There’s little you can say about Will Munro that hasn’t already been said. He was an accomplished artist, DJ, music promoter, restauranteur and gay rights activist. He was a vegan, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink and didn’t do drugs.
He was the picture of health, said his brother, Dave, of St. John’s, and that’s why it was such a shock when he was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour.
“Outside of the common cold, he was never ill. He did everything you’re generally told to do to avoid getting cancer,” Dave said.
Will passed away in hospital in Toronto, where he lived, in May.
Feb. 11 would have been Will’s 36th birthday, and Dave isn’t about to let the day go by uncelebrated. At Trouble Bound, his Water Street tattoo shop, Dave and his staff will mark the occasion by offering $100 cancer ribbon tattoos, with all proceeds going to the Canadian Cancer Society’s Daffodil Place.
After growing up in Mississauga, Dave moved to St. John’s while Will stayed in Toronto. Dave is well-known in St. John’s as a tattoo artist; Will became known in Toronto for his visual and performance art; as founder of Vaseline (later named Vazaleen, to avoid a lawsuit with Unilever) dance nights at the El Mocambo, and as owner of The Beaver Cafe.
It was in June 2008 that Will, who had been suffering from a cold he couldn’t shake, began collapsing. He was in northern Ontario, visiting his parents, when he saw his doctor, who ordered an MRI. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with a seven-centimetre cancerous tumour on his brain.
“They were literally amazed he was standing,” Dave said of his brother’s doctors. “He was flown from that doctor’s office down to Toronto for immediate surgery.”
Dave and his family flew to Toronto in time to see Will being wheeled out of the operating room, where close to 45 of his family members and friends were waiting. Doctors told them they had removed as much of the tumour as possible, but Will might never walk or talk again. He did, but the tumour — a form of glioblastoma multiform — kept growing back. He had other surgeries to remove them, until he started having seizures and blacking out.
He was admitted to hospital in early April 2010.
“What had happened with the tumour was they were initially unable to see it on the CT scan,” Dave explained. “What they could see was the giant hole where he had originally had the surgery and they could see a growth again, but it was very marginal. But what the tumour had done was come down, so it was sitting behind his optic nerves. The whole bottom of his brain was a tumour.”
Will, who had continued promoting show and producing artwork right up until he was admitted, and even redesigned some art pieces from his hospital bed, was reluctant to be in hospital, Dave said. He didn’t believe the tumour would kill him, and fought it as hard as he could.
Will was asleep in the room when his doctor came in to tell his family and close friends that the tumour was inoperable and there was nothing more they could do.
“He woke up and just kind of looked around and was like, ‘So what’s going on?’ She told him the tumour was inoperable and they only thing they could do was make him comfortable. His comment was, ‘OK, thanks. Sorry for being a pain in the ass,” Dave said, tears welling up in his eyes and his voice cracking.
As the weeks went by and the tumour progressed, Will went into a sort of coma. He passed away May 21, surrounded by his family and close friends.
Dave had originally planned to leave town for a bit as Will’s birthday approached, but decided instead to stay. He had had the idea for a tattoo marathon in aid of cancer research ever since he heard of the plans for Daffodil Place, and realized if there ever was a time to do it, it was now.
On Feb. 11, Dave and his staff — Alicia E., Brad Brown and Mike LeDrew, whose families have all been touched by cancer in some way or another over the past two years — will be donating their time and skills to do $100 cancer ribbon tattoos for anyone interested, to raise money for Daffodil Place.
Daffodil Place is a 24-room facility on Ropewalk Lane, operated by the local branch of the Canadian Cancer Society, offering accommodations, meals, transportation and personal support for people from outside St. John’s who are in town for cancer treatment, as well as their families.
The tattoos, which will be a maximum of two inches in size, can be customized with a specific colour or name, Dave said, as well as other small details.
“We’ll have room to customize them a little bit, but the basic idea is to be able to do as many as possible. We if we can restrict a little bit of drawing time, we can make more money,” he explained.
When he put the idea out on Facebook, in an effort to gauge interest, Dave figured if he could get four or six bookings per tattoo artist, he’d be happy. He got 30 bookings within a week or two, which eventually grew to 75. Another 200 or so people had to be turned down.
“We very guiltily have not been able to add to the list, and the 75 we took is kind of beyond our means,” Dave said, adding he has started a cancellation list. “The reaction’s been incredible and has guaranteed that we’re going to make this an annual event. There are far too many people that we couldn’t get to, and where this is something that’s so close to people’s hearts, it’s not something you want to say no to.
“It’s been absolutely incredible, but absolutely horrific, because we’re dealing with a massive amount of people who are all going through the tragedy. In some cases they are survivors, but in a lot of cases, that unfortunately isn’t the situation.”
Friends of Dave’s at Imperial Tattoo in Toronto will join Trouble Bound in the fundraiser, and will also take part in the marathon, donating the money to a fund in Will’s name.
While Will would have no doubt been pleased with his brother’s idea, he wouldn’t want the fundraiser in his memory, Dave said.
“He would have preferred to organize it himself,” Dave said with a smile. “My family has always been very active on a social level and whenever it comes to people who need help, that’s where we invest. And he would be proud of that.”