Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The countdown is over

   22 hours and 27 minutes. My retirement countdown is almost to zero. It seems like yesterday it was at 300 days. I was looking forward to retirement. I announced it to the world. I am now less than 24 hours from the day I was to leave the mill for the last time and I am still no closer to retirement than I was last year. I may in fact be further away than ever.
   Last June our labor agreement expired. After 7 months of negotiations we are not even close to a new contract. As part of the companies proposal they want to eliminate the permanent and total disability benefit from our life insurance. I'm sure they don't realize, nor do they  care, but that life insurance is the only life insurance that I have. It is the only life insurance I can get. If I am forced to quit working due to a disability my family is going to need that money. I'm sure that the company's proposal looks good to the stockholders but I think it stinks.
   My doctor told me a couple weeks ago that he could not, in good conscience, write a letter to the Social Security Administration stating that I am disabled. I'm just not sick enough. My PSA is at undetectable levels. I have no tumor mass that would show up on a CAT scan. There's nothing in my bones that would show up on a bone scan. I have stage four prostate cancer! I have failed three different treatments. I have had multiple doctors tell me that I have terminal prostate cancer, but I am still not sick enough to retire on a disability. 
   If the company that I work for is successful in their endeavors, it will mean that upon my disability retirement I would no longer be able to collect 75% of my $65,000 life policy on my way out the door. My retirement plans were contingent on receiving that money. No money, no retirement. At the rate I am saving it will take me another four years to put that amount into savings. I'm pretty sure I don't have any wealthy relatives who have included me in their will so it appears that at least for the time being, retiring is off the table. 
   I guess the real question here is how do I feel about this?. I'm healthy. How could I possibly be upset about that? Mandy tells me that I'm too young to retire and that I have way too much energy. I guess it's kind of hard to be upset about that as well. At the time of  my diagnosis I truly believed that I would never live to see the age of 50. A month ago I turned 51. I always felt that if I was ever going to retire I would have to retire early or work until I die. The odds of me living to normal retirement age are getting better all the time. 
   In the last three years Mandy and I have traveled more than I ever thought possible. We have been to places we never thought we  would go. We have seen things we never thought we would see. The future is an empty page that is yet to be written. When we began our life together Mandy and I were like two kids just out of high school. Neither of us really had much of anything to our name. In  eight short years we have gone from having very little to having it all. We have beaten the odds in every way. We are truly blessed. 
In three short years many of our monthly expenses will be paid off. We will no longer have to worry about paying the student loan or the mortgage insurance or car payments. In three years my 401(k) will be fatter and our savings accounts will be healthier. In three years we will be better prepared for me to retire. Perhaps I will reset the timer. Call me Mr. 1095
.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

51


   Two weeks ago I said goodbye to 50. I am sad to see him go. We only knew each other a year but it was a year of fun and friendships. 
   I first met 50 somewhere in the midst of the Caribbean watching the  Seahawks dismantle the Saints with Mandy at my side and 28 new friends who for the most part were rooting for New Orleans. It was a birthday celebration like no other and one I will never forget. At the start of the game we were surrounded by a sea of black and gold and could not get near the television. By half time we had front row seats. Our new friends were gracious losers that night. God bless the Saints fans.
   As the year went on I realized that 50 was going to be a lot of fun. To be honest it was just like 40 but with a discount. I had to laugh when my aarp card arrived in the  mail. 
   I was not sure I would ever meet fifty. There were those who claimed fifty was not in the cards for me but I guess nobody knows what the future hold except for the future. As time drew close I wasn't sure I wanted to meet him but in the end we became good friends. 
  After a year of hanging out with my good friend "50" I had to say goodbye. I know I will never see him again. In his place I have a new guy to hang out with. His name is "51"! He looks just like 50. I find it hard to tell them apart. His arrival brought with him none of the dread nor any of the pomp and circumstance. It was a quiet evening spent with family when he showed up. He is quiet and laid back. He is perhaps a little more patient and hopefully a little wiser. He is taking Mandy and I to Hawaii in a few months. He is putting me to work paying off bills afterward. 51 seems to worry about stuff like savings accounts, retirement, and debt reduction. 51 is looking to be anal. Time will tell. Thanks again for reading. Todd



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Give Thanks

 Give thanks with a grateful heart. In the late 80's that was my favorite phrase of one of my favorite worship songs. Life was pretty good back then. We were very involved in a church that we loved. The fact of the matter is we were often at church or a church function 5 days a week. It was cool though because all of our friends were there as well. I was a worship leader and co-leader of the youth group. There was church on Sunday and Wednesday as well as home group on Friday. Worship team rehearsal was on Monday and Youth group was every Thursday evening. We were involved. We had it all. We would sing songs of worship and praise and thanksgiving. Looking back I wonder, was I truly thankful.
   A bitter divorce in 95' changed everything. I would not attend church again for 14 years. To this day I won't attend on a regular basis. I have nothing against church. I have nothing against most who attend. It is said that "time heals all wounds". That may be true but even a wound that recieves the proper care leaves a scar. For many years I blamed myself for the failed marriage. In time the truth became self evident and I was able to forgive myself and my ex.
  My divorce in 95 began my journey through hell. Not only did my family unravel but my life did as well. From another marriage and divorce to a crazy woman to a bout with drug addiction, I spent the next 10 years systematically destroying my life and losing everything along the way. 
  In the summer of 2005 I thought I had finally found the bottom of the hole. It was a long way up but with the help of family and friends who had never lost hope I threw away the shovel and began the long climb "Back to good" as I began to see the light of day I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was almost as if God was saying " Are you serious" and kicked me in the nuts. I know that is not the truth but perceptions create reality.
   Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I know it is cliche to do this but although I will be working a 12 hour shift tomorrow  I want to share with my family and friends the gratefulness I feel in my heart. I am so thankful for the unconditional love of my wonderful wife "Amanda" who has never doubted for a moment the decision she made when she said "I Do". I am thankful for my Children, All four of them, who make me proud even when facing trials of their own. I am thankful for my 6 beautiful granddaughters who are perfect in every way. I am thankful for my friends and family who never gave up on me even in my darkest hours. I am thankful for my mom and dad for always being there even when it was a challenge to do so. I am thankful for the people of Dendreon who continue to do what they do and saving lives under adverse conditions. I am thankful for my doctors who keep finding ways to keep me keeping on. I am ever so grateful for the last 8 and 1/2 years since being told I had a year to live. I am thankful for Cancer. If not for my diagnosis my life would not be the amazing wonderful ride it is today. Last but certainly not least, I am thankful to God, who had the grace and mercy to give me another chance to get it right. I hope I never let all of you down again.
  I know my story is inspirational. I get inspired just reading it and I lived it. I just want all the afore mentioned to know that I couldn't have done it without you. Happy Thanksgiving, todd 
   

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dark days

   In the last few days many of my friends, old and new, have experienced dark days in their lives. I feel for them. I have gone through these times along my journey and I know what they are going through. For some reason most of my dark days have come during late fall and winter. Perhaps it has to do with the shorter days. I only know that most people I have known who have a terminal illness go through them. 
   I have been fortunate that the darkness has been at the fringes these last few years. Omnipresent but easily ignored. Provenge and Zytiga are doing as advertised. Consistent undetectable numbers keep the light burning bright even in the cold grey days of winter. I am blessed. For some of my friends it is a different story. I will use my limited literary skill to try and take you into the darkness.
   For the terminally ill darkness can be one bad day away. Perspective is everything. Prostate cancer, especially advanced disease, presents its own unique circumstances as many of the treatments carry with them, the probability of causing depression. In the beginning of my treatment I faced many dark days. I was a newlywed. I was faced with zero libido and E.D. My bride tried to be understanding but she was hopelessly and passionately in love with me. I was unable to reciprocate the physical desire she felt towards me. In 8 years of marriage we have adjusted to the new normal. As my body has slowly adjusted to the near zero testosterone, I have  regained function and some semblance of physical desire. It has been a long road. It has not always been easy. Our love for one another has carried us through. We have matured as people and as a couple. The light of our love has burned bright to light a path through the darkness lurking beyond. The rest of this entry will be hypothetical in nature but will be based on actual events in years previous.
   It is 2a.m. I close my eyes but sleep will not come. If I sleep will I awake in the morning? Mandy is crying in her sleep. My mind is racing with questions. There are no answers. Dr. Liemert retired. After 18 months my PSA is rising. We met the new doctor today. He is taking me off Casodex hoping my PSA will drop. He said he has never seen it happen. He said I have 30 months of life left. He said it in front of Mandy. I think he is a sadistic S.O.B. We are suppose to sign papers on our home next week. What's the point? Will it hurt to Die? Is there really a heaven? I feel so ripped off! I had plans. I am suppose to be putting my life back together. My doctor is an ass hole. Doesn't he realize what he did? He took away our hope. It felt good to tell him he was fired. What a prick! Should we buy the home? How will Mandy survive the house payment without me? I should retire! Will it hurt? There are drugs for that. Good drugs. They didn't help Paul. He was in terrible pain at the end. They took him off Casodex. It didn't work. Maybe the doctor is right. I should get drunk. Why would you get drunk idiot? It's 2am. Why did I allow myself to marry Mandy? I am going to die and she will be hurt. I am an idiot. She deserves better! I am scared. I should wake her up! No!!! She is sleeping peacefully now. 
   This was one night. The darkness can go on and on. Sleepless nights, question upon question without answers, torment. You become your own worst enemy drowning in a pit of despair.  Nights turn  to days, days into weeks, weeks drag on. Without hope darkness prevails. Motivation wanes, and dreams are forgotten. In the war on cancer hope is a mighty weapon in our arsenal. It is a game changer. It is not however the mightiest.
     In my personal war, the love of my bride has always been the trump card. She would not allow me to fall into the pit. She motivated me to stay active. She dared to dream of the future. She made me laugh long and hard. She helped me to keep my sanity. She helped me to have faith during the times of uncertainty. Faith hope and love are powerfull weapons but to quote Corinthians, " The Greatest of these is Love" Todd
  
   

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Last Day

  Fog has set in. There is no rain but here in the forest the fir trees shed water with each passing breeze. Moss hangs thick from the towering trees. It soaks up the fog like a sponge. The earth is still around me. I am cold and wet but I have never felt more alive.
   It is the last day of elk season. The camper is on the truck and all of my gear is loaded. I am waiting for my friends to return from a mid-morning hunt to begin tearing down the tent. As I walk through the heavy timber behind camp I wonder why I haven't hunted here. The forest floor is covered with elk scat and tracks. Beneath  my feet is a thick carpet of moss. I am silent as walk along the forest trails.
   This is my first time hunting the hills and mountains above the Columbia River. I refuse to pay Weyerhaeuser company to hunt in my usual area. My dad was so discouraged  that he stopped hunting all together. This year I hunted with new friends who were strangers nine days ago. I am in unfamiliar territory but it has been an amazing week.
  
   On Friday, October 31, I left the mill parking lot in our camper for 9 days of elk hunting. During the last 10 years Mandy and I have been apart for no more than 2 days. As excited as I was to go hunting, I was just as sad to be leaving her behind. With our little Pekingese "Brody" riding shotgun, we left the parking lot to fuel up and buy groceries before heading for the hills. Mandy and our daughter met us at the gate with a platter of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and one last hug and kiss goodbye. It was dark thirty before I arrived at camp and completed setting up. I shared a meal with the guys and headed for bed.
  On my first hunt of the week I headed into the forest on a north, northwest heading. Three hours later I came out on a road and had no idea where I was at. My gps said it was 5 miles to camp but a sheer rock cliff was between camp and myself. It was a 15 mile walk by road. Fortunately a couple of high school kids who were out shooting pictures and who were lost and low on fuel gave me a ride in exchange for navigation.
   It was a great week. We chased elk everyday but couldn't quite put one on the ground. We laughed, told stories, drank beer, and played pinochle in the evenings, before hitting our racks around 9 p.m. My alarm would go off at 5:30 in the morning and we would chase elk all day long. On Sunday November 2nd my dad and uncle made a surprise visit and actually were excited about the prospect of hunting a new area next year. On Wednesday my dad made a return visit with my mom. They brought pizza doughnuts and oranges.  Mandy was coming to elk camp for a night on Friday. She is my good luck charm. On Friday afternoon I got my bull. He wasn't one for the record books for sure but he was the only bull any of us got a shot at all season.  I can't help but feel that just knowing Mandy was coming out was the reason I got my elk. We skinned and boned it and hung the quarters from a vine maple I cut down and lashed to a couple of fir trees. We packed out the back straps, tenderloin, and rib meat, leaving the rest until morning. 
    I raced back to camp for a quick shower and change of clothes and headed to town to have a dinner date with Mandy before bringing her back to camp. After a few introductions we retired to the camper for a glass of wine and a movie. I really missed her. We both slept like babies that night.
   We packed The rest of the elk out early Saturday morning. It was only a half mile pack. When the elk was hanging in the cooler I returned to camp to take Mandy for a hike on the Bradley trail. Long before logging roads and modern forestry practices the trail was the only access to the area. While on the trail we had a rare sighting of a cougar. After reaching trails end we returned and noticed a fresh cat track in the middle of my boot print. The cat had been stalking us. I returned to town with Mandy Saturday evening to perform at a fund raiser for a 6 year old little girl with leukemia. After the show Mandy and Brody returned home and I headed back to camp.
   The one hiccup of the trip came Monday morning. We returned to camp and noticed that both passenger side tires on my truck were going flat. I aired them up and made a quick trip to Les Schwab for new set of Toyo Open Country 10 ply A/T's. I couldn't help but go 2 inches taller.  

   Elk season is over. We will have meat in the freezer. That is always a bonus. As I sit beneath the trees listening to the sound of the forest around me I am thankful. I am so happy to be alive and in this place. I am grateful for my life and my family. Tomorrow I will be back at work. Life will resume as it always does. Winter is coming. The air is cool and crisp. Soon the holidays will be upon us. There will be elk sausage. 101 months since diagnosis and I have just spent a week chasing elk up and down mountains. I had a blast man. It was cool. Never give up my friends. Never give in. When my life is over I want to come sliding through the gates of heaven grinning ear to ear and proclaiming, "Wow....That was a hell of a ride" Todd
   

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Two more months

   My P.S.A. Test came back yesterday as undetectable. This is the 4th in a row now and it feels really good. I called Mandy right away to give her the good news. Today the game begins anew. I will see my oncologist this afternoon, get a bone infusion and a refill for Zytiga and not think about cancer until my psa is tested again in two months. 
   I talked to a good friend on the phone last night. He will be getting Provenge therapy before years end. I am really happy for him. He is a good man and deserves the very best. I hope to one day recieve a booster dose of it myself. Time will tell if that will happen. Dendreon stock is in the toilet and I worry about the companies survival. I believe Provenge will always be around but I can't help feeling that Dendreon may have been hurt beyond repair by the smear campaign that M.H. launched against it. That campaign almost kept me from getting the drug 2-1/2 years ago. Sometimes life isn't fair.
   I still hear doctors say that Provenge is too expensive and that the benefit does not justify the price tag. What a load of crap. Provenge gave me 14 side effect free progression free months. If my math is correct that equates to roughly $10000 a month. The number may have been lower as prior to starting zytiga I had no sign of progression other than my psa was rising and I couldn't emotionally handle seeing it rise month after month. I may have started Zytiga a little earlier than needed. Even if I did not start early, the cost factor is not that different between the two medications. 
   I agree that the sticker shock of Provenge is just a little hard to swallow all at once but Provenge treatment is over in 5 weeks. What about Zytiga?
   My Zytiga prescription is roughly $5600 a month. I have to have monthly Dr. appointments, monthly blood tests,and a  separate prednisone prescription. Not only that but the side effects of Zytiga are much worse than anything I ever experienced on Provenge. Albeit I didn't experience any side effects with Provenge. It doesn't take long if you do tha math to realize that the cost is very comparable between the two medications. An added benefit with Provenge is that receiving it first can actually help subsequent medications to be more effective. Zytiga cannot make that claim. I digress!
   Yesterday I was given two more months to be Cancer Free. It was a wonderful gift. This weekend I will celebrate with the beautiful love of my life. I have now lived 101 months since my diagnosis of widespread metastatic Prostate Cancer. Next weekend I will be on vacation for a week of elk hunting. I can only imagine what life would be like if these new medications had not been brought to market. Can guys even walk up and down mountains while undergoing chemotherapy. 
   Each passing year brings me closer to keeping my 30 year promise to Mandy. Each year new medications are being tested and approved for Prostate Cancer treatment. The future is bright and getting brighter every day. It makes me wish I had promised Mandy 40 years. I have an amazing wonderful life and I am going be here for a long long time. Yolo. Todd

Friday, October 17, 2014

you have cancer. Now what?

    I am not a doctor. I have nothing to do within the realm of the medical community. I am just a guy who loves to write who also has the luck of a prostate cancer diagnosis. If you find this blog by chance or if your a regular reader, Welcome.  I am sorry I haven't written much lately. I haven't had much to talk about. I recent doctor visit has inspired me.
   There are lots of places a person can find information about treatment options on the web. I talk about several of the ones that I have experienced in previous blog entries. The following will have nothing to do with treatments but I do hope to instill a mindset or perhaps a heart set regarding the road ahead that we must travel.
  A diagnosis of cancer can be devastating especially with prostate cancer because most often men had no idea there was a problem. In my case it was a little different. I knew I was sick I just had no idea how sick I was.    The question however is this. You have cancer .... Now what.?
   Your scared no doubt. I have seen all the cancer movies. The hero dies. Those sure are a ton of fun to watch. My wife and daughter recently goaded me into watching " The Fault In Our Stars" I need to tell you that I don't understand what the heck is wrong with women. Why do they enjoy watching stuff like that. Oh sure, I get the love story but the dude died!! HE DIED!!! They both had tears running down their cheeks and I must admit that I was struggling to hold back the tears but more was on the line here than meets the eye. They threatened to take away my man card the last time I cried at a movie. I admit that I deserved it. It was the Hanna Montana movie. Still. come hell or high water I was not about to cry at this one.
   I digress. Your scared. I get it. I was too. Looking back, I am certain I fell apart a little. That's okay. You can do it too but what is more important is what you do afterward. After the tears and/or the rage as was in my case. ( I sort of told God I thought he was an asshole ) what do you do next.
    Some people have it all together. Some don't. Prior to my diagnosis I thought I wanted to die. I guess you might call this stinking thinking. There is a lot of it out there and it is also the point I am really trying to make.
   We are all born with a death sentence. The joke says don't take life too serious because nobody gets out alive. I have seen so many people who just stop living life when they are told they might die. That is like throwing the last bowl of ice cream in the trash because there isn't any left. It's stupid and it is the worst kind of stinking thinking there is. You are sick! Your not dead!
   Cancer is no fun but life is amazingly good if you allow it to be and it doesn't matter if you have a week or 30 more years. I want to open up a new mindset that uses cancer as a turning point in your life. What have you always wanted to do. What have you always wanted to see. If you spend your time living life out loud you may find that your having so much fun that at times you forget all about the cancer. You may even forget to die. Sometimes when I think about it, it all makes sense. Well, not really sense but it makes me ask questions that are far too complicated for me to answer. I wonder, Did I get sick because I wanted to die? Did the thought of dying give me incentive to live? Has actually living life rather than being an idle participant made the difference in the overall success of my treatment? I don't have the answers and when I think about it I only have more questions but maybe it doesn't matter. We all have an expiration date. If we were born with the understanding that we only have 10, 15, or 50, years and when the day comes that we have to leave would we waste that time or would we experience life for all it has to offer. We are born with this false sense of immortality. Oh sure, we all know that one day we will die but it won't happen for a long long time. We go through life wasting day after day simply existing when we should be living and loving and going for it any time we want to. You have Cancer. You have an expiration date that may come sooner than later but the truth is that you don't know that. So what has changed? The answer is NOTHING!! Nothing has changed. You will have good days and some that may not be as good but you are alive today and God willing tomorrow as well. Use today as a turning point. From this day forward, have no regrets. It is a beautiful life. Go out and GETCHASOME. Todd