Nothing teaches the importance of friends and family like a cancer crisis. We had only been in the the rural community of Edam, Saskatchewan seven years before Bruce’s cancer diagnosis. He knew everyone with his job as a RM Grader operator. Duties of raising cattle and training horses kept me on the ranch and I would always be “Bruces wife”. Seven years later we were still the “new people”. I loved the community and the people who called it home. Leaving it was never part of the plan, but hen cancer showed up.
Life there was laid back and simple
Edam was a step back to the 70’s and 80’s for us. Life was laid back and simple. The fishing and hunting was the best we’d known. Friends and neighbors were down home, genuine and sincere. How could we be so lucky to find a place similar to the one we had just lost. It would be a few years later that we would learn the value of friends, family and community .
Appreciating the value of friends with cattle trailers
We soon learned the value of friends and community. News of Bruce’s cancer diagnosis spread swiftly throughout the little community. It was spring 2014 and time for cows and calves to hit green pasture. In no time at all, neighbors had been secretly recruited to get our cattle to pasture. The trip to pasture was 1 hour one way and we needed to make 5 or 6 trips with our unit.
What happened next is a bit of a blur. One morning about 7:00 a.m. a convoy of trucks and trailers came thru the yard heading toward the sorting pens. Cattle were loaded one trailer after another. In less than 2 hours all the cattle were grazing on lush pasture an hour away. It was such a surprise. Friends and neighbors came from hours away to lend a hand. To this day I’m sure it was the work of Bruce’s best friend Robert Blais. Robert never really fessed up to organizing the hauls but we knew. Bruce had found a soul mate in Robert. The competition for Bruce’s time was a fierce one. I had just learned the value of amazing friends and the goodness people have in time of crisis. Cancer was ugly, but the lessons it taught were invaluable.
A cancer crisis made me realize that friends, family and neighbors are genuine and have good souls. They know when they are needed and go beyond expectations. The experience rekindled my faith in humanity and made so proud to be part of this close knit community and the friends we had made, The goodness that came outweighed the overwhelming loss both Bruce and I were experiencing.
Cancer fears come from the unknown about the future.
I realized it wasn’t the diagnosis I feared, it was the unknown future ahead. I had promised myself that once i had a chance to deal with the loss, that I would share my story.
The fear of cancer can be managed by believing there is hope.
My story is not about fear but a story of hope. Hope that even in loss, there is a chance to learn, to grow, and to appreciate life. To learn there is life after the loss of cancer and it can be a good life.
The fear of cancer can be replaced by changing perspective and what you choose to make it. Attitude is the only thing we control. There are very important times in our life we need to control our attitudes and perspectives. Once you have survived the travesties of cancer, you can survive anything. It is like a badge survivors wear with pride.
People without cancer fear and worry about it. They pray and hope their ailment is not cancer.
When you talk to people about their biggest fears they will describe visions of drooling bear fangs, or being in a pit with slimy snakes – you get the picture. However those momentary visions pale in comparison to the verdict of terminal cancer of someone you love and of whom you’re certain you can’t live without.
Cancer fears can come from not having much time together.
Oncologist can often give you a pretty accurate date on a life expectancy. Adding to the anxiety, was how much time we would have together? Fear to me was sitting around a table of medical professionals telling me my husband had 6 mos to live. Get your financial and life affairs in order now. Anything that had happened prior to or after the verdict just didn’t hold a candle to that moment.
Cancers fear can manifest a sense of sheer panic.
It was a panic I will not forget. I had little time to accept the end was inevitable, and 6 mos seriously? They had to be wrong on the date didn’t they? 6 mos, did not feel like a lot of time to me. “C’mon give me at least a year, we had a ranch, cattle and horses, equipment, land, and tons of stuff to do. Six months barely gave me time for anything.
The fear of cancer is very well justified
Knowing that disease will rule and how it will ravage a body is a complete new fear in itself. I dreaded the fearful wait of what this monster of a disease would do to a father, son, friend, brother and husband that we called Bruce. I hated the word and was was angry when I first got the news. He didn’t deserve this, he worked very hard his entire life. I wanted him to spend his retirement teaching his grand kids how to ride a horse, but he would never be given the chance.
We lived of 3 hours away from closest family In Alberta and in a sparsely populated community in west central Saskatchewan. I was on my own to nurse and care for Bruce. Our nearest hospital was an hour away. I had all kinds of reasons to fear cancer, but I honestly didn’t have the time to acknowledge it. I focused on the task at hand and that small little glimmer of hope that Bruce could beat this.
A glimmer of hope was all we had. I had always been a realist, and the odds of him beating this were slim to none.
Mr.Martin seemed to have all the bases covered and our little homozygous paint stallion Pistol Packin Frekles (a.k.a.”Pete”) was on his way to Painted River Ranch. It was during one of the worst storms in Saskatchewan history. Trains stopped dead in their tracks due to the blowing wind and snow. Our 2000 lb bulls had been walking over 8’high slab fences due to the hard packed drifts in their pens. Thru a series of determined haulers, our stallion made his way to us.
We waited for our road to get opened before we could meet the hauler in North Battleford. We had no where to put him since everything was under snow, including all the gates to our corral system. It was a crazy time. Pete seemed to adapt and adjust well to his new environment, despite the bad weather.
The spring of 2014 is a bit of blur to me, but I managed to get all the mares foaled and 80 head of cattle calved pretty much on my own. Bruce had been diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer in the spring of 2014. I had began running him to ultrasound, biopsy and diagnostic appointments to determine how bad the cancer was in his body. It would be May by the time we met with oncologists.
When Bruce had settled in palliative care, talks of finance and Pistol Packin Frekles began. We had a lot of conversations in Bruce’s final days and every conversation brought a new series of tears and fears.
Bruce admitted he knew he was sick back in 2013, he just didn’t know how sick he was. I learned that he had taken a loan out for the stallion using the cattle as collateral. The day the loan was approved, was the day we set flight for Colorado. Bruce suggested I sell the cows and pay the stallion off. But the fact was, Pete had paid for himself with the sale of his first foal crop.
Bruce told me that if we had a good stallion he could rest assured that I would keep breeding, raising and training horses and doing what I love. The stallion was Bruce’s guarantee that I would be Ok long after he was gone. How could I argue with that? The stallion and his offspring would look after me financially and he wouldn’t have to worry about that.
Bruce had a couple of requests of me. All of which I have fulfilled. He told me to be sure to show the Pistol Packin Frekles and “he would do me right”. In 2016, with the help of my friend and mentor, Kathy Donnelly – we showed the stallion for Bruce. I was so impressed with the little horses abilities and attitude. He taught me so much and isn’t done teaching me yet. Pete was one of the best grief counselors I had ever met. Very intuitive to emotion. I cried a ton of tears in that boys mane. I love working with his foals and starting them under saddle and have a 2 year old gelding I will swing a leg over this fall.
As I showed Pistol Packin Frekles, I knew Bruce was watching the whole performance. It was a really emotional year showing that horse; knowing that Bruce had bought him for me to help me financially long after he was gone. How much foresight that must’ve taken. I had a few rides around the show pen that summer, knowing Ol Rancher was doubling right behind me. Many times a had to swallow back the tears as the announcer mentioned our name. Pete will always be that special horse that keeps me connected to Rancher.
That little horse will always be my gift from heaven. My wallow in self pity was short lived when I stopped to realize just how lucky I really was.
There is crazy story behind our acquisition of Pistol Packin Frekles, 3X World Champion APHA Stallion, . I had always dreamed of owning a homozygous western pleasure stallion, but they were as rare as hens’ teeth in Canada. Every chance I had, i was searching the internet for our next stallion prospect. Guess I was always dreaming and there shouldn’t be any harm in dreaming right?
I knew Bruce had not been feeling good for some time. I was constantly nagging him to get to the doctor. By the time he got there the cancer was everywhere in his body. There were a lot of things to be discussed once he got moved to palliative care. The 3X World Champion stallion was only one of them.
In January 2013, I saw an ad in the Paint Horse of a stallion for sale. He had earned 2 APHA Superior titles in Trail and Western Pleasure and he was homozygous to boot. (homozygous meaning, he would always produce a colored foal – not matter what kind of mare he bred). The ad did not have a price listed. I shown the ad to Bruce, He knew how much time and effort I put into dreaming and believing. He did not say anything, and the stallion was never mentioned again.
However, the subject came up a week or 2 later. Bruce woke one morning to tell me to talk to those people about that horse. Find out all you can about him and what a World Champion stallion would cast. I made the call only to find out what I already knew. We could not afford to buy Pistol Packin Frekles and that was the end of it.
Until a few weeks later, prior to calving season. Bruce said we need to go see that stallion, but he was in Colorado. Soon we were on a flight to go see him even though I knew we could never afford to buy him. A trip to Colorado before calving season suited me fine. When we first saw him, he seemed small in stature. He was in great shape and very personable and disciplined. I had talked myself out of liking him because I knew he was not in our budget. Then I rode him. Wow, never in my life had a ridden a horse who just loved to change leads. This stallion was a little Cadillac to say the least. I had fallen in love. Bruce wanted that stallion that day and had already given Kevin Hood the “we’ll take him” handshake. Bruce obviously knew something I did not.
The flight home was a long one. I told Bruce even if we could afford him, he’d need to pass a purchase and fertility exam. But he had already arranged it. I was shocked but skeptical thinking the little stallion would never pass his exams. A week later, I was eating my words. The little champion stallion had passed everything with flying colors. Now what the hell I thought. We did not have any financing in place, even if we did, we’d have to find a way to get him up to Saskatchewan in the middle of a blizzard now. Bruce had informed me a hauler was lined up and he would be on his way to standing on Saskatchewan soil soon. The little 3X World Champion APHA Stallion, Pistol Packin Frekles would call Painted River Ranch home. For the first time in my life I was speechless.
The battle they call cancer. This single 6 letter word instills fear or fight in any human. Many knew my late husband, Bruce Martin. He lost his battle to stomach cancer on December 23, 2014, he was just 56 years old. I have a page on the website dedicated to his life and his memory .
This blog series about his life and his battle with cancer and is something I have been needing to do for a long time. It’s a sunny day in May 6, 2020 and I should be riding but his story is important to me. so the ride can wait. My goal is to help others understand this 6 letter word should not instill fear even when loss is inevitable.
I had no experience with cancer until Bruce’s diagnosis and I had no idea what to expect. His family and I found coping skills we didn’t know we had. I was scared as hell but was always brave in the face of the disease because that is what Bruce expected from me.
Bruce was my best friend, my husband, my business partner and my mentor and were told he would have 6 short months to live. How do you prepare to loose your whole world? I had not done enough living or learned enough about life to prepare me for what lied ahead. I didn’t think I could deal with the loss and manage the ranch alone. It was the first time in my life I was afraid and full of fear. My pen met paper the first day they wheeled him into palliative care. It was the beginning of the end and so I began to write. I will share my experience in hope that it may help others and give them hope in sorrowful times. Canadian Cancer Society