Cup of Joe

Cancer Could not Defeat Them, Jeremy and Dennis

Cup of Joe

Twice, within the span of the past two months, two well know residents of Windsor have transitioned from their earthly homes through the Hospice of Windsor Essex County to their home hereafter…. Both of them had cancer.

This blog is not about the hospice and the amazing work they perform in our community; that will be the subject of a future blog I will write. This blog pays tribute to the impactful and courageous lives that Jeremy Tyrrell and Dennis Solet shared with us, and their personal legacy they leave behind.

Deacon Jeremy Kelvin Tyrrell was born February 5, 1959 and passed from this earth December 20, 2015, surrounded by his sisters, Pat and Maureen, and his children: Andrew and his wife Katie, Emily, and Graeme, and his loving wife Claire.

Always a great communicator, Jeremy authored a regular blog of his life observations, his faith and ultimately, his cancer. It was called: “Jeremy Tyrrell – Just a little guy, having a little fun, with a lot of good friends; don’t take me too seriously. God knows I don’t.”   

Jeremy has also self-produced about 15 YouTube videos of himself discussing his diagnosis of his mesothelioma, his treatments, and ultimately his final journey with it. [Linking to one of the videos will bring all the others up.] They are worth watching for anyone seeking an inspiring example of a terminally ill person living life to the fullest with faith, hope and love.

Originally from Trenton Ontario, Jeremy made Windsor his home where he raised his family and was employed in management with Windsor’s Caesars’ Casino for 12 years. Jeremy was also  local community and government political activist and ran in 2003 as a council candidate for ward three. Though he was unsuccessful in unseating perennial incumbent favourites, Alan Halberstadt and Fulvio Valentinis, he nonetheless used the opportunity get his views public on a number of community and social issues.

A few years later Jeremy responded to a special ‘calling’ to undertake theological and pastoral studies through St. Peter’s Seminary in London, in preparation for ordination as deacon – one who assists priests pastorally and liturgically. Finally, in September 2012 Jeremy left Windsor to become Director of Sales at Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls.  He continued his ministry as a deacon in the local Diocese of St. Catherines.

Jeremy received his diagnosis of incurable Mesothelioma in November 2014. In one of his final posts on Facebook, Jeremy wrote on December 15, 2015: “I know that I have not been on social media lately. My cancer has become more aggressive. I will be entering Hospice of Windsor tomorrow (Wednesday Dec 16) where we can concentrate on managing my symptoms and to just spend time with my family. I hope you understand that I will not be able to respond as I once have to your messages and emails. My family and I appreciate all the many prayers, visits and support we have received……Duc in Altum.”

Dennis Solet entered the Hospice of Windsor Essex on Monday, February 1st, leaving behind his beloved south Windsor home on Maisoneuve Avenue where he had lived for the past 25 years. Dennis died peacefully Tuesday, February 2nd in the late afternoon, lovingly surrounded and supported by his wife Julie, his children, Dennis Jr. and Shannon, and other family members and close friends.

The Hospice Band which Dennis was a founding and long term member had an acoustic guitar jam of some of Dennis’ favourite songs, including the Bob Seeger classic, “Turn the Page”, a song that accompanied Dennis in his final leg of his journey home.

The year was 1980 and I arrived at St. Vincent de Paul Church on Balfour and Empress as a newly minted Roman Catholic priest to begin my assignment as associate pastor of the parish. The parochial school across from the church was also known as St. Vincent de Paul.  That school is now shuttered and has been renovated, repurposed and expanded as the Hospice of Windsor Essex.

It is both the place where I first met Dennis Solet as an educator in my school, and then some 30 years later when he was a cancer survivor and motivational speaker with his Can-Cer-viving Tour. Like so many people who would meet Dennis for the first time, my impression was, ”Wow, this guy’s quite the character”. Diminutive in stature, he was larger-than-life for all those he taught throughout his 30 year teaching career in both the elementary and secondary catholic school system.

Dennis was diagnosed with a very aggressive colon cancer in November 2004 and was given a prognosis of six months to a year to live. Over the next 11 years since that diagnosis Dennis had over 100 chemotherapy treatments along with a number of alternative medicine treatments. But more importantly, throughout his journey with cancer, Dennis shared very openly and candidly with family and friends what he was experiencing with his cancer and what this was teaching him about life.

In recent years the cancer spread and Dennis had three significantly sized tumors in his abdomen. Dennis named these tumors, “Larry, Moe, and Curly” and would speak to his tumors daily, encouraging them to stop eating – or at least slow down –  because there was very little of him left.

I had the honour of emceeing the “Let’s Say Goodbye While We Can Party,” this past September at the Caboto Club, an event organized by Dennis, his wife Julie, and close neighbour friend, Brenda Hartman-Brunelle, along with many other friends and volunteers. Initially conceived as an opportunity for Dennis to party and say goodbye to his family and close friends while he was still healthy and strong enough, this unique event quickly grew and saw over 500 people come through the doors that day.

Massive amounts of food were donated by more than ten Windsor eateries and guests were entertained by six to seven bands throughout the afternoon – including Dennis jamming with them on a few numbers.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens who has had a long time friendship with Dennis also attended and gave a short presentation of tribute to him, including presenting him with the Key to the City of Windsor.

As communicators, bloggers, motivational speakers, Jeremy Tyrrell and Dennis Solet both touched the hearts and lives of so many people. Each, in their own way, embraced their cancer and they owned it; they both refused to be victimized by it. They were living examples of courage, faith and hope.

One of Jeremy’s YouTube videos is titled, “My Cancer Does Not Suck”  in which he says his cancer is what it is and he’s dealing with it.  Dennis’ says the same thing, “It’s all about choosing to live now and not waiting. It’s the only reality we have. You’re sick, do all the things that you wanna do now.”

I’ve been blessed to have Jeremy and Dennis in my life…