I am actually on vacation in Australia for the next week, so I've decided to run a few old Ottawa Sun columns. Forgive, I may have been going through a bit of a Sex and the City phase in some of them. I also seem to have been obsessed with cancer.
June 1, 2001
No sleep for me tonight.
Or for 2,000 or so others, people who have spent weeks pestering co-workers and friends for cash, just to shiver in between turns circling the Lansdowne Park track for 12 strange and emotional hours.
I'll wager when the Canadian Cancer Society's Relay For Life is all over early tomorrow morning, after things get a bit weird and kind of desperate and downright frigid sometime in the 4 a.m. flickering candlelight, we'll be glad we did it.
Mike Hale is one of the reasons I and more than 80 others have joined forces under a Bushtukah Great Outdoor Gear/AMS Management Systems Inc./Bruce Moore Russell Direct banner, forming six of 115 teams in the event. The 29-year-old IT consultant met most of his thick-as-thieves friends, a remarkable, hilarious group which has now swelled to include wives and girlfriends and errant others, after joining a basketball league when he first moved to Ottawa in 1995.
A former Queen's University varsity basketball player, nicknamed Pistol after basketball star Pete Maravich, Mike was recovering from surgery to remove a germ cell tumour in his chest the size of a videotape three years ago when the relay first began.
The shocking news he had cancer jolted him and high school sweetheart Julie Lamb right out of their post-university, just getting-started-on-careers-and-life frame of mind into months of doctors, chemotherapy, tests, nausea, fatigue and overwhelming worry.
Mike credits his and Jules' family and friends, the ones who will be looping around the track in the wee hours of tomorrow, for helping him forget about cancer when he needed to most.
The same buddies who came to his head-shaving party made sure to organize outings to Mac-Laren's for brunch or Woody's for a beer whenever Mike was able. The guy who later stood up as best man at his wedding called him every day for more than four months, while another trio of jokers made him laugh so hard passing the phone around between them he pulled muscles around his ribs that were more painful than "any of the surgery," said Mike.
Also on our team is Mike's former office manager Edith Sullivan, the woman who smoothed his way at work during his recovery only to find out later she had breast cancer. Edith had her final treatment the day of last year's relay -- our first as a team of 30 -- and has since married and moved to New York.
The fundraiser was first tested three years ago in Ottawa, and appears to be well on the way to becoming a signature event for the Cancer Society, with events planned for 25 Canadian cities this month. In Ottawa, it has swelled from 42 teams the first year to filling Lansdowne Park and prompting organizers to search for a bigger site for 2002, said event chairwoman Sue Rosborough.
When I'm huffing around the track hours from now, I'll also be thinking about another Mike, one who entertained children as a teenage clown and went on to be an animator; who could make me laugh so unexpectedly I once spewed a mouthful of coffee all over the white kitchen of his London flat, who could have been in his early 30s today if he hadn't put off seeing a doctor until it was too late.
And my mom Christine, who loved being a nurse so much she continued to wear her white cap and uniform years after it was no longer required, who almost four years ago taught our family that sometimes life gets turned upside down by one grim bit of news, and all you can do is deal with it as gracefully as possible with the time you have.
Mike says one of the hardest parts of being a cancer survivor is the fear it's going to come back. That's why the most emotional part of tonight will come when he, Edith and some 200 survivors get together for a victory lap before the relay kicks off.
"There's all those other people who are there who are better and have been better for a long time," he said. "It sounds cheesy, but it's like a big celebration of beating cancer and not being sick anymore."
Mike continues to be amazed by the fundraising power of a group of his friends and family, aiming to raise more than $20,000 towards this year's $300,000 goal.
"What are we going to do when we find a cure for cancer?" he joked this week. "We're just going to be 88 people standing around wearing the same shirt."
Update: Mike is still fine, married with a baby; his former office manager Edith later developed cancer and passed away