Peggy Cumming

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PeggyPeggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher - retired after 34 years in the classroom - and an athlete.  This is her last blog, a year on from her diagnosis of lung cancer.

 

My last CMAJ blog was written and posted in April, 2015, when I was anxiously waiting the results from a CT scan of my lungs, following surgical and oncology treatment for non-smokers’ lung cancer. I’m overjoyed and relieved to write that the CT scan shows that my lungs are clear, that there is no evidence of disease. Now, I am emotionally free to get on with my life, to try to overcome the residual side effects of chemotherapy, and to regain some of the strength and fitness that I have lost.

I wish it were just that easy! As happened thirty years ago, following treatment for breast cancer, I now find myself asking, “Why me?’ not the unanswerable Why Me? that one asks when first diagnosed, but the Why Me? that follows successful treatment ...continue reading

Peggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher - retired after 34 years in the classroom - and an athlete.  She is now post-surgery and post-chemotherapy.

 

The waiting room for my Thoracic Surgeon is much like any other. The unspoken, unwritten ‘Waiting Room Rules’ seem to apply: No Eye Contact, No Conversation, Appear Calm. With unfocused eyes, patients flip through outdated, uninteresting magazines, or scroll through previously read emails on smart phones. Outwardly, all is calm, quiet and relaxed. However, a rapidly pulsing crossed leg says otherwise....

In a few weeks, it will be my turn to deal with my stress in this waiting room. I will be trying to follow the rules, but the reality is that my anxiety levels will be off the chart. My appointment will be to receive feedback/results/information from my most recent CT scan. ...continue reading

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Peggy_newPeggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher - retired after 34 years in the classroom - and an athlete.  She is now recovering from thoracic surgery and undergoing chemotherapy.

 

In the decade of my 60s I had fantastic opportunities for adventurous challenges. I climbed mountains, bicycled in Europe, swam lakes and seas, and enjoyed week-long hikes. Doors also opened for Masters’ competitions: local summer and winter triathlons, 10 k road races, National Swim Meets and International Dragon Boat races.

All of these challenges demanded physical training and power from my body. During that decade, my athletic participation, and hours in the gym, enabled me to increase my strength and stamina. Through determination and dedication to improve my fitness, my body never let me down. Every year I was curious to see how far I could push my coaches’ training demands, and every year I was thrilled to feel increased strength and to be injury-free. My fitness enhanced my sense of well-being and empowerment.

As a Master’s Athlete, I learned about driving my exhausted body ...continue reading

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Peggy_newPeggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher - retired after 34 years in the classroom - and an athlete.  She is now recovering from thoracic surgery and undergoing chemotherapy.

 

My kind and generous friend, Gary, lives on the bank of the Gatineau River, looking half a kilometre across the water to the rolling Gatineau Hills on the other side. All summer he welcomes me to paddle his boats, especially his Outrigger Canoe (OC). On land, this boat looks cumbersome and awkward, but once launched, its pencil-like hull makes it a sleek and responsive craft. Last July, on the day that I was diagnosed with ‘highly suspicious tumours’, Gary helped me put the OC in the river and I paddled downstream to where the river widens even more, and in the vast solitude of open water and endless sky I wailed and raged at the universe, seeking guidance, grace and the courage to begin the next cancer detour in my life.

Now, nearing the end of February, I am half way through my chemo. The Chemotherapy Treatment Centre at ...continue reading

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Peggy_newPeggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher - retired after 34 years in the classroom - and an athlete.  She is now recovering from thoracic surgery and undergoing chemotherapy.

 

For years, I have proudly worn my swim club team T-shirt. The slogan on the front reads:

You don’t stop swimming because you get old,

You get old because you stop swimming!

In early January, as I was pulling into the Ottawa Y parking lot for swim practice, the radio announcer said, “For your morning commute, the time is 6:15, and the temperature is -27.”

I wasn’t alone in the pool that morning – there were 15 of us, and another twenty at the later practice. As usual, we moaned to our coach about a kick-set that is too long, and groaned about too many 100 IMs. But the brief bantering is part of the culture, part of the fun, and the coach takes it with a smile. Four mornings a week, for 22 years, I have been going to the National Capital Region Y Masters Swim Practice to start my day. Some of the swimmers who founded the club 34 years ago are still swimming; others devotees have joined more recently. One is an octogenarian. ...continue reading

Peggy_newPeggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher - retired after 34 years in the classroom - and an athlete.  She is now recovering from thoracic surgery.

 

Several years ago I was at a café on Bank Street in Ottawa with two friends - Sarah, my long-time neighbour, and Amy, a breast cancer survivor, a ‘Pink Friend’. Our conversation drifted to memories of New Year’s Eve at the Millennium. Sarah reminisced about her New Year’s wedding, at which I was a guest. She remembered glowing candles in the church, twinkling fairy lights, her husband’s tuxedo, and her ball gown. Amy paused for a moment, and then contributed, “I remember that night; that’s the night my hair fell out!” Amy stated the bare fact, leaving the emotional content for me to paint for myself.

The re-telling of this story always produces laughter, although I only tell it in sensitive circumstances. But I remember that conversation for many reasons. I am not a philosopher, and thousands before me have poured their energy into the question of random universal events. But I do wonder if the Universe has a Poker Dealer who randomly flips down cards for the day: today – joy for you, and despair for you! ...continue reading

Peggy_newPeggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher - retired after 34 years in the classroom - and an athlete.  She is now recovering from thoracic surgery.
 

In 2003, I was on my way to the Kansai Airport, in Osaka, Japan. I'd been visiting my daughter in Fukui, Japan. I was alone in this city of 19 million, loaded down with my luggage, some of her luggage (she was soon to return to Canada), and her snowboard. Through the whim of the Travel Gods, I found myself totally and completely lost in Osaka’s underground, helplessly rooted to the foreign soil, and the clock was ticking on my flight departure. I was crushed with the bustle of professionals scurrying to their jobs, engulfed by the sound of the loudspeaker blaring train arrivals (in Japanese, of course), and blinded by the parade of lights scheduling departures, which were unreadable to me.

I could taste my fear and dreaded a personal, international meltdown. Desperately, I tried to make eye contact ...continue reading

Peggy_newPeggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher - retired after 34 years in the classroom - and an athlete.  She is now recovering from thoracic surgery.
 

Just four letters, one syllable.

“When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking, and says its own name”. Grade One phonics - remember?

Used casually, we say, “Feeling no pain,” and, “No pain, no gain.” Or, “He’s a pain in the neck.”

It’s a simple word; we use it a lot.

I thought I knew about pain. I’ve given birth; I’ve rehabilitated a broken leg. I’d read the booklet, Pain Management after Surgery, put out by The Ottawa Hospital. I was ready, wasn’t I?

The first day after my surgery, barely conscious and experiencing major confusion, around me nurses were hovering, and asking, “On a scale of 1 – 10, how is your pain?”
Really?? Just minutes out of anaesthetic, focusing on breathing and being alive, I was expected to think and make decisions too? Luckily, I could answer, “Zero”.
“Good,” they said, “Your epidural is working.”
It was true: I couldn’t feel a thing. I was blissfully ignorant and didn’t care. My epidural was working.

On Day Two things changed, and pain was embroidered around the fringes of my consciousness. Nurses came to do the ‘Ice Check’ ...continue reading

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Peggy_newPeggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher - retired after 34 years in the classroom - and an athlete.  She is now recovering from surgery.

 

My Surgery was November 12. I came home from hospital on November 18. Today it's more than a week later and I have a lot to fill you in on!

I am home, physically safe, but perhaps not mentally sound, and in recovery mode. The hospital experience was indeed an adventure! I can only tell you my story from my layman’s point of view. Remember that I am not a medical person, or even a scientific one. So if you, dear reader, are a medical practitioner, please excuse my non-medical explanations!

I predicted that I would have a moment of peace and faith just before entering the OR. Not so. With bed-side visits from a nurse, an anaesthetist and a surgeon, tons of reality avalanched on to me, bringing a flow of tears, even as each one assured me that everything would be fine. I was wheeled in to the Operating Room where a scrubbed and masked medical army introduced themselves and told me their role. Trying to absorb their voices, the gleaming chrome, the tubes, screens and wires, the needle going into my back, I drifted off to never-never land. My opportunity to claim that moment of faith passed.

The procedure, as I learned afterwards, was incredible! Briefly, in non-medical vocabulary, and probably with some inaccuracies, this is it: ...continue reading

Peggy_newPeggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher - retired after 34 years in the classroom - and an athlete.  She will be going for surgery this week.

 

The date: August 6, 2014. The place: Montreal...
Grasping for air and my heart beating out of my chest, I grip the pool gutter for a minute before I can drag my depleted body out of the pool after completing the 200m Individual Medley* at the World Masters Swimming competition. Then I swim down in the warm-up pool, to flush the lactic acid build-up in my body. (That’s a lot of ups and downs in swimmers’ jargon!)

After two days' rest, I will reset my goals and decide what I’m training for next. My "next" events might be another swim meet, dragon boat races, cross country ski loppet, a bike trip, a triathlon or open water swimming season. Thankfully, there’s always the next great event to anticipate!

Flash forward to today....
...and my next event is Lung Surgery, scheduled for Nov. 12, so I reset my goals accordingly.

Since August 6, I have been ‘in training for surgery’. I have been determined to be as strong, healthy and fit as I can be, before going into the operating room. I think there are many commonalities, and stages, between training for a 200m IM swimming race and training for lung surgery. ...continue reading