36 years around the sun

Hello pandemic friends! I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy these days. I am writing to you today from the comfort of my basement. It has been six months since I made my last post. Time sure flies. I used to talk to my patients about how time is flying by and on multiple occasions they would ask, “do you have children?”, after I replied that I did not, they would follow up with, “wait until you have kids”. I could not agree more.

This past year has just sailed by. The past seven months have been a roller coaster. We all knew that a pandemic was coming eventually but I don’t think I ever took it too seriously. This pandemic has challenged people in so many different ways. As we already know, I am a person who chooses to life as an optimist. However, it was even challenging for myself when the lock down occurred. Social isolation is not something that humans thrive upon. We are social creatures. It is how we function. It is in our programming.

Like many others, during lock down, I quickly turned to various methods of virtual socializing. Weekly zoom calls as well as virtual Zumba classes (shout out to all my Zumba instructors of making this happen and still do). My husband was able to spend more time at home as well which was a gift to our family. My parental leave ended and I returned to work in July which was at first a little scary as I work directly with people and within the six foot bubble. However, I love my job and the mental benefits of being back to work has been monumental.

I have always loved being outside; however, my appreciation for nature grew even stronger and has become a necessity for my mental health. I have discovered so many wonderful hiking trails that are so close to where I reside. My friend and I joke that we have hiked more in these trails over the past year than we have in the last 35. Nature is truly therapeutic.

Hiking on a rainy day

In terms of my gastrectomy journey, things are going well. I did not gain my quarantine 15 like I had hoped but I have been fairly stable at 111-112lbs. This is lower than pre-pregnancy (who says that?!?!), but I am hoping to gain back at least another 5lbs. Winter is coming. This should help…haha. Also, I have been experiencing a significant amount of burping since my son was born. I attribute it to having my intestines rearranged after being pregnant and then not pregnant. I know many others suffer from burping right after surgery so I guess I have been lucky.

I also have restarted the process of screening for the breast cancer side of having the mutation. I haven’t had my annual MRI/Mammogram in over two years due to pregnancy and breastfeeding. It was always on my list to get the screening going again and earlier this week I started the process of contacting my family doctor for the referral. It is funny how the universe works because the genetics team in my area called me as well yesterday to see how I was doing and to discuss restarting the process as well. Wild!

Before falling asleep, I think about a few things I am thankful for. I think this is a nice exercise for people to do to recognize the great things in their lives. I always start with thanking for family, friends, and good health. Tonight I’ll be thankful that I was fortunate to celebrate my 36th birthday.

Birthday donuts!

One year wiser

The other day my little dude turned one. What a wild time to be turning one. Originally I had planned to take him to the aquarium and do a small dinner with immediate family in the evening. Instead, we did all of his favourite things from home such as sing songs, read him his favourite books, go for a walk in his carrier, and eat lots of food. Instead of a family dinner and cake smash it evolved into an afternoon family video call cake smash after his second nap and before dinner (yes, dessert BEFORE dinner). Looking back on it, it wasn’t exactly what we planned but it was very chill and a wonderful first birthday.

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I am a blogger, not a baker. I call it the Salvador Dali melting cupcake cake.

The way we live is rapidly evolving. This pandemic has forced many people to drastically alter their daily routines and adapt to a totally new routine. Just when you think you have got it figured out, it changes again. It has caused a worldwide identity crisis. But the thing about a challenge is that forces growth.

Reflecting on the past year, I have gone through some tremendous personal growth. I used to divide my life into “before my stomach was removed” and “after my stomach was removed” as this was a defining moment in my life. Then it was “before baby” and “after baby”. Now I can say, “before the pandemic” and when this is all over “after the pandemic”.

Initially, change can be scary. There are many unknowns about your future resulting in anxiety and stress. Our brain doesn’t have an answer but it wants to find one, so it runs scenario, after scenario, after scenario, in a crazy infinity loop. Eventually you work your way through the situation, find the answer, and ultimately adapt. That’s the great thing about the human race, we adapt.

I know that after the lockdowns and quarantines have ended the world will be a different place. My hope is that it will be for the better. People will learn to appreciate all the small things in life that maybe weren’t noticed in the past. Who ever thought grocery shopping would become scary? Maybe more people will be able to work from home and spend more time with their families. Look at how virtual calls are bringing people together when they are physically apart. Care mongering. The list goes on. Personally, I am hoping to gain the quarantine 15.

Just prior to posting this my yoga instructor, Jessica, shared with us this inspirational video which lead me to find so many other great ones people have created looking at the light in this potentially dark situation. I also recommend this one, it will hit you right in the feels.

The Log Challenge

I am an avid Survivor fan. I have seen all forty seasons (well currently on season 40) since it premiered in 2000. That is a twenty year history watching Survivor. It is the only TV show I have watched consistently since it began. They call this season the Superbowl of Survivor as it features twenty contestants who were all winners at one point in time.

There is a contestant on this season, Ethan Zohn, who won the title of sole Survivor back in 2002. However in 2009 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, battled it hard with multiple rounds of intensive chemotherapy, stem cell transplants and survived it. He was deemed cancer free in 2013. Obviously, I don’t know Ethan personally but he seems like an incredibly positive and kind person. He is now back on Survivor.

There was a challenge this week where the survivor contestants had to retrieve twenty logs on top of a peak and bring them back to their base camp. The catch was that they had to do it one log at a time by sundown. The path involved traversing a rocky path along the sea, climbing up a steep rugged man made staircase, followed by a rough trail to the pile of logs. This path looked grueling even for the healthiest fit person. Around the 16th log, Ethan’s legs were collapsing on him, he was feeling faint and he actually fainted for a brief moment. He was not going to give up but the medical team had to be called in to examine him. They warned him that if he did not stop, he would risk losing consciousness again.

This is where the episode really got to me. So much that I needed to write a whole blog post about it. While fighting back tears Ethan explained, “I felt so disappointed in myself, I just wanted to complete this for myself. I had already put in sixteen trips, like four more trips to finish this thing, I just did not want to quit. I wanted to set a good example for everyone who has been through a health challenge who thinks they can’t do it anymore, you can do it. You can get through those hard moments and I just sucked it up.” He wanted to complete this challenge so much but his body was limiting him.

Watching that segment brought up deep feelings that I did not expect to occur as I could relate to Ethan in that moment. Was somebody cutting onions? Living without a stomach involves many moments of mind over matter. Countless times when you want something to happen but your body doesn’t really agree. A piece of cake may be good today but tomorrow, maybe not. Who ever though dessert could be scary?!?!?

In the end, Ethan completed the challenge and when he went to retrieve his final log, the other survivors joined him. This reminded me of my own community who has supported me on this adventure. By far, one of my most favourite and memorable moments in Survivor.

focus photography of a ignited firewood

Photo by Lum3n.com on Pexels.com

Eight months post partum update

Happy Holidays!

I am now eight months post partum and man, time is flying by. My little baby who was once a blob on the floor is now sitting up, belly shuffling, and eating up a storm. We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful joy in our lives.

For the past 10 months or so, I have been participating in formal Yoga classes. What began as prenatal classes turned into postnatal mom and baby classes. Each week our instructor leads with a question followed by a group discussion prior to our class.

A couple weeks ago the question was around challenges we were facing. I wasn’t sure what to discuss at first; however, as we went around the circle, it came to me. Weight loss.

As mentioned earlier, I lost my pregnancy weight rapidly. Around my fourth post partum month, I had already returned to my pre-pregnancy weight. This would be a dream of many post partum women and I was also happy to return to my old size. Alas, this weight loss continued and I am now five pounds lighter – sitting at an average of 111lbs.

Breastfeeding adds additional caloric demands and being busy with an active baby burns even more calories. I am a busy bee and I am not consuming enough to keep up. I also noticed that I was feeding our little more frequently than a few months ago.

So I was faced with the decision to start formula/combo feeding for both of our well being. It has been a challenging transition. In a society that places so much pressure on a woman to breastfeed, I felt like I had failed. I don’t fail things.   I am now doing one daily feed of formula a day and it has been better for everyone. Whether it is breast of formula – fed is best.

I have done so much self reflection over the past eight months.  When you have such a dramatic shift in your life, it really forces you to look inwards and evaluate yourself. I often tell stories and preface with “before my surgery” or “after my surgery” because it was as if my life had been split into two phases. I can now understand when people discuss, “before kids I…” or “after kids I…”.

Life challenges bring personal growth. It throws you off and forces you to take measures to restore your balance. You have a choice to decide your outcome. Rise above or let it take you down. I chose to rise above.

Challenge accepted.

I want to wish everyone the happiest of holidays this season.  Remember to take some time for yourself among all the hustle and bustle of this season.

P.S. I passed my exam.

What exam?

Hey everyone! This blog post is centered around the big exam I was studying for with a new baby. Crazy? Maybe. Good idea? Yup!

In July I started to study for the final step of my CAMPT certification. CAMPT stands for the Canadian Academy of Manipulative Physiotherapy and FCAMPT physiotherapists are Fellows of the Canadian Academy of Manipulative Physiotherapy. It’s a mouthful, I know, and I have been working towards this certification for the past nine years. My friends often jokingly comment, “you’re always studying for something”. This is what I have been building up towards. The fastest someone can complete this diploma would be five years as the courses are offered twice a year in Ontario. There are five levels. Many complete Level 1 following their completion of physiotherapy school or write it during their last term as it heavily based on theory. I had decided to take a year off after completing six consecutive years of university and twenty years of school and began the process in the fall of 2010.

course-curriculum

Taken from the Canadian Physiotherapy Association: Orthopaedic Division Anon, (2019). [image] Available at: https://www.orthodiv.org/education/ [Accessed 28 Sep. 2019].

Next it was off to Level 2 and Level 3. Both of these levels are broken down into the upper and lower quadrants of your body. Level 2: upper and lower. Level 3: upper and lower. Level 2’s are broken down over four weekends and Level 3’s are over three weekends. Participating in these courses make for a long work week as you are in course Friday – Sunday only to return to work on Monday. Each of these courses take place over a period of three to four months (one weekend a month on average). There are written exams on the final weekend of the Level 2 and Level 3 courses.

I completed my Levels 2’s in two years to give myself one course a year to complete. Got married and then went full speed ahead with my Level 3’s and completed them both in the same year. If you are doing the math, I’m now in the fall/winter of 2013. What else happened in the winter of 2013? Oh yeah, CDH1 mutation diagnosis. Followed by total gastrectomy in spring of 2014.

Needless to say, I stopped my studies to focus on recovery. I debated whether or not I should carry on through my education path as a large practical exam follows the completion of your Level 3’s focusing on ALL material from previous courses. This also involves 60 hours of clinical mentorship which is completed in your own time outside of work.

I decided that it only made sense to get back into it and signed up for the Intermediate Practical Exam. So back onto the study train I went taking a prep course during the fall/winter of 2016 as well as practicing with a colleague every Saturday afternoon from November 2016 to April 2017. Recall that during March – April of 2017, I also went through IVF with PGS and PGD to try prevent the gene from being passed to future generations. I challenged the Intermediate Practical Exam in April of 2017 and thankfully I passed.

So why stop there? Onto Level 4 in the fall of 2017 and Level 5 in the winter of 2018. Each of these courses are completed over two weekends. In order to complete the whole process, there is a big, big exam (Advanced Practical Exam) in two parts. Part one is a written exam that takes about six hours to complete (three hour multiple choice and three hour case study) followed by a two hour practical exam which occurs a couple months later. This exam is based on ALL of the material from level 1-5. It is offered annually in the fall.

I took a prep course in summer of 2018, practiced with colleagues on weekends for the practical, and challenged the exam (while pregnant) in fall of 2018. Fortunately, I passed 2/3 components but unfortunately, I incompleted the multiple choice portion. Multiple choices exams have been my nemesis since undergrad. This meant the next time I could attempt this exam would be fall of 2019. Doing the math in my head, I realized that I would have a young baby should I decide to attempt this exam a second time.

After serious consideration, I decided to register for the exam when registration opened in June this year. At that time, I had a two month old. Could I do it? Would it be too much? There was really no optimal time to complete this exam going forward but I wasn’t about to give up on my many years working towards this certification. My family and friends highly encouraged it and agreed to help me out where ever they could. So no time but the present, I signed up and started studying in July.

This is where I really learned to embrace “go with the flow”. It has been a difficult lesson to learn. I am a person who likes to make a solid schedule and keep to the study plan. But I quickly learned, this isn’t possible with a newborn. You’re on his schedule. So for three months, I left my books sprawled out all over our kitchen table and when our baby napped, I hit the books. When he went to bed, I was back at it. The condition of my home deteriorated a little but thanks to my husband, mom and mother in law, it didn’t look like newborn baby chaos.

On Saturday Sept 21st, I completed the exam. Obviously, I hope I passed it (I won’t know until the new year). However, if I don’t complete it, I am happy I went through the process with a baby. It kept me focused on something I was doing for me. It helped me feel less isolated during those early months when your baby is in larvae stage. I love my job and it kept me feeling like I hadn’t lost that part of myself. Oh and an added bonus was that it helped me sleep train my little one without feeling like I was stuck inside all the time.

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Selfie after walking out of my exam

The thing is….in life things are not completely linear like the original diagram. There of often twists and turns. It’s what keeps you on your toes. Keeps life exciting. Sometimes, you just gotta ride the wave and work hard to reach your goals.

Five years stomachless

**Somehow I never published this post and although it is now two months old, I still see value in posting it **

As I sit here with a sleeping baby in my arms, I have a quick moment to reflect on the past five years living stomachless.

Ten years ago, my family learned about the CDH1 gene, a gene that was discovered approximately ten years prior by Dr. Perry Guilford and his research team in New Zealand.

We found out about it through relatives on my mother’s paternal side of the family. Family that she didn’t know well as her father passed away from stomach cancer only hours before her birth. A couple enters the hospital together and only a mother and baby leave.

But thankfully due to science and research, both my mom, myself and many families are successfully beating stomach cancer. However, many families affected by the CDH1 mutation gene begin with a story involving a tragic loss a loss or many losses of family members.

On this post, I could go on and on about the past five years highlighting all the ups and downs but it would be a novel. In fact, just check out all my other blog posts…it IS a novel. But I want to focus on the most important lesson I have learned and live by on a daily basis.

I have grown exponentially as an individual. Most importantly, I have learned to respect the relationship between mind and body. You are always going to be faced with challenges in your life and you have a choice to let it best you down or to rise above and learn . Give yourself time to feel and reflect on what is occurring because it is important to recognize the negative but then choose to rise above. I still really love the 90:10 rule – 10% are the events that occur and 90% is how you react to them.

This mentality has carried me through many difficult times throughout recovery but also with many other life events (most recently pregnancy, labour, and now raising a child).

I read many posts on facebook from many other individuals who are in various stages of the journey with CDH1 – from learning about the gene, to decision making about having the total gastrectomy to recovery. They always bring back a memory from that time in my own story.

My best advise is hang in there, be strong, be patient, persevere and don’t let this gene take you down. You’ll be stronger because of it.

Five weeks post partum – Return to the gym!

As I lie here trapped under a sleeping baby (you should never wake a sleeping baby) it seems like the best time to catch up everyone on my most recent achievements post partum.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day and I celebrated my first one in style – return to Zumba with my mom. Although I still have minor aches and pains in my pelvis, I decided that it was time to return to the gym. Most healthcare professionals would recommend a six week recovery time; however, I was fairly fit throughout pregnancy so I figured five weeks would be close enough.

During the past few weeks my sacroiliac joint was becoming stiffer and more painful so in true physio spirit, it was time to do something about it. I am not used to sitting for prolonged periods of time and when your breastfeeding for a large portion of your day, my body started to feel the effects of immobility.

I was nervous to return, mainly for fear of urinating on the floor during the squats in class but thankfully, that didn’t occur. But, I quickly realized that my sports bra for my pre-pregnancy less than full A cup boobs was definitely not enough support for my postnatal boobs. This is something I have never had to deal with and never even considered.

After class, my pelvis felt a little worked but that was to be expected. Within the hour, I felt much better. Physically and mentally. Exercise IS medicine.

Michelle (my Zumba instructor), me and mom after class

Two weeks Post Partum

Yesterday was our son’s original due date. It was my 40 week mark. However, I am now two weeks post partum and have a moment to share a few updates about how the past two weeks have been going.

I had mentally prepared myself for this month to be one of the hardest months as I have heard that it is full of challenges – huge change to lifestyle, hormonal shifts, lack of sleep, minimal time to shower, eat, sleep, poop, etc. I asked my friends for the most honest accounts regarding how the first month had gone as they were progressing through it. I wanted it fresh and raw.

Jump forward to two weeks in. We have been very lucky to have a little boy that sleeps, feeds well, and is just a great bundle of joy to our lives. The first week I managed to function off of 2-3 hours of sleep for each day.  My milk hadn’t fully come in so I was feeding around the clock. I also was having a huge hormonal shifts as well as clearing the oxytocin from the induction from my body and could only sleep in one hour blocks.  It is amazing how little sleep your body requires and still feel human.  I did experience some “baby blues” but really it was just a random bout of crying for no reason. It happened a few times on day 2, 3 and by day 4 it was over. For those who know me, know that I don’t cry often so it was a big surprise but I just accepted it and let the water works flow. I think it was just from lack of sleep, hormones and overwhelming joy.

I have been very fortunate to have a village of support. Brandon has taken time off of work to help out and it has been monumental. He has taken to fatherhood like a fish to water.  My mom has also been very involved by providing us with food and assisting us in keeping our house cleaner than it has ever been. Many friends have been dropping around to visit and also providing us with food which we are ever so grateful for.  Thanks guys!

We have been taking our son out to the real world every day. Once I was discharged from the hospital, we were outside on day three. It is great that it is spring here and the weather is becoming nice enough allowing us to go outside. We have made various trips shopping, visiting family and friends, and to the doctors.

In terms of my physical recovery, my pelvis was pretty rocked after giving birth. Although I only had one minor tear, my sacroiliac joint and pubic symphysis has been pretty sad. I feel like Goldilocks and the three little bears – “this chair is too soft, this chair is too hard, this chair is just right”….for now. It has felt very loose and will have a dull ache. Walking for long periods of time is challenging. This is improving daily but something I didn’t expect for some reason. It makes total sense though, I pushed a baby out of there. Who knew?!?

I have restarted doing Kegels a few days ago which has helped a lot. I decided to do them when feeding. Since I feed every two hours or so for about half hour, it is a perfect time to do them. It has helped a lot with my pelvic pain. After all, those muscles attach all around your pelvic floor and can help stabilize those joints.

I am now 5lbs off of my pre-pregnancy weight. I can fit into clothing I haven’t been able to fit into for the past few months. It is great to get back into my lululemon studio pants! I guess that is a stomachless perk. But it is also semi-concerning as I have dropped so much weight so dramatically, I wonder what will happen over the following two weeks. On the plus side, my appetite is wild and I am eating and drinking ALL the time. I am also breast feeding which burns more calories.

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Taken at 1.5 weeks post partum

In terms of labour from a stomachless perspective, the “pushing” phase at the end was the most physically challenging. I am an active person and have great core strength but this was something else. Brandon assisted holding my head up and my legs were being held up by the labour and delivery nurses as well as myself. Every contraction, you have to hold your breath, bear down, and push like you are making the biggest poop you have ever created. Try hold your breath for 15 seconds in this position while pushing maximally and repeat three times, then take a minute rest and repeat. Repeat this process for as long as you can.

You can’t practice this while you are in your third trimester as you risk separating your abdominal muscles (diastasis recti) but you can work on your lung capacity and endurance. I feel like this was the one area I was less prepared for and could work on if I was do repeat in the future.

As time progresses, I am interested to see if pregnancy broke old adhesions from my total gastrectomy. I believe it has but I should notice it more as I become more active. I cannot wait to get back into the gym!

38 week update – He’s arrived!

Hey all,

If you are reading this now, we are enjoying our new bundle of joy.

On April 1st, I had an ultrasound as well as a non-stress test. A non stress test involves a heart rate monitor being placed on the baby while you monitor for movement. When you feel movement, you press a button and the machine links the baby’s heart rate to the movement.

During my clinic visit following these tests I received good results. The baby scored perfectly for movement during the non stress test and my ultrasound showed good amniotic fluid and blood flow through the umbilical cord. However, in the words of my Ob, the placenta still looked, “Nasty”. I was also checked for cervical dilation which was 3cm. The Ob was happy about that because it means things are on their way.

So a date for induction was set for Sunday April 7th – exactly 38 weeks and 1 day.

I had hoped to do a natural labour. But I learned last night not to be a hero. I started the oxytocin (to get contractions started) at 9:15am. Around 12:20 in the afternoon, I was around 4cm dilated so the doctors decided to break my water. Then the fun began. The contractions got much stronger and before I knew it, 3 hours had passed. It was now 3:00pm. I lost track of time or what was happening around me. Although I thought I was breathing well, my face started to go numb and my arms, along with my inner thighs. I started to get really sweaty and the shakes. Apparently I had been hyperventilating once active labour began.

I was sufferring. I asked to be checked and I was 7cm. Who knew how fast I would get to 10cm. I decided it was time to stop being a hero and get the epidural.

Best decision ever.

I was afraid to get it because it brought back memories post surgery. It caused me a lot of anxiety in retrospect. But it was time.

Insertion wasn’t bad at all as the contractions were 100x worse. Once it was in, the pain was bearable and I laboured on. It may have slowed things down but it was bearable. The oxytocin was stopped but restarted sometime a bit later. But during this time, I could talk again and rest. Around 6ish, the baby was making his way down my birth canal and I experienced a lot of rectal pain. I was given lidocane to help me out as I had only 0.5cm to go.

At 8:30pm the pressure was back and strong. The lidocane had worn off as the doctors wanted me to feel where to push and how hard. I was checked and it was time to push.

I was ready. I had trained for this. Loads of core work from Zumba and pelvic PT to help prevent major tears.

This is where my open surgery for my TG almost 5 years ago was put to the test. The pushing involved a position with your legs in the air and you do a sit up while bearing down. You do this during contractions.

At first I had some reservations because I feared creating a hernia. But I needed to push with everything I had.

Thirty five minutes later, he was out. 7lbs exactly and 38 + 1 days gestational period. I only required one stitch. He is beautiful.

I lie here while he sleeps reflecting on what I just experienced over the past day.

What a miracle and another chapter to open in our lives.