Defying the odds

Barb
Barb Sweet
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A woman who was at death’s door two years ago is gearing up for the Tely 10

Elizabeth Squires plans to walk the Tely 10. Over the past two years, she’s defied medical odds dealing with upper body paralysis after suffering thyroid cancer. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

Barely a minute into an interview about her plans to walk the Tely 10, Elizabeth Squires gets a call from her doctor with news that cancer has been detected.

But the call is no game-changer for a woman who defied medical expectations after undergoing a risky operation for thyroid cancer and an induced coma that left her with paralysis from her ears to her shoulders.

After pulling through the surgery, she lacked muscle structure in her neck, couldn’t raise her arms higher than her chest and had a feeding tube for liquid meal replacements.

She would haul a kitchen chair into the tub and push her head down to wash her hair, and kept at it until she eventually could stand again in the shower.

She taught herself to swallow, starting with yogurt.

“One spoonful of yogurt a day. Now I eat everything, even steak,” she explained in the kitchen of her Wedgewood Park home in St. John’s.

She would wash dishes and place a dried cup in one hand and use the other to push her arm up to hang the mug on a hook in the cupboard.

She would scoop snow only to watch it fall off the shovel because she couldn’t hurl it. 

But eventually she conquered those chores, too.

Squires raises her arms above her head and sideways to demonstrate her range of movement now.

“I was lucky to be alive. I wasn’t concerned about all the things that were wrong with me,” she said.

When Squires found out she had cancer in April 2009, she was actually in the doctor’s office with her husband George, waiting for the results of his medical tests.

George, who had Alzheimer’s, died last fall.

Squires’ doctor didn’t like the sound of her voice.

She was sent immediately to have a scope test, but there was so much cancer the specialist couldn’t get the diagnostic light down her throat.

She had a slow-growing cancer that had likely been present for 40 years, but didn’t know it.

She remembers sneezing and coughing while hanging clothes on the line, but always put it down to allergies.

But by April 2009, the cancer had reduced her breathing to five per cent capacity, and she was put in intensive care.

After her hospitalization, she came home determined to defy her newfound disability.

“My husband needed me to look after him. I needed me to look after me,” she said.

“I could whisper, but my husband was deaf. So I got him new digital hearing aids and I started to learn how to shout. So that’s how I learned how to talk.”

When she began to see improvements, her family doctor suggested other nerves might replace the damaged ones. That was all the encouragement she needed to do anything everybody else could do.

Squires and her husband were married 44 years.

They met roller skating at Memorial Stadium when George asked her best friend to skate during a “trio” event. Afterwards, her friend thanked him and George asked Squires, then 17, for another skate.

And that was it.

George was eight years older and a Catholic, while she was a Protestant. He grew up in modest means downtown, selling newspapers to earn money, while she grew up on Elizabeth Avenue, with art classes and other luxuries.

None of the differences mattered, Squires said. They were in love.

“He was such a sweetheart. He was very kind and gentle. And he had a wonderful sense of humour. Everybody should be so lucky,” she said.

Squires and her husband — who worked for 13 years as a Telegram truck driver at the old Duckworth Street location, and then worked in construction until retirement — were avid walkers.

When Squires was in hospital after surgery, her husband would walk three times a day to St. Clare’s from Wedgewood Park, a distance of nearly six kilometres each way.

While caring for him at home, she’d take him out for daily walks. If they arrived back home and he said he’d like to go for a walk — forgetting because of the Alzheimer’s where they’d just been — she’d get his coat on again and they were off.

On Sundays, they went to Mass at the Basilica, dodging snowbanks in wintry weather.

Squires recalls on Tely 10 day over the years, she and George would wave at runners passing the Basilica as Mass was letting out. It never occurred to them to take part.

But in recent months, when she started measuring her own walks with a pedometer on her iPod Nano, she noted she was already walking six to seven miles a day and if she pushed it, she could walk the Tely 10.

“George would have thought that was a hoot. I’ll be forever doing it,” she laughed, adding she whittled her time down from three hours and 55 minutes to three hours and four minutes.

Now she’s registered for Bib 504 in the Tely 10 on July 24.

Her lifelong walking is what she believes saved her two years ago.

She still has some effects of the paralysis. For instance, she has to be careful about using a curling iron because she can’t feel anything in her neck and might burn herself.

Squires is not letting the small amount of cancerous tissue found in her lymph node get her down. She’s had two massive radioactive iodine treatments in the past two years and isn’t sure what’s ahead.

But she’s working on a second genealogy book, still makes intricate Barbie doll costumes, is a talented painter and runs her own bookkeeping business.

“I can’t spend time worrying about it. I’ve got too much else on my plate I want to do,” she said. “If you can’t change it, you can’t worry about it.”

bsweet@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: Wedgewood Park, Memorial Stadium, Elizabeth Avenue Duckworth Street

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Recent comments

  • Joanie Bruce
    July 20, 2011 - 11:50

    What an amazing story! You are an inspiration. I am also a thyroid cancer survivor and the facilitator for ThyCa Newfoundland and Labrador, a support group for thyroid cancer survivors, family members and friends. If you would like to contact me, my e-mail address is thyca.nl@gmail.com. We have monthly meetings every in St. John's except for the summer months, July and August. So glad to hear that you've done so well. Take good care, Joanie.

  • Allison
    July 17, 2011 - 21:12

    You're an inspiration to us all Elizabeth! What a beautiful relationship you shared with your husband. Good Luck with everything you do! Lovely person

  • Elizabeth
    July 17, 2011 - 20:29

    What a wonderful story of courage, will and lets not forget the love story! Good Luck on the Tely 10.....I will be there to cheer you on as I am sure many others will be now as well!!! YOU GO GIRL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Mabel Miller, National President, Thyroid Foundation of Canada
    July 17, 2011 - 17:11

    Thank you for sharing this story - what an inspiration to all who encounter the most difficult times in life. Elizabeth's story is one of love, determination and endurance which shows the strenght of a wonderful person who defied the odds and made the most she could out of her situation. Thyroid cancer has become very challengging to the medical community all over the world. A lot of research is needed to help improve diagnosis of this condition. The Thyroid Foundation of Canada is certainly aware of the challenges and is very supportive of continuing research into Throiud Cancer.

  • Shirley Woodfine
    July 17, 2011 - 00:13

    What A Amazing Woman With A Amazing Story You Are A Inspiration To Us All I Will Be Cheering For Her All The Way Fr Alberta Go For It Elizabeth You Are a Fantastic Lady & Happy To Call You A Friend Go Elizabeth Go My Friend I Will Be Tracking You Thank You To The Telegram For Printing This Amazing Story Best Of Luck Elizabeth In The Tely 10.

  • W
    July 16, 2011 - 18:08

    God Bless you Elizabeth. All the best

  • jennifer hopkins
    July 16, 2011 - 16:26

    What a fantastic story of a wonderful lovely woman. Thank you so very much Telegram for this. Cheering Elizabeth on for her Tely10, from all the way in Alberta you will hear us roar Way to go, Elizabeth!

  • ladyelgin
    July 16, 2011 - 16:09

    way to go Elizabeth Good luck in the tely 10

  • jennifer hopkins
    July 16, 2011 - 13:14

    What a fantastic story of a wonderful lovely woman. Thank you so very much Telegram for this. Cheering Elizabeth on for her Tely10, from all the way in Alberta you will hear us roar Way to go, Elizabeth!

    • Leonard
      July 16, 2011 - 22:27

      Go Elizabeth!!!

  • jennifer hopkins
    July 16, 2011 - 12:13

    What a fantastic story of a wonderful lovely woman. Thank you so very much Telegraph for this. Cheering Elizabeth on for her Tely10, from all the way in Alberta you will hear us roar Way to go, Elizabeth!

  • Paula Squires
    July 16, 2011 - 12:02

    Elizabeth, when myself and Doug read your story we knew you were a strong women , INSPIRATIONAL,SURVIVOR, STRENTH,and the LOVE you have for LIFE and the people around you . WE ARE SO PROUD TO BE LOVED BY YOU AS WE LOVE YOU . GOD BLESS YOU.AUNT ELIZABETH.XOXO.........

  • Judith
    July 16, 2011 - 11:32

    Elizabeth is an amazing lady and her story will inspire many of us to try to live up to her example of perseverance and unconditional love.

  • jennifer hopkins
    July 16, 2011 - 11:19

    What a fantastic story of a wonderful lovely woman. Thank you so very much Telegraph for this. Cheering Elizabeth on for her Tely10, from all the way in Alberta you will hear us roar Way to go, Elizabeth!

  • SETJ
    July 16, 2011 - 10:59

    Amazing story! Truly inspiring! Good luck Elizabeth!!

  • Lisa Tucker
    July 16, 2011 - 10:13

    Elizabeth, you are definitely an inspiration to us all. Your perseverance has helped you defy all odds and I wish you all the best in your future endeavours. Good luck and God bless!

  • Patricia Gonzalez
    July 16, 2011 - 08:56

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story of Elizabeth Squires' indomitable spirit. I wish her continuing good health for the future, and best of luck in the Tely 10.

    • Gerry Dunphy
      July 17, 2011 - 18:31

      Congrauts to Barbra Sweet for a job well done, this is a good storey that needs to be told, and Good for you Elizibeth, this is a good storie and i do hope that you will live to be 100, Pain Free, May God Protect You.

  • Marguerite Bomberry
    July 16, 2011 - 08:24

    Way to go! Elizabeth, you are such an inspiration. I admire your tenacity. M

  • Jacquie
    July 16, 2011 - 08:08

    So happy for you Elizabeth, I to am a two time cancer survivor. We just gotta stay active and is in the nut shell!!!

  • Florence Connors Power
    July 16, 2011 - 07:08

    It is a pleasure to read this story. Elizabeth , you sound like a well determined , hard worker. Keep up your positive attitude. Good Luck.

  • Lolly
    July 16, 2011 - 06:55

    What an amazing woman with an amazing story!! An inspiration....all the best to you Mrs. Squires, and good luck with the Tely 10!!