Dealing Hope, Disability

November 15, 2020

Sharing Her Gift – Pt. 1

I'm WillowjakMama!

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. Now it's my favourite place to be.

hey there

Skinny jeans, morning java, working outs & definitely romantic comedies are things that characterize me very well. I love to travel but believe it or not, my favorite place on the planet is my hometown (Dunham in the Eastern Townships, Quebec). I love sunsets and walking barefoot but what I love the most is my life…

Gosh I love my life! I smile just thinking about it. Where do I begin? A loving husband, the man of my life, my rock. My family, the roots of my life. My friends and their unconditional support, care and oh so true friendships. My home and its comforting smells. Would I ever think that all this happiness could slip through my fingers one day?

Not one minute, especially not that night on my fortieth birthday. Music was playing; the air was filled with the abundance that nature brings in July. I was surrounded by the people I cherish the most; I was healthy, loved, and so so happy. Looking back now, a year later boy was I in for a surprise. I was about to embark on quite a rollercoaster ride.

January is when it all began, as I received the diagnosis of a rectal cancer. Needless to say that my whole world got turned inside out that afternoon. It was a dark day. The feeling I got after leaving the doctor’s office, was the same I experienced on the news of my dad’s passing. Speechless, breathless, clueless about what to do next. Tears came rolling out uncontrollably.

The first word that will probably cross your mind is : dead. What else right? But that’s not the word I chose. I chose: gift. Perhaps not a well wrapped gift but a gift. Call me crazy but I am positive at heart and I chose life over death. I blocked out the life expectancy statistics, because besides God, who holds the final decision, right?

I’d say what I found the most difficult, was to announce it to the people I love. My mom especially. My dad and sister passed of cancer 25 years ago, it was a terrible tragedy for our entire family. So now trying to convince them otherwise would not be a simple affair. I waited until the big dark cloud and the lightning had passed. I waited to feel more secure, I waited for the tears to stop. Then I called my mother. No big surprise, that despite my attempt to reassure her, it was a shock. She was in disbelief, the pain was too heavy for her. After forty five minutes, I hung up the phone and I started crying. I was telling the news like I was talking about someone else. It was a vey weird state of mind. To this day I still feel that way, but looking down at my stomach I am reminded by the scars and the radiation tattoo, that it did happen to me…

When you wake up the day after such an announcement and especially when you’re the third of a family of six to encounter a similar fate. You might think that you are super lucky and run to the nearest store to buy a lottery ticket – what are the odds that it could happen, right? In all seriousness, I must confess that my first reaction was to obviously cry. I cried and cried. Even if I tried to console myself, to think of something else, I kept returning to the same point. “I have cancer.” Through the tears, something inside me was telling me: “Come on Julie, it’s not that bad, you can do it”. Yeah, right!!

So what now? Well I do not have a clue … Does cancer come with an instruction book? I guess not, so I presume that I have no choice but to figure out what I was going to do…

Why me? Weird enough, but when I finally calmed down and cleared my mind, I had an “a-ha” moment. I would close the loop in a positive way with cancer. To demonstrate that there’s life in cancer, not only death. Letting the past die to be able to live in the present moment. Letting go of a part of me to bring back the rest of my life. I don’t want to sound over-optimistic and I am not saying that it wasn’t the most horrendous news I’ve ever gotten, but that day I chose to make the most out of it and to see the positive side. I wasn’t dead after all and I wasn’t going to die either. I was committed to do everything in my power to heal.

I chose the path of a round of 5 weeks of oral chemotherapy combined with radiation (five days of week) followed by surgery (low anterior ressection) and a loop illiostomy (ostomy). Post surgery, there would be 6 treatments of what I call the big chemo and the last step would be the reversal of the illiostomy.

Being faced with cancer is having to completely trust and let go. Peel all the layers, drop your ego like a pair of dirty shorts.  Stand in front of the mirror and look at who you truly are. I was saddened by what I saw.  My ego had given my body a beat up.  I was present and now witness to years of self abuse, lack of confidence, anger, sadness. My body was curled into a ball, all I wanted to do was to pick her up, to comfort her. I close my eyes and tears came rolling down. I am sorry for what I had done. 

Now, it’s time to embrace the second chance that has been given to me. A chance to use what I have learned so far and make a change for the better. I forgive myself for what I have done. Like the butterfly in transformation, I find that happy cocoon. I am coming home to that place inside me where all is perfect and I let all that light and love flow through me and heal me. Music has been my way home. During hard times, when the pain was beyond what I could endure I connected myself to the healing rhythm of each note. Rising above it all. 

One day at a time, one hour at a time, sometimes one minute at a time is the path I chose.  I didn’t have to make the road all the way until the end, but to be in the moment of each one of my steps.

So, with an open heart and all the courage I could gather, I commenced my journey. But Boy was I overwhelmed. My hospital was an hour away. I was exhausted just thinking about it.

Day One of my oral chemotherapy was here, I was holding the pills in my hand crying. I was terrified. I was also so upset to have to hurt my body once again, even if it was to heal. I closed my eyes and swallowed. The molecules entered my body to do their job. My job was to be courageous.

This hyper sensisibility is being aware, being inside, being you. Welcome home. In nature everything starts inside the seed, and the beauty explodes on the outside. It took me forty years to find my address, to find my home. All this time when I was travelling, living in other cities, searching to establish my roots, all along home was right there. Recently a dear friend asked me if Toronto feels like home when I visit, since it was where I lived for thirteen years… I told her yes I do feel good when I’m here. But more importantly now, I feel good wherever I am. Because I am home inside, a place of love and peace. 

Being home is also being with family, growing up we lived right across the street from my grand-parents. And every chance I got I was sneaking over to see them. They had three squarish metal lawn chairs, made of green and yellow nylon straps. Whenever I wanted to spend time with my grandpa, that is where I would go sit. He was the best story teller, he was also the best at fixing my bike. I learned to sit in silence next to him and just be with him, no words needed.  Funny how much you can share with someone by being quiet. But that I learned much later in life…. My grandma on the other hand was a chatty Suzy.  She had little stools around her round-ended countertop. My favourite one had metal steps and a blue seat, that one was higher so I was able to see everything in my grandma’s kitchen. I loved watching her cook and bake. I loved her meat stew and the generously buttered bread that came with it. She taught me about cooking, sewing, she told me everything she knew about God and politics. She was patient and loving. She always knew what to do. She was also there every time I needed her. She held me tight and comforted me when my dad died. She showed me how to be courageous when my sister got sick and passed away. She was a real classy lady.  Family is her to me. 

The real strength of a forest resides from the interlacing of its roots. My family, les Racines (aunts, uncles and husband), proved that to me. Without any hesitation they organized a “drive calendar”, to be there during my treatments. Have you ever felt so deeply moved by the kindness of an act that you start crying of happiness? Well that is how I felt when I found out. I called every one of them to express my gratitude. I thanked them and told them how touched I was. They told me that they were doing it because they love me. To know you are loved is one thing, but when you experience it to that level – it is wonderful.

So that’s how I started walking slowly through the forest, each of my steps through my treatments were guided. I got to renew very special relationships with members of my family, as each day of the week I was blessed by their presence to accompany me to my treatments. My aunts and uncles were as reliable as the days of the week, standing by me week after week. We shared memories and laughs, happiness & sorrows. I was amazed at how much I had missed over the years by not taking the time to have that quality family time. Each one of them was a treasure in my life. Their support and love is my strength. I have so much gratitude for what happened to me.

I experienced true love in all its meaning. Maybe this cancer was a gift after all. Maybe not a well wrapped gift, but still a great one.

The dreaded surgery day came too fast, I was trying to play it cool but I was terrified inside. I barely slept the night before. Frightened beyond belief, I knew somehow though that I was going to be fine. I felt protected. At that moment I realized that there is a point in your life when you need to trust, when you need to let go. Well, that time had come for me. I never believed in myself up to that point. My mind and body were completely disconnected; all along by not trusting myself I had been hurting my body.

The surgery was a success, but some complications occurred post surgery and I ended up staying longer than expected, a whole month to be exact. I am not a patient person, so this was a true test for me. Faced with a reality of stillness, faced with having to trust that time heals everything. Trust that the pain felt was just temporary. My body was the “big boss” now, not my head. I had no choice but to listen. My body had been screaming for long enough and I was not listening, I wasn’t paying attention. Now I had to.

We are made of trillions of intelligent cells that make us who we are. Why is it so difficult to comprehend that they have something to say?

My healing needed to start from the inside, so the first thing to do was to go there. To pay attention to the message that’s within. But hey, I was outside of my comfort zone there; I had never done that before. Where is the “how-to” manual that tells you how to do it. The noise, the light, the constant coming and going of the hospital staff day and night was making it very difficult to rest. So I had found a way to do so, I was listening to music with my eyes closed. The music was bringing me the peace I needed to sleep. I actually became conscious that it was also making me feel good too. With my eyes closed, I now had a new perception of what was around me, of what is inside me. I was seeing better with my eyes closed.

A month later after many ups and down, complications and all, I was finally stepping out of the hospital to go home. I was ecstatic. As my aunt pulled into the driveway, the sight of my house, with my husband, step son and dog running out to welcome me brought tears to my eyes. It felt surreal. I was home, finally and alive. Yes I was alive and so grateful to have that chance all over again.

The sun is setting slowly on the prairie. The sky is punctuated with blue and pink clouds. They are a million sounds, frogs and birds saying their goodnight. It is so beautiful and peaceful to look at. I definitely appreciate those moments even more so than before. How come it is the last thing I think of doing now? Oh yeah, been busy with work, busy with life. Fast forgetting that being in the now is where happiness is. 

My work isn’t done yet, piecing together my findings is my next step. Even if I am eager to be better to go back to my life, to put behind me all that happened. I have to keep telling myself that healing starts from within. I can’t overlook that the bruises from the missed steps come before walking. I can’t also forget that to be able to walk, I have to learn to let go and trust. Trust that something will be there. And now I know it exists because I found it.

Editor’s Note:

‘Mon amie Julie’ has been gone five years this month. For five years I have had quiet conversations with her, where I implore her to show me a sign to guide me in my next steps. In our last visits together she swore to me that she would be sending me messages, that I would know it when she had something important to tell me. In five years, I haven’t ‘heard’ her. But a week ago, her book that she had printed right before she died, almost fell into my lap. I hadn’t looked at it in years. “Sharing The Gift” was her last dream, it was her last wish to have it published and shared with others. When she thought she had some more time left, she had asked me and made me promise that I would write a book. “Stancey – this is your path, Stancey. You are supposed to do this. I know this.” Furthermore, she wanted me to help get hers out into the world. In our last moments together at her book launch and living celebration of life in Bromont, Quebec, I promised her again that I would share her story with the world. For five years I have had regret that I lost touch with her mom, that I hadn’t fulfilled my promise. But then I saw that beautiful little book – the one whose cover fills me with so much joy. Julie is speaking to me now. Every day for the past week I have pored through our text messages, our emails, my photos and my memories. She is as alive in my mind as she ever was, with her hilarious French accent saying all the wrong words in all the wrong ways at all the wrong times. It got me out of my anglo-comfort zone and dust off the French to reach out to her friend Heidi and her beautiful mother, Hélène, to get their blessings for posting this upcoming series of posts in Julie’s own words. Julie was all love and light and I can feel her beaming now as we share her gift. Please join us every Sunday as we post her book in sections, lesson by lesson. It is my honour to share her gift with you and we hope it brings light to you in your own journeys and struggles. – Stacey aka WillowjakMama

Julie Racine

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Hi, I'm Stacey.
Welcome to the
Willowjak Blog 

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. We chat about themes that are often ignored and voices that aren't often given a chance at the mic. Now it's my favourite place to be. 

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