Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Chapter Ending?

I've written before about how, looking back, one can see how their life is broken up into chapters.  For me, the past few chapters  have been Law School, Travels Around the World, Starting Life in Portland, Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment, and most recently, The Drift.  The transition from one chapter to next is sometimes quite clear, such as loading up the moving truck to leave Wisconsin for Oregon, but sometimes it takes time for the delineations to make themselves known.

And other times, a series of events occur that tell you a change is coming.



I thought that The Drift was the short period between me ending and recovering from cancer treatment in the winter of 2010-2011 and landing my current gig as an in-house attorney in the fall of 2012.  The Drift comprised me wanting to give private practice every chance to work out, primarily out of an obligation to my employer after they treated me so well when I was going through my cancer bullshit, but I knew that life was not sustainable and was looking for new opportunities.  And when I found my new gig, I thought that was the start of a new chapter.

But, turns out, I've still been drifting.  Despite my every intent to purchase a home here, I cannot bring myself to pull the trigger.  I just haven't built a live out here.  It's the same way I felt during my five-plus years in Seattle. As much as I love the Pacific Northwest, buying a home here means tying myself to the region, and given the way things are in my personal life, I just feel like I would be tying myself to a region where I have few ties.  My ties are back home.  In Wisconsin.  Where my friends and family are.  And, in looking back, I find the fact that that is the only place I've ever owned a home to be a fact of no small significance.

Anyways, the series of event.  Yes.  Well, I have this sabbatical coming up and I hope to spend some time doing some deep thinking.  The hope is that I have a little clarity on which direction to take in the next few months upon my return.  There are several options I am considering.  So, the timing of this sabbatical is fortuitous.  I had a very difficult spring at work, and I was ready to pull the plug more than a few times.  But, he opportunity for some international work travel and this sabbatical were perks that tipped the balance in favor of sticking it out for another year.

So, with the sabbatical finally just a little over two weeks away, a few other things have happened that may be signaling to me that maybe this is the time to leave Portland (besides the increasingly shitty commute, and the ever-escalating and already ludicrous home prices!).  Basically, without going into the gory details like I originally had planned, I've had a few friendships either end or diminish.  One turned toxic and the other, our interactions have dropped off a bit as they've turned their attention toward a new significant other (we've all seen it happen).  I have a ton of acquaintances around town, but that's not the same as having a few good local friends.

So, a big road trip coming up to clear the head and do some thinking, fewer ties to cut if I were to leave, and a job with amazing potential but that is trending flat-to-downward ... it may indeed make sense to move on.

Again, we shall see.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Miss me?

"Doug, it's been almost a year since you've posted.  What's the deal?  What. Is. Up?"

"What?  A year you say?  It can't have been that long, can it?  Well, I'll be damned.  It *has* been a year.  I guess that's a good thing, right?  I mean, if something terrible had come down the pipe in cancer-land, I would have posted about it.   So, no news is good news?"

"Wait, are you saying you're posting now because you've had a *recurrence*?!?!  You OK?"

"No.  No recurrence.  I'm doing fine.  I've just been .... "

-----

 ... off living life, such as it is.

I came back to post, not because of a recurrence or any health-related issues, but in anticipation of a leave from work coming up in September.  I'm really looking forward to the time off, if only to free up some brain cycles to think about big picture stuff.  You know, the usual things -- where I've been, where I am, where I want to be heading.  Questions that have been looming a little larger of late as I just had a birthday that pushes me out of mid-40s into the late-40s, with 50 staring me in the face.

But those are topics for my trip.

So, it's been a year-ish since my last post.  A year is a lot of time, and a lot can happen in a lot of time, but I can boil it down to three things -- travel, work and surgery.

Surgery. 

Yeah, surgery.  Not cancer surgery, but surgery because I had cancer surgery in 2010.  I was all gung-ho with the lifting stuff that I really, really didn't want to miss any time in the gym.  I definitely had the lifting blinders on.  Well, after a fourth blockage requiring hospitalization early this year, and a near-miss on a fifth, I finally had enough and scheduled the damn surgery to remove the abdominal scar tissue that's been causing the blockages.  I had planned on doing a physique show in January, but my heart really wasn't in it, and after a work trip to Ireland (where there was no way I wasn't going to enjoy drinking good food and Guinness) I gave up on the idea of doing a show this year, so the stars aligned to finally take of this.

Quite frankly, work had gotten a little insane too with how hard I was working and how much I was stressing, and the prospect of spending two weeks away from work to recover from surgery was pretty damn attractive.  So, got it done.  Surgery was cake -- was back home within 48 hours -- and in two weeks time, I was ready to get back at it.

And, it's been five months with no blockages, knock on wood.  Getting this surgery was something that needed to be done before I could get do some adventure travel again.  Speaking of which.

Travel.

I've travelled quite a bit the past 12 months.  Last fall, after I finished the Colondar bios (they turned out well.  I was happy with them, and my charges seemed happy too.  Well, at least they said they were), I addressed some pent up traveling urges and did a mini-tour in the fall to see a bunch of friends and family -- Seattle, Los Angeles, Austin, Phoenix, Denver and Wisconsin.  Even got to Boston for the first time.  Was there for a few weeks and got to drive around Vermont and New Hampshire to see the leaves change.  Missed "peak color" by just a bit, but still, just beautiful.

And, this year, I got my international travel game on a bit.  Travelled to Ireland for work (there's some amazing chefs in Dublin) in January, another work trip to China for two weeks in June, and I recently got back from a personal trip to Europe earlier this month (quick tour Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dublin and Brussels). 


Great wall


Canal houses in Amsterdam


Copenhagen


The Storehouse in Dublin

So that's been fun.

But all of the traveling has been super easy.  Even China.  It's 2016, and traveling to Shanghai and Beijing isn't an exotic as it probably was 30, 20 or even 10 years ago.  Even from a stoma standpoint, things were a piece of cake.  I stayed in nice, modern hotels with bathrooms that are Western as they are in my home in Portland, and there once I got there, I had no concerns about catching a bug through irrigation as the water was just fine.

Not that I'm jonesing for "non-easy" travel.  With me being eligible for a four-week sabbatical at work this fall, I've been giving a lot of thought on where to go.  Give me a week or two off, and I'm usually scheming up some adventure, but with 6-7 weeks off (4 weeks sabbatical plus 2-3 weeks of vacation), I was thinking big.  6-7 weeks is a helluva lot of time off, and what far-flung trip I was going take on my sabbatical changed from week to week, depending on when you talked to me.  One week it was a tour of SE Asia, the next it was touring more of Europe, and ask me again and I'd be thinking about Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

But after getting back from Europe and China, my appetite for long haul trips was limited and I didn't want to fund a second big international trip in the same year.  So, I'm going to stay in my back yard and check out a few of the amazing natural wonders we have here in the Western U.S. and Canada.  I'm going to load up the 4Runner and heading to Bellingham, WA, take the Alaska marine ferry to Skagway, take the Alaska-Canada highway to Banff & Jasper.  Then Glacier and the Grand Tetons.  Then Zion.  Then the Grand Canyon.  Drive the car to Vegas, take a flight to the homeland (Wisconsin), to visit friends and family for a week and a half, then fly back to Vegas and drive back to Portland, making to sure take the most remote highways that I can.  I'm doing a lot of driving, and I want to make good time between destination, but the road is as much a part of this trip as the national parks.  I want to put the emphasis on "good" rather than "time" when making "good time".

And then, after 45+ days on the road, it will be back to ...

Work.

Work has been tough lately.  Since about last November, I've been busting my ass, with hours approaching those I was working in private practice.  Which means my unhappiness has been approaching that of when I was in private practice.  I've been struggling to stay on top of things and I do not see things changing anytime soon.  Right now,  my job is simply a six day / week job.  I get paid well for what I do, but I'd gladly trade a good chunk of my salary for less work.  Life's short and tomorrow is promised to no-one, so with the heavy work load and me just turning 47, I'll be taking a long, hard look at whether staying in my current position is what I want to do.  In fact, as I look back on my entire professional legal career, the jobs have been so more demanding than what I was doing previously in engineering.  Maybe, in the end, law just isn't a match for me.  I'm good at it, but I think my success is primarily me putting the time into doing my job that I think it needs in order to do the job right.

Anyways, these will be some of things I think about while I'm on road.  Maybe I come back fully charged and work is all good and I hunker down for the long haul with my employer.  Or, maybe I came back knowing that I am through with my job and start charting my exit route.

We shall see.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

More Bios

Still writing bios.  Still deep in thought.  More than halfway there.

I've got my head into the story of my third charge, Maegan ("the princess") from Georgia, and I just realized that all four of the Colondar models that I'm writing up are stage IV cancer survivors.  None of them are completely in remission and three of them are actively fighting.

I'd be lying if it hasn't taken a little bit of a toll.  Don't get me wrong, their stories are inspirational, but when you see such good people still fighting a battle where there's some uncertainly in the outcome, it can bring you down a bit.

That might be some of the reason why these bios are taking a little longer for me to write this year.  I need to clear my head and come up for air every now and then.  I need a break between writing the individual bios.  I know that was certainly the case when I interviewed each of them in Tennessee.  After an intense two hour interview where both me and the model would up crying at some point, I needed some time to clear my head and process.

OK.  Back to it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Bio Writing

Colon Camp was almost two months and I'm still banging away on these Colondar bios.  They're done soon and I need to bang these puppies out, but they simply can't be rushed.  This writing is so unlike anything else I do.  I don't know what the bio is going to be about until I've started writing it for awhile, and I'm often changing not insignificant things until the very end.

I feel these bios write themselves.  I spend some time soaking up all of the information about each model I have -- their application, the long bio that they provide, their application photos, and my interview notes (which can be quite a few pages, especially if we have an interview that went over two hours).  Often I'll read through a bit of their own personal blog and their Facebook pages to learn a bit more about them.

And then once I have all of that information, I sit and let it all percolate.  Many of these bios are smart cookies and/or eloquent writers, and the bios that they provide with their application would be just fine for telling their story in a widely-distributed publication, with only minor tweaks.

So what's my role then?

Good question.

The bio that each model provides is usually typical a description of events that happened to them in chronological order.  That's exactly what we ask of them, but what we want to appear in the Colondar is more of a story.  Something that's a little shorter than what they typically provide (there's no room to tell the world everything about each model that we would love to tell).  We want their story to be something positive, inspiring and/or uplifting; something unique to them; and (at least for the bios I write) to be a bit informative about CRC awareness.

I just banged out my first one, which took quite a while to get done, which leaves only 3 left.  I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, which is definitely an albatross around my neck on this task, but I keep working on the stories until they're done.  And the stories tell me when they're done.

To borrow the Ernest & Julio Gallo tagline, "I will deliver no bio before it's time."

The writer deep in thought.



Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Colondar 2016 Photo Shoot -- Back at "Colon Camp"

June 3, 2015

Quiet morning in rural Tennessee on the back deck of The Five Star Lodge, the location again for this year’s Colander photo shoot.  Nothing but me and a cup of coffee, with a bunch of birds (mostly woodpeckers) as background noise.

Quiet morning.

So good to be back.  Walking into the lodge yesterday just felt so much like coming home, like I had left last year’s photo shoot just yesterday.  These people are like family to me.  I was telling some of my Portland friends last week that I could see myself coming back for just a few years as a writer since it *is* a week of vacation I have to burn to come here, and I think it’d be fair to give another person a chance to be a writer and have the opportunity to come back to “colon camp” and contribute to the Colander.  There are more than a few good writers in the Colander family.

But after walking in the door last night … I think it may be awhile before I give this up.  Being a writer for the Colander is my lone serious volunteer activity, and I enjoy giving back to this very worthy cause, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get anything personally out of this for me.

The last six months have been pretty busy/hectic/stressful for me, with work and training, and this is a welcome break.  A year ago I had just started piecing some aspects of my life back together, and was frayed at the edges.  This year, I’m in such a better place, I’m happy with where my life is and where my life is heading, but still, there’s much for me to take away from this trip.

Being around another group of amazing survivors (it’s unfortunate we only get to pick 12 — there’s so many other that deserve to be here), along with survivors I’ve gotten to know from previous years just, for lack of a better word, centers me.  It restores my perspective on what’s important in life, and inspires me to be a better person and life a better life.  To not focus on the small things in everyday “real life” that seem so important at the time and take up your entire field of view, and to step back, blink a few times, take in the bigger picture, and see how the small things are just that — small things.

So, it may be a little while before I give this up. 

Last night was the calm before the storm.  Just a dozen or so of us catching up before we get down to business.  Good times.  Today we finish getting things ready for the models.  They show up en masse this afternoon and then we get down to it.  In the end, this is all about raising colorectal cancer awareness by putting together the Colandar for 2016, which is put together from scratch, which means there is some serious work to do.

As a writer, I’m responsible for writing the stories for four of the models this year.  I think I only get 700-800 words for each one, which doesn’t sound like a lot (and you’re right — it isn’t), but for me it’s difficult writing.  Technical writing can flow out of me like nobody’s business, and legal writing is starting to come to me after doing it for eight years, but this kind of writing.  It’s hard.  I can get there, and I’m usually pretty happy with the final product, but it takes time.  My brain just isn’t naturally wired for this kind of creative, fluid story telling.  Makes me appreciate those who write for a living.

That being said, with all that writing ahead, I need to review the applications of the models that I’ll be writing for.  Take some advantage of this quiet time.

Getting' the place all dressed up.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Intestinal Blockages. Surgery in my future?

Been too long since I've posted.

Been slammed with my two jobs of late -- my job job (been working weekends to some extent since early December) and my gym job (training for a series of men's physique shows (lots of lifting, cardio, food prep, posing practice, etc. etc.)).  I finished the last of the three physique shows I signed up for two weekends ago, and now I'm in the middle of a two week vacation.  Finally have some free time to catch up on blogging, among other things.

The plan for my vacation was/is Bend, Vegas and Nashville, an eclectic mix of destinations.  Bend was where the last competition was, Vegas was where I wanted to spend a few days poolside (Caesar's Palace) just to unplug, rest and people watch, and Nashville (just outside Nashville, rather) is where the 2016 Colondar photo shoot is being held (I'm returning as a staff writer again).

(Vegas didn't suck)


The competition in Bend was great, and this being the last of my three shows, I celebrated by indulging (more than) a bit in some good (and some bad) food.  I was a bit glutenous and within 48 hours of the competition I drove myself to the ER because of intense abdominal pain, which I knew was going to be diagnosed as a blockage.

Sure enough, the ER CT scan came back as showing a blockage in my small intestine.  My third one since October.  The nurse practitioner started throwing words like "surgery" around, and I said that wasn't gonna happen in Bend.  The only person that I'll let do surgery on me is my GI surgeon at the Oregon Clinc -- Dr. Mark Whiteford.

I felt the blockage work itself out shortly after they got some dilaudid and IV fluids in me, but they still admitted me so that they could watch me go through the standard protocol to make sure I was OK before they release me back into the wild.  Liquid diet, then solid diet, then make sure things are passing through me OK.  Soooooo, two of my three vacation days  in Bend were spent at the St. Charles hospital instead of the nice-ish room I had splurged on to celebrate being done with my competitions.

After my 2nd blockage, I made a deal with my GI surgeon -- if I got another blockage, that I'd have surgery then.  The working theory is that adhesions (scar tissue) from my cancer surgery in 2010 is obstructing a loop in my small intestine.  I don't know why this has suddenly decided to pop up four and a half years from my surgery, but it has, and maybe now it's time to deal with it.

I find myself trying to justify waiting for a fourth blockage before having surgery.  Which is stupid.  These blockages are very painful, unpredictable and disruptive to my life.  I've already spent a week in the hospital during these three blockages.

I could try to live with this predisposition, but I think the only thing that would only work would be me staying on my super clean fitness diet.  Why?  Because each time I've had a blockage, it's been because I've gone off diet -- either with a cheat meal (planned or unplanned) or a refeed.  And those are totally allowed in any clean dieting, so to stay on clean diet with no cheats or refers is pretty unrealistic.

Plus, I'm not always going to be in a position where I can control my diet 100%.  What about when I'm traveling?  And if I'm traveling internationally (big trip coming up next year) or if I'm a few days into a backpacking trip when a blockage hits, I may not have top notch medical facilities nearby, or I may not be able to make it to them.  Blockages are serious stuff, and if that happens, I could be in trouble.

So, I'm afraid I'm likely going to have to bite the bullet and get this done.

Dammit.

As frustrating as it may be to have to sit out from the gym for a few months while I heal.  I'm sure that going through the abdominal wall is going to sideline me for a good spell.

Double dammit.

I see my GI surgeon next Tuesday.  Will give an update then.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Morning Thoughts

I wish I had more time on the weekends to lounge around so that I could write all the things that I want to write.  With being in the hospital for a good portion of the week, the start-of-year crush at work (I thought I was going to break after the end-of-year crush!), and the training that I'm doing, there hasn't been much free time.  But, I wanted to spend a few minutes this morning before I try and make a dent in the work pile to share some thoughts.

---

A dear friend of mine who I met in the colorectal cancer community and is a part of the Colondar family is in the last stages of her battle.  She is universally loved and admired by everyone in the colorectal community and has been waging her war against cancer for a few years now.  Since being diagnoses with a Stage IV recurrence, the battle has been tough.  I'll never forget how my post-surgery Stage III chemo made me feel and how I counted down the days until I was done, but the prospect of "never-ending" chemo, what many Stage IV cancer warriors have to endure .... I don't wish that on anyone.  Never-ending chemo is more likely to break your spirit, your will, than it is to break your body.  After jumping from one drug to the next as each loses its potency, and enduring debilitating side effects for several years, I've seen a couple of Stage IV fighters finally lay down their shield and say, "Enough is enough.  I'm done.  I'm done fighting."  It's terrible words to hear because of the unspoken implications, but people understand and respect the decision.

My dear friend recently made this decision.

---

You all know that I'm training for a physique competition.  Yes, it can seem to be an incredibly shallow and vain pursuit -- spending all of that time in the gym, doing cardio, and dieting just to get your body into a particular physical condition.  And you know all know why I'm doing it -- as a challenge to myself to commemorate five years being clean.  To do push myself to do something I've never thought I was capable of.

But another part of it is to do it because I CAN do it.  I feel obligated to push myself physically while I still have my health.  (Yes, I do feel like "healthy" is a conditional state.  You never know when it's going to be taken from you.)  I feel obligated to what I do for those who can't because they lost or are waging an ongoing battle with cancer, or have another condition that prevents them from physically active.  There have been  times in the gym over the past nine months when I'm really feeling it, when the blood is pumping, when my t-shirt is full of sweat, when the lactic acid is burning, and when I want to quit but push myself to go just a little bit further, that I get overcome with emotion and lose it a bit.  I've literally had my face in my towel, sobbing for a few seconds between sets, because I think of how fortunate I am to still be here, to still be able to put my body through its paces and feel like that. 

---

That was more than a few minutes.  I have more to say, but need to get back at it.  That's all for now.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Five Years Clean!!

Got my milestone five year scan and blood test results back this week, and ... all clean!  That's right, I made it to the all-important five year mark.  I wasn't really worried about the tests coming back showing something (first time I didn't have any scanxiety) since every scan, scope and test since the end of treatment has come back clean.  Still, I'm pretty damn happy.  According to my oncologist, making it to the 5 yr mark means that there's only a TWO% change of recurrence.  So, it's safe to say that whatever is going to take me out eventually is NOT going to be a recurrence of my rectal cancer.  

And that's a wonderful thing.

It's hard to believe that it's been FIVE years since I got my diagnosis.  The five years have just flown by.  Recovery has been a long road and I've come to realize that my cancer journey is a never-ending one.  Even though I've "beaten" cancer and adjusted to daily living with an ostomy, every year I discover new ways in how it impacts my life and that I still have adjusting to do.

For example, since starting on my bodybuilding journey last May, I've had THREE intestinal blockages.  Blockages, for those who have not had the privilege, are NOT FUN!  They're exactly what they sound like -- blockages in the intestines that prevent any food from getting through.  Mine is apparently the result of adhesions (scar tissue) in my abdomen that are a result of my cancer surger in 2010.  And, every once in a while, a kink in my small bowel gets caught up on an adhesion, preventing food from getting through.  And when my body is trying to push food through the GI tract and it can't, it's like knives.  I can consider myself a guy who can tolerate a fair amount of pain, but this?  The past two times in the ER, I've been reduced to a writhing mass on a gurney begging for whatever pain medicine they'll give me.

I got out of the hospital just this morning after recovering from my latest blockage episode.  I don't know why I started suffering blockages over 4 years after surgery, but I have.  The last two blockages resulted in trips to the ER and hospital stays.  CT scans that were done during ER triage show the blockages are occurring in the same place and my surgeon is recommended surgery to go in there and clear the adhesion.  And I'm with him.  I simply do NOT want to go through the past 2 1/2 days ever again.

We talked about diet and how to prevent this.  I mean, 99% of the time, my meals are going through just fine ... why I get a blockage when I do is just chance, I guess ... maybe I just chew my meals better?.  I don't know what to do ...

So, I'm planning on having abdominal surgery some time in June / July to have these blockages taken care once and for all.  (But I can't help but wonder -- wouldn't this surgery just create more scar tissue that could lead to more blockages????)

This latest blockage couldn't have occurred at a worse time.  I'm prepping for my first men's physique competition on May 1st, and I've been focusing on training hard and eating clean.  Lying in pain in a hospital room taking in only saline solution and electorlytes in an IV for several days is a big set back on my progress.  But, I'm still 14 weeks out from the competition, so hopefully I can recover.  Even more importantly, I need to stay blockage free until my shows in May.







Saturday, December 27, 2014

2016 Colondar

Know someone who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer under 50?  The Colon Club is now accepting applications for the 2016 Colondar.  Here's the blurb from the Colon Club web site:

Diagnosed with colorectal cancer under 50? Apply for The Colon Club's 2016 Colondar 2.0! Share your journey to help raise awareness and provide hope and support to other survivors.

The Colondar is now... Colondar 2.0! An annual magazine that features extreme layouts of young adult survivors, their scars and stories and articles about obstacles that young adults living with CRC face, such as infertility, dating, sex, genetics, body image and ostomy. This unique colon magazine provides unparalleled support to survivors and their families, colorectal cancer awareness and education. Knowledge is power and Colondar 2.0 is changing the perception of colorectal cancer!

Now accepting applications for 2016 Colondar 2.0: https://colondar.wufoo.com/forms/zafjl3i1fp26gq/


Image

Friday, November 28, 2014

Living Bigger with Colostomy

One last post for today before I log off.

I believe I've mentioned Paul Riome before.  He's an ostomate from Canada who has lived his life to the fullest over getting a colostomy -- he's climbed mountains and trekked through Nepal since getting an ostomy, among other things.  I haven't been to Paul's blog in awhile, but I went to it today and read through a presentation he gave as part of receiving a "Great Comeback" award from Convatec.  There were words on one slide that I wanted to share:
I traded Rectal Cancer for a permanent colostomy. 
It was a good trade.

My colostomy was one of the best things to happen to me in my life.
I am alive, and living is everything.

Certainly the cancer and colostomy hurt me,
but it has made me a stronger and better person.

It gave me a greater appreciation for life, and made me focus on the important things.
I feel (mostly) the same way.  (It's still tough for me to say that getting a colostomy was one of the best things to happen in my life, because there's times when it still sucks. But when you put it in the context of it being something that kept you alive, how can you say that it isn't one of the best things to happen in your life?)

If you want to check out Paul's blog, you can find it here:  http://www.livingbiggerwithcolostomy.com/