Calgary & Southern Alberta AB
The Year that Shaped Me
By Rob Gray
2017 – November
Wow, was that exciting?! Who would have thought? My oldest son Brody, who had never played a down of football in his life up until this year, and his team, The University of Western Ontario Mustangs, just capped off an undefeated season by winning the Vanier Cup, Canada’s National Championship for University Football. Never thought that would have happened 27 years ago. I am so proud to be his dad.
1989 – November
OH YEAH!!! We, The University of Western Ontario Mustangs, just won the Vanier Cup! I love playing this sport! I should feel happier than I do, especially right now, but the scabs all over my body are a constant reminder that I’m not well. I just wish someone could tell me what it is. I’m so itchy, I’m now snapping pens in half during classes to scratch through my skin multiple times each day. Maybe a break from football will help, and I can gain some of the weight back I’ve lost; seems like I lost more than normal this year. Well, I better enjoy the moment…who knows what tomorrow’s going to bring.
2021 - March
Amazing! My oldest girl, Cass, just became the first woman Freshman to win the gold Medal in NCAA history for The Colorado U Buffs at the National Championships! What a capstone to an incredible year; her first World Cup start and World Cup points back in January in Slovenia, 23rd in the World Championships in Italy, and even more World Cup races! All while being a full-time student! I am so proud to be her dad.
1990 – February
I guess the biopsy didn’t go well, seeing as I’m waking up in this Toronto hospital feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck with all kinds of tubes sticking out of me. Getting a nosebleed in the middle of surgery and having the blood go into my lungs is something I need to avoid going forward! At least the biopsy is done, and I will get an answer about what’s wrong with me, although I already know. When Sally noticed me scratching in class all the time and came up and started asking me questions, I knew right then and there I had this thing called Hodgkin’s Disease that her dad had. “Do you have night sweats?” YES! Every night, my sheets and pillows are soaked every morning! “Have you lost weight?” YES! Close to 20 pounds! “Does the itching ever stop?” NO! I can get it to go away for an hour or two if I scratch through my skin, but it always comes back. “Do you have any lumps on your neck or underarm or anywhere else?” Ummm, oh boy, yes I do, on my underarm, I never noticed that before. Why hasn’t anyone else ever asked me all these questions??? I guess that just shows me, you never know who is going to be the person that can help you when you need it most!
2015 – December
Dang, I missed Jax’s, my middle girl, grade 7 Christmas play because of work. Hopefully she will recite her lines to me this weekend. Ha! Not being one for wanting to read her lines, instead she just acted out the entire play, every single part, every single line, no notes, no script, entirely by memory. Absolutely brilliant and jaw dropping, I loved it! I am so proud to be her dad.
1990 – February
This is a strange night. Seems like by now everyone on the team and at school knows I have cancer, and I’m heading to Calgary tomorrow to start chemo treatments. Sounds like a better option than what they were talking about in Toronto. It’s a new grouping of chemicals, only recently available because of advancements in research. Supposedly kills the cancer cells more effectively but will be a lot harder on me. Here’s the kicker, they tell me I’m lucky, because I’m young and fit, so I can take it! Funny…I don’t feel lucky. The diagnosis wasn’t good, it came back as Stage IV-B, which apparently means its in the final stage and has spread out of my lymph node system into other parts of my body. The tumor the size of a grapefruit between my lungs is evidence of that. If it wasn’t for the one nasty side effect of this new treatment that might happen, it would be much easier to be excited about it. But they’re not really sure, it’s all new stuff; there’s no large sample of survivors yet to know the real side effects.
A lot of people would have a pretty solemn night, but not us. My roommates and I are throwing a party, and like all our parties, we make money on them, by charging for something. What are we charging for this time? To come upstairs to my room to say bye to me. I know, I know, seems pretty tacky, but it’s all in fun. Lots of tears, laughs and hugs. Who knows when or if I am ever going to see these friends again? A few things to remember: it’s ALWAYS about the people, sometimes the toughest option is the best one, and you need to own your life and decisions.
2020 – December
What a hilarious night, I don’t think we’ve laughed so hard since the start of COVID-19. Zoe, my youngest girl, learned how to do a back flip on skis today, and she had the video evidence to prove it. The first few attempts did not look like the flip was a reasonable goal. But she bounced back up every time no matter how bad the crash was. Always cheery! Never once thought of quitting. Pretty cool for someone who is a racer and not a freestyle skier. Looks like she gets along pretty well with that boy that was helping her, I’ll have to keep an eye on that! I am so proud to be her dad!
1990 – April
This chemo stuff sucks, but I have some incredible friends out here in London. Glad my folks agreed with me about coming back to school. I know that was a tough thing for them. That’s probably an understatement, but they talked about it with Doc Jonesy (what a guy!) and he encouraged them to let me try and live my life. The good news is that as bad as the chemo is, the itching and the night sweats have stopped! My buddies have stepped up huge. It’s a pretty big ask to get roommates to come to the hospital to pick me up after a treatment, get me home, and into bed, and essentially watch over me for the 2-3 days its going to take for me to get back into the real world again (not to mention take the calls coming in daily from my mom to see how I’m doing). My classmates, teammates, coaches and professors have been so understanding and helpful. I have to make sure I always have great people around me ̶they make all the difference ̶and as tough as I think I am, I can’t be afraid to ask for help when I need it. On the flip side, if/when I survive this, and I can help others, I need to step up like so many people have for me.
2019 - April
How may hours have we driven this weekend to go back and forth between ski races and dance competitions? It will be 24 hours at the end of four days. Dylan, my middle son, would rather focus on the U14 Provincial Ski Championships, but the dance team needs him there for the finals or the choreography doesn’t work anymore; he would NEVER let a team down. He’s even pulled himself from one of the ski races to make it back to the dance-off for the team. He just told me he’s not going to dance again next year. But here we are, on the road, driving to the dance-off. I am so proud to be his dad.
1990 – June
Ok, so I am at the bottom of the hill from the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. Why? I don’t really know. I just pulled the chemo tube out and left when no one was looking. I do know I have to do the chemo, it’s my only chance, but it’s getting so hard to keep coming back here. I’ve run out of veins in my arms to use to put the needles in, so we’re now on to my legs. I wish I had put that valve thing in by my heart back in February, but at the time it seemed so invasive, little did I know what was to come. It’s so disheartening to get all the way here and then find out my white blood cell count isn’t high enough to get the chemo. But at the same time, it can be a relief, knowing I get a few more days in the real world before starting another round. I’m now vomiting before the chemo even starts, in anticipation of what’s to come. This is playing with my mind. My family and friends see it for sure, not just the physical difference, but the mental one. I know there’s an unspoken rule (at least around me) that when I go out with my friends at night, I’m under some kind of ‘Rob watch’. No one intends to let me go too far off the rails each night, but they know I’m living on the edge right now as I go back and forth between being certain I’m going to beat this, and not seeing any future. No one wants me to die of something other than the cancer on their ‘watch’, whereas I seem to go from living life to the fullest, and not caring about tomorrow.
Here comes my dad to convince me to go back to the Tom Baker. He’s right, I have to go back. I just hate what’s about to happen, I can feel the chemo going through my veins, it’s horrible, and the next week is just going to be a blur of being sick to my stomach until there’s nothing left, collapsing in bed, and waking up at strange times, not knowing what day it is, always feeling crappy. But I do have to go back, sometimes there is just no easy option other than to continue on with the fight. Can’t get emotional about in front of others, they’re already having a hard enough time with this. Sometimes it feels like it’s tougher on them than me. Showers are a good place to cry. Dave, one of my profs who fought cancer taught me that; I learned a lot about ‘living through tough times’ from him.
2021 – February
Well that’s a bunch of stuff I didn’t know. 12-year-old Tayton, my youngest son, just told me all about the NASA Perseverance Mars Landing that’s going to happen tomorrow. And when I say “all about it”, I mean all about it! Every detail! I had no idea he knew so much on this subject. When I asked how long they’ve been studying it in school, he said they hadn’t studied it at all, but he sure hoped they could watch the landing during class tomorrow. Joanne said she’d come to the school if they didn’t get to watch and he could come out to the truck to watch with her. We both told him if he tells his teacher all he told us about it and says he can talk to the class about it, she’ll probably let them watch. He did, and she did, and the class had an amazing experience. I am so proud to be his dad.
1990 – November
We lost in the national semi-finals yesterday, and that will be the last game of university football I ever play. I feel awful about the game, as does the rest of the team. At the same time life is seeming pretty good. I just spent the entire day: brunch, a walk, studying, talking, another walk, a kiss at a doorstep with Joanne, the girl I’ve been trying to hang out with for the last couple months. I’ve asked any football or school buddy that knew her to introduce me to her. She eventually had to tell them she’s met me lots of times and to stop making introductions.
Radiation wasn’t nearly as tough for me as the chemo (and without the potential side effect) when I came back to London for football training camp. That was definitely my goal, play football and go to school again this year. I think Doc Jonesy agreed to it thinking that the positive attitude was good to encourage. I’m pretty sure he told my Mom and Dad that I would likely be back home before training camp finished and classes even started. But the team was so great, the medical and training staff were amazing with constant check-ins, cold compresses during practice and games, ice baths after etc. Hard to picture what my mental state would be without this. School is going well. I’m feeling tired a lot, but I’m not feeling sick. The days seem better and hopefully there will be brighter years ahead. I don’t know if other people going through this think the same way…I need help from other people, but I don’t want them to need me, I’m just not sure I’m going to be around. Seems like a reasonable thought process.
I decided tonight that if five years from now, I’m still alive and in remission, I’m going to ask Jo to marry me…
1996 – July
Wow, here we are, I’m looking into Jo’s eyes and we’re seconds away from exchanging our wedding vows. I am so so fortunate to have her in my life. She said “Yes” when I asked last year. It blows my mind that…even though as much as she wants kids, she’s known the potential side effect the whole time—there’s a better-than-likely chance we won’t be able to have them based on the chemo I had—she still said yes. I hope we can, she would be a spectacular mom. What an amazing person! I am so in love with her. Focus Rob, it’s time, and who knows what tomorrow is going to bring….