It’s fair to say that my father and step-mother saved my life.
My father and my step-mother, Sharon, have been rocks of strength since I was diagnosed. My father and I, and usually Sharon too, have spoken almost every day since my diagnosis.
Sharon is a wealth of good advice. She told me right away how to manage: meditation, diet and exercise, a recipe I have followed religiously.
My father, it seems, meets a cancer survivor every day. He is full of stories of remarkable recoveries, and he calls me when either of them find an article or see a broadcast on a promising remedy for breast cancer.
However, I sense my father may be even more affected by my diagnosis than my children. Like every parent, his worst fear is that something may happen to one of his kids, and cancer happened to me. A nasty case of it.
Six months into my treatment, my status changed from short-term (full salary) to long-term disability. My income dropped to 65% of my salary. After mortgage and utilities, I had less than $250 per week for food, transportation, clothing, prescriptions, insurance and sundry expenses for myself and my 16-year-old son.
I had lymphedema following breast surgery, and following spinal cord surgery, left-sided weakness and limited neck rotation. I had exhausted my extended health insurance for lymphatic drainage and physiotherapy.
My son, Solomon, who is naturally but severely underweight, had turned into a human vacuum. He wanted meat constantly. My vegetarian, anti-cancer diet was neither sufficient nor appealing to him.
NB: A piece of advice to everyone in their 40’s: buy critical illness insurance immediately.
I had the term of my mortgage extended, which freed up all of $100 a month. After a full day crunching numbers, I simply couldn’t apply lean theory to my income any further. I lay down on my bed and started crying.
My choices: I could sell the house and move to an apartment, although a two-bedroom apartment in Toronto, above ground, is about $2,500 plus utilities, higher than my mortgage. I would be living on my equity, but Solomon would have plenty to eat, and I would get the therapy I needed.
The other option was to just put an end to this Acid Trip.
It made perfect sense, at the time: better to control the end of my life, and leave my children with start-up funds, than to let them watch me succumb to cancer.
It wasn’t the first time I considered suicide since my diagnosis. I was terrified of my future, of being transformed by multiple surgeries and assaulted by toxic substances.
The decision made perfect sense before I spoke with my dad.
I didn’t mention my suicide ideation.
My father could tell I was in a low spot, and he asked what was wrong. I simply told him that I could no longer afford groceries or the medical treatment I needed for my cervical spine and lymphedema.
My father didn’t hesitate, “What are you worried about money for? Money shouldn’t be an issue. I’ll take care of you. I’ve got your back.”
He called later to tell me he was going to send a credit card. “Don’t call and tell me what you’re buying or what things cost. I don’t have time for that bullshit.” Just like that. Problem solved. Amazing.
I tell people that my father is like Tony Soprano, but Jewish. And older. He’s the iconic patriarch of the Abraham Family Circus.
Again I cried, after I got off the phone with him–tears of relief this time. And maybe I cried on the phone, too.
When the credit card arrived, Solomon and I headed straight to Whole Foods.
We bought a cornucopia of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, dairy products and alternatives, juices, meat, meat, and more meat, and a stockpile of healthy snacks for Solomon. I bought vitamin supplements and cancer-preventing/cancer-fighting powders to add to smoothies. (I know, it’s probably too late.) The .cart was filled to the brim!
We bought over $400 worth of food. Never in my life have I purchased so many groceries.
Solomon was so happy and grateful.
With a tremendous sense of relief, I returned to my physiotherapist and lymphedema specialists. I also started working with integrative cancer care specialist who looks at all aspects of the patient, including diet and nutrition, mental health and social support. And I joined the gym at the Jewish Community Centre.
Months earlier, before the spinal cord surgery, my family physician had told me that I would need time to recover after my treatment was over. She said I should take take a vacation, get out of Toronto.
I started planning my Recovery Tour long before my treatment finished. The thought of it kept me going. I got through six weeks of daily radiation without complaint because I knew I was getting the fuck out of town as soon as it was over.
I was planning to withdraw from my retirement savings for the Recovery Tour, but I believe Sharon convinced my dad to cover my expenses. He left me a voice message. “I’m treating you to an all-expense paid vacation. Just have a good time,” he said, “and get better.”
After an extended stint of unadulterated rest and relaxation with friends and family, far away from the hospital, I was indeed a happier, stronger person. I felt as though I finally achieved comfort with uncertainty.
I’m no longer worried about how much time I have left on the planet. How I choose spend my time is the more important question. Thanks to my diagnosis, and my psychotherapist, I am acutely aware of the preciousness of life.
We are, all of us, here for such a short time.
To Dad and Sharon, thank you.
Emotional Side Effects of Cancer
The Psychosocial Impact of Cancer on Older versus Younger Patients and Their Families