The community support for Michael Adamski has been so overwhelming people linger outside his hospital room waiting to speak with him.
"The nurses were saying they wanted to get us into this room fast because there’s just this steady stream, there’s literally lineups going down the hallway to see him," marveled his wife Shannan. "We have a roomful all the time."
Throughout his life, Adamski, 56, has commanded whichever room he found himself in.
Be it a classroom where he strived to engage every student, among staff where the Brandon school principal was admired or a packed Keystone Centre where the roar of his voice after each Brandon Wheat Kings goal, as public address announcer, incited cheers.
But he never expected to be the centre of attention at Brandon Regional Health Centre.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
On Oct. 22, Adamski had finished announcing the names of the Wheat Kings starting lineup for a tilt against the Spokane Chiefs when he unexpectedly collapsed.
Rushed to hospital, Adamski was diagnosed with oligodendroglioma, a type of brain cancer which can be aggressive.
Before his three seizures that night, there was never any indication he was facing a devastating cancer.
When he learned of the diagnosis, doctors expressed how serious it was. There were two tumors deep in his brain and one tumor parked in front.
It is inoperable and incurable, medical professionals told him.
Buoyed by a stubborn resolve, Adamski refused to believe cancer would determine his fate.
"He said he was going to be optimistic and he was going to be the one in the million that was going to actually beat this," his wife said. "I don’t think anyone wants to face their own death, it’s hard to accept."
But the tumors viciously ravaged his brain, to the extent that, earlier this month, Adamski couldn’t shake the truth.
The doctor "started giving us timelines and what to expect in the next little while," explained Shannan. "It’s a very aggressive, very fast-moving cancer."
The diagnosis is fogging Adamski of his short-term memory and robbing him of his independence. His wife is by his side all day, helping get him to his feet and administering regular medications.
Last month, the blood clots that first started in his legs due to chemotherapy drugs migrated to his lungs, resulting in a serious health scare.
FOCUSING ON THE FUTURE
His once-booming voice has become a whisper. He struggles to force enough air out of his lungs to speak loudly. But though his voice and body wavers, his resolve is unwavering and inspiring.
He regularly talks of the future.
He wants to vacation with his two teenaged children in New York City. There’s a pool in his backyard calling his name. And he speaks of returning to the work he loves.
He intends to roam the halls of Vincent Massey High School again, where the veteran educator, an administrator at either Vincent Massey or École Secondaire Neelin since 1999, started as principal last September.
He wants to call out the names of Wheat King goal-scorers again, as the team’s public address announcer.
Adamski’s focus remains on what lies ahead.
"I’m not prepared to accept any other option," he said.
The past months have been punishing.
There was a major setback in January, when while being driven to Winnipeg for treatment, blood clots that formed in his legs drifted to his lungs. He struggled to breathe.
This was caused by immobility and a lack of fresh oxygen, akin to how blood clots sometimes form on long flights.
After that incident, Adamski was told he couldn’t be driven back and forth to Brandon on weekends.
"When they brought him into emergency, they told me they were surprised he survived," his wife said. "Most people die when this happens."
He calls it an "inequity of service" that Westman-area cancer patients who cannot be treated in Brandon deal with.
"It was an added stress that we shouldn’t have been facing."
Stuck in Winnipeg, he completed his 30 rounds of radiation and chemotherapy on Jan. 27. By then, blood thinners diminished the size of the clots.
His treatment regime through those two months was grueling, but he could finally take a break.
He and his wife returned to Brandon for what they thought would be a month off before more chemotherapy, that is until he lost coordination, starting to stumble and struggled to walk down stairs. He was soon hospitalized.
That is when a CT scan showed the tumors were expanding rapidly. It’s also when doctors started talking about how much time he had left and when the couple told their children, Aisha and Jordan, to spend as much time with their father as they can.
"Up until that point, even though I told them their father could die from this very serious disease, I never actually said that he was going to," Shannan said.
Through it all, the family, including Adamski, is keeping their spirits up as best as possible.
Sitting in his palliative care room, decked in a black Wheat Kings sweater and sweats, Adamski is still making others smile.
His recall of facts strong, he’s adamant he can beat his three guests at Trivia Pursuit.
He makes his wife answer a question on how long they’ve been married — he likes to test her, Shannan chuckles. It’s 29 years this summer, she replies correctly.
Fighting brain cancer hasn’t been easy. His face wears the pain of rigorous treatment and the emotional toll. He tears up when he thinks back to his struggles and looks to the future.
He gets emotional, too, when he thinks of how the Brandon community stepped up.
There are lineups to see him, and lineups of people waiting to cook for his family. Their neighbourhood, Waverly Park, even made a turkey dinner on Christmas Day, with all the fixings.
There have been family, friends, colleagues, former students and parents of past students who have wished him well.
The Wheat Kings brought the WHL championship trophy to his room for a week, and gave him an iPad to watch games.
Nurses, many of them ex-students, fuss over him.
Then there’s the benefit social the community organized, and the head shave Michael Wenham, a Grade 12 student from Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School took upon himself last December, raising tens of thousands of dollars for cancer research.
His gratitude for all the support is hard to express.
"It’s humbling," he said simply, tears welling in his eyes.
HE TOUCHED SO MANY LIVES
One evening last week, Mark Adamski was in his older brother’s hospital room when a video was played. A former student of Adamski’s, now an emergency doctor in Brandon, collected 23 testimonials from graduates sharing their memories of him.
There was one story, recalled Mark, of a student who did not have money for a Thanksgiving lunch, while many others were lining up for their share of the turkey. Adamski noticed, and gave the student money to join the feast.
One woman recalled her graduation night. She wasn’t popular, and was saddened nobody would walk into the banquet beside her. Adamski approached her beforehand and asked if he could be her partner.
"She thought that was so nice that here’s the principal, coming up with me right at Grand March time and deciding to walk in there with me," Mark said. "In her mind, she had the greatest Grand March partner of all the grads."
Mark remembers hearing that story years ago. It made him proud of his older brother, and it still does.
"How many people would actually do that? Who thinks of that?" he said in awe. "It’s something you see in the movies."
Jillian DeCosse, a member of Neelin’s 2002 graduating class, put the video together.
She wanted the compilation of memories, which she figured "scratched the surface" of students impacted by him, to demonstrate how far-reaching his impact is.
His influence has been long-lasting, too. Many former students commented that he recognized them by name, years after last crossing paths.
"He would remember who they were and showed such a very genuine interest in what was going on in their lives," DeCosse said.
The well-wishes from many continue to touch Adamski, who wants the community to know he is very grateful.
The many people who continue to boost his spirits are an extension of the life he led, welcoming to everyone.
"Your policy was always an open door," his wife shared. "Anybody could come and talk to you at any time, staff, students — you didn’t close the door and hide out in your office."
"And it remains to be that, Shannan," Adamski added.
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