Thursday, October 21, 2010


Not too far back my mom gave me a picture frame with the caption "The love of a family is life's greatest blessing." In it she put a picture of my wife and I with our kids when they were about five or six years old. There is something about looking at the faces of my kids when they were younger that just pulls on the ole heart. Not that I don't love them to death now and think they are beautiful kids, there is just something about the images of when they were younger that gets to me. Perhaps it is because it automatically triggers a flood of great memories that we have shared. Anyway, I have placed that picture where I can see when I wake up to remind me that in that family category I am truly blessed.

I feel I could speak volumes about just my wife and kids and how wonderful they are if I possessed the soul of a writer. Then maybe I would be able to articulate my love for this woman who agreed to be my wife and share her life with me. I wish I could write poetically about her strength and beauty and how she has been a rock for me in these difficult times. To thank her for giving me these two wonderful works of art, so beautiful and smart. Just looking at my kids brings me so much joy.

But my blessings extend past my immediate family. It extends to my father who, being far more advanced in years then me and having mowed 20 billion lawns that day, still feels the need to help me carry my luggage down the stairs because he is concerned about my physical state. It extends to my mother, who happens to be 1500 miles away right now but still remembers to call for a status update because I happened to see the doctor today. To my little brother who has given up countless hours of personal time in order to research my disease and accompany me down to MD Anderson and literally sit for hours waiting on doctors. To my grandma who apparently has all of Newaygo County, Michigan praying for me. To my older brother, whom upon hearing my diagnosis, travels thousands of miles to be with me even though he is going through a rough spell himself. To my sister-in-law who hand knits me a scarf to keep me warm when we traveled to Michigan. To my other sister-in-law who buys me a year's subscription to Netflix to give me something to do while being down and out from the chemo. To my father-in-law who calls on a whim just to discuss one of my favorite topics: college football. To my mother-in-law who gives us a large sum of money to help with the medical costs. To my nephew, who upon hearing my diagnosis, shaves his head as a sign of support. To all my relatives on my dad's side of the family that welcomed us with open arms and love and support this past summer at a family reunion. And so many others.

Whatever the outcome of my journey with this noma ends up being, I travel this road knowing that I am truly blessed.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ups and Downs

We have all heard the metaphor that life is like a roller coaster. It has its ups and downs. But really, lately I feel like my life takes Run Away Mountain at Six Flags and kicks its butt (that is an amusement park here in Dallas for you non-Texas readers). I have been happy, I have been sad. I have been feeling good, I have been wallowing in pain. I have been optimistic, I have been beaten down. Keep in mind that these changes sometimes don't happen over weeks but happen in the same day. "What do you expect considering what you are going through?" I have been told many times. I don't know. I have never been through anything like this before.

A week and half ago I went to my daughter's soccer game at 9am on a beautiful Saturday morning. I started to feel some pain come on. I took some pain meds and did my best to grin and bear it. However, by lunch time I was lying flat on my back on the couch unable to really get up. I had extreme pain in both knees, both hips, both shoulders, and both elbows. Strangely, my back really wasn't bothering me. Where was this pain coming from? Earlier that week I had my monthly massage and left there feeling really good. Now here I am unable to get off the couch. Talk about roller coaster. I ended up spending that whole day, literally until I went to bed, lying flat on that couch. I loaded up on the pain meds and tried to ride it out. Fortunately, college football was on to keep me entertained.

Given my current health condition I am trying really hard to listen to my body. I am keeping a pain log so that I have a record of what hurts and when and what I may have done to cause it, and how I treated it. Just looking for any pattern or trends that may help in my battle. But I couldn't make any real sense of this latest pain outbreak. It had these characteristics, but not those. It felt like this, but a little different. The best I can figure at this point is that I had a small reaction to a cold. I ran a low fever at one confirmed point and probably had at another also if I had taken my temperature. Pain meds that help with fevers seemed to give me more relief than others. That all seemed to indicate the cold scenario. But it wasn't conclusive. And one thing I hate is loose ends.

Then my mind goes down that dark path. What if this is my body shutting down? What if this the cancer taking over and I am on the start of the end? When I first met with the doc down at MD Anderson he felt it necessary to give me the prognosis of somebody with stage 4 lung cancer as I have. The typical patient lasts about 7 months. Here I am at about 8 months from the initial diagnosis. (Everybody join in and sing "Happy you lasted longer than the typical cancer patient with stage 4 lung cancer to you" to the tune of "Happy Birthday") Granted, he also said I am not the typical cancer patient. The next date he threw out there was 2 years. Is that how much I can expect? The last number he threw out was that some live 5-7 years. Better, but still not good enough. If the end is now about 4-6 years away then I am still missing way too much of my life.

How do I get my body back on top of this again? Is it even possible? I have lost about 30 pounds from my peak weight during chemo. I know it is strange that I actually gained weight during chemo, but I did. My bones are showing when I look in the mirror. My mind seems to still be good. I still have a belief that I can get back to where I was pre-noma. Just hope I am not fooling myself.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Happiness: A Better Perspective

In a recent blog on Harvard Business Review, a blogger astutely observes:
"Happy" people are some of the dullest people I know. And yet happiness is the state to which so many of us doggedly aspire.
I have often talked (both here on the blog and within in-person conversations) about enjoying the "Happy Josh" and enjoying when Josh is in his "happy place." While maybe aspirational, how limiting.

What makes Josh a beautiful human being is *all* the emotions he exhibits, even when happiness isn't anywhere within his grasp. A while ago, when asked what attracted me most to Josh (enough to marry and stay married for 17 years), my reply was that Josh loves me for who I am, not who he wants me to be. He accepts all the crazy emotions, obstinance on certain topics, irrational arguments, overly cheery demeanor in attempts to bring everyone in the household up, slave driver tendencies...I could go on and on, but I'll spare you.

Josh has good reasons to not be happy right now. He's hurting most of the time unless he's taken enough pain medications to dull the aches. He's tired because he doesn't sleep well. He worries about why the pain is back after the "reprieve" during chemotherapy. The neuropathy in his hands and feet seems to be getting worse. Radiation has only slightly lessened the pain in his lower back and somehow just a few minutes under the beams doesn't seem at all adequate. Time without a visit to MD Anderson feels strange (the next trip isn't until November) and somehow out-of-routine.

But despite all this, he gets excited about working on the conversion of our back patio into dining room, pauses a TV show to really look at the nice living room and cabinets to gather ideas for that next project, and details out all the mistakes made in the construction of any cabinet. He challenges others with good questions and his own ponderings about the meaning of life. He throws the football with his son. He goes faithfully to his daughter's every soccer game and even helps out at practices more often than he really feels like doing. He smiles at and with me, encourages me.

I was talking with Josh this week and let him know that I wished I could switch places with him. For two reasons, really. One to take away the pain from him and bear it myself instead. Two to see how I would handle the situation as the fighter not the cheerer.

We're still on the long journey, the marathon with no known finish line. The quote from a Vietnam POW included in the aforementioned blog post provides great perspective: "You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."