A Tale From My Irish Friend, Maria O’Kane

Several years ago I had the pleasure of meeting a very special friend named Maria O’Kane. She told me the funniest tale about a trip she made on the subway and had me, my kids, and her daughter in stitches crying in the car.  She was a great storyteller and her beautiful Irish accent always commanded attention by all.   She was fascinating.

Maria has since passed away from esophageal cancer but she will never be forgotten by her family, relatives and friends.  She was a force to be reckoned with.  The following excerpt is worth a repost, I’d say.

I Never Learn….by Irish Maria

May 21, 2011

Subject: I never learn

(an email sent from my Irish friend Maria)

Here is one for you.  Real life no joke!  I am on the subway just a few days ago and this bald lady in a white cap with head bent rocking back and forth is sitting opposite me, so I put 2 and 2 together and get 7.  In my head I know what no one else understands she is a cancer patient, feeling nauseous and on her way to treatment probably.  She is with another slim Asian lady, her chemotherapy buddy, I suppose.   So, me being me, I stick my big beak in and I say “Excuse me, I am a recovering cancer patient too my dear.  It will get easier.  I had my last treatment two years ago and people don’t believe me when I say I am in recovery.”

To which she replies, very angrily, with almost a screech ” NOT cancer patient, no sick, I follow BUDDA this why I shave head, no need cancer treatment if believe in BUDDA.  Budda crush cancer LIKE PEANUT”, like sooooooohhhhhhhh as she brandishes her fist at me.  Holy shit the ground could have opened up and swallowed me.  I said “Very sorry, I should mind my own business, glad you are not sick”.  I could feel her eyes on my back as I walked away.   I kept thinking for a religious woman, you sure are f*****g angry!  Teach me to reach out and help anytime soon, I’d rather pick every one of my nose hairs out with a tweezers.

God has a bad sense of humour….. loves to humiliate me!

I’m off to bed just thought I’d share that!~  Irish Maria

Ever Wonder What Happens When You Hit a Telephone Pole? (And No, It Wasn’t Me!)

IMG_0089IMG_0087I went to church to sing at our Good Friday mass.  Bobo said that about 10 minutes after I left, a car smashed a telephone pole into two pieces near our house.  Must have been going pretty fast for that to happen.  I live near an intersection where there are frequent accidents.  People often drive through the red lights.  I imagine that’s what happened once again.

Just look at the view of the top of the pole just hanging there.  Never seen anything like that before.


I got a call for another appointment (spinal MRI) in May.  I decided not to go to that one either. Phoned the hospital and told them I was not about to come in at 4:00 a.m. in the morning and I wanted the complaints department.  She asked me why.  I told her that my last MRI three weeks ago was at 10:30 at night, there were 3 trauma patients admitted and I didn’t get home until 3:00.  I had insomnia after that and it took me several days to recuperate.  She told me that they are a trauma hospital and one of the machines was broken.  “So what,” I told her, “This happens to me every time I go there, not just the last time I was there.”  And why don’t they phone people when they are 3 hours behind?  I told her that I didn’t think it was fair to send palliative cancer patients who have had surgeries, numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments to get scans done in the middle of the night.  I thought that was cruel.  The Odette Centre was suppose to be a Cancer Centre and why didn’t they have their own MRI machine?  I am sure there wasn’t a shortage of cancer patients lined up to have scans done on a daily basis.  A twenty minute scan shouldn’t take over 4 hours to complete.

funny-squirrel-hammer-Thor-costume“Here’s a thought”, I told her….”People who are dying don’t want to wait around in waiting rooms for scans all night.  It’s bad enough they have to wait hours on end for doctor’s visits.  And besides all this,  I don’t like the fact that I have to by-pass the hobos in the front lobby at night when I come in.   I’ve never seen any security there at night and I’m by myself because my husband has to stay home with the things we have at home called our kids.”

1318093697656_5040986She said that the next “Day Time” appointment was 4 weeks later.  “Oh, that’s too bad,” I told her.  “That might screw up my doctor’s clinical trials because I’m one of his patients.”  She told me she would phone me right back with the number of the complaints department.

funny-kids-child-color-blackI think some of Maria O’Kane’s audacity is rubbing off on me.  There comes a point in your life when you just don’t want to take anymore crap and you begin to push back.  I’m beginning to do that now.   Maria always told me that you have to be your own advocate, the doctors know nothing, and so what if you were late for an appointment or didn’t feel up to it.  Don’t go.

Ten minutes later I got a call….”Oh, you can come in for your scan at 10:30 in the morning, but it’s on Victoria Day.”  “I’ll be there”, I told her happily.  I also got their “Patient’s Experience” email address so I can write them a lovely little note to express my true feelings.  I can’t wait. And I will write to them because I really don’t think it’s right to do this to cancer patients.  I’m sure there are others that feels this way but are too sick to complain about it.  It’s just not fair.

Sorry!  This was suppose to be a short blog.  So much for that!



In the meantime, I hope you have a safe and Happy Easter.



And may the Easter Bunny be good to you all!






My Newest Paintings and A Brush With Spiderman

Thursday, March 15

Yellow BunnyYesterday I drank so much water (16 glasses), my urine was no longer yellow. My tongue was white and I have developed a SERIOUS shortage of saliva. I’m hoping the cause is from the strong antibiotic I was on and still not because of my radiation treatment. My ear has also started to hurt again. My family Dr. is on vacation and her secretary told me I may need to go back on antibiotics.


Purple BunnyMy former principal hooked me up to a new friend, whom I will name Katie. Katie, like me, is also a mets. breast cancer patient and does a lot of researching. However, her mets are in her liver which she has kept stable until recently for about 2 years by naturopathic means. She is a fountain of knowledge and I am so blessed to have this new connection. I could talk to her on the phone for hours. We are able to bounce ideas with each other and learn from one another. I never met anyone else like this. And I owe her big time….


google when sickI have been getting a bit jittery over the last 2 – 3 weeks because my medications from Germany have essentially run out and I’m waiting for more. I got a letter from the German Dr. saying my metabolism has improved, my kidneys are light/insufficient (?), there is calcium in the urine, and I have an inflamed intestine. My prescriptions were sent to the pharmacy, but I haven’t received a call for my VISA number yet for them to ship it here. I hope it doesn’t get caught up for a month in customs again. Meanwhile, I’m thinking my immune system is still run down because of the radiation treatment. What if I can’t get rid of this ear problem?

HousesappreciationKatie suggested that I go get Vitamin C I.V., which I heard of, but never tried. So off I went to the Robert Shadd Naturopathic Clinic on Leslie St./Sheppard and gave it a shot yesterday.  Last night I started having a headache when I went to bed and prayed to Brother Andre, like one of my good friends told me to do.  Some time during the night I had one hell of a fever. “Thank heavens, my immune system is back to work”, I thought as I drifted off back to sleep.

Cherry BlossomsStill had a headache this morning when I work up, but I felt different. I felt cured of whatever ailed me. The heavy sinus feeling in my head was gone. I’m still thirsty, but not nearly as bad a yesterday. That’s a good sign. I have to go back every week of Vit. C for 5 more weeks. Hopefully it will blow up any cancer cells running amuck in my system and improve my immune system.

mini cherry blossum

Spent the morning painting and reminiscing about my friends Michelle Baskie (who passed away of pancreatic cancer) and Maria O’Kane (esophageal cancer). I miss them both so much and think of them often.


tenantLast night I looked for information about another person who died on the week-end of metastatic breast cancer. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in her bones at the same time as me  (fall of 2012). Her name was Lisa Bonchek Adams. The similarities between the two of us are eery. Most of the meds we took were the same and she had the same tumour/gene markers (Pi3K). We both had problems with our heart because of chemotherapy and I think I started reading about her because we were both featured in the same Toronto Star article about 2 years ago. I didn’t really read her blog regularly as it had a way of upsetting me and made me feel like I was doomed.  I saw on the news the other day that Lisa passed away last week-end. Her cancer spread to her bones, liver, lungs, and finally, her brain.   I think, I know actually, that I would have been in the same boat had I not gone to Germany for treatment there, no matter what my oncologist thinks and says about it (quackery).

cceb279a36216f145ab2ab856f28e9f5Gotta go to get my shots tomorrow and defend my position as to why I am doing “Nothing” about my cancer. I’m going to tell him that Lisa is dead and I’m not.  I think I made the right choice.  Besides, what drugs is he on thinking that I’ll go back on the feet burning drug Xeloda?  Katie told me she had a heart attack on that drug.  I’ve had 3 separate heart issues because of chemotherapy and he wants me on that one?  Other options being offered are intravenous, loose your hair ones.  I’m going to try everything else I can think of first.

Purple LadyI have gone to a few of “Art For Cancer Foundation” workshops over the last couple of weeks and tried some new projects. I like learning new things, even if they are a bit out of my element like this purple lady I painted. That’s also where I learned to paint the “Cherry Blossom” ones and the surrealistic homes above. I like going there because I learn new things and I have a finished piece of artwork by the time I leave. I also painted some Easter Bunnies (when I was sick at home) which I found on pinterest so I could practice how to do them before I taught them to a grade 2 class after March Break. I love pinterest and found lots of things I want to try out, when I have time. Next week I’m planning to work on my blog and write about my escapades in Germany at Christmas time.  That was quite an adventure.  One last painting to show you….

Purple Winter Sky


images-2Friday, March 13

You won’t believe what happened to me after I visited my friend Wanetta who works at CAMH.  I was returning to my car.  The light was green, but I only had 8 seconds to get across the street.  Should I do it?  “Yeah,” I though, “I’ll make it, but I’d better RUN.”  So I did.  I’m running across the street and almost made it in 6 seconds when, low and behold a giant man in a Spiderman costume comes
barreling down the street on a skateboard.  “Holy Shit”, I thought, “I’m going to get hit by Spiderman”.  I stopped dead in the 3rd lane.  “WHOA, Missy”, he calls to images-3me in a very LOUD, Authoritative Voice.  You should NEVER JAY WALK!  “What?  What?  What are you talking about?  I HAVE A GREEN LIGHT, buddy!”, I yelled back.  “Oh…”, he answered. Well you never know, I may not be able to use my special powers to save you?”  WTF?  Special Powers?  Is this really happening?  I made safely to the sidewalk, glancing at Spidy beside me.  He had the whole get up on, mask, suit, and skateboard.  “How the hell can you see?”,  I’m thinking…..” You are going to have to save those special powers for yourself riding on the street on that thing in that get up!”

As I made it to my car I quickly pulled out my ipad.  I gotta get a pic. of this guy and put it on my blog.  But unfortunately, Spiderman disappeared as quickly as he appeared.  My Hero….not.unnamed

Bone Marrow Results; Angels 1, Doctor 0

Managed to get a copy of my bone marrow biopsy from my LTD oncology nurse  (still waiting for my oncologist to phone me and give me the news).

So guess what they found in my bone marrow?

NOTHING.  Absolutely Nothing!

(well okay, 1% fibrous tissue); but not EXTENSIVE METASTATIC DISEASE in my skull and vertebrae like my last MRI report stated.

Can’t wait for my next oncology appointment…so what’s in my bone marrow?  What?  What?  Well, we KNOW what it is NOT now don’t we?  It’s NOT CANCER in my bone marrow.  Yes, the MRI indicated that there was something funky going on in my bone marrow…I maintained it was because my hemoglobin was ridiculously low and I’m anemic; but my doctor looked me straight in the eye and said, “We know what it is.  Right?  We know what it is?  “I only ordered the test to humour you.”  Honestly, I think he thought I was delusional for not accepting/believing the MRI report.

Damn it, I knew I should have bet him $50 bucks.

Bite meSo now I have a hole in my backside to prove I was RIGHT.  But boy was it worth it.  You have no idea how GOOD THIS FEELS.  (Maria O’Kane always told me not to listen to the doctors whenever I got bad news.  “What do the doctors know”, she would say.  “They know Shit”).

I can’t WAIT for my next appointment with my oncologist.  I think I will do the “Happy Dance” for him.  Gotta bring my ipod and do a victory dance or something.  Anyone know some good tunes I could play?

And then I will say ….  so I guess my little piggy stem cell transplant is working.

And I guess I didn’t WASTE my money looking for an alternative either as my cancer hasn’t spread since I came back from Germany.  (Oh, and, by the way, I was told by a resident last Fall that had I been one the chemo drug capcitabine/xeloda, the cancer probably would have started spreading again by June…and it’s September and I’ve been good on the German stuff.  No signs of mets.  Hurray!  The whole MRI report  just didn’t make sense to me.  If I had extensive metastatic disease in my bones, wouldn’t the 5-6 tiny tumours in my spine be growing too?  Yet they were stable.

The angels told me I would be fine.  (I really think Michelle Baskie and Maria O’Kane may have had something to do with that).

Angels 1: Doctors 0.

life different perspectiveI’m so happy!  And no, I still really like my oncologist and would not trade him in.  We just interpreted the MRI results differently.  However, I have opted not to go to my radiation doctor’s hospital for MRI’s anymore because they are always between 1:00-4:00 a.m. and this is the second time I had bad news from there (in June, they told me I had a tumour in my neck which turned out to be nothing significant when they rescanned it).  I guess that mistake prepared me somewhat for this one.

Oh, and my hemoglobin is starting to improve because I stopped taking the artesunate for a while to see if it would make a difference and it did  (I temporarily went back on the “foot burning” chemo).  The artesunate has been effective stopping my cancer from spreading, however, it is doing something to my red blood cells.  I’m not too worried about this because my doctor from Germany has sent me something to help me with that.  The German pharmacist told me in broken English.  “I’m not to sure I know how to explain this medicine to you.  Oh, I know.  It will kick ass.”  “Great”, I told her.  “Ship it right over; here’s my VISA number”.   I’ve been tracking my package which was shipped on Monday and it has just arrived in Canada (Wednesday).  However, I’m waiting for customs to approve it.  Last time I had to wait over a month because for some reason it went through Customs twice.  I hope it gets to me faster this time.

I will be writing and showing photos of my trip to Germany in February soon, so stay tuned.

dance in the rain

Maria O’Kane Speech

Growing Older

Sorry it took me so long to post my speech for Maria O’Kane’s Memorial, but this week has been crazy with appointments and Christmas Concert.  Here it is….

My name is Maria Pisani-Brown and Maria O’Kane was my friend from Gilda’s Club, a support network for cancer patients.

Maria meant a lot of things to a lot of people.  To the people of Gilda’s club, she was an inspiration.  Everyone in the Wellness group knew we were going to have a good time when Irish Maria showed up.  She had a knack for making us laugh and brightening our mood.

Maria was quite candid and matter of fact about what her life was like as a cancer survivor and mother of two, one child being autistic.  You couldn’t help but feel in awe about her outlook in life and wonderful attitude despite her illness and her hardships.  Maria was a truly remarkable lady.

Maria had some very interesting character traits.  She wasn’t one to mince words, which was something about her I so admired.  She wasn’t afraid to tell you exactly what she thought, even if it did land her into trouble.  I remember one time she told me a hilarious story about how she was travelling on the subway and saw a bald elderly oriental woman.  Thinking the woman had cancer, Maria felt compelled to say something to her.  “Don’t worry.  I have cancer too.  Things will get better”, Maria told her.

The lady looked her straight in the eye and said “What?”.  Me no have cancer.  Me believe in Buddha.  Buddha squish cancer like a peanut.

Maria was mortified.  “That’ll teach me for opening my big mouth,” she told me as I laughed uncontrollably at her tale.  Maria was great at telling stories.  She knew just how to take centre stage and captivate an audience with her beautiful Irish accent and her witty humour.

Another character trail I admired about Maria was that she was strong willed and persevered.  Despite being told more than once she had 3 months to live, she kept ticking like an energizer bunny rabbit.  You couldn’t help feel that Maria was invincible.  The odds of surviving esophageal cancer to five years was less than 3 percent.  The doctors at PMH eventually told her that she was the longest surviving esophageal cancer they ever had and they weren’t sure what to do with her.

Maria had a lot to say about doctors when she heard cancer patients tell her they only had a short time to live.  “What do they know?”, she would say.  “Are they God?  Don’t listen to them.”

Although Maria didn’t often go to church, she was more catholic than many people who do.  Maria would do anything for a person in need.  She would give money or food to people in the street.  If there was a child who needed a coat in the winter, she would provide one for them.  And despite being so giving, she really had a hard time accepting help, because she was so fiercely independent.  She genuinely cared for others and put others needs before her own.  She always listened attentively to everyone and gave them good sound advice.  She was a real mother hen.

help one another    repay

If you happened to be one of her friends, Maria had a strange way of making you feel protected.  She was fiercely loyal too.  One day I had an appointment with a doctor who I call the Dragon Lady.  Maria knew how much I dreaded seeing this woman and offered to come with me.  That was the first time I actually felt comfortable talking to the Dragon Lady because I knew that if she started to roll her eyes at me when I asked questions, then Maria would have her head on a silver platter.  There Maria was, bald and beautiful, starring her down like a Doberman ready to pounce.  I usually left my appointments with the Dragon Lady in tears, but not this time.  I really felt good when Maria came with me.  It made the time go by faster and we had so much fun talking together.  I also really admired her for not caring about what people thought about her bald head.  She would show it off, tumour and all.  I don’t know many people who would have the guts to do that.

help someone

Another trait I so loved about Maria was that she encouraged people to follow their dreams.  I talked to her about going to Paris and painting in Monet’s garden and the next thing I knew, I had a plane ticket and was rearing to go.  Maria encouraged me to travel to France over the summer and I did just that.  She also kept pushing me to write stories and get a blog up and running because she believed in me as a writer.  I think I changed and became a much better person as a result of knowing Maria.  She inspired me to take chances and do the things I really wanted to do in life which I don’t think I would have without her.   Maria wasn’t afraid to live life to the fullest and neither should we.

Although Maria is not here with us in body, I believe she is here with us in spirit…and we just have to look for the signs.  I received my sign from her shortly after I posted a comment and photo of her on her Facebook page.  It photo was taken in the spring from when we went to St. Anne’s Spa for a massage and some really great food.  Maria had often talked about going back there one day.  Whenever I saw Maria, the first thing she would always ask me was “How are you doing?”   Lately, the answer has been, “My feet are burning from the chemo treatment I’m on”.  She would just shake her head.  Maria loved to have her feet massaged and didn’t like the side effects I was having.

IMG_0379  IMG_0366

Shortly after I posted that picture of Maria at St. Anne’s Spa, I went to open up my mail.  That’s when I found a letter from St Anne’s Spa congratulating me for winning a free Caribbean Rejuvenation Foot Massage.  I laughed and thanked Maria for thinking about me and my feet.  I felt like I had just received confirmation that she was alright, and she was still looking out for me.

And I bet if you look hard enough, you too will also find signs that she is looking out for you.

I miss you my friend, but am sure we will meet again.  I will forever remember her telling me and I quote… “Those damn Catholics.  If they truly believed in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, then why the hell are they so afraid of dying?