Thursday, January 12, 2012

2002 - The Year from Hell - 10th Anniversary

Ten years ago yesterday morning, 11/01/2002, my mother dropped dead of a massive heart attack, two months shy of her 81st birthday.  This was the opening salvo in a year like none other.  She had gone into the local hospital in Biggar 50 km away for a couple days of tests and they found nothing out of ordinary so she was being discharged that morning.  Dad was driving in to get her and they met him at the door with the news.

Ella and I were in Edmonton when we got the phone call from Dad.  We were at Ella's cousin's, having arrived late the evening before.  Carolyn was in the last stages of an 8 year battle with breast cancer and we wanted to spend as much time with her as possible.  She and Ella were closer than cousins, closer than sisters.  Her battle was Ella's battle for eight years.  Carolyn's funeral was mid-February.  Ella was devastated.

Two weeks after Mom's funeral, Dad went in for replacement of his right hip   Something to take his mind off being a widower after 56 years.  He recovered pretty well and was adjusting to being alone.  He was actually able to seed the home quarter in late May.  His 60th crop planted but not harvested.  On June 27, in the afternoon, he was driving into Biggar, hit a gravel ridge in the middle of the highway, rolled the van and it was all over.  The construction was well signed but in the glare of the sun, the gravel was the same colour as the road.  We learned later that friends of ours almost hit the ridge earlier.

My Uncle Frank, husband of Mom's youngest sister, came out to the farm the day of Mom's death but he never got to her funeral.  He was admitted to hospital with a brain tumor.  His funeral was in October. His wife had remarked at Christmas that it was so wonderful that the three sisters and their husbands were still alive and well.  Ten months later three of them were gone. Such is life.

About a month after Carolyn's funeral, Ella started bleeding.  Badly.  This had happened eight years previously when Carolyn had been diagnosed.  She should have had a hysterectomy then but whatever meds the doctor gave her at the time did the trick. We assumed they would work again this time so I took off for Ukraine where I had a four month contract, two in spring, two in fall.  The meds didn't work.  D&C didn't work.  She was VERY sick and MayB carried the load because I was away.  Finally had the hysterectomy just before I got back from Ukraine.

Can't recall whether it was just before Dad's funeral or just after but the biopsy report had come back and Ella went into see the surgeon.  I sat in the waiting room.  She sat down and the Dr asked if she had anyone with her who could sit in on the meeting. It was not going to be good news. 

There are two kinds of cancer, Carcinoma and Sarcoma.  You can look them up.  If you have to have cancer, carcinoma is the kind you want.  Sarcoma is BAD news.  Fortunately it is rare.  Not only that but there is a very bad kind of Sarcoma, the name of which I cannot recall, which is even more rare.  Not rare enough.  Most cancers are rated by stages 1-4 or a-d.  This one had no stages.  You got one cell in your body it is all over but the crying.  They hoped they had it all and would use radiation to make sure.  So they did.  All summer. Things were looking good.  I went back to Ukraine.

Got back in late October.  Ella met me at the airport looking scared to death.  She hadn't told the kids.  Her abdomen was so full of tumors you could see them. Oncologist said we'll try radiation but take lots of family pictures.  The stuff they put her one was pretty deadly.  The handlers gowned up like it was nitric acid.  One week a month, then hope her blood count would recover enough to give her another treatment. There was a limited number they could give her before the treatment would kill her.

One thing about having a cancer no one survives is that someone has got to be first.  So we all put our hopes on that and carried on.  The kids painted the kitchen while she was in having a treatment.  Our friend, Lois, whose house at Christmas is dubbed Little Las Vegas, came and decorated our house for the holidays while Ella was in having her third treatment.  No. 1 Son and LynnieC late one night cut David Letterman's picture out of the paper and hung it on the Christmas tree to see if anyone would notice.  We didn't but DL's picture is now a family tradition ornament. Ella even got her annual Christmas Letter out.  We survived Christmas.

Not a year I would care to repeat.

I'd like to end the story there but need to close it off better than that.  2003 was a pretty good year for 10 months at least.  After 6 treatments, they could find no sign of cancer.  Nothing.  Nada. She was the poster child of the cancer ward.  Ella even went back to work half time for six months and had the opportunity to clean up a problem that had been bugging her for several years.  Alas, the first survivor had yet to be and the cancer was back in November this time as a brain tumor.  The operation paralyzed one side and it was time for a wheel chair.  Then the abdominal tumors came back with a vengeance and April 9, 2004, Ella lost her battle.

A roller coaster ride I would not care to repeat either.


  1. Love ya, Dad. At least we only get to face 2002 once.

  2. Thanks, Son. Living through it once was enough for all of us.

  3. What an extraordinarily tragic year! I am so sorry what you had to suffer through.

  4. Dad, I hate to think it's been that long. Most days it feels like yesterday. Some days, like it's been a 100 years. I love you, Pops.

  5. Thanks, SW. I thought maybe writing about it would help me out of my brown funk.
    MayB, yesterday or a hundred years ago is a good way to look at it. Times goes. Life goes. Memories stay.

  6. I've experienced very little of this type of loss. I know that will change someday and I'm not looking forward to it. I will try to remember your words, "Such is life." Not easy words to assimilate but true ones nonetheless.

    "Memories stay." Amen.

  7. I don't know what to say. I wish I did though. I'm so sorry.

  8. I remember the year and could hardly believe the one-after-the-other strikes to your family. You had just moved from being our next door neighbours to your new home in another part of the city. Ella was well enough to spend some time at our family cottage during the summer. She came for a visit once when my sisters and I were there and despite her illness she exuded grace, dignity, hope and faith. And all that was sustained, evident and radiated by my dear friend Ella until the end of her life.

  9. CD, if and when it happens, you will muddle through, like everyone else. There is no other choice.
    Icy, thanks for dropping by.
    Barb, your cottage was Ella's place of refuge from the world. And you described her to a T.


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