The last few months I’ve been on an inward journey – my life had been turned upside down in February with the diagnosis of a second separate cancer, multiple myeloma. The oncologist phoned this diagnosis in to me about ten days after she’d given me the all clear on breast cancer.
Within a week, I was on chemotherapy for the multiple myeloma and my whole health adventure with cancer took on a new and frightening turn. Multiple myeloma is not curable but it is treatable. How do you face an obstacle like that? Ed and I were shattered. Early stage breast cancer seemed a breeze in comparison to late stage bone marrow cancer, a cancer that goes to the very core of your being.
One thing I came to realize early on – multiple myeloma answered all the questions I had about my health: the low B12 and low hemoglobin prior to the anemia diagnosis, my bone-deep tiredness, the recurring infections, why I had shortness of breath and difficulty on the Tour de Mont Blanc. It also gave me motivation to stop, access, rest and go within.
These past months have not been filled with high adventure. Instead, time has taken on a new meaning – I have slowed down and responded to that inner calling.
My days have been full of savoured moments: starting off the day with chi gong exercises, sharing a latte with Ed followed by breakfast, strapping the leash on Yukon for a walk with my neighbour and friend Roz, and then either taking a rest or going into to town for blood tests, chemo, massage or healing touch. The afternoons and evening were for rest, reading and another walk with Yukon.
My routine included a bi-weekly writing practice session with a group of Penticton writers, maintaining my secretarial duties for the national-based creative nonfiction collective and transitioning from being chair of the Yukon-based Yukon Heritage Resources Board to a director.
There were life choices and ego decisions to be faced. Being uncertain of whether I would lose my hair from the chemo – I went from a long to a short hair style and decided it was time to minimize exposure to unnecessary chemicals. No more hair colouring; I’m now an attractive two-tone colour: brown on the ends and white at the roots; soon to be fully a silver fox, as Ed calls me.
Ed and I planned a few activities during these months. We went to Silver Star with Yukon friends Christoph, Anina and Katya at Easter. I even decided to downhill ski for an afternoon. That was the subject of my last blog post.
We attended the Vancouver Yukoners’ banquet in Richmond. I sold copies of Remarkable Yukon Women and we had dinner and breakfast with our great friends and neighbours Doug and Dale from the Marsh Lake, Yukon.
Another event I really wanted to attend was the Creative Nonfiction Collective conference at UBC in Vancouver. So we booked it and made the 4.5 hour drive a day before the conference. I’m volunteer secretary for the collection – this group is ‘my tribe’ so it meant a lot to me to participate in a few sessions, to hear John Valiant’s keynote presentation and to mingle with fellow nonfiction writers from across Canada. It was tiring but so worth the effort.
After the conference, we flew to Whitehorse for two nights – we could not stay longer because of my weekly chemo treatment. The goal of our trip to the Yukon was to move out of the apartment we’ve been keeping there. It was a big decision and an emotional one. Since arriving in the Yukon in 1977, this was my last ‘home base’ in the territory. I needed to be there in person to get closure and to say a very deeply felt goodbye to the Yukon as my home. When we go back to the Yukon we will now be visitors.
The month of May was probably my darkest. It was the in-between time of not having set dates for the stem cell treatment and feeling like the chemo would never end. I experienced a tough period for about two to three weeks. Physically I had trouble with the chemo side effects and emotionally I was struggling. It was a time that I knew I had to endure, to stay with, and to allow myself to experience and express those feelings on every level. It was a learning and healing time, a fallow time.
Finally, waiting for the waiting stage to be over happened – Ed and I met with the specialist from the BC Leukemia and Bone Marrow Clinic and communicated with the Coordinator for my case. When that specialist said, “OK, here’s what we’re proposing to do in your case,” and proceeded to give details of the treatment process, his words registered like a blow to my solar plexus. All my research was suddenly very real and in technicolour – gulp!
A few days later the bone marrow clinic coordinator phoned to provide dates for the stem cell treatment for my multiple myeloma. I have responded very well to the chemo. The goal of reducing the myeloma in my blood to the point where I am ready for the bone marrow transplant has been achieved.
Fortunately, I still had a month to adjust to the reality of the treatment and I realized I needed that extra time to be prepared on an emotional level. During that period, Ed flew off on an aviation adventure to the Yukon and Alaska. My brother Paul and sister Irene came out west from Quebec to be with me for a week each during his absence. It was a very precious time, but that’s another story I’ll share in the coming days.
The real news is that today, June 19, 2012, is a day to celebrate. It is the day of my very last chemo treatment day and Ed was beside me. It is a day to be thankful for my fallow time, my home health retreat, the support of family and friends, and to acknowledge that the next phase begins tomorrow.
Ed and I go to Vancouver from July 2-12 for the first step in the stem cell transplant. You’ll be hearing more from me in the next few weeks – the fallow time of the inward journey is complete and in between the active medical treatments – I’ll share more of my thoughts and experiences by blogging. I am ready to get back ‘out there.’