Bev Old: a cancer road less travelled
Choosing life on her terms
For Bev Old, living life well with cancer after a second diagnosis in just six years, meant making a difficult and very personal decision… she chose to discontinue chemotherapy.
The first time Bev was diagnosed with colon rectal cancer was just one week before her 60th birthday. Caught early, the treatment included surgery and an ostomy; and gratefully her medical team was able to reverse the ostomy within six months. After that, Bev carried on with her life and felt glad to be alive and well.
Then, just three weeks shy of her five-year cancer-free anniversary, persistent pain in Bev’s leg uncovered more cancer – this time in the abdomen and lungs. Stomach tumours were causing muscle swelling and sciatica; hence the intense leg pain. Bev was given a terminal diagnosis and offered an extensive treatment plan.
“I had five rounds of radiation, then we started into the chemotherapy. But chemo was making me feel just terrible. I felt like I was going downhill fast. I could not longer drive and I became completely dependent on a walker to get around. So, after six treatments, I decided to stop the chemo. When it comes to living, my thought was, I choose quality over quantity,” she said.
That was over nine months ago and since that time, Bev has enjoyed an unexpected rebound.
“Aside from my foot continuing to give me some grief, I really have no other side effects from cancer at this point in time,” she said, adding that doctors have now pinpointed her persistent leg issues as Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome.
Thanks to the radiation, and possibly the five rounds of chemo, she is now able to walk, drive and return to her love of gardening. She even took a trip to Mexico with her daughter at Christmas, and recently the pair visited Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island.
“My journey is very different than most people’s. For me, being diagnosed as terminal with an indefinite chemo plan that would leave me totally down and out for ten days at a time – that just didn’t feel like the way I wanted to live out my life. I want to live like I’m alive, not live like I’m dying,” she said.
Bev’s approach to treatment isn’t right for everyone, but she feels strongly she made the right choice for herself.
“Every day when I wake up, I open my eyes and I am thankful for the day. I’m a bit like a child – I go outside and I’m in awe of all the birds; I study the flowers; I try to wring out every bit of joy there is. I know there will be hard days ahead, when things start moving in the other direction, but for right now, I’m here and I’m storing up all the goodness for days ahead.
Connecting to Wellspring
Bev found her way to Wellspring with encouragement from her daughter, who recognized that her mom might benefit from extra support.
“I wasn’t really that keen to join at first. I had just moved to Lethbridge and I didn’t feel well enough to participate. I thought – why would I want to hear about other people’s cancer stories when I’m barely coping with my own,” she said.
Then with the added encouragement of a social worker at the Lethbridge Cancer Centre, Bev decided to join a group that calls themselves the ‘Go-Getters’… cancer patients, survivors and caregivers who began gathering together monthly for walks and coffee after meeting each other at a Wellspring information session back in 2019.
“There was a lot of talk in the Go-Getters group about Wellspring especially when it became accessibility online, so I decided to try some programs. I did peer support and chair yoga and when Wellspring started the in-person Cancer Connect program in our area, I joined that too,” she said.
To her delight, Bev found that spending time with others living with cancer, and sharing their stories turned out to be exactly what she needed.
“Everyone who has cancer, regardless of the type, we all experience similar emotions – fear, anger, grief. These can be really hard emotions to process and express, but because we all understand, we can talk about it and even laugh about it. For me it was like coming home,” said Bev.
And as an added bonus, Bev found a new forever friend.
“I lived in Lloydminster for 40 years. When I moved to Lethbridge to be closer to my daughter after my terminal cancer diagnosis, I thought I’d never find friendship like I had back home. But when I came to a Wellspring Cancer Connect meeting, I met a person who is now very dear to me. We just hit it off – like sisters from another life. She is a Godsend. And friendship puts cancer on the sidelines – makes you want to keep on living!”
What is Cancer Connect?
Cancer Connect is an informal gathering over coffee, tea and snacks, open to any adult individuals living with cancer and their caregivers or support person offered in Red Deer and Lethbridge. These monthly gatherings offer a safe space to connect with others on a similar path and learn strategies for supporting the mind, body and spirit.