“The brain appears to possess a special area that we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful.”
- Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
What’s one way to make it through cancer?
“I started reading a lot again. I had no desire to watch TV. And I was stuck inside for two weeks. So you could say I got a taste of self-isolation before everyone else! I started going to the library, reading again.”
Eve, the traveller who backpacked through Spain, France, and Italy.
Eve the half-marathon-runner, mother of a young woman in her twenties.
Suddenly she found herself grounded.
She wasn’t about to let it beat her, though.
Luckily, her books were there for her.
“I read all kinds of stuff, from Michel Tremblay to Marcel Pagnol. I liked Pagnol, those landscapes filled up my imagination.
And The Unbearable Lightness of Being. That was a great experience. It was time to read it again. And it made sense in a new way, meant something different to me the second time around.
Whenever I’d start reading a new book, I’d just binge out. Like with a good new TV series!”
Reading was a way for me to escape into alternate universes, spend time with people, forget about my illness.
“People start looking at you differently. You’re ‘the sick person.’
They aren’t trying to be hurtful. They’re looking out for you... Checking up on you.
Wondering how you’re doing.
But you end up carrying the weight of other people’s pain. And that’s heavy.
When you tell people, everyone reacts differently. Some people cry. Some panic.
You end up absorbing it all. And you have to console people.”
To get this weight off her shoulders, Eve turned to literature. It opened a new window onto the world.
And out she went.
In August 2019, Eve went to the hospital for a case of septic shock.
“I had a blood infection. I never really found out why.”
While waiting on the results of a biopsy, she spent the night.
At 7:30 a.m., a doctor woke her up with the news.
Her first thoughts were for others.
“Maybe I just wasn’t ready to internalize it, so I was projecting the effects it would have on other people, instead of on myself.
Of course, my first thought was for my mother.
Eve’s mother was recovering from breast cancer.
“She was only getting back on her feet, and now I had to break the news. That my turn had come.”
Eve had gone with her mother to her treatments. She’d held her hand through chemo and radiation therapy. She hadn’t guessed that, one year later, it would be her turn to be the patient.
“I saw my mother losing her hair. I saw the fatigue, the pain, the side effects of the chemo – loss of taste, depression…”
“When it was my turn, my mom took charge. She took me to all my appointments. I mean, she already knew her way around the hospital!”
Luckily, Eve’s cancer was caught very early. That meant no chemo, and no radiation therapy.
But there was one ordeal Eve would have to go through.
“People would say things like ‘You already have a child. You don’t need your uterus anymore.’
But a hysterectomy is serious.
And I had no choice.
There was no way I could keep my uterus.
The operation saved my life.”
Eve dreaded having to announce her diagnosis to her mother, her daughter, her godmother, and other loved ones. But she knew they might face even more painful news if she downplayed the situation. She decided to tell everyone.
When Eve’s daughter saw her in bed,
and learned the news,
and listened, with that caring attention so typical of her family.
She crawled into the hospital bed with her mom.
“And I said, ‘OK. What matters now is being totally open and honest. The last thing I want is for you to leave here thinking I’ve been hiding things. Positive or negative, we’re going to talk to each other. I’ll tell you everything.’
Because that’s a thing parents do. When something’s wrong, we hide it.”
“And it’s exactly those secrets that turn cancerous.”
While she was in hospital, the Catholic religion tried to sneak into Eve’s room.
“It’s the kind of nonsense that’s always happening to me. A nurse comes in to change my IV drip, and sees me crying, hard – I’d just heard the news – and her reaction is, ‘Would you like to talk to the chaplain?’”
Eve just laughs at the memory.
“And the following Sunday, my sister was in the room. We were chatting. And there are two old ladies walking by, and one of them turns around and asks me, ‘Would you like to take Communion?’”
“And I thought, ‘My God. So much for the secular state!’
It was the most religious weekend of my entire life. I expected to be doused in holy water at any second! It was Sunday. And I get it, there are lots of old people here, and the woman was just trying to be nice. But I was starting to wonder if I would have to be born again to get out of hospital!”
The irony of the situation makes Eve smile.
“I’m apostatized. I had myself de-baptized.”
It’s a simple procedure. You write a letter to the diocese, wait a month, and then the cross on your forehead evaporates.
But why make it official? Why not just stop practicing?
“Because I’m from a First Nation. Because I’m a woman. Because I have lots of gay friends. What possible reason would I have not to?”
Eve comes from the Wendat nation. And in her firm voice when she explains, you can feel her determination.
“As a member of a First Nation, I’m disgusted by what has been done. For women, even today – even just on the question of abortion rights. With HIV, when they were telling people not to use protection – they’re partly responsible for that pandemic.”
“There are millions of believers.
And I don’t want to be counted as one of them.
I don’t want my Catholic Party card.”
Eve’s convictions go back to her roots working in communications for an education organization representing 22 Indigenous communities across Quebec.
She saw her work there as a sort of “unstitching,” unravelling crooked seams outsiders had made in the fabric of these communities’ traditions.
“Today my mother and I are both doing fine.”
Eve will need check-ups every six months, for five years. It could have been so much worse.
There’s no metastasis in the tissues. The future looks bright.
Soon she’ll be able to dedicate herself to her true passion, travel.
“There’s no way I’m going to wait to retire at 65. If that means downsizing a little, that’s fine. I’d say I can only handle 10 more years of the 8-to-5 lifestyle. After that, I’ll work six months out of the year, and spend the rest travelling.”
Eve intends to treat her time, and her being in the world, as the precious commodities they are. What she doesn’t want is to get trapped into the workaholic lifestyle and unhinged social climate she sees all around.
“I know too many people who are well-off – financially. They’ve spent so much time working, but haven’t taken the time to live.
I don’t want to keep pushing myself like that until the very last possible minute, and then just…”
Instead, Eve wants to create memories that she and her loved ones will cherish like gems.
Visit Laos and Myanmar.
Take off and travel again.
Do more half-marathons.
Run. And keep running.
Keep finding new directions.
And there’s nothing more beautiful than the moment before the journey, the moment when the horizon of tomorrow comes to visit us and tell us about its promises.
- Milan Kundera, Life is Elsewhere