After months of professional anguish and my mother’s agony, finally relieved by the end of her worries, a new page of my life opened. Then the unforeseeable arises: the sensation of a lump in my left breast. On February 28, 2014, a diagnosis without appeal fell: cancer. The tumor “is not the worst” reassures an assistant of Dr. Fleischer after the biopsy. It must be reduced by chemotherapy. Dr. Mihalcioiu, assisted by Nancy Lee-Brown, nurse navigator, full of concern, insisted on the trust between doctor and patient, added “think positive” and asked if I was well surrounded. I thought I had a good network and told family and friends:
The biopsies confirmed the hypothesis. All that remains is to follow a process that will take six months as so many people have done so well before me. All of them have shown me, by their example, how to serenely manage the hazards of life. I thank them and hope to imitate their model of strength against the Beast. For my part, participating – a little – in the sufferings of this world opens me, willingly or not, to solidarity with those who suffer and think of each other. I am sure of your affection and good thoughts.
March 27, 2014 – First chemo
Marjolaine, a warm nurse, wearing a cosmonaut helmet, has me check that bags (red or colorless) are for me. She presses the needle. The liquid enters. I am very thirsty and empty my water bottle. A dreadful colic appears. Not easy.
Other patients arrive. Two elegant and ageless women, then a man I think is Native American, accompanied by a friend. He reminds me of a Native American prayer. By 11:30 a.m., my body has absorbed the contents of the bags and I am discharged, armed with an “oncology passport” and its list of upcoming appointments. Back to the house where I prepare the meal. Rest and feel (happily) that it is working in my left breast.
April 8 – In the emergency theater of the former Royal Victoria
12 p.m.– My toothache is getting worse. 3pm, 38.3°. Fateful number for the emergency room. On the spot, my stray glance attracts the attention of a lady who points out the “triage” line. Armed with the number 82, I sit down and read the signs warning (euphemistically) that there could be a long wait. Next to me, a restless patient is escorted by a calm “attendant”. Further away, young women in headscarves are escorted by their husbands. I am touched by the look of tenderness in the eyes of a bearded man as he looks at his spouse. The people are of all colors and their ailments are invisible. It seems that the community of suffering and anguish dissolves xenophobic preconceptions.
Waiting. The call to triage seems to follow two orders: that of the emergencies and that of the numbers. The parade of large emergencies is manifested by the regular entry of stretchers. I imagine a drama in each one: street, road or work accident, heart problem, injuries…
5 p.m. – They call the 82. An attendant takes my temperature which has dropped to 37.2°. I look foolish. At the sight of my passport, she calls whoever it is and tells me to wait. As each stretcher passes by, we put our feet away. A male trio is noisily agitated. A lady and a gentleman are conversing. I understand that the gentleman is from Ontario and that he chose to live in Quebec because of the better social security coverage. They move on to political comments and disagree. The lady retreats.
6 p.m. – Dr. Véronique Homier, nice, fresh and dapper, comes to get me. Inspection of the mouth. Presumption of an abscess. I have to see a dentist and wear a mask.
7 p.m. – A dentist comes to get me. Through the labyrinths of the “Royal Vic” (it looks like Hogwarts, Harry Potter’s college) she guides me towards the “dentistry” clinic, deserted at this hour. X-ray of the guilty gum. Examination: it is an abscess. Extraction necessary. What is the best time? She leaves me after having given her report to the emergency doctor and leaves while shaking my hand very warmly.
9 p.m. – Blood test and antibiotics. Alone (finally!) I read, lying on the stretcher and fall asleep.
10:45 p.m. – The family is worried and calls.
11 p.m. – Doctor H. (who now seems tired) tells me that the pharmacist on duty will come with what I need to strengthen my white blood cells. They can’t extract my tooth until the levels rise again. A nurse arrives with more antibiotics.
12 a.m. – The pharmacist explains the prescription to me. I am more and more tired and my ability to understand is disappearing. Around 1 a.m. I can leave. The episode lasted 9 hours.
April 22 – Letter to friends
After some dental problems that slowed down the chemotherapy process, I am back in the hospital this week. As far as physical fitness is concerned, it is going well within the limits of what is possible. As we have no elevator or housekeeper, physical activities are at the rendez-vous, punctuated by the daily necessities if I want to eat and not live in a kennel. My hair falls out like the hair of a huskie (in a heated interior). Dany shaved it for me. Since the laundry room is in the basement, and we’re on the 3rd floor, I don’t have to go to the gym to climb stairs. What about you? I know that many of you have many challenges to face: personal health, elderly parents, children, grandchildren, profession (or sustained volunteering), friends in distress, in a difficult logistical context: be sure that I think of you very strongly, especially during my little moments of anguish, even suffering. (Cécile: the breathing that you taught me is a great help to me.)
Dentist, oncologist, chemo: every day has its appointments and its unexpected events. The good surprise is your attentions, your ready-made meals and your little words as well as the readings suggested by your good care. I don’t need too much of it, because my ability to concentrate is very limited. During the first sessions at the hospital, I read Sous l’arbre à palabres by Boucar Diouf. I have a pile of novels in my back pocket.
Inwardly, I love the native prayers that speak to me of happiness and joy through nature and trees, the cardinal points and the four elements. This does not prevent mood swings!
I never thought I could be so tired, but as we say in Quebec: “Let’s not give up!”
This will last a year and a half!
Great Spirit, we thank you for all the people and things that warm our hearts. Send us the warm, soothing breezes from the south. Fill us with compassion to melt the ice that may have formed around our hearts.