The pleasant looking couple sharing a table with us is French-Canadian they tell us, living near Castlegar, B.C. They‘re having a chuckle about the male of the couple being wheeled along the sidewalk in a wheelchair by his wife who is legally blind. A ride wasn’t available to them so they took things into their own hands.

We’re at Jean C. Barber Lodge, run by the Canadian Cancer Society in Vancouver, where cancer patients and their support people stay for visits to the BC Cancer Agency, Vancouver General Hospital and any number of research and treatment facilities in the area of West 10th Avenue.

It’s dinner time on Tuesday and we’re eating crispy chicken, fried rice and green beans. We don’t learn the couple’s names as they’re leaving to return home in the morning. Also, I ‘m not engaging well with people here as I’m anxious about surgery on Wednesday morning. As I don’t know their names I’ll call them Armand and Reine-Marie.

What are you in for? I think of asking Armand. Sounds rather like we’re fellow inmates so I wait. Reine-Marie is surprised I have a sarcoma on my shin. Armand has prostate cancer that has spread throughout his body. His test today was for DNA. Perhaps researchers want to know how he’s managed to survive for two years.

Sarah says it’s difficult to have your plans changed and your life put on hold. Armand and Reine-Marie say that hasn’t been the case for them. They haven’t changed anything. They lead active outdoor lives. They’re not at all creative though Reine-Marie says when we tell her about Sarah’s visual art and my writing. (Sarah Clark’s art in the form of a mandala called “Open to the Light,” is pictured above.)

I’m fascinated by the fact that life hasn’t changed – that they’re joyfully doing what it is they usually do. Really? I shouldn’t be too surprised as I have the very real example of my late friend Sharron Bertchilde who lived life to the fullest even while living with cancer for four years and when close to her final days. There’s nothing more that can be done in terms of the usual, “conventional” treatments for Armand so he and Reine-Marie continue to enjoy the lives they have while they have them.

Maybe Armand wrote a will. Perhaps they made some end-of-life arrangements such as contacting a hospice. They may have done that with their usual good humour, another task on the to-do list that included paying the hydro bill and making out a grocery list. He may have written his own obituary as Sharron did.

That was my last supper before surgery scheduled for the next morning. I didn’t feel at all well that night or the next morning. In Pre-Op, I was all warmed up, literally, for three hours or more, when Dr. Paul Clarkson, my Orthopaedic Surgeon from the Musculoskeletal Oncology Service at the BC Cancer Agency, came in looking very glum. The rest of his team, a fellow and an intern, as well as members of the Dr. Kevin Bush team (the Plastic Surgeon) followed him to my bed in the small curtained area of Pre-Op.

Dr. Clarkson told us surgery had been cancelled due to two liver transplants that day and a shortage of OR nurses. I seemed to surrender to the fact although Sarah pointed out surgery should take place twelve weeks after the last radiation treatment and we’re at that point now.

We went back to the lodge where I spent the rest of the day and night in bed. My body was suffering from anxiety and perhaps memories of past surgeries. What kept me going was remembering the faces of the keen doctors, fellows (including the anesthesiologist) and interns who were all ready to go. We were all disappointed. Part of me though felt that day was not ideal for me. The cancellation may have been an inconvenient blessing. It was a trial run. We now have more information than we had before about what is going to take place.

While some think it’s good I don’t have to recover throughout Christmas, I figure that would have been the perfect time as I’m not planning anything for Christmas. Quiet is where it’s at for me. There is an edge to it though as I wonder when I will receive a call. I wonder if anything I’ve planned for January will take place.

Although I didn’t get into gift buying and card sending this year, I have been enjoying connecting to friends via email and phone. My friend Bill (I’ve mentioned my new poet friend Bill before) said I must feel like I’m “floating on a sea of unknown depths.” I remembered the Juan Ramon Jimenz poem another poet friend, Leanne McIntosh, had quoted in an email one day and shared it with Bill.


I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
And nothing
happens! Nothing . . . Silence . . . Waves . . .
Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

English translation: Robert Bly

Bill pointed out to me that the Spanish ends this way: y estamos ya, tranquilos, en lo nuevo . . . which is still about standing quiet but “in the new . . . rather than the “new life.” And note the ellipsis.

Life continues to be new and renewed – not a new life but a new way of seeing things, a renewal and a recalibration. The ellipsis contains the unknown and also limitless possibilities.

I so appreciate that we’re back home again. We’ve had a quiet Solstice and will have a quiet Christmas. And I appreciate all these connections to poet friends. I was in touch with Patrick Lane too. He’s been my poetry mentor for nine years. I shared his own poem with him, “Things,” written in the nineties when he was still drinking. He could see the hope embedded in it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe journey I began to blog about back in July started with “Poems of the Unexpected”. The poems continue and so does the unexpected. Through it all, so much to be grateful for. The words of this refrigerator wisdom (on our own kitchen fridge), ring true: DEAR ONE, GRATITUDE IS A POWERFUL BODY MEDICINE. My little granddaughter is back home recovering from pneumonia. Emily, my daughter, says Briar is still very weak and frail. She’s like Bambi when she tries to get up.

We’re all vulnerable in some way and as Jean Vanier said: “So, the greatest thing to calm anguish is the knowledge that we are loved. Not for what we do or have done or for what we will do, but in ourselves. The more we lose, the more we come close to the reality of what it is to be human. Which is to accept our weaknesses, to discover that they’re beautiful. So many people are running around doing lots of things, but they’re controlled by anguish. What we have to do is find the places of hope.”

Jean Vanier is the founder L’Arche, a network of communities for mentally challenged adults where the focus is “connection rather than commerce.”

He says “If you want to live in hope and not fear, you have to tell the truth and declare your fragility.” You can link to the whole article by Ian Brown in the Saturday, December 19th Globe and Mail, here. And just before I post this, I’ve received an email from my surgeon’s office. January 5th is the new date for surgery.