Michael Webber: cancer in colour

February 15, 2023

When Michael Webber learned he had metastatic prostate cancer in May of 2022, his reaction in the months following the initial shock, was somewhat of a surprise.

“In some ways, I’m feeling better now than before I had cancer,” said Michael, five months into treatment that included radiation and hormone therapy. “This has a lot to do with things I’ve learned, and things I’ve changed because of having cancer. I now spend more time with people who care and support me.”

Michael learned about his cancer at age 58, following an emergency surgery for a strangulated hernia. The surgery went well, but what followed was the grim news that the doctors found prostate cancer that had made its way to his hips and spine.

“The doctor was very frank with me. He told me they wouldn’t be able to cure the cancer, but they would do what they can to treat it,” said Michael. And so, after nearly eight weeks in hospital, Michael was sent home where he resides alone, to find his bearings and forge a new path in the company of cancer.

Michael calls it a twist in the story when he reveals what his career has been for the past several years.

“I work in IT in the cancer department for Alberta Health Services. When someone is newly diagnosed and they go to the cancer centre, my team supports the registration program. We set up treatment protocols and support applications – the stuff that happens for cancer patients behind the scenes,” he said

Searching for words along the lines of ‘surreal’ and ‘ironic,’ Michael underscores how his field of expertise relates to his new reality, and suggests that it is no coincidence that he has been able to count on his workmates for unexpected kindness and support.

“My long-time friend finds difficult situations hard to deal with – so he just pretty much backed away. Whereas my co-workers have all been very supportive in their own ways,” he said. “Perhaps their job in the background supporting cancer patients makes them a bit more sensitive; they have a little extra empathy.”

Michael also mentions his gratitude for a neighbour who looked after his house while he was in hospital, and a former neighbour who, at 78, is more than happy to stop by and help out in any way needed.

“I gather these people more closely now. This feels like an important thing I’ve learned from having cancer. Those who are uncomfortable and haven’t had much go wrong in their life, they can’t find a way to be supportive. I Let those people go. I have to move on with the people who care,” said Michael.

Wellspring on the Side of Caring

It’s only been a few months, and Michael’s cancer diagnosis is still very ‘fresh,’ but he feels it is important to tell others about the transformative power of finding your support network, including Wellspring, when the chips are down.

“The first few programs I took at Wellspring, I was really just exploring. I picked one-time events like some of the speaker evenings and I was mainly just a fly on the wall,” he said. “Then I went to this speaker event called Conversations about Cancer with Dr. Jackson Wu, and for some reason I opened up and started talking about how I was feeling about things. It was really very helpful.”

Now Michael says he looks forward to Wellspring programs each week. One of his favourites is the ‘Living Well with Cancer’ program led by cancer survivor and long-time Wellspring facilitator, Trudy Boyle. In this program Michael says he has gleaned some important nuggets of wisdom that he feels are pertinent to anyone, not just those facing cancer.

One week the focus of Trudy’s program was the phrase: ‘It’s not happening now’ … four words that resonated with Michael.

“I’ve adopted this as a sort of mantra. You can spin it lots different ways, for example for those in the class who are worried about cancer reoccurring – ‘It’s not happening now,’ helps them to stay in the present and find peace of mind,” said Michael. “For me, when I find myself worrying about what might be ahead, I say to myself, ‘it’s not happening now,’ and I calm right down.”

Michael has also enrolled in Wellspring’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, a more structured approach to living in the moment, which he says he is slowly starting to absorb. This week he plans to join Men’s Group, and he has also registered to take Alberta Cancer Exercise (ACE), a research-based study evaluating the benefits of exercise for individuals after a cancer diagnosis.

“One of the programs our IT team supports in my work is the Cancer Registry – a repository of all cancer cases that occur in Alberta, used mostly for research,” he said. “I guess you could say I’ve kind of come full circle, working to supply research information, and now being apart of one of those research projects.”

For reasons that defy the gravity of his health issues, Michael says he is experiencing some unexpected moments of joy that he hasn’t felt before.

“I think I’m at the turning point now and things are starting to go my way. I’ve got support, classes to go to, and work feels meaningful. The other day I had some music playing, and I was just sitting there and colouring the way I sometimes like to do, and suddenly I was caught off guard by the realization – I was actually feeling happy,” said Michael.

For Christmas this year, Michael made his cherished co-workers homemade Christmas cards.

“I don’t want to be remembered as the guy having cancer, I want to be the guy who did nice things and made colourful pictures and cards for people,” said Michael.

6 Responses

  1. Hi Michael, having recently joined the Wellspring team, and only having recently met you, I appreciate reading about your experience with cancer. I appreciate your willingness to speak deeply and truthfully about your experience. Thank you. I look forward to continued connection through Wellspring.

  2. Thank you Michael for sharing part of your experiences with cancer and the Wellspring Centre activities that you enjoy.

  3. Hi Michael, having recently joined the Wellspring team, and only having recently met you, I appreciate reading about your experience with cancer. I appreciate your willingness to speak deeply and truthfully about your experience. Thank you. I look forward to continued connection through Wellspring.

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