Friday, July 25, 2014

Everybody loves a success story

   My post today reflects my state of mind. Last year I was a rock star. It was fun. I have videos on the Provenge website. If you google my name there is material all over the web both by me and about me. Dendreon took me to meet all the folks who make and market the drug. My picture is on their promotional flyers. I admit it was fun and exciting and God knows I am happy to be doing so well in my fight against this disease. It feels good that my story can be a source of hope and inspiration for others but what about the others. 
   I have friends that are dying. I have friends that are in a life and death struggle with this disease and they are not doing as well as I am. What about them. What about the guys who have run the gauntlet of treatments and have come to the place where palative care is all they have left. What about them. What about their wives and children and grandchildren who are forced to watch this disease take it's ugly toll on the men they love. They are forced to watch these men waste in pain before their eyes. I am one of the lucky ones. I have been blessed but for what reason I don't know. It is true that new drugs are coming out every year that can give quality to life and extend it for months and maybe even years but that is not good enough. I am sick and tired of losing friends. I am sick and tired of watching the clinical trials to see if another new drug is coming down the pipe. I am nobody. I don't deserve the attention I have been given. 
    I believe I will see a cure for this disease in my lifetime. I really do believe it. It cannot come soon enough. That's all I have to say today. I am worn down and my mindset is not real good at the moment. I will be better tomorrow but for now I am sad. Todd

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Life returns

   In the spring of 1980 I was 16, a new driver, and had my first car. It was a 1962 Chevy Impala. The previous year our community and perhaps the world was ubuzz with the story of Mt. St. Helens. The mountain had come to life and the north face was growing at a rate of 5' per day. Geologists predicted an imminate eruption but could not forecast when or how large it might be. My family lived in the town of Castle Rock Wa. a mere 20 miles due west of the mountain. It was a warm spring that year and we had already spent the two previous weekends waterskiing on Mayfield Lake, a reservoir on the Cowlitz river. The weekend  of the eruption was no exception. In Washington you play when the sun is out or you don't play. 
   I awoke at 7a.m. the morning of Sunday, May 18th, and offered to drive a friend to his grandmothers house on the opposite side of the lake. A few minutes after 8a.m.,as we were crossing a bridge I glanced to my left at the exact moment the mountain let go. 
   It has been said that the mountain blew apart with the force of a multi megaton nuclear bomb. Within seconds the sky was filled with a dark cloud of ash, steam, and super heated gasses. Lightning erupted out of the cloud in all directions. The north face of the mountain blew out at super sonic speed instantly  leveling thousands of acres of old growth forest. The mountain was still covered with heavy winter snows in mid may. The eruption melted all of that snow at once. A wall of mud and debris hundreds of feet high raced down the pristine Toutle River valley destroying and burying everything in it's path. The eruption of Mt. St. Helens forever changed the landscape and the lives of everyone around her. That day is forever seared in my memory. The town of Castle Rock was covered in a foot of ash. The Cowlitz river valley flooded with mud and debris. The water was so hot that Chinook Salmon were jumping on to the riverbank to get away. Houses, bridges, logging equipment, and millions upon million of board feet of old growth Douglas fir, came down the river in a churning mire of melted glacier and volcanic mud. The shipping lanes of the Columbia river filled with silt and to this day dredges work constantly to keep commerce moving. Fifty two lives were lost that day including Harry Truman, the cantankerous old codger who refused to leave the mountain. Hundreds of homes were destroyed. A way of life all but ended. The east side of Castle Rock, including the fairgrounds, the race track, and my high school football field were burried under 10 feet of mud. The mud flow came within 20 feet of my High School. We were forced to evacuate until the flood danger passed so for a week we shared a home with 5 other families on a hill top out of town not knowing if we would have a home to come back to. 
   When it was over the Toutle and Cowlitz River valleys looked like a wasteland. Due to the poor soil quality of the dredge spoils along the river banks it was 15 years before vegetation returned. It took months before people could drive the freeways without sending up a cloud of volcanic ash. Dredge spoils line the river bank. Some are over a hundred feet high. Logging companies went bankrupt. Things change. The mud flow damned the outflow of creeks up and down the river valley creating new alpine lakes. The bottom of Spirit Lake is now 200 feet higher than before the eruption.
    Today, life has returned to the mountain. A new forest is springing up from the wasteland the eruption created. Wildlife is abundant. Large rainbow trout fill the alpine lakes.
    The Mt. St. Helens national monument is the Nations newest National Park. There are now over 200 miles of hiking trail in and around the blast zone. Herds of Roosevelt Elk abound in the mountains and on the valley floor. The mountain has the worlds newest glacier. The area was not replanted as is typical with logging operations but rather has been allowed to regenerate naturally. Scientists from around the globe come to the mountain to witness and study the rebirth of this landscape that only 30 years ago was compared to the surface of the moon.
  Sunday last, Mandy, our daughter, and I hiked the Coldwater Lake Trail. Coldwater is one of the new lakes created when the mud flow covered the valley floor. The lake is 5 miles long and is deep and crystal clear. It has  a boat ramp but power boats are strictly forbidden. On any given day kayaker's, and people in canoe's can be seen exploring the lake or fishing for the plentiful native trout. It is a beautiful tranquil place.
   The Coldwater trail begins at the boat ramp on the southwest end of the lake and follows the shoreline the entire length. It never rises more than 300' in elevation and has several areas to access the pristine waters. As you enter the trailhead it is easy to imagine the world at the dawn of creation. To the left the mountains soar up some 2000'. The trail itself is flanked on all sides by wild flowers and tall wheat grass.

In all directions a new forest struggles to survive on a rocky landscape that receives as much as 10' of snow in the winter. Life is everywhere. Beaver, otter, deer, elk, bear and the occasional cougar roam the hillsides. Wild berries are plentiful and very tasty.

Chipmunks and grey squirrels scamper about on logs and in trees. The sound of songbirds is everywhere. Honey bees and bumble bees cover the wild flowers. Every now and then a trout can be heard or seen jumping out of the water. Along the trail you pass small waterfalls and streams. At the far end of the lake you pass under palisades rising thousands of feet from the lake. A recent rock slide from one of these ancient rock formation spreads out over a hundred yards as you near the far end of the lake itself. It was so large that it narrowed the width of the lake by a third. At the end of the lake the terrain flattens and elk can be seen in the tall grass. There is lake access and primitive campsites here and also a sandy beach to lay out on.

At this point the trail begins to climb a few hundred feet and goes through a somewhat older forest that was protected from the volcanic blast by the steep hills that surround it. Once atop of the hill you descend to a wooden bridge that crosses Coldwater Creek.

It is at this point that the lake trail ends and the ridge trail begins. The ridge trail is poorly maintained and overgrown. It is a two mile trail that connects the lake trail to the boundary trail and with a 1200' rise in elevation it is not for the faint of heart. Those who throw caution to the wind are rewarded when they reach the top of the ridge with spectacular views of the volcano and the entire valley below. As we hiked up I began to wonder if we would ever reach the top.

After reaching the top it was 3.5 miles down to the east parking lot and a mile and a half to the truck down the highway.. After the hike I was exhausted but felt as young as the dawn of time. It was truly an amazing day shared with two of the people I love most in this world. Hiking through the back country of Mt. St. Helens helps me to believe that there is hope for this world. To see such beauty after complete desolation renews my faith and strengthens my spirit. Surely God is in control. Todd


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rare days

     As I walked out to my truck this morning I was in awe of the beauty surrounding me. Days like today are rare in the Pacific Northwest. The summer sun has warmed the lake and the mist moves across the water like a ghost. There are numerous bass boats among the reads and Lillypads. They glide silently across the water in search of that record largemouth. The valleys below are shrouded in a blanket of fog but up here in the mountains this sky is a brilliant blue. Everything around me is green. A Doe with twin fawns in tow is grazing in the field behind our home. The sound of a freight train echoes from the valley below. A myriad of birds are singing a morning song and in the sky above a bald eagle and osprey  fight over a fish the osprey caught. I loathe the idea of driving to work. My retirement clock said 168 days this morning but with contract negotiations at a stand still working another year or two might be closer to reality. Time will tell.

    The temperature soared into the mid-nineties by early afternoon so we took the dogs to the Toutle river to cool off and have a little fun. Our black Labrador " Cash " is 13 years old and this was the first time he acted his age. He is such a good dog. I know he won't be with us for too much longer. I wish we didn't have to get old. I wish we could stay the way we are right now.  He swam across the river and back twice chasing after us but then was content to lay in the sun. He is grey in the muzzle and long in the tooth. I will miss that dang dog. Our daughter turned 16 a month ago. She will be out of High School and on to Nursing School in just two short years. My eldest grand-daughter is already 8 years old. The time slips away. One day I will be like Cash. One day I will no longer be able to do those things that I enjoy so very much.

    The days are rare. There is only one of each of them. They slip away quietly until they are gone. I find it sad that I spent 3/4 of my life without paying attention to them. I never saw the beauty of the sunset or rejoiced with the birds as the first light of day greeted the world. It took so long to see what a wonderful place it is in which we live. I never saw how much there is to live for until I was forced to face my own mortality. I hope that as my children and grand-children grow that I can impart this one lesson learned. The days are rare. Don't let a moment slip away. Open your eyes to all that is around you. Life is such an amazing gift. Don't squander it on that which is material. Most of what I have spoke of  here was learned from my wife. Thank you Mandy for showing me the light. yolo, Todd

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I would change nothing

   Today I read a scientific paper linking vasectomy surgery to advanced aggressive prostate cancer. The article took me back to 1988. At the time I was married with three children. My wife was adamant that she did not want to have anymore babies. I believed at the time that I was never going to get a divorce. My thought process was simple, it was much easier for me to have a procedure than it was for her. Although in my heart I would have preferred to have more children, I reluctantly went through with it and at the age of 26 I became a gelding. Five years later we divorced. She remarried a couple years later and had another baby. My procedure was irreversible. I confronted her one day, saying, I thought you didn't want to have anymore children. She said, I didn't want to have anymore children with you. 
    Flash forward 16 years and I develop aggressive, advanced prostate cancer.
   I have had most of the morning to ponder this quagmire and have come to the conclusion that if my life could be done over that I would change nothing. Don't get me wrong. We all have a number of things we have said or done that given the opportunity we would do differently but those are the little things. As my junior high school physical education teacher use to say. " Don't sweat the small stuff seals "
I am referring to the big picture. The life changing events. 
    Through the course of my journey, and with he help of some good friends, I have come to see that every step of a persons life has brought them to the place they stand today. I realize that this sounds like a no brainer, obvious statement, but think about it. If any of us had done one thing differently we would not be standing in this place at this time.
    I am extremely happy in my life. I am living out my hopes and dreams with the only person in this world whom I would want to share them with. If I had made a left turn or a right turn along the way I would be doing something else with someone else. Some may call it divine intervention and to be honest I don't quite know where I stand on the subject. I would like to think God has a hand in guiding us to our calling in life but perhaps he just lets us muck it up and sometimes we manage to find our way through the mire. Either way it doesn't matter. I am here because the road took me here. When I wanted to die someone showed me how much I really wanted to live. I needed to know that because without the desire to live I might not be able to survive what was coming. When I thought I might die, I learned how to live. Learning how to live opened the door to all the possibilities that life has to offer. If I hadn't of lost my home, I wouldn't be living where I live today. If I hadn't of gone through hard times then I might not have a heart of compassion. The list is endless and I could give example after example but they all lead to the same truth. I am here in this place with the woman I love because of the aggregate life events. Cancer played an enormous role in making me the person I am today. Were it not for cancer I may have never become the man my wife adores. 
   We spent the last two weekends at our favorite lake. We were with friends and family both weekends. I have never been so happy in my entire life. The Caribbean is still fresh in our memory and yet we are already planning a trip to the Aloha State. We have yet to choose an island but we will be going in late March or early April. I would like to go to Molakai or the big island. Time will tell. Prior to cancer I really never cared to travel. Cancer has given us so many good friends throughout North America and beyond. 
   I love where I am in my life. I went through a lot to get here. The road was not always easy and I lost many pieces of myself along the way. When I am in my shop I know that it takes a lot of sanding to bring out the true beauty of the wood grain. Maybe that is what the hard times are all about. Perhaps it is God's way of taking off the rough edges until the world is able to see the beauty of the human being we are called to be. Y.O.L.O. Todd

Monday, July 7, 2014

Living life out loud

    Vacation! It is the reason for all the long hours. There is no other reason to work so hard the rest of the year.
   We left rain soaked Washington on June 20th for the warmth of the Caribbean and sailed aboard the Norwegian Getaway on Saturday June, 22. As we left the harbor in Miami a lightning storm provided the fanfare! Sailing with Mandy and I was our youngest and my eldest daughters. With the four of us sharing a stateroom it was clear from the start that romance would be difficult if not impossible. We still managed to eke out some quality time but I am forced to admit this was mostly due to Mandy refusing to take no for an answer. I am blessed to have a wife of immense patience. I question often why she loves me the way she does but who am I to argue.
   The ship was beautiful and sparkled like a brand new penny. It was only our second cruise and our first aboard one of new large ships. I must admit that I prefer the smaller ships if only for the fact that they are less crowded. Aside from the crowd, the time spent at sea was of the highest caliber of quality. The food was excellent and the service was great. The ship's crew spared no expense making guests feel special. It took the entire week to explore the ship and at the end there were still things we hadn't seen. We spent our afternoons soaking up the warmth of the sun and cooling off in the pool. The water park on board was crowded with kids but the slides were worth the wait in line. We played basketball on the sports court and had a good time watching our 16 year old beat up on the boys by consistently sinking three pointers. We never made it to the rope course, the climbing wall, or the miniature golf course. We were excited to see the reggae band " Groove International" aboard the Getaway. They were the band aboard the Jewel last December. I was able to spend some time on stage and we had a great time getting to know them. 
   On Tuesday the 25th of June we docked at St. Maarten. We left the ship and boarded a water taxi for the far side of the bay. It cost us $30 dollars for 4 beach loungers and 2 umbrellas for the day. A bucket of Corona was 10 bucks. Blue sky, azure waters, a warm breeze, and ice cold beer made for a perfect day in paradise.
My eldest daughter bought a liter of Malibu Rum for $11 dollars and for another $10 dollars the locals kept her supplied with orange juice and ice the entire day. With a little help from Mandy she nearly finished off the bottle and we thought we might have to carry her back to the ship. The carribbean was the perfect backdrop for the picture below. What Hailey didn't realize was that while setting up for the photo the bottle was knocked over and partially filled with sea water. She never noticed the difference but Mandy and I got a good a chuckle out of it.

    We returned to the ship at 6pm sunburned and sticky sweet from a day spent sunbathing and swimming in the ocean. After we had all showered and rubbed in ample amounts of of aloe Vera we headed to "Taste" for a delicious meal before heading out to resume exploring the ship. It was late by the time we finally returned to our state room. I don't recall my head hitting the pillow that evening. When morning came we were already docked in St. Thomas. 
   We left the ship in St. Thomas and took a taxi to the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It is called Meagan's Bay and the beach in St. Maarten paled in comparison. Most of the day was alcohol free until we returned to town and stopped at senior frogg's on our way back to the ship. It was a very relaxing day. Mandy and I left our mark on the beach. Mandy learned to snorkel. I would love to spend an entire week there.

   After St. Thomas, we had one final day at sea. Amanda and I were tired of the crowds and needed a little space from our daughters so we sought sollice at the vibe beach club onboard the ship. It was a small cover charge but we had our choice of the 75 padded lounge chairs as there were only a dozen people in the place. It was a day spent reading and drinking yummy raspberry mojito's from the private bar soaking in a private hot tub and enjoying the view of the ocean as it stretched out before us. It was by far our best sea day and the girls didn't mind having the run of the ship to themselves.

    Nassau was my least favorite port of call but ironically holds my favorite memory. We were caught in a rainstorm and were instantly soaked to the bone. Our scooter refused to start so we danced in the rain.
It is a memory I will never forget.
    There is so much more to talk about. We saw shows. We won a few bucks at the casino. We lived life out loud. We went to comedy clubs. We played in game shows. We danced.The important things have been said. It was an amazing vacation and one I will never forget. It was made perfect by having the love of my life by my side. 

   We left the ship at 10am Saturday June 29 and arrived home in Toutle WA. Sunday morning at 3am. We were exhausted yet fulfilled. Amanda was back at work Monday morning but we spent the 4th of July weekend camping with family and friends at our favorite lake. The water is still cold but we donned wet suits and water skied anyway. 
   Vacation is over. I am sitting at work wishing I could find the motivation to do something. I find my mind drifting off to a place filled with Palm trees and rum. My blood work came back undetectable. For the moment I am cancer free. Summer has just begun. Life is good.Y.O.L.O. Todd