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

 

 

9 Weeks of Healing

It has been a while since I/we have posted. We have transitioned into a new phase of the healing process, and the last couple of weeks we have been introverted home bodies. Our preference is to do much less, stay home, and be with each other and the kids.

Both Brooke and I have been driven “doers” most of our adult lives, now we are both feeling much more interested in just “being” and much less concerned about the “doing”. I am sure, like most of this process, this is but another step in the journey, and that this too will change. Right now, doing less and keeping life as simple as possible just feels right.

Now that I am getting back into circulation I have had a lot of people ask me how I am doing. I appreciate the support and caring nature of the question. Often it is in a public setting or in passing, and my stock response is that I am doing well (true) and that I am grateful to be so fortunate (also true). The reality of the situation is a bit more complex. I feel as if everyday I am aware of a barrage of different emotions washing over me, some a passing thought or twinge of awareness, and others more deeply felt, and a few just plain disturbing. Since there is rarely time to explore this range of emotions in a casual conversation I thought I would capture some of the range of emotions here.

At times I find myself struggling with patience. I am through 80% of the healing process, and the last 20% is going to take time and focus. I need to make sure I focus on that 20%, if I let it go and settle for a new status quo, I am going to lose ground that I need not cede. And it is quite clear that it is going to take work to build back where I am stronger than I was before going into the surgery.

The following is a summary of my general state of being on any given day:

Changed perspective about daily life, not as concerned about sweating the details.

Relaxed and at ease.

Energized and creative.

Reflective and  meditative.

Full of love for Brooke, family, and friends.

Conscious of being present and feeling.

Open to new possibilities.

God and the presence of spirit.

Aware of gratitude for so many blessings.

And…

Weary, especially in the mornings.

Uncertainty about the future.

Random shortness of breath, usually when I am not doing anything.

One in three who relapse…

Questioning everything.

Lethargic, and at it’s worse, apathetic.

A sense of loss…

Often I find myself in the midst of one of life’s mundane tasks, such as driving, and I hear a voice in my head asking if this is all for real? Did I really have lung cancer? Am I really missing 15% of my lung? And of course the answer rings in my head…YES! And I am reminded that one of the gifts of this experience is to stay present with the reality of my own mortality. To not slip back into the trance that this life is infinite and old age assured. To appreciate the beauty and gift of every moment and every day. And when I have that awareness if often seems as if my daughter’s smile is just a little brighter, the sky a tinge bluer, and it is that much easier to take a deep breath and be relaxed and present in the moment, grateful for the beauty of the life and love all around.

If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you can not achieve.

– tao te ching

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carpe Diem! If Not Now Then When?

6 weeks out from surgery. Brooke and I traveled to MD Anderson last week for my surgical follow up. Thankfully it went well. The surgeon was pleased and I am on track and recovering quickly. The one bit of concern was the persistent headaches and dizziness I have been wrestling with, a small cause for concern.

Brooke and I watched the surgeon’s face when I mentioned the headaches and dizziness, a flicker of concern, and he ordered a brain MRI to make sure I was clear. The MRI threw us for a loop. It was poignant reminder of how fragile we are, and that even with a good prognosis nothing is for certain when dealing with cancer. We had another 48 hours of “what if”, waiting for the results, holding our breath, and breathing through the uncertainty.

Thankfully the news from the MRI was positive, no issues. Most likely the headaches and dizziness are from a lingering sinus infection. Makes sense, my body has had other issues to worry about! So I started a round of antibiotics and the headaches and dizziness, although not entirely gone, seem to be receding.

Holding uncertainty is our new norm. Now, like so many other survivors, we play the cancer game. I am in remission and that is excellent, we stay vigilant for 5-years, get regular scans, and live as healthy a life as possible. Good diet, low stress, plenty of exercise, gratitude, and appreciation for everyday. Brooke and I can now let go of the constant fear and ease back into a “normal” life. Yet for me I feel as if I have walked through a looking glass. My life changed August 1st and it will never be the same.

As it turns out my cancer was farther along than previously thought. My first pathology report in Boulder said it was in situ, so early that a quick surgical procedure and I would be cured, a 100% survival rate in five years. My post surgical pathology revealed a bit more advanced nemesis, Stage 1B. The five-year survival rate for people with this stage, who have had my exact procedure and outcome, is 60%-80%. My surgeon said I should be on the “higher end” of that scale, I am relatively young, fit, and the tumor had not invaded the pleura or lymph’s. Good news. 

And yet, if you deal with %’s each day, as I have been trained to do, that still leaves risk on the table. 1-5 people, standing exactly where I am standing today, will be dead in 5 years. I don’t say that to be dramatic, it is just a fact. And while I am more than confident that I am solidly in the majority, I would be foolish not to be cognizant of this reality.

Like so many elements of this journey this too is a gift. I fully intend to live my life with the knowledge of another 40+ years ahead of me. At the same time if in 3 years I learn that I have stage 3 or 4 metastasized brain cancer I don’t want to have 1 minute of regret. Not 1 minute! I am not sure I can make that claim about the last 3, 5, or 7 years. I wonder how many people can?

I know that along the way I have made what I thought were meaningful sacrifices, trading X now for Y in the future. No more. I don’t want to have any “I wish I had…” spent time with my family or friends, time in nature, exercising, or investing in service to others. I do not want to waste another minute, personally or professionally, in areas that I am not completely passionate about.  Life is too short. The gift of this cancer is that standing facing my own mortality, I can no longer pretend otherwise. That genie will never go back in the bottle.

Isn’t that really the case for all of us? I wonder what the actual statistical percentage is for each of us once we pass 40 years of age? Life happens, illness, accidents, whatever…Maybe we all have an x% chance of survival in 5 years? Perhaps the only difference is that I have been given the gift of awareness to remain vigilant, to not slip back into the daily trance, the constant societal and cultural allure of “planning for the future at the expense of the present”.

As all the great spiritual and wisdom traditions teach us, death can come at any time for each of us, “this body too shall be a corpse”. The trick is to never forget the timeless wisdom, to live everyday as if this were our last. Carpe Diem!

 

 

 

 

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

Roller Coaster.

It’s only Friday night. Surgery was just over a mere 48 hours ago, and yet I feel like I have lived a few lives since then. And yet tonight, I am feeling more relaxed than I have in weeks. Truly relaxed. Every night I think I will sleep and it evades me, yet I truly think tonight I will.

I know I could easily look to see when I last posted, yet its more complicated than that navigating on the iPad and working with different Wifi’s access codes….so suffice to say, I am not quite sure when I last wrote. Perhaps Wednesday night, perhaps last night. I don’t know.

Yet, its been a wild 48 hours since Andrew came out of surgery. Complete with super sweet relief from the sheer good news and results of his surgery, to the pain and sadness — watching him have the necessary ups and downs of recovery from a major thoracic surgery. Yesterday consisted of Andrew having a miserable morning for quite a few hours, complete with headaches and anxiety and general depression, to a better afternoon of up energy and optimism and relief from pain. Just to end the day with more intensity around his pain and mood and change of narcotic which brought more tubes and beeping machines — which greatly affected his mood and morale.

Fast forward to this morning when I was back in his room at 7am. He had already left for a chest X-ray and I was able to visit with his night nurse who let me know that he had slept well and was such a kind and gracious patient, making her “job so easy”. Andrew very quickly established wonderful report with all of his care providers, because that is who he is, and also because EVERYONE at MDA are truly angels in their own right.

When we met this morning at 7:30 upon his return from X-ray, Andrew looked amazing — great color in his cheeks, rested eyes, big, real deal smile. SO wonderful. I had left the kids sleeping at the hotel, so it was just the two of us and it was such a nice time of connecting. He came into his room and we decided to walk the halls. Yet, I asked to feed him some of the fresh fruit I had brought him before we walked. So, he sat on the edge of his bed, and I fed him  piece by piece…all the while, watching his face and demeanor change. His pain was changing, rapidly and was fast becoming acute and sharp. We put him back into bed, pushed more meds and I rubbed his feet with all hope that the pain would subside. It as 90 minutes before it released. He was tense, moaning, and scared. He had decided that he was going to do everything he needed to do within his power to get himself discharged by Saturday, and this was feeling like a major setback. Perhaps. Yet, I just wanted the pain to subside for him.

By 9:30, the pain released and his shoulders relaxed and his brow unfurrowed and he was tired again. Different nurses were coming in to talk about his care for the day and goals and plans for discharge. This fired him up again, and as soon as he felt up for it, we walked. And he ate, and he drank fluids and was totally on the program yet again, fairly pain free.

Hamilton and the kids arrived at 12:00 and we all visited for some time. I left with the kids by 12:40 to head back to the hotel to meet the sitter who was planning on spending the afternoon with the kids. They were full of energy and were so happy to have seen Daddy.

As soon as I got the kids set up with the sitter, Miller let me know that he wanted to come back to the hospital with me to “help support Dad”. Who is this kid? Clearly, Andrew’s son. So. the girls went to the Houston Zoo with Chelsea and Miller and I went back to MDA. We had a really nice, easy afternoon — with GREAT news. Andrew’s pain was totally under control, he was relaxed and in good spirits. Andrew went for another chest at about 2pm and once the positive results came back (that his air in his chest cavity was not increasing) from that, he was cleared to have his chest tube removed. Miller very deliberately stepped out of the room, and I held Andrew’s hand while Sonia (one of Dr. Swisher’s nurses, who had been with Andrew during the surgery) prepped Andrew for the removal, as well as talked to us about the surgery and the cancer they found. I will let Andrew be the one to talk about his cancer finding. Sonia was a true pro and with some breathing exercises and distraction had the foot and a half long chest tube out with no pain. MAGIC. And almost immediately, Andrew was like a new man. Incredible relief, incredible pain relief and discomfort abated…clearly no one is meant to have anything foreign in their bodies and the release of such foreign body (albeit necessary) is cause of somatic celebration! And then the removal of all wires and tubes/IV’s began. The beginning of the discharge process. So exciting and so exhilarating. And yet I felt I needed to caution Andrew to moderate his dancing around the room and fist pumping. You never know, right?

I left the room at 4:45pm to go relieve the sitter and pick up the girls to bring them back for a family dinner in the room. Hamilton was there to be with Andrew, and during my short time away informed me that he was struggling again. More pain and perhaps some disorientation from the switch to oral meds, versus the IV pain meds. Bottom line is that Andrew does NOT do well with narcotics. While they are a necessary means to an end in the pain management game, he does NOT like them. By the time we arrived, he was doing better and we had a super fun and lovely hour visit.

Soon after the kids and I left tonight, Andrew was joined by Hamilton and his other brother Lang (who flew in today from Portland, Oregon). The last text I got from him sounded happy and content. And LOVED.

Its been a fairly manic 48 hours — a roller coaster of emotions and thoughts, yet the end result is that the odds are VERY much in Andrew’s favor to have a discharge tomorrow afternoon. If his morning chest X-ray is good, he will be joining us at the hotel by the afternoon.

The plan is to continue to rest and recover here at Hotel Zaza in Houston until Tuesday morning when we meet with Dr. Swisher again, and hopefully get a blessing to fly home….Tuesday afternoon/evening. AMAZING.

I will leave you with the pure amazement that I experienced today, that despite the roller coaster of ups and downs, and how hard it is to see the one you love the most in such desperate pain… that when Andrew felt relief, both mid-morning after 90 minutes of acute pain, as well as this afternoon once his chest tube was removed, he chose to direct conversation immediately to how this blog would evolve once his more immediate fight with cancer ended. He was most concerned with how to really direct his energies to giving back and not only marking the incredible gratitude he feels for so many in his path right now, yet also for how he wants to pay his good fortune and grace forward. Is this man for real?

I am not worthy. Yet I am inspired to meet him in this incredible place…and work that much harder to keep going an extra mile in every thing we do, both individually and collectively.

Love,
Brooke

The hospital…

At the hospital, a day of intake, prep procedures, etc. a very different feel this time. Not sure why. Perhaps the reality of it all is settling in?

The nurse played us a 12 minute video of what the surgery and recovery would be like. Sobering. I don’t want this damn cancer and I certainly don’t want this surgery and recovery.

The hospital is an odd mix. Many, many sick people, lots of them elderly, occasionally you see younger patients. Chase thought it was a very sad place. She’s right. Lots of dour expressions, thousand yard stares, people who are fighting and tired. Lots of waiting and more waiting, so many people seeking treatment. I have been told that 40-50 year olds are the fastest growing cancer demo…where are they? I don’t see them here in large numbers…

Tomorrow this time I will be in post operative recovery, holes in my chest, tubes, beeping, and pain meds. 4-5 days in the hospital, I can’t wait to walk out of this place. Just want the next 5 days to go quickly and start the recovery.

I still cannot believe this is the path I must walk. How did this happen? Lung cancer? Will I ever get used to hearing that?

I am going to need to work really hard after the surgery to stay positive and keep my spirits up while I am in the hospital. It is not as easy for me as it is when I am at home, physically active, and surrounded by the love of my family.  Man I want to yell, kick and scream, and curse that it is not fair…and I imagine so does every other person in this hospital.

And I need to remember that I am lucky. As the PA in anesthesiology said I have one of the best surgeons in the world, a great team, and an excellent prognosis. And yet I don’t feel lucky.

This damn cold. 2 weeks of annoying sinus, of all the times to have a nagging cold. guess I will have bigger things to worry about tomorrow.

Going to miss the kids so much it hurts. I felt it today when I was at the hospital and they were here at the hotel in the pool. All I wanted was to be in the pool playing and goofing around with them.

Tomorrow will be a blur, a lost day. The following few days will hopefully not drag on to slowly. I just want to get through this. Man this sucks.

Keep thinking of the day I crashed on my mountain bike. I was feeling so good, and yet I had this deadly disease slowly growing in my lungs. How weird to feel so good and yet to be ill with what would eventually be a terminal disease.

Too tired to think about it anymore. Hoping to get a solid 11 hours sleep tonight, hopefully make some more progress on this cold and get as ready as I can for tomorrow. Saying good-bye to the kids will be hard.

Hard to imagine that only 5 weeks have gone by since I was diagnosed…time is a funny construct.

Thanks to all who have reached out. Please be sure to look after Brooke while I am on my back. She is strong, yet everybody needs love and support. She is human after all :-).

Ok that’s it for me for a while. See you on the other side!

Much love to all.

Andrew

Gratitude

I have so much to be thankful for. Recently I have often stopped and wondered if I have properly honored the my many blessings in my life. Especially the many people who have provided me so much in the way of love, wisdom, and friendship. As I head off to Houston today and prepare for surgery, and to cross the abyss to the other side, I want to be sure to mark as many of these blessings as I can.

How could I start anywhere other than Brooke. She is my rock. I cannot imagine this journey without her love and support by my side. In the last 4 weeks I have reflected upon our relationship, marriage, and Karma in this lifetime. And it has occurred to me that perhaps I have not always properly expressed my appreciation for this incredible women and all she brings to my life and our family. Marriage can be hard. Anything of value is hard work. I am always skeptical of anyone who claims otherwise. We have worked hard together. And I know I have not always been everything Brooke has wished, that I have fallen short in my commitments, and that I have not always had an awareness beyond my own needs. I know that I have at times been attached to desires or outcomes that in context of the bigger picture are minor at best. And through it all she has remained steadfast in her commitment to me. She continually goes the “extra mile” in service of others, and there is nothing she would not do for me or the children. Brooke is pure heart, and caring for those she loves is her greatest joy. I am calm and steady because I know that she is by my side. I love you Brooke, I am a better person with you in my life.

Our incredible three children. My teachers, inspiration, motivation, and joy. So similar and so different. Full of energy, light, and promise. Nothing can compare to the embrace of a loving child. Their love and trust nurtures me with every breath I take. The purity of their love and the faith they place in us as their parents is invigorating and humbling all at the same time. I derive incredible joy watching them blossom and grow, and I am enthralled as I watch their lives unfold each day at a time.

My brothers who are my blood. With whom I share many of life’s triumphs and sorrows. With whom I have journeyed from childhood through adulthood, through trauma, challenges, and celebrations. Both of whom will be supporting me and my family in Texas and Colorado as I make this journey. Both of whom support me with unconditional love.

Our extended family of grandparents, sister and brother-in-laws,  and cousins, who have all provided so much love and support, offered their time and presence in anyway needed, and are constantly supporting us with their prayers. And my “adopted” brother Jens who at a moments notice dropped everything and made the 18 hour drive to Texas and with whom I have ridden many miles in the last few weeks.

My/our community. So loving and available, so willing and eager to help and support us in any way we ask. We have always felt a strong sense of community and many good friendships. And yet we have both been humbled and full of gratitude over the last 4 weeks by all the many people who have reached out both near and far. Current and old friends. Cancer is an incredible disease, immediately opening hearts and tapping into a collective empathy. “There by the grace of God go I”. We are all vulnerable, we will all travel the path of sickness and death. We all need each other. It is amazing how many different ways friends have expressed their love and support, a hug, a meal at just the right time, a book, a memento, call, text, email. The last 4 weeks have offered so many gifts in my/our, connections to others. My only regret is that I have not had more time to spend with each and every person who has reached out, prayed for us, or made large and small gestures.

This human experience is defined by the relationships and connections we make. None of the material objects transcend our death, we cannot take any of the accolades or achievements with us, and few will remember us by what we did. We will be remembered by who we were, the quality of our person, our integrity, our generosity and love towards those close to us and to our fellow men and women. Having cancer has stripped away the veneer that often exists between ourselves and others, immediately opening a presence and accessing a heart space that is often cloaked in the everyday stress and activities of life. It has truly been a gift to connect so deeply and authentically to so many. And for that I have immense gratitude for all who have reached out to offer support, shared their stories, and expressed their love.

And of course our incredible menagerie of animals, 2 cats and 2 dogs, who show up every day and provide unconditional love without expectations or wanting. What an excellent model for all of us humans, to give freely of oneself without expectation of something in return.

So I offer my deeply felt gratitude to all who have and continue to bring so much to our lives. You are my family, my teachers, my friends. I am grateful and honored to be a part of your lives. With love and blessings.

“At the center of the Universe is a loving

heart that continues to beat and that

wants the best for every person.

Anything we can do to help foster the

intellect and spirit and emotional growth

of our fellow human beings, that is our job.

Those of us who have this particular

vision must continue against all odds.

Life is for service.

– Fred Rogers

“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”