Sunday, September 27, 2009

We're Gone, We're History, We're Outa Here!

As I'm sure you know, the news we received about my health in the past week has made this one of the most stressful times in the most stressful year of our lives. And stress isn't our friend. Not Linda's friend, not my friend. Not your friend.

So we've decided we need a break. We need to get out of here, to get totally away from Toronto, away from cancer doctors, away from hospitals, away from endless appointments that need booked and rebooked, away from endless hours spent in aptly named Waiting Rooms.

So we've done a little therapeutic booking of our own, a week at the Delta Grandview Resort in Huntsville Ontario. Where life can slow down a little. Where we can walk miles of forested trails under the Fall canopy of coloured leaves, can swim in their massive pool, get pampered in their spa, watch the stars from their observatory, exercise, eat the healthiest of foods, browse the shops in Town and put thoughts of cancer and death and hospitals and oncologists and CT scans and treatments totally out of our mind for a while.

Laugh maybe.

Read a good book. Or a bad one.

Chill out, in other words.

And be together, just the two of us. The way we were when we began this journey together back in 1970, fresh out of college, my Dodge Valiant loaded with all our belongings, its nose also pointed toward the North; but even further North than Huntsville. All of Life's adventure still before us.

So on Monday morning we are pointing the car North once again and leaving the city far behind us.

We are taking a laptop with us but won't be doing much in the way of posting. Although we might peek now and then.

But, in the meantime, don't expect to hear much from us until next weekend.

When you'll be asking yourself, who are those two cool cats over there, so totally mellowed out, without a care in the world? Why, it's Barry and Linda! They look ten years younger.

I wonder what their secret is?

PS Yes Grandview is where the G8 and G20 Summits are being held next year. We hope there aren't secret service types already hiding behind every tree and confiscating all our photos in the name of national secruity. lol

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday "My Town" Shootout--My Favorite Place To Connect With The Past

Patty and Reggie Girl pioneered the Friday "My Town" 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, Jen and GingerV.

This week's theme, chosen by Cindy, is MY FAVORITE PLACE TO__________________.

For a comprehensive list and how to join instructions, just click on the camera at bottom of my side panel.

Next weeks theme, suggested by The Blogger Team is The Photo Study Of A Building.

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.


I'm cheating a bit. The Museum of Civilization is in Ottawa not Toronto, and certainly not in West Hill.

However, long before the English and French settled here, West Hill was home to several Iroquois villages.

Here Canada's First Nations peoples lived their lives for generations. They were the Iroquois to their enemies, known to themselves as the Haudenosaunee or the "People of the Longhouse"

Looking nothing like the Hollywood stereotype of "Indians", they lived in wooden villages behind pallisaded walls.

Across the country the way of life and style of clothing varied from tribe to tribe, but they all dressed warmly against the bitter snows of winter.

Of course their villages are gone now, from here. Only careful archeological work has turned up traces of their villages along the banks of Highland Creek and under the carefully manicured lawns of the private Scarborough Golf Club.

So to get some sense of what life was like 200 or a 1000 years ago in my own backyard, I need to travel to Ottawa.

The Museum of Civilization has the largest collection of First Nations artifacts in the country.

Here, if we can just take the time to contemplate, to open our eyes to a different world, to a different life, we might just get the vaguest sense of another time and another place and another way of life.

A way of life that once existed in my own backyard and along the pathways where I take Lindsay for her daily runs. Pathways originally trodden by very different feet.

Take the time now to loose yourself in these images. Spend a little time with them and let their magic work on you. Click on any of them to enlarge them.

There was once a different world, with different values, different habits, different beliefs, right here, in this place.

Can you feel it?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Slippery Night At The Old Mill Inn

I was worried about the drive, but I needn't have been. The City was aware conditions were ripe for black ice and had road crews out early, huge trucks spewing rock salt on every major roadway. But still it was cold.

The rest of the city was aware of the potential danger too and reluctant to get moving, so I had the roads to myself in the dark early morning hours of the day.

It was about five years ago and I drove the empty salted streets at a decent speed, my car often the only vehicle on the road, alert for any skid on hidden ice.

But there was none and I made the drive between my home in the far East end of Toronto to the Old Mill Inn, in the West, in record time. Too quickly, as it turns out.

I was at the Inn for a company retreat, a day for our staff to get away and do some strategic planning for our corporate future. Built amid the original 200-year-old King's Mill, the Old Mill is set in tranquil gardens and parklands along the Humber River. And because the roads were so clear of traffic, I got to the Inn about half an hour early.

Behind the Inn's nearly empty parking lot, the parklands of the Humber spread out before me. I could hear the siren call of the River above the distant traffic on Bloor St. Then, with time to kill, I made a mistake that haunts me still.

I decided to walk down to the river, instead of heading straight into the Inn. The sun was now up, but weak in the cloudy sky. A slight fog hung in the crisp air as I set out across the parking lot to Mill Road, which leads down to the park.

But as I reached the curb, I stepped on a patch of black ice and my feet flew out from under me. For a moment I was suspended in the air, long enough to realize the landing would seriously hurt.

And it did, my back hip bones striking the very edge of the curb. I lay there alone waiting for the pain to come, then wondering if I could stand.

I could, with difficulty. So I hobbled over to the Inn and found my way to our meeting room where it was obvious to everyone on the Marketing staff, who were setting up for the day, that I was in agony. But I was mobile and thought the pain would subside with time.

It wasn't until I nearly fainted during the opening exercise of the day, and was rushed to a local medical clinic that I was forced to realize I had done some serious damage to myself.

Over the next two days, the bruising from the fall turned my back black from my knees to my shoulders. However, the doctors determined that I hadn't broken anything. Strong bones, they said.

It was six months before the pain fully went away. And even still, five years away from that fall, I am subject to periodic pain in my lower back, at my hip cage. When it comes, I take no medicine for it. It is just there as a dull ache that visits and lasts for a few weeks and then is gone.

But the problem now is that the cancer in my hip is located in the same hip cage. At the same location. An odd coincidence.

One that will make it difficult to determine if I am in pain from cancer, or this old injury, should (when) I experience future pain in this region.

Or could it be that the recurrent pain I experience was never a consequence of that injury? Had it been cancer lurking in my marrow all these years?

Something I will have to discuss with the radiation oncologist at my meeting with her tomorrow.

Not that I'm in pain at the moment.I am likely feeling the healthiest I have in years. But the pain will come, that familiar dull ache, because eventually it always does. Only now it may disguise something more sinister.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lindsay's Memories of Puppy Club

It is early morning as I type and Lindsay is sleeping at my feet. Her eyes and nose are twitching as she dreams. Occasionally her paws move slightly in a rapid running pattern. Of course I have no idea what's going on in her mind. But I often wonder if she dreams of Puppy Club.

Lindsay joined Puppy Social Club when she was one year old. Puppy Club was the inspiration of a dog trainer and store owner in Cliffside, Charmaine Klaas, President of the Canine Empire, and was held Saturday mornings in a remote area of Morningside Park.

At it's height about twenty people and their pets gathered together at the park to socialize. The owners got to meet and talk with other dog owners, share information, gossip, talk, discuss problems they were having with their pets.

To become friends.

The dogs got a lot of bums to sniff and the experience of being part of a pack. They played together, ran together, hunted together, barked together and got to know doggy etiquette.

Puppy Club lasted only one year and we never knew why it ended. One day the Saturday Puppy Club sign at the entrance to the park was missing and so was Charmaine, the woman who had organized the Club. When members of the Club went to her store to see if she was alright, they found the store empty and closed.

A few of us carried on. We moved the club to the Rouge Valley where we took the dogs on long 5k walks. At its height, we had over ten dogs who met and walked together. But then some people moved, some of the dogs died. Some of the owners died. Some people just lost interest.

It dwindled down to three of us. Then Linda and I went on an extended vacation one summer and when we returned, the remains of the Club had folded. In total Puppy Club lasted three years.

The fact that Lindsay is so comfortable with a whole range of dogs, I put down to her years in Puppy Club.

I still remember the time with great fondness.

And perhaps, at my feet, her nose twitching, the tip of her tail wagging, so does Lindsay.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What Do You Do For An Encore?

Q What do you do for an encore?

Barry What?

Q Now that you've told everyone you're dying, what do you do for an encore?

Barry Who are you?

Q I mean, look at you. What are you doing right now?

Barry I'm sitting in the comfortable lazy-boy Linda brought for me, listening to some quiet music, drinking a cup of tea and wondering what to have for breakfast.

Q Exactly. Kind of anti-climatic don't you think. Sort of like in the movies where the hero gets shot and makes this pitiful "I'm, dying" speech and then doesn't. Embarrassing. All these people out there traumatized and you sitting here drinking tea and wondering what to have for breakfast.

Barry But I am dying. That's what the hospital tests showed.

Q Ya sure, but not for years. And who knows what might happen in all that time. Heck, we might be stuck with you forever.

Barry Say, who are you? And how did you get in here?

Q Why I think you owe people an apology for upsetting them so much.

Barry You know you sound very much like Mark Cowell's Bagman.

Q Nonsense! I'm your conscience, here to haunt you for all the pain you've been causing people. Would you like me to say that again in my scary voice?

Barry You are, you're Bagman! How did you get here from Mark's blog?

Q You're trying to avoid my question. Besides, Mark doesn't have a Butler and Bagman blog anymore. He changed the name. Wiped me out of existence.

Barry Yes, but it's only temporary. He'll be going back to calling it Butler and Bagman once his reunion is over. In fact he could have changed it back to Butler and Bagman already, while you were gone.

Q (sniff) He...he will? He might have? Already?

Barry Yes he will. You've got nothing to worry about. Silly Bagman. Now, off you go back to your own blog. Mark will be worried about you!

Q Alright, but before I go, can I ask you just one more question?

Barry Sure.

Q Is Linda as hot in real life as she is in her photos?

Barry Arrrrrrugh!

Q OK I'm leaving. Remember Talk Like A Pirate Day was last Saturday! I'm out of here!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Not The News I Wanted To Bring You

"This isn't the news I wanted to bring you.", said the surgeon on Thursday morning, and I knew then what the biopsy report contained.

She had in her hand, or at least on her computer screen, the pathology results from my recent bioposy. Unfortunately the results confirmed the opinion of the doctor who performed the biopsy, my esophageal cancer has metastasized to the bones of my pelvis and spine.

This result means my cancer is no longer "curable". Is, in fact, inoperable. Indeed, as Dr. Darling, put it, the results meant my life expectancy was significantly less than 5 years (at best), a matter of months (at worst). She could make no more precise estimate.

I am no longer a candidate for surgery, given that my cancer had escaped my esophagus and that I am no longer curable.

I am, however, still treatable. As the Medical oncologist pointed out at our meeting with her on Friday morning, I am treatable in the sense that I am still a candidate for radiation therapy and chemotherapy to reduce the discomforts of the disease's progression and control the rate of the spread of the disease in order to, possibly, prolong my life. I could even go into remission, although with very aggressive cancers, like esophageal, remissions are seldom lengthy.

When I think of all the prayers and good wishes that have come my way over the past seven months, I feel, perversely, that I have let you down. Or, at least, my body has. Few ordinary people have had the benefit of the extraordinary outpouring of support I have received from, literally, around the world. I wanted a different outcome for you as well as me.

I know this all seems depressing, and (trust me) I am profoundly saddened by the news, but there are alternative approaches; there are websites filled with stories of those who are still alive decades after being given the same "incurable" prognosis. So Linda and I are embarking, more forcefully, on an "anti-cancer" lifestyle that will, hopefully, give me more time.

I don't want to leave you and I do want to be here for a long time yet, much more than the (less than) 5 years Dr. Darling has given me. I have an appointment with the radiation oncologist next Friday and will be receiving another CT scan on October 9th, for them to measure the rate of progression of the disease.

I want to assure you that I am feeling extremely well, eating comfortably, sleeping the night through, exercising daily, meditating, in good spirits, (well, alright, there have been some tough moments) and actively involved in talking with family and friends. Friday was my newest granddaughter, Hailey's, first birthday and we are getting together with our family to celebrate today at my daughter's home.

It will be a good day. One to treasure.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Shootout--domestic animals

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, Jen and GingerV.

This week's theme, chosen by Sandy, is DOMESTIC ANIMALS.

For a comprehensive list and how to join instructions, just click on the camera at bottom of my side panel.

Next weeks theme, suggested by Cindy, is MY FAVORITE PLACE TO _____________.

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.


Let me introduce to you the domestic animals who are part of our extended family. It is hard to think about our families without including their animals.

My niece and nephew, Emily and Wesley, are champion riders, as was their mother Sherry. Emily has competed in Canada, the United States and South Africa. She will be taking part in trials in Vancouver this fall.

My brother Keith lost his dog at Christmas in 2008. Sully joined the family five months later. Sully is lovable and active. By far his favourite activity is eating. Or running. Or panting. Or getting his tummy rubbed.

Well, one of those.

This was our first introduction to Sully, when he was still living with his mother brother and sisters. Sully is second from the left. Or was he the furthest on the right. Well, he is one of those puppies.

My brother John has moved on from owning dogs to owning parrots. Please meet Lola, a Sun Conure Parrot, now just over a year old. Lola is very affectionate and is just learning to talk.

Here is a little video about Lola:

Last, but not least, this domestic animal needs no introduction and is a member of our own household. Although it is getting hard to find a photo of her you haven't seen before. At least Lindsay dressed up for the occasion today.


NOTE: I will post the outcome of my meetings with the surgeon (yesterday) and the medical oncologist (this morning) on Saturday. Linda and I are in the midst of contacting family members to update them with the findings of the biopsy, not wanting them to stumble on those by reading the about them in my blog. Some things in life are still just better done in person.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lindsay's Birthday At The Beach

Having raged against the machine for a day, but only managing to wrestle it to a draw, Linda and I went out for dinner.

And a little wine.

We drove out of town to one of our favorite restaurants, the Waterfront Bistro, in Pickering. It was quiet, the food was excellent, the waiter was hilarious, the sun set over the marina behind us and we were reminded of the pleasures life has to offer.

Well, for a price. The Waterfront Bistro isn't cheap. But it is less expensive than psychotherapy. And we came away with two doggy bags.

Midway through the meal, Linda noticed I had become quiet and remote and she became concerned. I had spent the day making numerous phonecalls to various doctors at Princess Margaret Hospital to find out the results of my (not so recent) biopsy. My increasingly curt and angry voice is recorded for posterity on a variety of answering machines at the hospital.

"What are you thinking?" Linda asked quietly.

I was reluctant to tell her.

"Barry, please talk to me. What are you thinking?" She was looking concerned and kindly.

"I was wondering what to post for the blog about Lindsay tomorrow."

"What?" Linda's surprised inhalation momentarily sucked all the air from the bistro, causing the chatty people at the next table to experience a brief lightheadedness.

"I have a few ideas, but nothing that really appeals to me." I explained lamely.

Linda was flabbergasted (how often have you seen that word in print?). "I thought you might be getting depressed about your biopsy results?"

"Waste a lovely meal and a beautiful evening getting myself all upset about something I don't know and can't change even if I did know? I'd rather think about things I can actually do. And I can actually post a blog tomorrow about Lindsay. I enjoy that." I told her, moving the salt and pepper shakers away in case she decided to throw something.

Instead, she laughed and a lot of her stress drained away. "Well, why don't you post that slide show you made of her at the beach on her birthday. The one that has the shots of the movie set with the fake palm trees and the grass hut they were just dismantling on the beach at Bluffer's Park?"

It was a good suggestion.

So I did.


10:30 am

I just received a follow-up phone call from my surgeon's secretary booking an appointment for me to meet with the surgeon tomorrow at 9:15.

So I now have appointments to discuss the biopsy results with the surgeon on Thursday and with the medical oncologist on Friday.

I should soon know more than (maybe) I want to about the results of the CT guided biopsy and its implications for my future.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hot Coffee On A Cold Morning

I step out the french doors onto the deck and the hot cup of coffee in my hand begins to steam in the cold morning air.

In the far distance, I can faintly hear the constant rumble of Kingston Road to the north and the occasional passing of a GO train to the south. But these are distant sounds more than a kilometer away from me and at 6 o'clock in the morning it is mostly a silent world.

Lindsay has run several times around the backyard defensively seeking signs of intrusion into our property overnight. She is black and the sun is still not fully up so I hear the clinking of her collar and her warning growl more than I see her.

The back of the wicker furniture is wet with dew but the cushions are dry and I sit in the relative silence of the city morning, drinking my coffee and waiting for the day to begin.

I've fallen into a routine that suits me well. I'm awake at 6 in the morning. Make coffee and then write a post for my blog. Linda is up by 7 and we talk for a while. I check out comments and visit as many of the blogs I follow as I possibly can. By 9 I take Lindsay for a run and at 11 take an hour to meditate and exercise.

Linda and I then have the afternoon free for whatever the day holds.

But today, I will be phoning Princes Margaret Hospital for the results of my biopsy. I've waited two weeks for the feedback that will send my comfortable routine into one of several very different directions.

Will send my life into one of several very different directions.

I sip my coffee, the hot liquid flows easily down my throat past where the esophageal cancer once blocked the passage of just about everything. From my mouth, warmed by the coffee, I can see my breath for a flickering moment. Fall is here and as the days move toward winter, seeing my breath in the cold morning air will soon not be a novelty.

I love the Fall. I love the cold morning air. I love the feel of the warm coffee mug in my hands. I love the stillness of the day. I love the time to be alone and just think.

I love my life.

I can feel the wetness of the dew from the back of the chair against my skin. It has worked its way through my robe and my pajama top. It is cold but the warmth of my body will soon dry it out. There are some natural processes you can just count on.

But cancer is a mystery, for all the money, time and effort that has been spent on understanding it. It is running a strange and unpredictable path through my life, as it did through the life of Patrick Swayze who passed away last night, or Farrah Fawcett who died of the disease a month or so ago, after they both received the very best of care.

And as it failed to follow the expected pathway in the lives of Ian Gawler and David Servan-Schreiber who are both alive and healthy decades after their encounter with the worst the disease had to offer.

So a mystery.

My phone call to the hospital may unravel some of that mystery for me today. May change this comfortable routine. May send me along a new and different pathway.

But following new pathways is what being an explorer is all about. And as I sit in the lightening day, Lindsay (assured her world is safe) now sleeping at my feet, my mug of coffee almost gone, I realize whatever path my life will follow, it is bound to be interesting.

And I will learn a lot.


10:30 am

So I phone my Oncologist as requested to find out the results of the biopsy conducted two weeks ago.

And I get the office answering machine which informs me that the secretary is working from home today with limited opportunity to return calls. If this is an emergency....etc. etc.

I left a polite request that someone get back to me with the results of the test. We will see what happens, but so far, I guess you could say, I haven't learned a whole lot.


3:00 pm

Placed another call. Now the secretary's voice mailbox is full and not accepting further messages. I noticed this time that the voice message states that "This is Monday, and the secretary will be working from hone..."

But this is Tuesday. So she's been away two days now, likely ill, with no one taking her place.

Time to call one of the other oncologists I've been seeing.


4:30 pm

I finally reached the medical oncologist's office whose secretary confirmed that the biopsy report was in the system. The surgeon, whose office had ordered the biopsy and whose office phone number I have been trying all day, is still in surgery and likely hasn't had the opportunity to check for messages yet.

However, the medical oncologist has read the report and wants to see me to discuss it on Friday morning at 9 am.

It isn't something she wants to discuss over the phone.


So I will either get more details when the surgeon phones later today or on Friday morning.

Linda and I have been doing a lot of speculating about what all of this could mean, but the reality is we don't know.

So, instead of twisting ourselves into a pretzel, we're going out for dinner.

And maybe a little wine.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Although I haven't Been Anywhere--I'm Back!

I don't know why I'm back on-line.

I'm still not sure why I got knocked off-line.

I woke up Friday and attempted to go on-line and nothing happened. I had a look at our wireless router and found the lights blinking all over the place. So I unplugged it, waited 30 seconds and plugged it back in again.

The little lights went back to blinking all over the place.

I called our service provider, Rogers Cable, for technical support.

Unplug your router, they told me. I've already tried that, I told them. Try it again, they told me.

So I did.

And when I plugged it back in the little lights went back to blinking all over the place.

"For some reason your router is continually attempting to reboot itself," Roger's technical support told me. "We'll have to send a serviceman out to see you. The earliest we can have him out is next Wednesday."

"Next Wednesday?!!!" I said, going ballistic, and saying a few other things to them.

But the best I could wangle was the promise to put me on a list for possible earlier service, if they had a cancellation.

In the meantime, they suggested I try periodically unplugging the router to see if it would self-correct.

So I did that. But it didn't help.

Then last night the router went back to normal. All on its own. And this morning every thing is still working fine. I don't know why. I don't know how long it will last. I don't question it.

But now I kind of miss the little flashing lights! Although my router was misbehaving and being very annoying, it looked kind of, well, (don't laugh) happy!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Frisday Shootout--Weathered

Problems Problems

Our internet connection has broken down and cannot be repaired before next Wednesday. What terrible customer service. So, neither Linda nor I will be posting regualarly until next Thursday. Sorry about that.

Anyhow I'm logging on with my Starbucks card for a brief update.

I phoned the hospital and the earliest I can expect feedback on my biopsy is Tuesday. So that is on hold as well.

I terms of the shootout, I'm only posting two of the 80 shots Linda and I took. This is the oldest home in Scarborough, so I trust it is sufficiently weathered by now.

See you all next week!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lindsay's Tenth Birthday Celebration!!!

In September of 1999 a tiny, black nosed, waggy tailed, floppy eared, feisty little bundle of energy, love and voracious appetite came into our lives and transformed them.

It is hard to believe how that tiny bundle of fur would grow and the adventures she would take us on. We were to come to learn just how many burrs two doggy ears could extract from the local environment. We would also come to learn why most owners of English Springer Spaniels have their dog's tails bobbed. Any burrs not collected by her ears, as she sticks her curious black wet nose into any bushes she finds, are promptly swept up by her ever wagging tail.

That she has been part of our lives for ten years now is hard to believe. That there was a time when she wasn't part of our family is also hard to credit. So here's to you Lindsay, a whole decade of life now under your collar (that's 70 human years) yet still as feisty and energetic as ever, may life always be a glorious adventure for you, and may you always take us along for the ride!

Or, at least, the run. Here is a beautiful little video I shot on Saturday of Lindsay and I out for a run together. Yes, I said run. Still a little stiff and ungainly, but that is me running, not a stunt double. And, of course, that black blur going past me isn't the wind, that's Lindsay!

Happy Tenth Birthday to you girl!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Clock Ticks But The Phone Doesn't Ring

This time the waiting is difficult.

I want, and do not want, the phone to ring.

But it will, likely today, but certainly before the week is out.

The doctor who did my CT guided biopsy last Wednesday was cheerfully certain what the results would show.

"Oh it will be a mat for sure," he told me.

"A mat?"

"Oh sorry," he looked confused for a second, as if having to remind himself that he was talking to a patient. "A metastasizing of your esophageal cancer to the bone in your spine."

"To the bone marrow," I corrected.

"No to the bone. To the bony lesion we discovered on your last CT scan. It wasn't there on the earlier scan and there it was on the last scan. Got to be a mat."

I'm puzzled and alarmed. "No one's mentioned the involvement of the bone before. That can't be a good thing."

"Nope, not good at all." He agreed. In fact, I thought, a pretty cruel twist of fate so deep into the game, with the goal line tantalizingly within reach.

"It couldn't be a second primary cancer? That's what the oncologist thought."

The doctor waved the idea away. "Oh no. impossible. We never see this form of cancer as a primary in anyone over thirty. Never. Can't happen. It will be a mat." He replied with breezy confidence in his diagnosis.

"How long before the biopsy results are back?" I ask.

"Shouldn't take more than a few days. A week at most." He smiled.

Today the week is up. No phone call so far, but then there was the long weekend in the middle to delay things.

I am feeling great. The best I've felt since last February. I can eat anything without pain, my energy level is as high as it ever was, I've regained 7 kilos. The chemo and radiation must have done a thorough job on the cancer in my esophagus. Perhaps even eliminating it. In fact I have no symptom that would indicate I have an illness of any sort.

But if the cancer escaped the confines of my throat, ignored the tasty nearby organs such as the kidneys, the liver or the lungs, and made the unlikely voyage down to the bones in my hip and then into my spine, I am no longer curable. Treatable sure. But not curable. They can try more radiation, although radiating the spine is very tricky and fraught with severe problems. But if they do it carefully, it will buy me some time. If it doesn't put me in a wheelchair.

Decisions will have to be made.

Once the phone rings. And my new future begins.


Wednesday is Lindsay's tenth birthday. We will be putting aside all morbid thoughts, all mention of illness, and just party. Be sure to join us here tomorrow for a special celebration!

Even though it seems the party girl could care less.

The clock photo at the top of this post is courtesy of Photobucket.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Rwanda (Part 3)

Fast forward one, very eventful, year.

It is now July 2009 and Linda and I are attending the Alive With Culture festival at the Guild. There are dancers on the stage at the Greek Theatre, arts and crafts tents line the grounds, bands stroll, couples browse, the sun shines, organic vegetables beckon. Linda has paused in discussion with a potter who is answering questions about her glaze and I am left to roam aimlessly amid the delights that surround me.

Off to one side is a small table, its surface covered with books. Well, three books actually, but lots of copies. A man sits behind the table watching as families stream past him without a glance, their vision entranced by nearby booths filled with colourful paintings, sparkling jewelry or glistening pottery.

But books intrigue me. So I wander over.

The man seated behind the booth is Ashmead Ali and he is representing the Scarborough Writers Association. I hadn't known there was such a thing, but apparently aspiring writers in the Scarborough area of Toronto gather together for monthly meetings to discuss their work and support each other.

And Ashmead has published a book: "Don't Give Up On Us, A Rwandan Experience." The book is for sale for $16, but for $20 I can buy all three books and support the Writer's Association. So I do. I look his book over briefly, noticing sadly that it is self-published. And put all three books away in my bag and forget about them.

A month later, Linda and I are heading off for a weekend away in Peterborough and I am looking for something to take with me to read. I rediscover Ashmead's book and throw it in my travel bag. If I don't enjoy it, I can always find something in Peterborough to read instead.

That evening, Linda is deeply engrossed in Kathryn Magendie's novel,Tender Graces, emerging only now and then to mutter things like, "This is good. This is really good!"

I sigh and crack open Ashmead's book.

Within a few pages I discover a couple of things. Although this is a book in need of a good editing, I'm really enjoying the read. It is well written but with occasional annoyances that draw me out of the narrative and make my fingers itch for a pen so I can go back and revise a few paragraphs and excise words that appear with annoying regularity. The phrase "sub-Saharan Africa" appears way too frequently and is by far the worst offender. A good polishing from a professional publishing house and Ali's work could have been a best seller.

As it stands, I discover a book that is passionately written, intelligently written and has a drive and force that propels me on. And soon I find myself muttering to Linda, "This is good. This is really good!"

But more than that, I was beginning to sense that this is a book that is important.

Don't Give Up On Us tells the story of Ali's trip to Rwanda to market his company's plan to introduce a new sanitation system to the city of Kigali and Kigali Airport. He finds himself staying at the hotel Milles Collines made famous by the Hollywood movie, Hotel Rwanda, that retells the story of the hotel manager's efforts to save 1000 people during the 100 days of savage genocidal attacks that swept the country.

During his stay in Rwanda, Ali finds himself drawn into the country's current plight, its geographic problems, its political difficulties, its frightening treatment of women, its nightmare battle with HIV/AIDS and other diseases, its grinding poverty, its potential for violence (he has an armed guard from the army assigned to protect him during his stay), its political corruption, its dependence on relief organizations and, yes, its wretched and disease producing cesspit of a sanitation system that he hopes to modernize.

In many ways his book is a corollary to Romeo Dallaire's "Shake Hands With The Devil" that updates the story to the present time.

I may not have been able to shake hands with Dallaire, but I had with Ali. And he had autographed my copy of his book.

In his final chapter, Ali lays out his recommendations for countries like Rwanda to help them cope with and overcome many of the problems they face. His recommendations are straight forward and practical.

The world could do worse than to listen to him. Instead of streaming past his little book stand at the Guild's Art festival.

I'm left saddened that such an important book is getting so little attention and was unable to find a publisher, or the readership it deserves.

We need to do better than this.


Several people have asked where copies of this book may be found. Mr. Ali has kindly permitted me to pass along his e-mail address: where he would be more than happy to sell you a copy.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Rwanda (Part 2)

richard branson Pictures, Images and Photos

We're seated at table 53. It isn't the last table in the football field sized room, but it is the one closest to the exit and a stream of people rush past me all night on a desperate search for the washroom.

I'm at our company table at the NQI Corporate Excellence award gala at the Metro Toronto Conference Centre in September 2008, enjoying a delicious steak and shrimp dinner and making small talk with corporate executives from some of our premier client organizations. The bottles of wine on the table help the process along.

I had misunderstood the program and believed the featured speakers would be Senator Romeo Dollaire (author of Shake Hands With The Devil, his terrifying story of the Rwanda genocide) and Sir Richard Branson (who needs no introduction).

However, it turns out Dollaire had spoken at the luncheon earlier that day and, although he was seated in the room (somewhere), he would not be speaking tonight. Many of those at the table had been at the earlier luncheon and the talk at the table was all about an extremely moving experience I had missed.

Then again, it might have been more difficult to enjoy the dinner learning about poverty in Rwanda where the average income is around a dollar a day and where grinding poverty was one of the factors behind the genocide that had taken place there.

As for Branson, he was receiving an award from NQI, but not until tomorrow. I'm not certain he was even present at the dinner.

Of all the men who carry the title "Sir", Branson is the only one who fits my image of a knight. Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney I'm sorry. If Branson was transported back in time and made the Sheriff of Nottingham, he would perfectly fit the part.

Instead, the purpose of tonight's dinner was the awarding of Certificates of Excellence to 37 corporate executives and corporate teams whose workplaces had been judged at the bronze, silver and gold levels in their quest for Excellence and Healthy Workplaces.

At the Silver and Gold Levels each company got to play a 30 second video of the changes they had made to qualify for the award, they each got their picture taken with an Executive from NQI and their President got another 30 seconds to express his/her pride in their workplace.

Although it sounded repetitious the stories actually proved to be fascinating and inspiring.

But I had been looking forward to hearing from Dollaire, whose book I loved even though it was gut wrenching, and was disappointed.

Arriving back home on the GO train at 10:45 I detrained to a cold drenching rain. With neither umbrella nor raincoat for protection as I trudged back to my car, I got soaked. My black suit, worn this once in the last six months, would have to go back to the cleaners.

It would be a year before Rwanda and Senator Dollaire's names would come my way again, this time at the festival of the Arts on the grounds of the Guild on a bright and sunny day.

I'll tell you about it tomorrow.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday My TownShoot Out--Windows and Doors

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 Kerri in Canada, is WINDOWS AND DOORS.

For a comprehensive list and how to join instructions, just click on the camera at bottom of my side panel.

Next weeks theme, suggested by Pauline, is AGED AND WEATHERED.

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.


I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?
Mother Teresa

There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.
Deepak Chopra

Which painting in the National Gallery would I save if there was a fire? The one nearest the door of course.
George Bernard Shaw

It is for us to pray not for tasks equal to our powers, but for powers equal to our tasks, to go forward with a great desire forever beating at the door of our hearts as we travel toward our distant goal.
Helen Keller

A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.
Ogden Nash

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Rwanda (Part One)

Almost exactly a year ago BC (before cancer), I arrived home from a visit to my daughter in Whitby to find a phone message from work. Usually that is not good news. Usually that means a major problem of some kind.

This time it was a problem of a different sort.

My company had brought a table at the National Quality Institute's Gala and we were hosting the Executives of several of our major corporate clients. At the last minute the Vice President of one of the organizations had backed out and we were one person short at our table (each table seats 10 people).

Could I fill in?

Sir Richard Branson, President of Virgin (everything) would be there and General Romeo Dallaire would be receiving an award. It was not a black tie event, but was definitely black suit.

What, I thought, drag me away from a night of watching TV for this?

Well okay, if you insist.

The National Quality Institute (NQI) an independent, not-for-profit organization is the leading authority in Canada on workplace excellence based on quality systems and healthy workplace criteria. A Board of Governors comprised of leaders from the private sector, public sector, health care and not-for profit sector governs NQI. NQI acts as a national partner with many organizations to advance the Excellence movement in Canada. The Governor-General of Canada is its honorary chair.

Lieutenant-General Roméo Alain Dallaire is a Canadian senator, humanitarian, author and retired general. Dallaire is widely known for having served as Force Commander of UNAMIR, the ill-fated United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda between 1993 and 1994, and for trying to stop a war of genocide that was being waged by Hutu extremists against Tutsis and Hutu moderates.

The following is one of my favourite quotes from his 2003 book, Shake Hands with the Devil--

"I know there is a God, because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists and therefore I know there is a God."

The genocide in Rwanda was brutally efficient, lasting for a total of 100 days and leading to the murder of between 800,000 and 1,171,000 Tutsi and Hutu moderates. Over two million people were displaced internally or in neighbouring countries. The Genocide ended when the Rwandan Patriotic Front gained control of Rwanda on July 18, 1994, though recrimination, retribution, and criminal prosecutions continue to the present day.

Dollaire and his small and ill equipped 5000 man force is credited with directly saving the lives of 20,000 Tutsis and Hutus.

I thought it would prove an interesting evening.

And it was.

In part two, I will tell you what brought this particular evening to mind.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Thinking About Life--And Lindsay

After the funeral of Linda's mother on Saturday we met our daughters and their families at Rosetta McLean park. Heather had returned my car with its new engine, so Linda and I drove to the park in separate vehicles and I was the last to arrive.

The funeral had left me in a philosophical mood and as I drove I could feel a shifting beginning to take place within me. I was starting to let old feelings go, reservations fall away, dreams topple, new hopes beginning to take root.

It was odd.

And as I drove, the gray clouds of the morning thinned and the sun began to peek through. The colours of the world, the colours of life, blossomed. As I drove, I smiled.

Rosetta McLean Park is a beautiful if somewhat formal park in Southern Scarborough. It is a park of groomed pathways, dramatic fountains, mature trees, colourful flower beds, water features and my family waiting for me.

It radiates life. Linda, Heather and Kathy sat on Park benches deep into humorous conversation, their laughter bubbling up like the water in the Park's central fountain that flowed from a giant granite boulder over ten feet in height. After being so quiet and respectful during the funeral service, my grandchildren had a lot of tension to burn off and ran and played and laughed around the fountain under the watchful gaze of their fathers.

A small red squirrel ducked under one of the benches in search of food. I was amazed. I had never seen a red squirrel before. It was a new life, unknown to me and I was fascinated.

The squirrel reminded me of the day we first brought Lindsay home as a young puppy. That was a time of loss for us as well. My daughter Kathy had recently married, my other daughter Heather was living in Guelph and my step father Al had just passed away.

And into our uncomfortably quiet life came this tiny black dog no larger than that red squirrel, a small black puppy who throbbed with new life and joy and excitement. Everything intrigued her, interested her, puzzled her, and the world as we came to see it through her eyes was a new a wondrous place.

I remember opening to that energy, to that new life with a feeling of joy. It was the kind of energy I had begun to sense earlier at the funeral without quite recognizing the feeling. But now I was coming to recall it, to know it for what it was.

The recognition of a future opening before me.

A huge future yawning before me, discovered first in that park full of beautiful flowers, bushes, trees, lawns of green grass, the first blue skies we had seen in days and fountains of pure water, and my family. And one small red squirrel.

Then, yesterday, Linda and I traveled once more to Princess Margaret Hospital for still another meeting with the medical Oncologist. When we got there the Staff oncologist was working alone, her residents and fellows all away and 25 patients for her to see. We were kept waiting for nearly three hours.

But the news was worth the wait. She had the results of my recent MRI. As she explained it to us, the specialist's report on an earlier CT scan, the one that had discovered a couple of new hot spots on my spine, had strongly suggested in his findings that it demonstrated a metastasizing of my esophageal cancer to my spine. The specialist was certain of his results. A horrible and deadly finding.

However, the Medical Oncologist had been unconvinced. She kept thinking about the anomalous readings they continued to get on my right hip. So she had requested the MRI as a kind of second opinion, and now she had the report in front of her. The specialist reviewing the MRI was equally convinced the hot spots in my spine were a diffusion of the problem in my hip to the bones of my spine. He was convinced the MRI showed, at worst, a low grade lymphoma or another relatively mild illness of the bone marrow.

Non fatal, in either case. Something to keep an eye on, certainly, but nothing to loose sleep over.

A problem to live with.

So two tests each reaching different conclusions. Each canceling out the other.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, at 10:00 AM I go for a CT guided biopsy, the actual extraction of a section of bone and marrow that can be directly analyzed and that will answer the question for good. Life, death or Mu. My future.

After the meeting with the Oncologist, Linda and I returned home and Lindsay greeted us at the door, alive with the same life and vitality she has always radiated.

And I realize, even without the test, what tomorrow's result will show.

Life has me in its grasp and it has no intention of letting go.


For those Canadian readers of this blog who have access to the Canadian edition of Reader's Digest, I have a brief letter to the editor published in the September edition. It is a response to an earlier article about esophageal cancer that appeared in June of this year.