Friday January 8, 1999:

We brought in the new year soundly asleep!! Mark and I went to some friends' place for dinner, then came home around ten and hit the sack. I had to be up early the next morning for a flight to San Diego! I spent Jan 1 - 3 in San Diego, staying with my cousin Tina and her partner Tom, visiting my other cousin Lars, his daughter Shoshannah, and my aunt Helle.

It was so wonderfully warm down there (the day I left it hit 90 degrees F), but I had to come home early because I wasn't feeling too well. (I was originally planning on staying until the 5th.) It was nothing major that struck, just a cold that won't quit and a neck that keeps getting tighter and tighter. To make matters worse, I forgot my prescribed muscle relaxant at home, so I couldn't do a thing for the discomfort. When I spoke to a pharmacist down there, he said I couldn't even get anything comparable over-the-counter in the US. (In Canada you can buy mild muscle relaxants over-the-counter.) So short of going down to Mexico (where, apparently, you can buy virtually anything without a prescription), I was out of luck.

Even though my visit was short, I still had a terrific time. We ate lots of Mexican food, we took a drive out into the desert (I love the heat and the quiet out there), we took a stroll by the ocean, and we laughed a lot. It was great.

Since returning home, I have been continuing with physiotherapy which is getting a little monotonous. It's so frustrating that my neck is stuck at this level where it won't improve any more. (Don't get me wrong, I am intensely grateful to have come this far.) I went this morning back to the Thorson Pain Clinic where Dr. Crosby did some needling (aka acupuncture) of the worst offending muscle in my neck. I'll go back there again in a couple of weeks, and if things still haven't improved we might consider muscle injections again. I also saw my family doc about my neck, and she thinks seeing a chiropractor may actually help! Hey, whatever it takes!

A few days ago I called the breeder of our cats to tell her the very good news that Macska and Tessa seem to be getting along better all the time! It's really nice to see. Once in a while we catch Macska giving Tessa a set of good strong cleaning licks, which indicates she may be feeling a little maternal towards her younger friend. Tessa looks none-too-impressed when this happens (kind of like a toddler whose mom licks her finger to clean dirt off his face), but at least she sits still for it.

Saturday January 9, 1999:

Last night we went to see a terrific show, a tribute to Roy Orbison. The fellow who impersonated Roy Orbison is called Larry Branson, and he was wonderful. (His band was great too!)

After the show, the group got a standing ovation, which they richly deserved. My prejudice before seeing the show was that it might be exploitative of the memory of a very talented man. However the show was in every sense a tribute to Roy Orbison. His life was full of more tragedy than I had realized, and during the show the audience was tastefully educated about the details of his career, family, and multiple successes. Larry Branson has himself been an Orbison fan for ages. He actually co-wrote a song and sent it to Orbison to consider recording, but Orbison died on December 6 1988, before ever seeing it. The band played the song the way they imagined Roy would have had he recorded it himself. They also played a bunch of his best known hits.

I remember seeing Roy Orbison live in Vancouver on New Year's Eve less than a year before he died. What a talented man.

Friday January 15, 1999:

Would you believe I still have some kind of bug? Every time I think I'm feeling a little better and I start getting a little more active again, it hits me like a ton of bricks again. Ugh. Right now I have a really bad cough, but hopefully it's lightening up. My family doc thinks I might have a touch of a viral bronchitis but probably nothing bacterial. And thanks to the flu shot I got a couple of months back, I seem to be protected against the nasty bug that lots of other people are fighting off.

Mark and I were down in Vegas for four days, and I was sick the entire time. We mostly relaxed, ate, sat in the sun, chattered, took it easy ... I blew my nose a lot too! Happily, we were staying in a very decadent hotel, so it was fun even though we weren't very active. The brand new Bellagio Hotel was our home for four days, and it was lovely.

Our first night down there, we saw the Cirque du Soleil show "O", named for the French word for water, "eau". It was one of the most spectacular shows I have ever seen (my most favorite is still another Cirque du Soleil show, "Mystere"). The entire set was based on water, with moving platforms, swimmers, divers, acrobats, and tons of action. It was a lot of fun.

We took a great road trip while we were down there, to one of our favorite places, Death Valley. It was considerably cooler in January than it was in August 1997, the last time we were there. Both of us just love that part of the world: the desert, ahhhhhh. We strolled through the sand dunes for a while, soaking in the silence, and checking out all kinds of wild animal tracks. We felt so close to nature out there. There is something really special about the sand dunes. I am mystified by the fact that they exist in the middle of nowhere, and that they manage to stay there. (Why doesn't all that sand just blow away?)

On the road to view Scotty's Castle (a mansion built earlier this century in the midst of Death Valley), we encountered a coyote face-to-face. He was pretty wiley, let me tell you. He has learned to be quite a manipulater in order to get motorists to give him food. He had us stopped in our car for a good five minutes while we first watched him in awe, and then realized he wouldn't move from in front of the car! Every time we started to move, he planted himself in front of one of the wheels, so we had to stop! He also repeatedly made eye contact (with his very adorable, soulful eyes) for maximum effect. We felt badly for him, though he sure didn't look hungry. We finally just kept honking the horn until he got out of our way, but in the rearview mirror we could see another vehicle approaching, and he could see it too. I guess that's why he gave up on us so relatively easily. The rangers at Scotty's Castle later told us that coyote has convinced lots of motorists to give him food, and now that poses a threat to his life! He is becoming too familiar with humans, and if he doesn't change his ways, they said he will have to be shot. I asked if he couldn't just be relocated, and they said such an approach is not usually successful, because the coyote either ends up in someone else's territory (where he will just pull the same old tricks) or he finds his way back "home". Before we left Scotty's Castle, I asked one of the rangers if she would let other visitors know that honking the horn is the best way to fend off the coyote. Maybe he will learn to stay away from cars, and he won't end up getting shot. Having looked straight into his eyes, I realize what a magnificent creature he is; I really hope he survives.

Sunday January 17, 1999:

I had some blood tests done on Friday in preparation for a few medical visits coming up this week. On Monday I see my hematologist at the bone marrow transplant unit, and on Thursday I have my "3 month" check-up with my oncologist at the cancer agency. I don't feel worried about these appointments. In spite of the chest pain (which I am pretty sure has more to do with my cough and cold than anything else), I don't feel worried that the cancer is back. =)

I am, however, pretty sure that I am getting anemic again. Last time my hemoglobin count was taken, a few weeks back, it was 113 (which is a little below the lower cutoff of 120 for "normal"). I am pretty sure it has dropped since then. I am getting a little pale, I feel a little itchy once in a while again, and my energy is a bit low. Hopefully it isn't so low that I have to start injecting "liquid gold" into my body again. (It isn't really gold, it just seems to cost that much!)

On the recommendation of both my family doctor and my physiotherapists, I went to a chiropractor on Friday. My family doctor had a good experience with this individual a few years back, and she figures it's worth a try to see if he can help my neck. My physiotherapsists feel that as long as the chiropractor avoids using certain aggressive techniques that could hurt someone like me, he may be able to help me. I saw the fellow, Glenn MacDonald, on Friday, and my first impression of him is good. He spent a long time getting to know my medical history, and he did a fairly in-depth physical exam of my skeletal frame and muscles. He only did one very minor adjustment on me during that first visit, and yet he called me at home later that night to make sure I wasn't suffering any adverse effects. Pretty sweet! I will be seeing him a couple of times next week, first for a full discussion of what he sees as the problem and the potential solution, and then for some specific treatment. He seems confident that he can help my neck get better. I think I am about ready for that!

Monday January 18, 1999:

Phew. Just got back from my appointment with the hematologist. My hemoglobin count has dropped from 113 last month to 112 this month. Not bad. I hope it stays stable. Even though this is less than "normal", it's not terrible.

The troublesome part is that my platelets and white blood cells are counting in a little low too. What this means is that my bone marrow graft is a bit weak. That is, it isn't producing blood products as enthusiastically as we would hope! Dr. Conneally couldn't say what the long term implications might be exactly ... Certain bone marrow complications are possible, but compared to the risk of the Hodgkin's relapsing, they aren't a huge risk.

So I guess we just keep hoping that my marrow gets to work soon! (I can't really complain. It has been doing quite a respectable job 'til now as far as I am concerned.)

Email sent out Saturday January 23, 1999:

Hi Everyone,

Friday's 3-month check-up with my oncologist went well. No signs of cancer, which is always a relief. My sore neck is still constraining, but I am exploring some new angles (of treatment, not of ways to hold my head, sheesh!) and hopefully I will continue to make progress as time goes on. I am still fighting the lingering effects of that cold that started last month, but so is most everyone else, right? Friends tell me it's a sign I'm in plain ol' good health. I like the sound of that!

Mark has been working really hard on research, perhaps because the two of us have forgotten to have fun?! Mostly we've been keeping a low social profile because at various times one or the other of us has been a little under the weather. I am sure we will be getting more energetic and sociable soon enough.

Our two cats have become friends, with Macska the 4-year-old taking on a maternal role, which is really cute to watch. Tessa, the 18-month-old, really is like a toddler (well, only a bit, I'm sure my friends with HUMAN toddlers will be quick to point out) as she loves playing ALL the time and keeps us awake many nights with her antics. At least she's potty-trained, huh?

I continue to appreciate hearing from all of you and knowing that you send supportive thoughts and hopes for good health my way. I am a very lucky woman to have friends and relatives like all of you...

Sunday January 24, 1999:

I got some upsetting news early this morning. A good friend, Jacquie Osbourne passed away at 6 a.m. She was 84 years old, and a decade-long survivor of lymphoma. (It came back, this time with a vengeance.) My first indirect contact with her was about a week after I was diagnosed with cancer, back in 1996. I was about to have a bone marrow biopsy, and one of the nurses informed a friend, Lis Smith (who was there to help me through the bone marrow biopsy, to hold my hand, to distract my mind, etc.) that I had "cold feet". I think what the nurse meant was that I didn't want the biopsy (I didn't!!) but what Lis heard was that she had better go get me some slippers! She zipped off to her office and came back with a pair of lovely slippers hand-knit by Jacquie. Lis told me that these were very special slippers, knit by a very special 82-year old woman living with cancer, who was slowly going blind. She said Jacquie had already knit over 500 pairs of these slippers, and that she didn't plan on stopping until she had knit a million! Those slippers warmed my feet that day, and they have warmed my heart ever since. I wrote a letter to Jacquie thanking her for her efforts; I felt so touched by her gift to me even though we had never met!

Well, I had the honour of meeting Jacquie a few months later at a relaxation group at the cancer agency, and we quickly became close friends. She had twice attended a Callanish retreat (like I did in the spring of 1997), we were both survivors of lymphoma, and we could chatter endlessly with each other. She was bright, supportive, interested, and caring. I can still recall the excitement in her voice and her enthusiasm the first time I saw her after my bone marrow transplant. I knew she had been pulling for me, but I didn't realize how personally invested she had felt until I sensed it in her voice. We spoke often on the phone, and we frequently spent time together at the relaxation group and at the Callanish follow-up sessions.

I am sure everyone who has been involved with Callanish would agree that she was like the Callanish "elder" to all. We looked to her for guidance, support, inspiration. She wasn't at our last Callanish follow-up meeting, as she had been hospitalized in December rather quickly and unexpectedly. She was fine in early December, then she came down with pneumonia and her lymphoma relapsed. It was horrible seeing her deflated in her hospital bed; I had never seen her spirits so low. Fortunately, she was quickly moved to the St. Paul's Palliative Care Unit where they specialize in making people feel very comfortable during their final days. Jacquie was in no pain when I saw her for the last time last night. Although she wasn't coherent, I held her hand and told her how loved she was by so many people.

Wednesday January 27, 1999:

Jacquie's obituary was in today's Vancouver Sun. Her memorial service will be held this coming Sunday at First Memorial on Kingsway, here in Vancouver. I am sure there will be a full house in attendance!

Thursday January 28, 1999:

Jacquie's daughter-in-law has asked me to speak at Jacquie's memorial (which will be an honour) on behalf of everyone who knew her through Callanish. I have lots of happy memories to share with the crowd, one of which was Jacquie's statement of her views on Callanish. She felt that the Callanish retreats, follow-up meetings, and close-knit community had such an impact on her life that she once joked that she wanted to adopt it as her "religion" -- not for worshipping purposes, but simply so she would have a response when hospital admission clerks asked for her religious denomination! She always felt silly saying "none" or "generic Christian" or "whatever", so good-natured Jacquie was certain she would get a puzzled look from the clerk by responding "Callanish". I wonder if she ever tried pulling that off.

With all the emotions surrounding Jacquie's death, I forgot to mention a very important day which passed on Monday: the seven year anniversary of my own father's death. My brother and I marked the occassion by driving out to the cemetary where his ashes lie. There is a gravestone marking the site, complete with a photo embossed on ceramic and the engraved words "Always Loved, Forever Missed".

It is strange to think what he would be like if he were still alive. He would be 60 now, and I am sure he would be as sweet as ever. Sometimes when I see older men on the street wearing clothes like his, they remind me of him and make me sad. I really wish my dad could still be here. I'd like to think that at least he has been saved the pain of watching his daughter experience a life-threatening illness, but something tells me he's aware, he's somehow watching and providing me with extra strength when I need it. I just have a hunch that is true. This might sound hokey, but just a few days after my dad died, I had a dream that he was trying to contact me on the intercom phone in the apartment where Mark and I lived at the time. He was calling and saying "Let's meet at this cafe so I can help you with some of the problems you're facing." Dad was always trying to help; he would give his last penny to make me or my brother a little happier. In this dream I tried telling my dad that he couldn't meet me, that even though he wanted to help, he was beyond this world now ... It was a strange dream, but I have often wondered if it was in some way a message from my dad that he was still watching over me and still wanted to provide me with help and guidance.

Sunday January 31, 1999:

Choir tonight was wonderful! It was amazing to see so many friends and family members out in the audience. I had a big, silly grin on my face for the whole concert, and I had so much fun. My fellow choir members and the choir director are truly special people, and I feel like I am part of a real community. This choir is exactly what I need in my life! I am so very grateful to everyone who has offered supportive words to me in this vocal quest of mine. I am especially grateful to all my friends and relatives who showed up to cheer us on, to support Callanish, and just to sing a few songs along with us. A few of the people I remember seeing in the crowd include Laura and Dave, Jennifer, my physiotherpist Carol and her daughter, Jim and Naoko, Patrice and Wayne, Jeanne, Jean, Linda, Carmen, Darline, Mae, Lynn, David, Lis, my mom, my brother, three of his friends (Steve, Kevin, and Tara), Yvonne and James, Ruth (who is a singing mentor to me!) and her mother, Graham, and I am sure I am even forgetting a few folks. What a turnout!

Immediately prior to the choir, I attended Jacquie's memorial, which made for a strange transition. What a wonderful tribute to her life. Jacquie used to be a high school French teacher, and several of her past students were in attendance. A colleague who remembers her first day teaching was there. Family, friends, and so many others were there to pay their respects. I had the honour of being asked by the family to speak about the importance of Callanish and the cancer agency's relaxation group in Jacquie's life. It was easy to share my abundant memories of Jacquie; she really touched a lot of people, including myself.

I am working backwards in time now, but for some reason that's just the way my thoughts are unfolding today. Prior to attending Jacquie's memorial, I spent the weekend at Whistler with four girlfriends I have been close to since grade 8. We had sooooo much fun, giggling, getting massages, shopping, eating pizza and chocolate, reliving memories ... We hope to make the Whistler trip and annual getaway!

If you feel squeemish or delicate, you may choose not to read the rest of today's entry ... On the drive home from Whistler, Shannon and I were on the sea-to-sky highway (known to be treacherous, especially in bad weather like today's), when we came upon an accident scene. A four-wheel drive was upside down in a ditch by the side of the road, and maybe a hundred feet away, a small car was lying in the ditch with its entire rear portion completely ripped off. We had no idea how the accident could have happened, but it was clear it was pretty fresh and pretty awful. People who had stopped to help were walking around with their hands on their faces, in horror. One accident victim was lying on the icy roadside having CPR administered. Shannon is trained as a respiritory therapist, so we knew she might be able to help. We pulled over, offered our jackets as blankets, and got our bearings. The two occupants of the four-wheel-drive vehicle were fine. They were staying warm in another car. The fellow on the ground had been pulled out of his car when he stopped breathing, about 5 or 10 minutes earlier, and things didn't look good for him. But two doctors who had stopped to help were doing all they could. A woman was trapped inside the small car, with a broken neck, and she was wedged between two seats. I thought there might be a baby in the car too because I heard crying, but those sounds were coming from her. The scene was horrible, and we felt helpless. Shannon went straight to work doing CPR and mouth-to-mouth on the man (along with the doctors), and I started collecting more blankets. When the police arrived, I just started praying. I begged God to save these people. But things looked bleak. The man wasn't responding to treatment, and his ears were turning blue. Finally an ambulance arrived, more work was done to try to stabilize the fellow, and Shannon ended up going along with him in the ambulance to do more respiratory work on the trip to the hospital. The fire crew used the jaws of life to get the woman out of the car, then she was sent to the hospital in an ambulance too.

In due course, I made my way down to the Squamish hospital, driving Shannon's car, and I picked her up. We gave another woman, a doctor who had also stopped roadside at the accident scene, a ride down to Vancouver. We just talked about the experience, and how the poor fellow never stood a chance. Although the emergency room team was still working on him when we left Squamish, there is virtually no chance that he was revived. By that time he hadn't been breathing for about an hour.

To go from that experience, to a memorial service, to a choir concert, was a little overwhelming for me. I can't get the picture of this man out of my mind. Seeing him dying on the roadside, watching his ears turn blue, thinking that his family had no idea what he was going through, knowing his wife would soon find out he is gone ... He was young, probably 35, not so different from Mark. I feel so blessed to be alive. I feel so sad that a man has died. I know it is a transition, a passing to something different, but his end to life was so violent, and I feel sorrow.

Monday February 1, 1999:

A charity I love, Callanish, has asked me to spend 8 weeks putting together a fundraising plan for the immediate future, which just makes me feel so excited! This is a pursuit I feel passionate about, and it is a way for me to feel like I am making a difference. I am off to a decent start, because the choir concert held on Sunday raised more than $500 for Callanish. I am so grateful to my choir-mates, the choir director, the audience, and everyone who helped out.

My first step in carrying out my mandate will be to fly up to the Kelowna Cancer Centre to spend some time with their development officer, Janice Perrino. Dr. Bill Nelems, who is on the Callanish Board of Directors, and who is a Vice President of the BC Cancer Agency in Kelowna (also known as the Cancer Centre for the Southern Interior) generously offered to fly me up so I can learn about the ways they have managed to do fundraising. I am looking forward to the challenges ahead!

Wednesday February 3, 1999:

Well, my life remains incredibly intense. Yesterday my friend Jeanne and I went to visit our mutual friend Debbe. Debbe is one of the first people I met at the cancer agency's relaxation group more than two years ago. She has been living with ovarian cancer for at least three years. Debbe is an amazing woman: fun-loving, playful, energetic, wise, friendly, excited ... Her joy has always been infectious among fellow cancer-survivors, and everyone for that matter. The woman Jeanne and I visited yesterday is a shell of the woman we know and love. Her mind is obscured by the pain-killers, her body is shrunken lack of food. I feel so angry at cancer.

Jeanne and I held her hands, stroked her legs, listened, chattered, and stayed only long enough so as not to wear her out. I really hope I get a chance to see her again. I wish there was something I could do.

Wednesday February 3, Later:

Things have been so hectic over the past few days that I have really needed to have some quiet time. This afternoon I took a moment with my cats that felt nice. They haven't quite bonded as friends yet, though they are putting up with each other pretty well. This afternoon I came home to find one of the cats, Macska, soaking up the heat under a desk lamp. I picked up Tessa and brought her close to Macska, which cued Macska to start cleaning Tessa! Pretty cute. At that point Tessa decided she wanted to be under the lamp too, but space is scarce right there. It's definitely a one-cat relaxing zone. But Tessa managed somehow to squeeze in behind Macska to get some of the heat. I thought about getting up to grab the camera, because the sight of the two of them snuggled up close together was so cute, but then I decided to take a snapshot in my memory instead. This gave me a chance to spend about half an hour with the cats, just being quiet, watching them sleep and preen. It was a meditative snippet of time for me.

Friday February 5, 1999:

Debbe died yesterday morning. I was driving home after an appointment, and I thought I might stop by to hold her hand. So I phoned, but I was too late. Her husband Peter answered the phone and said she had already passed away. I offered to go hold his hand, but he said he needed sleep and declined. Her memorial services will be held on Sunday at 1 p.m.

I am so grateful that she had the chance to be at home to die. She didn't want to be in a hospital, and her family and community health services made that wish come true.

Sunday February 7, 1999:

Debbe's services were held today, on a grey rainy afternoon. The saddest moment was watching her mom as the coffin was placed in the grave and the dirt was shovelled in. I don't think anyone expects to outlive her children. I loved that the chapel was full of loving friends and family, and I loved that much of the service was in Hebrew. The rabbi had been informed of Debbe's liveliness, and he joked about how Peter had sent him a 22 page fax of commentaries and emails in tribute to Debbe.

Lots of people have been asking me how I can cope with so many losses, and folks comment that the deaths are the "down side" of having so many friends with cancer. I really don't view it this way. I am so priviledged to have had the experience of friendships with Russell, Gayle, Jacquie, Debbe, and so many others. Losing them pales in comparison to the joys of having spent time with them, having learned from their wisdom, revisiting my memories of their spirits. I have no doubt that death is as important a passing as birth. How odd that we celebrate the arrival of a new baby, but we shun the passing of a soul. Death is cast in shadows and discomfort. It is common for people to find themselves speechless when a friend suffers the loss of a loved one; yet we face no shortage of words when other life-changing events come along. I suppose a lot of people are frightened of death because it encompasses so much that is unknown, and it highlights the fact that we all face a limited span of time with the ones we love.

I am not immune to those fears; I long to live to a ripe old age with the man I love. (Yes, I am talking about Mark!) Yet I know the statistics I face as far as relapse goes, and I know my body isn't as sturdy as ones that have been spared the ravaging effects of high-dose chemotherapy. Yet I rejoice in the moment. I celebrate the opportunities before me. I feel grateful for life as it is today, even with its imperfections.

Thursday February 11, 1999:

I left Tuesday night for a 24 hour whirlwind stay in Kelowna BC. I spent the night at my favorite bed and breakfast, with my hosts Royce and Jeff, step-mom and dad to my friend Grant who is in Paris right now. Royce picked me up at the airport then cooked me a yummy dinner. After a great night's sleep, I had a huge breakfast catching up with Jeff. He was about to drive me to the Cancer Centre for the Southern Interior (only about a block away) when Dr. Bill Nelems picked me up!

Bill brought me into the administrative offices for my day with Janice Perrino, the resource development officer for the cancer centre. I was thrilled to spend time with her. She is dedicated, excited, professional, and very generous. She shared all kinds of tips and ideas that will help me get Callanish's fundraising plan off to a great start. The day wouldn't have been possible without Bill's generosity. The departure time for my flight home that evening seemed to rush upon me; the day just flew by. I had so much fun and I learned a ton.

I feel very lucky to be able to spend the next several weeks doing something I am loving. Working toward solidifying the foundations of Callanish is giving me so much pleasure!

Friday February 12, 1999:

I have just finished reading another book about the tragic events on Mount Everest in May 1996, The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev and G. Weston DeWalt. (I previously read Into Thin Air by John Krakauer.) As to why I might be so drawn to stories about ascending Mount Everest, I can only speculate. People often compare my cancer experience with climbing Everest; in fact when I first read Krakauer's book I commented that many of us metaphorically climb an Everest during our lives. Somehow, deep down, when I think about the Everest analogy, it seems at odds with my cancer experience.

When I have gone to battle against cancer in my body, I have done so out of necessity, because I had no other choice in saving my life. When one chooses to undertake a life-threatening climb of Everest, s/he does so fully aware of the inherent risks and the casualties which have already taken place near the summit. While I do not mean to be unfairly critical of those for whom mountaineering is a passion, I simply do not understand the motives behind one intentionally putting his or her life on the line. As someone who has fought tooth and claw to stay alive, it just doesn't make sense to me. As a youth, I certainly had certain misconceptions about my invincibility (or lack thereof), and I took needless risks accordingly. As an adult, however, my value for precious life supercedes most everything else. I go to great lengths to avoid life-threatening situations.

Upon completing this book, I considered (ever-so-briefly) the possibility of undertaking a climb of Everest myself, to become the first-ever bone marrow transplant survivor to make it to the top. Financial constraints aside (the 1996 expeditions cost clients in the vicinity of $65,000 US a person), and physical constraints aside (my lungs, heart, and bone marrow would never be able to make it above a few thousand metres elevation), I lack the mental ambition to make such an attempt. The metaphorical mountains I have climbed have been at least as difficult to traverse as Everest. In my heart, I know part of me will sit atop a summit, gazing into the distance, forevermore.

Sunday February 14, 1999:

It has been a nice weekend. Yesterday Mark and I slept in, then made our way to Granville Island Public Market for a late breakfast (with our newspapers in tow). We sat around for a while, watching kids chase pigeons and wondering if the sunshine would stick around, before making our way back home. We made veggie burritos for lunch, and still had time to catch a heavy but excellent afternoon matinee. (Brazil's "Central Station", an award-winner.) Later in the evening, we pondered over options for dinner, and Mark ended up having his way with an all-you-can-eat sushi night. I could lie and say that was total torture for me, but in all truth the food was good and we had lots of fun.

Today, Valentine's Day, was just as wonderful! We woke up early to head out to Fort Langley, a historic town in the Fraser Valley (about a 45 minute drive from downtown Vancouver) where an antique auction was being held. We got our bid card and the auction catalogue then went to a local restaurant for Valentine's breakfast. The place was so cute, they even had heart-shaped scones! Then we went back to the auction to take a look at the goods before the bidding started. Although there were a few interesting items, nothing really fit with what we need, so we headed off for a drive.

We took the Albion ferry (free!) across the Fraser River from Fort Langley to Maple Ridge, then drove around the country roads behind Mission. We had done this once before, and we weren't sure if we would be able to find our way today back to a valley we think of as paradise, but we managed!! This valley is idyllic, and neither of us knew it existed until recently. It is filled with adorable country homes, barns, farm animals, and winding roads. We loved exploring the area, and even stumbled upon a provincial park with a beautiful lake. After our mini-road-trip, we stopped for some lunch, then took care of a few errands and headed home. Tonight we're going to have some Valentine's Day pasta for dinner. I bought the cutest sourdough bread at Granville Island yesterday: one piece is shaped like an X and the other is an O. Later on, we'll snuggle up in front of the television to watch a movie. What a terrific weekend.

Thursday February 18, 1999:

Lots of intense stuff is going on lately. Dealing with so much death has left me feeling raw and emotional. Driving home along the Cambie Bridge yesterday, I saw what looked like a frightened bird huddled up along the divider between directions of traffic. I was going quickly, so it was hard to tell. I almost convinced myself it couldn't have been a bird, but a voice inside kept telling me I had to make sure. So I wound my way back across the bridge, then waited for a long enough break in the traffic so I could re-trace my original route to stop and take a good look to see if there really was a bird. Sure enough there was. The poor fellow seemed stunned, huddled up in a little ball. He was a pigeon, and as I got out of my car, he got even more frightened, so he secured himself under my car.

Boy did I feel stuck. There was no way I could get him out without putting him in greater danger (there was another lane of traffic whizzing past me, and traffic was backing up behind me). I called the police, and they were remarkably unhelpful. "Lady, you're blocking traffic, you'd better move." "But if I move, either I'll run the bird over, or the guy behind me will." "Sorry, we don't have anyone to call for that kind of thing." The humanity ... So I called the SPCA. "Well, we can send someone out to take a look for the bird, but meanwhile you'd better leave because you're blocking traffic." I told them I didn't mind blocking traffic until someone came, but they couldn't tell me how long that would take. So I called Mark. He suggested I slowly back up (my car was facing upward on a bit of an incline and the bird was between my front tires) which I did, exposing the little bird. I approached him with a jacket to use for scooping him up, and he spread his wings and started staggering toward the lane of traffic beside me. Cars whizzed by, I got scared, finally someone stopped and gave me a chance to scoop the little guy up. I waved a timid thanks to the driver who stopped (she looked about as emotional as I felt!) and brought the little pigeon into the car.

He just sat still as I tried to make comforting birdie noises (for all I know I was actually saying really strange things to him!) and we drove together to a bird hospital, "Night Owl". They take hurt wildlife at this hospital, I was so grateful. They told me it looked like he had a virus, and that he likely wouldn't make it through the night. But they thanked me for bringing him in and said it would be better for him to die somewhere warm and quiet than in the middle of a bridge. I left some money for his care and said a little prayer. As I got back in my car, I christened him "Buddy".

This morning I called the hospital, and Buddy made it through the night. He is still not moving around much, but he has food, water, and a comfortable place to stay. The vet said they will give him a few more days to get on his feet. I hope he pulls through. You might be thinking "He's just a bird," but to me he's a soul. He's a little guy who tries to make his home in the concrete jungle, and somehow he got stuck in the midst of traffic. I don't know if he is sick or injured, but he deserves a life. I wish I could do more.

Tonight Mark and I had dinner with Mo, the partner of dear, sweet Gayle who died last year. It was so fun spending time with Mo over a dinner of Ethiopian food, listening to memories, sharing stories, laughing together. Mo is very special to us, and we feel lucky to have her as a friend.

I had some bloodwork done today, and I was positive my hemoglobin numbers would be higher. I have been feeling energetic, and I think my neck has been (slowly!) improving. To my surprise, in the last month my hemoglobin count has dropped from 112 to 103. That's not great. Ah well.

Friday February 19, 1999:

I called again today to check up on my little feathered friend, Buddy. It seems he perked up a bit overnight. He is moving around a lot more now, but he is still not eating on his own. The vet is going to give him a few more days to perk up. I'm very encouraged to hear this!

Tuesday February 23, 1999:

Another update on Buddy: He is doing progressively better with each passing day!!! I am so glad I didn't just keep driving by, putting him out of mind. The folks at the bird clinic say that they will start considering release options for Buddy once he is in a solid state of health (ie, not yet). Our cats Macska and Tessa are hoping we get to bring him back here to our home for a while first. Tee hee!

Wednesday February 24, 1999:

Oh gosh, I was only joking when I wrote that last bit yesterday, but it looks like Macska and Tessa's wish is going to come true! I got a call from the bird clinic today, and they asked me if I would be willing to be involved in Buddy's "rehabilitation"! That means bringing my pigeon friend home for a week or two (in a small, transparent box), feeding him and keeping an eye on him, then bringing him back for a final check-up at the clinic before setting him free into the wild again, myself. Wow, what an honour! I can imagine it will be strange to let him go after nurturing him for a week or two. But what a priviledge it will be to take part in his recovery and release. Further updates to come!

Thursday February 25, 1999:

Well, I never thought I'd be saying these words, but I got the pigeon safely home! It turns out Buddy is probably a girl. Right now she is resting inside a locked cat carrier which, ironically, is being used to keep the cats out. For now she is being kept in a completely separate room from the cats, because she might be carrying diseases harmful to them.

So far Buddy doesn't seem to be sure what to make of her new surroundings. I bought her a couple of varieties of wild bird seeds, and I secured a dish full of water inside her temporary home. She is just standing still, blinking her round copper-coloured eyes. They are like windows into her soul. She's a cutie. I hope she knows she is safe here. I think she might -- it looks like her eyelids are getting heavy ...

Email sent out Friday February 26, 1999:

Hi Everyone,

Just thought I'd let you know today (Feb 26) is my "re-birth" day! It was exactly a year ago that I was in my little isolation room at VGH getting those stem cells and bone marrow cells infused back into my body. Wow, this year has flown by. Who would have known how many post-transplant complications I would face? I am grateful for every one of those complications because they remind me that I am definitely still here!!! I was so scared getting that transplant, knowing 5 to 10% of the patients don't even survive the treatment. That first night after the transplant was rough ... I still remember that my pulse was only 30 beats per minute for a solid 12 hours (a reaction to the preservative that had been put into the frozen marrow). I had my own personal nurse in my room continuously that night to keep an eye on me. When my pulse finally rose to 80 at 2am on Feb 27, I called both Mark and my mom, and I felt incredibly uplifted! Here I am a year later, feeling reflective and thankful for the gift of life.

Things have been going fairly smoothly around here lately. My neck is still a "pain in the neck", but it's not nearly as bad as it was. My hemoglobin is still taunting me by going lower month by month, but we're keeping an eye on it. I've been battling a minor infection and a seemingly endless cold, but such are the signs of normal life, right?

I had a pigeon step into my life last week. I named him Buddy, but then it turned out he's a she!! I found her huddled in the middle of traffic on a bridge and spent about half an hour trying to convince her it would be a good idea to come with me in the car. I took her to an emergency bird hospital where she was slowly nursed back to health. (At first they didn't think she would even last a night.) She was going to spend a week or two living with us (in a cage) before being set free again, but it's been decided that could pose too much of a risk to my weak-ish immune system. So she will continue to stay at the hospital 'til it's time for her to re-join her pigeon buddies in the wild. I feel quite honoured to have participated in her rescue and recovery. You may wonder what the big deal is about a pigeon, but she feels important to me. Looking into her frightened little copper eyes is like looking out into the universe ... It's always birds with me, huh? First the crows, now the pigeons!!

Thanks for being there to read my bizarre stories and to provide moral support. I hope you find yourself feeling warm, happy, and safe. I know I do.

Friday February 26 (Later):

Mark and I had a nice day today. We awoke to sunshine, which has been quite unusual in Vancouver this winter. We had breakfast down on Granville Island, went to my chiropractor appointment, drove to Spanish Banks to watch the view, stopped by UBC to pick up a paper Mark needed from his co-author (and this gave us a great chance for me to catch up with some old friends/advisors I haven't seen for ages!). Then we decided to go catch a matinee because the clouds had set in, so we saw "Blast from the Past", a very fun light-hearted comedy. We bumped into my brother and his friend Barry there, and all four of us headed out for a coffee then to Barry's for a visit. Tonight Mark and I grabbed some Japanese food for dinner (at Gyoza King) then snuggled up at home to watch some tv. A very relaxing "re-birth" day!

Thursday March 4, 1999:

I had some bloodwork done today, and I almost fell off my chair when I read the results:

Hemoglobin: 116 (normal is 120 - 160)
Platelets: 204 (normal is 125 - 350)
White blood cells: 3.2 (normal is 2.0 - 8.0)

This is the highest my hemoglobin has been on its own in AGES. It actually went UP from two weeks ago all by itself!!! My bone marrow is working! And my platelet count hasn't been this high since before the transplant, in fact it probably hasn't been this high since before I started chemo in 1996. Wow!

I have been so discouraged by the fact that my bone marrow graft has been acting weak. It is so uplifting to see numbers like these for a change!

Sunday March 21, 1999:

I think this has been the longest break between entries in this web-journal of mine. I suppose it is just a sign that my life is getting back on track, and that I'm feeling better all the time. What a blessing!

I don't think I will be entering updates nearly as often any more. I may stop by to deposit the occasional bit of exciting news, but my original plan in devising this site was to chronicle my journey through the transplant, and I would like to think the bulk of that experience is behind me.

Today I still live with the after-effects of my treatment. I hope those complications will fade over time, but in any event I am just so grateful for life. I will always be a veteran of cancer, and there will always be the fear of relapse in my heart. But I will do my best to continue helping others face the dragon, cancer. Hopefully I can live the rest of my life enjoying all the rich moments of pleasure, surviving the times of sadness and pain, and making the world a better place.

Sunday November 7, 1999:

Wow, has it been half a year since I last made an entry? No wonder so many folks are emailing me asking what the heck I've been up to. I'm feeling terrific! For the first time in ages I am able to do most anything I desire. I have been doing a little bit of work for a couple of charities, most recently the Vancouver Humane Society. And I love it! I've been helping with fundraising, doing some program work, serving on the board, and just generally helping animals.

Mark has said he's glad to have me "back". I do feel like I'm "back". We go for walks, we eat popcorn, we cook big veggie breakfasts on Sundays, we have friends over for visits, we work, we fight, we make-up, and so on ... Life is very, very good.

I will continue to have regular check-ups, and I am told the longer I go without relapse, the better my long term prognosis gets. I wonder if you can imagine how lucky that makes me feel.

I don't know when, if ever, I'll be updating this site again. You can presume that I'm off doing interesting things and enjoying life's ups and downs. And you can email me any time to say hello! (I love it when people email me to say hello!)

Thanks for reading all the way to the end ... I'm sure you're as glad as I am to see a happy ending. :)

July 2006 Update:

All is well 8+ years post-transplant!

Go to Lisa's Good Health Web Site

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