Cancer

Choc'LaCure 2014 by alec vanderboom


I can’t believe a year has passed already. Or, maybe more to the point, I can’t believe what’s happened in the last year.

I was going through my YouTube channel the other night and came across a video that I posted just over a year ago. It was the end of October, and I was raising money for the Choc’LaCure Gala—an annual event that raises money for the Saskatoon Cancer Centre. It was going to be my second time playing at the event, and I was honoured to be asked back to perform. If you’ve never attended the event, you’ll have to take my word that Choc’LaCure warms the attendees’ souls with the generosity of the people of Saskatoon. Last year turned out to be no exception. I played a set with Meagan Bzowy; made a donation thanks to those who bought my music; teared up a bit hearing the stories of survivors; and I soaked up the spirit of the evening.

I had no idea that I’d be a Cancer Centre patient in less than four months.

I’ve said it before: the Saskatoon Cancer Centre is an amazing place. Coming from someone who hates hospitals, I hope you can understand what that statement means to me. Despite the tasks at hand in the building, there is always hope and a sense of welcoming and care that many people might not think possible with all of the grim stories that we hear about our medical system. It’s the people that make that place amazing, and it’s the Choc’LaCure event that helps those people to help everyone who walks through the Centre’s doors.

I’m proud to be playing again this year on November 7th. I’m honoured to have friends like Brett Balon and Meagan joining me on stage. Even though this will be my third year performing, I’ve got a case of butterflies from the anticipation of how the night will feel now that I’ve got a completely new perspective.

If you’d like to donate, I’m not running my own fundraiser this year, but please check out Choc’LaCure’s site. Trust me—it means so much.

Sweet. Bitter. Better. by alec vanderboom


The last 24-hours have been extremely bittersweet.  Here’s the story:

The Sweet Side
This morning, I found out that my album, Aanalog, has been nominated for the Western Canadian Music Award for “Urban Recording of the Year”! I was stunned when I got the news, but two pretty awesome moments followed once the word got out:
·      My wife’s grade 2 students yelled, “Congratulations!” while on speaker phone. I laughed a lot and I teared up a little—I’ll get to the reasons for the latter in a bit.
·      My mom asked, “What does the category ‘Urban’ include?” I told her, “Artists who were born in Meadow Lake or equivalent.”
As I write this, I honestly still don’t know what to think; I don’t know what to write. I’ve been sitting here for the last hour trying to figure out what this all means to me, and why I didn’t jump through the ceiling with excitement when I got the news. Actually!! Why the heck am I thinking so much about this in the first place?!?! Don’t get me wrong! I am totally grateful, honoured, ecstatic, and supremely thankful all at the same time (check out a blog from a few weeks ago here http://aaronadair.blogspot.ca/2014/04/my-baby-is-1-today.html). I’ve been reflecting on all of the hard work and equally hard lessons that went into the process of writing, recording, and releasing the album. Again, I’m grateful for all of the learning experiences that I’ve had along the way. However, I’m very aware that the somewhat bitter side of this story also has something to do with the mixed emotions I’m experiencing after today’s great news.

The Bitter Side
            I’ve been working out lately. Not the type of workout where you’d see me at the gym—in fact, stop trying to picture that, please! As with some people, a tipping point occurs in life where something pushes you toward commitment to having to better yourself in some way. This point for me came when I made a frightening discovery a few weeks ago. I was driving to Collective Coffee for my daily Americano, when for the first time in weeks I tried singing along with a song playing on my stereo—I believe it was “PS I Love You.” The problem was, I couldn’t sing. WHAT THE HECK WAS HAPPENING?!?!?! I have always been able to sing! Well, I suppose there is the exception of my pubescent audition for the musical Cinderella in elementary school (picture the bag boy in the grocery store on The Simpsons), but since then I've been able to sing! Singing is a skill I've worked hard to develop. I've got to admit I've taken this skill for granted from time-to-time, but not now!
            For those who don’t know, over the past few months I have had surgery and undergone treatments to help cure Thyroid Cancer (some details are in my past blogs: http://aaronadair.blogspot.ca/p/soldier-against-cancer.html). When I received the official diagnosis on February 28th, one of the first questions I asked was, “Will this affect my singing voice?” I was told I'd be ready to go by the time the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival came around. Some may feel that I’d hold some kind of resentment since it looks like what I was told may not turn out to be true, but I don’t. It’s hard to resent anything anymore since I’m alive and getting healthier each day. Losing approximately two octaves of my vocal range has added yet another challenge to my plate. Not being able to sing like I used to is not a doctor's fault; it's not a card that's been dealt to me from a deck that's unfavourably stacked. Again, I'm alive, and today's awesome news is affirmation that there is so much that I've got to be grateful about.
Last month, I teamed up with Anastasia Winterhalt to help rediscover and redefine my voice. When I first talked with Anastasia, I told her, “I need a vocal personal trainer,” and that’s the focus that we’ve been working with for the past few weeks. I haven’t been trying to sing complete songs until this week. Like rehabbing a sports injury, I can’t jump back into game shape right away. Until a few days ago, I’ve simply been breathing (imagine that!!!) and doing basic exercises within the octave or so that remains of my vocal range.
You know what? I just realized something. During our first meeting, Anastasia described the celebration that occurs when we sing. After all, singing is an expression, a release, an exclamation. I wonder if the recent lack of singing in my life has precipitated the muted celebration at today's nomination news? Either way, that brings me back to the last 24-hours.
Yesterday afternoon, I sat down to practice songs for my upcoming shows, and I discovered that things are not getting better quickly. I knew I wouldn’t recover fast, but there's a lot of ground that I need to cover before I am recovered. The falsetto voice that some say is a signature on Aanalog is gone. This means that for now, my amazingly skilled and talented friend Meagan is going to have to take the lead on many of the tunes. The keys of some songs will have to be redefined. Some songs may need to be reworked completely. But, regardless of the point that I’m at when June 20th comes around, I will keep working to reach my target. 
What is that target? Hmmmmmmm. Well, it’s not to get back to where I was before the surgery. I think it’s to get to a point where I am comfortable with my voice again. Maybe this will open new opportunities for writing for different people, or for singing in a different style. You know what? I’m kind of excited to see where this leads!

The Better Side
Phew! The last few paragraphs were cathartic! I think I can move on now to being totally excited about today’s unexpected news. Aanalog just isn’t going to be the same, and that’s okay with me. Right now, I can’t wait to perform in a few weeks! AND, I can't wait to go to Winnipeg in October! Time to celebrate! Time to get to work!

4 Weeks In- Good News, Good Food, Good Progress, but “The Good Cancer”? by alec vanderboom


It’s April 8th—four weeks since my surgery, and a year minus a day since I released my first solo album—and I’m feeling good.
            Overall, I’m very close to where I was before the surgery. I realize now that my energy was low back then, and I’m struggling with it a bit now, but things keep getting better. Jenn and I had our first night out on Saturday (thanks to some great friends!), and it felt awesome. We also spent some time out at my brother’s place on Sunday, and I was able to go for a longer walk with our dog, Lucy, yesterday. Again, awesome. Everything takes a little more time, but it’s okay because I just don’t want to push too hard. It was estimated that I could possibly go back to work this week, but I’m relieved that I have some more time. I definitely don’t have the energy to be back in the classroom yet. Adjusting to my new medication, Synthroid, is not as easy as it sounded at first.
            One of the reasons it may be taking a bit longer to get my energy back is the fact that my surgery was a bit more extensive than just a thyroidectomy. We received our pathology report last week and found out that I had three areas of concern on my thyroid. Dr. Christian, my surgeon, mentioned that even though the cancer was evident on both sides of my thyroid, some doctors would only do a partial removal of the thyroid. I feel lucky to have had it all come out at once. After all, there was a patient in a bed next to me after my surgery who was in for his second surgery since the first didn’t complete the task. We also found out that I had 20 lymph nodes removed, nine of which were suspicious. This lymph node dissection led to the extensive scar that has caused me the most discomfort.
These four weeks have flown by. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of it was really difficult but I’m in a good spot. This gets me thinking about something I wrote about in my first blog: Is Papillary Thyroid Cancer really the “Good Cancer”? I mentioned that Dr. Christian told me that “the good cancer” is indeed what I have. Since the surgery is so effective, there are not many procedures that need to follow. But, can cancer be good in ANY way?! I read an article that shoots down this “good” diagnosis completely, and I see why (check out http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-graeber/thyroid-cancer-things-to-know_b_3319897.html). No cancer diagnosis, no treatment involving surgery and a permanent medication regiment is “good.” However, when I consider all of the things I was able to do last weekend, I consider myself lucky. I am looking ahead to a radioactive iodine treatment, but this involves being isolated at the hospital for just a few days. When I think of the people who need to go through extensive, painful treatments involving chemotherapy, I realize that I am in a “good” situation. As stated in this article (http://thyroid.about.com/b/2010/09/09/thyroid-cancer-good-cancer.htm), the prognosis for my type of cancer is very good, but maybe the terminology could be changed in some situations.
            Also, as I’ve written about before, the medical care I have received has been phenomenal. My follow-up appointment with Dr. Christian and Dr. Caspar-Bell, the endocrinologist, was so reassuring. Even with a long line of patients to see, Dr. Caspar-Bell took the time to speak with Jenn and find how we are both doing emotionally. She also took the time to answer every question that we had on our minds—especially regarding diet (*see below*). These simple gestures are not ones that we often hear about when people are discussing patient care. Like schools, hospitals often get compared to factories without thorough consideration of the implications of this metaphor. Dr. Caspar-Bell’s personalized efforts put Jenn and I at ease; we didn’t feel like a number or some product that will eventually come out the other end being deemed as “good enough.”

*With regards to diet, we (especially Jenn) did a lot of research on diet recently. Both doctors reassured us that a normal diet is going to be fine from now on. Of course, not many people share the same idea of what normal really is, but our normal prior to surgery will continue to be our normal now:
·      Lots of veggies and greens- We had read that there were certain vegetables that are goitrogens—they could potentially cause an adverse effect on recovery—but as with anything, moderation is key. This also applies to meat. We were considering a strictly plant-based diet, but we are just going to choose wisely. I won’t eat meat every day, and we will continue to buy the healthiest meat that we can find (“organic”, antibiotic-free, etc.). On a side note, I love to cook, so the perspective of considering meat as a side dish is a challenge that I look forward to.
·      Iodine- we were concerned about iodine levels when preparing for the iodine treatment, but Dr. Caspar-Bell told us that this would only mean that, “If you live in Vancouver, you would have to move to Saskatchewan.” What she was implying with this joke is that unless one eats seaweed and fish every day, iodine levels won’t be a major concern. She did advise to take it easy on the sushi though.

As it stands now, it’s April 8th. The sun is shining. It’s 16 degrees Celsius after a long, cold winter. My dog wants to go outside, and so do I. I’m feeling good.