My First Year In Paradise (part 2)
(Warning: may contain swearing and TMI)
I hadn’t even been in paradise a year! 10 months to be exact. Now they say I have cancer.
They said they caught it early. They said they could fix me. They said everything will be all right. They said the mammogram showed ‘classic’ signs of cancer. I stood in the parking lot of the doctor’s office with my best friend, Danielle, and I sobbed. I sobbed like a hysterical child. She sobbed with me. God bless her! How could this be happening?! My flight back to paradise leaves in two days! The doc told me, “We will get you started on treatment and have you back to Bucerias in a year.” A YEAR!!! Every time Danielle and I looked at each other, we sobbed. There was snot. We just couldn’t seem to stop. My parents sobbed too. The doc convinced me to cancel my flight and have the biopsy in Calgary, just to be sure. So the flight was cancelled, my friends in paradise were notified, and we waited for the biopsy results.
While waiting, my days were filled with absolute terror and sadness. And I was angry...very, very, angry. Why was this happening?! I was living my dream! My life was magic. I had shown my paintings in a gallery, I had an amazing painting studio. People were actually buying my paintings! I had adopted a gangster street cat! The Universe wanted me to live my dream...or did it? Was this some sort of cruel game? Was the Universe telling me that I was waaaaay too happy, and that kind of happiness just isn’t allowed in Tracy’s world?! Danielle and her fiance told me I could live with them for the next year, they would find a way to make it work in their tiny little house. My parents wanted me to come home to them for the year of cancer treatment. I was in a fog, I was starting to realize that my dream had come to an end. It was then that I decided, Fuck You Universe! Nothing will stop me from living my dream! Especially cancer! So I informed my parents, Danielle and the doc….if this really is cancer, then all the more reason to live my dream! I told Danielle, if I am gonna die, I will die living my dream. I shouldn’t have said that, I was being overly dramatic, and I scared her. I’m sorry Danielle! The doc was totally supportive, so I booked a new flight back to paradise and flew home. The doc and I had plans to have a skype appointment when the biopsy results came in.
By the time I got back to Bucerias, my friends had rallied. They had already paid my rent and booked an appointment with an oncologist in Puerto Vallarta, 30 km away. I saw the oncologist, and for about $40 (500 pesos), he spent 2 hours with me getting my history and going over the mammogram with me. He was lovely, we hugged, he kissed my cheeks, and we both hoped we would never see each other again. But we did.
This is when an angel appeared in my life. Did the Universe or God send her to me? I don’t know, I was super pissed at both God and the Universe and we weren’t on speaking terms at the moment, so I didn’t ask. The angel’s name was Gwen. We barely knew each other. But she walked into my life and said she was there to help, and I let her. Asking for help or receiving help was not something I was good at. In fact, I was terrible at it! But Gwen ‘got’ me. She stepped in and did it all. She took notes, she cracked dark jokes and made me laugh when I wanted to cry, she asked all the questions I didn’t think of, drove everywhere…..the list goes on and on. I can’t even begin to tell you how much that angel did for me! That angel had lost her husband to cancer many years ago and she was committed to holding my hand through this.
Everyone back in my old life thought I had lost my mind! Cancer treatment in Mexico?! Are you freaking crazy?! Maybe I was crazy. All I knew was, I needed to go ‘home’. Bucerias was already in my soul, it was my happy place, and deep in my gut, I knew it was the right thing to do. I honestly don’t know what it was like for everyone back in Alberta that cared about me. It must have been terrifying and agonizing for them to see me fly away to a foreign land for cancer treatment. I can’t even describe how lucky I am to have people in my life that were willing to watch me walk away and live my dream. They loved me enough to let me do that. I can only imagine how hard that must have been for them. I am truly blessed!
By this time, I had decided that my tiny studio apartment was too dark and musty and was being over run with termites, I needed something brighter to live in for cancer treatment. So I found something closer to the beach, bigger, brighter, a little more money but it had a reasonably large master bedroom that would work as studio space. Nothing like the space I had, but it would work. Again, my friends rallied and got me moved in. I gave up the large studio space in the Art District and planned to paint in the master bedroom and sleep in the little bedroom. Viola, another problem solved!
The treatment plan was made. The surgery was booked. The doc said, “If you do what I tell you to do, I will fix you.” I believed him.
Full blown survival mode had now kicked in. Gone were the tears and sobbing, and even the anger was almost gone. I was still a little pissed off at the Universe, but I was handing it all over. I was no longer trying to control everything in a life that felt like it was reeling out of control. I opened my arms, wide open to the sky and said, “Let’s do this!” With my angel, Gwen, at my side, I shut down the pity party and went into full fight.. It was all very overwhelming. There was so much information, I just couldn’t process it all. But Gwen was on top of all that. She would repeat all the doctor’s orders to me when I just couldn’t hear him. It was like I had cotton in my ears! First off, the oncologist (Dr V), wanted to do a second biopsy on another spot that he was concerned about. That would tell us if we could do a lumpectomy or mastectomy. That biopsy was so totally different and bizarre from the one I had in Alberta, that I was seriously questioning my decision to have treatment in Mexico! It was a ‘wire biopsy’. A long wire is inserted into the breast with the aid of the mammogram machine, to the center of the tumor, so the surgeon knows where it is to get a sample. Google it! We then had to change locations for the actual biopsy. So here I am, in a hospital gown, shorts and flip flops, walking out of that clinic to Gwen’s car with about 4 inches of wire sticking out of my boob! We looked at each other and both said, “WTF??!!”, and off we drove to another clinic where they would do the actual biopsy. But we got it done, all was fine, and the lumpectomy surgery was booked right away. I have to say, other than the scary biopsy, my medical treatment in Mexico was first class! Fabulous modern hospitals and rock star treatment all the way!
My angel, Gwen, sat most of the day at the hospital during the lumpectomy and she kept all the family in Alberta posted on how things were progressing. Once the surgery was done, Dr. V came out to see her with what looked like a jar of tomato soup in his hands. She figured he was going for a late lunch. Nope! That was a big ol’ jar of goo and lymph nodes! Ahahahaaa! Gwen damn near fell out of her chair! OMG, only in Mexico! But all had gone well, Dr. V was very happy and expected no troubles. He came to see me later and was thrilled with himself about what a great job he had done manipulating the tissue to make the breast look just like the other one. To this day, every time we get together for the mammogram appointment, he still marvels at his work on my boob, lol! I just love that guy!!
Now we waited for me to heal. 3 to 4 weeks of healing before chemo would begin. The healing process after surgery was tough. Every day Gwen would come over and bind my boobs for me and we would crack jokes about my “smurf boob”. You see, they put a blue dye into me, to see where it travelled in the nodes. But the blue, was smurf blue and took forever to go away! My pastey ginger skin held that stupid dye for almost 2 years! It was hard to look at. Not so much the blue, but the scar. It was huge! It went from the middle of my arm pit to the middle of my nipple. It scared me. It hurt. I had a tiny bit of a pity party over that big purple scar. Dr. V was confident he got it all. Friends cooked for me, grocery shopped for me, Juan sent over a cleaning lady because I wasn’t supposed to use that arm. There was a gross drain hanging out of me. I eventually broke it, it wouldn’t drain. I was in a sling, because I was experiencing swelling. When Gwen had to go out of town so we needed to find a person to fill in for boob binding. So we posted that job opportunity on facebook! Along came Irene. Irene agreed to fill in for Gwen, as long as there was no gross-ness or blood, she was in! Thanks Irene! Looking back on all this now….it’s all super funny to me. Most of it was super funny at the time as well, lol! I honestly can’t remember if I was even painting during this time. I was just so focused on fighting the battle. Next step, chemo!
To be continued……………………
Canadian artist, living the dream in Mexico.