Saturday, August 23, 2014

Thriving not Surviving

Eleven years running.

This is literal and figurative.

Eleven years, I've had to take a stress test because of the heart condition caused by radiation therapy.

Two nurses, and one technician later, I was launching off the treadmill. This, too, is a literal statement.

It's a tricky maneuver. You have to jump, electronics and all, to the resting table, flip on your left side and get your arms out of the technician's way so that they can get the all important heart picture while it's pumping hardest.

Eleven years.

This time was a little different, however. Voices, dialogue, all commonplace in my head as the nurses chittered on, sorted themselves out until one voice whispered through.

A fragment of texted conversation slipped through the barbed wire and murmured to me.

My friend and fellow survivor, Ali, poignantly pointed out her disdain for the word survivor.

"I prefer thriver..."

Those words echoed as I threw myself onto the table, with a waiting sonic wand being pushed into my ribs.

Since the first patient with cancer was diagnosed, we have all been tabbed as survivors - People who held on just long enough for the storm to pass.

Some more than others. It's as if a prophet spatters you in paint, showing you to the gods as one who has been afflicted. You've been compromised. You have the scarlet letter.

All true? Perspective.

I will sip from this cup. I have my days of doubt, more than some, less than others. But I am thriving.

As the saying goes, I am not just strong for my age, I am strong.

I can move.

I can think.

I can work.

That's not surviving. That's thriving.

We aren't hanging on. We aren't digging in waiting for the tornado to pass by any longer.

The day you walk out of the doctor's office, the hospital, the treatment room - you are replanted. You are back in the soil of life and you have a shot to thrive.

Circumstances change? Possible. Then you replant yourself again. And many times as it takes.

Look in the mirror. Show yourself how strong you are. You may see yourself in a new light - someone staring back that you've never seen before.

Be angry. Curse.


The nurses handed me some ice water. I stared at my time on the treadmill and guzzled. Sure, someone can do better. I don't care.

Many do worse.

Me? I am too busy thriving...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fear and Motivation

Cringe as some people may, there are few things in the world that motivate more than fear.

Fear of failure.
Fear of rejection.
Fear of dying...

As a survivor, I've lived with all sorts of fear. Many of which most people share. We've all been in a fearful place.

What we sometimes won't admit is that the fear itself motivated us to do something.

It's fight or flight. No wrong answer.

There is no sin in living for another day.

I've learned, or should I say continue to learn, to use my fear as a positive.

Fear can be the worst kind of constriction there is. Perspective is the judge.

A doctor who presents life and death before you.

A plan to treat you that can be construed as cruel torture.

Suffering until your innards can suffer no more.

That's real fear.

The perspective weighs in when your other worldly life presents the common fears in a different light.

Standing before a crowd.

Failing on your first attempt.

Afraid of the results from personal change.

Fear? Maybe. Perspective says it's not the same.

Don't suffer in the name of fear but succeed instead. At this moment, you can have that choice. Change the situation. Fight out of the corner that fear put you in.

Easy? No. Motivating? Yes.

Getting out of bed to run in the rain. Lifting until you hear a pop. Fear motivates me to move beyond what I thought I could do.

Writing a chapter to be the artist I know I am.

To not be afraid to tell people you love them.

What do you fear? And what happens when you react to it?

The crime is to do nothing.

Learn to do it. Do it now...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I Am Another Person

Racing legend Jackie Stewart once said, "When you put the visor down, you become another person."

I've been seriously thinking. It is time to up my game.

Do I really know if any of the changes I've made in past years is doing anything for me? Is it time to do more?

Today was a typical spring day. There is still a chill but it fades quickly in the morning now.

Spring holds a sensation of promise. There is renewal, literally, in the air.

I am always filled with sensations of yesteryear. Spring was a harbinger of summer. I would break out my baseball glove to take in the smell of broken in leather. Freshly cut grass was the world's cologne and clouds would hurry out of the way to give you the best blue sky you have ever seen though you saw the same sky the previous day.

Today was also Survival Clinic day.

I remove my work tag from my hip when I walk in because in a hospital people associate anyone with a photo tag as an employee.

The clinic always makes me jittery for one reason and one reason only.

I was the first to open their door today. Ten minutes later, the flock of children began.

I've documented the clinic in the past but I can never get used to it.

One year olds. Two year olds....etc. The parade continues - All balding or with no hair showing scars that run up the back of their naked skulls. Multiple tubes on multiple poles sustain them.

I'm the enigma or at least I feel that way. Nervous parents shoot quick glances wondering where, if any, is my child.

It's just me. I try to shrink in my chair.

A flock of bald boys hound one of the workers for the Spiderman House. Another wanted his mom to reset his video game for him. Still another sat in his stroller, wilted, his eyes barely staying open. He may be 5 or 6 years of age but he barely weighed 20 lbs.

A teenaged girl wheeled her way around the room in her wheelchair - All of this in a room no bigger than 20x20.

Chaos. Desperate chaos. Parents faking small talk. Children trying to be themselves.

I had no phones to play with. No technological distraction. I was thankful for that. I did it purposely. I find it cathartic to severe myself from the world even for a little while. This is what's real to me.

Still, I found myself looking out of the window. I followed a trellis made of pipe where starlings were hopping from point to point, heedless to what is going on inside.

One particular bird was busy ruffling its feathers over and over. He sat above a small roof paved with smooth gray and beige stones. I tried to find the flattest one for skipping along an imaginary lake. This takes up my time as more children poured in.

It was finally my turn. They called the only Joe in the room. As I slid my way around the large table filled with an enormous puzzle and a quizzical little girl who was lost in what must have seemed an infinite amount of pieces, I tried not to interfere with all of the play. Truth is, I tried not to step on the tubes, wheels and strewn clothing. I was the odd puzzle piece here.

I was sharing their world but I felt like an outsider. I am always reminded of how my parents must have felt when they took me to the clinic.

It was a long survivor conversation. Again, questions abound but it is all good. I am doing the right things. I am asked to tell others about it at some point. I have testing to perform for next level conversations. Always vigilant.

The nurse practitioner kept talking but my mind was elsewhere. The children get to me. I damn myself for thinking some may not make it to their next birthday. Many can't comprehend the precarious position they are in.

This fuels the nagging thought I've had about what is 'enough'. Can you make a difference? Can we change it all in the end?

Some days I say yes. Emphatically, yes.

Other days, I trip. In my head, I wonder. Lift your weights. Eat your greens. Run like crazy. Rinse. Repeat. All for what?

The children really had gotten to me. They always do.

Tomorrow, I will resolve to do it all better. Tomorrow, I will be a different person. It probably won't be noticeable. Deep down, I will feel the kick. It's a low tremor. All tomorrow.

I know within the changing tides called Me there are more untapped resolute feelings to expose.

I told the NP that viewed me today that I won't know if any of this works for another 47 years. The brings a smile to her face per usual.

I may have to be a different person to keep going. The only way I know how to do that is to put my visor down.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014



Everyone deals with it every moment of every day.

Some plod through everyday changes that don't affect the sun from coming up.

Others deal with change on a cataclysmic level.

Survivors do both but change represents a resonating ripple that never stops. It's a twang that pierces and reverberates throughout our lives.

So much so that any change, good, bad, ugly or indifferent, marks a stress that is hard to describe. I am sure there is a psychological term for it but that is irrelevant.

In the darkest of days, replete with pain, nausea or worse, survivors rely on routine and comfort points to pull them through. The simplest items such as a favorite TV show at the regular time or the cacophony of crickets on a spring evening can mean being above or below the line of sanity. A simple tune on the radio can mean salvation or a tumble into despair.

When those dark waters ebb, change still reverberates.  It still clangs within our minds. Fear's flame never truly snuffs out. A new school. A new home. A new job. A new life. Fear. There are no comfort points to hold onto.

Survivors struggle to free themselves into a brave new world. Those that take a step, are loathe to make mistakes or venture too far. Some even fail...

Change. Always a constant in the universe.

But there are many who swallow their fear and push outside of their realm. They will take cues from those before and "just do it". The are truly naked and afraid but in their tremble, they seek to put their steps in another arena.

Change can bring about a sense of normalcy. There is a small bravado that comes with conquering the fear of the unknown.

I grew up an introverted loner. The world was scary. It still is. To this day, I will not watch the news. New people, places....all long shadows that cast over me to this day. They lay hidden. Lying in wait. They will not influence me like before but they are still there.

Change can be a sugar. Sweet. And you once you experience any change, you will start to crave more.

Many survivors never learn this. I know many who have.

I salute them and I walk with them in spirit.

This is who we are. We can make a difference in this harsh world.

And we welcome the change...

Monday, February 24, 2014

On My Own

"I don't have to see you for a full year....get out."

Those were the words of my oncology surgeon. I am now moved from 6 month scans to waiting a full year.

Like most survivors, I am not sure how I feel about this. It is the best of times and, can be, the worst of times - in my head.

The checkpoint was comforting. Who, today, has a team of doctors that poke and prod to be sure they are on top of any circumstance?

Call it a safety net.

Now it's a whole year.

I know - this is a good thing. In May, it will be 5 years from my last bout. I am doing what I can so that I can make it 50 more years.

Still, I can't afford taking anything for granted. It's another year of battling weight gain, ditching sugar, running, gyms, aches...

Waking up every night for no reason.

Shooting pains on strained muscles...pulls, twitches, sprained fingers...all of it.

Just thinking on it makes me tired. And, yes, there are days I am oh so tired.

Is it worth it? Ask in 40-50 years. I hope to tell you yes.

Don't let anyone, me included, fool you - it is hard.

I am a creator. A writer. Though I have few channels for my creativity, I still push off using them. I want to sit, sleep, think, sleep more. I think they call this depression. It's a constant battle. Stay still and sip on time. No more big gulps.

Don't worry, I always win, but the days get long and the nights grow shorter and shorter. Thinking is more tiring then running for me.

The mind never stops. And I hope that it never will. The only constant is turmoil.

It has been misdiagnosed as ADD at times. Paying attention is not my strong suit. Focus is a struggle. I want to tell them it isn't that I don't find what they say interesting. It's that I have full conversations colliding in my head. Dialogues that never end. Scenes of real life that never cease. I have learned to nod....a lot.

Now how do I get stronger when men my age prefer a beer and a larger belt? How do I get leaner, and yes, maybe meaner? How do I fend off cancer?

I don't find other bits of life trivial. Then again, yes I do. Stress needs to be mitigated but sometimes stress keeps me going as well. The job has to pay the bills, the job be damned.

Moving forward and always looking back over my shoulder.

What have I missed? What was stolen? Can I get it back? Can't I have another hack at life?

I think I can.

Can I remake myself?

I think I can.

Hard. So very hard for me to do so. Someone do it for me. Please?

I once wrote a story in 5th grade about a soldier in a war. The line I put down that caught the teacher's attention was, "I kill to survive, and survive to be killed."

So much to think about.

Looks like I have another year to do so.

Monday, December 30, 2013


*Note to reader - I am not a certified trainer or nutritionist. I do what I do and eat what I eat based on years of research and, sometimes, painful trial and error. Please take my thoughts as just that - my own thoughts.

It is usually this time of year that I get many questions. It's my intention to put down my thoughts for 2014, controversial as they may be to some.

The following is in response to the queries I often get and my perspective on those questions posed to me.

Resolution -

her resolution not to smokeintentionresolvedecisionintentaim,plancommitmentpledgepromise.

2014...Resolutions abound. It is at year end where we all decide change is imminent. Truth is, change is always imminent. Not a moment passes in which change hasn't happened.

As the year closes and the new year takes hold, know this truth - Negative change is coming. Positive change is up to you.

Okay, before the emails, IMs and FB messages start in on me about negative change, let's be realistic. What you view as a negative may not be so negative to someone else. A hangnail and hornet sting are two different types of pain. Negative can all be in perception. Yes, we all have our tragedies, both great and small. They happen and can't be avoided. Take note of this and remind yourself whenever negativity hits you, you will hit it back and hard.

My emphasis is on the positive. We can wait for positive change, check our Powerball tickets and hope for the best. Or we can force the positive. Daily if need be. The aim of this article is to force positive change from within. It all starts there...

Here are my thoughts on...


I'm not talking about what Native Americans had experienced in the 1700s. Today's smoking has no health benefit. Period. If you need studies, upon studies, then you are addicted. If you stand in the rain, the snow, the fog, or the earthquake at work to have a cigarette, then you are addicted. If you find it hard to simply walk away - then you are addicted.

But Joe. What about alcohol? Bad food? Smog?

True. All of these in bunches are just as harmful. But know this - if everyone quit smoking, then maybe some of the pollutants of our era would be less tolerated.

Now don't go all ga ga on me about beer, wine, etc etc. I am not the Health Police. I am not slapping Molsons from everyone's hand. Your twinkie is safe. And the person who ran his finger through the frosting on the cake was probably me. Do I believe in moderation? Damn right I do. Trouble is, most of us don't know what moderation is.


Our ancestors knew the difference between bitter and sweet. It's engrained in our DNA. Our instincts still love fat and sweet. We needed the energy, both stored and burned to survive. Our cultures have twisted this into the cravings we have today. With sensory overload, the addictions and cravings are still there.

Can you break this cycle? Sure. I am a recovering sugar-holic. As a teen, I would take out a spoon and scoop the white stuff out of my mom's sugar bowl to eat it raw. I would have Cocoa Pebbles with chocolate jimmies on top. No lie.

Does processed sugar damage you? Yup. If you ween yourself off you will find that the lure isn't as great. I've come to appreciate the treats I do have. It is never easy but certain items like candy bars and snack cakes are easy to avoid. If I do go off the wagon, it is usually around a celebration or holiday and even then, my body tells me when enough is enough. The bang is no longer worth the bite.


To be clear once again. I am a vegetarian who eats eggs, fish, but no dairy. Go figure. This decision didn't happen over night as some may have thought.

After my heart surgery, I panicked. Plain and simple. I gobbled, no pun intended, all of the nutritional information I could. I had to get better. I couldn't die this young.

Dr. Dean Ornish had a radical plan. I bought into it. He not only removed processed fat from your diet but he removed ALL fat. His theory, which was slightly radical at the time, was to 'starve' a body from fat so much that heart disease could literally be reversed.  Backed by years of study, I had to attempt this approach even just from my mental state.

Talk about hard. After many months, I settled down. Radical as this change was, and a promise of what it could do for me, I had to look at what my body really needed. Fats are what our bodies need. In our sheltered worlds, this has a different meaning. Fat was where you found it. It roamed for miles over a landscape. We chased it. We hunted it. We died for it. Now? We reach for it, packaged neatly in cellophane.

As for being a veggie head? This took place not as a dare or snap decision. I cut various components out of my diet one at a time. Now? I ask what, if any, bang does my next bite give me. Truth. Next time you eat something ask yourself, nutritionally, what is that food giving you? Is it fresh or out of a can? Is it green? Does it contain more than 6 ingredients? Are any of those ingredients actually living things or are they chemicals?

Let me know what the answer is...

Joe, you have such will power.

All in the motivation. I've had cancer 3 times. Part of the treatments from those incidents had a doctor play Aliens in my chest.

I don't want to say it's easy. But I know a majority haven't gone through major health issues. Your motivation will be more difficult. Your own gun has to be placed at your temple. But I do beg you to do so. I know we are all born to die. But who said it has to be on someone else's terms? Men who hit their 40s and decide it is better to have 6 beers rather than do 6 miles. Women who think that once they are tabbed with 'Grandma', it's only a matter of time. Nonsense.

I was 220 lbs in Highschool. I am 162 lbs today.
I wrote my own abs challenge when I grew bored of doing the official challenge for 2 months.
I am still slow but I run longer at my age now, than I did when I was 27.

None of these are opinions. These are my facts. Motivated? Yes. My family and friends need me. I am no male model. I am just a person who is going into life kicking and screaming. If that is a role model then sign me up.

Don't ever be afraid to amaze wouldn't believe how many people are simply afraid...

I can't run. I don't have time for the gym. I can't do all that. 

Don't run. Walk. Walking starts it all. Then push yourself. Walking can turn into jogging. Jogging turns in to running. Running turns into High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

Don't count the number of days that have passed. Just know that tomorrow, you are at it again. This is the new you.

Get an exercise ball and some dumbbells.

That's it. Start it. Start it slowly. Just do something everyday. Lift a little. Move a little. Every brick helps build your wall.

You don't need to find a track and run 10 miles your first go. It will only frustrate you. And that's the key to the life change. ELIMINATE WHAT FRUSTRATES YOU. Seems simple doesn't it?

You want to lose weight? It took me years to get where I am today. That's not a discouraging comment. What it means is that this is a lifestyle change for you. Look at what you eat, eliminate items, one at a time, and GO. Sooner than you realize, this is how you do things. There is no turning back. You won't want to anyway.

You want time to exercise? If you can't afford a treadmill, then get a 5.00 jumping rope. 20 minutes later, you are done.

Can't afford a juicer? Understood. They make these things like something paid for by NASA and built to land on Mars. Purchase a couple of bottles of vegetable juice, and experiment. Just one glass a day...

But Joe I have to make time....yes, yes you do. And here is the biggest stumbling block for most people. Invariably, this is a selfish act that benefits those around you. It is all for you. But the bennies that you give off are for everyone around you.

You are healthier, more energetic. You can 'keep up'. Mentally, you are sharper. You will tackle on subjects you may have shied away from previously. You can take care of others now that you are taken care of. Finally, you will know the difference between feeling okay and feeling damn good.

It all starts with baby steps.

Maybe there is negative change on the way. There are also thousands, maybe millions who would switch with you and the choices you will face. Be thankful you are alive and make your positive changes now. They are heavy sandbags against the tide. Stack them up. Each one counts. Your wall begins now.

At midnight, make a toast to yourself. 2014 is here. You are one baby step away from changing it all for the better....

Have a happy and healthy new year.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Thoughts 2013

I might as well get it out of the way - I don't think Christians have sole possession of "good will towards men".

I think Christmas should be the true Earth Day.

Sure we all go out and plant shrubbery in April but the true Earth Day is now.

Everyone. Atheists, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Orthodox Sesame Streeters, name it.

One single day. One day.  We all lay down our arms. We all make peace.

"Enemies becoming friends, when bitterness ends" - Faithless

That's the goal isn't it? Commercialism be damned.

For once, the alien races will look down at us not in laughter but in unity.

One day. That's all it takes.

Today's wind was biting. It's a balmy 40 degrees, but I felt compelled to take my HIIT training outside just mainly so I can breathe.

I confess to being bedeviled by thoughts of aging, dying, and much is left? You can quickly cast them aside by breathing. It is proof that everything works.

You get shaken now and again so go out and prove that you are alive. Try it. You will see.

In this year of reflection, we often forget that it was "a year" to actually reflect upon.

We scratch and claw through our common lives daily. So much so, we forget that on our yearly birthday, we shouldn't count how many years are behind, but the fact that we got here in the first place.

It counts. We made it. And yet some have not.

This is a club, People. It's not solely for those who survive diseases but for those who survive life. Sure we forget. Well, here's a great time to remember.

Always remember...

You got here.

Someone probably helped along the way.

Someone new will help you in the future.

You will go it alone...and that's fine.

You won't be alone for long...

Remember Earth Day...we are united. We are thankful. We are strong in the knowledge that nothing in the known universe will stop us from simply surviving...

To all those I have met in 2013 and beyond, may you find peace during this season. And to all of those I have yet to meet?

See you soon...