by Ava Baccari
Me with Canadian actress Lisa Ray.
It was a miracle of class scheduling that I ended up having Tuesdays off during my final three semesters of university to spend treatment days at the hospital with my dad. In fact, dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma — a blood cancer that forms in the bone marrow — on a Tuesday, and many weeks since then, we did what we had always done after spending mornings together at Princess Margaret Hospital before, after or in between radiation treatments, chemo injections, blood tests, subsequent transfusions and bone marrow extracts: go for coffee on College Street.
Dad and I had some of our best talks during these weekly coffee dates. I’m pretty sure we solved the European economic crisis multiple times over, recited our jumbled-up version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and mapped out my future from exams, to internships to that time I thought packing up and moving to Australia for a year was a good idea.
Because of the unequivocal thoughtfulness and empathy dad devoted to each of these topics — including how to address a judge in traffic court and end a relationship gracefully — he became my closest confidant, my partner in crime who shared my M&M addiction and always refilled my gas tank when I drove back from the hospital.
Once, after he was diagnosed in March 2010, dad and I sat waiting for his radiation treatment when I noticed an untouched copy of the Toronto Star lying on one of the nondescript hospital waiting room coffee tables. It contained the article I’d read earlier over breakfast, clipped and promptly forgot to bring for my dad to read at this exact moment of waiting.
It was the story of Canadian actress Lisa Ray – diagnosed with multiple myeloma in June 2009 — and her battle to remission after the same stem cell transplant that my father would unsuccessfully undergo last April at the same hospital as Ray in Hamilton, Ont. On that grey morning at the hospital, I realized that as a close-enough mirror to my father’s own cancer journey thus far, Ray represented the hope that dad would also emerge from the vigorous treatment for this incurable but treatable blood disease both alive and reborn.
Dad read the article, smiled and quickly headed off to be zapped for the tumours that embedded themselves within his vertebrae, collapsing three discs in his spine as they wedged their way in.
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