One of the highlights we were anticipating all year was going to Nairobi for 6 weeks to spend time with our son, Shayne, his wife, Cherrelle, and their children, Mos Malik and Robi Rakim. The bonus was that our daughter, Sabrina, and her family were also going to come with us to Nairobi. So this was our time to be with family, play with our grandkids and take time to enjoy the sights and sounds of Nairobi. Except I got incredibly sick while in Nairobi. It started with a stubborn cold and cough that escalated into shortness of breath. I went to the hospital and they determined that there was no infection. But the stubborn symptoms continued and soon I had severe pain in my eyes and my eyesight got blurry. Another visit to a doctor and an ophthalmologist diagnosed a bacterial infection in my eye along with significantly scratched corneas. She treated me aggressively and slowly the pain and discomfort reduced. Throughout this time, I just felt exhausted due to extreme fatigue. I could not eat and started to lose weight. As a result, I needed help with balance and walking. I also found that, after many years, I experienced chemo brain.
My family was extremely concerned. They kept asking me if this is how I live generally, and I had to say that this is not the quality of my life. In spite of feeling poorly for most of the trip, I showed up and participated in every activity – from a visit to Watamu and Mombasa on the coast, to visiting The Giraffe Centre and having lunches at Hashmi’s and Art Caffe. Nagib and I looked after Mos, Robi and Amaal. We participated in long, juicy conversations with the family. But practically every day, I had to focus on self-care and put myself first. This meant sometimes going to bed at 7:30 pm. Sometimes it meant sleeping in. My family was extremely kind in giving me the space I needed to remove my superwoman cape and use the cape as a blanket to rest.
The day after I got back to Toronto, I had an appointment with my oncologist at The Princess Margaret. They had me do an X-Ray and CT scan and I was diagnosed with pneumonia and a lung infection. They also found that my hemoglobin had dropped considerably, which explains the fatigue. This week, I had a transfusion of two units of blood. And the very next day, I facilitated a brilliant leadership session for a client. Sometimes I astound myself. And sometimes I wonder if I am insane. It’s a fine line between insanity and astounding!
Next week, I am off to Vancouver for 2 weeks to co-facilitate a leadership program with my colleague. It is something I am excited to do and literally can’t wait to get on the plane. Nagib and Sabrina are shaking their heads. They want me to rest up, take care of myself. And while I know they mean well, I must follow my passion for doing what I love to do with clients and colleagues that matter. It is a fine line between amazing and madness.
Cancer is a funny beast. There is no rule book on how you are to be or act as a cancer patient. It is easy to play the victim card (which I did when I was first diagnosed). Somewhere, along the way, I decided that I was not going to let cancer define me. I was going to accept the diagnosis and move forward in spite of it. Over the years, this has served me well. I am sitting in gratitude that in spite of having 3 advanced cancers in 5 years, I live my life from a place of joy and hope. It’s a fine line that I tread everyday.