Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wednesday, December 23rd: It's all for the rest of us!

It's here - the anticipation amongst all of your family and offspring has reached a maddening crescendo - it's time for Festivus!

Those of you who are fans of the show Seinfeld (meaning any witty human between the ages of 26 & 46) can remember the 'joke' of a holiday that was celebrated by the Costanza Family, and now has taken off in popular culture to actually become a recognized secular celebration in some states.

In Wisconsin & Washington, there are Festivus Poles displayed in the Governor's mansion (the former) and State House (the latter). A company in Wisconsin manufactures the poles (The Wagner Companies, Milwaukee), and there is even a FESTIVUS FILM FESTIVAL up here in Denver (Google it - I swear it's real).

Yeah, I know you're saying "Seriously Bill, this is a joke!" But is it? It's a holiday where a bunch of people get together around a vertical item (tree, pole, menorah, etc) follow traditions, get honest with each other (airing of grievances or drink too much), say a prayer that it all won't be too stressful, eat a big meal, and annoy each other.

For my Jewish friends and extended family - sounds like Hanukkah, doesn't it?

For my fellow Christian friends and family (of various teams) - sounds like Christmas, doesn't it?

For my athiest/agnostic friends and family - sounds like any holiday based social gathering, doesn't it?

The only thing missing from the official account of Festivus from the show (there may be a real equivalent, as I'm not an official celebrator of this cool holiday) is the doing good and giving to others which permeates the Hannukah/Christmas/Misc Holiday Season. That is truly one of the best parts.

So why talk about Festivus in this version of the blog? First, it's in the wee hours of the morning on December 23rd - which all Seinfeld fans know is Festivus. Second, I'm really tired of the over-the-top PC sensitivity that everyone gets their shorts into a wad over around the Hanukkah/Christmas season in order not to offend anyone.

Frankly people, I've got more important things to do than worry about which holiday you celebrate - whether Hanukkah, Christmas, Festivus, Kwanzaa, or whatever. OK, I have to admit that Kwanzaa is still a bit of a stretch for me, but I'm a white guy who kicked cancer in the nuts with French Canadian/Irish blood who doesn't really have a right to tell one ethnic community"no" when all people regardless of race and creed get drunk on my day - St. Patty's Day. We all know it is a made up drinking celebration based upon a dead white saint who drove snakes off of a green little pile of rocks a millenium ago.

So go ahead, and do the Kwanzaa thing. No judgement on my end.

When we were at the Taos Pueblo a couple of weeks back we were talking with one of the shopkeepers/residents of the Pueblo about their unique traditions this time of year. For their religion (which is their Native faith interspersed with Catholicism) they do a really cool thing through the month of December - they 'rest and respect the Mother Earth'. She explained that they don't listen to radio, watch tv, or talk to each other much (yes, there is a stereotype about Native peoples based upon the actress in Northern Exposure that may have some truth to it). She explained that it gives them time to appreciate the goodness of their lives and all they have been given. Their season culminates with the 'Deer Dance' on January 6th. She couldn't tell me the meaning, as their native religious ceremonies are secret, but frankly, it sounded really wonderful.

When Amanda and I got married, we both came from reasonably devout backgrounds - she was raised a Presbyterian. I was raised the son of a Catholic and Evangelical. After we got married, we as a couple made a conscious decision to attend religious services and joined the Methodist denomination. Being from rural Ohio, I had been exposed to the "Average American Religion" (United Methodist Church) most of my life and it was a nice blend of our spiritual heritage. After all, with high profile members such as Hillary Clinton, Dubya, Rush Limbaugh, and Stephen King. how could the Methodist Team not be one worth exploring?

One of the favorite Methodist traditional services of mine (not much different from many of you other traditional Christian Teams) is attending Christmas Eve Services - of the candle light/carol based variety. It's a highly reverential service, much like the practice of the Taos Natives, which is quiet and respects the importance of the spiritual aspects of the Christmas Celebration. Frankly, being in a beautiful old cathedral lit by candles on a cold winter's night is a magical moment. This year, it will be especially magical, as we'll be at Trinity Methodist in Downtown Denver (a seriously beautiful building - check it out when you can) listening to their wonderful choir to candlelight. Of all the songs sung at past services, my favorite Carol is "Once in Royal David's City" We first heard this in a Christmas Eve service at our congregation in Cincinnati, Hyde Park Community Methodist, sung by the pre-puberty son of some friends of ours, the Viators. Absolutely beautiful.

Over the years since I've made it a point to, on each Christmas Eve, tune into the BBC's broadcast of the "Festival of Lessons and Carols" from King's College Chapel in Cambridge, England. They do a beautiful rendition of the song, in a wonderful architectural space that is a unique interpretation of a Christian Church - I like to call it the "Festivus Table" of religious space. When you look at the video, notice the beautiful, light & spiritually inspired structure. Then take a look at the layout of the chapel where the people face each other as a community, with little focus (if any) on the 'front' altar of the space. This is a room where people could (when the service is over) effectively air some grievances - possibly even participate in the feats of strength.

But seriously, start the video and turn up the volume. It's magic. One of the items on my 'bucket list' would be to attend this service at King's in person. Since I've beat cancer, I've got about 63 years to go until birthday 100 - we'll fit it in there somehow.

"Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness."

Celebrate this Season and appreciate what you've been given. You're living in this moment and have seen another sunrise. That's all you get.

Merry Christmas!


CANCER UPDATE: Radiation oncologist, Dr. Chin, said it 'looks good'. I follow up with him mid-spring. On my first 3 month check up with my regular Oncologist, Dr. Hinshaw, I may end up getting another PetScan to do a baseline 'all clear' after radiation - more to come next month.

CANCER SOUNDTRACK: "Once in Royal David's City" As mentioned above, by any whoop-*ss choir.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wednesday, December 16th: The many hats of friendship

There is an old scripture I remember from my days in Sunday School which can be summarized by the statement "a prophet is unloved in his hometown".

Before I go any further, for the record, I wish to state that I am not intending to in any way designate myself as a "prophet" or be compared to the big JC (or "haysoose" as we say up here in Denver). I'm just using this to make a point. It's my blog, so I can do what I want.

OK, back on subject. My hometown (from age 3 through college)was the small community of Sparta, Ohio - population somewhere between 150-200 people. It's in Morrow County, about 35 miles north of Columbus. Yep, it's that small. Sparta's biggest claim to fame is a former Major League baseball pitcher, Tim Belcher, who had a great career including a World Series run with the Dodgers in the late 80's. He's a good man, by the way, who is living in the community and raising his family there. The other claims to fame of Sparta are the annual Methodist Strawberry Festival, Highland High School (550 kids - consolidated from surrounding towns) and the legendary Lundy Stillwell (Rest in peace) who owned & ran the General Store for years. A funny story - Lundy actually used to let me pick up beer and cigars for my dad when I was a kid and take it home on my bike. Dad had called in the order and Lundy only gave me as much as was approved.

Sparta was a great place to grow up. We lived in an old farmhouse on the edge of town, across from the local High School. No major drug problems there - a little weed and some whippets were about all the hard-living one could do, aside from the occasional beer party. In a nutshell the kids do one (or several) of the following: Drink Beer, Play Sports, or Fool Around.
Pretty Norman Rockwell-ish, huh?

I had a great experience there, and was able to make many friends and have kept in touch with quite a few of them over the years, despite my time in Muncie, Raleigh, Cincinnati, and here in Denver. Several of you know that through a strange set of professional circumstances I have been given the priviledge of leading the design efforts on the new High School to replace the one from which I graduated. My firm in Denver partnered with my old firm in Cincy to be the Architects on the project. It's been the best of both worlds - I've been able to continue working with my good friends from Cincy, while living in Denver, and getting to spend a lot of time over the past 2 years back in my home community. My wife has also worked on the project, and has really enjoyed getting to know many of the people who I've known for all my life.

In 2008 & early 2009 I had been back in the community every 2-3 weeks, and was able to get together many times with old friends Kate, Chris, Megan, Dave, Shannon, Craig, etc - many of which I really hadn't communicated with for close to a decade. You know you've got special people in your life when you can sit down and it's as if the years didn't pass at all - we've had a great time reconnecting and talking about our (gulp) 20th reunion coming up in 2010.

So, getting back to it - my cancer diagnosis happened about 2 weeks after our major work on the project had been completed here in Denver - perfect timing for the project, as my illness didn't affect any professional obligations, but it did cut me off from doing any real work on the job and traveling back to work and visit. However, the outpouring of cards, messages, and support from everyone back in little ole' Sparta was amazing. My good friend Craig (If its free take it!) even came out and spent a week with us during my treatments to help out. Heck, even my junior high study hall monitor got word of my illness and sent me a card. Thanks Mrs Fulton - you're cool, I apologize for the hell I put you through in the mid 80's.

So, Bill you say - that's great. You had cancer and got a lot of cards - why write about Sparta, Ohio in your blog? Because I recently got a surprise box in the mail from Ohio.

You know what happened? About 15 of my high school classmates from Sparta who still live in the Columbus area got together this fall and had "Billapalooza" - a gathering of support for little old me. They put a care package together with a donation, a bunch of video greetings, and most importantly - a TON of hats. Everything from a sombrero to a 'short bus' helmet was in there. Many of these friends I haven't seen in close to 10 years - a truly touching moment that made both Amanda and I smile really big.

Jesus may have been wrong on this one- you can be loved in your hometown. I sure as heck have felt that way. I don't mean to discredit him, as he is the Boss of my Methodist Team. But I think I've got him on this one. By the way, the first picture at the top is my modeling of one of the hats they sent me - a "Colorado Buffalo" with some Rocky Mountain scenery in the back.

Here's to you Sparta, home of the Highland Fighting Scots. These 1400 miles between Denver and Morrow County don't seem too far at all.

CANCER UPDATE - the first follow up with my radiation oncologist is this Friday. Nothing fancy, they get to look at the still bald portion of my 'inner hip'. Golden Rays of Sunshine and body hair on your 'inner hip' (code word for crotch) don't mesh well together, and the hair loses every time. Just call me "half lawn".
CANCER SOUNDTRACK - "Hard Sun" by Eddie Vedder from the Soundtrack of "Into the Wild". Sorry hard-core music fan friends, I know you may not like this one. But I like Pearl Jam - and so does our good friend Anne. This is for you Mrs. East. The movie is good, and about a guy who follows his dream out West - I can relate. Only my story doesn't end with me starving in an abandoned school bus- I'd like to think that my version has turned out to be pretty positive, don't you?

Carpe diem.


Friday, November 27, 2009


Remember the 'Magic Eye' episode of Seinfeld? Take a look at this image below and focus on the middle - do you see it?

If you can't see it (I can't see magic eye images - so I won't judge you) I've interpreted for you:

One more reason to enjoy Thanksgiving 2009: Baby Baker coming this Spring to St Joseph's Hospital in Denver.....The best thing about beating cancer will be welcoming her into the world.

Carpe diem.

p.s. 'Cancer Beating Soundtrack Song #2'

"Follow You, Follow Me" by Genesis. I saw these guys on their 'farewell' tour in '92 in Indianapolis with Kootch & Bogle - best concert I've been to, hands down. Enjoy this video from the 2007 "Hey we need more cash" tour. Go see them when they return - great musicianship & showmanship. Worth the tix prices.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday, November 15th: A year in the life of Mr Toad's Tunnel

As I enter my last week of radiation treatments it's as if I'm nearing the light at the end of this particular tunnel of my life - a very dark, confusing, treacherous, yet simultaneously glorious time.

The past 12 months started with a lot of pain, a fun time working on some professionally rewarding projects back in Ohio, and a boatload of travel. I had no idea about this "Mr Toad's Wild Ride" when I entered the hospital in Vail thinking that my ortho hip procedure would result in a quick rehab and a pain-free hip.

Oh my, Life can take unexpected, unplanned turns that challenge you to the core of your being. But it will simultaneously teach you something about yourself, your relationships, and your world.

I've got what I wished for -a pain-free(relatively speaking) hip. But my path to this point was entirely different than planned. Let's just say that the light at the end of the tunnel got pushed back "a few months". You know what? This may sound crazy to all of you who haven't had an illness similar to cancer, but the lessons life-threatening diseases teach you are awesome. As my High School track coach and science teacher Mr. Harrell used to say: A DUBYA EE ESS OH EM EE - AWESOME! AWESOME! AWESOME! Those of you who hail from Sparta have a leg up on everyone else reading the blog, because you can hear him say it, can't you?

This year has taught me the importance of looking through the 'noise' of life and looking at your true inner being. Trust me, it doesn't matter how successful you are, how important you are, how many friends you have, what degree you have, or what kind of car you drive - when you are faced with the possibility that you will die you are instantly pulled into a 'second level' consciousness where all the stuff of daily life doesn't mean anything.

You look at your family, your friends, and your faith (if you have it) - that's it. In fact, I'll bet most folks who face this will gain an understanding of faith. You've heard the old saying 'there are no athiests in foxholes?" Well guess what, there aren't any at the receiving end of a chemotherapy drug line, either.

All the trappings of the 'stuff' go away, and you realize that we are all running to the 'next thing' to avoid thinking about the 'bigger picture'. Don't get me wrong, aspiring for success in life, careers, finances, and in your recreational activities is awesome - but I can really see how many people are unfulfilled and trying to give a meaning to their life based on stuff, substances, and power. I've been given the gift of an 'early sneak peak' of the one thing we can't run from - death. Facing the possibility of the 'd' word and being given the chance to return to a 'second half' (reference my earlier Hoosiers posting) is life changing.

I now believe that the secret of life is stamping your ticket, hopping onto Mr. Toad's little car, and following the tracks through the ups, downs, twists, and turns. While you're on the ride, you're supposed to savor the gift of every minute you have, cherish the people who cross your path, be honest in your relationships, and be true to your faith.

When I think about the past year, from last Thanksgiving in Breckenridge with Amanda and my folks, to this upcoming Thanksgiving here in Denver with both of our parents, I think about the hundreds of amazing people in my life - both old relationships and new - who've been instrumental in helping me stay focused on the task of defeating Lymphoma. Some of these awesome people include:

  • Dr Philippon - the world renowned hip surgeon who discovered my tumor and delivered the cancer news with compassion & care.

  • Terri - Dr. P's assistant who helped us get additional tests in Vail and arrange all of the appointments at Massachusetts General

  • Rev's Dent, Slejko, and Marshall - The clergy at Trinity Methodist in Denver who went out of their way to show both of us kindness and support during my treatments.

  • My new blogger friends - This blog has connected me to people all over the world who have been touched by this disease. They have inspired and humbled me, as I realize many of them are not as fortunate as I, and are at a more advanced stage of the disease - you all have been amazing.

  • My old friends - phone calls and messages from Craig, Josh, Urb, Dave, Ben, Jeff, Tim, Nathan, Nicky, Kootch, Mike, Keith, Cindy, Barb, Bob, Kathy, Nancy, Tag & Jan, and hundreds of others have been overwhelming - all of you have made me appreciate our experiences together, and gave me the will to fight this off

  • Family - can't say enough - Amanda, my parents, Siblings, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, In-laws, words can't express it, so I won't even try.
I've mentioned to many of you that a second version of my 'cancer soundtrack' is coming out to celebrate my apparent recovery. Instead of rolling it out all at once, I'm going to sprinkle the next volume of CCSI tunes over the next several posts - the first song on Volume II is a good 'syllabus' of what I've learned over the past year - how I've given out love in the past, and that "measure of my life" came back 10-fold in loving support from all of you during my treatment and recovery. The song is "Seasons of Love" from the 90's broadway musical "Rent."

I know that many of you reading this blog may have trouble getting past the subject matter of the show - there's all sorts of drug abuse, bohemian artists, alternative lifestyles, various people hooking up - it's pretty much a Jerry Springer artistic free for all - but the core message resonates with the lessons I've been able to learn over the past year. Check out some of the lyrics from this song, and then listen to the whole tune on the video below - it's impressive.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife

In five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love? How about love?
How about love? Measure in love.

So take a look in the mirror and ask yourself - "if my doctor told me tomorrow that there was a 50/50 chance I might die - what would I change?"

And then go do it- NOW. You never know what the next year will bring.

Carpe Diem.
p.s. Don't worry, I'm not getting all "new age hippy introspective" on all of you - I'm still the same old politically incorrect person you've always known, with a bit of a 'new dose of reality' thrown in.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tuesday, November 3rd: Goodbye, third nipple, goodbye!

It's been a few weeks since I posted for all of you, and a lot has been going on as I've entered my new "thermonuclear phase" of treatments for my Lymphoma - daily treatments at the Radiation Oncology department.

The week after my last post was a monumental phase in my treatment - the removal of my "power port" injection apparatus/site - a.k.a. 'THE THIRD NIPPLE". Nothing like a little outpatient surgical action courtesy of your friends at Presbyterian/St Luke's Medical Center in sunny Denver, Colorado. I'll take the name of this hospital as a good omen, since I married a Presbyterian and am the son of a Catholic - even though I'm now on Team Methodist, the folks at P/SL are 'my peeps'.

It was a great step of progress - the removal of the port from my right chest. No longer will a third nipple be portruding from my right chest - the little three tipped (yes three) bump in my skin is now replaced with a Vietnamesque incision scar where they removed it. In the future, when the incision site heals, I've worked off my "chemo fat", am at the pool -I can tell people I got this 1" long scar "looking for Osama". After all, isn't the terrain of Afghanistan & Pakistan a lot like Colorado?

Back on subject - the port removal went well - I had forgotten how cool the nursing staff was in this area of the hospital. It was nothing but jokes all around. When I had the port put in, I was under some serious painkillers and minor anesthesia drugs, so the most I can remember from last time is laughing like crazy while they strapped me down and put it in there ( the port installation - get your minds out of the gutter!). Since I was only under a local this time, I could truly appreciate the humor of the nursing team. I wish I remembered their names - they all get a big 'thanks' for making another medical procedure in this journey reasonably pleasant. The worst part of the whole thing was when I heard a crunching sound - the doctor explained that my body had formed scar tissue around the port, and he was cutting through this 'shield' to be able to remove the device.


In other news, I've made it through 13 radiation treatments at the Cancer Center - so far no adverse visible effects - that is, if you don't count the daily blast of radioactivity 1000 times more powerful than a common X-ray. No sunburn, no chafing, and my 'boys' haven't fallen off due to their proximity to the beam. It's actually been pretty pleasant - the two techs who run the machine (Kierstan and Vivian) are pretty cool. It's pretty much a laugh fest in there all the time - we've been discussing the benefits of the show "Family Guy" and got a good chuckle out of my recently mailed gift from our good friend Craig in Columbus - the full banana body suit. Yes, folks - when you're beating cancer it's ALWAYS "Peanut Butter Jelly Time."

I am now the proud owner of a full-body banana costume. I'll wait to post pics until I can get the Slanket AND rasta hat on at the same time.

So what's the moral of this post? There is none. Do me a favor, savor every day - you never know when the doctor is going to look at you with sad eyes and serve you up one of life's big sh*t sandwiches.
Carpe diem.

P.S. Who dey! Who dey! Who dey say gonna beat dem Bengals? NOOOOOO-BODY! Let's go boys- beat Baltimore.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Friday, October 16th: Mr Clean Hath Arrived

I am a cancer survivor.

I got the results of my post-chemo PetScan, and it was all smiles from my oncologist, Dr. Ioana Hinshaw. Based on the report, all evidence of increased metabolic activity and malignancy is gone from my body. In a nutshell, I'm as clean as the Bald guy peddling household products from P&G, and with much less muscle tone, actually resemble him. I've earned the right to wear the yellow wrist band, but probably won't (too cliche, although Lance Armstrong's organization rocks).

I start my 3-month checkup cycle with Dr. H and go back to see her in mid-January. Thankfully, the little metal port under my chest gets removed next week - so no more wierd itchy third nipple that shows through my shirts. Don't get me wrong, having an artificial third nipple isn't all that bad, but the removal of this device is another signal to cancer that I kicked its' ass. If only it was a status symbol - then I'd keep it.

All isn't done with my treatments, as I started radiation on Thursday. Why do this, you ask? It's a precautionary measure to eliminate any microscopic cell clusters in my pelvic bones that may still be active. In a nutshell, they're nuking the sh*t out of the area to get the little purple invader out of there.

The way it works is that every day during the work week (3:15 pm ) I get to go to the cancer center at Pres/St Lukes and sit under a large star trek looking machine with my pants off (sorry about the imagery), my package pulled aside(via towel) by the friendly (and funny) technicians, and get a dose of radiation for 5-6 seconds 1000 times more powerful than an X-ray on the tumor site in my hip. The area of the 'beam' is about as big as your hand - they are bathing the acetabulum (hip joint) and part of the pubic bone (don't laugh) where the tumor used to be with 'golden rays of sunshine' (a.k.a. radiation). I'll have a total of 25 treatments. It's amazing how precise and accurate they are -there are some cool Star Trek lasers off the wall that line up with the tattoos on my hips, and then they 'click click click' for about 5 seconds and- voila! - back to the office!

I'm being told that at treatment 15 or so I'll get to have a little sunburn on the site. That's OK, as long as the little sumbitches are nuked right out of there. Nothing that a little aloe and talcum powder can't cure. My Radiation Oncologist, Dr. Daniel Chin, tells me that I've got a 10% chance that I might get another tumor in 15-20 years at the treatment site - I'll take that risk. After all, I only had a bit over 50% chance I was going to beat this, so 10% is nothing. The hope is that as I get re-activated with my cycling I'll be able to sense if something goes wrong early enough in the future to catch it.

The machine they put me under looks like this picture above - but the room isn't all tricked out this way with the man-cave wood paneling and beautiful sky ceiling. They did take out a couple of the 2x4 ceiling panels at the Cancer Center, and replaced them with some sky pics with fighter jets flying by. I'm not sure about the military theme - maybe its a subliminal way to tell your body thay they are nuking the sh*t out of you, just like these jets could launch a small radioactive device and wipe out some middle eastern village.

But I really have no control, so I'll just take every extra day I can take and live it to the max - risk of cancer recurrence be damned. I've got too much life to live to worry about this.

Carpe diem.

p.s. Happy Birthday Mom!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday, October 12th: Should you really give a rat's ass about 2012?

You've seen it in the movie theater previews, and you've read about it through the freakazoid paranoid psychotics on the internet - December of 2012 is when the Mayans say the world is going to end - Doomsday, Baby


This has a strange similarity to Hale-Bopp(remember the Nike shoes?), Y2K, Obama's election, Dubya's election, Oral Roberts' "Jesus will take me home" fundraising campaign....- you get the drift. It seems that the Human species is always figuring out ways to freak itself out over the 'imminent end' of the planet, despite the fact that we've either been here for
1) a couple million years+/- (evolutionist camp)
2) 7,000 years+/- (creationist camp)

Either way, it seems a bit silly that we're freaking out about something that's a couple of years away, when we could be living our lives to the fullest, now - doesn't it? Don't get me wrong, I know it's important to get all lathered up over the future, our country, world, etc - but people, let me tell you something important - now, listen....ready?

It doesn't matter.

I had a great conversation the other night with my good friend Eric who just successfully kicked cancer's ass - for the second time. We were talking about this subject, and how everyone gets wrapped up in the minutia of life & politics. He summed it up in one sentence "Bill, none of this shit really matters." I've thought about what he said - and he's right.

The beautiful thing about having a life-threatening illness is the perspective that it brings. As I've sat in countless bland doctor's offices, been laying half-naked in a hospital gowns inside large machines making strange noises I've been able to mull over the details of life, the people and relationships in my life, and for the first time really 'observe' what is going on around my world - both in the present and recollections of the past.

I know that I've occasionally taken the sarcastic approach in this blog and called people 'douchebags' and ranted a bit, but you know what I've discovered through all of this? I've discovered that many people are focused too much on power, position, money, and being 'important'. I think about folks I encounter in my life now and in the past and it's like the fog has been lifted to where I can truly see their priorities. I am saddened by how many folks seem to be aimlessly trekking through life, wasting away their time in the pursuit of stuff - and not in the pursue of integrity & soul. Whether that 'stuff' is a fancy car, lots of money, the right house, the right 'school', or the right 'look' - it's all immaterial when a doctor looks at you and says "I'm sorry, but you have cancer."

I'm not going to hint remotely at anyone in particular - that isn't fair, and I have no right to judge. But let me tell you, when you have to think about the possibility of a premature death due to illness it really "clears your mental sinuses" and lets you know what's important. This illness has been a beautiful thing - I know, you're saying "Bill, you're beating it, and that's why you can take this positive approach.". You may be right, and I might not be saying these kind of things if I was dying. But it's not my time to go yet, so I have to assume that the pain, suffering, confusion, anguish, and hardships of the past 5 months are intended to push me down a particular path in the 'second half' of my life (see my Hoosiers entry in the blog.)

So, I've established that too many people are pursuing stuff rather than integrity & soul. So what does this have to do with the end of the world according to the Mayan Calendar? First of all, have we really established December 2012 as the end of the world, just because an extinct Central American culture, as my friend Craig puts it, "ran out of paper for their calendar?" For all we know, carving all those pictures in stone gave all the calendar writers carpal tunnel and they finally said 'screw it - that's far enough ahead." Or who knows, maybe the head calendar writing guy got sacrified because he lost one of those wierd life-or-death Mayan ball court games they talk about on the Discovery Channel:

While it looks like this doomsday scenario is going to make a mean movie, I really think everyone should just calm down and smell the roses. Do you know the best thing you can do to alleviate your fear of the future? Life your damn life, and make a difference in the lives of others. Making a difference doesn't mean running around telling everyone through your facebook or linkedin account that you worked for charity, or raised money, or went to a 'charity benefit' with your picture on the social pages - don't get me wrong, these aren't bad, but go and do something that isn't public. Volunteer at a Rescue Mission, use your professional 'capital' to help a friend find a new job 'behind the scenes', spend some in-depth time with someone who isn't going to give you a big fat contract or advance you in business - just enjoy their humanity and learn from their life experience.

Enjoy your time, and don't worry about the future or if you're gonna die in a big-assed comet explosion in 2012. For the few months before my diagnosis and chemo, I experienced the pain of a cancerous tumor eating away at my pelvis - I'd much rather die in an instantaneous explosion than have to die a slow painful death from this disease. Those of you who've seen someone die of cancer or suffer through this disease understand what I'm talking about.

I'll take the Mayan solution in a heartbeat, if it means I have a couple of more awesome years enjoying life, drinking some wine, climbing a mountain or two, and enjoying the company of family & friends. There is a saying attributed to John Wesley, an 18th century priest in the Church of England who founded the Methodist Church, which I think summarizes what constitutes a good use of our time on earth:

"Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.”

So get off your ass, and go make a difference. And please, make sure you're not being a douchebag while you're at it.

Carpe diem.

p.s. My cancer diagnosis and treatment cost has now exceeded $188,000. Booyah!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sunday, September 27th: My own version of the 'Milan Miracle'

Remember this classic story of a man who gets a second chance in his life, and the resulting 'second half' of his life story is possibly one of the greatest tales in all of modern sport?

That's right, Gene Hackman starring in "Hoosiers", which is considered one of the greatest sports cinema flicks of all time. And to top it all off, it's based on the true story of the "Milan Miracle" - the 1954 Indiana State High School basketball championship where tiny Milan defeated Muncie Central in one of the greatest basketball games ever played. As a small town Ohio boy who grew up in a similar community (which had a couple of runs at the Ohio Championship and finally won - Go Scots!), I could relate to the emotions and passions that this movie so eloquently portrays. Even though this movie is now 23 years old - I get goosebumps every time I watch it.

Now, granted the movie takes some liberties with the original story (the coach in real life really didn't have a questionable past like Gene Hackman's character), but still the parallels to my recent experience trend together. You see, when I returned from Boston, just a day or two after learning my cancer was not only in my hip but up in my chest and possibly in my skull, it was a pretty down time - the lowest of my life. Yes, I kept an optimistic persona about me to friends, co-workers, and family, but I knew deep inside that I was forever changed, and there was a possibility my odds weren't going to be so good. I even spent some time crying - a lot. Looking at the possibility of my end was frightening, and angering - because I love life, and for it to end before I was ready to end it on my terms gave me the feeling that I was in the midst of a true "David vs. Goliath" Story.

Most of you know I married into an Evansville, Indiana family with some history of basketball - between my Father-in-law as a former HS player and HS coach, with his brothers playing at the HS level, as well as a brother-in-law who was a heck of a 3 point shooter when in HS, coupled with their universal love of Bobby Knight and all things IU - you get the picture. On top of that, during my attendance at the "Harvard of the Midwest" a.k.a. "Testicle Tech" (that's Ball State to the rest of you) my alma mater had some good teams which whipped me into a full appreciation of Indiana basketball fever. Also, as I mentioned above, my small town in Ohio was the Buckeye version of this hysteria - so basketball references and allegories run strong in these veins. So how does this tie this back to my cancer experience (this is a cancer blog, right?) In basketball terms, when I returned from Boston with my uncertain future I got pulled into the locker room at "halftime" of my life (37 years) and got kicked in the unmentionables by cancer - hard. So hard that there was a 43% (ish) possibility that my chemotherapy wouldn't work and I'd be looking at not making the second half starting team.

So, there I am, first week in June, traveling to Lutheran Hospital in Denver to get a PetScan to see the extent of my cancer and just how bad it was. All the tests in Boston were not 100 percent confirmed, as this was the one final step in the diagnosis journey which would let my team of oncologists in Denver know what to do next, and what the options were. I knew this was the big test, and was scared beyond your wildest dreams.

I go in, and get injected with some radioactive dye which will pulse through my systems and show exactly what areas were affected and cancerous. After the injection, they have me go to a small room and wait for an hour while the dye pulses through my body. The room is dark, soundproof, has a large comfy leather recliner with a warm blanket, and a big flat screen TV with a remote. There were some movies there, and you know the first one I laid my eyes on? You guessed it - Hoosiers. There I am, in the biggest fight of my life, and the story of one of the greatest underdog stories is there to see. So I plugged it in, fast forwarded to the last hour (I've seen it at least 20 times already) and cried my eyes out at the end when they won.
Fast forward 3 1/2 months.....As I now enter a 3 week recovery from chemo, and prepare for my next PetScan on October 12th pre-radiation, I feel like it's all been a dream - an emotional, inspiring, harrowing, uplifting, and glorious dream.
So here I am, ready to go out on the floor for the second half of my treatment regimen at the hand of a little bit of radiation (daily for many weeks). I'm gonna defeat this Goliath, kick the b*tch in the nuts, and get on with the second half of life for my friends, my family, and my beloved Amanda.

Gene summed it up best at the end of this clip......

"I love you guys." Every last damn one of you.
Carpe diem.
p.s. For those of you who want to watch the 'original' Milan Miracle, here's a link from the IHSAA's website to the last few minutes of the Milan Indians vs. the Muncie Central Bearcats in 1954:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday, September 19th: Do*chebags to the left of me, do*chebags to the right of me......

From our friends at the Wikipedia:

"Douchebag, or simply douche, is considered to be a pejorative term in North America, the United Kingdom and some other English speaking countries. In some English speaking countries the term is not well known. The slang usage of the term dates back to the 1960s. The term implies a variety of negative qualities, specifically arrogance and engaging in obnoxious and/or irritating actions without malicious intent. It is generally used for males only."

Don't you just love the internet? Where else could you get a definition for the do*chebag insult composed in such a manner that you could read it aloud in a High School english class? For my fellow Fighting Scot alums, just imagine this being read aloud in Mrs. Rhoads' class.

Through a series of events and emails, I've decided to take a markedly different approach to this version of the CCSI blog, focusing on the increasing number of annoying humans who are using valuable oxygen on this planet, and really aren't giving much benefit in return. As you recall from a few blog entries back, I feel that I've earned the perspective of life and the right to 'call it like I see it' and quit sugar coating exactly how I feel. So, in the spirit of my fellow moronic annoying humans, I'm calling out some of our fellow homosapiens on their true identities as do*chebags - so here they are:

Dude at Sam's #3 Diner who knocked out my crutch:

  • This week I had a business 'power breakfast' at downtown Denver's favorite diner, and was waiting for the other folks in the empty waiting area when this older guy (I'd say mid to late 50's) walks in after me, obviously looking for someone else. He was wearing a very expensive looking suit, and had a large bundle of legal files in his hand. Oh, and he had a 'fading-fast' combover to top the combo. So I'm standing there to the side by the cash register, leaning on my one crutch, and you know what this guy does? He freaking runs right into my crutch, knocks it aside, and just keeps walking. OK, you say, no big deal, right? I'm pretty tolerant and all, but this idiot just keeps walking through and doesn't even apologize, since whatever he's doing is much more important than the common courtesy his momma taught him as a kid. You know what I said? "Asshole", and with some volume as well. The counter lady with the big white fro got a good chuckle out of it. My only consolation is that I'm 100% sure that even as a pasty bald man I'm better looking than this idiot, who actually looked alot like this random internet photo you see to the right. DO*CHEBAG FACTOR: MODERATE. 80%

Governor Mark Sanford, South Carolina:

  • As a moderate/centrist leaning Republican (I'm one of the three left in the party) I've been pretty all-around disappointed with my party, and how they've taken some of the more moderate members (a.k.a. John McCain) and torqued them into southern-pleasing righties with no common sense as of late. So, you can only imagine my disgust when "Mr. family values" Sanford decides to go off and hike his own version of a Mountain Argentina. Seriously dude, what the !$#% is wrong with you? He has an intelligent, good looking wife, kids who aren't stupid, and a great job running one of the most bass-akwards states in the US, and he decides to take a mistress - IN SOUTH AMERICA? Come on man, you could have at least followed in the footsteps of your buddy up in New York and stayed closer to home. There are people who (illegally) provide those services for a nominal fee, Guv. DO*CHEBAG FACTOR: VERY HIGH. 95% (maybe his wife is mean, who knows? I'll give him 5% extra wiggle room on the d-bag scale)

Michael Jordan, Basketball HOF inductee
  • We all know MJ was probably the greatest basketball player of all time. I know it, you know it, God knows it, heck - I'll bet space aliens even know it. So it wasn't much of a surprise to any human when MJ was inducted into the Basketball HOF in Springfield Massachusetts (my Dad's hometown, by the way) this month. Other members of the class included David Robinson, Jerry Sloan, and Vivian Stringer - all of whom are class acts in their own right. So, when the king of basketball walks to the podium how do you think he accepts his honor? By making fun of others, and taking pot-shots at other players some 10-20 years after the 'incidents' occured on the basketball floor. Then, to top it all, he jokingly threatens everyone that he's going to play b/ball again at age 50? Really Mike? I'd LOVE to see your flabbly middle-aged *ss on the court for some one-on-one with LeBron James. Heck, I'd even put money that the King would wipe your smart-mouthed arrogant HUGE melon-headed self all the way back to the Tar Heel State. How disappointing, to have confirmed in front of the world that you're nothing but a bitter has-been. David Robinson and the others were ALL CLASS and deserved their honor. You're going to go down as a whiner. DO*CHEBAG FACTOR: MODERATE. 89%

Kanye West, self proclaimed King of Music and Judger of All
  • To think, I was getting ready to buy some of his music, and "Mr Cool" decides to embarrass a beloved teeny-bopper idol on national television. Believe me, I've heard both Taylor Swift's music and Beyonce's music and don't disagree that Beyonce probably has more talent and innovation in her right thumb than Ms. Swift does in her whole body - but seriously dude, who made you the music judge of the universe? The man has hundreds of millions, probably has all the immoral pleasures of Caligula at his beck and call, is considered one of the top music talents of a generation, and he has to go and get all 'critic righteous' on us? So, Beyonce didn't get an award - I'll bet she didn't really care - so Kanye, go find something to rap about and drop it, will you? DO*CHEBAG RATING: VERY HIGH. 97% Way to silence the moron, Jay Leno.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House.
  • I tried as much as possible to limit this list to men only, but every action, word, and deed of this elected official who is third-in-line to the Presidency might as well be as annoying as running fingers down a chalk board. All of my PC friends may be offended that I put Rep. Pelosi on this list, but seriously folks, this woman is JUST AS BAD as Rush Limbaugh and will single handedly be responsible for the loss of one (or two) houses of Congress by the Democrats in the next election. Just about every Independent, Moderate, or Republican I know who voted for President Obama is annoyed by or detests her efforts, and her unwaivering commitment to partisanship. Seriously Ms. Pelosi, turn it down a notch - you need to turn down the San Francisco and turn up the Midwest. Let's just hope that the President can calm her down and let her know that she DOESN'T run the country before she makes the last 1/2 of his term nothing more than pure gridlock. Take a lesson from the late Sen. Kennedy, Speaker Pelosi and learn to reach across the aisle, regardless of how stupid it may seem over there. DO*CHEBAG RATING: MODERATELY HIGH. 91%
Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina
  • OK, this was easy, but come on man - you don't yell at the president and call him a "liar". EVERYONE in that joint session of Congress was a liar. You may not like his politics, many of you know I didn't vote for the President (I confess that I voted for the ORIGINAL John McCain, not the re-doctored version they tweaked for the campaign), but I still think Mr Obama is a family guy and a good man. Heck, compared to Mr. Sanford up above Obama's a freaking saint. So Mr. Wilson, I hope to heck you get your sorry *ss voted out of Congress to prove a point that CIVILITY IN PUBLIC DISCOURSE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PARTISAN RANCOR. It's about damn time that people on BOTH sides of the aisle quit yelling at each other that their ideas are '100% correct' and everyone else is wrong. If you're 100 percent sure that your ideas are perfect, than how come you're not in charge? If you think you're perfect, then guess what - you're probably not. After all, if I was perfect, my face would be in stained glass, on buildings, and in books all over the world. "Bakerism" as the 5th major world religion has a nice ring, doesn't it? So Rep Wilson, get a life and shut your pie hole - maybe you and Pelosi could take a long trip to a foreign country and NOT come back. DO*CHEBAG RATING: HIGH. 96%
So, I hope you weren't offended, O readers of the blog. But if you were - tough. Get over yourself, and go buy a snow cone. None of us or our ideas are really that important in the grand scheme of things. The snow cone will be good for you, I swear.

Oh, and by the way - watch out behind you, the do*chebags are everywhere....
Carpe diem.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday, September 11th: Slanket me this, Slanket me that

Bet you wish you could have this, don't you? Well, thanks to the coolness of my cousin Steve and his wife Jen (and the kids) I now am a proud owner of the jungle-pattern slanket for my own use. Originally, when I called Steve to thank them for the gift, he wanted me to post a pic of myself wearing the slanket and my fake dreadlocks hat (thanks Philby). But, after further analysis of the potential future damage to my reputation via electronic images on the internet, I will at this point waive my right to the slanket/dreadlocks picture and just let all of your imaginations run wild with the image of this pasty irish/french canadian white boy looking like a complete jackass. To further enhance your verbal imagery, here is a pic of the rasta-hat that I received from our friend Phil in the "Fairmont Methodist" care package our friends in Raleigh sent to me when I started the fight with cancer.
Don't worry, I'm not nearly in as good a shape as this guy, as my inability to work out during treatments, coupled with the wonderful cocktail of pseudo-toxic drugs have turned me to a flabby boy. Enjoy THAT image sports fans. Once I get back on the bike (beyond my current incremental 1 minute a day increase) I'll attempt to get into reasonable shape again.
So, Bill - what does the slanket and a fake rasta hat have to do with cancer? Funny you should ask, but it's a good reminder for me of the importance of small gestures by others and how they can really make your day.
Whether a gift in the mail, a card, an email, a phone call, or a visit to 'check in' - lots of small showings of kindness by hundreds of you have really been what has brought me to the place I am now. This is a place, I firmly believe, where I am on the cusp of eradicating this DNA mutation from my body for good. If you don't believe me, just ask my Oncologist, Dr. Hinshaw.
When we first started meeting and going into treatment this Romanian doctor (I only use her ethnicity to give you a stereo typical image of how her initial bedside manner may have been-sorry all of my PC friends) it was 'all business' and not a lot of smiles. She was very matter of fact when she first told me that based upon statistics there was only a 54% chance that my cancer would respond to chemo, based on its advanced (Stage 4) progression. But once she got back from her vacation (after my PetScan results in July) and saw the results, her smiles and demeanor have taken a markedly more positive direction. When we meet now, she's pretty happy, joking, and very positive about everything.
As more than one medical professional (and spiritual clubhouse leader) has said to me "attitude is everything". Thanks to all of you, I'm on the mend and will soon be back in the thick of life, taking each day by storm. Little things have mattered, like my parents stopping in each week to 'check in' and help us keep up on the housework, the encouragement cards I receive from my Aunt & Uncle in Dayton and Tom & Jill Grubb after each round of chemo, like the week-long visit from our friend Craig in Ohio just to 'check in' and make sure we're OK, the visit this weekend from our friends Mike & Lisa from Texas, the HUGE stack of get well cards and emails, the phone calls from dozens of friends I haven't talked to in over a decade, the celebratory cigar pictures from my boys at Tiger Team 2, and the calls & emails from clients, past & present, hoping I'm doing well. Heck, we even got a gift box that contained sweet-pea crisps from our friends the Waggoners in Raleigh - how awesome is that!
I didn't try one, Amanda did, she says it was the texture of a 'Funion', but not very good. Sorry sweet pea crisp company, hopefully the recession is eradicating you and your product from the face of the earth.
So, with the power of Slanket - I say "thank you" to all of you out there. Your love and kindness has been appreciated and received, I only hope that my 'gift' of additional time in life will be spent repaying your kindness.
Carpe diem.
  • P.S. "Cost of Cancer Update" - As of August 20th, the full cost of my treatment & diagnosis for Diffuse Large B-Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma is tallied at $144,899.90. I think I'm worth it - don't you?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wednesday, September 2: The power of pity....

Ever been given the pity look? It's one of the strangest things about having Cancer - tons of pity from just about everyone you meet who finds out about your disease. Looking back, I'm sure I did the same thing to folks who I met who told me they had Cancer. You try your best, but sometimes it's unavoidable.

I want to take this chance to give props to all of my co-workers at BurkettDesign, who have managed to hide any internal 'pity' they have - everyone at the office has been awesome, and is treating me just the same as before. That is, except everyone holds doors open for me when I travel across the hall or to the can. That's actually been a nice perk. Thanks guys - it means a lot to me to have one part of my life where I feel like things haven't changed.
But from time to time, pity look does have some advantages. Take getting a seat in a restaurant......

A couple of weeks back, our friend Craig came to visit from Ohio and we went down to Capitol Hill in Denver to Steubens, a pretty popular dinner place on 17th Avenue ( When I called ahead, there was a 1 hour wait to get a seat. We got there a few minutes later. Craig was going to put our name in to get a table, and I had a 'eureka' moment and waived him off, and went through the crowd in my dual-crutch baldheadedness to the hostess and put our name in for a table. Before you know it - BAM. We're sitting on the prime outdoor seating spot on the Avenue. Thank you sickly cancer look.

And I didn't even have to tell her I was sick - the crutches give me that extra unspoken 'edge'. Bald middle aged white guy, do the math. When I get done with this disease, ditch the crutches, and have hair again I'm gonna have to hire Mr. T to force the pity on others....I pity the fool who messes with B.A. Baracus under my employ.
Lately in my professional world I've been meeting some new clients and people who didn't know me with hair and sans crutches. It's pretty interesting to see how people react. Typically, if it's the first time I've met them and they ask what's up with my hip (they think I'm just a sexy-bald dude, and don't know me w/hair) I'll say that I've got a mountain biking injury - torn labrum. Since we're in Denver, that excuse is pretty much par for the course. There have got to be more back and sports med doctors here per capita than anywhere in the US. After a couple of meetings and there is a comfort level, I'll let them know the 'full' extent of my issues. They've all been pretty cool, as well.
But sometimes, if I'm in a non-professional situation or feeling a bit ornery I'll just tell someone who asks the 100% Gods-honest truth. It's interesting to see people's reactions if I get on an elevator and someone asks. Here's a typical situation I've experienced several times in the elevators downtown at the office or in the parking garage:
  • Elevator opens
  • The people inside move out of my way like Moses parting the Red Sea.
  • I smile, make eye contact (I most always do-if any of my new elevator mates are murderers they'll take pity on me).
  • Door closes, begin our ascent/descent.
  • Someone asks "oh, what's happened to your leg?".
  • "Cancer" I add.
  • Cricket-laden silence.
  • Nervous twitching by those who are thinking "sh*t, get me out of here"
  • "Uh....oh.....I'm so sorry." answers the nice lady (99% of the time the questioner is female)
  • "No worries, I'm making it my bitch." (OK, I say some other disarming quote, but I AM going to do it one of these days."
  • Chuckles. Visible expressions of relief by my new friends.
  • One of the guys will give me a pat on the back and say "keep it up" or "good job". Seriously, it's happened.

Don't get me wrong, I have no animosity towards anyone who asks, appears uncomfortable, gives me an expression of pity, or visually shows any other awkwardness. It's really OK - I'm cool with it. I'm sure I've had the same reaction towards someone with an obvious disease or condition in my life. We all fall short, you know.

The reality of having a potentially (but not in MY case) terminal illness really is a great way to not sweat the little stuff - and your tolerance for awkward behavior or being offended goes WAY up. I'm generally happy for human interaction, with little expectations.

What's the moral of this posting? If you, a friend, or a loved one gets Cancer or another serious/terminal illness just go ahead and treat them like a normal human- it means a LOT to them, trust me. I now have a window into the 'other side' of the world, and have a new found appreciation for those who aren't part of the 'normal' crowd.


  • Tomorrow is 'Make cancer my bitch Thursday' round #5. Should be done by 4 pm Mountain - send a good word to the man upstairs, or enlist your clubhouse to put in a good word on my behalf.

Carpe diem.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Friday, August 28th: The mystery of Quaker Oats & Farts

It's the end of a glorious week here in the Mile High City, and as I sit here in the study on a late night listening to the coyotes howl outside our house (seriously, they are right down the block carrying on like it's mating season) - I'm thinking it's time to talk about some digestive destruction at the hand of the chemotherapy regimen, and a little high-elevation phenomenon that can make one embarrassed and laugh all in the same moment.

It's been the standard post-chemo reactions since my last posting right after treatment #4. Days 4, 5, & 6 "post-chemo" are the 'crash days' when my white blood cell count drops to about 10% of normal levels. It's a strange feeling, as I finish my steroid intake on the Monday after treatment, I descend into this wierd world of hazy exhaustion.

Many folks have asked me 'what does it feel like after chemo?" Here's the best description I can muster - I'm a 'stomach sleeper' and usually wake up face down spread eagle in the morning, so on days 5 &6 when I wake up my body feels as if a mack truck has hit it. In a nutshell, I feel such a mind-numbing exhaustion that all my limbs and body can barely move - even my fingers are tired. That's the only way I can properly sum up the experience is that the little digits are actually so tired it's tough to move them. So, Bill - how in the hell do you manage to get up and go to work that week? Only by the power of Quaker Oats do I manage to drag out of bed and get downtown.
Before I continue, I want you to know that we have some dear family friends who are members of the Society of Friends. While endorsing the consumption of "Quaker" oats as a food product I do not endorse the characterization of those who are members of this religious sect as all being pasty, slightly chubby, colonial-looking white men in funny hats with white scarves around their neck. Ok, now my PC statement is done and we can continue....
I used to make oatmeal before long bike rides or Morgan's triathlon days in Cincy, and EVERY TIME it prevented the dreaded 'bonk' that would plague me from time to time when riding with friends. Amanda started making oatmeal for me when this chemo treatment started, and let me tell you I can absolutely tell you it works. A little bowl of the slimy snot-like concoction and I can make it through the morning. I'm still a bit tired, but it helps get me to work-readiness and cope with the day. As the post-chemo week ends, my energy level recovers and I don't really need the morning snot-like food regimen, and can go back to regular cereal & fruit. Then, I get about 2 weeks of 'good energy' before going in for round #5, which happens next Thursday.

The chemo drugs basically go after all fast-growing cells in the body, of which Cancer is the 'first string'. But, there are also 'second' and 'third' team cells which get their asses kicked by the chemo drugs including, but not limited to, hair cells (hence the baldness and random manscaping) and digestive tract cells (esophagus, stomach, mouth/tongue cells). So in addition to having random baldness throughout the body (not just the head - sorry for the inferred details), the digestive tract is generally whacked out all through the process. Typically, most chemo patients throw up for a day or so after the treatments, but I've been lucky in that it hasn't happened yet (knock on wood). Also, you can get mouth sores (another wood knock), and generally have digestive wackiness (hence Miralax blessings). I've always got some sort of indigestion, my food can taste like metal, my taste/likes of food changes all the times (don't even let me smell an egg right now - blech!),but the most humorous thing is the incredible amount of gas production that is happening down there.

When we used to visit Colorado, I almost always passed gas like a madman out here. I'd heard that some 'flatlanders' (those of you down at sea level) could experience this phenomenon when coming up to elevation. It happened again when we moved out here, but had settled down as our bodies adjusted to higher elevation. One of my good friends since childhood, Craig Clark, came out for this past week to visit us from Ohio, and during a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park last week he coined the phrase "HAF" to describe the incredible amount of methane being produced in my Jeep by the two of us while on Trail Ridge Road at 11,000+ feet. What does this stand for, you ask? "HIGH ALTITUDE FART". Let me assure you, between my chemo belly and his flatlander body we could have bottled volumes of the stuff to serve as a 'green' power source. I felt like a renewable energy power plant up there, but unfortunately for my poor, poor, wife Craig's HAFs have stopped, but my chemo-inspired HAFs continue. Here's hoping for the sake of my wife and dogs that the HAFs stop when chemo is completed and the drugs are out of my system come mid-October.

  • My old friend Megan back in Ohio has enlisted her sister onto Team Baker. Here's giving props to Kailey and her friends on TEAM BUDDHIST who are on board the bus. Spin a prayer wheel and chant a bit for me Kailey - welcome.

  • I heard through the grapevine at my in-laws that some close Fritz family friends on the UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST team are in our camp as well. For those of you who don't know, that's one of those MethodPresbyLutherPalianesque groups.

  • I had an appointment this week with Dr. Ross Wilkins, my orthopedic oncologist at Presbyterian/St Lukes Hospital in Denver. They took some X-rays and - yep - there's more bone a-growin' where the tumor holes in my pelvis were. I'm down to one crutch, and have been given clearance to start doing stationary bike, elliptical trainer, and swimming at the YMCA. I'm hoping to get my first workout in about 5 months in this weekend downtown - whew! I've been going stir crazy.
  • Many of you knew that I was a possible candidate for Proton radiation therapy at Massachusetts General (one of five in the USA), and had been weighing this option versus staying here in Denver for conventional Photon radiation. We had a consultation with the Radiation Oncologist at MassGen this week, Dr. Evelyn Chen, and after reviewing my test results from the start of chemo through the PetScans after round 2, I'm no longer a candidate for Proton since I've responded so well. So, I'm staying in Denver and should start the radiation in the 3rd or 4th week of October. I'm relieved in that I'll be here at home, and also able to continue to work. While five weeks in Boston would have been great, I would have been pretty bored after a while.


There it is - stay cool, and thanks again everyone for your continued cards, letters, emails, notes, and phone calls - keep them coming.

Carpe Diem.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday, August 16th: The Cancer Soundtrack - a no Bette Midler zone

As you know, I love music - all of it. I've been thinking about my Cancer Soundtrack for a while, reviewing my own tunes, the CD's many of you have made for me, and other tunage on the radio. While this isn't an exclusive list, it's a good sampling of the journey thus far - I hope to compile a "Part Deux" once I finish kicking the big Purple Pansy *ss of Lymphoma - but you'll just have to wait a couple of months for that one...

"Start the Commotion" by Wiseguys. What better way to kick Cancer's ass than to bring it to the game? I used to listen to this on solo bike rides on the Little Miami Trail in Cincy - cranking away miles by the dozen.

"Funky Cold Medina" by Tone Loc. Yeah, I'm whiter than Casper the friendly ghost(especially now) but I went to High School in the late '80's - therefore it's my right to appreciate the pure awesomeness of Tone. Oh yeah, Craig Clark and I broadcast this over the stadium loudspeaker during a track meet at one point and got in trouble. Remember, the Reagan years were all about purity and innocence (ha ha).

"Clocks" by Coldplay. Yeah, I'm whiter than Casper the friendly ghost, but I love the song - gotta go with the gut! Gotta have one top 40ish adult contemporary on here, eh?

"Fanfare for the Common Man" by Aaron Copeland. It's the one classical music song that every one likes - so kick *ass, so inspirational, quintessentially American. It was originally commissioned for the Cincinnati Symphony during WWII to give us all a kick start against the bastard fascists and Nazis. It inpires the humanity of normal folks like me - the common ones.

"I'm Alright" by Kenny Loggins. Not only does the song pick you up, but the images of Bill Murray slurring and the dancing Gopher from Caddyshack can put a smile on your face regardless of how bad your day is - if it made me smile when I was looking at a diagnosis of Cancer, it can make you smile too.

Any song by Mahalia Jackson, period. This woman was the 'high priestess' of gospel music long before Arethra or any of the others. You should really listen to her songs - talk about struggle, pain, and triumph. Considered by many as the most ground breaking, influential, and talented African-American singer of the 20th Century, but she never made much money in the era of Jim Crowe. Too damn bad - pull some songs of hers off of itunes - she is inspirational.

"Pretty Amazing Grace" by Neil Diamond. This gem off of the old man's most recent album is classic - I accidentally discovered the tune, and it was a good pick me up when I was in the 'darkest' times of this cancer journey -the weeks of unsurety between Vail and Boston when I was being poked, prodded, and tested all over the halls of the Massachusetts General complex. It could be a love song, a spiritual hymn - it's up to you.
"One Tree Hill" by U2. Any cancer soundtrack has to have something from Joshua Tree on it, don't you agree? Hey you kids under 30 -you BETTER have Joshua Tree in your Ipod, or ELSE. Seriously, it's an absolute travesty of musicology to not have the best U2 album at your fingertips, and this is my personal favorite on the LP.

"Ohio" by Over the Rhine. This is a beautiful haunting melody about the Buckeye State by the home grown duet of Over the Rhine. While I no longer live within the borders of the Motherland, I'll always be a son of the Land of the Beautiful River in my heart....

Remake of "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Presidents of the United States. This one comes courtesy of DJ Josh Vogel and his Tiger Team 2:2008 "Pass Less, Rush More" Soundtrack. I don't own the POTUS album, but the TT2 albums from our annual boys' trips are precious - especially this one from 2008 in the Black Hills of South Dakota & Wyoming w/mustaches and RV travel.

"Mud Football" by Jack Johnson. Another classic DJ Vogel TT2 soundtrack (2003 "Hit the Mitt" version from Michigan)- an inspiration for the days when I'm off crutches, riding my bike again, and hanging out with friends and family for a nice backyard BBQ.

"Light & Day/Reach for the Sun" by the Polyphonic Spree. The energy of these doo-gooder hippies is awesome, and I have listened to this one over and over while watching those big bags of IV drugs drip into my system. Look at these guys - how can that energy not help pump up your system to kick this Cancer's ass? This picture says a thousand words. Go get the song - you won't regret it, I promise.

Carpe Diem.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009



....spelled out it is "Eighty Two Thousand, Nine Hundred Forty Seven dollars and Ninety cents."
That my friends, is the summary of my "Explanation of Benefits" from Rocky Mountain Health Plans which summarizes the cost of Cancer from May 20th through July 14th. This was the first Fifty Five days of my treatment.

For those of you who are fellow public school graduates and have some trouble with math, the average cost PER DAY for my diagnosis and treatment through mid-July equaled $1,508.14.
And to think, this only covered the first two rounds of Chemotherapy. To put it in perspective, ONE of the five drugs in the "RCHOP" chemotherapy regimen costs $11,000 for an IV bag. Yes, that's eleven grand for one bag full of clear fluid that you could hold in both hands. The day after chemo I get a shot in the back of my arm of a drug called Neulasta which causes my body to produce white blood cells so I don't die from a cold between treatments - wanna guess the cost of that needle? Anyone? Seven thousand eight hundred dollars.

And I haven't even started to guestimate the cost of radiation treatments.
In a nutshell, by the time I get my expected "It's gone for now" talk from my Oncologist around Thanksgiving, this little peckerwood called Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma will cost my insurance company somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000 (USA). And according to the doctors here in Denver and back in Boston, I "got the cancer you want to get." If an "easy" cancer costs the same as a house to treat - what would the costs be if I had Sarcoma, or Leukemia, or had to get a bone marrow transplant? Up to a million bucks. That's $1,000,000 CASH. For us, the good news is that our 'out of pocket' expenses for treatment plus the travel costs to/from Massachusetts General will be around $5,000. I think that's a pretty sweet deal, don't you?

Imagine if I didn't have health insurance - we'd be screwed with the choice of 'live in crushing debt', or 'die.' Now you can see how thankful I am to be employed and to have this health plan. If I became unemployed and lost insurance or Cobra - there is a strong chance I wouldn't be able to get covered, and then couldn't get treatment. Then I'd be dead and you wouldn't have this cool blog to read anymore.

Why am I writing this? Because I'm sure many of you reading this blog may not have health insurance for various reasons (too expensive, unemployed, etc). You may say "I'm not going to get sick" or "I'm too healthy or young to get a life threatening illness". When you think of this, think of your in-shape, excercising, and young friend out here in Denver. I did all the right things, exercised, ate well, limited my substance abuse but for the occasional beer, whiskey, and/or celebratory cigar, and guess what - Cancer found me.

It could find you, too. Or it could be another disease, or an even worse kind of cancer.

So my wisdom for the week is: "DON'T BE AN ASSCLOWN, GET HEALTH INSURANCE".

If you think you can't afford it, stop eating out, don't go to Starbucks, sell a car and drive a beater, stop getting cable or internet, move to a cheaper town or neighborhood - do ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING possible to get the insurance because you'll never know when you need it.

Health insurance is more important than your house, your stuff, your job - in fact it is the most important thing you can provide (besides food and basic shelter) for your clan. Don't take this email as a bitch session about the cost of healthcare - it isn't. They have AMAZING drugs and therapyfor this disease which fifty years ago would have been my death. It is worth every penny. Doctors deserve every cent they get - I don't care if they live in big houses, drive fancy cars, or get to jet around the world. THEY ARE WORTH IT.

So what do I think about this big health care debate in Congress where everyone is getting lathered up about each proposal? Frankly, I'm VERY skeptical of anything Congress proposes, regardless of whether it is by the Democrats, Independents, or even the irresponsible dumbasses of my Party, the Republicans. Take one trip to the DMV in your community(see pic), or be an Architect trying to get a project through Planning/Zoning Departments, and you'll see the incompetence of Government. Frankly, I don't want these people figuring out what's best for my health condition or treatment regimen - they have enough difficulty issuing us plastic cards with our picture on them. Imagine if they would determine how much (or little) treatment you get for a disease based upon their judgement....

But one thing I do know, it's a crime for people to be denied available treatment because they are in a circumstance where they cannot pay - whether it is due to unforeseen circumstances or their irresponsible behavior. We are too rich and successful as a people for this to happen. As a human being I can't stomach this- it's wrong to be knowingly deny coverage to someone who could be helped. Can you believe this, a Libertarianesque-Republican saying this? It must be all those Methodist pies and sermons finally rubbing off on me. So, something has to be done, and everyone - whether rich or poor - is going to have to pay for it. America voted for a 'change' of direction - let's see just how much "change" we as a country are willing to pay for.

Don't forget our Mr. Rogers' lesson of the day: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don't you be an assclown!"

Carpe diem.