A North Kildonan man has spent years giving back to the Canadian Cancer Society by lighting up the neighbourhood.
Michael Geiger-Wolf benefitted greatly from the society’s efforts during his two battles with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Now, in order to show his appreciation for the charity and to help others afflicted by cancer, Geiger-Wolf hosts a light display synchronized to music outside his home at 18 Mildred St. in order to raise money.
He has hosted the display for the last decade, but has set up a donation box in his yard and a website to allow visitors to easily give.
The display went up in late November and will be taken down in early January. Over the course of the show, Geiger-Wolf hopes to raise $10,000. As of Dec. 11, the light show had raised over $20,000 since 2010.
"They provide a lot of resources, and they’re the largest funder of research, outside government, in Canada," Geiger-Wolf said of the Canadian Cancer Society. "The first time through, I was the beneficiary of a clinical trial funded in part by the Cancer Society, and the drug that I’m on now is partly funded by the Cancer Society."
He said he and his family have also benefitted from the charity’s support programs to help deal with the emotional toll of battling the disease.
The lights are on from sundown to approximately 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday when school is in session, and to approximately midnight on Saturdays and Sundays. After school lets out, he said the lights are on "24-7."
Thanks in large part to the society, Geiger-Wolf’s second showdown with the disease was a comparative Christmas stroll.
That speaks more to the challenges of the 49-year-old’s first battle with the disease, beginning in 2003, than any ease with the second one, beginning in 2010.
In 2003, Geiger-Wolf’s only inkling something was wrong was because of back pain he was experiencing because of a compressed disc. As a weightlifter, he chalked that up to regularly squatting 700 pounds at the gym. When nothing improved, he received an MRI that revealed tumours wrapped around his spine had caused the compression.
"The first time, it started very badly and improved from there. I was stage four," he said, noting a bone-marrow transplant was required. "Before they knew what type of cancer it was, they didn’t think I’d ever leave the hospital. Then they found out it was aggressive B-type non-Hodgkin’s, and they improved my odds to a 25% chance to live. At the time, I couldn’t walk across a room because I had tumours growing into my spine. I had tumours in my brain fluid, spinal fluid, abdomen, lymph nodes — it was everywhere."
Comparatively, when doctors discovered cancer in Geiger-Wolf in 2010, they actually had to wait until the cancer grew in order to treat it. His biopsy treatment began in 2012.
"Because there are so many subtypes on non-Hodgkin’s and they’re very targeted with their therapies, they wanted to make sure that they knew exactly what they were dealing with," he said. "The first time through, as soon as they found it, it was almost too late and it was right at the treatment and aggressive treatment. This time, it was hurry up and wait."
Geiger-Wolf said the first time around, he lost his hair and his fingernails and toenails, but none of those things happened in round two. There was another bodily change in his first battle that was tough for Geiger-Wolf.
"My taste buds changed — I couldn’t eat anything salty," he said. "And it was barbecue season, so that just about killed me."
He has been in remission since last December, though Geiger-Wolf noted with this particular strain of the disease, he’ll never officially receive a cancer-free diagnosis. Every three months, he receives a dose of rituximab, an antibody that targets the cancer directly.
"They don’t ever expect it to ever be completely gone, but they believe at this point, they can keep it at bay with these new drugs," he said.
For more information on the display, or to donate, visit http://www.geiger-wolf.com/