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