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Choosing positivity: How this Ironman-competing father stays focused while fighting cancer

Mike Dawe and his family. Dawe says throughout his cancer journey he's controlled his thoughts as best he can and he hugs his family as close as he can telling them he loves them every day. Pictured here with Mike is wife Shaneen, and their two kids Damon and Darcey. (Submitted by Mike Dawe  - image credit)
Mike Dawe and his family. Dawe says throughout his cancer journey he's controlled his thoughts as best he can and he hugs his family as close as he can telling them he loves them every day. Pictured here with Mike is wife Shaneen, and their two kids Damon and Darcey. (Submitted by Mike Dawe - image credit)
Mike Dawe and his family. Dawe says throughout his cancer journey he's controlled his thoughts as best he can and he hugs his family as close as he can telling them he loves them every day. Pictured here with Mike is wife Shaneen, and their two kids Damon and Darcey.
Mike Dawe and his family. Dawe says throughout his cancer journey he's controlled his thoughts as best he can and he hugs his family as close as he can telling them he loves them every day. Pictured here with Mike is wife Shaneen, and their two kids Damon and Darcey.

Mike Dawe and his family. Dawe says throughout his cancer journey he's controlled his thoughts as best he can and he hugs his family as close as he can telling them he loves them every day. Pictured here with Mike is wife Shaneen, and their two kids Damon and Darcey. (Submitted by Mike Dawe )

Mike Dawe, 38, sits in the interview chair and cracks a smile. Then — like his approach to many other things in life — he dives right in, talking about his journey with cancer and his upcoming round of treatment.

"What a wild ride it's been," he said.

"The last three years and change has been hectic, bumpy, turbulent. But it's also been focused on the goal."

Dawe was diagnosed with metastatic thyroid cancer on April 29, 2019. There is never a good time for a cancer diagnosis but for Dawe the news came as his wife, Shaneen, was 33 weeks pregnant with their second child.

"There's nothing that can prepare you for a doctor looking you dead in the face and talking about, 'Yeah, you have cancer,'" said Dawe.

After the diagnosis came anger, frustration and disbelief, but given the family situation, there was also a ticking clock.

So Dawe snapped back to attention, spoke to his recently assembled team of health-care professionals and started to plan things out.

WATCH | Mike Dawe tells Adam Walsh how cancer has changed — but not conquered — his family: 

He would go on to have his first cancer surgery on a Monday.

"I wasn't 72 hours out of hospital, and Shaneen delivered our beautiful baby Darcy that Saturday night," he said.

"[It's] not how you draw it up on paper but … there's no pause button on this. It's full steam ahead."

Coping mechanism 

Dawe looked for ways to cope. In the days following his diagnosis, he said, he found himself stress-eating and trying to cling to things that were familiar and comfortable.

Another was pushing himself physically. A competitive amateur athlete his whole life, he did a full-distance Ironman triathlon in Torbay — just 11 days after his diagnosis.

"I just need to remind myself that I'm tough, I can put myself through anything and I'll find a way to cope," he said.

"Putting yourself through intentional pain reminds you that that can be an opportunity for growth, too."

So on a cold day, he completed the triathlon surrounded by friends and family at a makeshift finish line.

"That day just fully solidified the fact that we're gonna do this as a team," he said.

Dawe has since competed in Ironman triathlons in Mont-Tremblant, Que., and Kalmar, Sweden, along with some local road races around Newfoundland and Labrador.

On top of keeping up with training, Dawe has also done a lot of work with Young Adult Cancer Canada.

He talks openly about his diagnosis to help increase awareness and has helped raise over $17,000 so far, along with over 70 blood donations.

Mike Dawe fishing an Ironman triathlon last year in Kalmar, Sweden.
Mike Dawe fishing an Ironman triathlon last year in Kalmar, Sweden.

Mike Dawe fishing an Ironman triathlon last year in Kalmar, Sweden. (Submitted by Mike Dawe )

Choosing positivity 

He says through it all, he tries to choose to be positive.

"Don't get me wrong, I have a meltdown when I need to and just let it all hang out," he said. "Sometimes you just gotta have a bad day. But I gotta choose to have a lot more positive ones than the negative ones."

One of the harder days though was last September when he was told his cancer was in remission.

It was not. Someone had misread his file.

Instead he needed more surgery and what they thought was one large tumour was instead six.

"Obviously no one was intentionally trying to rain on my parade here. But this has been quite the wave to ride. I've had plenty of days as the hammer, and I've had plenty of days as the nail."

Dawe's next round of cancer treatment starts this week.

He says if he gets the good news everyone is hoping for next month, watch out.

"The Santa Claus parade will have nothing on what the Dawe family is going to put up and down the city. My goodness, what I wouldn't do to just celebrate some great news because it's been a really hard couple of years."

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