Wednesday 11 December 2013


Have you ever wondered what the life of a doctor is like? We interviewed Dr. Tom Hayakawa at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre.

Dr. Hayakawa is a well known breast reconstruction surgeon in Winnipeg. He also does surgery for head and neck cancers. Many don't know that a large part of his practice is also microsurgery and research - both clinical and basic.

We asked Dr. Hayakawa what a typical week is like for him and this was his response:

"It's probably easier to go day by day, so Monday we're usually in the hospital around 6:30am seeing our pre-op patients, then we round with the Residents from about 7:00 till 8:00, then we operate from 8:00 to 3:30 or 4:00, then we usually go to Resident teaching seminars which then run generally until 7:00 at night.

Tuesday is the same in the morning with 6:30am rounds, we usually finish around 3:30 or 4:00 then usually the day finishes with reviewing patients pathology, then local procedures, or trying to take care of some of the sort of paperwork that's required such as patient forms, disability forms, also trying to get research ready, so usually Tuesday's go until about 7:00pm as well.

Wednesday I usually have a clinic that involves about 80 patients that starts in the morning about 7:30am then finishes around 5:30pm, then I'm on call until Thursday AM.

I start Thursday morning at 8:00am at Pan Am (but I usually come to Health Sciences at 7:00am to round before I go to Pan Am) to operate from 8:00 until around 3:30. Thursday is about the only day I get home before 6:00pm.

Friday is usually either an operating room day which can be a trauma day, as you need to cover the trauma slates as well - or Friday is a day in the office trying to catch up on research, what we are doing with regards to research; and if I'm doing animal research I'm in the animal lab operating, or doing animal research. So Friday is either an operating room trauma slate day from about 7:00am until 6:30 at night or a research day and then every 6th weekend I'm on call for Saturday and Sunday.

I know it's a crazy schedule and I find it fulfilling but I'll be honest with you, it's a terrible lifestyle. It's not a great quality of life if you want to do anything else".

We asked Dr. Hayakawa how seeing patients with cancer has changed him as person and his outlook on life?

"When I see a very nice person that doesn't smoke, and you know doesn't consume alcohol, yet has a massive sarcoma at 40 years old, I feel very thankful for being healthy and being able to come to work and do the kinds of things I do that can help these people. I may talk about how excessively busy I am and how I have no time for extracurricular activities but on the other hand, I feel I am making a positive difference in peoples lives on a daily basis and you can't beat that".

Wednesday 20 November 2013


It is with heavy hearts we announce the passing of Alison Armstrong.  Alison is slated to be featured in our first e-book which we anticipate will be released in the spring of 2014.  The following is a link to her Obituary so you can learn more about her life.|DESC,last_name|ASC/

Alison and Paula (another recently passed interviewee - see previous post) will forever be part of our Cancer Crossing family, and there will always be a light on in their memory.

Here is a link to our original post featuring Alison -
Cancer Crossing: Alison: We asked Alison, 'How did you feel after being told of the cancer'? She replied: "I was numb. I could not believe it; did ...

Monday 28 October 2013


It is with great sadness we announce the passing of Paula Yeung.  Paula was our first 'Cancer Crossing' interviewee.  Her powerful interview was a strong indication to us that we must continue to receive, and share, the messages of cancer patients and their caregivers.   Paula's message is featured on a piece from our soon to be launched fundraising campaign.  This campaign is to raise seed money to produce our first publication, which will be an e-book featuring 13-15 messages.  Net proceeds from e-book sales will start the fund which will assist cancer patients with expenses not covered by the healthcare system or other financial aid programs.

A photo is included in this post of the piece from our fundraising package but in case you cannot make the words out clearly, we have reprinted her message here below.

"As the curtain lowers for all of us, we all feel despair because of the uncertainty about its timing and the hereafter. As a Christian I know I will be resting in the arms of my Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven. I have that eternal hope and peace, which allow me to come to enjoy my new role as a cancer patient. Having stage four lung cancer, I have entered another phase of my life-journey where priorities need to be readjusted. I have since made friends with many cancer patients. It has not been an easy process, but I am thankful for the quiet time to reflect on the meaning of life, enjoying inner peace and serenity.

I could choose to have my performance end with a sad note, or with joy and peace. Joy is contagious; I wish my family and friends share my inner peace, seeing the completion of my life in triumph. I have received my 20th cycle of chemotherapy treatment in the last 23 months. My doctors have neither magic nor cure to offer. My tumour is still there. As long as God allows, I will joyfully continue my walk with my Redeemer; and lifting the discouraged. I will listen to the pace of my body: eat and rest appropriately with moderate exercise. The best medication is a joyful and thankful heart.

Life is fragile, but it is precious."

Rest in peace dearest Paula.


Saturday 19 October 2013


October is breast cancer awareness month and in case you have ever wondered 'who are those fundraising dragon boat rowers?', we would like to introduce you to Cathy Prusak (left) and Shirley Stone (right), both members of the Chemo Savvy Breast Cancer Dragon Boat team.

The sport of Dragon Boating is a sport unto itself but additionally, the element of breast cancer support through Dragon Boating is a world wide movement.  Teams like Chemo Savvy are part of a global sisterhood of breast cancer Dragon Boat teams.  Cathy explains, "Shirley and I could get on a plane today, fly to Italy, call up people we don't know in Florence or Rome, or go to Ireland - you name a country across the world - and we'll say 'Hi, we are Shirley and Cathy from team Chemo Savvy, can we come and paddle with you today and it would be yes, and you would just be part of that team'.  It's a Global sisterhood. 

Cathy explains further, "I was diagnosed 17 years ago.  I was working, focused on career.  I was a young woman and I was active, but the cancer diagnosis kind of cut me off at the knees and I was very very fearful that I wouldn't see my fortieth birthday - that was sort of a target I had in my mind.  So I changed a lot of things.  Especially the year that I was on Chemotherapy, it was all about me, and I really took the time to heal and make time for my friends and family, that was most important to me.  Maybe I had an unrealistic vision about my future and that I wouldn't have one, so I was especially fearful of death and I really took that to heart and made changes.  At the time I was diagnosed, this Dragon Boat team didn't exist and so I was in a young woman's support group that was literally a lifeline and I recognised very early what kind of support I needed, and I needed to be around other people that were walking that same path I was.  People who knew what I was going through without me having to explain it or justify it.  We could tell our deepest fears openly, without fear of hurting anyone else.  You know, things you couldn't say to your family, you could say to this group of women, and so very early on I realized how important that network of support was to me and my survival, and I think that has changed my life immensely.  It has taken me on a very different path in terms of how much I value the idea of support groups.  This group is a personal mission to make sure that any woman who is out there alone and fearful, is found by us, and we make sure she gets the warm hug of this group so that she could also express those fears in a way that is therapeutic and can help her move on to 17 years of survivor".

Shirley agrees that the Chemo Savvy Dragon Boat team was a huge influence in her breast cancer journey.
"I went in to the breast centre across from St. Boniface Hospital for my first test to confirm I had breast cancer.  On the table was a picture book, a photo album of the Chemo Savvy breast cancer team and I was thinking I am going to die before I really....I was a workaholic, I never took a lot of time for myself, I had a long list of things to do before I die.  Now I am facing death and I am thinking I've got to do something, I can't die now, and so there was this book of the Chemo Savvy team and I looked through it and I thought all these women were probably super athletes, this is how they looked to me, and I thought regardless, if I make it through this I am joining that team and so I did. 

I quit smoking, I started to eat better and I have always said to myself when I retire I am going to do all kinds of sports.  I had a daughter and then I quit doing all the sports I had been involved in.  I curled, I bowled, I rode a bike.  I quit doing those things.  I was just work work work and then I said to myself no, I am going to get into all those sports again because I have to be fit in order to paddle.  I joined curling, bowling, Aquasizes, I belong to two walking clubs plus Chemo Savvy three days a week and you know what, they all give me life". 

Shirley's advice to a newly diagnosed cancer patient would be "There is a lot of life ahead of you.  I'm sure you are afraid of dying and you probably have a long list of things you wanted to do before you die, and you are not ready for death, so lets just talk about that list of things you 'd like to do in your life and focus on it, and move toward it".

Thank you ladies. 

'Carpe Diem' everyone,
from your friends at Cancer Crossing.

Monday 30 September 2013


What if you had cancer --- in Australia?
Haroon does.  If you have been following our page for a long time, you might remember Haroon.  He was one of our first posts.  Back then, we were just getting our page going - posting photos with a few sentences.  

We'd like to tell you a bit more about Haroon, and who better to tell you than Haroon himself?!  This post is the kick off to our 'Guest Blogger' series.   From time to time we will have Guest Bloggers who will, in their own words, give you their run down on a situation. 

Most of our readers are in Canada but we have noted we also have regular readers from across the globe.  If you or a loved one has received, or is receiving cancer treatment, no doubt you have run across circumstances where things have gotten mixed up.  Mixed up appointment times, mixed messages from your doctors/nurses on the status of your case, diagnostic technicians giving you 'the look' that makes you paranoid...  At those times  you think, 'if only' I were in (insert the country of your choice here), things would not get 'fouled up' as they do 'here'.

We asked Haroon if he would prepare a few words on what cancer treatment has been like for him in Australia.  Here is what he said:

"Australia's Heath care system for cancer patients? Better than I thought, it turned out.

After the initial shock of being diagnosed with cancer I got caught up in the confusing whirlwind of seeing different specialists, getting various scans, tests, being prodded & poked & had needles stuck in me. The needles thing (FNA - Fine Needle Aspiration if anyone's interested) happened twice, because the first time I was sent to the wrong specialist; she was more used to dealing with pregnant mothers! 
So my wife and I soon got very frustrated with the whole thing, thinking it was all the fault of the medical system for not getting their act together, explaining what they were doing properly and seemingly leaving all the coordination to us. I have since learned that this is the usual impression of most cancer patients everywhere. When it come down to it, the doctors knew exactly what they were doing, the medical profession moved very quickly and I got my vital operation almost before I knew what was happening.

The specialist who followed up on my case seemed very serious & promised to watch me like a hawk for the next few years. In fact he has a sense of humour, is quite approachable and finds time for our thousand and one questions whenever we see him. I have met other patients and most of them seem to feel they have received good care too. So, all in all, Australia's health care system seems to work quite well."

This gives perspective doesn't it?  It seems when you are in the thick of your diagnostics and your treatment plan is being determined, there is so much uncertainty.  You become acutely aware of inefficiencies in the system and you get cranky for being 'shoved around' like a nameless, faceless, entity.  Sometimes you feel like no one cares and you are one of the people who have 'fallen through a crack'.  You don't fully appreciate that odds are, there is actually a health care 'team' working on your case.  No system is perfect.  No health care team is perfect.  Whether your health care system is universal or 'pay as you go', no matter where in world you are, when you look back, you will likely realize you had better care than you thought you did, but of utmost importance is that you, or someone close to you, act as an advocate on your behalf within the system.  It helps to smooth out the imperfections.

Thank you Haroon!

Monday 9 September 2013


Have you ever had to wait for medical test results?  Probably most of you have.  What runs through your mind?  The worst of course!

A quote from our lovely Rose; "After Thursday when I get my test results I will know if I have lots to look forward to".  Rose has 4 children, and many grandchildren, scattered across Canada and the United States.  A few years ago, miraculously, the family came together and a photo was taken.  Here is Rose with her much cherished image.

Rose is thinking the worst.  She has been diagnosed with 3 separate cancers.
"In 1994 I had kidney cancer and had a kidney removed.  In 2002 I had uterine cancer and everyone said, 'Oh you don't have to worry about cancer anymore you are Scot-free' and exactly 5 years to the day later I got lung cancer".

In 2010 she lost her husband Sam suddenly to a massive heart attack, and in the past year has had both hips replaced. 

She says she tries not to think about the tests and what the results may be but then says: "I think about it every... I try not to think about it but for this past week its been tough.  I ordered new glasses.  My son was in town so he took me to get my new glasses and I thought I shouldn't spend that kind of money you know.....because what if I get bad news, I will have wasted money on glasses I won't be needing for long....?  (Rose crying, wiping tears away).  But I did. 
People tell you, you should think positive.  I've been thinking positive since 1994 and look where it's gotten me and the last time I saw my Doctor, he said to me, 'I think this time we'll wait for six months between tests' and I said 'Oh thank God, I have less to worry about'.  He said, 'What do you mean?' and I said to him 'Well, I worry a little bit the last couple of weeks before test time'.
He gave me such a lecture.  He said 'I ride my bike to work everyday and I don't think I am going to get killed on my way to work' so I looked at him and said 'Doctor isn't that a little different than getting cancer?' and he said 'Same thing'!  Is it the same thing?  I don't know...."

Rose puts into words what so many are afraid to say - "....I will know if I have lots to look forward to".

Is there a way to cope while waiting on test results?  Some say it's the hardest part of the cancer experience - not knowing, but is knowing any better?  Certainly if you get good news then yes, knowing is better but what if you get bad news?  Is knowing still better?

From our interviews with patients we have found that yes, knowing (even bad news) is better than not knowing.
How could that be?
When you don't know, much like Rose said, you don't know if you have lots to look forward to but good or bad news, you have lots to look forward to because good news or bad news, you can form a plan, take action and harness some control over your situation, but waiting for test results leaves you in a suspended  state where living practically ceases and existing reigns supreme.

Is it better to live, or is it better to exist?  It's better to live of course! 
Some feel it would be better if you could get your test results quickly.  Sometimes they come quickly but sometimes they don't.  The longer the wait, the longer the patient is placed in 'nowhere land'.  The long wait can be a good thing though.  If the news isn't good, it gives the doctor a chance to review your case, meet with colleagues and form a plan of action so when you do have your appointment, much of the groundwork has already been done for you - a plan has begun, there is a future to look forward to.

Many jump to the 'worst case scenario'.  That is the scariest possibility and a place where patients waiting for test results tend to spend a lot of time.  At 'Cancer Crossing', we have interviewed several people who have received 'worst case scenario' news and each time we reconnect there are big hugs all around.  With any cancer diagnosis, there is always time for hugs, tears, laughs, reflection and making plans.  With a massive heart attack, you are gone in an instant.  Is that better?  Who is to know?

Cancer works in mysterious ways.  Carpe Diem is the saying.  Cancer or no cancer, everyone would be wise to Carpe Diem, each and every day.


Sunday 14 July 2013

Angels for Talia

Dear 'Cancer Crossing' Friends,

A young girl needs your thoughts and prayers. 
She is barely 13 and has been battling cancer for 6 years.
We have no direct connection to her but have been following her story for over a year now.
She lives in the United States and aspires to be a make up artist.
She has a YouTube Channel called 'Taliajoy18'.  You can go to YouTube and view her videos if you are interested.

The purpose of this post is to ask you to 'Like' the Facebook Page, 'Angels for Talia' (if you have Facebook).
Talia has been in the hospital a couple of months now.  She is very, very, ill.
On the 'Angels for Talia' Facebook page you can learn more about her and will also find her Bucket List.
Since last week, people all over the globe have been doing items on her Bucket List and sending the photos in for Talia to see.   Those photos are on the Facebook page as well.

No one should have to deal with cancer, let alone a child.  Talia has been so incredibly positive, energetic and inspirational through all of this.   Just view one of her YouTube videos for a couple of minutes and you will see.
Please 'Like' the 'Angels for Talia' page and send her your thoughts and prayers.  Maybe you will be inspired to complete an item on her Bucket List and know you have helped to make a young girls wish come true.

Tuesday 2 July 2013


Have you had to deal with the death of someone close to you?  If so, how do you deal with the grief?  Let's face it, probably poorly.
Grief can be overwhelming, many times to the point where you can no longer function effectively in your life.  Your job suffers, your relationships suffer, your own quality of life begins to suffer.  You begin to sleep to avoid dealing with  your day to day, and/or you are short tempered and snap at others.  You know you aren't yourself, you know you are missing the one you've lost.  You feel rudderless in a small vessel on the wide open ocean.

How do you make a come back?  How can you once again, engage yourself in life?  How can you laugh and smile and feel good about things?

Much depends on the circumstances surrounding the death of that person close to you.   At 'Cancer Crossing' we are learning that the cancer patients facing their own death, repeatedly put forth the wish that once they are gone, their loved ones don't end up in a circle of grief that puts their own lives on hold.  It is worth repeating - we hear this time and again. 
Why do you think this would be a constant theme amongst late stage cancer patients?  Do you think they are just saying it to make their loved ones feel better?  The answer is no.  The wish is heartfelt and sincere. 
How can that be?

If you have ever cared for a late stage cancer patient,  as they lay there quietly,  you probably wonder what is going through their mind.  You probably feel compelled to ask, 'Are you okay?'.  They will turn to you and nod gently.   If it turns out that the patients cancer is no longer treatable and they are going to die from the disease, their mind plays 'catch up' to their body.  The body goes from 'fight' mode to 'accept' mode and the 'accept' mode is an okay place.  Patients in 'accept' mode accept the fact they will soon die and it's okay with them.  As they lie quietly, they reconcile their life as a whole and the relationships important to them.  In their own way, they tie up emotional loose ends and in their own way, say good bye to their loved ones.   They try and remember the smell of the rain, of the grass and of flowers.  They try and remember the blue of the sky and the sound of the rain.  They pray.  They look into the faces of their loved ones and feel at peace. 

Once they pass on, even though loved ones knew the person was going to die, it is still overwhelming and the grief begins to take hold.  Why is this?  At 'Cancer Crossing', we are not experts on this subject but through our interviews it would appear that it is only the cancer patient who moves into 'acceptance mode'.  Family and friends still hold out hope that the patient will get better.  Even though the doctors have said nothing more can be done and the patient is undergoing palliative care or is in hospice care, they still hold out hope.  The pain and grief on the loss of the person is so acute because true 'acceptance mode' can only be achieved by the terminally ill person. 

So you cry, and you mourn and you sleep and you snap.  Some days are better than others but so many days are bad. The last thing a person who has lost their life to cancer would want is to have their loved ones miss out on their own life, grieving for what they have lost.   Some say that if you make the motion to smile, the feeling behind the smile will eventually come.   There is a saying (there are so many aren't there?  Probably for a reason!), and the saying goes: 'Don't cry for what has been lost, smile for what was'.

Monday 17 June 2013


Zahra was a young woman in her mid-thirties when she came to Canada with her mother, sister and brother in 2007.
Zahra's family are Muslim, originally from Afghanistan but spent the 16 years prior to immigrating to Canada in Iran.
They came to Canada for a new life, hope for a brighter future.  They were very poor in Afghanistan and Iran.  There was little opportunity, especially for women.
Here is a photo of Zahra (her family's favourite one of her) laid against the pages of the Koran, the book of Zahra's Muslim religion and the book that Zahra read and prayed with daily.

The family was just beginning to find their feet when Zahra was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer.  She began aggressive chemotherapy.  This is where this writer comes in.  I met Zahra and her sister Salimeh in the cancer treatment centre waiting room in early 2009.  We struck up a conversation.  The two barely spoke English but were both smiling and had such agreeable dispositions.  I was drawn to them but I cannot say why.

We learned that Zahra and I shared the same Oncologist.  We also learned that we were both on long term treatment regimens.  Coincidently, our quarterly scans fell pretty close together with Zahra a month or so ahead of me.  We also often shared the same treatment day.  I felt close to Zahra and Salimeh. 

November 2009 came and it was a rare occasion where Salimeh was not by Zahra's side.  Zahra asked me in her broken English how much a funeral cost here?  I told her I didn't know.  I said the cost probably varies a lot depending on whether  you are cremated or not.  If not, you'd need to buy a casket and I hear those are expensive.  She said that in her religion, there is no cremation or casket, you are simply laid in the ground and buried.  I had never heard of this.  I told her I didn't know.  Zahra then said she was tired and was ready to die.  She said she prayed everyday to die but is still alive.  I told her then it was probably not her time to go.  She said she was thinking of stopping treatment, it made her tired and she wanted to die.
She looked tired but at the same time, at peace.  I told her that I was not ready to die, that I am going to keep fighting.  One of our names was called to go into the treatment room.  We said goodbye and we both knew it was forever.  I thought of Zahra so many times over the next year.  I looked for her in the treatment room.  I didn't really know how to spell her name so couldn't check the obituaries.  I believed Zahra was gone.

Fall 2010 arrives and one day, as I am leaving the treatment room, who do I run into in the waiting room?  Zahra and Salimeh!  I must of looked at Zahra as though I'd seen a ghost because she looked at me as though she'd seen a ghost.  We hugged and cried.  Salimeh was crying.  There were hugs and  tears all around.   I told her I thought she'd died.  She laughed and said she thought I'd died.  We giggled like school girls.  At that point I realized the waiting room was full, and all eyes were on us.   What were other people thinking I wondered?  Here we were laughing about each of us thinking the other were dead.  It made me think of 'a joke' that long term cancer patients often say to one another when they haven't crossed paths in awhile.  You say, 'You still here?!'  It's always funny because the phrase has double meaning - one is, 'you are still in treatment?!', the other is - 'you're still alive?!'.  It's only funny if you are a long term cancer patient though.
We hugged and said goodbye.  This time I thought I'd see her again.  She hadn't changed a bit. 

I didn't see Zahra after then and later I came to learn that in November of 2011, Zahra had died.  I was overwhelmed by emotion.  Even though in 2009 Zahra herself told me she was ready to die, prayed to die, and I knew in my heart she was at peace, I felt so sad for her sister, her mother and her brother.  They came to Canada with such hopes and dreams for a new life but instead faced sickness and death.  I remember when I first met Zahra, she was in English school but soon dropped out when her sickness made her unable to carry on.  Hopes dashed, a young woman's life snuffed out. 

Goodbye sweet, smiling Zahra. 

I was overcome with grief - for the future Zahra would not have, for her sister who was by her side every step of the way, for her mother who had lost her husband only a few years before and now a child, and for her brother, a young man in a new country trying to find his way.  It was as though a cloud of darkness had settled over me.

Stay tuned for our upcoming post, 'Coping with Grief'.

Monday 3 June 2013


There has been much ado in the media recently over Angelina Jolie and her discovery that she carries the BRCA gene, making her more likely than not to develop breast cancer at some time in her life.
As a result, Angelina opted for a double mastectomy with reconstruction, to dramatically lower her odds of developing breast cancer down the road. 

Angelina ostensibly underwent the genetic testing to determine if she carried the gene as her mother succumbed to ovarian cancer in 2007, and we have now learned of the death of her aunt (her mother’s sister), from breast cancer just weeks ago - and she carried the gene.
The BRCA gene makes one at high risk for both breast and ovarian cancer.

Angelina has been portrayed in the media with countless faces – for her beauty, her acting skills, her devotion to family, her relationship with Brad Pitt.  There has been much criticism (jealousy?) along the way of her weight, her lips, her legs, her beauty, her acting skills, her devotion to family, her relationship with Brad Pitt. 
She has never been portrayed as an out and out Heroine, until now though.  She is now being heralded over her bravery of getting the genetic testing done; digesting the results; making the tough decision on what steps to take to help ensure she lives long and prospers without cancer; undergoing the double mastectomy pre-op procedures; the actual surgery; the post-surgical drains and recovery process.  She is reportedly looking into the removal of her ovaries to eradicate the odds of her developing ovarian cancer.

Wow, what a lady!  What an unusual and outstanding woman……..or is she?
Here at Cancer Crossing, five women we know, immediately come to mind.  Two of the women tested positive for the BRCA gene (after developing breast cancer already) and had the double mastectomy surgery with reconstruction.
One has recently been diagnosed with the BRCA gene (after developing ovarian cancer) and is on the surgical consultation list for double mastectomy/reconstruction.
Two other women we know have opted for the double mastectomy with reconstruction not because of the BRCA gene, but because they had developed breast cancer in one breast and facing a single mastectomy, made the decision to opt for the double mastectomy as it gave them a greater sense of comfort they would not have to deal with breast cancer again.

Has the media reported on the Heroism of any of these women?  No.
These women underwent, or are undergoing these procedures in Winnipeg without the enormous financial resources Angelina has available to assist her through this difficult time.  Angelina has the resources to allow for the time she required to be away from work.  She has the resources to assist with child care.  She has the resources for psychiatric help should she need it through this challenging time.  Angelina has the resources for immediate action on her case. 

These are resources our five women did not/do not, necessarily have available while undergoing their double mastectomies and reconstruction.   Our women had to get cancer to discover the gene or to make the double mastectomy/reconstruction decision for their own peace of mind.  These women, and any and all cancer patients dealing with their own unique cancer experience, are the patients we at Cancer Crossing are looking to create a fund to support. 
Is Angelina a Heroine?  Yes, because she is able to raise public awareness on the BRCA gene and the double mastectomy/reconstruction procedure with lightning speed, which can only be a good thing. 
Here at Cancer Crossing though, we think the real Heroine’s in this story are our five ladies, who dealt with/are dealing with, all that Angelina has and more.  Where are these women?  Obviously if we know five, there are undoubtedly thousands or tens of thousands of these ladies.  They are in your workplace, at social events, at the grocery store and at the shopping mall ticking off the items on their ‘to do’ list because life carries on, and the ‘inbox’ is always full.  They are hard to detect because they quietly stare cancer in the eye and fight with an intimate circle of supporters.  No paparazzi, no fanfare, just Bravery.

Wednesday 22 May 2013


What role does Religion play for  those dealing with cancer?

Generally speaking, there are 3 types of 'Faith'.  One is the belief in a God (or some other figurehead of an organized religion).  Another is 'no Faith', those being Atheists.  Finally there are those who aren't sure.

At 'Cancer Crossing', the question of cancer and religion comes up in almost every interview.  It is probably one of the most complex aspects of every interview as well.

Some feel that God has struck them or a loved one down with cancer because their faith had not been strong enough.  They did not attend enough services or they had impure thoughts, so they are deserving of such bad things as cancer. 
'I deserve this.'

Some feel they followed the teachings of the faith yet got cancer.  They feel as though God has done them wrong and their faith has been shaken.  They wonder why did they put so much time and energy into their religion and in return they get cancer?  Shouldn't you be rewarded with good fortune (health, happiness, income, etc..) if you do good by the Church? 
'Why did I bother?'

Some didn't participate in organized religion prior to cancer and with cancer, they still don't.  There is a certain 'matter of factness' to these people.  See a doctor and get it fixed.  If it can't be fixed, take care of your business and prepare.
'It is what it is.'

Others feel that 'it is God's will'.  They believe that God has a plan for everyone and there is a reason they have been chosen to deal with cancer.  They pray for better health but also pray that when it is time for them to leave this life and be with their God, they be granted mercy and their loved ones left behind celebrate their life and not mourn their loss.
'Peace be with you.'

Many people don't know what to believe.  They didn't know what to believe before cancer and with cancer, still don't know.  They look across all religions for something they can identify with.  They try to reason with themselves that this life is all there is and there is nothing in the hereafter but eventually  circle back to 'What if...?'

Ultimately, people are looking for reconciliation.  They want a sense that their life had a purpose.  Most don't feel they need to leave behind a 'Grand Persona' that will be talked about in the history books forever.  In the big picture of life, most are content with the smaller things.   To know they have imparted some wisdom they have accumulated over the years to others along the way, leaves one with a sense of richness.   

'I deserve this.',
'Why did I bother?',
'It is what it is.',
'Peace be with you.' 
'What if...?' 

The Ultimate Answer may only be known by those who have passed on before us but while we are here, living this life, we all try and find our own way as best we can.  There is a saying, 'onward through the fog'.  That's a good saying.

Friday 10 May 2013

Breaking News! Our Founder, Dr. Tse Li Luk to receive Order of Manitoba

Breaking News!  'Cancer Crossing' Founder, Dr. Tse Li Luk will be receiving the Province of Manitoba's highest honour, the Order of Manitoba, in a ceremony this July, 2013. 

"Dr. Tse Li Luk, physician and award-winning photographer, whose volunteer service has greatly benefited the Chinese-Canadian community and the community-at-large."

Congratulations to Dr. Luk from the 'Cancer Crossing' team!!  We can attest to his commitment to the greater good.  His concern for others knows no bounds.  This award is richly deserved and we are proud to be associated with such a fine individual.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Sandra - The Caregiver

Meet Sandra.  In her arms, a photo of her Dad, 'Dood'.  Dood was a meticulous dresser.  Sandra is wearing his hat, something of her father's she holds dear.
Dood was diagnosed with cancer in January 2007.  He passed April 19, 2011.  Being a caregiver for someone with cancer is an intense experience.   They say love will make you do anything.  Love made Sandra do everything for her father.  So much over the period of four plus years, we cannot even begin to encapsulate the lengths she went to, to give hope and everlasting life, to her father, her mother and the rest of the family.

Dad said 'I don’t know what to do.' 
" making phone calls
...asking for permission to speak with his doctor.
Dad really did have cancer in his right lacrimal sac and that we needed to remove his eye.

Let’s first see, there must be some alternative.
We just cannot accept one opinion
...we heard about a doctor in Vancouver."

My Dad said, 'If there is a way, Sandra is going to find that way.'

"It turns out that my husband’s niece is an Ophthalmologist as well and she said the cancer is quite advanced and there is probably not a whole lot they can do for him.
My brother-in-law is also a doctor and he advised he is probably going to be terminal in a very short time.

...Dad went through the surgery - about 9 hours.
... I had a shower and then I went back to the hospital – I just could not, not be there.
...the cancer had returned...
...another surgery...
...radiation, but first
...we have to remove all his teeth.  That just sounded utterly terrible to me.
Before we did anything, I called the dad of my daughter’s friend who happened to be a dental surgeon."
...I told Dad:  “we have a plan in place now.  No teeth getting removed.  We will keep your teeth and the dental surgeon said he can take care of it, but if we needed to do that, there is the alternative plan that you will get a set of dentures and we will replace them when we need to."

" sooner did we make that decision,
...the doctor wanted me to call him
...there is not really anything that we can do for him

But, I do remember, that he asked me, 'Why me?' I said, “I don’t really know why you Dad. I don’t know why you, why me, why any of us. I just know that that is the way it is.” He asked, 'So, what are we going to do?' It is always "me and him".  Sandra is going to know what to do.  I said, “Well, here’s the deal.  If you have diabetes, you live with diabetes.  So, you can do this one of two ways.  You can either live with cancer, or you can die from it.  You need to decide which one it is going to be.  If you want to die from cancer, it is going to be a bit of a lonely journey.  If you want to live with cancer – we will do everything we can do to make you live with cancer.  So, if you have diabetes, and you don’t take care of it – then you are going to die from it.  So, it is like diabetes – you live with it and that is how we are going to go about this.”  He says, 'That’s a good plan. That is what I am going to do. I am going to live with cancer.'  So you write your own story – you are not going to die from cancer, because you are just waiting for something to happen to you.  You are going to live with cancer, like people live with all kinds of things.  People live with high blood pressure; people live with diabetes. People live with cancer."

Sandra arranged family trips to Guyana, India and Panama Canal, so her father could experience as much as possible.  He was weak and sick but inspired by Sandra, by her faith in him, her love for him.


...I had taken over managing his medication and managing the homecare people coming in; managing his diet; managing his sleep; managing his food – everything.  Everything about his life, I was managing.  Working full-time and studying full-time but running over to his house every day to make sure he had eaten and rested.  Making up all these crazy schedules and charts and graphs and templates of everything, and his medication lists.  Writing down everything.  I would make sure the homecare people would write down everything.  By November he had home care for 22 hours a day. On my instructions, the workers would record what he ate, how much he ate, a glass of juice, a bowl of cereal.  Whatever it was.

Then he spent his last couple of months at the hospice. I would visit him almost every day on my way to and from work.  I would go and sit with him; read to him; tell him what my day was like.  He didn’t have a lot of pain – he was on a lot of medication, so he wasn’t living with a lot of pain.  The meds seemed to manage it sufficiently.  The nurses would tease him – his name was Dood. “Dood, when you go into the shower, you have to stop putting so much powder on your body. We are asthmatic and you are killing us with this powder.” It didn’t matter how terrible he felt – he had to shower every morning; he had to powder himself generously; he had to splash on some cologne.  He was meticulous about that.

My father was cremated. His ashes we put in the river at a park in Fort Garry.  My parents had lived in Fort Garry, and he liked to sit in the park.

I cannot say that I would have done anything differently.  I was satisfied after my Dad passed away that I had done all that I could do for him and perhaps, that is why I don’t miss him in the way people think that I should – with a kind of a sadness.  I had so much time to talk to him about stuff.  But, it didn’t just happen after he had cancer – it was always there.  I would talk to him about 'Do you remember when so and so did this?  Or do you remember this?  Or do you remember that time when they had that fire in the ‘60s?  Remember that time we went to Florida and we got lost when we all went on vacation?  Or when we all went in the car in the snowstorm?'  They spent many vacations with us when they came to Canada – we would do things together, or they would come and sit in the backyard or in the sunroom or spend a Sunday afternoon here.  I had lots of memories.  Someone was asking me – how do you cope with the death of your Dad? I said, “I don’t actually.”  They said that was too bad.  I said – “I don’t cope with his death – I live with memories of the his life and all he taught me.”  I don’t cope with his death, because I then feel like I focus on the days of his cancer.  I want to remember all the beautiful memories that we shared together."

Sandra has it right.  Make a memory today.

Wednesday 24 April 2013


You can message us through Facebook, but we also have our 'Cancer Crossing' general e-mail address and it is:
We look forward to hearing from you!

We continue to develop and now have a regular mailing address as well!
Cancer Crossing
1-1660 Kenaston Blvd.
PO Box 70029 Kenaston PO
Winnipeg, MB  R3P 0X6

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Tuesday 16 April 2013

Caregiver Stress

What if you suddenly found yourself in the role of caregiver to a loved one with cancer?  Do you know what you would do?

We are learning through our interviews with cancer patients that most go through a process.  Whether they felt 'intuitively' they had something wrong with them or their diagnosis comes as a shock, they suffer an initial disbelief that they themselves, have cancer. 
Through the process of medical tests, doctor visits, treatments, experiencing the physical side effects of treatment, surgery, radiation or whatever their particular case entails, they eventually reach a point of acceptance.  They accept they have cancer or have had cancer.  If circumstances are such that the cancer will take the patients life, they come to accept that too, most often with peace.

Our interviews with caregivers are teaching us that their experience of cancer is an entirely different one than that of the patient. 

They feel compelled to try and do something about the diagnosis. 
Many run to the internet, seek out friends who have had experience with cancer to learn what they can over and above what a doctor has told them, to see if they can find a way, a loophole if you will, wherein will lie the 'cure'.  
They feel if they can get their loved one in for a second opinion they will learn that there is in fact, no cancer.  A mistake has been made.

They feel afraid to leave their loved one alone - afraid that in their absence 'the worst' will occur but if they are around, eagle eyed and watchful, then things will hang in the balance at 'okay'.
They feel compelled to ask again and again, 'How do you feel?', 'Are you okay?'.  They hold their breath while waiting for the answer, which they can only hope will be, 'I'm fine.'  They never believe the answer 'I'm fine', though.  The person has cancer, they cannot be fine.  They are only saying they are fine because they don't want me to worry.  So they worry more, wondering what is not fine about how the patient is REALLY feeling.

The stress is astronomic.  The level of responsibility they feel  is enormous.  Exhaustion sets in for which there is no relief.

This behaviour of the caregiver is very difficult for the cancer patient to understand.  Perhaps it is because when ones body is seriously ill, the mind undergoes a process which takes them on a long journey from disbelief, to acceptance, to peace, but for a caregiver, they are often stuck in denial or disbelief or overwhelmed with a feeling that they must take action even though they are not sure what it is.  Caregivers rarely seem to move to acceptance and if they do, peace doesn't seem to be attached.

If you know someone who is a caregiver to a cancer patient.  Give them a hug today.  They need it.

Monday 1 April 2013

Cleo, and (not) giving up

Cleo experienced Left Parotid Adenocarcinoma and had chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.

"I found radiation physically very difficult.  I spent three weeks in the hospital.  At one point I was starting to lose my faith or whatever you want to call it, because I was so sick and it was almost like, is it worth it?   I was so sick.   
At the same time I had cancer I had a friend who also had cancer and she went through chemo - she had a rare form of leukemia that was very aggressive.  They tried so many types of chemo on her and she was just so sick and at the end she said she was ready to go. 
She was my age and I thought to myself, am I going to get to that stage?  She died before I started radiation but when I was having my radiation I was feeling so sick and I thought now I know exactly how she felt.  I was almost ready to give up too but I couldn't.   I knew I couldn't give up".

Have you ever had a moment in your life when you say 'I give up'?  I'm sure there have been many.  Your boss puts that extra task on you that brings you to overload, a so called 'customer service' representative does not help your situation but instead puts you near the end of your rope or perhaps for the third year in a row, your 'easy to grow' petunias fail.  Certainly in any of these instances you might lose your cool and yell 'THAT'S IT, I GIVE UP!'.

Cancer treatment can be grueling.  It taxes the body and taxes the mind.  Some manage it better than others but no cancer patient gives up. 
Cleo has expressed what so many cancer patients wonder themselves but are afraid to utter - 'am I going to get to that stage?' (ready to die).  Regardless of your situation, we are hearing that the mind eventually comes to terms with the reality of the body.  A fighting mind comes from a body ready for battle, a mind that is accepting of death from disease is not 'giving up', but rather is the mind of a body that has completed the process of this particular life.  A mind at peace.

Cancer patients do not give up, quite the opposite, they draw deep down and find strength they never knew they had.  Fortunately the scales are tipping so more are winning the battle than not, but those who do not survive cancer never gave up, giving up is reserved for those who likely never really tried hard enough to begin with. 
To face cancer, to accept the reality of your cancer, to fight cancer is to never give up.  If you think you want to give up on your petunia garden or your tasks at work, maybe you haven't tried hard enough yet.  If you know someone who has, or has had cancer, look into their eyes.  What you will see will inspire you, for cancer alters a person forever.  They face challenges with a bolder more fearless approach and you can see it in their eyes, brimming forth from their soul.  You might want to ask one to help with your petunias!

Cleo's surgery left her with disfiguration on the left side of her face.  We asked Cleo 'how do you deal with the disfiguration of your face from the surgery?'  Her response:   "I just shrug, smile.  I just go on.  Once people get to know me they don't see it anymore.  If anyone asks, I say I had cancer and I lost the nerve that controls the muscle on this side of my face".  Cleo then adds about the cancer experience  "When it's over, it's over, move on.  Don't dwell on it".  Cleo follows her own advice - she went bungee jumping!

Thursday 21 March 2013

THE CAREGIVER to a cancer patient -

There cannot be a cancer patient without a Caregiver.  In fact, one could argue that for every cancer patient, there are multiple Caregivers and thus, more people caring for cancer patients than there are cancer patients.

Who are these Caregivers?  They are the spouses, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, other family members, friends, co-workers, neighbours and acquaintances of the patient.  Doctors, nurses and therapists too, are Caregivers.  Do you know anyone who is a cancer patient?  Which of the above Caregiver are you?

Some Caregivers choose their role, others have no choice.  Those who live with the cancer patient or those who feel particularly close to the patient, have no choice but to take on a role that can consume their life - pushing all other matters aside. 
Those who are friends, family members or co-workers who do not live with the patient, choose their role.  Some may choose to visit regularly, others might choose to send e-mail or make check in calls.  Some may choose to stay away.

The role of the cancer patient Caregiver, cannot be adequately explored in one post.  We will be delving into this topic both on our social media sites and in our book.

In the meantime, if you are not a cancer patient yourself, take a moment right now and think of those people in your life closest to you.  Close your eyes and see their faces.  Now imagine you become seriously ill with a disease such as cancer.  Is it your expectation that these people, the people closest to you, will be there for you when you need them most? 
Almost every cancer patient will tell you that they were surprised to discover that some people who they thought would be there for them through thick and thin, evaporated from their lives as they dealt with all that cancer throws at them, while some other people, who they hardly knew, or who they felt not particularly close to, actually stepped up and played a meaningful role on their complex cancer journey.

We will share stories of those Caregivers who out of sheer love, poured their energy, their time, their compassion, and set aside the better part of their own lives to care for a treasured one with cancer.   If you do not know someone like that, we will introduce you to some of them and you will then be able to say 'I know the story of a Hero, and I would like to share it with you'.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Cancer Crossing - UPDATE!

We continue to interview and photograph cancer patients/caregivers/survivors and doctors for project 'Cancer Crossing'. 

If you have ever taken a cross country road trip, you know that there are 'Points of Interest' along the way.  The 'Points of Interest' exist to inform you of a notable event that has occurred at that location.  If you take a country like Canada for example, put all the 'Points of Interest' together and look at them as a whole, they will tell you a very comprehensive tale of the history of Canada.

Our 'Cancer Crossing' interviews are much like 'Points of Interest' along a cancer journey.  Each patient/caregiver/survivor and doctor has experienced what we call 'the perspective shift'.  It's that singular moment when your life's path is crossed by cancer, and your outlook on life is suddenly and forever changed. 
The perspective shift appears to be larger with a cancer diagnosis than the perspective shifts that occur with other major life events like job loss and divorce, for example.  Perhaps because cancer has a stigma attached to it - 'no cure'.  Sure, there are cancer survivors who remain cancer free years, or decades after treatment, but even cancer survivors always wonder, 'what if...'

The life lived after a cancer diagnosis, is a life lived differently forever - in a good way.  'Cancer Crossing' tells you how.

There have been many laughs shared and many tears shed so far.  These stories and impressive black and white photographs will begin as an e-book.  Net proceeds will go towards cancer patient support services and production of soft and hard cover copies.  Net proceeds from soft and hard cover book sales will also go to cancer patient support services.   Ultimately, we would like to be able to produce a 'Cancer Crossing' booklet, to be handed to each and every cancer patient upon diagnosis, as a companion for their journey.

The project will have other aspects that we are working on but are not ready to reveal yet.  Stay tuned!