My New Paradigm

“You are stronger than you think.”

These are the words I read in a post this morning.  I remember how I used to be able to push myself harder to achieve more.  I remember doing sit-ups and push-ups and step-ups and more.  And when I thought I could do no more, Vandie would encourage me with the words, “you are strong”,  or even, “you can do another 8, right?”.

And I was strong.  And I did another 8 more.

Yet, today, the phrase, “You are stronger than you think” has taken on an entirely different meaning for me today.  I know I am stronger – but it is not in a way I can predict or expect.  Endurance is not about another “8 more”.  Strength comes in so many different packages and they change day by day.

Today – I need strength to get out of bed.

Today – I need strength to face taking my son, Ben, back to school and trusting that he will be okay until I see him again.

Today – I need strength to trust that my daughter, Katya, is safe as she travels in a foreign country far, far away from home.

I need strength to take my chemo pills.  They are saving my life – but holy smokes, I gag every time I take them.

Today – I need strength to think positively about life.  I need to see the blessings I have.  I will actively encourage myself to move forward – to engage in the day – to … simply get out of bed.

I AM stronger than I think.  I WILL accomplish these goals.  Of this, I am certain.

My paradigm has shifted.

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The North-West Winds

The wind blows in from north-west today
A wind of grit and grime
And what do you suppose will bring that wind
Which gusts from time to time?

The trees, they quiver then stand quite still
Not sure which way to go
One thing for certain, one thing to expect
While moving to and fro –

A test of time, a test of faith
A test of courage, want, and strength
A gust to freeze their very core
Their distance, width, and length

Those winds are fierce, they have no end
Their touch turns life to dust
They menace us, they break our hearts
Yet trust in them – we must

We cannot control the winds which blow
We cannot stop their fate
We pick up pieces once they pass
And try to mitigate –

Our losses, trauma, tears, and breaks
For many do they seem
Yet, over time we realize
Into the wind  – we lean

We cannot fight, we cannot win
Yet, graceful can we be
As the trees which bow before its will
The wind will set us free

The dawn will break tomorrow morn
To illuminate our night
The wind will shift north-west to south
A reprieve from every fight

Rest gentle now for the south wind blows
Warm winds do soothe and calm
The sap of life runs rivers deep
“This” is Nature’s song

 

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The Wind Beneath Her Wings

Remember that song by Bette Midler?  “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?”  I still cry when I hear those words.  My mother gave me a figurine once – a mother cuddling her daughter.  On the bottom was a wind-up crank which, when loaded, played that song.  “You are the wind beneath my wings.”  My mother always said I was the wind beneath her wings – I knew it was the other way around.  She was the wind beneath mine.  She lifted me up.  She encouraged me.  She helped me soar.  When she died,  I fell.  She had been my hero, my advocate, my defender.  And when I lost her – I lost myself.  I haven’t turned that crank for seven years…

Linda was the wind beneath Angela’s wings.  I taught Angela in grade 8.  I think I may have even fought to teach her.  We all did.  Angela was an inspiration.  And it was her mother, Linda, who was Angela’s inspiration.   Linda was Angela’s advocate, her defender, her provider.  She had taken Angela into her home when Angela was a wee girl.  It was Linda’s choice to raise Angela as her own – and she had make the right choice.  Angela grew into a fine, young woman.  She was always bright, daring, and ambitious.  And those qualities only became more apparent as Angela grew.

I am sad to have missed out on their lives once I moved away from Collingwood.  I often think about them and how they would have faced the challenges of moving through the high school years, university years, the dating… and so on.  I know there would have been rebellion.  There is always rebellion – it’s part of growing up.  I know there would have been defiance.  Always teen defiance.  There would have been heart-break, tears, and fear.  And more than anything – there would have been love.  Fierce love.  There would have been forgiveness, confidence, and joy.  Of these things I am as sure as rain.

How lucky for all of us who knew Linda and Angela, to have witnessed such a bond between mother and daughter.  It is a bond that one would read about in books, watch grow in the movies, and pine for in our own relationships.  It is one to which we could all aspire.  It wasn’t perfect – but it was real.  I will always remember how Linda would look at Angela – when nothing in particular was happening.  Although Angela may not have “caught” that glance, I know in my heart that she felt it.  It was a look that transcended time and space.  It was something molecular that vibrated to Angela’s very core.  Her smile was proof.  Angela had the most wonderful smile when she was with Linda.

Words needed no place in their relationship.  There were no words.

There are no words now.  How can I describe the sadness I feel when I think of what Angela has lost?  I am broken hearted.  “We” are broken hearted.  It is the end of a chapter in Angela’s life and she must continue to write her book – with one less pen. I feel the loss.  We feel her loss.

We, the Mountain View community, admired her.  We looked up to her.  We admired her.  We wondered how she had the courage, the tenacity, the energy to raise Angela.  We were happy she did.  We were elated to see Angela evolve through the years into a wonderful young woman.  We, the Mountain View community supported them.  We did not always use words.  I think Angela could feel our smiles for her, our silent congratulations, and our admiration.  One doesn’t not need words to communicate.   A life-time of encouragement and support lingers in the air as an invisible cloak which can wrap itself around an individual in times of grief.   A life-time of admiration can sustain the soul to feed to hungry void.  We, the Mountain View community will step in to walk beside Angela as she finds her footing once again.

It takes a community to raise a child.  It takes a loving parent to let a miracle evolve.  And the miracle lay in that very relationship Linda had built with Angela.

Loss can be raw and ragged.  But, overtime, it will heal.  Mother Time will dress the wound and stitch the gap.  The scar will never leave and we are forever changed.  Time marches on.  Sometimes, we hear the drum and our hearts beat in time.  Sometimes, the drum marches us forward and we are not even aware that we have moved.  This time – this moment – I am in step.  My heart beats.  My heart beats so hard that it hurts.  It aches.  The loss is raw.  The pounding is real.  I am at a loss for words.

Let us, the Mountain View community, linger with Linda’s memory a while.  Let us rejoice in the glory of the moments Linda and Angela shared together.  These moments are the fabric of their lives which, when stitched together, form the most magnificent quilt of life well lived – together.  Mother and daughter – a relationship to stand  the test of time.  Linda was, and will continue to be, the wind beneath Angela’s wings.

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What’s in Your DNA?

“Not to worry, Stacey.  I know you are not a criminal.”

Well, I knew I wasn’t too.  But it still made me review my life with a fine tooth comb and really think hard about whether I should have “released my DNA” to the world.  I questioned whether I should have spit into that tube for Ancestry.ca.  I questioned whether I should have released my organs for cancer research.  I questioned… well really anything I could.

As it turns out – my fingerprints did voice my innocence.  Well.  No dah.

I was invited to be a member of the “Family and Patient Advisory Committee” for the Cancer Unit with Royal Victoria Hospital.  Well, this invitation was given after a series of interviews and screening.  I was so honoured. I studied and I researched the position to determine if I felt that I was going to be able to contribute in a meaningful way.  This position matters.  And it matters a lot to me.  I have a sense of worth, once again.  I have a sense that what I do will count, once again.  And I have been given an opportunity to make a difference, once again.  To be a volunteer with Royal Victoria Hospital, one must do a Criminal Record Check and Vulnerable Sector Screening.  No biggie. Makes sense.  I went and did my paperwork.  I submitted it and then waited.  It takes a while.  A few weeks later my results were in.  And I was asked to come in to do fingerprints.

What?

Yes.

Holy smokes.  It was like being called to the Principal’s Office.  You know you haven’t done anything wrong – but you search your memory banks anyhow.  And you stress.  Because you can’t think of anything you did wrong.  So – you create odd scenarios in which someone may have stolen your identity – or someone had a hate on for you and wanted to “burn” you.  ETC.  Yes.  It’s like being called to the Principal’s Office – only worse because the end result would be you being taken away in hand cuffs.

I think it is obvious that I was cleared.  But what happened?

I understand now, that if a person is convicted of a crime, serves their time, and then is released, he/she often changes his/her name.  Makes sense.  Everyone deserves a fresh start.  A new name gives that fresh start.  But no matter what the name – no one can change their birth date. And it was this detail that scored me a hit on the RCMP’s watch list.  Someone with my same date of birth had committed a crime.  Well – I’m sure there are many people born on my same birth date.  And it turns out – many people born outside of Canada with my same birth date.

Thank goodness for finger prints.  Honestly.  My prints spoke for me.  They spoke of my innocence.  They spoke of my hard and honest work as a teacher.  Their reputation as a good person proceeded me.  Thank goodness.

I don’t think I’m the only one that doesn’t like getting called to the Principal’s Office.  I highly doubt I’m the only one who automatically thinks the worst.  At least – I hope I’m not.  Cuz that would suck.  That would mean I’m abnormally paranoid.  Which I don’t think I am – right?  No.  No I’m not.

In any case – this clearance allows me to begin my volunteer position at RVH.

I am thrilled.

I am finally healthy enough to use my brain once again.

I miss teaching.  I miss everything about it.  I was so very fortunate to have had such a rewarding career.  Yet, I know I cannot return to it.  I just don’t have the energy or ability anymore.  I like to pretend it is not cancer that has prevented me from teaching, rather, that I have “retired”.  And when one is retired, one is able to volunteer.  And that is what I am going to do.  I have closed the chapter on teaching – at least in the way I had taught for 28ish years – and am about to open a new chapter on ‘advising”. I have a new chapter to write. I have more to give.  I have more to contribute.  I am excited.  And I need to pace myself.

I know that I will somehow leave my mark at RVH.  It’s the least I can do to give back for the life they have given back to me. And to my family.  I am so grateful.  I am filled with appreciation.  I will do my very best to make a difference and help others to have the same quality of life that I currently enjoy.  Why not?  Indeed why not?  After all – it’s in my DNA!

 

Posted in acceptance, cancer, Cancer Journey, Uncategorized | 11 Comments

My Mother Would Have Been Pleased

“Want to stay for a coffee,” asked my friend Vandie this morning after she had lead my through a long-overdue workout in her basement studio.

“I won’t have a coffee, Vandie,” I stated, “but I would love a visit.”

Little did I know that one thing would lead to another and I would be receiving some good old-fashioned pampering that morning.  Not only does Vandie take care of my fitness, but she also takes care of my skin!  Vandie is a registered esthetician.  As such, she encourages me to use good face creams, good cleansing routines, and to make time for myself.  Yet another reason my mother loved Vandie.  No matter how hard my mother tried to encourage me to take care of myself, I did not listen.  I was way too stubborn, proud, and busy to give her advise a second thought.

My mother sold Beauty Councellor beauty products for as long as I can remember.  She did well with them – no wonder, as she was one of the most beautiful women I remember.  She was a true “Russian Beauty”.  Everyone commented on her appearance, always so well put together, always had on her make-up (or at least her lipstick and eyebrows), always her pearls.  Honestly, in her 80’s my mother was stunning with her white, white hair and gorgeous high cheek bones.  She had her hair “done” once a week by a hair-dresser and a permanent at least once every two months.  It was her routine.  She made her appearance count.

She had tried, desperately, to pass that attention to self to me.  I had all my make-up, creams, and lotions I needed at my disposal for my whole life.  I thought all the make-up in the world would not make me look like my mother.  What was the point.  In fact, not only did I not look like her – I looked much more similar to my father.  And even more so when I lost my hair from chemo.  I was his spitting image.  He was a handsome man too – but, well, what girl wants to look like her father?  “Stacey,” people would say to me.  “Your mother is so beautiful.”  And without skipping a beat, they would add, “And you look just like your Dad!”  No make-up for this gal.  No skin cream.  I was destined to live my life without my mother’s cheek-bones.

It wasn’t until Vandie instructed me to sink my hands into the warm paraffin wax bath (after a good cleansing) that I really began to appreciate having stuck around for a chat.  The chats with Vandie are always good.  There are never any false pretenses to our dialogues.  We know who we are and there is no place to hide in our conversations anyhow.  After all, how much sweat have we shared  while we pushed ourselves to achieve good physical fitness.  But, man – that paraffin!  Sinking my hands into that warm, waxy bath was like being transported someone ethereal.  I had no body.  I had was all hands.  And all my focus was on the warmth and softness which enveloped them.

Vandie was giving a facial to another friend at the time of my out of body experience, so eventually, I paid attention once again to my surroundings.  The feeling came back to my brain and I simply sat watching Vandie perform her magic on the “other woman”.  I was a spectator.  I didn’t feel the need to participate in any dialogue.  I focused on my hands.  While they were chatting, I was healing.  I was healing from the inside out.  I was pampered.  Oh – what a delight.  Oh – what a joy. I sat.  I didn’t have a schedule.  I didn’t think about dinner.  I didn’t … well… I didn’t know even why I didn’t just stay there forever?  It was warm.  It was calm.  There was an aura in the room which glowed self-care.  The words I watched being exchanged were kind, gentle. There were bouts of laughter, but healing laughter.  Vandie’s hands soothed the “other woman’s” skin.  I melted just watching.  It was as though what was happening was also happening to me.  We were one.  I wondered what else was in that paraffin?  But it had simply been paraffin.  So – what was it that was causing my euphoria?  Vandie was caring for us.  It was like a mother’s care.  It was what my mother would have offered me.  I was swept away to my youth when my mother cared for me.  She cared for my well-being.  She cooked for me, she cleaned for me, she advocated for me.  She was my paraffin.  She enveloped me in warmth and offered herself as the salve to my soul.  Her words, her actions, her love was with me – in that room – while I sat on the sofa – watching Vandie and the “other woman” – with my hands wrapped in gauze – healing – from the outside in.

When my hands came out of that gauze, they were perfect.  At least, in my eyes.  My dry-cracked skin was soft.  The wrinkled old knuckles were smooth and the colour was a healthy pink.  Winter’s curse had been, at least temporarily, reversed.  It was there and then that I made a commitment to myself that I would, finally, take care of my skin.

“Here is some face cream, Stacey.  Use it!” instructed Vandie/ Mom.

And for the first time, I think in my entire life, I listened.  I took the cream.  I filed it where I knew I would find it and as soon as I got home, I applied it.  “Mom would have been so proud,” I thought.  Beauty is more than skin deep – but to have someone pamper that same skin is almost as good as the sorting out you get by seeing a therapist.  It is restorative, it is healing, it is re-juvenating.

I won’t soon forget this morning, or the feeling I had walking away from Vandie’s house.  “Maybe I should have tried this sooner?” I thought to myself as I drove away placing my hands smack dab in the middle of the steering wheel where I could admire them glisten in the sun.   “Maybe I should use gloves when I clean.”

Yes.  My mother would have been pleased.

 

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Dig Deep, Stretch Far

It was a long fall.  Or so I think I remember it being that way.  I recall the trees were hesitant to give colour to their leaves and, once they had, the colour was rather, well, lack-lustre.  At least that’s what I think I remember.  There were a few exceptions to the rule, of course.  There were a few spectacular trees who refused to go down quietly.  It was as though fall was their time in the spotlight and they had an “I’ll be damned” kind of attitude which carried them to their glorious seasonal climax:  They were crimson red.

I’ve always wondered how it is that some trees – same species – can “finish” with such glory?  Why are they able to pull through while others simply droop, drool, and drop?  What is the difference?  Is it that some simply dig deeper into the ground to find that pool of minerals that they need to carry on?  Is it that the angle of the sun’s rays hits them at exactly the right time of the day when they are all primed and ready to draw in the sun’s energy and make the most of it?  I don’t know.  I wonder.  Maybe I spend too much time wondering.  But – I do wonder about it.

I suppose the same can be said about people.

Resilience.

I’ve seen it.  And I see it a lot in the cancer centre.  I see people digging down deep into the roots of their being to draw the strength they need to do what they need to do to finish the task at hand.  Maybe that task it taking a round of chemo.  Maybe it’s taking herceptin – a post-treatment drug used for breast cancer survivors.  Maybe it’s taking magnesium, blood, or Lynparza.  I watched a parade of courageous warriors enter and exit the post-treatment pod at Royal Victoria Hospital on Monday.  Some were ashen grey, some wore wigs, some were hair-challenged but hopeful.  The war-wounded.  The heroes.  The fighters.  They dug deep and reached high.  Their moment of glory was not at hand yet.  They were not willing to give up without a vibrant display of colour, courage, conviction.  Cancer be damned.

They were resilient.

Yet.  Mother Nature can sometimes throw some pretty messed up curve balls.  The best laid plans of mice and men can oft’ go awry.  Robert Burns saw it.  The wee mousie saw it.  I saw it.  While waiting to be called in for my magnesium treatment on Monday, I had the good fortune to meet a wonderful couple whose tan told tales of warmer weather.  There was not much time for uncertainty in terms of who it was receiving treatment, for as soon as the wife entered the waiting room with a hand-knit cap on her head – I knew it was she.  “She” who had been ill.  “She” who had been given the bad news. “She” who had been treated.  “She” who was digging down deep looking for the elements of recovery in her soil.

“We flew in from our trailer in Florida last night and will be leaving for there once again in the morning after my wife’s Herceptin treatment.”  He was matter-of-fact in his statement.  I had heard of people like that.  People who flew home every few months for treatment and then flew away once again to warmer climates.  Why not?  The sun has got to be more healing than the snow.  Oh, how I would love to walk along the beach in the morning with  my feet wet from the warm ocean current instead of having wet feet from melted snow which escaped down the top of my boots after trudging over snow banks.  Yes.  Why not Florida?  And good on them.  I wondered how she would feel, though, on the plane and if the altitude would impact her in a different way.  I don’t know.  Again, I wonder.

Several hours had passed when “She” and her tanned husband were seated in the chair beside me.  I kept quiet.  I wasn’t sure if they wanted to be recognized.  One can never be too careful with guarding the privacy of those seated in the chairs.  I gave several awkward glances towards them in the hopes of catching their attention.  I was bored.   I had already been sitting in my chair for 4 hours.  I had already seen several scores of people receive their treatment and leave – from that same chair.  Finally – contact!  We exchanged a few words and then we snuggled back down into our own routines to focus on getting the full benefit from our treatment.  It is always as if focusing on the reception can sweeten the wine.  I tried to imagine my magnesium course through my blood to feed my cells as fertilizer would ignite the growth of plant roots.  My energy would soon “flower” and I would be the quintessential image of good health and boundless energy.

It was routine.  The nurses were calm.  The warriors were fighting.  The tone was casual.

“She” unhooked herself for a pee break.  This is always quite a feat as there are several plugs and one is never too certain if you pull the wrong one if you are cutting off your supply of the “goods” being delivered in the bag hanging from your IV pole.  But – the visit was routine and she was soon hunkered down for her treatment once again.

There has been a lot of flu going around lately so, when, she started shivering I thought that maybe she was starting to get the flu.  THIS would be a nightmare as so many warriors in the room were still rather “raw” from treatment which wiped out their immune system.  The flu could take you down just as quickly as cancer.  I watched as she and her husband tried to settle her “chill”.  Nada.  He rubbed her legs.  Nada.  I looked directly at him and said, I think you need to call a nurse.  Nada.  I looked at her and said, “I think you need a nurse”.  Nada.  She got worse.  Her lips quivered.  She was doing a full body shake now.  I called my nurse.  The time for pleasantries was over.  The time had come to throw privacy to the dogs.  This woman was in crisis.  She was reacting to her Herceptin.  And that’s not good.

The nurse was calm.  They are always calm.  Soon – a dose of Benadryl was administered – followed by some other sedative.  Warm blankets followed.  Encouraging words.  Doctors.  Everyone calm.  This was not a life-threatening moment.  At least – it wasn’t to them.  My Florida friends, however, were visibly shaken.  “This” was not a day in the life for them.  “This” was a crisis.  And it was – emotionally to many warriors in the room.  Some knew what was happening.  Some did not.  Some were attentive.  Some were not.  Me?  I wondered what was happening?  I remembered my reaction to Paclitaxol.  I remembered the panic, the Benedryl, the warm blankets, the doctors… You don’t forget those kinds of traumas in short order.  That day – the leaves on my tree were shaken, just as they were shaken on my Florida friends.  It wasn’t long before her body was calm.  She was doped up.  He was watching. I was watching.

Then.  The beep.

It was the beep of my pump to indicate I was finished my treatment.

It was the alarm sounding that my life was about to take a turn out of here.

I looked over to my friends.  I call them friends because when you share these kinds of moments with strangers, it rips away the cloak of show to reveal the soul of humanity.  We were united in our fight for life.  We were united in solidarity – to overcome.  We didn’t even know each others’ names, yet, we were to never forget each other.

I was unhooked, unplugged, and swabbed and bandaged.  My chair was prepped for the next cancer warrior.  This post-treatment dance was about to begin from the beginning once again and my Florida partner was about to waltz with someone else.

We exchanged a glance, “she” and I.  It’s all “she” could muster through her sedation.  “Thank-you”, she blinked.  I smiled, “your welcome”.  And then I glanced a “I wish you both well” to both of them, turned, and left.

I didn’t cry until I was in the shower of my own home.  I’m not sure why.  I guess I can chalk it up to PTSD.  That trauma had been hard on all of us.  “She” and I had shared her trauma.  “We” the warriors – had shared it.  And collectively, I think “we” lost a bit of our footing that day.  It would take more sun, more dirt, more time for us to regain our strength.  But we would.  We do. We dig deeper.  We spread our leaves higher to stretch and reach for the sun.  We breathe more deeply.  We root more vigorously.  We prepare ourselves for the fall.  We know it’s coming.  We know it happens to everyone.  But we will be damned if we won’t go out in a blaze of glory – full colours glowing – to the oohs and awes of those with whom we have shared our life journey.

Posted in autumn, cancer, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Thank-you, Mark and Bea

The floor is vacuumed, washed.  The dishes are done.  The fridge is cleaned.  Washroom scrubbed and family room tidied.   It is the day after magnesium.   Still I am seemingly quite fragile, after all, it was quite a day yesterday.  The lesson I’ve learned is that I ought not to return to the scene of the crime.  At least, not to receive magnesium.  Honestly, I may as well have been sitting in that chair receiving chemo for all intents and purposes because all the emotional shit that hits a person receiving chemo hit again.  And I hadn’t expected it.

“I think I may as well take chemo at the hospital this time,” I explained to my oncologist Dr. Jessica Singh this past Friday.  “That way, I can get it done quickly in one fell swoop and not have to disturb as many people.”

And so, I had a phone call that same night from someone arranging my appointment to receive IV magnesium Monday morning.  8:15am.  Bright and early.  “Fantastic!” I responded to the call.  “This will be quick and easy.”

Sunday I didn’t feel well.  I wasn’t sure what it was.  My stomach was upset.  I had no energy.  “Hmm.  Must be low magnesium,” I thought.  As the day progressed I became less and less social.  “Hmmm.  Must be the busy week I had.”  By early evening, I  was weepy.  What?  Can’t be hormones.  I don’t think I have any of those anymore.  And then it dawned on me.  I was really not looking forward to going back to the chemo suite.  Not one bit. As the evening progressed, it became more and more clear that I was experiencing anxiety about my forth-coming adventure.

Have you ever had a time when you know you are being unreasonable, yet, no matter how much you try to talk some sense into yourself you just don’t believe you?  Phobia:  an irrational fear.  “What the hell are you afraid of, Stacey?” I kept thinking.  “If nothing else, you are going to be safer getting your treatment at the hospital.”  It wasn’t working.  The stress mounted.  I went to bed.  I retreated.  I turned down company.  I turned away food.  I withdrew from the world and hoped I would just be able to sleep it off.  HA!!!  Fat chance.  Irrational.  I should have guessed that sleep would elude me.  It was the ghost of the chemos past that came to haunt me.  They were relentless.  And I wasn’t even going for chemo.  I had just had a fantastic check-up.  My cancer indicator (CA-125) was remaining stable at 8.  I had hope.  Some women, the “super responders” on my drug, Lynparza, were now into their seventh year!  That was the first time I had heard such good news!  Yet – I managed to stuff the good news to focus on the impending visit back to the chemo suite.

By morning, I was focused.  I hardly remember getting up.  I know I showered.  I barely talked.  David was on his own to make breakfast and lunch.  I packed my bag – the one I had packed for chemo.  I packed a blanket – NOT my chemo blanket.  I packed snacks – thought about how much I’d like the cheese they may bring by.  I packed a tea bag – I remembered they don’t provide coffee or tea – and remembered that the hot liquid sometimes hurt my throat after chemo.  Chemo is hard on the throat and stomach – and intestines and heart — and — well, I digress.  I just kept moving.

I made it to the second floor by 8am.  I was early.  It was sometimes good to be early because then, I thought, my chart would be pulled early and I would get in right away.  I never really did learn that I was at the discretion of the nurse I had been assigned and when s/he was ready I would be called in.

“Stacey!  It’s so nice to see you!” exclaimed the receptionist.

“Oh, wow.  You remember me?”

“Of course I do.  You look great!”

“Well, I’m not sure you’ve seen me with hair – long enough to remember it!  And now I’m “styling” it.”  I replied.   “I’m just here for magnesium.”

“That’s great, Stacey!”  she responded.

Momentarily, I was waiting.  In the waiting room.  With others waiting there.  In the chemo waiting room.  To be called.

They came and they left.  And came and left.  I waited.  I watched the infomercials scroll on the television and remembered how I had once watched that same tv – Heather Hiscox was bringing me the CBC news.  It was some sort of controversial story I had commented on to another couple – then – who were waiting to receive treatment.  It was the beginning of a new adventure through chemo.  And it was that couple who talked me through it.  They calmed me down.  They helped me to believe that stage IV wasn’t the step just before death.  Marc and Bee.  They were to be the subject of my first post on this blog about cancer.

It was during my pondering which story had been running on the news when a man and his wife walked into reception.  I don’t remember what he looked like, but I do remember her.  Her hair was the first thing I noticed.  It was so thick, long, and tied back neatly in a braid which lay on the left of her shoulder.  She had a look of terror in her eyes.  I watched her for a while.  They must have been close to my age – but these days I think everyone I see whose hair is not as grey as mine – must be younger.  He sat.  She did not.  She paced.  Sort of.  Terror.  Her eyes flickered from place to place.  She was clearly on the verge of tears.  The nurse came to reassure her that she was going to be well looked after.  I knew her terror.  I had walked her walk.  I felt her fear.

“I know how scary it can be,” I offered to the woman.  “Honestly, you are in such good hands with such a loving group of nurses.  And chemo is not as bad as you think. The first one is the worst.  You don’t know what to expect.”

She was drinking in my words as though they were the only water she’d had in a week.  “I’m very nervous.” she replied.

“I was too.  It’s understandable.  Are you from Barrie?” I inquired, hoping to get her on a different line of thinking.

“Just north of here.”  she offered.

“Oh that’s good you didn’t have to travel far.”

“Yes.  It would be so much more difficult if we were further. You know, between doctor’s appointments, blood work, and now treatment.”

I knew all too well that there were many, many people who traveled from great distances to get to this treatment centre.  I thought once again of Marc and Bea. And remembered their comfort.

“Are you here for chemo?” she inquired.

“No.  But I have had 16 in total.”  I think that’s right.  I did the math.  Round one:  5.  Round 2:  6.  Round 3:  6.  I guess that made 17, but that wasn’t worth correcting.  16, 17, 18… whatever.  It was a lot.  “And now I’m on a designed drug that has kept me going now for a year and a half almost.  I’m very hopeful.”  I paused.  “You know, there wasn’t any treatment for me after my first bout of cancer – other than the typical chemo.”  I waited for a dramatic pause.  And then quietly offered, “But there are so many new drug being developed for cancer – so quickly – it is so hopeful.  All types of cancer drugs are being developed.”

She listened.  Her eyes pleaded me to continue.  She seemed to be struck by a thought and rushed into her purse to find a photo.  She brought it over to me.  It was a family photo.  “This is my family.”  She went on to explain their ages and which had children.  She was soon to be a grandmother – again.

“So – this new grandchild will keep me focused on something to hope for,” she said.

“It’s good to focus on that – what a wonderful family you have.  And so much to live for!”

And almost at that very moment, she was “called” for chemo.

“You will be fine.”  I stated trying to reassure her.  “You’ll see.  Chemo is do-able.” I said, quoting the words that were once offered as comfort to me from a woman who had placed years of distance between herself and cancer/chemo.

I’m not sure if that was the right thing to say – I just knew those words had helped me.  I was slightly satisfied with myself that I may have been the person she needed to meet at the time she needed to meet someone with those words of comfort.  Was I her Marc and Bea?  Had I done even a portion of what they had done for me?  Everything – bloody well everything is monumental in that waiting room of the chemo suite.

And she and her husband were off.

I was not.  I was to meet several more people before my name was called at 8:35 am.  These people – one couple in particular were going to re-enter my day hours later – to make an impact on me that I would never forget.

And the woman with the braid?  She had her chemo.  She noticed me sitting in “my chair” while I was hooked up to “my pump” and detoured her exit briefly to me.

“Thank you”, she said.  “It was fine.  You were right.  It was not as bad as I had expected.  I’m all finished for now.”

“That’s great.” I said to her.  We smiled.  I think she wanted to hug me in gratitude, but well, it’s a little awkward to get around all the pumps and cables and chairs and nurses physically.  And a little awkward to hug someone who you really only know from a waiting room.  But – I would have gladly accepted that hug.  And I think she knew it.  I think we communicated our emotional departure through our eyes.  When facing cancer, connections are made hard and fast.  You want to leave the people who have had a part in saving your life – but then again – you don’t.  It’s a weird debt of gratitude you offer to those who save you by poison.  Who save you by having walked the walk.  Who save you with a smile or a word of reassurance.

“Thank-you”, she said again as she hesitantly turned … and went on her way.

“Thank-you”, I whispered to myself.  “Thank-you, Mark and Bea.”

Posted in Cancer Journey, health and wellness, Living with Cancer, Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Carpe Diam!

Run – don’t walk!
When the chance is there to play…

Gulp – don’t sip!
When life’s cup is full to drink…

Smile – don’t grin!
When joy fills your heart…

Live – don’t exist!
When memories are there for the making…

Seize life –
Hold on tight!!!
Don’t let go –
…and run with it.

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Christmas Minus One

The table is set – something’s missing.

The favorite meals are purchased – “something’s” missing.

The house is decorated – something’s missing.

The Christmas Eve games are planned – something’s missing.

The house is quiet – something’s missing.

The family is here – something’s missing.

Something – someone – someone who completes this family is missing.

Every “thing” is here.  Not every “one”.

It’s Christmas minus one this year.

I need one more person home – una persona mas – to make my Christ”mas” joyous.

I need my Katya home!

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May the Road Rise to Meet You

One of my all-time favorite blessings turns out to be a traditional Gaelic blessing.  The images fill my heart and lift my spirits.  I’m not sure why I connect to it so much, but I guess some things speak to us more clearly than others.  And there are particular times, too, when it has its own sort of ebb and flow coming in and out of my perspective.

This morning, as I walked our dog Jazz along our usual path, the wind was most notable.  It was a cold Arctic wind that bit at my cheeks and nibbled at my knees.  Jazz, of course, didn’t mind that at all.  She was thrilled with the prospect of being let loose of the leash when we reached the wet-land, just around the corner.  This was not the gentle wind that I had wished was, as the Gaelic blessing conveyed, always at my back.  I converted my neck scarf into a head band to protect my ears.  I hadn’t really noticed, nor cared, that it projected my hair into a somewhat elongated “bun” which rose extensively in a backwards motion like a beehive style from the 1060’s.  It didn’t matter.  There were bigger fish to fry than the fashion flounder that morning.  I was thinking how I would say thank-you to Dr. Jessica Singh, my oncologist for the past three years.

She is a tiny little thing.  When I first met her I was under the impression that she couldn’t have been more than 16.  She was in the room when Dr. Dodge shared the news of my “extensive” cancer with me.  I remember her looking at the floor.  I wondered what was going through her head at the time.  It couldn’t have been good, I concluded.  And it wasn’t.  Stage 4 ovarian cancer.  This diagnosis was not the kind of news anyone would want to deliver.  I couldn’t have done it – without experiencing some collateral damage.  She, was the road that rose to meet me.  I was never to stumble alone on my journey again.

She may be tiny, but over the years, I have learned she is pretty damned mighty.  Bang on in her treatment.  She created the elixir that would successfully shrink my tumors to the degree whereby they could be operated on to be removed – then again a year later to render them “less hazardous” shall we say?  What’s more is that “she” introduced me to the miracle drug I am currently taking:  Lynparza.  This drug, although not without side-effects, has kept me alive.  It keeps my cancer in check.  For now.  That’s all any of us can hope for though, is the here and now.

It is “she” who gives me hope. It is “she” who has given me quality of life.  With hope and quality of life, I can LIVE my life.  Here I am, nearing the end of 2017, and looking forward to experiencing 2018.  I never imagined it possible.  I find myself, on occasion, making plans for the future.  I have to remember to slow down, on occasion, to live each moment and to not get ahead of myself.

I pace myself when I am tired.
I console myself – on the days when I get down.
I treat myself to something new when something needs to be celebrated.
I try to be kind to myself when I forget things I have known all my life – when my memory fails me.
I feel the sun warm upon my face.

Jessica is my optimist.  She is my rock.  She sees the miracle of life.  She holds the candle of hope on my normalized life.  She pushes me to get back to the land of living.  She encourages me to appreciate what I have – to be positive, but pragmatic at the same time.

It is a balancing act – this life between living with cancer and dying from cancer.  One must be confident of one’s footing to move forward along that tightrope.  One must know there is a net – in case of a fall.  One must know one’s limits:  to do but to not too much, to take risks but not too many, to find joy but not be able to let it go, to be afraid and act anyway.  There are some days I find more balance than others.  I sometimes feel blown off kilter.  I feel a pang here and there, I feel a bump here or there, I have a dull ache … All these symptoms remind me that I am diseased.  Even diseased, though, I can find that balance.  I don’t find it alone.  I need others to help me – my family, my friends, my medical team.

So – to all of you who walk my journey with me – I say thank-you.  I am grateful to you.  This is my wish for you:

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of His hand

 

 

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