Minor Meltdown

The worst part about having any sort of disease is that it doesn’t just affect you. Cancer is really a crappy thing to have to carry for the rest of my life. And I saw a little bit of how it’s making my wife’s life worse, as well.

I had a pre-surgery appointment this past week and I set a date which I thought was a good fit for work, our life and getting the procedure over with. The doctor is TDY for the next couple of weeks preparing for his upcoming deployment, I’ve got a few busy weeks at work, we’ve got two lacrosse tournaments over our anniversary weekend and I figured overlapping some of my convalescent leave with Thanksgiving would be the least intrusive.

Since the doctors aren’t looking to get me in surgery within the next 72 hours, I’m feeling pretty good I’ve moved out of the zone of “dying from cancer” and locked in the zone of “living with cancer.” if the doctors feel no sense of urgency, why should I?

Anyhow, she asked me why I didn’t get an earlier appointment. I told her the doctor offered a date and I took it. And she huffed the entire hour-long drive home. Eventually, she blew up at me. I don’t listen to her. I don’t talk to her. I’m dragging this whole procedure out. Why can’t I do the surgery earlier, so I can start treatment earlier? Why don’t I understand this is hard for her, too? All valid questions. So then I started. First off, I still seem to have anger management issues since getting home (completely normal -I do not have PTSD). Secondly, I know I’m somewhat oblivious to how others feel. Thirdly, I honestly thought I did something right for a change. So I started explaining. And what came out turned into an emotional outburst of my own. Seems I really don’t want to die from cancer. And I am upset that the best medical science can do is make it slightly less likely I’ll die of cancer in the next five years. If I do nothing, there’s a 60% chance of melanoma returning. With treatment, the best I can hope for is reducing that to 40%. It sure sounds good when you’re talking medical gibberish, but a 40% chance of getting more melanoma is not that great a deal.

Long story short, I completely lost control of my emotions, my wife feels like she’s going through this alone, I don’t want to die, I’m not all that confident in the approved medical techniques and I need to work more on anger management.

I’m having more lymph nodes removed just to be sure they did get all the melanoma cells and I should start either the interferon or the clinical trial, whichever is the ultimate decision. And I’m not happy with any of my options.

At least I have a pretty good reason for not writing….

Alphabetical Promptings (H)

The downside to typing on an iPad is that I don’t know how to save things. I just lost this entire entry. After an hour and a half of writing. Damn. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Since it’s overdue, let’s just talk about history.

I think the big draw for me is that understanding history helps put modern life in a context. I think it’s a Bible quote: there is nothing new under the sun; so understanding the past provides insight into the future. How have similar issues been resolved? Could we do better? What can we learn from others’ mistakes?

Then there’s the part of me which sees history as the benchmark for how to do things. My Regiment was formed in December 1636 – 375 years of service to the Commonwealth and the nation. Six Colonial wars before there was even a United States. Soldiers who served in every war this nation has had. Leaders like John Winthrop and Miles Standish. When we deployed, I admit I lost sleep over whether or not I could live up to the standards and traditions of the Regiment. I wasn’t just serving with the 400 who deployed, but the thousands who came before.

History is what gives everything meaning. History is what allows us to differentiate the mundane from the significant. History helps us to understand why we are here. Thank God for history.

Alphabetical Promptings (G)

Another day, another letter. G is great. G is groovy.

Golf. What I do can’t really be called golf. I do enjoy walking around with a few friends, enjoying the fresh air, enjoying a few beers and enjoying the scenery. It’s fun, and I can see how people get kind of obsessive about the sport; it’s all about personal skill. I’ve even gotten tweaked about my performance when I shank a drive or tweak a putt. I have family and friends who take golf way too seriously, so I try not to antagonize them by being so flip. Still, nothing ruins golf faster than someone pulling out a score card.

Gladiators. The part of my which is permanently 15 has always liked gladiators. There are hordes of gladiator movies and thousands of pages of recorded history to reference, but I just like the cool costumes and the senseless violence. When you take a good, long, historical look, the concept is cruel and barbaric – death as entertainment is not a cool concept. But from a cathartic, disassociated point of view, gladiators invariably make me feel better after a long day of drudgery.

Gobstoppers. Mmm, candy. And it’s even better when you can take it out of your mouth and see a different color of candy every minute. Again, it’s part of my juvenile side to live what is essentially a ball of sugar with a half dozen layers of food coloring. And now I’ve got a craving for candy, with none in the house. Damn.

Alphabetical Promptings (F)

I missed yesterday’s writing because I was absolutely exhausted. I went to bed about an hour and a half before my kids, so today I feel much better.

Fresh. Fresh things are good things. Who doesn’t like fresh sheets on a crisp evening? And what could be better than fresh fruit? A fresh breeze to clear out the winter doldrums? Fresh snow on Christmas morning? A fresh cup of coffee on a busy day? Fresh perspective after a nice vacation? I like freshness.

Festivals. I’m not all that religious, but I do enjoy a good festival, especially if it’s tied to a saint. Italian festivals, generally speaking, have fantastic food. Irish festivals have great beer. German festivals have, well, both. I’m not usually a big fan of crowds, but I like people-watching when they’re all in a good mood. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s colorful. I want to go to the Palio in Siena and go back to Oktoberfest in Munich. And I want my wife and kids to see the fun, too.

Football. Real football. What we in the US generally call soccer. Sure, it can seem slow-paced, but if you know what you’re watching, you can see the strategies developing, the passes realigning the field, the human chess match putting the right foot at the right spot. I can’t pick just one favorite team: Liverpool in England, Celtic in Scotland, Sligo in Ireland, Bayern Munich in Germany and Monaco in France. I never developed a taste for Spanish or Portuguese soccer, though I do enjoy seeing their teams in Champion’s League and UEFA Cup matches.

Alphabetical Promptings (E)

And the quest for better writing continues.

Education. Without an education, you’ve got nothing. When was in school I had things pretty easy. I rarely studied and always did well. I wasn’t challenged, so I found ways to entertain myself. It wasn’t until my last two years of high school that I was academically challenged, but by then it was too late to learn how to study. When you most need to learn the lesson of the importance of education, you’re too bone-headed to listen. If only I had worked harder or studied more or tried harder classes! My sister didn’t put too much stock in education until she graduated from high school and tried to get a job. Eventually, she figured it out, went back to school, got a Bachelor’s degree, got a Master’s degree and is now a productive member of society, raising two boys quite well. She figured it out. Now, I’m struggling to convince my boys how important school is and they don’t get it. Maybe some day.

Energy. Ch’i. Qi. I’ve had some serious energy flow issues over the past year. While I was deployed, I always seemed to start the day with good energy, but I was near exhaustion by 3:30. I rarely had the energy to exercise (maybe that’s why I had no energy). once I got home, I wasn’t tired at normal times. Still, almost a year later, I end up wide awake until after midnight and the alarm still goes off at 5:30. When I start the day with energy, it seems to flow away too quickly for me to use it. And when I have none, I can’t find any way to recharge. I have enough to get me through the day and take care of my family, but nothing more. I need to change my batteries or something. Or maybe our Feng Shui is out of kilter.

Too Much To Think About

I spoke with my oncologist yesterday and she said my MRI came back negative for any melanoma in my brain. So again I get good medical news. But, I still have more to do. I am scheduling another round of surgery to remove more lymph nodes from my groin, which will hopefully show no additional micrometastatic melanoma. After that, I will need to schedule my treatment, which leaves me in a bit of a quandary.

The standard treatment is Interferon, which is an IV drip five days a week for four weeks, followed by three self-injections a week for another eleven months. There are potentially miserable side effects, which may slow me down or, worst case, make me so ill I have to stop treatment. On the other hand, they’ve offered me a clinical trial of Ipilimumab, which has worked for people with Stage IV melanoma. The thing is even if I sign on for the clinical trial, there’s only a 50% chance I’ll get the Ipilimumab. Otherwise, I get Interferon. My gut reaction is to just go with the standard treatment, but given the small (in my mind) benefit to doing the Interferon, why not try the trial?

I love how every website and every book on cancer says the same thing: When your doctor recommends a treatment, ask them what they would do if it was their family member. I’m no rocket scientist, but I’m pretty sure they’d recommend their family member do whatever treatment is available. The only times I could see wanting a second opinion is if they told me to do nothing, or if they said I was going to die in the next six months. Otherwise, I kind of feel like they all tell me the same thing.

Either way, I need to take a decision because I can start treatment about three to four weeks after surgery. It sounds odd, but for me, having cancer is more of an annoyance than a deadly disease. I’m ecstatic my melanoma isn’t an immediately life-threatening situation, but I don’t feel like it’s … Important? Relevant? Significant? I don’t have a sense of urgency.

This seems to be a trend for things in my life. I have cancer, but it’s not too bad (day surgery, no pain, all tests show negative for additional cancer). I deployed to Afghanistan, but the closest I came to combat was watching Band of Brothers (I didn’t even wear body armor for the last six months, I had access to decent espresso with the Portuguese and I had hot showers every day). I refuse to call myself a combat veteran and I’m even embarrassed to cal myself a veteran at all. Likewise, I’m embarrassed to say I have cancer because so many other people have real cancer and I “only” had a little spot on the back of my leg. I don’t want to get shot at and I don’t want real cancer.

So then there are all these protests against Wall Street or rich people or Robber Barons or whatever. I’ve tried to ignore them because my life is hectic enough without worrying about other people’s problems. I checked out the website where the protester folk are posting up their stories and (1) I feel bad for some of the people who have rough lives, (2) I have no pity for the whiners who have to pay back student loans and (3) I can’t understand the people whose comments seem to boil down to “Life is not fair.”

If you actually spent money on a degree in creative writing, you deserve to not be able to find a job in your chosen career field. Quite frankly, if you’re inclined to be good at creative writing you don’t need a college degree. If you’re complaining about the fact your job doesn’t pay as much as your last job or you don’t get all the benefits you used to, keep looking for something better or talk to your boss about taking on more responsibility.

I had crappy civilian jobs where I felt I was underutilized and underpaid. I worked to get the full-time job in the Guard because I hated how I perceived I was treated in the civilian workplace. Since coming on AGR, I routinely work more than 50 hours a week. While deployed, I worked seven days a week for an average of sixteen hour days – that’s 117 hours a week. In each of the past three years (no counting my year deployed), I lost leave. I earn 30 days of leave a year and can carry over a maximum of 75 days. I lost 40 days (15 days, 15 days, 10 days) because I was too busy or urgent meetings came up or I had sudden job changes. Is this the American Dream? Not by a long shot, but I chose this life and when you deal yourself a hand of cards, you play the hand you’re dealt. If you don’t like it, work to change it.

I don’t feel like complaining about my job and I don’t have the energy to talk about all the opportunities I have to succeed in it, either. It is good to follow someone who dropped the ball, though.

Alphabetical Promptings (D)

Delightful, delicious, devilish, disco, devastating, dumb.

Just dropping a list of D words doesn’t fulfill the obligation to write something every day. So where do I go from here?

Devils. This will be the year the New Jersey Devils finally get back to challenging for the Stanley Cup. But that’s nothing to write about. What’s more interesting is the concept of angels and devils. I’m not sure if I subscribe to the theory that devils are inherently evil. I kind of like Milton’s version where they are angels who didn’t like the way they were treated in Heaven. “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.” If you’re willing to sacrifice some measure of comfort and safety, you can choose exactly how you want to live. Not for nothing, but that sounds … Interesting? Exciting? When you feel like you’re trapped in a gilded birdcage, things like that can sound appealing.

Doughnuts. Or donuts. It doesn’t matter how you spell it, they’re tasty. Now that we’re into Autumn, what could be better than running out early to pick up a dozen donuts for the kids? Well, one or two for the kids and the rest for me. Double chocolate is good, as are the classic Glazed, blueberry cake is solid and powdered sugar is divine. What could be better than fresh donuts and coffee at a Saturday morning flag football game? Well, my son’s team finally winning a game would be delightful.

Hey hey, I survived another letter! Only twenty-two more to go.

Alphabetical Promptings (C)

And tonight I continue with the letter C.

Chianti. Who doesn’t like Chianti? It’s no surprise to me because I seem to have a thing for pretty much everything which comes out of Tuscany. It all goes back to Ernest and Giulio Gallo and the straw-wrapped bottles I remember from the 70s. I can’t remember my parents having any other wines; I’m sure they did have a greater variety, but nothing else is quite so distinctive. Nowadays, Chianti is significantly classier on the marketing side. Super Tuscans and Chianti Classicos and Riservas are all fancy ways to raise the price. The wine is still fantastico.

Children. I like kids. Whenever we do the big family get-togethers, I gravitate to the kids; it’s like I’m a built-in babysitter. And it gets me out of moving furniture or setting tables or taking out trash. I freely admit to being a social misfit who is uncomfortable making small talk, so hanging with the ankle biters spares me the agony of chit-chat. And the kids are fun! Would I rather spend hours discussing the economy or what I think needs to happen in Afghanistan? Or would it be more fun to talk about, well, nothing? No stress and everyone leaves laughing. And then there are my kids. Baseball, basketball, football, lacrosse, swimming, karate, watching movies, tickle-mania, watching them figure things out, going to the aquarium, watching them grow into mature young men. Children are one of the best things in life.

Coffee. Like I really need to belabor this point. Fresh-brewed, espresso, cappuccino, French press – it’s all good. Coffee needs to be hot (never iced) and coffee-flavoured (never hazelnut or any other ridiculous thing). coffee is delightful as is. Whether Turkish or Greek or Arabic or Portuguese, I love it all. My favorite variety of regular coffee is Kenyan AAA, but I’d rather start the day with an espresso or two. Mid-morning cappuccinos. After dinner coffee. Oh, so good.

When will this get easier? A was pretty easy and fun to do. B was trickier. C was hard to write. Picking a few things to write about is the easy part, but filling in the blanks is getting tougher. Somewhere there’s a break point, or Z will be nigh on impossible. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I know enough Z words to finish the writings. But that’s quite a bit down the road. For now, I’ll just start pondering D.

Alphabetical Promptings (B)

Today’s writing exercise is brought to you by the letter “B.”

Biscotti. What could be better than twice-baked cookies? I’ve been craving something to snack on all evening and the apple and Gouda I had just didn’t cut it. I tend to stick with the basic variety of almond, with the occasional chocolate-dipped, but I’ve tried cranberry and cinnamon and a few others on a whim. It can be a quick snack by itself or a tasty complement to a good cup of tea (or cappuccino).

Beethoven. I like classical music. What really amazes me is that these artists were able to create something that still speaks to people over two hundred years later. I’m fairly certain modern artists will not find the same universality. Although, I do wonder what people considered classical music in the early 1700s. I’m kind of partial to his Ninth Symphony, with Schiller’s An die Freude.

Barista. I am a big coffee drinker and having a good Barista available is critical. Unfortunately, I don’t. Living in suburban New England means I have unbelievable access to Dunkin Donuts, but not much besides. The nearest Starbucks is two towns up and that’s not real conducive to a proper morning commute. Not that Starbucks is the end-all-be-all, but it’s light years better than brown water that gets passed for the region’s life blood. I wish I could find somewhere with a good espresso machine and a Barista who knows how to use it.

Baroque. Generally speaking, when someone mentions Baroque the initial thought is for something tremendously over-done. Gaudy. Ostentatious. But how can you not love the Trevi Fountain? Or the music of yet another B, Johann Sebastian Bach? Or another B, Bernini and his Piazza San Pietro? Baroque is big and bold and exciting and dynamic and, well, inspirational.

This is good. Writing tonight was a struggle and that’s why I think it was a good idea to use a structured writing plan. I want to write. I like to write. I don’t always know how to get the thoughts out of my head. I also don’t know just what exactly needs to be pulled out and what needs to remain in incubation for a while longer. And then there are the thoughts which can only be expressed on paper. I see a kind of permanence in paper, with electronic writing as a way to collect and decide what is really, truly important.

Either way, writing in any form makes my brain work harder and generate more thoughts. Sometimes it’s good thoughts which make me feel like I’m making the world a better place and sometimes it’s bad thoughts which make me feel like digging a hole, crawling in and staying there. I don’t like NOT thinking.

Alphabetical Promptings (A)

If I’m going to write here and get things out of my head, I need to force myself to actually write. If this ends up being crud dumped out, I’m pretty sure I could have done that with a crayon and a napkin. No, I want to kind if make sense of me.

So I’m going to work towards writing something everyday for twenty-six days. It’s baby steps, to be sure, but either I make a commitment or I need to stop piddling around.

I’m going to start with an “A to Z” meme, writing something every day, based on the next letter in the alphabet.

And today is “A.”

Alps. I miss living in Switzerland. I miss looking out the window and seeing snow-covered peaks. I miss skiing in St. Moritz. And the worst part of the missing is knowing that I can’t go back. That part of my life is over now and I’ve got other things to occupy my time. I wish I could take my kids and show them just how incredible and varied the world is, instead of telling them (and I’m pretty sure they aren’t listening half the time, either). It’s hard to stop living in the past when you had too many grand adventures at too young an age.

Autumn. I think this is my favourite time of the year. I can do without the seasonal allergies, but I love the changing weather. Getting up and putting on a sweatshirt and a pair of shorts to head out to a morning football game is great! Add in a nice, hot cup of coffee or freshly brewed tea and the day is off to a grand start. More soups and stews and (maybe this year) fresh bread. I can overlook the early darkness because I like the rest of the season so much.

Apples. ok, so technically this could fall under Autumn, as well, but I’m alphabetically challenged as I get started. There are so many varieties and so many different flavours. Today I bought Macintoshes and some Gouda – I love crisp apples and soft cheese. The boys love apple crisp more than apples, but adding in sugar and cinnamon and everything else hides the apple’s character. No snap, no crunch, no juices, no fun. Sure, it’s delicious in it’s own way, but apples are so good on their own merit.

Afghanistan. Another oddity. When you think of things beginning with the letter A, of which you think fondly, Afghanistan probably isn’t too high on most people’s lists. I’ve been home ten months now and I still think about it every day. I spent my entire deployment in Kabul, which was completely unlike anyone else’s deployments I’ve heard about. No IEDs, no snipers, no ambushes. I spent time in a once-great city, overwhelmed by the huge number of people looking to escape the horrors of war or seeking a new, exciting life or wanting to make a difference (positive or negative). A city with infrastructure for 750,000 people and a population of somewhere north of 3,000,000. Sure, I encountered some who had no use for us there, but there were significantly more who either liked us for what we did or didn’t care and just wanted to live their life. I miss walking through the marketplace buying fruits and nuts, visiting restaurants (mostly to-go) and, strangely enough, sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I love being home with my family, but I still miss being there.