I had never seen Ida Albo's eyes well with tears.
Couldn't even have imagined it, given everything she's so stoically endured. What made it all the more startling was this was supposed to be an upbeat interview about the upcoming 22nd annual Guardian Angel Benefit for Women's Cancer that Ida is chairing for a second year and actress and comedian and Cancer Schmancer Movement founder Fran Drescher is headlining. An event with $90,000 worth of donated Rainbow and live auction items and prizes that are listed, along with ticket information, on the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation website.
Yet, there we were having coffee, and talking about "Manitoba's Largest Tea Party," as the Guardian Angel Benefit is also known. And Ida, one of the toughest people I've ever known, was having the kind of emotional moment she never shares in public. At the time, the two of us were seated at the Palm Room table that's always reserved for Ida and her husband Rick Bel, the co-managing partners of the Fort Garry Hotel.
I was taking notes.
Notes about the painting by local Group of Seven artist Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald that was so generously donated for the live auction and the Wanda Koop piece the artist herself gave for the cause. But I only made a mental note of Ida's tears and what brought on the uncharacteristically unguarded moment. At the time she was talking not about her own battle with recurring breast cancer, but how cancer had taken her mother and her uncle and others, unmentioned, she and I knew.
"I think you're very lucky if you don't know anyone," Ida said.
I don't know how Ida gets through everything she's been through. Other than lots of yoga, walking, working and putting on a brave, smiling face. What I do know is her tears tell me she doesn't get through it the same way I do.
It's been a year this month since I was diagnosed with stage 2B colon cancer. And it's been much less than a year since doctors discovered my Free Press columnist colleague Lindor Reynolds has brain cancer.
People are constantly asking me how Lindor is doing. I struggle with how to respond, in part because that's for her to say, which she does regularly, in her own way. One of the ways Lindor appears to get through it is by blogging about how she's getting through it. The blog name -- Good Days and Great Days -- is borrowed from the mantra our late colleague Jon Thordarson adopted when he was trying to get through cancer.
As for me, I get through what I've been through by doing a little yoga, not enough walking, working and, of course, by believing I will be one of the nine out of 10 who survives my stage and type of cancer.
But as the first anniversary of my diagnosis approaches I am beginning to realize living life as if nothing has changed -- as if I can carry on as I always have, not caring properly for myself -- will lead me to a quick dead end. Which is why I'm feeling guilty about grabbing three irresistible Timbits that were waiting at the newsroom front desk when I walked in Friday afternoon. OK, it wasn't three, it was six, but don't tell my wife.
Yeah, even feeble attempts at humour help. As do other mind-numbing vices that don't need to be listed here. Which reminds me ...
I can't name all of the people, organizations, business and volunteers who have contributed to the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation's high-tea style event on Sunday, Oct. 27 at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. Most of the names will be in your program, I suspect. Including mine.
Not long after my surgery, Ida called and asked if I would be one of the nearly two-dozen cancer survivors -- men and woman -- who volunteer as models for the Guardian Angel event's fashion show.
I said yes, because it was Ida asking. So I will be there wearing a Hanford Drewitt suit and a Freed & Freed overcoat and walking down that runway.
Still in denial.
Still trying not to believe I am a cancer survivor. That I'm really what I should have been all along. A male model.
As I was saying, humour helps.
And, while Lindor won't be there, I have no doubt she will be on that runway next year with another group of cancer survivors. Because although every cancer survivor doesn't use denial to cope, there's one thing we all reach for.