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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

Ready, set...re-set

*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...

Smoking.

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.


Sugar.

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.

Vegetarian.

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.

http://www.ornishspectrum.com/proven-program/nutrition/

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 yourself...you 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.

JM



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, penguins...you 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 time...how 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...







Saturday, November 23, 2013

Reminders


Stark reminder.

I always take a mental inventory of where I am at. That's everything - Mental, physical, spiritual...everything.

As I get older (Author's note: yet, still stunningly handsome), injuries mount and I tend to do things differently to remain on my feet, so to speak.

This year has had it's moments. In between testing, there are bad knees, hip pointers, pulled this pulled that. I'll take it all and you have to keep the perspective in check.

Then someone reminded me.

It has been 3 bouts. I stopped to take that inventory again.

Six years of age.

Then Eight years of age.

Bypass at 37 years of age.

Tumor 3 years ago.

Better than David Blaine. Criss Angel's got nothing.

All I can come up with - WTF. Not a classic line or anything but it fits. It is a reminder. The questions flood back - how many bullets do you have?

Today was a rest day with just situps in the morning. I'll admit it. I pushed harder.

I look at other men my age, and see the spoils of middle age mania setting in. Beers, TV, wings...all happy to slow it down. Comfort is key for haven't we lived to the halfway point? Aren't we due some rest before facing the later years?

I performed the 12th pull up yesterday and felt something 'go' in the back. Now I understand - shoot it up and get back out there - you can't take a play off. There is nary a breather coming. Not when the reminders are always hanging around.

Screw the shrinks.

Anger mounts.

You want a level playing field. Too much to ask?

If it's tilted then I want it tilted back. And now.

After the anger and, yes, the fear abate, then I have to dial in.

Do what I do? You bet.

Does it hurt? You bet.

Am I tired? Yes.

Do I stop?

If I did, all I need is a stark reminder.




Monday, November 4, 2013

Who Am I?


Who am I?

It's a question we've all asked at one time or another.

Speaking from a survivor's perspective, I can honestly say I am defined by what has happened to me. In a way, we all are.

But the question remains - Who am I?

After a few decades of thought, I have come to realize that I am something of a traveling sentient. Explain? Sure.

I feel it is my role to help someone heal, however that may be defined. I gravitate towards those who just want a listener.

Oh yeah, I am a good listener. It got me nothing by way of a well documented non-prom date but that's another story for another time.

As the disease and its fallout twisted and turned my internal vision of who I was physically, I discovered something deep within that may not have burgeoned without the ordeal to bring it forth.

Empathy. It makes me a good writer. It makes me a good listener. It's the ability to share what another person is going through.

I don't say this with ease. I can't really explain the situation properly. It just happens.

Throughout my life, I have been surrounded by people who 'told me' things. They told me how to run my life. They told me what medicines I will take. They even told me what I may be incapable of doing.

All were well intentioned. But the people that truly stood out in my life are those who simply listened.

So, today, I listen. Many times I can't do a thing about someone's situation. But I've found that people just want to be heard. It's a catharsis we all need. At least I do.

Perhaps I should leave that to the shrinks. The galaxy knows that I've seen enough of them myself. But I am compelled. It is like being magnetized, drawn to a crying spirit.

Yes, there is a downside. What trained counselors are taught very early on is the art of not getting involved. To be a passive ear, gently guiding some soul to the other side then once your job is complete, letting that person go to stand on their own.

Downside? You have to let go. Many souls have crossed my path and I have had to learn that when you extend a hand, it is simply to get that person to stand. Once they learn to walk, you have to take your hand back and wave goodbye.

Internally, this hurts. I've had to wrestle with my own inner demons and regale myself with tales of why letting go is a good thing for all.

It doesn't make it easier but if I am obliged to carry on this skill, then I'd better learn what the pros already know.

Still, the lesson is here for all - we just want to be heard.

Have you heard anyone today?



**** The Patient  ***


The patient explained that he felt overcome by a terrible sadness, that he didn't want to get up in the morning. He could not see any point in his existence.
"With your condition I would normally prescribe a course of my patent powders," said the doctor, "but it so happens that I have recently come across something which will alleviate your condition much more quickly.
"You must," he continued, "go to the Covent Garden theatre to see the pantomime, Harlequin and Mother Goose. This is the happiest thing I have ever seen performed on a stage, tears of laugher ran down my face. Why, sir, I can almost guarantee that watching Grimaldi the clown will cure you completely!"
"Ah, but doctor," said the man sadly, "I am Grimaldi the clown."


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Ripple Effect




Funny what medications can do to a body. Even funnier, and in most cases, lesser known is what harsh treatments do to the mind.

I was one of the few kids who wouldn't have passed the NFL drug policy. One of the drugs I was on was called Prednisone - a steroid used for everything from bad allergies to cancer treatments.

Side effects are numerous. I was a solid 6 year old that ballooned into a 130 lb 8 year old. By the time I hit 7th grade, I was 150 and climbing.

By comparison today, my 9 year old son is 75 lbs.

I don't like to sit and list blame criteria. It's a common issue with cancer survivors - Who is to blame? What causes this? Why me?

Still, it was widely known that the Pred was something that caused, at times, much weight gain. I honestly don't even know why I was on the stuff. You don't get much say at that age.

What is left behind is an overweight kid who still hides the scars from being the butt of the cruelest jokes. The circle was complete - made fun of, go home eat more, gain more weight, be made fun of more.

Let's not get all crybaby about it. It was a long time ago and we all know kids can be cruel. It's a fact of life and part of the emotional maturation process.

I'm also not going to lie. The ripple effects can be enormous.

To this day, I still can't go clothes shopping. I have no issue with certain sizes and all but the images of a fat kid trying on 'husky jeans' always come rushing in and I am 33/34 waist today.

In fact, let's be honest. Many cancer patients can be spotted a mile away. Bald heads. No eyebrows. Weakened walk. Who knows what else but usually the general public has some inkling something is going down.

As a kid? No one really knew. And if they did, the rumors would abound. One kid, the purgatory of my life, would often come up in my face and say wonderful things like, "Oh come on. Everyone knows you have leukemia."

Sigh, no jackass, I don't. At least that was my thought process back to him.

But why bother explaining. And what good would it do in the first place? You simply turned into the kid who couldn't take gym class or the fat kid with the wonky body parts who left early on certain school days.

I am unsure as to what the worst crime against a survivor can be - pity or simply ignoring them.

It's a fine balance. I say treat them as you would anyone else but slip in a "how are you doin?" every now and then. You may be surprised by the answer.

As children, the survivor scope widens. Kids don't have the life experience to cope at times. Who knew anything about Post Traumatic whatever? Who thought a child would be an insomniac at 14? Who knew or cared about the impacts to self image, aptitude or social trauma?

It was shock and awe. I hope it has changed, but I suspect when sniper fire does not work, it reverts to shock and awe.

It is a necessary evil. It is a genie with 3 wishes but with a heavy price to pay.

You can make your way back. I know this much. I just wish I had a guide out of the hole, decades ago.

This one is for those who don't think they can make it emotionally.

We can all be something great. In fact, I am pretty sure we all are.



Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Countdown....


I always get jittery in the office.

The oncological surgeon has a spot in Cancer Central. Four corners of a major space all filled with scientists, surgeons, oncologists, nurses and that one gal who validates parking.

I am not being braggadocios. I am surrounded by the elderly, the infirm and those who are struggling with their disease. I try not to stare because I understand and yet I don't want to know. The thoughts always race through my mind - who won't be here next time? I don't look like I should be here.

But no one ever sees the scars.

A new elderly nurse calls out my name. She actually pronounces it correctly. I believe in signs(ish) and this was a positive one.

Same old routine. I've learned where they put my chart on the side of the door so when the nurse closes it, I can listen for the rustle of papers. That will mean my doc will be right in shortly thereafter.

I read and re-read the same Melanoma poster that seems to be in every room. I'm pretty sure I can spot it now that I've seen the cases 450 times. I pass on reading the hand sanitizer. There were days I'd waste qtips in the garbage pail. Tell me you never pretended having an olympic javelin toss in an office!

Then the rustle. I hear him. Oh I know he's there.

He's the chief of oncology surgery. I got the best. I documented that a while ago. He's six feet tall and about 250 lbs. A right jolly ole elf sans the jolly part.

As the door opens, he fills the entire door frame. Usually, he is a whirlwind of personality and he thrusts the door open to announce my results even before the door closes.

Today, of course, is different. His round face is always beet red. Gotta watch that blood pressure, Doc.

"How are you feeling?"

"Who? Me?" Stupid question I know but this is unusual. "I am fine."

It's the truth. I am fine. I feel fine. I feel good. I kept telling myself this for the past two weeks. I'm not the droid you are looking for.....move along.

"Are you losing weight? Trouble sleeping? Body aches?"

"Well......yeah? I just want to lose 2 more lbs, I haven't slept since fourteen and you see how you feel when your 75 lb nine year old says 'Carry me, Dad'."

I made him chuckle. That makes me chuckle. I have bedside manner down to a tee. Just that silly doctor thing and I'd be in the club.

"Your scans were normal." Finally he says it. Fongoo, what took so long? It's been at least five minutes. He does what he always does after that - bring it all back down to Earth.

"Given your unusual tumor (read: we have no idea what the hell it was), I am always going to be extra cautious. One more year and we will scan once a year. How does that sound?"

I don't know? Sort of like Dana Scully saying, "I really just want to stay and watch bad TV with you."

I'm easy for him. In. Out. Collect copay.

I already have my appointment for next January scheduled. That's how we roll.

Tomorrow morning, run. Tomorrow night, shrink. Friday morning, weights.

All pretty normal. All pretty boring.

And that's just how I like it.....