Here are just a few odds and ends from a busy week of treatments. Sorry, for its length, folks.



Since Patti and I have started this posting about my battle with pancreatic cancer, loads of friends and family will tell us to “kill that snotty little bastard damian” or some other such directive. I still don’t like giving the respect that a capital D would do.

After waging this war with the snotty little bastard, I would like to weigh in with a bit of a”postscript.”

I believe damian has already lost this war. The snotty little bastard is a loser. Here’s why. This whole cancer fight is really a fight between good and evil. And damian sure doesn’t represent good. What damian really wants me to do is lose faith in God, or blame God for this cancer, or be angry with God because I have this cancer. In short, lose faith in a loving God.

That is just not going to happen.

I believe in a loving God that is happiest when we are happy, worry-free, care-free and feel His presence all around us. Here’s an example from 1 John 5:14:

“This is the confidence that we have in our relationship with God: If we ask for anything in agreement with His will, He listens to us. If we know that He listens to whatever we ask, we know that we have received what we asked from Him.”


A favorite song — Asleep the Snow Came Flying

I don’t think it is new to say that the way we live our lives can be called the music of our life. Look at any good song and life is woven through its melodies, lyrics and notes.

While I certainly agree with this, I also believe that music stirs the soul, moves the body and affixes itself to our atoms and corpuscles. It becomes us.

imagesTo set the stage for one of my favorite songs, let me take you to Beartown Lakes Park, near Chagrin Falls, Ohio. It’s a very small park. Blink twice and you miss it.  First you go down one gravel road, then you turn down a dirt road and when you get to the end of the dirt road, you are there. It has a beautiful tranquil lake, loads of surrounding trees of a wandering variety but loads of maples, a dike at one end that serves as a great sliding surface for the little buggers in late Spring and Winter. It has a meandering hiking trail that goes around the lake and a good portion of one side of the lake is covered by a wooden walkway. In short, it’s one of my favorite places on earth. When Patti and I lived there, we’d go to Beartown at least once every season.

One year, Patti and I were kidless — they were away with friends — and we headed to Beartown. It had been snowing outside, sky was completely covered and the snow was the slow falling kind that seems to put a muffled blanket on any sound. When we got there, we noticed that all the trees were somewhat bare, but starting to get a gentle covering of slow, lightly touching snow. The ground was white. No breeze to speak of. We could see each other’s breath.  By this time in Winter, the lake was frozen. Our footprints were the only ones showing on the trail and the only sound anyone could hear was the crunch of booted feet on the snow path.

We had a great visit to the lake that afternoon, sat on a bench to watch the quiet snow come to rest on the ground. While we were talking, I couldn’t help but throw in a verse or two of Robert Frost’s Stopping By the Woods On a Snowy Evening. I just love that poem. Because of that day, whenever I hear this following song from Tim Story, I am overwhelmed with the beautiful sentimentality that Patti and I experienced when we went for that walk along Beartown Lakes. While some may say it’s a bit dark, I don’t think so. I think it accurately reflects the quiet stillness of an overcast day when the snow falls in abundance, but steadily quiet and, perhaps, timid.

So, here’s Asleep, the Snow Came Flying


First chemo treatment and stent placement

Last Wednesday, we spent about an hour with Sharon at Texas Oncology. She basically gave us a pep talk about what chemo can do, what it can’t do, what some side effects could be and the impact on quality of life. She was very direct and very good. There was no question we had that she did not have an answer. After learning all we needed to know about Gemzar, we moved to the infusion center, where I was to get my first round, along with many others who were already in their infusion process.

When I walked into the room, the first thing that came to mind was riding alone on a train through Europe in 1972, reading Alexandr Solzhenitsyn‘s Cancer Ward. The novel tells the story of a small group of cancer patients in Uzbekistan in 1955, in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union. It explores the moral responsibility — symbolized by the patients’ malignant tumors — of those implicated in the suffering of their fellow citizens during Stalin’s Great Purge, when millions were killed, sent to labor camps, or exiled.

So, as you can imagine, the description of the wards was dire, grim, ghastly. That was not what I saw at Texas Oncology. There were small units of five chairs in a semi-circle, attended by one nurse each. Everyone appeared comfortable. Either a friend or family member sat next to many patients. It was mostly very quiet except for the nurses behind a counter that served as a gathering spot for all the nurses tending to patients. It was so good to see people who did not feel uncomfortable or in any pain. One man lay next to me and he pulled his skull-cap down over his eyes and slept through his treatment. A woman next to him was noticeably shivering. Her lips were quivering and her body soon followed suit. But very quickly, attendants brought her a warmed blanket and she quickly stopped the quiver and seemed to fall asleep quickly.

Patti and I waited and soon the nurse administered the lead wire to the port in my right upper chest. Most nurses who deal with my port “gingerly” administer the leads, or flush the port, but gingerly indeed. Thomas, my nurse who has been doing this work since 1985, just rammed the needle into the port. It so shocked me that I forgot it hurt for a moment.

When the chemo was complete an hour later, we simply got up and left. No drama, but as I left the infusion room, I turned around to notice other patients coming in, others leaving. Cancer is just as much a part of life as laughing or weeping. We will see if any side effects manifest themselves. We pray not.

The stent — On Friday, I was admitted to Seton hospital to have a stent placed in my bile duct to eliminate my yellow cast and to allow for easier discharge of waste naturally through the bile duct. An hour on the table and an hour in recovery and I was on my way home. They were successful, but they had to be “aggressive.” That’s short for: “It’s gonna hurt like hell afterwards.” Which it did.

First couple of days, no sleep because I could not find a comfortable position since my chest hurt. But it’s Monday and I’m starting to feel better and the chest pain has, for the most part, subsided.

My good friend, Joe, said it better than anyone: “There is something to be thankful for every day, not just one day a year.”

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth"...

“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thank you, Joe, for keeping this day in perspective. After all, the cynic in me believes that Thanksgiving was devised by the American Turkey Growers Association, or some such lobby. Of course, my cynicism is probably borne by a certain amount of truth

And, to evidence of Joe’s belief, this week has proven what he said. As a cancer patient with a current bile obstruction, I was hoping the doctors could remove the obstruction and place a stent Sunday. However, the doctor at the hospital could not complete the procedure, and suggested I meet with an oncologist for further instructions. Does that sound like someone wanting to avoid being the bearer of bad news and force that role on someone else? Yeah, I thought so, too.

Then, we met with Dr. Jerry on Tuesday and walked away from that meeting with a vastness of hope. Mind you, not the kind of hope that our current acting president offers to those who swallow his Kool-Aid.  But real defining hope.

Just this next week we have a meeting with another gastroenterologist, and low-dose chemo starts Wednesday. So, there is hope.

But, as a cancer patient, my list of things to be thankful for may be slightly different from the average Joe, and they are in no particular order:

  • A loving God who shows me His presence in a soft breeze, a whisper, a slow stream, a beautiful sunset or a quiet room
  • Having choices because they help us to appreciate the array of care that God has for each and every one of us
  • Understanding about “windows and doors,” in that God doesn’t close a door but what he opens a window and what that means to my life right now
  • Seeing brightness every morning through the window next to my bed
  • Having a wonderfully supportive family that is there 100 percent of the time, including my wife who calls me “cancer boy” — and that always makes me smile
  • A growing stable of good, close friends who are enlisted troops to help fight that snotty bastard damien, and they know the best way to win the fight is through humor (God bless each and every one of you)
  • A growing, almost insatiable, need for the emotional satisfaction that a really good song brings to my senses
  • That I can still weep every time I hear Louis Armstrong sing “What a Wonderful World,” or that I can jump up and dance whenever I hear Frankie sing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”
  • Over the years, I was fortunate to travel often, and I have a quiver of vacation memories to last a lifetime
  • In summary, I am thankful that the universe still seems boundless to me, and I can find something to feel good about every single day.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share these with you. God bless you and your families. Be safe in your travels over this holiday weekend.

The beauty of kayaking on Upsata Lake is the peace and quiet that surround you like massaging arms while you navigate the tranquil lake.
Photo by Dorock

“A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is the Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”

H.D. Thoreau, Walden

My friend, Brian, is a fisherman. He lives in Elyria, Ohio and likes to fish in remote lakes in Canada. Several months ago he and I were catching up and he began describing this wonderfully successful trip he and some friends had made to a distant, unknown little puddle in the nether reaches up north in one of the Canadian provinces. “Doo, every fish I caught was a personal record! All the guys on the trip thought this was the best fishin’ hole we ever found. All of us got our personal best. It was just amazing.”

Self-portrait on Upsata Lake
Photo by Dorock

He then told me the name of the lake, its location and how to get there. “Whoa, Brian, why are you doin’ this?” I asked. “Doncha know if you keep telling people about this place, the next time you go there, it will be just another pond, not the great pond you know it to be?”  You could see the brain cells working, “Hmm, I guess you’re right.” Of course, I’m not much of a fisherman, so Brian’s secret is safe with me, but I don’t know how many other guys he told about this place, so his special place may be a bit in jeopardy.

Also, I realize that what I am about to share with you could end with the same result.

Last year, when Patti and I visited her brother Jim, and our sister-in-law, Nina, in Missoula, Montana, they took us kayaking to Upsata Lake, about an hour east of their home in Missoula. That visit was truly a breathtaking experience. I wrote about this lake last year. At the time, we were there at dusk and after the sun set, we could hear the sounds of the flapping of wings from birds breezing by us. We couldn’t see the birds at all, but we could hear them and that was the magic.

“Nature spontaneously keeps us well. Do not resist her.”

So, this year, on our Western Swing, we went back to Upsata Lake. This time, there were 10 of us on the lake, instead of the five that went last year. We were in Missoula again to visit Jim and Nina and celebrate the high school graduation of our niece, Ciara.

This time on the lake, we were there in the middle of the day. After we loaded the kayaks with our party, everyone took off and explored the lake to their liking. Jim’s son, Matt, and his girlfriend, Holly, took off quickly toward the other end of the lake. Nothing competitive between these two. The rest of us stuck pretty much together, dodging scores of lily pads that floated either just on the surface to slightly below the surface.

Jim and Ciara
Photo by Dorock

After a few minutes, Jim and Ciara discovered some loons floating along at the other end of the lake. Jim’s other son, Tj, niece, Jordan, and sister-in-law, Lisa aimed for the other end of the lake as well. Nina and Patti floated along, soaking up the scenery and taking pictures.

“We are constantly invited to be who we are.”

If you will bear with me a moment, I have a bit of explaining to do. I feel I need to set a stage for you. I have a very blessed life. I have been fortunate enough to travel to some of the most beautiful places in the world. Sure, not as many as some have done, but I have hiked through the Alps; walked along the water’s edge of fjords in Norway, hiked through the Rocky Mountains and explored the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. When I have had the opportunity to travel, I have enjoyed every moment of it. And, most of these places have their serenity, their peacefulness and, certainly, their grandeur.

They are all relaxing, restful, joyous, inspiring, breathtaking. They grab your senses.

But, Upsata Lake has grabbed my heart.

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”
Photo by Dorock

When I am quietly in the kayak on Upsata Lake, keeping the paddle in the kayak and just floating quietly, I look up at the bounty of the cumulus clouds floating overhead. They aren’t just clouds to me: they are small children laughing with white towels clothespinned to their shirts like capes, running back and forth touching the flowing white sheets drying in the afternoon breeze of a never-ending clothesline.

The still, languid, slow-moving water and current of the lake reflects the beauty of these clouds, but ever so slowly as if the surface is a watch that is slowly losing its battery and I watch the second hand move slower and slower til it stops.

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”
Photo by Dorock

The lily pads rest atop the water like sunbathing models who say nary a word as they await the next mojito to be dispatched next to their lounge. Nearby, a dragonfly dips in a circle to the water. As it dips to lightly touch the water, it is either drinking or bathing, but I am hypnotized by the dragonfly’s circular motion.

Along the banks as I float by, the pines adorning the shore reach for the sky whispering quiet undetectable prayers to the God who put them there. They know it is a magical place and the only time they share this thankful and grateful feeling is when a breeze floats among their branches and they share their prayers with us mere mortals.

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Sometimes the majesty of beauty can be in the simple, small things that surround us. On our Western Swing, I have marveled at the beauty of the West that rests just beyond the white stripes and asphalt that take us from one destination to another. When I look at a rock formation, I don’t wonder whether it’s igneous or granite or sandstone, I wonder at God’s strength and power to put something so simple, yet so beautiful there for us to see and know. And I know His power extends so far beyond what is visible from the white stripes and asphalt.

“To be awake is to be alive.”
Photo by Dorock

Yes, Upsata Lake has captured my heart, far beyond any other site I have ever seen. I hope each of you have your Upsata Lake. I thank my brother-in-law, Jim, for introducing me to a small piece of this earth that has become such a resident of my heart. And, Lord, thank you for putting it there!

“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, how ever measured or far away.”

“I have a great deal of company in my house; especially in the morning, when nobody calls.”
Photo by Dorock

“To be awake is to be alive.”
Photo by Dorock

You only need sit still long enough in some attractive spot in the woods that all its inhabitants may exhibit themselves to you by turns.”
Photo by Dorock

Today, Patti and I had a meeting with my oncologist, Dr. T.

I had not seen Dr. T since my last appointment in October 2011. Then, he gave me a glowing report. The tumors were stable, no growth or expansion of the cancer to other organs.

Today, I got a similar report. To God be the glory.

I have to admit, since Dr. T has extended the time between office visits, I approach each meeting with a bit of trepidation. Certainly, since my last visit in October, we have had a tragic loss — a death in the family that required daily visits to the hospital from late November through early January.  That was a very stressful time for our family.

So, I was very relieved to see that, even with the stress, the tumors have continued to remain stable. I am so thankful, and continue to thank the Lord for my blessings.

So, work continues on the book, my love of writing has not subsided, and Patti and I are planning to take a quick trip soon to provide some additional stress relief.

I thank you all for your prayers and good wishes. I hope you know that I return your love, your goodwill, and pray for your health and well-being. Thank you.


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!

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…