Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Family Connections

L-R: Me, my cousin Marcia, my brother Doug
This past weekend, I hopped on a train and went to Toronto to visit family. I've been wanting to head down since before Christmas, but haven't had an excuse until my cousin Marcia had a speaking engagement in Toronto.

One would think that, living within a 7-hour drive of my large extended family, I would see more of them than I do. But I am slothful and really loathe the drive through metropolitan Toronto. Adding another two hours of congested highway driving onto the trek to make it to Welland just really bites. (Any chance I could get my siblings to move to Peterborough or Oshawa?)

The result is that I only see my siblings about once every year or so -- and rarely ever see all of them at once. (I have four brothers and two sisters.) And my cousin? Well, she lives in Philadelphia, so I typically only see her at major family events like weddings, so this was a rare event.

Since she had speaking commitments on Friday (she and her team have developed a breakthrough drug to treat a rare thyroid cancer), my brother Doug and I took Marcia's daughter Julie to the Toronto Science Centre.

Now that my own kids are grown, this kind of experience is rare, so Doug and I had a lot of fun. Julie had been given a generous allowance for souvenir shopping and managed to spend it all in a short 15-minute spree at the gift shop. Amongst her haul were these:

A small plasma globe - to rival her brother's larger one.
Crazy drinking-straw glasses. She contemplated how she might choose her drink colour based on mood:
pink for happy, yellow for scared, dark brown for angry.
The four of us had dinner together and Julie, who had been very talkative, suddenly became shy and kept prompting her mother to tell us specific stories.

Sadly, the Toronto weather was grey and drizzly on Friday and Saturday, but we still had a lovely view from our room.

Looking out toward Toronto Island (you can juuuuust make out the rest of Lake Ontario on the other side of the island).
Saturday began with a breakfast hosted by Marcia's Canadian patients who live in Southern Ontario. The cancer that Marcia treats is so rare that her patients come from across the States and Canada. Many of them had been given weeks or months to live before they saw her and are still living life to the full.

But the relationship is not just about successful treatment; it is about the warmth of their relationships. Marcia warns all her patients that "this is an office that hugs" -- she really connects with these people, even gives them her personal cell phone number! (She cautioned that she doesn't do this for all her patients - that would be crazy.) She explained to me that she felt she had to choose between treating and researching common cancers where she would have a huge patient base or rare cancers where she could really focus on her patients and get to know them. Knowing her own personality - an extrovert who wears her heart on her sleeve - she chose the more intimate route.

It was a privilege for me to meet these people and glimpse this side of Marcia's life.

From breakfast, we headed to a buffet lunch with (some of) my siblings and Aunt Winkie. I took a bunch of pictures there but managed to overlook one of the camera settings (!) and only about 1/3 of them turned out. So here's what I managed to capture.

My sister Christine and her son Robert

My brother-in-law Robert and Christine

Marcia and Julie being silly, and my niece Jennifer

Mike and my nephew Pierre (and just a glimpse of Aunt Winkie)
By this time, I felt like I had spent the entire weekend eating. In fact, I had. (It was a good weekend.)

Next up was a short visit to Aunt Winkie's. Then I spent a night at my brother's place, meeting his girlfriend and enjoying a full turkey dinner (I somehow managed not to take a single picture!), followed by a delicious brunch on Sunday.

I came home Sunday afternoon and spent most of Monday restoring my energy. I had thought that the health issues I'd had last fall (exhaustion and achiness) had disappeared, but I think my relaxed pace has disguised the fact that I'm still not all that well. On Monday, every joint ached and I was so, so tired. It was as if I had a flu.

But here we are at Tuesday, and I'm feeling much, much better. In any case, it was absolutely worth it. Especially getting to meet this little sprite, who reminded me so much of Katie at that same age:


  1. Your cousin Marcia sounds like an amazing person, and her daughter is pretty cool, too (love those drinking straw glasses!).

    Sorry to hear you're not feeling well. I hope the energy starts coming back soon.

    1. Oh, she is wonderful. I just wish we lived closer! And I'm feeling better already, though I'm glad I forced myself to go for a walk and cook a good dinner on Monday, despite my sluggishness.

  2. What an amazing thing she is doing! I am more than willing to bet her personal and caring touch go along way towards making people well.
    Sounds like a very nice weekend with your family. My own are anywhere from an hour away - to also in the Toronto area. We try to all get together a few times a year -- whenever there is a special occasion, and of course Christmas.

    1. It was a great weekend, and I am so proud of Marcia's work.


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