If you know anyone who’s had breast cancer, if you love anyone who’s had breast cancer, and if you are related to anyone who’s had breast cancer; then you might relate to this.
We have a lot of cancer in my family, leukaemia, breast, ovarian are the main types. We discovered a couple of years back that our family, on my mothers side, carries the BRAC1 gene. This means a greater likelihood of getting breast and ovarian cancer runs in the family. We’ve lost an aunt and a cousin to ovarian and two of my sisters have had breast cancer. Both of my sisters have the BRAC1 gene. My oldest sister prefers not to say, that’s just her style. And I don’t have the gene.
That being said, my family history still indicates that I’m at a higher risk than the average person for these types of cancers; it’s a numbers game.
Now, the thing I want to drive home is, you have to keep checking yourself. There is a very common sort of denial that sets in when someone has cancer in their family (any cancer). The weight of it hanging over your head becomes too much and you just don’t want to think about it anymore. The pain and suffering its caused people you love, the death. Screw it, you want to live, not think about signs of cancer every time you look in the mirror or feel a pang of something in your body.
Chances are, that bump or ache IS nothing and can be explained. But you have to stay on top of it. For me, the terror of doing a breast check and finding a lump was definitely something I started to avoid – but avoiding it, and then finding a lump months or years after it started growing is much, much worse. I remember my sister telling me the same thing, that she had ignored some signs that later turned out to be signs of a malignancy. We aren’t the only ones who do this, it’s called denial.
Most of the lumps you find will be benign, but with regular self-checks, even the ones that aren’t fine, will be caught early and dealt with EARLY; and life goes on. Cancer is not a death sentence the way it once was, but you have to balance the need to check yourself with the mental health of not living in fear every time you check yourself. I repeat, most of the things you find will be nothing!
If you know there is a prevalence of cancer in your family, but you’re not in a high risk program, go see your doctor and demand some kind action. I know a woman who’s mother and several aunts on her mothers side have had breast cancer. She doesn’t speak to her mother because her mother left her family when she was quite young. It is very possible her family carries the BRAC1 gene on her mothers side, but she has been avoiding self checks because, it’s terrifying. I gave her the same advice I’m giving here, most things will be nothing, but you have to know – don’t ignore things, don’t wait and don’t let a doctor blow you off if you have a family history; if you have breast or ovarian cancer in your family, demand the BRAC1 test.
Regardless of your current situation, if you are concerned about a lump or about your family history go to your doctor, explain your family history and have a discussion.
Check yourself, get to know what’s normal for your body, and don’t be afraid of changes – just be aware of them. They are probably nothing to worry about, seriously, most of them are nothing; but if they aren’t, you’ll be empowered to take care of it as soon as possible.
You got this. You’re harder to kill than you think.
Horses can sense your excitement, and knowing this, Molly tried her best to act like she was calm and confident as she walked Chuckles around the trailer.
Molly recalled Natalie’s tales of their adventures together. How after his short-lived racing career, Natalie had competed with Chuckles at a variety of equestrian events…like eventing and jumping. They had quite a history together she had said, “We jumped as high as the jump standards would allow,” she had beamed. Molly marvelled at Chuckles, what a stunning animal. Sure, he was a little worse for wear now but she would fix that. She wondered why Natalie had stopped competing with him, but had never asked.
It occurred to Molly that she had nothing to protect Chuckles legs for the trip. All of the horses at the farm where Molly took lessons wore leg protection when they trailered. She didn’t want him to kick himself during the ride back to Frank’s farm.
Wolf suggested they look at what Natalie had left behind, maybe there were some boots in there he could wear. As luck would have it, right at the top of the big blue tupperware container of Chuckles stuff was a set of four fuzzy legs wraps, presumably for shipping.
On the tub was written, “There is something about the outside of a horse, that is good for the inside of a man” – Ronald Regan”. Molly loved that quote, except that it was actually a quote by Winston Churchill. A reminder of how much younger Natalie was than Molly.
Wolf helped Molly put them on her horse, showing her how to wrap them and which leg to put which boot on. When it was time to put Chuckles on the trailer, Molly handed the lead rope over the Frank. She had never loaded a horse onto a trailer before, and no way she was going to learn how today.
After walking a wide circle, Frank led Chuckles up to the trailer with momentum and purpose. As they reached the step up, Chuckles stopped. He seemed to want to take a good look inside before getting in, and Frank let him take his time.
Frank reassured everyone that it was fine, and he again walked Chuckles away from the trailer, in a large loop and then back towards the entrance and this time Chuckles stepped up and in without hesitation. Frank tied him in with a bag of hay and in easy reach if he wanted to nibble at it during the trip. Chuckles would have taken many trips in a trailer before, so this wasn’t new for him.
In the process of walking Chuckles on, Wolf’s husband Steven had gotten stuck between the horse and the back corner while he had been trying to help guide him all the way in to the roomy livestock trailer. His face showed a flicker of fear as he realized Chuckles back end was between him and the exit. Darting his eyes between the horse and his narrow escape path, Steven took a breath and quickly side stepped past the haunches and moved off the trailer.
As they pulled out of the driveway of the farm, Molly heard a long, loud whinny come from Chuckles. She imagined, although it seemed silly, that he was calling to Natalie as he was leaving. He must have wondered what was happening and why she hadn’t been there to say good-bye, his best friend for so many years.
They arrived at Franks farm in about an hour and a half. Chuckles walked off the trailer and seemed ok, a fact that relieved Molly. He could see the other horses in the field and gave a few excited snorts. His head was held high, showing his alert he was to his new surroundings, but he never looked afraid, only excited.
Molly smiled so hard her front teeth were dry as she walked Chuck around the property, letting him eat the grass and trying to be as calm as possible while he settled in. For starters, his name was now Chuck, not Chuckles. Chuckles sounded like a carnival clown name. Chuck suited him much better. Molly had been told years earlier that changing the name of a horse was bad luck, so this seemed a good compromise.
Natalie had confirmed Chuck was current with his vaccinations, so he would pose no risk of disease to the other horses. Still, they would integrate him slowly, first letting them meet over the fence before putting them within striking distance of each other. Sometimes, when horses meet for the first time, the process for determining who’s in charge can be quite dramatic and scary to watch. Other times it’s uneventful. Regardless, it’s the nature of horses to meet and decide these things on their own terms.
What Molly would be in charge of, was clearing up Chuck’s scabs, and making sure he put some weight back on.
You just never know, she thought, you never know when the choice might be taken away from you altogether. You sit on the fence and wait for things, the right moment, the right person, the right opportunity. And then maybe, one day, you realize it’s up to you to make the right moment, or let everything pass you by. You have to act.
I need to do this, I’ve wanted a horse my whole life for chrissakes. The fact that I haven’t bought one yet is ridiculous! Molly continued to reason with herself, pushing herself past the discomfort of making such a big commitment.
That night Molly had a small get together for Greta. Some local family came and Frank drove down from Kincardine. Molly was in a tizzy over her visit with Chuckles and was looking for support for her decision to purchase him. Greta was fully on board with Molly, “Get the horse Molly, it’s what you want, just do it.”
Frank was more cautionary. “Is the owner rushing you to purchase? It’s a big expense to own a horse, much more than just the initial purchase price.”
Molly was annoyed by Frank’s advice, viewing it as negative, although in reality, it was very appropriate advice. Frank was a cautious sort of fellow, a guy who thought long and hard about any decision he made. If he ever came to a decision to make a move on something you can be sure there was some long and serious deliberation that went into it. Frank could see that Molly wanted this, even he was excited about the idea of a horse purchase. He had grown up with his fathers horses, and had Clydesdales of his own at his farm. He could see that Molly needed this, she’d been through a lot and maybe she was right, maybe you just never know what’s going to happen.
So Molly made the call to Natalie.
“Hi Natalie it’s Molly, how are you!?” Molly spoke with the intensity of someone checking their winning lotto numbers.
“I’m good thanks, how are you doing?” Natalie replied casually.
“I’m great, listen, I’ve made my decision about Chuckles, and I’d like to take him. I don’t need a vet check,” Molly continued.
“Oh that’s great! I’m very happy to hear that, I can see he’d be very happy with you,” said Natalie.
“I still need to organize the trailering, but I was thinking of sometime next week?” offered Molly.
“Hmmm, I’ll be leaving in three days for Europe. If you can’t get him before then, I’ll put him in our front paddock since his pasture mate is leaving in two days. I can let my parents know if you’re coming. There are some sheep in that paddock that will keep him company,” said Natalie, not seeming at all concerned about leaving her horse alone to be picked up and possibly never see him again.
“Oh, okay!” replied Molly, “I just don’t know how I’ll be moving him yet but I’ll figure it out!”
“My parents have sold their farm and will be moving in the next week as well, so it definitely needs to happen before they leave on the Friday.”
Molly was taken aback at the pace things were moving. She had nowhere to keep the horse much less a trailer to move it with.
“Natalie, I’ll have to get back to you once I sort out the timing,” confirmed Molly.
“Ok, let me know and I’ll talk to you soon. Also, I’ll need payment in cash but I’ll provide you with a receipt.”
“Oh, ok, and I’ll pay you full price for Chuckles!” said Molly, not really understanding why she did so.
The truth was, she didn’t even want to negotiate. Molly had (almost) sealed the deal and it was an elevating feeling. Just what she needed. Without hesitation, Frank offered to pick up the horse and bring it home to his farm. He arranged to get off work and could make the trip on the Friday. It was now Wednesday so that gave them just over a week to prepare. Molly also arranged to get off work for the occasion. Everything was working out perfectly.
The following week flew by and Molly could hardly believe what was about to happen. She was about to pick up her new horse. She had made a lifelong dream a reality, it was surreal. She arrived at Franks farm on the Thursday so they could get an early start to pick up Chuckles Friday morning. Franks dad, who never missed a chance to take a trip that involved livestock, was also coming along. This delighted Molly.
Bill kept several horses at his farm down the road from his son’s farm. He’d owned many animals over the years, including a pair of haflingers, a small, hardy breed of horses known for their light red coloured body hair and flaxen mane and tail. Bill had also kept a saddle horse for his daughter Sue. Long before she got married, moved away and had kids.
On Friday morning they piled into the truck and set out at 5:30 a.m. There was excitement in the air and Molly was beyond happy. It was one of the happiest moments of her life. After about an hour they arrived at the small farm and pulled in to the gravel driveway. Bill hopped out and opened the gate. They were greeted by Natalies mother, who had the unusual name of “Wolf”. Molly wondered how the woman had come to have the name Wolf, and imagined her parents must have been extreme hippies, but then again, she was too old to have hippy parents. Maybe she was German? Wolf was a man’s name, she thought. Anyways, it was cool, who wouldn’t want to be a “Wolf”.
They were soon joined by Wolf’s husband, Steven. Wolf and Steven showed Molly where Chuckles stuff was, Natalie had left some things for Molly, things she thought she might need. Chuckles was now in a grassy field with a small herd of sheep and stood looking at Molly as she approached him. He was more alert this time, like he knew something was about to happen.
Wold offered Molly some tips on how to lead Chuckles. “You hold the lead like this, and look ahead, lead him with confidence”, she said, holding the lead and purposefully walking him out of the field. He went willingly, but was a little more excited than the first time Molly had met him, a little fresh.
Wolf handed Molly the lead and she walked him around, letting him eat a little grass and then walking around a little more.
“I’m walking my horse,” she thought with utter glee and excitement. The feeling was pure love when she looked at this amazing animal. There’s no other word for it.
With one hand holding Chuckles lead, and the other hand reaching into her coat pocket, Molly pulled out the envelope of money and handed it to Wolf.
That night, Molly called Frank to tell him that Sparkle turned out to be a dud. It was fine. Molly was already over the disappointment and excited to see the next horse.
“Chuckles” had been advertised as a chestnut gelding, a red coloured male horse. The ad said he was 16.3 and had raced, evented and done the jumpers. He was 11 years old, just coming into his prime. This was exciting to Molly because she wanted an experienced horse, one that she could just get on, a horse that would already know what it was doing, and one that was old enough not to act like a green baby. Off track racehorses were popular in Molly’s area, there was no shortage of them coming from the local tracks. Chuckles, being a thoroughbred, had raced with a rider on his back, not pulling a sulky.
Molly had heard that off track thoroughbreds that weren’t fast enough for the track made great riding horses. That is, assuming they were just too slow and not because they had been injured. Injured racehorses that get retired from the track face a more uncertain future. Molly thought it was a good sign that Chuckles had done other sports after leaving racing, it showed he was sound for riding.
The farm where Chuckles lived was about an hour and a half North East of Burlington. Greta and Molly set off at about 10 a.m. stopping for coffee and a bagel on the way. Molly was certain this must be one of the best ways to spend a day.
Upon arrival they pulled into a small hobby farm, it was so small they had driven past it several times before finally seeing the address on a fence post, hard to read and easy to miss. Molly noted the large old Victorian red brick house, a small barn and a couple of fenced paddocks. A few hundred yards away she could see two horses in a paddock. One of them was a chestnut!
A young woman, about 20 years old, greeted them as they parked.
“Hi, I’m Natalie, you must be here to see Chuckles,” she smiled.
“Hi Natalie, yes we are! I’m Molly, we corresponded by email. This is my sister Greta.” Looking around Molly added, “This is a really cute farm.”
“It belongs to my parents, it’s a lot smaller than the one they used to have. They just sold this one too, they want to downsize again, which is why I need to sell Chuckles. I had hoped to retire him as a ponying horse at the track, but I decided I didn’t want that life for him.” Natalie looked toward the paddock where the horses were, adding, “So let’s go get Chuckles.”
As they approached the paddock Molly could see that the other horse, a dark bay, was a young and impressive looking mare.
“Is that your horse too?” Molly asked.
“That’s a mare we’re keeping here on rest while she recovers from a racing injury. Chuckles is keeping her company. She’s a nice horse… won over $2,000,000 at the track so far and she’s only 4 years old.”
“Wow. That’s impressive,” said Greta, as Molly nodded with raised eyebrows.
Natalie turned and walked over to Chuckles. He stood quietly, swishing his tail in the hot sun. The other horse was standing as close to his tail as possible to benefit from it’s fly swatting qualities. Molly noticed there was no shelter from the sun in the paddock and at over 30 degrees on a hot August day, both horses looked hot.
Natalie explained that she had been working at the local racetrack, training young thoroughbreds. Her family used to be in the racing business, which was how she came to have Chuckles. He had been purchased by a group of investors from a Kentucky breeder for $90,000 as a baby, maybe two years old. His breeding and bloodlines included some of the greatest racehorses of all time, like Northern Dancer and Secretariat, among others. Much to the disappointment of those who bought him, however, he didn’t do well at the races at all, and was retired quite young. This was when Natalie’s family had purchased Chuckles for their daughter to use as a show horse.
Natalie mused about the years they had spent together, how he was able to jump as high as the highest hole on the jump standards, and how she had flown him to Florida each winter to compete. Most recently, she had been eventing with him, level 1 or something. She didn’t explain why exactly, but only that with her parents moving from a farm to a house, she couldn’t keep Chuckles. She could have boarded him somewhere, thought Molly, but Molly didn’t want to ask why that wasn’t an option.
Chuckles was sweet and had a calm demeanor. While Natalie went over to the small shed to get his saddle and bridle, Molly and Greta looked him over more thoroughly.
“He is definitely not 16.3, maybe 16 hands, or 16.1,” Greta noted under her breath to Molly.
“Ya, true, but he’s broad. It would be more of a problem if he were narrow,” Molly replied, running her hands along Chuckles back.
His ribs were showing quite a bit, but he was still a handsome horse. He had a nice eye, a broad shoulder and big barrel, and a long body. Longer bodies were typical of turf racers from Kentucky where turf (grass) racing was the main racetrack surface.
Chuckles looked a bit tired with his scraggly uneven mane, dull coat and unusually short tail. He definitely needed some TLC. He was only 11 years old but seemed older. Molly noticed a scab from a sore on his withers and an old healed scar from a girth rub under his belly.
“What’s this from?” Molly asked, pointing Natalie to the scab on top of his withers when she returned. Natalie explained it was from am ill-fitting Western saddle used on him while she tried him out as a ponying horse at the track.
Ponying horses are used to help manage racehorses before and after their races. They are typically calm, well trained horses, who don’t mind being bumped and pushed by overzealous and hot racehorses. The ponying life could be rough and so Natalie had decided not to leave him there.
As Natalie went on to share the adventures she and Chuck had experienced over their years together, he stood quietly, tail swishing methodically with periodic, half hearted nips at any flies that landed on his shoulder. He was relaxed and had a pleasant look on his face while Natalie put on his saddle and bridle.
She walked him into a dirt paddock that had a small jump in it, and with complete ease in her running shoes, shorts and t-shirt, she got on and walked, trotted and cantered him around. She was clearly a natural rider and full of confidence. She popped him over the small fence and cantered away with total ease. She slowed to a walk, bringing Chuckles over to Molly and hopping off.
“Want to get on?” she said with an encouraging smile.
“Uhhhh, I’m not sure,” said Molly, ”I’m a bit nervous, sorry.”
Another hit on my head and I’d be in big trouble, she thought.
“Ok, well, take your time.” She said with a kind smile. Chuckles remained there, standing quietly.
“Try him Molly, put your helmet on first. Did you bring your helmet?” prompted Greta.
Molly got her helmet on and decided to go for it. She stepped up from the mounting block and onto Chuckles back and again he stood there quietly.
Molly asked him to move forward with a squeeze of her legs and away they went around the small dirt pen. Once she felt comfortable, she asked him to move up into a trot. He was so good, so steady and calm. Next, they went into a canter, it was smooth and easy. She worried it would be hard to stop him, or that her unsteadiness in the saddle might make him nervous, but it didn’t and he slowed down as soon as she asked him to, with a light pull on his reins. With every passing second, Molly found herself more and more comfortable.
Greta watched in amazement that Molly was able to do what she was doing, with a strange new horse. She could see she was unsure up there, but there she was, determined to do it. She admired her for that.
Molly didn’t want to push her luck by trying to take Chuckles over a jump and decided to get off and leave it on a good note. She noted the old spur mark dents in Chuckles side, little divets where someone’s heel would have dug in with a steel poker attached to their boot. She touched the saddle sore on his back to make sure she hadn’t opened it when she rode him. It was still a scab and seemed undisturbed.
“I’m interested Natalie, but I’ll need to have a lameness exam,” said Molly.
Natalie was quick to point out that she couldn’t wait for a vet check unless it happened within the next day or two. She was leaving for Europe the following week. Greta also felt that Molly could skip the lameness evaluation. Her reasoning what that if Molly got one year out of Chuckles, it would be worth it.
“Why pay for a lameness evaluation if he’s only costing you $2,000,” Greta had reasoned.
Natalie suddenly perked up with a suggestion, “Hey, I’ve seen lameness evaluations done loads of times, they’re just flexion tests. You bend the leg at the knee and hold it for 60 seconds, then put it down and trot the horse off to see if they maintain an even step on that leg. I can do that for you now, I know how to do it. I just need one of you to time it.”
Molly was excited at the prospect of saving some time and money and having the exam done now. It would at least give her the peace of mind knowing she had done flexion tests, so she could make the decision she knew she wanted to make.
“That would be great Natalie, let’s do that!” said Molly.
Natalie walked Chuckles over to the driveway and with Greta timing her, she held up his front right leg, bending it at the knee, with his hoof held under him near his belly.
After 60 seconds, Greta gave the cue and Natalie trotted him off down the driveway.
Chuckles was limping. A fairly big limp too. You could tell because with every other step, his head popped up.
Natalie pulled him up, clearly dismayed. “Well, that’s strange,” she said. Picking up his foot to inspect it, brushing it off as she looked closer for a rock or some other indication as to why he was limping. Having found nothing, she shrugged and held up his left front leg to repeat the test.
“He probably stepped on a stone when I trotted him the first time,” smiled Natalie.
Greta again timed her.
After Greta gave the signal at 60 seconds, Natalie again trotted off with Chuckles and again, Chuckles was limping, his head bobbing up and down with each alternating step.
“It must be the rocks on the driveway,” said Natalie. “That, and I just pulled off his front shoes, so his feet are probably more tender than usual… I should have swept the driveway before trotting him on it…” She lamented.
“He’s not lame,” Natalie reassured Molly.
Molly looked at Natalie and then at Chuckles. She realized that her need to buy this horse was going to usurp any evidence that she shouldn’t. She was being driven by the power of “What if I had died? What if I die tomorrow?”
On top of this, she didn’t have the experience to understand what the implications of lameness were, and to her it was like if she herself had a sore foot. She would rest it, and all would be fine. In fact, it only made Chuckles more appealing. They could mend together.
Molly and Greta said their good-byes to Natalie and started the drive home. Contrary too better judgement, Molly was bubbling over with excitement, “I’m about to be a horse owner!” she screamed to Greta. “I think I’m actually going to make this happen!”
The first horse Molly and Greta went to visit was a paint horse with one blue eye (and presumably one brown eye). A paint horse is a type of breed that is either black and white splotched or any other mix of white with another colour. They look a bit like a typical dairy cow or a harlequin coloured great dane. Molly had found this paint horse listed on Kijiji. The ad said “Sparkle” could be ridden Western or English and was “always in the ribbons” at horse shows. This was the type of horse Molly was looking for in many ways, a nice all-rounder. Molly was more of an English style rider but a horse that could do both sounded amazing too.
After picking Greta up from Patricia’s house, they started on their journey to see the horse. The trip to the farm would take just over an hour, so they used that time to catch up and talk horses. The farm was pretty with a line of Maples along the driveway. A group of riders were gathered around as they arrived. With a friendly smile, one of them waved and approached Molly’s car, “Hi there, can I help you?”
“We’re here to look at Sparkle, I’m going to try her out. I’m supposed to meet Meghan?” said Molly.
“Ohhhh, ok, Meghan’s inside, go through that door and you’ll see her,” she offered.
Molly could barely contain her excitement as they headed to the barn. She and Greta exchanged excited toothy grins as she opened a big old red barn door and entered the stable.
Her eyes adjusted to the darkened isle and she saw a horse in the cross-ties being brushed by a young woman. The girl looked about 16, maybe 17. She had long blonde hair, tied back in pony-tail with what looked like some hay bale twine.
“This must be them!” She thought.
She approached and introduced herself and the girl confirmed this was in fact Sparkle, then introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Meghan, thanks for coming.”
“I’m just getting her saddled up,” she continued.
“Great! Sounds good!” replied Molly with another excited look at Greta. “Meghan, this is my sister Greta, she’s my second set of eyes for horse shopping! She’s just in town for a few days.” Meghan and Greta exchanged smiles.
Molly had hoped to see the horse before she was saddled. She had read that when buying a horse you should see how it reacts to everything, from being taken out of it’s field, stall, etc., to having a saddle put on. But oh well, she was horse shopping – this was so exciting!
Silence ensued as Meghan adjusted the horses saddle and it wasn’t more than two minutes before Molly observed the horse seemed to be breathing heavily.
“Oh poor girl, she must have just come in from running in the field, did she? She seems out of breath,” queried Molly.
“Oh no, she has allergies, she’s been in a stall here and she should be on outdoor board, she needs to be outside at all times. Her allergies get really bad when she’s on indoor board. Last year she lived outside 24/7 and you could barely tell….” explained the girl, trailing off.
“Oh, okay, what kind of allergies?” asked Molly with an ever growing tickling in her intuition.
Without looking at Molly, the girl replied, “heaves,” and gave one last quick brush of the horse before undoing the ties and putting on her bridle.
Molly had, thankfully, heard of “heaves” before. An unfortunate type of lung disease in horses that affects their long-term health and athletic ability. The typical symptom is that the horse always seems out of breath and has laboured breathing. Very sad. Molly’s brain took a minute to catch up with this and in the meantime the girl led the horse outside to demonstrate how she went under saddle. Molly exchanged a now disappointed look with Greta and followed the girl to the outdoor ring.
If the heaves weren’t bad enough, the girls attempt at riding the horse was downright awful. The horse swerved in snaking lines around the ring while the girls hands wildly grabbed and pulled at the reins, the horses head sticking up the air like a giraffe. Clearly she was a novice, and had no control and the poor horse had no idea what she was asking. For some reason, in spite of how terrible the ride was, the girl chirped out that she was about to demonstrate how the horse jumped and headed toward a small jump in the ring. Her arms flailed wildly in the air as she kicked at the horses sides to encourage it to go over the fence.
“Dear God,” thought Molly as the horse swerved hard to the right just before the jump. The girl was unseated but didn’t fall off, and continued on, chirping that she would try again.
Before Molly could stop herself, she blurted out, “That’s enough! That’s enough! Okay, thank-you, that’s great, you don’t have to show me anymore!”
“Are you sure?” said the girl, with a look of disappointment as she pulled the horse to a walk.
“Yes, it’s okay Meghan, she needs to rest I think,” said Molly.
And by the grace of God the debacle came to an end. The horse was now huffing and puffing so badly Molly was concerned she might fall over. She gently suggested to the girl that she walk the horse until her breathing returned to “normal”. And with that they thanked her, and Molly and Greta headed directly, and without hesitation, back to the car. Molly felt bad for the girl, she was clearly in over her head, and no one was going to buy that horse.
“Wow, that was brutal,” said Molly to Greta once they were back in the car.
“That horse had really bad heaves, and oh my god the riding. It was so terrible. That poor girl. Where is her mother?” said Greta.
“I know, she was completely out of her element, that was bad,” agreed Molly.
Sparkle was definitely not the one.
Molly had lined up another horse to go see the following day, also from Kijiji. A chestnut thoroughbred named “Chuckles”.
Molly called her sisters and close friends to tell them the news. It was met with lots of “Oh my gods” and “I’m so sorry” and “Oh Molly… oh you poor thing.”
None of which, to be honest, were very helpful. Molly had three older sisters, they were five (Patricia), six (Greta) and seven (Frauka) years older than her. A reaction that stuck in her mind was from her sister Patricia, who after the initial news had recounted her reaction saying, “You know, when I heard about this, I was like, that’s it, I’m putting all that stuff between us aside and focusing on being there for you, that’s all that matters now.”
It was very sweet and sincere, so sincere in fact that Molly wondered if Patricia realized what she had admitted, the part about the stuff between them. By the sounds of it, bad stuff. What did she mean? Molly had always felt things, cutting remarks and put-down. Family stuff. But Molly only understood them as the receiver, how they made her feel insecure, unworthy, and stupid. So it surprised her when Patricia blurted out some understanding on her end of bad feelings between them. Molly had never had the courage to ask her, why had she been so harsh at some of Molly’s lowest points.
Molly recalled a time when she about 18 years old and having what she could only describe as a panic attack, about something their step-mother had done, or was doing at the time, she couldn’t remember an exact reason. Molly had broken out in blisters all over her body. She had gone to her sister in tears, to show her the blisters, and for some sisterly advice. Patricia had looked at the blisters, then leaned back recoiling and looked at Molly stating, “You’re fucked.”
And now, Molly thought, she was ready to put it all aside to help her soon to be invalid sister. Molly believed people were inherently good. Patricia was no exception, she had many amazing qualities, a razor sharp wit, the ability to throw an amazing dinner party and to top it all off she was a social worker. But memories ensure we remember the good and the bad. Molly couldn’t help but remember how often they’re relationship seemed out of balance over the years and that she never really understood why, or what she had done. Her sister resented her, there was no question about that, she always had. Be that as it may, the present circumstance had redirected their relationship now that death was apparently looming.
Even Molly’s sister Greta had booked a flight in from Winnipeg, leaving her big job managing the McPhillips Station Casino, one of the big native reserve casinos, to come and see her ailing sister. And her oldest sister Paula, seemed almost giddy about the news, and promised to come visit and care for Molly “when the time came”.
Before her car accident, Molly had been preparing her resume to make a job change. She was ready to move on to her next challenge and take her career to the next level after five successful years. She had been contemplating her relationship with Frank, they had been together for a couple of years and the relationship didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
And now? She was lucky to have a job with enough tenure that she could stay on and get paid for thinking with the capacity of a chipmunk. Frank had turned out to be her rock, answering the phone at all hours, providing infinite, compassionate patience. It was ironic.
“What if I had died in the crash?” she thought, “what would I regret not doing?” It was in that moment a singular thought came, like a bolt from the blue.
“If I had died, I would have never owned a horse,” she heard herself say.
Horses had significance in Molly’s life. Ever single birthday cake candle wish she’d ever made was, “I wish for my own horse.” And blow. A wish not unlike many little girls and boys. Molly’s love for horses was tied to a memory of her mother. Molly’s first memory of her mother was watching her ride her horse, while Molly sat on a fat pony named “Beany”, desperately trying to copy her mother’s equestrian skills. Beany was a babysitter. And Molly was, at the time, very much still a baby at 4 years old.
Molly’s mother, Inga, had grown up in Sweden and had ridden horses there as a young girl. After having four girls, she had decided to buy her first horse, no doubt looking for something of her own after being consumed by children for so many years. She had finally made her dream of owning a horse come true, and purchased a pretty bay mare she called, Sundance. She kept Sundance at a farm not far from their home, run by a kind farmer we called “Mr. Van”. Mr. Van had ponies on his farm that Inga rented for Molly and her sisters to ride while she visited and rode Sundance.
Sundance was a sturdy and athletic Morgan cross. Beany was a black and white, rather lazy pony. Perfect for little Molly. Molly remembered a sunny day, watching her mother trot around on Sundance, while Molly walked in a small round pen with Beany. Molly had wanted to move faster, but Beany seemed immune to the kicking from Molly’s small and ineffective legs. Such great memories Molly thought.
These early experiences evolved into a lifelong need to be around horses, watching them, reading about them, being near them and riding them. After her mother died, Molly would beg to go to a riding camp for the summer, and worked week-ends cleaning stalls to pay for riding lessons, and then summers during school breaks. Molly’s father couldn’t support her ongoing horse obsession but as long as she paid her way, he was always glad to drive her to the barn and faithfully dropped her off and picked her up from the farm without a complaint. The barn work was more like child slave labour but Molly loved it. In exchange for working Saturday and Sunday, sweeping, cleaning stalls and feeding hay and grain, Molly received one riding lesson each week.
Over the years, Molly would incorporate horses into her life whenever and wherever she could, but always with the understanding from her father that they were too expensive to own. Owning horses was for people with money. Molly always found a way to ride though, either paying to ride with her own money or by riding the horses no one wanted to ride because they were free. It was practical, affordable and it worked.
Molly’s thoughts returned to her current situation. “If I had died and never fulfilled this one dream, I would be rolling in my grave, I’d be so pissed off. How ridiculous it that. And why? Because other people get what they want but I don’t because somehow I have to aspire to a higher level of practicality than they do?!”
She began to reason with herself like a child arguing to a parent. Next, she started combing the online classifieds, gleefully signing up for a dozen Facebook groups that listed horses for sale in Ontario. She needed to get an idea of what was out there, she also needed to get an idea of what she was looking for, and what it cost. She had no idea what she wanted and so, she started to ask other people.
The only thing more exhuberant than a person shopping for their first horse, is someone else, helping that person shop for their first horse. It’s not their money, and not their responsibility; win-win! More importantly for Molly, it completely distracted her from her current issues and recent diagnosis.
Molly wanted a safe horse. She couldn’t afford to hit her head again on a high strung horse. The more you hit your head the worse the concussions become, until you’re a mumbling, slurring football player at the age of 45. Not fair, and not cool, but true.
Horse shopping would involve a lot of driving and hopping on and off unknown horses, so she would need someone to go with her. He sister Greta had booked her visit down from Winnipeg, which could be timely for horse shopping, mused Molly. Greta had a horse of her own in Winnipeg and was somewhat experienced having shopped for one before. Molly thought it might be fun it they went together, and perhaps Greta could offer her some advice and experience on how to buy a horse that’s safe and sound.
So with hat, Molly picked out a couple of horses from the classifieds and planned to go horse shopping with Greta the following week.
“Okay, so I have a concussion, for sure… I guess,” thought Molly.
Molly took two weeks off work, a combination of vacation and sick days. She then attempted to return to the office only to find her symptoms just as bad. She was like a vegetable at her desk after just 15 minutes. The lights were intolerable and people talking in the office equated to a mild form of torture. She tried working half days at the office and half days from home, barely able to look at her computer screen but pushing through. As a fundraising professional this was an issue since her job involved a lot of computer screen time under fluorescent lighting.
About five months into her recovery, Molly was reflecting on her new reality. Day-to-day mental exhaustion, crashing onto the couch after work, the fear of driving, a sense of listless, aimlessness. After a three-month wait, she was looking forward to her appointment with the neurologist. Maybe she’d get some answers. Molly’s older sister Patricia, one of three older sisters, lived nearby and offered to come with her as a second set of ears. After a brief discussion, the neurologist confirmed in no uncertain terms that Molly did have a concussion and referred her to a local wellness centre for a physiotherapy assessment. The neurologist also suggested that Molly get a CT scan of her brain, just to cover all the bases.
“Well that didn’t seem hard for her (the neurologist) to do at all. You’d think admitting someone had a concussion was admitting a crime for Pete’s sake. I need to change my family doctor asap,” thought Molly.
After Molly’s third visit to the wellness centre, a claim was filed with her insurance company to cover the cost of a rehabilitation plan. It felt like progress. The next step was a CT scan, which had been scheduled within a couple of weeks at the local hospital.
A week or so after the CT scan Molly received a call from the hospital with her results. They wanted her to come in for an appointment.
Molly drove herself to the appointment this time and was reminded of her last visit there to remove a lump from her breast. It had been benign. The other more looming memory she had was that this was the hospital her mother had died in 33 years earlier.
Molly checked in with the receptionist, a cheerful woman this time. In about five minutes she was called in to meet with the doctor and review her results.
“Hi Ms. Wahl, I’m Dr. Piscapella, how are you?”
“I’m good thanks,” Molly lied. Please get to the point she thought.
“We reviewed your CT scan and there is something we’ve noted in your images. We found a shadow.”
“A shadow? A shadow of what?” said Molly.
“Well, we don’t know, but shadows can sometimes indicate something is there,” said the Dr. Piscapella.
Could you be any more vague thought Molly. My brain has a fucking shadow??
“It is from the accident?” Molly asked.
“We don’t know. What I would like to do is send you for an MRI so we can get a clearer view of what we’re seeing. CT scans don’t always offer the clearest picture of things and an MRI will be able to define in more detail what the shadow is, if anything,” she explained.
“So it might be nothing but a shadow?” Molly probed.
“It could be, but it could be something more concerning too, we just want to rule that out,” said Dr. Piscapella.
Okay, okay. So I’ve got a concussion and a shadow on my brain. But no one really knows or understands anything about either of these things that I can tell. Got it. Holy shit.
The MRI was booked in what seemed like record time. Molly had heard stories about MRI’s taking months or even years to schedule and hers was scheduled within a couple of weeks. It was again scheduled at the community hospital, which Molly had to admit, for a decrepit old institution, had some very friendly people working there. Molly arrived for the MRI and was checked in immediately. After receiving her instructions to remove all metals, etc., she put on her hospital gown, and entered the MRI room. The technician handed her ear plugs, a blanket and explained the process would take about 15-20 minutes. She was warned that it was going to get very loud, which she already knew from a previous breast MRI. So in she went. MRI’s are really loud, weird sounding machines. It can become unbareable for some people, especially if you’re claustrophobic. Stuck in that tube, listening to crank, crank, crank, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz sounds for what feels like eternity. But hey, it’s free Canadian healthcare. Sort of. After overcoming mild bouts of panic, the process was over, and like a baker pulling a loaf of bread from the oven, the technicians pulled her from the machine.
Two weeks later she received a call with her results and another appointment was booked to go over the results. Could they not just tell you over the phone, like honestly, the stress is brutal.
Molly was ushered in as soon as she arrived for her appointment. Dr. Piscapella sat waiting her in the appointment room, which seemed rather unusual to Molly.
“Hi Molly, have a seat. How are you doing?” said Dr. Piscapella with a gentle smile.
“I’m great thanks,” Molly lied.
“So we had a look at your MRI results, to take a closer look at the shadow we saw on your CT scan. And we did see something there that’s cause for concern. It looks like a brain aneurisym,” she said, head tilted and lips compassionately pursed.
What in the fuck of all fucks, a brain aneurysm?
“What is that? Is it from the accident?” said Molly in a state of shock.
“It might be from the accident, or you may have always had it, or it may be something that’s come up over the years. It’s hard to say,” explained the Doctor.
“So… am I going to die? What does that mean?” implored Molly.
Folding her hands in her lap, Dr. Piscapella went on to explain with great care, “Brain aneurysms can be fatal if they rupture. A brain aneurysm is a weak spot in the wall of a blood vessel inside the brain. The blood flow causes the blood vessel wall to bulge like a balloon until it becomes so weak that it bursts, causing a brain bleed. About 40% of ruptured brain aneurysms result in death. Of those who survive, about 66% suffer some permanent neurological deficit. Molly, I know this is a lot to take in. But now that we know it’s there, it can be monitored. I’m going to refer you to the brain aneurism clinic at McMaster University on a priority basis. They’ll be able to walk you through everything so we can monitor any changes in the aneurysm. There are definitely ways this can be treated if needed.”
Molly left her appointment in complete shock. A brain aneurysm, really? Isn’t that how Elvis died on his toilet? He had a brain aneurysm while pushing one out and pop, he was gone? Random thoughts continued to run through her brain like a frantic gerbil on a wheel. And then it hit her, the biggest inside scoop of scoops….
“Was I just told how I’m going to die?” wondered Molly. What a strange thing to know. Molly felt like a walking time bomb, count down unknown.
Her first appointment with the neurosurgeon at the aneurysm clinic at Hamilton General Hospital was eventful. First off, he was late because of an emergency with another client of his who had FOUR unruptured aneuryms. Secondly, he was rather good looking and when he did greet her, he gently took her hand in his big warm mits and profusely apologized for being late.
During the appointment he explained he would monitor Molly’s aneurysm with bi-annual MRI’s. This would help them determine its rate of growth and potential for rupture. He went on to explain that when the time came, brain surgery could be performed to tie off the aneurysm, thereby saving her life, or at least possibly saving her from lifelong mental deficits. Tieing off an aneurysm involves a delicate brain surgery procedure of literally tying a piece of string like material around the bulge of the weakened blood vessel, causing the bulged area of the vessel to close off and preventing the “ballooned” portion of the vessel from growing larger and bursting. It basically causes the bulging aneurysm to just shrivel away.
The neurosurgeon also made a point of explaining that there were people Molly’s age who had undergone this surgery and were now sitting in a home in a vegetative state. There were no guarantees. He noted that Molly’s healthy physical condition, other than her brain wanting to kill her, was a positive. He even gestured to her physique saying, “You’re obviously in great shape.”
Molly was just under six feet tall, had fine, straight shoulder length dirty blonde hair, an athletic build, and above average looks, in a unique roman-nose, crooked teeth kind-of-way. She took good care of herself. She drank moderately, didn’t smoke, and had only occasionally done hard drugs. By the neurosurgeons standards, that seemed quite positive. Although, in reality, Molly was pretty sure her overall health wouldn’t matter much if she popped an aneurysm. He was just trying to make her feel better.
Molly’s lifestyle would be undergoing some significant changes, with new limits. For years she had actively participated in yoga and cross-fit classes but that had to stop. She was to refrain from weight lifting, or activities that caused blood to rush to her head, or create pressure around her head.
“It’s not good for you (weight lifting), besides, it compresses your spine,” the neurosurgeon had commented. “These weight lifters aren’t doing themselves any favours,” he said.
These restrictions were in addition to limitations from her concussion which, she had now been advised, was unlikely to be the cause of her brain aneurysm. The doctor felt that, the aneurysm had probably always been there.