The ceremony took place at Pier 21 in Halifax. About 70 Atlantic Canadians were receiving Honours that day. It was beautiful and moving and patriotic. I found it hard not to tear up hearing the stories of the other recipients: a man who saved a woman from a burning car just before it was engulfed in flames, a woman who ran 7 marathons in 7 days for breast cancer awareness, a crew who subdued a derelict diesel-filled vessel during a storm and averted an environmental disaster. And others with more quiet but equally noble dedication. For example, the woman sitting next to me had offered free income tax services for the disadvantaged out of the Halifax Library for over 20 years.
As I awaited my turn, I marvelled. How did I get here, among the honourable? It seemed only yesterday that I was too sick to even walk.
We were lead in procession to bagpipes and seated on a stage bedecked with a brave Canadian flag. When they announce your name, you must step forward to the front of the stage. You face the audience as they read your achievement. Then they say your name a second time, and you cross the stage to a waiting Governor-General. As he placed the medal on a magnetic hook on my chest, he said, "Thank you for your service to our country." I was too overwhelmed to speak, thinking, "OMG I am only inches away from David Johnson!" At the end, we sang the National Anthem, and were led out past the cheering and applauding crowd. I saw my 21-year old son there, clapping enthusiastically, wearing his very first suit. A gracious reception followed. It was a magnificent and moving occasion for me.
But it invited sober reflection as well. The Cancer Olympics relates the story of serious medical error as well as herculean patient advocacy. There is still so much to do, to improve the safety and quality of healthcare. I am still striving, as the advocacy editor for Cancer Knowledge Network, as well as on patient safety and engagement initiatives, to do my part in that struggle.
The medal was also given in part due to my volunteer work as a peer mentor with the Canadian Cancer Society, providing guidance for those newly-diagnosed and undergoing treatment. The Cancer Olympics is my story, but for many their cancer story is just beginning. I aim to help them to tell it, and be heard.
Is receiving this medal the Hollywood ending to my own story? Not a bit: fighting cancer is a story that never ends.