Routinely, after I have an appointment with my oncologist, I send out a routine message to family members. It is usually short, sweet and to the point. Something like this:

“Just had a meeting with the oncologist after a CT scan and blood work. Still no pain; no discomfort; no symptoms. Oncologist says keep doing what you’re doing.”

So, for family and friends who read this, they will reach out to either me or Patti and ask: “So, what is he doing? How come he’s still so healthy after more than a year since the stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis?”

"Who are those guys?"

Every time Patti tells me a friend or family member has asked her these questions, it makes me think of one thing: the scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where Butch and Sundance have blown up the safe in the train and are being chased by the railroad detectives. Butch and Sundance keep running over hill and canyon, prairie and forest, and still the detectives keep coming after them. At one point up on a mesa, Butch looks out and sees the posse still coming after them full force. He looks at Sundance and says, “Who are those guys?”

In my case, I know who “those guys” are — little “bad juju cells” as Johnny Weissmuller would say in his role as Jungle Jim.

Outside of the praise I give to the Almighty for his constant protection, I think there are some basics that I have learned over the past year.

1) Keep your immune system strong. When I was first diagnosed, I started a routine of building up my immune system. This included laser light treatments, detoxification of the immune system, and strengthening the immune system through appropriate holistic nutrients and supplements. I think that helped me tremendously. The Center for Holistic Healing here in Dallas helped.

2) Know what to eat and what to skip. Among the most dramatic things that I did was to change my diet. Well, let’s say I’m TRYING to change my diet. At times, it’s hit and miss. What I mean by changing my diet is that I used to eat quite a bit of red meat. And, as anyone who has worked with me at my various places of employment will attest, I am a 1000% sucker for sugar. Chocolate, really. I used to spend afternoons at the office walking around, grazing for sugar. And, when Patti and I were researching pancreatic cancer, we discovered there were certain foods that PROMOTE growth of the cancerous cells. BAD JUJU. These include red meat and sugar and some processed foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce. I try to stay away from these with various levels of success … and failure.

And, as you may imagine, there are foods you can eat that will retard or slow the growth of these bad juju cells. Those foods include beau coups of veggies, such as broccoli, cabbage, turnips, Brussel sprouts. It’s a good thing that I love all these guys.

The ideal diet for me will have loads of these veggies, and no meat or sugar. We’ve given up soft drinks for tea and water and some coffee. But, I occasionally still have a glass of wine. Don’t drink much beer any more, and I used to have my fair share. I realize that with the wine comes sugar, so I keep that in mind when I DO choose to have a glass.

By the way, please don’t infer I am “preaching” about this. I’m certainly not one to tell others what to do, but since people have asked what I do, this pretty much sums it up. I still have those cravings for a scintillating Fuddrucker’s burger, but I now ask for a vegan version. And, I am trying to dramatically reduce my intake of chicken and fish.

Powerful content

Recently, my sister-in-law, Nina, showed Patti and me a video titled “Forks over Knives.” It was truly amazing and a life changer. The video explains the value of adopting a plant-based diet. Much like other diet and nutrition vehicles, this doesn’t attempt to “sell” you anything but a healthy lifestyle. The businesslike making of points in this video really appealed to me. I don’t like preaching, and this did not come off that way to me at all.

I am not trying to sell anything here at all, but if you want to know more, check out: forksoverknives.com.

3) Exercise some. Yeah, I know this just makes sense. But, for me, it’s easier said than done. I love to sit in front of my computer and write. Things like this fightingdamien blog, or the novel I’m crafting. But that is very sedentary. Do I like treadmills? No, but I know exercise is important. I know there are benefits from hitting the gym, I’m just plain lazy, most of the time. So, do I do well at exercise? No, but I’m trying to do better.

4) Get rid of stress. Ironically, I think this has had a tremendous amount to do with my emotional and physical states. Before cancer, I was a consultant. Lots of travel, loads of pressing deadlines, quick turnarounds, long hours, unruly schedules. At times, that work environment was very rewarding. I like being busy. I like being part of success. I went from work weeks that were routinely 60+ hours with loads of travel, to 0+ hours of work and no travel. It was a very dramatic drop in stress — from bunches to none. Health is my primary concern now, so I do what it takes to stay healthy. Like Martha says, “That’s a good thing.”

I no longer work, except take out the trash, routine chores and mow the lawn. And, occasionally when there is something I know I need to do, but don’t want to do, I pull out the “cancer cough.”  Right in front of Patti, I will show my sad eyes, put my hand near my mouth and cough a very faint, weak, barely audible or even noticeable cough that is designed to elicit her sympathy. It doesn’t work, but it does generate a laugh or two between the two of us and we have heard that laughing causes cancer cells to die. Don’t know if it’s true, but it sounds like it COULD BE true.

I know that getting rid of stress is easier said than done. But there are ways (see number 3 above) to rise above the stress. Making sure you take time for yourself during the day is important. There are loads of stats about the importance of taking time for “you” during your busy day. Sometimes, it’s just a few moments, but having the feeling that you are in control of your day rather than an employer, is a tremendously gratifying and rewarding feeling. Whether it is just going outside for a walk around the block at work or at home, for just a few moments, that helps to ease the stress and help you feel in control.

Contentment: a lab in his pool

Frankly, I think this item has had more impact on my health than just about all of the above combined. A friend told me the other day that he thought I looked very content. I’ve thought about that a lot since then. I am content, very content. I don’t worry like I used to — about everything. Years ago, when I was putting in those long weeks at work, and fitting family around work, I never felt like I knew how the world worked, or how I fit into it. It was a huge foreboding feeling.

Today, I am thankful for this cancer. Yep, I sure am. This past year has helped me become content. I am very content. For the first time in my life, I DO feel like I know how the world works, and I feel like I know how I fit in it. Content feels really, really good! And that, my friends, is worth all the gold in Fort Knox. God bless you all!

This is not an easy one to write.

Tonight, Patti and I are spending our New Year’s Eve with her brother, Bill, in a Dallas hospital.

He is nearing the end of a 15-year struggle with melanoma. His fight has been valiant. When Bill first discovered he had melanoma, he followed professional counsel and earnestly began treatment. Along the way over the past 15 years, he has had surgeries to remove malignant tumors. He recovered well from these surgeries, certainly enough to resume steady work, steady play, and enjoy his other roles of committed husband, father, son, brother and friend. Bill understood that melanoma is hellishly aggressive and damnably uncompromising. So far, he has fought this onslaught with fierce determination, tenacious courage and an unwavering commitment to beat this beast.

In late summer, at a routine regular visit with MDAnderson, doctors noticed a nine centimeter tumor — one they should have seen during his previous checkup in October 2010, when it was five centimeters. Somehow this bugger escaped detection at that visit and grew. By the time the doctors saw it this past summer, it had grown and become affixed to his spine and a kidney. This time, because of metastasis, doctors could not operate.

The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog

While balancing his responsibilities, he began increasing his homeopathic regimen. This served him well during the years when the melanoma was somewhat inactive. He also sought out experts across the country to help.  At one point this past September, he told me he was seeing seven doctors to try to fight the disease. He had heard about an experimental stem cell treatment program in South Korea that was experiencing good results.

It was a two-month commitment. After undergoing a couple of radiation treatments here, Bill and wife, Lisa, flew to Seoul for the experimental treatment. Unfortunately, after the 22-hour flight to Korea, Bill caught a bug, which led to pneumonia. So, he began a grueling treatment for both pneumonia and the melanoma. All this, and the two of them were in a foreign country, hearing a foreign language, and nothing was familiar to them. Bill gained strength and began the stem cell treatments, which included a cyber knife radiation treatment and chemotherapy.

Bill and Lisa returned in late November and he was admitted to the hospital here in Dallas, fighting severe lung and chest infections, or sepsis. The doctors monitored the cancer, but the sepsis was of a very immediate concern. In the ICU, Bill was heavily sedated, on a ventilator, and underwent strong antibiotic treatment to quell the sepsis as quickly as possible. He was in ICU from November 23rd through December 26th. During this period family members gathered to support Bill and Lisa in any way possible. His friends from childhood, Steve and Paul, were in constant contact with Lisa while they were in Korea and since.

Currently, Bill is on morphine to minimize the pain. The cancer has spread to other organs.

I share this with you not to add Bill’s struggle to the countless others who have fought so tirelessly to beat cancer, but to paint a picture of pure raw courage.

Bill is the most courageous man I know.

As I sit here in the hospital room with Bill lying quietly in bed behind me, he reminds me of an 1818 painting by the German Romanticist, Caspar David Friedrich.  The painting is The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog. For me, this painting represents the summation of 27 years of knowing and enjoying the friendship of this energetic figure.

A writer describing this masterpiece of German Romanticism said “it demonstrates mastery over a landscape and the insignificance of the individual within it. We see no face, so it’s impossible to know whether the prospect facing the young man is exhilarating, or terrifying, or both. Friedrich was a 19th-century painter, generally considered the most important German artist of his generation. His primary interest as an artist was the contemplation of nature, and his often symbolic and anti-classical work seeks to convey a subjective, emotional response to the natural world.”

The connection between Bill and Friedrich was nature. Bill loved hiking in Telluride, as well as the Andes. I camped with him once in the Adirondacks on a snowy Thanksgiving when the temps at the summit of the peak we climbed were calculated to be -21 degrees. Paul and Bill’s brother, Jim, can relate many, many more stories than I about Bill’s love of nature.

When I look at this painting, I always think of Bill. The defiant stance of the figure, standing solidly on the precipitous jagged rock balanced nimbly by a slim cane, looking outward as the sea and fog combine seamlessly to present an undefined horizon that appears to encroach upon the figure from all sides. There is something purely enigmatic that we don’t manage to see the face of the defiant figure. I imagine it is Bill’s face and he is smiling; smiling as if he is determined to find the perfect way to move from his perch toward the far mountain and not suffer the perils presented by the fog (no clear path) and the sea (swirling eddies that engulfed many a less-experienced adventurer).

Yep, that’s Bill.

Bro, shortly it will be a new year. If I could ask you, I’m sure you would tell me with that welcoming smile that the fog is clearing, the sea is calming, and that far mountain is not nearly the challenge I think it is.

Go with God, Bill, and smile to be in His company.

Three 'gingers' -- JD, Casey and Patti -- say the pledge of allegiance before the walk.

Two weeks ago, Patti, Casey, JD and I participated in the Pancreatic Cancer Fun Run/Walk on a Saturday morning in downtown Austin. We were joined by friends Mike, Jess, Kaedon, Brady, Mason and Mary.

We were also joined by a the spirits of a number of contributors. When we announced that we were going to participate in the fun run/walk, we gathered contributions and raised just about $1,000 for the walk and pancreatic cancer research. God bless you all for your generous contributions.

It was a real blast to do this. For participating, everyone got a dark purple Purple Stride T-shirt and a number. But not me. I got a light lavender “Survivor” shirt and a number. I wore the shirt proudly that day and I wear it now. There is something about “survivor” that is really comforting. They even took a photo. There were 7-8 of us that were survivors of the 600 that gathered for the walk.

And, as you might imagine, it was a very emotional walk. Walking along the 3-mile course, I noticed that many of the folks who were walking with purple shirts, had special paper placards pinned to their shirts. “I am walking/running for …” Then, the individual used a Sharpie to write in the name of the person, past or present, for whom they are walking.

Just about every walker had a placard. Most were walking for close friends or relatives who were presently undergoing treatment or had died from the disease. Frankly, it was a little disturbing to see people walk by enjoying the cool Fall weather, chatting with friends, walking with pets, but doing so with the name of a loved one attached to them. These folks have a common purpose. They will do what they can to rid the world of this terrible disease.

I am a very lucky man. I know it. To have been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer over a year ago, been told that I had less than 3-months to live, I thank God every day for each day. But on this walk, I saw reminders all around me of those for whom “every day” has run out. But there were definite bright spots.

This is the main one. The fact that there were 7-8 survivors in this group is amazing. A year ago, three years ago, there wouldn’t have been 7-8 folks in that category. There would have been fewer.

And, today, the world is a much smaller place. Our FDA is not the be-all and end-all for treatment regulation. Some here will argue that we will see cures when  the drug companies want there to be a cure.  Maybe.

There are treatments occurring in other countries that are recording amazing results. And, remarkable activities are taking place here in the U.S. that are seeing real results — many of a homeopathic nature. So

Casey and Kaedon are getting ready for the walk

far, I have been fortunate not to have radiation or chemotherapy.

I celebrate every day with faith and laughter. Patti and I joke that laughing kills cancer cells. She gives me something to cause laughter every day. So, together we’re killing the cancer cells, slowly but surely. And, I absolutely believe that every day I am here is a blessing from God.

But enough about philosophy, here are some photos from the fun run/walk in Austin. God bless you all and your loved ones.

Kaedon and Casey lasso a colorful steer along the route

I just wanted to thank the important people

I left a memory note, along with many other walkers

Mason and Jess finished with great vigor

Kaedon and Patti walk through the finish line

JD and I cross the finish line

Brady, Jess, Kaedon, Casey, Mary and Patti take to the streets

Mary and Casey were happy to walk

Brady shares a secret with Dad along the course

Mike, Brady, Jess, Kaedon and Mason are ready to walk

Mason is just ready for someone to push him along the course.

First, a quick update. Health readings continue to be good. Tumors are stable or shrinking. Still feel good and cherish every day as a special gift.

Back in August, I had a special delight — celebrating my birthday with very good friends and family at a Round Rock Express game at the Dell Diamond in Round Rock, Texas. The game was sponsored by a pancreatic cancer research group called Pan Can. Part of the sale of each ticket went to pancreatic cancer research. Patti had sent word out to friends in Austin to alert them and invite them to come to the game — as a surprise to me. I didn’t know we were going until much later.

I have always enjoyed a baseball game as a way to celebrate a birthday.

So, it was a special surprise to get to the game and find our good friends the Appletons (Wayne, Jen, Maddie and Kip), the Rogers (Louis and Linda), the Macys (Jeff and Megan) join us for the game. So the camaraderie of visiting with good friends made the night a special one. Plus the game was pure joy.

At one point in the 3rd or 4th inning, the visiting team from Florida was ahead 9-2. If you looked around the stadium, you would notice people heading up the aisles thinking this was a lost cause. Well, as commitment, dedication, hard work and skill would have it, the Express came back to win in the bottom of the 9th — 10-9. What an excellent way to celebrate a birthday — with a win.

As an added bonus, good friends Randy and Terry managed to put my name up on the scoreboard as one of the many celebrating birthdays that day.

By the way, if you want to learn more about pancreatic cancer research, go to http://www.pancan.org. There is also a walk/fun run for pancreatic cancer research on October 22 in Austin. If you want to join us, we will be there. Of course, I believe there will be walks/fun runs across the country on that day. You can support pancreatic cancer research by participating in a city near you.

In the meantime, here are a few photos from our night at the Diamond. Good health to you all.

The ladies in purple: Casey, Megan, Patti, Jen and Maddie

Name in "lights" -- also notice the time and temperature. Only special friends will show up despite the heat!

The Aldridges at Dell: Patti, Casey, me and JD

Another visit to the oncologist … and continued good news.

When we met with Dr. Trumbly this afternoon, I was a bit apprehensive. Recently, when Patti and I had been feeding and watering the horses on the ranch here, it was exhausting and I did not know how this exhaustion would affect the cancer numbers. And, I didn’t know whether the exhaustion was due to the heat (over 100 degrees for 30 days), the exertion (lifting and moving seven-eight bales of hay two-to-three times a day) or my age (60-year-old doing stuff that normally someone in their 20s would be doing), or whatever.

I don’t think I have sweat this much in years. I’m just a wuss.

But when we met with the doc, he had nothing but good news. The c-19 markers that he uses to determine spread and/or growth of the tumors in the pancreas and liver continue to drop. The last visit they were 190, and today they were 180. Months ago, they were at their highest — 212. Dr. Trumbly said that normally these markers run between 0-35 for someone without this cancer. So, my numbers at 180 are high, but more advanced patients have numbers that run in the thousands, so we pray for stability. But these marker numbers are dropping, and that’s a good thing.

How ironic is this? We revel and celebrate when we have LESS of something instead of MORE. Hell, imagine how much I would celebrate if these numbers were to drop to the 0-35 range. Drinks are on me!

And the good news continues. From this point forward, I will see Dr. Trumbly every THREE months instead of every six weeks.

Thanks to all of you for your good wishes, prayers and staying in touch. I love you all.

Cancer-boy may be lifting more bales and totin’ more water if it means these numbers continue to fall.

To God be the glory!

Today, I had my routine six-week visit with my oncologist. For every three months with Dr. T, I have a CT scan and blood test. At other times, I routinely have just a blood test.

When I have the blood test, they are looking at the C-19 marker to determine any issues associated with my pancreatic cancer.

So, it was a bit of a surprise to me earlier today when I met with Dr. T and he said, “Regarding the blood test you had last week, I have some good news and some bad news.”

I caught my breath. “Well, let’s have it.”

“Derek, if you look at your blood test, page one and most of page two is good news. But do you see anything unusual on the report?”  He handed the blood test report to me and I looked at it. Frankly, it was just medical report gobbledygook. Certainly, it would be a stretch to call this anything remotely close to English.

“Look at the bottom of page 2,” he said.

I saw at the bottom that there was a negative for the C27 antigen, not the c19.

‘I thought you checked the c19 antigen, right?”

“Yes. That’s the bad news,” Dr. T said.

“What bad news?”

“The lab company made a mistake. They should have checked for the c19 antigen, but they checked for the c27 antigen instead. Our mistake,” he said.

‘And?”

“And, this is a routine test to determine breast cancer,” he said, somewhat stoically.

‘Well, that’s not bad news. It strikes me that you’ve just cleared me of any symptoms of breast cancer,” I said.

I walked out of the office feeling pretty damn good.

Last week, I had a CT scan and blood work in anticipation of a meeting with my oncologist, Dr. Alan Trumbly, today.

Patti and I just got back and the report is good. As Dr. Trumbly said, “Look at your scan report. I’ve not seen the word STABLE show up in a CT scan report this much in quite some time.”

He went on to say that the scan and blood work show that the tumors in the pancreas and liver are immobile and … stable. My liver continues to be 100% operational.

There is a very slight elevation in one of my tumor markers in the blood work, but the doc said that is it minuscule. As Dr. Trumbly keeps saying to Patti and me: “Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s working.”

Thanks to all of your for your prayers. That is probably what’s working more than anything I am doing. God bless you all.

Folks, Patti and I have settled into a care routine that involves working with the holistic doctor and the oncologist. Earlier this week (Tuesday), I had a blood test to determine my cancer markers in advance of a meeting with the oncologist today.

Well, to God be the glory. The cancer appears to be stable. Markers continue to be stable. No movement of them at all. Consequently, the oncologist suggests we keep doing what we are doing (the holistic treatments) because they continue to work. Putting this into God’s hands also is working, I believe.

So, I don’t need to see the oncologist for yet another six weeks. Good news to welcome the arrival of Spring.

To those of you who have been praying for Patti and me, our sincerest thank yous. We welcome and appreciate all your good thoughts and blessings. And, in turn, we return them to you and your loved ones.

To help you start a wonderful Spring weekend, here is a view of celibacy:

What is Celibacy?
Celibacy can be a choice in life, or a condition imposed by circumstances.

While attending a Marriage Weekend, Frank and his wife Nancy listened to the instructor declare: It is essential that husbands and wives know the things that are important to each other.

He then addressed the men. Can you name and describe your wife’s favorite flower?

Frank leaned over, touched Nancy’s arm gently, and whispered, Gold Medal-All-Purpose, isn’t it?

And thus began Frank’s life of celibacy…

Patti and I just returned from Homosassa, Florida, where my in-laws, Andy and Virginia, live. As some of you may know, my father-in-law was diagnosed with esophageal cancer the same day I got my diagnosis. He is 85. I call him Pop.

Pop

I have known Pop almost as long as I knew my father. My father, JD, died of a heart attack when I was 30 — so most of the time I got to spend with my dad was as a child. Consequently, since I was barely an adult at 30, I feel that I have had two fathers — a father for my childhood and a father for my adult days.

When I was a child my mother used to drag my sister and me to Methodist church every Sunday. I can still hear her say, “You go to church on Sunday and you’ll feel good the rest of the week.”  As a child, I used to believe that if I played baseball anytime during the week and I won, I’d feel good the rest of the week. That was my world.

On a rare occasion, my dad would join us in church. Rare occasion. My lasting memory of my dad in a church was when I was around 9-10ish, standing in a pew right next to my dad and the congregation was singing “Bringing in the Sheaves.” The expression on my dad’s face was one of sheer pain, as if someone was under the pew in front of us ramming a bamboo shoot under his big toe with every syllable of the song he sang. He stared straight ahead and ground his teeth together every time he had to sing, “we will come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves.” But he could throw a mean curve ball and he had great stories of Rogers Hornsby.

On the other hand, Pop is from Massachusetts, of tensile-strong New England principles, raised a Seventh-Day Adventist. You honor the seventh day by resting from sundown Friday through sundown the Sabbath (Saturday). Go to church on Sabbath (Saturday). I first learned about Adventists through Patti’s brother, Jim, who was a good friend and roommate of mine in South Texas.  We worked together on the construction of a nuclear power plant there. Jim is a civil engineer, and I was doing public relations for the owners and the builders.

Then, when I met Patti, and we began to date, I got to know Pop better. During World War II, he was a medic, working in Panama. After the war, he had the opportunity to join GE, but chose to begin teaching and settled in Maryland. He and Virginia had three kids. Life was good.

Sounds like I may be simplifying a life story, but that is not the case. Most of the content and texture of our lives lies between the major events.

Pop likes the New York Yankees (I will forgive him for that), loves to play golf (you should ask him to keep score because you’ll shoot a 69), has a twinkle in both eyes that reminds me of the old Coca Cola illustrations of Santa. His love of history and breadth of stories is truly remarkable. On occasion, he would take Patti and me and the kids through Gettysburg. The way he would recount the battle had us all believing we were about to come under a shelling any moment. He has a love of the sea that came from his grandfather who was a sailing captain, traveling around the world several times.

His gift of gab is perhaps what most folks who know Pop would say is his greatest strength. At his church, he tells the stories for the children’s portion of the service. And every Sabbath, he usually has a pocketful of sweets (jelly beans or some other candy) that he gives out to the kids who know him as a soft touch. Whenever Patti and I are visiting with Mom and Pop, conversations very quickly begin to revolve around relatives and friends, most of whom I can barely recall, if at all.

I believe the greatest teaching any of us can have is by rubbing shoulders with others whom we respect and admire, not necessarily sitting in a classroom. I have walked with Pop through the woods, sat with him on a patio, stared at the sunrise and sunset at beaches with him, attended ball games with him, helped him find lost golf balls (his and mine), shared a love of dogs with him, strolled through book stores with him, spent time afloat with him and attended church with him. Along with Patti, he has helped to loosen a deeply buried faith that I thought I had lost.

And, somewhere along the line, it appears that I may have had an opportunity to rub off on him. Occasionally, I will hear him say something like this, “I remember when your mother and I went to see soandso …” I am sure I look confused to him when he says such things because I immediately know that he and my mother never did anything together. But that’s the way Pop is; in his eyes he has six children, not three.

Over the years, when I meet people, I occasionally compare them to major characters of books that I have read and loved. I know a Daisy Buchanan; I’m all too familiar with a few Jay Gatsbys; had some wonderful encounters with some Huck Finns; and had perhaps more than my share of beers with a Jakes Barnes or two. Pop is my stage manager from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. He may not be the protagonist of every action, but he is the connecting fibre of every character in Our Town. Just like the play, people are drawn to him and he comforts them in bad times and shares joy with them in good times. The stage manager is a favorite and lingering character I think of often. And he is Pop.

These days, Pop is working to regain his strength. Starting in January, he has undergone 6-8 weeks of radiation and chemotherapy to treat his esophageal cancer. At last report, his tumor had shrunk 60 percent. Last week, while visiting with him in Florida, we got to watch some golf, talk about some books, share some opinions about the latest news, soak up the Florida sun and go for a ride or two in the car.

I pray the hardest part is behind him and he can begin to gain his strength back. He is truly the very best man I know.