Update #12 (November 28, 2019)

Post written by Leah Gibbs (Linda’s younger sister from Australia).

The last 2 weeks, Ben (one of Linda’s 4 brothers) and I (Leah) have been here in the cold on Manitoulin Island spending time with our sister Linda and her family.  It’s been nice to spend some quality time with them.  When you live on the other side of the world in totally different time zones, it’s sometime hard to feel of any use when someone gets sick.  So Ben and I decided with everything going on with Linda, we just needed to get on a plane and come and visit, even if it’s only for a little bit.

We arrived to a chilly, snow covered Toronto, and dear Karly drove us up to Manitoulin Island to Dan and Linda’s house.  It was so nice to see them again, especially Linda.

I guess the first thing we noticed was how skinny she is.  I think Linda has probably lost almost 10 kilos, and for all of those that know her, she definitely can’t afford to lose any more.  Linda isn’t one to complain too much, so for all of us back in Australia, you could get the false impression that living with cancer and the treatment isn’t too bad.  But let me tell you, having been with them for the last 2 weeks, it’s nothing like that all.

Thankfully we timed our visit quite well.  We arrived up on the Island on Sunday afternoon and were able to have a wonderful 4 days together before Linda had her next treatment on the Friday.  Dan and Linda had a list of jobs that, if we had some spare time, they would love to get finished. So Ben got right onto those jobs while Linda and I went out for coffee!  No not really….

Monday … Linda had an appointment with her family doctor just to check how everything is going.  He likes to check in with her once a month to make sure Linda is going ok.  There is something very personal about being part of a small town!

Tuesday … we were able to go out to Bridal Veil Falls and check out the icy wonderland.  It was so beautiful with the falls starting to freeze over and the snow on the ground … it was so nice.

Wednesday … we had a shopping day in Sudbury.

Thursday … we spent at home ticking off more jobs on the list and cleaning the house.

While this all sounds very energetic, through all of it, Linda is quite tired and has to nap most days.

Its not only the weight loss and tiredness that became apparent to us.  Mouth sores are still a real problem, as well as s a funny sensation in her hands.  She describes it like pins and needles but worse.  It is especially bad when out in the cold.  The cold winter days here are not helpful!  She also has a similar sensation in her mouth as she swallows anything cold (even room temperature water).  It feels like there are sharp razor blades in her throat.

For the best part she has a fairly good appetite, but swallowing food can be painful and makes eating a chore.  These ailments are much worse the first week after her chemo IV infusion, but they never totally go away over the 3-week cycle … they just get more bearable.

During these first few days, we also managed to get stuck into a few of the jobs set for us … Benny repainted the basement bathroom, fitted the bathroom ceiling, started fixing some of the rust on the car and we also started to contemplate how to tackle the carpet tiling in the basement once the tiles arrived.

Friday soon rolled around which was treatment day.  Ben was on looking-after-the-kids duty and Hadassah and I were on for walking Linda to the hospital. They say it’s good to do some exercise before your chemo infusion, so off we went in a balmy 2 degrees, with the wind chill it felt like -25, no joke!  Linda is lucky that the hospital is only about a 10-minute walk from their house, so we were only partially frozen when we arrived!

We were taken into the little chemo room and the lovely nurse hooked everything up to the PICC line in Linda’s arm and liquids were infused while they prepared Linda’s own personalised batch of chemo.  Once that was ready, the fluids were swapped for the chemo and away it went for nearly 4 hours.  The nurse has to stay with Linda for the whole time and make sure it’s all going smoothly.  I stayed with Linda until about 10.30 and then we (Ben, Hadassah and I) took all the kids to Espanola for a swim and bowling as the kids had a PD day (pupil free day) at school.  Linda had things to do at the hospital while the infusion did its thing and Dan was able to pick her up and keep her company for the rest of the afternoon.

The first day home is always full of emotion for Linda, especially because at this point, there doesn’t look like there is an end in sight.  Turning up each three weeks, knowing what you are in for is not a fun thought.  So there was a bit of crying and ‘why is this happening to me’ and ‘I don’t think I can do this’.  On top of this, nausea kicked in as well as tiredness and achiness.  Watching your sister go through this is not nice at all, so I can only imagine how it must feel to be the one going through it.

We have spoken about this a lot while we have been here and we have come to the realisation that ups and downs, highs and lows are all just going to be part of this journey.  It’s ok to cry and be sad for a bit and then pick yourself up … look what you have to be thankful for and trust in God’s plan, because He knows best.  This is something that Linda and Dan are going to go through over the course of time, and all the rest of us can do is be there to support them wherever and whenever they need.  I think another part of the ups and downs is that they don’t really know exactly what’s going on in regards to the future.  At this stage her schedule of treatment is booked up to early April, but she has been told that treatment will be continued beyond that.  She has been told multiple times that she will be on chemo for the rest of her life.  But as to dosage and schedules, there is no certain answer.  She will continue to have scans every 3 months and obviously appointments with her oncologist, so I guess they will just keep monitoring her with scans as she goes.  But at this stage, chemo is going to be a part of her life on an ongoing basis, which isn’t an easy pill to swallow.

The next day was Saturday … Linda had slept relatively well that first night but woke up feeling nauseous and really tired.  Each chemo round Linda also takes chemo tablets twice a day 12 hours apart for the 2 weeks following her infusion.  To take these tablets you have to have food with them.  So even if you wake up feeling off and not hungry, you still have to make yourself eat something to take your pills.  It was a bit like this on Saturday morning.  Linda slowly tried to get down a small bowl of porridge, all while trying not to bring it up again and trying to ignore the pain in her mouth and throat.  Linda spent most of the day resting and sleeping on the couch.  Around bed time, nausea really hit.  We shuffled her off to bed to get some much-needed rest.  She did wake up a few times in the night with cramps.

In Linda’s experience (keeping in mind that this is only the third chemo round), with each chemo round her wellness and time to recover has gotten a little worse each time.

Sunday was much the same as Saturday … a day spent on the couch, trying to eat some food and drink something.  At least she got to spend the time when she was awake with Ben while Dan, the boys and I went off to Sunday School and meeting (church).  Ben had hurt his knee the night before trying to ice skate, so he wasn’t too mobile!  I might just add in here that spending a day with Ben is always guaranteed to be a barrel of laughs.  For those of you who know Ben will know exactly what I mean and for those of you who don’t, your missing out.  His personality type is ‘The Entertainer’ so that should explain it all!  Let’s just say that over the last 2 weeks we have not been short of something to laugh at.

Monday came and there was a slight improvement.  You could tell by the look in Linda’s eyes, they were a bit brighter than the previous days.  She still spent most of the day sleeping and resting, but I think all the rest and sleep is such an important part and maybe helps with a quicker recovery after each infusion.

Tuesday … Linda ventured out for a walk with Hadassah.  Ben and I were too busy finishing off the carpet tiles down in the basement so we could not join for the walk.  We did however get the job finished in time to make a quick trip down to the local Op Shop (thrift store) to snag some bargains!  Just ask Ben about his haul next time you see him.  Again, there were many laughs over some of the questionable items for sale.

Wednesday … we ventured as far as Little Current to go out for a lovely lunch.  It was probably a little too much for Linda, but she really wanted to take us out before we flew home on Friday.  Aunty Mary cooked us some Canadian cuisine for dinner that night … moose stew, venison meatballs, crumbed local whitefish and lots of sides!  It was a lovely evening spent with the Uncle Dave and Aunty Mary and the Styles family … a nice last evening on Manitoulin.

Thursday … we headed to Toronto to stay with Stephen and Tanya Wilton, before flying home on Friday.  Ben kept us entertained on the 6-hour car ride!

Although I can tell Linda is in pain at times, physically and emotionally, for the most part there is still a big smile on her face, and she tries to keep positive and her faith strong.  This goes for Dan as well.  For most of us, this is something that we can only imagine.  It’s not only Linda that is going through something huge, it’s Dan and the kids as well.  While it’s great having people come and visit and help out, it’s not always easy on the kids.  While everyone is very thankful they are here to help, it’s just not the same as mum being there to make their food like they like it, or get their school bags ready like mum or dad does.  It’s not easy for everyone and we have to continue to pray for God’s strength to be with them all.

We feel so thankful that we have been able to come and spend this time with Linda, Dan and the kids.  We are so glad that we came, even if to just give Linda something exciting to look forward to.  But tomorrow the sad goodbyes will begin.  I’m not going to lie, saying goodbye to Linda is not going to be easy … living so far away, not knowing the next time we will see Linda again and knowing exactly what she will be going through every three weeks and leaving her behind knowing that I can’t really do anything from Australia to help with any of that. 🙁

But Ben and I both have families at home that are really missing us and they need us as well.  It will be very nice to be back with them.

I pray that our Heavenly Father continues to be with Dan and Linda and gives them all the strength they need to get through this, whatever His will may be.

With much love
Leah