Chronicle of a Stem Cell Transplant (and on through to the other side)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Kirsten has been a strong and continuing presence in our lives and, as her mother, I feel compelled to add something to the abrupt ending of her blog.  I feel fairly sure that she would not mind….

I have also asked Ian if he would include here the latest entry posted on his own blog The Day Was.

Writing about or speaking of Kirsten in the past tense is difficult. It is close to impossible for me to believe that my daughter is no longer here on earth somewhere.  Intellectually, I accept what has happened, but my heart feels differently.  Sometimes, I indulge myself by imagining that the past three years have been a long and terrible dream, and that I'll wake up and everything will be right again and she will be with us.

Kirsten was born on Christmas Eve in 1973.  I hadn't had much experience with babies and, even though she weighed close to eight pounds, she seemed alarmingly tiny to me.  I would wake up a dozen times a night to make sure she was still safe in her little bassinette in the corner of the bedroom.

Kirsten was an exceptionally pleasant and placid baby, which was a very good thing because I was not a relaxed mother.  I needed to consult my baby-care books at every turn of events and had to call in a friend to assist with her first bath.

Toddlerhood was a shock to me.  Kirsten was extremely aware of what she wanted out of life by the time she was two, and I have a photo of her stamping her foot, with her ponytail swinging, which makes me smile because I remember how intimidated I was by the absolute determination of one so small.

Kirsten was, initially, an enthusiastic elementary school student, but her interest had turned to boredom by the time she reached high school.  She didn't know which direction to take when she graduated, but, through a somewhat complex series of events, she ended up at Montroyal College in Calgary, and that remarkable place turned her academic life around.  Six years, two universities, and two journalism degrees later, she was the recipient of a CBC internship scholarship and, for a while, she was on top of the world.  She had met Ian, the man she was going to marry, and she knew what she wanted to do with her life. We finally relaxed, thinking her future would hold everything we wanted for her.

Just one year after her marriage, Kirsten was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a form of cancer that, for 85% of those diagnosed, can be completely cured.  It became evident within the first year that Kirsten was not going to be so fortunate.  For the next 5 years, through a stem-cell transplant, numerous clinical trials, trips for trials and consultations to Montreal, Houston, and Seattle, she persevered and lived her life in a way that I (and everyone else) would never have thought possible, considering the situation.  Sometimes she felt well, but more often she was experiencing the side effects of chemotherapy, radiation, and trial drugs.  Through it all, her remarkable sense of humour remained intact and she kept us all positive and hopeful.   It was impossible to believe that she wouldn't survive.

During a period when she was feeling energetic despite the ongoing treatments, Kirsten travelled to Connecticut and participated in a workshop on transformational writing.  When she returned, she hoped to find a way to share this way to use writing for emotional and physical healing.  Coincidentally, she attended a meeting, sponsored by the Callanish Society, for young adults experiencing cancer. (Callanish is comprised of a group of dedicated people who facilitate week-long retreats for people experiencing cancer.  They also provide support for the families and sponsor inspiring, life-affirming activities that can make an incalculable difference under these difficult circumstances.)

That first meeting Kirsten attended was the beginning of a relationship with the people of Callanish that profoundly contributed to the strength she was able to bring to her experience with lymphoma.  Kirsten and the society's director, Janie Brown, co-facilitated writing groups that provided inspiration to many who were learning how to live with cancer.  The writing program continues, and we are comforted and proud that Kirsten was able to leave this legacy.

Kirsten was so willing, and so eminently able, to make a positive difference in the world and there are no explanations, beliefs, philosophies, or platitudes that can adequately explain or excuse why this had to happen.  All that we can do is appreciate the thirty-seven years that we did share with her. The essence of her beautiful mind and her compassionate heart will always be with us.