Chemo’s done!

Between my 15th and 16th chemo treatments, to Vancouver and back. Then, I rang the Bravery Bell to signify that Chemo’s Done! Now, onto the Stem Cell Transplant.

It has been an exhilarating month!  As I prepare for my second stem cell transplant in the third week on November, I have been on this urgent mission to fit everything in and squeeze every moment of life while I have the energy. 

Thanks to the generosity of wonderful friends, I was able to fulfill a bucket list item to go to the circus again.  Cirque to Soleil’s Alegria fit the bill! Best of all, I was able to share this experience with Nagib.  On a cold, rainy night under a big tent at Ontario Place, I channelled my 8-year-old self (when I attended my first circus in Moshi). I was moved, I cried and laughed out loud. I’m still haunted by the music.

In mid-October, I took off with my friend Shyrose on an overnight trip to Hamilton to see Michelle Obama on stage.  After the show, over nachos, pizza and chicken wings, we talked through the night until we fell asleep while talking.  Nothing like being with a girlfriend to enjoy a show, hang out and pour your heart out. 

This month we hosted a number of dinner parties at our home for different family members in town and visitors.  With each visit, I realize how happy I am when people visit and connect.  Bringing people together makes me happy.  Oh, and this month has been a busy month, as I balance weekly treatments with client work, editing my book and achieving personal and home goals.

And then I did a crazy thing.  Last week, I completed my 15th of 16 chemos at The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, and later that day, hopped on a plane to Vancouver to meet two people I love and only know virtually. 

Farzana is a friend I have been supporting as she goes through her journey with Multiple Myeloma over the past four years. We’ve talked on the phone and have texted regularly, but we’ve never met in person. She was supposed to visit me in October but was unable to, so I told her that I would come to Vancouver to meet her.  I had no idea what she looked like and wondered how I would know her when she picked me up from the airport.  When we met, it was almost as if we had known each other all our lives. I was on Dexa, Farzana was on Dexa, and it was like spending time with someone who is a mirror image of you.  We spoke until 2:30 a.m. the first day and 4:30 am the next day.  We laughed, we cried, we talked about our hopes and fears, we shared stories, we discussed tips and techniques of how to get through side-effects, we talked about the future.  There was something incredibly special about connecting with my friend and witnessing her strength, her will and persistence to fight through this horrible cancer.  My admiration for her holds no bounds.

Farzana and Munira in Burnaby, BC

And then I met another virtual friend, Leila – someone I have spoken with practically every day over the past 2 ½ years.  We volunteered together on a national training and development project. Her talent in organizational development and instructional design blows me away. Seeing Leila and staying with her for two nights was like being a kid in a candy store.  She opened her world to me, taking me to her favourite haunts in Vancouver – Stanley Park, UBC, Granville Island, favorite restaurants.  She showed me her magnificent garden where I saw and heard a hummingbird for the first time in my life.  We discovered that we both have a love of TV host Rachel Maddow and spent each night listening to her and discussing US politics intently.  We also found time to go together for a side-by-side massage and reflexology session.  One morning she spent time helping me write captions for my upcoming book.  She lovingly cooked for me and was fierce about protecting my health so she could return me back to Nagib safe and sound.

Leila and Munira on the beach in Vancouver, BC

In addition to Farzana and Leila, I met family and friends in Vancouver for coffee, dinner and long drives and felt so loved and so cherished that my heart is very full.   My homework now is to figure out how to bring that West Coast feeling with me here in Toronto.  I got on the flight to Toronto on late Friday evening and arrived in the early hours of Saturday morning.  After a short sleep, I went to the hospital for my 16th and final chemo.  After the chemo, I rang the “Bravery Bell” to signify the end of chemotherapy. It was a Saturday, and the hospital was eerily empty.  The sounds of the bell echoed throughout the atrium of the hospital like church bells ringing!  I was delighted to have Shayne, Sabrina, Afzal and Cherelle join in from Nairobi via video-chat.

Ringing the Bravery Bell at The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

This upcoming week is an important one as we see Dr. Tiedemann for a final check-up before the stem cell transplant process gets under way.  The objective is ensure that the CyBorD chemotherapy regimen has reduced the number of cancer cells and that I’m in good shape to proceed with the stem cell transplant. On the day before the transplant, there will be a “conditioning regimen” – a gentle way of describing the “mother of all chemos”- Melphalan, which will wipe out not only all the myeloma cells in my bone marrow but also the good blood-producing plasma cells. After that, the stem cells can be infused.  My hope is that Dr. Tiedemann will be happy with the results and sign off on the transplant.

But before the transplant, I have some client work and will be participating in a shoot for a company about my experience with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.  Then, on Monday, November 18th, I will check-in to Toronto General Hospital for day surgery to insert a Hickman Line – a catheter inserted into the central vein in my chest, that will be used to infuse the stem cells back into my body on transplant day.

So, it’s going to continue to be a full and eventful month.  Taking the trip to Vancouver was exactly what my spirit needed to help me through this next step of the journey.