Doctors Without Quarters

Last week, I wrote that I am taking naturopathic supplements. I want to update you on the results.

I have grown two large breasts.

Kidding. If that were true, I wouldn’t have any spare time to write this blog.

As part of the treatment, my naturopath told me to take my morning temperature three days in a row. They were 95.5, 95.2, and 94.3. I know that normal is 98.6, give or take. My low temps seemed like a pretty big “take”.

My naturopath put it in a reassuring perspective.

“You have reptile blood.”

He was joking, but concerned.  He told me to get my thyroid checked.

I drove to the nearest medical lab for the blood work. The test was not covered by the provincial health plan. The cost was $53 and change, according to the slightly brusque receptionist. She said they take check or cash.

“You don’t take debit or visa?”

“No, we don’t have the machines,,” she said.

“Great,” I thought to myself. “They probably take the blood with leeches.”

“There is an ATM across the street,” she said. Luckily, I had three twenties.

” I’ll just see if we have change. Sometimes we don’t.” She disappeared into a back room, and then returned with six bucks. All in coins.

After a brief wait, she led me to a cubicle for the blood sampling. “So if you didn’t have any change,” I asked. “Does that mean I wouldn’t get any?”

“Oh, no, ” she said, a bit defensively. “I’d just have to go elsewhere in the building to find some.”

At that point, I laughed out loud. I once bought medicine in rural Uganda. The roads were unpaved and the people lived in shacks, but the pharmacist had change.

I rolled up my sleeve and waited for the nurse. That’s when the same woman returned, holding a needle. So, she’s a receptionist-slash-nurse. And I’m the smart-ass who mocked her workplace. And that’s the sharp object she is gong to insert into my arm. I imagined her repeatedly searching for a vein  — in vain.

In fact, the blood test went fine. The results are pending, but I learned a lesson. Just as you don’t criticize a waiter until after your food has arrived, you don’t heckle a med-lab worker until after they take the needle away.

Yours truly, The Lizard.

Mmmmm, caramel kale

Apparently, something is up with my pancreas.
Apparently, something is up with my pancreas.


I never wanted to see a naturopath for my cancer.  I wasn’t interested in any therapy that might involve birchbark enemas and tea made from dirt. Besides, traditional western medicine has  kept me going for more than three years.

Then, last spring, a friend and cancer survivor told me her naturopath has made her stronger and healthier. She feels less afraid about cancer returning one day.

Who doesn’t want to feel better? I figured, at the very least, natural remedies might boost my immune system so I could better tolerate the chemotherapy.

So I went to the same naturopath my friend had seen. He seemed normal. His office was devoid of crystals, scented candles or Himalayan posters. He did not ask me if my stool sinks or floats. (I’m saving the answer for cocktail conversation.)

The only odd element is his handwriting; his note detailing my digestive health was an indecipherable collage of words, doodles and shapes (see pic above). Actually, indecipherable handwriting is one trait he shares with western doctors.

I told him I would take whatever he prescribed, as long as my oncologist approved. He recommended three supplements… and my oncologist nixed all three. They are probiotic immunity-boosters, and apparently work against the antibiotic chemo drugs. In response, my  naturopath pointed to several medical studies that concluded these supplements do not hinder chemo’s efficacy.

So it was a standstill — until cancer intervened. New tumours on my brain and spine put all chemo on hold while I undergo radiation. I have been off chemo for nearly three months now, and I decided to use this lengthy break to undergo a three-week course of naturopathic drugs.

I am halfway through. I take six pills a day. I drink a powdered beverage that shows why “mushy pea” never caught on as a Crystal Light flavour. I am trying to follow a diet that replaces every food I enjoy with quinoa and kale.

I told my naturopath I don’t expect all this to reduce my tumours. “I just want to improve my immune system.”

“I expect it to reduce your tumours,” he replied.

I hope he’s right.

He touched us all, some more than others

I was feeling sad this week, thinking about the future. I decided to retake some control over my life and write my own obituary. This is what I want published:


A nation is grieving today after Michael James O’Brien died Friday. We are all poorer for his passing, as he owed many of us money. He is survived by his many friends at the dollar store, a family who worshipped him, and his wife Robin.

Mike grew up in Victoria and Inuvik, and spent his adulthood in Regina and Winnipeg. The prairies held a special place in his heart, as that is where he learned to read.

Mike’s accomplishments are too numerous and fictional to list here. As a journalist, he knew the difference between truth and deception, and rarely let that bother him. As an actor, he made you feel like he was standing right where the director told him to stand; a skill he shared with Olivier, Brando and many puppets. As a radio producer, he boosted television ratings. As a comedy writer, he was tall.

His entire life, Mike followed his personal motto: “That one’s mine, get your own.” He was described as a renaissance man, a humanitarian, and a male caucasian non-secretor.

His hobbies included reading the television listings, translating books that were already in English, and cheering for his beloved Expos. Last year, he finally visited Montreal to watch his team in action, and returned with many tales of driving around in taxis. He enjoyed weekends alone at the cabin, and was always saddened when the cabin owners returned unannounced. He met many new people that way.

All Canadians are encouraged to stay home today as a national day of observance. By Mike’s request, outstanding bills are gratefully declined. Flowers can be donated to local food kitchens.

After lengthy struggles with cancer, diabetes  and a fear of escalators, Mike finally succumbed to a shotgun blast from a jealous husband. He was 92.

The Bearable Lightness of Being

Tamara Gignac: Finding lightness. (Photo by Leah Hennel)
Tamara Gignac: Finding lightness. (Photo by Leah Hennel)

Tamara Gignac is a journalist, wife and mom.  She worked with my wife at the Calgary Herald, before Robin moved to Winnipeg to get her hands on my fortune (hundreds).

In June 2014, Tamara was diagnosed with Stage-4 colon cancer. She launched into chemo and her Facebook updates showed she was doing it with the right attitude: fierce and defiant, with humour. She’s enjoyed the restorative benefits of love and support from all around her.

A September fundraiser raised a lot of money for her and her family. While that is no cure, it really does alleviate fears over providing for one’s family in the future. (I was the beneficiary of two fundraisers, in Regina and Winnipeg, that are still helping my family. The fact that Tamara’s fundraiser netted more than mine only tells me I need to be a much better person.)

Last week, Tamara got the call all of the cancerous hope for: the tumours are shrinking. I know how that call feels. It’s not a cure but it buys time; another today with spouse and kids.

In June 2011, I was diagnosed. In August, I started chemo. By October, I was still waiting for news. Was the chemo working?

In my gut, I did not expect it to end well. So there I was, that October day, golfing with a friend and my father-in-law. My cell rang. It was my oncologist. His message, delivered succinctly and a bit excitedly, was that half the tumours were shrinking and the other half were gone.

I thanked him, and started crying  My golf mates walked up and put their arms around me. I finished the hole and called my wife, who tearfully asked me to hurry home. (I did, the minute I finished the round).

I remember most the palpable lightness throughout my body. I could feel something growing in my chest, like a balloon. My golf shoes seemed a few inches above the ground. For the first time in four months, I knew what genuine hope felt like.

I hope this is what Tamara is feeling right now. I am so happy for her.


Follow Tamara’s story at Team Tamara, a Facebook page started by her vast and loving group of friends and family.