Monday, December 29, 2008

Gifts That Don't Fit Under The Tree

The Holidays always come and go way to fast. The preparation––do we go for full Griswold Family decorations?, can we ALL sit at the same table, who's NOT coming this year?––is overpowering, overwhelming and over before you know.

These last couple of years have taught me more about the Holidays than all my years combined. This time of year used to mean what I call "The Great Human Taffy Pull", in reference to who I spend the Holidays with and where. It happens when you're the product of a divorce. It doesn't get any easier when you get older. It never really goes away. 

This year, I did a lot of looking and listening. My kids––Adam, Ryan, Travis & Kaity––were with Teresa and I, along with our Grand kids, Lucky & Eli. We were also fortunate to have Jen & Joey with us this year. But that meant no Sarah for the first time in at least 10 years. Yes, it was different but it was family, nonetheless. Spending time with those you love––and yes, we all love our families and we all do it in our own dysfunctional way––is what this time of year is really about.

The smiles on the faces of my big kids as they open their gifts, is priceless. The sugar induced running around the house by my little kids brings back countless fond memories and creates new ones. The meal, a wonderful menu of traditional dishes and new explorations, is always flawless. While I did capture most of the day on my Flip cam or digital camera, it's hard to capture the true moment of just being there. After my battles with cancer––and a clean biopsy result just last week from a skin cancer exam––these moments are more special than ever. Somehow, it's too bad that I couldn't have seen this before my cancer.

It was there. I just took it for granted, thinking that we've done this before and we'll do it again, right? We'll open gifts, have a few rounds of adult beverages, eat a big meal, pass out watching the Lakers-Celtics,0,4885439.story and that will be that until next year. Unless next year never comes, as was the possibility when my cancer diagnosis and treatment almost got the best of me. My life today, is a daily gift. A gift that keeps on giving me so many unforgettable twists and turns, for better and for worse. A gift that never will fit under the tree.

Thank God, it never will.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My 3rd Nipple

Ok, it's not really a third nipple. (Some of you who know me are probably thinking, TMI right about now.) But a mole had been sprouting right in the middle of my chest FOREVER. And because of the forrest that covers my chest––hair, that is, and again I'm hearing, "hey, too much information––it wasn't getting a whole lot of attention. (Now that's funny on a whole lotta levels.)

I had my 3rd nipple removed today. I didn't know it was going to happen, but I had my 6-month check-up for skin cancer. The Doctor took a look and said, "you want this removed?" I asked if it needed to be removed. He took a closer look and said, "yeah, we better get that out." So I'm thinking I'm going to put my clothes back on and come back another day. Wrong.

"You're going to feel a little pinch." Pinch? Pinch my ass––not literally, of course. I came here for a body scan, not a removal––sounds like an old Monty Python routine The Monty Python Channel on YouTube. And what am I going to do with a gown on, my ass hanging out for everyone to see and in a chair that's about a foot or two off the ground. So he sticks me. And he starts to cut my 3rd nipple out. And of course, I can feel it. So he sticks me again with the numbing stuff. And starts to cut again. And I feel it again as he cuts it out. Just when I tell him I can still feel it––I wasn't watching him do it––he says, "we're all done. Sorry about that. But we'll get this to the lab and let you know in 7-10 days if it's cancerous."

That's OK, Doc. I'll just take my 3rd nipple back and we'll pretend this never happened. Yeah, wouldn't that be great. No pain. No worries. No biopsy. Besides, it's a great conversation piece. "Hey, did you know I have 3 nipples?"

But it doesn't work that way. It's better to know what's going on than not know at all. Since I've had skin cancer, every little mark on my body is under suspicion. I feel like I need a full-body-photo-catalog-clearly-marked-map so I can keep my sanity. I feel like I have to stay out of the sun all the time. (Maybe I could become a vampire, seeing as how popular they are these days.) I'll miss my 3rd nipple. We've had a lot of laughs over the years.

I hope I'm laughing when I get the results.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Forgetting cancer

It's sometimes hard to believe that I ever had cancer. Of course, there are many reminders––dry mouth, wacky taste buds and that hole in my stomach. That's a beauty. But it's been over a year since my last treatment. And it seems like it was another lifetime.

Maybe that's a good thing. When you find out you have cancer, it consumes your every moment. The questions are never ending. When will it be gone? Will it spread? What can I do to get it out of my body right now? What is it going to do to my family? When can I be normal? What will normal be like? Is this normal? Why? Why? Why? A thousand times, why?

In trying to fight cancer you constantly try to forget you have it, because you don't WANT to have it. No one does. No one wants you to have cancer. No one knows what it does to you. Lonely? Yes. I felt as if I didn't want other people to be burdened with the knowledge that I had cancer. I didn't want to be treated any differently. I didn't want people to stay in touch with me only because I had cancer. I didn't want my family to know the pain. I didn't want cancer to beat me, no matter what it took to stay alive. I wanted to keep it to myself.

Tomorrow is a check-up, with my skin cancer Doctor. Besides the head & neck cancer team of Doctors and the stomach Doctors, I have a skin cancer Doctor to help me fight any MORE skin cancer that might creep up on my body. Check all the moles, every inch of exposed skin. For some crazy reason, the skin cancer worries me most. And that's a cancer I can actually see! Skin cancer was caused by all those years in the sun. And being a SoCal boy, I love the sun. (It doesn't love me so much). And when I feel the warmth, I just forget everything else. Until my mouth starts to get dry and reminds me I need to find my water bottle.

No, I don't think I'll ever forget cancer. But I hope to have at least one day where I don't think about it at all.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


For my Wife.
For my Children, Adam, Ryan, Travis & Kaity.
For Lucas & Eli.
For family.
For my Mom, Dad, Angie, Wanda, Shan, Chris, Jeff and Marina.
For the God given ability to think.
For the little things.
For having a good job. (Any job, for that matter).
For having the strength to beat cancer. Twice.
For making the right decisions at the right time.
For having the intuition that I knew I had cancer––even before my diagnosis.
For good people to work with.
For best friends––Fred, Ben, Ted, Larry, Francis, Tom, & Jim.
For the opportunity to be there for others who are battling cancer.
For the love I receive every day.
For remembering all the pain––physical, emotional & mental––from my treatment.
For never forgetting how fragile life really is.
For having a new perspective.
For JB, Cap, Stevie Ramone, Andy, Lisa, Marcia, Rob, Paul, VW, Ally, Aimee, Jill, Leah, Chris, Juanita, Reem, JP, Richard, Kristin––KS & KF––Rachel, Nancy, the whole CS/DI and Sheri, who really is an angel.
For those who are fighting for our freedom.
For being alive to write this today.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

87 @ 29

My Son, Adam, is 29 today. His Grandfather called him today and told him, "you can't be 29 because I'm not that old." It was a nice generational connection, as my Dad––Adam's Grandfather––and I had just talked last night. And my Dad said the same thing to me.

Being the oldest of my four kids, I knew Adam would be the most outwardly concerned of all of them. He's a Dad. A great Dad. And I saw him go through a ton of emotions through my diagnosis, treatments and various other surgeries and attacks on my body. My kids had never seen me sick for more than a day or so. And this was cancer, not the flu.

I especially watched as Adam was looking to help his Mom, my Wife. Not really knowing what to do but just be there, share his love and try to be a rock 'cause Dad's in pretty bad shape. And that's all that was needed. We just needed to be together as much as we could as a family. I know it was hard for Lucas and Eli to not be able to wrestle––or "wrassel" as Teresa calls it––with me for about a year. Having the boys around me helped me a lot.

I'm so grateful to God that Adam came into my life. He's a wonderful Son. And a lot like me––more than I think he even realizes, ha! It was great spending time with the family tonight. Even got to see Sarah, too. cancer gives you a new set of eyes, helping you see the love in family. Sure, there's going to be some strange shit, but it's your strange shit. And there's some strange pride of ownership thing going on.

So here's to you, Adam. Those who know you will know what 87 means. (Did that come out right?). It's the 29 that's obvious. Happy 29th Birthday. But you can't be 29.

I'm not that old.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Common Sense

Lately, I've been wondering how we all keep getting further away from using common sense. We seem to be overly impressed with intelligence––Mensa, PhD, MBA, Big Name College Goes Here––but somehow common sense gets overlooked. We try too hard to impress each other with our smarts.

It's funny, I'm more impressed by our new President's––OK, he's not officially our new President––common sense. He has the ability to use his God given intelligence AND common sense. I heard him talk about towns that want to pass laws banning baggy pants.  Obama said those laws are "a waste of time. Having said that, brothers should pull up their pants".

Maybe I'm just not that smart, I don't know. I try to make things simple for myself, my family and the people I work with. The simpler, the better. Right? It drives me crazy when we try to out think what the other person will think. We try to "over intellectualize" things instead of stepping back and seeing the issue for what it really is. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with being smart. But smart comes in many forms––street smarts, comes to mind. And Doctors. Now we're talking brain power.

Makes me chuckle, really. I have six Doctors. Well, I don't have them, they have me as a patient. Six very smart people. But man, can they make things seem complicated. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had a ton of information being thrown at me by all these Doctors. I know I'm not the only patient who has been diagnosed with cancer, but I really had to grill some of my Doctors to get them to speak to me as a common person. I didn't spend years and years studying the human body. (Well, at least not to help cure diseases).

I wanted to know the real deal. What were my chances of surviving? Do I have to have surgery, radiation and chemo? What are the long term damages to my body? How long before I'm better? When do we start? I got all different kinds of answers from all of them. I got many opinions. I got pissed and told each one of them they better appoint a project manager, because I needed all of them on the same page. Let's get some communication here. You guys better talk to each other, check your egos at the door and come to agreement on all the shit you're doing to me. This is my life, people. Make sense?

Made perfect sense to me.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Mask

It's my favorite holiday. Halloween. Why Halloween? You don't have to stuff yourself with food, sitting around an over-crowded table. You don't have to buy anyone a gift. And, as a bonus for those who have dysfunctional families––all of us?––you don't have to spend time with ANY family members if you don't want to. I don't think anyone says, "but it's Halloween. Our family always spends it together." (Maybe if you're still trick or treating with your kids you'll hear that. But if you've reached puberty and don't have kids, you're free baby!). Yeah, it's your time to spend however you like. And you get to dress up and be someone else. How cool is that?

We have a Halloween party every year––The Freaky Fest, so dubbed by Mr. Rick "Bubba", "Tex", "Rusty" Abel in 1982. Well, we did have a party every year until last year. In 2007, I was at the end of my treatment for cancer. I didn't have the energy or strength to have a party at my house. I wanted so bad to be well. We had a party every year, from 1981 until 2006, in California and Virginia. No matter where we lived, how good or bad the weather was or how bad the economy was, we PARTIED. This was our Mardi Gras.

So instead of bemoaning the fact that The Freaky Fest was not going to happen, I thought how could I still celebrate. How could I keep things as normal as possible, so I didn't have to show my disappointment to my family? After all, I was always the one who wanted to host the party every year, dreaming up new things to do––palm readers, astrologists, dance contests, murder mysteries, Most Disgusting Joke Contest––and generally using the party as an excuse to see people who I don't get to see very often. (And my kids are all grown up now, so they have their friends over too). My Wife & Kids tried to cheer me up by telling that we would have a Halloween Party after I was better, no matter what time of year it was. That was great, but then it wouldn't be Halloween. I am a traditionalist, ya know.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks––I already have a mask. My mask was fitted over my face every day, keeping my head still and the radiation targeted at the tumor in my neck. Five days a week, for seven weeks I had to wear that mask. 20 minutes at a time. It made me sweat. It made me itch. But most of all, it helped me get better. So what's the big deal, right? On October 31, 2007, I was dressed as a cancer patient. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I was already a cancer patient with or without the mask. But it's my costume so I'll do whatever the hell I want.

This year, the party was back on. We had a great time, seeing old and new friends and sharing lots of laughs, stories, hugs and even tears. A full boat of emotions. But there was something that I never knew, until I brought out that mask to show some friends that had come into town for the party––Teresa didn't like the mask. She told me to put it away, she didn't want to see it. I asked her why. She told me it reminded her of all that I had to do to beat cancer––bad memories. Really bad memories for Teresa. To her, it was not a Halloween mask. 

It was much scarier than that.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Faces Of Love

What does love look like? I'm not an authority on love––or an expert, a word that I think is grossly overused––but I like to think I'm pretty good at spotting love. And all the different kinds.

There's the lovey-dovey stuff you see when people first get together. The "love you like a friend"––yeah, guys REALLY love to hate that one. Then there's the love your parents have for you, displayed in all kinds of ways that are subtle, overt and dysfunctional. Sometimes all at once. Let's not forget puppy love, your first love, love of chocolate, the love for your children, jungle love, the love triangle, the love that got away, the things you do for love, love of the open road, pet love (not to be confused with the aforementioned puppy love), love from afar, six-pack love––you know you know what I mean––love of your favorite team, love of babies and I'm sure I'm forgetting to post a lot of others. But I don't want to fall in love with my own writing.

But the face of love that I see every day I wake up is the one that keeps me going. Keeps me living. Keeps driving me to survive cancer day after day after day. When I look at my Wife, Teresa, I can see the love in her eyes, her smile and her worry. And she has done a lot of worrying the last 15 months. Every bad turn, every test, every set-back she has been there ready and loving. For me. And I feel it, every bit of it. Her worry is because she loves me.

I have always thought it so amazing that I can love someone sooooo much who is not related to me. They say that blood is thicker than water. I can't buy that. There's no way I can love someone any more than I love Teresa. I know it's a different kind of love. One that I can't really explain. (Some writer I am, huh?). But I do recognize that no matter what happens to me, no matter what I put her through, no matter how much she worries when I ask her not to, it's always there when I look at her.

The face of love. Right in front of me, where I need it most.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Discovery Of Another Kind

We are observing Columbus Day today. Hard to imagine how life was in 1492, traveling on a vast, seemingly endless sea of water in search of a place that may not exist. Armed with a vessel, a group of people that he could count on and a belief that there are riches beyond our wildest dreams, Columbus fought against the odds. Big odds. I think Vegas would give him 1 million to 1, bigger than the Tampa Bay Rays winning the AL East.

I can relate to Columbus these days. (Relate––sounds like I'm back in the '70's.) After another trip and a 4 day stay in the hospital, I feel like my body is going through one discovery after another. This time, they had to put a camera, a wire and some sort of "clean-out" tube down my throat, through my bile duct and at the base of liver. The Doctors also did a biopsy, just to be safe and sure. Oh, and for good measure they checked my small intestine while they were in there. Might as well, 'cause ya never when they'll have to cruise down there again. Hopefully never.

What would they "discover"? Look, after head & neck cancer, skin cancer in two spots,  gall bladder disease and gall stones, I was so over another discovery of the human kind. But it had to be done. My stomach was again trying to erupt like Mt. St. Helens and I was fuckin' tired of being in constant pain. Just get this shit over with so I can get my life back.

But that's the thing with cancer. It does it's own form of discovery. It finds the unchartered spots in your body, landing in a soft spot and then tries to take over everything in sight. I was talking to Sheri last week about the way cancer travels. You never know if it has left the vessel we call our body. It can show up unannounced anywhere, any time at any moment. And that's something you live with. It's something that cruises in the back of your mind when something isn't right with your body. It's also something your family is very well aware of, too. They don't have to tell me. I saw it on ALL of their faces––Fred's, too––when I was in the hospital. Does he have IT again?

I'm not going to lie to you. I was thinking I could have cancer again. I have a 3cm cyst on my kidney. Do I have a tumor or cyst at the opening of my liver? Nah. Maybe. No! Don't stress yourself out, Greg. But be prepared for a discovery that you won't wind to make.

So far, so good. Thank God it was smooth sailing.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Camera Doesn't Lie

As the world changes, we need to keep up. We also need to pay attention to the little things that remind us the world hasn't changed that much. People still take time for granted. Laughing is better than crying––unless you're crying laughing, which Richard Pryor used to make me do. Sundays are much better during football season. And the camera doesn't lie.

I'm working on trying some new things at work––changes to stay competitive––that will surely be met with resistance. But if we don't progress, we digress. (Which I'm doing now and do very well, I might add. There I go again.) So I had the idea of presenting our ideas in video or images. Drop the keypad, put the Crackberry away and get thinking in pictures. We are SO much the visual society that we should have done this waaay back.

The idea is ironically being used for the first time on a communications effort about cancer. Yeah, ain't that a kick in the nuts. So what the hell, let's do a "documonial"––that's someone telling their story on camera because their stories are real and compelling but need to be told in a way that is NOT a testimonial. But using part of the "T" word helps sell the idea. Ya still with me?

So Aimee gets the flip-cam and we're going to see if I can tell my story of beating cancer twice in the last year in a way that will convince clients this is the way to go. We'll put it on air, online, on your desktop and on your mobile. (Soon, we'll be doing this every week and we'll wonder why it took so long.) But first we have to put it on camera and see how it flies.

It has been awhile since I've seen myself on camera or video. It's been a rough 14 months since I found out I had cancer. And I turned 50––kind of sounds like "I turned into a vampire", doesn't it––and the gall bladder being yanked out of my body hasn't helped either. I've lost at least 40 pounds and that kind of weight loss has changed the way I look.

I didn't look like myself when I saw the footage. Even though I look in the mirror every day to see if I shaved my face right and comb my hair, I didn't get the full picture until I saw the video that we needed to cut for our idea. Who is that guy on the screen? That dude isn't me. I'm the healthy looking one, the one who has always looked young for his age––I could buy a kids General Admission ticket at the Dodger Stadium until I was 15––this is my Dad. I was trying to figure out what we could do with the video to bring it to life and share as a concept. But I couldn't concentrate on anything other than the fact that THIS is how I look to my family, my friends and my work family. And then it hit me like a 15-pound bass upside the head.

The camera doesn't lie.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What You Can't See

It has been an interesting week for me, to say the least. I have started to feel better, stronger and more like my old self. I have managed to stay out of the hospital––that's something to celebrate––for three weeks. No doctors. No needles. No one poking me, looking at me like I'm going to die, no pain. At least nothing you can see. And I've had to battle, yes battle, to keep my integrity and my cool in a hostile environment. But that's another post, I'm sure.

At one time in my life, I was an athlete. I still think like an athlete––competitive, prepared, always trying to get better every day––but my body reminds me that my better days are behind me. During my days of playing just about every sport––I even played soccer for a while but don't tell anyone––I was fearless. And a little crazy. Some would say stupid.

When I was 11, I was playing quarterback at the Hollywood YMCA and dislocated my kneecap. Some kid dove right at my left knee to try and tackle me. We were playing flag football. I tried so hard not to cry. My Dad ran onto the field from the sideline and picked me up. I was more embarrased than hurt. And I wanted to go back in the game but I was going to the hospital because my kneecap was about to poke out of my skin. Fortunately for me, my Dad was driving fast and we hit a bump in the road. My leg got bounced around and my kneecap went back into place. Long story short, I was back in the game right after half-time. Good thing my Mom wasn't there or she would've taken me home.

That began a long and strange list of injuries that happened to me: broken thumb while running across the street, broken bone in my left foot my Senior year in high school––which I didn't know until a physical months later––two cracked ribs and dislocated shoulder playing softball (finished the game), broken nose playing basketball and way too many times on crutches because of knees, ankles and hip injuries. Even hurt my back bowling.

I can feel all them now. I can see some scars, as others do from all the sports injuries and surgeries. But there's a lot no one can see. No one can see the scars––physical and mental––from having to fight cancer two times. The "scar tissue" stays with you. If I had cancer twice, will I get it again? What do my insides look like after all the crap I had to put into my body to stay alive, to live another day? Hey man, I'm hurting in here! Does anyone notice? Do they care? 

It's not self-pity. I don't believe in that. There are millions of humans who have it much, much worse that me. But it's only human nature to be fearful of what we can't see. The things that go bump in the night. The scary movies that don't show an ounce of blood––ya know, the kind Hitchcock used to make. We can't see the internal pain we cause others when we treat them badly, when we only care about our own agenda, when all we think about is ME. 

I'm terrified to see what's going on in my body. I still have a ways to go. My body is fragile. It' still healing and will be for a few more months or even a year––at least that's what the doctors tell me. My body's jacked-up more than any injury I've ever had.

I just don't let you see it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Stock You Can Count On

As the financial world and the stock market seems to be crumbling around us by the minute, it got me thinking about the word "stock". The dictionary lists 39 entries of the noun "stock". Some of the most notable include "the share of capital held by an individual investor", "a supply of goods for sale, kept on the premises by a store or business" and " a theater company's repertoire of plays". (In my mind, these three seemed to fit together!)

But the meaning of "stock" that has the most, well, meaning to me is when stock is used to define someone's standing and reputation. I once had someone say about me that "Greg thinks his reputation is much greater than it actually is." Now mind you this person didn't have the balls to tell me that to my face––I heard it from someone else. And he had known me for all of maybe 2-3 months and not very well at that. (My Wife thought he looked like someone who had a collection of child pornography. Which after she told me that, it was as clear to me as the cheesy, '80's porno-moustache on his upper lip that she was dead on in her assessment!).

Reputations are a tricky thing. They can be built on a single instance, over time or created by others who may never even meet us face-to-face. They can take years to build––on the positive side––and an instant to destroy. Think of the phrase "his reputation preceeds him". That can be good or bad. Reputations can be entirely fabricated. Is there someone you met whose reputation was the exact opposite of what you thought or was told? (Go back to your high school days for that one!)

When I was choosing my team of doctors and a hospital for my treatment of cancer, I had to do my homework. Who were the reputable doctors? What hospital was in good standing for cancer care and treatment? Was Hopkins really better than UPenn or the hundreds of others across the country? What about the radical treatment my Sister-In-Law received in Mexico? Doesn't Farrah Fawcett get treatment in Germany? Yeah, lots to think about. Lots of uncertainty. Lots of information to sort through. Lots of reputations to sift through. Not a lot of time when you are diagnosed with cancer. Time is not your friend. Time is what you're trying to save, not waste.

Who could I count on? Who would make my family feel comfortable. Hell, who would treat my family with care, respect and understanding. So I did the only thing I knew. I relied on the one person whose reputation and standing on issues of trust, respect, compassion, knowledge and understanding I could count on.

I put stock in myself. Because my "internal" reputation had been built over a period of time of making good decisions, honest decisions, decisions that took into account not only myself but those who I love and the effect it had on them. Did I invest in the right stock?

You bet I did.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Eyes Wide Open

I've always considered myself an observer. I like to watch. (Hey now, I'm not a voyeur.) And there's a difference between seeing, looking, watching and observing.

With all due respect to Webster and Wikipedia, seeing is automatic for those of us blessed enough with the sense of sight. Looking is a way to alert, warn or direct us to where we want to get to. Watching is can be passive and active. Observing is breaking it down––the way people walk, talk, react, position themselves and is a sense of discovery. It's paying attention to the details.

I do even more observing since I've had cancer. It's almost as if I can read more––and I'm not talking about reading text. I notice if people are happy. Sad. Confused. Angry. I notice how people drive. (I believe the worst drivers in the country are in the DC Metro area. Yes, you Virginia and Maryland are included. Don't believe me? Observe how many people know how to merge, know what to do at a 4-way stop sign, know that pedestrians have the right of way. And don't get me started with cell phones and driving. In fact, I saw something last week that floored me––a woman putting on her make-up, talking on the phone, eating something in a wrapper and drinking from a Starbucks cup. Mind you she wasn't doing all of this at the same time. Just 3 at a time.)

Today I took 5 minutes to sit on a street corner in DC. My observations?
A co-worker in his own zone, ignoring me as I called his name.
Two women talking on their own mobile phones AND talking to each other.
A woman in a car almost run over another woman in the crosswalk––and yell at the pedestrian to "get outta my way, BITCH!"
A man taking a picture of his lunch group while walking backwards up a hill.
A homeless man watching me watching.
A man selling jewelry.
Two guys trying to pick-up a woman on the street corner. And I don't mean by lifting her up.
An old man bent over at the waist, looking at the sidewalk below.
More combovers than I've seen in a long time.
Two old friends looking for a place to eat. (I talked to them.)
A bike messenger darting in and out of traffic.
People talking politics––this is DC.
Someone actually buying the homeless newspaper.
People dodging Greenpeace people.
Toenails with crazy designs.

That's what happens when you don't know if today will be your last day on Earth. You take life one hour at a time. One slice of life at a time. One day at time. There's no guarantee that you'll get to the weekend. Or across the street.

That's why I keep my eyes wide open.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Call Me 25¢

Now I have 5 holes in my stomach. One from my feeding tube––it's out, but the skin is still pushed in––and four from the emergency gallbladder surgery I had September 2nd. And since I have a big rectangle of skin showing on my chest and stomach from the shaving they gave me before surgery, the holes show very nicely. (I could sell ad space on my chest and stomach. Hey, Virgin is using bald guys to display tattoos of their logo. And takers out there?).

I was talking to a friend who said, "you can tell all kinds of wild stories with those marks." Which reminded me of 50 Cent, who was shot 9 times and has the scars to prove it. Scars are cool for men. Makes us macho. Makes us tough. Makes me remember how I got them all. And none of them are incidents I wish to relive.

The most damaging scars are mental ones. The scars from a bad relationship. From a terrible job or workplace. From loved ones. And don't think mental scars don't leave a mark. You can see them when you're trying to start a romantic relationship––why won't he/she trust me, what does this person REALLY want, he's after wham, bam thank you ma'am––if you really look. You can see them when you're trying to coach or teach someone something new––c'mon you've seen that look of "oh crap, here we go again. I don't know if I can do this!"

I can see the scars from my battles when I look into the faces of my family and friends when I talk about all the crap I've been through the last 13 months. I really saw it this Tuesday when I walked into a production meeting at work. They were extremely glad to see me. They wanted to know what the hell was I doing back at work so quickly. They also looked at me like "oh my God. He doesn't look so good." And I didn't. But the fact that I was able to stand before them and talk to them was good for me. I also believe it was good for them, too.

My gallbladder Doctor told me," you are a great patient. Having cancer makes people more accepting of what we do as Doctors. They know we're human, just like them. They know nothing is guaranteed. And because of what you've been through, only you know what's really good for you." He's right.

And I have the scars to prove it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pain Is A Four Letter Word

I saw the fear turn to anger on her face. She had had enough. Here she was––again––in the ER of Reston Hospital and she wanted some answers. She wanted to know why. Why was her Husband––me––just lying on a too small gurney with his twig and berries hanging out and another IV line in his arm and no one was DOING ANYTHING.

I'm in pain. Teresa is ready to kick some ass. And rightfully so. This was the fifth time in four weeks she was at the hospital. Three with me, two with Travis. And she was tired of waiting for the Doctor, after she was told to "go to the hospital and have the Doctor paged." So we went. We had him paged. Did I tell you I was in pain? Oh, and scared shitless. What the hell is going here? Why am I back in the ER? Miss the food? The atmosphere? Being woke-up every two hours? Pissing in a water jug?

Teresa was tired of seeing her Husband like this. No pain medication––"we can't give him anything until we know what's wrong and the Doctor sees him"––no food, no word about when the Doctor would be, no, nothing, zilch. And I watched her face the whole time. All 6 hours. I was worrying about her worrying about me. Funny, huh? I watched the pain and anger trade places in her forehead. I watched her try to be strong and try to be in charge. I watched her stare down every person that walked by the curtain in the ER. I watched her.

I can deal with my pain. I would say that after all I've been through the last 13 months––two bouts of cancer, 8 surgeries, 10 months of a feeding tube in my stomach, 12 chemo treatments, 35 radiation treatments and losing 35-40 pounds––I can deal with a lot of pain. Bring it, baby. But I have a real hard time when I can feel and see the pain in Teresa. To know that my illnesses have caused her tremendous emotional, spiritual and mental anguish. That's a pain I can't control for her. I can't make it disappear. I can't give her something to take to make it go away. I can't rub it away. It's the worst kind of pain.

The four letter kind.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The cancer Cup

I was sitting in an 8:30 AM meeting, the one we have every Tuesday. This is a meeting where it seems as if everyone has an "assigned" seat. I always sit in different spots, just to "shake" things loose. But I like to beat Michael to "his" spot. So I sat next to Sheri. No Michael. Next time. (I just broke the world record for "quote marks" around words in a paragraph.)

As I'm sitting next to Sheri, she pushes her coffee cup towards me and motions with her eyes to look at it. The Way I See It # 295. Can we laugh at cancer? That was all I got to read. Until Sheri got another # 295 coffee cup. Can we laugh at cancer? Is it funny to lose your breasts? Am I crazy to have humor when I lose my hair? Should I ignore the giggles while receiving chemo? What if I nudge someone and sneak a smile, even though I have no eyebrows? Is it inappropriate? Don't be offended, it beats waxing! ––Judy Wade, Starbucks customer and cancer survivor from Seattle, Washington. Judy, ya nailed. Thanks.

I thought I was crazy, laughing privately at some of the things I went through during my treatment. I woke up one day and my face was covered with pimples. More than I ever had as a teenager. Shit, 10 times worse. It was the Erbotux, the chemo. And it was a good sign that they were all over my face. Dr. Felice said it "shows it's working." So I had to laugh. Laugh at wanting to have zits. I laughed when I would be in the shower and look down––easy now––and see a blue tube sticking out of my stomach and dangling 10" down my body. Can I get cable with this thing?

I laughed when it took Nurses and Doctors and more Nurses and Doctors almost two months to find the right fitting for my feeding tube so I could EAT through it. It was comical. You gotta laugh 'cause you can't cry.

Hell yes, Judy, we can laugh at cancer. cancer isn't funny, but we can laugh at it. Ridicule it. Make fun of it. Because it makes you feel good.  Gives it a face. A persona. A target.

As I sit here, Barack Obama is on the biggest stage in the history of the United States. He just announced he accepts the nomination for the Presidency of the United States. Change. Yes, we can change things for the better. For our families. For our friends. For our family at work. We can change the course of cancer.

So the only time we see cancer, it's on a coffee cup.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Today is a very special day. Travis was born 24 years ago, on his Grandfather and Great-Grandmother's birthday. It was 1984, and living in Los Angeles with us during the end of July and August were the Olympics.

I really dreaded the Olympics coming to LA. Didn't we have enough traffic? Didn't we have enough to do over the summer? Don't they know my Wife is having a baby and I just have to be there? In 1984, there were no cell phones. Beepers. I carried a beeper. Because I had this strange feeling––yeah, here we go again––that I MUST be at the delivery. And Teresa was late. Travis was having a good time staying right where he was. "I'll see ya guys when I'm ready."

Those Olympic Games were great . And I had tickets to all the best stuff––Basketball, Track & Field, Boxing––but I couldn't use them. I was afraid to get caught in the crowd at the Colesium or stuck in traffic. I didn't want to miss Travis. I really needed to be there.

Teresa was not doing well. She was about 10 months pregnant and it was hot as hell that year in Los Angeles. Poor thing. And to top it off, my old college roommate came down from NoCal with a friend and camped out in my living room. Using all my tickets. Be waited on by my overly-pregnant Wife. Be assholes, actually. So after the Games were over, after a pretty exhausting and hot day, Teresa and I went to bed. Watched "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" on TV. And then it started. Contractions. Closer and closer. Harder and harder. It was time to go. The last we went to the hospital for delivery, Ryan came out in about an hour. So we got to the hospital in a flash. And sure enough, 3 hours later Travis is born.

But there was something wrong. He wasn't crying. He wasn't breathing. He was blue. And he was a big baby––9 lbs., 7 ozs., 24" long––so Teresa needed the Doctor's attention. "He's not breathing", I said. The Doc says he's just getting used to being out. Now I know the Doctor has delivered many more babies than I ever had, but my kid is BLUE. Not crying. Not good. I tell the Doctor, without trying to freak Teresa out, "he's not breathing." The Nurse then tells me to grab Travis and bring him over here. "Here" was a table where I had to hold his arms down, while she stuck a tube down his throat. She said she was getting the fluid out. The cord had been wrapped around his shoulder and neck. He needed to get real air. 

Thankfully, the Nurse got the fluid out and Travis was crying. Not as loud as Ryan had, but crying nonetheless. He was breathing. I could finally breath. I don't know why I get those feelings, but I just knew I had to be there. I had to be there to make sure my Son and Wife were going to be alright. I will never forget that day as long as I live.

Crazy, yes.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Can You Hear Me Now?

You hear me. But are you listening?

Listening is a wonderful attribute to have. It's a sign of caring. Some even say it's an art form. It's more personal than hearing. We don't need to be able to hear to listen. Huh? What the hell does that mean?

Your body talks to you all the time. As you get older, it talks to you more and more. I remember playing basketball against my younger Brother, Jeff, a few years ago. Jeff came out from Los Angeles with my Dad to visit. I think he was a Sophomore in high school at the time, maybe going to be a Junior. So Jeff was 15-16 at the time. I'm 31 years older than Jeff, so I had to be 46 or 47. And he wanted to show his big brother how good he was at basketball by playing me one-on-one. Probably thought I'll show this old man how we do it, right? I'm no Kobe, but I did play in college and high school (in Los Angeles) and I spent a lot of time playing all around LA growing up––Baker Park, Venice, McCambridge, Maple Park, Pasadena, South Central, Elysian Park––and let's just say that you could pick me out on the court pretty easily.

Jeff was bringing it. I was giving it back to him. In fact, class was in session and I was schoolin' him. But what I remember most that day was trying to make a move that I had made a million times before out of sheer instinct. My mind was saying, "yeah Man. Here, here, bucket." Now my body was telling me something completely different. "No way, dude. You're kidding me, right? You do this and I'll snap your ass back to reality. How old are you? Don't you know I'm in control? Your mind is writing checks your body can't cash." This conversation taking place in the blink of an eye. And I lost the ball.

Before I knew I had cancer, my body was speaking to me. "Do you know why you feel run down? Do you know why you're losing weight all of a sudden? You can't keep going at this pace. This ain't right." And then the strangest, most bizzare voice came to me while I was in the shower one morning. Why do I feel like I have cancer? Yeah, totally out of the blue. Totally freaky. Why do I feel like I have cancer? That's a body language I couldn't explain. It was my body speaking to me. It was trying to make me listen.

I tried to ignore it. Tried to tell myself I was just imagining things. This shit doesn't happen in real life. This isn't a movie. You don't one day wake-up and say "I feel like I have cancer." What does cancer feel like? But I couldn't get it out of my head. I couldn't tell anyone. I couldn't make it go away.

Fortunately––for my sake and for my family, friends and co-workers––I listened. I went on gut feelings, instinct. I said let's end this conversation and get checked. Let the Doctor tell me I'm over-tired, over-worked and imagining things. 

I wasn't. I had cancer. I had a level of understanding that I never had before. My body had it's say. My mind and body got together and said "let's help this guy out."

Thank God I'm a good listener.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Love whiteboards. Love the fact an Art Director is making tons of cash because he can draw his ass off on a whiteboard. (My Son, Travis, hates the guy. I don't know why.) Love it when you write something really good on the whiteboard. Love when someone else makes a contribution on the whiteboard.

I take a walk by our two big whiteboards that are really wall whiteboards all the time. People draw arrows, graphs, TV storyboard boxes––that would be me because I can't draw anything else––conclusions, even draw up strategies. Sometimes. Rarely. OK, almost never. But we're making progress.

In some ways, whiteboards are big blank "your ad goes here" spaces that are just begging for attention. Try walking past one that's got stuff written all over it––with some circles and dates that beg you not to erase all the great thinking––without looking. Can't do it. It's a magnet. Today, Industry Ju-Jitsu was written in red marker on the whiteboard. Nice one, Rory. I've also seen "I think I've seen your best work already", a client issuing a challenge. One that we would later meet and exceed. The first time I saw a wiki was on a whiteboard.

I got a whiteboard from work as part of a care package to help me through the cancer. I had surgery where they took out my tonsils, scrapped my larynx and took a chunk out of my tongue. So talking was not going to happen right away. And boy, did I use that whiteboard. I think my family was ready to break it over my head after a while. But the funniest thing was trying to communicate with my Dad. I couldn't talk and he couldn't read my writing. And he was wearing hearing aids that he kept saying needed to be replaced. Man, if it didn't hurt to laugh so much back then I would have died on the floor laughing. And this happened all the time. I know it was entertaining for the rest of the family.

Whiteboards are great because you can write anything you want on it and then wipe it away. As I was battling cancer, I would write down all the dates. The names of all the medications. The surgeries. The treatments. And then, I couldn't write anymore. I didn't know how to describe the crap I was going through. My mind was only concentrating on beating cancer. Keep it strong. Don't let all the stuff they put in me, beat-up my body and knock it out. Be strong so I could be there for my family. My so called creative juices were being overtaken by chemicals and radio active stuff so I could stay alive. The creativity would have to die.

There is no whiteboard for cancer, no way you can wipe away all the bad and scary things that are written about you in Doctors offices, hospitals and pharmacies. Life doesn't work that way. But maybe that's a good thing. Because, maybe, just maybe, someone researching or studying or just looking over your information will get a step closer to finding a cure for all cancers. Any cancer. Then we can go up to the whiteboard and write the word cancer.

And then wipe it away.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This Is Only A Test

Tomorrow is a big day. It's time for my 6-month scan. For me, these are days I feel fear and hope. Strange combination, I know. Marcia told me after I had my first scan that she would dread the test days. The uncertainty. The anxiety. The million thoughts that went through her head before the test. I know exactly what she means.

This is not only a scan for me. This is scan for a lot of people. Teresa. Adam, Ryan, Travis & Kaity. The work family. My parents. My friends.They all will go through it with me in one way or another. Even the guy at the parking garage, the guy with the name I don't even attempt to spell let alone try to say. I see him every day, Monday thru Friday. He always asks me how I'm doing. I always tell him straight up. Today he told me he would pray for me. I told him I need all the prayers I can get. He told me I'm going to be alright.

You never realize how many people you touch in a day, a week or a lifetime. I've been amazed at the tremendous amount of love, well wishes and support I've received from so many people. There's no way on Earth I can ever tell them how much it has helped me get through each and every day. But I will try. I will share. (I do share, sometimes maybe a little too much.) Because I feel what is left unspoken is a waste of an opportunity to connect with people. To let people know, hey, we're all human here. We can talk to each other. We can learn from each other. We can acknowledge that there are other people in the world around us. It's OK to smile. It's OK to be yourself. UBU. Cool.

Living in the DC area for the past 14 years has been very different for me and how I was raised. I haven't found the strong friendships that I found while living in Los Angeles. People are not as open, as friendly. Say what you want about LA, but overall the people are much more open, much more accepting, much more free thinking. Maybe the government jobs have a lot to do with how people act. I don't know.

I do know that having come face-to-face with head & neck cancer and skin cancer this past year has shown me who my true friends are, who are the people that really care about more than themselves. You know who you are. You are loved. You will be with me forever. You have passed the test. Not mine. The true test of what a person is made of.

That's the only test that matters.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What's The Plan

I looked back at my journal today. I landed on the 8/8/07 entry, the day after I found out I had cancer. "I will NOT let this cancer beat me. I am going to be an advocate in the cure for cancer. Bet on me to be the voice. The voice of a cancer SURVIVOR." That's what I wrote. That was the start of the plan.

Plans are funny things, ya know? You can make all the plans you want, write them up, put them in a power point presentation, tell them to anyone who will listen 'cause damn it we have a plan here we gotta stick to. You have to have a plan to make it real, right? Plans have structure. Focus. Commitment. They are written. Revised. Approved. We make plans to make plans. (This is starting to sound like a George Carlin routine.)

Got plans for the weekend? Have you made plans to get married? What's the plan for me? What's the Master Plan? Did you plan on that happening? Did I plan on one day having cancer? Hell no. There's no planning for that. You don't ever think of that. That happens to other people. Not me.

So much for making plans. Whatever was so important before, just got the life choked of it. All other plans are put aside. Time to make new ones. Time to make the true Master Plan––beat cancer. Beat it into submission. As Cap would say, "kick it's ass."

I remember my family's reaction when I told them I was not ready to die. I am going to beat this. There's a greater purpose for me. I don't know what it is yet, but I know it's out there somewhere and I need time to find it out. I was looking into the eyes of my family, trying to convince them that I'm going to be OK. It's gonna be hard on all of us. But I will not let cancer beat me. This was now a competition. And I hate to lose. Losing was not an option. As Al Davis would say, Just Win, Baby. They weren't buying it––at least that's what their eyes said to me. They believed me, but this is cancer not the league championship at the local Optimist Club. We know too many people, too many family members, who fought. And lost.

This was the biggest news my family had ever had. Bigger than the "we're moving 2800 miles across country" bomb I dropped on them in 1994. Bigger than anything. We needed something just as big. We needed something to get us through this huge life-changing event.

We needed a plan. The one I started on 8/8/07. I plan on seeing it through.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Live Or Survive

Everything changes when you have cancer. The way you think. The way you look at your family. The way you look at yourself. You came face to face with mortality. The invinciblity you had as a kid, the craziness of your 20's and the live-and-let-die attitude that got you through the day are mere fleeting moments that never seem real. Is it time to live or time to survive?

There's an extremely fine line between living and survival. Do we survive to live another day? Do we live to survive another day? I've never been a soldier at war or been under attack––unless you consider growing-up between two gangs and getting your ass beat every now and then being under attack––but I would imagine you survive to live. cancer messes with your head and makes you figure it out yourself. cancer has no concious.

When I was going through chemo and radiation, there were days I was surviving to live. Fridays. I got the one-two punch on Fridays and by 5PM I was toast. I was in survival mode. I brought out all the survival tactics I could, talking to myself, keeping my mind strong and resting my body. I would remember what John had told me, "there will be days when you think you can't take it any more. Days where you think you can't make it to tomorrow. But you will. You will find it." 

I never met John in person. I got his phone number from my Dad, who got it from a friend of a friend whose Son––John––had head & neck cancer just like me. Talk about a blessing. John's words gave me strength on those days when I would look in the mirror and will myself to feel better. To forget that I'm throwing-up and can't get my ass off the toilet at the same time. To not give in. But you will. You will find it.

And when I was feeling better after the treatments, I was thankful for being alive. For being able to talk to my family with renewed purpose, with a passion to live and see them live with me.

Live or survive? I choose to live.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Happy cancerversary

It wasn't enough that yesterday was the "anniversary" of my diagnosis of cancer. I'll never forget 8/7/07, 2:30PM. "I wish I had better news, but" and that's when things got fuzzy.

No, it wasn't enough that I was starting to feel good about things, when WHAM. It felt like The Alien was going to fly through my stomach and Sigourney Weaver would be running down the hall at work any second now. I started to sweat profusely from my forehead. I was having trouble following my conversation with Aimee. What the hell is going on in my stomach?

This wasn't the first time it happened. It happened last week when I was in Rehoboth Beach on vacation. I just thought my stomach felt like it was going to explode because I tried to eat everything they were cooking on the Boardwalk. I mean EVERYTHING. I was trying to see what I could taste, swallow and get down my throat––my taste buds were getting tastier and I really thought my saliva was coming back a little––and I was full. Hadn't been that way in a while. But after 3 sleepless nights, the pain went away. OK. No more Boardwalk Fries, ice creams as big as my head and coconut fried shrimp.

The look on Aimee's face went from intent on making her point to one of "I don't think anyone's supposed to be that shade of pale." I was trying to gain my composure so I could tell her I wasn't feeling too good all of a sudden. But all I could do was wipe my forehead and try to remember to breathe because the Alien was about ready to hatch. "Are you OK?" "No, my stomach is killing me." "We can do this another time." "Yeah, that would be good." "Can I get anything for you?" "No. I think I'll go to the bathroom."

I wasn't in there long. Maybe a minute. Just enough time for the word to spread that I was in pain and hopefully not on the bathroom room floor squirming like a worm or even worse, passed out. Leah gave me the "you aren't driving anywhere, we'll get you a cab" directive and everyone else was trying to help me. But my mind was made up. I need to get myself the fuck outta here, because Sigourney Weaver was nowhere in sight.

I called Teresa, who called the doctor––our offices are closed between 12 noon and 1 PM––and as I found out when I got home, wasn't feeling so hot herself. Finally, as I was getting into more comfortable clothes, Teresa gets hold of the Doctor's office––but half the Doctors are on vacation. Perfect. "We'll ask our Nurse and she'll call back." (They called back @ 3:32 PM––26 hours later.) Teresa said the nurse could call back in 10 minutes or an hour. We'll give them 10 minutes, then it would be off to Reston Hospital Center.

Thank God I didn't wait. I was in the ER and in a bed with an needle in my arm by 2:30. Exactly one year to the day of my diagnosis. As I looked at the clock in the hospital, I had a hardy chuckle. This is unfuckingbelievable! After an ultra sound and x-rays and some kick-ass pain medication, the verdict was in: gallbladder disease, with gall stones. And for the coup de grau, the PA comes in and says, "oh, they also found a 4 mm cyst on your left kidney." OK, where's the hidden camera. Who's really trying to mess with me here? I'm on some good shit, but this is really giving me a buzz kill.

I looked at Teresa, Adam and Ryan––my two oldest boys who rushed to the hospital to be with me and their Mom––and said, "can you believe this shit?" They had that "Dad's in the hospital again and I'm really trying to be cool here, but this sucks" look in their eyes. Teresa was trying to be comforting and positive but I could see deep down she was worried for me. (I always tell her not to worry and she tells me she'll worry about what she wants to worry about. That's one of the reasons why I love her. She's no pushover.) But hey, I'm still here and I'll get this taken care of just like the head & neck cancer and the skin cancer. Out. Over. Done. This was just my body's way of giving me a "present" on my cancerversary.

Gee, thanks. Rat bastard.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I Don't Know What To Say

What do you say to someone with cancer? Hello works great. Pretty simple, huh?

Once I told people I had cancer, I noticed there were quite a few people who didn't know what to say to me. There would be an uncomfortable look or an awkward "how you doing. I mean, I know how you're doing. But not really. You doing OK? I mean, what's OK, right?" Someone actually said that to me. I felt really bad for them.

Kaity had referred a book to Teresa and I. Crazy Sexy cancer Tips, Kris Carr. Foreword by Sheryl Crow. My favorite part of the book is Chapter Two. Chapter Two contains tips #2 thru #14 and those tips deal with the beginning of cancer. In her book she really goes into some great detail, a lot of it about communication, expression and connections. She helped me be able to talk about cancer, my cancer. Kris, if you ever read this, thank you for the life preserver.

One of the strange things that happened to me during my cancer––and there are many strange things that happened––is I felt I had a big neon sign on my head that flashed "cancer here". Or I would feel like I had this great big secret that I was carrying with me everywhere I went. I would go to the grocery store and walk around thinking these people in here have no idea I have cancer. They don't care. They can't see it. Do any of them have it?

With head & neck cancer, the outer portion of my body didn't reveal I had cancer. No visable signs, unless you knew that I was in the midst of losing 30 pounds, knew I always had a ton of hair on my face but now shaved twice a week and knew that under my shirt I had a cable stuffed into my stomach. Most of my physical damage was on the inside––no more tonsils, missing part of my tounge from surgery, no saliva, jaw not opening all the way, no energy, chemo brain––and I tried to keep it that way. I felt being the Dad and being the Boss at work, I had to keep a smile on my face so they would be comforted. Don't let them worry. Don't let them know you're hurting 24/7. Don't let them down. Don't give cancer a chance.

Then again, that's what I saw and experienced. I sure people would tell me otherwise. Tell me things I didn't see or hear. Tell me how glad they are I'm still here. Tell me hello.

Hello has never sounded so good. I never get tired of hearing it.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

One Day At A Time

Yesterday is a cancelled check. Tomorrow is a promisory note. But today is money in the bank. I learned that from my Father. No, he's not a banker. But he is someone who has lived one day at a time for the last 32 years.

When you think about it, all we really have is today. That becomes crystal clear when you have cancer. Get through today. Tell people you love them. Tell your children how proud of them you are. Give your dog a hug. Give your neighbor a smile. (When was the last time you saw your neighbor?)

One day when I was really having a hard time during treatment, I tried to notice everything. I watched my Wife sleep. I saw the morning light from my bedside window beam through. The sheets smelled freshly washed. There was a little hand print on the closet door mirror. Was that creak in the floor always there? Or was it a new one? Do my dogs really know what I'm saying? Yeah, like we're ever gonna find that out.

This one day lasted a long time. Thankfully. Instead of counting down until my radiation treatment, I was looking at my hands. My feet. My tube sticking out of my stomach, down through my shirt, up into a black bag while listening to the pump push liquid food into my stomach so I could eat. Instead of marking the day off the calendar signifying another day closer to the end of treatment, I went outside to Teresa's Freedom Garden and actually smelled the roses. All of them. Instead of keeping my eyes closed as the table moved me into the radiation tunnel, I watched the ceiling disappear and stared straight into the eye of the machine.

As the day became one special moment after another, I thought about a lot of other things that you should or shouldn't do in a day. Kiss someone. Or something. Laugh out loud. Laugh at yourself. Laugh when you whack your head on the cabinet you just left open instead of spewing out words that would make your Mother's jaw hit the floor––or hit you. Throw your hands in the air like you just don't care. Watch the leaves move with the wind. Tell your Son he's a great Father. Tell your Son to live his dream while he can. Tell your Son you're glad he's there to help you through. Tell your Daughter the best thing she can do is finish what she starts––if not for her, then for you. (It's OK, it's not guilt.)

Don't flip off the driver who just cut you off. Pity him. Don't avoid eye contact. Don't go to bed mad. Because today is always here. It never really goes away. It gets to come back, again and again. It's what we get. Makes me think of Radiohead, Karma Police––this is what you get. This is what you get.

One day at a time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

No Swimming Near Jetty

The signs are everywhere. Only trash, no recyclables. Open from 10 AM until 3 PM after May 1. Please use side entrances when returning from the beach. No strollers tableside. Tips are appreciated. Gus & Gus'––great breakfast for two, $12.

On July 24, Teresa and I celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary. So we went away. Which is what I said when people at work asked me where I was going. Away. Sort of a Staycation? No, just away. Teresa and I are celebrating our anniversary away. Away from the city noise. Taking the rush out the hour. Back to the beach.

Last year, for our 25th we went to the beach and had a marvelous time, as Teresa would put it. Marvelous, indeed. I knew last year that something wasn't right with me. I just didn't know what. The pictures from our trip showed us very happy. We took some of those "here, let's take a picture together with me holding my arm out as far as it will go, so we can try to fake everyone out that we didn't take this picture ourselves" photos and we were as happy as ever. Hell, we were Greg & Teresa, not Mom & Dad, Grandma & Papa, Husband & Wife. It was just us. And we actually liked being with each other. A lot.

This year––today, in fact––Teresa told me she could "see the whites of my eyes pretty good. They look white for the first time in a long time. They're not so grey. You're getting your energy back." Didn't know she saw that. That's another thing I learned today about what cancer does to the body––how people can see things you don't see. They see the signs. The signs that give you hope. That give strike you in the simplicity of the message. "No swimming near the jetty." Hundreds of people today totally ignored the 7 foot sign stuck in the sand. Easily thousands in the four days. Either they didn't care or they didn't see it.

Thank you for noticing, Teresa.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Straight Line

Driving home from a client meeting, I was taking inventory of what might be waiting for me back at the office. I found the John Thompson Show on the radio. Back in 1983-84, I worked on the NIKE account at Chiat/Day. John Thompson was the Head Coach at Georgetown University. We did billboards for NIKE with Coach Thompson, towel over his shoulder. Very tasty creative.

Coach Thompson said something that I thought was great––"Our life is not a straight line." Wow. That's it. That hit me dead in the head. I have thought that very thing since I was diagnosed with cancer. One day you're walking around, feeling pretty good. Then, WHAM!––yes, I used an allowable exclamation point––you have cancer. Well, you had cancer the day before you found out. You just didn't know it.

The path I was taking got flooded. I had to go another way. I had to find my way to the strong side, go where I can find the most strength. It wasn't a road block, it was like the 14 Freeway out in the Los Angeles desert area when the bridge collapsed after the earthquake. It looked like the end of the road.

The funny thing is, after the initial shock, pain, tears and fear, I felt comfort in being positive and getting ready to get the cancer out. That's what I had to do. I had an obligation to my family. I had an obligation to my family at work. The look in their eyes when I told them I had cancer is one I will never forget.

When I was at J. Walter Thompson in the late '80's, my Creative Director, Denny Kuhr, was diagnosed with cancer. He was the first person I knew who had cancer. I can't imagine having cancer in 1988. Treatment has come a long way. Not long enough, of course. Denny was tough. Denny beat it. I'm sure he saw the looks.

One person who stood out at work was Juanita. When I looked at Juanita, I swear I saw God. There was a peacefulness in her eyes and a smile on her face. She was telling me I was going to get through on the other side. I was going to get through this. 

Just not in a straight line. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Facing Change

There are changes that happen to our body naturally. As we age, our body is a constant visual reminder of what time looks like. You expect your face, ears, hairline, butt and gut to change. You may not like it, but you know it's inevitable.

You can't prepare yourself for what your body will look like as you fight through cancer. There's really nothing to compare it to. It's not like having the flu, where you may really suffer for a week or two. With the flu, you know you'll feel better soon. cancer doesn't play that way. All is fare in love and war. And cancer. 

It may be an odd way to look at it, but I gave cancer a personality. Created it like I would create a role in a TV spot, or give it a "brand personality", to use a phrase I've often used in my line of work. So I thought if I could pattern cancer after a character, who would that be? Sam Kineson. The funniest comic I have ever seen. Love Pryor. Love Carlin and his stuff. Chris Rock rocks. But Sam was the absolute funniest for me. I heard him as the voice of cancer. "Oh, so you think I'm going away. Think I'm going to just let you come and get me. Think I'm going to throw my legs up in the air and say take me big boy, I'm yours. WELL GUESS AGAIN, FUCKHEAD! I'M GONNA KICK YOUR ASS! I'LL TEACH YA TO FUCK WITH ME!!

Sounds about right, huh? By being able to visualize it, I was able to give cancer a face, an identity, a personality I could feel. You can't fight what you can't see. I was now ready to fight. No, I was ready to win. That's what it was. Winning.

The changes to my body as I went through chemo and radiation were drastic, to say the least. I lost 30 pounds. Lost lots of hair––though people would ask me why I didn't lose any hair––and grew a silver streak down the middle of my hair. Those were the changes people could see. What they didn't see was the 13 inches of plastic tube in my stomach. The pain in my jaw. The taste leave my taste buds. The yards and yards of tape I used on my body––and the rash it would bring with it. They didn't see the strength being zapped from my body, like a constant dose of Kryptonite.  At least most people didn't. My Wife, Teresa saw it. She saw it in my walk. She heard it in the way I talked. She saw it in my eyes.

The mirror became motivation for me. I would look at the blisters on my face from the chemo and would stare into the mirror and concentrate on getting rid of them for good. I would check to see how wide I could open my mouth, knowing that the wider I could open it the more food I could put in it––if I could taste the food. I used the mirror to see what I looked like to my family. Knowing that the slightest failing would be reflected in the pain in their eyes. I knew that look. I had seen that look. And I tried my ass off to not let those I love, see my pain.

cancer was changing my face. cancer was taking away what I had come to know what Greg looked like. This was not a natural change. This was not expected. This was not inevitable.

I had to face change. Ready or not.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Family First

I've been back to work almost 8 months now. I had to take six weeks off––October 15 until November 30––to recuperate from my treatments. My Doctors recommended I take 6 months off. Yeah, right. Like that was going to happen. I needed to get my brain back in gear. Take my mind off of the cancer. 6 months?

My family thought I was crazy for getting back to work. I thought I would go crazy staying around the house until the beginning of May. I'm a bit of a workaholic. (Is that like being a little pregnant?) I love what I do for a living. But at what cost?

A little over 20 years ago, I was working ridiculous hours. I had started a new job at one of the biggest ad agencies in the world and I was on the fast track. I was working 6 days a week, every week. Sometimes all  7 days. I was responsible for around $125 million dollars of business, supervising 12 people as well as creating 15-20 TV spots per week with my creative partner. In an average month, we created work for over 300 job requests. And that was just one client. So yeah, a lot of work.

The reason I'm painting this picture of obsession is it all came to a head with my Wife, Teresa. She was left at home taking care of our four children, who were all under the age of 8. I only saw my family briefly in the morning. I didn't take vacations. I was losing my family. "It's either us or work." Those were her words. Those were the words that woke me up. Having lived through 8 marriages and 6 divorces––my parents have both been married 4 times––I didn't want to live through another divorce. Especially one of my own doing.

It was at that point I made up my mind. It's a lot easier getting another job than getting another family. And I love my Wife and children MUCH more than work. I got another job. I got a big part of my life back.

It's funny how certain events in our life change the way we live. What if I didn't listen to Teresa? What if I put work first? I can tell you that if it wasn't for my family, I wouldn't be alive today. They gave me purpose. Strength. Comfort. Support. And most important of all, love.

Going through radiation and chemotherapy was hard on Teresa and the kids. I saw it in their faces. I still see it every now and then, when I try to do something that I just can't do yet, like move a couch, throw a baseball or wrestle with my Grandkids. I can't wait to wrestle with Lucky and Eli again.

I still have a hole in my stomach from my feeding tube. I still have about 5 months to go before I'm back to normal. Whatever normal is. And most important of all, I still have my family. And they come first.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Born To Survive

Today is my Father's 69th Birthday. On this day in 1939, he was born to David and Josephine Johnston, in Los Angeles, California. He was a fussy baby, not able to eat and sleep much. And for good reason––it was discovered he was born with an upside down stomach. Yeah, freaky.

But that was the beginning of a long and amazing ride in the life of my Father, David. He's the human form of the cat with 9 lives. He almost lost his life and leg in a motorcycle accident in 1962. A woman ran a red light coming down a hill in LA. My Father, going to work on a Honda 50 motor scooter, got hit by the car.

Thanks to my Mother, Mary, and the doctors at Los Angeles Orthopedic Hospital they saved his life and leg. How did my Mom save his leg? She told the Doctors she would not let them cut it off. There had to be another way. FIND another way. And they did, by taking a bone out of my Dad's hip and grafting it to the end of his leg and top of the ankle. Amazing it could be done in '62. Especially since they had not done that kind of surgery before. 

The list of near-death misses read like a day in the emergency room––another life-threatening injury on the Hyperion Bridge, quadruple by-pass at age 45, a blood clot in his brain, Crohn's disease, hypo-glycemis, arthritis––and his most recent defeat-the-odds episode, cancer.

He's now on his third round of fighting prostrate cancer. He's already had it removed. Then, it came back and he beat it again with radiation. Now, his PSA levels are up again. "Im not ready yet, my Son." He always tells me that. And I believe him. I know what he's talking about.

When I was diagnosed with cancer last August, I first thought of my Wife, Teresa, and my Children, Adam, Ryan, Travis & Kaity. My GrandKids, Lucas and Eli were also on my mind. But telling my Dad and Mom, that was going to be tough. Even though they have been divorced since 1966, they were still the people who gave me life. Together. I wondered if when I told them––over the phone, separately––they would come together. Make peace. Be grown-ups. Funny thing to think about when it comes to your parents.

My Dad dropped everything. "I'm coming out. Let me know when I can be of help." He already was. He knew what I was going through in my mind, heart and soul. We talked about how hard it was going to be––for my family. The people who depend on me every day. The people who often look at me as the rock, the provider, the Man Who Can Handle Anything. It was a strangely comforting conversation.

My Mom, she tried not to cry. But she couldn't help herself. I was comforting her, telling her I was in good hands with some great Doctors. And I have so much love in my life, I will get through it. She would still cry, feeling somewhat helpless being so far away.

My Dad was lacing up the gloves, ready to fight, be in my corner and help my family out with his love and support. It was a tough time for all of us. At the time of my diagnosis, Teresa's Sister, Claudia, was fighting for her life as the result of breast cancer. A fight Claudia would lose only a few weeks later. The second Sister––Connie being the other––to die from cancer. My Step-Father, Joe, had also passed away from cancer. For everyone in my family––Mom, Sister Angie, Teresa, my Kids, my Brother Jeff and Step-Mom Wanda––cancer was related to death. Except for my Dad. I told him, "I'm going to get this outta me fast and I'm going to kick it's ass." He told me it was going to be tough, but I could beat it. He knew I could. And the love of my life, Teresa, knew I could too. Without her, I wouldn't be writing this. She is my strength.

Happy Birthday, Dad. You helped save my life. 

Survival. That's the greatest present to give and receive.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

End cancer

There will be a day when the talk about cancer is all about prevention. We will know how to prevent cancer before the cancer cells we all have in our body start attacking. I truly believe it.

I have been treated for two forms of cancer. On August 7, 2007, I was diagnosed with Head & Neck cancer––Metastatic Cystic Squamous Cell Carcinoma cancer. I was also diagnosed with skin cancer––Squamous Cell Carcinoma––and had the first spot removed May 1, 2008. Totally unrelated. Completely shocked. cancer has an insidious way of taking over. It just hangs around, lurking underneath the surface waiting for the opportune time to strike. Hidden hell is what I call it. And I never––at least I try––capitalize the "c" in cancer. I don't want to give it that much credit.

I'm in remission now, with another scan of the upper half of my body scheduled for August. I'm taking it one day at a time, enjoying the simple moments life has to offer. I will not worry about the scan. That's not healthy.

I've debated long and hard whether to share my story. Which is oddly funny to me, since I'm in the communications business. 

So here I am. I feel compelled to share. Because there's another side to cancer that is often overlooked. The people who have to go through the experience with us. We get so focused––and rightfully so––on the person who has cancer, we forget about the people who love them. Parents. Partners. Spouses. Brothers and Sisters. Family. Co-workers. Friends. Best friends. This is their story through my eyes. cancer is not only about me.