It is a vicious illness and one which strikes completely disregarding demographics, gender, social standing and/or economic well-being.
Cancer is a gut punch. A heavyweight body slam. The initial announcing of its presence robs even the usually confident of the ability to speak with coherence, to question with reason. Your mouth becomes parched, your mind unable, unwilling, perhaps both, to process information.
It was March of this year. My wife Lyana and I received the news she had an inoperable, malignant tumour. A cancer so close to the aorta that even image slicing by MRI was unable to discern any separation between the leading edge of the tumour and the wall of the aorta.
“Mr. Green, if the cancer has invaded the aorta your wife will die. Very quickly.” “Quickly?” “A matter of hours, maybe 48.”
The oncology team sprang into action. It is difficult now to remember the exact sequence of events, but test after test complemented by every type of imaging imaginable was begun. My wife became an inpatient.
When we passed the 48 hour mark it felt as though the first small victory was achieved. I know it makes no sense, but trust me, it did that day.
Chemotherapy was begun. Four sessions of three successive days, each session separated by two weeks of rest.
She lost her hair. We took a selfie and sent it friends and family. “Two beautiful heads” someone dubbed it.
After the second chemo session a member of the oncology team met us, grinning. “Look at how much that tumour has shrunk and after only two sessions of chemotherapy.” We grinned too. We couldn’t stop grinning. By now Lyana was home and being treated as an outpatient.
Almost immediately radiation treatment began. Thirty scheduled bombardments of the cancer, delivered concurrently to the chemotherapy. My wife’s body rebelled. Pain was off the charts. She struggled, but encouragement continued from the wonderfully committed members of the oncology team. The tumour was continuing to shrink. Not the case for everyone we were told.
Chemotherapy ended prior to the conclusion of radiation treatment.
One night my wife’s temperature reached 40 degrees Celsius. 11pm and we’re off to the E.R. as instructed. An inpatient again. I left the hospital at 3am and was back four hours later to see Lyana transferred to an isolation room. White blood cell count was far too low and serious infection a significant risk.
Day eight. I’d left the hospital briefly to let our dogs out. The phone rang in the car. “The doctor wants to speak with you” said my wife, “please pull over.” It was the same doctor who’d warned about the 48 hours during our first day at the hospital. I felt fear. “Mr. Green. We have finished another round of imaging and tests. I am happy to tell you there is no sign of any cancer. We are declaring your wife to be in remission and are cancelling the final four sessions of radiation. You may take her home.”
We started grinning again.
Even in remission the impact of cancer isn’t easy. Lyana continues to need sleep. It’s never enough, but constantly necessary. Pain remains an intrusive companion. The impact of chemo and radiation therapy, plus another round of radiation therapy, this one aimed at the brain, in case any cancer cells may have scurried there to hide, continue to take a toll.
A few weeks ago the world was talking about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s battle with the cancer. I wanted those battling the illness to feel energized by Lyana’s story. That’s why I’m sharing it in the pages of the Bay Observer.