DISASTER SURVIVAL…A personal story


When words like disaster, preparedness, and survival get tossed around, most people think of collapsed economies, war, famine and many other catastrophes.  There are those of us, however, who have seen another side of hardship and therefore understand, that disaster may come in variety sometimes beyond imagination…


An oil drilling rig deployed in Northern Alberta

The year was 2011. Our oil rig just finished drilling the last oil well near Wabasca, Alberta.  We were getting it ready for storage during spring break up.  The roads get too soft as a result of the spring thaw and heavy equipment such as oil drilling rigs cannot be moved.  Drilling operations normally resume in late May or early June depending on the weather.  It was March 22nd and my crew just completed our last night shift.  I eagerly jumped into my truck to head south where my wife Ede, was patiently awaiting my arrival.

It should have been about a four-hour drive but it snowed heavily on that day and I was tired from the night shift.  It was slow going.   Ede called me and asked me to meet her in Spruce Grove. She said she went to see her doctor who did some tests.  The results were supposed to be in later that day so she asked me to come with her and maybe we could get some lunch after.

I arrived in Spruce Grove in the early afternoon and Ede and I met up. We were thrilled to see each other, especially after a prolonged absence.  As we were very short-handed at work I ended up putting in extra time above my regular two weeks.

We hugged and joked and giggled like a couple of teenagers…life was great.  Still full of enthusiasm for each other we stepped into the doctor’s office.  The pleasant young lady showed us to an exam room and told us the doctor will be in shortly.  We were beside each other with giddiness, happiness, and excitement since I was off work for the next few weeks.


The Doctor came in. He had a weird expression on his face but Ede didn’t seem to notice and so I didn’t care.  He paused briefly looking us over and then began to speak…

“So the tests came back…it seems you have lesions on your liver.”

Ede and I looked at each other like a couple of kids who just got a detention.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“It appears there are several discolored marks on your liver…..” He was stalling and his voice was beginning to shake.

“Can you just tell us what that means?” I asked.

“Cancer. You have cancer of the liver.” Said the doctor as he looked directly at Ede.

I am not sure how she felt at that moment but my brain didn’t really accept what I heard.  It didn’t really sink in.  The doctor kept going on about the Cross Cancer Institute and something about specialists who will be making sure that things will be moving very fast from here.  I was too busy trying to sort out what I just heard.  In the end, the doctor simply told us to stand by the phone and someone will be contacting us shortly.  We went home completely stunned.  It took a full month of calling and trying to track down someone, who would give us more information.  Then one day, after weeks of not knowing what to do, we got an audience with a cancer doctor at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. His assessment was very simple.


“You have stage four advanced cancer of the liver. You have between six to eight months of life left. Since it is the liver there is no cure. Get your affairs in order.”

I don’t know what was worse. Was it the fact that we were treated like livestock whose usefulness was up or was it the fact that our worst fears were confirmed…?  A desperate search for treatment began.  We spoke with doctors of all calibers from holistic specialists to doctors who were approved by the Alberta government to administer various alternative medicines.  Either the cost was completely prohibitive or all we got were closed doors.

Eventually, we traveled to Tijuana Mexico, where local doctors were allowed to practice medicine and healing techniques not recognized or approved in Canada.  The Doctor we saw helped save many lives…most of them from Alberta.  For Ede however, it was too late.  By the time we came back, Ede was permanently wheelchair bound and our savings were gone.

By this time my rig had fired up and was moved to southern Saskatchewan. My employer guaranteed me my work position when I returned to work and I was given all the time I needed to get through this ordeal. Since we had no income or savings I applied for government assistance. Under the compassionate care benefits programme, I qualified for the highest amount at that time.  This added up to $260 per week for six weeks, which was not enough to cover even half of our expenses.  We sold off what we could and that included our home. Future seemed very bleak…

Ede went from bad to worse and eventually ended up in palliative care in the Sturgeon Community Hospital in St Albert.  She then requested to be moved to Bonnyville, where most of her family lived.  On July 21st, 2011, Ede Grace Lehar lost her battle with Cancer and died at the Bonnyville hospital.


This vehicle became my home for nine months.

At the end of this journey, I was thirty-six years old, broke, homeless, devastated and alone.  I had my truck, work gear and something called the “bugout” or “seventy-two-hour bag”.  In this case, my bugout bag didn’t save my life nor was it absolutely necessary to survive but until I started to earn some money, I did have to live out of my vehicle for a few weeks and during that time, the bugout bag made my life A LOT easier. There was my sleeping bag, clean and dry socks and underwear and various snacks that I packed for emergencies.  The Candles also came in handy as did the ability to start a fire anywhere.  I could literally camp out in any campground, dirt road or field and I was all right.

My bugout kit is based on a medium US Military ALICE pack.

There was one more aspect to the bugout bag. When I began to dig through it, there was an old familiarity with it.  I used things that I myself packed and organized.  I knew where everything was and how to use what I had.  Even the smell of my equipment reminded me of home, stability, and peace even though my world was nothing but chaos and confusion.  It was this mental calm that I valued my bugout kit for the most.  Somehow it brought me some resemblance of peace.  It is actually for this reason that I never leave my home without a bugout kit.  It is this reason that makes my bugout kit one of my most prized possessions and it is this reason why I recommend that everyone have one.

The above story is a real story of survival. It doesn’t involve an economic collapse or nuclear apocalypse, and it didn’t end the world.   But it did end my world as I knew it.  That world will never come back.

Never, in a million years would I have thought that something like this could ever happen to me.  But it did, as it happens to thousands of other families throughout Alberta, Canada, and the world.  There are countless dangers that we may never see coming and in the end, there is no way to prepare for everything one hundred percent.  But what we can do is to prepare enough that when an unfortunate event does take place, we have a fighting chance.  And maybe a fighting chance is all we need to get through whatever may come down the pipe because getting through it is always worth it in the end, no matter how hard the going gets.

You are dearly missed…

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. What an amazing story – So sad and so uplifting at the same time. You are remarkable to have picked yourself up and carry on
    Thank you for sharing this
    Go easy

  2. Hi Dennis. Your story had me in tears. We have lost several family members to cancer and other tragedies. They ranged in ages from 6 to 86. I felt all your pain in your story, but I also felt the love you have for Ede. As I have learned in my life , you learn to live with disaster or tradegy, but you never forget. Thank you for sharing your story. All the best Jim

    1. I am sorry for your loss Jim and thank you for your words.

  3. You write like a professional writer and a very powerful story. I’m sorry about your good friend; and then the sudden news. That sucks just reading about it. It’s a real hardship emotionally, and financially. I was really hoping there would be a happy ending and some sort of alternative treatment that the media always proclaims as the latest breakthrough but somehow never pans out in actual practice.

    1. Thank you. Everyone’s comments are deeply appreciated.

  4. I am so proud of you, my son. Nobody can say they understand. You are the Hero with a big heart. I love you

    1. …I don’t think I’m a hero but I do think I handled the whole thing relatively well…that’s because I was raised well. Thank you…for everything.

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