In February 2012, I was diagnosed with two cancers of the blood, Stage 4 Lymphoma and Stage 3 Multiple Myeloma. This blog is an attempt to share my journey, learnings and insights with you through this process. Continue reading
I was in awe and wonder at first sight. He took his time to appear in the world, and finally arrived at 4:25 AM, after I had been in labour for 12 hours. The minute Dr. Ross put him in my arms, he stretched in my direction, craned his neck and looked right into my eyes. And I knew right then that my life would never be the same again. That tiny little boy had completely and absolutely captured every inch of my heart.
And I made many promises that night. I promised that I would love him. That I would protect him. That I would take care of him. All 5 lbs and 6 ounces of this precious baby with beautiful brown eyes. And for the next 6 months, Shayne and I were companions. We hung out together and spent time doing stuff. I enjoyed carrying him in this blue baby pouch sling that I wore in the front of my body. Shayne would nestle in comfortably and I could hear his heart. I remember speaking to him constantly. I would tell him everything I could see as I carried him – the street, flowers, McDonalds, a bus, a red car – and he would listen intently, almost as if he was absorbing everything I was saying. And I would sing to him songs from Mother Goose and Sharon Lois and Bram, and he would reward me with gurgles and chuckles.
Shayne, today is your birthday and you are 29 years old. I don’t know where the time has gone. I still remember you as a kid playing baseball for many years. It was such a pleasure to watch you and everytime you hit the ball or fielded the ball cleanly, I would yell, “That’s my boy!”. That’s how I feel everytime I see you Shayne — I just want everyone to know that I am your mommy! You make me so proud!
I love your big, bright yellow energy, and how you fill a room with your personality. I love how smart you are, and how you send me cool stuff to read everyday. I love your stories and the life you have created for yourself in Nairobi! I love how you took Daddy shopping in your closet and got him to stop wearing “Dad Jeans”! I love how you introduce us to your music, and the latest fashion in clothes. I love how you like to hang out with us by choice! I love how your faith guides your actions. I love what a great “brother bear” you are to Sabrina. I love your Emogies (even though I don’t understand most of them!). I love how you challenge me to live a Big Life and to think about where I am spending my energy. I love how compassionate and caring you are. When I was in the hospital, the nurses would often tell me how you would visit me late at night after work, and sit with me for a couple of hours while I slept. Most of all, I love how you open your life to us and allow us to be a part of it.
And you will be pleased to know that everytime we pick up something unhealthy, we have you in our conscience! Gone are the days of Chocolate Dipped Donuts and Big Macs, Now it’s all about green smoothies, protein powder, tahini, almond oil and berries. And, even though I was mad as hell at you for putting us through this health kick journey, you should know that you’ve been successful — we now eat healthy, even though you are not watching!
Shayne Aman, your name means “Gracious Gift and Protection of God”, and that is how I think of you. Until you came on the scene, I had no idea what it meant to be a mother. I learnt by interacting with you. You have easily been one of the best parts of my life, and I know that God danced the day you were born.
On your birthday, my dream is to see you happy, healthy and fulfilled. My hope is that you live your life fully and fearlessly, with no regrets. I wish for you a life of love, enduring friendships, exciting adventures, many travels around the world, strong faith to guide you and success in everything you do.
I know that you are all grown up now, but I remember how, for many years, when I put you to bed at night I would sing to you: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always. As long as you’re living, my baby you’ll be.”. Love you forever, Shayne!
Happy Birthday, Shayne!
It all started innocently enough. A friend put up a video on Facebook that showed a man and a woman meeting for the first time to see if they were compatible and wanted to get married. The man was an accountant – likeable, easygoing and funny. The woman was a psychiatrist, rather stuck in her ways, seemingly comfortable about making the rules. They agreed that they would take turns asking each other 20 questions to decide if they wanted to pursue a relationship. Next thing you know, Nagib and I are watching the entire clip, because it’s Florida and we have time!
Over dinner at John’s Pass Village, sitting under the moon with a live band playing to the crowd, I suggested we play 20 questions and what started as a fun game became a surprising discovery about each other. The only rule of the game: We had to respond quickly, with our first answer.
The first few questions were simple. Favourite food? Best vacation? The answers were predictable and comfortable.
Then the conversation became more serious. What is your biggest wish for Shayne? For Sabrina? And we were aligned in our responses.
Most important goal over the next 3 months? Surprisingly, we both had the exact same short-term priorities.
Biggest fear? This was a tough one for us to talk about.
Most embarrassing moment?
One thing we were most proud of? That made for an interesting conversation and we landed on the same answer based on a shared experience.
Qualities we like – and do not like – about each other?
One thing we want to learn to do? Quite a few surprises here.
What we want to be remembered for? We came to this question from two very different places.
One person we admire the most? Nagib had to do some deep thinking on this. I started rattling lots of names until Nagib complained that I was not playing by the rules (which stated, one person).
One place we want to visit? I could never have predicted Nagib’s response.
And so it continued until the last question of the night which was: In this moment, Happiness Level, on a scale of 1 to 10? We both said 10! It’s hard not to be a 10 when I’m holding the sun and feeling one with the universe! Florida makes us happy!
The questions – asked with curiosity and no judgement – were a great way to learn about each other all over again. And after nearly 33 years of marriage, there were quite a few surprises. And that’s what makes relationships fun and interesting!
There is nothing quite like it. Sitting in a small ballpark, with the sun on your back and a gentle breeze to fan you. Being in the company of like-minded baseball fans, the little ones in strollers, the older folks in walkers. Feeling like a part of the community where baseball is king. Eating a hot dog. Drinking sweetened iced tea. Being so close to the action that you can hear the players talking to each other, cheering on their mates. That’s what it was like as Nagib and I went to our first spring training game in Dunedin, Florida, where the Blue Jays took on the Orioles.
This was on my bucket list of things I wanted to do, and Nagib made it possible by getting us tickets for two spring training games.
Jose Bautista is clearly the leader on the team and he very much enjoys interacting with the fans, whether in person or on his Twitter account. His appearance at the plate got the biggest reaction from the fans. Edwin Encarnacion continues to be my favourite Blue Jays player. (ICYMI, here’s my interaction with Edwin at Toronto General Hospital: Click here.) Jose Reyes has quite the pre-game workout ritual. Justin Smoak is a tall presence at first base. Mark Buehrle pitched efficiently, as he always does. I predict that Russell Martin, our new catcher – and a Canadian to boot – will be a big draw this year. The rookies — and there are so many of them this year!! — seemed to be having fun, although you could sense the nervousness in their laughter. By far, however, the fan favourite was Munenori Kawasaki, and I can see why. At the end of the game, he took a lot of time with the fans taking pictures and signing balls and jerseys. He asked a kid if he played baseball. When the kid said yes, Kawasaki responded by saying, “me too!!” When a fan was having trouble with her camera, Kawasaki said “don’t worry, take your time.” That’s classy. At one point he told the fans, “I’m sorry. I’m late. I have to go”. After which he proceeded to stay and talk to the many more fans who were lined up to see him. He also took time to teach some of the fans a few phrases in Japanese. It was beautiful to watch!
Before the game, we met Jerry Howarth, the long-time voice of the Blue Jays’ radio broadcast. It was the highlight of my day! He is so human, so down to earth, and charming to boot! We talked about the team’s chances of making it to the playoffs this year. He told us that he was from San Francisco. We remembered Tom Cheek and talked about his most famous phrase: “Touch ’em all, Joe! You will never hit a bigger home run in your life”, when Joe Carter hit the World Series-winning home run in 1993. Nagib reminded Jerry of his graciousness in allowing Tom Cheek to call the bottom of the ninth inning the previous year, in 1992, when the Jays won their first World Series in Atlanta. You see, Tom and Jerry alternated innings, and it was Jerry’s turn to call the 9th. Since Tom had broadcasted every Blue Jays game since the first ever game on April 7, 1977, and with the Jays leading 3-2 and three outs away from winning, Jerry ceded the microphone to Tom. We told Jerry that our wish is for him to call a World Series championship for the Jays this year!
I wish I would have told Jerry Howarth that, during the first year of my cancer, he — and the Blue Jays — were a lifeline to me. When I go back to that time, I remember being so sick that I had lost interest in almost everything. It was the Blue Jays – and hearing Jerry Howarth call the game (“Yes, sir! There she goes!”) that distracted me from my illness many a times. In fact, I remember a couple of times when I needed to go to Emergency because of very high fever, and I would agree to go only after the Blue Jays game was over. My family learned not to argue with me!
I’m not sure what it is about baseball that I love. Nagib took me to my first baseball game at Olympic Stadium in Montreal on our first anniversary, nearly 32 years ago. The Blue Jays were playing the Montreal Expos in the Pearson Cup – an exhibition game. From that moment on, I was hooked! Since then, we’ve been to many stadia around North America: Yankee Stadium (old and new). Tiger Stadium. Fenway Park. Dodger Stadium. Each one has a unique story. But that’s for another time.
For now, having experienced my first taste of spring training, I think I’m ready for more! I can’t believe we waited this long. The players, the staff and the fans are so relaxed. I heard from a spring training groupie (who comes to Florida every year for spring training), that one time, when Colby Rasmus was still a Blue Jay, his daughter (who would have been 2 or 3) yelled to her dad, “You can do it, Daddy!” when he came out to bat. He smiled and waved back at her! Even cuter, she was sporting a jersey that said “Little Rasmus” at the back! The ushers invite you to move to seats closer to the action if they are available. People actually talk to each other. Surprisingly I did not see anyone on their cell phones, except to take pictures.
I suppose baseball, and spring training in particular, is a reminder of simple times and simple pleasures. Like having sand in-between your feet and a sunburn on your nose.
Opening day is Monday, April 6th – Blue Jays at the New York Yankees.
OK, Blue Jays, Let’s Play Ball!
Life is God’s gift to you.
The way you live your life is your gift to God.
– Leo Buscaglia
Toronto – March 8, 2015.
It was 3 years ago, on March 8, 2012, when I was in the Intensive Care Unit at Toronto General Hospital. 3 years ago, when my hemoglobin count had dropped to a dangerously low 36 due to acute hyper hemolytic anemia. Three years ago, when the doctors gave me a 50% chance of making it through the night. 3 years ago, when my body had created antibodies to reject new blood. Three years ago, when Dr. Christine Cserti and her team worked all night to find the right blood match. The situation was tense. The odds against me. The doctors said that if my body rejected the blood, my organs would fail, one by one. There was no plan B. Continue reading
February 14, 2015 – Toronto.
I am looking at the flowers that Nagib brought me to the hospital on Valentine’s Day two years ago. I was on the 14th Floor of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in the stem cell unit, preparing to undergo a stem cell transplant. I remember being nervous and excited, hoping that the stem cells would settle happily in my body and start functioning. Nagib brought the Valentine’s Day spirit to the hospital ward and we marked the occasion together – tired, hopeful, cuddling, crying, laughing and making dreams for the future. And he brought me flowers – not real ones because they were not allowed in the ward – but a wonderful, strong, robust arrangement of white and pink flowers that cheered the room and now sits in our family room as yet another symbol of hope.
Toronto, January 25, 2015. Today I lost another friend. He was a gentle, compassionate man, about a decade older than me. Nazim Hirani was a leader in the community, an admired man, someone you could always count on, a gifted listener with many close friends. Last year, Nazim was diagnosed with Lymphoma, the same cancer I was also diagnosed with in 2012. It was a devastating time for him and his family as they tried to make sense of this disease that had invaded his body and threatened to change their lives.
#10: She connects with people
One attribute that I have always admired about my Mom is her ability to connect with people. Whether it is a safari driver in Tanzania, a crepe storeowner in Thornhill or a fellow patient at Princess Margaret Hospital, my Mom has this remarkable ability to very quickly and genuinely connect with others. She is truly interested in hearing people’s stories and learning what drives them. She has the perfect balance of positive energy and pragmatism. Continue reading