On Sunday October 19, 2014, Matt Kavanagh, invited more than a dozen neighbours into our home for a lavish smoked brisket and pulled pork dinner. He did this because he wanted to open communication and develop relationships so that we did not all live in such a solitary state of comings and goings without much knowledge of those around us. Matt has always believed in community building and volunteering where and when it is needed. Over the years, Matt has spent many hours volunteering or giving a hand shovelling snow for neighbours. He volunteered time at his church, the Out of the Cold program, the school parent council and the Ontario College of Teachers. As a very popular high school teacher, Matt coached Rugby, ran an Environment Council and founded a worm compost program; he established a Japanese cultural program which planted cherry trees on the school property; he had the students cultivate a vegetable garden and ran a successful York Regional Film Festival which focused on environmental issues.
These initiatives are but a few of the multitude of ways in which Matt has contributed and influenced people of all ages in a very positive and productive way. So, on October 19th, it was no surprise that strangers became fast friends under the influence of Matt’s cooking and mixing of martini’s. On Monday October 20th, as I was washing up the 14 martini glasses from the previous evening, I was interrupted by a call from a neurologist at Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital telling me that Matt had been admitted because of a seizure. Within 12 hours, Matt was diagnosed with a brain tumour too deep and too complex to fully remove and which chemo and radiation would do little to affect at this time. Matt underwent a craniotomy within a few weeks of diagnosis which has left him with a series of dysfunctions. This brain injury has left him unable to work as a teacher due to the fatigue and impairments which he struggles with daily.
While Matt focuses on healthy eating, he spends much more time in our tiny kitchen. This tiny kitchen now causes him stress, irritability toward his 3 small children, and limitations. Matt loves to cook for his kids and he does most of the grocery shopping to keep a stable routine. However; the kitchen counter is always loaded and piled with dishes, pots and pans and glassware. Matt has little room to work and combined with his impairments – coordination, sensation and balance – the kitchen can be dangerous. Matt’s brain injury includes difficulty in sensing the space around him and short term memory. This causes hazards for both Matt and the kids. There is often breaking of glass, tea towels on the stove and knives on the counter because of a lack of drawer space. It is a daily concern and the role of caregiver encompasses many elements including policing the one you are equal to. Matt desperately needs a workspace to suit his deficits which will only decline in the future.
As any tumour or type of cancer, it is insidious. There is no guidebook to help us understand what each day will bring. We were given a very serious warning in 2014 and we know the tumour is there and it continues to be there. What it will do next is anyone’s guess. We remain hopeful and happy that Matt will continue to recover from the brain surgery but we also need to prepare ourselves for what is most likely to come. Like the pulling away of water on a beach I will not stand to wait for the onslaught of the tsunami. We need to make haste while Matt is in a stable zone and prepare for the deluge of treatments, future surgeries and palliative care. We need to secure our home for his caregiving and healing needs. The optimal layout would include both a bedroom and ensuite washroom on the main floor. This would enable Matt to have privacy at home and reduce trauma on our children as they would be reduced from witnessing all the graphic details of this debilitating illness along with the side effects of chemotherapy. A first floor layout with wide doors and floorspace would give Matt ability to navigate the home even with a walker or wheelchair giving him the independence and privacy one needs when living with the side effects of treatment and palliative care.
We plan on making this dream a reality! Join us if you know you can help!