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:

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!

Living on a horse ranch, Patti and I have adjusted to a new lifestyle. A little over a year ago, we were empty nesters in a 48-floor apartment in downtown Chicago. Seems like if you are 48-floors high, the term “nest” is appropriate.

Now, well …

How about a suburban Dallas ranch, just down the street from South Fork, for those of you familiar with the TV show, “Dallas”?

Typical housefly that is my nemesis

One of the things that we have had to adjust to on the ranch is the prevalence of flies. Horses attract flies, so, even though we don’t live in the barn, we still get flies in the house.

So, we have a very good flyswatter. And, routinely, I take on the bloodthirsty task of killing the flies so they don’t become roommates. After all, they don’t pay rent. They really don’t do anything but become a real nuisance.

Now, over the past several months of killing the suckers, I have developed a routine, but please be patient as I explain my routine.

When I was younger, I was a real fan of TV westerns. I watched ’em all: “Maverick”, “Cheyenne,” “The Rifleman,” “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” “Gunsmoke,” “Wild Wild West,” “Wagon Train,” “The Virginian,” “Big Valley.” You name it, if it was a western, I watched it and really loved ’em all.

One of my favorites was “Have Gun Will Travel,” starring Richard Boone.  Man, Richard Boone as Paladin was the ultimate cool. He wore black, rode a black horse, had business cards. I mean, really, business cards for a gunslinger?

Paladin's business card

For me, there was no one cooler than Paladin, although Steve McQueen in “Wanted: Dead or Alive” came very, very close.

So, here’s the routine. Whenever I spot a fly or flies in the house, I get the flyswatter and go after the little suckers.

And, when I kill one, I immediately turn on a western accent and start singing the theme song to “Have Gun Will Travel.”

So, SPLAT! goes the flyswatter. Lifeless lies the fly, Then, the following begin emanating from the house:

Have gun will travel reads the card of a man, A knight without armor in a savage land …” Sometimes, I hobble around like a bow-legged bull rider while singing the song and celebrating the kill.

Ultimate cool Richard Boone as Paladin

Sometimes when it is quiet, the TV is off, and Patti is in another part of the house, she will hear “Paladin, Paladin, where do you roam” and know that somewhere in the house a fly has bitten the dust. Yeah, I know, we don’t get out much.

If you are so inclined, the lyrics to the theme from “Have Gun Will Travel” follow below:

Have gun will travel reads the card of a man
A knight without armor in a savage land
His fast gun for hire heeds the calling wind
A soldier of fortune is a man called Paladin
Paladin Paladin where do you roam Paladin Paladin far far from home

He travels on to wherever he must
A chess knight of silver is his badge of trust
There are campfire legends that the plainsmen sing
Of a man with the gun of the man called Paladin
Paladin Paladin where do you roam Paladin Paladin far far from home
Far far from home far far from home

Now, aren’t those lyrics just plain wonderful? Well, I just usually mumble only a couple of lines from the song to celebrate the death of a fly. But, hey, if you want to sing the whole song, go for it.

And, the hits keep on comin’. Lately, we’ve had a lot of kinfolk around the house. One day recently , I saw my father-in-law with the flyswatter. I heard the sound of the flyswatter, then a moment later, in his 86-year-old voice, I heard him hum the theme song from “Bonanza.” Somewhere, Lorne Greene is smiling.

Friday, we had a visit from an air conditioning repairman. His name was Dan Thomas. Since he was younger than me (no gray hair) I resisted the urge to ask him if he was related to Marlo.

Dan did an assessment of our AC needs and then he, Patti and I sat down at the table for him to let us know what needed to be done and what the tab would run us.

When I meet with people like Dan who have very specialized talents, I will ask questions like the following: What is the most unusual service call you’ve made? Have you done work for any celebrities? Part of this is to get to know the person a little better, but over the years, I have found these folks have great stories to tell.

Recently, Patti and I were interviewing movers in Austin in preparation for our move from Austin to Chicago a year ago March. One mover we interviewed told us that he had moved Sandra Bullock’s stuff once. He said that she was very active in the move, took charge herself and did not pass the effort off to an underling. The mover said that she was very nice to them, brought them great food during the breaks, was very personable to them and paid attention to the entire effort from start to finish. He said the crew was impressed and amazed at how much attention she gave them on the move.

So, Patti and I hear stories like this often.

Dan’s story was a little different. He told us about some of his interesting assignments, and, as evidence, he recalled a service call he made in San Angelo, Texas before he moved to Dallas.

Dan got a call to go to a doctor’s house to find out why the AC was not working. When he got to the house, the doctor met him. Dan introduced himself. The doctor said his name was Dr. Alan Whozits.

As the doctor showed him around the AC compressor and other pieces of the AC machinery, Dan said, “Alan, what about …?

Before he could finish, as Dan recalls, the doctor said, “Dan, please call me DOCTOR Alan. I’ve gone through all the education, I’ve worked on hundreds if not thousands of patients and I deserve the ‘doctor’ designation.”

He didn’t skip a beat: “Well, DOCTOR Alan, you can call me DOCTOR Dan because I’m the guy who has had countless calls fixing air conditioners just like yours. And I’m the guy who’s gonna fix yours.”

Dan said that after that day, Alan always used him for his work and they became good friends. Dan didn’t say whether Alan was his doctor there.

As Dan was telling this story, I just smiled and smiled.

See, we don’t need Robin Williams or the Saturday Night Live crew for our humor, it comes to us from all sources, many times our spouses, our kids, pets, relatives and friends. But the bottom line, if it helps us to laugh, it helps to live life to its fullest.

Thank you, Dan!

Last week, I went for a couple days down to Houston to visit my mother. Since last June she has been back and forth between hospital and skilled nursing facility.

Well, it’s a little over 240  miles between our place in Dallas and Houston. For Patti, a three-hour drive. For me, four.

Since Patti was staying behind to take care of some things in Dallas, I decided to forego the radio and take my iPod to listen to for the ride down there. Lately, I seem to notice when I see other drivers with their earbuds. Made sense. Rather than change radio stations routinely passing in and out of range during the trip, I could have all my favorite artists playing away while leisurely driving down to the Bayou City.

It was truly a spectacular drive. Along the way, I saw all the usual roadside signs, telling me that McDonalds and Exxon were at the next exit, signs talking about Jesus being the answer, signs suggesting we stop for barbecue at Bubba’s, Rudy’s or various other male proprietors. Apparently, EEOC has not yet received enough complaints from the Trixies, Bettys or Beulahs who would like to name a barbecue place after themselves.

And there were the porn notices, too. For example, just outside Dallas, heading south on I45, there is a “gentleman’s club” called Wispers. Of course, my first thought was, “Dumbass. Whispers has an h.” But as I passed the empty parking lot, I reminded myself that folks who go there probably don’t give a hoot whether the name is spelled right or not. Silly me.

Also, I particularly liked the billboard with the Biblical scripture that extolled people to turn away from pornography. And, that billboard was about 30 yards BEFORE you got to Jim’s Adult Video Emporium.

Bluebonnets along a Texas road

But, in addition to the iPod, there was one thing that made the trip memorable throughout the distance. Texas bluebonnets and other wildflowers, like Indian Paintbrush, were in full bloom. In this state, the bluebonnets bloom in Spring on the embankments and medians of the freeways of Texas roads and highways.

When they bloom, they are truly glorious in their beauty. It’s as if during the Winter, God comes down to Earth and sprinkles the roads with the seeds for these majestic flowers to bloom to everybody’s delight in the Spring. In the past, when I’ve traveled over Texas roads, I have stopped to just watch the bluebonnets sway tenderly in the wind.

There is a place on 290 near Brenham, Texas, between Austin and Houston, which is known to have bluebonnets blooming all around that city. Mostly on weekends, you will see the embankments around Brenham with all sort of “dents” in the wildflowers, where adoring parents have planted their children for pictures in the flowers. Happens all the time in Spring.

In this one particular spot near Brenham, there are several acres of bluebonnets. If you quickly glance at this particular spot while driving by, you would swear that there was a lake in the middle of that field. Do a double take and you realize it is bluebonnets.

Lady Bird and her legacy

Bluebonnets and other Texas wildflowers have been around for ages. However, whatever your thoughts of LBJ as a president, perhaps his greatest gift to America was his wife, Lady Bird. While occupying the White House, Lady Bird made it her mission to plant the wildflowers everywhere and increase the beauty across America they bring year after year.

After leaving the White House, Lady Bird continued her commitment to spread wildflowers wherever possible. Wherever Patti and I have lived, we’ve tried to plant bluebonnets at our homes. In some locations they did well. In others, like Ohio, unfortunately, they did not like the cold.

As I moved further south along I45, past Huntsville, there is a huge statue of Sam Houston, an important Texas history figure. This statue is approximately 100-120 feet high, so it’s no small statue. It’s right beside the freeway. And, there were the bluebonnets cascading across the embankments and median like so many vowels, consonants and syllables spread in beautiful calligraphy across a blank page.

If you have the chance to drive across any of Texas’ main roads during the Spring, you will not miss the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes.

Thank you, Lady Bird. What a truly magnificent legacy to have.