Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Sad December

mark in strawberry fields
Mark in Strawberry Fields, October 2005
For as long as I knew Mark, in December he would get really depressed about the upcoming anniversary of the death of John Lennon.  Mark loved John and never got over his death.  I realize now, as I cope with my own grief, that Mark was experiencing deep grief that never went away.

One of the first road trips I took with Mark was to New York.  We left work on the afternoon of December 7, 1999.  The drive in the dark felt longer than it was, the December sky was clear and you could see Christmas lights on rural homes from miles away.  In Cobbleskill county, a police officer actually came out onto the highway from behind a billboard to pull us over and give us a speeding ticket.  it was like something out of a bad movie.  When Mark asked to see the calibration of his radar gun, the officer moved his hip toward Mark (who was still sitting behind the wheel) to show us both the gun he had in his holster as he said, "no." We took the ticket and went on our way.

Eventually, after midnight, we arrived at the Tuckahoe Road Motor Inn in Yonkers.  We didn't know anything about it but the Holiday Inn we found in our CAA book was full and it was close by.  Making our way there from the Holiday Inn, we actually found ourselves, "lost in Yonkers" at one point.  We got a weird room which was painted bright pink and was a "family" room which meant it was gigantic and had 4 beds in it, plus 2 sofa beds.  The view from the bathroom was of a field of garbage dumpsters.   As long as it was clean and safe, we didn't care.

In the morning, we drove into Manhattan and spent several hours in Strawberry Fields, sipping coffee and remembering John with fellow fans.  We were interviewed by a British documentary film crew who seemed surprised that we were there "all the way from Canada" - perhaps not realizing that it was a 6 hour drive.  They were gathering film for a 20th Anniversary project which would air in 2000.  In the years since, we were never able to track down the footage.  Being in the park that morning was sad and uplifting at the same time.  While we all missed John terribly, our shared love for him and his music brought us together and we celebrated his life as a community.

Since Mark died, I have not yet been able to listen to John or the Beatles.  I've tried but can't do it.  This morning on my drive to work, I heard a clip from a broadcast of "As It Happens" from December 1980.  When it was over, they played "Imagine" and I started to cry.  I didn't turn the radio off, I made myself listen to it.  Maybe I'm getting closer to being able to hear John's voice again without my heart breaking over my own loss.  I hope so.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Six Weeks

Mark at Finkle Shore, 2006
Mark at Finkle Shore, 2006
Six weeks.

Almost unbelievable that it’s been six weeks since Mark died.

At times, I feel as though it just happened.  At other times, it feels like he has been gone for years.

A lot has happened over these past six weeks.  Of course, I had to deal with the bureaucracy that one has to deal with after someone dies.  On top of that, I’ve been working on getting our home ready to sell.  Some days, I get up in the morning and feel pretty good and am actually able to get things done.  Of course, there are days where it takes everything I have to get up and feed the dogs.

On the day Mark died, I made myself promise to do the following things, every day, regardless of how I was feeling:

1.    Get out of bed
2.    Have a shower
3.    Get dressed
4.    Keep the dogs on their routine

I can say that except for a couple of days when I was dealing with some plumbing issues in the house and I couldn't shower (all sorted now!), I have kept my promises.  It may seem like these are simple things that a person should be able to accomplish everyday but when the weight of grief is pressing down upon you, it would be pretty easy to just pull the covers up over your head so you can stay in bed and cry.

Until Mark died, I never knew about the anxiety that can accompany grief.  It’s not something I’d really experienced before beyond the kind of anxiety you feel when you’re having a job interview or something.  During those first few weeks after Mark died, I suffered from anxiety almost constantly.  The anxiety affected my ability to sleep or eat properly.  I’d sometimes finding myself hyperventilating and feeling panicked while participating in ordinary activities.   Fortunately, the anxiety is subsiding and I seem to experience it more on the weekends than I do through the week. My ability to concentrate seems to be improving too. 

Tomorrow, I’m going back to work.  I was on vacation the first two weeks of August and, on the last day of my scheduled vacation, Mark died.  My doctor (I’ve been seeing her regularly over the past six weeks) has suggested that I go back part-time for the next two weeks with the hopes that I’ll be able to return to work full-time after Thanksgiving.   With any luck, when I’m back at work, my concentration will be okay and my anxiety will keep away.

There are a lot of assholes in the world.  Some days, it feels like we are only seeing the absolute worst in people.  Over the past few years, since Mark was first diagnosed with cancer, I tried to see the other side of things when dealing with someone who may not be very nice.  I’d say to Mark that to look at him, he appeared to be very healthy.  No one would ever guess that had cancer cells fighting to set up camp inside of him.  I’d remind him that just as no one could ever guess what was going on with him, we have no idea of what other folks are walking around with either.  People are, by nature, kind.  It’s easy to not see this as we rush through our busy lives.  I’ve had an opportunity to see things move at a slower pace and have experienced real kindness and been overwhelmed by just how good people can be. I don’t think that any good is going to come from suddenly losing Mark like I did but I have seen the absolute best in people since he died.  Since he died, I’ve been on the receiving end of more compassion and kindness than I could have ever imagined.  My family, in particular my parents, and my friends have been absolutely incredible and I don’t know how I would ever survived these first six weeks without them.

I have no idea what the next six weeks are going to bring.  I plan to face them the same way I did the first six weeks, moment by moment, day by day.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Thank you all

The following is a message I sent out to our friends and family this morning.

Hello everyone,

I must apologize for not sending this out sooner but I have been feeling very overwhelmed the past couple of days and it's taken me some time to process everything.  I wanted to thank each and every one of you who were able to join us on Saturday (either in person or in spirit) to celebrate the life of our beloved Chef Mark.

Mark would have been very touched (and probably a little bit embarrassed – although secretly he would have LOVED it) to see so many people gathered together, sharing stories, laughing at photos and remembering what a great guy he was.  A lovely friend of Mark’s sent me a note and said, “he had the strongest spirit and presence of anyone I've ever known. Simply a complex, fascinating, charismatic human being unlike anyone I've ever known.”  I think that describes him perfectly.

You will never know how much your support has meant to me since Mark died.  I’m continuing to take things moment by moment, day by day and I’m so grateful for all of you.  I’m so very lucky to have you in my life.

Much love to you all, Peggy xo

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Mark Leslie Collis

Mark's obituary was published in the Toronto Star and the Kingston Whig-Standard today.

COLLIS, Mark Leslie (Chef Mark) - of Kingston, age 63, died suddenly on Sunday, August 16, 2015 at Kingston General Hospital. Mark will be forever loved and missed by his wife Peggy Shanks and his beloved dogs Gracie and Sam. Mark will also be remembered affectionately by Michael and Theresa Shanks (Amherstview), Patrick Shanks and Cynthia Deveau (Ottawa), his uncle Nate Collis (Toronto), members of the Collis, Shanks and Forbes families and a large network of friends. Mark is predeceased by his wonderful parents, Joe and Ida Collis, his brother Barry Collis and his ex-wife, Mimi Braidberg. He was an exceptionally talented, classically trained French Chef working in Toronto for many years, creating delicious meals at Fenton's, Vittorio's, Zaidy's, Carlevale's and Bemelman's Restaurants. Mark opened his own restaurant in Toronto, La Bionda which was well known in the late 1980's for its open kitchen and creative cuisine. In the 1990's Mark was able to combine his passion for food with his love for music through his catering company "Touring Kitchens." Mark cooked for many of his musical heroes including Roger Waters, Dr. John, The Neville Brothers and Leon Redbone (to name just a few). By the end of the 1990's he had met Peggy, moved to Kingston and opened Ida's Kitchen. In recent years, after retiring from cooking, Mark worked as a cab driver. A celebration of Mark's life is being planned for the fall. Mark's family would like to thank all of the medical professionals who provided such excellent care to him during his illness. In particular, thank you to Dr Tu Van Banh, Dr Hugh MacDonald, Dr Sulaiman Nanji, Dr James Biagi and all of the staff at the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario. As an expression of sympathy, in lieu of flowers, memorial donations to the Kingston Humane Society (http://kingstonhumanesociety.ca/) or CFRC Radio Queen's University (http://givetoqueens.ca/cfrc) would be appreciated.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Mark - Some Sad News

Hello everyone,

I know that I have spoken to some of you on the phone already but I wanted to let the rest of you know that Mark passed away earlier this morning at the Kingston General Hospital.

He'd had a pretty rough summer with his health.  It seemed to be just one thing after another.  In the last week or so, he started to exhibit symptoms that his liver was in bad shape.  We received the
results of his most recent CT scan on Wednesday, August 12.  We were told that the tumours were quite involved and they suggested that he restart chemo as soon as possible.  As soon as possible was to be tomorrow (Monday, August 17).

In his heart, I know that he really did not want to do chemo.  Because he'd been feeling so crappy though, the chemo provided a promise of relieving some his symptoms and the doctor was confident that Mark would respond well, and perhaps even be back to work by mid-September.

Last night, he was having a lot pain in his back and abdomen and was having difficulty breathing.  Mark was taken by ambulance to KGH and I know that the team there did everything that they could to help him.  They were able to get him breathing a couple of times but were not able to get his heart started again due to extremely low blood pressure.

I was told that he probably didn't experience any pain while they were treating him.  I told the doctor that Mark spent a good chunk of his life in pursuit of not feeling any pain so he would appreciate that.

I feel completely numb at the moment.  I knew that this cancer was going to kill him but I thought we'd have more time.  I also thought that when he died, it would be peaceful and I'd be there  (I stayed behind to sort the dogs out and arrived at the hospital about 40 minutes after he did - I think he died just before we arrived).

I want to thank you all so much for the love and support you've shown us during Mark's illness. He'll be cremated and a celebration of life will be held in the fall.  I'll make sure to keep you posted about
that has I figure out what is happening.

While his passing his sudden and shocking, I know that Mark wouldn't want you to be sad.  Pull out your copy of Wish You Were Here or watch A Hard's Day Night and think about how much joy Mark brought to us over the years, through his sense of humour, his amazing food and his colourful stories.

I love you all, thanks again for everything.

Friday, July 24, 2015

happy friday

If you need a little something to make you smile and tap your foot this morning, here you go. Enjoy it with some coffee!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Cancer Story 3.0 - the saga continues

The past week has been a bit of a blur for us.  We sent this message out to our family and friends last night.

Hello everyone,

It’s taken us a full week and a bit to get our heads and hearts around some news we received last Monday, concerning Mark’s health.  Apologies for not getting this out to you all earlier, we just needed a few days to process everything.

On June 15, Mark had his six-month check up at the Cancer Clinic.  His last appointment, in December, was okay.  At that time, his liver looked good.  The chemo had done it's job.  They are also keeping a close eye on his lungs.  We were told that he had a few spots on his lungs but considering his age and the fact that he’d smoked for a long time when he was younger, spots on a lung are not too concerning.

Last week, we were hoping for status quo.  To be honest, I was a little nervous about his lungs.  Neither of us had any reason to expect that there would be any problems with his liver.  He’d had the surgery, he’d done the chemo.  All should be good right?  Wrong.  We were told that he had a grape sized tumour in his liver.  Surgery was not going to be an option this time.   Our next step is chemo, again.  This time, he’ll do a similar type of chemo (presented in a similar fashion, 2 hours in the clinic, then carrying the chemo bag for 48 hours – once every 2 weeks).  Big difference this time is that he’ll be doing it for the rest of his life.

It felt like the words “the rest of his life” were hanging in the air, like inside a bubble, in a comic book.  Mark and I looked at each other, wide eyed and frankly pretty upset and Mark asked how long that would be.  The doctor said that Mark could probably have 3 good years but 5 years good years was probably not to be expected.  Gut punch.  I just wanted to crawl under my chair and cry.  I could tell Mark wanted to do the same thing.  We had not anticipated this kind of news, never ever.  In between, we heard that he still had healthy liver tissue (good news) and his overall health is very good (they seemed surprised that he was feeling so well).  We walked out of the clinic in a fog, completely in shock.  I don’t remember much about the ride home but we were pretty upset.

Once we got home, we made a few phone calls to folks who needed to know right away.  I’m not sure that anyone even understood much of what I was saying, I was that upset on the phone.  Of course, we didn’t really sleep that night.  The next day, Tuesday, we went to see our family doctor and share the news with her (she’d not yet received a report from the Cancer Clinic).  She seemed as shocked as we felt.  Fortunately, on Tuesday night, we both slept a bit better and awoke with a plan in mind.  It’s a good plan, we’re still working out the details of it but for now, we think it’s a good plan.

Plan A

Regarding Mark’s health and the immediate future, he’s “taking the summer” as his oncologist suggested to enjoy himself.  He’ll have another scan in July and we’ll be able to see how quickly the tumour is growing.  Chemo will start in the fall.  The health part of the plan is two-fold:  let the chemo control the tumour and we’ll control the rest of the liver.  We’re going to do our very best to feed his liver the best kinds of foods and supplements that it needs to stay strong.  We’ve decided, and I don’t think this sounds na├»ve, to treat this as a chronic liver disease.   3 years, 5 years, 7 years, 10… no one ever knows for sure how long someone is going to live, whether or not they have cancer.  Cancer survival rates are a numbers game and someone has to beat them, sometimes.  Our job right now is to keep his liver as strong and healthy as we can, for as long as we can.

The other part of the plan involves simplifying our lives.  Over the next few months, we’ll be purging stuff at home and getting ready to put our house up for sale.  It’s just a little too big, a bit too much maintenance and too far from the hospital for us.  As much as we have enjoyed it, we feel that it’s time to get back into town, possibly into an apartment, something that is low-maintenance.  Like I said, simple.  We want to spend our time with friends and family and each other, not worrying about projects around the house (not to mention keeping 0.5 acres of lawn mowed).

For those of you who might be wondering what you can do to help, we have some ideas and will keep you posted.  It’s not easy to ask for help and so far we haven’t had to.  So many of you have offered help through Mark’s previous surgeries and chemo and for the most part, we wanted to do it on our own.  I think we’re going to need lots of help to get us through the next few months and we won’t be afraid to take you up on any offers.

In the meantime, know that Mark feels great, he looks healthy and, except for a grape-sized tumour in his liver, is doing just fine.  We’ll continue to keep you posted as we carry on with our plans.

Thanks so much for your continued support, we love you!

Mark and Peggy xo

Friday, May 22, 2015

Because the 90's

Feeling a little nostalgic today, for no reason in particular.

Shocks me a little bit that these songs are now 20+ years old.  Listening to them makes me feel like I'm still 20+ years old but alas, that's not true.  The songs are still good.  Hell, the songs are still GREAT.  90's indie rock rocked.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Saw this video last week and it's powerful message has stuck with me for days now. 

I urge you to watch it.  Please stick with it until the end and share it after you have watched. 

So often, messages like this seem to be "preaching to the choir" - this is a message I would love to see shared far and wide.

Friday, April 17, 2015

good to go

Sam is extra fluffy after visiting the groomer this morning #eskie #americaneskimodog #dogstagram #dogsofinstagram #ilovemydogsWe took a vacation day today.

All week the forecast was crappy but the day turned out to be gorgeous.  The sunshine was lovely and being outside without a jacket on for the first time this year felt amazing.

This afternoon, the doggies had their annual check up at the vet.  We're sort of broke after that but they are both healthy and happy and up to date on their shots, have their worm medicine (to take next week) and we are stocked up heart worm preventative for 6 months and glucosamine supplement. 

Tuckered girl, a morning of pampering is exhausting! #sheltie #shetlandsheepdog #dogstagram #dogsofinstagram #ilovemydogsA couple of years ago, when we moved house, we switched vets.  Our old vet was okay.  The techs were amazing the we were always being given the hard sell on their prescription food by the vet and it felt really gross.  We feed our guys a very high quality food which is suitable for their food sensitivities and is made in Canada from human grade ingredients.  It smells so good, I swear you could eat it.  We always felt a little insulted by the way the vet tried to undermine our decision.

We now see Dr Jack at the Sydenham Veterinary Clinic and the dogs love him.  They are always nervous to go to the vets but he's wonderful with them.   The vet techs and reception staff are amazing too.  It's a great location as well because it's situated on a large lot and you can have a nice walk around the property before your appointment.

Fortunately, there is nothing dramatic to report about their check up.  Both dogs are snoozing right now as the drive up there and the shots have zonked them both out.  We're very lucky to have such healthy pups!!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Super Sam

Smiley Sammy, Easter Weekend 2008
7 years ago today Sam came to live with us.

7 years!! How did that happen?? It feels like yesterday and forever at the same time.

He was a 7 month old puppy who was being re-homed by his original guardians.  They had a baby on the way and didn’t feel that they could adequately care for two dogs and a baby.  We sure lucked out.

We picked him up, after dark, the Thursday of Easter Weekend.  Looking back, we had purchased a bed, blanket, collar, tags, leash and food for him (and some toys) to prepare for his arrival but we seriously had no idea what we were getting in for.

Unbeknownst to us, Sam had never worn a collar or been on a leash.  I put his collar and leash on him and as soon as we got outside, he slipped out of it and took off.  Across the icy lawn, in the dark.  Fortunately, he came back to us with very little coaxing.  I held him in my lap for the ride home.  The dark and the passing lights seemed to frighten him during the 15 minute drive to our house.  It could have been the car ride too, or the fact that some folks he didn’t know very well were taking him away somewhere.

Mark carried Sam into the house (we were not taking another chance the collar/leash until we were in the daylight again) and Sam proceeded to take a giant poop in the middle of the living room.  I’m not surprised, he must have been terrified.  After the poop though, he wandered around the house sniffing everything he could.

That was a long night for all three of us.  I don’t think any of us slept.  We spent the rest of the weekend trying to figure each other out.  We sure made a lot of mistakes along the way but Sam didn’t seem to be too bothered by them.  Lucky for us.

We love you sweet Sammy and are so happy to have you in our family.  Thanks for 7 years of fun and tummy rubs and white hair everywhere.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015


King Street West #ygk #winter #gateI am in klutz mode.

In the past 24 hours I have banged my bean on the car and stubbed 3 different fingers on 3 separate occasions.  In addition to that, I've given myself several paper cuts, dropped almost everything I have dared to touch in the kitchen at home and tripped over my own feet several times.  I think I reefed my back/hip shoveling on Monday.  This morning I dropped a towel into the bathtub while the shower was still running.

These are not things I normally do.

The klutz stuff has made feel grumpy and generally agitated and somewhat argumentative.  Kind of like PMS but not so edgy.  Argh, no fun at all!!

Not sure what the cause is.  Whatever it is can stop.  Now please!? The weather has been pretty nasty here for the past few days, lots of snow, horrible traveling conditions back and forth to work... maybe that's what's thrown me off.  I love the snow, it's beautiful, I just don't like the worry and stress of traveling in snow storms every day. 

I keep telling myself it'll get better tomorrow, hopefully, one of these days, I'll be right!

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Hair like Casey, Nose like Finnegan

Everyone is talking about the cold this week and I will admit, we've had to change some things around at home since the temperature dropped.

The biggest pain in the butt for me, I'm finding, is my hair. Seriously, if I wanted it to be straight, I could never make it happen with a flat iron or blow dryer for the life of me. This week though, with this cold, dry air, it's straight as a poker and sticking out all over the place. So much fun to look like Casey from Mr Dress-up. Cold skin and straight hair, not a great combination. Any advice you can offer on how to get my hair under control would be appreciated!!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Coldest Night of the Year

Was outside with the dogs a little earlier this evening.  The line, "now the sun is lurking just behind the Scarborough horizon..." was going through my head while I was encouraging them to stay out and do what needed to be done.  All the time, I just wanted to run back into the house.

Once I was back inside, warm and toasty, the line kept floating around in my head.  I found this, not an original video but the sound is good.

Stay warm folks, snuggle with the ones you love, and remember, spring is just around the corner!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Non-binding Resolutions

Happy New Year!

Is your 2015 off to a good start?  Our 2015 is starting out much better than our 2014 did.  Getting a call on December 30, 2013 telling us that Mark's colon cancer had metastasized to his liver was not the best news in the world.  We're both still a little grumpy and phlemy from our colds but we can't complain.  2014 sucked in a big way in our house and I'm not sad to see it go.

Over the past few days, I've had some time to reflect upon my goals for 2015.  I don't like thinking about resolutions because they are very rarely ever kept, goals though, I can work on.

My short (and subject to change) list of goals for 2015:

  1. Stay kind.  I started working on this a while ago and it's not easy.  I have made an effort to be less snarky online, in particular on twitter.  As a result, I'm not tweeting as much as I used to but I think that's okay.  Another thing I've been doing in "real life" is trying to cut some slack to the assholes I run into every day.  I have a better understanding, after Mark's illness/surgeries, of how you never, ever, know what kind of crap folks are walking around with.  We could all do more of this.
  2. Connect.  Over the past year, between surgery and chemo, we really cut ourselves off from people and activities we enjoy.  Our focus had to be on Mark healing and getting through his treatments.  It kept us at home, cut off a bit from folks.  Phone calls and emails are okay but I want to see the beautiful faces of my friends and family, hang out a bit and laugh a lot.
  3. Move.  I want to get outside and move my body more.  Be more active.  Walking around the hallways of hospitals and clinics is not the same as long walks outside and visits to the park with the dogs. 
As I look over these goals, I realize that they are a direct reaction to what happened to us over the past couple of years.  The time has flown by and we've gotten through it somehow.  Physically, Mark's better but I think that emotionally, we need to recharge our batteries.  Now is as good a time as any to do this.

Do you have any goals/resolutions for 2015?  I'd love to hear about them if you do.