Makayla Sault was a child, not a symbol

An 11-year-old girl died Monday. Makayla Sault, an indigenous Ontario girl, had childhood leukaemia and received 12 weeks of chemotherapy last year. She hated it (we all hate it) and asked her parents to remove her from that regime. They did, opting for traditional indigenous healing.

Makayla had a fatal stroke last weekend. The family blames the after-effects of chemo, while doctors point out untreated leukaemia can trigger a stroke.

I absolutely believe her family’s first concern was for her health, but I wonder why she became the focal point of a larger battle about indigenous rights.  Of course, history shows it is exactly this issue — children — where western-European culture has hurt indigenous people the most. Their kids were systemically abducted, culturally whitewashed and often brutalized. From the First Nation perspective, what more important issue is there?

That said, I think Makayla’s family simply chose wrong. This story should not have been about one culture over another as some tried to frame it.. It’s about accessing the best health resources available. Chemotherapy has a 75-to-90 per cent success rate in treating childhood leukaemia. Victims of other cancers would love odds like that.

I am sure that, for centuries, traditional, nature-based remedies have helped people. However,, when it comes to cancer treatment, there’s something better now; just like we have better transportation and hygiene and communication, and most societies have embraced them. Medical science is not flawless, but I believe it’s the best we’ve got.

I’ve been following a naturopath’s advice for three months. In two weeks, I will resume chemotherapy, and immediately suspend all naturopathic remedies. My oncological team tells me the probiotic supplements diminish the efficacy of the chemo. I have to choose one over another, and I side with doctors, nurses and the years of research that is the foundation of their knowledge.

I wish Makayla’s family had done the same.  My sincere condolences go out to them.


That’s a wrap!



The four-dot tattoo was just one part of the surreal experience that is stereotactic radiation.

I have described the tattooing process earlier, without touching on the oddest part of the experience.

They turned me into a sausage link.

The first step in stereotactic (ie. tightly focused) radiation is ensuring I will lay in the exact same position for each of my four treatments. The tattooing helps them line me up in the same spot relative to the radiation-ray-firing thingie. The second step is ensuring I do not budge an inch while being blasted.

To do that, prior to my first session, I lay on a blue-beanbag-like mattress. Then the radiation technicians wrapped me, head to chin, in plastic. Imagine a six-foot length of saran wrap. They tucked it under my legs, torso and shoulders. Once I was completely wrapped, a vacuum sucked out all the air between myself and the plastic. I was vacuum-sealed, like a deli sausage.

It felt a bit like being back in the womb, and a bit like Steve Rogers turning into Captain America. Meanwhile, the mattress, drained of air, turned rock-hard. It retained the outline of my body, like a blue snow angel.  I lowered myself into that impression during each of my four subsequent sessions.

I know this for sure: this is the next popular spa treatment. Forget seaweed wraps and salt scrubs. This all-over body hug is the tactile sensation health-conscious people will pay to experience. Vacuum-sealing doesn’t make you feel younger, eliminate toxins or flatten out wrinkles, bit it does make you feel incredibly safe. You feel protected, comforted, and even loved (by a big, emotionless,  dangerous machine.)

It’s perfect. Except when it slowly pushes your nuts deep up into your abdomen.

Otherwise, perfect.

A walk down memory-to-come-later lane

Happy New Year! I have one resolution for 2015:


And if  that’s too ambitious, my back-up goal is simply to have more fun this year; I worry too much.

I think all of the cancerous should keep their resolutions short-term, just to avoid disappointment. Don’t resolve to lose 30 pounds, that could take months. Resolve to lose four pounds and wear more vertical stripes.

Speaking of goals, I have written about Calgary cancer patient and family friend Tamara Gignac before. Here is a brief video she made with the Alberta Cancer Foundation:

As you can see, Tamara’s goals are essentially day to day. Everyone should embrace that philosophy, but perhaps some people believe there’s a guaranteed pay-off to postponing family time while they fret, plan and work.

There isn’t. The cancerous can tell you, nothing is guaranteed.

Tamara’s son is close in age to our Will. When she says she wants to walk him to his first day of kindergarten, my heart tightens. Since my diagnosis in 2011, this has been my one long-term goal above all others. I often picture that walk, from our house to the school where Will will begin his journey toward adulthood. If I can hang in, Will and I will reach that milestone this coming September.

I remember a similar walk I took with my mother 47 years ago. She held my hand and guided me over the unpaved streets of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, past the edge of the endless forest, to a small wooden building. This was a storied one-room schoolhouse, heated by a single wood-burning stove. (I remember trying to find that sweet spot on the floor between the heat of the stove and the chill from  icy windows.)

I was sad, scared and excited, but grateful she was there to walk me up those steps for the first time.

I want Will to have a memory like that, to hold on to for years afterward, just as I am holding on to it now.