Everything’s brighter with daily appreciation
There’s a silver lining to everything, possibly even cancer. Elaine Ritchie has learnt to appreciate every single day that comes along.
“Everything seems to be brighter,” said the 73-year-old whose oesophagus cancer went into remission 12 years ago. “I don’t take things for granted.”
At a recent ballet class, she and a friend happily donned pink tutus for a photoshoot.
“It was fun,” she said. “You need to be able to laugh at yourself.”
Doctors found a 12-centimetre tumour in her oesophagus in 2007. The mass filled the entire tube that connects the stomach to the throat.
Her daughter, Tonia Bryans, was then pregnant. She was also concerned about her six-year-old grandchildren, Meredith Bryans and A.J. Ritchie.
“I wanted to see them grow up,” she said. “Getting to hold the new baby was my incentive for getting better.
“I had faith. I had a feeling I would make it. My favourite saying is ‘This too shall pass’. I kept saying that, trying to convince myself that it would.”
Doctors discovered cancer after she expressed concern about a blockage preventing her from swallowing food.
She scheduled her radiation treatment in Windsor, Ontario, where her daughter lives. Once it was completed, she was surprised by the radiologist’s comment that the tumour had shrunk enough to enable surgery.
“I thought to myself, ‘Gee, he must have thought it wouldn’t happen,’” said Mrs Ritchie, a receptionist in dentist Nigel Chudleigh’s office until she retired at 62. “The doctors said that if they couldn’t get it to shrink from radiation that would be it for me. I always thought it was a no-brainer — you get radiation and the damn thing will shrink. But he wasn’t sure.”
Through it all, her late husband Gary Ritchie was with her.
The pair met in the 1960s after the Canadian was hired to work in advertising at The Royal Gazette Ltd.
They married in 1969, and lived in Canada for a few years before returning here in the mid-1970s.
“He was very much a source of support,” she said. “He was up there with me all the time. He was there for everything. The rest of the family were also very supportive.”
After months of chemotherapy Mrs Ritchie took a year to fully recover.
“It was very difficult to get back to eating again after being on my feeding tube for quite a while. My new norm was a bit different.”
She was told that if the cancer didn’t return in three years, she’d probably be fine but doesn’t take anything for granted.
“I don’t know what my prognosis is and I don’t want to know,” she said. “I’m just grateful for the time I’ve had. A lot of people I know died of it. I was extremely lucky.”
The day she got to hold her grandson Nolan was very emotional.
“Everything I do today, I am appreciative of the day. Sometimes you do take things for granted. When you go back to how you felt when someone said it looks like you won’t make it, you do tend to think of things you haven’t done. Since then I have been able to go on a couple of trips. It really has changed my outlook on life.”
Three years ago, she took a drawing class with Sharon Wilson and discovered a new talent. A year ago she branched out into painting.
“I don’t know why I didn’t do any art before — my son Bryan is an artist,” she said. “I found I got enjoyment out of it. That is the most important thing. You don’t have to be great at anything.”
She has also taken bridge and line dancing classes and volunteers at Pals’ thrift store once a week.
The charity was very good to her when her parents, Desmond and Jean Walker, had cancer years ago. It helped again when her husband developed cancer and died in 2013.
“We would have celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary this year in February,” she said.
Mrs Ritchie moved here from Hamilton, Scotland at age 10, after her accountant father found a job. He eventually became general manager of the Bermuda Telephone Company.
“Bermuda is beautiful,” she said. “Even today I go for walks every Sunday. I walk the Railway Trail, my favourite stretch being Bailey’s Bay.”
Her advice to other people battling serious illness is to “grasp hope”.
“You have to take each day as it comes,” she said. “Don’t try and think too much in the future, just focus on getting through the day. If you try and focus too far in the future you will get into a dark spot. Try and get as much support as you can. There is always hope.”
• Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or email@example.com with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them.