This First Person article is the experience of Michelle Pearson. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
I snuck a look from my bedroom window to the rain-soaked street below — half-dressed, wearing my “obligatory” bridal white silk-like robe, hands slightly trembling.
My soon-to-be husband and so many dear friends and family were creating our “perfect for us” wedding venue — borrowed white tents, rented chairs, eclectic decorations on a cul-de-sac in Calgary’s Harvest Hills.
Mike stole a quick glance up at the window and locked eyes with me. We shared a secret.
“Just remember,” he’d said earlier during our quiet good-morning chat, “we get to decide when people will know — and today is not that day.”
Mike and I wanted a day of pure fun, no pressure; it was to be a gift to all of those we cherish for choosing to support us in this lifetime. We wanted it to be an outstanding day filled with memories to cherish — just in case. A day filled with brightly-coloured deck shirts, shorts and sundresses. A barbeque and fair with games, a hot dog booth, cotton candy, popcorn and mini-doughnuts.
We created a bowling alley in the street, an art station, a funky bar complete with large donation jars to our two favourite charities — one of which was the local prostate cancer centre.
I really should be out there helping him set up. He’s already doing too much!
This wasn’t the first time we’d heard the word “cancer” from a medical team, but we naively thought it was gone forever after his prostatectomy. Hearing it a second time five years later — one month before our wedding — altered our way of seeing this day, this life, every life.
Timing is everything. Cancer is such a polarizing illness. It seems everyone has a cancer story in their lives and it feels like everyone has an opinion about how it should be handled, especially when it comes to close relationships. We discussed keeping it a secret until the treatments were over, but we knew that would never wash.
My husband’s “best woman” and my new daughter walked into the room. She had already come to know me well enough to pick up on something being wrong.
“I’m just a bit nervous,” I laughed.
Luckily, it turned out to be a perfect day. Perfect in every way.
One neighbour said, “I haven’t danced in a very long time, and I danced for hours non-stop!”
We stored all the conversations, laughter and shenanigans into our memory banks to be drawn on later. And as we sat around a fire pit playing and singing songs well into the starry night, Mike and I thanked each other for having kept our secret.
Once home from the honeymoon, we chose to tell immediate family first: parents and children. It never occurred to me before that there is a hierarchy of relationship when delivering challenging news, especially because sometimes it’s easier to tell strangers or acquaintances.
The quiet at first let us know they were stunned … processing. There was only a bit of frustration we hadn’t told them sooner and especially that Mike hadn’t gotten treatment sooner. When Mike shared his reasoning, they said they understood and I believe them.
Other friends were more upset with our decision to keep it a secret and that’s been difficult.
In the end, Mike spent 44 days in the radiation room.
He kept that twinkle in his eye to woo the staff at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, but when it was late at night or just the two of us alone in the waiting room, that’s when he would share his fears.
This time was far from easy — so many side effects. We would sit with our heads close together and talk about memories of the last few months; and he would pick one each day to think about while holding still on the cold radiation table.
Amazingly, he always came out of his treatment smiling and thanking everyone he saw.
November 13, 2018 was the day he rang the bell — the now-famous ritual of making it through cancer treatment. That was one secret we didn’t keep!
And since that day, we celebrate the 13th of every month — calling it Happy to Be Alive Day!
Telling your story
CBC Calgary is hosting a series of in-person writing workshops all across the city to support community members telling their own stories.
Check out our upcoming opportunities at cbc.ca/tellingyourstory.
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