Sunday, December 14, 2008

December Already?

I always have to start these posts with an apology for not updating sooner. I guess I don't want two sentence posts or meaningless posts but then I forget to update and I leave everybody hanging there waiting to hear what's happened.

I officially finished my chemo sessions on November 25th! Done! Forever! I took a nice montage of videos but unfortunately the format they are in is not compatible with my (primitive) video editing program so it's just kinda sitting here on my computer for now. Let's just say I set up a finish line in the doorway then ran through it. ;)

I went in for a follow up with my oncologist the week after and she told me about how I have the CT scan at the end of this month to confirm that everything is gone. She's anticipating that I should be fine (which is always nice to hear from a professional)! The thing that kinda bugs me is that now that I know that certain pains can be associated with certain things, anytime I get like a sore back or a rib out of place or think I feel something abnormal it really gets on my nerve. I know that it's most likely nothing to worry about but it just kinda lingers in my head (which it shouldn't). For example, I thought I felt something abnormal in a place that was troubling so I went to my doctor and he didn't find anything. He also sent me for an ultrasound and it showed nothing. But now I'm curious as to what I felt since it did occasionally cause minor pain. I think what I have to come to terms with is that my body has been through a lot and I'm bound to get the occasional pain or weird feeling. Once I get the CT scan, I think I'll be able to relax easier.

Lately I've been visiting my school Thursdays at lunch to perform and practice improv with the team (of which I'm currently an honorary member until I'm officially a student again). In the past week or two, I got to perform improv with the team for "Arts Fusion Night." We've done nights like this in the past and we've always been a hit (this night was no different). It was lots of fun.

So, what's coming up soon? Well, on Christmas Day I'll turn 18 (yeah yeah, Christmas baby, I must have been a nice present, So you're like Jesus? Half/Double the presents? etc. etc.) so that's exciting. I hav ethe CT scan right around the end of the year and on January 8th to 9th I'll be at the Rotary weekend where the outbounds meet each other for the first time. How many people can say they've done that TWICE?

I want to thank all the people reading this blog - especially those who have posted a comment. It's great to hear the supportive and positive things you guys have to say. Thanks!

P.S. I lost my hair again :( Oh well, my hair should come back around the end of the year and then it stays!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Latest Happenings

Hey! Sorry for, again, not updating in awhile!

After some delays with the third cycle, I have completed the final intensive sessions and now only have 2 small sessions of chemo left (ever)! Blood tests still show great things and I'm all but double confirmed to be free of cancer. :D

As for other happenings, a few weeks ago I dropped by SJAM (my high school) to talk to my guidance counselor and see what I can do in between now and next year (when I FINALLY get to go on exchange) to keep my mind going and not just sit here and watch TV, go on the computer, and play video games - which CAN and DOES get boring easier than some may think. If this is what retirement is like, I never want to retire.

My counselor said that I could do pretty much anything, I could come back for a semester, a course, 2 courses, to hang around and help out with other classes, whatever. They were really flexible about it. I'm still quelling it over... I also got a mini-surprise in that I found out that I was IN FACT going to be attending my official Class of '08 Graduation ceremony! I originally had thought that I wouldn't be a part of it simply because I hadn't told them I would be there (what with planning on being halfway around the world during it). SJAM was nice enough to pay for the graduation gown and the tickets for my family to attend (Thanks - especially to Mrs. Fairhall if you read this).

After I talked with my guidance counselor, I stayed for a couple hours to catch up with some 5th year students and I got to go to one of the new improv club sessions! There are lots of new faces - I was pleasantly suprised.

Graduation night - Everything went smoothly. I got to catch up with more people and there were some who hadn't heard of my recent ordeal. I got lots of well wishes and best-of-lucks for the future. It turns out they wouldn't give us our official diplomas until we returned the graduation gowns. They gave us a fake on stage that said something like "Thanks for trying" or something similar to the sorry messages under a coffee cup rim...

In other OTHER news, my hair has started to grow back. It looks pretty awesome if I do say so myself. Suddenly my staring into the mirror has become really mesmerizing....

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Almost done!

Sorry I haven't updated in awhile.

The past few weeks have been a barrage of decision making and hearing both sides to the chemo story. I didn't really want to post anything because my decisions kept on flip flopping. If I haven't already mentioned it I, like many other chemo patients, also go to a naturopathic doctor to help on the dietary and supplementary end of things that doctors won't look at. What was scary was that the naturopathic doctor was telling me all about the potential horrors of chemo. On the other side of it, the doctors were telling me all the potential horrors of delaying or stopping chemo treatment. So I had both sides telling me that going the other way was dangerous. It really puts your head in a state of complete deadlock. I've decided to go with my gut feeling that I SHOULD continue and finish my last cycle.

On to good news, every 3 weeks I get a big blood test that not only tells me how my body is doing but it also looks for tumor markers (proteins and hormones that are produced in excess amounts due to cancer). They look at "HCG" and "AFP." My last blood test has shown that the tumor markers are back down to normal levels! HCG was less than 5 and AFP was less than 7. To put that in perspective, only about a month ago HCG was 564 (wow) and AFP was 174! Of course, blood tests can't completely tell you if you don't have cancer or not. It just means that the chemo is working very effectively.

At this point, if I still had cancer, it would be microscopic or at least very small and very weak. That's where the third cycle comes in. It helps to ensure that the cancer is completely gone and then I can be on my way to the rest of my life!

I should also mention that I went to a Rotary Youth Conference yesterday. I got to catch up with a bunch of Rotarians and I got to meet the new inbounds for this coming year. They seem like a good bunch of people. As a bonus, I got to listen to a bunch of presentations made by people making a difference in this world.

Thanks for reading! (and to any Rotarians who may be reading this, thank you for the conference...and the food)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Big News and Stuff


So I'm done the first week of my second cycle and they started me on those injection things to boost my immune system yesterday. As of last Thursday I was officially done over half of my overall chemo sessions! Just 9 more to go! :D

As for how I'm feeling, I think I've actually felt better this week than I did for the first week of chemo. Maybe it's just not as big of a shock to my body or maybe I'm just eating right and all that fun stuff. *shrugs*

Anyways, on to some big news pieces:

1. After truly thinking over the recovery time I would get with only ONE month in between chemo and the day I would have to be in Thailand, I realized that it would be pretty far fetched. One month is definitely not enough time to recover from the chemo AND travel halfway around the world to live there. I got an email from a Rotarian who was in charge of the Asian exchanges (I believe he's the guy who's overall in charge next year) and he said that the head of the Thai Rotary district would only be able to accept me until November 30th AND my exchange would still be finished around early August '09. He said I could try and make that OR I could just wait until next year's batch of exchange students and be able to go on a full year! Obviously in my situation, I would rather have the full year experience as opposed to a little over half a year.

So, I accepted the offer to go on exchange for NEXT year and in the meantime, I just gained myself 6-7 months time of recovery and rejuvenation! Of course, since it's a new year, I might be sent to a different country....we'll have to wait and see.

2. The other piece of big news is that I found out from someone who works at the London Cancer Clinic that I still qualify for the Make A Wish Foundation! Yup, having a late birthday is pretty cool after all. I assume I still have to be referred to them and have to go through some paperwork but I could soon have "one wish granted" by the foundation! I really don't know what I would wish for. All I can think of is "Grahh give me lotsa money" but that's kinda boring. I need some wish ideas...

Thanks for everyone's thoughts and prayers, I'll definitely power through this and this WILL become an exchange blog in due time one way or the other :)

Monday, September 15, 2008

1 Week Delay?

Alright so here's the deal:

I went ALL the way to London today for the start of my second cycle. Since it's the start of a new cycle, I have to get extra blood tests and a visit with my medical oncologist before doing any chemo. Well, it turns out the neutrophil count in my blood is at 0.6 when it should be at a minimum of 1.5! Don't worry it's not like I die or anything, it's a very common side effect to the (very high) doses of chemo they're giving me. Anyways, my doctor said that they have to delay this week's treatment to next week after they give me some sort of stimulant that raises the neutrophil count. Yup, they inject me with stuff that stimulates my bone marrow to produce more (sounds intense I know!).

So basically I have this week off now. It's kinda bittersweet since that gives me one less week to recover in time for Thailand to still be viable. Which reminds me, I sent an emial out to the head of the Thai district's youth exchange program. He sent me an email back saying that he would be able to accept me for this year of exchange up until the end of November! That means that once my chemo is done (which is now even closer to the end of October), I'll have one month to recover enough to go. Now I know I'm strong annd young so I can recover faster but I was still concerned. I asked my doctor and she said that it shouldn't be a problem at all. "Sure you won't be completely recovered but you should be ready by that point."

It's still possible :D

I know I mentioned in my last post about considering taking up an instrument. Well, a friend of my parents was kind enough to lend their guitar to me! That should occupy me for awhile!

I also want to quickly mention something kinda cool. There's this show I love to watch called "The Conventioneers" about two guys based out of Toronto who go to health conventions, outdoor conventions, comic conventions, you name it and they, to put it in their words, "try to fit in by sticking out." Anyways, I sent an email to one of the hosts and he sent me an email back. A couple days later, I get a package in the mail with a letter, a "Bite TV" touque, and three Conventioneer buttons (two autographed)! Awesome (haha, I can STILL get buttons for my Rotary blazer :P)!! If you want to check the show out, you can see all the episodes at their Youtube account:

As always, thank you all for your support and I'll continue posting about my chemo experience (and soon, Thai experience!)

Fun Fact: When they started the chemo, one of the blood tests they do is to determine how high a certain cancer marker is in my system (and thus the severity of the cancer). It started out at 175 and after only one cycle, it's down to 20!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Since chemo has started...

...I've been doing pretty good.

The first week was killer though. Monday through Friday with 3 1/2 hours connected to an IV plus driving time (about an hour and a half to London) and back makes for a chemo-centric day. By the end of the week, my mom said I wasn't looking so great and I was supposedly looking thin too. They have me on anti-nausea meds so I haven't run into that. Chemo makes me want to go to bed early though. Every night that week, I was in bed some where between 8 and 9 and waking up each morning around 7 ish.

Then I had the weekend off and BOY WAS I BORED. Since I didn't plan to still be in Canada right now, I didn't plan much in my life. I don't have school, work, anything. I've been keeping myself occupied with the computer, TV, and video games basically. Sometime around Monday it got a little better though. I no longer had the feeling of "everything bores me" but I REALLY don't want that again. Anybody have any suggestions? I'm considering learning another language (i.e. Thai) or brushing up on my Japanese. Maybe learn a new musical instrument? I dunno.

Last week I only had Tuesday and that was really easy. The treatment only lasted about an hour and it was only one type of chemo (as opposed to the long week where everyday consisted of at least two kinds). Since then I've felt great and my appetite has returned back to normal. It was really nice to have a week off. I go in tomorrow for another treatment like last weeks so it should have similar results. The only thing I've been worried about is some pain in my underarm area (which has lymph nodes in it). Hopefully it's nothing more than my body dealing with extra toxins :) EDIT: Turns out my worries were only worries. A doctor examined the area and said he found nothing except for the fact that the muscles in that area were tight

PS. Yesterday was the first day that I noticed some hair strands around where I've been. Yup, the hair loss has BEGUN MUHAHAHA

Also, thanks to everyone who has kept me in their thoughts and prayers :)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A quick little update

Tomorrow I begin my 9 week long chemo treatment. It's sure to be a rollercoaster of fun! As I mentioned before, I have to go through three 3 week cycles. One cycle of chemo is basically as follows:

Week 1: Mon. Tues. Wed. Thurs. Fri.
Week 2: Tues.
Week 3: Tues.

So this next week is gonna be pretty intensive, having to drive about an hour and twenty minutes each morning to get to London and then sitting there with a chemo drip connected to my arm for three hours. I'm gonna have to find some stuff to occupy me...
EDIT: I forgot to mention that we have a volunteer cancer driver who will drive us to London every day for free, they get reimbursed for the gas by the Cancer Society I believe.

I'll continue to post throughout the chemo process and maybe you'll learn a thing or two about it all, doesn't that sound fun?

By the way, I love how some people have those little preconceived notions about cancer. Now I haven't run into anything big but over the past few weeks, I've told some people about my cancer and they say "Ahhh, well you look good!"or "You look well!" Now I know this is in their best intentions but of course I'm going to look good! Cancer doesn't suddenly make you a sickly, pale, shell of a person or something. Unless you have some sort of visible cancer, it's not really gonna show a whole lot in a person's looks. Perhaps people just subconciously tie cancer with that poster pale and sickly theatrical look. *shrugs*

Anyways, thanks for all the great comments and words of encouragement you guys have been posting here, in emails, and on Facebook. Not to mention all the nice cards I've received! People have a surprising affinity to sending me cards with dogs on them...

Thanks to everyone and I thank you for your continued support in the next step of my recovery process.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Some great news (compared to everything else)

So I went to the cancer clinic in London (apparently I'm too young for the cancer clinic in Kitchener!). I met the medical oncologist (specializes in chemotherapy) and she said that I will only need 3 cycles of chemotherapy. Each cycle is 3 weeks so that means I'll be done sometime in October! Adding in recovery time, I could be on my way to Thailand in November or early December!! The oncologist said she could see no reason why I wouldn't be able to do that if the treatment is successful (90% or more successful, I think I'll be ok).

The best part is that I won't be missing one of the biggest tours Rotary Thailand is taking us on! That's the best Christmas/Birthday present I could get!

So, to Emma and all the other exchange students in Thailand right now, I'm coming soon to a country near you, November/December 2008. I'll see you there!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

And it just keeps coming...

So, I'd like to mention that my surgery went very well. It was the first time I've been in the hospital for myself, the first time I've had surgery, and the first time I had an anesthetic. That stuff is crazy. I woke up and I thought they hadn't done the surgery yet only to find I was in the recovery ward!

I also had a CT scan on Tuesday, this was to show if the cancer had spread at all. They put this crazy xray dye in you so that the machine can pick it up. When they inject you with it, it makes you feel very warm everywhere. Really weird.

I got called in to the oncologist yesterday and he had received the results of the CT scan. It turns out the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in my lower back (which are connected to the original tumor area). Essentially this means that I'm going to have to go through CHEMOTHERAPY and that will take MONTHS. The oncologist said that the success rate is around 90% and this is one of the most treatable cancers.

This, of course, sucks horribly. Rotary told me that they are still very enthusiastic in having me go to Thailand whenever I am capable of doing so. It's not a matter of "if," it's just "when."

I'm still keeping positive and whatnot. For now this blog won't exactly be about me in Thailand but I'll still post through the recovery process (and I am labelling this post as "predeparture").

On the bright side, I won't have to worry about haircuts for awhile!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Some bad news...

Well, this kinda sucks.

About two weeks ago I felt some pain in my lower abdomen and groin so I went to the doctor. He scheduled some tests which I got done the next Friday.

Last Tuesday, the results came in and he said I might have a TUMOR in that area. (WHAT??!)
He said I would have to delay/cancel my exchange depending on how serious it was. He ordered more tests to help find this out.

It's the worst possible timing, about two weeks before my planned departure and I find out the most random and terrible news! Plus, I got it the DAY AFTER I went to my Rotary Club to give a speech about how excited and proud I was to be going to Thailand and how eager I was to go. :(
I contacted my Rotary district about this and they're going to try to help me as much as they can so that I can still go to Thailand. That's good news...

I went to a specialist last Friday and he ordered some more in depth tests. Some blood work, a surgery that he'll be performing, and a CT scan. This will go a couple weeks past my original departure date so that means I have to delay my trip for sure :(

The surgery is essentially removing what they think is the tumor to determine if it actually is a tumor. If it is a tumor, they'll determine whether it is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). I've thought of the scenarios that each could provide and I've come up with 3 scenarios that would put me at leaving for Thailand within weeks.

Best case scenario: It's not a tumor, it's something much more manageable/easier to work with
Number 2 scenario:It is a tumor but it's benign
Number 3 scenario:It is a tumor and cancerous - but contained

Any of those scenarios presents me with the opportunity to leave for Thailand very soon. Hopefully it's not a different scenario...that would suck and I would have no idea my potential for still going to Thailand.

At this point, I really hope it's the best case scenario and that I'll be posting from Thailand very soon. :)

For now, I'll keep this updated. I'm going in for surgery next Wednesday and that will be the first step into determining my situation.

All the best!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Little Background on Chanthaburi

I think I should post a little bit about where I'm going to be living for a year. It looks to be an exciting place to live!

Chanthaburi (Thai - จันทบุรี) is one of the many provinces in Thailand. It is in the eastern part of Thailand, bordering Cambodia and the shore to the Gulf of Thailand. It is about 330 km east of Thailand's capital - Bangkok.

The name Chanthaburi comes from two words in Sanskrit translated literally to City of the Moon (awesome!!). It was once occupied by French colonists beginning in 1893 but that only lasted until 1905. Nonetheless, there did bring some architectural influence into some areas of the province. Chanthaburi is also home to many Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants.

Chanthaburi's southern part is on the shore of the Gulf of Thailand but there are some mountainous areas in the hinterlands.

Chanthaburi is famous for its abundance of gemstones (specifically rubies and sapphires) and tropical fruits. There are big markets for both (and my 1st host family owns a gem business!).
Chanthaburi is also known for its scenic waterfalls and rich forests - not to mention some of the beautiful beaches.

Within Chanthaburi, there are 10 big districts, I will be living in the 1st district - Muang Chantaburi which basically means Chantaburi City. That's right, I'm going to be living in Chantaburi, Chanthaburi...

I'll be going to Benchamarachuthit School (say that 5 times fast). I've talked to a couple of people who go to that school and they've said I'll love it but they've never told me why. *shrug* I found their website (yeah, they have one) and it's all in Thai so I can't really read it just yet.

I fly out August 3rd so I'll probably post a couple times more before I leave but once I get there, there will be a lot more interesting things to talk about :)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Karoliina's Goodbye Party

Yesterday was Karoliina's Goodbye Party and I thought I'd make a post for it. Karoliina is an exchange student from Finland and her exchange is soon coming to an end. She invited all the inbounds and outbounds to come to her goodbye party on Sunday and it was probably one of the last times we'll all be together (at least that many of us at one time). So, Yuki (Japanese inbound) offered to help get me there (Burlington) for most of the way. He lives in Cambridge so he's not too far away. After almost getting lost at one point and knocking on two random people's houses, we got to Karoliina's.

Everyone basically mingled, talked, had fun, the works. There was a lot of picture taking, a small water fight outside (followed by picture taking), talking, eating, and more! It was decided that a mvie should be rented for everyone to watch so me, Emma, Mark, Bam, and Emi went to Blockbuster to rent a movie. There was a pretty big thunderstorm and lots of lightning too :O

We ended up renting How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (well....there are a lot more girls than guys in our district). We drove back...except we were on the wrong part of the street. We all got out and couldn't find the house haha. We finally got back, Bam ran towards the door going "YAY!" Bam is WAAAAYY too cute. Everything she does, you can't help but smile about it. I wondering if I'll be in Thailand just going "Awww!" to everybody...BTW, Yuki is totally horrible towards her. She was sleeping and he slapped her in the face a yelled "WAKE UP!" It was admittedly funny but only because he's so insane. Yuki is crazy but that's what makes him funny.

The best part of this all was that when I called home to get a ride, my mom said she couldn't pick me up (and my dad was going to be gone up North for the next 3 days)! I was just like "....what?" Here I was in Burlington, an hour and a half away from my home with no way of getting back for school the next day and with yet anywhere to stay. I had to stop and laugh and I thought "You know...I'm probably gonna be in a situation similar to this in Thailand...probably crazier." That's when I thought "Emma!" so I talked to Emma and she said it was alright to stay at her house overnight. Awesome! So, at the end of it all, everyone said their goodbyes (it took like half an hour but that just goes to show we don't wanna leave haha). We took some group photos and everyone headed home (some of the inbounds stayed at Karoliina's because they were going to go to Wonderland the next day). Alex (outbound going to Finland), I found out, also had to stay over at Emma's for the night. At Emma's we all got to talking about our exchanges and I realized that we all had only known each other since January! It's crazy how fast everyone got so close knit! Both Alex and I slept in the basement, I slept in a reclining chair but I didn't get a good sleep (To Emma: It's not the chairs fault, I was just overtired or something).

I woke up at 6:30 and took a shower and Emma dropped off Alex at the train station (so he could get back to Ingersoll). Now, what was I gonna do about school? Well, my mom couldn't come pick me up until around 11:00 so I just went with Emma to her school until then. I helped put up posters for her play and and I sat in on her drama class. When I got picked up, I realized the only class I had left was Accounting so I just said screw it. I ate some A&W though. Their root beer is amazing!

Anyways, I'm sure there's still a few more goodbye parties but I'll have to wait and see. Karoliina, if you read this thank you so much for the great party!

Jeez, I write such long winded walls of text.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Beginning - A Background Entry

Alright! Up and running! My name is Jared Stryker, I am a high school senior and I am going to be going on a year-long exchange to Thailand through Rotary Youth Exchange (District 7080). Specifically, I will be in the Chanthaburi province in Muang Chantaburi City (this is where the blog's name came from...that and my knack for somewhat cheesy puns). As of this post, I'm still an "outbound" as Rotary calls it. An outbound is someone who will be going on exchange but hasn't left their home country yet. For me, that country is Canada. I live in Waterloo, Ontario (which is about an hour and a bit's drive from Toronto) and I'll be here until early August.

Of course, I didn't just I didn't just suddenly become an outbound. I went through a selection process beginning with my local Rotary Club interviewing me, up to interviews with Rotarians from around the district on a multitude of subjects. Needless to say, they liked me enough to send me to a country halfway around the world. :) There are, of course, other outbounds in my district. Twelve girls and only four guys (including me). I remember wondering what was with the lack of boys wanting to go on exchange. I still do not have that question fully answered. Something for me to figure out while on exchange perhaps? Anyways, there was a few different orientation sessions both with the outbounds and together with the inbounds (people who have come from other countries on exchange to Canada). I was surprised at how cohesive everyone was together. We're truly a great bunch of people, outgoing, confident, the cream of the crop, and I'm proud to say I could be a part of it all. The best orientation we had was a 4-day winter camp up in a more Northern area of Ontario. We built quinzees (kinda like igloos), we went on a 6-hour snowshoe trek, had a campfire, dance, and more. It was fantastic to experience something like that with such great people!

In February, our district held the announcement day for our countries. Going in, my hopeful countries were Japan and Thailand. I have studied Japanese for eight and a half years and Rotary had said they wanted everybody to have new experiences. Knowing that, I knew my chances for Japan were incredibly slim. Each of us got up in front of the group of Rotarians, parents, outbounds, and inbounds and opened an envelope containing the name of our country choice. By the time it was my turn, the Japan spot was already taken and one of the two spots for Thailand had been taken so I was a little nervous. I opened the envelope and saw Thailand and I read it out excitedly. So, it was me and fellow outbound Emma who were going to be on our way to Thailand. Bam, the Thai inbound in our district, told us a little about Thailand and she pointed a few things out on a map. It was a fun day and it seemed as if everyone's placements seemed to fit perfectly.

More recently, we had our last orientation before our departures. We had a bunch of information sessions and presentations within a campus at the University of Toronto. We got a ton of information, our Canadian-Red Rotary blazers, some pins, and some good laughs. Bam taught me and Emma some Thai for a couple hours when we had some free time as well. Some rebounds (people who have already gone on exchange) came for the weekend and shared with us their exchange wisdom. I learned a lot, not just from the Thai rebounds but the other rebounds as well. Not only did all of that happen but I also got a big package of info straight from Thai District 3340! I got some rudimentary information on my first host family (they own a gem sale business - rubies and sapphires for everyone!) as well as general information about the Thai program and tours we can do. I will be joined by 42 (!) other exchangers when I get to Thailand. It looks to be an exciting year of adventure in Thailand for me!

So, come early August, I will be on my way to Chanthaburi, Thailand. Hopefully I will have many tales to tell as my year progresses and hopefully I will have sparked some interest in any readers that may stumble upon this blog. Enjoy!

Jared Stryker