Mike O’Brien, father, husband and friend

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Michael O’Brien took his rest Sunday May 24 in Winnipeg.

If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even when we’re apart….I’ll always be with you.

A.A. Milne



Do you gotta have faith?

Sorry for the delay.  I went golfing two weeks ago and tore something in my upper thigh. It was extremely ouchy and I didn’t feel like writing. But at least it had nothing to do with cancer.

Several well-intentioned people have encouraged me to embrace Jesus Christ as part of my cancer journey. One reader observed I never write about the role of faith in my life and looming death.

Faith is earned. I have faith in my oncologists. I have faith in my radiologist, my surgeons, my nurses, my pharmacist and my counsellors. They all helped me live longer. I have faith my palliative care team will help me through my final footsteps.

After years of surgery and chemo and radiation burns and pain, I have a hard-won faith in my own body. To paraphrase E.E. Milne, I was stronger than I knew.

Above all, I have faith Robin will guide Will toward a fine life. That’s the belief I treasure the most.

Many people pray for me. I appreciate their efforts. Knowing that other people care about me is spiritually uplifting and therefore medically beneficial. I feel stronger. Thank you.

But I have to continue to believe what I always have.

I am a secular humanist. I believe we can achieve ethical, kind co-habitation, based on science, not superstition. It incorporates some of the teachings of prophets like Christ, Buddha and Muhammad (image not available).

I admit, my internal monologues sometimes turn into dialogues with unseen powers. “If you’re there, I would love to go camping one more time.” But is that faith, or bargaining? I refuse to be a death-bed convert, finding God one second before midnight. If that’s not hypocritical, it is certainly convenient.

Of course, I may be wrong. I often am. Fortunately, if God really exists, I’m confident he’ll look at my overall record and let me slide on the faith/skeptic issue. It just sounds like the kind of decent thing he’d do.

PS. If you are interested in my cancer story but don’t have time to read the past blogs, read this terrific article just published in Post Media newspapers across the country. Jana G. Pruden did a fine job weaving our family’s story together and explaining why I write this blog. Here’s a link to her story.

Physician, ‘heel’ thyself

I’ve experienced the best and worst of medical bedside manner. Four years ago, a Winnipeg physician told me in a straightforward yet reassuring conversation that I had cancer. Months later,  a Toronto doctor proclaimed there “was no real point” in treating my disease because it would just keep returning. (Hey Doc, I’m still here.)

And I wondered what might be the worst way to learn one has cancer……

DOCTOR: Hi  Mike. Let’s get right to it.  After all, you’re sitting here, and I know there’s only one thing you want to know. Is it cancer or is it not? That reminds me of a long story about a previous patient. See, the fellow —

MIKE: Doctor, please!


MIKE: The test results?

DOCTOR: Right! Now, when I deliver good or bad news, I add little personal touches to balance the impact. Like, if it’s good news, I walk in with a stern, pitying look, so they’re extra relieved when I tell them. But if it’s bad news, I enter smiling, wearing something cheery.

MIKE: You’re wearing a clown suit.

DOCTOR: Yes. Yes I am. So here’s the diagnosis, straight and to the point. Mike, do you ever worry you haven’t saved enough money for retirement?

MIKE: Not really.

DOCTOR: Worry no more. Because I can say, without doubt, you have enough money for the rest of your life.

MIKE: I have about 800 bucks.

DOCTOR: You have enough money for the rest of your life.

MIKE: I don’t follow you.

DOCTOR: True. In fact, I’ll probably follow you by a good thirty years.

MIKE: What kind of cancer is it?

DOCTOR: Oh it’s that new kind that everybody wants. Heh, just kidding.

MIKE: I mean, where is it?

DOCTOR:  Look at this MRI scan of your torso. Do you see these three tiny white spots?

MIKE: Yes.

DOCTOR: It’s not there.

MIKE: So it’s —

DOCTOR: Everywhere else.

MIKE: (Long pause) How much longer do I have?

DOCTOR: I hate to make predictions. Let’s just say, when you use a parking meter, buy the time in half-hour periods.


MIKE: What was that?

DOCTOR: I squeezed the clown nose. Feel better?

MIKE: I don’t think you’re a very good doctor.

DOCTOR: Ah, we call that ‘denial.’