Don’t forget your sunscreen!

13 10 2012

ImageIt all started with a small pimple on my nose — or at least I thought that’s what it was. It was a strange one though: hard and in a quarter moon shape. For several months, we both left each other alone and then it began to change. It would bleed, scab, the top would come off it, and then the cycle would begin again. Finally, I asked my doctor about it while I was in Victoria. He was so upset he hadn’t noticed it but, of course, I had done everything I could to mask it from sight with makeup so the fault was mine in not drawing his attention to it. He was concerned and immediately booked an appointment for me with a dermatologist. After several weeks, I was able to get in to see him and the biopsy came back as both basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. Had I been staying in Victoria, I would have had to wait about 8 months for surgery to remove it but, fortunately, my doctor in Edmonton, arranged for me to see Dr. Keeling for a consult on a Mohs surgery to remove it within three months of my return to Edmonton.

Dr. Keeling was great! Funny but really knew his stuff and was quite reassuring, although he did warn me that I’d likely have two black eyes following surgery — particularly because I’m on Coumadin.

On October 4 I went in for my surgery at 8.30 a.m. Rae Ann drove me — bless her — and I brought some snacks, my iPad loaded with The Big C, Season 2 (seemed appropriate, if a bit macabre) because I knew I could be there for most of the day. The Mohs surgery is done in steps — first, the surgeon removes the cancer, then tests the edges, which are mapped exactly according to location on the affected area, and tests it to check on the presence of cancer cells at the edges of the section removed. If there are any remaining, more skin, etc., is removed until the edges are free of cancer cells.

During the surgery, I felt absolutely no pain. I felt a bit of a pinch when the freezing needle was first inserted and that was it. Once the surgery was complete, I waited for my results and was thrilled to learn that all the cancer was removed on the first go. This was especially good for me because my nose is unusually small so there wasn’t a lot of “real estate”, as Dr. Keeling put it, to take away.

Given that there was no need for more removal of cells, Dr. Keeling set to work putting my nose back together again. This necessitated two cuts along the sides of my nose and one where the original cut was made. Based on his description of what he was doing, he then stretched the skin to cover up the “divot” where the cancer had been, sewed that up, then stretched the skin to the sides and sewed that up. Because I’m on Coumadin, they had to cauterize several times and then bandaged me up tightly to control the bleeding. The size of the original bandage was pretty unbelievable. Good thing Rae Ann was driving me home because I don’t think I could have seen properly around the bandaging.


As I said earlier, I was warned that there might be some bruising. Well, they were absolutely right…and then some. At first, I thought it was going to be minimal but by October 5, my face was becoming very colourful indeed. It was Thanksgiving weekend, so I drove to Calgary with Rae Ann. She dropped me off at Chris and Pauline’s and by this time I was quite a sight. I had been able to take off the huge bandage but had to keep the stitches covered with a special ointment and a gauze bandage. From each side of the bandage sprouted purple wings that covered my eyes and another set of wings that covered about half my cheeks with some trailers running down my face along my smile lines to my mouth. It looked for all the world like a huge purple butterfly had landed on my face.

ImageSince then, the bruises have gradually changed colour to red, yellow, green, and navy blue and are very slowly and gradually disappearing.

The good news is that I had my stitches taken out yesterday — October 11 — and my nose is healing up really nicely. I’ll keep the stitch marks covered with ointment for the rest of today and then I can wear makeup to hide the marks that remain until they heal up. The slight swelling will recede and my nose should look almost normal in a couple of weeks.

ImageHere’s me before the stitches were removed…


…and here’s me after. I’m looking forward to posting my picture with a completely healed nose and no bruises. Won’t be long now.

The moral of the story is…don’t forget your sunscreen!!!


My house is sold!

12 10 2012

My beautiful little hobbit house is sold and I am so relieved. More than that, I am amazed because the details of the sale are beyond perfect! So let me explain. I am retiring at the end of December so put my house up for sale right after Labour Day weekend. My concern — what would I do if I sold my house early and possession was desired before the term was over? I had a couple of plans to cover the time necessary, but it would have meant moving some of my stuff to my new location, storing the stuff I’m taking to Victoria, and then figuring out how to get rid of the rest — all while teaching, marking, and professor-ing until the end of December. It was a daunting challenge but one I thought I would have to take on.

Surprise! The buyers don’t want to close until the end of December AND they said yes to every item I offered to leave for them. The arrangements could not have been better if I had orchestrated the whole deal myself. Beyond the optimum logistics of the sale, however, is the knowledge that a family that really cares about my little place is moving in — with a baby and a grand piano! I am so happy that my home will bring a young family some joy and that they appreciate its quirky charm enough to buy it.

I’ve loved living here. The location is ideal, and  all the amenities one could possibly want are within walking distance. Biking is a definite possibility, there’s a beautiful community garden to enjoy and even plant some things in just a block away, and a play park and a pool about two blocks away. I hope the family who bought my house will enjoy it every bit as much as I did. 

Now I’m free to move to Victoria at the end of December with no extra mortgage to worry about and a whole new life ahead. I’ll be back and forth to Edmonton for the next two years though as I complete my half time post-retirement contract — so I’ll be easing on down the road to the island with chances to come back and catch up with friends and colleagues. Best of both worlds really. 

Just pinched myself — yup, this really has come together more perfectly than I could have ever dared to hope.Image


Ups and downs and in-betweens…

8 10 2012

Well, it looks like my house may be sold. Now the agonizing process of “meeting the conditions” — house inspection, condo document review, and financing. None of these conditions is particularly difficult so fingers crossed until Thursday at 9 pm and then it is officially sold — all but the paper work. The other plus in the sale is that they don’t want to take possession until December 28 so I won’t need to do an in-between move before classes and exams are over so that is such a help. By Melissa’s birthday I will be in Victoria in my own place with no other house to worry about or pay for.

I would celebrate, except that my face is just a tad too colourful these days for public display. I had to have surgery to remove a small cluster of cancer cells on the end of my nose this past Thursday. The surgery was painless and very successful and the doctor was able to patch up my nose so that it will look pretty well exactly the same when the stitches are out and it heals (too bad — I was hoping for a Nicole Kidman nose when this was all over) . Unfortunately — mostly because I’m on Coumadin — the surgery left me with not only the stitches but also bruising extraordinaire. My eyes are rimmed with purple, under my eyes is a kind of yellow and purple combination and the bruises have spread down my cheek and my smile lines. Imagine a big purple moth depositing itself on my nose with wings outspread and that’s pretty well what it looks like.

I’ve suddenly become aware of the painful emotional burden of having a disfigured face. It’s extraordinary how this kind of injury can change human interaction. People look at me rather startled, then look away as though willing themselves not to stare. For me, this is going to be all over in 2-3 weeks, but for some, this is their reality every day and it really is socially and emotionally debilitating. I’ve had to warn my classes so that they don’t think they’re walking into a one woman production of Rocky Horror Picture Show when they arrive for class this week.

In the end, both the work to prepare my house for sale and having the surgery will be worth it — it’s the in-between time waiting for the conclusion one hopes for that’s so difficult. 

The more things change…

3 09 2012

I’ve been back in Edmonton for almost a month now and, thankfully, I’ve been too busy to miss Victoria, except in fleeting moments when I’m driving down the road and recall with a pang the view of mountains when I come over the crest of the hill on Cook Street or am thinking about where to go for dinner and my taste buds miss Bubby’s or The Village.

On the plus side, I have been so busy that I’ve lost about 8 pounds, despite having to eat out quite a bit at first. After multiple visits to Ikea and Homesense and painters and movers coming and going, I’m pretty pleased with the result of our home staging efforts — I say “our” because Rae Ann has been so helpful in putting Ikea things together and doing some touch up painting, and generally keeping me sane during this crazy process. Andie has made my decks look like new, and Terry has turned an old dark basement into a light bright space that Rae Ann and I can hardly wait to turn into a workout spot. I think the results have been worth it…here’s a sample:

I’ll be listing it on Thursday this week and then the fun begins. Will it sell? Will it sell early thus necessitating a mad scramble to move out and find other lodgings? Or, God forbid, will it not sell until after I move back to Victoria when classes are over? The suspense is nerve-wracking to say the least.

On top of that suspense, I’m teaching two classes this semester after being away from teaching for four years. I feel the same way I used to every September — less prepared than I wanted to be, anxious, excited…I can hardly wait to tell you the truth. Teaching was always my favourite part of being a professor and I’m hoping that feeling prevails as I teach my last classes before officially retiring. Of course, I’ll be teaching again as part of my post-retirement contract but somehow that feels different — almost like being a sessional. In the meantime, I have 108 days left (or less if I can get my marking done in good time at the end of classes) and will no longer have to do annual reports, attend endless meetings, feel that knot in my stomach when there’s a difficult meeting that I have to chair. Instead, I can concentrate on our SSHRC project, write our book, and attend some conferences — hopefully in interesting places.

Sounds good to me and the semester hasn’t even started…one last annual report to go. Woot!!!

5×8 = Progress!

13 07 2012

Earlier this year I helped out a friend whose husband had just had heart surgery by volunteering to take him to “Heart to Heart” — a group that provides follow up education for recent heart patients in Victoria. I attended with him and during one of the classes the instructor passed around a model, complete with the appropriate heft, of five pounds of fat. It was kind of gross but a graphically visual reminder of what I had allowed to accumulate and now was trying to lose. I’ve now lost 8 of those 5 pounds of fat and hope to have lost 3-4 more by the time I return to Victoria. 

I already feel lighter and can do simple things without even thinking about it that used to be difficult if not impossible — things like walking a kilometre (two if I take a break), tie my shoes from a standing position, walk around the market on Saltspring Island without feeling like my feet are made of painful molten lead. I now use 8 pound weights (I started with 3) when I’m doing hammer and bicep curls when working out three times a week — a relatively recent development and one that my arms feel, believe me. I’ve been working out on the machines at the Arthritis Centre as well and, although they’re very cautious (overly so at times), I can do the bicycle and NuStep for as long as they’ll let me and wish it was longer. I plan to add those machines to aqua fit at a local fitness centre when I get back to VIctoria.

I chose to lose my weight fairly slowly and I’m glad I did. For one thing, it lessens the effect on skin that isn’t as elastic as it once was and, for another, I think mentally it’s easier to adjust to the changes in my body. I wonder what it must be like for those who have stomach banding operations and lose weight incredibly quickly — how is it that they adjust to a rapidly changing body size and image? For me, this program works best I think but the trick is, of course, to maintain the momentum as my life gets busier once I return to Edmonton in August. 

That’s why a plan is going to be very important for the 5 months ahead. First, I need to join a gym and make sure I keep up the walking and hopefully aqua fit as well. I also need to be sure to keep healthy groceries on hand so that I have good things to eat rather than being tempted by quick and usually unhealthy choices to “fill up” on the run. I am not going to have a TV to fill too much of my time so that will definitely help (although I will miss some of my favourites and maybe catch them online). Just doing those two simple things and having more time that was too often filled with TV should help me reach my goal. 

Once I get back to Victoria in December, I’ll continue with my current regime and step it up a bit. I’d like to train for a 5k walk in the Spring and will either finally learn to ride my bike or get a trike to add something else that will be great fun to my fitness routine. Of course I’ll continue with my weight loss goals and, if I lose 40 again over the winter/spring, I’ll have lost 20 of those ugly 5 pound blobs of fat. I’ll still have a bit to go but I will definitely celebrate that milestone (millstone) in a very big way!!! 


Three steps forward, two steps back…

17 06 2012


Just two more weeks and my sabbatical will be over and six weeks until I head back to Edmonton. I optimistically thought that surely in a whole year I could, in addition to fulfilling ongoing responsibilities, achieve all of my goals both personal and professional: 

* lose fifty pounds

* get fit and learn to ride a bike

* get a couple of papers off for publication

* get a book proposal done

* do papers for two international and one national conference

* and catch up on my reading

Well…it would be nice to report that I have put a check mark beside each item on the list but, alas, most are partial completes and a couple are non-starters. I will have a couple of papers off for review for publication — probably three and possibly four — the book review is not quite ready as we need to get a bit more analysis done before completing it but there’s now an additional one in the works, I’ll have 35 pounds off for sure and potentially more, and, although not fit, I am definitely in better shape than I was when I got to Victoria. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know the sorry tale of my inability to learn how to ride a bike but I’ll ride a trike instead (not entirely weird in Victoria), and I’ll never be caught up with reading but am feeling more current than I was at the end of three heavy duty years of faculty administration.

However, although I didn’t complete everything on my list, I’ve added some things that are unexpected additions to my sabbatical experience. I’ve learned to pole walk and enjoy my walking friends who encourage me to keep adding distance to our walks, I know now why my knees balk at doing squats so am learning to compensate, thanks to the arthritis centre, and keep on truckin’ while exercising, I’ve learned that I love mangos, I’ve discovered the joy of walking along the Gorge walkway and Willows beach, and Dallas Road, and Beacon Hill Park, I’m discovering exciting new feminist authors and appreciating anew some of those who were so important to my work as a beginning scholar, I’ve begun to explore the fascinating world of online teaching, and I’ve conquered the “bathing suit in public” beast. So, all in all, this has been a year of unexpected learning — and those learnings are ones that I can build on when I retire and return to Victoria at the end of December.

As I think about what lies ahead, I realize how fortunate the timing of this year was. I desperately needed a real break and so approached the year with that foremost on my mind. However, I now realize that it’s been not just a year of recovery but also one of tentative forays into the next phase of my life. I’ll be doing a two year post-retirement contract that will amount to a half time assignment. While the details aren’t completely worked out yet, one stipulation for the contract is inviolable — I will not be in Edmonton for the winter. That means I will likely do the teaching part of the contract in Fall term or even Spring/Summer and I hope that some of the teaching will be online for one term. The rest of the work can be done at a distance. It’s become obvious to me during this year that I am not ready to step away from my academic work completely — our SSHRC project is just too much fun for that to happen and there’s still so much work to do on it — but the slower more contemplative pace of the post-retirment contract will be very welcome once this next semester is done.

It’s all a bit scary of course, financially and in other ways, but this year has taught me that I’m ready to take up other pursuits but not ready to give up those that I continue to care about so much. Fortunately, what lies ahead will allow me the opportunity to do both.


5 05 2012

Although winter in Victoria is not like winter in most places in Canada, and certainly not like winter in Edmonton, it was still a thrill when the days became longer, the sunny days were almost as numerous as the rainy ones, and the temperature got warm enough to enjoy walks wearing a light fleecy or jacket. Spring – that most delightful of transformations – began to come to Victoria about a month and a half ago. Early flowers began to emerge, gardeners were out preparing their flower beds for planting in May, the city planted their flowerbeds in the boulevards, and leaves began to turn that sharp pungent chartreuse that signals spring is finally here. In Victoria, though, the most evident sign of spring is the sudden appearance of streets lined with flowering trees in various shades of pink. It’s absolutely delicious! And while snow – the cold white kind – reasserts itself just as spring seems to be appearing in Edmonton, snow of a very different kind falls here. Pink petals fill the air and land in frothy piles at the side of the roads as they fall from the trees. As the blossoms disappear, the lilacs are coming into bloom and filling the air with their heady scent. It’s kind of intoxicating for someone who used to festoon her “seatwork” with flowers as a kid. The colours are already riotous and the real growing season hasn’t even started yet.


Transformations of a different kind have filled this week as well. Late last week, Shannon, who has taken such good care of my cat Finnegan while I’ve been here in Victoria, confirmed that things weren’t going well for him again. He was losing weight at an alarming rate, was quite lethargic and was peeing everywhere. She had tried several strategies to help him with his pee problem and try to entice him to eat but he was just not doing well at all. He was at the vets quite a few times and they seemed to be stymied other than to say that he was a very old cat and likely had kidney issues. After discussing what we should do, the inevitable decision was made that his days were coming to a close and that he would go to the vet one last time for a merciful and caring end to his life. Shannon and I and others who knew and loved Finnegan shed many tears but knew it was the best thing for this sweet boy.

I shared on Facebook that on the Monday night, prior to his appointment with the vet on Tuesday, I drove down to Dallas Road knowing that the ocean would work its soothing magic. It was cold, windy, and the water was rough and as I sat there and watched the kite riders bob and weave around each other as they rode the wind and waves, I looked to the left and there was a beautiful rainbow just visible among the clouds. At such moments, it’s difficult not to believe that the rainbow – Finnegan’s rainbow — was anything but a special moment of grace. I will always be grateful for that moment and for the funny, quirky, loving Finnegan who was such a joyful part of my life for eight years. Like me, he liked to watch TV and would snuggle up to watch our favourite shows together. He was unusually intuitive and was my constant companion when I was recovering from my heart surgeries or if I was feeling blue or stressed. On several occasions he wakened Melissa just as she was going into a dangerously low blood sugar episode or he would yowl until I was awake so that I could help Melissa out.

Finnie had some good friends that he enjoyed — especially my neighbours Tonia and Jordan. Tonia would come to visit with him and brush him and he would just roll around from side to side as he enjoyed each brush stroke. The night before he was going to go to the vet, Tonia and Jordan visited Finnie and said goodbye to their old friend. His friend Michelle at Michelle’s Petsitting was also a wonderful caregiver for Finnie when I was away.

Finnie grew up with a companion cat, Sophie, who ruled the house, including Finnegan but they were great pals and he missed her so much when she died. That’s why it was a special gift for him that at the end of his life that he was able to enjoy being with Sebastien, Shannon’s cat and he even learned to enjoy Kuro, her dog.He and Shannon were really good friends and he had her with him when he went into his last deep sleep. I am so grateful to her and Sebastien and Kuro for the joy they brought to Finnie in the past few months.

There is much to be grateful for in each of these experiences — the beauty of Victoria as she dresses up in her Spring colours and the time I have had over the past eight years to enjoy my sweet boy, Finnegan, who brought beauty and joy into my life in a very different way. Both have transformed my life in ways that are gifts I am so lucky to have enjoyed.