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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Life...

*Note to reader: To the people of Newtown, Connecticut - nothing can be said to bring back your loved ones. No one can pretend to understand what you are going through. It is this writer's hope that the precious metal we call Life be eternally held as priceless by all of us going forward. 

"There are some upon this earth of yours," returned the Spirit, "who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all out kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us." - A Christmas Carol

There was a story of a pride of lions. Scientists had followed this pride for over a year. Their social patterns were fascinating. The males sired, and the females hunted. They held court in their hard earned territory.

One day, the pride, mostly the females, turned on a young male. He was far off from being the alpha male but still, he was young and strong. The lionesses fought him tooth and nail until they drove him from the pride. 

Left on his own, he would either suffer his fate and die on the plains or he would have to fight his way into another pride.

The scientists were baffled. Why had the pride turned on this one lion? They were so threatening that the scientists were sure had he not left the group he would surely have been killed. 

Then a thought occurred. The young male had been acting strangely. Nothing too overt, but there were signs that something was amiss. He would eye the young cubs suspiciously and nose around the nursery too close for the comfort of the lionesses. 

The scientists concluded that the pride knew something was wrong with this young male lion. In the law of the land where every animal fights for survival, it is essential that only the strongest DNA be passed on from generation to generation. Any break in this chain, dooms that line of creature. 

The lions knew something was not right with the male. Even the scientists admitted later that he probably would have killed cubs if left to his own devices. 

This was a true story.

Animals know what's wrong. They feel it. Their instinct for survival supersedes our social order as humans.

A lion does not need to be told that life is prized above all else in the universe. Every ounce of their being is bent on life and its preservation.

Humans? We can be different. Unless we are pushed to the brink - fight or flight. Unless a human is facing his/her mortality, we barely acknowledge our right to live...worse yet, our love of life. 

We are afraid. Afraid to grasp life because it is a dragon and a thrashing one at that. Life will whip you around, throw you to the ground, and toss you to the heavens. Its teeth will snap on you. Life will make you bleed. 

But it will also let you breathe. It will let you swim and fly. Life will make you wonder. It will make you sing. It will make you love. 

Life can destroy, and in the same instance, mend. It can be maddening, perplexing, muddling, and a paradox from where there is no escape. And we shouldn't want to. 

Life is challenging and laughter. It is thoughtful and kind. Life can be cruel and wicked. 

It is the greatest treasure we can hold in our hearts. We often forget that. 

Tragedy is solemn and serious. 

We cannot wait for tragic moments to remind us that we, everyone on Earth and beyond, survivors of every day, are the universe's most invaluable living entities. 

Now we have to share that. Share it going forward. With everyone.

If we all fought for Life, we would never cast it aside again. 




Wednesday, November 14, 2012

....Appreciate...

*Note to reader: This posting is dedicated to a young man who passed from a brain tumor November 13, 2012. In deference to his family, I will not refer to his name. Just know that for all of the fighting and all of the bravado, there are losses and this fact, on every level, is tragic. I, for one, refuse to think this death or any other is in vain.

Ten years for an automobile is a long time. Ten years for child is nary a beginning.

I am approaching an age where loss, passing on and death tug at the corners of one's mind. A generation prior quickly becomes a generation lost.

In the battles with disease, when you are just trying to tread water, you can forget easily that your own mortality is in the balance just from time alone.

In recent days, news of the fallen has spilled in. One in particular is that of a ten year old boy who succumbed to a brain tumor. I confess to not personally knowing the boy but that doesn't cause one to pause for a very long moment.

During this time of year, our culture constricts the family bond to, sometimes, force us all in reminder that what is present now will not be guaranteed to have a future presence at all.

Immediately, there is a family who will not have their son, cousin, nephew, friend with them.

I know this is not uncommon. It's a sad truth. The world continues to rotate as we cling to the fabric of memory, every fiber stretching before us.

This isn't to focus on death. Tribulation berates us at every turn. So much so, that we often grow numb to the message.

This is a reminder that life is beyond price. Your life is priceless. We need you here. We want you here.

If we could pause for every loss, even for a moment, we would remind ourselves that there is a need, a demand, to be thankful for every breath we take.

We don't know where we will be tomorrow. I am not into the preordained. I am into appreciating every step we can take together.


This season, be thankful. Be grateful. Be humble. If we could all do these things at once, the universe would suddenly be in sync. Just an opinion.

Consciously remember to breathe. It is a treasure to do so. We want to celebrate life and the memory of how people lived, not how they left us.

Tell someone you appreciate them every day. It is our duty. It is our truth.


To the boy I never got to meet...be at peace.





Monday, October 15, 2012

Take it back...


It's breast cancer awareness month.

I think most of us, even casual observers have seen the wave of pink in everyday life. Whether it is pink hair extensions, pink football cleats, or pink Fiats driving around Downcity, you get the point. It is one month of pure focus on a type of disease that wreaks havoc on both female, and surprise, male populations.

I propose a new color for the ages. I submit that we don't just acknowledge ribbons, t-shirts, arm bands or pink elephants of all sizes. I offer up a new wave. A new outlook. A new mantra.

Trust me. I don't test the gods with a brave, foolish, cocky attitude. I understand my place amongst them. They often laugh at us with our trivial desires at a normal life, an old age, and a sip or twelve on the porch.

But as I sit bobbing in a sea of pink, it struck me - We are survivors. However, what does that term elicit when you say the word? Millions of people clinging to a life raft? Thousands thankful that they are "lucky"?

I think it is time to add a new color to our list. Here's the deal - you get to pick it out.

Me? I don't think there is anything wrong with a black tee, replete with skulls and a screaming word "WARRIOR" in blood red ink.

Why the hell not?

We are not just hanging on. We are not just sitting waiting for the next storm. We are taking back that which was taken from us - our health and well being.

You demand to take it back.

Jack LaLanne said it best. "You body is your slave. It works for you."


I don't have the scope of readers or listeners that good ole Jack had. But I say just the same. Something took your most prized possession - your health. Now get it back.

Put on your dark boots, adorn yourself in cammo, and streak the eye black on. Do it for real. Do it mentally. Do it anyway you want. Pierce whatever. Tattoo the mantra. Do what it takes because when you look in the mirror you will see one thing - your true self. Lying to yourself won't do you any good. Waiting for the next storm is for someone else. Sure, we all lose sleep over getting older but listen to yourself - you ARE getting older.

People live until they are one hundred, and why the hell not you. Yes we've been hit, and hit hard but if we focus, rally ourselves, hit the street, literally running and pour the perfect fuel into our bodies, you might, just might turn the tide. And your immediate result? A better quality of life.

Like all maxims, being absolute is, well, absolutely hard. It takes saying no to certain aspects in life more often than not. It takes discipline but ask yourself this - if you were being chased by a large bear would you just sit and wait for it to eat you? (Okay all the Nature Channel viewers, now is not the time to remind me about being "prey" when you run and curling up in a ball instead - you get my point).

Get up and fight for it. Take it back. We aren't just survivors. We aren't in a really bad lottery. It's not a god who has a sick sense of humor. It's not "why me".

I've done all of it. Sarcastic to sardonic. Tears until your gut twists into itself.

We can't be superheroes. We can't be superhuman. But we can be at our best.

We are breathing, right here, right now.

For a brief moment, you are a warrior. Forget the pink. Embrace the black....

And take it back.




Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Prisoner of War


*Note the reader. This blog posting is posed as an analogy. War is a disease unto itself. There is no disrespect intended for the men and women that guard our shores. This is meant to illustrate on how the war on disease can be just as brutal and unforgiving. Some of the imagery you are about to read can be considered graphic by some. - JM


It's an old story.
We all know it. Most of us understand it.
We see it everyday.
It's on all of the media. It trends. It lives and breathes as a nightly headline.
It's a war that rages every minute of every day of every month of every year.
In terms of victims, whole nations are swallowed.
Millions have died. 
And the soldiers?
These are people who are struck down in a matter of seconds or decades.
They don't volunteer.
They are definitely drafted.
For once there is no discrimination.
Men. Women. Children. Adults. Teens. Toddlers. African American. Native American, Caucasian. Hispanic. Asian. Every nationality is drafted. 
As with all conflicts,  often there is no real grace to speak of. Politics fail here. Many times dignity is an afterthought.

There is a fragmented story of one six year old in particular.
The day he was drafted was the day his father discovered a lump the size of a golfball on his neck.
He was wounded from the outset. 
Gashed to be saved. Saved only to be gashed again.
He saw angels in the form of nurses, and ministers both medical and spiritual. 
He had nightmares that led to habitual sleeplessness that led to staring at television patterns until the dawn finally broke.  
He suffered from what one of his many psychiatrists later called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
He vomited from medicines that may have been called poison by anyone who happened to fall upon them in a darkened cupboard. 
When he finally saw the shore, he suffered a relapse. 
"Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more." 
Swimming against a current that never relented, he cried to his mother that he wanted to die.
He wanted to lose his own personal war...

This was his childhood. 

A domino had fallen. Rarely does one fall in solitary confinement. It hits other dominoes and the cascade continues.

The child made it to adulthood. He had hit the shore and for a time there was peace.

But this war is never truly over. It just recedes with the tide only to come back in full force once again, drafting at will. 

The soldier suffered from other wounds. Heart blockages. Radiation fallout. Etc Etc Etc.

The story could go on, and probably will go on for a millennia. Just insert another name. Jane Doe. John Doe. No matter. The beat will go forth. A pentameter of retreat and resolve...personal defeat and penultimate victory. 

However, there is one other story that runs parallel to this war account. 

It, too, is a never ending story. It will never end until the last human has breathed the last breath. 

Amazingly enough, it is a short tome. It has one everlasting chapter with one line that coincidentally contains the same words as the title of the book.

It is a simple four words.

Four words that unite every soldier, every doctor, every nurse, every patient, and every being. 

The title of the book is We Are Still Here.

The chapter states the same. 

It's a book of hope. It's a book of determination. It's a book for all of us. 

May we continue to write in this book and may this story continue to have no ending but rather a continuing repetitive chant.... 

We are still here.












Friday, August 31, 2012

Want vs Need

Friday morning. 4:30 am.

I hear the alarm. I know it's on. It will just get louder and louder. Some random song will torture me for as long as I let it.

Just 2 more hours of sleep. You were up at 2 am. Then 3 am. You just want that time back. It's dark and a blue moon is mocking you through the window. Even those damn birds that love to nest right under your ear drums are fast asleep.

It would be easy. Just roll over. You will catch up another day.

But there's the burn. You've had your rest day on Wednesday. Now you complete the week. Push. Push. Push. If you don't...someone will put you in a hospital.

One day ain't gonna do you in.

One leg over the edge. Then the other. Dressing in the dark. iPod clicked in, torn up workout notes in the pocket.

You should drink Gatorade.

Pomegranate juice.
Vitamin C.
B-Complex.
Resveratrol.
CO Q10.
Multi Vitamin.
Toporol.
Aspirin.
Fish oil.

One big gulp.

Lights are barely on. The trap bar awaits. Last day of the light phase month ends today.


Ten repetitions. Water. Now for 20 more.

Cut it. Stop at 10. Rest up. 

20.

Lat pull downs.
Close grip benches.
Dumbell triceps

Rest more. Everyone is talking around you. ESPN is on. You are so tired from the other night.

Twisting sit-ups.
Roll away ball abs

Give it up. You really want a donut. 

Truth is, I REALLY DO want a donut. What happens is that I will eat a bowl of chia seeds and almond milk with blackberries instead. It's not a donut though.

A donut. That would be really good about now.

http://www.etsy.com/treasury/MjIyNTYxODh8MjcyMDQxMzcwOQ/do-or-donut-there-is-no-try?ref=pr_treasury

Jelly, please. Thanks. Leave the box too....

Monday, August 6, 2012

From 9 to 90

I catch myself in fits of nostalgia during the final furlong of summer.

I'll be running and the wind will shift. The sweet smell of cut grass wafts over you and you are transported to the hot summer days of your youth. 

I don't peruse the obituaries as a rule. I was looking for someone but I stumbled onto someone else. What caught my eye was that she was the age of 9. I'll call her Betty.

Before a run, I'll always check which directions the clouds are moving. As a boy, I'd lay in the warm grass staring up at a stark blue sky. The slight movement of a few scattered wisps of clouds was the only indication that time was passing. The silence was beautiful and humbling. 

The article was brief, like Betty's life. She died of cancer in a local hospital surrounded by her family. 

My son is past 8 years old. I was 6 when I was first diagnosed. I see his summer of awesome and I think of Betty's family. 

Let's face it. We all want our obits to read the same. Dead at 90, after sex, with a 1/2 a glass of wine in our hand.

I think back to the sounds of the street when I was a kid. My cousin and I would walk the streets, up and down, scraping old gum with a rusted nail. We were going green before it was fashionable. No need to check in with the parents. It was sun up to sun down.

There was no i-Anything. No white earbuds keeping your bad music to yourself.  

Music was shared by people blasting it from their garage or their driveways. And best part of all was that it was free.




All you needed was a t-shirt and shorts. No shoes required at Cumberland Farms.

I wondered if Betty had any beach days. Did she miss a lot of school? 

In the evenings, the temperature would be 85 but 70 in the shade of a tree. The grass under there was even cooler and green just from rain, no chemicals to kill weeds and everything else.

Dinner was always at dusk and no matter how much you feigned ignorance, you mother knew you could hear her calling for you three streets away. 

Betty will no longer have these memories if she had them at all.

Time will slip through your hands no matter how you may attempt to freeze it. To stay in your own personal snow globe where time stays still forever.

I am looking to run longer these days. I curse myself for not being better. But it doesn't last long. I remind myself I am breathing. I am giving it my all to go beyond what I feel is an acceptable time to leave this world. 

We should all strive. One day at a time. Make a memory not just for yourself but for those around you.

You don't know when. Why would you really want to know?

Betty's obit read that she was of the age of 9. It should have read 90...





Monday, July 9, 2012

Thankful



A couple of bad nights.

That's all it takes.

A few hours lost and your thoughts wander more than other nights.

The morning comes in like a sledgehammer. You truly are vampiric as light flows over you like safflower oil, flooding your eyelids with spikes of day walker insults.

This is when you dig deep. What is the beast that makes your breath short and your night long?

For me, it's always the same.

I go back to 6 years old. My left hand is taped to what amounts to be a 2 x 4. It still burns where the clot was flushed a few days before. If you don't know what that is, it's when your IV gets a blood blockage. Instead of a re-stick, they 'flush' the IV with more pressure till the clot breaks.

Ouch.

But that wasn't what truly flashed back.

I honestly don't know anymore.

It may have been the nine shots I needed to prevent me from catching chicken pox from the kid down the hall. Or the fact that I had to first watch my dad take a shot in the arm first to prove it didn't hurt. It 'popped' and he blinked. Years later he said it still hurt.

It could have been the sticks, re-sticks and more sticks at 3 am by someone who always asked "How are you sleeping, Dear?"

It may have been the pings, pops, hisses and moans from the machines and other patients as the quiet of night turned into a cacophony of inhuman clicks in an unnatural symphony.



Lately, sleep, no sleep, depression, anger, joy....whatever. I've made a choice.

Call it karma, positive thoughts, praying, wishful thinking or Universal speak but I have resolved to be thankful for one simple fact - I am here.

Three years ago, I was convinced I was dead. That was it. I was to be no more. I never told anyone that before really. I was simply going to die too soon, too young, too bad.

To pull out of a daily tailspin isn't easy, trust me.

It is simple really - I am just thankful.

I often do those Hallmark moment scenes where I look up and I am thankful for a blue sky.

Before a run, I am grateful for a breath.

I am thankful that I can do normal things. I can walk, run, lift, whatever...

I can drive. I can think. My muscles can hurt. My back can ache. I can be hungry. I can be happy.

I can be everything because I am alive.

It's not a miracle. It is this side of hokey.

Some will nod knowingly and others will roll their eyes ruefully.

I find myself laughing at the little things that would bring me down. I cherish those that make my life a treasure around me.

Sure, someone somewhere will find all of this just a tad over the top. Sometimes I catch myself as well but even that doesn't matter. It is cool to be thankful whether it is an ocean breeze, a few words on a page or a 10 minute nap.

Doesn't matter really. It's all good because I am still here.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Dear John...

John Henseler


His name was John. I had known him for almost 12 years.

He was a simple person and I mean that in the most complimentary manner.

John was always polite, knowledgeable and definitely from the midwest where people tend to scare Northerners with their friendliness.

I spoke with him about 3 weeks ago - 3 weeks before his passing from a 2 year battle with colon cancer.

I don't always know what to say when someone passes on to the great spaces. Death is a reality for most, an afterthought for some, and a non-topic for others.

As a survivor, you are measured in inches. You are measured with instruments. You are measured by stats.

It can be said that John has converted to the final stat - the stat that scares nations.

I submit to all survivors and those that have fought and lost, that the stat that is never measured is character.

Character lies in the fight. We are dragged into this. No one raises their hand and says "pick me". It's a lottery. We start the fight, Day 1.

Our struggle? Normal life.

John walked the halls with a funny gait. Arthritis took its toll on his joints but never dulled his clear blue eyes. He always kept a military cut for his hair.

In the end, his walk was a pure struggle. His khakis barely clung to his hips after losing an undeterminable amount of weight.

I would ask him how he was doing.

"Pretty good. Doctors are getting together. They will call me"

A week would go by and I'd ask the same question.

That answer was always the same. In hindsight, he didn't want anyone to know. He knew he was a walking signpost and yet people still didn't truly know.

Character to keep marching. Character to do his job until, literally, the very end. Character to ask others how their day is going when your insides are dying.

I can't say anything that will make John or generations of others come back. I can honor them for the fight they put up 24/7/365 even if they aren't given that long to begin with.

There is no Rocky theme playing.

There is no fly by overhead. No fanfare by John Williams ushering the hero to a monument.

They are just people trying to live a normal life. There should be a coronation just for that.

Dear John,

I miss you...

Signed Joe



Here's your fly by....and sign off.

Just know that some of us won't be seeing you for at least another 50 years....



Monday, June 4, 2012

Words

I'll set the record straight - I am not a public speaker. There I said it.
Stemming back to my college days where I lost weight sweating in my oversized sport coat during a class presentation which no one had that guts to have a Q&A because they all confessed they felt bad for me, I have a fear of being in front of people.
It's not a deep seeded fear of the populace. It's not a deep rooted trauma based on being captured by aliens.


I know exactly what my issue is. I doubt I will ever get over it.
That sets the stage.
I was asked to be a part of a panel for a discussion on Cancer Survivorship. Basically, it was a conference to discuss the long term effects of treatments. We're in a sort of where are we going stage of the process.
It's a funny thing when I walk into a medical office nowadays.

"Well Mr. Mazzenga....how are things?"
"Too good"
"Excellent. Bloodwork is fine...."  (Awkward silence ensues). "So. How, um, do you feel?"

Here is where I'd love to turn green and go all Hulk on the joint but alas, I don't even stick to walls. No super powers to be had. Just stunted growth, odd body parts, and something they like to call "chemo-brain". I don't like being in front of crowds. Get it?

Twenty four hours before the conference was held, I was told I was to speak. Not answer questions, but speak...walk up to a podium, hold a mic, and talk. I kept pushing this thought off for a day. I couldn't be the one who goes up there and talks. Not me. I don't do such things.

People will judge. They will see flaws. They will whisper. They did when I couldn't go to recess for months. They drew pictures during high school about it. They didn't even bother whispering. It was brought to my attention time and time again. The sick kid with the odd body.

The conference was a blur. Speaker after speaker got up and did their thing. There was a doctor, social workers, and even a priest.

Then there was an introduction. It was for me.

I couldn't be walking in front of these people could I? I don't remember any of it. The last thought I clung to was watching 3 of my survivor friends in the corner table watching me as I emotionally stumbled to the podium.

Trust me - I didn't have a practiced speech. I just knew my story.

A vibrant, tough, outgoing and rumpled Italian 6 year old boy on a hot July summer day gets pulled aside by his father who notices a lump on the side of his son's neck...

I couldn't get the rest of the story out. A wave of emotion swept through me as if I was transported back to that hot day on the cement steps of my old house. I choked on my words as tears started to swell.

I don't do this. The story carried on as a 6 year old boy went through 2 years of "shock and awe" as I often put it. Three decades later, a bad stress test has the young man in for a triple bypass. Six years later, the Chief of Surgery is high fiving his people over knowing "just where to cut" my liver.

It's not a pity parade. I don't want it so don't bother. It's a reality.

I cough, stop, re-collect then choke again as my stutter through my speech.

I tell the YMCA representative.....JUST DO. Someday, some god, doctor or inner voice will tell you can do no longer.

I am done. Speech is over. People stand....at least I was told that. I stagger back to my seat and berate myself over being this way. I was exposed and I didn't like the feeling.

I have many things I need to change. I work, like most of us, on it daily. Some fail more than others.

I don't know what's next. People ask me in different ways every day.

I don't have a lot to say to them. Who would understand anyway? I am better with actions. Show them.

Sometimes what you do is infinitely more powerful than what you say.




Monday, May 7, 2012

Crazy, yes. Sexy? You decide...




Some days you wake up and you want to re-arrange all of your furniture, set the cat out, get your tickets to San Fran and make for the sunset.

Other days you try, what some may feel, a more radical approach. Kris Carr, like others in The Biz, is a flagship spokesperson even reaching beyond the yellow banner heights of Lance Armstrong. She lives with cancer every day and is a devout vegan. 

No, not someone who hits the redeye for Vegas. You laugh. Someone once asked me if vegan meant just that. 

Vegans are that divine group who will allow no animal product to enter their bodies. A noble cause, and at times a difficult one.

I am not of the religion that subscribes to the fact that humans are vegetable matter eaters and nothing more. No, I believe, sincerely that they human body is one of the most perfect machines in nature and being a killer, a honed, evolution developed, killer of all things.

I am not speaking about wars over crosses and temples. I am speaking about survival. Humans eat things. We are animals. And as such we will not go the way of the Dodo. We eat everything.

Okay commence with the eye-rolling. We would not exist at the top of the food chain had we not made up our minds and our stomachs to eat all that crawled, flew, charged, ran and growled. This was our legacy.

Did it go wrong? I am a firm believer that it did.

Kris Carr takes her message in the book, Crazy, Sexy, Diet. She is a raw, vegan on a mission to save not only cancer patients but the human race.

The theory is pretty simple and, if you dig deep enough, pretty ancient. The human body has a Ph – like your pool in the backyard, if your body is too alkaline or too acidic, strange things grow inside you. I am making that the Bozo Button synopsis, but it is the basic theory.

To that end, Kris illustrates what certain foods, say meat, for example will do to the human condition.

I won’t judge a person who is living with cancer. Until you understand that point of view, then you will never understand what it is to be desperate. To eek out a few more moments of your life. If it means wearing clown paint and singing the Star Spangled Banner, you will do it.

If it means buying a juicer…you will do it.

As I read through her book, I still get the nagging sensation that everyone who contributed to the work was probably either at Woodstock or, quite possibly, was conceived there.

Peace, love and veggies is Kris’s slogan. I might have a distorted image of myself (ask my shrink), but I’ll probably never be confused for a hippy.

As I tell all of those who ask, take things in baby steps.

I am what some would call a pescatarian or, what seems most popular nowadays, a flexatarian. Over 90% of the time I am a vegetarian but I do eat fish now and then and every five or 6 months, I venture into a lean cow.

I do what I do for health reason as well. Here is the new level, however.

Baby steps.

First. Replace coffee with juicing.

Take that beautifully organic dark roasted goodness that embraces the spirit every morning and replace it with a torridly orange, Martian green, thick, watery, some pasty textured drink.

Okay I am being melodramatic but this is trauma for me. First it was just for one day in the week. I won’t go into what sort of zombie with orange lips I was that day.

Next, 2 days juicing, no coffee. I decided to use my juices for breakfast. That’s right, you read that correctly – no chewing for me. No way. For 2 days, no organic oatmeal, organic omega-3 eggs (blasphemy) or egg whites. No apple juice infused cranberries or wild blueberries.

Just me, a concoction and a straw.

The funny thing about baby steps however, is that you wake up and the change is already upon you.

I don’t know how far I’ll take the body cleanse. I’ll restate that I do what I do for my own health. That’s not to say I wouldn’t take out a cub scout carrying a devil dog or knock over a Dunkin for a Boston cream. Trust me, the spirit is there. I just choose to not listen – much.

Next week, 3 days juicing. Wish me luck.

Crazy? To some, yes. Sexy? I’ll leave that to you…


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Day After...

*The following is a harsh account of a post-chemo episode. Some images may be disturbing. If you are sensitive to such images, please discontinue reading. - JM
Saturday morning.
The night was rough. My ribs ached. My mouth was sandpaper. My throat was full of razorblades.
I would begin to get queasy a few days before. It was always right on schedule. Every three weeks.
Friday would start in the clinic. Drab grays and dusty tile. Old, throwaway toys littered the corners. The same old nurse who I figured out years later must have been a chronic smoker always welcomed me in. She always had a candy in her mouth and her hair was ridiculously red even though she was probably closing in on 60.
The long narrow hallways was a waiting area. I would be with other kids - all of us waiting our turn.
One by one the children in the clinic all disappeared into the single rooms. You had to wait for the call. Someone would poke their head out and yell your name, and like a prisoner to the gallows, you trudged into a small antechamber before hitting the brightly lit, still all gray, patient room.
There was always another unfortunate, usually a younger child, screaming somewhere in some closed doored room. It was definitely unsettling. A mass of nurses and doctors would head in the general direction of the screeches. It was a common symphony but one I didn't dwell on. All that mattered was when the door opened to the inner clinic. It was showtime then.
The doctors knew who you were. The schedule dictated everything. Every three weeks. Mazzenga.
Typically a doctor would poke, prod, and question. It was the preface to the sonnet. He or she would disappear behind the door and once again, I would have long moments to ponder the inevitable.
One of my parents was always with me, usually my mother, but conversation was minimal. There just wasn't much to say - this was business.
The door would push open finally and one or two nurses followed by the same doctor would come in. I don't remember anyone ever smiling.
A plastic spit tray held a syringe and an IV pole rolled in with a few bags of magic Drano ready to be poured into my veins. My stomach would lurch at this point. I couldn't help it.
I learned during my chemo trials that it didn't matter whether I ate or not the day of treatment. I was just as nauseous from not eating than I was from having a full day of food. It all came out later, literally.
The struggle to find a vein was hard to deal with. One. Three. Six sticks later the Drano begins to flow. I feel a small burn and the bile in my throat begins to well up. I learned to 'disconnect' from pain this way. Just cut your arm from the rest of your body, mentally. Let it go. Let them do their damage.
The whole process lasted an hour or more. I was usually one of the last to leave the clinic and I always remember the walk back to the parking lot. I always felt 'changed'. Like some sort of poison was inching its way through my body.
Queasiness took over with sudden quickness. Sometimes I wouldn't even make it home. My mother learned early on to have bags and small containers ready in case I vomited before getting to the house.
If I survived the ride, I was met with what should have been sweet smells of dinner cooking. I would simply walk to the couch. That was my home for the night. I rarely made it to my bed.
The couch was a shrine for the evening. 6 pm and my dad would be arriving from work soon.
I would just lay there. I would shun sudden movements. Anything to avoid the unavoidable. I was so nauseous that after a short time, I avoided swallowing my own saliva. I would slowly spit into a large bucket.
My head would begin to swim and headaches were commonplace. The rush would come and no matter how much I steeled myself it was always more savage than I could expect.
The vomiting, itself, was violent. Whatever food was in my system would simply not exist within me any longer. There was a putrid acrid odor that would swirl around me as the hollow sounds of a bucket filling up with my insides resounded through my skull. My ears would be plugged and my nose would often fill with body fluids cascading into a container of mess.
I would imagine I was a monster, transforming each time my innards exploded. My parents worked tirelessly to empty the bucket only to be filled with material that wasn't even food after a point.
After the first hour, my body would convulse. Nothing left to come out but nonetheless, the convulsions continued.
My ribs would squeeze and I could only gulp for air just enough to dry heave again.
Funny enough, I remember the television in the background. I threw up past the evening news and then the Friday night Prime Time shows would start their run. I just kept my eyes shut through it all. Light sensitive. Smell sensitive. Just plain over sensitive.
It was usually around 10 pm or so when the tide began to ebb. I was toast. It was a bad college party for a 7 year old. Sometimes I simply slept on the couch for the night. Others, I actually made it to bed.
It was the morning after that was most sobering. My stomach roiled still - scared to touch anything to do with food. Breathing was killer. My ribs and stomach muscles were shot. I would be hunched over for the day, dehydrated. The taste of bile lingered. To this day I still get flashbacks with certain foods and aromas from the day after episodes.
Yeah I thought I was still tripping once the cartoons began.
It would take most of the weekend to return to 'normal'. Summer weekends meant back to baseball, and winters, spoke of playing football in the middle of the street.
I still remember, and sometimes feel, the recovery. My ball of twine that I eat for breakfast now pales to the Cocoa Pebbles I eventually gulped down during those recovery mornings.
I had weathered the storm. In a few weeks, I would be a mess again. I don't remember how long the trial went on but it was long enough. It defined me and at times, I resent that. I still live with the scars.
And I still remember the day after. With luck, I'll remember many days after this as well.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Perspective...

When I am in there. If I see anything bad in there, I am just going to close you up. It will get pretty rough from there.

I had just skated off the ice. Something isn’t right. Breathing hurts. Being a goalie you learn quickly that the normal aches aren’t, well, normal. Tonight was no different. I had landed like a rock on cement. My sternum took the brunt of the fall.

Could be bile duct. Could be colon cancer. We don’t know. Once we open you up, we will know a lot more.

I set the shower water to incinerate. My toes are white with lack of circulation. A price to pay for cold nights and even colder ice rinks. The sensation is always the same – first there is a burning like my digits are on fire. Then there are the inevitable pins and needles followed by a warm rush of sensation. The pain from the sternum radiates over the left ribs. I turn up the heated water to a point where I can stand it any longer. The theory being I’ll burn the pain away.

If you want more morphine, just push the button.

After the shower, I stare at the scar. It runs over the sternum and down over my stomach. It is raging pink from the hot water. I am thinking Harry Potter ain’t got nothing on me. It still hurts to breathe.

The tube will stay in your side for a few more days. It’s draining fluid. It may be uncomfortable. Do you need something to sleep?

Rotating my torso doesn’t help. Doing side bends is a negative as well. I just choose to deep breathe to see how far I can go. I even hold my breath feeling my heart pound against the ache with a dull thud.

We checked with your cardiologist. He’s okay with the operation. Shouldn’t be a problem.

I hang up my mask and set my equipment to dry. Still hurting. The night is going to be tough, I think. Work beckons in the morning and no one will care about you injuring yourself in your personal hobby.

We will need you to keep breathing through this tube. It keeps your lungs from gathering fluid.

I think I am going to take a rest day. I’ve learned that injuries can derail a regimen for days and weeks at a time. Not a good thing when you are in training.

What you had hasn’t been found in more than 10 people in the entire world. It’s quite amazing actually.

We lost our game. In the past, I would have lamented for days. Losing hurts. Scalpels hurt more.

Whatever bruise I have garnered will manifest itself over the next few days. It really won’t slow me down. I can tell already. It will nag for a bit then go away. I keep deep breathing. This is a hurt I can deal with.

We don’t need to do anything. We took it out and now we will watch.

The game is over. Aches and pains just remind me that my life isn’t. Not by a long shot.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Exercise your options...

Special guest blogger: David Haas.

You can find more about David at http://about.me/haasblaag

The common link between physical fitness and cancer prevention has been proven time and again, though lack of a regular exercise program is acknowledged as only one potential risk factor. Still, it is one of the risk factors that individuals have control over, so the emphasis is justified. Cancer experts have found through a number of studies, both clinical trials and epidemiology, that fitness is just as important during treatment.

Exercise during breast cancer treatment, for instance, has been shown in over 30 studies to reduce the common symptom of fatigue, improve quality of life scores for patients and reduce the risk of recurrence. Unfortunately, it has likewise been shown that a diagnosis of breast cancer typically results in lower levels of physical activity.

Similar findings have surfaced for other common forms of cancer, including hormone-based and colorectal cancers. Exercise is an important adjunct to treatment, capable of reducing the problems caused by cancer and treatments. Loss of self-image can cause emotional disorders, and chemotherapy often results in a mix of symptoms, like nausea, insomnia and poor bowel function. Exercise provides relief from these problems in otherwise healthy people, and modern medical research found that it works just the same for cancer patients.

Risks of Exercise During Treatment:

The primary reason exercise is not being adopted faster by cancer clinics, despite recommendations by the leading research organizations, is patient safety. Doctors worry that patients can be injured or may reduce their body's tolerance to treatment. While it is true that certain forms of exercise are inadvisable in certain conditions, such as high-intensity aerobics during mesothelioma treatment; all patients are capable of and will benefit from the use of a regular exercise program.

What that program looks like depends on medical evaluation and the patient’s own preferences. Most breast cancer patients will be able to engage in moderate-intensity workouts like walking, while those with bone cancer may be steered toward a no-impact exercise, such as water aerobics. For those facing a terminal prognosis, exercise can still provide benefits by reducing symptoms. The more the risk of exercise increases, the more imperative it is to seek the services of a fitness expert trained in cancer care.

Role of Personal Trainers:

A growing number of clinics and insurance plans are providing physical therapists for patients after surgeries, because specialized exercises have shown valuable in speeding up recovery time. Personal trainers can do much more though, especially when working as part of the clinical team. They can give suggestions on the most appropriate forms of exercise, as well as share knowledge of local resources. They are also skilled in helping patients stick to the program. Check with clinics to find one that provides fitness experts.

As always. We have the bullet in our hand - JM

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2012. My turn...

Come on. You DID NOT want to squirm and see Dick Clark suffering through another countdown did you?

I didn’t think so.

2012. Twelve years into a new century. Sometimes I laugh at the thought. As a child, I envisioned hover cars, transporters, Klingons, and new worlds. I suppose there is a lot to be disappointed about with the lack of advancement in regards to humankind. Wars are still waged. Global warming still, well, warms. Dogs sleeping with cats. It’s utter chaos.

I used 2011 as a year of introspection. Being a recovering introvert, I am pretty good at tearing my insides up and rebuilding them. Every person is a story and an interesting one at that. My story is no more or less interesting than the person across the street or on the other side of the world. There is drama, heartache, heroics, tears, laughter, comedy and all of the elements that make up something called Life. It is my limited experience that tells me, the difference between human stories is that one of the many elements of that person’s life may be inflated more so than the next person. Someone who has grown up in war torn Bosnia knows the tragedy and heartache of human folly more than the average Hollywood starlet. And that starlet may have personal trauma that no one within 10 clicks can understand. Someone wins a lottery, and someone dies hungry. Someone is born to live a century and someone is born only to die moments later. It is humans being and it can be maddening.

To that end, I have been evaluating all the relationships that I’ve forged in life. This is not an easy task. We meet many people hour to hour. Some are fleeting glimpses of passersby rushing off to their lives, never to intersect with our existence ever again. Others are temporarily permanent. That’s not a misprint. Permanence in our time means little. Those who are held longest in our lives are deemed ‘permanent’ but, in reality, they are just a protracted existence.

Still relationships, good, bad, dramatic, indifferent, take energy. So does blinking an eye. It takes energy, albeit very little. Blink one hundred times as fast as you can? More energy.

It’s well documented the medical miracles I’ve encountered. Perhaps this is the driving force behind my introspection. I am by no means cocky. On the health scale, there is someone out there, probably a doctor or two, who is holding their breath. I don’t speak from bravado. I speak all too much from feelings.

I feel 2012 is my turn and I want to take as many people as I can with me on this journey. That would mean some couldn’t make this trip. The energy is no longer there. The tank is empty but it's my tank, my turn, my guts, and my aspirations. This all is about ‘self’ and with that comes the instant association of ‘selfish’. I don’t believe this is true. I consider this a choice. The betterment of oneself. The pursuit of fulfillment. It’s a path that most ignore. Some recognize this earlier in life. Some never acknowledge it. To say “this is who I am” is being human.

Maybe it is a survivor’s instinct to kick forward with full force. After all, we’ve been told we only have so many bullets left – why not use them? What are we waiting for? We’ve been caught by the storm unprepared and we’ve been told it could happen again. I am no longer waiting for the hurricane to rage again.

It is time. Time for all of us to charge and time for all of us to change. We may be unsure as to when, or where or even how to proceed, but if you look hard enough, you will see your wall. You can see what it is that holds you back from being who you truly need to be. It may take more subtly than brute force, more planning than sheer will. I’ve never been a patient man but I have been a patient. I don’t want to wait for that again. If change is to happen, then I want it to happen, even a fractional amount, because of what I am dictating at this moment.

This is 2012. Twelve years into a new century. And now it’s my turn.