Sunday, December 9, 2012

Dori's Birthday

Dori would have been 45 today. We miss her tremendously.

Dori basically ran the Christmas production in our house. I would buy the tree; she did almost everything else. Last year, I fled our house, taking the kids skiing with my helpful mom joining us. It was the right call. This year, we're staying here. It is still bizzarre and surreal not to have Dori in our lives.

Last night, I purchased a bigger tree than normal. We will decorate it later today, with my mother's help. It is a proud blue spruce, prickly like some family members and aromatic. Will loves the smell.

The kids and I are doing OK. It's almost like you have to start over, after such a loss. The shock doesn't wear off very easily. Then you get to deal with all the layers. Disbelief, anger, exhaustion ... It's a long list. Waves continue to pound the shore, to this day, 18 months after her passing.

I'm most proud that Kathryn and Will are doing so well in school. Kathryn's singing is a joy, and she turned into a good cross country runner this fall. She likes to run now, go figure. Will is playing two sports now, hockey and basketball. He scored two goals in last week's hockey game and made All Stars. He scored 13 points in yesterday's basketball game, helping keep his team in the game. They are joys to raise.

Dori left a tremendous legacy. She was the leader of our family, on so many fronts. Now she is remembered in special ways. Last month, I ran my 11th half marathon, raising more than $10,000 for Gilda's Club Nashville, the cancer support group she loved and that I still frequent. This week, I received a letter from Vanderbilt Ingram-Cancer Center, stating the $35,000 Dori Brown Discovery Grant is yielding promising results - researchers believe they understand how a mutated gene in AML attacks good suppressor genes. A second Discovery Grant in her name funded by friends will be used for targeted drug therapies that don't have the side effects of chemo. The Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation, a group we support, also continues to report good progress with their technology.

That's how I'm taking in a day in which I don't have my wife and the mother of our children. It doesn't take away the hurt or sadness, but it does provide some optimism for our journey here. I know she has to be smiling right now as I type these words. I love you, Dori, and I miss you still.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Hello, friends. It's been awhile.

I have a race to run. This time, for Gilda's Club Nashville, the folks who helped Dori every step of the way during her cancer fight. I started fundraising yesterday, and the response has been great. My race is in Nashville - the Hard Rock Cafe Half Marathon on Nov. 10. I hope you'll consider donating to Gilda's Club. They are the best at what they do.

I'm doing better than a year ago this time. Low days are infrequent, but waves of grief still come. But the waves are not as tall. The kids are moving along and recovering at a slower pace. But they are also recovering. Kathryn has started well at her new high school. She's enjoying cross country, and has shown a lot of improvement since the summer. Will also is running and about to start playing hockey. We love our church, and work is good.

We went to the North Carolina mountains in August, with a hike of the Appalachain Trail on bald Roan Mountain on the NC-TN border a highlight. We also had a fun tailgate before a Vanderbilt game. We stop to reflect often about Dori. We miss her very, very much.

My social life has returned. When you become a caregiver, as I was for four years, "fun times" almost disappear. I consider going to ballgames fun, but not much of a social life. Going to great restaurants, bars and music venues is a social life. I've been getting reaquainted with dining, dancing and laughing with a woman I like very much. My spirit is lighter, and I've been a better dad during this time of progression. The kids recognize I'm happier, but it is certainly a time of gradual adjustment. Life is not the same, and it takes a lot of time, and sometimes significant energy, to process it all. For the kids, and for me.

A friend shared yesterday, "Train for your race like someone's life is at stake." Amen. I thought of that when I was hurting on my training run this morning. Pain is temporary, quitting is forever. In running and in life.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Heat Is On

People look at me funny when I tell them I run in this heat. I used to despise running in this weather, but I've learned some tricks along the way to deal with it. Carrying frozen water bottles, pre-run hydration, slowing the pace, and running early or in shade all mitigate sweltering weather.

Experience and preparation are important, but so is attitude. If you think you can do something, you can. There is no try, only do, or so says Yoda. That said, I envision retiring some day, and I won't be spending many July's in Nashville!

On Independence Day in midday 99 degree heat, I ran six miles in hilly but shaded Percy Warner Park. When I hit a big hill in sun, I walked it. No need to prove anything ... I was just enjoying the journey.

This morning, I ran eight miles on my favorite rave run, the Grassland-Moran Road out and back. I ran four alone before meeting up with my friends Jim, Carey, Sammi, Laurie, Ted and others. Several are TNT alums, like me. Jim, a lymphoma survivor still battling complications, is trying to raise $100,000 for his NYC Marathon run this fall. If you know Jim, or even if you don't, I hope you consider clicking and donating. I did today. Jim embodies fight, courage, love and hope. He loved Dori, and she loved him. I was honored to run with him this morning.

Staying with running helps me stay connected to honoring Dori. When I run, I feel better about things. I've blogged about this before, but we're all still healing and healing is easier when there is routine, smart choices, reflection, discussion and prayer. Kathryn and I have had some wonderfully productive discussions the last few weeks about our situation. When stressed, listening and supporting my children can be difficult. Running greatly reduces that stress.

Entering this summer, I was concerned how we'd do, individually and collectively. Summer downtime has its pros and cons, but not having the routine of school can be challenging. Instead, the kids loved camp and have been active since returning, and our summer nanny is doing a good job. Phew.

The forecast calls for rain in a few days, then a break from the heat. The change will be welcome. Until then, I thought a little pop culture from the 80s might lighten up this joint.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dori Featured

The good folks at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center have spotlighted Dori's journey with leukemia. You can read it here.

I am grateful to reporter Leigh MacMillan for capturing Dori's wonderful spirit. She read the whole blog, shed a few tears along the way and approached our family's situation with compassion and empathy.

Cheers to VICC, Leigh, my friends the Grandes (in the article) and especially to heavenly Dori.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Jimmy Time

I could write a book about the last month, but I won't. I will tell you it's been the best month in some time, for several reasons.

Kathryn and Will spent two weeks at remote camps, and both had amazing experiences. Kathryn made many new friends, and immersed herself in mostly new activities like horseback riding, swimming, canoeing and guitar. Will loved camp, too. He likes fishing now, just like his dad! They will take these memories with them forever. I'm so happy for them.

Their time away allowed me to reclaim some of my identity, as I told my friend Warren. After five years of dealing with the impact of cancer, care-giving and gradual recovery, I realized I had some catching up to do. I embarked on a trail run, a four-hour bike ride, and ate out by myself several times. My sister Anne and mother sent me the nicest Father's Day cards, with the former telling me to enjoy some "Jimmy time." And that I did. I cooked, went to hear music, stayed out late one night, and just laughed more.

Before I picked up the kids Monday morning, I spent two days at Charit Creek, a remote, rustic lodge in the Big South Fork, to chill and hike with friends. I didn't hear an unnatural sound for two days! On the way to Hidden Passage Trail in Pickett State Forest, we surprised a healthy black bear, who bolted into the woods. We saw turkey, box turtles, snakes, lizards and other critters. At night, we heard a proud whipporwhill, wild boar and other animals outside our cabins. We gazed at the stars in the middle of nowhere. So wonderful.

I am reclaiming a social life, bit by bit. I am meeting and spending time with old friends and wonderful new people.

June wasn't easy, especially earlier this month, but it was a blessing in so many ways.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you're blown apart
Everybody feels the wind blow

Paul Simon, Graceland

During a six-mile run yesterday afternoon, that classic song popped up in my iPod. When those words were sung, my heart raced faster than the 140 beats per minute they were producing. Is this how people see me now? Probably, because sometimes it's how I feel, when I really miss her. Sometimes I don't feel this way, as if she's nudging me on, encouraging me not to become a bitter, desolate shell of myself.

A few days ago, it stormed, much like my week was a storm. At dinner time, the weather cleared and I took Pepper for a short walk. Through the trees, I caught a glimpse of an unbelievable rainbow that would stop your heart. I wondered if it was a full rainbow, so I walked to a clearing. It was perfect, a brilliant half ring.

I'm blogging today because I know what's coming. One year ago this Thursday, I lost my wife to cancer. The children lost their mother. My sister-in-law lost her sisterly soulmate. Many wonderful people lost their best friend.

I seem to find some meaning at every church service. Sometimes, like this morning, it's like taking an ice-cold shower. The opening hymn was "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty," the gathering hymn I chose for Dori's funeral. When I sang the words "merciful and mighty," it shook me to the core. My faith has been rocked, no question. I'm hanging in there. I do not harbor ill will at God. Thy will be done, just like Dori told me and the kids. My time is coming. So is yours, and so is everyone else's. I have to accept that June 7, 2011, was Dori's time to meet the Father. Still not easy.

I watch my children, at church and elsewhere, struggling with their own faith. They are dealing with much more than me, I think, because they've had less time for growth of their faith. It is rotten that some children learn at an early age that life is terribly unfair. They also have it easier than me, in a way. They have their whole lives in front of them, Lord willing, to find some of the answers that are eluding them today. I pray they seek comfort and knowledge in their mother's wisdom, which they will find in the book she penned before she died. It is a gift from God, Miracle Grow for their souls.

Paul Simon ends Graceland with hope, that redemption will be forthcoming.

Maybe I've a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

Dori found hers in the loving arms of her God.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Here and Now

My grief comes in waves, then abates. In the troughs, I know the waves will come again. That's how it is now. I'm dealing with it. I continue to look for my own time, and will have a fair amount next month with the kids at camp. Decisions, decisions. I continue to make progress.

Many kind souls continue to look out for me and my children, usually in small but not insignificant ways. One friend ordered a running book and had it shipped to the house. Another has set up an early morning Monday run. Yet another, this one anonymous, donated to one child's tuition next year. Some still contribute to the kids' tuition fund that we set up last summer. A co-worker popped in my door and started talking about what our story and this blog means to her family, her faith and the challenges we all face and endure. I said what most of you know, that this blog is for me, but I'm more than happy to share it.

At the moment, the hardest thing is not having Dori to hear what's going on in the lives around me. An old friend is experiencing turmoil. I'm helping him, but Dori would have helped cover every base, or reassured me I was making good, supportive decisions. I know other family members and Dori's best friends miss her counsel. We still talk and text fairly regularly, but I know they miss her dearly.

We all agree on several points. She was the best listener. Her instincts were amazingly sharp. She knew how to make you feel good, and she knew how to tell you to do better without making you feel bad. Sweet, tough love. I'm trying. She was better at it. I miss that right here, right now.

Since my last post, I have continued to run regularly. Last week, I ran five, six and six miles. Yesterday, I ran four hot miles with Pepper, and today, five cool miles with my Monday morning buddy. I'll make it three days in a row with an early Pepper run tomorrow. I'm feeling a gradual return of conditioning. The tough hill at Mile 5 this morning would have been tough at Mile 3 earlier in the month.

I thought I would conclude by sharing how amazing the kids look. My pride and joy ...

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Today, Kathryn will be confirmed in the Catholic Church. Next week is Mother's Day. Kathryn graduates eighth grade later this month. The one-year anniversary of Dori's death is next month.

My family is worried about me, protective and concerned. Obviously, we/I have a lot to process right now, as if the last year hasn't been enough. I'm in a much better place today than two months ago. I've done some things I've needed to do for a long time, which I'll share in a bit, and I've cleared the air with a few people I love dearly, which I won't communicate here.

First, I seem to be enjoying running again. The last year, some runs have been fine, but others have been no fun at all. In recent weeks, I feel like going out for runs, like yesterday morning's five-miler at Radnor Lake. I could have run 10 miles. I'm glad the fun seems to be coming back, because it's time to drop a few pounds. I'm about to go run later this morning.

Two weeks ago, I went to our school's auction. I was having a nice conversation, and was invited by three attractive ladies to go hear a band, The Mavericks, who were mighty awesome. I like to dance, which I hadn't done in awhile (ok, ages). So did my friends ... and we shut down that bar. I greatly enjoyed the company. I've actually been perusing local publications and the Internet for fun things to do. I plan to go to the Ryman Auditorium this summer to hear a few bands, among several outings.

My friend Felice and I had a good conversation recently. She runs programs at Gilda's Club, and we talked about how I'm progressing to new places. She said something that made me cry, that I will experience joy again. Funny, that's been a main mission this past year ... convincing my children that they should experience joy, even with their mother not here. I've done many things that bring them joy. I think Will's smile, which is a reflection of Dori's, shows he's genuinely happy with the activity in his life. That's a huge victory for him and us.

I've been reluctant to take my own advice, because I've been so focused on them. But I can't imagine it being any different than it has been. Taking care of me first would have been almost selfish, whether you agree with that or not. I didn't need or want to go hear a band three months ago. Now I do. With the help of my mother and others, I've spruced up our yard, deck and house. I have a new bathroom addition that looks fantastic. Our flower gardens are stunning. The back deck, where I recently hosted a backyard BBQ party for 20 friends, also looks great. And I have plans to do more. See for yourself. I know this is what Dori wanted me to do.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Poor Miss Havisham

Last weekend, I felt another wave of grieving at the end of Palm Sunday mass. The violins played the way Dori liked them to play, and I could do nothing but cry, missing her so badly. Kathryn comforted me while I prayed and cried, letting the church empty of happier souls.

Our yard is a sanctuary, the place Dori so enjoyed her last month on earth. Last weekend, my mother planted our backyard garden and potted flowers on our deck. She worked very hard to enliven that sanctuary this spring, and she did an amazing job. The weather has been nice, and I've spent a lot of time outside.

My mother's generosity and love reminded me of last year's gift from our friends the Grandes and Kohls, who transformed our yard for Dori the way my mother has for me and the children. As I was rereading parts of this blog on Good Friday, I came across a poignant quote that Dori cited from Anne Frank in her famous diary:

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

Today's homily was about resurrection, of course, and not staying in the tomb. Father Dexter talked about how each of us can tend to stay in places like a tomb, embracing darkness and a deathlike existence, like Miss Havisham in Dickens' "Great Expectations." She was the young woman who was jilted by her fiance moments before her wedding. She allowed that event to define her life, and became wretched, lonely and vindictive.

Dori is in New Light, I am certain. During Easter Mass, we witnessed a baptism, which is a reminder that we each begin anew with our Lord and Savior. I believe Dori, and God, want me to stay in the Light on this earth. She did while she was here. She saw great darkness and rejected it. Now it's my turn to follow her example. That is my prayer tonight and will be in the coming days. Amen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New Blogger

It's been awhile since I blogged. Hello again.

On several fronts, things are improving. My work is great. Kathryn is doing great in school, and so is Will. Kathryn is playing volleyball now, while Will is into lacrosse. He scored two goals last night. I still run, seven miles last Sunday and four yesterday morning.

Dori's absence hits me in waves. Most of the time, I am fine, my normal laughing engaged self. Church has been wonderful. Our priest's homilies are home runs every weekend. Last week, he talked about death and grieving, which obviously resonated with most folks and certainly me. Death is not the end, but the beginning. That doesn't make coping with loss easy. But I do feel her presence, and often, her guiding smile. I miss her so much, more than ever.

My friend Jim Asker has started a campaign to raise $100,000 with his friend Ted. They're going to run the New York Marathon in November. Jim's blog is now permanently linked to the left, but here's an excerpted take on Dori's influence on who he is and what he's doing about cancer. Jim says some very nice things about us, but really this post is all about what an amazing man he is.

... Bumping into those runners has had me thinking a lot about my friend Dori Brown. Dori was training with 'Gilda's Gang' at about this same time last year--when she was hit with a [2nd] relapse of leukemia. Dori was a fighter like no other. She passed away on June 7th, 2011, after a heroic and gallant battle. She was [43].

Dori and I were 'Honored Teammates' at the same time for TNT. She loved Gilda's [Club] but she also loved TNT--we both had that in common too.

When I saw Dori's husband Jim, also a very good friend, and a TNT Alumni, at the services, I felt consumed with 'survivor's guilt.' What happened to Dori was not fair-she fought not once but 3 times. And she went through hell not once but 3 times. It makes me sad but also angry.

This year before one of our Saturday Group Training Sessions, my TNT Wilco Team got to hear Jim give an amazing 'mission moment.' Mainly it was about Dori, but also about continuing the fight. So one day no one else will suffer from this horrible sickness. Jim is also a very amazing human being.

Dori was a fighter but she was also a giver--and right to the end. Her last email to me, just a few days before she passed, ended with a simple plea, "please keep raising money so people don't continue to suffer."

I took that email very seriously-and not only will I continue raising money- but also keep talking about Dori and Jim- as they defined the spirit of wearing Purple and running for TNT. I think about them every time I slip into one of those Purple jerseys. And I feel like I have been tasked with keeping Dori’s spirit alive, at least within the ranks of TNT. They need to know. ...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Full Days

Family life continues to be fast-paced, probably a very good thing. We're being productive, which is also very good.

On Thursday, 35 friends and family members convened at Gilda's Club Nashville to hear about tremendous cancer research progress. Mark Neidig, executive director with the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation, announced the new Gen V machine that can treat humans has been delivered to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He also noted that hospital has proven the Kanzius treatment gets into the nucleus of the cancer cell and destroys it. I encourage you to keep KCRF and Gilda's Club Nashville, linked to your left, in your 2012 giving plans.

Yesterday morning, at the request of my friend Jim Asker, I delivered the mission moment to about 50 Team in Training members. Jim is a lymphoma survivor and one of my best running buddies. At the gathering, I saw Shelley, a young woman who was our nanny one summer when the kids were very young. Her mother has been diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkins lymphoma. At the Thursday event, I saw my friend Donna, whose mother is battling breast cancer. Every way I turn ... I swear.

I stayed with the TNT group yesterday and ran 8.5 miles in cold weather, capping off an 18-mile week. I ran easy until the last mile. It was nice to crack the whip and have some giddyup. It's time to get serious about increasing mileage if I'm going to run a half marathon or two this spring.

On the news front, The Dori Brown Discovery Grant has been awarded to Dr. Scott Hiebert, who will be using the funds to conduct blood cancer research at Vanderbilt. I am so grateful to my friends Tony and Mary Belle Grande for spearheading that effort. Another grant is likely later this year.

Eight days ago, we spent a very special evening with Vanderbilt Baseball Coach Tim Corbin, his wife Maggie and daughter Molly. We were guests at their table for their annual baseball banquet, during which coach looked back on last year and introduced team members for the current year. Before he did that, Coach talked about Dori and our family in front of 500 fans.

Tim honored my wife by talking about her courage, determination and focus, reading an email I sent to him a few days before she died. An exhausted Dori wouldn't go to sleep until Will and I returned home from an important game to ask if Vandy had won. After I said yes, she fell asleep immediately. Then he talked about our journey with the team, from the evening of the June 10 game, only hours after her funeral, to meeting the team bus at 6 a.m. to wish the team well on its trip to Omaha, to being with the team for nine days in Nebraska. What an honor to be with the Corbins and his baseball family.

I'll answer two questions I hear every day: "How are the kids" and "How are YOU?" Kathryn and Will seem to be doing as well as can be expected. Their grades remain excellent and basketball season is wrapping up. Kathryn's team is 11-6; Will's team is quite good, 8-2, and improving every week. Will is about to start lacrosse and Kathryn will play volleyball again. Will has set his sights on hockey later this year. Will has been chosen to represent his school in a math contest and Kathryn's singing continues to impress. Like I said, pedal not brakes.

Emotionally, the kids are handling things very differently, which one would expect (different sexes and ages). I am proud of both of them for doing their best and continuing to learn how to cope with such a terrible situation. It's been eight months, and it's going to take a lot more time.

I guess I should say the same about myself. Some moments are very difficult. I miss her more, it seems, with every passing day. Some friends have suggested I take off a few days, without the kids, to have some Jim time. I know they're trying to be nice, but the kids are the biggest thing keeping me going right now. I wouldn't leave them right now for any reason. I'm trying to establish a beachhead, move inland a few miles and get reinforcements. Ever see the movie "Saving Private Ryan?" Speaking of war, I think my friend PJ mentioned the book Unbroken on her blog a few months ago. The book is a classic story of willpower, forgiveness and peace, perhaps the best I've ever read.

Those are the things I hold closely these days. That and the memory of the best woman I ever knew.

Friday, January 27, 2012

You Are Invited

All you need to do is RSVP ... Hope to see many of you February 9.

Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation is bringing THE NEXT WAVE to Nashville!

Mr. Jim Brown invites you to learn about research of “the world’s most promising cancer treatment:” the Kanzius Noninvasive Radiowave Cancer Treatment. The Kanzius Foundation’s Executive Director, Mark A. Neidig, Sr. will be a conducting a meet and greet informational forum on how your support is translating into meaningful breakthroughs in the research lab:

Thursday, February 9, 2012 from 5:00‐6:30pm
Gilda’s Club Nashville
1707 Division Street
Nashville, TN 37203
(for directions)

Parking is available behind Gilda’s Club, accessible by alley or via Music Row. Please join our host, Jim Brown, for heavy hors’ doevres and to hear firsthand the latest progress on John Kanzius’ novel way of treating cancer…without side effects!

Don’t miss out on this unique insider’s forum and an opportunity to ask questions. We encourage you to bring a friend, but respond quickly because there is very limited space available.

Please RSVP to Michele Borsa at (814) 480‐5776 or before 5pm on Monday, February 6th.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Happy Question

The other day, a smart person I love very much asked me if I'm happy.

"How do you define happy?" I replied.

I said I guess if it means doing the best you can with the circumstances you're in, then yes, I'm happy under that definition. But not happy like I was before.

I read a good book, The Red Sea Rules by Robert Morgan, over the break. Rule No. 4 is titled, "Pray." I've never needed to pray more, dealing with the loss of Dori and its impact on me and my family. I pray for patience, understanding, wisdom, guidance and peace. But mostly patience.

I'm doing better as a parent than I was a few months ago. Somehow, I think my prayers are being answered. I say fairly intelligent things to my children these days like, "How can we make sense out of something that makes no sense? ... We can't."

I thank you all for your prayers, too, and so does Dori.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas in the Mountains

The kids, my mother and I spent Christmas in Steamboat Springs, a place Dori and I visited many times, including our honeymoon. It was a great call.

Will loved skiing and Kathryn warmed up to it after a day or so. By Day Five, the kids were ready to try a black slope. Will flew down the mountain like Franz Klammer. Kathryn loved the blues and did very well the last day, keeping up with the boys.

My trip was eventful. On the second day, heading down Sunshine, a fairly easy blue, the trail cut off into a narrow tree-lined pass because the bottom wasn't ready to be opened. The trail was icy, and I was going full speed. You can guess the rest. I slammed head first, with my goggles and nose taking the brunt of the fall, along with my right thumb, which still hurts 10 days later.

Will was really into the skiing, so I cleaned up the nose cuts, found a way to get my ski glove back on my throbbing hand and back we went. I had fun, discomfort and all. I told my sister I was sorry the fall didn't knock any sense into me, but I was fortunate it wasn't worse.

Having my mom in Colorado was a real treat. She loves to cook and take care of us, and we love being with her. She smiled the whole week, having never been in Colorado. I'm so glad she joined us.

Christmas Eve at Mass and watching Christmas movies without Dori was too much for me. I think I cried on and off for five hours. The next day, I was fine. Still am, in fact. We've been so busy and active, part of the plan, that we haven't had much time to be down. That said, I still think about her all the time. I miss her more than ever.

This past weekend, the kids and I joined my friend Al and 32,000 other screaming Vanderbilt fans at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. We tailgated, ate great Memphis BBQ and saw many old friends. Our Dores lost, 31-24, but I really didn't care too much. They had a good year, and the future is bright.

All this activity has been good, but I have missed being on a schedule. The holidays means rich food, sweets, the extra glass of wine and other things that want to attach themselves to my waistline. I do seem to be getting back into a normal routine and doing fine with chores. This morning, Pepper and I ran six rolling miles in the most remote part of Percy Warner Park. It was brisk and windy, great for both of us.

I'll try to post more photos on Facebook, but here are a few images from Christmas in Colorado with two great children who make their dad proud.