Tag Archives: cancer

Only Child on Losing a Parent to Cancer

Sharon at 13 with Mom and Dad

When your mother or father is terminally ill and dies when you are still a child, you lose a part of your life, but more importantly you lose a part of yourself. Your mother or your father is no longer there and the hole that was once him or her follows you around like a bad omen.

Especially if you are an only child like me. Yes, I know, I’m a senior now, but that happened to me when I was growing up. Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 58 and I wasn’t quite 10. That was back in the late 1950s when the treatment options for cancer were limited to cut and burn. The link between smoking and cancer was known then, but a lot of it was hidden from public view. Tobacco companies were keeping their mouths shut about it. Here is a much later than 1950s study that covers that issue.

Dad had half a lung removed for the cancer. But that wasn’t the end of it. Two years later cancer spread to his brain and he had to cope with that for four more years. So did Mom and me. I inadvertently found a unique way for Mom and me to do so. But it wasn’t until later years when I was around Dad’s age of death , that I realized what Mom and I were doing back then. What had been foremost in my mind after Dad’s cancer returned was me pulling away from him emotionally because I was afraid he would die. Deep down that was probably something I knew. It scared me and as a pre-teen and teenager that was how I coped. I am not proud of this.

I wrote a personal essay about Dad’s cancer and something Mom and I were doing at the same time after he returned home from his second stay in hospital. The memoir piece was just published in the online magazine The Smart Set which is a publication of Drexel University in Philadelphia. Perhaps what Mom and I were doing did help, maybe even my Dad. We don’t always know or realize these things at the time.

Here is the link to “Don’t Look Down” in The Smart Set Magazine.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Only Child’s Dad when younger

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Filed under 1950s, Albert Langevin, cancer, Death and Dying, Health, Mom and Dad, Piano

Only Child and Senior Loneliness

Only Child's Mom and Dad a few years after they were married

Only Child’s Mom and Dad a few years after they were married

When my father died from brain cancer at 66, life turned all downhill for my mother. She had lost her husband of many years and had to go it alone. This was the mid-1960s so changes for women were just getting started. And although my mother had me, I was a teenager and really not much help for mom’s loneliness and her health, which after Dad’s death went from good to worse than bad.

First, it was her arthritis in her hands and feet, which landed her in the hospital for tests, disfigured her hands (rheumatoid arthritis) and damaged her feet to the point of what resembled wounds. I remember coming home from business school and finding her sitting in the living-room, one foot bandaged and propped up on a footstool. Her two visitors were not friends, but the managers at the insurance company where she had started to work when Dad died. They were not there to offer her support, but to try and convince her to quit her job which she was having difficulty doing. She had gone from typist to proof reader because of her fingers.

Fortunately I was able to get a job as a secretary later that year and help Mom with expenses, including doing the actual grocery shopping. But Mom’s health continued to deteriorate. She also had scleroderma, which gave her puffy cheeks and changed her voice to almost a squeak. She died at age 63. Official cause was a brain aneurysm but really the arthritis killed her. Because of the arthritis she fell off her vanity bench which gave her a never-ending headache. She figured she needed her eyes tested and had booked an appointment for an eye test but never made it as she went into a coma and died in hospital.

I have passed both my parents’ ages of death and have mixed feelings about it.  Although I may have escaped some of the medical conditions of my parents (although I do have arthritis – in my neck and bunions and the like on my feet), I still feel very wary going through the rest of my life. Yes, I have had my own medical issues to deal with, but I’m learning that there are two factors that make life very hard to deal with for a senior – living alone and being poor.

I have covered the being poor before, but living alone to my mind, is not the best scenario for a senior and happiness. Apparently, some studies are showing otherwise. See Loneliness among the elderly  where  surprisingly the majority of lonely seniors are married or living with a partner.  But my many years living alone have proven otherwise. Living alone means not having someone there to help you, to support you, provide companionship, and help you deal with all the crap life shoves at you. I realize that not all duos are good – some are abusive; some provide no support.

However, when I observe my friends who have partners of some sort, I see a plus. Sure, they have problems, health, maybe financial, etc. But they seem more positive, have that support (and some even say that) and are happier – the latter just radiates from them. My take here is if you have a good partner, you can deal with life better.

Partners can mean many things from the traditional marriage, to living common-law, to not living together all the time (i.e., maintaining separate homes for whatever reason – often financial – pension laws you know).

One friend who used to live in my neighbourhood had a long-term relationship with a fellow. Their relationship and its setup worked worked very well for them. Both lived in separate houses – in fact he lived just outside Toronto. But they spent weekends together at her place and travelled together. Sure they argued and had differences of opinions – most couples do. But they were supportive of each other, not only with health issues but house issues. And boy, my friend had a doozie when her mean next door neighbour shovelled snow from his driveway onto her gas meter and the entrance for the gas into her house – the latter was blocked and she got gas fumes in her house. She phoned both her partner and me. Both came over here. He got on the phone to the gas company and organized everything there. I insisted she stay overnight with me, but in the meantime she went back home (outside) to supervise the gas company arriving. Her partner and I had another thing to do for her – get some important legal papers off to Fed Ex before they closed to meet a deadline for her.

True, yours truly had some part in this. But consider the scenario without her partner. And remember I don’t drive.

My friend’s situation does not have a happy ending. Her partner was diagnosed with brain cancer and died shortly afterwards. Yes, she was there with him, but has been alone since then.

I have to deal with the crap in my life alone. My son does help where he can but he has his own life. I also have no brothers or sisters.

So, some statistics be damned, I still say a senior living alone is not the happiest and healthiest. Read 10 Dangers of Seniors Living Alone. And I have only covered the tip of that iceberg.

What do you think? I’d like to hear from seniors living alone and seniors with partners. I won’t bite, whatever you say.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Only Child and her parents in another time and world

Only Child and her parents in another time and world

 

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Filed under Aloneness, Happiness, Health Seniors, Life demands, Living alone, Mom and Dad, Mother dying, Older Women living alone and health, Only child, Seniors and Happiness

Only Child remembers friend who died from cancer

Black raspberries - which I shared with Tanya

Black raspberries – which I shared with Tanya

It is coming on to the first anniversary of my close friend, Tanya’s death from lung cancer February 3, 2016. The first indication that she and her husband Alex had moved in next door was when I heard than talk just outside my office window. Yes, our houses, our properties are that close.

Perhaps this was a sign of how close Tanya and I would become. I went over and introduced myself to them and later their orange cat, Marmalade when they brought him home.

Alex came from Russia and Tanya from the Ukraine. They had lived in England for nine years and one year rented a house down by Lake Ontario in Toronto before buying the house next door. The house next door required a lot of updates – Alex and his friends gutted and renovated the basement and the main floor. It was a small house, smaller than mine, so in 2010 they added a upper part – which after getting the proper city permits, Alex and his friends did most of the work for – except for a few things like electrical and the like.

Because  theirs family had increased when their son Anton was born 13 years ago.  You would see her and Alex pushing Anton in his baby carriage along the street. When Anton was walking, he would be out in their backyard and later when he started at the school at the end of the street, Tanya would take him to school. After school he would be out in the backyard playing with his friends. Some times Alex would be mowing the lawn or fixing something with the house.

But it was Tanya who was the heart of her family. Although she had asthma and had to stay in on very hot summer days or extremely cold winter days, still in spring to fall she would be out in her backyard, hanging out laundry, sometimes doing a bit of gardening, sometimes just sitting and enjoying the view. We always had long chats over the fence and helped each other out – if someone needed an extra egg and Tanya often offered to pick up for me heavy groceries such as apple juice. She also helped me get my garden soils bag back from Home Depot. She used to say she loved looking at my garden, even from their back window. Sometimes I gave her plants from the garden. But the big annual ritual was to give them containers of the black raspberries and tomatoes that grew in my garden. One summer, when Anton was getting really fussy about his food, he would eat the raspberries. I remember when they were headed up to a rented cottage with some friends, Tanya said that Anton sat in the back seat and ate some of the raspberries.

We looked after each others’ houses, properties, and in their case their cat, when either they or I went away on holidays. Whomever was away would bring back a little treat for the one(s) looking after the property. Usually I visited my cousins in southwestern Ontario and brought back a small box of chocolates from Chocolate Barrs (yes, that’s the name of the owners) in downtown Stratford, Ontario. We also exchanged Christmas presents, some of which I would buy on my holidays. And visited each other for lunch and for my annual Christmas party (which I stopped doing after 2013 – too much work).

One of the things they did that was beyond the call of duty was to help me when my basement flooded the first time in November 2005 – this was around six to eight inches of water in the recreation room, hallway, laundry room and up part of the stairs. Tanya let me borrow her cell to call a friend and my ex and later the insurance company because at first my phone line was all static because of the water downstairs. The phone service came back the next day.

But Alex came over right away when I banged on their door for help. For some reason he had brought home the heavy-duty Shopping Vac from work (he works in construction and has a small company which subcontracts out). Alex cleaned up all the water downstairs. So when the city works department people came to check it out they only saw the ravages and figured it was a drain problem. So did the insurance people and the drain company that replaced and upgraded the main drain outlet on the floor in the laundry room.

Fast forward to late fall 2015 when I got a call from Tanya who told me she was sick. I mentioned something about the asthma. I remember her words: “It is much worse than asthma. I have cancer of the lungs.” She was on a special macro-biotic diet and wanted me to get her some special foods from the health food store on the Danforth. So I did, with pleasure and sadness when I brought the food and saw her at home. She was up and about but attached to a portable respirator with a very long cord. She explained her dietary regime and was always cheerful. Alex and another of their friends, Linda, also got her food for her.

Then we had Christmas – her last. I was glad I could go over for a short visit with Christmas presents Christmas Eve and that she called on Christmas Day and talked to me and my son. Tanya, Alex and Anton were going to that rented cottage (winter heated, naturally) for a week after Christmas Day. But Tanya was rushed to the local hospital because of breathing problems, Alex told me the next day as he was loading the car to take Anton up to the cottage as his friends were there too. Alex was coming back to be with Tanya.

The day Tanya was to come home her doctor took one look at her and had her transferred to Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. She never came home. I was able to talk to her once on the phone but when I called the next time I wasn’t allowed to speak to her but they would give her my message. She started chemo but it made her so sick the doctors had to take her off it. It was too late anyway; she was diagnosed too late – if it acts like asthma doesn’t necessarily mean it is only asthma.

Whenever I saw Anton or Alex I asked how Tanya was doing but was careful what to say to young Anton. Both were optimistic, but the last time before… when I spoke to Alex alone, he wasn’t so optimistic, making that gesture that means so-so. He said she couldn’t swallow and couldn’t talk.

February 4, Alex phoned me and said “Tanya passed away yesterday.”

The memorial service was held a month later in a big room at a legion hall. Friends brought food and non-alcoholic beverages. There were words from friends. I went with one of my other friends, Al from across the street. Carol, his wife, a close friend, couldn’t make it because she was sick with the flu. But all of Anton’s friends were there sitting with him at a table. And the neighbours came out in droves. There were pictures – print – displayed of the three of them. It was very moving. The following May we all helped plant a tree in Tanya’s memory on the grounds of the grade school Anton had attended.

Tanya, I will never forget you. You died too young – 51. I hope in summer you can look down and see and enjoy my garden.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Chives in my front garden - here for now

Part my front garden which Tanya enjoyed seeing

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Filed under cancer, Friends, Gardens, Only child

Only Child – that’s a wrap for 2016

My son Martin, his girlfriend Juni and me

My son Martin, his girlfriend Juni and me

2016 may go down as the year many people came to hate, or at least dislike. From friends and family, what I see and read about, and yes, my own experiences, show this to be the case. It wasn’t all bad, so 2016 can’t be completely dissed as other years have (such as 2013 with both a flooded heavy rainstorm and an ice storm in Toronto and surrounding areas. A friend of mine in Toronto had her power go out for days for both storms). But that’s the prognosis in some news reports, even this one which is on the sarcastic side.

We had the best summer this year weather-wise and otherwise. The gardens were gorgeous. And let’s not forget the winter of 2015-2016 – mostly in January to March 2016. Little snow and only a couple of days the end of March with mixed precipitation and yes, some water got in my basement one of those days. This winter it has been too much snow so far, although the rain yesterday got rid of most of it, albeit some places in Toronto were flooded and/or had sewage back up into their basement (yeck). Here, I was lucky, but then I do raise my fist up to the sky to you-know-who. We had freezing rain before that, but I’m not even sure that happened in Toronto because when I woke up it was light rain. Places like Guelph and Kitchener, Ontario did get the freezing rain (for a few hours – all melted when the temperatures rose to 10 Celsius). But kids were skating on the streets of Guelph.

Health hasn’t been good for some of us. I have the tooth problem – the extraction coming up in January. But worst is I lost a close friend, Tanya from next door, to cancer in February. Now, one of my cousins has cancer of the lungs (like Tanya) and bone cancer. And like with Tanya, the damn doctors messed up with a misdiagnos, so treatment started later rather than sooner. I’m glad I got the chance to have dinner with her (and several other cousins) in August when I visited in the area and this cousin sat beside me so we could chat. I hope it is not the last time I see her.

Besides the summer weather and gardens, there have been some good things in my life. My going blind possibility seems to have been stopped thanks to the wonderful ophthalmologist I see on a regular basis and the double-prescription drops she prescribed. I am now officially living below the poverty level, but I now qualify for 100 % coverage with the Ontario Drug Plan for Seniors. Good thing, as the drops cost $72 for a very small container. And who knows what the oral surgeon will prescribe when I get the tooth out.

And my son, Martin and his girlfriend, Juni, I am very thankful for them. We had a wonderful Christmas afternoon and evening together, exchanging presents, chatting and catching up and of course eating (not necessarily in that order), despite the two of them having colds – which Martin warned me about when we talked on the phone before they came over. They were careful when sneezing and did a lot of hand washing.

And Martin is giving me the Mac Laptop I want and need. He has ordered it, so the note with their Christmas card said. It won’t arrive until late January. I will have to pay for some of it to get it as part of my business. But we will work that one out – after the dental crap is over with.

As for 2017, I will go into more detail about that in next week’s post. With dental surgery, the guy who has been shovelling my snow going AWOL (so to speak) from it this year after eight oor nine years of service, and of course, the winter weather and finances, who knows? I will be making many changes throughout 2017 and will try to follow what Martin wrote in their Christmas card.

“Let 2017 begin with optimism and promise.”

And that’s what I wish for all of you, too.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

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Filed under 2016 and 2017, cancer, Christmas, Gifts, God, Health, Help and Support, Only child, Winter Weather

Only Child on fears about getting old

Only Child with Mom and Dad in the early 1960s.

Only Child with Mom and Dad in the early 1960s.

A artist friend has sent out a survey of four questions on aging for those 60 years and over. The survey is in connection with an art show she is exhibiting in fall 2017. I haven’t done the survey yet, but the first question has really got me thinking. Her question?

As a woman approaching/over the age of 60, what is my greatest fear?

Before I answer it, I’m going back to my mother and my father as their lives as seniors or almost seniors are influencing me.

My father had some form of cancer the last six years of his life. An operation that removed half a lung stopped the cancer there, but it spread to his brain and surfaced twice in two different places. Radiation stopped it in the one area, but four years later it returned in another area of his brain. That one killed him. He was 66, So much for three times is a charm – unless it is a bad charm.  At least Mom and I were with him at the end. I was 16 and despite expecting this to happen, still felt the loss. We had all gone through so much suffering and for this?

After Dad died, Mom was never the same. She had lost her soul mate and her body began to betray her. Arthritis appeared in mega-doses – rheumatoid arthritis in her hands, feet and ankles, causing much pain and disfigurement. If that weren’t enough, God threw in something just as bad – schleroderma – which attacked her insides and her face – hard puffy cheeks and a low (as in not loud, not timbre) almost squeaky voice. She had lost her autonomy and no  matter what her youngest sister and I did, she got worse. She decided to downsize to an apartment and so began the long job of getting rid of stuff. Looking back, I wished I had done more. But I was a typical late teens adolescent, although I was working at my first job as a secretary for the Ontario Government. My boyfriend (later my husband) stepped in to help and organized the two of us to at least get some of the smaller stuff to the apartment, stuff we didn’t want to go in the moving truck. He didn’t have a car or drive then. So there we were, making many trips back and forth (a five-block walk) with as much stuff as possible crammed into her bundle buggy.  And once we were moved to the apartment, I took over most of the grocery shopping, including paying for groceries. But she helped – she taught me how to budget and how to shop. Something I use to this day.

Mom would visit her sister on her sister’s farm in western Ontario but that brought problems too. She fell on the steps (two steps) and back home, she fell off her vanity bench. The latter sent her into a coma and despite an operation, she died five days later, officially of a brain aneurysm. I say arthritis killed her. It happened to fast and I, at 22, was in a daze. Her sister, my godmother, took me back to the farm to heal. But a few days don’t heal. Especially when Mom died at 63.

So, here I sit, in my late 60s, surpassing both my parents in age, and faced with Ramune’s first question.

As a woman approaching/over the age of 60, what is my greatest fear?

It’s a multiple answer, hung together by three words “losing my health.” The litany for that goes something like this. “I fear getting cancer, any cancer, stroke or aneurysm, completing losing any of my senses (and in the last year I’ve had a taste of temporarily losing 85 per cent of my hearing and being threatened with going blind in one eye), losing my mobility and losing my mind.”

Any of those could put me over the deep end. I am not one to wait it out and/or live life not to its fullest. I would like to live to 80, barring the above happening (and I do have health issues which at this point I live with – complaining a lot of course). If any of the above in quotations happens, get me out of here.

Funny, I don’t even consider heart issues as a fear. Maybe I think I could deal with that?

What is  your greatest fear in life? No matter what your age now.

Comments, please.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Only Child and her Dad on the veranda of house where she grew up.

Only Child at 13  and her Dad on the veranda of house where she grew up.

The teenage Only Child with her late mother who inspired her to do good deeds

The teenage Only Child with her late mother

 

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Albert Langevin, cancer, Dad, Death and Dying, Family, Health Seniors, Mom and Dad, Only child, Seniors

Gardening for health and pleasure

Spring in Only Child's front garden

Spring in Only Child’s front garden

Finally some spring going into summer weather and I was out in my garden every day this long Victoria holiday weekend.

My body and soul needed it. For the pain in my body from the complications of a lower digestive disorder to just feeling fed-up at the crap shoved my way in this world, I needed to be in my garden.

But I took it slowly (except when pulling weeds) and a little at a time each day. Overdoing it just wouldn’t do. And so I also ate meals out on the patio, and sat out in my garden, reading the newspapers and more in the latest mystery novel I’m into.

It is so joyful to see all the green (even the weeds – they do have their purpose for me – like pretending each weed I pull is the person or company causing me grief) and the colours of the flowers starting, blooming and even those, like the tulips,which are just finishing up for the season. Right now the coral bells, peonies and irises are getting ready to open out; and coreopsis is in full bloom as are the multiplying blue and white forget-me-nots. The forget-me-nots in the front come back every year somewhat in the same area. But the ones in the backyard garden came lush and plentiful for the first year. They came under the fence from next door. Tanya, my friend from there who died of lung cancer in February, planted the forget-me-nots last spring in her garden. Their name is very appropriate as every time I go out in my garden I expect to see Tanya out there, saying hi and then the two of us talking together and helping each other in some way. I see these forget-me-nots as her gift to me, a remembrance of our friendship from when she and Alex moved in next door, 10 months after I had moved this neighbourhood,

I still  miss Tanya and feel her spirit when I am in my back garden.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under cancer, Friends, Gardening, Gardening health benefits, Health, Only child, Perennials

Only Child’s close friend dies of cancer

Tanya's view of Only Child's backyard garden

Tanya’s view of Only Child’s backyard garden

My friend, Tanya, from next door died of cancer last week. And I am heartbroken. But not as much as her husband and 12-year-old son.

Tanya was only 51. I have talked about her in previous posts including mentioning the cancer. It was a very aggressive cancer and the medical profession didn’t catch it soon enough. Not that doing so would have stopped it. (More on that aspect below). It got so bad she couldn’t swallow or talk and the chemo had to be stopped because it was too harsh and not doing anything. I last talked to her on the phone New Year’s Day when I wished her a good 2016. If only wishes were truth and what would actually happen. That was the first day she had chemo. I told her to call me if she wanted to, but the cancer got worse.

No, I didn’t visit her in Princess Margaret Hospital, but I did call the hospital about her – they weren’t really very forthcoming. But I did keep checking in with her husband and son. Also, from the info on the hospital’s website, I gathered they might not even have let me see her because. I have recurring sinusitis and cancer patients are so susceptible to infections.

The last time I saw Tanya was Christmas Eve Day when I brought over my Christmas presents for her, her husband and her son. She phoned me Christmas Day to thank me (and I thanked her for her gifts). My son, who was here with his girlfriend for Christmas, also talked to Tanya on the phone.

During December I was one of the friends who shopped at The Big Carrot Health food store for Tanya’s food for her stringent diet – all organic. At that time she was still up, able to prepare her food, talk, watch TV and read. But she moved around connected to a portable oxygen tent for her breathing. She had a longtime history of asthma. And there is where the medical profession probably messed up, mistaking the lung problems as “just asthma.” I gathered she wasn’t diagnosed until late fall last year.

I had known  Tanya for just over 16 years when she and her husband moved in next door. We would help each other – yes, the usual borrowing the sugar (although in her case it was ketchup and other foods, even onions.) Often she would pick up a few groceries at the store for me and not even want the money for it. She also drove me the few blocks to Home Depot in May so I could pick up and get home, the bags of topsoil, manure and cedar bark for my garden. I gave her fresh black raspberries, tomatoes and rhubarb from my garden for the three of them.

Tanya loved to sit out in her backyard and look at my garden. She said it was beautiful and peaceful. As I don’t have a photo of her, I am posting a photo of part of my backyard garden in her memory.

Alex, her husband was very helpful with house problems. Eleven years ago when I had the big flood in the basement, he came over with a huge shop-n-vac from his work and removed the four or five inches of water from the basement. Last summer, he removed the big old chesterfield from my living room and placed it at the end of my driveway for city pickup. He did this himself.

When I went on holidays, Tanya and Alex looked after my property, bringing in the mail, watering the garden if necessary and watering my too many plants inside, checking on the house to make sure all was okay. When they went away, I did the same, including looking after their cat, Marmalade.

Marmalade died late last August. A harbinger of things to come?

Tanya is gone and I miss her.

And I am becoming a big believer that bad luck plays a big role in who gets cancer – but also in who survives it. I just look around and see what is happening, not just personally, but from news stories, statistics and research. In a previous post I said that four of my friends had been diagnosed with cancer. Well, one of them went for further testing and no cancer.

Then, there are people like Tanya.

Last year John Hopkins medical centre did a study on the luck factor – and the rating for that factor was as high as 65%. They concluded that the main causes of cancer are three – environment, genetic and luck. I have discussed this with friends and some of them pooh-pooh the luck factor.

I say – look around you. Look at who gets cancer, when it is diagnosed, the treatment and if it helps or not. The results are all over the map.

Which brings me to my my conclusion – for now. Too many people of all ages are getting cancer and too many of them are dying from it.

And yes, I know. I have an even more personal reason for being concerned. My late father died of brain cancer (which started out as lung cancer). That was back in 1965. He was 66 when he died.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under cancer, Cancer Cures and Research, Cancer Treatment, Dad, Friends, Health