Monday, August 31, 2009

Thinking about death

Thoughts of death come naturally at a funeral home. In fact they are virtually inescapable.

Especially if you have been diagnosed with cancer. Maybe two cancers.

Especially when everyone you meet wants to know how you are doing, or goes out of their way to tell you how good you are looking.

We buried Linda's mother on Saturday and family members had come from across southern Ontario, many of whom I hadn't seen in years. Not since the last family funeral. But they had all heard I had cancer, a very aggressive cancer, and were surprised to find me there looking much as I always have.

My good black suit may have been a little baggy on me, but I have regained about 10 pounds over the last month and have taken Lindsay for enough walks that I am regaining some colour. Even in my black suit I no longer look like a funeral director, or the star attraction of the funeral reanimated.

Two of the men attending the funeral have recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer and are facing their own series of diagnostic tests and uncertain treatment schedules. They wanted to know how it was for me and I was trying to explain why it's difficult to compare cancers and to assure them their own journey may be very unlike mine.

As the service began, I couldn't help realizing that something like this awaits me in the future. In fact, awaits us all. But likely sooner in my future than in your own.

I go for a CT guided biopsy on Wednesday that will determine if my cancer has metastasized to the bones of my hip and back. If it has, my expected life span will be greatly shortened. There will be no known medical cure.

And I will be back here with these same people playing a very different role in the very near future. And maybe they will be saying to Linda, how well I look. Or how well I looked the last time they saw me. Which would be today in my only slightly baggy suit.

It is hard to imagine your own death. To imagine a world going on without you. At least it is for me. Even here, in this place of death, in this chapel in the midst of a vast and beautiful cemetery filled with people who also could not imagine their own demise, I can't quite believe it.

And yet, as I said earlier, it awaits us all, and the only real question remaining is how soon.

After the service, a lone piper leads us under gray skies to the grave side. Mike and Neil, the pall bearers, her grandsons, lower stu's ashes into the ground beside her husband, and Lorna, the minister, gives us a moment for silent contemplation.

And I am overcome by a feeling, by a certainty, that this is not what awaits me. Not in the near future anyway. It is not a feeling born of an irrational fear of my own demise, it is not a running away from facing a hard truth.

Instead it is the embracing of a hard life to come. A long and difficult surgery and a series of treatments for a second primary cancer. I have a role still to play in Linda's life, in the life of my children and grandchildren. I have a book to write about this experience that is honest without being gloomy and undoubtedly a fight to get it published.

I have too much still to do.

The cemetery will just have to wait. It can have me eventually. Just not in the immediate future. I'm going to be way too busy.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Stuart's Memorial

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Stuart Crawford 1919-2009

On June 4th, in the midst of my chemo and radiation treatment, Linda's mother passed away in her 90th year.

Her physical health had been deteriorating dramatically over the past year and she had been rushed to hospital several times with kidney failure.

Linda decided to delay the funeral service until a less harried time when I was through my treatment and physically stronger.

Today at 11:00 her mother will be laid to rest beside her husband James.

A large family gathering is expected. Linda has recorded an hour of the music her mother most loved and we spent yesterday evening selecting the photos to be displayed. The service will take place in the chapel at Pinehills Cemetery and, despite the predicted rain, a piper will lead the congregation to the graveside for the internment of her ashes.

The photo above was taken on Stu's 90th birthday in March of this year. She is pictured with her daughters Linda and Margaret and her son Steven. Stu was at least the fifth generation of women in her family to carry the forename "Stuart" after Mary Stuart Queen of Scots. She had no middle name but had always loved the name Mary.

Soldier during WW II, cook, secretary to the chef of the Royal York Hotel, accountant, head of payroll for Guaranteed Trust, world traveler, artist, wife and mother. Rest in peace Stuart, you had one heck of a life!

You are missed.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday My Town Shoot Out--Incongrous

Patty and Reggie Girl pioneered the Friday Photo Shoot Out asking us to post photos of our local community every Friday. From a handful of participants it has grown into a world wide phenomenon with over 77 contributors and is now in the capable hands of Gordon, ChefE and GingerV.

This week's theme, chosen by Mary, is INCONGRUOUS STUFF.

For a comprehensive list and how to join instructions, see the Official Shootout Blog for more details. Or just click on the camera on my side panel.

Next weeks theme, suggested by Kerri, is Doors and Windows.

I live in Toronto, in the Scarborough area of Toronto, in the West Hill area of Scarborough. So West Hill will be the focus of my photos.


As unbelievable and incongruous as it may seem, no one with the rank of Colonel is working at our local KFC and not one of the chickens came from Kentucky.

Not one employee at Taco Bell was from Mexico. And on the day we visited, not one employee had even vacationed there. Believe It Or Not!

Shoeless Joe's Restaurant has a policy requiring all customers to wear shoes. And shirts.

And when Licks finally gets around to opening their latest store in West Hill, do not even think about licking any of their employees. Boy do they get mad!

But most incongruous of them all, the Swiss Chalet Restaurant, not only has no Swiss employees, sells no Swiss Cheese, lamb or beer, but none of their clocks were made in Switzerland, instead they were all made by GE--in China.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lindsay's Greatest Challenge

Lindsay awoke and knew instantly where she was.

Not home. Still at Uncle Steve's. Not that Uncle Steve's was a bad place to be, it was just that it mean another day without the normal routines of her life.

She yawned. Stood up. Gave herself a good shake. Trotted to the window and looked out. No, not her normal view of the world. This was Uncle Steve's view.

She wandered into his bedroom and listened to him softly breathing for a while. He was asleep, not pretending. He was not an early riser like her dad. He liked the night and slept in through the early morning.

Lindsay missed the way her mom greeted her in the morning. Made a big fuss over her. She missed the body wagging excitement of it. That was the way a day began.

Not that it had begun that way for several days now. Not since Barry and Linda loaded all those bags in the car, patted her goodbye, and headed off for parts unknown.

Lindsay yawned again. Lay down. And returned to sleep. And in her dreams she ran through the tall grasses of the meadow in the warm sunshine of a late August day.


By noon that day, Barry and Linda were half way home. They had stopped in the little town of Port Perry renowned for its crafts and boutique shopping. They were having lunch at the Front Porch Tea Shoppe and Barry was busy counting the number of other men in the restaurant. He didn't need all his fingers and toes to make the count. Didn't need any of his toes actualy. Didn't need any of his fingers either. Although every table was filled, he was the only male.

He tried counting again, but got the same result.

There were pretty women in summer dresses; trendy women in white shorts with sweaters hanging down their backs and sunglasses perched on the top of their heads; business women in black suits; farmers in blue jeans; giggly teenagers in t-shirts with saucy messages written on the front; picky women who complained about the food and the service and decor; but no men.

Barry excused himself and went to the washroom, which he found sparklingly clean, as if untouched by any male since 1974. For a moment he was tempted to scratch his name and a date on the wall: "Barry was here August 2009"!
But he didn't.


Steve was concerned.

Lindsay lay curled up on the floor, watching him sadly.

"What is it girl?" he asked. "Barry and Linda will be home soon."

Lindsay whimpered pitifully.

"Life's just not the same without them, is it?" he asked.

Lindsay whimpered again.

So Steve went out to buy her a treat. At the dog food store he looked at racks and racks of doggie treats. What would Lindsay like? What could he buy that would bring the sparkle back into her eyes?

And then he saw it. The most gigantic rawhide bone he had ever seen! It was twice the size of Lindsay's head. It was perfect.


At 6 o'clock that evening, Linda's car finally turned into the driveway. The two tired travelers crawled out and started carrying bags toward the door of the house. Inside they could hear the beat of Lindsay's excited tail against the wall.

Steve opened the door and Lindsay went into ecstasy overdrive, her body a whiplash of motion. But her head was pinned to the floor by the huge rawhide bone she held in her mouth. A bone so large she could barely lift it off the floor.

Barry and Linda laughed! "What the heck have you got there girl?"

She was so obviously delighted to see them, but also so obviously proud of the gigantic bone and not willing to sacrifice one for the other.

Steve laughed. "I brought it for her this afternoon. Thought it would cheer her up, but it's way too big for her to eat. She loves it. But she just drags it around the house from one room to the other."

"Well there's a challenge for you girl," Barry told her. "No other treats until you finish that one."

Lindsay looked at him balefully and tried to lift her head up off the floor. Linda bent down and took the huge bone out of her mouth. "Oh Lindsay," she said. "Are those mean boys laughing at you?"

Releaved of its great weight, Lindsay lifted her head in gratitude and licked Linda's hand.

And Barry thought to himself, it was good to be home.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Bush Plane Soars

The bush plane roared across the lake, its pontoons cleaving the surface of the water leaving long liquid rails behind it, as it raced toward the house boat that was lumbering into its path and beyond that the restaurant patio where I was choking on a mouthful of spaghetti.

Linda's back was turned toward the drama unfolding behind her as she sought to reassure the concerned waitress that I was alright and my distress had nothing to do with the quality of the food.

The second day of our vacation had begun calmly enough. I had gone for a walk along the river behind the Inn and paused to watch a group of people performing Tai Chi beneath the trees on the river bank. There was a peace to the world that morning and a real sense of having left our stresses behind in the city. As I watched the graceful movements of the small group, I thought about the promise of the day. We were driving to the village of Lakefield, then the hamlet of Ennismore, where Linda spent many of her summers as a child, before we stopped for lunch at Buckhorn.

The afternoon would include a visit to the Ojibwa Arts Centre and Museum at the Curve Lake Reservation. Lots to see, lots to do. A day stretching before me of promise and adventure. But in the cool pre-breakfast morning, there was no need to hurry, I could just walk along the river bank, past the marina, past the stage where the Lovin' Spoonful had performed the night before, through the trees and the quiet of the day.

Eventually I reached a point where I had to choose whether to walk on further or turn back. I paused in the midst of temptation, took a deep breath and then turned back. And the day began.

The Village of Lakefield is probably best known for its world class private school where Prince Andrew spent his youth. A beautiful little town, where we found a wonderful Fine Book Store housed in a disused Railway Station. Linda found a stack full of books that interested her and I discovered a biography of one of our neighbors, Doris McCarthy one of the last of the Group of Seven painters.

We also discovered a chocolate store where we couldn't resist purchasing a couple of freshly made truffles, to ward off any chance of starvation between breakfast and lunch.

Then we were off for a nostalgic visit to Sullivan's General Store in Ennismore, the little hamlet where Linda spent many summers during her childhood. See Linda's blog for more details of our visit to Sullivan's General Store.

Then it was on to Buckhorn for lunch, where we sat on the patio and watched the houseboats passing by. I ordered spaghetti because I had some trouble swallowing at breakfast and the rest of the items on the restaurant's menu looked more challenging.

However, even the spaghetti proved too much for me, and several mouthfuls stacked up behind the inflammation in my throat and all I could do was sit and hope they would eventually find their way past the blockage to my stomach. And tolerate the intense pain of their passing.

So I sat watching my meal get cold while the waitress entered into concerned conversation with Linda over the quality of the meal and Linda tried to reassure her the problem was mine and had nothing to do with the food.

And that's when I saw the houseboat lumbering into the path of the bush plane that was streaming across the water toward us attempting a takeoff. I started waving excitedly which made Linda and the waitress wonder if I was in increasing distress. Was my throat now blocked and was I unable to breathe?

No we were about to witness a plane crash into a houseboat or careen off the houseboat and crash into the patio joining us for lunch. I waved some more. And the waitress got even more excited. We were attracting the notice of people at other tables.

Finally they turned in the direction I was pointing, just as the bush plane lifted off the lake and soared overhead missing the roof of the houseboat by several meters. No big deal. The same plane took off several times a day. The women looked back at me as if to say, so what?

I discovered, in the excitement, my throat had cleared and I was able to eat again. Although by now the spaghetti was cool. The story of my recent life.

We spent the afternoon at the Art shop on the Curved Lake Reserv where I was tempted to spend a lot more than we had brought with us, before heading back to the Inn for the evening.

And the end of the second day of our vacation.

Sea plane photo courtesy of Photobucket

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Rain In Peterborough Falls Mainly On The Umbrella

And so we escaped the confines of the City, the confines of our fears and dread, the confines of our limitations and expectations and pointed the car north to Peterborough and the Lovin' Spoonful concert.

Gradually laughter and high spirits gave way to a quieter contemplation of the passing scenery and the open road as the car rolled on further and further north.

At the Holiday Inn the entrance to the parking lot was blocked by security. Because the concert was taking place in the park beside the Inn, and many thousands of people were expected to attend, the Inn's parking lot looked like an attractive place to leave a car. So we had to prove we were registered in order to gain access to parking, but even then the concert had attracted a full house at the Inn and it was difficult to find an empty space. However, as I was cruising around the parking lot for the third time, a car pulled out right at the door and I quickly grabbed the newly vacated space with a sense of triumph.

Our room was on the water overlooking the river and the cabana bar which became our first destination. Until the wind started to kick up and the Coors umbrellas began twirling at every table.

"Uh oh." I said to Linda.

"Not looking good," Linda agreed as the first drops of rain started to fall and we ran back to our room for shelter. It was about 90 minutes before the start of the concert and it was teaming out.

So we read for a while and eventually the rain stopped and we headed down to the car to retrieve the lawn chairs we'd brought with us. We carried them over the bridge and past the marina to the park that was already half full of fans. The grass was soaked and so was some of the equipment that the stage hands were trying to dry out.

We found a spot to set up our chairs not too far from the stage. Members of the Festival of Lights committee were circulating collecting donations and selling fifty-fifty tickets to support next years concert series. This was to be the last concert for 2009 and, as it turned out, the last Festival of Lights concert ever. After 24 years of presenting 20 free concerts a year, the Festival of Lights would be no more.

In its place would rise the Peterborough Music Festival, a new name the committee felt would better reflect nature of the event. So we donated and we brought popcorn and we waited for the crew to dry out the equipment.

As we waited, the skies darkened and it began to rain again. The umbrellas came back out, totally blocking our view of the stage.

But then it suddenly stopped raining and umbrellas came down and the Lovin' Spoonful took to the stage.

Or, at least, what remained of the Spoonful took to the stage. Three of the original Spoonful and their producer and two new guys gave the concert the feel of a tribute band, with some of the original cast paying tribute to their own past. Canadian band member Jan Yanovsky had died in 2002 and John Sebastian had "creative differences" with the band and was refusing to perform with them.

But the music was fine and true to their jug band roots, the band engaged in easy banter with the crowd. They got us laughing and singing along and remembering a now long ago time when we were young and health was a commodity that could be squandered because we were going to live forever.

Then, of course, it started to rain again and the umbrellas came out for the third time and the stage vanished once more. Behind us the music was starting to be drowned out by cries of "Put Down the Umbrellas!"

Linda had brought along large plastic garbage bags which she turned into makeshift ponchos for us which kept us warm and dry and blocked no one's view.

Because we all believed in magic, the rain stopped again and the umbrellas came down. All except the patio sized umbrella of the guy two rows in front of us, encased in a micro climate, who was ignoring the chant of the crowd behind him and also ignoring the fact that the rain had stopped. Finally a guy the size of two truck drivers went up and had a quite word with him and that last umbrella came down to loud applause.

"What do you think he said to him?" Linda asked.

"Put down your umbrella or I'll tear your head off?" I suggested.

"Oh no," said Linda, "He wouldn't have been that polite, would he?"

"Well we are in the country, not the City." I pointed out. "And country folk still abide by their manners."

"And we do believe in magic," Linda pointed out.

"Indeed we do."

And the concert went on into the darkening night and our hearts were filled with music. When it was over, we sang our way back past the lights of the marina to the hotel and we said goodnight to the first evening of our vacation.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What's That Sound?

"What's that sound?" the policeman asks the motorist he is ticketing for an illegal left turn.

The motorist listens for a moment. "I'm, I'm not sure."

"Do you hear that?" The MacDonald's employee asks the customer at her take-out window.

"I do," replies the customer. "What do you think it is?"

The physician pauses in his examination of his patient. "Do you hear something?" he asks.

The patient laughs, "I'm glad it's not just me," she replies. "I thought I was hearing things."

"Whatever it is," the motorist tells the police officer, "It sounds infectious."

"It is, isn't it," the cop agrees.

"Well it sounds happy, anyway." The customer remarks to the MacDonald's employee. "Really happy."

"Yes, yes it does."

"I think it might be laughter, joyful laughter." the patient smiles at the doctor.

"You know," the doctor replies, a far off look in his eye, "I haven't heard people laugh like that in a long, long time."

A car passes the police officer. A tall thin man is at the wheel, a pretty curly haired woman beside him. Both are laughing with unabashed pleasure. The day is bright, the road is clear and Barry and Linda are headed out of the city for two days of freedom.

They are leaving behind their worries over Barry's health. They are leaving behind concerns about his damaged car. They are leaving behind the sorrow they experienced over the death of a friend. They are leaving behind the home that had become their entire universe when Barry's illness was at its worst. They are leaving behind Lindsay, who will be looked after by Uncle Steve. They are leaving behind blogging and friends and family.

Their car is headed north, to Peterborough, where they will be staying at the Holiday Inn until Monday afternoon. They will be taking in the Festival of Lights, where the Lovin' Spoonful will be performing an outdoor concert. They will drive in the country, visit museums, art galleries, Native reserves, stroll boutiques, eat at intimate little restaurants and greasy spoons, explore Lakefield, and just drive in the country past lakes and fields and rock cuts and forests.

And they will laugh and giggle and play and explore and be free.

For two days.


"You know," said the cop to the motorist, "Maybe I won't bother with this ticket after all. Just watch that turn next time."

"Look," said the MacDonald's employee, "I'm not going give you this crap. Here's $20 go over to the organic market and get yourself some food with less fat, no salt and more nutrition."

"You know what?" said the doctor. "There's nothing wrong with you. Just keep up your exercise program and keep eating right. And take the time to laugh every now and then. Like those people who just went past."

Now on the 401, Barry drives across the bridge over the Rouge River that marks the eastern most boundary of the City of Toronto and suddenly they were free of the city. The 401 opens up before them.

And they laugh.

Do You Believe In Magic?

See you all on Tuesday! With photos of our little vacation.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Shootout--Interesting or Amusing Signs

Patty and Reggie Girl pioneered the Friday Photo Shoot Out asking us to post photos of our local community every Friday. From a handful of participants it has grown into a world wide phenomenon with over 77 contributors. This week's theme, chosen by Si, is INTERESTING OR AMUSING SIGNS.

There are links to many of the Friday Shoot Out participants from literally around the world at the bottom of my right panel. For a comprehensive list and how to join in, see the Official Shootout Blog for more details.

Next weeks theme, suggested by Mary, is Incongruous Stuff.

I live in Toronto, in the Scarborough area of Toronto, in the West Hill area of Scarborough. So West Hill will be the focus of my photos.


The heat of the day was oppressive, and that was the first sign. The humidity slowed everything down, held every action back, the way the lock on a crossbow held back the bolt but you just knew at some point the trigger was going to be pulled and that bolt was going to fly.

Linda and I caught the 9:10 GO Train into Toronto's Union Station for our 10:30 appointment with the oncologist at Princess Margaret Hospital. We expected to hear the results of Sunday's MRI on my spine and to learn when my CT guided biopsy was to take place.

We were as taunt and high strung as the weather in the wake of the sudden and unexpected death of Mary Knight, a friend and one of Linda's co workers at Berner Trail Public School. Mary was fighting her own battle with cancer, complicated by her diabetes. Despite her own troubles she would phone Linda periodically to see how I was doing.

Mary was very ill, but everyone was still hopeful for her recovery. She was not in crisis and her death was unexpected.

It was the second sign.

At the hospital the oncologist had still not received the results of the MRI scan so she had no update on my condition. She did, however, have a date for my CT guided biopsy: September 2nd.

But wait a minute, September 2 was the date set for my operation? Yes, unfortunately, my operation was now postponed pending the results of the MRI and especially the biopsy. If the biopsy revealed the cancer in my spine was lymphoma, the operation would be rescheduled for sometime in the middle of September. If it was a metastasizing of my esophageal cancer, well, surgery would not be rescheduled.

And that was the third sign.

Back at Union Station, waiting for the GO Train home, I got a phone call from my daughter. They had had car troubles and had borrowed my car for a few days. As her husband set out to return the car this morning it had broken down on the 401 and they had had it towed to a dealer in Guelph. The garage would check the car out and call me with an estimate for repairs.

By this time, the signs were adding up. This was not going to be a good day. I suggested to Linda that we head for the bedroom in the basement when we got home, turn off all our phones, and refuse to come out until tomorrow.

But before we could put this superb plan into action, the car repair called to tell me their examination showed the problem to have been a sudden failure of one of the seals on the engine that had caused all the oil to suddenly drain out resulting in the engine seizing. Turning into a solid block with no moving or movable parts.

Cost of installing a new engine would be $3,000. Including taxes, of course.

But the day was not finished with us. The final sign came that night. The crossbow bolt that had been held in high tension and ratcheted up through out the day, unleashed in a massive and violent storm. Tornadoes ripped apart homes, topped cars, felled massive trees, flooded roadways, took lives and overwhelmed hospitals. Electricity was cut off to over 100,000 households.

Toronto and its surrounding towns and cities was battered. Then battered again.

Our house shook. Rain hammered against the back of the house like shrapnel. The massive trees in our backyard bent and twisted in agony. We watched the water stream down our front window, lightning flashing all around us and thunder so continuous it seemed to go on forever.

But the trees held. And no damage was done to our property.

As Linda and I watched the evening News in disbelief, watched interviews with people in tears whose homes had been turned to rubble, who were anxiously awaiting word about family members who had been injured and rushed to hospital, I realized the final sign had special meaning.

No matter how bad life got, it could always get worse. Compared to those whose lives were torn apart by the storm, we really had little to complain about.

But now, if you'll excuse me, I think today I'll spend in the spare bedroom in the basement. And don't try calling because I'll have the cell and house phones turned off.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mourning The Loss Of Mary Knight

We lost a friend and long time colleague of my wife Linda yesterday.

Newly retired and only two weeks past her 66th birthday, Mary Knight lost her battle with cancer.

She and Linda taught at the same school and for many years shared an open concept classroom. Together they led the Berner Trail Public School choir, Mary playing the piano and Linda conducting.

Unlike the practice at other schools where the choir was open only to those with the best voices, they decided to open their choir to any student with a sincere interest in singing. The result was a choir of over 100 voices.

As well as performing for special events within their school, the choir sang at many local senior's homes, at Shopping Malls during Education Week and for the veterans at Sunnybrook Hospital. The highlight of the choir was being asked to sing the Canadian and American anthems at the Rogers Centre prior to the Blue Jays baseball game.

KNIGHT, Mary Rose  Quietly surrounded by her family on Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at Centenary Health Centre. She will be sadly missed by her beloved husband Bob, much loved son Christopher Clark (Heather), extended family Stephen Knight, Lesley Whittle (Morley), Graeme Knight (Kelly), her 3 beautiful grandsons Carson, Andrew and Duncan and all of the staff and students at Berner Trail Public School. The family will receive friends at the OGDEN FUNERAL HOME, 4164 Sheppard Ave. East, Agincourt (east of Kennedy Rd.) on Thursday from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. Funeral Service to be held in the Ogden Chapel on Friday at 11 a.m. A private family interment will follow. If desired, memorial donations may be made to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Rest comfortably Mary.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Transformative Experience

cavin and hobbes

Steven has asked us all to publish a transformative experience today. Please visit his blog for a complete list of participants.

Here is one of my transformative life experiences (I've had more than one)....

In talking with my parents, one of the parental responsibilities they dreaded the most was talking to my brother's and I about sex.

To them it was the end of innocence. Like revealing that Santa Claus doesn't exist and this is how the presents really get under the tree. So they put it off until I was thirteen. By that time I'd already known for three years.

My sex education came at the hands of an eleven year old girl when I was about 10. She and a girl friend were playing tea and making mud pies in their sand box while my parents were visiting their home and I was told to go out and play with them while the adults visited.

I never understood the passion for making tea and mud pies. I was more into playing cowboys and Indians.

But the girls didn't want to play tea either.

The older girl wanted to share her new knowledge of where babies came from. Her mother, being more liberal and progressive than my own, had had "the talk" with her. She was anxious pass along all she had learned, in clinical detail, with diagrams drawn in the mud. Drawings quickly erased when her mother came out with lemonade for us all.

Her mother obviously hadn't noticed I was virtually stunned into immobility, unusually quiet, wide eyed and ashen faced.

After her mother left, and the girl was certain I had mastered the details of the sex act, which seemed a pretty stupid way to make babies to me, she wanted to know if I'd like to go to her room to make a baby. Then we could have a baby of our very own.

Wouldn't that be fun?

Her friend was very enthusiastic about the idea.

If playing tea and making mud pies was a passion I didn't understand, having an actual baby to look after was right up there with finding the Frankenstein monster standing in your bedroom closet. There was no indication from either girl that the sex act itself was in any way pleasurable. It was just the exciting gateway to having a baby of their own to look after, instead of inanimate dolls.

As a seduction, the girls had a bit to learn about technique.

As for me, it solidified a suspicion that girls were TOTALLY stupid. And had no idea how to have fun.

So I went into the house and bugged my parents to take me home and that's how I learned babies weren't found in a cabbage patch.

My life was transformed.


Monday, August 17, 2009

A Sunday Test

The corridor is empty on the second floor of the Toronto General Hospital, the reception desk at the Medical Imaging Department is closed and gated. No one sits in the reception area. I walk on, my footfalls echoing in the silence. Where is everyone? Where is anyone?

I had received a phone call on Friday to report to the medical imaging department for a complete MRI of my spine. The surgeon hadn't mentioned ordering such a test during my visit with her on Thursday; but obviously she had decided the more information she could gather about the hot spot in my backbone the better.

I had carefully written the time and date down and here I was at the right place at the right time in a completely empty section of the hospital.

I wasn't certain what to do. So I walked further down the corridor, my foot falls echoing behind me. I pushed through a couple of glass doors into another section and the corridor stretched off into the far distance, quiet and empty.

But at the very end of the corridor I saw a large hand written sign that read "MRI", with an arrow pointing to the left.

That looked hopeful.

I walked on. To the left of the sign, where the arrow pointed, was a very tiny waiting room, which was also empty. And quiet.

Not knowing what else to do, but feeling a little foolish, I sat down and waited. Alone, in the silence of the empty building.

I thought about the strange dichotomy between how well I feel and how well the machinery of modern medicine tells me I am. I have been feeling much stronger over the past two weeks, eating better, walking further, beginning to exercise regularly. But over the same period, one of my two primary cancers has spread to my spine. So, although I am feeling significantly better, I am in fact getting significantly worse.

Odd that. And disconcerting that I can no longer trust my feelings to give me accurate information about my state of health.

I sat alone with those discouraging thoughts in the silence of the large and seemingly empty building.

Ten minutes later I was about to give up waiting, when I finally heard the footfalls of someone approaching.

A tall bearded man in a white lab coat rounded the corner, a sheaf of papers in his hands.

"Barry?" he asked.

I agreed that was my name.

"I'm glad you didn't take off on us. We're only open Sundays for special patients and as you can see, our service is paired down to the minimum." He handed me the papers, "I'll need you to read through these and sign the consent at the bottom."

The papers listed all the places metal objects could be hidden in the human body, from piercings to heart monitors to metal shards in the eyes of welders. None of them applied to me. But if any of them had, they could be ripped out of my body by the powerful magnets in the MRI machine.

I signed and was given a hospital gown to change into and then led down to the MRI machine. A cap was put on my head, a thickly padded head set covered my ears and I laid down on the table that would feed me into the machine. A clamp locked my head in place and I was given a "panic button" to hold in case the experience got too intense.

The techie left for the back room, and the table rose up and I was fed head first into the machine, my nose a mere inch from the top of the tube. Cool air blew down the length of the tube and the repeated blast of a klaxon shattered the lingering silence of the hospital.

I settled in for 45 very noisy minutes of magnetic imaging. In the empty hospital. On a Sunday afternoon.

The results, of course, I likely won't know until later in the week, after they also get the results of a still to be scheduled biopsy at Toronto Western Hospital.

After the MRI I went back down to the main lobby of the building where Linda waited and we headed home to enjoy what remained of our weekend.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Guild Alive With Culture

Linda and I are off today to Toronto General Hospital for me to have an MRI scan of my backbone and pelvic cradle. This is not a test I was informed about or was anticipating, but obviously my surgeon flexed her not inconsiderable muscle and got me squeezed in at 2 pm today. Phase one in trying to determine what the heck form of cancer does Barry have now?

Soon be be a Parlour Game from Hasbro.

Later in the week I will be going to Toronto Western Hospital for a major biopsy which will give more definitive answers to this not inconsiderable question. By the end of the week I will know my fate. If it is the spred of my esophageal cancer to my spine, there is not much they can do for me. If it is a migration of the lymphoma, the future is much more hopeful.

But my thoughts are not on the test that awaits me this afternoon, or what the results of that test might be. I am remembering the wonderful experiences Linda and I had yesterday at the Guild Alive With Culture Festival.

This is an annual event held on the grounds of the Guild. It features rows and rows of art work, pottery, jewelry, books, weaving, clothing and many many other crafts.

The weather this year co-operated and the event was bigger and better than ever. Bands were playing, story tellers were in fine voice. There was a special play area for the children.

Linda and I moved from booth to booth, talking with the artists and spending money.

The Organic Market was also in full swing with many tents selling a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, honeys and preserves.

Your might remember the Greek Theatre stage from my Friday Shoot Out. During the festival it was alive with bands and story tellers. Here is a video I shot of A Native Canadian recounting the Creation Myth of her people. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

For more on the festival, you might want to visit Linda's blog.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Fate--According To Astrology

Given my current state of uncertainty in life, Pretty Rubble (aka Michele), a long time student of astrology, kindly caste my astrology chart. Unfortunately I had no idea what time of day I was born, so the chart includes a few informed guesses.

So what do you think, did she nail me or what? Here's what she had to say--

You know Barry...I think you just might be right about the 4-6am time frame for your birth. I programmed in 5am just to play it down the middle and I got your Rising Sign as Pisces. Your Rising Sign is your personality, the one you project to the world. For most of us, it's just the necessary, courteous, social mask we choose to wear. It might not be who we TRULY are DEEP inside. It's a defense shield for your Sun (ego) and Moon (emotions)

Another way to look at it is, it's your portal through which you see the world or the coloring the world takes. You see things through Pisces colored glasses...mystical, magical, filled with imaginative illusion and delusion at times, sometimes smoke and mirrors! Dreamy and transcendental and all that groovy stuff!

If you are indeed a Pisces Rising it would mean that you are spiritual, sensitive, devoted, creative, idealistic and compassionate.

Your Moon is definitely in Pisces! That indicates someone who is imaginative, mystical, psychic and empathetic (sound like you!?)

Your Sun is Aries (the born pioneer of the zodiac!) Impulsive, headstrong, candid, ambitious!

Your planet of communications and perceptiveness, Mercury was in Aries as well! (A little impatient are we...maybe more so in your youth?!) You are quick acting, decisive and you have a knack for thinking on your feet dontcha'!

Your planet of Love (Venus) was in Taurus...You like a lot of physical contact! and the creature comforts! You are peaceful, sympathetic and loyal! Ahh..

Your planet of Energy and Drive, Mars was in Aquarius...this makes you kinda' unconventional! You are original, complex and high spirited! (Can it also make you a bit contrary and rebellious?)

Did your Aries come out as a kid and young adult, giving you a brashness or a recklessness? Did it take time and maturity to ease into your more warm and fuzzy Pisces-ness? But I see now that you certainly DO have a very philosophical, mystical and metaphysical view point!

Oh and I couldn't help but notice at the top of your chart, in the house of have fiery, adventurous and philosophical Sagittarius! Look at him, the centaur, zinging off an arrow! See it?

Well guess what..YOU ARE the ARROW!! Look how you speed off to parts unknown and as you fly through the heavens you are pondering.."where am I going!?" "What is out there?!" "What is my purpose?!" I don't know what you do for a living but I hope it allowed you to express the gypsy in your soul..the philosopher in your soul and the student in your soul!

Did you teach in some context? Just curious!


Images courtesy of Photobucket

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Shootout--Relaxation

Patty and Reggie Girl pioneered the Friday Photo Shoot Out asking us to post photos of our local community every Friday. From a handful of participants it has grown into a world wide phenomenon with over 77 contributors. This week's theme, chosen by Spirit of Lena, is RELAXATION.

There are links to many of the Friday Shoot Out participants from literally around the world at the bottom of my right panel. For a comprehensive list and how to join in, see the Official Shootout Blog for more details.

Next weeks theme is INTERESTING SIGNS.

I live in Toronto, in the Scarborough area of Toronto, in the West Hill area of Scarborough. So West Hill will be the focus of my photos.

Being true to the theme, here we find myself relaxing on a bench at our local park

And here we find me relaxing on a bench in the forest. I appear to have lost a leg in this photo, but somehow, I continue to limp along without missing it.

Thespian that I am (or is it "ham"), here I can be found relaxing on the stage of the Greek Theatre.

I also discovered I can relax on the grounds of the Guild Inn.

And I can relax beside the Rouge River.

It appears I can relax anywhere. Lets just hope no one chooses Work as a theme!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Today's Visit With The Surgeon.

Unfortunately today's visit with the surgeon at PMH has left me with more uncertainty and a future that contains either bad news or very bad news.

As you may know, in preparation for today's visit I had a follow up CT scan last Friday to determine the impact my weeks and weeks of chemo/radiation therapy have had on my cancer. I should have known that would not result in good news. Every form of scan I've had has led to the discovery of further problems. This scan was no exception.

"The scan has shown a migration of cancer to your spine," the surgeon told me.

"To my spine?" That was the last news I expected. Or wanted to hear.

"Either that means a metastasizing of your esophageal cancer to your spine has taken place, or the lymphoma in your hip is not as benign as we believed and it's that that has spread to your spine. If it's esophageal cancer that is now in your spine, then the fact that it has metastasized means that cancer is no longer curable and we will be canceling your surgery and devoting ourselves to making your last months as comfortable as possible."

That was a message that took some time to digest. The surgeon paused to give me time for the implications of that to set in.

"On the other hand, if we find it's the cancer in your hip that has migrated to your spine, we will go ahead with your operation, but it means your lymphoma is not low grade as we believed and after you recover from surgery you will have to undergo treatment for lymphoma as soon as you're well enough."

Not good news either way.

So, now I am to undergo a major biopsy at Toronto Western Hospital to determine what type of cancer is now in my bones, lymphoma or esophageal. This will be conducted under anesthetic where a surgeon guided by a CT scanner will use a large needle to insert a precise probe into the bones of my hip for a biopsy sample to determine exactly what is going on there. They cannot biopsy the newly found cancer in my spine, the location being too risky.

If there was any good news today it was that a date for surgery has been set (September 2nd) since the surgeon believes the newly discovered bone cancer is lymphoma. Friday's CT scan has shown the weeks of chemo/radiation has had a significantly positive impact on the cancer in my throat--and because of that she will not have to remove my entire esophagus but only 5 centimeters above the tumor.

So I am now waiting for a date for the biopsy and then for news about which form of cancer now invades my spine. For news about my future, in other words.

I wish I had clearer and better news to share. Trust me, I really do.

However, what is, is. And, with your support, we will deal with whatever comes our way.

I hope your August 13th has been better than ours!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lindsay Has Her Say

I don't have a lot of time this morning, so I have asked Lindsay to write today's blog. Any complaints about the contents of the blog will have to be taken up with her.
Lindsay barking

I am quivering with excitement but stand still despite the overwhelming urge to run. I feel my dad's's hands on my collar and hear the click of my leash being removed.


I leap forward into a wondrous world of exotic smells and tiny scurrying creatures. For a while I just run for the sheer pleasure of it. But within moments I feel the prideful leash of the pack and return to my pack leader who lumbers down the path toward me.

He is a strange pack leader, huge in size and with a quiet bark. He seldom runs, although lately he has been kind of wobbly and pausing to rest periodically. But for the longest time we gave up walking altogether and it was rare to find him even getting out of bed. But now things seem to be getting back to normal and our runs are getting longer every day.

I come to a fork in the path ahead of us. To the right takes us along the top of the bluffs, to the left the beach at the bottom. I head left, loving the water, drawn by the seductive sound of the waves.

Looking back to check with the pack leader that I have made the correct choice, I see from a wave of my dad's hand that we are going right today. So I spin about and fly up the path that leads to the meadow at the top of the bluffs.

I love hand gestures, they are so much easier to understand than the various barks my dad prefers for communication. "Sit", "lie down" and "roll over" were child's play of my youth, useful only as keys to recognizing that our pack uses barking as speech. Why we don't just use body language is beyond me and has made life in the pack difficult.

I am a dog in a human pack and have to learn its ways. So I listen. Laying on the floor of the livingroom, I listen to all that is being said. I have learned all their names and the names of each area of the house. An obedient pack member, I will go to sleep if asked. No matter how excited I am, if told to be patient, I will go away and give them ten minutes. I know the word "No".

My pack leader often boasts to friends about how much he has taught me, but he stopped teaching me with "sit". The rest I have learned on my own. I have not just learned a foreign language, I have learned the language of a foreign species. But he gets all the praise which, as pack leader, he should.

I catch the faint scent of mouse in passing and wheel back to investigate. My dad passes me by. He seldom chases the spoor of animals, preferring a steady gait down the trail. I head off the pathway into the deep brush, nose to the ground, following the scent.

Eventually I loose the spoor. It was hours old anyway, and I return to the path and find my dad sitting on a log overlooking the bluffs, taking in the view and thinking.

I seldom think. Using language is hard work and I don't really see the benefit. For example, I'm puzzled that whenever we come here to hunt, we never catch anything. Yet my dad is a great provider, as a pack leader has to be. He hunts on his own, or with my mom, and comes home laden with foods of all kinds. I don't know why they don't take me along, but where's the benefit to my worrying about it?

A squirrel darts across the path and I am off after it, barking furiously. It reaches a tree, its tail inches from my jaws. Frustrated I dance around the base of the tree, barking and barking with frustration.

The sound of my name being called eventually penetrates my rage and I look up to find my dad already moving off back down the trail. I give a few parting barks and then run to catch up.

I know we're heading home but I love it here and don't know why we can't just live here, find a den that's closer. it would be much more fun.

Ah well, I'm not the pack leader and, although this is a very small and strange pack, its a good life.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What Cancer Has Taught Me (Part 1)

The following is the first in a series of periodic posts discussing some of the facts and insights I have gained from having cancer. I want to capture this learning as a reminder to me that I have gained something from this experience that has been positive and life changing, and as a way to share with others some of the learning that has taken place within me over time.


"Are we doing anything on the 22nd?" I asked Linda.

She thought for a moment. Well we have the memorial for my mother the following weekend, but nothing I can think of on the 22nd. Why?"

I looked up from my laptop. "The Lovin' Spoonful are putting on a free concert in Peterborough on August 22nd. Part of the Festival of Lights celebration down by the lake. Since we're not getting a vacation this year, I wondered about going to Peterborough, staying over night and taking in the concert?"

"That would be a great idea," said Linda. "I haven't even thought of the Lovin' Spoonful in years."

"Not since we were young, the whole world was becoming a more loving place and we were all going to live forever...."


Not cancer, but death itself has taught me the falsity of that notion over the past thirty years. I think of the friends and family I have lost to various diseases over the decades. But none of them to cancer. Most of them to strokes or heart attacks. I am the first member of our immediate family to have cancer.

Cancer was a disease that ran rampant in other families, not my own. It was not a disease I had particularly thought about. I would donate to the Cancer Society periodically on behalf of friends who were fighting the disease and Linda and I would take part her school's contingent in the 5K Walk For The Cure.

I knew cancer was out there. It just wasn't coming for me.

I had a lot to learn.

The first thing I learned about cancer, which surprised me greatly, is that there is no such disease. Cancer isn't a disease. Instead, as oncologist Dr. Robert Buckman points out, cancer is a process shared by a number of very different diseases.

We routinely talk as if cancer is a singular definable disease ("He has cancer!" "OMG, when's the funeral?"), when it fact it is series of over 200 diseases, all very different from each other.

Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers have more in common with warts than, say, pancreatic cancer. In fact, when cancer statistics are collected and we are told that 150,000 Canadians (or 1,200,000 Americans) will develop cancer this year, basal and squamous cell cancers aren't even counted in the mix.

We should, instead, be talking about the "cancers", not "cancer".

As Dr. Buckman points out, "When you lump all cancers together as a singular mysterious disease that you then call by one name cancer, the predictability of the various cancers is lost. And there is a tendency to dread any of the cancers with the same fear and doom as the most serious of them.

"When predictability is lost, fear and panic rush in to fill the vacuum."

What the cancers have in common is their process. It is a three part process:

1) A particular group of cells, instead of reproducing normally, starts rapidly growing in a disorderly and uncontrollable way, in a specific area of the body.

2) The growing cells invade into neighbouring areas.

3) Worst of all, the cells then begin metastasizing to distant areas of the body, for example to the liver or the lungs, and it is these secondary cancers that are the gravest threat to life and health.

Science has reached the point of being able to make reasonably good predictions about the general likelihood of primary cancers metastasizing to other areas of the body.

But they are not good a making reliable predictions in specific individual cases. At the moment no one knows how well general predictions will apply to you. Or me.

I predict getting away to Peterborough for a day or two and taking in a concert in the park will be good for both Linda and I. But the concert could get rained out, the car could break down on the way, the hotel could be filled with kids at a baseball tournament yelling and screaming down the halls.

Life, you can only make your best guess and go with that, otherwise, nothing gets done.

This I've learned.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

As Nerdy A Post As You're Ever Likely To Read

My Wife's cousin Alan sent me the following article---

The Japanese Word, Mu
by Robert Pirsig

Robert M. Pirsig Pictures, Images and Photos

Yes and no.This or that.One or zero. In the basis of this
elementary two-term discrimination, all human knowledge is
built up. The demonstration of this is the computer memory
that stores all knowledge in the form of binary
information. It contains ones and zeroes, that's all.

Because we're unaccustomed to it, we don't usually see
that there's a third possible logical term equal to yes
and no which is capable of our understanding in an
unrecognized direction. We don't even have term for it, so
I'll have to use the Japanese mu.

Mu means "no thing." Like "quality" it points outside the
process of dualistic discrimination. Mu simply says, "no
class: not one, not zero, not yes, not no." It states that
the context of the question is such that a yes and a no
answer is in error and should not be given. "Unask the
question" is what it says.

Mu becomes appropriate when the context of the question
becomes too small for the truth of the answer. When the
Zen monk was asked whether a dog had Buddha nature he said
"Mu," meaning that if he answered either way he was
answering incorrectly. The Buddha nature cannot be
captured by yes or no questions.

That Mu exists in the natural world investigated by
science is evident. The dualistic mind tends to think
of Mu occurrences in nature as a kind of contextual
cheating, or irrelevance, but Mu is found through all
scientific investigation, and nature doesn't cheat, and
nature's answers are never irrelevant. It's a great
mistake, a kind of dishonesty to sweep nature's Mu
answers under the carpet.

When your answer to a test is indeterminate it means one
of two things: that your test procedures aren't doing what
you think they are or that your understanding of the
context of the question needs to be enlarged. Check your
tests and restudy the question. Don't throw away those Mu
answers! They're every bit as vital as the yes and no
answers. They're more vital. They're the ones you grow on.

--Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

robert pirsig Pictures, Images and Photos