These three words, so prevalent today, so feared. Everyone we know has been affected by cancer, we have all lost loved one’s to cancer, we all hate cancer, we all want a cure for cancer…..but what would our reaction be if we, personally were told those three words?
It was early 1990, and I was a stupid, selfish twenty year old. I received a phone call from my Doctor’s office, requesting that I come in to discuss my pap results. I made an appointment, went it with all the arrogance that our twenties affords us, and carefully listened to what my Doctor had to say. I vaguely remember leaving her office with snipits of our conversation running through my head…….I was being sent for further testing, don’t worry. Once again, with the arrogance of being twenty, I set off on my way……I am invincible, I am 20, nothing can touch me.
A week later, I find myself in St. Boniface Hospital, speaking with a wonderful oncologist (no idea what that was at the time and who re enter my world 11 years later) Dr. Lotoki. He explained to me what they were about to do, and suddenly ice filled my veins. Biopsy, pathology….wait a second…..I am twenty, what are you talking about? My Doctor told me I had nothing to worry about, this was just further testing. Yes, you can ask , how naive was I? Very!!!!! Like I said, I was twenty, and so wrapped up in my own world, that the idea that anything as terrible as cancer could touch me was about as foreign to me, as alien’s landing on Portage and Main, and beaming me up…..ignorant! Yet, even as I left the hospital, part of me still hung onto the idea that this was not happening to me, this was a mistake……this can not and will not happen to me!!
Time passed, and I went on blissfully ignorant of what I had just experienced, and then came that fateful day, when I received a phone call from the hospital. Miss Keene, Dr. Lotoki needs to see you again. I could feel my entire body tighten, but the invincible part of me, was telling myself, he just wants to tell you the good news, “You are ok.” Once again, I was 20 and dumber than they come!!!
I found myself back in Dr. Lotoki’s sterile office…..he sauntered in with his friendly easy way, good sign! The rest of what happened in his office that day, is a blur. All I clearly remember are those three words, “You have Cancer.” I remember crying in his office, pleading with him to change the test results….for the first time in my life, my own mortality entered my mind, and I was terrified!!!! The fine Doctor, explained to me my treatment, and that everything was going to be fine….. “it is a very treatable cancer,” you will be ok. OK? I was only supposed to be coming to see him for some further testing, and now you, good Doctor are telling me that I have to be “treated” for cancer? When did this all happen…..how did it happen….. What if….?
Two days later, I returned to the hospital…..a location I had come to dread. A wonderful nurse settled me in, and in came the good Doctor. He fully explained to me what was about to happen. Radiation…..ok, I can deal with this I thought. 5 minutes out of my life, no big deal. For those who have experienced radiation, 5 minutes is like a lifetime……it was done in 30 second intervals……30 seconds of pain like I have never experienced in my life, a searing pain of my insides being destroyed. I cried, I am not sure if it was the pain, the realization of what was happening to me, or a combination of both. After the “lifetime” was over, tears still running down my face, I was sent home. I sat at home contemplating what had just happened, and the implications it had on my vacuous life to that point. Like, I said, I was twenty, and very self centered……unfortunately at the time, I did not realize what a gift I had been given…..it would not be until years later, that I understood, yes I had, had cancer, but was given a “get out of jail free” card….I was given a second chance without much sacrifice on my part.
I went through two years of follow up, and was eventually given the all clear. I did not feel grateful that I had been given this second chance, but carried on with my life as usual…..I lived my life on my terms, taking, and not giving a lot back. I was not using this gift, my life, that I was given, but at the time, that was ok……I was ok.
In 2002, I had another phone call from my Doctor after my yearly. My blood turned to ice….all the memories came flooding back, but it was different this time. I was a new mum, I had a beautiful baby girl who was not even a year old…..this can not be happening again!!! When I met with my Doctor, I was shocked to learn that it was not the cervical region they were concerned about, but my ovaries. Wait!!!! Now, this really can not be happening I thought. My husband is in Europe, I have a small baby, and you are telling me what???? It turns out, that after weeks of worrying, what we were looking at were cysts (functional?)…..nothing more….don’t worry. Third chance given…..
It was only with this second brush with the potential diagnosis of cancer, that life fundamentally changed for me. Thankfully, I was older and wiser. I had my own family now, and realized from that moment on, that we should never take for granted our health. We should be vigilant on visiting our Doctors yearly, with a smile on our face, even if we are absolutely terrified on this inside…….I thought I had it figured out…..but my lesson was still not over.
Four months after my second scare, I heard those words I never wanted to hear again….”cancer”….it wasn’t me this time, but my mum. Ovarian, stage four….re-enter the good Dr. Lotoki and Krepart. I watched in horror as cancer slowly took her life. During this time, I once again became frozen with fear….this was what the Doctor had talked with me about, but mine were cysts, why, why, why, could it not only be cysts with my mother? Why was I fine, and she was dying from cancer? I had had cancer and was fine…..why isn’t she fine? I did a lot of bargaining with God during this time,……I would be a better person, if only he could save my mum……but as with everything in life, everything happens for a reason, it may be the crappiest, most heart wrenching of reasons, but a reason non the less. It was then, that I finally realized how blessed, and I can not overstate, how blessed I actually was!
I, forever what the reason be, was given a second chance, a chance that I had been squandering for years. The time was now, to start really appreciating what we have, here and now. The chance to make a difference in the lives of those we meet along our journey called life. I have tried to live my life this way….I have watched courageous battles with cancer, some successful and some not, but I am always left in awe of the individuals battle with this disease. I walk away a better person from having seen the courage unitym and humour that people have when coping with “those three words.”
There are days, I feel very guilty, that I survived cancer. There are so many people more deserving of another day on this planet than I, those with so much more to offer, teach and inspire…. but for some reason I was chosen to be given the gift of life, and so begins my quest as to how best to use this gift…how to share it with others.. how to make people understand that things, jobs and the like are not the “best thing to ever happen to you,”……LIFE is the most precious gift we are given, that chance of a new day to say what needs to be said and done; and sadly most of us use it chasing what we think is important, not giving of ourselves to make “life” better. Use LIFE wisely, as it’s time is limited. Live, laugh and love with every fibre of your being, for that will be your legacy to this world.
I am a cancer survivor, I am one of the lucky ones……and not one day passes now, that the enormity of that statement, does not impact me, or affect how I live my life. I am not perfect, I am a flawed human, but every day I relish in the thought that I have been given a gift, another 24 hours to try and “be the change.”
To all of those who we have lost too soon, this blog is in your remembrance.
❤ to all