Paintings of northern wildlife and elegant ornaments adorn Marilyn Lawlis’ bright and cheerful kitchen, betraying a long-time passion for decorating. In fact, at the age of 19, she almost decided to study interior design, but instead opted to study social work.
At 48, Lawlis felt healthier than ever. “I was at a good weight. I was walking every day and eating healthy. I was taking good care of myself.”
But she began to feel “something like a weight” in her lower abdomen. She ignored it for awhile before going to see a doctor. A colonoscopy revealed she had colon cancer.
Lawlis underwent surgery to treat what was believed to be stage I cancer. Six weeks later, when she returned for a check-up, she was told she had, in fact, stage IV cancer.
She started chemotherapy, but, unable to tolerate the treatment’s side effects, she quit after two months out of the recommended six.
Lawlis recovered for six weeks and then tried chemotherapy again. After only 5 days of treatment, a bacterial infection took over, requiring hospitalization and very strong antibiotics.
Two years later, cancer came back in the right rib area. Lawlis had surgery in Thunder Bay which included removing a section of the right lung, a portion of the diaphragm, as well as a portion of 5 ribs.
Within months, a small tumor developed in the same area and was removed during day surgery. By February 2014, only a few months later, it had come back yet again, and spread throughout the right rib area. It was obvious then that it was inoperable.
Lawlis has been receiving telephone counselling through Supportive Care Services at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.
“It helps to have someone who isn’t close to you to bounce things off of and there’s no judgment,” she says. “They validate how you feel. I can say anything. It’s a different kind of freedom. You need to unburden your mind and get things out.”
Living with cancer has not been without some periods of depression and anxiety, but Lawlis makes every effort to stay as positive as she can. “When I first wake up I think about the cancer, how much I hate it, what it’s taken from me and what it’s going to take.”
“I give myself to the cancer for a little while. But I get up and put on the kettle and by the time the kettle whistles, I stop and try to be positive and start searching for the good. I make plans and have a project every day. I look at what I do have – my step-kids, who mean the world to me, as well as my dear friends,
a nice home, a nice yard. I’m alive and I have the greatest friends in the world. I am an optimistic person, always hopeful, and try to see the positive side of things. I think this attitude has really helped me cope with this whole situation. I do feel ripped-off about the cancer. But, when I feel real low about things, I remind myself that everyone is dealing with something, maybe even worse than my situation, perhaps the death of a child. Thoughts and memories of my kids and friends, is what reminds me of all I do have, and I feel blessed for having shared my life with them.”