Saturday, May 31, 2014

The BAWWW Award.

Dr. Ivo Olivotto practiced saving our lives at the British Columbia Cancer Agency for thirty five years. Over that time he saw thousands of patients and I was one of them, in 1991. I remember sitting in my one-size-fits-none paper gown in a chilly examination room waiting to hear my fate. When I heard a knock on the door, Dr. Olivotto asked if he could come in. What could I say - "No?" I wanted him to go away as much as I wanted him to come in but I had breast cancer and needed help.

23 years later I have come to appreciate the courage it took to knock on all those doors year after year and day after day. Each time his hand turned the door knob he brought his enormous expertise to treat cancers but he could never know for sure if it would be enough to rescue the woman on the other side of the door.

Dr. Olivotto has now moved on to other adventures in Calgary. The Agency send off party gathered his colleagues from around the province and Canada. Many were in tears as they testified to the powerful impact he had on their lives professionally and personally.

I shamelessly begged to be allowed on the program. Dr. Olivotto is an important part of our history and I couldn't let the opportunity pass to thank him on behalf of the CBCF, and patients. Two decades ago the CBCF in BC was a fledgling organization. Our offices were in our kitchens and basements, we had little money and we organized ourselves with a few volunteers. On this shaky foundation I boldly asked Dr. Olivotto if he would be our first Medical Advisor. After I got the question out there was an extended silence and a long, hard Ivo stare. Finally he said, "You aren't going away are you!" My knees were knocking and I could hardly believe my ears when
he agreed.

Over time Ivo opened important doors for us. We took merciless advantage of him by asking him to speak at our events. He arranged significant introductions for us and posed challenging and difficult questions as we evolved. He pitched in. At our first big fundraiser, The Run for the Cure, Ivo signed people up and walked with his mom whom he volunteered as a volunteer. He took a chance on us and I like to think that both he and the CBCF won the lottery.

At his professional send off, no one on the formal program represented his patients. It would have been impossible and inappropriate to contact the thousands of us. Regardless, I wanted to bring his patients to the event, at least symbolically, to let him hear once again how much his work has benefitted us. My quandary was how to thank some one whose shelves are already crammed with awards? How to thank a life saver? How to find something that would be a unique symbol of our gratitude and appreciation?

I thought of the energy it took to open all those examination doors, to direct students, to work with colleagues and to generate research here and internationally. Then I imagined a doorknob, but not an ordinary doorknob. It had to symbolize courage, compassion and style. I rummaged through antique and hardware stores throughout Vancouver . Finally I found a ruby red, faceted, glass doorknob that fit the bill. It was mounted on a solid, dark wooden chevron with a practical coat hook underneath the glass knob. It was the perfect BAWWW.

The BAWWW is bigger than the Oscars. No honour and no award can ever top it's inscription, "The Best Award in the Whole Wide World." I hope that every day when he hangs up his coat, Dr. Olivotto reads the inscription and knows how much he has been appreciated by so many. From all of us who have been on the other side of those doors, a heartfelt thank you Ivo.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


The world always seems to tilt under my feet when I take my grandson Max out for the day. The last time it tilted was on a trip to our local library. Max was on the far side of the room and easy to spot. He was rambling about showing off his alligator shoes that lit up each time his feet hit the ground. They blinked so much I wondered how long the battery would last. Max also wore his best, favourite T shirt festooned with the monstrous open mouth of a great white shark with bloody teeth. He loved that gory shirt so much that he wore it to bed.

The library was calm but for the rattle of newspapers and the low hum of quiet conversation. But then, in a voice that made the windows shake,  everyone in the library was treated to Max, at top volume shouting, "Judy, Poo is coming!" Then frantically bellowing, "Judy, poo is coming fast!"

Leaping up to avert a disaster, Thomas(Max's favourite librarian), scrambled for his keys and hustled the two of us to the closest bathroom, the staff bathroom.. During the ensuing event while tottering on the toilet seat, Max looked contemplative and asked me ever so earnestly, "Judy, why poo?"

I bit my cheeks and tried not to laugh and dealt with the basics of digestion appropriate for a four year old little boy. We went "over the lips, past the gums, look out stomach, here it comes," and then I launched into the exciting and specific dynamics of bowel action. His reaction? "Oh." Question asked. Question answered. Check the zipper and we're off.

However, Max's question lingered in my mind. It's one that has bugged me for decades. Indeed, why poo? What good is poo? Why do some get more life poo to deal with than others?

Even if you live in a deep cave, you can't avoid the tough and trying experiences that are an inevitable part of life. When adversity hits, some of us linger and stall. Our tragedies may kill us yet some of us thrive beyond surviving them and live life with a ferocity and newness that may not have emerged before.

Me? Ask me next week about my own poo quandaries and the answer might not be the same as the one I come up with right now. For today, poo is just the result of a good meal and an honest experience with a curious, trusting, dear little boy. Thank heavens Max didn't ask me about sex or, God forbid, Santa Clause.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Smear me up.

I get nostalgic flipping through my mom's best recipes. I've stashed them among my own favourites and mixed them in with those saved from my children's preschool days. Play dough sits between mashed potatoes and angel cake. For some reason I filed coq au vin and Christmas turkey alongside paint extender.

Paint extender - hmm. Finger painting days are well behind me until the perfect grandson reaches the mucky stage. But body art is not.

I already have two tattoos. Hardly unique today, but 22 years ago sporting a tattoo was more radical. Mine are quite boring. You have to be a very good friend to locate them. Just two dots. One on my  breastbone and another under my arm. Boring - but useful radiation guides.

But make me giddy! Recently, I received an invitation to participate in a non-boring, body art afternoon.

Do you remember Dr. Hook's 60's raunchy lyrics, " Smear my body up with butter, take me to the Freakers' Ball?" That song partied well with beer kegs and togas 45 years ago.

But there I was "freakingly" approaching 70 and thinking of butter, as along with other women, I sipped a glass of  white, and smeared deliciously gooey red, yellow and blue paint all over my naked self.  Breasts, belly, legs, arms and face. That was fun enough but then I carefully crawled over a huge piece of white paper and splatted my random body parts down. A wiggle or two and thanks to the core exercises I suffer through at the gym, I performed a less than graceful plank and retreated without messing my surprisingly gorgeous image. What a blast! Smear, crawl, splat, plank up, retreat. Smear, crawl, splat, plank, up, retreat. I did it three times with three different colour combos.

A good time was had by all but, why do it?

Photographs of the gloriously colourful images have been taken. They will be digitized, sized and transferred to canvas. Then my body art, along with the other women's will be auctioned off by Vancouver's Diane's Lingerie, supporting CBCF. Supporters yes, but this time Diane's encouraged our "girls" to run free and unfettered.

Don't hope to discover which image is mine, unless you look very carefully and know what a certain scar looks like.

What I wouldn't do for CBCF. Cheerfully!