Dear Matt Smith, The 11th Doctor:


Thank-you. Thank-you for entertaining us, for being with us, during the worst hell of our lives. For 22 months now we have been medically displaced, 1,000 miles from home as my 16 y/o daughter first battled cancer, then heart failure caused by the chemo and now lives on the edge of a sword with an electric heart pump [LVAD] as she waits for a heart transplant. Your incarnation of The Doctor, with his whimsy, humour, optimism, hope, childlike playfulness along with the wisdom and deep sorrow that comes with suffering is just what we needed. Throughout the long, heart wrenching months you have looked down on my precious hero from the poster that has been transferred from hospital to hospital to ICU to CCCU to room to room [to room…etc.] to apartment at Ronald McDonald House and now the small apartment we temporarily relocated too in downtown Toronto as this wait for a heart could take another year or two.

Dr. Who has been a constant light through it all. We have watched many seasons over and excitedly waited for new episodes that did not disappoint! We have laughed, cheered, gasped and wept. You made my sick child smile and laugh and distracted her from her pain and misery. I have loved other Doctors but none hold on to my heart like you. To me you are and always will be “the optimist, the hoper of far-flung hopes, the dreamer of improbable dreams.” <—This. This we have in common. During the hellish weeks we were continually told Bronwyn would not live we didn’t believe it. We believed the impossible and the impossible came true. Thank-you for being there. Thank-you for helping us through.

Sincerely: A Grateful Fan

ps: If Bronwyn could have a Make a Wish wish it would have been Dr. Who themed, off to Cardiff for the Dr. Who Experience and maybe even the studio, maybe even a meeting….someday, maybe.

My Doctor Who Story

I remember seeing snippets of Dr. Who as I walked by the TV as a young adult. I was aware of Dr. Who but wasn’t interested in science fiction at the time. [It was Barry that changed my mind on SF when he rented BSG many years ago.] When the show was revised I started watching it. It was good. I liked it but my girls were young [8 and 10] and I was sensitive about them seeing anything too scary. I made it halfway through the second episode and decided Cassandra was too icky [a human stretched out like a buffalo hide] and turned it off. [Yes, I regret it.]

It was a few years later that Sinead reintroduced Dr. Who into our home. She had discovered references to it online [most likely tumbler]. I was sucked right into the 10th Doctor storyline with Rose and soon the girls were making sure I saw every episode of the new series. It wasn’t until Donna entered the scene I became a true fan. [LOVE the Dr. Donna!]

Then it seemed just when I discovered the magic of Dr. Who everything was going to change with a new doctor coming. I don’t remember exactly when I my new obsession started but it was before Matt Smith was chosen. I wasn’t really sure how this was going to work. Being a new fan I didn’t quite understand how the Doctor could change so much and still be the same character. The regeneration scene from the 10th to the 11th left me speechless and concerned that my new favourite show had just been destroyed. I needn’t have worried. I believe the 11th Doctor’s interaction with the child, Amelia Pond, helped a lot to endear him to me so quickly.

I had heard my girls and other fans talk about “my Doctor”. It seemed everyone had one incarnation of the Doctor that they especially liked, one they felt most connected with, a favourite. I didn’t have one…..until Bronwyn’s diagnosis. As I described in my letter above, Matt’s Doctor seemed to have been created just for us, for me.

I generally do not idolize actors, singers, musicians and such. They are just people doing their job to entertain us. I have had the opportunity, during Bronwyn’s health journey, to meet some famous people and although these moments were thrilling they were not emotional or life changing [except when we met Maggie Q for obvious reasons. In case you don’t know she pays our rent while we wait for a heart.]. I can’t think of any famous person whose presence would make me lose it……except for Matt Smith. Such is the connection I feel with his Doctor.

I’ll finish off with something Dr. Who and I have in common. We are both 50. We have both had to reinvent ourselves several times due to life circumstances. We have rolled with the punches and enjoyed our successes. We accept our past and have lived through tragedy but won’t let it hold us back. Our drive, imagination, dreams and optimism will continue to propel us forward into the future. Today I raise a glass to us. I think we are both pretty, damn awesome.

Taken at Easter, 2012, this picture shows the Dr. Who poster collection on Bronwyn’s hospital room wall at the Children’s Hospital in London, ON. She took the shot, from her point of view, in bed. Sinead gave her the large one for her birthday and is the poster that has followed her everywhere and now hangs in the bedroom she shares with her sister in our Toronto apartment. No matter what we were going through the Doctor and Amy were always there, ready to help.558527_10150639086436300_71722662_n

Gold Ribbon Craft: A Thesis

The purpose: To increases awareness of childhood cancers which will lead to more money for research to find better treatments and a cure.

The need: One in 330 children will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 20. One in five will die within the first 5 years of diagnosis. Many more die later from relapse or side effects of treatments. Ninety-eight percent of all survivors will suffer from at least one chronic health issue and by age 45, 80% will have a critical or disabling health problem. Most of these health issues are side effects of the treatment. In terms of potential years lost childhood cancer comes second only to breast cancer. Four percent of the NCI’s research budget goes to all childhood cancers. In Canada three percent is given. Big pharma puts little research into childhood cancers as they are not profitable. The underfunding is a worldwide problem.

The method: Gold Ribbon Craft is a collection of gold themed knit or crochet patterns to help raise awareness. Gold could be anything from delicate and creamy too bright and happy too dark and splendid and it is the color for childhood cancer. I am looking for designers and yarn dyers who are willing to donate their talents for this cause. Patterns will be quality designed items that are a pleasure to knit and crochet and can be worn and thereby seen by others, designed primarily for adults with a few for children or sized for all. Although some items may be suitable to be a quick project for fundraising or charity this is not the primary goal.

Those passionate about knitting and crocheting beautiful items to spread awareness are looking for well-designed patterns they can be proud of wearing and giving.

The deadline for designs and finished objects is April 15th, 2014. Publishing date will be in September, 2014.

And that’s the plan so far…..

The idea for the gold project came to me last summer, when Bronwyn was recovering from VAD surgery. I felt the crushing need to do something to improve childhood cancer treatments so no other family has to endure what we have. You can read about Bronwyn’s story in the Knitting in a Hopeless Place posts. Here is the capsule version: Bronwyn was diagnosed with AML, a difficult to treat leukemia, on January 15th, 2012. She endured four months of intense in-hospital treatment and was cancer free but on May 16th, while still recovering in the Children’s Hospital in London, Ontario she suffered chemo induced cardiomyopathy and was airlifted to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto where we were told she would die as her heart was too weak and her blood counts were too low to be put on life support. For two weeks the doctors and Bronwyn did everything possible to stay alive on the chance her counts would rise and they did. On June 3rd she underwent open heart surgery to have an LVAD put in. It is a small heart assist device that will keep her alive until she qualifies to be put on the transplant list on January 15th, 2014 and through the wait for a new heart.

This project is very personal to me. I signed my daughter up for torchure because it was the only option available. If you know anything about chemo you know I do not exaggerate. She didn’t go to the hospital once a week for a dose. She had 2-3 different chemos running through her central line over 2 1/2 – 3 hours every 12 hours for 10 days during the first chemo round. This is not unusual for childhood cancer treatment. She was given three weeks for her blood to recover, most spent in hospital as she had no immune system, before being put through another round of chemo lasting days. This went on for four months, four chemo rounds. Blood counts took longer to recover each time. We met a girl whose blood counts didn’t recover for months after the same treatment. This is why the doctors didn’t believe Bronwyn would live long enough to get the invasive treatment she needed to survive heart failure. I hope you never have to tell your child she may die and help her make end-of-life decisions. It’s hell. The recovery from VAD surgery, after being sick for so long was brutal but we were grateful she had something to recover from. Her first steps on July 6th, 2012 were a celebration. She was discharged on August 9th and tomorrow she will start grade 9 making her the first child in Ontario to attend public school with a VAD.

Before cancer Bronwyn was a healthy athlete. She had no heart issues. She was fit and ate a wholesome diet. She was a Highland Dancer competition
Highland Dance Competition, Nov. 5th, 2011]

and competitive curler. curling team
[Team Keetch, 2011]

She was handpicked by her coach for a team with Olympics as the goal. It has been hard to watch the team go on without her but they still wear an orange ribbon [the colour for leukemia] on their team jackets.

She is a leader camp gitch
Junior Camp Counselor at Camp Gitchigomee, summer, 2011]

and a good friend.
Bronwyn and Haylie in Bronwyn’s bedroom]

Her friends, dance troupe, curling team and kids and staff at Camp Gitchigomee love her and miss her and Bronwyn misses them. All she wants is to go back home.sleeping giant-1
[The Sleeping Giant in the Thunder Bay harbour. Home.]

It’s what we all want…..but we have a different road to travel. So here we wait in Toronto for a new heart and make the best of it. Bronwyn will go to school, Sinead and Barry will work and I will do what I can to raise awareness. I am committed to getting this collection of patterns published. I must make some good come out of our tragedy. People will say that things happen for a reason. I disagree. My daughter got cancer because we live in a world of sickness. If there is any reason to be found it is because we will create it.

I know the fibre community to be full of passion, generosity and creativity. The Knitting for Gold project is the perfect expression for it. knitter's frolic-1
The Yarns of Rhichard Devrieze table at The Knitter’s Frolic in Toronto. Rhichard has been a great support of this project, printing and handing out these Knitting for Gold fliers and talking to fellow dyers and designers about it. It so touched my heart to see he had the picture of us, taken at the Creativ Festival, fall, 2012 where we met, framed and on his table as well.]

Knitting in a Hopeless Place, ch. 2

May 16th, 2012: Bronwyn was on a flight but not for home. She was being airlifted to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. Bronwyn was now 15, having celebrated her birthday in March with the only visit home she had had in the last four months. Just days before the 16th we we had been looking forward to go back to Thunder Bay. She was so near the end of treatment. Now all that was forgotten as Barry and I sped towards Toronto down the highway. Just before we said goodbye to Bronwyn in ICU in the Children’s hospital in London that morning the doctor told us there was no room for us in the helicopter and Bronwyn might not make it through the 45 minute flight.

Quickly advancing heart failure.
[The last picture I took of Bronwyn in ICU in the Children’s Hospital, London, ON.]

Despite the fact that it took Barry and I at least two hours to pack up necessities from our Ronald McDonald House room in London and drive to Toronto, we arrived at Sick Kids just as Bronwyn did. The first thing we were told was she would die. Her heart was too weak and her blood counts were too low to install any life saving device like ECMO. After so much chemo it would take weeks for her blood counts to recover and she didn’t have weeks. This news sounded impossible to our ears. Bronwyn had come through so much in four months. Is this really how it would end? Was it all for naught?

If you spend any time on the second floor of Sick Kids Hospital, the ICU floor, you will often see distraught parents. Beyond the pale skin and black bagged eyes of most in the hospital the parents here are often completely overwhelmed. It is common to see adults sitting in chairs, leaning against walls, aimlessly walking while crying. Some cry silently, tears streaming, but most are beyond any self control and weep openly, audibly, muttering distressed questions of why that are never answered and declarations of how unfair the situation is. On May 16th that was Barry and I. I was completely undone. I don’t remember details just blurs of time in the hallway crying, holding on to Barry, pounding his chest, a nurse fetching us chairs because I didn’t have the strength to stand anymore.

During brief moments of clarity I made phone calls. I called one of my sisters and told her Sinead needed to be there “today!” Sinead was back in Thunder Bay, staying with friends as she finished grade 11. I don’t know what went on to get her there but Sinead arriving at 9pm that night was the only bright spot of the day. For two hours before her arrival I was on a bed in a family room [little bedrooms on the ICU floor for parents that require a key] in a fetal position trying to eat a banana, the only thing I had eaten all day since the half a bagel I had before being informed that Bronwyn was in distress. I felt bad that I had left Barry and Bronwyn but I literally had no strength. It took everything in me to get to that room and I didn’t want Bronwyn to see me like that.

The hard part was telling Sinead what was going on. She, of course, suspected something bad but it was like digging at a stab wound to tell her Bronwyn could die. We cried, pulled ourselves together and went to see Bronwyn. Even though she still was critical her condition had been stabilized. We felt pretty good about her for the next couple of days, believing she was in recovery mode. The chemo just had to work its way out of her body and her heart could recover. Well, it was the best case scenario given to us and we grasped it.
Sinead arrives from Thunder Bay.

Bronwyn was hooked up to practically every IV heart med they had and was on CPAP, a mask on the nose that forces oxygen into the lungs, doing some of the work of breathing, thus taking pressure off the heart. They kept her dehydrated for the same reason. They measured every liquid that came out and went in, including IV meds. She had to have less fluid going in to her body then going out.

Then came the Shitty Day, as we have come to call it.  May 21st, the day the doctors told us again that Bronwyn would not live. Her condition was not improving, in fact she was becoming more dependent on the meds. They had tried to lower them to see how she would do but ended up increasing them…..and increasing them. And then there were the persistently low bloods counts. She had no white bloods cells [to fight infection] and very low platelets [for blood clotting]. The doctors were doing all they could. We were told, “Either you tell Bronwyn or we will.” She had to know. She was old enough to know and make end-of-life decisions.

I felt destroyed but something inside me rose up and I knew instantly I could do it and what to say. It was like everything I had ever done, experienced and learned, everything I had become was for this moment. This was the moment I had been born for.

May 21: Terminal

I took Bronwyn’s hand and looked into her brave eyes, now full of worry, and said, “You know how sick you are. You can feel it.”

She nodded.

“Your heart is very weak and you blood counts are so low that the doctors can’t operate and put you on life support.”

She knew exactly what I was talking about.

“They are telling us you will not live. They are saying your blood counts will not come up soon enough to help you because you have had so much chemo.”

Tears welled up. Her face went red. We were all crying together. Barry did what he does best and pulled out his camera. He wanted to capture this moment. It might be one of the last with Bronwyn. We just didn’t know.

I told Bronwyn her birth story, how happy we were that day, how wonderful life had been with her, how much we loved her and that 15 years with her was just not enough.

Suddenly Bronwyn stopped crying. She became very still and quiet. A peacefulness filled the room. Bronwyn looked up at me and started comforting ME.


“It’s ok, Mommy. It’ll be ok Mommy.” We were all taken aback. Her strength and caring for others was breathtaking. Weeks later Bronwyn told me what happened in that moment. She said she heard a voice in her head, a male one, not her own, telling her, “You will not die from this.” She knew from that moment on she needed to do whatever was necessary to get through this.

And she did! For the next two weeks her health remained status quo for the most part. How she dealt with the pain, weakness and dehydration amazed everyone. She devised ways to satisfy her body’s craving for liquid without breaking the rules. She always had a wet washcloth in her hand and would rub her bald head and face with it [and never sucked on it despite the nurse’s expectations. I had to remind the nurses more than once that Bronwyn was 15, not 5, and not interested in endangering her life]. She would ask for a bowl of water to put her hand in. She would exhale like she had just lowered herself in a jacuzzi when her hand hit the water and would splash in it like a toddler. She then asked for a spray bottle. It became her best friend.

June 3: VAD Day!

For two weeks Barry and I never left her side. We took turns sleeping at Ronald McDonald House Toronto, the other sleeping in a chair by Bronwyn’s bed. Cots are not allowed in ICU. They take up too much room and could hinder access to Bronwyn in an emergency. Sinead came to the hospital in the afternoons and evenings. It was tough but we found ways to enjoy each other’s company. A nurse made a card holder for Bronwyn so we could play Sticks and Pennies, her favourite card games. Friends and caring strangers sent packages


and uploaded videos.


It was the most difficult two weeks of our lives but we still found happiness, laughter and smiles.

Rare smiles

On May 30th I woke up at the House, got out of bed and stepped on something. I looked down. It was clothes. I looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time. There were clothes, suitcases, towels and I don’t know what-else everywhere. I realized we were not coping. I had no idea how Sinead was coping, what she was doing or what she was eating…..I didn’t know what I had been eating. It was all a blur. I called one sister, she called another and another. They would be there ASAP. The next night, as they were arriving, Barry and I were taken from Bronwyn’s side and told again that she would not live. Even though her blood counts had begun to rise it was not quick enough. In their experience blood counts will fluctuate for weeks, even months after the kind of chemo Bronwyn was given. She had hours to days left. We knew Bronwyn’s health was failing. We had become experts at watching the monitors and our concern had been growing all day.

I spent the night with Bronwyn. The next morning blood work was done before more than a dozen doctors surrounded Bronwyn’s bed. They had just had a meeting about her. Barry and I flanked her bed and held her hands. The doctor who had told us the night before Bronwyn would not make it was sitting in front of us with the news. Bronwyn’s blood counts had jumped overnight well into the normal range. They would operate!

The VAD: a ventricular assist device is a machine that works for the heart. Bronwyn would be getting an LVAD, a turbine pump inserted into the left side of the heart, attached to a battery pack and controller outside the body by a driveline. This VAD is small, portable and a patient can actually leave the hospital with one. They are built to last years if necessary. It was the perfect solution for Bronwyn. She would not be eligible for a heart transplant until two years post cancer diagnosis. [That’s right, she has to be cancer free for two years.] AND Bronwyn would be the first patient to leave Sick Kids with one if all went as planned.

The doctors still wanted to give Bronwyn every chance to recover on her own. The less invasive treatment there was the better. The VAD would be installed only if absolutely necessary.

My knitting was kept close at the beginning of these two weeks.

knitting in ccu-1May 16

Quite often in my lap.

knitting in ccu-3

Quickly thrown aside when Bronwyn was awake or something was being done to her.

knitting in ccu-4

Just before we left London a package arrived from knitpicks.

knitting in ccu-5

I had plans for it and found a way to wind it into a ball on the medical cart in Bronwyn’s room.

knitting in ccu-6knitting in ccu-7

After the Shitty Day there would be no more knitting. My mind was too consumed. It wasn’t until VAD Day I found the release to pick up my needles again. Stay tuned for chapter three.

Knitting in a Hopeless Place, ch. 1

January 15th, 2012: Bronwyn was 14. I was 48. We were in a hospital room in the Children’s Hospital in London, Ontario.Jan. 14

We had been airlifted from the hospital in our hometown, Thunder Bay, Ontario two days before because a routine blood test run by our GP found reason for Bronwyn to be tested for leukemia. We had been ripped out of our lives, literally. I was at work on the morning of the 13th. Bronwyn was at a curling competition watching her team play without her as she was too weak from a persistent cold but was determined not to miss it. I got a phone call from the hospital telling me they were waiting for Bronwyn, I assumed, to do tests. Our GP had  sounded baffled on the phone the night before while he stammered out to me that my daughter need to be tested, [I later discovered why. A GP will discover a case of childhood cancer once every ten years on average. Usually it is a specialist or ER doctor] so I was expecting that call just not so soon with such an urgent message to get to the hospital ASAP.

By the 15th we had been at the Children’s Hospital for two days the the urgency of the situation had worn off. The only symptom she had was a general weakness. I was convinced the tests would show something else was going on like mono, which is not a great thing to have but when compared to cancer, fantastic. We knew there would be a test of some sort on the 17th. That is what we were waiting for, for Tuesday. Barry and Sinead would be with us by then, taking time away from work and school.

Jan. 15: Moments before

Bronwyn and I were enjoying a visit from relatives who lived in the area when the doctor walked in to Bronwyn’s hospital room with two colleagues saying they had a diagnosis. I was stunned. I wasn’t prepared. I was waiting for Tuesday.

It was cancer. Acute Myeloid Leukemia. AML.

I clutched my knees and bent over like I had been punched in the gut. I sucked in air and looked up at Bronwyn sitting in the bed. She was wearing a new pair of bright, pink, plaid pjs with a lost look of pain on her face. I felt tears stinging my eyes but it was not the time to break down. There was more to hear from the doctor. I went to Bronwyn, put my arm around her and pressed my forehead to hers. It was just a moment, a few seconds, but in that time we bonded, became one in the fight. We turned to the doctors to face, together, what was to come.

There are no words to fulling communicate what kind of hell chemo is. You sign your kid up for torchure, because it is the only option given, and you roll the dice. Will it work? Will it cripple your child? Will it kill her? All were possibilities. If the cancer doesn’t get her the chemo sure will try.

I rode on a wave of determination and shock that pulled me along for the first few weeks and then Bronwyn’s hair started to fall out and fall out fast! Bronwyn didn’t care. On the day of diagnosis she declared she didn’t like her hair anyway. I didn’t really care about her losing hair either. I had always had a casual attitude towards hair and the girls knew they could do whatever they wanted to it. Hair grows back. It can be fixed. Cut it. Dye it. Shave it. I don’t care.


But, Bronwyn’s hair on her pillow, on her brush, on the towel, in her hand, meant this was real. This was really happening. My daughter had cancer. Life had stopped for it. The past meant nothing. The future was a blank slate. The present was a nightmare and I couldn’t escape it anymore. It. Was. Real.

I did my best to hold myself together for Bronwyn. She wasn’t falling apart therefore I couldn’t either. So I had a breakdown in the large, public dining room of Ronald McDonald House over butter. Barry sent me to my room. (In a warm, loving way)

(The Clap)

A package had arrived from my sister a week earlier with a skein of Handmaiden wool, Ottawa, in a blue-green variegated. I dug it out, pulled up Clapotis on my laptop and cast on. With every stitch I felt the tension slowly drain away. Life looked a little more manageable with yarn the colour of calm slipping through my fingers. That scarf became my best friend. I carried it around and pulled it out every chance I got which isn’t as often as you might think. Helping your child through chemo is demanding and stressful to the point of paralyzing. It took a month but it got done.

On to the next project, a shawl

memories of home wrap-8
(Memories of Home Wrap-Me-Up)

and then another one


and another.

(Hunny Bee Comfort Me)

By the time I was finishing the last few rows of the Honey Pot shawl Bronwyn was done four months of treatment, most of it spent in the hospital. She was recovering from from her last round of chemo when she suffered heart failure…… as a result of the chemo. She was airlifted to Sick Kids in Toronto with 20% heart function and low blood counts. She was cancer free and dying. A new chapter in her journey was just beginning, a chapter for another post. Knitting had got me this far and it would continue to comfort me through hopeless times.