(416) 532-5514 robhawke@gmail.com

What do you say when someone has cancer?

This is a big question and it can fill people with fear. You find out someone has cancer, maybe its a family member or a friend. What do you say? Do you say anything? Do you completely ignore the 2,000 pound Tyrannosaurus in the room and just hope it goes away? That might seem like the easiest thing in the world to do, but is it helpful? Do you drop your documents and run from the photocopier crying when you see them coming around the corner? That’s probably not the best strategy, but I’ve seen it happen. As a decent human being, how the heck do you handle this?

You see, 30% of us will get a cancer diagnosis at some point in our lives, so at some point, someone you know is going to be dealing with this issue.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

elton-john-the-diving-board

As a cancer survivor myself, I have had my share of uncomfortable and yes even hilarious conversations when well meaning folks were trying to talk about something that is tough to talk about. So how do we do it?

Here’s a strategy that works for me.

Wait for a time when you have a modicum of privacy and say something like “Hey, I heard you got some bad news lately.” Then …let them talk. What’s great about this is you haven’t said what the bad news is. This gives them the opportunity to talk about it or not. They might shut it right down by saying “Ya, uh that’s private” or “I don’t want to talk about that right now.” This is totally fine and you should respect that. However, they may want to talk about it. They might say something like “Ya, I just got a diagnosis and I am totally freaked out.” or “Its still early days so we’ll wait and see” They might go into a lot of detail and that might surprise you.

If they are anything like me, they will have a LOT to say. Some of my conversations went like this…

Rob: So, ya, I’ve got surgery scheduled for next week and I think the surgeon is good, but he asked me if he should take out my whole thyroid or just part of it. How am I supposed to make that decision? what do you think?”

Bus Driver: I don’t know sir but you still need to deposit a token.

bus driver

You might hear a river of opinions and worry that have been damned up for a long time. You might hear about doctors, hospital parking, and ultrasounds. You might find yourself in a 20 minute conversation that is remarkably one sided. Here’s how to handle this…

Listen.

That’s right. Listen. Listening is quite honestly one of the greatest gifts you can give someone who is going through cancer. In all likelihood they will be under a tremendous amount of stress. Being able to talk to you might be just the thing they need to feel a bit of relief.

You’ll notice I didn’t say “Listen and offer advice”. Please don’t offer advice unless you have a DR in front of your name. You will really want to because you’re a nice person and you will want to fix it. Listening is enough. Please don’t mention that they should eat more veggies or take raspberry keytone or got to Mexico to take a weird drug or talk to your Uncle Lou who beat cancer by eating only radishes. This will not help. Listening and giving them a safe place to share what they are going through will. You might be the only person in their life who they feel they can talk to. If so, then you are even more important to them than you realize.

They may ask for more kinds of help later and that’s terrific, but when a diagnosis  first happens the best thing you can do is talk less and listen more. If you pull this off, you will be giving them a gift that very few know how to give.

Good on you. I like you already.

listening dog

What’s your favourite two minutes in the world?

Wow! I wouldn’t have guessed that, but congratulations on being so acrobatic!

My favourite two minutes in the world is right before going onstage. Its a total blast. Its this incredible feeling that something big is about to happen and you really have no idea how its going to go. You’re completely in the moment and nothing seems to matter except the experience that you are about to have. As one of my heroes, Mr Robert Plant says “There is no place to hide”. Its especially fun when its 8:30 AM and you’re hopped up on three cups of joe.PatientXforum Crowd Wisdom

I’m the guy in the red shirt who looks like he’s bringing in a plane.

Yesterday I had the absolute pleasure to speak at the 3rd National Forum on Patient Experience in Toronto. It was my job to stir up what I call the “Wisdom in The Room” and get folks cranked and ready to collaborate. After a few minutes this very generous crowd was sharing ideas and having a blast. There were medical professionals and patients there from all over the country who care deeply about the patient experience and how we can make it better. I was so taken by the depth of talent and integrity in the room.

All of the content was amazing and here are a few of my faves. There were folks from North Bay Regional Health Centre who are doing great work with patient stories with Photovoice. People from Mississauga Halton CCAC who are improving the patient experience by actually involving patients in the health care system. (What? That’s crazy!) They backed up their research with some incredible stats on how they were actually able to reduce patient time in the hospital.  Wow. I’ve also got to mention the amazing Dr. Shah from Anishnawbe Health Centre in Toronto. His dedication to service was quite inspiring.

The patients in the room really had their voices heard as well. My friend Zal Press from Patient Commando is always ready to kick butt and take down names. And he did.

The silence in the room was palpable when a patient told her emotional and moving story to the audience. She was asking hard questions that need to be answered. It was a terrific event and I was very proud to be a part of it.

With committed people like this working in Health Care in Canada, things are changing and I dare say its for the better.

Shout outs to Dr Joshua Teller and Angela Morin for hosting a great day.

A Showdown At The Patient Corral

The patient experience can be a crazy thing. Often it is more emotional than we think and these feelings can come out at times that are absolutely not convenient. I remember when I had just been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I thought I took the news pretty darn well. In the doctor’s office, I had been fine. However, out in the world it was a completely different matter. You may not be aware of this but cab drivers and cyclists have a deep abiding love for each other. Truly, we stop at red lights and take the opportunity to give each other affectionate and lingering hugs. Actually that is not really accurate. In fact, you could say that cab drivers and cyclists don’t get along at all. I was riding north on University Ave in Toronto (a major street with a ton of traffic on it) when a cab driver pulled up to me in the next lane and cut me off.

badass cyclist

(This is not me.)

I slammed on my brakes and came to a skidding stop; inches from his back bumper. We shared a few words with each other that were not “Happy Birthday”. Ordinarily that would have been it and we would have each gone our separate ways. But no! I was under the influence of a cancer diagnosis which was baking in my psyche like a bubbling toxic cake. Suddenly, my perceptions changed. The buildings of University Ave seemed to fall away and were replaced by the façade of main street from the old west town of tombstone. I stood facing the cab driver in tense silence. A tumble weed drifted by. The town bell clanged twelve times for noon.

cowboys

The cab driver spoke. “Draw!” I coiled all the rage I had into my throbbing right arm and like lightning I drew my six shooter from the holster strapped to my leg. I aimed down the barrel at my adversary and I realized…that I had completely lost my mind! There I was on University Ave in a shouting match with a cab driver. We were both filled with rage. Oh sure we had something to disagree about but no one was hurt and we both could have just got on with our day. But no, I had completely dove in to the conflict like this was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. Did I have the right to be angry? Sure! Was this the best way to handle it? Nope.

Somewhere in the depths of my brain a little voice sad “Rob, calm down! You’re acting like a maniac!” So I literally took a step back, got on my bike and went home. I’m sure that I would have handled it differently if I wasn’t completely shocked by having this thing called cancer, but I didn’t. It made me realize that sometimes we think we have dealt with something on an emotional level but our psyches need to catch up with our logical minds. This can make us do strange things, like think we’re Clint Eastwood on University Ave. Wherever you are and whatever your story is, hang in there and watch out for tumble weeds.

Clint Gif

The Hope For Today Cafe

FullSizeRender (4)Here it is, the official release of The Hope For Today Cafe. My good friend Deborah Kimmet and I put our comedic heads together and came up with a podcast that offers a bit of Hope and Humour for people going through cancer. If you or someone you know is going through a tough time then we made the Hope For Today Cafe for you.

We are going to bring you funny, insightful content that is meant for folks gong through a tough time in their lives.

Its really strange being on a cancer journey.  Sometimes you feel so alone, even if you have great support from family and friends (like I did-thanks family and friends!). The ironic think is even though we feel alone on our journey, there are so many people who are facing similar circumstances and similar challenges. So, Deb and I thought,  “Wait a second! why don’t we create content that is funny and actually deals with the issues that people go through on a journey with cancer? What if we did stuff for caregivers?  What if we ate more steak?”

(OK, that last bit is mine)

We had several cups of coffee, began recording and now we have the first episode of our podcast ready to go. we’d love for you to give it a listen and heck even comment on it. Let us know what you think! Want to hear us cover a topic?  Let us know!

Full steam ahead. Straight on ’till morning.

Kaboom! Let’s Hear it!

You and The Hope for Today Cafe

thehopefor 2 (1)

Have you ever started a project and been really excited about it? Sure you have! Sometimes the stars align and you think, OK, this is going to be good. Well, that is what’s happening for The Hope for Today Café.

My friend Deborah Kimmett and I have started work on a podcast that we think is great. I don’t want to over sell it but I think its going to be the best thing that anyone has ever done ever. (Sorry, I was just channeling Kanye West for a second) We’re going to bring you a bit of hope and humour to help get you through the day.

Let’s face it, If you’re a human (and I’m guessing you are) you may on occasion go through a tough time in your life. Some of you may be saying “Ya, of course Rob, that’s part of the deal”. Well, we are going to do a show based on the idea that we all face a challenge now and then and when we do, it can help a lot to get a boost from a couple of friends. That’s where The Hope for Today Café comes in. Once a week we’ll bring you short episodes packed with energy, hope and discussion about issues that face people going through health challenges and their care givers. We’re going to have shout outs to listeners, special guests and a ton of witty banter to lighten your day.

In fact, we’re already recorded a few and it was so much fun we figured we had to share it with you.

We’re looking forward to your feedback when our first episodes roll out. There is a huge community of courageous people out there and we want to serve you.

Let’s face it, we’re all in this together. We might as well try to help make the journey a bit easier.

Want a sneak peek? You can follow us on Sound Cloud here! The Hope For Today Cafe