Last Wednesday morning, a plate of home baked goods was left on Gwen Cuvilier’s front porch.
Her daughter, Laureen, scooped it up as she got the kids off to elementary school, planned to get her mom to a bone scan, home in time for an interview, and then the cat to the vet later in the day. She tucked the treats in the kitchen of the family’s cozy Chilliwack home; thankful they could all enjoy them later in the day. Outside it was cold and snowing, and inside their home it was still Christmas. The tree still decorated, and bright and shiny cards lining the brick wall above the fireplace.
They were all waiting for Laureen’s brother Jeff and his family to arrive from Taiwan for a visit, so everyone could be together again. Culivier has been diagnosed with cancer, is being treated as a palliative patient, and every day is urgent. The family has been through tough times before, Laureen and Gwen explain. In 2013, Gwen’s husband Rick passed away and Laureen and her kids and husband made the move back home from England.
But this is a family that happily pulls together and works hard, helps others, sees the shining silver lining in everything.
“You do something to the best of your ability and you just don’t quit,” Gwen says, sitting in her arm chair with a throw around her shoulders. “That’s how I was raised.”
So, she was a bit surprised when meals started arriving at their doorstep, shortly after she was diagnosed in late November. It started with their friend Cathy dropping off a soup. With the whirlwind of trips to the hospital, doctors’ offices, worrying, taking care of the young children, and running the household, it soon became obvious they just weren’t eating right as a family.
Those casual and welcome donations of meals soon morphed into something more sophisticated — an online Meal Train. Friends, family, even strangers, can sign up to cook for the family on chosen days. Cathy organized the Meal Train, having benefited from it when she had her own family loss to deal with in the past. Because the Cuviliers have friends around the world, they’ve even had pizza ordered for them from people overseas, paid by credit card.
Teammates from Laureen’s husband’s dart team have pitched in, and people from their church have helped. Parents from the kids’ school have cooked for them, and, like this day, sometimes treats just show up on the front step.
“It’s all very humbling,” says Laureen, “but my parents were second parents to a lot of my friends growing up.”
“It does come back to you,” adds Gwen. She says the Meal Train is much like it used to be, with “neighbours helping neighbours. That’s just what you did.”
The meals are now coming to them three times a week, up from the original two times a week. One neighbour has even offered up her housekeeper time to them, to give them a break.
This is not a family that ever imagined needing a break, so it’s all happened very quickly. On Nov. 21, Laureen heard her mom having difficulties in the bathroom, like she’d fallen over.
“I had gotten up to use the bathroom and found myself on the floor,” Gwen says. “I said, ‘I think you should come in here.’”
There hadn’t been any outward signs of trouble prior to that, they say. But after x-rays and a carousel of trips in and out of emergency, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. She had collapsed due to low blood pressure, a result of a tumour on her right lung that had extended up to her left atrium. She has what’s known as a mobile tumour, and cannot have surgery. It means she could have a ‘sudden event’ at any time.
If that sounds morbid, it’s because it is. They admit it. But the mother and daughter laugh about it, because what else can they do?
“What is this sudden event and how will I know when I’m having it?” Gwen says, laughing.
It was the same when Gwen had breast cancer in 2005, she says. Back then, she wasn’t shocked or scared of cancer, she was mad. Mad that it was taking time away from all the things she would rather be doing. At the time, she was working for Elections Canada as the assistant returning officer, and stayed on the job throughout treatment, attempting to keep her health situation to herself.
“I called it bad names,” she says. “Made jokes about it. But you can’t be scared of it.”
And she isn’t one to mope around and feel bad for her situation.
“Let’s not just sit around,” she says.
And she’s not sitting around, not really. The family is not content to call this the end, and are eagerly awaiting news that Gwen can receive immunotherapy in Abbostford.
It’s a cutting edge, biological treatment, designed specifically for your immune system, Gwen says. Since she’s too ill for radiation, and surgery isn’t an option, this is a perfect treatment option.
In the meantime, they are filling their days with the little things. Hanging out with the kids. Making the holiday moments last. And enjoying the kindness of their friends and neighbours, who are filling their freezer, fridge and cupboards with love. And enchiladas, and shepherd’s pie, and cookies.