The existence of brothers has been one of the dominant features in my life. I have two younger biological brothers that have been in my life for as long as I have the capacity to remember, and those very strong relationships provided an example for what it means to be a brother. Through my life that example has manifest itself in a variety of ways and ultimately expressed itself with the births of my two sons and my great joy in watching their brotherhood grow. The institution of brotherhood is sacred to me.

My first shed roof home (forgot the stairs though).
Also, very strong Mike D game on my part.

Last week actually started on January 10th when I get a text from one of my fraternity brothers who lives in L.A. He asked if I would be o.k. if he and three or four of the brothers came out Chattanooga to induct me into the Silver Legion (signifying twenty-five years in the fraternity). I told him that I would course love to see them but didn't want them to go to the all of the expense to travel hour here for that. I suggested alternately that we convene in Albuquerque, which was closer for and of course, the home of the chapter. He agreed, I have Skymiles to burn, so we set the date for the 21st.

I got another text on the 10th, this from the oldest of my two biological brothers. After reading the last blog, he wanted to see me, so he left his family at home, took time off of work, and booked his trip to the Scenic City. He got here last Sunday and stayed through late Wednesday. I had a tremendous time with him. We didn’t do a damned thing. Well, that's not entirely true. We did some food shopping, cooked a few nice meals, and went out for a really good lunch. Aside from that, there was a lot of napping, a great deal of Star Wars, and plenty of time on the couch. We had a couple of “those kinds” of conversations, but being brothers we didn't really have to speak to be able to communicate. It was a great first half of the week and time with my brother that I’ll always cherish. 

While we were enjoying our time I had a few more texts with Joe from L.A. to confirm that we were still going to meet in the ‘Burque. My flight was (too) early that Friday, the ceremony was on Saturday, and I would return on Sunday. Many of our brothers still live in the ‘Burque, so the half-dozen brothers we hoped to pull together were set to double our number.

I slept the entirety of both legs of my flight. I was bumped to the front of the plane for the long leg so all was good with the world. When I disembarked, the first person I saw was another brother from L.A. Minutes later, two more brothers who happened to be on my flight  joined us- one from Boston, the other from Madison. Joe from L.A., and a brother from Phoenix caught up with us in baggage claim and we were all sorted with transportation to various hotels. 

After dropping the bags off and draining the Pleurex, we headed to Los Cuates- a fixture in the Pantheon of New Mexican cuisine, and one of our go-to spots lo those many years ago. Awaiting us were another 25 brothers, the overwhelming majority of which I haven’t seen for more than 20 years. It was a tremendous surprise and great treat to reconnect, compare and ridicule waistlines, and tell stories (lies) about our exploits in the past. The food was an outstanding haze of red and green chile, carne adovada, and sopapillas- but as good as it was, it could never compare to the nostalgic version I’ve carried with me for two decades. 

The only play after Cuates was a nap. I returned to the hotel and slept the sleep of the dead. As quickly as it started, it ended, and I was in another car on my way to dinner at another Albuquerque institution- the venerable Sadie’s (the one on Fourth Street of course.) By this time our group of brothers had to swollen to fifty or so. While perhaps falling short of a Viking feast, dinner was another blur of chile, memories and beautiful drunken hugs. The brothers carried on late into the night (morning), but I had to bail and go to sleep. 

For architecture students at UNM, Frontier Restaurant was a staple. The restaurant was in the same block as the school and provided cheap, fast and mind-blowingly delicious New Mexican food. Those who were able to survive the night before convened at the restaurant and were rewarded for their effort. My carne adovada burrito and bowl of green chile stew brought back memories of late nights, design dilemma’s, and of scraping pockets to pay for it.
Immediately after breakfast we headed downtown for the weekend’s main event- my Silver Legion Ceremony. We met on the 19th floor in a hotel conference room with breathtaking views of the Sandia Mountains to the east, and of the women’s march in the plaza below. After the actual ceremony and receiving my Silver Legion pin, we finished the meeting with “the good of the order”, in which each brother, in descending order of seniority, was able to say what was on their mind. The heartfelt, sincere, funny, profane, and loving words that my brothers expressed during that time will never be forgotten. I wept throughout most of it, and managed to laugh through some the tears as well. I was given the opportunity to speak last, and frankly couldn’t put into words the feelings I have in my heart for those boys. The fact that many of these brothers dropped what they were doing, left their families and work, and flew across the country at considerable expense and inconvenience on less than a week's notice speaks to the dedication and devotion that this group has for one another. That is a very special bond. 

Later that night Joe from L.A. pulled some strings and arranged a behind the scene tour at the Pit and got the whole crew into the club level suites for the Lobo game against Wyoming. Unfortunately, your boy had fallen off the proverbial cliff and the events of the previous day and a half had wiped me out. While the brothers enjoyed the game, I was relegated to my hotel room to convalesce. I was completely gutted to make that call because I understood the significant hassle and expense it took to pull this together. So I slept, and the next morning it was back to Frontier for another breakfast and a last chance to say goodbye to the brothers who had managed to make it (I understand that after the game the shenanigans extended well into the night). 

All that was left of the weekend was the flight back to Chattanooga. While that was an experience worthy of it’s own post- The Curse of ATL: weather delays, rerouting to other airports, shuttles busses home, and various other shenanigans. 

What still amazes me is that in a week Joe from L.A. managed to turn what was supposed to be a six-person event into a massive reunion of more than fifty all told (it is also my understanding that he had a great deal of help from a certain brother from Arizona). He brought brothers from across the country on virtually no notice, and programmed the weekend to accommodate everyone. Off the top of my head, we had brothers come in from Boston, New Jersey, Tulsa, Madison, a few from L.A., Phoenix, Santa Fe, a Denver contingent, Chattanooga, Truckee (CA), Sacramento, a couple of places in Texas, and of course a large group of Burquenos. I am in absolute awe of the man for what he can accomplish, and I’m blown away by the way my brothers responded to the call. Those are true brothers indeed, each of whom I appreciate and love dearly. I will treasure that weekend for as long as I can. 

Following perhaps the worst week of my life (see this if you haven’t), I was blessed to follow it with a week of loving brotherhood- a reinforcement and reminder of one of the central themes of my life. Of course, it won’t be complete until my other brother comes and sits on the couch and plays video games for a week- but we’re working on that.  Additionally, this is yet another lesson I can pass along to my own little set of brothers- I hope they experience and appreciate the joy and gratification of brotherhood the way I have. Perhaps losing their father will strengthen their bond with one another- although I wish I could teach them in a different way ;). 

As for so far this week, I've been really up and down. In fact, I've been a poor brother to a few of you with some last minute cancellations. I'm going to try to do better, or at least do the best I can, in the meantime I appreciate ya'll putting up with me. Until next time, be good, I love you.


A Very Bad Week

On any other given week I would make a big deal about how Alabama losing the National Championship Game was such a contributor to the bad week I had. Sadly, Alabama football- which has been such an important part of my life for forty years- just didn’t mean much this week.

This was a terrible week, a life-definingly terrible week. I’ve actually had a few in a row, but this one was a doozy. For several weeks I’ve been dealing with a massive case of jaundice and suffering from abdominal swelling (I think I may have mentioned that in the health update of the last post). The short-term solution to relive the discomfort associated with ascites (the swelling) is a procedure called a paracentesis- they slide a long needle into your abdominal cavity and drain off abdominal fluid. During my first procedure they drained 4.4 liters off my gut. Put in perspective, that’s about ten pounds worth of fluid…more than 2 two-liter bottles of coke…six bottles of wine…a baby…all within the abdominal cavity. The bad news is that once you drain the fluid it starts to reaccumulate immediately. This procedure is repeated until there is a diagnosis of the cause. 

There are essentially two causes, a) some form of liver disease, or b) a web of cancer cells in the abdomen that do the same. As you may have suspected, cancer is the cause of my ascites. Unfortunately, my cancer is not treatable. To provide some form of relief, they’ve installed a peritoneal drain (a pluerex). This is more or less a permanent version of the paracentesis. The pluerex is tapped to drain fluids every couple of days, reducing the swelling and my considerable pain.

In the end, this is my situation: I can’t take chemo to treat the tumors due to the jaundice. Without treating the tumors the jaundice and ascites get worse. The ascites also interfere with my ability to eat, contributing to my steady weight loss. I look more cadaver than man these days. All of this is to say that there is nothing they can really do for me now. My next step is palliative care, likely to be followed by hospice, and eventually death. How quickly this process progresses, whether I will follow that pattern, and how long this might take are all variable. Who nows what the future holds. 

The doctor believes that I’ve got a couple of months left. But considering how I feel and how I look, I'm much more likely to guess weeks than months. He suggested that I start thinking about what I want to do with the time I have left (as if I haven’t been doing that since March 2015). As a fellow workaholic he suggested I start making contingency plans for how to transition out of that world. 

Surprisingly, the Chattanooga transition wasn’t that difficult, despite the fact that I’ve devoted myself to urban design in Chattanooga for the last sixteen years and loved virtually every moment of it. I’ve loved the work, and I’ve developed life-long friendships based on it. That said, I feel that I’ve done what I can for the community. My work here over the past few months has become a drain. So late in the week I had a chat with my staff, wrote a letter of resignation to the board, and had a wonderful night’s sleep. I wish the new Design Studio and my eventual successor all the luck in the world, and expect to see to great things to come from them in the future.  

Iowa is a different case altogether. I love the work were doing out there, and I love the clients I work with. The work is challenging and fulfilling and is transforming the community. Health permitting, I think we still have a few things to accomplish before we part ways. My client and I have resolved to find a way to continue that work into future (if not quite as robustly)- cancer be damned!
I'm thankful for being given the opportunity to help
establish the Chattanooga Design Studio. I'm so very
proud of what our collaborative effort produced.

Throughout the process D and I have been honest with the boys and have given them no more or less than the objective facts about my condition as it has played out. While I don’t mind talking about possibilities and implications with family and friends, we opted to only update the boys if we have solid news. As of Tuesday we had more solid news. 

I've done some hard things in my life. I ran a marathon- hard. I made it through graduate school- hard. I’ve passed a number of professional exams (AICP, LEED AP)- each hard in their own way. I finished an Ironman-incredibly hard. I designed and built my own house- hard. I told my children 2 years ago that I had cancer- hard. I’m no stranger to doing difficult things. Telling my children that I have weeks to live, however, is by far the most difficult thing I've ever done. I thought the cancer notification was going to be hard, but the boys took it in stride. I think they've seen enough stories of people beating cancer that they assumed their “Ironman-tough” dad would be able survive to as well. The fact that I made it for a couple years beyond the official news, and people have been telling them how great their dad is doing probably reinforced that notion as well.

Tuesday evening we sat the family down and I delivered the news. I’ll spare you the details, but it was gut-churning. In two years of dealing with cancer-emotionally, spiritually and physically- I haven’t experienced any form of pain as excruciating as watching my children react to the news that I’ve got weeks to live. It’s tough to say any more than that this week.

Because I’m now unofficially retired, I should have more time on my hands to update ya’ll if the spirit moves. I’ll do my best to do just that. In the meantime, remember that I love you, and please spare a prayer for my boys if you get a chance.