Todd Hardy shouldn’t be here.
“I should have been dead a couple months ago,” he told the legislature April 1, in an emotional speech to mark cancer awareness month.
Who better to speak but him? Hardy has battled leukemia for three and a half years. The fact that he is not only alive, but still sitting in the legislature, comes as a surprise to many, himself included.
In mid-February, doctors gave him just a few weeks left to live. Shortly afterwards, bedridden at home, he decided to stop taking treatment.
The drugs induced wild temperature swings. One minute he would be burning up, the next, shaking with chills. His breathing became erratic. He calls the experience “horrendous.”
With so little time left, Hardy wondered: Why bother?
“I am not going over to the hospital to find out what is actually happening any more because there is no treatment left for me,” he announced last week.
He’s no longer sick from drugs, but he acknowledged that cancer likely continues to spread.
He was later deluged with calls and e-mails from supporters, who took the comment to mean he had given up on living.
That’s not so, the MLA for Whitehorse Centre explained in an interview on Tuesday.
He is eating french fries in his office, at his doctor’s advice. He’s lost weight, and it shows: his face is gaunt, his suit hangs loose around his frame and his voice is higher than usual.
“It’s not about giving up,” he said. “There’s no giving up. It was the right decision. It’s given me a better quality of life, and the time left, I can give to other people.”
Hardy describes Canada’s health-care system as a “jewel” that needs to be protected from privatization, but he perceives one flaw: its tendency to value quantity over quality. “It just had to do with keeping you alive,” he said.
He can personally testify to the importance of home care. “People live better in their home than in the hospital,” he said.
He still believes he has work to do. “I can continue to give. As long as I can continue to give, I will,” Hardy said.
He rattles off what he sees as the NDP’s big achievements over the past three years: he’s happy to claim credit for the anti-poverty summit now underway, reforms planned to the Landlord and Tenant Act, talk of legislative renewal, and a ban on mineral staking in the Peel Watershed agreed to by the Yukon Party government.
But, as usual, he prefers to talk about the big, structural problems of poverty, rather than more modest but specific policy changes. Tuesday he spoke in the House about treating housing as a human right, a fitting subject for someone who helped found Whitehorse’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
He has no plans to ask Premier Dennis Fentie to grant a dying man his last wish. “I don’t have one last thing. I have about 100.”
But why spend your last days on Earth debating with Fentie, when you could be playing with your granddaughter?
“I spend six to eight hours a day with my granddaughter,” he said with a laugh. “She wears me down. This is easy. I can do this in my sleep.”
Hardy has long been at peace with death, buoyed by his Buddhist beliefs. He figures he’s stood at the brink of this life at least three times in the past few years, and this lets him speak of the matter with a certain nonchalance. He’s not afraid.
“This is only one part of my journey. My spirit will continue, though my body will die. It’s just my body that we’re dealing with here.
“If you live your life fully and with a lot of compassion you’ll never fear death because you can look back at your time, and I’ve had 52 years, and say I’ve done good here, I’ve helped others.
“I’ve had an absolutely full life. So if I only get 52 years, then I’m thankful for that.”
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