6 Months

Its absolutely amazing to me how fast time flies when you are having fun. Andrew is in Houston at MDAnderson again for his 6 month series of tests and scans, and I am at home holding down the fort and taking care of the kids and our zoo. To say that I felt absolutely sick to not leave the house with him at 4:05am this morning, is an understatement. Andrew is so strong, and he assured me (why the heck was he assuring ME?) that he would be fine on his own, and yet I feel strangely empty and scared tonight. And, yet, we both know and trust that his appointment with Dr. Swisher tomorrow will be cause for great celebration and a wonderful reminder of how fortunate and lucky we truly are.

The past 6 months have been a bit of a blur. Cancer is very strange that way. Time almost stands still at times, and yet when health returns, and normalcy appears, its easy to resume life as you knew it before and time begins to evaporate again. That said, its far too easy for me to talk about this, as I am NOT the one who has had cancer. I am NOT the one who has had massive thoracic surgery. I am NOT the one who has had part of his lung removed. I am NOT the one who has lost a father to the same cancer that I have had to fight. Its far too easy for me to talk about how the last 6 months have been. Quite frankly, its far too easy for me, as I am NOT the one fighting cancer. I am merely the spouse…

And, yet I will tell you that Andrew has been nothing short of amazing since his lung cancer diagnosis. He recovered from his surgery with such grace and such strength and as soon as he was able, he was walking the dogs, and hiking our local mountain, and then in short order, skiing at our local ski resort. And then before I knew it, he was skiing at altitude and pushing the limits of his lung capacity, and celebrating with quiet joy how far he had come in such a short time. All the while, feeling “different”, all the while knowing that his reality was forever changed. All the while, quietly aware that each day was a gift beyond anything he had ever been able to comprehend prior to last July.

Of course, we feel that tomorrow will bring nothing but great news. We have no reason to think otherwise, and yet cancer is this persistent shadow. Life goes on, and joy returns, and yet there is always this shadow. Sometimes its more noticeable, and sometimes, you can’t see it even if you try. Yet, its always there. A dull and sometimes even a dark shadow…

Just last week we lost a friend to cancer. A young father with an incredible zest and joy for life, and a very, very dear friend to two of our best friends. Why him? Why was this Steve’s story? Why is this Andrew’s story? Its been a horribly sad time to mourn the loss of Steve. And its also been another reminder of how fortunate we are…even if there is perhaps some guilt imbedded in our gratitude. Yet, our gratitude is DEEP. And we sincerely share in the collective grief for Steve’s passing.

So, I am here in Boulder, and Andrew is there in Houston. And I feel so far away from him, despite our consistent contact today. I know where he is. I can see it. I can feel it. I can smell it. And quite frankly, in all of MDA’s incredible amazingness  and magic, its a hard place to be, even worse alone. Cancer is not something I would wish on anyone, and I am also deeply grateful for our experience and journey with lung cancer, thus far. We are truly the lucky ones.

Love,

Brooke

 

 

Ode to Brooke

Brooke has been amazing over these last 2+ months.  I cannot imagine this journey without her by my side, supporting and loving me while also holding and supporting our 3 precious children. It has been an extraordinary time. Cancer is unlike anything I have previously experienced. It has been trying and stressful on all of us in many different and unexpected ways. And in many respects our journey has just begun. The love and connection we share as a family is the foundation that holds us strong.

Recently as Brooke’s  birthday approached she was very clear, with me and her friends, that she wanted a simple and quiet day, no fanfare. We exchanged a few presents, and the kids made some really special cards. I decided to also mark all that is special about Brooke and honor her through the written word. This is not award winning verse by any means, yet I have tried to capture and share her unique essence. With love and gratitude…

Bright rays of light

warm as the suns glow

expanding to fill the space.

Radiant smile, sharing warmth and ease.

Musical laugh, disarming and opening,

offering others to feel their own joy.

Quick to care for all,

action and deed manifesting a hearts calling.

A balm for you, a gift too so many.

Mama lioness, soft and fierce,

nurturing with firm resolve.

Driven with spirit, yielding with love.

Strength, commitment, focus, integrity.

Love, sister, partner.

Nourish the circle, feel your light

Chasing Daylight

Not long after my diagnosis a friend sent along a book titled Chasing Daylight – How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life, by Eugene O’Kelly.

http://www.amazon.com/Chasing-Daylight-Forthcoming-Death-Transformed/dp/0071471723

He did not send along the book as any type of omen or to be a downer. In fact he sent it for exactly the opposite reason, as a positive re-enforcement after reading my post “Dad I am glad you got cancer…” where I was reflecting upon the gift of time and presence that the cancer had afforded me with Brooke and my children. I read 2/3 of the book right away (it is a very quick read), and then stopped. I resisted reading the last 1/3, his demise. I finally finished it today.

It is a profound book and I highly recommend you put it on your reading list. And for those of you who are type A personalities, and especially those striving away in the corporate world (you know who you are), it is a must read. I won’t give too much away, yet suffice it to say the author was one of us.

One thing I will share, perhaps as a tease to encourage reading the book is the following paraphrased comment  –

“I used to think that the most important virtues a person could cultivate were commitment and consistency…I now realize that it is consciousness…”

And with that I will close with a favorite poem by Robert Frost that captures my present conciousness…

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

 

3 weeks out…the time warp continues

3 weeks ago almost to the minute I was wheeled out of the post-op holding area and into my room at MD Anderson on the 6th floor where I joined the other thoracic patients residing on two wards.

I remember feeling as if I were observing someone else living my life. Hovering out of my body in close proximity. Connected and yet distinctly separate. I remember how loving and present Brooke was, every ounce and fiber of her being focused on me. The full magnitude of her energy concentrated on me like a tractor beam. I immediately liked the energy of my night nurse. I felt a sense of relief that I had someone who was gentle and kind looking over me. And even through the haze of the anesthesia I felt at ease that I would be in good hands when my loving Brooke went home for the evening. The nurses at MD Anderson were amazing. Maybe I just got lucky with the four primary nurses assigned to me, but I doubt it. Based on what I have observed at MD Anderson it is a trait that runs throughout the organization. And the nurses are the cornerstone of that care.

It was late. Much later than we had anticipated or planned for. Brooke is not a person who does well after about 9 pm in the evening. You would not have known it that night. She lit up the room, and probably the whole ward, with her energy, kindness, and smile. I distinctly recall that the nurse and Brooke insisted that I get up and walk the ward. Within hours of a major thoracic surgery they had me up and moving. It was quite a spectacle. Walking along attached to my “totem pole” of IV’s, pain med dispenser, catheter, chest tube and collection unit…not to mention my stylish gown flapping in the breeze. I felt as if I were going to topple over at any moment. They told me later that the nurse trailed me with a rolling chair in case I collapsed. My head was swimming with narcotics, and the headaches and dizziness were intense.

That first night was awful. Constantly being woken up by beeping respiratory monitors. When I fell asleep my respiratory rate fell to concerning levels. And then the constant poking, prodding, checking, etc. Sleep was low on the priority! I started to experience a sense of time moving at an odd flux, fast and slow at the same time. I was able to get discharged relatively quickly, 4 days, yet it felt like 8.

3 weeks out I find that sense of time warp continues. Some times the days seem to drag on, and then even within the same day I wonder where the time went. I have not done much. I ventured out of the house for the second time today. And I over extended myself. Sometimes I think I am feeling great, and then 20 minutes or an hour later I am exhausted and moving across the room or walking upstairs seems like a big effort.

The headaches are really getting to me. Debilitating, they sap my energy to do much at all. They seem to function as a barometer, receding when I am feeling stronger and surging without warning when I push too hard.

I am tired of being tired. I told Brooke it often feels as if a heavy wet blanket has been draped over me. I keep trying to focus on patience, sometimes I feel settled. Often I feel I have little patience for patience! I can’t get over this weird sense I have around time. I have what seems to be a cloudiness and fog lingering in my head, particularly my frontal cortex where I feel it most. I have an urge to be “making progress, taking action, moving forward” except I feel blank when I try to discern what actions I want to take. Perhaps it is a form of anxiety? In reality I feel just as strongly that I don’t want to take any action at all. I wake each day motivated to tick off some items on my “to do” list. Yet I can’t seem to pull the list together. Kinda odd for someone who has been making those lists daily for the last 15 years. And then the day seems to melt away, and by evening I am exhausted and hoping the headaches don’t come back. Someone asked if it was depression? I don’t think so, I am not depressed, sad, or withdrawn. I feel grateful, I enjoy the beauty of the day, and underlying my physical malaise I feel a twinge of excitement for some unknown adventure awaiting me.

The people I have seen or spoken to very kindly say I look or sound great. I appreciate their support. Yet it is weird, it makes it hard when a bit later I don’t feel great. I have to be careful not to judge myself, question the validity of how I am actually feeling. Chastise myself because I know there are many who are facing much harder challenges than me. Then I remember to give myself a break, my experience is just that…my experience. There is no specific standard  I have to meet. I have always been my own worst critic.

“This is a time for patience and careful attention to inner truth. Attempts to force a change, rather than allowing it to come naturally, will only cause misfortune. If one remains balanced, modest, and independent, good fortune will come to hand.”

– I-Ching

 

 

Contentment

Which is more vital

fame or health

which is more precious

health or riches

which is more harmful

loss or gain

the deeper the love

the higher the cost

the bigger the treasure

the greater the loss

who knows contentment

suffers no shame

who knows restraint

encounters no trouble

and thus lives long

– tao te ching (verse 44)

Right here, right now…

Restless night. Aches and pains. Constant dreams. Irritable before bed, had to work hard to stay even with kids. Wasn’t so measured with Brooke and let my irritation show. Such a cruel irony that we are often most comfortable with the people closest to us. And in this case that meant I didn’t work so hard to not let my irritability show through.

Life is full of those weird dualities. One that I find most poignant, and have heard from men and women alike, men want physical connection to open emotionally and women want emotional connection to open physically. As in many areas of life I think the challenge is to walk the narrow line between both polarities, to satisfy the yin and the yang so that both parties can feel met in their needs and then find union to create a greater whole. I have found that it is intellectually easy to frame up, practically hard to consistently deliver.

A challenge in so many aspects of human existence. The reality of gestalt, that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts…true for the individual, relationship, team, community, and society. Yet it requires so much trust. Trust that if we give before receiving that we will bring together the parts to create a greater whole and thereby receive so much more than if we just take what we request, or demand, of others. And we are required as a matter of course to give out of faith that our efforts will be received and reciprocated. And often it is not so, at least not immediately. And for me, I must remind myself that my true intent is to give without attachment, without expectation of return. And even still I struggle with wanting what I want and expecting, even emotionally demanding, that I receive some compensation for what I give.

Our culture is structured to encourage this. My, our, expectation of a Return on Investment permeates the fabric of our society. I spent two years in graduate school getting a masters degree to train me in the art of maximizing my return on investment. If I give then I expect, demand, that I receive a return. In fact I expect a return, added compensation, that rewards me for giving and adds to what I gave. While this makes good sense in economic terms, and is the basis of encouraging commerce and the exchange of goods, it seems to me that it fails us on the personal and spiritual level. When is our need for return satisfied? When do we have enough to give freely without expectation of return?

I find myself reflecting on this often. Can I truly give freely to myself, my loved ones, and in service to others without expecting a return? Some form of compensation? Be it an embrace, an achievement, a title or role?

I was raised and oriented towards achievement. My brother quips that it is the “Ivy League briefcase culture”. To derive my sense of self worth from attaining a goal. To feel content by accomplishing something that allows me to derive status and to be acknowledged for that achievement and status externally. To derive worth from external recognition.

So along comes cancer…turns my world upside down. I am starkly and quickly confronted with my own mortality. By my own choice I took a 3 month medical leave from my professional pursuits, a big source of stimulus supporting my need to achieve, in order to focus on health and family. As I have written in previous posts I immediately observed the many gifts that flowed from this new focus. A “return” not of material advantage or external praise, rather a return on the investment of love. And this evolution has continued, over the last few weeks as I am recovering from surgery I have had all of my external manifestations stripped away. Professional stimulus, exercise, physical vitality and energy, social stimulus. I have been spending my days in the close proximity of my house, and I am just recently starting to take walks around the neighborhood.

In this context I have found myself re-examining my perspective on many aspects of my life. I have spent more time in quiet reflection and meditation than I have in many years. And although many people have graciously offered to stop by and visit, I  have not felt that social and mostly declined for now. Having the external stimulus and activities stripped away has forced me to look deeper into myself. To delve into my own nature, sense of self, and spiritual grounding. And while I am searching for answers I am uncovering more questions. The counsel I am receiving is one of patience. Itself a practice from which can be derived significant reward. And although I have previously thought of myself as reasonably patient I am not sure I have ever had to really sit with it in the manner I now find myself. A new lesson offered up as I follow this evolving path in my life’s journey…

“withdraw into stillness and meditation, quietness and truth are the best refuge…quietly accept the way things are and do not resist them.”

– I-Ching

Coming home…Boulder’s 100 year flood

Coming home has been much harder than I imagined. In many ways the last 7 days have been the hardest, to date, of this ordeal. It has been 7 weeks since this journey began. 2 weeks to the day since the surgery. Upon reflection I did not imagine this would be the hard part, and yet physically, emotionally, and spiritually the last 7 days have tested me in a much more subtle and insidious manner than all of the other trials to date. Of course arriving back just as the 100 year flood was starting certainly did not help…

We arrived home late Tuesday evening on the 10th. We woke Wednesday morning to a cloudy and grey day. At first it seemed to be a perfect setting. Cozy and subdued, perfect for taking it easy and beginning the healing. I thought of it as a bit of a gift. Unlike  usual September days in Boulder it was not 87 degrees, beautiful, and sunny. I did not have to confront my physical infirmaties head on with the endless legions of cyclists passing our house, runners on every road, and hikers in all of the mountain parks. Brooke purposely kept her schedule open to be with me. So we dropped the kiddos back at school, after a 7 day hiatus, and came home, made some tea, got cozie and watched a movie.

Wednesday night around 12:15 Brooke and I awoke, as did most of Boulder, to the most amazing clap of thunder and immediate bolt/flash of lightening I have ever seen. I sleep like a rock, difficult to wake. When I heard this boom both Brooke and I bolted straight up, our hearts racing. You could feel the electrical charge permeating the air and our bodies. I sat and listened to the storm for a while. I quickly realized that in 15 years in Boulder I had never heard so much rain fall so quickly. As I listened it became increasingly clear to me that this was going to be trouble. And considering our house, like many parts of Boulder, lay in the 100 year flood plane, I felt a growing cause for concern. I climbed out of bed, and over Brooke’s protests, and the fog of pain killers, I went and got dressed, grabbed my rain jacket and a high powered flashlight and told Brooke that I was going to go and quickly scout the surrounding neighborhood to get a sense of what was going on.

As I left the drive I could barely see out my windshield the rain was falling so hard. I did my first pass around the area and could see that the roads and drains were already at capacity. 20 minutes later I almost went home when I saw the first real surge go down a major street. Brooke called and I gave her the update, and while on the phone I watched the situation change before my eyes. In less than 40 minutes the standing water was pooling so quickly that intersections I had just been through 20 minutes earlier were rapidly becoming impassable. Emergency vehicles, police, and fire trucks were starting to show up everywhere. I was driving a high clearance off road jeep with big tires and a lifted suspension…and the water was coming up to my headlights!

I went to check on the nearby creek bed, usually dry, and as I came close I saw another truck try to push through and get stuck, I reversed back out quickly and turned around. We did not sleep much that night. Two hours later we had a river flowing around our house, front and back, and a 3″+ lake growing behind our damned fence. All of our mulch, playground fill, and a rapidly growing mud stream, were preventing the water from flowing and slowly working its way up to our foundation line. I waded out into thigh deep water and started to clear the debris from the mesh fence, careful to only use my right arm and not lift anything over 10lbs. 45 minutes later the majority of the water drained and we dodged our first bullet of the flood.

The next 48 hours were a blur. The heavy rains continued, and the waters began to rise. The 100 year flood was announced and as we went into Thursday night a flooded first floor seemed like a very real possibility. Our section of North Boulder, and our street in particular became a serious battleground where many were fighting to save their homes from a continually growing river. We had whitewater rapids in the middle of our street on Thursday night.

So two days back, a natural disaster is declared, and I am incapable of doing much at all. Wednesday night and Thursday I already felt bad that I could not assist in the community and help all those around us who were in need. By Thursday night it looked as if we might not make it through the evening unscathed, and there was little to nothing I could do. The first floor of our house if filled with 200-300 year old antiques that we inherited when my mother died 3 years earlier. And if the water rose I was not going to be able to move them to safety. In light of the bigger picture, and the incredible loss of so many homes and even whole communities, like Lyons CO, losing some antiques would have been minor in comparison. And thankfully we received more blessings, our berms held, and only our crawl space took on 1.5′ of water. We were lucky again.

Yet the reality was not the potential loss of material possessions. The hard reality to accept was that I was in no position to help my family. God help us if it got so bad we had to evacuate. Instead of being the man of the house and protecting my family I was a physically lame dependent and that left Brooke as the only able adult in the house. I was directly confronted with, forced to accept, and in fact had to surrender to, my vulnerability. I did my best, and it did not sit well with me. In fact it took it’s toll. I did too much physically, and emotionally I was wrung out, neither of which our positive contributors to my healing. Another lesson in impermanence and letting go.

As the rains ended and the water subsided we learned of so many in our community who have suffered mightily from this disaster. From flooded basements to complete loss of homes thousands were impacted. Our hearts go out to all those struggling to put the pieces back together.

In the vein of “going and extra mile”, Brooke and several local women have started a collection of clothes for donation. In just a few days we are close to filling one of our garage bays. It is uplifting to see the community generosity and support from so many. Brooke and team have found 16 families who lost everything and they will come by this weekend to “shop” among the many goods we have collected. The remainder will be donated locally to the flood relief effort. Just one of many examples of members of the community coming together in support of each other, the subtle blessings of hardships.

Love is the Flowing, the Outpouring, the Rendering from the Heart and Soul of Emotional Goodness to Yourself First – and then to Others in Your Life.

– The Hoffman Institute