“You’re a better person than I am!”

When I said this to a participant at The Canadian MPN Network Conference, it got a huge laugh. One of the great aphorisms of comedy is “Its funny ’cause its true!”

mpn-network

In this case, the lady I was speaking to was telling me that as a result of her being sick, she said she felt more empathy for people. She could understand others’ feelings more and she could cut other people more slack. Isn’t that fascinating?  You would think that after a tough time, a lot of people would become bitter or resentful.

Often we have a chunk of adversity in our lives and somehow we manage to keep on keeping on, but after getting through the stress and navigating our way through a very difficult time often we are different. You could even say we are transformed. Some of us develop more empathy, others of us (like myself) get unreasonably pissed off for a while and pray that someone will steal candy from a baby on our street so we can start a round of fisticuffs. (After a while this anger calmed down into a state of assertiveness. I am really glad because fisticuffs are inconvenient.)

fisticuffs

But what I have found after working with healthcare professionals and people going through life altering diseases is that our most arduous experiences change us.

One of my favourite questions to ask during a keynote is “In the experience of your journey with cancer (or another issue) what learnings or insights have you made?” People always have an answer. Nobody ever says “I feel exactly the same!” I have heard people say they are more sympathetic, more adventurous, more thoughtful, less resentful, more independent, more open to new ideas, more resilient and that they eat more dessert– to name a few.

All of this is good stuff don’t you think? I do. I love all of those things (especially the one about dessert).

dessert

So, where does this come from? Well, you may heave heard of a friend of mine called Joseph Campbell. (OK, He’s not my friend, but I like to pretend he is.) He came up with the idea of The Hero’s Journey which in a very tiny nutshell, is the idea that when we go on an adventure and face challenges and adversities that we are transformed and even improved by the experience.

I really think that is what happens to us when we deal with a transformative experience with our health.  Our experience changes us, it molds and shapes us until we can look at who we used to be in the past and say “Hey, I’m a better person than I used to be.”

 

star-wars-7

 

 

Doing Happiness is LIVE on Amazon.

Gold star

Five Stars On Amazon! Many Thanks!

 

For every 10 reviews on Amazon, I’ll donate 10 copies of Doing Happiness to Gilda’s Club of Greater Toronto
I won’t tell you how good it is, but Hugh Culver will!! Thanks Hugh!

“Even if you are a happy person, I want you to read this book. What Rob Hawke has done is to boil down the best of positive psychology, self-help, and sage advice into a very readable (131 pages of goodness) guide to, as he says “uncovering the hidden benefits of feeling good.”

doing happiness cover amazon

I just completed my new book “Doing Happiness: Uncovering The Hidden Benefits of Feeling Good” The good news is there are simple things we can do everyday to help us feel true happiness. More than that, I talk about the many tangible benefits our happiness brings to us and those we care about the most.I could use a bit of help.

Would you be willing to read it and write a review on amazon? It would take all of two minutes and it’s really easy.

You will get a FREE digital copy of Doing Happiness for your time.
 
Step 1: Hit this link (or the title below) and download a FREE digital copy of Doing Happiness,
Step 2: If you like it, leave a positive review! (If its 5 stars that would be so terrific)
Your positive 5 star review with even a few kind words would have a lot of impact. Sound easy? Well, it is!
Here’s the link again…
Many thanks for your help!  -Rob

What do you get when you have 400 people with chronic conditions in one room?

It sounds like the set up for a joke doesn’t it? But that’s what we had on June 30th. The very first Self Care Movement Summit in Toronto went off like crazy.

what do you get

People came from far and wide to participate. We had folks drive in from 5 hours away just to be there for the evening.

When you see a large conference room packed tight on a Monday night, you know that there is a real need for this. Folks needed to not only learn about what they are going through and how to deal with their situation, but they also wanted to connect with each other.

Some of the things we addressed were mindfulness, dealing with chronic illness at work, sex, intimacy, and using humour as a tool to help us every day. We had a patient panel that shared stories about what it was like to deal with our different conditions and we even managed to squeeze some laughs out of it.

OK, so we may have tried to cram too much really good content into one evening, but can you blame us? That’s like complaining that a meal has too much food or that somebody gave you too much chocolate or that your birthday present is too big to fit into your car. You get my point.cake

After working with cancer patients and their families for years, one of the most common things that I have heard is that once we are finished our primary care, we often feel lost. That was certainly how I felt after I got over my initial cancer treatment. My physician even looked at me and said “You’re cured” I was expecting triumphant movie music to come in as we hugged in a manly way, but the hug didn’t happen. Instead I thought “Really? I don’t feel cured. Besides, the cancer might be gone but I have this chronic situation to deal with for the REST OF MY LIFE. So, how is that cured?”

That’s what the summit was for. We were all there to talk about what happens now. How do we adjust to our lives in this “new normal”. How do we not just exist but help ourselves to thrive with the capabilities that we have?summit

When several hundred committed, smart and passionate people stand up and start sharing ideas, you feel it. You feel the energy shift from complacency and acceptance of the status quo to hopefulness and possibility. On Monday night a group of patients who were strangers just hours before, shared their wisdom and strategies to help people just like them.

So, back to our original question: What do you get when you have 400 people dealing with chronic conditions in one room?

Answer: A huge amount of courage and hope.

trudeau

Celebrity Fan Moment

Don’t you love when you meet someone famous and they’re more impressive than you thought? I was very excited to meet Margaret Trudeau and I actually got to say hello to her backstage. I am rarely at a loss for words. However, in meeting Margaret, I was virtually tongue tied. When she did her keynote, she spoke with such wit, honesty and vulnerability that I became a fan immediately. The standing ovation she got was proof that she connected with our group.

Many Thanks Margaret!

 

Are you a Patient? Go to MARS!

THE SELF-CARE MOVEMENT SUMMIT

If you’re a patient, you know about getting through tough times. If we reach out to other people, things get easier.

When I had cancer, I lived alone in a one bedroom apartment and quite frankly I had no idea how hard it was going to be. I thought I was tough enough to handle the challenges on my own. I wasn’t. Not only were the physical symptoms of my disease difficult, but I also suffered from depression and isolation. My story isn’t unique, or even close to the toughest one you’ll hear. Many patients like us stare down dark nights at 3 am and wonder how we’re going to make it to the morning. Being alone makes the journey much tougher. Helping each other makes it easier.

You are invited to the Self Care Movement Summit in Toronto on June 27th at Mars.

mars

If you or someone you love is sick, connecting with other patients can be the difference between languishing alone and feeling completely overwhelmed or tapping into a sense of community and accessing resources to make your journey easier.

The first time I connected with other patients was 3 years after my treatment.  I sat in a circle with other folks in recovery  and thought “Oh My Gosh! I should have been doing this from day one!” There was such power in meeting people who had similar challenges. People shared ideas and strategies on how to get through a tough day. We all breathed out as we realized that we were not alone in what we were facing.

It has been my honour as a speaker and author to work with groups of patients and their families for years now. Something almost magical happens when patients get together in the same room and support each other. It would be great if you could come to the…

Self Care Movement Summit on June 27th at MARS in Toronto

trudeau

The always entertaining and insightful Margaret Trudeau. We get to hear her speak! How cool is that?

Do you know who’s going to do the keynote? Margaret Trudeau! Really. Impressed? I am. There is also going to be incredible content on wellness, self care and managing chronic illness in the workplace.  As well, I will be doing my presentation “Taking The Laughter Pill: Humour and The Patient Journey.

Oh, Did I mention its FREE? And there are APPETIZERS? (At least there will be until I get there)

salmon

The appetizers may or may not be salmon. I’m not in charge of the food. But frankly, how can you go wrong with salmon? Just sayin’.

The link for the event is here.

Self Care Movement Summit on June 27th at MARS in Toronto

All of this content is valuable. Just as important is the opportunity to connect with people who are going through similar challenges and help each other realize that we are all going through this together.

See you there.

WTF! Am I the only one with these problems?

Have you ever felt like  your concerns are utterly different from anyone else’s?

Sure you have! We all have different circumstances in our lives. For instance, I am wondering… Will the tires last on our car? Will the vacant lot down the street become a giant condo complex and ruin our view? Will Stephen King come to my poker game?

STEPHENKING

Stephen King considers coming to my poker game. I hope he brings chips.

(Ok, maybe I made up the one about the car).

We all think our concerns and problems are completely unique, but are they?

I am currently working on a program for people who are having a really hard time. Now, this group is facing incredible challenges that are very specific. However, I’ve noticed in my years working with different groups that a lot of the things we face can be really similar.

Some few years ago, I thought the challenges facing me as a cancer patient were unique not just to cancer patients but to me. Yup. I thought my story and my bit of hardship was incredibly important and oh so precious. And to a degree it was, as an experience with cancer should not be diminished at all. What I am saying is that if we hang around on the planet long enough, chances are, we’re going to experience some kind of hardship. It’s part of this thing called being human.

Think about the people you are closest to. Do they have their gooey, unresolved human bits? Do they have a challenge in their lives that they find really tough, be it addiction, an emotional issue or just getting through the day in this ridiculously complex world? I’m going to guess that’s a big “YES!“.

heresthething

Its not like he needs my help, but Alec’s Podcast is terrific. Go ahead, click on it.

You see, it’s really easy to look at the shiny happy people (to quote REM- and why not? They rock.) and think that we are the only ones struggling to get out of bed in the morning, or working really hard to connect with our family, or dealing with a health issue. I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts by Alec Baldwin and he had Paul Simon on as a guest. Alec said he wanted to know what it was like to grow up being Paul Simon. Paul paused for a second and said “Hey, Everything happens to everybody.” I think that sums it up really well. Everything does happen to everybody. Especially over time.

You could say that this statement is trite and patently untrue. In a literal sense you would be correct. You could say to me “Hey Rob, This thing happened to me. It did not happen to you. Do not lessen the importance of my experience.” Point taken. After all, I once barfed in the train station in Hanoi at 5:30 am.

hanoi-train

I barfed in this building once. I’m sorry Hanoi.

Has that happened to everybody? I sure hope not. Especially for the train station. However, I’m pretty sure we all go through some very basic human experiences that really seem to be the cost of the ticket to this ride called life. I think we all experience joy, love, loss, fear, connection, frustration, envy and of course a desire for a Led Zeppelin Reunion (ok maybe that’s just a few million of us).

Neil

Neil is awesome. That is all.

But in my work with cancer patients, their families, corporations, healthcare professionals, executives, and young people, I am starting to notice that the specifics of our challenges may be very different, but we are all out there, trying to find our way, trying to make a better life for ourselves and our families and trying to make sense of a world that may not make sense*. Wherever you are, to quote another great musician, keep on rockin’ in the free world.

*When Stephen King does come to my poker game, I’m sure he’ll call me on that run on sentence. Hey Stephen, read it out loud and it sounds fine! By the way, I just finished Finders Keepers and I loved it.

Hawke out.

What do you say when someone has cancer?

This is a big question and it can fill people with fear. You find out someone has cancer, maybe its a family member or a friend. What do you say? Do you say anything? Do you completely ignore the 2,000 pound Tyrannosaurus in the room and just hope it goes away? That might seem like the easiest thing in the world to do, but is it helpful? Do you drop your documents and run from the photocopier crying when you see them coming around the corner? That’s probably not the best strategy, but I’ve seen it happen. As a decent human being, how the heck do you handle this?

You see, 30% of us will get a cancer diagnosis at some point in our lives, so at some point, someone you know is going to be dealing with this issue.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

elton-john-the-diving-board

As a cancer survivor myself, I have had my share of uncomfortable and yes even hilarious conversations when well meaning folks were trying to talk about something that is tough to talk about. So how do we do it?

Here’s a strategy that works for me.

Wait for a time when you have a modicum of privacy and say something like “Hey, I heard you got some bad news lately.” Then …let them talk. What’s great about this is you haven’t said what the bad news is. This gives them the opportunity to talk about it or not. They might shut it right down by saying “Ya, uh that’s private” or “I don’t want to talk about that right now.” This is totally fine and you should respect that. However, they may want to talk about it. They might say something like “Ya, I just got a diagnosis and I am totally freaked out.” or “Its still early days so we’ll wait and see” They might go into a lot of detail and that might surprise you.

If they are anything like me, they will have a LOT to say. Some of my conversations went like this…

Rob: So, ya, I’ve got surgery scheduled for next week and I think the surgeon is good, but he asked me if he should take out my whole thyroid or just part of it. How am I supposed to make that decision? what do you think?”

Bus Driver: I don’t know sir but you still need to deposit a token.

bus driver

You might hear a river of opinions and worry that have been damned up for a long time. You might hear about doctors, hospital parking, and ultrasounds. You might find yourself in a 20 minute conversation that is remarkably one sided. Here’s how to handle this…

Listen.

That’s right. Listen. Listening is quite honestly one of the greatest gifts you can give someone who is going through cancer. In all likelihood they will be under a tremendous amount of stress. Being able to talk to you might be just the thing they need to feel a bit of relief.

You’ll notice I didn’t say “Listen and offer advice”. Please don’t offer advice unless you have a DR in front of your name. You will really want to because you’re a nice person and you will want to fix it. Listening is enough. Please don’t mention that they should eat more veggies or take raspberry keytone or got to Mexico to take a weird drug or talk to your Uncle Lou who beat cancer by eating only radishes. This will not help. Listening and giving them a safe place to share what they are going through will. You might be the only person in their life who they feel they can talk to. If so, then you are even more important to them than you realize.

They may ask for more kinds of help later and that’s terrific, but when a diagnosis  first happens the best thing you can do is talk less and listen more. If you pull this off, you will be giving them a gift that very few know how to give.

Good on you. I like you already.

listening dog

What’s your favourite two minutes in the world?

Wow! I wouldn’t have guessed that, but congratulations on being so acrobatic!

My favourite two minutes in the world is right before going onstage. Its a total blast. Its this incredible feeling that something big is about to happen and you really have no idea how its going to go. You’re completely in the moment and nothing seems to matter except the experience that you are about to have. As one of my heroes, Mr Robert Plant says “There is no place to hide”. Its especially fun when its 8:30 AM and you’re hopped up on three cups of joe.PatientXforum Crowd Wisdom

I’m the guy in the red shirt who looks like he’s bringing in a plane.

Yesterday I had the absolute pleasure to speak at the 3rd National Forum on Patient Experience in Toronto. It was my job to stir up what I call the “Wisdom in The Room” and get folks cranked and ready to collaborate. After a few minutes this very generous crowd was sharing ideas and having a blast. There were medical professionals and patients there from all over the country who care deeply about the patient experience and how we can make it better. I was so taken by the depth of talent and integrity in the room.

All of the content was amazing and here are a few of my faves. There were folks from North Bay Regional Health Centre who are doing great work with patient stories with Photovoice. People from Mississauga Halton CCAC who are improving the patient experience by actually involving patients in the health care system. (What? That’s crazy!) They backed up their research with some incredible stats on how they were actually able to reduce patient time in the hospital.  Wow. I’ve also got to mention the amazing Dr. Shah from Anishnawbe Health Centre in Toronto. His dedication to service was quite inspiring.

The patients in the room really had their voices heard as well. My friend Zal Press from Patient Commando is always ready to kick butt and take down names. And he did.

The silence in the room was palpable when a patient told her emotional and moving story to the audience. She was asking hard questions that need to be answered. It was a terrific event and I was very proud to be a part of it.

With committed people like this working in Health Care in Canada, things are changing and I dare say its for the better.

Shout outs to Dr Joshua Teller and Angela Morin for hosting a great day.

A Showdown At The Patient Corral

The patient experience can be a crazy thing. Often it is more emotional than we think and these feelings can come out at times that are absolutely not convenient. I remember when I had just been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I thought I took the news pretty darn well. In the doctor’s office, I had been fine. However, out in the world it was a completely different matter. You may not be aware of this but cab drivers and cyclists have a deep abiding love for each other. Truly, we stop at red lights and take the opportunity to give each other affectionate and lingering hugs. Actually that is not really accurate. In fact, you could say that cab drivers and cyclists don’t get along at all. I was riding north on University Ave in Toronto (a major street with a ton of traffic on it) when a cab driver pulled up to me in the next lane and cut me off.

badass cyclist

(This is not me.)

I slammed on my brakes and came to a skidding stop; inches from his back bumper. We shared a few words with each other that were not “Happy Birthday”. Ordinarily that would have been it and we would have each gone our separate ways. But no! I was under the influence of a cancer diagnosis which was baking in my psyche like a bubbling toxic cake. Suddenly, my perceptions changed. The buildings of University Ave seemed to fall away and were replaced by the façade of main street from the old west town of tombstone. I stood facing the cab driver in tense silence. A tumble weed drifted by. The town bell clanged twelve times for noon.

cowboys

The cab driver spoke. “Draw!” I coiled all the rage I had into my throbbing right arm and like lightning I drew my six shooter from the holster strapped to my leg. I aimed down the barrel at my adversary and I realized…that I had completely lost my mind! There I was on University Ave in a shouting match with a cab driver. We were both filled with rage. Oh sure we had something to disagree about but no one was hurt and we both could have just got on with our day. But no, I had completely dove in to the conflict like this was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. Did I have the right to be angry? Sure! Was this the best way to handle it? Nope.

Somewhere in the depths of my brain a little voice sad “Rob, calm down! You’re acting like a maniac!” So I literally took a step back, got on my bike and went home. I’m sure that I would have handled it differently if I wasn’t completely shocked by having this thing called cancer, but I didn’t. It made me realize that sometimes we think we have dealt with something on an emotional level but our psyches need to catch up with our logical minds. This can make us do strange things, like think we’re Clint Eastwood on University Ave. Wherever you are and whatever your story is, hang in there and watch out for tumble weeds.

Clint Gif

Haters Gonna Hate. Having a blast is the Best Revenge.

It was my first time attempt to dock a houseboat. I was spinning the wheel of the craft and praying that the slow moving boat would eventually obey my directions and turn. We were approaching a marina in the Trent Severn Waterway. We neared the dock a little quicker than I had hoped and I struggled to remember the instructional video we had seen the day before. We were supposed to approach at a certain angle and at a speed that was called “dead slow”. I was going more at a speed that could be called  “dead fast”, and didn’t want all of us to be “actually dead” when we came into contact with the dock. I did my best to slow our progress. My brother-in-law on the bow said “Ok Robbie, slower, I think we got it.”

We finally nudged the dock very gently. I turned the wheel harder and threw it into reverse,  bringing the stern of our intrepid ship in line with the dock as well.  We tied up the boat and I finally exhaled. I had successfully docked for the first time. It wasn’t perfect mind you, but no one had been maimed and there was no damage to anything so I considered it a huge win. We scrambled off the boat and went to buy bait. I don’t usually feel like a super hero when I  buy worms, but I did today.  I heard a voice from further down the dock.

1956, MOBY DICK

(what Weathered Marina Guy might have looked like)

“Who’s driving the boat?” asked Weathered Marina Guy.

“It was me!” I said in my manliest of voices (which is actually pretty damn manly).

“I have owned this marina for 30 years and that was the worst docking I have ever seen!

I was pretty crushed, but wait there was more.

“I really don’t want to embarrass you in front of your friends, but really, that was terrible!” He was actually embarrassing me in front of my in laws, which was worse, but hey, who’s counting? He went on for a while about how lousy I was at operating a craft and with a somewhat withered sense of self esteem, we were on our way.

Free of the humiliating clutches of Weathered Marina Guy,  we approached the locks at Buckhorn. Again, I had never done anything like go through a lock while piloting a boat, but we went for it. I had to do everything possible to not think about what Weathered Marina Guy had said to me a couple of hours before. I approached at “dead slow” and cruised by several boasts that looked like they might be worth more than a small house. Once again I held my breath. The huge doors of the lock opened and we went in. Water rushed in and rushed out. The lockmaster was amazingly helpful and in 30 minutes we were lowered about 10 feet and were on our way.

I was thrilled. Ordinarily, having somebody tell me I was terrible at something would have been really tough to take. However, right after the experience I was able to redeem myself and once again, started to feel pretty good.

We celebrated by finding a spot near some cliffs that was 20 feet deep and jumped off our houseboat into the cool water below. It was some of the most fun I’ve had in a while. Funny enough, I was holding a Go Pro while I did it. so, you can see it too.

Have a great day everybody and remember, having a blast is the best revenge!

Many thanks to Egan Houseboat Rentals! They are great people who really know what they are doing.

Have a look at their awesome website…

houseboat