A Magical Moment to Hold Onto
February 1, 2017
Saturday, January 7th 2017
My boyfriend slept next to me in the tiny hospital bed. We were so exhausted from yesterday’s trauma that we slept well, cuddled up with our legs intertwined so we could fit. I hadn’t slept for over 24 hours. Within those 24 absurd hours, I was told my cancer returned in my lungs and I had to begin chemotherapy soon, I was thrown into numerous tests, and in the evening my entire family and best friends came to visit me. I cried in their arms and then I cried myself to sleep.
It was now Saturday, January 7th. It was Marie’s (one of my closest friends) 30th Birthday. For months, her sister, her best friends and I have been planning her big surprise weekend getaway to a Chalet up north. Of course, with my crazy creative over the top ideas, I suggested we do a mini “Amazing Race”. It’s one of Marie’s favorite TV shows! She’s always wanted to audition with her sister. So we thought it would be a fun idea to organize a few challenges downtown that she had to complete in order to obtain clues that brought her to different destinations where in the end, would reveal her big gift – the Chalet getaway!
One of the first thoughts I had when finding out about my recurrence was “OH NO! Marie’s Birthday! I just ruined it!”
I had no choice but to message the Facebook group that we created to organize her birthday and immediately drop the bomb on her sister Tweety and her other best friends, Anneth and Anand. Actually, I lie. I couldn’t do it myself. I had asked Vee to write them for me. Everyone was shocked and in disbelief…
How on earth did our group chat go from speaking about “Who’s going to pick up the cake and go grocery shopping?” to “Hey, my cancer came back to my lungs and I’m now hospitalized for the week. I am to restart chemotherapy.” It’s insane how life can change in a heartbeat!
Tweety, Anneth and Anand were extremely supportive and asked what they could do for me. My one and only wish was this, “Please pursue everything as planned and make sure Marie has the best 30th birthday ever.” That’s all I wanted. They promised they’d do whatever they could.
Marie had visited on Friday after finding out. On that night, we were actually supposed to “dance the night into her 30s” at a bar until the clock hit midnight. As she sat by my hospital bed instead, I couldn’t help but think we should be dancing with a gin and tonic in our hands.
I couldn’t help but apologize. I told her I was so sorry for ruining her birthday and she wanted to slap me in the face for even saying that.
Marie said all she wanted to do for her Birthday was stay with me at the hospital and play games to keep me busy but I refused. I told her we had something planned for her on Saturday and that she had to promise me she would go forth with it and have fun!
That Saturday morning was a confusing one. I had no idea why I was at the hospital and what I was meant to do. I felt so lost and confused. Like I didn’t belong here! Every patient on the same floor as me looked severely ill (and old) and there I was, little miss Nalie wearing my fitness gear and hoodie, hair down to my back, with an urge to run laps around the hospital. But apparently, due to my scary scan and shortness of breath, they wanted to watch me closely.
I also had to wait for the Oncologist to visit my room and confirm the time of my Biopsy which I was told should be done over the weekend. When you’re hospitalized, you never really know when the Doctor will show up. You can wait for him all day in your room and he’ll only appear at 8pm or something! You just never know.
After eating my soggy hospital toast and boiled egg, I asked the nurse’s permission to take a stroll downstairs so that Vee could grab his morning coffee. She said it wasn’t a problem as long as I returned soon.
It felt so good to get out of that room!
As we walked downstairs towards the cafeteria, I received a message from Cynthia, my girl that I train with almost every day. Her text was like her usual daily messages inviting me to attend our intense circuit training at Amenzone. My heart sank the moment I saw her name pop up on my screen. It was another reminder that I’ll no longer be able to exercise at Amenzone. The founder, Amen, had just signed me as an ambassador. I was so ready to get my body in the strongest state it’s ever been. And just like that… I was about to be knocked back down again.
At this point, only my best friends and family knew about my recurrence. I still wasn’t ready to tell anyone else. But I had no choice to tell Cynthia. As soon as I broke the news, she came to the hospital right away.
That’s when I started to reflect. How in the world am I going to break the news to the rest of my friends and also… my followers? The thought of it broke my heart. I knew this would affect a lot of people. The same way I cried on Friday. I knew thousands would cry too. I didn’t want to hurt them.
This was something I definitely needed to think about.
After crying in Cynthia’s arms. My cellphone rang. It was a FaceTime call from Anneth, one of Marie’s best friends. They were about to start Marie’s Amazing Race. Anneth asked me if I wanted to be there when she arrived at her condo to announce the surprise. Basically, I got to be the Amazing Race Host via FaceTime! I had to quickly suck it up, wipe my tears and get on camera for Marie. Like a game show host, I told her the plan and she was so surprised. That alone made me feel better! When we hung up, she was to start her first challenge. I said my goodbyes and told her to enjoy her special day. Once FaceTime cut, so did my heart in half. Knowing that I should be there right now, not at this hospital made me angry. But I found comfort knowing she was about to have the best time!
Cynthia, Vee and I returned to my room. We were gone for quite a while now. My parents had already arrived and were waiting for me in my room. “The Nurse was looking for you twice” my Mom said. Oops!
I jumped back into bed, chatted with Cynthia and waited for the Oncologist to arrive with more news on what exactly is to happen in the upcoming days! I still didn’t understand why I was at the hospital and why I couldn’t just come back for the biopsy and return again for chemo.
A few minutes later, out of nowhere, one of my brother’s best friends, Josh, who is also like a brother to me and who also happens to share the same Birthday as Marie, appeared in my room! I guess my brother, Justin told him the news! I had actually texted him that morning wishing him a Happy Birthday with a heart emoji, but nothing more. Usually I write him a paragraph of wishes. That’s all the energy I had to write, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget to send him my love. I also didn’t want to “ruin” his Birthday too, so telling him I was at the hospital was the last thing I wanted to do. Regardless, he appeared and sat at the edge of my bed. I couldn’t help but burst into tears again.
That’s how most of the day was. My tears were like your neighbours automatic sprinkler, that turns on at the most random hours of the day when you least expect it.
Hours later, Marie showed up at the hospital with Anand! They had just finished our little Amazing Race and before heading to the Chalet, Marie made sure they stopped by the hospital first.
She walked in the room wearing a pink headband that looked like bunny ears with the numbers 3 and 0 at each end. She had tears of joy in her eyes. She was absolutely overwhelmed and excited about her birthday surprise and thanked me over and over again. I was so happy it all ended up working out despite my last minute absence.
She told me all about the race with excitement as she showed me the clue cards Anneth had designed that resembled the real Amazing Race. She then pulled out the final envelope with the picture of the Chalet and laid it on my bed! She couldn’t believe it. She was so happy but at the same time, so sad I couldn’t come!
Minutes later, the Oncologist walked into the room! At this moment, in our tiny semi private room merely separated from the other patient by a curtain, was Vee, my parents, Cynthia, Josh, Anand, Marie and me. I was initially sitting on the chair closely stuck to my bed when the Oncologist walked in. I pushed myself up on the armrests as if I were doing tricep dips and jumped into my bed so I could speak to him.
“How are you feeling?” he asked. “Good!” I said. “No longer feeling out of breath?” he questioned. I answered, “Not so much”. He smiled and said, “Well from the way that you jumped out of that chair into your bed, I think you’re right. I’ve never met someone who’s out of breath that can do that”. I laughed.
My Oncologist, Dr. Panasci, wasn’t working that weekend so this was Dr. Batist. He explained how the biopsy will most likely only be on Monday. Marie came forth to protest, “So then she doesn’t need to be at the hospital for the weekend then!” Looking at Dr.Batist with her innocent Asian eyes and pink headband with bunny ears, she asked if I could attend her 30th Birthday at the Chalet. We showed him the picture of the Chalet which was still on my bed and I told him all about how we had organized this months ago and if he’d let me go, I’d be good! I won’t drink, I won’t dance. I’ll sit in my PJS and do exactly what I’m doing now in this hospital bed.
Dr. Batist took a look at my clipboard verifying if my vitals were normal. He then observed my group of friends and family and asked, “Where is the Chalet?” Anand responded “Near St-Sauveur”.
He looked at me then back at my friends and family, “There’s a hospital in St-Sauveur, if ever anything happens and she can’t breathe, call 911 and take her to the emergency immediately. Make sure she gets her rest.” He then turns back to me who now had this massive smile on my face and said, “You can leave for 24 hours, be sure to be back before 8pm tomorrow night and check in with the nurse at the reception.” In my mind I was like, perfect, I’ll be there at 7:59pm. He shook my hand to seal the deal and the entire room screamed with joy and celebrated! We stood up, hugged and cheered like you’d do if the team you’re rooting for wins the Superbowl.
I was ecstatic! I screamed, “PACK THE BAGS!!! START THE CAR!!! LET’S GET OUT OF HERE!!!”
At that point, Anneth and her fiance Ky walked in the room. Marie announced that I could come to the Chalet for the night! Everyone jumped in joy again. Anand mentioned how he never felt more happy being in a hospital!
The Magical Moment
There was something so magical about that moment. It was like we had the perfect balance of positive energy in the room. My caring parents, my loving boyfriend, my girl Cynthia who always pushes me past my limits when we train, the birthday boy Josh who always looked out for me my whole life, and of course, the 30th Birthday girl, Marie, who walked in with tears of joy, grateful for everything we did for her.
What a big “coincidence” that the Oncologist, whom we had been waiting for all day and who could have showed up at any time, arrived at the exact time that Marie entered looking all cute with her bunny ears and gift package! He could have easily came to see me later that day, hours after they would have already left to the Chalet. I would have then been stuck at the hospital for the weekend, driving myself crazy over-thinking about my recurrence all so that the nurses could verify my perfect temperature, heart rate and blood pressure.
This magical moment, is something I must hold onto! It was a very small victory. It had nothing to do with my cancer itself. But the vibe, the energy and the magic in the air brought me so much happiness. The happiness I needed to move forward. It felt like I had won the lottery… or more like my ride or die broke me out of prison and we made it across the fence, through the river bank and ran away! Being discharged from the hospital for 24 hours felt like anything was possible!
Like a gentlemen, Vee offered to get the car which was parked a little further and pick me up at the entrance so I didn’t have to walk. I sat on the sofas in front of the main entrance texting my brothers and best friends who were supposed to come to visit me at the hospital in the late afternoon, telling them not to come anymore! “I’M GOING TO THE CHALET FOR 24 HOURS!!!” I texted with enthusiasm.
My Mom then nudged my Dad. “Look, she’s finally smiling” my Mom proclaimed with a huge smile on her face. My Dad smiled back and hugged her. At that moment I remembered… when I’m positive and strong, so are my parents! When I cry, they cry with me. When I’m in pain, they feel my pain too. This was my first epiphany, that reminded me just how important it was for me to be positive again. If not for me. For them.
At around 7:30pm, we arrived at this beautiful modern Chalet in the middle of the woods. It was freezing cold outside, but I couldn’t care less. I stared at the trees that glistened with icicles as the sun set in awe. Our friends were already settled in, hanging around the kitchen counter as I walked in. We played games. We ate delicious food. They drank booze. I sipped on honey, ginger and lemon tea. We laughed our faces off that night. I hadn’t had an appetite for 48 hours. I couldn’t eat. But that night, I was finally hungry! I munched on Anand’s homemade tandoori chicken like it was my last meal.
It was like everything was put on hold for 1 night. It was like God gave me a “cancer free” card for 1 night and I played it.
This night was crucial to me. 1 last night to be a normal 28-year-old. 1 night to recharge before going back to into the battlefield.
Once the clock struck midnight, my body called for bed. I guess I was exhausted from the hospital shenanigans. My friends continued to play drinking games until the wee hours. Vee and I went up to our gorgeous room and fell asleep.
Back to Life. Back to Reality
Sunday, January 8th 2017.
The next morning I woke up in the warmth of a cozy chalet and the smell of fresh pancakes. I yawned and smiled. And then it hit me like a brick. I have to return to the hospital. Back to reality.
I sat at the end of the bed. Vee woke up and asked me if I wanted to stay at the Chalet or if I wanted to leave earlier and get some rest at home before heading back to room D-8824. Feeling the way I was, I just wanted to go home. So he started to pack our bags.
Marie came up to see me. She sat next to me. I put my head on her shoulder and cried. “I don’t want to go back to the hospital” I said. “I know.” she responded accompanied by comforting words reminding me that we will get through this again and one day, we’ll be out and about like never before.
Today, we were supposed go sledding, take a dip in the hot tub and enjoy the winter outdoors. We had the Chalet for one more night. It broke my heart that I had to leave.
We made our way downstairs. I ate one of Anneth’s delicious pancakes, said our goodbyes and hit the road.
We were able to go back home. Do some laundry. Pack our bags for the week and more importantly, I had time to think.
Think about how I should break the news to my friends and followers. I started off by writing a long heartfelt message revealing my recurrence with my closest friends in mind. I then copied and pasted the message and sent it to those I felt needed to hear it from me first, rather than catch it on social media.
I then took out my camera. Screwed it onto my tripod. Turned on my studio lights and recorded my first video. “I don’t know how I’m going to say this, so I’m going to go right ahead and just say it. On January 6th, 2017, I found out my cancer has returned… this time… in the lungs.”
Just like on July 17, 2013 when I first found out I had breast cancer, I poured my heart out. And just like the first time… it felt good. So so good.
With that video recorded. Suddenly, I was pumped and ready to go.
We grabbed our bags, kissed our puppy Neo goodbye as we handed him to Vee’s father for the week, and just like that, we were back in our tiny little bed at the Jewish General Hospital.
To be continued…