Backup 30 years ago to the first day of grade 5 at Longview school. Seven girls and four boys in our class. We heard there a new girl was going to join us this year. Pretty exciting news as new people didn’t come to Longview on a regular basis. So a group of us marched up to this girl who wore a dark teal shirt with a matching pleated skirt. Her hair was kinda wavy and the tiniest pieces of hair were pinned up on the side. “Do you want to play on the monkey bars?” were the first words that began a friendship I’ve treasured for many years now.
Fast forward from that time to twelve years ago. She’s married to Dusty; he was one of the four boys in that class at Longview. A two year old boy and a one year old girl. Shocking news. Non-hodgkins lymphoma had somehow found its way into our dear friend’s body. Only 29 years old at the time. A healthy, young woman who consumed a fair amount of beer and possibly too many Froot Loops in her life but had no reason to have been dealt this hand. Experimental treatment including chemo and stem cell transplant, huge support and healing all worked together to really give us a miracle. Since then another miracle happened, a baby boy six years afterwards which was perhaps a bigger shock than the diagnosis of cancer in the first place!
Another fast forward, this time to just two weeks ago. I had just walked back up through the gardens to our bungalow at our resort in St. Lucia. Harold and I had just finished another amazing meal, chatting and reconnecting to the sounds of the waves methodically making their way to shore. I did a routine check on facebook to see the words “I am going back into the hurricane”. My heart raced, a lump in my throat appeared, tears welled, my mind panicked as my eyes scanned Fawna’s note. A first response by many to such news I’m sure.
I desperately wanted to help, do something, be there in any capacity she needed. But at the same time I didn’t want to interfere, I wanted to give the space. Last time we had briefly discussed taking photos to create a visual journal of the recovery process. We never did and I remember Fawna’s comments on how she regretted that. I so didn’t want to be in the way, but I did a feel a strong pull to see what she thought. I suggested the idea and confirmed the evening before her treatment.
Driving to the hospital to meet at 9:30 on Easter Monday my gut was going a bit crazy on me. I kept telling myself to be calm…this is a shoot that tells a story. I met Fawna in the lobby area of the Tom Baker Cancer Centre here in Calgary. She was bent over shuffling through her wallet looking for wherever she left that darn red hospital card. That act alone made any butterflies I had in my stomach go away. This is Fawna. The Fawna I’ve known and loved for years. The Fawna who loses things on a pretty regular basis.
Taking her newly issued replacement card we went to the basement level and the doors opened to a scene I was surprisingly taken aback by. I don’t know why I didn’t think it would be, but this place was hopping. People waiting in line, sitting on chairs, resting on walkers, drinking water, looking at their hands. Even a set of three comfy looking chairs with a big sign saying “Don’t Sit on These Chairs”. I thought that was kinda mean. Fawna took her place in line, joking with the man in front of her that this long line made it seem like it was something exciting they were waiting for.
We moved to the waiting room, Dusty flipping through his carpentry magazine… something about biscuiting. As she accepted a cookie from the volunteer tea ladies, Fawna talked about how she had wondered about chemo treatment but driving in the car and sitting there she felt right. This was the place to be at this moment. And then she asked if I could make sure I would get a picture of her hair.
“Fawna Bews?” was called. I gathered my camera bag, camera, tea and purse. We entered a room with IV machines. That’s what came out most at me anyway. I saw an open ’ room’ by the window and the photographer in me got very excited about the gorgeous diffused light streaming in. But we were led right past that yummy space to the far corner under a harsh fluorescent light instead. Right next door to the bathroom.
The nurse introduced herself to Fawna. They talked about which of the pills from the four bottles Fawna scooped out of her purse she had taken and not taken already. Talked about how she had been here before quite a few years ago, about being from Longview, how the mass in her nose was making her sound so stuffed. I love the story she told about her nephew telling her “Auntie, I think you should get rid of that booger”.
These veins aren’t so hot, the nurse said as she looked for the right spot to start her IV. Fawna told us stories of body memory from her first bout with cancer and how she didn’t feel it yet even with all these stimulants around her. She likened the body memory to having your second baby. Ignorance is bliss the first time around, but then you know exactly what’s going on the second time and aren’t necessarily looking so forward to it. You know what’s going to happen.
She continued chatting and smiling with the nurse as she does with everyone and then there was a moment when you could see her just take a breath and close her eyes. I wondered if body memory had kicked in at that moment.
There were lots of beeps from the machines, check-ins from the nurses,. Fawna would log into facebook, non-existant last time she went through this. The impact of facebook and blogging just blows me away. For a family who is going through such times, the part about convenience and efficiency is welcomed. Rather than phoning loads of people or creating a phone chain, Fawna can easily update all around her how she is doing mentally, spiritually and physically. Journalling is therapeutic for Fawna I’m sure and her sharing these thoughts has been so healing for others as they travel this journey with her. Fawna is an amazing writer and I (and her!) invite you to read her blog. I often have to read Fawna’s sentences more than once to understand them… and even then I may not be able to reiterate what her thoughts are in my own words. Insight into having the mind, body & spirit work together is what Fawna is all about. What I admire about her so much is how she blends those three together into some sort of marvel smoothie.
At times I’d look over at Dusty and he’d have a look of concern, support, and recollection all mixed into one. Then the next moment they would be laughing together. I love this set of images where just everyone was laughing. I think it came about because for some reason there was a comment about cervical cancer on Fawna’s file of which the nurse was asking her about it. Fawna joked they didn’t tell me about that one if I do have it. (she doesn’t have that) She said the tumour is definitely in my nose. To which the nurse replied “well that is definitely not your cervix”
Fawna seemed fairly calm through the whole process. Going through it a second time, Dusty and her knew what the steps were and what a day of waiting it would be. They chuckled over a story from the first round where she was totally psyching herself up for chemo treatment. Her description made me envision it was like her head back, her arm opened out, eyes closed and her asking the nurse “OK let me know when it’s going to start”. The nurse responded with it’s been going for about an hour and a half already.
As we spent time together here, sometimes chatting and other times in our own worlds, I couldn’t help but think I could have been in this room with my mom four years ago. I wished I could have been in this room with my mom four years ago. Taking the steps to get better as Fawna was doing now. Mom was diagnosed with colon cancer and it was caught much too late. She had a meeting at the Tom Baker after an unsuccessful surgery and they went home to contemplate the options put before them, one of them being to try chemotherapy with a small chance it would work for her particular case. She made up her mind that night I suppose, as we were awoken early the next morning to the phone ringing with news I wasn’t ready to hear.
At times I would glance around the room, looking at the patients and wondering what their story is, just as I do in airports, restaurants, and coffee houses. The man in the next section over, an older wrinkly man with the most amazing blue eyes. He was there by himself. What was his story? Was someone coming to pick him up? The middle aged man with his wife reading in the corner, looking up and smiling at him every once in a while. Was he getting better? I wanted to know how they were doing, how their family was doing and hoping they would all be okay. And I’d turn to Fawna and think yes, she’s going to be okay. The love and support she has around her is simply second to none. Prayers, support, and healing circles worldwide. Homemade meals, energy treatments, care of the kids. Drumming circles, quotes, facebook comments. (The hilarious ones from her brother are my favourites.)
The amazing support and love that surrounds Fawna is a true reflection of the grace, understanding and love she shows in all she does and with whom all she knows.
The two images below are a couple of my favourites from my time there. Fawna often plays with her hair. She runs her fingers through it and it just falls where it falls. These pictures were taken right after she had done that. In fact I think they were the last two pictures I took. She was starting to feel a bit ‘floaty’ by this point and I left soon afterwards.
Lots of their day was really just waiting for the medicine to enter Fawna’s bloodstream and start doing its thing. The thoughts that were running through their minds must have been many. I thank the two of them for being open to my being there and starting this visual journal. I look forward to them looking back on these pictures and saying we knew we’d get through.
With all my love,