7. “Feeling special” – Checkup No. 3

Have you ever tried to figure out why you “tick” a certain way – and how you got there, dear reader?


Thanks for assuming I am normal

“I am really enjoying our weekly Bible study,” I said to my pastor on a Wednesday morning in mid-November 2021 via Zoom. I had first started attending these weekly online sessions in April 2021, shortly after my cancer treatments had ended.

We were being led by the new parish worker, a Lutheran seminary student. A passage from the Old Testament did not resonate much with me because it lacked Jesus, my favourite Bible character of all time.

“Why is God much scarier in the Old Testament compared to the New Testament?” I asked her. “Could you explain that to me, please?”

“I could, but you might want to give a really informative podcast a try instead, Barb.”

It was called The Bible for Normal People.

“Thank you for assuming I am normal,” I quipped. “Is there a version for crazy people as well?”

Everyone laughed at my joke. But how “normal” was I, given that I possessed a “magical ability” of sorts?

My “superpower” (to quote my best friend) was unrelated to age, required no swollen or inflamed joints, and was certainly not related to the weather.

It first became apparent when I began to take training in energy healing in my late 30s. I had been inspired to do so by my oldest sister who had successfully been engaged in non-invasive healing methods for years.

(In fact, as a teenager she had dreamed of being a medical doctor and even completed her practical nursing certificate. Our working-class parents had refused to support her efforts and talked her into becoming a schoolteacher instead.)

As part of the training, we were required to do meditations designed to get us in touch with our inner guidance system. I’ll never forget what it was like to meet my “man with the top hat” for the first time during one of them.

I knew he was the person in charge because of the air of authority that surrounded him. I had not expected him to sit at the top of a long table and play cards with other people, however.

Upon introducing myself to him, he looked up, smiled, and said, “You are late to the party, young lady.”

That cheeky comment did not really astound me.

In hindsight, there was no doubt in my mind that this special “angel of intuition” had begun steering me in the late 1990s when I returned from my (emotionally disastrous) post-doc work experience in Germany.

He had also been the one to (gently but firmly) encourage “Dr. Barb” not to give up on academia during the two and half years it had taken her to find a suitable position in her field (“Just keep applying!”).

Did it take me a while to distinguish my main guide’s “voice” from that of my ego? You bet.

The latter revels in its 24/7 access to free will and loves to remind me – to this day! – that I do “not have to do anything that this fellow or any of these other yahoos in your head insist on.”

Depending on the situation at hand, my ego is either overconfident (“This will work”) or overdramatizes matters (“This will never work”) to get my attention. It will also always provide lengthy and detailed rationales (“… and let me tell you why …”.)

In contrast, my top-hatted guide always opts for short messages that are to the point (“Yes … No … Do this now …”.)

He also prefers to give advice when I am not busy thinking but engaged in activities such as driving, cleaning, or walking, to name but a few.

What happens if I don’t react immediately – or worse, ignore him?

Then my main guide patiently repeats messages and/or engages the help of a messenger, if necessary. The latter can be one of my other “inner crew” members or a fellow human (“Have you considered …, Barb?”).

Have there been times when I did not go with his suggestions? Absolutely.

Have I asked for his assistance and received a “Not enough information available; check back later” message on my inner crystal ball? For sure.

Only once did I blame him for not trying harder to push my overbearing ego out the way – in June and July of 2020 when I was first experiencing cancer symptoms (“I look pregnant.”)

My main guide later insisted that “staying quiet” at the time was all part of the “life lesson” I had to learn.

In fact, as far as he was concerned, he had “done his best” to prevent a worst-case scenario as my cancer journey began by ensuring that:

1.) I was in the best physical shape of my life before the diagnosis.

2.) I had the best medical team I could have hoped for during my treatments.

3.) I received excellent and ongoing support from others throughout my ordeal.

“That’s all true,” I admitted during that arguably difficult “Why did this happen to me?” conversation with him.

“And you can count on me to assist you with whatever lessons the universe still has in store for you,” he added, with a twinkle in his eye.

I smiled, knowing full well that he was telling the truth, having mentored me for many years now. In other words, he knew how I “ticked” (for lack of a better term.)

Could this top-hatted male be the reason for the continued absence of romance in my life? Well, nobody has managed to measure up to him to date (except for Mr. Fasch, of course, that wonderful but also very dead composer.)

In fact, if I were a Star Trek captain in the distant future, my male guide would be my chosen “Number One.”

If you guessed that in the past I went with his dating advice (“Know your non-negotiables”) instead of listening to my hormonally challenged ego (“Best [insert body part of choice] ever”), you are correct.

“Weren’t you going to explain your ‘magical ability’ to your readers …?” my main guide wondered.

“Thanks for the reminder.”


Please put me on a drip

So, the simple truth is that I can tap into the universe’s healing and infinitely powerful energy flow and direct it towards others in need.

“It is like prayer,” I would tell select family members and friends I had let in on this little secret of mine, “but I engage with the universe directly.”

“In that case, isn’t it more like witchcraft?” (I have been asked this admittedly loaded question more than once.)

“That would imply that it’s incompatible with my Christian faith,” I would reply. “The opposite is true.”

My belief in a higher power promptly increased what felt like a thousand-fold after it first emerged, because of its amazing effect on others. How does it work?

To send someone an extra boost of energy and help recharge their batteries, I conjure up, in my head, a special, self-regulating “energy IV drip” of sorts (“Set it and forget it.”)

That’s one heck of a drip!

In special circumstances, I will also ask for the administered “dose” to be increased to “maximum” and set the speed to “superfast.”

All the recipient(s) need to do, is to accept it (“Thank you, Barb.”)

The best part? I could – and would – put myself on these amazing “energy drips” as well.

As a result, my very own “power bank” contained a gigantic vault filled with seemingly infinite stamina and endurance. The latter enabled me to live my life “at 150 per cent” (to quote “Dr. Barb”, who benefitted from it the most over the years.)

My internal and external “energetic world” changed dramatically, however, when I reported for my first round of chemotherapy in late September 2020.

It was not lost on my “healer self” that anti-cancer medication would be administered intravenously – that is, via a drip – six times over the course of four months (“Please make a fist, Barb.”)

Worse, physicians oversaw my health now, instead of leaving it all up to yours truly and the universe.

“Do you think your ‘magical ability’ will make a difference during cancer treatments?” my pastor-friend had asked me shortly after my surgery.

“I sure hope so.”

Looking back, I am convinced that the continued prayers and healing thoughts sent to me by others while being in active cancer care were even more effective. Why?

Because as “a spiritual being having a human experience” (to quote Pierre Teilhard de Chardin), I could feel the impact of this special energy drip on a physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual level.

This reminds me of the insightful e-mail offered by the wife of a professor who had served on my Ph.D. committee in the mid-1990s. We had stayed in touch over the years, and I had reconnected with them after moving out west to heal from cancer.

After reading Perfect Timing in early 2022 (that is, shortly after it was published online), she wrote the following:

Wow. I had no idea what chemo and radiation entailed. What a journey! I am so glad that you had so many wonderful support-people to help you along the way. I have added the words “and please help any of my friends who are going through tough times that I don’t know about” to my evening prayers.

I was incredibly touched by her caring words, to say the least.

I was also grateful to her for introducing me to an individual who was not only a trained musician like me, but also an (ovarian) cancer survivor and published author (“You have to meet her, Barb.”)

Reading her insightful book from 2012 about loving and accepting yourself had a profound effect on me.

To that end, I sent the author the following e-mail message:

I just finished your memoir – it is truly awesome and utterly inspirational, just like you are! I have learnt so much from the various experiences and breakthroughs you shared.

Most importantly, it made me realize how much deeper I will need to dig into my past life path to understand my new identity as a cancer survivor.

For all that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

In other words: my head needed to understand that without working through certain events that had shaped my past first, my heart could not move forward to heal on a soul level.

This is, in essence, also the main reason why this sequel is twice as long as its predecessor. (So much for “Short is good.”)

Incidentally, my best friend, a voracious reader, recommended that I explore Amy McKay’s Daughter of Family G. Her riveting “memoir of cancer genes, love and fate” was published in 2019.

“There’s romance in it, Barb,” my best friend had pointed out. “This means you’ll like it.”

In fact, all aspects of my being loved this book.

McKay, a fellow musicologist (who knew?), had expertly woven together her family’s distant and recent medical past and embedded it into the present. As a result, I found her heartfelt previvor story of Lynch Syndrome to be truly inspiring.

“There’s hope for me,” I concluded when I got to the end of the book.

Moreover, my “TV couple” friends had brought to my attention the brilliant life story of Janina Fialkowska. I had admired this famous Canadian classical pianist for many years and truly enjoyed reading A Note In Time; it had appeared in print in 2021.

Fialkowska’s “collection of autobiographical anecdotes, some poignant, some hilarious” that included her “triumph over illness” were, simply put, outstanding.

“Dr. Barb” especially appreciated her elegant writing style because it matched this classy lady’s sophisticated approach to playing the piano. Her memoir’s chapter titles were especially clever as they emphasized the important role that music had played throughout her life.

However, I was neither a bestselling author nor a world-famous keyboardist. Would my readers feel similarly touched about my musings?

If nothing else, they arguably illustrated that a life journey requires neither fame nor fortune to be uniquely memorable.


Isn’t it ironic?  

“Hi, I am here to have bloodwork done.”

I tried not to sound nervous about my upcoming checkup in Saskatchewan and the fact that it included another CT scan; the last one had been taken in January 2021.

Having been told to report to a LifeLabs location at least 24 hours prior to my appointment on November 26, I did not want to leave it to the last minute. I figured I would get it done in Victoria prior to my departure for the prairies.

Much to my surprise, I had been forced to use the lab’s walk-in app (“Save my spot!”) that morning, even though I had called them a week earlier to make an appointment.

“The earliest one I have is in mid-December, Ma’am.”

Was that Schadenfreude I detected in the agent’s voice? Maybe the person was, um, German like moi and thus likely to derive pleasure from other people’s misfortune?

“Would you mind telling me why you guys are so busy?” I asked politely but firmly.

“Because the Canada-US border will open to fully vaccinated travellers on the 30th of November,” I was told. “A pre-molecular test needs to be done at a lab before you can head south in a couple of weeks from now.”

Evidently, all of Southern Vancouver Island had decided to leave at the same time. Go figure!

“Please have a seat,” said the lab’s receptionist, bringing me back to the present. “Someone will be with you shortly.”

A few minutes later, a nurse picked me up and led me to a cubicle.

I took off my jacket and cardigan and made myself comfortable while she got her paraphernalia ready. It took only a couple of minutes to have my blood drawn.

That was enough time for me to ponder several important questions in my head:

  • Did the thought of another pelvic exam at the hospital’s cancer clinic excite me? No.
  • Was I worried that the cancer would be back? No.
  • Was I excited about “going home” to see my friends and colleagues? Yes.
  • Was I anxious about getting on an airplane? Absolutely. (The province of Saskatchewan had reported the fewest Covid vaccinations in two months.)

Rising at an ungodly hour the next morning, I took a cab to the airport. The driver was early (good!) but in a mad rush (bad!). He laughed out loud when I suggested he should change careers and be a pilot instead.

Several hours later, a familiar scene from my last visit to Regina repeated itself.

My trusted neighbour picked me up from the airport, took me to the supermarket, and then dropped me off at my apartment (“Good to have you back, Barb.”)

The only difference? There was now a lot of snow and ice on the ground, but I had come prepared (with a new, highly fashionable scarf.)

Like last time, I cried tears of joy to be “back home” before calling my twin sister from my apartment via video chat. She laughed because I was wearing short sleeves and made sure the heat was turned off – in late November!

“Isn’t it ironic that I am always hot in Regina and consistently cold in Victoria?” I muttered.

In hindsight, these contrasting temperatures perfectly illustrated how different my day-to-day life was unfolding in these geographically distant locations.

I am convinced that, had I stayed on to heal in the prairies, my social calendar would likely soon have been back on fire (“Now that you feel better, Barb, we’d love to have you over for a visit.”)

Never in a million years had I expected my social circle to be tiny out west because the pandemic would linger on.

In fact, I had hoped to attend as many concerts and university lectures in town as possible, but they were either cancelled or moved online.

Yet leading an “uneventful life” regardless of location was, in fact, “the whole point of healing,” according to “Barb 2.0”.

As a result, my health guide was seriously annoyed when “Dr. Barb” made sure that five very busy days spent in the capital of Saskatchewan in late November would try to make up for five comparatively dull months spent in the capital of British Columbia during the summer and fall of 2021.

On the first day back in Regina, my dentist complimented me on the state of my mouth in the morning. My new sit-stand desk was happy to see me in the afternoon, as were several colleagues on whose office doors I had knocked (“How have you been, Barb?”).

On the second day, I went to the hospital for my CT scan in the morning (“Remember, once we administer the dye, it will feel like you peed your pants.”) In the evening, I attended a fun staff party hosted by my Harley-Davidson-driving colleague.

“I feel ‘normal’ for the first time in a long time.” I informed my trusted hairdresser at her nearby salon on the morning of the third day of my visit.

I suddenly became horribly fatigued at lunch time and crawled into bed, crying.

“I feel like I am back to chemo land,” I told my twin sister.

Then it hit me. The culprit was likely the vaccine booster shot I had received the day before. It made me feel like I had been hit by a bullet at warp speed!

Later that afternoon, I texted my trusted neighbour in a panic.

“I am really worried about tonight,” I admitted to her, still feeling beyond exhausted.

“Just take your time to get ready, Barb,” she said. “I’ll check in with you in an hour.”

“Okay.” Then I opened my closet.

What was I going to wear for the Saskatchewan Ovarian/Gynecological Cancer Survivors 2021 Christmas Party?


Either Covid will kill you, or I will 

I was very honoured to be the featured speaker that evening, to say the least.

The organizer was a truly inspirational female who had been chairing the monthly support group meetings online.

She had even moved the event by a week when I told her the exact weekend I was going to be in town (“No problem, Barb.”)

I was slightly uncomfortable with the size of the gathering, however.

There would be about 80 people from all over the province attending this event, “unless Covid shuts us down like it did last year,” I was told.

Miraculously, as soon as I got into my neighbour’s car and engaged in conversation, my energy stabilized. (“That’s her superpower,” my top-hatted guide observed.)

Twenty minutes later, after walking slowly through a parking lot covered with snow and ice, I introduced my trusted neighbour to the event organizer as “my Regina mom.”

We were then seated at her table and waited for the dinner part of the evening to begin.

Within five minutes, I watched these two retired women bond over the fact that they moved in similar circles (“It’s a small world.”)

“This young lady here can be a handful,” my neighbour soon confided in the event organizer.

“I had to talk quite a bit of sense into her while she was having treatments,” she continued.

“Oh no,” I thought.

I could feel a “Mom speech” coming on. Maybe this was a good time to get up and refill my glass of water?

“For example, I told her repeatedly to stop going on walks with other people but, of course, Barb ignored me,” my trusted neighbour pointed out.

Then she looked me straight in the eye.

“So, I said to Barb, ‘If you do it again, either Covid will kill you, or I will’.”

The event organizer promptly began roaring with laughter, while a memory clip began playing in my head.

I had bumped into my trusted neighbour in the park on a cold day in early January 2021 and been read the riot act.

If nothing else, her intention to murder me if I didn’t comply with her wishes had made me laugh out loud (but nothing more.)

As we walked home together, my phone suddenly went off – it was my GP.

“Let me put you on speaker phone.” That way the two of us could listen to what he had to say.

Imagine my surprise when he repeated what my trusted neighbour had just “suggested” to me verbatim (minus the death threat, of course.)

I will never forget the triumphant, “Told you so, Barb!” look in her eyes.

“Your wish is my command,” was my reply, much to my walking companion’s delight.

Had that just been a coincidence, or did my GP and “Mom” talk to each other behind my back, I wondered?

“Barb, get ready to eat soon,” the event organizer said, bringing me back to the present.

Then she welcomed a basement hall full of individuals who had been touched by cancer and got them excited about the catered Christmas Buffet.

The food was delicious, especially the Saskatchewan-style perogies and the German-style stuffed cabbage rolls. (These are traditionally served on the prairies throughout the Christmas season.)

Forty-five minutes later, I got up, walked over to the lectern, and waited to be given my cue to begin (“And now, without further ado ….”)

“This feels so normal – and so good,” I remember thinking as I talked and clicked my way through eight colourful, if not powerful PowerPoint slides.

I was glad that I could take my time, having been given twice as much time than when presenting online in October.

Most importantly, this audience had first-hand knowledge of what a cancer journey entailed.

From what I could tell with the lights having been turned off, everyone also seemed to be listening intently to what I said. (This is not always the case in a university classroom, as “Dr. Barb” will be quick to point out.)

“My memoir is going to be published before Christmas, if all goes well,” I said to conclude and smiled. “Thank you for your attention, everyone.”

Audience members whose full tummies had made them fall asleep were rudely awakened by a round of heartfelt applause.

“Great job, Barb!” My trusted neighbour was smiling when I returned to our table. “I saw many people nodding as you were talking.”

I had no idea how many female cancer survivors in attendance had been through a similar experience, years if not decades ago. But I appreciated that some of them took the time to provide me with immediate feedback.

“I had totally forgotten about that dreaded vaginal dilator business,” one lady admitted.

“I hated the food they served at the hospital, too,” said another.

The most memorable comments, however, were related to a medical procedure I had mentioned early on in my talk.

Four days after first reporting symptoms, 4.5 litres of fluid had been drained from my belly. As a result, I could empty my bladder completely for the first time in months (an amazing feeling, let me tell you.)

“That’s nothing,” a woman I had never met told me on my way to the washroom. “They drained eight litres from my belly!”

“Wow – that much?”

“Yes, but first they told me that it was gas, gave me pills, and sent me home.”

“That’s incredible!”

“The good news is that I went back and made them figure out what was really going on inside me, Barb.”

“That’s awesome – we are the lucky ones, aren’t we?”

Ten minutes later, when my energy level suddenly started to dip, my trusted neighbour decided to take me home (“Thanks for coming with me, Mom.”)

On my way to bed, I realized that my health guide, “Barb 2.0”, had congratulated “Dr. Barb” on her ‘excellent performance’.”

“I call that progress,” I said to my top-hatted guide, yawning.

“I call that perfect timing,” he replied, visibly amused.

With a joyful heart, I turned the lights off, said my evening prayers, and slept soundly until the morning.


Woof, woof, woof!

“It’s so good to see you, Winston!”

He and his lovely academic advisor mom had met me in the church parking lot and taken me home after I had finished playing for the Sunday morning service.

It had been a glorious experience (“We thank Barbara Reul for her music today.”) To my absolute delight – and in contrast to my last physical contact with an organ bench in August – I was not dead tired but energized afterwards, just like in pre-surgery times.

“I have a question for you.”

I was talking to Winston’s mom, breathing in the crisp November air through my mask.

My name is Winston (and this is not a mouse but a pig toy)

We were waiting for the pedestrian signal to start flashing (“22 … 21 … 20 …”) at an intersection that would let us cross into the huge park that is near my house.

“Is it okay if I include a picture of Winston and his Auntie Barb in my memoir?”

“Oh, my goodness, of course, it is!” His mom was clearly excited.

“Woof, woof, woof!” barked Winston. I took that as a “Yes, yes, yes!”

“Then it’s settled,” I declared cheerfully.

It had been my inner child who had come up with this splendid idea, by the way. She had realized early on that Winston had the same magical powers as a tomcat named Willie.

My twin and I were ten years old when we were allowed to adopt him from the local animal shelter. Our father had died a few months earlier from a rare form of blood cancer; it had attacked his other organs one by one over the course of 13 years. He passed away at the age of 52.

Our mother, one year his junior, was not really into felines. Yet, she agreed with our oldest sister that it would be “good for the girls to have a pet.”

Much to her own surprise and delight, my mom turned out to be an absolute cat magnet. Willie and the other cats that followed him, Bussi and Minzer, loved spending time with her. The reason?

She liked feeding them kitchen scraps including Quark, a popular German, thick yoghurt-like dairy product they loved. (Clearly, they were not lactose-intolerant, like many cats are believed to be.)

“Oh dear – Felix is hurt,” my mother said one day.

He was a handsome blue budgie who did not care much for the cats. But he knew how to say several Bavarian phrases, including “Grüß Gott”, a traditional greeting.

This winged pet had joined our family after we had visited our oldest sister on Vancouver Island in 1979 and met his “Canadian cousin.” Her chatty pet liked to take showers in the kitchen sink (who knew?).

According to my mother, Felix seemed to have “broken his neck.” For the record, she had figured this out without ever asking Dr. Google for input (imagine the concept!).

Then she ordered my stunned twin sister to visit the local pharmacy and pick up an anesthetic (“I’ll call ahead.”) That way she could supervise my younger sibling put the budgie to sleep because “I could never kill an animal” (my mother’s words, not mine.)

When Minzer had to be put to sleep a couple of years later, she sat in the waiting room while I joined the vet in the treatment room (“Tell your mom that your cat did not have to suffer.”)

In other words, this tough, no-nonsense woman – who was a teenager when World War II took the lives of her two younger brothers – was a true animal lover.

She hardly ever talked to us about her feelings when my father’s health began to deteriorate in the mid-1970s, however.

Looking back, I am now convinced she must have “died a small death” (a phrase she would use to explain feelings of loss and grief to her twin daughters) when her husband, a trained butcher turned porcelain factory worker, “killed all the bunnies” (my words, not hers.)

They lived in smelly cages at the back of our garage, and “only the fat and old ones” ever ended up on our lunch and dinner plates, according to my mother.

But the younger ones could do amazing tricks, had the softest fur ever, and happily responded to the names we had given them (like “Hasi”, meaning “little rabbit”.)

My multi-layered reaction as a seven-year-old girl to the unexpected death of our beloved pets (as a sacrifice to my father’s declining health) is a complicated matter.

It deserves to be told on its own, so that’s what I hope to focus my attention on as a writer after this sequel goes public.

By now, Winston, his mom, and I had crossed the street (“3 … 2 … 1 …”) and began our walk around beautiful Wascana Lake.

“My mother is going to lose her mind when she finds out that her furry grandson will be featured in a published book.” My friend was positively beaming.

“He has been an important part of my healing journey.” I petted Winston again, smiling.

After an hour of walking and catching up, we returned to her car.

“Why don’t you and Winston open the bags with your Christmas presents now?”

I was not yet ready to let them go. It was too cold to sit outside on “our bench” out front and snuggle like we had during my previous visits.

“Sure – please hop on the passenger seat, Barb.”

“Woof, woof, woof,” Winston commented from the back, clearly in agreement.

The pair of fuzzy Christmas sock-shoes, a hand-made Christmas ornament, and some hot chocolate from Murchies, a famous tea shop in Victoria, were a big hit with Winston’s mom.

He would love the doggy treats I had brought for him all the way from Vancouver Island, she assured me.

“Good luck with your checkup on Tuesday.”

“I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“Keep us posted, too, Barb,” my TV couple friends said on Monday evening.

Sharing a tasty home-cooked meal (“You like pork schnitzel, right?”) and catching up with them never got old, as far as I was concerned.

And who cared about an upcoming pelvic exam when you were having that much fun?


Going commando

“Text me when you are done, Barb.”

My trusted neighbour was dropping me off at the hospital for my cancer clinic appointment on the last day in November.

“I will.” I was carefully climbing out of the car so as not to slip on the ice and snow.

This time around, I was not nervous at all – I had finally internalized what that German cancer survivor had said (“My thoughts and worries will not make me healthy.”)

Intriguingly, my health guide, “Barb 2.0”, was looking forward to meeting my favourite medical oncologist. (She had gone on parental leave before this new part of my personality was “born” in my head.)

“It’s great to see you again, Barb.”

This energetic physician was clearly in a good mood. I had missed her lovely smile and caring nature – and I appreciated that, for once, she had not brought a resident with her.

That meant that she would perform the pelvic exam herself, and she knew what she was doing.

“I am so sorry I couldn’t be at your talk on Saturday night.”

The oncologist was getting ready to use a speculum.

“My kid didn’t want to go to sleep, believe it or not.”

“To have you there would have been awesome, but I understand completely.” I took a deep breath in and then exhaled to relax, as instructed.

“Apparently I missed quite a show.” My doctor was smiling through her mask.

Had the event organizer called her afterwards?

“I was praising you to the skies, you know,” I emphasized, trying to ignore what was going on inside my pelvic region.

(Spoiler alert: if descriptions of “what gynecological oncologists do for a living” is, um, not your “thing,” feel free to skim over the next few lines.)

She smiled behind her mask and removed the plastic instrument from my vagina; that part of the exam had not hurt at all.

“That’s very kind of you, Barb.”

Then she stood up and warned me about putting two glove-covered fingers up my anus.

“Let me know when your book is coming out – maybe we can collaborate sometime.”

“I would be honoured!”

I breathed a sigh of relief when she removed the two fingers a few seconds later.

“No more IBS symptoms, Barb? That’s awesome.”

I uncovered my belly for her to take a closer look. From what I could tell, she seemed pleased with how my scar was healing.

“And I’m really glad that you are so diligent with your pelvic homework.”

“I aim to please,” I replied. “But the vaginal burning is still going on and really uncomfortable.”

“Let’s blame the radiation,” she decided and proceeded to give me (more) homework. “Barb, I don’t want you to wear underwear at night for the next few months.”

She sounded serious enough for my top-hatted guide to jump in (“I’ll remind you about going commando.”) “Dr. Barb” and “Barb 2.0” promptly winked at him.

The oncologist then handed me some wipes to signal that I could get dressed soon.

“One last question,” I said. “Has the CT scan shown anything?”

“There is no sign of cancer anywhere, Barb.” My doctor was visibly pleased.

“Fantastic!” I was visibly relieved.

That was going to be my best Christmas present ever, for obvious reasons.

“I’ll see you in mid-March, Barb, and Happy Holidays.”

“Same to you, and only the best for you and your family in the New Year.”

Twenty minutes later, I was home, courtesy of my trusted neighbour. She knew I couldn’t wait to share the good news with my loved ones.

My best friend was especially happy for me. We had talked a lot on the phone since my arrival (“Life is always good when we are both in Saskatchewan.”)

“I look forward to the concert tonight.”

“I’ll pick you up early, so we can have a chat beforehand, Barb.”

In addition to teaching at a local high school, she conducted a local adult community band. They would be taking to the stage tonight, as part of an end-of-semester concert that featured our local University’s Wind Band ensemble and involved many of my students.

“Let’s go to the Green room,” my best friend suggested. “We can talk there.”

For a good half hour or so, she reminisced about her late parents and the role community music had played in their lives and hers. I never got tired of listening to her stories about them (“They were the best.”)

I also laughed out loud when she pointed out that our respective moms and dads “would have gotten along like houses on fire in heaven,” even though neither spoke the other’s language.

“I’ll see you afterwards,” I said to my best friend when the musicians began to arrive (“Break a leg.”)

The concert was wonderful, and my best friend’s short, but heartfelt speeches in between were a real treat (“Making music together means so much to us.”) I was so very proud of her!

Thanks to the large size of the performance venue, I was also comfortable (more or less) being surrounded by other vaccinated and masked individuals.

The one sitting next to me was a beloved colleague and former student. She had been in the first upper-level music history class I had taught after arriving in the early 2000s.

It had been an honour to play for her wedding – “We would like the Widor Toccata for the organ recessional, Barb” – and for the baptisms of her two children. (She married another former student of mine, the choirmaster at my church.)

It had been a joy to watch this brilliant young woman complete her doctoral degree at a university in Ontario, while watching her kids grow up at home in front of my eyes.

It had been a relief to talk to her mother, a fellow endometrial cancer survivor, when I had begun fretting about having my pelvis radiated in mid-February 2021.

Had it really been eight months already that I had finished treatments?

All of I sudden I heard my name being announced through the sound system.

“We are so thrilled to have Dr. Barbara Reul in the audience today – we have missed her.”

“What the @#$%?!” I blurted out quietly, making my colleague chuckle.

Had the conductor of the University ensemble just announced my presence to a huge auditorium full of concert goers, as in students and their friends and families? So much for attending this event incognito.

“Well, the cat is out of the bag now,” my Harley-Davidson-driving colleague said with a big smile on his face when I admonished him after the concert.

“At least nobody got hurt this time,” I pointed out with a big smile on my face.

“Don’t remind me, Barb.” I could detect a painful expression in his voice. “They made me fill out one of these dreaded incident reports three years ago.”

“They” referred to the university administration, and the “incident” in question had been live-streamed and viewed 30 million times within a few days.

As you can well imagine, the “University of Regina student’s mallet-to-the-face moment goes viral” headline did not manage to amuse the two percussion majors involved.

One literally didn’t know what hit them (“I will never forget this as long as I live, Barb.”)

“I had a great time tonight,” I said when I was getting into my best friend’s car. “I could feel a lot of love surrounding me.”

“I could feel it too, Barb – it’s been so awesome having you back in town.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow from the West Coast, my dear.”


It’s not what you think

“My flight is seriously delayed,” I announced to my trusted neighbour the next morning.

As a result, she took me to the airport much later than planned. I thanked her for everything (“You are the best, Mom”) and proceeded to go through airport security.

Since I had no bags to check, I assumed it would go fast and smoothly.

I was wrong.

“Whose suitcase is this?”

“It’s mine.”

“May I open it, Ma’am?”

I did as I was told, unsure what exactly the baggage scanner had flagged. Should I perhaps have eaten the snack I had packed (an apple and two hard-boiled eggs)?

This reminded me of a funny incident that had taken place at the Toronto Pearson International Airport many years ago.

Unlike now – when checked luggage is automatically transferred to a passenger’s final destination – travellers had to collect their bags after having gone through customs (“Did you visit a farm outside of Canada?”).

Then, you headed to a special gate and placed them on a conveyor belt (“Face down, please.”)

Finally, you went through security again at the domestic terminal prior to boarding your connecting flight.

Sounds like a pain? It was.

In any case, after retrieving my suitcase and weaving my way through the gigantic luggage hall, I began noticing several “detector dogs” as they are called, as well as their handlers.

“That’s a first,” I remember thinking, pulling my bag behind me.

An official-looking German shepherd suddenly showed up out of nowhere, sat next to me, and started barking angrily.

Of course, the world came to a complete standstill when that happened. In fact, I could have also sworn that at least 100 people stopped dead in their tracks and began to take interest in my fate as a fellow traveller.

The officer in charge of the canine proceeded to ask me a series of loaded questions.

“Did you bring any food items, Ma’am?”

While he motioned his dog to shut up, I shook my head to signal “no.”

“Any fruits or vegetables?” I shook my head again.

“No meat or fish either?”

By now, my neck was complaining from the unexpected workout (it had been a long and uncomfortable flight.)

My silence was warranted, however. It gave me time to figure out in my head which illegal substance in my luggage – which I had packed myself – could have set off that dog’s highly sensitive nose.

Had someone perhaps opened my suitcase and slipped in a bunch of drugs while I wasn’t looking? (I had read about this online.)

Or had this canine been a service dog in a former life and was able to detect people with illnesses they were unaware of, like sudden onset diabetes? (I had read about that online as well.)

Or was there an earthquake or some other natural disaster about to change my life forever that this German shepherd wanted us to know about? (Clearly, I was reading too much online.)

“And don’t forget about Border Security: Canada’s Front Line,” my inner child reminded me, trying to be helpful.

I had enjoyed watching this controversial reality TV show (maybe too much?) but could not recall what exactly happened when a sniffer dog had singled someone out.

All I remembered was that it had never ended well. (Incidentally, that series was cancelled quickly because of privacy reasons, but reruns have remained popular with viewers.)

Suddenly, my main guide showed me the image of a purple cow (“Hint, hint.”)

“Brilliant,” I thought and smiled on the inside.

“Come to think of it, I did buy a lot of Milka chocolate in Germany,” I told the officer.

Now he was shaking his head. Then he looked at his four-legged assistant, somewhat annoyed.

“Bad dog,” he mumbled under his breath, turned around, and focused his attention on other passengers and their luggage.

Since then, I have often wondered what would have happened if an onlooker had shot a video of this incident and posted it online.

Would it have garnered millions of views and made me an internet celebrity (“University Professor’s love for chocolate sets off K-9 dog at airport”)?

“Go ahead and open my carry-on suitcase,” I said to the youngish airport security officer at the Regina Airport, quietly but confidently.

After the thinning shear incident in late August, I had taken extra care when packing my belongings. In other words, he wasn’t going to find anything.

I was wrong.

After rifling through all packing cubes slowly and methodically, the agent pulled out a small see-through plastic bag and held it up for everyone (as in 10 people) to see.

“Oh @#$%,” I thought.

It contained a certain medical device I had been using four times a week since early April 2021.

Since the agent was wearing a mask, I couldn’t tell what he was thinking while he examined the item carefully.

Suddenly, the airport security officer looked me straight in the eye for five – very long – seconds.

“Everyone, shut up and look neutral,” advised “Barb 2.0”.

Then “we” stared back at him for what felt like five minutes.

In the meantime, my inner stand-up comedian began to imagine what could have been going through this airport worker’s mind at the time. Here’s what she came up with:

1.) Wow, lady – you sure don’t look like you would put an, um, sex toy of sorts in your carry-on!

2.) Aren’t you, like, way too old for kinky stuff like that, with your salt and pepper hair colour and all those wrinkles?

3.) Or are you, like … um, ah, er … a hooker? A prostitute? Or, like, a sex-trade worker specializing in, um, older folks? That would fit, given your, um, advanced age and the truly boring clothes you wear!

4.) That gadget of yours is also … um, er, ah, … kind of weird… where’s the on/off switch? Wait … maybe it has a remote of sorts?

5.) And to choose the colour white for this, um, thingie … that’s so uninspired …!

6.) In any case, lady, you should have put this, um, instrument in your checked luggage because they don’t pay me enough for this @#$%!

“You are cleared to go, Ma’am,” the security officer said suddenly. “I’ll just talk to my colleague about it.”

Then he walked away, while I put the vaginal dilator back into the packing cube and zipped up my suitcase.

“You are so lucky that person couldn’t read your mind,” my top-hatted guide noted.

I had left the area quickly and proceeded to my gate nearby, trying to process what had just happened.

“I really don’t want to know what the other passengers and staff were thinking when he went through your things,” replied a mortified “Dr. Barb”.

“Some things are – and will always stay – private,” I replied.

Then a memory clip from late October 2001 suddenly began to play in my head, for the benefit of my health guide, “Barb 2.0”.

I was at the Victoria airport, on my way to visit Saskatchewan for the first time ever. My destination was not Regina but Saskatoon to present at a scholarly conference.

“There’s a sharp object in your backpack that we cannot identify,” a nervous looking baggage scanner had said in a loud and shaky voice.

I had been wondering what was going on. My carry-on piece of luggage had been x-rayed three times by now. There were also two other uniformed people looking at the scanner’s monitor, quietly whispering to each other.

Since the entire world was still very much on edge after what had happened in New York only a few weeks earlier, on September 11, 2001, I was trying to stay calm but failing miserably.

“I need to take a closer look at your bag, Ma’am.”

“Go right ahead, Sir.”

After staff had gone through the entire contents multiple times and scanned the ominous backpack twice more, the culprit turned out to be – wait for it – a birthday gift.

“Sorry to give you so much grief about this pretty pink ballpoint-pen,” one of the scanners admitted sheepishly.

For the record, he had been watching yours truly intently throughout this entire “Could this boring-looking woman be a terrorist?” affair.

“It’s fine,” I answered, faking a smile.

My heart had been pounding like mad for the past 15 minutes, for obvious reasons.

In hindsight, I am thankful that this “way too dramatic” post-9/11 incident (to quote my inner child who was completely freaked out by the whole thing) was not captured on someone’s camera and shared globally via the internet.

Had I told my friends and family about what happened? You bet. But then I had evidently successfully suppressed it (as in “conveniently forgotten”, clarified my main guide.)

What other seemingly random stuff from my checkered past would I have to comb through as part of this sequel (or “therapeutic writing exercise,” to quote “Barb 2.0”)?

“Don’t be frustrated by how the universe is choosing to help you to heal properly,” advised my health guide. She had watched this “life echo” of sorts with great interest.

“That’s tough,” I replied truthfully. “Why doesn’t the universe just give me what I want?”

“That’s not how it works.”

“How does it work, then?”

“The universe will give you exactly what you need when you need it.”

Enough said.


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