Jan 27, 2018
My heart feels numb today as I hear of the passing of my cancer sister, Diana Meredith.
Diana burst into my life some 3 years ago when she was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma (she was subsequently diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017). From the first moment we met, we became friends. I would see her every two months at the myeloma support group meetings. With her wide smile and even wider arms, she would envelope me in a bear hug. As we underwent our journeys with cancer, we saw each other bald, with new grown itchy hair, sickly, struggling, fatigued, hale and hearty, depending on the stage of our journey. We talked a little about death and mostly about living. Diana was a feminist. She had strong views about everything. Between meetings, we connected through Facebook where she would share stories that were off the beaten park, stories that forced me to consider a different point of view. Diana was unapologetically her own person: unique, funny, curious, strong, vulnerable, loving, creative, compassionate, weird and wonderful. I loved every aspect of her idiosyncratic personality.
We supported each other when things got tough. Here is the note I wrote to Diana when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer:
“Dearest Diana – – I am so sorry to hear about your breast cancer diagnoses. I actually can relate because this was my fate also. Sometimes life can be quite overwhelming, can’t it? I remember feeling quite angry at first and it took me a while to come to terms with yet another cancer. I am sending you all my love and prayers for a complete recovery. Please allow me to be part of your journey. Anytime you need to talk, anytime you want to vent or have a coffee, I am there for you.
And I promise to be better about responding to emails promptly! My friend, allow yourself to just be, whatever that looks like. Take time for yourself. Your spirit is strong and you will absolutely make it through this journey. Let’s just pray that the myeloma behaves so you can focus on the treatment for the breast. Everyday I keep you in my prayers. I weep for you and I send you strength because you will prevail. There is no doubt about that! Treat this as a speedbump in the road of life. One day, you and I will both look back and share a laugh over this……
In friendship and with love. Munira”
Here is the note she wrote to me when she found out that I had lost my vision for a few days due to extreme scratched corneas:
I just read your blog posting about your eyes. I know you had told me about it, but reading it again just brought home for me how terrifying that must have been for you. It is so frightening to lose our senses. I’m so glad to hear that it all seems to be healing. And now you’ve started this painful Estrogen positive drug. How dreadful that it causes you pain. I’m glad the Herceptin is going okay. What we go through, eh? I started my Herceptin last Friday and the Taxol yesterday………..The Taxol side effects will probably start in a few weeks. Fortunately I have a complex knitting project to keep me busy during the infusion!
I tried to buy a [Munira] bra, but they were out of my size. I’ll try again….I’ll let you know when my breasts are wrapped in Munira’s resilience!
Love you dear Cancer Sister, Diana”
Diana was also an artist and roped me beautifully into helping her with a portrait series she was doing about people living with cancer. Here is her note, which I cherish:
I wanted to write & tell you why I would like you to be one of the people in my portrait series about people living with cancer. It is all about your spirit and how you share it with so many people. Of course I don’t know you very well, but I have read your blog, been to your home, visited your Ismaili Center at the Aga Khan Museum and most of all, been present with you as you gave your deep love and support to people at the Myeloma Support Group, myself included. You have chosen to be a witness, a spokeswoman for those of us on this cancer journey. You speak your truth and in so doing, you reach into the hearts of many. Fortunately your truth is one that is full of love and beauty and that shines out in your spirit.
I would like to capture that spirit in my art. My unrealistic ways of picturing people may not be the kind of art you are used to. Sometimes an unrealistic image is able to portray a deeper truth of a person than a picture that looks like a photograph. It does that by using expressive brush marks & unusual colours that tell the story of who the person is in a different way. Being human has so many different layers to it.
Cancer is not a journey that any of us would choose, but here we are. This very moment I’m writing this to you from the day unit at Toronto General where I’m getting an iron infusion for my anemia. Nothing compared to what you are dealing with; nonetheless, I too struggle with my fears, changes & limitations. Your way of doing cancer helps me and so many find our way through. I wanted you to know why I’ve asked you to do this.
Love, Diana Meredith”
Nagib and I visited Diana at her studio last summer where she unveiled the image she had spent many months creating. She was right. The image took a little bit of getting used to. It fractured my face into four parts and was large, abstract, colourful, outrageous and unconventional. It was classic Diana!
Life went on. Diana and I would generally see each other every couple of months and each interaction was infused with laughter and good conversation. We promised to spend more time together in the new year. Over the Christmas holidays, I learnt sadly that Diana’s breast cancer has metastasized into her brain and she needed brain surgery. Her spirit comes through as she describes the aftermath of the surgery:
“My recovery from the brain surgery on Dec 15  is going in leaps and bounds. I can read again – thank god. It is hard to imagine living without reading. So much of who I am is tied up in reading and writing. Immediately post surgery, I was very wobbly when I walked, initially using a walker. I’m not wobbly so much now and today I ventured out by myself on public transit. Most of all cognitive function is returning. There were some very odd sensations the first week home when I was challenged by sorting and sequencing. I couldn’t figure out where the different categories of garbage went – compost, recycle, trash. I’d stand in the middle of the kitchen and puzzle. Or I’d put all the breakfast makings on the counter and then stare at them – what do I pick up next? This was both curious and terrifying. I’m greatly relieved to be able to do these ordinary logistical sequences that I’ve always taken for granted. And I’ve returned to computers. My iPhone no longer looks like a foreign object.
It hasn’t even been three weeks since the surgery. I am amazed at the human body’s capacity to heal; I’m also deeply appreciative for a publicly funded medical system which did emergency brain surgery on me less than 48 hours after arriving at Emergency. Mostly though it is the love and supportive of my friends, family and community that keeps me going. And central to all that is Peter who has brought me tenderness, attentiveness, deep love and marvelous meals throughout. This isn’t the journey I would have chosen, but since I’m on it, I marvel at the hidden treasures it offers me.
On my birthday this week, Diana sent me a Facebook message that simply said, “Cake!”. And two days later, on Saturday January 27, she died suddenly and unexpectedly. Her husband Peter shared this heart-wrenching news with Diana’s friends. In his words:
“Diana died today at 1 pm. It was sudden and unexpected: she had been feeling well all week, then yesterday her flu-cough returned, and she went to bed for a nap. Around four pm she said her back was hurting very badly and she was feeling nauseous. At 3 am we went into emergency at Toronto General, and she was admitted. The first doctor to examine her thought she had septicaemia, and warned us that it had a 50% mortality rate. We spent our last five hours together talking about the wonderful things we had shared in our lives, the trips abroad, the canoeing, the dog… and so much love.
Her condition continued to worsen through the morning, and though the doctors gave her oxygen and antibiotics, they were unable to get her breathing on her own. Her lungs filled with blood, and they tried to pump it out, (she was sedated through that, mercifully) but she was unable to breathe, and at 1 pm, as I held her hand, the machines were turned off. The doctor said it was influenza, though they will do an autopsy to be sure. It doesn’t really matter.
So many horrible ironies: yesterday morning we met with her oncologist, who had sketched out a more hopeful future than we had thought. We were talking about a trip to Italy this summer. After her brave and heroic battle with cancer, it was influenza that killed her.
Diana Meredith transformed my life in so many deep and wonderful ways. We had 21 years together, deepening and sharing our most essential selves. Many of you came into my life through Diana, and she taught so much about myself, about the world, and about making one’s life a creative act.
I will miss her more than words can tell.
Diana, my Cancer Sister – – I pray that your transition into the next realm of your journey bring you peace and tranquility. I will remember you every day and will look forward to reconnecting with you on the other side where I fully expect you to be engaged and joyful in new adventures. With sadness and a heavy heart, I bid you goodbye my dearest Cancer Sister.