Misc News and Stories
Davidson - Surviving Cancer
- By Tanya Elrick, daughter of Mac Davidson
PART I (published in May 10-June 9 /20 printed issue of Senior Scope.)
will be a year my family will never forget. It was the year my father,
Mac, was diagnosed with cancer, had a heart attack, and received a stem
cell transplant, all within the span of 8 months. It was quite the journey
through our health care system, and one many people dont get to
see. It really involved my whole family, my mother Ardith, my sister Stacy,
my husband Trevor and myself.
all started in April when my dad noticed some swelling in his chest. Initially
he thought it was due to muscle strain, but when it didnt go away,
he went to his doctor to get it checked out. Dad was further concerned
about the lump because his eldest sister was battling non-Hodgkins
Lymphoma at the time.
wasnt Dads first cancer battle. In 1999 he had some lumps
in his throat that turned out to be swollen lymph nodes due to non-Hodgkins
Lymphoma. We were lucky that it was caught early and cured with mild chemotherapy.
his doctor on May 10 who recommended an x-ray, which he had that day.
On May 12 he was referred to Dr. Skrabec at CancerCare. May 15 he had
bloodwork done as well as a CT scan. May 17 we received the diagnosis:
Cancer. The big C. Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL),
the most common form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. DLBCL typically affects
the lymph nodes but can also affect other parts of the body, like the
bone where dad had first noticed the swelling.
time of his diagnosis, my dad had retired from his full-time government
job, although he had recently gone back to work for them, part time, as
a consultant. He just wanted to make sure his work schedule didnt
negatively impact his busy curling and baseball schedule. The Tuesday
after his diagnosis (since the weekend was the long weekend, and the office
was closed) he went to tell his boss he was quitting. Couldnt find
his boss and kept going up the chain of command until he found someone.
His resignation was immediate. He figured between baseball, work, and
fighting cancer, that he only had the time and energy to do two of the
three. Work was less fun than baseball and well he needed to fight the
cancer, so work had to go.
steps were mainly getting more information on the cancer and how it was
affecting him. The tumor was close to his heart, so his cancer team scheduled
a multigated acquisition (MugA) scan on May 24th. This would let his team
know how well his heart was pumping, which would be helpful not just to
evaluate how well his heart was doing before treatment but could be used
to see how the treatments affected his heart.
days later I took Dad back for more tests, this time a biopsy on the tumor
on his chest. My mom had been going with him to his other appointments
and was missing work because of it. I coincidentally had an appointment
with my allergy doctor that day and had taken the day off and was able
to take him to that appointment. That was the day things really hit me,
walking into the cancer care ward at the hospital. This was real. My dad
has cancer. At the same time, I was impressed with how large the CancerCare
went smoothly. I wasnt in the room when it was happening, but just
on the other side of the door and could hear my dad joking with the nurse
about his chest hair being shaved. Since the tumor was close to the surface,
the surgeon was able to use local anesthetic to perform the biopsy. The
procedure was quick, and the next step was to wait for the biopsy and
MugA scan to be evaluated so his cancer team could come up with a treatment
common treatment for this type of cancer is CHOP, which is the acronym
for all the drugs used in the treatment regime. Another drug, Rituximab,
can also be added, and my dads doctors decided to include it in
his treatment, so the official treatment plan was R-CHOP.
Listening to the pharmacist talk about all the side effects of all the
medications was scary! Mouth sores, nausea, hair loss, neuropathy (tingling
and numbness in the extremities). And of course, his immune system would
be weakened so frequent handwashing was important, as was keeping an eye
on his temperature as a fever could indicate an infection.
was lucky in that he still had benefits as a government retiree, and he
had coverage through my moms work. Being that she worked at an insurance
company, the benefits were pretty good! Even without the benefits though,
the pharmacist explained that theres a program called Cancer Care
At Home that would cover any medication needed outside the hospital, and
of course any medication given inside the hospital would be covered by
the government. It was a lot to take in all at once, but the one big takeaway
from this visit was that this cancer was easily treatable and started
less than a week later. My dad said one of the medications was a little
scary, he looked at the bag they were hooking up to his IV and it said
something along the lines of ONLY ADMINISTER INTRAVENIOUSLY, ANY
OTHER METHOD IS FATAL on a big red sticker. The treatments were
every other week; but, my Dad is an amazing man. He would have a treatment
one day and play two baseball games the next day.
on my dads collar bone started to visibly diminish within a week.
He had few side effects, other than hair loss, and eventually some loss
of feeling and tingling in his hands and feet. He also developed whats
called chemo brain where you become more forgetful. After
four treatments, CancerCare was confident they had been successful.
August 10th, things took a turn for the worse -- a new tumor appeared.
The doctors ordered more bloodwork, and another visit to the doctor on
August 15th was scheduled. They ordered another CT scan to see how things
were progressing and switched to a new treatment which started on August
21. The tumor shrank, but soon after, tests revealed the new Chemo was
not working either.
On August 30th we met with Dr. Paulson, a stem cell plant specialist (turned out to be the grandson of the Doctor that delivered Dad) to discuss a possible stem cell transplant. We were given a large binder with all the information on the stem cell transplant. My dad was lucky in that he could do what was called an autologous stem cell transplant. Rather than having to find a matching donor, they could give my dad drugs that would make his own system produce stem cells, which would then be treated and given back to him. The bad news at the appointment though was that without the stem cell transplant, there was only about a 5% chance of beating the cancer. With the transplant, the chance of beating it jumped to 50%.
PART II (to be published in June 10-July 9 /20 printed issue of Senior Scope.
Shortly after, my
parents told my sister, my husband and I all the news from the Dr. Paulson.
That was again a very hard day for us. We all agreed, however, that it
sounded like the best option. As a family, we decided that the stem cell
transplant was the best route to go.
Around this time as
well, my dad woke up one morning with swelling and pain in his left arm.
It was off to the doctor to get that checked out, and he apparently had
an infection. He was on IV antibiotics every day for this, and the infection
eventually cleared up.
We asked though that
the procedure be delayed until after October 14th as one of my dads
nieces daughter was getting married and all my dads brothers
and sisters would be there. He wanted to make sure to see them, just in
Finally, around 4
pm on the Sunday, my dad said enough was enough, he was going, and he
was staying at the hospital until he got checked out. His left arm was
feeling weird, so he thought the infection might be back, or it could
be a weird side effect from the medication he was given for the stem cell
procedure. My mom dropped him off at Urgent Care at the Vic, and headed
home. It was probably nothing to worry about, who knows how long the wait
would be, and they only lived 10 minutes away. My mom had important Thanksgiving
prep to do.
It wasnt long
after arriving at the Vic that my dad was back in a room getting checked
out. They did bloodwork and they decided to do an EKG just in case.
Well they took one look at the EKG, eyes went wide, big gasp, and ran
out of the room. Several doctors came running in, hooking him up to an
IV, and asking if he had ever been in an ambulance before. He hadnt
so it was going to be a first for him. He was having a heart attack and
needed to get to St. Boniface Hospital as soon as possible. Were
so lucky to have one of the best cardiac hospitals in the country so close.
The doctors of course
called my mom and told her to meet my dad at the St. B. hospital. She
knew she couldnt face this alone, so she called my husband and I,
said its probably not anything serious, but my dad was at St. B,
and she wanted us to be there with her. We dropped everything and headed
out. The hospital seemed so empty on a Sunday evening. My mother, husband
and I waited in an empty, closed waiting room for what felt like hours,
with no news.
Finally, we were able
to see my dad. They had just finished with him. His left anterior ventricle
was almost completely blocked. They roto rootered it and placed
a stent in, and he then went to the cardiac ICU for observation. For having
just been treated for a major heart attack, my dad was doing VERY well.
He was moved out of the ICU quickly into the regular cardiac ward. Now
the big worry was would he be able to get out of the hospital for the
wedding next weekend? What would this mean for the stem cell transplant?
There was a party
at the hotel the night before, all my dads siblings were there.
When he showed up, there were so many tears. We didnt tell anyone
that he had made it out of the hospital, so it was a bit of a surprise
that he showed up. It also meant so much to the bride and groom that my
dad was able to make it.
With the heart attack,
the stem cell transplant was delayed. The doctors wanted to give my dad
some time to recover before putting him through such a strenuous treatment.
They also wanted to do some testing on his heart to make sure it was strong
Late October, medication
was started that would force my dads bone marrow to produce extra
stem cells. He said this was a bit painful process, like bad growing pains.
Once the drugs worked and his body was creating enough extra stem cells
it was time for the harvest.
A stem cell harvest
is very interesting, blood is taken out from one arm and fed into a machine
that extracts the stem cells, then the blood without the stem cells is
put back into the other arm. He said it was a pretty painless procedure.
The stem cells then
get treated, frozen and stored for later when they would be put back into
him. And now all we had to do was wait until a bed was available in the
stem cell transplant ward and confirmation.
Late November, my
dad got an Echocardiogram, and a few days later, we got the green light.
Dad would be admitted on December 8th for the stem cell transplant.
The stem cell transplant
process is interesting. First, youre given an extremely high amount
of chemotherapy, to kill all the cancer cells. Unfortunately, this also
kills a bunch of other cells and decimates your immune system. The stem
cells are given several days later in order to build your immune system
Dad was in the isolation
ward, just for patients getting stem cell transplants. Visitors had to
be healthy in order to come in. You had to make sure to wash or sanitize
your hands often. There was also a lot of things my dad wasnt allowed
to do. Drop something on the floor? Nope, cant pick it up on your
own. But one nice thing was that he could wear his own clothes, so long
as someone would take them and wash them regularly.
After just under a
week at the hospital, it was transplant day. Everyone made a big deal
about it, it was a new birthday. After all, he was getting a whole new
immune system! My mother and I got to be there for the transplant itself,
with my sister watching via facetime.
We had been warned
that because the stem cells were treated with DMSO that they would smell
funny, and they warned my dad that he might even taste it, that it would
likely be a strong garlic taste. The best way to make the taste less bad?
Suck on orange slices. They must have had 3 or 4 oranges all sliced and
ready on a plate for him to eat while he was getting his stem cells back!
The stem cells went via a tube into his PICC line and the cells are surprisingly
large. If you looked closely at the tube you could see little flecks in
the fluid, those were the stem cells.
My dad was still feeling
great at this point. No real side effects from the strong chemotherapy
he was given. Now it was just wait and see what his body did, how his
various blood counts did. He had to be in the ward until his immune system
recovered enough and the doctors said hed likely be there
until the new year.
The next few days
the effects of the chemo really started to hit. This chemo also caused
mouth sores, and throat sores, which were bad for my dad, to the point
that he had a hard time swallowing. His white blood cell count, and his
platelets dropped, and he needed a platelet transfusion. He also received
antibiotics, and eventually needed supplemental oxygen because his oxygen
levels were so low. Since his mouth and throat were so sore, he was having
a hard time eating. His nutrients mainly came from special high calorie
shakes. He also needed a few chest x-rays to make sure there was no infection
in his lungs. On December 23rd he called and said if all went well overnight
though, that they would let him out on Christmas Eve, and hed be
home for Christmas!
Christmas Eve morning
came, and his eye felt funny, he called the nurse and yep, not good. He
had burst a blood vessel in his eye, and it was bad. The whites of his
one eye were almost black. They decided to keep him, possibly for a couple
So that my mom didnt
have to spend Christmas morning alone, we picked her up on Christmas Eve
and brought her out to our place in the country. Christmas morning, we
got up, had breakfast, opened presents. And just as we were finishing
up, my dad called. It was a Christmas miracle, they were letting
him out of the hospital!
It was a little chaotic.
Being at our place, my mom didnt have my dads winter coat
with him, or any suitcases, so she borrowed ours to pack up anything my
dad had at the hospital, and we took my husbands extra winter coat
for my dad. I mean it is Winnipeg, after all, it was cold out!
The next few weeks
were filled with tests to make sure my dad was doing well, in terms of
his heart, his cancer and his immune system. Eventually, when his immune
system had started to recover, he had to start getting all his vaccines
again. The whole process kills any immunity he had. He had that scar on
his arm that some of you reading this may have, from the smallpox vaccine,
his immunity from that was gone. He had the chicken pox as a kid, his
immunity to that was gone. So, over the next two years he had to be vaccinated
all over again. And because he had no immunity to the chicken pox, he
had to get that vaccine too, especially since chicken pox can be much
worse the older you get.
And that brings us
to now. All the tests come up saying NED, no evidence of disease. Hes
up to date on all his vaccines again. And life can continue as normal.
Or at least as normal as possible! Right now, who knows what normal is
anyways with the pandemic.
I think I can speak for my entire family when we say how eternally grateful we are to the staff at CancerCare Manitoba, to the doctors and nurses and pharmacists and health care aids, and all the other staff at the Health Science Centre (where the stem cell ward is), the Victoria Hospital (where most of my dads chemotherapy was done) and the St. Boniface Hospital. Were thankful every day that so many have dedicated their lives to being health care professionals, that people have researched treatments for cancer and heart attacks, and that my dads life was saved twice in one year due to the dedication of so many people. And of course, none of it could be done without the generosity of so many people who have donated their time and volunteer hours to the many organizations behind all of this.
Spotlight: Karen Bate
- Karen Bate, volunteer of The Children's Hospital Foundation of Manitoba
long-time regular customer of the Childrens Hospital Book Market,
Id been intrigued about the behind the scenes aspect
of it for years. How did it run? What needed to be done to make it a go?
What were the facilities like? And how on earth did they sort all those
me several years to pick up the phone and finally do something about it
(Im the worlds best waffler).
wanted to do something on a regular, volunteer basis. I wanted to make
a difference, no matter how small my contribution may be. The Childrens
Hospital Market seemed to be a perfect fit, as my life unfolded.
(or whatever) was starting to hit me over the head, yelling This.
Is. Where. You. Belong.
of my earliest memories involve my mother taking my brother and me to
the sale at Polo Park. Each booth had wonderful surprises in them, even
if I could barely see over the edge of the tables at the time. All those
BOOKS! And Mummy said we could buy a BUNCH! Then we would wander off to
find things she wanted, and I was fascinated by big glossy coffee table
books and travel books, and bored to tears (probably literally) as she
spent time going through reams of mysteries, fantasy, sci-fi, biographies,
To this day, I love books, and have a house
full of them. My husband wants us to downsize, and has pointed out that
I cant possibly re-read all my friends before I die
even if I live to 125. Hmm...
was a high school teacher. He was very involved with his students and
the programs they were taking. He was also involved with some school extra-curricular
programs, which required extra research and work. Where do you get enough
books about Gilbert and Sullivan, for instance? (remember, this is long
before computers, never mind the internet). Check out the Book Market.
his job, and loved children of all ages. If a youngster was pedalling
down the street on a squeaky bike, Dad would be chasing them with an oil
can. Neighbouring kids learned about building fences, flower beds and
vegetable patches. When Dad died of a massive stroke, my mother opted
for donations to be made in his name to the Childrens Hospital,
since that was more of his legacy, than the illness that claimed him.
was voracious reader. Anything and everything. As her children grew, the
Book Market was still a thing for all of us. It was a much
looked forward to event. One of her greatest fears was to follow suit
of her parents as she aged, and lose her sight. What could she do about
travel? And most of all, what about reading? Of course the inevitable
happened, but she graduated to large print books (available at the Book
Market) then audio books. As the years went by, she donated much of her
collection to the Book Market, hoping her friends would do
some good for the children. (An aside, since my mothers biggest
fear was going blind, and it came true, my biggest fear is winning $50,000,000.
Ill let you know).
she died, the Book Market was once again the obvious choice for donations
in her name.
leads back to me and my volunteering. My parents had instilled a great
love of reading and books into me, but my own life took me to direct connections
to the Hospital. My first stay at any hospital was to give birth, which
I think was a pretty good record. However, our babies had a couple of
bumps along the way, and we ended up visiting Childrens Emerg a
few times. The longest stay was 5 weeks with our son, when he was a wee
lad of 18 months. At that time I saw the kindness and efforts made by
everyone on staff at the hospital, from the overworked nurses to the volunteers
pushing carts of you guessed it books. I was very grateful
that my partner and I were able to shift our schedules, so that one of
us was with our son 24 hours a day, while the other parent was with the
other child at home). The nurses expressed their gratefulness, but I got
to see more of the functioning of the hospital, what was needed, and quite
frankly, what will always be needed.
the years, both of my children were taken by their Mummy and Grandma to
the book sales annually. They knew they would be able to search for gaps
in their collections, or try new books. (How many? As
long as you can carry the bag.) We explained to them where the money
from the books was going.
connection went further, as I went from reading them to writing them.
And of course you need reference material to do that, which of course
leads you back to
. you get the idea.
So really when I was looking for a volunteer job (after all the inevitable committees at the kids schools) Im not sure why I deliberated so long. I finally made the call, and was scheduled for a training session.
I had no idea how
much I was going to learn! What a wonderful experience. All those categories
(and sub-categories) of books. The constant stream of boxes and books
coming in to be sorted. Each one is like a present you dont
know whats going to be in there, and each one is a surprise. Some
have real gems.
The April Book Market has been cancelled but the Children's Hospital hopes to see you at the September Book Market. Up-to-date information is available on goodbear.ca.
Everybody in AA Go?
about 5 years ago I would have balked at attending anything but in-person
12 step meetings. In my humble opinion - the best way to share
stories and carry the message of Alcoholics Anonymous was
in science based recovery, our freethinkers community was already a major
focus of my self care routine when CORONAVIRUS raised its ugly head.
aa was well positioned when Covid-19 hit and quick to disseminate official
regional and local recommendations to halt in-person meetings. Internally
we exchanged phone numbers and increased the number of online meetings.
Given our strong networks via secret or confidential Facebook
pages we had resources to list new Zoom meetings as they popped up. Open
invitations and smaller, pw-only meeting info was circulated. We quickly
enabled several meetings per day/ time zone including special interest
(women, LGBTQ, young people or men-only) meetings for the specific needs
of our non-theist membership. The Zoom platform also provides the confidentiality
to protect the vulnerable (audio only or video connections), as well as
being easy to use for some of our technically challenged.
aware of a few, conventional aa groups that remain open (as of 24th Mar),
trying to carry the message in person. Regardless of the community health
message to stay home and maintain physical distancing - addiction and
the fight to abstain remains a life and death battle. I do not condone
these decisions nor am I aware if safeguards are in place or are reliable
in these circumstances.
my perspective I am grateful for all the options for individuals and families...
please reach out.
know if you agree, but something invisible came and put everything in
the gasoline went down, pollution went down, people started to have more
time - so much time that they do not know what to do with it. Parents
are spending time with their kids as a family. Work is no longer a priority
- nor traveling or social lives either.
we silently see within ourselves and understand the value of the words
"solidarity", "love", "strength", "empathy"
instant we realized that we are all in the same boat; rich or poor -that
the store shelves are empty and the hospitals are full.
and old cars also stand in the garages simply because nobody can get out.
streets, less pollution, clean air. The land also breathes.
returns to his origins, realizing that with or without money, the important
thing is to survive.
health is the main thing, even in spite of wanting to have or possess.
6 days for the universe to establish the social equality that was said
to be impossible.
invaded everyone. At least this happened to realize the vulnerability
of the human being.
is forcing us to clean up the mess made by ourselves.
the coronavirus is teaching us:
not gods nor kings. We do not have the power of controlling everything.
part of a whole, fragile, brittle & vulnerable something.
Go back to the basics, to the essentials, that the peace of your soul guides you towards what you are: LIGHT.