Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Listening and supporting

I spent the day at home today with Dori, but actually worked a full day. I spent most of the day talking on the phone, planning a few important meetings and drafting some memos. It was great to be home with Dori. She is getting around better each day and eating more foods, too.

Tomorrow, we go to the clinic (I'll work via the phone a good bit of that time), and Dori hopefully will get the cytogentic results from the biopsy. I'll be on the road for work in the afternoon, when my superstar sister Anne takes over the watch. She has been amazing ... I had a delay at work Monday, so I had to work late, and she just took over some duties until I could get home. Don't bet against our team.

This morning, Dori asked me to sit down to tell me something. That usually means I'm in trouble. Not this time! Dori thanked me for being patient with her during the summer and fall, allowing her to work through this challenge in her own way. I can be heavy-handed sometimes and gentle at others, and I know it. I made a conscious effort with Dori to pursue the latter course when she was diagnosed. I recall several times when she was aggravated or I was frustrated with something she did or didn't do, but instead said, "Honey, this is your journey and not anyone else's. You have to sort this out yourself. I am here as your sounding board or for whatever you need." That was what she wanted to hear. A few times, I gave her gentle nudges or found other ways to encourage or discourage her from doing something. It wasn't easy and required my A game. Listening a lot to the nurses and care partners, because they are the experts, was helpful. I also talked a lot to Dori's sister, Anne and my Mom, even the Hendrys, updating them and asking for their thoughts and advice. Smart people who know a lot about a lot. See, I'm no dummy. Just occasionally too blunt.

I had an overwhelming feeling today about how blessed I am. It just hit me. Dori is here, I love my work, I love my kids and family, I have great friends, etc. During lunch, I took mischievous Pepper (pictured above) for a short run and just soaked up his joyful disposition and proud posture as he ran alongside me. I still miss Otis, my handsome, good-natured black lab, dearly. Putting him down in August 2006 was a dreadful experience. Pepper, however, is growing on me after a year-plus with the Family Von Trapp. Only thing ... he can't hear us sing because he's deaf. Too bad, because Kathryn has a lovely voice and plays some sweet Christmas piano.

I can't believe December is almost here. I'm looking forward to the weekend so I can run some key errands, like get Dori a new treadmill and buy some new running shoes, clothes for work and a Christmas tree. I hope I can get my mileage back up soon ... maybe I'll get in a six or seven mile run this weekend. That would be fabulous!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Blog and Thanksgiving break analysis

I had to post some recent photos of Will and me at Vanderbilt football games. He loves the Dores like I do, hard as it can be sometimes. VU finished the season 5-7 with several near misses, including a 25-24 headscratching loss to UT last week.

So my friend Paige Clancy told me about Google Analytics last month, which slices and dices blog visitor activity in many ways. It's geeky, techy stuff, not my forte, but here's what I learned about my blog since I started tracking visitor activity Oct. 30:

- The blog has had 622 visits and 826 pageviews from 210 unique visitors in the first 27 days.
- Average time spent on the blog is one minute, two seconds.
- Traffic comes direct (52%), from referring sites like (33%) and search engines (15%).
- The peak number of visits occurred on Wednesday, Nov. 21 (79); the nadir was on Saturday, Nov. 10 (7).
- "Sunday's homily" was the No. 1 viewed post (109 visits so far), besides the main page.
- 44% of visits are from cable subscribers, 22% from DSL and 17% from T1. The rest are unknown or ISDN.
- Most of you browse with Internet Explorer (82%); Firefox (14%) and Safari (4%) are second and third.

Like I said, geeky. Useless? Sure. Fun? Yea, pretty much. That's Paige, my fun friend whose neighborhood blog is under Blogger Friends.

I also have linked the blog of Tammy Hart, who Dori met recently. A friend of a friend, Tammy is getting her bone marrow transplant very soon. She's a very good writer who has been through a lot this year. She seems to have the same kind of powerful attitude as Dori, and thankfully, the same kind of support group we have. You are in our prayers, Tammy. The kids and I prayed for you tonight.

What else do I know these days? I know stuffing still makes you sleepy and is a strong adherent. I know my itchy throat and watery eyes are automatic prompts for sleeping on the couch and getting reacquainted with the dog. I know watching Vanderbilt play football is more enjoyable when you bring your kids and their friends and focus on the hot chocolate and funnel cake, not the actual play on the field. Seriously, the Dores were down 31-3 in the third quarter and I was having a blast. Amazing what your wife's AML experience and happy kids will do for perspective. During the game, I actually turned around to a fellow VU fan, who started yelling angrily at a player who was having difficulty tackling. I said, simply, "He's hurt, you know." "Yea, I know," the guy acknowledged. Later, we learned about the young boy from Julia Green who died before the game in a tragic accident (he was hit by a taxicab). That's the ultimate perspective.

Dori will be at the clinic twice this week, on Monday and Thursday. She'll reach the halfway mark to Day 100 on Thursday. Christmas will be here soon, this year with our first artificial tree. Never a fan of the fake tree, we'll enjoy this year's version like the best real tree we ever had.

Friday, November 23, 2007

'We're the lucky ones.'

Thanksgiving Day 2007 was just awesome.

I woke up early to run the Boulevard Bolt, a five-mile race in beautiful Belle Meade, a third consecutive year. Because my left leg is still bothering me, I was not sure I would finish this race, but gave it the "oh-what-the-hell" effort. I'm glad I did. Despite the tightness and discomfort and having to stop twice to apply more Icy Hot (2-3 minutes of stoppage time), I ran in just over 47 minutes. The great part was running; the hard part was having so much energy but not being able to exert 100% effort. Woulda coulda shoulda ... I had a 40-41 minute race in me, but will more than embrace my time this year!

My Dad and step-Mom Peggy paid us a nice visit after lunch, then we loaded up the car for Thanksgiving Dinner at my Mom's. Joining us at my Mom's and her husband Dan's house - Dori, her Mom Happy, sister Kathy, Kathryn and Will, my sister Anne and her husband Stephen. Mom makes Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray look like third-stringers. I made some smoked sausage stuffing that I brought over. We had tender turkey, two stuffings, mashed potatoes, real cranberry sauce, roasted brussel sprouts cut fresh off the stalk (best I've ever had), green beans, some tasty pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, and two scrumpdelyicious Dessert Designs cakes (apple with caramel icing and coconut) with coffee.

The special part of dinner, great food aside, was the blessing and discussion as dinner began. The kids said grace, and then Kathy and I, on the same wavelength, thought we should go around the table and share what we are thankful for. We passed the kleenexes midway through. Dori, who went next to last, cried the whole way through her beautiful offering. She was rock solid strong during her gracious praise of everyone at the table, the staff at VUMC, the donor she does not know and the many who have come to her side with support. After the poignant moment, we laughed, drank and ate with youthful exuberance.

Dori has changed much this year, as have all in our family. Dori has been so selfless her whole life. She's definitely one of this world's great givers. Through this storm, I see a resolve and deeper appreciation in her now that sets the bar very high for the kids and me. The unachievable now looks achievable, while old fears are more easily vanquished. Each of us, as we said last night, is more in tune with what's important and what's not. We're closer than we've ever been. Our marriage has never been stronger.

Kathy, a breast cancer survivor, mentioned something from the Lance Armstrong book Dori and I read this year, that "we're the lucky ones." Count us fortunate because we've seen life through a lens that most have not. And we all agreed that has been this year's great gift from God. I personally believe Dori and I have been asked to look God in the eye and tell Him we're with Him and ask others to know of Him. He's also asked me to do better in everything I do.

At dinner, my Mom noted how my sister Anne says there are folks in this world "who get it" and "those who don't." I completely agree. I see people here on earth who do nothing but take, expect or whine. On the other hand, I have seen, up close and personal, people who are devoted to serving their fellow man in need. People like Melissa Red, our mother hen who has helped coordinate meals for us, who take care of other daily challenges, with a selflessness and total commitment to my bride's recovery. People like Elizabeth Antony, who check in to see how they can help us. People like Liz McConnell, whose husband emerged from his own cancer battle, who understand how to stay rock solid on course. People like Patricia Eastwood, who send Dori words of strength and encouragement. People like John Marcheschi, who bolster us in prayer and humor. People like our many friends at SBA and the Cathedral, who work quietly but diligently and selflessly to make sure my family is loved. The many people who have added their names to the Bone Marrow Donor Registry and give generously to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The many people we don't know who offer us up in prayer. And people like the doctors, nurses, care partners, cleaning and cooking staff, and others at VUMC who have been nurturing my girl back to health and a new life. Now that's a lot to give thanks for!

Dori is at the hospital this morning with Kathy. All is well, but we had a snafu late Wednesday with her catheter (one of three lines broke and she had to go the emergency room to get it cleaned and capped off). Dori will have her Hickman (heart port) replaced with a PICC line (arm) later today. We're at Day 44 ... and the road still has turns, we know. Thanks for the continuing prayers. We've heard many times how we inspire our friends, and know that we feel the same about all of you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sunday's homily

Some of you know we attend Cathedral of the Incarnation, a special church between Vanderbilt and downtown. Last Sunday, Deacon Mark Faulkner, a good friend of ours, talked about how perseverance through hardship leads to a richer life, using Dori's experience as one example.

I hope you find his words as inspiring as we do.

Nov. 18, 2007
Deacon Mark Faulkner
Cathedral of the Incarnation

Hardship ... will lead to your giving testimony. Even in death ... not a hair will be destroyed. PERSEVERANCE WILL SECURE YOUR LIFE.

1st of all, what is the LIFE that perseverance through hardship will lead to? As you might guess, it is NOT necessarily what many often value in this life. Just as the Temple was adorned with valuable stones and gilding and whitewash ... all that superficial stuff amounted to nothing when the temple was crumbled and destroyed. The LIFE that comes from persevering through hardship is a more substantive life ... a richer life ... a deeper life ... a grateful life that wells up in us.

St. John of the Cross in his book “Dark Night of the Soul” talks about the dawning of new and transcendent life that comes after living through a very dark time. He reminds us that our God promises that in spite of any current darkness, if we just try to persevere, there will ALWAYS be new and greater life following.

This has been a week of me witnessing dark nights almost everywhere I turned.

Melanie Nelson, a friend of mine for over 20 years, died on Wednesday after a 5-year battle with brain tumors ... and she battled with amazing, ever-buoyant hope. Melanie persevered.

Wes Caldwell, a business associate and friend I’ve worked with for over 10 years succumbed to cancer Thursday night ... but he did so with a peaceful, faithful candor about what was happening. Wes persevered.

And then our dear Bishop Niedergeses died Friday ... in spite of aging and a series of medical challenges, [he] remained to the end, a shining light of joyful gratitude and service. Bishop Niedergeses persevered.

Or a single mom with whom I was speaking, trying to deal with the anxieties of her kids, so badly effected by divorce, and the financial burdens that have ensued, and the frustrating lack of help for shouldering some of the most basic day to day tasks ... and yet, trudging forward with all the cheerfulness she can muster. She is persevering.

And our own Dori Brown from here at the Cathedral who has faced acute leukemia and mortality, and she is doing so with courage and determination, persevering one day at a time ... and savoring each moment of life. I’d like share just some brief notes Dori wrote as she continues to recover ...


I didn't realize feeling good felt so good!

Our news to report is that my cells are continuing to slowly increase. The really great news is that my platelets are now growing without the help of transfusions.

After having been in the hospital over 2 months this summer, I have now been here again for another month ... and this stay has the most difficult physically. Heavy medications that take their toll, high fever that saps you, chemo-induced mouth sores and a throat too sore to swallow or talk, exhaustion and pain and nausea and rashes ... but ...

I found a nice quote from the diary of Anne Frank...

“I don't think of all the misery, but of all the beauty that still remains.”

I wish that I could say I've been fully living according to that inspirational message these past 30 days, but it’s been so tough. I do know that I finally see a light at the end of the tunnel and that is so welcome. I can't wait to walk back into our house, to be able to tuck the kids in bed, to sit on chairs that are not vinyl! To just be home.

After a very dark period, I do sense a light at the end of the tunnel ... Thank you for your support and prayers.

Love to all of you,

Dori’s sense of light is correct ... that is what awaits us if we persevere, both in this world and in the next ... a brighter life after hardship or the BRIGHTEST life of heaven after death ... a brighter outlook, a brighter existence. A brighter appreciation ... if we persevere through the hardships.

I am very aware that some of you are facing challenges similar to a few of these I have referenced today ... death, disease, broken relationships, financial burdens ... . I know that all of us have our own challenges that are at varying levels of seriousness ... I know that each of these challenges are important and significant to us, even if small compared to those of others ... .

Father Fleming, our former pastor, would often say ... NEVER give up, NEVER lose hope! NEVER. GET UP! We stumble, we are tripped, we doubt, we fear, we fall ... just always get up ... always persevere ... always move forward ... doing so makes our lives a testimony to faith, a testimony to hope.

So, is how we are facing our own challenges “giving testimony”?

Is how we are handling our burdens indicating faith that, whether in life or in death, nothing is lost, not a single hair?

In our hardships, are we persevering, and thus, securing richer life?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Two runs

Back home after a two-day business trip. It feels good to say that. I was able to make the important trip because Dori is improving and Dori's Caregiver Team is top notch! Mom, Anne and Dan ... YOU ARE THE BEST!

Dori's energy level continues to improve. A blood test shows her DNA is now 100% donor DNA. She'll have a biopsy Tuesday to confirm that and some other things, but go, Hans, go! Her appetite is improving and she's been given a tapered steroid schedule that will finish before Christmas, if all stays on track. Dori looks good and feels good, but certainly isn't 100%. She's pacing herself smartly. The kids are at some friends' house, so we're going for a walk in a bit with Pepper.

Tonight, friends of the Hendrys are having a bonfire celebration/auction in Franklin for Chuck and his family. I don't think I can make it because the kids will be home by then, and I need to be here. We're very happy Chuck is making great progress.

Vanderbilt plays UT in football in a few hours. My Florida prediction was a joke, and I think UT is going to handle us easily. Something like 31-13 or 24-10. Maybe I'll be wrong again, which would be nice.

I was able to run twice on the road, so I actually ran three times this week! After my six-mile Sunday run, I ran a fast 5K late Wednesday afternoon and a smooth 4-miler on Friday at dawn. I probably ran an 8:30 pace or lower on the 5K and about a 9:00 pace on the 4-miler. It felt good to run 13 miles this week. I did enter the Thanksgiving Boulevard Bolt on Belle Meade Blvd., though I'll have to watch my calf, which is bothering me again. Stretch and rest ... sound familiar?

I'm also considering running a full marathon in 2008. When this thought pops in my head, it usually goes away within a day because I recall the pain of a half marathon. For some reason, I've thought about a full three days in a row now. I definitely need to sort this out ... Dori said she'll support me if I run a full, but doesn't think it's a wise idea, given my muscle trouble. She's got a point. I think I would need to drop another 25 pounds and train even smarter to make it work so the stress is reduced. What's got me thinking is I raised $25K for LLS through my half, why not raise $50K through a full? I would do this at least a year after the Virginia Beach Half so there is no donor fatigue. I'll ruminate more over some dark beer and stuffing next week ... two of several reasons why Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Back home and running again

This weekend has been wonderful. Dori is home and enjoying being with us again. Friday, when she came home, she was too tired to enjoy everything. She slept three hours and was quiet until dinner, when we all went to bed. We slept almost 12 hours! Halleluiah! Her smile returned yesterday and she has been soaking it all in since then.

The weekend hasn't been a typical weekend. Yesterday, Dori was at the clinic from 8-3:30. I took the first half and my Mom relieved me so I could take Will to the Vanderbilt-Kentucky game. Dori had to receive IVs potassium and magnesium, which took awhile, and the clinic staff had to spend time focusing on an older patient who was struggling. Last night, the kids went to the Predators hockey game with some friends from school, while Dori and I chilled out and watched football.

Speaking of Vanderbilt, the game yesterday was like Groundhog Day. I told my son as a Vanderbilt football fan, he'll have to expect experiencing the feeling of, "I've read that book and seen that movie many times." Our coaches, IMO, played not to lose, while the players left it on the field. At the end of the first half with a slim lead, we tried to run out the clock at midfield and then kick and play prevent defense. Things like that send a message to your team, almost like you don't trust them. Kentucky tied us before halftime and scored on the opening drive of the second half. Been there, seen that.

On a brighter note, I ran six miles this morning, my first run in three weeks. I went slow, figuring the amount of chocolate and cheese I've eaten the last month might have affected my conditioning. It was the right call. I ran just under a 10:00 minute pace to make sure I didn't tank. The terrain was moderate, temp was a comfortable 60 degrees and the humidity was about 30 percent. Fall running is the best.

The only time the last month I had done anything aerobic was walking with Dori in the hall at VUMC, running 11 flights of stairs one day at VUMC, and riding the bike and lifting at the Y a time or two. I'm not out of shape but not in shape either; I'm considering running the Boulevard Bolt Thanksgiving morning. That's probably my favorite race, so we'll see if I can get in a few runs beforehand.

I told Dori the last five months have felt like they have been both the slowest and fastest period of my life. Slowest for obvious reasons, but fastest because I've been in such a routine as a caregiver husband, father, mother, employee and half marathon trainer. That said, June felt like it was five years ago, not five months. Once I deployed for seven months in the Navy, and once I didn't see land or a port for 60 days. This chapter has seemed longer in some ways than those two excursions, except the routine part was much more intense on this year's "deployment."

Clearly, we are in a new chapter, to which we will adjust and press forward. I'm looking forward to it. The goal is to get to 100 days with Dori feeling back to her normal self, fresh with her newly rejuvenated bone marrow and strong immune system. That will be my Christmas prayer.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

'Light at the end of the tunnel'

The last few posts about football probably reek of "me Tarzan, you Jane" maleness. So here's a photo of a flower, the aromatic aster or big aster, that's common to Tennessee. We have some blooming in our yard right now. As I was walking up the driveway last night, I spotted some aster, which immediately reminded me of Dori ... simple yet elegant, and a beautiful purple that is so Dori. When I read a description of the aster, I learned it's "drought-resistant." Not surprisingly, it's the only flower acting sassy in our yard right now after a miserable summer of heat and little rain. That's kind of how I feel right now ... it's been a rough five months, but I'm beginning to see beauty around me again. The aster represents much to me in November 2007 and probably will for some time.

Dori said she's beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I certainly share that feeling. We know there are still risks in the first 100 days plus and the chance of relapse or complications exists. That's just reality. What's special is I detect Dori and I both, after facing such adversity and odds (I never shared those nor will I because I think odds are for minimalists and actuaries), are ready to get on with it all as she recovers. I expect many of those obstacles that seemed large pre-leukemia won't seem that way to us. We've been "Lanced" by cancer, though I'm not ready to predict any Tour de France victories. Besides, Dori is on plenty of steroids; she'd never pass a test in France for the rest of her life.

We do both think about her donor often, and I expect that will continue. Dori has written about what this giving 23-year-old male has meant to her. Reading it was like getting one of those ice pails of water dumped on you. At dinner tonight, Kathryn asked me about some of the pop culture divas, wondering why they get so much attention. This, of course, was a great "Dori question," but I stepped up to the plate. "Kathryn, some people in our media like to glorify the Paris Hiltons, Lindsey Lohans and Brittany Spears. Your Mom and I hope you and your brother choose to glorify God, and celebrate and honor those who are selfless, not self-centered." People like Dori's donor. Since he's from Europe, I'm calling him Hans until we hopefully meet him. That will be a glorious day.

Hope you enjoyed the aster and may God bless every one of you like he has the Browns this Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Eating crow

Women are not only tougher than men, they're smarter. Note to self: Listen to my wife more often.

Florida 49
VU 22


Friday, November 2, 2007

Dores and Gators

I told Dori I think Vanderbilt has a chance to beat Florida tomorrow in the Swamp. Girl thinks Boy is crazy: "We're not going to win, Jim." Admittedly, this boy has had a bit too much Kommodore Kool-Aid in the past. Vanderbilt is flirtacious and a known heart breaker, we all know.

Look at the last five years, however, and Florida has struggled with VU when they have had good or great teams. This year, they have a good team that has been beaten up in succession by Auburn, LSU, Kentucky and Georgia, with no bye week. Here are some reasons I think this game will be close and could go the Commodores' way:

- The Gators are hurt on the defensive line, secondary and QB. Tebow is not 100%. Florida's D is nothing like last year's.
- Florida has gone from competing for a national championship to competing for a decent bowl. Yawn.
- Florida is a good match-up for the Dores. I was at last year's game and remember thinking these guys aren't outclassing us like in years past.
- Vanderbilt has a speedy defense with strong cornerbacks, allowing other players to roam the field and hunt the ball. VU brings in the nation's No. 14 defense.
- The Dores look like they can finally cover kicks, as well as return them. Alex Washington and D.J. Moore are going to bring one back soon.
- We have receivers who can get open and make great plays.
- VU is 6-7 on the road in recent games, and have wins against UT, Arkansas, UGA and USC. We play loose on the road.

Of course, concerns remain:

- Our QBs haven't really extended the field with their arms, and our running game is one-dimensional. VU's Dean of Arts & Sciences is considering adding a three-credit class, Conservative Play-Calling with Professor Ted Cain. Stopping us is pretty easy, if you're well coached. The gimpy Gators are.
- VU's only bad loss this year was at Auburn, 35-7. The Dores looked lost against a charged team.
- Our QB and offensive line output has been sub-par, making it difficult to score copious points.
- We're prone to bad kharma against the Gators - the awful celebration call in 2005 and two blocked punts last year in the first quarter. The first five minutes are crucial to Vanderbilt's chances at the upset.

My astute seven-year-old son, unlike my wife, believes the Dores have a good chance. Several pundits on talk radio also are predicting a tight one. I see a very close contest. Something like, 27-23 or 24-17. I think the Dores have a 30% chance at the upset. The line started at an astonishing 17 points Monday and has moved down to 13-14 points, a significant move. The smart money recognized a bad line.

Final from Gainesville: