Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why Does Bad Happen?

Dori is not feeling well again. She's in the emergency room in Texas with her sister, and I'm sitting here in our comfortable living room in Tennessee. Can you tell I'm Catholic?

This morning, she spiked a fever and emptied her stomach. She is very tired, but doesn't appear to have any other symptoms. If you're wondering if this ever gets old, sure it does, but we're not going to give in. We have too many chips on the table, and we're damned good at poker.

The kids and I will soon head for Texas, and family will watch over our dog and house. I take a lot of comfort knowing Dori is with her sister, who I love dearly and trust completely. But the separation right now hurts. The last two days in Tennessee have been better for the kids, but very difficult for me.

Yesterday evening, Kathryn showed me what all of this is about. The first few years she played basketball, she struggled. Dori and I thought she would play for awhile and move on to other activities. The next few years, when Dori was first diagnosed and battling leukemia, Kathryn started playing with toughness. This past year, she's worked at improving her skills and started setting goals. She loves the game.

Last night, she practiced with some of the better area players on a summer team, holding her own, scoring baskets and ripping rebounds. I'm happy for her, because it's teaching her what it takes to do well. She appreciates practice, has a great attitude and willingness to learn, and embraces the team concept. Dori loved it when I told her last night.

Tuesday afternoon on the way home from Texas, Kathryn and I stopped in Tuscaloosa. Today, we learned about the unbelievably terrible tornado that claimed many lives in that college town. Blink, like that, and many are gone. As much as we have on our plate, I can't stop thinking about the families who are dealing with tragedy. I've also read several online arguments questioning the existence of God.

Like many, I believe such events happen for a good reason. Not that they're good, but for a good reason. We are not in charge, no matter how much we want to be or think we are. A long time ago, I abandoned my belief everyone should live long, healthy lives and retire in comfort. So few do, though some suggest otherwise. Our culture screams "now," while our faith quietly but assertively says "forever."

Everyone's shot clock is different, but we all know we're on the clock. I will always believe that God wants to know whether we are with Him, or not. I'm with Him because the hope and love I have on this earth goes well beyond the here and now.

That's how I deal with cancer.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Another Hurdle

Yesterday afternoon, Dori's temperature spiked quickly and she started feeling weaker. When it neared 101, we headed to the emergency room. Dori's stomach began to bother her. She had a rough evening, but antibiotics checked her fever, which the doctor believes was neutropenic-related due to zero immunity from the recent chemo.

Kathryn and I stayed with Dori until a room opened on the leukemia treatment floor, about six hours after we arrived. We didn't leave Dori until I met the night nurse and went through her history of falls and recent condition. Kathryn and I made it back to the apartment well after midnight. We slept well, spoke to some family this morning and will head to the hospital around lunchtime.

Kathryn has been remarkably calm, positive and reassuring. We are proud of her in many ways. Last night, she stayed busy on her laptop, as did I, taking in some sports (Vanderbilt baseball and Predators hockey). It helped make the visit seem shorter.

Dori and I know from experience hospital visits like this are to be expected. Patience, flexibility and determination are important. As much as things can seem to be speeding up, we have to stay in the moment and stay positive. Cussing is allowed, in moderation and for entertainment purposes only.

Hopefully, Dori can check out of the hospital in two days. They're looking over cultures, but I suspect they caught the little bug that thought it could sneak by her.

We have a playbook and follow it. Most of our plays work, and the ones that don't get scrapped. If we need to audible, we will.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Let Me Be Me

I have a family member who often, and I mean often, asks me when I'm going to stop running long distances, among several annoying questions. I find the prodding bothersome, because it is persistent, consistent and insistent.

I thought about this twice recently, once when I was pressed again in person and again when I received an email from extolling the virtues of hitting the road. Read for yourself, "10 Reasons Running Is Good For You."

If those reasons aren't good enough, here are a few more. I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't been running and training for the many half marathons and one marathon I've run since 2006. Consider:

- The positive energy expended dealing with an avalanche of negative cancer energy.

- The rewarding process of setting and reaching a goal. Accomplishments that require work and discipline filter positively into all areas of life.

- The example for our children. Life goes on, no matter awful things are or seem.

- The money raised for cancer research and related philanthropies, which will benefit others like us down the road.

- Addressing doubts and fears. One can work out a lot during a one-hour run. Running requires physical effort, but moves the spirit and bolsters resolve.

I could go on, but why bother? The benefits far, far outweigh the risks. See comments for the greatest reason of all.

Too often, we look at a loved one's choices through our own eyes, not his or hers. While we may mean well by sharing our own fears or concerns, we can actually harm the relationship. We walk a fine line between selfless love and controlling love.

Tuesday morning, I left the apartment at 5:30 and ran five miles. In high humidity, I felt the toxins leaving my body during a heavy sweat. Yesterday, Kathryn and I worked out in the fitness gym on six separate machines and did sit-ups. We felt great this morning, a good sore near areas that needed work.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Kathryn and I had an uneventful 12-hour ride to Houston yesterday, arriving around dinner time. We drove straight to the hospital, saw Dori, checked into our apartment, had a nice dinner, and shopped for groceries. By 10 p.m., I was waxed, but strangely not ready for bed, so I watched the last 30 minutes of a Star Trek episode. So not me, but I enjoyed the unusual wind-down.

A few hours before our arrival yesterday, our cyber-friends Ann and her husband Chris met Dori. Ann is an ALL survivor who talks straight and has an indomitable spirit. She's a survivor who is remarkably beautiful on the inside and outside. Chris is a compassionate man who has been through the wars, just like us.

I spoke to them on the phone for the first time yesterday, but Dori had the pleasure of meeting them in person. "I love them," she said today. After reading Ann's recount of their visit, you'll see why. Foxhole love is like family love.

Kathryn is doing well, really well in fact. She is talkative, curious, and wanting to help. She loves her mother, just like Will. He's already missing us, which I expected. The separation and uncertainty is hard for adults, let alone young people. They deserve so much better than the crap casserole that's been served. We're monitoring that situation from 800 miles away, but I have faith all will be well.

Dori is more "in the moment," now that chemo has been administered. She finished her fifth treatment last night, and we retrieved our girl after lunch today. She was tired and hungry, so I fetched her a Five Guys burger, which she devoured. Her weight is good, and most counts are hanging in there for the moment. Only platelets are low, so she may need a transfusion. We have clinic visits tomorrow and Friday, then we celebrate Easter.

Her emotions have been varied the last few weeks. She's more focused now, with a slight to medium boil. I think I'd be on full boil, but clearly she's entitled to any and every emotion. My reminders are and will continue to be about focusing on what you can control, which is giving blood cancer the finger and not giving in one inch. She's good at it, but the pep band takes requests.

Kathryn and I talked yesterday about the day-to-day nature of our lives. She called me "The Planner," a term this naval officer will accept with appreciation. I responded by saying in times like now, there isn't much planning. We simply must be flexible and just do. She agreed and understood.

My mission is my wife, with other related missions embedded.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Coach K

The latest on Dori is posted on CaringBridge. As our friend Al said this morning after church, it's the Battle of Bull Run, Part Three, for our family. Instead we're waging war in Houston, not at Manassas.

Last night, I took the kids to hear Duke Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who spoke at Lipscomb University to a dinner group of 350 and then again to 3,500. I briefly considered not going, as I have plenty to do before driving to Houston tomorrow with Kathryn. But the kids were excited, which made me excited. Dori's mother is a Duke grad, too, and I knew she'd love to hear what he said, which I shared with her this morning. It was a great call.

I'll never forget Coach K's discussion about dealing with adversity or tragedy. Upon learning of sickness or other bad news, he said the normal reaction for nearly everyone is to exasperate and fret, often saying or thinking, "I can't believe this is happening to me." He hunched over for effect, and repeated the phrase.

These moments are what makes us decide to be great or to be ordinary, he said. Our children heard the best basketball coach of our time explain how coping with difficulty is when we earn our reputation, but more importantly demonstrate our character. My favorite athlete is golfer Jack Nicklaus, not because of his 20 major championships but because of how he conducted himself after losing.

Coach K later repeated the phrase, "I can't believe this is happening to me," but this time with optimism and with his shoulders back and head up. That's how you win four national championships. Here are some quotes from a man I will always admire and respect.

And here is a photo of the two children we love very much, before last night's event. Many of you have asked how they are doing through all this. I see shoulders back and heads up. Fear is around us, but fear can kiss our asses.

By the way, Will found a four-leaf clover in our yard this afternoon and asked me to take it to Houston. No problem, young man.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

'No Surrender'

We've begun Day 4 in Houston, but it seems like we left Nashville weeks ago.

Dori has a bit of the cabin fever, so she's walking on the treadmill in the hotel's exercise room. I ran about four miles in the midday heat yesterday and five miles early this morning. We're near Reliant Stadium, so there is little greenery. The entire landscape is asphalt jungle. I miss Radnor Lake and Percy Warner Park, two of Nashville's gems.

The separation is beginning to wear on everyone. I remember the feeling of loneliness on seven-month cruises in the Navy and not seeing land for 60 days. Today's feelings are similar. The naval commitment was my choice, however; as a single man, I had no family obligations. I knew what I was getting into when I became directly subservient to Uncle Sam. Now, we're making choices that are best for Dori, and that's the way it will continue to be (and the way I want it).

While watching the Vanderbilt baseball game online yesterday, Dori said, "I know you would rather be at the ballgame than here in Houston." I said, "No, that's not true. I want to be here because we need to be with these doctors." She persisted, but so did I. I meant every word.

The shock of the relapse news has abated. Some friends have e-mailed me with words like "keep fighting" and "no surrender." I think Dori has received similar encouragement. I sense Dori is getting her game face on. Mine already is. One thing I've refrained from doing the last four years is having a pity party. Pissed-off parties are fine, in moderation; I'm a fan of steam whistling.

That's the approach, as we prepare to talk to the brightest minds in medicine this week. That, and a whole lot of prayer.

Friday, April 8, 2011

New Semester

I updated CaringBridge late today while Dori was napping in a Houston hotel. Yes, we're in Houston, if you'd like to click the link.

It is true what they say about Texas. Everything is big. The Texas Medical Center, which includes the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, is massive. TMC, which employs 82,000 people on a 1,000-acre campus, is the largest hospital in the world. So far, it appears to be well run, too. Day One at MDA was long, but went smoothly.

Dori read my CaringBridge post and thanked me for being honest. I've tended to leave out less positive moments on CB, using the medium instead to update Dori's status and to encourage prayer and support. She's been hurting this week, like the rest of us, and we miss our kids very much. The last 10 days have been emotional and exhausting, a real whirlwind. Telling the kids the bad news on Saturday morning ... well, it doesn't get much crappier.

I love my job, but last week was difficult. We've all been there - enduring the pettiness, dishonesty and misrepresentation of others isn't fun, even when one isn't trying to hold his family together or deal with a devastating relapse. I'll be able to work remotely next week, but won't miss being "on the job" for a few days.

Earlier this week, I ran twice, about seven miles total. A four-miler yesterday was a good stress relief. Last Sunday, the kids and I hiked five hilly miles in Percy Warner Park, with Pepper on point. Dori and I have some time this weekend. My sister gave me a good book, Autobiography of Mark Twain, which is helping stir the mind, evoke some chuckles and pass the time. We'll probably see a movie, and I'll likely run in the Texas heat and watch the Masters. I'll also keep Dori at the dinner table. She ate very well today.

I'm not sleeping well, I'm hurting for my family, and disappointed some people can be so boorish. But I have faith in God's will and know we can endure by staying true to His lesson plan. Some semesters are easier than others. This one is off to a tough, tough start. But good grades are possible and desirable. It's just a test.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


We learned on Friday that Dori's leukemia has returned. We've posted the following on her CaringBridge site:

"These words are hard to say and will be hard to read … Dori’s cancer has returned. We are all reeling, deflated and in shock.

Last month, Dori’s donor DNA was 99.67%, below the 100% you always like to see. In recent weeks when climbing stairs, Dori has been short of breath. A blood test Wednesday showed low platelets and other dropping counts. Dori had a bone marrow biopsy Thursday morning, and the doctors saw “suspicious cells.”

Friday afternoon at 3, Dr. Jagasia called me with the bad news … her leukemia had relapsed. Dori was on the road, travelling to Cincinnati to see her mother. I broke the news as she crossed into Ohio. We agreed to let the dust settle, to wait for the doctors to make a recommendation, and to tell our family and friends today. We’ve all had good cries, and will have more.

We have a lot to ponder, obviously. I have witnessed miracles, none greater than watching Dori survive last summer. I have never seen such courage and resolve in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity. I believe, like most of you, that prayer had a huge role in her miracle.

Many of you will ask us what you can do in the coming weeks. Nothing is greater than the firepower of prayer. We would be grateful for every one you can say for Dori. No one I know deserves them more. She is my role model and has touched so many lives in so many positive ways. We live among greatness.

On the way to her Thursday biopsy, Dori said she wished for the days when we were simply “nicely irritated with each other” rather than cherishing every moment since her 2007 diagnosis. I agreed but said that may be the gift we’ve been given, to see life unlike most.

Yesterday, I asked Will, our smart son, “What are we going to do?” He said, “We pray,” later adding, “I wish God would take me instead of Mom.” Interestingly, that is the scripture I read at Mass last Sunday (Rom 5: 1-2, 5-8). We love Will and our wonderful daughter, Kathryn, who don’t deserve any of this.

Please join us in prayer. We love you all and are grateful for each of you."