Wednesday, December 11, 2013

No Easy Way to Say This


As a young junior naval officer, I had someone who was a mentor of sorts.  Bob Owendoff was one of my professors my senior year at the Naval Academy, a devout man of principle and heart. I wrote about him on my other blog here. He gave me a book that had a simple goal-setting exercise that has stood me well in parsing out the important from the urgent. In Alan Lakein’s book, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, the question is posed, If you knew you would be struck dead by lightning in six months, how would you spend those six months? Assuming all final arrangements had been taken care of, what would you do?
Asking a question like that forces your hand to see the things that are really, really important, doesn’t it? Precious few of us know when our number comes up. If we’re lucky, we live to a ripe old age and when it’s our time, we pass away peacefully in our sleep, leaving behind a wonderful legacy of memories and people who honor it. When that question becomes a pronouncement, things are a bit different, but they don’t have to be.
I’ve taken solace in a young man named Zach Sobiech who fought a brave battle with his own bone cancer who made a point of saying that you don’t have to be dying to start living. I’ve been buoyed by a single image of people holding the hand of Jen Merendino who, on her death bed, was able to look back and say, “I loved it all.”
I found Angelo Merendino's images of his wife evocative and powerful.  I bought a variation of the photo above because what I needed the most was the human touch of caring hands. I still do.  You can see the full gallery of images and support Angelo at this web site
In my case, I’ve done my level best to stay optimistic and positive in the midst of some pretty rough stuff. Leukemia, for me, has been an exercise of academics because it has all been on paper. Lab reports, x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, nuclear bone scans, vascular and echo ultrasounds, blood sugar pricks, and so on. Yeah, the hurling into those cute little green tubs was real enough along with the extensive bruising on my stomach and arms, the cramps, the chronic fatigue, the aches, the pains, the prodding, and everything else?  Pretty real…nothing academic about any of that.
I don’t have a remarkable story like Zach’s and I don’t have a chronicle that so eloquently and beautifully details the life and untimely death of Jen Merendino, but I have my own experience that continues to unfold.
Today, the latest wrinkle in that very complicated piece of origami was that my lungs continue to deteriorate. After my latest pulmonary function test, another CT scan, and an x-ray, I had the ultimate sobering conversation with my oncologist and a pulmonary doctor. While we will continue to treat the ailments in the lungs, unless they respond somehow to the existing medications, things will continue to decline over time. How much time? No one can be certain, but “months” was the answer I got when I pressed.
So, I have this lovely little oxygen cannula and now have my very own high-tech wheel chair just like my double amputee friend and fellow vet, Isaac.
I gotta tell ya, this is not how I envisioned today turning out.
So, that goal-setting exercise about six months just got very real. Sure, there’s a possibility that my body responds and I recover. Anything’s possible, but it looks like the bucket list needs to be prioritized and I need to do the proverbial ‘getting my affairs in order.’
 
What do you say to that? I just got the talk.
What goes through your mind when it just ground to an abrupt halt? The averted glances, the sympathetic looks on the faces, the sorrowful pats on the back, the apologies for…what? Doing your job?
At this point in time, I’m pretty numb. Suffice it to say, I’ve shed a few tears today and am still due my requisite meltdowns. I don’t know what I need or want for that matter. I have made my wishes pretty clear to my medical team and that if it’s medically impossible to move forward, I want to return to Salt Lake City and perhaps even take my dream trip to Hawaii before all is said and done. I have over 100,000 Sky Miles that need to be used, to be sure and while I won’t be competing in the Ironman while there, one last walk on a warm, sandy beach just feels like the right thing to do. No one wants to breathe their last in the sterility of a hospital room if there’s a choice, right?
I had been spending a lot of time daydreaming about that Craftsman-era home with the wraparound porch sporting a couple of Adirondack chairs, white picket fence and the impossibly lush Kentucky bluegrass and a modest flower and maybe even a vegetable garden…in the perfect up-and-coming gentrified neighborhood, of course! I envisioned designing and building out my workspace where I’d craft articles, word-smythe (that's my trademark!) the book I said I would all my life, and hand-made calligraphic renderings. There was the proverbial man-cave with the big screen TV and surround sound of course, but mostly it was being surrounded by the people who have made life worth living, sharing raucous memories around the table – great wine and cheese with family and friends!
But you know what? At the end of the day, it’s a life well-lived. A life with no regrets (or few anyway). My body may be failing, but my spirit will not, cannot. It seems to me that if anything this time of year, we hear of these epic stories of the spirit enduring where circumstances would make success impossible. Rather than feel sorry or pity, you can honor me by overcoming your own expectations for yourself and soaring above circumstance, by smiling in the face of whatever adversity you’re working through, and laughing a lot.
I can’t say what would honestly be most helpful from people right now. Suffice it to say, I’m still mentally processing this news; and like I say, things could change on a dime. It wouldn’t be the first time it happened. So, what I can say is this: keep praying if you’re so inclined. Don’t be offended or put off if I don’t respond to Facebook chat, emails, text messages, or phone calls right away. This is obviously an emotionally charged time. I’ve also got a lot of practical things I need to square away.  Finally, and perhaps it goes without saying, please avoid sympathy. I’m still alive.
While there’s time, let’s do a whole lotta laughing together, shall we? While there’s time, let’s share the best of memories and meals! While there’s time, let’s just be together and hold hands cherishing the warmth of human companionship and love! While there’s time, let’s focus on living.
Stay strong, be well, and much love to you all.
Today’s music is from Lady Gaga – The Edge of Glory
 
There ain't no reason you and me should be alone
Tonight, yeah baby
Tonight, yeah baby
I got a reason that you're who should take me home tonight

I need a man that thinks it's right when it's so wrong
Tonight, yeah baby
Tonight, yeah baby
Right on the limits where we know we both belong tonight

It's hard to feel the rush
To push the dangerous
I'm gonna run right to, to the edge with you
Where we can both fall over in love

I'm on the edge of glory
And I'm hanging on a moment of truth
Out on the edge of glory
And I'm hanging on a moment with you
I'm on the edge
The edge
The edge
The edge
The edge
The edge
The edge
I'm on the edge of glory
And I'm hanging on a moment with you
I'm on the edge with you

Another shot before we kiss the other side
Tonight, yeah baby
Tonight, yeah baby
I'm on the edge of something final we call life tonight
Alright, alright

Put on your shades 'cause I'll be dancing in the flames
Tonight, yeah baby
Tonight, yeah baby
It isn't hell if everybody knows my name tonight
Alright, alright

It's hard to feel the rush
To push the dangerous
I'm gonna run right to, to the edge with you
Where we can both fall over in love

I'm on the edge of glory
And I'm hanging on a moment of truth
Out on the edge of glory
And I'm hanging on a moment with you
I'm on the edge
The edge
The edge
The edge
The edge
The edge
The edge
I'm on the edge of glory
And I'm hanging on a moment with you
I'm on the edge with you

I'm on the edge with you

I'm on the edge with you

I'm on the edge of glory
And I'm hanging on a moment of truth
Out on the edge of glory
And I'm hanging on a moment with you
I'm on the edge
The edge
The edge
The edge
The edge
The edge
The edge
I'm on the edge of glory
And I'm hanging on a moment with you
I'm on the edge with you