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February 21, 2020

Sculpture, Land Monster, Karla Tolstoy, Al tolstoy, Zach Tolstoy, Fairy House


When I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in October 2018, survivor-ship jumped to the forefront of my vocabulary. How would I handle this? How would my family and my spouse handle this new reality? Well 13 months later, no one has crawled into a hole or curled up into a fetal position. All of us have a positive can-do attitude; act in unison and with care and compassion towards each other.

Leading the charge is my handsome prince charming, whom I saw for the first time 25 years ago; went home and told my parents I’d just met the man I would marry. It took me some 3 years to have him really notice me, but we’ve been inseparable ever since. When I discovered our age gap, I was shocked but not deterred and see him today being just as handsome as 25 years ago!

And so, my story is about him and survival in what his new reality has become. We had our son in 2001 Al was 55 years old and starting over with a newborn and his other boys 17 and 22 years old. This meant that Al’s retirement years would be pushed out given his parental role as our son grew. Finally, our son turned 18 and Al’s second chance at age 73 for retirement seemed to be about to happen. We had plans to travel, spend a few months in Florida and downsize our Oakville house.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Within 24 hours of my diagnosis, Al became a caregiver for a much younger wife. We’d laughed about my placing him into a good nursing home when he got too old and promised that I’d visit him regularly! Now our roles were reversed.

Prior to this diagnosis, his life had entailed various outdoor activities, doing projects at our home and cottage. His love of watching NFL football and NHL hockey were totally derailed. Now, he’s on the clock as my med’s manager, doctors’ appointments coordinator, scheduler of CT scans, MRIs and X-rays and my chauffer.

His focus is on my survival and so he does endless research, reads all the articles friends send us and has hired a US based health firm that is tracking and sharing all the latest global initiatives to fight this disease.

Al is normally a private person, however this reality has forced him to share his home with a live-in support person, my parents who lived with us for a few months at the beginning of my diagnosis, the frequent visitors I now have, be they support groups, friends and even old childhood friends with whom I have reconnected. He converted a room on the main floor into a bedroom sanctuary for me equipped with all types of things to facilitate my mobility even including those beds that hospitals use to allow me to adjust the mattress height and angles. And I also have one up in our master bedroom suite. He installed two of the Japanese toilets that are self-cleaning with douche to make my life easier. He equipped me with the latest cell phone and tablet to ensure that I could stay active on social media etc.

He commissioned friends to build me a 12-foot Friendly Dragon, I named Faith, in our backyard. He bought me a Mini Dachshund since I should not lift heavy items (we also have a Great Dane who weighs 160 pounds and a rescue mixed breed who weighs 100 pounds), we named our new puppy Hope and she’s a treasure when she does not bark. In our backyard, he and our son created a riverbed of stones, built oversized mushrooms, a pathway and two unique doors that lead in and out of this magical garden. Right now, when time permits, he’s building oversized fairy houses in our garage to place in the yard come springtime.

So, our world has changed, and the focus is not only on treatment but also on my comfort and distractions to take my mind off the cancer as much as possible. I’ve made his life Topsy-turvy and its now all about my health, but he never complains and has faith that we will win this battle no matter what it takes. He makes things happen for me. He brings me daily joy.

My daily routine is this good because of what’s he’s done for me. My priorities are to take my meds, exercise as I can and eat properly and oops shop online! With him at my side, I find that I can laugh, chat, watch movies and really enjoy my family. He knows which social causes are important for me and financially supports my endeavor for the Foster Kids Organization.

I’m sure his emotions are a constant roller coaster and since he is private, it’s likely tough for him as he internalizes thoughts; but when I ask, he reassures me that he is okay and does not need to rely on others to help him manage through the difficult times.

My new norm and my survivor-ship are made that much easier and comfortable because of his efforts and his love for me.

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