Life on the fringe

Winnipeg’s Fringe Theatre Festival is wrapping up and cancer is a big hit here. One play is called This Is Cancer, a funny personification of the disease by a Toronto actor. I saw it three years ago.

This year, I took in Expiration Date, by Minnesota’s Candy Simmons. She plays Lucille Barker, a young woman who learns she has late stage cancer and mere months to live. Simmons based her play on interviews with several terminally ill patients.

I was struck by how one disease produces so many different experiences. Simmons’ character wrestles with several issues I have not yet had to face, and likely won’t. She initially keeps her grim prognosis to herself, and struggles to tell her brother. In my case, I told everyone, right away. I’m a sharer. I told cashiers at drive-thru windows.

Lucille contemplates whether she should try chemo; I never pondered this for a minute. I’ve got a boy to raise. She worries she hasn’t experienced enough living. I am older, I’ve travelled, and I’ve had lots of adventures. Not seeing Bali isn’t a big regret. On the other hand, my fear of not seeing Will grow up is overwhelming.

In the funniest scene, Lucille encounters a flustered funeral director while planning her own send-off. It made me wonder if I’m foolish for not making any such plans yet (other than pondering the set list, and so far settling on the Theme From Shaft).

I have spent three years “getting ready” and yet I found little common ground between my experience and Lucille’s (this is not a criticism; it’s a good production).

Despite many shared moments amongst cancer patients, the larger journey is unique. There aren’t five stages of grief, there are five hundred.

We cancerous folk begin in the same place, usually a doctor’s office. Sadly, we often end up in the same place too. The route between those points is variable; it traverses a wide, wild country with back roads and unmarked trails.

 Candy Simmons’ Expiration Date moves to the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, Aug. 14-24. 


The Walking Dead (gratuitous reference)

Where's that remote?
Where’s that remote?

How do I feel right now?

Tired. Knackered. Lacklustre. Pooped out (not really; this is constipation week). Fatigued. And yet, none of these words convey the pulse-deadening loss of strength I currently feel. For example, if I need to move from the couch to the big chair to grab the remote, I spend twenty minutes visualizing that action before attempting it. I’m talking about a remote, and I’m a guy. We carry remotes from room to room just to feel those reassuring contours.

I’m no doctor, but it feels like having AIDS and mono at the same time. Sorry, that’s insensitive. AIDS and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This is not typical. It’s one thing to be tired after chemo, quite another to feel like the Costa Concordia.

Here’s what happened.

I left hospital after three days of chemo, armed with a brand new type of pill to perk up my low potassium. And that was it. That was the pill that broke the pill counter’s back. I now take so many pills and needles that I can no longer keep track of my prescription drugs.

Thus, I forgot to take my daily dose of Apprepitant during the first two days at home. I also stopped my regimen of Ondansetron a day too early. So when the nausea hit, I was armed with only two-thirds of my usual anti-nauseants.

I puked ten times that day. None of it graceful. And because I couldn’t keep anything down, I became dehydrated. I even threw up the slow-release potassium pills, so that problem wasn’t getting any relief either.

I am now off to the hospital for four hours of saline hydration. Then, I will have to decide if I need one of those plastic pill-planner containers, compartmentalized for each day of the week. If the answer is yes, sell me some pleated white pants and a fanny pack and book me on an ocean cruise.

I need to feel better right now. After a record-breaking winter, cold spring and wet June, summer weather has finally arrived, just in time for the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, a weekend road trip, golf, and beach days. And I plan to be in the middle of it all. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Now, someone help me lift this laptop off of me.

Duct cleaning


I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t kept up with my crying.

I haven’t taken a moment to make my scrunched-up crying face, the one with the heaving chest and quivering shoulders. The one where it looks like I’m having a baby in reverse.

I’ve always been a big crier. Terms of Endearment sent me out of the theatre with a wet face and an embarrassed date. To Kill A Mockingbird had the same effect. It’s a wonder I never cried about running out of dates.

Before my diagnosis, I cried at manipulative, uplifting commercials for things like Mother’s Day and pet insurance. Since my diagnosis, I cry at commercials for more competitive monthly data plans.

For obvious reasons, nothing makes me tear up like a father-son moment on TV. If a curly-headed six year old throws a wobbly football into the air, I’m weeping before his khaki-wearing dad can catch it. In Game of Thrones, when Tyrion fired an arrow into his father, who was sitting on the crapper, I thought they made a beautiful connection. It reminded me of a similar moment years earlier on the Cosby Show.

I often cry after playing with Will. We start out laughing, and just when the moment couldn’t get any better, I wonder how many of these we have left, and have to turn my reddening face away from him.

That’s okay.

Few things feel as cleansing as a short, sharp cry. Like a deep tissue massage, it hurts, and then feels good. I like the sharp ache that starts in my chest, rises warm into my face and leaves a prickly sensation in my nose. And then the sadness slips away, as if shaken in an emotional etch-a-sketch. I’m often left with a better perspective on life, death and data plans.

I recommend a good cry to anyone. You don’t have to have Stage 4 cancer (but it helps). Acknowledge your sadness; you may not be that sad after all.

Our dangerous nuts are in the candy

(Image by
(Image by

I get a little starstruck from meeting Americans. I mean, they’re at the centre of everything, including solipsism.

Whenever I cross the border, I hand my wife our camera, throw my arm around the first American I see and yell “Yankee Doodle Oprah Pop Tarts!”  They usually play along until I try to feed them peanuts.

After spending two weeks in California, I think the biggest difference between their nation and ours is the price of cheese. If we could get mozza that cheap, we would have an obesity epidemic too. (Even their landscape has a higher BMI.)

Culturally, Canada exists somewhere between Europe and the U.S. On the surface, Americans  seem closer to us. There’s the proximity, the common language, and the prevalence of their popular culture, best represented by the 24-hour availability of The Big Bang Theory. Europeans are closer when it comes to values: health care, accessible education, acknowledgement of curling as a sport, awareness of the existence of curling.

Who’s ruder? Europeans, hands down. Especially that old bitch on that train in Amsterdam. Who’s more confounding? Americans, because of the gun thing. (Thanks to Sandy Hook, we finally have an answer to the question: “How many children have to die before Americans are willing to even discuss firearms regulation?”… “More than 20.”)

There are qualities about Americans that I envy: their drive, friendliness and ambition. Then there are the characteristics I do not admire: again, the gun thing.

After two weeks in their midst, I am left with one question above all. Why does the richest, most powerful country in the world have such crappy candy bars?

Go into any corner store or gas station, and the same dozen mediocrities stare back at you. Almond Joy, Butter Finger, Milky Way. I mean, Baby Ruth? Canadians select from a cocoa cavalcade that is bigger, better and far more varied: Mr. Big, Crispy Crunch, Sweet Marie, Caramilk, Aero and the cavity-inducing magic of a Crunchie bar. It’s just a matter of time before someone comes out with Curling Crunch.

And don’t get me started on quality. Eat a Hershey Bar. Savour the waxy goodness. Now bite into anything bearing the word “Cadbury.” That’s chocolate good enough to kill for (but only using a knife or club—no waiting period).

Lastly, I just wish Americans would take a smidgeon of interest in our history and culture. We’re worth learning about. Oh well. Happy Third of July, America!