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


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.


Running Through Cheese Grits

Sorry to keep you waiting- last week was a bit of a slog. I felt like I was running through cheese grits, but I got a great deal accomplished. I had a heck of a week at work- taking my board through a strategic planning process, preparing a presentation for Iowa, interviewing potential employees, and working on a very cool conceptual plan for a site in the Innovation District. I got my golf in with the guys (wasn’t spectacular but made my quota), and stepped on the tennis court for the first time in a dozen years (wasn’t spectacular, but beat my wife and son- playing as doubles- handily).

Five cycles into chemotherapy, it may be starting to catch up with me. It’s tough to say how much can be attributed to chemo and how much to my advancing age. Would I not be worn down after a tough workweek? Would I not be fatigued after a round of golf in 95-degree weather? Would there not be a bit of grey hair in the shower drain? Maybe it’s the chemo, maybe it isn’t. I don’t suppose it matters either way.

I promised in the beginning to share the good news and the bad. This week my tumor markers were up. Not good news. That number tends to fluctuate, however, so it’s not catastrophic news. The biggest problem it poses is one of morale- it’s much easier to stay up when the news is good. As the kids say- I’m aight tho. I try to equate this with the ebb and flow of a game- winning doesn’t require that you be in the lead the whole game. There is time on the clock yet, and I'm up for it.

Slow day at the office.

The Snake
Had I heard it earlier in life, I might have adopted this quote as a personal motto: “There’s nothing wrong with studying the playbook by the light of the jukebox.” That, of course, from Alabama great Ken Stabler.  He died of cancer last Wednesday. As he was at the Capstone before my birth, I have no memory of the Snake playing for ‘Bama. He was nonetheless a legend among the youth of the state. Kids at school would tell second hand stories of his exploits that they overheard from their parents. The man was is a legend in his own time.

After a bit of reflection, I am reminded once again that life is not fair. I’m no saint, and lord knows I have spent more than my fair share of nights out on the town. But I was no Ken Stabler. God bless him, he lived hard. Despite that, he made it to 69. For those counting, that’s 26 years older than I am now. Ain’t that some shit. (and don’t even get me started on Keith Richards again). Please don't get me wrong though, I'm not hating on The Snake.

More on Waiting
There is no doubt that waiting sucks. I suppose this is why patience is a virtue. The thing about waiting is that the time spent in anticipation is essentially lost. When we spend time focusing on the future, we miss out on now.

Living in the moment is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Given my situation, it's difficult not to appreciate every moment. The shock of a serious cancer diagnosis gives one a different perspective on life. After my prognosis I realized that every time I do a particular thing it is potentially the last time I will ever do it. It’s impossible not to appreciate everything a little more.

On the other hand, as I’ve noted before, I have every intention of beating this particular tumor. The current course of treatment, however, has involved a good deal of waiting. The first stint was a three-month wait between the start of chemo and the first scan. That went well, and the reward is more chemo and another three-month wait until we go back to the tumor board.

The result: I’m not waiting...and, I’m waiting. In not waiting, I’m working hard on getting the Design Studio up and running, and on a Riverfront Renaissance in Iowa. I’m doing my damnedest to play golf, I’m booking traveling when I can (stay tuned for an exciting run- three weeks, three trips, three continents), and I’m jealously guarding my time with D and the Boys.  On the other hand, I’m waiting- seven weeks until I go back to Houston.

As for this week in chemo music, I feel like an underdog. I hopped in the time machine for this one. Let's bridge the gap with this
. And finish with obligatory Noel.


Let's Wait

I spent a large portion of my last week waiting. After being out of town for a few weeks, I was incredibly excited to rejoin my buddies for the weekly golf game. After waiting in the clubhouse for a couple of hours desperately hoping that the rain and lightning would stop, we went away disappointed. Unfortunately, I must leave you waiting as well. I'm working on a couple of things for your reading pleasure and none of them are fully baked just yet. 

I'm doing well- feeling good, looking great. I'll be back next week. In the meantime, if anyone has a hankering to play golf please get at me.