Good Vibes Through Music by alec vanderboom

Blogs (Click on Title):
1) My "Baby" is 1 Today! (Gratitude on Aanalog's 1st Birthday)
2)  Sweet. Bitter. Better. (WCMA nomination for Urban Album of the Year!)
3) The Thrill Lives On (Memories of BB King)

Aanalog Record!



The Thrill Lives On by Aaron Adair

The first news I read when I awoke this morning was about the passing of Mr. B.B. King.

This news took me back to a few years back when Mr. King played at TCU Place in Saskatoon. My homie, Chad, texted me after the show to invite me backstage to possibly meet the King himself. We waited outside Mr. King's tour bus for a while, and it was getting late, so we thought our opportunity was lost. Someone even pushed ahead of me in line to try and get on the bus--a pretty stark contrast to the class that Mr. King exuded throughout his life.

Our turn did come. We walked up the steps and through to the back of the bus, and there sat Mr. King, stripped down slightly from his formal stage attire, but dapper nonetheless. He sat and signed photographs and answered all questions that he was asked. Most amazingly, he dished out advice to the musicians in the group and shared stories. In 140 characters or less, I tried to share some of those memories today:

...that's some pretty amazing advice, coming from one of the greats! You know, people often misuse the word "humble", but hearing Mr. King speak of musicianship in this was was the definition of the word.

The next piece of advice was given after I asked, "Mr. King. What makes a good songwriter?" 

He zinged me with his reply: "Good songs."

A very personal moment occurred when Mr. King spoke of a son of his who he wouldn't be able to see for 20 years because he was in prison. He told us that you can't go out getting drunk and acting like a clown, but...

This is why you work hard and give your all at every show:

Mr. King then told us an old saying from Mississippi that he lived by:

Of course, he was too much of a gentleman to curse in front of us! He told us that this lesson was true whether you were in business or in music. And when you think of it, isn't this what Mr. King embodied? He was all class and respect; that's how he lived on stage, and from the few moments I got to spend with him, I could see that this is how he was off stage too. Now that I think about it, I think I'll go throw in

Live at the Apollo

and listen to the King work his professional magic over the screaming young ladies.

This piece of advice is the reason that everything I've done with the


record has been done in a suit (or a fine equivalent!).

This was a small moment in my life that had an enormous impact.

RIP to a legend.

Choc'LaCure 2014 by alec vanderboom

I can’t believe a year has passed already. Or, maybe more to the point, I can’t believe what’s happened in the last year.

I was going through my YouTube channel the other night and came across a video that I posted just over a year ago. It was the end of October, and I was raising money for the Choc’LaCure Gala—an annual event that raises money for the Saskatoon Cancer Centre. It was going to be my second time playing at the event, and I was honoured to be asked back to perform. If you’ve never attended the event, you’ll have to take my word that Choc’LaCure warms the attendees’ souls with the generosity of the people of Saskatoon. Last year turned out to be no exception. I played a set with Meagan Bzowy; made a donation thanks to those who bought my music; teared up a bit hearing the stories of survivors; and I soaked up the spirit of the evening.

I had no idea that I’d be a Cancer Centre patient in less than four months.

I’ve said it before: the Saskatoon Cancer Centre is an amazing place. Coming from someone who hates hospitals, I hope you can understand what that statement means to me. Despite the tasks at hand in the building, there is always hope and a sense of welcoming and care that many people might not think possible with all of the grim stories that we hear about our medical system. It’s the people that make that place amazing, and it’s the Choc’LaCure event that helps those people to help everyone who walks through the Centre’s doors.

I’m proud to be playing again this year on November 7th. I’m honoured to have friends like Brett Balon and Meagan joining me on stage. Even though this will be my third year performing, I’ve got a case of butterflies from the anticipation of how the night will feel now that I’ve got a completely new perspective.

If you’d like to donate, I’m not running my own fundraiser this year, but please check out Choc’LaCure’s site. Trust me—it means so much.

Who is AA? by alec vanderboom

Singer, Songwriter, Producer, & Performer:
Aanalog Record (nominated for the 2014 Western Canadian Music Awards' Urban Recording of the Year!)

Master's in Curriculum Studies (University of Saskatchewan)

Living with Cancer:
Papillary Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis (2014)


Sweet. Bitter. Better. by alec vanderboom

The last 24-hours have been extremely bittersweet.  Here’s the story:

The Sweet Side
This morning, I found out that my album, Aanalog, has been nominated for the Western Canadian Music Award for “Urban Recording of the Year”! I was stunned when I got the news, but two pretty awesome moments followed once the word got out:
·      My wife’s grade 2 students yelled, “Congratulations!” while on speaker phone. I laughed a lot and I teared up a little—I’ll get to the reasons for the latter in a bit.
·      My mom asked, “What does the category ‘Urban’ include?” I told her, “Artists who were born in Meadow Lake or equivalent.”
As I write this, I honestly still don’t know what to think; I don’t know what to write. I’ve been sitting here for the last hour trying to figure out what this all means to me, and why I didn’t jump through the ceiling with excitement when I got the news. Actually!! Why the heck am I thinking so much about this in the first place?!?! Don’t get me wrong! I am totally grateful, honoured, ecstatic, and supremely thankful all at the same time (check out a blog from a few weeks ago here I’ve been reflecting on all of the hard work and equally hard lessons that went into the process of writing, recording, and releasing the album. Again, I’m grateful for all of the learning experiences that I’ve had along the way. However, I’m very aware that the somewhat bitter side of this story also has something to do with the mixed emotions I’m experiencing after today’s great news.

The Bitter Side
            I’ve been working out lately. Not the type of workout where you’d see me at the gym—in fact, stop trying to picture that, please! As with some people, a tipping point occurs in life where something pushes you toward commitment to having to better yourself in some way. This point for me came when I made a frightening discovery a few weeks ago. I was driving to Collective Coffee for my daily Americano, when for the first time in weeks I tried singing along with a song playing on my stereo—I believe it was “PS I Love You.” The problem was, I couldn’t sing. WHAT THE HECK WAS HAPPENING?!?!?! I have always been able to sing! Well, I suppose there is the exception of my pubescent audition for the musical Cinderella in elementary school (picture the bag boy in the grocery store on The Simpsons), but since then I've been able to sing! Singing is a skill I've worked hard to develop. I've got to admit I've taken this skill for granted from time-to-time, but not now!
            For those who don’t know, over the past few months I have had surgery and undergone treatments to help cure Thyroid Cancer (some details are in my past blogs: When I received the official diagnosis on February 28th, one of the first questions I asked was, “Will this affect my singing voice?” I was told I'd be ready to go by the time the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival came around. Some may feel that I’d hold some kind of resentment since it looks like what I was told may not turn out to be true, but I don’t. It’s hard to resent anything anymore since I’m alive and getting healthier each day. Losing approximately two octaves of my vocal range has added yet another challenge to my plate. Not being able to sing like I used to is not a doctor's fault; it's not a card that's been dealt to me from a deck that's unfavourably stacked. Again, I'm alive, and today's awesome news is affirmation that there is so much that I've got to be grateful about.
Last month, I teamed up with Anastasia Winterhalt to help rediscover and redefine my voice. When I first talked with Anastasia, I told her, “I need a vocal personal trainer,” and that’s the focus that we’ve been working with for the past few weeks. I haven’t been trying to sing complete songs until this week. Like rehabbing a sports injury, I can’t jump back into game shape right away. Until a few days ago, I’ve simply been breathing (imagine that!!!) and doing basic exercises within the octave or so that remains of my vocal range.
You know what? I just realized something. During our first meeting, Anastasia described the celebration that occurs when we sing. After all, singing is an expression, a release, an exclamation. I wonder if the recent lack of singing in my life has precipitated the muted celebration at today's nomination news? Either way, that brings me back to the last 24-hours.
Yesterday afternoon, I sat down to practice songs for my upcoming shows, and I discovered that things are not getting better quickly. I knew I wouldn’t recover fast, but there's a lot of ground that I need to cover before I am recovered. The falsetto voice that some say is a signature on Aanalog is gone. This means that for now, my amazingly skilled and talented friend Meagan is going to have to take the lead on many of the tunes. The keys of some songs will have to be redefined. Some songs may need to be reworked completely. But, regardless of the point that I’m at when June 20th comes around, I will keep working to reach my target. 
What is that target? Hmmmmmmm. Well, it’s not to get back to where I was before the surgery. I think it’s to get to a point where I am comfortable with my voice again. Maybe this will open new opportunities for writing for different people, or for singing in a different style. You know what? I’m kind of excited to see where this leads!

The Better Side
Phew! The last few paragraphs were cathartic! I think I can move on now to being totally excited about today’s unexpected news. Aanalog just isn’t going to be the same, and that’s okay with me. Right now, I can’t wait to perform in a few weeks! AND, I can't wait to go to Winnipeg in October! Time to celebrate! Time to get to work!

Low Iodine Diet Adventures: Craving, Experimenting, & Radiating by alec vanderboom

     I suppose Low Iodine Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie has very little to do with shepherds. Scavenger Pie? Gardener's Bake? I dunno. 
     Anyways. I started a low iodine diet last Friday. So, when coupled with the dietary recommendations from my naturopath, my dining options have dwindled significantly.
     This has actually been tougher than I thought. You see, I love food. I love to cook. Cooking is often my only creative outlet in a busy day. But now, I have been challenged, and like listening back to a bad take of a song in the studio, the results can be very unsatisfying.
     Before I get into tonight's culinary experiment, here's the down low on the low iodine diet and the reasons for it:
  • The next step for treatment after my thyroid cancer diagnosis and surgery is a radioactive iodine treatment. The drug I'm on right now, Synthroid, will be shut down through two injections of Thyrogen, and then I go for my treatment. Essentially, I will be brought a pill in a lead box (brought in by someone in a Doc Brown suit, I like to imagine), I'll swallow the pill with some water, and then LOOK OUT! OFF LIMITS! No adults will be allowed in my hospital room unless they are 1-2 meters away, and only for a 20-minute maximum visit. After three nights in relative isolation, I will be released following a scan by Doc Brown's Geiger counter--or something like that.
  • I can't be around children, pets, or pregnant ladies (I suppose adding "ladies" is redundant...oh well), so my pseudo-isolation will continue for a while after the treatment. It has been recommended to me not to be back at work for two weeks. Because the radiation will be expelled through sweat, I can't have contact with anyone, and I need to throw out towels, bed sheets, dishes, and cutlery. Yikes!
  • From what I understand, the point of the low iodine diet is to starve the body of iodine for two weeks so that when I take the pill, my now active thyroid tissue (thanks to the Thyrogen) will eat up the iodine and then the radiation will kill any remaining cancer cells. Keep in mind, I'm not an expert, but this is what I've gathered over the last couple of weeks.
  • The diet itself involves cutting out iodized salt, anything from the water (fish, shellfish, etc.), anything from a can, dairy, and anything with red food colouring. I also can't eat anything that I don't prepare at home since everything in restaurants contains higher iodine levels. This is actually quite a challenge now that I realize how easy it is to just grab a snack at a coffee shop, or even by the till at a grocery store.
Back to the food. I've never really realized what it is like to truly crave food. I mean, I'm a skinny guy to begin with, but whenever I've had a "craving" for something, say nachos, I can go out and get some--hopefully from Amigos. But now, when I want something, I've really got to think about it and go through the list of restrictions to figure out what I can have. 
I now see why diets fail. Temptation is everywhere, and eating involves habits that have been ingrained in us since birth. Like craving nachos. This is a habit. Nowadays, through recommendations from my Low Iodine Diet and from my naturopath, I can't have cheese, tomatoes, onions, peppers, corn, and so on. So, no nachos. Now some of those things might seem weird to cut out, but regardless of the reason, I'm being asked to change habits. I don't want cancer anymore or ever again, so I can change. Except, Man! Now I really want nach...never mind.
Experimenting in the kitchen tonight resulted in one heckuva tasty dish. I saw what we had in the fridge, I looked up what's traditionally in a shepherd's pie, and a little while later, I had a darn tasty dish (that I thouht was going to be terrible when I started off).
 So, here it is... Low Iodine "Shepherd's Pie" with a Quick "Sorta" Apple Sauce
  • yellow potatoes (I think I used Yukon Gold. Whatever, they were in the pantry)
  • 3 beets
  • 3 fairly large carrots
  • leftover steamed broccoli and was in the fridge, so why the heck not?!
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • bay leaf
  • Coarse Windsor Salt (it's low iodine friendly!)
  • honey
  • a lil' Olive Oil
  • Vegetable Stock...I made my own on the weekend and then froze it...roughly chopped carrots, celery, and cauliflower boiled and then simmered in water. With the cauliflower I actually used what I'd consider to be the "core" which I've always thrown out, but it worked!
-Boil potatoes and, later, mash them with vegetable stock, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Whatever. Just make mashed potatoes, and make them tasty.
-While all that is happening, par boil some beets and shred some carrots.
-When the beets are done, drain them and then add the carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, vegetable stock, salt, pepper, bay leaf, honey, cinnamon. Reduce the mixture.
-With a little olive oil in a pan ( I used a larger cake dish), add the beet mixture (but remove the bay leaf), slather on the potatoes, and bake at 400 for 20 minutes or so. I also broiled it at the end to brown up the taters a bit.
-While the "pie" is in the oven, chop up some apples, add a little bit of water, cinnamon, honey, and a bit of salt. Reduce...there ya go! "Sorta" Apple Sauce! This part wasn't really needed, but I wanted a little more sweetness, and a bit more moisture to replace the traditional gravy. It worked! So, if you have time, try it!
-After letting everything cool a bit, cut out a slice of the "pie", spoon on some "sauce", and thank me later...haha.

My "Baby" is 1 Today! (Gratitude on Aanalog's 1st Birthday) by alec vanderboom

Scenes from the Aanalog Release
It’s been a crazy year to say the least: getting my Master’s, traveling to Croatia, helping students and staff members be successful, constantly trying to be a better teacher, and—most recently—my ongoing (& successful!) treatment for thyroid cancer.

Also, my first solo album, Aanalog, was released a year ago today—hence the reflective tone of today’s blog. My life has changed exponentially recently, so I’m even more grateful for all of the experiences that I’ve accumulated.

I’m thankful for everything that I learned from the successes and the challenges of creating, producing, releasing, and promoting the album, and I’m extremely thankful for all of my friends and family who helped, inspired, taught, and supported me along the way.

Now’s a good time to (re)acknowledge the people who had a direct impact on the record:

Scenes from the Production of Aanalog
Dave Anderson- bass, trumpet, flugelhorn
Hal Schrenk- Drums
Meagan Bzowy- Vocals
Sarah Anderson- Trombone
Brennan Risling- Sax
Sam Mitchell- Flute
Ryan Unger- Guitar
Charly Hustle- Percussion
Roger Mercier- Percussion & some live drums!

Recording Engineer- Dan Canfield
Mixing Engineer- Jared Kuemper
Mastering Engineer- Phil Demetro
Marriage Engineer- Jenn Hamon-Adair :)

Album Photography- Karyn Kimberley
Album Design- Derek Bachman
Web Design- Rick Hazell

And the live band: Brett Balon (keys), Kyle Krysa (Drums)

Of course, there are many more people I’d like to acknowledge. I’m thankful for:
·      everyone who gave the record a listen
·      anyone who purchased a song or the entire record!
·      People who grooved along at a live show (ticketed or not!)...especially those who traveled to see a show!
·      Those who booked the shows and/or did live sound
·      Chef Jenni for our fun collaborations
·      Anyone who “Liked” my Facebook page, or even liked a photo or status
·      Anyone who “Favo(u)rited” or Retweeted a really does help a lot!
·      Zoe Vassos and the Choc La Cure crew for having me back for their amazing event
·      SaskMusic and the Western Canadian Music Alliance/Break Out West
·      Cam Fuller, CFCR, CBC, Chrix Morix (, and Bryn Becker (@ for some great local press
·      International press, like
·      Ryan Hall (aka. Soulier) for the remix of “Helpless”
·      Curtis Olson for inviting me into the Two Twenty community
·      And YOU, for reading this!

 Cheers everybody!

4 Weeks In- Good News, Good Food, Good Progress, but “The Good Cancer”? by alec vanderboom

It’s April 8th—four weeks since my surgery, and a year minus a day since I released my first solo album—and I’m feeling good.
            Overall, I’m very close to where I was before the surgery. I realize now that my energy was low back then, and I’m struggling with it a bit now, but things keep getting better. Jenn and I had our first night out on Saturday (thanks to some great friends!), and it felt awesome. We also spent some time out at my brother’s place on Sunday, and I was able to go for a longer walk with our dog, Lucy, yesterday. Again, awesome. Everything takes a little more time, but it’s okay because I just don’t want to push too hard. It was estimated that I could possibly go back to work this week, but I’m relieved that I have some more time. I definitely don’t have the energy to be back in the classroom yet. Adjusting to my new medication, Synthroid, is not as easy as it sounded at first.
            One of the reasons it may be taking a bit longer to get my energy back is the fact that my surgery was a bit more extensive than just a thyroidectomy. We received our pathology report last week and found out that I had three areas of concern on my thyroid. Dr. Christian, my surgeon, mentioned that even though the cancer was evident on both sides of my thyroid, some doctors would only do a partial removal of the thyroid. I feel lucky to have had it all come out at once. After all, there was a patient in a bed next to me after my surgery who was in for his second surgery since the first didn’t complete the task. We also found out that I had 20 lymph nodes removed, nine of which were suspicious. This lymph node dissection led to the extensive scar that has caused me the most discomfort.
These four weeks have flown by. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of it was really difficult but I’m in a good spot. This gets me thinking about something I wrote about in my first blog: Is Papillary Thyroid Cancer really the “Good Cancer”? I mentioned that Dr. Christian told me that “the good cancer” is indeed what I have. Since the surgery is so effective, there are not many procedures that need to follow. But, can cancer be good in ANY way?! I read an article that shoots down this “good” diagnosis completely, and I see why (check out No cancer diagnosis, no treatment involving surgery and a permanent medication regiment is “good.” However, when I consider all of the things I was able to do last weekend, I consider myself lucky. I am looking ahead to a radioactive iodine treatment, but this involves being isolated at the hospital for just a few days. When I think of the people who need to go through extensive, painful treatments involving chemotherapy, I realize that I am in a “good” situation. As stated in this article (, the prognosis for my type of cancer is very good, but maybe the terminology could be changed in some situations.
            Also, as I’ve written about before, the medical care I have received has been phenomenal. My follow-up appointment with Dr. Christian and Dr. Caspar-Bell, the endocrinologist, was so reassuring. Even with a long line of patients to see, Dr. Caspar-Bell took the time to speak with Jenn and find how we are both doing emotionally. She also took the time to answer every question that we had on our minds—especially regarding diet (*see below*). These simple gestures are not ones that we often hear about when people are discussing patient care. Like schools, hospitals often get compared to factories without thorough consideration of the implications of this metaphor. Dr. Caspar-Bell’s personalized efforts put Jenn and I at ease; we didn’t feel like a number or some product that will eventually come out the other end being deemed as “good enough.”

*With regards to diet, we (especially Jenn) did a lot of research on diet recently. Both doctors reassured us that a normal diet is going to be fine from now on. Of course, not many people share the same idea of what normal really is, but our normal prior to surgery will continue to be our normal now:
·      Lots of veggies and greens- We had read that there were certain vegetables that are goitrogens—they could potentially cause an adverse effect on recovery—but as with anything, moderation is key. This also applies to meat. We were considering a strictly plant-based diet, but we are just going to choose wisely. I won’t eat meat every day, and we will continue to buy the healthiest meat that we can find (“organic”, antibiotic-free, etc.). On a side note, I love to cook, so the perspective of considering meat as a side dish is a challenge that I look forward to.
·      Iodine- we were concerned about iodine levels when preparing for the iodine treatment, but Dr. Caspar-Bell told us that this would only mean that, “If you live in Vancouver, you would have to move to Saskatchewan.” What she was implying with this joke is that unless one eats seaweed and fish every day, iodine levels won’t be a major concern. She did advise to take it easy on the sushi though.

As it stands now, it’s April 8th. The sun is shining. It’s 16 degrees Celsius after a long, cold winter. My dog wants to go outside, and so do I. I’m feeling good.

Under the Knife with Thyroid Cancer (A.K.A. Saskatchewan Nurses Rule) by alec vanderboom

On March 11, 2014, I had surgery to treat Papillary Thyroid Cancer at Royal University Hospital (RUH) in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (Check out the backstory in my first post, “Mr. Chuck D & Me”). The procedure not only involved a thyroidectomy, but a right side lymph node dissection as well. I want to write about the hospital experience to: a) inform anyone who may go through a similar surgery (I didn’t really know what to expect, so maybe this information will help the process a little); b) Give a few insights into the process, specifically what I saw during my time in the hospital. I’ll admit that I can think of things I’d change, and the tone of this blog may come across as being negative at times, but I guarantee that I’ll end on a positive! After all, the care that I received was excellent, and my wife and I see this surgery as an opportunity for renewal—a chance to start fresh with a clean bill of health.

Pre-Op Visits
Before the surgery, I had to go to two pre-op appointments: one with my family doctor, and another at the hospital. Since I was lucky to get my surgery booked to take place 10 days after the diagnosis, I actually completed both appointments on the same day. My wife, Jenn, and I found that both of these appointments put our minds at ease about what to expect before, during, and after the surgery.
The hospital visit only took about two hours to complete, and most of that time was spent waiting. After registering at Admitting, I completed a blood test and had my vitals checked—something I would get extremely used to over the next week or so. I was told that because of my good health, I didn’t need to have x-rays or an ECG. We then met with a nurse who asked a lot of general questions about my health and outlined the procedures for the days leading up to the surgery, the day of the surgery, and a bit of information about what to expect after leaving the hospital. I was given two sponges to use in the shower on the two days prior to the surgery, and a general information booklet. A meeting with an anesthesiologist confirmed my clean health record and that everything on the day of the surgery would be relatively routine.
My family doctor admitted that our visit with him was a bit of “red tape.” I just needed to obtain my physical record, so he asked me a lot of questions that had already been covered at the hospital, checked vitals again, gave me the paper to take to the hospital on the day of the surgery, and then I was on my way.

Two-Days Prior
Getting ready for the surgery was simple, but there were a few things that I had to do:
·      Cut off solid food at midnight the night before the surgery
·      No alcohol for 48-hours prior
·      No Omega oils (this is a blood thinner)
·      Use the cleaning sponges twice
·      Pack an overnight bag
·      Leave jewelry and money with someone else

Day Of the Surgery
6:30 am: Check in at admitting
6:30-7am: Change, check vitals, sit in waiting room
Just after 7: moved to a pre-surgery room with a few other patients. Seeing these other people who were going to get opened up just like me was quite surreal. This was actually something that bothered me a bit about the process. Each patient met with a surgeon and anesthesiologist separately, but these meetings were all conducted in one big room. Hearing what everyone else was going through seemed too public considering the severity of some of the procedures being discussed.
8ish: A nurse walked me to Operating Room #4. I jumped up on the table, got the meds flowing, heard the surgeon say my name and the procedure (for a recording, I imagine), and then I drifted off.
1:45pm (I think): This is the first time I remember seeing the clock. I was awakened in the Recovery Room. I was asked about my pain level, and I was glad they did because I was definitely uncomfortable. I reported an “8,” got some morphine, and then drifted in and out for the next hour. My surgeon, Dr. Christian, came and talked to me to tell me that everything was a success and that he had met with my family. He was also happy to hear that I had my voice; this was one of the possible side effects of the surgery since the thyroidectomny was so close to my vocal chords. However, the risk was less than 1%.
2:45ish: I was moved to the Observation Room.  The nurses actually forgot to inform my family (haha), so I was left in the hallway for a bit so that everyone could come and see me.

The Observation Room Experience:
I was in this room for about 20 hours or so. Honestly, this was the toughest time in the hospital. I mentioned how the pre-surgery meetings lacked the privacy that the patients deserve; well, I had no idea how much I would value my own privacy after the Observation Room.
·      There were six patients in this room, separated by curtains, with the eyes of nurses on us constantly (for good reason).
·      On a night that I really wanted to sleep, I couldn’t. Let’s just say that I got to know the other strangers in my room extremely well without saying a word to any of them. I heard things, saw things, smelled things that I never want to experience again. A very loud patient next to me was moved out after 1 am, and replaced by a patient that the staff kept saying “shouldn’t even be there.” He was in bad shape, and had to be awoken every 30 minutes or so. Needless to say, sleep was hard to come by.
·      I got to shower the next morning. Again, the walls of privacy came down quickly with this experience. Nevertheless, it’s amazing that no matter how difficult it was to actually complete the task, the shower was unbelievably refreshing. Discovering things like how I had been prepped in the operating room and finding a patch of dry blood on the back of my head were things that I didn’t expect. It was also very awkward, and slightly painful, to handle the two drains that I had at the base of my neck. All in all, this wasn’t a spa treatment, but it was refreshing!
·      Another aspect that was a bit shocking was the size of my scar. Since the lymph node dissection was required, the incision ran horizontally from the left side of my Adam’s apple to my right ear, and then vertically toward my ear lobe. The 45 or so staples caused discomfort, and the procedure caused numbness that I am still experiencing as I type this two weeks after the surgery. I was told that the numbness will eventually go away, and that it was caused by work being done around nerves in my neck. I’m still not used to barely being able to feel the right side of my jaw and the bottom half of my right ear.
·      I had some devices on my legs that pulsated regularly to help with circulation. These were removed after my first night.
·      I only experienced nausea after taking my first Calcium supplement. It wasn’t pretty. I’ll leave it at that.
·      Sidebar: patients and visitors should have limitations on cell phone use in these rooms. When I was fresh out of surgery and trying to sleep, hearing personalized ring tones and loud conversations didn’t help at all! Why aren’t there any rules in place for this?

Semi-Private Room
When I checked into the hospital, I requested a private room for a $120/day fee. Unfortunately, the facilities weren’t available so I was moved into a semi-private room. An older lady and I shared the room, and two other people also called the room home at separate times over the next two days. The fact that there were more than two people in a room only designed for two showed me how stretched our hospital facilities are. I hope the Children’s Hospital will alleviate some of this pressure.
Anyways, I was quite comfortable in this room, and the procedures were routine:
·      I ate regular meals. I should mention that the Chief Resident was disappointed to hear that I had only received Jell-O for my first meal. He wanted me on a regular diet right away. This was a pleasant surprise since my radical surgery was focused around my throat. Although, I had to change my eating habits because the staples made repeated chewing painful. Also, I found that I was only comfortable swallowing small bites of food or sips of a drink at once.
·      My vitals were checked regularly and my blood was taken a couple of times a day. Checking calcium levels was very important after this surgery.
·      I got up to shuffle around for some walks whenever I felt like it. It was a bit awkward to be carrying around my two drains and being a little hunched over, but the air in the 5th Floor Atrium was a nice change from what I was becoming accustomed to.
·      I stayed in this room for two nights. We were originally expecting one, but it was decided that my drains should be kept in for an extra day, and then some time was needed to monitor how I’d react after they were removed. I was nervous about the removal process, but it only took a maximum of ten-minutes, and it wasn’t very painful.
·      My pain was managed mostly with Tylenol. Measuring my pain on a 1-10 scale was a difficult process since the cluster headaches that I’ve had since grade 10 have built up an extremely high pain-tolerance. I’d say to the nurses, “I’m at a '5' right now, but that might be someone else’s '8'.” Does anyone know how these discrepancies from patient-to-patient are dealt with?

            When the Chief Resident came on his rounds on Friday morning, I found out that I could go home. Even though I knew it was coming, I was so relieved to get the news and to hear that everything was progressing as it should. When he left, I put on my headphones just as Curtis Mayfield’s “So In Love” started playing on my IPhone. It was one of the most joyous moments of my life. Maybe that sounds like hyperbole, but that song just seemed like the only song that should have been playing at that moment. The groove, the organ, the horns, the space, the honesty of the lyrics: “So in love. You do so many things with a smiling face.” That first line got to me when I considered all of the stress that my wife had put up with over the few days that we were there.

The Positive Ending that I Promised!
            I have a profound respect for nurses. Teachers and nurses always seem to share a mutual appreciation for each other’s professions—perhaps it’s the multitasking and the long hours, but the most significant common ground has to be in the personal touches that excellent professionals strive for. The RN’s, staff, and nursing students who cared for me made me feel secure and comfortable throughout the entire experience. Esther, Amber, Paul, Grant, and Ben are a few of the names that I can remember of people who went out of their way to make me feel like I was their only patient.
            Also, despite some of the uncomfortable moments, I can’t say enough about how grateful I am to be Canadian and to have access to our health care system. I am going to live a long and productive life because once I received my diagnosis I received efficient and personalized care for a grand total of $0 out of my pocket (with the exception of parking fees for my visitors). This is something that I will never take for granted.

Take a listen to Mr. Mayfield in order to solidify that positive vibe...

Mr. Chuck D & Me by alec vanderboom

“@MrChuckD is now following you on Twitter!” My mind completely cleared when I saw this notification on my phone just after midnight on St. Patrick’s Day, 2014. The fact that Chuck D, the living legend MC of Public Enemy, made a connection with me blew me away. To think that one of my musical idols since childhood, a man who exposed me to new music and expanded my global mindset, had taken the time to click on my Twitter feed and hit “Follow,” blew me away. But what really affected me most positively was not the social media induced all-out ego-explosion of having Chuck D at the top of my list of followers, it was the timing of the moment and--specifically--the moment that preceded this connection.
When I received the notification, I was lying on my bed, trying to relax after what I might call an anxiety attack. Feeling dizzy, and trying to rid myself of the rush of negative emotions that were overwhelming me, I needed to lie down. I had just been looking in the mirror, inspecting for the first time my newly acquired eight-inch, heavily stapled incision that extends from the left side of my neck below the Adam’s apple to my right earlobe. The reason for the scar? A surgery on March 11th to remove my thyroid gland and lymph nodes on the right side of my neck. The reason for the surgery? Papillary thyroid cancer.
Now, I can imagine friends and family who didn’t know about my condition being relatively shocked at this news, so I’ll now take the time to assure you that I am going to be fine. My excellent surgeon, Dr. Christian, pointed out the oxymoron of this type of cancer being the “good cancer,” but I’ll get back to that later. (Time for a choose your own adventure here: if you’re not feeling as optimistic as Jenn and I are, skip ahead four paragraphs or so; if you’re cool with it, read on.)
So how did I end up in this position? About a year ago, I began noticing that I was clearing my throat far too much. My family doctor pointed to allergies, given the time of year, but I knew that something was different--especially considering that I also noticed a decline in my energy. By the end of June, my throat was so irritated that I lost my voice when playing my second gig at the Saskatchewan Jazz Fest. This was an anomaly for me, something that had only occurred once in my singing career. This fact became even more worrisome when my voice continued to be affected for 10-12 days after that gig. In the meantime, at the beginning of July, a massage therapist discovered a bump on the right side of my neck. “It’s probably a lymph node,” I said, like I knew what I was talking about. Jenn and I were about to travel to Croatia, so my doctor gave me a prescription for some antibiotics, and a referral for an ultrasound when we returned from our trip. When we returned from our amazing vacation, I had my first ultrasound on August 9th. The images showed two swollen lymph nodes, so I was asked to follow-up in 6-8 weeks. On September 27th, my second ultrasound showed no changes. After returning from the Break Out West music festival in Calgary, my bloodwork was normal. Again, I was instructed to follow-up in 6-8 weeks.
On December 6th, stuff started to get real. I had a different radiologist this time. He had the technician take multiple images until he was clear on what he was seeing. He sat down with me and took the time to explain, with little medical jargon, exactly what he was seeing. He pointed out how weird it was that these swollen lymph nodes were still hanging around, lining up outside the club under my right ear, so he asked if he could take an image of my thyroid. After all, when there’s a lineup outside the club, sometimes you go in to find that something’s really going down; other times, it’s just a facade and the hype will die down, so you can move on. When he returned, he took all the time necessary to explain that many people have nodules on their thyroids and these are most often harmless. However, I had one on the right side that showed signs of possible calcification. He eased my anxious mind by telling me that even in the worst case scenario, the problem would be treatable.
Six weeks later, on January 20th, I had a fine needle aspiration (biopsy) performed by Dr. Caspar-Bell at Royal University Hospital (RUH). I need to mention here that there are two things that I’ve never gotten along with: anyone (or anything) touching my neck, and needles. Well, maybe needles are actually down with me because they always get what they want since I’m usually unconscious. The biopsy was one of the more uncomfortable experiences of my life. I heard I would equate the pain with a bad bee sting, but it was more like a tattoo needle being held in one place for 40 seconds, a minute, or whatever it was. I was told that results might be available in a week or two, but I didn’t hear back until February 26th when Dr. Christian’s office called. Those six weeks or so were pretty distracting: not only would my mind wander once in a while to the lingering possibility of a problem, but my energy was continuing to drain. I had a little too much on my mind when I was gigging at the Bassment on January 31. In fact, I was concerned that I might start to cough mid-song as I had during rehearsals. Luckily, I was able to make it through with the help of my wicked band and a great audience.
February 28th was the day that Jenn and I got our answer. We met with Dr. Christian and Dr. Caspar-Bell. They quickly looked over my results (Jenn and I locked eyes when we heard the word “carcinoma”), they conducted an ultrasound, and then Dr. Christian said, “Now, we’re going to go next door and discuss your surgery.” Wait a minute! Didn’t I say that January 20th was when stuff got real?! Well, maybe this moment was unreal? Surreal??! Either way, without being told this directly, I had cancer and it needed to get out. Dr. Christian was amazing at explaining what Papillary Cancer is and how the procedure would go. At first we actually discussed how Joni Mitchell should be included in Saskatchewan Secondary English Curricula, then he used his oxymoron: I had the “good cancer.” The thing that makes oxymorons fit in with the cool kids and diss the regular morons, is that they make sense. Dr. Christian was not sugar-coating the news. The more I read about this type of cancer, the more confident I became. I realized that this is what sidelined Anthony Calvillo after the Grey Cup a few years ago, and A.C. seems to be a pretty good dude; he also seems to be a pretty dang healthy guy (except I question his mental health for his choice of loyalty to the Alouettes). Check out his story…
Although there were six-week stretches between the third ultrasound to the specialist appointment to the date of the big news, it only took three days to get booked for surgery. Eight days later, I was on the table in operating room 4 at RUH, humming “You Love So Hard” to myself as I drifted into my medically induced sleep. I’ll write about the experience at RUH in the future. The important thing to know right now is that I received the best of care over my three-day stay.
Since then, looking at this scar has been very hard. The first time that I could really bear to look at it was before the Chuck D notification moment. All of the negative emotion that I had been going through took over at that moment. A dark wave of images took over: the staples, the surgery, what was removed, what the future could be like. I was dizzy; I needed to lie down. Bed didn’t provide immediate relief; those images were still strong, dark, and powerful. “Good cancer” or not, this was some difficult stuff to handle. As I had grown accustomed to in the hospital, I needed to reach for my phone for a distraction. That’s when I saw that @Mr.ChuckD was following me.
I can’t explain it easily. Those dark images that were dominating my psyche instantly vanished. Thoughts of the staples were replaced by the legacy that Chuck D. has created in the music industry. Picturing myself on the operating room table became the image of me in grade 8 listening to “9-1-1 Is A Joke” (when the boys were countering any presence of New Kids on the Block being played on the classroom ghetto blaster). Difficult speculative images of the future vanished to the simplicity of Chuck D pressing “Follow.” And then, I realized that all of the anxiety that was weighing on me a minute prior had disappeared completely. I had tears in my eyes as I thought of the power of music, the power of relationships, and the power of social media. The ironic thing about this whole defining moment is that when I found out that I had cancer, I wanted to avoid social media. Turns out, social media helped me fight the toughest mental battle of the journey--with a little help from Chuck D.