Faith


Please bear with me for this one.

Pop and I talk at Casey's wedding as Stacy watches the interaction

Pop and I talk at Casey’s wedding as good friend, Stacy, watches the interaction

This past March 7th, Patti’s birthday, her father, Andy, died after a three plus-year battle with esophageal cancer. He was 88. We were both diagnosed with our respective cancers on the same day in September 2010. He went through painful radiation and chemotherapy.

At his funeral ceremony in Florida, I mentioned that I had known my father for 30 years. He died of a heart attack at 56, when I was 30. I remember just after my father’s funeral, I was tucking my oldest daughter, Carrie, who was 3, into bed that night. I tried to explain that my Dad had died and he would not be with us, except in our memories. The concept of death was lost on her. She said, “Daddy, don’t worry. Grandpa is just driving around town in his Datsun.” Well, my Dad didn’t have a Datsun, but I smiled at Carrie’s statement and never forgot it.

Patti and I have been married 29 years, so I knew Andy about the same amount of time that I knew my own father. At the ceremony, I mentioned that my dad taught me the things that I needed to know to prepare for a successful life … and that, for the last 30 years, Andy was there to gently help me execute those principles, or provide an opinion of some sort. I became his third son, after Bill and Jim, when I married his daughter in 1985.

I was not what he and Virginia expected. They were strong Seventh-Day Adventists and believed hopefully that their daughter would stay within the flock. At the time, I was not much of a churchgoer. But Patti’s brother, Jim, introduced us and, for me, it was love at first sight. Patti, on the other hand, needed convincing. It became my mission in life and Pop watched patiently as our romance blossomed.

After we married, Pop and Virginia (Mom) were very accepting and always there for the small and large events we experienced, birthdays, anniversaries, births, etc., regardless of where we lived at the time. We played a lot of golf together and that was pure joy. I would ask him what he shot for each hole. In turn, he would ask me what I had scored on the hole and often replied that he had the same score.  One time I told him that I had shot a nine on a hole and that ended that practice.

I don’t ever remember losing my temper with him. His presence commanded respect no matter what. And, I also never remember Pop ever telling me “I had to do this or that.”

I loved him dearly and was so thankful to have him in my life to celebrate those things that a man wants to share with another man, and I would not have been able to enjoy with my dad’s early passing. He always answered any questions I asked with tenderness and respect.

Paul Newman as the stage manager in Our Town

Paul Newman as the stage manager in Our Town

For the last several years I carried a copy of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town wherever we moved. Since my mother had introduced me to this book many years before I ever met Patti, it had become a favorite of mine. The simple story of everyday small-town life with simple characters experiencing uniform joys and immediate dilemmas that affect us all resonated with me every time I picked up the book. And over the years, I had regarded Pop easily and regularly as the stage manager, a main character in the book. Within the family Pop had that simple talent of bringing things together, many times without you realizing it. He was the quintessential stage manager. His observations were keen and his pronouncements were true.

I had kept the book for many years because I thought that when he passed, I would be able to provide a quote from the book that summed up the tremendous impact he had on my life. And, it didn’t hurt that my favorite actor, Paul Newman, played the stage manager in one of the last productions of Our Town on Broadway.

But when the time came, I passed on Our Town and focused on the impact of his loss on his family and friends.

But for me, Pop will always be the stage manager every time I pick up Our Town. One of the messages the stage manager says to the audience I can very easily hear Pop sharing with anyone who would listen:

“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars … everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

What Pop knew was that a life in the Lord is eternal. Pop, we will meet again and there will be no tears, only love, joy and eternal happiness, and then we can read Our Town together as we drive around in a Datsun!

Cancer Boy, Patti and Gillis enjoy the spring bluebonnet blooms near Buda, Texas a few weeks ago.

Cancer Boy, Patti and Gillis enjoy the spring bluebonnet blooms near Buda, Texas a few weeks ago.

I am truly blessed by the grace of God.

Went to my oncologist’s office today. When I saw him in March, my cancer markers were very good, and he suggested I put off chemo.

A day later, he called to tell me that my c-19 marker, which determines movement of the tumors plus whether the tumors are growing or stable, had fallen dramatically. This was good news since, over time, they tend to rise with the advance of the pancreatic cancer. So, I was defying logic. I believe he said, “You are living a miracle.”

He is right. Patti and I met with him again today.

Again, the numbers are not advancing. They are stable. The good news keeps on coming.

I feel fine, no pain anywhere and I am truly grateful to God for the grace He has given me. As my doctor told me pragmatically in March, “Do everything you want to do. The cancer will show up again at some point, but while you are feeling good and your numbers are showing such positive response, I would hold off on any chemo and just go live.” I am so thankful to have a doctor who looks out for what is best for me, as his patient, rather than building up his bottom line. I trust him unabashedly. And, I played my first round of golf in more than two years a couple weeks ago. It was pure joy, plus I got to play with my two sons. Is there anything better?

We left the doctor’s office and said prayers of thankfulness to the Lord above. The Bible is just loaded with wonderful messages for all people, but the one that keeps resonating in my mind is Psalm 91:4: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness; nor the plague that destroys at midday.”

I find it remarkable that all God needs is feathers to protect his flock from evil and the results of evil.

God bless you all for your prayers. Thank you!

This past Saturday, my daughter, Casey, and her fiancé, Rick, were united in marriage. My brother-in-law, Jim, presided over the ceremony, which took place at sundown in a rustic setting on a ranch in Dripping Springs, Texas.

Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters joined long-time friends in celebrating the union through dinner and drink, the cutting of the cake and dancing. There were more smiles in the room than the number of paparazzi stalking ALL the Kardashians.

Casey and Rick

Casey and Rick

Ok, those are pretty much the basics, but, in no way, does that capture the emotional side: the love, the passion and feeling that encompassed the entire event, from the months-long advance preparation, the setting up of the venue, the getting ready, the vows, the picture-taking and the celebration of friends and family united in encouraging and supporting the effort of both the bride and groom to include as many as possible in the event itself.

For example, simple statistics showed the likelihood that I would be able to attend the wedding was not high. I was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer over three years ago. Every day is a blessing. So, Casey fashioned the color purple (pancreatic cancer awareness) into just about every aspect of the event. Bridesmaids wore purple dresses. Casey wore purple shoes and carried a purple bouquet. Patti wore a lovely purple dress that accented her beauty and her smile.

Rick’s father, Bob, is a rice farmer, so, in preparation, the bride and her attendants made purple rice and included some in every lantern on every table and up and down the aisle where they exchanged vows.

Under a fold in Casey’s wedding dress, she fashioned two hearts — one blue from a business shirt of mine and one white lace from her mother’s wedding dress. The hearts were sewn into the dress and Casey included my father’s wedding band that I wore, and a wedding band from her grandmother. So, she had the something borrowed and something blue, but these were not visible for anyone to see.

When I was working, I liked wearing bow ties. Still do. For me, there is just something therapeutic in taking the time to tie them. Bow ties are just not easy to tie, but I enjoy it. Consequently, Rick and I wore purple bow ties. Groomsmen wore purple ties. And there were other purple accents as well.

Casey and Cancer Boy

Casey and Cancer Boy

We should have invited the author Dan Brown because there was so much symbolism taking place that Robert Langdon would have understood it.

On the wedding day, after all the last-minute details were complete, family and friends were seated and the groomsmen had walked to their place in front, I was standing in the barn before double doors. I had not seen Casey all day. The photographer and an attendant told me to turn around. I was not prepared at all for what I was to see.

Seeing my daughter in her wedding dress, everything immediately became slow motion. She was radiant, glowing, every Shakespearean sonnet’s definition of beauty. I kissed her on the cheek through my tears and I could hear her say what seemed to be slow motion, “Dad, are you ready?” But, as I stood there and looked at her, all I could hear were melodious sounds of small voices: “I will not wear diapers again! Dad, I’m learning to play softball, and it’s really fun. I didn’t think I would like learning to drive on snow, but I do. I did it — I gradumicated! Dad, there’s a guy I would like you to meet!” All these swirled around her like winged white doves perching on the cascading music notes of a scale. She was just beautiful and her smile was exhilarating and illuminating.

After I had a moment to compose myself, and brush away the tears, the doors opened and we walked down the aisle to the song Over the Rainbow. Beside my own wedding to Patti, this was the most beautiful day of my life, and I am so grateful to God for allowing me to be there.

After the vows, we all moved into the barn for dinner and dancing. Rick and his mother, Debbie, had a dance, which was glorious. Then, Casey and I had a dance to Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. I kissed her on the cheek several times, told her how proud I was of her and how beautiful she was on her special day.

Then, a very special part of the evening occurred. Patti and I danced to Diamond Rio’s One More Day. Most of the people in the room knew about the cancer, so there was not a dry eye in the house. Sorry, folks! But I so enjoyed dancing with my wife, it just made me think of our wedding date 29 years ago and how much our love has grown over the years. Patti is truly the best thing that ever happened to me. I can only hope to give her half as much joy as she has given me.

After the initial dances, dinner was served, followed by people visiting with each other and more dancing. Rick and Casey cut their wedding cake, and after everyone had their dessert, there was more dancing. Well, I think it was dancing. Shortly before the wedding, Casey asked me to siphon through my iTunes account and come up with some songs that would be good for dancing and the event. So, I did. Came up with three pages, single-spaced list of songs for her to consider and discuss with the DJ. Van Morrison’s Have I Told You Lately That I Love You, Frank Sinatra’s I Get a Kick Outta You, several Alan Jackson songs, just a myriad of romantic songs. When the night was over, I think that I had heard only about three that I had recommended. I believe what played was more a decision by the DJ than anyone.

When I think back to the wedding and reception, there is one paramount feature that surrounds and triumphs all others: the room was just filled with smiles of lovely people all around, everyone positive, enjoying themselves, smiling, touching and encouraging each other to embrace the love in the room. I found that to be so overwhelming, it was incredible.

And, I danced. I had my cowboy hat on and truly felt like dancing as if no one was watching. I danced with my niece, Ciara, my former neighbors Kelli and Hallie, Patti and as many people as I could. I wish I could have danced with everyone. It was thrilling.

Now that the event is over, I want to thank Rick and Casey. For as our children learn from us, we can also learn from them. On most occasions of big groups or meetings and such, I tend to watch and listen. I interact, but sparingly. Casey, like her mother, is more social, more engaging. But on Saturday, I felt like i stepped into their circle and realized there is plenty of room in that circle to be not only who we are, but who we want to be. I enjoyed being more social, I enjoyed engaging others and listening to their stories and catching up with them about their kids and latest doings. I like being more personable and want to experience this more on a larger scale as I move forward.

So, to reaffirm my toast to the new husband and wife, may you live long together in each other’s arms. As for me, I will never forget this day and look forward to experiencing more of an extroverted self.

God bless you all.

The other day, Patti had to run some errands. I went along, but as is pretty customary, she let me off at Half-Price Books while she took care of things.

Half-Price Books will sell you used books at discounted prices, and they will buy your used books, too.

I noticed when I entered the store there was wonderful music playing overhead. Thank goodness, no hip-op or rap music, but lots of 60s and 70s album music. So, not necessarily the top-selling song from the album way back when, but another popular song or two from the album. I loved it.

It was a very diverse set of customers that day: moms with children; older couples; teenagers; a couple of guys dressed like they just got off the construction crew; and, a guy in a suit. Still a pretty good, random set of folks all looking to read. Excellent.

I wandered the aisles for a while, picking up a book here and there that I wanted to look at, and listened to the music. After about 45 minutes, I had two-three books and I found a chair that could afford me a view of most of the store. The chair was against the outside window, between two large twirling racks of calendars. There was another chair on the other side of the calendar rack on my right.

As I sat there looking at the books and the customers, I heard the Beatles’ song I Will from the White Album playing overhead. Wow! Incredible song. Not the best one on the album, but, hell, all of them from the White Album were wonderful.

As the song played, a Hispanic father holding two little girls sat down in the chair on the other side of calendar rack. Who knows how long I’ve loved you. You know I love you still. He began humming to I Will and I could hear him. Straight ahead in the aisle of books directly in front of me (the fantasy section), a thin man with gray hair and T-shirt, began singing the song in a fairly low voice. His voice coincided directly with the man’s sitting next to me. He patted his hand in rhythm to the song on his jeans. For if I ever saw you, I didn’t catch your name.

At that moment, two older folks came in — about my age. He had gray hair, with shirt tucked in and leather shoes. She had closely cropped hair and was shorter than him. The two started looking at the first display table inside the door, and I could see them from my perch. The man started moving his right hand as if he were a conductor directing an orchestra to play the song while looking at the books. But it never really mattered, I will always feel the same. Then, he started humming the song, too.

So, as I am sitting there, there were three people who did not know each other, each with their own agenda, connecting through a song that was popular in the 60s. For a few moments, I watched all of them. They kept up their humming and low singing until the Beatles finished the song. And, I just smiled through all of it.

Love you forever and forever
Love you with all my heart
Love you whenever we’re together
Love you when we’re apart.

That’s what makes for thrilling days.

Susan Vento

Susan Vento

Occasionally, I see the stories of other cancer victims and how they are dealing with, or surviving, cancer, and feel they are inspiring for other people. Certainly, other people who are suffering through their cancer, or the cancer of a loved one.

Meet Susan.

In late 2000, her husband, Bruce, a U.S. Congressman, was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a very rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Her memory of her husband is what inspires her to do the work she does today. She is the spokesperson for the Asbestos Cancer Victims’ Rights Campaign (ACVRC), a national campaign dedicated to protecting the rights of cancer victims and their families.

As an activist, Susan works hard to inspire hope among all cancer victims. Please go to Susan’s website,  http://cancervictimsrights.org/memories-that-inspire-my-story-of-hope/. You can read her inspiring story and see more about the hard work she is doing to help cancer victims, regardless of the nature of the disease. There is also more information about ACVRC as well.

As most of you know, this blog, fightingdamien.com, is primarily about my family’s fight against pancreatic cancer. I never capitalize damien’s name, because I don’t want to give that devil any respect. My diagnosis of stage four pancreatic cancer just passed the three-year mark. I truly feel I am here still enjoying family and friends because of God’s blessings. And, I am thankful to God for the blessing of time he has given us.

Read Susan’s beautiful story. With all the turbulence in the world, we can all use a little bit of inspiration whenever and however it comes.

God bless you all.

 

Over the past few months, when I have discussed my cancer treatment with friends and family, a few have pushed back to ask why I chose to go the chemo route, especially when I had been so against it at the very beginning.

I finally have a good way to answer that. What follows in this posting are two versions of a song called The Water is Wide. There is a James Taylor version and a Karla Bonoff version.

I suggest you listen to them both:

WHICH ONE IS YOUR FAVORITE? (I would really like to know)

Hard to pick one, right? Well, some may say, “I really don’t like the song at all.” Or, “it’s easier to understand the lyrics the way James Taylor sings it, but Karla Bonoff’s version is more emotional for the listener.” Seems a little bit like all the answers are right.

It’s kind of like the chemo, too. Every patient is different. I don’t like the chemo, but it seems to be helping right now. Whenever I go to the infusion center, I never see the same person twice. Everyone is unique and getting their chemo that matches their exact, specific needs. Some are there for hours, some for just a few minutes. Some bury themselves under blankets; others wander around the center. Some will talk their heads off; others are quiet. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone with a sad face, and that is a very real reason I keep going back.

I would just as soon not have any chemo at all but the tumors are shrinking or stable. So, for now, whenever we’re coming into the house late at night after being out, someone needs to be able to glow in the dark and shine a light on the key that gets us in the house. And, I guess that’s me for the time being.

Now, if you want to just plain get up and dance, there just ain’t nothing like the song below to help you do that!!! Isn’t music just about the best thing there can be?

Over this past weekend, my daughter Casey’s boyfriend, Rick Reed, proposed…she accepted.

They were at a winery/restaurant here in the Hill Country and Rick took to the knee.

We are very excited for both of them. While they have not yet set a date, they are very excited at what this next phase of life will be like — together.

Below are Rick and Casey on the day of their engagement. Wow! I get another son and neither Patti nor I had to go through labor. This is going to be fun!

Rick Reed and Casey Aldridge

Rick Reed and Casey Aldridge

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