Written on the Body #31, Feb. 17, 2021: Hope and Uncertainty

Hello. sorry it has been a while since I wrote. As a friend of mine once remarked, “things have been moving at the speed of darkness.”

February is a short month, but with many holidays. February 2 is “groundhog day,” when, according to the vagaries of the various rodents and their shadows, we know if we will have 6 more weeks of winter or an early spring. Given the cold weather and snow across Canada and all through the U.S., including Texas, it looks like we’re having more winter, at least for now.

However, there are signs of spring on the horizon — the afternoons stay light longer, and the Jewish holiday Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the Trees, celebrates the trees renewed growth. (The holiday falls on the 15th day of the Hebrew month Shevat, which this year fell on Jan. 27 -Jan. 28). Then Feb. 1-2 is the Gaelic holiday of Ibolc, also known as Brigid’s Day, which celebrates the beginning of spring (midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox) and the birth of the season’s new lambs, and also budding of trees and plants. the goddess Brigid (Christianized to St. Bridget), who protected hearth and home. Fires and candles were lit to show the returning warmth and light, and water from holy wells was used to bless homes, land, and livestock. Some say the holiday also commemorates poetry — perhaps because poems also “spring up” and blossom from the poet’s imagination.

Then there is Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, celebrating love, and Family Day (in Ontario) — a civic holiday honouring the family (so with links back to Imbolc!). In other provinces of Canada, the holiday has different names. And today, February 17, is the second “I Read Canadian Day,” celebrating Canadian writers and illustrators, especially those for children. So — even if you are reading this after Feb. 17, go find and read a Canadian book. There is plenty of time to do this, as most of us are sheltering at home from covid — and from winter.

My own treatment continues, and fortunately I am still feeling well, with good “quality of life,” as they say. Eating, talking, walking with no pain or discomfort, able to focus on reading, writing, and cooking — I made an angel food cake for Valentine’s Day, at Roger’s request (I hadn’t made one before, and it turned out both light and flavourful) and, earlier this winter, a yeast coffee cake similar to the one my mother used to make. Next project is pizza crust!

However (yes, there is a however), my CT scan in mid-January showed some “thickening,” or growth, of the original esophagus tumour, although there is no further spread of the cancer and the lesions in my liver are smaller — which is good. The options to treat this are another short course of radiation (I had some radiation when I was first diagnosed, which was helpful) or adding a secondary chemotherapy drug, probably the one that has been on hold for several months because of its side-effects. I would continue having some chemo in any case (though with a short break if I have radiation). The advantage of radiation is that it specifically targets the tumour, and new techniques have made it easier to hit the cancer cells and not the surrounding normal tissue. And yet, apparently, radiation a second time is trickier than the first. I saw the radiation oncologist on Feb. 17 and she scheduled a “planning CT scan” for Feb. 19 to see if, in fact, the radiation can be done safely at this time. We should know the results early next week. I had hoped to have a definite plan to report in this blog, but I also want to send the blog out now — and I will send an update when I know if I will have radiation or just continue with chemo. I feel that if the radiation is considered both safe and effective, it is a good plan — and I’ve talked with Roger, with my son Joe and other close family, who support this decision. There are no guarantees, of course, but so far the two years since diagnosis have been much better than I originally thought, and I feel in good hands with the doctors and staff at Princess Margaret Hospital.

When I trained in psychotherapy at the Tavistock Clinic in London, U.K., one of the principles we learned was that “you need walk in uncertainty” for a while, both with yourself and with your clients, and this has proved true for so much of life — including dealing with cancer and, for the world during the past year, dealing with covid-19 and its variants. As well as the ongoing striving for justice and overcoming system racism in our society, and the perils of climate change.

So in this season between winter and spring, darkness and light, let’s continue to see the light increase each day, in small increments, and enjoy the good moments each day brings. And even though zoom, email, phone, etc. are not a complete substitute for in-person connections, they are SO MUCH better than nothing — and a way to keep in touch during these changing times.

Reading Recommendations (Canadian and beyond): I’ve been re-reading Toni Morrison’s novels, which are wonderful. I’ve discovered a writer of tales for both adults and young adults, Charles DeLint (living in Ottawa) whose stories are fantasy grounded in reality (or vice-versa): a good one is The Wind in his Heart. And the Broken Earth trilogy by U.S. writer N.K. Jemisin is an amazing, complex story of destruction and salvation — her writing is brilliant. And two friends of mine, one Canadian and one in the U.S., have published good novels this year: Shaena Lambert (Vancouver)’s Petra, about German Green Party activist/feminist Petra Kelly, and Lisa Alther (Vermont & Tennessee)’s Swan Song, a kind of modern Odyssey — life, death, and pirates!

About Ellen

I am a member of The Writers Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, and CANSCAIP. I have received grants from the Ontario Arts Council for both writing and teaching. I currently work with Learning Through the Arts and Living through the Arts, programmes run by the Royal Conservatory of Music that enable artists to work in schools and community organizations. I have also taught in many other school and community programs, and have been a judge for various writing contests for both young people and adults.
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