Life With Cancer: The Biggest Fear Is People Finding Out What My Fears Are.

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If you are reading this, this has been revised a few times, the benefit and the curse of writing over a few days.

However, it points out that while today influences tomorrow, you don’t just stop there, you keep on going, learning, revising, and understanding.

I started this post out about a month ago. That is unfortunately the way my mind and my focus works at times anymore. I get what I think is a good idea and need to develop it immediately or I lose the focus, becoming like my dogs forgetting that they just ate. Good stuff was there, but now it isn’t, so I have to find more kibble.

I have two purposes to this entry that I’ve been thinking about and hopefully will allow for positives to come from these words. One is what I have been calling the 30 ‘til 60 tour, which essentially means the 30 days leading up to my 60th birthday. The other is to hopefully present my “Philly Music Play It Forward” project in December. More on both of those things can be found farther down the page and in coming days.

As a note: Sorry, I’m not much of a wise-ass in this blog post, not a lot of laughs, or what I think is a laugh. Though as I write it, who knows what brightness may emerge. Being hopped up on leftover Halloween candy may help. What I want to write about is not currently joyful for me, but maybe putting it out there removes some of the disappointment (and frankly, embarrassment) I feel in basically being afraid. This is being written for me as much as it is for all of you, so I thank you for your indulgence.

Now, back to our thrilling tale…

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This past week, while watching THE GOLDBERGS, a sitcom that I love (and yes, as with so many of the things I love, it is Philly centric), “Barry Goldberg” let down his bravado for a little while when he said My biggest fear is people finding out what my fears are”. That line, written for a comedy, hit me square between the eyes.

When I had started this post, ruminating or justifying on why I didn’t try to experience what was a once in a lifetime event, the Papal visit to Philadelphia, I was writing it with different intentions. I was watching the Papal coverage, fascinated not only with Pope Francis himself but also with the reactions of people to him and to the events surrounding his visit. Each city that he stopped in had a unique mood, a unique purpose, and a unique reception. It was the community spirit in Philly surrounding that weekend that had my attention.

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From the moment Pope Francis got here, this stop was for the people. While I do not agree with some church positions, this blog is not about religion, actually far from it. However, this was about the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection from the moment Francis set foot on the tarmac. His joy in seeing the throngs and the people’s joy of getting even a glimpse of his Fiat could be felt right through my TV in my easy chair, which is where I was all weekend. The look and feel of Philadelphia that weekend, devoid of traffic but filled with people was amazing.

However, that easy chair, those images, focused a part of me that I do not like a lot but do not know how to shed. That is the fear of doing.

And the fear of admitting that to people who I trust, who I know will understand if I just let them in.

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As most of you know, I currently am battling (and hopefully winning against) Stage IV kidney cancer for the last three years as well dealing with a progressive lung disease, which I have held steady from getting any worse (which is inevitable) for the last six years. I’ve developed many ways of dealing with these issues from a life standpoint, finding people with shared passions and interests as well as rediscovering things that I became too busy to pay attention to in my now-gone working life, such as some damn great music.

I’m especially looking at you, everyone involved with David Uosikkinen’s In The Pocket

As with anything, there are fears and emotions that manifest themselves despite your best efforts. Some are basic frustrations, like not being able or allowed to do physical things like you used to. Some are annoying, such as fear of a coughing spell or fatigue. Some are curious, such as those days where you feel good and start to dwell on why today feels better than yesterday and how you’ll feel tomorrow.

And then there is the fear of surviving. Not the fear of actually pushing this into remission and into the background for years but the fear of what comes next if you do. This is where emotions take over. This is where the question of “why me” that I’ve asked all throughout my illness will become “why me”, why am I surviving when so many other good people may not be.

That is the fear of surviving, not of living another day or week or month or decade, but of what I will be when I do survive. What will define me, what opportunities and experiences will I have wasted and not be able to reclaim, what impact will I have had while fighting and will it mean something once when the life lights are a bit brighter.

Survivors guilt is a powerful and haunting thing, balancing the utter giddiness and joy of when I’ll finally hear that we are in remission with a profound sadness that someone congratulating me may know others who haven’t gotten to that, or may have lost someone in the past, or may in the future. Or may themselves be facing a similar illness.

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By the way, I just noticed that I typed “we are in remission” instead of “I am in remission” in the last paragraph. That is the manifest of how much I value, desire, need, and thrive with the love and support of all of you. To me, this is our accomplishment because I’m not doing any of this alone. And that feels great.

However, there is something that I’ve not yet been able to overcome or successfully deal with, and last month’s Papal visit really forced me to look at it. That is the fear that now envelopes me each and every day.

This is more than the fear of dying, for that is ever present now. As much as I have learned to live with it, I’ve never gotten past it. That is part of my morning, noon, and night. But this is more than the fear of what is going on around me, the horrible injury to my brother-in-law and the pressure my sister faces every day in trying her best to make our lives as livable as possible. This is more than the fear of the financial and time restrictions I now have to face.

This is the fear of going out and standing out for the wrong reasons. Being afraid to slow down or negatively affect others that I may be out with. Being an easy target at the wrong time. The Pope’s visit really focused it this week, awoke that dragon that dwells deep inside of me. As I watched with marvel and wonder as my home town, my Philly transformed into a sea of people on streets devoid of traffic but filled with life and love, I feared what would be (and probably wouldn’t actually be) if I tried to be in that crowd, especially by myself.

Yes, I have reluctantly accepted the limitations that I know have, and that includes my little oxygen buddy, which I’ll now call Gilligan because hey, “little buddy”. The battery operated unit has a run time limited to four or so hours, so that is always in my thoughts when I am planning a day somewhere. Add in the reluctance to accept that time and distance are no longer a good friend and you have some fun logistical planning.

Still, all of you are too much fun to  be with to not makes the mental changes to fix this.

30 til 60

To try to affect that, I’ve decided to try to do two things, one for myself one and one for people and music that has been so important to me. This month, I begin my approach to 30 days before my 60th birthday (December 6th). Being 60 in and of itself is not monumental in the grand scheme of things, but this particular “60th “ milestone is very important to me. When I was diagnosed with a return of my kidney cancer, with that “Stage IV” tag added to it and I knew that there is no Stage V, I really went into a dark place.

One of my thoughts was that I would never see 60. Not that I wanted to get older, I like being younger, but that I was losing the chance to get older, and the fear of losing that was overwhelming. A year and half later, I am within one month of proving that fear to be unfounded.

The bad part of this fear is that, over these last couple of years, there have been so many good people that I’ve failed to meet, so much good music that I’ve promised to see and haven’t, so much life to experience that I’ve shied away from because of these fears. I am actually hesitant to travel into Philly anymore since I see the oxygen concentrator on my shoulder as a target if I am alone in Center City. I fear being alone in the big city with that slung over my shoulder. I’m afraid of looking slow, feeble, and weak. Because of that, I’ve been unable to keep promises to see some good people perform as well as to simply see friends.

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I still have that fear, and probably always will. A comedian who brings me great joy and who has been an inspiration to me, Philly guy Craig Shoemaker, returned to Philly for three shows at Helium that started 11/5 through Saturday 11/7. Read my past blogs to see why I respect him so much. He has a new project called LAUGHTER HEALS that is aimed at developing the ability to find the light in any personal darkness that you suffer through an illness or addiction. That is something I so desperately need.

Even though I wanted to see him, I simply was frozen in fear about heading into Center City with my oxygen buddy all by myself. I asked a few people who I know to come with me but nothing was able to be worked out. As it is, because my brother-in-law comes home today after three months in physical rehab, it pretty much settled the question for me and gave me an out for not going. However, it didn’t solve my fear of making my oxygen as invisible to myself as I want it to be to everyone else.

I’ll did the “being there in spirit” thing and listened to Craig’s “The Last Stand(up)” album that he recently released to laugh along with the Helium crowd.

With that said, it is time to also say “Enough” to what I am afraid of. (I saw a spider yesterday. That fear [and the accompanying scream] will never go away).

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So, starting with The Hooters concert at the Keswick on November 7th, I intend to take the next 30 days leading up to what was once unimaginable to me, my 60th birthday, and find ways to celebrate YOU. My friends, the music I love, the people that make me laugh, the people that make me determined, the people who mean the world to me.

There are a hell of a lot of you!

I’m going to be making sure my family knows what they mean to me during the “tour” up to December 6th. In addition, over the next 30 days (and with the caveat that my wallet may dictate some of this), I want to see as many of you as I can to thank you, to dance with you, to laugh with you, and to listen to and learn from you. I hope that you’ll want to join me one night, or for a few minutes. While my energy level probably won’t allow me every day out and about, I hope to do as much as possible with friends. Achieving that “60” milestone means nothing without friends. That mean all of YOU!

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As for the “Play It Forward Philly music project” idea, I’d love to bounce my ideas off of you over the next month to make what I have in mind actually doable and fun. The basic concept is to spread the word about the legacy and vitality of the music that has always come from Philly and to find a way for it to benefit others.

The Hooters are a perfect way to start these 30 days, because who better to kick it off with than the person who helped me find that inner joy of music again, David Uosikkinen. I don’t think there is any way I could possibly tell David all that he has meant but I sure as hell intend to try.

I’ve got a few dates circled now and hope to add more. I’ll be posting them on Facebook, but please, if you want to join me, just let me know. I’d be honored to join you for whatever. Don’t expect great dancing, though.

And with your help, I can say “Fuck Cancer and fuck the fears that come from it”.

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Dealing With My #KidneyCancer (Pt. 2): My Doctor Asked Me “AM I DISAPPOINTED?”

Note: My apologies for a more serious tone for this post. It takes in a fairly long period of some pretty scary questions and finding the humor in the situation was hard.

So, before I tell you how I answered that question, I want to get this post started off with some laughs from my favorite comedian and a Philly guy thru and thru, Craig Shoemaker.

I saw Craig at the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville last month, with a very funny local comedian who I just discovered, Jared Bilski.

maxresdefault Jared opened with a very funny set and in a difficult spot. Not only was he opening for a very funny national comedian, TV, and movie star, but he also had to open for a local Philly treasure, one who could match anyone for mining local references for laughs and yuks.

Jared did an great job. The way I knew this was that his set, like most opening comedian sets, only ran 20 minutes or so. Opening acts have to face the audience cold, with just an MC introduction. That audience just a few seconds ago had been chatting, snacking, talking on cell phones, tweeting, texting, and even peeing, though hopefully not at the same time. The opening act has to come on while the audience is trying to , or supposed to be trying to, ramp down the noise to watch the show. They may even say “Good, this guy coming on means it is only 20 minutes to Craig”.

Jared did something different. His set was so funny that when he was done telling us the true rules of those school zone speed limits (who knew?) and started to introduce Craig, I looked at my watch and was disappointed he wasn’t going longer. A “new to you” comedian whose set you never want to end is a rare thing.

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Then came Craig, who also defied what you would expect from a live comedian. Settling in for what I expected to be an hour long show, I instead got almost two hilarious (yeah, I used “hilarious”)hours of jokes, stories, and even show tunes! Take that, Russell Crowe. He added local flavor for the crowd because he knew that we’d get the references. He had us in the proverbial stiches. Though I have to disagree with how he demonstrated how kids used to hold an imaginary machine gun.

I’m not doing a review of his act here. Just do yourself a favor and look for both of these guys when they play your area. However, I bring them up for two reasons. One, I really can use the laughs right about now, and two, they helped me remember that there is humor in every situation; especially Craig, who draws on personal experience to give some very funny and poignant focus to life issues.

Now, what the hell does this have to do with my kidney cancer?

If you’ve read my previous posts of my medical issues, you’ve noticed that I’ve always tried to find the lightness in the darkness. And I think I’ve succeeded pretty well, thank you very much. And I will for a long time to come.

So, let’s start that long time today…

Dealing With My Kidney Cancer (Part One): The Serious and The Humorous.

The link above is to Part One of my kidney cancer story. Go ahead, click it to refresh your memory. I’ll wait here. …………….

Done? Cool. Then read on….

I spent the rest of February recovering from the surgery. Of course, it came with plenty of restrictions for the first few weeks. It also came with plenty of Percocet for the first week. That was the first win for me. When I take Percocet, I simply sit and relax. The clue that it is kicking in is a peaceful tingling in the toes on my right foot. When I feel that, I mentally let out a contented sigh and just enjoy the calm and lack of pain. I smiled a lot at nothing in particular. I even laughed at a couple of Jay Leno jokes, so you know I was feeling no pain.


There is more to read. Just click here.

[ PULMONARY ] Change Reactions

(Previous Pulmonary posts are listed at Previous Pulmonary/ILD Posts or just click the PULMONARY/ILD button in the link bar)

(A quick note: I tried to keep the tone light but I had trouble doing that, despite rewriting this numerous times. I’ve tried to keep the paragraphs short and segment the portions with line breaks to allow you to more easily read, and hopefully enjoy, these ramblings. Oh, and I left you a couple of my favorite musical treats at the end to leave you dancing.)

Before:

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And After:

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The” before” picture is my old oxygen buddy, a shoulder slung oxygen tank that I have been wearing since April of 2010. Like Robin, Tonto, Boo Boo, and others, it has been a faithful companion. But, it has been replaced by the “after” picture (well, not the picture but an actual physical thingee), the Invacare XPO2 portable oxygen concentrator. As this blog post meanders forward, this simple switchout of units will hopefully parallel what the last three months have meant to and done for me. At the very least, it will allow me to center my thoughts.

The “four months” I refer to in the title of this blog post are the months from August thru November 2012, a period of time that has been a busy and eventful for the rest of you as it has been for myself, in its own way. These four months are a milestone in my progress. These four months are pure me and where the “me” is going.

August marked the end of my 3rd year of being officially disabled by my interstitial lung disease, even though I’ve had it for an indeterminate time longer. We still cannot pinpoint how or why this developed, other than postulate that it happened as a result of some dust substance inhaled somewhere while working. In any case, for my sanity, that really doesn’t matter anymore. What mattered in August was that, for the first time since I have contracted this, my life would change in another profound way.

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I had to figure out Medicare…

…At age 56. What I had always seen as the( still ) prime of my life. That alone has been enough to dwell on, but then I reached the distinct pleasure of choosing a Medicare plan or plans, which is kind of like choosing from a large buffet menu when you would rather not have to eat there.

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I automatically received Medicare Part A because of all the taxes paid over my 37 years of working. That is essentially the free appetizer, good stuff but hardly filling the plate. If I wanted more coverage, I would have to belly up to the main steam table, where Medicare Part B was on the menu. Part B adds $99 (and soon more) to the bill, giving you more meat but still leaving the plate a bit empty.


There is more to read. Just click here.

Fly, Eagles Kloutperks, Fly !

If you follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or even as I move around my neighborhood doing important stuff, you know I have some pretty intense passions and I am not shy in talking about them.

One of them is Philly Sports. I get all worked up with all the Philly teams. When Fall comes to Philadelphia, many of the leaves begin to fall in reaction to my intensity during an Eagles football game. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet made a game at Lincoln Financial Field, which may be good for the success of the team, since my attendance at an event does not guarantee victory. With my progressive lung disease eating up my fundage, I have to shout extra loud from home so that the team can be inspired by my fan-acity and WIN!!!

However, thanks to Klout and BarclayCard, I wound up getting a very exclusive invite to the super secret inner sanctum of the Philadelphia Eagles, the NOVA CARE COMPLEX practice facility. Built on the grounds of the old PHILADELPHIA NAVAL HOSPITAL, I had not been on those grounds since high school in 1971.


There is more to read. Just click here.