May 24, 2018. Gail and and I step off our front porch. We wait for our dog-child Styxx to appear in the front window, as he always will. We wave goodbye, as we always do, and make our way across busy Portage Avenue. We stroll down the quiet residential streets of Winnipeg’s west end, beneath canopies of just-emerging leaves. Winter is behind us. In its place is a fresh explosion of heat and green. This is a time of renewal. Lawn mowers hum with the season’s first cut. Above us, an arborist’s chain saw chatters loudly. And there’s the high-pitched chorus of children playing at recess.
We are on our way to CancerCare Manitoba.
This is not the walk we had planned to take, back in January and February. By rights, we would be well into our plans and preparations for a long walk later this spring. The Camino Frangicena was in our sights, a long pilgrimage from Cantebury to Rome crossing Britain, France, Switzerland and Italy.
A small lump altered our direction. It would take us on a very different path.
The news came softly, disturbingly on the last day of January. Gail had breast cancer. She was handed the first of several pathology reports, couched in a new, coded language. Then came the lumpectomy and lymph node biopsy. And another pathology report. Then an additional operation around the margins of the lumpectomy. And a third report.
And then, in early May, Gail and I meet her medical and radiation oncologists. Twelve weeks of chemotherapy. Four weeks recovery. 3 weeks of radiation. Future hormone treatment.
As cancers go, Gail looks to be one of the lucky ones. Hers is not the most benign but it is close. Even the need for chemotherapy is near-borderline, more of an insurance policy than an absolute necessity. We know of people with much more serious cancer. Life-limiting and life-ending cancer. Gail is fortunate, in many respects.
But it is what it is. Life will continue to be measured in percentages. This percent of women with her cancer will survive for that many years. This treatment will increase her chance of survival by that percentage.
Life since January has been directionless, trapped as we have been between what we know and don’t. And while we know much more today, tomorrow remains vague.
On this May 24 morning, we are making our way to Gail’s first chemotherapy session. No grand pilgrimage across Europe. Just a simple walk from home to hospital. It is our form of therapy. Walk therapy.
Walking is our coping mechanism, our way of reclaiming life and hope. It is our space to breathe outside of the world of cancer, away from treatments and hospitals. This is where we take care of ourselves. It is where we set our own direction, our own path. It is where we make the most of the day, this day and the next. It is a place where walking the dog, going out for ice cream, embracing a rainy day, is as important as a walk to the hospital.
May 24, 2018. Our pilgrimage starts now.