Friday, July 31, 2009

Cancer Care

Yesterday was a big day for Angela and me. We had a meeting at Cancer Care with Dr. Maksymiak (chemo). The purpose was a check up after my second round of chemo and to discuss the results of me CT scan from the previous week.
I was pretty anxious in the few days leading up to that meeting. Seeing that I felt so good over the last week I was concerned that I maybe didn't get enough chemo (a theme that seems not to go away in my mind), that led to a fear that the team of physicians might not know what they're doing, etc. I was also a bit worried that they might have found something new on the scan and that the cancer spread over the last couple of months.
The meeting turned out to be great. First of all, there were no new discoveries; in fact the cancer was hidden by the many metal fillings in my teeth, so they couldn't really tell what size it was at the moment. By looking at it and by using my lack of pain as an indication, it seemed to be shrinking. My white blood cell level was way down and it became clear that any more chemo would have jeopardized the treatment that is to come. So, they were right to use the dosages they used. When you have to trust somebody potentially with your life it feels extremely good to get the sense that they are in control of the situation. With regards to the treatment that will begin on Tuesday I was informed that I would get a day of chemo every two weeks. That drug, unlike the ones I have gotten so far, would be highly toxic and I was promised that I wouldn't be 'short changed' with regards to unpleasant side effects. Apparently it is know to be hard on one's system. Well, I asked for it...
At the end Dr. Maksymiak elaborated a bit on the fact that things were looking up for the moment. The induction chemo seemed to have done its job and he is hopeful that the actual treatment of radiation and chemo will show good results.
After leaving the meeting a cried for a while while walking through the hallway. Tears of relief, though. No new bad news and a lot of hope.

Now I brace myself for Tuesday.

Monday, July 27, 2009


My weekend was nice. I went out for supper with Kevin on Saturday evening. As always it was good to see him. Sunday afternoon I spent with Angus on his birthday. Happy birthday, Angus. Last night our neighbors and friends, Rick and Kathy came for a visit and impromptu BBQ. Their presence is always a joy for me.

I did notice recently that my body is becoming more 'flabby' these days. Now that my pain is almost completely gone I am eating normally (maybe even more than I should) but my exercise routine has certainly suffered since I started chemo more than 5 weeks ago. I am trying to do something about that. I have been going to a boxing gym for the last couple of years in addition to my running. They have hardcore one hour classes that incorporate boxing exercises in a boot camp style intensity. I haven't been going for the last three months, using my cancer as an excuse. Today I went again for the first time. I survived and am pleased with myself about that. Take that, chemo! I am aware that there will be possible hardship coming my way in about a month from now so I am hoping to gain as much physically and mental strength during the next few weeks as possible. I am trying to focus on the well-being that I feel today rather than the fear of what's to come.
I have also decided to return to work again. My radiation doesn't start until early next week and I really don't have much of an excuse to stay at home anymore right now. Today was my first full day after 3 months and it was good to be back.
I am currently feeling that I am slowly returning to my normal life one small step at a time. There are moments when I totally forget that I have cancer. Sure is nice. The more I life with this disease the more I learn that a lot of what makes us enjoy life is controlled by the will and force of our minds this very day. I pray that I will be able to gather strength for the days when I don't see that.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Yesterday was my 41st birthday. It was a nice day. In the morning I had a meeting with Michael and Dave at my house regarding a project we are currently working on. Michael brought me cupcakes which was very sweet (pun intended). After that I decided to go to work for a few hours and then Angela and I took in a Fringe show that Stefanie directed. In the evening Sherri and Clint had us over for super and games, where we had a great time just hanging out for a while.
During the day I couldn't help but reflect on my birthday last year. I was turning 40 then and we threw a big party. It was amazing to me to think about all the things that happened in our lives during just that one year. That, of course, includes the struggle with cancer. It would have seemed crazy to think about such a development on my last birthday. In fact, I reflected with Clint about the adventure that had been our lives over the last ten years and everything that has changed and happened during that period. Crazy. It did comfort me greatly to realize that I made the most of my time here and that I tried to make it as interesting as possible.
Let's see how it will feel next year on this day.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


We just got back home. Our trip to Montreal was tremendous fun. We shopped like only we can do, ate out lot and took in a few events from the Just For Laughs Festival. On Sunday evening (our anniversary) we got a knock at our hotel door just before we went out for dinner and a porter carted a beautiful cheese plate with a wonderful bottle of wine into our room, courtesy of Leilani and Julie. We were both very touched by that gesture and enjoyed our late night cheese and wine celebration. Thanks to both of you.
Overall, it was great to be away for a while but it is also good to be back. I am actually booked for a CT scan tonight at 9:30 PM already. So my thoughts are drifting back to my life with cancer, but that's fine.
Thank you Angela for 12 great years of marriage and a great trip. I am looking forward to many future anniversary trips to Montreal as we planned.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Today is our 12th year wedding anniversary. Seeing that I will be tied down in Winnipeg for 7 weeks during the radiation treatment, we decided to go to Montreal for a few days to celebrate our marriage. We will be returning on Thursday. I have really been looking forward to this trip. I have to admit that being in our house for such a long period of time is a rather new experience for me and I am excited to have some distraction from my 'cancer life' for a while. So, now I'm writing this entry from the Sheraton in downtown Montreal. Happy Anniversary, Angie.
I am feeling rather well at the moment. The chemo side effects have become less and less every day. I was actually able to go to work for a bigger part of Thursday and Friday which was very nice. It was good to be around Clint and the rest of the staff again. The daCapo gang has certainly become like a family to me and I have missed everyone a lot. A few projects have been coming up for me and I am planning to get back to a semi-regular work attendance for the next month while Clint is traveling to Europe with his family.
For now it's just nice to be away from it all for a few days.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Tonight we got a visit from Angela's sister's family. Holly, her husband Kyle, my niece Morgan and my nephew Liam came from Steinbach to the city to spend an evening with us. Liam and I (and later Kyle) played a game for a few hours while the women went out.
This was the second visit I had from Liam over the last two weeks and I have to say that I very much enjoy my time with him. He is 12 now and overflowing with energy and passion for everything that comes his way. I see a young version of myself in him in may ways and I am often reminded what life was like at his age.
He is a great person, kind and caring, helpful and gentle but also full of life and enthusiasm. Last time we got together I was a bit sick and felt tired from my first round of chemo. We went out for a burger and while I was slumped in our booth, Liam tirelessly re-told me every detail of the movie 'Up' that he watched a few days earlier. After a while I couldn't help but feel better about myself. There was something in his enthusiasm and excitement that was hard to resist. Moments later he paused and said: 'Morgan and I were really sad and scared when we heard that you have cancer, uncle Olaf. That's because some people die from it.' 'I know' I responded 'And we're all hoping that I won't. Thank you for caring.' After that he passionately continued to tell me about the new additions to his collection of playing cards.
Liam is a good friend to have when one is stuck in a time of sadness and despair. Why worry about things that are far away in the future when there is so much to discover in this very moment.
Thanks, buddy...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Face To Face

This morning Angela and I went to Cancer Care again to start the preparations for my radiation treatment. 6 weeks ago they made a cast of my face with which they will literally screw me to the table while they point a computerized radiation gun to the underside of my chin. The idea is that I will not be able to move at all in order to prevent more tissue damage than necessary. Today they just wanted to make sure that the cast still fits. I guess they assumed that most chemo patients would have lost some weight by now. Not me, though, I'm staying nice and portly.
Lucky for me I am not claustrophobic at all. I will have to wear this mask every day for 15 minutes over a period of 7 weeks of treatment. If everything goes according to plan, the radiation will start on Tuesday, August 4th.
This morning was definitely a reminder that the real treatment is still ahead of me. I was told that I can expect certain side effects as the radiation process progresses. My mouth will very likely be extremely sore which will make it more and more difficult to swallow food. 50% of patients that had induction chemo first (including myself) will end up with a temporary feeding tube at the end. Ah well, let's keep those worries for later.
For now I am excited that things are moving ahead as planned.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I just got home from a run. It was hard but I survived it. The truth is that I felt lousy yesterday afternoon and evening as well as this morning. When I woke up it felt like I was hit with a 2x4. I made myself get up, cleaned the house a bit and dealt with some emails. Then I got tired and nauseous again. I thought I would have two choices: curl up and play dead or make myself go for a run, hoping I would feel better after. So I did, and I do feel better.
The longer I am dealing with this cancer, the more I learn that a lot of the struggle is psychological rather than physical. If I tell myself to feel sick or weak, I will. Of course the trick is to still listen to my body. Hopefully I'll be able to find that healthy balance during my journey.

The other thing that I am learning is that life stinks. Literally. Since getting the chemo I am also very sensitive to smells. Especially food related odors. In the beginning Angela was making me smoothies every day to boost my vitamin intake. That also included experiments with vegetables. On my third day of the first chemo round she made a a smoothie that also included mushrooms. I didn't mind that until that point, but that day it tasted disgusting. Ever since I am smelling (and tasting) mushrooms whenever I get a bit sick from the treatment. Wired. The sad part is that I actually like(d) mushrooms. My heart goes out to all the women with morning sickness. Respect!

As you might remember, Angela and I joined a medical mission group this May in Lima, Peru. Some of the team just got together for a reunion and sent us these pictures. Truly touching. I was very moved. If you are reading this, I love you and I miss hanging out with you all.
Thank you.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chemo Round 2 - Day 3

The day went by without too much nausea. I got my treatment this morning at 11:00. Again, I walked to and from the hospital and afterwards we went back to the Folk Fest. I can't honestly say that I felt great, but I did well overall. I had food in small quantities and made sure to rest as much as possible. I felt nothing close to the illness I felt at the third day of the last round. I am grateful for that and I am hoping that it will not get worse throughout the week.
So far so good.

Laura, Alan, Theresa, Gina, Matthew, Erin, Steve, Nancy, Jesse, Cindy, Holly, Kyle, Liam, Morgan, Ryan, Caroline, Kate, Oliver and Jasper. It was nice to run into you.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Chemo Round 2 - Day 2

This has been a pretty good day overall. I got up this morning and felt pretty good physically. No real side effects from the chemo yesterday. I worked around the house for a bit and walked to my treatment at 1:30. The session was short (about 40 minutes) and I felt good enough to walk back home after. Angela and I went to the Folk Fest again this evening and I felt good pretty much the rest of the day.
My hope is that I will still feel like this after the third treatment tomorrow. The third day hit me pretty hard during the first round.

The big news for me today, however, was that I got a new friend in the form of a Taylor 814ce Guitar. I have been shopping around for a 'special' instrument that would give me some joy and keep me occupied during the next few months of treatment. After a lot of back and forth I decided to commit to this absolutely beautiful instrument that is way above the quality of my actual playing.

As I said, it's been a pretty good day.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Chemo Round 2 - Day 1

I was back in the comfortable chemo chair again this morning at 8:15. The routine was exactly the same a three weeks ago. I was given an IV through which different drugs of various colors and dosages dripped into my body. I was done at about 2:00 PM. I was in good spirits but slept through most of the day due to some drowsy side effects of some of the meds. Even though it was only my second time it felt already like a bit of a routine. I met some very nice patients there and we shared our stories. It's good to put one's own situation in perspective (i.e. I was told of a lady who had 47 cycles so far).
After that Angela and I went to the Folk Fest again. I felt very good overall and we were able to meet up with Donna, Dave and Hannah and our wonderful friends Gina and Theresa. We have spent most of our time at the festival with that group so far and they certainly made the time there more enjoyable (there is only so much hippie culture I can take on my own).
I will be back for day 2 of the treatment tomorrow afternoon and for the last one on Sunday afternoon.

Leilani sent me an email with a quote that she heard from a friend:
"Life isn't about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain."

How true.

Thursday Appointment

Yesterday was not a great day.
Angela and I went to my appointment in the morning. We didn't really know what the plan for the day was, so I packed everything I needed for a full day of chemo again. First they needed to take some blood to check my levels and then we saw the doctor(s) at around 10:30. As we got there we were given a schedule that had me booked for my next chemo on Wednesday July 15-17. I wasn't happy about that and I made that clear to the scheduling nurse. I was supposed to have chemo every three weeks and that would have made it a month. They apologized and re-booked me for today (Friday). Both doctors commented about how good I looked. They were surprised that I actually gained weight and were encouraged by the fact that my pain was considerably less since the chemo. My blood levels also looked very good. So far things seemed to be moving along great. I, however, spend the rest of the afternoon worrying. Somehow all my concerns about the chemo not working came to a climax after the meeting and I feel into a bit of an emotional downward spiral. Angela very patiently tried to explain that their approach is correct and reasonable. After an afternoon of sleeping we went to the Winnipeg Folk Fest with friends and my mood improved greatly. I ended up having a wonderful time.

There was a short rain storm at the festival and when we surfaced from under the tent that gave us shelter, there was a giant and wonderful rainbow in the sky. After that kind of a day it felt like it was put there just for me...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hairy Situation

I am losing my hair.
It comes out of my head in large chunks if I pull on it gently and my pillow is full of hair in the morning. My beard has also become patchy and thin.

On one hand I am excited to see that the chemo is doing its thing, on the other hand I can't help but be weirded out.

I realized yesterday that it almost feels that the whole cancer thing is coming to an end by now. We have had all these powerful emotional experiences and the chemo treatment was already three weeks ago. Routine is coming back a bit, and things are becoming 'normal' again. Clint said yesterday "By now I'm used to it." Well put.
Losing my hair now is a reminder that the impact of the treatment is just beginning. One more round of chemo and then still 7 weeks of radiation and chemo. There is lots to come yet...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Worries And Birthdays

Yesterday afternoon I started to worry. My mouth started to hurt a bit again and the cancer seemed larger to me as well. As I went for a run I obsessed about the fact that I was doing so well physically. "Shouldn't I be sicker by now?" I asked myself "Maybe they didn't give me enough of the chemo drugs? Maybe the wrong ones? How come they haven't checked up on me by now? How come I still have my hair?" etc, etc. Today I got up and my mind kept torturing me with the same worries. My next appointment will be this Thursday and I can't wait...

On the brighter side I celebrated two birthdays with friends today.

First, Angela and I visited Peter, Tara and Mila to celebrate Mila's 5th birthday. 5 years already. She truly has turned into a beautiful and wonderful person. Happy birthday Mila!
Then I got together with Kevin for supper and we celebrated his belated 37th birthday. As always I had a great time hanging out with him. I always felt that Kevin and I had a special connection as we share a lot of the same personality trades and he very much identifies with most of my thought patterns and vice versa. He is also a great listener and I couldn't resist to share my joys and struggles with him. Even though it was his birthday dinner we ended up talking about my views of death for a most of the time.
Way to bring the party down, Olaf. Happy birthday, buddy.

Friday, July 3, 2009


The last two days have been rather uneventful. Angela has been going back to work more frequently again and I as well am trying to get back to some kind of a routine.
I have been working on a project for a client from my home studio yesterday and today. I have to admit that I sat in front of the computer at first and went "Now what?" This was my life only 6 weeks ago and it took some getting use to again.
I did, however, produce some decent results and by the end of the day felt very good about myself. It was nice to actually 'work' for a while rather than focus on my illness and it's emotional and physical side effects.
I also went for another run and noticed that it does become more and more challenging. I am stubborn, though. I refuse to give the cancer and it's treatment control over all aspects of my life. Let's see how much longer I can keep it up.

Furthermore, I think I am starting to lose my hair. Clint came for a visit yesterday and I noticed that there were beard hairs in my teeth while I was talking. If I pull very gently, hair comes off my beard and head. Still not a lot but some. I think this might be the beginning...

We'll know soon enough.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Canada Day

Today Angela and I visited our friends Laura Hawkins and her husband Alan. Laura, a successful advertising agent, has been one of daCapo's very first clients and has become a true friend to us in addition to being a terrific and loyal client throughout the years.
As soon as I was diagnosed, Laura and Alan have been there for us. She sent us gifts, the occasional concerned email and has regularly posted encouraging comments on this blog as soon as there was a new posting. After several invites we were finally able to get together this afternoon. They have a wonderful house with a pool and so Angela and I were able to spend a relaxing and enjoyable afternoon with lots of delicious food and great company.
Laura is a constant reminder that my profession has provided me with relationships that have impacted and enriched my life very deeply.

(Sorry about the rather bad picture, Laura)