What happens when the news is not quite so good?
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 continues the series ‘Following Hope’s Path’ to relay the ongoing story of her journey.
by Mary Buie and Michael Erskine
KAGAWONG—Retired nurse and cancer survivor Mary Buie of Kagawong is known for her irrepressible optimism and great outlook, but she is also a pragmatic individual with a common sense tempered through years of practical experience as a nurse. Until most recently the news Ms. Buie had to share in this series has been largely upbeat, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been ongoing challenges, particularly as she and her husband John are in their senior years. Ms. Buie caught up with The Expositor to share the latest developments in her cancer journey and the challenges presented by age for the couple and their family.
“Several things have happened in my life recently that have caused serious thinking and intense family discussions,” she said. “Husband John and I are blessed by having an amazing family and we make decisions together and recently we have had to make life changing-decisions.”
Ms. Buie’s husband John had a serious fall recently and she was no longer able to be his caregiver at home. “But when I am his wife and dealing with cancer that has returned—where is the best place for John to live?” she asked. “I felt very guilty and sad at this time as neither John nor I, or any of our family, wanted this to happen. But it did happen and all of us had to be realistic about the future.”
“Cancer often causes us to be weaker, more tired and less able,” she said. “Much as we would like to be, we are not healthy and strong.”
“Many of us who are older and living with cancer have spouses,” she continued, “so we have different things to consider if they need more care than we can give them.”
The first question Ms. Buie, her husband and the couple’s children were forced to consider was that “we are both living at home and will need more care eventually. How long will I, living with cancer, be able to give it? It depends on how our cancer journey is going and how well we are physically and mentally.”
So it has come about that the Buie family found itself with decisions suddenly thrust upon them due to Mr. Buie’s fall. “Because of the fall, John went to hospital to begin with but when his condition was deemed stable by medical staff, he became ‘ALC,’ that’s “alternative level of care.”
So when Mr. Buie was ready to leave the hospital for home care, that meant that he was ready to leave hospital and he either had to be released to go home with adequate home care supports or to go into a nursing home.
“In our case, home was not an option,” she said, noting the aforementioned health challenges that are due to her ongoing battle with cancer. “So then, with family help, we made a list of five nursing homes to which John could apply to in descending order from the first choice on down.”
Ms. Buie explained that her husband could ask for a basic, semi-private or a private room. “If John stayed at the hospital as ALC then, according to Ontario policy, the hospital would collect a basic nursing home rate per day,” she said. “Because his place was not to be in hospital anymore we were advised to say that John would accept any of the level of care that we had decided on starting with basic as he needed to move out of the hospital as soon as possible when there was a bed in any of his five choices.”
Then came other considerations.
“Now because I am living with cancer that has returned, the question I had to try and figure out was how long was I likely to live? And this is a question that must be asked by anyone who finds themselves in the same position as me.”
Ms. Buie reached out to the medical professionals at Princess Margaret with whom she has become close for advice.
“Because I am in this clinical trial, I asked my senior research doctor,” she said. “If John is likely to outlive me, where should he live? Should he be close to me now or close to one of our children as they all live away?”
There was considerable urgency to these questions.
“We as a family only had a few days to make our nursing home list and John and I and the kids wanted to get it right,” she said. “But ultimately the nursing home needed to be where John wanted to go, so our list of five included here on Manitoulin and close to Neil in Powassan and Corbeil.”
The other matter making the decision pressing was Ms. Buie’s current cancer situation.
“Well, AMG 650 is not working quite as well,” she admitted. “I now have very small cancer tumours in my bones—femurs, spine and pelvis. It was a surprise to me. I did not expect it.”
Despite the spread of her aggressive form of cancer, there was some good news to be found amongst the dross. “It is still working for the target lesion in the lung,” she said. “Although the clinical trial that I am in is not enrolling anyone else, for us that AMG 650 (the experimental treatment she is receiving) is working, so we keep going. I will continue monthly check-ups at Princess Margaret with CT scans bi-monthly.”
“The other good thing is that I am well,” shared Ms. Buie. “My liver enzymes are higher but reasonable, so I can stay on the pill.”
Further, once it stops being effective there is a hormone therapy pill that will work for her triple negative breast cancer. “According to my research doctor that may provide another three years,” she said. “So for now, all is good. John is settling into the Manitoulin Lodge in Gore Bay. He is happy and he is enjoying good food, happy caring staff and lots of people he knows. For John and I, our lives go on. We as a family prayed a lot, asking for God’s guidance so that we could make the best decision for John’s future—and God has. All is working out well for us both. God has us safely in the palm of his hand. But for a while life was a roller coaster—but doesn’t that happen to us all at times?”
“So be of good cheer, whatever life is throwing at you now,” said Ms. Buie. “The sun will appear. So, look for the rainbow—we found ours.”