The Journey Beyond Cancer

April 24, 2017 – After 8 pokes to search for a working vein, nurses at North York General Hospital infused Munira with her final Herceptin treatment, successfully closing the chapter on her battle against breast cancer.

Munira always says:  “Put it out to the Universe, and let it work its magic”. The Universe has come through again.

Dr. Robson confirmed that Munira’s latest mammogram results were negative.  Dr. Tiedemann confirmed that all bloodwork for her multiple myeloma (m-proteins, free light chains, etc.) are within the normal range. And her Non-Hodgkin lymphoma has been out of sight and out of mind for the past few years.

So on this, the 25th day of April, 2017, I’m putting it out to the Universe:

The Journey Through Cancer is over.  Now, the Journey Beyond Cancer begins.

Thank you to everyone for your support and prayers over the last 5+ years, and especially since December 2015, when Munira was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I’m writing this post because Munira is way too busy living her life beyond cancer.  Every day, she finds a way to make an impact on those around her – whether it’s providing support to others afflicted with cancer, or raising funds for cancer research at the Princess Margaret, or lending her name to the Munira Bra (to raise funds for North York General Hospital’s BMO Breast Cancer Centre), or volunteering for a major community project, or bursting into a room with her energy and exuding happiness and warmth, and … (I can’t keep up with her!)

So, thank you, and God bless everyone.

The Journey Beyond Cancer begins…

-Nagib

 

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It’s Been a Month of Ups and Downs….

This month I had a real scare. Everything was hazy and I couldn’t see anything in the distance.

 

2016-10-28-023This month I had a real scare.  I was at a client site doing some work and then met Nagib for lunch.  As we were having lunch, I realized that I had trouble seeing.  Everything was hazy and I couldn’t see anything in the distance. I figured that I had been working late hours and my eyes were probably just a bit tired.  A couple of days later, I went to a seminar and was shocked to find that I couldn’t read the Powerpoint slides.  I actually wondered for a moment if I was going blind.  The very next day I went to see my friend and optometrist, Dr. Areef Nurani.  After a thorough examination, he told me that I had totally scratched my cornea.

The good news is that this was something that could be fixed except it would take some time.  My eyes felt like someone was rubbing them with steel wool; the pain was unbearable.  And my vision was seriously compromised so driving became problematic.  When I called Sabrina to tell her, she reminded me that the elephant that she had adopted with Afzal some 5 years ago, Kainuk, had also injured her cornea when she accidentally struck her eye with a tree branch.  She wondered if I had done the same thing!  And then, she had the nerve to suggest that perhaps I should put some socks on my hands to prevent me from scratching my eyes.  No sympathy there!  My scratched cornea then turned into a full infection which needed to be treated with antibiotic drops.  Once treated, I needed anti-inflammatory drops to heal my eyes.  This went on for a couple of weeks, and my sight has now almost returned to normal.  My optometrist’s view is that the infection occurred because my immune system is severely compromised.

This month, I also started on a breast cancer medication, Letrozole, as I am estrogen-positive.  My oncologist, Dr. Robson, said that it is important for me to be on this pill for 5 years to prevent a recurrence of the cancer. The problem is that I hate don’t love this pill – it’s causing me bone pain.  And, fatigue is a huge problem (probably due to my low hemoglobin count). I run out of spoons easily before the end of the day.   Opting out of this pill is not an option so I have to find a way to give it a chance and to embrace it.  I am working on this.

I continue to go to the hospital every 3 weeks to get an IV infusion of Herceptin.  This will continue until March of 2017.  In addition, I am booked for an echocardiogram every 3 months to make sure that my heart is functioning well, as heart muscle damage is a potential side effect of Herceptin.  It’s all connected.  The good news is that the Herceptin infusion is going well and the echocardiograms show that my heart is just fine.

One piece of really good news is that my multiple myeloma is behaving very well.  I had an appointment recently with Dr. Tiedeman, my superhero oncologist for Lymphoma and Myeloma at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.  He said that my myeloma numbers were “too little to be seen”.  It is these small miracles that make life so precious.  Oh, and my hair is growing back, and I’m having fun with it (like having my hairstylist Afsaan do speed lines).

So, it’s been a month of doctors and hospitals, of ups and downs.  I have continued to work through this time and have tried to maintain a positive frame of mind.  And in spite of the challenges of this past month, if I were to rate my life on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the best), I would, without a doubt, rate it a 10!  I think this is because I have so much to look forward to:  Sabrina, Shayne, Afzal and Fareen are coming home in December, and my heart is so full with anticipation.  Nagib and I took off to Niagara Falls for a couple of days this week to celebrate 36 years of “going steady” (we started dating on November 20th at 3.20 pm at Founders College at York University).

I am engaged on a couple of projects that I am loving.  One of this is the “Munira Bra”.  If you haven’t already bought a Munira Bra, please consider buying one.  It is a great bra, and 50% of the proceeds go to North York General Hospital (NYGH), which is looking to raise $100,000 for a biopsy table for breast cancer patients.  To order the bra, please go to knixwear.ca.  The bras will also be sold at NYGH, in the lobby, by the gift store, on December 6th, from 10 am to 4 pm.

So, all in all, Life’s Good.  There is something hopeful and magical, and certain, about the sun rising every morning.  I look forward to each day with such joy as it is a chance to reset life, choose your path, move forward and embrace life with your whole being.  I can’t wait for the sun to rise tomorrow again and discover more gifts from the universe.  Life is Good Great!

 

The Munira Bra!

I have heard of people who have streets named after them.  People who have hospitals, libraries and and schools with their names displayed prominently.  Last month, I learnt that President Obama has the dubious honour of having a parasite named after him, Baracktrema obamai, by a scientist who wanted to honour him.  Well now, I have a bra named after me – The Munira Bra!

It all started a couple of months ago when my surgeon at North York General Hospital (NYGH), Dr. Pinchuk, called me and asked if I would be interested in participating in a campaign with Knix Wear to benefit the hospital. Knix Wear is an active intimates company that creates beautiful products for women based on extensive customer research.  The Evolution Bra, their most popular product, was created with the guiding principles of “comfortable can be cute” and “functional can be fashionable”.   The Evolution Bra is anti-odor, quick dry, fully reversible, has a seamless design and is completely underwire free.  It is available in all sizes, from extra-small to 2X.  Best of all, the fabric completely moulds to your unique shape.  The bras are designed so you can wear them at work, play and during workouts.  Knix Wear has been featured in a number of magazines, including The Huffington Post, Forbes, Glamour and Cosmopolitan, each of these touting the Evolution Bra as the world’s most comfortable, versatile and technologically advanced bra.

The company was started by Joanna Griffiths, CEO and Founder, in 2015 and has 7 employees.  She is beautiful and smart and… young!  She graduated from Queen’s University only a few years before my son, Shayne.  She then went on to do her MBA at INSEAD in France.

She had a business idea that she pitched to Dragon’s Den and obtained a $300,000 investment from one of the Dragons in exchange for 20% of her company.  She funded the development of the Evolution Bra through crowdfunding (Indiegogo and Kickstarter) and raised an impressive $1,551,287 from more than 19,000 backers.

The NYGH approached Knix Wear to design bras that would benefit patients who are going through breast cancer treatment.  As a breast cancer patient, I love the idea!  I found that there were times during my treatment when it was difficult, if not impossible, for me to wear a bra. This was after the lumpectomy (surgery) and during and shortly after radiation treatment.  The Evolution Bra would have been completely wearable at that time.

The NYGH/Knix Wear campaign features 5 women who have undergone breast cancer treatment at NYGH.  Each of us was asked to share a word that describes our journey with cancer. My word was “Resilience”.  My colleagues,  Judith, Anita, Anne and Lindsay picked, “Strength”, “Victory”, “Transform” and “Heart”.  The words are tastefully displayed on the limited edition Evolution Bras.  Knix Wear interviewed and videotaped each of us and invited us to a special media launch event at the Yorkdale Shopping Centre, where they revealed the special edition Evolution Bra.  Five Women. Five Words. Five Bras.

The Bra retails for $60 each, with $30 from each sale going directly to NYGH.  The goal for NYGH is to raise $100,000 to buy a new Biopsy table for the Breast Diagnostic Centre that will directly benefit patients.

These beautiful Bras will be on sale at NYGH on Monday, October 17, 2016, from 10 am -4 pm in the Atrium of the main South entrance of the Hospital.  They are also available at Yorkdale Mall at the pop-up Brika store until the end of October.  Alternatively, you can purchase them online at www.knixwear.ca.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  The numbers are daunting.  1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.  This campaign is a wonderful partnership between NYGH and Knix Wear to come one step closer to finding a cure. Women everywhere – – I know you need Bras! Please purchase a Munira Bra today!

Click here for an article in the local North York Mirror.

 

 

 

 

Mid-way Checkpoint

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I am now mid-way through my chemo treatment for breast cancer: 3 chemo sessions done, with 3 more to go.  I wish I could say that with each chemo, things get easier.  The truth is that chemo is not very selective and cannot differentiate between good and bad cells.  It just invades the body and kills both good and bad cells.  And each chemo has a cumulative effect so that each additional chemo is worse than the one before.  Typically, I have found that the first 10 days of chemo for me are bad, and then things improve significantly and I join the land of the living.  Side-effects, when things are tough, include mouth sores, loss of appetite, no taste buds (so food tastes like sand paper), chemo brain, weight loss followed by weight gain, vomiting, diarrhea, nose bleeds and fatigue.  I think the part I have found most difficult is the fatigue, when even getting out of bed in the morning is a challenge.

This week I found out what was making me so exhausted.  My hemoglobin count has been dropping rapidly.  2 weeks ago, it was 83.  This week it is 62.  To put things in perspective, the average hemoglobin for a woman is 120 and hospitals will typically give you a blood transfusion when your blood count hits 70.  So today I spent the day at the hospital where I received 2 pints of blood.  As always, we respectfully named the bags of blood.  We called the first one Massimo (which means the greatest) and we called the second bag, Eva (which means life).  I said a prayer of thanks to the donors that gave me this gift of life, and then I prayed as each drop of blood entered my body happily and cheerfully.

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So, there are good days and there are bad days:

Some good days bring exceptionally delightful life events — Shayne is coming home on Saturday after being in Kenya for some time.  And, on Tuesday, we all fly to New York to attend Sabrina’s graduation from Columbia University!

Some bad days can be really challenging.  Cancer is a tough taskmaster.  I am learning that it is okay to be sad when things are difficult and take time to look after myself.  Sometimes this means taking naps, sometimes it is about asking for help, sometimes it is saying no to activities, sometimes it is just about having a good cry.  An equally important lesson for me is knowing that it is not healthy to stay in this state of sadness for long.

So, I have found an incredibly positive antidote to sadness:  having multiple projects to look forward to that enrich my life and feed my soul.  More on this in my next post!

Amazing Artists!

Today I pay tribute to two incredible artists who are the best at their craft.

1a039d3b3aa9d4adef8bfee00982726fBut let me start from the beginning.  As you know, my hair started falling out last week as a result of the chemotherapy.  I hung on to it for as long as I could until it was impossible as bald patches started appearing randomly all across my head.  it was not pretty.  So my beautiful friend and hair stylist, Afsan, came to the rescue and shaved my head, with Nagib looking on nervously.

2016-03-31 002The next day, my friend Tarquin Singh came home and applied a stunning henna crown on my head.  Tarquin operates a company called Henna Planet. This is the third time I have worked with Tarquin, as I have lost hair from cancer treatment three times in the past 4 years.  She designs crowns after consulting with the client, so it is a wonderful process of co-creativity.  I told her to find a way to include the words, “when you choose hope” at the back of the crown.  And she did!

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Next, I connected with my friend Chris Hughes from A Nerd’s World to ask if he could take pictures of the henna crown experience to preserve the memory of the event.  I met Chris four years ago as part of my journey through cancer when he offered a promotion to take complimentary pictures of individuals battling cancer. I took him up on it! Since then Chris and I have kept in touch and developed an abiding friendship.  Chris assigned Kenneth Appiah from A Nerd’s World to take the pictures.

Here is a gallery of pictures that bring the Henna Crown design by Tarquin Singh and the creativity of photographer Ken Appiah together, in perfect harmony.  It is yet another reminder for me that cancer, if you choose to, can bring interesting people into your life, and can allow for creative expressions and experiences that make difficult times very special.

And now, on to Chemotherapy #2.

– Munira.

P.S. When You Choose Hope is my YouTube Channel.  Here you can find "Munira's Journey", a 55-minute film about my first battle with cancer. Also see this blog post: "Once You Choose Hope, Anything is Possible" to find out more about the origins of the phrase.