I am thrilled to be included in an article in The Toronto Star on Healing and The Arts. There are so many people doing really important, groundbreaking work in this field. An excerpt is below. By Joseph Hall-Toronto Star
Humour out of darkness
Toronto author, actor and comedian Robert Hawke is marshalling humour in the battle against cancer, after it helped him through his own bout with the disease.
Toronto comedian Robert Hawke helps cancer patients out of the “4 a.m. darkness” with his “Spoonful of Laughter” workshop.
His comedy career was riding a high-speed laugh track a decade ago, having brought him frequent appearances on CBC television and radio shows and a full-time gig with the Second City comedy troupe. “I was freelancing, things were good,” he recalls. “And I was leading what I considered to be a pretty healthy life.” But then cancer sent him off the rails.
Hawke learned he had a thyroid tumour and that the master metabolism gland would have to be removed. The diagnosis and treatment proved psychological blows as much as physical ones. During weeks of fretful recovery, however, he hit upon this “funny idea” — to combat his cancer with comedy. The material he started developing and writing then would build a new calling and career.
“Once I started doing (comedy) work that addressed the cancer experience, I realized there was a real need for it,” says Hawke, now 50. That need found its source in the deep wells of fear, despair and isolation into which cancer patients often fall. Using his comic skills to make cancer patients laugh, he thought, could help haul them out of that “4 a.m.” darkness and allow them to more readily share their experiences and insights about their battles with others in similar straits.
CHRIS SO/ Toronto Star
Comedian and cancer survivor Rob Hawke, in blue striped shirt, leads an improv class of cancer patients at Gilda’s Club to encourage group laughter.
Hawke has developed several programs to address different audiences. For cancer patients themselves, his “Spoonful of Laughter” routine is a 40-minute exercise that leans heavily on teaching improv techniques in groups large and small. Another, called “NormVsCancer,” is an irreverent one-man show that OpenLab helped him bring into hospitals and other medical settings. He also created a program — Adventures in Patient-Centred Care — that teaches second-year University of Toronto medical students how to interact with more humour and humanity in the clinic.
Hawke believes that shared laughter is a key to opening cancer patients up to the camaraderie, comfort and expert advice — the “wisdom in the room” — that can be found in fellow patients. And the reactions of patients involved in one of his recent improv exercises seemed to bear him out.
“I don’t think we get enough opportunities to laugh,” said participant Nadha Hassen, 26, who is battling thyroid cancer. “It’s amazing to … be in a space with other (patients). I feel like I just took this amazing stretch.”
Hawke also published a how-to book in 2011, called Kicking Cancer’s Ass: A Light-Hearted Guide to the Fight of Your Life. It offers cancer patients strategies on dealing with doctors, setting up support groups, making healthier choices and overcoming the bouts of worry and depression the disease can bring.
The full article is here.
Many thanks to The Star, Joseph Hall, Gilda’s Club Toronto and UHNOpenlab
So, I’ve been a fan of Brett Wilson for a while. He’s been one of the good guys on Dragon’s Den. Tons of entrepreneurial smarts, a risk taker and best of all, he’s really kind to people who come on the show. An amazing example of a someone making a positive difference in the world. He’s Kicking Cancer’s Ass again. Cancer should be shaking in its boots.
We’re with you Brett!
It seems to me that happiness is one of those things that all of humanity is after but not that many of us get on a regular basis. After we have enough to eat, a warm place to sleep and access to a decent PVR all of us start to wonder about how to obtain this weird commodity called happiness.
We stumble on it on occasion in strange places that always seem really funny to me. In fact, one of the happiest times I have had this summer was standing ankle deep in water during a thunderstorm while unplugging the drain at the side of my house. Really. This raises several questions, the first of which is probably “Why don’t I get out more?”
There are a whole ton of questions you might have about happiness as well. Ones like… Can we be happier on a daily basis? Is it something we arrive at when we get a new BMW convertible? What about sex? (I mean in relation to happiness..) What about money? Is it the root of all evil or does it actually help us get more satisfaction in our lives? What about genetics? Can we do simple things everyday that will help us increase our happiness?
What are your questions about happiness?
I really want to know. In fact, I am currently writing a book about happiness and I would love to get your questions and input.
What do you want to know ?
Please drop me a line at email@example.com And if you want to hang out with me, you’ll find me by the side of my house waiting for the next thunderstorm.
Look forward to hearing from you!
Who doesn’t Love Gilda? Nobody. Gilda Radner was and continues to be an incredible positive influence for many of us who have gone through cancer. She was funny,smart, vulnerable and remarkably generous. Here is a photo of the lovely Miss Radner here with a Muppet.
Gilda is getting some much deserved recognition for her comedic work and also for her contributions to those affected by cancer. Recently, I had the honour of working with Lisa D’Apolito on her documentary Love Gilda. It was a blast. Lisa who hails from New York and is doing a tremendous job gathering interviews, tributes and the history of how Gilda did what she did. This is important work that is being done with heart and integrity. Kudos to Lisa!
For one fine morning, Lisa, an intrepid crew and myself, trooped around Toronto searching out places that were important for Gilda’s time in Toronto. Of course we went to The Royal Alex Theatre where Gilda performed in the legendary production of Godspell. Then it was off to The Old Firehall where Gilda did a stint with The Second City. So many legendary performers went through that place that I get choked up just thinking about it. When I performed there in my own humble way, they used to say it was haunted. Who knows?
A huge shout out to Lisa and the incredible work she is doing! Check out her facebook group here…
Happiness is being covered in Cowcrap.
When I was a kid, I had a job as a hand on a cattle farm for the summer. We worked for twelve or thirteen hours a day doing everything you have to do to keep a farm running. One morning, my boss, Mr. D, looked at me and said “Its inoculation day Robbie!” I didn’t understand the profound significance of this event, but I was about to. We crammed all of the cattle into the barn and then waded into the sea of bawling animals and began injecting them one by one. I was all of sixteen years old and just wearing shorts and running shoes on the hottest day of the year. The animals were packed in the barn like it was fifth class on the titanic. These large smelly animals were getting more pissed off by the minute. Mr. D would pick out an animal and point at it. “Let’s get that one Robby!” I would grab the animal around its head and do my best to hold it steady while Mr. D would stick a long needle in its flank and hit the plunger sending the antibiotic into its system. The cow would thrash around and I struggled to keep it under control; all the while I was being pressed up against the side of another angry animal the size of a Toyota Camry.
The cattle complained about the heat and wanted desperately to go outside. I complained about the heat and wanted desperately to go outside. Mr. D complained about the heat and wanted to desperately to go outside, but we kept at it. For some reason, Mr. D wanted to make it even more difficult. He would point out a big cow that was 3 or 4 animals away and say. “Get that one Robby!” I didn’t know what was wrong with the one standing right next to me, but that wasn’t my job. I pressed my way through the crush of cows until I got to the head of our next victim. I grabbed the steer around the neck and as Mr. D was taking aim with his needle the animal I was next to happened to let go with a rather impressive stream of cowshit. It hit me square on the shoulder and ran all the way down my body. Mr. D could barely hold the needle he was laughing so hard. He guffawed with great delight as he stuck the needle in. I held on as the river of hot crap ran down my side and the steer I was holding bucked.
After several hours of this, we finally released the last inoculated animal into the barnyard and we emerged into the sunlight. I was completely exhausted and covered in filth. Mrs. D took one look at me and said “Good God Robby! Get down to the creek and go swimming, you are not going anywhere near the house like that.” I went down to the creek and swam while 3 hours of sweat and filth washed off me.
Why do I tell you this story? Because it’s one of the happiest memories of my entire time as a teenager! Isn’t that ridiculous? I was hot, sweaty and literally covered in shit and it was a blast! I know what you might be thinking. “Hey Rob, you are just looking at this with the rose coloured glasses of adulthood, you really had a terrible time.” Nope. I thought it was a blast when it was happening as well. I felt alive, useful and even exhilarated. . So what gives? How is it that I was happy on that afternoon when I was covered in crap? Sometimes happiness seems to arrive inexplicably at unexpected moments. You know when you go by the train tracks and you see a sign that says “Warning high speed trains may go by at any time without warning.” I think it’s the same with happiness; often it sneaks up on us without warning and just arrives. Weird isn’t it? Can you remember a time when happiness snuck up on you?
Are we Doing Happiness wrong?
I think we’re going about happiness all wrong. We often don’t know how to be happy or even what it means. We have been told our entire lives that we need to find happiness along the way, but do we? I don’t think so, In fact, I am pretty darn sure that we as a people or even as a species aren’t very good at happiness. We’re good at lots of other things. We’re great at creating, destroying, acquiring, propagating, franchising, consuming, fighting and sometimes making peace but we’re not that great at being happy.
Sometimes we try to get there through accumulation. “When I have six zeroes in my bank account, then I will have really made it and I will be happy!” This is seen as being a productive and an ambitious member of society, and I’m not knocking it believe me. I think all of us should be as prosperous as we want to be; but as a strategy to find happiness it’s not very effective.
Have you ever lost huge chunks of your life to the idea that you will be “happier” once you achieved something? Have you ever tried really hard to get a degree, or a certain job, or climb some mountain (either literally or figuratively) and then gotten there. We usually feel good for about a day and then wake up the next morning and everything seems pretty much the same. What a ripoff! We tend to spend huge chunks of my life trying desperately to improve some condition or circumstance so we’ll feel happier. I hate to say it but most of the time it doesn’t work. We might just need to rethink this whole thing.
I think many of us are sleepwalking through our lives and waiting to get to this distant fantasy land that miraculously contains “lots of money, tons of time and someone to do our laundry, oh and a big screen TV” in order to be happy.
Doing this stuff hasn’t worked for me and I’m guessing it hasn’t for you either. Well, let’s learn how to do this thing called happiness. We’re going to explore it here. I am actually cooking up a book called Doing Happiness and I’d love to share some of my research and thoughts with you. All of the research I have done leads me to believe that being happier is attainable by doing really simple accessible things. Let’s do this.
Pissed Off Blog
Oh My God I was pissed off. The lady on the bike was looking at me with something close to hate and I’m sure I didn’t look much better. We were staring each other down at a stoplight, I won’t repeat the conversation but you can be sure we weren’t wishing each other a happy birthday. This was very definitely not a good experience. The sky was starting to spit rain at us on our morning commute and my opponent and I were both determined not to back down. This felt weird and more than a bit wrong. We were both cyclists. I consider cyclists to be friends I haven’t met yet, but clearly we two were not getting along. I tried desperately to maintain some sense of scale. This was no big deal. It was clear that I should just let it go but I was finding that very challenging. News had come through the talking wires that a family member had passed away and I was desperately trying to hold my shit together.
My inner Gandhi (if he exists) was searching for insults. Her inner Buddha (if he existed) looked like he was getting ready for a cage match. We yelled at each other. I absolutely did not want to be reasonable. The strange thing was, I’m sure we are both kind and reasonably evolved people. If we met at a party we would have witty and insightful things to say to each other. Not now. Now, we were just two educated, reasonable people who might as well have been kicking each other in the school yard.
Eventually the light changed and I used a whole lot of that anger to speed me along to work. The experience bugged me for days. Was it completely unnecessary? Was it actually a healthy burst of anger in a barely civilized world?
Beats me, but I think this stuff has to come out in some way shape or form. We have to make room for this. Maybe letting off bits of steam can prevent a major blow up. I am reminded of our journey with cancer and recovery in that , no matter how hard we try to keep it together, sometimes we can totally lose it and be remarkably unreasonable and “not like ourselves”. I am so not proud of this moment but did my psyche need it? Probably. Was it the best way to go about it? Nope. Maybe we can remind ourselves to let this bad stuff out in ways that stays safe for us and those around us. Recovery is a tricky thing and as much as we try not to have things bother us, they do. It’s OK to be pissed off, sad, angry…whatever. It’s also very OK to find a place to put it that won’t hurt you or someone else. That way we can get to work safely and there will probably be less yelling in the streets. What are some of your coping mechanisms that don’t involve swearing at commuters?
You’re going to have to kick some ass on this one Rob.”
Whoa! I was more than a little surprised at hearing this especially from a doctor. I mean, I wasn’t in an exercise boot camp or at a motivational lecture. I was in a psychiatrist’s office. I had been diagnosed with probable thyroid cancer a week before and had been referred to this doctor as part of my treatment plan. I went just because I was supposed to. I mean really – a psychiatrist? Come on! I had expected to talk about my feelings and maybe told that it all went back to my being bullied in grade 3. Instead, the doctor looked at me evenly and gave me marching orders.
“This is going to be tough. It’s a serious thing you’re about to do and it’s going to take everything you’ve got.”
I almost laughed out of nervousness. Really? It wasn’t that serious, was it? Well, it turned out the good doctor was right. At the time I was a bit pissed off that he was so frank with me, but now I completely get it. We have to kick ass pretty much at every stage of recovery.
In the days and months that followed I appreciated that I had been told so frankly how serious cancer is. A journey with cancer, any journey with cancer, can take all our focus, determination, love, understanding and humour. Even to this day, when faced with making an adjustment to my life because of this disease my doctor’s words come back to me. “You’re going to have to kick some ass.” It turns out that ass kicking is a skill that comes in handy when we are in the thick of this journey and when something unexpected comes up as a survivor.
Here’s to all of us kicking ass and supporting each other while we do it.
We as human beings can pretty much get used to anything. It’s quite remarkable really. The day a plane crashes in your backyard, you might be pretty freaked out about it, but in a week or so it might feel like a normal part of life to have the Transportation Safety Board sifting through the wreckage while you sip a cappuccino on your porch. A friend might walk by and say “Oh my Gosh! Look at the plane crash in your yard!” you might reply “Oh ya that, but have you seen my new cappuccino maker?”
Many times this is what happens with a cancer diagnosis. Initially it can feel completely earth shattering, but in time we do adjust to it; and to some degree we get on with our daily life.
We might find that in a week or two the initial shock wears off and we start to accept our circumstances. This might seem odd to people, but as the old saying goes “life goes on…” The trivial and mundane can actually be a real advantage at this point. It can really give us a boost to start caring about things that seem really normal. Walking the dog can be a marvelous distraction from a life threatening disease. Having to go buy Cheese Ranch Doritos for an “Orange is the New Black” Marathon can actually really help you get your mind off the all-consuming worry of a new diagnosis. Any way you can get your focus off of your troubles can be a huge help. So, can life go on after a cancer diagnosis? Absolutely, and the small things we do every day like walking the dog and even buying Doritos can serve us by showing that moment by moment, hour by hour, we can get through this.
A Boatload of Experts
We meet a lot of experts when we are sick. We might get diagnosed by a physician or a group of physicians, then a specialist or two. After that, you may have been helped by nurses, or specialists who take your blood, maybe a pharmacist. Further down the road, you might get the help of a surgeon or a radiation oncologist. We need all of these experts. They are highly trained in their specific jobs and that is remarkably valuable to us.
However, sometimes meeting all of these people who have a bunch of diplomas on their walls can leave us feeling like we are “less than”. Remember that from school? The “less than” sign or the “greater than” sign? Well, sometimes meeting all these folks can make us feel like we have less to offer or that we as patients aren’t as important as those who help us. This is really unfortunate.
You see, every patient is an expert. I mean this in a very real and direct way. We are all experts in our condition. We are experts in how it feels to get a life altering diagnosis. We might be experts on what it’s like to tell family members that our lives have just turned on a dime. We are experts on how to wake up in the morning and get on with our day when the concerns of the rest of the world seem remarkably trivial. We might be experts on helping a friend through a tough time, or having empathy when someone is going through a similar experience.
All of these things have value in our lives as well as the lives of others. They don’t give out a PHD in Courage or a Masters in Empathy, but they should. Here’s to your expertise; both the recognized and the unrecognized; the seen and the unseen. You are an expert. You rock.