Saluting A Comrade

In just a few days we’ll be back into the thick of our work.  We have client work that fills the next two weeks.  In some ways this is a good thing.  For CrisMarie it will give her something to focus on as she continues to integrate the information that her brother is gone.  For me it’ s a way to quit thinking so much about cancer.

Tom in many ways was more of a ‘brother in arms’ to me than a brother-in-law.  I never fought in a war, but over the years I have worked with many folks who did and they often spoke of the unique relationship they had with anyone else who served.  For me, there is something similar with the folks who cross my path while dealing with cancer.  It goes way back to my own fight and the people who were in the oncology department at the same time I was.  Really, the first comrade I remember was the other woman who was in the Life, Death & Transitions workshop with me along with 90 other folks who were health-care providers for cancer patients.  The workshop was run by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who was an expert in the field on death & dying.  I went because I was told I was dying and really had no clue how to do that at 24 and thought the workshop might help.  The other woman was fighting breast cancer and  had been for a while, much like a long term, multiple-tour veteran.  She  had a very strict routine and belief system.  I don’t think she liked me very much because I was not really ‘strong’.  I wasn’t doing everything by the book.  Of course, I did not know there was a book, but she had a very clear intent and was not going to give the cancer one ounce of  negative energy.  No tears, no anger.  I was a bit more undisciplined, and I sort wished she would cry because I could feel the pain she carried under the surface.  Still, I respected her choice – how she fought.

There have been many more folks since then.  I have sat and talked, cried, screamed and raged with many comrades.  I still am a bit undisciplined in my approach to cancer.  I am not one to believe it’s all about being positive or about fighting the good fight.  I think the cancer fight is quite unique.  There is a bond we share, but there isn’t a common play book that wins the war.

Even after twenty years, as I sat with Tom and he looked to me for some sort of answers, I knew I had none.  There is no right way to deal with cancer.  Just like there isn’t a right way to deal with living through a war.  It’s a bloody fight and many people die.

There are lots of lessons learned from studying veterans.  Though each war seems different, there are the common links.  I think it is like that with cancer.  There are different types of cancer, fast growing cell types, slow growing, very invasive and more contained types.  There are many ways of fighting a war – on the ground, in the air, on the water or even gorilla style.  Same with cancer – there’s chemo, radiation, surgery, transplants and also the alternative style which may be more like gorilla style – not as organized or as obvious.  There’s a mindset that is required to fight cancer.  People are uncomfortable talking about cancer – particularly about the obvious closeness of death.  Much like wars – we don’t like to talk about the ugly reality of a war zone.

But really, for me, one of the hardest parts is when a comrade dies.  My heart aches.  I feel survivor quilt. I question my recovery and I rage against the crazy cancer process.

My war was many, many years ago and yet when I am with another cancer comrade I am right back there in the fight.  That’s why I am glad I’ll soon be back at my other job.  I don’t like the pain of reliving the past.  Of course, I will do it all again if I believe it can help one comrade in their fight against cancer.  Much like we all wish for a world without wars, I wish for a world without cancer.  Oddly, I think war and cancer are way too much alike.  Wars are simply men and women fighting each other over different beliefs and stories that are so deeply ingrained and compartmentalized that the the human connection has been lost.  Cancer is just my cells fighting against each other having lost the connecting link – communication has broken down.

Today isn’t about solving the bigger communication issue.  Though that is the very reason I do the work I do.  No, today still about saluting a comrade.  Today is also about crying for all the lives lost to this dirty, rotten war called cancer.  Tomorrow will be the day to move on and get back to work doing my little part to help improve the way people communicate.   May be someday that will make a difference by helping stop a war on any one of the many fronts we keep fighting them.

A Tribute to Tom Who Lived Strong!

We came wishing for a better outcome.  After three days of a hospital vigil, ending with a very moving hour with family and friends, toasting Tom into his next adventure, we left the hospital Sunday saddened to have said goodbye to Tom. Today we’ll be a part of the Catholic Mass created by Father Berg and Tom’s parents.  We hope to also make it back for the less formal service offered later by Jan and the boys at their home and in the shop that Tom loved and was the place he designed and built from scratch, his red sports car, the Campbellini .

I loved hearing so many stories about Tom, and what I will remember most is his love of cars.  As a little guy, age four, he owned one of those red cars that runs on leg power.  One day he informed his mom, Julia, he was off to visit  Dad.  Not thinking too much of the comment, Julia assumed he was playing as he usually did in the yard.  The family lived a ways off the base so visiting Dad was not really an option.  However, after a bit of time passed, the silence concerned Julia, and she went looking for Tom.  He was no where to be found.  She ran through the neighborhood finally asking a postman if he had seen a small boy.  The postman shared that indeed he had seen a boy pedaling his car out on the highway with traffic moving around him towards the base.  They took off to find him.  He was determined to  visit with his Dad.  Fortunately he was fine.  The story is one that set the stage for the two of Tom’s true passions in life; family and red sport’s cars.  Just before he died he finished his twenty year effort to design  and build his own sports car, the Campbellini.  He had won a very prestige award just months into his chemotherapy and as the story goes for a few weeks after that the cancer seemed gone.

Jan, his wife, and his boys now have the car, the trophy and the priceless memories of his work in the shop behind their home, with them at his side, he brought the Campbellini to life.  The shop will continue as a place for the many friends and colleagues Tom touched in his career as an engineer.  Jan and the boys want those close to him to come and build their dreams.  I have no doubt at some point the boys will have their projects our back.

Personally, I hope Tom is enjoying whatever red wheels are available beyond the limitations of this physical world and have no doubt he will be making sure he can visit family as needed to let them all know he’s out there and doing just what is perfect for him now.

I have learned a great deal over these past few days.  People all grief differently, and it has been special to see the Campbell’s make sure each of them will have  a way to let go of Tom.  Today,  it will be the Catholic Mass.  In a couple weeks, it will be the Shop party.  For CrisMarie, I think it has been the opportunity to be present and with her family through it all.

For me, it has been knowing that Tom lived and loved fully right until the end.  Some may see his passing as cancer having won.  But not me.  Cancer may have shortened Tom’s life, but it’s clear to me that the quality in which he lived it was never compromised!  His boys, his partnership with Jan and that red Campbellini are clear proof that he did indeed Live Strong!!

Wild & Crazy Cancer Process

Bailey is in the background for the moment.  We got a call very early that Tom, CrisMarie’s brother was getting much worse and we needed to get to Portland.  We got here late yesterday and have now spent most of today supporting the family in making the types of decisions no one wants to make.

Tom has been battling colon cancer for the better part of a year.  He actually did amazingly well with the treatments and was sailing towards a very positive report.  Right up until the last round.  After that last round he just never got his strength back.  Before too long he wasn’t just battling cancer but pneumonia.  Now after many nights in the hospital, a brief spell at home and another collapse, the doctor’s are not really sure what is happening.  They are fighting on many fronts and nothing seems to be working.  Today the talk was more about passing in a peaceful supportive way.

That conversation happened at 11AM and the room of friends and family cleared – all thinking very different things about what would be best.  I do think we all agreed we wanted whatever was best for Tom, Jan and the boys.  But I don’t think anyone was really ready to figure that out by talking about death. We all wanted to do something – thus the empty room shortly after the doctor left.

I don’t pretend to know what is right.  I know this is very hard.  Going into the room with Tom, it’s clear he is still wanting every chance to beat this thing and whatever comes at him next.  It’s also clear he is very exhausted, confused and uncertain how he got to this point and what really he can do about.

Jan is a fighter and also doing an amazing job of handling family, friends and dealing openly with her two teenage sons.  The boys were pretty stoic this morning and now both are in and out tears while coming to terms with the real possibility their father might be dying.

Myself I don’t know how to answer his questions about how did I get through it, how did I live.  I wish I had an answer – why me, why does one get better and someone else doesn’t.  I know it’s not about the number of good things I’ve done.   That much I know for sure.  It is not that some deserve to live and others don’t.

I do wonder though if there isn’t something about being open to living or dying or at least open to feeling everything related to living or dying.  Just being willing to go to either place.  I know it helped me to talk about my fears, my desire to quit and my anger that I even had to think about that. I know talking about those raw emotions ripping through me helped.  Talking about the wild and crazy cancer process – the desire to live, the desire to die, the fear, the anger.  Those type of conversations helped me.  I’m not sure if that would help Tom.  He seems more caught in fighting.

So I sit here away from the family for a while.  Writing in this blog about the things I would want to be talking about with all of them.  But that’s not the way of this family.  They have their own way of dealing with this crazy cancer process.  I respect that.

Tonight I’ll be staying with my friend also battling cancer.  She riddled with tumors and has been for a long time.  Usually we laugh about the crazy cancer process.  It’s odd being in this world.  Far away from Bailey.  Yet just as immediate and uncertain.  I am really no more prepared for this than I am for having a puppy.

Yet life isn’t about being prepared it’s all about being present.  Staying present even when it hurts.  So I’ll finish and head back to the family room.  I don’t know if I’m here to support Tom dying or not.  I just know I am open to whatever choice he makes.

More About Bailey!!

The Bailey, aka Moose, story continues. I now understand why there are so many dog stories out there.  We have yet to have our final interview before being officially allowed to adopt boxer Bailey.  In the mean time we have been allowed another visit.  Today’s visit was challenging.

We thought we were prepared.  We were rested and ready to walk and play first thing so that Bailey could spend the rest of the morning becoming more familiar with our home.  The walk went pretty well except for the part when Bailey needed to be on the leash.  He’s obviously new to the leash and does just fine for brief periods until he moves in such a way that the leash catches his attention.  When that happens he does one of two moves. One is the classic chewing process clearly intended to rid himself of this annoying line that is slowing down his forward progress.  The second move is when the leash seems to totally surprise him and he proceeds to jump around in such a way that the leash pulls on his collar so tightly that he thrashes even harder in an effort to figure what the hell has him trapped.  The second move is much more difficult to watch and even harder to sort out.  Of course we know it is our job to teach him differently but we are not there yet!

Overall though,  the walk went well.  Back at the house it seemed he was content to wander around and finally drop down at our feet for a nap.  This is part where he is  the adorable puppy and isn’t it great to have him in our lives moment.  Then he woke up.

We missed getting him outside fast enough so there was the little accident on the carpet.  Once out he seemed confused why we were staying out when he was complete with the task.  Back inside it was clear he wanted our undivided attention.  Actually he really wanted Sooke’s attention and she was not into playing.  After a number of play bows, some barking and a few right hooks thrown gently at Sooke’s face, she let him know she was not going to be the one to entertain him.  Next he started working on us.  We did give it our best shot and for a few minutes I thought we were doing okay.  But the phone rang and one of us needed to cover that.  You would think one of us could entertain the puppy but may be that is the problem we simply are trying to hard and he knows it.    Shortly we felt quite defeated and decided we’d end our visit a bit early.

When we dropped Bailey off at his foster home we asked how she did it.  We then got the chance to see Bailey with his three adult boxer buddies and realized he was getting tons of attention that was never really going to be available at our house.  It was fun to watch one adult dog after the other tag team Bailey’s needs for play.  I was exhausted watching!!   Foster mom, Tracey, let us know that really he would settle in.  Routine and knowing us would eventually help him settle into our lives.  Still I left wondering if I was the best owner for Bailey.

After getting home we had another chat about our decision. I am beginning to wonder if this is why the adoption process is taking so long.  The process will determine how committed we are or wear us out trying.  We are not giving up on Bailey but after I write this blog I am heading to Petco for more toys and supplies.  Tomorrow he is coming over for a sleepover and we are determined to be prepared.

Of course having Bailey in our lives has changed the focus of everything.  Even blogging seems difficult.  I wasn’t going to keep writing about Bailey but he is so BIG in the picture thus for a better writer a book becomes a easy outlet for the amazing level of focus this job requires.

I am sure any parents reading this blog are laughing.  Indeed Bailey and previously Sooke are the closest thing to child rearing I have ever done.  Well not totally true I did teach, and at one point, was responsible for a room full of first graders. I also have a niece and nephew who survived living with me for short periods when they were young.  I don’t need to be reminded this is not the same.  I know from talking to many new parents when they were exhausted and wondering, “What made me ever think I could do this?” It is not uncommon to question and even wish for a way out.  It is a significant life change be it a child or a puppy – both are a handful of joy, energy and constant demands.  I just hope I am up to the job or up for being honest and making the right choice.  It is clear this is not an easy logical choice.  This type of decision is riddled with emotions.  It may seem obvious to an outside observer but for me I am not so certain.

In the mean time, I will keep giving this my best shot and likely you will keep hearing more about Bailey.  He really is a cute puppy and he does deserve the effort!!

Boxer Bailey (Formerly Known as Moose) Update

Some of you who are regular readers ( god knows if there really are any) may be wondering what happened with Moose.  The adoption process as I mentioned is not so simple as it use to be.  Currently our application is under review, references are being called and our vet needs to vouch for us.  In the mean time though we were allowed to have Bailey (previously known to you as Moose) over for a one day visit.

Bailey was dropped off at 8AM.  We did our best to make sure the house was ready for a puppy and let Sooke know this was still a trail run.  The day was exhausting!!!  We were told by our friends we were like the parent’s of a new born (okay probably more like a toddler since Bailey was very, vary mobile).

We did schedule as much activity into the day as we thought Sooke could handle in hopes that we would keep Bailey happy.  The good news was that our efforts worked.  Bailey had some great naps at various times during the day which allowed us some recovery time.

It was wonderful seeing Sooke and Bailey play.  They played tug-of war and some sort of herding game which basically looked like Bailey trying to steal the toy from Sooke, while running at full speed.  Of course Sooke had the upper hand since she could simply give Bailey the right front hip and send him tumbling.  He was game and right back up and after her each time.

We did learn that we will need to get up to speed on training and making sure the little fellow gets who’s boss.  He seems willing to learn though strong-willed.

By the end of the day we were okay letting him head home with his foster mom.  Though we had become quite attached we knew we needed a bit more prep time before having Bailey home for good.

Today we put together a crate and bought some boxer training books.  We are hoping we can get approved and bring Bailey home officially by the middle of next week.

In case any of you grew attached to the name Moose.  We decided Moose, though a cute name sounded a little too close to Sooke.  Plus we just weren’t thrilled about having a moose in the house.  He seemed okay with the change.

Creative Tension is Good Medicine

Last Sunday I read an excellent article in the NY Times magazine about the head of InterMountain Health Care,  Dr. Brent James.  He is highly regarded doctor by his peers who has put InterMountain Medical on the map because of his success in reducing mortality rates by evidence based protocols and extensive data collection on best practices.  Basically he believes too much medicine is practiced based on a doctor’s story and beliefs and not necessarily on the data or science.  It seems he has a very solid base of evidence to support his assumptions and is doing some great work at assisting other doctors in discovering their own biases and agreeing to try set protocols for certain types of illnesses.

I am also reading a book recommended by a friend dealing with Breast Cancer, When the Body Says No, by another doctor Gabor Mate.  His research is about how stress is the underlying cause of many immune related illnesses and how medicine refuses to embrace the mind/body connection.

In some way the two reads are directly opposed.  Dr James is all about evidence, science, practicing only what which can be proved and not veering into subjective, intuitive wisdom or ‘story’.  While Dr Mate’s book is about listening to the stories of many of his patients, his experience with these patients and pulling together research that supports the idea of stress as a major factor in illness and a much more psychological approach to healing.

Some might wonder why I am so interested in both ideas.  First, I truly believe the most creative and innovative solutions arrive out of tension, ambiguity and even conflicting or opposing forces.  So I like the idea if evidence based research that continually pulls data and observes the data with a keen awareness of how easy it is to impose judgment, interpretation and personal screen on the data.  This is really the point of Dr James’ article.  He seems willing to continually ask himself and his teams of medical providers to be aware of their own screens while practicing medicine and whenever in doubt rely on the protocol not just the ‘story’.  He does not punish non-compliance but instead asked any variation to be documented so that it becomes part of the data. He then can review and use the data to influence compliance going forward.

My medical insurer is a large HMO and is strongly based in offering only evidence-based research.  At times, I am frustrated by the less than flexible response of my medical care provider in offering alternative solutions.  This is the potential problem with a strict protocol of only evidence based medicine. However, I have found an MD who I believe is a very healthy mix of James & Mate.  I have come to her with some thoughts about my needs that were outside of her evidence-based model but she listened and then went about doing her own research.  She decided to step out of the set protocol (of course documenting that).  Later she told me she even did some trial and error on herself.  Of course, this is not a full body of research that would prove she practices with this level of protocol and flexibility across the board, but I liked the way she approached that situation and a few others  – both as a science and an art.

I wish there were more people who had strong beliefs and opinions but also were willing an able to have those beliefs and opinions challenged.  Whether it is medicine or politics – religion or education – our tendency is a avoid the conflict, the tension and get set in our own ways.

I would hope folks like Dr James and Dr Mate could easily sit down at a table and openly discuss their different approaches to medicine.  I would hope a medical training program would make sure anyone going through that program had to wrestle with the tension of evidence vs. intuition, science vs. story and never rule one out completely over the other.

It’s easy to stay within my own comfort zone.  But vibrant health seems to exist outside of any set point.  It would seem vibrant health care must reside outside of any set point as well.

Adding a New Member to Our Pack

Apparently winter is not the best time to get a puppy; however, our lives have crossed paths with an adorable little rescued boxer named, Moose.  I love dogs and currently have a wonderful companion, Sooke.  Sooke is nine and reaching the age where left with just us she would prefer to sleep, rest and become less mobile.  Yet when she is with other dogs she plays,  gets a better workout and seems to love the company.  Our vet recommended getting another dog as a buddy.  But we just haven’t found the ‘right’ one – until Moose.

Actually Moose showed in our lives about a week ago when we were out walking in the woods nearby.  We crossed paths with two women out walking their four Boxers and little Moose was scooped up in one of their arms when we showed up.  Of course we admired the cute puppy and as we were ready to leave one of the women commented she was fostering him and looking for a good home.  We wished her luck and off we went.  No name – no number.

Once home we both commented on the puppy and wished we had talked more to the woman.  We had no idea who she was or if we would be able to relocate her.  But we put out signs, near the woods, at the dog park and alerted our vet that we were looking for the Boxer’s foster mom.  After a week we were prepared to give up and then we got a call asking if we were the ones looking for Moose.

Last night we introduced Sooke to Moose.  I wouldn’t say Sooke fell in love – Moose is twelve weeks and only wants to play and Sooke is nine  and looked a bit impatient with the constant playful intend of Moose.  However, they did play in waves and Sooke set some limits.  Moose respected the boundaries at least long enough to let us know they could work this out without anyone getting hurt.

Now we need to really get serious about our decision.  A puppy is a lot of responsibility and a boxer is an additional bundle of muscular energy which will demand training and lots of play and exercise.  As the energizer bunny of our household, I could look forward to a running buddy and a companion for longer hikes and activities.  I am not as certain about being the dominate leader of the pack but I think CrisMarie commands that role quite well.  Between the two of us, Moose should get all the exercise and leadership he needs.

We still aren’t a shoe in as parents. Because Moose is a rescue dog we have to apply.  I took a look at the questionaire and Jane, the rescue coordinator is quite serious about who she lets adopt.  We will have a home visit, an interview, need three or more references and our vet to endorse who we are.  Of course I am happy to see that so much care goes into finding the right home.  Last time I got a dog I just went an put down some cash and home we went.  For Moose’s sake I am glad there are a few hoops to jump through.  He has already had enough disappointment for being only twelve weeks old.  Did I mention he started out in Connecticut?  He was suppose to have a home in Minnesota but things did not work out.  Fortunately, Tracey his foster mom has stayed right alongside him.  She owes three Boxers so he has a temporary pack helping him learn.  Now he’s out here mainly because she is and won’t be heading back East until early spring.  Tracey would prefer to find a good home before that trip is needed.

It’s a big decision. I can think of many reasons not to introduce a puppy into our lives.  Yet Moose did sort of magically capture our attention and that we found him again makes me think there is a reason Moose showed up.  I know there will be an adjustment for Sooke.  My biggest concern is that she know we even started down this road because we want her around longer and to have a buddy.  For awhile it may seem like more work then fun.  But pretty soon with some dedicated attention and lots of loving and play – I can picture the two of them being a good combination.

Myself I just want to make the best decision for Moose at this point.  We have a great little pack.  I would enjoy finding a buddy for running and more extreme outdoor activities.  But I must importantly I want to know this is the ‘right’ way to go.  It would be great if there was a way to get that confirmed.  But life isn’t like that,  the best we can do is check in and then commit fully if we decide to bring Moose home.  I will keep you posted!

Thank You Michael!!

I just watched the Michael Jackson movie, This is It. What a talented man he was and what a loss. Sure Michael had his challenges. But for 45 years he gifted us with his unique brilliance when it came to music and movement.

What I loved about the film was watching the selection process for the dancers. I really got it was not a physical contest in the normal sense of the word. Yes, one’s ability to dance was critical but those selected were not the best bodies or most beautiful. They were the ones who embodied and inspired through their movements and voices. They were the one who laid their heart on the stage without fear. It seemed Michael could pick that type out of the hundreds that tried out.

Watching his attention to detail and his humble way of being with those who clearly idolized his every move was quite rich. He did not rise above those around him, but instead encouraged and inspired each of them to join him as an equal on the stage.

Indeed it is sad to know the rest of the story – or may be to really only know fragments of a story that portrays Michael as odd, drug addicted, predatory and an outcast. When he moves, sings and takes the stage that story is lost and all that shows up is a man graced with talent, heart and a spirit that will live on well beyond his fifty years.

I am glad I went to see the film and would hope this is it – that we would stop talking about all the other stuff and enjoy the many gifts the man graced us with.

Using My Yin to Balance Yang

We have had the joy of having a piece of untouched land between our lot and the folks next door. When we bought our home we were told there would never be a way for anyone to use that land. So we would not have any type of development there. It seems never was not quite the right word. A developer, known for his less then ethical building methods purchased the land and has been working away at getting various permits that will allow him to use that lot of land for a well to service a number of other lots he plans to put houses on.

I don’t like the idea, and it does sound like his path for permits is a bit questionable. However, I also find myself not wanting to get into an ugly battle with him. Our other neighbor is much more invested in fighting on every front.

Yes, I get fired up when I think he might be doing something that will cause unnecessary damage and take out too many trees. I wish he would listen or show some interest in responding to our questions. Still, I can not imagine that our efforts are doing anything other than making him more secretive and determined.

I have had days of getting right into the fight, watching the back alley and asking any truck parked to show me permits. So far the folks I’ve been talking to aren’t related to him. In the past few days, though, it’s become clear he’s making his move. There are dig marks on the alley and on the road below. There have been folks out taking pictures and our neighbor has been calling every official trying to get someone to stop the process.

Indeed it would be nice to at least have this stopped through the winter. It does not seem like a very good idea to start digging right when the weather is freezing and most digging is stopped. Again one has to wonder how this guy gets his permission.

This may sound weak, but I am inclined at this point to stop fighting. We offered to buy the lot. We spoke to the officials and rallied the neighborhood and he has found ways around everything. I don’t plan to park myself in the alley and live angry. Yes, I have tried to work with the elements and bring on a deep freeze, but it looks like this lot is going to become a well and that digging will occur all around us. I can just hope that the guys digging care enough to do it right.

It’s tough understanding how someone can manage to do something that seems so wrong so often with so much support. I guess I just don’t understand how we got to the point where building is so much more important than taking care of the land or the people already living there. But clearly this isn’t just one crazy guy. Even I know I have some part in a system that has made it okay to advance, grow and develop without really noticing the consequences.

I call it Yang vs Yin. Yang is the energy of action – advancing, developing, shaping and moving ahead. The Yin is passive energy – quiet, still and intuitive. In eastern philosophy the recommended path is to find balance. It seems in our western world that balance has been lost.

Today I can see the cost firsthand and really this is a very small insignificant piece. So I don’t plan to fight the builder, instead I want to take a closer look at my own life and figure out where it is I may be advancing and developing without regard to the world around me and really think about if that fits for me. I have no doubt there are places in my own life where I have stopped listening and just done what I thought was okay. Somehow that seems like the best way to ‘fight back’. Use Yin to counter the Yang. May be I’ll find some balance.