Sunday, December 27, 2009

Personal Inventory

It's that time of year. The end of one year, the beginning of another.

It's the time of year I take personal inventory. Have those "internal conversations" we all have. (Yes, you do to. And it's OK to only admit it to yourself). Strip the ego, pride, insecurities and all else that goes into my persona. Take an honest look at my actions, my lack of action––hey now, keep your mind out of the gutter––and purpose. Yeah, that's been a tough one this year. Why? Because it was the first time since August 7, 2007 I've been in relatively good health. And lately, I've gone BACK to a Greg before cancer that I don't like. But I can change.

I've decided that I'm not going to let work drive my life. When I get caught up in trying to make the perfect TV commercial or the perfect work environment for the team I lead, I lose focus of what's really important. I need to LIVE every day, not just SURVIVE. (Yes, I am using a lot of CAPS. Sorry for the shouting). I need to understand that the pursuit of perfection is a distance that will never be covered. And that's more than OK. It's humbling. It's unattainable. It's human. Work should be work. Not the definition of my life. That line is getting blurred. And I rationalize my 60 hour work weeks with the thought of "it beats the alternative, not working at all."

While that's true, it's also not sustainable. And work is NOT the reason I fought so hard to survive cancer. I didn't struggle to be cancer free to work my life away or for a group of shareholders I will never meet or at the very least, give me a "thank you." The reason I struggled, fought, cried, hurt, prayed to make it through the night and had surgery after surgery was to LIVE. Live for the moment. The day. My family. My friends. It's going to be tough, because I know myself better than anyone––yes, even you, Teresa––and I will have many more conversations with myself.

Only this time, I'll be a better listener.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Matter Of Control?

A lot has changed since I was diagnosed and beaten cancer. Some good, some bad.

But one thing that hasn't changed is trying to figure out what I can manage––or control––and what I can't. The Serenity prayer, when I remember it, usually snaps me out of it. "God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference." Lately, it hasn't been what's been within my control, but as it relates to others. And I haven't been doing a very good job managing myself and others.

What the good people who help save your life physically don't tell you is, the mental aspect of recovering from cancer is the toughest. Most of you probably scoff at that notion, as cancer and the treatments beat the hell outta your body. And the physical side effects last 3-5 years or depending on the type of cancer you have, forever. (I still can't produce enough saliva 2 years after treatment for head & neck cancer). Even worse, it ages your body. I look like I've aged 10 years in the last 2.

But mentally, the scars remain. I still have "chemo brain." Which means synapse problems galore. Disconnected thoughts. Your mind racing faster than your tongue. Trying to say a word you can see in your head, but you just can't say it. Which makes you frustrated, feel inadequate and then can lead to anger. For me, I usually get the trifecta when that happens. And that's where I lose control. And that's no good for anyone. Because even as I'm writing trying to express my emotions right now, all the stuff I've written above is happening. I didn't plan it that way and it is somewhat ironic as I try to post my thoughts.

I will have to work on that. And that, I can control.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Snow Day

I didn't grow up seeing the seasons change. It was always sunny. Always green. Always the same 350-355 days of the year. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I moved my family 2800 miles and two zones away from SoCal and the extended family and lifelong friends. It was the most difficult decision I ever had to make up until that time of my life. But I had to do it, as the advertising business in Los Angeles was beginning to wither. Jobs were tough. And I was going to work for a world class advertising agency and with some extremely talented people.

When we landed in Northern Virginia, the kids were unusually quiet. And cold. They were wearing shorts and playing outside on Christmas only 5 days ago. I think they were in shock. I tried my best to point out how great this move was going to be. They weren't buying it. They were telling Teresa they just wanted to go back home. Teresa was trying her best, but she wanted to go back. I had been traveling the country for 16 months, freelancing to pay the mortgage. I also paid the price of not seeing my kids enough, as I would be gone 2 weeks at a time every now and then.

We had a little celebration at the hotel we were staying in, a suite that had a loft and a basketball court right outside our door. (We would have to stay here for a week before we could move into our house and all our stuff was still being driven across the country). Fred, Karol, Norman, Kris and Tara joined the 6 of us. I remember hearing my kids laugh, seeming to forget they had been dragged into another time zone. Teresa and Karol were having an adult beverage. We can do this.

It's the little things that change for you when you have and survive cancer. I know I keep posting that over and over again. But it's so amazingly true. The first smell of Spring. The cool night air of an early Fall night. (The only "season" smells of change were, unfortunately, fire season). The first snowfall, today. Ryan had a boyish grin and lilt in his voice. Kaity called and said how beautiful it is looking out her front room window. Teresa loved the picture I sent her via cell phone––we couldn't do that before we got here––and was somewhat jealous that she was missing 3-5 inches of snow. And she's in Los Angeles with Travis right now.

What a snow day.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thanks For The Time

Seems lately I've been abusing my time. Too much to do––most of it by me having a problem with saying "no"––and not enough wiggle room for errors, unexpected events and life in general.

I was talking to John Bell, Ogilvy 360 DI's Grand Pubah, about this very thing last night. John is all over the world, most of the time. So that means he criss-crosses many time zones. And for those of you who think traveling is glamorous and so much fun, think about having to travel at least once a week all year round. Which always makes me think of this––if you travel all the time, is you ideal vacation actually a staycation?

Anyway, Tuesday truly was Time Day. It took 20 minutes to get my car out of the parking garage. I sat in a 30 minute meeting that should have taken 10 minutes. I left the office @ 7:20 pm and got home at 8:46 pm. Plus I had my usual time discussion with my Dad, who always thinks time goes by too fast especially when I remind him I've lived away from Los Angeles for 15 years now.

So when Thanksgiving came and went and I was getting my game face on for Monday morning, I stopped and went outside for 5 minutes. I looked at the million leaves still in my backyard. I laid down on my hammock for a minute or two. I petted my dogs. I thanked my higher power for allowing me to be here, at that moment, to enjoy the simple things in life we take for granted and never take the time to savor. I thanked God for giving me the strength to beat cancer. It's been 2 years since my last treatment. Two very special years. An extension on life.

I'll take that any time.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Music For Life

I was inspired to write this by Cap, who sits next to me in the offices of Ogilvy and is "forced" to listen to my music after hours as we toil into the night.

Music helped get me through the tough times of my cancer treatments. I listen to everything from Pitbull to Perry Como. (This is what iTunes and Google was invented for––at least for me). So instead of a post about the good and bad times of chemo, needles and radiation, let me spit out a partial list that kept me in a good place. And helped me get out of the bad places.

Numb--Jay-Z & Linkin Park
Cause We Ended As Lovers––Jeff Beck
I Would Die 4 U––Prince
I Wanna Be Sedated––The Ramones
Stand Up––Ludacris
Mama Loves Mambo--Perry Como
It's My Life––No Doubt
Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Of The Mutha Sucka)––Parliament
This Is Not A Love Song––Public Image Ltd
Going To California––Led Zeppelin
I Walk Alone––Los Lobos
Until It Sleeps––Metallica
Without Me––Eminem
Working For The Clampdown––The Clash
Changes––David Bowie
(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes--Elvis Costello
A Little Less Conversation––Elvis Presley
I Like The Way You Move––Outkast
Pet You And Hold You––Rockpile
No One To Depend On––Santana

Would it make a good "mix tape"? Who knows. But I do believe that music did at least one thing for me.

It gave me life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Keepin' It Real

I'm a big fan of Chris Rock. Ever since I saw him in Boomerang––he played Bony T, a guy in the mail room––and I'm Gonna Git U Sucka––"how much for just one rib?"––I try to catch everything he does.

It's been two years since my last cancer treatment. Sometimes it feels as if it never happened. Other times, I remember every little detail. The pain. The needles. The blisters all over my face. The look of fear on my family's face. There's a part of me that wants to forget it ever happened. There's a bigger part of me that will never forget. Why? Because it reminds me that every day counts. That there is more to life than deadlines, winning new business and getting upset when the Trojans, Lakers, Dodgers or Kings lose a game. That every day I don't enjoy being alive, is a day wasted.

I went to my ENT, Dr. Lee, on Thursday. Dr. Lee is a life saver. She's one of those tough-on-the-outside people––she's a surgeon––who I love to get to crack a smile. Over the last two years, she's been the Doctor I've seen the most. I've even made her smile and laugh. And this time, she made me cry. Not because she was mean or gave me bad news. Quite the opposite. She told me everything looks perfect. I don't have to come and see her every 4 months. I've "graduated" to every six months. I'm taking care of myself––along with my Wife being the angel she is––and I need to make sure I keep it up.

cancer taught me a valuable lesson––life is measured in the moment you're living in. You control whether it's a good or bad day. You make decisions––or don't––that mark the moments. I have lost that, lately. Me. I'm the one. And I don't like it. And I can do something about it.

I can keep it real.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Back From The Dead

It's been a while since my last post, I know. (I hope you're still following).

The main reason was work––I work at Ogilvy and fortunately we've been extra busy––and the other big reason was the preparation for our annual Halloween Party, called "The Freaky Fest." Why the name? About 27 years ago, my friend Bubba––no, not the shrimp king or BC––said, "you need a name for that shindig." (As I said, it was about 27 years ago and shindig was a leftover from the '60's and '70's). And so after a few rounds of throwing names out, we came up with The Freaky Fest. (Yes, we were ahead of our time. As the word "freak" is frequently used in today's language. Right?).

Two years ago, in 2007, we didn't get freaky. I was at the end of my cancer treatments and I was trying to stay alive instead of dressing up for the dead. I remember my kids telling me we could have a "small little party" so we could still celebrate Halloween. As strange as it may seem, Halloween is the biggest family celebration we have. Our children have been at every one––except one or two where one of my 4 kids were away at school or like this year, sick––and now my two Grandkids are right there with the rest of us. My Wife, Teresa, is a master at the event. She's the greatest, as she plans and works her ass off to put the party together. And I know she only does it for me, because I love the party so much.

In 2008, I was just out of the hospital two-and-a-half weeks before our party. This time, I had complications from my gall bladder surgery and spent 5 days in the hospital. I had lost so much weight, that I looked like death warmed over. Perfect for Halloween! I dressed up as a pimp. I had one drink all night. I danced as much as I could––that's another FF tradition, we dance all night––until I didn't have anymore strength. It was a good, but shorter than usual party.

This year, was a challenge. It was on Halloween, which meant we were not going to see our friends with kids. It was supposed to rain. I was swamped with work. And not to mention the flu––H1N1 and other petrie dish varieties of the flu––was kicking a lot of people's ass. So, I thought maybe 50 people would show up and we'd have a blast. Wrong! There were well over 100 people in costumes––amazingly, no Michael Jackson costumes––and we finally stopped the music at 3AM. And that's with the extra hour we gained from the time fall back. Yes, we killed it and everyone had a great time.

Good to be back alive.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Sunny Side

It was a cold and rainy weekend. (No, this is not the first line line of a romance or mystery novel).

I used to look at these kind of days as unproductive, dreary and a waste of a day. But not anymore. Not after battling cancer and coming out on the sunny side, the side that is full life and not darkened by death. Every day is a good day. It is up to me to make it the best day ever.

Now some of you might say, "oh yeah, Mr. Sunshine! Well let me tell you about my crappy life!" I understand. Been there myself. I'm a cynic at heart. It's hard when you don't have a job, the bills are piling up and then it rains all weekend and all you have is the TV or the confines of your house. It's easy to wallow in self pity, look for someone to "make it all better" for you or bitch and complain about how tough you have it. Let me tell you something, we all have stuff to deal with that makes life challenging. And who is to say my problems are worse than your problems?

cancer has a way of bringing out the best of you when you live through it. I'm sure there are cancer survivors who would disagree with me––I've posted this before––but cancer turned the viewfinder around on me. The emotional side effects from cancer have actually made me stronger. Made me appreciate the smile on Teresa's face. The laughter of my children. The hugs from my Grandkids. Make me stop and hear the wind blowing through the trees and watch the leaves come cascading down to the ground. I choose to thank a higher power every day I wake up. Because it's a new day of opportunity. A new day to give thanks to those who have helped me through the cancer course that was trying to kill me. So even though the weekend was somewhat of a washout, I had a great weekend.

I'm alive.

Monday, October 12, 2009


I had dinner the other night with one of, if not my best friend, Fred.

Fred and I have been through a lot together. We met over 20 years ago at work, working in the ad business and working our asses off as we were trying to move up the so called ranks. It was an instant friendship, as we both came from similar backgrounds but grew up 3,000 miles apart. He started in the business sweeping floors, cleaning the stat camera and running errands for the owner. I started in the mailroom stocking the Coke machines, sorting mail, moving furniture and running film back and forth from Downtown LA to Hollywood. We both wanted to be in the creative department, making ads and commercials and working with our brains instead of digging ditches or some other form of manual labor. And the odds were against us for many reasons.

As we sat across each other, I began to tell him some things I never told him. And for that matter, never told anyone except for Teresa. I told him the struggles I had as I was going through my treatment. Why? We were talking about the old days, trying to remember some names and faces from 20+ years. Facebook has helped our memories, as John had posted some shots from our JWT days. As we usually do, the conversation covered a lot of ground until I told him that the chemo and radiation had done some damage to my memory. He laughed and said, "oh man, that can't happen. I've always relied on you to put the names and faces together. You never forgot any of that stuff. I do, and I didn't have chemo!"

For some reason I told him that the gaps were being closed, but that some may never be filled. I told him about the times I stayed up all night, sitting in the bathroom vomiting and crapping at the same time. I told him of the times I summoned the ever-powerful will of my mind, convincing myself to hang on until the morning so I could be alive another day. If only I could see daylight, I knew I would live another day. And with another day, there was hope of many more to come.

The look on Fred's face was one of amazement, shock and empathy all at once. All he could say was, "Man." He didn't have to say anything. I knew when I was going through the treatments, he was there for me. He didn't bother me all the time or tell me he knew how I felt or how he knew someone else who had cancer and what they went through. He was just there whenever I needed him. I felt his support, prayers and friendship. He, like a lot of my friends––Ted, Jeffrey, Larry, Tom, Francis, Ben, Richard, Craig, Mick, Lance––called when they felt it, talked to me when I needed it and visited when I was beating the hell out of the cancer. And there were so many more people and friends, waaaaaay to many to list, who were there for me.

Thank God, for my friends. I never would have made it without them.

Friday, October 2, 2009


I'm worried about you. 

When I woke up yesterday morning, my Wife grabbed my arm in bed and told me this. I knew what she was talking about. But I asked her anyway what she meant. You've been working too much. I have. Four days off––including weekends––in the month of September. Last time I worked like this, I got cancer. It could've been there the whole time or maybe it was just coincidental but this stretch of working 15 hour days––leave my house before 7 am, get home between 9 and 10 pm––brings back painful and scary memories.

Stress, a compromised immune system and not eating when you're supposed to eat are cancer ignitors. They fuel the cancer cells we all have in our body and they attack. In tumors. In your body. In my head & neck. That's why Teresa is worried. That's why she reminded me about working too hard. She said what I've been thinking about all along––I can't be working like this. It's not good for my health. But that's hard for people to understand, especially those at work. I look like I'm healthier. I act like I've put the cancer behind me. I know the threat of cancer coming back is always there.

Funny thing is, I used getting back to work as a motivator to beat the cancer. During treatments, I would imagine myself on the positive side of cancer, being cancer free and back to work creating. It's what I love to do. It's what I do best, like it or not. It's what can make me relapse. Look, I don't wake up every day and say, "boy, can't wait to put in another 14-15 hours today." But I do wake up every day knowing that today is ALL I HAVE. I just have to work on making every day more than just work.

Yep, can't get away from the word "work."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stick It To Me

This is my anniversary of the start of chemo. And was the continuation of a fear I've had forever.

Not the fear you might be thinking about––cancer is a big fear, undoubtedly––but I have a huge fear of needles. Hate 'em. Would rather be chased with a meat clever held by Usain Bolt. In fact, sometimes I thought the nurses who couldn't "find a good vein" would break out another instrument of pain in trying to find the perfect spot to inject the poison they were putting into my body to kill the disease that was REALLY trying to kill me. During my treatments––radiation, chemo, oral surgery, exploratory surgery, follow-ups, check-ups––I've been stuck with needle more times than I'd like to remember. Most of them were successful. And there were quite a few times I was poked 3 times in each arm just to "find a good vein". (Go to Being Cancer, and read the post about Evan Handler's book).

This Friday, I have signed up to get a flu shot at work. (Don't worry, a hospital and real Doctors and Nurses will be administering the shots). And the first thing I thought about is "getting stuck with a needle". Really. I've had a tube in my stomach for 10 months, had 35 radiation treatments, had three tubes shove down my throat all the way to my liver, emergency gall bladder surgery, three skin cancer surgeries and four teeth yanked out of my head WITH PLIERS and I'm worried about a stick in the arm––hey, I'd rather get the shot in my ass, but I'm pretty sure these will be done out in the open and baring my ass at work might not be "PC"––because did I mention I hate needles?

So I'm going to try to be a big boy on Friday. Not look at the needle being stuck in my arm. Not look at the nurse or doctor. Not yell out "son of a bitch"––which I've done before. I'm going to take the attitude of, "c'mon, bring it!"

I think.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I remember when I heard the news of Patrick Swayze being diagnosed with cancer.

Why would the news of an actor who I never met, place an indelible mark in my memory? Because when you have cancer, there is a connection that almost automatically happens. And from what I had read about Mr. Swayze, he was a good human being. A good Husband. And that was good enough for me. He married his wife in his early 20's, just like me. And his Wife, was totally dedicated to caring for him--just like my Wife, Teresa. He was diagnosed in March of 2008. That was during the time I was recovering––still am, to be honest––and I watched him whenever he came on television or would show up in the press. He was an inspiration.

This was in the press release on his passing: "Swayze was married since 1975 to Niemi, a fellow dancer who took lessons with his mother; they met when he was 19 and she was 15. A licensed pilot, Niemi would fly her husband from Los Angeles to Northern California for treatment at Stanford University Medical Center, People magazine reported in a cover story." Now you may think that of course, your spouse always stays at your side during the cancer battle. Well, you would be wrong. The "interweb" is full of stats and stories of how people just can't deal with having a loved one suffer through cancer. The reasons, are endless.

cancer touches EVERYONE. It's a nasty, frightening, confusing, depressing, unforgiving disease. If you let it, it will destroy everything in your life and try to suck the life out of those around you. The Swayzes didn't succumb to that. Mr. Swayze fought hard, lived hard and kept his optimism right in your face. He forced us to watch him battle, watch him do what he loved most––entertain. I will always admire him for that. And his Wife, Niemi, has to be one of the strongest people on the planet. Just like my Teresa.

Here's to you, Patrick Swayze. I know you had the time of your life.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Trusting Your Gut

We all have an inner voice. Now before you think I still have an imaginary friend at the advanced age of 51, let me explain myself.

I "discovered" I had cancer in the shower. No, it wasn't a previously undetected lump that I discovered. I had a small "bump" on the right side of my jaw, just below my ear which I thought was caused from being sick with a very bad cold. I've posted about this before, but my "inner voice" kept asking me a question: why do I feel like I have cancer? That's some pretty heavy duty shit. And to some, I'm sure, pretty hard to believe. But it's the God's honest truth. If it wasn't, I wouldn't be at the keyboard right now. I'd be six feet under or spread over the outfield of Dodger Stadium as my ashes became a fixture at Chavez Ravine.

But this isn't about that day in the shower that saved my life. This is about having to present myself and my group at work in front of the new Big Boss. And this was a big moment for myself and the group who works with me––and I wanted to crush it and hit it out of the park. (Sorry, I have baseball play-off fever and it's on my mind). We've been doing some really great work lately. And I wanted everyone to know it.

So I agonized. Wrote down stuff. Wrote down stuff others wanted me to say. Got on the defensive. Went on the offensive. Talked to myself––my inner voice was NOT paying much attention at the time––and even juiced up on more caffeine. I wasn't nervous. I was anxious. I love the stage. I love being able to share work that others have created. It's a positive blast to the ego, and we can all use that every now and then, right? Then about 15 minutes before we were on, one of my co-workers walks in and says, "we only have 2 minutes? What do we say that they already don't know?"

After he walked away, my inner voice finally spoke up––about time, rat bastard––and gave me the same advice Denny Kuhr gave me 20 years ago.  Go with what you know. Speak from the heart and the head will follow. Forget trying to script it or spin it or spew out somebody else's words from my mouth. I know this stuff. I live this stuff. I love doing what I'm doing. I don't know exactly where my "inner voice" lives inside my body. My head? My neck? My feet? No.

Right where it should've been all along. Right in my gut.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Losing My Voice

The emotions ran so deep, I couldn't talk about finding out my cancer free news.

OK, I'll admit. I cried like a baby. I cried every time I told someone––Teresa, my Dad, my co-workers who could see something happened to me. Ever since being diagnosed with cancer on August 7, 2007, I have had my emotions on the surface more than usual. (Alright, stop it. Just stop it those of you who know that I'm an "expressive" person already. Now you're even more so? Please). Why? Maybe all those years of building my "street face" had blocked out a lifetime of emotions. You can't let people who instinctively or who have learned to recognize fear know you're scared. Or let them see any emotion. That is a sign of weakness. A big neon sign that says, "ass-kickings here."

But tears of joy are a completely different animal. They feel different. They roll out of your eyes differently. They swell up, flood your vision and flow down your cheek, as if it's a soothing stream straight from your soul. I still feel my lids getting heavy, just writing about it. I still can't believe all the things I have had to endure. Every day. Every week. Every time my body got tweaked out of it's normal routine. It's been a hard 2 years+. It's been an emotional time. It's been bonus time, because I consider every day I wake up a GREAT DAY.

Being cancer free now doesn't mean I am free of worry. Or fear. Or all physical side effects and ailments that cancer has left for me forever. It does mean I'm farther away from the big battles. I'm healthier. Happier. I am more loving. More passionate. More emotional, so much so that I can't talk about how happy I am because I just can't verbally express my happiness. It's a good thing I have this blog, so I can share my voice but not my red, swollen eyes.

I hope you can hear my voice through my words.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

cancer Free

The results are in. No cancer. Thank God. This is all I can write due to overwhelming emotion of happiness.

And worried the tears will short circuit my computer.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

We. Us. Together.

It was pouring rain. So bad, Teresa was clutching to the car door and was as stiff as a board. We could hardly see 10 feet in front of us.

There was no getting off the Toll Road or pulling over. I had to get my every 6 month PET Scan. I had to be there in 20 minutes. I had to drive through the monsoon no matter what. This was a big one––the scan, not the weather––that would tell me if cancer had returned. Or not. So no backing out now. No excuses. Just do it. (Hey, I think I've heard that before). Drive, baby, drive. "I'm glad you're driving and not me", said Teresa. I had to chuckle inside, because the pouring rain was taking her mind off of having to go with me. These tests/scans have a way of really screwing my body up––no caffeine, no sugar, no exercise, limited carbs for 24 hrs, nothing to eat or drink at all 6 hrs before except water––and the test takes about 3 hrs.

When we get there, the rain stops. That's weird. What was even weirder––that's a word, right?––was the place was a mess. They were putting in a new camera I found out later. Seems the other one wasn't working. And there were construction people walking all over the place, yelling, moving, banging and just complete chaos. It was like something out of MASH. So after they stick me in the arm and shoot the dye in my body and keep me in a almost dark room for 45 minutes, they come and get me. The technician says, "follow me. We have to take you to a trailer." WTF? A trailer? Are they gonna give me test or take me to trailer park? In this weather? Isn't Hurricane Bill coming by? Isn't a trailer THE WORST place to be when the winds get nasty?

After the long walk down the entire length of the building, they walk me into a huge trailer, with all the bells and whistles. I see the monitors. I see a dude in some scrubs. I see the tube that will house my body and check for cancer. Once again, I had to chuckle inside. Weird shit happens to me all the time, so much so, that I've come to expect and accept it. Why fight it, right? Just roll with it, chalk it up to experience and live to tell the story another day––tough way to post something interesting––with the emphasis on living. By now, my head is pounding. It feels like hammering cement. Ever take a hammer to cement? Man, oh man-a-chevits.

Once I'm done, I have to sit in a chair for 10 minutes while they check and see if the scan worked. Again, WTF? Then I realized, it's a trailer, man. And the worst is over––sort of, because my head is still pounding. The tech says, "OK, I'll see you tomorrow" as he walks out the door with a big trash bag. Yeah, real funny dude. He thinks he fakes me out and then says, "I'm kidding, you can go now." So I walk out the trailer into the sunlight, down the hall and go through the front door to get Teresa, who has been patiently waiting for me for about 3 hrs. She looks up like, "what are you doing coming in the front door." I tell her my journey and we both have a laugh.

The drive home is much less adventurous. But I'm not feeling well at all. Now my stomach is starting to do back flips and my head has gone from a hammer to an ice pick being driven into my head with a hammer. When we walk in the front door, Teresa says to me, "so if this one comes back clean, we don't have to go back for another year, right?" Yes. That's right. The thought of not having to go through this for another year sounded good. But was even better was that Teresa said "we". Because that truly is the other side of cancer. Those you love, those who love you, those who are your friends and co-workers and all who count on you are right there, feeling things that they can't explain and don't want to. Those people make it worth fighting cancer EVERY DAY.

We. Us. Together.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back In The Tube

Tomorrow is a very big day. Early morning preso to the Big Boss. And a PET Scan.

I've been trying to post my feelings about the PET Scan for a few days now. But I have sooooo many thoughts running through my head that putting them in writing has been difficult at best. Why? I'm glad you asked. It's because I'm an emotional lightening rod. (My friend Steve calls me "Broken Arrow"). I'm a tell-it-like-it-is kind of person. I'm honest––which is both good and bad––and many people can't handle that. And probably most important of all, I think the chemo is finally leaving my body.

My mind has been racing for weeks. Thinking about my family. Thinking about my work––I haven't been happy there recently. Thinking about what's really important in life. Thinking about what others are thinking about. Thinking about the skin cancer I had frozen off two weeks ago. Yeah, like I said, a racing mind. And these are only the highlights. Or lowlights. Because I know I've been distant from those close to me. Not intentionally. But as a result of trying to put my life into perspective, I've been trying to steal some alone time. (Nothing personal, everyone. Just living in my own private Idaho. It's what I do).

Funny, I will have about 3-4 hours alone time tomorrow. I'll get some stuff pumped into my veins, shoved in a tube for an hour or so and of course, do it all almost naked in a cold room with a complete stranger. So that will be a time for reflection. 

And praying that my body is cancer free. On the inside.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Take Your Clothes Off

"When you take your clothes off, get in the chair." I'm pretty used to hearing that by now. But when it's you skin cancer Doctor that says that, it makes you wonder.

I had the full body scan today, every mole checked, every uneven patch of skin and every red spot looked at very closely. They even checked my head. And that's where they found it––right above my right eyebrow. A "cancer forming spot", said the Doc. "So I'm just going to freeze it. Keep your head still and WHAM!" (Well, he didn't go WHAM. This isn't Emril, this is my Doctor.) He shot it with liquid nitrogen. At about -350º. Yes, that's MINUS. (What's with all the shouting today?). It's called Cryotherapy. Isn't that what they used on Walt Disney?

Man, talk about a brain freeze. Imagine the worst brain freeze you've ever had. Now add an ice pick and a nail––and double it. Felt like a hockey puck hit me. Felt like my eyeball was frozen. Felt like that for about 15 minutes. Then it only hurt when I opened my right eye. It's been almost three hours since, and I'm now thawing out. Having some visual adjustment problems––fancy words for blurred vision for a second when I turn my head. 

Now the people at the Skin Cancer Center of Northern Virginia are great, but I'm glad they didn't give me the purple sheet of paper before I got the brain freeze.  The purple paper said, "When you leave our office, the freezing site will probably be red and swollen, and it may sting and itch as it thaws. Expect the site to look worse over the next few days before it gets better. Swelling and/or blistering often develop within a couple of hours after the treatment. 2-3 days after treatment a scab will probably form which will then take 7-10 days to fall off, leaving a pink smooth area." All I could think of was those ED commercials, "if you have an erection for more than 4 hours, seek medical help immediately." LMFAO.

So there I was, with a gown on and in my underwear and a quick shot in the head with liquid nitrogen. And if that weren't enough they were training someone, so I had an audience as they were telling me everything that was on the purple paper. Happy Monday! And I had to take my clothes off for this? At least next week, they'll shoot me with sugar water and other stuff so they can do a PET Scan and see if the cancer is still gone inside my body. 

I'll have to take my clothes off, again. But I'm pretty sure they won't shoot me in the head with liquid nitrogen.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Time Flies When You're Living

It has been two years since I first heard, "I wish I had better news", and my life changed forever. August 7, 2007. The day cancer came knocking on my door and said "tag, you're it".

The fact that I'm even writing this is a minor miracle in itself. Well, it's probably not a miracle. I didn't see a burning bush or Mother Mary in a dirty screen in a window. But it is spectacular on some level, right? The first time you hear that you have cancer, it seems like time gets all jacked-up. It speeds up. It slows down. It doesn't exist while you try to. Time gets in this place of not being important and at the same time being the most important thing in your life.

How many times have you said to yourself, "if I only had more time". "I don't have the time." "That's a waste of time." "Next time." Now I don't want this to sound like some mushy every-second-of-life-is-precious spew. It's just that these days I'm giving myself more time. More time with my Wife. More time with my kids. More time with family. More time to stop and really smell the roses and flowers on my pathway that greets me and sends me off into the world every day. I just have to remind myself sometimes to slow down.

After two years, I'm still getting scanned, poked, tubes up my nose and neck squeezes. Which I say, sure beats the alternative. I'm starting the next round of Greg Gets Checked For cancer tomorrow and for the next two weeks. If I get through cancer-free, then the scans go from 6 months to a year.

What a way to live.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sound Of Music

No, this is not about singing on a hill with Julie Andrews.

I was walking into work today and heard someone playing the harmonica. Sounded a lot like Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changing, so I had to look and see who was playing. It was a woman. A woman who lived on the street. She was dressed in all white––at least it was all white at one time––and had her head back and eyes closed as she whaled away on the "harp".

I was both stunned and in awe. Stunned that someone in such dire straits was playing with a happy soul. In awe of her talent. She didn't seem to have a care in the world. She didn't seem to mind that she was drawing attention to herself. Maybe that was what she was trying to do––make people notice her. And people did. Scowls, mouths opening and people walking the other way to avoid her. I just kept heading straight to get something to eat. And then snapped out of my self-induced funk as I kept thinking about The Harmonica Lady.

It's funny how certain events, experiences and quick glimpses of life make you stop and think. I've been thinking about my future. Today. Tomorrow. Next year. I have a PET Scan coming up in 3 weeks. It will be 2 years since my cancer diagnosis, next week. I feel the best I've felt physically in a very long time––about 2 years. But my mental state of mind has been fragile. Questioning. Wondering. Searching. Am I close to "beating" cancer? Will it come back? Have I changed through all this for the better or worse? As I said, lots on my mind.

The sound of the harmonica woke me up. The vision of someone who is in such dire straits snapped my ass back to reality. I have it really good. Really, really good. I'm alive. I have a wonderful family. I have a great job. What the hell is wrong with you, Greg?

I just needed to stop and listen to the music. And enjoy life's special little moments.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More Than A Blog?

It was a year ago, almost to the day, that I started posting. Yeah, amazing.

When I decided to start my blog, I did so with very little expectation and even less encouragement. A colleague of mine––who will go unnamed––discouraged me TWICE when I approached this person about blogging. I was seeking advice and hoping for a little boost to get me going. I received this response: "it's a LOT of work. I'm not sure you can keep it up." And this nugget: "you have to understand how social media works." At the time, I was still feeling the side effects from cancer on a daily basis––extremely dry mouth, chemo brain and very little muscle tone and strength––and trying to kick start my creative juices, as I was beating my head against the wall trying to do great work at my job and I really, really needed to create something that I would be proud to share.

As I walked through the process of beginning my blog––which was made sooooo easy because of the people at––I had to write a brief profile of myself. And I despise writing about myself, my accomplishments and my contributions. (This subject is for another post). But I did manage to write this, "I'm your average person. I'm married with four children and two grandchildren. I get up every day and go to work just like millions of other people. I do want to end cancer in my lifetime. By sharing my experiences, thoughts and relationships I hope in some small way that others may benefit."

Thanks to those of you who read my ramblings, one or two people have expressed how much they enjoy reading my blog. How it has helped them smile again. Understand what their loved one is going through. Know what's going on in the head of a person who has cancer––at least my head. And thanks to all of you who inspire me to keep writing, I will continue. Because as I have found out, this has become more than words on a computer screen. This is my outlet. My comfort zone. My connection to others, so I can keep in touch. I also feel very lucky to have lived long enough to have a year of posts under my belt. 

Has this blog been a lot of work? No. A lot of love. Hope. And personal satisfaction. 

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Dog's Life

I have three dogs. So I guess you could say I'm a dog lover.

Pets have a way of becoming an important part of your family––even if it's just you and them. I've had dogs most of my life. Baby. Gypsy (Teresa's dog, actually). Ricky. Malcolm. Roxi. And now, Tedi, Lola and Barnaby. Lola and Barnaby are rescue dogs. OK Greg, what's the deal with writing about dogs? A lot of people don't even like dogs or have never had one as a pet. But then again, no one but me has Tedi.

Tedi is the biggest Cockapoo our vet has ever seen. He's the mellowest, kick back dog I have ever seen. He hangs out with everyone. He doesn't bark very often or whine. He doesn't get in the trash. He doesn't dig. So what does he do? He loves me. He loves our family. He loves who we love. How do I know? Tedi is one of the reasons I survived cancer. He was there with me the whole time. He laid at the foot of my bed when I couldn't get up. He kissed my face when I looked at him––his love is unconditional.

So why am I writing about Tedi? I thought he was dying Saturday morning. He woke me up about 5:30 AM, trying to get up. His legs weren't working. He was struggling to get up from the floor next to my bed. He was freaking out. He was dying? Teresa and I put him on our bed. I had to piss like a racehorse––hey, I just woke up and that's what I always do when I first wake up––and while I was in the bathroom, Teresa carried Tedi down stairs. (Tedi weighs about 40 lbs). I had no idea what to do. We had no idea what to do, except make sure Tedi didn't die. 

Now Tedi isn't an old dog––he's 5––and he's as healthy as they come. But his heart was racing, he was drooling and he was fighting us to get up, as we both were holding him down and making sure he wasn't having a heart attack or a stroke or whatever was happening to him. We gave him water by hand, which he sort of licked up. We were trying to calm him down. I started to pray. I couldn't loose Tedi. He couldn't die. Not now. Not in my arms. Not today. He did calm down a bit and went outside to "do his business." He seemed OK. Until he fell down again. I ran to get him and he fell on his back. He looked like he was dying.

Tedi never cried or yelped or whined. But he did do one thing that I'll never forget. He looked at my eyes. He gave me a kiss on my cheek. And most important of all, he lived. In fact, he lying at my feet as I'm writing this post. I think he knows I'm writing about him. I think he's the best dog, ever. I can't think about yesterday without almost tearing up. I know he's only a dog.

But he's my dog. And his life has made my life so much better. 

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Vacation From cancer

I recently took my first vacation since my cancer journey––and the other health issues that resulted from chemo, radiation, tubes and all the meds they pumped into my body.

I've spent most of my vacation time the last two years in surgery, recovery, follow-up Doctor visits with all 7 of my Docs and in the hospital having tubes shoved down my throat and stuck in my arms. Yes, everyone should have as much fun as I did! But you have to have cancer first! (Please note the extreme sarcasm that's flowing from my fingers to the keys to the screen).

My family from LA came to visit for 6-7 days. They stayed with us, which was great and we got to spend a lot of time with the East Coast & West Coast extended family. We went to Annapolis and ate lunch on the water. (OK, we didn't eat on a boat, but if Jeff leaned back about 6 inches, he would've been in the Bay). We took the short tour of DC––some walking, some driving––and even saw the White House from the front and back. We went to the Delaware shore for 24 hrs. And we ate, and ate and ate and grilled and noshed and had a week long feeding frenzy. We talked about the good times. The not so good times. The good family memories. And of course, the family memories we wish we could forever forget but will forever be with us as long as we're alive.

After I dropped off my family at the airport in plenty of time to catch their plane––insert inside joke here––and I hugged them and fought back a tear, I got in my car and drove back home. On my way home, I thought about the new experiences we just had and will talk about the next time we get together. And I also came to realize a break through––I didn't think about cancer while they were here. Oh, I had a moment or two with my Dad––also a cancer survivor like myself––about my seemingly permanent side effects. But I actually had a few cancer-free days in my head. No worries about if or when it will come back. No thinking about me and my cancer––although I WAS keeping my eye and brain on Teresa's recovery from skin cancer surgery––and letting my mind drift. Yeah, it was a welcome break. A long moment of normal. A few days of just l-i-v-i-n-g. Wow, it felt great.

Can't wait until my next vacation.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

OK, This Is Not Funny Anymore.

What the hell is going on?

The last 24 hours have been very tough. I think God is trying to test me. Again. I know I'm not the only person with troubles, but it seems like I'm on a game show––Let's Make Him Squeal! Some of you will read this and say, "how you didn't tell me?!?!" Because I'm trying to sort it out myself. It started with Travis being rushed to the hospital––"Dad, I'm at the Fire Station across from my work. They're taking me to the hospital because I feel like I'm having a heart attack."––and me running out of a client meeting, around my office and through the streets of DC like a madman. I got there so fast, they didn't even have Travis listed at the front desk. (He's home, after an EKG, x-rays, two blood tests and oxygen. But we still have a Dr appointment tomorrow morning).

This morning, I took Teresa to have skin cancer removed from one of two spots on her face. They had to cut her twice, as the first part of her surgery didn't get all the cancer so they had to go back in. Next Tuesday, we do it all over again as she has one spot removed just below her left eye. She's tough. But it hurts me to my soul to see her in pain. Give it to me. I can handle that. Hell, they've cut me so many times and stuck so many needles in me the last two years that it ain't no thing. And work is EXPLODING, with so many things happening at once. It's a good thing I don't drink––well, at least not heavily––or I'd be into a bottle of Maker's Mark right about now.

Right now, I wish cancer was something I could hit. 'Cause I'd beat the shit out of it until my hands hurt. Or until it was dead. I'm past being tired of hearing the word cancer. I'm just out and out pissed. My Irish-Mexican temper/passion is flowing at an all-time high. I haven't been this pissed since I was beating the carp of my best friend on the playground at Holy Trinity in 8th Grade. I got so mad, because Bengie had a splint on his finger and he took a swing at me. Cut me on the side of my face. I went ballistic. I was so mad I temporarily blacked out, coming to as I was on top of him slamming his body into the playground floor, with 3 guys trying to pull me off of him. It was right then and there I realized I needed to control my emotions and temper. I would be dead today if I hadn't controlled it through the years. Yes, it's a scary thing to write about and admit. But I'm in a much better place these days. Except when it comes to cancer.

I have to stop writing now. I'm getting all worked up and I need to keep my wits about me and take care of my Son and Wife. This is serious business. And not funny at all. I think I'll watch some George Carlin.

Now that's funny.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Can't Wait To Be Born

Ryan was 26 on Saturday. Ryan is my second oldest Son, and 26 years ago he had quite a journey before he was born.

I was an instant Dad when I got married, so having a Son was not entirely new to me. But watching my Wife go through her pregnancy was whole different experience for me. I was fascinated, amazed, proud and scared to death. What is my kid going to look like? Boy or Girl? (We didn't want to know before this child was born, just wanted to know that he/she was healthy along the way.) Am I ready for this? I was only 25 years-old. Talk about life changing.

As Teresa was in her 7th month––3rd trimester––of pregnancy, she started to get really sick to her stomach. She didn't feel well for a week. I had not idea if this was normal or not, and remember asking her if I should worry. She said "I didn't feel this way with Adam." OK, now what, I thought. She didn't get better as the week progressed. She went to her Doctor, who said there was nothing wrong. OK, this guy should know, right? Wrong. She was getting worse. So bad, that she was paralyzed with pain one late night. I didn't know what to do. (This was before cell phones and the Internet. So I was at the mercy of her Doctor). So I called the Dr's on call number. No response. I was panicking. What next? 

I couldn't take Teresa to the hospital myself. Because our only car had broken down and I couldn't fix it until pay day and the weekend. Crap! So I called 911. They sent an ambulance. And when they came, they couldn't fit the gurney into my bedroom. So four firemen and EMT's carried Teresa, almost 7 months pregnant, to the gurney and away she went. I can't remember for the life of me how I got to the hospital, but I think it was my Brother-in-law, John, who lived down the street with Teresa's Sister, Connie, while Connie came down and watched Adam.

It turned out Teresa needed to have an emergency appendectomy. While pregnant. With Doctors who were somewhat guessing, as they said they only perform 2-3 of these a year. And we were in LA, so that was pretty rare. Teresa was in no shape to make a decision. I had to choose: we could wait and see what it was and risk losing Teresa and Ryan or we could operate (the Docs, not me) and take a chance. Take a chance? Thanks for the alternative. So they went in. Got the appendix out. They both lived through. Me, barely. The Doctor said, "and your Boy is healthy." We were having a Boy? Awesome.

I went home from the hospital. (Still don't know how I got home, because I had been up for about 30 hours at that time). And my neighbor greeted me at the gate––we lived in a front & back duplex––and told me be careful when I go in my place. WTF? We had been robbed. He and us. So in the span of 48 hours, I had my car break down, almost lost my Wife & unborn Son and now my house was robbed. And it was a mess. I had to call the LA Sheriff when I got home.

So when Ryan was born on June 6, I was extremely calm. Even told Teresa when she told me it was time to go to the hospital, "just let take a shower." LET'S GO NOW! 45 minutes later, Ryan was born. It was that fast. He wanted out. He wanted to get moving. And he hasn't stopped since, 26 years later. I don't know what I would've done without Ryan's concern, yet rational thinking and actions while I was going through cancer treatment. He was there when I needed him. He knew I would beat it. He said he couldn't wait until I was better so we could go to a game again. That's my Ryan. Can't wait for the next thing to happen.

And that's why I love him so much.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Lucky Man

ELP penned a song called "Lucky Man." And while the lyrics are not an exact fit, that's how I feel as Husband, to my Wife Teresa.

Yesterday was her birthday. I won't tell you how old she is, but she is younger than me––which she reminds me constantly after I have my birthday until she has hers. So, yeah, I'm married to a younger woman. Robbing the cradle. Running a day care. Living with a trophy wife. All of those cliche's.

Usually, I would write an ode or post on the day of my most loved ones B-Days. (And usually my posts have something to do with cancer––which this does, in a roundabout way). But I didn't want to take any time away from Teresa, any more than I have to because of work or getting to and from the job. I wanted to spend every moment I could with her on her special day. It was her birthday, but I was getting the present. I was getting a chance to spend one more day with Teresa, getting to see her, touch her, just BE with her. There was no other place I would rather be.

I am still amazed to this day with how much I love this woman. It may sound like a Hollywood movie script, but I remember the circumstances that lead up to me meeting Teresa. I just got a job in the mailroom of a really hot ad agency, Chiat/Day, in Los Angeles. I didn't know this agency was THE place to be, because I just needed a job and I didn't care what I was going to do. I was getting thrown out of my rented house––owner was selling the place––I was working as an inside sales assistant at a drapery manufacturer––"do you want those pin pressed and fan folded?"––and I had just broke the chains of a relationship with a psycho-bitch who put the "freak" in "freaky". (And I'm not talking about hip-hop freaky. The "boiling a rabbit on the stove, Fatal Attraction kind of freaky). Yeah, what a catch I was making $850/month, working in the mailroom and getting ready to sleep in Griffith Park for the next 5-6 months.

I was stopped at a traffic light at 5th & Grand Ave. in Downtown L.A., in  the Chiat/Day company pick-up truck on my way to drop off some film to get developed. I put my hands up in the air, looked up towards the headliner of the truck and screamed, "Dear God, please help me out here. Can't you send me a normal woman who I won't have to sleep with one eye open anymore?" (See, sounds waaaaay too Hollywood-esque). So after I came back from my messenger run, I took a walk around the office. As I got to the back of the place to check and see if the Coke machine needed re-stocking, I saw her. She turned around just as I turned the corner. Our eyes locked. I smiled. She said, "hi." Not hello. Not hey. Didn't turn away. Just a "hi" and a smile back. I knew right then and there––I had to get to know this woman. And I had to move fast. Was it by chance? Was it fate? Was I just at the right place at the right time? Was I lucky?

Yes, yes, yes, yes. Happy Birthday, Teresa. You give me presents every day, whether you know it or not.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Gettin' Poked

No, I haven't switched to writing porn.

I'm talking about a date with a needle, one of many in the last two years with more to come. For the record, I hate needles. Which is not a good thing when you're going through chemo and radiation because of cancer. But here I was again, on Thursday of last week, getting a needle shoved into my arm for some blood work.

This all started Mother's Day, as I got real sick real fast after grillin' for the family. I had body aches, a very high fever and my throat was dry––drier than normal––and sore as hell. And that scared the crap out of me. When my throat gets jacked up, that's when I worry. So I went to the doctor's office of my GP. He was unavailable, so I had another Doc. Never seen her before. And she had never heard of my wild story of cancer––in my tonsils, caused by HPV, tube in my stomach for 10 months, gall blabber, etc.––so it was very uncomfortable for the both of us. Why? Ever notice when you're telling someone something that you THINK they should know about––in this case, some knowledge about cancer––and they look at you with that "whoa, this is new stuff to me!" kind of look? Yeah, that our conversation. And it didn't make me feel better at all.

She couldn't find anything wrong with me, testing me for strep throat and H1N1 flu. Nothin'. They didn't know what was wrong with me. That's when she suggested I see my oncologist. What the hell does that mean? I tried to listen to what else she had to say, but I was semi-shocked to hear her say that. You DO NOT want to hear, "I think you should see the cancer Doctors again again." So I asked her again, why do I have to see my oncologist? She said, "just like I said, it would be a good idea to see him." OK, I think it's a good idea that someone make me rich so I don't ever have to work again––but that doesn't mean jack shit. Just tell me, alright!

So I go get blood drained a week-and-a-half later. Blood work looks OK, but they want to do a closer look since I'm fatigued so much lately. What does that mean?

I will have to get poked again.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Face-To-Face With cancer

Lately, I've been on a emotional roller coaster. Yesterday, I got off the coaster track and back on level ground.

Why? I don't know. I don't have all the answers. Each day is a new discovery. My visit with some amazing people yesterday was key, however. And the continued support from my colleague, Linda, has really helped as well. I met with a group that has dedicated their lives to ending cancer. Today. Tomorrow. Whatever it takes. I know that I take these wonderful human beings for granted, not giving them enough credit for their dedication, countless hours of their time and tenacity to eradicate cancer. So now, I will read my own profile every day. Because I have faith that someone, some day will make an amazing breakthrough. It's happened before––polio––and it can and will happen again.

Back to the roller coaster. What started it was Mother's Day. I was chillin' and grillin' with the family––yes, I was the one prepping, cooking and cleaning instead of the Mom of the house––when all of a sudden I go hit with a pain in my head, my throat and body aches that felt like I was hit by a semi. Snap! There it was. I could barely finish the meal. And eating what I cooked was really tough. My throat felt raw, which made it harder to swallow than normal. (Normal for me is with about 25-30% of the saliva of most people, as the radiation and treatments have severely damaged my salivary glands). I felt hotter than usual––I'm talking fever here, not "am I hot or not" hot––and was losing power, even though I was giving it all I got.

Ever since having head & neck cancer, when I get even a tickle in my throat, I get concerned. And I was really concerned, especially when the Doctor on Monday "couldn't find anything wrong. Strep test is negative and so is the H1N1 virus test. We can't find anything out of the ordinary." This, in spite of a 101.3 fever, killer body aches and the anvil throwers that were using my head as their playground. Now I was getting nervous. As I've said before, there's that little voice waaaay in the back of your head, that immediately says, "could it be cancer. Again?".

The roller coaster ride was ON. I was playing mental ping-pong. Sick, not sick. cancer, not cancer. More tests, ride it out. And as luck would have it, I have a meeting with people whose life is dedicated to eliminating cancer. Good people. Smart people––much smarter than me and undoubtedly less emotional than me! So I drove home an did what I do best. Come face-to-face with reality––I can beat anything, if it's meant to be.

Stop the roller coaster. I'm going to enjoy my life and family.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Daddy's Girl

For those of you who have a Daughter or are a Daughter, you're probably smiling right now.

Today is Kaity's Birthday. At 23, she's on her way to conquering the world. She's smart––a 2-time All-Academic All Conference in college, All-Academic All Region in high school in two sports. Beautiful inside and out––she's a Special Ed teacher––and very confident. (With 3 older Brothers, you can't be insecure and shy and have survived life in our house). She's an athlete––3 sports in high school, 2 in which she was All-District and 4 years of NCAA Lacrosse, Team Captain––an avid reader, a tutor and about the toughest person I know. She almost had the tip of her finger cut off at 2 years-old––while we were on vacation in Baja Mexico––had her nose broken, battles with poly cystic ovarian disease every day and can more than hold her own in discussions on the NBA, MLB, NFL and other sports. (She wakes up and watches ESPN Sportscenter every day before work). She's even had to endure me coaching her in two sports for many years, at the youth and high school level.

Yeah, I love her.

But what I love about her most is her love for her Daddy. At 23, she still calls me Daddy. When I was going through treatments for cancer, it really hit her hard. I could see the fear, pain and helplessness is her face. In her actions. I found out I had cancer right before she was going back to college for her Senior year––August 7, 2007. She didn't want to go. She wanted to stay home with me. She wanted to help Teresa take care of me. I even overheard a few conversations the two of them had. I knew she couldn't stay. I knew it would hurt her if she saw what cancer––and the chemo and radiation––was doing to my body on a daily basis. But one thing about Kaity, when she makes up her mind it's awfully hard to get her change it––just like her Dad.

I told her that she had to go to back to college. She was so close to graduating. She was getting ready to have one of the best years of her life. She didn't care. She wanted to be with her Daddy. I remember telling her this––the best thing you can do to help me beat this thing is to go to school. I told her nothing would make me happier than watching her walk across that stage and receive her diploma. If she didn't go back, she might never finish school. I didn't after my 3rd year of college. I never finished. I know my Daughter. She'd find something else to excel in. But being a teacher and coach meant the world to her--but so did her Daddy. She had to go back.

I told her to tell her Coach that I had cancer––I knew he would watch out for her at school. He thought she was a special person. He kept an eye on her. Thank you, Bruce. I know I told you that many times. But never enough. So off she went. Graduated with a stellar GPA. Graduated with all her classmates. Roommates/teammates. On one of the most beautiful days you could ever imagine. And you know what was the best part? I was alive to see it. I will never forget it. Thank you, Kaity, for the best present you ever gave me. 

No matter how old you get, you'll always be Daddy's Girl.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Skin In The Game

Skin. Many thoughts run through your head when I mention skin?

OK, now that you've had your own personal skin flick, let's talk about skin. My skin, to be exact. A year ago, almost to the day, I heard the word skin attached to the word cancer. As in, "we got all the cancer from the skin on your neck. Let this heal a week and we'll get the other skin cancer spot on your back taken care of, OK?" Damn right it's OK! Why not get that baby off my skin right now!

As if learning you have cancer THE FIRST TIME is not bad enough, it's even more devastating, disheartening, disturbing and down right scary to hear again. After fighting through head & neck cancer, I now had to get through skin cancer? Now for those who have never had cancer, any time the word "cancer" is spoken and especially directly related to you, it's like a gunshot to the heart. Even when you beat it, you always have this voice in the back of your head: is it going to come back? When? Where? Will I have the strength--mentally, emotionally and physically––to get rid of it?

I remember the look on Teresa's face when I told her––at the Skin Doctor's Office––that I have cancer. Again. She's been through this before, with her Sisters Connie and Claudia. They both did not survive cancer, as it spread and took their lives at too young of an age. Her look was one of fear and determination at the same time. I wish her eyes would've become projectors, so I could see what she was really thinking inside of that beautiful head of hers. (Kinda like a cartoon or a superhero––we would call her "Emulsion". For film buffs, you know what that means). I knew what her heart was thinking. Not again.

So now I watch my time in the sun. I'm a disciple of SPF. Floppy hats are cool with me. Long sleeve t-shirts? I'll take 5-6. The beach? Let me put up this umbrella first. Me, a SoCal kid, running in the shadows to stay out of the sun. Does this mean I have to body surf with a wet suit? I can live in that skin. Exactly, that's what I'll do.

I'll live with it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu

Think you've been freaked out enough already?

I was in NoCal over the weekend and on Monday for a new business pitch. As new business pitches go, I spent a lot of time with the team––Jeff, Jennifer, Rachel and Emily––getting good and ready for the presentation. Which means a lot of time in front of a computer, staring at power point (my God, when we will ever get rid of power point) decks and discussing the topics of the day. Which meant seeing a TON of coverage regarding the Swine Flu. The Swine Flu––now there's a catchy name––received so much coverage it was almost as exhausting as the NFL Draft on ESPN. I'm always amazed at the way the press handles statistics in regards to human life. Over 2,000 infected in Mexico. Fourteen cases in California. One death in the United States. These are not just numbers––these are people, plus the people who are now scared to death they will catch the Swine Flu from the infected.

After zig-zagging our way through the airport on our way back east, our pitch team sat down for some food. Along the way, we saw people with surgical masks. People watching the news at the bars. Newspapers with Swine Flu headlines in the hands of passengers. Even as we sat and ate our food, the TV was swine fluing the news. We were surrounded. So I did the only thing I could do––I people watched. I watched the looks of fright, uncertainty and nervousness on their faces. Those that had the masks, they were being stared at with amazement and recognition that this was serious. I decided to bring some levity to the situation to our tired and road-weary group.

"I can't help but sit here and think that after all I've been through the last 2 years, wouldn't it be a bitch if I caught the Swine Flu and THAT'S what killed me?" I started to chuckle, so the group wouldn't feel uncomfortable and say, "through all the radiation, the chemo and the medications and side effects, a pig does me in." They laughed. I laughed. And while it's no laughing matter, it did put things into perspective for me. I'm still prone to infection, no matter how much crap they put into my body in order to fight cancer. I could catch the Swine Flu on my flight––that's recycled air we breath up there, right?––or even worse, pass it on to my family back home.

Fighting and surviving cancer has taught me many things. But one of the most important things is knowing what I can and can't control. I can control my hygiene habits. I can't control others and make them wash their hands or sneeze into their sleeves. I can get rest, eat well and be happy every day. I can't fight what I can't see. I also learned that time is the most precious thing we have. Never take it for granted. Spend time wisely.

That's what keeps ME from freaking out. No matter what the news.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

For Jackie

This is a day that changed the lives of many.

Yes, it's tax day. But more importantly to me, it's the day Jackie Robinson changed society. Today in 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first man of color to play baseball in the Major Leagues. And while he was a great athlete, the way he handled himself and what he stood for was even greater. He was soft spoken, yet powerful. He actually did more during and after his playing career ended in 1956.

He was Director of Community Activities for WNBC and WNBT. He starred in a movie about his life in 1950. And after his playing days with the Dodgers, he became the first African-American executive of a major corporation, Chock Full O' Nuts. He served on the Board of Directors of the NAACP. He built houses for low income families through the Jackie Robinson Construction Company. So what is this, a history lesson? A biography report? What does Jackie Robinson have to do with cancer?

Have you ever been the object of different treatment? Been the only one of your race (or gender) at a party, concert or in a classroom? It's a strange and uneasy feeling. I would get those feelings after I was diagnosed with cancer. People didn't know what to say to me. Some people didn't talk to me anymore. Others would tell me about their friend or relative who had cancer and tell me they know how I feel. Really?

I will never know what it is to be a black man. I will never know what it's like to be a woman. I do know that everything I thought I knew about cancer before I had it, was totally wrong. You cannot truly understand what having cancer is like unless you've survived it or are living with it now. In many ways, it's indescribable. You're body goes through so many changes. The chemo––Erbitux, in my case––gave me blisters all over my face and scrambled my brain. The radiation burned my skin and zapped my energy. My emotions came to the surface. My emotions were buried. My soul ached. Does this even compare to Jackie went through? Does this compare to what people who are different from others have to go through every day? Probably not. But if Jackie Robinson, a player from my favorite team––the Dodgers––could face a lifetime of hate, ignorance and prejudice with class, grace and dignity then I could endure the pain of cancer for however long it will be. A baseball player having that kind of effect on me?

No. A man like Jackie can. And does.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Get Off The Phone

The cell, mobile or wireless phone is the greatest invention of the last 100 years. 

In fact, in 1908, a patent was issued for a wireless telephone to some guy in Kentucky. (You can look it up here: cell phone.) Little did he know that over 100 years later, some joker with a blog––that would be me––would be writing to praise him and express lines and lines of bitter disgust. Because I continue to be amazed at how little regard people have for each other when they are on the phone. And I was so pissed-off at what just happened to me, that I had to get it out or I would explode. Or at least call somebody and vent about it. On my cell.

I was in need of some cash to pay for parking at then end of the day. Usually, I wait until the end of the work day to trudge down the street and pull some cash out of the ATM. But today, I was in an unusually planning type of mood, so what the hell, let's go to the cash machine. And there it happened. Right in front of me. A woman, who was at the ATM, telling someone how she wasn't feeling like drinking tonight. She was tired. She didn't have any energy lately. She didn't know why, but she wasn't motivated to do anything. She didn't want to be at work. She didn't want to go to the gym, although her membership to FitnessFirst didn't expire until May 1, so she could workout if she wanted to––she just didn't have the energy, you know what I'm saying? How did I know all this? Because little miss "I'm-the-only-person-in-the-world-who-matters-right-now-and-the-rest-of-you-unfortunate-bastards-have-to-wait-until-I'm-done" was on THE PHONE AT THE ATM MACHINE.

I heard every word. I waited while she took her sweet ass time getting her $20. (Yeah, I wanted to see how much Miss Thing was getting, since she was so important). Then, she almost forgot her card, which I was going to remind her until she turned around and gave a dirty look like I was in her space or invading her world. She grabbed her card, looking over her shoulder at me––still on the phone––and almost ran over some dude walking into the building. I laughed. Not because she almost dropped her phone. Because that's what I do now, as opposed to what I would have done before cancer.

Ever since I was diagnosed with cancer and have beaten it twice, I have learned to let the small things go. I used to sweat the small things––still do, sometimes––and always handle the big stuff. The little things used to drive me crazy. Oblivion used to make me nuts. Inconsiderate people used to make my blood boil. I had to catch myself on this one. I have learned that life is too short. That I'm letting others dictate my mood. That there are assholes on every corner, in every part of the world, in every profession and in every family. How I deal with them, is up to me. I can let them get under my skin or I can laugh it off and feel sorry for them. Or write about them on my blog. Hey, I have an even better idea. I'll call Larry on my cell tonight while driving home. Of course I'll be paying attention to those around me. 

Or get off the phone and wait until I get home.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Honey-Do List

C'mon, you know what I'm talking about.

It's that never-ending list of things to do. Around the house. To the house. A list of things from cleaning out the garage––in my case, for the hundredth-millionth time––to digging holes to buying another gallon or two of paint. The Honey-Do List is not to be confused with The Bucket List. (Although I don't think I'll finish my Honey-Do List before I kick the bucket). The Honey-Do List is really a bunch of little lists that show up on the refrigerator, on the night stand and shredded in your pocket after a spin in the washer machine. (No matter how many times I try to destroy it, another one comes alive :)

When I was trying to manage the side effects from my cancer treatment, I had a list that looked a like a pharmacy order: Roxicet, Percocet, Metoclopramide, Fluconozale, Clindagel, "Magic Mouthwash", and Gel-Kam 0.4%. Not to mention the 6 cans of Jevity that was pumping into my body through my G-tube in my stomach and the I.V. sponges, yards of tape and the boxes of alcohol wipes. Plus the pump, plastic bags and syringes my back pack contained, going every where I went all the time. I had a big list of stuff. I called it my Gotta-Do To Live List. I had 5 Doctors, all telling me things to keep me alive, keep my body battling, keep me writing things down. This was a list I didn't want destroyed in the wash.

I was never much for lists before that. I kept everything in my head. I would remember things. Until the chemo and radiation. It was frying my brain. It was killing the cancer in my body. It was destroying body parts, one by one, checking them off like an internal list. Yeah, let's mess with his stomach. Oh, and while we're at it, let's give his intestines a bad time––how about diarrhea for a few days straight. And while we're at it, we'll take away your saliva so you can't swallow or chew, give you killer headaches and then for laughs that almost never end we'll give you chemo brain that's gonna last for 1, 2, 3 years. We don't know!

So now I keep lists. To-dos at work. Passwords. Birthdays. A list of all the social networks I belong to and the passwords for those. Birthdays. (Oh, I already said that. There it is, chemo brain). Hospital visits and Doctor visits. And lists of the milestones of being alive after all the treatments and surgeries. I never forget where those lists are. Which makes The Honey-Do List sweeter than ever.

If I can only remember where I put it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Can't Do It Alone

Sometimes, we try to do too much.

I was watching a high school girls lacrosse game tonight, trying to watch as a fan but eventually falling into watching as a coach. Why? Because I have been coaching or mentoring coaches since I was 16 years old. I've coached Men's Softball, Women's Softball, Youth Baseball and Basketball, Girls High School Basketball, mentored a Girls High School Volleyball coach and other sports. I also played sports in high school and college and even played a little semi-pro baseball. So, it's tough for me to just sit back and enjoy as a fan. I'm always breaking down plays, looking at the whole playing field and figuring out what I would do to help my team win. Yeah, a little weird.

In watching the game tonight I saw players trying to force plays, play selfishly and play as if they were the only players on the field. They weren't playing for the school or for their their team to win. They were out there to show everyone how good they were. And in doing so, they showed everyone how bad they were, really. Taking the attitude of "I can do this all by myself, I'll show everyone how much of a superstar I really am." I've seen that attitude too many times as a coach and player. I've even done it a time or two myself. We all have, right? 

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had a brief moment of thinking I can do this alone. I can do the treatments. Drive myself to the Doctors. Sit with a needle in my arm or hand while they pump chemo into my body and be there by myself. I don't want anyone to have to be there with me. I'm the one with cancer and I'm the one who is going to have to beat it. I can do it. I'm tough. Don't need anyone's help. And then it hit me––what a stubborn, pigheaded asshole I am.

You see, I was told by my Dad at 8 years old that I was going to have to be The Man Of The House. I was going to have to watch out for my Mom and my little Sister. I was going to be the only man in the house because he wasn't going to be around. I remember crying. I remember the look in my Dad's eye. I remember how that day changed my life forever. I needed to become responsible. I've felt that way ever since that day. So relying on someone else to be the strong one? C'mon, that was my job, my responsibility, my purpose in life. Hey, my Dad said so.

cancer kicks your ass up and down the street. And then kicks it again just for laughs. It plays with your ego, beats up your resolve and twists your heart and soul in knots in an effort to win. cancer plays to the death. It doesn't play fair. But one thing cancer doesn't count on is all the help you get. From your Doctors. From the radiation. From the chemo. My cancer didn't know that I wasn't going to give up. That I was going to be the toughest bastard ever. That I was bringing all the stops. From every where. From every one. cancer didn't know that I had this amazing family. An amazing family at work. An amazing group of friends, new and life long. cancer counted on me trying to do it alone.

No way was I going to try.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Happy (Belated) Birthday To Me

Self-indulgent? OK, ya got me. 

But hey, it's my birthday (it was March 25th) and I'll celebrate any way I want to. Partly because I'm an adult––most of the time––and because birthdays have such a greater meaning now more than ever. And I can thank cancer––that doesn't sound right––for that. cancer tried to take my birthdays away like the neighborhood bully takes away your lunch money. Every day you dread running into that bastard who is going to make you hand over anything you have that he doesn't have––and you pray you don't see him on the weekends, 'cause you just got your allowance and you want buy another pack of baseball cards or the next issue of Spidey.

It's somewhat morbid, but I've always thought of my tombstone around my birthday. Born March 25, 1958. Died? Because when you see a tombstone with the dates of life, you start figuring out how old that person was when they died. If it's someone who lived past 70, you figured they had a long life to live it to the fullest. When you see someone who passed away before 50, they died too young. I'm in the middle of that. And cancer has put me there.

I was talking to my friend Matt, who has been cancer free for over 15 years. Yeah, friggin' awesome. We were talking about the "what if" present that cancer gives you––what if it comes back? He said after he was told he didn't have to go to the cancer center and he could just see his GP Doctor, the "what if?" went away. He still thinks about it every now and then, but not every day, several times a day. I'm still in the stage of "what if?", thinking about it every day, sometimes 4-5 times a day. Work helps me take my mind off of it, but work also contributes to it. Work is a lot of stress. And stress brings down your immune system. And cancer strikes like a knife to the kidneys when your immune system is weak.

Leading up to my birthday, Teresa always asks me what I want for my birthday. My answer used to be, "peace and quiet for just one day." (Still waiting for that present.) This time when I was asked, I thought to myself, "I want a day without thinking about cancer." But you can't buy that at Target, Home Depot or Best Buy. So I settled for the next best thing––spending time with my family at dinner. And it was the best present I received on my birthday, full belly and all.

Yes, Happy Birthday to me.

Monday, March 23, 2009

My Own March Madness

I love this time of year. 

NCAA March Madness. Spring. (I never thought I would know the difference between the seasons growing up in Los Angeles. We had seasons in LA––fire season, mudslide season, smoggy season, earthquake season––they were just different.)

Baseball. I can smell baseball in the air. Grilling out. Man, get me something to char a little bit, cook it over too much propane and bask in the smell of bug spray. And then you gotta take a shower because you're smelling like a funky ass mix of bbq sauce, some kind of meat, bug spray and pure sweat. Now add a wet smell and you can't take a shower fast enough. (Sorry for the smell.)

The shower is a funny place if you think about it. There you are, standing naked, with a million things that could potentially happen while you're in the shower. (Hey, let's keep this clean in case my kids are reading.) You plan your day. You sing a song you shouldn't be singing––not because it's a bad song but it's probably better sung by the one who sung it or sang it––and it makes you happy. You might even stand there and think you don't look that bad, after all. The shower is where a lot of great ideas are born. At least some of my best ones happen in the shower. It's also the place I first thought about cancer. cancer for me, that is.

It was March 2007 and I was working my ass off, working every day, 7 days a week because we were in production mode. And I was in a new job. And that is what I do to get the job done and done well. But I was tired. More tired than usual, I thought. I just need a vacation. Or just two days off in a row. Or is it something else? As a former competitive athlete, I've been through enough bumps and bruises, breaks and sprains and other weird injuries to know my body pretty well. And I knew something was really wrong. And I felt that way in the shower. Why do I feel like I have cancer? That's what I asked myself. Nah, that's crazy talk. Too many elbows to the head from playing under the boards. Why do I feel like I have cancer? This wasn't going to wash away.

That's too weird for anyone to believe, including myself. But it was too strong to ignore. I was always good at listening to my body. When something wasn't right, I knew I knew. But this wasn't a strain or break or tear or concussion. This was something waaaaaaaay bigger. I didn't want the voice in my head to drive me crazy. Thank God I listened, because they caught my head & neck cancer in the early stages. So March Madness takes on whole new meaning for me now.

I love this time of year.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hair Line

"How do you get a hair line like that at 50?"

Someone asked me that the other day. Or should I say a dude asked me that question. (Have you figured out he was losing his hair yet?). I get a lot of comments on my hair. I always have. It seems like people think it's their right to say something about my hair. Funny, I don't say anything to people about their hair. "Hey, how long you been a bald-headed bastard?", "you get a haircut after you finished that bowl of soup?", "what, they ran out of your regular hair color?", "do you think I don't notice that comb-over?", "how the hell you comb that thing on your head?", "can you stay out of the light, you're blinding me here!". Never once have I said any of those things to people. Never. (OK, maybe when I was piss drunk and bagging on my friends).

I was born with fire engine red hair, at least that's what my GrandMaree said. She said it looked like my hair was on fire it was so red. My hair was really red and curly when I was a kid. As I got older, it got darker. And people would ask me if I dyed it. Yeah, at 15-years-old, I'm gonna dye my hair. But I was asked that all time. Still am. And now that it's really long––pony tail long––I get even more comments. I even asked a former client one time about my hair. I said, "it's one thing not to like an ad. But if we don't know what you don't like about it, we'll keep making the same mistake over and over again. If I asked you if you liked my hair and you said no, I would ask you why." He said, "And I'd tell you, because it's messy." This from a man with a comb-over. Swear to God. I bit my tongue so hard I thought it was going to bleed. But hey, I asked him and he told me what he felt. Give him credit for that.

When I was going through radiation and chemo for head & neck cancer, my hair was falling out. It changed color, with a long white streak right down the middle. It looked like I hardly lost any hair at all. But I have a lot of hair. And I lost it in clumps. I just had so much, it wasn't noticeable to everyone. Maybe it was because it was so long. Maybe it was that I had such bad acne––not teenage acne, but that's what the Erbitux did to my face, make it break out like a teenager going through puberty––and no one noticed my hair falling out. Who knows? But I did. I also knew that I was trying to grow it as long as I could.

When I was going to radiation 5 days a week, for a full 7 weeks, I saw many others in the waiting room with varying stages of hair loss. It was a painful and visible reminder that this stuff was beating the crap out of our bodies. But the lasting image that got me the most was a little boy without any hair. He had to be about 7 or 8. He looked sad. He looked embarrassed. He looked me straight in the eye one day, looked at my long hair and looked back at me right in the eye. I knew what he was thinking. Why does he have hair and I don't? I felt for him. I felt he was probably getting picked on, just like I did when the kids on the playground called me carrot top, Woody Woodpecker or asked me if my hair was on fire. 

I knew then that I would grow more hair as long as I can. Cut it and donate it so someone could use it to cover their head. Kids, actually. Give my hair to those kids who have to suffer not only the pain and after effects of radiation, but the ignorance of their friends and other kids their age who tease them. Hey, kids don't know any better. But I know better. I know that the simple act of growing my hair long and getting it cut so other cancer victims can cover up their heads, is the least I can do. So the next time someone asks me about my hair, I'll give them the hair line. I'm a cancer survivor and growing it to donate it.

I'm sure I'll see some red on their head.