Tuesday, November 1, 2016

And then what?

It's been one week since I rang the bell.  
I was going to write here but this past week has been a blur of sleep and pain and joy.  My skin is slowly healing and I am adjusting to all medications.  Soon I will be able to walk around with no pain when I move my arm and I can't wait.

I am officially done now.  No more daily appointments of getting radiated.  No more drop offs of food.  No more feeling taken care of by medical experts.  And for that, I am happy. 

So how is it that I feel scared?  I feel a bit alone.  Not sure what I do next.  

But after I talk to my dear friend Gary, he reminds me that I take the time to heal.  He reminds me in his gentle strong way that I get back to being Lisa, the one that I was before I was diagnosed.  He's right.  I get back to being an artist, and a mother, a wife and a friend and not the full time care giver of this stupid disease.  In fact, I think that if I have learnt more than anything that I can't NOT get back to being me. 

Of course, I am different.  Cancer changes your brain, the way you think and all of that.  For me, it's clarified who my community is, and reminded me of the love they have for me and I for them.  It's also strengthened my believe in stories. 

So I ask, now what?

It's time for stories of healing, and survival.  It's time to read more stories.  To create art of these stories and to share that far and wide.  

When I started this blog it was about my cancer.  But it was also about my art and life.  Indeed.  I have shared many stories of cancer, now it's time to share my art that will help me heal from these past months.  I can't wait to share. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016


It's almost been a month since I have written.  I wanted to write, I thought a lot about writing but once I began radiation I became stuck.  

For those of you who don't know radiation happens every day.  You drive in, get your treatment and go home.  As the weeks pass your skin starts to burn and you become insanely exhausted.  And this is what happened to me.  Getting these treatments became my full time job.  

So as much as I thought about doing things and went to do things, those things didn't happen.  Art didn't happen. Writing didn't happen and even bookselling did not happen.  But what did happen was self care, reading (in the first two weeks) and reaching out to people.  

For a while I was feeling guilty about this, but then I was like, uhm, nope.  I won't let the ridiculous world of strange guilt mess me up.  I felt bad that I wasn't getting chemo.  But I came to the conclusion that this is bad too.  I also realized that comparison between these sorts of things doesn't work.  It was time I let go of all of those thoughts and just take care of myself. 

The past week has been hard, as I am dealing with some very burnt skin and pain but things have begun to come into focus for me. A lot of people talk about cancer being a battle, and generally I steer clear of the language of fighting because there is always a winner and a loser, and it's just not a way I like to look at this disease that affects so many. 

I would rather liken it to being a pirate on a ship in a big storm.  Some of the pirates are terrified and get paralyzed, Some just go right to work and do what needs to be done, and then I imagine that there are the pirates (I imagine them the old wisened pirates) who just go with the flow and realize that the storm will take us where it takes us.  

There is a tradition in cancer centres all over that after you finish a treatment you ring "the bell". On Tuesday October 25th, I will be finished the radiation treatment.  I will ring the bell at the Juravinski Centre.  Some people don't like the bell, because they say that cancer treatment is never really done, and it tempts the fates.  Personally I a big believer of marking change.  Ringing that bell will let the world know that I am done the treatment.  That the storm is over for now, and that I will take some time to get everything in order and then, slowly and surely I will begin to create, begin to go out, and begin to move forward.  I can't wait to begin the process of becoming unstuck.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Here are some thoughts and facts about my recent days. 

1. Today I finally started radiation. 

Four weeks of radiation five days a week.  It's going to be a challenge, and I might go a bit cuckoo, but I have started. 

2. I sometimes feel guilty.  

It's been a long time since I have written.  I think that I have felt stuck with my thoughts about all of this.  I have been feeling goodish, and so it felt strange to talk about being sick with cancer, because I wasn't sick.  That caused a strange feeling of guilt. I know so many others who are sicker, with more complicated situations, and who am I to complain, and so on and so forth.  

I have been reaching out to some lovely women who have gone through this, and they assure me that any stage of this disease is bad because it is cancer.  It is tough and it changes us.  And so enough with guilt. It doesn't help anyone. It just makes me paralyzed. 

3.  Soup helps.  

Two weeks ago I started a hormone blocker called Tamoxifen which blocks my estrogen.  I will be taking that for ten years.  It has many strange side effects and essentially I have been put into medical menopause - BUT - I can still get pregnant. NO FAIR!  Anyhow, as I have started feeling not so good, the one thing that helps is soup.  Simple, homemade soup. 

4. Radiation is strange. 

 I can't help think about all of the pop culture references to radiation and how it breeds sea monsters, two headed goats and other such creatures.  I also know what real radiation has done to large groups of people in Hiroshima and Chernobyl.  Horrible.  I now have to flip that thought around and make it my friend.  Weird.  Still trying to figure this one out. 

5.  Enough is enough. 

When I met with a therapist, she couldn't believe how much trauma I have been through in the past 6  years.  2 miscarriages, a dad with cancer, a baby in hospital with very serious ailments (max is much better and has a very good belly scar) , a car accident, death of my father and NOW this diagnosis of breast cancer.  Come on, world.  I am a nice person.  After this is all done,  please take a hiatus of crappy happenings for me, okay?  At least one year of greatness with no big crappy traumatic thing. I am only so strong. 

6. People really are kind and generous

I did a GoFundMe campaign over here https://www.gofundme.com/LisaPNBreastCancer.  Thanks to the great help of my friend Lori Yates (also an amazing musician!) who urged me to put it up. I was iffy about doing it, but it has really helped me and my little family feel some relief as we move through this time of treatment and healing.  People who I have known forever donated, and people who I have not seen for years, next to total strangers.  Yeesh.  My heart is full.  

7.  Sometimes cat videos will make you smile. 

There is nothing more to this.  Just that the little things matter. 

8.  Little people make everything better. 

Here is the evidence.  Me and my son Max.  My heart grows ten times bigger every time I see it. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Art Makes Me Stronger

On Friday night I found myself at the Workers Arts and Heritage Center for a concert.  The band was Sandcatchers which was described as "Jewish tradition & Maqam on the Appalachian Trail."  I wasn't sure what to expect, but i knew that it would be good, because everything that Zula presents, a local music organization is of highest quality.  This night was exceptional.  

It was a beautiful warm night, and the concert was in the backyard of the Center, which I had only ever seen through a window, never experienced. It was perfect.  The band, four lovelies musicians nestled under the trees playing such original, honest songs warmed my heart.  The audience consisted mostly of friends and my six year old son and husband.  As I sat listening, I would tilt my head back just so slightly and look at the stars.  It was rather magical indeed.  As Max started to get antsy we went behind the chairs and danced barefoot in the grass.  If felt so good to just move.  Since my surgery in July, I haven't been able to dance the way I used to, as it would cause discomfort and pain.  But on Friday night, with that music, surrounded by those people I was able to dance.  I wasn't jumping up and down, but I moved my body in it's new way and that made me so very happy. 

I have been off of work for two months now, and on Tuesday I will go back to the bookstore and I am getting ready for a craft show in September.  I am healed from the surgery and I am waiting to find out the dates for my treatments which will most probably start in October.  I am trying to get healthy and strong before the treatment knocks the wind out of me.  I am doing the usual things of eating healthier foods, doing more exercise, sleeping well and surrounding myself with positivity and love.  

The other thing I am doing is I am taking in a lot of art.  Be it this concert, or watching films, seeing dance, or reading books, I am letting myself make art a priority and be part of my healing.  Art does something nothing else does.  It relaxes me, it makes me feel and it transcends the daily grind.  It takes me away from my thoughts of sickness and cancer.  It makes me forget about chemotherapy and tamoxifen and radiation and all that. It makes me feel alive. 

Truth be told that making art has become a struggle since I was diagnosed, but I am still showing up at the table and trying to make.  Fingers crossed it will all work out, but in the meantime, I look forward to a few weeks of music, film,  theatre, dance and visual art to give me some strength to go into this unknown, scary time of treatment.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Taking Time

I haven't written in 21 days. 
That's 3 weeks.  
I have been a bit stuck, and quiet which for me is a bit rare.  

I am in limbo. 

I found out on Tuesday that my final diagnosis is Stage 1 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, ER+, PR+, HER2-. I know that is a lot of gobbeldy gook, but in the end it means that  I will be getting 4 weeks of radiation and will be put on a hormone blocker for either 5 or 10 years of my life and will have many of the effects of menopause without actually being in menopause.  For the most part, it's a good diagnosis and it hasn't spread which is very positive. 

In two weeks I will make the final decision on whether or not to do chemotherapy based on the results of a test that has been sent to California which will tell us more about the possibility of recurrence.  I am seriously hoping for good results. I don't want to do chemotherapy. 

In the mean time, I take my time to think and to live. I do what is important to me.  I create art and live as fully as I can.  

But there is one thing.  Emotionally, I am exhausted.  Being in limbo for about 2 months straight is hard.  

I am a woman who some in the business world call a Quick Start. I get a gazillion ideas daily and the ones that stick I initiate as soon as possible.   After I finish that initiative, I get another idea aand want to move onto that.  So when I was diagnosed on June 17, I thought that I would immediately start treatments. I was like hup hup - let's get this underway.   But things take time.  Tests need to be done, and treatments seriously considered.  There is no jumping into an idea quickly unless the treatment plan is clear from the get go.  And that is not my situation.  

So I learn how to take my time.  How not to freak out.  How to educate myself in a way that isn't alarming but healing.  How to deal with friends who can't deal with the diagnosis and vanish from my life.  I am taking classes at the local cancer centre and am doing a few secret projects that keep me feeling creatively inspired.  

For a few days I was feeling guilty about keeping this blog.  There are so many others in much more dire situations, and that along with others telling me how great my diagnosis is left me wondering what my problem is.  My diagnosis is positive and they oncologists feel good about finding it very early.  And just a couple of nights ago,  I realized that was stupid.  I have cancer.  It's important that I don't discredit my experience, because at the end of the day this is a horrible disease no matter what stage and I do believe that it has changed my outlook on life.  For better and for worse.  

Tomorrow is my son's 6th Birthday.  We will spend the day at the beach surrounded by our loved ones.  There is no other thing I would rather be doing.  Taking time out to celebrate his life, and soak in the lake, and enjoy our time together. 

I urge you to take the time to be with your loved ones.  Do what you want.  Take your time. Because right now, it's yours to take. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Pity Face Superhero: My Dad

Today marks 3 years since my dad passed away after an eleven  year battle with Multiple Myeloma, a form of bone cancer.  I miss him so much. I miss his advice, his wisdom, but most of all I miss his laugh.  

When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I was in Mexico working at Rio Caliente Spa.  A very special healing place. I had planned to leave early and my dad told me to stay, to get strong because it was going to be a long year ahead.  He was right.   A week later, I returned to find my dad in a ward in Peel Memorial Hospital , hooked up to chemo and chatting with all the men in the room.  His outlook was positive. He told me he wasn't going anywhere.  He said he had too much love to give his family.  He wasn't leaving anytime soon.  

My dad had been told that he live from about 3 months to a year.  He lived for 11 years with the crappiest of cancers.  He had multiple infections, a stem cell transplant, his heart stopped for 6 minutes, and he always came back.  They called him Miracle Joe at the hospital, and he left a mark on all that he met.  

To me, my father was a superhero. Not a saving the day in red and blue tights superhero.  But a man who fought for his life in a most noble and real way.  My father was a superhero at fighting this cancer.   He proved time and time again that you just needed to take care of yourself and go through this treatment and live your life the best that you could.  I know that he had wished that it would have been different, but my dad lived his life to the fullest.  

Three days before he died, I got some time to be with my father by myself.  My dad told he how proud he was of me and my brothers, how he didn't understand my life as an artist, but that he knew I was good by the way people reacted to me.  He told me to always be kind to people and to thank people.  And he told me that he would always be in my heart, watching over me and watching over my son Max who was two and a half at that time.  I left and cried in the car as we drove away, knowing that would be the last time I would have a conversation with my dad.  

Two days ago, I was at the doctors finding out the results from the sentinel node biopsy, to see if the cancer had spread.  Thankfully it hadn't.  The surgeon was so surprised that I had even found this tumour.  The lump that I had found was NOT the cancerous tumour, it was a benign mass 2 centimeters above the cancerous one.  Of course, I will still need to do radiation, and possibly chemo depending upon some other results that are coming within the next few weeks, but that's okay.  It's a relief to find that it hasn't spread.  

Late last night, I thought about all of this, and couldn't help but know that my dad was looking over me with love, and laughter.  Throughout the past two months, I have been blessed with some of the kindest love from friends and family.  

As I left the surgeon, I thanked her for her work.  She had made me feel safe, and taken care of in a very very scary situation.  She gave me hope.  I left thanking her and remembering my dad, how he would often thank doctors even when they gave him bad news.  How he would be grateful for his days, no matter how difficult.  And how he tried to laugh, even when times were super tough.  

So today, I remember my father Jose Pijuan.  

Thanks for the lessons in life, Papa Joe, I miss you so much.  Always in my heart.  

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A New Lens

Cancer is hard.  It changes the way you think about things, and it also gives you a new way to look at the world.  

In a short 6 weeks since being diagnosed it has I have learnt that: 

1. Life is truly short.  We need to make sure that we are doing what we want to do, being who we are and that we are surrounded by those we love.

2. Bullshit is not acceptable. At all. Ever. Deal with it. 

3. People are weird, and some people vanish because they don't know what to do or say and the feelings that come up are way too scary.  I wish that I too could vanish from this all, but I have no choice.  When I have talked to people candidly and openly about my diagnosis they seem so relieved.  And generous.  It's important to take the time with people, because if you can get past the fear, and connect, well, that's the best. 

4. You want to do exactly what is important to you. I want to go back to Spain to where my father came from so I can show my son.  I want to continue collecting stories. I want to grow the theatre and dance audiences in my city.  I want to make art that matters. I want to work on a project that gives cancer patients and their families an opportunity to be creative in a meaningful way while in hospital wards, doctors offices, and waiting rooms.  Getting my hands moving  has helped me so much when my father was diagnosed, and now that i am a cancer patient. These are just seeds and will most probably remain that way until after my treatments, but it's important to identify what means the most to you.  

On Thursday night, I went to one of my all time favourite dance events, Dusk Dances.  For many years it has been in Toronto and 3 years ago they brought this event to Hamilton at lovely Bayfront Park.  It's a night unlike any other.  Audience gathers to a band playing, and then a host appears (this year its' the lovely Nina Gilmour as Madame Pink Lady.)  She lets us know that we will be walking around the park to see four dance pieces.  Disclaimer: I have been a host before in 2009 in Vancouver as the fiesty Ms Lula and know many of the performers involved.  The pieces performed were stunning, so human, and so full of love.  The last piece in particular, Incandescent was excellent.  It was choreographed by Meredith Thompson and Kate Franklin and it featured over 20 community members in a modern piece that took my breathe a way.  The night I went, it was a bit cloudy and far in the distance as the dancers appeared on the horizon, we were treated to a few bolts of lightning that illuminated the sky and the dancers beautifully.  To me, the piece was about life and death, about connection with others, and love.  

As i watched it I was moved to tears.  I watched some people that I have strong connections with dance beautifully as I sat and my body hurt from last weeks surgery.  I wanted to move, I wanted to be dancing with them.  It was, for a moment, a little solo pity party, but then as I watched and thought and felt, it occured to me, that I am changed.  I was watching this piece with a very new lens.  

My new lens allows me to truly be in the moment.  It allows for me to enjoy and for me to feel deeper than I had before.  This lens shows me what is most important in life.  It has made me feel more and think less.  And right now, that is a great thing.