Cancer Olympian Robin McGee an inspiration

Wendy Elliott
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Robin McGee. Submitted

Cancer is a fearsome disease, and colorectal cancer must be one of its most challenging forms.

It was in Robin McGee’s family and it attacked her.

Reading McGee’s awesome memoir, The Cancer Olympics, I turned down the corner of a page every time I felt moved by her words. In the end, there were 10 spots to tear-up or admire her pluck.

The Port Williams mother and clinical psychologist was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer after four local physicians mishandled her care for two years. Three of the four were subsequently given official cautions by the Nova Scotia College of Physicians.

She knew two of them as community members and thought, “they saw me as a person. But neither of them saw me that way. I felt personally betrayed.” McGee skewers one doctor, who she terms, “an unblinking reptile.”

In June 2010, as she was undergoing radiation, McGee used her drives to Halifax to relate to friends, who volunteered to help her with transportation. “I feel the roots tying me to my community becoming deeper, drawing me further into the soil of our common heartaches, our common vistas.”

Describing how her hormonal system aged 20 years in two months, McGee catapulted me into stitches of laughter detailing the required trip she took with two friends to a sex shop on Barrington Street. “So I join other sisters, I think… God love us.”

Blogging gave McGee huge support. She shared her turmoil and her online community offered prayer, giving her permission to cry. The fact her son was only 13 at the time weighed heavy. A website called Lotsa Helping Hands connected friends to tasks and eased the load for her husband.

While in Halifax having surgery, McGee encountered a level of medical attention and compassion that was lacking for her here in the Valley. She joked about vomiting efficiently and noted surgeons who looked like high school students.

By November 2010, McGee was as focused on others as she is on her own treatment. She went into crusader mode to ensure a superior chemotherapy treatment called FOLFOX became available in Nova Scotia. Eventually, it was too late for her, but McGee wanted others to have the chance to return to being productive, tax-paying citizens. Some 250 Nova Scotians are diagnosed with rectal cancer annually. Each has a 50 per cent survival rate.

Enlisting the help of her supporters on social media, including current Premier Stephen McNeil’s niece Katie, McGee brought the Nova Scotia Liberals, especially Diana Whalen, on board. A letter writing campaign geared up, making her a believer that technology can bring about social change. Eventually, FOLFOX was approved.

This is a life and death story, but McGee’s sense of humour is very present because she is “alive to tell this story.” She checked in lately with Health Minister Leo Glavine about his role in the book.

“We joked about who will play him in the movie,” she said.

While her readers know this tale of disease and survival is true, McGee created a multi-faceted story that makes for compelling reading. The Cancer Olympics has suspense, raw emotion, and an intrepid heroine. McGee cannot forget that it took 661 days for her to receive a diagnosis rather the recommended 60 days.

“One in 10,000 survive medical neglect,” she says. “That’s why I’m telling this story.”

Since entering remission, she has been active in patient advocacy, serving as the patient representative on several provincial and national initiatives aimed at improving standards of cancer care. She is also a peer support mentor and fundraiser on behalf of the Canadian Cancer Society. The Cancer Olympics is her first and, McGee says, hopefully her last memoir of cancer experiences.

The Valley launch of the book takes place on May 17 at 3 p.m. in the Garden Room of the Irving Centre at Acadia University. Harpists Ardyth and Jennifer will perform. A Beatles barn dance is slated for the Old Orchard Inn at 8 p.m., with Hal Bruce entertaining. A freewill offering at the door will go to the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada.

Half of the proceeds from the sale of the book, which was self published, go to the Canadian Cancer Society and the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada.

 

 

 

Organizations: Nova Scotia College of Physicians, Canadian Cancer Society, Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada Irving Centre Acadia University Old Orchard Inn

Geographic location: Halifax, Port Williams, Barrington Street Nova Scotia The Valley

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