How are we living our cancer journeys–what are our thoughts?

Daughter Jenn Cichon joins her mother Mary Buie for a photograph while out for a late spring walk in Kagawong. Ms. Buie, who is battling cancer for the second time, has been sharing her thoughts on going through a battle being shared by too many Island families. Ms. Buie said that she feels tremendously lucky to be able to have her children taking turns to come home to be with her as she goes through a battle with the big C for the second time.

Following Hope’s Path: Part XXII of a series

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 continue relaying the story of her journey. This edition of ‘Following Hope’s Path expands the story to include the perspectives of two other cancer patients.

MANITOULIN – Mary Buie has shared many of her thoughts and perspectives as she enters her second battle with cancer, but this week the redoubtable former midwife and nurse has expanded the story to include that of two other fellow travellors, Renee Pellerin-Zilio and Paul Zilio.

“I wanted to talk about how it is living with cancer and what we are thinking and doing,” said Ms. Buie, “but I wanted to get it not only from my perspective, but from Renee and Paul’s.”

Ms. Buie noted that readers would be familiar with the Zilio family’s situation from a story by Expositor writer Warren Schlote. 

“We both have cancer but Paul has known for three months that his is terminal and his life expectancy is one- to two-years,” she said. “Once anyone has a cancer diagnosis you expect it to come back. So the probability is that Paul and I will both die of cancer. But scared though we are, it does not consume us.”

“I talked at length with Renee (whose husband Paul has been diagnosed with terminal cancer),” said Ms. Buie. “We have so much in common. We are all upbeat positive people. We have a deep faith in God and he is upholding us now and will from this world to the next—as we believe in eternal life.”

“It is a good place that we will be going to,” said Ms. Buie. “We also say that we’d rather know what we are facing with cancer so that we can be prepared. As a nurse in palliative care I wanted so badly for families to be able to say goodbye and be able to leave videos or other things to pass on so they could be at peace. Paul, Renee and family are able to do this. Paul is helping Renee plan her future.”

“Dying with cancer will not be painful,” assured Ms. Buie. “We will be surrounded by our family and friends. We have so much support and prayers and we are going to a better place than living on earth now so we are not afraid. God’s grace is upholding us now and will from this world to the next. Much better to die from cancer, be prepared and go gently surrounded by love having said our goodbyes; than dying unexpectedly.”

“God is getting us through with joy,” she said. “It’s a time of grace for both of us—lots of help from neighbours, friends, family, community—all saying ‘we are with you.’ We are also getting wonderful, very encouraging words and strength through Facebook—thank you to you all—your words help us so much, especially in our low times. All of you are saving Paul’s life by encouraging and helping. I say that too—this is one of the best times in my life. My husband and I have had our kids come one at a time to help without their families. What precious time to share together.”

Ms. Buie described Ms. Pellerin-Zilio as being “spontaneous and thinks outside the box. Paul has a deep well of strength and is the grounding force and Renee pushes, it works! Their kids are 9, 14, 18 and 21. They are a very close family—the kids know the diagnosis—you need to be honest with kids and of course they will be scared.”

But Ms. Buie said that Ms. Pellerin-Zilio is constantly finding new ways to bring new life “so life is positive and a joy. Every time Renee has bad news to share, God puts the right people there for her. The family is constantly turning negative to positive. Paul has a hospital bed downstairs—it’s turned into a gaming room with fairy lights. Paul and Renee walked just recently round the block—the farthest in three months!”

Ms. Buie said that both she and the Zilio family are “living with cancer as our diagnosis, but it does not define us. We can both live on Manitoulin and be supported so well by community and our prayer warriors. The power of prayer is tremendous as are our priests Father Jim Kelly and Rev. Doug Prebble. We feel blessed to have our faith to sustain us.”

Ms. Buie assures readers “there are so many professionals out there being very willing to help through your doctor, Cancer Centre, social workers, dieticians and our Manitoulin Circle of Hope Cancer Support Group. There are also emergency funds available through the Cancer Centre for families in need. We are not alone ever—there is always help available so even if it is scary for you to ask for help, take courage and do it.”

Ms. Buie advises cancer patients that, “you are not alone in your cancer journey. Let others help you live with cancer. Don’t look at it as if you are dying from cancer but that you are living with cancer. Enjoy each day as it comes. Living on Manitoulin, we are living in paradise. Now we see life all around us just bursting, whether the birds coming back, trees bursting into leaf, flowers and plants with new growth.”

“So don’t give up on yourself,” she continues. “Appreciate the beauty of family and the world around you. Cancer has given us both a chance to have deep conversations knowing our mortality and it gives us time to tell our children, our families, that we love them. Tell them every day that you love them, they inspire you and you are proud of them—or tell your parents, your spouse, your friends. We need to tell people on a daily basis how much we appreciate them. We need to be open and honest.”

Ms. Buie said that she hopes “these words that we’ve shared will help you cope if you have a difficult diagnosis to deal with. You are still you, so live life to the full one day at a time with joy and thanksgiving.”