Thursday, November 25, 2010

"The Back Room" - 11/25/10

I had the chance to visit with my parents several days this past week. As luck would have it my mother got sick and called warning me to not come. Of course I told her that this would be the perfect time to visit, when she was sick and couldn’t take care of Dad (and she wouldn’t get him sick taking care of him). As your probably aware, chemo treatments lower a patient's immunity and in return improve the odds of catching a bug that might lead to health related complications.

So while at my parents' house there were chances to buy groceries and fix some meals, along with the opportunity to rake about 13 bags of leaves (my arms are still sore even today).

Then I had the chance to take Dad to a chemo treatment. Like I mentioned my mother has been sick this week; my sister-in-law and brother have been doing a lot and I was glad for the chance to help. I’ve known many people over the years that have done chemo and I have been aware of the mechanics. But like I’ve said before, talking about it is different than ‘talking about it’. An emotional connection always enhances an event and that is what I had, another emotional connection.

Let me draw a picture.

My dad has reached the stage in life where a walking stick or walker is needed. He can go for short distances with no problem but for safety he uses one of the devices (or should use one).  So when we arrived he ‘walked’ into the office, signed-in and found a couple of chairs. We chatted while waiting to be called and he greeted a couple people as they entered the lobby (remember my other posts that mentioned how he knows people everywhere?). 

While waiting I took note of how many people arrived for some sort of cancer treatment or testing. This caused me to think, what are we doing to solve this? I’ve read about research and millions in financial support being spent on research, but come on! There were a lot of people in the lobby and this was only one office. I know the people are sick, maybe some even did it to themselves by smoking or consuming other carcinogenic substances, but this was a long, continuous line of patients with hope for a successful treatment.

Of courses my first observation was that each of them is somebody’s dad, brother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, mother or sister. Being me I sat and looked directly in their face trying to generate some empathetic understanding of what I saw on their face. There was even one man that got the official indoctrination to the program, it was his first treatment. I am sure that was fear on his wife’s face as she completed the paperwork and he poured himself a cup of coffee while chatting with the people sitting next to him (maybe trying to adjust to his diagnosis).

I watched at least 40 people walk in, get labs done, and then go in for some treatment. My second observation of the day was that less than 15 percent were alone, no one came with them for the doctor visit; 45 percent had one person with them (their wife or husband). It seemed so lonely for the two groups of office visitors.

Then they called Dad back for stats and labs. Up he stood, I placed the walker in front of him and off we went.  After a short hall-walk he sat down, did the stat review, stood again and then walked back out to the lobby for another wait. Once there we found a couple chairs (not together) and he started talking to a stranger. I sat checking for text and read email; then he was called back for the treatment.

We walked into the ‘back room’ (it was the infusion area where chemo and other drugs are administered) - he sat down again and I returned to the lobby. It was there I continued my observations and questions as to why more advancements in the fight against cancer have not taken place or been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Is it because enough money is not invested in research by the government or private sector? Is it because the medical industry generates jobs and income, a cure would not be as profitable?  Or is it impossible to cure cancer at the level of medical care our society has developed?

Why no cure?

I digress.

People continued to process through the lobby. People come-in, do labs, step into the back room and people go out. Now the majority of the people did not walk out on their own power (so to speak). They were holding on to walking-sticks of some fashion, walkers (the steel kind with 4-legs and a handle to hold onto), or they were sitting in a wheel-chair. This was no club-med, although it was a type of ‘club-medical'; a club of despair and one that I silently grieved for while sitting among them.

The patients that had family or friends with them were a different type (at least my perception of them was different). For the most part the patients sat quietly, talking on occasion. The family members on the other hand were much more talkative and animated. I heard conversations dealing with college football, politics, work, and on occasion talk about the smaller children that were sitting with them. I figured the kids were young and had no one to keep them when the parents or grandparents came in for the treatment.

Were the people accompanying the sick trying to make the visit seem normal?  Were they trying to distract the ill from the reality of the situation? Maybe the supporting family or friends were trying to distract themselves?

For me the reality of the situation was that I had allowed myself to not be callus of the situation. I had pulled the one last, raw nerve out of my chest again, allowing it to lay bare and experience this moment.

But I was distracted from my observation assignment by several people that were there for a treatment. 

I always say, “Sit with a troubled person and you will learn his woes.”

This is when my heart cracked open like an egg. There was a lady who sat with as scarf wrapped and covering her head that had been balded (probably from treatment). She never said a word, I learned very little from her (but my imagination developed). Then there were two more ladies that arrived together, both with a scarf wrapped around their head. They were smiling when I saw them get out of a vehicle in the parking lot and enter the lobby, but after they sat down their domineer changed (maybe they became quiet out of respect for the others in the room, maybe it was something else). There were numerous people that arrived in wheelchairs and people who appeared to be sons, daughters, or grown grandchildren pushing them. I talked with many of them, or I should say that each talked with me and I learned a portion of their woes. But how much can you learn of a life’s story before the person heads to the ‘back room’?

Several times, before heading to the ‘back room’ my dad was greeted with a “Hey Mr. Bryant!” After the second or third time I started to feel like I was with a rock star. Sitting in the lobby 3 people came over and sat with him, catching-up on different things. While standing in line to leave 2 more came over and talked with him. While I was proud that he is a liked person my single nerve got brushed by the fact that I was looking at the end of something special. But in each instance I pulled the nerve back in and continued my mission of observation.

Another thing I noticed; during all the greetings no one asked the question that is most often part of a normal greeting between friends, family and even strangers – “What’s going on?”

After we got home Dad talked with me about what happened in the ‘back room’. He didn’t mention needles, blood pressure checks, or how bad he felt. He told me some stories about people that were in the room. If you remember from one of my previous posts he takes a sack of snacks with him. This time I had the privilege of carrying the sack of goodies for him into the room. It contained a soda, some crackers, a bag of grapes, a sandwich, and couple other things that I don’t remember.

He shared with me that a lady sat quietly in the ‘back room’ (maybe the lady I noticed in the lobby) and he never heard her say a word until he offered her some grapes. Knowing that chemo patients are supposed to protect against others with germ he was careful to offer the grapes to her out of the bag. She smiled, took several and thanked him.

There was a man sitting behind him who was also quiet but as time passed they struck-up a conversation and dad learned that he had no wife or children, but that he did have 3 sisters. Dad thought that maybe he would be alone on Thanksgiving so he asked the man if he would like to come over to the house and eat with the family. The man told him that he expected one of his sisters would bring him something to eat, and that he appreciated it. But he did not take Dad up on his offer so we’ll pray that someone will love the man today.

I asked my dad what he thinks about the people that go there. He told me the people are nice, but that they have cancer and need to get well. He told me that he likes to make friends with the people there and if it makes him feel good to know that some of the people are not doing good and that they take his crackers and snacks. He is ministering in his own way.

***
Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States; a day where our nation celebrates our freedom to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. We celebrate our opportunities and blessings. Please enjoy your day and consider helping someone that may not have it as good as yourself – there is always someone. Maybe you will only get a smile, maybe not even that. But charity is not about getting it’s about giving and a moment of your time can mean so much to many people.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

11/18/10 - "Avoidance"

I’ve been holding off on this entry until some information was delivered. In my last post I mentioned pain (the title) and how pain in the bones was the only mention the doctor had offered when we first visited him a few weeks ago. I also mentioned that chemo had started and the fourth week, the break between week3 and the first week of the next treatment cycle, and Dad received a drug injection that was meant to boost his immune system (and could be painful).

Well either he is suffering pain from cancer in the bones, or the injection. The doc is leaning towards the injection and with some comments from a long-time friend who is a RN I’m going with the injection theory too (and praying that we’re all right). It’s just too coincidental that the injection was received and his pain intensified.

So, in the last two days my Mother has talked with the doctor and last night Dad received a prescription for an additional dose of his pain medication. This means that he is receiving 2 tablets every 6 hours, prior he only had 3 doses which left him with a window of pain during the evening hours (he was holding off taking the last dose until he got closer to bedtime). I spoke with him Thursday evening and he felt somewhat relieved of the pain but seemed to be hesitant to claim ‘victory’ over the pain at that time. In fact he has been to so many doctors’ appointments and is receiving so many different prescriptions that it can be confusing for him and even my Mother sometimes.  I’m sure most people have seen this, an elderly couple flung into the middle of a quagmire of appointments, prescriptions, combinations of morning drugs, lunch time doses and evening pill combinations. It can be nothing but daunting, even for a younger person.

Throw in a caregivers life of washing clothes, cleaning house, scheduling and driving to appointments, coordinating all the pill combinations, cooking food, helping the sick person get out of bed, back into bed, answering every beckon call for help eating, walking, brushing teeth, combing hair, changing socks and television channels, answering the telephone and then explaining (and re-explaining) all that is going on – and you have a harrowing experience for the person that is ill and the protector-caregiver.

Caregivers do all of this with varying degrees of thankfulness. My Dad is thankful but at times can be a little testy.  Impatience seems to be a trait my Dad has fined-tuned. He is quick to comment, while waiting for my Mother of an angel to deliver. This is not meant to come across as he is unappreciative. I can only imagine a grown man that has developed skills and abilities then experience pain that makes it hard for him to walk or even sit. My Dad is a man that has always taken care of himself, went where he wanted to go and got there with no help. While kids have dazed into cash register trying to figure-out which button to push to charge him for coffee he was able to calculate the cost, tax and the exact amount of change. Now he is dependent on his wife and family to help with most everything. This would make any person frustrated and impatient.

Oh, my stranger that visits me occasionally just sat down next to me, put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t cry. Suck it up and don’t let that tear run down your face.” But I’m beside myself and its 3.00am; I will do what I want. Fluid is sitting on my eyebrows and pooling at the top of my cheeks preparing to roll over and down my face. But it’s ok; I will not allow callousness to harden my heart so that I can selfishly be comfortable.

This reminds me of something that happened Wednesday. Some of you may have read my tweets where I mentioned my hard drive took a hit and had to be replaced. Well, the guy that did the work for me is really nice. I’ve talked with him several times and he has impressed me with his attention to details, courteousness, and willingness to explain things. He took my laptop in to work on it and had it ready for me in the afternoon. While the last steps of the work were completing on the machine we had the chance to talk.

If you have read my other posts you know that I might be writing about this but I’ve not reached the point where I can “talk” about it, I can only “talk” about it logically so this computer guy was safe from hearing about my challenges. Maybe.

During our conversation something was said and I mentioned that I was trying to plan a trip to visit my parents and we talked about the length of the drive and possible dates. He asked, “How old is your Dad?” I answered and he said something that almost took me out of commission on the spot.

 He told me that his Dad passed away on October 30th. I looked at him and asked, “This October 30th?”  He said, “Yea.”  I immediately considered how hard it was to say, “Yea.” It was hard to hear it!!

Wednesday was only November 17th, that is only 18 days.  I thought, “Oh my God, could I stand there? Then it hit me, one day I would be in that position." I felt that nerve from my previous posts that is exposed and sticking out of my chest being twisted and pulled. My stranger saying, “Give it to me. This isn’t going to hurt that much. You better get used to it Andy, just consider this practice.”

So of course I could imagine me outside me. I was standing in front of me, only it wasn’t me. I’m sure that was moisture pooling up in his eyes, but maybe it was moisture pooling up in my eyes. I wanted to reach out, but my stranger twisted the nerve extending from my heart and said, “No, No, No; I’ve got a hold of you.”
 I wanted to hug the guy but I didn’t. I should have but I think my fear was….well I don’t know what my fear was and I wished that I had hugged him.

Some people say, death is a natural part of life and I agree. But it is not something that we have to callus over, or darken our heart so we can get past it. An it’s obvious that we cannot run from it.

I’m sure that was red in his eyes, the kind of red that comes just before a cry. I felt we were on fragile ground, something that I’ve tried to avoid (and maybe he has too). At that moment I backed away thinking I didn't want to draw him into something that neither of us was ready for. .

He may read this, I’m not sure. But if I can muster my courage I will go find him tomorrow and give him the hug for the moment I protected, and cheated him out of. But as I write these brave words I’m thinking ‘maybe not’. But I know my intentions (and I’ve just told a multitude of people that will read this), we’ll see what behavior I can muster in a few hours.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

11/14/10 - "Pain"

Friday night I went to practice with a Christmas choir, practice went well. While driving home I thought “Call and check on Dad.” My Mom answered and said they were just sitting around watching something on the tube and that they had already finished dinner. After we went through what I call the 'regulars' (you know, "How's work, the family, traffic, etc.) I asked 'How's Daddy!" (I've called him that all my life) 

I got an answer that I did not expect, and for that matter an answer I did not want. 

Life was about to flush right down the toilet, again.

Mother mentioned his pain. I said "What pain?" She reminded me that he always has some pain and I said, "I remember."

She said, "It's gotten worse. Since they gave him the shot that’s supposed to improve his white blood count after the chemo treatment the pain has intensified."

We discussed the fact that the shot could cause pain and she told me that “...the doctor increased his pain meds to deal with it.”

I immediately thought, “Hmmm, the pain is worse and the doctor increased the medication. In the first appointment the only thing he mentioned in regard to pain was “If it spreads into the bones there will be intense pain, but I will treat you for the pain; your quality of life is most important."

It was at that very moment that the stranger that rode with me on my visit to my parents a month ago stuck his head around the corner and said, “Could be cancer.” 

(To my reader, can you feel my lungs lurching out at you, screaming at this moment???)

I didn't mention this to Mother, mostly because I couldn't breathe or speak at that moment.

Seconds passed and I made some comment that would keep her talking while I tried to get my emotions together. My thoughts went into overdrive. What do I say? How can I help her feel better? At that particular moment I was not a good listener, I have no idea what she said during that brief lapse of time.

I assured her the pain had to be from the injection, that if he didn’t have increased pain before the shot the pain could not be from the shot. But she stuck to her concerns; she was dwelling on the idea that it was new cancer, that something had changed and it was not good.

Of course the stranger said, “Andy, you know that it might just be a coincidence.” Then he screamed “NOT”.

My Mother talked a few more minutes and I could only come up with things like, “Let’s see what the doctor says”, “You need to try and relax", and "Get a good night’s sleep.”

I said, "I love you", she answered back "I love you too" and we ended our conversation.

Saturday morning I got up and my first thought was about our conversation. What could I have done differently? Should I have told her she was wrong? Of course not, she’s a grown woman and this is her man, the man she has loved and lived with for more than 50 years. Maybe I should have used the statement “It’s out of our control; it’s in God’s hands.”

But I didn’t do that. How do I callus my heart, hardened it so I can be strong for my family, set an example for my family that I am not? I thought my mind was set and my heart was prepared as I noted in my last post. But it is obvious that I am not prepared with a deadened, cold, callus, dark heart. I feel as though I love him enough to respect him with my love and pain.

Much like a person that drinks, takes a drug, or for comparison just goes to sleep, when the mind returns to its original state the problems that existed are still there, problems do not just go away. So, I’m not sure I want my heart darkened to the point that reality is not reality. Should illness and imminent death be ignored, trivialized, or minimized so my pain can be ignored or delayed?

I will think about this and have a post another day.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

11/10/10 - "The Way Things Are"

I’ve had several people write and ask what is going on with my Dad so I wanted to post this entry. Dad completed his third week of chemotherapy last week and is supposed to do some lab work in the next few days. He doesn’t seem to be fazed by this, and appears to be getting used to the chemo sessions. Unfortunately each treatment visit is not as short as we were led to expect in the first appointment. His first chemo appointment started at 11.00 and he got home at 6pm., the 2nd appointment started at 11.00 and ended at 4.30pm, the 3rd appointment was not as long as either of them; he mentioned that it lasted about 4 hours.

It seems as if he is getting used to the appointments too. Mother mentioned that in the first appointment he sat in the lobby and talked, probably due to nerves, with anyone that came in the room. She talked with him about not discussing cancer in an open setting until he had a chance to get his ‘feet wet’ so to speak and get to know the people that are visiting in the waiting room. By the third appointment Mother reported to me that it’s as-if he is becoming more comfortable with the visits and treatments.

For each treatment appointment Mother has fixed him a sack-lunch of goodies (crackers, sandwich, a drink, and chips). After the first really long appointment he thought the food was a blessing, but as the appointments have shortened he has gotten to know many people and freely shares his goodies. He told me that a couple people who seemed to have no interest in talking or even eating his food gave into his charm once he shared one special food, cornbread crackers. He said that everyone seemed to loosen-up and talk more openly after tasting his special treats.

This is my Dad, always friendly and looking for a conversation (feel free to read "Father's Day 2010" @ http://tiny.cc/7stom, a post on my other blog for more information about my Dad). This is the Dad I know and have considered losing since his diagnoses; a man that has never really known a life without being able to strike-up a conversation with almost anyone. This is the Dad I fear losing, the Dad I do not want to live without and that I have suffered over for more than a month now.

I apologize to my faithful followers for the delay between blog posts; I am now committed to posts every couple days (there’s always something to post). Thanks everyone for your interest in Dad’s progress and my writing.  

Take care!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

11/4/10 - "The Introduction of a Lifetime"

Sorry for the delay between posts, several things took place this past week and I was not near an electric plug to power-up or charge my laptop during the weekend. But the ‘down period’ gave me time to think and consider several things, including the “Introduction of a Lifetime.” I’ve had several friends and relations lose family members to disease and age. The one thing that I’ve heard over and over is, “I’ll work -”, or “I’ll take care of this or that – ,“

“It will keep my mind off of things.”

I found out this past weekend that this is indeed possible. My kids had soccer games to play and I was away from the house attending a tournament, and the other weekend day I was singing with a male choir that I take part in. After our performance we had a 4-hour practice (we’ve been preparing Christmas music). I was tired in the evening, Saturday and Sunday. Along with feeling tired I realized that I was indeed distracted from the immediate concerns of my Dad’s illness.

I slept like a baby both nights and had a terrible headache Sunday and Monday morning (probably from a lack of sleep over the past several weeks).

While watching the kids play soccer I thought about the kids, soccer and realized it all had something to do with cancer.

“Cancer?” you say, “How can kids playing soccer be connected to cancer?”
Well, they were playing in a league where winning is not the emphasis. Instead learning new skills, exercise and teamwork are key considerations. But I’ve learned over the years that the kids always know who ‘outscored’ the other and who has a better win/loss record. Leagues with an emphasis on these things were probably developed by adults who were trying to deemphasize bullying, how to prevent hurting the feelings of younger kids, maybe maintaining control over the interactions of children and emphasizing morals and cultural norms (when  I was a kid you won or loss a game, and you lived with it; but I digress).

I watched both teams run up and down the field, cheering each other on while calling for teammates to make the winning goal. There was no cursing or name calling, but in the end everyone knew who ‘won’. While thinking about this my mind started to wander and my demon stranger showed up again.

He just lightly tapped me on the shoulder, which immediately caused me to think about my Dad, along with my kids and how I will have to break the news of my Dad’s cancer and the prognosis with them.

So, I have a new job – introduce my kids to personal loss, pain and death.

Aw, the purity of children; things are clean and safe for them. Their minds have not been polluted with the world adults have created or corrupted by grown-up wants and desires. They do not recognize or understand the complexity of life until it comes for them, like when a loved one dies. Another way to think about it - children are not born with hate, our world develops that trait; the finest example to mimic – adults.

They don’t consider a swimming pool dangerous, and only “bad looking people” are “bad”. Children don’t recognize danger until something happens, or a parent has to educate them about what is ‘right or wrong’, and what is dangerous.

How many times have you read about an adult sports figure that is great? This sports person can do no wrong when playing. She or he can run faster, hit the ball further, or jump higher. The person is considered to be the ‘elite of the elite’ until someone discovers that steroids or cheating in some other fashion has been taking place. The sports star goes before the judge or court, begs forgiveness, and maybe sheds an apologetic tear.

What do family, friends, journalists and sports-casters say when reporting the personal failure of the star? “I remember when he was young and played for the love of the game.” It was the purity phase of his development, the game mattered.

So, my demon stranger did it again. With little effort he managed to reach into my chest and pull out the nerve, the one lone nerve that has not healed. He pulled the nerve so tight the pain could not be ignored; my eyes moistened up and tears began to roll down my face, again. I watched as the kids ran down the field, screaming at one another in fun and with determination. Pure in heart (pretty much) and not aware of the imminent figure of death standing in the background; death working its tricks and playing with my heart as the end draws near.

The day is coming when I will be forced to conduct the ‘Introduction of a Lifetime’, the day I will introduce death and its complexities to my children.

How will I do this? How will I face my children and offer comfort when I want to be “the little boy” who receives comfort from parents who once protected me?  How will I say the words that will shatter purity and tranquility of a young heart, while deep-down I want to go back and exist in the days when I was pure of heart, lived in tranquility, and life was beautiful?


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October 27, 2010 - "Into Words"

I told myself my writing had to relax for a moment, that being intense for so many days is not healthy. So I skipped writing anything yesterday (not that I wasn't feeling intense), but when I woke up this morning I had an email from my Mother. It was in regard to my blog post "My Last Nerve" and when I read her email everything became INTENSE again. I have received some feedback emails and many tweets asking how my Dad and Mother are doing, so this email arrived at just the right time.  

My Dad had his first chemotherapy treatment last Thursday (that's not something you ever expect to write, or say). It went as the doctor expected; no pain, no problem. He mentioned that Dad might lose his appetite for a couple days (didn't happen), and he mention that Dad would probably not get really sick at his stomach, or feel flush (he did not get sick). Dad commented yesterday that he felt a little warm, but that subsided. He has another chemo treatment tomorrow; Mother said she would mention it to the doctor.

My Mother is handling this about as well she can for this type of situation. She is doing what a good spouse would do (wife or husband). She accompanies Dad to every doctor's appointment, and now treatments. Helps him organize his meds and ensure every pill is taken while helping with other things like meals and clothes. By the end of the day she is exhausted and It makes me feel tired to just think about it (and that's not counting the mental drain on her psyche).  
  
With all that said, I will share her email with you (note the time it was received). She has a vision problem but still puts in the effort and time to watch college football, read email, scan the web for different information and read blog posts. She may have reached her senior years but she's still got it.   

From
:
To: Bryant, Andy 

Sent: Tue Oct 26 00:26:52 2010
Subject: My Last Nerve
Your words echo my feelings and thoughts tonight.  I thank you for putting them into words. I just ask God to spare Daddy if it is his plan.  I ask Him to help him.  Daddy still looks for hope,  and I do too.   You and I both know God is always near.  I love you.  m.   

Enough said  

Andy is not "A-OK".


Monday, October 25, 2010

October 25, 2010 - "My Last Nerve"

In a Southern Drawl the dentist said, “OK. I’m just going to look at it; I’m not going to touch it, or do anything.”

The little boy cringed and wrapped his fingers around the end of the chair’s arm. All he could remember was his cousin telling him how much it hurt to when the dentist pulled out a tooth when he was 9-years-old. The boy remembered the cousin describing how the tooth had ached for days before it got pulled. He had also described the excruciating pain he felt every time he chewed a piece of food. The boy also remembered his cousin telling him that each bite had an aluminum foil taste, but he was not sure how the cousin knew what foil tasted like. With the dentist reaching for his face the little boy thought, ‘Maybe Cousin Joe bit some foil his Mother used to baked a potato, or foil that was used to wrap a sandwich in for his lunch.’

The young boy thought, “This is going to hurt.”

Unaware of the boy’s concern the dentist said, “Open wide”, and pushed his hand into the boy’s mouth. He moved a sterile device over the tooth, the kind that is shiny and clean. In just a moment the boy raised his head and screamed, “MOMMY!”

His Mother who was sitting across the room quickly ran across to her son and wrapped an arm around his sweet, innocent face and comforted him as only a Mother can do (Dad’s can do it too, but kids love their Mother). 

The dentist looked at the Mother and said, “He does have a cavity and it is obvious that the nerve is exposed. I can numb it up, go in to clean it out and then put a filling in it. This will fix the problem and remove the pain.”

The young boy’s Mother nodded in the positive and said, “Go ahead doctor. We need to help him.”

The face of the boy expressed nothing but panic as he pulled even closer to his Mother.

**
Have you ever had a situation like this?  Have you ever had a bad day, was surrounded by a coworker, child or maybe a spouse and said, or thought, “You are working on my last nerve?” Ever faced a pain that just wouldn’t go away?

Ever felt that you only had one last nerve available to deal with the world and it was exposed for the entire world to twist and pull, never releasing you from the hell of its existence?

I have an exposed nerve reaching straight out of my chest, like a third arm or a plant extending out of my chest. This nerve is being abused and raped to no-end, the result of the demon cancer. This exposed, raw nerve leads directly from my heart and is connected to my brain, sort of like a mental ball-and-chain. It’s a chain that is being tugged and pulled by emotion and a sense of helplessness.

When I left my parent’s home this past Thursday I packed the trunk of my vehicle, said good-bye to my Dad and Mother (hugging each with the pain of knowing what has happened and what will happen) and walked out to the vehicle. Of course, standing next to the vehicle was the stranger that accompanied me on my drive up (if you’ve not read my previous post please do that before continuing).

The stranger, who looked like me said, “Oh, this is going to be a lot of fun. You’re already upset before you even get in the vehicle. How are you going to do this?”  So I bravely entered the auto, rolled down the window, waved to my parents (‘with a strong upper-lip’ as the saying goes) and drove away.

I only drove around the corner and parked outside a building, the upper-lip was only a fa├žade. Andy was not A-OK, the moment of release had been on-hold and the stranger was with me again.

Believe it or not my first thought was “This can’t be happening.” But my strange traveling companion reached into my stomach, twisted it just a little and said, “Oh yea. No doubt this is happening. You were at the oncology appointment with your brother, sister-in-law and parents. You heard the doctor say that the chemotherapy would shrink the cancer, that it could not be surgically removed due to complications and that the chemo would be administered in weekly doses, 3 weeks in a row, skip a week and then started again.”

I thought to myself, “Yep, I heard that.”

The stranger twisted the inner layers of my stomach again, then reached up and ripped the nerve from my chest as he said, “Its cancer!” It felt as if there was nothing connected to my heart, just an exposed opening with very little air in my chest – my single, raw nerve was possessed by a demon.

The cancer demon! There was no reason to breathe deep, my chest seemed opened yet empty and the nerve was being massaged by cancer emotions.

I turned the radio on in an attempt to sooth my thoughts. I thought, “If I can calm down maybe the nerve can be shoved back into my chest.” It seemed as if the stranger who taunted me had done enough, until I was reminded that the 6-9 month prognosis had been extended, possibly to a year or more. The doctor said, “I can give you estimates and averages. Only God knows the answer has he has not talked with me about it.”

In the doctor’s office that day I mentally snatched this statement and pulled it close. The comment echoed my religious upbringing and faith. It’s that kind of statement that is perfect and should snatch me back from my emotional situation.

But the agony of the moment, while sitting in my car, was overwhelming and there was no repelling of my emotions.

All of this occurred before I could get out of town. I stopped for fuel and went inside to wash my hands. The girl working the register was an innocent bystander to my emotions. She did not know me or what was taking place. I considered telling her about my Dad, probably because I was alone, but she seemed more interested in texting someone on her cell phone. So I exited the building and walked back out to my vehicle. There were a couple guys that had been sitting in their car and I wondered if they had noticed a blank-stare on my face, but they were talking; what was going on in my life was of no interest to them either.

At that moment I felt alone. But then I remembered all of my friends who have offered their support, all of the emails I’ve received, along with all the comments on my 2 blogs and tweets I’ve received from friends around the globe.

I started the vehicle’s engine and although I did feel a little better realized that an emotional thought was only a moment away and I was only a twist of the strangers hand away from being pulled back to reality.  

Much like my drive to visit my family, the drive home was lonely. There were moments of sadness whenever I was reminded of what was going on with my Dad and the nerve was yanked from my chest when I considered what would happen between 6 months and whenever.

Whenever?

Things had not changed. During the rest of my trip home the stranger stayed with me, talking about the cancer.

He sat next to me holding the nerve; ever so slightly rubbing, pulling, and rolling the nerve between his two hands so as to never relieve me of the pain, not allowing the pain to be removed and subside. Occasion he would jerk my one last exposed nerve from my chest and remind me of the prognosis and how I could not change it.

So, while you tweet or email me keep in mind that I have an exposed, raw nerve protruding from my chest, waiting for something to twist and yank on it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

October 17, 2010 - "The Demon"

I’ve been traveling this week to visit with my Dad and Mom and as you can imagine after receiving the cancer diagnosis they have been busy going to various doctor appointments. Late Wednesday evening last week Mother sent me an email asking if Dad had mentioned there was a family reunion coming up (it was yesterday). Of course my answer was, “No, no one mentioned that.” But I quickly spoke with my boss at work and he said, “Go” so I took off Friday morning. It would take about 10 hours to drive back home and late Friday evening I made it to my parents’ house.

But as is the case with driving 700 miles there will always be complications; this trip was no different. I tried to pack Thursday evening, but everything did not get in my bags until Friday morning around 9.30. This was already a negative for my traveling plans, and as it’s been said, “The best laid plans of man…” are not always implemented as planned (that last part is my own change to the quote). Typically I am not a good packer, but I am a good planner. So my plan was to leave between 7-8am, but 10.30 ended-up being my final departure time.

As I tweeted Friday morning a stop at Starbucks did not produce my sugar-free vanilla latte, but rather a cup of steamed milk (I did not realize this until I was on the road). So, if you frequent Starbucks take heed of the sign and taste your handcrafted drink before leaving. Fortunately for me I had chocolate mint protein bars in the car so my warm milk became warm mint milk; yum, yum, yum.

I drove for about 10 minutes and stopped for fuel, all pretty standard stuff. After filling the tank I picked-up a diet Pepsi, stretched my legs and arms then headed back out to the car. I checked the air in the tires, opened the door and got in, then headed down the highway. Little did I know things were about to get weird.

While driving I turned on the radio (if you’ve read other post you know I love my car time and music); and ‘bum-bump, bum-bump’ went the music. Just as I got off the main thorough-fare and out into the country I started to think about my Dad. I had thought about this part of the trip and already anticipated that the day would be full of sadness, worry and concern. Just as I started to think about how I would handle seeing my Dad for the first time I mumbled, “How will this go?” No sooner had the words left my lips than a man stuck his head up from the backseat and said, “What does it matter to you?” 

This was quiet surprising since he looked sort of like me. He repeated, “What does it matter to you? Don’t you think it’s your Dad’s problem and you’re making a big deal out of nothing?” As I looked in the rearview mirror and pursed my lips to answer his question I thought, “This guy looks a lot like me. He probably already knows the answer”.

But I went ahead and said it, “He’s my Dad. I’ve loved him all my life. Don’t you try and make this a “him against me” situation? “He’s been alive since I’ve been alive. He’s part of my life, and I’m apart of his life.  It matters a bunch to me.” He shrugged his shoulder and settle back into the rear seat.

He was so close to me I could hear him breathing and I smelled some type of cologne. The scent was familiar but I could not put a name to it. He cracked his knuckles, or something that sound like joints popping and cleared his throat.

I thought ‘This is a little uncomfortable” and I pushed a CD into the radio dashboard. My thought was that the music would cover up the thoughts in my head so I turned on some of my favorite music. I like to sing at church and the CD that was playing had several songs I’ve sung or would like to perform at church. You see, I could not forget the doubt and questions that were running through my head. Now the self-doubt and concerns were interfering with my concern for my Dad, I tried to keep my mind occupied by turning up the volume and singing along.

The guy that looked like me said, “Maybe the doctor is wrong…, maybe its not cancer.” What could I say to that, maybe the doctor was wrong, or maybe it could be treated” Then he said, “Yea, but what if it is cancer? What if it’s worse?”

Doubt, maybe it is cancer; maybe its not pulled on my emotions like a yo-yo, my heart couldn’t take a lot more of this. Then I remembered it was a long trip - this guy had to go. The more I thought about my Dad’s situation the worse I felt and then I thought, “I should not be alone”, but I was.

His last question caused me to consider that my Dad is no spring-chicken; that he has seen many people with cancer and that with the 6-9 months prognosis Dad has to be aware of what is coming his way. He’s seen many people with a similar timeline set. My eyes began to moisten, pool up and then small tears began to run down my cheeks. I wiped my eyes but the tears continued. My look-alike self said, “Hey, don’t think about it. Turn up the music, ignore it.”

But I couldn’t, thoughts continued to run through my mind; “What would it be like afterwards? What could we do now to make things better? When would things change for the worse?” I turned up the sound and started to sing even louder than the music and I thought, ‘Don’t think about it. Sing the song, sing the song. Imagine singing a song at church.’

So I did, ‘sing-sing-sing; sing-sing-sing’, but it didn’t work. The tears continued to pool-up in the corner of my eyes and then stream down my face. Breaths were starting to become a limited commodity and I thought, ‘This is different. I don’t cry, actually I am not crying – but I guess this is pretty close for me.”

I was traveling at a speed of 75mph and I considered that ‘driving under the influence of emotion’ is probably not a safe thing to do so I pulled over on the side of the road and waited for the tears to stop. While sitting there the fears swelled up into emotions that were unbearable, seemingly the emotion was inflicting pain and damage that would be irreparable. How could my heart take this, face my Dad later in the day and subsequently the ultimate, losing him to the demon cancer?

After 5 or 10 minutes (I wasn’t keeping track) the tears stopped and I wiped away the result of my pain, but the pain remained. The stranger said, “They always say a good cry is what you need. Let it out, let it out! Don’t you feel better?” I just shook my head ‘No’ and took a couple deeps breaths. Inside the quivering stopped and things seemed to be returning to normal.

I turned up the radio, put the car in Drive and continued my travels. In short order I spotted an exit and immediately thought, ‘Food’, but as I drove down the exit the realization was that my stomach was not ready to accept food. This was not a good idea, but I stopped for some more coffee and bottled soda for later. It was during this stop that the stranger stuck his head out again. This time he asked, “What are you going to do when you arrive? Are you ashamed you can not do anything to stop this?”

This was a concern I had the answer for, only God has this kind of control. But how can I be sure that everything that is possible will be done for Dad?  I could talk with the doctor, but would not be local once I returned home. But I have a brother and a sweet sister-in-law that live local to my parents and who are always available to help; they visit often too. So, looking at my interrogator like I was looking at myself I said, “Leave me alone, this is taken care of.”

As I drove on I attempted to bury myself in the music, singing always soothes the savage beast, right? Well, it sort of worked. I moved on 100 miles, 200 miles but doubt and my visitor continued to visit me with emotions as the words of religious satisfaction in the music led me back to my concerns, doubts, and sadness.

I asked myself, ‘This happens to a lot of people, why my Dad? No immediate family; including cousins, uncles, and aunts have dueled with the cancer demon, why now?” My immediate option was to swallow the concern and drive on. It didn’t allow me to swallow the pain and my look-alike stranger remained with me to interject thoughts, doubts, concerns and agony along the way.

After approximately 12 painful hours I arrived at my parents’ home. Mother greeted me at the door. This time the greeting hug was longer, more laborious and it seemed as if we tried to send a more painful love message without saying anything. A moment later I was inside greeting my Dad too. We did not immediately go into a discussion of the situation, in fact we have not gone into deep discussion yet, but there is “the first” oncology appointment tomorrow, meaning there will be many more appointments of pain. All of which will allow my stranger to visit again (Yes he is sitting here with me while I type; ensuring that each description I’ve shared with you has at least a tinge of the emotion from Friday).

Please consider and pray for not only my family, but all other families that are facing the cancer demon, or other diseases that are challenging them. The stranger visits often; when people are alone and when they are not. Often we find solace in groups, but sometimes the power of the stranger can impact entire groups and families. Be caring and compassionate for others around you, for you have no idea when the stranger visits them, or which demon they face.

Interim 10/17/10 - "Father's Day"

Hello!  If you have been following my tweets over the past couple days you know I had the chance to visit my parents and attend a family reunion over the weekend. During the weekend someone reminded me that I wrote a blog postin June about my Dad for Father's Day in 2010. So, while I'm settling down and finishing my next entry for this blog I want to direct you to my previous post. It gives a fair description of my Dad and the kind of man he as become. Enjoy this post, I am working on a new post for this blog and working to have it ready some time today.

Here's the link to "Father's Day 2010"  ---> http://bit.ly/d33uH2


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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October 13, 2010 - Hate and Other Hate Words

For the first time since Saturday evening I really slept last night. My eyes ache while typing this, sort of blurry even. I have to go to work in a little while so I’m hoping my vision gets better. I’m sure some coffee will open them wide!   ;-)

Over the past couple days I wondered if anything could be more despised or hated than cancer. I learned yesterday evening that things can be hated as much, maybe even more (but probably not for as long a period of time).  What do you think could measure up to that level; war, crime, civil unrest?

Traffic!!!  While driving home yesterday there was an 18-wheeler that crashed, spilled fuel and the interstate turned into a crawl (HAZMAT was even called out for this accident). Traffic became a new demon, something I wish could have been avoided. I tried some low-level, backstreet maneuvers but all this did was leave me with two demons - traffic and my thoughts on cancer.

Times like that are when words roll around in my mind and I often pull stories, poems, and things like religious devotions together (or at least an outline or portions of a writing).

I know, I know; while you’re driving? But hey, alone time is alone time.

It’s alone time which offers me the chance to explore words like hate, contempt, despise, detest, repudiate, and scorn.

Other words came to mind during the drive home including kill, eradicate, nullify, liquidate, erase, suppress, extinguish, and expunge.

I also considered the word Remove, but it does not seem to carry the same weight and feel of the words despicable and hate which I am experiencing this week.

A couple other words I considered but do not fit my situation are mutilate, annihilate, nuclear explosion, assault, beat, and my all-time favorite attack word - lambaste. 
 
This is how I entertained myself during bumper-to-bumper traffic yesterday and the noted words, along with the accompaniment emotions were my companions. Stay tuned, some of these words are rising to the surface and will become verbal hate projectiles that I will hurl toward cancer during my next post.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October 12, 2010 - Shields-Up!

I talked with my Dad late last night, maybe because I wasn’t ready for it but he had also put out the word he needed a little time.  I will use that as my excuse. Anyway, I prepared myself not to cry or seem as if I was not crying - then I prepared myself for him to cry.

The conversation started off with my regular, “What are you doing?”  (I described this in another post as my standard opening with my parents.)

My Dad responded, “Watching TV.” Then we did our regular; talking about what he was watching,  had done during the day, how long it took to get it done, and what he had to eat for dinner. He always asks about the family and my work.

Andy was A-OK (if you’ve been reading my posts you know I brought that back from a previous post.)

He told me some of what Mother had done during the day (she is a busy woman helping him and then herself last). If there was ever a saint that walked on Earth (and there have been), she is one of them. To raise me and my brother, and be married to my Dad that in itself is probably enough to be raised to Sainthood, but now in her elder years to be there for my Dad qualifies her for a gold star on top of her Saint crown.

During our discussion he mentioned going to the ‘lung doctor’ in the afternoon. This was just a follow-up and things were reported as ‘looking good’.  Being new to all of this I’m not sure how things can be looking good when you’ve got a terminal prognosis but I guess we’re all used to receiving good news and being told that things look good (in this type of situation) and that is about all you can expect. 

He told me about an appointment next week with his ‘cancer doctor’ (often elderly people see a lot of doctors, and I figure that as we get older specific physician titles like endocrinologist, cardiovascular surgeon, oncologist, & orthopedic re-constructive surgeon) are hard to pronounce and remember; it’s just easier to call them by the body part each treat, I guess.  :-)

Then he asked, “Did your Mother tell you about the doctor and what he said?”

A strobe went off in my head, and the words “Danger-Danger” sounded. We had approached dangerous ground.  

“Shields-up!” I screamed inside my head.

“You mean about the cancer?” I asked. He said, “Yes”, and I commented “Yes, she told me. I am really sorry this is happening.”

(An aside from the story)
To my readers: Did you experience pain when you read that? In your eyes, your back, your neck? Did it cause a shiver over your body when you read it, like I felt when I just wrote it?

My Dad responded, “Yea, but this is not that time yet, is it?” and he continued on, talking about something else.  I thought, “Wait, nothing more?” then I stopped myself and let it go. He wasn’t ready and I wasn’t ready so why make it into something?

We ended our conversation and I sat back in my chair thinking about it, then I wrote this post.

Andy is still not “A-OK”,

...and I'm starting to believe he'll never be “A-OK” again.


Monday, October 11, 2010

October 11, 2010 - Reminiscing

This morning I went to the funeral for a friend from work. We were not close friends but we had worked indirectly together. Over the years we had talked many times and if fate put us together to complete a project, discussions ensued. I’ve heard that he had a massive heart attack and died alone; he leaves behind 3 children and a wife.

Now, how could I have anticipated that this situation would cause me any problem or discomfort?

Well, I should have seen it coming. My group at work helped with some of the funeral service plans and I thought my mind had passed beyond the emotional piece of this day. I arrived at the ceremony about 20 minutes early and sat with a couple friends.

Things were A-OK.

The service started, A-OK.

A couple religious songs were performed and a few close friends spoke. 

A-OK.

They showed a montage of photos from different points of his life, things were still sort of A-OK. I had no idea who the people in the photos were; maybe his kids, maybe his family. In hindsight not knowing probably distanced me from my emotions.

All was A-OK.

And then his grown son stepped up to the podium; Things “NOT A-OK”.

If I had not been in the middle of a pew, surrounded by people I probably would have run for it. During the son's portion of the ceremony I had a constant tear-drop sitting in the corner of my eyes and as this very mature son reflected on a life together with his Dad, a ‘mentor among mentors’ it only got worse for me.

Andy was “NOT A-OK”.

I was pleased for the young man. He told everyone that the time with his Dad was great and that it made ‘him-him’. He was proud to be a “mini-me” of his Dad, and like he mentioned the time and life he had with his Dad was a great experience – something to be proud of for the remainder of his life. His description was one of a man, a Dad who was more than I had ever known and I was glad to have had the chance to learn more about the man I had known.

But then I started to consider what-all my Dad means to me and my THOUGHTS developed into my own form of a mentor; a TOR-MENTOR.

“My Dad and I joked with each other, in a manner of outdoing each other” he said, and smiled. This went along with the personality I had known, a guy that was known to joke and was full of quick comebacks.

Whomp!  I received a SLAP across my brain as my tor-mentor reminded me of how I joke back-and-forth with my Dad, in a manner that many would consider ‘quick-wit’. But we’ve always seemed to enjoy ‘picking at each other” with a fun relationship.

Held down by social expectations and norms I sat quietly while enduring my monster of memories.

“He was always there for me” the young man said.

PUNCH in the stomach as my thoughts reminded me that I only have 6-9 months of my Dad being here, and that life will change. I held my breath as he continued his proud description of his Dad; but internally it was like my stomach had literally been punched and there was a shortage of oxygen.

During his sharing I actually caught a thought passing my active mind that screamed out, “GO”.

But of course I could not scream and could not get out of the pew without causing a major disruption. I asked myself, “What are you doing here?” Of course the answer was “to be supportive for my friend’s family”.

As the ceremony participants shared memories of our friend and what he meant to them it became apparent that I could not take any more reminiscing.

Not the service participants' comments, but my TOR-MENTOR’s.

As the services ended I took a deep breath, stood up and slowly walked out with everyone else. Calmly I processed and suppressed my emotions, restraining the thoughts and excitement that had been surging inside me - almost tears, and laughter with the crowd; almost tears, and smiles with the crowd.

I talked to only a couple people and went straight to my car, wrote this blog post, cranked the ignition and drove away.

Andy was "Not A-OK."



Sunday, October 10, 2010

October 9, 2010

October 9, 2010 started off just like any other day. I got up, had some coffee, ate a protein bar (I eat low-carb bars since I deal with Diabetes and use an insulin pump), took a shower and prepared for the day. Things were going really well and I headed out to a campout the church was conducting for kids from the church. As the day progressed everyone seemed to be having a good time, except for some bug bites and maybe a little too much sun.

At 6.33pm my cell phone rang – this is the moment that the world changed for me.

I get calls from my parents and speak to them often, but at more normal times; during football games, and while I’m driving home from work; but at 6.33pm on a Saturday evening? This is not a normal time for a parent call.

But at the same time I was ready for any call. You see my Dad has been under the scrutiny of several doctors for a couple weeks – they found a spot on an xray type image a couple weeks ago and have conducted several test and for lack of needing to record the specifics here let’s call them a bone test, a brain test and a biopsy. The biopsy was not conclusive and there was mention of needing to go deeper for a true result with a needle biopsy, which was done this past Wednesday.

All of the results have sort of been collecting, pooling up in a fast collection of results that the family has been dreading, but at the same time somewhat waiting for. Personally my thoughts are that if/when doctors start circling like vultures with tests that God did not include in the Bible, the kind that peer into your body without an incision there is reason for concern.

And for a doctor to return a result that says, INCONCLUSIVE there is a reason to be concerned. I understand that there are false-positives (a positive result that is really negative) and of course there are test results that are negative which “missed the malignant tumor” as its reported to us poor regular folk. For these different reason I’m afraid for anyone that get’s a INCONCLUSIVE result.

How do people live with this result, do another test and WAIT for a doctor to schedule them in, maybe in two or three weeks – maybe next month? The anguish that I feel when hearing about the wait, even if its only 3-5 days has to titillate a person’s expectations to the point I think, "How can they go back to work, or even sleep? After all, there is something growing in them!!!!!

Anyway, on top of this concern and testing my Dad was taken to the hospital Friday, 10/8 when he starting coughing-up “a little blood”. I live 10 hours or so from my parents and receiving a call that includes “a little blood” is a hard thing to conceive, fathom, understand (you pick). When I received the call about this I immediately thought the needle biopsy had irritated something, and my discussion Friday confirmed this and the fact he had a infection that was being treated with antibiotics. Being a son who lives far away from his parents and has received a call about an ailing parent, but has received explanations for all that is going on I felt pretty good when I went to sleep Friday evening.

~ Anyway ~

Saturday 10/9/10
6.33pm
My cell phone rang, my Mother was on the phone. She is a lady that is not only educated, but loving and has cared for a family of men. Our family consist of her, my Dad, one brother and myself; a small nucleus of a family.

The call went something like this

“Hello, what are you doing?” This is my standard way to start most all of my phone calls with my parents; I really never know what they will be doing.

“Hi, I’m fine. What are you doing?”

“Do you remember when I mentioned the campout with the church?”

“Yes. can you talk a minute, or are you busy?”

At this time I’m thinking, ‘Nothing but questions so far, hmmm.’

“Yes, of course. The kids are in line getting ready to eat dinner. Go ahead.”

“Well, the doctor came by and gave us some more information. Daddy has an infection that is being treated with antibiotics and the blood he coughed-up was from needle biopsy.”

“Yes, I know. Remember we talked about this yesterday?”

“Yes I do, but there is something else. The doctor came by and gave us more information that I guess he would have given us Monday.”

At this point my heart sank, I don’t know how low I could have been and I sat back on a wooden fence close by. Now I wasn’t tearful at the time (I am now while typing this though) and I waited.

She mentioned something about remembering the spot and then said it,

CANCER

What could I do?

I was surrounded by kids.

That sunk feeling turned into a detached feeling of distance between the kids and parents around me. I wasn’t spinning downward in some spiral abyss, but it would have been OK if I had done that.

…and then a moment of ‘grown-up’ hit me and I started to walk while listening to her talk.

Mother described how brave my Dad was to talk with the doctor. He asked what kind of cancer?

“Stage 3”

“What does that mean? he asked.

How could he muster the words to ask???  I could barely accept the thought that my Dad was in the position of having to ask the question. I guess it’s the programmed thinking we are engrained with; “man-up”, “be a man”, “you’re a grown-up”, “take it like a man”. I guess in this instance I was still the little boy and for that reason I could still feel this way and care about the parent I love; he had to be the grown-up this time, and live with it.

The answer: “6-9 months.”

Then she told me the doctor explained that due to the fact Dad has developed respiratory issues over the last few years surgery is not an option, but the doctor promised he would strive to provide the best possible care and be treating with 'quality of life' as his goal..

What am I suppose to say to my Mother after she finishes a statement with “6-9 months”?

In fact I don’t remember what I said after that, other than trying to be a comfort to her.

She apologized for having to tell me this over the phone, saying that she always had believed she would deliver information like this in person, if she ever had to deliver someone bad news; but since I live so far away she had to do it this way.

Well, that’s my first post and “The Day Things Changed.”