Friday 20 September 2013

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

“True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid...” 
― L. Frank BaumThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz

“We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. But it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities but its own talents.” 
― Eric Hoffer

I remember when I was young, I would always think " sure I got no talent" not like others anyways. I chose to define my life in my teens around that. Could be looked at as good or a bad thing I guess. In recent days I have thought about that train of thinking and what I am finally learning at  48 is that its how you define talent. Really to me its what you give to the world. Will you make an imprint on others and how they live, how they think. Have I given back? My experience the last year not only changed me physically but it reached into my soul and asked me to evaluate everything. That corny if " you only had today" type sentiment is actually more real than ever for me.

The fruition of the "One out of Nine" project I am realising is my talent. My give back. My story, their stories captured through Malin Enstrom's artistic eye. My narrow view of what talent meant has been widened by experiences though unasked for, opened the world to possibilities I never would of dreamed of. So like the others I will get to leave an imprint in this world that will last a long long time. A conversation with a lovely Swede, in a garden one warm summers day changed me.

As we inch closer to the show being hung in a gallery, I am giddy with excitement and scared to death as how the world will receive/perceive it. Something that is done with love hopefully will always prevail to the positive.  I gained a new perspective from a woman who told me that the show represents the stories of survivorship by bringing a stark reality of the women's lives to print through photography. Although that had been part of the intent, to have it validated was wonderful.

Our show will hang at the Leyton Gallery in St. John's with an opening evening on November 1st. at 5pm-7pm. I heard a woman say " I am not thankful for having had breast cancer" and I agree. What I am thankful for is the gift of this show, the gift of the women that have entered my life because of this project. We hope to take this show on the road to different parts of our province to share the images with others, sharing the stories and creating new ones.

So for my friends in St. John's Newfoundland please come see the show as it will hang for several days and for my friends away please read our website and share in our journey as it evolves.

Thursday 25 July 2013

" Every scar has a story, every story has a scar"

I wanted to share with you the essay I compiled of my year since my diagnosis. Its for a submission for a convention I am attending in August 2013 It is being held in Nashville Tennessee so the blend for me of great music and a chance to hang with other women who understand the long lasting effects of cancer is a perfect opportunity. Having been writing since the beginning of my journey I thought it was only appropriate that I be part of the essay submission. I looked back over my year of writing and tried to find the right words to explain about my second act. What I am doing with what I learned and how I hope to continue to move forward and pay it forward for the opportunity to be well once again. You have to be creative to write  your story in 500 words but I think it works. I am not sure how many women will be there but it will be put on display for all to read and to leave messages if they so desire. I am so grateful for the life I get to live and for the gifts the last year has bestowed upon me.
I hope you enjoy, as you all are the reason I am still writing. Thanks for helping me heal!

“Every scar has a story, every story has a scar"

I lost my breasts but have gained perspective or at least a glimpse of what was missing before the clarity of cancer entered my life. The effects of this experience are much deeper than the 6” scar across my chest. Perspective for me was gifted in the form of a devasting diagnosis. I found the need, like many others with similar experiences, to change my life and to somehow make a difference. The universe was ready and willing to respond to me if I so desired.
So, I began to write. I called my blog, “The Rising”, being lifted was what I needed to get through this experience and fight. Each word I typed was filled with emotion, and it helped me work through the anger, sadness and fear. The greatest gift was the gift of reflection. Forcing me to find joy in every moment and find ways to live a sincere existence. I cried as I wrote about the things that were tearing me apart, and I smiled as I shared moments of pure joy. The response to my blog has been more widespread than I ever would have dreamed with readers from more than ten countries. I am grateful for the words that I wrote and the fact I chose to share my journey, the power of written expression healed me with each word I shared.
When I was first diagnosed I wondered could I, would I make sense of all this? My reflection forever changed, would I cope with my new body? Cancer scars run deep and far beyond what the written word can completely express.  How do I redefine for me the changes in myself to reflect my beauty as it remains? Self-acceptance was my goal. I found that in the photos of women who chose to show their story through photography. Being moved beyond words, I thought “that is me". Through the art of photography a picture needs no words to be spoken for true understanding. The reality of these photos reflected a raw honesty. I teamed up with a wonderful photographer and spirit, Malin Enstrom. I found her pictures captured moments artfully frozen in time. Her pictures encompassed joy. I needed joy in my life. I can’t fully explain why it was important for me to do this but I hoped the pictures would help people understand that although cancer steals, it cannot take our spirit, our essence or the gifts we bring to this world.  The response to my photos has been overwhelming with a piece being written in the local newspaper about the upcoming photography exhibit, which we called, “One out of Nine”. We currently have 12 wonderful women photographed and I have been blessed to witness their bravery and courage in being the face of Newfoundland women battling this disease. My hope for each woman is healing, acceptance and empowerment to continue moving forward. I am inspired.

Sondria Browne
" One out of Nine"

Monday 24 June 2013

Message in a bottle

"The Rising"

Can't see nothin' in front of me
Can't see nothin' coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can't feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I've gone
How far I've gone, how high I've climbed
On my back's a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile line

Bruce Springsteen

So just over a year ago, after an idea to start writing this blog came to me, I looked for inspiration. In the grief of my diagnosis where would I find it? As I sat in my car in a parking lot of a grocery store taking a Facebook break there it was. It was a link to Stings performance of " The Rising" at the Kennedy Centre Honours for Bruce Springsteen. It was a powerful moment as the words being sung and how they were sang resonated with me. Thanks to who ever posted that. Over a year later I am still writing, and words go through my head constantly with stories and moments in life that happen and that I want to share. Helping me to heal and move on.

For many getting cancer leads to life transformations. You are never quite the same person and it seems your soul longs for newness. I would not say I have a bucket list but more a living list. Taking chances where I normally would not, doing things that are outside my comfort zone. Some would think oh god she is going to bungee jump but that is not the type of change I am talking about. Its more about not having any regrets how about how I lived my life. Looking to remain in the moment and not in the fear that I am missing out on something somewhere else. A tedious task at times.

I have the privilege of having people say to me in the last year that they read my blog and they get it, or I help to tell their story with the words telling mine. While on retreat this year, a woman in a hallway heard my name and came up and introduced herself. She said she read the article about my blog and that she kept it. Shared it with others when they came over to her house and now she keeps a copy of that article in a drawer. She said she takes it out every now and then and reads it, then she puts it away again until the next time she feels she needs to read it . I would assume the words meant something to her, spoke to her, told her story. I never take those moments in a hallway for granted, they are a gift.

So in my living list, got nothing to lose type attitude, I figured what if I tried to get a message to Sting about how he impacted my life by something he did. Now it just so happens that Sting is performing here in Newfoundland this week. I bought my tickets thinking there might be a meet and greet like in other cities but no such luck. The goal was not so much as to meet him but for him just to get the message of how he impacted someone in the audiences life with a moment in time in his. We often go along in our lives not realising good or bad how we affect those around us. How a word, a touch a song can change the direction of someones thinking for the better. So since I don't have Mr. Sumner's cell phone I opted to send his long time manager a message on Facebook. I know that this may go nowhere and probably will but I won't be disappointed as the only thing that would of disappointed me is if I didn't do it. Why is it important, I don't really know. Just seemed like the thing to do. Pass on the good to others, even if its Sting. Gratitude is universal.

" Message in a Bottle"

Walked out this morning 
Don't believe what I saw 
A hundred billion bottles 
Washed up on the shore 
Seems I'm not alone at being alone 
A hundred billion casatways 
Looking for a home

The Police

Out of the fog

You don't tug on Superman's cape 
You don't spit into the wind 
You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger 
And you don't mess around with Jim 
Jim Croce

So I think that someone stepped on my cape, grounded my invisible plane. The Yo Yo effect of the hormone therapy draining me of my super powers. I am human again. I would rather be a superhero, even though I was only trying to be one for myself. I wasn't looking to save mankind just me. I question whether Wonder woman ever just wanted to roll over and pull the blankets over her head? Did she ever feel like not saving the world or herself for just one day? I don't want life to be the same anymore. Time is moving at a rapid speed and sometimes its hard to keep up. " Run Forest Run".
I have realised  that recovery is a slow moving boat not the jet ski ride I hoped it would be. The realities of work, home and self a delicate combination. How do you find balance? A tree pose? Quick recoveries from surgeries,  the stopping and starting of medications playing havoc with my resilience. My life in the meantime is at its fullest. So what is my problem? As always I am trying to find perspective or opportunities that provide it and as usual I find it in the moments of simply living.

After a weekend of not feeling the best I had to drag my sorry ass out of bed on an early Sunday Morning. I was to go with Malin and one of the women who had agreed to work with us on our photo project. We were going to take her pictures in Ferryland, which sits on our stunning coast . We began our drive on a  beautiful sunshiny day that provided much needed energy and felt healing as we drove along to our destination. The car alive with chatter and anticipation as we headed towards our outdoor  photo studio. As we winded down the road our beautiful skies were replaced with thick fog that ebbed and flowed with each community we drove through.  When we finally arrived we quickly  realised that the fog was here to stay and that it would make our shoot a little more interesting seeing our back drop was now shrouded in secrecy. We decided to drive up a road towards a lighthouse, the ocean close below us as we made our way. We stopped,  parked the car  and looked ahead to see the rest of the road hidden from our view. We would start here. The women always being the focus of the pictures maybe having natures beauty hidden this time would be good. Or was it? As Malin began to take pictures it felt like the three of us were exactly where we should be at that moment. A deserted road in a remote location with fog draped around us like a blanket, protecting us as our  brave woman showed not only her scars but her soul. A healing moment not just for her but for all of us blessed to be part of this.  Being a part of something so pure and real helps me put things in perspective. I was grateful in that moment on a road in the fog with two amazing women. I  can see in the women as they get their pictures taken, what I felt that day a year ago when Malin took mine. Vulnerability, courage, gratefulness, and as always a little pain just to balance out the moment.

So I am all buoyed up from a great excursion around the bay and decide that its time to go buy some bra's for my new chest. I was so pumped that it was a little like Xmas morning. Off to La Senza I go. The girl takes me in, measures me up, a 32D really? She brings me the bra's. Oh they were so pretty. I put one of them on and the moment I look in the mirror, I am shocked and instantly sad. The whole year came rushing through my mind like a overflowing river. The reality of never looking the same, the need for acceptance of my new body, the scar there forever. A friend had come with me, and I called to her as if the sky was falling. I could feel the tears welling as my  illusion of how things were going to look came crashing down, at least in my eyes. Was it me? Was it the bra she gave me to try on? I think it was a little of both. In any case I definitely had a dent in my armour. I am fortunate to have friends that are strong and help me reframe the situation so that moving on is a little easier. Sadness would not kill my determination reaching my goal that day. My mastectomy bra's had served me well but it was time to move on from that for me. So we continued our way through the Avalon mall of possibilities until I found what I was looking for, until I could stand there and feel whole.The image in the mirror would not change just my perception needed to. Of course I found what I needed. Patience and a helpful salesperson the answer.

I think I will go for a spin in my invisible plane.

Friday 17 May 2013

" I want to be a mermaid"

Ariel, listen to me: the human world is a mess. Life under the sea is better than anything they've got up there! -Sebastian 

 The Little Mermaid 

I watched a video today where a little girl answered the question " what do you wanna be when you grow up?" With all the sincerity in the world she looked, with a serious face at the person asking her and said " I want be a mermaid". Oh my god  " me too" " me too"! Her words resonated with me, for the simpler times when if you wanted to be something or somewhere you just dreamt it because life had not happened to poo poo your dreams. Like thinking "what kind of reconstruction surgery would that take to be a mermaid?" or "how do mermaids pee"?

After a soul filling week in New York City I returned to home to only find out that I was having surgery. The next phase in my build a boob journey. This made me anxious since it was short notice and it left little time to mentally prepare for all that surgery brings. I did however have the knowledge that I was in great hands. I had no expectations of what I might look like after this procedure as disappointment is something I have had enough of this last year. If I could fill out a bra and feel good about myself then that was enough for me. Illusions of sameness from the past a distant memory. She is gone...........

As seems to be the way of life these days there is something always happening and part of my plans a week after surgery was to attend the Breast Cancer Retreat  here in Newfoundland. I was determined to be there even though it was so close to my procedure as I was to be part of a breast reconstruction show and tell, something I had suggested for the retreat and was asked to participate in. As I sit here today I am grateful that my intrinsic need to move forward helped me get myself there. The show and tell had many women who shared their breast cancer stories and then described why they chose to reconstruct and what they went through. The stories were heart shattering and joyful at the same time, as tragedy has been replaced by hope, happiness and a self confidence which I am sure was feared lost forever for some. The experience showed that each story is different and that being a woman is something that comes from the inside out. Beautiful really is just believing you are. I am buoyed by the bravery of these women who shared themselves with others so that it may in some way help to make a decision that is informed and real. I had brought one of the framed pics from the photo project I work on with Malin. She had gotten it ready for me to bring so that I might share with the women there. I ended my story by saying that I brought this picture to remind me that I was always beautiful and that what ever they decide for themselves they have to remember that as well.

So I arrive home, floating from a beautiful weekend. Well that is except for the bit of damage I got from a run in with a parking garage pole and a broken wind shield ( details are scanty)...My husband greets me on my arrival with glee as he has purchased me a stick vac. Now people nothing says " I love you" like a stick vac....god love him. The next morning we get up to a broken furnace 30 degrees in the house. Call the furnace guy, he comes. When he goes to fix our furnace the dog we have nearly knocks him over to get past. He promptly returns with a larger than necessary rodent in his mouth. I scream, turn and run. So my point in telling you all this is.....
That even when life gets hard and it does, its those moments like my going to the retreat that give me the armour to get through. To help me heal from surgery and remember I am doing great.

As I write this blog we currently have 9 women photographed  for the photo project and one remaining to be done. A thought, an action is now becoming a wonderful reality. Something special is happening I can just feel it. Who ever thought that cancer could help you dream and then give you the strength to  make it happen.

We just don't recognize life's most significant moments while they're happening. Back then I thought, "Well, there'll be other days". I didn't realize that that was the only day.
" Field of Dreams"

Friday 19 April 2013

" Can I get an Amen"

"In My Life"
There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

The Beatles

Just over a year ago I came too New York with some girl friends. The trip had been booked for quite some time and then my lumpy breast started to be a nuisance. I  decided to postpone my scheduled biopsy and go anyways. I guess I knew in my heart that something was wrong. Really wrong. I remember saying to myself that I would not cancel my trip because I might not get to go anywhere for a long time. My instincts were right within a week or so after returning home from my trip to NYC I found out I had cancer.  I will be eternally grateful that I listened to my instincts.
So here I am just over a year since then back in NYC. Doing exactly what I did last year. Only difference is I am short a couple of boobs. It felt important, especially this year, to come back to New York City. It  Feels like a victory of some sort. New York is one of those cities that reminds you to live. That life continues to happen and if you want you can join in anytime. That the world is bigger than the bubble we sometimes put ourselves in or the cycle of living that takes over our existence at times.
The excitement always begins on the taxi run over the bridge. You can feel the energy as it whips all around you. I seem to look at things a little differently these days and embrace each moment a little tighter. This trip I felt more alive than ever in this city. I enjoyed each moment from riding around in taxi's which was a little like driving with Batman in Gotham City to attending a gospel service in Harlem. If you ever felt you needed to go somewhere to get a sense of belonging it happens at a gospel service. The pastor acknowledged everyone from all over the world who sat in his church. He honoured their presence and you felt honoured to be there. The sermon asked us to look at our own lives and question how we live it. To sow our seeds of what ever that needed to be for others and ourselves. She made us all think that day and reflect on our lives something empowering about that since that is really all we have control of in the end. Our own lives.
Moving on with your life after cancer and treatment may look like an easy thing but it lingers. I think once you embrace your life, living it with abandon, laughing whenever you have the chance, being with people that give you energy rather than steal it helps you live an authentic life.I didn't have to be in NYC to figure this out I am just glad I was. I had had my life ramp up to warp speed just before leaving with an elderly father very sick for many weeks. The day I left for my trip he moved into a seniors home. I knew he did not want me to go away, but I knew I needed to. I needed to put my oxygen mask on first now. Changing your mind set can do wonders.
After a great break we set forth for the airport to return home to our perspective families and lives. My phone rings. I look down and I know its my surgeon calling. I knew we were going to set my date for my next surgery for reconstruction but what are the chances they call me as I am in a cab in New York City. My life's realities once again in front of me. Last time they called me I was in Punta Cana with my family. Seemed to be a trend. As I looked at the number from someone I knew would call, I still felt a sense of panic come over me. This would be my third surgery so why am I feeling this way. Maybe because its my third surgery. Hello!!!! Still suffering from PTSD from the memories of my last one I knew as much as I want this over with the thought still scared me.
I know I look great, sound great these days and I feel great but wading through the shrapnel of the past year still throws you for a loop when things like this happen. Being strong requires reflection from time to time whether that makes you sad or happy.
So what I know is grab the moments, or opportunities to go and and live your life always. It will give you the strength to deal with the rest.

" Sow, Grow, Glow"
" Can I get an amen"
Pastor Curtis
Olivet Baptist Church
Harlem NYC

Friday 5 April 2013

A Whiter Shade of Pale

"We skipped the light fandango"

This last couple of weeks have been interesting, educational , heart wrenching and perspective making. I am lucky in some ways that my inner drive to move forward , to sponge up everything and everyone keeps me continually experiencing something or someone new. There are however some experiences I would chose to keep at bay if I had a choice.
A couple of weeks of ago I get a call from my dear old dad " can you take me to the hospital" after a quick assessment over the phone I knew it was bad. I was at work and had seen his phone call come in earlier but declined it as I was sitting with coworkers. I did however  call him back immediately after I was done but I am not sure that moment of pushing decline on my stupid phone will ever leave me. Maybe its meant to teach me something. Hopefully guilt turns to a lesson learned. Anyways, upon returning his phone call I quickly realised he was quite ill. I called 911, a family member and took a moment gather my thoughts before I raced to his home. They were bringing him to the ambulance when I got there, I looked at his fragile body as they held him out the door and thought " I am gonna lose him aren't I". Guilt and panic jumbled in my head. During the last year while going through cancer treatment I was not able to be there for him like I had been. I knew during treatment I had to pull back to fill my cup so that I could be there for him when I was better. I really was still getting back to being there when this happens. Of course I made it all about me at first. Thoughts of " can I do this" " I never got to be there for him" " this is my fault for not being around more". Oh for god sakes Sondria knock it off. With a very difficult two weeks behind us he is still here and the lighter shade of pale he took on has been replaced with rose coloured cheeks. He is no longer the exact same person he was before he entered the hospital and some changes must take place. The one thing that went through my mind as I watched him struggle back from pneumonia was I needed to honour his life. He deserved to have someone there, to not be alone. His 84 years of living, his 84 years of stories he tells so wonderfully, needed validation for being. I would want that no matter how long I live, which after cancer means sometimes you count the days, hours, minutes. You chose to make sure you live with purpose and sincerely. I didn't think I had the physical, or emotional fortitude to make it through the last few weeks, but I found it knowing what I was doing, being there, was what I needed to do. I will be forever his little girl who sat on his knee or flung my arms around his neck when he came home from work. He was the person who did not let my adopted mom return me to the foster care system cause I was a little screwed up 17 month old when they got me. He said " Mary we can't bring her back, it will break her spirit". He always talked about my spirit when he had first adopted me. How I fought for everything at such a young age with maybe too much experience of not receiving what I needed most as a baby. I will be eternally grateful to him for being my advocate and seeing my potential no matter how young I was. Something I have continued to do through my work life for others.
I had written something for my dad for his birthday a few years ago. Just to say thank you not really knowing how.

Now I must honor my own life.

Sunday 17 March 2013

Circle of the sun

“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon. December is here before it's June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”
― Dr. Seuss

Its been a year, and quite the year its been. You all know where I have been, and for those of you that have seen me lately you know how far I have come. I would like to say its all a distant memory but the cancer did not blow through without leaving a wake. My boat is still rocking gently but I have my oar in the water. Holy metaphor. I lost a breast but have gained perspective or at least a glimpse of what was missing before the clarity of cancer entered my life. I remember thinking before my diagnosis, how I was not content, that I was not living an awesome life. I was just living. Getting up and getting it done each day. Trying to be a good mother, a good wife, a good daughter, a good friend a good worker but not trying to be a great me. I felt fragmented. The day of my diagnosis, March 13th, 2012, I thought that is it, I am going to die with out being fricken awesome. The words CANCER rang in my ears that day like a fire alarm. I still get a pain in my stomach when I remember that moment. I really thought I would have dodged the cancer bullet. That disease had taken enough from me already.  But then why would the world make it that easy for me? Crisis in the past motivated me to change, to do something to make my life better. What the heck was this going to do for me? If I didn't die. I know thinking about dying  is really negative and dramatic, but that is the first thing you think of when they tell you that you have cancer. People say " sure we are all gonna die" to me. I think " I don't want to die".
Although I have come out this year a changed person, I will opt any day to figure things out in another manner, but hey a good swift kick in the arse comes in many forms I guess. I got and I gave. I was brave and I crumbled. I cried and I laughed. I found strength when I thought I had none left. That people will be there if you tell them what you need. I realise that life needs to continue but it will never be the same. I am not the same. Should I change my name?

I found the need like many others with similar experiences to change my life and make a difference. That has come in the form of the project that I and Malin Enstrom are undertaking. We have photographed 5 women so far and now have three more ready to be photographed. Malin showed me all the images so far that she has taken of these women. We sat together at her computer and as she brought up one picture after another I could feel myself getting overwhelmed.  The images were powerful. Each woman's story told beautifully. Tears began to flow down my face as I witnessed the bravery and courage it took each woman to allow Malin take their picture. The giving nature of each of them to want to be part of something to help others by being the face of Newfoundland women battling the disease. My hope for each woman who takes part in the journey with Malin and I is a sense of healing, acceptance and empowerment to continue moving forward. You all inspire me.

So a year later I am still dealing. The effects of this experience much deeper than a 6 inch scar across my chest. So in the moments when I am alone, when I am completely by myself I reflect and usually I cry. Still trying to believe that this is happened to me. My body still coming back from the effects of the chemo, and learning to cope with the impact of tamoxifen treatment. Although since I stopped the clinical trial I feel so much better these days in some ways. So when I get out of bed in the morning and have trouble walking or moving my hands, I remind myself how lucky I am. How much harder it could of been and that I am doing good. I got this.,

“Don't spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door. ”
― Coco Chanel

Thursday 7 March 2013

The view from here

"If you want to view paradise, simply look around and

 view it. Anything you want to, do it; want to change the 

world... there's nothing to it."
Willy Wonka

I have had the pleasure in the last year to be approached or messaged by people I don't know. They come with the same message. Support and encouragement. I recently received an email from a man  whose name is Cameron Von St. James who read my blog and wondered if he could guest blog on The Rising. You can read his families story through his blog which I will add below.
 I realized his story is one of hope and most of all a story of love. I remember the day last year when I had my surgery and found out that although my breast was gone, the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes. High on morphine and sitting in my bed at the hospital texting to friends and family, I got a message from a friend that said " love won today", and so it did. So I relate to his story and the message he wants to share about his experience. I have spent time lately looking at a lot of other peoples stories and the one continuous theme is bravery, strength and resilience.
Please enjoy this entry from Cameron

Choosing Love and Life 
It is hard for anyone to imagine taking on the role of a caregiver for their spouse. After my wife's diagnosis of mesothelioma, I was left facing this position. As my wife often notes, it is hard to imagine what facing this disease causes a person to deal with. I rarely share my experiences concerning my struggle. However, my experience is one that leaves me filled with hope. Lily, our only daughter, was born three months prior to the diagnosis. The celebrations for the addition to our family had to be short-lived. Our joy was replaced with trepidation and a future that was unclear. When the words left the doctor's mouth, my eyes quickly met with my wife's tearful expression. Our thoughts seem to echo each other. We were wondering how we would persevere. I could feel myself slipping away from reality as the news overwhelmed me. On the verge of despondency, the voice of the doctor caught my attention. Back in reality, the truth set in. Despite the emotional strain I was feeling, my wife and I were going to face difficult medical decisions together. After the feeling of shock had passed, I felt a bubbling mixture of anxiety, anger, and depression. I was having trouble talking to people without slipping into irrational fits of anger. Even people that were supporting our family became victims of my outbursts. Church members and doctors often had to calm me down. With time, however, I was able to keep my rage in check. The resiliency of our entire family relied on my leadership. Although I still had moments of weakness, I embraced my position as a role model for strength. I did my best to hide my fear from my wife in particular. It was my hope that our confidence and optimistic outlooks could feed off of one another. It sounds wonderful here, but accomplishing these things in reality was much more difficult. Of course, life had to move on as if there were nothing wrong. Groceries had to be bought, and the bills had to be paid. Work did not let up. I had to incorporate all of these aspects of day-to-day living around travel plans and care for our daughter and pets. Prioritizing was the key to staying calm. Organizing around the most important tasks was essential. Accepting help from others was another crucial factor. While I was resistant at first, I quickly realized that helping hands were a blessing. I hate to think of the difficulties should we have had to face the situation alone. Despite the help and my grateful attitude, there were still times that life felt like too much to handle. My wife, Heather, still recalls a period of time that was particularly trying. Heather had just undergone surgery in Boston. She flew to South Dakota to stay with her parents as she recovered. She needed to have plenty of strength, as she was to undergo chemotherapy and radiation for her next round of mesothelioma treatment. While I was at home working, our daughter was with Heather and her grandparents. For two more months our heads were above water, but I was only able to see my daughter and my wife once. Seeing them was no easy task. The weekend began, and I made an 11 hour trip overnight to see them. We were well into the winter, causing me to endure snowstorms for nearly the entire journey. My body was totally exhausted by Saturday morning. However, my heart kept me going. I was able to spend the entire day and a small part of Sunday morning with my family. As the weekend came to a close, I made the return trip for work the following Monday morning. Time away from family is extremely difficult. I never viewed it as a loss, however. It was what had to be done to save my family. Working, supporting Heather, and taking care of Lily at the same time would have been too much. There is no regret that I feel regarding my choices. They were choices that had to made at the time. We were faced with the difficulties because of the cancer diagnosis, but my comfort resides in the fact that we had the ability to actually make choices that could change the situation for the better. From this experience, I learned humility. I also learned the importance of having the ability to make difficult choices that are for the greater good. When faced with an uncertain future, these are the things that give us strength. The kindness of others, and the collective strength of love allows us to face any obstacle.

Friday 15 February 2013


“Why did you do all this for me?" he asked. "I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you.'
You have been my friend,' replied Charlotte. 'That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

I recently was fortunate enough to return to Ottawa for a visit. I had lived here for twenty years of my life. I  had grown up here in some ways even though I was twenty when I arrived. I met my birth parents, gained a large diverse family and learned how I wanted to live my life. It was here that I fell in love,  and had my heart broken. I became educated in more than just book smarts. Most importantly in Ottawa I was able to surround myself with incredible, smart, , funny women. I had left Newfoundland in 1984, with a solid base of wonderful girlfriends, they laid the foundation for what I knew I needed when I left to find my way. On this trip I knew I wanted to see some of the women who were so dear to me for so many years.  Alot had happened to me in the last year and it had been many years since I had seen many of  these women. Through the darkest times many of their voices had let me know that I mattered and that their hearts were with me. Its amazing to me the power we all have to impact the world around us if we chose to. More importantly to change the experience of someone by just letting them know you care. As I sat around the table with these women at a restaurant in Ottawa, I realised how completely blessed I was. I had not had contact with some of the women for several years and as we began chatting and laughing I observed that time is just that. That these women reflected everything I hold dear. They encompassed who I am. They taught me that evening, that you are who you surround yourself with. They brought out the best in me. They all love me for who I am. It doesn't matter that I am sometimes like the dog in the movie " UP" and distracted quite easily. " Bird"!!!!!... That I have  left and gone on with my life in another city. I knew they felt my pain of the last year and in their own ways had lifted me up to where I needed to be. There were several women who could not come that night but I knew it would of been the same feeling had they been there. Creating these life long relationships takes a alot of work, and shows me that what you put out there definitely comes back to you if you allow it to.

I have been back living in Newfoundland for six years. Many lifelong friends still here when I had returned. They embraced me back into the fold when I returned to live here again. This last year they became the backbone of my recovery. They were the ones who stepped in when family did not know how to or could not help. They just did it. What ever it was that was needed. My circle of strong wonderful women has continually expanded in my time back home. Each one bringing something to my life that compliments beautifully and how I want to live it . Showing me courage in their own struggles, and grace under pressure in trying times.
I know that all these people are a direct reflection of who I am. They teach me about who I want to be when I eventually grow up. They make me laugh, they make me cry. They make me smarter and they definitely make my life richer.
So when you see me and marvel at how well I am doing, just look around me and it won't take you long to figure out how you tell cancer to take a hike.
 Be surrounded!

Here are just a a look at some of the women who surround me...

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey