Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wednesday, September 8: Open your wallet.

I know it's been a while, as I've got a lot to say. But for now, look at this video and think seriously about supporting this cause. Not for me, but for you, your family, your friends, and your children.

CCSI will be back in the next couple of weeks - the summer has been awesome and I am truly blessed. More to come.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday, May 15th: The beat goes on....

So here I am, within 5 days of the one year anniversary of my diagnosis, writing in the wee hours of the morning in the study. I know I said a post or two back that I'd be more frequent than every 2 months - guess what, it's almost been two months. If you want a regular delivery of news - get a newspaper.

It's been a lovely spring here in Cincinnati, compared to the long cold, rainy one back in our former home of Denver - it's as if we got out just in time and the big guy has decided to give our baby girl a wonderful first spring on Earth. The leaves are fully extended, the flowers are pushing through various blooming cycles, and we're getting our first hints of the hot, sticky Ohio River Valley summer which will peek it's head around the curtain of the seasons soon enough.

Many of you know I went back to Denver late in April for my 6 month checkups with Drs Ioana Hinshaw (medical oncologist), Daniel Chin (radiation oncologist), and Ross Wilkins (ortho oncologist) - all of which happened within 72 hours of each other. It snuck up on me, this first 3 month update after we left, and I was a bit blindsided by the importance of the visit. This was my first pet scan post-treatment, and would serve as a true benchmark of my remission, and whether or not the cancer had decided to start to sneak back in.

It was a distant reality, and I hadn't thought much about it until I was in an office meeting the morning of the day I flew to Denver, and then I freaked out. Fortunately, it was an internal meltdown, and I think I pulled upon my Native American DNA (thanks to my Great-Great Grandmother Victorine, who was an Algonquin Indian from Quebec - that isn't her on the right) and kept a pretty even 'stoic' face during the day. Sorry to perpetuate the stereotype of Native Americans as stoic, but if any of you have spent time on a reservation you know there tends to be a cultural tendency towards this label. Oh well, PC Police - sue me. Anyway, back to the meltdown.

There are many folks out there who have been diagnosed with cancers that require some surgery, or a non-invasive treatment, or low-level drug treatment. It's a tremendous emotional roller coaster for those folks to get the diagnosis and be treated, but those of us who have gone through the whole chemo thing have been to an even higher level of intensity. It's kind of like the first group went through Somalia, and the full-out chemo/radiation patients went through WWII and Korea in one fell swoop. I don't mean to discount the first group's emotions, fears, difficulties, or concerns - I have friends and family who have fought and won against cancer this way.

But let me tell you, when you're in the middle of chemotherapy and radiation treatment for Cancer, you are living in such a state of emotional and physical limbo that all you can do is make it to the next morning. I've talked in the past about the positive emotional and personal experiences resulting from my treatments (besides living) - it was an enriching time. But the thought of having to go through that Hell again came welling up in my mind all at once on that Monday. I couldn't think straight, and frankly was absolutely terrified of what would happen when I was tested later that week. Hands were shaky, focus was lacking, and the fear of having to fly back to my wife and new little girl with bad news was about as much as I could handle.

Needless to say, when my flight left Dayton on Monday afternoon I required a bit of liquid calm to take the edge off. $5 per glass of wine ($10 total) is a small price to pay for a bit of serenity.

Give it a try sometime - I highly recommend it. For those of you who don't drink because of religious reasons, don't forget that Jesus made water into wine for a reason.

So Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday were a whirlwind of tests, scans, and visits. In the end it is all looking pretty good. My blood was clean as a whistle - all cell counts and other markers were normal. My PetScan came back pretty good, but they did notice some cell growth activity in the chest (near something called the Thymus) that will require some monitoring. When I go back in 3 months (July) they are gonna run the PetScan again to check on this chest thing and see if it needs to be studied further. This little chest thing, while my doctor was dismissing as minor and not an issue because of positive blood work, started to get in my head once I returned to Cincy.

I'm OK with it now, although I can't deny that every once in a while I'll get a little worried and get some anxiety to tackle, but there's always something to deal with, isn't there? What I have to remind myself of is the lessons I learned during my illness about life and the fleeting nature of our time on Earth. We all think we're gonna live forever, but that isn't going to happen. It's even tougher to think about these things right after my baby girl has been born, but it's reality.

Lately, at the prompting of a friend, I've been putting together our daughter's family tree and been looking back through centuries (yes, CENTURIES) of Baker/Willis/Fritz/Becker family history and have been amazed at the varying lengths of time my ancestors and relatives have had on earth. While most of us think that 70/80/90 is a 'typical' lifespan, a little research in the past will open your eyes. In my research I discovered that a whole bunch of my great (to the 50th ish) power grandfathers died in the Battle of Mortimer's cross in a battle for the English throne in 1461 - many young men (30's) and older ones were offed - including Owen Tudor (yes, of the architectural style) who was my great (to the 40th ish) grandfather and got executed at the ripe old age of 61(ish).

Don't get me wrong, I'm still intending to get to 2072 with my margarita, cigar, and wife by my side - but this research has given me some perspective that not all of us get that much time. The key is, how do you use it - because with or without you, the beat will go on.

What's the point of the story? I get another 3 months to the next milestone. That's the whole point.

I've got to beat my drum of life, and make it count.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday, March 29th: Sweet Victory

Round one: Beat cancer

Round two: Baby daughter, Elaina:

Score: Baker 2, Cancer 0.

It's a best of 3 - I win.

Suck it, Cancer.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Monday, March 1st: Goodbye to my Rocky Mountain High

Yes, I'm still alive and am continuing to kick cancer in the nuts. In fact, those of you who interact with me in person will, from time to time, be given the pleasure of seeing my new t-shirt which states this fact once the weather here in chilly, grey Cincinnati gets a bit warmer.

Yes, I said Cincinnati. Amanda and I have returned to the motherland on a permanent basis.

I last posted in the midst of the Festivus Season, right before Christmas. It's been a little crazy since then in the house of Baker, as you can guess.

You all know the roller-coaster ride Amanda, myself, and our families have been on the past year with my cancer diagnosis and her pregnancy - it's actually been a wonderful time, especially since I beat the cancer and she's nearing the birth of our first child. Being in Denver is one of the biggest reasons we've had this result, with the world class doctors and all of your support, thoughts, prayers, and encouragement. But the "reality of life" we've been experiencing these past 8 months has led us to return to the "Land of the Beautiful River" (Ohio, for you naive folks) and what we've realized is our beloved Cincinnati.

Yes, I said it, "beloved Cincinnati". Go ahead and laugh, we'll address this response in a later blog entry. Consider this sentence a 'teaser'.

We came to Colorado after Amanda agreed to let me live my life-long dream of moving to the mountains. What a wonderful wife I have who moved 1200 miles from her nearest family member so her husband could do his "Colorado Thing." She's a trooper, and none of you single guys can have her - back off, or I will fight you.

And what a wonderful experience it has been! - I got to do the "Colorado Thing" for almost 3 1/2 years. Since 2006 we've been able to see some of the most amazing places - from the dwellings at Mesa Verde to the top of Union Peak at Copper Mountain Resort - all I can say is "wow". My grandfather, Bill Willis, always told me "Willy, you need to live out West" and he was right. I'm pleased to say that our time in the Mile High City has quenched that internal thirst I've always had to be out here, and has given me an appreciation for what we left in Cincinnati. As we looked at the economic realities of Denver (cost of living, strength of the Architectural job market, etc) and matched them up with our close personal and professional connections in Cincy - there was no question. Life was calling us back home, to the "Queen City of the West"

I return to the midwest eternally grateful for the time in Colorado, and all of the personal and professional connections we've made, many of which will be lifelong relationships. After all, if I hadn't been referred to the care of Dr. Marc Philippon at Steadman-Hawkins Clinic at Vail Valley Med Center, I'd be gone. Flat out - without his expertise and ability to 'connect the dots' of my condition I would be dead, or dying, from cancer right now. Instead, I kick the 'c word' in the nuts and you get to read my random thoughts.

The Mile High City is, frankly, a glorious place to live and work. If any of you get the chance - give it a whirl, you won't regret it.

What I liked most above all things in Denver is the openness of the people. Colorado has (I think) almost doubled in population over the past couple of decades (check Wiki), as a result most people you meet are from somewhere else. This creates a real openness and friendliness amongst everyone that makes it easy to tie right into social and professional networks. It's a characteristic that many older, established (and Eastern) communities should adopt. As a result, when we went through the hellish ordeals of the past year, the support we received from all of our relationships in Denver was amazing - and we are eternally thankful to every one of you in Denver who helped us cope with the illness and Amanda's pregnancy.

So what's your point, Bill - you ask? I have been writing for a while in this installment of the blog without much point. What I really wanted to do was take a moment to thank our Denver friends & family who truly blessed us with your support during our time there, including......

-Amy & Rick Burkett, the owners. Words cannot express my appreciation to the two of them for their support, inquiries to my health, encouragement to Amanda, and Amy's insistence that I go to the hospital in Vail to help figure out what was wrong. If I had never worked for them, I might not have gotten the right treatment when I needed it. Even though there have been tremendous challenges to the Denver design industry as a result of the recession, and the resulting downsizings at the firm, the two of them repeatedly assured Amanda and I that the firm would be there for us. If any of you are reading this in Denver and are looking to hire an Architect or Interior Designer for a project - hire BurkettDesign. These are good people.

-Carole "Gram Gram", our office manager, psychologist, and dear friend. Carole, a fellow cancer survivor, was absolutely wonderful in her assistance in navigating insurances, checking in to see how I was feeling, offering support for Amanda, and helping me to talk through the diagnosis and treatment. All this despite being the most rabid Broncos fan I met in Denver - go figure?

-Bob Eyster, our IT manager. Bob, as soon as I was diagnosed with cancer and told the office, donated plasma at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center for my use in the event that I had a need during chemo. Bob's smiling jokes and constant asking me how I felt were amazing. My last day at Burkett he gave me a Cuban cigar. I haven't smoked it yet, feeling that I need to wait for after my daughter is born to puff away.

-Joni Kappos, Receptionist/Librarian. Joni, a wonderful cook (hire her if you need a caterer in Denver) cooked some meals for us when we returned from Boston with the bad news. She repeatedly asked about our health and offered to help if we needed her. Thanks Joni.

-Jay McFarland, the "Fighting Scot of Marietta". Jay, unfortunately, is no longer at the firm. Jay's daily check-ins and witty Southwest Ohio smart-assed humor kept my spirits up. If any of you are looking to hire staff for a design firm - look him up. If I had to pick 5 people in my career to work with, he's in my core group.

-Joy Spatz, former Principal, and my favorite hippie at the firm. Joy left the firm to start her own gig, and I missed having her around after she left. Joy was one of my rocks in the firm, checking in on my condition and having the insight to tell me when to go home. She even invited the two of us up to her Mountain cabin in the early stages of treatment as a nice getaway from reality. When I had the 'sleepy eye' in my days after treatments she kept tabs on me and helped me to stop my workaholic ways and just 'GO HOME!' She's doing quite well on her own and is a wonderful person. I'm glad she's being blessed with success in this tough economy. Good things come to those who put good "karma" out there.

-Holly Houseworth, Missouri's favorite daughter. Holly and I sat next to each other in the 'back 40' at the office. She has been incredibly encouraging to both of us, has a wicked sense of humor, and has moved on to bigger and better things. She was a great pillar of strength in showing, by example, how to approach tough times in life and keeping moving forward. Like McFarland, she's worthy of joining your team anytime. She also has a kick-ass dog - Lucky.

-To everyone else at Burkett: Peter, Bart, Ryan, Cathy, Linda, Michelle, Gillian, Michele, Devon, Rick A, Cathy, Renee, Ted, Dewey, San, Meghan, Ben, Magee, Jessica, Mascitelli, Schulzie, and anyone else I forgot - thanks again.

To our friend Amy Malcom, an orthopedic social worker at CU Med Center - THANK YOU. Amy attended the same Methodist congregation as us in Cincinnati, and we actually got to know her quite well once we all moved to Denver. Amy came to visit the moment after we returned from Boston with the bad news and helped inform us about the various treatment options, benefit programs, and other financial options we could pursue in the even our insurance wasn't sufficient to cover the treatments. She also brought food, checked in, sent cards, wrote letters of encouragement - a priceless woman. Oh yeah - guys, she's single. Sorry Amy, I had to throw that out there.

To our old family friends, Tom & Jill Grubb, who live in Boulder- THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. I've known Jill & Tom since I was something like 8 years old, and they are good friends of my parents. They would send me notes of encouragement before and after my chemo rounds, with quotes and other inspiration. My favorite note they sent was a quote from Winston Churchill...."When you're going through Hell, keep going." Many a night I thought over this statement as I felt like I wanted to give up. It helped bring me out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

To our good friends Josh & Jana Vogel in Denver - their kind words and Jana's willingness to let Josh take me on repeated "man dates' between my chemo rounds helped to lift my spirits. Even though I was a bald-headed, puffy cheeked, slovenly cancer patient they pretended I looked normal and made me feel like my old self. I'll miss them and the kids now that we're back East, but will be forever grateful for the time we were able to spend together in Denver.

To the clergy at Trinity Methodist Church in Downtown Denver - Rev's Mike Dent, Miriam Slejko, and Linda Marshall. As I've mentioned before, this congregation reached out to us with open arms once they learned of my diagnosis. The notes, words of encouragement, and other support they gave us was priceless. If any of you in Denver are looking for a non-judgemental progressive Christian congregation with a focus on others - give Trinity a shot. It's what a church should be.

To my parents, Ken & Linda Baker. I cannot imagine the emotions they went through when the reality set in that they might lose a son to cancer. Most importantly, they never showed the fear to the two of us, serving as awesome pillars of strength for the both of us, with the kind words, support around the home, and willingness to take the burden of managing most of my treatment visits and doctor's appointments off of Amanda's shoulders. Thank you Mom & Dad, I love you, and look forward to seeing you become wonderful grandparents.

So that's it, this chapter in our lives is now through. There's no better way to close the curtain on the Mile High City/Colorado Chapter of the Baker journey than a little schmaltzy youtube video to the tunes of John Denver.....I didn't make this video, but it seemed to be the best option available on the youtube search. Enjoy:

Don't worry, I won't wait 2 months for the next posting. Keep your eyes out.

Carpe diem.