What an honour it was to write about David McGowan, who had a wonderful life that ended much too soon.
David McGowan loved baseball – especially the Toronto Blue Jays – and he was an outstanding athlete. He enjoyed camping in Tobermory, going on canoe trips, and his music of choice was classic rock. He enjoyed playing Ultimate Frisbee and baseball, exhibiting leadership and sportsmanship on both the baseball diamond and the Ultimate Frisbee field. David’s family, including his wife and young daughter, brought David the most joy in his life.
Surrounded by his family, David passed away at Hospice Wellington on May 7, 2015 at the age of 33.
David Andrew McGowan was born on June 16, 1981 in Milton, Ontario. David was the second son to father Philip, who worked at Bell, and his mother Carol, who worked at BMO. David was the little brother to Derek who was almost three years old when David was born into the McGowan family.
Living in the same house his entire childhood, David loved sports (mostly baseball) from a young age, starting with T-ball. One of his most treasured family trips as a child was visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He had great memories of camping with his family and the Crosby family. His favourite childhood memories were created with his big brother and cousins from Montreal. David was always so excited to spend time with a very close extended family.
David was identified as a gifted student early in elementary school and was entered into the Peer Challenge Program, which was an enriched trivia-style team. He attended Bishop Reding High School in Milton and played on the high school football team, among other sports, and was a well-rounded academic.
David attended the University of Guelph where he achieved his BA in Mathematics and Statistics. He was often referred to as “the calculator” for his ability to do math in his head. He always wanted to take things apart to see how they worked which lead to a career in computers. David worked in the field of Information Technology (IT) at Texada Software and then the Investors Group.
Having an outgoing personality, David made friends easily wherever he went. While attending University, David met Brie Worgan, a neighbour on Cole Road in Guelph. They began dating in April 2005. They moved in together and lived in a terrible apartment with a fridge held together by duct tape and a carpet covered in red Sun Suns sauce; but it was theirs and they were blissfully happy to be living together. After University they travelled to Europe, enjoying backpacking and touring various countries. They bought a house together in Guelph, and their dog, Gryphon, was their first addition.
David was very community-minded. He loved all animals, especially dogs, and was an advocate for rescuing from shelters. He started his own team in the Royal City Baseball League, the Brewers, in the spring of 2006 and then became the league’s baseball commissioner. He also volunteered with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Guelph starting in 2003 and was matched with a young boy named Tyler Henry; a relationship that he cherished very much.
“David had the bluest eyes you could imagine and they exuded kindness,” shared Brie. “David never had a negative thing to say about anyone and had an innate ability to love everyone in his life.”
Throughout their seven year courtship, David and Brie were often teased by their friends about when they were going to get engaged. Brie shared that when David did propose, “He simply said to me, in the most romantic way possible, ‘Will you grow old with me?’”
On February 18, 2012, David and Brie got married at the Hernder Estates winery in St. Catharines. They went to New York City for their honeymoon, going on several different tours, and David revelled in showing Brie the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Brie soon became pregnant, and they found out they were going to have a daughter. David was thrilled to be having a little girl. On February 5, 2013, Grace Kara McGowan was born. From the operating room after the delivery, David sent a text out to their family that said, “She’s here, she’s perfect.”
David was absolutely in love with his daughter Grace. He was proud to wear her in a pink ring sling and that is where she was the happiest. He loved to play baby and read books with her. He even let her watch Elmo over the World Series.
“He was such a great dad – even if it was only for two years,” said Brie. “David had lots of tricks to help calm Grace down. There is a wall of photos in our hallway and when Grace was upset, he would walk her down the hallway and talk about each photo and who was in it. It is still one of Grace’s favourite things to do.”
While celebrating his second Father’s Day and his 33rd birthday, David had the shadow of a pending colonoscopy looming over him. Something had been wrong since early 2014, when he started noticing blood in his stool. On Friday June 20, 2014, the scope was completed and the doctor told David that he found an abnormal mass in his colon. He said it could be cancer, and he took a sample for a biopsy. Five days later, he had blood tests and had completed a CT scan.
Brie and David went to the surgeon’s office and received the bad news together. The abnormal mass was adenocarcinoma and there were multiple lesions on his liver and one on his lung. David had stage 4 colon cancer.
David underwent surgery on July 14 to remove the tumor in his colon. The distribution of the lesions on his liver made it inoperable. The lung lesion could be removed, but invasive lung surgery was undesirable. Since the liver needed chemotherapy, the lung lesion would receive the same. David underwent chemotherapy at Guelph General Hospital and clinical trials at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.
Throughout David’s battle with cancer, the Incredible Hulk became his mascot. This started when a friend donned a pair of hulk gloves and posted a picture on Facebook to show that she was in the fight with David. It spread and became a symbol of his strength. His Ultimate Frisbee team even changed their name to “Hulk Smash”.
Darryl and Susan Vaz played Ultimate Frisbee with David on the Hulk Smash team. “In playing Ultimate Frisbee, David amazingly found a way to balance his competitive spirit with unmatched kindness,” shared Darryl. “In a self-refereed sport, he pushed for a win harder than anyone on the field, yet never once showed a lack of respect for his opponent and teammates.”
Susan added, “He is dearly missed; but his legacy reminds us to never give up and drives us to win. We know how much he cherished every opportunity to play, and still feel his presence every time we step on the field.”
As a team, Hulk and the Agents of Smash raised $17,000 for The Terry Fox Foundation in September 2014 in David’s honour.
David responded very well to the clinical trials. He even continued to play Ultimate Frisbee until March 2015 and he went back to work full-time. When the clinical trials ended, David’s condition deteriorated rapidly. He was admitted to Hospice Wellington in April 2015, at which time he continued to perform his duties as league commissioner for the Royal City Baseball League, meeting at his bedside with fellow players to organize the upcoming season.
“David and I did not get nearly enough time together,” explained Brie. “If someone had told me 10 years ago that this would happen, I would still have made the decision to go on that first date, fall head over heels in love, walk down that aisle (finally) and of course start our family. I wouldn’t have traded a second of the joy to avoid the pain of the last year. We loved each other enough in 10 years to last a lifetime.”
At David’s funeral, everyone wore baseball hats to honour him. David was cremated and more than 70 of his closest friends and family took a small envelope of David’s ashes, with the intent to bring David to a place that was meaningful to them. These pictures taken by family and friends, along with David and Brie’s journey, is shared on the following blog: http://davidfightscancer.blogspot.ca/
Headshot photo credit: Tamarind Spencer of Azure Photography