By Susan Lowndes
Master of ceremonies for the Prairie Women on Snowmobile’s supper held at the Legion Community Centre in Kelvington on Feb. 6, Theresa Evans introduced herself with a short account of the way cancer has touched her own life.
“I wasn’t sure why Janet (Szafron) asked me to host this event; I haven’t had breast cancer. But as I thought about it, I have known a lot of people who have,” Evans said thoughtfully. A mother-in-law, a grandma, her dad, two very dear friends, all had had cancer and most had died from the illness. “I knew Liz Popowich, my friend and neighbour for 20 years. She had breast cancer for more years than I had known her and you would never have known it.”
That sentiment was almost a grounding for the evening that unfolded.
Kelvington resident Janet Szafron, a recent breast cancer survivor, was unable to attend because of a prior commitment but organizers wanted her story shared with those in attendance, so they had Sazfron video-record her story.
“I was in shock when I found a lump under my arm and then was told it was cancer,” Szafron began. “Depression set in, which is totally normal.” Because doctors could not find the primary cancer and because other health issues, discovered during this time, had to be taken care of before treatment could begin, Szafron waited an agonizing six months for treatment.
“I was depressed,” she continued, “but at the cancer clinic I met a young woman who had cancer of the uterus. She told me how her friends were taking a year off (for maternity) with crying kids to deal with, but this gal had a wonderful attitude.” The woman Szafron met was taking her time off because of her cancer treatments but she was going to find the joy in it and, says Szafron, “I gave a kick and said I have to find something to enjoy in life, too.”
She related an incident when she and her husband Dennis had decided, after Janet’s first chemo treatment, to cut off all of her hair; it was falling out anyway. In the middle of a pile of hair and midway through the “haircut,” the doorbell rang! Summing up what happened next, she said, “We had a chuckle.” Not a meltdown, not a cry.
“When I started wearing a wig I had a wonderful time with people asking where I had my hair done,” Szafron laughed. “I had a great time telling people lies.” One of her daughters thought it was time for her mom to have a tattoo. Janet, not up for the real deal, got a temporary one.
“When you have cancer you realize what wonderful people you have in your life,” she said. “After the shock, when I told family and close friends, they gave me wonderful support. They came over and transplanted my flowers. A few people arrived to help me put in my garden. It was great,” she said, reminding everyone that she was going to find the joy in life and not the lament. “And it was very, very much appreciated.”
She and Dennis, who was now disabled after a recent hip operation, loved to go fishing and decided they would. Explaining the situation to the owners (of a lodge), Janet described their hospitality as wonderful.
“I caught the biggest fish I have ever caught. Here we are and Dennis can’t stand, he’s leaning over the side of the boat.” They struggled, she laughed and it got away, she said, “but it’s the memories and that’s important. You have to enjoy things.”
Her treatments behind her, she and her husband were able to enjoy another sport they are infamous for, around Kelvington – snowmobiling. “We thoroughly enjoyed it. Dennis had a great ride!” As for Janet’s tuque hair, that was another chuckle.
“If someone came to me and said, Janet I have got cancer, what am I going to do? I would invite them in for coffee. Until they can deal with it themselves, they don’t want everyone to know.” Over coffee she would share her struggles and emphasize her chuckles.
“I’ve had a wonderful year and,” referring to a song that was to be sung that evening, “Hallelujah! We need to count our blessings and enjoy every day.”
It doesn’t sound like an easy thing to do – to find a lump, have it diagnosed as ancer and then, through the depression and the treatment and the loss, to count your blessings. But Janet never said anything about it being easy. That wasn’t her message to those gathered that evening to support all those who have survived and remember those who didn’t.
That fish they tried to haul into the boat, Janet’s health reflective of her recent chemo treatments, and Dennis, his hip recently replaced – it wasn’t easy and the fish got away – and the whole time she was telling that story, she was laughing, clearly enjoying life.