Shirley Gardner has always enjoyed a very active life. She worked for many years with the government agricultural department in Quesnel while her husband Les developed a large mixed farm including cattle, sheep and an extensive market garden. Gardner Farms was well-known for innovative and successful farming practices. They were a source to many farmers in the community for knowledge and support.Both were familiar faces at the Quesnel Old Time Farmers’ Market which they helped establish.
After many years actively developing their operations, both Shirley and Les began to slow down, but still were active.
Both have health issues.
However, in June 2012 Shirley went to the doctor with a persistent lump on her forehead. She was treated for shingles.
It wasn’t until December of that year when she went back to see her doctor where it was determined not to be shingles. She was sent for x-rays which suggested a cancer, possibly lymphoma, but would need a biopsy.
Shirley was referred to the cancer clinic in Prince George and in April 2013 was sent to a surgeon in Vancouver for a biopsy. Back in Prince George she received the news it was Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
This type of cancer is derived from lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, which are part of the body’s immune system.
“I had a battery of tests and the cancer was found not only in the lump on my forehead but also my abdomen and bone marrow,” Shirley explained.
“It was a total shock. There’s no cancer in my family. But the oncologist assured me it was easy to treat.”
But being the type of person she is, Shirley was anxious to confer with the oncologists and figure out her treatment.
“The lymphoma team decided on two radiation treatments which I had May 23 and 24, 2013.”
In order to treat the lump on her forehead, a clear mask was created to hold her head still and fastened to the table so they could target the radiation on the primary site.
Shirley carried on with her life and her other health issues.
Early in September 2014 family and friends close to Shirley noticed something wrong. She was being reclusive, not wanting to talk which was not her character. It wasn’t until Sept. 17 on a trip to Vancouver consulting with specialists at St. Paul’s Hospital on an unrelated matter that her doctor noticed something very wrong and admitted her immediately. She began another battery of tests. She was then sent by ambulance to Vancouver General Hospital and referred to a neurosurgeon who diagnosed a mass on her brain.
“He performed a craniotomy. The lymphoma was back but much more invasive. It had penetrated the skull and was growing on the left frontal lobe which caused aphasia, a combination speech and language disorder which disappeared after surgery.”
She knew treatment would follow but had no idea just how bad it would get.
She started chemotherapy in October 2014 and had three, 21-day cycles.
“My hair was gone within two weeks but I tolerated the treatments fairly well.”
These treatments were performed in Quesnel and were designed to treat the lymphoma in her body, she had yet to have the brain lymphoma treated.
When a close friend, a nurse, heard she was to have methotrexate treatments for the brain cancer she was worried. She knew the potency of that drug and feared for Shirley.
And for good reason.
Back in Vancouver, Shirley began the brutal treatments at the hospital cancer clinic. Facing a series of methotrexate treatments, she was surprised when her oncologist came to her after two and a half weeks of treatment. The news was good.
Unable to explain exactly why, the doctor said there was no longer evidence of cancer and she returned home Feb. 4, 2015.
However, this wasn’t the end of it.
Shirley said it was at least six months before she was finally over the effects of methotrexate.
“I couldn’t walk up stairs by myself or get into a vehicle or do much at all. It was awful.”
But she was ecstatic the cancer was gone.
Today, Shirley is living without drugs and cancer-free. Her other medical issues have been dealt with and she is once again enjoying her life, her grandchildren and reasonably good health.
She is grateful to all the medical staff, her family and all her friends who helped her on this long and difficult journey with cancer.
Relay for Life celebrates successes such as Shirley’s and thanks to the ongoing research into all types of cancer, life expectancy is continuing to be extended and cancers once thought to be incurable are now being conquered.
Funds raised through Relay for Life are dedicated to research and services provided by the Canadian Cancer Society.
“They provide funding for travel expenses, out of town lodging as well as counselling services for cancer patients and their companion,” Shirley said from her first hand experience. Relay for Life, is a celebration of people like Shirley who are currently living cancer-free and a memorial for those who lost their battle with cancer.
This year, Relay is on Friday, May 27, 5 – 11 p.m. in Baker Creek Park. Watch for details of how you can get involved, form a team (register online www.relayforlife.ca/quesnel) volunteer, drop by and encourage those participating or join in the fun.
The public is invited to join the many teams already busy fundraising for a community dinner during Relay (by donation) and enjoy many fun and healthy activities.
People are also encouraged to gather friends, co-workers, family, sports groups and anyone else to join a team and raise funds for the Canadian Cancer Society’s research and services.
Don’t have a team?
Just call Deb Burton 250-255-8225 and she’ll help put you in touch with a team you can join. Don’t want to be on a team? Stop by the Baker Creek Park and join in the fun activities.
Everyone is welcome.