The sound of my greatest fears meeting my deepest desire

I’ve been terrified of getting cancer for decades. An unreasonable fear. There’s no history in my family. But cancer is familiar. It’s a popular theme that runs rampant through our cultural psyche. Our altruism and fears are cleverly tied up in its coloured ribbons. Until I got it - my own form that has no particular ribbon, I was able to choose when and if I wanted to notice its presence. I don’t get to choose anymore. It’s in my face.

Over the years, my doctor has felt me up more times than I can remember. I’ve consumed litres and litres of water, and sat for hours in waiting rooms with a full bladder dreading what might be revealed about my ovaries or anything else down there. When my mass turned up, it didn’t fit the fears I’d been dragging around so long. When it comes to disease, I have little imagination. I didn’t expect lymphoma. I barely knew what it was.

It’s March 3, 2014 and my adventures in Lymphomaland have hit the Globe and Mail - four pieces over the course of a month - one each Monday – a great gig for a fledgling writer. About three years ago I quit my job doing policy work for the Ontario government and started writing fiction, and memoir about parenting and relationships. I’ve had a bit of success here and there. My fifteen minutes of fame (and judgment) for telling the world I occasionally walk around naked in front of my kids.

I’ve been dreaming about just this kind of thing – a series for a national newspaper. And with a big bang, my fears and desires collided to create this malignant opportunity. Turns out my voice might just lend itself to the insanity, the terror, the humour, the pain of cancer. Turns out this thoughtless, indifferent, random, non-prejudicial fucker of a disease might have something to offer me – or maybe I’m just taking what I can from it.

It’s hard to look on the bright side of cancer, and I usually steer clear of popular self-help adages like when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. But here I am, at the side of the road. ¢5 a glass, or just help yourself.  






My husband was diagnosed with Lymphoma in 1985- they never figured out what kind. It was blasted with a massive dose of radiation-chin to belly button which damaged his heart valves as we found out 5 years ago. Despite that cost we have been glad to keep him around as our children were 7,8 and 12 at the time. We have lived a very full life since then and are now vacationing in Provence France. Just a little story to give you hope as you may find these stories in short supply. Ask lots of questions, take llots of notes: doctors names, drugs, get copies of all test results. Keep writing for sure.

I know from going on a journey with a friend that my nebulous neuroses are nothing compared to the real thing. You write so honestly and with humor if possible. Continue to let all the inconsequential things go and get time with kids .I had a fair bit of health issues while single parenting,looking back You have to give up the little stuff like neatness. You are a wonderful writer,thank heavens for that. Mo steuart

After beating Prostate cancer {ten years free this summer} was diagnosed with Stage Four, Aggressive Lymphoma at Princess Margaret. Not only did my Oncologist sit me down and go over the entire matter point by point,he urged me to take his telephone number and call ANYTIME. His nurse has done the same. We asked questions, recorded the answers and was given a ton of material to read and use when concerned.I'm just surprised that a bright gal like you was unable to elicit answers or demand a second Doctor.. Something does not sound right. Bob Auld

I am glad to have found your Globe piece via Nora's twitter account -- your writing is gripping, interesting, and original. I happen to also occasionally follow a raw food writer who got into raw food after a diagnosis of lymphedema. She is having ups and downs with the illness, but mostly ups, with delicious recipes, in case you want to check them out: Forgive her lemonade-style. Looking forward to reading more of your work. Best wishes for your recovery.

Well-said, Bree. I also found the Globe article refreshing. And, as someone with a recently-acquired fear of cancer, I found it helpful that genuine humour can exist to some degree alongside the more difficult parts of the experience. I also wanted to pass along a link I found very interesting in my recent anti-cancer-research-binge: for anyone on the lookout for hopeful news in the fight against the disease. All the best.

this journey began approx. march 2012 for my commonlaw spouse; she was being treated for a hemoroid by her g.p. for the previous almost 5 months; finally, after many requests for a c.t., colonoscopy, and blood work, and realizing that the creams were not getting rid of the "hemoroid", her g.p. finally scheduled what was requested; and, yes, the results came in, and she was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer, non-operable, non-curable, just treatable; devastating!!!!!; no comment from her g.p.!!!; had intensive radiation for 5 days, with the usual scarring, to stop the bleeding; then began the first phase of chemo---hospital for approx. 5 hours, then home with the chemo bottle for 46 hours, then on saline and gravol for 3 hours, then try to recuperate for the next 10 days to start the next appointment of chemo; this went on for 4-5 months; lost most of her gorgeous red curly hair; so many other side effects, too numerous to mention; found out that her g.p. was retiring at end of 2013---!!!; started next chemo concoction, same schedule, but more side effects, and cancer had started to spread to her liver, and lymph nodes in her neck and her back, and her legs and abdomen; lymphedema in the legs and abdomen caused such bad swelling she could hardly walk, kneel, wear her shoes, get in & out of the shower or bath; started the third, and last level of chemo, and only lasted, I think, for 2 sessions----she chose to stop, and that was in august-sept. of 2013; she was in such excruciating pain, even with the morphine; making a still long story much shorter, I had to get her into n.y general in November in the palliative care unit; she was only able to endure the pain and the fast spreading cancer to her lungs, her throat, and into her brain for 15 days before she succumbed to the "killer cancer"---the cancer just ravaged her body so fiercely, that she looked like a "holocaust survivor", except she did not survive; being her primary care-giver for the terrible cancer journey, and being commonlaw spouses for 13 years, it is such a terrible, tragic loss for this gentle lady to have died, and not have had a chance to live and enjoy life past the "young" age of 61; stay close to those family members, friends, and professionals who can offer support, and hug, kiss, and tell your spouse-partner that you love them each and every day!


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