My name is Stuart. My wife and I have a comfortable house with a wonderful garden and two super dogs. I ran my own business for 20 years, before that working in television and corporate communications. We have been active in the community, members with the local horticultural society where I spent four years as the president. I was an active race walker, competing in at least 5 distance events per year. I competitively sailed, even played some golf (rather poorly). I’d like to say that I was your typical healthy 60-ish year old. That is, until I joined the club one does not ask to join.
I have cancer. Three years ago I was diagnosed with something called Post ET Myelofibrosis, a rare and chronic form of leukaemia that involves a malfunction of the stem cells in one’s bone marrow. When I was finally cleared to receive a medication that treats a side effect of the disease, I did not respond as hoped. I was then sent to a specialist at Princess Margaret who not only confirmed the diagnosis of myelofibrosis, but discovered that I also had developed Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, diffuse large b-cell, stage four (meaning it was throughout my lymphatic system, my major organs and bone marrow).
There I was, wow, I have two primary cancers.
It was at this point that I “knocked on the door” at Wellspring.
If I’m truthful, originally I didn’t initially think I was sick enough to go up to Wellspring. I only had a chronic condition with a possible three month to three-maybe, if one is lucky, five-year lifespan. I had even resisted seeing the specialist at Princess Margaret, what’s he going to tell me that I didn’t already know? In actual fact, in no uncertain terms I was in real trouble – a minor cut, a slip and fall, a mild fever would be a life threatening event, my blood levels having fallen so low, I really was ill. I don’t know what it is with us men, but truly, we can be really stupid at times.
On that first visit to Wellspring I was mainly preoccupied with my first chemotherapy session coming in two days time. But my wife absorbed it all and then steered me into that first encounter with Relaxation and Guided Meditation with the words “you really need this.” Midway through the session, I got the message loud and clear, not only did I really need this, we both did. My wife’s sobbing and tears as her emotions released alerted me to what I had been blind to, that I had to get my mind into the game, beyond the textbooks and medical manuals, to look at things differently and use the mind as an agent for healing, not only for myself but also my loved ones. That is how Wellspring became so important to us; Wellspring offers a good toolkit.
It can be hard to imagine the loneliness of cancer; it is an experience that is extremely difficult to share with others. Now imagine walking into a centre where everyone is living with cancer, it’s not depressing, it is actually very welcoming, there’s comfort, reassurance, even inspiration. Yes, there are tears and sadness, but there are smiles and laughter too. The first lymphoma support group session I attended was brilliant, it was the place where questions were asked and answered, not by doctors but by fellow travellers. There is the Men’s support group where discussions range from overcoming the fear of letting others be in charge, becoming unafraid asking for help, to sailing, travel, even managing a round of golf. There are so many excellent programs, all designed to be compassionately helpful in living well with cancer. But the biggest for me has been the Healing Journey, a special series of programs that looks to create favourable outcomes for those living with cancer. So far, it is some of the most challenging work I have ever done, but the results are worth it, mind-opening if you will. And as my wife says, for the first time in all our years together, I am finally beginning to have a better understanding and tolerance for those deep conversations.
Even though I have two primary cancers, I count myself very lucky in so many ways. I have been granted the gift of time – the leukaemia is currently not aggressive and the lymphoma has been brought under control and is being assessed as to whether to declare it in remission. I am very lucky to live in an area that has some of the best oncology specialists and facilities on the continent, if not the world. I have a wonderful loving wife who has bravely attended all my appointments, helped me through the chemotherapy sessions, keeping track of my diet and exercise. I have two great dogs that didn’t seem to mind that when I was really ill their walks were barely to the end of the driveway instead of the preferred good long walk. And I have a place like Wellspring.