What are you thankful for?

Often times that is a question we pose to ourselves the second week in October just before we sit down to eat a big turkey dinner but sometimes the occasion arrises throughout the year to examine this concept of being thankful without being prompted by a big ole family get together.

For me this occasion was last night/today.

I was fortunate enough to participate in the St.Thomas Relay for life held at the track at St.Joe’s.  I met many wonderful people, embarrassed myself on stage (all in fun!) and I had time to reflect. Like most people I have both survivors  and wariors who lost the battle in my family.

My paternal grandfather passed away due to cancer when I was 8.  I had a difficult time with it (as most children who are that age do) I was old enough to know what death meant, but distance and age kept me sheltered from the harsh reality of the actual loss because my granda was in England. Although I loved him so dearly (after all  I was his only grandchild for 6 of what would be his last 8 years) the distance acted as a buffer from harsh reality of death.  I remeber coming home from school to find out that my dad had left to go to England that afternoon and that I had lost my granda. It was very confusing and scary, my dad had never left my family before, we did everything together, and now my granda was dead and my dad was away. My 8 year old heart ached and I remeber while my dad was gone, I heard the word CANCER for the first time.  I hated CANCER, in an instant the word became eteched in my mind as a word that only brought sadness, and loss. A word that could flip your whole world around without blinking an eye, and leave nothing but a sick emptyness in the pit of your stomach.  I don’t know if I ever asked for sure but I think my granda had lung cancer. He always smoked, and I think he worked in the coal mines on the north west coast of England. Not great conditions if you hope to live a long life. I thought my granda was old when he died. He was only 60.

15 years had passed and when I was a young woman of 23 the man I loved most in the world coming in a very close second to my own dad was my “uncle” John Benson. John was actually my great uncle, my dad‘s uncle. He was the reason my dad moved to Canada in 1966. He told my dad that life here was good and jobs were plentiful. So to me he was much more than any “uncle” could be. He was the head of our Canadian family and along with my “aunt” Nancy they provided me the love and stability of grandparents where none exsisted. When my parents brought me home from the hospital, my first “home” was in Nancy and John’s second storey apartment.

I remeber in my late teens finding out that John had cancer, but things had come a long way from when my granda had died and John was able to fight cancer and become a survivor! When the cancer returned it was in multiple locations, lungs, liver, and I’m not sure where else. I was with him in his home surrounded by friends and family when he took his last breath.

At some point between then and 2004 I also learned that my dad‘s mom–who was my uncle John’s sister–My grandma had had kidney cancer and had a kidney removed and to this day the cancer has not returned. In 2004 it seemed increasing clear that cancer was an unavoidable brick wall in my dad‘s family when his sister was diagnosed with stomach cancer and passed away after a brief time of illness.

I had my own cancer scare in July of 2007.  I had just turned 36 and our young family consisted of myself, my husband our two young boys aged 3 and 2 and our two cats when I had lymph node on the right side of my neck swell and become rock hard. I was given a stong dose of anitbiotics and told to come back in a week if nothing changed. A week later and with no change in the lump I went to my scheduled appointment, knowing full well (thanks to the internet–that can be taken sarcastically as well as litterally) that once infection was ruled out Lymphoma became a top suspect.

No matter what anyone tells you there is no “good” cancer, but if there were such a thing this might be in the running. You try and prepare yourself for the tests and appointments hoping that at some time during the apointment one of the health care workers doesn’t go all quiet and then call someone else in the room to have a look at whatever horror they have found. You convince yourself “it couldn’t happen to me”, wondering how in the hell there is any chance it won’t be.

For me I wasn’t worried about dying, like I said if there were such thing as “good” cancer chances are this would be it. I didn’t worry about feeling sick and being sick, Or losing my hair if I needed Chemo & Radiation. The only thing that bothered me would be the impact on my family.

I worried  about my kids having a mama that was too tired to play with them. My husband being forced into being essentially a single parent while I recovered.  Making my parents face my mortality and as an extension their mortality, and making them watch their only chid litterally fight for her life.

These are the things I cried my tears for, not for myself.

After a few short weeks, and by short I meant a thouosand eternities, I found out that I did not have any type of cancer. I had a Bartonella henselae Infection –or as Ted Nugent would say CAT SCRATCH FEVER. It seems almost silly that an illness that just needs to “run its course” can have similar symptoms to something that is potentially life threatening and unmistakably life changing. But there you have it, I was spared.

So today, I am thankful and honoured for being able to participate in the relay and for the amazing volunteers who made the night run so smoothly. I am thankful for the lessons of loving, living and losing cancer has given me. I am thankful for the people who financially supported my walk and most of all I am thankful for my husband Nathan for walking with me and always standing beside me no matter what.


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