Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Incalculable Odds

Dori is beginning Round 4 of 6 of vidaza therapy today. She just called me from the hospital, encouraging me to view her good counts online. Platelets and white and red blood cell counts are all normal.

The good news is welcome, since I've been somewhat on edge this break. I've had too much time to think, really. I needed a good run yesterday to combat some negative thoughts, along with the decadent apple crumb pie my "evil" sister brought Christmas Day. After breakfast, Will and I drove to Shelby Bottoms, a flat greenway along the Cumberland River. Will biked, while Pepper and I ran into a cold northwest wind.

Midway through the run, the sun broke through after days of cloud cover. The massive low pressure system that's wreaked havoc along the east coast and dropped a few inches of snow around here finally departed. We took a break at 3.4 miles, stretched and hydrated, and started a downwind return. It felt great to be outside with my son, who I praised for being so active in his life.

My pace was intentionally slow, 10:55/mile, because I didn't know how I would last on an eight-miler. Finishing felt great. Pepper ran a PR distance and had plenty of energy left. Amazing, since he could barely run a few miles only months ago. Now he's fit. I rewarded myself with a latte and Will with a hot chocolate, and we split a scrumptious sugar cookie. Food tastes so good after a long run.

Last night, Dori and I went to our friend Kathy's house for some great Italian food, company and conversation with friends. I toasted Kathy, who is an unsung hero in our lives. Kathy has helped start four hematolgy clinics and commutes to Atlanta each week, which is eight hours on the road. Her team is on the cutting edge of treatment for blood cancers.

She was the first who enlightened Dori and me about vidaza, which her team is using in Georgia. When we mentioned vidaza to Vanderbilt's doctors, they'd heard of it, but weren't really using it much. I am convinced if 1) Kathy had not mentioned vidaza and been "kindly aggressive" in the process; and 2) we had not asked Vanderbilt to present Dori's case to the team at Fred Hutchison in Seattle that Dori would not have had the turnaround she is experiencing.

During the toast, several folks fought back tears. Dori chimed in and said what's she's told me before: Kathy always seems to call her at the right time and say the right things. Kathy's husband Kevin calls her an angel, and I couldn't agree more. Kathy is a very special angel.

How do we know her? Kathy's daughter is classmates with Will. Last night, she presented a Chicago Bears' winter cap to give to Will, who beamed this morning when he received it. Several Vanderbilt graduates are stars on the Bears' team, so Will is in Ten-Year Old Heaven.

What are the odds a hematology expert with a heart of gold would have a child at our kids' school, let alone in our son's class? Infinitesimal. How does one make sense of such a thing? There is no rational explanation. We can only trust and believe in a greater reason for having to endure so much.

We'll know soon if Dori's December itchfest is GVHD-related. I'm beginning to think so, especially after Kathy's review and diagnosis last night. Dori said if the itching is necessary to keep leukemia at bay, she's all for it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Smiles

Snow is still in the forecast for this evening and Christmas Day. It's been a long time since we've had measurable snow in Middle Tennessee. We'll see.

Dori has improved after last week's scare. Her vitality is back and that nasty rash continues to subside. We'll celebrate Christmas at Mass tonight, open presents in the morning and visit family. Words can't describe how happy we are not to be in the hospital. Instead, we're busying ourselves around the house, enjoying our tree and listening to good music. Santa has already given us the best present.

Yes, fellow runners, I'm still running. I ran seven miles last Saturday, five yesterday afternoon at Radnor Lake with Pepper and another four this morning in our neighborhood, again with Pepper. There are too many goodies around the house, so it's best if I leave it as much as possible in running garb. I'm still not training for anything, but could probably tackle anything under 10 miles. I might run the 11.2 in Percy Warner Park over the break to see where I stand.

Two days ago, we spent a great day with Will's friend from pre-school. We hadn't seen him in some time, but learned his mother recently was diagnosed with breast cancer. We know what it's like to have your world turned upside down, so the two Moms thought it would be a good idea for the boys to be together.

I took the boys, Kathryn and Pepper hiking in Beaman Park, which is a 1,600-acre gem property about 30 minutes away in Northwest Davidson County. The boys reacquainted well. They found a secure 80-foot vine on a very tall tree and took turns playing Tarzan. They probably elevated five feet off the ground, howling at their accomplishment.

We didn't talk much about cancer, but the implicit message was a good one. Keep active, and your mind will thank you. Darkness doesn't like light.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Snow?

It doesn't snow much around here, especially on Christmas. But those zany folks at Weather.com have issued a statement that makes me glad we live on a hill. Snow is possible Christmas Eve and Christmas.

To me, Christmas is a season for reflection. Thanksgiving will always be my favorite holiday, but Christmas makes me think about life's priorities, much like Easter does: God, family, work, play. All four are important, but I'm especially mindful of that hierarchy during Christmas and Easter. Life is a gift, an opportunity and a test. Make the most of it, but realize what the prize is.

I say that not in a preachy way. The message in this picture, which I took at lunch, is something I personally support. I wondered when I took it, "Is this business owner preaching? What about my sandwich, dude?"

My read is that such signs are an aggressive attempt to counter the culture of declining church attendance and increasing secularism. Some people are afraid, even angry, and have different ways of expressing it.

My view? The sign is fine. Americans enjoy free speech. But I respect opposing views and religions other than Christianity. I don't have the answers, but I love the conversation.

And I believe what I believe, which is that we need snow this Christmas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Handyman Can

What a week.

Dori broke out in a serious rash mid week, after taking an anti-biotic before a visit to the dentist. She never spiked a fever, a good sign, but her rash was pretty intense. So much so, that on Thursday night, she blacked out. I heard the fall in the kitchen, where she was getting a glass of water. After a rest, she almost passed out again. Serious flashbacks to 11 North this summer.

Dori's blood pressure is usually low, and apparently a rash can cause it to drop further. She missed a Girl's Night Out and Will's basketball game the last few days, but showed signs of improvement yesterday afternoon. With my Mom's comfort food, some family love, and plenty of Benadryl and Sarna skin creme, she continues to improve.

Today, Dori's Dad and his wife Carol and our clan headed on a scenic Sunday drive down the Natchez Trace Parkway. We stopped for lunch at Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant in Leipers Fork. Everyone loved it, especially the family bluegrass band that entertained us as we noshed. We toured the area like out-of-towners, sharing knowledge of landmarks and history. When we returned home, Kathryn and I leashed Pepper and hiked with Dori's Dad to our area hill that is a Civil War historic site. What a delightful day!

I'm not known for being very handy around the house. Three of the most dangerous words in my life have been "some assembly required." Yes, we've hired our share of Mr. Fix-It's over the years, though not as many in recent years as I've surfed the Internet for solutions. We did hire a window repairman a few weeks ago, but that's because I greatly respect glass, especially when it breaks near me.

A few weeks ago, the polypropylene backboard on the kid's basketboal goal broke. After an exhaustive search, I realized the only options were to pay $110 for a new backboard or buy the whole goal for two or three times that amount. Four years ago, my brother-in-law, who is very handy, had a difficult time assembling the goal. I helped in spots, but he did most of it.

Last week, the complete backboard arrived. The weather turned bad immediately, probably warning me not to attempt something I likely couldn't complete. Upon close inspection of the broken backboard, I heard myself say, "This is going to take a long time." Of course, the directions were useless. The nuts and bolts were in places not made for socket wrenches to reach, or any wrench for that matter. Who designed this thing?

If I failed, I would endure light-hearted ribbing, perhaps some mockery. My brother-in-law, who loaned me some special tools for the task, playfully said just to let him know when he was needed. No way, Jose. This one's mine, I said. I may have nine fingers soon, but it's mine.

I made progress, but couldn't unthread a few of the nuts that weren't interested in letting go. Neither was I, but I was going to need a friend to help provide the necessary torque. Dori's Dad arrived yesterday, and said, "Let's go." We spent an hour breaking down the broken backboard, then getting the new one started. We had several starts and stops, but pressed on. We had to end our efforts to make it to the kids' late afternoon basketball games, but I knew we would finish this weekend. Dori's Dad said he would be back today to help finish the job.

When he drove up the driveway this morning, I was finishing the final turn of the wrench. "You didn't need me," he said. No, I did, but I had fun finishing this on my own once the stubborn bolts had been overrun by their conquerors. We asked Will to take the ceremonial first shot. SWISH! "Now put one off the backboard," I said. No clang! Just a true bounce and another score.

Feel free to sing along: The Handyman can cause he mixes it with love and helps the boy shoot good.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Please, Please Stop

Last Saturday morning, I ran with some Team In Training friends, giving the "Mission Moment" to 40 people who will be running races this spring. Obviously, I talked about Dori but also about my friend Jim Asker, a real inspiration to Dori and me.

Before the run, Jim told me a former teammate learned her mother has lymphoma. The next day, Dori and I heard a friend has breast cancer. I read the Sunday paper, in which an NHL assistant hockey coach here revealed he's battling prostate cancer.

At bedtime, my good night glass of water tasted like vinegar. Dori asked me what was wrong yesterday, and I just didn't feel like getting into it. I nitpicked and snapped much of the weekend.

This cancer thing is getting beyond old. And that's how I felt in 2008. The costs on families and society continue to soar, and we keep doing the same things - little exercise, the next cure-all, whatever.

The holidays are here, and I will cheer up some because we have Dori. But I better not read or hear any more news about cancer striking again.

I'm not in the mood.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Toast

Dori celebrated her 43rd birthday in grand style yesterday.

Our friends Mariesa and Pat, Mary Belle and Tony, and Marian and Michael met us at our favorite restaurant, Margot Cafe. Put simply, we've never been to a better, friendlier place where food and wine are pared so brilliantly.

Neither Dori nor I will ever forget last night. Before our friends arrived, Dori and I had a mini-date, noshing on fresh bread with herb-infused olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette and parmagiano-reggiano. Dori had a glass of 2008 Jean Marc Brocard Saint Bris, which was crisp and delightful, while I dabbled with a 2007 Feraud Brunel Cote du Rhones Village, a dusty, cedar-filled Old World wine. We approved so much, we ordered for our satisfied guests with the Housemade Potato Chips with Aioli.

After a first course of remarkable fried brussel sprouts with crisp prosciutto and aioli, Dori enjoyed a grilled eggplant with oven-roasted tomatoes and chick peas and fresh basil. I had a strip steak with polenta, mushroom sauce and radicchio, which was ridiculously good.

Our friends Betsy and Skip surprised us with a bottle of Botter Prosecco, an excellent extra dry sparkling wine that we shared with our friends. It did nothing but tango with some chocolate creme brulee.

Most of the night was spent laughing, talking about our children, families, and recent interests, and toasting. I started by honoring the three women - Dori, Mariesa and Mary Belle - who vowed last July on our living room couch to celebrate Dori's birthday at Margot Cafe. In fact, Mariesa said she made the reservations that same evening. I knew Dori had her doubts that day. I can tell you her e-mail today to all three women was as grateful as anything I've ever read.

When we sang happy birthday to Dori, people around us sensed the joy, and chimed in with gusto. Dori opened gifts, all of them wonderful. We're still baffled at one, a two-night stay at the luxurious Blackberry Farm in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. We are not worthy, no matter what anyone says.

But we're going together, and that's the best gift of all.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Saturday Benefit

If you're looking for something to do this weekend or have nothing planned yet, our friend Jim Asker - a lymphoma survivor, running buddy and inspiring man - has a great suggestion:

"On Saturday December 11th from 7-10 p.m., I will be having a "benefit concert" for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. This will be the kickoff for my fund-raising for the Dublin Marathon and what I hope will result in reaching my goal of $25,000 this year.

The concert will be at the LISTENING ROOM, Cummins Station, Demonbreun Avenue in Nashville and will feature four wonderful artists: Ty Herndon, Anita Cochran, Ashley Gearing and Katie Armiger.

My friend Suzanne Alexander, a TNT alumni and personality on GAC-TV, will host the festivities. There will also be a silent auction. If you click on this link it explains all the details, including how to buy tickets in advance.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Kanzius On The Move

The Kanzius folks have an important update in their e-newsletter:

More than 30 cancer groups are in current studies at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Eight are the primary focus: breast, colon, leukemia, liver, lung, melanoma, pancreas and prostate. Please visit www.Kanzius.org/research regularly for the latest developments in our laboratories.

Putting Your Mind To It

I've watched a lot of progress lately.

Of course, Dori continues to get better. I've watched our son's growth in many areas and our daughter is pressing forward, too. She's been playing some marvelous piano the last few days, which warms our house. May it continue through the holidays. Even Pepper is advancing. He's lost weight and looks great. Yesterday, he ran five easy miles with me. He has so much energy.

Others in my family also are showing strong will. Each of us faces challenges, even demons. I pray often that I will stand up better to the termites in my house. Impatience is one of several.

Scripture can be powerful. Last Sunday, one reading resonated in particular, an excerpt from Romans 13:

For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness (and) put on the armor of light.

Many prayers have been answered, but I must remind myself not to be lazy about prayer. Each battle is part of the war, and another battle is always ahead. You probably know the feeling.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Just The Boys

Dori started Vidaza, Round 3, today. Her counts look very good. White and red blood cell counts are steady, and platelets jumped to 238. She doesn't have to go back for labs until the end of December. She returns Tuesday through Friday to receive more Vidaza.

Will and I spent the weekend at Charit Creek Lodge in the Big South Fork last weekend with two buddies and their Dads. This was my third time to Charit Creek, the first with Dori on a day hike about 14 years ago and last year with Kathryn.

The three men and three boys hiked through gorges, across cold mountain streams and to spectacular overlooks. We went over and around rock formations like the Twin Arches and other formations that have been eroding for more than 300 million years.

We built a bonfire and ate Southern fare. The Dads enjoyed some local wine and extra sharp cheddar cheese, while the boys caught crawdads and explored the area with refreshing curiosity. We simply had a grand time.

Evaporating frost

Father and son

Rock hopping

South Arch, Twin Arches

Young outdoorsman

Proudly rooted

Hiking fraternity

Friday, November 26, 2010

Darned Good Bird

Happy sisters giving thanks

A few days ago, Dori and I picked out a fresh turkey. I planned to smoke this fine bird, and found a recipe for Apple-Onion Turkey for our family and guests - Dori's Mom and her sister Kathy and their family.

On Wednesday, I prepared our stuffing and then went to work on the bird. I rubbed seven special seasonings in the cavity, quartered an organic apple, onion, lemon and orange, and stuffed those in the turkey with some fresh organic rosemary sprigs. With a hunk of french bread, I sealed off the bird and placed in the fridge to sit overnight.

Yesterday morning, I ran the Boulevard Bolt, a traditional start to my favorite holiday. This year, Will joined me on the course at around Mile 2 for his first Bolt. I ran slowly the first half of the race on the jammed course and then was sidetracked by a bathroom break for nearly three minutes. Nature called; I listened. I wasn't worried about running fast anyway, just a calorie-consuming pace.

My Mom and Kathryn were at the turnaround on Belle Meade Boulevard, and so was Will, who hopped on the course. We ran a 9:30 first mile together and then dropped the pace gradually, finishing the last mile at about 8:00/mile. The run was easy for Will, who crossed the finish line under no strain and asked, "Can I run the whole thing next year?" Yes, I said, and I won't hold you up, either. My Garmin time was 47:30 for 5.04 miles, just under a 9:30/mile pace.

Back to the bird, I fired up the smoker, settling on 235 degrees. For 6 1/2 hours, I tended to the well-oiled bird and smoked some spicy sausage on the side. My family members began cycling through the house, first my Mom and later my Dad and his wife and my sister Anne and her husband. It was a good day to laugh and chat, and we did it well.

Dori and Kathy prepared some amazing sides, and I brought in the bird, once it reached 165 degrees. After it sat a spell, Kathy's husband Nathan carved it perfectly and we garnished the platter. The four children each said a prayer of thanks, with Will capturing some hearts with a thank you to the doctors and staff of 11 North. Amen, buddy. Perfectly said.

The turkey was perfect. The white meat was moist and bursting with flavor. We enjoyed a magnificent riesling from Arrington Vineyards, a fine compliment to the cornucopia of fantastic food prepared by all.

And that's how you do a great Thanksgiving!

Finely smoked

The spread

The fantastic four

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thankful For Much

I spent some of the morning surfing the Web for more information about Vidaza, a brand name for the drug azacitidine. As you know, Dori is receiving it in six weeklong rounds, with Round Three set for the Monday after Thanksgiving.

I'm learning more than I probably want to know, including clinical effects and personal stories on message boards. The drug is very expensive, which we already knew, and made by Celgene, a company in the Boston area. Celgene has seen its sales soar as more providers are recommending it. Some governments like the U.K. and Australia agree the drug is effective but won't include in their national plans because of cost. You can buy Vidaza online in Canada, too, it appears. 100mg costs about $1,100 across the border.

Here's what you and I know about Vidaza. Dori is improving, and our kids still have their Mom. Dori continues to wear her "Hans Lives Here" black night shirt with pink lettering to bed every night, investing in faith and hope he will stay on task. I pray nightly that Hans keeps up the good work and for Vidaza to continue doing its mysterious thing.

Vidaza is being administered outpatient to Dori, which is much less expensive than an in-hospital stay. About every few days, I ponder what another transplant would have meant to my family. I'm grateful, as you can imagine, we're not camped out at the hospital. That's how I feel about Vidaza.

Last week, I looked at Dori midway through Kathryn's first basketball game and saw that same thankfulness. Kathryn's team was down 12 points, and we could have cared less. Kathryn was playing well and Dori was there, enjoying it all. Just smiles.

We will celebrate Thanksgiving with Dori's family this week. Her Mom and her sister's family will arrive in a few days. Dori is planning the menu, and I'll smoke a turkey or two. The kids will play with their two cousins, and their two dogs will join Pepper in a packed house. I'm quite pumped. This will be a great holiday for Dori and the kids. Ten years ago, I might have been bracing myself. Not these days. Bring it on.

I'm planning to run the Boulevard Bolt, a five-miler on Thanksgiving morning. I ran six last Sunday, and three and five milers during the week. I ran four this morning, slow at first and brisk at the end. My weekly 15-mile regimen the last month is probably enough to allow me to run an OK pace, though I'll probably look for a friend or two and just run comfortably with them. I don't have anything to prove with this run.

Nearly 8,000 people have already entered the Bolt. Proceeds feed and help the homeless. It seems like more are homeless this year, from all the people we see standing at intersections selling $1 newspapers. I love the Bolt because it's a great cause and great way to start my favorite holiday, and I see so many friends from over the years.

I hope you all have similar plans. Happy Thanksgiving!

By the way, check out the updated Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation website. Lots of good news there on a better looking site!

Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation Presentation from PAPA Advertising on Vimeo.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Getting Strong, Girl

Mother and son enjoy the outdoors.

On Saturday with our favorite cancer survivor, Will and I experienced a memorable six-mile hike. We explored the Savage Gulf State Natural Area, perhaps my favorite spot in our home state.

Dori and my Mom decided to join us for two of the six miles, but at the turnaround Dori said, "I can do the whole thing. I feel good." So off we went, with Pepper on point. My Mom headed back to our cabin where we were staying for the weekend and celebrating an early Thanksgiving.

I wondered if this was a good idea. Dori has been improving, but six miles into remote wilderness? ... Ahh, what the hell?

We left the Stone Door and started skirting the cavernous Big Creek Gulf along the Big Creek Rim Trail. The views over 800-foot dropoffs were spectacular, even a few weeks past peak fall colors. Dori wasn't keen to staying near some of the more exposed points on the trail, given that her balance isn't 100%. She enjoyed the views in her spots of choice.

Near Mile 5, I could tell Dori was tiring. I said we should slow down. So what did she do? She charged up the only major hill, more defiant than determined. She pushed hard. Near the end, I reached for her hand, more to slow her down. She declined. I said, "Sweetie, you're getting a little wobbly." She kept walking. I said, "Please stop now." She listened, rested and we finished the last few hundred yards.

She did great. It takes a little attitude to do what she did.

We believe in our Creator around this corner of the Web. We continue to thank Him for this past weekend, during which we saw the sights you see below and heard not a peep but for our own pitter-patter on the trail.

"Look at this view, Mom."

"I'm ready when you are, big fella."

Good advice.

She was sitting on a log, if you must ask.

Looking down Big Creek Gulf.

"Now I see why Aunt Anne likes painting."

Restful reader.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Be the Match!

Many of you have said, "I want to help Dori and your family but don't know what to do."

Here's a great opportunity! Our friend Emmit at "I Run For The Party" is organizing a Bone Marrow Donor Drive that runs Thursday through Saturday in conjunction with this Saturday's Nashville 1/2 Marathon. Click here and check out the flyer above for more information. According to their Web site, the donor drive will be held at Packet Pickup times (Thursday from 6-8 p.m. and Friday from 11 a.m.-8 p.m.) and on Race Day under a tent across from Registration & Food near the Hard Rock Cafe in downtown Nashville.

This drive is an easy way at no cost to get on the National Marrow Donor Program through the Be the Match program. Dori would not be alive today unless many caring people made efforts like this, so we would be honored and grateful if you joined them. Please let us know if you did!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Back to Work

After more than four months away, Dori returned to work today. When she walked into loan committee, 20 bankers stopped talking, stood up and welcomed back their co-worker with applause. I love that bank.

Dori put in three hours today and will do the same tomorrow. I've all but begged her to take it slow and ease into a new routine. Next week, she'll work four-hour days Monday through Thursday, another gradual step to normalcy.

I also love that about a half dozen people have told me they stop daily now to hug their loved ones, something we encouraged in a recent CaringBridge post. Hugs work, y'all, down here and up north!

I blew off a morning run and slept in this morning. Tomorrow, I plan to rid myself of guilt and pound pavement, dog in front.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Feng Shui

Moving around makes life better.

Yesterday, I biked hills for about 40 minutes, working the heart before settling in to watch college football. I purposefully avoided watching my alma mater. What Vanderbilt plays these days isn't college football. Pee Wee football, maybe.

Otherwise, I enjoyed it, before capping the night watching Rocky II with the kids. I couldn't help but identify with Rocky staying by Adrian in the hospital. When Rocky's trainer Mickey quit barking temporarily to stand by Rocky, it crossed my mind that ole Mick might as well have been our family and friends rolled into one character.

This morning, I took Pepper to Percy Warner Park for the 5.8-mile loop. Dori wondered if the distance and hills would be "too much for Schnoogie," Kathryn's nickname for Pepper. Looking just as strong at the end as when he started, Pepper answered any doubts. He's just a great dog with great spirit. I feel like the week, with an extra hour in the bank from daylight savings and the good exercise, is off to the right start.

Dori's energy level is improving even more. Yesterday, she walked 3.2 miles with our friend Renee at PWP, then proceeded to clean and situate our house like I've never seen her do. Our small bathroom seems bigger, and the living and dining rooms are looking sharp. Feng shui has always been fun to say, and now experience.

She said something this morning, as she was moving things around, that caught my attention. "Things are supposed to come in threes," some sort of decorating tip. I said, yes, but not relapses. "That's right! Excellent!" she said. And that's all I'm saying about that.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Time for a Recharge

Dori is watching her favorite show, 30 Rock. I'm a fan, but am dedicating a free moment to get off a log and blog. I haven't been blogging much, compared to when I initiated this project. I seem to have less time these days. Where does it go?

After two good weeks of running, I've been a complete slug. The one day I ran this week, Pepper pulled me through the neighborhood like a rag doll. My tank was empty, so I stopped after 1.5 and walked our canine Chris Farley home. I wasn't in the mood for his best Matt Foley.

I've hit a lull, after several pain-free, mostly fun runs, especially last Saturday. I'm going to set the alarm and give it a whirl in the morning. It's cold tonight, the kind of weather I like. Maybe I'll also bike this weekend and enjoy some countryside and brisk air.

Dori's pain from the port has slowly subsided. She's not a whiner, but I know she's been bothered by the incision. I sincerely wish, on a fairly regular basis, that I could share some of her physical burden and let her rest.

Some folks told me tonight at Will's basketball practice that Dori continues to inspire them. I see their sincerity. With equal sincerity, I share how much we appreciate them. These friends lift us up, with prayer, cards, dinners and smiles. These moments matter to me.

I am in awe of my wife, which you know. No woman has more grace and goodness than Dori. When I reflect, as I am now, it enables me to get out of the daily grind, take inventory, go big picture again, and renew personal commitments. Like a snake sheds its skin, it's time for a change.

So early tomorrow, I'll run.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Guilt Trip

Dori is feeling better today after receiving her port Friday. The surgery caused discomfort and some pain, which slowly has abated over the weekend. The port over the right side of her chest will allow her to receive Vidaza therapy easier; the PICC line in her right arm, which can be mildly cumbersome, is gone. I'm sure Dori is glad to lose the latter, which I've been cleaning nearly every day since her hospital discharge in late summer.

Friday night was awkward, even hard, for me. Dori was wiped and could not attend a party some friends threw for a few families and kids. The food was great and people were nice, but I didn't really want to be there. I was glad the kids had fun, but I wasn't up for "small talk" and thought constantly of Dori, who was at home resting in bed. When she called after dinner and said she need extra strength Tylenol, that hurt. The late-night ride to the drugstore stunk.

All of this has passed. Dori is good - no infections and she's moving around just fine. The puffiness from steroids is leaving. She is in good spirits and ready for Vidaza treatments to resume tomorrow. She'll receive Vidaza five straight days. Get ready, Hans.

Yesterday morning was glorious, and my run was equally invigorating. It was cold, just barely above freezing, before the sun popped proudly into the sky. With my friends Jim, Jack, Carey, Rhonda and about six others, we ran the Moran-Old Natchez route that is a favorite. All wore hats, and most donned gloves. Brrrrr.

Our pace was too fast at the start, maybe a nine-minute mile, so I backed off and found some friends at the back of the pack. Before we reached the five-mile turnaround, several said they needed to head back because they had a mid-morning Leukemia & Lymphoma Society recruitment meeting. Fine with me. We turned back at 4.6 miles.

With two miles to go, some front-runners dropped their pace, and I decided to catch them. I finished well. Average pace for nine-miles plus was probably 9:45/mile or thereabouts, with the last two miles around 8:30/mile. I love lattes, but they're especially good after a long run. And so are weekends.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hans Back In Control

Dori learned today she is 100% male donor, up from 99.5% at her last biopsy. This is great news, which we posted today on CaringBridge. Welcome back, Hans!

Dori's strength continues to improve. Her muscles are rebuilding, and her stamina is improving. She still tires easily, but the direction is promising. Kathryn and Dori walked two miles earlier today. Dori is a busy, busy bee around the house. She's reassuming control over traditional chores and probably will return to a limited work schedule next month. I'm encouraging a go-slow approach, which I think her employer will understand.

I'm doing well. Work was intense for two months, but we've hit a semi-lull. I think having so much to do after getting Dori home in August was a good thing. An occupied mind keeps negative thoughts at bay. That said, I really needed a break about a week ago, which I took. I expect to take more vacation time the next few months. Know thyself.

I'm really at an inventory stage, and family management, always a part of my life, is front and center. We are asked a lot, "How are the kids doing?" That might be the hardest question to answer, frankly. Young children aren't as equipped to deal with the crap bombs we've been getting on and off for three years. Mature adults generally have deeper faiths than children and more maturity in most instances (though that's arguable in some families). The normal progression of life gives forty-somethings more tools than pre-teens.

So how do I answer that doozie? I think I finally found a good answer today as we spoke with our friend Jim this afternoon. "They're doing better than most kids their age who would be facing this situation," I said. Dori approved. It's not easy for them. They've learned life isn't fair and been given good reasons for higher anxiety. Our mantra, however, continues to be that we're going to live our lives to the fullest, stay active, and identify and use every available coping skill.

I ran four times this week - three times at dawn with Pepper (total of 11 miles) and a seven-miler yesterday at noon with Jim and a few of his buddies. The hills were easy, which I attribute to recent hill climbing on my bike. My heart rate is used to being elevated. I will likely try a 10-miler next weekend and to surpass 20 miles for the week. We have a five-mile Thanksgiving race I enjoy, but I may need to find a half marathon soon.

I'll leave you with a few photos from Dori's 20th college reunion, which she celebrated this weekend with good friends.

Dori, Liz, Cathi and Heather

Dori with Jodie Foster-lookalike and dear friend Liz

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall Break

Based on yesterday's photos, you might suspect I had a great bike ride. It was beyond incredible, 25 miles of wonderful scenery and crisp air on the panoramic Natchez Trace Parkway. I slept 10 hours last night and am a "happy sore" this morning.

I've needed time away from the office, so I took two vacation days. On Thursday, Dori and I took Pepper and three ready-to-empty minds to Radnor Lake for a walk. The colors were amazing, just like on the Natchez Trace. We seemingly wait all year for this special time, and we're going to take advantage of every bit of it.

Another Thursday highlight: Dori visited her employer, a small bank, for the first time since her relapse and remission. The entire bank - probably 25 employees - spent quality time laughing with and loving on Dori. It was remarkable, just great people showing support and encouragement. I personally thanked them for all their prayers, e-mails and CaringBridge posts. They make a tremendous difference.

Tonight, Dori and I will celebrate our 16th anniversary, which was actually yesterday. Every occasion is special, but this one will be a little more so.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Her Hike

All is well here. It's just been a wee bit hectic. I've been on the road, and work has been mostly fun, just harder to manage from the road and with normal family stuff.

A decade ago as we welcomed our children, I remember some wise people telling me how the Year 2000 calamity predictions were overblown and that "your most challenging years as a parent will arrive soon." Thank you, grasshoppers. Good call on the computers, but now what?

Actually, I am enjoying being a parent, even the stressful moments. The last month has been hard for some family members. I chalk some of it up to post-traumatic stress from the summer, and some to normal growth issues. Right here, right now is where and when we earn our keep as parents.

I learned a great deal going through some difficult teen years, and hopefully am a better parent as a result. I've been being fairly patient the last few weeks (for me), sharing love and lessons with people I love very much. Prayers for peace and patience - at home and at work - almost always work for me.

Dori is doing well overall. She finished her first week of Vidaza last week, with some queasiness as a side effect. Her counts today at clinic looked good; she didn't need a transfusion, though a bit more dropoff in her counts is expected from the Vidaza. I'm thrilled, since she's not going through turmoil.

Last weekend, we loaded up the minivan and headed for the mountains of northeast Alabama. Dori and I recalled spending a wonderful weekend 12 years ago in the Mentone area, so we scoured the Internet for lodging. On short notice, we found a pet-friendly cabin near the Little River Canyon on the lower end of Lookout Mountain. It was refreshing and peaceful, with several highlights - enjoying a great family meal at the Wildfire Cafe in Mentone, running four serene miles at dawn on a back country dirt road, and watching football with my son and the stars with my family on a clear night.

The biggest highlight was watching Dori hike into a steep canyon, perhaps a quarter mile, and hiking back out. I wasn't fired up initially about her obstinence to do this, but she wanted at it. She did great, saying softly but firmly as she reached our car, "I did it."

Yes, you did, great woman.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Kanzius Update

Dori and I support the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation and encourage you and your friends to join us. We are all united as human beings in wiping out cancer and giving our children better odds against the beast. Check out their latest update with encouraging news and ways to support them.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Vidaza, It Is

After considering recommendations and options, Dori has decided to begin a regimen of Vidaza, a drug that has kept leukemia effectively at bay in many AML (acute myeloid leukemia) patients.

I fully support her decision, which is based on a recommendation from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle. Vanderbilt’s team presented Dori’s case to the Hutch, and they put Vidaza at the top of their list. The Hutch has been using Vidaza more than Vanderbilt, as have several facilities the last 10 years or so. Our friend Kathy suggested it as an option since her team in Atlanta has been using it, as well, and Vanderbilt had it on their option list. Vanderbilt will administer the Hutch’s recommendation here. No travel is necessary.

This means Dori will not receive a second transplant. The doctors in Seattle and at Vanderbilt and my family now believe Dori essentially underwent a second transplant in July. Her intense GVHD (graft versus host disease) this summer suggests her donor “Hans” took a brief break before he realized he wasn’t supposed to. Thankfully, he hopped back in the saddle. Interestingly, we’ve heard this "last minute to-the-rescue" thing is rare, perhaps happening in 1% to 2% of cases like Dori’s. We are fortunate Hans got fired up again.

Candidly, I didn’t want to see Dori endure another transplant, and neither did she. If she needed to have one, she would have been her normal gritty self. But her body has been through a great deal, and we’re relieved she can pursue another course.

Vidaza has been around a while, perhaps 30 years. Studies have shown Vidaza keeps GVHD at bay, but doesn’t hinder GVL (graft versus leukemia or graft versus tumor, which we want). Vidaza also keeps open all options– including another transplant or DLI (donor lymphocyte infusion) – if necessary.

That’s not how we’re approaching it. We’re looking at about six months’ regimen of Vidaza, more prayer and clean living. Dori has begun tapering steroids and cyclosporine, which has been sorely needed. Steroids wear out the body.

Dori starts Vidaza Monday. God be with her, every step and every moment.

Monday, September 27, 2010

'Transplant Two'

Dori and I met with Dr. Jagasia last Friday. I'll blog again once we sort out more details from a very helpful and interesting exchange.

It's pretty clear Dori, whose situation looks more unique every day, essentially experienced a second transplant earlier this summer. We think Hans took a brief break before realizing he needed to get back to work. Looking back, Dori's intense GVHD for a week in July was all Hans, who was mad as hell some leukemia sneaked past his radar. Stay tuned for some analysis and potential next steps.

Friends and family were active last weekend. Donna filed a nice report about her first half marathon. We're thrilled she ran so well in her first 13.1 and appreciate what she did for Dori.

Kathryn and Will ran PRs yesterday in their final cross country meet. Conditions were very good - cloudy and a comfortable 70. Kathryn ran 1.5 miles in 11:19, besting her 12:21 and moving up to a Top 25 finish. Will ran his mile in 6:34, finishing around 13th. Both finished hard.

Dori the Treadmill Warrior continues to walk about 30 minutes every day. She loved the cool breeze that blew through the window during yesterday's walk. I biked 30 hilly miles yesterday morning. One hill blew me off my bike for the first time. The hill was about a half mile long, much of it at least an 18% grade. It was too dangerous to weave up the hill ... a speeding car would have complicated our lives.

We like simple around here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

VH1's Top 100 Bands

Time for some lighter blogging ...

Last night, I watched VH1's Top 100 Rock Bands of all time. I caught the last two hours as they reviewed Numbers 40 through the all-time greatest. No surprise that the Beatles were No. 1, but Bob Dylan at No. 3? It was that kind of night!

Here's the list, which by and large I found to be a good run-through. I humbly submit my Top 10 with some honorable mentions. Maybe you'll share your Top 10, as well.

10. Queen - Nobody like them.
9. Fleetwood Mac - Get better every time I listen to them as a group or as solo acts.
8. The Beatles - Greatest impact on so many that followed, though I like listening to McCartney & Wings more.
7. The Doors - Mesmerizing.
6. Tears for Fears - Sister Anne would wear me out if I left them off my list.
5. Run DMC - Yo, Jay!
4. The Who - Townshend is brilliant.
3. The Police - Cross-polination of rock and reggae with Sting's voice, Copeland's drums and Summers' riffs.
2. Mark Knopfler - Yes, Dire Straits, but so much more ... blues, country, stadium rock and tremendous movie scores. How is he not in the Top 100 and Dylan is No. 3?
1. U2 - My winner based on phenomenal songs, longevity and impact on humanity

Honorable mention: David Bowie, Talking Heads, Depeche Mode, Pretenders, Simple Minds, R.E.M., Coldplay, The Kinks, The Clash, Paul McCartney & Wings, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, Moody Blues, The Cars and B-52s

Go, Donna!

This morning, our good friend Donna Clements laced up her running shoes and ran 13.1 in honor of Dori. Donna's husband, Runcie, was my best friend in high school and is a super guy. I knew he'd find a special woman one day ... Donna is certainly special with her exuberant, positive example.

Dori and I were overwhelmed to receive this message this morning. We encourage you to read and consider Donna's suggested action items (Be the Match and Donate to LLS). Folks often ask us, "How can we help?" Donna has some great ideas for you!

We can't wait to hear Donna's race report!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Words We Choose

Dori can't watch tense Vanderbilt games, which runs in her family. Dori and some of her relatives will vacate the room, listen for cheers and check in briefly for updates.

Saturday's football game against Ole Miss was no different. Vanderbilt took advantage of some shoddy Rebel play and put down the hammer late to upset Hotty Toddy 28-14. Dori entered the room late to join the hootin' and hollerin'. We like what we're seeing from our new head coach, who received his first game ball in 34 years. Very fun, very emotional.

Many conversations about or with Dori the last few years have been uplifting. But folks, I've heard some crazy things, too - in hospital rooms, on the phone, in our home and from strangers, medical staff and yes, family. I've probably said some things I want back, too.

The outlandishness is often rooted in fear, selfishness or insensitivity. I've brushed off most inanity fairly well, but when I see Dori hurt it's very hard not to be affected. A few years ago after chemo, someone said she looked like Aunt Jemima. Recently, someone made a remark that some folks have a hard time looking at people with cancer. What does a man do when he sees someone's mouth open only to project buffalo chips?

I cannot dwell on someone else's complete lack of understanding, momentary or not, of what Dori is enduring. I cease to be amazed at the lack of sensitivity to her burden and how some people are unable to at least try to see things from her view before opening their mouths.

My remedy is, and always will be, hugs, encouragement and the truth for Dori. I've never been around a better and more courageous person. And that's no buffalo crap.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What Will Be The Plan?

Dori is in the cancer infusion clinic, receiving platelets, which have dropped significantly after last week's chemo. Earlier this morning, we visited with Dr. Jagasia to discuss how the plan is looking. The discussion was very informative and has us talking about the recent past and the future.

The doctors are basically thinking of a few options. Highest on Dr. Jagasia's list is doing a second transplant (stem cell this time, not bone marrow) with a preparatory infusion of thymoglobulin, a relatively new chemo drug they are beginning to administer more effectively. A donor lymphocyte infusion is also being seriously discussed. Dr. Jagasia said he will recommend using Dori's original donor, Hans, who is apparently available for the transplant or DLI. Other team doctors are currently advocating leaving things as they are, while maybe one cites data that this disease known as AML is "incurable" (pause for "hogwash").

Dr. Jagasia said Dori is clearly in "unchartered territory." He said Vanderbilt has not done a second transplant here on an AML patient like Dori and little scientific data is available to give them guidance to a certain best course. Dori's complex cytogenetics also has them a bit befuddled, but Dr. Jagasia, who seems clearly inspired by Dori, said he is hopeful. Her relapse occurred well after the first transplant, and her functions (liver, heart, etc.) remain good.

He mentioned we could do a second transplant in Houston (MD Anderson) or Seattle (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center). We aren't leaning that way; we like the team at Vanderbilt, and it's close to home. We likely will ask Dr. Jagasia to present Dori's case not only to his team here at Vanderbilt, which he will do again next week, but also to the team at "the Hutch." Then we'll follow the chosen plan here at Vanderbilt. Dori is probably seven to eight weeks out from a transplant or the DLI.

Dori commented she knows she's not going to live to 80 and she might just resolve to getting another few years, to which Dr. Jagasia said, "I don't believe that's necessarily true. There is hope." Amen, Dr. J.

We were surprised to learn Dori's graft versus host disease (GVHD) in July was Stage 3 and 4. Stage 1 and 2 are easily manageable, while 3 and 4 are life threatening. They don't want 3 and 4 again, and neither do we. Purple, hot, peeling skin isn't welcome again on my girl. The main risks going forward are too much GVHD and infections.

I asked Dori today if she believes in miracles. She said yes, she had been before, but with a grain of salt. Today, she said she absolutely believes in them. Listening to today's clinical view, I realized how fortunate Dori is to be here right here right now. I asked, "Why is it that we have 'Internet friends' like PJ, Ann, Ronni, Lea and others ... people we've never met who are incredible survivors against the odds, just like you?" How do you explain all this?

There are no easy answers. For doctors, for my family, for anyone. The doctors can only do the best with what they know. Our family can only face this with dignity and honesty, as Dori continues to do. Our extensive support group can only pray for the outcome we all want.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bouncing Back

Kathryn and Will decided they wanted to run at a high school's open invitational meet for 5th through 8th graders. This evening, fifth-grader Will entered to run 800 meters, while seventh grader Kathryn signed up for 1600. My Mom and sister Anne joined us. Only one other boy showed for Will's race, while Kathryn ran against eight other girls.

Will ran well, finishing a few seconds ahead of his companion, officially at 2:59. His McMillan Running calculator projects his mile at 6:37. He enjoys running and did very well for his first race on a track!

Kathryn had a rough cross country race Sunday, but showed significant maturity that evening when she told me, "I need to prepare better before the next race. No more sleepovers." I was impressed. She prepared well today and arrived determined this evening.

From the gun, her teammate Kennedy set a blistering pace, running the first 400 in 1:23. Wow. Kathryn hung around, clocking a 1:30. Too fast, I thought. I turned to Kennedy's Mom and said, "This can't last." It didn't, as they both settled in to a more reasonable pace. Kennedy stayed smooth, as Kathryn tracked her, with a girl from another school a few seconds behind.

The girls' form began to deteriorate, but you could see them fight through it. Kathryn finished her third lap with a red face, but with an expression that said, "Last Sunday wasn't me. This is me." She started to close on her friend, but Kennedy found a gear. Both bested the winning time in last year's inaugural meet, Kennedy at 6:56 and Kathryn at 7:03. Kathryn's friend Haile finished fourth. Kathryn's mile equivalent projects to a 7:15.

On the way home, the kids provided race recounts. I dropped the term "negative splits" as a teaching moment, and both kids asked, "What's that?" That's how you lower your times, as I shared some hard lessons I'd learned in a few races.

Earlier in the evening, Dori was a bit down she couldn't attend, since crowd avoidance is on her daily To Do List with her low blood counts. I called her from the track, and also filmed parts of the race and took photos. We watched them tonight, with smiles, attaboys and attagirls.

Tomorrow, Dori and I head to clinic for her check-up and talk with the doctors. Resilience runs in this family!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Such Language

Last night, Will, his godfather Al and I settled in to our seats to watch Vanderbilt play LSU. Vanderbilt laid an egg, but it wasn't their inept offensive play that kept us from enjoying the game. It was the people around us, fans from both sides.

I've been attending Vanderbilt games a long time and never heard so many foul mouths in my life, not in college, the Navy or anywhere else. A group of six Vandy fans acted like orcs. Three were teens, two girls and one boy, who talked just like their obnoxious father, who threatened to fight a group of LSU fans a few rows behind them. Will and I moved down a row, but you could still hear the gutter talk. To my right, other fans also weren't saying nice things about people's mothers. A few LSU fans, young girls around 20 who probably had been drinking the entire day, barely made it to their seats. They had no idea where they were.

Midway through the second quarter, Will asked if we could leave at halftime. The thought of moving to other seats crossed my mind, but I said maybe. Minutes later, his request was more urgent. He was having an awful time. I thought about what he's going through. The evening was supposed to be about fun, a break. Instead, he was likely thinking what I was: "How could people act so hatefully and boorishly? It's a football game."

I looked at Al, and he nodded. Let's get out of here. This is impossible to enjoy.

Sorry to sound snobbish, but those people did little to honor the heroes of 9/11 with their behavior. It seems like more folks today are angrier and unhappier than 15 or certainly 30 years ago. Or maybe it's just where we're sitting!

Will and I rode 10 on the bike yesterday, and I enjoyed a 27-mile ride early this morning through suburbs, farmland and city parks. I counted eight serious hills with an ascend of 1,000 feet (according to mapmyrun.com). I did see one road rager try to run five bikers off the road (he honked his horn and yelled at them). Maybe he sat behind me at the football game.

This afternoon at cross country, Will PR'd again, running a mile in 6:40. I love watching him and Kathryn run. Kathryn always seems to run her best times toward the end of the season, and she's probably not fully recovered from her hospital visit. I'm proud of both of them for being active and determined to do better, whether they've had a good day or not.

Speaking of good days, Dori seems to be having them. She's very tired from the chemo but still not feeling other side effects, which is great. I'm feeling better, now that the stay at Vanderbilt is behind us.

We move on.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Church Is Good

I've been a little down and frustrated lately. The cancer thing can wear on you. I hadn't been to church in weeks, which is not good. But I was scheduled to read last night, so we all went, including Dori. It was her first time in church since early summer.

Mass was wonderful. For me, it was the readings, especially Wisdom 9:13-18b and Luke 14:25-33; for Dori, it was being there and two favorite communion songs, You Are Mine and On Eagle's Wings.

I needed comfort and instruction, and found some at Mass. In his homily, Deacon Jim explained the Luke reading so well, breaking down the hyperbole Jesus used in telling followers they must "hate" their families and shun their possessions so as not let them come between them and God. We'd never grasped that before. My reading from the Book of Wisdom is self-explanatory: Who can conceive what the Lord intends? Not here, not now. We must trust, hard as it can be.

The bike continues to be my friend. I rode 27 Saturday morning, eight with Will and three with Kathryn yesterday, and 22 this morning. Sixty miles of our hilly, beautiful town in perfect weather. My friend Al and I tailgated Saturday with my boss and his wife and then watched Vanderbilt lose a squeaker 23-21 to Northwestern. Our entire family loves college football, and here's just one reason why. As big and hyped as the sport has become, there is joy in watching teams play and laugh like this SEC group. Hilarious!

Dori reenters Vanderbilt tomorrow afternoon. She will receive her PICC line, and then it's back to 11 North. We are praying for a no-frills stay, with two days of consolidation chemo and shortly thereafter a return home for more recovery.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Luxury of Peace and Quiet

After a long but productive work week, I joined Dori at the cancer clinic Friday afternoon for our meeting about "the plan."

Unfortunately, Dori's counts were a little off (higher white blood cell, slightly lower platelets and red blood cell), so that has put us in a bit of limbo. Her doctor decided Friday to adjust some meds that may have caused the count ambiguities. We return Tuesday to see where her counts stand. If they are in the right ballpark, she might be scheduled for consolidation chemo in two weeks and then a reduced intensity transplant in late October or early November.

My hope late Friday was for a weekend of peace and relaxation. The complete opposite happened. Saturday morning, Will and I rode our bikes nine miles through beautiful farmland. It was great, but my phone rang twice toward the end. Kathryn didn't feel well, Dori said. She was getting sick often.

I arrived home, thinking our girl had a stomach virus. She was in rough shape for hours and spent most of the afternoon in the bathroom. Behind our house, some neighbors who have been partying like frat boys all summer finally went over the top ... their music and chatter was supersonic. I called the police, and encouraged other neighbors to join me. Perturbed, I needed a siesta, so Dori told me to get back on the bike. I rode another 12 very hilly miles. When I returned home, the neighbor's noise had abated but another task remained. Kathryn felt worse.

At 5 p.m., I took Kathryn to the emergency room at Vanderbilt's Children's Hospital. The waiting room was chaos, with one baby raging for 90 minutes straight while we waited. After a two-hour wait, they put us in a room near the raging baby, of course.

During the constant screaming, I processed what could be wrong with Kathryn. Appendicitis? Girl issues? A bad virus? Her counts showed an elevated white blood cell count, and you can imagine I needed a doctor NOW to tell me her other counts were ok. He arrived, and said they were. Whatever the diagnosis would be, I could now deal.

My sister brought me dinner and a bagel for Kathryn, once they cleared her to eat. The raging baby stayed at it most of the night. I told myself over and over bad things always end, and this would, too.

They never figured out for sure what was wrong with Kathryn. She was so dehydrated she needed four IV bags of fluid. An ultrasound showed a possible cist on her ovary that may have ruptured. We left the hospital at 3:15 in the morning, a 10-hour stay. We didn't sleep at all, and I spent today napping and feeling out of sorts. I still feel way off, as if severely jet lagged. Kathryn feels better, just very sore and exhausted like me.

I needed some good news today. Late today, as I slept and recovered, Will ran his first cross-country meet of the year. My Mom and sister cheered him as he ran his personal best, a 6:45 mile, and posted his best finish, 13th place, while competing against older kids in the 6th grade level. After the summer he's endured, it was nice to see his smile tonight, which helped me tremendously.

At some point, I will find much needed peace and quiet. For now, that is not my life. This weekend's positive? My family may be down a bit and on edge a fair amount, but we are intact.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

G & Ts

Dori's complete cytogenetics report is in, and we learned her marrow has no abnormalities. Great news! Donor DNA is 97%, while Dori's DNA is 3%. We'll likely receive a doctors' proposal late Friday.

I bought a hybrid bike Saturday to keep pace with Will. The bike I had been riding was too small and bad for my back. I love my new ride, a simple seven-speed that's a cross between a mountain bike and road bike.

Will and I rode 10 flat miles Saturday, 15 hilly miles Sunday morning and five tonight after dinner. I ran three with Pepper this morning, when we finally had the first true whiff of fall air. Tonight, it feels like 60 even though it's 80.

It's been fun scaling some of the challenging hills in our neighborhood. Will is getting more confident on the bike and stronger each ride. The best purchase of 2010 has been his new bike.

Speaking of scaling hills, Dori walked a mile on the treadmill today. This is a quantum leap from even last week when five minutes of uneven walking was an accomplishment. Her rash is essentially gone, as is the itching. Knee pain from the steroids also abated.

We've had some fairly feisty moments as a family the last week. My take is it's been a dash of post traumatic stress syndrome. Fighting siblings with excessive drama, crankiness, and an unfiltered comment or two. We've all had some moments, and I've been no saint.

The tonic? Actually, an overnight business trip helped. I needed some air, and so did the family. I guess the bike has been the gin.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Oddity of Odds

Hans appears to have done his thing. Now that Dori is in remission, which we learned yesterday, we get a real break and much better outlook.

Throughout this journey, we've been given or seen percentages. Three years ago, Dori read she had a 21% chance of five-year survival with AML. Last month when she didn't reach remission, we were told the graft vs. leukemia effect she needed had a 10% to 25% chance of occurring.

My wife is mathmatically inclined. Her brain likes numbers and analyses. I come more from the other side of the brain. Tell me something isn't likely or possible, and I'll do what I can to prove you're wrong.

Odds don't mean jack squat to me. Hell, we're Vanderbilt fans, we know what being an underdog is. Every situation is different, and the oddsmakers don't know what we're up to or what we're doing.

Let me tell you about Liz, part of our wonderful team. Dori's roommate in college and sorority sister, Liz remains a very close friend. Liz has called or texted me almost every day since Dori's relapse. Some days, when I'm exhausted or behind, I think about skipping a day of catching up with Liz. That would be a mistake.

Liz the Great has made a point to keep about 10 sorority sisters across the country informed about Dori. In July, these fine ladies pooled resources and bought Dori the iPad she loves. Because Liz is keeping their close-knit group well informed, Dori receives several e-mails a day from them on the iPad they gave her. They are part of a connected team that keeps Dori thinking and moving. Oddsmakers don't know about Liz and those women in Atlanta, North Carolina and elsewhere.

There are many other special people who are in the foxhole with us. Of course, our families. Dori's boss is a blood cancer survivor and great guy. My friends Jim and Heather from Team in Training communicate often with Dori. Sweet Mariesa and Mary Belle are extraordinary cheerleaders. Our friends from the kids' school are amazing ... Melissa, Elizabeth, Kathy, David and Mona, Wendy and Rob, and the list goes on. We are surrounded by many big-hearted people, too many to list, who approach this challenge like we do. The odds can kiss our asses.

I'm relieved right now, but not euphoric. I'm not even registering in the middle of the Happy Meter. Underneath, I'm really glad we're in a meadow, alive with flowers and chirping birds after a soothing rain. But I'm staying reserved, I think, for several reasons.

I know this isn't over. I know I better not get giddy, or jinx losing the momentum. I'm not superstitious, I think, though I do always put the first shoe on my left foot and never step on the third base line. As a friend said yesterday, you know what you guys are dealing with, so that's why your enthusiasm is reserved. True, but even I've surprised myself with the temperate reaction.

It's a strange feeling, strange place, yet good at the same time. It certainly beats the alternative.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Our family received the news we wanted late today. Preliminary results indicate Dori's marrow shows an improving picture. We'll get flow cytometry results in a day or two, which will give a more complete picture and confirm the preliminaries. Our Caringbridge site (look left for the link) has more information.

For now, please join me in a group "phew."

The word Dori keeps using is "relief." I don't feel anything but relief. Not calm, not joy, not happiness quite yet. Just relief, like Dori. I imagine I'll let loose with tears and other emotions, but I'm probably waiting for final results before progressing. Dori already had herself a serious cry.

Dori looks great. My sister, Mom and I can't get over the rapid turnaround in Dori's energy, appetite and appearance. A few weeks ago, I was catching Dori in my arms in the darkness of our hospital room, when she blacked out several times from the teardown of chemo. Then, Dori was in awe of her appearance and condition, removing exfoliating skin to pass the time, fixated on her swollen right eye, and continually applying special lotions and cremes to soothe her aching, purple and rashing skin. She ate little, doing well to consume a third of her normal diet. Did I leave out anything? You had to be there. Be glad you weren't.

Thankfully, Dori was surrounded by the A Team. My Mom, sister Anne, Dori's sister Kathy and several close friends stood watch when I wasn't there. Collectively, with the help of great staff, and I mean great, we helped Dori pass a major test. But Dori had to do the hard work. We just had to do what we could and we watched in awe.

It would appear we will advance to the next round. Clarity will arrive when it arrives. Until then, please join me as I toss back a glass of our finest.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hot Tomato

This afternoon's heat index was 109 degrees. And like A Flock of Seagulls, the stupid kind, I ran.

Flushed and hot at mile two, despite working frozen water over my neck and forehead, I altered my plans. My six miler became a combo run-hike, amounting to four miles. The heat wave is supposed to break soon - and it better - before my language deteriorates.

Dori has had some good days. This morning, she woke early to make waffles. Will was fired up ... he loves his Mom's waffles. Kathryn went with my wonderful Mom and sister Anne to the infamous East Nashville Tomato Art Festival. Anne sent the following picture of Mom, which she titled appropriately, "Hot Tomato."

Our good friend and Will's godfather Al stopped by this morning for a visit, while our good friend Kathy dropped off dinner this afternoon. Dori is eating well and looking better every day. Her counts are good, and she's smiling and sounding like Dori. A few weeks ago seem like years ago. Time does funny things when you're pointing a ship through a hurricane.

Dori's bone marrow biopsy is scheduled for Tuesday morning. Until then, we're chillin' in the steamin' stew that's known as the Deep South in August. We are LOVING the break.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Prayerful Haiku

Will you join me?

Graft, Hans take control.
My girl needs your power pull.
Love, hope be alive.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sisters in Arms

I have enjoyed being at work the last two days. It's been a glimpse of normalcy.

I've also enjoyed watching Dori eat and sleep well. Man, does she deserve that. She's looking better each day, and I know she's enjoyed having her Dad here. The reprieve and company have been welcome.

Screw running in this weather. At 8:30 this evening, it's 90 degrees with a "feels like" of 99. Sheesh. Who wants to run in that? I'm glad I ran 10 last weekend and rode the bike Monday with Will. For now, I'll wait a few more days for weather that's not ridiculous.

Tonight, Dori spoke with a friend from her brief teaching career who has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The conversation, the side I heard, was palpable. I could see the emotion, however, on both sides. Dori encouraged her friend with perfect words only a fellow combatant can offer. Dori's next clinic visit is Friday, and she'll see her friend there.

It looks like Dori will have a biopsy mid week and then we'll get a plan proposal. The kids start school tomorrow, and we're glad. They need some routine, though they've been fairly active this summer. I will say we have too many electronic devices in our house. Way too many.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Dori returned home late yesterday afternoon. She cried on the way home, reflecting on the last month of hell she endured. Who wouldn't?

We then had to wait an hour at the pharmacy for seven meds. They only had four and we had to have one last night. After four phone calls and plenty of waiting, the needed medication was procured by someone special. Last night, my sister drove to the hospital to pick up and deliver to our house.

Dori spent last night in our oversized chair watching TV with Will, gobbling up chicken and rice (and an ice cream sandwich!), and telling our dog Pepper she missed him and loves him. I played some of her favorite songs, "Whenever I Call You Friend," among them. We love the line, "In every moment there's a reason to carry on," in particular these days. I tossed back some French rose and soaked up the scene.

Yesterday morning at the hospital, I rose before dawn for a run, my first in five days. I had considered a 10-miler with running buddies, but didn't pursue for two reasons - I needed to be with Dori and I'm not in good enough shape to jump to that mileage and have a sane day. Yesterday included plenty of packing, unloading and cleaning.

So I ran 4.5 glorious miles in the best weather we've had in a month. A cold front dropped the humidity and temperature into the high 60s. I couldn't help but think the relieving conditions were commensurate with Dori's pending hospital discharge. I returned to Dori's room before 6:30, and began the all-day process of checking her out of prison, I mean, the hospital.

Dori is a favorite of the nurses and care partners, because she treats them the way they deserve ... like superstar royalty. I cannot imagine Dori or I getting through this marathon without their support. They just know how to keep patients like Dori and caregivers like me moving forward, and they rose to the occasion at some tense moments, particularly when Dori was blacking out and flashing some feisty GVHD-related rashes. The best of America works in the hardest of environments, and we are fortunate because of it.

We're in the clinic this morning, and they are just as solid here. One of the nurses said, "So you were upstairs for 30 days. Wow." Another just said something similar.

Yes, wow. But for now, some welcome freedom has been restored.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Little Birdie

This morning, my daughter called me at the hospital and excitedly said, "Dad, we have a hummingbird!"

Let me share what this means to me. In April, I put out a hummingbird feeder, anticipating last year's hummingbird would return soon thereafter. May, June and July passed, and no hummingbird. I've thought about moving the feeder. Once, I pondered taking it down, a thought I quickly dismissed with an inward tongue-lashing.

Now that we have our new visitor, I am glad we were patient. To have given up hope would have been counterproductive. These days, I'm frustrated at times and often tired, keeping up with so many, many things. But I won't succumb to hopelessness.

Damn, it's good to have that hummingbird in our yard!

Friday, July 30, 2010

When It's Hot

Some people love the summer. Not me.

When it's scorching hot - 90s and heat indices around 105 - it's hard to enjoy yourself. During normal summers, I run early in the morning, and even then, running isn't as enjoyable as in the fall or winter.

This, of course, hasn't been a normal summer, like 2007 when Dori was diagnosed with AML and we had a record heat wave. I run when I can, and sometimes it's in the heat of the day. This week, I've run twice - 4.5 miles in the late afternoon with Will, who followed me on his new mountain bike and 4 miles at midday in Percy Warner Park. The frozen water I carried melted completely.

So how and why do I do this? Because the alternative is worse. It relieves stress and keeps me going. It helps me be a better caregiver, father and part-time pseudo-Mom. It also enables me to relate to Dori, in a strange way. She's been pushing through the dark fog and pain from chemo, which seems never-ending. That's how I look at this heat wave - seemingly never-ending. But it will end, despite the fact the 10-day forecast wants me to think otherwise.

Sometime in early September, the morning temperature will be 65 instead of 75. A spell later, a dry cold front with soothing winds will rush through the Tennessee Valley, stirring the leaves and signaling change. Likewise, soon Dori's chemo fog will lift, her blood counts will rise and her strength will rebound.

This morning, her doctor said she has a small amount of neutrophils, a sign her body is preparing to defend itself on its own. A nagging rash around the eye is on the mend. Her itching is almost gone and rash is down. Yesterday, she rode the bike for 20 minutes and walked a quarter mile, her first exercise in a week.

I continue to remind Dori it's the trend, not the moment, that matters, and we're both going to enjoy better times. Like Lance's quote, if you don't have hope then what other choice is there?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hall Quotes

Encased on the 11th floor at Vanderbilt Medical Center, where Dori is being treated, is a collage of inspirational quotes. Here are two favorites:

“If children have the ability to ignore all odds and percentages, then maybe we can all learn from them.
When you think about it, what other choice is there but to hope?
We have two options, medically and emotionally: give up, or Fight Like Hell.”

Lance Armstrong

“Ability is what you're capable of doing.
Motivation determines what you do.
Attitude determines how well you do it.”

Lou Holtz

Monday, July 26, 2010

Time for Hans and Persistent Prayer

We learned Friday Dori's leukemia was not in remission. To say the least, this was difficult to hear, but the next 48 hours wouldn't be any easier. Dori's blood counts hit their lows, her full-body rash and right eye infection intensified, her blood pressure went very low and her fever rollercoaster went on wild swings.

Dori fell at 3 a.m. Saturday morning, but luck was with her ... somehow, she did not hit her head. During her transplant in 2007, Dori fell in the shower one morning when her blood pressure plummetted under the warm water. It was a nasty fall, one I'll never forget. We posted a 24-hour watch then, and we had posted watch when she fell early Saturday.

I knew things weren't right early Saturday evening. Dori had wondered when the intestinal issues might surface, and they did late Saturday. I stayed awake, knowing bathroom trips would be frequent and Dori would need a spotter. At 10:30 Saturday night, she completely blacked out but I was there. I caught her, and the night nurse was luckily right there too in a flash. It was 20 minutes of chaos, but we got through. I cannot tell you how awesome the staff was that night.

Late Sunday, Dori seemed to be recovering. Indeed, her counts were up this morning and her vitality, though low, is trending the right way. She is constantly itching and uncomfortable, and pain comes in waves. She is bearing a cross with uncommon grace and determination. Dori's sister Kathy and I are constant supporters, sharing whatever wisdom we can muster, reading her e-mails and CaringBridge posts ... just whatever we can do. With my sister Anne, the three of us will be on day and night watch for the foreseeable future.

We need Hans, Dori's unknown donor, in a big way. We hope he's getting busy, stirring up a graft vs. leukemia effect. Right now, more chemo is not in the cards.

Dori's leukemia is called "persistent" by her doctors, but so are the prayers around Nashville, the Southeast and our country. The outpouring of love and prayer has been phenomenal, bolstering Dori, our family and dear friends. Blessings to you all. Go, Hans, go.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Now, the Waiting

Dori's biopsy is done. This one was rougher than normal because they didn't hit paydirt at first and had to go in twice. Dori endured a lot of pain and discomfort. The last day has been rough for my bride. We'll know results perhaps Friday afternoon or Monday, we're told.

Big picture, which I keep telling Dori and myself, is she is doing well. Her fever is gone and her PICC line looks great. She is eating well and staying unbelievably active through a haze of drugs and significant fatigue. She rode the bike less than two hours after they pulled marrow for her tailbone. How many guys can do that?

No caregiver likes watching this, honestly. Dori's right eye is swollen, like Rocky's. Her hair is falling out, which no woman enjoys. She has a rash on her back and stomach from an adverse drug reaction. She is wobbly from all the drugs and struggles to remember things. You get the picture. Chemo and cancer suck turnip roots.

I have relied on my son's advice ... There's no reason for anger because you can't blame anyone for this. My dream a few weeks ago, in which Chuck Hendry told me to be calm and take care of Dori, helps. Prayers for peace help. Extinguishers keep the flames at bay.

I'm blessed to have an inner circle that keeps things going for Dori, the kids and me. We'll wait for the biopsy results and get ready for the next round. Negative, clean, remission ... that would be the preference!

Here's a photo of the kids, with our dog Pepper and our nanny's puppy Joey. We're so proud of Kathryn and Will. Fittingly, when Dori powers up her new iPad, they are there to provide a motivating greeting.