Saturday, October 16, 2010

Beating Cancer??? Yeah, sure...

Years ago, in November of 1979, I witnessed my father dying from late-discovered  aggressive prostate cancer. I was in my last year of seminary at SMU.

He was discovered to have it the previous December while I was fulfilling my internship in San Antonio at Travis Park UMC. When it came time for me to return to SMU for my last year of classes, I was placed under extreme pressure to forego school that year and stay home with my Dad. First, I was incredulous that my family would ask me to do that. What would I do all of that time? Just sit there and watch him deteriorate and place my life on hold? What if I was never able to return to school to finish what I started? Where would I get my income?

I loved my family, but I thought it was really odd that they would ask me to do that after I had been working so hard for so long. I was 25 years old and ready to get on with my life. It was 1979 and a diagnosis of prostate cancer back then was a death sentence. Even my father felt that was so much that he didn't want to be any more of a burden to us...so he left his doctors at Downtown Baptist Hospital and went out to the VA. He said to me, "Richard, I am going to die anyway...so I might as well do it out at the VA so it doesn't break the bank." He had given up.

I had two choices. Go back to school and stay in touch with my family as much as I could while I finished...or... Stay there in the house with my Mom, Dad and my not-to-be-named-sibiling and watch him die inch by inch. I thought it was extremely selfish of my Mother to demand that I stay home and I never understood why she wanted me to do that.

After considering my options, it was a no brainer. I was going back to finish school. For me, it was a matter of emotional survival. It had become a situation that was toxic to me.

The Fall of 1979, while I was back at school, I heard almost every day about how terrible he was doing and how terrible I was for going back to school. When I talked with my Dad, he understood why was there and knew I could return at any time that he needed me.

In November, of that year, I received a call from my Mother that Dad had suddenly taken a bad turn and that I needed to come. My best friend Don rode with me to San Antonio to help keep me awake and to keep me company. When I arrived, my Mom was in bed at home with something like pneumonia and was weak and couldn't go to the hospital to be with Dad. My sibling was in some other hospital in town being treated for something. (He was always getting sick with something...) It was all up to me to tend to my Dad.

I went to Audie Murphy Hospital and found Dad laying in a room by himself watching a Dallas Cowboy game. He was very weak. He had really gone down quickly since I saw him a couple of weeks before that. He told me that he was glad that I was there. I didn't leave the hospital until three days later when he passed away. The only other family member that was with me most of that time was my Aunt Ruth.

What I saw over those three days was the most painful and distressing sight I had ever seen. No drugs could help his pain. When he passed on, there was a sense of peace in the room knowing he was no longer hurting.

That day, I swore to myself that if I was ever diagnosed to have prostate cancer, I was going to jump off a cliff or go out into the desert...or do anything other than go through the pain and suffering that I saw my Dad go through. What a terrible thing to have to go through! It did horrible things to him and to my family that we never really recovered from.

I am telling you this for one reason, and one reason only. I want you to understand that these were the memories and the images that flased through my mind on March 3, 2010, when I was told that I had a moderately aggressive form of prostate cancer. I remembered my pledge to myself that I was NEVER going to put myself and my family through something like that.

My MD, however, sounded rather reassuring...telling me that this was something that could be dealt with and that there now was all kinds of technology available that could help me geet over this cancer and go on to have a fairly normal life. I didn't say it out loud at the time, but my first thought when I heard him say that was, "What a bunch of BS. He just wants to make a lot of money off of me."

As I began to talk to more people and hear stories of successful treatment, I decided that it was worth listening to the doctors to see if they REALLY thought I had a chance to beat it. Everyone in my family that had ever had cancer died from it until recent years...when my cousins Peggy, Mary and Linda all had to deal with breast cancer. Two of them are still alive today and doing well. My cousin Linda, the one person in my family that was more like a sister to me, finally passed away from complications. I miss her terribly until this day.

So, it was apparent that some people could beat cancer under the right circumstances and if it was caught early enough.

In a period of a couple of days, I moved from someone who was convinced that he was going to die to a person that might have a good chance of beating it. I was willing to give it a shot.

On September 30th I went to the MD and had my first PSA test done since I completed radiaton treatments.

On October 1st...I was told that my PSA levels were less than 0.1...the best possible reading. No active cancer cells...WOW!

The love and support I have received from family and friends has been precious and there is no way I can adequately express my gratitude. Its amazing how something like this gives you a different perspective on life. I still have problems that have to be overcome...physical, financial, organizational, etc. That being said, I am a fortunate man with a second chance at life.

I am also a man who has felt rather separated from his faith for quite a few years as a result of unfortunate experiences. Some were of my own making...others were not. My faith is still being tested and challenged every day, but its making a comeback. God is good...and hangs in there with you even when you are not aware of it. Healing does take place.

I am still under hormone treatment...and will be until next March...but things look very, very good. Much better than I ever thought it would.

Thank you for your support....

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Aftermath...uh...well...sort of

Been a while since I have written here. I have been so busy...so distracted since I finished my radiation treatments. Time to catch up.

I finished my radiation treatments on July 28th. In the time after that I have experienced many things physically and emotionally. Physically speaking, the first two weeks were difficult. I was having a problem with incontinence and having many strong urges to void...and not being able to make it to the restroom in time. It was a normal thing that happens to men who have prostate cancer and have had surgery or radiation treatments...but it was pretty disgusting to me.

For a while, I had become the person that I feared I would be...an incontinent white-haired man. I said for many years that I would rather die than be that guy. Well, I became that guy. It was very frustrating and embarrassing...especially having to run down the hall at work so many times during the day. But then something happened. Just when I began to think that I was going to have to make more adjustments in my life to deal with it...it practically stopped. Suddenly it became mostly controllable. I still have to get up too much at night and go a lot of times during the day...but I seem to be able to control it now.

I cannot tell you what a huge source of relief that is for me..but I still have to deal with the side effects of the male hormone murdering medication I have to keep taking. That is not as dramatic, I guess...but it is embarrassing at times.

I have never been a big "crier"...one who shows a lot of emotion...but the radiation and meds have made my emotions hard to check at times.

The week after I stopped treatments, my son and I took a week to move Allie out to San Diego CA to go to law school. The trip out there pulling a 6 x 12 trailer with all of her stuff in it was a lot more difficult than I expected it to be. A lot more expensive, too. Yikes.

We took two days to get out there and got her moved into her apartment. Then we spent a few days looking around, getting her some furniture and running some other errands. It was fun, but I was a basket case when we left her behind in San Diego and headed home. Drew thought his Dad has lost his mind...as most of the way back to San Antonio I found myself tearing up and crying and sniffling.

I have never done that in my entire life. I was with my parents when they died and while I was sad, I didn't cry like that. I have been involved with hundreds of funerals over my lifetime...and not once did I react like that.

When I was having a gall bladder attack and it felt like one of the creatures from the Alien movies was about to burst out of my stomach...it was incredibly painful. It hurt terribly, but it did not hurt me as much as it did leaving my little girl out there on the West Coast and driving away. I know she will do well in law school and I am very proud of her but even as I write this I realize how much I am going to miss her.

So, yeah...I have been through a lot the last couple of weeks or so...and I am not going to know how well the radiation did its job for a while. I just have to hope and pray all goes well. There is nothing else I can do.

But I can can say one thing...I am grateful for every day of life. Yeah, there are a lot of uncertainties out there. Sometimes life is not ideal. Sometimes you make a mess despite your best efforts not to...and then suddenly things begin to turn around. A child moves out and you are happy and thrilled for her, but your heart still breaks from a sense of loss. Sometimes life is disappointing. Sometimes it is thrilling. Very often, life is humbling.

But life is life...and today I am more glad I am alive than at any time in my life. I am blessed with a wonderful family and many, many friends. Life is good. It isn't perfect. It isn't what I thought it would be. It is sometimes very inconvenient. But life is life...and God blessed it and said it was good.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Endings, Transitions and Beginnings

Ever felt like your life was at a crossroads, but you didn't really know why? Life is full of changes. Some of them are welcome; some are frightening; some you just don't know what to do with.

I sit here at my computer this Sunday evening keenly aware of a lot of things going on in my life and in the lives of those around me. I am three radiation sessions short of completing my prescribed 45 for treating prostate cancer. Thirty years ago when my father had been diagnosed with this condition, at this particular stage of time his cancer had moved into stage 4 and was clearly terminal. Well...it is clear that that is not the case with me and I am grateful for that.

What is interesting is that I am feeling very much like those times that I graduated from college and graduate school...they were both very intense times of  hard work that ended with reaching a desired goal...a degree so I could get on with the rest of my life. However, when I finished both of those degrees there was a void that hit me. My time had all been consumed with reaching a goal...but once I got there the only thing that resounded in my thoughts was: "Now what?" or "What's next?" I remember how those thoughts echoed around inside my head much like hollering at echo point at the Grand Canyon.

Drew and Allie in DC
Regarding the cancer, I really have no idea what is next except that I have to continue taking oral meds to suppress hormones until March of next year. I am looking forward to some symptoms hopefully getting better. I have heard it said that I wont feel "normal" again for maybe a year. Others have said different things, so I have no idea what is really going to happen. I am still going to be forced to take it day by day and continue to be grateful for every day.

Allie, my baby girl, is moving west to San Diego to go to Law School. Drew and I are moving her out there the first week of August. I have always felt a sense of peace having her around with her occasinaly sassy attitude. She has certainly made a lot of choices that I wouldn't have made...but she wouldn't be Allie without that. This is the first time she will really be flying on her own and I trust she will be okay...but I wouldn't be a daddy if I didn't wish she was going to stay closer to home. I have no idea what is going to happen in her life from this point on....but like everything else, I have to take it day by day and continue to be grateful for what I have received in life from her. That said, my heart is breaking.

It is a new beginning for her and that makes me joyful. It is a difficult transition for me...and that leaves me with a true sense of grief and loss. But that is how life is. One has to set it aside, man up and move on...taking one's broken heart with him and trusting it will be healed down the road.

My co-workers at work have been wonderful and amazingly patient with this old man. Working in a government bureaucracy has its good and bad points. The people I work with are all wonderful...the kind of people you want in a foxhole with you when the bombs are falling all around you. 99% of them are wonderful. The other 1% are the price you pay for the other 99%.

The bad about working in a setting like that is centered about those times when the people who should take responsibility for their decisions (or lack of them) refuse to do so and let things grind to a halt when they should move on. So much of what I have to do is dependent on other people that I never meet or talk to and don't have a clue about how their actions (or omissions) affect the ability of others to do their job correctly.

My work is the biggest constant in my life. It almost never changes and I know what to expect. As frustrating as it can be at times, it helps to balance out all the change and transition and trauma that I experience in the rest of my life.

My Church used to be the real anchor of my life...but there is so much transition, adjustment and uncertainty there it has lost that steadfast quality for me. Have I lost faith? No, not at all. It is the institution of the Church and its structure and mission that is in a phase of transition...not the faith behind it. I still consider myself to be a United Methodist Christian in the theological and liturgical sense...but the larger connectional institution is sick and in need of overhaul. The day I walked into a large UM church here in San Antonio that was set up with television lights...complete with an flashing applause sign on the wall...it was clear to me that something was terribly, terribly wrong.

So many changes. So many adjustments.. It has felt at times like I was in the middle of a huge earthquake with the ground constantly shifting under me. The love of God is still there, though. My faith,  friends and my family are there. My wonderful 7 year old Jack Russell Terrier named Pippy greets me at the door jumping for joy every day. My 14 year old Lhasa Apso is behind him...moving slower but still there and wagging her tail. I am grateful that all of these things have kept me focused on the goodness of life here lately. I have needed it.
Pippy
Heidi

Monday, July 5, 2010

Time Passes

I can't believe that it has been so long since I have written here. I have had a lot of things going on in my head. I just haven't written them down.

As of tomorrow, I will be well over half way in my radiation treatments: my 29th out of 45 treatments. I am really looking forward to ending this.

Up until now I have felt some fatigue, but not much else. This weekend, I started feeling some other symptoms that I heard might happen. My mouth is much drier than usual, my skin has been dry but is now getting even drier. I am really thirsty a lot but drinking a lot of fluids means I have to "go" as you know. And when I "go" it hurts...really hurts. That has been getting worse the last few days. (It results from your urethra being scarred and raw from the radiation.) I have felt some fatigue and dizziness this weekend...and the dizziness is new. Its kinda scary too.

None of this is unusual. Others have gone through it. With time I will be better. All I need is for time to pass and for me to hang in there. I would be lying if I said that hanging in there and being patient is no problem.  Sometimes I understand why some who are going through this just get sick of it and give up.

At the same time I am going through this, we are having to plan and figure out how we are going to get Allie moved to California without breaking the bank. She is going out there to Law School. I am very proud of her. I know I am going to miss her very much. But before I can do that, I have to figure out how to help her get there. My treatments will be finished by then...and I won't be able to lift or carry much of anything...but I can drive.

So many adjustments, so little time. So many changes. Up and down...here to there...hot to hotter...energy to fatigue...Texas to California...middle age to too freaking old...salt and pepper to grey and white...and on and on it goes...alive and full of energy to alive and dragging my tail behind me.

If it was all up to me, there is no way I could get through all of this. Being around positive people helps me to stay positive. Being around people who are functioning helps me to function. Sometimes, when I am trying to rest on these weekends and I don't see many other people, it feels like I am just sinking deeper and deeper into my chair. I have to protect myself and take care of myself, but at the same time I have to stay in touch with the community around me. It is sometimes a challenge in more ways than one. If I had to stay home from work all week, it would be a huge struggle to keep going.

Time passes. Events in our life pass that we seldom recognize as meaningful until we are way further down the road. So, whatever comes to us as time passes is meaningful. Embrace what comes...and know that God will provide sufficient grace for you. When events threaten to overwhelm you, it is hard to remember that grace will suffice...but its true,

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Did Anyone get that license plate of that disease that just ran me over?

OMG! I have heard about it. I knew some form of it was coming, but I didn't know when. Last Wednesday it arrived in full force. Fatigue.
It sounds so whiny to say that I am tired...or that my energy is gone. I have always been a big, strapping guy that had a lot of energy. Very little has ever slowed me down. That changed suddenly this week...and it sucks.
When I got up on Wednesday morning, I felt horrible. My feet felt so heavy that they did not want to move. But I got up and got dressed anyway. Then I had to run Liz to the doctor before work. I sat in the truck and waited for her and I suddenly felt completely overwhelmed. For a few minutes it was really bad...making me think that something horrible was going on inside of me. When I went for my radiation treatment later that day, I told the nurses and they said that was normal. It happens to all of their radiation patients...to a greater or lesser degree.
Each day since then has been a little harder. I have been working because I didn't want to lose all of my vacation time...but taking off a little each day for the treatments. The City really doesn't make it easy for you to take extra time off. You have to be off several days in a row before any possible disability kicks in. If you just need to take time off intermittently for treatments, that is okay, but you still lose hours.
Also, I am just not a very good patient. Sitting around the home makes me bored and restless...so working keeps my mind active. I am afraid that I will have to take off more time. I don't want to stop working during treatments, but I may not have a choice if this doesn't get better.
A good night's sleep or a nap in the middle of the day will help stave it off a little, but fatigue still comes. I just took a 90 minute nap and I feel the same that I did before the nap...except for maybe thinking a little clearer.
I feel like I am really needed at work now and taking off a  lot of time will be detrimental to the program. There are a lot of things at work that really only I can do.
So....I just don't know what I am going to do yet. Its clear I have to cut back somewhere. What bothers me is that supposedly this can last up to 12 months after treatment ends. In some cases, some people never go back to normal.
I felt a lot of love and support from my friends at church today. They could tell that I was winding down. I couldn't stand for all the hymns...that has never happened to me before. I hope that my doctors can do something to help counteract this. I will talk to him Tuesday.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Memories

Memories are our history. They are the moments, planned and unplanned that went into making us who we are today. We said farewell to two dear friends today...Jon and Anna...who had been pastoring our church for the last seven years. Elizabeth has worked with him most of the time that he has been here. She has one set of memories that are different from mine.

I was reflecting today on how I am in such a different place in my life now that I was in seven years ago. I can definitely say that Jon and Anna walked with me through some of the most stressful and disturbing events I have ever had to face. In many ways they helped get me on the path to healing and wholeness, but they were among many who were. They are still special to me in many ways.

I was reminded today of how memories can hold you back from experiencing the fullness of life if you dwell on them too much. I was apprehensive when Jon first came to the church because...well...he represented the institution of the larger corporate church that I had come to distrust in so many ways. It has taken me a long time to heal from the wounds that I experienced from my experience and disillusion that were so prevalent in my life after my experience. He was not a direct part of it...I don't believe he was...but his coming was initially very disturbing to me. After 7 years, we still don't see eye to eye, but I can call him brother. It feels good to say that.

It took me over 50 years of life to have the experience of seeing the planets Saturn and Jupiter and their moons first hand through a telescope. I had never had the chance before although I had always wanted to do that. Heck, growing up in the 60s I was one of many who hoped that one day he would get to go into space or even the moon. Watching Alan Shepherd, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and many others filled our minds with hopes of living among the stars. I watched the Jetsons and was convinced that we would have individual jet packs and flying cars by the year 2000. In 1967 I watched with total awe the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey at the theater at North Star Mall which fed my dreams of traveling among the stars.

But other things happened, choices were made, dreams faded and before you knew it, more than 50 years had passed. No flying cars. No jet packs. However, in a field behind Jon and Anna's place near Gruene, I did get to see planets first hand. I saw, for the first time ever, entire galaxies like Andromeda. It had been many years since I had felt a sense of awe about anything...but that night in that field there was a part of me that came full circle. That is a memory I will cherish, but I cant stay there in that field. Its time to move on and give thanks.

Something else happened today. Another memory was brought to mind. The woman who was the choral director at the college that I went to my freshman year was there. Way back in the Fall of 1972, she did something that embarrassed me so badly in front of my peers and my family that I used her name for many years as a way to describe a horrible experience to others. Way back then, when this thing occurred, I raged at her like the wounded person that I was at the time. Of course, when you are 18 or 19 and something terrible happens to you, it feels like the end of the world. Since that happened, I had only seen her once in about 1978...and I let her know how I still felt about it then. Thirty eight years later, voila, we were amazingly in the same room again

Our eyes met today, but we didn't speak to each other. I think she realized that she knew me but couldn't place me. After 38 years, so much has happened I realized that hanging on to that memory was not a good thing to do. It was time to set those things aside and move on peacefully.  A little bit later, our eyes met again. We still didn't say anything, but I did smile at her. That is something that I have never done to her before. It was my way of saying to her, "peace to you." I cannot stay on that campus in 1972 still feeling the pain and embarrassment that I felt back then. We are not the same people we were then...we have moved on. Sometimes those hurts are hard to let go of, but taking them with you has noting positive to offer. I left that pain in the church gym today at about 2:30 this afternoon.

I have shared with y'all how painful the memory was of being with my father at the end of his life resulting from the same disease I am now fighting: prostate cancer. For years I have thought to myself that I never, ever would accept going through what he did. It was a terrible thing to witness. Again, however, after 31 years a lot has changed in the way the disease was treated. Back then it was a death sentence. Now it is very survivable. That is another memory I need to set aside...because I wont go through what he did. It is no longer a concern because of the many scientific breakthroughs that have occurred.

Memories are wonderful at times and remind us of who we are and where we have come from. Letting memories define you, however is something you should never do. Memories are not what make you who you are. It is God that does that...when he takes some mud from the ground and forms a little clay figure into which the breath, the spirit of god, creates a living being. And as the children's song says, "God made me, and God don't make no junk!"

I thank all of my friends and family that have been there to help me move on. Putting that stuff aside is really hard because you are used to carrying it despite the fact that it is unhealthy for you.

It is time to move on...and if you see me start to pick up that c**p again and start carrying it..you have me permission to tell me to "stop it." That is what friends do.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Three Million Dollar Whatchamacallit and Better Nutrition

You see at the right the very machine with which I have been getting acquainted this past week. I cant remember what its called, but it costs about $3 million. It shoots me with radiation to try to kill my cancer 5 times a week. Each session consists of shooting me from 5 different positions: 4 o'clock, 2 o'clock, 12 o'clock, 10 o'clock and 7 o'clock.

In all, there are 46 total treatments, so that means this thing is shooting my prostate 230 times with a beam of high level radiation.

Most men are understandably nervous to have anything aimed at their pelvis. I am among them. The side effects can be very damaging and embarassing to a guy. How much I will have to deal with those side effects is unknown...though I have already had a couple that are mild.

Other changes that have happened to me is that my beard was once very dark and bristly. Now the hair in my beard is nearly all grey and very very soft and fine.  The hair on my head used to be thick. When I got a haircut today, Tom told me my hair was much finer that it was the last time he saw me. It  is still growing a lot, but it is finer. When I stop all this treatment with radiation and hormones, supposedly it will return to its prior state.

I have never been very good with change, but I am learning to deal with it. People, churches and institutions need to understand their context and learn to adjust expectations and behavior if they want to get healthy and live. Its scary, disconcerting and difficult to make those changes reality, but it must be done to some extent if they want to continue to live and prosper. I have to make some personal changes in diet and activity.

Every time I go get a treatment, it is right before lunch. When I eat lunch following the treatment, I am much more aware of the nutrition value of the food before me or the choices I have. The baked chips and the salad taste better. I am not that concerned about having red meat. In fact, once or twice I have opened my lunch and found beef in there or sausage...and I feel a bit scared to eat it. I am satisfied with chicken or tuna...and suddenly I am interested in finding organic veggies and fruit. They are more expensive, but I try to add at least some of them to my diet.

Vegetarian friends have pushed me very hard to follow their diet. I have always felt in the past that vegetarians were a bit radical...that their intent is good but they go too far with it. I went to that restaurant on North Flores Street in SA named "GREEN." I tried their vegetarian meatloaf (say what?) and it was very tasty. The problem was that after that...uh...er...uh...well...lets say I didn't get any work done because I couldn't stay out of the bathroom. Not pleasant at all. So, after that, Vegetarianism seems a bit of a stretch for me. It is very hard for me to imagine having all my meals be meatless.

I did buy some ground turkey and cooked them as hamburgers. They were more than tolerable...they were very good to my surprise. Except for the feel of the meat as you compress it into burgers, it looks and tastes the same. That same ground turkey in chili, though, is a real loser. The only beef substitute that I can handle for chili is venison, but that is hard to come by unless you are a hunter.

It is amazing what being shot over and over again with radiation will bring to your conscousness. Surprising too. So, forward we go...onward through the fog. I wonder what else will happen?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Dealing with fear and postponing the bucket list

I am tired...and I haven't even started treatments yet. I start tomorrow....9 weeks, 5 days a week.

Once or twice I have had nightmares where I was in a hospital setting and they were x-raying me. The prostate cancer was gone, but it had moved to my lungs despite their efforts. It was so real...I felt hot in the dream, and when I woke up I was having a hot flash. I really believe consciously that the treatment is what I need...but apparently, deep within, there are doubts.

More than ever I am believing that cancer is not something you can fight on your own. Even when you are working hard to have positive conscious thoughts, the unconscious is scared and lets you know it. Thankfully, those moments have been fewer and fewer lately. The prayers and support I am receiving from family and friends is very meaningful and helpful...because I know I couldn't have made it this far without it.

You see, prostate cancer was my worst nightmare come true. I watched my father when he had it. I was in my last year of graduate school at the time and members of my family wanted me to quit school and move home. I felt bad about not doing it, but delaying my graduation and delaying getting into the worforce did not seem to be a good choice at the time. I was very torn. When he got bad, they called me and told me to come home. When I got back here, my dad was in the final stages of prostate cancer, my mother was laid up at home with something resembling pneumonia and my sibling was in another hospital across town with a supposed case of prostatitis. It was a mess.

I sat with my Dad in the hospital during those last days. The things I saw them do to him were awful and made me wince. I remember sitting there and thinking to myself, "I will never allow this to get so bad with me. I would rather drive off a cliff than go through this."

That was in November of 1979. Almost a year earlier (December 1978), it was discovered that he had advanced Stage 4 prostate cancer by a MD that had pronounced him perfectly healthy 6 months before that. He missed it. That cost my father his life. Back then however, there were no PSA tests or most of the imagery that we have now. All they had was the digital exam. By the time the MD felt something with his finger, it was already too late and had spread to his bones.

I am grateful that technology kept that from happening to me, but there are times when I wonder. You know...the "What ifs." What if the treatment they are giving me doesn't work? What if its hormone resistant? What if it has spread? Those insidious "What ifs." Despite that, I have remained pretty positive most of the time....and I have had no desire to locate a cliff somewhere.

No matter how positive you try to be...no matter how you try to lower your level of stress so your body can heal...they pop up on their own every once in a while. You are laying there in your bed resting, praying and thinking good thoughts...but those "What ifs" are the monster in the closet or under your bed. So I ask God to give me a sense of peace.

Then, I feel that twinge of pain in my lower back and I begin to wonder "Is that it?" "Is it growing?" Doubt tries to wiggle its way into your spirit. Sometimes it is made easier by being so tired. You don't want to upset anyone around you so you keep it to yourself most of the time...but at the same time you need their love and support to get through. Lots of conflicting feelings are flying around.

But I guess that is what it means to be human. We are often walking contradictions and God understands that we can't become who we were meant to be on our own. I remember Dr. Power at Perkins talking about the Jewish understanding of where we came from: God saw that the creation was good and he spat on the ground and formed a lump of clay from the dirt of the earth and formed into a thing with two arms and two legs. After God was happy with what was formed, he took that little clay man and the breathed upon it and the figure became a nephish...a Hebrew word commonly translated as "a living being" or "a living soul."

God put everything into us that makes us who we are. By breathing upon us, we are inspired by the spirit of God. We are of God and we cannot become who we are meant to be without being in relationship with God. That is what it means to be human...in my understanding. You can argue details and stories and evolution until you are blue in the face. The point is that we are not here by accident. We are meant to be here...with contradictions, conflicting feelings and what have you.

Thank you for being there for me. Please think of me as I start these treatments and pray that I find peace while dealing with it. I am not ready for a bucket list yet.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Changes

Its been a while since I have written. I have been really busy. Lots of changes and adjustments at work, home and church. My daughter has graduated from college and is going to law school in the Fall. My so-called boss at work is going on maternity leave. (I say so-called because I think of her as a partner and team leader of what we do...and as a friend...more than I think of her being a "boss.")

The entire professional staff at my church is in the process of changing...and there has been a lot of feelings about it both good and bad with some tragedy mixed in there as well. Those changes mean more responsibility for me at a time in my life when I am somewhat limited in my abilities...although I trust that it will not be that way forever.

This coming week the process starts of me starting to move toward radiation treatments. Part of me is pretty scared about that because I don't know what to expect in terms of pain and side effects. Cancer is frightening enough when you know what to expect. Your life is on the line and you are at a stage where you hope the treatments are working...but you have no idea if they are or not. You have to trust in what the docs tell you statistically and hope and pray they are right.

There are things that my family has come to assume that I am going to do for them and lately it has been harder to do some of those things. I don't think they understand that there are times when I am having a hard time and its really hard for me to do those things they are accustomed to.

The other day I went to a place at a theme park to help distribute material that is associated with my job and when it was time to leave I was expected to drag something really heavy to the truck. Before, it would have not been a problem for me to do that. It is a problem now...and not because I like it that way. I guess I am going to have to be more assertive in taking care of myself.

I realized today that all of these things, along with the changes happening at my church are really weighing heavily on me. I have a lot of responsibility. I dont begrudge that in any way. That is how my life is. I want to believe that I will have the energy to deal with it all, but I havent even started radiation yet and I am already having a hard time. So, I just don't know what's going to happen. Without having any idea about how its going to go, I am going to assume that I can handle the amount that I do now and hope for the best. If I can't, I will cross that bridge when I get there.

I have been through many difficult things in the past...and by the grace of God I am still here and wiser because of what I have been through. I trust that God will get me through this. I just hope that this same God will let the people around me know that I am sincerely doing my best...and also let them know when I need their help.

I have heard people say sometimes that "God never gives you more than you can handle." I want to say right now that saying is a big pile of stinking BS for two reasons. First, it assumes that God makes terrible things happen to us. What's up with that? That is so Calvinist...making the assumption that we are simply automatons created by God to live out a script that was determined for us before we were even born. God did not create us to be robots or puppets...and it is not in the nature of God that God would cause something "bad" to happen to creation.or to us. Secondly, there are things that are thrust upon humanity that are more than any one of us can take every day. Most of those things are of our own doing...by setting events into motion that create suffering. But there are some things that just happen...or things that happen that we don't know why they happen...like Cancer.

The point is, we are not meant to live in isolation. There is a lot that is more than we can handle. That is a realization that is a big change for me.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Noticing Things Are Different Than They Were Before

This is really hard for me in more ways than one. When you are fighting cancer and tuning all your energy toward your day to day activities and getting well, there comes a moment when you realize things have changed. Its hard to put your finger on it. I guess it is part of that "Clarity" I was talking about earlier.

In the past day, I have become aware of two more people from my life who are fighting cancer. One is the dad of one of Allie's childhood friends from school. He is fighting prostate cancer just like I am...except he chose to have surgery. I havent talked to that man in 10-12 years, yet when I heard of his situation today, I felt an immediate kinship with him. I am adding him to my daily meditations.

Another person is someone that I knew 17-18 years ago. She was someone I worked with in a church...and  is now going through daily radiation treatments like I will be starting in May. That was a very, very difficult situation back then those years ago...and I have carried a lot of hurt and disappointment from those days. This person was someone from that group of people that was difficult for me to work with back then for a myriad of reasons that don't apply now. Hearing of that person's situation made me feel an immediate kinship with them. I also realized that some of that hurt from those days that I still remember do not apply now.

It reminded me of what I have read lately that when you are trying to heal and be healthy, one must have a forgiving frame of mind. Things like that can never really be totally fixed, but for health reasons I realize that I have to let go of a lot of those feelings and allow God to take care of them.

Relationships do change. Sometimes they do so tragically and with unintended consequences. Sometimes, there are people who do wish you ill and want to hurt you for their own reasons. (I have definitely had more than my share of those in my life.)

It is possible to move on in life with your career, where you live and with new goals in life. But doing so while being so focused on Life's disappointments really keeps you from moving on. Never have I become more aware of this than I am now.

You know those clothes you keep in your closet for years because there will come a day when you will lose weight and you will be able to wear them again? There are some clothes in my closet that I have had for 20 years! Even when I lose enough weight to wear them again, I won't wear them because they dont apply to the person I am today.

It is time for those things to go...along with those grudges and hurts from all those years ago. It is part of what I need to do to be healthy and heal the cancer. It's not easy. It won't happen overnight. It wont fix what caused those things...but it will help me focus on getting well again.

God bless all of you and thank you for your friendship and support. I hope that my story and thoughts are helpful to you.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Whoops! Who turned on the heater?

Its been a great weekend. I have had a lot of rest and thought I was doing pretty well. So I got myself up this morning to go to worship like I do on most Sunday mornings. I was just standing there singing when I started feeling a bit dizzy and hot. When I sat down, it hit me: Hot Flash #1. I felt like I was sitting in a microwave oven.

Well they told me it was a side effect of what they were giving me....and last Thursday they gave me enough to last for three months. A nurse that was there told me that the drug they are giving me is the same drug given to women to make them go into menopause. Yikes! No wonder I was feeling hot.

I want to say this to all my female friends out there: I have a whole new understanding of you go through. Bless you!

Well, I am home now, with my feet up...feeling a little bad that I am not more functional today. Its amazing what a nice tall glass of iced tea will do for the spirit and the heat.
Well, i'm a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic: The internal combustion engine was neither internal nor combustion. Discuss.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Clarity about what is important in life

Nothing clarifies what is important in life more than a diagnosis of cancer. In a moment, the things you thought were important priorities suddenly take on lower status.

Oh yeah, there is a job you have to report to and duties you need to fulfill to the best of your ability...but things are different. Things like deadlines at work, financial decisions, doing your taxes, preparing a meal...those things are still there and you are aware of them, and you still do them as best you can. They are not critical, though, in the broader sense of things. Doing what is necessary to stay alive and heal...that is what is important.

I remember when I was in my early twenties and I was making decisions about graduate school and career plans. There were moments when things went wrong and I was terrified that the goals I had for myself had disappeared...it seemed like my whole future was on the line. I remember that there were times that members of my family of origin seemed to be working against me and the future for my life that I had envisioned. I don't know why they were like that. Maybe my parents were disappointed in the way that their lives turned out and in their own way didn't want me to repeat any of their mistakes...or didn't want me to do any better than they did.

Well, there are some things about my life that did not turn out as I had envisioned. Along the way I had many disappointments. There were times when I felt betrayed by the people I had looked to as models. The institutions in which I had placed my trust and dedicated my life were not what I thought they were. At 55 I am working to earn retirement from the City I work for...instead of the place I thought I would be. So I have had mixed feelings about my place and usefulness in the world off and on for quite a while. This has contributed a lot to the depression I have felt through the years. I don't know what you call it...identity crisis...mid-life crisis...male menopause...whatever it is, I have been dealing with it for a while.

Then March 4, 2010 came along and my doctor told me and Elizabeth that I had prostate cancer. If an earthquake had happened at that moment, I wouldn't have known it...but the ground under my feet was sure shifting. I really wasn't that surprised, I guess, as breast, liver and prostate cancer have devastated many branches of my family over the years. No one who had it survived it until recent years. That was what I knew.

What I was not aware of is how much the state of the art in treating prostate cancer has advanced in the last 30 years. I started reading and talking to people. I talked to many doctors and some cancer survivors who tried to convince me, without saying it directly, that a diagnosis of cancer is not a death sentence.

I had to get through several frightening weeks when I really didn't understand what I was facing or what I was going to do about it. After talking to doctors and others who understand the situation, I came to the realization that the only thing that was important now was to stay alive. That process came in stages.

Once the method of treatment was decided upon, and it was clear that I was not going to have to have very difficult surgery, I began to feel better. I started the Lupron shots and taking Flutamide, and though I was feeling tired, I was feeling better. When I went to the doctor the other day and we starting talking about getting ready to do the radiation, I felt better. My path is much clearer now.

Sometimes, when I am with others who are struggling with their cancer treatments, I feel very guilty because they are having a much harder time than I am. They are dealing with a lot of pain and recovery issue from surgeries. Some are experiencing terrible nausea or problems with their eyes because of the chemotherapy they are going through. I have not had many problems compared to them...other than huge medical bills. It doesn't seem fair.

I believe in the treatment I am receiving. I believe it will get rid of my prostate cancer. However there have been moments when I wondered if all that medication inside of me is doing what it is supposed to. The first hint I may have of that might be in May...but it probably won't be until July. There is a part of me that wonders if I am getting well if I am not getting sick from the treatments. The doctors have stated with no doubt whatsoever that what we are doing will work...so I am going to trust them and belive in them...but most of all, I will have faith in the God that gives me and those doctors life and strength every day.

Clarity...I highly recommend it. You see the people who you love, live, and work with with every day in a new light. Everything you do is an expression of gratitude for life and love. Life is a gift to be cherished...and folks, that is what cancer does. It changes every moment, every breath, every conversation into a gift that affirms life if you are open to it and listening.

I need to go empty the dishwasher now...but that is okay...that is just how life is. :-)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Feeling OK

There is just no way of being adequately prepared to hear someone tell you that you have cancer. It is amazing what your body does when you hear those words. The best way I know how to describe it is what happened to me years ago.

I was somewhere along the Texas coast. I don't remember who I was with...but I think I was with some guys I went to college with. It may have been one of those trips where we took pictures of historical sites associated with the Republic of Texas....Anyway, I was with some guys at kind of a swampy place where there were alligators in the wild. The only gators I had seen were in a zoo, so I was fascinated and wanted to take pictures of them.

There were a bunch of them about 20 feet from me on the other side of a chain link fence. They were just laying there in the mud sunning themselves...looking at us...not moving. In order to get some pictures of them, I had to step out from behind the fence to get away from people who were blocking my view. As I was focusing my camera, one of them suddenly hissed and charged at me.

Suddenly, I was an olympic sprinter and high jumper. The fight or flight response was turned on big time. You have heard about people who in that state lifted a car off another person? In that moment, that was me.

The moment I was told I had cancer was like that...but there was nothing to run from...no place to direct my response, no fence to jomp over to safety. The thing that was after me was...inside me. That whole first week was like that for me. Pumped with energy, wanting to act, do something.

So decisions were made this week. I started Lupron injections and taking other things by mouth. In two months I start radiation. Things are moving. Action is now being taken. It it still scary, but now I can respond to it.

I am going to have to make other adjustments as time goes along. I almost fell asleep shopping in HEB Friday. That was a first. I got one of the baggers to take the groceries out to my car. I never even think of doing that...but things are different now.

Thanks to all of you for your wonderful support. I am tired, still a little nervous...but OK. The process of healing has begun.

Please remember my friend "Elf" Louise Locker. She is having a mastectomy on Monday...and if there was EVER an angel in San Antonio that deserved our prayers and support...it is her. She finished a very nasty round of chemo recently, and this is the next stop in her treatments. This wonderful woman has brought so much joy to the children of San Antonio over the years...she deserves all we can give her...and more.

Louise....you will never be alone because all the children of San Antonio are your children in a way. They will be embracing you and your doctors this coming week...as will all the families you have touched. Thank you for everything.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Having Faith in the Process or the Person

In order to assure the best positive odds for your recovery from cancer, sources tell me through various conversations, books and articles that it is up to me and me alone to choose the process of my treatment. I am to believe in the treatment, believe in the doctors and believe that it will have a positive outcome.

I understand that. I really do understand that. It makes sense. People who compete in marathons have to believe that they have trained long and hard enough to complete it. Football players have to believe that they will find a way to win or else there is no point in participating. People who have goals in life must believe that they can achieve those goals in order to get there.

All must have total commitment to the process. They can have commitment to the process because they have been down that road before...or they know someone who has.

This reminds me of the conversation between the chicken and the pig. The chicken is thrilled she  is able to provide healthy food to to the world. The pig is less than enthused than the chicken, "Well, you are lucky you only have to contribute an egg or two here and there for people to eat. It requires a total commitment for me."

Commitment means you are all in. You are not holding anything back. You totally belive in what your are about to do and you are sure of the outcome with no reservation.

Cancer enters the room. Suddenly your picture of the entire world is challenged. Something has to be done to get rid of it. It cannot be ignored, yet not all is known about it even with the most expensive of tests. The decision is up to you. Doctors and people, most of whom you only know by reputation, are giving you their solid opinon as to what you should do and why. You research books, journal articles, websites and any other written source for information.

You are given clear pictures of the risks in different scenarios. You are told that surgery is not the best option for you because:
  1. There is a 51% chance that the cancer has left the prostate and if you take it out, you will still have cancer at the end of that process and have long term recovery to deal with to boot.
  2. For a person of your size, the liklihood for serious complications after surgery is quite high...but it is possible to do surgery if you really want to (at least they keep SAYING that).
  3. The hormone deprivation process is simply a politically correct way of saying "chemotherapy".
  4. The hormone process will last at least a year, meaning I will have to deal with a lot of menopausal-like symptoms like hot flashes, irritability and other things women are familiar with so its better to deal with that than the other side effects of surgery.
  5. The radiaton process will be over in 9 weeks and supposedly I wont have a prostate anymore after that...which would have been the outcome of surgery anyway.
So, as they say, the ball is in my court. The decision is mine to make...the doctors keep saying it is totally up to me. But the way they say it makes it clear to me that if I choose surgery, they ain't gonna be the ones to do it. They didn't say that, but I know when my arm is being gently twisted.

It all boils down to faith. Faith and I used to be well acquainted up until about 15 or 16 years ago. I won't go into details, but it was at that time that I found out the institutions and people that I had looked up to and trusted for so many years ...had violated that trust and were not there for me when I needed them the most. Things like that are not forgotten easily. It is only in recent years that I was able to start moving beyond that because the wounds were so, so deep.

I guess you could say I was in the same sort of place John Wesley was when he was smuggled out of the Georgia colony and sailed back to Europe in the hold of ship feeling very abandoned by God and all he trusted. (Methodists will know what I am referring to.) It was only through the loving attention and carre of some Moravians and other friends that he was able to recover from that spiritual crisis.

Faith is something I have had a hard time with...just like Wesley. He found his way back, I am still on the way back. I am further along the road, but I am not at the place yet where Faith and I are friends yet.

Now I am in a different situation where I must have faith...in the doctors, the treatment, the process and that I will somehow get through all the problems to come that I don't even know about yet. So, with faith being so critical to my health and future, you can understand my situation.

So, I have openly told people that I know I don't have the faith, strength or the intestinal fortitude to get through this on my own. I have to borrow the faith and strength of others to help me. One person told me they thought I was being melodramatic about it. Well, I don't care what that person thinks. 99% of the people I have talked to have been very caring and supportive and it means more to me than any of you will ever know. You are helping me find my way back.

My faith is growing in the process and in the doctors. I know that God will be there to guide me and the medical experts even if I am not aware of it. I have to trust that I can get through this financially, though the thought of it scares me a lot. Faith has not served me well in the past, but it has to get me through this.

Monday, March 15, 2010

50 Ways to Deal With Cancer

A Paul Simon song keeps running through my head...a twisted version of it, that is...


50 Ways to Leave Your Cancer...with apologies and sympathy to Paul Simon.

"The problem is all inside your head", the doctor said to me
The answer is easy if you take it logically
I'd like to help you in your struggle to be free
There must be fifty ways to deal with cancer
He said it's really not my habit to intrude
Furthermore, I hope my meaning won't be lost or misconstrued
But I'll repeat myself, at the risk of being crude
There must be fifty ways to deal with cancer
Fifty ways to deal with cancer

You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don't need to be scared, Baird
Just get yourself free
Hop on the table, Mable
You don't need to discuss much
Just buy a key, Lee
And get yourself free...

All kidding aside, Greg Anderson writes a wonderful book for those just diagnosed with cancer. It is called Cancer: 50 Essential Things to Do . Its very good, positive and I want to spend some time reflecting on some of the things he says.

The first thing he says is to "Stop Awfulizing: 
You've been told "It's cancer." First, you're in shock, and filled with fear. The next moment you're angry but not quite certain at what or whom. Then comes a series of thoughts in rapid succession: "How did this happen? Why me?" Then guilt starts to creep in, "Did I bring this on myself?" The questions about the final outcome start to rush through your mind: "Will I die?" "How long do I have?" "What will happen to my family?" Your mind is overwhelmed at times.

Be calm. Try not to panic. This is easier said than done, but be aware that panic will only inhibit rational and positive action.

Stop and examine your frenzied thoughts for just a moment. It is at the beginning stages of this journey that clear decision-making will be most important. With these early decisions, you will ensure that your illness is properly treated. Panic acts only to your detriment.

Panic is a mental phenomenon, a response to our thoughts about cancer being frightful and overpowering. The process can accurately be labeled as "awfulizing." Isn't that an apt description? When we awfulize, we take our current situation to its worst possible conclusion...
But no one is made up of fears alone. Fears do not necessarily determine the future. This is a profound healing insight. So what ought you do when you start to feel anxious emotions arising inside? Instead of putting yourself in the role of a victim hopelessly caught in a web of panic and despair, become the observer. By not engaging the mind in battle, by simply watching the emotions and letting go, your panic will soon subside.
Whenever I heard the word "cancer" growing up, it was associated with specific things: death sentence, pain, suffering, deep sadness, hopelessness and a sense of loss. Up until fairly recently, I have never had anyone tell me that they survived prostate cancer. Up until a few years ago, I knew no one in my family who had it or any other cancer and lived very long after finding about about it:

Garland V. Jackson Jr. (father)
Olive A. Jackson (mother)
Martha Jackson Stout (father's sister)
Linda Stout Deak (her daughter)
Earl Armor (great uncle)
Several others on the Jackson side
The only two relatives of mine on the Jackson side who are still alive after being told they have cancer and  have been through various treatments for it: Peggy and Mary, Linda's sisters. Peggy and Mary give me hope and they are an example to me.

It is very hard for me to view cancer as anything other than a death sentence. I am working on it, though. This morning, when I woke up the first thought in my head was "I am going to die." It kind of took my breath away and staggered me for a minute. Then, as the cobwebs cleared, I was able to fight back and say to my fear "Stop it. Its a different day. You must believe that healing can happen...will happen."

All the people in my original family on the Jackson side that meant anything to me are gone, except for Peggy and Mary. Peggy is one of the most positive people I have ever known...walking in 50 mile walks for cancer research and awareness. Mary does those things, too, but I don't see her very often. She has had her cancer issues too, but she thrives despite it all in her fantastic real estate business.

I have had my moments of panic...those moments I have to tell the fear to go away and force myself to remember that technology has come a long way. Those negative messages were hammered well into my mind as a child and young adult. Occasionally, though, I do have a moments of clarity when I think we are moving in a positive direction and those moments come through the prayers and support of my many friends and many people I don't even know.

One moment, I feel okay about doing the hormones and external radiation. Then the thought creeps into my mind : "But you are not getting the cancer out of you if you do that!" Thankfully I have great imput from people who have been there who tell me it can do the job. Then the thought comes: "But what if it doesn't??? What then?"

The "What ifs" have to stop. I know I am capable of making a sound decision...but those damn "What ifs" jump in there and cause trouble. So, they need to leave.

I am going to meet at least one Radiaton Oncologist this week. As soon as I am comfortable with one, and fully committed to the procedure, we will start with the hormone therapy right away. I am not really happy with the side effects that will go with that, but under the circumstances that may be the best choice of them all.

On another note, if you want to read about how Dan Jennings dealt with being injected with hormones, read the blog entry from Dana Jennings, a writer for the NY Times that was treated with hormones, surgery and radiation. It sounds like I probably have an interesting six months ahead of me. He has written many excellent articles as he went though cancer recovery and is well worth your time:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

OMG! I really do have prostate cancer - Its real, not a nightmare!

I loved watching the series Battlestar Galactica. I loved the story and the characters. However, the best thing they did was provide us an expressive word that can be used in place of the often-used F-word in English. Since I don't want to use a word that offends anyone, I am going to use the word that was used over and over again in that series...

FRACK! Frackity frack! I REALLY DO HAVE PROSTATE CANCER! Oh Frack!

It has been said to me before and I have heard it...but today I had one of the leading experts in the entire USA on prostate cancer look me straight in the eye and tell me that I not only have prostate cancer....I have a dangerous form of it, too. FRACK! OMG! My heart leapt once again up into my throat. My heart started racing.

Also, up until now, a DRE did not detect any nodules on the prostate. He found one there today. It is starting to move out. Wow. I really am in danger. More so than I thought. It was like being in one of those lucid dreaming experiences where terrible things are being said or done to you and there is nothing you can do to stop it and you can't wake up from it. I feels like I have been locked in a room with a hungry tiger...and there is no way out. I feel ok at the moment...but there is something in front of me that is going to frack me up big time unless I do exactly the right thing.

The good news is, that this MD's assessment was essentially the same as the first one. I am too big physically to have a successful radical prostatectomy. So the consensus is, at this point, to start hormonal treatment that will last at least a year and then two months into the process, start external proton beam radiation treatments that will last five days a week for about 9 weeks. Both doctors are wanting me to go to an radio-oncologist for assessment and more information about the treatment needed.

As I was sitting there hearing this assessment, the music and words to a song by Pink Floyd kept going through my mind. As he was talking to me, it was as though the words and music of this song were playing in the background:

Comfortably Numb

Hello?
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone home?

Come on, Come on, Come on, now,
I hear you're feeling down.
Well, I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again.

Relax.
I'll need some information first.
Just the basic facts.
Can you show me where it hurts?

There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship's smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying.

When I was a child I had a FEVER
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now I've got that feeling once again
I can't explain, you would not understand
This is not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb.

O.K. Just a little pin prick.
There'll be no more aaaaaaaaah!
But you may feel a little sick.
Can you stand up?
I do believe it's working, good.
That'll keep you going through the show
Come on it's time to go.

There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship's smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying.

When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown,
The dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.

Do not be concerned about the meaning of the lyrics. It is generally about a person who is confronted with a terrible situation that affects his overall health and well-being...and how detached he can be from it. The sense of being "numb" is very real...especially when it sinks into your head that you have a disease that wants to kill you. A sense of retreat or numbness is there...to protect me from the harshness and the fear of where you find myself. Besides, when I listen to that song by my favorite guitarist of all time, David Gilmour, who flies into a soaring, expressive guitar solo that is raw with emotion, I feel somewhat protected from the terror of the world of cancer.

This is no surprise for me. Music has been the place that I have retreated all my life to find solace and expression. The music I listen to often expresses the emotions I feel in a cathartic way that I cannot express on my own. It can be classic rock music like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Rolling Stones or The Who. It can be classical choral music like Handel's Messiah, Haydn's "Te Deum Laudamus" or Gounod's "Sanctus". It can be the first movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony that was written by a deaf man that hated sopranos and tenors. It can be folk music, like the Kingston Trio singing "Tom Dooley" or "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?". Or it could be Bob Dylan creaking out a nasal "Blowin' in the Wind" with a beat up guitar and harmonica. Occasionally, there is a hymn that touches me like that...but not as much as they used to. (Its kind of hard to sing about Amazing Grace when you have just found out how much cancer you have.)

I don't want to be numb anymore. I want to keep living as long as possible. In order for me to live well, I have to go through a tough time. I have some inkling what it will be like...but I don't really. How can you anticipate that? I know things are not hopeless. Today, cancer is not a death sentence...but there are moments when it feels like one. Thankfully, those moments are getting fewer in frequency!

The person that I was before cancer is dead and gone. I am something/someone else now. I am motivated to change, but terrified of failure. At the same time, I know that failure is not an option. I see a huge mountain in front of me that I cannot go around. I have to go over it. Standing there on my own, it looks impossible. I am exhausted already just looking at it and thinking of it. I have family and friends that are there with me...but regardless of that I am the one that has to go over that mountain. Somehow. My faith and sense of humor will get me through it with all of the support I am receiving.

Thanks for listening yall. It just helps to talk this out.

Peace.

Friday, March 12, 2010

First Report: Something to think about...

Facebook: First Report

The link above takes you to a note I posted on Facebook about my First Report from one of my doctors about my prostate cancer and what to do about it.

Prostate cancer is daunting to any man who has watched his own relatives die of this horrid disease. I saw what it did to my own father in a time thirty years ago when PSA tests were not invented yet. The only way to detect any possibility of cancer in the prostate what through a DRE. If you could feel bumps or something unusual about the prostate, then it was the only alarm that doctors had.

What was not known back then was that by the time the doctor was able to feel any abnormality on the prostate, the disease had already progressed to a point of spreading of the cancer cells throughout the body. By then, it was really too late. That is what happened to my father. He was checked during the Summer of 1978 and nothing abnormal was detected. Six months later, the doctor could feel something. A surgical procedure discovered that by December of 1978 it was in his bones and all over his body.

All they had to treat him with back then was chemo therapy...and not anywhere near the variety that is available today. What we didn't know back in 1979 is that chemo therapy was rarely effective in treating advanced metestatic prostate cancer. It might add a little time to your life, but that time was filled with pain, nausea, vomiting and a host of other unpleasant side effects. Today, from what I understand, it is rarely used.

They didn't know about shooting it with a proton beam from an accellerator type of device aimed by a computer. They didn't know about implanting radioactive beads. A robot to guide surgery was only seen in comic books or on episodes of Star Trek and Lost in Space.

Back in the 1970s, I was a pretty good science student and I was convinced that by the turn of the century we would all be going to work in flying cars like the Jetsons. I am still waiting for that to happen.

Of course, I was also one of those people that thought that the human race would be advanced enough by the year 2000 that wars would only exist in history and world peace would be the norm. Yet, I digress....sorry...

Now this doctor, who is a surgeon by trade, thinks I would do better with suppression of male hormones (testosterone) and shooting a bunch of female hormones into me over the period of a year. Prostate cancer cells need testosterone to thrive and multiply...so the opposite of that helps to suppress them.

I wonder why Elizabeth is liking the hormone therapy option? Could it be that she wants to have another sister in the house? Is it because she wants me to suffer like she has over the years with her issues and she feels a little bit of justice in having her husband force fed female hormones and experiencing constant menopause for a year? I would suspect she or any other woman might feel a sense of justice about that.

I have often told her over the years, "Honey, I dont read minds. Tell me what you want." Any married man reading this knows how well that works....NOT! Maybe she thinks I will somehow magically be tuned to her mental frequency and finally learn to fully anticipate her desires. I don't know....but it is funny to think about.

'Nuff said for today. I will visit with a doctor I know at CTRC tomorrow and see what he says.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Getting Well Again

Dr. Carl Simonton wrote a book in the 80's called Getting Well Again. I read it many years ago when I was in seminary. It is a well-respected book that illustrates how a person's attitude and spirituality can have a positive effect on serious illness like cancer. He talks about how some people will picture in their mind that the cancer cells are being attacked and killed...sort of how Pac Man would run around an electronic maze and gobble up fearsome characters, fruit that provide bonus points in the game and "dots."

I have named this blog after that book, because that is what I need to do. I have to develop a positive attitude toward treatment of the prostate cancer that I was diagnosed with a week ago.

Prostate cancer has always been my greatest fear. My worst nightmare. I knew it was likely that I would have it some day because my Jackson heritage is full of cancer. Prostate cancer killed my father in 1979, and I watched him die a long, terrible and tortuous death. Cancer killed my mother in 1999 when the slow growing cancer in her liver that was there because of hepatitis suddenly jumped into her lungs and killed her in little more than a long weekend. My Father's father had cancer, though he died from a heart attack in 1975. My father's sister had breast cancer which took her life in 1968 at the age of 48. She had three daughters. All three of her daughters were diagnosed with breast cancer within a year's time and one of them died a few years ago.

There is no other way to state it. Cancer has gone through my family like crap through a goose.

I knew I was at risk, and for the last ten years I have had at least two PSA tests a year. All of them were around 2.2. Suddenly, in February 2010, it jumped during lab work for an annual physical to 4.5. They called me on a Wednesday to tell me and scheduled me for a prostate biopsy two weeks later on March 3rd. I had to ponder the situation for two solid weeks without any additional information...a very stressful situation for me and my family. Question marks hung over me and all of us for two weeks. The biopsy confirmed my fears. Prostate cancer had reared its ugly head on the Jackson family once again.

There is no way to communicate the level of fear that sets in on you when you hear someone tell you that you have a disease that could kill you. Once I had the awareness that many advances in cancer treatment have taken place since my father's death in 1979, the fear lessened somewhat. I know it is not a death sentence like it used to be. Many survive it now.

Despite these facts, the fear is still there. Fear of losing my hair. Fear of long days filled with pain and nausea. Fear of surgery.

Anger is there, too. Angry at the message that unless I change my diet drastically, my chances for recovery will be compromised. All the foods that I love have to go away. I am angry about getting this disease because I have worked hard over the years and tried to do the right thing. I don't deserve this. Why not Osama Bin Laden? Charles Manson?  Ann Coulter? Someone else that the world doesn't need?

I am angry at my level of stress that causes me to do things I would never do normally. I find it hard to concentrate. I forget things I never have before. I run out of energy much earlier than ever. I dont feel like myself anymore and I grieve that loss.

Yes, I have many blessings. I have wonderful co-workers and friends that have made it clear to me that they care about me and will be there for me and my family. Its a good thing, because I have hit the wall and I know it. Remember when Bugs Bunny would put a trash can upside-down over Elmer Fudd and would bang on it hard and loud causing Elmer to stumble around and vibrate like he was a huge bell that was rung? I understand how Elmer felt.

My friends have convinced me that I can face this and that I wont be alone in doing so. I have hope. So I am trying to keep things positive as much as I can. Am I scared? Does a bear go into the woods? At least I will be able to name this thing that is inside me and will soon know exactly what my best options will be.

Onward through the fog.....