Choose To Be Grateful

I am grateful to have you at my side as a support pillar. Knowing that you are cheering for me and praying that my aggressive chemotherapy will add years to my life, is a source of great comfort.

I aspire to live each day as a celebration of the precious time we have on this little blue dot we call earth and treat each moment as a tribute to all the wonderful things and moments that make up our lives.

I like to think of myself as an active participant and an agent of positive change. I recognize that many are more comfortable as observers but share my feeling of being fortunate to live in this special place and time. In particular, I treasure my family and friends and the many memories we crafted together throughout the years.

It seems to me that all you need do is look around at the many miracles in nature to arouse deeper emotions; the turning of the seasons, the vibrancy when nature comes to life in the spring, the flourish and growth of plants and flowers throughout the warming temperatures of summer, the incredible beauty of a shower of golden leaves in the fall, and the crisp snap of winter when a blanket of snow covers the land.

Above all, having someone to love and someone who loves you in return is the most genuine condition of mind which brings serenity to the soul.

We’re all here for just a brief snapshot of time but if we find our way to make sense out of life and view it with wonder and amazement, and leave some record of it behind for those who follow us, then we have made a contribution and we can count our lives as being worthwhile.


The theme in the message above came from an episode of The Waltons. It reflects how I feel about myself, is mostly my own words, and accurately summarizes what I view as my important life values. You need not share my perspective but I encourage you to put to paper how you feel about yourself, your humanity, and how you view your place in the bigger scheme of things.

I think that relationships are the most important gift we have to share and enjoy. I have found that reaching out and re-kindling past relationships along with forging new friendships is enriching my existence these days. I have been working at that. Let me share the past few days.


On Sunday, November 1st, Joanne Long, her husband Trevor, and son Tyler joined us for dinner. Also, Alexis Gravel, Kennedy Boyd, Jason Horvath, and Walter Flower arrived as a surprise for Trevor who before COVID spent most afternoons as a Trainer with the Mooseheads. Those who go to Moosehead Games can easily spot Tyler in the stands during games as one of the biggest fans. Tyler has Downs Syndrome and the good fortune of growing up in a loving family and a long time relationship with the Mooseheads. Due to COVID, he is unable to be with the team during practices and at the start of games this year. That leaves a huge hole in his daily existence. Having the players surprise him at dinner was a joyful moment for both his Mom, Dad, and me.

This is the first time I’ve met the Long family but there was a heart-felt reason we had them join us for dinner.

Although Joanne didn’t know me, she did know I was Alexis’ billet Dad for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons. Alexis has been a good friend to Tyler over his years with the team. When she learned about my cancer, she made an Afghan for me in Moosehead colours. I was deeply touched by this gesture. It has been a source of comfort at every single chemotherapy treatment and I frequently cuddle with it when feeling cold. I guess it’s fair to say I have a blanky at age 67.

We had a wonderful dinner made up of salmon hors d’oeuvres, a soup course of either French Onion or Carrot-Ginger, salad course of watermelon, cantaloupe and melon, roast beef and sides, and desert consisting of apple pie and chocolate cake. This was a two-hour event with toasts at the start of every course.

More importantly, there was genuine conversation among friends around the table. These are magical moments. A good meal and good company make for excellent memories. And in this case, the surprise for Tyler made the whole evening that much more special for everyone.


Our daughter Melanie and her girlfriend Marissa are so remarkably creative. On Saturday, they erected a haunted house from their camping kitchen tent. The decorations were spectacular and they delivered treats using a long piece of pipe to ensure social distancing with the children who ventured into their scary world. Janet and I visited, got a treat outside, and headed inside to visit with Marissa’s parents, Nadine and Paul. To my delight, “Trick or Drink” still works. Ye ha!


I’m confident you already know I really enjoy bringing out the good China and setting an attractive table. We’re not fancy folk but this is one arena in which I try my best to shine.

On Thursday, October 29th, my new friend, Joel Jacobson and his wife Cathy joined us for a feast. We became good friends in the Scotiabank Arena at Moosehead games. A benefit for all Moosehead Billet parents is season tickets. Cathy and Joel had seats next to us as season ticket holders. Joel is a little older than me and he spent a lifetime working for the Halifax Chronicle Herald, mostly as a sports writer. He is a wealth of knowledge about the sports scene in our community both now and in this past. I get such pleasure sitting with his brilliance at my left hand during games.

Like me, Joel has battled cancer and currently qualifies as a survivor. His toast of the evening was so special. He decided to celebrate “attitude” as we both appreciate how important a good attitude contributes to successfully coping with cancer treatment.

As with most of my friends, I make sure they know that they have carved out a space in my heart they occupy. I love you Joel and Cathy. You are both special people with big hearts and a lust for active living.


This is my good friend Andy Syson who like me was an elearning specialist. Until retirement, he worked at the University of Coventry in the United Kingdom. Our paths crossed frequently at elearning conferences we attended in the US. At one point, I travelled to join him and deliver training on synchronous teaching platforms on his campus. Zoom is a synchronous platform and shares this space with a host of other products. Today we take for granted how easy it is to have a video conference with family, friends, students, colleagues, and others. Back in the day, they were complicated and the Internet didn’t have the stability we enjoy today. In addition to speaking at conferences in the United States, Andy travelled to Nova Scotia to be a speaker at a national elearning conference we hosted at Dalhousie.

Andy’s first wife lost her battle with cancer many years ago. About eight years ago, Janet and travelled to the UK to meet his fiancé and attend his wedding to Sidney. It was a magical moment and we were honoured to bear witness to his life milestone.

We are both retired and drifted apart since his marriage. Last Wednesday, October 28th, we had an hour long video call to catch up. It was so good to rekindle this friendship. We both had lots of positive changes to share along with our health challenges we both face. Andy had open heart surgery to repair a valve a while back and is almost back to normal. He and his wife are regular cyclists and have a tandem on order.

We agree that whoever coined the term “golden years” should be tarred, feathered, and chased out of town. With that said, we are both living large and plan to have regular video calls going forward. My hope is that Janet and I can fit a visit in when we travel to the Netherlands next May. Fingers crossed!


But it didn’t end there. On Tuesday, October 27th, Jean and David Webster joined us for dinner along with our son Chris and his wife Becca plus our new grandson Jacob. Jean and David, and their children, are long time friends of Chris through his strong relationship Jesus Christ and the youth programs at Saint John XXIII Catholic Church in Colby Village.

Becca and Chris married in Minnesota on June 8th, 2019. Jean and David drove from Nova Scotia to the wedding in a van filled with decorations and along with Becca’s parents, converted the church hall to beautiful location to have a dinner, reception, and a party.

While at this event, I invited Jean and David to have dinner in the future as an expression of my appreciation for their contribution. Jean correctly called me out for that a few weeks ago so we had them over for a lovely meal and wonderful conversations.


The highlight of my week was my 67th birthday on October 25th.

I’m sure as a child I had birthday wishes but as an adult, not so much. There was always a birthday cake as Janet would never let the day pass without that much celebration. This year though I asked my friends to gift me a blood donation as I will never be able to give again. I started making blood donations in response to the potential need after 9/11. As a man, I can donate every 56 days. Giving blood is a feel-good activity where an hour of your time saves lives. I was a regular and it was pointed out that I could give plasma more frequently as the process returns red blood cells to your system. Since when I started, I contributed 343 times. I’m very proud of this and encourage everyone to make a habit of donating blood.

There was such a positive response to my Birthday Wish that I got a phone call from the Philanthropic Team at Canadian Blood Services head office in Ottawa. They received numerous blood, plasma, and platelet donations along with several financial contributions that traced back to my Birthday wish. I am humbled by those who stepped up and made donation and I send my love for your willingness to share the Gift of Life.

This is my friend Wietse who I met in while cycling in the Round Denmark Bike Race in 2018. The picture is taken in his home town of Harligen in the Netherlands and shot while I was taking part in the Race Around the Netherlands in 2019.

He wasn’t in the 2018 race. He was on a cycling vacation after his school term concluded at the University of Utrecht. His travel took him through Germany, Denmark, a ferry ride to the top of Sweden, down the coast of Sweden to Helsingborg, a short ferry ride to Helsingør in Denmark, and then home. We developed a deep friendship and started having monthly video calls when I returned to Canada after my race in Denmark.

Wietse met me at the airport when I travelled to the race in the Netherlands and put me up at his apartment in Amsterdam. We spent a few days before and after the race as tourists and making marvelous memories.

My birthday started with a 7:00 am video chat with Wietse. Like so many others, he carved out a place in my heart where he lives. We have a deep loving friendship which I highly value. I love you brother.

After the call, I got started cooking as we were having friends from the Shearwater Yacht Club for a pot luck dinner later in the day. But first there was brunch with the children at Jade and Drew’s apartment.

Janet and I drove to the brunch around 1:00 pm. Meredith, Adam, Becca, Chris, Jacob, Jade, Drew, Marissa, and Melanie were already there and had a lot of food laid out in the kitchen.

It was a light lunch with plenty of deserts. Jade made numerous vegetarian dishes which were scrumptious.

There was also a chocolate cake which I think is my second favourite cake of all time.

I always enjoy these moments with my children and their spouses. It’s that much better when there is a grandchild in the mix. If you didn’t already hear, we celebrated the arrival of our first grandchild, Jacob Christopher Philip O’Hara, on August 31st.

We headed home so I could have a rest before our company arrived around 5:30 pm. This was a pretty busy day. I wanted to make sure I had enough spark in my tank to enjoy the pot luck dinner coming up with friends.

Tracy and John, Melody and Dan, Christine and Rob, Nancy, and Bret arrived around 5:30. This is what our new table looks like when set for ten.

Our dinner routine is to start with hors d’oeuvres in the living room. Rob provided home-made jams, crackers, and cheese.

Then we moved to the table for the soup course. I made my standard French Onion Soup and the Carrot-Ginger vegetarian soup as an alternative. It was made by our daughter-in-law Jade. Tracy and John brought a Spinach Salad for the second course. Melody and Dan made a Macaroni Dish, Nancy made Scalloped Potatoes, and I cooked both beef and pork roasts with lots of sides as the main course. I made an Apple Pie for desert and Janet picked up a selection of mini cupcakes. Everyone was full when they headed home around 9:30 pm.

It was terrific to swap sailing stories with all these folks throughout the evening. It is important to offer a shout-out to Rob and John. They were instrumental in getting our boat in the water, the mast on at the start of the season, the mast off at the end of the season, and looking after the boat during haul-out. My sailing season only happened because of the generous willingness of these guys to look after tasks I was unable to do this year.

I have made many good friends at Shearwater and look forward to getting the boat back in the water next May. There are many sailing memories yet to come.


It really was a busy week for me connecting with remarkable friends. I plan to reach to more folks in the weeks to come as long as my health allows me to do so. Eventually I can expect problems with my immune system but for now I’m living large.

I wish to finish this blog article with a message from the opening.

Above all, having someone to love and someone who loves you in return is the most genuine condition of mind which brings serenity to the soul.

As always, I value having you at my side as a support pillar. Your prayers and God holding my hand is a vital source of personal comfort.

Peace, Love, and Laughter
Phil

8 Replies to “Choose To Be Grateful”

  1. Wow Phil, “attitude” was certainly a choice toast word used at the beginning of your post. Your post and ability to continue to embrace new and former friendships throughout your journey is remarkable. Such heart-warming memories you continue to make for you, your family and friends. Thank you for blessing all of us with your writings.

    1. Thanks Michelle. I think we’re overdue to have coffee sometime soon and catch up on what’s happening in our families. It has been a roller coaster year with highs and lows. Thankfully there are more high times and Carching up with people is proving to be a source of strength for me. I’m glad you appreciate my ramblings. I hope they help others in my shoes who don’t enjoy the support neywork I have in my life.

    1. Thanks Anna. I look forward to when the travel restrictions soften but I think that’s months away. Lots of love from Nova Scotia.

      Stay Safe, Phil ❤️

  2. You are such an inspiration Phil. Although I am out of country and am unable to visit, I feel very close to you my brother. Your thoughts and stories have touched Anita and I so deeply. When this virus is finally over we hope to visit you in your new abode. We’re cheering you on old friend. Much love to you and your family. Godspeed.

    1. I think of you guys frequently. It’s hard to believe how much time has passed since your wedding. I miss the good times we enjoyed together. Clearly cancer sucks but I refuse to let it control how I live my life. Our move from our home to an apartment has gone smoothly and we’re happy with our new digs. Once you can visit, you will have a place to stay and I’m sure we can find a crew to join us for a feast. That is something to put on the radar. We can comfortably seat 12 at our new table.

      I love you guys ❤️

  3. It was good to video call you the other day and re-live the times we have spent together at conferences, at theme parks and my wedding. As others have commented you are someone that can can bring joy to everyone you meet and even in these most difficult times for you and your family you still manage to inspire the rest of us to look at the postive things in life. Thinking of you often.

    1. It’s so ironic you just posted this message. A few moments ago I started an article I titled “It’s Okay To Be Angry.” This is a negative and consuming emotion and as much as I prefer to stay a positive course on my life path, I think anyone in a health battle, whether it be cancer or open heart surgery, will have moments they falter and allow negative emotions To dominate. My current moment will pass with all the support pillars in my life who bring such joy.

      I look forward to our next call. With the time difference between the UK and NS, an 8:00 am or 9:00 am time is likely before you start your day and I’m typically up at 5:00 am. So I’ll leave it to you to pick what works well for you.

      Peace, Love and Laughter
      Phil

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