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since May 2004

'I am not dying'

By Hamish M., reporter (published here by kind permission).

Therry has prepared herself as carefully as a bouquet. Her leopard-skin jacket is folded on the booth seat beside her. Her hair grown back now is a shoulder-length cushion of brunette with blond streaks. Her fingernails, gently tapping the white ceramic coffee mug, are painted pink and decorated with stickers of tiny dragonflies. Her face, with eyes never far from tears but resolutely holding them back, belies her 56 years never mind her blood clot, her chemotherapy, her six operations, her two cancers.
It is a face of determination. Therry refuses to die.

In April 2004, Therry was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. By the next month, it had attached to her liver. Her doctors at the London Health Sciences Centre told her to spend the summer with her three kids Shannon, 35, Michelle, 33, and Scott, 28 because it might be her last.

She was shaken, of course. Her first reaction was to go to bed for a week. But then she decided she wasn't going to let it beat her.


Therry, shown here before her operations, hopes to help others fight cancer.
"I had to gather all this strength and get up and say, Okay. I. Am. Not. Dying."

With the support of friends, family, her doctors, and God, Therry has made it to see another March another birthday month. It also happened to be colorectal cancer awareness month.

Though it's preventable and treatable if detected early, colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in this country. More than 8,000 Canadians died from it last year.

"People are so shy about their bowels," says Therry. "We're dying of embarrassment."

The cancer's major mark, rectal bleeding, is painful and not pretty, but to ignore it is to invite more pain than most can imagine. In two years, Therry has endured six operations, the removal of half her liver and six months of excruciating chemotherapy.

She remembers lying on her couch, unable to turn on either side because of the pain from the operations, staring up at the ceiling and feeling that everything inside her was dead. She wore wigs to cover her chemo-induced baldness, and she no longer recognized herself in the mirror.

One day, near the end of her course of chemotherapy, her arm turned purple. The catheter used to administer the medicine intravenously had fallen out. She called her nurse, who told her to go to the hospital. There she was told she had a blood clot in her neck.

So, on top of the chemo, on top of the CAT scans, on top of the dyes put into her body to highlight the outline of the cancer in X-rays, she was put on blood thinners a form of rat poison.

"It leaves you lifeless."

But she believes it has all happened for a reason. "I feel like God has chosen me because I am strong and I can get through this."

"A lot of people don't want to talk about it, but I want to save other people. I don't want anyone to go through this."

Therry, a florist, has had a strong compassionate streak from an early age. Her father, Willard, a jeweller, was killed in a car accident when she was just three years old. She helped her mother, Lila, raise her two younger sisters, Joy and Cheer, in Dutton, Ont.

Therry, Joy and Cheer Willard chose the names because he wanted his girls to be happy. His death was Therry's introduction to mortality something she has been constantly reminded of ever since.

When she was 17, the four kids she used to nanny during her summer holidays burned to death in a house fire. Her stepfather succumbed to brain cancer, lung cancer and Crohn's disease. Cancer also claimed her 12-year-old cousin; a car crash took her brother-in-law. And in 2000, her 47-year-old younger sister Cheer, whom the family called Sherry, died in another car accident.

Her twice-widowed mother Lila, 78, has arthritis and Parkinson's disease.

Not long after Cheer died, at a time when Therry's conversations with God had taken a sour turn, Lila had one more shock to announce. She introduced Therry to a half-sister, Susan, now 48. It was a "lovely surprise," says Therry. She had lost one sister and gained another.

She thinks all the grief may have taken its toll on her body; that perhaps it has something to do with her cancer after all, she has lived a relatively healthy life, only smoking lightly for a short time and not drinking much. It might also explain her devotion to her children and her three grandchildren. They're the reason she refuses to give in.

"Just looking at them gives me the strength to go on."

Shannon, Therry's first-born, has a special bond with her mother. She confesses to once being a rotten teenager but says the two now confide in each other. When she had her own daughter, she had an epiphany and wrote a letter to her mother in calligraphy, explaining how much she cared about her. The letter was written 11 years ago. It is still pinned to Therry's headboard.

Despite her own enormous difficulties she lives alone and struggles to pay the bills because she's still too sick to return to work Therry is always willing to lend a sympathetic ear to her daughter's problems.

"She's a wonderful person. I admire everything about her. I only hope that I can continue to grow to be the same wonderful kind of person she is," Shannon says.

Marion, who's been a friend to Therry since they were at school together 50 years ago, shares similar sentiments. "She is an amazingly strong person. What she has endured in the past two years is unbelievable."

Marion, 57, made meals for her friend for a year while she recovered. When she was cooking dinner at home, she would always put aside some for Therry. Every couple of weeks she would take a laundry basket full of the frozen meals in plastic containers to her friend.

It's that sort of support that has helped the friendly florist through these tough times. She was never alone during a chemotherapy session a friend sat alongside her each time and friends would often bring her groceries or pick her up to take her shopping. She looked after her inner self through healing sessions at the Wellspring cancer support group, and she's enormously grateful to the "cancer drivers" volunteers who drove her between home and hospital and around town.

As a gesture of thanks, she presented them with a toy car decorated with daffodils and a small picture of herself waving from the driver's seat. "You're simply the best," she wrote. "Thanks for the ride!"

She now gets about in her own sporty yellow "mid-life crisis car," which keeps breaking down. Later, she'll take it to the car hospital to have its insides looked at.

She had her own insides looked after at London's University Hospital and credits her doctors there Patrick Colquhoun, Douglas Quan, Ian Kerr, and social worker Veda Goodwin with saving her life.

But it might not yet be time for the final thank-you speeches. Her doctors have found another spot on what remains of her liver and think it is probably cancer. Therry will have to face yet another struggle.

In the meantime, she has returned to a hobby she last practised as a 19-year-old just about to marry the husband she eventually divorced in 1987. For the first time in more than 35 years, she's writing poetry. Her writing needs a little "polishing up" but she knows the feeling is there, and it helps her better know herself.

In one of her works, she describes her attempts to face the disease by listing the emotions she called upon when Cancer Came Knocking the name of the poem. First she sent Fear and Anxiety to answer the door, but they cowered in sight of the monster. Pride failed too. In the end, only Strength would stand up to the mighty bully:

"I must ask you to leave," said Strength, and the bully seemed to shrivel and die.

Anxiety and Fear also left as Compassion was now at the door.

Kindness and Love stood with Compassion and they waved goodbye to Anxiety and Fear forever.

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