12. “A new priority” – Recovery, Part 6

Before I provide assorted details of what happened next, let me emphasize that April 2022 was the last month during which I “bothered to track my life on my computer,” to quote “Dr. Barb”.

At least, that had been “the deal” I had made with myself – or, more precisely, with “Barb 2.0” – when I agreed to write and reflect about recovering and healing from cancer during a pandemic.

What I had not expected was that I would also be fretting for the entire month about someone who had played an important role in my life for many years.

Was it my twin sister or another family member? No. Was it my trusted neighbour or one of my beloved colleague-friends? No.

It was my best friend in Regina. She had received a Stage 4 Hodgkin Lymphoma cancer diagnosis only two weeks after I had been told about a “sinister mass in my belly” by my GP in late July 2020.

Her rather complicated story as a heart attack and stroke survivor in active cancer care had just taken a turn for the worse.


Breakfast chats  

“It’s so good to hear your voice – are you alright?” I was sitting at the back of an empty bus on my way home from the hospital. While I was relieved about having dodged a “biopsy bullet” (for lack of a better term), I was still feeling anxious.

The day before my appointment, my best friend had gone to the cancer clinic in Regina for an immunotherapy treatment, only to be admitted to hospital. Her oxygen levels had been alarmingly low, and the doctors wanted to know why.

“Oh @#$%!”, I remember thinking when she had first texted about not being allowed to return home.

In truth, the state of her health had concerned me ever since my last checkup trip to Saskatchewan in mid-March 2022.

“I am not well, Barb,” she had admitted during the first of several in-person visits. “You are in remission and can freely travel; I cannot.”

My best friend sounded frustrated. “You have energy; I don’t.”

Her brutal honesty did not surprise me. Truth be told, I really liked that about her (and her line “Please stop telling me how to drive when I am the one behind the steering wheel, Barb.”)

What did catch me by surprise, however, was her shocked reaction to my “I am going to have the thyroid biopsy done out of province” story that I shared with her before I left town.

Specifically, why was I “managing my doctors” (as in telling them what to do instead of following their wishes to the letter), she wanted to know?

And why would I not stay and have the biopsy done in town, in a hospital I was familiar with, she wondered?

My best friend had a point, as always.

On the one hand, I had not sought medical attention for my finger wound and my injured ankle because I did not trust medical doctors in Victoria.

Yet, I was confident that “some local surgeon” would do a great job putting a long needle into a sensitive part of my neck.

It did not take me long to figure out from our phone call that my best friend was scared beyond belief about where her own cancer story was going.

So was I, as you can well imagine.

Then we chatted for 30 minutes straight while the bus driver navigated his way through traffic.

I was careful to keep my voice down as not to annoy other passengers. (If you have ever watched the memorable scene from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home from 1986 in which Mr. Spock uses the Vulcan nerve pinch on a bus punk, you know what I mean.)

The minute I said goodbye to my best friend (“Love you!”), I turned to the universe for support by praying – non-stop in both English and German – for a speedy recovery.

Of course, I had already put her on a “healing energy drip” the size of Niagara Falls the day before.

I was also thankful that the universe did not seem to care that I stuffed my face with assorted junk food at lunch time to cope with being overwhelmed by what was happening.

In fact, neither God, Jesus, nor any other saint whom I enlisted for additional help afterwards (here’s a handy list in case you find yourself in a similar situation) complained about it.

But my body did mind, especially my stomach; it hurt for the rest of the day.

“I’ll be stuck at the hospital for a while,” my best friend informed me in the evening when she called again.

Encouraged by my health guide, “Barb 2.0”, I began to check up on her every morning for the next three weeks.

These “breakfast chats” soon turned out to be the highlight of my day, in part also because my best friend – for the first time ever! – agreed to turn on her phone camera (“That looks like a really comfy morning robe, Barb.”)

“We saw three eagles circling high above the sky today,” I told her a few days later, after a medical test she was dreading had gone well.

“That was a sign from you, right?” She nodded.

I also asked about her pets at home; I knew she missed them terribly.

“One of the cats refused to eat at first,” she had been told by her partner.

They co-parented three lovely felines who all missed their “Mama”, including Lucky. She amused my inner child because she always piped up when her mom and I talked on the phone.

Incidentally, the weather turned out to be an excellent conversation starter as well.

Minor panic had set in when Victoria received hail for ten minutes on April 9, 2022, and snow hit the ground for 15 minutes a couple of days later (!).

This paled, of course, against the Colorado low that hammered (as in paralyzed) Regina on April 14 (“I could see the snow blowing from the hospital window, Barb.”)

My favourite activity during our daily conversations was to reflect with my best friend on her detailed (and almost daily) messages on Facebook.

Unlike yours truly, she had been quite open about her health journey and appreciated the outpouring of support online (“Sending love and prayers!”).

“Please tell us more about your wonderful parents and other people who have made a difference in your life,” I had begged her one morning.

I figured it was going to be therapeutic for her. To my great delight, my best friend embraced my suggestion of photo-journaling wholeheartedly.

“I really enjoyed your post about your late dad,” I told her during Holy Week.

She had written that “as an adopted person, he adopted Canada and was the best role model he could be.” That comment touched me because my own father was too ill to be a role model for me.

“Feel free to send me pictures any time to cheer me up, Barb.”

“Your wish is my command.”


I immediately started going through photos on my phone and have included my favourite “funny shot” here. It was taken in June 2018, when I was enjoying a cool beer on a hot summer’s day in a busy German beer garden (“Thanks for making me laugh, Barb.”)

To everyone’s relief, my best friend improved steadily throughout her hospital stay (“Been a fantastic energy feeling all day long – 100%.”)

Clearly, my most fervent daily prayer requests for her to heal from pneumonitis were working.

I also had help from a host of others who cherished this wonderful human being as much as I did (“My pen pal from Turkey called me today, Barb.”)

After being “cooped up” (her words, not mine) at the cancer ward for 21 days, my best friend returned home with two oxygen tanks in tow to help her breathe. I figured that she would wean herself off in record time, and she did!

I also celebrated with my best friend on April 22, when she became a first-time aunt (“What a little cutie.”)

She had thrown a baby shower for her brother’s partner in mid-March to coincide with my visit. I had not only helped them decorate, but also enjoyed meeting two of my best friend’s oldest pals – one I knew already, the other one I didn’t.

Granted, unlike these amazing ladies, I had never given birth. But I had many years of experience as an aunt to two nieces, three nephews, and one grandniece.

“You are going to be an awesome aunt to this little girl,” I predicted.

I loved my best friend’s idea of hiring a professional to take photos of family and close friends for her 53rd birthday in early May 2022.

In pre-pandemic times, I would not have missed this event for the world, for obvious reasons.

But getting on a plane still scared me, as I feared it would increase the odds of me contracting Covid.

“Would it be okay for the two of us to do our own ‘family’ pictures when I am back in town in August?”

“That would be lovely, Barb.”

I regretted not having jumped onto a plane – and out of a surprise cake for maximum impact – when my best friend told me a few days later that her cancer was continuing to spread.

My “inner crew” was quick to remind me that my single most important priority was to look after my own health now and forever.

“That makes sense,” my head would say. “That makes no sense,” my heart would reply. In other words, staying put felt like the right thing to do and a betrayal of our friendship.

My ongoing struggles (or confusion?) were not lost on my best friend.

“Stop taking my health personally, Barb,” she told me, using her “teacher tone” voice.

I found her request to change my attitude difficult, to say the least. How could I not blame myself for doing so well after finishing treatments?

Worse, I secretly began wondering how long it would take for cancer to sever our karmic bond forever.

Was that perhaps the real reason why I had been tasked with writing the first draft of this sequel “in record time” during the late spring of 2022?

There had never been any doubt in my mind who the dedicatee of my second autobiographical endeavour would be.

“I have a special Christmas gift for you,” I had said to my best friend in the late fall of 2021.

“I am truly touched, Barb,” she replied.

I could hear the emotion in her voice. Intriguingly, she had been encouraging me for years (!) to consider writing non-academic books.

“You have about eight volumes of stuff inside you ready to be told, Barb.”

My inner academic, “Dr. Barb”, and my “scholarly ego” had laughed out loud whenever my best friend first suggested I tell “stories nobody cares about” (their words, not mine.)

As far as they were concerned, my one and only job as a bilingual 18th-century historian was to make musicians’ voices from the past heard, especially during study leaves like the one I was currently on. (Mine would officially end on June 30, 2022, and qualify as “productive,” to quote “Dr. Barb”; I’ll spare you the assorted details.)

It took an honest comment from my yoga teacher, of all people, for me to understand what my best friend was talking about: for me to consider a future as an academic specializing in writing lived narratives (a fancy term for memoir-type stories.)

“Barb, I would never have read Perfect Timing if I didn’t know you personally,” my yoga teacher had said, sounding serious.

“Because your life hasn’t been touched by cancer?”

“That’s right – that’s why I would love to read more about what your life was like before your diagnosis.”

“You will be happy to know that I have woven many ‘life echoes’ into the sequel.”

“That’s wonderful!”

At that moment, I realized something significant.

To assist one’s body with recovering from a critical illness was one thing. To help one’s mind and spirit heal from past traumas by writing about them was an entirely different matter.

Evidently, I had been tasked by the universe to do both.


The Queen’s suite   

“Happy Easter, Barb – how are you doing?”

It was my pastor-friend on the phone.

“I am doing well,” I answered and raved about the church service in which I had been involved that morning.

My sister as the music director and organist had outdone herself with her prelude and postlude choices, as had the choir in their anthem (“What a joyful song!”). The trumpeter’s special music was a real treat as well.

The absolute highlight of the service, however, was a beautiful rendition of Mozart’s famous Alleluia, courtesy of a talented university student who was on her way to becoming an opera singer. My twin sister had mentored her for years and was incredibly proud of her progress.

“If I dropped dead now, I would be happy,” I remember thinking during the stunning performance – and promptly started to shed tears of gratitude. The past ten months of healing had been the best gift ever!

Incidentally, I had been wiping my eyes that morning for other, non-music-related reasons as well.

Cut flowers had been placed everywhere to signal that it was Easter Sunday. As a result, my allergies began acting up. A dry throat made singing somewhat painful, and I cursed at the Easter Bunny every time I pulled down my mask and blew my nose.

I was not the only one making unexpected noises, it turned out. A fellow allergy sufferer who sat behind me would sneeze at the most inconvenient times (“Christ is risen – He is risen indeed – Atchoo!”).

During the sermon, my mind began to wander (sorry, Jesus.) What would Easter Sunday would be like next year?

Perhaps the pandemic would finally be over. Would I be sitting on “my” organ bench in Regina and play Widor’s famous Toccata which had been my go-to postlude in pre-pandemic times?

“Stop fretting about the distant future,” my top-hatted guide advised. My subconscious, however, was anything but calm.

That had been made abundantly clear to my “inner crew” during the week before Easter (aka Holy Week.)

According to my electronic diary, that’s when I had another strange dream. (Don’t worry, I won’t do another line-by-line examination. Oh, what the heck …!)

It began with me visiting a dear colleague-friend from Australia who was rooming with a family (a mom with two kids) from the Ukraine. She had not been happy with the place which I had selected for her.

“It’s way too crowded, Barb.” Could I organize alternate accommodation for her?

“Leave it all to me,” I had said confidently and got in touch with her preferred hotel.

A staff member led me up several flights of stairs of what looked like a palace on the outside. It took us a while to reach the penthouse. (There was no elevator.)

“It’s called the Queen’s suite,” I was told.

The room was incredibly spacious, the furnishings were exquisite, and the view from the balcony (with huge French doors, of course) took my breath away – and I realized quickly that I had never been here before.

Was it going to be “good enough” for my friend? You bet.

Of course, I checked out the lavish bathrooms (there were several!) and walked back down the stairs, trying to not hit a bunch of people coming towards me.

“This is another two-parter,” commented “Dr. Barb”. She was keen on me taking a quick stab at figuring out this dream.

Could the beginning be about my work-life balance situation?

Maybe, given that the winter 2022 semester had ended the day before. It had been a busy one, despite the “course correction” I had applied to the class schedule in mid-February.

Could the “palace” in the dream perhaps refer to me being in the process of creating “a tiara” – which is, of course, code for me recovering successfully from my cancer ordeal?

The “Queen’s suite” was another important hint, I figured.

But where, then, was the “diamond” from the limerick I had included in the Preface? I ask because there had not been anything sparkling in my dream, not even water.



This funny term – which refers to playing “rugby” in the “mud” – was coined by a beloved retired colleague of mine who had passed away in August 2015.

I had first met this tall, white-haired individual during a so-called “Midnight Breakfast” event that was held at my college’s cafeteria in December 2003. This late-night meal involved faculty and staff tasked with cooking for dormitory students cramming for final exams.

I liked this fellow university professor immediately, and for good reason. Within in minutes, he made me laugh when he asked me how fast I could flip an egg with my eyes closed (not very.)

I was horrified when this wonderful man had an accident in 2005 that made him a quadriplegic. He lived for another decade, and I will never forget visiting him at a local specialized long-term care home with a group of other faculty and students.

“Your life doesn’t have to be tragic,” he stated, matter of fact. He was sitting in a special wheelchair, smiling as only he could.

I had pondered the complexities of this profound statement many times while undergoing active cancer treatment.

In hindsight, it had helped me adopt a much more “chilled attitude” (to quote my top-hatted guide) as a cancer survivor in recovery mode.

In early May 2022, however, I wondered whether the universe was engaging in a round of Muckby to seriously annoy me. If nothing else, it was trying to get my full attention.

I had received an e-mail from my GP’s office that included an ominous attachment. After reading the letter, I figured it was either a cruel joke or a hoax altogether.

“My GP is closing his practice as of August 1 and leaving the province?” I was on the phone with his administrative assistant, fearing the worst.

“It is true,” she said.

“No,” I replied. “It is tragic.”

“With that you mean that his departure is ‘life threatening’ to you as a cancer survivor?” That loaded question was posed by my health guide, “Barb 2.0”, a few minutes after hanging up.

“Yes,” I clarified, trying to make my head stop spinning.

Never in a million years had I expected my GP to leave the province for greener pastures (unless he stayed on the prairies, of course, which, it turned out in the end, he would.)

Dr. Google had also told me that he was only in his early 40s and had kids. Surely that would be enough for someone to stay put in Saskatchewan (even if the weather sucked between November and April)?

Moreover, I recalled reading an online article from October 2018 about Saskatchewan, Alberta, and P.E.I paying their medical doctors the most – and Saskatchewan had scored the highest (!) in professional satisfaction.

There was no use denying that there had been a few bumps along my road of recovery. But this bit of awful news felt more like a “karmic car crash” of sorts. Had my “GP luck” just run out, I wondered?

“He is going to leave us – forever!” my inner child (or make that my inner adult) sobbed dramatically. “Who is going to look after us now when he is gone?”

My “little one” had already been genuinely scared when my medical oncologist went on maternity leave for six months in 2021 (“I hate change!!!”).

Interestingly, my inner child had been less attached to my radiology oncologist. His nurse had informed me in early April 2022 that he had permanently moved to the West Coast.

You need a new GP, and pronto,” stated my health guide, “Barb 2.0”.

“Since you also seem to be prone to bodily injuries lately, I would agree,” my top-hatted guide argued, with “Dr. Barb” nodding in agreement.

The GP’s administrative assistant seemed to think so as well. “Please have a look at the website that’s included in the letter for a list of local GPs accepting new patients, Barb.”

“Is the plan to find someone to take over his patients?”

“Yes, we are working on that.”

“In that case, would you put me on a waiting list of sorts for that physician, please?”

The administrative assistant laughed out loud. “That’s not how it works.” (I had figured that much.)

“Please tell my GP how much I have appreciated his support as my primary care physician,” I said. “I will miss him more than he will ever know.”

“Me, too.” The administrative assistant’s sigh sounded genuine. “If there is anything you need before August 1, please get in touch, Barb.”

Every single person I talked to about my GP’s impending departure afterwards was shocked, to say the least.

But that didn’t change the fact that he was leaving Saskatchewan before I would return.

Did I check the website mentioned in the letter and look at some patient feedback online? Of course.

To my delight, there seemed to be other wonderful doctors in town. To my dismay, their staff was described as either rude or incompetent – or both – by fellow patients.

“Look, there could be a million reasons for your GP to leave,” my twin sister had pointed out patiently (“True.”)

Ten days after being told about his departure, it began to dawn on me that perhaps it had not been an impending divorce – my first thought – that had caused my GP to close shop.

According to an online article from May 2022, a Saskatchewan ICU doctor blamed the (failed) leadership provided by the Government of Saskatchewan during the pandemic for forcing him to seek employment elsewhere in Canada.

“Well, I am better off not knowing what really happened,” I said to my “butler-nurse” friend on the phone a couple of days later.

“Has it occurred to you that your GP is leaving because you will have fully recovered by the end of July, Barb?”

“Interesting hypothesis. But I don’t think I am that important in the grander scheme of things.”

All I cared about at the time was that the universe would help me find another, equally trustworthy medical doctor.


Full circle

In mid-May 2022, my phone rang again. According to the caller ID, it was my GP’s office in Saskatchewan.

An administrative assistant whose voice I did not recognize tried to find out – in broken English – whether I would like to talk to a doctor with whose last name I was unfamiliar.

“Um, you have the wrong patient.” Then I told her the name of my GP.

“That’s what I just said,” she replied. (“Dr. Barb” promptly grinned from ear to ear.)

“Do you want to make an appointment with your doctor in May or June, Ma’am?”

That question confused me. Was I perhaps ill and did not know it?

“Thank you for asking, but the answer is no.”

I did not want to waste the valuable time of the physician who had saved my life two years ago either. He had better things to do, as far as I was concerned.

Ten minutes later I regretted my decision.

“Barb 2.0” had promptly scolded me about hanging up too fast. “It is my job to remind you about important health matters,” she declared.

“Your thyroid issues as flagged by the oncology radiologist need to be followed up on, and the mammogram he wanted to be done in six months or a year requires a referral by a physician as well.”

“You are right,” I admitted sheepishly.

“Dr. Barb” then suggested contacting my GP via e-mail to try and sort out these matters.

Five minutes later (!), my phone rang again. It was the new administrative assistant calling back.

“You asked before who would take over your doctor’s practice, Ma’am.”

“That’s correct.”

“I have good news for you.”

Had my GP changed his mind and was going to stay in Regina after all? (A girl can dream.)

“You found another doctor for him to take over his patients?” I sounded as hopeful as my inner child was feeling.

“Not yet, but one of the other GPs at the clinic is willing to take you on.” I immediately felt 1000 pounds lighter.

This “I need a new GP” matter had weighed heavily on my shoulders (and on my hips, butt, and thighs) ever since I had opened that e-mail a couple of weeks earlier.

Then the administrative assistant rattled off the names of the other physicians in the clinic.

My face suddenly lit up like a Christmas tree. Had the administrative assistant just mentioned the name of the doctor who had asked me back in 2006 whether I could be pregnant…?

“Wow,” I thought. Then I made an appointment to see my “new” GP when I was back in town in mid-August. Most importantly, I was relieved beyond measure.

“So, there I was expecting to play Muckby to find a new doctor, and instead the universe sent me back to someone I already knew I could trust,” I said to my favourite massage therapist later that day on the phone.

“You got seriously lucky, Barb,” she replied, and for good reason.

Understaffed walk-in clinics were the norm, especially in Victoria which, in May 2022, held the national record for the longest waiting times.

Worse, emergency departments were overcrowded in all of Canada. The impact on health care workers everywhere had been enormous, and my heart went out to them.

In other words, the pandemic had wreaked havoc on the Canadian health system.

Would it ever recover fully from its impact? (“Only time will tell,” replied my top-hatted guide.)

“I’ve got some news for you,” my trusted massage therapist announced a few days later. She was also going to move to a new location as of August 1.

“Now you are leaving town, too?” (“Crap,” said “Dr. Barb”, who considered regular massages an integral part of self-care for busy academics.)

“No, it’s just around the corner from where you live, Barb, so you can walk over.”

My massage therapist was clearly amused by how frustrated I had sounded.

By the way, I had been her patient ever since her predecessor had moved to Manitoba several years ago.

“Guess what, Barb: I will be moving into the exact same clinic she first worked in!”

My massage therapist and I promptly laughed because I had come full circle twice, at least as far as health professionals in my life were concerned.

It also finally dawned on me that the universe had been hard at work to prepare my new “post-recovery reality.”

What exactly would it look like when I returned to the prairies a couple of months from now (besides resuming my professorial duties and going green)?


Consider it done

Shortly after the “GP episode” had unfolded, I began working on the first draft of this sequel in earnest.

I had been inspired – or, more precisely, nudged by the universe – to get going after delivering a “birth story” talk about my memoir. It had been part of an Open Educational Resource (OER) boot camp event at my university.

(Spoiler alert: my online presentation on May 11 was recorded, and I also wrote a short article about how Perfect Timing came to be for the OER spring 2022 newsletter.)

Interestingly, a few days after my presentation, my “scholarly ego” self passed on an important message to my “inner crew” members: “Be prepared that, from now on, whatever you publish as ‘Dr. Barbara M. Reul’ will feel very different.”

“What do you mean?” I asked (or, more precisely, “Dr. Barb”.) Surely, a sense of pride to see one’s name in print was still allowed …?

“It will feel different now,” my health guide clarified. “As ‘Dr. Barb’ you only need to use your head, not your heart. When you write about yourself, however, both must be involved.”

“Like, you want me to take along my inner Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk?” I wondered.

“Barb 2.0” nodded.

Then “Dr. Barb” wanted to know whether my “scholarly ego” was still going to “push her around at work” (her words, not mine.)

“I have no control over that,” replied “Barb 2.0”. “But the first complete draft of the sequel must be finished before you return to the prairies in mid-August 2022.”

“What’s the rush?” my top-hatted guide wondered.

Apparently, “other important stuff” – such as working, resting, hanging out with friends, and playing the organ on Sundays, to name but a few examples – would “distract” me once I was back home in Saskatchewan, according to my health guide.

“That sure sounds like a deadline to me,” commented “Dr. Barb”, feeling pressured.

“In that case, let’s ask for help from the universe to get it done in time,” I said and looked my top-hatted guide straight in the eye.

“Please line up a special writing guide (or two or three) immediately,” I requested. “I am on it,” he replied and went to work.

Believe it or not, a bespectacled male in his 60s appeared shortly after in my head. (If you just groaned out loud, thinking “not another one” or “I am starting to get lost”, read on.)

This “specialty guide” (for lack of a better term) was as helpful (“That section needs tightening”) as he was pushy (“It’s 4 am – let’s go!”).

This gentleman in my head had also made it clear early on that he was not “the competition,” much to the relief of “Dr. Barb”.

“I certainly find writing about my own life intense,” I told my “butler-nurse” friend and fellow academic in late June 2022. “It’s like creating a narrative identity of sorts for myself.”

“I hope that it’s also joyful and, most importantly, therapeutic, Barb.”

“Yes – I am ‘knee-deep’ into conceiving this sequel and loving it.”

Her next, admittedly perceptive comment made me pause. “You do realize that the universe wants you to continue writing about your life, Barb …”.

My “butler-nurse” friend sounded unexpectedly serious (and not unlike my best friend who had first floated the idea, if you remember.)

Yet, I laughed out loud in response. “You mean when I am retired in about 500 years from now and have time to spare?”

There was no use denying that I would not be able to quit my day job for a while. The ongoing impact of the pandemic and a war in the Ukraine had caused Canada’s inflation rate to rear its ugly head in the summer of 2022.

Moreover, relying on long-term disability payments for over a year had also had a negative impact on my pension plan (“What do you mean, I cannot make any contributions to my RRSP …?”).

Translation: I had no idea when I would be able to relocate to the West Coast permanently – maybe in 499 years from now?

“Well, there would have been an easy way out,” my “scholarly ego” stated with conviction. “It was your decision to forfeit millions in royalties and forego a Hollywood movie deal …!”

She had been less than impressed when I decided to opt out of producing a bestseller (or two.)

Going with an open access publishing platform – and choosing impact over money – was the right thing to do, as far as I was concerned.

Dein Wort in Gottes’ Ohr” (“Your word into God’s ears”), my twin sister said, quoting our late mother.

That perceptive comment was, of course, code for “I hope it will all work out in the end.”

That is also my wish for you, dear reader, as the universe continues to help us all construct our respective life stories, only to watch us struggle with sorting out the details, sparkling tiaras and all.

And this marks the end of my (diary- and memory-led) recollections about how I tried to heal and recover from cancer during a pandemic.

It is, however, not the end of this book.


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