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Monday, December 31, 2012

Everyone should have a Nanny.

I woke up this morning at the same time I do every December 31st for the last 8 years, the time when I got the call that my dear Nanny had passed away.  I got up, and she has been on my mind all morning, so I am sitting to write about my Nanny, and how much I still miss her.

On Christmas Eve this year I went to my trunk to dig out an old picture of me with Santa from 20 years ago.  While I browsed later through old photo albums, a tiny slip of paper fell to the floor, and as I unfolded it, I realized it was Nanny's writing.  It was a note she had done in haste 20 years ago when a relative was on their way to Halifax, and she wanted to send me a note to say she was thinking about me, and to remind me of how much she loved me.  I honestly can say I do not remember one time in my whole entire life when I ever doubted that she loved me, entirely, completely and without hesitation.  What an amazing gift to give someone, and after she passed away I often thought of how she loved her family...we were all very blessed.

If I close my eyes and try to go back in time, the very first memory I can recall of Nanny was of us praying together.  When I would go to her house to spend a night she would have the same routine most nights.  She would make me a bedtime snack, set up the kerosene heater, do her journal, read me something and then the light would go out and prayers would be said.  Her faith over the years was another lesson that she gave us all, and no matter what challenge she was given it was her faith and wonderful spirit that carried us all through.  Nanny's house was a wonderful house to visit, she always had grandchildren coming and going(especially in the summer), her extended family would come from Halifax and many friends and neighbours were always popping in for tea and rolls.  She had this natural ability to make everyone feel at home, and  like you were the center of attention when you sat in front of her rocking chair.

At a very early age I developed a fear of dying.  My mother had siblings who died when they were very young, and many said that I looked like her brother Paddy, who died at 15.  I was convinced I would not live longer than 15 as well.  It was an unfounded fear, and many around me did not like to talk about death.  But Nanny would. I can remember being as young as five when Nanny and I first made our promise to each other.  We came up with the pact that would last us through our whole lives....we promised each other that whoever died first would give the other one a sign that the other one could never doubt or wonder had to be clear that we had made it to heaven, and it was wonderful.  One of my greatest fears through my teenage years was that Nanny would pass away, and I would not know how to go on with life.  She was my Nanny, but she was often my best friend, and she always could pull me back on track and set my priorities straight when I needed it.

I went away to college and then became sick and had to have the bone marrow transplant.  Afterward, Nanny told me she was terrified that I was going to die and that she could not stand the thought if I went first.  Our visits continued when I would come home for weekends, and our phone calls were some of the things that I looked forward to when I moved to Sydney after falling in love and marrying Tim.  The week that we were married, Nanny had open heart surgery on Monday morning.  On Saturday morning, with all the chaos that was going on at my parents house(imagine bridesmaids getting ready, flowers being distributed and clothes still being ironed), I set off with a pizza burger and a cooler to see what Nanny was doing.  I found her in bed, with the window open and the breeze blowing into her darkened room, as she had the blind down.  It is one of the best moments I ever had with Nanny.  I sat on the floor eating my pizza burger, and telling Nanny about all the business that was going on, as I was getting married in about three hours.  We talked about life, love and what she hoped my marriage would be like.  She told me how Tim reminded her of John Angus, how they both made her laugh.  John Angus was my grandfather, and one man that I had wished all my life that I had met.  I then crawled in beside Nanny to lay on her bed for a few minutes, and she wrapped her arms around me and told me to have a wonderful day, she just didn't think she could go, as she was still recovering.  I was okay with that, as long as she was with us, I was okay.  So off I went to get dressed with a new confidence that Tim was the one, and we were going to be wonderful together.

We all were busy with the photographer, and last minute details, and I made it to the deck to get in the car to go to the church, when I realized that Nanny was standing in the yard.  All dressed, and ready to go to the church!  We snapped two quick photos on Mom and Dad's lawn, and we were off.  Not only did she make it to the church, but she stayed for the dinner, and saw me dance my first dance with my husband.  It was a perfect day in many ways.

Two years later I called Nanny early on June 28, 1997 to wish her a Happy Birthday, and to tell her that I was going to have my baby boy that day.  It was her birthday, and her reaction was, "What! Are you in labour?"  No I said, I just know I will have a boy today.  She went into panic mode, and said, "Well if you go into labour, don't call me until it is over."  I called my parents around supper time to say we were going to the hospital, and that it looked like they would be grandparents that day.  I forgot to tell them not to say anything to Nanny, lol.  I had just gotten into the delivery room when the nurse put the call through, and it was Nanny saying she was sorry she had said that, she was just so worried, she would rather just hear about it when it was done.  I think she called three more times, lol, and at one point said to hurry up and have it on her birthday.  She often said Thomas Mitchell Murphy was one of the best birthday gifts she ever received.

Over the years Nanny taught me so much about life, forgiveness, and love.  Oh my god, she loved her children.  Even when they were all married, she talked about them all with such love, and then she did the same with her grandchildren and her great grandchildren.  We all could do no wrong in her eyes. She held us all together.  She was the one who told us all about which granddaughter was pregnant, which grandson had a new job, which son had bought a new truck, or which daughter-in-law had won at bingo.  She was the family center, and through her we were all connected.

And so it was fitting eight years ago when Nanny was fighting cancer, that every single one of us gathered around her.  Every grandchild came home from across Canada, her siblings came, and her children never left her side.  We all wanted to be there, to share her last days with her and each other.  Nanny had always said she did not want to die at Christmas time, she thought it would make her family sad.  We never realized until we were all sitting there on Christmas Eve that her own father had died at Christmas, and she carried that with her without sharing it all those years.  The priest came on Christmas eve, and in true Nanny fashion, I got a call the next morning, Christmas Day that Nanny was waiting for us.  When we arrived, she sat up in bed and got us to put Mitchell and Nathanial up on either side of her.  She told them how much she loved them, and how special they were, and then when Tim took them out she cried and said how she would miss seeing them opening their presents.

The rest of the story tells you what an amazing woman Nanny was, and how much I miss her.  On the 27th I was standing in front of the window in Nanny's hospital room when she opened her eyes.  She wanted to know what time it was, and I said it was just after 1a.m. She noticed how it was snowing out the window, and she wanted me to leave to go home to my boys.  I told her I would leave when she fell asleep, and she said she would not sleep until I got home okay, so  I left.  She got my aunt to call my house later to see if I got home.  We all wanted to be there as much as we could, and it was the very last time that we were all together for Christmas and New Year's.  But I had another fear, I was scared of Nanny actually dying.  I was scared she would be in pain, I was scared I would break down, and I was scared of never hearing her voice again.  Again, Nanny was looking after me.  On the night of the 30th I stayed late, and then decided that I should go home as we were going to take the boys to see their grandparents in Sydney the next day.  At around 6:30a.m., I heard the phone ring, and I told Tim that it was the call.  He said no, it was okay, but it was me who jumped up to answer the phone.  And do you know, I don't remember who was on the other end of the phone?  Not for the life of me, I can't remember.  But where the phone was in our kitchen, there was a huge window out to the backyard, and I turned, and put down the phone.  On every tree in the yard, and lining the step there were hundreds of birds.  Nanny had always liked watching the birds and had several feeders in her yard.  On that December morning there were partridge, blue jays, chickadees, grosbeaks, and robins!  I let out a yell, and Tim came running, we stood looking for a minute, and then the birds starting flying away.  Nanny had given me my sign, and I have never doubted it, just like I had never doubted her love.

I hope to someday be a Nanny, and I can only hope that I will be half as good at it as my Nanny was, because even that would be pretty impressive.  And I hope that this story reminds you of a Nanny in your life, and you call them today to say I love you.  I would give a lot to be able to call Nanny today, but I guess since I have been thinking of her all morning she already is with me. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I have been waiting to tell my Christmas story from 20 years ago, and I just had to sit down today to finally share.  I hope it will be inspiring to those who might be searching for what the season means, and if miracles, love and hope exist.

As Christmas approached, I was having a few complications in Halifax, and my doctor delivered the bad news that he did not think it was a good idea for me to go home and be so far away from the hospital during the holidays.  To say that I was devastated would be an understatement.  I had been home for Thanksgiving, and had just taken it for granted that I would be home in my own room for Christmas.  Finally on December 20th, the doctor said I could go home, but would have to be back on for a few days on Boxing Day.  The only way that I could go home though was to follow instructions, there would be no mass, no crowds, and avoid anyone who might be sick.  You know how everyone takes pictures going across the Causeway, well I closed my eyes, rolled down the window and cried from there to Mabou.  I was so happy to be home, to have another Christmas in Cape Breton, surrounded by friends and family.

Of course, when my friends heard I was coming home, an impromptu get together was held on the 22nd, and most of my friends from high school poured into my parents house.  I remember before they arrived me going to my Nanny's for an emergency.  It was not bad enough that I had no hair or eyebrows, but my dress pants that I had to wear would not fit, I had lost so much weight.  Nanny quickly stitched them up for me to wear and told me to have fun.  The evening was full of laughs and old stories, and the crowd rule was a little bit broken.

The next night was the annual Christmas tree lighting in Mabou Harbour.  At the end of my lane at home is an old school house, and over the years it housed us on cold winter mornings while we waited for the bus, but at Christmas the Beatons would clean it up and open the door to the community.  Debbie and A.J. Beaton started the tradition, and a huge tree would be decorated outside and lit up every year with lots of food, treats for the kids, singing, and a visit from Santa.  For the Christmas of 1992 I would not be allowed to attend, there would simply be too many kids who might have colds or flus that might be contagious.  My family went with me saying that I did mind at all, that I would feel worse if they stayed home and missed the event.

Our lane is quite long, and one hill in particular is steep, so sitting in my parents' living room I could see the school house all lit up, and the cars parking on the lane.  After about a half hour the tree was lit and shone the little lights into the cold snowy night.  And then there was a knock on the door, and in came Debbie, A.J. and their kids.  They had brought me a present and a treat bag from the party.  But after some quick hugs, they left to go back to the party.  I went to the living  room to watch them walk back down the lane, when another knock came on the door.  It was Gil MacEachern, and his wife Mary, an elderly couple who were very near and dear to my heart.  They were not usually in the Harbour at Christmas, but they had traveled from Antigonish for the evening.  They too left fairly quickly, and when I went back to the window, I saw more people walking up the lane.  And so the evening went, when everyone heard that I was home and unable to go to the school house, each family took their turn to walk up that hill to see me and give me their love and prayers.  After about the third group I realized what was going on, and I called my Nanny who was home in the house below me, and she put tea on and had several visitors herself. 

For many years, my neighbour, Brian MacPhee would don the Santa suit to play the part for the evening, but that night in '92, my former teacher, and another neighbour, Mr. Cummings, was Santa.  Edmund Cummings, who had watched me grow up with his daughters, had pushed me out of his driveway a few times in the winters, and had me coming and going his house over the years as his daughter Shelly and I worked and played together, was the last to come to the house.  By this time my swollen eyes were even more swollen from crying, and I really don't think I had ever felt so much love in my lifetime in one when he came in the door in his suit, I was laughing and crying all at the same time.  My mom snapped a polaroid picture of us hugging, and it was the only picture that I let anyone take of me during that whole experience.  If you look at it closely you can see my scarf on my head, my drawn in eyebrows, and discolored skin.  But if you look at the picture, my face shows joy.  It was something that I had wondered for a few months if I would ever feel again, and my friends, neighbours and family gave it back to me that night in Mabou Harbour 20 years ago.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

There is still more story!

After a rough few days of worrying about and wondering if my bone marrow was failing or not, I finally had some good news.  Every morning my blood work would be done around 6a.m. and by 9 or 10 we would have the results.  We waited patiently for any increase, some sign that my sister's bone marrow was finally taking it's place in my body and working.  We were at about day 14 when my white count went to .4, and we were elated.  It was such a small sign, but such a needed one, never mind that I still had a long way to go.

As I mentioned before, I had been working at Mabou Gardens for a few years, and I worked with so many amazing men and women during that time that I still feel a close connection to many of them.  There was one of our bosses, Gerald, who always looked out for us, and rescued us from snakes and sticky situations on more than one occasion.  He is one of the most genuinely nicest people I have ever met.  There was Chris who invited me for lunch so I would feel like I fit in with the group, and inspired many by living a life centered around her girls and many other youth in the community, her door was always open and she always had a kind word and good advice for many of us.  There was Julie, who was one of the hardest working people I have ever met, she put the rest of us to shame on many days.  Michelle and Andrew were a husband and wife team, Andrew worked his butt off, and Michelle, even though she was only 3 apples high, she carried and loaded those trucks with a smile on her face and a hop in her step.  They were one of the first couples I remember thinking that I wanted what they had in a marriage, they always seemed so happy together, and I never, ever heard Michelle ever complain or criticize her man.  And Gayle, who was like a second mother to me for many years, as her daughter and I worked side by side, went to school together and probably drove both our mothers crazy on more than one occasion. 

But there was one other woman I worked with who would come to mean so much more to me in my life.  At first I did not know how to take Mary Mae, she was a mother of one of the boy's in my class, but I did not know her very well prior to working with her.  In the first year or two we worked together in some green houses, and did some trucks together, and we slowly started getting to know each other a bit better.  By the time I reached grade 12, I was doing almost all my lunch breaks at her house, and I often went to her for advice about just about anything.  When my cousin Shelly was on life support, and it was decided that it would be removed, my mother called Mary Mae so she would tell me during lunch at her house so that I would not hear it from someone else.  Even though we should never have been friends, I loved her, and loved spending time with her.

So when I was in Halifax, many of these people came to visit, sent me cards, and sent their prayers.  They were like my "Garden Family", and the owners, Peter and Florence also came to visit and told me how they would help however they could.  I was a lucky girl, but it was around the day my counts started coming up that Mary Mae came to visit.  Her father was up for a check-up, so they were spending a day or two, and she had planned on staying at the hospital for an evening with me so mom and dad could have a break.  My fantastic cousin Debby had tracked down the VCR for me that day, and for the first time in almost a month I wanted to watch something, most of the time the moving images on TV would make me sick, but I did not just want to watch anything, I wanted to watch Wayne's World.  Poor Mary Mae was the one who was stuck with me on the day I wanted to watch this movie, and I could tell she was not too sure of what she had gotten herself into.  I am sure she thought I must have lost some of my mind along with my hair, as I laughed so hard at Garth and Wayne's antics on the screen, that I made myself sick several times.  It was the best night I had in weeks, and I don't even remember if I stayed awake long enough to say good bye when the movie ended.  You know you have a good friend when they travel for hours to visit, and sit through something that they would never usually watch otherwise, all the while watching you throw up repeatedly with your bald head and raccoon eyes.

But here is the kicker, Mary Mae, my wonderful friend and cheerleader, became my mother-in-law!  Yep, I married her son, Tim, and she has been stuck with me now for 19 years in total.  There have been many nights since that I am sure I have been on her last nerve, and for many years I worried that she thought I was not good enough for her son.  I was always worried about not giving him children of his own, and also, she knew me so well that maybe she just did not want me to be bringing all my baggage to her family.  It was different to be her daughter-in-law, and I probably worried about it more than she ever thought about it, but I am glad to say that now, all these years later my mother-in-law is my friend, and I cannot imagine having her to call when things go wrong in my life.  She continues to be one of my biggest cheerleaders, and we now share a history that only family can share.  We can start a sentence, and we know which story is coming, and I can say, "Remember that time when Tim did that?"  And she knows exactly what I mean. 

She will bawl her eyes out when she reads this, but I love you Mary Mae, thanks for everything over the last 23 years, especially your son, lol.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Centre of Hope

On Saturday night several of my Twitter friends were attending and twittering about the KD Gala here in town.  If you don’t know about this event, it is an annual event, and it is in support of the Centre of Hope.  As I sat thinking about the Centre, I decided to share some very personal stories about what the Centre of Hope has come to mean for me and my family.

The first few months that I was in Fort McMurray, I was hired and working for the registry office here in town.  I met people from around the world while working there, and heard so many personal stories since some of the services provided there meant that you had to ask some personal questions.  Over a couple of weeks I saw one man come into the office on several occasions, but I never had him at my counter.  I could see that he was frustrated some days when he didn’t have the proper paperwork, and sad on other days when he realized that he would have to return with another form to get whatever he needed.  On a Friday afternoon, in mid November, he arrived at the office which was almost deserted because outside it was bitterly cold, and the wind made your face sting when it hit you.  The girls in the office had been digging out Christmas decorations since it was so quiet, and I was nearest the counter when he entered, so he became my customer that day.  I was not in a rush, as we often could be, and that day, we walked through every form, every step, and we filled everything out together.  I made a few phone calls with questions, and we finally had everything done so that he could receive an Alberta driver’s license.  He left, and I never really thought about the transaction at all, until about three weeks later, and it was getting closer to Christmas.  It was again a Friday, but the office was filled to capacity, and the line was going out the door.  This man entered the office, and asked if he could have everyone’s attention.  He then went on to say that he had been struggling to get his license in Alberta, and had finally received it that day in the mail.  He said he did not have money to buy chocolates for the girls in the office who had helped him, but that he wanted to share a song as thanks instead.  You could have heard a pin drop as this man told his story and then gave a stunning rendition of Silent Night and then We Wish You a Merry Christmas.  It was better than any of the chocolates we received, and the sweet memory still lingers.  On the day he came in and I served him, I too was stuck with how to help him, so I called the Centre of Hope.  They knew the man, he had used their services, and together that day we came up with ways to help him.  The day he came to say thanks, he said that he had already gotten a job, and would be getting a place in camp.  That was the first time I thought that the centre truly gave people hope.

I never thought our relationship would get more personal, but it did.  I had debated sharing the rest of the story, but it really is something to be proud of instead of not talking about, so here it goes.  Our little girl’s biological mother has had a very hard life, and sadly, she never had a strong family connection or support.  So when she found herself in labor on a record breaking cold night in February, she had no one to go to….except for the Centre of Hope.  Workers there took her to the hospital, and were there when our beautiful baby was born.  As we worked towards the adoption, she continued to struggle with her own demons, but her love for her little girl always shone through.  Mother’s Day rolled around, and after we were all out to brunch, I thought, “I bet her mom would like to see her today.”  But where would she be?  I drove to the Centre of Hope, and there she was sitting on the picnic table, she had gone there for support that day as she was missing her little girl.  We returned on July 1st to watch the parade together.  The Centre was our connection.  And then came Christmas Eve.  We were busily running around, and were heading out to gather with family who was visiting, when we got a call from the Centre of Hope.  Our little girl’s mom was there, waiting for a visit with one of the government workers.  I called the office, and no one knew of a visit, and anyone who could help had already left.  At this time, we were drawing closer to the adoption, and the worker who I eventually spoke with was very matter of fact, and said that I did not even have to call back, not to worry about it, and that no visit would happen.  I sat torn for almost 20 minutes, but the image of her mother sitting there on Christmas Eve was too much to stand.  I called the Centre back, and told them not to tell her, but I was coming, was it okay with them? 

I will never, ever forget arriving with our little girl dressed for Christmas Eve.  Her mother ran faster than any Olympic sprinter down those stairs when they called up for her, and she ran straight into my arms with words of thanks and gratitude pouring from her mouth.  Everyone there, workers, and clients both gathered around to proclaim what a beautiful little girl we had.  Her mother beamed proudly, and quickly handed her back when she started to cry because she did not want to upset her.  She said she would have been happy just seeing her through a window, but this was so much better.  It was one of the most powerful moments I have ever had in my life, and as she handed her daughter back to me, she said, “Go back with your mommy, I love you, Merry Christmas baby girl.”  The Centre of Hope made the moment happen, they give hope to those who are way too often overlooked, and while there can be many hard stories, the Centre has magic happening there, and should be supported and celebrated by the community.  I am glad the gala was well attended, and I hope the support continues as we approach the Christmas season.

Verna can be reached at:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Keep it going!

Life gets to busy, especially when you have sick people in the house.  As many of you know, my husband, Tim was in a bad accident a few months ago, and yesterday he was told that he may have more long term problems with his leg and hip.  This morning I woke up to one sick child, and by lunch time another one had joined him.  But I still have much to be grateful for....

First, I am still grateful that my husband is here with us.  We have heard so many horrible stories about others who have suffered an even more terrible fate than Tim's...I can only hope that those impaired drivers willl learn some hard lessons and make some major changes in their lives.

Second, I am happy that to have a house full of children on any given day.  I love that our boys have their friends coming and going, and I am blessed that we have new friends who trust and share their children's lives with us.

Third, I am grateful for the ability to sit down and do what I have always wanted to do since about the age of seven.  I love words, and I love creating stories and sharing our stories with everyone.  I continue to believe that we are all more alike than we are different, and that in sharing, we all feel more connected.

Fourth, I am grateful for good teachers.  I had some fantastic teachers during my years at Mabou Consolidated, and they encouraged, supported and inspired me to think about things that I had never thought about before.  On the day after Nelson Mandala was released from prison in South Africa, our english teacher, Carol Chisholm held a, "Free Mandala" party, and she brought in blue cheese and crackers.  I had never tasted blue cheese, and I had never heard of Mandala.  She brought South Africa to rural Cape Breton, and she made me want to visit there, it is on my bucket list, and when I go, I will send her a post card, and once again thank her.  Great teachers like her can make you dream bigger, think bigger, and want more for your do you thank someone for doing something like that for your life?  Already in my boys' lives, I see that there are teachers shaping their lives, and even that Shayleen looks to her teacher for guidance and direction.  We are lucky to have such support now as parents, and praise the Lord for wonderful teachers.

And finally tonight, I am thankful for wonderful neighbors.  Wherever we have wandered in our lives, we have always had fantastic neighbors.  When we first got married, and were living poorly in Howie Centre, we had neighbours that I would still fantastic friends, even though we don't see each other any more.  And then we moved to Chisholm Road, Long Point, Nova Scotia.  Yes, rural Cape Breton, and some of the most fantastic people you have ever met lived on that short little stretch of road.  Long Stretch Road was our next address, and over 7 years, we made a family there.  We had neighbors that we now call family.  The MacLellans, the Downards, the MacLean's and the MacGregor's were one's that held an especially special spot in our hearts.  We have never been able to replace them, but the neighbors on Becker Crescent are trying!  We have now been here for five years, and last night, when I took our baby girl around for treats, my heart was touched with our neighbors who asked about Tim, who wondered how I was holding up, and who had special treat bags to send home to my boys.  We have been so blessed over the years to be surrounded by wonderful people, who all make our days a little easier and brighter! 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday nights!

Giving gratitude is easy!  I hope everyone is passing it on, I have had some absolutely wonderful emails, why wait to tell someone you love them? 

So tonight I am giving thanks to Saturday nights.  When I was a little girl in Mabou Harbour, Saturday nights meant fiddle music and trips to Glencoe.  Glencoe was the small, close knit community where my mother grew up, population, 50?  Maybe, lol.  But the people that grew up there, always returned for church at a small, picturesque church that stood alone in the woods, next to a hall that saw more meals served for funerals and weddings than all of us combined have seen in our entire lives.
Dad would play fiddle tunes all the way up to Glencoe, and on the way back, usually classic country, George Jones, Charlie Pride, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson.  But as I hit my teenage years, there was a station that came to us all the way from Prince Edward Island, and on Saturday nights they played all the oldies, Elvis, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, and the Righteous Brothers.  I fell in love, and a tradition was started. 

Through my high school years, Saturday nights were still filled with music, some nights on the bumpy roads to Glencoe, and then later, with friends, at their houses, or at dances.  At college, Saturday nights were filled with music, we were lucky enough to go to a college where bands were brought in on a regular basis, but we were also surrounded with talented musicians.  It was nothing to us to go to someone's room on a Saturday night and make a case of beer last while listening to someone play the guitar and sing, or play the fiddle while we danced.  Looking back now, it was something we took for granted. 

And then I got married, and some Saturday nights we were too broke to go out to dance on a Saturday night, so my hubby would turn on the stereo and we would dance in the kitchen.  I loved our Saturday night dances, and he will still take me in his arms and waltz me around the room....well, he doesn't right now, but I know when he is back on his feet he will sweep me off mine again.  LOL....good thing we keep our sense of humor.

Our boys came, and some Saturday nights Tim worked shift, and would not be home.  On those nights, I would put on Disney soundtracks, and give the boys their bathes and dance our way to exhaustion, before I would tuck them into their beds....until they creeped over to mine to cuddle. 

Now are Saturday nights are still filled with music, it is a tradition we have kept, and we listen to a mixture of things that the boys like, but Cousin Brucie's Saturday night show on satellite radio is a favorite of mine, as it has great stories from real people who love music as much as I do, and Cousin Brucie is the ultimate lover of music and genuine it makes his show touch your heart week after week. 

The other thing I am grateful for are my Saturday night memories, I got to enjoy many Saturday nights with my sister-in-law, Michelle, and her kids before they moved from here in Fort McMurray to go back home to Cape Breton.  I loved our nights sitting on the deck enjoying music, good food, and the kids running around.  And while I miss them terribly, I will treasure the time that we had, the times we have to come instead of being sad that they are not here to make more memories together.

So on this Saturday night, I hope that your night is filled with music, good friends, family and wonderful memories.  I gotta run, Shayleen wants to dance!

Friday, October 26, 2012

My thanks today, new and old.

I absolutely have the most fantastic thanks to give today!  First of all, and foremost, I want to thank and give gratitude to my friends.  I have a wide variety and mixture of friends, and I am so lucky to have them all in my life.  I have some friends who we really don't keep in touch any more, sure we are on each other's Facebooks, but we don't get to see each other due to distance, but even though we are separated by miles, and do not speak very often, there are some friends I know I can pick up with right where we left off.  There are some girlfriends with whom I might not speak with for months or even years, but we still send each other messages when we know we might need a pick me up, or a cyber "high five". 
And there are other friends who I have never met.  Yep, never.  We have a connection online, and we support each other in our loves, such as writing or food, and it has grown from there, and we support each other in our every day lives. 
The friends that I have in my life are a treasure, and since I suck so bad on the phone, and with making every day small talk, they are really special for putting up with my quirky ways.  So love and kisses are being sent out tonight to my friends, old, new and virtual.

Second for the day, I am thankful for Matt Minglewood.  Now all my friends are laughing, because he has been a staple in my life every single day now for the last 34 years or so. Tonight I drove Mitchell and some friends to Gregorie, and on the way home I had the Live At Last Cd blasting all the way home, while I wiggled in my seat at the stop lights and sang at the top of my lungs right along with Matt.  He has been there for me when I danced with my husband on our wedding night, when my boys were born, on sleepless nights with Shayleen, and most importantly, he provided the entertainment for some of the most fun nights I have had through my lifetime....with my friends, dancing like fools, and laughing like we had no cares.  Thanks Matt, I will always love you.

Third, I am thankful for some things that we all take for granted every day.  Grocery stores, running water, and shelter.  Again, you can ask my friends, I have always wanted to travel to Africa since grade three to raise awareness for the plight that many people face there, like lacking such things as food, and safe drinking water.  Next year, another friend of mine, Blake Crossley will be traveling there with his son Nathaniel, who has raised money for wells in Africa.  I will live vicariously through them, and when they start raising money next month for their trip, I will share with you what they are up to so that we can all help them make their dream come true.

Fourth, I am thankful for good books!  I started my Friday book review tonight, and I honestly had forgotten how much I love sitting down with a good book, and having another one ready when I am done.  Books are my way of traveling, discovering, and seeing a different point of view about life and every thing about it.  They bring me to new countries, and help me learn, but even better, they make me forget about all the regular every day "stuff" and they whisk me away for a while.

Lastly today, I am thankful for clean, nice sheets.  I changed ours today, and I am already looking forward to the way they will feel tonight when I crawl into bed on this snowy night in Fort McMurray.

I hope this reminds you of something you are grateful for, or even better, a person you are grateful for, and go ahead and tell them!

My Friday Book!

So every Friday for the next three months I am hoping to have a review up of a book that I have read during that week.  To kick it off, where would I go but to Cape Breton?  My first book that I read this last week, and would love to share is Her Mother's Daughter by Lesley Crewe.

Crewe hails from Homeville, Cape Breton and she has a wonderful ability to develop characters who are just like your neighbors and even some family members from Cape Breton.  And the characters in this book are no different.  You fall in love with some of them quickly, while others you want to see them put in their place. 
The opening of the book sees two sisters living two very different lifestyles, one had run off to New York, by way of Toronto, while the other sister remained at home to look after their mother and her daughter.  But life often brings many twists, and they see their lives colliding together, and of course, memories, and old stories are brought up, as are old feelings and new drama. 
Bay has had some terrible things handed to her through out her lifetime, and the hits just keep coming.  But I don't want to ruin the book by telling you too much about it. 
I will tell you that I loved it, I love when I see myself in characters, and that happened with this book.  When I finished reading it, I immediately went to the computer and ordered Lesley's new book, Kin, and I can't wait for it to arrive! 
You never know where you are going to find an author that you will really like, and I fell in love with Crewe when I read Relative Happiness, and I keep picking up her books ever since.  I hope you will enjoy her book as well, and if you live in Fort McMurray and are interested in reading it, drop me a note and the first one to respond can pick it up here!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Something new!

I have given myself a few new challenges for the next few months, and I am hoping to keep to the promises I make here on my blog.  My first challenge is that I am going to read a book a week and review it here on each Friday.  My first review is going to be up tomorrow, and it is a fantastic read! 
My second challenge, is a total experiment in life and social media.  I am going to post things that I am grateful for every single day for the next thirty days.  Some things are going to be from my past that have stayed with me over the years, and other things will be the normal every day events that we often overlook.  The reason I am taking on this project is that I feel like I am in a bit of a rut, and I need a reminder of the good things in life, and for the book part of the challenge, I really have gotten away from reading just for enjoyment, and I want to go back to something that I love so much. 
So here we go, my first gratitude day, and I am sure there will be some that you know that I will want to share. My goal is to share at least five things a day.

First of all, I am grateful for my family.   Many years ago, I wished that I would some day fall in love, be married and have children.  Every dream that I had came true.  Thanks for 17 years of married life Tim, and three wonderful children, and many others that have come and gone and have blessed our lives in many different ways.

Second, thanks to my sister, Virginia, for giving me 20 extra years of life.  How do you thank someone enough for giving you the chance to have a family, a chance to travel and experience things you only dreamed of?  How do you thank someone for the bone marrow that created two other lives, and helped support over a dozen children in their little lives?  How do you thank someone for sunsets, walks on the beach, fireworks with loved ones, and new challenges?  Thanks for life Virginia, I love it every day.

Third, I am thankful for my health.  I still have some struggles, and I still get scared sometimes, but every day I am not in hospital and suffering, it is a blessing.  A few times now in the last 20 years I have had periods of being almost overwhelmed with fear about what could happen, but after my last scare, I really thought I cannot live like this, I have to just take every day as it is and enjoy it as much as I can.  So that is what I am doing.

Fourth for the day, I am grateful for good books.  I had forgotten how much I loved a good book, and that feeling of getting lost in the story and trying to cram it into my day.  But a few months ago I saw Jann Arden had given herself the challenge to read a book a week, and I thought about how I use to read a few books a week, and it was never a challenge.  So I have started reading again, just for enjoyment, and am devouring books from all different genres.  I can't wait to share some of my finds.

And finally for today, I am grateful for an evening off!  Ever since Tim's car accident, I have been kind of living like a single parent.  So all of the kids' activities, the shopping, the errands, the every day things like taking the garbage out, and the laundry have all fallen to me.  So tonight, after picking Shayleen up at school, and returning home, I did not have to go back out the door for anything, and I have completely enjoyed the time to cook, sit, read and do some writing. 

I hope that my gratitude will rub off, and you will share your gratitude with someone in your life.  It will make them feel good, and therefore you will feel good, and besides all that, it will be fun!  I am already thinking about some terrific stories that I can share, and hopefully if the people are not on facebook, someone will pass the story on to them for me! 

Until tomorrow.....have a good night!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

How much is too much?

This was probably one of the harder blog pieces to do, and I asked some family and friends how I should approach it.  Through this blog, I only wanted to share my story, not scare anyone, or disgust anyone with details, just share.  So when it came to some of the details, I finally felt that if I left them out then I was glossing over some of the story and tying it up with a "pretty bow".  Aplastic Anemia, and cancer are not pretty.  There is nothing glamorous about it, and you would not wish it on your worst enemies.  So it took me a while, but here it goes.

The few days that followed the transplant were pretty uneventful, except for my glorious visit from Matt Minglewood.  And then somewhere around Day Four or Five, the nurses were just getting ready for a shift change,after supper, when they came into my room to a check on me for their paperwork for the end of the day.  I can still remember the look on the nurse's face as she took my temperature and realized that it was elevated.  By this time, the nurses knew me well enough that I wanted any and all information right away, and I knew as soon as I saw her face that this high temperature was not going to mean for a good night.  She left the room, and was back in short time with a doctor and new bags on my now overburdened IV poles.  Yes, poles, I had two of them to hold everything, and they were my life line and I hated them.  The doctor informed me that they were calling Doctor Neville, but that a protocol was in place for when patients had a rise in temperature, and antibiotics were one of the first things they did.  It could just be a little infection somewhere, or it could be that my body was rejecting the new bone marrow in my body.  So the new drugs were started, and Doctor Neville showed up to check me out himself and tell the nurses to keep a close eye on me for the night.  As the evening wore on, and nothing was really happening, I told Mom and Dad to go get some sleep and I would do the same. 

At around 11p.m. I felt like something was going wrong.  I had terrible pain in my legs, and if possible, I felt even more sick than I had been the last few days.  One of my favourite nurses was on that night, we called her "Little Paula", and she came in and said with all my sweating, that maybe I would feel better with some clean sheets on the bed and some warm facecloths to rinse my neck and face off.  Once I started to sit up, I knew I would continue to throw up, so I asked Paula and another nurse to help me to the bathroom.  With all my contraptions, a walk to the bathroom was no easy task, but I got there, and back to the bed, but once there, I started getting violently sick, and I hit the clean sheets.  I was so humiliated, here the poor nurses had just cleaned the bed all up.  By this time it was almost 1a.m., and I was feeling worse and worse.  Another call was put into the doctor, and the nurses asked if I wanted to call my parents.  No, I did not want to wake them up, so I insisted the nurses not call them. 

And then for a 19 year old girl, who had lost so much in the last few weeks, it felt like I lost my pride altogether, as I continued to be so sick, I lost control of my bladder and bowels.  Now let me tell you, if this has never happened to you before, you are blessed.  It is such a humiliating experience.  I was still a self-conscious teenager, who was horrified every day that nurses, doctors, cleaning staff, and even visitors all got glimpses of various parts of my body and backside.  More funnier stories on that to follow.  But I was off to the bathroom again, this time, bawling my eyes out with humiliation as the nurses tried to help me get cleaned up.  As they helped me and reassured me that this happened to everyone, I remember looking at them and thinking they were saying that just to be nice.  I had never heard anyone describe such a horrible experience as part of their having chemo.  By the time they got me back to bed again, I felt like my heart was struggling, and I felt as weak as a new born kitten.  The nurses later told me that they thought they were going to lose me that night.  After asking me again, I agreed it was time to call the hotel, I wanted my mom.  I am sure it was probably one of the worst drives she and dad ever took, as they wondered what was waiting for them, as I had seemed okay when they left earlier.  Mom was white as a ghost almost upon her arrival, and poor Dad looked so lost as to what to do.  By this time, I was so exhausted, that I would fall asleep to only wake up violently throwing up again.  It felt like the longest night ever, and finally around 4a.m. I asked mom if she thought I was going to die.  She doesn't like talking about death, and she waved her hand slightly and said, "Of course not, this is just the chemo, you need to say some prayers, and you will be fine."  I don't know if I believed her or not, but I do remember thinking I was so humiliated that I did not want to go through another night like that one.  And I remember thinking that this was not how I wanted to live the rest of my days, so violently sick, it was no life, so if God was ready to take me, I was ready to go.  But that was in that moment, and in the morning, when I felt a bit better, I told God I changed my mind, I still had some more to do.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Just what I needed!

Although my story is pretty heavy, there were wonderful uplifting moments during my hospital stay, and I have been thinking about one in particular for over a week now.  But you will need some background.

I love music, when I think back to my childhood and teenage years, I actually have a soundtrack in my head that goes with certain memories.  I had aunts and uncles that loved everything from Johnny Cash to the Guess Who and everything in between.  Growing up in Cape Breton meant that you listened to "Scottish Strings" at 6p.m. after the five o'clock news was over.  At least at my house.  Fiddle music was like the backdrop music to the memories, like sitting in the cars at the square dances in Glencoe and listening to "our" music while the sounds of the fiddle drifted out into the night air from the hall.

But as much as I loved music, I don't even know if I can tell you how much I adore one musician in particular.  Those that know me, will be chuckling by now, because I loved Matt Minglewood before it was cool to love him, and everyone knew it.  I don't remember which aunt or uncle introduced me to Matt's music, but I know it was either my aunt Mary, or my uncle Neil.  I do remember that Mary was the one who bought me my first album.  On a hot summer day 32 years ago, I met Matt Minglewood for the first time.  I was seven at the time, and was wearing a spaghetti stained spiderman shirt, shorts, and rubber boots.  I do not remember if I even talked, but I remember how he picked me up and put me on the hood of Dads' old green truck and addressed me just as he was talking to the others that were there.  He signed my "Movin' On" eight track, and I became an even bigger fan.

Over the years I can give you such amazing stories about the great fun that I had with my friends and family when I went to see Matt Minglewood play, the first time I saw him live was at a prom in Judique, and I stood there with a silly look of amazement near the stage when I wasn't dancing.  LOL, no wonder my friends would give me a hard time for being a groupie.  Little did they know, I had collected every scrap of paper every written about Matt since I was in about grade five, and kept it all in extensive scrapbooks.  I showed a few to Matt one time, and I am sure he thought I was a bit of a weirdo.

So two days before my transplant Matt was playing at the arena in my hometown of Mabou.  I was determined to go, and I remember begging the doctors to let me out, I promised I would return in the morning.  I thought that if I was going to die, I needed to see Matt one last time, and dance with my friends to my favorite songs.  Colleen MacDonald and I would dance like no one was watching when we went to Matt.  We knew people talked about how we would dance from the very first song Matt sang, while others were still gaining their courage with a few rum and cokes.  We would dance with each other when no boys were ready to hit the floor, and we always danced to Whiz Kids because that was "our" song.  I told all this to Dr. Neville, and he said he was sorry, but there was just no way it could happen.

When my uncle Neil and aunt Marion heard how I longed to see Matt, Neil went to the arena to see Matt just to tell him how sick I was in hospital in Halifax.  Years later my aunt Marion told me how they couldn't get a babysitter that night, so Neil went anyway, and when he went out to start the car some kittens had crawled up under the car, and they both had to go out on their hands and knees to coax them all out before he could leave.  The things that people did for me!  But I didn't know all that.

Meanwhile, I had the transplant behind me, but the drugs were taking a terrible toll on my body.  I was in and out of consciousness, and so sick, that part never ended.  But remember how I told you the nurses would come in to tell me if I had a visitor?  Well, Matt had arrived in the unit, and all the nurses were busy with other patients.  I had no clue he might come to visit, and was asleep when he entered the room.  So when I opened my eyes I thought that I had finally died and Matt Minglewood was the first person I was seeing in heaven.  I was groggy, and confused, he was wearing his trade mark cowboy hat, but he had on one of my doctor's jackets.  When people came in they had to put on gowns and masks to see me, with no nurses around to direct him, he had dressed the doctor part, and had stayed while I slept so he could see me.  I am not sure how long he had waited, but I honestly was so overwhelmed I rang for the nurse.  I asked her to sit me up some, and wash my face, while I apologized to Matt for how horrendous I looked.  I could not believe he was there to see me.  He did not know me that well, so for him to drive to Halifax to visit this sick teenager, well, now you know what kind of person he is...simply fantastic. 

Under his arm was a "Gund" dog, and he tucked him in beside me as he sat in the chair beside my bed.  The word on spread on the floor, and several nurses from Cape Breton found excuses to pop into my room in the next while to meet a living legend.  It was pretty funny how some of them pretended to not know he was there, but I shared the whole experience happily.  Matt's real name is Roy Batherson, and the new dog by my side quickly gained the name Roy as well.  He still sits on my dresser in my bedroom.

Sometimes when we show each other kindness, you really don't know how much you can affect the other's life.  I don't think Matt has ever understood how much his effort meant to me, and to all my family and friends.  Or maybe he is just a very modest man.  However, his visit brought me such joy that it carried me through many rough days to come.  As is came time for him to leave, he leaned in towards me on the bed, and very softly sang me a verse and the chorus of "Me and the Boys".  There are some days when I still think about that day, and it still brings a tear to my eye.  Be nice to each other, it is better to be remembered for touching someone in a positive way than a bad one.  And love people, and music with passion, they will both carry you on your worst days. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Day One

If we thought that transplant day was long, well, "day one" was never ending. Remember that movie, "Groundhog Day", where Bill Murray keeps waking up and having the same day over and over. Yep, that was what day one was like. Whenever you have a bone marrow transplant, there is transplant day, and the day following is called day one, then day two, and so on, kind of like you are counting all the new days of your life.

At the end of my bed was a white board that you could write on if I was asleep when you were visiting, where my blood counts of the day were written, and on day one a nurse came on shift at six or seven in the morning, and wrote in great big letters:

Day One
Right underneath this the nurse wrote my counts...I only remember my white count, it was .4.  Someone's usual white count ranges from 4.5 to 10.  The rest of my counts were extremely low as well, the chemo and radiation had killed everything.  It seemed I had a little climbing to do.  I fell asleep, and woke up around 7:30a.m., and was convinced it was day two.  But once I could focus there was the "day one" sign still staring back at me.  By this time I was constantly sick to my stomach, but my poor Doctor Neville was convinced he was upsetting me in the mornings.  He wore these fancy dress shoes with little tassles on them, and when he was coming I could hear his heels click on the floor as he was approaching the door.  By the time he reached my door my head would be hanging over the side of the bed, thus, I knew what his shoes looked like.  And to be honest, I guess when I heard his approach I would get tense.  I was scared of what he would say I would have to do that day, what tests would have to be done, what results he had and if they were good or bad. 
He was a "big city" doctor in my eyes, and every time he came into my room he would wonder about the growing number of cards that the nurses and my mother had taken to putting up on the wall.  There was no room for them on my window ledge any more.  He was amazed at the amount of support I was getting from a place that I described as a small town village on the east coast of Cape Breton.  But it was not just my home town of Mabou, it was the surrounding towns of Port Hood, Inverness, Judique and Port Hawkesbury that were sending cards, dropping off meals to my siblings, and putting me on their prayer lines.  How lucky was I to be born into such a wonderful part of the world.  Doctor Neville would eventually make the trip to Mabou to see what all the fuss was about. 
At 10a.m. Doctor Neville came to see how I was doing.  He said we would know be watching for rejection or infections.  And we would wait for my counts to start to going up.  It sounded simple.  I fell asleep again. 
On Day One something wonderful did start to happen.  There was one person who I was missing more than I ever thought possible, my Nanny.  She was my father's mother, and she lived just down the lane from me when I was growing up.  She had been sending letters with people who came to visit with me, and I had spoke to her once on the phone since leaving the Harbour.  In her letters, and her call she kept reminding me of a promise we had made each other years earlier, which I will tell you about in a future blog.  But she also kept saying that she was with me in spirit and praying so hard for me.  On Day One, Nanny's sister, Jenny, my dear, darling Aunt Jenny came to visit, and she became probably the most frequent visitor I had outside of my parents.  Aunt Jenny looked like my Nanny, she talked like my Nanny, she loved me like my Nanny, and she set my priorities straight when I needed it.  Aunt Jenny's daughter, Debby had a son named Jason, and he was coming into town to the IWK for cancer treatment, and was a patient there while I was in the VG.  I don't think anyone could have kept Jenny away from visiting Jason when he was in the hospital, and I was lucky that she took even more extra time to come see me as well.  She perked me up every time, and reminded me every day how lucky I was, she was like Nanny like that complaints, no feeling sorry for yourself.  Two of the strongest women I have ever known, and I was lucky enough to be loved by them both.  That day Debby had come too, and when I was telling her that I was too sick to watch anything on tv because it made me motion sick, she asked if there was a time of day I could watch something.  When I said maybe late at night I could watch something, she went and tracked down a tv and vcr and rolled it into my room.  Then she went to the store and bought me a Billy Rae Cyrus concert movie, because we both thought he was hot, and Wayne's World, because I had told her it was the funniest movie of all times.  I could see the doubt when I told her that, but she bought it anyway.  That was the kind of people they were to me...even though her son Jason was very sick himself, they still reached out to me to try to make me feel better.  When I started writing this project, I wondered every day if they were reading it, and I worried about it bringing back too many memories. 
On Day One, I fell asleep and woke up about fifteen times, and each and every time I woke up I thought it was a different, new day.  At supper time I made Mom ask the nurse to take the offensive words down off the board.  I thought that night I would watch one of my newly acquired movies, but that would happen in a few nights, and bring memories to be treasured, which again, I will fill you in on very soon. 
After all that waiting Day One was over, and it had some positives, you have to look for the positives right? 
I know some of these posts are longer, my time to work on them is limited, so stick with me.  Some laughs and more tears, unfortunately to come!  Oh, man, you are not going to believe the visitor stories I have in the next few days!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Avro Arrow

Tonight my 15 year old son sat down and composed the following about an issue that he is passionate about.  I am imploring everyone to share this as much as possible, and help him realize that politicians will listen to Canadians, no matter what their age, or passion.  He just wants someone to explain to him why decisions are made the way they are, and to take an average Canadians point of view into their decisions.  He will be a leader in our country some day, there is no doubt in my mind, help him make a start.

Mitchell's commentary:

Hello Mr.Fantino and Mr. MacKay,

My name is Mitchell Murphy. I am 15 years old and from Fort McMurray Alberta. I have just heard through various media outlets that you were one of the main deciding factors in the re-scrapping of the proposed Avro Arrow program. As an air cadet, a possible future member of the forces and a proud Canadian, this is a big disapointment. This was a golden opportunity to bring back a huge part of Canada's history, that never really took off. Not only is the Arrow a symbol of who we are, it would create jobs that could help strengthen our economy and develop our already very strong aviation background. Also, not only in the matter of careers, the Arrow would be a much better purchase compared to the F-35. The re-modeled Arrow would be faster, could fly higher, and fly further then it's out of country counterpart. And think about this: all weather fighter over a plane that would have major troubles patrolling an already very vulnerable, not to mention huge besides, northern Canada. Also, I heard that stealth is a 'big factor' on the checklist of things to have in a plane. Although that is a good point, the F-35's stealth capabilities would be hindered in many instances, including being on a wrong angle compared to radar waves, to close to a radar signal, or, my favourite, with weapons attached. At least if the Arrow was detected somehow, it could outrun the enemy fighters, etc. Although foreign relations are very important to me, as it is for this program, developing a strong relation with the United States, by paying them through the nose for a plane that shouldn't live up to Canadian military standards. I guess a big question for me at this point is: Why keep fighting amongst our own government and people over plane costs, while still paying another country for said plane, when we could be making our own, Canadian-made alternative that would help our economy and, best of all, give our nation something to agree on and get behind in autonomous agreement? Hearing myself say that makes me kind of sad actually. When I first heard of the new plan for the Arrow, I truly was in a state of bliss, you could say. Something that a whole NATION could be excited about, and it's regarding the military? Perfect! The stars have aligned in favor of our under-exposed military. I was really hoping that the goverment would seriously consider this offer, get the idea out there, and ask US, the heart and soul of decision making in this amazing country, how we feel about something of this magnitude. But instead, we find out about this project near the end of it's life, it would seem, through several media sourses trying to get the word out there. Why can't the people know about intentions of the goverment, especially with regards to the military. Everthing seems to be quiet, backroom deals that we can't know about because the goverment knows that they probably shouldn't be doing it. This is discouraging, considering our values and interests as Canadians. I like to be proud of who's standing up for my rights and my country. And I'm not just talking about our under-funded troops. Our government should be there for us. They should have our backs even when we aren't paying attention. And again, they seem to do the oppostite again, and most of us are letting them getting away with it. Not me. I know it is in your power to bring this issue up, and I should really hope that you at least consider my propostion. I will be sharing this e-mail with others that I know that have major public influence, so expect more than just a mere e-mail from some teenager of whom you've never met. This is all a first for me, and I hope that I have left an impact on you and your future decisions regarding this very important topic. Feel free to e-mail me anytime,, or call at 1-780-748-7714. I hope to hear from you soon Mr.Fantino and Mr. MacKay.

Mitchell Murphy
Fort McMurray, Alberta
Formerly of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Transplant Day

August 24 is a day that I will never forget or ignore.  If you talk to anyone who has any kind of transplant, that day is like your second birthday.  The 24th is mine.  The nurses were in bright and early that day to start doing some extra tests to make sure I was all prepared to receive Virginia’s bone marrow.  For most of the morning, Virginia was the only thing on my mind.  She was only 12 at the time, and I felt so guilty that because of me she was going to have to go to surgery and be put under anesthesia for the first time.  Even though Doctor Neville assured us all that it was a simple procedure, and that he was even going to do it himself, I felt like I was holding my breath all morning waiting for word that she was done. 

During the procedure Virginia would be asleep and unaware, and Doctor Neville would go into her hip bone, much like a bone marrow biopsy to retrieve the much needed marrow.  They told us that if they could not get enough from her hip, they would go into her breast bone.  This sounded so much worse to me, and I can remember praying that she would only have to endure them going into her hip. 

Mom had gone up with Virginia, and my aunts Sadie and Ruby had come up to help us all get through the day.  It was a sunny day, and I remember asking Sadie to open the blinds, and then she had gone out of the room for a few minutes.  When she went out, the sun hit the mirror that was on the wall to the right of my bed over the sink, and I had the sudden urge to see what my bald head looked like, so I asked my aunt Ruby to help me get positioned on the bed so I could see my reflection. 

My poor Ruby, she is one of the most soft hearted, kind people in the world, and I know that she loves me unconditionally, and she was having just as hard time with me being sick as my Mom, Dad and my Nanny were…so she seemed a bit reluctant to help me up, and I couldn’t understand why.  I had not yet seen my head, and that was really all I was thinking about.  But when I sat up, Ruby sat at my back to help support me sitting up, and there in the mirror was a stranger.  The girl looking back at me was not only bald, but her eyes were black and yellow from my eye brows to almost the middle of my cheeks, and were all swollen so that she looked like someone had beaten her badly.  Her lips were cracked, dry and had pieces of dry blood in the corners, and her actual color was kind of a pale green.  All I could do was stare for a few minutes, before I finally lifted my hand to touch my eyes, and the girl in the mirror did the same thing.  It was then that my ego took over, and I started one of those deep sobbing cries, where the snot runs down from your nose, and you feel like you can’t catch your breath.  And suddenly behind me, I could feel my aunt’s body, matching mine in sobs as she held me.  All she kept saying was that she was sorry.  Sorry that it was all happening, sorry that she had helped me sit up, and sorry that she couldn’t make it better.  It was not just me that was being affected by aplastic anemia, it was wearing on everyone around me. 

Around 11a.m. Mom came back to tell us that Virginia was out of surgery, and that Doctor Neville had been able to get enough marrow from just her hip, he extracted about a litre and a half altogether.  The transplant would happen at 1p.m.  For all the talk of this big transplant, when the time came my mom had actually gone to check on Virginia, and my poor aunt Ruby was there, I am sure having a heart attack as they came in to start.  But all it really was was just a milky, bloody looking bag that the nurse took in to hang on my IV pole.  It would go into the line on my chest, and would take about twenty five minutes.  The scary thing was that I was monitored very carefully for a few things, there was a great chance that my heart could stop, and there was also a chance that my body would immediately start rejecting the new marrow, and with that various things could happen; it could be as simple as a temperature, to something more serious as seizures, the nurses stayed and kept watch, and Doctor Neville also came in to reassure me that Virginia was okay and that things were going well.  After seeing me, he went and told the nurse to help Virginia come to see me.  Seeing her hobble in the room was all I needed to relax and carry on with the day, and I think Doctor Neville realized that, he was starting to grow on me.

And then it was over, Mom, Dad, Ruby and Sadie all sat around me that afternoon as I kept falling asleep and waking back up.  I think all of us kind of thought that something would happen right away after the transplant, but it didn’t.  Mom and Dad looked exhausted that night, but happy to take Virginia back to the hotel with them.  Tomorrow would be “Day One”, and we wondered what might happen.

 God was far from finished with me yet, and there are so many more stories within the "big one" to tell!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

First days....and being terrified for our kids.

I hope you will bear with me while I go off in a totally different direction today.  If it helps, I hope to have the next section of my other story up today as well. 

Today I am starting another journey of sorts with our youngest daughter, Shayleen.  Today I am, for the first time, turning her out to "public" so to speak, as she will be starting half days at school out here in Fort McMurray.  I have never done well with any of my kids starting school, and I still hate every single September as my older boys keep getting just that...older.  After having such a hard time having my boys, I feel like I am losing part of them every year when they go back to school and are that much closer to graduating.  I remember when they were really young, I would wish I would live to see them graduate, but now I want it all to slow down some so I can have them with me a little longer.

As for Shayleen, the best way I can describe how I feel today is absolute terror.  We adopted  Shayleen, but she was with us since her first day of life.  To tell you how lucky or blessed I have felt to have her in my life, I just can never put into words.  Due to the fact that she was a foster child first, and that she had many medical issues in her early life, I think we all felt even more protective of her over the years.  Even though we never left her one night alone in the hospital, and have only just recently left her with our best friends for a much needed vacation, we have still heard people say totally inappropriate things, as well as make racist comments about our dear little girl.

You see, we will never lie to Shayleen about where she came from, I thank God, her biological mom, the Driftpile band, McMann Family Youth and Family services, and the government of Alberta for all playing some type of role in bringing us together.  And I thank them every day.  When I think of how she could have been moved, or even died, I have to say God wanted her with us, and that fate plays amazing roles in people's lives, even when we don't know it.

When the boys started school, I literally followed the bus for two weeks.  I made myself available to the school for volunteering, supervision, school council, you name it, I wanted to be part of it all.  The poor boys, and the poor teachers that had to put up with me over the years. And then when we moved to Fort McMurray, I was scared of everything all over, not knowing anyone, the bus, the bigger school...yep, just about everything! 

But it is different today with Shayleen.  The boys are at a different school.  They won't be around to look out for her.  I won't be around to look out for her.  How do I teach her that kids may say some mean or even cruel things without making her think she is different?  I know some kids will eventually point out to her that she is looks different that the rest of us.  And as much as we have tried to prepare her, I hate the thought of her sitting on the playground some day alone and thinking she doesn't belong. 

Of course, I could try to keep her home, and sheltered, and hope that she would never encounter any cruelness in her lifetime.  But hopefully we will raise her the same way we raised our boys, and she will grow up to be a strong, independent woman who knows she is loved, and is smart enough to know that families now come in all shapes and sizes, and that she just has a huge one, that includes many communities from both Nova Scotia, and Alberta, so she is a very lucky girl.

I will look for help from the community, school, and those blessed teachers to help me to continue to raise our children....but really, pity help that first snot nosed little kid that gives our baby girl a hard time, lol. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sunday, God's day and rest.

So far in the story, I have to say that what I am about to share was probably part of the hardest.  I have only shared it with a few loved ones, and even now, I struggled with how much to share, and how to tell the story.  I hope you will bear with me.

On Sunday, it was now the 23rd of August.  I had several friends pop in to visit before they returned to college.  Each time one of them left I longed to be able to get up to go with them.  My best friend Lisa had already been up to visit and had given me a beautiful gold chain, which I had always given to only my closest loved ones as a gift.  At the time, I had seen it as something they could have close to their heart that would remind them of me when they wore it.  Lisa knew my thinking, and I can remember opening the slender brown box and being overwhelmed with emotion.  So many of my friends were on this journey with me. 

But I also felt that I had a few other people in my corner that were no longer with us.  My aunt Mary, my mother's sister was also my godmother.  When I was growing up, she was the type of aunt who always had suckers for the nieces and nephews, and gum in her purse, a habit that I continued as I got older.  She was one of those genuine people that you come across rarely in your lifetime that seems to touch everyone.  She was kind, compassionate, and always giving to others.  When I was 12 she passed away after fighting cancer for a few years.  She had just gotten married the year before, and I can remember her having a great sadness that she would never have children.  I always felt that she was with me at various times in my life, but I also remembered how close she was with my mother, and how devestated my mother was when she passed away.  It was another reason I was not sharing all my information with my mother, I thought at the time the less she knew the better. 

And just a few months previous to me landing in the hospital, my cousin, Shelly had passed away, and her close friends were now visiting me and telling me they were sure she was helping me out from above.  We had all been so distraught when she died, and I am sure it was hard for some of them to come see me in the same hospital where Shelly had passed away. 

On my rest Sunday, Lisa had come to see me before heading back home, and being one of my best friends at the time, she let me know how upsetting it was to my mother that I would often be telling her to go for a walk, or to go back to the hotel.  Funny eh?  I thought I was protecting her by not making her sit there all the time looking at my failing body, and she had thought that I just did not want her around.  Everyone's perception of things can be so different. 

During this "great" day of rest, I really didn't rest much.  How could I?  Tomorrow I would be doing yet another procedure that could both save or end my life.  As the day wore on, I almost did not want it to end.  What if the transplant did not work?  What if my heart stopped during the transplant, something that the doctor had said could happen?  What if this was my last night here among the living?  I was in an agitated state as "bedtime" approached and I knew that my parents would be leaving for the night.  I was still falling asleep and waking up, not knowing what day it was, and always at first wondering if I had just had the worst nightmare ever.  My body, by this time, was in great discomfort.  Not many minutes went by where I wasn't throwing up, my eyebrows had now fallen out as well, and some of my fingernails were as well.  My skin felt like it was on fire in certain places, and my hips and back were still sore from the biopsies.  To say that I was a mess was a great understatement.  The other problem that I was having already was that my hickman line was not flowing so greatly all the time, and I would often lay on my right side just to take the pressure of the lines off my body.  I now had about 14 bags of various medications and nutrients hanging on poles beside the bed.  I now know that many who came to see me at this point left wondering if and when I would die. 

It was in this confused, kind of dazed state that the priest came to see me to do my last rites and confession.  Mom and Dad sat there during the rites, saying some parts that they knew from memory, and sitting in silence as the priest anoited me.  As a parent now I understand what that must have been like for them, and I am sure that they probably went to the hallway during my last confession and held each other while they cried. 

I really did not have much to give the priest, as a last confession goes, mine was probably kind of weak.  I had regrets more than actual sins.  I regretted not being a better daughter and sister at times, I think I confessed that I probably cursed more than God would like, and that I sometimes talked about people in a mean way.  The priest told me to say a few Our Fathers and Hail Marys, and then he asked me if I was scared.  It was then that I confessed that I was terrified, and that I was scared everytime I fell asleep that I would never wake up.  He told me to pray to God for comfort and that he would be with me during the procedures, I just had to remember that.

I fell asleep as the priest left, I guess he did his job well.  When I woke up I was again laying on my right side, facing towards the door, with my back to the large reclining chair that was by the window behind me.  As I woke up I knew that there was someone there with me, and I thought it was Mom or Dad who had come back in when I had been asleep.  I asked who was there, but no one answered....maybe they had fallen asleep too.  The room was now dark except for the glow of the lights from the bathroom and the hallway.  I didn't care who was there, or if they were asleep, everything all at once came pouring out of me.  I told them how scared I was to die, and that I had so many things I wanted to do with my life, I told them how I wanted to go home to see my Nanny in her kitchen, and how I thought it was even a crying shame that I had never loved someone enough to even lose my virginity.  I wanted to live, I wanted to fall in love, and I wanted to not be sick any more. 

The best way I can describe what happened next is to tell you that I have never had anything happen like that before, and I have never experienced it again since.  At that moment, laying in the bed, and feeling totally helpless I felt totally surrounded by love.  It felt like the whole room was glowing, and I was so overwhelmed with love that I started crying.  And I knew it was love from God, but I also felt like it was love from people I knew, like Mary, and Shelly, and others, like my Grandfathers, who had passed away before I was even born.  And I knew in that instant, that even if I died, everything would be okay.  I knew for sure there was a heaven, that is filled with love and compassion, and it was all I needed to know.  I could feel a calm totally descend on me, and that calm stayed with me in the coming days, well, lol, most of the days.  Even now, I know without a doubt in my mind that miracles happen, and that there is a heaven.  I am blessed with that knowledge, and with the knowledge that life can be very short.  That has been a wonderful gift, and has made me live my life with more appreciation. 

As I lay there, still talking Dad came in the door, and asked who I was talking to?  I said I thought it was him or mom.  No, Mom was talking to one of the nurses outside.  Well, I said, someone had been there, so he went out to ask the nurse.  No one could come in my room without being buzzed in the main doors of the unit.  No one had come in or out since the priest left they said.  But I knew otherwise, someone or something had been there for me in my time of need. 

Tomorrow would be transplant day, and I was ready. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Getting ready for Transplant

A huge gathering of doctors standing around my bed early Morning was how my journey towards my bone marrow transplant began.  They were there to fill me in on some of the nicities that Paula had told me about the night before.  The first thing to be done was that I would be taken to surgery to have a hickman line put into my chest.  It was a main line that is inserted into the "superior vena cava"...or big vein in your chest, and it is tucked up near your heart on the inside. Right at the skin a little stopper is put in place to hold it there, and then they stitch it in place.  The doctors explained that they would then be able to give me medications and blood, and do blood work without always poking at me with needles.  I am sure this was suppose to sound good to me, but all I heard was surgery.  When was this going to happen, oh, shortly they said very casually.  And for them, it probably wasn't a big deal, but I was still new to this strange medical world, so when you did not understand really what they were talking about, it was scary.

This is what it looked like on me, but on the left side.  But nothing went very smoothly in surgery, I had a scare.  They were having a hard time getting the line in because I have very small veins, this was going to continue to be a problem during the rest of my life.  But that day they actually were trying to "spread" part of the vein to get this tube inside.  My body was not cooperating, and my heart stopped.  It really was like in a movie, I could hear the voices of everyone around me, and I could see them charging the paddles to give me a shock, but it was like I was floating above it all, looking down.  And then it was over.  As soon as I woke up, I looked around and there was not a soul, and there was a toe tag on my big toe.  Oh my god I thought, I died.  Was I suppose to get up and go look for the angels, or someone I knew?  I know it sounds almost ridiculous now, but at the time I was a bit disappointed that heaven looked the way it did, and wouldn't the angels have taken the toe tag?  A nurse eventually came along to set me right, but the whole experience made me more anxious about the days to come.  When I was brought back downstairs they brought me straight to isolation, but the nurse had told Brian and Paula, so as they were wheeling me in the big double doors with the glass in them, they were there to say good luck and to tell me that they would be thinking of me, and they would be there when I got out. That was the last time I saw Paula. 

I will not kill you with details, with names of drugs and procedures, but on Monday and Tuesday of that week I had every test you can possible imagine, to every organ in my body.  It was like NASA, getting ready for the countdown.  Except my countdown was to chemotherapy starting on Wednesday, and the bone marrow transplant would be on the 24th...just 12 days after I had been admitted. 

Usually people know months, and even a year in advance of having to get a bone marrow transplant.  But I had something so rapid and rare, that was in an advanced stage, and that meant that the doctors had to work fast. The chances of me getting this disease were about one in a million back then.  Now there are about 2 cases per million people in Canada  diagnosed a year, so we are still a pretty rare bunch.

So the plan was with chemo and radiation that they would destroy all the bone marrow in my bones, and then Virginia's healthy marrow would replace it.  Virginia was nothing short of excited that she was the match, and I think my other two siblings always felt like they had somehow let me down because they did not match.  Funny eh, I would have rathered it not be any of them, so they would not have to go through anything either, but the doctor kept assuring me that it was easy for the donor, I thought I would wait and see.

Because everything was happening so fast, I started receiving five months worth of chemo on Wednesday.  I would receive that five months worth in four days, and be finished on Saturday.  If you ever have to have that experience, it is probably better for you not to read the rest of this because I do not want to scare you.

In the days leading up to the chemo I kept asking the nurses what it was going to be like, and most said it was different for everyone.  But "Little Paula", who was one of my favourite nurses almost right away in isolation sat down on my bed the day I was to start and told me that whatever happened, that they were all there to help me through it, and that they had seen it all before, so not to hesitate to ask questions or call for help if I was worried about something. 

It was another nurse named Threasa who brought that first bag of chemo in to hook me up.  She was wearing special gloves, a mask and a gown just to hold the bag.  But this is what was going to be injected into my chest?  She hung the dark yellow, almost brown bag up with the growing number of bags hanging over my head, and then sat to wait to see if I would have any immediate reactions.  I didn't.

But a few hours after that first dose, I began my long, long road of being sick.  I can remember asking the nurse if it was normal that I really did not feel that bad until they had all gotten a hold of me?  I definitely wasn't sick to my stomach until they injected me with poison.  And then I started moving my head on the pillow, and huge chunks of my red hair would stay behind.  On Thursday afternoon, I did not feel too bad, so I asked Paula to come in and wash my hair for me before Mom and Dad came back from a walk.  It was bothering Dad seeing me lose my hair, and he kept swiping it away thinking he was hiding it from me.  Another nurse came in when we were setting up and asked if I knew that by doing this that I would probably lose the rest of my hair?  Really?  No, I had not known that, I had only started chemo yesterday!!!  But then I thought, well, why drag it out, let's just get rid of it now instead of being sad everytime another chunk came loose.  So when poor Mom and Dad walked back in, I was completely bald, with one lone hair that stayed attached almost right at the top of my head.

By this time I had also developed something they were calling "raccoon eyes".  By Thursday, I was in and out and did not have much concept of time, I was so sick that I would wake up and be violently ill, and then fall asleep from the exhaustion of it all.  Sorry, but this was the closest picture I could find to what my eyes looked like at the time...but I did not know because at this point I was too weak to get up, so I had not seen a mirror.

During the chemo and the radiation that week, I continued to have tests to get ready for the transplant.  Friends and family continued to pop in that week, and some I remember, and some I don't remember seeing, but I could hear everyone even when they thought I was asleep.  Saturday was the last day of my chemo, and at some point along the way I had stopped bleeding, and I asked the doctor that was in that morning what that meant.  He replied that it was a good indication that the chemo had shut down the ovaries, which was a good thing, he thought, because it was one less thing my body had to deal with.  Again, I asked this new weekend doctor if I would have children some day.  No, he did not think so, and my body seemed to be telling me that already.  He walked out while I curled up in a fetal position and began to cry again.  I heard the door open and just thought it was Mom, but when I looked up, it was one of my best friends from school, Tim.  He stood there in his brown leather jacket and blue jeans for a second before he rushed over to my bedside and started to rub my back.  All I could get out was that the doctor had been in and said I would have no children.  And do you know what that man said to me?  As I lay there with no hair, smelling I am sure like rotting potatoes and looking like someone had beat me up?  He said, "Don't worry, I will be able to get you pregnant, I have the best sperm ever."  Seriously, that's what he said, just as my Dad entered the room, and I broke into a fit of laughter.  I laughed so hard I started throwing up, again, and usually I would make whoever was there leave the room, but I let Tim stay.  And he didn't run for the door.  I eventually married that man, but that could be a whole other book. 

Later that afternoon another friend who had listened to me boo-hoo over boys in high school, and swaped clothes with me for dances named Shannon came to visit.  And now, I can't remember where she was going, but I think it was Ontario.  For some reason, when she left I became convinced I would never see her again, and I could not be consoled for hours after she left.  Some things that you would not think would be upsetting, would have a terrible impact on me.  I was always worried about whoever came in to visit.  In isolation they had to come in and ask the nurse if I was having visitors, and they would have to put a gown and everything on to come in because my immune system was so surpressed, I could not be exposed to anything.  I was not allowed to have flowers or fruit in the room.  So when the visitor would tell the nurse who they were she would come in to tell me, and I would ask the nurse to tell them how I looked and if it bothered them too much, I would understand if they did not want to come in.  Of course, when the nurse said some names, I would try to sit up and not look so dead in the bed, but there was only so much I could do, lol.

Sunday would be my "rest" day.  No tests, no treatment, and hopefully no pain.  But it would be another day that would change everything for me, this time in a very huge way.