Wednesday, 29 February 2012


I called my friend Catie, in Milwaukee yesterday to tell her the news. At the end of the call she said, "I wish I had something wise to say," and I replied, "something stupid would be good, too." Later she emailed the above cartoon. It was my best laugh of the day and I just had to share it.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


Occipital nerve headache. I diagnosed myself after a month of more or less constant headache. No other symptoms. But just to be sure, I called my radiation oncologist (the one I really like) and he arranged for a CT scan. Just to be sure, he said. And I agreed – probably nothing much – but just to be sure.

Then, yesterday, the headache woke me up – and there was my old friend, vertigo.
Today, I saw David Bowes for the scan results and oh-oh, the alien is back. Smaller than before and not yet near my brain stem.

In brief – I will never have chemo again. Nor will I have whole brain radiation. Dr. Bowes will schedule a CT scan of my chest to see how treatment went & an MRI on my long-suffering brain and will contact the neurosurgeon who got the little bastard out last time, to see if he thinks operating is possible. Either way, there will be some targeted radiation. There are a number of possible options, depending on the surgeon’s take and depending on whether the lung tumor appears to have become inactive.

I’m okay. That is to say, I’ve been to the bottom of the pit and I don’t plan a return trip. Lots of people live with cancer – and it looks like I’ll be one of them. But the operative word, at the moment is “live.” Other than the headaches, which can be controlled with a lot of ibuprofen, my spirits are good. I don’t feel anywhere near death’s door and I’m not in a hurry to get there. Cancer – it is ON!

Sunday, 26 February 2012


Miracle Beach, Port Mouton Nova Scotia

Let’s take a break from Cancer.

I’ll tell you a story of Miracle Beach and Port Mouton. It’s a little like a tale by the Grimm brothers.

One day, my friends, Clyde and Patty, are standing at the east windows of Clyde’s home. The windows provide a spectacular view of Miracle Beach and a 180 view of the ocean. On this crystal white beach are a man and woman, with their children and children’s friends.  The man is walking his dog. They are hauling a yellow dingy.

The wind is blowing strong from the west, outward, away from the beach. Clyde and Patty stand at the window, horrified as the children get into the dingy and the parents push it out into the water. Clyde has been a fisherman since he was a young man and he knows that on a day with this kind of wind, the children will be swept out to sea in minutes.

Clyde rushes to his car to drive to his nearby boat while Patty stays at the window, frozen in apprehension.
When he can’t get his boat started, Clyde tells other fisherman the story and they agree to go out – not to rescue, but to retrieve the bodies.

Meanwhile, Patty watches as the children are swept out to sea. It becomes evident that they are in trouble. They are trying to row, but frightened and leaning towards shore. The dingy is tipping dangerously. The father continues to stand or to walk the dog, but finally the mother swims out to them, grabs the rope attached to the dingy and begins to pull it back in. By now, there are other people on the beach, but until the woman is 20 feet from shore, no one moves to help her. Finally, a man swims out, grabs the rope and finishes landing the dingy on shore. Her husband does nothing when his wife and children are ashore. There is no hug, no show of relief. He continues to walk his dog.

I am reminded of the tale of Hansel and Gretel. It’s easy to picture this story of children nearly lost, standing at those east windows. The mental picture of the dingy being blown out to sea stays with me. I’m chilled by the indifference of the father. I remember how the fishermen in Peggy’s Cove went out onto the water when Flight 111 went down. In the deep of night, with fire on the ocean, they had hoped for survivors and stayed all night, finding nothing but body parts and wreckage. Clyde tells me some of them could never go back to sea after that.

Clyde talks about the ocean with love and reverence. It had never before occurred to me that fishermen are aware, each time they go out, that they might not return – like firemen, like any humans who work directly with powerful elements. Clyde says, “You have to respect it, but the ocean takes care of you and you take care of the ocean.”

He and his neighbors have stopped the construction of a fish farm on their Bay. In this age when corporation and government trump the will of citizens, they’ve won a major battle to take care of the ocean. But the war goes on. There is always someone who wants resources and refuses to face the implications of their taking. The fight to save the Bay is ongoing but those who have grown up in such places realize more deeply than any of us, the gratitude we owe to the ocean and the land. And they are motivated.

Maybe this is what the Occupy movement really is. People who are no longer waiting for the government to step in or change. Grass roots self-help. Active communities. Davids refusing to back down from Goliaths.

Thank goodness for those who take up sling shots and act.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
I walk down the street.
  There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
  I fall in.
  I am lost...I am helpless
  It isn't my fault.
 It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I pretend I don't see it.
   I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in this same place.
   But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I see it is there.
   I still fall's a habit...but,
         my eyes are open.
         I know were I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
     I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

From: The Middle Passage, James Hollis (author of poem unknown)

The weather sucks. Or perhaps saying that in February is redundant. It poured rain all day and night, yesterday. Now there’s snow. For the love of heaven, make up your mind, weather gods. It’s a dim, leaden dawn with little promise of sunshine and Jake The Coat is hibernating in his closet today. I am also hibernating, where it’s warm and there is little danger of killing myself on black ice.

I’ve had a headache for two weeks now. After the first couple days, the phrase, “brain tumor” haunts me. I remember laughing at myself for tossing off that self-diagnosis when I’ve had inner ear viruses. Since the discovery of the alien on my cerebellum, however, it’s lost it’s amusing self-mocking quality. I run a mental check – dizziness? No. Vertigo? No. Loss of motor control? No. Blurred vision? No. Sudden memory loss? No worse than usual. Okay. Sinuses? I’ve been gobbling Tylenol for days and as an experiment, I try an allergy pill instead. Voila! Headache gone, at least until the pill wears off.

It seems unfair to me to have cancer and catch the cold from hell after my first chemo and develop a sinus problem that renders me (officially – I had the hearing test) nearly deaf in my left ear. I mean, doesn’t the shit fairy know anybody else? And after nearly four months of being deaf and my voice sounding to me like I’m under water, the hearing issue suddenly clears up and the headaches start.

To hell with it. I’m still above ground and I’m actually beginning to do a little bead work and I’ve made the list of all my personal information for the friends who have my power of attorney and are executors of my will. I’m rusty at the former and have been procrastinating about the latter because I’m trying to maintain a healthy level of denial. Finally though, I manage to slot it into the category of “just business” and get it done.

Whining. I’m working on that too. When the why-me starts, I think about the millions of people in the world who face hardship I can't even imagine. And then I tell myself to shut the f*ck up and can the pity-party. Because deafness, headaches and colds aside – I’m holding up pretty well.

It’s easy to follow the trail depression has laid. The path is well-established and often walked. Some years ago, when I swore off medical intervention, I started creating different trails. Sometimes, just to get going, I scrub a floor. Sometimes I walk it off. Most importantly though, I’ve learnt not to fear depression. I’ve come to understand that it’s an habitual way of coping with fear, anger, hurt and uncertainty. By no means do I have the new trails perfected – and I still walk down that same old road and fall into that same old hole. The difference is that, eventually, it always comes to me that I can make a different choice. You do not have to feed pain.

So, cheers, everyone! I’m taking this foreboding February day and I’m going to make it into a good day. I’ll think of all the friends who have stuck by me when others might have fled.

And if the sun won’t shine outside, I’ll light candles.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


Jake and me start out on our walk at 8:00 a.m. at least an hour later than I prefer. On day seven of a transit strike, the cars are already bumper-to-bumper and the sidewalks full of walkers. Still, it’s hovering around the freezing mark with no wind and the sky is blue. Good walking weather. More importantly, if I don’t walk when I get up, I’ll fritter around until a book calls my name or the phone rings and then suddenly, it’s late afternoon, Jake is still hanging in the closet and I’ve lost the will to leave the apartment.

Highlights of the morning: an orange tabby cat lolling on it’s back while a small toffee-colored boy in a snowsuit rubs his belly; a break in the over-development of my neighborhood – a patch of untouched woods with a stream running through it. I stand for a few minutes, listening to the water gurgle over rocks and under patches of ice. I pass a gray weathered wooden fence with a wild rose bush growing against it. A few rosehips, orange against gray, still cling to its’ branches. Small treasures.

Up until last Friday, I had been numb for a long time. The routine of travelling to the hospital every day was gone, I had no idea how successful (or not) treatment had been. Briefly, I felt relief that there was no more chemo or radiation to face, no more steroids, no more changing into Johnny shirts, sitting in waiting rooms.
But relief morphed into uncertainty. Uncertainty morphed into freezing in place. If I began to plan or do something creative, if I felt optimism, I would remember that the verdict wasn’t in. I couldn’t let myself hope because that sword of Damocles was still there, would always be there. If I’m happy, I thought, bad news will hammer me all the harder. And I balanced in the middle, still upright and walking around, but already gone from the world for all intents and purposes.

You can’t stay in that place. It’s change or die. And on Friday, at exactly 10:00 a.m., I looked around me and thought, Why am I still here? Where did my life go? Then I did the sensible thing – I forced myself to sleep. For most of the rest of the day. But I couldn’t sleep those terrifying questions off and in the evening, I cried for hours.

Wendy has this radar when it comes to me and she called, sensing that something was wrong. And I just didn’t have the will or strength to put on a brave face. Poor Wendy, her empathy levels are off the scale so when I’m feeling that low, she hits the bottom with me.

Saturday, Heather (with a word from Wendy about my current state) dragged me out of my vividly imagined coffin and drove me out to Peggy’s Cove. Peggy’s Cove is a wild place, all huge gray rocks and a 180 degree view of ocean. Long ago, glaciers deposited huge boulders sheered off at odd angles. They sit on barren, moss and scrub covered hills, perched like impossible, gravity-defying sentinels for miles around the fishing village. You can’t stay locked in your own head when you’re there. My mood began to shift from despair to a kind of empty quiet.

Sunday, I had lunch at the local with Jan – and we lingered for hours talking and drinking too much coffee. I called Wendy later and she said, “What if this was the last three weeks of your life? How would you want to spend it? Enjoying your friends and things you like to do or just giving in and thinking constantly, three more weeks?” She added, “I don’t mean to be flip.”

A simple thing like that, said at the right time, coming from someone who’s been where you are, makes a big difference.

More than 10 years ago, after grieving the breakup of my marriage for three long months, I decided, on my birthday, that grief and sadness was not where I wanted to live. This year, I did the same. And it takes enormous force of will to stay out of the dark places cancer leads you to in your life. 

But today I woke up a room full of flowers. Today is an orange tabby cat, delighted by a little boy. Today is rose hips defying gray.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


The news in no particular order…

I have a coat named Jake. Jake is a puffy man’s coat, size extra-large, with a tight-fitting hood that could make Penelope Cruz look like a dork. But he cost $40 (price reduced over and over) at Sears Outlet – and by Goddess, he doesn’t let the winter wind in, so I can walk miles in freezing winds. Why, you may be asking yourself, would anyone want to walk miles in freezing winds? Well, since September, between throwing up and sleeping, there’s been a lot of reading and television and I’ve come to the conclusion that really, it’s not a great plan for getting back into shape. You know, with muscles and stuff. Hence, the purchase of Jake – and the unearthing of some free weights  buried at the back of the storage closet.

Ears:  Since chemo – and the cold from hell I developed right after my first round of chemo, I’ve become nearly deaf in my left ear. There is water in my ear canal that no amount of medicated sinus spray will clear up, so my doc is putting me through the steps.  First the nasal spray (for months), then the hearing test, then the eye/ear/nose specialist. The hearing test was yesterday and apparently, Cisplatin (one of my chemo drugs), the gift that just keeps on giving, has killed the upper range of my hearing in both ears. Hell. Obviously I won’t be buying Mariah Carey CDs and there’s little hope of my learning to hear dog whistles. What Cisplatin hasn’t murdered, the water in my ear canal finished off. If you stand to my left and talk to me, don’t expect me to know you’re there. “Moderate to severe” hearing loss according to the nice ear lady.

Proceeding from ears to eyes. Suddenly, my excellent close vision isn’t. And my glasses don’t seem to enable me to read signs I should be seeing clearly. Forget trying to read at night. This developed quite suddenly sometimes in-between the third and fourth round of chemo. I have an appointment with the optometrist on Thursday and in her opinion, (once again) I may have Cisplatin to thank for impairing my vision. 

And I won’t even know whether the chemo and radiation actually helped until March. 

Meanwhile, when all this becomes too annoying to stand, me and Jake will head out into the February freeze and walk it off because thankfully, my legs are still in working order. 

On the home front, the good news is that my Muse is chemo-proof. She’s got us working on a free-form bracelet and plotting other experiments to begin the minute we’re finished this piece.  

There are problems and annoyances, “deficits,” the doctors call them – but at least my mind is more or less in working order and overall, for now, (hear this in a James Cagney voice), mostly things are Jake.