Want to get lucky this year? Drink your beer at home.

Some of my girlfriends and I recently ordered St. Patrick’s Day shirts from a local clothing company. Our plan was to paint the town green as we took in some local entertainment. This St. Paddy’s Day, we were going to celebrate life!

Of course, things have changed in the past few weeks, and we will not be venturing out to any pubs tonight.

I did have occasion to wear my special shirt, though. Our hospital, like so many others, is in preparation mode for the anticipated spread of the covid-19 virus, but I was fortunate to be one of the last elective surgeries completed when I had my port-a-cath removed. I wore my special shirt to the hospital and joked with the nurses that it was my St. Paddy’s Day outing. Atavan instead of green draught beer… I mean, really, what’s the difference?

T-shirt by Meghan Ashley Designs

Yesterday, as I recovered from the procedure, I watched my daughter and her friend play “Family.” This is a game they play with dolls. Sometimes the dolls fall victim to terrible accidents and the game transitions to a more disturbing one called “Hospital.” I have often seen these girls wrangling dolls wrapped in slime-soaked gauze casts and intubated with drinking straws into a makeshift ICU. Sometimes extra orange-crate beds must be brought in to accommodate the carnage. The girls have also discovered that our unusually relaxed cat, Varjak, enjoys being dressed in a tiny housecoat and tucked into bed between the dolls. He is always the most popular patient in the ward and the girls can be seen transporting him about the house on a stretcher.

I listened to the kids as they played, my ears perked to see if they would mention covid-19. They didn’t. I was glad. Their imaginative play was the perfect break from the world around them.

This can be a stressful time for us and our children. As parents, we talk to our kids about the virus and about how to stay safe. We teach them to wash their hands properly and maintain a safe distance from others. We encourage them to be good citizens by explaining that they have to protect their elders and other people who may be susceptible to complications from this virus. These are lessons that will serve them well throughout their lifetimes.

We also have to find a way to help children deal with the anxiety they may be feeling. It is important to be honest with them while keeping things light and manageable where possible. My kids have had to shoulder some terrific burdens in the past year or so. It helps when they know that they are not helpless in the face of pain, suffering or difficult circumstances. So, when I was sick or recovering from chemo or a procedure I tried to give them ways to help me. They would bring me some water or a blanket, or we would watch a show together or read a book. We all feel better when we can be of assistance. Activity eases our fears and helps us to work toward the good.

So, what are we going to do now? What actions will we teach our kids to take as responsible citizens in the face of a global pandemic?

Our job right now is to listen to our public health experts. They have told us that we must avoid large gatherings to limit the spread of covid-19. Kids will stay home from school and adults will work from home when possible.

Let’s be honest, this is not going to be easy for a lot of families. Child care issues and economics aside, I’m not even going to pretend that my kids are going to gather happily around the table daily to pursue their school lessons before engaging in a quiet but fun-loving game of monopoly.

If you are lucky, the worst things you will deal with are cabin fever, cranky toddlers, and grumpy in-laws. You will try to make silly dad jokes while your teenagers roll their eyes and sullenly crash about the house. The family walk to get some fresh air that sounded like such a great idea an hour ago will leave you feeling like the last one voted off on an episode of Survivor. You will break up sibling fights and cancel your spring break trip. All of this will make you long for malls and movie theaters, pubs and airplanes.

But, hopefully, these measures will keep you and your loved ones healthy. If we slow the rate of the spread of this virus so that we have a flatter curve, lives will be saved. And if there’s something I’ve learned in the past year, it is that health is everything.

So let’s do this small thing and distance ourselves from one another for a while. Sometimes the tiniest acts remind us of the importance of our place on the wheel.

And if there’s green food colouring in the cupboard and beer in the fridge, well, even better.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, my dear readers! Stay safe.

Varjak and the kids send their thanks to our
ever-important healthcare providers!

A Little Cat and a Lot of Cheer this Year!

Destroy the Christmas tree? Me? I would never!

Our kitten is slowly destroying the Christmas tree, and I’m okay with that. His name is Varjak Paw, after a cat in a book which Caleb’s beloved grade-four teacher read to his class, and to Annika’s class a couple of years later. Varjak is a sassy little guy, with slightly bowed front legs that give him an exaggerated swagger when he walks. He regularly attacks Cleo’s tail, in attempts to get her attention and have a good wrestle. He also likes to climb inside the fridge when someone opens it, and has been known to lick the butter if the cover is left off. We have surmised that one night he pushed a full chicken off of the kitchen counter so that Cleo, who was waiting patiently on the floor, could eat it. The roaster was licked clean when we got home, and both pets were hiding nervously in the playroom, but they didn’t need to worry.

I just laughed. We all laughed and laughed. It is hard to get upset about little things these days.

You see, my scan was clear. My oncologist told me I am cancer free. It is a wonderful thing, a truly fantastic piece of news. The best Christmas present ever, for the whole family. And I am full of gratitude and happiness. Every moment from now on is a gift for me, because I faced a life-threatening illness and survived. I am a survivor now.

I’ve been struggling to write this blog post, because part of me wants to wrap this whole experience up, put a bow on it, and say, “I’m done with this, it is over.” I feel pressure to do that. I keep saying things like, “onwards and upwards!” or “That is over, now back to normal life!”

But cancer changes you.

An old friend messaged me and said, “I am thinking of the thoughts, perspective and knowledge you’ve experienced.” I responded, “I feel utterly changed. And yet entirely like myself.” I am still processing the whirlwind that was the last ten months and, for some things, there just really aren’t words. There is understanding, though, and shared experience.

As I was thinking about how to write this post, I received an eloquent e-mail from another friend, who is a two-time cancer survivor. She said that if she had had something like this blog to read when she was first diagnosed with cancer she would have felt less alone with the disease. She thinks that many people who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis will find solace here.

I am so thankful that she sent me that e-mail, because I was reminded of why I started writing this in the first place. I remembered my poor, scared self sitting up in the middle of the night searching the internet in a desperate attempt to find people who had been through what I was facing. And then I realized that human beings are inherently messy, and that I had to continue to be honest.

So I will tell the truth, so that other people will not feel alone with these types of feelings and reactions.

I have a lot of physical, emotional and psychological changes to deal with. Some of them will heal and resolve over time, and some are here to stay. I will write about them honestly in the days to come. I will write about them knowing that I am extremely fortunate to be here everyday. I can enjoy this Christmas holiday without thinking it may be my last.

My wonderful oncologist said she thinks I will live a long time. I’ve pondered these simple words of hers a million times. I recite them in rhythm as I walk each day. And, although I no longer wake up sweating in fear in the middle of the night, I have to acknowledge that my life has been deeply altered by this whole experience.

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while now so that I could wish you all happy holidays and share the good news. But I couldn’t present a neat and tidy ending to this cancer experience. Is anything in life ever that clean and clear?

We can celebrate happy news and enjoy the holidays. We can hug our loved ones and be filled with gratitude. And we can learn and grow and reflect and feel sadness, too. It is okay.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, my friends. Here’s wishing you the courage to share a host of human emotions, the ability to laugh at the little things, and an abundance of good health throughout the holiday season and into the new year!

Ringing the Bell – Endings and New Beginnings…

I had my last chemotherapy treatment this week. I am getting disconnected today, just in time to pass out treats for Hallowe’en. Tuesday was the first time my kids have been to the cancer center with us, and I think it was helpful for them to see what exactly has been going on all these months.

While I was in the hospital getting the first part of my infusion, Krista texted me and said, “Three years ago today we were running the East Coast Trail Ultra-Marathon, and now you are finishing your marathon of treatments! Wow!”

My amazing chemo nurses and pharmacist – Lesley, Janine, Vanessa, Yours Truly, Kerri-Lynn and Natasha. I cannot begin to explain how important their support has been.

As a matter of fact, the timeline of this whole experience has been pretty interesting. Diagnosis – my son’s birthday. First radiation treatment – my Grandfather Taylor’s birthday (also, April Fool’s Day). Surgery and hospital stay – Easter time. Commencement of chemotherapy – shortly after Victoria Day Weekend and just in time for my birthday. Now I am finished my 12 rounds of chemotherapy (with no delays due to illness or infection, I might add!) on Hallowe’en, and the results of my December scan will be handed to me, hopefully, right before the Christmas break.

We’ve had a lovely fall in every way. My herbs are still flourishing on the back deck even though tomorrow is the first of November. Asher’s parents came to visit and we had a wonderful Thanksgiving with all four of my kids’ grandparents in fine form. How fortunate we are! My old friend, Robin, was in the area for three weeks and we had some quality time together. Even though I’ve often been sick, uncomfortable and fatigued, I’ve enjoyed these moments.

Melanie and I celebrating my disconnect. She is one of the wonderful nurses who did my post-surgery care and bi-weekly chemo disconnects.

When I look at the simple jack o’ lanterns my kids carved after our celebratory dinner this week my heart fills with joy. They carved these pumpkins happily together at the kitchen table like they do every year, but we had a new lightness of spirit. They had just watched their mom ring the bell at the cancer center, and what could be better than that?

My oldest son began volunteering at the hospital this week and went off to school this morning dressed in costume as a doctor. I think we are all quite enamored with doctors, nurses, and pharmacists these days.

I have some healing to do now to get my body, spirit and mind back in working order. I’m not going to sugarcoat the cognitive effects of chemo – I don’t go out much because I am avoiding germs and don’t always feel well enough, but I ventured to my book club meeting last night where I had trouble understanding two-part questions. I also described Cleo as a “dog who started out as a puppy,” a comment which garnered some laughs! All joking aside; however, according to my nurses and many people I’ve spoken to who have been through this, it takes quite some time for your body and brain to rebound from these treatments.

This healing is a labour of love, and I have a fine team around me. I cannot thank everyone enough for the support, the food, the hugs, the cards, the visits, the chats, and the calls and messages.

I also have a new perspective. The day before my chemo this week, during a long, slow woods walk, I discovered upon returning to the ski trail parking lot that I had lost the keys to the van. I started to get panicky, because I was already quite tired. But then I thought, “Hey, it could be a lot worse. You could be back in hospital. You could be facing many more treatments. This is minor.”

So Cleo and I slowly retraced our steps, me scanning frantically with my blurry steroid-laden chemo vision, kicking leaves all the way. Of course the proverbial saying “this is like finding a needle in a haystack” came to mind.

I thought, “What would mom do?” and, of course, I said a prayer to Saint Anthony.

Dear Saint Anthony, Please come ’round. My keys are lost and can’t be found.

All Newfoundland Catholics know this one.

On we lumbered, me scanning and Cleo sniffing and then, there the keys were. Cleo stood next to them triumphantly and I whooped. It reminded me of the whoop I let out months before when Cleo and I were snowshoeing and I received a call on my cellphone from one of my doctors telling me the spots on my liver were just common cysts. But this week my whoop was about a set of keys, and that earlier whoop was about living versus dying. The difference could not be more stark.

As I collected my keys, smiling, I couldn’t help but murmur a certain phrase …… You know the phrase, dear reader!!!! SOME LUCKY!!

I’m not sure who spotted the keys first but Cleo is definitely taking all the credit.