Leigha Rock, Dr. Denise Laronde and Santa Danny (December 19, 2017)
Yesterday, Santa Danny went to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver to present a cheque towards oral cancer research at the university and BC Cancer Foundation.
He also visited with the staff in the Faculty of Dentistry, which is where Danny gave his speech during their Research Day in January 2016. It was Dr. Laronde, who invited me, as a cancer patient/survivor to give a speech about oral cancer.
And Leigha Rock is a Ph.D. student (soon to be a doctor!) who I attended a number of evening dental study groups with. In the recent ranking among doctorate students – Leigha ranked 3rd out of 900 in Canada!
I’ll be posting all of the pictures from Santa’s visit when I get back from my Wednesday walk with my friends at Surrey Trekkers.
Wishing everyone an awesome holiday season and a healthy and happy New Year!
It was the morning of Christmas Eve and once again it didn’t feel like Christmas.
It had been years since I last celebrated Christmas – but I remember it well. It was in 1983 at my Mom & Dad’s place in Midland, Ontario. My family always got together to celebrate Christmas at my parent’s place – but I had missed the last couple of Christmases because I was living in Vancouver. My Dad came to the Toronto airport to pick me up – I had yet to see their new home in Midland – but I was more excited about seeing my Mom and brothers and sisters and my niece and nephew. That’s what Christmas was all about to the St. Andrews family – being together and enjoying our own special traditions. Some of those traditions included arriving on Christmas Eve and spending the night – so we could all get up together – just like when we were all growing up at our home in Oshawa and then later in Georgetown.
At my parents home in Georgetown, my Dad had built a wonderful bar in the rec room and he would wear a Christmas hat while he served drinks from his perch on a stool – behind the bar – which he considered “sacred” ground. You NEVER went behind the bar when Dad was on duty – the words “self-serve” did not exist in his bar. So as we arrived on Christmas Eve, the first thing you heard when you entered their house was the laughter and shouting from downstairs. A few hugs and kisses with Mom and then you would head downstairs to reunite with the clan.
Early on Christmas morning – probably no later than 6:00 AM, my Dad would be the first one to awake and ready to act as Santa. We would all gather around the Christmas Tree in the family room and my Dad would give each person one gift to open – beginning with my Mom. Everyone would watch quietly as each person opened their gift – and then there would be loud outbursts of “ooh’s and ahh’s”. My brothers, sisters and I would then prepare a large breakfast for everyone – and let Mom have the day off from the kitchen. Immediately after breakfast we would all gather at the Christmas Tree and continue to open all the gifts.
About mid-morning, Dad would announce that the bar was open. Later, Mom would bring a platter of Scotch Eggs for us to snack on. And then about mid-afternoon, we would all gather in the dining room for a sumptuous turkey dinner. Later, my brother-in-law Brian – a professional photographer, would get everyone together for a family portrait – which we would all receive framed copies. Then some of us would start to leave to go to our respective homes – which always made my Mom cry. She was happiest when she had every one of us together – as a family – and always pleaded with us – “Do you have to go so soon?”
So, on this morning of Christmas Eve, I was having a coffee and looking at one of those family portraits – and I got homesick. Homesick because I missed my Mom and Dad – and family – and those magical Christmases we shared together. And I missed not having that special feeling that I used to get every year – at Christmas. Two years ago, I went to Costco and bought a ton of outdoor Christmas lights – and decorated all of the hedges, evergreens, and fence – I had just finished my cancer treatments and didn’t know how many more Christmases I would be around for – and desperately hoping that the lights would bring back that special Christmas feeling. But it didn’t.
Last week I wrote a blog about buying a complete Santa Claus outfit – so I could visit all of the patients at the Fraser Valley Cancer Centre – where I was treated – and where I have been volunteering every week for the past 16 months. And as I made my way through the various clinics – almost all of the patients’ eyes would light up with excitement. I was hearing voices from all sides – things like: “Hi Santa!” and “Merry Christmas Santa” and “Hey Santa, can we get a picture of you with us?” Within five minutes that special feeling returned – and I was a kid again. I didn’t rush home and decorate the house with lights though; in fact, within hours of leaving the Cancer Centre, I lost the feeling – which made me really sad.
So on the morning of Christmas Eve, I decided to get dressed as Santa Claus, again – and go to the Cancer Centre and to Surrey Memorial Hospital. As soon as I walked into the hospital lobby a woman ran up to me, pleading, “Oh Santa, could I get a picture with you and my Mom?” I said “Sure – Ho, Ho Ho!” The mother slowly walked up to me – she was in her patient gown and was wearing a Christmas hat. I gave her a hug and was posing with her for the picture – when her daughter suddenly said: “Mom, why are you crying?” Before the mother could answer, I squeezed her closer to me and asked her why she was crying. She stared up at me and with tears rolling down her cheek, she cried, “Because I never thought I would ever meet Santa Claus!” I kissed her on the cheek and whispered into her ear “I will always be with you”.
I toured the Cancer Centre and then walked down the hall to the adjoining Surrey Memorial Hospital and took the elevator up to 51 North – the Oncology Floor. I had been a patient there several times during my cancer treatments – when I was at my lowest point. I walked into each of the patients’ room and wished them all a Happy Holiday. On my way back to the elevator, I noticed a Palliative Care sign over the entrance to another wing of the floor. “This is where the very sick and/or terminally ill patients are”, I thought to myself. I walked into the ward and all of the medical staff were surprised to see Santa. After posing for several photos I asked if it would be okay to say hello to the patients. They replied in unison “Of course you can – you’re Santa Claus!”
I made my way around the ward; entering each of the rooms and then holding the hand of each of the patients. I didn’t know what to say but what suddenly burst out of my mouth was “I know that you’ve always believed in me, and I just wanted to drop by to say hello”. One patient – an older man – was wearing a Christmas hat and said that he had awoken that morning excited with the hope that maybe a friend or family member might drop by for a visit. But none had – until Santa Claus. He held my hand for the longest time and just stared at me and then muttered: “Thank you Santa – Merry Christmas”. I turned to leave his room – my eyes were filling with tears and I didn’t want him to see me cry. After all, he believed in Santa Claus.
And now so do I.
Santa Danny in the Chemo Room, December 24, 2012
Today’s Tune (from Danny’s library of purchased music):
On April 11, 2017, at 2:00 PM, I walked on the edge of the CN Tower EDGE WALK in Toronto, Ontario. It was almost the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life! Almost!
I had traveled to Toronto to attend the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer – Innovative Approaches to Optimal Cancer Care in Canada conference (April 7 & 8th) at the Harbour Castle Hotel (as a patient advocate) and had extended my trip a few days to do this, as it was the second last item on my Bucket List of things to do.
The adventure took ninety minutes – with thirty minutes actually walking around the outside of the tower and doing various poses for the camera. There were two staff members accompanying us at all times – one giving instructions and the other taking pictures and a video – which were included in the price of the package. It was definitely, one of the most exciting things that I have ever done in my life.
UPDATE June 1, 2017: Here is a link to the four video clips of my walk.
Nobody knows when it happened – but everyone knew that it had snowed during the night. It’s an excellent example of the legal term ‘circumstantial evidence’ – although you didn’t see it actually snowing during the night – when you awoke and looked out the window – you accepted it as a ‘fact.’
But it seldom snows in Vancouver. At least not like it has in the past three days! In Seattle, yesterday was the second largest snowfall ever recorded in the past seventy years! I’ve used my snowblower four times in the past two days – and now another five to six centimeters of snow this morning!
I’ve been waiting for the ‘right’ time to resume my writing. I can’t remember a year in my life when I had more hurt and disappointment than the past year (2016). Usually, I bounce right back from setbacks but lately, I’ve found it takes much longer. Life can sometimes seem to be like trying to put toothpaste back into its tube or feathers back into a pillow.
I recently returned from Montreal, where I had attended a meeting of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, Measurement Steering Committee – Person-Centred-Perspective. Our committee’s five-year term ends in March 2017 but the mandate of CPAC has just been renewed for another five years by the Government of Canada. I am hoping to be invited to serve as a patient advocate on one of the new committees.
So, now that I am back at the keyboard – and anxious to reveal all of my ‘uppers and downers’ of last year – where should I begin?
The Ides of March had long stopped marching, and I had finally reconciled my heart and mind to the notion that ‘you can’t look back.’ I had returned to the land of Ontario only to find that everyone had left without leaving a Dear John or whatever type of note that one usually expects. Even little Danny disappeared in the end; unable to keep up with his older and wiser self. But ‘hurt’ is only ‘healed’ with time and wine; and besides, it was good to get back to Holly and my other families.
I decided to cease using social media for the Summer and rent a cabin somewhere on the Sunshine Coast with hopes of ‘rescuing the novel that had been held hostage by yours truly, a procrastinating writer. A few of the rentals appeared perfect but were expensive, or they didn’t allow pets. So we stayed at home to write the book.
And every morning I got up early to begin writing, but it was impossible to focus on anything but the shadows of September racing through my brain until I decided to fight back – one more time – but this time with no secrets! Those who wish to know will follow; others will please leave quietly without slamming the door.
Now, as much as I try to remain neutral on the pros and cons of Facebook, it is an ideal platform to communicate with friends and family en masse as opposed to contacting each person individually. And sometimes, posting a few pictures helps with the update or storyline. So I decided to use Facebook to update everyone on the upcoming shadows of September – with hopes of being able to write a blog later to summarize with the details and hopefully, a happy ending.
But I purposefully delayed writing this blog until today, October 1, 2016 – because it was easier to keep the source of the shadows hidden in a dark hole, covered by my fears, concerns, and regrets. And it’s also because I’m just a little superstitious – as in ‘break a leg!’.
So, dear reader, I will be writing about the weird Shadows of September with regular updates over the coming days and weeks. And the final installment might surprise you! So why not pour a drink, avoid rolling in your rocking chair while I lead you through the shadows of September.
Friday, September 9th
Today I had a Contrast CT Scan of my lungs to see if the spots and shadow areas had grown or remained stable. For most cancer patients, this is a time to be nervous. Not that the procedure is unpleasant – it’s not. It’s just that sometimes you have to wait a few weeks before you get the results from the oncologist.
I arrived at the Cancer Centre in Surrey an hour before my appointment so I could visit with my many friends on staff. I told them that I wouldn’t be able to return for social visits anymore because of ongoing issues and concerns I was having with the BC Cancer Agency. I resigned my position as a volunteer last December because of the increasing concerns I had re patient care and a respectful workplace environment – with both the Agency, Surrey Memorial Hospital and the Fraser Health Authority. So social visits would be out, but I would stay in contact through Facebook and personal emails. But it was hard; my healthcare gal and guy pals are like family to me, and I love each and every one of them. And they return the love – times ten!
After the scan, I returned home to wait nervously for the results. The appointment with Dr. K., my oncologist (and hero) wasn’t until September 21st, but I had lots of things to keep me busy during the wait.
Sunday, September 11th
Holly and I were alone, watching the Blue Jays game when the chest pains started and I knew that something bad was about to happen! I was having difficulty catching my breath, but that was mostly because of the Fear that it was another attack. I couldn’t determine if it was my heart because the pain surrounded my chest.
I was buckled in pain and tried to get up from the recliner but got dizzy and had to sit down again. Holly sensed something was wrong and jumped up on my lap and started to lick my face. Holly is not a ‘licker’ – to anyone or anything but herself; so this was scary – I’ve always believed that animals are much more instinctive than humans. And Holly sure looked worried!
I slowly walked to the front door and unlocked it and then returned to the recliner and sat down. I popped a couple of Aspirin into my mouth and began chewing them as I called 911. I told the dispatcher I thought I had a heart attack.
Within minutes, three uniformed firemen came bursting through the door and surrounded my chair. Holly was terrified and was trying to both protect me and hide from the huge men. Then two paramedics came into the room and within another minute they were lifting me onto the stretcher which they had wheeled into the kitchen. All the time that they were working on me, I was trying to calm Holly, but she was now beyond terrified.
They wheeled me through the front door, and the last thing Holly saw was me giving my house keys to one of the five giants who then locked her into the house alone and petrified.
As the ambulance left my driveway, I worried about leaving Holly behind. Dog people will understand – others will just roll their eyes.
Danny at Langley Memorial Hospital – September 14th – Photo by Nurse Cratchet
To be continued.
The paramedics wheeled me into Emergency and stayed with me until the nurse arrived. My friend Norm used to be a paramedic with the ambulance service, and he told me that you needed to have empathy rather than sympathy for patients or you’d never be able to do your job. Which doesn’t mean that you didn’t care – it just meant that you had to be able to keep your emotions in check. And although I agree, I could also see the concerned expression on the paramedics’ faces – they made me feel like I was their Dad.
My mind started wandering down the bumpy road of fear; maybe it’s the spots on my lungs. That might explain why the pain was on both sides of my chest. (I hate it whenever I worry about something; it always takes me to that ‘what if it’s Cancer?’ mind game.).
I was dying of thirst – my mouth felt as though it was full of sawdust. But I couldn’t have any liquid before the ultrasound test, and that wouldn’t be until sometime on Monday.
It was early afternoon when the lady in the Ultrasound Department showed me the culprit on the screen.
“OMG!” I thought, “it looks like a baby ALIEN!” (as in the horror flick starring Sigourney Weaver.).
I jumped up and down on the gurney screaming “What is it? What is it? Please get it out of me! What is it?”
“Relax, Grandpa. I’ll tell you if you’ll stop hugging me!” she giggled.
I slowly relaxed my arms and sheepishly muttered a “sorry!”
My eyes were searching her uniform for a name tag, but I couldn’t see one. It was at that precise moment that I caught her eyes looking at what my eyes were staring at, and that made me blush. (Danny note: are you still with me?)
“They will probably suggest having it removed.”
“What, the alien?”, I asked.
“No Pops, your gall bladder. They can remove it and then you won’t have any more problems,”
I tightened my arms around her and began thanking her for telling me that it wasn’t cancer. And although I still had to wait for the results of my September 9th CT Scan, at least this wasn’t associated with my lungs.
“When can I get this operation done?” I asked.
“Lots of people get it done while there here,” she replied.
“Great! I’ll be able to get this done while I’m here but will I still be able to do the Terry Fox 10km Run/Walk on Sunday, September 18th? I would only be walking and could always do the 1km or 5km route instead of the 10km option. What do you think?” I asked.
“Your doctor and surgeon will discuss this with you when you get back to Emergency.”
A few hours later I saw a doctor who advised me that I had a fever and they wanted to keep me in the hospital until everything was back to normal. They would do the surgery in four to six weeks, which will give my body a chance to recover from this episode.
“However, you cannot have any fat in your diet until you have the surgery. Otherwise, the gallstone could start moving around again.”
“Will I be able to do the 10km walk this Sunday?” I asked.
“We will have to wait until we get your fever under control.”
I was finally able to drink, but I couldn’t have anything but clear fluids and jello for a couple of days. But how would I ever manage to survive without fat for six weeks? Even ENSURE and other food supplements have fat.
On the second day, they moved me to a private room on the second floor. It’s where a nurse took the above picture.
I did a lot of thinking while in the hospital. The next shadow of September was on the 18th, and it wasn’t just the Terry Fox Run/Walk that worried me. No, it was the day before the 18th that I’ve always dreaded the most.
To be continued.
I didn’t check my cell phone or notebook for messages during my first two days in captivity but started posting updates on my Facebook page. (Some of my friends and family are not on social media, so I am repeating much of what I’ve already written.)
I began receiving messages of support, and I tried to reply to each one, but my mind was not on my gall bladder or the surgery. I was missing my Holly and knew that she was probably still grieving the kidnapping of her Daddy. Dogs are different than humans – they love unconditionally – they cannot stop loving you – ever!
It was nice having a private room. My previous hospital stays were during my cancer treatments seven years ago – and they were in semi-private rooms. At the time, I didn’t realize that my health coverage had undergone significant ‘clawbacks’ from General Motors of Canada – the employer I spent 30 years working for and retired from in 2005. A few weeks after my last radiation treatment, I got an invoice from the hospital for the semi-private room – I was no longer covered and had to pay the difference between a regular, four-patient room and semi-private.
Wednesday, September 14th
Today, my captors released me from the hospital. All that I could think of was seeing my Holly Golightly and how excited she will be when she sees me come through the door. I’m sure that she thought that I’d never be coming home again and I was excited about surprising her.
I was still weak because I hadn’t had any food since Sunday morning. All of the homemade soup that I had stored in my freezer contained fat, so the only non-fat food I had was 0% yogurt. But how could I survive on just 0% yogurt for six weeks, while waiting for the surgery to remove my gallbladder?
And how would I ever be able to do the Terry Fox 10km Walk for Cancer Research on Sunday, which was just four days away! I had people that made financial pledges of support, and I wasn’t about to quit.
But Holly was all that I cared about now. Everything else could wait. I’m going to give her 100% of my attention, with hopes of getting her forgiveness. She is almost ten years old and very loving. But she is spoiled and stubborn – just the way I raised her and I know that after she gets over the excitement of seeing me alive, she will probably give me the cold shoulder and sulk for a few hours.
To be continued.
The pier in White Rock, BC
Every once in a while, if you’re lucky enough to be walking on the Pier in White Rock, you’ll notice an older man with a walker. I used to see him when I took my early morning walks, and I always smiled at him because he reminded me of someone.
He always appeared to be sad or lonely or maybe he was just tired of ‘being’ sociable to people who never, ever returned the nod or smile. I guessed that he was all alone in this world – most of his loved ones had probably passed.
But a few of his friends remain to keep him company, as he sits on the last bench at the end of the Pier.
At first, he sits and just stares out at the ocean – as though stranded on an isolated island. And then he pulls out a crumpled, paper bag from his pocket and pours a handful of seeds in his hand and then he waits.
I watched him as he silently waited. I walked closer to see what he was doing, and it didn’t seem to bother him. His dark eyes and weathered skin suggested he had spent most of his life in the outdoors. Maybe, he was a retired logger or fisherman?
“Good morning, Pops!” I waited for an answer, but he just kept staring out at the ocean. I shrugged and started to walk away and then I heard his faint voice.
“I’m here! I’m here!” he whispered. But he wasn’t whispering to me. And then a pigeon suddenly appeared on his outstretched hand and began to eat the seeds. Within a minute, at least ten birds were sitting on his lap, shoulders, legs and even on the bench beside him.
He was now smiling and had a youthful sparkle in his eyes. And although I haven’t seen that nice man for many months, I’m sure that the pigeons haven’t given up on his coming back to the Pier, so neither will I. Besides, maybe he had an illness to deal with, too.
I envied him for that moment and couldn’t wait to get home to hug my Holly!
And that is the way it has always been for Holly and me. We always miss each other and are always excited to see each other, regardless of how long we’re apart. And we don’t give up on each other!
So I can’t think of any other way to describe how Holly met me when I got home from the hospital and walked through the front door! It makes me cry inside each time I think about how she was so excited! I was afraid that she was going to hyperventilate!
She got lots of treats and hugs and kisses for the next three days, and she would never leave my side for a second! I still feel guilty about how terrified she was when those bullies came to take her Daddy away. But her dreams were answered – because now her Daddy’s home!
Holly Golightly hiding behind Danny
I now had to gain strength for the Terry Fox Cancer walk on Sunday the 18th. I wanted to be there at least for the Start of the run/walk, and then I could mingle around the area for an hour or so before going back home to bed.
But first I had to deal with September 17th – the day in the month that I dread most.
To be continued.
Saturday, September 17th
It was on this day in 2010 that I called my dear Ma, who was in the hospital, that I was coming to Toronto to see her. Her voice was quite feeble, and I know that she was tired when we said our ‘goodbyes,’ but I never dreamed that I would get a phone call six hours later telling me that she had passed away.
She died without knowing the reason that I had not come to Ontario for the past 18 months for a visit. I hadn’t seen her since early 2009, shortly before being diagnosed with Stage 3 Throat Cancer. I never told anyone in my family that I had cancer because I didn’t want the news to get back to my mom, who wouldn’t have been able to handle the news.
And although Ma didn’t have cancer – she died with a broken heart. She was the last of her brothers and sisters to survive. And all of my Dad’s brothers and sisters are also gone.
At her funeral in Oshawa, I said my goodbye and it was the first ‘Shadow’ created in my September calendar. It was also the first time I cursed having Cancer. It prevented me from seeing my Ma for the last 18 months of her life. But the one thing that keeps haunting me is the day several months after my treatments had ended, that Ma called me and asked me if the reason I hadn’t been down to visit her was that I couldn’t afford the airplane ticket? Could she send me the money to pay for the trip? She said she wouldn’t tell anyone in the family.
I could hardly talk at the time, but it sure made me cry inside. I have never let my Mom pay for even coffee – she and Dad made enough sacrifice for us over the years.
I still cry inside wishing that I could have been selfish enough to tell my Ma about my Cancer because I know that she would have given me a hug and told me that everything was going to be alright. And I would have believed her, and it would have made me braver.
But I didn’t have to be too brave during my three months of very painful treatments because of the outstanding care I received at the BC Cancer Agency in Surrey, BC. They became my family, and so too, did my many actor friends in the Lower Mainland. The support that I received led me to become a volunteer at the Cancer Centre in 2011.
Sunday, September 18th
I awoke at 3:30 am in the morning. My doctor didn’t think that it was a good idea to try the Terry Fox 10km Run/Walk, but I said that I wanted to at least be there for the START. I’ve always hated the idea of quitting – lots of people at the Cancer Centre encouraged me not to, and I wasn’t going to let a silly gallbladder prevent me from attending this important fundraiser for Cancer Research.
I said goodbye to Holly and drove to Douglas Park, in downtown Langley. I stopped at Tim’s to get a coffee and arrived at the park at 7:45 am. The Run/Walk Start wasn’t until 10:00 am, so I wandered around taking pictures and talking to the other early birds.
Danny at Douglas Park, Langley BC September 18, 2016
To be continued.
I had just stopped a passerby to take a picture of me standing at the START / FINISH line when I noticed her! Could it be Karen? I walked closer to get a better look.
Yes, it was Karen M., a former St. John’s Therapy Dog Program volunteer, who used to visit the Cancer Centre in Surrey every Wednesday morning with Laura, her care dog. Later, she began including Laura’s pup Jacob in their weekly visits, and patients and staff always enjoyed seeing the three of them. Karen is a recovering cancer patient as well.
I walked up to her and asked her if she recognized me. I’ve had lost a lot of weight in the four years since I last saw her and at first she didn’t know me – until she heard my voice. We hugged, and she introduced me to her husband and Jacob’s pup. Yes, Jacob now had a son! Laura’s a grannie!
“Wow! Where has time gone?” I asked, “and where is Laura and how’s she doing?”
Karen said that Laura was home and that she was doing fine.
Danny with Karen’s family and Jacob and his pup/son.
Karen brought me up-to-date on her life and told me that she had a Team registered each year at theTerry Fox Run/Walk in Langley (Langley City and Langley Township).
She introduced me to Fred, a new cancer patient currently undergoing radiation treatments for brain cancer.
He and his wife were still trying to come to grips with the fact that Fred has cancer and the difficulty they had in remaining hopeful. I told them my ‘40%’ story and how I was still here seven years later! I also told them I believe cancer is also difficult for a patient’s caregiver/, family and friends because they feel so helpless; wishing that they could take away our pain and fears. Cancer can be a ‘roller coaster’ of emotions, and you need to remain hopeful.
I also told them I believe cancer is also very challenging for a patient’s caregiver/, family and friends because they feel so helpless; wishing that they could take away our pain and fears. Cancer can be an emotional ordeal and can feel like a ‘wild, roller coaster’ ride. Bottom line: you need to remain optimistic.
I gave Fred my card and told him to call me anytime he wanted to talk.
Fred, Karen and Danny – cancer warriors and best friends forever!
We hugged, and I wished them all well and headed over to the Dedication Wall, where you could write the name of the person you were going to be walking for in the Run/Walk.
I asked Marg, one of the event volunteers if she would take a video clip of me putting my heart on the wall. Click on link below to view:
I then walked back to my car and had some quiet time alone with my thoughts about my Mom. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love from everyone and it made me miss being a volunteer at the Cancer Centre in Surrey. But that will be my next blog – I’ve got to finish this blog first.
At 10:00 am, everyone gathered at the START/FINISH line, but I stayed at the back of the group because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to walk the 10km, much less the 5km or 1km alternate route options.
I figured that I would get a passerby to take a picture of me at the START line – to prove that I made it to the event. Lots of people were responsible for saving my life, and this was my chance to give something back, so I wasn’t going to quit without at least walking part of the 1km route. Besides, I had raised over $250 from my sponsors: Andy F., Hillary F., and Loren J.
One other person was standing there, and I asked him if he would take my picture with my cell phone camera.
“Sure” offered the kind stranger, “if you’ll take mine?”
I am the world’s worst photographer, and I find it difficult to understand how my LG phone operates, let alone this man’s ultra sophisticated iPhone. [My previous phones were Blackberry, but they didn’t have a touch screen and only a limited number of Apps.]
“Okay,” I answered, “but can you show me how it works?”
To be continued.
We posed for each other and then introduced ourselves.
“Hi, My name is Danny.” (I wasn’t wearing a name tag, but he was.)
We exchanged names and learned that we both had much in common; we were both cancer patients and neither of us were able to walk in the event.
“Well, why don’t we try walking for a couple of blocks? We can always turn back if we get too tired,” we both suggested at the same time! So we decided to walk the 1km route.
I am not sure how long it took Howard and me to finish the race, but at least we finished! We were standing at the FINISH line and took each other’s picture. We asked a passerby to take Howard’s picture because the ones that I shot were less than stellar. The person also took a picture of us together.
Howard and Danny – Best Friends Forever!
We then headed over to the stage area and were presented with our certificates and ribbon. Howard introduced me to Marg, one of the event volunteers. I told her that I used to volunteer at the Cancer Centre in Surrey and missed it very much.
Danny, Marg, and Howard with ribbon and certificate!
I was too tired to stay for the rest of the festivities and headed home to Holly. I spent the rest of the week in bed, resting for the next event on my schedule, namely the Push For Your Tush 10km Run/Walk on Sunday, September 25th at Jericho Beach, Vancouver.
But there was one more thing on my schedule that really had me worried – my September 21st appointment with my oncologist to get the results from the September 9th Contrast CT Scan on my lungs.
Wednesday, September 21st
I will be writing a short blog about the results from my CT Scan in a few days. But the visit to the Cancer Centre in Surrey was a chance to see all of my friends for hugs. These people are family to me, and I love and miss them very much.
Sunday, September 25th
Lui Passaglia & Danny at the PUSH Walk at Jericho Beach
I arrived at Jericho an hour before the 10:00 am START and walked around the site as volunteers were busy setting up tents and booths. I went over to the Registration Desk, signed in and received my Survivor’s T-shirt.
Push For Your Tush was my second Walk for Colon Cancer, so it was great to see some familiar faces from last year’s event. Here is the link to that event:
I also noticed that BC Cancer Foundation now had a booth for the event and I wandered over to introduce myself to the gentleman who was setting up the booth. He appeared familiar, but I wasn’t sure if I knew him.
BC Cancer Foundation was there to support the walk.
“Hi, my name is Daniel, and I used to be a volunteer at the BC Cancer Agency,” I said. “It’s great to see the Foundation supporting this awesome event! We shook hands and exchanged business cards.
I read his name and then cringed!
“Were you at the Taste For Your Life Gala at the Terminal City Club last Spring?” I asked.
“Yes, I was,” he replied.
I cringed again.
He would have seen my presentation! I cringed again and muttered that I should get going. There was little point in explaining why I no longer volunteer, but I did tell him that I had significant concerns regarding patient care and that I was working on a critical analysis of the BC Cancer Agency.
I then visited the various booths in the area. I bought three ‘Tara’ bracelets – crafted by a mother whose daughter had passed from colon cancer. I gave away the one I bought last year to an old friend in Ontario.
Danny buying three ‘Tara’ cancer bracelets – he wears them every day!
We hugged and then I headed over to see my friend Lui Passaglia, a colon cancer survivor. He introduced me to his grandsons both of whom are football players! (Lui is a legendary, BC Lion football player.)
Lui’s grandsons, Lui and Danny discussing football
It was nearing the 10:00 am START, and I was already exhausted. I hadn’t had anything to eat except 0% Fat Yogurt since being released from the hospital on September 15th. I decided that I would only participate in the Start of the event and then just walk to the first marker.
Cancer survivors cutting the ribbon at the start of Run/Walk.
Danny walked with Mary & her family to the 1 KM – her husband took this picture – Good Luck Mary! You’re in good hands with BC Cancer Foundation!
Lui’s Team even had kids and dogs pushing for increased awareness of Colon Cancer
Is that the half-way marker? Whoopee!
It was an awesome day. I met some new friends and was able to complete the whole 5 km Walk! However, I was the last person to cross the FINISH line and most of the people had left. I asked a passerby to take my picture before they took the balloons away.
Danny arrives at the half-way marker!
Danny made it to the FINISH but most of the people had already gone. But he did the complete 5 km!
Today was going to be very special – I had everything ready except for checking my computer for new emails. Most nights I go to bed early but not before I check for phone and email messages. But sometimes I am too tired or just plain forgetful, so when I checked for my email messages today at 4:10 AM, I was saddened to learn that my friend Finley, who had been fighting cancer for the past several months, had passed. He was a volunteer at the Cancer Centre in Surrey and several hospices and palliative care facilities in the Lower Mainland.
I had just fed Holly her breakfast and decided to leave a little earlier for my daily walk on the Promenade in White Rock. On Fridays mornings, my friend Norm and I meet for coffee at the Whitby’s Coffee House, across from the beach. We usually get there by 8:30 AM and stay until 10:00 AM. And that’s when I usually start my walk on Fridays.
But today I began my walk at 6:30 AM because at that time there usually aren’t as many walkers/joggers, and I didn’t want anyone to see the tears that were streaming down my face as I thought about my dear buddy Finley. Some people can hold in their emotions – I can’t. I used to try to ‘man up’, and conceal my inner feelings but I don’t do that anymore – life’s too short. If you don’t like to see a 66-year-old crying, find another place to walk!
My daily walks usually last for an hour but today I was just going to walk until it was time to meet Norm. Norm was also a good friend with Finley, and I knew that he too, would be sad at the news of Finley’s passing.
I usually listen to music while I walk – but not today. I didn’t want to enjoy anything today – I just wanted to think about my buddy.
My thoughts took me to the day I met Finley and Claire at the Cancer Centre during one of my volunteer shifts. At first, they were both a little shy but after a few minutes, we were all friends. It’s easy to become friends with other people who share a common interest, but this friendship was different.
Now most people who know me, know that I am a hugger – I like to hug. If I know you – and like you – I’ll probably want to hug you. But if you’re a guy, I will probably wait until we’re good friends because some men find the act of embracing too “girlish.” But within a minute of first meeting Finley, I reached out my arms to him, and we hugged!
The other thing that I do when I hug someone special is this: I whisper a few words in their ear – something from my heart. If a person has just learned that they have cancer – I whisper words that will both comfort them and give them hope. If it’s a friend who appears sad, then I’ll try to find something uplifting to whisper. But I will never ‘whisper and tell.’ My particular hug/whisper is for you and you alone – it’s a secret that I’ll never share with others.
So there I was hugging Finley and whispering in his ear at our first meeting! Everyone at the table suddenly stopped talking and stared at the two of us – embracing like life-long buddies. And when I looked up at Claire I saw a tiny spark in her eyes – the type of look that only comes from a proud parent or partner. She never asked me what I had whispered to Finley, but I knew by her smile that she knew what I was doing.
Now, the one thing that volunteers do when they get together for coffee is talk about current events and work-related stuff. We also share many personal stories, and there are many concerning Claire and Finley that are memorable. Here are a few of my favorite ‘Claire and Finley’ stories.
But first, let me clarify something about Claire and Finley – Claire is married to Bob – although it’s no secret that they both loved Finley as though he was their son. And although Finley was 35 years old and born without the ability to speak, it never stopped him from communicating in his special way. And there was always a sparkle in his eyes whenever he made eye contact with you.
So here are some of the stories about Finley, but I know that there are countless more. I have already received several email messages about his many contributions from patients and staff from the BC Cancer Agency, Surrey Memorial Hospital and several Lower Mainland hospices.
Claire and Finley were also volunteers with St. John’s Ambulance and were recently awarded both a Gold and Silver medals for their dedicated service. I am glad that he was still alive to receive the awards, but he probably wondered why everybody was making such a fuss about him. And although it wasn’t an award, I gave Finley my four-year volunteer pin on the last day I volunteered at the Cancer Centre in December 2015.
Claire and Finley’s neighbor Donna recalls Finley licking her tears away as she was trying to come to grips with her cancer – and credits him with giving her the strength to continue.
At the cancer center and hospices, Finley was welcomed by staff, visitors, and patients.
One patient said that was the only time they felt whole again was patting and speaking to Finley.
Finley was asked by another patient to come back again so they would have a reason to ‘live.”
And there was one palliative patient who had been very distressed at the thought of dying alone and was only able to calm down when he met Finley.
But my favorite story is the one Claire recanted about a patient’s family member greeting Finley and her at the door when they arrived at the hospice and asked us to see their Grandpa, who had just died. But before Claire could respond, Finley went over to the bed and licked the dead man’s hand.
Finley then did something memorable – he turned to the window and looked up into the sky. Claire, the daughter, and the son-in-law didn’t think it was remarkable until the grandchild cried out “Finley sees Grandpa’s soul leaving!”
The family asked Claire to have Finley accompany Grandpa to the awaiting hearse.
And as the funeral coach pulled away, Finley stood by the little boy’s side as he cried out “Bye Poppy!”
And I’m pretty sure that Finley was crying his heart out too.
Goodbye, dear friend. You won’t be alone – Doug and Captain are there to show you around.
UPDATE: Saturday, July 23, 2016
This has been one of the most painful stories that I have ever written. Finley was one of my dearest and closest friends, and his passing has left a legion of fans brokenhearted.
My heart goes out to Claire and Bob – I know your pain.
Dedicated to Claire and to The St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog Program.
Okay, so maybe I haven’t hugged you (yet). But here are a few of the reasons why I hug people, dogs, cats, horses, cows and even the rare, elusive, flying squirrel that I sometimes see in my backyard (although not so much since I stopped mixing Scotch with Orange Juice).
Editor’s Note: Danny doesn’t drink alcohol very often – he just likes taking shots at Scotch drinkers).
I have found that people who don’t like hugging are usually the kind of individuals that I have nothing in common. It’s proven to be an efficient and reliable ‘friend filter’.
It’s a good way of checking to see if the person that you’re hugging is wearing body armour or a concealed gun.
It’s sometimes needed and can feel more sincere and meaningful than other means of greeting friends and family.
It’s the perfect thing to do to that cop who has just pulled you over for speeding. The cop will still give you the ticket, but there’s a good chance that he’ll want to be your friend on Facebook.
However, you might not agree with my rationale – so let’s look at what the science experts are saying about ‘hugging.’ The following is a (paste and copy) of an article I read in the Vega One newsletter this morning. It gives the scientific argument for hugging, and it’s quite compelling – so here it is – read it and start hugging!
Both romantic and platonic touch can be very healthy. Cuddling releases all the feel-good hormones we know and love: dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin. All of these increase our sense of well-being and happiness, and today we’re going to highlight the main touch hormone: oxytocin.
Your New Favorite “O”: Oxytocin
Hugging and cuddling initiates the release of the hormone oxytocin – which is linked to social bonding (especially between mother and child). But it also has other health benefits.
Here are the top four benefits of oxytocin:
Oxytocin helps to reduce our blood pressure and stress levels—almost instantaneously.
Oxytocin is anti-inflammatory
Oxytocin brings us closer to those we know and love.
Oxytocin enhances your overall well-being—beyond just a five-second hug.
In the majority of research, it appears that these benefits happen when you are familiar and trust the person you are touching. Hugging a stranger is likely not to have the same healthy benefits.
Ways to Get Your Cuddle in:
Hug a friend!
Next time you see a good friend or family member, give them a good, solid hug. You’ll both feel more connected.
Find a cat café
Can’t have a pet in your apartment? Cat Cafés are popping up around the world. Why NOT sip a cappuccino while you pet a furry friend?
Volunteer at a pet shelter
Besides granting immediate, unconditional love, cuddling with a furry friend is bound to make you feel good. Most pet shelters are in need of long-term volunteers. Committing to walking, socializing and caring for pets until they are adopted helps everyone out.
Get a massage
Not only will getting a massage make your sore muscles feel better, but the massage can also stimulate the release of oxytocin.
Take a warm bath
Don’t feel like being social? Pour yourself a hot bath and let yourself relax. Give yourself a shoulder massage. Phew—feeling better already!
So now that I’ve given you proof – beyond a reasonable doubt – that hugging will not only brighten your spirits – it’s free, and there aren’t any calories. So why are you still sitting there? Get up and run out into the street and hug the first passer-by that you meet!
We were playing ‘voice-mail tag’ for a few days, but I finally got a hold of him yesterday, while waiting for my appointment at the Cancer Centre in Vancouver. We hadn’t seen each other for about five weeks, and I missed our weekly talks over coffee. I have lots of friends but only a very few ‘best friends forever’ – and Norm is certainly one of them. We spoke briefly on the phone and agreed to meet for coffee at the beach in White Rock on Friday morning.
We’ve known each other for about four years – he was the first volunteer with whom I worked with at the Cancer Centre in Surrey, and we immediately became friends. We are both cancer patients – we don’t use the term ‘survivor’ because his type of cancer isn’t treatable and I am too superstitious to call myself a survivor – and I don’t want to jinx myself. But we only worked with each other for two weeks because he was getting married and would be away on his honeymoon for a month. He has been a mentor and a huge inspiration to many other volunteers and me at the Centre. And although he is several years older than me – he looks much younger.
Norm was born and raised in East Van but has been living in the Fraser Valley for many years. As a young boy, Norm and his brothers worked on their dad’s fishing boat – he worked many long and hard days at sea and as everyone knows – if you’re the youngest – you get all of the crummy jobs. Norm has forgotten more than most people know about fishing but he worked at it long enough to know that he wanted something different for a career. He set his sight on becoming an accountant. Now I know that Norm is very smart, and he would have made a fantastic accountant but I also know that he is a ‘people’ person – and that’s why he changed his chosen career path before he finished his accountant courses.
And that’s when Norm became a paramedic. I have listened to some of the most interesting stories from Norm’s tenure with the BC Ambulance Service. Norm is much too humble to talk about the number of lives that Norm has saved, but I know that if I had ever needed a paramedic, I would want to be treated by someone such as Norm. I’m not sure how many years he spent as a paramedic before deciding on another career path – as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Norm was a Mountie for about ten years, and he often shares his experiences with the other volunteers and me during our Wednesday morning shifts. Norm was the ideal cop – he is over 6′ tall, and very solid. And Norm didn’t use tasers or guns to restore order – back in the day, police used their brains and brawn, and he has been in many a fight – trying to make an arrest. But as Norm often says – you can never let the bad guys win. They say that “Mounties always get their man” and I’m sure they were referring to my friend Officer Norm when they came up with that saying.
When I was a young boy – we used to have a saying – ‘Does your father have a job?” And one of us would always reply “No, he’s a cop!”. I never knew anyone whose father was a cop, but I know several guys that I went to school that did. – they were the same guys that used to hang around the ‘Four Corners’ in downtown Oshawa, Ontario – so they became cops so they could now get paid for ‘hanging out’.
Now one of the perks of being a cop is that there’s lots of time off to pursue other interests. And Norm became interested in selling real estate (part-time). And just like everything else – when Norm decides to do something – he not only does it – he does it right! He became a very successful salesperson buying and selling the property. But back in the 80’s, when interest rates soared – the market died – and so did the value of Norm’s holdings. But he never complained – he just continued working hard and once again became very successful. He also served on the board of the Real Estate Board (Fraser Valley) for some years.
And throughout Norm’s busy work life, he always found time to help others. Norm spent many years as a volunteer at a Palliative Care facility – and has told me some of the most touching stories. And Norm’s eyes often tear up as he recounts the experiences – but I know that he would have been a tremendous comfort to those patients – all of whom became his friends.
Norm is very spiritual/religious and is actively involved with his church. He also volunteers at the Chapel at the Vancouver International Airport.
Norm has been a volunteer at the Cancer Centre for many years. He has brought comfort and joy to many patients and staff alike. And when I met Norm in September 2011 he was still working in real estate. He retired shortly after marrying the love of his life – Dorean.
Dorean is a sweetheart of a woman and Norm is so lucky to have met her. But then again, so is Dorean. I once told her that I thought that she and Norm were the perfect couple – a true love story. Dorean replied that people often say that she and Norm were made for each other.
So as I parked by the Whitby Coffee Shop on Marine Drive I glanced at the time – it was 8:20 and we were supposed to meet at 8:30. Knowing Norm, he’s probably already there waiting for me. Just like every Wednesday morning – our shift starts at 8:30, but we are both there by 7:45. And despite trying to get there before him – he’s always been there for me – making the coffee.
So as I opened the door to the shop, sure enough, there was Norm sitting at a table. Our eyes met at the same time, and we waved to each other like a couple of little boys – all happy and excited.
We sat and talked and laughed and cried – as we usually do when we get together. We had lots to talk about: Norm’s vacation in Hawaii, my trip to Montreal, updates on the Cancer Centre and updates on each other’s health. Norm told me that we had won 3 free tickets in the lottery draws during his absence, and we discussed where we’d go when we finally win the big one! We’ve been buying Lotto Max tickets together each week from one of the volunteers at the lottery booth at Surrey Memorial Hospital – who is 90 years old! She always smiles when she sees us coming – and always wishes us luck as she takes our money. She is still giving despite her age – she too is an inspiration.
We got up to leave – shook hands and said we’d see each other at the Cancer Centre next week.
On Sunday morning I got up and made a cup of coffee to enjoy while I reviewed the latest news via my email accounts and of course, Facebook and Twitter. I was just about to take my first sip when I noticed her smiling face in the pictures that she had posted the night before. It was my friend Laura K., (whom I’ve known for several years) and her parents.
Laura used to volunteer at the Cancer Centre while attending university and we shared many stories over coffee during the morning breaks. After graduating a few years ago, Laura got busy working towards her next goal – to become a Radiation Therapist. We’ve kept in touch by FB and Laura has done several of her ‘work’ terms at the Cancer Centre in Surrey. A few weeks ago, I was in the Chemo Room and noticed Laura seated beside her mother, who was receiving a chemo treatment. After we exchanged hugs, she introduced me to her mother – who I joked with by saying ‘you’re much younger looking than by how Laura described you’. Laura mentioned that she would be back at the Centre in the coming months for her final term before graduation. We quickly said goodbye because I had to meet with my oncologist.
I continued looking at the pictures but when I began to read the caption, I got that ‘sinking’ feeling of sadness. Laura’s Mom had just passed! Here is what she wrote on her FB page:
Today our angel on earth became our angel in heaven… My mom left an everlasting imprint on the hearts of so many people. Her strength in the face of fear and exceptional positivity motivates me everyday and will continue to. It is truly impossible to find the words to describe what we have felt today but the abundance of support from friends and family has helped make it a little less painful for both my dad and I. To have a mother and friend like you, I will be forever grateful. I love you to infinity and back mom, forever. PS: I’m getting your feathers sweet angel ❤
If that doesn’t leave you with a hole in your heart – nothing will.
My eyes are filled with tears and my heart aches for you Laura.
I am trying to get the details for the visitation and funeral service because I am scheduled to leave for Montreal this Saturday.
UPDATE: Laura advises that there will be a service in Montana this weekend for her Mom and then there will be a service here in the Lower Mainland at a later date.
The title of this blog isn’t about any of the following:
things to say while toilet training your toddler
things to do while seated on the toilet
things to say to yourself when constipated
things to say while passing gas
Nope, it’s the name of an exciting 10K Run/5K Walk.
Yesterday, the weather at Jericho Beach in Vancouver was awesome and so were the many cancer warriors and other participants of this year’s Push For Your Tush Run/Walk for Colon Cancer Canada. This annual event is held in several cities across Canada and the event just keeps getting bigger and bigger!
This was my first ever, walk for cancer. But it won’t be my last…
And although I had Throat Cancer and not Colon Cancer – I wanted to participate in this fundraiser because cancer is cancer – and one of my all-time favourite football players – Lui Passaglia – is a colon cancer survivor. Lui and the BC Lions Football Club are both participants/sponsors of this event and Lui’s team all wore orange coloured t-shirts. And there was a ‘sea of orange’ up and down the length of the beach! Other teams wore white t-shirts with the name of the person they were running/walking for printed on the back. And there was a blue shirt for cancer survivors that were participating.
I was the only person on my team that walked but I had a generous team of supporters that helped me raise 193% of my goal! Here are their names:
Dale & Diane Fraser
Freddy St. Andrews
Linda St. Andrews
Randy St. Andrews
And finally, here are some of the pictures from yesterday’s run/walk.
Danny’s first ‘Selfie’
Lui cutting the ribbon with his team members
Danny at the halfway marker
With Leo the Lion and BC Lions Cheerleaders
Danny and Lui Passaglia
Danny and Amy Elmaleh (founder & organizer)
Danny and Lui Passaglia (Colorectal Cancer Survivor)