NEVER ALONE – A FOUNDATION OF COMPASSION

Never Alone. What a great thought. Isn’t loneliness one of our most feared feelings? Wilson and that other guy tried very hard to get off that deserted island. And prisoners get ‘solitary’ when they’ve been extra bad. No one wants to be alone for very long. That’s why Never Alone Foundation is so aptly named.

For those that don’t know, Never Alone Foundation is a Winnipeg non-profit serving people affected by cancer. The inspiration for Never Alone was CFL great Lyle Bauer. Lyle was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer in 2004. He will tell you that, even though he had a significant support network of family, friends, and colleagues, he never felt more alone.

Treatment for most types of cancer is difficult and throat cancer seems just a bit more so. You can’t eat for weeks. In most cases you have a feeding tube inserted in your stomach so you can get pain and nausea medication in your system as well as an occasional liquid meal replacement. It gets worse, but let’s just say it is a very challenging process.

Once Lyle got through treatment and began the recovery process, he and a few close friends drafted a plan for what would become Never Alone Foundation. He wanted to help cancer patients, regardless of their diagnosis, navigate the treacherous journey he had taken. He wanted them to be more comfortable, feel less anxious and less alone. Never Alone Foundation was born.

There are many good community organizations doing great work. Never Alone seems different. Almost all of the funding goes to programs. The two full-time staff are overworked and under compensated – by their choice. Sure, every organization would say the same thing, but if you were to visit Canada Revenue Agency’s website and take a look at a few tax returns, the difference would be apparent. And then there are the clients – the people who are helped by Never Alone – some directly, some through other foundations. These are people that have been unable to find comfort through the provincial healthcare system. One example: Let’s say you’ve just been diagnosed with some form of oral cancer and before you can start treatment you need to have some or all of your teeth extracted (yes, it happens). Now, let’s say you have successfully completed chemo and radiation and it went very well and you are on the road to recovery and ready to get back to eating like you used to. Guess what? Prostheses (dentures, implants) are not covered by any provincial health plan. In other words, if you don’t have good private insurance or financial means, you will be eating all of your meals through a straw. Most people are surprised by this bit of enlightenment. Think about that for a minute – all of  your meals through a straw. There are lots of other examples.

We have great healthcare in this country and province, but there are many holes to be filled. And filling those holes so people with cancer and their families are more comfortable, less anxious and, perhaps most important, feel less alone, is what drives Never Alone Foundation. Our community of cancer patients would be a much different place without Lyle Bauer and Never Alone Foundation.

 

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Bounce Softly

April 22 marks an anniversary. Not one for celebration, but for remembering and for quietly acknowledging the resilience of the human spirit.

It was on this day in 1997 that Adam Young was swept away by a seemly benign current in a ditch. The kind of ditch that many of us played in as kids. Adam’s father, Robert, was a good friend, although we hadn’t been in touch in a while.

After Adam’s death, Robert worked tirelessly to get City Hall to put measures in place that would prevent another tragedy, and he was successful. Then he left Winnipeg, perhaps hoping to dull the painful memories caused by familiar streets.

I didn’t know what to say to Robert on that day in 1997, and I still don’t think I know what to say. I’ve never lost a child. I can imagine though, that it would be one of the most soul-killing experiences that there is. The shear weight crushing a parent to the bone, making them want to curl up and die themselves. The pain has got to be unbearable.

Robert is back living in the city now. I see him regularly because we are still good friends and being around him makes me happy. He makes me laugh and challenges me to think about what I can do to make our community just a little bit better. But he does it in such a gentle and subtle way, you don’t even notice. He is just a very good person.

He seems at peace with himself these days. I am not one that believes Time Heals All Wounds. Nonsense. How can it? But, I think he has learned how to deal with the painful memories in a healthy way.

The human body is incredibly fragile. It only takes a second for something to go wrong. A simple misstep, a distraction, a look the wrong way. I think each of us cheat death a number of times every day, so we just go about our lives not giving it much thought. And then it happens to you, or worse, someone you love. And while the human body is fragile, the human spirit is incredibly resilient.

That is how I think of Robert. Incredibly resilient. He has bounced back from an unimaginable heartbreak. Ever so softly and gently and with grace. He bounced back.

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Why do we love to WIN? Or, should it be Why do we hate to LOSE?

I was watching the Vanity Fair Oscar special Saturday night. It had a profile of Megan Ellison, daughter of Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison. Turns out, Megan, on her 25th birthday, received two billion dollars from Larry. Or, at least that’s the speculation. Megan takes her trust fund and becomes a Hollywood financier, backing The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark 30 amongst others. Good work if you can get it. But, Megan is not what this blah…..I mean, blog, is about.

No, what caught my attention in this segment was Larry’s comment that he “loves to win.”

Love to WIN! I hear that a lot. And if I don’t hear it, I see it. On TV shows, at pro sporting events, in political races, in business, at our kids’ hockey, soccer, and baseball games. We love to win and we especially love it when our kids win.

An odd thought popped in my head. Why? Why do we love “winning” so much?  Is it some sort of deep-seated survival mechanism from our days as tribal communities? Back then you had to “win” (read be the strongest and a good hunter to carry on the gene pool).  I have to think that is part of it. But if that is the case, should we not be just about getting beyond the ancient instincts? I think there must be something else.

Maybe, as collective individuals, we are deeply insecure. Maybe it’s not winning we like so much, but the thought of losing we hate so much. Who didn’t have their feelings hurt as a child when we were called a “loser” by the fat bully, or even (especially) someone we admired?

When Winnipeg’s beloved Jets returned home, it was as if the city suddenly woke up from a nightmare where we were all as worthless as a pimple on a flea. Finally, we are whole again! It was a scene right out of Jerry McGuire: “You Complete Me.”

Listen, in business, I like to win as much as the next guy or girl. In that arena, it is a matter of survival, or at the very least, a fiduciary duty. But in my other life, why do I care if I come in last in a half-marathon or if the Bombers or Jets win? The chickens really come home to roost when I see something like the now famous Youtube video of the Selkirk hockey dad. Are we so afraid of losing that we allow ourselves to engage in sophomoric, chest-beating, feather-puffing, and, worst of all, violent or verging on violent behaviour in front of our children? Have we such little self-awareness that we are blind to how our actions look to others and to those that are most impressionable and likely to ape behaviour they witness. Particularly those who care for,  and love and admire us.

Sometimes winning is required. But most times, it’s okay to lose and not feel like we are worthless.

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