Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Celebration of Life - Volume Two!


February 17, 2005 was not only the first day of the rest of my life, it was the first day of my second life. On that day  I received a stem cell transplant from my older brother, Gordon, which saved my life.  The past has ten years have been magnificent, I have enjoyed personal and professional successes, I have watched my children grow into great young adults and spent wonderful years with my family and friends, and I have tried, as best as I could, to help others afflicted with blood cancers (see www.portraitshope.ca) and to live every day to the fullest.

Five years ago, to celebrate 5 years of survival, I cycled from the coast of France to the village in Hungary where my grand-parents were born, and it was a spectacular trip.  You can visit this blog for that trip.  I hope those of you who joined me on that trip have wonderful memories.

In order to celebrate 10 years of survival (doesn’t time fly!) I am embarking on another cycling trip, once again to raise funds for the Fund for Education and Research into Blood Cancers, which I helped to form upon my recovery.  I am hopeful you will join me for part or all of my trip.

I am planning to cycle in Europe from June 1, 2015 to the end of June or the first week of July 2015.  While I am still working on my itinerary, a route which looks spectacular is EuroVelo 1 (http://www.eurovelo.com/en/eurovelos/eurovelo-1), which runs down the coast to France (I would start in Nantes, near where I started my first trip 5 years ago), then south through the Pilgrims Route in Spain, then through the beautiful Algarve region of Portugal and to Sagres on the Atlantic Ocean.  It promises to be an incredible journey.

Please let me know (at will@portraitsofhope.ca) if you are interested in joining me for all or part of my trip, you can come for a week, or two or even more.  We will have a support van (so you can cycle as much or little as you want) and as the trip grows nearer, I will send you more details.

Save the date, I look forward to seeing you, and celebrating with you.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A guest post from Cameron


I received an email from Cameron, who I have never met, who asked if he could post his story, and the story of his wife Heather, on my blog - it is inspirational and I applaud Heather and Cameron's courage:
 
 
 A Cancer Story with a Happy Ending

Seven years ago, my wife Heather and I went through something so difficult and life changing that I look back on it with a mix of disbelief and calm understanding. On November 21st, 2005, my wife was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. It's an extremely deadly kind of cancer, and we were shocked. It came when we were celebrating a gift, our first child Lily. We were about to celebrate the holidays with our new family, but in a moment it all came to a halt. My wife had cancer, and I was now her caregiver.

Being a caregiver for someone with cancer is different than any other experience I've had. Nothing prepared me for what she would go through and what I would feel beside her. My experience started as soon as we received the diagnosis when we had to make choices about her treatment. The doctor said that while we had some options, our best shot was with a specialist. He mentioned a local university hospital, a regional hospital that was very good but didn’t have a developed mesothelioma program, or a specialist in Boston named Dr. David Sugarbaker. He may have given us three choices, but there was only one choice for my wife. I said, "Get us to Boston" as soon as he spoke the name. I was going to save my family.

For months after, life was in complete mayhem. I didn't have time to think most days, but when I did, I realized that this treatment might not save my wife. It's a harsh thought to deal with and I struggled with it everyday. My daily routine was chaotic as best. If I wasn't doing something for work, it was something for my wife or taking care of Lily. There were still every day things that needed to be handled in addition to the late nights spent by my wife's side. I quickly became overwhelmed with all of these new responsibilities.

But, help comes when you need it the most. Nothing could be more true than the saving grace we received from family and friends. I didn't know it at the time but I was being looked after, even by people who barely knew me, but they became my friends. Heather's family really enabled us to get through these times. They offered child care and financial help, two things which made the ordeal bearable and easier. I'll never forget what my friends and family did for my family. If there is one thing I learned through this struggle, it is to always accept help when it is offered.  There is no room for pride when a loved one’s life is on the line.  The help I received allowed us to make it through.

After intense mesothelioma treatment, involving surgery, chemotherapy and radiation over the course of months, my wife beat mesothelioma and has been cancer-free for over seven years.  We hope that our story of hope and perseverance through cancer can be a source of inspiration for all those currently fighting today.
 





Thanks Cameron, for this great story - and for giving us hope!

 

 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Portraits of Hope

In September 2004 I was diagnosed out of the blue with acute leukemia - I survived my year long battle thanks to the wonderful care and cutting edge treatment I received at Maisonneuve Rosemont Hospital in Montreal, a bone marrow transplant from my brother, and the love and support of those around me.

In June 2012 I published Portraits of Hope, a collection of portraits of and essays from survivors of blood cancers. You can read about it at http://www.portraitsofhope.ca - it is a tribute to those who have faced the terror of, and triumphed over leukemia – survivors, doctors, researchers and nurses. It is also a memorial to those who have not, including my dad Hyman, who died of leukemia in 1997. 
All the proceed from my book are for the benefit of the Fund for Education and Research into Blood Cancers. Please help us save lives, you can buy my book or make a donation athttp://www.portraitsofhope.ca - help us beat blood cancer! Montreal, a bone marrow transplant from my brother, and the love and support of those around me.

http://www.portraitsofhope.ca

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Faces of Leukemia - one stricken, one savior.


Paul and his donor Alke - two lives intersecting - one second life










I asked Alke if she would donate bone marrow again if she was asked, and she said "of course". Her boyfriend Benjamin told me he has also been tested for compatibility because "one day I may need a donor, everyone should be tested".

You can contact Hema-Quebec, or the Red Cross or blood authority in your country to be tested for compatibility - you may give a second life.



Friday, October 14, 2011

Celebrating Life in Bremen

I arrived yesterday and met Paul at the airport in Berlin, and Paul, his 18 year old son Jean and I drove 400 kms to Bremen (a small City in Northern Germany) to meet his donor, a young German woman by the name of Alke Rademacher.

In 2005, when Alke was in university, the German blood authority (DKMS) came to her campus asking people to be tested for bone marrow compatibility, and she agreed to be tested. One fateful day three years later she received a letter from the DKMS telling her that she might be a match for a bone marrow transplant for a leukemia patient, she wasn’t told who or even where this patient was. She was asked if she would go for further tests to confirm compatibility. After a visit to a doctor for initial tests, and then a visit to a hospital for further tests, she was informed that she was a compatible donor, and she agreed to donate bone marrow. She still wasn’t told who, or even where, the recipient was.

Her bone marrow was harvested in Bremen under general anesthetic – it required the physical aspiration of bone marrow from her hips and lower back, and I understand from her that it wasn’t terribly pleasant. A nurse from HMR in Montreal flew to Germany to pick up the bone marrow. Paul was not told who, or even where the donor was – all he knew was that it could save his life. According to Jewish tradition, there are various hierarchies of charity, the highest charity is when the donor doesn’t know who he or she is giving to, and the recipient is not aware of the identity of the donor. This is the purest form of giving, motivated only by the desire to give and help, without the promise of thanks or recognition.
This is what Alke did and it brought us to Bremen tonight, to celebrate her generosity and the life it has given to Paul. Today is a shining example of all that is good in life.

It was only several months after the transplant that Alke learned that the recipient was a Canadian man who was 49 years old. She didn’t learn Paul’s identity, and he didn't learn hers until two years after the transplant. They started corresponding and decided to meet here in Bremen - Alke arrived at our hotel with her boyfriend Benjamin, and a birthday cake for Jean's 18th birthday. Paul and Alke shook hands and Paul asked if he could hug her. It was a gesture that was natural and appropriate, a sign of the bond between them and no doubt, his gratitude.
















Last night we celebrated in the finest restaurant of Bremen, overlooking the Weser River and the city. The menu included a five course pumpkin menu, the likes of which I certainly had never seen and therefore, it was quite natural that I order it. It started with nutmeg pumpkin, goat cheese and prawns,  followed by a pumpkin curry brittle soup, then roasted quail soup with pumpkin ragout and roasted pumpkin bread, followed by a poached trout with pumpkin risotto and leak, and for dessert, I am sure you can guess, pumpkin parfait and maple cream ( no doubt they know we’re Canadians) brulée. All washed down with Becks, the local beer! How could I resist it all? After dinner we strolled through old Bremen (the Schnoor) with ancient alleys and medieval glory.








We celebrated the gift of life, and the young German woman who gave Paul his second life.  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Gift of Life

I first met Paul Balthazard shortly after he was diagnosed with acute leukemia, about two years after my diagnosis. We spoke during his chemotherapy, shared the relief of his remission and the joyful news that an unrelated, and then anonymous donor in Germany was a match for a life saving stem cell transplant. I watched him prepare for the transplant, then recover and grow stronger. We shared the bond of adversity and survival, and our friendship grew. By May 2010 he was strong enough to join me for part of my cycle across Europe, and we enjoyed the beauty (and wines) of Burgundy and Alsace together. 







Two years after his transplant he was able to learn the identity of his donor - and she (a young woman in Germany) was able to learn whose life she had saved. They share the bond of life.


On Wednesday I leave for Germany, to travel with him to Bremen, so Paul and his life saving donor can meet, and embrace and celebrate life. I am privileged to be able to share such a special journey with a friend, and to photograph them together for Faces of Leukemia.


Follow our journey, and celebrate with us.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Faces of Leukemia - my new book project!

I had intended my last posting, entitled Home, to be my final post on this blog.

I would however like to tell you about my latest project, a book to be entitled Faces of Leukemia, portraits and contributions by survivors of leukemia and other blood cancers  - here is a link to 12 sample pages: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/8813991/FacesSample01001hiresnobars.pdf - it is a large file (over 25MB), it may take time to load, and you need to wait for the whole file to load before you can go from page to page – you should be able to view 12 pages.


Faces of Leukemia will be a book about hope and survival. It will feature 40-50 leukemia (or blood cancer) survivors, and the doctors, nurses and researchers involved on the front lines of the battle against this terrible disease - I am taking the photographs with a friend of mine who is also a survivor. If you would like to see other photos I have taken for my book (which I hope will be complete in about a year), see http://www.williambrockphoto.com/Faces-of-Leukemia/Faces-of-Leukemia/14898483_tiyFs

I am producing Faces of Leukemia to raise awareness of the life saving work being done in the battle against leukemia and other blood cancers, to assist in our fund-raising efforts for the Fund for Education and Research into Blood Cancers (which I helped to form after my recovery 5 years ago from acute leukemia), and perhaps most importantly, to give hope to, and inspire patients who are struggling to survive, and their families.

I believe Faces of Leukemia will be a real game changer for patients and their families in a time of great need. I know what it is like to receive such a grim diagnosis, and how much examples of survival, and return to normal and healthy life, can inspire, and support the will to fight hard to live.

Let me know if you know someone who might be interested in apprearing in my book, or if you would like  contribute to the Fund for Education and Research into Blood Cancers, I would be pleased to provide you with the coordinates for a donation - you can email me at will@williambrockphoto.com.

Thanks, together we can beat leukemia.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Home

Home isn’t simply bricks and mortar, or where you keep your possessions, or a civic address. Home is much more than where you sleep.

Home is where you come from, where you belong. Home is connection. Yesterday in a sense, I was home. I returned to my roots. Today, I am also home, truly home. I am with my family, my friends, and my professional colleagues with whom I have shared over half of my life. Home feels good.

Six weeks ago I dipped my foot in the Atlantic Ocean and started to pedal eastward. It has been an extraordinary experience which will always remain with me. We pedalled in the sun and we pedalled in the rain, on good routes and in mud. There were days filled with joyful travel, great beauty, the sun on our faces and the wind at our back, and quite frankly there were days of discouragement, when it seemed as if the rain and wind,  and the hills and mud, would never end, when all I wanted to do was rest. I cannot however recall a day which didn’t have great meaning and purpose.

This journey has been many things to me. It has been a voyage of discovery, with wonders and beauty appearing almost around every corner, it has been a physical challenge, and it has been a wonderful occasion to spend time with the doctors who saved me, with friends and with my wife with whom I have shared a wonderful life. We have enjoyed joy and laughs and great food and drink together. Most of all, however, this journey has been a tribute to the triumph of science over sickness, the triumph of hope over despair, the triumph of faith and most of all the triumph of life over death. Life is everything, its fragility demands that we make the best of it, that we take every opportunity to live meaningful lives, to do what is right and important and to make a difference. I ask all of you to take time today to appreciate the majesty of life, and to do something, no matter how small, to make someone’s life better.

I would like to leave you with three last pictures. This photo is my grandmother Margaret with me (yes that really is me on the right) and Maryse at our wedding, which was the year before her death. Her memory remains alive within me, and even twenty years after her death, my grandmother remains an important part of who I am. I was very surprised how emotional my arrival in Hungary was. I never really reflected on my Hungarian roots, but clearly roots run deep.


This photo is me and Julianne, several weeks before I was diagnosed with leukemia in September 2004. If things had turned out differently, this is the father Julianne would remember, and if memories exist in the beyond, this would be my memory of Julianne.








Finally, this is home today. The fact that I took this picture this evening is the miracle of survival.



This is the end of my blog, but it is not the end of my journey. I will go on and try to celebrate every day and embrace the miracle of life. I hope I can help others survive and give others hope.

Thank you for reading this blog, thank you for supporting my cause, thank you for being my friends and colleagues and companions. May the goodness and miracle of life continue to shine on all of us.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tolcsva

I walked today in the footsteps of my Hungarian grandparents, and my life is more complete.

My grandparents, Sam Moldowan and Margaret Ornestein, came to Canada from Tolcsva, Hungary in the 1920's. Some of their family left with them, or came later to North America, but most stayed in Tolcsva, and with one exception, all of the remaining members of their family were killed by the Nazis in Auschwitz or Mauthausen. I owe my existence to my grandparents' departure. Since I never had the foresight to speak to them about their life in Hungary, I don't know many details but I believe that their family had lived in the Tolcsva area for generations. My grandfather Sam died when I was very young, and I only have a vague memory of him, but I knew and loved my grandmother Margaret. She was and remains, an important part of my life. She understood me and accepted me, and there was a special bond between us. I named my daughter Julianne Margaret. One of my greatest regrets is that my grandmother died only two years before Julianne was born; if only she could have met and held Julianne, it would have been wonderful.

It was therefore natural, if not essential for me, to visit Tolcsva. I was pleased and grateful when my friends Claude, Wes and Vince agreed to accompany me. We left from the main station in Budapest (Keleti), took an intercity train from Budapest to Szerencs, then took a local train to the station of Olaszliszka-Tolcsva, and we then took a bus, seven or so kilometres from Olaszliszka to Tolcsva.

















When we arrived in Tolcsva, it was raining, we later learned that it has been raining there for weeks, and since our journey had taken four hours, we were all hungry and wanted to find a restaurant. None was evident so I went into a pharmacy, the employee at the pharmacy didn't speak English, but luckily one of the customers, whose name is Anita did, and she kindly offered to drive us to a restaurant. Its name was Kinzsen Etterem (which is the Hungarian word for restaurant) and since the owner didn't speak English and the menus were only in Hungarian, she stayed to help interpret the menu and choose what we would eat. We ended up asking for a number of typical local dishes and a local bottle of wine. We sat in the type of restaurant where my grandparents would have been, we ate the food they ate, and drank the type of sweet wine that was probably made in their day. It was authentic and felt wonderful. When we wanted dessert, I used google translate and showed the onscreen translation to the owner who brought us some delicious little cakes. We took pictures of the food, of the chef and of the owner, and when we left, he gave us a bottle of wine.















While we were in the restaurant, Wes went to an ATM machine and withdrew some Hungarian Forint's. I called my mother from the restaurant and told her where I was. It's times like this when we can't help but be amazed by the wonders of modern technology, linking the old and the new world.




After lunch, we went for a walk through Tolcsva which is situated in the wine growing district of Tokai. There are vineyards in the hills surrounding the town, and by and large, the town looks fairly prosperous. Most of the buildings are well kept and it all looks very pleasant. I walked down the main (pretty much only) road, I saw houses my grandmother would have seen, I passed by what I think was at some point a Jewish school, with a plaque in Hebrew and Hungarian containing the date 1871, and evidencing the existence of a Jewish population destroyed by the Nazis. The Nazis may have destroyed people, but thankfully they couldn't destroy history, which continues to speak to us. Being in Tolcsva was very moving, it touched my soul, it spoke to my connection with my grandparents, and particularly my grandmother Margaret, who is still in my heart.







Today was a wonderful conclusion to a spectacular journey. I was privileged to share the day with friends. We raised a glass of wine together and made a toast to my grandmother, we laughed together and walked in the rain together. We marvelled at the wonders of Hungarian bureaucracy at the train station, which requires two or three lavatory attendants to make sure that the people using the toilet pay the required 70 Forints (around 30 cents CDN). When Vince tried to leave without realizing he had to make this payment, one of the attendants screamed at him and he found out that this payment was necessary, and when he paid his 70 Forints, he was given a very official looking numbered, signed, dated and stamped receipt to evidence that he had in fact paid the required fee. Somewhere in Hungary, there must exist a warehouse where millions upon millions of these little numbered lavatory receipts stubs are kept. Someone has deemed it necessary to issue a stamped and numbered receipt for every excretion (we are not sure if the fee varies by type of excretion, without going into more detail 70 Forints may be the basic fee). This of course, is part of the joy of being here.


Our train journeys were comfortable, although not thoroughly modern, and the rail system in Hungary seems to be reasonably efficient, it is certainly well used and gets you where you want to go. Vince, Claude and Wes had a good laugh when I went to get cappuccinos for Wes and myself from the dining car and I tried to carry both cappuccinos back to our compartment holding the porcelain cups one on top of another while opening train doors (in retrospect, not a very good idea). I am sure you can imagine what happened next, there was one door between cars that was particularly difficult to open, the train lurched a little bit, the cups went flying, and pieces of cappuccino cup and cappuccino all ended up on a metal grate between two cars. My friends told me that when they heard the crash of cups, they all said "that has got to be Bill". And so it was. We did however, enjoy cappuccinos on the train, although I was more intelligent the second time around, we drank them in the dining car, served by an attendant with a name tag simply marked “38” – we are still not quite sure what that was a reference to. We looked for her relatives 37 and 39, but they were no-where to be found.





Just before we left Tolcsva, Vince stopped at a wine store and bought me a nice bottle of wine, which I will enjoy with my family. The owner of the store then heard we were going back to the train station at Olaszliszka-Tolcsva and rather than have us wait for the bus, he offer to drive us there. On the way, we passed through flooded areas, as a result of the heavy rainfall recently rivers are overflowing their banks and as the pictures below show, the situation is quite serious, people were sandbagging, rivers were flowing wildly and as the train took us through the countryside, there was ample evidence of flooded fields.





When we reached the train station at Olaszliszka-Tolcsva, we had about a half hour wait, and while I was waiting and looking at the train tracks, I realized that members of my grandparents' family were no doubt shipped along those very same train tracks to Auschwitz and Mauthausen where they were murdered by the Nazis. I was drawn to the train tracks, I couldn't stop looking at them and wondering what it must have felt like for my ancestors to be shipped in box cars along the same rails which I would be riding back to Budapest. Over sixty years have passed, but the rails are still there, and so are the memories.





I spent today in my family's old home. Tomorrow I return to my home. Both are now part of my life.