As men, we often don’t ask for help. It’s just the way we are, or maybe the way we grew up. That’s definitely how I was raised – to be strong, tough, and self-reliant. So sometimes we stick to ourselves and don’t reach out, even when we need support. Luckily, I’m a big believer in always learning and evolving. And going through cancer, I realized how much I needed support and a community. Whether it was my friends and family, my hockey community, a psychologist, or the Look Good Feel Better men’s workshop, I finally figured out that I don’t have to do this – or life – on my own.
I’m an accountant but a big part of my life right now and my biggest passion is refereeing hockey. I ref all kinds of hockey games, from men’s teams to junior teams, and I mentor young kids who are getting into refereeing. I started off as the referee coordinator for our community back when my son was a kid playing hockey. When he was old enough, I asked my son if he wanted to try it out as well. Now he’s 21 and a higher-ranked official than I am. Sometimes we get to be on the ice, reffing together and I love it. Being a ref has kept me in the game and taught me a lot about myself – how to deal with difficulties, how to make decisions quickly and to stand by them, and how to continually challenge myself and improve. I’m always learning on the ice, whether it’s from a 13-year-old ref or a 65-year-old one, or just a unique situation.
When I got diagnosed with a small bowel neuroendocrine tumour and stage 4 liver cancer, I was devastated. The doctor was saying it’s not so bad, it’s manageable, it will be OK. She was so calm about it. She said that there was a treatment available and that if it didn’t work, we had other options. But all I could think about was how both my mom and my mother-in-law had died from cancer. I have two kids in their early 20s and a wife and a great life. The diagnosis kept me up at night.
I went ahead with the recommended surgery and then it was a matter of getting out of the hospital. I couldn’t wait to get back to my life and back on the ice. I had complications, though, and I ended up staying in the hospital for an extra two and a half weeks. I was on an IV and I dropped 30 pounds. I looked weak and some people thought I was on my deathbed. The doctors had told me I’d be back to my normal lifestyle in a couple months, but that wasn’t happening. And once I finally got out, I had more problems and complications, which had me in and out of the hospital for even longer. During this drawn-out process, I went through a period of depression. And I reached out for help, which was the best thing I could have done. I talked to people and now I have a team, including a psychologist.
I also attended a men’s workshop from Look Good Feel Better. For men, there’s not a lot out there – and like I said, we don’t always seek help when maybe we should. But when I heard about the workshop, I thought it seemed really interesting, and it was covering things I hadn’t paid any attention to – things like managing dry and flaky skin, shaving safely with less irritation, and managing hair loss. I figured the more knowledge I can get about things, the better. And the workshop was great. The presenter was really positive and fun. He shared a lot of tips and tricks and made them seem so easy. I found him extremely relatable and knowledgeable, and he was very open to questions and comments. Now I’m moisturizing and using a bit of cover-up on blemishes if I’m going out and just more focused on my appearance in general. For a long time, I didn’t care. But it helps me feel a little bit better, which is positive. It has become a nice routine and it has given me an opportunity to feel better about myself – to feel more confident. The whole aim for me is to get back to the way I was, and every little positive step helps.
The little things can make a big difference, and that’s why I talk about what I’ve been through. I tell young refs that I coach, about how depressed I was and how I got help. I want them to know that they should never feel shy to ask for help, and that they shouldn’t be a "tough guy” about it – we all need help sometimes.
If you catch me on the ice nowadays, you’ll catch me with a big smile on. Actually, I wake up smiling. I’m feeling really positive these days. Going through cancer taught me to enjoy every day. I don’t let things bother me as much anymore. I really appreciate time spent with my family and loved ones. It’s hard to explain, but my outlook is different now. It’s like every day is a new day, and I still get the chance to learn new things – which is an amazing thing. One of the most important things I learned going through cancer is to use the tools and to ask for help. Like I said, I didn’t grow up thinking that way – it’s something I had to learn firsthand. Use your full team. Lean on your community. Ask questions. And be happy – enjoy what time you have, because nothing is guaranteed.