Tina Slade: embracing a reframed life
Tina Slade calls herself the ‘Town Vampire,’ in reference to the job she has dearly loved for the past 15 years, collecting and processing blood in a lab in her hometown of Nanton.
“I have a pretty good disposition and a dark sense of humour,” she said, adding that she is lucky to know every ‘victim’ who walks through the door at work.
When 55-year-old Tina was diagnosed with anal cancer in January of 2021, knowing everyone in town was both a blessing and a conundrum.
“Colorectal cancers all tend to get put in together, but anal cancer is actually quite rare. When you live in a small town, it can get a bit tricky, you never know when someone will ask you about your health in the grocery store or the post office, and in my case that made for some awkward moments,” she said laughing.
Trained as a nurse in the UK, Tina is neither shy nor easily daunted. “I’m happy to shed a bit of light on this type of cancer. I think it’s important,” she said.
Medical Treatment plus Nature Therapy
To Tina’s dismay, while anal cancer is one of the more curable cancers, she discovered that the chemo / radiation regime prescribed for this type of cancer has not been updated or advanced in decades. “Radiation is the primary treatment with two chemo sessions at the same time. I had a terrible reaction to the chemo; it almost took me out. We had to stop it halfway and they literally had no other type of chemo they could offer – just the one kind and it’s been around for over 50 years.” Luckily, Tina’s medical team had queued up six weeks of radiation, and that proved effective in destroying the cancer.
Radiation has a cumulative effect though, and by the end of the six weeks, Tina says she was in rough shape. “I asked my husband to take me and our trailer out to the lake and leave me there – I wouldn’t be coming home anytime soon. I just needed to immerse myself in nature. I sat on a cushion in my kayak and just floated around on the water all day trying to absorb all the good vibes and the fresh air,” she said, adding, “That is how I journeyed out the other side.”
Return to Music and Humour
On the other side, Tina was pronounced cancer-free, and that has meant a gradual return to the work she loves, and venturing out to enjoy time with friends, and live folk music with her husband.
“I’m feeling really good, inching a bit in the right direction every day. I understand that life is never going to be the same. I have a complete reframe of everything,” she said.
Fortunately, Tina’s lively sense of humour continues to sustain her, and with some of the hardest days behind her, she shares a few (unrepeatable) dark jokes she and her 25-year-old son coined to keep things light. Her son was set to move out, but decided to stay when Tina was diagnosed. “I wanted him to go, but he insisted on staying, and he helped a lot with cooking and appointments. That ended up being beneficial to both of us for processing the experience, and it helps that he shares my dark humour, so that brought some relief.” she said. “The day the doctors told me I was in remission, he sprinted up the stairs and packed his bags,” she laughs.
Wellspring On Call
Tina learned about Wellspring from a social worker at the Peter Lougheed Centre, and one of the first things she did was read some of the member stories on the website. “It really helps to hear people’s experiences. I found lots of positivity and it felt like a nice supportive and caring community,” she said.
After joining Wellspring, she accessed the peer support program and found this an important part of her coping. “I just needed to talk to someone who had been in my shoes and was on the other side of the journey now,” she said. “I didn’t want to keep dumping emotionally on the people around me because I was very aware that they were also in the struggle. Like others, I tend to want to shelter the people around me – that’s my default setting. They don’t want me to, but I really can’t help it,” she said.
Tina is back at work but still receiving support and planning to take Wellspring’s Healing Journey program. She hopes it is eventually offered in the evenings, and she is grateful for the online community that will allow her to attend without leaving her rural home.
Small Town Kindness
“I’m extremely grateful to my amazing family and friends and my community, for all the cards, calls, emails and endless offers of food and transportation. They were awesome – everything I could have asked for – they were here for me,” said Tina.
But now that she’s back on the job, everyone knows she’s out for blood. (Tina’s sense of humour, as sharp as ever!)
Word from the Wise
“We have an excellent healthcare system but still you need to be very strong and advocate for yourself. Be assertive, ask questions, educate yourself, keep track of your own records. Don’t go to Doctor Google – that’s a very dark rabbit hole. I see it as massive amounts of information brought together to create mostly bad news. I have medical background so I thought I could filter it, but even I found myself falling into the dark Google hole.”
– Tina Slade