Mother to Mother
by Catherine Young
I didn't need chemotherapy after all.
Caroline, my new oncologist, met me on a Thursday
and asked if my breastfeeding magazine had anything
to do with La Leche League, an organization she respects.
I felt like I was on safe ground, but that didn't last.
"You are in too much back pain, Catherine. We have
to rule out spinal cancer," she said. An hour later I was
having five impossibly uncomfortable x-rays to explain
the stabbing ache in the small of my back.
On Friday the ray results weren't helpful and an MRI
was scheduled for Tuesday. Wednesday is Dr. Caroline's
day off, but she went in to get the results anyway and
reached me in the barn watering pregnant ewes.
The MRI found five cancer hot spots, including one on a
disintegrating vertebrae in the small of my back,
the cause of so much pain when I got up from bed.
I cried into the receiver and asked how long I could
expect to live. She said it could be two to eight years,
and that I would start radiation on Monday. In the
meantime, I would begin taking Tamoxifen, Bonefoss
for calcium, steroids and narcotic painkillers.
There are many responsibilities on a sheep farm, and I
hired neighbouring children to lug grain and throw hay
bales to make it easier for my helper who would come
from town while I was gone. We went into Clifford for
lunch at the Four Aces Restaurant, where I have a
generous credit. When someone buys tea but wants to
put it on Mastercard (which I don't carry) The Four Aces
takes the transaction and I get to spend it on their specials.
The manager asked why I hadn't been around lately and
I told him about my mastectomy in September and now
metastasized cancer in my spine.
"My mother had a radical mastectomy when I was six,"
he said, "and soon after spinal cancer that was supposed
to give her less than a year to live." He smiled, and I had
to wonder what kind of madman was serving hamburgers
for the children and plain tea for me. "We buried her when
she was 88; she had a good, long, full life," he said and I
began to hope I might too.
I only needed five rounds of radiation for the pin-prick
cancer spots, and after much negotiation, homecare supplied
me with a push-button electric bed to come home to,
five days later. Soon I no longer needed the painkillers; that
vertebrae healed and I could get out of bed without
Dr. Caroline was pleased with my progress, and I was able
to eliminate the steroids, which had made me want to eat
stir-fried vegetables in the middle of the night. I began
following the "Eat Right 4 Your Type" book by Dr. Peter
D'Adamo (Putnam), drinking pineapple juice and eating
figs. I am an o blood type, and need beef but not cabbage
or wheat, broccoli and fish but not caviar or anchovies.
Funny thing: my ankles used to be tender and sore when I
woke but after two weeks of following the O diet, that
pain disappeared. A greater reward was not having to
In mid-January, the lambs started coming and there are
66 romping around the barn now and as many expected
before July. During midnight treks to the maternity pen I
consoled myself with the dream of selling out and buying
a big Victorian home on a lake, and as I swung buckets
of grain and water, I imagined lifting nothing heavier than
a pack of cards at a bridge table.
While I had radiation therapy, I stayed at a lodge for
cancer patients. At supper one night there were six of us
with breast cancer, mulling over what we had in common.
There was a hairdresser, a teacher, a nurse, a saleslady,
a dairy farmer and this shepherd. All but one of us
breastfed our children. All of us had been fed Carnation Milk
and corn syrup as infants.
I believe I have Nestle Carnation Milk Cancer, and I have
a strong hunch the horrors of bottle feeding won't quit
until we are in our graves. Obesity, poor eyesight,
thumbsucking and oral craving, osteoporosis, heart disease,
neurosis and cancer are all part of the package deal when
a babe is denied that perfect food, mother's milk, and given
Nestle's expensive concoction instead.
While I recovered, a team of women took care of me.
An acupuncturist, breastfeeding her two-year-old,
still comes twice a week to loosen my spastic upper
trapezius neck muscles, which still prevent me from
spending any serious amount of time on my computer.
And a social worker applied for, and was successful in
getting me a monthly disability pension.
Imagine how much anti-formula publishing will be
possible when I don't have sheep and do have a generous
I can hardly wait.
~ Your Catherine