We All Make Mistakes

The good old Hippocratic Oath

The good old Hippocratic Oath

How many times have you heard a story whereby a patient was misdiagnosed; a doctor missed a cancer diagnosis altogether; or a patient unwittingly ignored or dismissed certain symptoms and subtle warning signs? Unfortunately, we have heard this story one time too many.

There are numerous causes of misdiagnosis. But whatever the cause or reason may be, in many cases, these mistakes can lead to catastrophic consequences.

Take my case, for instance. Given my extensive medical history (there are literally volumes and volumes), it’s not surprising that I receive much needed preventative screening and close observation. However, because of my age and the fact that doctors sometimes feel as if they do not want to overburden me with unnecessary worry, there have been instances whereby nothing has been done or no tests were ordered.

About a year before the osteosarcoma in my neck was discovered, I had noticed both a small bump on the right side of my neck (where my original rhabdomyosarcoma at the age of 3 was located) as well as some pain in the area. It felt as though I had pulled a muscle in my neck. I was worried by the discovery, as is any cancer patient whenever they spot a new bump, pain, or change. I knew I had to have this examined further. There is an after care clinic set up where childhood cancer survivors who are now 18 years of age or older are to be monitored for possible late-term effects of pediatric cancer. As opposed to notifying my family doctor of any inconsistency or irregularity, I would notify the doctors at this clinic.

At my follow-up appointment at the clinic I mentioned the bump and pain that I was experiencing on the right side of my neck. I wanted to have an MRI done just to rule out any abnormality (this is code for I wanted to make sure that I didn’t have cancer). However, I was told “you can’t worry or think you have cancer every time you notice a bump or feel some pain.” And although this may very well be true for many people, knowing what I know now about my situation, I would beg to differ.

The doctor very briefly looked at my neck and concluded that it was probably a pulled muscle but that it was nothing to worry about, and said that an MRI was not required. In all sincerity, I should have pleaded and pushed the issue further that day, but having had cancer four times prior to this, there was something calming and very reassuring about hearing a doctor who specializes in cancer tell me that “this was nothing serious, nothing to worry about.” Although part of me still worried, I entrusted the doctor with my faith, and I went on my merry way.

Several months later, the pain intensified and the bump grew larger. Panic mode now sunk in. Although the doctor said this was “nothing,” I couldn’t help but feel very apprehensive and unnerved by the situation. I kept thinking that a pulled muscle would have gone away and would not have caused this bump to grow larger. So, after waiting a few weeks for an appointment (which was another huge blunder), I was finally able to be seen at the clinic. This time I knew for sure that I required an MRI, no matter what. I explained how the pain was much more intolerable now, it almost felt as though I couldn’t hold my head up anymore. It was a constant throbbing pain. Not to mention that to me (and everyone around me) the bump had become visibly larger. It looked like I had a second head growing out of the side of my neck. Seriously, this screamed out TUMOR! The doctor looked at the now irrefutably large bump on the side of my neck and said that it did not look bigger than the last time. The doctor still maintained that it was most likely “nothing to worry about,” but that given my insistence on wanting an MRI, as well as to help put “my mind at ease,” an MRI was ordered.

I am sure you can all guess how this story ends. Not the way a Walt Disney fairytale ends, that’s for sure. Unless there’s going to be a new Disney movie whereby the princess has a huge freakish bump at the side of her neck that is presumed to be ‘nothing,’ but is later found to be an incurable form of osteosarcoma. I can just see it now “Cancerella.” So, there you have it, “mistakes” happen. And some of them can be deadly.

Was this “mistake” considered “negligence”?

Flashbacks of law school all over again.

Flashbacks of law school all over again.


Negligence is a fancy legal term used in tort law to describe a failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in similar circumstances. It is not intentional harm, but rather carelessness. Not every mistake or bad decision can be categorized as negligence. Essentially, the key issue is whether the doctor made a reasonable decision, one in which other reasonable doctors would have made in the same circumstances. In such a case whereby a doctor made a reasonable decision, this would not be considered negligence even if the decision turned out to have been a bad one, which in turn led to a bad result. Basically, a doctor may take all of the right steps and still make a mistake or end up with a bad result. In my case, I do not believe that it was reasonable for my doctor at the time to conclude that given my extensive medical history and previous cancers as well as the symptoms I presented with, that I did not require an MRI. To me this decision was an unreasonable one, and it fell below the necessary standard of care that I was entitled to (and should have received). However, having said this, in retrospect, it seems pointless to obsess over these details now. What does this accomplish? It does not change my situation in any way, as it is too late for that. If anything, it makes matters worse, as it adds unnecessary stress and utilizes too much energy that is better directed at trying to heal myself.

It’s imperative to note that there are many cases of negligence and misdiagnosis in Canada that result in injury and death. However, these patients face huge challenges in obtaining just and fair compensation for their injuries. Navigating the legal system requires time, energy, expertise, and money, all of which unfortunately make it prohibitively difficult for these patients who have suffered injury to be vindicated. Not to mention the very deep pockets of the Canadian Medical Protective Association. So very often these claims are abandoned or go unreported altogether.

Turning back to my case, had an MRI been ordered when I first complained of pain and noticed the bump on my neck, most likely the cancer would have been detected then and therefore it would not have been an advanced or fourth stage cancer. This will forever remain a mystery. Despite the fact that I was furious at the doctor’s complacency, as well as furious at myself for not being more aggressive and accepting such substandard care, I have since accepted the situation for what it is. I am now trying to deal with the consequences by moving on in the best way possible. In the words of the renowned poet, Alexander Pope, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” In effect, as human beings, we all make mistakes. We are nothing more than mere mortals. We do not possess godly powers or attributes. And we falter and fail. I would be lying if I said that it has been easy to forgive some of these failures and “mistakes,” especially ones that have caused me great harm, and may even be the cause of my death. But in the end, forgiveness is the only thing that will allow me to move forward. I will be extra vigilant from now on towards my healthcare; however, I too may make a mistake along the way.

MRIs and Cupcakes

Helloooo Blog!

Usually I have been writing about a particular topic. Instead, today I feel like writing about my weekend. It wasn’t overly eventful or anything, but it was a good weekend nonetheless. Any time my entire weekend doesn’t revolve around cancer or feeling awful, I figure life is good.

This weekend I had an MRI for my boobies. Nothing is going on with my boobies (at least not to my knowledge). However, given my insane and extensive medical history, I have a lot of MRIs of different body parts to make sure there’s no cancer hanging out. You name the body part, and I’m sure I’ve had a test done there. I really wish I could just have one full-body MRI and that’s it. Most people wish to be famous or win the lottery, I’m wishing for a full-body MRI, there is something definitely wrong with this picture. I also wish I didn’t have cancer. But don’t get me wrong, being famous and winning the lottery are pretty sweet too.

I have an annual breast MRI every October, but most recently they saw a “shadow” (I have no idea what that means) and wanted the test repeated within 6 months…..hence my Sunday MRI. I could think of about a million better things I would rather be doing on a Sunday (sleeping, going for brunch, lounging about in my pjs, not going to the hospital, did I mention sleeping? etc, etc.) However, as long as the results are good, who cares, right? I will just suck it up, like I’ve sucked up the rest of this ordeal. This doesn’t make me a sucker, does it?

Here I am looking exceptionally fashionable in my mammoth hospital gown.

Walking down the hospital runway

Walking down the hospital runway

I realize that being a fashionista is not a top priority at hospitals nor is there room in their budget for this sort of thing. But these ginormous gowns have got to go! Or perhaps they could have a range of sizes and colours. Or maybe black, it’s slimming and looks good on everyone. Red would be awesome too. Vera Wang, if you are reading my blog right now, PLEASE HELP!!! I typically love the colour blue, but this hospital hue of blue really does nothing for the complexion. And I would even settle for a gown that doesn’t leave you completely exposed. No one needs to see my bits and pieces; it’s really not necessary. Luckily the nice receptionist girl handed me two gowns to wear in order to minimize the “I’m walking around with my butt hanging out look“, and to keep me a little warmer. What’s with the arctic air that blows on you during an MRI, right? It was freezing in there!

Then I was given a contrast dye for the MRI (it helps to get a clearer picture), and thankfully the nurse got the vein on the first try! Thank you, nice nurse lady. I really appreciate you not poking at my veins a gazillion times, or leaving a huge nasty bruise on my arm, or worse yet, missing the vein completely (and you feel like the little girl in the Exorcist..“it burns, it burns”). This is an awful feeling.

I have been given so much contrast dye over the last little while that I think my body is getting a little peeved. Usually, it has no effect on me whatsoever, but yesterday, for some reason I felt a little nauseated after my test. It could have been the awkward position that you are placed in when you undergo a breast MRI, although the machines have improved over the years and are much more comfortable. At least now there is some padding on the bar you are lying face down on that is placed in-between your boobs. This used to kill before (it would literally hurt your lungs to breathe), now it didn’t bother me at all. Either the test has improved, or my tolerance for pain and annoying situations has skyrocketed. I’m guessing that it’s probably a bit of both.

Fortunately my weekend did not consist only of hospital visits. I also was able to do something on Saturday afternoon that I thoroughly enjoy. I baked cupcakes! Baking (as is blogging) is very therapeutic for me. Well, except for the times when things go horribly wrong and I become “bakezilla.” Not a pretty sight.

I made yummy chocolate cupcakes. These are not part of my healthy living lifestyle, so I didn’t eat any of them. But I was told that they were delicious. Here’s a peak at them…

Can you guess what this is supposed to be?

Can you guess what this is supposed to be?


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Hopefully you guessed “owl”. I made these cute looking owl cupcakes for my sister-in-law’s owl-themed baby shower. They were a huge hit! The shower was lovely and everything turned out wonderful.

Perhaps I will have to take a stab at a healthy version of these cupcakes one day. If I do, I will be sure to let you all know.

When you are feeling good, it’s okay that your weekend consists of MRIs and cupcakes. You must take it all in stride. Just try not to make a habit of the MRIs 😉

Love, health, and cute-looking cupcakes!
xo

I Reached Into My Purse and Pulled Out the “Cancer Card”

Cancer sucks. We can all agree on that. And metastatic cancer really sucks – you can take my word for it. You were dealt a really crappy hand when you got cancer, but one of those cards just happens to be the infamous “cancer card.”

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When you have cancer, you are automatically given a “cancer card.” It’s part of the membership to the “Cancer Club.” With the “cancer card” you can milk your diagnosis for what it’s worth. And why wouldn’t you, really? You’ve earned it!

Don’t judge us, you know you would do the same.

Now, I’m not saying the “cancer card” can get you out of everything. You still have to pay your taxes, find yourself a job, wait in line when Christmas shopping, follow the law (and obey rules, regulations, and bylaws), pay for things, and it can’t get you out of having cancer, either (bummer, I know).

And you shouldn’t abuse the “cancer card.” That’s just wrong. It’s for those well-needed breaks. The times when you just become overwhelmed and can’t deal with everything, and you need a little help.

So when can you pull out your “cancer card”, you might wonder? Here are a few instances when doing so is deemed appropriate and beneficial:

1. You need an MRI, CT scan, or test of any kind…….with the “cancer card” you get top priority.

2. When you want to take a nap during the day or sleep in a little longer…. I’m feeling really tired, it must be the cancer. Cancer card.

3. When you are losing an argument with your significant other….I can’t think straight right now, it’s probably my chemo brain. Note that this can also work when you can’t figure out a Crossword puzzle or Sudoku.

4. When you want to get out of doing the dishes, cancer card it up. Sorry, I just don’t have any energy lately. I think I’m just going to sit here and rest.

5. When you really feel like going out for dinner or ice cream….…The “cancer card” coupled with the “I have cancer face” is really hard to say no to.

6. For all those other times that you may deem it necessary…Uh, cuz I have cancer, duh?

I don’t want to list too many, as that might just make you feel guilty.

Oh, and the other good thing about the “cancer card” is that you can joke about having and using it (kinda like I did in this blog post).

Anyway, I’m off to make some dinner, I’m not going to use the “cancer card” for this one.

Love, health, and humour!
xo

I Surely Didn’t Ask Santa To Bring Me Cancer For Christmas

Cancer is not a gift.

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I remember reading articles and watching interviews from individuals claiming that cancer was a gift, that they embraced it with open arms because it taught them so much. It taught them to love and appreciate life. When I heard these things, I would throw up a little in my mouth. Call me crazy but that’s not the gift I wanted to receive all wrapped up under my Christmas tree.

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A gift does not make you weak and frail. It does not subject you to toxic treatments. It does not make you throw up at the sight of food (or for no reason at all). It does not make you emotional, irritable, and fearful. It does not mess with your self-esteem or negatively alter your self-image. It does not force you to fight for your life. And it surely isn’t fun or something you are dying to show-off to your friends. Hey guys, look at this cool tumor I got for Christmas, isn’t it awesome?

There was no way that cancer was going to make Amazon’s Wish List, this was for certain.

I used to think to myself, I seriously didn’t need cancer to make me enjoy or appreciate life. I was already doing that. In fact, the only thing I didn’t particularly like about my life was the whole cancer thing. Not something I would recommend trying.

In my teens, twenties, and early thirties, I didn’t need to be reminded of how great life was because I already knew. I was young; the last thing I was looking for was this type of enlightenment. I just wanted to live carefree for a while, have fun, and do ‘normal people’ things. I didn’t want to put my life on hold and make life-altering decisions. I didn’t want to be the ‘girl with cancer’. But I was.

About four or five months ago I read a book about a woman’s cancer journey whereby she refers to cancer as a gift. This was one of the many books that I picked up as a means of enlightening myself about everything and all things cancer. Although I appreciated this woman’s courage and bravery while battling the disease, I still couldn’t come to terms with the idea behind the title. By the time I reached the end of the book, I understood exactly where the author was coming from, but in all honesty, I was still having trouble applying the concept to my own life.

As part of my journey towards healing myself, I promised that I would try to see my disease in a different light. I promised myself that I would focus on the upsides of cancer (which I will discuss in another blog post, so watch out for that), and that I would try to focus on changing my lifestyle and attitude. The part about appreciating and loving life, I already had mastered that.

With each of the last five times that I had cancer, it was never a gift for me, and that has not changed. But what has changed is that my current situation has forced me to accept the cancer and deal with it differently than I had been. I didn’t need or ask for this wake-up call, but now that it was presented to me, I needed to act on it. Plain and simple.

In my opinion, cancer does and will always suck. But what doesn’t suck is the love and support that surrounds me.

The pleasure and enjoyment I get out of life doesn’t suck.

Having awesome skin from all of the juicing and vegetables that I have been devouring doesn’t suck.

Learning and trying out new things doesn’t suck.

Having an excuse to sleep a little more doesn’t suck.

Being a role model and inspiring others doesn’t suck.

Writing this blog doesn’t suck.

And for better or for worse, cancer has been the driving force behind all of these things.

As for the whole ‘cancer as a gift’ thing, I still won’t be putting that on my Christmas list 😉

Love, health, and fun presents!
xo

Coping With Scanxiety

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Anyone that has battled cancer, is currently battling cancer, or is a close family member of someone with cancer knows this term all too well.

Scanxiety refers to the worry and anxiety associated with upcoming scans (MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds, PET scans, etc) and the results of these scans.

It doesn’t go away.

It gets better at times, but it’s always there lingering in the back of your mind. In fact, research in Psycho-Oncology suggests that between 4 percent and 22 percent of cancer survivors have a risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point during their lifetimes. Like we didn’t already have enough to worry about.

I always used to get really nervous right before a scan, not to mention the gut-wrenching stress while waiting for results. The stress can be quite overwhelming and debilitating at times. Why do they take so long for the results- maybe that must mean that everything is fine? Why are they calling me back so quickly? Why do they want me to come in to the office – it can’t be good news. I used to play all of these scenarios in my head. With five cancer diagnoses under my belt, you can imagine how much time and energy Scanxiety has taken from my life. Way too much.

I remember very vividly that ill-fated morning back in February 2014 when I was first told that my cancer had metastasized. It was the usual 3 month follow-up of my neck MRI as well as an X-ray of my lungs (to make sure there was no funny business going on in there). This was the standard protocol for my osteosarcoma: an MRI and X-ray every 3 months for the first two years, then every 6 months for the following two years, and then once a year…unless something went wrong in the interim, that is.

I was always jittery and on-edge when I had to go see my oncologist for results, but that morning, for whatever reason, I wasn’t too bad. All my previous scans had come back clear, so I kept thinking to myself that everything was going to continue this way (although part of me didn’t always believe this to be true).

That day I was sitting chatting with my mom until the oncologist came in while my cousin waited for us in the waiting area. We were supposed to go out for lunch to celebrate my good news that I anticipated receiving. Eating always made me happy.

My oncologist and I have a good relationship. She spends time chatting with me, and she had been rather upbeat on previous visits (as my prior results had been boring, just like we liked them). However, this day she came into the room with a look of despair in her eyes. Almost like a grim reaper of sorts.

She said “I need you to go and get a CT scan and then come back here and we will look at the results together.” WHAT?! Why do I need a CT scan I said, I just had an X-ray of my lungs, what did the X-ray find?  “The X-ray came back clear she said, but your MRI (which was of the neck) happened to catch the upper part of your lungs and we see some ‘spots’; I just want to make sure these ‘spots’ are nothing to worry about.”

Right at that moment I wanted to crawl out of my body. Run as far away as possible and never look back. When was I going to wake up from this terrible nightmare? I suddenly had a knot in my stomach that was the size of a beach ball, I couldn’t breathe, and I felt like throwing up.

I was shaking all the way to the CT scan area. Spots in my lungs? For sure I have cancer, what else could it be. I am so surprised that I didn’t faint. This was my worst case of Scanxiety thus far. My mom looked really worried, but like always, she was trying to be strong for me.

The CT scan took all of 2 minutes, but those felt like the longest two minutes of my life. I wanted to cry but I didn’t want the technician to freak out and come over to console me because then this thing would take longer – I just wanted to get it over with.

The technician told me to take a deep breath, and all I could think of was Lady, I can’t breathe…I am just about to get told whether I have cancer in my lungs or not, which means I could die, I can’t breathe. But I mustered up the courage and took a deep breathe. All I kept muttering in my head was please don’t let this be cancer, please don’t let this be cancer, please don’t let me die.

As we all know now, those “spots” were indeed cancer that had metastasized.

As soon as the oncologist uttered those words to me, I went numb. My chest and throat instantly tightened up. I didn’t have any words, tears wouldn’t come out either. I felt like throwing something across the room or smacking someone.

I wanted to scream in that room, like this

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But nothing came out. Instead, I probably looked like such a bad ass, like nothing can get me down, not even some metastatic cancer. 

Of course we didn’t go out to lunch to celebrate that day, as everyone in the car felt sick to their stomachs. Eating was the last thing on our minds. I hardly said a word the entire car ride home. As soon as we got home, I ran upstairs to the bathroom, turned on the tap (so no one would hear me) and I burst out in tears. All of those built-up emotions that I was trying desperately to suppress came pouring right out. I sat on the bathroom floor while hysterically crying. I think if I had been hit by a truck that day instead, I would have felt better. Well, maybe not.

Similar to every other cancer patient out there (and their families), I continue to feel anxious every time I have a scan and am awaiting the results. This is completely normal. You are not crazy. There is constant fear – fear that the cancer has spread, fear that the cancer has gone somewhere else, fear that the cancer has now become terminal, or for those in remission, the constant fear that the cancer has made a comeback.

Although Scanxiety is quite normal, there are some things that can help you to cope with this overwhelming feeling of stress. Here are a few tips:

1. Try to surround yourself with positive people (close family and friends) before your scan and before receiving any results. Bring a family member and/or a friend with you to these appointments. This can be a good distraction, try to laugh and talk about un-cancery things (That’s not a word, I know). 

2. Do something fun that you enjoy – this can help you take your mind off of things. Recently, I have been watching movies (especially funny ones) the night before. Do yoga, exercise, dance, take a bubble bath, engage in some hanky panky – whatever floats your boat. It’s all good 😉

3. Engage in relaxation and deep breathing techniques. This really helps! Just try to take a few deep breaths whenever you feel anxious or your mind starts playing out awful scenarios. As you exhale, imagine you are exhaling/letting go of all of your stress and fears. Deep breathing will help to center you again. It’s amazing how relaxing deep breathing can be. Plus, it’s free and it can be done literally ANYWHERE!

4. Pray, meditate, and repeat positive affirmations over and over to yourself (either in your head or out loud, the person next to you on the subway might think you’re crazy, but who cares).

5. Try to schedule your appointments in the morning if possible, this can reduce waiting times a bit, which helps.

6.  DO NOT GO ON THE INTERNET AND READ ABOUT CANCER! (Unless it’s my blog, of course, that’s a given!)

7. Make sure you write down all of the questions and concerns that you would like to discuss with your oncologist or treatment team at your appointment. Having all of your questions answered can help put your mind at ease and make you feel less anxious.

8. Have faith in your treatment plan, whatever it may be. Be confident in the choices you are making with respect to your health, life, and overall well-being. Try not to second guess yourself. Trust your gut, it knows more than you think.

9. Play games on your cell phone, chat with family members, do a crossword puzzle or sudoku, or bring a good book or some meditation cards with you to your appointments to help ease stress and distract you.

10. (This one is hard to implement, but it makes sense.) Try to remember that the scans and the results will be the same whether you worry about them beforehand or whether you don’t. So, why waste your precious time and energy? Save it for something way better than cancer.

Hopefully some of these tips that I have tried and continue to implement in my own life will help all of you lessen your Scanxiety. Whether it be the stress of cancer, any other chronic disease, or hospital visits in general, we could all use some help. And please feel free to reach out to me if you would like more information or advice.

Love and relaxation to all! xo

A Hug a Day to Keep the Doctor Away

hugging kids How many times have you felt the need to hug your husband, wife, mom, dad, child, brother, sister, friend, or pet? For no reason at all, but just because. Or perhaps whenever you feel a little blue or under the weather, a warm embrace seems to instantly sooth you. There is something about physical contact that makes us feel very good. And by physical contact, I am not simply referring to hanky panky (although that is super good for you too), but rather something as effortless as a hug. What about if I told you that scientifically speaking, hugging is actually good for our health? Now we’re talking, right?

Research has shown that physical contact releases many of the same feel-good hormones, like endorphins and serotonin, as love and social connections do. Oxytocin, also referred to as the “cuddle hormone,” is secreted in large amounts when physical contact occurs.  It is an important hormone with powerful benefits, such as reducing inflammation and pain, improving digestion, and improving the function of our immune system (which is very relevant, especially when battling cancer).

Do pets offer us the same benefits or is this restricted to the human touch? Well, studies suggest that being around pets can offer us the same healing hormones that we would get from human contact. Score for pet owners!  Some studies have even suggested that pet owners can tend to outlive their non-pet owner counterparts. Makes you want to buy a puppy, doesn’t it?

It has been suggested by some researchers in Psychosomatic Medicine that hugging for 10 seconds a day can reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) and increase levels of oxytocin. So, perhaps a hug a day can actually keep the doctor away. So, what are you waiting for, go on and hug someone for your (and their) health…you know you want to.

IMG_4763 Love, health, and many hugs!