It was a significant event. The mayor of Halifax was there, as was the Minister of Health. The top brass of the Cancer Society were in attendance. The press were covering it. A pediatric oncologist from Toronto gave the poignant keynote, his voice breaking as he described the little children he could not save.
I have included a picture of the medal. It is a gold medal, so fitting given the title of my book The Cancer Olympics. As I gave my acceptance speech, I spoke warmly of my online community, those whose supportive voices cheered me as I struggled through treatment, and whose voices resounded collectively to challenge and change unfair drug policy in Nova Scotia. Their championship was the source of the stamina behind my survival as well as the behind the intense story of The Cancer Olympics.
Because the award was so early in the morning, we stayed in the host hotel the night before. It was a hard night. Sometimes, the post-cancer dysfunction overpowers me. The attack was at 2 am, and again at 4 am. Episodes like that happen about every three days, often in the middle of the night. On the darkness of the night before the award, I wished wistfully that I could give it all back - the medal, the book, the accolades - all of it – if I only I could have back again my lost body parts and my lost life chances.
But we can only live forward. Never backward.
I was given the award l by the Minister of Health of Nova Scotia. When I was in crisis, unable to get the chemotherapy I needed, this MLA was one of the first to promise action when he learned of my plight. How strange to receive a gold medal from one of the real-life figures in my book!
After the award ceremony the press gathered around us both to take photographs. He put one arm around me as the photography flashed.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” I murmured to him.
“And I can’t believe I am the Minister of Health!” he murmured back.
The assembled crowd and photographers laughed when he pulled out his wallet and handed me $60 dollars in cash.
“This is for your fundraising for Relay for Life,” he said grinning. “I would write you a cheque, but I don’t have the time!”
I had to work later in the day, so I drove home alone and had a few hours to myself before heading out to work. Still dazzled by the wonderment of it all, and uncertain how to integrate it spiritually, I listened to the deep rolling choral music of Bruckner’s sacred motets.
Then I had a good cry for my mother, dead of cancer one year ago, to whom that day would have meant so much.
By the evening the responsibilities of my advocate role had descended and resumed. Several messages from distressed cancer patients were waiting for me. As I responded, I thought again of my support community, those who have stood witness to my unusual journey from the beginning. Those who have seen the degrading lows and the celebratory highs. The hard hard work. Despair. Triumph. Ongoing brokenness.
And today, they see me go forward.
Always forward, never backward.