12.28.2015

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Before we jump in, a quick update. When I started this latest round of chemo, the doctor in Houston noted that it works about 25% of the time and when it works it's usually dos so for a couple of months. The good news is that a scan last week indicated that the main mass is responding and there are no new lesions. Whether it’s two months or two weeks, I’ll enjoy the good news for as long as I can. I’ve done a terrible job of keeping up my correspondence during the last couple of weeks. If I’ve failed to respond to a text, email, call, or IM, please accept my apologies. I’ll do better next year!

The Rushing family took to the road last week as we decided to spend Christmas week in New York. As it was the boys first trip to the city, we spent the majority of our time doing magnificently touristy things – the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the Empire State building, Central Park, The Met, The Lion King*, and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular**. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. It rained most of the time we were there, making for a number of soggy slogs through the city. The cloud cover also prevented to boys from ever getting the iconic view of the city skyline (most egregiously on the only day we could go up the Empire State Building- zero visibility). It was also somewhat difficult to get in the Christmas spirit while it was 74 degrees out. Fortunately, we managed to get over the weather and enjoyed a fine few days.
Our selfie with the Statue of Liberty.
Against better judgment, we stayed near Times Square. Last time I was there was for my bachelor party. The place has changed a lot in thirteen years. The number of LED billboards has grown exponentially, and it appears to be more family friendly. However, on one walk back to the hotel, my oldest said “Hey dad, let's eat dinner at The Cheetah, they have sushi. Plus, it’s a gentleman’s club, and I’m a gentleman.” My tap dance around that was indeed worthy of Broadway.

The young one and the iconic view of the New York City skyline.
This, my friends, is the last post of 2015. It was an up and down year to be sure. The news of the year came in March when I was diagnosed with stage IV gall bladder cancer. Obviously, this was a downer, but it could be worse. I think I’ve done a reasonable job of handling the situation.

A view of the city from the Empire State Building.
On the up side, I got to travel a bit this year. I took the oldest to England, the youngest to Atlanta, and both of them to Washington D.C. I crossed a couple of American buildings off my architectural bucket list with my wife (the Kimbell in Fort Worth and Fallingwater in Pennsylvania). I crossed off a couple of others on a solo trip to Istanbul. The whole crew vacationed in Seaside, New York, and Disney. We traveled extensively in the tri-state area, watching young men play soccer. I worked with dear friends in Iowa. I took my medicine in Houston and Nashville. I kept my medallion level with Delta, and according to them I traveled about the same number of miles as I did in 2014. Not a bad year at all.

The statistics say that 2016 will be my last year. Whether or not this will be the case remains to be seen. Since that is largely out of my control, I’m not stressing about it too much. I don’t suspect that I will be able to travel as robustly as I have for the past several years, but I’m going to do my best to get out and about while I still feel like it. There is, however, plenty to look forward to this year: will Alabama make it another national Championship? Where will the boys end up going to school? Will I be able to beat the Crushing Big C Countdown Clock? Stay tuned for the answers to these and many more 2016 questions- see you next year!

*Were it left to me, I don;t think we would have gone to a show where the dad dies and leaves his progeny to fight hyenas. The boys seemed to enjoy it, however, so I won't quibble.


**I am shocked that the NY libs have let this one stand- a show with a line of dancing girls, a nativity scene, and the Christmas story actually read from the bible. I suspect it’s only a matter of time before this one is rewritten to become a “Holiday Spectacular”.

12.21.2015

What Now

Hey ya’ll, I’m back in the saddle again, trying to try to keep my blogging discipline. In Rushing sports news, basketball season for the boys tipped off this weekend. The youngest scored in his team’s 28-0 victory. The oldest scored 20 in a 24-2 win. I love watching the boys play soccer, but it’s a nice change of pace to watch some hoops. If we can keep young egos and attitudes in check, this should be a fun season. I’ll try to try to keep you posted.

Over the past few weeks and months I’ve been confronted with the question of “what now ?” I’ve settled into a pretty close facsimile of normal life. D and I go to work, the boys go to school, and we spend our weekend together on some adventure (or sport) or another. Some of the details are different- I have to pop in for chemo every couple of weeks, a few days a month I have to carry a pump around, my eating habits aren’t quite what they used to be, and I don’t have near the stamina I did. In broad strokes, however, this is pretty close to life as normal. Except that it’s not.

My professional career is rooted in planning for the future. My current work in Chattanooga, planning the future of an organization that is focused on the future of the community, makes this doubly so. It is a surreal experience to prepare for the next year, the next three years, the next twenty years knowing that I’m not actually going to be a part of it. The flip side of that coin is that I am somewhat prepared, as planners are used to the metaphoric concept of planting trees, the shade of which they will never enjoy.

Despite that preparation, I don’t really know what I should be doing now. Let’s say I’m within the last 6 months (give or take) of life. Should I be doing something profound and exciting? Should I be writing Facebook posts listing the top ten things dying people want you to know? Should I be traveling my ass off trying to see cool buildings and exotic cultures? Will I look back from my deathbed and regret not doing something right now? I don’t know.

So many of the motivations of “normal life” all have future components to them. We work to gain experience so that we can be better at our jobs in the future. We try to excel to garner accolades that will enable us to get better work in the future. We work to earn money so that we can retire in the future. We put our children through school so that they can have a chance to succeed in the future. We eat and drink certain things so that we can have good health in the future. It’s amazing how much of our present time is dedicated to a future that we are not guaranteed.

What then is life when there is nothing to “look forward” to? There is only the present, or “living in the moment” as the kids like to say. When there is a limited future to work toward, what form does motivation take? I’m still trying to figure out the answer, but so far I have found that the promise of money, stuff, and acclaim have not moved me. I haven’t really figured anything out. I have not achieved any level of enlightenment or higher consciousness. This circumstance, however, has forced me to start thinking about life in a way that wasn’t possible before. It’s different, and while I wouldn’t say it’s good, it’s not altogether bad. Learning to live in the moment can be difficult when you’ve spent your life preparing for the future. I’m working on it though, and I’m getting much better.

I had to dig deep to find an image of the entire C.Rushing crew
at Christmas. This is the 2011 vintage (excuse the bed-head).

I’m afraid there is no moral to this story or tidy way to wrap it up. So I will leave you with those random thoughts. It occurs to me that this will be my last post before Christmas. Accept my sincerest apologies that the topic was not more in the spirit of the season. I wish you all the merriest of Christmases and hope that the promise of the season enables you to enjoy living in the moment while looking to the future. 

12.14.2015

A Quick Trip

Over the past several weeks, I've tried to write- or perhaps more accurately, I’ve tried to try to write. All the ingredients are there, but I’m having a very difficult time pulling my thoughts together. Call me lazy. Sorry about that. In the meantime, life has been good, and I’ve settled into a semi-normal routine. The down side, however, is that at any time this little gig could be up (Sword of Damocles and all that). I have no update on my health, as far as I know the Crushing Big C Countdown Clock is still valid. I have a scan on Friday and if things change I’ll be sure to let you know.

Since my last post, ‘Bama beat Auburn, won an SEC Championship, and won a Heisman trophy. This has me a in a pretty good mood. I’m looking forward to the Michigan State game, but that seems an awfully long time away. I guess we’ll all have to take a break on that count.

This past weekend, the missus and I pulled a trip up and back to Pittsburgh in order to tick another building off of the list- Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. I did not particularly care for downtown Pittsburgh (although Market Square was pretty cool), but that assessment is virtually meaningless as it is based on being there less than 24 hours.

There is no denying the genius of Fallingwater. I must say, however, that the building did not hold sway over me in the same way that some of his other work has. The experience was definitely worth the trip, but it was not really a life-changer.

The fun of the trip was the trip itself. As perverse as it sounds, I enjoyed flying- I don’t even mind being in the Atlanta airport. I even enjoyed the drive- despite the numerous toll roads (a mostly yankee concept that does my head in), and the surprising fact that the Laurel Highlands seemed more like depressed Appalachia than scenic drive. I missed the boys, but it was good to travel, if only for 36 hours.







11.16.2015

Back on the Bike

Back for more urban design this week...

The urban design story of the year is probably Broad Street. In 2013, I was lead consultant for the Center City Plan (client: River City Company). The plan’s primary recommendation for transportation was to reconfigure Broad Street- moving from three car lanes in each direction to two car lanes with a dedicated bike lane. This was a slam dunk recommendation for many reasons- excess capacity, origins and destinations, adjacent residential developments, (the list goes on). I admit, however, that I wasn’t overly optimistic about implementation in the short term, primarily due to costs and secondarily due to the fact that consultants are always making bike-related recommendations that never make it (I’m man enough to admit that I’m jaded on multi-modal proposals). Additionally, River City Company, not the City of Chattanooga, commissioned the plan and they have no control over implementation.

Lo and behold, this fall the City of Chattanooga unveiled a design and built the bike lanes from M.L. King to the Aquarium (7 blocks). Our boy B. Bailey (CDOT Director, C.Rushing crony, honorable Phi, and all-around stand up guy) and his excellent team did a great job of design and implementation, and the work was completed this fall. Of course, the reward for a job well done is criticism. The main point of contention is that we lost a small number of on street parking spaces. This criticism reminds me of those who fought against the Aquarium (who will come to Chattanooga to see catfish in a tank?), and the conversion of M.L. King and McCallie to two-way (there will be wrecks and carnage all of the place), and perhaps more appropriately, the fiber optic network. All of those projects ended up being successful.

Over time the criticism will die down as people adjust. The design is well suited to traffic volumes, so this should cause no real issue in the operation of the street. The big question, however, is not if the design will simply do no harm, but will the design function as intended and improve the corridor (and indeed downtown and the broader city). The answer to that ultimately lies in what CDOT decides to do next. The Broad Street bike lanes in isolation will not do much. Those lanes as part of a larger network, however, will have the potential to make a tremendous positive impact on the city. While it’s fine for the City to take stock of what has transpired to this point, they need to take care to not lose momentum. Broad Street seems the most difficult portion of the downtown core network, now that it is finished they need to move on to the next success. If they stop now, they will have gone through the tough portion without realizing the full benefits that they have worked so hard to generate.

I urge the City to strengthen their resolve and continue the work they’ve started. Any time you take on a project there will be critics. If you're convinced that your work is righteous, then you need to enthusiastically pursue it. There's no reason not to continue building the downtown network (posthaste). Indeed, continuing that work is the only thing that will unlock the promise of what they've already worked hard to achieve.

On the road this week, we'll see what kind of impact that on next week's post.

This week’s listen: Obviously.

11.09.2015

Back on Topic



Thanks to the Falcon’s cheerleaders for the get well card. It will occupy a privileged position right next to the signed card Nick Saban sent a couple of months ago. Speaking of Saban, that was a quite a performance by the Tide D line on Saturday. Our offense and our secondary still make me nervous though. Our path to glory, however, is now set before us. Bring it on.

The tagline of my blog is “On urban design in Chattanooga. (and the Big C)”. I’ve been heavy on the C and light on design over the past eight months. For the next couple of weeks I’m going to try to drop a few thoughts on our fair city (I also realize that many of you could not care less about design and rely on this to get an update on my health, so I’ll quickly address that as well.)

Health Update: I’m still alive. I still have stage four gall bladder cancer in the form of a big ol' tumor in my abdomen that has invaded my liver and colon. As I have not been informed otherwise, I’m apparently still on track to die sometime this spring. In the meantime, I’m still struggling to regain the weight I lost in September. It’s starting to weigh on me psychologically, as every time I look in the mirror I see a skeksi. It's a daily discouragement. Aside from that, however, I’m doing as well as can be expected.

This is what I see in the mirror every day.
(But oh, how I love that movie)


There is so much going on in downtown Chattanooga right now, it’s difficult to decide just where to dive in. I’ve decided to start by closing the loop on an old thread. This will give us food for thought today and help set the table for a couple of things I want to write about next week. For this to make sense, you need to go read something that I wrote three years ago.

The good lord has seen fit to let me live long enough to see Noodle's close. Several years ago I lamented the unfortunate design/reuse of the old barber college for a chain restaurant. From an economic standpoint, I hate to see downtown businesses not do well, but the market doesn’t lie. From an urban design standpoint, this was a sub-urban concept without the sub-urb. I would like to think that this is an example of the market telling us that in downtown, people are looking for authenticity both in an urban experience and in food. Thankfully, downtown still has a noodle option.

The empty building provides an opportunity to examine a fundamental question of urbanism. Is it better to reuse the existing building or demolish it and replace it with something denser? Recycling and reuse are great. Saving a building from the landfill can be considered green development. It’s also the easy route. On the other hand, density is one of the defining characteristics of a downtown. Developing a multi-story building on the site increases density, provides the opportunity for a mixture of uses, and maximizes the productivity of the land. It is also difficult and involves risk.

In the end, the market will ultimately determine this question of urbanism. The reality is that safe money will likely find another tenant and not take on the risk of trying to shoehorn a larger building onto the site. Incidentally, this is one of the tragedies of the Applebee’s next door. If those two sites were combined, it would be a prime opportunity to create a signature development for downtown. A quarter block on 4th Street between Market and Broad- oh, the possibilities! Alas, that opportunity does not exist…yet. On a related note- Don’t eat at Applebee’s.

Tune o' the week: We cannot cheat the reapers reap.

11.02.2015

Ups and Downs

Sorry I missed last week. I actually had 95% of this thing written, I just couldn’t get it over the hump before the posting deadline. 

That’s the thing about liberals, give them a cent and they’ll take a dollar. No less than a month after I gave them a tip of the cap on Obamacare, I got letter informing me that my premium is being raised by forty percent (40%!). Almost Doubled! This equates to hundreds of dollars per month. Per month! Meaning my insurance premiums have tripled since the passage of the ACA. Of course, in my situation I’m not too fazed because the alternative is having no insurance and paying hundreds of thousands of dollars (what’s an extra four grand a year). Please note, however, that this premium hike isn't due to my condition, it's simply the way Obamacare works. (By the way, I didn’t get to keep the plan I was happy with. Period). Were I not sick, this would've made me really mad.

This highlights why I am so put off of politics. People Politicians tell flat out, bald-faced lies and are never held accountable- in fact, it is an accepted, if not expected behavior. This is corrupt, it sucks, and I have no interest in participating in it. I can’t really stomach any of our republicans and the presumptive democratic nominee is a liar who will do or say anything to get the office (remember this?) Oh, and by the way, you’re not a Southerner so just stop. And now their number two is touting 'Real Change"- I wonder if that is anything like the so-called "Change We Can Believe In". (Please: no hate mail from my liberal friends- ya’ll know I love you anyway).

As for me, the past couple of weeks have been up (work) and down (health). I’ve been able to spend a significant amount of time in the office and have accomplished plenty. The work I’m doing is great fun, and it takes my mind off of all of the other stuff. Unfortunately, from a health standpoint, I can’t seem to shake these weight issues. Of my potential ailments, this one is the most frustrating- it’s tough to generate energy and gain weight when you’re throwing up most of the food you eat. In fact, I lost so much weight in between office visits (another ten lbs) that the doctor took me off chemo last week. In any event, all I can do is keep trying, and with any luck I will be back in the chemo chair this week. (how's that for luck)

One bright note is that I've found myself drawn back into the kitchen. I sous vided (which is arguably not cooking) a rack of lamb on Friday night, and for Sunday dinner I broke out Mastering the Art of French Cooking for Julia’s outstanding cassoulet (perfect for the weather- but imperfectly executed by me). In each case, I ached for a glass of wine- unfortunately, that's one of life’s pleasures that I will never again enjoy (I'm experimenting with chocolate as a substitute- think wine, eat chocolate).

All is well in the sporting world. In what might be the last time I get to witness it, Bama beat Tennessee to extend the streak to nine in a row (I can die now). The boys are both doing well on their respective soccer teams. Although I make a point not to equate scoring with playing well, they have both made a habit of putting the ball in the back of the onion bag. In keeping with the theme of wearing green in honor of gall bladder cancer, the CFC u11 boys unveiled a third jersey for Halloween- a green Hulk version with “Rushing Strong”* emblazoned on the back. (They lost both games in the Hulk, so hopefully we not see them again for a while).


As a parting shot, I need your help. You may recall a post from a few weeks ago that highlighted the Rushing Cup- a golf tournament for my buddies and I. At that event the gentlemen pooled the money we would normally gamble, and have decided to donate it to charity. What I need your help with is identifying a proper charity. (I have overcome my initial desire to drive to Tunica and put it all on black to try to double our philanthropic pool). I would like to donate to a place that is small (where our donation will be meaningful), local (to Chattanooga), and preferably focused on cancer care or research (although this is somewhat negotiable). If you have any ideas of a worthy organization, please let me know.

Ya’ll have a great week and don’t forget that I love you.

*I have been a vocal opponent of putting “strong” on the end of the every cause or tragedy- by now it’s hollow and has pretty much lost all meaning. However, when it’s your name, and you know the sentiment from the parents and children is real, it causes one to have a different perspective. (But unless you are one of these, let’s please go easy on the Rushing Strong- and I say that with love in my heart).

10.19.2015

Green is the New Pink

It’s been a while, so let’s sneak a peak at the C.Rushing Big C Countdown Clock. Wow, look at time fly. (Of course, the clock doesn’t really mean anything and is for entertainment purposes only)

This week is brief, owing to an eventful weekend. D and I ended up playing man defense this weekend. She took the oldest to Huntsville for his soccer tourney and I stayed with the youngest here in Chattanooga for his tourney. The CFC U11 boys won ther tournament in Alabama, while the youngun's team didn’t fare quite as well. Both of them scored numerous times, and (consequently?) they both had a good time. The CFC boys (whom I already loved immeasurably) are after my heart again. The have adopted a tradition of wearing green socks for their championship Sunday games in my honor. (Green is to gall bladder cancer as pink is to breast cancer). That’s a super special gesture and it means a great deal to me. (Plus, they look great).
I'm flattered and humbled that the boys
are wearing green in my honor.
After his morning game (in which he scored a hat trick), I got to introduce the youngest to that most wonderful of traditions- a fall Saturday afternoon centered on an Alabama football game. We had a marvelously lazy day of grazing, lounging, and football channel surfing. Alabama defeated A&M handily, and we were treated to a number of upsets and fantastic finishes across the football world. The long day culminated in us falling asleep and drooling on one another to backdrop of the LSU/Florida game. Of course, we missed Mom and brother, but I have to say we had a pretty damned good day.

Next up for the Tide, of course, is Tennessee. This one has me worried- but it always does. One could easily argue that UT should be undefeated at this point. Those three losses a) are against two solid teams, and b) each came after the Vols seemed to be in control of the game. The Florida loss was one of the worst beats I’ve seen (but not as bad as the Michigan debacle). Naturally, they got an extra week off to rest and prepare for us while this will be our eighth straight game (including three road games against ranked opponents- two in the top ten). I’m gutted that my crew and I won’t be making our annual trip. God-willing, we’ll do it next year.

That’s all I’ve got. Have a great week, know that I love ya'll (even you orange). Roll Tide.


No theme for this week’s music, just random tunes. This was big during grad school. While we're in the genre, this is a classic. Speaking of classics, this is my favorite Beatles song.

10.12.2015

Yes, That's My Fanny Pack

After my brush with death in Houston (apparently, sepsis ain’t no joke), here I am back in God’s own Chattanooga. Life is good.

The Rushing Cup.

The highlight of last week was, of course, the inaugural Rushing Cup. I am part of a group of about forty guys that play golf together every Wednesday evening. At the end of the year we pick teams and play a day-long, Ryder Cup style tournament. After my diagnosis, the guys decided to name the event in my honor (despite the fact that I’m not dead yet). The craziness in Houston put my participation in jeopardy, but in the end I made it. Playing twenty-seven holes took a lot out of me, but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I played even worse than I normally do, but I’m afraid that was the only possibility. In the end, the White team nipped my Crimson team 16 ½ to 14 ½ to win the cup. It’s hard to describe the feeling of presenting a trophy named after you to the winner when you lost. It’s also tough to describe how special the day was and how much it meant to me. I love those boys each and every one.

Just for fun we teed off under a full Double rainbow.

The freshest foursome fivesome on the course:
Sparky, Bike Lane Bailey, TPalm, Easy E &
yours truly. (Thanks for the pic Spark!)

Yes, that was a wicked long putt.
And yes, I missed horribly.
I love these boys.


I’m in the process of getting back into the swing of life. My big problem is fatigue. To this point I have been attributing the weariness to fact that I left thirty-plus pounds in Texas. This morning, however, my oncologist reminded me that recovery from sepsis, my radiation treatment, some of my medicines, and the cancer itself all contribute to fatigue. That isn’t any real help, other than mentally- the extra excuses make me feel somewhat less of a wuss. Fortunately, once in a sedentary position I can do a decent job of focusing on work, and I’ve been back in that saddle for a while.

The news of the day is chemo. The last time I had chemo, I handled it like a champ. A combination of being in good health and some luck in how my body processed the chemicals made for a relatively trouble-free experience. This time ‘round, I’m not at my best and the chemicals are more formidable- we’ll see how it goes down. The most novel aspect of this treatment, however, is how it’s administered. After a two-hour infusion at the clinic, the remainder of the medicine is administered via a pump over the course of two days. I have to carry the pump around in a fanny pack. A fanny pack. While my initial reaction was to recoil in horror, I have decided to embrace the pack. I am not hiding it under a jacket or shirt, but will be sporting it proudly, front and center, like a German tourist. So, if you happen see my new fashion accessory, that’s what’s up.

I offer my sincerest apologies, for forgetting to share the soundtrack to my life. In Houston, there is no music (at least I didn’t listen to any). When we landed and got in the car last week, I cranked the stereo out of habit and the first bars were a revelation of what I missing for four weeks. During the two hour drive home, music (plus the joy of being home) made me tear up a few times. I must remember to keep the music playing.

After that little note, it’s a shame that I don’t have better songs for the week, but this what has been in heavy rotation. I’ve never appreciated R.E.M. as much as I should, but this song came on at a loud volume and sounded really good. I was going to save this one for when my death appears imminent, but it’s been on Sirius a lot this week and I can’t get it out of my head. I can’t let another week pass without a Noel Gallagher tune.

10.05.2015

The Closest I Will Get to Political

In my previous blog on urban design I managed to avoid political waters for the most part. This is primarily due to the fact that I am moderate and a centrist and it turns my stomach to listen to folks on the fringes hurl insults at one another. As such I can’t maintain an interest in politics, my mind moves on to other things. That said, the topic of today’s blog is about as political as they come these days. Today, I humbly ask that you lower your political guard for a few moments and consider what I have to say a real-world example of something that has been abstracted and politicized.

Just so you know, I tend to lean right on political issues, but as I mentioned, I am a centrist and favor cooperation and collaboration over taking it to the mat to win every issue. As recently as nine months ago I was in total opposition to Obamacare.  As a self-employed, small business owner the idea that my monthly rates were going to jump to pay for a bloated government program made me cranky. Because of the particulars of my situation I was grandfathered for a year before I had to convert to an ACA policy. During that grandfather period I was diagnosed with cancer.

Had the ACA not been in place by the time I was diagnosed, the Rushing family would have been financially ruined. The key was the pre-existing condition provision. If I went to the market as a self-employed, sole-proprietor with stage four cancer, no insurance company would have taken me. We certainly would not have been able to afford to pay for cancer care without insurance. Please note that this is not due to failure to plan on our part. We have followed the savings playbook to the letter- we have our 6-month buffer, religiously contribute to our retirement accounts, and have 529’s set up for the boys. Despite that diligent work, the monumental cost of this cancer care will far eclipse to few farthings we’ve worked hard to save. Through its pre-existing conditions provision, the ACA has mitigated an unimaginable stress, and preserved a brighter future for the Rushings.

I hate to be "the drain on the system" that gets more out of the system than he pays in. But I can assure you that I didn't plan on getting cancer at age 42, and we can't trace a poor life decision that led to the cancer. I simply drew a short straw.

Part of the promise of the ACA is preventing illness from having catastrophic financial effects on people. I firmly believe in this premise, and have been a beneficiary of it. I hope as we move into election season that when we take our positions on this issue people realize that portions of the ACA make sense for everyone.

So that’s off my chest, I really felt like I needed to say something. (Now don’t go using this an excuse to flood my Facebook with political stuff- there’s enough of that out there already. And I say that with love in my heart :) Until next time, Roll Tide ya'll!

10.01.2015

On a Brighter Note

It has come to my attention that my post from earlier this week was sad and depressing. Lest we head into the weekend on a down note, let me fill you in on where we stand (which isn’t really all that bad).

The Bad:
-I’m still in Houston. I think we have a plan for how to escape, but that hinges on a couple of procedures and consultations. Fingers crossed.
-I look rough. Spending a couple of weeks in a hospital bed on a liquid diet will do things to your body. Significant weight loss is one of those things. I’m now running about 20% below my fighting weight. Consequently, I look like a cancer patient. I hope to fill out a bit by the time I get home, but if I’m still a bit gaunt when you see me, don’t be alarmed. 

The Ugly:
-Next up, more chemo. A silver bullet of side-effect-free immunotherapy that cures everything would have been nice, but t'was not my fate. We're back to old school chemo. The silver lining is that it's looking like chemo can be administered in Chattanooga. 

The Good:
-I’m not dead yet. We’re all headed that way, and no one knows the future, but it does not appear that I’m in immediate danger (Facebookers, I’m looking at you :)
-It appears that the remainder of my treatment will be handled in Chattanooga. No more scheduled trips to Houston.
-I just made it through 10 days of radiation, none the worse for wear.

Of course, as we have seen over the past few months all of these are subject to change at a moment's notice. This is a pretty good picture of where we stand today. Have a great weekend and I’ll check in soon.

9.28.2015

A Bridge Too Far

Sorry for missing last week- the list of excuses is long and impressive. The bigger issue is that it is becoming increasing difficult for me to write- I can’t seem to find focus, and as I’ve mentioned before it’s not in me to write week after week about how tough things are. Consequently, I’ve decided that trying to continue weekly posts is a bridge too far. I hope to weigh in here and there, but the posts will likely come at random moments of inspiration. If you would like “official updates” please visit my Caringbridge site. (You have to create a user login or sign in with Facebook to access, sorry). If you need an invite, please send me your email address and I’ll get you taken care of.

The short story is that I went to Houston a couple of weeks ago for what was supposed to be a couple of days, and I’m still here. (Yes, I was here during the Alabama v. Ole Miss game. Fortunately, I was in the ICU pumped full of pain meds while that debacle transpired). We're meeting with the doctor tomorrow to talk about a plan and how it might unfold. If it doesn't involve a healthy dose of Chattanooga there will be consequences and repercussions (watch out for salty language on that link). We'll see how it goes.

In the meantime, I appreciate all of your thoughts, prayers and best wishes. I've been doing my best to respond to everyone, but if I have somehow let you slip through the cracks, please accept my apologies and know that I appreciate and love you.

9.14.2015

Fiddle Dee Dee

The hits just keep on a comin’ and I keep swearing to myself that I’m going to stop writing if all I have to offer is bad news. I don’t want to leave you in the lurch, however, so I’ll give another update and we’ll see where we stand next week.  As you are no doubt aware, I am on a ridiculous run of bad luck. For the past 8 (count ‘em) encounters with the doctors, something has gone wrong. I show up for treatment, but my biopsy slides are bad, I show up get a stent replaced, and find out that my intestines are blocked, I show up for a routine 4-hour treatment, but need blood, which turns it into a fourteen-hour ordeal. This is starting to get to me. Also, this is the fourth week in a row that I will be in Houston. All of this against a backdrop of eight weeks without sleep, and 3-4 weeks of not really being able to eat. I’m finding it hard to find a foothold from which I can reset myself. 

Last week as a doozy. I was set to have a new duodenal stent installed and my biliary stent replaced. We were not really advised on options or implications for that type of works, but four doctors were standing in front of me when I was informed, so I assumed they knew what they were talking about.

As I was in the bed, prepped and ready to go into the procedure, the doctor asked if we were fully aware of what our decision meant- of course we did not. We spent the next 2 hours on phones and in person with several doctors and nurses on our team to discuss what was going going on. The short answer is that the two new metal stents that were being installed have about a six month life span- beyond that there are some tricks and work around that may buy a few weeks, but they are essentially the end of the line. The other option is a bypass of the duodenum, but the doctor’s consensus is the surgery is takes a lot out up front, and that I might not be able to survive that and untreated cancer at the same. The other issue is that there is the real possibility that no surgeon would take on the case anyway. In the end, we accepted that the stent gave me the best chance to live the longest in the best condition.

As I noted in the quote from Argo a few weeks ago, there are no good options anymore. We are now just making decisions day to day (but aren’t we all). The tantalizingly cruel possibility is that this wonder drug might work in 3 months, but I would still die due to the stents. But Fiddle-Dee-Dee, that kind of thought is for another day.

The next day on the way home, I started throwing up in the Atlanta airport. While this is a perfectly natural reaction to being in the Atlanta airport, it was disconcerting for obvious reasons in this case. When I got home, I continued to throw up over night and couldn’t even keep liquids down. This meant a trip to the Memorial ER. Our doctors in Houston were hoping they would do a quick endoscopy to see if there was anything wrong with the stent. Of course, the locals thought it would be a better idea to run me through six doctors, run a CT scan, and admit me. The scan showed that the stent was working fine. The next problem was getting out of there. Because I was no one’s patient, I ended up seeing every doctor in the building and telling them my entire life story, the doctors would then leave and never be seen again. This is all well and good, until it was time to leave- it took 8 hours of pestering nurses, calling doctors outside of the hospital and thinking about being rude to finally get out. Thankfully, we were released at 3:30 on Friday afternoon.

My last view of the beach...until...

Although I would have preferred endscopy to CT, we did then get the benefit of the extra level of detail. In short- not good. What was a solid mass tumor is has grown aggressively, more than doubling in size, and is spreading. I’ll save you the details, but just like me, the tumor has not been sleeping. In a sense this vindicates the stent decision as this untreated, unchecked tumor would surely kill me before I recover from a bypass operation.

The silver lining to the week cam the instant we left the hospital. D and I jumped in my car, and drove straight down to Duany-land (Seaside, for the initiated). My mother had summoned my brothers and all of my nieces and nephews and rented a house for the weekend. We spent a wonder couple of days down there with the family- it truly was a blessing. I got down to the beach a couple of times with all of the kids and my bothers, and got my toes in the water. The rest of the time I camped out on the sofa watching football (Roll Tide) dozing into and out of naps. I managed to keep all of my food and drinking down and my night sweats largely abated. It was a very special time that I’ll never forget.

As for now, I cam back and got in the work saddle this morning, now it’s off to CHA for a flight to Houston (YAY!!!! or something like that). With any luck I’ll be back tomorrow night, but I rather suspect it will be Wednesday – fingers crossed, please!

I love all of yall. Have a great week and enjoy this beautiful weather!

Let the record show that was unable to defend my 40-yard dash title against my bother. He wins by default. 

9.07.2015

More Than I Can Stomach

I am getting tired of giving theses crappy updates. Yes, that sentence is ambiguous, but it actually works on every level of interpretation. I sincerely hope that one these days I’ll be able to give you some happy and uplifting news.

When last I left you, I was all set to have the stent in my liver replaced. This is a pretty straightforward procedure, and there was great promise that this would address a number of symptoms that were making life unpleasant.  It’s typically performed in an afternoon, they put my down for a nap, do the deed, and thirty minutes after I wake, I’m good to be released. Would it actually go down like that? Yes, but.

When I came to, our favorite Dr. Lee reported that the stent had been exchanged with no problem. However, while he was down there, he did find some other issues. Apparently, the tumor is growing and inflamed and causing a blockage. The duodenum, which is the very top portion of the small intestine, is about 90% blocked. While he was down there he also aspirated about 2 cups of undigested matter from my stomach that was just sitting around.

There are two solutions to dealing with the blockage: a duodenal stent, or a bypass surgery. After consulting with the team, the decision was made to go with the stent. The only issue is that the first slot for this procedure wasn’t until the day after Labor Day. From Thursday until Tuesday I was told that I needed to stick with a “soft food” diet. I was also told to hope that the duodenum didn’t get fully blocked- apparently it’s a not good look when food and water can go in but can’t get out.

So we returned to Chattanooga for the first college football weekend of the year, and a holiday weekend to boot. When I got home I started noting items not included in a “soft food” diet: ribs, chicken wings, pulled pork, hamburgers, pork belly, and ribs. Labor Day and college football are synonymous with food. Not for me. Not this year.

The Bama game was good. I thought we looked pretty solid. I still see some weakness in some of our usual soft spots. Hopefully coach can get those addressed sooner rather than later.

I’m back to Houston today (again). Hopefully this stent will do the trick, and I can resume proper football food eating form. Fingers crossed.

8.31.2015

Christian's Crimson Corner

As some of you know, I did not start this blog in March when I got cancer. I’ve been writing in this space for almost five years now. Up until this spring, the primary topic was urban design in Chattanooga, but as you can imagine I wandered hither and yon over such a long period. Last week I had the freakiest moment of déjà vu/insight/prescience/whatever-you-want-to-a-call-it relating to something I wrote exactly a year ago.  I’m freaked out.

I spent a large portion of the past few weeks working with my doctors to find the right type of pain relief, this set against the backdrop of pretty serious constipation and a number of drugs that made me very drowsy. I’m sure you can see where this is going, but one afternoon while I was medicated and sitting on the throne, I fell asleep. Fortunately, I woke up before I fell off and hurt myself. I was immediately reminded, however, of something I wrote in a post exactly one year ago (long before my diagnosis): Click this link and read the last paragraph.   Mind. Blown.  (but I’m still no Elvis)


Update
The sponsor accepted the slides we resubmitted, so we were a go for the trial! After a couple of productive days with my friends in Iowa, I was all set to swing back through Houston to get the new drug. The plan was easy and straightforward, gets some labs first thing, have a quick chat with the doctor, receive the treatment via IV over the course of an hour, then bounce to the airport and be asleep in my own bed before midnight. As you might expect, I wasn’t getting off that easy. My labs showed that one particular blood number was low. To rectify that, I had to have two units of blood transfused (two hours each), and then have my blood retested. I passed the next test, and received the drug well after sundown. Needless to say, I did not get to sleep in my own bed that night.

Sadly, chemo with Bear Bryant visualization was ineffective.
Let's see if a modern trial drug with Coach Saban visualization
gives us the opportunity to be successful.
True Story
The overwhelming majority of my chemotherapy treatments this summer were on Mondays. It just so happened that on Mondays at TN Oncology, a group of volunteers from a local church (some of whom are cancer survivors) prepare sack lunches for those who are undergoing treatment. They’re really nice guys that are always cracking jokes as they try to lighten the mood.

On one particular Monday, I was holding “office hours” with a colleague in order to get a little bit of work done (which is to say that I have a witness). The ringleader of the volunteers is a survivor who always wears some kind of  silly headgear. On this day, it was some Florida Gators gear. I made some form of good-natured, off-handed joke about that being the worst hat in his repertoire.  He paused and responded “Well, we all know that God is a Gator fan, all of the oceans of the world, and skies above are blue, and his most beautiful creations- sunsets- are blue and orange. God’s definitely a Gator.”

To which I could only respond. “No, it’s clear that God is a ‘Bama fan.  That's why he made Christ’s redeeming blood flow Crimson. He stared a me for a second, grasping for something to say, but in the end there was not much room for a comeback.

This wonderful week marks the beginning of the college football season. This week, everyone is equal. This week, everyone’s dreams are still alive. This is the final week of a 35-week wait. This is the last delicious moment of anticipation.

Alabama opens up against Wisconsin in a game played in Dallas. I gave some thought to going to the game as I will be in Texas this week anyway, but thought better of it. While I love going to games, there is also much to be said for staying at home, watching College Game Day, and sitting on the couch all day trying to see how much football I can watch.

I just fell asleep mid-sentence... that’s a cue to wrap it up. Ya’ll have a great week!

(and Roll Tide Roll!)

8.24.2015

As the Trial Turns

Friday night turned into Saturday morning, and there I was- lying on my side in a hospital bed while this guy had his arm halfway up my bum. He finished up about 1:30am and that was the end of a seven and a half hour odyssey at Erlanger’s* Emergency Room. NOT HOW I PLANNED TO START MY WEEKEND. As I mentioned last week, my pain meds have caused me to be full of “it”. Throw in some hemorrhoids and profuse bleeding, and you get to spend the night in a “healthcare” facility instead of with your children. In the end (no pun intended) they had no answers for me, but thought I looked good enough, so they sent me home.

Saturday and Sunday were spent in ‘round-the-clock discomfort (as was much of the past week to be fair). The sole exception was the usual sanctuary- my son's soccer games (but even that silver lining had a literal storm cloud). Yes, the CFC U11 boys had another tournament this week. Thankfully, however, we hosted this one in Chattanooga. We played a couple of games in the muggy heat of Saturday. Despite the weather, it was just what the doctor ordered. A final pool play game and championship game were planned for Sunday, but as the storms rolled in they were cancelled. When the cancellation was announced, there was the typical young boy tantrum response to the rain-out: pouting, crying, kicking, screaming, whining, and equipment throwing. My son was also upset.

As the Trial Turns…

On the continuing saga of the clinical trial, this is a big week- one way or another. As you may know, we've been trying to get started on a clinical trial for a few weeks. We were lucky to get one of the final spots in the trial, and have been trying to tick off all of the boxes to meet the program requirements. The latest problem is that we weren't able to get a sufficient number of slides containing live cancer cells in my last biopsy. We've since gathered all of the “backup” slides and submitted them in hopes that we'll meet the threshold. We''ll find out early this week if we've satisfied those requirements.

In the meantime, it’s been thirty-five days since my last treatment. Without treatment, the tumor is presumably growing (because that’s what tumors do), and every day that passes is another step in the wrong direction. During my prognosis  in March, I was told that a patient at my stage typically has six months to live without treatment. Put in that context, this has been a long time to go without treatment. Consequently, this week, we will fish or cut bait. If we can finally start to the trial, we will. If there is another delay, then I think we will likely bail on this particular trial, start another course of traditional treatment, and start looking for another trial.

Obviously, none of this is ideal. From the beginning, however, I’ve felt that before this is over I will experience high highs, low lows, and everything in between. As with any great movie, the worse position the good guy is put into, the better the ending when he eventually triumphs. When I get bad news, it just makes me think of how much better the story will be when I win.

Overachieving 101: by Christian S. Rushing

Lest I end on a down note (again), I offer some good news. D and I celebrated our wedding anniversary tonight! How in the world she has managed to put up with me for lo these many years is one of humankind's great questions. This year, we attempted to right a wrong. We had dinner at St. John's- as we have for all but one of our anniversaries. The one year we decided to switch it up and go somewhere else was also the year that I was diagnosed with cancer. As we are both mildly superstitious, there was no way in the world we were going anywhere other than the Saint. Hopefully, we have set the grand scheme of the universe back in order, and things will return to normal shortly. We'll see...

Erlanger Emergency Room playlist: There is no music or joy of any form in this place.

*This was, by far, the worst experience I have had in any hospital (and I‘ve been in a few recently). A trip to the hospital is never going to be a pleasant experience, but Erlanger was truly awful. Dear Lord, please don’t let me end up there again.

8.17.2015

Septimana Horribilis

The last sentiment I expressed last week was that I didn’t want to go out drugged up in a hospital bed in Houston. Within three hours of that post going live, that’s exactly where I ended up. Don’t tempt fate boys and girls.  

I was caught off guard, that’s all there is to it. For the past weeks I’ve bounced around the globe, landing in a place long enough to take care of business, then heading off for the next port of call. Last week was another trip to MD Anderson for a couple of procedures necessary to get my new treatment started. I was set for a brain scan and another liver biopsy. I’ve never had a brain MRI, but wasn’t too worried about it. I had a liver biopsy a couple of months ago- it made me sore for a couple of days, but it wasn’t too bad. This appeared to be another in a string of “routine” trips. The plan was to show up, have my procedures in the morning and fly out that night.

As we rolled into Houston, my head was not in the game. I was not mentally prepared. I did not have my game face on. I didn’t even have a playlist prepared. The MRI went off without a hitch. We got to the Mays Clinic early, and the biopsy folks were ready to roll (a minor miracle that provided the promise of a couple hour buffer before the flight). 10am on Monday morning, that’s when the week turned for the worse.

I might have to sue these guys for stealing my line.

As I returned to the land of the lucid after the procedure, my biopsy site was sore- considerably worse than the first go ‘round. In and of itself, this wasn’t a very big deal. The fact that I immediately spiked a temper was much more troubling. I spent the remainder of the three-hour observation period in pain and cold sweats. For the pain there was intravenous painkiller. For the fever, there was no answer. As I was in an outpatient clinic that was about to close, I was treated to a two-block ambulance ride to the Emergency Center for observation. New scene, same result. All of my labs, x-rays and urine analysis were great, yet I still had this phantom fever. The folks at the EC got bored with me, and I spent the rest of the night posted  up in a hospital bed on the observation floor hooked up to an IV.

On Tuesday morning we still didn’t have answers, but they thought I was well enough to go home (which was fine by me). For the next several days, the fever came and went away. What also went away was my IV painkiller. Once we got home, the pain from the biopsy got pretty rough. The medicine I had previously been prescribed wasn’t doing much. Due to the elusive fever, some questions about the pain at the biopsy site, the rise of pain at other sites,  the involvement of my liver, and some stomach issues, selecting new pain medication became a bit of an ordeal. In the end, I went through the whole week (and consequently the weekend) without an effective pain management strategy. It is safe to say that this sucked.

(Before this gets out of hand, ladies, please don’t roll your eyes at me. I am fully aware and in awe of what ya’ll are capable of. What D went through with my boys surely puts my little ouchies to shame. For the purposes of this post, however, let’s assume that I’m writing in reference to the “male scale” of pain tolerance). 

I like to think of myself as a reasonably tough man. I’ve always been pretty good about playing through pain, and not letting minor inconveniences get in the way of performing whatever task lies ahead. What my doctors are trying to pound into my thick skull is that they are not awarding any medals for pain tolerance. I will try to keep that in mind, but I’m still very keen to spend time with the boys and to work. Obviously, those activities require some level of clarity and focus. I guess I'm just not very keen on spending the coming months strung out on pain meds.

Fortunately, we spent the weekend down in Birmingham doing something I love – watching Spencer play in a soccer tournament (he had a few goals, a couple of them were cracking- one in particular was truly special). This also afforded us the opportunity to spend some time with the Chewnings, and My-Man-Fiddy-Grand, Dr. Joe C. Given a couple of days together, we talked through my issues and have developed a strategy we think will work for longer-term pain control. I any event, I was pleased to see the end of this septimana horribilis, and the beginning of a new week full of promise.

24 hours in hospital bed didn't do much for my hair.
Sometimes a cut is just the thing to help with a fresh start.

I came to another set of realizations today. The first is that my pillbox is too small for all of the meds I'm taking. I then realized that I actually have a pillbox. What am I, 90? Apologies to my 90-year-old friends with pillboxes, but I’m not supposed to be with you just yet. (But can you help me find one of those sweet HurryCanes?)

I will leave you with this- several of the pills in my box are designed to counteract the constipation that comes with taking painkillers. Consequently, everyone who has ever claimed that I’m full of “it” is now officially correct. Congratulations.

I love ya'll, have a great week!

Update: I was set to fly to Houston today to start my trial therapy. I got a call this morning, and the trial has been delayed. The slides from the biopsy they sent to the sponsor have too much necrotic material in them. We’re checking to see if MDA took enough of a sample to prep some new slides. If so, we’re good. If not, I get to have another biopsy. It’s tough to be too upset that there is too much necrosis though. Either way, next time they see me, I will have my game face on! 


Soundtrack for starting a new week: Dreams, Wind Up Dream, Dream On, Dreamer.

8.10.2015

The Trip (Part II)

As of this weekend, football (soccer) is back. The mighty Blues won their first game of the year and Villa lost. We took the oldest to Birmingham (AL) for his CFC U-11 team’s first friendlies of the fall session. That night we got back to CHA in time to join 18,000 of our closest friends for the NPSL National Championship game. The big CFC boys were up for the challenge, but in the end fell one short in extra time- a valiant effort (and a great effort from the community in supporting the team). In just four weeks when the other football starts, all will be right with the world.

The latest scans have shown that my tumor is growing. Obviously, the chemotherapy is not working. While this is not great news, it opens the door for me to participate in a clinical trial for an experimental immunotherapy drug. This is how it works.

Were this trial not available, the next course of action would have been to switch the chemo to a cocktail that has about a 20% chance of being effective. In this case effectiveness means that it generally works for 2-3 months. Beyond that, we would consider other options such as radiation. In any case, each time we are forced to choose a new option, it has a smaller chance of being effective and/or has worse side effects.

The trial also has about a 20% success rate. In this case, however, success means that the tumor goes away. Genetic testing of my tumor shows that I have two mutations. It is my understanding that one of them has shown some level of responsiveness to treatment. The other one is a bitch- apparently, it is unresponsive to treatment and results in tumors that are, in my doctor’s words, “aggressive and painful”.

As the line from Argo goes, “There are only bad options. It’s about finding the best one.” On one hand, it is depressing to think that Shaq is more than twice as likely to make a free throw than my treatment is to work.

On the other hand, my chances are on the Mendoza line (which is the minimum acceptable threshold for major league hitters). As we noted in a past post, however, I'm not getting too hung up on the numbers. Besides, If Ben flipping Affleck can smuggle six Americans disguised as a film crew past the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, I should be able to beat a case of cancer.  On the even brighter side, I don’t have to deal with chemo for the time being...so I've got that going for me...which is nice.

A Picture is Worth 1000 Words
Wow, Istanbul feels like a lifetime ago- I can hardly remember the details to write about it. I promised part two, however, so here goes.

After Ayasofya, I walked across Sultanhamet Park to visit the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (better know as the Blue Mosque). It was stunning:

I then made my way to Fatih to visit the largest and grandest mosque in the city- Süleymaniye:
 

A few blocks away is my personal favorite, the Şehzade  Mosque:


The next day I did a food tour then visited Grand Bazaar (which you may recognize from my favorite new Bond movie “Skyfall”):


Afterwards, I checked out the Basilica Cistern (which you may recognize from my favorite old Bond movie “From Russia With Love”):


I capped off my Friday afternoon with a cruise on a commuter ferry across the Bosphorus. When I set foot on the other shore I was in Asia, and had officially satisfied the requirements of the Three Week, Three Four Trip, Three Continent adventure:


That night I captured the best image of the trip – The Blue Mosque under the Blue Moon:

On Saturday I decided that I was done with the touristy Sultanhamet and headed for the more hipsterish Beyoglu and trendy Besiktas. Two of the city’s most iconic public spaces are here: Taksim Sqaure and the İstiklâl Caddesi. Despite the government calls to steer clear  of the crowds, I could not resist the siren song of vibrant urban space.

That night I decided to splurge (because, you know, I’m worth it), and booked the penthouse suite of some Euro-chic hotel. The view did not suck:

I woke up on Sunday and took the subway to Ataturk (sorry D*). Upon my arrival at the airport I found, to my amazement and delight, that I scored an upgrade to Delta One for the 10-hour flight from Istanbul to New York. Not a bad way to end the trip.

*Of course, D was concerned about my well being given the travel advisories and the fact that they had a couple of bomb scares while I was there. She asked "Is that how you want to go? Getting blown up in a subway in Turkey?" Before I could develop a measured response, I blurted out "Better here than drugged up in a hospital bed in Houston."Apparently my subconscious has given this some thought. Maybe we'll delve into that one later.

8.03.2015

The Trip (Part 1)

At the time of my last post, I was in Houston having just secured a spot in a clinical trial. I was two weeks in to my Three Week, Three Four Trip, Three Continent adventure. This begins an account of the past week. There is much ground to cover, so it will be presented in installments. 

The first step in determining whether or not we will proceed with the clinical trial was a scan to see if my condition is actually worsening. If is not, then we stick with chemo and forgo the trial. If so, then we’re in the trial. The folks in Houston did a fantastic job scheduling a scan on very short notice. The timing of the scan, however, was not ideal. It was scheduled just before my flight home on Tuesday. If I missed that flight, that would set off a chain reaction of missed flights and layovers that would put The Trip in peril.

Waiting for medical procedures is never easy. I did my best to take my own advice and let go of the things I can’t control (which we all know is easier said than done). I made sure to mention my predicament to every person who worked there, and  “You’re going to miss your flight” was the inevitable response. After a couple of hours of waiting, the scan took about fifteen minutes. As the nurse removed my IV, I bounced from the table, ran to the dressing room, summoned an Uber, bolted outside while still pulling clothes on, and dove into the waiting car. I urged the driver to move as quickly as he felt comfortable doing, and we scrambled to Houston Hobby. I jumped from the car as it was rolling to a stop, bolted through the terminal, thanked the Lord for TSA Pre-Check, pulled an O.J. Simpson (the running kind, not the stabby kind) through the concourse, and arrived at the gate just before the door closed. The Trip was still alive.

The flights home were uneventful, and I arrived in time to kiss D and the boys good night. As soon as my head hit the pillow, it was time to get up. Back to CHA, back to ATL (for the third time in three days), and on to JFK. Next stop:

Istanbul! 

Istanbul has been high on my list of places to visit for some time. In addition to being one of civilization’s great cities, it has a couple of buildings that are on my architectural bucket list. For the past few years I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get there, and I was very happy to finally have my chance.


In the days leading up to The Trip, an ISIS suicide bomber killed thirty-two people in southern Turkey. In retaliation, the Turks bombed ISIS (and used the excuse to bomb the Kurds as well), and arrested hundreds of suspected terrorists in Istanbul (a few dozen ISIS and a few hundred Kurds). The fallout from that was an expectation of violent backlash. There were credible threats against the transit system and public gathering places. These threats were credible enough for the British to advise against all non-essential travel and the Germans and to issue advisories against traveling via transit. In fact, residents of the city were even opting to steer clear. I took the situation seriously, but in the end did not let it deter me.

While the flight to Turkey was lengthy, it wasn’t all that bad (but I probably shouldn’t have watched Argo before I went to sleep.) After landing I found my driver and headed in to town. (D implored me not to take the subway.) I stayed in a small boutique in Sultanhamet- nice enough, but nothing swanky. It did, however, have outstanding views of a couple of my targets- Ayasofya and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (aka the Blue Mosque).

My master, mentor, and friend made this sketch of Ayasofya
52 years ago. I saved it from the bin during one of his infamous
studio purges. It occupies a position of honor in our home.

Ayasofya, a major trophy building on my architectural bucket list, was a mere five-minute walk away. The building, which has been at various points a church, a mosque and a museum, is big, and old, and beautiful. It is an agglomeration of shapes with seemingly no right angles. This contributes to the impression that the building is even older that it’s 1,478 years. That the building has survived this long in an earthquake-prone place is impressive indeed. The disappointment of The Trip is that the building is undergoing restoration, and there is a massive scaffold under a portion of the dome. While I was disappointed not to experience the full glory of the interior, the scaffolding was useful as a scale. The scaffold was aboiut fifteen stories tall, but still did not reach the top of the dome. The Volunteer Building would fit inside Ayasofya.


Everything inside the building is well worn. The floors are rolling mounds of marble that have been worn away by 1,478 years worth of footsteps. The walls and columns have hunched and settled into an aged stability- the strain of fighting earthquakes and gravity apparent in their posture. The plaster and mosaics display their age- whether they are very old or just simply old. Sadly, the building feels exactly like what it is: a museum. “Come and see what Ayasofya used to be”. While this is truly one of the great architectural achievements of man, and still one of my favorite buildings, I felt a bit melancholy after the experience (but that may have just been jet lag). In fairness, no other building in the world could support the weight of my expectations for Ayasofya. With another great building checked off my list, I was ready to experience the rest of the city.

To be continued…

There were four correct guesses in our little game. Those lucky winners have prizes headed their way. And because I'm a big softie, I got a little something for everyone who ventured a guess. Thanks for playing!

7.27.2015

Merry Christianmas! (2015 Edition)

Today marks the end of my forty-second year on God’s green earth. That’s a long time. That’s not very long at all. 

Another week, and another excellent trip to Iowa is in the books. (That's the second leg of my Three Week, Three Trip, Three Continent adventure). The cloud to that silver living of a trip was a conference call I had with my oncologist on Wednesday. When he and I last spoke, we were talking about how well I seemed to be responding to chemotherapy. Our plan was to stay the course and return to Houston in September for another scan. Since that time, the June scan was scrutinized and my case taken back before the tumor board.  After further review, it appears there is a new lesion on my liver. That coupled with an increased tumor marker number from a couple of weeks ago has them quite concerned. The new plan was for me to head to Houston in a couple of weeks for another scan.

How quickly did those plans change. Over the next couple of days, operating under the assumption that the chemo is not actually working, the doctors have been trying to pair me with a clinical trial. It turns out that there is one that seems to be perfectly aligned with my condition. The problem is that it is a globally competitive trial that has only twelve spots, ten of which are filled. To sign on, I have to go to Houston today to do the paperwork. The rub is that by the time I get there, those final two spots may be filled. Rub or not, if there is a chance I have to take it. (By the time you read this, it will be decided one way or another- I’ll do my best to update below if I can).

Ain't that some ----. C'mon Delta- it's my birthday!
(Also, not an encouraging sign as I'm racing across the country
to get one of the final slots of a competitive clinical trial.)
 
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Moving past the obvious disappointment that my condition may have taken a turn for the worse, this is a bummer on a couple of levels. First, today is Christianmas, and I would much rather spend my birthday with my family than on an airplane or in a Cancer Center. Secondly, I had plans and appointments for today and tomorrow.

Over the past four months I’ve been doing a pretty good job in pressing forward with life as usual (if I may so myself). I schedule my treatments and trips like any other piece of business. I’m at crucial points in that work, both in the implementation of a riverfront master plan in Iowa and in the reestablishment of a Design Studio in Chattanooga. Between the tumor and the chemo I’m not 100%, but I’ve been able to hold it together well enough during business hours to work effectively. When the last minute call was made to travel today, I was almost more ticked about having to cancel my meetings, than I was about the condition being worse. Apparently, I am so convinced that I will win, the ole priorities have shifted around.

This is a reminder that I am not in control. Of course, in the greater cosmic sense, none of us are in control of anything anyway. That I’m not in total control is frustrating. The acceptance of that fact is liberating.  Focusing on the things I can control is a much more manageable and productive exercise. For now I can control how I comport myself. I can, to some extent, control how I spend my time. In the end, I suppose this is all we can ever ask of life anyway.

For now, I plan to treat myself to an obscenely priced Christianmas dinner. With any luck I will return to Chattanooga tomorrow with a spot in this clinical trial. Delta-willing, I will depart on Wednesday for the final leg of the Three Week, Three Four Trip, Three Continent tour. God-willing I will be back in time to tell ya'll about it on next Monday.

UPDATE: Yes, I did make it into the trial.

Let’s play a game! Please venture a guess at where in the world I am going this week and send it to me before the end of the day on the 28th. If you guess correctly, I will bring a treat back for you. (If you know, keep it to yourself). For those keeping score, I have made two trips in two weeks, but have only been on one continent. (Therein lies a clue)


Clue #2

7.20.2015

Veins on a Plane

Writing during my chemo session is a tricky proposition. I’m not my “normal self” during this time, and more tellingly it means I’ve procrastinated saved my weekly writing for the last minute. I’m also more likely to vent than if I were to write at a time of lesser duress. Case in point: I would typically not channel my inner (Chattanooga native) Samuel L. Jackson if I were writing from the comfort of my bed. As I sit in this chair, however, I feel compelled to declare that I have had it with these (expletive deleted)  needles in my (expletive deleted) arms.* Whew, much better. Lest you worry, please know that once I esacpe the needles, I return to my normal jovial self- still living the dream.

Three weeks, three trips, three continents. The first one is now in the books, and I’m off to quite a start. Two more weeks like this one and it won’t be a tumor that gets me. With D out of town for a few days, I thought this would be the perfect time for a boys getaway. My heirs and I took off for a long weekend, and this is our tale.

I once observed the fact that the barista at the airport remembered how I took my coffee was proof that I traveled too much. The second clue came as we were boarding the plane last week and the CHA Delta gate agents had a birthday card waiting for me. (Perhaps Delta does this for all medallions, but I prefer to believe that it is unique to our Chattanooga people). That it was not my birthday is somewhat beside the point, they were close. After a couple of uneventful flights we landed at DCA, and hit the ground running. A quick ride on the Metro and we were in front of the White House.

That's about right.
My traveling companions know I have patented the Walking Death March™ system for seeing new cities. My boys would not be spared. That first afternoon was tough: White House > W > Washington Monument > Lincoln Memorial > King Memorial > Jefferson Memorial > Korean War Memorial > Vietnam Memorial > WW II Memorial. At that point, the six year old was a bit grouchy, the ten year old was unfazed, and I was wiped out.

The march to the hotel was a serious test of stamina. Just as we were nearing the Washington Monument, three massive helicopters approached from the south. We could see that the streets in the path of the ‘copters were closed. They flew over our head, past the monument, and made for the White House. The two outside ‘copters peeled away and what we would later learn was Marine One landed on the south lawn. We gawked for a bit, watched the ‘copter take off and finished the last stretch of our trek back to the hotel.

Marine One is pretty cool.

No sooner had we crashed on the bed and turned on the TV, than the station cut to live statement from the President. Mr. Obama went on to address the attack in Chattanooga. What a surreal moment. There was the President, who we just saw fly by, sitting in the White House which was 621 feet away, talking about a tragedy in the city that has defined my adult life but was 600 miles away. Unreal. I don’t have anything to add about the events in Chattanooga last week (other than the fact that I am taking a break from browsing Facebook for a while).

Speaking of Facebook, as we were relaxing in the hotel, I got a message from a dear friend that was heading to D.C. for the weekend. Joe Edward was one of the first Phi’s I met in New Mexico. He was the leader of our chapter’s re-founding and unquestionably the adult among us. Friendship, Sound Learning, and Moral Rectitude are the Cardinal Principles of our fraternity, and there was no greater embodiment of those values among us than Joe.

I haven’t seen Joe since the early nineties, but we’ve had some close calls recently. We were at the same ‘Bama game last fall- but missed each other due to cell phone problems. We missed each other by a day at Disney World last month. This third time proved to be a charm. These days, Joe works with the Dodgers and was in town for a series with the Nationals. He invited the boys and I to join him and his daughter for the Saturday evening game. We had a big time catching up- it was a wonderful and unexpected treat to see my brother.

The next morning we were up before the sun to take the first flight home. Upon arrival the youngest and I crashed. The oldest proceeded to hit golf balls, play baseball, and shoot some hoops- all during the muggy heat of the day (oh, to have the vim and vigor of a ten-year-old).  One week, one trip, and one continent are in the books. More to come...

*Sincerest apologies to my Mother, and all of my God-fearing friends and prayer warriors. Indelicate, but needed to be said.

For chemo tunes suitable for foul-mouthed venting I turn to NIN. Survivalism, Only.