Written on the Body, #39: July 21, 2021, The Turquoise Raccoon Bandit (look on the bright side of life!)

The good news is that my new treatment has finally started. I have now had two IV infusions, July 8 and 15, with a third one on July 22. Then a week’s break, and the cycle starts again on August 5. So far the main side-effect has been fatigue (for a couple of days after the IV), which is cured by a long mid-day nap. I remember at three years old, in nursery school, I refused to nap on my cot, but grudgingly agreed to lying there, making up stories in my head. Now I think afternoon naps are a good thing — though I often take a book with me, to help me get settled. There is a possible side-effect of keratitis, an inflammation of the cornea (I don’t understand the connection), so I have to take a series of eye-drops and also wear a cooling eye-mask during the treatment — 20 minutes on, 20 off, for the 90-minute infusion — which makes me look like a turquoise raccoon, especially with my covid19 mask on. (No insult is intended to actual raccoons!). See below and feel free to laugh! It is a relief to be back in treatment, and I am glad these new types of drugs are available.

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Not really any bad news for me personally, just the ongoing larger grief about the Indigenous children buried on the sites of residential schools — and also grief for the children who survived these abuses. As I told some U.S. friends during a zoom call recently, I think all (or most) of Canada is now in a state of grief over this.

And concern for the wildfires burning in B.C., Oregon, Northern Ontario, the droughts in California, the floods in Germany, the destruction of the Amazon rain forest — all signs of the climate change emergency that is not just “coming,” but actually here.

So I have been thinking about why, on this blog, I also talk about world events, historical events, holidays, books and films, and other matters beyond the “cancer journey.” And a friend recently asked me about this, too. I think it is for the same reason that, when I facilitated writing groups for people with cancer and with mental-health challenges (well before my diagnosis), we wrote about many different subjects, including childhood memories; personal treasures; reflections on poems, paintings, photographs, music; topical subjects like space flight, etc. And the people I worked with were very glad about this, bringing in their specific issues (or not!) when it seemed relevant to them. This is because all our lives are rich and full with many things, past and present and hopes for the future, and these things bring a mixture of thoughts and emotions which writing helps us see and understand and weave together. Cancer, mental health, poverty, abuse are only one thread in a larger tapestry. As one woman in a group said, “I live with cancer all day, it’s nice to think and write about something else.” And the act of writing helps us (including myself) who are dealing with these serious, existential matters to broaden our gaze, remember who we are; what is beautiful, mysterious, interesting; what makes us whole.

This leads to a few observations as Toronto moves out of lockdown. Roger and I are still being careful, despite our two vaccinations, but I have twice had lunch alone at a restaurant patio — the Free Times Cafe on College Street, a place with good food, including some Jewish dishes (latkes, borscht, matzoh-ball soup), and the scene, in the past, of great music, including Klezmer, and poetry readings. I went because I had time to spare between appointments, but it was nice to just sit outside, eat, and relax, without feeling fearful, and then wander around, one day buying clothes at a small store near the restaurant (trying on clothes in an actual store, something I haven’t done for over a year!), and then, another time, discovering an amazing art installation in a window-gallery further west. I have missed this kind of random wandering, without an agenda, finding things that please my senses and my soul. So if you are near 402 College Street West, check out the Tower of the Sacred & Ordinary, by Daniel Toretsky, in the window-gallery — an exhibit sponsored by FENTSTER (which means “window” in Yiddish.) And we are making plans to visit my son and his family in Nanaimo, B.C. at the end of August — if covid, my own medical issues, and climate-change let this happen. The doctors have given their okay, so that’s a good start.

Stay well, stay safe, un-lock carefully!

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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