By Rick Sutcliffe

Last month the Spy ended this column on a sombre note, his wife having just received a diagnosis of cancer. Who expects such an outcome when going to a clinic for a routine test for COVID because of a cough and shortness of breath? First diagnosis was pneumonia, with antibiotic treatment. When that didn’t work, a new diagnosis was suggested of congestive heart failure. Tests at Langley Memorial Hospital Emergency revealed fluid in the lining of a nearly collapsed right lung, and 1.5 litres was drained. 

But this tested positive for cancer, and not lung cancer–meaning it had metastasized from elsewhere. A scan revealed no obvious tumour in chest or abdomen, indicating almost certainly a classic instance of ovarian cancer, or something so like as to be indistinguishable. 

Following more tests, and as symptoms continued to worsen, an internist recommended a trip to Emergency at another local hospital–Abbotsford Regional and Cancer Centre, in the hopes of short-circuiting the waiting list for treatment. There, all the tests re-run, and with confirmation of the lung issue, she was admitted and a further 2.5 litres of fluid were drained and tested, confirming the diagnosis. A day in isolation while yet another COVID test was evaluated, then the same Cancer Centre oncologist with whom she had been scheduled for a late September (two weeks later) consult was handed the file and she immediately moved her downstairs to the hospital’s oncology ward, and the next day strongly recommended to us an immediate start on chemotherapy, with repeats every three weeks for five more times. This first treatment was administered two days later on Friday, September 18.

Side effects from that were a few days of extreme fatigue, and issues with digestion that may have been initially triggered by the antibiotic and possibly exacerbated by the chemo. However, the lung drainage ended the chronic cough, and the days since have mostly seen marked improvement, though there have already been some bumps on that road.

Ovarian cancer is often called the “silent killer” because (a) there does not exist a screening test by which its presence can be detected, and (b) by the time it presents any symptoms, it has spread far and wide, to the lining of the lungs and to other organ linings in the abdominal area. At this point it is too late for simple surgery to remove a lump (even if one were identifiable) and only chemo as a broad attack over time, followed by clean-up surgery after three of four treatments in the event that appears feasible. Untreated, life in the mortal body is limited to a very few painful months. Treated, perhaps some years, with a chance at longer.

This is slight encouragement indeed from the medical establishment, the Spy observes, though he does note there was a time not many years ago when few if any cancers could even be identified, much less treated in any sense. Today, many that were once painful, and universal killers can be reduced or eradicated by chemo or radiation and/or excised by surgery. People’s lives here are extended by months or years, and the quality of that life dramatically improved. 

Moreover, genetic testing (she is enrolled) may reveal one or more hereditary genes that confer a high probability of the disease, allowing testing and monitoring of descendants to prevent them from its attacks in yet another generation. Moreover, it is only a matter of time before some screening test is devised to detect a blood or lymph marker for ovarian cancer in its early stages. Knowing when and where the enemy army has arrived is at least half the battle.

The search and destroy mission for which we have been unwillingly drafted and upon which we have been dispatched is neither simple nor easy, but it has a modest probability of success with modern medical technology when once there was zero.

Sigh. We live in a broken world with enemies of our own (collective) making, the most obvious ones of which are sin, sickness, and death. It was never intended to be this way, and in the new heavens and new earth that will follow when this one is rolled up neither will or even could possibly exist.

For our part, we believe part of the universal imago Dei is an in-built mandate to fight such enemies, and for us to do so with the confidence that if such battles are not temporarily won in this life, they have already been for us in the next, and that permanently. There is hope, in every sense, and though a smidgeon of it is technology-related, that is certainly not where lies true and eternal hope for those who seek and find it.

QES (Quite enough said.) See you next month, DV.

–The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author’s own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics and Assistant Dean of Science at Canada’s Trinity Western University. He completed his fiftieth year as a high school and university teacher in 2020. He has been involved as a member of or consultant with the boards of several organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. 

He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and ten alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His various columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), since the early 1980s, and he’s a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 2019 and have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. since 1972. 

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Arjay Enterprises: 

The Northern Spy Home Page:

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Sheaves Christian Resources :

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General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Books: 

Author Site:

Publisher’s Site:

The Fourth Civilization–Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed. ):

Other URLs of relevant interest: 

BC Government COVID site:


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