My Family: Each of us at a Turning Point

My friends, you cannot believe how wonderfully freeing this blog has become, and how many caring people I have re-engaged with so far. My life of outdoor adventure is turning into a life of inner adventure!

I need to step away from my musings on the past to bring you up to date on recent developments. But before reading on, please view this 2-minute video that my daughter sent me last week: The Secret of Life. If you like that one, Alan Watts has a series of ’em that elaborate on the theme. Please comment on how that video resonated with you!

Wow! Serious food for thought. My daughter questions why I never listen to music anymore. My reason has been that it keeps dragging my thoughts into the past. Combined with worries about the future, I felt myself not living much in the “present”, the “eternal now”, the only “time” we actually live in, moment-to-moment.

I’m the type of person who has repressed my emotions for most of my adult life. I’ve started listening to the Moody Blues a lot since I received that video. Emotions from my formative years are flooding-back. I’m becoming a more complete human being.

Health Update: I am still doing amazingly well. I’ve had 22 radiation treatments and five chemo treatments. The only time I feel weak and light-headed is when I overdo it in tennis. I am still playing twice a week, but not serving anymore (so I don’t get into extended rallies point-after-point-after point). It cuts the effort required in half. I am still playing the best tennis of my life. I got my fifth rolfing treatment Monday.

Prognosis: It’s not as rosy as I first thought. In fact it’s pretty grim.If I had waited much longer before getting diagnosed, the recommended treatment protocol would have been “palliative care”, which basically “Hasta la Vista, Baby”, here’s your morphine.

The Surgery: My protocol calls for surgery 5-10 weeks following completion of the radiation and chemo treatments. There are two basic approaches: One-up my chest so they can see what they’re doing, or do it orthoscopically using tiny cameras to try to see what they are doing. Here’s the plan of action:
1. Cut-out the lower 2/3’s of my esophagus, and the top part of my stomach
2. Staple-off 1/3 of my stomach, and throw away the other 2/3’s.
3. Reshape my stomach into an esophagus and punch a hole in the bottom of it.
4. Sew my new esophagus onto the old one skillfully enough that it doesn’t leak.
5. Oh, and install three tubes: One for feeding, and two other for God knows what.
6. And don’t forget: Complications are likely; some can be life-threatening. Some could drag on for years. Don’t plan on buying non-refundable vacation trips or plane tickets.

I’ll be fed through the feeding tube while healing takes place. Basic recovery will take six months to a year.For the rest of my life, all food and drink will fall directly into my small intestine (my stomach is gone). And lying-down flat will be a thing of the past, since whatever is in my small intestine would flow back into my throat!

I’ll be on the operating table 10-12 hours. 5% of the time, the patient dies on the table. On average, less than half live five years; most of them die in year one or two. They of course put what they took out under a microscope to see how much cancer they took out. About 25% of the time, they don’t find any! Zero! Zilch! Nada! What?! Are you kidding me? I really didn’t need this operation? Their answer: Well, of course you did: Your cancer isn’t going to come back where it was, because it’s not there anymore! It’s not clear how much the surgery would extend my life; it’s far more likely to extend my death!

Here’s MY plan: I’ll be getting more CT scans and a PET scan. If they don’t detect any cancer, they’re not operating on me. I plan to do “watchful waiting”: Check periodically whether any cancer is detectable or not. If/when they detect something, reassess. Until we find something, live my life to the fullest: Carpe Diem!

My daughter Natalie: Natalie was named after Natalie Wood, a film-star favorite of ours that died in a boating “accident” a few weeks before Natalie was born. We were living in South Bend, Indiana at the time (her latest moniker: “Indiana Jose”). I had just gone hi-tech with my music: A dual cassette deck. Woo-hoo! I taped dozens of kids record albums, and we played them before and after she was born: Big Bird, Bert & Enrnie (“Rubber Ducky”), and of course the Star Wars Christmas album! Our favorite: “What do you get a Wookie for Christmas, when he already owns a comb?“.

Natalie was singing and dancing and making-up plays by the time she was two. After we moved to Sewicky, PA she’d entertain her neighbors and friends on the back patio. She joined a choir in Sewickley, and the Young Naperville Singers after we moved to Illinois. She was in the play “Bye-Bye Birdie” in Junior High (but did not get the starring role). She did a little acting and singing in high school. She did some singing while attending Ohio University (a “top-10 party school”). She formed a Patsy Cline cover band after she moved to Chicago.

She worked a boring day job for an insurance company for 10 years. She almost got hooked on the pay, benefits, security, etc. At night she learned “improv”, but hated it when someone stole the show from her. She switched to stand-up comedy, burning the candle at both ends for a couple years. Four years ago she made the leap: She quit her day job to pursue her passion for stand-up!

More later: Its time for my daily radiation treatment!

to be continued………

Thanks to my Dad

A lot has happened in the past few days. I may not get to cover all of it the way I’d like to right away. Check back to to see what I might have added.

Today’s Thanks are to my Dad, for:

Teaching me strong ethical values
Teaching me to play baseball and tennis
Bringing me back a 3″ clay Indian figure every time he made a trip to Chicago. The collection is still my my attic. I will get my collection out soon, display it on my mantle, and take a picture of it. Brought brought different special gifts to my brothers.
Becoming an Assistant Scoutmaster in Boys Scouts during the years I was Scouts. I made Eagle Scout, as did both of my brothers.
Being the only one that ever gave me a nickname: Pal. He really did try to be my pal.
Teaching me by his example (and cryptic sayings, like “experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.”) I eventually figured out what that meant.

Dad also carried a lot of baggage from his childhood experiences during the depression. He was the son of an alcoholic, and the oldest of four brothers. Here are some vignettes from his life:
In the mornings before going to school, he would somehow take one egg and turn it into four egg sandwiches, one for each boy.
Growing up, he learned to enjoy “sops” for breakfast. He would have it occasionally has an adult. Sops was essentially boiled bread with a tiny amount of sugar on it. As an adult he was able to have more sugar than he could as a kid.
His house was adjacent to the railyard and rail line. Like many of the folks at that time they used to walk the rails picking up coal that had fallen off the coal-cars. That was illegal! The train companies owned the land; that was their coal. They got one caught one time. The police asked him if his dad had put him up to it and of course he said yes. I think his dad spent the night in the hoosegow over that one.
Dad always did everything by the book. The only exception I ever heard was when they were shipping out of Shemya after the war. His buddy Gordon was very sick and unable to travel. But Dad and his buddy Wally snuck him out of the infirmary and onto the ship for the trip home with them.
More later……

Happy 43rd Wedding Anniversary to Us!

In the fall of 1973, I started a Masters Degree program in Systems Engineering at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. I shared a room in Clark Tower, a graduate-student co-ed dorm, with Jim, a Music Major. I liked Jim (“The King”) a lot, but felt I needed a room to myself. I requested one and got it set up for second semester.

I arrived after the Christmas break, in early 1974. I took the elevator to the second floor and stepped off the elevator. I turned left toward my room and stopped in my tracks! There in the corner of the lobby TV room was very pretty girl with long curly blonde hair, slouched in her chair, watching the Cleveland Browns embarrass themselves. I was sure she’d have those blue eyes, too!

It wasn’t exactly love at first sight, but I felt certain that I was going to like living on the second floor a whole lot more than on six! So….

Thank-you Jen for these things, and all the other things you’ve been for me:

Being a loving and caring lifetime companion
Being the social glue bonding us with others
Being willing to resolve differences through discussion and compromise
Being a wonderful Mother to our children
Being a great cook and baker (even bread!)
Making houses into homes
Knitting very cool sweaters
Sewing clothes, costumes, etc.
Painting and plastering as required
Cutting my hair these last 20 years
Being a skilled whitewater kayaker, with multiple “combat rolls” to your credit, including two wild rides around “Snaggletooth Rock” on the Lower Yough River in Pennsylvania
Becoming a skilled adventure sea kayaker, cannoeist, and backpacker
Insisting we buy our Casita travel trailer, our home away from home
Being a talented and energetic tennis player; we play often with each other during the summer, and with others year-round.

Note that we bought our first (lake) kayaks in 2006, when I was 55. We bought whitewater boats in 2007; backpacking kicked-in around 2008, expedition canoeing about 2010, and expedition sea kayaking in 2013. Jen always was a tomboy! We’ve hauled a camper out West three times, and to Florida three times. We’ve done almost all of this as a couple, but sometimes one had to stay back to care for Winnie as she got older. Note: Winnie contracted Lime Disease, on her only backpacking trip. She was diagnosed a few months later, but was never quite the same again.

Health Update: I’m feeling fine, but am having increasing problems getting food to go down. I’d don’t have the time or energy tonight to talk about our meeting yesterday with the surgeon, nor do I have time to post some photos. Check back later for those.

The Thank-You’s Begin

I didn’t sleep much last night after getting the anonymous comment that many in Wyandotte were praying for me. Holy cow!

Today, I begin my thank-you’s.

Thank you, Mom: For everything; for so many things. Here are some:

Being a loving, protective Mother; our bond was very strong in the pre-school years.
Teaching me to read, and the value of a good education.
Helping me with my homework.
Baking all the delicious goodies.
Learning from Grandma Jose how to bake real Cornish pasties and saffron buns.
Starting-up a Cub Scout Troop, so I could participate in Scouts.
Encouraging me to pursue music; buying me that Baby Gibson guitar – I still have it.
Travelling to Cleveland for a week to type-up my master’s thesis.
Coming to Toulouse, France to take care of baby Brian while Jen was in the hospital with pneumonia.
Taking that spin around the block with me in my first convertible, a Mercury Capri. As you got out, I had the feeling I might never see you again. You died suddenly a week later. I could not find any tears for you then – I don’t know why. I guess maybe I was too accustomed to holding my feelings inside.

Thank you, Eda and Penny: I’ve just come to realize how many one-and-dones there were in my life. Watch for them in my stories. I always felt socially awkward. I’d initiate something, but not have the confidence to follow through.

In sixth grade, I began to notice that there was more to life than baseball and tennis: Girls. I admired Eda because she was the smartest one in the class. But I kept my gaze on Penny, who became the first incarnation of the blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty I wanted to marry some day.

Eda S.: Thanks for being the first girl to take an interest in me; it gave me hope for the future! I was oblivious to your interest until your birthday party, when your Dad offered me a bribe: A transistor radio if I would kiss you! I don’t remember if I kissed you or not, but I went home with the radio! I’d listen late in bed to Gordie Howe leading the Redwings to victory. There were only six teams in the NHL back then.

Penny B.: Thanks giving me that first vision of who I was to eventually marry. Thanks for letting me walk you home that one time (little more than a short block). I was on Cloud 9. Why didn’t I follow up? Too young, too shy.

I was in a tiny mid-semester class of six because I was born in December; we were always in a full class of kids in a different grade. I can’t remember how that ever worked. In Junior-High and High School, that would make it difficult to take the good college-prep courses. So, Mom had a great idea: Why not skip-ahead a half-grade? So that’s what I did. I didn’t see much of Eda or Penny after that. I became the youngest kid in my class; that was not a blessing.

Terry C.: Thanks for introducing me to barbecue-flavored potato chips, and for letting me play on your basketball team! Here’s a memory: Mr. Oshinski seemed to be calling a lot of fouls on us that I didn’t think we deserved, so I said something to him to that effect. He immediately blew his whistle and gave me a Technical Foul! He was a good man.

Don G.: Thanks for being my schoolyard nemesis; every guy should have one of those growing up. You taught me to stand up to bullies (like you). Note: A few years after graduating, we had a reconciliation due to a mutual interest in music. Incredibly, Don somehow married a beautiful, talented singer who worked for a record company in LA! I don’t think it lasted long; LA was not Don’s kind of town. Like Bob Seger said: He knew right then he was too far from home.

Natalie Update: I highly recommend my daughter’s 38-minute video tirade to Beyoncé.

Health Update: I’m having a lot more trouble swallowing. Stuff keeps getting stuck trying to get to my stomach. Other than that, it’s all good. I’m planning to play tennis tonight.



My Punch List: Thanks You’s

With my healthy lifespan potentially a lot shorter than previously thought, people are telling me I need to get my “punch list” updated to make sure I do all those things I always wanted to do before health issues interfere!

Frankly, I’ve never had a punch list, and have always taken life as it comes. Nonetheless, Jen and I have had many great outdoor adventures the last few years, more so since we retired, and especially last year.

Since starting this blog, my very first creative writing project as a adult, I’ve started sharing it with some long-time friends that I’m not in touch with much anymore. With Terry, and friend of 50+ years, this has already been a richly rewarding experience. I’m filling-in missing pieces of my past, and reliving exciting episodes from my youth. That has caused me to “think outside the box” of conventional punch-lists.

So, here’s my punch-list idea: I’m going to try to remember all the people in my life that had a positive influence on my development, and thank them as best I can for their contributions to my life! I’ll keep most of them brief, but some will be longer in proportion to their importance as I perceive it today. I expect most will be ordinary events that will have occurred in my readers’ lives. Look for my vignettes starting next time!

Health Update: I felt great all week. I had a great workout at the fitness center with my brother late Saturday afternoon. I played tennis this morning, but felt weak, fatigued and slightly faint by the second game. I forgot I had gotten chemo three days earlier, had a big workout the night before, had a slight cold, and that I got an hour less sleep than usual due to the time change. Duh! Nonetheless, I plowed ahead, and managed to play surprisingly-well! I got several lectures today about toning it down. After an hour’s nap, I was A-OK!

Brother Bill’s Visit: We had a great visit. He left Dad’s and Grandpa Jose’s war medals and other memorabilia:

Full Moon: I watched it rise above the housetops across the street from my front stoop. Awesome!


Days of Future Passed

Stick with me folks; this one is a doozy!


File Attribute by Source, Fair use:

The Moody Blues’ 1967 concept album, cryptically named Days of Future Passed, has been my favorite album for almost 50 years. It includes “orchestral interludes by the London Festival Orchestra. The band and the orchestra only actually play together during the last part of Nights In White Satin.” [source: Wikipedia]. Nominally, it traces the course of one day; metaphorically, it traces the course of one’s life.

I spent way too much time in my life thinking and feeling about the past or worrying about the future. About 10 years ago I decided to stop listening to the music of the 60’s and 70’s, because the lyrics kept dragging me back to past memories. In recent years, I’ve learned to live mostly in the present moment, mostly due to my Qi Gong mentor, John.

One effect of the anti-depressant I’m on is that it’s vividly bringing back deeply-buried memories. This time, I’m trying to pay more attention to them in order to understand myself better. My older brother Bill is arriving tomorrow for a visit; I’m hoping to get his help reconstructing lost childhood memories.

One curious example of this: Two years ago I decided that what backpacking and overnight paddling trips need is some sort of philosophical reading around the campfire at night, and perhaps upon arising in the morning as well. Last night, at our local Outings Committee meeting, I proposed that outing leaders consider doing something like that on every backpacking trip. They adopted that as a recommendation. (my example is below).

But here’s the curious part: Just an hour go, a memory came back to me: My father used to do that on Boy Scout trips! During WWII, he had been stationed on Sheyma in the Aleutian Islands, very close to Russia:

Shemya Island

He was a big fan of the poet Robert W. Service, who wrote about Alaska. Around the campfire, he would recite a very long poem by heart (and with heart): The Shooting of [Dangerous] Dan McGrew. I still can’t recite the last stanza without choking-up:

These are the simple facts of the case, and I guess I ought to know.
They say that the stranger was crazed with “hooch,” and I’m not denying it’s so.
I’m not so wise as the lawyer guys, but strictly between us two —
The woman that kissed him and — pinched his poke — was the lady that’s known as Lou.

Bill just called (synchronicity!). He says he has a copy of that poem that was cut out of the Hobo News – likely in the ’30’s!

So, I owe my interest in campfire philosophy to my father, but I had forgotten that!

Both album passages are spoken-word poems written by drummer Graeme Edgespoken by keyboardist Mike Pinder. I’m listing the evening passage first, since it’s the first on read on a trip.

My evening campfire passage is heard near the six-minute mark of the album version of the song Nights in White Satin (written by lead singer Justin Hayward at age 19); it is called “Late Lament.”  On Days of Future Passed, the poem’s last stanza brackets the album, appearing also at the end of track 1 (“The Day Begins”). Here is Late Lament:

Breathe deep the gathering gloom;
Watch lights fade from every room.

Bedridden people look back and lament;
Another day’s useless energy spent.

Impassioned lovers wrestle as one;
Lonely man cries for love and has none.

New mother picks up and suckles her son;
Senior citizens wish they were young.

Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colours from our sight;
Red is grey and yellow white;
But we decide which is right,
And which is an illusion!

My morning campfire passage: About four minutes into the song “The Day Begins” features a poem which is known as “Morning Glory.” Morning Glory initiates the “everyman’s day” concept of the album:

Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colours from our sight;
Red is grey and yellow – white;
But we decide which is right,
And which is an illusion!

Pinprick holes in a colourless sky,
Let inspired figures of light pass by.

The mighty light of ten thousand suns
Challenges infinity and is soon gone.

Night time, to some a brief interlude,
To others the fear of solitude.

Brave Helios: Wake up your steeds!
Bring the warmth the countryside needs!

Here’s a printable copy of my Campfire passages: Late Lament.

Health Update: I received by 12th radiation treatment today, and my third chemo treatment. Here I am getting chemo:


Still tolerating the chemo


Fun Car: This week marks 11 years that I’ve owned my Mini Cooper convertible! It’s been a blast to drive. I’ve put less than 34,000 miles on it in that time. I had the top down on Sunday; it was 67 degrees here. It still look great:


I’m a Mini Driver!

Health: Aside from a few hiccups, Week 2 was a breeze. My port is healed, so I worked-out last Wednesday, Friday and again yesterday.

Miami Group of Sierra Club: I announced my illness to the 50 or so people that attended our monthly meeting last night (on Madagascar). I expressed my pleasure with how much the club has meant to me over the past 10 years or so. I especially thanked Greg & Sandy Wood and Jay &  Kathy Freeman for giving me a much greater appreciation for nature, and for the many paddling and backpacking trips we’ve taken together. Note: I’ll add some photos when I get time.

Tennis: I played doubles tennis tonight for the first time since treatments began. I can honestly say that I’m playing the best tennis of my life now. I had a third “rolfing” session with Sharon Madden on Monday, and that again raised the level of my game to new heights. I recommend rolfing for anyone with chronic muscle tightness.