Mark had just celebrated his 52nd birthday on February 14, and like any 52 year old who has been in the workforce since they were 17 years old, you start looking forward to retirement from your job and opening a new chapter in your life. I know that was the case for Mark. 2014 was going to be an amazing year; he would retire from CP Rail in March and would be able to concentrate on working on our family farm in Marquette with our cattle. Ewing sarcoma changed that plan.
It was February 18, 2011 when Mark experienced some pain in his forearm, not too concerned about it at the time, he thought it was just a sudden change in the temperature that made it ache. The pain intensified as the evening wore on, so off to the emergency room we went. A shadow appeared on an x-ray and the bone specialist thought it was probably scar tissue from an old injury, but they would investigate further.
After a biopsy at the end of March 2011 the results were in, yes it was cancer but they could not determine whether it was a sarcoma or a carcinoma, further testing would have to be done. They suspected it was a sarcoma but needed to be sure. Walking out of the doctor's office, we were both very numb. A person goes through the normal reactions of fear, anger and anxiety. A battery of tests from MRI's, CT scans, PET scans were ordered to get more insight. After some deep soul searching Mark decided this disease wasn't going to rule his life and so his journey began...
We met with an oncologist in Winnipeg, and were told that before we could proceed with any form of treatments we needed another biopsy, which took place at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto under the direction of Dr. Jay Wunder, Orthopedic Oncologist and Surgery in Chief. After 3 weeks of genetic testing on the tumor, a definite diagnosis, Ewing sarcoma. Arriving back in Winnipeg we met with Mark's oncology team to discuss treatment (chemotherapy, radiation and surgery). Fourteen rounds of intense in patient chemotherapy would begin in August 2011. Side effects occurred after his first round was completed. He lost his hair and became ill but this did not deter Mark, he was not going to let this disease get him down. He continued his gruelling treatment while family friends and neighbors helped with the farm. Because of the intensity of the chemotherapy and the severe side effects, treatment was stopped after six rounds. We had to explore another avenue. Back to Toronto we went for another consultation, 25 rounds of high dose radiation would take place at Princess Margaret Hospital starting with a brace fitting December 15. Being separated from our children, family and friends at Christmas time was very difficult for us. Not knowing what would happen to Mark and his treatments we would have to seize every family get together we could and cherish our times together. Radiation was finished January 31, 2012. Back home to Marquette we went. Next step was surgery in March 2012. Surgery would be an intensive 7-hour operation where they would remove about 6 to 8 inches of the ulna bone and move the radius bone over and give him a new elbow. He would have some mobility of his arm. The Toronto Star did a 2 page spread on his surgery explaining what they would do. Dr. Wunder and his team of doctors were pleased with the surgery, and Mark was happy because he would still have his arm, and some mobility, hopefully 50%. He could live with that. The pathology results were in and it wasn't what we were hoping for, there were live cancer cells outside the tumor, so in all likelihood the cancer would show up again somewhere else in his system, and that's what happened. The cancer spread to his lungs, kidney, and bones. Many different types of chemotherapy were tried. It would not cure the Ewing sarcoma but it might slow it down some. Mark grew weaker and weaker as time went on. His body was becoming more fragile. His spirit was strong, he was not going to let Cancer dictate his life, and he was seizing every opportunity to do what he loved to do. His determination to want to fight through that adversity was incredible. Being awarded Commercial Black Angus Herd of the year for 2015 was his biggest achievement, and he was able to receive this award in Brandon in January 2016. He was very proud to be able to share this moment with Brent, Alyssa and myself that meant a lot to him. As Mark grew weaker and more fragile his body could not fight anymore, it was a struggle for him to walk, and look after his every day needs. His palliative care team was awesome, we were all able to look after Mark in our home, and he would be comfortable. Family and friends stopped by to see him, he enjoyed all their visits and he was able to come to terms with his disease and the knowledge that he fought a good fight. He was so grateful for the time he had on this earth.
He wanted to be home surrounded by family as long as he could be, before it would come to be too unbearable for him. His hope was that with all the new advances in research that one day there would be a cure for Ewing Sarcoma, so no one would ever have to endure such an awful disease.
When it came time for Mark to go to the hospital the morning of February 21, 2016, as he was being transferred to the stretcher in the ambulance the strangest thing happened. Mark's herd of cows came into the barnyard where they could see him; he got to see them one more time, he was so thrilled that they were there, he got to say goodbye.
Mark passed away peacefully that afternoon, no more pain, suffering. He fought to the end, and never gave up.