A Plane In Your Backyard?

plane backyardWe 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

 A Boatload of Experts

Expert-425x272We 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.

Sex and Cancer

Sex. Everybody talks about it. Well, let me rephrase that… Everybody makes a joke about it and then laughs uncomfortably. In our society, we don’t actually talk about sex with any honesty or vulnerability. We pretend to be enlightened about intimacy, but try bringing the topic up around the dinner table during the holidays. Someone might choke on their cranberry sauce (not that’s not a euphemism). Eroticism is virtually everywhere. But are we as human beings getting left behind in this mad rush toward the erotic? I think so.  Very few of us actually have any kind of meaningful discussion around sexuality, especially as it relates to our journey with cancer. Cancer and Sex? Aren’t these two things diametrically opposed? Nope.

Well, what is sex really? It can have so many different meanings depending on your point of view; intimacy, entertainment. Heck, I‘ve even heard a sex therapist talk about how some people use sex as exercise (I can almost hear the personal trainer yelling “C’mon give me another set of 12!”)

This is such a big topic that it needs to be given space, especially if we are on a journey with cancer. Our image of our bodies and who we are as people can change radically when we are in the midst of a major life change especially as it relates to our most intimate moments. This can bring up many questions for individuals and couples as well. But the overarching answer to most of the questions is….It’s OK. Its OK if you don’t feel sexual for a while. Its OK if it feels different. It’s OK if you’re not the powerhouse in bed you once were. It’s OK if what used to be a marathon lovemaking session is now some kissing and touching. It’s OK to not think about it for a while. Its OK to have fantasies about your radiation oncologist. It’s OK to have hot, sweaty dirty sex now that you’re a cancer survivor.  And it’s way more than OK to find healing and solace in honest intimate contact.

There is space for all of it. It’s all OK.

Some quotes from The Hope Workshop for People Affected by Cancer.

 “A feel good experience no matter who you are, where you are at, or where you are going.”

“This workshop gave me great tools that I will use. Amazing and Awesome!”

“Many feelings and experiences I have been having are shared by others, it was so reassuring to realize this in a happy, friendly, safe place.”

“I had such a positive session. A great combination of laughter, sharing and relaxation.”

“I feel thankful to have heard people’s stories of strength, compassion and hope.”hope

 The Hope Workshop for People Affected by Cancer is a chance for people who have been affected by cancer to come together, tell their stories, share resources and laugh.

I must admit that I was nervous presenting the Hope Workshop for the first time. It has been my pleasure to be in many shows over the years both written and improvised, but last night was the first time I had presented a workshop. I told a buddy of mine that one of the great things about doing an event like this is that the people in the room bring so much of themselves to the evening. It was kind of mind blowing to see the group “Yes and” me like crazy!

I pretty much consider Improvisation to be magic. I have seen it used to create plays, books, films and music but I have never heard of it used to help people deal with a disease like cancer. Well, that’s what we used it for last night. The entire first chunk of the workshop was adapted from Improv exercises which helped us create community remarkably quickly and led us into the rest of the evening. People talked about really big issues in a very supportive way and in the midst of all this growth…we had fun! Big Buckets of Fun. I just felt so honoured to be in the presence of these fine people who had their own specific experience and story to tell.

In my introduction to the event, I had said that “there is lot of wisdom in this room” and I got to see that wisdom first hand as we got down to business and shared positive strategies on tough stuff like isolation and depression. At one point I was pretty much stymied by a question but the group came up with a solution remarkably quickly.

So many of us are affected by this disease and between us we have many resources and skills we can share. If I had been able to sit in a room with all the great folks I worked with last night, I know my journey with cancer would have been a lot easier. I am really looking forward to bringing The Hope Workshop to as many people as possible.

Many Thanks to Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto.

The Hope Workshop For People Affected By Cancer

I am thrilled to announce the first ever Hope Workshop For People Affected By Cancer. Please have a look at the video Here…

The Hope Workshop is about acknowledging where you are now, celebrating your successes and building a future. In a positive and supportive atmosphere, people affected by cancer laugh, share stories and learn techniques to start rebuilding their lives.

Here are the detes…

Thursday Oct 10th, 5-8 pm,
Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto
24 Cecil St Toronto,

For more information or to register
Please call Gilda’s at (416) 214-9898

or email robhawke@gmail.com

Happiness and Maple Syrup

So apparently Canada ranked 6th in the world in happiness in a study sponsored by the UN. Denmark was first. Kudos to the Danes!

Frankly, I thought we were a happier group of people.  How could we not be with our lives awash in maple syrup, hockey and such a profundity of moose?


A whole lot of the way they measure happiness as far as I can tell is based on stuff that seems largely out of our control. Here’s a quote..

“Six key variables explained nearly 75 per cent of the variation in national scores: real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption and generosity.”

Nowhere does it mention a 60 inch plasma TV and a new season of Orange Is The New Black. I find this to be a fatal flaw in the study. In all seriousness though, there isn’t that much about our own input into the process. This is odd. What about our own POV? Does this mean that if you just take a bunch of people and put them in Denmark they would be happier? (They might, by the way, Denmark is an awesome place. “Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen…” and all that.)

But really, finding out the criteria for the study took a bit of the jam out of my donut. It left me thinking that we as individuals have very little to do with the process, which frankly, I don’t believe at all. I don’t get up in the morning and think “Our GDP per capita is particularly zesty today! I can feel the happiness swelling in my pants!”

What about how we deal with a life altering disease like cancer? Can we be happy in those circumstances? Not all the time of course, but I do believe that by supporting ourselves, finding community and having access to resources at the very least we can increase our level of resilience and maybe, just maybe, find some moments of happiness.

For more on the study check out this CBC link.


Ron Burgundy wants you to Laugh

I am watching outtakes of Will Farrell making Anchor Man. He is brilliant and hilarious. I am Rolling On The Floor Laughing This is good for me. In fact, it’s so good, that if a major pharmaceutical company could charge me 20 bucks a pop for a pill that would do this, they would. But they can’t, because laughter is free.

When I was recovering from cancer, I looked desperately to try to find things that would help me heal. I went to health food stores. I had a list of specialists as long as my arm. I read books on complimentary therapy. But it turns out that one of the best and most accessible things I could do was just make myself laugh.

Laughter has been shown to improve mood, lift depression, improve cardio vascular fitness and increase levels of serotonin (a very beneficial drug that is naturally produced by our bodies) among other nifty things. Many smart people with lots of letters after their names have studied this at places like The Mayo Clinic, Berkeley, The University of Arizona and other institutions

So it turns out that one of the easiest and most empowering things that those of us going   through cancer and other health challenges is to watch a remarkably goofy movie or put on our favourite You Tube video of cats playing bagpipes and just laugh.  Find any reason to laugh at all. It’s healthy, free and you don’t need a prescription.

I am a huge fan of ELLICSR. A great cancer survivorship centre at Toronto General Hospital. Gifted and talented people write a great blog and you can get to it RIGHT HERE

References (I know right? references! in a blog! What the hell! Look that’s real science down there…)

1.             Bennett, M.P., et al., The effect of mirthful laughter on stress and natu4. Sch ral killer cell activity. Altern Ther Health Med, 2003. 9(2): p. 38-45.

2.             Berk, L.S., et al., Neuroendocrine and stress hormone changes during mirthful laughter. Am J Med Sci, 1989. 298(6): p. 390-6.

3.             Cho, E.A. and H.E. Oh, [Effects of laughter therapy on depression, quality of life, resilience and immune responses in breast cancer survivors]. J Korean Acad Nurs. 41(3): p. 285-93.



The Hope Workshop for People Affected by Cancer is in development!

Hello Everyone!

I am thrilled to be creating a new workshop that draws on all of my work in the last few years. It has been thrilling to work with so many people  and bring together comedy, laughter yoga, meditation and other powerful positive things in order to help people going through cancer. Time and time again, I am shown how forming a community of like minded people can bring about positive change. All of this is coming together in a 3 hour workshop that I am currently devloping called…you guessed it..The Hope Workshop for people affected by cancer.

The Hope Workshop is about acknowledging where you are now, celebrating your successes and building a future. In a positive and supportive atmosphere, people affected by cancer laugh, share stories and are given a chance to answer the question ‘What now?” This workshop is in development and will be having its premiere at Gilda’s Club of Greater Toronto on Thursday October 10th. This is a rare opportunity to join with other people affected by cancer, reflect on your journey so far and maybe even have some fun. for more info, please email Rob at robhawke@gmail.com

Robert Hawke is an actor, author and cancer survivor. He wrote the acclaimed book “Kicking Cancer’s Ass: A Lighthearted Guide to the Fight of Your Life” and co-wrote the award winning “NormVsCancer: A Terminally Funny One Man Show”. Robert has been a guest lecturer at The University of Toronto, Ryerson University, Princess Margaret Hospital and UOIT. He loves his work.

Shows and Workshops

NormVsCancer: A Terminally Funny One Man Show

An Award Winning Comedic Tour de Force. (If I do say so myself!) I portray a journey into Norm’s body where all the organs come to life including the heart, the kidney, the appendix, the thyroid. Norm must find and kill the cancer before it kills him. This show has tremendous reviews and has been performed in Prague, New York, San Francisco and Toronto. This show works in theatres and has had great impact in a hospital or academic setting. Written by Robert Hawke and Michael Cohen. Directed by Michael Cohen

Adventures In Patient Centred Care

An Educational Presentation for Physicians, Nurses, Medical Students and other Health Care Providers. This piece uses patient stories and a big dose of comedy to inspire working medical professionals and students in the values and practice of Patient Centered Care. A great tool to stimulate discussion on how to implement PCC at a grassroots level. Adventures in Patient Centred Care has been used as curriculum for The University of Toronto Medical School, Ryerson University, Toronto General Hospital and The University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

The Hope Workshop for People Affected by Cancer

The Hope Workshop is about acknowledging where we are now, celebrating our successes and building a future. In a positive and supportive atmosphere, people affected by cancer laugh, share stories and learn techniques to help rebuild their lives.