Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Why are we afraid of the dark?


 When I was a child, I wasn’t afraid of the dark.  In fact, now and then I’d hide in a closet and find a nook that was dark and quiet, trying to find a little bit of peace and quiet for myself.  This is not to say that I didn’t believe that things lurked out in the darkness, that the world around us wasn’t populated by a thousand invisible enemies who were waiting for us. I did. I simply wasn’t afraid of them.

My earliest dreams could be called nightmares, except that they weren’t frightening per se. There was the one where the skeletons danced and played instruments around my bed and made it levitate only to fly out onto the street ( after going right through the wall); there was the one where my sister and I were in the middle of a volcano with our grandma, trying to find our way back up the top; there was the one where I was running for miles down a spiral staircase with someone, while something chased us (we were separated after he flung me out the window to escape).

Still, in each and every single one of this dreams the emotion that dominated me wasn’t fear, but rather an all consuming need to take what control I had of the situation and escape.  The survival instinct was all that I could focus on, so there was no time for the fear.

Friends and family remarked a few times how taken aback they were by the way I handled my cancer battle. And yet, I don’t know that I found my reaction out of the ordinary. It was, it is, a battle. I have been training for battle since I have memory of self- awareness; most of these dreams took place before I was six, although some ( the tower one in particular) continued well into my teens.

My grandma Anita use to sing us stories. I say stories because they weren’t simply songs, but rather a continuation of the story that connected us to her, to the generations past.  Most were tragic, many strangely haunting. One was about El Coco ( El Cucuy) which I didn’t come across until recently (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coco_%28folklore%29):

Duérmete mi niño, duérmete ya...
Si no viene el Coco y te comerá.
Y si no te come, Te llevara…
Y si no te lleva, quien sabe que hara…

(“Go to sleep, child/ go to sleep now/ for if you don’t the Coco will come and eat you/ and if it doesn’t eat you, it will take you away/ and if it doesn’t take you, who knows what it’ll do…”)

Until yesterday I was fully convinced that she had made it up.

I wouldn’t put it past her; with her dark humour and wit, it was just the thing she’d do. However, it appears that the song is far older than her… ancestral even. It’s a warning about one of the many things that live out in the dark, the many things that can attack us if we stray from the path. I’m reminded of Little Red Riding Hood and the warnings to not stray from that path… what lay in the wilderness around it? What could we do if we did stray and things spun out of our control, in that savage land outside the prescribed, safe routes?

Like I said - I wasn’t afraid of the dark, and I wasn't afraid of straying from the prescribed road to make my own path. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in monsters - oh, I did!- but I believed in my own capacity to outwit them and survive. I believed that no matter what these spawns of a chaotic universe attacked me with  I would find a way to still make it out alive.  So my life, much like my cancer battle, hasn’t been guided by fear but by faith… largely in me and my ability to find  a way out when things spin out of control.

When my son was born, fear snuck in.  Not about me, but at my ability to protect him.  I had honed my skills over the years to know that  I woulsd find a way to always be okay… but it wasn’t about me anymore.  So I told him there were no monsters, and put night lights in his room. I told him that the  shadows were the hangers in the closet, the baubles in his room. I told him there was nothing beyond this world he saw, so there was nothing to fear.  I told myself that if he couldn’t picture the monsters in the darkness then perhaps they couldn’t see HIM.

Then the cancer came. Then came the day my  son asked me about G-d. How did I know, how could I know? If there is nothing in the darkness, how could there be something in the light? I realized that in hiding the monsters I had hidden the fae, the spirits, our G-d. Because at the end its all about faith, that faith that walks you through the valleys of fear, that lifts you into safely and healing.

So now I don’t tell him there’s no shadows in the wall. I don’t tell him that there are no bugbears in the world, that he walks cloaked in the safety and bliss of ignorance of what may lay beyond. I don’t tell him there’s no Coco, but teach him how to build up  his strength and hone his battle skills… so if the bastard ever comes for him he knows just how to take him down.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

She Was Named After a Star

We met in the support group, brief moments only.  It was odd and soothing, how strangers shared an hour and found so much in common, while our children played.

Tanabata, I remember thinking. The herder and the weaver stars... the lovers separated that only get to meet once a year, on July 7th. Her brain tumour had come back, and she knew. She knew, and we all shared silences while elsewhere in the building our children played.

How do you come to Winter, and not think of them? When every leaf whirls in the wind, catches the light.. .and you remember? And snow falls, strange ocurrence in Vancouver, and the silence only leaves you time to think and to imagine? To say a prayer and a silent thought, a moment's touch of remembrance.

I remember. I remember the names of each and every friend I've met that shares the journey. This year has been hard, and I imagine others will be too. There have been many that have fallen, because... well, many do. Many do, and that is why we fight, and claw, and scream, and keep pushing for research and for surgery, and for options because we have as much right as anyone to live, to fight for the possibility of life.

She was named after a star, and never forgot how to live. The best, the only thing that we can leave those we love is that footprint of love, that warmth that wraps around like a shawl against the winter chill.

We remember you. We remember.

The Mother of All Surgeries comes to Vancouver

MOAS Comes to Vancouver

I had the chance to meet with Dr. Yarrow McConnell, an amazing doctor that trained under the one and only Dr. Temple.

Its no secret that I love Dr. Temple. Adore, in fact, and that is shared by my whole family.  His skill and his kindness helped me make it through the surgery and its aftermath. Still, having to go to Alberta for my surgery was  a huge upheaval for me and my entire family, and it was pure luck that my sister had moved to Calgary about a month before my diagnosis so  we could all stay there.

Fact is, 2012 could've easily ruined us financially if we hadn't had that sort of support. Besides the stresses on family, on work and school(*for my son ), there is also the financial considerations. We are blessed with the possibility of going to Alberta and have that surgery and stay in the hospital covered... but my goodness, how much easier would it be if it were available here!

When Dr. McFadden first asked us, back on diagnosis day, how we felt about Calgary I thought my sister had been calling and pestering him. Seriously, that was what came to mind. He quickly explained that no - the surgery was only offered in a few places in Canada, and the best ( and the one that BC had an agreement with ) was offered at the Tom Baker Center under Dr. Mack and Dr. Temple.

Wow. Suddenly  I had to go to another province, to have a fighting chance. And mind you, I would've gone anywhere where I had a chance to beat the cancer... but I had a young son,  modest incomes... even the thought of Calgary seemed incredibly faraway. Thankfully my family pooled together, and we made it happen. It was an incredible feat of love, dedication and luck. But it WAS hard. How much easier might recovery had been if I could've been home... with my things, my food, my bed? (Not that I don't love my parents and sisters, but there's something about being in your OWN bed!)

This is a chance for people to have that. For people that hear 'Calgary' and know they have no way of making that possible, no chance of getting there or looking after themselves later.

I really like Dr. McConnell. She was kind, enthusiastic and determined to keep a program going here. She trained under Dr. T in Calgary for three years, I believe, and the fact that it will be available here makes it so much easier for anyone needing it.

I am hoping to be able to help with awareness locally too, and give back a little to those in the middle of the journey. Here is to 2014!