Libby Znaimer

IT SHOULD HAVE been a mile­stone to cel­e­brate, but I nearly for­got about it. I share an im­por­tant an­niver­sary with this mag­a­zine. Now Zoomer’s 10th is tak­ing me back. In 2008, I had writ­ten my in­au­gu­ral col­umn, a some­what tri­umphant ac­count of my suc­cess­ful treat­ment for breast can­cer and my ap­petite for a new chal­lenge at a new stage of life. But with that tri­umph came the di­ag­no­sis of pan­cre­atic can­cer. I was fac­ing a tough and un­cer­tain fu­ture. I had hope but I was also re­al­is­tic – the odds were against me.

For much of the first year, I chron­i­cled my treat­ment in these pages in real time. It was quite the cliff-hanger. On more than one oc­ca­sion, I re­mem­ber drag­ging my­self out of bed with dif­fi­culty to write on dead­line. But I went to work when I could. I re­mem­ber get­ting my pic­ture taken – and then pick­ing the shot I wanted to be used in the event an obit­u­ary would be writ­ten. I cer­tainly re­mem­ber the many kind mes­sages of sup­port from our read­ers.

Grad­u­ally, it be­came clear I would re­cover. It was prac­ti­cally a mir­a­cle, and no one was more sur­prised than my bril­liant doc­tors. It took a long time be­fore they be­lieved this was more than a pass­ing re­mis­sion – and be­fore I did. Like tens of thou­sands of can­cer pa­tients, I lived from scan to scan and ex­pe­ri­enced the same anx­i­ety ev­ery time a test was near.

The most sat­is­fy­ing de­vel­op­ment was when doc­tors started study­ing my case to help oth­ers. Since its re­moval, my tumour has been cut into thou­sands of tiny slices for use in lab mice, and some of the re­sults have been pub­lished. I found part of my­self in OCIP 28 in at least one study, and OCIP 28 lived a lot longer than the other mice. My doc­tors got a han­dle on a sub­set of pan­cre­atic can­cer cases like mine, and there has been other progress. Sur­vival has im­proved, but not as much as we would have hoped. The sur­vival rate was five per cent when I was di­ag­nosed. It is now up to nine per cent – the only can­cer with a sur­vival rate still in the sin­gle dig­its.

For years, this was the cen­tral ele­ment of my ex­is­tence, and this story was with me al­ways. But not any more. The truth is I don’t think about it for weeks at a time. First I no­ticed that my anx­i­ety be­fore a checkup had di­min­ished to nearly noth­ing. This is a good thing. In­stead of spasms of ter­ror for days be­fore an ap­point­ment, it’s a pass­ing thought in the wait­ing room, to re­mind my­self it can come back. This year I ac­tu­ally lost track of my ap­point­ment, made more than a year ago.

When some­one asks af­ter my health, it usu­ally takes a quizzi­cal mo­ment un­til I re­al­ize they are ask­ing about the C-word. For years, I woke up ev­ery morn­ing feel­ing lucky to be alive. I take it for granted now. This is not a good thing. I try to re­mind my­self, but it is a bit forced.

As soon as my treat­ment was over, I con­nected with the na­tional foun­da­tion de­voted to pan­cre­atic can­cer. I have been priv­i­leged to be part of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s growth from a tiny en­deav­our run by vol­un­teers to a pro­fes­sion­ally run char­ity. I stepped down from the board re­cently be­cause it is the right time. Pan­cre­atic Can­cer Canada has en­tered a new phase, and so have I. I am now look­ing for my next volun- teer ef­fort.

My day job has mor­phed, too. I started host­ing a daily ra­dio talk show. It is called “Fight Back With Libby Znaimer,” and it has taken me back closer to my “roots” as a po­lit­i­cal re­porter. It just feels right.

I was di­ag­nosed on my hus­band Doug’s and my 18th wed­ding an­niver­sary – another rea­son why we usu­ally mark the oc­ca­sion in style. We go back to the restau­rant we went to as soon as I was re­leased from the ER af­ter get­ting the bad news. We threw big par­ties a cou­ple of times. This year we toasted the mar­riage at another eatery. I am writ­ing this from Tomar, Por­tu­gal, where we are toast­ing in a 46-de­gree heat wave. We stopped here to see a 15th-cen­tury syn­a­gogue that was only in use for a few years be­fore

“For years, sur­vival was the cen­tral ele­ment of my ex­is­tence”

the In­qui­si­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, it is closed for restora­tion. But that’s a good thing – be­cause it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber, whether it is long ago his­tory or a painful per­sonal past. Maybe it’s more like find­ing a bal­ance be­tween re­mem­ber­ing and for­get­ting. I’m glad the happy oc­ca­sion of Zoomer’s 10th an­niver­sary is help­ing me find the equi­lib­rium.

Libby Znaimer ( is VP of news on AM740 and Clas­si­cal 96.3 FM (ZoomerMe­dia prop­er­ties).

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