Opinion Column

Strang looking ahead with cancer journey

By Donna Douglas

Lionel Strang was 60, self-employed in a partnership with his wife, Anne, and looking down the pipe to semi-retirement.

Their son was launched and life looked pretty great.

And then, a visit to a dermatologist to remove a skin tag, turned into looking at a spot on Lionel's leg, then to a cat scan and then to biopsy results. Melanoma. It had metastisized to his pelvis and stomach., Stage 4 cancer.

His doctor told him that he would be dead within the year.

"I thought it was an old guy's spot. It grew bigger over the year and I had ignored it. But there it was and it looked like my life was coming to an end," Lionel says.

That was Sept. 12, 2014, more than 1,000 days ago.

Lionel shares generously his agonizing days as he faced his own mortality. He spoke with his office manager, Barb Webster, and talked about selling the business, Young Drivers of Canada, and then decided Anne would just sell it when he was gone.

Meanwhile, Lionel would just keep going til he couldn't anymore.

What he desperately wanted to do was live a little longer, so he started a Facebook page and began counting forward.

One day lived. Another day lived. He started posting messages and videos and people started to respond.

What Lionel gave himself, and others, was hope.

He asked for a second opinion, was referred to Princess Margaret Hospital, invited to participate in a drug trial and was sent to the Psychosocial Oncology Clinic for mental-health support.

It was a lifesaver for him. He'd participated in the clinical trial, he was able to carry on many of his normal activities, but he was smart enough to begin his bucket list, and bought tickets for his son and himself for the Indy 500, at about the half-year mark.

And before Lionel knew it, Day 365 was approaching and he was very much alive.

Barb suggested a One More Year barbecue to celebrate his first year of 'life'and they set out a bucket collecting money for the Psychosocial Oncology Clinic and raised $1,200.

At the second anniversary of 'living', the Strang team held a One More Year-Day 731 barbecue and they got a little more serious about the fundraising.

The Psychosocial Oncology Clinic doesn't receive many grants; they serve all cancer patients, so aren't segmented for specific funds. The team was thrilled to receive Lionel's One More Year money.

"We made T-shirts and sold them, we started a Go Fund Me pages and 50 people came to the barbecue. We raised $8,000," he reports.

And now? Lionel has posted something on his Facebook page every single day for 1,012 days. Sometimes it's funny. Sometimes it's really sad. Sometimes it's about people he's met, people living the same journey as he. Sometimes it's to comment about friends whose journey is over.

Lionel shares the stories of cancer patients from England, from Singhampton, and Doreen from Thunder Bay who challenged him with her bubbling optimism at Princess Margaret one day. They had a series of "Me, too!" moments.

And then Doreen's life ended just short of her 60th birthday last September.

And so, now, as Lionel counts forward, he's looking at Barbecue No. 3, organized largely by his good friend Barb and his friends Steve and Pauline St. Onge, who've been following his journey.

The St. Onges have offered their Craighurst farm for One More Year, Day 1,095 and the event has taken on a life of its own. All kinds of fundraising activities... a photo booth, a raffle, T-shirts.

Fox's Bakery is donating the buns, and Lionel invites people to check out the barbecue Facebook page and come along for enjoyment.

It's important to let Barb know you're coming, though, so email her at websterbarb@ymail.com.

Lionel has decided to show his appreciation for all the work on the One More Year barbecue by taking a jaunt. The week prior to the barbecue, he's planning to walk from Princess Margaret Hospital in downtown Toronto to the St. Onge farm in Craighurst.

"I'm just going to walk from University Avenue to Yonge Street in downtown Toronto and keep going. When I get to Barrie, I'll switch over to Highway 93 until I get to Steve and Pauline's farm," he says.

Is Lionel living life differently these days? "Yes, for sure. Each day matters. The grass is greener and the sky is bluer," he says. "There was a time when being in the wrong line at Costco would have peeved me.

"That stuff proves I'm alive right now.

"My perspective has really changed.," he adds. "I've learned that there are lots of people on this planet way worse off than me. I hate every second of this disease, but I was chosen to go down this path and things have lined up and now I'm about to celebrate 1,095 days of living."

Right. Thanks, Lionel, for being exactly who you are.

Donna Douglas is a Barrie writer. You can read 22 years worth of columns on her website at www.donnadouglas.com. You can also email her at donna@donnadouglas.com