D-day (By: Aimee Bruner)

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By: Aimee

Three years ago today, my life fell apart in the dim light of a hospital room at 12:30a.m. With cartoons playing on an old TV attached to the ceiling, Mishi snuggled into the hospital bed, cradling Stella in her arms, I was curled up on the hard bench attached to the wall, slowly drifting into the state you reach seconds before you fall asleep.  Then it all stopped.  The door swung open, a sliver of light filled the room and a team of doctors in scrubs lined up along the wall.  As the lights came on, one of them started to speak.  To this day, the only words that came out of  “Dr. Doom’s” mouth that I remember are “mass”, “brain”, “oncology”.   I remember Mishi lurching forward, looking at me in hopeless desperation and saying “Aim – NO NO NO!”  I was frozen, unable to move, just watching it happen.  One of the residents had to help me move across the room to be at Mishi and Stella’s side.  Stella knew something was wrong right away and started to squirm to look at Mishi.  Mishi’s eyes rolled back in her head and she fainted – out cold.  Our world was exploding and we were being crushed under it’ weight.

 

There we were, alone – losing everything we had.  Earlier that night, we had sent our family home because we were told that we would not receive the MRI results until the morning.  As four doctors worked on Mishi who was still unconscious, I was franticly trying to clutch Stella in my arms as she screamed for her mama – “I want my mama!  What’s wrong with mama?!”  As she hit and kicked me, I managed to get my cell phone out of my pocket.  I needed my parents and I needed my sister.  They came.  They came right away – and they never left.

 

Although the excruciating moments that unfolded over the next four days and the weeks to come will never be gone from my memory, I won’t recant them any further on this page.  Mishi has since been diagnosed with PTSD from the experience of Stella’s diagnosis and I won’t drag her back through it on this blog that is so sacred to her.  She won’t be reading this post as I’ve warned her not to.  It’s just too hard.

 

From the very beginning, my defense mechanism has been a form of denial that only allowed me to take in minimal information at a time.  When Stella was diagnosed, I was the only one in my family who didn’t Google DIPG.  I was afraid to.  Just knowing that my daughter was going to die from an inoperable brain tumour wrapped around her brain stem was enough information that my mind, heart and soul could handle.  Lately however, three years later, I’ve found myself wanting and needing to know more.  Mishi and I made the decision early on to donate Stella’s tumour.  Two weeks after her diagnosis, after we watched our daughter be wheeled out of the doors of the pre-op room on her way to the O.R., where they would biopsy her tumour, there was a nice, quiet man hovering by the door way.  I knew why he was there and as we walked out I said to him “are you waiting for us”.  He said “yes” in a meek, nervous voice and as he clutched onto his clipboard we put him out of his misery.  We asked him if he wanted to know if we would donate Stella’s tumour and he said yes.  He handed us a package that was an inch thick and I can tell you right now, neither one of us read a word of it.  We just asked him where we needed to sign and that was it.  The details of what we had just signed to were not important to us.

 

After Stella died, people kept asking us when/if we were going to find out what they learned from the donation of her tumour.  I wasn’t ready.  As little information as possible – that is how I had been coping.  For the past few months however, I’ve been haunted by the feeling of not knowing and I realized that I needed to know what the tumour looked like, how big it was or whether it looked different because it was never treated with chemo or radiation.  I found myself wanting to know why Stella was an “outlier” from the beginning.  I needed to know it all.  They cut into my baby after all – I deserved to know.  So after reading about Stella’s pathologist, Dr. Cynthia Hawkins, who just received a million dollar grant for her groundbreaking  research and recent  DIPG discovery – I made an appointment.

 

Two weeks ago, my mom, sister and I walked through the doors of SickKids hospital once again.  Immediately, my stomach was in knots as we rode the glass elevator up to the 8th floor.  “The 8th floor” – a term that three years ago meant something different to me.  As a long time employee of Camp Oochigeas, “the 8th floor” is a term that I am all to familiar with as it’s mentioned multiple times a day.  It’s where the magic happens.  Where kids with cancer get to participate in camp programs led by my incredible co-workers who are so good at making kids smile.  Now, “the 8th floor” is where I was going to hear the results of my firstborn child’s autopsy.

 

As we sat in the same room that we did three years ago, when they delivered the news that the biopsy results confirmed that Stella did indeed have DIPG, I could feel myself going into “robot mode” for survival.  Stella’s Oncologist, Dr. Bartels and her pathologist, Dr. Hawkins were very gracious and spent an hour with us.  They answered all of the questions we had and they let us look at the scans from Stella’s MRI.  Yes, it’s true – that was the very first time that I laid eyes on her scans.  Survival.   In the days leading up to this meeting, I had prepared myself for the moment that we looked at scans of her brain.  I am still triggered by any images of the brain.  I was prepared to see the tumour.  I was prepared to feel sick and sad.  What I was not prepared for was the impact of seeing the outline of her face on the scan.  There she was, my beautiful little girl, with her turned up nose, defined chin like her Poppa, and her perfectly round head.  I wasn’t looking at a brain – I was looking at my Stella.  I swallowed hard, blinked the tears from my eyes and tried to suppress the overwhelming sick and sad feeling that was washing over me.  My sister snapped a photo of the scans and I later sent them to Stella’s Auntie Ray who says that the tumour looks like a monster.  She is right.  It does.  It was.

 

After peppering the doctors with questions, we learned that as it turns out, not only is Stella’s tumour being used in the DIPG research – her little brain is changing lives.

 

It is playing a significant role in the groundbreaking research that Dr. Hawkins is currently doing.  Dr. Hawkins has discovered that there are 3 sub-groups of DIPG.  Stella fell into one of those sub-groups.  Through recent learnings, they have been able to determine that there are certain types of DIPG tumours that will never respond to radiation.  This will allow doctors to tailor treatments to each child based on the type of DIPG tumour they have.  In laymans terms – kids with tumours that will not respond to treatment will potentially not be radiated at all.  Stella’s tumour is constantly being referenced and compared with other cases.  For many reasons, I find so much comfort in that.

 

 

So Stella – on this day, as my heart sits heavily in my chest, I want you to know that YOU are changing lives.  YOU MATTER.  I miss you every minute of every day and I’m so proud of the impact you’ve had on this world.

 

Mommy loves you big girl.

 

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Happy Father’s Day, Daddy

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Dear Dad,

Working in Funeral Services over the past month, I have had the privilege of watching many, many funerals.  Several of them have been the death of a man and, at the funeral, his children give short eulogies honouring their father’s life.  It’s been interesting to hear all the things, over a lifetime, that children choose to talk about once their father passes away.  I reflected on what a shame it is that only after someone dies, do we take the time to tell them how wonderful they are.  I began to think about what I would say if someone charged me with the task of summing up in just a few minutes, what my dad has meant to me and my life.

So, for Father’s Day this year, (because I was too broke and disorganized to come up with a better present), I have decided to write a Eulogy for you.  This way, you know how important and wonderful you are, and can be alive to bask in it (o:

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Eulogy for my dad- Noel Methven*

      * not dead yet, and I’m so glad you’re alive and well!!!!

Noel Methven was many things to many people over his lifetime.  He was a son, brother, uncle, friend, husband, boyfriend, grand-pa, musician and business owner.  But of all the titles he has held, there are only two people in the entire world who had the privilege and pride of calling him “dad” and that’s my sister Heather and I.

 

Noel Methven was a great father.  The best dad anyone could ever ask for.  He would have given Heather and I the moon if he could have.  No matter what was going on his life, or how old Heather and I got, he was always right there.  I don’t remember him ever saying “no” to us.  He said “yes” to a $600 dog I wanted, “yes” to paying for accordion lessons, “yes” to driving Heather to Buffalo to check out a University, “yes” to co-signing a loan for me, “yes” to buying me 6 budgies and a turtle, “yes” to playing trumpet at my wedding, “yes” to driving our kids to Scarborough (1.5 hours roundtrip) every single weekday morning for daycare and “yes” “yes” “yes” to any and every request we ever made to him.  One of my earliest memories is my dad and I at the old Harborfront Antique Market.  I desperately wanted a collectible teddy bear from a vendor, but it was expensive.  I put out my bottom lip and pouted the way only a 6-year old can, and my dad, with no hesitation, went and bought me the stuffed animal I would love and cherish my whole life,  “Jacques”  (also known as “Jacky-poo-poo”).  When he handed it to me, I remember running my finger over Jacques’ threaded mouth and musing out loud, “he looks a bit sad”.  “Oh, ok” replied my dad wryly, “if he’s not happy with us, then let’s return him because he cost me $65”.  Then he patted my head and laughed at my horrified face.  I loved to watch my dad laugh.  He would throw his head back, and if it was something really funny, no sound would come out.  When he laughed his mouth opened, the corners of his eyes crinkled and he laughed right from the heart in a way that was catching.

 

Because he worked from home, my dad looked after Heather and I when we were home sick.  He went on class field trips, brushed tangles out of our hair, made bologna, ketchup and butter sandwiches for our lunches, and sometimes— with mixed results— tried to buy us clothes.  I remember one year he proudly presented Heather and I with matching sweat suits.  Heather’s was pea green, mine was corn yellow, and there were silk ribbons sewn up the sides of the pants and sleeves.  He was proud of those sweat suits.  Heather and I were horrified.  We wore them once at my Nana’s cottage, and then hid them until we outgrew them.  But, of course, there were photos taken that one day that we wore them, and so the sweatsuits live on forever in family photo albums.  I have memories of him reading me the Bernstein Bears at bedtime, playing hide-and-go-seek and his lame attempts at cooking Heather and I dinner. “Chicken in a bag” was a perennial Noel Methven favourite and if you don’t know what that is, count yourself lucky.  His own parents, who lived a block away, got used to seeing him every single day of their lives.  When they were alive, he would pop in a few times a day to make sure they didn’t need anything.  When I grew up and bought my own house, right across the street from him of course, he took to popping into my place, often bringing milk for the kids, or little twinkies from the variety store he would sneak to me when no one else was looking.

 

My dad loved a good deal.  The $1.49 breakfast at Ikea was always a big hit and “It was on sale, so I bought 7 of them” was a common quote.  We made fun of him and his tendency to never give up a deal if he thought he found one, as well as his habit of picking up a perfectly good “whatever” from the side of the road, or keeping for decades something he figured someone would need someday.  I used to tell him that most people, when their garage gets too full, clear out some stuff.  Not my dad.  He would just build another garage.  At one point he had two garages chock full of stuff as well as a temporary garage tent thing set up behind his house.  No backyard, just rows of garages.  Later on in his life, he “borrowed” space from other people on the street and had things in multiple garages around the neighbourhood.  The way some people collect stamps, he collected garages.  But, even though we made fun of him, if we needed anything we would just make a call or take a walk over to “Methven’s Hardware” store as we called his sheds, and it would be there.  Vacuum cleaner?  He bought 3 on sale five years ago, take one.  Window?  He has 6 leaded glass ones he got from a house they were knocking down in 1995.  Church pew?  Yep, we have two of those -one from Riverdale United and one from Simpson Avenue.  Screws, nails, marble countertop he’s had since 1976, doors, hinges, bookshelves, scrap wood, antique washing machine, mini fridge, carpet scraps, birdcage.  And that’s not counting what he stored in his attic.  Sometimes, just for kicks, I would call him from the car and say, “Dad…the people at #221 are throwing out a perfectly good wooden chair…”  By the next morning, it would join the pile in one of the garages and my dad would spend a few days fawning over his new find before it got banished to the back corner of the shed, sure to be used by someone at sometime, “someday”.

 

Speaking of neighbourhoods, my dad never really left his.  He lived his entire life within the same 5 block radius of East York.  When I was a teenager/young adult going through the horrific, “I know it all stage”, I thought my dad was dreadfully un-cultured.  He spoke no other languages, had never gone to college or university, had no interest in art or theatre, didn’t have any desire to travel.  He had the opportunity to travel a few times in his life, but he was never that interested in seeing the world.  I asked him once if he could go anywhere, where he would want to go.  He was silent for awhile, and I thought he was thinking about all the incredible and exotic places there are to go.  But, when he responded, he just shrugged and said he was happiest just spending time at home and didn’t feel the need to travel.   As an adult, I realized that my dad might not have seen the world, but he had instead invested his time in something a lot more precious— cultivating friendships.  He knew the names and stories of every single person who lived on our block.  I have lived there almost as long as him, and don’t recognize people who live three doors down.  My dad not only knows them, but has probably mowed their lawn and met their brothers and sisters at a family BBQ.  Looking back, I realize that this makes him a much more learned and cultured man than anyone else I know.  I may have seen the Tower of Pisa, but he helped an elderly lady shovel snow and at the end of the day, that is much, much more important.

 

As I grew up, I realized my dad had life figured out better than a lot of other people who might think themselves more worldly, more educated, richer, smarter, better.  Anyone who believes that doesn’t get it.  My dad was happy with what he had. He knew what was important.  Family.  Friends.  Health.  That was it.  He found true joy and pleasure in the simple things of life.  A really good chocolate soft serve ice cream cone.  Hearing the life story of someone else.  A cold glass of Pepsi.  A sunny day spent with friends and family outside.  He understood what really matters better than anyone else I know.

My dad had tea and toast for breakfast almost every single morning of his life.  The toast would either have raspberry jam or corn syrup dumped on it.  He liked meat, potatoes, white wonder bread and doughnuts.  He never pretended to be someone he wasn’t, which gave my sister and I the ability to be our own people without worrying what other people thought.  What an amazing role-model.  He didn’t need to continue to experience and search for things, because he was perfectly happy with what he had.

 

A few years ago, my dad was sick in the hospital for four days with a ruptured gallbladder.  It was the first time in his life he ever had to be in hospital for anything.  When he got out, he told me that he was so grateful to be able to walk around and be healthy again that he wanted to mow lawns.  That was 6 years ago and he mowed lawns regularly ever since.  He mowed at least 5 lawns a week in the neighbourhood, including mine.  The funny thing is, my dad didn’t even have a lawn.  He had a paved front yard, but he bought a lawnmower just so he could mow everyone else’s lawn.  That’s the kind of guy he was.

 

Later on in his life, I used to tease my dad and say he was like a goldfish because he didn’t remember things, so like a goldfish swimming around and around in its bowl, rediscovering the same piece of plastic seaweed, he was constantly experiencing “new” things— even if he’d experienced them before.  One of our cousins makes a Boar Stew and passes it on to us every couple of months.  Without fail, my dad used to open up the fridge, see the container and say, “Boar stew?  I’ve never had that before, I’d like to try it”.  Then he would eat a little and say, “That’s very good.  Different…tasty”.  A few months later when it reappeared in the fridge, he would go over the same exercise again, telling me he’d never had it before.  I didn’t mind.  The same forgetfulness served Heather and I well with gifts and borrowing money.  He could never remember what we had given him for Christmas or his birthday, or if he had leant us money, so we stopped giving him presents and stopped paying him back. It worked great for us.  Of course, sometimes it worked against us.  For example, one year he was snowblowing our driveway, which I know we should be grateful for, and he ran the snowblower up the side of our car, scratching it from bumper to bumper.  But whenever I brought up that story, he always said he didn’t remember doing that.

 

My dad didn’t always talk a lot, but he didn’t need to.  He lived his life by setting an example for my sister and I.  He was always there when we needed him, would drop anything to come to us if we called.  When my daughter Stella got diagnosed with a DIPG brain tumor in June of 2011, the second night in the hospital when I woke up in the hospital bed clutching my precious baby, wracked with the immense pain of pure grief, I saw my dad sitting at the bottom of the bed just looking, waiting for me to wake up.  he had arrived sometime in the middle of the night, unable to stay away when he knew how much I needed him.  He said nothing, just squeezed my feet under the sheets and stared at me, his own eyes and face just as drawn and devastated as mine.  Stella was my little girl, but I was his little girl, and his heart was breaking for me.    Throughout Stella’s illness, my dad came over every single morning, 7 days a week and made breakfast for us.  He got Stella anything and everything she wanted day or night.  Doughnuts, cupcakes, presents.  When Sam, Xavier and Hugo were born, they soon learned that “Poppa” was the person to go to for treats.   All three of his grandsons adored him and clamoured, “Poppa, poppa!” whenever he walked through the door.

 

My dad had a lot of things he could be proud of.  He ran a successful rubber stamp business from home for over 25 years.  He was one of the premiere trumpet players in Toronto.  He could build a fence, or a garage, do wiring, painting, plumbing.  But he used to give Heather and I big hugs all the time and tell us that he was most proud of us.  And I believe that.

 

My dad has taught me so much in my life, and though he is gone, his legacy will be all of the ways he shaped my sister and I in our lives, and all of the lessons, both big and small, he imparted on us.

 

My dad taught me that after you eat the savoury part of the pizza, the crust is really just like a piece of freshly baked bread and if you add jam to it, you have dessert!

 

My dad taught me that Pepsi is a breakfast drink.

 

My dad taught me not to sweat the small stuff.  In fact, he never sweated anything— big, small or monumental.

 

My dad taught me to always carry Werthers butterscotch candy in my pockets.

 

My dad never told me how to live.  He just lived, and let me learn from his actions.

 

Daddy, in my thoughts

in my heart

in every part of my life.

You are always with me, dad.

And always will be because you live on in me, Heather and our children.

 

I love you and I’m so glad this is a FAKE eulogy and I will have (hopefully many!) more years to love and learn from you.

 

 Aimee and I are so blessed to have such incredible father’s!

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Stella and her beloved Poppa (May, 2011)

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Daddy, Me, Heather and Stella (July, 2011):

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Poppa and Hugo, April 2013:

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Poppa and Sam, July 2013: 

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