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.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Bidding time


I really should've written a couple more blogs this month, but the truth is it's been a little crazy around here.

A 120-plus-item online auction is not a cakewalk, even if you've done it before.

Started two years ago by Kristine Russell, the #Dominicstrong online auction was a neat way to raise some extra money for our Extra Life efforts. She set it up as a photo album on Facebook where every photo is an item that you bid on by commenting. Every penny raised goes to the Alberta Children's Hospital via our Extra Life pages.

For small businesses it's a way to give back to the community with relatively little harm to the bottom line. You donate an item or a gift certificate, your name is attached to a charity. Boom. It's amazing how many people say yes when we ask if they'd like to help out.

The fear, of course, is that nobody will bid and you're left holding items. But in the two years of the auction, there's been exactly one item that didn't get a bid. And that was a store credit so nothing was really lost.

We've got a room in our house that gets very, very full this time of year. The bed was covered in gifts - scarves, games, artwork, electronics, shirts and gift cards by the dozen. And once the auction is done it'll slowly get taken away, and we'll finally be able to walk around in the room.

It is a lot of work to go around to dozens of businesses and ask, but it's been worth it. So many of them have heard our story and the ones we get to tell about Dominic, and how great the Alberta Children's Hospital was to us those two years after his diagnosis, it's wonderful to know folks care and want to help us give back.

The first year, the auction was a big part of the US$45,000 we raised. I believe their goal was to get us to $30,000, at which point their whole family (kids included) shaved their heads.

Last year, the auction raised $10,000 (Canadian), the last $5 from someone who I casually mentioned to that we were that amount short of five figures. With 122 items we were simply astounded at the generosity.

Naturally, we set a bigger goal for this year. Bigger. Better. Let's soar past $10,000.

And so, right now if you go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/dominicstrong you'll see the pinned post, the 2017 auction, with 135 items in it (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.1880312512285906). Memorabilia. Special #Dominicstrong mugs. Tickets to sporting events in Medicine Hat and Calgary. Toques and kids clothes and card games and special dice.

Can you do me a favour and let a couple friends know about the auction please? There are plenty of items for everyone, and it goes to a good cause. Even if you don't live in Medicine Hat or Calgary, there may be things we could ship to you on the cheap. And if you do live in those cities, I'm pretty sure we can get purchases to you for free.

Perhaps the most emotional part of doing something like this is hearing about families who are spending time at the hospital who we hadn't heard of before. There are more than you realize. They're the reason we do this, in hopes the care their kids get is as good as what our son got.

I told one of them on Facebook that one day they'll miss the hospital. "I can't imagine feeling that," was the response. But trust me, when the people there are a second family to you for so long, you do miss them.

So thanks in advance for your support, and here's hoping we can keep doing this year after year.

P.S. - There's a story in the Medicine Hat News today about the auction: http://medicinehatnews.com/news/local-news/2017/09/29/dominicstrong-charity-auction-starts-at-5-pm/

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Two years



It's a second year without you today.

It's not any easier, but that's OK. It shouldn't be. We're spending a quiet day as a family, not saying a lot, just getting through it.

You'd be four. I imagine you'd be quite a handful at that age, given your exuberant personality. I think you'd be running all over the place, getting into trouble, but also making so many friends.

Mom went to a concert the other day. The singer heard of a kid who'd found out his cancer was in remission and gave him his guitar. Everyone cheered, but not all the tears were happy.

I think the hardest part about you not being here is seeing everything you'll miss out on. The smallest things - kids going back to school, finding something in the house you'd played with, or an innocent "do you have any other kids?" - can trigger a flood of pain. Or they can make us smile. We never know how we're going to react.

You did a great job picking out a sister. She reminds us of you but she's not you. Sometimes when she smiles I forget you were ever gone; other times... I miss you so much.

We're still your parents, but instead of potty training or playing catch we're out and about telling your story, raising money for the hospital in your name. I alternately worry we're overextending our efforts or not doing enough:  the online auction is going to have more and better items, but next week's mini golf tournament only has four teams registered - at least half of them are either us or our friends.

What can we do though? I don't blame folks who don't follow your story anymore - as far as most are concerned it ended that day in Orlando when you took your last breath. There are no new photos or videos of you, no updates on your fight against leukemia. Just memories or charity updates.


But that's all we've got. That's your legacy. It's no less important to us now than it was then.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Cancer parents forever


She's six months old and there is absolutely nothing wrong with our baby girl.

But yes, that's Samantha getting her blood drawn, at the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital this week.

Why? The short answer is paranoia. You should not go out and get your healthy infant poked. Unless, of course, the anxiety of having had a child die from cancer is so great you're in constant fear of it happening again.

Samantha has Dominic's great eyelashes, his heart-melting smile, and those pinch-worthy cheeks. But our oncologist said numerous times there is no scientific reason she'd be more likely to also have leukemia like he did. The chances of one family encountering childhood cancer twice would be infinitesimally low.

Still, the few bug bite-looking spots on her scared the crap out of me. And you know what? They went away; they were bug bites.

Trish took Sam to the hospital for a blood test, making doubly sure there was nothing wrong with her. Actually, this was planned before she was even born, our family doctor agreeing to it more for our sanity than anything else. The doctor understands what we've been through, and we're grateful for that.

I didn't go, instead off on a mission to pick up more items for the #Dominicstrong online auction which happens Sept. 29-Oct. 1 via our Facebook group. More on that later.

Trish remembered how hard a time nurses at the Alberta Children's Hospital had getting Dom's first blood draw (The Blood Whisperer, Sept. 17, 2013). So she called ahead to ensure someone was well-trained enough at our local hospital to deal with a blood draw on a six-month-old.

No problem, they said.

They lied.

It took multiple nurses and multiple pokes before the job was done. "Everyone here is new," was the explanation from staff member after staff member. Trish was a mess. I should have come with her, even with my aversion to needles. She wound up talking at length to a supervisor, and we both wish in retrospect we would have just done the blood testing at the Alberta Children's Hospital instead.

I know some folks wonder why we don't raise money for the local hospital instead of the one our son spent two years at getting treated for his cancer. Wouldn't it make more sense to support a local charity versus one 350 kilometres away? Well, the fact is kids in Medicine Hat and southern Alberta wind up in Calgary if they have anything even remotely severe. That's where the specialists are. That's where they get the best care. The way we see it, we are supporting local kids: The ones who need the most help.

Now is the busiest time for our charity work. We're going somewhere every day, either asking for donations or picking them up. Already the online auction has more than 70 confirmed donations - we raised $10,000 in last year's auction and hope to do even better this time around. If you're interested in donating an item, email donations@dominicstrong.com. If you want to get in on the auction make sure you're not just a member of the Facebook group, but that you're getting notifications of new posts there.

Our team set up outside Five Guys fast food restaurant this past Sunday for our latest charity event, where 20 per cent of sales (only if customers mentioned Extra Life) would be donated to the Alberta Children's Hospital. Between that and cash donations, it looks as though the total will be upwards of $850. Thanks to everyone who spread the word and came down.

Next up is the #Dominicstrong Charity Mini Golf Tournament, Sunday, Sept. 10 from 5-7 p.m. at Hooplas in Medicine Hat. You can sign up as an individual ($18) or as a team of four ($70) at Hooplas' website, or stop by their location. We have some great things planned, like special holes and great prizes for the winners. The entire entry fee gets donated to our Extra Life efforts for the Alberta Children's Hospital thanks to Schwab and Co. chartered accountants.

The next couple weeks will be especially tough, as it'll be two years since Dominic died on Sept. 3. But this is how you parent a child who's gone - you do everything you can to ensure they have an impact still. That their loss means something, not just to us but to our community.

We are cancer parents, now and always.


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Superhero Night


Superhero Night Saturday at the Medicine Hat Mavericks game was everything we hoped it would be.

But it took a lot of little things to make it come together.

First was the idea for it, which I had nothing to do with. Team owner Greg Morrison came to me in May with the plan to have special jerseys and auction them off with proceeds going to our Extra Life campaign. Needless to say it was an automatic yes, though I'll admit that as sports editor of the paper and in charge of covering the team, I'm still a tiny bit nervous about it. So long as nobody thinks they're getting biased coverage because they did something nice I was involved in, I'm all for it.

Then Greg asked about throwing out the first pitch. Dominic had thrown the first pitch at a game two years ago, but I ended up having to underhand it for him. Then he threw a foam ball 80 million times in the stands. Anyways, I figure I'd done my first pitch: I wanted someone else to do the honour.

There's a group called the 501st Legion that cosplays at charity events as Stormtroopers and other evildoers from the Star Wars universe. One of them attended our 25-hour game day last year and afterwards wanted to put us in contact with another family whose child has cancer. So it was that we learned about Violet's Army. Violet, 9, has acute lymphoblastic leukemia and did an amazing job throwing out the first pitch. "She did better than I would've," said her mom.

Two members of the 501st were able to attend Superhero Night, driving in from Calgary and Swift Current and sweating buckets in their amazing costumes. Kids (and some adults) posed for photos with them, and there were lots of high-fives and thumbs-ups.

Thanks to public address announcer Guy Lanigan there was also appropriate music for the Stormtroopers. He put a playlist together with lots of superhero-related songs and sound effects, which really made for a fun time. I even re-wrote the usual game day script, sprinkling in comic book, movie and TV superhero references throughout. Taylor Van Der Kooy, the general manager, and her staff decorated the park and did an amazing job too.

And then there was Spider-man.

Greg had put out the call to anyone who wanted to cosplay at the game that night, but got no takers. But earlier Saturday, we were downtown for the annual chili cookoff and saw a guy dressed in a Spider-man costume.

Me: "Have you heard about Superhero Night at the Mavs game?"

Spidey: "I've never even been to a baseball game before."

We offered him a free ticket and the Mavs added in some food and beverages. He was game. And now I have Spider-man's phone number. Read it and weep, J. Jonah Jameson!

The game went great, though between organizing things and working the Extra Life table we set up in the concourse, I didn't see much of it. The home side won 8-1, and just before we were about to do a cheque presentation after the eighth inning there was a bench-clearing... fracas? Incident? I don't know if brawl is the right word since I didn't see any punches. Because we were on the staircase waiting to go on the field we didn't actually even see the play at the plate that caused it. Sure was interesting though!

Anyways, the team presented us with a $1,500 cheque which will go to the Alberta Children's Hospital via our #Dominicstrong Extra Life team. And we got $300 in cash donations at the table. And Samantha had a great time dressed as Wonder Woman.

Best of all? Greg said he'd like to make this an annual event. Watch out for Superhero Night 2018!

Up next: Five Guys burgers and fries day, Aug. 20 at their Medicine Hat store only. Mention Extra Life #Dominicstrong at the till and 20 per cent of your purchase will be donated to our Extra Life efforts!

Monday, 17 July 2017

Living the dream


It's the same room, in the same house, and sometimes when I hold my daughter I feel like it's four years ago and our time with Dominic was just a dream.

I wouldn't describe it as a nightmare because so much of the time we had with Dom really was wonderful.

She has his fantastic eyelashes, the ones all the women said only boys ever get. When she smiles it lights up a room, just like him. We spent almost the entire day outside on our deck Friday, at one point cheers-ing our drinks and her bottle.

But his urn with the superhero D and the music notes is here too. And two of the balloons - one of a monkey, one of Cookie Monster - that were part of his memorial service have somehow not deflated a bit. And from the deck we can always see his bench and the playground.

It's good to remember, but it's good to be happy, too.

We visited the Alberta Children's Hospital again recently to see a couple friends whose kids were getting treatment there. In the cancer clinic we recognized fewer faces than last time, something you know will happen but makes you realize it's been two years since Dom stayed there.

One of them came up to me though, looked me straight in the eye and said with the most sincere voice she could find "thank you for bringing her here. Really." We might have said goodbye to him, but many of the staff there deal with so much devastation that it's tremendously valuable to cling to every bit of positivity they can find. Even the sad stories like ours can be filled with joy in the long run. You just have to find it.

I hope there's lots of joy at the July 22 Superhero Night at Athletic Park in Medicine Hat. The special jerseys will be sold off for $100 apiece, proceeds going to the hospital, and we'll be there letting folks know about all the other charity events we have planned for #Dominicstrong this year.

One new one I can announce here: Five Guys, the fast-food chain which opened its first Canadian location in Medicine Hat a few years ago, will be donating 20 per cent of each purchase made at the Hat location on Sunday, Aug. 20 if you say at the till you want to support the Alberta Children's Hospital. We're thrilled to have their support.

And of course we're still busily preparing for the other events: Hooplas mini-golf tournament Sept. 10, Facebook online auction Sept. 29-Oct. 1, 25-hour game day at Beveridge Landmark Events Nov. 4-5.

I was offered to throw out the first pitch at the baseball game next weekend, but I basically did that when Dom got to throw it two years ago. So I found a special little girl from Medicine Hat to do it instead. Violet has been kicking cancer's butt for more than a year and we are so honoured to have her help out. Please come out and support her, us and all of the kids who use that hospital.


Saturday, 10 June 2017

Superheroes among us

You don't need a cape to be a superhero, but it sure makes it more fun.

When we were finalizing our Extra Life fundraising plans for the year, the owner of the local summer collegiate baseball team here in Medicine Hat surprised us with an idea.

Greg Morrison bought the Medicine Hat Mavericks about a decade ago and one of the things he's done is support the community. When Dominic threw out the first pitch at a Mavs game a few years ago, it was for their Plaid for Dad night. Side note, this year's Plaid for Dad is June 18 - those jerseys were just revealed this week as well and look awesome.

Sticking with our Extra Life themes, Greg told me he wanted to do a Superhero Night July 22, with special jerseys that would be sold off and the proceeds going to the Alberta Children's Hospital through our #Dominicstrong Extra Life team.

What you see here is what the jerseys will look like. Thumbs up and #Dominicstrong on one shoulder, the Extra Life logo on the other. We are thrilled with the support and can't wait for game day. Samantha will definitely be wearing a superhero outfit!

That's the first of our announcements today. We're proud to say there are a few!

Online auction

The #Dominicstrong Facebook group's third annual online auction will take place Sept. 29-Oct. 1. We already have a handful of items donated for it but now's the time to contact us if you or your business would like to be a part of it. We've averaged 120 items and $10,000 raised in this auction, making it the biggest fundraiser of the year for us. Email donations@dominicstrong.com with any questions or to tell us what you'd like to donate.

Mini golf tournament

Amber Dewar, owner of Hooplas Family Entertainment Centre, runs a #Dominicstrong fundraiser right around the anniversary of his cancer diagnosis. For year three, she's upping the ante by not just having a fun day of fun and games but an actual mini golf tournament at Hooplas!
The date this year will be Sunday, Sept. 10. Mark it on your calendar and get practising! We'll have some great prizes for the winners - think of it like your standard charity golf tournament, but one you can bring your kids out to.

Extra Life 25-hour marathon

The biggest date on the calendar is always game day, when we play games for a full day as the main thrust of what Extra Life is. We already announced we'll be at Beveridge Landmark Events' The Cellar from 8 a.m.-8 a.m. Nov. 4-5, but what we didn't tell you are some of the amazing partners we've already found to make it even more incredible than in the past.

Big Eatz Little Feetz

When we had Dom's memorial service at the Esplanade, the company Big Eatz Little Feetz supplied the Kraft Dinner, licorice and all the other comfort foods Dom loved so much. Last year, they made special Mario-themed snacks for game day. This year? How about a full breakfast for our 25-hour gamers and more snack trays for overnight!

VR Junkies

A new virtual reality arcade has opened up in town called VR Junkies. When we checked it out we naturally mentioned Extra Life. The response? They're going to bring in a VR system - again, just for our 25-hour gamers, so you'll have to sign up at extra-life.org, join team #Dominicstrong and start raising money - from midnight until 8 a.m. of the game day.

Skinny's Smokehouse

Don't want to hang out for 25 hours but still want to drop by and support the cause? No problem. How about Skinny's Smokehouse barbecue for dinner? Skinny's - which makes the best barbecued meat I've ever tasted - is donating food for up to 75 people, and we will sell separate vouchers for $10 apiece. So you can show up for dinner, play some games, and boom you've helped out the hospital that so many kids from our city use every year.

There's more. One person is chopping her hair and donating it to a wigs for cancer program and I'll be announcing my own stretch goals soon. Let's just say it'll be an eventful 25 hours.

We are so lucky and privileged to have this level of support. Everyone involved in these efforts, from the businesses to those of you who come out to the events to the gamers who choose to help fundraise, you all have capes in our minds. Please help us spread the word about all of these events as they get closer, and hopefully we can match or beat last year's total of US$23,256.


Been busy

 
They say baby girls are tougher to handle than their male counterparts.

While that is certainly true in our experience, that's not the only reason this blog has been silent the past two months.

With Samantha one month old, I left for Orlando and the Extra Life United gaming tournament in late March. Work-wise it was a bad time to go, with hockey playoffs going on among a busy local sports scene in Medicine Hat this spring. For her it was tough too, as she wasn't sleeping well, crying a lot, as babies that age tend to do.

But I had looked forward to Orlando for months, had practised my tail off at the six games I was to play, hoping to win some money for the Alberta Children's Hospital.

It didn't happen. And the blog I wrote on the way home was so negative, I didn't actually post it. I'm going to post it now, just before this one, because it's still accurate. But I do blame myself for not dealing with the stress of the weekend better. You'd think someone who's been through what I have would handle things better, but alas I did not. You live, you learn, right?

A lot of things have calmed down since that crazy March. Samantha included. And we've been busy, getting some plans in the works for our Extra Life fundraising for this year.

In April we attended Calgary Expo and I ran a panel about Extra Life, with 75 people turning up to hear all about it. Ex-Calgary Stampeder Jon Cornish established significant nerd cred talking about World of Warcraft and anime, and hopefully we inspired some people to sign up this year.

We've got a new venue lined up for our gaming marathon this year! On Nov. 4, 2017, the #Dominicstrong team will host a 25-hour event at the Beveridge building (Beveridge Landmark Events) - which has a pub-style lower floor called The Cellar perfect for video and board gaming. You can click here or find the event on our Facebook page to indicate whether you'll be attending.

The theme of our Extra Life fundraising this year is going to be bigger and better. The upgraded game day will be part of that. There will again be an online auction, and an event at Hooplas Family Entertainment Centre (mini golf being the centrepiece). We've surpassed US$90,000 raised in four years doing Extra Life for our hospital, and hope to break the six-figure mark. I suppose in Canadian dollars we already have!

A couple weeks ago we got some special items in the mail. A plaque to recognize the nearly US$25,000 the team raised last year, and individual plaques for Trish and I (we each raised about US$7,000 each). Hopefully we can keep the momentum going for many years to come in Dom's name.

Thanks as always for your support.