The Ides of March had long stopped marching, and I had finally reconciled my heart and mind to the notion that ‘you can’t look back.’ I had returned to the land of Ontario only to find that everyone had left without leaving a Dear John or whatever type of note that one usually expects. Even little Danny disappeared in the end; unable to keep up with his older and wiser self. But ‘hurt’ is only ‘healed’ with time and wine; and besides, it was good to get back to Holly and my other families.
I decided to cease using social media for the Summer and rent a cabin somewhere on the Sunshine Coast with hopes of ‘rescuing the novel that had been held hostage by yours truly, a procrastinating writer. A few of the rentals appeared perfect but were expensive, or they didn’t allow pets. So we stayed at home to write the book.
And every morning I got up early to begin writing, but it was impossible to focus on anything but the shadows of September racing through my brain until I decided to fight back – one more time – but this time with no secrets! Those who wish to know will follow; others will please leave quietly without slamming the door.
Now, as much as I try to remain neutral on the pros and cons of Facebook, it is an ideal platform to communicate with friends and family en masse as opposed to contacting each person individually. And sometimes, posting a few pictures helps with the update or storyline. So I decided to use Facebook to update everyone on the upcoming shadows of September – with hopes of being able to write a blog later to summarize with the details and hopefully, a happy ending.
But I purposefully delayed writing this blog until today, October 1, 2016 – because it was easier to keep the source of the shadows hidden in a dark hole, covered by my fears, concerns, and regrets. And it’s also because I’m just a little superstitious – as in ‘break a leg!’.
So, dear reader, I will be writing about the weird Shadows of September with regular updates over the coming days and weeks. And the final installment might surprise you! So why not pour a drink, avoid rolling in your rocking chair while I lead you through the shadows of September.
Friday, September 9th
Today I had a Contrast CT Scan of my lungs to see if the spots and shadow areas had grown or remained stable. For most cancer patients, this is a time to be nervous. Not that the procedure is unpleasant – it’s not. It’s just that sometimes you have to wait a few weeks before you get the results from the oncologist.
I arrived at the Cancer Centre in Surrey an hour before my appointment so I could visit with my many friends on staff. I told them that I wouldn’t be able to return for social visits anymore because of ongoing issues and concerns I was having with the BC Cancer Agency. I resigned my position as a volunteer last December because of the increasing concerns I had re patient care and a respectful workplace environment – with both the Agency, Surrey Memorial Hospital and the Fraser Health Authority. So social visits would be out, but I would stay in contact through Facebook and personal emails. But it was hard; my healthcare gal and guy pals are like family to me, and I love each and every one of them. And they return the love – times ten!
After the scan, I returned home to wait nervously for the results. The appointment with Dr. K., my oncologist (and hero) wasn’t until September 21st, but I had lots of things to keep me busy during the wait.
Sunday, September 11th
Holly and I were alone, watching the Blue Jays game when the chest pains started and I knew that something bad was about to happen! I was having difficulty catching my breath, but that was mostly because of the Fear that it was another attack. I couldn’t determine if it was my heart because the pain surrounded my chest.
I was buckled in pain and tried to get up from the recliner but got dizzy and had to sit down again. Holly sensed something was wrong and jumped up on my lap and started to lick my face. Holly is not a ‘licker’ – to anyone or anything but herself; so this was scary – I’ve always believed that animals are much more instinctive than humans. And Holly sure looked worried!
I slowly walked to the front door and unlocked it and then returned to the recliner and sat down. I popped a couple of Aspirin into my mouth and began chewing them as I called 911. I told the dispatcher I thought I had a heart attack.
Within minutes, three uniformed firemen came bursting through the door and surrounded my chair. Holly was terrified and was trying to both protect me and hide from the huge men. Then two paramedics came into the room and within another minute they were lifting me onto the stretcher which they had wheeled into the kitchen. All the time that they were working on me, I was trying to calm Holly, but she was now beyond terrified.
They wheeled me through the front door, and the last thing Holly saw was me giving my house keys to one of the five giants who then locked her into the house alone and petrified.
As the ambulance left my driveway, I worried about leaving Holly behind. Dog people will understand – others will just roll their eyes.
To be continued.
The paramedics wheeled me into Emergency and stayed with me until the nurse arrived. My friend Norm used to be a paramedic with the ambulance service, and he told me that you needed to have empathy rather than sympathy for patients or you’d never be able to do your job. Which doesn’t mean that you didn’t care – it just meant that you had to be able to keep your emotions in check. And although I agree, I could also see the concerned expression on the paramedics’ faces – they made me feel like I was their Dad.
My mind started wandering down the bumpy road of fear; maybe it’s the spots on my lungs. That might explain why the pain was on both sides of my chest. (I hate it whenever I worry about something; it always takes me to that ‘what if it’s Cancer?’ mind game.).
I was dying of thirst – my mouth felt as though it was full of sawdust. But I couldn’t have any liquid before the ultrasound test, and that wouldn’t be until sometime on Monday.
It was early afternoon when the lady in the Ultrasound Department showed me the culprit on the screen.
“OMG!” I thought, “it looks like a baby ALIEN!” (as in the horror flick starring Sigourney Weaver.).
I jumped up and down on the gurney screaming “What is it? What is it? Please get it out of me! What is it?”
“Relax, Grandpa. I’ll tell you if you’ll stop hugging me!” she giggled.
I slowly relaxed my arms and sheepishly muttered a “sorry!”
My eyes were searching her uniform for a name tag, but I couldn’t see one. It was at that precise moment that I caught her eyes looking at what my eyes were staring at, and that made me blush. (Danny note: are you still with me?)
“They will probably suggest having it removed.”
“What, the alien?”, I asked.
“No Pops, your gall bladder. They can remove it and then you won’t have any more problems,”
I tightened my arms around her and began thanking her for telling me that it wasn’t cancer. And although I still had to wait for the results of my September 9th CT Scan, at least this wasn’t associated with my lungs.
“When can I get this operation done?” I asked.
“Lots of people get it done while there here,” she replied.
“Great! I’ll be able to get this done while I’m here but will I still be able to do the Terry Fox 10km Run/Walk on Sunday, September 18th? I would only be walking and could always do the 1km or 5km route instead of the 10km option. What do you think?” I asked.
“Your doctor and surgeon will discuss this with you when you get back to Emergency.”
A few hours later I saw a doctor who advised me that I had a fever and they wanted to keep me in the hospital until everything was back to normal. They would do the surgery in four to six weeks, which will give my body a chance to recover from this episode.
“However, you cannot have any fat in your diet until you have the surgery. Otherwise, the gallstone could start moving around again.”
“Will I be able to do the 10km walk this Sunday?” I asked.
“We will have to wait until we get your fever under control.”
I was finally able to drink, but I couldn’t have anything but clear fluids and jello for a couple of days. But how would I ever manage to survive without fat for six weeks? Even ENSURE and other food supplements have fat.
On the second day, they moved me to a private room on the second floor. It’s where a nurse took the above picture.
I did a lot of thinking while in the hospital. The next shadow of September was on the 18th, and it wasn’t just the Terry Fox Run/Walk that worried me. No, it was the day before the 18th that I’ve always dreaded the most.
To be continued.
I didn’t check my cell phone or notebook for messages during my first two days in captivity but started posting updates on my Facebook page. (Some of my friends and family are not on social media, so I am repeating much of what I’ve already written.)
I began receiving messages of support, and I tried to reply to each one, but my mind was not on my gall bladder or the surgery. I was missing my Holly and knew that she was probably still grieving the kidnapping of her Daddy. Dogs are different than humans – they love unconditionally – they cannot stop loving you – ever!
It was nice having a private room. My previous hospital stays were during my cancer treatments seven years ago – and they were in semi-private rooms. At the time, I didn’t realize that my health coverage had undergone significant ‘clawbacks’ from General Motors of Canada – the employer I spent 30 years working for and retired from in 2005. A few weeks after my last radiation treatment, I got an invoice from the hospital for the semi-private room – I was no longer covered and had to pay the difference between a regular, four-patient room and semi-private.
Wednesday, September 14th
Today, my captors released me from the hospital. All that I could think of was seeing my Holly Golightly and how excited she will be when she sees me come through the door. I’m sure that she thought that I’d never be coming home again and I was excited about surprising her.
I was still weak because I hadn’t had any food since Sunday morning. All of the homemade soup that I had stored in my freezer contained fat, so the only non-fat food I had was 0% yogurt. But how could I survive on just 0% yogurt for six weeks, while waiting for the surgery to remove my gallbladder?
And how would I ever be able to do the Terry Fox 10km Walk for Cancer Research on Sunday, which was just four days away! I had people that made financial pledges of support, and I wasn’t about to quit.
But Holly was all that I cared about now. Everything else could wait. I’m going to give her 100% of my attention, with hopes of getting her forgiveness. She is almost ten years old and very loving. But she is spoiled and stubborn – just the way I raised her and I know that after she gets over the excitement of seeing me alive, she will probably give me the cold shoulder and sulk for a few hours.
To be continued.
Every once in a while, if you’re lucky enough to be walking on the Pier in White Rock, you’ll notice an older man with a walker. I used to see him when I took my early morning walks, and I always smiled at him because he reminded me of someone.
He always appeared to be sad or lonely or maybe he was just tired of ‘being’ sociable to people who never, ever returned the nod or smile. I guessed that he was all alone in this world – most of his loved ones had probably passed.
But a few of his friends remain to keep him company, as he sits on the last bench at the end of the Pier.
At first, he sits and just stares out at the ocean – as though stranded on an isolated island. And then he pulls out a crumpled, paper bag from his pocket and pours a handful of seeds in his hand and then he waits.
I watched him as he silently waited. I walked closer to see what he was doing, and it didn’t seem to bother him. His dark eyes and weathered skin suggested he had spent most of his life in the outdoors. Maybe, he was a retired logger or fisherman?
“Good morning, Pops!” I waited for an answer, but he just kept staring out at the ocean. I shrugged and started to walk away and then I heard his faint voice.
“I’m here! I’m here!” he whispered. But he wasn’t whispering to me. And then a pigeon suddenly appeared on his outstretched hand and began to eat the seeds. Within a minute, at least ten birds were sitting on his lap, shoulders, legs and even on the bench beside him.
He was now smiling and had a youthful sparkle in his eyes. And although I haven’t seen that nice man for many months, I’m sure that the pigeons haven’t given up on his coming back to the Pier, so neither will I. Besides, maybe he had an illness to deal with, too.
I envied him for that moment and couldn’t wait to get home to hug my Holly!
And that is the way it has always been for Holly and me. We always miss each other and are always excited to see each other, regardless of how long we’re apart. And we don’t give up on each other!
So I can’t think of any other way to describe how Holly met me when I got home from the hospital and walked through the front door! It makes me cry inside each time I think about how she was so excited! I was afraid that she was going to hyperventilate!
She got lots of treats and hugs and kisses for the next three days, and she would never leave my side for a second! I still feel guilty about how terrified she was when those bullies came to take her Daddy away. But her dreams were answered – because now her Daddy’s home!
I now had to gain strength for the Terry Fox Cancer walk on Sunday the 18th. I wanted to be there at least for the Start of the run/walk, and then I could mingle around the area for an hour or so before going back home to bed.
But first I had to deal with September 17th – the day in the month that I dread most.
To be continued.
Saturday, September 17th
It was on this day in 2010 that I called my dear Ma, who was in the hospital, that I was coming to Toronto to see her. Her voice was quite feeble, and I know that she was tired when we said our ‘goodbyes,’ but I never dreamed that I would get a phone call six hours later telling me that she had passed away.
She died without knowing the reason that I had not come to Ontario for the past 18 months for a visit. I hadn’t seen her since early 2009, shortly before being diagnosed with Stage 3 Throat Cancer. I never told anyone in my family that I had cancer because I didn’t want the news to get back to my mom, who wouldn’t have been able to handle the news.
And although Ma didn’t have cancer – she died with a broken heart. She was the last of her brothers and sisters to survive. And all of my Dad’s brothers and sisters are also gone.
At her funeral in Oshawa, I said my goodbye and it was the first ‘Shadow’ created in my September calendar. It was also the first time I cursed having Cancer. It prevented me from seeing my Ma for the last 18 months of her life. But the one thing that keeps haunting me is the day several months after my treatments had ended, that Ma called me and asked me if the reason I hadn’t been down to visit her was that I couldn’t afford the airplane ticket? Could she send me the money to pay for the trip? She said she wouldn’t tell anyone in the family.
I could hardly talk at the time, but it sure made me cry inside. I have never let my Mom pay for even coffee – she and Dad made enough sacrifice for us over the years.
I still cry inside wishing that I could have been selfish enough to tell my Ma about my Cancer because I know that she would have given me a hug and told me that everything was going to be alright. And I would have believed her, and it would have made me braver.
But I didn’t have to be too brave during my three months of very painful treatments because of the outstanding care I received at the BC Cancer Agency in Surrey, BC. They became my family, and so too, did my many actor friends in the Lower Mainland. The support that I received led me to become a volunteer at the Cancer Centre in 2011.
Sunday, September 18th
I awoke at 3:30 am in the morning. My doctor didn’t think that it was a good idea to try the Terry Fox 10km Run/Walk, but I said that I wanted to at least be there for the START. I’ve always hated the idea of quitting – lots of people at the Cancer Centre encouraged me not to, and I wasn’t going to let a silly gallbladder prevent me from attending this important fundraiser for Cancer Research.
I said goodbye to Holly and drove to Douglas Park, in downtown Langley. I stopped at Tim’s to get a coffee and arrived at the park at 7:45 am. The Run/Walk Start wasn’t until 10:00 am, so I wandered around taking pictures and talking to the other early birds.
To be continued.
I had just stopped a passerby to take a picture of me standing at the START / FINISH line when I noticed her! Could it be Karen? I walked closer to get a better look.
Yes, it was Karen M., a former St. John’s Therapy Dog Program volunteer, who used to visit the Cancer Centre in Surrey every Wednesday morning with Laura, her care dog. Later, she began including Laura’s pup Jacob in their weekly visits, and patients and staff always enjoyed seeing the three of them. Karen is a recovering cancer patient as well.
I walked up to her and asked her if she recognized me. I’ve had lost a lot of weight in the four years since I last saw her and at first she didn’t know me – until she heard my voice. We hugged, and she introduced me to her husband and Jacob’s pup. Yes, Jacob now had a son! Laura’s a grannie!
“Wow! Where has time gone?” I asked, “and where is Laura and how’s she doing?”
Karen said that Laura was home and that she was doing fine.
Karen brought me up-to-date on her life and told me that she had a Team registered each year at theTerry Fox Run/Walk in Langley (Langley City and Langley Township).
She introduced me to Fred, a new cancer patient currently undergoing radiation treatments for brain cancer.
He and his wife were still trying to come to grips with the fact that Fred has cancer and the difficulty they had in remaining hopeful. I told them my ‘40%’ story and how I was still here seven years later! I also told them I believe cancer is also difficult for a patient’s caregiver/, family and friends because they feel so helpless; wishing that they could take away our pain and fears. Cancer can be a ‘roller coaster’ of emotions, and you need to remain hopeful.
I also told them I believe cancer is also very challenging for a patient’s caregiver/, family and friends because they feel so helpless; wishing that they could take away our pain and fears. Cancer can be an emotional ordeal and can feel like a ‘wild, roller coaster’ ride. Bottom line: you need to remain optimistic.
I gave Fred my card and told him to call me anytime he wanted to talk.
We hugged, and I wished them all well and headed over to the Dedication Wall, where you could write the name of the person you were going to be walking for in the Run/Walk.
I asked Marg, one of the event volunteers if she would take a video clip of me putting my heart on the wall. Click on link below to view:
I then walked back to my car and had some quiet time alone with my thoughts about my Mom. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love from everyone and it made me miss being a volunteer at the Cancer Centre in Surrey. But that will be my next blog – I’ve got to finish this blog first.
At 10:00 am, everyone gathered at the START/FINISH line, but I stayed at the back of the group because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to walk the 10km, much less the 5km or 1km alternate route options.
I figured that I would get a passerby to take a picture of me at the START line – to prove that I made it to the event. Lots of people were responsible for saving my life, and this was my chance to give something back, so I wasn’t going to quit without at least walking part of the 1km route. Besides, I had raised over $250 from my sponsors: Andy F., Hillary F., and Loren J.
One other person was standing there, and I asked him if he would take my picture with my cell phone camera.
“Sure” offered the kind stranger, “if you’ll take mine?”
I am the world’s worst photographer, and I find it difficult to understand how my LG phone operates, let alone this man’s ultra sophisticated iPhone. [My previous phones were Blackberry, but they didn’t have a touch screen and only a limited number of Apps.]
“Okay,” I answered, “but can you show me how it works?”
To be continued.
We posed for each other and then introduced ourselves.
“Hi, My name is Danny.” (I wasn’t wearing a name tag, but he was.)
We exchanged names and learned that we both had much in common; we were both cancer patients and neither of us were able to walk in the event.
“Well, why don’t we try walking for a couple of blocks? We can always turn back if we get too tired,” we both suggested at the same time! So we decided to walk the 1km route.
I am not sure how long it took Howard and me to finish the race, but at least we finished! We were standing at the FINISH line and took each other’s picture. We asked a passerby to take Howard’s picture because the ones that I shot were less than stellar. The person also took a picture of us together.
We then headed over to the stage area and were presented with our certificates and ribbon. Howard introduced me to Marg, one of the event volunteers. I told her that I used to volunteer at the Cancer Centre in Surrey and missed it very much.
I was too tired to stay for the rest of the festivities and headed home to Holly. I spent the rest of the week in bed, resting for the next event on my schedule, namely the Push For Your Tush 10km Run/Walk on Sunday, September 25th at Jericho Beach, Vancouver.
But there was one more thing on my schedule that really had me worried – my September 21st appointment with my oncologist to get the results from the September 9th Contrast CT Scan on my lungs.
Wednesday, September 21st
I will be writing a short blog about the results from my CT Scan in a few days. But the visit to the Cancer Centre in Surrey was a chance to see all of my friends for hugs. These people are family to me, and I love and miss them very much.
Sunday, September 25th
I arrived at Jericho an hour before the 10:00 am START and walked around the site as volunteers were busy setting up tents and booths. I went over to the Registration Desk, signed in and received my Survivor’s T-shirt.
Push For Your Tush was my second Walk for Colon Cancer, so it was great to see some familiar faces from last year’s event. Here is the link to that event:
And here are the links to my Tush Man adventure (2 parts):
I also noticed that BC Cancer Foundation now had a booth for the event and I wandered over to introduce myself to the gentleman who was setting up the booth. He appeared familiar, but I wasn’t sure if I knew him.
“Hi, my name is Daniel, and I used to be a volunteer at the BC Cancer Agency,” I said. “It’s great to see the Foundation supporting this awesome event! We shook hands and exchanged business cards.
I read his name and then cringed!
“Were you at the Taste For Your Life Gala at the Terminal City Club last Spring?” I asked.
“Yes, I was,” he replied.
I cringed again.
He would have seen my presentation! I cringed again and muttered that I should get going. There was little point in explaining why I no longer volunteer, but I did tell him that I had significant concerns regarding patient care and that I was working on a critical analysis of the BC Cancer Agency.
I then visited the various booths in the area. I bought three ‘Tara’ bracelets – crafted by a mother whose daughter had passed from colon cancer. I gave away the one I bought last year to an old friend in Ontario.
We hugged and then I headed over to see my friend Lui Passaglia, a colon cancer survivor. He introduced me to his grandsons both of whom are football players! (Lui is a legendary, BC Lion football player.)
It was nearing the 10:00 am START, and I was already exhausted. I hadn’t had anything to eat except 0% Fat Yogurt since being released from the hospital on September 15th. I decided that I would only participate in the Start of the event and then just walk to the first marker.
It was an awesome day. I met some new friends and was able to complete the whole 5 km Walk! However, I was the last person to cross the FINISH line and most of the people had left. I asked a passerby to take my picture before they took the balloons away.
And that’s a wrap!
Today’s Tune (from Danny’s library of purchased music):
About Daniel St. Andrews
An almost famous Film, Television & Stage Actor living in Vancouver, BC (as in almost pregnant). His other passions include: patient advocate (he had Stage 3 Throat Cancer) ; daily power walks at the Promenade in White Rock; and of course, spoiling his dog Holly Golightly. If you like the stuff he writes about - please leave a hug (or a comment).