Sunday, December 16, 2012
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
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
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
Friday, August 31, 2012
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.
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.
Lat pull downs.
Close grip benches.
Rest more. Everyone is talking around you. ESPN is on. You are so tired from the other night.
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.
Jelly, please. Thanks. Leave the box too....
Monday, August 6, 2012
Monday, July 9, 2012
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.
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
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.
I miss you...
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
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?"
"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
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Sunday, February 26, 2012
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
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
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.