THE BLOG

How I Stay Hopeful in My Fight Against Inoperable Cancer

09/18/2014 04:30 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:59 EDT
Paul Bradbury via Getty Images

It started with fleeting cramps, perhaps a bit of stomach flu. Or so I thought.

The pain eventually morphed into something that felt like gasoline eating the inside of my gut. And then came the diarrhea.

But there was otherwise nothing to suggest anything was wrong, until the day I found myself in too much pain to make supper for my family. I had sharp pains in my abdomen, enough to warrant an ultrasound on the morning of June 19.

I actually hoped the technician would find something: gallstones, an abscess -- anything to explain the pain.

Instead, the technician found something "unexplainable" on my liver, and urged me to hurry back to the Sheldon Chumir Urgent Care Centre.

"Go now," she whispered. "Don't wait to eat breakfast."

That's when my life started slipping away piece by piece.

The ultrasound initially found a five centimetre mass on my liver. But even more sinister news awaited after a CT scan. The mass was actually "innumerable" tumours dotting my liver. Too many to count. "Like the chips in a chocolate chip cookie," I was told.

The doctor didn't have to tell me the rest of the bad news. Liver cancer is relatively rare in the developed world. When tumours appear, it is usually because they have spread from somewhere else. The doctors needed to find the primary source of the cancer.

Somehow, I woke up Friday June 20 and brushed my teeth, although I have little memory of it. After a second CT scan at the Richmond Road Diagnostic Centre, my husband and I somehow summoned the strength to attend my daughter's "Goodbye Grade One" party, where I poured juice and ate cupcakes while waiting for the dreaded results of that morning's scan.

With no one to watch my children on such short notice, I went back to the Sheldon Chumir alone.

The diagnosis was devastating: It turns out I have inoperable stage 4 colon cancer. It has metastasized to my liver and to complete the cancer trifecta, my lungs.

Colorectal cancer, when caught early, is one of the more treatable cancers. Unfortunately, that scenario does not apply to me.

My life is now divided: Before and After.

It was June 20, a beautiful day so different from the year before when my family was evacuated from our Inglewood home due to the floods. Funny how that day seemed so horrendous at the time, like my world would collapse if my basement got a little sewer water in it or I had to toss a handful of soggy books.

Later that night, my husband Heath and I huddled in one of those dreadful, curtained-off Triage rooms in the Foothills Hospital Emergency Room. In what would become the most agonizing, soul-crushing moments of our lives, two surgeons told me my cancer is simply too advanced to make me a candidate for surgery.

There is always "experimental treatment," they said.

I asked what the life expectancy is for Stage IV colon cancer with mets, although I already looked it up like any journalist would have.

Six months to a year.

Devastation does not begin to describe what the heart feels in moments such as this.

To know that I will never meet my daughter's first boyfriend or see my son graduate from high school is more than I can bear.

My husband and I will never look on the face of our grandchildren together, nor will we climb Mount Kilimanjaro (our lifelong dream) or traverse the Khyber Pass.

Who will introduce my sweet Bronwyn to the magical and mysterious wiles of Nancy Drew? Who will wipe away my son's tears and kiss away the fear of dragons that linger at night?

Since my diagnosis, I have spent much of my time in hospital. My bowel continues to obstruct, which has meant feeding tubes and little more than broth and other liquid meals to sustain me during chemotherapy. I remain on many forms of IV medication, which requires me to sleep away from my family in the evening.

My daughter misses me terribly; I pine for the comfort of Heath's arms and the simple joys of eating food and savouring a glass of wine with the sunshine on my face.

But there is much to be hopeful for. My first round of chemotherapy was by all accounts a success. The mouth sores are painful, the nausea almost too much to bear. I have also developed a blood infection and abdominal pain is a constant threat and concern. But my oncologist is pleased and each day I feel stronger yet.

By all accounts, I feel that there is much left for me on the planet. I am choosing to live as though I have a future. I know I cannot be fixed, but I choose to surround myself with sunshine, love and friendship.

The world of cancer is omnipresent. There is chemotherapy, PICC lines, steroids, diagnostic scans, blood thinners and the stigma of a grim disease and a journey I do not wish to travel.

But I am also cradled in the love of a truly astonishing group of friends, colleagues, a wonderful husband and family.

It is what I hang on to.

A cancer prognosis is truly only that: there are no guarantees. Cancer isn't fair... but for now, I'm counting on the joy and the advice of my little three-year-old son, who worries that Mommy will fall down while in the hospital.

"Mama, mama... be careful with the spinny door," his little voice squeaks when he says goodbye to Mama at the Tom Baker doors each evening.

Don't worry, Finn. Mama isn't going anywhere. Not while there are monsters to slay.

Click here to contribute to a trust fund set up for Tamara and Heath.

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