Following Hope’s Path: Part XX of a series

Mary Buie

The course ahead is set

EDITOR’S NOTE: In 2013 retired nurse and midwife Mary Buie approached The Expositor with a mission. She had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and was wondering whether this newspaper would be interested in following her journey as she battled the disease. It was with some trepidation that this paper agreed as the eventual outcome was far from certain to be positive. What followed was an engaging series that leavened a very serious health issue with Ms. Buie’s irrepressible personality. Ms. Buie recently informed The Expositor that she would once again be facing down cancer. The Expositor is restarting the series ‘Following Hope’s Path’ to once again relay the story of her journey.

KAGAWONG – Thanks to a whirlwind battery of tests Mary Buie underwent when her cancer was first detected, the retired nurse and midwife now knows what she is facing. 

“It’s my old cancer back again,” she said, following a telephone interview with The Expositor. “I’ve been busy seeing everybody—doing a lot of virtual appointments—and I have had every scan under the sun which, of course, is what you want.”

Ms. Buie appeared to have defeated triple negative three, the aggressive form of breast cancer she was diagnosed with nearly a decade ago, but the pernicious cancer has apparently resurfaced.

Triple-negative breast cancer is cancer that tests negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and excess HER2 protein, hence the triple-negative appellation. About 10 to 20 percent of breast cancers fall into this category, a form of cancer that does not respond to hormonal therapy. So Ms. Buie was delighted to hear last week that she would be entering a number of courses of chemotherapy.

“So happy to get going on Friday,” she said recently. “Once a week for three weeks then off one, then once a week for three weeks, off for one, then check, then do radiation. Kids will come one at a time to stay with me through this time. We are so blessed!”

Ms. Buie said she remains positive that she will once again wrestle cancer to the ground, but as a lifelong health professional she maintains a realistic balance in her optimism.

“If my cancer is terminal, I want you to follow it to the end because that is the circle of life for so many,” she said a few days before heading into Sudbury for a PET scan. “We have faith and know it is not the end we have eternal life. I really think this is wonderful that The Expositor can journey with us. Life can be stark and cruel and certainly unfair, but it is how we deal with it that is important and it can help others cope.”

Health appointments have changed radically since the advent of the pandemic, she noted.

“Funny when any of us have a cancer diagnosis then we are often doing tests or appointments virtually, or in person, and we get snail mail telling us as well,” she said.

A small amount of the cancer, first detected in a lymph node, has “spread a little bit into the mediastinum.”

The mediastinum lies within the thorax and is enclosed on the right and left by pleurae. It is surrounded by the chest wall in front, the lungs to the sides and the spine at the back. It extends from the sternum (breastbone) in front to the spine and contains all the organs of the thorax except the lungs.

Her PET scan experience came quickly. “I had to fast for three days and refrain from exhertion. Two hours before the appointment I had to drink a litre of water,” she said. “Then I had to sit and be extremely quiet.”

The scan works by highlighting the areas of high metabolic activity evidenced by cancerous cells. “They show up like light,” she said. “The PET scan takes slices of pictures of your body and any bright lights show up.”

Ms. Buie said that she hoped that The Expositor could find space during its coverage of her bout with cancer to shine a light on the resource for families dealing with cancer that is the House of Kin. 

“It is my refuge,” she said. “Home away from home as it is to many of us when we have to go to Sudbury for medical treatment. Each room is sponsored by different people. It is spotlessly clean and has kitchen facilities that were closed because of COVID-19 and have now been opened with COVID-19 precautions. It provides us with very cheap accommodation. We have to give them proof of our medical visits, which is as simple as copies of our travel grants.”

The House of Kin is located at the Four Corners (1889 Regent St in Sudbury) behind the Medical Arts building, shared Ms. Buie. “It shares a parking lot with building,” she said. “So there is no problem finding free parking.”

Finn McCools, an Irish pub, is located in the same complex of buildings as the House of Kin and Tommy’s Not Here is located directly downstairs, while there are a number of other popular eateries within easy walking distance. For those wishing to prepare their own meals, the well-appointed kitchen in the suites stands ready to prepare groceries from the nearby Food Basics or other grocery stores.

“It is my haven,” said Ms. Buie of the House of Kin. She noted that leaving her husband behind is not an option as he has developed mobility challenges. “He is over 80 now,” she noted.

A number of suites have twin beds, as well as singles, because not everyone wants to share a bed with their caregiver or companion, she said, pointing out those supports are not always a spouse.

The House of Kin is also within a five-minute drive of Health Sciences North, which is also a great convenience.

Ms. Buie relayed that her story has spread widely since this series first appeared. “I have had 166 hits and comments on Facebook after your article,” she said, meeting her goal of helping to educate the public about dealing with cancer.

As for how she is doing presently, Ms. Buie didn’t hesistate. “Fabulously,” she enthused, noting that she was pleased that more surgery is not in her future. There will, however, be radiation treatment following the chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatment as well.

“The immunotherapy is needed because the other treatments knock out your body’s immune system,” she said. “I am totally amazed at how efficiently everything has gone.”

Ms. Buie is now sporting a pic line, a connection that facilitates hooking up the necessary intravenous tubes to deliver her various medications during treatment.

She hopes that she will be able to eventually access her chemotherapy treatment on Manitoulin in the chemotherapy room in Mindemoya. “It depends on how many people they have using the room now,” she said.

She has received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, as she is still part of the M’Chigeeng health team.