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Moments after he took the call telling him he had cancer, Health Minister Allan Rock jumped into the car with his young son Andrew knowing he had to hide his fear.

Mr. Rock and his wife Debby had decided that if tests for prostate cancer came back positive, they wouldn't burden the children with the information until just before he had surgery. Unfortunately, the news came moments before he was to drive his 13-year-old son to a hockey tournament an hour away.

"You've got to carry on like normal," he says. "What can you do? It was not an easy month."

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Carrying on like normal is exactly what the 53-year-old Minister of Health was doing this week upon his return to government. Two months after his operation, Mr. Rock unleashed a blizzard of measures within his portfolio that constituted a heavy load. It wasn't an accident, said the minister, that he decided to get so busy.

"I guess the question I asked myself is am I doing what I really want to do," he said in an interview after his first week back on the job.

"My kids are growing up, I'm 53 years old, and I better make absolutely certain that I'm doing with my life what I really want to do."

In rapid succession this week, Mr. Rock announced a massive package designed to curb tobacco smoking, and new rules that pave the way for the medicinal use of marijuana. Soon, he'll lay out the government's plan to deal with reproductive technology. But perhaps his biggest act is the formation of a royal commission on health care aimed at fixing the system's ills.

As the Minister of Health, Mr. Rock had a unique window through which he could view the system at work this past winter. After his operation and six weeks of recovery, his conclusion is that medicare is still operating pretty well.

"I know as well as any Canadian from the inside what all the pressure points are, what the concerns are, whether it's salaries or shortages or waiting lists or technology," he said. "But I also saw, from the time I walked into the hospital, the kindness, the commitment, the devotion, the hard work and the health professionals who are working their hearts out, and I've got to tell you that I rate the whole thing as excellent or very good."

That's not to say that there aren't problems. Indeed, said Mr. Rock, some of the health professionals who cared for him took the opportunity to tell him of the overwork and strain they must contend with.

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He also acknowledges that the system faces pressures a decade or so down the line that he and the government must get a handle on. That's why, earlier this week, the government announced the appointment of former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow to head the royal commission. Its mandate will be to develop ways to ensure Canadians can maintain a publicly funded system.

Mr. Rock believes that a commission headed by Mr. Romanow may be the vehicle that fixes the system, and that its influence will be similar to that enjoyed by Emmett Hall, the former Saskatchewan jurist whose commission in the mid-1960s led to the creation of medicare.

Although he won't prejudge the commission's outcome, or say what he believes a new system should look like, Mr. Rock will discuss his own situation, and the test that he believes saved his life.

Just prior to last November's election, he underwent a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. Its suspicious findings were later confirmed as prostate cancer, and he credits the PSA with saving his life.

The test, however, is not paid for under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan. He believes, that at least in some cases, the government should foot the bill.

"I don't know whether all PSAs should be paid for all the time, I just know that it saved my life and I think in the appropriate cases it should be paid for."

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But he won't go any further, saying he wants to leave Mr. Romanow a free hand. In any case, Mr. Rock said, he has a lot of his own fish left to fry.

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