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A Rare Day – Cleaning your home after chemo

A Rare Day – Cleaning your home after chemo

“A rare day…”

This is how my adoptive mother-in-law would describe the last two days of hanging laundry on the line. Of course, Alan’s parents live in Scotland, a much damper climate, and the trade off is the obvious beauty and history that is evident everywhere you look. We are fortunate ourselves for living here in the Okanagan, the beauty here is quite different in my eyes; lakes, wildlife and sunshine. But there’s no comparison with the history of Scotland.

Alan’s parents welcomed me with open arms almost 4 years ago. Me, a complete stranger, they welcomed me into their home and hearts… I truly adore them both.

I call Alan’s mom Nan, my adoptive mother-in-law, as marriage does not look good on Alan and I’ve already had an amazing marriage (something I know I could not duplicate) and we’re happy this way. I do sometimes joke we should maybe have an “Unmarriage” party… Not sure what that would look like, other than that the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland comes to mind!

Alan’s 4th chemo day has come and gone, and so the cleaning began yesterday; a reason for all the laundry. We all exude toxins in our bodily fluids and this is even worse with chemo running through your veins. The cancer clinic advises you now that everything needs to be washed separately and twice… I always knew this as it made sense, but all those years ago with Tony it was never a concern or conversation that was had.

I’ve always been a clean, neat freak which my family can attest to… Even folding my dirty clothes before being washed. Now I just put them in the basket. I’ve relaxed considerably over the last years. Knowing this, it makes sense that I had a construction cleaning company years ago and that I use only non-toxic, non-chemical cleaning products.

It is so important that anyone fighting any disease have very limited exposure to further chemicals in the home; cleaning products, soaps, shampoos, even cologne and perfume. These are just not helpful to their immune systems. You should also remember this when visiting clinics, hospitals, or an ill family member or friend.

Of course, I have favourite cleaning supplies! They are baking soda/sodium bicarbonate and vinegar. A baking soda paste will clean off soap scum and tarnished metal, while vinegar helps kill bacteria, neutralize chemicals, softens fabric and helps keep static away. Can you see that all my washes include vinegar?

I do have a few basics I use for laundry; unscented laundry powder, borax to keep things white or bright, a natural oxi for stains, and my stand by vinegar. There are many recipes out there for natural laundry soap and fabric softener, all of which I’m sure work great but like many others my time is limited and my basics work for me and help keep the chemicals out of my home.

No, you won’t smell like a chippy*, as Alan once thought. When my son was in Vancouver at GF Strong, there were shared laundry facilities and so much bacteria everywhere. So it was vinegar to the rescue, and thankfully it worked.

Happy natural cleaning!

*Chippy is U.K. slang for a fish and chips shop.

Alan Stirling, The most interesting man I’ve ever met

Alan Stirling, The most interesting man I’ve ever met

Alan is one of those people that captivates you from the moment he opens his mouth and starts sharing one of his many stories. He’s lived more lives than most and experienced so many adventures that it’s hard to believe that he’s only 61-years-old (his birthday is today).

A dear friend had deemed him “the most interesting man I’ve ever met” after getting to know him over the past couple of years and hearing the bits and pieces of his life.

Alan Stirling, Good-Guy Policeman

His stories begin when he joined the police cadets in Edinburgh, Scotland and he earned the nickname Loopy. This was the beginning of many adventures and the start of his career with the police. His parents tell me that Alan has pushed the limits since he was a child and entering the police was no different. Even then, Alan had longish golden hair, but it was not meant to be over the collar. His police career had him in very prestigious responsibilities when he joined the motor brigade. He escorted the Pope and Princess Anne during their times in Edinburgh.

Scotland is a very different world than the one we know in Canada and things are sorted out quite differently there. At the time, police carried only batons, no firearms; only clubs and wits to protect them from thugs, gangsters and altercations… Yes, gangsters still exist, even today.

Alan’s actions as a police officer did not go unnoticed as he was recruited by the government to work undercover. Of course, he couldn’t look like a police officer undercover, so this was the start of his even longer hair, which delighted him.

Alan Stirling, P.I.

His time with the government and police provided the training for his next career choice as a private investigator, which his best friend, Stewart, joined him in. Stirling and Peters Private Investigators was formed in 1991. These two shared a passion not only for the truth and what was right, but also of music… They had a studio below their offices on St. Mary’s Street.

Alan and Stewart were quite successful in business and caught the attention of the BBC, who did a documentary on them.

When Stewart suddenly died from heart problems, Alan was devastated and could no longer go on with the business, shutting the doors to the P.I. business and the recording studio.

Alan Stirling, Nightclub Empresario

Did I mention he also had a night club?!? Well, that continued as he had obligations to the previous owner’s family. When it was eventually sold a few years later, the proceeds went to support the children of the deceased owner.

This kind of action helps set the stage for your understanding of the kind of person Alan is; Rugged on the outside, but so very caring and sensitive on the inside. He’s touched so many lives and is always there to lend a hand or ear… Whatever is necessary.

Alan Stirling, Florist

Flowers were next… Yes, Alan became a florist with no formal training and, like everything else he touched, he was successful. His first shop was on St Mary’s Street, a few doors down from the old P.I. office, but he soon relocated to Glasgow in a hard area called Govan. He then moved to a bigger, more central location in Pollokshields.

When the Iraq war broke out in 2003, the neighbourhood became very tense and it became a dangerous place for a white man to be. It wasn’t long before there was an altercation in the shop and someone threatened Alan’s well-being. He decided it was time for a change and decided that Canada was the place to be.

Alan Stirling, Landscape Designer & Keeper of Fishes

In 2003, Alan immigrated to Canada and found his new calling making the Okanagan beautiful with all of his creations. That’s how Loopykums Pond & Koi came to be.

Through his business, Alan creates stunning landscape designs and water features that enhance people’s enjoyment of the outdoors. Whether he’s building a custom fountain, cascading backyard waterfall, or a harmonious koi pond, Alan always strives to do his best. His crew have been so wonderful during this time and Alan still loves going to work every day!

Tony’s prophecy and blessing

It was years ago… Tony, my late husband, and I were talking about our future. He was still recovering from surgery, an awake craniotomy due to brain cancer, and we both knew that the future had surely changed.

He started talking about how I must go on and be happy without him… Well, I wanted no part of this turn in the conversation, I only wanted to see and hear about recovery. People recover and go into remission all the time… Right?!?

He continued along these lines, saying, “One day you’ll meet someone to take my place and make you happy.”

I’m sure I cut him short… I was happy; worried, but happy. We’d get through this together.

It was a few years and some bad results later that this conversation came up again… “You’ll find someone,” he said. He even mentioned a blonde man…

Fast-forward to 2013 and I’m an emotional wreck. It’s been not quite 3 years since I lost my husband and my son, Shaydon, has been injured at work with a spinal cord injury that is life changing. I’m so happy and elated that he’s alive and well, and sustained no brain injuries. Still, there are going to be some huge challenges.

My son was well on his way with his early recovery and beginning a boot camp for spinal cord injury at Project Walk in Carlsbad, San Diego. I helped him get settled and organised with his personal equipment and daily care aids before I set off for home. I’m sure I wasn’t prepared for what or who was to come next.

And then came Alan…

I met, or rather rescued, Alan at the LAX United Airlines counter. The lady behind the counter had a strong Filipino accent and Alan has a thick Scottish accent… Neither one was able to understand the other!

I overheard this blonde Scotsman say that he was trying to get home to Kelowna… What?! Our previous delayed flight out of Carlsbad, along with a drunk Englishman, had created this mess, so I stepped in and sorted it out. I became the official translator for the conversation and took Alan under my wing as I worked out how we could both get back to Kelowna.

I was not looking for a relationship or another friendship. This is how most things that are meant-to-be begin.

So here we are, not quite 4 years later. Alan, the man who changed my life and allowed me to have emotions again, is sick…

Alan Stirling, Cancer Survivor-to-be

Alan received a call late one Friday night from his GP, a woman in her early sixties that comes across as being very thorough. She wanted Alan to go for another blood test, even though he’d been for several that day. He wrote down the name of the test and proceeded to ask me if I knew what a CEA test was for.

Cancer markers… Yes, I knew and I hoped he wouldn’t Google it; I didn’t want him to worry more and it was bad enough that I knew what she was suspecting.

Knowing that we were now at the weekend and nothing would happen until mid-week at the earliest, I set off to my office to do what I do for so many others… Help them with health issues. I put a homeopathic bowel cancer protocol together and had him start it directly.

The following week, I was in Nelson for a clinic when Alan’s doctor ordered a colonoscopy that was meant to be a few weeks out. Of course, an opening came up while I was away… It was over as quickly as it started. A tumour was found.

I’m over four hours away, feeling helpless, and Alan is scared… Who wouldn’t be? Okay, so it’s a tumour. Now what? Now we wait for a consult with a surgeon and a CT scan. WAIT… Yet again… Thankfully, I’d started Alan on a natural protocol and there were already signs of improvement.

We had friends over one night to discuss our upcoming trip to Scotland and Alan mentioned he was waiting for a CT. Our friend, Frank, questioned why he was waiting at all. Not waiting for our response, he picked up his phone and started texting someone… Within minutes his phone pinged with a reply; his friend could fit Alan in now if we could leave right away. Guess it sometimes pays to have doctors as friends… So off we went.

It seemed like we were there forever, waiting for his CT results. We knew we were dealing with bowel cancer but the CT showed that it had spread into the streets; lungs, liver, lymph nodes, abdominal wall… Fuck!!!

It’s crazy how quickly life can change.

Ok, now we must endure that all consuming sinking feeling again. We were also told surgery was off the table, that chemo was the only option medically open to him. Chemo. Oh my, here we go again. All I could think was “Hold it together, He needs you. These have to be his choices, not yours.”

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned came many years ago with my late husband; you have to let each person make their own choices when it comes to their health. Even if you don’t agree with them. It’s their journey not yours. Be supportive, as most disease is not only physical but mental as well.

Alan, receiving his chemo treatment on his 61st birthday. Doesn’t this look like an optimistic face that’s going to kick Cancer’s ass?

There is a chance!

Alan wrote a song years ago, There Is A Chance, a phrase that he held onto while our friendship was growing… Even though I kept pushing him away!

There is always a chance for recovery with this disease and all diseases… Our bodies are amazing things.

We were booked to go to Scotland the week after the CT Scan to visit his family… Well, my family too now! His son’s partner was expecting a baby while we were there, the real reason for the trip just as Alan’s season was to start. We were very happy to get the all clear from his oncologist, so off we went with two of our amazing friends.

As with most births, this beautiful baby girl, Penelope, made us wait  for her arrival. Meantime, we stayed busy visiting and with rehearsals. Yes, rehearsals… Alan’s old band, plus two very talented young ladies, were to be putting a gig on at The Voodoo Rooms. Maybe you caught some of my Live footage on Facebook?

Our trip seems like months ago now. Alan is patiently sitting through his fourth chemo as I write this… He’s calling it his poison for his birthday. I’m thankful for all the chatter around his birthday; well wishes, FaceTimes,  etc., as I’m usually losing my mind and any kind of friendliness about now… Becoming that person I don’t even want to know, let alone be.

Tonight is party night at KYC with a wonderful group of friends and family. We’re looking forward to it. A well-deserved night out to celebrate this interesting, loving man.

Gone but never forgotten – A tribute to my late husband

Gone but never forgotten – A tribute to my late husband

Tony’s birthday is today. He would have been 65-years-old. July 19th is our anniversary and also marks 7 years and 2 months to the day since I lost my husband.

This is the story of how we met

It was October 1989 when we first saw each other. I needed a job to support my one-year-old son and myself. I was determined to be self-sufficient and so I applied for a job at the Western Star dealership in Kamloops.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two people watching me enter the building. I’m not sure what made me look; I normally just carry on with the job at hand. I was nervous, but still something made me look.

I locked eyes with this dark haired fellow with curls that hung over his collar. He had the most contagious smile that made me stop and beam back at him… Surely not what my mother taught me!

I had a great interview and was called the next day with a start date for my new position. A way and means to support myself!

The day I started, I discovered who the two men were… The first my new boss and the second Tony Bliss, a field service representative from the Western Star factory. I remember being disappointed that I wouldn’t being seeing him daily before happily finding out that he visited every 6 weeks.

The months passed and Tony and I became friends, even went out for a few quiet dates. It was frowned upon to see coworkers, but if I had any work questions or concerns with a claim I was encouraged to call him. This is how it went on for a few years until I was headhunted by another company, so I moved on but never lost contact with Tony.

The road trip that changed everything…

The summer of 1994, Shaydon was just 6-years-old. When I wasn’t working, we did everything together; swimming, hiking, exploring, the park, anything to do with the outdoors. I was looking for something different and thought that maybe we should take a road trip like my mom used to do with us growing up. Of course, the place that came to mind was Kelowna… Wait, Flintstone Park is there… Who do I know in Kelowna?

I hadn’t talked to Tony in at least 6 months. I called, he was delighted, and a  trip was planned.

We no longer worked together and neither one of us was attached, so it began.

Within a year we’d bought a house and I moved to Kelowna to start a new life with Tony, along with my son and Tony’s young teens.

It seemed everyone in town knew and loved Tony. We could be off to do a simple shop that would take the normal person an hour tops, but not with him by my side. We’d get maybe 5 feet and we’d run into someone he knew… A chat and a few laughs later we’d be on our way – until the next meeting. This was how life went and it was magical. He was the first person I knew like this, so full of humour, wit, love, honesty, integrity… Fashion sense?!? Wait, did I mention mischief? And his smile; it could light up a room.

He was the first man I had ever admired and respected. I lost my father at a very young age of maybe 3 or 4 to an accident. My mother did an amazing job but couldn’t be that male figure… I know she tried.

A new life in Ontario

It was 2000 or 2001, and we had just heard the news that Western Star had been sold to Freightliner; two very different company models. Everyone, including Tony, was concerned for their positions. Tony was offered a position with Freightliner in Ontario. Neither one of us wanted to move but there was going to be very little opportunity left in Kelowna. So off we went, Tony settled into his new position and Shaydon and I learned to navigate Ontario. Who knew that these two provinces did things so different? I even had to learn how to find things in the phone book differently!

We found a house, renovated and settled in making loads of new friends in our neighbourhood and at the paddle centre. Still, we missed Kelowna and we were thousands of miles away from home. We came home every summer to stay connected.

A man worth remembering

It was the spring of 2007 and we’d just come home from a holiday in Costa Rica. I knew something was wrong but didn’t know what it might be; he thought it was the flu. Neither one of us was ready for what was to come next. He was diagnosed with a brain tumour. We fought it as best we could with the help of modern medicine, with some success. In the spring of 2009, we decided it was time to move home and make the most of our last day, months, years together.

I’ve been getting messages recently from some of his old work mates. One messaged a few days ago asking if he could share a photo in Tony’s memory for his birthday. Another has commented that “he was the best boss I ever had”.

I sometimes think that as time passes, people forget… This isn’t so.

When you’re a good person who cares for others, you’ll always be remembered.

Fuck Cancer!!! A blog about the disease that won’t leave my heart alone

Fuck Cancer!!! A blog about the disease that won’t leave my heart alone

It’s early Friday morning and I’m sitting here trying to sort out how I feel about this disease entering my home again.

This is where it started all those years ago when I began searching for answers for my husband.

It was Saturday and a beautiful April day. Shaydon, my son, had his weekly bowling league so off we went, leaving my husband, Tony, to rest as he thought he had the flu. He said he’d join us later if he felt better, which he did an hour or so later. When I saw him I started panicking inside; his right arm looked heavy and the side of his face was drooping. My mind went directly to his heart, thinking he’d had a stroke or heart attack… How did he get here safely?

Tony and I

I quickly calmed myself; a trait I have no idea where it came from but has become useful over the past years. I sat him down and started my calm questions and suggested that we go for some tests at the hospital, which he wanted no part of. Within minutes, bowling was over. He could be such a stubborn man, but everyone loved him and he could light up the room with his smile. I’m sure this combination helped to make him successful. But I wasn’t taking no for an answer. It was the weekend, so I called a friend who was a nurse in radiology and she directed us to the correct hospital. She had them waiting for us as she had her own suspicions about what was happening.

So many tests and monitors, but his heart was fine! So what was going on then?

A CT scan showed a mass in his brain. I’ll never forget that sinking panic consuming every part of my being. “Pull it together,” my mind kept shouting, “He needs your strength.”

That afternoon we were rushed to another hospital for an MRI and to consult with a neurosurgeon. The diagnosis was stage 3/4 Astrocytoma Glioma mutiforme… They wanted to operate the next day!

Tony stomping grapes at a Western Star convention

“Are your affairs in order?”

A question no one wants to be asked as we signed the consent forms. Tony was scheduled for an awake craniotomy the next day.

How could this be happening?!? This isn’t part of our PLAN!

We were just back from holiday and I knew he wasn’t right, he was tired beyond anything I’d seen before. He worked long hours, travelled a lot with his work and was constantly on his cell phone. I used to call it his crackberry; I hated that thing especially when it interrupted our time.

Honestly, I’d been watching him for months, he seemed forgetful and distant… I thought he may be having an affair as none of that was like him. He was the smartest man I had ever known, full of wit and humour and he heard and recorded in his mind what you’d said the first time. Reminds me of that saying “an elephant never forgets”.

Once the shock began to wear off the questions started. How did this happen? How long has it been brewing? What is the prognosis? What is the treatment?

The statistics, even with surgery, radiation and chemo, weren’t great. But we had hope that their regime would hopefully buy us more time.

There were no answers for how his cancer started; it certainly had NOTHING to do with the length of time he was on his cell phone or his diet… How did these professionals have no solid answers?!?

I’ve been rather inquisitive my whole life and I love getting to the bottom of things; finding the answers has always been important. So with my years of investigative training in this regard I, went to work looking for my own answers and my trust in the medical field had always been lacking.This is how I found a new direction in life and back to school I went to find my answers.

So, here’s me… A recovering husband at home after brain surgery, a young teen in high school, a job where I could spend a couple of hours in the office then complete the rest at home with the help of technology. Already a rather full schedule. I then enrolled in school, gathered my books and started reading. I can’t say I’ve ever read so much in my life. Most of these books were 400 pages plus. Research. Answers. Anything I could do to help reverse this horrific diagnosis/disease.

So this is how it all began.

Shaydon and Tony at KYC...the old club

Seven Years Later…

It’s been over seven years since Tony passed, leaving me a widow with a broken heart. So many things have happened since then…

Shaydon had an accident at work, creating paralysis in his lower body. He’s doing amazing and still recovering with more strength and movement in his legs all the time. He will walk again!

I met Alan on a return flight from California after getting Shaydon set up at a spinal cord rehab facility called Project Walk. It was the furthest I’d been away from my son since his accident and I had mixed emotions about leaving him.

My flight was late arriving in Carlsbad near San Diego. I knew it was going to be a long day, so I went for lunch while many others headed to the bar. It was a lovely setting with everything open to nature and it was a beautiful day. All I wanted to do was hop back in the rental car and head back to my son, but I had others to help at home.

I headed back to the departure lounge and sitting there, waiting, I noticed some of the passengers arriving back from the bar. One, in particular, had had too much to drink; he was an obnoxious fellow, insulting most, and then he decided to sit down next to me. I thought, “Try it… I dare you!” I was not in the mood to have anyone be rude to me. Not something I’d ever stand for. I know how to look after myself.

We were finally on board and this drunk fellow started in on the flight attendant, a beautiful woman who was standing for none of his bull. She stopped the plane not once but twice and I thought for sure he was going to be kicked off. He settled down with the help of a bloke sitting with him… I remember hearing their accents – English and Australian.

Thanks to this obnoxious fellow, we arrived later than anticipated and I wondered if I was going to make my backup flight out of LAX.

Alan and I off to a Jimmy Buffett function and the yacht club

I remember seeing this blonde fellow a few rows up ahead of me; he was anxious about making his connection too. Once we landed, he raced off the plane and I joined him shortly after at the United Airlines counter to sort out my connection. To my surprise, this long haired blonde man was talking about getting home to Kelowna… WHAT?! I’d never seen him before and he certainly would have stood out.

I could see the woman behind the counter was having difficulty understanding him with his Scottish accent so, in my annoyance, I quickly took over after I heard her suggest that he stay and enjoy LA until the next evening. He seemed genuinely appreciative as neither one of us thought staying in LA for another full day was going to be acceptable. We got as far as Seattle that night and we made it home in the morning.

We became friends over the coming months and he came to my rescue when a flight back to Carlsbad had been cancelled due to fog. He drove me there. 24 hours from door to door! What a trip.

Shay on his standing frame towering over Alan

Shaydon and Alan became fast friends and he won my heart in the months to come.

Life has been full of fun, adventure and happiness the last few years. Until the dreaded news that this spring brought.

Alan had been having some digestive concerns that led him to have a colonoscopy. Within minutes of the procedure, a tumour was found. Fuck cancer.