Since I was a teenager, I knew I wanted children. I didn’t meet Robin until I was 43, so I knew I would be an old dad, if at all. We didn’t have to wait too long. Will was born in the summer of 2010.
Our happiness was cut short. Exactly one year later, I was back in the same hospital where he was born, enduring my first chemo treatment (we moved the date of his first birthday party.) For months afterward, when I cried about having cancer, I was really crying about saying goodbye to Will. The thing that made me happiest was the same thing that made me saddest.
That “thing” is now three and a half. His curly hair is from me, his good looks come from his mother, and his blue eyes remain a mystery. (Right, Robin… Robin?) He loves tools and trains…
The Globe and Mail is launching a new weekly series in March about living with cancer. Today, Mike and I stumbled upon it. I transcribed his answers. We haven’t really shared our cancer story online that much. There’s too much over-sharing on the Web and not enough filtering of feelings and thoughts. Less is more.
That said, here are Mike’s answers to the Globe’s Q and A. If it gets published, I’ll post the link.
Living with Cancer
Tell us about your cancer diagnosis: What type, when were you diagnosed, and your prognosis now.
I was diagnosed with metastasized, stage 4 sarcoma in June 2011. The primary tumour was found in my left thigh. Additional tumours were also found in my lungs. Doctors say it is treatable, not curable. I had one year of chemotherapy. I have had two surgeries in Toronto, and six weeks of radiation and another surgery back home in Winnipeg. I am currently on chemotherapy again for an indeterminate amount of time. We are just trying to keep the cancer at bay so I can spend more time with my wife and 3 1/2 year-old son.
How did the cancer diagnosis change your life? Cancer has shortened it: No more RRSPs! I cry more when I’m happy and I cry more when I’m sad. I had to really think if I’m afraid of death or not, and I’m not. It has made me think of my life in three month segments, nothing beyond that. It’s made me pursue dignity internally as I lose it externally. I suffer bodily indignities and yet these things mean less than simply holding on to my sense of self.
What has been the thing that has surprised you most about cancer? Turns out ‘the gift of cancer’ is constipation. The variability of side effects is astounding. Meanwhile, an unbelievable cocoon of supportive friends, family and strangers has surrounded me.
It has taken me 40-plus years to love winter on the prairies.
After kvetching about the cold for decades, I decided to try something different: I decided to embrace the cold.
All it took was a really warm winter coat, long underwear, serious snow pants and no mirrors anywhere in my home. (Looking cute is a near impossibility in winter.)
All that unflattering gear came in handy during a Late-February FAM trip to Hecla Grindstone Provincial Park and Lakeview Hecla Resort.
After a morning of snowshoeing, we headed to Ivan’s home on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba’s Interlake. This second-generation commercial fisherman, nicknamed Santa, is a hardy sort who loves showing city folk and other ice fishing neophytes to his neck of the woods.
In this case, this neck of the woods is the vast frozen wonderland of Lake Winnipeg in the heart of winter.
So a bunch of us writers, photographers and bloggers hopped into his circa 1951 Bombadeer and trucked out over the ice to Ivan’s fishing lines.
Nine of us piled into the transporter, hip to hip on the benches. Ivan hopped into the cab and coaxed the dinosaur into first gear. None of the dials worked and there was a strong smell of exhaust in the cabin. Whatever. We were on an adventure. A little carbon monoxide was worth the price. The wooden behemoth rattled and shook while we rolled across the snow-scape.
We stopped a few hundred metres from the shore line, we hopped out and Ivan demystified the life of a commercial ice fisher.
What we learned:
• The ice on Lake Winnipeg is about four-feet thick.
• Ivan, who looks to be about 70 or so, has been fishing as long as he can remember.
• Ivan has piercing blue eyes.
• His father taught him to fish and he taught his son to fish.
• They fish mostly pickerel.
• In the winter, they deploy 2,400 feet of fishing nets (eight, 300-foot nets).
• They deploy the nets using an under-ice jigger that floats up under the ice. The jigger was designed by a Manitoba man named Olafson. The slotted wood board quickly became the standard in the industry. Olafson tried to patent his invention after two years but he had waited to long. It had been in the public domain for too long and his window of opportunity vanished.
• In winter, they check the nets about once a week. A good day yields about three tubs of fish.
• In summer, they check the nets daily. On one record day, the father and son pulled 19 tubs worth of pickerel from the water.
• Ivan’s Bombadeer is named Old Helge, after the man he bought it from.
• Ivan loves, loves, LOVES to fish. He fishes in his spare time too.
This trip was organized and sponsored by Travel Manitoba.
So we Manitobans are in—what can best be described as—winter hell.
But in hell, it’s hot.
We are in the Arctic equivalent of hell.
So just how cold is it?
Well, one day in January we were colder than Mars. Since early December winter has us in a chokehold. Minus 40˚C is not unusual. Minus 30˚C is typical. And minus 20˚C is considered balmy.
Yep, it’s that bad.
It’s taken me 40+ years as a Manitoban to realize the only way to survive winter on the prairies, is to face it head on.
That means getting outside and getting away. While most head south to warmer climes, I recently headed north.
Hecla Grindstone Provincial Park is an outdoor oasis two and a half hours north of Winnipeg. Located on 360 acres, this Interlake gem has a ton to offer. In the summer, there’s camping, fishing, swimming, hiking and golfing. A charming village with all the basics awakens each spring.
In the winter, cross country skiing, snow shoeing and soaking in the hot tub beckon. And Lakeview Hecla Resort is where to love winter again.
On a recent FAM trip, a small group of writers, bloggers and photographers from across Manitoba rediscovered the joys of winter.
Lakeview is a fully appointed, family and pet friendly hotel with a restaurant, a water park with pool and water slides, spa and hot tubs. Rooms are modern and comfortable with a lounge, inviting soaker tub and monster-sized beds. Two flat screen televisions and free wifi are are part of the deal.
This year-round resort is a hub for ice fisherman and snow mobilers in the winter and golfers, boaters and families in the summer. The resort has an interesting past and spent several years shuttered until Lakeview took it over, renovated it and reopened in Spring 2012.
We started our first day with an hour of snowshoeing near the lodge. For the first 100 feet we were battered by blustery winds. The moment we stepped into the trees we also stepped into a winter wonderland.
Quiet enveloped us. The only sounds came from the crunching snow beneath our feet and the odd woodpecker chipping away on an unseen tree. Heather Hinam, an uber smart naturalist and guide lead the way. (Heather has her own custom adventure business called Second Nature and is also an artist who designs interpretative signs for parks that detail the wildlife and natural habitat.)
We learned about snow, trees and the local denizens, aka deer, wolves and coyotes. We hiked gentle slopes and tucked in between stands of trees. The trail was broken and we criss-crossed in and out of the trees. We sampled only a small taste of the trails winding their way to and from Lakeview. We traversed groomed cross-country ski trails and soaked up the sunshine.
And in no time at all, the cold was a distant memory.
This trip was organized and sponsored by Travel Manitoba.
Here’s an idea: Host a fantastic multi-course dinner on a professional baseball team’s diamond. Invite 100-plus food lovers. Get one of Winnipeg’s best chefs and his team to come up with a home-run menu. And bring ingredients, like fresh milk, cream, butter and ice cream, straight from a Manitoba farm.
That’s the inspired plan behind Grazing in the Outfield, the latest venture from the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba.
Organizers hoped to pull it off for this summer’s 2014 baseball season, but a very tight baseball schedule has made it impossible. So in 2015, Grazing in the Outfield plans to throw its inaugural event. No date has been settled and they’re still finalizing the details.
So, for the meantime, foodies will get their fix at Grazing in the Field. This year’s event will be held September 13, 2014 at Hans and Nelleke Gorter’s dairy farm in Otterburne, MB. Tickets cost $150 each (plus tax) and went on sale in early February. Only 100 will be sold and Brandes reports about 25 have already gone. Chef Ben Kramer and his team at Diversity Foods (University of Winnipeg) will be in the kitchen. Kramer always pulls together a fantastic and fun spread.
Tip to the wise: Don’t wait to buy tickets. In 2011, the first year, all 115 tickets sold. The second year was also a sell out with 135 tickets sold.
Check out the Grazing in the Field Facebook page here.
It’s February. Winnipeg is in the midst of an epic cold snap. For those looking in, our sub-Arctic temperatures are pretty terrifying. (We were colder than Marsthe last day of December.) But for locals, it’s winter weather as usual.
We can take it. We’re a hearty bunch.
Embracing winter in Winnipeg means: bundling up in multiple layers; wearing a toque and serious winter boots at all times; and going outside every single day. (No shut-ins allowed.)
It also means finding food that warms from the inside out. That’s where French Onion Soup comes in. A meaty, full-bodied stock is the foundation. Carmelized onions are a must. Croutons or a slice of dense, earthy bread comes next. It’s all capped with a layer of melted gruyere and is served scorching hot from the oven. Those are the starting points for this traditional meal in a bowl, whose roots go back hundreds of years.
At Peasant Cookery, tradition is both embraced and ever so slightly twisted. Every slurp of broth delivers a hearty but not heavy beefy essence, and perhaps a note or two of red vino. While the stock is the number one element, cheese and a crouton (toasted bread) are a close second.
At the Exchange District dining room, a slice of house made bread topped with Swiss cheese crowns this warming winter soup. A perfect melt of cheese caps the crock pot and drips over the side. And who doesn’t love those crispy bits of cheese on the edge and sides? If your spoon doesn’t work to dislodge the toasted bits than use your fingers. I did.
Having French Onion Soup feels like a bit of a treasure hunt too. I love trying to load my spoon with every element in the crock: broth, onions, bread and cheese. And while it may be a touch gauche, who doesn’t love when melted cheese makes its own tight-wire from bowl to uplifted spoon?
So, what have we learned?
Winter in Winnipeg isn’t that bad.
And when it is bad, arm yourself with all the essentials to keeping warm
And then tuck into a crock of French Onion Soup and forget what everyone is complaining about.
This post first appeared on Peg City Grub, a culinary tourism initiative by Tourism Winnipeg. For more great advice on Winnipeg’s dining scene go to pegcitygrub.com.
When our son was 10 months old, my 47-year-old husband was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma. He was diagnosed four days before Father’s Day in June 2011. The peach-sized bump on the upper thigh of his left leg, originally believed to be a blood clot, was a tumour. Doctors found multiple tumours in his lungs. The cancer had metastisized.
Since then, he has had one-year of in-patient chemotherapy every 21 days. In October 2011, surgeons in Toronto removed the remaining tumour and rebuilt an artery using a vein from the right leg. Two months later, a new team of thoracic surgeons removed a chunk of his lung and the tumours within. In early 2012, more lung tumours were found and surgeons in Winnipeg removed more of his lung.
About 10 months after my husband was diagnosed, I sunk into a deep, unrelenting depression. With the help of a wonderful social worker at CancerCare St. Boniface and my family doctor, I have emerged from the darkness.
Our son is a constant source of joy, laughter and distraction. He is our will power.
Over the past 2 1/2 years, we have had a zillion conversations about the disease and prognosis. We have met some angels on earth—doctors, surgeons, nurses, counsellors and rehab therapists.
Some have said the most encouraging things and others, well, let’s just say there’s some boneheads out there too.
With that in mind, here is our cancer story—at least up until now—one quote at a time.
It’s a blood clot.
He said it could be cancer.
Do you have life insurance?
I’m 99.9 per cent sure it’s not cancer.
It’s not good news.
It’s treatable, not curable.
What happened to stages two and three?
The tumours are shrinking.
Mike O’B’s tumours are melting away.
He’s not doing well. We’re working on him. You need to get here right away.
It was a minor life-threatening incident.
The chemo has reached its maximum potential.
Let’s keep emotion out of it.
We have young son. Please.
Of course we’re going to do something. You’re strong, you’re young, you’re healthy.
Bonfire Bistro is one of those neighbourhood haunts that the locals would probably prefer to keep on the down low.
If everyone knew how good this bistro was, no one would ever get a table.
As it is, this River Heights eatery is a very popular spot. Arrive early on Friday and Saturday evenings if you have to make it in time for the puck drop, the curtain rising or the opening credits.
If you’ve got no pressing engagements, settle in for a little linger over an outstanding wood-fired pizza, pasta or daily special. The pizzas are all made inside the large stone oven at the back of the main dining room.
Modern pizza ingredients like Serrano ham, fennel, pear, Stilton blue cheese, arugula, balsamic glaze, hot Italian sausage and preserved lemon make the cut here. Choose from nine customized pizzas. Even though you might recognize some ‘classics’ (think pepperoni, Hawaiian, Margherita, vegetarian and mushroom), all the pies have been modified and jazzed up with additional, out-of-the-box ingredients. Five of the nine pizzas also bring the heat.
Enter the Spicy La Bomba Chicken pizza. A generous layer of spicy La Bomba sauce starts the madness. Fresh roasted red peppers, a generous helping of fresh jalapeño slivers and scads of chicken breast tossed in additional spices come next. (Confession: I couldn’t tell if the heat was just coming from the sauce or the chicken, or both.)
A canopy of oozing mozzarella cheese and a sprinkling of cilantro topped the pie. Drizzles of yogurt citronette were definitely there but hard to discern on my scorched tongue.
Bring the heat. No wimpy pizzas, I say. When Bonfire says ‘spicy,’ they mean it. You’ve been warned.
Pizza is just the beginning here. Bonfire has a great menu of pastas and entrées too. Daily specials are worth a try as well. Take a look at the menu here.
Also of note: Bonfire Bistro has some of the best food photography around. One look at the website and you may find yourself heading straight there. (Even as I write this post I’m planning my next visit.) The photos are fantastic and the real dishes certainly live up to their pictures.
Insider’s tip: Bonfire Bistro doesn’t take reservations.