1. “This is who I am now” – Introduction


What do you need to know about me before you begin reading this story of a female Canadian cancer survivor’s topsy-turvy adventures of convalescing?


Everything you have heard about me is still true

Readers familiar with Perfect Timing Recollections on coping with cancer during a pandemic may wonder why the above subtitle sounds somewhat familiar. (Hint: check the introductory chapter in that book.)

But even before I chronicled my health journey publicly in 2021, I had used this line – without the word “still” – to introduce myself to unsuspecting university students.

I would typically follow it up with an intentionally amusing description of sorts, as in “I am an accidental academic blessed with a sunny, cheerful personality, and a wicked sense of humour” who “strives for excellence in most everything” she does.

As far as other vital statistics and my career path are concerned, nothing has changed. I am still German by birth, and Canadian and non-partnered by choice.

Before turning 18 and graduating from secondary school in my southern German home state of Bavaria, I had lost both parents. My dad, 52, had died from a rare type of blood cancer, and my mom, 58, from three strokes suffered over three consecutive days.

In the mid-1980s, my (younger, fraternal) twin sister and I immigrated to Victoria, B.C., to join our oldest sister and her Canadian husband and their two children who lived there. Our other older sister stayed behind in Germany to raise a daughter.

I spent the following decade at university earning three degrees, including a Ph.D. In the late 1990s, I accepted a post-doc-like position in Central Germany. I returned two and a half years later to look for permanent work in Canada.

Wascana Lake, Regina

Since July 2002, I have proudly called Regina, Saskatchewan, one of the coldest but prettiest Canadian prairie capitals, home.

My job as a music history professor at the local post-secondary institution gives me great joy, as does playing the pipe organ at church on Sundays.

On a more personal note, I distinguish amongst three distinct “inner voices” (that only I can hear) to guide me through the ups and downs of life.

They are not unlike Sigmund Freud’s id, superego, and ego that make up one’s psyche.

Specifically, “Dr. Barb”, the rational and highly practical adult, is in charge of my head.

My “little one”, as I call my inner child, rules my heart and often verbalizes my deeper emotions. (If you have seen the animated movie Inside Out from 2015, you will know what I mean.)

Both listen to my “gut voice” or inner GPS who I like to call my main guide.

In my mind’s eye this individual is a male who always wears a top hat (and for special occasions, a three-piece suit.) His main task is to keep “Dr. Barb” and my inner child on the straight and narrow.

Does this internal chatter keep me awake 24/7? That depends on the situation.

I can turn up the volume of this running commentary (“That was an excellent suggestion – can you please repeat it?”). Or I can dial it down, if not turn it off completely (“Quiet! I need to go to sleep now!”).

When did I become aware of these “characters” in my head and could distinguish between them? The answer to that loaded question is “in the 2000s,” after I began to meditate daily and was doing visualization and manifestation exercises as well.

Very pleased with my writing efforts so far, I put a period at the end of the previous sentence. A sonorous bass voice then piped up in my head.

“Isn’t your ‘autobiographical elevator speech’ incomplete?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” I said to my main guide. His answer came like a shot.

I am also a proud cancer survivor needs to be included.”

After all, he argued, I was no longer the same person who had received a sudden endometrial cancer diagnosis in August 2020.

It was Stage 3A which, in my case, meant that it had spread to the ovaries, but thankfully not to the lymph nodes. My medical team decided that over the course of eight long months, I would first have major surgery to remove the cancer and then undergo six rounds of chemo as well as 28 targeted radiation therapy treatments.

“You are right,” I admitted to my main guide.

Then I began typing again.


Hello from your other side

An unfamiliar voice suddenly stated that the label “proud cancer survivor” was “the understatement of the 21st century.”

“Who is this?” I asked, confused.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Hello from the other side – a line from Adele’s famous song – began playing in my head to emphasize that this smooth contralto voice had never talked to me before. Was I losing it?

“Hi! I have been with you since you finished your radiation treatments on March 26, 2021,” this female said with an air of authority in her voice.

“Seriously?” Then it dawned on me who I was dealing with.

That day I had put a special message on Facebook to thank everyone who had supported me throughout my cancer journey.

She was undoubtedly the woman on the new profile picture I had taken and posted that day (and included here)!

Barb 2.0

“My name is Barb 2.0,” she continued.

“Oh my God,” I replied.

A cherished colleague-friend – and mom to Winston, the adorable Miniature Schnauzer some of you may remember from Perfect Timing – had come up with that new name of sorts in her reply to my Facebook post.

Was this some sort of Fata Morgana from the recent past?

This “version” of myself sported a super short and super stylish, if not sexy salt-and-pepper hairdo of sorts.

I liked her beautiful skin (no wiry hairs on her chin whatsoever!). I did not care for her chubby cheeks, however.

They were a visible reminder that I had put on an extra 20 pounds (!) during chemotherapy. Who knew that weight gain, not weight loss, is common with cancers of the female reproductive system and the female breasts?

Suddenly, I became aware of a potentially annoying conflict of sorts unfolding inside my head.

“Did you not hear me? My name is Barb 2.0, your newly appointed health guide,” the voice said, somewhat frustrated.

“I heard you the first time,” I replied patiently. “What do you want?”

“I want your trust,” she stated. “I have been sent by the universe to be with you until you have healed fully from this ordeal, whenever that will be, if ever.”

“Thanks, but no thanks,” said “Dr. Barb”, sounding miffed. “We don’t need you! Please leave. Thank you.”

“The universe will decide when I depart,” announced “Barb 2.0”, gently yet firmly.

To everyone’s surprise, “Dr. Barb” threw her hands up in the air and began to curse – loudly! – in German. (This is never a good sign.)

Meanwhile, my top-hatted guide and inner child were trying to figure out what exactly had caused this sudden emotional outburst on my inner academic’s part.

“Don’t you get it – this woman is my competition!” shouted “Dr. Barb”, ready to lose her mind.

“You have got it all wrong; I am here to help you heal properly,” replied “Barb 2.0”, sounding extremely chilled.

That’s when my inner child got involved, ready to take sides. “You are on your own, lady,” she declared. (“Dr. Barb” spontaneously applauded.)

“Behave yourselves,” my top-hatted, head-shaking main guide said. “You do not want to be permanently stuck in the kindergarten of life, do you?”

That perceptive comment had the desired effect: everyone in my head calmed down.

At the same time, the “kindergarten of life” comment intrigued me because I had always wanted to attend some sort of pre-school as a child but never did. In both countries, general compulsory schooling in Germany begins with Grade 1.

In hindsight, this “reality TV episode” (for lack of a better term) in my thoughts also reminded me of something else.

During a pre-surgery hospital visit in early August 2020, “we” had successfully scared off the Angel of Death. He had looked remarkably like Andrew from the TV series Touched by an Angel (“Go away – I am not ready to die!”).

The fact that “Barb 2.0” was planning to stick around for as long as it took to “heal properly” raised several important questions in my head.

Would this new “persona” get along with the other, trusted members of my “inner crew”?

How would some of the “characters” who had featured prominently in Perfect Timing react to her – would they like, be indifferent, or despise her?

And given the unexpected appearance of “Barb 2.0”, when and how would other real, as in not imagined “cast members” be introduced over the course of this story?

You will find the answers below, spread out over 14 chapters.

“That sounds like a lot,” said my inner child. “Should I get some chips and chocolate ready, just in case?”

“You might as well,” advised “Barb 2.0” with a twinkle in her eye.


Too many notes, Herr Mozart?

Before I get going in earnest, I want to clarify a few things, including some of the “important stuff” that I evidently missed out on in Perfect Timing. (Thank you for your candid feedback, dear readers.)

Like before, I used only two primary sources to write this sequel.

My memory gave me complete creative control over what to touch upon briefly and elaborate on in detail, if not leave out altogether (“Too many notes, Herr Mozart.”)

My computer diary helped me adhere to a mostly chronological timeline without going overboard on dates and times. In fact, I removed many of them when carrying out multiple “deep edits” of the manuscript. (This “cutting business” annoyed “Dr. Barb”, who thrives on anything remotely related to a schedule.)

In other words, the plot line of this book is not a figment of my imagination.

On the contrary, my highly interconnected stories are based on actual events as I remember them and then view them through the various critical lenses of a recent cancer survivor. They range from semi-chronological and philosophical to geographical and humorous, to name but a few.

Most importantly, they are all my own, as are the various (more or less helpful) “voices” I keep hearing in my head.

Once again, I am protecting everyone’s privacy by not using actual names in favour of descriptive labels. This also applies to individuals who were involved in the publication of Perfect Timing as an open educational resource.

There are two exceptions: animals (dogs, cats, budgies, etc.) and “Barb 2.0”, my new health guide. She used every trick in her special book of charms to get me to acknowledge her in this section and throughout this sequel.

It worked.


My life is not a romance novel

Grin: when I told certain readers of Perfect Timing that a sequel was in the works, I was not prepared for them to inquire about any changes to my relationship status, of all things.

Who knew that they had been rooting for me to fall madly in love after finishing cancer treatments – ideally with someone who has not been dead for centuries, like “my man,” the early eighteenth-century German composer and Kapellmeister J. F. Fasch?

He has been the one and only male constant in my life since graduate school. As a result, my main guide blames the absence of a romantic sub-plot in this sequel on “Dr. Barb”.

Fridge magnet wisdom

In turn, she quotes her favourite fridge magnet (pictured here) whenever he brings up dating, finding a life partner, etc. Enough said.

My stubborn cancer survivor self could also not be coaxed into buying lottery tickets (“You might win”). Becoming a Regina millionaire overnight and retiring early from her day job as a university professor do not appeal to her at this time.

But let’s not hold that against the protagonist.

I am, after all, only human and keen on being the best possible version of myself every single day. In fact, over the past 50 plus years or so, I have had to learn the hard way that living a fulfilled life – as in thriving instead of surviving – is based on one’s decisions and actions, or lack thereof.

To that end, and especially when things start to spin out of control (“Why do I feel like I am stuck in a karmic washing machine?”), I now tend to slow down and go inside myself.

Listening to my inner GPS while pondering questions such as “Should I do this – or that?” and “Would I feel regret or relief if I did this – or that?” often help me figure out what I really want and need as a cancer survivor.

Conversely, the winning formula in certain situations has been to sit tight and simply “wait for better times” (to quote one of my late mom’s favourite German sayings.)

In case you missed it: an author is faced with similar choices as they guide their audience’s reading experience.

Personally, I admire writers who expertly weave a myriad of (ideally juicy) details into a bigger narrative. At the same time, I want to know what happens to certain beloved characters in the near future (or, in the case of Harry Potter, nineteen years later.)

This “skip ahead” technique has been successfully employed by me in bookstores and public libraries to determine which historical romance novels to take home.

If you had squarely pegged me as a “murder mystery girl” and are now surprised or disappointed, or both, then so be it.

Romantic fiction was my favourite literary genre until my cancer diagnosis in late July 2020. Due to chemo brain, I had to take an extended break from reading anything longer than newspaper headlines such as “November was worst month of pandemic for SK.”

In any case, the utterly predictable plot lines have always helped to calm down my inner academic-historian and let “Dr. Barb” enjoy a story of two people fancying each other from a safe distance.

Nevertheless, I would often get annoyed with the overactive imagination of some authors. They would let their multi-dimensional characters (good!) suddenly fall off the deep end (bad!) instead of allowing them to “live happily ever after” (perfect!).

“Are you trying to say that this sequel will contain some deus ex machina (“god-out-of-a-machine”) ‘bits’?” wondered “Dr. Barb”.

My youngest nephew, a movie buff of sorts, would be quick to point out that this clever plot device worked exceedingly well in 1978 for Christopher Reeve in Superman. (Remember the scene when this grief-stricken superhero turned back time to save Lois Lane …?)

For the record, a Clark Kent-Superman poster graced my German bedroom walls for almost a decade. It hung right next to one of Indiana Jones, Ph.D., who lived the movie life of my teenage dreams.

“No, the sequel won’t contain any such bits,” I said with a smile on my face.

“That’s really too bad,” noted my top-hatted guide.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

For about two seconds I wondered whether he was referring to “Barb 2.0” as a new character that had swooped in to solve a baffling life problem like healing from cancer.

“I would love it if you wrote a romance novel of sorts sometime,” my main guide clarified.

“Haha,” I laughed, but knew where he was coming from.

I continued to be intrigued by Shonda Rhimes’ topsy-turvy interpretation of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton collection from my favourite historical period, the Regency. (I had devoured this series of romance novels when they were first published in the early 21st century, as in way before they appeared on Netflix.)

Maybe, I should invent some, um, juicy stuff for this book as well?

An old-time friend had admitted to me that many conversations in her memoir had, in fact, been made up to keep the reader hooked. “It’s called creative writing for a reason,” she had argued.

Given the strange appeal of crime fiction nowadays, perhaps weaving in a murder (or two?) in Right on Time would help to pave my way to the New York Times bestsellers list.

“Forget about it,” my main guide replied, making me chuckle.

Sounding very much like my general practitioner (GP), he advised me to stick with my copious diary notes and memories to boot. “They are entertaining enough …!”

My inner academic, who loves working with primary sources, could not have agreed more (“Let’s go!”).


Keeping the mystery alive

Before I begin my trip down memory lane in the next chapter, let me emphasize (again, if you have read the Preface of this book) that some of the events I describe in this sequel were indeed truly unexpected and, at times, also hard to believe, poignant, or plain hysterical.

Intentionally woven into this book’s narrative fabric are multiple “life echoes,” something several readers of Perfect Timing had suggested.

Believe it or not, I had no idea that it would be both fun and scary (!) to revisit my childhood and teenage years that had been spent in southern Germany. (My twin sister and I immigrated to Vancouver Island off the West Coast of Canada four weeks before our 19th birthday.)

To keep the “mystery alive” throughout this sequel, I also decided to include some compelling back stories.

For various reasons to be shared below, they never made it into the predecessor of Right on Time. But without them it would be impossible to understand and appreciate fully how and why my time healing from a critical disease unfolded the way it did.

I still feel that my most powerful tool (or secret weapon?) as an author is the use of humour.

I have found it to work particularly well in life situations that triggered powerful emotional responses on my part, especially of the negative kind. In my experience – and maybe yours, too? – humour can soften, distract, or sometimes avoid the depth of pain felt.

My hope is, therefore, that you will be smiling your way through my adventures and ideally feel (or at least appear to be) smarter at the very end.


Share This Book