It’s been a hard few weeks. I lost a friend, a confidant, a fellow war hero. I met Damian early on in one of the cancer peer groups, and we instantly connected. He also had stage 4 colon cancer, but we were experiencing the disease much differently. As I struggled with the ups and downs from surgeries and being on and off chemo, he was more stagnant – only on chemo, every two weeks with no breaks. I admired him. We developed a relationship outside of the cancer groups, and it was beautiful. He would confide in me with his struggles and then laugh at my stories of telling people off. He was quiet, and it was hard for him to really talk about the way he felt about cancer. He was a self-employed electrician who loved his family and wanted to make sure they were taken care of. He had chemo consistently every two weeks for over three years – and he worked throughout it. Not only that, he would play hockey as well. He said it helped keep him strong and fight through the exhaustion that comes with those lovely chemicals. Did he ever complain? Not that I can recall. I did though. I loved a good bitch fest and would share with him my fears and anxieties over life, and he would listen and smile. Afterwards usually came a message from me apologizing for being so insensitive. “Here I am complaining about recovering from surgery, and you haven’t been given that option.” It made me feel like shit. We in the industry (of cancer, that is) call this “survivors guilt”. One of our last conversations he had told me that his liver was failing and that he was starting to turn yellow (jaundice). I tried to cheer him up letting him know that everyone loves The Simpsons, and that he just needed to keep his head up. It wasn’t long after that conversation that I was told he had passed away. I knew it was coming. The things he was telling me about his symptoms and condition changing were all the standard “you don’t have long” descriptions. I tried to hold on to a little bit of hope, but inside I knew it was the beginning of the end. The loss of a friend is hard, but this was much greater. We were fighting the same war, in combat together side-by-side. There is no rhyme or reason why he was shot first. Now, the survivors guilt grows stronger, but I am trying not to let it take over my life. Instead, I’m hoping it changes it.
At his viewing I spoke with his wife and she said something that surprised me, “Damian had a hard battle with chemo but you have had to have chemo and surgery and everything else that comes with that”. I never knew they thought of it that way. I always thought that there was a small part of Damian and his family that were, not resentful, but maybe annoyed at the fact I was given so many chances for surgery. Kind of like, “What does she have to complain about? At least she is getting surgery”. To my astonishment it was the complete opposite. They felt like he had it not easier, but that we both had it just as hard.
So I started to do some self reflecting. Maybe I’m not “lucky to be alive”. Maybe I’ve worked fucking hard at it.
Before I continue I would just like to say that I am not saying that Damian, or anyone else for that matter did not fight their asses off. This disease is not predictable and it is constantly changing and evolving. Everyone who has it is a hard ass fighter.
I always put myself in the “lucky” category. I considered myself lucky that it was found when it was, that I had the surgeons that I had, and that I was winning the battle. But maybe that is not the case. I think the only thing that luck had to do with, is the hospital I was referred to. St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto does not get enough credit. From my surgeons, to my oncology team, to my nurses, and the administrative workers – everyone there has played a vital role in my survival.
But so have I.
I have changed my entire eating habits. I have researched my disease and helped to dictate my chemotherapy schedule and dosage. I have said if I would like to move forward with a surgery, and sometimes have even got to choose if I would like it sooner or later. I pushed myself and worked hard during my recoveries in order to heal faster. I have sought out group therapy, couples therapy and personal therapy so I am not lost in my own mind. I have listened to others along the way and have learned from their experiences. I am still learning and evolving. Cancer has changed me physically, mentally and socially. It will be forever a part of the description of myself.
Now however, it is time to take a breath. The past three and a half years I have been driving this speeding car trying to avoid every obstacle, and it is exhausting. It is time for me to stop breathing in the stale hospital air and start enjoying the outside world. I need cancer to become a lower descriptive word than the third. So I am taking a step back from blogging and social media. I am still here if anyone comes across my page and has questions about anything – I am always here to help. It is time for me to find my passion in life and do something that brings me joy.
My name is Jamie. I am young and a female with a loving husband, two beautiful fur babies, a good friend, smart and intelligent individual who is driven and opinionated, who also has cancer.
Bye for now.