I’m Wray Brown and this is my story.
In August 2007, I went to the Westdale Walk-In Clinic with a lump on my neck. I was referred to Dr. Stanley Jackson, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton.
“It’s cancer,” a straightforward and honest Dr. Jackson said. “It began in the tongue and went to the neck. I looked at the MRI Wray, it's big."
During the weeks leading up to my cancer surgery, my mind was busily navigating its way through the myriad of emotions that come with such a frightening diagnosis. Uncertainty, anger, frustration and fear.
I don’t think these thoughts and worries ever disappeared entirely, but I can tell you that when February 28, 2008 rolled around, and I was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital, I knew I was in good hands from the moment my head hit the pillow.
Following my operation, I can't say that first night in the Hospital was the best one of my life, but it was certainly the most interesting. My mind’s eye was filled with photoflashes of nurses who seemed to glide by my bed, their movements as silent as an angel’s and their touches to my shoulder as comforting as the dreams of childhood.
Days passed while I remained in hospital, trying to regain enough strength so that I could go home and continue my journey of recovery in the comfort of familiar surroundings.
March 6 was a busy day. My stitches had to come out and this was a job for Dr. Carolyn Levis’ team. The doctors were young, professional men and women who took charge when they entered the room. They were quick, courteous and sharper than any scalpel in the Hospital. They smiled and chatted with me as they worked to remove the stitches, inspected my neck, mouth, tongue and skin graft site. Once again, I was overcome by a feeling of certainty that I was in the best of care.
Finally, it was March 14 and I was released from hospital. I received a big hug from the woman I only remember referring to as “Nurse Frances” and we said our goodbyes to Dr. Jackson and his team. It seems strange but, over the course of 15 days, I shared a life-altering experience with people whom I barely knew…and yet these same people cared for me as if I were a member of their own family.
Cancer. It came from nowhere and has changed my life like so many others. Yes, touched by a deadly disease, but also by my appreciation for those who cared for me, and for my family…for their spirits were touched by my illness too. I will never forget those members of the St. Joe’s family who cared for me and brought me through a most difficult time. I feel lucky to have known, even but briefly, these people for they are truly the guardian angels of our community.
Today, I am recovering, day by day, slowly but surely. After the surgery, speech doesn’t come easily to me, but thankfully the written word does. I pass my days by writing short stories, revelling in the company of my friends and family, and beginning to return to my work as a painter.
It is my hope that sharing my story will help others to understand that my experience at St. Joseph’s is not unique. Each and every day, talented and thoughtful staff at the Hospital are touching and saving lives, healing hearts and minds, and providing the very best of care.
At the same time, the brilliant minds of young researchers at St. Joe’s are working tirelessly to find new ways to diagnose disease, improve treatments and surgical procedures, and discover the cures of tomorrow.
One day or another, we will all need St. Joseph’s.
We’ll need a speedy diagnosis. We’ll need a caring touch.
We’ll need the reassuring words and the unparalleled care.
And, just the same, St. Joseph’s will need us. The Hospital needs our support, and the support of others just like us, to continue caring for this community. I will be forever grateful for the care I received there, and I hope my story will inspire you to give generously.