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Posts Tagged ‘Cancer’

In the Stillness We Remember

June 7, 2012 11 comments

If you stare straight at the sun, it burns your eyes. And so it is when you lose someone you love.

It’s been a year now. There is a yawning crater where once there was an incredible person, and it’s difficult to navigate. John was a unique blend; he had the wisdom of a village elder coupled with the energy and enthusiasm of a puppy. He was a shooting star in the Milky Way, someone we gazed at in wonder. His friend said God needed John to liven things up in heaven, and that seems to be the only explanation that makes any sense.

If I ruminate over those last moments together, or the injustice of it, or just the fact that he is gone, it scorches my heart and torches my mind. Reality blinds me as though I’m gazing, unblinkingly, into the sun. Life becomes a game: do what you can without thinking about it.

It’s easier for me. I’m thousands of miles away and have three kids to distract me. Much harder for his wife and children, and for our mother.

But still, I have trouble living in a world without my brother, who was no less a superhero to me than Superman himself. Some days are more successful than others. The minutia of life keeps me away from my thoughts, and I skate along the surface of life, doing what needs to be done. Occasions are trickier. When his two children graduated from university last month, I’d guess their focus was more on the one person missing in the audience, than the occasion at hand.

Times like these, waves of memories are too strong to be swept aside. The thin ice that I skate on gives way to shockingly cold water.

The thing about grief is that it doesn’t abate in a clean, linear line, once the empties have been cleared from the funeral reception. It’s more like the tide; it stems and flows and visits you relentlessly. It is a common misnomer that time heals all wounds. Time doesn’t heal anything. Grief hovers beneath the surface of your life, it’s just a matter of how good you become at masking it.

Of course, I don’t want to forget. I will never forget. Who could forget? His smile. His energy. His wit. His intelligence. His light. His magnetism. He was one in a million. He was one in a lifetime. No, I will not ever forget. If grief means remembering, then so be it. I will learn to shield my eyes when I stare at the sun.

And still, I know. John is in the whisper of the wind, the whitecaps on the lake, and in the beautiful blooms in his garden. He’s absent from this physical world, but lives on in our hearts. Someone of his magnitude, who made an indelible mark on so many lives, can never be gone. He’s everywhere.

Lives Lived

October 27, 2011 7 comments

There were many stories to choose from, so writing a 500 word story about John was difficult. Yet when you have known someone like him, and he is taken too soon from his life’s course, you want to tell everyone you pass in the street about this incredibly dynamic person. As if the loss will start to make sense, the more you speak about it.

So the Lives Lived section in the Globe and Mail was a natural target, and today they published my little story about John. For the link to that story, click here.

I had to virtually sum up his career of teaching kids with a short sentence – hardly doing it justice, knowing that he was a positive influence on countless students. I barely mentioned his close relationship with his wife and children. But that’s national newspapers for you.

At his funeral, his past running coach told me the story about how he ran a 5 minute mile in his hungover state one day. His coach was clearly impressed at John’s abilities, (perhaps less impressed, but still slightly amused, by his priorities). So many athletes wouldn’t have turned up for that practice at all; his youthful bravado and competitive spirit shine through this story – a story long since forgotten by John, but remembered by his coach.

Golfing with John was a treat for anyone, so that story had to make the cut. He took fewer swings than most golfers, so I think he came up with the idea of being the sharpest ball hunter that ever walked the links to challenge himself while the rest of his foursome duffed it out. He proudly told anyone who would listen how he had never in his life bought a golf ball, since he had buckets full of them from his jaunts through the rough. He would stuff handfuls of balls into my bag before we teed off. I blame him for my enduring inability to read a putt, since I would arrive on the green and he would hold his putter where I needed to aim, either to the right or left of the hole. He was always right.

Waiting for knee surgery didn't stop him from being Ella's running pal for a 2 mile race

There were so many stories that couldn’t fit. Like the time when travelers were stranded in Halifax during 911, and John ended up bringing two men home, making space for them until they were cleared to fly again. Countless stories about the times he coached Peter or Julia, about trips he and Debbie had taken, and many, many about his antics that were uniquely John. There was truly never a dull moment when he was in a room.

His large personality paved the way for thousands of funny situations. Let’s say he was no shrinking violet. But for the complete picture, he was also smart, generous, warm and caring.

For some people, the word “brother” conjures someone who they rarely speak with and can barely tolerate. The relationship means different things for people. But I was madly in love with my brother, and I know the rest of my family was, too. He was a rare and unique gift. We are missing him, but he is lodged somewhere between our hearts and our minds.

With every breath, I feel his presence.

Grief, Considered

July 5, 2011 8 comments

This night we danced

Grief is radically different when viewed from arms length. I read about it everyday in the news, it is almost as benign as the weather. I easily gloss over its bottomless depths when it applies to others.

Or I might begin to imagine what it could feel like, shudder, and then continue reading. Or perhaps skip to a different article altogether.

This one I can’t skip. Grief now covers my life in the same way as a heavy snowstorm can alter a landscape. Normalcy is buried far below the ground cover, and you don’t know where to begin to shovel.

The new normal is far less colorful, far less welcoming. Better to dwell in the subconscious of sleep.

The feverish hope we had been clinging to each day and night has been replaced, leaving in its place a cold grief. An unending sorrow.

Physically, this grief manifests as a faint feeling of nausea, 24-7, mixed with lethargy. You realize you need to eat, just to keep moving, but whatever you’re eating tastes like leather. It’s pure sustenance, nothing else.

Limbs that dove into exercise, previously, are hard to coax into action. The energy required to move them could be better put to use – just remembering. Remembering a recent past that was subtly different.

A time when someone was okay, that now is not.

Grief, I’m realizing, is really a mixture of sadness and anguish. Sadness because you miss this person, and would do anything to have them back, just for one more second, but preferably until you die first.

Anguish because we live in a world where extremely wonderful, physically superior, morally impeccable and outright supreme beings can be extinguished by disease, although they have lived their lives so carefully.

And yet so many others live on, careless to their humanity.

It seems so unfair. So unjust.

Rightly or wrongly I am furious at the medical community who didn’t know anything about his cancer, a sarcoma so out of the limelight that it receives no funding, no benefits of research.

Although he was accepting and gracious with the outcome, the one we feared most and could barely turn our minds to, I am not. I can’t stop thinking about the what if’s and the if only’s, desperate to piece together a different ending.

At this juncture, I remind myself that this has happened to countless others throughout existence, to mothers, fathers, lovers, friends, sons, daughters, friends, brothers, sisters.

Others, too, have been taken from this world far too soon.

But this, this is personal. This grief is a permafrost.

We can’t choose our family. But being his sister was fate’s greatest gift.

Never to be Forgotten

June 16, 2011 10 comments

It would be difficult to pay him a tribute that equaled his legacy, but as tributes go it came close.

People came in droves to his three wakes – lined up for blocks and waited over an hour to say a final farewell. The church was brimming to the rafters and at maximum capacity a full half hour before the ceremony began. When it was announced they would be naming the local high school’s new gymnasium the John Regan Memorial Gymnasium, 800 people erupted with applause.

We knew he was special, but it was a tad astonishing to see how widely cherished he was.

Over the last few days we have heard countless stories about how John touched peoples lives in ways they would never forget. Like his friends are too many to count, there are too many stories to relay. The common theme involved his quick smile and unfailing generosity.

Here’s one of mine.

Whenever I got home for a visit, we would go for a run together. When we turned a corner and were faced with a headwind, he would jump in front of me and tell me to follow closely behind him, he would act as my windshield. He always tried to make things easier for those around him, even if it meant things were tougher on him.

He always pulled more than his load.

It’s hard to believe this has happened, it is surreal. We have cried enough tears to sink a ship, but still they are coming, easily triggered by a story or a memory. We keep waiting for him to bust into the room, snapping his fingers like he did restlessly. So often he entered with a “Let’s go to….” or “Why don’t we… ” and we would be off, trailing after him, trying our best to keep up.

He walked quicker than anyone I knew.

If health was a viable commodity, I would have so gladly given him a lung, or an eye, or a limb. Or traded places with him. Everyone in his family would have. And in the days following his death, I met hundreds of people who would have gladly done the same. Strangers to me, these people also loved him like a brother.

He was easy to love.

Luckily, for all of us who knew him, he was generous with his love. I know a lot of people who casually cap the amount of friendships they have – they can only manage so many on top of family and work. Like his energy knew no bounds, it seemed, so did his friendships. In the last few days I have seen a lot of big, burly men shamelessly crying their eyes out at this unfathomable loss.

I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glints on the snow. I am the sunlight on ripened grain. I am the gentle autumn rain.

He will be missed more than I can properly express. But the most amazing thing happened as his body failed him: his spirit continued to grow. His bravery, strength, love and humor grew stronger in the face of adversity. It grew through the roof and became bigger than the sky.

There were a lot of stars out last night, but it was easy to pinpoint the brightest one. And there he was.

A New Star in the Sky

June 9, 2011 4 comments

Look out, there will be carnage.

We are hurting acutely, our star center forward has left the building, and we are yearning for him. This adjustment to a lacklustre life, sans John, will not be an easy one. We are broken.

But we need to remember, in our darkest moments, that someone who contributed so much, and lived so large, can never be gone. He’s everywhere, his spirit is so strong it encompasses all of our senses. His personality was so big it left indelible marks everywhere. We have indents on our hearts and in our minds. Not to mention his beautiful wife and amazing son and daughter; John, thank you for these gifts, these pieces of you.

He lives on, but in a different way.

I’ll get you across the finish line, Dee.

I’ll be the first star you see in the sky every night.

Who else in the world could sing, in the midst of being transferred to palliative care two days ago, On The Road Again? To have the breath, let alone the humour, boggles the mind.

His brother said, I’m sorry for hacking you at hockey. He replied it’s okay, I deserved it. This was all they needed to come to terms with, some tiffs after twenty years on the same hockey team. Between that and some stolen socks, not bad after fifty years together. Many have fared worse.

And that’s as spicy as it gets. No drama, or fences to mend, just pure and simple. Love, the biggest kind imaginable, from every direction you turn, for the greatest person you could imagine knowing.

If we could all be a little more like John, live and love and laugh as much as he did, the world would be a better place. Big shoes to fill, but is that the message here?

Categories: Life Tags: , , , , , , ,

Strong and Brave

June 8, 2011 3 comments

He can’t go yet – we are still learning from him.

He continues to be a picture of grace, flashing his beautiful smile every time someone enters the room. Thanking every nurse and doctor who comes by. Telling us be strong when we cry.

Generally the purpose of these visits is to comfort the sick, but it is definitely he who is doing the comforting.

He has taught and coached hundreds – could be thousands – of kids over the years, so he is taking this opportunity to give us advice and words of wisdom. Be the mentor one last time. A knee jerk reaction when you’ve been doing it your whole life, I guess.

He says he doesn’t want to leave us, but he’ll be watching us from above. Every hour our admiration grows stronger, although I didn’t think that was possible. Every hour his voice weakens.

How he can stay so strong and so brave after all he has endured is truly mysterious. As though he hasn’t impressed us enough with his exemplary life.

Remarkable in every way. He always did rise to the occasion.

Here Is The Love

June 5, 2011 15 comments

John

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This was not the end he wanted.

Nevertheless it’s happening, proceeding like your worst nightmare on speed. But let me tell you about the love. There is so much of it in the air it is almost visible; I can smell it, taste it, and most of all, feel it.

I look at my brother, shrunken and weak far, far too soon, and know that he has experienced more love in his life than is humanly possible. Take the love I feel for him, which borders on worship, multiply it by a million, and you’re getting close.

He lived a love story.

In a gaggle of children, he was the middle child, and my mother has always freely admitted he was the apple of her eye. To this day she has a soft spot for middle children, although when you’re the fifth of nine it’s hard to imagine the phenomenon is the same. Regardless, he was the favored one, ironically named after my father. And because he was deserving of his plum spot we all forgave him for it and bowed down to our rightful (lower) place.

He married the woman of his dreams, someone who was engaging and beautiful to begin with, who then fell into the folds of our family as though she’d been part of the fabric her whole life. And then something happened that doesn’t always happen: their love grew.

A workaholic (she) and the life of the party (he) meshed and morphed and taught each other things. She learned how to relax, he learned how to work hard to achieve his dreams. A perfect mix.

Love grew and it prospered. They had two children who have grown into remarkable young adults, and so the love, again, multiplied.

Of course there has been ups and downs, stresses, harder times as well as many wonderful ones. But underneath it all, love was growing like the weeds in their perfectly manicured garden. Everytime I showed up at their house for dinner they were working on their garden. The workaholic would be weeding or planting, the life of the party mowing the lawn or cutting back bushes. They were always working on that damn garden.

An overused metaphor? Maybe, but it is perfectly true so I’ll take it at the risk of being predictable. Their love for each other and their children grew like a garden that could sustain an army. If it were to produce, say, carrots, it would be the sweetest carrot you ever did taste, packed with fortifying vitamins.

Now, you can imagine the life of the party attracts friends like bees attract honey. Everyone wants to be around the life of the party, party or no party. But not all lives of the party retain their closest friends throughout their entire lives. This one is still best friends with his buddies from the neighborhood, and his brothers he grew up amongst, although he’s picked up hundreds more along the way. They probably didn’t talk much about the love they felt for each other amongst their escapades, hockey and golf, but it’s apparent now and they’re not shying away from it.

Too many friends to count, too much love to measure.

Writing about love is overdone. It can be cheesy and trite. It can be thrown around too casually, or riddled with drama. But I look around at this unquestionable nightmare and the air is heavy with love. It is hanging around like a fifth wheel. I can smell it and taste it and it lingers on collars. It’s in his hair – not a grey hair to be found, by the way – and underneath his fingernails. It’s hovering around him like a forcefield. An aura of love.

He’s been worshiped, revered, idolized, respected, looked up to his entire life by literally everyone who knew him, but chiefly and most importantly his wife and his children. His greatness was obvious and apparent, bordering on flamboyant. But the love in the air still takes my breath away. It’s followed him everywhere the world over like an unrelenting shadow. It’s a wonder he didn’t trip on it.

He says he feels so much love. He is thankful for so much love. His cup, you could say, runneth over.

A Charitable Force: Ruthie Shugarman

April 18, 2011 5 comments

Ruthie and her husband Danny at last years Ride to Conquer Cancer

It’s my first official Motivational Monday, and fittingly I am profiling someone who has actually been motivating me for a long time: my friend, Ruthie Shugarman.

She’s the kind of person who goes a mile a minute, but has all the time in the world for you. I’m not quite sure how she fits into the day all the things that she does – her efficiency meter works overtime, and I’m suspect that she squeezes thirty hours into each day, somehow.

Ruthie is passionate about a lot of things, among them her family, friends, real estate and charities. And now, thanks to the Ride to Conquer Cancer, she has a new passion and sport in cycling, and one more charity to add to her long list.  I’m not sure how she slots it all in, but like everything else she does in life, she has taken on the Ride to Conquer Cancer with energy and vigor, a force to be reckoned with.

The Ride is a two day cycling event that starts in Vancouver and ends in Seattle. Each participant is responsible for raising $2500 for the cause, with many riders exceeding these expectations. Last year Ruthie was part of Team Dexter, which raised $112 000.

I love Ruthie’s ability to turn negatives into positives. She became a realtor three years ago – after owning her own event planning business for thirteen years – because of her passion for the housing market. But just as she struck out on her own, the housing market took a drastic turn for the worse.

“It was actually a great time to be learning the ropes.” Properties weren’t moving as quickly so she could immerse herself in each transaction. Not only has she stuck with it, she was recently recognized as the third highest producer for individual sales in her company.

When times got tough, Ruthie got creative. During this down market, she had the idea of putting her event planning background to good use. She organized a clothing swap amongst her friends and clients (of which I am a huge fan, since not only is it fun, it seriously augments my wardrobe). Her plan was to host a social event that would benefit women at a time when money was tight, and at the same time introduce herself as a Realtor. Her clothing swaps have turned into a hugely successful biannual event, benefiting not only her clients and friends but also several local charities, such as Avalon Addiction Center, Covenant House, and Dress for Success.

Think about it: busy mother schlepping children to and fro, full time Realtor, decides to take up a new sport and a new cause.

Before joining the Ride, Ruthie didn’t own a bike, so getting suited up was no small endeavor. And then there is the small issue of the shoe clips.

“I was terrified to ride on the road at first,” she says, “ and only began clipping my feet in three weeks before the actual race.” But she was pleasantly surprised about how social the training was, frequently riding to Steveston, Deep Cove or Horseshoe Bay with groups of people. Stopping for coffee was an integral aspect of the rides, which suited her perfectly. Multitasking at its best.

The race itself she found inspirational. Survivors of cancer ride with yellow flags on their bikes, and several other riders have pictures of people they are riding for. “Seeing them is so moving, it doesn’t matter how painful things get out there, you are motivated by the cause.”

Ruthie is busy starting her training for the Ride to Conquer Cancer this June and has kicked off her fundraising campaign. Very appropriately, since April is daffodil month for the Canadian Cancer Society, a time to raise funds and awareness for the disease that impacts so many.

I am forever motivated by Ruthie’s ability to fit into an hour what I fit into an entire day. Her cup is full, yet she always finds room for more. Let’s help warriors like Ruthie in their fight to conquer cancer. Donate generously, and watch out for cyclists on our roads.

To donate to Ruthie’s fundraising efforts, please visit http://www.conquercancer.ca

Dearest Cancer: Prepare to be Defeated

March 26, 2011 25 comments

Cancer, you miserable beast, you have sunk your dirty talons into the wrong person. You don’t know who you’re messing with.

You think you are clever by showing up in first his knee, and now his lung and spine, but my brother will outwit you yet, you have not seen the likes of him.

He is smarter than you. Not only book smart, but street smart. He will read you under the table, and find a method of beating you at your own game. He will lull you into submission and have you eating out of the palm of his hand in no time. He will win this battle. Stand down.

He is an endurance athlete, did you know? You have been at him for a while, but he hasn’t even begun to fight back. He hasn’t shown you his A game, it kicks in right about now. He has just been warming up for this battle, playing you. You haven’t seen anything yet.

He is a fierce competitor, if there is a win at stake he will pinch hit, get the overtime goal, dig deep to save the day. He has had lots of practice at this, and I can tell you he is a winner. This is another game he will win, prepare to be defeated.

You are not his worthy opponent.

Were you thinking, here’s a nice guy to pick on? A champion teacher, fantastic father, loving husband, all around hero in his community, I’ll take him down? That was your first mistake, because he’s often mistaken for a nice guy, but what you don’t know is he is a chameleon; a wonderful person but a terrifying rival. He will wear YOU down, and it won’t be pretty.

His resolve will blow you away, but then again he is not a regular person.

My brother has the determination of a gladiator, the strength of a leviathan, the wit of Adam Sandler and Tina Fey combined, and the heart of Sidney Crosby, and also like Sid, a team of enormous depth cheering him on from all corners of the earth. He will play the game, like the sportsman he is, but make no mistake that he will beat you in the end. He will send you home with your tail between your legs.

His spirit will outmatch your cruelty.

We will soon be celebrating his victory

Get well, Big Brother

February 26, 2011 4 comments

John and my sister, Marybeth

We all know that bad things happen to good people; but it never makes it easier.

My brother, John, who is way too young and sparkling with life to have any sort of affliction has battled a rare cancer in his leg for the last six months, and is battling still in ICU this weekend as he recuperates from a fourth surgery.

Finally, we can keep up with him. Normally he will have played eighteen holes of golf and gone for a run before most people roll out of bed.

If people were awarded celebrity status based on character alone, John would be more famous than Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber combined. He is kind, generous, intelligent, and funny; a dedicated teacher and vice-principal who has made a positive difference in many lives as a coach, mentor, and friend. He is the person we all strive to be.

I know this first hand. All of my life my claim to fame has been that I am John’s sister. Once people realize this I am granted special status in their eyes, and they tell me how John was their favorite teacher, how he was responsible for their child’s success, how he was the best paddling coach they ever had, how wonderful he is. I have become adept at excusing myself from conversations where people sing his praises; they are usually lengthy and rambling.

These tendrils of respect are far reaching and hard to escape. I was in San Diego recently, and I had a conversation with a man from Nova Scotia who told me his family was indebted to John. Instead of showing his teenage boy heavy handed discipline, John had offered him creative solutions and support, which enabled a troubled child to grow into a productive person.

It’s not easy to keep the most active, energetic and athletic person I know down, but the recent past has put him through the ringer.

It’s been a year filled with medical surprises. His swollen knee was first thought to be a torn meniscus, and he waited for months to have this surgically fixed. During this surgery his doctor realized this was something different, and biopsied the swollen tissue. The next week they told him he had a rare type of cancer in the fat cells of his knee. They prescribed a course of radiology followed by another surgery to remove the mass. He endured the major surgery in January, where doctors removed the affected tissue and replaced it with John’s calf muscle and donor ligaments. The incision ran the length of his entire leg.

He thought he was on the road to recovery, only to be knocked down again: his leg wasn’t healing properly, so another surgery determined more muscle had to be taken from his abdomen to surround exposed bone. Another six hour surgery landed him in ICU, a high risk of infection rendering him immobile.

Can you imagine going through hell and back, only to return to its fiery depths so soon?

As he lies still, exhausted by medical intervention and dashed hopes, all of us – his wife, children, family and friends, are sending positive thoughts and prayers through the airwaves, thoughts that say stay strong, get well, breathe deep, hold on, be safe, my brave big brother. We love you so much; you are our star.