The word “family” gets used a lot these days. It used to refer to people with whom you actually shared a blood relation. But now, players on the same hockey team often refer to one another as “family.” Or people who work in the same office or attend the same summer camp.
In a way, it makes sense. Those of us who spend 12 to 14 hours a day on the job often spend more time with our work colleagues than with our real family members.
You get to know people, and you do form a bond. If it’s not quite a family, it’s surely a fraternity.
That’s certainly the case at Queen’s Park — and one member of our fraternity is in trouble. The outpouring of love and affection for her, prompted by that revelation, reflects how admired and respected she is.
On June 29, Cynthia Mulligan, the Queen’s Park reporter for CityNews, made a sad and shocking announcement on Twitter:
“Some personal news: The scariest words ever said to me were ‘You have cancer’. Now 11 years later I have heard words that are even more frightening. ‘Your cancer is back. Stage 4.’ I found out two days before Christmas and I admit it has taken time to process.”
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I suspect everyone who knows Cynthia found this incredibly hard to believe. She has done her job with her typical passion and excellence throughout the pandemic. She is a beautiful person, inside and out, and she betrayed no indication that anything was wrong. But now, having gone public, Cynthia offered up details of what she’s facing, no doubt in part to explain why she’d be out of the public eye for a while, and also perhaps to offer inspiration to others who are facing similar health challenges.
“It’s easier because I have done this before,” she continued on Twitter. “It’s harder because I have done this before. But I have hope. (We are nothing without hope).”
Cynthia pointed out it was back in February that she started a clinical drug trial for targeted chemo. “The side effects are tough but … it’s worth it. I had a CT scan and the treatment is working!!”
Cynthia has always been thin and diminutive. I’d be shocked if she weighed more than 115 pounds. But she is without a doubt the toughest 115-pounder I’ve ever met.
“The cancer is not progressing and in fact it has shrunk by 30%, so don’t count me out,” she tweeted. “I got this.”
After thanking the health-care workers who’ve been assisting her on this journey, as well as her “beautifully supportive” work colleagues, Cynthia added this:
“I have made a choice. I’m going to live every moment to the fullest. When I was 1st diagnosed with breast cancer, I kept praying for 10 years so I could watch my two young daughters grow & fill them with a lifetime of mother’s love. I got those 10 years, I’m so grateful.
“The thought of leaving them now though breaks me, they still need their mom. I am determined to have many more years with them, I am so very proud of who they each are. I would go through this a million times more if it meant they didn’t have to.
“Time is the most precious thing any of us will ever have — and so are the people we love. I have my girls, my family, cherished friends and my partner Stef who is my rock and fills my heart with love. I’m going to celebrate and savour every moment.”
To that end, Cynthia is taking the summer off to recover her strength. She assures us she’ll be back in the fall, stronger than ever. She acknowledges what we all know: she can’t control what’s happening to her, only how she handles it.
Seven years ago last week, Cynthia and I co-hosted an event for Wellspring, an organization that provides support to people dealing with cancer. The event was a self-styled “hoedown,” in which attendees dressed in the garb of the Old West. While Cynthia and I already knew each other from various journalistic encounters, we became friends that evening and took the hoedown theme to heart. From that evening on, whether in person or by email, she’s called me Sheriff, and I’ve called her my deputy. It’s our cute little inside joke.
Since her revelation on social media, my deputy has received a tsunami of support, which she richly deserves.
“Like so many others, Sophie and I are rooting for you, Cynthia,” tweeted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “I think you said it best in one of your tweets: you got this.”
“Cynthia, you are a true champion and fighter,” wrote Premier Doug Ford. “You’ve beaten cancer before and we are with you during this new battle. I look forward to you holding my feet to the fire when you’re back at Queen’s Park in the fall.”
Toronto mayor John Tory added: “Cynthia, my heart is going out to you and your family through this unimaginably difficult time. Thank you for sharing your story — I know it will help others. Like you said, we are nothing without hope. On behalf of all residents of Toronto, we are all in your corner.”
Several members of the Ontario cabinet weighed in:
“Cynthia, thinking of you and your family during this difficult time,” tweeted Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney. “I know that you will beat cancer once again, and I look forward to seeing you back at Queen’s Park in the fall.”
“You got this, Cynthia!” added Education Minister Stephen Lecce. “Such an inspiring thread & story. I know you will beat cancer, as you did before.”
Former cabinet minister Glen Murray wrote, “Cynthia. You are a remarkable person who lives life to the fullest. Wishing you the very best. My 93 year old mom has beaten back breast cancer twice. She just lives life with purpose every day. You remind me of her. Look forward to seeing you back in the Fall!”
“I’m so very sorry to hear this, Cynthia,” wrote Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca. “You’re a hell of a fighter, and we’re all in your corner. Take care.”
“Cynthia, you are such a strong, determined, resilient and amazing person,” tweeted Toronto city councillor Josh Matlow. “You’ve kicked cancer’s ___ before and you’ll do it again. You have our love and support.”
And, of course, her journalistic fraternity-mates chimed in.
“The 11 years since your first bout have been, bar none, the most critical, spectacular 11 years in the advancement of kinds of therapies and treatments we could have only dreamed about then,” wrote TVO.org and National Post columnist Matt Gurney. “You’re going into this new battle stronger, smarter, and with an arsenal of new weapons. I like your work, I like your odds, I like you. Enjoy your summer. You’ll crush this even harder than last time.”
“You are a force for good and accountability,” wrote Diana Swain of the CBC’s The Fifth Estate. “You suffer no fools. Sending you strength and good thoughts, from across the journalistic aisle.”
“Cynthia, you are a force — in journalism and in life!” wrote Allison Jones, Ontario politics reporter for the Canadian Press. “I hope that seeing this outpouring of support puts a smile on your face and the faces of your beautiful kids. You deserve nothing but love and I’m sending you all of mine. Can’t wait to see you back at QP.”
CBC Radio anchor Tom Harrington offered this: “We’ve never met but I know your work. If you fight as fiercely as you report, cancer doesn’t have a chance.”
It’s possible that Cynthia didn’t realize her news would prompt the torrent of social-media responses that it did. She responded the following day with this:
“I am humbled and overwhelmed with gratitude for your kindness and support. I feel like I am wrapped in a great big, beautiful hug, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am sharing all this positive healing energy to those who are also facing challenges.
“All I ask is that when you see me, don’t see someone who is sick. See someone who is loving every second of this glorious thing we call life. I’m not living with cancer, it’s just hitching a ride on my amazing life.”
Go get ’em, Deputy.