Connie MacLean and I had been friends for a couple of years before I learned one of her best-kept secrets. But I would never share her secret with anyone because I, too, had a similar secret. And when you’re forced to share your secret with another person – it is natural to want to know one of that person’s secrets, too. Only then, can a bond be made to seal the secrets in a vault of trust and respect.
Readers of my journal know how much I value my friends. I know lots of people, and I’m friendly with many of them, but I only have a handful of friends that I would share a secret. And as I’ve written before, we each have three types of secrets: the ones we share with friends; the ones we share with family or ‘best friends forever’; and the secrets we take to the grave with us.
Several months ago, Connie shared her first secret with me – she had been diagnosed with cancer.
As a cancer survivor, I form an immediate bond with anyone suffering from this disease. My heart tightens whenever I hear the word cancer, and I want to hug the person who tells me – regardless if I know them or not.
I volunteered at the cancer center for five years because I wanted to give back some of the love and care that I received during my treatments in 2009. At the time, I had stage three throat cancer, with a forty percent chance of survival. I’ve stared into the eyes of the grim reaper and spit in his face because I didn’t want to die.
One of the volunteers I met at the Abbotsford cancer center had been given a ten percent chance of surviving ten years before I had met her, and she was still alive and appeared to be healthy.
But neither she or I were told how long we had to live. And that is a huge difference. Because when told you only have a certain amount of time left and there’s no chance of surviving – why bother fighting or waiting? Especially if you’re in pain.
But my friend Connie had confided in me that she had cancer and said she preferred that I keep her illness a secret. And although we knew the same people in our orbit of walkers, I did not share her secret with most of my friends. But I did share it with my closest friend – who also knew her. And Connie had close friends who knew of her illness, too.
Connie shared another secret in May of this year when I drove her to the cancer center in Vancouver. Up until that point, I only knew she had cancer. But when she uttered her newest secret, I got an immediate sense of dread and didn’t know what to say to comfort, my dear friend.
Usually, when I learn that someone has cancer, I try to give them hope and inspiration by telling them my forty percent survival story and the ten percent survival story by my volunteer friend in Abbotsford. But I won’t cite those examples to anyone until I know the stage of their cancer because it would be cruel to relate the stories to anyone who is terminally ill with no hope of surviving.
So, before picking Connie up at her condo at Pacific and Burrard streets, I decided that I would ask her about the nature and stage of her cancer. I hoped that she’d say that her disease was treatable, even though Connie already knew my own cancer story.
We were halfway across the Burrard Street bridge when I asked her about her cancer.
“I have thirty tumors on my brain,” she replied, “and they’ve given me six months to live.”
I was dumbstruck and didn’t know what to say to her.
Most people would be beside themselves with terror if given that diagnosis. But Connie sat there, upright and proud. And I searched for something to say that would comfort her – but couldn’t find the words.
Connie broke the silence by commenting on the amount of road construction that was going on in the city.
We arrived at the cancer center on 10th Avenue, and I parked the car in the patient parking area. I was familiar with the Vancouver cancer center because I had been there numerous times for my dental implants.
Connie’s appointment with the oncologist was on the second floor. When we got there, the waiting room was full of patients and their caregivers. But Connie was a widow, and her only relative that I knew of, was her son Ralph, who lived in Edmonton. I knew Ralph – we met when I walked with Connie and him, on Mother’s Day in 2018.
I looked around the silent waiting room. People sat motionless, waiting for their name to be called. We were early – which is another thing that Connie and I had in common. But we didn’t have to wait too long, and soon a friendly voice called out her name.
“Constance?” asked the smiling clerk as she looked around the room for a response.
But no one seemed to take any notice. So the clerk raised her voice and asked again.
“Constance? Constance MacLean?” she asked.
Connie jumped to her feet and quickly replied, “Connie, my name is Connie MacLean.”
Connie met with the doctor while I stayed in the waiting room.
When Connie returned, we were sent to the Radiation Therapy department to have a head mask made for her to wear during the five radiation treatments that she’d be getting.
I tried to reassure her that the mask was to ensure that the patient’s head remains ‘still’ during the radiation treatment. I showed her a photo of the mask I wore for my thirty-seven days of radiation. I kept it as a souvenir.
But Connie didn’t want to keep her mask. She would only be having five radiation treatments – one each day. I figured that the oncologists were focussed on keeping Connie comfortable and as pain-free as possible.
When the radiation therapist came into the waiting room and paged, “Constance MacLean?”
But before Connie could respond, the lady repeated, “Constance MacLean?”
“It’s Connie! I prefer to be called Connie!”
I asked the therapist if she could make a notation on Connie’s file about her preference, and the lady cheerfully said that she would.
On the drive back to Connie’s condo, I asked Connie why she didn’t like the name ‘Constance’?
She paused briefly but shook her head that she didn’t fancy the name.
I told her that when I was a young boy, everyone called me Danny, although my given name is Daniel. I don’t ever remember being called Daniel or Dan in those days. All through high school, my teachers all referred to me as Danny. In those days, it seemed everyone called everyone by their last name if they didn’t know you very well. But I always addressed people by their first name. A lot of people I knew used to call me Saint or The Saint.
When I graduated from high school, my first employer referred to me as Dan. I have never cared for that name, but it seemed to be the way people related to me after meeting me. I guess it’s easier to say than Danny and it’s better than being called Daniel. My family and friends from school all still call me Danny. And I don’t know about you but when people call you by a name you like – it makes you feel good.
But I reminded Connie that people at the cancer center referred to her as Constance because that’s how she registers herself. And that’s the same as me. I’ve always written my given name Daniel when completing forms for anything. Even as an actor, I’m using Daniel as my first name.
So, when I retired, I decided that in addition to never taking orders from anyone anymore, I would begin introducing myself as Danny to any people I meet.
We both chuckled at our pet peeve. And that’s another thing about my friend – she had a great sense of humor. I liked to kid with her, and she usually had a comeback for me. I remember one day when I phoned her, I called her Constance, and she immediately shot back, “Yes, Daniel?”
We spoke at least once a week, and I took Connie to most of her medical appointments. We also went to the view a hospice facility on Granville Street that she favored because it would be closer for her friends to come by transit to visit with her. Connie loved her friends. And Connie’s friends loved her.
While waiting in the cancer center waiting room one day, Connie mentioned that she’d had to give up her volunteer work at the museum. Even at her age, she worked a full day, once a week, scanning photos of Vancouver for a digital archive. Connie had been doing this for many years and had scanned tens of thousands of photos. When she had to give up her volunteer position, the staff at the museum gave her a special luncheon to recognize her valuable contribution to the museum and the City of Vancouver.
I told Connie that she must have been thrilled, but she began to cry, explaining that she was going to miss her friends at the museum.
And as I drove her home that day, I thought of the many friends who were going to miss her.
I saw Connie shortly before her passing. Her son Ralph and I took her to the cancer center for an appointment. Connie was very feeble at the time. I hugged and kissed Connie and hugged Ralph as we said our goodbyes.
Which brings me to ‘kissing.’
After sharing Mother’s Day with Connie and Ralph in 2018, I wrote about our day together and how special it was for me. And whenever we saw each other, Connie would always kiss me on the lips when greeting me. It had been quite a while since anyone had kissed me.
The first time it happened was before a walk with the Vancouver ‘Venturers walking club. The starting place was the JJ Bean coffee shop on Alberni Street.
As soon as I walked into the shop, I recognized Connie’s distinctive voice yell out a greeting, “Hi Danny!” And when I approached her to hug her, she gave me a quick kiss on the lips, just as she’d done on that Mother’s Day. And although it made me feel awkward that first time – I looked forward to getting that brief kiss each time I greeted her or said our goodbyes.
On Thursday, September 12, 2019, I called Connie, but after it rang four or five times, I hung up, fearing that she might be sleeping, and I didn’t want to wake her.
But the next morning, Friday, September 13th – Ralph phone me to say that Connie had passed that morning. He had been with her for the last week of her life, and I know that brought her comfort. I cried at the news – she was a dear friend, and the world has lost a real treasure.
After getting off the phone with Ralph, I checked my email for messages, and there was one from Connie from the night before. It’s dated September 12th at 19:08 hrs. It read: “Thank you, Danny for everything. Am going to bed now!”
And Connie passed away the next morning – Friday, September 13th.
We’re all going to miss Connie – I guess God needed another Angel.
Dedicated to Connie MacLean
Today’s tune from Danny’s library (purchased):
Hotel California – lyrics
On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night.
There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself
‘This could be heaven or this could be Hell’
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say
Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face.
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year (any time of year) you can find it here
Her mind is Tiffany twisted, she got the Mercedes bends
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys, that she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget
So I called up the Captain,
‘Please bring me my wine’
He said, ‘we haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty-nine’
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say”
Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face.
They livin’ it up at the Hotel California
What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise), bring your alibis
Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said, ‘we are all just prisoners here, of our own device’
And in the master’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night man,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’
Songwriters: Don Felder / Don Henley / Glenn Frey
Hotel California lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group