By the time I had finished up my bone marrow test biopsy again on Friday, my uncle Eddie was on his way to Halifax with my siblings. A.D., my brother was 17 at the time, my sister, Virginia was next at 12, and Vanessa, the baby was ten years younger than me at 9. I remember them saying that they huddled in the backseat all the way to Halifax as the air conditioning made them chilly, funny the things that you remember. My uncle Eddie is only a few years older than me, and I thought he was the coolest guy growing up. He always had a cool car, played loud music, but paid attention to his young nieces and nephews when he didn't have to. And not only was he fun, he was the guy that you knew if you needed a hand he was there, and often did not even have to be asked. When Mom called home, word spread that that my siblings would have to go to Halifax, I am sure before anyone else tried to make the arrangements he was on his way to pick them up.
Doctor Neville said I could leave the hospital, but had to come back for the nights. I did not want to tell my aunts and uncle, and friend how much pain I was in from the two biopsies, so when they said they wanted to take me out for Chinese, I did not want to make the situation more boring for them all, so off we went to the China King Buffet on Quinpool. I could tell Dad was either not interested in the food, or had too much going through his mind, as all he did was push the food around on his plate. I was the same, the thought of eating anything kind of turned my stomach, and it almost felt bizarre that life seemed to be just as busy as when I had gone into the hospital on Wednesday. I looked around at the other tables and wondered when I would go to another restaurant and enjoy the meal and not be thinking about such things as chemo and bone marrow biopsies. I wondered if I would ever get to do it again.
Then it was back to the hospital, and it seems almost comical now when I think of everyone gathered around my bed saying good night. Everyone was reluctant to leave me there, and they did not know what to say. The nurse came in and said that the kids would all undergo blood tests in the morning to see if anyone was a possible match. Needless to say, I don't think any of us got much sleep that night.
After the tests Saturday I was sprung again for the day, and felt like doing absolutely nothing. I was just thinking too much, and was so distracted that I was not good company at all. But by the afternoon I was climbing the hotel walls, many were calling my mother at the hotel, and she kept repeating all that she knew over and over again. Suddenly I did not want to hear about being sick, I wanted to run away and never go back to the hospital. As it was, I was counting the hours and minutes until I had to go back to my "new reality". And that was when the phone rang for me. School friends Suzanne and Deanne were in Halifax, and had gotten together to see if they could do anything for us. And since I was out for the day, they asked if they could entertain me for a while. The Buskers were in Halifax for the annual big festival, and they came to pick me up to walk down along the waterfront. It was so good to see them, and talk about normal things, I could tell they did not know how to bring the "illness" up, and I did not want to talk about it. We watched some of the performers, and looked at the boats just like everyone else was doing. I gulped the air like I would never be outside again, I know that sounds bizarre, but my senses were in overdrive, and I can still remember every smell, and even the things around me seemed like they were in techno-colour.
Mom had not wanted me to stay out too long, like I was suddenly going to break if I was out of her sight for too long. But I remember pushing the visit a bit longer, and we headed to Wendy's for a late lunch. It was then that I told them some of what the doctors had said. I was pretty detached, and unemotional, but did not realize it until I looked up and saw the tears sliding down their faces. It must have been bizarre for them too, we had all grown up together, played hockey, ringette, and ball together, and had countless sleepovers during the years. We had all been so sheltered while growing up, so it was hard to know what to say when you had never even heard of this stuff before. I remember them both telling me that I would be okay, and while I wanted to believe them, and I wanted to reassure them, I just did not know any more.
Sunday would be my last day of "freedom", and it was raining. We did not really do anything, just hung out for the day. I think at that point, none of us really knew what to talk about any more. My aunts had gone back home, there was not much to do except sit and wait. The nurse had said if there was a match we should know by the end of the day Saturday, or early Sunday. As we sat in the later hours of the afternoon, none of us said it, but we all were so sad that we never got the call. Every time the phone rang, we all stopped talking and waited for the first few words to let us know who was on the phone. Around supper time there was a knock on the door, and it was another school friend, Geoffrey, who wanted to take me for supper. I wasn't up for anything to eat, but I wanted to go for one last little walk before going back to the hospital. We were staying the Lord Nelson hotel, and I convinced Mom that we would go walk around the inside of the Spring Garden Road mall. Geoffrey had talked to Deanne, and I could tell from his quietness how worried he was. We walked for a bit, and then when I said that I better go back to Mom he simply stopped and gave me a gigantic hug and said he would pray for me. I tried so hard not to cry, we were all kind of brought up like that in Mabou. You didn't go on about how sad something was, or how you were praying for someone. You knew that someone loved you, but you didn't hear it all the time. The mall was kind of dark, and empty, and as we made our way up the escalator I quickly asked Geoffrey if he had any change. I flung the quarter over my shoulder and into the water fountain below. I squeezed my eyes shut tight and wished with all my might. I didn't wish to be better, or to wake up from a dream. I didn't wish that chemo would be easy, or to even find a match. At 19, with an hour to go before I was back to the hospital for what I thought could be the last time, I wished with all my might for a family. I wanted to live and fall in love, and have babies and experience so much. I didn't want to die without those things, it just seemed too sad.
Before going in the hospital I had been working at Mabou Gardens, with such a fantastic wonderful group of girls, many who are still my absolutely best girls. You know the ones...you can not talk for months, and just pick up where you left off. You can belly laugh with them until it hurts, and you share stories that no one else "gets", you just have that history. When we were young and working there at one point we had put pots on our heads in a silly moment, and of course, our boss walked in at that moment. We were forever after known as the "Potheads". I loved Shelly and Tracey like my own sisters, and missed them already. When I arrived at the hospital there was a teddy bear with a balloon tied to his arm, the card said, "Love from Potheads 1 and 3. I was 2. Only Mom and Dad had brought me back that night, and the rain just matched our blue moods. The nurse came in behind us as I sat on the bed and read my card.
"Is that a congratulations card?" she asked. I raised my head and looked at her, was she taking some of the good drugs on the sly? Why would someone send me a congratulations card? She looked at me, and then Mom and finally turned back towards the door where Dad was staying. As she took in our long faces, she almost started crying as she asked if we had gotten the call. No, we had not gotten any call.
I will never forget how warm her arm felt around me as she lowered herself on the bed beside me and put her arm around my shoulder.
"Oh, Verna, they found a match. You are going to have a bone marrow transplant. We start tomorrow." And that was it, another beginning. I had another chance, and my 12 year old sister, Virginia was the lucky winner.
Mom and Dad headed back to the hotel to share the great news, and I pulled my curtain and got ready for bed. I am sure I was not laying there 10 minutes when the tears started. I was terrified, almost in a panic. I still did not know what was a head of me, but I did know that I had heard many horror stories of chemo and treatments in Halifax. Suddenly the curtain parted a bit, and it was Brian standing there helping Paula to come to my bed. He helped her lay down beside me, and then left us. I had never had a total stranger lay next to me in bed before, never mind that I was crying and feeling so overwhelmed, but it felt like the most natural thing in the world for her to do. As we lay there over the next hour, she cried with me, and held my hand, and told me everything that she could about what I should expect. She told me how everyone reacted differently to the drugs, but that everyone lost their hair, and everyone got sick to their stomach. And then she told me some of the side effects she had, and what seemed like the normal things for the others in the room. I told her everything the doctor had said, and asked her what different things meant. In that hour, I fell in love with that woman, she was in so much pain, and was suffering terribly, and she reached out to me to help me. I don't think I have met many that can do that so unselfishly. It is funny, I don't really remember what she looks like physically, but I can say without a doubt she was one of the most beautiful people I ever met.
When she felt like she couldn't talk any more, she softly called for Brian, and he helped her back to bed, but before she left, she said she would be right there waiting for me when I got out of isolation, and that she would be ready to go for a walk in the sunshine with me as soon as I was ready.
In the morning I was being moved into isolation, which was the "bone marrow unit" at the end of the hall on the 8th floor. I was starting to realize that I would be physically alone in that room, but I would be surrounded by many in other ways.
Tomorrow would bring more challenges.