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

 

 

November 10, 2013 – I am…

I captured the following stream of consciousness in a brief 15 minute window of calm –

raw

aware

sensitive

afraid

feeling

joyful

relaxed

present

at ease

grateful

eager

clear

tired

accepting

receptive

creative

curious

resigned

lethargic

anxious

excited

tweaked

reflective

pensive

shocked

open

secure

happy

introspective

appreciative

sore

calm

thoughtful

optimistic

energized

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to Change Perceptions about Lung Cancer!

It is way past time to address the lack of public awareness, incorrect perceptions, and stigmas around Lung Cancer. The CNN article linked below hits many of the high points. November is Lung Cancer awareness month, share the word, educate a friend, get involved!

As a surgeon at MD Anderson explained to me “in some respects we are victims of our own success. In the 70’s and beyond we used lung cancer as a tool to drive anti-smoking campaigns, successfully. So much so that the common perception to this day is that if you get lung cancer you brought it on yourself by smoking”. The reality, if you have lungs you can get lung cancer. And as the article mentions 60% of the new lung cancer patients in 2012 either never smoked or have not smoked in 25+ years!

I am one of those people. And even though I am relatively young, 47 at time of diagnosis, exercise regularly, and had a better than average diet…I got lung cancer. And this is not a cancer you want, ever! It is deadly. Even with the best prognosis, such as mine (Stage1B), the 5 year survival rates are still only 60-80% and there is a 33% chance of re-occurrence. 164,000 people will die of lung cancer this year, 1.4 million worldwide!

We need to catch it earlier, we need better screening, we need better awareness. And most importantly we need more funds invested in research and promising new screening and treatment techniques.

It is time to drag lung cancer out of the shadows! With awareness, focus, and investment we can improve the survival rates, and we can fight this deadly and silent killer.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/30/health/sequist-lung-cancer-stigma/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

 

A Samurai Warrior’s Creed

I have no parents – I make the heavens and earth my parents.

I have no home – I make awareness my home.

I have no life or death – I make the tides of  breathing my life or death.

I have no divine power – I make honesty my divine power.

I have no means – I make understanding my means.

I have no magic secrets – I make character my magic secret.

I have no body – I make endurance my body.

I have no eyes – I make flash of lightening my eyes.

I have no ears – I make sensibility my ears.

I have no limbs – I make promptness my limbs.

I have no strategy – I make “unshadowed by thought” my strategy.

I have no designs – I make “seizing opportunity by the forelock” my design.

I have no miracles – I make right action my miracles.

I have no principles – I make adaptability to all circumstances my principles.

I have no tactics – I make emptiness and fullness my tactics.

I have no talents – I make ready wit my talent.

I have no friends – I make my mind my friend.

I have no enemy – I make carelessness my enemy.

I have no armor – I make benevolence and righteousness my armor.

I have no castle – I make immoveable-mind my castle.

I have no sword – I make absence of self my sword.

– Anonymous Samurai, fourteenth century

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