For Sooke Coun. Brenda Parkinson, the fact that her brain tumour was diagnosed early was a gift.
“I know that my time is limited and I’ve been given the opportunity to use it wisely and enrich the lives of those I truly love,” said the 63-year-old three-term councillor. Parkinson has decided to stay on as a councillor, even as she undergoes a six-week course of chemotherapy and radiation that began Wednesday.
“There’s no quitting, there’s no sitting down,” she said of her decision to remain on council. “Life is too short to miss anything.”
So far, Parkinson has not experienced any nausea, hair loss or sickness associated with the cancer treatment, which has allowed her to “enjoy every moment to the maximum.”
Always the sartorialist, Parkinson has vowed to dress in her best clothes and jewelry every day. Her close girlfriends have offered to come over when she needs help fastening a necklace, because the major side-effect of the tumour is that she has lost the use of her right arm.
The first sign something was wrong came in January, when Parkinson noticed a tingling in her right fingers. Simple tasks such as writing, holding chopsticks or using her phone became difficult, so Parkinson went to see her family doctor. Parkinson underwent neurological tests, but it wasn’t until a friend told Parkinson her eye looked droopy in late February that alarm bells went off.
Her doctor told her to call an ambulance to take her to hospital immediately. Then, over several weeks, she had a series of CT scans and MRIs.
Oncologists at the B.C. Cancer Agency told Parkinson it’s lucky the tumour, which is about the size of a raisin, was found early, before it had spread.
Parkinson approaches her diagnosis with a sense of optimism. She said it’s “awesome” that she’s able to take her chemotherapy pills at home an hour before she drives to Royal Jubilee Hospital for the radiation treatment.
She refuses to let her diagnosis define her and doesn’t want to be treated any differently.
An avid painter and lover of the arts, Parkinson is learning to hold a brush with her left hand so she can continue her hobby.
Parkinson said she has already travelled the world, so she plans to stay close to Sooke and enjoy the company of family and friends.
She recently discovered some old love letters from her husband, Stewart, with whom she will celebrate 40 years of marriage on May 25. Parkinson’s mother, whom she calls her best friend, turns 92 next month and the family is looking forward to a celebration.
She’s also buoyed by messages of support from Sooke residents since she went public with her diagnosis.
“The outpouring from everyone is absolutely unbelievable,” she said.
Parkinson decided that if her tumour causes her quality of life to deteriorate, she will opt for a medically-assisted death.
“No one in my life would want me to suffer, because I’m too outgoing,” she said.
In reflecting on her own mortality, Parkinson has decided she doesn’t want a celebration of life after she dies.
Instead, this June, she’s planning a masquerade ball at Sooke’s Prestige Oceanfront Resort. There will be a chocolate fountain, hors d’oeuvres and each guest will get one of Parkinson’s Christmas ornaments.
“I said if I’m going out, I’m going out in style. It’s going to be an extravaganza,” she said.
Parkinson won’t know if she has months or years to live until the chemotherapy is finished. If it’s years, she’ll keep the masquerade ball going, her own celebration of life, and friends and family.
“I’m celebrating who I am.”