Tuesday, May 24, 2011

DAY 1237 - Day 995 in Recovery Paradise

CANCER is an overwhelmingly fearsome and ugly enemy.

I have found that my mind can choose to play offense or defense in this unasked-for battle.  I was diagnosed with Tonsil Cancer in 2008.  Since I got my unwilling turn in the arena with this formidable (but, not unbeatable) giant, I have become a far more positive–minded person than I could have ever imagined. 

That said, I have not yet discovered anything that keeps the blues, worry, depression and fears of life totally away - it is more in the category of 'manageable'. I have tried them all (maybe some twice) – back in 1970, it might have been grouped under sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.  In 2011 it is closer to hugs, a half-glass of wine and rock-n-roll (some things remain constant – ha).

For a big and current instance - my throat got really sore yesterday in the exact same spot where I first discovered my tonsil cancer.  This was just out of the blue.  Interesting side note: In 2008, three years ago, when I was first diagnosed with Tonsil Cancer, we had just won a charity auction for a resort week in Vancouver, Canada.  I delayed starting my treatment to go on the trip. I was figuring it might be my last chance to do so (you know the 40% survival crap they feed you).

Fast forward three years – last week, we won the exact same resort vacation week at the 2011 charity auction (Orlando, Fla. next year) and I had all these flashbacks to 2008 and hunted up and re-read some of my early blogs – ‘Another Day in Paradise’.  I woke up yesterday with the same pain, in the same spot, in my throat as before.  I couldn’t even swallow water without grimacing. I have to honestly say that worry was creeping under the door, like an ominous, intimidating, eerie fog in a bad B movie, again.

Once treated, hopefully, we can live for another fifty years, but the worry never really goes away.  It is the wolf outside our door.  I can ease the daily worry of the wolf by building my mental house of bricks, but when I allow myself to think about it, even for a minute, my mind is capable of imagining that the damn monster is still sitting out there in the shadows, just beyond the gate.

So, I played my custom, motivational music CD.  I watched my new YouTube video of me finally learning how to play electric bass after fifty years and then actually playing in public with a couple of friends at the local pizza parlor. I read and re-read my best motivational books.  In addition to the world not ending on May 21, 2011 as predicted, today I am back to good as it gets - no soreness and no symptoms (I am drinking a cold one as I write to celebrate the very unappreciated miracle of being able to swallow without fears and tears). 

Our mind is an awesome and powerful tool. I figure that if nothing is really wrong, but involuntarily (at least sub-consciously) my mind can imagine that it something is, I must, conversely, have the same power to consciously invoke my mind to imagine that nothing is wrong, when I have a tendency to think that it might be. I feel that there will be time enough to deal with the real if (not when) it happens.

Depression and worry is an ugly and dark maze we conjure for ourselves.  We each have to find our own light to discover the way out of this maze or we will be consumed by it.  Life holds enough real issues to worry about without us adding to it with our over-active imaginations pitching in to help do the Devil's handiwork.

When I was trying to pull myself out of self pity, worry and depression following radiation and chemo treatment, I placed my borrowed motivational thoughts on 3 x 5 cards and posted them everywhere (literally – not figuratively), in every room of the house, on all the mirrors, the outside and inside of the cabinets, my sock drawer, next to the toothpaste, in the cars, even inside the refrigerator, ha.

Have you seen those commercials about how to go about learning a foreign language and so you put the Spanish word for everything on post-it notes throughout your house?  For me, it was akin to hanging garlic everywhere to ward off the vampires from the dark regions of my thoughts.  I highlighted certain positive words and phrases with a yellow marker (live forever, dream, win, perseverance, courage, defiance, success, 'every day is a gift', friends, love, appreciation, power, control. gratitude, etc.).

Sometimes, I would be near tears, because I was not in control of my life and things were happening to me I seemingly could not fix.  I would shuffle over to the nearest 3 x 5 card and read it as best I could (my eyesight was very messed up during radiation - normal for me is 20/1250 in each eye with high power trifocals; so I was half-way to blind already..ha).  

I would repeat it over and over (mentally only, as my mouth was so dry and my tongue was so sore I couldn't speak).  For those few seconds and minutes, I discovered I wasn't wallowing in self-pity.  I was not “THINKING” about my situation. I stepped it up and for me, it was a Godsend for a Type A personality control fanatic that was not in control. 

I had discovered that there finally was something I could proactively do to exert positive control over the out-of-control negative experience of Cancer and the ensuing kick-my-butt, but necessary, chemo and radiation treatment.  

Did it work all the time, 24-7? NO.  My mind-over-matter plan became increasingly powerful, but it was not invincible. On a really good day in the beginning, maybe 50% of my waking hours, I could successfully stave off the demons.  Because I couldn't sleep - I had a lot of waking hours, far more than I wanted. For me, it was far better to get up and do something, anything, rather than lie there, letting the hob-goblins into my thoughts, while everyone around me was sleeping like an innocent.

I liken the experience of proactive, positive motivation as a defense to hold off the enemies of your biggest battle until (for you old folks) John Wayne rides up (or for you younger folks) Gandalf on a white stallion, with ‘Thank God, they are here’ reinforcements.  We do what we have to do to, just to keep the enemy from coming over the walls and breaching our last barely defensible mental position. 

I had thought I was an Iron Man for going to the end of Cancer treatment without a feeding tube and still be able to sip soup and water and walk by myself to the bathroom.  Several trips to the emergency room and a four day hospital stay later after not being able to eat or swallow water for a week, I often felt that I was a beaten man.

My personal Goliath was not seemingly affected by my little sling full of motivational stones, but I kept at it, as it was the only weapon I had.  As I am not an overly religious man and any conversation with God to ask for divine intervention would have to have first been prefaced with a request for a explanation of why I got this damn Cancer in the first place.   My take-away from my early experience with the Bible had always been ‘God helps those who first help themselves’ and I always have had an inherent personal disapproval of being a whiner.

Finally, the day arrived when I was felt I just a tiny bit better than I was the day before.  Albeit, it was about two months after treatment ended.  That was the day for me that John Wayne and Gandalf and my reinforcements arrived with a little bugle blowing faintly in the wind.

My iPod with my positive, or at least, and my “you are not alone – I CAN relate to it" music was one of my new best friends. ‘Help’, by the Beatles was good for that.  Who knew that John wrote that for me?  I heard it at least a thousand times before I finally listened to it and have it touch me.

Help, I need somebody,
Help, not just anybody,
Help, you know I need someone, help.

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody's help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I'm not so self assured,
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors.

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won't you please, please help me?

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways,
My independence seems to vanish in the haze.
But every now and then I feel so insecure,
I know that I just need you like I've never done before.

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won't you please, please help me.

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody's help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I'm not so self assured,
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors.

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won't you please, please help me, help me, help me, oh.

While the whole song isn’t compatible with cancer survivor circumstances, how about  Yesterday’, also, by the Beatles…

All my troubles seemed so far away, 
Now it looks as though they're here to stay, 
Oh, I believe in yesterday. 

I'm not half the man I used to be, 
There's a shadow hanging over me, 
Oh, yesterday came suddenly....

Zig Ziglar, Benjamin Franklin, Helen Keller, Roosevelt, Dale Carnegie, William Earnest Henly, Winston Churchill, John Lennon,Yoda, Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski and my favorite, ‘Anonymous’, became my newest and wisest best friends.  Their inspiration was there for me in ways I couldn't have imagined.

Has battling Cancer changed me forever?  I would say, Yes.  Will I still experience worry and doubt?  I have to say, Yes.  Will I find courage in having discovered my sword of positive motivation, forged in the midst of battle, from inspirational words of steel?  I say, Yes.  Will I succumb to future opportunities to experience depression and tears?  I hope not.

Should I ever pat myself on the back because of my new found strength and even begin to imply that I discovered this powerful mental ally to keep the demons at bay? 

I have friends that, as they have had more conversations with God than I have, would probably say  “You know Bob, because you did choose to help yourself, therefore, is it possible that God……..?”


Friday, May 20, 2011

DAY 1232 - Day 990 in Recovery Paradise

Living the dream
Old dogs can learn new tricks
I belong to an international Tonsil Cancer forum and we support each other through our posts and emails.  A caregiver in our group posted concerns about the possibility of the Cancer returning to her husband's lymph nodes and the worry they share that accompanies that fear...  My shared thoughts:

Damn those lumps.  That is a tough one.  All of us, caregivers and care receivers alike, are constantly tested on our abilities to stay positive and our strength to harbor hope.

Since tomorrow, May 21, 2011, is proclaimed by some to be the "End of Days" this may be my last post - so I thought I would ramble a bit with my observations.  If we are still here in 48 hours, my profound apologies for taking up so many pixels on this forum.....

My two-cents worth would be to fill the mind to overflowing with positive thoughts daily.  Have him start a diary or blog and fill it daily with "half-full" vs. "half empty" thoughts and his personal 'Gratitudes'.  There are many, many, many things for all of us to be grateful for: our family, our ability to love and be loved, our small, but important accomplishments, our impact on earth, our personal legacy and yet another Sunrise each day…a daily miracle,  to add to our life experience.  Overfill the mind and imagination with the positive YOU CHOOSE to put into it and there will be little room left over for anything else.  

This is a never-ending process that should be used forever 'til the end of our days. Someday, far-far into the future, it will be our last day.  That day, while inevitable, is not written by a predetermined fate or in stone. Our attitudes can make that day closer or farther away (…if we are not here anymore after tomorrow - I was wrong, but just in case...).  

Become at peace with yourself and who you love and WHAT you did with the TIME that God gave you and WHO you became as a result of your thoughts and actions, not where you went and places you saw. Start today, it is never too late. There is still plenty of time to maximize the value of our remaining hours.  Read the news - how many famous people will be remembered forever by their last poorly chosen acts, not the wonderful deeds they accomplished before.  I believe the reverse is also true.  I have not always made good choices in my earlier years; however, if my remaining days are full of positive choices, I hope to be remembered that way.

Everyone works at this task differently.  I love to collect quotes that fill my mind with hope and fill my imagination with who I still might still become and the impact I can still have on others, as my legacy.

Look at all the great literature, music and quotes that have sustained the masses for eons.  Many are authored by "Anonymous'.  That is easily any one of us.  We don't have to write the Bible, the great novel or become the Beethoven of our era.  One person we loved and showed them through our actions or one thought or gesture we shared that positively impacts someone who lives beyond us is infinitely more valuable than the experience of seeing the Alps, Taj Mahal or the Golden Gate Bridge from the window of a speeding tour bus.

On Christmas day, 2010, I started a new daily blog for me that, although I share it with those I love, it is mostly for me:  SUNRISE and TIME.   Some times I ramble, but mostly I post a just few quotes about the use of the TIME given us. That is what I choose to put into my head each day.  A lot of the quotes I post are from people that are long since dead.  Do they live on in my posts?  Is my life richer by reading, internalizing, applying and sharing their thoughts and observations?  

Some quotes are famous, some are not.  They all have a thread that we all share.  How valuable is our time?  Long or short, how do we choose to invest it and use the hours we were given.  Centuries ago, human beings were dealing with the same crisis of how they used the time given them and how much of that illusive gift of TIME they might have left.  Nothing has changed, other than we are richer for the thoughts they left behind.

When that final day comes for me, my hope is that I will accept the moment, regretting little, knowing I have loved much, lived well and hopefully, positively impacted a few.

Is life unlike a relay race of our time through eternity?  At the end, weary and spent, regardless of the sound of the crowd, I have to ask myself:   Did I run my leg of the race well?  Did I use my head, my experience, my strength and my heart to do all that I could?  Did my 64 seconds count?  Did I let my teammates down?  Will my effort be remembered in a positive way? 

Would it be beneficial to the final results for me to conjure up all that I could be from the inner depths of my being and give it my all to have a final, fantastic spurt of energy at the end of my leg of the race? Did I give my teammates an advantage in their start?  Did I pass the baton so smoothly that their results will harbor a small part of me? 

My 64 years in this race across eternity is so insignificant in the vastness of time that it will not be even recognizable in the broad picture…but, if my team does well, I will have contributed and that is what really counts.  If I stumbled, fell and lay sprawling in the blood and dust; did I lie there feeling sorry for myself, giving up, cursing that fate had cheated me, impossibly begging to start over or did I pick myself up and recommit myself all the while, running in the middle of the race, to become the winner I was capable of and provide inspiration to those that yet, had their legs of the race to run?

One of the quotes I especially like is "We don't fear dying as much as we fear not being remembered."

Not everyone is a Christian by chosen faith, but here is a Christian version that probably resonates within all of us:

"Everyone wants a shot to fame don’t we? That’s because we think that’s how to be remembered for the longest time. Yes, that can be true, but how long is long? About a hundred years? Two? Maybe a thousand or two? People know a handful of guys from three thousand years ago. How is that compared to eternity? It is but a short strand compared to an endless highway.

The fear of oblivion can only be present when you know you will be forgotten. If you are assured that you will be remembered, the fear will not exist. In my case, I do not fear it. In this world, my fame might not spread and I don’t need it to because everything in this world will fade away. In other words, everything this world holds is subject to oblivion. What I’m concerned about is if the eternal being – God, will remember me. If God remembers me then I am satisfied and my fear of being forgotten has been buried."  Personal strength can come from many sources.  This particular quote comes from "God and You."  

I also enjoy reading Hunter S. Thompson:

"Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!" 
— Hunter S. Thompson

and Charles Bukowski.

"For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can't readily accept the God formula, the big answers don't remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command nor faith a dictum. I am my own god. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us." 
— Charles Bukowski

Atheists and religious believers alike face the same challenges.  "Perception is reality." Our truth is merely what we choose to BELIEVE what is true.  

No one can live for you and no one can die for you.  We travel that journey alone.  We put into our heads the information and experiences that form our beliefs by choice.  Choose well.  You are loved.

Damn those damn lumps.

"Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think, I'm not going to make it, but you laugh inside — remembering all the times you've felt that way." 
— Charles Bukowski

Monday, May 9, 2011

DAY 1221 - Day 979 in Recovery Paradise

May 11, 2011  Bob/Sarah
Early 2008, we were the high bidder at a Camellia Symphony fundraising auction for a week's vacation with World Mark Resorts.  We decided to go to Vancouver and Victoria Island, Canada for a week in June, 2008.  Just before we left, on May 28, 2008, I was diagnosed with Tonsil Cancer and I postponed treatment to go on on the planned vacation, figuring it might be my last. 

May 11, 2011 Bob/Lise
Fast forward to May, 2011.  Same fundraising auction, same opportunity.  The week vacation trip of our choice was on the silent auction block.  Our strategy was to wait until the last minute (actually last 30 seconds) and bid it up by $5.   Sarah did the honors, finishing up with 1 second left with the previous high bidder jumping up and down behind her... chagrined to be outbid and out-strategized by a twelve year-old girl.  We are narrowing it down to Florida, Mexico, Hawaii or Canada...all tough choices, but at 50% off - not a bad deal.  

So, three years later, I am still kicking and planning another vacation.  Have had a ball the past three years and plan to keep it until there is no keeping up.

Nancy Loeffler sent me this link today, thinking of me and my renewed sense of the value of time.  A perfect match for how all of us should think and act forward.  

Should be required reading.  Thanks Nancy.

“The difference between school and life? In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson.”

Robert L. Welton