Friday is a special day at “cancer camp.” We get to go home.

On Friday I got the first Wheels for Wellness van out of Victoria and was home in Nanaimo before noon.

The van is one of sixteen operated by Wheels for Wellness, a free service delivering people to their appointments in Victoria or Nanaimo or wherever else they need to be for doctor’s appointments, cancer treatments, kidney dialysis etc.

What a pleasure to come home to see Sarah, our two cats, and be surrounded by the comforts and creativity of my life. Not that time away during the week is all bad. I’ve done lots of walking and exploring and best of all, I have a good friend Beth in Victoria who comes to see me at Vancouver Island Lodge where I’m staying. (It’s run by the Canadian Cancer Society.)

One afternoon I met Beth downtown and we had lunch at EFES (Turkish for Ephesus), a Turkish café on Yates Street. Kemal, the owner, knows Mustafa who owns the Kebap, the Turkish café at Departure Bay Beach in Nanaimo.

Beth and I have known one another since we lived in Ontario. She must have picked up one of my writing circle invitations at a bookstore in Waterloo in 1999 or thereabouts. We remember special times in the Flying Mermaids Writing Circles in Guelph and the New Moon Circle I offered monthly.

When Beth moved across the country in her car (to Victoria) she brought the various handouts, mermaid musings, and her own writing from the Ontario writing circles. She’s a huge supporter of my work and gives me wise advice. Right now, Beth advised me that I wouldn’t be sending out my poems just now or attempting to offer writing circles in Nanaimo. That can wait until January.

albertstreetvictoria 016blogOne evening last week, Beth and I took a walk near the lodge. (It’s in the vicinity of Royal Jubilee Hospital.) On Denman Street, we could see a grand old house from the back and it’s name: Rosedale. When we walked along Albert Street, we saw the house up close at 1731 Albert Street, all reburbished and a total surprise in the neighourhood. (Albert Street isn’t accessible by car from Richmond where I walk to treatments. There’s just a narrow sidewalk between houses, not noticeable probably to most passersby.)

I was curious about the date of Rosedale and saw a heritage plaque on the house so moved closer to see it. A woman was in the front garden and told me the house was built in 1898 and restored by the Hallmark Heritage Society.

albertstreetvictoria 012blogJustine asked us in to see her condo on one side of the old home where she lives with her husband. The high ceilings and restored windows maintain the old charm. The back of the house was originally the front. The new front was the back. You can read more about it and its heritage designation on the Victoria Heritage Foundation site and see the grand spires that were part of the original home.

Later in the week, Justine dropped by to see me at the lodge bearing small gifts. The chestnut looks to me as if it’s is the shape of the sarcoma in my shin. I think I’ll have a burial of the chestnut to say goodbye to the lump that will be receiving just four more treatments of radiation and perhaps then we can declare it dead.

albertstreetvictoria 018The serendipitous findings and meetings have been a boon to my weeks in Victoria. This was another surprise on Denman Street: a small tortilleria.

On Oak Bay Avenue, Alan who owns the small Savour Café, knows I’d like a decaf Americano when I go in. He knows all his customers and there’s always friendly conversation going on. And the Savour Café is in the same section of shops as Good Things, a consignment shop. It’s full of all sorts of household items including books that appear almost new.

albertstreetvictoria 002blogI appreciated seeing the magnet from Istanbul on the fridge door bulletin board on the wall of the Savour Cafe.

It was on Oak Bay Avenue that I ran into a couple of poets on separate occasions. One of them was Yvonne Blomer, Victoria’s poet laureate who grew up in Nanaimo.

We learn to be “real” with close friends and for that I’m grateful. I’m finding that I’m being more open with new friends too who are people I may never see again. Perhaps I’m leaning a “bold vulnerability” to which A. H. Almass referred in The Unfolding Now (a book my friend Birdie is currently loving):

When we blend courage and compassion, assertiveness and gentleness, our essential strength and kindness support us in being where we are . . .with them, we are infused with a bold vulnerability that leads us more and more into the immediacy and intimacy of being real.

I think of home as a sanctuary where replenishment offers me a foundation for going out into the world. It’s a place of comfort and quiet musing. While the lodge is set up to offer cancer patients comfort, there is so much that is unfamiliar and in many ways, not conducive to quiet healing. And rather than strength, I see myself opening to a new vulnerability, perhaps a “bold vulnerability” as noted in the quote above. When I observed a man attempting to eat his dinner in the lodge dining room, my heart went out to him as he just couldn’t manage  to eat with the upset-system effects of his treatment. (Some receive radiation and chemotherapy.) When he said, “I don’t want to waste the food,” I had to weep.

That may have been one of those “immense instants” that Octavio Paz wrote of in Sunstone/Piedra de Sol . We glimpse the helplessness of being human and the glory. Our masks divide us from each other and in a vulnerable moment we “glimpse our lost unity.” Bill Cunningham, a poet friend, shared his translation of the particular passage I’m referring to. These poems and passages are serendipitous too. I’ve owned this book for years and hadn’t looked at again until Bill sent an email with his translation of his favourite passage. Here it is with the original Spanish.


las paredes invisibles, las máscaras podridas
que dividen al hombre de los hombres,
al hombre de sí mismo,
se derrumban
por un instante inmenso y vislumbramos
nuestra unidad perdida, el desamparo
que es ser hombres, la gloria que es ser hombres
y compartir el pan, el sol, la muerte,
el olvidado asombro de estar vivos

the invisible walls, the rotten masks,
that divide each of us from the other,
even a person from herself,
they collapse
for an immense instant and we glimpse
our lost unity, the helplessness
that it is to be human, the glory that it is to be human
and to share bread, sun, death,
the forgotten amazement of being alive