was feeling so much better and recovering from not having chemo any more.

The radiation treatment was very quick. It was done in three different angles for about forty seconds each time, getting aligned properly is the longest part. The radiation therapists got good quite quickly at aligning me properly.

The radiation burn started after about two weeks. It became quite painful, like a really bad sunburn, and given that it was just about on my hip, walking was pretty painful, so I tried not to as often as I could. However, I had to go back to work, so this was not always an option. They had creams for it, but I think it did more to prevent infection than pain.

I met with the doctor each week as well, just to make sure it wasn't getting infected, and it went by rather quickly. The most awkward part was given that it was on my leg, I had to "disrobe" for each treatment, I am a shy person, and this was one of my biggest hurdles, but the therapists were very respectful which really helped (I also had no other real option but to get used to it!). The other hard part was I saw a lot of kids getting treated through radiation therapy where I was at. I think this is one of the things that really drives me to do the fundraising I am doing for cancer research, I felt unfair and young at 26 to go through it, seeing parents watch their infant or child go through cancer is a whole new level of unfair.

After treatment it took about three-four weeks for the skin to heal. It was burnt quite badly, but it is healed now. There is a patch on my leg where hair will never grow and I have the tattoos to remind me of it, and my leg is still a bit stiff, but these are all "normal" side effects with it.

At the end of the day, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. Maybe I had just gotten used to feeling like garbage. But you learn what kind of person you are going through something like this.

You realize how strong you can be.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The First Chemotherapy

This is perhaps one of the scariest things to happen for me during cancer treatment. I was to receive "aggressive" chemo.

Not knowing how it will effect your body is extremely stressful. I had five chemo drugs that I was taking (etoposide, vincristin, phosphamide, cylcophosphamide and one other I can't remember the name of). I was given several sheet of side effects with each drug and told I would get some, maybe all but they can't really tell you before hand which is which. I have a Ph.D. in chemistry and needless to say I was not excited about getting these in my body, but I knew if they worked it would be well worth it. That thought got me through most, if not all of the pain of chemo.

The first chemo was quite scary. I would be getting drugs over nine hours for five straight days. Getting the IV needle was not so bad as needles do not really bother me. Some people get a "port" in their chest so they don't need IVs but I was not willing to go into another surgery to get one.

I had some family with me during the first treatment, my doctors were around and my nurses were great. Did not cure the stress though. There was blood tests to monitor me, people taking my temperature. All those things and more. I felt reasonably well after the first day and called my parents to let them know everything went well.

As the days wore on, I began to feel worse. i didn't get nausea very often as the anti-nausea drugs are excellent. As it turns out that was t he least of my concerns. I began to think that if I only got nausea chemo wouldn't be so bad.

I lost the desire to eat, I had to force myself to. Over time my hair fell out, losing my eyebrows and eyelashes made me the most self conscious I have ever been. I had a lot of pain. The chemo drugs I was on caused my blood vessels to scar, something I am not completely healed from, this causes your arms to be very stiff and rigid, some days painful to move.

I got sores in my mouth, some days so painful i could not talk to my wife. Texting became a solution to this problem. I had a lot of pain associated with my GI system. I won't get into the details of that.

The first chemo was the hardest because I did not know what to expect. Afterwards, I won't say it got easier but I knew what to expect. Four days after my mouth would get sores, seven days after my GI track would act up, eight days after I would get neutropenic and a fever and have to go to the hospital for treatment. I knew how long they would last. The blessing in this was that I could prepare myself better as I knew what would happen and at least tell myself when it would end, "you only have to tough it out a few more days".

I had 42 chemo treatments in all over about eight months. Some were worse than others. It was hard on everyone around me I am sure too.

But I told myself they were working, and they did. The research behind it all paid off. I am doing well these days. As awful as it was, it is better than not having done it.

I wouldn't be writing this blog otherwise. So stay strong if you are getting chemo and most importantly (to me) learn how your body responds, let your body dictate what you can do.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Setting Goals

When I was sick, setting goals became a big part of my day to day life.

I started setting goals when I was watching a baseball game of all things and a commentator who had gone through prostate cancer talked about his goal setting during his treatments and it really resonated with me. He talked about setting goals, missing most, but it gave him purpose in his day to day life.

I took this with the best intentions. I decided I needed to set realistic goals, nothing major. Nothing career oriented, because I could not really go to work. But things that were achievable. I am not ashamed to say, I didn't achieve even half of my goals, but regardless I took it in stride.

Some of my goals were very simple. Get out of bed was a good place to start. This was a daily goal. Make it to the kitchen, to the couch, walk around a bit. My oncologist always told me exercise was good and helped with treatment. Even if this was just a placebo effect, I liked to thing that it was actually helping. So when I could I set the goal of walking around the neighborhood. getting around the block once a week was a big achievement for me. It felt good to get outside.

I had some larger, long term goals. Get back to work being one, but that didn't really help. I tired getting to work once a week, but I failed at that pretty regularly.Most of my goals were simple. Play video games for an hour, eat lunch and dinner, read a book, talk to someone, call my parents and wash my dishes/laundry. These all seem like small tasks but when undergoing chemo I simply was too weak or tired or sick many days to achieve any of these things. Losing the ability to take care of yourself is one of the biggest hardships I went through. I didn't want to be a burden to my fiance (she is too nice to ever say I was).

One large goal I had while I was sick was to start raising money for cancer research, in particular the BC Cancer Agency, where I was being treated. A few of my nurses were doing a bike ride called the "Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer" and I decided to start raising money for this event for the coming year. I knew it would be difficult, given that the ride itself was from Vancouver to Seattle.

I set weekly fundraising goals (missed most) but I could do it from home through email. I bought a bike, used it about once a month if I was lucky. This was my routine for about five months. I really wanted to make it to Seattle.

After chemo ended, I started radiation on my hip. It basically made biking impossible but I tried to stay positive with it. As the days passed, and the new year came, I bought a gym membership (that was scary enough in its own right, going to gym looking barely alive).

Training was tough, but maybe through sheer determination, I was able to work towards the ride. It came this past June, and I am happy to say I made it to the finish line (see picture above) after just five months of training after a year of chemo and radiation. This was the biggest goal I achieved. It really outweighed all the ones I missed. I will surely write more on this in future posts as there is so much to discuss! Making it to the finish was a big moment of healing for me, and I am happy to say I am doing it next year too!

Setting goals, small and large, but ones that I felt were achievable, helped me get through a terrible year. I didn't focus on the ones I missed, but I clung to the ones I was able to complete and accomplish. Hopefully goal setting can help you too.

 As common as your goal may start out, they can mean the world to a cancer patient.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012


Pain means a lot of different things to different people. Cancer changed my view drastically.I never truly knew what pain to me was until I went through cancer, and what it  means to me now.

There was plenty of physical pain. The surgery and the recovery. Radiation and the burns on my skin. Chemotherapy and the hoards of side effects. The day to day physical pain was constant for almost twelve months. I am still amazed I was able to deal with it. The desire to survive got me through it I think. I would be on so many pain killers I would pass out some days from them. I hated the way I looked, I got to the point I couldn't even look in the mirror. I lost a sense of self, I didn't know who I was anymore.

These pains were present for a long time, some still linger.

There is plenty of emotional pain as well. It is draining to go through all the these things and trying to tell yourself it will get better. It is the only thing to get you through some days. It hurts to have your family watch you go through so much, and to be honest I did my best to hide it from everyone around me. A lot of friends stopped talking to me and basically abandoned me. That was a special type of pain, I still have not forgiven most of them for that. On the other side of things, the ones who didn't leave mean so much more to me, especially my family and my wife.

The feeling of isolation is painful. I never felt more alone in my life. I was fortunate that no one I knew very well ever had to go through cancer. However, I had no one to really "share" what I was going through. This is one I still deal with. Not for lack of my friends trying, it is just hard to quantify many of these things when there is no way to describe everything.

I still struggle with fear, something I place in emotional pain. Every ache, bruise, or illness makes me think I may be going back. I am positive with my outlook, the treatment seemed to work, but I don't know if I can ever fully go back. I don't think this is uncommon with cancer survivors. It just becomes something you have to deal with.

All of this pain has changed me. It is a tricky thing, and it is hard to fully explain in such a short space, this is probably something I will revisit often. I think I am a stronger person for it. I don't complain about day to day things anymore, it takes a lot to really set me off with work, I think this is a good thing.

For better or worse, the pain changes you.

Sunday, 21 October 2012


I had never had a major injury before this. No broken bones, no appendicitis, no tonsils removed. Nothing of the like. The idea that I had to get a cancerous tumor cut out of me is not the ideal way to have your first experience.

I was worried about a lot of things. Being put to sleep was maybe my biggest. What if I didn't respond well to the drugs? What if I didn't wake up? What if there is more in there than expected when they get started? What if something goes wrong? What will happen to the people waiting for me when I get done in the operating room? These were just a few things to concern me.

I went through all the pre-surgery checks, my heart raced, they had to give me medication to calm down. And then I left my fiance and walked into a cold room with, of all things Katy Perry's "Firework" playing. I wondered if this would be the last song I heard. I laid down on the table and don't remember anything about the process after that.

I woke up in the recovery room, dazed, and was wheeled to the room I would be staying in for the night. My leg was swollen to twice its normal size, and I couldn't move it. The tumor had been removed, along with a good sized piece of fat and muscle in my leg, and I had a scar about eight inches long with 37 staples holding it together. But I was awake which is all I really cared about. It would be a very long road to being able to walk again. It takes a long time to heal from surgery, but even longer when you are on chemo. It took about a month before my leg had healed enough to get the staples out. One thing about the operation was it removed all the feeling in my right thigh. This was helpful when the staples came out.

I couldn't walk for a few days at all. Couldn't dress myself either. Eventually I could walk with crutches but I was basically dragging my leg. Stairs were miserable. They just became harder as the chemo treatments progressed. In the coming months, I would have two leg infections with two more surgeries to clean it out. I had drainage tubes in my leg for one of these. It was very unpleasant but I got through it. I took some positives from it. I met a lot of great health care workers going to the "wound clinic" daily to get my scar cleaned and re-bandaged every day.

It took what it seems like forever for my leg to heal. It was a constant reminder of what I was going through, and I hated it, but eventually the bandages were no longer needed, and my leg was healed over. I still have a big indentation in my leg where everything was removed, and I still have more recovery to do. But it is getting there.

At the end of the day, i was very lucky. Being able to have an operation on your leg rather than the core of your body is a blessing. I was very fortunate. It was scary, but I got through it by having faith in the doctors and nurses in charge of everything. They made life easier (by no means was it easy). Once my leg healed (about 6 months) I was able to focus on chemo and radiation. Anytime you can check one thing off the list is a big step. This is a very short account and I will post on more details of problems I encountered with surgery in the coming posts.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

How I found Out I had Cancer

Oct. 17, 2012: In early November 2010 I found a lump in my right leg by chance basically. I was only 26. I felt fine, healthy and wasn't really worried. I had just moved to Vancouver from Halifax a few months earlier to start a new job. I was young, excited, and an active guy. I went to see a doctor and although concerned about it, wasn't worried initially.

I went through a series of tests, including an MRI, biopsy, and ultrasound.

Then I sat in a little yellow room at the BCCA (British Columbia Cancer agency). I was scared, nervous, but I couldn't have cancer, I thought I was simply too young and, as mentioned before, I felt fine.

But then, the words came out. "You have cancer". A lot of things happened quickly, and to be honest, I don't really remember most of it. I met immediately with a surgery team, they told me it was a cancer called Ewings Sarcoma. They told me it was curable, and they told me it was the smallest tumor of that type they had ever seen. It didn't mean much at the time. I met more doctors quicker than I ever had before. I still didn't believe it to be honest.

I have never been more scared. It felt like a death sentence. I knew I would have to fight harder than I ever would for anything. I was going to have to leave my job, something I spent my whole life working towards, go through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation at the young age of 26.

As you can tell, this was almost two years ago now. I am at a stage where I am feeling comfortable with discussing my experiences, hopefully this will help people. I want to share so people know what happened, and anyone else out there going through the same thing that they are not alone. I still live with the fear of it coming back as well. d thing. Survivor guilt is a weirAnd finally to share the information and help I received from multiple organizations.

These include the Canadian Cancer Society, BCCA, F--k Cancer ( and the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer (

This is just the start today, but keep checking up with me, I am going to post on Wednesdays and Sundays every week. Starting from the beginning all the way to now.

Have a good day and if you want more info right away check out my second site on the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer (

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

October 16, 2012: Hey Everyone! I am just getting this site started! Stay tuned for a site dedicated to my battle against cancer, in particular, Ewing's sarcoma, a cancer I beat  in 2011. I will also be posting about cancer awareness, prevention and different organizations that help with the fight against this disease!