Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The cancer diaries: Choosing life

Last December, this little lady had major cancer surgery to remove a tumor underneath her tongue.

It's been a tough road back for Jennette who has spent more than ten years as a caregiver for both her husband and her father. Both men lost their battles. Roger died a year before Jennette was diagnosed with cancer. Her father Jim died just a few months ago.

I'm not sure what was worse, losing the two loves of her life, or having a doctor take a backhoe to her gob taking most of her soft tissue and teeth with it. Honestly, I think it was the loss of love that hurt her the most.

She quipped a few months ago that now, the only men in her life were her doctors and her undertaker.

During the battle with cancer, Jennette was struggling to care for her dad and visited him daily while he was in palliative care at St. Vincent's Hospital. The good news was that her doctor declared her cancer-free, the bad news was that the oncologist recommended radiation "just in case".

I took Jennette to the hospital dentist who announced she would have to have all her teeth pulled and that, after radiation, she would not be able to have bottom teeth as the tissue would be destroyed. The dentist was nice enough but I got the impression he really just saw her as an old person who would have to settle for what her speech pathologist described as "the new normal".

A lot of us would have take the treatment, but Jennette decided to choose quality of life over radiation. She said all she wanted was to be able to eat the foods she loved instead of the gruel that she was expected to blenderize.

Frankly, at the time, I thought she should have had the radiation but I was wrong and cowardly while she was brave. She decided to explore all her options and found expert dentists at GumDocs who say they can give her back her smile. She will have dental implants in the bottom that will cover the damage that was done by her surgeon to save her life. And she will have a new set of uppers that will give her the Joe Biden grin.

When it's all said and done, by Christmas, Jennette will be able to enjoy turkey dinner without having to put it in a blender.

I am so excited for her. She kicked cancer's ass, and lived to tell the tale. She put aside her own health to care for Jim, and she stared down all the medical professionals who treated her like a patient instead of a person.

Well done, Jennette. You deserved better in your Third Act.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Ashley Simpson: In her name

On Saturday, the friends and family of Ashley Marie Simpson will gather to play games, drink some suds and raise some money in her honor. The fundraiser is meant to raise awareness for the We Canada Walk for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman Foundation, along with the Shuswap Search and Rescue team who helped in the search for Ashley after she went missing.

Here are the details.

As people who read my posts know, Ashley is my cousin. I never met her. I moved away from our home of St. Catharines four decades ago, before Ashley was born. I didn't know my cousin John, either, and have only distant memories of his brothers and sisters who were adopted by my aunts and uncles.

Thanks to Ashley Marie, I know them now. We have been brought together by her tragic disappearance on that cool day in April. Nearly every day, her family and friends hold a virtual prayer circle in her honor. Ashley's pals post selfies and messages on Facebook. This summer, they participated in a walk for missing and murdered indigenous women. They are constantly talking about her in print and on television.

Out of the ashes of this terrible story, her story is having an impact.

People are listening and taking action, in their own small ways.

I write a blog about her every week. Whenever I write about Ashley, thousands of people read and share the posts. Money is being raised. People are talking, organizing and doing -- all in her name.

Because they have to.

When someone like Ashley goes missing, the world becomes a little smaller. The clock stops while the world keeps spinning.

The people who love and know her feel helpless.

When we can no longer count on her smile or jokes or the good food she made, we have to find an outlet for our grief. So we do.

I've done a lot of thinking about God over the years, as I've watched people endure endless tragedy. Murder, mayhem, senseless violence. Entire communities wiped out by the angry wrath of storms. 

My cousin John and his family must have had some choice words for a God who would give them such a tremendous gift -- the love of a child -- and then take her away from them in such a gut-wrenching fashion.

I've also asked those of faith to explain to me how such a loving God can turn on good people and hand them misery.

I guess I didn't like the answer. You see, I have never really bought the notion of "God only gives us the burden we can carry."

God didn't answer me, either. He must have lost my coordinates.

So I turned inward, to reflect on my own memories and thoughts. And here is what I came up with.

What I have learned in lo these 60 years on Earth is that, in times of tragedy, the goodness of people shines brightest. Good people are like firefighters who run into buildings when everybody else is running out. They take lemons and make lemonade. They give shelter. They give hope.

And in the case of Ashley, they wrap the family in loving arms and let them know that they matter, that the life of Ashley, in her short time on this planet, mattered.

The lesson may not be found in the Bible. Maybe we find it in Dr. Seuss after the Grinch stole everybody's presents on Christmas Eve. Instead of wallowing in their sorrow, they came together in a collective song and spirit.

Perhaps it's just as simple as a child's tale.

On Saturday, the people of St. Catharines/Niagara will come together to raise their voices in a collective cry to stop the violence against women in this country. On another day, they will get their feet moving in memory of those same women.

They will never stop because they can't.

They will stare adversity in the face, they will face their greatest fears, because the only thing that makes sense, the only way to combat evil is to do good.

Doing good will be the only way to keep Ashley's spirit here on Earth.

They are doing good in her name.

In the name of Ashley Marie Simpson who will live on through their good deeds.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Ashley Simpson: Female Lives Matter

On July 22, the family of Deana Mildred Wertz reported her missing from her home on Yankee Flats Road, which is part of the community of Salmon Arm, B.C.

Deana was last seen in the early morning of July 19, 2016.

She lived not far from my cousin Ashley Simpson who vanished three months earlier. A lot of people are asking: is there a predator on the loose in that small community? Is it just a coincidence that two women went missing from that same rural road?

There are differences in both cases. Ashley is a young (33-year-old) Caucasian woman from Ontario. Deana is described as First Nations. She is middle aged (46-years-old).

But that is where the difference ends.

It is a frightening coincidence that has re-opened the wound for the Simpson family. They still hold out hope that Ashley has simply lost her way, but every time one of these police alerts pops up, their hope dims.

If Ashley had not disappeared on that spring day, I would not have known about Deana or paid much attention to the plight of the missing and murdered women of British Columbia. I am ashamed to say that. Like many people, I have become desensitized to this kind of violence. There's too much of it; after a while we stop taking it in.

But the anguish experienced by Ashley's family -- cousins I had never met -- have made this personal for me. Over the last three months, I got to know Ashley from videos, Facebook posts and photographs. Her plight has forced me to examine my own prejudices and assumptions about women who go missing.

Ashley is a hard-working, well loved woman, a free spirit who has touched many lives with her sense of humor. She is missed, and must be found.

Deana, I'm sure is just the same. She is a mother, a friend, a vibrant person in her own right.

The families deserve to know what has happened to them.

For more information about Deana, or Ashley please visit the B.C. RCMP page. The report is posted below.

If you live in Salmon Arm, pay attention, get involved, report anything suspicious.

Remember, it could be your daughter, your mother or your sister.

Female Lives Matter.

On July 22, 2016, 46 yr old Deana Mildred Wertz was reported as missing to the Enderby RCMP. It was reported that Deana was last seen in the early morning of July 19, 2016 at her residence on Yankee Flats Road.

Deana Mildred Wertz description: as First Nations, 5'2”, dark, shoulder-length hair, brown eyes and last seen wearing a grey T-shirt and grey cut-off sweat pants.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Deana Mildred Wertz is urged to contact their local police, or Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS). Media Release:

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Life in the Labrador Lane

Scott chose Finnigan from a dysfunctional litter.
His mother was a Bernese Mountain Dog, purebred. His father came from unknown lineage.
Papa was a rolling stone. He rolled into Finn's mother's yard, did the deed and escaped without offering any child support.
Finn may look and smell like a Labrador Retriever, but undoubtedly, there is something else in there. The vet thought Daddy might have been a Great Dane.
Still, his offspring masquerades as a Black Lab.
And he's good at it.
It's always hard to pick from a litter. I mean, all puppies are cute, right?
Finn made a good impression. He nuzzled Scott's hand and licked him all over. Clearly, he was far superior to his brother who spent our visit chewing wires on the tractor.
Finn, on the other hand, seemed sweet and loving. That was until he got in the car and promptly puked all over Marissa.
Since adopting him four and a half years ago, we have had many names for him.
Idiot. Asshole. F!@khead.
His incessant barking, I believe, has caused me irreparable hearing loss.
He wipes the table with his tail, and assaults Sophie the Pug on a regular basis.
He eats poo.
But like all Weirdos Who Masquerade as Labs, Finn has some truly great qualities.
First of all, he is a star athlete who can jump and catch a Kong in mid-air or trim the trees outside.

He is an excellent watchdog who regularly reminds me in his own noisy way that dogs are essential background characters in all advertisements on television.
Finn can also tow a 270 pound swimmer around a Quebec lake by his tail, and otherwise spend hours looking for his Kong in shallow water when its location is evident to everyone but him.
But perhaps his best quality is his ability to mend a broken heart.
Finnigan took on this role for me last year when I lost my beloved pug Gordie.
As I watched Scott drive away from the lake with my ailing boy, knowing I would never see him again, I took to the water and prayed to the mountain to take away my sorry.
I don't know if God heard me or not, but Finnigan certainly did.
We walked together for hours in the shallow water, back and forth. Finnigan never left my side, not for a moment.
He performed all his goofy tricks: trimming the trees, chasing the ducks, and scouring the lake for fish. While he couldn't take away the pain, he eased it like Ativan on an empty stomach, or a tequila shot on a sandy beach.

That stupid black nose. That pointy head. That smile, minus part of a front fang, lost in a titanic battle with the Kong.
After that day at the lake, all was forgiven.
He had done the job he was put on the Earth to do.

Today, I saw something that made my heart sink a little.
Finn was having trouble with his mouth, and started making a yakking manoeuvre.
I thought he was choking, but realized that there was something wrong with his jaw.
Then he went to bark, and couldn't. It seemed to hurt too much.
So today, he is lying at my feet looking so un-Lab like.
I feel I need to return the favour, to keep him close until we get this figured out.
I think his Kong days may be numbered.
There won't be any throwing the thing in the air and watching him catch it with his big strong mouth.
For it is the adored Kong that may be the villain of the piece.
Putting away the Kong will make him miserable for a few days because he is Kong obsessed. Like most Lab-imitators, Finnigan doesn't have an off switch.
He insists on catching it over and over. In the sun, in the heat and the rain, he is like the mailman who delivers smiles, and gasps and hoots.
Not today my friend.
Today, it is my day to be the boss of him.
I will take away the Kong, hoping it will live another day.
Because it is the love of Finnigan's life, as he is the love of mine.
Safety first. At least for a while.
Good luck with that, Rose.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Ashley Simpson: Three Months Gone

Every morning, John Simpson wakes with the birds to get in a little fishing before he starts work as a chef at the Longhouse in Huntsville. For John, this annual summer assignment is heaven on Earth, and he brings along the family.

This year, little Emma is helping him out along with other family members. She is thrilled to spend time with her Grandpa and has become a very skilled little fisherperson. Emma is a little girl with a grown up job. Instead of goofing all summer, she's decided to work with her Grandpa making muffins and other treats.

John is a lucky man, some would say, with a big family, and a brand new grandchild who was born just last month. What more could he ask for?

Truth is, John is an injured bird who is missing his wing. When he looks around the kitchen at the Longhouse, he expects to see his daughter Ashley who has been by his side cooking and entertaining all the kids who come to this resort each summer. This year, Ashley somehow lost her way, may have lost her life. She has been missing since late April -- nearly three months now -- and there is still no sign of her, not a clue, not a shoe, or a hair.

She was the victim of either an accident, or foul play, after she disappeared from her temporary home in Salmon Arm, B.C. where she was working at a hotel, and living with a boyfriend. The police suspect she was murdered, but the family is still holding out hope that somehow a miracle will happen and Ashley will walk out of the woods, and into the Longhouse with some kind of strange story.

She is one of the missing women of British Columbia. Most of them are presumed dead, and have left this Earth without a trace. The families look for clues. They sometimes hear their voices in the wind, and their laughter in the splashes of water; they see them in rainbows.

For John, wife Cindi, their children and friends, life will never be the same. As John said recently, while his heart is broken, life must go on. He continues to live because it's what parents of the missing do.

They fish with their granddaughters. They serve the world in their own way. They try to make sense of what has happened.

They know despite good fishing, and the smiles of granddaughters, that the world is an ugly place.

They cry.

And they wait.

Perhaps for days, or months, perhaps forever.

A fundraiser for Ashley Simpson's family will be held on July 30th in Thorold, Ontario.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Turning sixty; I'm not that kind of senior

This morning, I broke my reading glasses, first thing.
So I went to the dollar store and bought four pairs for seven bucks.
The lady insisted that I pick from her private collection which was under the counter. These glasses were two bucks each instead of one.
Oh well, what's a little splurge on a girl's 60th birthday?
In my younger, pre-senior days, I would have taken the glasses-breaking-thing as an omen of doom. But today I saw it as an opportunity to get reading specs in a variety of colors.
They'll match the bedazzled sweat suits that are on my bucket list which includes among other things, bus trips to yarn factories, sing-a-longs, bingo games, mall walking, visits to the Experimental Farm to take in some corn shucking demonstrations and flower arranging.
Oh, let me clarify.
That's the bucket list of things I have no intention of doing now that I've entered the sixth decade.
I'm not that kind of senior.
I am an arrested 17-year-old who can't wait for weed to be legalized.
I play video games, and I'm learning French on an iPhone app.
I mix patterns intentionally.
I recently got a hair style that makes me look like Joan Jett, or Rod Stewart, I'm not sure which.
This afternoon, I intend on getting pissed as a newt with some of my old friends from the National Press Club. I just have to make sure I have some Depends in case I pee myself.
You see, I'm not one of those little old ladies who gets a blue perm and meets her clones for pinnacle.
I'd rather have the worms play pinnacle on my snout than do anything that involves cards.
I'm not into yoga, either.
Nobody's going to stuff me into a pair of tights, or get me to Zoomba.
Give me a marg, put on the Apple Music, and watch me dance as if everyone is watching, cause I just don't give a shit.
There is nothing that is genteel about this old bitch.
Be warned, I just get worse with age.

In these 60 years, I've learned a few things. (Forgive me, in advance for meandering.
This mind, it seems, has a mind of its own.)
Now sit down and listen, don't let me repeat myself cause I'll probably lose the thread.

  • Keep in shape. The most important thing a person can do is to keep her body in shape in case the Grim Reaper happens by.  
  • Eat properly. Eat salads made of stuff people used to throw out in the garbage: kale, broccoli stems, all that crap that my Grandad would have put in the compost.
  • Poop regularly. Remember that the stuff you put in your mouth must come out the other end efficiently. Otherwise, it will make a nest around your navel.
  • Drink moderately. Oh, just do the best you can.
  • Walk. At least 10,000 steps a day or die trying.
  • Love and live for your family. They really are the only people who will care for you when you smell bad.
  • Laugh long and loud. Think you can't do it? Look, here's a baby!

Princess Squish

I am so grateful to have been given the chance to live this long without being taken out by a major health care calamity, or worse, a toilet seat from the Space Station.
There have been a few near misses, and I'm grateful to God and Son for watching out for me on a half dozen memorably dark days.

My very best wishes to all of those who have read this blog over these many years.
May you enjoy good health, wealth and happiness in the future.
With Donald Trump around, you'll need all the help you can get.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Father's Day: Sometimes love is thicker than blood

Ever since I was a wee kid, I dreaded Father's Day.

When you're a fatherless daughter, you don't get to join in any of the fun, or make cards and homemade gifts.

Thank goodness, Father's Day was never celebrated in my public school. We always made some sort of homemade gift for mom on her day, but dad never got a mention. I guess that's because fathers in the early Sixties weren't around very much.

A lot of other people's dads were veterans who returned shell shocked and distant. They drank or sat and watched television instead of coaching Little League.

I never knew this growing up. I'd always had the impression that most dads were kind of assholes not like the dude in Father Knows Best.

In fact, if I am to be honest here, I can say that after watching other kids' dads, I was glad I didn't have one. Dads scared me. They were like clowns with balloons that popped. For a lot of kids, dads were always disappointing them.

There were some stellar dads, of course. There was my cousin Will who took me along with his gaggle of unruly children on vacations and to the zoo. There were my cousins Butch and Skip who were doting fathers. And there was my Grandpa, who always had time for me and could cut hair and fix a car and grow a mountain of fruits and vegetables on our tiny little farm.

Grandpa used to let me slather his back with menthol rub brought to us by the Fuller Brush man. He took me along fishing for smelt, and we sat side-by-side cleaning the stinky fish. He also taught me to make sandwiches made of handpicked mushrooms, and bacon.

Grandpa was the greatest dad I could have had.

My grandpa chose to stick around and help me grow up straight.

My dad chose a different path. A six pack and car.

He might as well have had a gun.

He left a hole in me the size of Kansas.

And I never got over it.

So Father's Day makes me sad.

Strange cause I didn't even know the guy.

All I know is he was the leaving man.

Today, every school is filled with kids who have dads who are missing in action.

But in my school, we were the only ones who were raised by a single mum. I was ashamed, and his loss scarred me for life, always made me feel lesser, robbed me of what other kids had.

His death informed my choices. I was always looking for him in the eyes of older men, one of whom I married. He became the father of my children.

I was so happy to be married, to know that my children would never grow up like me without a father.

Turned out, I was wrong.

Their father was a leaving man, too.

He stuck around long enough for them to miss him, then he disappeared into the ether.

The kids haven't seen their dad in five years.

Like my own dad, he robbed his kids of a childhood, of memories of being loved, and taken to the park, of family trips and walks down the aisle.

They see him occasionally on the news, or read about him in the paper.

But they have never been worth a phone call, a card, or present. He didn't even bother to call to tell them that their grandfather died this year.

Maybe, I was right.

Maybe dads are assholes.

Maybe the kids would have been better off knowing their father was dead.

It's hard to comprehend how a man could choose to leave his children in that manner.

Fortunately, our story has a happy ending.

Scott came through in the nick of time.

He turned out to be the staying sort of man.

He helped heal my heart and, eventually, mend the shattered hearts of my children.

It wasn't easy.

The kids were teenagers, and resented him a bit at first.

But now they love him as much as anyone could love a dad.

He taught my boys how to be better men, and showed my daughter how a man should love and treat a woman.

He took everything we could throw at him, and didn't abandon us.

He just loved us more.

And that makes him the best father of all.

The kind that steps up.

To the leaving men, I say, good riddance.

Don't let the door slam you on the ass on the way out.

To the rest of you dads, especially to the ones who step up, I say good on ya.

You are heroes to your children, and your grandchild.

Sometimes love is thicker than blood.