With a global pandemic going on and race-based protests happening coast-to-coast, it has been challenging to remember that real life is still going on out there.
Emotions are frayed, people are uppity, and confusion is the new norm. The fact so many people are complaining about the violation of their personal rights when they are asked to wear a mask is ridiculous on its own but it has led to in-person and social media arguments that have ended friendships and led to more anger and tension right now.
The global economy is suffering and there are many, many questions about the viability of restaurants and other small businesses. Hell, large chains are suffering, too with closures thrown in our faces every single day.
But real life is still going on.
Families have other things to deal with on top of covid19 and protests and riots.
Like the fact my friend, Byron, lost his wife to stage 4 metastatic breast cancer almost 2 weeks ago.
Wanita was only 48.
That’s just way too frigging young.
Me, Melody, Cair and Wanita at our house a few years ago
This post is about Wanita and how she fought hard, bravely, until a recent Monday afternoon up in a hospital in southern Alberta, with her husband finally allowed to be by her side. It is about a really cool, unique woman with an independent streak and a mind of her own with the balls to say “fuck cancer” whenever she could.
Wanita and I have known each other since our school days in Grand Forks, BC.
She was among a group of friends who stayed close through marriages, college, moves, career changes, new aspirations (golf!) and our kids/pet-kids. I ran off on a sunny afternoon to stand by her side when she and Byron exchanged their vows and she introduced me to Greyhounds that very day.
Wanita had a smart brain although she didn’t really enjoy high school. She excelled in the real world.
She wasn’t really into sleep overs or the student council or shopping at the mall in Kelowna. Her time to shine was with Byron by her side as a bright adult geared towards making herself better. She educated herself on everything she did, whether it was learning the game of golf or what her particular disease was going to do to her.
Like us, Byron and Wanita never had any children. They have an extended, well-loved family who was a huge part of their support system when Wanita first started to fight cancer. They also have 3 absolutely amazing exotic felines who enjoy camping trips and evening walks.
She was gutsy and ballsy enough to really get into her fitness and all-around health a few years ago and even started doing those intense Spartan races. We were able to connect with her and Byron that year even though we never saw her compete. (Who knew we wouldn’t be able to find parking? The attendees at those things are cray-cray!)
I couldn’t believe the things she told us were a part of the obstacle course when we eventually met up in downtown Bigfork that afternoon. I knew, though, if anyone could set their mind to something and work their ass off to accomplish it, it was Wanita.
Just like she went about trying to beat cancer.
She researched the disease and a multitude of treatments and went to chemo and took the pills and gave herself injections and continued playing ladies’ league golf and learning yoga all while being a devoted wife and pet-parent and blogging about her experience fighting this monster.
Her disease was a ‘triple negative’ version of breast cancer. I wish she was here so she could explain it all a little more one more time. She fought her oncologist, the Canadian system and any nay-sayer who stood in her way. She wasn’t going to accept an end-stage diagnosis and that is just Wanita.
Wanita loved a good meal and we got to share a few over the years. She and Byron enjoyed dining in Vegas as well so it was a lot of fun to share two of our local restaurants with the girls when they visited a few years ago. Lindey’s steakhouse is always a hit (as long as you’re not vegan…!) and we also managed a fun night at the Double Arrow lodge’s restaurant, Seasons.
While Lei-Anne didn’t get to join us that particular trip, and the weather was cold and wet and not at all conducive to hiking our magnificent forest behind us, it was a great time for us to all catch up with our lives without jobs or kids or anything else to distract us from one another.
Wanita supported all of my zany ideas and career choices as my own live evolved over the many years we have been friends. She didn’t bat an eye when I went off to veterinary school and she was a steadfast supporter of my books.
When the opportunity to attend a large book event in her home town of Lethbridge was made available I checked the dates with her and booked it, without hesitation. We knew of her diagnosis at that point last year but she was doing well, was playing golf and working out and they were excited to share their kitties and new home with me. And we even got Lei-Anne there, too!
We spent awesome quality time together before, during and after the book fair but these ladies were by my side most of that entire day (including during the video session off in the library where Wanita had to guide us where to go.) We laughed, we hugged, they told me not to give my books away, and then we were joined by a few more friends and a dear cousin and we all had supper out at one of Wanita and Byron’s favorite restaurants. More great food, more laughter with friends.
And as much fun as the book event had been, my favorite part of the trip was spending a day on Wanita and Byron’s golf course, Picture Butte, before spending the night with them and the kitties in their new home.
Wanita and I shared a late-blooming love of the game. We both became golf addicts not that long ago who mostly love playing with our husbands while wearing Loudmouth golf skorts.
It was the first and only time we ever got to play a round together and it was full of sunshine, laughter, music, yummy snacks and great shots (especially when she holed-out from way back on the fairway early on!)
We had a great meal at their condo that night (butter chicken & rice!!!) and we pulled out the old yearbooks from GFSS and laughed and talked and shared for hours (while playing with Odin, Freya and Morrigan, too!)
We talked cat-talk and allergies and meds and we reminisced about the time she saved one of my American friends traveling through Alberta whose truck died at the border and the Americans wouldn’t let them back in. Wanita selflessly brought food for them and their dogs and helped Marjorie off the ledge.
We hugged and said our goodbyes after coffee and cat-cuddles the next morning and that was the last time I saw my friend in person.
The girls and I had been planning a visit earlier this spring until covid19 got in the way. Provincial and Federal borders closed, preventing any of us from getting to Alberta to see her. Thankfully Cair set up a Zoom session just a few weeks ago and we got to all laugh together and talk about our worlds. Wanita told us how her breathing was an issue whenever she would exert herself thanks to the new, intense chemo regimen she was on.
They had begun a very aggressive trial of chemicals because they discovered earlier this year that the cancer had spread.
It was in her spine, her pelvis, her scapulae, her femurs, and her ribcage.
It wasn’t in her heart or her brain, though, so she continued to research and battle her disease.
She had one blood transfusion to give her strength and another one was planned for sometime after our Zoom call.
But her breathing got worse and she could barely make it up 5 or 6 stairs and she couldn’t stay oxygenated and her lungs were damaged and Byron took her to the hospital during a global pandemic. He and her mother weren’t permitted to see her until the last few days where doctors told her it was only a matter of time.
Wanita and I messaged throughout it all and Byron and I did as well. He was scared because the love of his life was leaving him and there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it.
Wanita shared a final farewell to everyone on social media 3 days before she took her last breath with Byron by her side. It was so hard for him but so important for him to be right there when there was nothing more he could do for the most important person in his life.
Thanks to covid19 they had a drive-by celebration of life in the park I got to see that is right in front of their cute new home. Byron is planning on bringing her ashes to our home town in August for many more of us to share in celebrating one tough woman we all knew and loved.
I hope Canada will allow me to cross the border by then.
Until that time we will all continue to check in on each other and share our thoughts.
Because that’s all we can do, really.
And I can give my friend and her husband and their tremendous love for one another this tribute of my own that tells our story as well as their story.
And Wanita’s story.
Because she was one Helluva spirit that we were so fortunate to know and I wish you could have known her, too.
RIP, Wanita. Much love, Byron. xo