What the Doctors Don’t Tell You About Surviving a Tumour

It’s been two weeks since I got my 5-year all-clear from my Neurosurgeon.  I surprised myself by not making more of a big deal out of the occasion – in years past after my annual MRI’s have come back clean, I’ve bought myself ridiculous shoes, a bottle of champange, or something out of the ordinary to celebrate the good news.  In the back of my mind I had thought about having some sort of big blow out if I got good news – but when that moment actually came, I was content to just go on with my daily life.

Now that some time has passed and I’ve had some time to think about things some more, I’m starting to understand why getting past this 5-year mark has been far harder than I ever thought it would be.

Here’s the thing . . . surviving a tumour means you know exactly how hard the process is.  I now know first hand what it’s like when a doctor tell you “We found something, it’s a tumour”.  I know first hand how in that instant, you will do whatever it takes to make sure you are alive for just one more day.  And I know what it’s like to regret whatever it is you did in life that contributed to the growth of that tumour.

I know what it’s like to say good bye to your kids not knowing what state you’re going to come back to them in.  I  know what it’s like to have to think about what you want most for you kids when you don’t even know what kind of people they’re going to grow up to be.  And I know what it’s like to plan not to be fully present as a wife and a mother for an undefined period of time.

I know what it’s like to wait for biopsy results.  I know what it’s like to wait for blood test results.  And I know what it’s like to spend hours at the hospital waiting for doctors appointments to get the results.

Let me be unequivocally clear here . . .NONE of this process is remotely enjoyable.  None of it.  In fact, it is, I think the hardest thing anyone can endure.

And then you find out . . . you survived.  You’ve managed through excellent medical care, amazing surgeons, doctors, and health care professionals, through diet, nutrition, exercise, rest, to take care of yourself, and allow yourself to heal.  You’ve been given the gift of life.

Now what.

You see, once you’ve come face to face with just how short life can be, how your life can be turned upside down with a single sentence “We found something . . . .”, when you know first hand how hard it all is, trust me when I say, you NEVER want to go through that again.

For me, that has meant turning my attention to my nutrition and exercise.  I focus on getting the right nutrients into my body to prevent inflammation, to give my cells what they need to thrive, to prevent damage.  I focus on working out, and getting strong so that if I ever do get sick again, I know I have the strength to fight it, but also to help ward off illness.  Nope, I don’t drink as much as I used to, nor do I eat out, or eat treats like I used to . . . but how can I when I know that a diet rich in alcohol and sugar is going to, more likely than not, end in disease?  Allowing myself to slide into old nutritional habits (or lack there of), more drinking, and less exercise means putting myself at risk for going through all of this again . . .and that’s pretty much the LAST thing I want to do.

When the future was uncertain, I found a need to cram as much fun as I could into every day.  I’ve talked about wanting every day with my kids to have some sort of “magic” in it.  Well, the sad truth is, this need doesn’t disappear once you’ve been declared cured.  Possibly, this way of life has just become habit.  But it’s also equal possible that I know each moment is precious and I hate to waste a single one – you never know what changes life might throw at you next.

When the future was uncertain, it was easy to let things slide – a tidy house wasn’t all that important – a certain amount of mess meant we were having fun and not wasting any time.  Expenditures on frivolous things were excusable because they were meant to bring added joy to our lives.  And living day to day without too much planning (or dreaming) about the future was simply the practical thing to do.

Surviving means turning your attention to yourself and to the future.  Surviving means figuring out who you are after you’ve been to hell and back.  Surviving means finding dreams other than having a clean bill of health.  Surviving means figuring out how to make those dreams come true.  Surviving means not letting the gift of life weigh so heavily on you that you don’t allow yourself to find the courage to discover who you are now, and what else you are capable of beyond survival.

All of this to say . . .when you hit that 5-year mark, the doctors and those around you may be full of joy for you and the state of your health.  They won’t tell you that the new road you’re on may be a rocky one with lots of ups and downs as you discover the “new, cured” you.  And so I will tell you, as I am trying to tell myself . . . be patient with yourself.  Allow yourself to experience joy and happiness and love without worrying about the future.  Allow yourself to try new things, to take chances, and to make bold choices without the fear of “wasting” time, making a bad choice, or squandering the precious “gift of life” you’ve been given.  And most of all, allow yourself time to breathe and just be you – beautiful healthy you – without the fear of the future being taken from you again.

Getting Real

So, I’m feeling the need to get real with you, and myself.  My last post was as much for me as anyone else.

Throughout the month of December, our family ate more refined, processed and sugar-filled foods; we slept less; we moved less; and a glass or 2 of wine a night was not uncommon.  I thought I was simply relaxing – relaxing my ideas of what is good for us (and I mean good for us in every way).  Turns out that throughout the month of December, we were all crankier, we had less energy, we were quick to get frustrated with each other . . . which made us crankier, took more energy, and lead to more frustration.  So . . . where exactly was the relaxation?????

As we approach the end of January, a month where refined foods, and especially sugar have all but been eliminated from our diets, where we have focused on getting proper exercise and proper sleep . . .well, we’re all much more energetic, calmer, kinder to each other . . .

In life, I think we ALL want to feel good.  When we wake up in the mornings, we want to have energy, to move easily, to be pain free and disease free.  And yet what do we do to make that happen?

Do we, as a population really no longer believe that how we feed ourselves has no effect on our physical well being, on our mental well being?  Do we really expect that after years of feeding ourselves, and our kids processed, chemical laden food, while no longer prioritizing physical fitness that we’re all going to live long healthy lives????

Because of my tumour, I have become involved with Toronto General Hospital, and am working on a few projects to make services and programs for tumour/cancer patients more readily available.  Yesterday, I had a meeting at the MOST AMAZING cancer support centre, Wellspring, with not only representatives of Wellspring, but representatives from the hospital, including a Radiation Oncologist.  The services that places like Wellspring and hospitals like Toronto General and Princess Margaret are truly wonderful.  Tumours/Cancer are conditions that have profound effects and consequences for those that develop them, never mind their friends and family that care about them.  And when you look at the lifetime risk of developing cancer (1 in 2 for American men and 1 in 3 for American women, with a 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 risk of dying from cancer respectively – see Cancer.org for more statistics), more people than EVER are going to need these services.

And while millions of dollars are spent on these wonderful programs, and on research to cure these diseases, imagine if none of this was necessary?

Put differently, what are we doing to minimize the risk that we, or members of our family aren’t unnecessarily at higher risk for these diseases?   (While I fully realize that there are a lot of reasons why a person might develop a disease, we are, by now, all well aware of the fact that poor diet and lack of exercise play a significant role in the development of disease).

Which brings me back to the idea of “getting real”.  I get that we’re all busy – juggling work, kids, commitments and budgets.  And so the idea of quick, easy, cheap food is really appealing.  But what is all that quick, easy, cheap food getting us?

I’m right there with you.  I have the Husband that works long hours.  Two kids that have school and extracurricular activities.  And I have my work as well.

But here’s the thing . . . by focusing on good quality, unprocessed “real” food, I end up saving time, energy, and even money, and our family is happier and healthier.  And I know that I’m doing my BEST to avoid exposing us all to any increased risk of disease.  (and by best, I mean that I do like to have a treat – and I will have a piece of cake, or a special meal out – I do like alcohol, and I will have a drink from time to time – and I will let the kids have treats too, Fridays, for example are treat snack day where they can have ONE processed snack in their lunch – but on the whole, I am committed to eating real, unprocessed foods)

And if I can get “real” for a minute . . . I can make 60 of my gluten-free, sugar-free cookies in 20 minutes.  The kids LOVE them.  They ASK to eat them.  You can find 20 minutes in a day to make a batch of snacks that can last a week or longer (depending on how many kids you have).

I made my almond flour chicken fingers in 10 minutes this week – and even better, the kids made them with me, then trimmed the beans and chopped the broccoli – we had family time and a tasty dinner.  Oh . . . and there are enough leftovers that I can feed the kids this meal again next week.


Do organic and natural ingredients cost more?  Individually, sure.  But when I can make 60 cookies (which translates into 20 – 30 snack servings) for about $7, and a box of 6 packs of star wars cookies (the popular snack in my kids classes these days) costs just about $3, which is the cheaper option?  I won’t lie and say almond flour is cheap – but the chicken finger recipe can come together in under $20 – how much would  you spend if you bought fast food for your family’s dinner?

I’ve talked about choice before . . . what choice are you going to make to ensure the health and happiness of your family . . . today, tomorrow, in the days that follow?  Because I know that I am going to continue to choose the “real” option.


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