AGAPE (Ah Gah Pay)

"We find our comfort where we seek it."  - Brenda Jones Sanchez

God's Will Be Done
Written September 3, 2012 1:57pm
Our Lord released my father from his earthly burdens and called him Home this afternoon. All of us who knew and loved Jesse Neal Reece should REJOICE, for his was a life well-lived and we are assured that his soul will live in and with the Father forever!

"But last spring, last week and this morning, God is a butterfly. And His continuing presence tells me, and I hope reassures Dad, that all is well with us. We are on His path, going at His pace and will continue to let Him reveal that, even in profound sadness and distress, we can and will see glimpses of Heaven."

A Respectful Request...

Written September 3, 2012 10:51am
Firstly, thanks so much to all of you for everything you've done for Dad, Mom and all of our family during this difficult time.

Over the weekend, Dad's condition has taken a significant turn. He is essentially unresponsive and the hospice folks advise that it would be in Dad's best interest to limit excessive stimulation. In other words, I'm afraid that the time for visits has passed.

We pray that our Heavenly Father will continue to heed our prayers. Dad is at home, without struggle, at peace. The substantive, physical aspects of his transition have begun and the ultimate kindness we can show him now is to allow him continued peace.

What a glory it is when the butterfly emerges, free and beautiful to celebrate all that God has promised!
(Dear Brenda, indeed, our comfort comes from where we seek it!)




If you ever wondered...

Written August 30, 2012 5:26pm

...what happy looks like...

As we were sitting, waiting for Mom to come back down from the cabin, the sun peeking from behind the clouds and a cool breeze rustling the leaves, I asked Dad,

"Do you think this is what heaven will look like?

Or smell like?

Or sound like?

Or feel like?

Or taste like (chili cheese dogs, of course)?"

He just smiled.

Life: Good to the last drop!


Written August 30, 2012 9:49am

Did you say, "Let's go to the farm", Dad?

Ellijay. Dad's heaven on Earth!


- Tony

Written August 28, 2012 9:33am

Philip and I arrived from Texas yesterday. Dad is allowing me to park his big red truck at the airport so that I can go and come with more flexibility. That has certainly ratcheted down my anxiety about being a nuisance and has made timing my visits less of a stressor.

I continue to sense that we are on a pre-ordained schedule, of sorts. The physical and practical milestones are passing with increasing speed: changes in breathing, fluctuations in body temperature, increased periods of sleep, varying levels of cognition. Hospice care has prepared us for much of what we are witnessing and, as a consequence of being prepared, these events tend to be less startling. They are all "part of the process."

I just re-read that paragraph. How antiseptic it sounds! Being more educated and prepared for the events does, I guess, make us more capable of dealing with them. But it DOES NOT make them any easier to accept on an emotional level.

It's a little eerie just how predictable the patterns we are seeing can be! The hospice folks definitely know their stuff! Just this morning, as we were preparing breakfast, a transfer wheelchair, transfer board, and hospital bed tray table were delivered. Not ironically, but very surprisingly, Dad elected to have his breakfast "in bed" using the new tray! He has NEVER not wanted to get up, get dressed, and come to the table with the rest of us, even if it was in a wheelchair. (When I first learned that a tray table had been ordered, I was more than a little skeptical. "Down the road...", I thought.)

Mom just asked Dad, "do you want to get up and get in your chair before I leave for a few minutes?" Dad's reply? "No, I'll just stay right here" (in bed.) I guess the handwriting is on the wall.

When Philip arrived yesterday, the first thing he noted was how dry everything looked. (Funny, it has looked that way to me too but it never occurred to me to do anything about it!) He asked Dad if he'd like him to water and Dad jumped on the offer. Wow, what a difference a little water makes! And it's the very kind of difference that folks like Dad and Philip notice, outdoorsy plant folks, that is. Even I can see how much happier everything looks: the hydrangea looks like it just drank from the fountain of youth.

While toodling around in the front yard, Philip noticed that Dad's fig tree is full of fruit. One fig was perfectly ripe and untouched by the usual varmint suspects. When Philip asked Dad if he'd like to taste it, Dad lit up like a Christmas tree. I thought to myself, "yeah, maybe he'll have a bite or two." Later, while tidying the sun porch, I stopped and asked Dad if he wanted me to throw away what was left of the fig. He presented me with all that was left: a stem on a paper towel! Funny how like-minded folks see some things so differently from those of us who are no less caring, just not of the same mind. So, eyes newly opened, I went out to find the next ripest fig and picked it so that it could ripen inside away from the critters. I'm not too old to learn from others.

Just one more milestone to mention: I can't remember the last time Dad tried a cup of coffee. It's been at least 20 years! Philip was helping himself to a cup this morning and casually asked Dad if he'd like some. Dad said YES! I couldn't believe my ears! Then, Mom informed me that he'd been drinking a little every morning since I left last week.

When his breakfast was served (on the bed tray table), it was offered with the usual glass of Coca Cola. Dad looked up and asked for a "warm up" on his coffee!


My assessment of it all? Life is life. No matter how fragile or tenuous, where there is life, there is hope. And surprises. And little joys just waiting to be discovered or derived. It's not over til it's over!

"Good to the last drop!"


Midnight Thoughts

Written August 25, 2012 1:50pm
It's 330am in Tokyo (230pm in Georgia) and I skyped Mom not long ago. Everything seems calm in Canton. Who could ask for more? She and Dad are all settled, day and night, in "the observatory" (aka the sun porch).

Georgia Mountains Hospice has lived up to our expectations, thus far. As a "not for profit" hospice, GMH depends greatly on help from volunteers, both for financial support and for support of a more practical nature. For example, part of their program is to coordinate volunteers who provide weekly "relief" to the caregiver for 2-4 hours. This week, a lady named Ginger from Big Canoe sat with Dad for a few hours to allow Mom to keep her "permanent" appointment at the beauty shop. 

Not surprisingly, Ginger, like most hospice volunteers, has had firsthand experience with hospice care. GMH cared for her mother. Who can better comprehend the needs of the caregiver than those who have lived the caregiver role? 

Seems like David is with Mom and Dad morning, noon, and night in my absence. We're certainly benefitting from the "remote office" work concept. I suppose he sees what he does for them the way I do: it is a privilege to be able to give back to those who have given us so much!

So, even though my bed at the Hilton keeps shaking and shimmying from Japan's constant seismic activity, I'll settle in for a little nap, confident that things at home are in good hands.

Ever thankful for all life's blessings...



A Prayer of Thanksgiving!

Written August 23, 2012 11:09am

Considering his diagnosis, we are astonished that Dad has not complained of pain or discomfort and, in fact, declares that he is practically pain free.  I kept turning that bit of information over in my head yesterday as I realized just how fortunate he is (and how fortunate we are, by extension!)  

Since his initial radiation treatments about three years ago, Dad has been using a fentanyl patch (pain relieving medication delivered through the skin) of varying strengths.  He started on the mildest dosage, increased several times, supplemented with oral narcotics when needed, and has now stepped back down to the original, mildest dose with NO supplement.  I am amazed that he is now as afflicted with his form of cancer as he can be and still be alive, tumors growing and proliferating, yet has no complaints with pain! 

Just this week, from his glazed perch in the trees, he's been visited by deer, wild turkeys, hummingbirds, chipmunks, and the occasional butterfly.  If we happen to be out of the room, he calls us to share it with him.  (Of course, he also pointed out that, with his head raised, he can't help but notice that the roof needs blowing off!)  

Now, I don't mean to discount the positive impact brought by YOUR visits and messages, dear readers.  But those of you who know Dad well, know what it means to him to be so close, so intimate with the natural world around him.  This is a man who would stand at the door or window for hours in the middle of the night, just to watch snow fall.  He would lie awake to revel in the sound of rain on a tin roof....take off his shoes to feel the warm, soft earth of a freshly-ploughed field between his toes.

There is no escaping the outcome of Dad's disease:  we have no hope of celebrating the holidays with him this fall and winter.  But for those of you reading this journal who are so inclined, please join me in praying to Almighty God that he be spared more suffering:  he has been through so much!  Perhaps by raising our prayers together, God will hear us and show mercy that Dad may pass his remaining days in peace.

What a comfort it would be to think that he may greet tomorrow without more physical suffering, without the cloud of narcotics, with his characteristic sense of humor and positivity intact. 

So, won't you join me?  Let us pray to the Lord...

"We are so thankful for all the blessings of life.  If it be Your will, please allow our beloved Neal to pass his final days as he is today.  Let him continue to be in awe of all the things You have created until You call him home."

Lord, Hear our prayer!

Whatever his fate, Dad will not face it alone.  And ours will always be a prayer of thanksgiving!


Allen Ludden: "the password is..."

Written August 21, 2012 9:36am
Seems like everybody has some pre-conceived notion about what the word "hospice" means, Dad included. We could tell that he was apprehensive about going into hospice care, so there was alot riding on our visit with Elizabeth of Georgia Mountains Hospice yesterday. Her manner was gentle, her message calming and I felt that Dad had any fears about hospice care allayed as a result. She answered all of our questions, and there were plenty, with authority and without rush. If I had to say what the word "hospice" means to us now, I would say COMFORT.

Today, we meet other members of the staff which include chaplain, social workers, registered and licensed practical nurses, and certified nurses' aides. I feel confident that we are in competent, caring hands. We already have an articulating hospital-type bed set up on the sun porch, Dad's window on the world. What a wonderful spot he has! And he will never have to leave it unless he chooses to do so...another answered prayer.

24/7/365, when a need arises, we call GMH and state our need, they assess who would be the best staffmember to address the need, and that person will be at our door within an hour, armed with the resources required. What a relief on all levels, especially for David and me.

So, on we go in the little house in the trees at the end of Rockcliff Road, Mom and Dad's comfortable nest. I have no doubt that they will continue to count their blessings and to THANK GOD for their lives together, surrounded by love and care and wonderful memories, some of which are being made....even as we speak!

Will I ever forget getting Dad ready for bed last night? Will Mom, David or Dad? It takes a village, you know. We were trying to get him positioned just right on the bed and, somehow, David was straddling Dad and arranging his torso, I was "head to feet" on the bed dealing with legs (damned king-size bed!), and Mom was somewhere in between. "okay, on the count of three...". Well, when three came, I made the mistake of looking up from my assignment and found myself eyeball to business with Dad's "tackle" and naked, skinny butt! "Oh Lord" I groaned and with that, all four of us had one more big, belly laugh together. No, I don't think any of us are likely to forget that...nor would we ever want to!

God-willing, there are more shared belly laughs ahead!



The Chrysalis

" is the river that flows through.
Love is the arms that are holding you.
And LOVE is the place you will fly to..."

"Love Never Fails" by Brandon Heath

This morning, I called to Dad's attention that his CaringBridge site has had almost 1000 visits. While Dad has always been a man of few words, those of us who know him well can read his face pretty easily (he would totally suck at poker!). His eyebrows arched in amazement. Mom has been reading him your guest book entries and email messages. I think he finds and will find them a particular comfort as he continues down his path. To all of you he says, "thank you for caring." Indeed, he is a lucky man!

Like the caterpillar starting its miraculous transformation, Dad seems to be retreating into his comforting cocoon, preparing himself physically, psychologically and emotionally. His chrysalis is forming and we are seeing changes by the day, hour, even minute. 

As Jennifer has very presciently noted, someday soon he will emerge from his earthly prison, like the butterfly, free and beautiful. He will take wing and fly to a place of pure love. And we will rejoice in the fulfillment of God's promise. The great mystery of our lives is that we never know when that promise will be fulfilled.



A Dimming Light

Written August 17, 2012 6:56am
Today, Dad will receive his final whole brain radiation treatment: we've reached another milestone. For not only is this the last treatment of this series, THIS is the last curative treatment Dad will likely ever receive. Once it is completed, we will be released into hospice care and any further treatment will be geared toward pain relief only. There is no softening the monumental significance that the day carries. It is the ultimate turning point for Dad and I have the sense that no one is more aware of that fact than he. 

I suppose that the true "ultimate turning point" in our lives is the day that we pass from this existence and our soul settles into God's loving hands. But from all I hear and my own limited experience, hospice care is of a similar nature. All our hopes, wishes, prayers for recovery are set aside and we settle into their skilled, humane, loving hands....almost a pre-cursor of the ultimate comfort God has promised. Whatever the reality, our course is set.

I'll save my home-made maxims, witticisms, and attempts at humor for another day...their shelf-life is practically unlimited! But Dad's isn't. For now, we will stand on the hope of one more breath together, one more meal together, one more trip to Atlanta together, one more smile or laugh, one more day, one more night, one more "I love you"...

I'm looking hard for the bright side today! And I find it in the sense that we, all of us who love Husband, Dad, Granddad, Brother, Uncle, Friend, are carrying him on a wave of love to eternity. For there is no denying that this man is well-loved!

As Dr. Adam Nowlin told Dad in their last meeting yesterday, "I'm certain we'll meet again on the other side."


God's will be done!




Written August 16, 2012 10:07am
I arrived back in Georgia last night to find a situation very different from the one I left. Objectively speaking, the situation has (d)evolved as might be expected. But Dad's physical digression is progressing exponentially, much like a snowball rolling downhill, gathering speed and mass.

Today, I woke early to the comforting, familiar sounds of Mom and Dad chatting in bed. Their chat was interrupted sporadically by Dad's congestive cough..assuredly not comforting but lamentably familiar. I rose and asked how I could best help this morning; Mom and I settled on me preparing breakfast. In case you don't know, breakfast is a pivotal event in the Reece household and, by far, Dad's best meal of the day. So the pressure's on: Bacon? Check. Scrambled eggs? no problem. Biscuits? frozen it. Gravy? GRAVY!?! Let's just say that sawmill gravy, a southern staple, is one of the great mysteries of life. At least, GOOD sawmill gravy is a mystery to many....myself included. But it is a singular pleasure for my father and one of the few "comfort foods" that he still has an appetite for.

How is it that meat fat, flour & milk can combine to form the quintessential breakfast condiment for some, or just as easily become an alternately watery or gloppy inedible goo (akin to wallpaper paste) for others? Like so many of life's mysteries, it's alchemy, pure and simple. Starting with just the right amount of fat (too much or too little is a common trap) heated just so, a commensurate measure of flour is critical to the mix. With salt & pepper added for seasoning, the flour should "toast" in the hot fat until it smells "nutty". Overcooked or undercooked flour will destroy the gravy's flavor. Once the flour is toasted, our gravy-making reaches its crescendo, just the right amount of milk must be added at just the right time, constantly stirring to avoid lumps. When the mixture is at a bubbling simmer to promote thickening, the heat is reduced, constantly stirring, and additional liquid is added, if needed, for just the right consistency. The result is either an unlikely indescribable ambrosia or culinary disaster!

Didn't see that one coming, did you? Sawmill gravy is the perfect metaphor for so much of what is important in life! Alchemy...

It's alchemy that combined my father and mother's lives into the idyll that has resulted; an entity so much greater than the sum of its parts. Alchemy brought together the key components of Dad's care in just the right measure to form a comforting cocoon of well-being, in spite of facing life-threatening circumstances. And, upon my return home, I sense that there's a certain amount of alchemy at work on my dear, sweet brother, David. Because the hard-nosed, business-like Type A I left a week ago has mysteriously given way to the nurturing, caring, loving, grieving man who was always just underneath the crust and who picked me up last night. What a revelation!

I suppose that we all have the potential to "rise to the occasion" when facing life's significant milestones, like a loved one with a terminal illness. Our measure is how we choose to DEAL with those milestones: do we turn away because they are just too painful to face and hope it will get better soon? Or do we step up, facing our worst fears head-on and, by doing so, become the person we were MEANT to be? Life is certainly an inexact science. (My personal philosophy is, "if life were easy, anybody could do it.")

Another way of looking at it is that maybe these milestones aren't so much challenges as they are opportunities! Our heavenly Father knows what is best for us...exactly the right measures of triumph and tragedy in each of our lives to promote our becoming the best us we can be. In the face of turmoil, we must trust that He is the Master Alchemist!

Did I really just equate life to sawmill gravy?!

Can you think of a tastier metaphor? Maybe a box of chocolates...


August 10, 1956 - an Idyll is born

Written August 10, 2012 7:24am
56 years ago on a stormy summer evening, Neal Reece and Jo An Grizzle were married at Mom's parents' home in Holly Springs, Georgia. They had known each other and dated for a very short time, only a few months. But their destiny of sharing a life together was set. While the legacy they've created is one of tenacity, patience, caring, understanding and love, theirs is no fairy tale. Rather, it is an ode to the wonders of the everyday, punctuated by moments of extreme beauty & joy, yet spiced with life's character-building challenges and tragedies.

Although their beginnings were humble and unremarkable, Mom & Dad have created what I've previously described as an "idyll" together. Dad was raised on a hundred-acre subsistence farm in the rural South by a gentleman farmer educator father and a managerially talented farm-wife mother of 10 (8 of whom survived infancy.) Mom is the only child of a father who worked during WWII at the Bell Bomber factory in Marietta which later became Lockheed and mother who helped tend Yarborough Brothers general store early on and who later reveled in her job as a high school lunch lady. An only child raised in town and a one-of-8 fresh from the farm met at the end of high school and the rest is history. Their divergencies complemented each other and, playing off of each other's strengths, their idyll was born.

All through their time together, they have met each day with positivity. I recall growing up in a home where, whenever we encountered a setback or obstacle, it was acknowledged yet never deemed insurmountable. Possibility has always been our starting point. Positivity is our watchword. When circumstances seem their darkest, Mom & Dad will invariably find the "bright side". And for any nay-sayers out there, they have 56 years of proof that there is ALWAYS a bright side!

So, we are left to ask, "where is the bright side in this, the biggest threat to their idyll in 56 years"? Medicine has no cure for Dad's illness and Mom will not leave his side, jeopardizing her own health in the process. He grows weaker daily from the one-two punch of cancer and the equally injurious treatments for cancer. Where is the bright side?

The answer is simple. At least to me, it is obvious. But then, I was raised by and for 52 years have basked in the possibility & positivity of two extraordinarily ordinary people who came together in an unlikely union, proving that the whole can be spectacularly greater than the sum of its parts. What a beautiful legacy of love and hope my brother and I have inherited! We must try to honor that legacy by "paying it forward". In that way, we can perpetuate all that Dad and Mom hold dear.

I wanted to be the first to wish Mom & Dad a Happy Anniversary this year but Dad's neurosurgeon, Dr. Frankel, beat me to it! Jennifer and her fiance, Max, were with Mom & Dad yesterday at the radiation oncologist's office (Dr. Nowlin) when Dr. Frankel's associate, Cara, walked in with a beautiful gift basket filled with champagne, sparkling cider, chocolate Ensure and champagne glasses from their favorite restaurant. What a surprise! Dr. Frankel's office is not only in a different building, it's across town! How did they know it was their anniversary? (Birthday, I understand but anniversary)? In a previous posting, I described Dr. Roger Frankel as a no-nonsense, New York kind of guy. I guess my powers of perception are failing me in my old age: it was a sweet, generous, thoughtful, LOVING gesture! The power of positivity is an amazing, awe-inspiring phenomenon.

Make no mistake, the idyll of Neal & Jo An Reece is ALIVE!

The BRIGHT SIDE will always be there.

Can YOU see it?

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad! I love you!



P.S. Humor is a fantastic tool for helping us get to the "bright side" of a situation. Mom has always had this half-joking "thing" with Dad about their anniversaries....did he forget it (again)?, what kind of present did he give?, etc. When I spoke to them by phone this morning, I suggested to Dad that if Mom started giving him grief about a gift this year he has an easy out. He can always say, "I woke up this morning, didn't I?". Yes, there's always a bright side!
The "Birthday Gift"
Written August 9, 2012 3:43am
August 9, 1992

Twenty years ago today (20..really?), I arrived in Honolulu after flying all night from Japan. It had been an extraordinary flight! All night long, I strongly felt the presence of my grandmother Leo who had died years earlier. It was a palpable, almost physical presence which I have described as like carrying her on my shoulder. At one point, it was so strong that I stepped into one of the lavatories just to make sure she wasn't really there! The energy I felt was quite emotional: joy mixed with anxiety. (I thought the anxiety was just related to never having had this sort of sensation and not really believing others when THEY spoke of it!)

When I got home, there was a message waiting that my sister-in-law, Toni, had gone into labor prematurely (over a month.) My niece Jennifer Nicole Reece was born (JOY!) but over a month prematurely (anxiety). Of course her premature birth meant all sorts of things: she was tiny enough to fit in the palm of my brother's hand, her little body had all sorts of developmental deficits which would require advanced treatment and long-term hospitalization. But the underlying fact remained: my parents' grandchild was born and our world was forever changed!

Her first birthday was the catalyst for me to actually think about and put into words what MY definition of family is. I know exactly where I was: a Northwest Airlines DC10 from Honolulu to Los Angeles, sitting in a "B" coach seat, on my way to Georgia to Jennifer's party. My thought was that a 1st birthday is significant, in Jennifer's case, particularly so. She would receive all manner of gifts but I wanted to give her a meaningful keepsake, something that might be of comfort to her along her path. There were tears in my eyes when it came to me and I wrote it, just as there are now:

"Dear Jennifer,

I am half a world away, flying home to help celebrate your 1st birthday. I can't express how much we love you.

We are your FAMILY. We are the ones who will always be there to cheer you when you win, to pick you up when you fall and to LOVE you no matter what!"

I signed the card "Uncle". (In Hawaii, it is common to refer to family by there relationship to you, rather than by their name: Uncle, Aunty, Sister, Tutu [grandmother or grandfather]). At the time, I just thought it was kind of cool but over the years the word "Uncle" has evolved into something bigger. For me it implies a certain degree of responsibility. Now, I am just "Uncle" to several other nieces and nephews, kids of friends, etc. just like I would be in Hawaii. Cool, huh?

Time has changed many things, our family has evolved and continues to do so. But our underlying love and concern for one another has never wavered. They are the very constants of our lives, not unlike death and taxes. Oh God, there's that word: death. What is that, anyway? Death is the very predictable and natural end of earthly life. Quite anitseptic when you look at it that way, actually. But death is so much more for us cogent, inquisitive, emotional humans. It represents one of the other constants of life, one that we almost universally fear and dread: change. Life, as we know and knew it, is about to cease to exist. What comes next? Can we deal with it? FEAR!

But without death, would life be as sweet? Would we all feel that constant underlying positive anxiety that we have but limited time to "do our do" and "make our mark"? Would birth be as joyous?

So, in light of all the angst and sadness which is in the forefront of our world, today, we CELEBRATE! We celebrate a very special life, a gift from God, which was entrusted to us, her family, twenty years ago this morning. Her birth and every birth is a promise for our future and the earthly embodiment of all we hold dear.

I hope, Jennifer, that you will walk your life's path everyday in the sure and certain knowledge that you will NEVER be alone! Even when our lives are over, you will carry us with you until the end of your journey and, hopefully, share this precious gift with those who need it, just as I share it with you now.

(Okay, Grandmother, I've passed along the gift. Can you get off my shoulder now? It's the middle of the night and I need some sleep!)




Where does the time go?
Written August 7, 2012 8:22am
Seems I just blinked and we are already well into August!

Dad is about half way through his radiation treatments and, as yet, shows no perceptible signs of the side effects mentioned.  With radiation, they often come later in the process but we were told we might see none at all given the brevity and generalized nature of this treatment.

Speaking of processes, as I mentioned earlier, the preparation for and recovery from these daily ventures to Atlanta are truly grueling on Mom.  Dad's care is supplemented by Home Health but the lion's share of his care falls to her.  There are certainly alternatives to caring for Dad by herself at home but she is, as yet, unwilling to relinquish her burden.  

NO ONE EVER received better, more attentive, more patient, more LOVING care than my father.  Blessed are the caregivers!

When Dad's parents, Papa and Granna, were declining in health, each of my aunts and uncles, Dad and Mom took their turn staying the night, caring for their needs.  It was a long and arduous road, a road which took its toll on all concerned.  But what a lesson in love and family and duty and humanity they taught!  Those same aunts and uncles, the ones still with us, continue to express the same love and concern for Dad. 

I am convinced that the only lasting impressions we make in this life are the things we do for others, that we are here primarily to help each other along his life's path.

David and I pitch in as we can.  Today, David is constructing a wheelchair ramp at the front door to make it easier for Mom to get Dad in and out of the house.  Early in the day, Dad has energy and determination.  He can negotiate the two steps in and out of the garage with little help.  As the day progresses, however, he runs out of steam physically.  The impairment to his equilibrium due to the brain issues certainly complicates things:  the falling dangers are ever-present.

Last week, David and Kay took a quick trip to Pensacola while I stayed in Canton.  This week, Philip and I will do our annual Maine fling while David stays close.  Mom will hardly leave Dad's side for a moment.  We look for excuses to do silly things to make Dad laugh or smile....he so enjoys both!

And our own budding medical professional, David's daughter Jennifer, is proving that these important life lessons are not lost on her!  She sent me the sweetest email yesterday saying that while P and I are in Maine, she will hold down the fort!  (She must know how difficult it is to leave with things as they are.) Jennifer starts her clinical rotation at North Fulton Hospital later this month and I believe she'll be very successful in her chosen profession.  She has that caring spirit that separates the good folks in medicine from the EXTRAORDINARY ones!

We pray that our omniscient heavenly Father guides us, always, to do the right thing, the best thing, the loving thing to honor and praise Him for all the blessings we have received.


Letters from Home

Written August 4, 2012 7:49pm
I guess I did some extraordinary things as a youth growing to adulthood. Going to Europe as an exchange student at 18 and studying abroad during college were not common for my socio-economic background in the 70s. But those experiences were pivotal in forming my adult attachments to my family. During the long absences from home, cards and letters were like a lifeline for me. Many were just a few sentences about the day-to-day but kept me from feeling totally "adrift" from the familiar.

The email I received in Japan from Mom this morning took me back to opening one of those onion-skin "par avion" notes we used to use. Seems like the news was always heartening...a promise of something positive:

"Sent from my iPad. I could hardly believe my eyes yesterday when Dad came down the hall with his walker unassisted after having dressed himself. And, he did it again this morning but quickly begins to run out of steam. He says he wants to begin doing this everyday and I hope he will get even better with it.

Was giving him a shower when you called and we're doing better getting his feet and legs over into the tub than we did. He shivers and shakes and complains about being cold and the water temperature is never right.

Doris Hamby also called during the shower and I had to call her back. She wanted to bring dinner one night next week and we settled on Thursday.

It's five o'clock and David and Kay are supposed to be here at five thirty to take us to Family Traditions for supper. He had to exchange the doorknob on the back door last night because
We could not get it unlocked after getting home from radiation yesterday. Thank goodness, we had not locked the front glass door so was able to getting that way.

Have a safe trip back to Texas!


Of course in our current techno-age it might be difficult to conceive of my meaning here. But for a few moments this morning, an 18 year old boy from the south in a faraway place savored a few minutes of home.

We live in cynical times where it seems that almost NOTHING has value. Does being "homesick" even exist anymore or is it just a hokey throwback to a time when we weren't so "sophisticated?"


Time to Make the Doughnuts
Written August 3, 2012 9:22am
I leave for Tokyo today on a 14hour non-stop flight on a two engine airplane. The people are wonderful travelers but the trip is brutal on the body.

Mom reports that Dad was exhausted yesterday after his treatment and visit to Dr. Lide, his primary care physician. Thanks so much to Uncle Charles for taking them! The drive down and back are easily as grueling as the actual visits.

When they arrived home late in the afternoon, there was a voice message from Dr. English, Dad's neurologist. He diagnosed Dad with his spinal issues in 1999-2000. He just wanted Dad and Mom to know that he was "in the loop" with our situation and offered to chat with them, if they wanted his advice or just to talk. God bless Dr. Jeffrey English!

My crew is onboard and I'm sitting here typing, so I must go.

Pray, meditate, do that which brings YOU peace. As for me and mine, with the Lord's help, all will be well!


A Song for You
Written August 2, 2012 9:28am
One of the defining characteristics of our family is that we seem to always be looking forward; we are planners, by nature. So, "living in the now" is not necessarily our forte...but we're learning to appreciate the idea.

I returned to Texas yesterday in preparation for my upcoming working trip to Tokyo and the annual summer visit to Maine that Philip and I have had planned for months. In light of our doctor visits on Tuesday, the gravity of leaving was so much heavier than normal. There's an immediacy to everything that is very disconcerting and while I fancy myself to be fairly stoic, I am not immune to an ambush from my own emotions.

In looking anywhere and everywhere for comfort, I have turned to the Bible for verse that I learned by wrote as a child. I always liked the "fancy" words and "sing-song" nature of it but the 23rd Psalm (Song of David, the shepherd) has truly come HOME to me as an adult child, facing the inevitable:

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.


Blessed are the Healers

Written August 1, 2012 8:35am
God bless Dr Adam Nowlan, Dad's "wunderkind" radiation oncologist, for his quick and sure recommendations whenever we encounter an obstacle on Dad's treatment path. His positivity, his reassuring manner, even his youthful appearance combine to inspire confidence and hope when all seems lost.

God bless Dr. Roger Frankel, Dad's New York City-born neurosurgeon. His direct, no-nonsense approach were just what Dad needed when we discovered that there was a large and growing malignancy in Dad's brain. In typical fashion, Dad responded to that surgery with strength and resolve. But Dr. Frankel revealed his true measure when we were called back to his office after leaving rehab for a "wound check." He started that session with his characteristic big city directness to deliver the news of the two new malignancies. But, as I recall it, a miraculous thing occurred. His tough-guy shell disintegrated and he began talking about his own mother's battle with pancreatic cancer. He told us how he'd gone to great lengths to assure she had the best possible care, which included pulling strings to get her into Sloane-Kettering Hospital. He said that, because of that experience, he learned that the quality of care was only one part of dealing with terminal illness. While his mother received the best possible medical care, Sloane-Kettering did nothing to address her needs on a spiritual or human level. Our talented neurosurgeon revealed his own humanity and we met Roger Frankel, the still-grieving son, who lost his mother in a hopeless cancer battle not terribly unlike our own.

God bless Dr. Eric Mininberg, Dad's oncologist, whose unenviable task it was yesterday to confirm all of our fears and suspicions about the progress of Dad's disease and prognosis for the future. I am confident that Dr. Mininberg is as compassionate and caring a clinician as one is ever likely to find. How extraordinary to find his manner and the aptitude for his medical specialty in one person.

When Dad was first diagnosed an unbelievable 3 years ago, I suggested that he and Mom come to Houston to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center for evaluation and treatment. Like Dr. Frankel with his mother, I was obssessed with getting the best care available. Dad thanked Philip and me for the offer of our home and support in Houston but decided that there was greater value in being here, in his home, in his own comfort zone, with the familiar all around him. What a momentous decision that was! I am convinced that Dad HAS received the best care possible: not just for his body but for his mind, heart, and soul.

And God, please continue to bless and watch over our little family. The time that Dad, Mom, David and I have left together here is ebbing like the tide. Some day soon, it will all be just a dream...

On the way home from our appointments yesterday, as we slowed to a near stop at the big curve in I575 south of Woodstock, a butterfly fluttered just in front of us. "Dad, did you see that?"



Oh..and God bless Anna Gorman's Dr. Rivkin in Seattle. Although I've never met him, I've seen the result of his work and I KNOW that he too possesses that humanity which makes these men so special. Amen.

Normal has its Hiccups

Written July 31, 2012 8:35am

With Mom's car at the dealership for scheduled maintenance, we methodically piled into Dad's truck for our trip to Atlanta yesterday. Uh oh....

A turn of the key in the ignition produces that gut-wrenching clicking noise that results from a dead battery (did I leave the lights on?)! Luckily, Jennifer had stopped by and gave us a jump start. Since the trip to Piedmont West takes almost an hour, the battery should be well-charged for our return, right?


A passing good Samaritan asked if we needed help. I explained the situation and said I was sure that building security could help us..."thanks anyway!" But he insisted, saying that he had a portable "jump starter" that he'd gotten at Sam's and was anxious to try it out. What a great invention! Started us right up. Needless to say, we didn't press our luck any further. After dropping Mom at the Mercedes dealership, we headed straight to WalMart for a new battery. I guess the truck had just been sitting idly for too long during Dad's illness.

Guess what M&D are getting for their 56th Anniversary present (August 10th)!

Another great invention, the condom catheter, works great for allowing both patient and caregiver to sleep through the night. Rest is an essential part of recovery, after all. But when it fails, well, let's just say that hiccups in the new normal can come at any time, day or night....


Our New "Normal"

Written July 30, 2012 9:27am
Today is blessedly normal. Know that our "normal" has changed markedly over the last few weeks but we'll take it!

Mom's cough is much improved and she shows all the signs of recovery from her respiratory infection. She's not particularly pleased with the side effects of her prescribed medication but it does seem to be working.

We are awaiting the arrival of Dad's physical therapist, George Birdsong. I've been out "rounding up" weeds which have overtaken Mom and Dad's backyard garden with amazing speed (they seem almost gleeful at the lack of attention their progress has attracted!). Why don't deer enjoy munching on weeds as much as $20+ hanging baskets?

Some time after Mr. Birdsong's visit and before we drive to Atlanta for Dad's first radiation treatment, the occupational therapist will make an appearance. In the late afternoon, we are expecting the speech therapist. Do you see the trend?

I don't want to go any further with this entry without thanking you, good taxpayer, for your contribution to Dad's care. It takes a village, indeed! These are but few of the "advantages" of reaching one's dotage (ever since learning that word in 5th or 6th grade, I've been looking for an opportunity to use it! Ha! Look it up...)

While accomplishing my morning toilet, I realized how easily our lives have integrated all the strangenesses of living with someone who is afflicted with grave illness. When I entered the bathroom with coffee in hand, I set my cup down next to Dad's urinal with scarcely any notice at all! (remember the scene from "The Spy Who Shagged Me"?) It is just one event of many that make the normally unthinkable seem of little consequence.

So, on our day goes: therapies, Olympics, treatment, traffic, meals, Olympics, medications, Olympics, sleep (if we're lucky), REPEAT.

Yeah, we'll take normal any day!


Do you believe in butterflies?

Written July 29, 2012 11:30am
We are blessed with another gorgeous morning at the end of Rockcliff Road; spectacular weather for sitting on the sunporch and enjoying Olympic Men's Volleyball.

Before settling in on the porch, I asked Dad if he felt like taking a walk outside. Predictably, he said yes. So, Mom and I started the production which is mobilizing my father (sometimes it seems as though the D-Day invasion took less planning.) Out the garage door we went (shallower steps than the front door) with Mom following with the "outdoor" wheelchair. Up the slope and down the circular drive toward our goal: the mailbox. We only had to stop and rest twice, once seated. But Dad reached his goal, we made it to the end of the drive at the mailbox. When we reached the point where Dad announced, "I've gone as far as I can", I saw a familiar sight flitting among the leaves just across the drive. I asked, "Dad, do you see that?" and he replied, "you talkin' 'bout that butterfly?" That's all that was said. It was a beautiful, common, gossamer yellow butterfly just doing his sunny Sunday morning thing. What a joyful sight!

In my mind and heart, it is the SAME butterfly that met us in the drive when Dad took a short walk outside last week. It is the same butterfly who shared our "chili cheese dog" lunch on the porch at the cabin on Tuesday. It is the same butterfly that kept Dad company when we were preparing the raised beds at the farm last spring. OK, so maybe I'm a little romantic about metaphors of nature but I get the distinct sense that Dad and I may be in sync. Dad is one of the most literal-minded people I know. He simply doesn't interpret, romanticize, or's just not his thing. Maybe he'll indulge me and agree on this one, though.

My Christian beliefs tell me that God is everywhere and in everything. I've told Joaquin that I see God in others.

But last spring, last week and this morning, God is a butterfly. And His continuing presence tells me, and I hope reassures Dad, that all is well with us. We are on His path, going at His pace and will continue to let Him reveal that, even in profound sadness and distress, we can and will see glimpses of Heaven.



Note: In the photo, Dad is sporting the gold medal (United Airlines Olympic pin) that he won with his mailbox walk!

Homeward Bound

Written July 28, 2012 2:09am
Looking forward to spending a few more days at home with Mom and Dad. He was so enjoying he Olympic Trials coverage on TV, maybe we can take a break from the judge shows for a bit.

Glad my August schedule is for Tokyo. London is a little crazy!

If all goes well, I should be in Atlanta by 7 or 8pm. If you look at the time of this posting, you'll see that I am in for a long day.

Enjoy the Olympics!

London 2012 (from London!)

Written July 27, 2012 2:21pm
As I write, Mom and Dad are at Piedmont West for Dad's "dry run" dress rehearsal for the radiation therapy which starts on Monday. Mom says that Dad seems "subdued" today...I guess that's fair.

I know how life-numbing the treatment process for cancer has been on me as a concerned bystander. I have difficulty wrapping my mind around what it must be like for Dad, as the patient. Doctors glibly discuss your life expectancy with & without treatment as if they were deciding about breakfast with or without orange juice. I mentioned that the radiation treatment planned is generally benign but it is not totally without side effects. Some of which could serve to "widen the gap" between Dad and the people/things that help make him who he is; that give him that essential reason to continue "to be."

But the very cyclical nature of life is one of the things that make it worth living. If all were certain, predictable, attainable...what would be the point? "To everything there is a season..." pretty much sums it up for me! With that in mind, I decided to embrace the opportunity to participate in life around me and see if I couldn't at least get close to the Opening Ceremonies for London 2012.

Philip gave me insights about how to use London's excellent public transport to get near the Olympic Park and off I went. Talk about planes, trains, and automobiles! An hour after setting out, I arrived at the Stratford Underground station, located in the very center of Olympic Park (about 6pm local time). I had been told that no one would be allowed entry to the park today without an event ticket but that the roof deck of the next door Westfield shopping mall provided an excellent elevated vantage point for the venues. But I will likely never know....

As we emerged from the Underground, my fellow tube riders and I were corralled into something reminiscent of a contraption they use at the cattle barn. (I was praying there wouldn't be a "shock stick" waiting for us at the end!) No shock stick, but there were several burly bobbies informing us of our options: enter the Olympic Park to the right with event ticket in hand, enter Westfield mall to the left which ALSO required a ticket (the mall had closed to the public at 3pm


...for a private function), or U TURN back to the Underground to return whence we'd come!

So, here I am back at the Hilton about to watch the start of the "greatest show on Earth" from what Boris Johnson, Lord Mayor of London, assures me will be the best seat in the house. I wonder if he'd like to trade seats?



P.S. Who will light the Olympic cauldron? Local money seems to be on Steve Redgrave. Who's Steve Redgrave? 5 time medalist in 5 successive games....rowing, I'm told. Who knew?

Back to reality...

Written July 26, 2012 9:30am
As a result of our meeting with Dr Nowlin yesterday, it felt as though we achieved our goal of getting things to that more manageable state for Mom and Dad, for the immediate future. So after getting them back home and settled, I took Dad's truck to the airport and flew to Houston to see about picking up a trip in an effort to replace some of the time I've had off this month (I was scheduled to fly 5 Paris trips for July...I have taken two.)

Luckily, a friend wanted today off and was scheduled to work our early London flight, so I guess I'll be at the Hilton in Kensington High Street for the Opening Ceremonies. Under any other circumstances, I would be "over the moon" about it. As it is, it just seems moderately noteworthy. Philip suggested that I go to a park to watch the ceremonies on one of the ginormous screens they've put up everywhere. In any event, I will be back on Saturday and will pop right back to Atlanta.

Joaquin came over after I arrived and he, Philip and I had Mexican food at Los Cucos. His big news is that he rescued a small box turtle with an injured shell. The turtle has been nursed, cleaned, fed, provided a home and named "Chip."

Joaquin will be starting at the University of Houston in August and it looks like he will be going full-time at the Anadarko credit union at about the same time. If all the stars align, he will also be moving back home to live until he finishes school. He is resilient, self-reliant and hard-working but we're happy to think that there is still something we can do to help the cause.

Well, it's time to start getting ready to take 250 eager folks to London. I realize that I've strayed from the central theme of the Caring Bridge today but hope you'll indulge me. I have found journaling to be a very therapeutic way of exhausting some of the energy that builds up under our current circumstances. I have encouraged Mom to do likewise but she seems to prefer ironing instead.

On a totally different level but no less salient, our center of focus here, Dad, is directly involved in the events chronicled today. He and Mom are never far from everything I do or decision I make. I have been blessed with an extraordinary family. That sort of blessing comes with ownership responsibilities. I'm a believer in "paying it forward". What do you think, "Chip"?


Our Own Doogie Howser

Written July 25, 2012 12:33pm
We visited Dad's own boy wonder this morning, aka Dr Adam Nowlin, radiation oncologist, and received Dad's latest treatment plan. The situation is a grave one, quite different from what we expected at the time of his brain surgery. But Dr. Nowlin feels that we can intervene now with a minimum of unpleasant side effects to both extend Dad's life and his quality of life.

Dad and Mom are to return to Piedmont West on Friday for a test run of the "whole brain" radiation therapy which will start in earnest on Monday. The therapy sessions themselves sound quite benign: Dad will don a "helmet" which stabilizes his head and neck and will receive precision radiation for approximately 10 minutes. That's it! Of course, this procedure will be repeated Monday through Friday for the next 3 weeks. So the day in/day out logistics of preparing, getting there and getting home will be rather grueling for them. They have requested a mid to late-morning appointment time to minimize their exposure to rush-hour traffic.

Our more immediate issues, are that Dad and Mom are both showing the effects of weeks in a hospital setting, with so-so nutrition, exposure to who-knows-what and the sedentary nature of what they've been going through. They both have respiratory issues. Dad, I think, is suffering from "farm and/or the outdoors withdrawal". Of course, a chili cheese dog on the cabin porch in spectacular weather will do wonders for one's outlook!


Other cities...other battles

Written July 24, 2012 9:21am

It's a reasonably good morning on Rockcliff Road, the Sun is shining and we're all still kicking......and speaking to each other!

Throughout his own battle with cancer and the multiple treatments/tortures he's undergone, Dad consistently remarks on the young people who are also afflicted and undergoing treatment. How do they do it? He and Mom have found that, as retired people, it's a full-time occupation with doctor visits, treatment schedules, rehabilitation for this, recovery from that. How are younger people who are still working, raising families and trying to reach their golden ages able to cope? We know firsthand of such a situation and I want to relate it to you because, if anyone needs the power of our focused prayers, it is this family!

For those of you who know my partner Philip, his older sister Belle has three children. Her youngest, Anna, is an accomplished athlete and scholar. In her 20s and young 30s, she parlayed volleyball talent and post-graduate study into what many would think of as a DREAM life: she and her soulmate, Chris, married in a fairy-tale wedding in Hawaii, bought a home in Washington state, had careers teaching at the local university and coaching others in their favorite sport, and had a baby on the way. When that baby, Alex, was just months old, Chris was coaching volleyball one day when he had a massive stroke. He was hospitalized for months, Anna devotedly at his side. Sadly, Chris passed away from his illness when Alex was not even a year old.

Left alone to raise their daughter (now school age) with the help of friends and her family, Anna was troubled by pain in her abdomen. When the pain became more than an annoyance, she visited the doctor and learned that she had a rare malignancy of the adrenal glands. I can't precisely name the diagnosis but I will say that it is a life-threatening and fast-moving form of cancer and Anna found herself in that very situation which has Dad so perplexed: she is a very young, vibrant, single parent, pursuing her career, attending to & dreaming for her daughter, whose life is already touched by tragedy and now she is facing the unthinkable. She, like Dad, has now outlived her diagnosis by an astonishing amount of time. The disease has run rampant through her body in spite of every treatment they throw at it....and they've thrown every imaginable treatment at her! If she weren't an accomplished athlete whose body had been tempered by years of sport, there is no doubt that she would have succumbed ages ago.

Yet she perseveres and is living her life, very differently from anything she ever imagined, I'm sure. Anna and Alex have sold their home in Washington and moved closer to Belle and father, John, in Missouri. Anna regularly visits specialists at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston where she and Belle have been and will continue to be our guests during their stay. Anna fights the good fight and inspires "normal" people, like me, to value the moments, treasure life's opportunities and try not to squander opportunities for the small raptures of the everyday because of seemingly "important" events that will be forgotten almost as soon as they occur!

I guess I feel moved to relate Anna's story to you because it, and so many others like it, have occupied Dad's mind so during his own fight. My dad is a blessing counter, a compliant patient, a quietly dignified, retired cancer sufferer. If situations like Anna's are important enough to concern him at this critical moment of his life, shouldn't we all be paying attention?

Lest this entry become too maudlin, I want to relate a particular episode that occurred during one of Anna's visits to Texas and our home. It had been a long, strenuous day and we were, I think, watching the news and chatting about nothing in particular. Something was mentioned about a grandmother did this or said that and Anna just burst into tears. "I wanted to be a grandmother!", she cried.....and I was stricken. What can one possibly do or say to balm that profound sadness? Well, I stretched credulity just a little and replied,

"MY Grandmother always said, 'you can WANT in one hand and SHIT in the other and see which one fills up first!' ".

BULLSEYE! Anna burst out laughing and broke into the most radiant smile imaginable!

What I want you to know about Anna is that she has the MOST AMAZING SMILE! Her spirit, like her body, is so strong and her life such a testament to the quality of that spirit.


P.S. Anna's mother, Belle Welk (one of the strongest humans I have ever known), has documented Anna's fight and is largely responsible for me sharing about Dad through Caring Bridge:

"you do work on me like a salve..."
Written July 23, 2012 9:29am

I don't remember the movie but that line rushed to mind as soon as David's daughter, Jennifer, showed up unexpectedly this morning!

Things were pretty gloomy around here in spite of it being a spectacular, bright morning. But an appearance from a granddaughter can work miracles when all else fails.

Thank God for unexpected mercies! They are what make life and living so worthwhile.


Thank Goodness for Piedmont Mountainside

Written July 23, 2012 12:05am

David's wife, Kay, accompanied Mom to the Piedmont Mountainside ER in Jasper where they spent the better part of the day. Luckily, it was an uncharacteristically short wait to be seen. After tests, fluids, IV medications, and a call home for David to start supper, Mom was released with a diagnosis of upper respiratory infection and the appropriate prescriptions. (Thanks again to Debbie and Mark for your offer of help!)

David just picked me up from the airport and I arrived home to find Mom camping out in her recliner on the sun porch. Apparently, lying flat in bed aggravates her cough. I think that Dad sleeps better with her in the bed but he seems content enough just having her back home and, hopefully, on the road to recovery.

On another front, David saved the day by building a platform which raises the height of Dad's recliner/hammock/reading nook/judge show observatory by about 5 inches. Although it's Dad's favorite perch, the chair was simply too low and deep for him to exit successfully (and was sometimes difficult with 2 helpers). So, we have averted another crisis!

Our goal this week will be to get Mom and Dad's home life back to a state that is "manageable" for the two of them. Given some of the newer challenges we're facing, the task is more difficult than before...but we'll muddle through.

During the German air raids and constant bombings of England's cities during World War II, the British developed a campaign to boost morale and maintain the public confidence that they would prevail. That campaign was born of their renowned "stiff upper lip" and rings so true in our family these days:


...and so it goes.

Written July 22, 2012 10:57am
It looks like Mom is succumbing to that very unspecific malady that afflicts many caregivers of critically ill people. She has developed a terrible, deep cough & congestion that kept her from sleeping/resting at all last night. While her primary care doctor would certainly have a more global understanding of her illness based on his knowledge of circumstances, looks like we need more immediate care for her.

David is on his way over to stay with Dad while Mom heads to the local ER. THANK YOU so much to Mark Cragg's wife Debbie for volunteering to accompany Mom to the hospital! (Mark and Debbie are visiting at Uncle Hoyt and Aunt Jean's, just down the street.)

I'm heading back to Georgia today and plan to be there to help David until we get a better handle on the situation.
Debbie, THANK YOU is just not sufficient for the immediate feeling of relief that you are providing. It's so discomforting to be so far away at a time like this. I hope the ER visit doesn't last too long!

Home Again:  Life Outside of Rehab

Well, we're home from North Fulton Rehab Hospital and it feels a lot different than coming from his last stint in rehab 11 years ago.  Both Dad and Mom are 11 years older for starters, Dad was considerably more successful physically the last time, and he didn't have that burdensome cancer to deal with then!

Dad was released at lunchtime yesterday and we had been asked by the neurosurgeon to "bring him by the office" (@ Piedmont Hospital) to have a wound check on his incision.  Earlier in the week, Dad had yet another MRI to visualize the quantity and source of the fluid collecting inside his head wound.  Dr. Frankel, theneurosurgeon, was pleased with the wound healing and felt that the infection there was resolving nicely...the fluid was NOT cerebrospinal leakage, as feared.  However, he said that the MRI had revealed another disturbing fact:  there are now 2 new lesions elsewhwere in his brain.  In essence, since Dad's brain surgery scarcely 3 weeks ago, what were microscopic, undetectable cancer cells at the time have developed into new tumors visible via scan.  Of course, that changes the plan of action.

Rather than a focused, one-time gamma knife radiation treatment as a follow-up to surgery, Dr. Frankel is sending Dad back to his radiation oncologist, Dr. Nowlin, for a series of "whole brain" radiation treatments.  These will take place several days a week over a period of several weeks (up to 8) and logistically, will be very much like what Dad originally went through on his throat almost 3 years ago.

Although he seems to be gaining strength following rehab, Dad's physical deficits are significant and the support burden on Mom is (how can I say it?) SUPERHUMAN.  Physically, she supports him with nourishment, personal care, mobility assistance, etc.  Psychologically, she has to be "on guard" with words and actions to keep him mentally focused and moving in a positive direction.  And emotionally...where do I even begin?!  The two of them celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary on August 10th and are as close as they ever have been.  She's facing a very uncertain future and the loss of her mate of 56 years around whom her world turns.  Yet she is calming, nurturing, caring, understanding...everything he needs emotionally while, inside, she is emotionally upside down.

The fact that Dad has "outlived his diagnosis" in such spectacular fashion provides little comfort.  While we are thankful for every moment our family has left together, it is so painful and difficult to watch such a vital, forward-focused man reduced to his current state.  But his quiet dignity and strength persevere through it all!  In the final analysis, Dad has been an excellent life teacher!

Next step:  Dad has an appointment with Dr. Nowlin, radiation oncologist, on WE/25JUL2012 to setup the radiation treatment plan.  In the meantime, he and Mom will be at the little house in the trees at the end of Rockcliff Road, living their lives and counting their blessings.  God is good!

Thank you for your caring, support and love!  Tony

7/9/2013 Just a year ago...

It was about a year ago (mid-June) that the odd symptoms Dad manifested while on our trip to Maine were assessed correctly by his radiation oncologist during a routine visit.  The numerous bruises that Dad had on his upper body along with other symptomatic complaints prompted Dr. Nowlin to order an immediate MRI of the brain.  The results showed that Dad had a significant growth at the base of his brain which would need to be excised right away.  When Dad asked the neurosurgeon who consulted on his case, Dr. Frankel, what would be the result of no surgery, he was taken aback by the response, "the tumor would kill him...and quickly."  Feeling that he had no real alternative, Dad acquiesced and his surgery was scheduled at Piedmont Hospital for June 28th.

I was flying to Paris during that June.  It was a kind of "rebirth" in the city for me.  Although I flew there regularly in the late 90s, I hadn't been back for years.  I had been busy enjoying a variety of flying that my newfound seniority afforded me.  To be back in Paris was magnificent.  To learn that my father was most certainly dying while there was preternatural.  How could something so life-altering, so final occur while I was in one of the most magical places on Earth?  (Against the odds, I was able to bring Mom and Dad with me to Paris in the late 80s.  That fact made the connection to Dad's current situation even more poignant.)

Of course, my immediate concern was to get to Atlanta as quickly as I could to spend time with Dad during what looked more and more like his final hours.   It was clear that he was not expecting a promising outcome.  Traveling was complicated by the fact that my recently merged airline employer had significantly cut our service to Atlanta in its attempt to "rationalize" the service overlaps caused by our combination.  We had recently negotiated a reciprocal "jumpseat" agreement with Delta and, for me, the timing could not have been better!  (Jumpseats are the folding seats where Flight Attendants sit for takeoff and landing, generally at the front and rear of the aircraft cabin).

That agreement combined with Delta's culture of friendly, happy, helpful employees went a long way toward relieving the anxieties caused by my family situation.  Many grave issues had to be faced but, fortunately, reliably traveling back and for to Atlanta would not be one of them.  (Delta, if you're reading this, I will never forget or be able to repay you!)

Reliving the day of Dad's brain surgery is something I'd rather not do.  Dad, the eternal optimist, was as low as I've ever known him to be.  In the pre-op suite, was quite obvious that he felt he was seeing us for the last time.  I've never felt so helpless.  There is absolutely nothing that one can say or do to assuage the abject shock and fear of knowing that one's mortality is so near at hand.  But the surgery was a "success".

Dad survived, the tumor was excised and in the typical tradition of our little family, we turned to the task of "recovery".  In hindsight, I can see that the energy we devoted the the recovery process was simply a way of distracting ourselves from the inevitable.  Because after the exhausting days at Piedmont Hospital and weeks of rehabilitation at Northside in Alpharetta, we were once again compelled to face our reality.

6/20/2013  The Last Trip

I just completed an exhaustive update to this section of the blog.  It detailed Dad's "last trip" in the spring of 2012 to our cottage on the mid-coast of Maine.  It detailed our last meeting with our friend and neighbor, Joe Rotondi, just hours before he died.  It detailed what a momentous event the trip was in Dad's life and how it was the "carrot at the end of the stick" that helped him to endure the hyperbaric oxygen treatments he so dreaded.  It detailed how that trip was likely the de facto beginning of Dad's end.  Then, just as I was completing it, it disappeared!

It was such a meaningful entry to me, likely the most meaningful I've ever written.  And then it was gone.  I guess the most helpful way of looking at it is that it was a gift to me, from me, and only meant for me...

The key revelation was this:  the same hyperbaric oxygen treatment that prepared Dad's body to deal with a potential infection resulting from his endodontic procedure likely also turned his body into an oxygen-rich feeding ground for his cancer.  It had only to choose just the right spot to grow...and it did.  I suppose that we might have guessed that his increased stumbling, occasional falls and chronic nausea were signs of something more ominous than fatigue and a lifelong weak stomach.  His radiation oncologist was the one who summed that 2+2=4 when Dad saw him shortly after the trip for a regular check-up.

A hastily ordered MRI revealed the culprit.  Dad's cancer had found a new home in the hyper-oxygenated, blood-rich tissues of his brain.

6/15/2013 An Ode to My Father

We didn't know that the spring of 2012 would be the last spring of my father's life.  Although he had been diagnosed with Stage 3 squamous cell carcinoma (cancer) of the head & neck in April 2009, my father's constitution was such that no one, neither his doctors, friends or family, could believe with any certainty that he was so near his end.  His will to live was resolute, his desire to suffer any and all of the inhuman "treatments" that modern medicine could toss his way was iron-clad.

Ironically, the most trying episode of his treatment path was caused by the intense radiation treatments of his head and neck.  The same radiation that so effectively eradicated the cancerous tissues also worked their magic on healthy tissues, specifically bones and teeth.  The radiation had effectively killed a healthy tooth as well as the bone which supported it and it was determined that endodontic treatment was required (root canal).  Since much of Dad's cancer treatment also served to compromise his immune system, the risk of a life-threatening infection resulting from a root canal was astronomically high.  It was determined that a regimen of hyperbaric oxygen therapy would be necessary to boost his body's ability to fight the potential infection.  For 20 days prior to his root canal and 20 days after, Dad and Mom were compelled to fight Atlanta's daunting rush hour traffic to make the trek to Piedmont Hospital (a 45 minute drive on a good day) for this critical prophylactic therapy.

The hyperbaric oxygen therapy itself presented Dad with a situation that even he could hardly tolerate:  he was sealed into a transparent cylinder and the atmospheric pressure was lowered to the equivalent of a signficant distance below sea level, the air was super-oxygenated, and he remained so for approximately 2 hours.  Although I never heard him use the term "claustrophobic", my Dad became terribly anxious from any situation which left him feeling enclosed and unable to extricate himself.  Although he had suffered terrible tortures (a dorsal approach needle biopsy of his lung while conscious, for example) in the course of his treatment, nothing came close to the dread that the hyperbaric chamber instilled.  In hindsight, how cruel it seems to have put him through it so close to his demise.

But suffer through it, he did.  I was home often during that period to assist with the grueling commute to and from treatment.  One morning, we were sitting dead still in traffic on I75 southbound at the height of the rush hour.  I was driving.  It seemed that the standstill was abating somewhat and we all began to proceed forward.  Just as we reached a steady speed of 30-35 mph, everything suddenly ground to halt, once more.  We were in the far left lane, anticipating a move into the HOV lane just up ahead.  To our right, a large cargo truck was also stopping, observing the stifled progress ahead of him.  He came to a rest maybe 10 to 15 feet ahead of us.

Suddenly, I noticed a rapidly approaching object just off our right rear in the rearview mirror.  As quickly as I could gasp, "NO!", a dark purple PT Cruiser slammed into and under the cargo truck just ahead of us on the right at a speed of at least 40mph.  CRASH!  There is no question that the operator of the compact car was either gravely or mortally wounded.  As quickly and unbelievably as it happened, traffic began to creep forward, once again.  And we crept along in our place in the flow, as if a life-atltering event had not just occurred with feet of us, dutifully fulfilling our obligation to battle Dad's illness.

While transporting my father to what, for him, was one of the most anxiety-provoking episodes of his life, another life either ended or was forever changed not 20 feet away.  I can only wonder at the emotional impact that event had on Dad, although we never spoke of it again!  

Even now I contemplate Dad's thought processes, he seemed so removed from the events that were having such a monumental impact on his life, yet HE was the focus of those events.  Was it denial?  Was it extreme coping?  Was it his spirituality?  I never asked because I didn't want to provoke an anxious thought if none was there already.

So, I'm left to contemplate and speculate.  Was he inhumanly strong or just so, so, so human, after all?

1 comment:

  1. Tony,
    Just read this one and my dad's experience was similar!
    He had heart attacks and flatlined and came back to us for 15 years!
    Then he lost his sense of taste! We had all just come back to southern Ca and he bought this home for my mother and made furniture and built ins for the home! A master craftsman!
    Then he suddenly gets sick and we thought it was another heart attack! He had just completed the 60th wedding anniversary and went into the hospital! He said to my mom as he was waiting for the ambulance..Helen I don't think that I'll make it this time!
    I was livinge closeby and rushed to meet the ambulance at the hospital! To my surprise it wasn't a heart attack! We didn't know then that he also had a brain tumor but this was pancreatic cancer!
    Thirty seven days in that ICU and a morphine induced coma!
    They said that his pancreas was almost gone also! They tried to wake him and he couldn't wake up from the coma because of the brain tumor!
    So I am sorry to hear about what you went through with your experience with your dad! You're right as I knew! I don't know if it was ever diagnosed as a cancer but it was pancreatic and horrible for him!
    Before the coma and at certain times he would semi wake up and shake his head NO! I don't want this! It is so sad to lose a father!
    Then I lost my sister who had special needs and now I am caring for my 91 year old mom and sometimes she doesn't remember him!
    She sometimes thinks that he is here and will be right back home!
    It is hard for her to say the least!


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