Thursday, October 29, 2009

Testing, Testing...Are You Out There?

One of the difficulties with writing blogs is that you often feel like you are whistling in the dark.  It feels like the right thing to do, but you are never sure whether anyone is out there listening.  Now, given that I have been "testing" this blogging idea for 60 days (since August 28th) and written 24 blog postings, it feels like an appropriate time to listen to the feedback.  While I must admit I have enjoyed my part, trying to be creative in communicating my life's experiences with Parkinson's as they happen, I am uncertain as to whether I am acheiving my primary goals.

When I started this experiment, I felt there were very few blogs focused on encouraging others who face the challenges of living with PD or some other degenerative disease.  I wanted to be an encourager.  I also wanted to explain at a personal level what it was like living, and trying to live better, with PD.

All that said, I would like your feedback, which can be directed to my email address by clicking on or noted in the Comment section below.  Now before all you nice people tell me what you think I want to hear, please believe me when I say that I want the straight goods (I can take it, I am a lawyer, remember).  Consider the following questions as a guide:

1.  How can the Positively Parkinson's blog be improved?
2.  What issues would be of interest to you (remember that this is a family show)?
3.  Would you like hearing about/from others living (well) with PD?
4  What about hearing about/from spouses/caregivers living with people with PD?

I will take the responses seriously (good, bad or ugly), and be responsive to your feedback

Thanks for taking the time to respond.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Parkinson's, Helicopters and Dirt Biking

It did not seem like we were traveling one hundred miles an hour until we got close to the mountains. While we were over the multi-shaded green fields of the fertile valley, it was if the chopper was floating slowly a mile above the Fraser River. From my vantage point, sitting next to the bulged-out plexiglass door, I found myself glancing everywhere at once, perched in the sky like a much older Harry Potter, caught up in a game of Quidditch, flying high on his Nimbus 2000 looking for the snitch. The shudder of the helicopter, my tremor and the anticipation of the next day all merged together in the evening ride. This was the way to start an adventure!

The four of us "slightly older" men were soon swooping down through the dusk to a small town, Tulameen (population 250), snuggled by Otter Lake in the Cascade Mountains of British Columbia. It was the beginning of a short adventure that promised to challenge me, and not just because my Blackberry was out of range.

The next morning started somewhat late, after an uncharacteristically restful night’s sleep breathing in the crisp and cold mountain air through the cabin window. We scarfed down a breakfast that only men could appreciate after they cooked it themselves, supplemented by café lattes made on an espresso machine brought up just for the luxury of it.

The bright yellow, red or blue 250 cc motorbikes outside screamed for our attention as they were started and tested. They were like wild broncos, saddled and waiting for someone to climb on and ride into the treed hills to explore or just escape the stresses of civilization. As I chose my mount, the powerful machine gave out a whine and growl, leaping ahead as if leaving the starting gate while I clung to the handlebars with a death grip. The surefooted "steed" sprang up rutted roads, over sharp boulders and around unyielding corners with nimble knobby tires gripping and scratching at whatever surface was available. It was as if they instinctively knew that one false move would send its wide-eyed rider over the handlebars and into a tree or over a cliff. It was pure exhilaration, at least when it was not humiliation due to being unceremoniously "bucked" off the bike due to my misjudging the terrain or just losing my balance.

There was only one occasion when I nearly became an adventure statistic. Going insanely fast down a steep narrow road, straight up on one side and straight down on the other, I was passing everyone else, banging and bumping over rocks and ruts with ever-increasing speed. Beyond control and in panic mode I desperately tried to remember the instructions I had been given just moments before. “THINK! THINK! AM I SUPPOSED TO USE THE FRONT BRAKE, THE BACK BRAKE OR BOTH?” I had little opportunity to experiment and was only ultimately saved insult and injury by hanging on for dear life until I somehow came to a breathless stop. My shaking from fear and Parkinson's were indistinguishable, both being about 8.2 on the Richter scale.
Despite the motto of our fearless leader, "all the gear all the time", there was enough danger of suffering mortal harm that I found my senses became finely tuned, spotting almost every hump, bump and stump in the path ahead. Despite the intense pleasure of each moment, or perhaps because of it, my symptomatically stiff shoulder and arm muscles seemed to be clenched indefinitely. Parkinson's somehow became irrelevant.

By the end of the ride, I began to feel comfortable, pushing the powerful bike faster on the straight-aways, harder into the tight corners, even taking little jumps when I could. I was beaming when I got off; bushed but beaming. I knew that even if dirt biking was only a one-time experience, it was a great one. I was confident that despite the degenerative disease there would be an abundance of adventure ahead. I just needed to look for it and be willing to take the risk.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Feeling a Little Shaky

"Order in court" the clerk abruptly announced, as if those of us in the courtroom were soldiers waiting for a commanding officer. I jumped unnecessarily, but characteristically, having become a little edgy lately due to lack of a good night’s sleep. Immediately my tremor spiked up a notch or two, setting me to vibrating like a paint can in the grip of one of those shaker machines at the hardware store. Bad timing!

Everyone stood up in traditional respect for the black robed judge who strode through the security door in the back corner.  She climbed the three steps to the dais and, half bowing, half nodding to those in attendance, unceremoniously plunked herself down in the overstuffed red leather chair behind her bench. It was 9:30 Monday morning and another day had begun in Court of Appeal Chambers. Unfortunately, the comparatively small area behind the "bar" that separated the public gallery from the remainder of the room had too few chairs to accommodate the lawyers who had gathered to gossip while waiting for Her Ladyship to arrive. As a result, there was a professional sort of scurrying that happened when she did arrive, as if the music had stopped in a game of musical chairs. I had come early and secured my favorite spot, close to the door so that I did not have to climb over anybody to get out.

As the judge's list of matters was being read by the court clerk, I felt my right leg bouncing up and down as if I was at a barn dance marking double time to a polka, while my right arm seemed to be furiously strumming an imaginary banjo. But before I could survey the room to determine who might be watching my musical miming abilities, number 7 on the judge's list was called. It was my turn.

It was not all that difficult an argument to make, but if my noticeable tremor was misinterpreted as fear you would think this was an appearance in front of all 9 judges at the Supreme Court of Canada. Sitting on my hand proved useless and short-lived as I had to stand to make my presentation to the judge. I chose what seemed to be the best alternative and used my hands more dramatically, gesturing and moving my papers about at the risk of spreading them on the floor around the small podium.

Fortunately, it took little persuading to get the order I needed, my opponent being firmer in stance but much less prepared. Áfter victory was pronounced by the judge I gathered the papers that I had needlessly shuffled, stuffing them into my black barristers bag, and marched as confidently as I could out into the hallway.

It would have been fruitless, and a little foolish, to stop at any time to explain to the court that I had not taken my medication in the morning due to my overly zealous and lengthy preparation. Although the idea of saying, "do not mind me, I am having a bad day with my Parkinson's", had crossed my mind, I was concerned it might have been mistaken for a lack of confidence in my argument that would follow. In the end I tried, without any success, to just ignore it, hoping that everyone else would as well.

As I walked out into the cold October rain I realized that as long as I was moving no one really noticed my shaking. Besides, I imagined halfheartedly, it could just be excessive shivering in the cold. But I knew that the events of the morning would increasingly repeat themselves in different environments over the years to come. It will become necessary to learn how to accept what my uncooperative body is doing, despite the likely discomfort of others with their questioning looks.

This is part of the PD progression that I have not yet resolved how to handle. Trying to hide the symptoms seems immature, even foolhardy. But it was a natural response, and I am now left wondering what other response might "work".

It was later in the day, while talking with another member of our firm, that I realized it was the bully, fear, that I need to wrestle into submission. Fear that I would be viewed as less capable, less competent, less confident; all necessary traits of my trade. Fear that all the things I had worked 30 years to build would crack and finally crumble under the influence of my own personal quaking.

I cannot live in fear, cowering in a cave of my own making. I must have faith and courage, both of which are often in short supply. Days like today prove that fear is often based on lies. I am the same person as I always have been; I am just feeling a little shaky today.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Parkinson's and the Fear of Forgetting

“How are you feeling?” I asked him too casually.

Fred and I were having coffee as the early afternoon sunshine warmed us through the large kitchen window. It was unusual weather for an October day. It was also unusual for me given that it was the middle of a workday and I was chatting, seemingly aimlessly, with an elderly friend as if I did not have any billable work to do at all. The opposite was true of course, but I had business near his home and was inexplicably drawn to stop in for a quick coffee with Fred. At his age and health, as well as his state of mind, and my too busy schedule, I was not sure I would see him again, at least not soon or be able to converse with him in the easy way we were doing that autumn afternoon.

"How are you doing?" I asked again when he hesitated in response to my question. Clearly troubled about something he slowly drew in his breath in a labored fashion. The worried expression on his face immediately made him look older than his 80 years. “Well” he said, "I am not as compos mentis as I once was. You see, I forget things. I lose things. I just cannot remember like I used to." When I responded, "Join the club!", that discussion ended and we moved on, the customary cheery smile replacing the anxious frown. But soon examples of what he had been trying to explain began springing up with embarrassing frequency. He asked me how my children were doing and how old they were four times during our time together, each time as if the queries had never been asked before. I felt mildly frustrated at having to repeat myself, and guilty about my internal reaction and impatience. When the phone rang, he tried to explain to the caller who he was visiting with. Finally, with a pained look on his face, he turned to me and said, "What is your name again?"

Although I was simply an observer, I felt Fred’s anguish, the humiliation and the discomfort with something happening that neither he nor I fully understood. It was something frightening. It was the fear of forgetting.

This episode with my friend, Fred, had an immediate impact. It beckoned memories of that same look on my father’s face as we drove along very familiar roads in the Coldstream Valley farm country where we had lived for all of my childhood. He looked at me confused and asked me where we were. It was like a jolt of electricity running up my spine.

Is this my future? Am I also destined to begin peering through a mental fog at some point? In the years to come will Parkinson's disease fill my head with cotton, as it has begun filling Fred’s mind?

How does one grapple with the fear of forgetting? Since cognitive impairment has a greater potential of striking those with Parkinson's, it is not groundless apprehension.

First, I asked myself, "Is there anything I can do about it?" The answer, like most answers given by lawyers and neurologists alike, was "Maybe". As unsatisfying as that may be, it is better than "No!". Studies have shown that regular mental exercise helps fend off the fear of forgetting to some extent. So keep those crosswords coming!

Second, I recognized that it would be unwise for me to let the fear of future forgetting paralyze the present (although I shudder a bit when I hesitate too long in order to remember someone's name). Focus on what I have, not what I might possibly lose.

Finally, I decided I needed to spend more time with my friend, Fred, and others like him. Facing one's fears, even when reflected in the face of a friend, allows us to nurture courage and compassion. Maybe it is like a blood donor donating blood on the premise that one day he may need it himself.

I was sincere when I asked Fred how he was feeling. The least I can do is hang around for the answer.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Parkinson's, Wine and Old Friends

Relationships with old friends are like wines; the good ones usually improve with age, becoming richer, deeper and more intoxicating, while the others of lesser quality lose their flavour. This was proven last night.

It actually started 30 years ago, in September of 1976, when some 179 mostly young students (me being one of them) met for the first time in classes or the "Interaction Area".  Someone lacked creativity, but that is what they called the lounge area in the bunker style building of the University of British Columbia Law School. Three years later, almost all of us were unleashed to "practice" law on an unsuspecting public. Can you imagine the fear of those first clients if the truth had been known? "Hi, my name is Gerald and I will be your lawyer today. I have a law degree but no experience so I will be practicing on you."

Of course, we learned about the law at law school. However, we never learned how to actually be lawyers until we began to "practice". In retrospect, it was like handing a scalpel to medical students, who had never performed an operation or even watched one (except on TV), and suggesting they go find someone to "practice" on. Young lawyers do not get supplied with cadavers for “practice”.

Fast-forward (and I mean fast) 30 years to a gathering of those same people, at least a reasonable sampling of them. The scene at the 30 Year Reunion of the Law School Class of 1979 was fascinating for numerous reasons. The usual differences in appearance were stereotypical. Some had aged well and others, well, they had aged.  Some put on weight and others looked like models.  Some were in Armani suits while others were in jeans.  There was the array of careers from personal life coach to an expert in “meteor law” (true!). There was a mining executive with a UBC librairy named after him and a significant number of judges.  And some of our class did not come for obvious reasons.

I was charged with giving a tribute to our classmate and friend, Hugh. As part of that 'in memoriam' I read my October 1, 2009 blog entry, "Round Multicoloured Bruises", which off-handedly mentioned my Parkinson's disease. I did not want to make a big deal of this disclosure, but I did not want to hide it either. I had tried to prepare myself for what I thought might be the responses. I knew that there would be no collective inhaled gasp, lawyers are far too controlled for that, but I was anticipating a variety of responses. Like uncorking a bottle of wine, I honestly did not know what to expect.

I was struck again by how awkward even old friends seemed to handle the news (only a few in the room knew of my diagnosis). Despite trying to be casual and take a "it's just a card I've been dealt" attitude with a chaser of "lots of people have it worse", few classmates mentioned it. Maybe they did not hear me, as apparently I was reading too quickly in my attempt to keep to my time allotment (something most lawyers find difficult, as was ably demonstrated by others later in the evening). Those that did comment seemed to have difficulty with words (not a common occurrence for members of the legal profession).

It seems to me that dealing with a person who has a disease or disability is difficult, even for my friends. There seems to be helplessness felt that does not sit comfortably with those more at home with corporate mergers, complex court cases or solving problems generally. PD just does not fit. And it cannot be hidden (at least for long) before an explanation needs to be given for the symptoms. So I had concluded that the risk had to be taken.

It may be groundless, and even a touch of paranoia, but I drove home wondering if I had just been labeled by most of my classmates.

Like the bottles of wine we auctioned for a law school scholarship fund, we all seem to want to know names and details so that we can define what, or who, is inside.  But it is time, which ages all things, that will provide proof of character and content.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thankful for Everything?

Under most circumstances, the room would have been filled with a suffocating hopelessness and despair. Yet there was a serenity that I felt as I stood in the quiet ground-floor condominium suite with the father, his daughter, and his son-in-law, who was holding a young baby. Everyone was quiet except for my friend, Bob Dobson. He was praying. "Lord, although I do not understand it, and my pain and sense of loss is overwhelming, I know that I need to thank you for what has occurred. Help to assure me in the days ahead as we discover why it is we can be thankful."

It was at 5:30 PM on June 12, 2006 that a Ford Explorer driven by a seminary student was heading north along the Oregon Coast Highway #101 as the Dobson van was headed south. Bob noticed the Explorer drift onto the shoulder, suddenly overcorrect, veering into the van's path, striking head on at essentially full speed. There had been no time for Bob Dobson to react or even brake. The van was immediately set ablaze with its four generations of occupants desperately scrambled to undo seat belts and pull themselves, or be pulled, from the burning wreckage. In a fiery instant Pastor Bob Dobson's life changed forever and in every conceivable way. He lost his wife, his mother, his health, and almost his daughter, son-in-law and grandson. So how is it that a man who has lost so much could pray as he did?

How can you be thankful when life seems to turn on you? Loved ones are lost, cruelly torn from a family's future, others have relationships end leaving splintered hearts, a child is drawn into a life that destroys body and mind and leaves helpless parents weeping, or normal aging robs some of the best of their dignity and sanity. Some have heard a well-meaning neurologist pronounce a few syllables that shatter dreams that were almost within reach and bring recurring and ever-amplified nightmares in their stead.

This is where an "attitude of gratitude" runs headlong into crushing reality, leaving either a discarded platitude or refined fortitude. Life has a way of testing glib sayings as it chisels away at the foundations of what we say we believe.

For some, the diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease slowly seeps into the resistant psyche, as if uncertain as to whether its subject can bear the impact of its meaning. For others those words have an immediate and devastating sense of despair. For me the verdict delivered on January 19, 2006 continues to ripple through my life in ever widening circles, like a stone dropped in the middle of quiet lake.

Perhaps it is enough for some to learn how to accept the adversity and disability represented by PD. But for me, that feels too much like gritting my teeth and trying to smile. As difficult as it is sometimes, I have come to the conclusion that I must see this as more than just another challenge. Perhaps this disease is an opportunity for which I need to be thankful. This past Canadian Thanksgiving weekend it was a question I felt compelled to consider.

Certainly that is the message of Michael J. Fox in his book "Always Looking Up". Although I am left pondering the title and the source of his faith (looking up to what?), I do embrace his view that there is purpose in living with this disease. We can choose to see it all as having meaning, rather than assume it is just the cruel hand of fate.

If there is purpose in having PD then we can take a page (literally) from the faith of my friend, Bob Dobson. He would quote the Bible, 1 Thessalonians 4:7,"... give thanks in all circumstances...".

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hay, Smell the Roses?

What events do you remember because of smell?

It was late at night but the moon shone so brightly that the fresh-baled hay could be clearly seen lying in the field like twine-bound caskets of recently fallen soldiers. These 50 pound straw blocks had that day been pushed out the tail of a baler onto the stubbled field that had days earlier been waist high and green.

I was there to "stook" the bales, choosing to do so under the stars to avoid the daytime 90-degree plus heat that hits with merciless fervour. It was much cooler at night, making even the sweat forming on my forehead seem refreshing rather than burning, as it did during those hot Okanagan summer days of 1969. The night air was refreshing, even if the dew made the bales a few pounds heavier.

Stooking was what we called it then, although I learned later that it was an archaic word used for "stacking sheaves of wheat or other grass-like crops to lean together in upright groups of 12" and left to dry. In our case we stacked the rectangular bales in towers of 4 or more, depending on how close the orphan bales were together and how lazy the stooker was. After drying they were collected on a tractor-drawn trailer and stored in lofts, barns or just under cover somewhere on the farm, handy to feed the livestock in the winter. Bales were high-tech compared to our original method when farmhands walked the field with pitchforks scooping loose hay onto a moving trailer from where it had been left to dry in little dome-shaped piles throughout the field. Of course, today most bales are round like slices from a giant straw log and could not be stooked or even moved except by machine.

While my memory of this summer moonlit image is as clear as a Kodak moment, it is not what I remember, and miss, the most. I have lost my ability to smell.  Most people don't know that 90% of those of us who have Parkinson's Disease have "olfactory dysfunction".  You would think that a tremour, stiffness, depression, insomnia and the list of other symptoms would be enough.  But loss of smell is a better early indicator of PD than any other signs.   I can hear you now sniffing just to check your own nasal skills.

Despite my current anosmia (what a funny word for loss of smell), I can still "smell" the fresh cut hay of 40 years ago. It is a fragrance filled with memories of being 15, when life was a full-steam-ahead freight train rushing into the future as if the present had no appeal.  Those days were spent at the beach (mostly sleeping due to the fatigue of a night's stooking), enjoying grape Popsicles, juke box music and diving off the "tower" into Kalamalka Lake to impress the vacationing girls that strolled out on the pier.

The scents (not sense) of my youth sometimes haunt me. Like the phantom pain in an amputated hand I "smell" the damp and warm cedar sawdust when passing a sawmill, like the ones my father worked in. I "smell" the fresh baked bread just out of my Grandma's wood stove oven, sitting on racks beckoning my Grandpa and uncles from the fields or orchard for lunch, when it would be devoured. I remember well the lilac bushes that crowded and arched over the lawn, and their distinctive aroma mixing with the tang of fresh cut grass as I pushed the lawnmower under their fragrance-filled flowers.

The loss of smell is simply a reality for me, but I am grateful that PD has not destroyed my other senses. I find myself being thankful this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend for the use of 4 other senses, appreciate the memories of the smells of my youth, and every once in a while I stop and "smell" the lilacs.  Maybe I have traded the days of nonsense for 'non-scents'.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Unshaken Friendship

Time tests all friendships.

Sitting around the kitchen table sharing a bowl of tortilla soup, corn bread and a glass or two of sangria was the picture of comfort food with comfortable conversation. Crisp with the feeling of fall outside, the warmth of old friends wrapped us in easy memories. It was an old, soft blanket we shared together. At times the blanket held sadness and heartbreak huddled silently in its folds, at other times a reassuring hug had been held beyond simple politeness, and was tangled in its tranquility. Many occasions of raucous laughter meant uncontrolled tears spilled to be absorbed by its memory-filled fabric. Friendship like this cannot be adequately described, it is cherished with eyes closed and hearts filled with its sounds and smells, warmth and easy rhythm.

Bill and Shirley (not their real names) have been a part of our lives for more than thirty years. No, it has not been continuous congenial contact, for on occasion there were years between some visits. But getting together was like bringing out that warm wrap and knowing that the sweet ‘hot chocolate’ aroma of mutual acceptance and caring would soon fill the room. Last night we went onto the back deck and howled at the full moon together, confirming to our neighbours that we were indeed a little crazy. We shared some hurts, some achievements, some concerns and some celebrations. But most of all we simply shared ourselves, and it left me with a satisfied “Ahhhhhhhh.”

When a life changing diagnosis, like Parkinson’s, befalls you in life, you get a number of responses from friends and family. There are those who simply ignore it, something like the denial I utilized when first diagnosed. “I don’t know how to deal with this and so I will just pretend it does not exist. Maybe it will go away.” Who has not felt the discomfort and inadequacy in responding to a “wounded” friend?

Some choose to safely intellectualize the subject. “Well, I knew a person with PD and they said… Aren’t there medications to deal with that?” This effectively dehumanizes the experience and simply segregates it as a topic of scientific conversation.

Of course the opposite of that is the emotional response. “”No! Not you! You don’t deserve such a devastating disease. How are you coping?” Well, I was feeling fine before you asked. Thanks!

But in my opinion the best response is an honest acknowledgement of the diagnosis and the affirming acceptance of the person with the problem. Those people care and are sincerely concerned, but we move on with a common commitment to making the very best of it. Despite feeling entirely unprepared, we have the years of growing friendship to sustain and encourage us.

For me the preferred reaction to my PD challenge is neither dramatic or dispassionate, disinterested or detailed. Seek understanding, yes, but remember that the most important ingredient in the mix is the person not the disease. Our closest friends know that.

One recurring theme: Difficult though it may be, in order for others to be comfortable with us, we must be comfortable with ourselves. We can avoid the drama and denial with caring friends.

Deer in the Headlights

There were fewer than 100 attendees arranged around tables in front of me as the lapel mike was clipped onto my shirt. They were mostly seniors (a rank I will soon achieve, or have entered at some restaurants), none of whom I knew. Even so, I strained to discern the emotions in the eyes staring at me. Fear was what I saw. Faced with that observation, what could I say? Of course there was fear. They had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and were attending the "New Diagnosis Seminar" sponsored by the Parkinson's Society of British Columbia. And I was there to talk about living with PD, the topic of this blog and an all-consuming focus for me.

Encouraging the small crowd was a challenge. It is difficult to convince those who's world has been rocked by news that there would be extraordinary challenges ahead. Some days might be tear-stained, painful and dark. At times a sense of hopelessness might creep into the mind and seek to blot any sunshine or smile. I knew the sense of isolation and dread that simmered just below the surface. Even those who just came with loved ones who had been diagnosed with PD were asking the question (whether aloud or in their hearts), "What do I do now?" It was the reason they had all come.

This was no time to entertain with platitudes or make shallow promises. I wanted to inspire. I was incredibly inadequate for the job, but I knew that I had to do my best. Words have great potential. They can be powerful. As Buddha apparently stated, "Words have the power to destroy or heal. When words are true and kind, they can change the world." Strangely, I had been looking forward to this moment. Perhaps it was because it required me to test the mantra of this blog: we can live positively with Parkinson's. Would that sincere suggestion, that call to arms, be enough to rally the sinking spirits of those in the audience. It is not enough to believe what I was saying; it had to be a part of me. Those listening would know if it were nothing but hypocritical hyperbole.

The strange thing about speaking engagements is that you never really know how well or poorly you did. The applause may be flat or overdone. Those who speak to you after may be falsely flattering. There is no litmus test for a well-done speaking engagement.

And if I were looking for some sudden salvation result, those I talked to afterwards still had the 'deer in the headlights' look in their eyes. But they were simply betraying a feeling I still have and try to confront from time to time. There is no easy way to replace the neurologist’s declaration that it is 'positively Parkinson's' with the determination that you can live with Parkinson's positively. The diagnosis can deafen us and often drowns out the positive. Regardless, we are left with one decision: How will we live with this?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Round Multicolored Bruises

Neither of us were Jewish, but somehow we found ourselves at 6 a.m. once or twice a week at the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre racquetball courts. How that was arranged so that it cost us nothing, or whether it was, I don’t remember. But the two of us, young, married prelaw university students, were there swinging and sweating profusely as we bashed that ball against the walls with a mutual determination to prevail. On occasion it was our respective backsides that took the full brunt of the black ball, but that pain was temporary. Little did we know that our respective futures would present much more enduring and serious competition and consequence.

Hugh Stansfield would have been 57 today, had he not died on May 7, 2009 after using everything he had to fight a senseless and relentless opponent, multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. He did not lose that competition, nor did he give up. He would have preferred to stay in the game, but it was just time to move off the court, leaving a legacy of life lived intentionally and intensely. He was a champion in every respect. Many people miss him. I miss him, especially today.

The impact he left on me was much more significant than a round multicolored bruise on the back. It was not as a fellow law student, or working in the same firm or even when he was the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of British Columbia that he was so influential in my life. It was not even a courageous and outrageous 4 week motorcycle trip across Canada and back with him that affected me the most.  It was when he faced death that he taught me how to compete with a seemingly unbeatable adversary.

Over the last years of his too short life we shared our “weaknesses” in a way lawyers rarely do. I would spend precious time with him every week or so as he sat and drained a blood bag or two at the Hospital, which he did every 2 or 3 days.  We became teammates engaging different enemies that insisted upon inflicting maximum harm in an attempt to beat us. Cancer became his death sentence. Parkinson’s my life sentence. But I learned that neither judgment could crush our spirits or keep us in a dark room of despair.

He showed grace under intense life-threatening pressure, approaching his foe fearlessly and with his sense of humour in tact.  His commitment to "finish well" produced an awe-inspiring model of how to live.

We who knew Hugh can do him no greater tribute than playing on when the welts and scars from the game would have us  give up.  So play on we will.