Sweet Cottage Dreams

Day One

The sign that is perched high on the rocks along the highway to Northern Ontario reads… “Muskoka, Once discovered, Never Forgotten”.

My Aunt Sue and I are in the car together.  I left my home two and a half hours ago to pick her up in Oakville where she lives.  We are on our way to a place neither one of us has been. 

Let me tell you about Cottage Dreams.  www.cottagedreams.org

I applied to this organization one and a half years ago.  My application was put on hold for medical reasons.  My doctor advised me of my planned liver surgery, so cottage dreams would have to wait, or would they wait?  (I mean, will I even be around next year?, which brings us to the present day)

Cottage Dreams is a charitable organization that benefits cancer survivors and their families.  Cottage owners graciously donate their cottage for one week.  A gift of time to celebrate cancer recovery.  This is such an amazing gift, as cancer can be very expensive and renting a cottage likely isn’t a realistic option for many people.  Those of us that are diagnosed with cancer cannot buy a simple over the counter drug to heal us.  Time is the only medicine our souls need.  When our soul is healthy we can handle whatever cancer throws at us.  This week to spend with my family is the most beautiful gift and I will cherish these new memories forever.  Even if my forever may not be as long as the average person’s forever, regardless, it is my forever.

Three more hours of driving and good conversation.  Let me introduce you to Monique and Rob.  We have just arrived at Monique’s cottage where we are about to unwrap this gift of time.  They graciously welcomed us and gave us a tour.  I thanked Monique in advance (with a hug of course, you know me) for joining the cottage dreams organization.  I asked her if she had a particular reason for becoming involved and she told me that a relative in her early 30’s had been diagnosed with cancer.  I had a feeling that perhaps cancer had affected her on a personal level.

Monique told me that she just purchased this cottage earlier this year and this is her first summer enjoying it.  It gave me goosebumps to learn that she would give up her new paradise for a  week for a complete stranger.  I find it such an interesting thing that some of the best things I have learned since entering cancerland have been lessons learned from strangers.  I actually don’t think I like the word stranger anymore, let’s say “someone who I am yet to meet” instead.

We are in a beautiful area.  The Muskoka’s are known as cottage country.  The trees are starting to show their vibrant colours of autumn.  We are at Three Mile Lake.  The cottage is rustic like with all modern amenities.  It feels very welcoming and it feels like it hugs you as soon as you walk in the door like it’s saying, “It’s about time you showed up, where have you been?”  You cannot see the cottage from the main road, a gravel road that is full of hills and curves.  At one moment you are driving at lake level and the next you are climbing high and looking down at the tree tops.  I recall saying to my Aunt before we had arrived, while we were looking for the correct cottage number, I said, “oh my gosh, this is going to be absolutely beautiful!”

We turn to the left and immediately drive down the steep drive toward the cottage.  A part of the land is cleared so that we can park a couple of cars.  Where we park the car, we look down and see the roof of the cottage.  It’s like  a big tree house for grown ups!   Approx. 30 steps down (steps made of railway ties) takes us down to the front door.  Through the front door you immediately feel the welcoming hug of the wood floors and walls and cozy decor.  My eyes went directly forward, out through the patio doors to the wrap around deck which framed the lake in front of us.  The sun is glistening on the water and we can see the other side of the lake, a  few cottages to be seen along the shore.  It is so stunning!

Aunt Sue and I had only been there for approximately half an hour, just enough time to take a good look around, hug each other and claim each of our bedrooms for the week, before some more family members arrived.  My Dad, my sister and my two nieces will be joining us for 2 nights.   The cottage had a finished lower level with 2 bedrooms, one for my sister and the other for the little girls which had bunk beds, it was a perfect set up for them, they also had their own bathroom.  The girls were excited to be sleeping in bunk beds.  Brooklyn the older of the two claimed the top bunk right away and Kennedy (DeeDee) was excited to sleep in a big girl bed for the first time.  (no crib)  The girls did very well on the 6 hour drive up here.

We were greeted shortly after that by two of my former co-workers.  Armand and June Degagne.  They drove down from North Bay (which is about 1.5 hours north of where we were).  The last time I saw them was May 2010 at my surprise 40th birthday party, which was one month prior to my second surgery.  I was so honoured that they drove all that way just to say hello in person.  They are two very special people.  Armand is also a cancer survivor.  They only visited for an hour as they wanted to head home to enjoy their daughter’s birthday with her.  They had plans for cake.  Again, how special they took the time on their daughter’s birthday to come see me. 

We all enjoyed a lovely family dinner that first night.   My sister took her daughters our for a paddle boat ride.  When she arrived back at the dock where we were all waiting for them, little DeeDee enjoyed herself so much that Cindy couldn’t convince her to get out of the boat.  This little girl wanted more!  Finally we convince her that another ride will happen tomorrow.  I went up to the cottage and brought us down a huge bowl of popcorn to share.  All six of us were lounging on the floating dock to watch the sunset.  We were greeted by our first unplanned visitor.  A beaver.  He was swimming horizontally across the lake as if he had a mission to get home before dark.  We were star gazing while munching on the popcorn as it had fallen dark by now.  We waved goodbye to the beaver and then shortly afterward one duck appeared.  We offered it a couple of fluffs of popcorn and it continued swimming along.

We all make our way back up the hill to the cottage to prepare for bed time.  I am a bit winded by the time I get to the top.  I have forgotten how much you need your abdominal muscles.  Can’t say I’ve climbed any hills lately.  At least not real physical hills, only those emotional ones you find when you visit cancerland.  I can already feel that the fresh air and the change of scenery is going to be fuel for my writing and I can’t wait to share the rest of the week with you.

As I lay in bed looking out into the large window, all I see is total darkness and peace.  No street lights, in fact no lights at all.  It’s so dark out I cannot even see the trees right out in front of me.  Some certain people have been on my mind all day.  I thought about them during the long drive here, while I was talking with my Aunt, while I was watching the beaver and the duck, while I was watching my Dad and my sister and the girls enjoying themselves on the dock.  The people that I am thinking about are my family and friends that cancer took from me.

My paternal Grandparents (Meme & Pepe).  Emile & Angeline Roy

My Uncle John Rogers (my Aunt Sue’s husband)

My Uncle John Tanner (my Mom’s only sibling)

My friend, Rod Wilson  (Rick’s Dad)

My gardening buddy & honorary family member, neighbour to the right (Ruby Goslin)

My friend, neighbour to the left (Bill Schram)

I am also thinking about family and friends that are currently battling cancer along with me.

My Step-Father, Gord Delong.

My friend, Dana Brezzi.

My friend, Joe Vasko.

My friend, Armand Degagne.

My Aunt, Donna Tanner.

Also on my mind are family members that have also passed away.

My Great Grandparents (Byron & Jennie Parker)

My maternal Grandmother (Meme), Hazel Tanner.

My maternal Grandfather, Vern Tanner (unfortunately I never had the chance to meet him)

My first dog companion, Tempest.

I have had to say good-bye to so many in this lifetime, but I am comforted to know that I have so many heavenly angels looking out for me and I feel protected and loved each and every day.  I wish they could be a part of this cottage dream getaway.  I am so full of emotion right now, happy and sad.  I miss them all terribly but I remind myself that grief is the price we pay for love.  It’s time for sleep now, time to wipe my tears and goodbye to today. 

As I turn my bedside light off I am drawn to a picture of a woman on a beach.  The picture is sitting on the top shelf where other pretty frames and photos are.  What draws me to the beach is this.  I used to tease my homecare nurse Vanessa that while she was tending to either packing my incision wounds or doing one of her not so pleasant things to me I would tell her to just do her thing because I would just visually go to my happy place.  Yes you guessed it, my happy place is the beach.

Getting back to this picture I am looking at, it has the following words on it.  Every time I look back at it, I read it over and over again. These words are just so beautiful and directly reflect my feelings that have been with me all day.