A Tale of Two Cancers Epilogue

This will be the final installment of the cancer series, partly because the chronology of treatments etc. runs out at this point and partly because it’s just time to move on.

That being said, here goes nothing.

Following the benefit and it’s celebration of the end of treatments I began the process of healing, something that continues to this day. Needless to say, after eight months of inactivity and six months of extensive treatments, my body and mind were in need of some serious reahabilitation.

On the physical front, this began a couple of days after my last session of radiation therapy. When I walked into the physical therapy unit at my local hospital neither I nor my new team of therapists knew quite where to start, so we began with an assessment of my condition. I was basically weak and stiff and had to begin with very light exercises to start the process of rebuilding whatever strength and stamina I would eventually come to possess. My first day was spent testing my flexibility (very little) and strength (ditto) and seeing how I did walking on a treadmill. After walking 1 1/2 mph for ten minutes and doing a few stretching and strength exercises, I went home and slept for the rest of the day.

The thing about being so physically inactive for so long is that the body loses it’s ability to respond to anything remotely taxing, and all of the tiny muscles that connect to the spine and bones deteriorate to the point of being almost non-existant. So the first thing that must be done is to rebuild what are called the core muscles, because all of the larger muscle groups depend on having these as a base . In all, I spent five months in physical therapy, four days per week for the fisrst couple of months (about 1 1/2 hours a day) and then three times per week for the final three months. And once I was finished going to the hospital for rehab, I kept up with the exercises I had been doing for another four months.

By the end of my hospital sessions I was able to “jog” for ten minutes at a pace of about 5 mph — not bad for somebody who was suppossed to need a cane.

And when I began going to the gym to continue my rehab, I also began the process of weight training so I could start reconnecting with the self I had been previously. Talk about painful ! I’m used to being physically strong and now, well, I simply wasn’t. But the training I had done most of my life paid dividends at this time, because I could visualise what was happening in my body as I retrained it and could deal with the pain that accompanied each session. Slowly, and subtley, I began to see changes happen as I continued the regimen I had set out for myself.

At this time there was also an event that inspired me further on the physical front, but more importantly gave me a huge psychological lift. Each year the hockey team I had played with enters the Exclaim Cup tournament in Toronto, an event that is handled under the auspices of the Good Times Hockey League of Toronto. It’s a league and tourney that is made up of teams that have a majority of players who are actively involved in the arts in one way or another, and the Easter weekend annual tournament draws teams from Victoria to Halifax and includes a hootenanny that requires each team to put on a live performance of at least 20 minutes. The entire weekend is fun, from the hockey games featuring live music between whistles to the two nights of the hootenanny to the party that is in full swing the whiole time.

I had missed the previous years’ tournament due to my inability to get out of bed and was set to miss this one, too, but at the last minute I decided to go down to Toronto for it as a nonplayer, just to be able to hang out with the team and to have a bit of fun–something that had been lacking in my previous year and a half, as you can imagine.

Well, that tournament proved to be a real turning point in my recovery. When I got there, I shared a room with my buddies Dave Robertson and Rob Swales as I had in my previous times, and after we checked in and did a little rewiring of our neurological circuits, we headed for the rink to get ready for the first game and to see who was kicking around. Good call, because in no time I was surrounded by the friendship of not only my own team but by the friends and aquiaintences I had made during my time playing in previous years, people who had also been supporting my family with donations raised by the efforts of our team captain, Ray Henderson, a man who has come to mean a great deal to me and my family.

When the time for our teams’ first game rolled around, I found myself back in the familiar surrounding of the dressing room, with all of the pregame rituals and banter that make up such a great part of the weekly hockey experience. And then, before the team hit the ice, came a gesture that still gets me choked up writing about it.

Before the team left the dressing room, Steven Jackson took out a pair of skates, tied them together, and hoisted them over one of the waterpipes that run the length of the room, and as the team filed out to take the ice each player gave the skates a little tap with their stick. When I asked what that was all about, Steve told me that they were my skates and that at the previous years tournament they had done the same thing as a way of ïncluding” me in the game and to dedicate the game to me. Talk about a knockout blow !! For all of the machismo that is displayed by hockey players, there is also a deeply sentimental streak that goes mostly unseen, but this kind of gesture is an inarticulate way of communicating how much we care for each other as teammates and, more importantly, as people. Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather at that point, but what I did in response came as a complete surprise to both me and the team.

After they had left the dressing room and were waiting in the hallway for the zamboni to finish flooding the ice, I took down the skates and, through a few tears, put them on and joined the team for about two minutes of the warmup skate. I was shocked I could actually, barely, stand up on those suckers, and the grins on the faces of everybody in the rink (because pretty much everybody knew my story) were worth the trip all on their own.

Turns out, the whole weekend was filled with little moments like this, and I had so much fun that I decided to dedicate myself to making a comeback to full playing status. I didn’t know if it would be possible, but I set a first goal of joining the team at the end of September for the pregame skate of our weekly scrimmage, thinking six months should be a good indicator of how I was doing in my effort to rebuild my body.

Guess what ? At the end of May I played my first, wobbly as hell, game.

By the end of September, I was back on the team for league play, and the next year (2006) I played in the tournament and shared the Peter Kesper award with Chris King of Capsule, an award given for exhibiting “spirit and perseverence”, and it was fitting to share it with Chris, a talented player with a great sense of fun who had come back from a heart attack in his early thirties the previous fall. An unexpected honour but a welcome acknowlegement of the paths we had taken to make it back to the land of the living.

It’s now March of 2008, and I’m back to a great deal of what I hadn’t thought I’d ever do again, working part-time, painting and exhibiting (currently in Toronto at Pentimento Gallery) playing with my kids, playing hockey and enjoying life more than I’d expected to when all of this began.

And now a partial list of people who have helped me along the way :

First, my wife, Caroline, a woman whose strength and love have been tested far too many times and who knew when to commiserate with me and when to kick me in the ass, and who continues to amaze me in ways both great and small. Waking up to her each day is a blessing and a constant reminder of just how lucky I am. You make me a better man and I can only hope to live up to your love.

My daughters Frances and Alana, the gals whose drawings and letters gave me a greater purpose to make it through the treatments and whose love has made me remember that there is a future to embrace, and who keep me in the moment. Your love, hugs and kisses make life better than I thought possible.

My parents and siblings, who have helped in ways both practical and esoteric, and whose love I have been lucky enough to appreciate long after most families would have given up hope in my younger, wilder days.

Rocky Green–painter extrordinaire, and one of the bravest men I have had the pleasure to know. Going back to the hospitals you had seen too much of when Bert was treated for his cancer took more than courage and your love for me and my family is more than anybody could possibly hope for. Twice now you’ve played a huge role in bringing me back from the brink of oblivion, and I cannot possibly thank you enough, except to say I love you deeply.

Dave Robertson and Theresa McKay, like the name of your band, divine. You are more than friends, you are family, and I’m fortunate to have your love and support.

Ray Henderson and Jenn Sek. What can I say except thank you for your many kindnesses and for the exceptional ways in which you have helped in good times and bad. You continue to inspire me.

The entire Peterborough Pneumonia hockey club for your support of my family when I was down and for making me laugh each week. I have never known a better dressing room, and am honoured to be included among your numbers. Even though some of you are Leaf fans.

Rob Swales and Brian Mitolo, for your visits when I could no longer leave the house and for helping to keep me sane. You have both done more than you realise and have helped me make it back to being me.

Jerome and Charon Ackhurst, whose help has been maintained very much under the radar, but who have continued to help and support us through the many phases of life as you have countless others in our community. If it weren’t for you and the cafe you brought to town I don’t know if the community we have would be so intimately connected to each other. Merci beaucoup.

Jeremy Moore and Sherri More, for your love and generous support through gestures big amd small over the years. I’m lucky to have you as my friends.

To Helen Markellos, Buckè Hawrish, Tim and An Etherington, Kelly Green, and countless others who I have been lucky enough to have as friends through your involvement in the Only Cafe and Peterborough’s arts community—I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it, but your love and caring have made it possible to know how fortunate I am to have been touched by such an assortment of talented, smart people who have contributed to my deveolpment as an artist and a person.

Finally, to all of the doctors and nurses I have encountered in my treatments and recovery, with special thanks to Dr. Wycliffe Lofters in Kingston and to Tracy Nagy, the fireball of a nurse who organised everything in the leadup to my stem cell transplant. You are both literally lifesavers and the manner in which you helped Caroline and I to navigate the murky waters of disgnoses and treatment while retaining my sense of dignity has been gracious and unending. Thank you for treating me as a person with a disease rather than a disease with a person. You guys rock my world.

I think that’s it.

Thanks for your interest,

Bill

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~ by Rocky Green on June 5, 2008.

One Response to “A Tale of Two Cancers Epilogue”

  1. BILL DON MCLEISH THE ROWER WE SPOKE MON AT YOUR PLACE TRIED 2 EMAIL YOU

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