Sunday, February 1st, 1998

It is Sunday morning, 6:30 a.m. I am dressed and ready for the day. I am sitting in a café bar not too far from my house. I feel rather content but fiercely afraid someone will take away my Joy.

Yesterday was my last day as a registered nurse at the hospital that I have worked at since I graduated from nursing school. I did what I could to argue my point that terminating my position while I am mentally and emotionally exhausted is really not fair. No one seemed to listen I was told to see my psychiatrist and to work through my feelings.

On Friday I said to myself, “Just let it go, girl.” The situation is out of my control. I work very hard to keep my moods balanced, and my energy would be better spent on my sons and myself. When god closes a door, he opens a window. I am going to publish my story and tour with my book. I am dedicated to helping kids with cancer.

When I first arrived here at the café bar, I wanted to cry, take my sedation and go home to sleep for the day. Now that I see a new opportunity before me, I will face the day with a glad heart. I will wash my car, go to Hole’s greenhouses, go for a walk and spend time with my sons. If the tears flow, that will be O.K. They will stop and I will find something to smile about.

Monday, February 9th 1998

The weekend has passed. I am glad it is Monday morning. Monday is a regular business day, and the day goes by at a quicker pace when I have places to go and people to see.

The dreaded Valentine’s Day, Jason had four medical appointments. An ultrasound of the heart at the hospital, a trip to the cancer clinic for his yearly check-up, back to the hospital to see the plastic surgeon about his burn scars, then across the street to the pediatrician to discuss hormone replacement therapy.

Jason and I are quite used to visits to the doctor, so four appointments in one day did not seem unusual. Tap, tap, tap, down the long corridor we walked to the pediatric cardiology clinic.

I said, “You go ahead, Jason. This is just a quick picture of your heart. You know the routine. I’ll just sit out here and read a magazine.”

“O.K. Mom! I hope the printer is working this time and I can take a picture of my heart to school,” he replied.

Click, click, click, down the street we walk to the cancer clinic. Another familiar outing for the two of us; we have followed this path from the hospital to the cancer clinic many times in the past ten years. The routine, twice-a-year check-up at the cancer clinic has always been a nice time to see old friends and catch up on news. During those visits the doctors had never had any frightening news about Jason’s health, not since that very first consultation on October 10, 1987. However, on this visit, on Valentine’s Day, 1997, I was told my son was showing signs of heart damage.

Oh, please don’t tell me that! This is the day I should get cards, chocolates and flowers from an admirer. I don’t want news of more tests, more doctors’ appointments or more information on the late side-effects of childhood cancer treatment. I don’t want to live in fear of my son’s heart failing and him dying before I am ready to say goodbye.

Oh, great. Now what? Should we go home so I can cry my eyes out? Or should we go and see the plastic surgeon and pediatrician as scheduled?

No, I am not ready to go home and accept this news. I want to be with people like doctors and nurses—comrades who can appreciate my fears. We will go to the appointments, and I will tell the friendly people there about the news of heart damage.

This week, on Friday, February 13, 1998, the day before Valentine’s Day, Jason is scheduled for an ultrasound of the heart and a check-up at the Cross Cancer Clinic. I haven’t scheduled any further doctors’ appointments. I am hoping the news is good. Then we can go for a bite to eat and buy some flowers.

Tuesday, February 10th, 1998

When I go for my walk, my step definitely has more spring in it and my pace is quicker. I was an avid walker before the chemical imbalance took over my brain. I have truly missed those long, brisk walks.

Lately, though, I have not been overly interested in walking for pleasure or for exercise. Walk to where? When I get there, what will I do? Surely I’ll run into someone I know, we’ll chat for a bit and I’ll be too sad to walk home. My mood swings have interfered with the Joy I used to receive while walking the familiar, friendly paths of St. Albert.

This morning is somehow different. I feel the energy and excitement I used to feel when I walked. I have a destination, a purpose and a desire to complete the journey. As I walk, I think to myself, “I may have lost control of my mind but thank God I still have my legs. I can get up, get dressed and go for a walk. How lucky I am!”

The thought reminds me of a nice young man I cared for when he was hospitalized with a lung disease. He was 24, had schizophrenia and was confined to resting in bed because he had five chest tubes in his lungs. The plastic tubing is inserted through the ribs into the interstitial space of the lungs and held in place with a suture. My colleagues and I knew how horrifying one chest tube could be. We were devastated when this man required a fifth chest tube to maintain oxygenation for life.

I said to him, “How awful for you to have to stay in bed. I sure those chest tubes are very painful when you move.” “Yes, nurse, they hurt very much,” he said. “But, I thank the good Lord Jesus that I only need five.”

I looked at him as he lay in the bed raised to a 45-degree angle, three chest tubes protruding from his right side and two chest tubes from the left. I noted the tremors in his hands that were consistent with his illness and I thought, “What an optimistic reply!” I remember thanking God that day that I was able to walk off the ward and that I had a clear mind.

I have shaved my head again, much to the delight of Ashley, who is still bald, and to the dismay of my girlfriends, who think a woman needs hair to to be happy. I am going shopping to buy a new hat. Then I will walk to Cream and Sugar, my friend Natasha’s coffee and tea boutique. I love to visit there when I can.

Natasha’s home is very warm, friendly and comfortable. When I was a young girl of 13, I lived in the very same house that she now lives in. I like to look out of her back window and remember the days of laughter, games on the lawn and skating on the river with childhood best friends.

Oh, what simple, carefree days they were.

February 14th, 1998, Valentine’s Day

How do I feel? I feel I am on the brighter side of the path today. I took Jason to his two medical appointments yesterday. Jason’s heart is pumping efficiently. He will still require follow-up visits to the doctor to monitor the late effects of the chemotherapy and radiation he received as a baby. But, for now, I can relax. It has been one complete year since I received news of Jason’s broken heart. Today his heart is pumping efficiently, and he is happy and safe. I have a gift and I must count the Joy.


copyright Sheila Ethier 2015