Saturday, December 29, 2012


Some things have changed for me. Big time.
1. Absence I have not written on my blog in months. Three months. I continue to write daily but in my journal instead. This daily practice has meant the world to me, giving me quiet, solace, space, and time during my day to reflect, get centred and also escape. I think some of the absence is related to the need for me to keep my thoughts contained, own my thoughts, and in writing on the internet, blogging, you share your thoughts, you give them away... Nonetheless, I am thrilled to know that my Blue Butterfly blog still continues to be read by many and hit 100, 000 pageviews in October. I will share my thoughts as I am ready.
2. Loss I am not as involved in a lot of cancer- and thyroid-cancer related activities. Right now, I feel like I need a break. Today, I just learned a fifth young person who I met through young adult cancer circles has past away. I only spoke to Naomi Baker on a few occasions at the YACC Conference in 2011. I since learned that Naomi is an artist, she has two Mater's degrees, and she was also a teacher like me. She also had this calm spirit about her. Maybe it was the Kris Carr-inspired Crazy, Sexy, Cancer life that she lived. (Naomi shared with me that she attended a retreat with Kris and spent time speaking with her. Naomi promised to connect me with some interesting lectures that Kris did but I never pursued it.)
I felt sad, hurt, and disgusted when I discovered this news. Why is she gone? Like me, she got married this year seemingly suggesting that she had many more years to live. I know she was sick but it doesn't seem fair. Part of me almost wish I didn't meet her, so I do not feel a sense of loss. I know that sounds selfish, doesn't it? Rest in peace Naomi. These losses from the young adult cancer community has been something I think contributed to distancing myself from the cancer groups. In April, I lost a friend to stomach cancer-- her name is Agnes Kwasnicka.
Agnes Kwasnicka, Dr. Kwasnicka, was only 35 years old when she passed away. I met Agnes and her partner Greg through a Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) event called the Compassionate Marketplace. Agnes and Greg were volunteering at the registration table and signed me up as a member. Agnes recognized my name when she saw it written down because she had visited this blog. Like me, she was a vegan and as we talked, I learned that she was also a cancer survivor. I still feel a lot of sadness with the passing of Agnes. In fact, I had not written about it on this blog until today. It was too hard. Today, I went to dinner with two of my friends at Fresh. As we took our seats, I realized that I was sitting down at the very booth where I last sat with Agnes. It was about a year ago when I went to Fresh for brunch with her and some of the young adults we met in the cancer community. This was the last time I saw her before she moved out west to be closer to family to spend her last days. Agnes was my friend for a few reasons. She attended my positive prognosis by attending my Celebration of Life fundraising picnic. I am still amazed that she celebrated this day with me, that day I thought I was "cured" based on what my endocrinologist, Endo #4, told me, but technically I was (and still am) in remission which is not a word that thyroid cancer doctors seem to use as is done with other cancers. (In November this year, at the follow-up after my September scan, my new Endo, Endo #5, told me I am "low risk of recurrence" and require "annual follow-up".) As a doctor, Agnes would have known that I will most likely be cured and live a very normal life post-thyroid cancer. She would have also known very well the course her own disease would take. Her prognosis was not positive like mine yet she came out to my potluck picnic with her partner Greg, their two dogs, and a vegan dish in tow. She came. She came to celebrate with me. How selfless!
Agnes also made an extra effort to include me in activities with other young adult cancer survivors. She was wise, thoughtful, and intelligent and I wished so much that I had contacted her when she first moved away. She moved away in January, by February I thought about her and sent her a card in March. When she did not respond to my e-mails and I read her blog with updates, I had a feeling that things were not looking good. Greg had indicated that she was not able to respond to the e-mails but that he could share them with her. I felt silly sending e-mails to Agnes about my upcoming wedding and the plans and seemingly trivial questions. I desperately hoped to communicate with her but it wasn't long before I got the news that she was gone. After her passing, I attended a dinner with a few friends of Agnes from the young adult cancer community. I had a hole inside and I wanted to find others who knew her and could relate. (I had already lost my Uncle C (Horace) just a few weeks prior. Uncle C passed away suddenly on a visit to Jamaica just a few months before our wedding which he was supposed to attend. My husband and I missed him so much.) I attended a memorial for Agnes at Wellspring. In October, I also attended a memorial organized by Greg at St. Michael's Hospital to launch a scholarship in her memory where I was asked to say a few words. Ironically, I knew Agnes in the "cancer world" as a fellow survivor yet many in the "vegan/vegetarian" world, one that I was new to but she and Greg belonged to for many years, did not know she was ill at all. She was such a dedicated volunteer to this cause. Here is an article written by a TVA staff member of the Toronto Vegetarian Association. In her last years, Agnes focused on her life, people, her husband, her family and her activism. I once asked her what she wanted her funeral to be like. She told me she doesn't want to think about that. She focuses on living. At the Wellspring memorial, I dedicated a song Greg asked me to share with other young adult cancer survivors who wished to remember Agnes. It was a song that Agnes requested to have played at her funeral. The time that I knew Agnes was very short, not even a year, but it had a huge impact on my life. The stories about Agnes I hear from others who knew her, she sounds mouthy and "punk rock" and fiercely vegan. (A lot of the young cancer survivors I have met are kind of "punk rock".) I would have loved to get to know her better.
3. Work The third thing that changed for me is returning to work full-time. What a huge change! I didn't think I would last 6+ hours each day teaching up to nine classes and 200+ student again but I made it through the last four months with a totally new teaching assignment. I am teaching Music and French from kindergarten to Grade 8. It's quite a challenge. At the end of the teaching day, I am exhausted. There isn't much energy for anything else which brings me to...
4. My Introverted Nature I am such an introvert. I realize now that I have always been an introvert. As a child, I used to prefer staying in at recess so that I could finish my art projects. Or if I did go out for recess, I would read books or share the books that I made with other kids or hang out with one or two friends. I was a bit of a loner and even if others didn't see me that way, I identified with being a loner. Now in my adult years, post-cancer, I realize that I especially crave the quiet spaces and times that I had during the months of recovery/healing time after surgery. During this time, I would spend hours journaling, blogging, meditating, doing yoga, and reading. During my four day radioactive isolation in 2011, I sketched pictures and journalled lots. Now, I am two years after my diagnosis and I am still trying to make meaning of this introverted nature that feels even stronger. Part of me is scared, terrified by the fact that I am more clearly aware than ever before that life is short and I am even more reflective and introspective than before. I treasure my life and think often about how to make it more fulfilling and happy. It is a bit of a contradiction for me since I have done so many extraverted things in my life and love performing and being in front of an audience. I think I figured out how to function much better now in a world where extraverts get ahead, rewarded, and acknowledged. At heart, I don't follow the crowd and stand a part from the pack.
5. I'm a Writer... I'm a Writer... I'm a Writer I'm a writer and as of late, I have been having these insistent thoughts that I must write a lot more than I have before. A few weeks ago, I woke up at 2:30am on a worknight with the urge to write. The urge was so strong and would not leave me and so I got up and started to write. Another night, I could not sleep after reading a list of African-Canadian children's books written since 2000. The list had twenty books and was very narrow in topical focus, mostly about slavery and the Underground Railroad. Most of the writers weren't African-Canadian. I wondered who would write the books for African-Canadian children now? I couldn't sleep with that thought and lay awake for hours as my mind raced. I want to write but I've got to eat. I have had a few conversations with writers lately and some encouraged me to pursue this passion and it's still to come. My frustration is that I lack energy and time at the end of an intense workday to start working on my books. So recently, I decided to take my eyes off another Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Writing for Children program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts just long enough to acknowledge what I feel that I need. (I applied to UBC's MFA in Creative Writing program in 2011.) I also need to journal every morning (and sometimes evening) or else the day just does not seem right.
So I've ordered every book from the library about writing and illustrating for children. I need a mentor!!! I need a doula, a midwife, someone to help coach me through the journey of writing for publication. I need someone to help me focus and work diligently to complete at least one book project. The first one I wish to complete is one that I have worked on for the last three years which is about seventy pages in length. So I will be applying to some mentorships in the new year and until I can figure out how I will finance a $ 40, 000+ MFA program at VCFA without any funding from Canada, the United States, or anyone else, I will try to get some writing mentorship (a much more affordable option for me) somewhere. I am meeting other writers more and more and there are so many who offer their words of wisdom and help me see that you can earn a living at this. I am actually starting to see myself more and more as a writer who can actually make a life out of this. Some of my students have started making books that they illustrate. When they show these stapled paper booklets with pencil-drawn images to me, I am so impressed and honoured and excited. I love it! They are self-publishing. They are trusting me to look at their manuscripts. I am sooo excited. I feel sort of like their mentors. So these changes listed hear still mean that there is still a year of changes awaiting me and with that more growth to come. I look forward to it.

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