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Terminally ill use Internet to share and inspire


Terminally ill use Internet to share and inspire
Valerie Fortney
Calgary Herald

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

On Sunday evening, a few minutes before 7 p.m., I had just sat down to a glorious meal of Indian food with loved ones.

In another part of town, Andrew Wark's wife was saying her final goodbyes to the devoted father of three.

Wark and I worked in related fields. Chances are, our paths crossed more than once.

Nevertheless, I didn't know Wark. But I know a heck of a lot about him -- in fact, I probably know more about him than the people who sit next to me at work each day. I know he had a self-deprecating wit; that he loved his garden; and that, for the past year, a cancer had been growing in his brain that would eventually take the life of the exuberant 38-year-old.

In fact, thousands of people, some as far away as Europe and Asia, have come to know -- and for sure, love -- the resilient young man who until recently was an associate communications director at the University of Calgary.

We knew about Wark thanks to the web log he and his wife Judy kept, in which their trails, tribulations and yes, even moments of spontaneous joy, were chronicled for anyone who stumbled upon their website.

For the uninitiated, web logs (also known as blogs) are the cyberspace version of a diary or journal. With conservative estimates pegging their numbers at more than 500,000, they've been getting a lot of attention lately for some of the more salacious and peculiar blogs out there, such as the multitudes devoted to unusual sexual predilections and ones like, in which a woman with a $20,000 debt managed to sucker visitors to her site to give her money (she also has a book out on the experience, called Save Karyn: One Shopaholic's Journey to Debt and Back).

Because of this, I've never been a fan of blogs. I couldn't imagine subjecting myself to a daily re-hashing of some stranger's mundane musings, let alone giving some irresponsible shopaholic money; it's also no surprise that, as a journalist, I possess an unhealthy degree of snobbery when it comes to the opinions and rantings of non-writers. And to top it off, I'm something of a technology curmudgeon, believing it best to forge relationships with real people rather than those in cyberspace.

But the blog -- first created in 1992 by a computer programmer, but only becoming widespread after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the popularity of Matt Drudge's Drudge Report blog -- is finally coming of age.

If you need any further evidence, look no further than Wark's blog, I dare anyone to read a sampling of entries and not be touched by the writings of Andrew and Judy, who served as her husband's lead writer. Click on the first entry, Jan. 3, 2003, and read about how Judy and Andrew broke the news to their young children: "He's in good spirits and determined to beat this thing, whatever it is, because he has four people who need him around for a long, long time. By the way, we aren't using the C word." They also clung to moments of promise. "Andrew is presently outside on this sunny spring afternoon

. . . he's sanding down the arbour that he built last summer." Or this, on Dec. 25: "Michael just whispered to Andrew, 'Dad, you made it to Christmas.' It looks like the beginning of a magnificent day."

Touching, indeed. But, one might ask, why would anyone want to make such a heart-rending experience public? Jodine Chase understands.

"We first started it to keep our large network of extended family and friends informed," says the Edmonton communications professional of the blog devoted to her husband, Ron Graham, who succumbed to brain cancer last summer at age 57. "We'd feel bad when we forgot to keep someone up to date."

The experience, though, evolved into something much different. Soon, Chase began to hear from people all around the world. "You just can't replace the experience of having 800 or 1,000 people going through the same thing you're going through."

Chase, whose eloquent entries can be found at, surprised even herself when she continued to update the blog months after the death of her partner of 17 years. "People are so afraid to talk about disease and death," she says in a telephone interview. "There is always something positive in an experience like this, and I feel it's (the blog) one more thing that's out there that can help people."

The Internet has gotten a bad rap, and deservedly so. It's overflowing with hardcore porn, spam fills our inboxes every day and far too many blogs are a cyberspace form of vanity press, providing a podium for the dull and ill informed.

Then, there are those hidden gems provided by people like Andrew Wark and Ron Graham, who have gifted us with stories that teach us about appreciating life and facing death with courage, humour and love. The catharsis such blogs provide for writer and reader strengthens both, and ultimately leads to a greater sense of community.

Think about that as you sit down to your next dinner with loved ones.
? Copyright 2004 Calgary Herald

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