Sunday, March 27, 2011

Human Nature

A few weeks ago I was over at a friend's house with a group of guys I've known for over twenty years.  The night went in two phases.  The first part of the night was filled with joking, reminiscing and making fun of each other.  Pretty standard stuff for people that have known each other for twenty plus years.  The second part of the night was a bit different than usual.  We had some very serious discussions about Human Nature and what it was.  It's not like we said, 'hey, what is human nature?'  but everything we started talking about came back to human nature.  These are conversations I never would have had when I met these guys in high school.  We weren't capable of such in depth conversations.  After all we didn't have the life lessons that have been taught to us over the last twenty (pushing twenty five now).  So, what is human nature and is it the link that binds us historically to our ancestors more than anything else?

According to Human Nature is:
the psychological and social qualities that characterize humankind, especially in contrast with other living things.

What does that mean?  My take on it is this, it's basically what makes us, as humans, unique from anything else on this planet.  A lot of it is how we react with the knowledge we know.  George Santayana's famous (often misquoted) saying "Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." is very thought provoking.  I'd like to take it one step further.  Even if we know history and the past, we see the mistakes and blunders of others, we often repeat them.  Why?  Not because we are stupid, if we were stupid we would have been extinct long ago.  But because we have human nature.  We make many choices based on our emotions.  Even if that does not make sense.  Why do you think it is said that hind sight is 20/20?  Because, looking back on situations in retrospect is usually done with less emotion and more of an analytical mind.  I feel our strong sense of emotions are one of the things that make us human.  So maybe the mistakes we make aren't really mistakes, they are just us doing what we do as human race.  

Tell me what you think?  Do you like to hear that your mistakes are part of who you are?  It also means your successes are part of who you are.   Have a great week and I'll hopefully post more later this week.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The brown grass is turning greener!! (AKA: Brown Grass part II)

First off, congratulations to the Gathering Place for an incredibly fun and successful fundraiser at Crocker Park last week.  Dana and I had a great time working and playing there.  Once I find a link to some pictures I’ll post them so everyone locally can see what a great time it was and make a point to come out next year, if you couldn’t make it this year!!  Updated Sunday 8:50pm... Here is the link.

One of the deals you make with your doctors, after surviving cancer, is that you have to go back and see them periodically.  How often depends on a number of factors, what type of cancer and how long you’ve been finished with treatments are two determinants.  In my case I’ve been going back every three months since I’ve finished my treatments.  I’ll do that for two years.  After that I can cut down my follow up visits once every five to six months for a year or two.  Then after that I’ll go see them once a year.  This is all assuming there are no signs of cancer, which is what my doctors and I fully expect to find (or better said “not” find).

For my first few follow up visits it was always a relief to go see them.  I couldn’t wait for the next three months to go by.  I wanted and needed the reassurance that the once thing that threw my life into a tailspin was not coming back.  I craved those visits, wanted to hear the words from the doctors that everything was still fine and I’m doing great.  I heard it every time.  I didn’t care that those words sometimes needed to be accompanied by more tests, more needles, more lying still on a table for full body scans.  I didn’t care that I have to endure my all-time least favorite activity, “the nose scope”.  I craved those words like an addict craves his substance.

But now I’m fifteen months out.  The visits are getting routine.  I still enjoy going and love to hear those words that everything is OK.  But I don’t crave them with the same intensity.  Right after treatment you are like a newborn, who doesn’t understand what the future holds.  But, like a growing child, you gain more confidence in the results after every visit.  Going on my routine visit now is more like going to visit an old friend.  Even if I’ve only known these doctors for a couple years our circumstances for meeting and our connections thereafter were all very intense.  You can bond to them quickly.  Now that they are more in a monitoring phase, you kind of talk to them a bit differently and see them in a slightly different light.  I’m completely amazed at how brilliant they are at what they do.  Before cancer I knew that it went on.  Modern   Doctors have always worked tirelessly to save people’s lives from cancer.  During cancer you don’t think about it, you are in a partnership with them to get you through to tomorrow.  It’s not until after cancer, when the dust settles that the impact of what they do on a daily bases sinks in.  What a great feeling!!

I had one of these follow-up visits last Friday.  I am, once again, glad to hear that things are looking great for me.  I am still cancer free.   I am also glad to see my “old friends” again.  If for no other reason,  just to appreciate what they do.

Does anyone have any comments on visiting doctors for any type of follow-up visits?  What if you don’t get along with your doctors, or disagree with them?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Congratulations Discovery, you finished off strong.

Before I talk about the Space Shuttle Discovery I have a quick announcement.  If anyone reading this is in the Cleveland Area there is a great event going on this Saturday March 12th at Crocker Park.  It's a fundraiser  that benefits the Gathering Place.  The Gathering Place's mission is to support, educate and empower individuals and families touched by cancer through programs and services provided free of charge.  My family and I used their services a lot during my fight with cancer.  Click here for details.  I hope to see you there. Now, back to the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Space shuttle Discovery completed the orbiter's final mission this week.  It landed at the Kennedy Space Center this week for the final time.   Check out it's final landing here.

There are only two space shuttle flights left until NASA closes it's doors on a program that started thirty years ago on April 12, 1981.  The two remaining flights will launch soon.  Endeavour will fly it's last flight on April 19th and will be commanded by Mark Kelly,  the husband of Gabrielle Gifford, the congress woman who was shot in Arizona earlier this year.  The final shuttle mission will be flown by the space shuttle Atlantis on June 28.  This 

final flight from the Atlantis will be the 135th time a space shuttle has flown a mission.

According to NASA's website Discovery is named for two famous sailing ships; one sailed by Henry Hudson in 1610-11 to search for a northwest passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the other by James Cook on a voyage during which he discovered the Hawaiian Islands.

Here are a few highlights from this incredible piece of machinery.
  • It's flown into space more than any other space vehicle.
  • Took the Hubble Telescope into space.
  • Launched countless satellites into space.
  • Ferried people and modules to and from the International Space Station.
  • Over 350 days in orbit.
  • Circled Earth over 5600 times.
  • Traveled over 143 million miles (That's to the Sun and 1/2 way back)
  • The first space shuttle to visit the Russian Space Station Mir.

One of the most important statistics in my mind is the role Discovery had in bringing people back into space after both the Challenger and the Columbia disasters.  It was the first shuttle to fly after each of these disasters, restoring America's pride and faith in the space program.  It reminded us and the world of the resolve the people of the United States have.  It was a symbol for determination and persistence and reminded us all that we must rise from the ashes of tragedies like these and keep moving forward.  If not, then the deaths of those astronauts would have been in vain.

The space shuttle program has always been an incredible source of pride for me, as I was too young to experience first-hand the rocket programs and moon landings so many decades before the first space shuttle ever lifted off.  I've grown up with the space shuttles and now that they are about to retire it gives me the same feeling I get when other great events in life are coming to an end.  Sadness that they are going yet excitement to see what their children and grandchildren will be like.  Congratulations and Farewell Discovery, you've had a great career and I enjoyed watching you over the last 30 years.

What are your thoughts of the Space Shuttle Discovery?  Is it something you enjoy or something you just don't care about?  Leave a comment or take the poll on the left side of this posting.  It's open until March 17th.

If you have time check out this video from NASA that is a great history of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Cancer Survivor's View - The grass is always browner on the other side

Wow!! That's some brown grass.
I'm glad mine isn't that brown.
When I was going through chemotherapy and radiation, I often had to look internally for a pick up.  I had plenty of external support, probably more than, or at least as much as, most.  My wife and kids, my family, friends even my Doctor's throughout the whole process were telling me things were going great.  Sometimes, you just feel alone.  It's no ones fault.  That is just the way it is.  You tell me they are going great but I can't hear, taste, sleep, swallow, keep weight on or much more.  This vicious cycle has the potential to whittle away some of the positive attitude you brought in to the process with you.  How much more can a body take?  I found out that the body can take much more than mine went through,  if it had too.  As long as the mind enforces the fact that that this whole experience is temporary.  If it's six months or five years, there will be some times better than others and it will end.  This was especially true for me.  I was told, even before I started any treatments, that there would be a definite start and end to it.  There was a chance we would have to go further with more treatments but odds were it would be finished.  So what did I do to get me through, once my mind started getting taxed and frustrated?  I looked at the brown grass.

Sounds odd and even now thinking about it, it sounds very selfish.  But there is a point where you have to stop putting energy into pretending you are doing fine so everyone else is comfortable and just focus internally on what you have to do to get better.  Let me explain what I mean by "brown grass".  We all know the saying, the grass is always "greener" on the other side.  It implies that when you are having hard times, you look around you and see that other people are seemingly doing so much better than you.  That really seems to just get you down further, I never really understood that.  Here is how my "brown grass" theory works.

My radiation treatments were always at the same time.  Every day at 10:00 am.  As you can imagine many people have the same times for there appointments.  Maybe 9:45 or 10:15 but you start noticing the same people hanging out in the waiting room.  Over time, you make eye contact and smile, maybe strike up a conversation.  It's not too hard to strike up conversation, you know right off the bat that you have something in common.  One day, my wife and I were talking to Bill and his wife.  Bill had cancer in his neck too.  He was quite a few years older than I was and about three weeks ahead of me in treatments.  That means he had around fifteen more radiation treatments than I did at the time.  I was always amazed at how well Bill was doing.  He walked in every day, smiled at everyone and would strike up conversations.  He really seemed to be doing well.  Bill and I were talking about how things were changing physically for each of us.  I had a hard time hearing him because the chemo and radiation were doing a number on my hearing at that time.  I flat out told him, "Bill, you look like your doing great, but I can't really hear what you are saying."  In response Bill said, very loudly,  "Oh, that's OK that you can't hear me because I can't see you OR hear you."  When we realized we were both having similar issues, it struck us as funny and started laughing hysterically.

There was another guy I met, who was younger than Bill, probably just a few years older than me.  He was having a rough time because he always considered himself a 'Bull' in life. He was a real tough guy.  But the cancer treatments were really taking him down a notch.  The bull wasn't as tough as he initially thought.  None of us were.  But we were all getting through it.

Another friend, similar troubles and another and another.  But we were all getting through it somehow.  I realized, as bad as I felt other people were feeling just as bad (or worse) and they were getting through it, so I could too. "The grass is always browner on the other side,"  was born.  I may have been struggling through the experience, but to see Bill, the "Bull" and others struggling helped me realize I wasn't alone in my experience.  My hope is that by them seeing me struggle they could gain some strength from me as well.  I didn't care if they perceived me as doing 'worse' than they were.  In my perspective their brown grass helped me, but my brown grass was helping them too.

Over time we all lost touch with each other but I often think of them and how their lives are progressing. I only hope they are doing as well as I am.  It's time for the brown grass to turn green and give inspiration to others  in that way.

Have you dealt with getting through cancer treatments or any rough spots in your life?  How did you get through it, did you look to others with a similar situation and draw strength from them?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cardiac Sarcoma

Hearts are STRONG!!
Today’s post is to bring attention to a type of cancer that does not hit a lot of people.  I can relate to this. I can’t tell you how many people said to me ‘tonsil cancer, I’ve never heard of it’ when I was fighting cancer.    Actually I’ve never heard of tonsil cancer before it hit me.  However, when you are going through it, you get an intimate understanding of what it is and want everyone else to know that too.  This cancer I’m writing about today is called Cardiac Sarcoma.  It affects barely ten thousand people in the USA per year.  I’d be curious to find the world wide numbers.   Today’s posting is inspired by a friend of Dana’s (my wife) from high school.  His name is Joe and he was diagnosed with Cardiac Sarcoma and is currently battling it.  Take a moment and say a prayer, send positive thoughts or do whatever you can to help out Joe.  I had a lot of prayers said for me during my battle with tonsil cancer and I’m sure that is one of the main reasons I got through it.

I’ve been researching Cardiac Sarcoma to find out more about it and this is what I came up with.  This post is by no means a medical document and should not be read that way.

What is it?  Cardiac Sarcoma is basically a tumor that grows on the heart.  This is a malignant tumor so you can image how important and urgent treatment is, once diagnosed.  According to many sources, including the actual definition is:

Cardiac sarcoma is a type of tumor that occurs in the heart. Cardiac sarcoma is a primary malignant (cancerous) tumor. Tumors are considered to be either primary tumors or secondary tumors. A primary tumor is the original site of tumor growth. A secondary tumor originates from another tumor elsewhere in the body

From what I read if the tumor started it the heart it is most likely cancer.  However there are some sarcomas that start in other soft tissues of the body, usually those are not malignant.  Even if they eventually travel to the heart.  The type that starts elsewhere is considered a secondary tumor once in the heart.

What are the symptoms?  Well this is always tricky, but depending on where the tumor is located by (or in) the heart you can have the following (and more):
  • Coughing Up Blood
  • Fever
  • Unexplained Weight Loss
  • Chest Pain
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Always Tired
  • Irregular Heartbeats
  • Trouble Breathing
What is the Treatment?  Treatment seems to be the same treatment used for a lot of cancers including Surgery, Radiation and Chemotherapy.  The one treatment that is different is getting a heart transplant.  Treatments depend on a number of factors including how advanced the cancer is, your age,  expectations of the disease and your opinion.

Finishing Up:  Cancer sucks, plain and simple.  Heart issues suck.  When the two are put together ist seems like a terrifying combination.  However, the human spirit can overcome a lot.  Hang in there Joe and family.  You can take this cancer down.

Does anyone else know about Cardiac Sarcoma?  If so, tell me something I didn’t find by doing some research.