Day 220 - Ismo

Day 220 - Ismo (6th person I approached)
August 08, 2014 - I knew a great story was out there. I just had to meet that person willing and able to share it with me. When I approached Ismo, he was sitting outside a coffee shop. I told him what I was doing and asked if he’d chat with me. He reached over to the chair next to his and pulled it out, for me to sit in. 


Ismo was born in Tampere, Finland.

“We moved around a lot as a child. My father always wanted to see if the grass was greener on the other side,” he said.

“I have one sister, who is two years younger. We were close as kids and have always gotten along well.” When Ismo was five years old, his family moved to Sweden.

“I remember the trip we made by boat, it was during winter,” he said. Ismo attended elementary school in Sweden.

“We would go on field trips every week. Hiking, birdwatching, art galleries, orienteering, trips to a garden centre. It was good to create these interests at an early age. We did woodworking shop in Grade three and metal work in Grade eight. Fairly basic stuff really, but we were using acetylene torches! I don’t know if they even have them in Canadian schools yet!” said Ismo laughing.

“I had a good friend that I would go camping with. The first time we did, it was only overnight. But when I was ten, we had planned a trip that was around a series of small lakes. It was about fifty kilometres from my home. We went for five nights. One day his parents would check on us and the next day my parents would make sure we were okay. They would drive to a designated place at the highway and we would meet them there to make sure everything was good,” said Ismo.


The family moved to Montreal in Quebec when Ismo was twelve.

“My father's brother was living in Boston Massachusetts, and was helping to sponsor my father. Boston was our next intended home. I remember spending some time there with my aunt. We went fishing and my aunt fell in the lake. My father found out that my aunt and uncle were alcoholics. I never saw them again, and we never moved to Boston,” said Ismo.

“I spent two and half years going to an English speaking school in Montreal. I didn’t speak any English. It was tough. The teachers never took time to make sure I was doing ok in my class. If you didn’t keep up, you fell behind. I was going to French classes at night as well. I spoke Finnish with my parents, Swedish with my sister, tried English in school during the day and French at school at night. I became friends with an older Hungarian kid, he was about thirteen I guess. His family had fled from the revolution happening in Hungary. I don’t know how we communicated, but we did. He was my best friend. I learned enough English to get by, but I didn’t do so well in class. I missed the field trips of school in Sweden. If I was sick there, I hated to miss a day of school. I found it all rather boring going to school in Montreal. The two and a half years at school in Montreal were a waste of time really,” said Ismo.


Brantford, Ontario was the next place the family moved to.

“Once I got my English language mastered, I excelled in school. I did really well actually. In woodworking class everyone was making a fruit bowl. I already knew how to do that, so I asked the teacher if I could make a gun cabinet. I did all the drawings and made a list of the wood I needed. He let me do it,” said Ismo with humble pride. When he graduated from high school, Ismo knew he wanted to be an electrician. He got an Electrician’s apprenticeship with Ontario Hydro.

“Back in those days, you could go into any trade you wanted. They were scrambling for employees,” he said. Ismo ended up moving to London Ontario and marrying his childhood sweetheart, whom he had met in Grade nine. They had spent their honeymoon in Gibson’s, on British Columbia’s (BC) Sunshine Coast.

“I fell in love with BC then,” said Ismo.


When their first born child, a boy, was just three years old, a friend of Ismo’s had moved to BC.

“He told me how great it was to live out here and how much he was enjoying it. I asked my wife how she felt about selling everything and moving to BC. She liked the idea and that’s what we did. I got a a job with BC Hydro, and have worked for them ever since,” said Ismo. They settled in Prince Rupert, on the North Coast. Ismo travelled extensively for work, leaving his wife at home with two children now, having added a daughter to their family.

“I was just about going home and changing suitcases and going out again. I worked in Bella Coola, Ocean Falls, Bella Bella, all over the place. I was maintaining equipment in isolated areas. After a couple of years, my wife wanted me to make changes,” said Ismo.

“I had some unique skills and experience from my time with Ontario Hydro. I applied for a position in Terrace (BC) that was specialized. I got the job and we moved there. It meant I was able to be home a lot more. We’ve lived in Terrace for over thirty years now,” he said, with affection in his voice.


In 2002, Ismo had a tumour growing on his hip. It was cancerous.

“I came to Vancouver and had surgery to remove it. The Doctors were confident that they had removed it all. The next year, they discovered that I had tumours on my spine. I came back to Vancouver and underwent radiation treatment. Once again, I got the all clear,” he said. The following year, Ismo was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. “My lungs were full of tumours. I was given five years to live. That was ten years ago. I’m at the Cancer Clinic now, trying a new experimental drug. It is supposed to starve the tumours of their blood supply. I’ve been here for a month and will probably be here for another four months. I get treatment once a week, by an intravenous drip. If I was a rich man, I’d fly here on Wednesday and get my treatment on Thursday and then fly home. But I’m not a rich man, so I’m staying here. There are people from all over the country who come to the clinic for all kinds of treatment. I’m currently sharing a room with a fellow from Kitimat. We know each others neighbourhoods,” said Ismo. His son came over from Victoria last weekend and they went to car show together.

"He comes over whenever he can and we do things," he said.


Two years ago, Ismo tried another experimental drug.

“We know now that it didn’t work, and I developed diabetes from it. I try to stay active and walk as much as I can, that way I don’t have to take as much insulin. But with a diminished lung capacity, going up even the slightest incline can be draining. I stop and rest a bit, then carry on," he said.

"I miss my wife, and I miss Terrace. My son lives in Victoria and my daughter lives in Edmonton. She’s finishing up her PhD in Archaeology. My wife is home holding down the fort,” he said.

“I retired from BC Hydro this year, on June 01st. I promised myself I was going to go fishing for a solid month. Guess it won’t be this year.” 


I asked Ismo how he felt about participating in experimental drug therapy.

“I’ll tell you this. I’m hoping that I can make a contribution. To make a difference. But of course I want this to work for me. I want to get better. Everyone says I don’t look sick. I’ve got it a lot better than some of the people I’ve been at the clinic with. People hear news about not making to Christmas,” he said.

“You’ve got to be optimistic though. You never know what tomorrow will bring. So tomorrow will be a good day.” #notastranger