It’s been three years since my hysterectomy. Three years into menopause. Three years since the cancer left my body. I have been trying to rest because that is when we heal, but one struggle that long predates cancer in my life is insomnia. Especially with shift work, I know how important sleep is in my life. Lately, I’ll be attempting to sleep, all conditions are perfect: the room is cool, perfectly dark and quiet, I’m going to bed tired, I’ve had my melatonin and I gave myself some ‘worry time’ before bed so that I don’t get my brain racing with anxiety once I’m trying to sleep. I’ll feel myself just beginning to drift off, then I get a RUSH of excitement because, yes, I’m finally about to fall asleep! That jolt of adrenaline courses through me and I know it’ll be another thirty minutes before I’ve calmed down enough to sleep…
On October 24th, 2022, the people of Huntsville voted for 3 Town and District Councillors. I ran for this role not just because I think I’d do a good job, but also because I wanted to know what the real barriers are to addressing the housing crisis in Muskoka. Why can’t they just fund a project like Hexagon Women’s Land, which will at least alleviate the capacity crisis at the women’s shelter? I was about to give a deputation about Hexagon to Council when I got cancer. I haven’t been able to get myself back there since. Cancer took a lot from me, not the least of which being hope. I have only a spark, only a precious, glittering glint, which I have to protect with my life.
I did not win the seat on the Council. I did, however, sit at a table with four white men in the Algonquin Theatre and talk about our homeless community members, about the crisis of male violence against women that I see every day at the shelter, about predatory development companies bent on exploiting the resources that belong to the citizens, and truly to the Indigenous people, of this area, and about how short-term rentals properties are being snatched up and taken out of the rental pool for financial gain and destroying the fabric of our neighbourhoods by taking neighbours out of them.
I got a lot of support. But I didn’t really know what I was doing. I knew I couldn’t hold large campaign gatherings, feeling that was irresponsible because of COVID. I knocked on very few doors, knowing I had a finite amount of energy and worked instead on trying to reach as many people through social media as possible. One of my favourite days was spent exclusively answering emails from local grade school students. I wanted them to feel heard, to know that their concerns matter to me. I crafted my responses carefully to be both accessible and informative. I hope they remember some of the things I said when they are able to vote: they can have the world they believe is possible. They can leave this place better than it was left for them.
I got 2440 votes. I think that’s wonderful and I’m really thrilled about it. The two incumbents who ran also won their seats back. And my neighbour’s son (small town, friends) ran as a newcomer and won the most votes. I wasn’t exactly disappointed to lose. I actually don’t think there’s any such thing as losing. I ran because I was meant to run, and I did not get the seat because I was meant to run and not win. My messages got out to the world, my face and name became better known, and most importantly, I was repeatedly reassured that people envision what I do: a world with abundance, peace, kindness, and reverence for nature and each other. We don’t always get what we want, but I believe we get closer than we were.
After the election ended, I collapsed. I’m sure friends and family were wondering if this was the right path for me at all. I wondered, too. I had been too tired to see my friends, to go for coffee, to talk on the phone – how would I manage being on Council, accessible for 4 years to every citizen of this town? I won’t have to find out, but I do have to deal with the repercussions of this exhausting stretch of time. Cancer didn’t just wear me down. It completely changed the way I relate to the world. It takes more to fill my own cup (maybe the cup has a crack in it now?). It takes longer to recover from exertion, both physical and mental. I have more pain than I’ve ever had, and fewer methods of easing it. But I am called to do things that my anxiety rails against, and when I feel strong, I know I am braver than I think.
(Enjoy some out-of-context photos of our trip to Niagara Falls, because there haven’t been photos for a stretch)
Time with loved ones is so complicated because it’s an energy exchange – it gives as much as it takes. Actually, it’s more like it cleanses the energy I have. It doesn’t give me more, but it purifies what I do have. My circle has shrunk, and for that I’m both sad and grateful. In pulling away, my out-of-sightness has put me out of mind. Only natural, but hard to accept. I wish it were different, but I can’t maintain the relationships I used to balance, I have to be strategic about how and where I spend my time. I’m not sure it will always be this way, but I cry and grieve because I miss so much.
I belong to a small but mighty writers group. We meet monthly over zoom, though I’ve missed a couple because of medical events and mental health challenges. Sometimes we don’t talk about writing at all. One of us is painting now, which is just telling a story without words. Sometimes I share my poetry. Recently Kai and I watched the movie Everything Everywhere All At Once with a friend – we zoomed beforehand and then texted through and after the movie. That friend mentioned it had been a YEAR since we last really talked. That information really shook me. Every few months I’ll visit Nancy or Starr or my sister. Every now and then I leave a voicemail for a friend or send a text that I’m thinking of someone. There’s a constant gnawing sense that I am not enough, not doing enough, that my inaction will lead to destruction – it’s all very dramatic, I’m aware. I’m in therapy, thanks.
In late February, I had my annual colonoscopy. I have Lynch Syndrome, a genetic mutation that makes me much more at risk than the average person of getting colon cancer (and many other types of cancer, obviously including ovarian and uterine cancer, which I had). Because of Lynch Syndrome, I have to do a lot of preventative testing, including colonoscopies every year and a half or so. My last experience was terrible, where I was not sedated properly, was in excruciating pain, and had to be restrained by a nurse (healthcare professionals, just please do not do this. Just fucking explain what is happening). So I had a lot of anxiety going into this one.
Thankfully, the experience was completely neutral, except that my blood pressure jumped up to 197/113. We were worried about that, and ended up buying a blood pressure monitor. My BP is still high, but nowhere near that. I’ve had excellent BP all my life, so I’m assuming this is another gift from menopause. Kai and I got a hotel room in Toronto prior to the colonoscopy, as is our tradition. We brought the dog, and she got to learn what an elevator and parking garage are (not a fan). Kai has been an absolute gift to me, through all this – the illness, the depression, the campaign, the inner and outer battles. She’s had her own struggles – two nasty illnesses and two knee injuries. We try to take care of each other. We are abikaasad – the Estonian word for spouses, which means ‘help-together’.
I also had my latest oncology check-up and all is looking well. I’d been set to start going every 6 months instead of every three, until my ureter got blocked and fucked up my kidney. Now I’m going every 4 months as a sort of compromise I suppose.
I mentioned I’m in therapy. Thank goodness. I have tried MANY counsellors over the years, and have learned a lot about myself and about the field. This one I feel is a good fit. She is patient and curious and thoughtful. I told her about my epic THC trip and we talked about getting a glimpse ‘beyond the veil’ and what that can do to us. I’m hopeful this will be a good connection for me.
Gardening is what I’m most looking forward to. It’s an incredible exercise in patience. You wait like 8 months for 4 months of beauty and peace and some of the hardest work of the year. I’m really excited to see what this year brings, because last year I winter-sowed 28 different species of native plants. In the fall, I sowed another 20 or so species, and then in early spring this year, I sowed another 20. I just put the seeds in take-out containers with clear lids with holes in the top and bottom and some soil.
Native plants are super hardy, so plenty should take. I’m absolutely running out of room on my 1/3 acre, but I can’t help myself. As my therapist astutely observed almost immediately, I am a woman of extremes. I also started some veggies with that method – I’ve never tried that but I heard it can work. They are sown inside 4L water jugs with potting soil and placed outside. I’ll keep you posted.
My dream is to see the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee come back. It was last sighted in Ontario in 2009, and was declared endangered in 2010. Please come visit!
I’m not writing as much as I’d like. That’s why this post is pretty scattered, touching on a few recurrent issues and fears and hopes. I tried again to get my lesbian novels set up to sell by donation, but I got really discouraged at the covers I made and gave up. Again. I applied for a writing grant but did not get accepted. I keep missing deadlines for writing contests, surely my subconscious calling the shots. So much feels inaccessible to me write now. But I’m always trying, friends.
Maybe hibernating in winter is what’s needed. Maybe letting go of the woman I was before cancer is healthy. Maybe a sense of safety is worth clinging to, to the exclusion of all else. Maybe I have to learn why too much is too much and that enough is enough. Maybe rest is recovery. Maybe love will remember me. Maybe this is exactly what’s supposed to be happening right now. Maybe it’ll get better than okay.
I voted for you Kathleen, even though I didn’t think you’d get quite enough other votes to get a seat. But I wanted to show support for your ideas, and the fact that I think it would have been awesome to have you, such a well spoken, wise and thoughtful person, sitting at the table that makes decisions on our behalf.
Keep on keeping on.. I’m sure your time will come yet !
Paula, thank you so much for your vote. Although I did not win the seat, I was really happy with the votes I received – I think it proved that change is inevitable, whoever leads it. Really appreciate your kind comment.