Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Saturday I attended my cousin’s funeral. It’s hard to really put into words how I was feeling. Of course I was sad, but it was more than that. I was tremendously sad for his family and that his life had been cut short, but was relieved for him that his long, hard journey was over. I was proud of the way he had kept such an upbeat attitude and lived life to the fullest,  joking right up to his last day. And happy that he had insisted that 
everyone give him a hug before they left his hospital room.

As we were heading to the funeral home, I was hoping I would be able to hold it together until the service, and when I met up with some of my other relatives, I thought I was okay. On the table, beside the urn were placed some of my cousin’s favorite things including family pictures, a banana, Bits and bites, his cigarettes, a container of his favorite ice cream and a Tim Horton’s coffee cup, the original contents of the latter two replace with flowers ; that was him. It made me and the others smile. I noticed my cousin’s older brother, with whom I had gone to school, and went over to give him a hug.  At first I thought I would be fine, but then I started to feel the sting in my eyes and I was afraid I was about to cry and that I would set him off, as well. I decided that seeing the rest of my cousin’s family, especially my Aunt, before the service would not be a good idea, as I was afraid I wouldn’t just cry, but completely break down, and they didn’t need that. So I sat down, ashamed for not being as strong as the grieving family, and tried to keep my mind on other things for the next half hour.

I knew my cousin was a very well liked person, but it was touching to see every seat taken, every room, including the hallway of the funeral home filled. I saw people I hadn’t seen in years. A testament to how many lives he had touched.

Part of his eulogy reflected on his sense of humour. He was one of the funniest people I have ever met and you never left him without laughing or smiling at least once. A joke was made about his interest in real estate, and not to worry about getting a place in heaven, as he probably bought forty acres as soon as he got there.

His medical struggles followed him most of his forty-five years, but most of us outsiders never saw it get him down. His strength and humour kept him going as well as his optimism and his girls. He was and is an inspiration. A bright light has definitely gone out. He will be truly missed. I lift my cup of “Timmy’s” to you. Cheers!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Dad

When I was small, I would watch my father march on parade and a feeling of pride would bring a smile to my face. (Yes, I was an army brat.) He looked so smart and handsome in his freshly pressed uniform, and I thought he was the biggest, strongest man in the world; our protector. And I never felt safer in a car than when my father was driving – and that was back in the day when seat belts were something you tucked into the back of the seat and ignored. It was his arm shooting out across the front of me that was meant to keep me from going through the windshield in the event of a quick stop, and I had no doubt that it would.

Later, after my father left the service and got a job in his old home town, I used to love going shopping with him and my mother and sister.  It was a highlight of my week. My younger sister would hold Mum’s hand and I would hold Dad’s hand. He always seemed to know everyone we passed and would stop to say hello. I thought my dad was the most popular man in the world. It never occurred to me that it was payday and everyone from work was stocking up on groceries.

My dad is a tenacious man, a characteristic my daughter has adopted, and rarely waivers from his position on things, which made for some interesting…debates when my siblings and I were young. No matter how much evidence we gave, he was adamant that he was right. I learned that people sometimes have to agree to disagree, and that's okay.
 Although he had problems with his own father in his younger years, the father I know was a wonderful son up until my grandparents deaths. My father is not an emotional man and the only time that I ever remember seeing him cry was the day of my grandmother’s funeral. 

My father was never one to waste time once he made up his mind about something. And he never dawdles.  Family vacation were quick trips;  more of a long drive than anything. I remember one year driving the Cabot Trail in one day. I guess I developed my love of summer road trips from Dad.

As an adult, I came to understand, as all children eventually do, that my father was not perfect and not invincible. A few years ago, my father had a bad year and endured three surgeries. I remember seeing him lying week and helpless in that hospital bed and it really threw me, as I had always thought of my father as strong. I finally saw him as a fragile mortal human, but I also realized that his real strength is not in his physical body, but in his love for his family.

If I could give one defining characteristic of my father, I would have to say that he is dedicated to his family. My father worked hard all of his life to help raise us five kids and we all know that he would still do anything for us.

I have been blessed to have my father for many years and, if fate allows, many more to come. I can see my father in some of the things I do or say, as well as in my siblings’ demeanors. I guess that is a testament to his influence in our lives; his legacy.

I hope my father realizes how much he is truly appreciated by his entire family.

We love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Good Fight

After my family and I left our prairie home and moved to the east coast, my mother took me, my brother and sister to meet our Aunt, Uncle and their children. Playing in the yard with our five cousins were a few of the neighbourhood kids and I felt very nervous and overwhelmed to be meeting so many new people. Three months later we moved on to their street and I became good friends with the twin girls, who were the oldest of the five. We all went to the same school and Sunday school. After church, sometimes, my aunt and uncle would take me with them to my cousins’ other grandparents’ house for a homemade beans and brown bread lunch. (I can clearly recall the trophy room with animal heads on the walls and skins on the floor.) And in the summer, I would spend a few days at their cottage. They were always fun to be around and made me feel like I was one of the family.

As we grew-up, we formed other friendships and saw less and less of each other. Now that we are adults, we rarely see each other unless we just happen to run into each other, or at family functions.

Recently we’ve been seeing each other at the hospital as the youngest in their family is in palliative care. He has not had an easy life, as an accident in childhood damaged his kidneys and in the last three and a half decades he has endured at least 40 surgeries, years of dialysis and two kidney transplants. I believe his positive attitude, joke-cracking personality and two daughters are what have kept him going all these years. So it seems very unfair that it is cancer that’s got hold of him, now. I find it very hard to write…he’s dying, as it makes it feel real, but it is the truth.

They are a wonderful, close-knit family and have had to be strong for a very long time and I wish them love and even more strength, as my uncle will be facing his second round with melanoma… they have discovered two spots on his lung. Sometimes life hands you more than your fair share of challenges. All you can do is try to be strong fight the good fight.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Skin Deep

Most women do things that they believe will enhance their personal beauty. Even I have been known to hide my grey hair under a “Nice ‘N Easy” medium cool brown. And “Cover Girl” has taken more than a few of my hard earned dollars over the years. But do you know when to say when? Would you risk your life in the name beauty?

In our society, there are girls and women of all ages who believe the only way to feel accepted is to look like the women on magazine covers and on television, and will starve themselves in an attempt to attain an unrealistic, supermodel physique, regardless of the fact that their body type does not lend itself to the leggy, boy hipped, ultra thin style. In the past few years, eating disorders, such as anorexia, have become a serious problem among girls. People recognize the dangers accompanying the practice of such unhealthy behaviour, and I believe most people, (besides those in denial about their situation) upon seeing a friend or loved one heading down this path, would try to convince them that what they are doing is dangerous, and try to make them realize that if they don’t stop the behaviour, it could kill them.

That is the same reason why I try to convince people not to tan. Trying to look like Snooki from "Jersey Shore" is unhealthy, dangerous and if you don’t stop the behaviour, it could kill you!

When I was young I would tan believing it was good for me - that “healthy” glow – until I developed malignant melanoma. The irony does not escape me. Unfortunately, the cause and effects of skin cancer don’t seem to be fully understood by the general public.  I know some people who believe all that is required to rid yourself of melanoma is to have a tiny mole cut off and that is the end of it; just a little cosmetic surgery, no big deal.  They are shocked to see the large scar I brandish on the back of my right thigh, and to hear the stories I tell of others fighting for their lives against this disease.

Skin cancer is now the most common cancer in the world with melanoma being the most deadly form. Exposure to UV radiation, such as the sun and tanning beds increases your risk of developing skin cancer. Other risk factors include repeat sunburns in childhood, having fair skin, fair hair, many moles, and a family history of melanoma. I have dark hair, few moles and no family history, therefore, the major risk factor in my case was UV radiation from the sun.
It frustrates me that there seems to be a lack of knowledge about skin cancer among the general public, but more frustrating than the lack of knowledge is the apathy of those who do know - or those with feelings of invincibility - who continue to tan. Perhaps, in some cases, it is an addiction, as I have seen people with that almost orange, leathery look from multiple tanning bed sessions that is definitely not attractive, but more often they just don't seem to care.

Whenever I hear someone mention spending the afternoon outside specifically to get a tan, or see a Facebook status announcing a tanning bed appointment, it makes me cringe. Experience has shown me what the result of this behavior can be, but it is hard to convince others to change their mindset, even when the proof is staring them in the face. You are more likely to convince people to stop tanning by telling them it will cause pre-mature aging than by telling them it will cause cancer. It’s sad to see vanity trump health. And it is so disheartening to see this apathy when you know that, with a few precaution - use broad spectrum sunscreen of at least 30 and re-apply every two hours, wear a hat, sunglasses and cover up. Try to avoid being in the sun between 10 am and 4 pm - that skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers.

Even more unsettling to me is to see a child with severe sunburn. What are people thinking? Even if, for some uninformed reason, you think that tanning is not skin damage, why would you subject your child to the pain of sunburn when sunscreens are available in most every store?

Maybe it’s the lack of PR that has people in the dark…so to speak. The Skin Cancer Foundation doesn’t have anything like the instant recognition of the Breast Cancer Foundation’s pink ribbon, or the Lung Cancer Foundation’s graphic cigarette packages. Slip, slop, slap, seek and slide in okay, but most kids associate it with sunburn rather than skin cancer. What The Skin Cancer Foundation needs is something tangible...a mascot. Perhaps a sunglasses clad rodent named Melly the Mole to teach children the dangers of the sun....maybe not. But if we catch children young enough, perhaps instead of the steady increase of melanoma cases happening now, the incidence will start to decrease.

I know there are those of you who will continue to tan and that is your choice, but with any type of gambling, remember, you take your chances. The truth is that tanning is nothing more than skin damage and a dangerous perception of beauty. Now that you are informed, don’t let the cause and effect of societal peer pressure turn you into a cancer statistic.