The Christmas Cards

I got the Christmas cards ready to go today; I am hoping to have them in the mail by Wednesday.  I decided to use the last sketch that Kevin worked on.  He drew it in February of this year.  He had to resort to drawing instead of painting; his range of mobility was just too restricted.  I recall how frustrated he was by his inability to hold his arm up to paint on his easel.  In December, Kevin had started a large oil on canvas, 36″ x 36″, and he was determined to finish it.  He ended up using a variety of chairs, easel angles and just basically took his time.  He finished the painting in January, and at that point picked up his sketch book to give his arm and shoulder a rest.  We didn’t know it at the time but the bone cancer was literally throughout his entire body.

He managed to do two more pieces in February: a sketch that I used for this year’s Christmas card, and a small watercolour in a sketchbook.  For both of these last pieces it was a push for him; on most days he would work about 15 to 20 minutes and then take a break for an hour or two – then he’d be right back at it.  The physical effort was huge and he would be quite sore, even though it didn’t seem like much effort, it was for him.  I walk by his studio and I can still see him in my mind’s eye.  Hunched over at his table, surrounded by jars, books, paper, paint brushes.  He worked best in chaos.  I’ve left his room intact.  I’ve tidied it up a bit, but not much.  It’s just too early and too hard to even try at this point.

So as I prep this year’s card I wonder at the fact that the sketch I use is one of the last pieces Kevin drew – painstakingly, deliberately.  The image is simple, but when I see it, the numbers of figures in the card match the number of members in my family, children and grandchildren.  The central figure is like the phoenix rising from the ashes.  I wonder if there isn’t a subliminal message there for all that knew him.  He may be gone in one form but, perhaps, has taken shape in another.  Fanciful I know, but believe me, when you walk this path you find that you look for small wonders and small mercies.

The Endowment

When my husband, Kevin, died, I did an unusual thing.  In the obituary I indicated to friends and family that in lieu of flowers or donations, we, the family, had set up an endowment fund.  I chose this route for two reasons – first, the cancer society is one of the most exorbitantly funded research and development agencies in the world, from big Pharma to personal donations to government funding, this is a rich industry.  It is already well funded and quite frankly, I don’t believe that the monies resulting from charitable donations go to frontline research in the manner that I would want, they more likely serve to support the extensive administrative overhead.  So consequently, after Kevin died, I didn’t want donations to go to the Cancer Society.  I wanted to find a way to benefit our local community.  Second, and most importantly, I wanted to keep Kevin’s passion for the arts alive and vibrant, to create something tangible in his memory that would endure over time.  The generous contributions of friends and family have made this possible for at least the next 10 years and, as the donations continue to come in, potentially longer.  Remarkable, truly a remarkable response.

The Endowment Fund was established with our local art gallery.  The gallery made a tremendous effort and we were able to present the first award on October 8th.  It was a very well attended evening especially since there were two prizes being awarded: the Carmichael Landscape Prize of $2,500 and Kevin’s Emerging Artist award of $1,000.  The evening turned out even better when a local artist was awarded the Emerging Artist award, and truly, she earned it.  It was a lovely evening, but pulled at the heartstrings, since the very reason for why I was there was really the absolute worst reason.  I was there because Kevin had died and we had set up an award in his memory.  Cause and effect at it’s most basic level.

The emotional impact of these events tends to build up now.  I find that I can get through them for the most part, but they are cumulative. Looking back I realize I used to weep at things as they happened, no reprieve, the tears were not to be put off.  Now, I find that I can make it through an event or function, usually, and the tears find me later, at home.  The tears are different now too, as are the thoughts that go through my mind.  Now I have very specific memories that come to me.  After the art show my memories were of Kevin hunched over his easel, two months before he died, determined to finish a painting despite the fact that he couldn’t lift his right arm.  He adapted and put the canvas on the table and he finished the painting. Then my mind flit to another recent event, the birthday party that Kevin should have been at, and I remembered how, for his buddy’s last birthday in 2014, Kevin had given him a painting; I saw that painting last week at the party. Not exactly light thoughts to have right before bedtime.  Perhaps this is a good topic to discuss at my next grief counselling session – although I don’t think there’s anything that can be done to change it.

Thank You

I have so much to be thankful for, and I am.  I am thankful for the wonderful life that I have been able to lead and spend with my husband, Kevin, for the last 31 years.  I am thankful for the family and friends that have accompanied us throughout our journey into the unknown. I am thankful for the supportive people that came into our lives at just the right moments; doctors, nurses, and other professionals who went beyond the required effort to ensure things were done right.  I am thankful to my employer for allowing me both time and opportunity to stay with my husband – and not miss one moment of his final days.

Today my husband passed away.  It was remarkably fast and for that I am thankful too.  The rapid decline could have spanned weeks, most certainly days, but it was not to be.  We had the kids come home for the weekend and the grandkids up. Close family members and special friends came by.   We said our goodbyes and that appeared to provide a release for Kevin, allowing him to go.  Instead of a prolonged ordeal he went very quickly.

It’s late, we are all tired and it has been a long day, and I am thankful that it is over.

Radiation Pain

This radiation treatment has resulted in side effects much similar to the last one.  The pain is quite significant, to the point where I wonder if my husband wouldn’t be better off in the hospital.  The treatment was on Friday so we are now four days out and have to hope that the “spike” associated with the treatment is now on the downswing.  This process is incredibly hard to watch.  There were three spots on his spine radiated that included vertebra in his cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine.  The lumbar spine has some minor swelling especially after he has been seated for a period of time.  Lying down aggravates his cervical spine and breathing hurts his thoracic spine, consequently he is breathing quite shallow.  Its frightening to observe and obviously horrible to experience.

As a result of the radiation, chemotherapy has been delayed for one week until he has rebounded somewhat and the pain is more controlled.  This next treatment will be his third with this particular chemotherapy drug, Docetaxel.  Our Oncologist has asked for a CT Scan for mid-March to determine if the treatment is having any success.  The treatments are certainly starting to wear him down and we’ve talked generally about his options if the chemo isn’t working it’s magic.  These are hard conversations, but not as hard as watching him suffer, especially if it is needlessly.  We will wait until the scan.

We also continue to wait for our third grandchild.  Our daughter is having her first baby and the due date has now passed.  We know she is having a little boy who, no matter what, will be saddled with the nickname Chip.  For now, again, we wait.

As for my sister-in-law, she’s had a very tough week between her water pipes bursting,her furnace being shut down as unsafe (in minus 30 degrees Celsius weather) and the uncertainly surrounding her chemotherapy treatment.  Today was her visit with her Oncologist to find out what and how they wanted to proceed with her treatment.  Things did go her way which is a good thing.  The visit to Oncology netted a positive outcome – no more chemo but they will monitor her closely through tests and scans conducted every three months for perpetuity.   She also was able to line up technicians to replace her furnace in the morning and finally have some warmth back in her house.

Tomorrow is another day and who knows what it will bring.  For me, I hope it brings some relief to my husband, some warmth for my sister-in-law and a new grandchild into our little family.


The MRI Results

The MRI was last week.  One of the first questions they ask the patient is if he/she is claustrophobic.  Then they ask if you have ever had a reaction to the contrast that they will be injecting.  Do you have a pacemaker, or any metal implants, has a piece of metal ever flown into your eye? They ask what kind of music you would like to hear while the test is conducted – but really, you can’t hear the music for the clicking of the machine.  You lie on a narrow motorized gurney that moves slowly through a short cylinder (open at both ends) while computer generated imagery is gathered as your body passes through the tube.  In my husband’s case the MRI took about an hour to complete and the results are in; we meet with the Radiologist on Tuesday, tomorrow.  Our family GP has already called us about the scan – just to give us a heads up and so we can ask some knowledgeable questions of the Radiologist.

So we already know that the bone cancer has spread, that he has two new compression fractures in his spine at T4 and T9.  Our GP also stated that there was some activity in the Cervical Spine and that the Radiologist would be better positioned to discuss options with us on this issue.  The reality of our meeting on Tuesday is that likely by Thursday my husband will be having more radiation to his spine.  The radiation, although it does alleviate the pain after the swelling goes down, can be quite a process.  It can and did cause nausea and vomiting for my husband the last time and the pain associated with it was overwhelming.  It was during the radiation in July/August that my husband could not even lift his legs to get into bed.  At least this time we are more prepared and will try to stay ahead of the pain.