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.