Saturday, December 31, 2011


I have been depressed the past few days. Not sure why. Could be the holidays. Could be the fact that I have to get back to treatments and second opinions next week-Monday. Could be that I miss my Son, and think about him so very often… But mostly, I think it is because I don’t want to be sick. I don’t want to die before my time.

Well-wishing is all fine and good; many of my friends and family have told me how they are just absolutely certainly that I will not succumb to this cancer. I appreciate that very much – the well-meaning In it. But the fact of the matter is, we don’t know. Nobody knows. And it is the not knowing that makes me depressed from time to time.

I had believed that my life was complicated: difficulties with my Son over the past three years. When I was diagnosed back in September, I was so blinded by an attitude of survival at all cost, I failed to realize that in quite, private times, the reflections may bring much pain – and they do.

I will be so glad when I am done with my treatments. Not only because I will no longer be sick from the chemicals, nor because I will be able to resume my bicycle riding, fishing and other adventures, but because, finally, I will get a prognosis.

If there is anything worse than cancer, it is having to go through chemo treatments for six months without knowing if it is doing any good.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Holiday

The cancer is the furthest from my mind since it began. The Holiday from chemo has made me feel normal – not sick. Reflections have lead me to believe God truly does not put more on us than we can handle. The first few minutes after a diagnosis are the worst. The next few days are not much better. The next few weeks are better… By that time, you’ve had the opportunity to meet other cancer patients – you’ve been able to look at their smiling faces and see happiness and hope even in the ones who know they will not survive. I was dumbfuzzled at first at how a person could be critically and terminally ill and still be happy. As the weeks went by, I think I understand it a little better….

We really do come to accept our fate over time. Even if that fate is uncertain. My fate is uncertain. I may survive this cancer and live to be and old man, like I hope to. I may not live more than just a while longer. Either case is okay with me. If I have a diagnosis, it is that it is uncertain. My oncologist will not give me a final prognosis until after all of my chemo – mid March. I have even made peace with that.

There are many things that I had planned on doing with the latter half of my life. If I have just completed that latter half, I will be sad about it, but I must accept it. I have no other choice. Life was given to me as a Gift From God, and I can hardly complain when He plans to bring me home. I pray that His Will be done, but I also pray that I may carry on and accomplish the things that I wanted to accomplish with the last half of my life.

The Holiday break from chemo has allowed me to feel much better – and be happy and moderately able. I can’t go backpacking or trout fishing like I normally would. I can’t ride 40 miles on my bike in training either… But I can function without being sick from chemo and I have loved the time off. It has allowed me to take a break from cancer and for the first time since September, I have felt NORMAL.

My treatments will resume January 2; I will be sick and dispatched again for three more months. But at least I have had a glimpse of what it will feel like to be off of treatments. Given that I will survive this whole thing, I plan to train on my bicycle and return to racing as soon as I can. I also plan to write the books that I always wanted to write.

If all goes well, I will be a grandfather in March/April. I will engage this opportunity with the deepest love and importance that such a relationship affords. I hope to fish again, and hunt ginseng…. In all of this, mine is a normal existence. I had hoped to live to be eighty years old or more. I had plans and hopes. If my time is nearing an end soon, I accept that… While I pray for Gods Will, I also pray that He will heal me, so that I may carry on with virtually meaningless endeavors; and the business that will one day change the world (grandfatherhood).

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Finding My Way - On A Daily Basis

By this time in a treatment cycle, I’d be getting ready to take a three day treatment starting Monday. I don’t have to have that treatment, and I am finding that fact has more to do with how I feel, physically, as much as anything else. Dreading the treatments actually makes me feel physically bad, even before they begin. But, as it turns out they are not giving me my 6th treatment until after the holidays and for that, I am thankful.

I am still finding this process to be or at least feel unstable at times. It has been 114 days since they told me I had cancer. One hundred and fifteen days ago, I had no idea and couldn’t imagine that I could have cancer. It was the last thing I thought was wrong – or more to the point, it hadn’t occurred to me. Right from the get-go, it was a shock. The next few weeks, as they did surgery and testing, and gave me a stage 4 diagnosis 20 days later, it felt as if I was in the boxing ring with Mike Tyson; the hits just kept coming. One day I was working at the college, fishing with some success, hunting ginseng also with some success and training a lot on my bicycle. Literally, the next day, I found out I have cancer.

As these 114 days have passed, I’ve been up and down, sick and well, angry and at peace – but generally settling down to a belief that I am going to be okay. The oncologist is withholding any final prognosis until after my treatments in about April. There is some real uncertainty that is not just in my head. Even if it ends up that I will not be okay, I am still okay with that, at least some days.

I am finding my mood changes from moment to moment about everything. Everyday, except for the very worst during my treatments (and sometimes even those), I get up, get cleaned up and I go somewhere. Anywhere; perhaps just to eat a bite of lunch. At times it is genuinely an arduous task just to take a shower and get dressed. On those days, I usually get back home pretty quickly and spend the rest of the day resting. Even on my best days I can not function, in a physical manner the way I have my entire life – not even close. For instance, I can’t imagine taking a fishing trip like those I was going on just before the discovery of cancer. At that time, I was also riding my bike 20 to 30 miles a day and some days, up to 60. I went for about a 7 mile ride the other day, and while that was very nice, the 7 miles was all I could muster.

To say this has all had an effect on how I live both physically and emotionally would be an understatement. But then, that goes without saying. The single most difficult aspect in all of this is the uncertainty. I know that I could simply decide that I was going to survive it, and proceed as such. I do often attempt this, with some or at least more and more success. Then I have experiences like I did yesterday while I was out Christmas shopping.

With no chemo drugs in my system, and the idea that I am not returning for treatments until January 3, I am feeling generally pretty good. So I was out shopping and I decided to take a “window shopping” detour through the outdoor goods, especially the fishing equipment. With some stunning force, it occurred to me that I may have little future need for such equipment, and dispite my generally positive outlook, I became saddened. I became saddened enough, I left the store without making any purchase at all.

I came home to rest and I did that in a manner befitting my status as a seriously ill cancer patient. When the rest was over, I found myself renewed and returned to a state of generally good outlooks.

With the doubts that come and go; all the voices in my head and heart that say completely different things at times, and all of the uncertainty at this point in the overall process, I find it helps to self designate myself a “stoic”; proceeded with life – proceeding with my little projects with no proof I will be able to finish them.

Without any medical information regarding the cancer in me at this moment, I am forced to live completely within a certain faith; a faith that allows me to rise each day, ready myself and do something productive that is completely unrelated to my recovery.

I have to keep living a daily life, and while I could have never imagined having to do this just 114 days ago, I find that I am doing it; poorly at times – and that is the both harder and easier than I thought it would be.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Things I am Learning

As the treatments go on, my fifth now (out of twelve), the side effects are getting more profound. They said this would happen. My family members state they are just glad that I haven’t lost my hair and that I don’t look like a cancer patient. While I may not look like one, there are days I certainly feel like one. My treatments are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, every other week, and Thursdays are emerging as the hardest day of each cycle.

I try to imagine, along with the extreme fatigue and nausea, the cancer cells dying in my body. I try to visualize this as much as I can, but I can’t always manage it. Not sure why. I remember my first treatment; I felt bad, but not nearly as bad as I feel now. I remember even going fishing just after my first treatment, and also riding my bicycle a little bit. There is no way I could do either of those things now, and the stories I heard about people running marathons while on chemo, I either don’t believe it at all, or I think that they must have been on different drugs.

A close second to the fatigue is a nearly absolute inability to tolerate even the mildest cold. Even at 45 degrees, my hands, feet and face go numb, my face swells – eyes water profusely; and I typically spend the entire winter outdoors, riding my bicycle, hiking to frozen waterfalls in the snowy woods. I will be taking a mandatory leave of absents from most of my beloved outdoor activities this winter. So long as it saves my life, I am good.

As I mentioned before, along with the increasing magnitude of the side effects with time, my attitude changes when I feel bad. It is far easier to slip into a “Poor Me” m.o., and while I hate this aspect of it all, it doesn’t seem to be even mostly in my control. Fear, depression and anxiety have increased – especially during recovery from treatments. I still have occasional flashes of disbelief that I have stage 4 colon cancer and a deep remorse that I hadn’t insisted on getting to the bottom of my symptoms when they arose nearly two years ago.

Over all, I am in moderate to good spirits. While I am not sure, nor are my doctors that I will ultimately survive this illness, I do believe that I will survive a number of years – and I have made peace with that. So long as I regain enough strength to fish and hunt ginseng again, I will be happy. If I gained enough strength to race bicycles again, I would be a very happy person. If I were to be completely healed and thus able to do these things within a typical human longevity, I would be even more thrilled.

Still, and not to dwell on the negative, I am beginning to sense that life in remission must also be difficult. Having gotten sick once, I will evermore be looking over my shoulder for the cancer to come back; and that will be something that will require some adjustment on my part. As it is, I have acquired the deepest admiration for people who are in remission and I will seek their advice when the time is appropriate.

The Holidays, of course are different this year. All of the commercialism – the silliness I find observing the “Black Friday” rush, the “Cyber Monday”, and all of the other aspects of Christmas that, having been fairly meaningless before have given me the sense that we, collectively have lost touch with what is important and meaningful.

And what is important to me? My Son and my family and friends; the health and well being of them all. The physical world has always been my greatest passion; from exploring the woods and landscapes to deep academic study into natures workings…. Being strong and physically fit is something I love – riding my bicycle and going fast is something I value a great deal. But think, if God chooses to call me Home early, I think the thing I will miss most about this life (besides my family and my Son) would be the sense of curiosity I have regarding life and nature. I mean, there will be no more mysteries.

These past few months have taught me a lot about the delicate nature of our existence. It has also taught me something about the powerful duality in a human life; the art of living in happiness within a nature that can be very sad and difficult.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

IT is impossible to stay positive all the time.

This is my third and final day of treatment this week. In fact, all I do today is go in to have the pump taken off. I come home Monday and Tuesday nights with a pump that runs for 22 hours each day and night. That is not counting the 3 hour IV infusion I get at the center Monday and Tuesday Morning. This is my 5th treatment and the side effects have gotten worse since the first one. This is normal I am told.

My side effects are debilitating to say the least. nausea, profound fatigue, extreme pain in my neck glands when I take the first bite of anything, extreme numbness and neuropathy in my hands and feet, and an absolute in ability to eat or drink any cold (it feels like razor blades in my mouth. When I grasp or touch any thing that is not room temperature or higher, it feels like I am touching a frosty, medal pole, or when I walk on a cold floor, it feels like I am walking bare footed in frosty grass.

These side effect take about 7 days to dissipate. It is not fun. Perhaps the worst side effect of Chemo is the fact that my outlook and sense of hope diminishes with the tiredness. The depressive illness that I have had for years, takes control, and I feel generally less hopeful than at other times. Seeing all the Christmas decorations and watching all of the commercials on TV don’t help either. And so, I feel depressed and a little low on hope and faith.

I honestly don’t know what the outcome of all of this is going to be. There is a good change I will survive the entire ordeal. There is a chance I will not. When ever I seek more information from the medical community, I get blank walls and noncommittal answers and I suppose this is normal. They always say that we will know more after my six months of treatment. Waiting that long, I find difficult.

I like to believe that I am strong, and that I will handle all of this with all of the class and spiritual strength I have. But the truth is, like right now, I don’t feel strong and I don’t feel like every thing is going to be fine as much I have before. I suppose this is normal. When I am sick from treatments, It all gets worse.

These are the times I hear the stories of my fellow patients who are not going to make it louder than I hear the stories of those who have survived. While I still feel as if I will accept any final outcome as best I can, meaning with as much dignity as I have in my being, I am no stoic or noble man marching off to war with no fear of dying. I want to live, and it wares me down the most; more than all of the chemo, more than anything else is the fact that I will not know the effectiveness of the treatment for another three to four months. If I were living in a sealed box such that nobody knew if I were already dead or still alive, I would be in neither state, like Schrödinger’s Cat.

I suppose, I was not ready to be facing such issues at my age, but then again, who would be? I am no different than any body else; we all know our ultimate fate and still go on functioning normally. At times, in fact, most of the time, I have a hard time functioning at peak performance knowing that my life may be cut short, and despite all of my brave and uplifting entries in this journal, I am often very frightened.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Day and Night

I wish this had not happened to me. There is not a day that I don’t wish this hadn’t happened to me. Every day is different now…. My life is different. Making sure I get enough rest, and good food to eat; making it to all of my treatments and every thing else. Preparing for and getting sick during treatment weeks, every other week.

Conversations with friends rarely does not broach the subject of the illness (which is natural and fine). Everybody that I see now, that I haven’t seen since before the illness greats me in the warmest, kindest fashion, engaging me squarely in the face, by gently grasping both arms the way a grandmother would when she had something life altering or otherwise sincerely important to tell a grandchild. They tell me they and their church are praying for my recovery. It warms my soul and heart so much to be such engaged and gives me so much hope.

I have to watch were I go, and how long I stay there. I am prone to “give out” quickly; and there are many germs out there, once entangled may delay my treatments again. I worry about the amount of hand sanitizer I use, but not so much as the flu.

I know now what it means to have cancer. I thought I new before, but I did not. Being of middle age, I had spent some small amounts of time thinking that “the show is probably half over now, if I am lucky”, and finding that mildly disquieting. As a cancer patient with a few months of adjustment behind me, those same thoughts not on having forty more years, but perhaps fewer than five. And this, remarkably less disquieting than the other, more normal expected longevity.

A friend of mine from cycling told me yesterday, that several of them had competed in a 5K run that morning, while others had gone on a long road ride and still others had gone mountain biking. It was a warm and gloriously beautiful November afternoon; a day I would have ridden 50 or more miles myself. As it were, I was happy to accomplish the pruning of one of my small apple trees, with frequent rests. When I regaled my friend with my own adventures of the day, he kindly and very warmly pointed out that most of our friends are going about their normal lives, daily, comparing that to my state of affairs within which my daily function, nearly every conscience moment is spent in some fashion, trying to survive. Much strength is gained from a friend who seems to know what you are going though and acknowledges it. I have many such friends.

Lessons, or at least becoming more knowledgeable of my own innate senses of empathy that exist in my life are like the clapper inside a large bodied bell, sounding off at least every hour when I am engaged with another cancer patient. And this, not in an alarming way, but with a sense of persistence or at least demarking an ever present thing – like a fine thin thread woven throughout all of us. There are many sick and suffering people not only in this world, but in our small community, in our neighborhoods, on our streets, and sometimes in our own families or even within our own homes. Before cancer, I never really knew what true and prevalent empathy I was capable of. My heart genuinely aches for others who are suffering, and I find this to be comforting, at least in regards to my own, previously untested or unmeasured humanity.

The fact that some things simply don’t matter anymore, or at least for a time, is probably the most striking of all the new emotions in all of this. What to have for a meal no longer leaves the realm of the practical. What to ware to any given function has less to do with the function than it does what is most convenient. And what of the several utensils I should use to consume a fine, holiday meal, at a fine dinner setting concerns me so not at all, it is all again alarming and concerning – an anxiety that, having so totally lost the original concern, feeds upon itself to become something all together different yet still exactly the same.

Within the extensive library of human poetry, it has been iterated many times that life is, or at least can be at times, cruel. But the same body of word, such as in Housman’s “Loveliest of Trees” cautions us not to take things for granted, especially the things that seem permanent and ever-present, but simply are not – like the cherry blossoms in spring time; come and gone so quickly, some springs we miss them entirely but believing we will see them perhaps next year, or the next – there is instilled in the occurrence, a permanency that is an illusion. Housman asks the question then, how many more times will I get to go see the “cherry hung with snow” (how many more springs will I be alive, and when I am gone, what will I know, if anything of the cherry blossoms).

Even Frost, in “The White-Tailed Hornet”. “To err is human, not to, animal” says Frost and that “Our worship, humor, conscientiousness went long since to the dogs under the table. And served us right for having instituted downward comparisons”. “Once we begin to see our images reflected in the mud and dust, we were lost piecemeal to the animals, Like people thrown out to delay the wolves. Nothing but fallibility was left us, and this day’s work made even that seem doubtful”.

But we can consider ourselves rescued from this bleak outlook upon the Human Condition afforded us by some poets, by the master of toil and suffering himself; William Wordsworth. In Ode: Intimations of Immortality, Wordsworth speaks of all the beautiful things in the world; rainbows, roses, bare heavens, waters on starry nights, bird song. But then he acknowledges a passing away from the beautiful aspects of our lives we can go though. To me, this poem is like a relief valve between the absolutely wonderful and beautiful things in a human life, and the absolutely unthinkable sorrows. And nearing the end of his own life, he writes “The thought of our past years in me doth breed Perpetual benediction…. {and} are yet the fountain light of all our day.”

“What though the radiance which was once so bright,
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.”

“Thanks to the Human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys and fears,
To me, the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that lie to deep for tears”.

And while not a day goes by that I wish this hadn't happen to me, it is my life; my journey; my toll to pay – it is where I am. At least for this moment, this day, week or month, nothing is going to change the fact that I am a cancer patient. Especially trying to wish it away. So having adjusted and grown to accept life on life’s terms, I will take the advice of my friends, and “take the journey” no matter what that is; day and night; sick and well.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Joys and Sorrows

To be honest, I can’t hardly figure it out. Life is precious. Life is difficult. Life is both things at the same time nearly constantly. Why we cling to life ourselves in the face of extreme pain and tragedy is an instinct in all of us that is remarkable. It must come from God.

My Son, Jonny, bless his heart. He’s twenty and he’s had a rough three or four years. Just this past 12 months, he ended a three year incarceration (when most kids his age are in highschool).But while he was away, he got his GED and he’s been going to school full time. He's been living in a city on his own. He now works full time, and he and his girlfriend are going to have a baby. And his father, me, was diagnosed with state 4 colon cancer. While I know I have my own trials, it is hard for me to imagine difficulties like Jonny’s at age 20.

He called late last night, crying. He said that Chelsea, the mother of his uborn child was on her way to the hospital; the baby, Carter Andrew, had not been moving for the past few days. Well, his concern was contagious – and seeing this young Son of mine in such despair for his unborn child, my grandson, was, in a word, heart wrenching.

Once at the hospital, it was determine that Carter Andrew was safe and sound in Chelsea’s belly, and the air raid sirens were turned off. But trying to help navigate my Son through the excruciating uncertainty of it all was something I had never experienced. Oh sure, I get the occasional call when he is worried about things, and I try to help him figure things out, but this was totally different. It was totally uncharted territory for me. We all know how the concern for our own children can be overwhelming and even debilitating. Well to see this for the first time in my own Son for his unborn Son touched me deeply and in a way that I had never been touched before.

I tried to explain to him, when we were thinking the worst, we have to accept life on life’s terms. We have to turn everything over to God. From behind his pitiful tears, he asked how he could possibly do that…. I asked him “what other choice to we have in situations like this?”

I suppose the 29 extra years I have over my Son, not that I am stoic, but perhaps have lent themselves to me with a deeper sense of it. The ability to endure in the face of almost unthinkable pain, grief, anxiety and depression flows from God – it truly must; where upon we are delivered to the portions of our life, the times when our joys our weigh our sorrows.