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

The Hope For Today Cafe: New Episode! Gather Your Tribe Around You When You Are Sick

One thing is for certain, when we are having a hard time with cancer or any other tough disease we are going to need some help. But who do we get help from? The people we are closest to? Sometimes..and sometimes not.

Every notice when you are sick (or someone you love is sick) that the people you think you can count on are actually different than the folks who help you the most? I know! Its weird right?

How do we deal with that?

Is it OK to ask for help?

Well, I am kind of in love with this episode of The Hope For Today Cafe. In this podcast my good friend Deborah Kimmett and myself wax funny about how to gather your tribe around you when you are sick. Please give it a listen and share!

New Podcast. How To Ask for What You Need

Once again my awesome friend Deb Kimmett and I have come up with a podcast to help folks with this whole “being a patient” thing. We often go through our whole lives trying really hard to be strong and incredibly self reliant. Well, when we (or someone we love) is sick, sometimes it is really important to ask for help! Yes. Ask for help. It might not be in your nature to even think about asking for assistance if you’re having a hard time, but really, think about it. You are probably a generous awesome person who has helped a ton of people in your life without even being aware of it. If that’s the case (and I’m guessing it is) its totally OK to ask for help when the chips are down.

If you had a really good friend or family member who was having a tough time, wouldn’t you want to help them? Of course you would! (Unless, you’re a dick, which you’re not). So, go ahead, let the folks you care about know that you could use a hand. Listen to the podcast to find out more.

Straight on “till Morning.

Hawke out.

 

New Podcast! How To Talk With Your Friends When They Get Sick (and keep your sense of humour)

Here is the latest from The Hope For Today Cafe!  My good friend Deborah Kimmett and I have some thoughts on how to talk to your friends and family when they’re sick and need some support. As usual, we yuck it up a bit.

Hope you are really well wherever and whenever you are!

The Hope For Today Cafe

FullSizeRender (4)Here it is, the official release of The Hope For Today Cafe. My good friend Deborah Kimmet and I put our comedic heads together and came up with a podcast that offers a bit of Hope and Humour for people going through cancer. If you or someone you know is going through a tough time then we made the Hope For Today Cafe for you.

We are going to bring you funny, insightful content that is meant for folks gong through a tough time in their lives.

Its really strange being on a cancer journey.  Sometimes you feel so alone, even if you have great support from family and friends (like I did-thanks family and friends!). The ironic think is even though we feel alone on our journey, there are so many people who are facing similar circumstances and similar challenges. So, Deb and I thought,  “Wait a second! why don’t we create content that is funny and actually deals with the issues that people go through on a journey with cancer? What if we did stuff for caregivers?  What if we ate more steak?”

(OK, that last bit is mine)

We had several cups of coffee, began recording and now we have the first episode of our podcast ready to go. we’d love for you to give it a listen and heck even comment on it. Let us know what you think! Want to hear us cover a topic?  Let us know!

Full steam ahead. Straight on ’till morning.

Kaboom! Let’s Hear it!

You and The Hope for Today Cafe

thehopefor 2 (1)

Have you ever started a project and been really excited about it? Sure you have! Sometimes the stars align and you think, OK, this is going to be good. Well, that is what’s happening for The Hope for Today Café.

My friend Deborah Kimmett and I have started work on a podcast that we think is great. I don’t want to over sell it but I think its going to be the best thing that anyone has ever done ever. (Sorry, I was just channeling Kanye West for a second) We’re going to bring you a bit of hope and humour to help get you through the day.

Let’s face it, If you’re a human (and I’m guessing you are) you may on occasion go through a tough time in your life. Some of you may be saying “Ya, of course Rob, that’s part of the deal”. Well, we are going to do a show based on the idea that we all face a challenge now and then and when we do, it can help a lot to get a boost from a couple of friends. That’s where The Hope for Today Café comes in. Once a week we’ll bring you short episodes packed with energy, hope and discussion about issues that face people going through health challenges and their care givers. We’re going to have shout outs to listeners, special guests and a ton of witty banter to lighten your day.

In fact, we’re already recorded a few and it was so much fun we figured we had to share it with you.

We’re looking forward to your feedback when our first episodes roll out. There is a huge community of courageous people out there and we want to serve you.

Let’s face it, we’re all in this together. We might as well try to help make the journey a bit easier.

Want a sneak peek? You can follow us on Sound Cloud here! The Hope For Today Cafe

Adventures In The Hope Workshop

hope

I am standing in front of a group of people who are at various stages of dealing with cancer. We have come together for something called “The Hope Workshop” and because this was the first time I had presented it, I was more than a bit nervous. No one was laughing at my jokes and if I tried, I could probably hear crickets.

Everyone looks really serious and concerned.

They listen as I talk about what is going to happen. How we are going to laugh, how we are going to share “the wisdom in the room”, how we are going to do exercises to help us feel good. It feels a bit like the atmosphere on the first day of school and I must admit that I am a bit nervous and excited. The Hope Workshop has begun.

The next two and a half hours fly by, if you have ever been on stage in front of an audience or ridden a bike at high speed or heck, done anything that is truly engaging; then you know what it’s like to give yourself to something in the moment and just run with it. That’s what it’s like in The Hope Workshop. A group of people come together and very quickly become comfortable with each other. Complete strangers laugh, share stories and share vulnerability.

Quicker than I think possible this disparate bunch has become a group of friends that is eager to help each other. Suggestions come fast and furious and I try to capture them all with an old school sharpie on a flipchart. People are eager to share what they have learned on their “journey with cancer”.

Before I know it, the group leaps ahead of me  and tackles issues I didn’t even know were on the table. I try to look like a calm workshop leader as someone shares an insight on a challenge that very few of us have faced. I am in awe of the life changing collaboration that’s happening right in front of me.

At the end of the night, folks tell me that they feel happier, lighter, that they even learned something. They thank me, which feels a bit odd because quite frankly, they helped each other with
their insights, courage, and bravery.

Writing Is Better for You Than You Think

that_thing_you_are_writing_is_awesomeThe timer on my phone is set to 4 minutes. “OK everybody, go!” A group of folks start scribbling in old school notebooks. We are writing something pretty simple. In fact, I had asked, “What is something terrific that happened this week? People actually smile as they write. This might not be what they expected when they joined a cancer support group called “Write For Your Life”. It wasn’t what I expected either. As they hit the three minute mark, I remember my first experience with therapeutic writing. I sat down at a Starbucks, put a notebook on one of their tiny round tables and was pressing so hard with my pen through the paper that I was sure I was engraving my thoughts on the unsuspecting wooden surface. It seems the wooden laminate wasn’t ready for how angry I was at being sick. I had written things like “Why did I get cancer? What am I going to do now? How am I going to pay my bills after surgery?” That was a pretty tough day. I certainly didn’t leave the coffee shop with any easy answers, but I did feel a bit better. It turns out, that wasn’t a coincidence. My friend Eugene Nam explained to me that Therapeutic Writing has benefits that would make any drug company jealous. Writing and journaling when you’re sick has been proven to (believe it or not) lower blood pressure, alleviate depression, reduce stress-and get this-reduce the length of hospital stays.

I say “Two Minutes” to the group. They write a bit faster. I noticed something else that happens as well. When we write in a group we give people the option of sharing what they have come up with. People tell bits of their story and we all learn from everyone’s experience. At times we have all doubled over in laughter when someone talks about something ridiculous that happened or listen intently while a member shares a particularly tough challenge.

My timer rolls past one minute. People scribble even faster, trying to put the finishing touches on their short piece. “Remember, it’s OK if it’s not perfect, it’s your story and however you tell it, is just fine.”

My phone chimes.

“Ok Everybody, times up. Does anyone want to read their piece?”

I have no idea what’s going to happen next.

Here’s some fancy research on how great Therapeutic Writing is…

Writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events has been found to result in improvements in both physical and psychological health, in non-clinical and clinical populations. (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986)

In clinical populations, a meta-analysis (Frisina et al, 2004) of nine expressive writing studies found a significant benefit for health.

Expressive writing about one’s breast cancer, breast cancer trauma and facts related to breast cancer, significantly improved and physical and psychological health, such as the quality-of-life (Craft, Davis, & Paulson, 2012; Henry et al. 2010)

Testicular cancer survivor participants assigned to the positive expressive writing showed significant improvements in physical and psychological health (Pauley, Morman, & Floyd, 2011)

The Power Of Laughter Rocks!

FullSizeRender (3)It was my absolute honour to present A Spoonful of Laughter to the L’Chaim Cancer Support Group for Jewish Women last night. From the moment I walked in people were telling me jokes. “Oh, You’re the comedian? I’ve got a joke for you! A postman and a raccoon were walking down the street and…” And so it went. I was in stitches.

Taking a group of people who have had very little to no experience doing Improv through a workshop can be an adventure but these ladies went for it with incredible trust and enthusiasm. We talked about the medical benefits of laughter and how laughter can be such a powerful and positive tool for healing in our lives. As always at about the 20 minute mark the energy in the room shifts in a palpable way. We transformed from a bunch of individuals concerned about how we look in front of others to a unified group that is ready to share and take risks. Frankly, I love it. I’ve seen this happen again and again with groups of 15 to crowds of well over 100. When that happens it sets the stage for very good things to happen. We could see bits of this last night when by the end of our evening people were sharing their stories about the cancer journey, laughing at each other’s jokes and generally having a blast. Who knew a cancer support group could  be such a good time?