Dying on Twitter: Mike Sloan's public journey with terminal cancer
'I just say what I think ... I'm not some master spokesperson'
by Brent Bambury
Thousands of people are following Mike Sloan on Twitter because they're fascinated by the way he's dying.
Sloan has Stage 4 Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer and when he was diagnosed he was given six months to live. That was eight months ago.
"Somehow when you know that your life is coming to a conclusion, everything comes into focus," Sloan told Day 6.
But his ruminations on the end of life — hilarious, poignant, philosophical and macabre — are the tweets growing his following.
I'm meeting with the funeral home director on Thursday. We're going to discuss the direction of the country and the possibility of a minority government.—@mikelondoncan
When I get to Heaven, God and I are really going to talk turkey about ear hair in middle age—@mikelondoncan
"My Twitter following has tripled in the last month and a half," he said.
Sloan thinks his followers are there because, from a safe distance, he's demystifying the end of life.
"It is curious," he said, "And they don't have to know me. They can just sort of sit back and watch."
A change in character
Watching Mike Sloan live the last days of his life, you get to know him quite well.
You learn about his deep roots as an anti-poverty advocate, his dysfunctional family, his supportive friends. His humour is sharp and pervasive, elevating the mundane and taking the edge off imminent death.
"I've had one or two negative responses to some of the darker humour that I use. But people are very generous," Sloan said.
Though he's dealt with depression since his youth, Sloan has always been a joker.
"I've asked myself, 'Why is my brain processing this in this way?' And it's a question I cannot answer," Sloan said.
It’s always nice to be home. :) <a href="https://t.co/RUxJ9Qjh0x">pic.twitter.com/RUxJ9Qjh0x</a>—@mikelondoncan
It works for his followers including Arlene Dickinson, Rick Mercer and media and political figures from across the spectrum.
"It's very humbling," Sloan admitted. "I don't know what to make of it. I find it almost — I'm almost uncomfortable with it."
"But I will say as part of the process after finding out I had this cancer, that's when I started to accept myself a lot more. It's been an incredible journey and so much discovery."
Sloan is not new to Twitter, but this version of him is. Before he was diagnosed with cancer, Sloan was known for ruthlessly trolling people he disagreed with.
"Particularly people involved in politics or public policy surrounding poverty and homelessness," he said. "Because I was an angry guy."
Dying has changed his perspective and his character.
"I don't know why I spent so much time being so strident about it. It was a waste of time," he said.
A setback in October
Sloan had a stroke on Oct. 15 and somehow managed to tweet about it as he was heading to the hospital. In what could have been his final message, he thanked his followers and they responded emotionally:
"We love you."
"Thank you for making Twitter better."
I’ve been admitted to University Hospital and I’ve had a stroke for sure. But I’m in good spirits regardless. We shall see what happens in the morning. <a href="https://t.co/h5opgFex1U">pic.twitter.com/h5opgFex1U</a>—@mikelondoncan
Sloan says that despite the performative nature of Twitter and other social media, he believes those emotions are real.
"The direct messages I get really tell the story. People tell me all sorts of private things. Is it 100 per cent authentic? We will never know," he said.
But he points to the fundraiser he's launched for a shelter for troubled youth in his hometown of London, Ont. His followers are stepping up and he's proud of their response.
"It's very important to me," he said.
Seeing an ending
Since his stroke, Sloan has lost some of the use of his right hand.
"I can see I'm going downhill but I'm still here, still enjoying every day," he said.
He still drinks and occasionally smokes cigarettes. ("Why stop now?" he wondered.)
I’m here to prove that dying isn’t so bad. :) <a href="https://t.co/J9jsdx43dy">pic.twitter.com/J9jsdx43dy</a>—@mikelondoncan
He says when the end comes he has a plan.
"I'm going to go by medically-assisted death because this cancer is likely to asphyxiate me. That's not a particularly pleasurable way to die."
"So I suspect sometime in November I'll say, 'I think I've had enough.'"
His followers will be kept informed.
"I think I'll certainly talk about it because, why wouldn't I? I talk about everything else."
I sometimes feel like I have painted myself as some kind of tough guy under not great circumstances. But i am like everyone else. It's tough to face what's coming when the welcome home is like this. <a href="https://t.co/Uasha8eQDF">pic.twitter.com/Uasha8eQDF</a>—@mikelondoncan
His cat, Chub, who brings out Sloan's most tender moments on Twitter, is provided for in his plans.
"He's going right next door into the apartment beside mine to a woman who's about 75 and they already visit, and she brings over toys for him and I say to her, 'I think you're going to be very pleased when I die because you just want the cat.'"
Mike Sloan is due to turn 50 on Nov. 23. On Halloween night he said, "It looks like I might just make it."
For now at least, the remarkable serenity of Mike Sloan continues.
"I'm a much better person for having gone through this and I just don't have regrets."
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