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 (