Saturday, 26 December 2015

Jeremy Kelvin Tyrrell
February 05,1959 -  December 20, 2015
It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of our father, Deacon Jeremy Tyrrell who passed away away December 20, 2015 from Mesothelioma. For those of you who may or may not have known, our dad was diagnosed just over a year ago with the disease. We were fortunate enough to have our dad with us at home from the end of March until earlier this week when we moved him into Hospice where he has been comfortable and received quality round the clock care. On behalf of our family, we would like to extend a warm thank you to all of our closeste friends, parishioners, colleagues, health care professionals, and strangers who have expressed the warmest and kindest of thoughts, prayers, visits, gifts, and well wishes throughout Dad's progress. He would want you all to know that he was just as touched by your kindness as much as you have expressed how he impacted your lives. There was not one day where he did not remark on the overwhelming feedback he and our family have received during this time.  As it was in his nature, our dad remained selfless, ensuring that everyone was comfortable and taken care of,  putting himself second before everyone else, even while under Hospice care. Our dad's humour, quick wit and renowned professionalism remained the standard we have all come to know and admire even in his final days. His pride and dignity remained intact even as things began to change. Our dad passed away under the most comfortable conditions surrounded by his sisters, Pat and Maureen; his children, Andrew and his wife Katie, Emily and Graeme; and his loving wife Claire. ~~ Duc in Altum Dad.~

Hospice of Windsor Essex has been an incredible gift and experience for our father and our family. If you feel so inclined please make adoration to support this necessary service so it may continue to provide excellent care for other families. As our father was a devoted Deacon of the Diocese of London he felt strongly in support of St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ontario. Donations in support of the seminary would also be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Pain

I had never felt pain like it before. I was pretty sure it was beyond anything I could have imagined. It couldn't possibly get worse. 

It got worse. 

No surprise really. The last chemotherapy was sometime in July. Some people can tell you exactly what day, the hour of the last drip.  Not us. Not our thing. 

The point is this. Without medical intervention there was nothing left but for the mesothelioma in my abdomen, lungs and lymph nodes, free and unrestricted to do its thing. Four in the morning.  Agony. Despair. I am not exaggerating. New pain, new beyond anything I've ever imagined possible. 

People tell me I look pretty good (considering). The brackets are mine; its kind of implied and frankly, not easily hidden. Considering...a one year prognosis and we're 11 months in...yeah you're damned right I look good!  (Considering). Truth is I'm into big time double-digit weight loss. I weighed now what I weighed in grade 9, gaunt visage and unnatural skinniness notwithstanding. 

The pain took more out of me than I could have imagined possible. It is truly debilitating. For a moment, just for a moment, even hope was briefly lost. I didn't give up on hope, I just couldn't remember where I'd left it...St Anthony!  A little help here!  

All is lost if one abandon hope. I didn't, I just lost it for a time. I can see how that could stick. 

Pain is Manageable
OK, enough. One does not have to live in pain as one lives the next stage of life, as one experiences end of life. I hope this is the one thing you'll remember from this; pain is manageable. There is no lack of dignity in palliative care, in fact for me there has been a tremendous amount of grace and dignity.  It is the very rare cancer patient whose pain cannot be managed. We are making headway and my days are not racked with pain.  For now we have the right cocktail of pain meds, and that cocktail is revisited as needed; when pain creeps back into my day. It's not ok. We address it immediately. 

Hospice care for Canadians who need it is essential.  The arguments in favour of physician assisted suicide are pretty damned close to those for decent, responsible and affordable palliative care.  A voice in the treatment of a life threatening illness. To die as comfortably as possible. To not extend life unreasonably; to not die with tubes; to not die alone; to die at home, to not die in a hospital, to die in a Hospice setting...where available.  

That someone is listening. That someone hears me...

In December 2014 Jeremy Tyrrell was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a disease considered to be incurable. He has already quietly outlived the initial prognosis of several months and attributes it to the love of God, the prayers of friends and family, and the wonder of traditional modern medicine.



Tuesday, 20 October 2015

OK, I'll Do It

I'm damned near close to living on borrowed time.  We're coming up on the one-year anniversary of when my original tumour was discovered.  Statistics for mesothelioma indicate that if I should make it the full year, I won't be around a whole lot longer.  Statistics be damned!  Let's just live it out and see what happens.

Here's what happened about three months into the cancer journey, last spring.

Knowing I had an abdominal tumour,  I went for a CT scan and a follow-up appointment with an oncologist at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. We learned that the mesothelioma had spread and set up new encampment in my lungs and lymph nodes.  It was a major setback for us.

For three months I had shown fortitude living with my life-threatening cancer in the abdomen, did I have it for a deadly disease now spreading in my lungs (that explained the cough) and in my lymph nodes?  It was a dismal diagnosis.

And it was one week away from Holy Week.  Lent was winding down, a Lent lived more vividly this year than ever before.  I had spent the last six weeks prayerfully joining my life and death to Christ's.  I was focused, very deliberately asking for Jesus to accompany me and I would do my best to emulate him in the pain, suffering, loneliness, and betrayal he endured, in the faith, confidence and almost super-human strength with which he lived.

In an absolute daze, I stood up to shake the hand of my oncologist and her student nurse, who were clearly anxious to be done with me.  Claire hugged me, tears in her eyes.  Everything was in slow-motion, crystal clear and yet weirdly surreal.

And I heard the words come out of my mouth in a conversation that I didn't realize I'd been silently having with God until that very moment.

"OK. I'll do it."  Where'd that come from?  It didn't matter, it was true;  I would do it.  I will live with this nasty development with the same faith and hope that I had been showing so far.  (Later I asked Claire if she heard me speak; I know I distinctly heard me say it.  She hadn't.  It was truly a holy and private moment between me and God.  It was the moment I regained my direction after a slight misstep.)

OK, I'll do it, like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday, when he asked if God might consider lifting the death sentence he was about to receive, knowing He wouldn't.  Thy will be done,  I had been repeating endlessly for the last three months.  But things just got different.  Things were surreal at the very same time as being very real indeed.

OK. I'll do it, as chemo was proposed as a way to control, not cure, they disease.  OK. I'll do it, as my morning routine, or a walk around the block with the dog, becomes impossible without being connected to an oxygen tank.  OK. I'll do it, as I admit that my wife and kids have extra responsibilities that used to be all mine.  OK. I'll do it, as I have to decline most guests and visitors because my health is so tenuous.

OK. I'll do it, but you're going to be there, too.  Right?

Monday, 12 October 2015

Thankful...and Moving On...

Is it wrong to not feel particularly thankful this year at Thanksgiving, or throughout the year?  Ah...there you go. Some of you slipping into your soft shoes for the conversational two-step that lies ahead. "Do I tell him he's wrong to be ungrateful in our land of such plenty?  Do I tell him it's ok just this once, just for him to get down in the dumps?  He didn't actually say he was ungrateful, there's some nuance here, maybe if I parse my answer, what does parse mean....?  What do I say?  What does he mean?"

Look, I'm not ungrateful. Perhaps I have thankfulness fatigue on Thanksgiving weekend much the same way I weary of the frozen smiles on New Years Eve.  So what are we going on about here?

All That I Have
I mean that I know I come from a wealthy land and a wealthy family, comparatively speaking. I say thanks and ask for God's protection every day during morning prayers for all this and more.  Once upon a time, I traveled like a boss and took clients to the finest restaurants.  I have savoured the sweet smoky earthiness of the perfect scotch in one hand, the perfect cigar in the other, the perfect band on stage and a beautiful sunset on the patio, all at the same time.  I'd have a lot of autographs if I collected famous people's signatures; I don't.  My car works; both of my cars do and so did I before I got sick.  I own property (I told you I was wealthy!) My meds are covered. 

I met and married the most beautiful woman who gave birth to a most beautiful baby, three of them actually. One grew up to be the other most beautiful woman I know. 

I mean that for a brief period of time after I was ordained as a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, I was able to do the work of charity, liturgy and a touch of evangelizing here and there, and there, and dear God, even there....  I mean that God had my back. I mean that God feels so strongly of my work in palliative care, it is apparently His will I join the ranks of the dying while I am still busy living. I mean that I am blessed to have the strength of my faith tempted by despair, anger, discomfort and pain, fatigue and bewilderment. His will, not mine...   

God, I laugh when they tell me I'm courageous.

All That I Want...
I mean that it is a blessing that while I never took everything I had for granted, I am not burdened with a sense of impending loss, of sorrow, of doom.  I was never all that attached to the things of this earth, though I do appreciate a good car, a great steak, a decent glass of wine and a good laugh every now and then. 

...Is What God Wants For Me
I mean I give thanks to God for the things I have, and say prayers for the people I love.  Claire and I are blessed with adult children who share our faith, expressed in quiet thanks for the people in our lives, and absolute disregard (contempt?) for that which can be bought or sold.

In December 2014 Jeremy Tyrrell was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a disease considered to be incurable. He has already quietly outlived the initial prognosis of several months and attributes it to the love of God, the prayers of friends and family, and the wonder of traditional modern medicine.

Here is the Tyrrell family, anti-clockwise from the bottom; Claire, Jeremy, Andrew with his wife Katie, Emily, Graeme



Thursday, 24 September 2015

Das Beer

Many years ago I ran a successful, busy roadhouse on the east side of this industrious border city of Windsor, Ontario. Nice place, definitely not high-class. One afternoon my weekly management meeting was interrupted by our bartender.  We'd run out of a brand named, generic tasting draught beer and had no full kegs left to replace the empty one until our next delivery, days hence. We did, however have a full keg of a different, equally bland brand, just aft with the draught, waiting for the bartender to crack the seal, connect the CO2 and prime the lines.  Only a thirsty patron waving a fiver stood between this and a frosty mug of perfectly poured beer, and dammit if there wasn't a parched patron perched at the rail ordering a pint at that very moment. What to do?  I mean really, can anyone distinguish between big brewery ales or lagers, one from the other?  Can anyone but a sommelier distinguish the popular swill from carbonated Clydesdale piss?  (Hint: it's in the foam. Mr Ed as a lesser head.  Both will give you the trots)

And so I made the decision to swap in the alternate brand and sell it under the name of the 86'd brand until our next delivery.  (To '86' a product is to designate it out of stock and/or unavailable.)

The owner of the joint just happened to be present and he immediately overruled me. "What's the big deal?" I challenged back. He knew our clients as well as I did. "They'll never know the difference."

"One is the correct beer, the other is not," he said.  "We do not lie to our guests."  You can imagine my sheepish face after being deservedly reprimanded in front of my management team and our bartender.  

Meanwhile over at Volkswagen...
It's not on the same scale, but maybe it is;  I sure wish the owner of that small town chain of roadhouses had been running the diesel division at Volkswagen in these last few years.  Maybe the lesson in truth learned in a bar in Windsor might have made it to das Corner Office in Wolfsburg. 

It sure has followed me everywhere. 

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Life with Mesothelioma in the Fall of 2015

Six months ago I got a phone call from Princess Margaret Hospital advising me to hurry to my closest Emergency ward because of a newly discovered blood clot in my arm, one that subsequently traveled to my lungs.  Thus began 56 hours in the hospital and thus ended my professional life.  Within a short period thereafter began the chemo, and all that comes with it.  The chemo is over. All that comes with it?  Not so much. 

Confined mostly to my home for the past six months I have met with few, small but meaningful milestones along the way. I celebrate each of them.  I'm no A-type personality, but I was accustomed to an active, purposeful life. "Accomplishment" brings on a whole new meaning with terminal cancer. 

Imagine a guy who, a little over a year ago began most days with damned near three full sets of his own age in push-ups. That was 3 x 55, folks.  165 over the course of 15 mins or thereabouts. I have to imagine him too, because he's not me anymore, I am no longer he.  Today what once passed for the physique of a strong and healthy guy in his mid-fifties now looks more like my dad did at his sickest and shockingly thinnest, before he quietly died in his late 70s.

I'm Not Bragging, but...
But today I'm having a good day. I'm in good health and good spirits. The other day I walked to the  pharmacist at the end of the block and picked up my prescriptions rather than have them delivered. Alone. Without my oxygen tank! I couldn't wait to tell someone. 

Two weeks ago I sat and read in the backyard for about 45 minutes before the humidity forced me back inside for air conditioning. 

Three weeks ago I donned alb, stole and dalmatic and served at the 830 Mass.  I hadn't served at Mass in five months. Heck, I'd only attended twice.  Mind you it took me two days to recover. 

This is How We Do it...
My wife portions out twice-daily a buffet of pills and potions, each to control some conflicting side-effect or another, sometimes of the other. Chemo leads to anti-nausea drugs, which sometimes work. Strong opioids (pain killers) morning and evening affect the plumbing and lead to increased need of laxatives, or the opposite as the case may be; I have either in several varieties of remedies.  I pray the good Lord will spare you from constipation, you my good friend, you my mortal enemy. 

One of us injects me with blood thinners every morning. Right now it's Claire's turn to be nurse but I can self-inject, and do. 

That's 9 or 10 prescribed pills, potions and injections twice a day PLUS my multi-vitamin for guys my age. I can't imagine what they'd be pumping into me right now if anyone thought this mesothelioma was even remotely curable. It is not.  

Speaking of all the help from both my professional medical team and loving home team, we are careful to time my morning routine so that someone, either my wife or one of our three kids is home and standing by, ready to be traumatized if I slip and fall in the shower and they have to knock on that bathroom door.  "Hello...dad?  You decent?  Please?"  Hasn't happened yet. 

A home nurse visits me 2 or 3 times a week in my home. Hospice of Windsor monitors and manages my pain levels and quality of life. Frank the Walkerville neighbourhood pharmacist is standing by for whatever I am prescribed next.  

Friends drop by for a coffee and sometimes, if I can, we head out for a bite at a cafe down the street from the aforementioned Walkerville Pharmacy, just past the antique shop and William's the green grocer. 

I consistently rate myself low to zero on the depression and anxiety scale at medical check-ins.

Physical exertion necessitates increased oxygen, and sometimes I supplement with a low-dose pain pill to open up the airways of my labouring, cancerous lungs. I go nowhere without an oxygen tank, except for a recent short walk to the pharmacist.

Too many opioids can lead to me repeating myself and have led to hallucinations, which are nowhere near as much fun as one might think. 

The cancer in my lymph nodes causes cold sweats and I have a pill which kicks in PDQ (pretty darned quick!). Fast, but not fast enough and sometimes I have to change out of my perspiration soaked clothes and shiver through a scalding shower that just isn't ever warm enough. My father suffered similarly in his final winter. 

As the days go by and chemo becomes an increasingly distant memory, the effects wear off (good and bad). Onset pain happens unexplicably, unpredictably. Lately I've enjoyed a better attention span. Now I can read and comprehend an entire chapter of a book at a time, and write short blog posts over several days. 

Using a news app, I scan the news and opinions in three newspapers a day and industry sources; the local Windsor Star and the national Globe and Mail newspaper I read from cover to cover.  Except for sports. I still don't care about sports.

 I no longer automatically fall asleep when reading and praying.   

And hey, I'm praying again in earnest; I couldn't.  Life is good. 

In December 2014 Jeremy Tyrrell was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a disease considered to be incurable. He has already quietly outlived the initial prognosis of several months and attributes it to the love of God, the prayers of friends and family, and the wonder of traditional modern medicine.


Thursday, 17 September 2015

What I Know, What With all this Time to Reflect...

Having been recently diagnosed with a terminal illness and having taken some time for introspective thought, I have learned that these I know to be truths.

I know you don't know what you know until you sit back and think about what you do know for sure. I've been doing that and I've discovered - I know stuff. 

Charting a Course
I know that sports, work, athletic endeavours and good old R&R are better when it's difficult. I know that pushing the limits of what you can do, to the point of seriously considering that this just might be the one time you've gone too far is the most fun you'll ever have. I'm no athlete, but I grew up sailing against the prevailing winds on the Bay of Quinte and in some ways have never stopped sailing into the wind. 

I know that sometimes there can be rocks just below a calm surface.  I know you can only spot them by taking your eyes off the horizon to pay attention to your immediate surroundings.  I know a small rock can cause a big enough gash to sink a good sized sail boat. No really, I know that. It can happen in an ocean or a Great Lake. I know it. 

I know a map and a compass can save your life.

Living a Life
I know that trimming your wayward hairs (nose, eyebrows, ears) can make you look 5 years younger.

I know that you should keep your wife satisfied in at least two rooms in your home and one of them is not optional. 

I know you should play full out. I know you should give your employer, your business, your volunteer efforts, your family, your God, your all; I know one should even take breaks purposefully, and full out.  I mean that nothing, ever, is going to be satisfying to anyone, especially yourself, at half-effort. Nothing. Ever. 

I know that the fear of making a CLM (Career Limiting Move) in the late 70s and early 80s was likely the most debilitating blow struck to professional ambition and creativity of all time, as millions of 30-something boomers kept our heads down and collars buttoned in fear and plotting against each other.

I know that if I'm not in the bottom half in any given gathering of peers... it's time to change peers. Or at least change rooms. 

I know that kids grow up.  But I also know you'll recognize the best and worst of your parenting when you go toe-to-toe over something that really matters when they do. 

Management and Leadership
I know you should stand up when you work, as often and for as long as possible. This is not just a metaphor, though it is that too. I know when you stand up you'll be more creative. I know you'll have more energy.  I know you'll negotiate better. I know others may mock you.

I know if you're not being mocked, challenged and mind-checked once in awhile, you're just not trying hard enough. Either that or it's time for new friends and coworkers who actually care about you, who actually care about your collective cause. 

I know that loyalty and obedience to a cause, a leader, a belief is liberating.  I know that a good direct report has the boss's back.  I know that manipulating the boss (aka "managing up") is a fool's game; counterproductive, disloyal, damaging to the team and far more blatantly obvious than any boss will ever let on. 

I wish I'd known that 20 years ago.  I wish someone had told me. I wish I could guarantee I'd have listened. 

I  know that bad management is almost always to blame. Conversely I know that excellence in management is the best and only hope. 

I know the guy with the biggest title on his business card is not necessarily the guy with the best plan. I know leadership can flow from many sources.  I know only a fool ignores it. I know because I've been the fool. 

I know the fool on the hill quietly sees even more than he lets on. I know that love is not all you need, but it's the last thing you should surrender. I know that if you didn't recognize the Beatles reference just there you have much for which to forgive your parents. 

I know you should forgive, often and early.  That was a Jesus reference.

I know that I've been wrong so often that these days I'm usually only right by default. 

I know one should probably not always go for the laugh but I also know that betwen you and me, if someone going to do it, it's gonna be me. 

I know there's no real good reason you should take anything I've said seriously. Except this....

The Last Word
I know...I know that finishing and beginning every day in prayer and meditation is a game changer. I know that attending Mass regularly (at least weekly) is the right thing to do, and I wish you knew that too. I think maybe you do, in your own way. 

I know that finding out you're going to die, soon, is a lot easier knowing you're not going through it alone. 

I know that finding out you're going to die, soon, is a lot easier to accept when you can't remember the last time you took a day for granted anyway.

I know that finding out I was going to die, soon, was a lot easier on me than it was on you. 

But I Also Know...
I know that it ain't about me. 

I don't know just how much else I don't know, but I do know this...

I know that God knows all, see all, knows me, knows you...and I'm cool with it.

In December 2014 Jeremy Tyrrell was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a disease considered to be incurable. He has already quietly outlived the initial prognosis of several months and attributes it to the love of God, the prayers of friends and family, and the wonder of traditional modern medicine

Monday, 14 September 2015

Refugee Does Not Mean "Bad"

The Syrian Refugees...
Believe me when I tell you; at any moment one can go from being self-sufficient, from providing for one's family, from being, dare I say it, borderline prosperous...to relying completely on the generosity of others even if only for a moment. From my little perch, wrapped in a prayer shawl and popping my daily dose of anti-nausea pills I know just how quickly it can all change, as it has for so many in the Middle East. 

As you may know, my diagnosis of mesothelioma in mid-December offered me a  +/- year to live, 9 months ago. Since then, to say I have been completely in control of my own destiny would be an outright, bald-faced lie. I can barely choose my preferred breakfast cereal without help sometimes. I can imagine that can be a bit burdensome for my caregivers, if not now, then it could be. 

There, But for the Grace of God
Any of us could find himself a refugee, from his home, because of his religious or political beliefs, we may find ourselves ostracized and alone and God help us, on the run. Any of us can suddenly be too sick to work and find ourselves drawing from a system I thought could never repay what I have contributed in good health for almost 4 decades. Not so. I might even be overdrawn at this point.

When we are down and out, pray that we will be welcomed and helped. Pray we will not be denied our dignity. Pray our children will have enough to eat, and not vilified and criticized and given the label "refugee" as if a pejorative. 

Think it can't happen to you?  Look into the eyes of a man struggling to find food and shelter for his family in Canada. This guy had a flat screen and three-square meals daily not that long ago (just like you and me), now he's begging and pleading for a chance in the northern hemisphere.

Pray we will be forgiven for those times we haven't welcomed others.  If prayer's not your thing, don't worry...we've got you covered. Those who do will pray out the first steps and all the others along the way, you just jump in with your chequebook and by volunteering to help. You'll find us already there too, but ready for a little assistance. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

You Can Get Bad Service Locally, Too

I was looking at the flyer for a well-known, popular local furniture store (which shall go unnamed) and thinking about all the money we've saved there.  Or more to the point, the money we haven't spent there.  But don't think we haven't tried. 

A Couch, A Washer and Dryer...
That time we couldn't get anyone to talk to us when we were looking for a couch?  Mucho $$$ saved or more accurately, NOT SPENT, when we walked out after being ignored for over 20 minutes. Or how about the time we were looking at washers and dryers? $$ saved that day (but spent a few days later at a national department store with actual sales people and actual service.)  

Oh sure we've spent more money elsewhere, but that feeling of not being invisible is priceless.

Businesses are not charities and should not rely on playing the "local" card as they dole out substandard, bad service.  We are not obligated to cut them a break. People say we should support local businesses instead of shopping at multi-nationals.  Maybe... but only when we get exceptional quality and service. 

Otherwise we're not shopping. We're enabling.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Post Chemo follow-up August 2015

It's time for another update, but if I may cheat a bit, instead of composing an entirely new Blog entry, I thought I'd just share the contents of an email I sent to my friend John, who is the Director of Deacons for the Diocese of London. 

"Hi John.  Things are going well at the moment, thank you. 

Chemo ended three weeks ago and typically it's about now I would have received another dose, so it will be interesting (in a "my life depends on it" kind of way) to see how the cancer will behave without anything to impede the inevitable progression. I find myself short of breath and having to wear the O2 a bit more this week, but Claire reminds me that this is always the case in the days leading up to my chemo treatment.  If it gets worse is what I'm waiting to see.  I am glad chemo is over, it was brutal but from what I have seen and read I haven't had it as bad as most others. Looking around and seeing a few of the other patients in the chemo lounge every 3 weeks I realized how very fortunate I have been. 

It is, however, a bit frustrating to have to admit that I can't do all the things I once could. Last Friday I said to Claire that I felt great and I planned to serve at Mass the next day.  The next day I couldn't get out of bed for more than about an hour at a time so I didn't even get to Mass.  I'm dying to go to Red Lobster for shrimp, but I only managed 3 bites of Claire's amazing roast chicken last night, and besides, I don't have the energy to go to a restaurant. It's like I'm living one life in my mind, and a different life in reality. 

As you've patiently experienced John, I may be a bit stubborn and I may not catch on right away, but when I do I don't let go, and I'm all in. So let's pray I can reconcile the new normal sooner than later.  But that doesn't stop me from hoping I can make the diaconal ordination in November. At one time I wouldn't dream of making plans more than 2 weeks out, so the chemo treatment has offered hope. 

Overall, I'm still in good health and as always, in good spirits. I finally have the stamina to spend more of my day in prayer and that helps me stay connected with our deacon community.  Considering that at one time I was anticipating a June or August funeral (July is way too hot) I would say that the treatment has increased my life span just a bit. 

Thanks for checking in. Thanks again for coming to see us, and for offering a Mass on my behalf. I hope you are well, and please extend my best wishes to Susan. I will continue to pray for you as I do every day. "For those who herd cats in the name of the Good Shepherd, we pray..."

Jeremy


Deacon Jeremy Tyrrell



Sent from my Holy iPad


Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Today...

Today I've got no place to go, no where I have to be, no pace to maintain.  Today my long-term disability benefits kick in; today I get paid to sit at home. This is all new to me, it's a bit overwhelming. I've always worked hard and enjoyed it, but I haven't been able to work in four months.  Christmas 2014 I was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a life-threatening illness for which there is no cure and for which the prognosis is swift and unkind. I went back to work the next day and every day for the next three months.  And then it became too much and in late March after a couple of unexpected nights in the hospital, it was time to back away. 

Today officially ends four decades of diligently reporting for duty.  And it comes a dozen years earlier than I had anticipated. 

Mr Lou Gehrig, Yankee ball player, he with a life-threatening illness named after him delivered a short and beautiful speech on his last day at the diamond.  "Today I feel like the luckiest man on the face of the earth," he told a cheering crowd at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939. These are words I never truly understood, words that represent an "attitude of gratitude" that I have nevertheless tried to emulate.   

The Team
Today is a good day to reflect on the very many career twists and turns for which I am, sometimes only with the help of hindsight, grateful. There have been so many outstanding individuals with whom I've worked over four decades, but only a rare few genuinely awesome teams. My associates and coworkers at the Scotiabank Convention Centre are such a team across all departments and I thank God for the last 2 1/2 years on the team. They have shown tremendous courage in working with me through to my last day in the office, never hiding from our grim reality and embracing my wish that we must never let my terminal cancer redefine our relationship. 

My Boss, my Friend 
My hope for you is that should your life ever take a turn for the worse that you'll be lucky enough to have a trusted friend right from the beginning, a friend who'll be there for the tough stuff. A friend who asks how you're doing and sticks around for the answer. If you're really lucky he'll be in the office next to yours.  Jeff Dixon, our Interim GM was among the first to learn of my mesothelioma.  On top of all else on his plate he stepped up right away and has not left my side since. 

The Luckiest Man 
Mr Gehrig delivered what was for me an enigmatic statement, a cause for pause that for years I never understood.   "Today I feel like the luckiest man on the face of the earth," he said.  Mr Gehrig thanked his team, fans and team management. He described his wife as being a tower of strength, of displaying more courage than he dreamed existed. Today I understand that, sir. I know that I am a lucky man.  Merci Claire. 

"So I close in saying I may have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for."  Lou Gehrig  

Me too, Mr Gehrig. Me too. 


Saturday, 18 July 2015

Not a World Class Gym

Just to be upfront right at the front, I would like to start out be saying this whole thing is about only $20. "Oh sure," I hear you object. "But it's also the principle of the thing". No it's not. It's about the money. 

I cancelled my membership at my gym in St Catharines because I am too sick to go to the gym, and besides, it's 350 km away. It was a great, clean gym with excellent equipment in excellent repair. I enjoyed getting up early and working out 3 times a week at 6am, for only $10 a month.  There's a 60 day cancellation policy which I was charged, hence the $20 I'm disputing.  

They'll only waive it under extenuating circumstances, of which I'd suggest my terminal illness qualifies. The contract states they must have a doctors note along with a cancellation request sent by registered mail, and that's fair. Isn't it?  They must get dozens of people claiming to be dying, just to save $20.  Hundreds.

Hey, it's cool. Sarcasm aside, I get it. But on progressive (regressive?) interactions it became about poor management, as it almost always does.

"It's policy," the manager wailed. "I can't do anything about it."  Yes you can. You can override policy. 
"I can't override policy," he claimed. "It's against protocol!"  (No guff, he actually said that.)  "I'd have to take it to Corporate."  You're the manager, I'm assuming you plan to fight on behalf of your customer. Are you seriously so unempowered that a $20 override exceeds your authority?  I expect you will get back to me with your inevitable and predictable results. (I actually expect to never hear from the manager again.)

It has taken 3 phone calls just to get to this point.  Each call has ended with the employee putting me squarely in my place, which is that I'm a schleppe who has to jump through every one of their hoops.  Since I can't make the trip in person, cancellation is by registered letter only for a mere $8 (no emails accepted) PLUS a doctors note from my Oncologist, which may run me $25, and another registered letter. Do the math. $40+ to cancel a $10/month agreement.   

Hey gym management!  Let me tell you something. You're right.  I agree. The contract is firm. I signed it and initialled the 60 day clause. You're absolutely right.  I haven't got a leg to stand on. But could you back off on the smugness just a touch please?  

Overriding policy for compassionate reasons can be the right thing to do, sometimes.  Doing the right thing for the right reasons is always the right thing to do. Advocating for your customers is a powerfully right thing to do.  Heck, do it for the good PR.  But in the end it's only $20 and I'd like it back, please. 

Showing balance and offering the benefit of the doubt sends a strong, powerful message to your employees. After all, they know they can only expect to be treated with the least amount of courtesy and goodwill and respect management has shown to their clients, and as a result you can expect them to not only model your actions, good or bad, but to mirror them.  

And this great feeling I always had going to this gym, the respect I had for the team is gone. 

Frankly I'm just embarrassed for a company whose management is so stuck in the 80s. I thought the whole "customer is the enemy" thing died years ago.  Looks like it's going to outlive me. And that's a shame. 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

So, About the Last 40+ Years...

This one's for my kids.  It's my resume. But you can read it too, if you want to. Here's where I've worked and a few comments about some of my best experiences and takeaways.  Not counting my first paper routes, I've had 14 different jobs/employers. You may already know I studied Culinary Management at George Brown College in Toronto's Kensington Market in the first half of the eighties.

Here then is the full, uncut, unabashed, down and dirty truth of how I've been spending the last 40 odd years.  Some people claim to have 20 years experience when in reality they've had one year of experience, 20 times.  I have 40+ years of experience, one day, one year, one job, one human interaction at a time. Read on kids, I hope you'll agree.

Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Belleville Intelligencer - sparked my love of newspapers and early wake up calls, especially in the winter. On November 30, 1970 I delivered my first paper at 6am. It was dark outside and I was 11 years old and in Grade 6. I had to walk a mile just to get to the pick up point. I still read at least two newspapers a day as well as my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and newsfeed from professional sources. 

McDonald's - It was 1977. Sears at the mall wasn't hiring but I didn't want to work in retail anyway, I wanted to be a restaurant guy. I wasn't tough enough to work at Harvey's in Belleville, they only hired big strapping farmboys. Ponderosa had cool uniforms but you had to have a family connection to get in there. Oh how I envied them their cowboy hats and tasseled gingham shirts.  

My McDonald's experience led to my first management job, and it's also where I met your mother, who was and remains my boss to this day. 
Claim to fame: they launched breakfast when I worked there, throwing a serious wrench into the summer post-work all night partying 

Bemelmans Diner and Toby's Goodeats - part of the very trendy Chrysalis group in the early 80s. Yorkville was a happening scene and AIDS was an upwardly trending new disease decimating the waitstaff at the favourite haunts of the upwardly trendy.  For AIDS in Canada one could argue that Bemelmans was Canada's ground zero.  

But I wouldn't have traded my nights in the decadent decade of punk and new music, of trends and of nouvelle cuisine, of Beaujolais Nouveau in November, of 3am gourmet burgers and of just plain over the top excess every night under the watchful eye of a great chef while I studied in the kitchens and classrooms of George Brown College during the day. What a trip!
Key Takeaway: the parade of celebrities and wannabes was endless. We were almost the only place open past 1am. I met so many celebrities from Robin Williams to the upstart MuchMusic VJs to aspiring comedians after their gigs at a new comedy club up the street called Yuk Yuks to most of the Leafs to whomever was in town.

And then going corporate seemed like a good idea.  The chain restaurant biz had begun to explode in Canada.  

Red Lobster (1) - I was in the first of a number of classes of management trainees who took the chain from 3 to over 60 locations across Canada, mostly in former Ponderosa restaurant locations - how do you like those cowboy hats now, boys?  Many of the Red Lobster management from those days went on to become the significant influencers and execs in today's restaurant biz in Canada. I'm not one of them, but I can get them on the phone.

Kert Chemicals - my first professional sales job, selling dishwashers and chemicals to restaurants, bars and hotels in downtown Toronto. 
Key Takeaway: I have saved untold thousands in plumbing expenses and preventable back-door thievery because of what I learned and observed from my view underneath the dishwashers in the best restaurants in mid-80s Toronto. 
Claim to Fame: Chef Susur Lee once offered to cook and serve me an omelet after I was finished tuning up his dishwasher at Peter Pan but I declined. I was too shy to accept.  Me = idiot. 

Baskin Robbins / Yogurty's Yogurt Discovery - oh man, who hires a guy in his late 20s to be a District Manager?  This was at the time of the first corporate layoffs we now think of as normal, that signified the end of employer/employee loyalty. My franchisees ranged from bored housewives whose husbands bought them a little ice cream shop to keep them busy, to laid off bank execs who invested their entire severance and all their savings and remortgaged their houses (this was exactly the time house prices began to skyrocket and it became necessary to have two incomes to own a home with mortgage rates in the high teens). These desperate people actually believed in our team of child execs, we the District Managers not yet 30 and our head office c-level suite of the young and the entitled. Franchisees trusted us to teach and guide them in more than how to scoop ice cream, polish shoes or pour a coffee, whatever the franchise sold.  Newcomers to hospitality and retail needed our wisdom and expertise and knowledge borne of experience.  The trouble was our employers had hired us because we came cheap and naïve at that age, inexperienced and hard working but in the end of little value in the strategic thinking department. 

Franchising was just taking off in Canada in the late eighties and I spent a lot of time in and out of malls across Canada with my associates from all the other franchisors riding the wave. Tim Hortons at about 100 stores in Canada, was the best deal that even Tim's themselves didn't recognize. So buying and working one's own franchise wasn't always a bad deal for all laid off execs but seriously, did it ever make sense for a white collar VP to be shining shoes at a Moneysworth and Best, a franchise basket in which he had placed every last one of his eggs?

Key Takeaway:  it was at this time that I picked up a copy of a book by a guy named David Chilton. The Wealthy Barber helped me to understand my franchisees' point of view but also helped mom and I to keep our family goal in sight. That meant we stuck with the plan. Mom stayed at home to raise you three while I hammered away at my career. These were the beginning of the rough years but the lessons in that book literally kept us on the path when all hope sometimes seemed lost. 

Cultures
Mothers Pizza
Two short lived District Manager jobs at exactly the wrong time. It was cool working in a pizza joint, I will say. 

And then I turned 30...  We had 2 kids by then, both of whom are now themselves in their thirties. 

Red Lobster (2) Round 2, in which Red Lobster moved me and my family to Windsor. Oh yeah, and then a year later they fired me.  "That wasn't easy to get over, but don't think I didn't try."  I quote The Joker, referring to his similar fate of being dropped into a vat of boiling acid
Key Takeaway: It was the best thing that ever happened to me professionally. It just didn't feel like it for the next 10 years.
Claim to Fame: I tell my friends I invented the famous Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits. I didn't. It's a total lie. But I'm insulted that they don't believe me anyway. 

So I called my friend Bob in Kitchener and told him I'd just been canned. He called his pal Ted the butcher who called his pal Chris who was opening up a new bar on the main drag in Windsor. Three days after being unceremoniously dumped, I had a new job. 
Key Takeaway:  if you get fired or laid off, reach out to your network immediately and ask for their help to connect you with your next opportunity. Don't waste time being embarrassed or ashamed. And when it happens to a friend or coworker in your company, immediately reach out to him or her and offer your help and support. Don't wait a day. It's lonely for the suddenly unemployed. If you're lucky and you've worked hard you'll have nurtured a strong marriage with a supportive spouse. 

Howl at the Moon Saloon, Windsor - a local copycat of a popular US chain. A rowdy, rough, loud and busy bar. I was a manager/bartender and I really enjoyed the action behind the town's busiest bar. 

And then one day the owner of several automobile dealerships called and was enquiring about renting the place out for a private party for his staff. Pre-internet, I promised to send him a copy of our menu in the mail. But instead I drove out to the dealership and asked for the dealer personally, went over the menu with him and learned all about what he envisioned. I can't remember if we ever did get the event, but I was offered a job selling cars. 
Key Takeaway: You owe it to your employer to go above and beyond. Always play full out. Sometimes it'll pay off for you in ways unexpected. You never know where your next opportunity lies. 

Saturn, Saab, Isuzu of Windsor - back in sales. I learned the sales stuff that makes me successful today.  Not only that but the money we've saved on auto purchases from what I learned with GM sales has been huge, and I am a Saab fanatic who managed to buy not only his dream Saab, but one for his wife too. 

Jose's Noodle Factory - a poor man's Casey's (I know what you're thinking. Isn't Casey's the poor man's Casey's?)  The Jose's restaurant I opened was described as the most profitable restaurant the partners had ever owned (their words). I'm really a very good restaurant manager and I make people money; it's what I do. But I'm not an entrepreneur, which is who these investors were looking for. So we parted company as friends; me a smarter, more confident and a seriously exhausted 40 year old. Them, richer.

I turned 40... 

Caesars Windsor - first into the bar and beverage biz on the gaming floor, then into the very busy Buffet restaurant and then into hotel sales but get this - sales in the hospitality industry!  The casino hotel and convention centre took me on as a sales guy, I did well and when the sales team grew I got a promotion. All of my professional paths - management, sales, culinary and hospitality became one.

And I was ready for more...

Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls- they took a chance on me and gave me a shot at the Director of Sales position. I took a chance on them and set off for the Falls without a safety net. It has been an employment relationship built firmly and deliberately on trust and mutual respect. I hope they'd say it's paid off for them, it most certainly has for me.  Venue management is very different from booking groups into hotels. I wouldn't have believed it and I'm glad I experienced it. 
Claim to Fame:  I was awarded a scholarship to 3rd years Venue Management School, and annual week-long retreat of intense studying at Oglebay resort in the hills of Virginia. What an honour. It was only the second scholarship ever awarded. Unfortunately I was not well enough to attend this year.  

And in these most trying times since my diagnosis of a life-threatening illness my employer, the board and my co-workers have been outstanding. Supportive. Compassionate. Fair. Patient. Generous. That comes from the top.
Key Takeaway: When you get to the top, be that guy. 

I hope your career is as fruitful and as fun and you meet as many cool people as this little guy, who only ever set out to have a little fun with a lot of people, some who have become very good friends indeed. 


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Long Overdue Letter to my Customers

And here it is, my long overdue letter to my customers....(in which I say what I've really been thinking, having nothing to lose.)

Dear customer,

I really do like you. Heck, I love some of you. That's the hardest part of being a sales guy. It's also the best part. You see, we start as strangers and gradually get to know each other. Sometimes you're a little standoffish at first, and sometimes we just don't click.  Rarely, but that's the truth. No one is to blame. Most of the time a relationship of trust and professional respect grows. And then after a time and when the sale is done I have to move on (and so do you). While we're not exactly breaking up, I am seeing other people too.  Sure we still keep in touch, but I'm going to miss the closeness of a tight and productive and intense negotiation between two pros who reached the best possible agreement for their respective organizations.  But then the contract is signed and we have to stop calling each other every 20 minutes. I admit it; it does feel a little like a grade 9 break-up but yes, we're still friends!  And I'm going to do everything I can to be your trusted go-to guy for exactly what you need next. 

You see, whether I've been selling you dishwashers and chemicals in restaurants and hotels in downtown Toronto, or the no-dicker sales experience if you bought a Saturn or Saab from me, all those years in the restaurant biz, or in the hotel and convention sales in which I wrap up my career, one thing has been true. 

I really like you, most of you. I think most people like me, but hey, some don't. That's cool. And although we now have a name for it, "relationship selling" has always been instinctually good practice.  Good for the soul, good for a good night's sleep, tremendously fulfilling and yes I'll say it, financially rewarding for the most ambitious and confident of risk-takers. And I have met so many very cool people, each with a story of their own to tell.  When I learned of my illness some of the very first people to whom I reached out (after family) were my good friends who started out as prospective customers. 

Dear customer, dear friend, I like you. I want to hear about your hobbies, interests, families, sorrows and triumphs...whatever you want to talk about, if you want to talk about it. I know we'll get to the sales part soon enough, and yes, I will employ some techniques and tactics to close the deal IF it's good for both of us, but you're a pro and you'd expect nothing less from me. But having a laugh over a coffee or lunch when I'm in your town?  Hanging out at a convention?  Having some of the best fun I've ever had?  Facebook?  That's all real.

So thanks. I have never taken a minute of it for granted. 


Monday, 13 July 2015

Nearer my Dog...

I was thinking we should take a break from the usual passive-aggressive post about how all of you should change your behaviour in order to please me.  Let me tell you instead about a good and loyal friend, she of the wet nose and wagging tail crowd. 

My dog Molly.  First off, I guess that's the thing about dogs. My wife and I, three kids, one dog and she is thought of as "my dog" by each of us. We share unique and personal relationships with the family dog, don't we?  And it's the dog who makes it that way, because they give uniquely and personally of themselves individually, meeting us where we are.

Seven months ago I was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a cancer that is thought to be incurable and one that is viciously present and spreading throughout my lungs, lymph nodes and my abdomen. Molly hasn't left my side since I've been home with my illness.  She, almost literally, has an eye on me all the time. If it's not lying at my feet at the end of the bed, she's watching me at my spot in the study from her spot in the living room.  The living room view gives her best reaction time should any of the thieves and murderers walking by our front door attempt unauthorized entry, or worse - dare to walk their dog on our section of the street.  The she-devil in the Canada Post uniform will never be given quarter.  Never!  You may be able to fool the mistress of the house with a smile and a People magazine, but not our Molly. 

And when a friend comes through my door they are subject to an inspection as thorough and efficient as any airport in the nation, and to watchful surveillance for the duration of their visit.  Sure, it is disguised as playful efforts to engage the guest in toy-throwing, petting behind the ears and endless belly rubs.  She's crafty, that one.

When this cancer nightmare began and nights were pain filled, marked by endless coughing and sleepless hours, on more than one occasion I awoke to find her standing just inches from my face, staring at me, watching me sleep.  She could smell the disease in me. At the same time she would not allow an afternoon nap too deep. On more than one occasion she nuzzled me awake just as I was about to go into a very deep sleep. I have no doubts she was making sure that I was going to wake up.  Ain't nobody checking out on her watch!

Sometimes I find myself just staring at her as she watches out the front window. (We call it SquirrellTV).  She has a beautiful profile, but here's the thing. She's a dog. She is not a replacement human. She is not a "fur-baby". Her needs do not take precedence over those of any human being. We love her, of course we do. In her own way she is a member of the family. But we know that it isn't right to forget our place on God's earth - of stewardship and that we are of the highest order of all of God's creatures, and therefore entrusted with the care of the lower orders, my beloved dog being one of them.

I wish I could love as unconditionally as my dog does me. I wish I was as happy to see my wife and kids every time they walked in the door as my dog is to see me and the truth is, I am. But I don't show it and I think they're ok with that arrangement.  And I also know that God loves me just that much and more, just as unconditionally and more.  I wish I could love as God loves. 

When I come home after work it doesn't matter if I wasn't my best self that day, or to whom I owe apologies; she doesn't care. I've put on a few pounds, she doesn't care. I'm not much fun to be around lately, especially chemo weeks, and who's putting in 20 hours of sleep right beside me?  My 10 year old puppy, Molly. 

And who else waits for me patiently even if I've been neglectful?  Who walks beside me always?  By which supernatural strength am I getting through this difficult time?

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, that's who. 

And oh yeah...Molly, truly a Border Collie / Labrador experience of what heaven must surely be like, and a reminder of what life here on earth can be.

Molly in classic belly-rub position 

Friday, 3 July 2015

My Cancer, my Friends Near and Afar

"And that's when I found out who my real friends are..."  In my years of ministry in palliative care, and since my own diagnosis I have heard that said more times than I can remember by folks who have hit catastrophic circumstances.  They are talking about how their friends behaved after hearing the news of their illness, job losses, divorce, etc. Some, as you can expect, were generous and kind, supportive...all the things one would expect of a good friend, often people who weren't previously close.  The caring shines through.

But in many, many cases a good friend seemingly disappears.
  • I know of a guy who was in hospital for weeks because of a life-threatening disease.  Other than family, he had no visitors at all. This man is well respected in our industry and an invitation to his exclusive annual soirée is coveted.  And yet none could make it to his hospital bed or his home to say hi during recovery.  This was several years ago and the bad feelings linger.  He talks about how he thought he knew who his friends were (past tense).
  • A woman shared a similar story, to the point of naming mutual friends she doesn't expect to ever see socially again, so ostracized was she.  And she used the same words describing these people whom she once thought of as friends. "I found out who my friends really were."
  • Yet another still hasn't yet heard from some close family members, months into her husband's treatment. 
  • A fellow I know told me that after we was layed off from his job of nigh on 20 years only one of his former peers reached out in the first few months, and only a trickle since.  As he struggled for words to express his sadness upon learning of my my terminal diagnosis perhaps he got a hint of the struggle we all faced when he was canned. What to say?  When to call?
In the brief six months since my diagnosis and when I began to tell my friends and co-workers of this fatal disease in my abdomen, my lungs and my lymph nodes, with maybe as much time left on the grassy side of the lawn as has already passed since diagnosis, I have experienced similar aloneness. This is not to say I haven't had many visitors and wouldn't have already had so many more were it not for my wretched chemo (I hate the thought of being a less than gracious host for any reason and so I reluctantly ask for no visitors some days).  What I am saying is that I am absolutely dumbfounded that some very close and trusted friends seemed to have turned their backs and ignored my attempts to reach out to them.  I don't just sit here and wait for text messages!

But you will never hear me refer to any of these as people whom I "once thought were my" friends, in the past tense. I still consider them to be friends. I just don't have the temperament after several attempts to continue trying to bridge the scary divide this cancer has caused between us.  I hate to play the cancer card, but here goes...  I can't carry other people's baggage as well as carry my own. I'm not asking anyone to carry mine. I'm just asking them to walk with me like we used to before, when we immortals. 

You know something?  I kind of pride myself in not getting too preachy in these little opinion pieces I write, but maybe, if nothing more, a little attribution is appropriate. So here's the Gospel angle. 

If Jesus could go to the grave without an ounce of rancor towards those who denied him, betrayed him or turned their backs to him, I figure maybe so can I. It would do them as much good to know forgiveness as it does me good to beg for God's help to forgive them and that they might forgive me if I've hurt them. 

So What Do I Do Now?
There are so many reasons one might ignore a dying friend, all of them by themselves quite understandable, not many of them valid under ordinary circumstances. For every reason I'd suggest one of the following.

1.  Confront the problem. If there's something you need to hear from your friend; an apology, forgiveness, whatever...ask for it. Offer it. 

2.  Get over it, whatever "it" is.  Afraid to see her without hair? Not sure what to say? Hate hospitals?
Funeral homes?  Get over it.  Get past it.  She didn't volunteer to be there either. 

 3.  However it goes, go with it. Support your friend, his wife and family. Bring over a casserole, hide behind huge bouquet or just show up with an extra coffee in hand. Whatever happens after that, go with it, even if it means nothing changes. Life isn't a TV movie, sometimes there are unhappy and unresolved endings. No, we can't all get along. 

4.  Do it. Do it right now. Pray for a little help, if that's your thing. 

Saturday, 27 June 2015

My Cancer, Getting Ahead of my Pain

Only a day or two ago I thought I might take a few moments to write about a quality of life that chemo provides - an abatement of symptoms. Those days were the best I've felt since my chemo began.  But, I didn't get around to writing about my first lunch out in over 3 months with my family on Fathers' Day, nor that a few days later I enjoyed lunch on a nearby patio with friends.  I didn't mention the nursing class that invited me to speak at the U on Monday night, that I accepted and spoke for 90 minutes (no small feat for me to be on my feet. )

BUT...This morning I woke up at a solid 8 on a pain scale with 10 being the highest. It snuck up on me in the night. Sitting up in bed this morning was an accomplishment just shy of Herculean.  It felt like a bird of prey was snacking on my liver, making my struggle more Promethean than Herculean, in hindsight. 

One of the concepts I have had trouble wrapping my brain around is that of pain. I, like any mature adult, have come to accept that pain is a part of life.  An 80s fitness ad that featured the famous tagline "no pain, no gain" has insinuated itself as common wisdom.  For building biceps, it's true.  For living with a life threatening illness, not so much. 

Getting ahead of pain, for a person living with a terminal disease, means understanding that pain is not OK, not part of the process, not to be expected or accepted, and most of the time it can be mitigated.   

One need not accept pain as a necessary stage in the healing, or in my case, the management of a rapidly spreading and insidious disease.  I don't have to live with pain, if it can be avoided. Most (but unfortunately not all) pain can be controlled.

For me, getting ahead of pain means finding the sweet spot where between treatment and prescriptions one lives his life with as clear a mind as possible, for as long as possible, without avoidable suffering. Living with pain is not "toughing it out". Working through the pain is, in a way, giving in to personal pride and notions that just don't apply to a cancerous tumour that can't be beat, a loving family who'd like as much quality time with me as they can reasonably get, and the goals of my treatment. It is not wimping out or surrendering to take as much, but only as many meds as one needs to keep pain and discomfort at bay, before it begins.  Beating back the agony after it sets in takes a long time and exponentially more drugs.  It is exhausting.  Of what quality is time with my family if I literally can't speak because I'm in pain, or can't stay awake during the day because I'm exhausted after a pain filled, sleepless night?

And so most of the time I am popping pain pills regularly on a schedule even when I am not in pain, to prevent, or "get ahead" of the pain I would experience were I not proactively addressing it. 

So this damned pain which I didn't see coming has wiped me out for today and hopefully only today. I've had to cancel a coffee meeting with a few deacon friends, and Mass this evening looks iffy.   And so I rest and sleep, and pop some pills knowing tomorrow is a new day. 

I am grateful to the nurses and doctors of Hospice of Windsor, the Windsor Cancer Centre and St Elizabeth's home care for walking with me this far and helping me understand this part of the journey. I am neither the brightest student nor the easiest patient. 

Thursday, 4 June 2015

My Cancer, My Chemo...Not Complaining, Just Saying

Bear with me, this is new for me.  I'm going to try and write about the negative side-effects of chemo, while experiencing them, and while at the same time conveying my overwhelmingly positive attitude on what is mostly a good day.  In other words, I'm going to try and tackle a delicate subject in a sensitive and thoughtful manner, while at the same time trying to stay focused and not distracted by said negative side-effects.  This blog post is a month to two overdue but that was the first to go with the first infusion of chemo - my ability to concentrate.

Clinging To...
I've made some pretty strong statements about false hope, flim-flam, alternative medicines...anything that sucks the money out of the wallets of the vulnerable, that dangles the unbelievable in front of the susceptible, against wasted optimism.  (Some would argue optimism is never wasted, I disagree but will concede that if not wasted, it is sometimes misplaced.)

A couple of weeks ago in the worst period post-chemo yet, I did a little clinging myself.  In my post chemo recovery I experience a nagging and persistent baseline nausea.  Look, even in my darkest misery thus far, I am keenly aware that others, most others, are suffering chemo effects far worse than I.  Even a couple of trips to Urgent Care in the last couple of months, once by ambulance, have only served to remind me that there are others, many others, in far worse condition.

And yet this ongoing, never ceasing nausea can occasionally get away from me, and on this occasion it led to a closer familiarisation with the family commode, one that I had desperately wanted to avoid.  I have a good friend who refers to that as the "childhood fear of vomiting."  Yup, not gonna deny it.

As I experienced the worst of it, and my spirit took a temporary leave of my wretched body to confer with my psyche, I began to wonder what was the point of all this?  Why put myself through such misery for a fatal disease that will not be cured by treatment?  The chemo is only to control the symptoms.

And it occurred to me that even a false hope, a faint chance of a cure if I believed, might be enough to make the next 90 seconds, if not bearable, then less insufferable.   And the next 90 seconds after that, and the next several minutes after that.  I understood. I needed something on which to focus; on which to cling.  I understood those who desperately embrace that which, given different circumstances, they might reject or at least retain some sense of caution. 

And while I don't begrudge those who take that route as a means, these are the short bursts of helplessness and discomfort and yes, pain that I knew were ahead of me when the verdict was rendered.  What was that line from Poltergeist?  "they're here...."

I don't know what the answer is.  When the pain grows more frequent or perhaps less manageable, what will be my focus point?  I just have to get through this so....  I have to hang on so that....so we can...  So what?  I don't know.  But I do know this.

I do not travel this path alone.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Good Vibrations Gone Bad

My thanks to the many people who have, completely unsolicited, shared endless anecdotes of lives saved and odds beaten by the use of alternative medicines and practices. Most of these are unproven, some disproven, but hey...don't let that stop you. If I were to stroll the hallways at work professing my faith as shamelessly as these folks shill false hope I am quite sure our HR folks would have some thoughts to share on the matter.  "Cease and desist" comes to mind.  

Just to be clear, my family doesn't deal in false hopes. I have seen enough of it in my ministry of palliative care that I wouldn't wish its destructive power on anyone.  It has no place amongst people of faith. It has no place in this house.

There's always a heaping helping of pseudo-spirituality to accompany the good vibrations and seaweed shakes.  For all these well-meaning but misguided folks, and especially who claim to be marshalling the forces of the macrocosm on my behalf, I hate to drop names but...

My Father is kind of in charge of the universe. 

Monday, 20 April 2015

My Cancer Doesn't Suck

A little while ago I posted a YouTube video on why I don't think my cancer "sucks".  That seems to be the going sentiment in my group of social media friends, that Cancer Sucks!, and it has always bothered me.  Until it became personal I couldn't really express how I felt, certainly not in a way that might not have been considered disrespectful of other's feelings.  I hadn't walked in their shoes, and still haven't; each individual's experience is different.

My short video doesn't really do justice to how I feel.  Here's what I mean to say.

  • To say that something "sucks" diminishes it.  The phrase is best applied to little stuff that doesn't really make a difference in the big picture.  Like missing out on low gas prices because you procrastinated on filling up.  That sucks, and it's small stuff.  A diagnosis of cancer IS the big picture, particularly if one, like me, learns that there is no cure in the foreseeable future, and further, with mesothelioma there is no foreseeable future.  It is a fast moving, nasty disease.
  • I think it's too easy to copy and paste a "Cancer Sucks" meme, so it's the lack of effort that not only bothers me, but again, the failure to even scratch the surface of how the disease affects families, friends and co-workers.
  • It's hard to be continually told that my "cancer sucks" from well-meaning friends.  It's not very encouraging or uplifting, and it's not at all how I feel.  Perhaps a way around it for someone reaching out for the first time, unsure and bit nervous, is to ask.  "How do you feel?" or even "How do you feel about all of this?"  I am very appreciative that almost every friend has asked the follow-up question, "how are the kids doing with all this?"  Warms my heart.
  • And finally, for any of us in this home to say "cancer sucks" is like giving in to self-pity and woe.  In this house we openly discuss this disease and all (and I do mean ALL) of its ramifications.  But it doesn't define us and it's not the only thing we talk about.  For example, we all seem to agree that the 2013/2014 Leafs SUCKED!

My cancer doesn't suck and here's why.  It is a reality, an ever-changing new normal, and a fact-of-life we, my family and I, live with every day, unflinching, head on, and one step at a time.  We are not being brave or courageous because in order to be either, you have to first be afraid. We are not afraid.  We don't like any of this, we are not looking forward to some of it, but we are not afraid.  We are neither fighting nor battling cancer; I'd hate for you to read those words in my obituary.  We are living with today's reality today in a way that makes good medical, spiritual and common sense for us.

Tomorrow's reality will come tomorrow, and we'll face it head on, then.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Wrong Thing

Since my diagnosis with a life-threatening disease, I have had many conversations with many friends that usually, at some point, hit the sentiment that my friend is afraid to say the wrong thing.  There are many more unrealized interactions with friends who are so afraid, they can't speak at all.  That's a shame, if ever there was someone to practice on, I assure you it's me.  I believe that even the wrong thing said from the heart, without malice or bad intent, is the right thing.  For me, worse than saying the wrong thing is avoiding me.

But that's me, and that's not true of everyone.

Susan Silk and Barry Goldman, in an op-ed piece for the LA Times, suggest the "ring theory" in choosing one words in all crises - medical, job loss, divorce, death....  Their theory says to comfort in, dump out.

In short, imagine the person of concern in the middle of concentric rings.  It's their job loss, diagnosis, crisis...they can say anything to anyone as they come to grips with their new normal.  In the next ring is a spouse and the kids.  They may have concerns and feel like complaining about the situation, but they can't do it to the person in the middle, only outwards to the next circle.  That may include the employer, and very close friends.  Outwards from there is associates, parishioners, friends and extended family.  And so on.  (This incidentally is the exact order in which we announced my cancer; we actually thought of it in terms of concentric rings and started working from the middle out.)

So while you may wish to tell the afflicted that life isn't fair, it shouldn't happen to such a nice person, etc. that is exactly the wrong thing to say to the wrong person.  Believe me, I know first hand.  That kind of talk comes with an expectation that the person will offer you comfort - which frankly, I haven't the energy to do for outer circle friends and associates.  Offer me, offer my wife and kids words of comfort instead, and save your complaining to the person in the circle further out - your husband who's never met me, for example.

Here's a link to the original article.  If it won't help you in dealing with me, don't worry, you'll have lots of practice as life goes on and reality hits someone you can't avoid.  http://goo.gl/ZOKxr

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

My Cancer, My Fault?

Sometimes I get the feeling people are expecting all sorts of life wisdom from me because I've been diagnosed with a life threatening disease.  I wish they'd asked me when I was in my twenties.  I knew everything then.  But here's how things look to me today...

Something bad happens to a friend or a stranger, and we wonder why.  But then we take it a bit further and wonder, could it happen to me?  And then we construct reasons why it couldn't.  A home invasion on the other side of town - couldn't happen to me because it was that side of town and they were probably involved in drugs or something.  A guy I work with gets laid off - must be his fault, he must have been a bad employee.  Someone gets cancer - they must have smoked.  Has to be, otherwise it could happen to me.  Otherwise this could happen to someone I love.

People tell me I'm such a nice guy and this deadly disease shouldn't be happening to me.  They can't seem to come up with the name of someone to whom it should be happening, when asked.  And yes, I ask.  I know that's cruel.

People throw around the concept of Karma, which doesn't bother me if they're Buddhist or Hindu.  But I have to ask, if you believe in Karma, what do you imagine I did so wrong that earned me an incurable, ugly disease?

Sometimes crap happens to good people.  Sometimes crap happens to bad people.  At some point crap happens to everyone.  Assigning blame won't make you immune.

Accepting your own frail reality might bring you peace.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

My Best Before Date

I'm getting all sorts of good press (if you count Facebook likes and Twitter retweets as "press") for the way I'm seen to be handling my life-threatening illness.  But there needs to be one good friend in everyone's life, and mine called it as he saw it.  "Are you in f*ck'in denial?"

Maybe I am.  Anyone can appear to be a hero before the going gets tough.  We haven't hit the tough part yet with my little problem.

Some people are impressed that I still go to work everyday.  I'm not.  I look at things as if I wasn't one of the privileged, as if I lived in a time or place where there were no social safety nets, no savings, no benevolent bosses.  In a different world I'd have no choice.  In this world, in many ways I don't.

But there is the other side of the coin.  If it happens that I expire before my best before date, then my wife and I will have missed out on the retirement years together.  Is it fair that I don't try to capture at least some of what that might have looked like while I'm still in great shape?

I am putting my resume in at Walmart later today.  I'm going to make a hell of a greeter.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

End of Life Issues in 2015

2015 will be an important year in discussing end of life issues in Canada.  There is a federal election scheduled for October, and almost certainly the "Dying with Dignity" debate will be engaged.  Indeed, two of the major political party leaders have stated that only those candidates whose views match those of their own, that Canadians should have the right to physician assisted suicide, will be eligible to run for their parties.  Those parties are the NDP and the Liberals.  In effect, on this important matter of conscience, the leaders have instructed their members to check their conscience at the door and toe the party line.

In effect, Catholics are not welcome in either the NDP or Liberal party.  Aah, I hear you say, not every Catholic believes in protecting life from conception to natural death.  Aye, there's the rub.  Do you then believe it's cool if not every NDP or Liberal or Conservative actually believes in every plank of the party platform, swearing allegiance publicly but acting quite differently when it suits him?

I think the Catholic Church takes a lot of heat when it reminds it's members of the "rules", political parties not so much.  In truth, no Catholic can in good conscience run for Justin Trudeau's party.  That's too bad for two reasons.  First, Catholics without good conscience will run and that will be seen as tacit endorsement by the church (since everyone knows every Catholic's every word and action is a reflection on the entire church, especially when it's bad), and secondly that the well-formed conscience of any denomination or faith tradition will not be in the room.

It will be our responsibility to watch carefully and rise above the emotion, as the results will effect generations to come.  Powerful testimonial videos and interviews from suffering, terminally ill people will be the propaganda in favour of dying with dignity.  Less easy to find will be video testimony from those who wish to live with dignity until their dying breath.  Same prognosis, same pain, same suffering....different and uncomfortably unpopular expression of truth.