Barry Spilchuk

Patient Contributed Story

I couldn’t tell if she was a Nurse or an Angel. It turns out she was both! Denise was the first nurse I had to “tuck me in” the night that I “checked in” to the Princess Margaret Hotel. She was gentle, kind, caring and VERY understanding.

It turns out all of my nurses were kind, caring, gentle and understanding. I know they are trained to be that way...but...you can tell when someone is being nice because they have to...or...nice because they are just, well...nice. Based on what I was going through, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, it was NICE to be surrounded by genuinely NICE and caring souls.

After a few days of tests, joking around with the staff and secretly hiding my tears, I unexpectedly had a vision of my Aunt Mary. Her hobby was sewing and I always admired the stuffed tomato she used as a pin cushion. It was a bright red felt, had green leaves sewn on it and dozens of needles sticking into it - waiting their turn to go into action and sew Aunt Mary's next cotton creation. Thinking back, my vision was not of Aunt Mary...it was of her pin cushion!

I felt like her pin cushion! I had so many needles put into me I felt like that red fuzzy tomato!

I also had the opportunity to learn the alphabet all over again. I was subject to: EKG, ECG, MRI, CT-Scan and I think I even had an E-I-E-I-O!

After all the testing, scanning, prodding and analysis, they started talking about my personal “Chemo Cocktail” and were determining what was the best recipe for me to have so I could get better faster.

My five week stay at this luxury hotel was amazing! I have always loved traveling and I really loved the hotels where everything was at your fingertips. My way of coping with the cancer was to invoke my imagination and turn everything into an adventure.

A few days after checking in to “Chateau Chemo”, Denise, my Angel nurse, started talking to me about my first chemotherapy treatment. I had heard so many horror stories about what chemo did to someone’s body and sometimes their spirit.

Denise could tell I was nervous as she was prepping me for my first “serving” of my chemo cocktail. She said some words that made me laugh, and made me look at chemo as my friend.

“Barry, from now on, you get to blame EVERYTHING in your life on the chemo!” I smiled and said, “Everything?!!” “Even after the chemo is done?” “Why not she said...you’re having chemo, who’s going to argue with you!” Thanks Denise, I still use that excuse to this day!

One of the reasons I was at Princess Margaret for so long was due to a previous accident I had suffered by falling through the stairs at a local business. I was unable to walk because I could not place any weight on my left foot. The physiotherapists were so understanding and amenable and tried to help me heal in various different ways. When they realized that walking was not possible for me, they would come in and have me visualize my healing.

That was a constant at The Princess Margaret...the entire team included me in my healing. It felt so nice to have a say in how I got better. Everyone is allowed to heal in their own way. One of my fellow “guests” wanted to read EVERYTHING that was ever written about cancer. She wanted to “fight” cancer just like the slogan said.

Early on, I asked the Doctor, “Could you please NEVER mention the word cancer again? Please talk to me about what HEALING looks like. Also, I don’t want to fight cancer, it’s too tiring. I choose to “dance” with cancer - even though my foot’s not working right!” To my surprise, the Doctor honoured my request. The lady who wanted to “fight” cancer was right - and so was I.

We both got better.

Another part of my adventure was taking a few trips on the “underground highway” via the amazing porters. They knew every secret passage to actually go under University Avenue and get to Toronto General or Mount Sinai so the teams at those hospitals could do some of the testing that PMH was unable or too busy to do.

I felt blessed to be a part of this network that proved the adage that, “Professionals CREATE, Amateurs COMPETE.” The three hospitals worked hand in hand for one main goal... to heal me and my fellow cancer dancers.

Every time I had the pleasure of riding the underground highway I felt like I was sneaking away from home! The porters were my accomplices in my adventures and yet, they always remained loyal to “The Mothership” and eventually always brought me home.

As my final words, I would simply like to say two very specific words to the Angels at The Princess Margaret and their colleagues at the other hospitals, who come disguised as: Nurses, Doctors, Porters, Maintenance workers, Lab personnel, Admin and Volunteers... “THANK YOU!”

To all of the above people and those who have donated funds via cheque, sponsorship, walk-athons, bottle-drives and private fund raising events - THANK YOU for your past support, your prayers and your on-going and continuous donations - cancer WILL be beaten - with your continued support. I am LIVING proof that your support, be it financial, emotional or otherwise is working.

I am alive today because of everyone mentioned in this letter, God's grace, my family, friends and many others who I have not met.

Thank you and may God bless us all as we celebrate the dance.

Revised October 2013