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since May 2004

In December 2003 my whole life changed. In a span of 15 minutes, when I came home from shopping for groceries, and felt as though I needed to pass gas, then realised it wasnt gas it was blood, I thought oh, the hemmorhoids are acting up again. I was soon to find it was not hemmorhoids, it was a tumor in my lower rectum. When they had me on the table for the colonoscopy scope, I peeked at the tv screen that was showing the inside of me, and when I saw the white crusty looking thing on what was otherwise a clean picture, I KNEW what it was. Even before I asked, I knew. I said to the doctor, is that cancer? All he would say was well, its suspicious, we'll take a "bite" and see.

This happened 5 days before my husband and I were planning to leave for the US to spend Christmas with my sister and her family, and my son and granddaughter whom I had not seen since 1998. What to do. The dr said go, nothing is going to change in 2 weeks, go. I had not seen my family members in years, and I am not a very strong person, and all I could think of was that I didnt want anyone to know what was happening, and how could I go there, and pretend everything was ok when I was screaming in terror inside, and how on earth could I say goodbye, thinking I might never see them again. So I decided not to go.

Christmas was a nightmare, we had not planned on spending Christmas at home, so decorations were hastily put up, and never was there a Christmas with such a lack of enjoyment. At one point my husband took me to the other end of our province (I live in Nova Scotia) and we visited his boss and family, stayed at a nice motel overnight, then came home. During the night I woke up in a state of fear such as I have never known, and it was all he could do to calm me down.

On January 8 2004 I went to see the dr, who said to me, I am really pleased with your catscan and xray results, (and I am thinking, yes well thats great, but if that biopsy was ok it would have been the first thing you would have said) and sure enough here it came........ but.......you do have a problem, it came back cancer.

I thought I would pass out. Actually the dr had to leave me and my husband Ted alone in the room for a minute while I composed myself. When he came back in, I looked at him and asked........ Am I going to die? No,he said, you are not. Its contained, but it does mean a big surgery. Later he told me that had the tumor been a centimetre higher in the rectum I would not have wound up with the colostomy, but since it was so low, they had no choice. (Lucky me, eh?)

My time in hospital was something I will never forget. As they wheeled me to surgery, Ted walked with me as far as he could, and I recall seeing the doors close and his face looking at me. Then out of nowhere came two ladies, one of whom I know well, and the other I had just met the day before. One stood on one side of me, and one on the other, and they each took my hands. They stood there with me til I went into the operating theatre, when one went back to work, and one who was an OR nurse was allowed to be with me. Later, much later, I was speaking to one of them, Mary, and she said to me, do you remember us being there? Yes I said, and God bless you for it. Then she said, do you remember what we did? No, I said, though I do recall someone saying something about blueberry muffins and thinking how could you talk about food at a time like this! No, she said, we recited an old childhood rhyme for you, called 14 Angels

I dont remember the whole thing but it goes something ike this -

When at night I go to sleep,

14 angels watch do keep

Two are on my left hand,

Two are on my right hand

Two are watching o'er me

Two are there to free me

Two at my feet to guide me

Two at my head to guard me

Two to guide my way to Heaven.

She said to me, do you remember me being in Recovery with you? No, I said, I dont. She told me I opened my eyes, and she said, its over, and she said I took her hand and placed it on my heart, then thanked her. I have no memory whatsoever of any of that.

I was in hospital 2 weeks, it was the dead of winter, and at times there was so much snow and ice on the window I couldnt look out.

I had 27 tummy staples, and 18 rectal. The tummy was healed by the time I went home, but because I suppose I am diabetic and the chemo treatment, the rectal was 8 months healing. I was overwhelmed. Angry and overwhelmed. How DARE everyone else have normal bottoms and poop normally when I can't! What did I ever do to deserve this! Was I such a terrible person God was punishing me?

I did the sitz bath thing, and whoever coined the phrase putting salt in an open wound must have done it too. It would burn so badly I would lay on the sofa and cry.

I didnt think the incision would ever heal. I had surgery January 14 and on October 6 the dr told me I still had a half inch of healing to go. It was devestating.

Chemo was bad, tho not as bad as it is for some. I had thinning of the hair but no major hair loss. Did lose my eyebrows but they grew back. I will always remember the oncology nurse "Linda McGray, Flurouricil 935 ml." (That cant be me. This cant be me sitting here in the oncology unit. My god look at the little boy sitting across from me, he cant be more than 7. Bradly. O God. This cant be happening! Please God dont let me cry in front of these people!)

(I havent heard how he is doing, so please pray for little Bradly!)

I met some wonderful people during those terrible months of chemo, one was a fellow by the name of Lloyd Saulnier. He was about 73, and had worked with my husband on the ferry that sailed between here and Bar Harbor Maine was privatised and sold by the Canadian government to Euroferries (it's now the Euroferries Atlantica, and sailing somewhere in Spain). Like me, he played the guitar, and we talked often of how we would have a jam session one day this summer.

On the next to the last chemo treatment, the oncology nurse Darlene tried to put the iv needle in an already feeble vein, and by this time it was so sore I flinched when she tried, and the needle pulled out, so she said I am so sorry but I have to put it in another place. Tears streamed down my face, I was SO tired, my hand was so sore, the vein itself burnt and brown from the caustic chemo medicine. Lloyd was sitting in the chair next to mine, his iv all hooked up, reading a magazine, his wife and sister in law sitting with him.

"Look at me" he said, "donít look at her, or what she is doing, look at me. Weíre going to play music, you and I. We are. Look at me. LOOK AT ME. I am here for my sixth series of this, and I am fine. You are going to be fine."

While he was talking, the needle got inserted, the 20 minute treatment finished, and as I was leaving he stuck out his hand to me, shook it and said see you next time. Weíre going camping over the weekend, see you in three weeks. (the chemo schedule was one week of treatment, three off, then repeat)

That was Friday. Monday morning my husband called down the stairs to me that Lloyd was dead. His obituary was in the morning paper. I thought my legs would go out from under me. No! Weíre going to play music together!

O lord, the cancer got him after all! I called his wife, and she said no, he was fine in that respect. They had indeed gone camping, he was sitting in his rocking chair, had a heart attack and died instantly.

I didnít take the radiation, the rectal incision was so long healing that it went out of the time period where the radiation is done in conjunction with chemo. They wont touch you if there is any open wound.

The summer was so different. Ordinarily Ted and I take our camper and travel on weekends to the different Exhibitions around Nova Scotia where he competes with his teams of oxen. We love the fun and the comaraderie of the teamsters and the competitions. This summer though, I would go sit in the stands then have to go lay down in the camper from exhaustion from the chemo. Or worse, stay near the washroom because of the bouts of diarhea the week following treatment.

Its been over a year, and life will never be the same for me, I thought I had known fear before but I didnít. I thought I knew sadness before but didnít. I thought I had friends before and I did, but the friendships I had have grown so much stronger, my marriage to the love of my life has grown closer, and the new friends I have met are priceless.

I could write volumes, but this is enough. My heart goes out to everyone who walks in my shoes, I know the inner feelings now like never before. I had heard all my life about people who "have the bag" but not til now did I ever know what it meant. The loss of control, the dependance on a plastic bag. What happens now if I get stranded on a desert island? Huh?

I have had to fight hard to build up any kind of self esteem, to not see myself as a freak of nature because of this thing. Its happening, but slowly. I know I am lucky that they found my problem when they did, I know this stoma is a new lease on life, but I struggle with the self pity still at times. Maybe thatís normal.

I have thought more about mortality, spirituality, and the love and kindness in life, than ever before. I think in ways now I never did before. I took so much for granted! I donít do that anymore. Thanks for listening.

Lin McGray, Yarmouth Nova Scotia Canada


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