It's 1 p.m. and Spider Robinson is surprised that there's someone ringing his doorbell. It turns out that he hasn't written the interview time in his calendar and hasn't expected anyone. Slightly disoriented, he looks at the coffeemaker not realizing that he's already poured himself a cup. Then he spots the coffee, laughs and he brings his bacon sandwich to the table. The confused and slightly melancholy atmosphere dissipates as he starts talking between bites of his breakfast about his family.
Robinson's wife Jeanne passed away two years ago on May 30, yet he still honours an agreement he's had with her that sees him cleaning up the dishes before he goes to sleep. "I can't go to sleep if there are dishes in the sink," he says. Robinson's a science fiction writer who tends to start working anywhere from 10 o'clock to midnight and writes until the early hours of the morning. Oddly enough, that schedule worked out fine when Jeanne was alive. "I would go to bed around 4 or 5 when she started her day," Robinson said. "And you might wonder about my motivational system because I must be the laziest man you ever met and yet I've got 35 books in print. How did that happen?"
The answer lay with his wife, according to Robinson. "I left the pages out and that reminded her, over breakfast, what an interesting fellow she lived with. And then I got a hot date at night," Robinson adds wistfully that now there is no date waiting for him at the end of the day and he has trouble finding a new motivation. But this was only part of the deal. In addition to reading the material, Jeanne made notes in the margins and edited his first drafts.
"It was a great partnership," Robinson said with sadness. "I used to tell people that Jeanne did the work of five people. Now that she is gone, I realized that I seriously underestimated her. She maintained full time careers as a dancer, a Buddhist practitioner and a filmmaker - I don't know where she found the energy."
With that, Robinson turns the conversation to his daughter, Terri de Silva, who, according to him, has inherited her mother's energy.
He says, "My daughter moved here from New York to help with Jeanne's illness. After that, she stuck around for another six months, waiting for me to get to my feet." Robinson appreciates everything that Terri and her husband Heron de Silva have done during that difficult time and was happy when his son-in-law got a good job offer in Troy, Ohio. "They put their life on hold for almost three years and then they found a place that is perfect for raising children; it has no gangs and no drug problems."
But it wasn't a happily-ever-after situation for the family. "I went to visit them in their new home when they'd had a month to enjoy their new life. The morning after I arrived, on November 20, Terri was in my arms weeping," Robinson says. His daughter had just been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.
"I thought I had done my cancer time," he says. "but once again, we are scared of it and keeping our fingers crossed."
The emotional upheaval during the first days after the diagnosis took a toll not only on the adults in the family but also on two-year-old Marisa who "immediately picked up on what was going on." She had been completely toilet trained but, due to stress, had to temporarily go back to diapers, Robinson says. For Marisa's sake, the family quickly learned to keep the household calm and serene. "I admire how they could pull something like that off," Robinson said.
Robinson smiles as he speaks of his granddaughter. "During her last days, Jeanne spent a lot of time with Marisa," he recalls. "There is something purely magical about small children - they are so pure and wide open and shining. And it takes them such a short time to learn anything. Marisa is so intuitively kind. If you give her a toy, she immediately looks for someone to give it to."
Just as Terri had come to help when Jeanne was sick, Robinson extended his stay to mid-January to baby sit during all the initial tests. At that time, the cancer was found to have metastasized widely. Terri was doing chemotherapy and a double mastectomy followed by radiation therapy had been suggested. "I looked up the stats," Robinson said. "Now, the five-year survival rate of stage four cancer is 40 per cent. Only five years ago, it was 10 per cent. In only five years, that number has quadrupled." He jokingly adds that if that rate can be maintained, we soon could be curing people of cancer who never even had it.
Robinson glances at his bacon sandwich and says that he finds it ironic and infuriating that the two people with the healthiest lifestyles he knows, his wife and daughter, would be getting cancer. "Jeanne never drank or did drugs, I never gave a thought that she would be the first to die. Then she got biliary cancer and I'm still reeling from the surprise. I want to tell death, 'You got it wrong; you came for the wrong person.' And now my daughter, who is 37, is trying to staying alive long enough to see her daughter grow up."
Yet Terri's healthy lifestyle is what has made a difference. Robinson says his daughter has tackled her situation with diet, exercise, meditation, positive visualization and reiki. She's also received a lot of inspirational support from friends, acquaintances and those who follow her blog (www.gracefulwomanwarrior.com).
The tests she underwent after her first round of chemo all came back better than expected. The metastasized tumors appear to be gone and mastectomy and radiation are no longer under discussion.
Robinson feels relieved about the news but says that Terri is still a breast cancer patient and will require regular chemotherapy and careful monitoring. She also plans to continue the alternative treatments. This is an expensive proposition and here is where Robinson and Bowen Island want to help. A benefit concert is scheduled for May 26 at 7 p.m. at the Legion. The proceeds will cover some of the costs of Terri's treatment.
Robinson says that many of the performers who played at a similar benefit for Jeanne, have signed up again. Among them are Teun Schut, Rob Bailey, Buff Allen, Christie Grace, Brenda Reid, Ron Van Dyke, Peter Robinson and Tony Dominelli. Tickets cost $20 and are available at Phoenix on Bowen - they must be purchased in advance as they are not sold at the door. A silent auction features many items and services donated by Bowen Islanders. If you'd liketo be involved or have somethingto donate, please contact Katherine Wolters firstname.lastname@example.org Sam Knowles email@example.com 947-2709.
"It kept striking me that cancer is a perfect metaphor of what's wrong with our society - that a bunch of cells feel that they are more important than the whole body," Robinson says.