Two Dances with the Devil – Lisa Swallow

By Lisa Swallow, Alberta

My story begins in 1972. I was three. I woke up one night crying and my parents couldn’t console me. They knew something was wrong. Earlier that day, I had bumped my right side on the corner of the coffee table.

Our family doctor met us at his clinic and examined me. He feared it may be my liver and I was sent to the hospital.

I was prepped for emergency surgery and that’s when they discovered that my right kidney was completely taken over with a Wilm’s tumour.

And so it began.

The kidney was removed and I went on to radiation and chemo. Even though I was so little, I can still remember a lot about the treatments, including the hospital and even my room there. When my parents took me home from the hospital, I weighed 17 pounds. Pretty small for a three year old. I had been pretty robust and chunky prior to that illness.

25 years passed and cancer found me again. I had some symptoms and wound up with some abnormal bleeding. I passed out at home and once we arrived at the hospital, I was quite dehydrated. I came to after two full units of IV fluids. After some tests, the doctor told me he found a tumour in my large intestine. He said it was about the size of a walnut. More tests, and my fears were confirmed.

Early detection is always best, but I had another major surgery to face, and then more chemo and more radiation. I went from 123 pounds down to 103.

I cannot believe that it’s been 20 years since my last ordeal. It terrifies me that cancer may return again someday, but I live day to day. I enjoy life and all the simplicity it has to offer. I notice things more now than I ever had before. I admire the sunrise, the sunset, the wind blowing tall grass here on the Canadian prairie. I love with my whole heart and try to show more kindness and patience with people, strangers in particular.

I have an amazing family, wonderful friends, the best husband, and a job that I love. My pets are my kids as I was never able to have my own due to radiation damage.

I remember the Canadian Cancer Society being there for me when I was little, and the volunteers who drove mom and me from Brampton to Toronto for treatments while dad was busy working. I remember others who would come to our home at Christmas or Easter and bring me a new doll.

Volunteers would also be at the hospital with a toy cart, and kids could choose one to keep. I had quite a collection of baby dolls, and loved them all. Each got a name and I never forgot where they came from.

I try to ignore naysayers’ comments on Facebook threads about how there is never any progress with cancer treatments because I’m living proof that there is improvement, and that there is hope.

Thanks for being there.