Sing like everyone is watching!

Fall has arrived! School is back in session and so are all of the extracurricular activities. Dance classes and figure skating and band practice…..where everyone gets an opportunity to do their best and shine their brightest. When disillusioned parents imagine their contemporary dancers being in the Sia music video and their little hockey players are the next Sidney Crosby. There will be dance recitals and band recitals; figure skating festivals and hockey games. There will also be talent shows………

There is nothing more endearing than the small town talent show where those with the gift of song can trill to a full audience and those with the gift of dance can tap to their little hearts content. Piano players and jugglers, flutists and sax players – all have the opportunity to shine their bright light upon a crowded auditorium.

Such was the case in my small town of Worsley. The school gymnasium was our auditorium; it could be a dance hall, a banquet room, a church for funerals, a farmers market or an election polling station. At one point during the long, cold winter, it also became the home of the local talent show.

I come from a musical family. My father plays a myriad of stringed instruments and we often sat in a semi-circle (a la the Andrew’s sisters) and sang along with Dad. He played many of the old favourites done originally by Cash(Johnny) and Snow (Hank) and occasionally threw in fun songs like:

“Bimbo, Bimbo, where ya gonna go-e-o
Bimbo, Bimbo, whatcha gonna do-e-o
Bimbo, Bimbo, does your mommy know
That you’re goin’ down the road to see a little girleo”

Dad is a good singer and his sense of musicality is enviously en pointe. Let’s just say that the apple(s) fell far from the tree and Jessie and I (come on Jessie…you have to admit you can’t sing either) were not blessed with the gift of music. June and Jaki – yes, Jessie and I – no.

That didn’t stop us from singing…..nope! We sang ‘Delta Dawn’ into our hairbrushes and recorded “One Tin Soldier” on our little tape recorder.

It was January, 1972 and I was eight years old. The school announced the community Talent Show would be held at the end of the month and everyone in the small community was invited. Let’s face it…..we were 60 miles from Fairview and in the grip of a cold winter, we took every opportunity to immerse ourselves in local cultural activities.

The gymnasium would be turned into the next “Worsley’s Got Talent” extravaganza and the entire community would be present and accounted for, as trucks idled in the parking lot for two hours in the -30 degree winter night.

I would sing! Yes! I would sing at the Talent Show. I met with my musical director (dad) and we decided on a little known Hank Snow song titled, “Nobody’s Child”. Dad sang it often and I loved the part where he would sing, “no mamma’s kisses and no-oo (his voice went up) daddy’s smiles”.

THIS was my song!

I practiced and practiced AND practiced. I sang the song over and over again, so scared that I would forget the words. Memorization of lyrics is my albatross – I cannot remember words to any song. To this day when I sing an Abba song that I have listened to hundreds of times, I sing, “Tonight the Super Duper…na na gonna find me…find me like the sun”

I was concerned.

I had reason to be concerned.

The night of the Talent Show finally arrived. Dressed in a dark green ,long-sleeved dress with ric-rac in red and white sewn sewn around the hem, short hair parted on the side – a barrette holding short bangs back from my eyes – an effort to inject some femininity into my boyish styling.

Irene Bass, teacher and evening M/C announced, “Please welcome Judy Stanley – accompanied on guitar by Edmund Stanley”.

We walked out to polite applause, the auditorium was dark and there were so many rows of chairs FILLED with people: My tummy began to churn, my tongue began to twist.

Dad sat in a chair behind me and I stood in front of the microphone. I heard him whisper, “1 -2 – 3” and he began to strum.

I stare through the darkness at the basketball hoop at the end of the gymnasium and I begin to sing.

“I was slowly passing an orphan’s home one day
And stop there for a moment just to watch the children play
Alone a boy was standing and when I asked him why
He turned with eyes that couldn’t see and he began to cry.

I could see my Auntie Evelyn in the front row. She appeared to be tearing up! So I sang the chorus:

I’m nobody’s child I’m no-o body’s child
I’m like a flower just growing wild
No mommy’s kisses and no daddy’s smiles
Nobody wants me I’m no-o body’s child.

Auntie was REALLY crying now and I had a “They like me! They really like me!” moment and I completely lost my focus and the words left my brain. OH MY GAWD – I have forgotten the words. So I sing:

“I was slowly passing an orphan’s home one day
And stop there for a moment just to watch the children play
Alone a boy was standing and when I asked him why
He turned with eyes that couldn’t see and he began to cry.

Dad knows that I am panicking and I can hear him whispering the proper words, but I was so freaked out I wasn’t listening to anyone and wanted to get off that stage before it swallowed me whole. I cranked up the internal volume and belted out the chorus again:

I’m nobody’s child I’m nobody’s child
I’m like a flower just growing wild
No mommy’s kisses and no daddy’s smiles
Nobody wants me I’m nobody’s child.

And then I stopped singing because for me, the song was over. I could not sing the same verse a third time. Dad sensed my panic and stopped playing almost simultaneously and he stood as the people in the huge gymnasium clapped politely and poor Auntie Evelyn cried herself into a puddle in the front row.

I walked off the stage vowing never to return. No… talent show days were over. I still sing, but no one ever hears me cuz I keep it to myself 🙂

For those of you who want to hear what Nobody’s Child was supposed to sound like – here you go!


The Amazing Chafe

It burned! It hurt soooooo bad! The seam of the spandex running shorts had given way and was extruding the dimply fat from my thigh like fresh, shiny brilliantly white bun dough…..

The constant swish, swish, swish of fat meeting spandex over the past 21 kilometres had chafed the skin into a glossy sheen – I had suffered a chafing injury unlike anything I could have imagined.

The endorphins from the marathon training run were racing their own marathon through my body, thankfully keeping the pain receptors from firing. I declined my post run Tim Horton’s coffee with running pals and headed to Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacy for burn ointment.

I attended the counter hesitantly….not knowing how I should phrase my conundrum to the young male pharmacist. “Um…..I am looking for a cream?”

Brilliant question Judy! How concise and to the point, “looking for a cream”.

To his credit, the Pharmacist responded appropriately with, “What type of cream?”.

Pain receptors were now beginning to fire and I changed my position, affecting a military type of stance with legs far apart so my injured skin could breathe. It was the “I pooped myself” stance.

“I….errrrr…I burned myself? I think I need some type of ointment or dressing?”

I am not certain why I am ending everything with a question mark, but perhaps it was because I didn’t quite know what I needed. Was a chafe a burn?

“What did you burn?” he asks, his eyes flickering over me quickly in assessment.

I lean forward into the counter, “I have a chafing injury…my thighs rubbed while I was running. The spandex tore and um….the skin kind of came out and….it rubbed against the other spandex. It hurts”.

Credit to the Pharmacist, he didn’t blink or even react, he simply opened the little half door that separated him from the masses and efficiently walked down the aisle and returned with a box containing a burn dressing. “When you get home, remove anything that could cause more irritation, and once it cools down, use this dressing. It will protect, soothe and keep it from blistering”.

I returned home and got undressed as quickly as possible. Removing the spandex shorts was a challenge as the material was encircling the fat from my thigh so tightly that removing it was difficult. Imagine pulling a ring off of a fat finger…..same analogy. I reached over and tore the fabric further, giving my skin immediate relief and allowing me to remove the shorts.

I hop in a cool shower, knowing that I needed to get the sweat off my body, but realizing that the pressure of the cool water hitting the burn would be painful.

The cool breeze from the fan blowing directly onto my burn was sweet relief

I couldn’t imagine toweling off so I stood in the bathroom dripping dry. I put on a sundress but left the panties off, the thought of anything accidentally touching the burnt skin leaving me breathless.

I grabbed pillows from the bedroom and the floor fan and headed to set up my nest in the living room. The pillows for comfort, the fan for pain relief. Leaning back onto to the couch and the pillows I placed my legs (spread eagled) on the ottoman with the fan blowing onto my lower extremities.

Ahhhhhhhh……sweet heavens that felt amazing. There I sat for the remainder of the Saturday afternoon, until Hubby came home from work.

The chafe eventually scabbed, and peeled and to this day there is a scar on the inside of my thigh. A marathon training war wound of sorts, a permanent badge of courage and marking a time in my life when running was my love.

I call it, “The Amazing Chafe”.


1, 2, 3…..LAUNCH!

Major Tom to Ground Control……we have a launch!

(my speech from the book launch – thank everyone for coming and sharing in my special day)

I would like to thank everyone for coming tonight. Family, friends, media and dare I say it out loud, “Fans”.

A couple of weeks ago, I admitted to friends on my Facebook page that I had been experiencing a reoccurring dream that was freaking me out. In my dream…or rather…my nightmare, I was pregnant. OH MY GOODNESS!!!!!

In my dream no one seemed very shocked about it except me and I woke each morning in a panic thinking, “Is isn’t possible….is it?” I am fairly certain that any leftover eggs I could produce would resemble a fuzzy peach candy and between the intense heat of the hot flashes I have experienced lately, they would be scorched and dehydrated like an old raisin. So I asked my friends about what it meant and they responded en masse with the suggestion that dreaming about being pregnant meant that I was about to birth a project.

Apparently dreaming about being pregnant was something that creatives tend to dream. What? I’m a creative? My friend Karen said something to the effect of, “Of course you are a creative – you wrote a book!”.

Honestly that is what it feels like to write a book. It is like you are giving birth to a baby and you are hoping that you don’t have an ugly one. You know what I mean…..those babies where people say, “Oh…your baby is so handsome” which is code for your baby is uuuuuugly because no one calls a baby handsome. They are cute, they are adorable, but if they look like a cabbage patch then they are “handsome”. A book is like that too! If someone reads your book and says, “It was nicely laid out”, you know you bombed because they were grasping at something nice to say to you without hurting your feelings.

I could say that I don’t care, but I would be lying. I do care what people think and I hope that I didn’t birth a cabbage patch baby. Regardless, I am this kids mother so ugly or not – I LOVE IT. I love the colour of it’s cover, the way it is so shiny and smooth. I love the original artwork that Catherine Ruddell created and I love the way Karen Thierson brought it all together with her amazing graphic design. I am in love with Naked Tuesday and it will always be my first born….sorry Amy….I mean my first book.

I want to share this moment with my mom, to whom I have dedicated this book. Her love, her support, her sarcasm, her sense of humor…..basically her DNA has made this book possible. Thank you mom.

I also want to share this moment with my husband Bob, an unwitting foil who doesn’t seem to fully understand how integral he is to my writing.

I also want to say thank you to each and every one of you who have stopped me in a grocery store or sent me a message and said, “hey Judy….I really liked your column this week” or “I can totally relate to what you are saying” because that validates what I do. I want to write something that is relatable. I want to write something that makes you laugh or makes your cry. Your support has given me the confidence to write Naked Tuesday and to realize that 50 is really fabulous and I am just getting started!

Thank you so much for being here tonight.

Happy Fair!

HAPPYFAIR!Our daughter Amy and her hubby Ian asked us to join them at the North Country Fair (NCF) a couple of weeks ago. Amy is fairly “granola” and had attended the NCF previously. When I say she is “granola” it means that she is a kale and quinoa consuming, yoga posing, Kombucha drinking woman who buys Coconut Oil in the BIG CONTAINERS. Note: She even makes her OWN Kombucha, which surely gains her entrance into the hippy, dippy granola club.

Annnnnyway…….we decide that “sure, we would love to go with them and camp at NCF……it should be fun”.

We purchased tickets and prepared for the great adventure known as the North Country Fair (NCF) in Driftpile, Alberta. A huge music festival in its 38th year of existence – the NCF was a popular destination for music lovers.

We pulled out of Dawson Creek on what we now can call “high water day”. That was the day that the recent flooding reached its peak in Dawson Creek. It was still raining a bit, but our basement was dry and the trailer was packed… long as we could find a road out of the town that wasn’t blocked off because of a washout, we were on our way!

We arrived in Driftpile early afternoon, and made the turnoff to go to the NCF. The road was muddy……really, really muddy. The kind of mud that is almost like grease and the trailer slid around on the road as we made our way into the fairgrounds at a snail’s pace.

I had a headache, but realized that it was because I had my jaw clenched so tightly….where on earth WAS this place? To add to the panic, I could see the connectivity bars on my telephone dropping quickly until there was simple a circle with a line through it: NO SIGNAL, NO SERVICE.

We reached a checkpoint where we furnished our tickets and we given gold wristbands in exchange and we told, “Happy Fair”. Little did I know that “Happy Fair” is the mantra of NCF and is used in place of, “excuse me while I walk through the middle of your camping area dressed as a pirate” among other scenarios.

13450885_10154202380050050_4913322963723635716_nWe turned into the NCF Fairgrounds and it was a wide-open field that already was dotted with tents and trailers parked willy-nilly. The Planner in me was aghast, “what if we needed to evacuate? How would we get out in an orderly manner?”. My teeth clenched tighter.

Amy greeted us with a huge knowing smile (she knew exactly what I was thinking and part of the reason she wanted us to atte
d is to see the look on my face when I arrived) and said, “Happy Fair!”.

So began three days of people watching. I watched people walk barefoot through the mud wearing nothing but a fake fur coat and gold underpants. I watched people experiencing an independence that my uptight personality could never experience. Everyone there was enjoying the freedom of expression, with no judgment,
simply curiosity.

And do you want to know the bonus part? The music was pretty great. Buffy St. Marie was there and it was lovely to hear her clearly identifiable voice fill the fairgrounds. I met Fred Penner and actually got a picture with him before he took to the stage and sang “Sandwiches”. There were craft sessions and slack-lining and great food vendors……and good company.

The rain stopped, the sun came out and it was a lovely weekend. We saw rainbows (really….we did see rainbows), and unicorns (there was a dude with a unicorn hat) and the mood around us was one of happiness (although I am certain that the mood could be partially attributed to “other” things). It didn’t matter what was happening in the world around us, because for this weekend we were taking a break from reality. No texting, minimal Facebook updating (I did manage to find a spot in the field where I got reception) and no depressing news updates.

13422344_10154203855655050_4432640465332376484_oWe truly did enjoy a “Happy Fair”.

Sharing our ‘almost’ moments are important

Yesterday, the Premier of British Columbia , Premier Christy Clark publicly shared a personal moment in her life where she had been a victim. A moment of when a man had pulled her 13 year old being off the sidewalk and into shrubbery. She was lucky…..she managed to escape without physical harm, but still wonders who else might have suffered at the hands of this stranger.

She didn’t tell anyone. She kept it to herself like so many did and still do.

Premier Clark shared her personal story with the knowledge that she will be victimized again. She knew that telling her story would result in a deluge of terrible, horrific comments by the public who do not support her politically. Comments by folks who cannot see past her political position to a place where a vulnerable teenager still relives a horrible moment. An “almost” moment that would have irrevocably changed her life.

I can only imagine that her hope was that someone else might read what she wrote and feel safe in coming forward if the same or similar were to happen in their lives.

For a moment let’s read the words written by Premier Clark as if they were written by our sister, aunt, wife or mother. We would be horrified to read about that moment that almost was: The moment where someone dragged her into the bushes with the intent to harm her and she escaped. We would be horrified to think that she had to replay that moment in her mind over and over and over again and that she wasn’t able to share it with someone who could have helped her cope. We would be horrified to think that she had to keep this to herself for so long.

If Christy Clark were our sister, our aunt, our wife, our mother or our daughter we would be applauding her courage and empathizing with her.

Instead she will be victimized again….and young women: our daughters, our granddaughters and our nieces will stay silent because if Christy Clark cannot share her pain, her terrified moment, her “almost was” without judgment, then how can anyone?

This has nothing to do with political alliances or affiliations – this is a human issue.

Dream Killers

Dream Killers……hidingin you

Monsters: As children we check in the closet and under the bed and sleep once we are reassured that they are off terrorizing someone else.

I am grown up, but I still worry about monsters. They don’t live under the bed any longer, they live in my brain and I call them Doubts.

Those buggers are dream killers and they seem to have super human powers to turn my brain against me….

They come in so many forms: a comment on a Facebook page, an off-handed remark, a perceived facial response.

They enter your being through your pores and manifest as doubt….their only goal is to kill your dream.

Why would my brain do that to me? Why would it give me Hope with one hand and then Doubt with the other?

The Doubt Monster had told me (and the bitch didn’t even whisper, she screamed), “You are an amateur Judy and everyone is going to know you are an amateur and you are a fraud and your book is a book of a fraud(y) amateur and not worth the paper it is printed on.” and then the Doubt Monster said that my, “friends are going to be forced to lie to me and say its good when we know it isn’t”

And I want to crawl into a fetal position beside my bed. I want to throw up.

The Doubt Monster is like one of the cool girls at school and the power that she holds over me is unlike anything I have felt before.

Doubt Monster: Calm, cool, calculating

Judy: Frazzled and sweating from a hot flash.

Yesterday I was completed mired in doubt and so I reached out to a friend.

My friend listened…..She let me know that the Doubt Monster comes to her brain frequently and that I am not alone. She told me that I have the right to be both attached to my book and scared by it.

She talked me down…..bless her. No, seriously someone should bless her because today is somewhat brighter and I am trying to remember her words when that mean girl “Doubt” attempts to enter my brain.

The Doubt Monster looks for a picked at edge to gain entry. She runs her hands over the surface until she finds a little rough spot, a little corner that has become raised and frayed and then she picks and picks and picks.

It’s hard to battle the Doubt Monster 😦

Goodbye Ozzie Magoo

I have not written about Ozzie’s sudden passing in my newspaper column. I had no idea that we would lose both of our fur-babies that close together. After Riley died, Ozzie walked about like a lost puppy….he mourned….he was so sad. He would not eat and was clingy which is totally unlike Ozzie. He had the appetite of a much larger dog and food was never an issue for him. As far as being clingy….Ozzie was his own “man” and in that respect he was like a cat…only cuddling if he wanted to cuddle.

This lasted a couple of weeks and then something remarkable occurred. Ozzie began acting like a puppy once again. He was running around the house with his toys and scampering up the steps on the back deck – acting so spry! His appetite picked up and we had our Ozzie Magoo back again.

Then one day I saw him stumble and strangely begin walking in circles. I panicked and took him to the vet, scared that I was going to lose him too. Ozzie had suffered something that many small dogs suffer, much like a stroke, but one that he could recover from.

Gathering him up in my arms I took him home and both Bob and I tended to him until he seemed “almost” back to himself again.

A month passed and Ozzie began to lose his appetite once more. We tried changing his food and offering him treats, but he didn’t seem to have that voracious appetite any longer. Then I noticed him trip as he went from the grass to the deck and he had difficult time regaining his footing. It was if he was drunk and he was weaving back and forth. I picked him up and carried him into the house.

Then he began to cough. Bob and I hovered near, worried sick that we were losing our Ozzie now too.

I took Ozzie to bed with me and let him snuggle alongside my legs. I felt like something might happen and I wanted to be near him.

At about 5:30 a.m. Ozzie began to cough once more and I picked him up and snuggled him on my shoulder like he loved to do since he was a wee puppy. I heard it then…his breathing sounded like a water pipe.

Waking Bob I said, “I think this might be Ozzie’s last day with us. Do you want to get up and spend some time with him?”.

We did. We made coffee and sat with Ozzie between us, rubbing his back and scratching his ears.

That afternoon I took Ozzie down to the vet again.

Ozzie was in heart failure and his tiny body was filling with fluid making it difficult to breathe.

I called Bob at work to come home and took Ozzie home while I waited. I sat on the sun-deck with Ozzie on my lap and I soaked in his presence. I told him how much I loved him, even knowing that his deaf ears could not comprehend the words.

When Bob arrived, he did the same thing – cuddling our wee dog in his arms knowing that he would be gone soon.

The hardest part of loving your pets is knowing when to say goodbye. We didn’t want Ozzie to suffer what would be a very difficult and painful death.

We returned to the vet. It was time to say goodbye.

Holding our sweet guy in our arms, we told him we loved him and that he was a “good dog” and then he slipped from our lives forever.

And now we grieve once again. We grieve for the loss we feel in our lives and how much we miss both Riley and Ozzie’s presence.

Goodbye my sweet Ozzie.


The Life of Riley

(Previously published in the Alaska Highway News February 3, 2016)

12573772_10153858490255050_2379012927297780315_nOzzie stares blankly at the front door, his tiny wool beret sits at an odd angle, an unlit cigarillo hangs from his mouth.

Under his breath I am certain I hear him whisper “Pourquoi?” as he shakes his head in confusion.

He has been this way for a few days now. Ever since the frantic flurry of activity where his buddy, his lifetime companion, was scooped up and carried out the front door to a waiting car: “The “Feeder” had not even put proper footwear on, nor changed out of her pajama pants. Perhaps she is going to Walmart? Why would she take Riley with her? Why did she return without him? Did Riley go to the groomer?  We always go together?

Hmmmm….something does not feel right.

Poor Ozzie. He has been wandering throughout the house for days now, mourning the loss of his friend.

We humans have been doing the same thing.

Throughout the years I have mentioned my dogs in this column. I have anthropomorphized them to the point where I image Ozzie with a beret and a cigarette and Riley as a skinny old man with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Last week we lost our dear Riley. It was very sudden and we are still coming to terms with that missing piece of our lives.

You knew that I had to do this. I simply had to share with you, “The life of Riley” which in retrospect, really was as delightful as the definition.

Riley was a pet store puppy. Literally we pointed and asked, “How much is that doggie in the window”.

At the time, Bob was looking for a puppy to be his travel buddy. Someone to sit in the seat next to him, keep him company and be his best friend.

Riley had other aspirations and they didn’t involve riding around in the truck all day. This was the scene every morning when Riley was a puppy:

Bob places Riley on the floor beside him while he puts his work boots on.

Riley scampers off to the bedroom and climbs under the covers beside me pretending to sleep.

Bob picks Riley off the bed and takes him to the truck.

Riley fakes car-sickness.

After a short time, Bob realized that he was fighting a losing battle. Riley was not going to be the truck companion of his dreams, instead Riley was going to stay at home with mom (me).

Riley was a Shih Tzu – Cockapoo cross with long legs and a pointed nose. Very little Shih Tzu was involved in his genetic makeup. He was a lovable conundrum with soft black hair and tiny paws that he would place on the most tender, sensitive part of your anatomy as he walked across you in bed.

Riley had a severe under-bite that scared small children. I believe that he became a loveable, gentle, patient dog as a way of saying to the world “don’t judge me by my looks”. After he won a stranger over with his charm, that under-bite became a smile.

Riley was our OCD dog – watching him eat was a study in animal anxiety. He was afraid of flying bugs and in the summer he would vacillate between loving the sunshine warm his sore back and the fear of being stung by a wasp.

Riley disliked a bed that was made for some reason and after I made ours, I would hear a rustle and go in and see the pillows on the floor and the bedspread crumpled: Clearly a sign that Riley had been there.

Once we brought Ozzie home, the family bed got a wee bit crowded. We moved the dogs into their own beds on the floor. Ozzie will sleep on anything, but Riley was partial to a small down-filled duvet. He would nest until he was curled into a little ball and we would hear the most contented sigh.

My sister told me, “When you give an animal a life so good he sighs in contentment, you’ve done a very good thing”.

It is true, Riley did have a very satisfying, long life, but we are never prepared for a pet to leave us. My thoughts after he passed away? “If I had known that I was going to lose him today I would have held him closer yesterday”.


The Sun will Come up (Part 2 of Erin’s journey)

Many of you have been asking me privately, “How is Erin doing? Is she finished with her surgery for her skin cancer?” You might recall that I wrote about it in my column titled, “Ray of Light” and about how she had been documenting her skin cancer journey on the Instagram page: bccnosejourney.

After posting her photos and her updates on social media she has received many private messages from other’s that are having the same type of MOH surgery and subsequent reconstruction using the Paramedian Forehead Flap technique.

This is how I described the Paramedian flap in my first column: “The reconstructive surgical procedure is called a Paramedian Forehead Flap or PMFF for short. The surgeon harvests a piece of cartilage from the ear and uses it to recreate the stability of the nose. The forehead flap is a fancy-pants surgical technique that means, ‘take some tissue from the forehead and use it for the nose’.” That tissue is then left attached to the eyebrow for 6 weeks to encourage and support the new cartilage to grow.

Erin had that surgery and then another surgery to begin finessing the look of her new and improved nose. She still has the tissue from the forehead flap in place (called a pedicle), which is one of the reasons why this surgery can be so traumatic. Can you imagine being a young woman with this pedicle thing on your face for 2 months? You can’t really cover it up, and it extends from your eyebrow to the tip of your nose so you can’t drive because it obscures your vision; therefore you become very reclusive.

Which is why I felt the need to write about this once again. I wanted to provide an update on her progress and I needed to write about how insensitive and clueless people can be when someone looks “different” than they do.

After 5 weeks of not going anywhere but back and forth to Edmonton for appointments or spending time at her grandparent’s home, Erin decided to join a bunch of us at the movie to see the Melissa McCarthy movie, “The Boss”. She placed a bandage on her face and joined us for a night of fun and laughter. The first time she had been ANYWHERE public.

Standing in line at the movie theatre, waiting for the obligatory popcorn and small beverage from the concession, Erin overhears the people immediately behind her talking about her….and they aren’t whispering. They weren’t children, the were grown adults and the man and woman were speaking in normal voices RIGHT BESIDE HER. You know…the “oh my gawd, what is wrong with her face?” conversation.

Up to that point Erin has not really left the house. She understands getting stares because her reconstruction progress can look alarming, but a grown man and woman discussing her condition as they stood beside her?

FYI people…..she had cartilage taken from her ear for her nose….it didn’t effect her hearing. Much like the boy in the movie, The Sixth Sense, she still can hear “ignorant people”

Now before some of you say that I am being too harsh and that these types of things can be difficult for others and that it is acceptable to point and stare and talk well….. I say NO. I am not being too harsh and the Webster definition of “Ignorance” is: destitute of knowledge or education, lacking knowledge of comprehension of the thing specified and resulting from or showing lack of knowledge or intelligence.

On Monday, she is heading back to Edmonton for a big surgery. I am calling it a “big surgery” because it is during that surgery that the surgeon is going to clip the pedicle and it will no longer be attached from eyebrow to nose. She will be able to see clearly for the first time in weeks and will finally begin looking like her old (well…young) self again.

She will be able to play with her baby without worry, she will be able to drive and she will be able to leave her home without stares and whispers.

I write this today as a reminder that being and looking different is not a bad thing. It is not something that we should be afraid of or intimidated by. Acceptance is a virtue that we all can embody.

A Ray of Light (Part 1 of Erin’s Journey)

erin57_nShe got her first tattoo at sixteen. Typical teenage rebellion, the decision to get a tattoo came from a moment in time that many teenagers wrestle with. Most stop at one tattoo: the powerful need to defy or assert personal identity and power satisfied with a tiny heart on the ankle or butterfly on the wrist.

Not this girl, nope! Erin loves the individuality of beautiful ink: artwork as individual as a fingerprint. Parts of her shoulders, arms and legs are adorned with colourful pigments of her imagination.

Perhaps this is why she didn’t notice the imperceptible mark on the side of her nose: this Trojan Horse disguised as a freckle. “When did it appear Erin?” I asked her before I wrote this column. She couldn’t really say. She cannot remember when it wasn’t there, but she can’t recall when it appeared. It just “was”.

It wasn’t until her recent pregnancy that she noticed it begin to grow. Hormonal surges seem to do that to women: the same magical hormone elixir that grows and feeds a fetus also grows our hair, our nails and our skin cells. The freckled blemish began to change; the edges became ragged and red, a stubborn sore that would not heal. A topical over the counter antibiotic cream was applied, but to no avail. It simply would not heal.

A doctors appointment indicated that indeed it was a very suspicious sore and quite possibly cancerous. A surgeon was contacted and the journey for my young niece began: The journey that many, many take when diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma – one of the most common forms of skin cancer.

The first surgery was completed, the cancerous lesion removed and the lesion and margins of the area sent to a clinic for biopsy. The biopsy would determine the type of cancer and the margins would be inspected to see if any cancer remained.

Erin waited. Meanwhile, the scar faded quickly and you would hardly notice that anything had been removed.

Weeks passed and the results came in….they were both good and bad news. The good news was that the cancer was indeed basal cell carcinoma (one of the easiest to treat and rarely life threatening), the bad news was the margins were not clear and that she needed to be referred to another surgeon, one that specializes in removal of this type of cancer.

This was the first time I had heard of MOH Surgery. MOH surgery (MOH because it was developed by Dr. Frederick Moh) is now one of the most effective techniques for removing basal cell carcinoma. A very precise technique, the doctor removes very thin pieces of tissue, examining each section for cancer cells until the microscope can identify no cancerous cells in the tissue. The goal is to keep as much healthy tissue as possible, while removing the cancerous tissue.

Erin would also be referred to another surgeon, one that specializes in reconstruction of a MOH surgical site on the nose. This doctor would reconstruct Erin’s beautiful nose following the cancer surgery.

As I write this column, I have just left the hospital where Erin is recovering following her reconstructive surgery. The MOH surgery that happened last week successfully removed a circular section of tissue and Erin is now cancer free. Unfortunately, the surgery comes with a cost and that cost is now undergoing another procedure that came with a lot of trepidation.

The reconstructive surgical procedure is called a Paramedian Forehead Flap or PMFF for short. The surgeon harvests a piece of cartilage from the ear and uses it to recreate the stability of the nose. The forehead flap is a fancy-pants surgical technique that means, “take some tissue from the forehead and use it for the nose”. As Erin said with a sarcastic laugh, “thank goodness I have a big forehead’’.

The doctor says that she will have at least two more surgeries before she can put this experience behind her. When she was first diagnosed we said, “No way! Not Erin – she HATES the sun” and that is true now, but wasn’t the case when she was 20 years old. Those days were spent in the tanning bed, trying to get a bronze tint to her skin that refused to change colour. She is not saying that a tanning bed did the damage, but the type of cancer she is battling is generally caused by repeated unprotected sun exposure including tanning beds.

Of course I asked Erin’s permission to use her story this week in my column and she said this: “if it encourages people to take a good look at their skin and go to the doctor if they notice anything suspicious, then that is a good thing”. She also wishes she had never used a tanning bed but knows that you can’t go back in time and change it, you can make the choice to do better and move forward.

My beautiful niece decided to face this scary medical experience head on and document her surgeries and reconstruction progression on Instagram. If you are interested in finding out a little more about her story or perhaps dealing with this type of surgery yourself and want to learn more, you can follow her on Instagram at BCCNOSEJOURNEY.