Saturday, February 18, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0086 - Embracing Cancer

I’ve reached a hiatus in my cancer treatment. It’s a welcomed change of pace from chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The side effects of radiation proctitis, diarrhea, and fatigue will gradually, albeit too slowly for my liking, begin to dissipate over the next three weeks. I’ll start to feel better day by day.

This break of close to 6 weeks before surgery means that there will no longer be daily treatment story lines. If there are to be new stories, either they will have to find me or I will have to look very, very hard.

Here’s one that fell upon me.

June Callwood – sometimes called Canada’s Conscience.

I’m watching her now on TVO describing her willingness to die soon from cancer. She is talking about the death of her son Casey (for whom the hospice Casey House in Toronto is named) and the utterly devastating effect of his untimely death upon her and her family. Her acceptance, even embracing, of her own immanent death is apparently strongly coupled with that eternal sadness of burying her own child who was killed by a drunk driver who struck Casey’s motorcycle in 1982. “Dying isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you, losing a child is the worst thing and we’ve been through that…dying is nothing compared to losing a child.” My parents and my aunt have both been through this experience. Whatever I am going through cannot compare.

In 2004, Shelagh Rogers interviewed her about her approach to cancer and death. In her case, the oncologists haven’t found a primary tumour. Once a month, she has a CT scan looking for the primary cancer. She isn’t in pain, but she has lost a lot of weight. Plus, as she says, “She doesn’t give a damn.” She truly has embraced both her cancer and her death.

Like me, Callwood doesn’t believe in life after death. But unlike her, I am not ready to embrace cancer or death. It’s not yet my time. But I do hope that when my time comes, I can respond with the dignity and fearlessness she displays.


Anonymous said...

Dear Don:
I went in and read your personal blog and I was very touched at your courage and willingness to share such a personal story with so many others. You are showing great courage here and I am sure that your story is touching and assisting many who are struggling with cancer or other possibly fatal diseases.

I too do not believe that your time has come Don. God has more for Don to accomplish both at a personal and professional level. You are doing his work right now by reaching out to others and sharing your story. All these people that have been part of this journey is a sign that God is there right by your side providing you with the care that you need at this time: whether they are physical or emotional and spiritual needs. When you have days that you aren't feeling so positive think of all those who are praying for you and I hope that through this you will feel the love and strength of God.

I was so surprised Don that you are still going to work in the midst of all of this. I am speaking to you as a nurse at this time. In order for you to develop cancer Don something screwy has happened to your immune system. I believe that all of us have cancer cells forming from time to time: maybe even daily. The difference here is our body realizes they are foreign cells and attack them very promptly. When this doesn't happen I believe that part of that is the person is run down and tired. The body is not responding the way it should. Some even believe that viruses play a factor and when we get sick our body is run down. You are also being assaulted by a very strong regimine of radiation and chemo. This too is foreign to your body and it is taking a big toll. Cancer cells themselves grow rapidly and require a lot of our energy and use it. That is why so many with cancer start losing weight in a hurry, before it is even diagnosed.

Don I believe that you need to take more time to rest, to give your body time to heal and to battle what is going on physically inside of you. A lot of things go on in your body when you sleep that are necessary for health: hormones are released for example. I believe if you don't make sure you get this needed rest it will take much longer than it needs to for Don to feel much better. You need energy and rest to fight this both at a physical and emotional level. I want you to know that I think it is amazing and shows the strength and determination you have to enable you to even do this. I hope I haven't upset you: this is Roberta showing you care and concern and being honest, just as honest as what you are sharing in your blog.

Hope you have a great week and keep in touch.

Roberta Butler

Don Spencer said...


Of course I will listen to you. Otherwise, you and all the altos will gang up on me in choir!

I'll do my best to take your good advice and get as much rest as I can. Maybe if I recall some Zen, it will help; we can only truly "witness" our lives when we are quiet and still, when we merely breathe and meditate. The benefits are both spiritual and physical.

Thank you for the reminder.