Wednesday, February 7, 2018

When we go through something hard we might get the feeling that we’re the only ones who have ever gone through it. In a sense, that is true. We are all individuals with our own emotions, personalities, and previous life experiences that all play into our lives who we are and how we react in various situations. It is annoying to have a well-meaning person launch into a narrative about how they knew someone in a similar situation to what we are in and how it turned out for them.
Recently I knew of a lady who was with a friend who was waiting for results of medical tests and, quite possibly, bad news. The friend of the sick lady said, “I’m not worried! I’m ready to die.” She then told the poor lady all of her plans; about the funeral arrangements, her burial plot, and headstone. Maybe it was well-meaning but her timing really stunk!
It is an odd thing, but now that I have survived a year beyond a cancer diagnosis I have a lot more empathy for people who have cancer. I understand how it is to try to navigate the mental and emotional landscape of the disease and focus on what the next step is. Cancer is sneaky and it is not Step One, Step Two, and Step Three; done!! It involves trying to understand the facts and pursue the best treatment options. Then there are the blood checks and scans, seeing if the illness is leaving, staying, or getting worse. It is looking over your shoulder while, at the same time, trying to look ahead and be optimistic.
I feel a connection to people who have, or who have had cancer. I have a deep respect for them and their courage. Without saying a word, I understand and feel comradery with them. I don’t care what brand of cancer they have. I feel connected.
                Soon we are going to be making the drive to Florida to spend some time with Christina’s brothers, sister-in-law, and another couple. We look forward to riding our bikes again. I am going to work out and exercise to prepare my muscles to the idea of actually doing something! Talking about bikes reminds me of something that happened a few years ago. I call my story…
First Ride
                We love adventures!  One of the best ways to be assured a good time is with our bikes.  So, since the forecast was 57º for the day after Easter, I loaded the bikes into the van before I went off to play golf with my guy from church with the hope we could get in a ride later (if I got back from playing golf in time).  I got home about 2, and just before we jumped in the car for the 45 minute ride to the bike path, I said that we ought to bring raincoats because showers were in the forecast.  Christina threw them in her gym bag, we got in, and off we went.
                Arriving at the East Bay Bike Path, the temperature was about 60º, the sky was blue, and we were so happy to be breaking out of a long New England winter for our first springtime ride.  Raincoats?  Nah!  We wouldn’t need them.  We headed down the path with a stiff breeze in our faces, looking forward to a cup of Starbucks coffee and the ride back with the wind at our backs.
                After a very satisfying cup, we pointed the bikes northward from Barrington toward the car.  But alas!  The sky was very dark in that direction and the wind had shifted so it was blowing right in our faces…again!  After a few minutes the rain started.  I told Christina to keep riding and I would go on ahead to get the car.  She was to wait for me at an agreed-on place. 
                I rode as fast as I could against the wind and the cold, biting raindrops.  I reached the car, trembling from exertion but happy to be where I could get warmed up.  The three mile drive to her was just enough time to get the car comfortably warmed.  As I loaded her bicycle she said she would still like to go get something to eat to celebrate finishing the Easter activities, as we had talked about before.
                We drove to Haines Park to change and look for what we could put on.  She had some sweatpants in the bottom of her bag (under the dry raincoats) and a shirt.  She also had a dry Red Sox tee shirt.  I donned the Sox shirt and the pants from a suit we were intending to drop off for cleaning.  As I took off my wet clothes I spied my Blue Tooth on the parking lot where it had fallen off my ear.  I picked it up and turned it off.
                Arriving at Federal Hill, we prepared to get out of the car to go find a restaurant in which to eat.  I decided to take my Blue Tooth along, but couldn’t find it.  After we ate and had a leisurely time relishing that first ride, we returned to the car.  We looked a bit more for the Blue Tooth before we headed home.  Arriving at home we looked for it in more earnest, and then decided to look again in the daylight.
                All searching came up empty.  Christina suggested that we ought to go back to the Haines Park parking lot and look, so after an evening Deaconate meeting we hit the road at 9:00 pm.  Arriving an hour later, we scoured the parking lot for about 20 minutes where we had changed the day before.  Nothing.  Cold and bummed, we headed home.
                As we got out of the car, we grabbed things that needed to go in the house; raincoats, a gym bag, a little garbage, etc.  Christina picked up a pair of biking gloves, and there inside was the AWOL Blue Tooth! 
                Thankfully we love each other and we put up with each other.  Also we are thankful that we consider something like going to look for a Blue Tooth late at night an adventure, too.  Did an angel slip it into the glove?  Maybe.  Did I just forget where I put it?  Maybe.  But we choose to give God the glory that we recovered it, and had fun during the hunt.

God bless you all.  Spring IS coming!


Friday, December 29, 2017

You Call This Cold?

We are in one of the coldest streaks in recent years, at least this early in the year.  It is one thing for it to be cold for a night or two, but for the forecast to say there will only be subfreezing temps in the foreseeable future is not too inspiring.  When I think of cold, my mind goes to a Sunday morning on January 9, 1977 at my first church in northern Wisconsin.  The winters there were always cold, with the Jump River freezing solid and the first snow in late November still being under the subsequent layers through the rest of the winter.  You could 'read' the snowfalls of the year when the snowplows cut the edge of the piles along the road.  Each layer separated by a thin layer of dirt told the story of the winters' snowstorms.
Cold weather was not foreign to us, either.  The place where I worked part time in a garment factory asked me to help do an inventory of material around Christmas time.  Since Bonnie and Lee were visiting from Connecticut, I asked Lee if he would like to pick up a little cash by helping with the inventory.  It was a very cold day, with temperatures hovering around -10* all day.  It is still hard for Lee to do any laughing at the mention of that day.  He says it was the coldest he had ever been.
But this Sunday morning was different.  When I looked out the window at the thermometer attached to the outside window casing, I knew my measuring instrument must be broken.  It couldn't really be -54*!  We turned on the radio (we didn't have a TV then either) and heard in amazement that the sheriff's office in Cameron, about 20 miles away, was reporting -60*!!  I called deacon Leland and together we decided it would be the only reasonable thing to cancel the morning service.  We divided the names of our small congregation and called everyone we could think of.  After I had done my calls I went outside to see what it was like.  The morning was eerily and completely still.  There was not a breath of wind.  I could hear no motors running.  I heard no voices.
For a preacher to shift gears from preparing, both physically and mentally to go to church and deliver words of life from the pulpit, to doing nothing but stay home made me feel strange and guilty.  Then about fifteen minutes after the morning worship was scheduled to begin there came a knock at our front door.  There stood Lionel and Marylou with their two small children, Jathan and Vanessa.  We pulled them inside as the icy air rolled in the door and across the room.  They told us Lionel had gotten up early and milked his cows, gotten cleaned up and loaded his family into his pickup.  The drive to church was 15 miles, with the four of them crowded in the cab of the red F-250.  But there was no one at the church!  “Where was everyone?” they asked.

                     This is the church building on a much later and a much warmer day. The congregation
                      has a very lovely new building across town where they meet now.

It ended up being a memorable day as we shared a meal together and enjoyed each other.  I have thought of that day so many times since, and how blessings can spring out of difficulty.  I am always conflicted about canceling scheduled services.  Who knows?  Someone might really need to be in church that day.
Speaking of that, I am so glad the congregation of the Putnam Baptist Church did what they had to in order to keep the services going during the time I was convalescing.
I am doing well, with more that 10 months behind me since surgery.  I know I am improving, but slowly.  I plan to post on this blog, but instead of trying to come up with medical stuff to talk about I would like to share other things that might interest my readers, also.  I will still share medical stuff when there is something to share.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

About noon on Friday, December 9, 2016, my life took an abrupt turn. I can’t say it was a turn for the worse, but I will admit it was a defining point in my life. As with anybody, I had been through tough things before, but this was different. As the doctor nervously talked about things non-medical, I tried to be patient for him to get to the point and tell us the biopsy was fine and there were no problems. When he told us that I had a very aggressive tumor in my prostate, I figured that meant just watch it and keep exercising and eating right. When he further explained that I would need a scan right away, it began to sink in that this was something else, something I had to deal with right away. My wife and I were a numb couple as we left the office that day, clutching a book about prostate cancer that he gave me as I left.
In the next several hours we told family members, our congregation, and friends and coworkers our news. Within 45 minutes my guy Bill was at the door with a cup of Dunkin coffee. (He and I both believe that coffee helps everything!) Christina’s brother, Lou set out from Florida to come and be a rock of support for Christina and I. On Monday morning I called the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. This was uncharted water for us but Lou had even helped draw some of the charts, having been a physician at the very hospital we went to. He knew his way around “The Farber” and “The Brigham.”
One week after the diagnosis we spent the day, from early morning until evening at Dana Farber, meeting and getting examined by Dr. Kerry Kilbridge and getting scans, blood tests, and in general acclimating to a place that would be part of our lives for the next several months. I can’t say enough good things about that place. To a person everyone, from the doctors, nurses, lab people, scan techs, and receptionists…everyone was so kind and understanding and exuded an air of competence. I cared more about whether they were good or not rather than if they were nice or not. We got both!
Here we are a year later. I only need a blood test and checkup every three months now. I am pretty well and still improving. I am told it is a two year recovery from the surgery. I am working, bicycling, and taking trips, among other things that were put on hold for a few months.

This was one of the special things that greeted me 6 weeks after surgery. This was at our son’s house and the artwork was done by his children. Two hours before I had just found out that the first PSA was 0! A happy day indeed!

                Today, my prayer is for those who are going through dark and difficult places in their lives. Perhaps it is a grim diagnosis, a broken relationship, a lost job or other kind of loss. I am a living testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness. I refuse to live in fear and let cancer define my life. I am surrounded by wonderful people who are still praying for me.

My wonderful wife, Christina has faithfully stood by my side with absolute kindness and care, my children have been caring and helpful throughout this trial, Lou has been and continues to be my strength and sounding board (he speaks ‘Doctor-ese’), and the amazing team of professionals in Boston continue to watch me. It is so overwhelming to know that our church prays, friends pray, people in other parts of this country pray, and even in other countries, people are praying. If God could deliver me, He can deliver you!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

I Choose Blessing!

I am an optimist.  I'm one of those annoying people who always looks on the bright side.  I know I didn't get that way accidentally; I grew up in a very optimistic environment.  Phrases like, "Cheer up; things could get worse", and laughing a lot helped nurture that general attitude.  We were not allowed to poke at each other with hurtful comments.  If I said, "I was just kidding.", Mom would say, "It's only fun if it's fun for everyone."  We were taught to expect the best from people and not get bogged down in complaining.  Rather, we were always aware of our blessings.  Thanksgiving was just one more day that we were thankful.
Having said all that, I have been faced with chances to complain about the speed of my recovery progress or lack that I still have.  My poor Christina has had to hear it all.  But, once again, God has blessed me with a wonderful and optimistic person to be close to me.  She helps me choose blessing.  I am here.  I can do nearly everything I could before.  I can enjoy my children, grandchildren, and other friends and family.  I can bike, walk, work, make music, pastor, and love.  It is important to remember my sister Ruby's birthday or a memory or enjoy a meal.  It is part of life.  I relish it.
Every day we get up we are faced with choices.  After we decide to get out of the bed, we have the choice of looking for the good or not, believing in the good or not, etc; what we eat, what we wear, how we talk, where we go, what we read, what we watch...everything and every choice affects us and everyone around us.  How do we see ourselves?  How do we see other people?
Today I choose to be happy.  I choose to love myself and others.  I choose to brighten someone's life.  I choose to learn something or meet someone new today.  I choose to live life.  Not just live and be alive.  Life is too precious to be squandered on complaining.  Consider these words:  "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him.  For the Lord is your life, and He will give you many years in the land He swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." Deuteronomy 30:1-20 NIV.  Actually, the entire 30th chapter is an incredible read!!
God bless you all.  Grace and peace.

This is what I call REALLY livin'!

Come fly with me!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Long Time Comin’

It has been a long time since I have entered anything on this blog. It might be thought by some that I gave up on it, or maybe that I just gave up. Neither is true. I guess it is just that my life has settled into a less dramatic mode; no surgeries, no blood clots, fewer blood tests.  It has become more about more biking, more fishing, and more feeling like a “regular man,” as Mickey Rooney said in the movie Bill. To him a toupe and hair made him feel good and normal.  I am trying to figure out what regular is. I think I have arrived there but then I get a bit better. And to be honest about it, I’m racking up quite a few years. So, I ask myself, am I slower because of the cancer deal or because I’m getting _ _ _?

Our July trip to Anna’s wedding on the west coast was wonderful and we were able to enjoy both our families, Bourquin’s and Birinyi’s.

August saw Christina go to Florida to visit her friend Sue.  They drove to Savannah to have way too much fun and take in the eclipse. I stayed home and rode my bike a fair amount.  September it was time for Lobsterfest #13, an annual event we do with our other special family members from upstate New York. (We had about 32 people this year!) Bourquin’s and Boyd’s, a great combination. We missed the Groves and Johnny.
Everyone was on edge around that time (late August into September) as Hurricane Harvey made Chris and Bethany flee their home in Houston with their four children and two dogs. They were fine and their home was fine, but so much of the city got flooded. Since then, they have spent many hours helping others who were flooded out.  Though the city was really devastated, it is recovering at a good pace, thanks to people like Chris and Bethany.
The weather, the violence, the fires, etc. make it feel like our world is reeling like a drunken man. To me it is a reminder that we need God! Anything that takes away from that truth is so shortsighted. Whether it is thinking we’re good enough already or we are too bad; we are too smart or not smart enough; too rich or too poor. It doesn’t matter. We all need Him.

I will try to write occasionally and keep in touch. I met someone not long ago who told me they pray for me every day. I said, “Don’t stop!” Thank you all for the love and support you’ve given us these past ten months. God Bless! You all.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Outa My Way, Bully!

I have heard it said that when a member of the family has cancer, the whole family has cancer.  I have to say that I understand the truth in that, having learned it painfully from losing a sister to cancer in 1997, having a daughter diagnosed in 2014 and another sister diagnosed in 2015, and learning I had it myself in December of 2016.  It is still hard for me to even use the word, cancer!  It is an intrusive bully that dominates schedules, thoughts, and general wellbeing of all those who are close to the disease.

During those times when the bully distracts us from the important things in life, there are things that we can fight back with.  Someone gave me a list (I don’t know where she got it) of things cancer can’t do that I’d like to share with you.  It is titled, “What cancer cannot do.”  “Cancer is so limited…It cannot:  cripple love, shatter hope, corrode faith, destroy confidence, kill friendship, shut out memories, silence courage, reduce eternal life, or quench the Spirit.”  As I thought about it, that could be said about any adversary we face.  It could be health related, domestic trouble, church issues, job situation, etc.  They are all so limited. 

Here’s another great promise to hang on to.  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written:  ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –Romans 8:35-39

I received some great news from my oncology doctor on Monday.  The blood test showed, for the third time, that there is no detectable cancer in my body.  She said I am “way ahead of the curve” in my recovery, which will take up to two years.  That was a great encouragement, but I wondered, if I have another 19 months to get better, I will be a super-hero!  I feel great, with very little residual pain from the injured ribs as well as the surgery. 

I’m so blessed by all my official family, as well as my unofficial family.  The outpouring of your support, love and prayer is humbling and gratefully received.  I love you all.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Rib and Company

The power of prayer is really amazing! I have had broken ribs before and I know that the healing process is lengthy and painful. This time, it was very painful but I am nearly pain-free after only 2 1/2 weeks...without any pain meds!  I think that is absolutely amazing, and I give glory to God! We have been out on our bikes and I have to say that I have less discomfort than I have had since the end of February.  It is almost like I needed to do nothing but heal for a couple of weeks. Broken ribs sure slowed me down! Well, sort of.

Early Friday morning, June 2, we went to Baltimore with Bill and George, two men from church. We ate crab cakes, toured the stadium, and saw the Red Sox get beat by the Oriole's. The next morning we hit the road for home to take in a graduation party for C4.  We were tired!!  But what a great two days it was.  Being with our wonderful family and celebrating our awesome grandson's graduation was like icing on the cake!

"I told you I'd be back!"

Because of the blood clot, ribs, and my well-being in general we were hoping (guardedly) to go to Seattle to our niece, Anna's wedding, but trying not to get our hearts too set on it in case we couldn't. But with all the good news and progress, we are going to go! We will fly in and out of Portland, visit family around the fourth of July in Salem, then drive up to the wedding. We will visit Richard and Becky (Anna's parents) before and after the wedding. We'll also get to see Reynold and Doris (my brother and wife) before we head back to Portland and home.

The latest is that yesterday was forecast to be over 90°, the second day of a three day heat wave. Since we had the day free, we got in the car and headed for Cape Cod. We had seen on the weather channel that the temperatures would be lower out there, and that was correct. It was beautiful, and there were nice breezes.  We ended up riding our bikes toward Brewster and we found a seafood shack along the path where we could eat clam chowder on the deck. It was wonderful!  By the time we got back to the car, we had ridden 23.9 miles.  We couldn't believe it! And the amazing thing was, we were still able to walk and move around even after we rode two hours in the car to get home. What a fun day!