Thanks to CTV for telling our story well: "Mother diagnosed with cancer same day she gives birth"

As mentioned in my last post here, CTV Atlantic came to our home last week to shoot a piece for their weekly Housecall segment on CTV News At 5.

Big thanks to producer Andrea Slaney, camera operator JW, intern Britney, Maria Panopalis, and anyone else along the chain who had a hand in crafting the story. You told it with compassion and accuracy.

The video is on the CTV News web site, and there's a written version as well.

Hair falls like snow as second chemo round begins

It's been another roller-coaster stretch as Amanda's treatment for ovarian cancer continues after it was found during the birth of our son. She's staying strong, but as she's said, "what else am I going to do?" It's weird to be called inspirational when you're barely keeping it together.

After the first day of chemo treatment, chronicled in my last post, Amanda went through excruciating bone and joint pains and a level of physical exhaustion that left her afraid to hold the baby. Otherwise, it was an emotional experience.

Remember that she never had any symptoms of ovarian cancer. The symptoms women are told to watch out for -- abdominal pressure, frequent urinary urgency, quickly feeling full, clothes feeling tighter -- were easily explained. She was pregnant, after all. Then the C-section and testing said she was very very sick. But she didn't FEEL sick.

Getting that needle in her arm and watching the IV bag drip poison into her body forced her to face the fact that she was sick and was soon going to feel sick.

Shining in those big eyes is a reflection of his mommy.
The chemo side effect she was dreading and expecting was slow to come. Her hair started falling out toward this past weekend and became obvious by Sunday as we prepared to go to the Blue Nose Marathon in Halifax to cheer for our friends Greg and Christine. (Both did tremendously, by the way! Congrats, guys!) We took baby Gordon out for his first experience in a big crowd. It was a beautiful day marred only by Amanda's fatigue and the growing nest of hair piling on her neck, back and shoulders.

Tuesday had us at the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax for the second round of Carboplatin and Taxol chemotherapy treatment. By then, her hair was coming out rapidly. It fell in chunks in the shower. Even for someone who's not vain and believes strongly that one's appearance does not determine one's worth, seeing a formerly lush head of rich brown hair coming out with barely a touch and jamming up the shower drain is a disturbing sight.




The day of chemo began with a round of questions: Sores in your mouth? Tingling in your hands and feet? Constipation and diarrhea? Some blood testing. Some seriously uncomfortable physical exams. (Hope your doctor has slim fingers.) Wait for the blood test results to come in -- looking good this time! -- and eventually into the chemo chair with her good buddy, the IV pole. Then it's hours and hours of sitting around as the drugs get pumped into her body.

Chemotherapy is serious business and has profound consequences, but it's really, really boring. This time we brought gadgets, chargers and an extension cord. She watched Grays Anatomy on her mom's iPad. I listened to podcasts including Tell 'Em Steve Dave and Judge John Hodgman. As usual, she appeared to be the youngest patient in the chemo room. We were in at 11am and the last ones to leave.

By day's end, Amanda was teary and ready to take severe action on her hair. Amanda's mother and I stood by her side in the bathroom as she took a pair of sharp kitchen scissors and cut her already short hair even shorter. In doing so, she revealed another hidden talent. Her improvised, hurried, untrained emergency haircut looked terrific.

Within an hour of that, though, the odd patch of scalp was visible. Handfuls of hair now come out at a slight touch. I'll be surprised if she makes it to the end of today without wanting to buzz it all off. It's horrible to see her go through this. I never would've expected losing hair to be so traumatic. But that's how it's turned out.

Some side effects of these drugs are cumulative. We're anticipating the pain to be worse this time and even worse next time. The doctors say she can take Tylenol and Advil to try to head off the pain, but it probably won't make a difference.

"If that doesn't work, get in touch and we can try something else," said the doctor this week. "But it won't work."

That sounds line with what we've read online from patients who've even taken Vicodin with no relief. This will be a hard weekend for her.

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Camera operator JW shoots some B-Roll. B is for Baby and Bottle.
Thanks to everyone who's been reading and commenting. I hadn't intended this to be a chronicle of the cancer discovery and treatment process, but people have been telling us that they've been checking back for updates. We really appreciate the support. Our friends have been terrific, and so have been the countless strangers who've been sharing these posts on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and elsewhere. You can follow me on Twitter @Simpson957 and Amanda @AYateman.

It's also been neat to see how many friends and relatives have been sporting teal toenails! (See http://www.tealtoes.org/ for the connection.)

We're not attention whores or sympathy hustlers, Amanda especially. I have a history of being less private. I mean, you can see from the fact that I've been writing about my life here since 2005 that I'm not shy about talking about myself. We're not out to call attention to ourselves over this. But maybe our experience can help someone else somehow.

Having said that, we've been approached here and there by people who've read the story and want to share it with others through larger media.

CTV News Atlantic came to our house last week to shoot a segment for their Housecall segment, and that aired tonight (Wednesday, May 22, 2013) during the 5pm show. The producer, cameraman and whoever else was involved along the way did a great job. You know I work in news and watching TV news usually gets me shouting corrections and style suggestions at the TV. But they got everything right on this one.

You can view the story at CTV's web site. You just have to sit through a short commercial to see the story.

There may be more from other media as time goes on.

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As for baby Gordon -- he's still amazing. Hardly makes a fuss but always keeps us guessing about when he'll eat, sleep and poop. Big thanks to Barb and Wendall for staying with us and taking some of the load off. We love him to pieces and he's been the inspiration we keep coming back to. We're looking forward to seeing more family over the summer so they can meet the kid and be personally barfed upon.

Eight days into chemo with ups and downs

First off, thanks to the literally thousands of people who've read my April 16 post revealing Amanda's cancer diagnosis and the circumstances around it. Thanks also to the folks who shared it on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, plus Reddit and parenting forums.

If you missed it, the TL;DR summary: during C-section to deliver our first child, doctors found advanced ovarian cancer in my wife's abdomen.

The support we've received in the past few weeks has been tremendous. I can't express my thanks fully enough, nor will I attempt to list all the people who've helped, offered to help, or offered kind words. Everyone has been so great.

Today was the very first World Ovarian Cancer Day. I don't think most people know much about ovarian cancer, other than that it's pretty goddamned scary. That part's true. Statistically, it's far less survivable than breast cancer, which gets most of the attention in the woman-cancer sphere.

Part of the problem is that ovarian cancer symptoms are vague and easily dismissed. Also, breasts are frankly easier to touch and feel for lumps. By the time most ovarian cancer cases are found, it's already spread. This is sad and probably unnecessary. Let's try to change that.


Chemotherapy began last Tuesday. We went in for one last Q&A with our gyne-oncologist at the Nova Scotia Cancer Centre. Final briefings on side effects and a recap of the battle plan, then upstairs to the chemo floor.

Chemo Day One was long and boring, really. Well, aside from the terror and fear and "damn, this is really really real" moment when her IV went in. They emptied bag after bag of medicine/poison into her body. Steroids, Benadryl, Taxol, Carboplatin and a saline chaser.

She had a comfy chair, I had a ... chair. I ain't complaining. But next time we'll bring phone chargers and something to read. Both of our smartphones drained to nothing by the end of the long day. In total, we were there something like eight hours.

Amanda's last portrait before the Chemo Haircut.
We saw a variety of people getting chemotherapy there. Most much older than us -- I'm 39 and she's 34. I'm pretty sure we were the youngest there. One woman appeared to be in her forties, but most of the men and women would have had grey hair, if they'd had any hair at all.

A trip to Wal-Mart got us some buckets for barfing. They haven't been used for that yet. Nausea has not been the side effect.

I'm not going to speak for her, but the sudden halt to breastfeeding might be the most disturbing side effect so far. She was breastfeeding our child from the beginning and we intended to continue that if the chemo would allow. However, checks with nurses, our own online research and an inquiry at Motherisk, the drugs-and-pregnancy info center at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, told us the chemo drugs would be found in the breast milk for weeks.

The plan to pump-and-dump, then resume feeding, had to be abandoned immediately. She had to go from feeding every few hours to no more feeding. We'd banked a few days' worth of milk for the freezer.

But now she'd have to wean off feeding by pumping milk that was technically cytotoxic -- it was so dangerous we couldn't touch it. It had to go down the toilet and she had to flush twice with the lid down.

The process has been painful and looks to me to have been emotionally tough, too. Cancer has taken one more thing away from the baby. Yes, formula feeding is fine. Yes, if we were hell-bent on breast milk, we could have arranged something with donors. It's just hard.

Several days after the treatment, she began feeling crippling pain in her feet, knees, hips, pelvis, legs and lower back. This was predicted but that didn't make it easy to tolerate.

Imagine something making its way into the core of your bones and poisoning your bone marrow, and your bone marrow crying out in a pain that echoes through your lower body but cannot be treated. It was hard to see.

Now her scalp is tingling and starting to itch. We await the hair loss.

In anticipation of the baldness that's coming, she ordered some headpieces from softhats.com and got a couple from the Sunshine Room at the hospital.

She also went with her best friends to her favourite aesthetician for a shorter haircut. She'd been growing her hair as long as I've known her. She had short hair when we first met and it's been getting longer ever since.

She came home and looked so good. So hot. Younger, even.

The sexiest cancer patient I've ever heard of is my wife.


Gorgeous. My wife has cancer. She's going to lose her inside lady parts. She's about to go bald and get sicker and sicker for months. But man, she looks sexy as hell.

One more picture here, and this echoes the one from the original post. You're welcome to compare the changes.

The baby's bigger. Her haircut is smaller. She's getting through this so far.
What's next?

Another two weeks and we'll be back for another round of chemo. Another three weeks later. Then about a month, I think, and she'll have the complete hysterectomy. A little recovery, then they're planning three more rounds of carbo and Taxol injected through a port in her abdomen, straight into the peritoneal cavity.

They tell us it's much harder to tolerate than the IV method, but could provide the best chance at wiping out any remaining cancer cells.

Thanks again to everyone who's been spreading the word. This is a difficult process and I'm virtually certain it's all going to catch up to me eventually.

I hate that this ends up sounding like an aside, but: Our baby, Gordon, is fantastic. I'm loving the dad stuff.

Amanda said it and I'm glad she did: She's not going to fight this in the dark. Thanks for being part of this.

Oh, and the blog colour? I changed it to teal. Apparently that's the "colour" for ovarian cancer. More on that another time, I guess!

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