Thursday, November 24, 2011

open letter to vendors who participate in group-buy programs

Dear Vendors,

I love group-buy deals (those you offer through Living Social, Dealfind, Groupon, Koopon, etc.) but I don't love them as much as I did a few months ago. I've had a few experiences that have turned me off group-buying and made me dislike some of the vendors who have chosen to participate.

Here's my unsolicited advice for any vendors contemplating participating in a group buy opportunity:

Don't act resentful, frustrated or even surprised when I call to cash in on my voucher. You may be regretting your decision to participate or overwhelmed with the response but that's not my fault. And if the point of selling these things is to introduce me to your business, then making me feel like my call is unwelcome is not the way to start our relationship.

Don't complain about the low price you set for your voucher. It makes me feel like you're accusing me of pulling a fast one or trying to rip you off.

Don't sell more vouchers than you can accommodate in a timely fashion. I bought a voucher for house cleaning in early October - but the earliest they can come is January 17, 2012. I'm pissed off and our relationship has yet to begin!

Don't add on additional fees that are not mentioned in the voucher. It's not cool to make me pay a "sign up fee" or tell me that the group-buy people "forgot to account for taxes."

Don't treat voucher clients like second class citizens. Unless you've stated this clearly on the voucher, I shouldn't have to wait outside your class/restaurant/spa to make sure that all those who've paid the full freight have been served first and then get whatever is left over.

The goal of participating in the group-buy process should be to attract new customers - ones who will keep coming back. If the voucher experience isn't a positive one for everyone who buys in, then the vendor has indeed wasted time and money.

I know that the group-buy companies engage in some pretty hard sell strategies (I once sat in a cafe and listened to the owner say 'no' several times, in several ways to a group-buy salesperson) but if you've leapt, you might as well make the best of it.

I've had three group-buy experiences so far that have been delightful. Two were with restaurants (Foolish Chicken and Kinki) and one was with a local yarn store (Wabi Sabi). I was already a fan of the chicken place but this just reinforced my loyalty (and I bring lots of others with me). I'd not been to Kinki for years but the experience was so lovely that I'll go again (and again). And the owner of Wabi Sabi was so incredibly helpful and gracious that they've won me over (and I've been telling everyone else to go, too). Those vendors could give lessons to some of the rest of you.

So, vendors, think before you sign up with the group-buy people. And if you decide to participate, be gracious, organized, responsive, welcoming and fair. Don't make me regret having bought what you're selling.

Very sincerely,

a potential customer

Canada Reads 2012

The top five Canada Reads 2012 books were revealed yesterday, as well as the five Canadians who will advocate on their behalf.

Despite my frustrations with how things went down last year and my initial resistance to an all non-fiction Canada Reads, I'm excited. 

The books look interesting and their defenders seem passionate. And almost as diverse as Canadians can be.

I really enjoyed reading last year's book choices. It was the actual debates that set my teeth on edge. If I had been one of the authors of last year's books, I would have been very disappointed in the quality of discussion (except for Sara Quin defending Essex County - she was wonderful). The conversations were generally at the level of a school yard taunts ("Oh yeah! Well I'm going to vote against your book because you didn't like mine!" "I didn't even finish reading your book but I'm going to tear it down anyway!"). There was so little discussion about the actual content of any of the books. How is it that the Canada Reads debates made me less interested in novels I had already read and enjoyed?

But that was last year.

The best part of Canada Reads in any year is reading the books. It's also the biggest commitment. And I've decided to do it.

Will you join me?

The Game by Ken Dryden (defended by Allan Thicke)

On a Cold Road by Dave Bidini (defended by Stacey McKenzie)

Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat (defended by Arlene Dickenson)

Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre (defended by Shad)

The Tiger by John Vaillant (defended by Anne-France Goldwater)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

i don't understand

The Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care has released new guidelines for breast cancer screening. Among other things they have recommended that women under the age of 50 with an "average risk of breast cancer" not be referred for regular mammograms. Women over 50 would only get mammograms every 2-3 years (as opposed to every year). They also advise against regular breast exams and self-examination.

I don't understand.

On their web site, the Task Force gives no reasons for these guideline changes but I have heard several interviews on the radio and the main arguments seem to be that mammograms generate too many false positives, submitting many women to uneccessary biopsies and other intervention. 

There must be more to this. I have to be missing something. I have witnessed the trauma and fear that false postives inflict on the women and their families who live through it. However, I don't think it's as bad as the trauma of being diagnosed at Stage 4 because breast cancer was not caught at an earlier stage. And breast cancer in younger women, is often more aggressive.

Is there a part of this story that I'm missing? Task Force spokespeople insist that the new guidelines were not influenced by the desire to conserve resources. Really? Colour me skeptical.

The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation released a statement yesterday in support of regular mammography and critical of the new Task Force guidelines:

“The fact is scientific evidence demonstrates that earlier detection and diagnosis can save lives among women 40-49 by at least 25%,” said Sandra Palmaro, CEO, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation – Ontario Region.

Palmaro added that screening can help find cancers that are smaller and haven’t spread, which can allow for better treatment options and reduced disability and death from breast cancer. Breast cancer continues to be the most frequently diagnosed cancer among Canadian women.
 One of CBCF’s most significant concerns about the Task Force report is that it relied heavily on old data from “randomized controlled trials” (RCT’s) related to breast cancer screening and mammography, some of which are 25 – 40 years old and were based on equipment that is now outdated. There has been an enormous change in breast imaging since that time, including significant improvements to analog technology, and the continued adoption of digital mammography across Canada. Digital mammography has been shown to increase accuracy in younger women pre and perimenopausal women, and women with dense breasts, the group the Task Force recommends be excluded.
This sounds pretty convincing to me. Your thoughts?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

it is what it is (and what it is is ok)

Herceptin makes me feel lousy. Or maybe it's the Demerol they give me from flopping around like a fish with a fever. Either way, after every treatment I feel achy and hungover for a couple of days.

It's a not nearly as bad as when I also have chemo (and I bounce back more quickly) but I'm still really dragging my butt around, when I bother to get up at all. I'll go for a walk later but it will take every ounce of the meager willpower I possess to get myself dressed and out the door.

I saw the cardio-oncologist again on Monday and that appointment went as well as could possibly be imagined. My heart was slightly damaged by the Adriamycin but has remained just below normal, since being on the Herceptin. The verdict: I can continue with Herceptin. I don't need to have heart scans every three months, as I have been. I don't even need to be followed by a cardio-oncologist unless my ejection fraction dips below 45 (it's currently around 49) or I experience symptoms of heart failure (um, yeah).

It appears that this whole heart scare was a tempest in a teapot - a reminder that when it comes to treatment of women living with metastasis, doctors are just making stuff up as they go along. They really don't know the long term effects of the drugs that keep us alive because our being alive and in remission is still so unusual. It's a bit unnerving but, given the alternative, I'm happy to serve as a human guinea pig.

Cross-posted to Mothers With Cancer

Monday, November 14, 2011

what i did on my november vacation

We just got back last night from our post Little Pink Houses of Hope road trip and I'm just too tired to put together very many coherent sentences. I'll write more later this week but I wanted to tell you all that my family had unbelievably fabulous time in Myrtle Beach.

Here are just some of the things I did:

Discovered real fried chicken and North and South Carolina barbecue and banana pudding.

Gained four pounds.

Spent time in the sun on the beach, walking, playing and just sitting around.

Enjoyed the glorious weather.

Learned how to hula dance and watched a man swallow fire.

Read 575 pages of a book and still have 1000 to go.

Went fishing without touching a pole and had a glorious time.

Blew off NaBloPoMo. I was having to good a time to waste it hunting down wifi.

Went to a concert with celebrity look-alikes who weren't dressed in drag.

Dressed up to have my photo taken.

Learned that southern hospitality is a wonderful thing.

Met many wonderful people.

Enjoyed my beautiful family.

Went for walks by myself.

Relaxed, unwound and chilled out.

Felt supported, cared for, spoiled and restored.

I am so grateful to Jeanine, Melissa and all the wonderful volunteers, donors and families who make Little Pink Houses of Hope such a wonderful experience.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

taking stock

(from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina)

16 hours of driving

31 hours on the road

countless new people

4 bedrooms, 3 baths

2 happy kids

1 bad sunburn

immeasurable kindness.

Monday, November 07, 2011

roadtrip connection

She made him in about 25 seconds.

I was getting breakfast at a hotel in Woodbrige, Virginia with Daniel at my side when an older woman came up to me and said, “You've got a busy guy there.”

I glanced over at my son, who was making pyramids out of the mini-cereal boxes and smiled. “I definitely do.”

“My grandson was just like that,” the other woman assured me. “And now he's on the national speedskating team. He kicked butt at his last competion.”

“That's great!” I said and meant it. I love these kinds of stories.

“So you, see,” the woman added. “It all works out in the end. His name is John-Henry,” she said proudly.

I promised to look him up, and I did. She wasn't kidding. He is kicking speedskating butt and things really have worked out that formerly “busy boy.”

Sunday, November 06, 2011

off the top of my head and maybe out of my mind

Last spring, I shared a bit of tabloid inspired writing about a mother who is revolted by her own child that I'd done as homework for a class I was taking. A few days after I wrote that piece, we did an in class excercise, starting with the prompt, "It was a strange creature and it was looking right at me." How could I not be reminded of my bat boy? I wrote this by hand and in ten minutes but I think it's kind of fun.

I love the inspiration and motivation that comes from being part of a writing group. I miss it.
It was a strange creature and it was looking right at me. Someone had called to say they'd seen a strange looking man hanging out by Berit's Cave. No one thought much of it, until some smart young deputy mentioned the report that had crossed my desk the day before. The missing boy from up North. He'd stolen a car and not been heard from since. The thing was that the car was expensive but that was not what had folks all riled up. What really mattered was what had been inside the trunk of the car – a brief case full of cash. The had likely not known the bonus he was acquiring when he stole that car but he had stolen it and the folks in Maryland were very keen to get it back. And they'd said the boy was odd-looking, too.

Odd-looking. Funny-looking. Those expressions did not do justice to the creature that stood before me. At first glance, I thought I was seeing a monster. When rational thought returned, I saw that I was looking at a young man – a boy really – whose features looked disconcertingly like those of a bat. He had pointy ears, tiny eyes, a pushed in nose and his teeth – I saw them when he opened his mouth to yell at me – were small and sharp, as though the owner had filed them to a point. Not to put too fine a point on it, the kid was hideous.

I started to ask who he was and about the stolen car when he charged at me, head lowered like a battering ram. He wasn't very big but the attack and the accompanying ear splitting scream caught me by surprise. Before I could react, I had fallen ass over tea kettle and the boy was on the run. It took a second to regain my composure – was it only a second? Before I called for back up. I told 'em to send for the young deputy – I hoped his feet would be as fast as his mouth.

I didn't want to chase the boy. It wasn't really my bad leg – the excuse I gave to my sheriff. The fact was, the boy had really freaked me out. It wasn't just that he was ugly – although he was that – but it was the eyes that had scared me the most. There was no soul there. When I looked at him, all I saw was emptiness reflected back at me.
I wish I'd thought of sharing this on Hallowe'en. I wonder if there's more writing my bat boy can inspire.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

outside the zone

In the nearly six years since my initial breast cancer diagnosis, I have become increasingly introverted. As a child, I was pretty outgoing. However, later in my teens and throughout adulthood I have developed a form of social anxiety that makes it easier to address a crowd of hundreds than to speak to a handful of new people at a social gathering.

I come by it honestly - anxiety disorders run in my family - but the structure of my day to day life hasn't helped. When I was going to an office every day, I had to interact with co-workers and new people every day - and (mostly) I enjoyed it.

I've always liked spending time on my own but these years of introspection have made it seem like more of a hurdle to confront social anxiety. I have a busy social life but I choose to spend time mostly with trusted friends, going places that are familiar to me.

I don't think there's too much wrong with that but I have seen how fears can make one's world smaller and deprive us of experiences that we might enjoy or, at the very least, that can teach or inspire us. I talk to my kids a lot about how everyone needs to strike a balance between doing things we know that we love and undertaking new challenges - about how confronting our fears is often the only way to make sure that our fears do not come to control our lives.

This year, I've been very inspired by my friend Andrea, who has taken it upon herself to do many things that take her outside her personal comfort zone. While she's danced and travelled and taken on public speaking, I've attended a conference, taken a job as an Elections Ontario officer for a day and now - my family is heading on an entirely new adventure.

This morning, we are pointing the car towards Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on our way to take part in a week-long family vacation hosted by Little Pink Houses of Hope. We will be joined by 13 other families and every mother in the group will have been treated for breast cancer. The only mandatory group activities will be dinner on the first night and the last. In between, we will be in our own beach house and all group meals and activities (in the past, these have ranged from jewelry making to hang-gliding) during the week are optional. I'm very grateful for the opportunity and the generosity of the organizers but I'm also freaked right out.

It's going to be an experience. And, as Susan (aka the Bubbster) pointed out to me in an email, "The trip sounds wonderful and you'll all 'dine out' on the vacation for years to come. They'll be happy and funny stories, I know." 

In other words, great blog fodder. And most definitely, an interesting experience.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Movember Man

Does it seem to you like there are a lot of men in your neighbourhood sporting really bad facial hair? You're not imagining things. It's Movember!

All this hairyness is happening for a really good cause - to bring an end to prostate cancer. This is a fundraiser/awareness campaign that I like very much. It amuses me, no one needs to buy some carcinogenic/useless/environmentally unfriendly product to participate and we are all reminded of the cause every time we look at a man and wonder "Is he or isn't he?"

If you know a man who's participating in Movember, please support him. If you don't, please support my friend Ken. He and I go way back (more than 20 years - gulp). He is a Good Man - funny, kind and with a generous heart. He really deserves your support. Besides, he's being very brave. The last time he sported a moustache was a very long time ago and it was a little - well - scraggly. Many men's beards improve greatly over the decades (Tim's certainly has) but, as Ken sets out on this adventure, he just doesn't know how it's going to go.

I've already donated. It was a selfish act really. I want him to post photos.

All funds raised in Canada during Movember go to Prostate Cancer Canada, awareness and education programs and towards a Global Action Plan to eradicate prostate cancer worldwide. I can get behind that. Will you?

Thursday, November 03, 2011

chemo brain or just getting older?

A few days ago, a massive filling popped out when I was brushing my teeth.

I made an appointment with my dentist to go in today. It hurts, so I've been very much looking forward to this appointment, mentioning it a lot and looking forward to being able to chew again.

I was shocked this morning when my dentist's office called, and his assistant said, "You're supposed to be here. Do you remember your filling?"

I hadn't forgotten my appointment or the filling (did I mention it hurts?) but I had been convinced it was at 2pm this afternoon, not 9:20 this morning.

As it turns out, they did have an opening at 2pm, so I will get my tooth fixed this afternoon, after all. As she was hanging up, the assitant said, "It was just a misunderstanding." I responded with "No, I'm an idiot."

Please tell me that this kind of thing happens to you, even if you've never had chemo.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

back at it

NaBloPoMo 2011

I've decided to participate in National Blog Posting Month (or NaBloPoMo) this year, after a two year hiatus (in 2009 I did NaNoWriMo instead and last year, I just didn't feel like it). Let's hope it brings inspiration and a renewed commitment to regular writing.

I'll be accepting suggestions for blogging topics. If previous years are any indication, expect this month's content to be pretty eclectic.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

wishing for a dreamless sleep

I'm about to hit the hay. I've been plagued by wild dreams of late and I'm hoping tonight's sleep will be deep and dreamless.

No discovering that I've not graduated from high school.

No returning to live with my parents while I complete school.

No wandering the halls unsure where I'm supposed to go and unable to find the office or a time-table.

No discovering I'm way, way hopelessly behind.

No finding myself responsible for other people's babies.

No getting my stomach pumped.

No crawling into bed, only to discover that I've let myself into a stranger's home and I'm under the covers of their guest bed in their living room.

No mowing the same stranger's giant lawn under a blinding hot sun.

No dead dogs on the lawn.

No horrible hair cuts.

Just sweet, dreamless sleep. 

Wish me luck.