Todd Hardy has seven tubes attached to his body, stem cells from his sister Rebecca Hardy grafting onto his bone marrow and a deep yearning to leave hospital and come home.
“I think I’ve turned a corner,” said Hardy from his hospital bed on Wednesday. It is the first phone call he’s made to the Yukon in two weeks.
Hardy has just undergone a stem-cell operation. It left him too weak to make a phone call.
“Yesterday the doctors came in and were able to inform me that the transplant has taken hold,” he said. “Everything looks very good. It’s just only going to get better from here on in.”
On November 24, Hardy’s team of doctors at Vancouver General Hospital — a whopping 12 doctors are working on his cancer treatment — injected healthy stem cells from Rebecca into his veins.
And then Hardy did what he’s been doing a lot of lately: he laid in his hospital bed, underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments, dealt with constant nausea, took anti-immune drugs in the hope his body wouldn’t fight the stem cells from taking hold, and waited.
“You’ve just got to lay here and wait for something to happen,” he said reflecting on the fight that he’s undergone in the last few weeks. “You’re so unbelievably exhausted.”
Finally, 18 days after the surgery, Hardy’s doctors gave him the promising news that the stem cells were successfully grafting and that his blood counts were looking promising.
But Hardy’s wait is far from over.
The next two weeks are the most dangerous period following a stem-cell transplant as his body could fight the healthy cells because they are not his own.
Following that, doctors will continue giving Hardy chemotherapy and radiation treatments and monitor his blood counts in hospital for another two months.
Once 100 days elapse following the transplant, Hardy will have passed the first milestone of several more to follow.
The chances of a relapse drop significantly if the graft holds after 100 days, he said.
Once a year goes by, his chances increase yet again.
And once three years elapse, he’ll be officially out of the woods.
“The benchmark for living a full life, or being able to die from something else — I could still get hit by a truck — is the three-year mark,” he said with his trademark humour.
But at the moment, Hardy has put his political future in the background and coming home is his main goal.
“Hopefully, I’ll be back within the next 60-70 days … then get to work,” he said. “You don’t lay here and think about your future. You just think about getting through each breath.”
In August, after collapsing at his home, Hardy rushed to Whitehorse General Hospital, where doctors elected to have him medevaced to Vancouver.
Doctors there told him he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
He was immediately put into chemotherapy and radiation treatments and “beat up pretty bad,” he said.
Hardy was in hospital for more than 50 days undergoing the maximum amount of chemo treatments he could endure.
Then his organs began failing.
Most disturbing was the condition of his liver, which began acting up toward the end of October’s election campaign that Hardy had returned to the Yukon to fight.
“I had no numbers; it can get worrisome. That period was quite difficult,” he said.
But doctors successfully put the leukemia into remission and Hardy’s liver has recently recovered.
The stem-cell transplant is the second stage in defeating the disease completely.
Hardy is still fighting, but admitted he is a bit worse for wear. He will have been in hospital for nearly half a year in total before he can return home.
“You have no say, you have no control whatsoever,” he said. “Every bit of energy, every thought, falls to the wayside, and all you feel is unbelievably tired and sick.
“The problem is you don’t know when it’s going to end. My room is my cell. I can’t leave this floor.”
Tellingly, the longtime politician famous for his passionate crusades hasn’t even been in contact with his caucus.
During the phone call on Wednesday, acting NDP leader Steve Cardiff, McIntyre-Takhini MLA John Edzerza, communications spokesperson Ken Bolton and several other staff at the NDP office gathered around the phone just to hear Hardy’s voice.
“We’re having fun for you,” said Edzerza.
Many have quietly questioned the wisdom of Hardy staying on as NDP leader and fighting the recent election.
But Hardy doesn’t.
“I don’t think I had much choice; when I collapsed, everyone knew an election was imminent,” he said.
“We probably wouldn’t have done any better if I would have quit. I know exactly what kind of articles would have been written, and I know exactly how people would have thought about it, because I heard it.
“The executive and my colleagues all wanted me to stay on as leader.”
And the election campaign, which he admitted took all his energy to get through, actually helped bolster his health, he said.
“It gave me a focus; it gave me something to hold my resources together. I’m a person that loves to be engaged,” he said.
“It made me not dwell upon my sickness and what was happening to me. It gave me strength.”
Cardiff summed up the mood in the room as he hung up the phone.
“Take care, brother,” he said to Hardy.