Tag Archives: Childhood Cancer

It’s Not Who Stands by you in the Worst of Times

There is a very common saying in the world that goes something like “You know who your real friends are by who stands by you in the worst of times”.

While I understand where that sentiment is coming from, I have to say that I have never found it has been true for me. Atleast maybe not in the way I perceive it.

Like all of us, my family and I have seen some pretty crappy times over the course of our lives. And we have also seen some pretty euphoric times as well. Both of these ends of the spectrum are just that really.

Ends of a spectrum.

And here’s the thing. For me, the breadth and depth of that spectrum ~ the length of it ~ that middle ~ well that’s in truth where most of my life is lived.

It’s there where the every-day lies.

It’s there where the mundane and boring and middle ground is found.

It’s there in the middle where we go to school and work and participate in clubs and sports and projects and meetings and conferences.

Its there in the middle where we get up every Monday and put the week on repeat until Friday.

It’s there where we make the majority of our decisions, and there where we choose what action we will or will not take in life on a daily basis.

It’s there where my family honestly lives a good 75% of our lives.

This middle is by no means horrible or sad or negative.

But neither is it necessarily exciting, unique and joyous.

It is just … well … everyday life.

It’s the sitting on the porch drinking coffee, reading a book, playing video games, texting, walking around campus, talking with friends, biking, hiking, hanging in the school cafeteria, endless work meetings, sharing small parts of every day life.

It’s the middle.

It’s the somewhat mundane.

And I believe it’s here where we find out who our friends are.

Not in the worst of times.

My experience during the worst of times has been that I sometimes am literally surrounded by people ~ both friends and strangers ~ and people maybe wanting to be my friend.

When tragedy strikes or bad news arrives, it’s been my experience that people want to come together and help.

It’s a wonderful and overwhelming feeling.

It is most often genuine and selfless and a true testament to the greatness life has to offer.

And I have been so thankful for it.

But if I’m being honest, and I know this isn’t the part I’m supposed to say out loud, it also can provide people with a sense of being on the inside of something greater. There is a strong and wonderful pull in human nature to be a part of something. This, as with all things, can be beautiful or it can be challenging.

When bad news arrives, we can sometimes find our lives surrounded by so many people who want to help.

I’m thankful for each of them.

But in that sea of people, during the worst of times, I am very aware, and I try to make my children aware, that there in that moment is honestly not where you “find out who your friends are”.

Maybe it’s where you find out what beautiful large hearts people have. But if you are speaking of the true definition of friendship ~ where there is a different level of being valued by someone ~ maybe it’s not there you find your actual friends.

Instead you find your actual friends in the middle. In the mundane. You find them not in the highs of the best or the lows of the worst.

Your friends are the people who are consistent and present in your life. They are the people who have put in the time ~ and especially the balance ~ during that entire middle part of the spectrum.

You find them in the people who still want to be with you during that “middle” period of life.

For when tragedy strikes, I don’t turn to the person who suddenly shows up.

I turn to the people who have always been there. Slugging it out with me in life. Making me a priority even when it’s just a boring old Wednesday.

It’s these people I have built a true relationship with. It’s these people who I have built up trust and history and confidence with. It’s these people who have reached out to me, and I to them, during plain old regular days.

They have been by my side even if I’m not trendy.

They have reached out to me for no reason at all except to say “Hey. How are you on this every-day-nothing-special-day? I’m thinking of you. Just because. Wanna get together?”

It’s this balance and effort during those times ~ the middle times ~ the boring times ~ that does, has, and I know will continue to, sustain me during the worst ones.

I try hard to remember, and I try so very very hard to teach my kids, that no, maybe you don’t find out who your friends are during the worst of times.

Maybe in fact and instead, you actually find out who your real friends are during the boring, every-day mundane times.

Look around you then.

Look around you during “the middle”.

Those are your people.

I know for sure they’re mine.

And Then It Happens

We were sitting in the waiting room of the IWK Heart Centre when it happened.

I was looking around the room with a head full of thoughts. The play toys all seemed so small now. The chairs next to them so tiny. I remember how Mark and I would sit together in them and play countless games while we waited over the years.

We are sitting together today too. But there’s nothing little about him anymore. I steal a glance at him to my right ~ he sits taller than me ~ engrossed in his Michael Crichton book.

And then it happens.

A faint noise outside in the hall.

A honk?

I see Mark lift his head.

Wait. No. Not a honk.

A squeak. A rubber chicken squeak.

And then I can see it in Marks eyes ~ a sense memory that lives somewhere between his brain and his heart. From long ago.

That sound is more than familiar to us.

Mark discreetly but purposefully looks over his shoulder through the glass wall out into the hallway.

He slowly looks back to me and smiles.

“Buddington?”

“Buddington.”

We sit there for maybe one whole minute and we don’t say a word. I know without a doubt we are both thinking the same thing.

“What do we do in this situation?”

Mark is probably thinking “I desperately want to go see this person who was the most consistent part of my time here at this hospital. But I’m 15, and I don’t want to make a big deal and I’m not really a patient like I used to be.”

Meanwhile I am thinking “I can hear him playing with a young child.He is in the middle of something very important. And these kiddos deserve every moment with him. We had our time. Now it’s their turn. Plus we have an Echo to get done.”

This is what we are individually thinking in that 60 seconds.

That’s the key word. Thinking. This is what our brains are telling us.

But our hearts, well, they are much more straight forward. Our hearts simply want us to run out the door into the hallway and catch him before he is gone and yell (with no grace or humility) “We are here! Come see us! Play with us! Talk with us!”

But we don’t.

Ofcourse we don’t.

Instead I smile weakly at Mark and say “We should respect his time. We can try and drop in another time when he has a moment for us”.

Mark agrees and nods, and goes back to his book.

But I swear his ears are at 180% listening power trying to hear that familiar voice and laughter.

I know mine are.

And wait a second. Is that sound getting closer? It is. We both look at each other again and then before we have a chance to voice anything the door to the Heart Centre opens, and in comes a small boy, his mother, and a clown.

The Heart Centre waiting room is quite small with chairs lined along the walls facing inward to the centre. I am sitting immediately to the right of the door and Mark is next to me. I almost have to shift in my seat so the three of them don’t bump into me when it opens.

The Mom heads to the reception area and Buddington and the little boy sit smack dab in the middle of the floor – facing in our direction.

Mark and I can’t stop smiling.

Ear to ear smiling. We must look like idiots.

But we don’t say a word.

This clown who we have come to care so much for is working. It may not initially look like that to an outsider, but he is. His attention is focused on his work – on who is in front of him. He is fully engaged on the floor with the young boy. And its not our place to interrupt that, as much as we want to.

A minute goes by and we sit and watch.

I feel as if I’m in a dream watching this man, this clown, play with this boy – who I know isn’t my child – but it so mirrors the time we spent here. It mirrors my memories from long ago. It’s the most surreal feeling.

So I’m sitting here filled with nostalgia and gratitude trying not to cry, while Mark, well Mark quite clearly wants only one thing – to leap out of his chair and talk endlessly to him about his life now as a teenager.

And so we sit.

Silent. Thinking. Wondering if he would even recognize Mark now that he is a young man.

Smiling our stupid grins.

And then it happens.

The radiologist comes out to the waiting room and loudly and distinctly says two words.

“Mark Wilkie”

And at that moment, not taking our eyes off Buddington, we see his head raise up from the floor and meet our gaze.

The recognition in what he has heard is instantaneous and the look in his eyes match exactly the look in my son’s face: a mutual, genuine and deep affection that time hasn’t changed.

Mark unfolds his 5 foot 8 frame from the chair, walks over to him, and what happens in the next thirty seconds before we go into our appointment can’t be put onto paper or into words.

It will remain one of my most vivid and personal memories ~ that short interaction between them in that Heart Centre waiting room as they, together, process the years that have passed and the years they have shared.

You see, Buddington started working at the IWK only three months before Marks diagnosis. That was 12 and a half years ago.

We don’t remember the IWK without him.

And maybe ~ just maybe ~ in a way, he almost doesn’t remember it without us either.

Bicycles

Today, my 15 year old son grabbed two of his friends, hopped on his bicycle and they all rode 20 km into Wolfville together. They went to their old middle school and visited all their old teachers (one of whom he was sad to have missed). Later they met up with two other friends and played basketball, ate at his favourite pizza place, and tried out the hot new ice cream spot.

That is what they did. That was his day.

And in case you missed the important part of this very boring story let me say it again. Today. June 20th. My 15 year old son, who is now taller than I am, got on his bicycle – with a beating heart, lungs full of air, and healthy blood pumping it’s way through his healthy body to drive to Wolfville. Today. June 20th. He came back exhausted and sweaty and beaming from ear to ear having hung out with his friends. Having driven 20 km together. On a bicycle. On June 20th.

And let me say … bicycle ….well …. bicycle quite simply trumps ambulance.

Today

Today I woke up at 5:15 am.

I kissed the kids and Craig goodbye as they left for school and work, and then went off to work myself. It was another day. A day that felt heavy because of worries I thought were real.

Today Craig went to work. He got dressed and prepared for meetings.

He made his lunch and read the news. He drank his coffee and left in time to get to Halifax.

Today Mark dressed in bright colours for Pride Day at school. He thought about Badminton try outs and tried not to be nervous about them.

He prepared to navigate the halls of high school as a 14 year old boy.

Today Megan submitted her courses for her final year at Horton. She donned a bright headband and bracelets for Pride Day.

She went to school incredibly proud to be partaking in her very first Blood Donation. She left voicing why she wanted to do it and her pride and determination to do so was palpable. She wanted to give life.

But today as she was giving life, as all of this was happening, as we were going about our everyday-day, thinking we knew what “heavy” was, our Jadyn, our SuperGirl, our light, our love, our positive shining star, took her last breath.

This wasn’t supposed to happen today.

But it did. It doesn’t feel real.

But it is.

And so I can’t let today go by without this:

We love you Jadyn. We will remember, honour and celebrate you. We will whisper thank you for all that you taught us about strength, optimism and courage. We will remember to laugh in hard times, to have close friendships, to be silly, to keep smiling, and to give back to those who have helped us along the way. This is how you lived your life and we promise we were watching and listening.

We promise we will do all of this … we will make you as proud of us as we are of you …. next year, next week, tomorrow … and even today … March 6, 2018.

A True Story

Three years ago I woke up in the morning and had one of those experiences that has stayed with me to this day. It was incredibly brief but at the same time very private.

Moments like that I hold so dear, but I also tend to keep them close to my chest.  But this was different. This was a moment I wanted to share … and it was the moment I first thought of starting this blog.

After it happened I went straight to the computer, typed up what follows and sent it to some family and friends.  I’m posting it here exactly as it was written then.  As the years went by and I played with the idea of a blog, it was always what I thought my first post would be.  And while it is in fact my ‘second’ and not my ‘first’, for me it is where the idea began to really take shape.  And let’s be honest, very few things in this life ever quite go as planned.  So be it first or be it second … here is where it all began for me.

True Story – June 21st 2006

  • After a worldwind night including bloodtests, transfusions, ambulance rides and countless nurses and doctors, we first hear the confirmation that our son Mark has cancer.  Four days later his specific cytogenetics will come back from the lab and we will learn the immeasurable weight that his particular rare high risk diagnosis really means and how much the numbers are not on his side. Our life has forever been changed – and I have little hope to hang on to. There will be high risk protocols, unfathomable amounts of chemotherapy for 3 1/2 years, seemingly unending painful procedures and the words ‘severe’ and ‘rare’ more times than I can count.

True Story – June 21st 2011

  • Five years later.  It’s 6:15 a.m. and I sneak into Mark’s room.  (Mark is a sleeper – this will not wake my son – of this I am sure)  I crawl into his bed and I marvel at how big he is. How truly long his legs and arms are. I marvel at how much we have overcome.  As I crawl under his covers he rolls over and puts his arm around me and keeps breathing in that deep way kids do when they sleep.
  • Now to understand the rest of the story you’d have to know that I whisper “thank you” to the universe like ALL the time.  I’ll be walking down the stairs and I’ll pause, close my eyes and whisper “thank you”.  It’s not particularly a prayer, or at huge moments or anything.  Sometimes I do it when I’m stopped a red light, or in my chair at work, or in the morning, or before bed – whenever.  I just pause, close my eyes and whisper thank you.
  • This morning as Mark’s arms were around me – on this anniversary day that is usually so difficult for me – I whispered in the smallest of voices – free of tears, or weight or gravity – “thank you”.  And in the smallest of voices my beautiful son very simply whispered “Your Welcome”, and continued that deep breathing.