Summer Solstice: My longest day 17 years ago.
17 years ago, my doctor asked me to come down for a visit. I had just been to the doctor on the Monday, June 19th. For a few months I had been gradually getting weaker and sicker. At our father’s day dinner, my brother had said to me, “You look like you’re dying, you should go see a doctor.”
“I have been seeing a doctor,” I replied to him, “about every 2 weeks.”
Little did we know that when I went to see the doctor on Summer Solstice Day, June 21st, 1989, that I would not be coming home for about a month.
I went to see my family doctor around 10:30 am. He next sent me to Lion’s Gate Hospital, to see a specialist. The specialist introduced himself as Dr. Paul Klimo. I looked at his white overcoat, and saw his name. Below his name were the words “oncology.”
“What’s oncology?” I asked.
“Oncology is the study of cancer,” he replied. “And yes, Todd… you have cancer.”
With those words, the true meaning of “longest day” began. I sat in the emergency room, waiting more tests. I tried to phone my parents, my grandmother, my brother, my girlfriend. But nobody was home. I left messages. These were the days before people had cell phones and pagers.
My father arrived at the hospital in the afternoon, when my family doctor had arrived to do an ultrasound on my chest area. He showed me the cancer tumor that was lodged behind my breastbone. It was so massive that I had bruises on my upper chest. It was pushing on my lungs, so I had problems breathing. It was pushing on the vena cava of my heart, restricting the returning flow of blood to my heart.
My parents, brother, girlfriend and grandmother came to see me that evening. My mother asked the doctor what my chances of survival were. He said 60%. I think he was being generous. The cancer was half the width of my chest cavity. They put me on oxygen, and they started emergency chemotherapy treatment that night. They couldn’t do any surgery because there was too much internal pressure inside my chest.
My longest day turned into a month as I stayed in the hospital until July before I was able to take weekends off for home visits. In August, I got to go home for a few days, in between weekly chemo sessions. Finally, from September to November, the changed the program to an intensive one week chemo session, once a month. By December, I was feeling better and attempting to play badminton on unsteady feet. My hair was starting to grow back just in time for Christmas. The treatments were over, and in February my oncologist pronounced me cancer free.
Today I celebrated my triumph over cancer by talking with my parents, doing some writing, playing with my cat, bought a blueberry pie for my nephew’s third birthday, and going to a meeting for the BC Coalition of Head Tax Payers, Spouses and Descendants. Life is good today. My mother said she was glad I made it. I have created a new life, and I also have a new relationship with a wonderful girlfriend who supports my many activities.
Life is fragile. We need to treat each and every day as precious. Whether we are stricken by cancer, disease or an oncoming car, we need to look after ourselves and our loved ones. Life is busy for me today. I am working on Head Tax Redress, a celebration for the Save Joy Kogawa House committee, the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team, my www.gunghaggis.com website.
And today… I recieved an e-mail from CBC Toronto that they are confirmed to do a special television story for the “Generations” sequel to “The History of Canada.” They want to do a story on the Rev. Chan family and descendants including me. They want to include my social and community activism with head tax redress, Save Kogawa House campaign, Terry Fox Run, dragonboats, the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner and all that stuff I do.
When I was lying in my hospital bed 17 years ago, I knew it wasn’t my time to die yet. I knew I still had something to offer to the world. I just didn’t know what it was.