Father's Day has come and gone for another year, and I'm feeling a little melancholy.
It's not because the card I got was from one child who's here and one who's not, though that's not far off.
No, it's more for what we did do this weekend than what we didn't.
When Dominic died, one of the first things we did was go through the scads of toys he had, pick which ones to keep and what to give away to charities.
We probably gave away $1,000 worth of stuff that Christmas, and the funny thing is I've seen some of it as we've gone to various places with Samantha. She spent time as a toddler on a play mat we gave away to a local parent centre, while I've seen other things around and noticed the room immediately seemed dusty.
His old medical supplies got packed up and what hadn't been used yet got redistributed through a parents group. Whenever I see a kid with a tube stuck to their face with a lion or a duck, I think of Dominic.
But his clothes? They got boxed up and loaded into a spare room in our house. There were probably 20 boxes, stacked nearly to the ceiling, in that little room: we never had the time or energy to go through it.
We finally did it Saturday. And yeah, most of it was destined for the second-hand store. But there were a few things we kept.
The first pair of pyjamas he wore after being admitted, with fire engines on them. Some superhero clothes that will look great on Samantha when we do the Mavericks' Superhero Night July 20. Some shoes and a couple hats. A wonderful crocheted version of Dominic, complete with an AFO on his leg, tubes in his chest and in his nose. What a wonderful tool to teach her about her brother.
Some items brought back memories. The furry brown snowsuit Trish put him in when she had to take him to get radiation on his brain at the Foothills Hospital. The radiation mask itself. The hat he wore when he matched my dad in a 'yep, they're related' photo we took. So many pyjamas because Dom basically lived in a hospital bed for most of his two years on this Earth.
And then we hauled them to the car, drove them to second-hand stores and they were gone.
This came on the same weekend we took the crib-side off Samantha's bed - something we'd never done for Dominic of course. It's about to be potty training time and that means she needs to be able to get out of bed in the middle of the night: She never has climbed out of the crib, though we are certain she could've if she wanted to.
With a cancer-free two-year-old in the house, we are basically living the life we should've when Dom turned that age. It's all new territory, from talking to worrying about what she is and isn't eating, what she can and can't get in to, marking off taller heights on the same chart we used for our son.
As we do, we get further and further from the life we did have with him. It's OK; we love our daughter as strongly as we ever loved our son, and his memory is always there with us moving forward. But the boxes are gone, soon to find new homes. It was an odd combination of freedom and sadness to see them go.
Extra Life United is over for another year, we're back home to our regular lives and wishing we could still be there.
As always, it was a wonderful experience.
First, the highlights. We got to meet Hudson, the Alberta Children's Hospital champion, whose story of perseverance and bravery dealing with mental health is an inspiration.
It turns out he first shared his story in 2014 during the hospital's radiothon: the one where Dominic was the poster boy.
I wish we could've spent more time meeting more champion kids - we only wound up getting proper introductions to about 10 of the two dozen or so there - but we appreciated the time we had. There were two sessions of meeting these kids and their parents, and after their stories were told we were able to ask some of our own questions. We might have induced a few tears asking the parents to explain to the audience how the impact of their situations lasts far beyond being initially healed. We are well aware of the fact childhood cancer survivors often have long-term debilitating side effects due to the chemotherapy they endured.
The week was a chance to meet the champions, but also friends we've made through Extra Life. None had ever met Samantha before, and oh my, was she a tour de force! From the opening-night onesie party to running all around the convention hallways, she and Trish definitely earned their Friday morning at the pool while I went to a few last panels.
It was at one of those panels where I had perhaps my most moving moment of the week. Although we have a ton of friends at Extra Life United, the total number of gamers and volunteers there totaled more than 250. For every friend there was a complete stranger. It's inevitable, and it's great that United continues to grow (there were less than 100 competitors when we first went in 2016).
So with that in mind, I wasn't really sure how much our story resonated with the Extra Life community. But in a panel about how to tell your why (introducing others to Extra Life), no less than four people in the room referenced Dominic as something that got them motivated to play games and heal kids. People from all over North America. People who are playing for their own hospitals, their own sick kids, and Dominic made an impact on them.
We were asked to pair off. I did with Mike, who'd played a game with me the night before but didn't know my story. And as I told it, I pretty much burst in to tears. It doesn't happen that often anymore, as I've told our story a zillion times. But it does still hurt. And knowing it has made a difference gives us strength to keep on telling it.
Speaking of the games, both Trish and I had some success! We each won a quarter-final table of the board game Azul, then finished second at our respective semifinal tables, earning $500 each for our hospital. It was discovered later I should've won my semifinal but that's another story for another time. We also played challenge station (non-tournament) games and Trish's name was drawn to compete on stage for another $100, and we wound up totalling US$1,320 in all for the hospital. I placed 42nd and Trish 45th overall among the 200-plus competitors.
When it was all said and done, a big group of us went to Epcot. There I spotted another one of the champion kids - this one who I hadn't met but had heard of. Allison is the champion for Cincinnati Children's, and she's had terrible kidney problems growing up. She also is transgender, which is something I don't think I've ever seen with a champion kid. The bravery of being so open and sharing her story is incredible, and I basically fanboyed on her, asked for a picture, the works. Then I sent it to another Extra Life friend, Joey, who couldn't be at United this year because he's having gender reassignment surgery in two weeks' time.
There are so many stories like this that come out of Extra Life United every year, and many more I just don't have the time to write about right now. But suffice it to say we're all caught up on hugs until the next time we're back, 2022.
It was no secret that we were going to Extra Life United this week in Orlando but we did manage to keep one amazing thing hidden until it started.
As a convention and gaming tournament, ELU brings together incredible people from around the world. Every year things change but a few traditions have grown: the rock, paper, scissors challenge involving every participant; a ton of folks wearing onesies; and pin trading.
The pin trading started because the champion kids at the larger Children’s Miracle Network conference (of which ELU is a part) used to include a night where everyone went around and met the champions, who sat dutifully for a couple hectic hours handing out pins and information at their respective booths in a massive ballroom.
Extra Life participants wanted to give something back to the kids. And what they had left, they traded amongst themselves.
In 2016 we had ribbons left over from Dom’s memorial service and business cards to give out. In 2017 we got special dice made with the #Dominicstrong logo, graciously donated by the gaming company Chessex. Some of the extras later wound up in our annual online auctions.
We wanted something unique again this year and inspiration came from Extra Life United 2018, which we weren’t able to attend. The traditional Canadian tabletop game crokinole became a big deal that year with a couple attendees (namely Michael Oliver) bringing boards to the conference to play on.
I contacted Crokinole Depot, based in Ontario, with the idea to get 200 of the wooden discs used in the game. They generously gave them for the cost of shipping.
I then went to Dean Harnack at Trophy and Engraving World with an idea. His business has donated many of the items in our auctions (with the magnificent word art from Natalie Long) and Dean had our logo engraved on each of the crokinole discs!
We had fun surprising Michael and some of the other crokinole enthusiasts this week, and will be giving out many more when we meet champion kids and their families Thursday.
And you can bet there will be ways you can get your hands on full sets of the special discs. In fact, how about we give a set of 12 away right now! Donate at least $5 to either Trish (http://www.extra-life.org/participant/trish) or Sean’s (http://www.extra-life.org/participant/sean) Extra Life page between now and Friday and you’ll be entered into a random draw. We will cover the cost of shipping.
Look for a final update on how we did in the tournament Saturday once it’s all over and we are on our way home. And keep watching our social media feeds as we might make an appearance on the tournament’s live stream (http://twitch.tv/extralife4kids) Thursday!
You enter a new universe when you become a parent of a cancer patient: A new vocabulary of medications and diagnoses, names of nurses and doctors and support staff, friends for life because you share something you'd never want to share with anyone.
Years later, some of that has faded away. I can't rattle off the two-dozen regular drugs Dominic was on at the time of his death, nor the first names of half the folks we knew from the hospital.
But we still have those friends. And this week we get to have a big reunion with dozens of them, plus make many more.
Extra Life is the charity we found out about shortly after Dom wound up in hospital with leukemia. Play games, heal kids is the slogan, and that worked perfectly as we aimed to give back to the Alberta Children's Hospital where he received the most amazing care.
At first it seemed like the commitment would be once a year; a 24-hour gaming marathon with friends where we ask folks to sponsor us.
Then I decided to up the ante by shaving my head. When Dominic died in 2015 so did Trish, plus an entire family of friends (including their kids). Dozens of others joined us for the marathon and our entire community came together to support us.
Now there's an annual online auction, a mini-golf tournament and a special night with a local college-level baseball team. We've helped raised more than $175,000 through #Dominicstrong and consider it how we parent a son who's not physically here.
Extra Life is more than just that once-a-year marathon for many people. We have friends across North America who are involved in one event or another 365 days a year for their respective hospitals, and Extra Life itself puts on a special event every year in Orlando, Florida called Extra Life United.
We went to the second edition of ELU in 2016, barely five months after Dom passed. Because he died during his wish trip to Florida it was particularly emotional to return, but the love we experienced there - both from fellow Extra Lifers, Children's Miracle Network employees and champion children representing its 170-plus member hospitals - was unbelievable. The thumbs-up - Dominic's favourite piece of sign language - is now part of the special bond we share with that group.
When our daughter Samantha was born a year later, I was the only one able to go back to Extra Life United. In 2018 Trish was recently back to work as an accountant - tax season is usually a no-go for vacations.
But her work and mine know how much Extra Life means to us, and so we are back this year.
The big draw for ELU is a gaming tournament with more than US$150,000 to be won by attendees. They don't pocket the money, their respective children's hospitals do. We would love to earn a small portion of that for the Alberta Children's.
But those who have been know it's about so much more than that. Meeting up with friends new and old, another group of inspirational champion children and their families, and Extra Life and Children's Miracle Network staff whose work is so important and whose hearts are equally big.
A new journey begins and we can't wait.
Look for daily updates on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/dominicstrong) with how things are going, plus Sean's Twitter feed (@seanrooney). If you'd like to help our cause directly, visit either of our Extra Life fundraising pages (http://www.extra-life.org/participant/sean or http://www.extra-life.org/participant/trish).
Thanks for being part of our journey, now and always.
A month before hearing that Dominic was terminal, we had to come up with Christmas gifts for our families.
Given how many amazing photos there were of him, a month-by-month calendar made sense.
From the chubby cheeks when he was born to the omnipresent smile and eventually thumbs-up later, there were no shortage of choices.
It was the 2015 calendar, and until last month it still hung in our house. It was forever December 2015, the photo of him wearing a Santa hat in the main hallway towards Unit 1 at the Alberta Children's Hospital.
Turns out, the calendar still hung in a couple other places. One friend who we'd given one to got new calendars affixed beneath it, recycling the monthly photos of him.
It's never time to move on, but this year we've started to find ways to incorporate Dom into our new life with Samantha. She's started to recognize there's another baby with us in photos around the house, and that it's not her.
So 2019 has the Dominic and Samantha calendar. Photos in each month of both of them, except for their birth months when they get the month for themselves. And September, the month he died, is mainly photos of him.
No, this isn't the announcement of some new fundraiser. We're signed up for another year with Extra Life and are anxiously looking forward to the Extra Life United conference and tournament in March. We can even tell you the date for the Medicine Hat Mavericks' Superhero Night - Saturday, July 20! The mini golf tournament will hopefully return, as will the online auction. And there is some early interest in doing a public 24-hour gaming marathon again... but we'd need help to make it happen. If you're interested in taking a leading organizational role, let us know.
We are proud to announce that the apparel sales from December resulted in a $600 donation to Helping Families Handle Cancer! There are still a handful of cotton shirts and tank tops that weren't sold. If you're interested just email firstname.lastname@example.org with what size in what style you're looking for. If we have it, they'll be $25 per item (plus shipping).
Not much other news but hope you've had a good start to the new year.
Days are at their shortest, so there's less sunshine. It's cold. And every happy person, every happy family has the potential to remind unhappy people, people who have suffered loss exactly what they're missing.
Some days it's easiest to put your head down and just try to get through it.
Or serendipity occurs and all you can do is thank the universe for what you still do have.
We put the call out for a new order of #Dominicstrong clothing last month. That post has 173 hits as of today, making it by far the least-read thing ever on this blog. I was not optimistic.
For all we do for the Alberta Children's Hospital via Extra Life, this was one thing we wanted to do for Helping Families Handle Cancer, which is a much less-known charity but still so valuable to families in our part of the province.
The order wasn't huge, about 30 items, and when it's all said and done we should be able to donate about $450. And that's fine. That money will be appreciated and used well.
And then I screwed it up. On the invoice sent to us, I didn't see that I was agreeing to cotton shirts, not the dryfit ones we wanted. Black, cotton ladies tank tops instead of the gold, dryfit ones we announced. I had done a poor job of communicating what I wanted.
When the box of clothing arrived, I was mortified. We had no choice but to re-order what we wanted.
Thankfully, Custom ImageWear generously offered to do the corrected order at cost. We paid for it out of pocket and will not be shorting HFHC. Actually, we might be able to give more.
You see, we now have all those incorrect shirts and tank tops. Gold ones with black lettering and logos. But in cotton, and only in the sizes that people had ordered for the dryfit. And some of the people who bought the dryfit ones have anted up and bought the matching cotton ones too.
We will sell the cotton ones for $25 apiece. If you're interested, simply email email@example.com or contact either Trish or I privately and we can let you know what sizes remain.
It was already going to be a quiet Christmas. I'm working Christmas Day for the first time in a while, which is only fair since co-workers have done it regularly, and I got lucky with holidays and off-days a couple times.
We won't have much under the tree because we're going to Orlando in March for Extra Life United, a charity and gaming event we first went to in 2016. It is not cheap to do, and we are grateful Trish's work has agreed to let her take the time off during tax season. Seeing our friends in that community again will be like a late Christmas.
One week ago our team #Dominicstrong total on the Extra Life website showed that we'd raised $13,600 out of the goal we'd set of $15,000.
That wasn't entirely accurate. Our Superhero Night game day with the Medicine Hat Mavericks raised $1,500 which was simply sent as a cheque to the Alberta Children's Hospital (and not counted in our Extra Life numbers). About $2,000 was donated in U.S. currency, so worth an extra $600 when you convert it. They now accept Canadian currency, so long as you use their credit card option.
We knew game day would generate more money, but for the first time since 2014 we weren't doing a public 25-hour event. We decided after last year that it was just too much work for too few results. I wondered whether we could raise the same amount from home.
The answer was a resounding yes.
We shared the heck out of our individual pages. We told family and friends. We teased doing a Baby Shark video, bought onesies to celebrate reaching our $15,000 goal, then set to work getting individual team members to goals earning them Extra Life shirts (at $200), then medals (silver at $500, gold at $1,000). All while playing a variety of video and board games all over Medicine Hat.
Game day, which began at 8 a.m. Nov. 3 and finished at 8 a.m. on Nov. 4, was a resounding success. Here are some of the highlights:
- Sarah, Dave and Zach drove all the way from Manitoba to play with our team.
- James agreed to wear a mermaid onesie if we got him to $500 (we totally did).
- From Calgary, Tamara decided she would chop off seven inches of hair if she could help raise an extra $500 (success!).
- Elsewhere in Medicine Hat, a group of our friends held their own game day and raised nearly $700. We met up with them for some Pokemon Go mid-day.
- Other friends in Cold Lake, Lethbridge and Calgary did their own game days and took in donations for our team.
As for the games, we played a ton. From Mario on the old SNES to VR at SixoneSix Entertainment downtown, board games and even ping pong. Party games like Jackbox and console games like Rocket League.
We held our now-annual bonus hour tournament (taking place before the daylight savings time change set the time back for a second 2 a.m.), Bob winning the title belt.
We finished strong, though exhausted.
In the past week, our team raised more than $5,000. Our total now sits at $19,040. When you factor in the Mavericks game day and the currency exchange, it's more like $21,640.
Thank you everyone who contributed. I like to think Dominic's giving us all a big thumbs up for a job well done.
When the #Dominicstrong T-shirts were sold a few years ago, we wound up with some extra items that we never did sell. Seven ladies small size shirts are still ready to go if anyone wants them. We also wound up with a couple onesies even though we had no plans on trying for another child.
And then we had Samantha. Now 20 months old, she's grown out of all the #Dominicstrong stuff we had for her. Naturally, we'd like to have something for her to wear as she continues to grow.
A few people have said over the years they'd like a new shirt, or they wish they'd gotten in on the original order. Well, we hope those people are still around! We're working with Custom ImageWear (https://www.facebook.com/customimagewear) to bring you a new batch of #Dominicstrong shirts!
The ones for toddlers can only come in black with gold graphics, the same as the old ones did. But for the rest of you, we're doing a gold-coloured shirt with black graphics. #Dominicstrong on the front, the thumbs-up on the back.
And as with the last batch of clothing we did, we are donating the proceeds of this to Helping Families Handle Cancer. They're the group that works with families having trouble paying bills and mortgages, among other things, as a result of a cancer diagnosis. They helped us and though they're not the biggest charity, they've given nearly $600,000 out to nearly 700 families over the years. We are so thankful for them.
We're asking $20 for the toddler shirts (sizes 2T-8T, black shirt with gold graphics), and $30 for adult shirts (T-shirt OR women's v-neck tank top, S-XXXL). If you don't live in Medicine Hat, shipping will be extra, though if you're in Calgary and can wait until the week after Christmas (or will be at Extra Life United in Orlando and can wait until March!) we can certainly bring them to you.
If you're interested simply email firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you'd like. We can figure out the rest from there.
I will send in the final order Nov. 15 at noon so you've got until then to get in touch with me! Thanks for all of your support.
And now, for the fourth year in a row, Oct. 12 is bittersweet.
Today, Dominic would've turned six. I see the friends he made having parties and inviting each other over for cake and presents and lots of fun. I think maybe we could invite some of those friends over, but would that be too morbid? Maybe not then. Who knows.
What we will do is let Samantha know it's someone special's birthday. There will be a cake, but I'm not sure what else. We can sing Happy Birthday but it's not because today is necessarily happy. It's because Oct. 12, 2012 was.
It was happy this morning when she woke up - Trish took the day off work - and we all cuddled in bed. Then I turned on music and we danced.
She still doesn't know who Dominic is but she sees pictures of him all over. On the screensaver on our TV. On a calendar we made which is forever stuck on him wearing a Santa hat for December 2015. Family pictures of mom, dad and a baby.
She's learning lots of words but doesn't quite have the thumbs-up figured out yet. We're working on it though.
What do you get for the child who's not here? We parent him through our charity efforts now and it was another successful finish for the #Dominicstrong Facebook group's online auction Sept. 30. We wound up with 132 items and raised $9,877 for the Alberta Children's Hospital. Most of the items have been delivered or picked up, and we are so thankful for all the individuals and businesses who made contributions again.
I went live online to do the announcement and almost immediately someone in the comments asked if they could donate so we reached $10,000. I told them go to the Extra Life page and donate there, at least that way you get a tax receipt! And he did - an extra $150.
Then another friend got me to do about five seconds of Baby Shark for $20. I see more of these shenanigans coming - stay tuned. What would you pay for a whole song? I hear Wal Mart is selling shark hats...
Overall our team of gamers has raised $12,199 as of my posting this blog. Our stated goal was $15,000 for the year, far less than the $27,132 we raised last year. I knew it would drop off but not this much. I'd assumed the auction would bring in far less, so the goal would've been at least $20,000 if the auction did close to last year's total.
So now, with our 25-hour game day Nov. 3-4 rapidly approaching, we have to get back to raising more money. And what better a gift for Dominic than on his birthday?
With the announcement last month that Extra Life now accepts donations in Canadian dollars, it's easier than ever to help out. All you need to do is go to the website, hit the big green DONATE button and go from there.
Since I've raised more than my individual $10,000 goal, I'd like to see Trish's page get more donations. Not that it matters - it all goes to the same place. Her stated goal is $2,000 and she's at $955. Visit http://www.extra-life.org/participant/trish.
I'd also like to see Krista, Jordan, James, Brandon, Caleb and Cam get more donations. They've all joined our team and have pledged to play. And I'd love to see more people join up in support too, and ask their friends and family (and complete strangers) to donate to their pages. Go to https://www.extra-life.org/team/Dominicstrong and get started. You don't have to play 24 hours straight, and it doesn't have to be Nov. 3-4 necessarily. Just let folks know what you plan to do, and why, and don't hesitate to ask for their support.
He would've been six today. This is my sixth year doing Extra Life. It'll be a lot of fun but always tinged with a bit of sadness.
There's everything from #Dominicstrong dice and special word art items to a signed Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames) jersey and even an incredible six-foot-long bench. So many gift certificates, golf, entertainment and, well, there's 132 items: It's quite a list.
I'm always afraid the auction has become so big that items will get missed and not bid on. There are a handful as of 11 a.m. of today's final day that still have no bids, but I'm crossing my fingers that changes. And there are always a few items that draw a ton of attention, which is super fun to watch.
We raised $10,921 last year, and even if we don't break that number this time around, it'll be a success. I had said earlier this year we wouldn't have as much time to run the auction this year, yet we still have wound up doing as much or maybe even more work than ever before. I guess once you start something like this, it's hard not to do the best job you can at it.
Of course, every single penny raised goes to the Alberta Children's Hospital via Extra Life. And there's big news there that will make my job easier when making that massive donation: Extra Life now accepts Canadian funds! It's something they'd been promising (and something Canadian Extra Life members had been asking for) for a long time. So once the auction is over I'll get back to straight-up asking for donations there.
Individuals can't get a tax receipt when they buy something at our auction, but there are a ton of great items and knowing it all goes to charity has got to feel good. It never ceases to amaze us how incredible our community is: It warms my heart anytime we ask someone about donating and they already know who Dominic is.
The auction finishes at 5 p.m. today (Sunday, Sept. 30) so if this is the first you've heard of it, go on Facebook, find the group and check it out! And if you saw this too late I'm sorry for not writing a blog earlier. I'll follow up with the totals next week.
Thanks for all your support. This is the biggest thing we do in terms of raising money every year, and without a public game day event this year it has even more importance. We'll still be gaming 25 hours Nov. 3-4, just not at a place anybody can come and play with us. We'll instead encourage gamers of all types to sign up for Extra Life and make their own game day experiences!