Helping the Whole Family through Coaching, CLIMB, and Lemonade!

By Cancer Foundation on August 5 / 2020


If you were to meet Ron Wulf today, you might not believe that he’s just been through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy for an aggressive type of brain cancer.

But the well-spoken grandfather of two insists that while it may not be obvious to others, the cognitive impacts of his treatment have been a big challenge.

“People tell me I’m articulate, but it’s all relative,” Ron says. “I used to speak seven languages and could write at a post-doctoral level…while surgery was necessary, I’ve lost some of my language abilities. That’s been hard for me.”

Ron learned he had glioblastoma multiforme last summer, and began his treatments with surgery in the fall. “Part of my background is in cognition and linguistics, so I’m familiar with how the brain works,” he says. “That helped a little bit, especially when it came to recovery.”

He and his wife Susan also welcomed their daughter’s family to move in with them at that time, to help out while Ron recovered. “We’re like a big blended family now, all living together,” Ron says. “It’s me, my wife, my daughter and son-in-law, and their two kids, Rosemary and CJ.”

But of course, 11-year-old Rosemary and 5-year-old CJ had a hard time watching their grandfather go through something so serious.

“With glioblastoma, it’s not really a question of if it’s going to come back…it’s more a question of when,” Ron explains. “So naturally, that was really tough on the kids.” Susan remembers realizing Rosemary could use a bit of outside support the day she came downstairs and asked, “Is grandpa going to die?”

Ron’s oncologist, Dr. Garth Nicholas, recommended that Ron connect with a Cancer Coach at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. Both Ron and his daughter began working with a Coach to help them cope with the challenges of cancer, and they learned there was even a special program available for Rosemary and CJ called CLIMB (Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery).

“The kids had a really, really good time there,” Ron says. “It really sorted them out.”

CLIMB is a six week group Coaching program where children learn how to cope with and express the difficult feelings that might surround a loved one’s cancer diagnosis. “Putting all those kids together was huge,” Ron says. “It let them be part of things and understand things at their own level.”

Even though CJ was too young for the program, the Coaches decided to invite him in anyway and adapt certain activities so that he could take part with his sister. “It was really special that they did that,” Susan says. “He was young, but he could watch the other kids and see what they were going through.”

And Rosemary liked that she could share how she was feeling in a place where everyone else understood what she was going through. “I like that I made friends, and we could all be together and have fun,” she says. “I got a break from cancer, and the instructors made me feel safe and good about everything.”

Ron and Susan believe that for Rosemary, getting to know another family in the group who was facing a difficult prognosis was helpful. “It was beneficial for Rosemary and that child to be able to speak about the pain they were feeling,” Susan says. “They could bounce thoughts off each other and talk specifically about their grief and their fears.”

Rosemary also says CLIMB helped her feel like she knew more about cancer in general. “I understand what’s happening to grandpa now, so I’m not as scared,” she says.

“My grandkids feeling better helps me feel better,” Ron adds. “It helps me hang in there and heal.”

As for Ron’s own experience with his Cancer Coach, “It helped me refocus and find purpose again. Initially, you just feel like your whole life has been flipped upside down,” he says. “You don’t know if you’re coming or going…Coaching helped me get back to just getting on with things.”

When his chemotherapy treatments ended, Ron had just finished a major project at work and several presentations for a volunteer role at the Ottawa Hospital. “Suddenly I was done, and I no longer felt productive,” he says. “Melina helped by reminding me that making use of my strengths and feeling good about myself is key, through taking advantage of what strengths I still have, to be able to contribute.”

He also says Melina’s patience and understanding helped compensate for some of the cognitive issues he had faced, which is especially important for someone with brain cancer.

“I found Coaching absolutely wonderful, well worth every minute of it.”

Through both Cancer Coaching and CLIMB, Ron and Susan appreciated how their whole family could get the support that was right for each of them. “Back when I was a volunteer firefighter, I learned something: when you’ve got a patient who has passed away or who’s very ill, once they’re looked after, the real patient is the family,” Ron says. “That’s something I feel the Cancer Foundation really understands.”

Something extra special also happened that November, when staff at the Cancer Foundation invited the whole family to attend Hockey Fights Cancer, an annual NHL event that raises funds and awareness for cancer care.

“I’d been making up my so-called bucket list, and we’d actually talked about going to a Sens game, but we ultimately decided not to,” Ron says. “I just didn’t want to think of it as going for the last time.”

But when they were offered the tickets, excitement took over: the whole family are long-time Ottawa Senators fans. Ron and his grandchildren even ended up riding the Zamboni together, a moment Ron describes as “empowering.”

Today, while Ron admits it’s been hard to stay idle as he heals, he enjoys having the grandkids around to help him feel productive. “It’s good for my rehab to help them with school and other things,” he says. “I used to teach, so it’s a good fit.”

The Wulf family is also participating in the virtual Cardel Homes Lemonade Standemonium event, raising funds to help other families who are facing cancer.

“These kids are having such an impact on other kids and other families,” Ron says. “Even if you don’t know someone who has cancer, it’s so important. The fact that other families are out there thinking about us and working for us is really powerful.”

“The idea that somebody that doesn’t know me is trying to help with this…it makes me want to push on as well.”

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