Mike Flinker

Having Cancer Can Make You Stronger


“The biggest issue with cancer is the loss of control,” says Mike Flinker, founder of FLS Transportation Services. “Treating cancer like a business problem helped me take control.”

Mike Flinker will be the guest speaker at Survivorship Day 2024. The title of his speech is “Coping with cancer—a journey of strength.”

Mike was diagnosed with cancer in 2004 during a routine procedure to address his snoring. While removing polyps, doctors found that one polyp was esthesioneuroblastoma, which is a very rare sinus tumour. At the time, only about a thousand cases had been reported worldwide in the previous 40 years.

It was a fluke that potentially saved his life.

“Typically, you’re asymptomatic until you reach stage 3 or 4. Finding it at stage 1 was almost like winning the lottery.”

However, he didn’t passively accept the doctors’ recommendations of chemo and radiotherapy. Instead, he looked into other treatment options.

“I had to analyze the situation and ask a lot of questions,” Mike says. “That led me to reject radiation treatment in favour of a surgical approach. I was back skiing just seven weeks after my last surgery.”

But that wasn’t to be his last bout with cancer. In 2009, Mike received another cancer diagnosis. This time, it was a more common type of cancer: prostate. Once again, he chose surgery through a robotic radical prostatectomy. He had the operation in Florida because, at the time,  McGill did not have the robot yet.

The psychological highs and lows of cancer

Mike’s experience taught him that cancer is as much a mental battle as a physical one. Like many other people with cancer, he went through extreme bouts of depression.

“I always tell doctors that the one issue they can’t help patients with—which is probably the most important issue—is the psychological aspect of cancer,” he explains. “Doctors help with the physical aspects such as pain and nausea. But to me, the worst part of the disease was psychological. And organizations like Hope & Cope help deal with the psychological aspects of cancer.”

Through Hope & Cope’s peer mentor program, Mike received support from Bill Vrentas, a volunteer who had gone through cancer. Bill was also Mike’s banker. Mike contacted him as often as five to six times a week to ask questions: How long did you experience this symptom? Did you have the same anxiety as I do? Why can’t I sleep?

Bill’s answers gave Mike the reassurance he needed, and that was 90% of the battle.

Resilience, philanthropy and legacy

Surviving cancer twice changed Mike’s outlook on life, particularly in how he perceived daily pressures and life’s priorities. 

“It made me a better businessman because I stopped feeling the pressure,” he says. “My partner and I once had an incident where we thought we had missed out on a major bid from a client. While he was in a panic, I was cool as a cucumber. Cancer makes you realize what’s really important and what is just another issue to deal with.”

“Cancer makes you realize what’s really important and what is just another issue to deal with.”

—Mike Flinker

FLS Transportation Services started in 1987 with a minuscule 1100-dollar investment. By the time Mike sold it in 2016, it was the largest logistics business in Canada and the 20th largest of the USA.

The success of his business has allowed Mike to contribute generously to many organizations. This trait of generosity was passed on by his mother.

When his mother arrived in Canada from Poland, she had nothing. She built a small business and was a fierce competitor who taught his brother and him how to succeed in life. 

For example, in the early days, he faced a situation where  a client wouldn’t pay them. He was worried they’d go out of business, but his mother told him, “If you thought you would go into business on Monday and be a millionaire by Friday then go get a job. This is not for you!” 

She also instilled in him the importance of philanthropy. Her philosophy was that in life, you either volunteer for a charity, donate to a charity, or, ideally, do both. 

Mike and his wife Marcia took those words to heart and have supported many community-led projects. They have donated to Hope & Cope, made significant donations for cancer research, and established a visiting professorship in his mother’s name at McGill University. 

They also set up a substantial scholarship fund at Lower Canada College for underprivileged students.

One of his greatest joys is using his business success to contribute to society. 

“I always tell my kids that our legacy will not be how many loaves of bread we leave them, but how we’ve impacted them with our values and our desire to make the community and society a better place.”

Mike Flinker is the speaker at Survivorship Day 2024

“When you’re going through a cancer battle,” Mike explains, “there’s two ways to look at it. You can look at the glass as half full or half empty.”

He got that realization while waiting to meet his radio oncologist to discuss his first cancer treatment options. Mike met a man with an ocular tumour who had a surprisingly positive attitude. The man pointed out that in the room, there were winners and losers. He explained that no one knows who will survive, so having a positive attitude is essential. Without that positive attitude, family and friends won’t know how to support you.

“You need your family and friends to support you. You never want to face cancer alone.”

—Mike Flinker

“So my message to cancer patients is to never give up because you must have faith that you will beat the disease,” says Mike. “And secondly, you need your family and friends to support you. If you don’t maintain that position, if you become very depressed like I was, they won’t want to deal with you. They will hide, and then you’re fighting the battle all alone. You never want to face cancer alone.”

Survivorship Day is on June 10, 2024. Register here or contact the Wellness Centre to let us know that you wish to attend. There will be door prizes, loot bags, and, of course, a great presentation by Mike Flinker. We look forward to seeing you there!

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