Monday, 17 December 2018

Silver linings


Christmas can be the hardest time of year.

Days are at their shortest, so there's less sunshine. It's cold. And every happy person, every happy family has the potential to remind unhappy people, people who have suffered loss exactly what they're missing.

Some days it's easiest to put your head down and just try to get through it.

Or serendipity occurs and all you can do is thank the universe for what you still do have.

We put the call out for a new order of #Dominicstrong clothing last month. That post has 173 hits as of today, making it by far the least-read thing ever on this blog. I was not optimistic.

For all we do for the Alberta Children's Hospital via Extra Life, this was one thing we wanted to do for Helping Families Handle Cancer, which is a much less-known charity but still so valuable to families in our part of the province.

The order wasn't huge, about 30 items, and when it's all said and done we should be able to donate about $450. And that's fine. That money will be appreciated and used well.

And then I screwed it up. On the invoice sent to us, I didn't see that I was agreeing to cotton shirts, not the dryfit ones we wanted. Black, cotton ladies tank tops instead of the gold, dryfit ones we announced. I had done a poor job of communicating what I wanted.

When the box of clothing arrived, I was mortified. We had no choice but to re-order what we wanted.

Thankfully, Custom ImageWear generously offered to do the corrected order at cost. We paid for it out of pocket and will not be shorting HFHC. Actually, we might be able to give more.

You see, we now have all those incorrect shirts and tank tops. Gold ones with black lettering and logos. But in cotton, and only in the sizes that people had ordered for the dryfit. And some of the people who bought the dryfit ones have anted up and bought the matching cotton ones too.

We will sell the cotton ones for $25 apiece. If you're interested, simply email donations@dominicstrong.com or contact either Trish or I privately and we can let you know what sizes remain.

It was already going to be a quiet Christmas. I'm working Christmas Day for the first time in a while, which is only fair since co-workers have done it regularly, and I got lucky with holidays and off-days a couple times.

We won't have much under the tree because we're going to Orlando in March for Extra Life United, a charity and gaming event we first went to in 2016. It is not cheap to do, and we are grateful Trish's work has agreed to let her take the time off during tax season. Seeing our friends in that community again will be like a late Christmas.

On Sunday we had a bit of Christmas shopping to do. It seemed like around every corner was someone I knew, all of whom had a smile and kind words for us. Got a discount on a board game we have to learn to play for Extra Life United. Dropped by EB Games in the mall where the manager still remembers us and will give me a call once specially-branded Extra Life/Microsoft socks arrive (supporting Children's Miracle Network!)

It got to the point we stopped on a street and a guy came around the corner walking his dog, stopped, so we rolled down our window and chatted.

After shopping, we went to the local Ihop for brunch. At the end of our meal our waitress told us someone had paid our bill, with a message: "Always be Dominicstrong."

Whoever you are, thank you. We're so lucky to have this community. And we hope that the charity work we do can help other families, not just during the holidays but all year long.

By the way, since we started doing Extra Life in 2013, just a month after Dom's leukemia diagnosis, participants under the #Dominicstrong Extra Life banner have raised more than $175,000 (estimate, prior years collected in US dollars). This year's total sits at $24,115 (Canadian). Special thanks to Kevin Braun, whose Nov. 25 game day pushed him to nearly $5,000 alone and ended with him shaving his head and beard!

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Extra Life game day 2018


One week ago our team #Dominicstrong total on the Extra Life website showed that we'd raised $13,600 out of the goal we'd set of $15,000.

That wasn't entirely accurate. Our Superhero Night game day with the Medicine Hat Mavericks raised $1,500 which was simply sent as a cheque to the Alberta Children's Hospital (and not counted in our Extra Life numbers). About $2,000 was donated in U.S. currency, so worth an extra $600 when you convert it. They now accept Canadian currency, so long as you use their credit card option.

We knew game day would generate more money, but for the first time since 2014 we weren't doing a public 25-hour event. We decided after last year that it was just too much work for too few results. I wondered whether we could raise the same amount from home.

The answer was a resounding yes.

We shared the heck out of our individual pages. We told family and friends. We teased doing a Baby Shark video, bought onesies to celebrate reaching our $15,000 goal, then set to work getting individual team members to goals earning them Extra Life shirts (at $200), then medals (silver at $500, gold at $1,000). All while playing a variety of video and board games all over Medicine Hat.

Game day, which began at 8 a.m. Nov. 3 and finished at 8 a.m. on Nov. 4, was a resounding success. Here are some of the highlights:

- Sarah, Dave and Zach drove all the way from Manitoba to play with our team.
- James agreed to wear a mermaid onesie if we got him to $500 (we totally did).
- From Calgary, Tamara decided she would chop off seven inches of hair if she could help raise an extra $500 (success!).
- Elsewhere in Medicine Hat, a group of our friends held their own game day and raised nearly $700. We met up with them for some Pokemon Go mid-day.
- Other friends in Cold Lake, Lethbridge and Calgary did their own game days and took in donations for our team.

As for the games, we played a ton. From Mario on the old SNES to VR at SixoneSix Entertainment downtown, board games and even ping pong. Party games like Jackbox and console games like Rocket League.

We held our now-annual bonus hour tournament (taking place before the daylight savings time change set the time back for a second 2 a.m.), Bob winning the title belt.

We finished strong, though exhausted.

In the past week, our team raised more than $5,000. Our total now sits at $19,040. When you factor in the Mavericks game day and the currency exchange, it's more like $21,640.

Thank you everyone who contributed. I like to think Dominic's giving us all a big thumbs up for a job well done.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Gearing up


We had Superhero Night. Then the mini golf tournament. And of course the massive online auction.

Now, with five days (gulp) until we play games for 25 hours straight as part of Extra Life, fundraising for the Alberta Children's Hospital, we have one other thing to add.

And I won't lie, this one's a bit selfish.

When the #Dominicstrong T-shirts were sold a few years ago, we wound up with some extra items that we never did sell. Seven ladies small size shirts are still ready to go if anyone wants them. We also wound up with a couple onesies even though we had no plans on trying for another child.

And then we had Samantha. Now 20 months old, she's grown out of all the #Dominicstrong stuff we had for her. Naturally, we'd like to have something for her to wear as she continues to grow.

A few people have said over the years they'd like a new shirt, or they wish they'd gotten in on the original order. Well, we hope those people are still around! We're working with Custom ImageWear (https://www.facebook.com/customimagewear) to bring you a new batch of #Dominicstrong shirts!

The ones for toddlers can only come in black with gold graphics, the same as the old ones did. But for the rest of you, we're doing a gold-coloured shirt with black graphics. #Dominicstrong on the front, the thumbs-up on the back.

And as with the last batch of clothing we did, we are donating the proceeds of this to Helping Families Handle Cancer. They're the group that works with families having trouble paying bills and mortgages, among other things, as a result of a cancer diagnosis. They helped us and though they're not the biggest charity, they've given nearly $600,000 out to nearly 700 families over the years. We are so thankful for them.

We're asking $20 for the toddler shirts (sizes 2T-8T, black shirt with gold graphics), and $30 for adult shirts (T-shirt OR women's v-neck tank top, S-XXXL). If you don't live in Medicine Hat, shipping will be extra, though if you're in Calgary and can wait until the week after Christmas (or will be at Extra Life United in Orlando and can wait until March!) we can certainly bring them to you.

If you're interested simply email donations@dominicstrong.com and let me know what you'd like. We can figure out the rest from there.

I will send in the final order Nov. 15 at noon so you've got until then to get in touch with me! Thanks for all of your support.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Birthday wishes


Six years ago life seemed perfect.

Our little miracle arrived.

And now, for the fourth year in a row, Oct. 12 is bittersweet.

Today, Dominic would've turned six. I see the friends he made having parties and inviting each other over for cake and presents and lots of fun. I think maybe we could invite some of those friends over, but would that be too morbid? Maybe not then. Who knows.

What we will do is let Samantha know it's someone special's birthday. There will be a cake, but I'm not sure what else. We can sing Happy Birthday but it's not because today is necessarily happy. It's because Oct. 12, 2012 was.

It was happy this morning when she woke up - Trish took the day off work - and we all cuddled in bed. Then I turned on music and we danced.

She still doesn't know who Dominic is but she sees pictures of him all over. On the screensaver on our TV. On a calendar we made which is forever stuck on him wearing a Santa hat for December 2015. Family pictures of mom, dad and a baby.

She's learning lots of words but doesn't quite have the thumbs-up figured out yet. We're working on it though.

Fundraising update


What do you get for the child who's not here? We parent him through our charity efforts now and it was another successful finish for the #Dominicstrong Facebook group's online auction Sept. 30. We wound up with 132 items and raised $9,877 for the Alberta Children's Hospital. Most of the items have been delivered or picked up, and we are so thankful for all the individuals and businesses who made contributions again.

I went live online to do the announcement and almost immediately someone in the comments asked if they could donate so we reached $10,000. I told them go to the Extra Life page and donate there, at least that way you get a tax receipt! And he did - an extra $150.

Then another friend got me to do about five seconds of Baby Shark for $20. I see more of these shenanigans coming - stay tuned. What would you pay for a whole song? I hear Wal Mart is selling shark hats...

Overall our team of gamers has raised $12,199 as of my posting this blog. Our stated goal was $15,000 for the year, far less than the $27,132 we raised last year. I knew it would drop off but not this much. I'd assumed the auction would bring in far less, so the goal would've been at least $20,000 if the auction did close to last year's total.

So now, with our 25-hour game day Nov. 3-4 rapidly approaching, we have to get back to raising more money. And what better a gift for Dominic than on his birthday?

With the announcement last month that Extra Life now accepts donations in Canadian dollars, it's easier than ever to help out. All you need to do is go to the website, hit the big green DONATE button and go from there.

Since I've raised more than my individual $10,000 goal, I'd like to see Trish's page get more donations. Not that it matters - it all goes to the same place. Her stated goal is $2,000 and she's at $955. Visit http://www.extra-life.org/participant/trish.

I'd also like to see Krista, Jordan, James, Brandon, Caleb and Cam get more donations. They've all joined our team and have pledged to play. And I'd love to see more people join up in support too, and ask their friends and family (and complete strangers) to donate to their pages. Go to https://www.extra-life.org/team/Dominicstrong and get started. You don't have to play 24 hours straight, and it doesn't have to be Nov. 3-4 necessarily. Just let folks know what you plan to do, and why, and don't hesitate to ask for their support.

He would've been six today. This is my sixth year doing Extra Life. It'll be a lot of fun but always tinged with a bit of sadness.


Sunday, 30 September 2018

Auction in full swing


Hey folks, sorry I didn't write earlier this week but it's been busy, and it feels like anyone who would want to know about the annual #Dominicstrong auction already does!

The auction, which runs off our Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups.dominicstrong), began Friday with 131 items and has since grown to 132 items because I managed to forget one. Mistakes happen.

There's everything from #Dominicstrong dice and special word art items to a signed Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames) jersey and even an incredible six-foot-long bench. So many gift certificates, golf, entertainment and, well, there's 132 items: It's quite a list.

I'm always afraid the auction has become so big that items will get missed and not bid on. There are a handful as of 11 a.m. of today's final day that still have no bids, but I'm crossing my fingers that changes. And there are always a few items that draw a ton of attention, which is super fun to watch.

We raised $10,921 last year, and even if we don't break that number this time around, it'll be a success. I had said earlier this year we wouldn't have as much time to run the auction this year, yet we still have wound up doing as much or maybe even more work than ever before. I guess once you start something like this, it's hard not to do the best job you can at it.

Of course, every single penny raised goes to the Alberta Children's Hospital via Extra Life. And there's big news there that will make my job easier when making that massive donation: Extra Life now accepts Canadian funds! It's something they'd been promising (and something Canadian Extra Life members had been asking for) for a long time. So once the auction is over I'll get back to straight-up asking for donations there.

Individuals can't get a tax receipt when they buy something at our auction, but there are a ton of great items and knowing it all goes to charity has got to feel good. It never ceases to amaze us how incredible our community is: It warms my heart anytime we ask someone about donating and they already know who Dominic is.

The auction finishes at 5 p.m. today (Sunday, Sept. 30) so if this is the first you've heard of it, go on Facebook, find the group and check it out! And if you saw this too late I'm sorry for not writing a blog earlier. I'll follow up with the totals next week.

Thanks for all your support. This is the biggest thing we do in terms of raising money every year, and without a public game day event this year it has even more importance. We'll still be gaming 25 hours Nov. 3-4, just not at a place anybody can come and play with us. We'll instead encourage gamers of all types to sign up for Extra Life and make their own game day experiences!

Monday, 3 September 2018

Three years


Last week I took a walk out past his bench and whispered to him. It was cool outside, quiet, nobody and seemingly nothing around on a starlit night after work.

"How're you doing son?"

It's a one-sided conversation, of course. Three years ago today I cried at his bedside as he drew his last breath.

I can remember every bit of that moment and it kills me. How I looked at the clock to remember the time. How Trish didn't want to let his hand go because she was all that was keeping it warm. The room at the Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital in Orlando, with its tiny shower.

I vowed to raise him the only way I had left - by doing good things in his name. To keep his memory alive.

We are so thankful for the teams and volunteers who came out to the #Dominicstrong mini-golf tournament last month. It raised $950, which equated to US$700 once we put the money through Trish's Extra Life page. They still don't accept Canadian dollars, which remains promised.

We ran an impromptu contest this weekend because The Esplanade had donated a pair of tickets to a show Sept. 25 - which takes place before our Sept. 28-30 online auction. We chose to raffle them off, giving ballots for each $5 donated to Trish's Extra Life page. As of the writing of this blog, my sister (who doesn't even live in Medicine Hat) donated $50, a friend donated $10, and that's it.

There's been good response for donations for the upcoming auction, but I'm scared that nobody will bid on any of it. I'm aware that's ridiculous. I do worry that Facebook's algorithms are working against us though. Few people react to our posts on the #Dominicstrong page, so will enough people even see or know about the auction when it happens?

I've been depressed all week at work leading up to today. I miss him so much. Today I have to work and I'll do my best to do my job. But it hurts every time I think about how he's not here. Trish will stay home with Samantha, and we'll put out balloons again that hopefully two idiot kids won't ruin (like what happened on his birthday last year).

And then moments happen like the other night when I whispered to my son.

No sooner had I asked how he was doing than a bird, unseen in the night sky, chirped in reply.

"I love you too," I managed to say.

And I kept walking.

What else can you do? You've got to keep walking.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Heart


When your kid is in a hospital things can happen real slow, or real quick.

The slow times can feel like forever. Hours sitting in a room, sometimes on isolation where you can't even roam the hallways. Weeks, even months waiting for something to change. Endless procedures and tests.

Then something happens and you're literally running to the ICU, or speeding back to the hospital (not that we'd advocate doing either, of course).

This summer is flying by for us, now just a week until the #Dominicstrong Mini-Golf Tournament at Hooplas. But for another family we've become friends with, it's taken forever.

Landon Miller was diagnosed with a rare form of cardiomyopathy last July. Basically, he needed a new heart.

One day, his parents Dave and Julie were helping raise money for the Alberta Children's Hospital through Extra Life, the same charity we've used since Dominic's leukemia diagnosis. Suddenly, they were at the hospital, told they'd be staying there for a long time.

Dave had to do what I did, driving back and forth from home (his is in Cranbrook, B.C.) to Calgary on a nearly-weekly basis in order to keep working and still see his wife and child. Those drives can be tough, especially in the winter through a mountain pass, but add to that the stress of your kid's medical situation and it's a whole other level.

Julie had to move to another city, basically told a transplant could happen any moment, but that the usual wait list means it could take more than a year.

They never stopped giving back, even when they were the ones in need. If anything they're probably more motivated than ever now. They were the reason we attended Cranbrook's big game day last year.

I wouldn't be writing this unless we had some news to pass along. It's the best news.

After a year of waiting, last week three-year-old Landon was told he'd be getting a new heart. Of course, that means another child had a heart to give, so the news is both incredible and devastating.

For as long as the wait was, once the transplant was happening, it was less than a day before he was in surgery. As of the writing of this blog he's progressing better than anyone expected, able to stand up and quickly ridding himself of any medication. He's a champion.

Their road is far from over. The surgery happened at the Stollery in Edmonton, which specializes in cardiology. They'll go back to Calgary soon, but won't be able to return all the way home for at least six months. As Dave notes, you don't want to make that treacherous drive in the middle of winter with a medically sensitive kid.

"It's been a long road, but it's nice to be able to see the end, even if it's off in the distance," he wrote to me.

We do this charity work so that kids can have the best care when they need it. Sure, Landon isn't from Medicine Hat, but Dominic wasn't from Calgary and that's the hospital we support. There are tons of other kids in smaller cities like ours that have to basically split up their families in order to go to the place they've got the best care.

The mini-golf tournament is a week away and we are nervous. Even though we had a great time last year and it seemed to be well-received, only two teams are signed up as of the writing of this blog. Please, we'd like this to be a success and an event that continues in future years. It's a ton of fun, you play 18 holes of mini-golf, there will be prizes, special fun holes and lots more.

We've confirmed that Skinny's Smokehouse BBQ will supply dinner for all of our golfers at no charge! Absolutely incredible. And Schwab and Co. Chartered Accountants are sponsoring the event so that your registration fee will go entirely to the hospital.

It costs $18 per person to register, or you can enter a team of four for $70. Please go to hooplas.ca to register.

We'd love to see two teams on each hole, honestly. The evening starts at 5 p.m. Aug. 12 at Hooplas. Hope to see you there.


Sunday, 15 July 2018

Superhero Night wrap-up

Ironman was there. So was Spider-Man, a couple stormtroopers, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern, Kylo Ren... and Fischer.

The Medicine Hat Mavericks scored all 10 of their runs while wearing the one-of-a-kind Superhero Night jerseys Saturday, but the night's MVP? That's right. Fischer.

I don't really know Fischer. I put out the call for someone who might be apt to throw out the first pitch at the baseball game and he was the perfect candidate.

His mom wasn't sure how he'd feel being the centre of attention for the 1,000-plus fans who came out. Turns out it was no big deal.

Fischer was born with Noonan Syndrome, survived open-heart surgery at four months old and has had a lot of surgeries and hospital visits since then. At six years old he's dealt with far more than most adults in terms of his health, but he's still just a kid who loves making people laugh.

I asked what his favourite superhero was, and he said Batman. So I went searching for Batman quotes and found this: "It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me." I think Fischer found the right superhero.

Saturday was pretty magical. The weather had been sweltering for most of the week but calmed down to the mid-20's for game day. There was even a bit of wind. Maybe a touch cool for some folks, but if you were wearing a huge costume? Darn near perfect.

Everywhere we looked there were friendly faces. Friends wearing their #Dominicstrong shirts. Friends who'd never been to a Mavericks game but felt this was something worth supporting. Friends who we hadn't yet met.

Samantha, of course, dressed her part. She wore a #Dominicstrong onesie and a tutu, Wonder Woman shoes that I could barely get her feet into, and a cape. Her brother's cape. With the super-D logo. Sure enough, just like Dominic at the Duel It fundraiser in 2015, she didn't run out of energy until the whole night was over.

Fischer got things started, throwing out the first pitch like he'd done it a thousand times before. The Mavs then went out and pummeled the baseball the first three innings, before they had to switch back to their regular jerseys. They didn't score another run after they changed out of the comic-book inspired digs, but held on for a 10-5 victory over the Fort McMurray Giants.

Just as they did last year, the Mavericks presented a cheque for $1,500 for the Alberta Children's Hospital. We also got $147 in cash donations. But more than the money, we all made some fantastic memories.

Fischer is still holding on to those memories. His mom tells me he went to sleep holding the ball from that first pitch. And today he just wants to go outside and throw it around.

Thanks Fischer. You're an inspiration to all of us.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Superhero Night preview


Superhero Night is tomorrow and it's going to be a blast.

But it'd be more of a blast if more people came.

The Medicine Hat Mavericks are holding the special event Saturday (July 14), and like last year they've got a lot planned. Well, we've got a lot planned. Once again I've jumped in with both feet to help make this a baseball fan experience unlike any other.

For starters, there's the jerseys. Last year they made you look like you were wearing a cape. This year they're comic-strip inspired works of art, complete with a POW! on the back.

The players will wear them for the first three innings, then they'll be sold off for $105 apiece. If you're not able to get to the game, call the Mavs at 403-580-5811 to reserve one to buy!

Last year we had the 501st Legion - Badlands Garrison (stormtroopers and other Star Wars universe dark side characters) send a few volunteers in costume, and they were a hit. So, too, was the random Spider-Man we met on the street and convinced to join us. This year? Ironman, Boba Fett, Spider-Man and stormtroopers.

The Mavericks have gone a step further this year, offering to switch up their usual in-game contests to be more superhero-themed. So instead of hitting a ball off a tee, contestants will use a light saber. Slingshot throwing a ball you've got to catch while wearing fishing gear? Now the contestant rides a broom and catches a golden snitch. Also, get ready to dust off your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trivia mask.

The music and sound effects will fit the theme, and I've again got hold of the public address announcer's script and added a zillion things into it. If anybody hears the intentional Fortnite reference and tells me about it, I'll buy you a drink.

It's all fun and games, but the reason we do it is for kids who deal with some serious challenges at the Alberta Children's Hospital. Last year we raised a combined $1,800 - I'd really like to see that number grow.

The ceremonial first pitch will again be thrown out with a child who's spent a lot of time in hospital. Fischer is six years old and he's got Noonan Syndrome - a genetic condition which affects all sorts of things, particularly your heart.

Another kid with a history at ACH is helping us too. Keaton and his family are all dressing up as Star Wars characters - his dad is the aforementioned Boba Fett - and no doubt will wind up hanging out with the Stormtroopers all night.

Fans who come in costume can win prizes! And keep in mind, the Mavericks have two games Saturday at Athletic Park but only the 7:05 p.m. game is Superhero Night. This is one you don't want to miss.

Thanks so much to the Mavericks for putting on this incredible night.

Here are a couple interviews that have been done this week. Thanks to everyone who has helped spread the word about the event:

CHAT News article: https://chatnewstoday.ca/article/566078/mavericks-host-superhero-night-saturday

MY96 radio interview (Kim interviews Sean, joined by Mavericks player Zack Gray): http://cfmy.streamon.fm/listen-pl-1767


CHAT 94.5 radio interview (Jim and Jesse interview Sean): http://chat.streamon.fm/listen-pl-635?smc=7

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Charity plans for the year: Superhero Night, mini golf, online auction and more!



People used to ask us how we did it: How do you deal with a kid with leukemia and still have energy to go to work?

Well, for one, Trish didn't work - her job was Dominic. And what a job it was. As for the rest of it, well, you just find a way. You don't have a choice.

Now we both work and raise a perfectly healthy daughter, and to the people who manage to juggle that plus do charity work, I have to ask: How do you do it? Because I'm finding myself exhausted a lot. And that's just with one kid, who we send to a day home for a couple hours a day when our work schedules overlap.

Anyways, life really is fantastic, but it does feel like our charity work has slowed down. We knew it would and we planned for it, but I feel bad for Dominic's sake. We've done so much and we will keep going, just not at the same speed as we used to. There are only so many hours in the day.

A few things to talk about today. First, we have dates for all of this year's #Dominicstrong fundraising events!

Superhero Night

For the second year in a row, the Medicine Hat Mavericks are holding Superhero Night, with special jerseys and promotions and proceeds going to the Alberta Children's Hospital.
It's Saturday, July 14, as the Mavs play the Edmonton Prospects (the team that beat them out in playoffs last summer). First pitch is 7:05 p.m. I haven't been authorized to share the jerseys quite yet, but last year's were a hit and this year's version is pretty awesome too. The players will wear them for half the game, then they'll be sold off for charity.
As always, a huge thanks to owner Greg Morrison, his family and staff who have been so incredible to us in wanting to make this event the best it can be. It was a blast last year and this year will be too!

Mini-golf

It's hard to believe but Hooplas Family Entertainment Centre will hold a #Dominicstrong event for the fourth time this year. For the second year in a row it's going to be a mini-golf tournament the evening of Sunday, Aug. 12. That's a month earlier than previous years but it's also in the middle of the summer season, so we're hoping lots of folks will come out, play a round, stay for dinner and have a great time supporting the hospital.
We'll have prizes, even more special themed holes than last year and it's only a couple hours long, so not a huge time commitment. Stay tuned for how to sign up but in the meantime, go hit the course and fine-tune your game!

Gas City Entertainment Expo

We've had a booth there in past years but this year's entertainment expo in Medicine Hat will see us as their official charity.
The date is Saturday, Sept. 15 and we'll be there, plus I'm going to do a panel discussion about Extra Life!

Online auction

The biggest fundraising venture we do is the online auction, which this year will run Sept. 28-30 through the #Dominicstrong Facebook page.
We've had more than 100 items each of the past two years and raised at least $10,000 each time. If you (either as an individual or business) want to donate something, please email donations@dominicstrong.com - we won't have as much time this year to get out and solicit donations so we're hoping we hear from a lot of folks directly.

Extra Life

I'm sad to say we are not going to hold a public 25-hour gaming event this year as we have each of the past three years. Put simply, it didn't turn out to be worth the amount of work and investment from sponsors that we made back in money for the hospital. We'd rather do our own thing privately and encourage other groups to participate in Extra Life on their own time.
On the plus side, Trish just got approved to take a vacation week during tax season: The Rooney's are going back to Extra Life United in March 2019! It'll be our first time going with Samantha - actually it'll be her first time on an airplane. We have to start saving now however, as airfare is more expensive than ever and she'll be two years old then - no longer free to fly.

Pokemon

This final bit of news might only make sense to some folks, but bear with me because I'm a gigantic geek.
Trish and I have played Pokemon Go together since it was released in 2016. For those who don't know, it's a mobile game you play by going to real-world locations, then using your cellphone to virtually accomplish tasks in the game while there.
The locations are populated using a variety of methods, and this past week the park behind our house where Dominic's bench sits became one of those locations. It's called a Pokestop. And if you are in the game and click on this Pokestop it's identified as the #Dominicstrong Memorial Playground.
It's a little way of remembering him and we love it. It also gives us a pretty nice boost in the game itself, being so close to our home!

Friday, 20 April 2018

Dominic's untold story


From the start, we decided to be open and transparent with everything that happened to Dominic after his cancer diagnosis.

We wrote about procedures, how he was eating, the chemotherapy and what it did to him. Even when he went through morphine withdrawal. And of course what it was like when he died.

But there was one thing we never wrote about, mainly out of fear. One thing that our inner circle knew we did but that the outside world would have to wait for.

It's April 20. I'm posting this at 4:20 p.m. That should be enough of a hint.

Yep. We gave our son cannabis oil. A lot of it. Let's hope the statute of limitations has worn out on this one.

How it came about was fairly innocent. Nearly every parent nowadays hears their child's diagnosis and rushes to do Internet searches about it. Mainstream ways of fighting it, not-so-mainstream ways and the completely wacky ways. It's all out there, and in great detail.

I remember early on finding one blog of a dad who was certain that an alternative therapy would cure his child's leukemia. The last post was one of regret: his child had died and he wondered if he had done more harm than good. At that point I was convinced that whatever the folks at the Alberta Children's Hospital said, I would accept. I didn't go to school to be a doctor. I know they've got my son's health at the top of their priority list. Even today I have no regrets about everything we did for Dominic, including what you're about to read.

But even they are sometimes hamstrung by politics, ethics and, y'know, the law.

Within a few months of his diagnosis a hospital parent friend approached Trish and asked if we'd considered marijuana. They'd had success with it helping their kid's symptoms. Initially Trish said thanks, but no thanks, but if you know our story you're aware it had a lot of twists and turns.

When Dominic was finally diagnosed as terminal back on Christmas Eve, 2014, cannabis went back in the conversation. Because at that point we were desperate, and the hospital had run out of options.

Trish's friend gave her two small syringes, about the size you'd use to give your kid Tylenol. The stuff inside looked like tar.

I can assure you, it did not smell like tar.

Cannabis oil is usually laden with either THC or CBD (it always has both, but you can produce it to have more of one or the other). THC is the chemical known for giving you a high, while CBD is more widely known to have medicinal properties. There's not a lot of scientific research behind either because, as you probably know, marijuana is considered an illegal drug in most jurisdictions.

The initial instructions were to give him a tiny amount into his mouth, like 0.1 millilitres. You've got to build up to an amount that would actually help. And he did take both kinds separately, as they allegedly work together to achieve the best medicinal benefit.

One time Trish gave him a bit too much THC. Now, this is a kid who had a stroke and didn't walk properly in the first place. Now he looked positively drunk. We couldn't be too sure so we brought him to the hospital where the symptoms magically went away the longer he was there. Nope, not another stroke. Golly gee, doctor, we have no idea why he was like that!

Every time we were around medical personnel we had to be extra careful that they didn't see it. We had figured out they basically had a "don't ask, don't tell" policy because they legally could not recommend or approve of what we were doing: it was illegal, after all.



Remember how it was a miracle that, given weeks to live when he was diagnosed as terminal, he lasted 36? We don't think it was a miracle. We think it was cannabis. An MRI of his brain in early December 2014 showed the leukemia had spread and a tumour measuring 3.12 by 2.75 centimetres had grown. By late July 2015, a new MRI showed... nothing. The cancer in his brain was gone. The doctor had no explanation, but did say "whatever you're doing, keep doing it." So we did.

Now, by that point the leukemia was coursing through his veins. And it did eventually kill him, multiplying to the point where it filled up his tiny lungs. Anecdotal evidence I found online suggests cannabis is only effective for so long in many types of aggressive cancer. But it gave us eight more months with him. It was worth every penny.

And make no mistake, it wasn't cheap. We spent thousands of dollars procuring properly sourced and chemically analyzed oil, the origins of which I'm not going to divulge here because, frankly, it's still illegal in places and we don't want to tip any authorities off.

What I will say is that when we went to the fateful wish trip in Florida (where he died), we had made arrangements for oil to be there, unbeknownst to the place we were staying or anyone involved with our trip.

It was all very covert, and at times felt extremely dangerous. At the Rotary Flames House where he stayed, we had to give him oil overnight. But staff were in charge of watching him overnight, plus they had monitors on him. So we figured out how to obscure the cameras, then plunge the oil (diluted with coconut oil) down his feeding tube as he slept.

I'm sure medical staff had us pegged, but I also think most of them looked the other way, knowing we were just trying to do what we could to keep him alive. We were, by that point, hospital parent ninjas.

We're opening up about this now for a few reasons. First, it's part of his story and we want everyone to know about it. Also, the tide is turning with regards to cannabis. Legalization is coming, and we are all for it, especially with regards to medical applications. The more research can be done on cannabis, the better. And research is a lot easier to do when the drugs involved are legal in the first place.

We didn't want anyone who wanted to be involved in our charity work to feel awkward, either. We know not everyone will agree with what we did; all we ask is that those people respect why we did it. No parent should have to go through what we did but we did the best we could.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Eleven months old

Today is a big milestone for our daughter.


She's now the same age as Dominic was when he was diagnosed with leukemia.

It was exactly one month from his birthday when we drove to Calgary and got the horrible news, and we knew that leading up to her turning 11 months we'd face some extra anxiety.

We prepared as best we could. For Christmas before she was born, we got an Owlet baby heart monitor which straps on to her foot and reads not only heartbeat but how much oxygen is in her blood overnight. It would send out an alarm if there was ever an issue.

Our family doctor was OK with us doing an extra blood test for Samantha at six months, just to make sure there was nothing wrong.

She's getting all her vaccinations right on time, had the flu shot, you name it we've done it.

But Dom was healthy and happy until he got sick. So you never know. Fittingly, she got her first cold right at Christmas. Trish had some time off and it was -30 C outside so we basically huddled indoors for the holidays.

She got over it, like kids are supposed to. She took her first steps this past week, can swim wearing water wings with minimal assistance, and has a fantastic laugh. She's come into her own but I still see Dom's smile in her.

I guess now we're in uncharted territory. A child who's healthy - how about that? Soon we can expect to experience things we never did with him, like first words, going to daycare when both of us are back at work (we split parental leave, six months apiece), and a birthday party with other actual kids in the room.

This year will be a lot different for us. We're still going to fundraise for the Alberta Children's Hospital, but the goals will be lower. We actually did meet our goal for 2017, getting a few hundred dollars in the last few hours of Dec. 31. Superhero Night and mini golf and the online auction are all things we want to do again but I'm not setting any dollar figure goal per se. The truth is I won't have nearly as much time to do it all again and that's OK: if charity is how we are parents to Dominic, we now need to split the time to be parents for Samantha too.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Game day 2017


A marathon isn't supposed to be easy. The guy who the term is named for died, after all, or so the legend goes.

Whether you're running a long ways or staying awake playing games for 25 hours, the point of a marathon is to test yourself. Succeed and there may not be a prize other than pride at the end of it, but that is often worth the effort.

We do our annual marathon because there are kids in hospitals who don't have any choice but to face a marathon every day.

We do it because Dominic finished his marathon, and now we take up the torch in his honour.

Dominicstrong game day 2017 was held at Beveridge Landmark Events in Medicine Hat Nov. 4 and 5, raising $966 in cash donations between entry fees and a dinner courtesy Skinny's Smokehouse. Beveridge donated the space, their downstairs Cellar room, and Skinny's donated dinner. Big Eatz Little Feetz, who are opening a fondue restaurant called Prairie Fork this coming week, donated breakfast and snack trays, while Sinful and Sweet gave a few dozen cupcakes. The Medicine Hat Public Library loaned out a bunch of games. Finally, VR Junkies were gracious enough to bring in a racing setup for the overnight hours for our gamers to try out. We are so grateful to have all of these businesses step up and play a part in the event.

The gamers were the real heroes of the day. Their individual Extra Life pages combined to raise about $1,500 during those 25 hours. They played board games, video games, games on their phones, you name it. Some of us learned new games, we all had fun with some old favourites, but the important thing was we shared what we were doing and why, and helped up the total for the Alberta Children's Hospital.

And then we slept. Oh, how we slept. Trish and I couldn't have done it without her mom, who drove in from Calgary to take care of Samantha. Only tonight are we finally getting back to normal.

This year we've undertaken a lot under the #Dominicstrong moniker. And we've had a ton of support. First there was the Superhero Night thanks to the Medicine Hat Mavericks. Then a fundraiser with Five Guys Burgers and Fries. The first Dominicstrong Mini Golf Tournament was a great success, and of course our huge online auction brought in the bulk of our charity dollars again.

Combined, it all adds up to $27,132 (Canadian dollars, not the US dollar figure which is shown on the Extra Life website) raised for the Alberta Children's Hospital. All told in five years, our team has raised more than $125,000.

By the way, yes, I have a beard now and it's purple. I decided at the start of October to grow one out until we reached our goal of raising as much for the hospital as we did last year. Well, we didn't. I dyed it purple a couple days before the marathon just for fun, but secretly hoping we'd get to the goal. Apparently it'll take 40 shampoos before it's gone. Or my beard trimmer! Either way, it was another great year and we did come pretty close to that goal.

What's in store for next year? We have plenty of time to figure that out. For now, we just want to say thanks to everyone who donated or helped in any way. Thumbs up to all of you.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Happy birthday


So many anniversaries and holidays pass with the sadness of knowing he's not around for them anymore.

Today is a chance to eat some Smarties and Kraft Dinner and celebrate instead.

We know someday Samantha will learn about her big brother, who he was and what he is to our family. She'll understand why a thumbs-up is more than just a sign for OK with us, how she's our rainbow baby. But how will we teach her?

Celebrating his birthday is one way. While there's definitely a sombre note, we went and got some balloons, tied them to his bench behind our house, then went inside and ate cheezies and licorice and all the things he loved.

She's too young to understand any of it, but if we start now, we'll be ready when she wants to know more. Already there are pictures of him around the house, signs with the #Dominicstrong motif adorning our walls, slideshows featuring him as equally as her on our TV screens when music plays.

Some of his old toys are starting to come out as she grows, like the walker he used to patrol the hallways at the hospital. Every once in a while I'll catch myself looking at her thinking 'I've seen this before.' And then I'll see the glint of her earrings and hold my breath.

Dominic would've been five today. It is what it is. We celebrate him all the time but especially on this date.

As we walked away from the park where we left the balloons, we saw a couple teenagers - a boy and a girl. The girl had bright purple or pink hair, I can't remember exactly. They'd seen us taking photos at the bench and had gone to a nearby park in the green belt, but came to the bigger park as we departed.

Minutes later the balloons were gone. If they'd taken the time to read the plaque they'd know today was his birthday. I choose to believe they were ignorant and not malicious. It's easier that way.

Sure they were just balloons, one gold (for childhood cancer) and one orange (for leukemia). Both stars. And they weren't meant to stay forever.

But the rest of the day would've been nice. I wish people had more common sense.

I hope you saw those balloons, buddy. I hope you know how much we love you.


Fundraising update


We are thrilled to announce that the #Dominicstrong online auction raised $10,921 for the Alberta Children's Hospital. Thanks to everyone who donated items, bought items or even just helped us spread the word about it. It was a lot of work but it was certainly worth it.

Now we're in the homestretch towards the big Extra Life 25-hour gaming marathon, which starts at 8 a.m. Nov. 4 in downtown Medicine Hat. If you want to do the marathon with us you'll have to message us directly; otherwise the public is welcome to join us from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., including a special charity dinner from 5-9 p.m. courtesy Skinny's Smokehouse ($10 per person). Here's the link to the event on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/317838335313000/

I'm also growing out a beard, not shaving until our team beats last year's total of US$23,256. As of the writing of this blog we're at US$17,498. If you've missed out on our events so far, this is the one way you can donate and get a tax receipt. Go to extra-life.org/participant/sean to donate.