There Goes That Idea

Been a while, got a lot to share. But first, I have to correct myself on something I wrote back in April. 

In Chemotherapy is Not as Bad as I Expected I posited that modern medicine has improved to point of making chemotherapy more tolerable and the side effects more minimal, that chemotherapy might become me. If this blog was printed on paper I would literally eat my words. Cuz now, I am so roiled with peripheral neuropathy, my feet feel like I’m walking barefoot on ice and my fingers feel close to paralyzed. Meanwhile, electricity courses through my veins like hot sauce, surging and vibrating at random moments. It was explained to me that this is because my body is working so hard to preserve my organs that it hasn’t got time to help my extremities. I hate neuropathy and, pleasant as the nurses are at BCCA, I hate chemotherapy. It sucks. And I want to get as far from it as possible.

Another startling side effect was the build up of fluid in my left lung that left me breathless for much of July and unable to breathe deep without clenching my chest. I should gone in sooner, but eventually I went to the ER at St. Paul’s for a CT scan and they told me about the fluid and set me up with the Radiology Dept to have it drained. I’d forgotten that in June my oncologist said that I had some fluid in my lung, but when she put the images side by side it was clear the small amount had become a large amount. So when I went for the drainage last Thursday, I was shocked to learn I was carrying around 900 millilitres of fluid in the organ I’m trying to breathe through. No wonder I couldn’t catch a breathe! My lung was flooded.

Ok, so that happened.

Way back in May my doctor proposed some surgery to scrape the tiny tumors off of my peritoneum once and for all, to release me from the grip of chemo. First though, they would perform a laporascopy to see the stomach wall from the inside. Apparently CT scans don’t pickup objects tinier than 3 mm and these puppies might only be 1 mm. The peritoneum surgeon (one of two in BC) told me I have many, many of these 1 mm tumors, which came as a shock. All this time I thought there were just a handful. Now, I’m hearing of a crowd scene. So that is what they will look at to determine my suitability for the big surgery to remove them all.

The upside of the laparoscopy was taking a break from chemo. They wanted to clear the drugs out of my system before going in. So, I got to enjoy a month without chemo drugs. But still, the neuropathy remained unabated, dammit.

The date for the laparoscopy was set – for my birthday, July 24. Actually, I had to check into VGH on my birthday to get prepped for the procedure the next day. Only one nurse wished me happy birthday so I had to contend myself with all the lovely best wishes I got on FaceBook.

Next day, the surgery went well. The diagnosis did not. Turns out, my surgeon (#2 of the two in BC) said it was not just a crowd of tiny tumors on my belly, but a vast field of tumors broadcast across the expanse of my peritoneum. Like a field of dandelions, she said. So many that the surgery would not work for me. Sorry.

dandelion field

If my tumors were dandelions they would look like this

But at least I got a free hospital stay for my birthday!

So, that shoe has dropped. Now, I’m re-thinking all my curative angles, coming up with more ways of keeping those tumors at bay. Re-examining my diet, various supplements, my cannabis program, and exercise to help me fight the buggers. I’m open to anything at this point.

The other shoe to drop, probably next week, is the results of tests from the lung fluid. My oncologist warned that it could contain cancer cells that traveled up from my gut. If that happens then I will have not one, but two cancers. Lucky me, I could start a collection!

So that’s it for me. Still here. Still fighting. Just trying to give myself a little more time on this earth.

I hope you are all well and happy.

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Sweet Note From a Fellow Chemo Patient

Compared to the often funerial atmosphere of most chemo rooms, my last treatment felt like being at a party. While I was snoozing there was a change of chemo patients in two of the four occupied chairs, and encouraged by our very chatty nurse, Tina, the conversations among them and Bill just rippled. In my somnolence, I could hear everything, though I don’t remember the exact words.

Finally, I pulled off my eye covering and joined the party at the point which the single guy took off his headphones and said he was listening to Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian singer/songwriter who had just died the day before. Our nurse, in her thick Jamaican accent, admitted she had never heard of him. Groans of pity all around.

The guy in the chair next to me was with his wife and they told his story, that he was not helped by his previous treatments – including stem cell – and was now trying chemo. At some point I asked the question I rarely ask any fellow patients: what is your diagnosis?

Leukemia. A rare form of it I can’t remember now.

His journey was not going well and I sensed a bit of desperation in his voice. I told him about my sister and her leukemia from 24 years ago. I’m not sure it made him feel better.

After my bottle was detached and we were prepping to go him, the guy’s wife handed me an envelope and inside was this card written to me. Hard to know if he wrote it while I was in the bathroom or in advance to hand to people like me. Either way, I thought it was very touching that he would reach out this way to let me know, “I got this.”

This kind gesture made me think maybe I should go to some of the group cancer therapy sessions on offer. I’ve been kind of cloistered here at home these last five months and thinking I really should get out more, hang with other cancer patients, maybe learn a thing or four about how to live with cancer. Who knows? Couldn’t hurt.

Thanks to David, I feel like I can do this now.

Chemotherapy is Not as Bad as I Expected

“You’re really looking good,” Billy raved as we huffed and puffed uphill on Heather Street after a walk through the Olympic Village and along the seawall. Beneath my puffer jacket and fleece vest, I carried my baby bottle infuser now half full of chemo drugs as it fed into the porta-catheter in my chest. My ninth chemotherapy treatment was just yesterday, but I felt a sunny afternoon in Vancouver was too good to let pass without a long walk. Bill is quite attentive and offers to help me up the hill. I smile. “Thanks honey, I’m fine.”

And I do feel fine overall. At this point I feel like I’ve mastered this chemo thing with all the anti-nausea meds, symptoms, blood testing that goes on. However, on three different occasions I barfed while sitting in the chair, but I think that’s because I didn’t take the pre-session meds at the correct times. After the first session my intestines roiled excruciatingly and laid me up for a day and a half. Later that week, I got quite nauseous, but I recovered quickly after my grandson showed up. 

mari in chair
Greetings from BC Cancer Agency!

Other than that, my symptoms include what I call tingle fingers, toes, and nose known as peripheral neuropathy, which is worse in the cold weather. My digestion used to be quite lumpy, but has improved lately. I used to have diarrhea starting about 5 days post-treatment, but have been using Imodium to plug me up. I was told this drug cocktail would not make my hair fall out, but lately I’ve been pull it out in handfuls. I’ve had a few mouth sores. Every time, my palate is shot for the first week after treatment. And forget icy cold drinks and ice cream. They make my tongue sizzle. Sometimes my balance is thrown off and I get twinges of electricity from my feet. And my nose, oy! It’s running all the time. Sometimes it bleeds a little. On the upside, instead of the dry skin symptom, I think the chemo drugs are making my skin more supple and soft. I sleep for 10-12 hours a night, so no problem with fatigue. Chemo brain, yeah, got that.

What I do have is a fantastic appetite, the loss of which is a famous symptom of chemo. I would have thought the trauma of being starved in the hospital for a week would have worn off by now, but no. I can’t stop thinking about eating. My only problem is overeating and getting it digested. But I’ve gained about 5 pounds in the last month, so yay me! 

Ironically, I think chemotherapy rather becomes me.

My overall feeling of well-being I think is attributed to two things: The first is the advance in medical technology. I think the anti-nausea meds are better than, say 20 years ago, which was when my sister was fighting leukemia. And I believe the drug cocktails are milder and better able to target the tumors. And as my daughter Tara reminds me, I’m lucky to have a super common cancer that doctors know all about now and I believe it being how colon is second to lung in the top ten of cancers. I don’t know when they started with these baby bottle infusers, which I carry in a jaunty shoulder bag for two days after treatment, but it’s like a beer back to a tequila shot. Slower to consume, less strength. I’m spending three and half hours in the chair, twice a month. I remember Cynthia being in the hospital for at least a month, doing her treatments in 1998. So I think this is not your mama’s chemotherapy anymore.

The second thing I think is helping me is all the cannabis I’m consuming. Not smoke so much as dropping cannabis oil isolates of THC/CBD and CBG under my tongue. Coming from the cannabis/hemp industry I quickly got advice from old movement friends, Ruth Shamai and Mikki Norris, who inundated me with new information about cannabinoids (I’d never heard of CBG!) and they recommended bunches of resources.

I made an appointment with Dr. Jeffery Hergenrather in good ole Sebastopol, California, down the road from Forestville. His recommendation was for 150 mg of oil per day – 50mg CBG, 50 mg THC, and 50 mg CBD. He advised taking 50 mg 3 times per day, as in morning, afternoon and night, but I’m sorry. I don’t do mornings. Mornings are for sleep. So instead I do 75 mg twice per day and I have my bottles on my desk behind my computer so I can remember to take them.

my cannabis oils
I’m only working on the front two bottles right now, but for extra sleep I’ll have a bit of the Snake Oil THC.

When I followed up with Dr. Jeff about how good I felt, he said that was likely due to the effects of the cannabis. My sleeping well, good appetite, lack of nausea he said was all boosted by cannabis. But, what I wonder is what it’s doing to kill the tumors. Empirical evidence points to cannabis as a cancer curative, so there’s that possibility. My most recent CT scan showed my tumors are not growing and the cancer is “behaving itself.” My oncologist is exploring whether a little laparoscopy might scrape those well-behaving tumors off my perenium.

So, what’s helping me? Is it the chemo or the cannabis, or both? Who knows?

Again, I’m doing fine. Back to work on WordPress. Getting back to a new novel. Working with Petra on my ghost story. Trying to sell the house in Oliver. Those are all perfect distractions from the cloud on my horizon, and keeping busy helps me pass my days with a sense of hope.

Thanks again to all my friends and family who are rooting for me and helping me get through this. And especially Bill, who has been my warm, fuzzy rock. I wouldn’t feel as good as I do with out you all!

Still, my mom knows nothing about my cancer.

Baby Magic is Real, and It’s a Pain Reliever

If you’ve never experienced baby magic, or scoffed at the idea, I’m here to tell you the effect is real. I felt the magic in December, about six weeks after my surgery, and will never forget how it relieved my pain.

That it was also Hannukah made it all the more magical

Recovering from major surgery is not a fun endeavor and it takes a long time. Aside from staying well-hydrated and rested, my most important task was to avoid pain. My surgeon said, you can’t have pain because it will interfere with your sleep; and if you don’t sleep you won’t heal. Sleep is when the healing happens. 

So I created a regimen of taking extra-strength Tylenol four times a day and stuck to it. I was told not to wait until the pain flares up, but to anticipate the pain and head it off at the pass. 

And pain, well, I had in quantities. It was this referred shoulder pain that first alerted me that something was wrong. I’m talking sharp, shooting pain on the top of both my shoulders that made it difficult to use my arms. That pain was bizarre, but after my abdominal pain started, I knew they were connected somehow. In fact, my first Emergency Room visit was over this referred pain. It was horrible.

Then there was the abdominal pain I felt as my newly stitched-together colon was learning how to do its business. Eating small amounts of soft foods was still a challenge for my poor system and I could feel my intestines trying like champs to pass my meals. 

I also had pain in my upper thighs and my back. There were times, in addition to taking Tylenol, I used a hot pad to soften my screaming muscles.

Pain had become my silent, but annoying friend.

By the time the baby arrived, I had started chemo and had been drugged for a week. Immediately following the removal of the infusion bottle, five days before Christmas, my intestines went crazy. My bowls acted like a washing machine on the spin cycle. Back and forth the waste flushed around as if there were no tubes enclosing them. At one point I imagine the excrement flowing freely among my organs, like waves washing in and out. This symptom laid me out for two days.

Soren couldn’t get enough of the cats, and I could not get enough of him

Later that week, I vomited after dinner and thought, boy did I overeat. I was miserable for two days prior to Christmas. And Christmas Eve was when our daughter, her husband, and baby were due to arrive! The house needed to be put in order and cleaned. And the suspicious rug needed to be 86’d. If it was emitting toxic dust then I didn’t want my grandson breathing around it.

We weren’t even sure the little family would make it from DC because a huge snowstorm was due to hit over the holiday was just getting started on the east coast. They did get out of DC, but they had to hustle to make their connection in Toronto, and wonder of wonders, the flight left in reasonable time. Miraculously, at 11:30 on Christmas Eve, they walked in while I was still prone on the couch, watching White Christmas.

And there was the baby. 1 year-old Ryan Soren shone like a golden light in our apartment, his blond hair standing on end like a mini Boris Johnston, who didn’t enjoy the journey but liked the destination. He walked around with Frankenstein arms, waving the tv remote control, reaching for ornaments on the Christmas tree, radiant in his enthusiasm and desperation to touch the kitties. I was totally delighted. 

I don’t remember if I took pain killers before bed that night but I want to say no. I was trying to wean myself, but the previous night’s barfing might have been a prompt.

Next day, on Christmas, little Soren looked super cute in his Christmas-themed pyjamas as he opened presents of yet more cute baby clothes. He was like a Christmas present on his own, why didn’t he just open himself? Still, the kitties wanted no part of him, no matter how much love and desire he threw at them. And I couldn’t get enough.

He helped me pick out new jeans

I spent the whole day feeling grateful to have this whirling dervish in my life. And, that my daughter is so happy with her baby, and with her husband. And, that they flew all the across the continent to see me, the post-surgical cancer patient, during the biggest Christmas snowstorm of this century. I felt so lucky to have these people with me on the schmatziest holiday on the calendar.

I hate the word, “blessed” but now I feel cornered to use it. I felt blessed.

That night, after everyone returned to their AirBnb, I got into bed and laid there for a while, thinking, what a beautiful day it was. So easy, so relaxed. The baby went down early and slept long while we dined, allowing us the ability to hang out and talk like adults. That’s how good he is. A totally chill baby.

And as I lay there revisiting my beautiful Christmas Day, I stared at my bare legs and had a sudden realization: I had no pain in my body. Where was the new pain in my thighs, the varied pain I still feel in my abdomen, the back pain, and most astounding of all, that burning pain in my shoulders. It was gone, kaput, AWOL! I felt no physical discomfort at all. And, I couldn’t remember when it went away.

This was bizarre. In 48 hours I went from being sick to my stomach to enjoying total physical comfort. Did the munchkin sprinkle healing fairy dust to make me well? Did the Christmas spirit fill me up so much it pushed out the pain? Christmas miracle or just a coinkydink? Who knows, but that’s what happened. 

My abdominal pain still comes and goes, but the other pains have not been felt since Christmas. 

I’m just going to chalk it up to baby magic.

I Can’t Believe I Have Stage Four Cancer

I can’t believe I have stage four cancer.

I just can’t believe I have stage four cancer.

I really cannot believe I have stage four cancer.

This is a thought that pops into my head on occasion, just when I’m doing something perfectly normal like getting dressed, tying my shoes, making coffee. The thought enters my mind and makes me stop short. It makes me shake my head and feel like I have been transported into another person’s body, someone who would get cancer, not me. I think, Oh yeah, I’m fucked. I let my body become irreparably diseased and now I have to pay the price. My body will never be the same. I will never be cured. The most I can hope for is maintenance. Keeping the cancer tamped down with chemotherapy so I can live more years. It’s my only choice.

Me and my port-a-cath

The reality that I’m in a world of hurt doesn’t obsess me. I try to compartmentalize it as much as possible.

Every two weeks, I dutifully march down three blocks to the BC Cancer Agency to get my dose of Oxliplatin, 5-Fluorouracil, Folinic Acid, and Bevacizumab. The nurses there are lovely and concerned, especially when I start barfing, which I’ve done in three out of the seven treatments I’ve had. I’m convinced the nausea comes because I haven’t taken the fourth anti-nausea pill early enough. When I barf the nurses scurry around, accessing Gravetol IV’s, taking my vitals, calling in a doctor to check me out. I can tell they feel they’ve let me down somehow. I feel like I’ve let them down by succumbing to nausea.

They finish the session by hooking me up to an infuser bottle full of Bevacizumab, and they tape all kinds of tubes and connectors to my chest, next to my port-a-cath, or port. The port is a small cylindrical device implanted under my skin with a catheter connected to a jugular vein next to my heart. It works like an IV, but gets the drugs into my system more quickly. And the nurses don’t have to stick my arm every time. They just puncture the skin over the port and go to it. After the main event is over the port is connected to the infuser bottle, which delivers more of the same drugs for the next 48 hours. Then, I return to BCAA to have it removed, which takes about 10 minutes. 

I then spend the following two weeks absorbing these poisons into my system. This absorbsion comes with a host of symptoms starting with what I call tingle fingers, better known as peripheral neuropathy. My fingers go numb and tingly with the first whiff of cold. Sometimes they act paralyzed and I can’t even button my jeans after peeing. I used a hot pad to pull things from the freezer or to pour from a cold bottle. Then there’s a day of fatigue. My poops stay solid for a few day and then diarrhea sets in. Along the way my system gets unsettled and digestion becomes a concern. There have been times I swear my intestines are like a washing machine on spin cycle. Roiling, churning, flushing and cramping become the norm, making this the part I hate most. I don’t get queasy, per se; I just get a shitty feeling that makes me want to lie down and not get up. 

The second week, prior to the next treatment, is usually much better, and my poops get more solid. When I have good, well-formed poops, Billy is the first to know. For a while he wanted to check them out. And just when I’m feeling somewhat normal, the cycle starts again. Chemo, bottle, feel like shit, feel better, and…repeat.

I ask myself, how long can I do this? How long will I have to endure chemo in order to live longer? And, will chemo ever really end for me?

I can’t believe I have stage four cancer.

One thing chemo really puts a damper on is travel. I can only be away for nine or ten days at a time. So I worry how will I ever be able to spend summers at our farm? How can I go to Europe between treatments? And what about living in Forestville? I don’t have a medical plan in the states. If we were to spend any length of time in DC, will I be able to travel to Ontario to get treated. This is a plan I have to ask my new oncologist, the one taking over for my old oncologist who is now on maternity leave.

Before my diagnosis, Bill and I were planning to be traveling between Oliver BC and Forestville, and to the farm and DC. Occasionally, overseas. But all that is impossible now. We are selling the house in Oliver. Living for any length of time in Forestville is like a dream to me now. The farm and DC are possible only if I get a intra-province clinical allowance, because they are so far away I would not want to limit my stays to ten days. 

So, basically I’m fucked. 

I can’t plan much of anything. My future holds no assurances. I can’t believe I have stage four cancer.

What are the upsides to having cancer? All the love you get from friends and family. Everything you might have done to piss someone off is forgiven. People look at you with knowing expressions and ask how you’re feeling. I have cancer, pity me.

On the downside, nothing else about me is interesting. No one cares to hear about my writing or my web design business. They just want to speak of chemo symptoms and the cannabis oils that are helping me. I’m no long Mari Kane, the moderately talented writer and web designer. Now I’m Mari Kane the colon cancer patient. It’s so depressing.

But this is my life now. 

I can’t believe I have stage four cancer.

Good Morning, Cancer, Sit Down

“Good morning! You have Stage Four colon cancer. Have a nice day!”

Well, that wasn’t exactly how I was told, but it’s what I heard from the surgical team gathered at the foot of my bed. They woke me up at 7am, and stood at my feet like a hungry gang of ghouls, looking for all the world like everyone’s nightmare.

“It was not what we were expecting,” she said. 

Boy, she took the words right outta my mouth. This was not what I was expecting at all. It’s like everyone’s worst possible diagnosis, Stage Four Cancer. It’s not like I can console myself with, whew, I’m glad it’s not Stage Five! Stage four means spread and this doctor used the word, “aggressive,” to describe my cancer. Ai carumba, my cancer is fighting for agency in my belly, reaching and attaching itself all over the place like a demon octopus. 

Peritoneal disease is what she called it. It develops in the peritoneum that lines the inside wall of my abdomen. Apart from the mass that was choking my colon and not letting food through, there was also spread to my lymph nodes as well as these little tumors sticking to the insides of my belly. At times I think I feel these peritoneum tumors clinging so close to the surface of my skin. It’s not painful, but feels like a twinge, as if saying, we’re here, we’re fear, get used to it.

Good thing it did not spread to my liver! Big whew there. When it gets to your liver, you’re sunk. Even I know that.

mari hospital
I spent a week with a tube up my nose and down into my stomach, emptying out what little was there. This was the grossest thing I endured.

Finally I asked her, am I going to die? And like any good doctor, she demurred. They never want to give you a straight answer on issues they cannot control or predict. If I were a doctor I would have said, “Someday you will die, but it doesn’t have to be from the cancer.” 

Instead, she said. “I don’t want you to have no hope,” before elaborating on the great chemo drugs they have these days and how they can fine-tune the drug cocktails to meet your specific needs. Oh, great, I’m so relieved – not.

Apparently the tumour on my colon and its offspring has be a going concern for a long time, she said. I mentioned how the abdominal paid I’d experienced about eight years before – which led to all kinds of tests like ultrasound, MRI, CT, X-ray, but not a colonoscopy – led them to find a cyst on my pancreas. I’ve had a gastroenterologist perform an endoscopy me every other year to check its expansion, which is not happening fast. How did he miss this?

Finally, her most burning question. “Have you passed any gas yet?” 

Farting, I learned, is their obsession, being the biggest indicator that my system is working again.

“When you fart….”

 “I’ll call the newpapers…

“That’s when we know the operation was successful…”

“So, no fart, no good.”


She asked if I’ve been walking, which she advised is was the best way to get my system flowing. I asked her about massage, like the kind you do on constipated babies. She nodded, saying, “It couldn’t hurt,” being hardly an endorsement. Couldn’t hurt? Damn me if it didn’t help later, a lot more than walking these hallways. My daughter sent links to posts on baby massage which hubby used to rub my tummy the right way, and it did help. I could feel movement. I also self massaged. It was like being pregnant, or that scene in Aliens (you know it). I told the team days later that they should be advising massage to patients like me. That would give visitors something to actually do instead of just sitting and offering comforting words.

Anyway, after the ghoul squad, er, surgical team left, I had myself a cry. Not something I do much anymore so I tried to keep it to myself. A hard call when you are sharing a room with three other surgical patients. I tried to weep softly but I couldn’t help knowing that they could hear me and might be reminded of their own diagnosis, how they responded to their bad news. The day I was admitted, the one lady, Rose, was getting her bad news from the surgeon himself – in the civilized middle of the day – and it sounded very serious, especially in Chinese. Her family was there to discuss it all, but I didn’t hear her crying. 

Then, I had to call my husband, Bill, and when he arrived at 10am we called our daughter, Tara, in Washington, DC. She was upset but has kept positive from that moment on, bless her. Bill admitted that he’d had more of an idea of the seriousness of my condition. While he waited for me outside post-op, he spoke with a doctor who’d been on the surgical team who reviewed my case. He sat with Bill and relayed the details, but didn’t use the words, Stage Four. Yet the meaning was there. So when I was literally the last body out of post-surgery – which was so full when I arrived late to the party, in my haze it sounded like the floor of the stock exchange – he escorted me up to my room, lips zipped big time. I was so out of it so I sent him home, but the poor guy had to deal with this knowledge at home, all alone. Must have been hell.

Another person to call was my mother. She’s 99 and suffering from some dementia, but living in a nursing care home has been good for her. My sister lives nearby and with a smart phone, is the conduit to face time sessions with Mom. This time we just called her land line, cuz seeing me might have been too scary. We talked about the surgery, how well it went and all. The question among us was, what to tell her about the cancer. She’s very old, has cognitive problems, and tends to worry. So if we informed her of the cancer, she would take it hard and descend into a rabbit hole of worry and despair. After all, she already lost one daughter to cancer. This would be the most horrible deja fu for her. Dealing with another cancerous daughter might kill her. On the other hand, if we told her and she forgot, as she often does for recent news, it would make for awkward conversation later when I mention it and she says, “you have cancer? I didn’t know that.” Ultimately, we decided not to tell her at all about the cancer. But the way she keeps living onward and upward, my biggest fear is her outliving me.

mari scar
My big fat scar went right through my belly button. Oh well, one less orifice to keep clean.

The other thing I had to deal with in my own stage of grief was anger towards my doctors. I mean, back when she was sending me for all of those tests to find the source of my abdominal pain, was why didn’t my GP send me for a colonoscopy? Damn, even if they just found polyps I’d have been happy. And then, I go to a gastroenterologist, who does the damned tests, and even he does not suggest a colonoscopy. And I was about 50 at the time! What, what, what, doctors? Why didn’t you see the writing on the wall?

Like I said, Bill had been advocating a colonoscopy for years, but I wasn’t interested in pursuing it. I could have asked for one, but I didn’t. So, as they say, that’s on me. 

I also remembered the rug I bought in 2008 of which the backing dissolved into a fine dust. I didn’t know what was going on and I used to lift the rug and vaccum that stuff up. The Coit guy said it was latex, and he shrugged as if that was ok. Now, I wondered what was contained in that backing material. I spoke to several labs to see if they could test samples of the dust, and the information they gave me sounded grave. That dust could have been rising up through the carpet with every step and stomp, exposing us to these chemicals. Years later, Bill is operated on for, first prostate, then breast cancer. Results being, whew! All good, no spread. We caught it early. Then I come along with this motherfucker of a cancer that made me loose a portion of my intestines and has spread itself like evil fairy dust to float around my belly. But not to the liver! Sometimes I joke to Bill that my colon cancer beats his prostrate and breast cancer, like a full house beats two of a kind.

A little over a year ago I wondered if I would lose him to cancer. Now I wonder if he will lose me.

Given all that, I have to wonder if I was the architect of my own demise.

So, there was all that to kick myself over as I lay in bed, day in day out, recovering from colon surgery.

A Cat Named Ella Fitzgerald

When a mouse ran across the floor of our new Vancouver apartment we said, we have got to get ourselves a cat. 

I went to the local SPCA and found a female tabby with beautiful tiger stripes and big wide eyes who, unlike the other meowing cats, seemed indifferent to being adopted. I thought that was the perfect attitude for a cat so I chose her.

The minute the cat climbed out of the cardboard carrier, she began to explore her new home. She walked straight to the bathroom and inspected the bathtub as if to say, You have one of these?

We quickly learned about all the things their new kitty liked. Direct sun, fresh flowers, plastic bags, and the sound of Bill’s saxophone when he played. We decided to name her after our favorite jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald. 

As Ella settled into her new life, she found some favorite places to lay and sleep. She laid on the window sills, on chairs near the windows, on the bed, in an old basket, but her most favorite place was the back of the couch. 

When it was cold she enjoyed laying on the kitchen table next to the radiator, or on the Chinese chest by the big radiator. While Mari or Bill worked at their desk, she would snuggle on or around their computers. She was one heat-seeking kitty.

Ella was such a good sleeper, she often snored. When friends were over, they often heard her gentle snore as she lay on the back of the couch. During the night, she sometimes snored as loud as Bill, confusing Mari about which of them to nudge.

Ella really liked to lick things, especially faces. It you put your nose against hers, she would lick it. Every morning when Bill’s alarm went off, Ella climbed on his chest and licked his face. Sometimes he counted hundreds of licks. 

She also liked to drink out of people cups

After a few years, we bought a property in the Okanagan Valley, a four and a half hour drive from Vancouver. We began to take Ella with them in the car and found that she was an excellent traveler. She enjoyed stopping at the Hope Chevron, Princeton’s Cowboy Coffed and at the No Frills in Oliver. Once we arrived, she loved to explore the house, the cottage, and the yard and especially the swimming pool. She thought the pool was one big water bowl and liked to drink from it!

One day, we brought home a new male cat and the minute he meowed, Ella sat up and stared. Who. Is. That? The new cat, who we named Dizzy Gillespie, was younger and bigger than Ella and he was jealous of Ella’s dominance of the apartment. 

Dizzy wanted to dominate and so he was very mean to Ella. He picked fights with her and attacked her after she visited the litter box. After two years, we gave Dizzy to another couple, and Ella learned to relax again.

Ella was not only pretty but also very good at posing for pictures. Every Christmas and Hannukah Mari took pictures of her to use for holiday greetings. She made a very good model.

Ella always had fragile health, and around the age of 14, she got very sick. The vet said she was dying. We were deeply saddened, and made sure Ella enjoyed her last days. We let her do things she never could before. Like laying on the kitchen counter, sitting in the kitchen sink, drinking milk and eating off our plates. 

We fed her as much and as many different foods as she wanted. And when the time approached to put her to sleep, we gave her a thing she’d always craved: chocolate. She eagerly licked chocolate frosting off our fingers and noses, and her wide eyes showed what a revelation it was for her. Ella loved chocolate.

Now We Are 60

When I was one,
I was hardly much fun,

When I was ten,
I could barely hold a pen,

When I was twenty
I thought I had plenty,

When I was thirty,
I was still flirty,

When I was forty,
I got quite snorty,

When I was fifty,
I became thrifty,

But now that I’m sixty,
I’m more bitchy than clever,

So I think I’ll be a bitch,
Forever and ever.