"Our soul must perform two duties. The one is that we must reverently wonder and be surprised. The other is that we must gently let go and let be." Julian of Norwich

...Cancer teaches both!!!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Glimmer of Hope

It is early in the morning on December 23, 2010.  I should be sleeping but am awake with excitement.  Today was a "full energy" day.  This morning Morgan and I did the big grocery shopping for Robyn's Christmas Eve Birthday Party and our Christmas Day Feast.  I spent the afternoon making lasagna for the birthday party from a traditional family recipe handed down from my Dad.  Yummy!   This evening Jerome and Kelly visited for dinner and a Christmas movie ("Christmas Vacation" with Chevy Chase).  They are just back from Jerome's home in Hazelton so there was much to catch up on.  Jerome has wonderful work as a teaching assistant and basketball coach in the Hazelton School District.

It feels good to have gotten so much done and it leaves tomorrow totally free.  Alas, I will probably sleep most of it away now that I have surrendered much of this night to insomnia!

"The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight..."

Wow, does this ever seem to be the way it is with me this Christmas.  So many hopes and fears converging.  My situation seems outwardly dire.   My level of medical care is "palliative".  I'm living with an indwelling catheter, managing bowel incontinence with "Depends", walking with the help of a cane, and bearing this "pain-in-the-ass" cancer with ever increasing doses of Morphine and its various derivatives.  I'm living through what, in most likelihood, is the terminal stage of a cancer against which I have never really had more than a "faint hope".   Fear abounds!

And yet I do remain hopeful.  Not just hopeful of a dignified death and an ongoing existence of wholeness and bliss beyond the grave (much as this is!),  but hopeful of an ongoing life of joyous love and faithful living in this plane of space/time existence.  Perhaps I am just having another late-night experience of one of morphines beloved side effects - an exaggerated sense of well-being!

A Glimmer of Hope.

At present I am undergoing a series of scans (CT, PET, MRI) which will be evaluated by a local surgical team to see if I might be a candidate for a "sacral resection".  A sacral resection is a significant surgical procedure which sees the collaboration of orthopaedic and general surgeons in the removal of all or part of the sacrum and all of the soft-tissue cancer in the pelvic region.  The sacrum is then reconstructed using artificial bone and steel and permanent incontinence is resolved with a colostomy and permanent urinary catheter.

To be eligible for this extensive procedure it must be shown firstly, that I am free of other metastacies; secondly, that the cancer is not spreading up the spinal nerve sheath; and thirdly, that a viable orthopaedic reconstruction option exists given the extent of cancerous bone that would need to be removed. This is indeed a lot to ask.

I've been aware of this option for sometime but only began to pursue it this Fall when it became clear that the chemotherapy was losing its grip on the cancer.  I've been consulting various doctors at the BC Cancer Agency and BC Spinal Centre for the last month or two.  Not all have been encouraging.  It is now getting down to the nitty gritty!  I've had the CT scan and am scheduled for the PET scan in early January.  An MRI is pending too.  Soon I hope!

"Delusion of Repreive"

Thanks to my friend Peter Alexcee I have been reading Viktor Frankl's classic work "Man's Search for Meaning".  Frankl, a holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, uses the term "delusion of reprieve" to describe the belief that many death camp prisoners held that they would be saved, rescued, or otherwise redeemed from their mostly inevitable death.   "In psychiatry there is a certain condition known as delusion of reprieve. The condemned man, immediately before his execution, gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute." Viktor Frankl

I don't think that there is any doubt that late-stage cancer survivors can experience this phenomenon.  There is always one more drug, one more surgical procedure, one more clinical trial, or one more exotic alternative that is finally going to rid us of this dread disease and allow us to return to the lives we had before, or even better lives!  From the perspective of survival this is actually not a bad outlook to have.

Perhaps this then is the cause of my tragic optimism at this late stage of my cancer journey, a "delusion of reprieve".  And yet!  My basis for hope in this plane of existence is rooted and grounded in a very real and tangible possibility.  Or perhaps my doctors are indeed collaborators in my "delusion of reprieve"!  We all want to believe that "cancer can be beaten"!

Even beyond this particularly hopeful possibility there are a number of other options that offer hope of some life extension and much life enhancement.  All shall soon be revealed. 

As I took out the Christmas decorations this year I distinctly remembered putting them away last year and doubting at that time that I would be here now to enjoy another Christmas season.  And yet here I am.  So enjoy it I will!! 

Do have yourself a very Merry Christmas... Love Rob; in Vancouver

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel! 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pollock Family Christmas

Most of my "Christmas Blogging" will continue at "Pollock Family Christmas", where all friends are warmly welcome to join us for carols, stories, and Christmas cheer!  Health updates and cancer reflections will continue to be posted here.

Merry Christmas...  Rob; in Vancouver

"May the spirit of Christmas bring you peace, 
The gladness of Christmas give you hope,
The warmth of Christmas grant you love." 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton 
On December 10, 1968 Thomas Merton died of an accidental electric shock from a faulty electric fan in his cottage at the Red Cross Conference Center in Samut Prakan, Thailand. Merton had presented a paper at a conference of monastics that morning.

I engaged in an imaginative pilgrimage with Thomas Merton two years ago as I marked the 40 year anniversary of his journey to India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.  I followed his journey, and his journals, from day-to-day and posted reflections, historic pieces, and samples of Merton's thought and writing to "Merton in Asia".  This blog continues to exist and remains a worthwhile exploration for those interested in Merton's life and thought, particularly as it emerged from the 60's context and in its continuing significance.
Some will ask... "Why Merton?"  I addressed this question in the early stages of my virtual pilgrimage with Merton and summarized it in terms of his significant contributions in the areas of:
These remain areas of vital importance today as people of faith struggle to find an authentic spirituality that has relevance for the significant challenges we continue to face as a people on this increasingly threatened planet.  Merton's insightful critique of contemporary culture, his passion for the earth and all its inhabitants, his willingness to embrace others of diverse religious traditions, his deeply non-violent approach, and his own rootedness in his Christian spiritual tradition continue to make him a uniquely gifted voice in the world of contemplation and action.

Merton wrote against the backdrop of the turbulent 60's.  1968, the year of his death, was considered to be a particularly significant year, Merton described it as a "beast of a year!".  The issues arising in that time remain the significant issue that we face as a human community today.  Merton's voice continues to challenge us to wake from our slumbers, to turn from our idols and illusions, and to love our neighbours in truth and in deed.

May it be so...  Rob; in Vancouver

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”
Thomas Merton

Highlights from "Merton in Asia"

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Happy Christmas" - John Lennon

John Lennon was shot and killed on December 8, 1980 outside of his Central Park home in New York.  I remember hearing the news the following morning in northern BC where I was working as a timber cruiser.   I was on my way to pick up my friend Gary to head into the mountains for a day of work.   We were both Beatles fans and deeply saddened both by the loss of a great musician and the silencing of a prophetic voice.

John and Yoko released this classic Christmas song as a protest song against the Vietnam War. It has become a Christmas favorite. It is wonderful in this video to see the faces of the children who sing the beautiful chorus pieces. The kids are from the Harlem Community Choir.

Happy Christmas!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Good Day

Enjoy this short meditation on gratefulness from Brother David Steindl-Rast.  Visit David and learn more about the practice of gratitude at www.gratefulness.org.

Have “A Good Day”!!   Rob; in Vancouver

“Love wholeheartedly, be surprised,
give thanks and praise,
then you will discover the fullness of your life.”
Brother David Steindl-Rast

Friday, November 19, 2010

Well Enough!

Most cancer survivors are familiar with the inevitable "How are you?" question from family and friends.  It is innocuous enough in most instances but can become challenging when it can't be answered with the obligatory "I'm Fine".

For the most part we have reduced "How are you?" down to a rather meaningless greeting.  It fits in very nicely with "Hi!" as in "Hi! How are you?".  Likewise, the response has mostly been reduced down to a meaningless "Fine", or perhaps the lengthier version "I'm doing good", whether or not we happen to be "fine" or "good" at all.

Ah... but for the cancer patient, and their circle of friends and family, this becomes a much richer exchange.  To begin with, the friend comes with a genuine curiosity, heartfelt care and concern. They earnestly want to know "how you are", and equally earnestly want to hear that "you are well".  Family and friends are our strongest hope bearers.  They want us to be well, and if they could will it, we would all be well.  There is no stronger healing power in the world than the love and prayers of family and friends!

Be that as it may, the problem arises on those, not infrequent, occasions when we are not feeling "fine", "well", or "good".  For myself, I wonder "How much do I say?"   My experience has been that people's eyes often begin to glaze over when I launch into a litany of minor medical problems, or they begin to squirm when I relate the nasty details of the latest disease progression or treatment regime. 

Those who know me and have followed my blog know that I have always been forthcoming and detailed about my condition, my treatments, and my options going forward.  But still... the greeting "How are you?"  challenges me.  How do I answer, honestly and succinctly?

I have finally found the response which now works best for me...  "I am well enough."   "Well enough" seems to sum it up for me at this particular stage of the journey.  I am certainly not as well as I would like to be.  I am not able to work in the job that I love.  Nor I am not able to travel to Florida to visit my folks and many friends there. I can't even take a lengthy roadtrip to visit friends in the North, the Okanagan, or the Kootenays. It is difficult to plan much of my life beyond a few months at a time. Each of these things, and many others, are a cause for disappointment and some sadness. Alas!

However...  I was well enough to attend Robyn's wedding in Edmonton and dance 'til the "wee hours". I am well enough to walk the forests and seawalls of Stanley Park with friends and colleagues.  I am well enough to enjoy lunch and a matinee movie with my daughters Kelly and Morgan.  I am well enough to anticipate with great joy the birth of Robyn's child next Spring.  I am well enough to enjoy the occasional night out at the symphony or a play.  I am well enough to explore the many different options for living well (enough) with this deadly disease. And I am well enough to enjoy each day and night, each moment, with my beloved wife and partner Pam.

And that brothers and sisters is  W E L L   E N O U G H!!

Be well enough... Rob, in Vancouver

Guess I'm Doing Fine

Thursday, November 4, 2010

John Tinker: Rest in Peace

I lost a dear friend, and fellow pilgrim on the cancer journey, last night.  John died peacefully at home, free of pain, and in the arms of his beloved partner, Adrian.  In his last few days he was remarkably free of the pain that had racked his body for the last several months.

John was a deep thinker, an avid reader, a gifted writer, an inspiring teacher, a good friend, a passionate gardener, and a fun and faithful partner.  Others could say more, but this much, at least, I know to be true.

John and I met in cyberspace through the American Cancer Society's online support network. John, his partner Adrian, and I made a quick connection and found that we were bound in part by the common cards this dread disease had dealt us.  John and I both had colon cancer that had spread to our sacrum, the lower vertebrae of the spine, the "Holy Bone".  A painful and deadly recurrence.

Our relationships grew to include personal e-mails between John, Adrian, my wife Pam, and myself.  In time I called John and we began to converse about symptoms and treatment options on the phone.  Finally, last April, Pam and I traveled to San Francisco, where we were met by a smiling John and Adrian at the airport (SFO), and where we enjoyed much of their company over a wonderful 5-day visit.  Highlights of our visit included a roadtrip to Point Reyes park and a pizza dinner at their beautifully restored home and garden.

In addition to sharing a common ailment, John and I shared much in common in our approach to living with cancer.  John engaged the experience of living with a life-threatening disease deeply.  (John engaged all of the experiences of life deeply!)   After much thought, wrestling, and a transformative hypnosis session, John came to the point of understanding that is best summed up in his own words...  "I cannot control the disease; I can control how I experience the disease."

John lived deeply and joyously through his life with cancer.  He focused on what was "life-giving", which for John was his relationship with Adrian, his garden, his writing, his friends, and "Hogarth", John and Adrian's lively boxer.  This is not to say that he did not have times of deep pain and suffering.  He most certainly did, both physically and psychologically.  Yet he was able to reflect on such periods, write of them, and ultimately transcend them.  Where some might become embittered and resentful, John remained gracious and loving. 

John shared some of his writing on the experience of living with cancer with me.  His writing of this experience was detailed in its descriptions, insightful in its analysis, and graceful in its conclusions.  I hope some of it finds its way to publication.  It is certainly most worthy of it.

The picture of John above is not complete.  It is cropped from a larger picture and a larger context...

... the context of love.  I have not known John, apart from Adrian.  Together they lived a rich life of creativity and love.  Their home and garden is a living expression of such creativity and love.

Robert Louis Stevenson said that... "Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well."   John was dealt a bad hand with a deadly cancer, but he played it graciously well.

God be with you John Tinker... until we meet again...

My deepest and heartfelt condolences go out to Adrian and to John's great circle of colleagues, family, and friends.

Peace and blessings...  Rob; in Vancouver

"Despite all of this, we focus on good things.   
As I write, Adrian and I are sipping champagne.  
 Hogarth is nestled up with us, and life is good."
John Tinker

John Tinker

I have put this together using some pictures from John's CaringBridge site and a few of my own.  A small tribute to a wonderful person.  Gone far too soon...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Robyn & Brandon 10-10-10

We had a great Thanksgiving Weekend in Edmonton celebrating Robyn and Brandon's wedding.  The weather was fantastic, we had an awesome collection of family and friends, and the weekend was filled with many wonderful moments.

I had been very sick the week before the wedding and was only able to pull off the travel after significant help from my oncologist, my GP, and a new pain management regime.  As it turned out my energy increased through the weekend and by 10-10-10 I was able to walk Robyn down the aisle and dance 'til 1:00AM!!

One of the many highlights of the wedding was attendance of a few special friends from my High School days in Calgary.   It was like a mini-reunion!  Gerry came down from Manning, Alberta, Nancy, who we hadn't seen since our own wedding 30 years ago, came up from Calgary,  and Missy also came up from Calgary, where she has lived since relocating from Vancouver a few years ago.  It was a wonderful treat to share a table with them at the wedding!

Rob - Missy - Nancy - Gerry
  The following video features some highlights from the wedding.  Pictures were taken mostly by Kelly's partner Jerome.  It is impossible to capture all of the great moments or wonderful people who attended.  Even so, this short clip gives a sense of the celebration.  I've used a couple of Beatles tunes again.

Be well... Rob, Father-of-the-Bride; in Vancouver...

Friday, October 8, 2010

Greetings From Edmonton!

We're here in Sunny Alberta to celebrate the marriage of our daughter Robyn and her partner, Brandon.  It is shaping up to be a great celebration as family gathers from coast to coast in this beautiful Alberta city.  The "nuptials" themselves will take place on 10-10-10!

Major Health Down Turn

I don't have time now to say all of what has happened over the last several weeks.  Suffice it to say that the nice little "bubble of wellness" I have enjoyed for most of the last year seems to have burst!!   I had a very tough time of it after my last chemo (last Monday).  Increased pain, loss of bladder control, debilitating fatigue, bowel distress...  you don't want the details. To make a long story short... I spent my birthday, this Monday, with my Oncologist and a palliative specialist to get me on my feet for this trip.  With the help of my GP, a new "catheter", and a new pain management regime I was able to get on the plane Thursday and come to Edmonton!!  Today I had a major rebound of energy and by Sunday I hope I'll be fit to walk Robyn down the aisle!!  YEAH!!

I'll post more details on the wedding and my health when I am back and settled in Vancouver.  For now... All is well!!

Peace and blessing... Rob; in Edmonton!

"Yesterday I decided to go to the office.
I got as far as the bedroom door.
Chemo strikes."
Peter Jennings

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Stand By Me

The path of life is not meant to be walked alone...

...with thanks to the many who continue to Stand By Me in the midst of this journey. I am richly blest.

Peace and blessings... Rob; in Vancouver

Friday, September 10, 2010

Who Cares?

Maria Dunn is our favorite Alberta Folk Singer.  She came to Vancouver a few years ago and opened at a folk concert for the "No Shit Shirleys".  Maria is a classic folk singer and has compiled an excellent collection of Western Canadian folk music.  She is socially aware and not afraid to put her voice to the many advocacy needs faced by our community.  Here is a beautiful piece written for the "Albertans Who Care" Campaign.  

Be well... Rob; in Vancouver

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Japanese Garden - Mayne Island

 Mayne Island Light

Mayne Island is a small island in BC's "Gulf Island" Chain, between Vancouver and Victoria.  It is a beautiful island and home to a peaceful community of "islanders" and "weekenders".   Mayne Island has a history of being an agricultural community and there are still numerous active farms and a vibrant "farmer's market" every Saturday during the summer.

Pam and I spent 4 days on Mayne last week visiting our friends Harry and Dee.  One of the highlights was a visit to the "Japanese Gardens".  The "Japanese Gardens" were created to remember the Japanese families who had settled and farmed on Mayne Island in the early 1900's.   The Japanese families were evacuated and interned after the outbreak of World War II.

 Japanese Gardens - Mayne Island

I've compiled a short video of the pictures I took at the Japanese Garden along with the song "Sakura" (Cherry Blossoms) sung by the Vancouver Chamber Choir under the direction of Jon Washburn.  The plaintive, melancholic tone of the song seems to fit the mood of the garden and the sad history it commemorates.  "Sakura" is from the Chamber Choir's CD "Unexpected Gifts", part of a series of CD's entitled "Music for Healing" which has been organized by my friend, and Healing Touch practitioner, Laverne G'Froerer.  Details of this innovative music project can be found here...  "Music for Healing."  I am reminded as I reflect on this history of the many dimensions of healing and reconciliation that take place within our diverse community. 

Michael Kluckner, Canadian artist and writer, has published an excellent web page documenting some of the Japanese history of Mayne Island.  His site includes original artwork, old photos, historical information, and comments from former and current Mayne Island residents.  Michael's site can be found here...  Vanishing BC

Remembering and reflecting... Rob; in Vancouver

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

St. Mary's - Lifford

Lifford is a small community in Manvers Township in Central Ontario, not far from Peterborough.  Many of the Preston's settled there in the 1830's and 40's after leaving the original homestead on Amherst Island.  St. Mary's Anglican Church was built on land donated by Capt. Isaac Preston, who is buried in Vancouver with his wife Mary.  Alexander Preston's wife Mary was instrumental in getting the church built.  Unfortunately she got very sick and died before it was finished.  Her funeral was the first service held in the new building and the church was named St. Mary's in her honor.

The original church burnt to the ground in a tragic fire on Ash Wednesday 1993.  The church and community rallied to build a beautiful replica which is in use today.

We visited the site last week while on our holiday.  We were graciously greeted and given a tour by our distant relation Viola Sisson. Viola let us into the building, recalled the story of the fire, and told of the determined effort to build the new chapel.  Viola's family has been in the Lifford/Bethany area since the early 1800's and they are related to the Preston's, as are many of the old families still in the area.

It was a very moving experience.   There are five generations of my direct Preston ancestors buried there, including Isaac and Sarah, Alexander and Mary, Young Isaac and Mary, Jack "The Colonel" and Charlotte, and my very own Grandpa Preston, Allen Victor.  There are also hundreds of other relations by the names of Preston, Sisson, Hanna(h), Neals, and Johnston.  It is a very peaceful site.  Perhaps I will rest there one day.  But not too soon!!

Enjoy the video clip below.  The pictures are from our trip and the music is "For the Beauty of the Earth" arranged by John Rutter.

I am most grateful for the small group of dedicated folks who continue to exercise faithful stewardship and care for this sacred place.  Thank you all...

Peace and Blessings... Rob; in Vancouver

"For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Filaments of Life"

In "Late Nights on Air" Elizabeth Hay describes a poignant scene in which Elanor confronts the reality of the sudden and tragic death of her new-found love Ralph.  The scene is witnessed by Harry.

“... Harry stood for a moment watching her.  Her head looked like the heaviest of peonies after a rain, her body tilted forward over Ralph's.  And the thought came to him that it wasn’t just one person who had died, but all the filaments of life connecting that person to everyone he’d ever known and to every place he’d ever been.” Elizabeth Hay

I am drawn in particular to the phrase "Filaments of Life" that Elizabeth uses to describe the connections that exist between ourselves and all the people and places we have known.  As I enter more deeply into this experience of living with a terminal illness I find that I am becoming much more conscious of the "filaments of life" that connect me to family, friends, colleagues, and the many hundreds of people with whom I have had a connection through my life as a minister. Likewise I find myself remembering the many places and events to which I am connected.

I had an opportunity to reflect on some of these "filaments of life" while at a family reunion in Ontario this week.  I spent a lot of the time reconnecting with family who I see only every few years.  We are spread right across the country.  To be gathered with extended family covering three generations gives me the sense of the significant connections that give rise to my family identity.

In addition to enjoying quality time with my living relations I was able to commune with my ancestors by way of a pilgrimage to the ancient family burial grounds of the Preston family at St. Mary's Anglican Church in Lifford, Ontario.  At St. Mary's I was able to visit the graves of 5 generations of ancestors from my Grandfather Preston (on my Mom's side) on up to my Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather and Grandmother.  In remembering their respective lives I was able to imagine the "filaments of life" that extend from me through them and to the places they lived and the events that brought them to Canada and shaped our destinies here.

It is quite remarkable that through this long lineage I am connected to the County Armagh in Northern Ireland, and through Isaac Preston's military service I am connected to the United Irish Rebellion of 1797!  Likewise through the lives of Isaac and his wife Sarah I am connected to the War of 1812 as the cause of my family's eventually migration to Upper Canada from the US, where they were not welcome as British Loyalists.  Through this lineage I am also connected to the rebellion of 1937-38 and the Fenian raids that plagued the settlers of Upper Canada in the 1860's.  Through the life and service of my Great Grandfather, Colonel J.A.V. Preston I am connected to the Northwest Rebellion of 1885 and the First Great War. Whew...  and that is only in the last seven generations or so!

This is not to boast of ancestral achievement.   By no means.  Indeed there are many causes for which my ancient family fought which by today's reckoning I would see as unjust or even oppressive.  Be that as it may, we have to accept our history as it is, for better and for worse!  And we need to remember that when we look at history, we do so from the vantage point of standing on our ancestors shoulders!
For myself, I celebrate the peace that exists between Catholics and Protestants both here and in North Ireland; and the peace that has existed between Canada and the US for almost 200 years; and the reconciliation efforts underway with the Metis and First Nations communities in Canada.  I give thanks that none of these relationships are a cause to bear arms today.  Alas that they ever were!

"Filaments of Life" indeed have an historic element!  When I think of the incredible lives of not just these ancestors but all of the diverse relations that have given rise to the life in me I am thoroughly amazed!  It is truly amazing to imagine all of the random events that have their culmination in a particular life, a particular relationship, or a particular event.

What can we do but live in awe, in wonder, and in thanksgiving!

Remembering and reflecting... Rob; in Vancouver

"Our soul must perform two duties.
The one is that we must reverently wonder and be surprised.
The other is that we must gently let go and let be. 
Always taking pleasure in God."
Julian of Norwich

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Doran Bay 2010

As we were growing up in the 60's my family would gather at my Great Uncle Beau and Great Aunt Ida's cottage on the St. Lawrence River near Prescott, Ontario.  More recently my Mom and Dad, sisters, and cousins have carried on the tradition in nearby Morrisburg.   We've been able to join them only occasionally.  Most recently, last week.

What a wonderful week...

I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to make this trip and to have enjoyed it so much!

Tomorrow it is back to chemo!!  Yechhh...

Be well... Rob; in Vancouver

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hospice Care - Some Wise Words

Brooks is a friend, and fellow semi-colon, I met through the American Cancer Society Cancer Survivors Network (CSN).  He has many years of working with people in "hospice" care.  Brooks has a wonderful capacity to translate his experience of life into a wisdom that both consoles and inspires us.   He recently had this to say regarding "hospice" care...

"People who choose hospice are not giving up hope, they are in fact redefining it. Though there may no longer be a possibility of curing their illness, they redirect their hope into mending and restoring relationships, spending quality time with those they love, and finding peace and comfort.

Choosing hospice doesn't mean choosing death, it means choosing to live life to the fullest. Usually once someone has chosen hospice, they have been through a lot already. Multiple hospital admissions, chemotherapy and radiation, and invasive tests and treatments can leave patients feeling sick and tired. By choosing hospice, they have decided to focus on the quality of their lives rather than on the quantity.

I've seen many people who have chosen hospice use their time, once consumed by doctors appointments and hospital stays, to take family vacations, travel to places they've always wanted to see, and enjoy the company of loved ones at home. These aren't people who have given up hope or given up on life. These are people who are living life to the fullest."

What Brooks shares also resonates with my own pastoral experience.

A particular challenge for the person living in the advanced stages of cancer is, “knowing when to let go”. It seems to me that in the cancer journey there is a time to fight the "dragon" with all of the weapons we can muster. I've also seen that there can come a time when it's helpful to "let go", so that the final stage can be one of peace and dignity and not one of prolonged pain and suffering.

"Letting go" is not giving up. Death is not defeat or failure. It’s not about winning or losing, but rather about accepting the very imminent reality of our mortality. My experience has been that when the terminally ill reach the place of "letting go" a deep peace follows for the individual, their family, and their friends. Discerning the time of this transition is deeply personal and needs to be respected by caregivers and family alike.

Peace and blessings... Rob; in Vancouver

"When I find myself in times of trouble mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be."
The Beatles

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Educate - Liberate - Celebrate

Vancouver Gay Pride 2010!!!

We've enjoyed celebrating Gay Pride since we came to Vancouver 8 years ago.  Having a Gay daughter has only added to the great delight we have each year as Vancouver's GBLT community celebrates.  The organizers have chosen EDUCATE - LIBERATE - CELEBRATE as a three-year theme with each year focused on one of the elements.  This year is LIBERATE.

What really sucked about this year was that I was suffering from post chemo bowel distress and had to listen to the fun from my condo window.  Grrrr.....  Lucky for me Brent and Jerome took 273 pictures with my new camera so I had lots to see!  Thanks guys!

I've narrowed it down to 100 in this slideshow.  Enjoy!

We are reminded, even in Canada, that although we have made significant gains in civil law and human rights there is still a long way to go before our GLBT brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, parents, and friends are fully liberated. Attitudes of intolerance and hatred continue to be held in parts of our community, spilling out into behaviors of violence and exclusion again and again. And there are still many countries where there are no rights and outright persecution.  Alas...   It seems that homophobia is destined to be the last of the sanctioned hatreds.

It was good to see many church and religious groups involved again this year.   I hope this march keeps happening until "Gay marriage" is legal in every country and "love of neighbor" is preached from every pulpit!  Imagine!

Happy Pride!    Rob; in Vancouver

"For a long time I thought I wanted to be a nun.  
Then I realized that what I really wanted to be was a lesbian."  
Mabel Maney

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Stages of Grief - Elisabeth Kubler Ross

I first started working with Kubler-Ross's "stages of grief" back when I began my life as a minister in Port Simpson in 1992.  I've returned to it often and still find it to be a helpful way of understanding grief and loss.  Kubler-Ross dedicated her life to working with the dying, the ill, the lost, and the bereaved.  She has left a great legacy of wisdom.  Wisdom which is helpful when "Living on The Edge".

The following interpretation is with thanks to Alan Chapman. 

Five Stages of Grief
(Based on the Grief Cycle model first published in On Death & Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, 1969. Interpretation by Alan Chapman 2006-2009.)

            Also known as the 'grief cycle', it is important to bear in mind that Kübler-Ross did not intend this to be a rigid series of sequential or uniformly timed steps. It's not a process as such, it's a model or a framework. There is a subtle difference: a process implies something quite fixed and consistent; a model is less specific - more of a shape or guide. By way of example, people do not always experience all of the five 'grief cycle' stages. Some stages might be revisited. Some stages might not be experienced at all. Transition between stages can be more of an ebb and flow, rather than a progression. The five stages are not linear; neither are they equal in their experience. People's grief, and other reactions to emotional trauma, are as individual as a fingerprint.
            The model recognizes that people have to pass through their own individual journey of coming to terms with death and bereavement, etc., after which there is generally an acceptance of reality, which then enables the person to cope.
            Again, while Kübler-Ross's focus was on death and bereavement, the grief cycle model is a useful perspective for understanding our own and other people's emotional reaction to personal trauma and change, irrespective of cause. 

1 - Denial         
Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, reality, etc., relating to the situation concerned. It's a defense mechanism and perfectly natural. Some people can become locked in this stage when dealing with a traumatic change that can be ignored. Death of course is not particularly easy to avoid or evade indefinitely.

2 - Anger          
Anger can manifest in different ways. People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves, and/or with others, especially those close to them. Knowing this helps keep us detached and non-judgmental when experiencing the anger of someone who is very upset.

3 - Bargaining              
Traditionally the bargaining stage for people facing death can involve attempting to bargain with whatever God the person believes in. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example "Can we still be friends?.." when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it's a matter of life or death.

4 - Depression             
Also referred to as preparatory grieving. In a way it's the dress rehearsal or the practice run for the 'aftermath' although this stage means different things depending on whom it involves. It's a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment. It's natural to feel sadness and regret, fear, uncertainty, etc. It shows that the person has at least begun to accept the reality.

5 - Acceptance             
Again this stage definitely varies according to the person's situation, although broadly it is an indication that there is some emotional detachment and objectivity. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must necessarily pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief.

(Based on the Grief Cycle model first published in On Death & Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, 1969.  Interpretation by Alan Chapman 2006-2009.)


Personally, I live in and out of all of these places, and more, on a regular basis.  My cancer journey began in August 2004 with a diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer, I've had a couple of serious recurrences, and now live with a persistent and painful presence of cancer in my very bone.  Alas!  There seems to be no escaping it!  

Not to stay focused on the negative.  My journey has been, and continues to be, filled with many experiences of great joy, deep peace, and real hope.  These things go hand in hand with the otherwise "afflictive" emotions that together form the complex emotional climate of my heart and soul. I find that I can be more authentic in my experiences of the many good things in life when I am also honest and authentic with my very real grief. 

Peace and blessings... Rob; in Vancouver

"For those who seek to understand it, death is a highly creative force. 
The highest spiritual values of life can originate from the thought and study of death."
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Twenty Faces of Grief: Mitch Carmody


Mitch Carmody

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Long-Term Disability

Recent changes in my medical situation have persuaded me to remain on "long-term" disability rather than return to work this Fall as initially hoped.  Increased pain in the sacrum, related neurological pain, and changes in my blood chemistry indicate that the cancer is still alive and well.  Rats!

Dr. Klimo has resumed treatment with Irinotecan in addition to the Erbitux in hopes that it will provide a measure of relief.  So far it seems to be helping on the pain front. Naseau, fatigue, and diarrhea are again, however, the order of the day.   At this stage of the game it is amazing how important pain relief can become.  There is nothing more mentally disabling than chronic pain, as many of you who live with it know.

I will have an opportunity to bring closure to my pastoral relationship with St. Stephen's, and my life as a minister, at a couple of services this Fall.  We are tentatively planning a farewell service for October 3rd.  The day before my birthday and the feast of St. Francis, which suits me very well!

After that we will be heading to Edmonton to celebrate Robyn's marriage to Brandon on 10-10-10.

Peace and blessings...  Rob

"The only disability in life is a bad attitude."
Scott Hamilton

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Death Awareness

David Kuhl is a Vancouver doctor, researcher, and the author of "What Dying People Want: Practical Wisdom for the End of Life".   David's book is based on research that he did with people who were living with a terminal illness.  "David Kuhl has peeled back the cover on the inner experience of living with dying. What Dying People Want synthesizes the wisdom of ancient mythology and insights from depth psychology with real-life perspectives of people living in the long shadow of death.  Kuhl's message is brimming with hope.  This book has relevance for us all."  Ira Byock. M.D. author of "Dying Well"

In his book David speaks of "time and anxiety" and suggests the following exercise as a way coming to grips with the proximity of death in our lives.

Instructions:  Adapted from “What Dying People Want” by David Kuhl pp 29-30
  1. Think of the line above as representing your lifetime. Place an X on the line to show where you believe you are at present. Once you have done this take note of your feelings. Do you have a sense of relief? Of anxiety? Of fear? What else comes up for you?
  2. Think of six significant events in your life. Number these events 1 through 6 and place the numbers on the line. Again, take note of your emotions as you recall these events.
  3. Consider the line between X and DEATH. How would you like to live this period? Is there anything special you would like to do? Choose six significant events that you would like to “fit in” before the end of your life. Number these events 1 through 6, and place the numbers on the line.
I have worked with this exercise twice now since I was diagnosed. Once in the Fall of 2004 and again this Summer.  On each occasion I have found myself placing the X fairly near to the end of the line.  I have found it helpful each time, both in assessing what has been important in my life and in determining how to live with what time I have left.  It is interesting for me to note that I have now lived much longer than what I had anticipated shortly after my diagnosis in 2004.

There have been times during the past 6 years where I have enjoyed the sense of a much longer "future horizon".   These were times when I was able to make plans and commitments that went years into the future.  Whilst in the midst of lengthy periods of remission I have even believed, at times, that I might live out a normal life-span.  Regrettably this is much less so now.  With each recurrence I am jolted back to reality and made to realize again that "life is short"!

David asks his readers to imagine a scenario where you have just learned that you have a terminal illness and only 6 to 12 months left to live.  You now place an X very near to the end of the life-line above.  He then asks... 
  1. Would you live differently?   
  2. Starting when?   
  3. Would you care as much what other people think about you or about what you do, how you live?   
  4. How would you fill your time?
    Good questions!

    Peace and blessings... Rob; in Vancouver

    "Life is short.  And we do not have long to gladden the hearts of those who walk the way with us.  So let us be swift to love.  And let us make haste to show kindness." Henri Amiel

    Sunday, July 11, 2010

    The Underwear Affair!

     Yesterday we took part in the "Underwear Affair".  A very fun, fund-raising run/walk for research for cancers "below the belt"; colon, prostrate, ovarian, bladder, etc.   Our team, "The Energy Train",  included  Morgan and Brent; Kelly, Jerome, and Shea;  Pam and I; Jill and Brandi from Pam's office; and Brandi's cousin Miranda.

    A great time was had by all!

    Our team has raised almost $4000 so far!  We are still accepting donations so if you haven't had the chance to give yet please do so.  Just hit the link to the right and choose the team member you would like to sponsor.  Your support helps us to uncover the cure! 

    BTW... Pam, Morgan and I finished 291, 292, 293 in a field of 311!  YEAH!  We would have turned in a better time but I spent too much time taking pictures of all the pretty girls!!

    Have a very great day!

    Rob; in Vancouver

    "Medical science has proven time and again 
    that when the resources are provided, 
    great progress in the treatment, cure, 
    and prevention of disease can occur."
    Michael J. Fox