Radioactive Isolation

The night before the RAI. It's finally here. I look tired (exhausted really) but I'm up for anything including finding out when I opened my mail at 10:30pm to find my driver's license was suspended. (I sent my ticket payment last week which I didn't know about since they sent the warning notice to my parents' house. The deadline had passed by the time I got it. Grrrr! I will have to fight that one after isolation. It would be too late to notify the hospital to arrange to do my isolation there.)

Breakfast of champions! I drink my four food groups (kale, banana, mixed berries, rice milk, flax seeds, oats, almond butter).

Kitty cats have thyroids too. That's why they're in isolation in the music room. Marcus seems a little shocked.

Makeda does not seem to mind.

Somehow I get to the hospital. This sign greets me at the Nuclear Medicine department.

Am I in the right place? The staff seem to think so.

I love getting presents especially when they are packaged in metal lead containers. All this trouble for me...

Did I read that correctly?

No, that wasn't a misprint.

My specialist, Endo #4, comes in, puts on a lead vest, and starts to unpack the contents of the container. He doesn't seem so serious today. In fact, he is smiling and his face is rosy. (Maybe he's happy about the long weekend.) I tell him that I have a blog and ask if I could take a photo of the pill. He looks at me with raised eyebrows. I guess that's a no. "It's a time sensitive thing, isn't it?" I ask. He nods.

The pill was a white capsule in a little container. (I was a little disappointed. It wasn't glowing green or anything. Just a regular inconspicuous pill.) I turn the container upside down into my mouth and swallowed the pill. The little container was packed with a lead weight on top and foam on the sides inside of that metal in the second insulated metal box that you see (with wheels). I'm officially radioactive!!!

After a long wait, I'm escorted out by hospital staff and then a security guard takes me to my reserved elevator. He says to hold the close button. I hold the close button all the way down to the ground floor. There are two security guards there trying to hold back a crowd of people. I'm supposed to avoid people especially children and pregnant women and I can't see a path to walk. "Where do I walk?" I ask. "Just go through," one guard says. I beeline for the hospital exit. I open the door and see a couple coming in at the other end. I look down at the woman's stomach. She's pregnant. (They did not plan this out very well.) I back away as the couple goes through.

I'm a danger to the public. I'm Radioactive girl!

I drive myself home. (There was no other option. Too radioactive to cab it or take the bus. My dad was concerned about radioactive exposure so he couldn't drive me. My fiance couldn't drive me since my sports car would have us sitting together for too long. So I had to drive my hypo radioactive suspended-license self. I whisper a prayer and drive home.)

My last sight of my fiance.

He told me on the phone that Makeda, our brilliant orange cat, escaped isolation twice so he figured out a plan to get her to stay inside the music room.

That should keep her.

And this one should keep me.

Day 2 of Isolation
Update: Very basic last two days. Drank lots of water to flush my system. Flush the toilet three times. Twice daily showers and hair rinses. Laundering all of my radioactive clothes, towels, and linens. Eating (but I have no appetite really) but I'm making myself eat. I don't have much energy but I do have some to talk on the phone. I also have energy to blog and write. Otherwise, I am very sleepy. Some swelling in my inner cheek. A little cramping here and there. I cooked some stew last night (felt like a zombie doing it) since I was tired of eating the same thing. My food tastes a little bland but using more Windsor coarse salt. Meditated and prayed a bit. Read a little bit. Watched movie in chunks since I kept on falling asleep. The cats are okay. Two more days!

I named this post after the title of a book by Dr. Bernie Siegel because I feel that throughout my illness and recovery, I have seen evidence of these. Siegel feels that these are all necessary to recover from cancer. I have seen this manifest in different ways. I am amazed that I have even witnessed a miracle. It is easy to forget that miracles can take place in this modern age and time, my friend Nadine reminded me weeks ago. Well, it's true.

Love for me can take many forms. In this context, I have seen it in three ways. First, I have seen it in the prayers of those around me. Prayers from my family, friends, and church community as well as prayers from co-workers and even strangers. When someone prays for you, it's like they are saying I care about you enough to take a moment to think about you and ask God to have favour on your circumstance. It says, I love you. That's huge! I appreciate every prayer that has been said. I draw strength from these as well as from my own prayers. Next there is demonstrative love. I have seen generosity in a number of ways. I was so touched when my sister with her young family (husband and baby in tow) flew to Toronto to be with me for moral support. When she told me she would come, I told her that it wasn't necessary. (Too much to ask, I thought.) But this visit meant a lot to me and took the form of daily visits. Although, I just had surgery and had a longer than expected hospital stay, I got to hold and cherish my nephew and in those moments I did not remember that I had a stiff neck or dizziness or fatigue. My phone was ringing a lot in the weeks to follow as I heard from cousins, friends, relatives, coworkers, and my mother (twice and sometimes three times daily). My mother-in-law to be is also dealing with illness so we were able to call each other during the day to provide mutual support. Each week I had a few visits from friends which lifted my spirits with our jokes and laughter. Then there is my fiance who saw me daily and although I had bloody scar and surgical tape on my neck and dry, pale skin, said I looked so cute in my blue pyjamas. He put up with my mood swings from exhausted and dizzy to hyperthyroid to "hypo hell". My mother who came over two times (not the end I am sure) to clean our apartment with her efficiency, zeal, and ferosity. My dad who fixed things and drove me to some of my appointments. My older brother who listened and provided a shoulder to cry on two days before my surgery when I was so afraid. And my baby sister who helped me to celebrate Valentine's day with chocolates and novelty gifts. Flowers, cards, and stuffed toys. Njeri with her phone calls and a gift of a juicer. Encouraging e-mails. A phone call in with my kindergarten students filled with "I love you" and "When are you coming back?" In these and so many ways, I have seen love demonstrated. Then there is the community. Church people who I did not know well but offered to help. One offered a therapeutic touch session. Another provided conversation and an ear to hear the ups and downs of my illness. My pastor who regularly checks in. Community is rich and necessary. This is why I felt at some point that I needed to reach out to other cancer patients and survivors. I started to go to Wellspring for support. After I began to speak with other cancer patients and survivors, I felt this weight begin to lift off my shoulders. I did not have to keep this a secret and the word cancer stopped scaring me. In fact, I felt stronger each day. From my first visualization/meditation class to the very intense yoga, I realized the fierceness and strength of being a cancer patient/survivor. I go to Wellspring a few times each week to participate in workshops as well to learn about cancer prevention. I am participating in their creative workshops too. The cancer survivors and patients I have met are ready to share their stories and I am always inspired by them. I feel blessed.

Without saying much, medicine has been a huge part of my journey. Medicine has taken the forms of the customary treatment for thyroid cancer: diagnosis, surgery, thyroid hormone replacement, and radioactive iodine ablation. But I have learned and practiced other forms of healing. Naturopathy has helped in preparing for the surgery and follow-up. The homeopathics and different products help to encourage my body's own healing response. Yoga and meditation helped me to still my mind, decrease my anxiety, and increase my positivity. Reiki and therapeutic touch were both new to me and provide balance and clarity. My own self-directed healing comes from food, books, and creativity. Food which is a source of medicine with its vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and other healing properties. (You can see my Vegan Photo Album and Living La Vega(n) Loca posts). The books and magazines which I am reading have provided excellent sources of information regarding healing, veganism, and recipes/nutrition. (Please see my Book Reviews.) I've started going to counselling again to help me process all of the issues that are coming out of my journey. Lastly, creativity has helped me in my healing journey through art, journalling, blogging, and music. Although I have not done too much musicmaking (except learning a couple guitar chords and playing Motown and Erykah Badu songs on the piano) recently, I find healing in listening to uplifting songs. Right now, it's all about the roots reggae so my online radio is locked to SKY.FM.

I find that miracles have been part of this journey too. Maybe you wouldn't call them all miracles but I do. When the unexpected happens or you're at the right place at the right time and things fall into place, it is easy to take these for granted and disregard it. The first miracle I had was meeting Woody Harrelson (please see my post Living La Vega(n) Loca). I am not a huge fan of Harrelson but I've become one. Since my surgery, I read Alicia Silverstone's book which inspired my veganism and Alicia was inspired by his lifestyle and activism to become Vegan. Also I had watched three of his films-- Zombieland, Defendor, and Go Further. So imagine my shock, when I saw him and met him. Another miracle came with my health. Most thyroid cancer patients stay for 2 days in hospital. I stayed for 4 days because I had hypocalcemia. Hypocalcemia is caused by a lack of calcium in the blood. Calcium is an electrolyte which promotes normal functions in the body (especially the heart). You can survive weeks and weeks without a thyroid (although you would be in "hypo hell") but cannot survive without calcium. My calcium levels were extremely low. The cause of my hypocalcemia was the removal of my 3 out of 4 of my parathyroid glands. Parathyroid glands help to regulate calcium levels in the blood and I had one of these glands. Only thing my gland was not working because it had to be moved during the operation and reimplanted. So with calcium pills and intravenously, it took four days for my calcium levels to get to a normal level so that I could leave the hospital. For the next several weeks after, I had to take very high doses of calcium carbonate (3 times daily) and Rocaltrol (an expensive medication) until my parathyroids could work. I'm happy to say that two months later, my parathyroid gland did work and I do not have to take these anymore. Also, after struggling to find a new endocrinologist (see my post The Best Cancer or A Tale of 4 Endos) without any effort on my part, I was transferred to Endo #4 (this was another miracle) who said it was safe enough for me to fly next week. This meant that I would be able to attend a healing retreat for young adults with cancer. So when I e-mailed Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC), they still had a space available. Since it was so last minute, the prices of the flights had gone up and my AirMiles would not cover it. The miracle came when a person said they wanted to help me that same day. She wished to remain anonymous and is paying for half of my ticket. I've never had a stranger want to help me in such a big way. I asked her if I could mention this donour on my blog and what this donour wanted for this donation. The answer: to know how the retreat was for me and to "play it forward". Amazing!!!!

I will continue to add to this post from time to time as I see evidence of love, medicine, and miracles in my healing journey.

Update: Very basic last two days. Drank lots of water to flush my system. Flush the toilet three times. Twice daily showers and hair rinses. Laundering all of my radioactive clothes, towels, and linens. Eating (but I have no appetite really) but I'm making myself eat. I don't have much energy but I do have some to talk on the phone. I also have energy to blog and write. Otherwise, I am very sleepy. Some swelling in my inner cheek. A little cramping here and there. I cooked some stew last night (felt like a zombie doing it) since I was tired of eating the same thing. My food tastes a little bland but using more Windsor coarse salt. Meditated and prayed a bit. Read a little bit. Watched movie in chunks since I kept on falling asleep. The cats are okay. Two more days!

This is how I envision the radioactive iodine (I-131) attacking the thyroid cancer cells in my body. In "Love, Medicine, and Miracles" by Bernie Siegel, MD (see my review of this book in my post, Book Reviews), he said that it is helpful to have an image of the cancer healing in your body. Some people envision a war. Others envision a vacuum aspirating or a broom sweeping out dust. I fell in love with the Pacman image. (I'm a child of the 1980s.)

Day 3 of Isolation

I wanted to post the video for the song "Love Rollercoaster" by Ohio Players for all of the directions my mood was today. It was sunny and warm (18 degrees Celsius) outside and I sat out on the backporch talking on the phone and eating spinach and oranges. I soaked it all up. I get calls on rotation from my fiance, my mom, my fiance's mom, and my friend Njeri each day sometimes a few times each day each. A call from my dad and one from my little sister. Then there are the phone calls and e-mails that pleasantly surprise me from my cousin who shares that she is pregnant with her ultrasound photos (happy radioactive tears), from a family friend who suffered a personal loss but still found time to e-mail me on the day of the funeral (tears), and friends who I don't hear from every day but who are still "there" experiencing this with me. I also cry and feel sad about the calls that don't come from folks who say they will call but don't. (Then I start to feel pathetic for crying about this.) I am having cravings for salty foods (like the root chips that my fiance left) and meat. (Thank God I made and froze those salty vegan jerk sausages as well as some fake meat cutlets.) I'm so glad that my Low Iodine Diet (LID) ends tomorrow. I miss salt!!! Real salt!!! Not fake salt!!! I want to eat restaurant food! I want ice cream!!!

I also go back on my thyroid hormone tomorrow. Since I will be on Cytomel (T3 which works within 2 weeks) and Eltroxin (T4 which takes 6 weeks to fully work), I may be hyperthyroid for a little while. But I rather be hyper than continue with "hypo hell". If I was still with Endo #1, I would have to continue my LID for another 4 days. But Endo #4 says that I can stop tomorrow. It couldn't come soon enough.

I watched the Karate Kid. So sweet. So violent. So difficult to watch at times. I almost didn't make it through the final fight scene. Jaden Smith is so talented. Also, those kung fu bullies are tough.

Tomorrow will be an Easter to remember for a number of reasons. I'm going to take the cats out of their isolation and let them roam albeit in a different level of the house than me. (Makeda, the clever orange cat, is meowing to me and sticking her paws under the door. We talk through the door. I tell her the isolation will be over soon.) It will also be one more day until my fiance comes back (Easter Monday). Although we can't even hug for another few days afterward, slowly the boundaries will shrink.)

Easter symbolizes new life for many people and personal changes sometimes coincide with the transformation that Christ made 2, 000 years ago. (See the Canadian film, RUDE directed by Clement Virgo which illustrates this perfectly.)

I will definitely be celebrating tomorrow!!!

Day 4 of Isolation (An Easter to Remember)

Moderator's Easter Message 2011

Lent is over and today I celebrate Easter. As I called it yesterday, this will be an Easter to remember. I'm still in isolation for one more day and then tomorrow I can see people and my cats but only at a distance. I post the Moderator's Easter Message because I am inspired by it and I found it powerful. The moderator quotes Fr. Richard Rohr who says if we don't transform pain, it is transmitted. She goes on to say that If pain is to be transformed it requires, social justice, honesty, compassion, peace, and humility. Although I have experienced pain through different aspects of my thyroid cancer journey, I wish to transform it into something positive, uplifting, healing, spiritual, and creative. For those of you celebrating Easter, I hope you are having a blessed and peaceful weekend and day. And for those not celebrating Easter, I hope you find rest and relaxation.

End of My Isolation in Photos
Look Ma, no taste

On Sunday, the last day of my isolation, I sprang from bed and started my hormones again. (Hello Cytomel and Eltroxin.) I felt a little more alert (just a little). I ate salty chips and salty vegan sausage. I was able to not just watch the second half of a movie, but I watched another one. A whole movie! The first movie I finished was Julie and Julia about a writer, Julie Powell, who "finds herself" while cooking from the cookboook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking by renowned chef Julia Child. (Julie blogs about her experience which is eventually made into book and then a movie. Hmmmm....) While watching this movie, I had a craving for flavourful food. I still had no appetite (it's gone, lost, not sure where). I feel full all of the time. Plus, vegetables seemed to repulse me. (This from a fully fledged new vegan is devestation.) My solution? Thai food.

I ordered Spring Rolls delivery. A stirfry of tofu and eggplant with rice and you guessed it folks? Springrolls with dipping sauce. I had the delivery guy bring the food to the backdoor and I signed the form at a distance. I told him I had to stay back since I was in treatment for cancer. (It's not catchy. Don't worry, I insisted.) Only thing is the springrolls weren't as crispy but I still ate them. Then I went for the entree. I had it before and knew it was tasty except it tasted bland. I put hot pepper sauce and soya sauce on the rice desperately trying to add flavour. My taste buds were deceiving me and when I tasted the carrots, I started to cry. I couldn't taste that familiar sweet-sour taste that is typical of Thai food. I was saddened by this. I love food and I love to cook. And here I was, I neither felt like eating it and I couldn't taste and I was watching this movie while these women were making beautiful food. I feared that my taste would never come back. (I know this is a side effect of the radiation but it freaked me out!)

The other movie I watched was Temple Grandin about the autistic animal rights activist. I have worked with autistic children and I find them to be unique and fascinating. Temple has an extraordinary gift-- to think in pictures-- and had the nurturing and guidance from her mentors and guardians to use it to help animals. She was the first person to help explain what it is like to be autistic. (From what I gathered, I think she has Asperger's Syndrome which is on the autism spectrum.) So inspiring. I managed not to tear up again.

I'm Coming Out, I Want the World to Know
Monday, today, was exciting. I felt a little more energy then the day before but still needed to lay down and rest at times. I cleaned my bathroom. And when I say clean. I mean deep clean. Rinse. Disinfect. Mop. Scour. I would have made Mr. Clean proud. It took me probably about 2 hours to fully sanitize and "de-radioactivize" this space. I was so proud of it. I needed to get a photo.

Look at the shine!


I had a neat facebook live chat with a professor I know and her experience of recovering from a partial thryoidectomy. It essentially changed her life and through her healing process shaped who she is. Like me, she engaged in a lot of inner work. She was eighteen when she began this journey. There was so much that we shared that we decided to continue this conversation at a later time.

Anyway, I had my first visitor post-isolation. Suzanna was in town from Kitchener-Waterloo. (Shout out to my KW peeps. Woot! Woot!)

My brave first post-isolation guest

I didn't get in the photo with her since my camera was still a little radioactive. Also I'm a little camera shy. (I look a hot mess. My already chubby cheeks have gone from chipmunk to bulldog overnight.) Suzanna and I shared our adventures over ginger tea-- she of her pan-Asian expedition and my medical system safari. She gave me a get well card with a fairy godmother wearing combat boots. Everyone needs a fairy godmother wearing combat boots.

My fiance Adam came home too. (Talk about awkward hug.) There are all these rules about physical distance which we were trying to decipher from the hospital summary sheet. Forget consulting websites and the internet. The information is all contradictory. For example, this is what the hospital suggested:

For 3 days (72 hours) after you take the I-131 therapy pills, you may spend:
MAXIMUM 45 minutes/day at 1 m (3.5 feet) from other people
MAXIMUM 2 hours/day at 2m (7 feet) from other people
MAXIMUM 7 hours/day at 3 m (10 feet) from other people

Adam did some research on the internet. The websites each say something different but one thing is for sure. No exchange of bodily fluids. Plus, no pregnant women and no children. Not necessarily in that order.

Adam and I left the house to run a few errands. When I stepped outside, there were droplets of rain falling lightly. I smiled and revelled in the freshness. *&!$ the umbrella. It felt that good. I needed this. It felt good to be outside and to feel alive. I need to fax something. He had to buy toothpaste. I needed to get vegan food that might "turn on" my appetite. We ate at Chipotle's. I had a huge veggie burrito knowing that it would probably be the only meal I could manage for the day. (I did start the day with a smoothie and tea. I also ate fruit.) I beelined from every child under 12 and potentially pregnant woman around me.

Hair Issues
I called back my hairstylist for the last five years. (The salon he worked at closed down and I began to go to a closer salon.) My hairstylist is more than a stylist and such a soulful, creative person. I told him about my cancer. (He knew months before I had been in hospital but at the time I was not ready to reveal why.) He listened and encouraged me. "How's your hair?" he asked. I think it's thinning. There. I said it. It's true. My beautiful, glorious bush of hair. (My mom always said that God blessed me with one good head of hair.) My roots have grown in but some of my dredlocks were hanging by spindly strands looking like they were ready to snap at the root. "I trust you will do a good job. Whatever you say, I'll do it." I put my hair completely into the hands of my stylist. I will see him soon.