Following Hope’s Path: Part XXXIII of a series

Retired nurse Mary Buie is continuing her journey on Hope’s Path, but these days she is accompanied by an oxygen tank she has nicknamed “Charlie.” Ms. Buie is pictured here sitting at the concentrator that enriches the air she breaths now that her cancer has spread into her lungs.

Time has come to pry the devil out of the details

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.

KAGAWONG—Dealing with cancer presents many challenges for the patient, their family and the health team that supports them along their journey. For cancer survivors like Mary Buie the light at the end of the tunnel usually begins with ringing the bell and ends with an all clear from the oncologist. Unfortunately, not all paths lead to victory. Cancer is one tough customer and the form that Ms. Buie has ranks among the most aggressive forms of that disease. There can come a time when practical plans must be made.

“Cancer is progressing more in the lung, so I am now on continuous oxygen, but now I can live well with cancer again,” reports Ms. Buie. “I have mobile oxygen to go out and I am going to start intravenous chemotherapy in Sudbury. The cancer needs to get slowed down.”

She reports that they have now found more cancer in her spine. “So now we will do a bone scan and possibly radiation,” said Ms. Buie. “I am taking lots more pills as I have fluid in the lungs and around the heart but can take things that work. I have had good family doctor and oncologist visits, so I am well pleased with the treatment plan.”

Ms. Buie is always up for an adventure and sometimes she finds that adventure when and where it comes. “I had fun going over in the ambulance to Mindemoya one morning as I needed to get oxygen and had home oxygen to arrange,” she said. “So, I thought that would be interesting to talk about in my article. I can still go out for little outings with my mobile oxygen—I call it Charlie!”

While she is still able to get out and about somewhat thanks to “Charlie,” the cancer in her lungs is taking a toll on her energy levels. “I have someone with me at the house all the time as my medical condition gets more complicated,” she said. “But I am still having a very happy life. I have all the Christmas lights up, my son Rob came home after my cousin and daughter Jen left.”

Ms. Buie reports that while she is still able to drive to visit her husband John in the Gore Bay Lodge long-term care residence and friends, any significant movement uses up her oxygen supply very rapidly. “Driving is okay because I am sitting down and I don’t have to use much energy,” she said. “But I find that I only have about an hour or so with the tank otherwise.”

“Charlie” is quite heavy, so although she can drive Ms. Buie needs assistance with heaving the heavy tank in and out of the car.

In the house she has a concentrator which provides a steady supply of air. “I put it up to eight litres, which is high,” she said. “Still, I can’t do much, mostly I am sitting and lying around.” Luckily, emails, telephone calls and texts don’t require a lot of physical energy, so Ms. Buie manages to stay in touch with her prayer group, friends and family, and other supporters around the world.

Ms. Buie said that she will soon be on a new pill, one that wasn’t available just a year ago. “It takes about four to six weeks to get approval as it is quite expensive,” she said. She needs to travel to North Bay in three weeks, but after that she will be able to do the treatment at the chemo room in Mindemoya. The pill will help with the fluid buildup. “So, I still have lots of options,” she said.

As her cancer takes its toll on Ms. Buie’s energy levels, and is once again rapidly advancing through her body, the ever-practical “retired” health professional is under no illusions as to where things are heading—and she is meeting those things head on.

“Also discussed end of life care at Dr. Maurianne Reade’s appointment yesterday to have on file,” she said. “No one likes to think about those things, but it is important that everyone in your family knows. Also, who is the substitute decision maker when you cannot. So, lots of stuff to deal with but I am still living very well.” Having routines helps, she notes.

Among the tasks are considerations such as do not resuscitate orders, what kinds of heroic efforts should, or should not, be made. “If you can’t make the decisions, who will be making those decisions for you needs to be clear,” she said. “We have had a family conference by phone.” Her family wanted to know specifics about her wishes and Ms. Buie heartily concurs. “Don’t leave doubts,” she said. “It is important that everyone is on the same page as to what your wishes are. It’s not something you want to do, but it is something you have to do for your family’s sake.” She pointed out that, difficult as it may be, her family felt better knowing for certain what she wanted. Although she has held conference calls with her children, Ms. Buie noted that she still needed to sit down with her husband John to discuss things.

“I have always been upfront about my cancer,” said Ms. Buie. “I am just one of many people in this situation. I still get notes from people I don’t even know who have seen my story in the paper.”

The former nurse and midwife said that she is happy that her story is helping other people understand and deal with their own challenges. “I have always been a health professional,” she said. “This is just one more way that I can help, so be it, I am happy to share my story with others if it helps them. This is a subject that doesn’t get talked about very much, but it is a subject we all need to address at some point.”
Ms. Buie wants people to know that she is at peace with her situation. Her faith sustains her as does her belief in eternal life. “It is not an end,” she said. “It is just another step toward a better place. I have so much care and support around me, I am very lucky. I will do palliative care when the time comes, hopefully at home if I am able. I would rather be at home than in a hospital.” For now, her pain is manageable. “I can manage with Tylenol 3s,” she said.

Ms. Buie spent Christmas at her son Neil’s home in Corbeil and was nestled in the bosom of her family during the holiday season. At present she is staying with her friend Linda Ferguson.

She wishes everyone a most Happy New Year.

In a special Christmas season moment the Island Singers, of which Ms. Buie was a long-time member, stopped by to sing carols for her.

“It was wonderful when the Island Singers sang to me at Linda’s,” said Ms. Buie.