Eight great things about cancer

Eight great things about cancer

It’s hard to describe what it feels like when you’re told you have cancer and probably won’t make it. I’ve heard some people with cancer say they were flooded with feelings of disbelief and fear. But for me it felt more like I’d been ejected from an airplane, one that was carrying everyone I knew, including my nine-day-old baby. At the time, being diagnosed with bone cancer of the maxilla (think Terry Fox with cancer of the face instead of leg) seemed like the worst thing that could ever have happened to me or my family. It meant I’d need extensive surgery on my face and chemotherapy (if I survived surgery, that is). It meant I’d have to spend lots of time in the hospital instead of in the yard with my baby and other children (I have four altogether, including two step-daughters). I’d lose my ability to breastfeed. I’d lose my hair. And I’d have to walk around with a question mark over my head for the rest of my life. Is today “my time?” Tomorrow? Next month? Next year?

But today, 17 months after surgery and 11 months since my last of six rounds of butt-kicking chemo, I look back and see that getting cancer has definitely had its perks. Here’s how:

1. You find out who your partner really is. I’d always known my husband, Derek, was a lifesaver of sorts — he’d rescued me from single parenthood three years earlier — but I had no idea he was capable of banging down doors and lighting up telephone lines to get me into surgery as soon as possible. Or that he’d be by my side through every doctor’s appointment, medical procedure, chemo treatment and follow-up session. At home, he took care of our children, gave me dozens of injections of Neupogen, flushed my PICC line (the chemo tube that was inserted into my upper arm and over to the entrance of my heart) and dressed all the surgical wounds that had left me looking like a human patch quilt. (The surgeons had sliced open my face and taken a buzz saw to my left maxilla and sinus cavity, two lymphnodes, half of my palate and much of my jaw, including seven teeth. Then they used a large patch of skin from my wrist to cover the hole in my mouth, and shredded skin from my leg to patch the gaping hole left in my wrist.)

2. You get to learn a lot about marijuana without anyone hassling you about it. When you’re not into marijuana, it takes some mind-bending to think of the substance as a medicine. I tried it as a last resort, after my first chemo treatment. I’d spent three grueling days in the hospital trying everything possible to stop myself from throwing up — hospital medications, oxygen treatment, peppermint aromatherapy, meditation, praying, chants from Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Yourself. But nothing seemed to work, at least not for very long. Somehow I managed to hold myself together long enough to get released from the chemo ward of the Royal Jubilee. “I’m fine,” I lied. “Really I am. I’ve been holding down food and water and everything.” (It was Easter weekend and I desperately wanted to be home with my kids.) But the moment I crawled into my husband’s Jeep I begged him to let me quit chemo. I just couldn’t take it, even though I knew that my chances of having a repeat experience with bone cancer would significantly increase — from about 30% to 80% — if I didn’t go forward with my five remaining treatments. He begged me to at least try pot. I was desperate so I did. And I couldn’t believe what happened. Two puffs and instantly I was able to relax, drink water and nibble on a cracker. (Three puffs and I could look at my baby in the backseat without gushing with grief at what might become of her if I gave up.) I immediately joined the Cannabis Buyers Club of Canada and began using a range of cannabis products, as needed. I bought mushy hemp lozenges for mouth sores. I smoked a pipeful of hash the moment I woke up in the mornings to stop myself from throwing up, and many more during the course of a day (that is, if I could do the “chemo shuffle” fast enough to make it to the garage in time). And I smoked several strains of marijuana to lift my spirits, make me laugh, and keep me positive about my asymmetrical reflection and hunched-over hairless body that was looking more and more every day like Montgomery Burns from The Simpsons.

3. You don’t care about money. My pre-cancer self was really hung up about money. I was never late paying bills, had a history of paying down loans in a timely manner, and had started building a small RRSP. I didn’t overspend and would rather have my eyes scratched out than be in debt. But all that changed after my diagnosis. Derek quit his job to take care of me and our children, so our only income was my modest maternity leave money. We ended up having to spend everything we had, plus a lot more, to get what we needed to get through the dozens of trips to the hospital and Cancer Agency — hotel rooms and travel stuff, baby gear so our newborn could stay with us in the hospital, medications and supplies not covered by my health care plan, gifts for the doctors and nurses who saved my life. And then there were all of our basic living expenses like rent and food and school supplies and hot dog days. A year later we were $30,000 in the hole, a figure that in the past would’ve had me teetering toward suicide. Having money problems just doesn’t seem as scary when you’re faced with something really scary.

Read more: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/Eight+great+things+about+cancer/3315065/story.html#ixzz0wOGKpxct