Interview Article

 

“our Canadian medical system, it is one of the best in the world”
"his advice to men (especially  middleaged) : get that regular physical checkup and include the prostate!"

" a harmonica… has a wailing sound akin to grieving."
"priorities: first take care of the self, then the family; next, take care of your immediate community, and finally take care too of the broader community"
 

HANK STEFANIAK – INTRODUCING THE HARMONICA PLAYER

By Suanne Morgan

We tend to make assumptions about people without checking that they’re true.  Tall, warmly friendly Hank Stefaniak really enjoys listening to the music, socializing with the musicians and audience, and often is still astonished when called to the stage to strut his own harmonica during a jam set.  He’s humble about his musical ability.  Here challenges the reality:  at the same time as he has been out enjoying life to the full, Hank is also fighting cancer – prostate cancer and there are some things he wants to say about that.

During 2012’s regular annual physical checkup, that included the digital probe and PSA tests, he learned that although symptom-free he in fact was in dire circumstances.  Prostate cancer.  He was whisked into numerous tests and then aggressive treatment.  June 2013 he’ll have finished that course of radiation, chemotherapy, and site-specific injections of radiation-infused seeds.  Treatment seems to be effective, things are looking very positive.  The next two years will be regular monitoring to ensure he remains cancer-free.  He can’t speak highly enough of the superb medical treatment he receives, nor of the wonderful medical staff and those at the Cancer Agency by the Royal Jubilee Hospital.  For all the carping that some do about our Canadian medical system, it is one of the best in the world.  He feels so strongly about this, that he wrote an article for the Times Colonist in response to someone denigrating the medical system, and the effectiveness of the PSA tests in particular.

Every man should take care of his body – and that includes a regular annual physical exam rather than the macho death-and-dismemberment scale of wellbeing and neglect.  As Hank knows firsthand, early stages of cancers can be symptom-free but are detectable.  His advice to men (especially middleaged) :  get that regular physical checkup and include the prostate!  The prostate exam is a little uncomfortable, but quickly done and can be lifesaving. 

Hank Stefaniak was born in Ontario, grew up in Toronto seventy-four years ago.  In the youth years of the 1950’s he loved playing guitar for house and beach parties, anywhere the pretty girls could be impressed.  But then along came Cheryl, life got busy with serious responsibilities including university, beginning the family, his teaching career and so the music got forgotten. 

A man who is full-tilt whatever he does, cycling was a passion; Cheryl joined him touring  including in Poland, his family homeland.  Golfing.  Camping.  Being with his wife and their two daughters – and now enjoys four grandchildren (two boys, two girls).  Then there’s time in the Okanagan, visiting his brother-in-law’s winery where he’s atop wine kegs, encouraging the workers with his harmonica music.

Not just a family man, Hank loves kids, working with them, encouraging their best.  He taught elementary grades and highschool.  It was frustrating that some principals were not appreciative of the good teachers on staff.  Aiming to make a difference, he entered the domain of vice-principal and principal jobs, and following those positions required a lot of moving around BC. He says when his daughters look back on their childhood, they claim only fond memories, both easily made new friends, and the family was active. 

Then he realized that the good principals were often troubled by poor school district administration and so his career turned.  Eventually he finished up in Victoria.  Some interesting lessons learned – no matter how important you are, and what good work you do, when you leave you are readily replaced with someone else – your brilliant work can be unraveled, and nobody remembers you.  That is just the way of the world, the ego learns humility.

About five years ago, his life turned inside out in the way catastrophe will do.  A beloved five year old granddaughter contracted cancer and for a year was in the fight for her life.  Hank and his wife did whatever they could to support their daughter – even bought a second car for her use in commuting over to Vancouver Children’s Hospital.  The heartache of a loving father and grandfather unable to do much more than simply be present at the bedside, travelling to and from the Vancouver hospital left him needing some outlet for expression of the grief and frustration.  One night while lying in bed with his wife, he saw a tv interview with Randy Bachman and that inspired him to find the music.  A harmonica is easy to pick up, tucks into a shirt pocket, and has a wailing sound akin to grieving. 

Hank does nothing by halves, once he connects to something he goes fullhearted.   He began weekly lessons with Gary Preston and continues to do so – only now, finally nearing his 10,000 hours (he practices several hours every day) the teaching is mentoring, and collegial in tone.

The heartache eased, the cancer was beaten back and today she is a bouncy lively ten year old.  His own cancer is nearly defeated too.
Three years ago he began jamming, shy, aware he was on stage with seasoned musicians.  Despite being over six foot in height, he huddled over his instrument at the back of the stage.   Ah but now, he comes stage front, in no sense a rockstar diva presence, but confident about what he contributes, and his music is often very finely rendered such as at the closing gig of The Housecats at Swans early in April – working the set with Rockland Moran and Andy Graffiti, and an intensely flavourful trombonist and the harmonica filled in around all the complexities  with its distinctive voice.

Hank does not aspire to be a working musician, although if offered a role in a working band he’d be sorely tempted.  The problem is there are so many other things in life he enjoys.

He spreads his music at the various jams, but finds it hard to get to the evening gigs, as his part-time job at a local golf course entails being up at 5:30am!  It’s ironic that golfing was a passion and he now rarely plays.  For a sociable man, the job is a good fit, he works to help golfers enjoy their experience – getting them set up, shifting the slower ones along because on a busy course, even a few minutes lagging will drag down everyone else waiting. 

Hank is a forward-looking person – life is what you make of it, even the hard bitter times where you might have to work really hard to find the good.  It’s within his core personality to live each day to the fullest.  His philosophy is about priorities:  first take care of the self, then the family; next, take care of your immediate community, and finally take care too of the broader community.

 

 





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