My life, so far

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I’ll be taking a break from writing on this blog and elsewhere for a few weeks. I will be preoccupied, as I’m getting married, then leaving for my honeymoon in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

For many years, I never thought that I would become as happy as I am now. During my three dozen years on this planet, I have struggled through two bouts of life-threatening childhood illness, and their long-term side effects, bullying, depression, low self-confidence, criminal intimidation and civil litigation, and not knowing where I stood in life.

On the positive side, I have always benefited from a loving and supportive family and a small core of wonderful friends. And I have found an amazing life partner.

Growing up, I was a socially awkward child, a true nerd. At the age of three, I was collecting and studying maps. By four, I was drawing maps and creating fantasy cities. I bugged my parents to take me to Toronto to ride streetcars and even the Scarborough RT when it was still new in the 1980s. I was destined to be a geographer or an urban planner.

bike.jpg
I was also clearly destined to go on long bike rides, exploring southern Ontario. 


But at 12 years old, I was diagnosed with an aggressive childhood cancer. The three years of chemotherapy left me exhausted, my body littered with scars and stretchmarks, and I became especially emotional. In Grade 7 and Grade 8, I was bullied, and my teacher, Mr. Bennett, not only condoned it, he himself participated in it in his own way. So much for a “gifted” program.

 

At least high school was far better. I was able to choose my friends, choose my classes, and did well. Many teachers and administrators at St. Augustine in Brampton were supportive, even inspirational. But I did not know what I could study in university. The effects of the chemo and radiation left me struggling with mathematics and science, but my skills in the social sciences and humanities at least remained strong. I thought that maybe I would become a high school teacher.

Then, at 17, I relapsed. I underwent another year of surgery, radiation, and chemo. The treatments left me infertile, among other lasting effects. As I was committed to keeping up with school (with the help of some of my teachers), I focused my energy on fighting the cancer and my studies. I had little time or strength for much else.

But my father took me to the annual Ontario University Fair, where I saw geographic information systems (GIS) for the first time at Ryerson [Polytechnic] University’s booth. I was hooked. I won a prestigious scholarship from Ryerson, and enrolled in the Geographic Analysis program. I did so well, and enjoyed it so much, I enrolled in a Masters’ program, and won another scholarship that paid for my studies. I loved university. I connected with some great professors, who encouraged me to push my limits. To this day, I continue to work with a distinguished political science professor on municipal politics and immigration studies.

About this time, I, with my parents, purchased a condo in North York that turned out to be nothing but trouble. My parents had purchased a unit in the same building. The condominium was a conversion from a commercial building, and work was not completed on promised amenities. The developer did not fulfill multiple commitments, and the condominium board, stacked with the developer himself and his allies, did not follow through with their commitments.

We fought, eventually hiring a lawyer and going through the court system, which was an additional source of stress. We discovered that the developer had ties to organized crime. Intimidation and criminal tactics were used against us. After getting court orders against the condominium corporation and its three directors, we went back to court a year later. After more stonewalling and intimidation, we settled just before their contempt hearing. We got out with most of our money, but with lots more grey hair on our heads. Based on the negative experience, I am unlikely to ever buy a condo again. (I’m happy renting in a nice building downtown.)

Where I was lucky, though, was finding rewarding work. After grad school, I found work assisting with public health research at a Toronto teaching hospital. The pay was modest, but I learned a lot, and got to supervise students. It set me up for my current job, a comfortable, secure job where I get to make maps and run data analyses all day.

With the condo issue settled, and employment secured, I was still missing something in my life. I had good friends, experienced some interesting and enjoyable travels, but I was lonely. My life up to that point could be summed up as fighting cancer, fighting a corrupt condo corporation, school, and employment. I began to seriously doubt myself, as I didn’t find any enjoyment or drive in my early attempts at dating. At the time, I was worried that my lack of experience, and infertility would be serious hindrances. Luckily, I found professional help (though I had to wait several years) that helped me identify my personal needs and develop my self-confidence over many months.

At 31, I was ready to start dating again. I met some wonderful women, some who I got to know over the course of several months, but none of those relationships were ultimately successful.

Then I met Elisa in February 2015. I got to know her family and friends, and we clicked in a special way. We share a sense of humour and a sense of adventure. We both have a love for learning, and are both family-oriented. She’s sweet, kind, and very talented. We get along wonderfully. And on Saturday June 24, we’re getting married. I couldn’t be happier.

My life has had its ups and downs. I have had some very difficult experiences growing up, but I also acknowledge that in spite of it all, I’m both lucky and privileged. For many years, I kept my past illness and its effects quiet, but as my confidence and happiness increased, I have become more comfortable with my story. I have a family that has always supported me, in the best and worst of times. I always knew I would be loved and accepted by those who mattered to me. There are also plenty of options if we decide to have children down the road.

I was also lucky, despite the many setbacks. I’m lucky to have great friends, and great teachers, and finding the right area of study in university. Had it not been for going to that university fair with my father, my life would be quite different today. But most of all, I have found a wonderful partner. I’m really looking forward to our future.

 

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9 Responses to My life, so far

  1. mattblackett says:

    This is beautiful, Sean! Congrats to you for overcoming very difficult illnesses and finding the love of your life.

  2. rishil123 says:

    wow. Thanks for sharing sean. takes a lot to post that online. quite the story! all the best to you.

  3. Brid says:

    Dear Sean your story is truly inspirational. I cannot be there for your wedding and I should have been in touch before now. I had hoped where I find myself just now would change in time but it hasn’t. I will be in touch at some point to give you a less cryptic explanation but I’m so happy for you both – have a marvellous day and post photos – Brid

  4. Steve says:

    Congratulations to both of you! I’m wondering if anyone here is running a betting pool on how long it will be before a string of photos from a cycling adventure down east will show up, possibly with a map!

  5. Judith says:

    Sean, Thank you for sharing this. What a special person you are – and, from what I’ve gleaned from your writings – what a special person Elisa is…. I wish you both much, much happiness in your journey together.

  6. subwaysafety says:

    Sean, I have loved reading your articles. But I have loved even more hearing your life story. Have a wonderful honeymoon and so glad you found the love of your life, since at the end of the day, no matter how much we are facinated by maps and flow patterns, which I too am guilty of, it is your best friend in the room, which is most important. Blessing and good times, and laughter to both of you. Hope you do come back with exciting things to blog about.

  7. Moaz Ahmad says:

    Sean and Elisa, I wish you the best in your life together as you continue your adventures.

  8. Hooman Ganjavi says:

    A very inspirational story, Sean. Penny and I had a great time tonight and wish you and Elisa the best!

  9. Chris Killam says:

    Sean, what a beautiful, inspirational story. Thank you for all you do here on this blog, and congrats on your nuptials!

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