Saturday, 31 January 2015

On the Treadmill

In the years I volunteered with Hospice and did my ministry of charity in palliative care and bereavement, it never failed to surprise me when families and those affected by serious illness would draw me into their confidence, sharing endless facts about their treatments.  They'd rattle off names of drugs and doses, procedures and therapies I'd never heard of but of which they were all too uncomfortably familiar.

I used think of this as being "on the treadmill", when the focus of every day becomes the next test, the next injection, the next procedure, the next laborious minute.  I'd watch people run in place, putting a lot of work into making very slow progress.  Such is the new normal with a life-threatening illness.

The treadmill of medical treatment is the great equalizer in Canada.  Whether you're great or small, when you find yourself in ill-health the basement blood lab looks about the same to everyone.  Some believe that the well-connected get preferential treatment.  I know of at least two well-known and influential politicians and their families who have waited for their turn just like everyone else and I respect them all the more for it.  I also have experienced first-hand exceptional care and concern from the medical community.

A few years back in the year of a milestone birthday I went for a physical, and my family doctor asked me what had prompted me.  I joked that I wanted one last check-up while I was still in warranty.  He shook his head and said, gently, "I've got news for you, Jeremy.  You were never in warranty."

Maybe not.  But I am on the treadmill.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Welcome to Windsor

When people ask me where I'm from I usually respond "I don't know.  My dad was in the air force."  (always go for the laugh)  Truth is we didn't move that much, and my teenage years were spent in Belleville, Ontario.  It's the closest thing I have to a home town.

Just over 21 years ago I was transferred to Windsor.  People can say what they like about Windsor, and usually do, but I've had time to reflect on my adopted home town.  Actually, it's fair to say it's the town that adopted me.

When I arrived ahead of the family and set about finding a home for us all my co-workers couldn't have been more welcoming.  They went out of their way to make sure I had a good meal while I lived in a hotel for a month or two, often in their homes but also recommending decent local restaurants.  Some of them stayed on speed dial after my wife and kids finally joined me in Windsor.  Claire knew she could call any of them to get an opinion or advice on the local scene.  Many of them are close friends even to this day, two plus decades later.

My son's Grade 6 teacher not only met him at the door on his first day of school, but also brought his wife for dinner in my restaurant just so she could meet and welcome me.  Before a few months had passed I had met the movers and shakers, the influential and the notable who today are still my doctor, dentist, friends and associates and who introduced me to key contacts in parliament, city hall, the media, Queen's Park and the local business community.  

We shared that Windsor hospitality when a new young manager got transferred from Toronto and Claire made sure that he was never lacking a home-cooked meal; the standing invitation was his to decline.  Besides, I had asked him to take the job knowing it meant moving to a new community where he had only one friend; me.  When a sales manager from the GTA took a remote job representing Windsor, the first meal he had on the first day of his new job in our town was in our home (it was also the last - he had eyes for my daughter).

That's the Windsor I know.  Good people.  I can't imagine otherwise.  And I've never experienced it anything like it anywhere else.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Five Things about my Cancer

Here are five things you may be thinking, saying or posting regarding my illness.  (I still have trouble calling it cancer, preferring to use the more specific "mesothelioma", or the more generic "illness")  I don't like to read or hear any of these but I'm too polite to call you out on it personally.  So I'm playing my cancer card to tell you how I feel, respectfully of course.

Battling, Fighting, Struggling, Courageous, etc.  Nope.  This cancer is part of me.  It's mine, I own it.  How can I battle something within me, even though it is an uninvited guest?  A house divided against itself cannot stand, and it takes far too much energy to treat this life-threatening illness like a marauding invader.  Don't get me wrong, this period of my life involves some challenges, but please let me focus on what it takes to manage this disease without having to, at the same time, live up to your notions of how I should behave, what level of fearlessness and good humour I should have, and what outward appearance I should portray.

Stupid Cancer, Cancer picked a battle with the wrong guy, we're going to beat this thing, etc.  What?!?  Are we creating a pagan ritual where cancer is personified and takes on a role that is larger than reality?  Is there an evil being called cancer that randomly zaps unsuspecting victims, who then gird their loins and stare down the enemy?  No, it's a disease, each time individually attacking it's host, sometimes with fatal results.  In the case of mesothelioma it is always with fatal results (unless I die of other means, like a car accident, since I do travel about 1000 km a week between work and homes in Niagara and Windsor).

It's not Fair  No it's not.  So what?  To misquote the villain in Star Wars - "you prefer another target, then name the system!"  Who did you think deserves this, or any other life threatening illness, if not me (or the person you love)?  Just the bad people?  Do yourself a favour and read the Book of Job - now there's a guy who didn't deserve what happened to him either.  Oh, and by the way, if you are a Christian please stop using the word "karma".  If you're Hindu or Buddhist, carry on.

5K Runs, T-Shirts, Ribbons and Stunts  Hey, I get that everyone has to deal with this their own way.  I mean no criticism of anyone who's ever dealt with their own diagnosis, or that of a loved one's in this way.  Please appreciate that not everyone wants to make their disease a legacy project, cause, athletic event, book or fundraising and awareness stunt.

I will Keep You in My Thoughts and Prayers  I do hope that long before you learned of my illness I was in your thoughts from time to time.  You know, like remembering a funny joke we shared or a time we got into trouble, etc.  What I need now is your prayers.  And I would like you to pray with me that God's will is done (on earth as it is in heaven.)  If that's beyond you because of your beliefs, lack of belief, refusal to believe or because of human pride, hey, that doesn't mean we're not friends.  It's just means that I'll be praying twice as hard on your behalf.

You are in my prayers.  Peace be with you.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Go Ahead; Boycott Me

I was listening to a great discussion about the future of the professional movie reviewer on the radio this morning.  Seemed fitting, considering the future of talk-radio is just as uncertain (with all due respect to my friends in the radio biz).

Seems social media has spawned thousands of amateur movie critics.  Welcome to our world, folks.  There are untold thousands of amateur restaurant critics, hotel critics, etc. etc.  Unfortunately they all seem to be only to willing to name and shame, but a little reticent when it comes to recognizing and rewarding.

Recently a charity group in Niagara Falls took to singling out and criticizing a store manager at a major food retailer.  His crime?  Enforcing the 8 items per customer limit, clearly posted.  "But it's for charity!" they wined.  "We're feeding families!"  They might also have added, "and we thought for sure your other customers wouldn't mind if they come in for the sale item and it's all gone because we bought it all..."

A little advance work would have gone a long way.  Why not call ahead, meet with the manager, explain the situation and ask for some cooperation.  For all they know they might have received a better deal, rather than trying to sneak past the rules, playing their charity card all the way.

Instead they're publicly offended, calling for boycotts, applying social media.  They'd probably cheer if the chain were to surrender and make a public spectacle of disciplining their manager.

Shame on the charity.  Shame.  And good luck getting a charitable response from retailers in the future.  You've done your clients, and all reputable charities a great disservice.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Little Guy Gets Serious

On my Twitter account I like to describe myself as "a little guy, having a little fun, with a lot of good friends."  It's mostly true, but not every day.  Not today.  Not right now.  I have cancer.  I'm still a little guy with a lot of friends, but I'm pretty sure what's coming up next is not going to be much fun.  I have cancer.

More specifically, I have Mesothelioma, the extremely rare Peritoneal Mesothelioma (I don't like to run with the crowd).  It's not my fault; there is nothing differently I could have done to avoid it.  It's like a random bullet has hit me.

Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos which in my lifetime was believed to be the wonder mineral, except by those who have known differently since WWII but chose to take risks with the lives of a couple of generations of Canadians.  Who knows how I ended up with it?

I have a disease.  I do not have a cause.  There will be no t-shirts, buckets of ice, maudlin Facebook postings, ribbons, wristbands or marathons run in my name.  I am not battling or fighting anything, and I'm not feeling particularly courageous.  Josh Haddon, a comedian with a blog  "The Funny Thing About Cancer" announced his cancer by saying he didn't want sappy Facebook comments and posts, but that he would accept sympathy sex.  I concur with the sentiment although I must respectfully (and gratefully) decline any offers of sympathy sex that may come in.

This is my disease.  I own it.  It's part of me, but let's be clear: it doesn't own me and it does not define me, and it's not how I wish to be remembered and it's for damned sure not the only thing I want to talk about.  It is 100% fatal and is, in this form or in the form of other diseases caused by exposure to asbestos, the number one workplace killer in Canada.  Read this article and listen to John Nolan's story.  There is no safe use of asbestos.

The words I learned when I trained in Hospice to work in palliative care are "he is living with a life-threatening illness."

I am not dying.  I am living.

I am living with a life-threatening illness.  And now, so are you.  If you are a friend, a co-worker, family, parishioner, someone who likes me or loves me or thinks I'm an asshole, it's all the same.  You are living with my life-threatening illness, as much or as little as you'd like to be.

As Bruce Willis said in Die Hard..."welcome to the party, pal."

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Dining with Her Majesty

When I was but a little lad my parents began the arduous task of forming me into a gentleman.  It began with discipline at the dinner table from an early age.  My mother insisted that her children learn to hold our cutlery properly, and eat and drink like ladies and a gentleman (I have two sisters and no brothers).  We spent hours, literally, at the table in conversation.

Mom's guiding stated principle was that her children, if invited to Buckingham Palace to dine with the Queen, would not be an embarrassment to her.  We would know how to hold our cutlery, engage in conversation, ask someone to pass a condiment and to sip our soup.

In my profession it is often that I invite clients out for a meal, attend galas and banquets, and when life is good and I'm not on the road, back in the office sharing lunch with the home team.  I rarely eat alone.  It astounds me when I occasionally see dreadful table manners.  I'm not looking for it, but sometimes it's hard to look away.

I'm not talking about ignoring one's table mates to text, check emails and social media.  I have been that boor and I'm not proud of it.  What surprises me is to find grown young adults who cannot hold a knife and fork properly.  They stab and saw, instead of holding a knife in their right hand and a fork in their left.  They put down the knife, having successfully butchered a hunk of meat to switch the fork to their right hand and then proceed to stuff it into their gaping maw.  Yeah, I know that sounds like I'm being judgemental, but here's the thing.  So are our well-mannered customers, and it could be the thing that loses the sale.

I appreciate this is a concept straight out of the sixties; that one's inability to dine with ladies and gentlemen higher up the social scale could tip the scales in favour of your competition who were raised properly, but it's the unfortunate truth.

It's simple.  Stop and look around the table.  Observe your best client, observe your industry peers or fiercest competition.  Ask yourself if you've been outclassed.

And then get some help, for God's sake.  You never know when an invitation to dine with the Queen will arrive.  I know I'm still waiting.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

It's Not Your Party

Recently I attended a party at a friend's house.  We look forward to them.  He is well connected, a great host who entertains with flair - a real old-fashioned, over-the-top UberHost.  You never know who will be there - the infamous as well as the famous.

On this particular evening a guest of some notoriety and influence was invited.  As I told UberHost, I was surprised to see him, but not surprised to see him there.

Famous Guest is known to have an opinion, but he does good work and is one of the most knowledgeable, kind and gentle men I know.  His connections reach to the very top, but in the several times we've met he never lets on, except for the occasional reference to a phone call or a visit he had with so-and-so.  I always get a bit of a chuckle when I see him on the news or in the paper.

He was accosted by another guest who has a beef with something he said about something.  I truly don't know the details, and Famous Guest handled himself beautifully in the face of her withering attack, as she cornered him and monopolized his time.  UberHost seemed amused.  I was not.

Seems to me there's a time and place to voice an opinion, disagree with an voiced opinion, or challenge a public stance.  Someone else's party isn't either.