Tag Archives: Cancer

Cancer in the Time of COVID

Yesterday I finally got the courage to delete the pictures on my phone of my husband when he was dying. One where he lay, skin and bones, with his mouth open as if he was dead. Several of the foot that went black. Why on earth would I have such pictures on my phone? Because, COVID.

I first noticed that my husband, John ate very little, didn’t walk the dog very far, and slept a lot in August of 2020. I pointed this out to him and he said it was because at 76, he was getting old. In the family tradition, he said to me, “I’m fine.” To understand how alarming this statement was to me, my mother-in-law on her death bed kept saying, “I’m fine, love. I’m fine.”

I phoned the doctor and due to COVID, she wanted to have a phone visit. Despite having stage two diabetes, we had not physically visited our family doctor since around February 2020, just before the pandemic hit. We would tell her our weight and do our own blood pressure. For many months, we could not even go to the lab for our regular blood tests. I insisted she see him in person.

I took John to the doctor but I was not allowed in with him. The waiting room was closed. So I sat in a chair by the elevator in the eerily quiet Boardwalk medical building. John said the doctor didn’t seem too worried. As the child of parents who died of cancer and the retired director of HopeSpring Cancer Centre, I knew something was wrong. I phoned the doctor and insisted John should have a CT scan. She said fine but because of COVID, he would not be able to get an appointment until January 2021. This was early September 2020.

That evening I visited a friend and by chance, she had another friend visiting her who has gone through many fights with cancer. I burst into tears and told them my fears. The cancer survivor agreed and said I must insist on a CT scan as soon as possible, even if it was in London or Toronto. My friend’s husband suggested the States, but we realized the border was closed, due to COVID.

I knew John would be dead if we waited until January for a CT scan. This was not an idle fear. My neighbour’s daughter-in-law waited until January 2021 for a scan after many visits to her doctor saying “It’s not my diet, something is seriously wrong”. She has stage 4 colon cancer. This mother of two adorable kids and a lovely husband is now struggling with many chemos and surgery for something that should have been caught much earlier.

We managed a CT scan in Cambridge. I was able to go with John to the scan. In a surreal waiting room, a man told us that any vaccine would be dangerous because the government is putting nano technology in it to follow our every move. I asked him if he had a cell phone. He did. I pointed out the government could already follow him if they chose (probably not) through his phone. That went nowhere.

In October, the results of the scan came back. John went for his first visit to the cancer centre. I sat in our car in the Grand River Hospital parking lot and listened over the phone as the oncologist told him he had stage four esophageal cancer and 6 months to a year to live. I heard him crying. I held my phone and cried too.

Over the next few months, he visited the cancer centre for more CT scans, chemo and radiation. I would drop him at the door and he would go in. As he became weaker in early 2021, he would head in with a walker and finally, in a wheel chair. At the end, when he could no longer dress himself, normally I would have gone in as his primary caregiver and helped him. Instead, very kind nurses, volunteers, and PSWs helped him. He was a chatty man and by the end, they would call him by name. At the end of his chemo and radiation, when there was nothing more to be done, the cancer staff called me into the waiting room and he rang the gong (usually reserved for people who are cured or in remission). By that time he was very thin and obviously dying.

In March 2021, my daughter, a PSW who works at a local nursing home, came to help me look after her Dad. At the same time, she separated from her husband and she and my two grandchildren came to live with me. With also a year and a half of nursing school, she was a life saver.

Eventually, we had a masked nurse come once a week to see John at home. We also wore masks but at the end they said John didn’t have to. With all the people coming into the house, we managed to get him double vaxxed. The thought that he could get COVID in his state was horrifying. A PSW eventually came once a week to bath John, to give Bronwyn a break. We had no problem getting a hospital bed and other equipment. He declined quickly.

We were told that he could go to hospice and that we could visit. My daughter had been through months of lockdown with her nursing home residents where relatives could not visit. We did not trust that the hospice would not suddenly go the same way and he would die alone.

Bronwyn and I took care of him at home. It was hard but with my daughter, he had no bed sores or rashes, and someone was always there to see to him. My older daughter would come one or twice a week for a cheerful visit with him. At the end, all of us, including my grandchildren were present when he passed away.

Now my grandson, with mild autism, will hold up his mug and we will say, “Cheers to Pa!” Then he will say, “We saw Pa’s body go by.” (Wrapped in tartan blanket and out of the house to the hearse). I will say, “It was very sad.” Then the two children will talk about happier times with Pa.

The pictures on my phone? His palliative care doctor once said to me over the phone, “What do you think of Doctor So-and-So, his radiologist. Doesn’t he have a nice beard”.

I said, “I have never met him.” I didn’t say, “I have never seen you either.”

All the consultations went through the palliative care nurse who reported on John’s condition. The doctor did talk to me over the phone. I had to send the doctor photos of what John looked like and what was happening with his foot. Because, COVID.


The Ring on My Finger

My ring

After 46 years, almost 47, my wedding ring is no longer on my left ring finger. On Saturday, my husband John died peacefully at home with his family around him. Cancer is a bitch. Not only have I lost a companion and best friend, I am also now a widow.

My mother kept her wedding and engagement rings from the marriage to my father on her left finger until she died. She was widowed twice, once in world war two and once a month before my own wedding. The first set of rings she gave to Bob’s mother as they had only been married a few months. The second set she wore for 27 years after my Dad died of cancer. Cancer is a bitch.

I have decided to move my rings to my right hand ring finger. A google search told me that widows create pendants from their rings, wear them around their neck, move them to another finger, or keep wearing them on their left hand. Occasionally rings are put in the coffin of the spouse. I do not believe in putting jewelry in the ground. My daughter wore my mother-in-law’s ring during her marriage. Her marriage is ending in the usual way these days, by separation.

I did not realize how many times my thumb touched my wedding ring these last few months. Now it goes to touch a ghost and there is the indent of 46 years. I never took my plain wedding ring off, not even in the shower.

The ring on my right hand seems odd, a little tight and heavy. It seems sad. I wonder if I should take it off and have naked fingers like I did in the 1970s when I met my husband.

I will keep it on my right ring finger. Over the years of working, I collected a lot of lovely rings. My engagement and wedding rings will continue to join them.

Due to COVID, John’s obituary and funeral will be a little delayed. There will only be 7 family members at it. I will post his obituary and the livestream of his funereal when the arrangements are final. A reception will be held when the pandemic is over. Thank you for all your condolences.

Get Moving on Pharmacare!

As you know, my husband has cancer. He is presently doing well on oral chemotherapy. Whenever we look south to the United States, we are proud of our public health system. Wait a minute! Should we be proud of Ontario’s health care system?

My husband does not pay a cent for his cancer health care and his chemo. Our neighbour around the corner has a son with cancer. That son pays $5,000 a month for his cancer related medications. A woman I used to work with has macular degeneration. The good news, she has the kind that has a cure that will save her eyesight. The bad news, she has to pay $1700 a month for a shot in each eye. Why? They are both under the age of 65. There is no Pharmacare for people between the ages of 24 and 65 in Ontario. Those under 24 can only have Pharmacare if their family does not have private health insurance.

With unemployment increasing due to COVID, more and more people do not have Pharmacare benefits through their work. One of my best friends must now pay out of pocket for her insulin. Unlike countries in Europe, which include prescription drugs as part of their public health care, Canada does not. This leads to B.C. having Pharmacare for all and Ontario not having Pharmacare for all.

We have a minority federal government. In the past, the parties of minority governments have worked together to bring benefits to Canadians. The Liberals and the NDP both promised Pharmacare in the last election. Certainly COVID has taken everyone’s attention but with the many side effects of the virus, surely it is time for Pharmacare across Canada.

I am thrilled that my husband and I are not losing all our retirement savings and maybe our house due to the cost of his oral chemo. What about everyone else? We know the Conservatives would never endorse a Pharmacare program but what’s holding up the Liberals bringing forward a plan and the NDP, Bloc and Greens endorsing it?

Here is a template for the political will for Pharmacare.

  • Lester B. Pearson was the Liberal Prime Minister of Canada from 1963 to 1968. His government saw Medicare introduced on a national basis, after his party wrote and introduced the legislation for hospital and out-of-hospital treatment, and received the support of Douglas’ NDP.

2020 Sucked, the People Didn’t

I am sitting here in tears. Tears of gratitude to my neighbours. As you may have guessed from previous posts, my husband is on the cancer journey. Two of our neighbours just came to our sidewalk with their dog dressed up in red lighted ropes and a long silver sweater. They had Happy New Year on a piece of cardboard along with other words of greeting for my husband. They had a socially distanced talk with John and Amber. Thank you so much.

My husband is a big walker of our dog, Amber. I never realized how much he is loved in our neighbourhood. We have had cards and little gifts and everyone always asking me how John is doing. (He is doing well on oral chemo). When it snowed, a neighbour snowblowed our walk. The last snow, a neighbour shovelled our walk and humbly said, “I was just walking by with my shovel and noticed you hadn’t done your walk yet.”

My friends have given me books to read and people have asked me how I am doing as caregiver. (Fine)

I would also like to thank the wonderful people at the Grand River Cancer Centre. Most of our visits with the doctors, symptom management staff, and dietitians have been by phone, which is actually not a bad thing for a tired cancer patient and they are so supportive. Plug here for hopespring.ca who have counselling, support groups, and even wig delivery.

Also, thanks to my two daughters and son-in-law who have also helped with the snow and my eldest daughter drops of Lady Glaze donuts for her Dad.

My 2020 started off with the funeral of one of my best friends, Laurie Strome, an extraordinary community organizer. Then came COVID and I retired from HopeSpring in April. Which was good, as John seemed off and I fought for a CATscan for him.

My grandchildren are taught from home as they have seizures, as does their mother. Their epilepsy is under control but helping teach kids with mild autism at home is not a treat. Thanks to my daughter and the kids’ teachers.

My daughter is also a PSW at a nursing home. If you think your year was bad, be an isolated patient in a nursing home. My daughter’s home is a good one, very safe, but it has been hard for her clients to be alone, she says. My daughter takes her violin and plays the piano for her clients as they had no events at all over Christmas. My daughter got her first COVID shot on Dec. 29. A great ending to 2020.

Happy New Year 2021. Despite it all “Life is Good”

Will COVID Kill My Husband Even Though He’s Not Infected?

In the month of August, I noticed my retired husband began to nap twice a day with a full eight hours of nightime sleep. He lost his appetite, giving half of his favourite pork chop to the dog and not eating the mashed potatoes with gravy. Veggies have never been a favourite.

We made an appointment with the doctor. His heart, lungs, blood pressure, really everything seemed fine. Negative to COVID. We suspect but hope not cancer.

Our doctor sent in a requisition for a CTscan. Due to the labs catching up from the pandemic restrictions, it could be two months before my husband gets a CTscan. The doctor has put URGENT on the requisition and we are willing to travel for a test that will be sooner. Still it may take awhile.

I know as the retired director of HopeSpring Cancer Support Centre, plus all the people around me that have or have had cancer, that two months to diagnose cancer means the difference between life and death.

Provincial Government, is there not some way to increase the capacity of the medical system so people can be diagnosed in a timely fashion?

I am sick of heart that my wonderful husband may end up a victim of COVID without having the disease.

Addendum: Please wear a mask, social distance and don’t go out if you are unwell. Don’t have big parties or go to large gatherings. If the COVID cases soar again, we could have another lockdown. We are now learning what the lockdown meant when everything was closed. A two month wait for people to have necessary medical tests. Breast cancer tests are still not happening.