Today we have a very special post from Jen McNaughton that I want to share with you. Jen is a freelance writer, photographer and travel blogger who I met in 2017. She lives in St. Thomas, Ontario (for now). It is also her birthday today, so be sure to check out her brand new website and show her some love!
Jen’s move that she wrote about in this piece has been delayed due to the global situation, but we will keep her in our hearts that she can answer Caledonia’s call soon ❤
if you’d like to support her journey, please check out her GoFundMe page. This piece will also be part of the future collaboration book, Choices for Change
Caledonia Is Calling
I often wondered, if I were to write a book or short story, where I’d start. Well I guess the best place to start is the beginning.
My beginning started in Scotland. Which is also where I want it to end. My plan, in a nutshell. My “Choice For Change”.
I came to Canada in 1980 with my parents and brother. My aunt (mom’s sister) had moved here in the 70’s and loved it so much she convinced my mom that we would have a better life here. More opportunities for my brother and I.
After 40 years here, I’m not sure whether or not that is the case. We lived in Windsor for a year before settling in London Ontario. My parents worked, but we were never well off. My brother and I went through school. Average lower middle-income family. Day to day life just ticked along.
But somewhere along that road of living life, growing up, working mundane jobs, having relationships, pets and hobbies, I developed an ache in my heart. An ache that whispered to my soul. It whispered the word “Scotland”.
And that whisper, over the years, grew louder. And louder still. And yet life continued to tick along.
That dreaded word Cancer reared its ugly head. In 1990, my beloved Nana was stricken. She lost a breast and lymph nodes. She refused further treatment and soldiered on. Then in 1993, after feeling too ill to be the guest of honour at a Burn’s Supper (for Robert Burns Day, a Scottish tradition), she was diagnosed with lung cancer and lost a lung. But it was too late. She did not heal properly and it was discovered that she had aggressive large cell cancer. She passed a few months later.
Then, in February 2007 my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She also lost a breast. She underwent both chemotherapy and radiation, and is still alive today.
And finally, it was my turn. In 2015, I was diagnosed with the HER2 type of breast cancer. And I was terrified! Two months after receiving the shocking news, I was under the knife. I recovered quickly and became accustomed to the “new me”.
But I wasn’t convinced that traditional chemotherapy was the correct course of action, and my many questions were left unanswered. So I refused it.
After my surgery, I began to see things in a new light. I started to notice the little miracles. It was like my soul cracked open. Small everyday things became more enjoyable. The warmth of the sun, music, being able to spend time with loved ones.
I realized that each day is a blessing not to be taken for granted. I wanted to live the rest of my life to the fullest.
And life clicked along some more. Until a very scary day in April 2018. I was at work, when I felt some awful pains in my gut. They became so bad, I was doubled over in pain. It was the first day that I actually went home early from work.
My boyfriend suggested that I go to a walk-in clinic. However, they had no diagnostic equipment, and the doctor told me to go to the emergency room. There I had an ultrasound, and after that, I was told that they were going to do a CT scan. That’s when I knew something was terribly wrong.
When the doctor returned later and told my boyfriend that he may want to sit down, I braced myself for the bad news.
And bad news indeed! My cancer had spread. Metastatic breast cancer was found in my lungs, liver and on my spine. This time, I had no choice but to start chemo. My oncologist gave me a rather grim prognosis otherwise.
And so, a few days after my 49th birthday, so scared I was actually crying, I entered the chemo room at the cancer clinic. My days were officially numbered.
My Last Chapter
Do you remember what I said about each day being a gift, about living life to the fullest?
As I got used to the routine of chemotherapy, diagnostic tests and follow up appointments with doctors, the ache in my heart returned. I knew I had to find a way to go back and see my beautiful Scotland.
I just had to figure out how to go about it. I didn’t know how long I had, or when my health would decline. I wasn’t even sure whether I’d reach my 50th birthday.
And then I received the most amazing surprise! Last February, my wonderful aunt Marg sent me a text message with an image of two airplane tickets. To Scotland.
She had been in contact with a cousin back home and together, they had planned a 2 week visit for her and myself. And even more exciting, we were to leave on May 5th, my 50th birthday!
So we went, and had a lovely time with friends and family. We visited our home town. Let me tell you how that felt!
As a passenger, driving down the main street and recognizing buildings and street names I hadn’t seen for 40 years, was overwhelming! I didn’t expect the sudden and powerful emotional energy that hit me that day. Yes, I cried!
I was home, but only for a fraction of time before I would have to leave again. And I didn’t want to leave. Ever.
I felt the same emotions a few days later, when I met my best friend, whom I’d known since preschool, for lunch. As soon as I spotted her, my eyes filled with tears of joy. I know that a lot of people in the shopping mall that day must have wondered about the two crying women at the foot of the escalators!
And so, the two weeks of holidays were coming to an end. I was most
melancholy the last few days. I really felt at home, almost as if I had never left my beloved country. But I had to get back on that plane.
And after returning to Canada, my boyfriend and my job, I was terribly downcast for months. Everything felt mundane compared to the magic and majesty of Scotland.
So, I imagine you have an idea by now, how this story will end.
After months of feeling out of sorts, playing scenarios over and over in my mind, and many covert conversations with friends and allies, I made the decision to return and live the rest of my days in Scotland.
It is by far the bravest and scariest decision I have made in my life. Some people close to me are afraid for my well being, but as a British citizen, I have the rights to employment and health care while there.
I want to work at my passion, which is of course, photography. I want to explore my beloved homeland and enjoy what is left of my healthy life.
And somehow, if by being brave and living this dream, I inspire others to see life as the precious gift it is, and live their best lives, then I am both humbled and honoured.
Because, to quote a movie (Last Holiday), “It’s not how you start that matters, but how you finish”.
Jennifer McNaughton is a proudly Scottish Canadian woman who has had her share of life’s trials and tribulations. Diagnosed with breast cancer at age 48, she is now fighting for her life every day.
Jennifer is a photographer and entrepreneur, but also holds down a regular job in the retail sector. A nature and animal lover, her story is about how cancer gave her the courage to follow her dream and pursue happiness.
It’s not how you start, but how you finish that matters (quote from the movie Last Holiday). She currently resides in St. Thomas, Ontario, but will be in Scotland soon (check out her story for those details!)