- Mac Davidson - Surviving Cancer
- Volunteer Spotlight - Karen Bate
- Where'd Everyone in AA go?
- Wise Words


NEWSBITS

Misc News and Stories



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Mac Davidson - Surviving Cancer

- By Tanya Elrick, daughter of Mac Davidson

PART I (published in May 10-June 9 /20 printed issue of Senior Scope.)


Mac Davidson

2017 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 don’t get to see. It really involved my whole family, my mother Ardith, my sister Stacy, my husband Trevor and myself.

Things 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 didn’t 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-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the time.

This wasn’t Dad’s first cancer battle. In 1999 he had some lumps in his throat that turned out to be swollen lymph nodes due to non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. We were lucky that it was caught early and cured with mild chemotherapy.

He saw 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-Hodgkin’s 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.

At the 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 didn’t 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. Couldn’t 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.

The next 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.

Five 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 wing was.

The biopsy went smoothly. I wasn’t 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 plan.
Finally, on June 9, just under a month from when he first went to the doctor about the growth, we were at CancerCare to meet with an oncologist, the hospital pharmacist and a “cancer concierge” to find out what life would be like for the foreseeable future, and discuss the treatment plan.

The most 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 dad’s 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.

My father was lucky in that he still had benefits as a government retiree, and he had coverage through my mom’s work. Being that she worked at an insurance company, the benefits were pretty good! Even without the benefits though, the pharmacist explained that there’s 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.

The tumor on my dad’s 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 what’s called “chemo brain” where you become more forgetful. After four treatments, CancerCare was confident they had been successful.

Around 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 dad’s niece’s daughter was getting married and all my dad’s brothers and sisters would be there. He wanted to make sure to see them, just in case.
They always say though that life is what happens while you’re busy making plans. Thanksgiving weekend was coming up, we had plans for a family dinner on the Monday. The Friday before Thanksgiving, my dad wasn’t feeling “right” so he drove himself to the Victoria Hospital, where his cancer team was based. On the way there he felt better so he went back home. This happened a few more times that weekend, once with my mom driving him there and back when he felt better halfway there.

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 wasn’t 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 hadn’t 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. We’re 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 couldn’t face this alone, so she called my husband and I, said it’s 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?
Our whole family had planned on going to a family wedding in Brandon, my sister even flew in from Thunder Bay, as planned, so we would all be there. Friday morning came, and my dad was still in the hospital, waiting to find out if he would be let out or not. My mom headed to Brandon early, so that at least she could make it to the wedding even if my dad didn’t get out. My husband and I offered to go on Saturday morning at the latest, just in case. My dad was feeling great and was eventually able to convince the doctors to release him on Friday afternoon. My sister, dad, husband and I headed off to Brandon for the wedding.

There was a party at the hotel the night before, all my dad’s siblings were there. When he showed up, there were so many tears. We didn’t 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 enough.

Late October, medication was started that would force my dad’s 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, you’re 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 back up.

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 wasn’t allowed to do. Drop something on the floor? Nope, can’t 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 doctor’s said he’d 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 he’d 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 more days.

So that my mom didn’t 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 didn’t have my dad’s 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 husband’s 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. He’s 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 dad’s chemotherapy was done) and the St. Boniface Hospital. We’re 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 dad’s 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.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Karen Bate

- Karen Bate, volunteer of The Children's Hospital Foundation of Manitoba


Karen Bate

As a long-time regular customer of the Children’s Hospital Book Market, I’d 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 books?

It took me several years to pick up the phone and finally do something about it (I’m the world’s best waffler).

I wanted to do something on a regular, volunteer basis. I wanted to make a difference, no matter how small my contribution may be. The Children’s Hospital Market seemed to be a perfect fit, as my life unfolded.

Fate (or whatever) was starting to hit me over the head, yelling ‘This. Is. Where. You. Belong.’

Some 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, cookbooks, histories… 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 can’t possibly re-read all my ‘friends’ before I die – even if I live to 125. Hmm...

My father 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.

Dad loved 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 Children’s Hospital, since that was more of his legacy, than the illness that claimed him.

My mother 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 mother’s biggest fear was going blind, and it came true, my biggest fear is winning $50,000,000. I’ll let you know).

When she died, the Book Market was once again the obvious choice for donations in her name.

All which 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 Children’s 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.

Over 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.

My book 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) I’m 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 don’t know what’s 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.

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Where’d Everybody in AA Go?
- CathyM

Up until 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 person.

But for the past 4+ years I’ve been part of the International ‘secular’ AA recovery community - something I discovered by ‘google’ search for an alternative to conventional aa (with its religious overtones).

NOTE: I do not speak in any official capacity - whatever works for you (counselling, meetings, CA, NA, meditation, Recovery Dharma, diet & exercise...)
DO IT get curious!

So, whether I was travelling short or long term - I could connect with other non-theist people from all over the world. On a daily basis there are online Zoom / Skype meetings to share our ‘experience, strength and hope’, recovery without borders.

Believing in science based recovery, our freethinkers community was already a major focus of my self care routine when CORONAVIRUS raised its ugly head.

Secular 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.

I am 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.

From my perspective I am grateful for all the options for individuals and families... please reach out.

secularaa.org
aamanitoba.org
familiesanonymous.org
mascna.org

 

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WISE WORDS

- Author unknown

I don't know if you agree, but something invisible came and put everything in its place.

Suddenly 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.

Suddenly we silently see within ourselves and understand the value of the words "solidarity", "love", "strength", "empathy" and "faith".

In an 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.

New cars and old cars also stand in the garages simply because nobody can get out.

Empty streets, less pollution, clean air. The land also breathes.

The human returns to his origins, realizing that with or without money, the important thing is to survive.

Today, health is the main thing, even in spite of wanting to have or possess.

It took 6 days for the universe to establish the social equality that was said to be impossible.

Fear invaded everyone. At least this happened to realize the vulnerability of the human being.

Nature is forcing us to clean up the mess made by ourselves.

Our overthrown "gods":
-Money
-Fun
-Politics

What the coronavirus is teaching us:
-Our best protection: SPIRITUALITY
-Our best refuge: HOME
- Our best company: FAMILY
- Our real time: TODAY
- Nature's call: STOP US
- Its message: WAIT, RESPECT

We are not gods nor kings. We do not have the power of controlling everything.

We are part of a whole, fragile, brittle & vulnerable something.
Part of a whole something that we wanted to dominate & today is telling us:

Stop, breathe, respect.

Go back to the basics, to the essentials, that the peace of your soul guides you towards what you are: LIGHT.



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