Tuesday, September 27, 2016

1,000 Dougs

1,000 Dougs

(Warning: Mega-Post!)

I’m a firm believer that, for the most post, you are where you are in life because of the conscious decisions you have made.  

Sure, there’s plenty of stuff out of your control that can have an impact your life —  a serious injury that leaves you disabled, falling critically ill, getting fired, being left by your significant other, losing everything you own to a natural disaster, the death of a close family member, etc.  But for the most part, I believe that if your surroundings are stable and your basic needs are met (shelter, food, health, education and opportunity — and I understand that these basic needs are *not* met for a large number of people (in the world, the U.S., Portland), you control your story.

For me, being an engineer-turned-attorney, living in Portland, living far from my family, renting a home instead of owning, being single and having no kids is the result of conscious decisions I’ve made.  I’ve had the opportunities to change each of these circumstances, and I could change most of them very quickly, but I known that I have elected not to do so.  I am where I am in life because of the conscious decision I have made.  And if I don’t make the decision to affect any change in these circumstances, that’s on me.  I no right to bitch or complain.

In the absolute, I have been blessed.  As I recently posted, I am a lottery winner several times over.  I am extremely fortunate.  My basic needs are met, I have an interesting and challenging job that affords me some creature comforts, I live in an great town with amazing recreational opportunities and natural beautiful nearby, I have *two* loving families, and despite my bout with cancer, I have my health.

One interesting thought exercise I’ve thrown out to close friends, usually after a couple of drinks, is, if 1,000 versions of you were born under the exact same circumstances, how many of those 1,000 would be where you are right now in life.  I think you can put a number on it.  I’ve been wanting to do this exercise for myself for a while, and now with this road trip I finally have the time to give this some thought.  (It goes along with me taking stock of where I am before contemplating where I want to go.)  And the exercise has been insightful.  Not so much as to how many of the 1,000 Dougs are in the same situation as I am, but more for realizing which decisions were the most impactful on my life (regardless of the likelihood I would make that same decision again), which decisions I would reconsider (I hesitate to use the word “regret”), and which ones led to times of happiness.

In short, out of 1,000 Dougs born to my circumstances, about 200 of them are with me right here, right now on this road drip, living under the life circumstances I’ve mentioned above.  That’s more than I thought when I started this exercise.  I thought it would much lower, even perhaps as low as 1%.  Turns out that there were fewer major life decision (only 20 or so) and that i was more certain in those decisions than I originally thought.

I could go down each major decision one by one and discuss the likelihood that I made the decision that I did, but for some of these, that’s getting into “journal” territory, and this is a blog.  I put a lot of personal stuff out there on this blog, but some of this exercise I’m keeping private.

First, I’ll cover the life-impact events that were out of my control.  I think there’s a good number of Dougs that didn’t make it due to illness or accident.  I think  20% of Dougs didn’t make it through stage IIIC rectal cancer.  
Note: The American Cancer Society lists the survival rates of Stage IIIB and IIIC colorectal cancer (I was diagnosed at both stages) at 69% and 53%, respectively. So, me saying my survival rate was 80% may seem quite optimistic. But, being only 40 when I diagnosed, I felt I was an outlier. I always believed that given the average age of men diagnosed with rectal cancer was over 60, my odds of survival were better than the listed ACS survival rates.
I also think that a certain number of Dougs did not survive the “Mt. Rainier Death Glissade”.  When I was in my mountaineering phase, my rope team and I found ourselves in an out-of-control glissade while descending the Emmons glacier on Mt. Rainier.  The three of us slid several hundred feet in about 15 seconds and it was only until we were 100 feet or so above a yawning crevasse that we were able to stop ourselves.  I also think a number of Dougs didn’t make it through a nasty infection in college; bit it when the car I was driving spun out of control on an icy Canadian highway at night into oncoming traffic while returning from an ice climbing trip in Banff.

Another decision out of my control was being given up for adoption at birth.  I asked my biological mother about the circumstances of my adoption and she said there was just no way she could have kept me.  So, out of 1,000 Dougs being born to my birth parents, all 1,000 of them would have been given up for adoption.

But that’s all of the life impacting events in the illness/accident/injury department I can think of.

There's one more event worth mention that was out of my control -- my parents getting divorced. I have no idea what the odds were that they were going to eventually get a divorce, but did it have an impact on my life?  Yes.  Absolutely.  And ’ll leave it at that.   Except to say that if I were to ever have kids, I’d have feel confident that the woman I decided to have kids with was my life partner and that I just wasn't looking for a baby mama.  I’ve always felt that if I were to ever have kids (yes, that door is still open ...), that I’d need to find the woman first.  If there were children, that would flow from a mutual decision to have them.  I don’t think it’s a wise decision to enter into a relationship with the primary goal being to procreate.  Kids come and go in a couple’s life and when the last one is out of the home, you sure as hell better have made a wise choice on who your partner is because you likely will have a lot of life left to live together as empty nesters.  I've heard too many stories of couples getting divorced once the last kid is off to college.
As an interesting side note, my biological parents got divorced at roughly the same tough my parents starting having their own serious martial problems, so either way, I was screwed — all 1,000 Dougs would have had to go through that experience during their early teenage years.
Now, the impactful decisions that I made.  Like most people, the first impactful decision I made was what to do with my life after high school.  For me, there was no doubt I was going to college.  I unenthusiastically considered a few other colleges, more out of a sense of obligation to at least look at more than one university before deciding where to go, but I always knew deep down that I was going to go to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I very much wanted to be a part of the UW Marching Band (yes I have a sordid band geek past) and it just so happened that Madison happened to be a world-class university.  So, there was very little doubt I was going to college, that I was going to UW-Madison, and that I was going to be in the Wisconsin Marching Band.  

After that, the next big decisions was switching majors from computer science to electrical engineering.  I was a big computer science geek from middle school onward, and I just got burned out on it in college.  I felt it was just more of what I had been doing the prior seven years on my own.  What changed things was one day in some Comp Sci class I saw a guy talking to his buddy about his circuits homework and I was intrigued — here was something that I knew *nothing* about.  This was probably my first major life decision that arose out of me having grown bored with something.  It’s been a pattern throughout my life.  So, I looked into electrical engineer as a major and career, was intrigued, took the bait, switched majors and never looked back.  No regrets there — I had a great electrical engineering career before I bailed for law, and my engineering career opened lots of doors for my patent law career.  Earning two engineering degrees were a boatload of work through the years, but I no regrets.  I think the odds of me changing majors was about 90%.

Accepting an engineering intern position in Virginia had a big impact on my life.  There was no doubt I was going to accept the position once it was offered.  The internship impacted me not so much because of what I learned about the real world (which was quite a lot), but because I broke up with my girlfriend prior to leaving for the internship.  I second-guessed that move a few months later, didn’t take advantage of an opportunity to mend things, and she moved on.  That failure to reconnect took a heavy tool, and, looking back, made me leery of entering into relationships for quite a while.

Deciding where to work after college was my next big decision.  Throughout my undergrad and graduate years, all I wanted to do was to work for Intel in Portland, Oregon.  Based on everything I read, it seemed like a kick-ass company that was performing brilliantly and that Portland would be a great place to live.  So, when I got the offer, I was thrilled … and promptly turned it down.  To go to Austin (Texas! of all places) to work for Motorola.  Didn’t see that one coming, but Moto did such a kick-ass job of recruiting, that I took the bait.  The Moto visit was a three-day social outing and a freaking blast.  The Intel visit was very, very technical with only a weak attempt at highlighting what the work environment would be like, and a laughable attempt at socialize with recent hires.  Simply put, Motorola crushed Intel in the recruiting department.out-recruited Intel.  Still, I gave Intel every chance, but when the hiring manager took 3 days to return a phone call to answer some simple questions I had (like, what *exactly* was the job you're offering!), it was too late.  I had already accepted the Moto gig.  I knew I was never going to stay in Austin permanently — I had zero interest in settling down in Texas -- but thought it’d be fun for a few years.  And it was.  The odds that I choose Austin over Portland coming out of college — I’d say 70%.

I stayed in Austin 3 1/2 years.  Like I said, I always knew I was going to leave.  I always knew I wanted to get to the Pacific Northwest, so when an Intel opportunity in the Pacific Northwest presented itself again (this time, outside Seattle), I took it.  There was a 100% chance I was going to leave Austin and Moto, and there was a 100% chance I was going to take the Intel gig when it was offered.  

Life at Intel was great for a few years, but I got bored.  I was designing the same part over and over.   I got so tired of it that it got to the point where I was writing resignation letters and then depositing them in a manilla folder in a desk drawer— not turning them in — just to get that frustration out of my system.  I wanted to something *more* with my life.  Something meaningful.  Yes, I had a great engineering gig, and I was could have spent the next 30 years getting “fat, dumb and happy” as I put it — just spitting out designs year after year, but I felt that at retirement, looking back at how I spent my talents, that I would not be able to forgive myself for having done *only* that with my life. I thought that I could do something more.

I had gotten into mountaineering and the outdoors big time, and I wanted to do something that would help the environment.  Something more than just planting trees on the weekend.  Really make a difference, ya know?  So, I started considering about becoming an environmental advocate.  Since I was contemplating changing careers, I took a look at a few other professions — biomechanical/biomedical engineering, medical school (again ... I've flirted with it a few times in my life), physician’s assistant and physical therapist.  In the end, I chose law school.  Last thing in the world I ever thought I would do.  I remember the exact moment when that seed was planted.  I was on a flight home from somewhere and while thumbing through the in-flight magazine, I saw an add for the University of Vermont’s environmental law program.  And I took it from there.  So, I can blame the University of Vermont law school marketing department for the path I've been on the past 12 years of my life.  So, odds that I was going to leave Intel - 95%.  Odds that I was going to go to law school - 70%.

So now, where to go to law school?  I was living in Wisconsin at the time so that I could get to know my biological family better, which I had located just a few years earlier, and Madison was an obvious choice.  I was accepted at Washington, Lewis & Clark and UC-Boulder (all schools with respectable environmental law programs and that were in “lifestyle” cities), and after visiting each, the choice was clear.  Again, it wasn’t even close.  Madison simply recruited better.  They were my people.  Odds of going to Madison for law school - 100%.

And law school in Madison was great.  I loved being on campus again, loved being in school again, and loved being around both of my families and friends.  But law school eventually came to an end and I had to decide between staying put and accepting a patent law gig n Milwaukee, meaning I would remain near family, or accept a patent law job at a boutique firm in Portland, Oregon, where I could resume my Pacific Northwest lifestyle.  (The environmental law thing didn't work out -- tough competition for the "green" jobs, and frankly, I liked patent law more).  I saw it as having to chose between family and the lifestyle.  It was a very difficult decision that could go either way.  It was literally a coin toss and I remember saying, “Well, let’s give Portland a shot.  If it doesn’t work, I can always come back.”  I felt it came down to which — family or outdoors — I would take advantage of more.  In the end, I felt it would drive me crazy knowing the Pacific Northwest was out there and I wasn’t living there, and I could always come home to visit family.  Odds of me choosing Portland over Milwaukee - 50%.

And then there’s decisions I’ve made regarding my romantic relationships.  I won’t go into the gory details, but about 4-5 of the 20 life-impacting decision I've made have to do with women.  They’ve been decisions to break off a relationship, passing on an opportunity to re-ignite a relationship, failing to meet with a significant other to discuss our relationship (oh how life my different might be had I decided not to take a particular on-ramp one night … ), or the decision not to date someone at all.

Add all of the decisions and their likelihoods together, about 200 Dougs are here on this road trip right now.  Some are dead due to cancer, illness or accident, some are married to one of several women who have been in my life (and maybe divorced ... ), some are living in Wisconsin, some are still doing computer science and some are in a second career other than law.


Ok, so that’s interesting and all, but here’s where I think the value of this exercise is …
  1. What decisions were good decisions?
  2. What decisions were bad decisions?

And, flowing from that …

  1. When was I the most happy in my life?
  2. When was I the least happy in my life?

Good Decisions

Many of these were good decisions.  
  • Going to Madison for undergrad — I had lots of friends there from high school and my experience with the band was awesome.  It wasn't all roses, but I had so much fun, and made many life-long friends.  
  • Going to Austin for a few years.  Again, the friends thing.  I made many life-long friends because of the way Motorola recruited.  No way I would have made as many friends had I gone to Intel.  I do a good job at making friends by plugging myself into an existing social infrastructure (marching band, the Motorola batch-recruitment effort).  I do worse when I’m dropped into a new city and really don’t know anyone and have to build up a social network of my own (starting work for Intel when I left Austin, moving to Portland after law school).
  • My career choice to go into electrical engineering was a good choice.  My undergraduate and master’s degrees in those disciplines served me well.  I also think it was a good idea to leave electrical engineering when I did.  

Now, about being an attorney … 
If you had told me in 2000 that I would be an attorney I would have looked at you like you had suddenly sprouted a second head.  Being an attorney never appealed to me.  It was just never on the radar.  But, being a patent attorney has served me well.  Which is funny, because, if being an attorney is the last thing I thought I would ever be, then being a patent attorney is the last type of attorney I ever wanted to be.  I could have had my employer pay for law school if I knew going in that patent law is what I wanted to do, but it wasn't.  I was hell-bent on environmental law.  And I gave it hell.  I did just about every environmentally-related thing in law school that I could, but in the end, patent law was just a better fit.  Simply put, it was a better fit.  All of law is pretty damn dry, but I took to patent law since I geek out on technology, and being a patent attorney you are always exposed to fun new inventions.  Plus, from a supply-demand side, the odds were in my favor.  Any law grad can be an environmental attorney, but only a law grad with the proper technical background can be a patent attorney.  And with a killer engineering background, the patent law doors swung wide open.  It turns out I'm pretty good at it too ... 
Anyhoo, being a patent attorney has been a good decision for me, for the most part.  At least, once I got to Intel.  I couldn't have landed the Intel gig without my career in private practice, but it was a rough apprenticeship.  Financially, I made less as a private practice attorney than I did when I quit my engineering gig (this, after going to law school for three years, taking on law school debt, and working a helluva lot more).  Second, private law firm culture isn’t for me.  I prefer working for a more egalitarian, transparent organization, where there are checks on people who don’t play well with others.  Some of the partners at my old law firm …  
Life at my current employer has been great — much better work/life balance, getting paid better, transparency on where the organization is headed and how the company is doing, and where everyone treats everyone else with a *lot* more respect than they did in private practice.  But, still … legal life at Intel has been difficult.  It has been stressful as hell the past year, and I have been working many, many weekends.  In short, almost nine years into my legal career, law has taken a heavy toll on my life.  I think being in private practice had a lot to do with me getting cancer (stress and depression are cancer risk factors), to be brutally honest, and I’ve wondered if l need to move on from law.  But if I do stick with patent law, I think an in-house position at a big tech firm is probably the best as it is going to get for me.
  • Moving to the Pacific Northwest from Austin.  I totally embraced the outdoors.  i love the natural beauty and recreational opportunities that the region offers.  The cities there (Portland, Seattle) are well-educated and liberal, which is what I look for.  I can’t imagine living in an area that doesn’t offer nearby amazing outdoor opportunities and has amazing natural beauty.   (There are only a few cities I would move to if I were to leave Portland — Seattle, Denver, Madison, the other Portland).
  • Going to Wisconsin for law school.  Not only did it really feel like a homecoming (there’s nothing like the feeling of returning “home”), it was wonderful to be around my family and college friends again, but also — and this was a big factor in my decision — to get to *really* know my biological family.  When it comes to adoptees seeking out their birth families, I’m the poster child.  They have been nothing but welcoming and loving and I feel nothing less than a full part of their family.

Bad Decisions

The only “bad” decisions I’ve made are those having to do with relationships, and most of them I’ve realized they were poor decisions only in retrospect.  And in relationships, you rarely get a chance to correct a poor decision.

Happy Times

When have I been happiest?  I loved my undergraduate and graduate years in Madison.  And most of it had to do with the marching band.  It was my college sport and my fraternity.  My time in Austin was pretty good because of the large social network I was plugged in to given the en masse hiring that Moto did.  I was hired in a batch of 50 recent college grads, who were recruited in part by the previously-hired batch of 50 RCGs, and we helped recruit the next batch of 50 RCGs.  So, right off the bat, that was a pool of 150 RCGs I knew.

Being in Madison for law school was a good time, mostly because I was back in Madison and had family and friends nearby.  And, because I just love Madison.  Law school was tough because it was a massive time suck.  I had friends in law school, but they were more in-class friends.  Nine years after graduating law school, there’s only 1 or 2 people from law school I keep in touch with.

One time in particular that was great was the 9+ months or so when I was able to work part-time for Intel remotely, from Madison.  I was pulling a steady paycheck, working only 5/8ths time, around friends and family, and had the time and resources to go on a lot of adventures (backpack the Wonderland Trail, climb Denali, extensive backpacking in Olympic National Park).  But that gig didn’t last forever.  I had to fish (go back full time) or cut bait (go to law school).  So I went to law school.

Not-so-Happy Times

There were hard times growing up that I attribute to just that — growing up.  But as an adult, my least happy time was those first few years after moving to Portland to begin work in private practice -- those first two years up until the time I had cancer.  Looking back, those times were fucking brutal man.  When I was law school, I interned at a Big Law firm and at the end of the summer they told me they didn’t want me back.  That’s OK since I knew I wasn’t a fit — the entire summer felt like that scene from Caddyshack where the caddies get run of the golf club pool for five minutes — but the review they gave me really amped me up.  I hate being told I can’t do something, and the fact that they raked me over the coals (a post-hoc justification for not having me back -- they didn't invite me back because I didn't kiss their ass all summer) really motivated me to show myself that I could succeed at a private law firm.   If, for any reason, just to show them (and myself) that they were wrong.  So, I poured myself into my full-time law school job to show that I could do this.  But that led to too many evenings and weekend working.  Too many nights where I would come home, plop down in the chair and either stare at the wall or watch episodes of Law & Order on Netflix just to kill time, until it was time to fall asleep and go to work again in the morning.  Sometimes I'd just fall asleep in the chair.  

Since there was no social networking infrastructure I could plug myself into, I was pretty lonely, and I got depressed pretty quick.  I started seeing a social worker to try and pull me back from the ledge.  And she wasn't that great. I decided that I had to make a change and I was going to look around for a different job, but then I got diagnosed with cancer.  And there was no way I was going to quit my job when I was diagnosed with freaking cancer.  I needed the insurance.  My firm was wonderful with how they treated me, but it wasn't a fit.  I knew I had to go.

Cancer Time …

Obviously, cancer sucks.  Cancer blows.  Cancer is a big fucking shit sandwich that you have to consume in whole before you can leave the table.  Big time.  As I mentioned, before I was diagnosed, I was in bad shape.  Depressed as hell, stuck in a rut, seeing a counselor, and ready to quit my job.  But cancer energized me.  It gave me focus.  It gave me a project I believed in - *ME*.  I immediately snapped out of my funk because now I had something that would get me out of bed in the morning -- fighting for my life.  Which, in some perverse way, is ironic because when you're down and depressed on things, your mind can go to dark places and wonder if makes a difference of whether you’re here or not.  I don’t think it’s too hard to get to that point, and I’ll bet a lot more people get to that point than will admit.  (And I do readily admit it — I’ve battled depression since I was a teenager.)  But when I really was faced with a life-threatening situation, I went from a guy who was tuned out, sitting slumped in his chair staring at the wall, to sitting up straight, fully alert and engaged, and ready to fight.  I wanted to live — there wasn’t a second’s doubt about that.

But, to the point, as much as cancer sucks, life was simple when battling cancer.  I didn’t have to worry about the petty concerns of day-to-day living.  I just had to focus on battling cancer.  As a single guy with no kids, I didn’t have the burden/weight/guilt of wondering how/what my family would do without me.  And that was a relief.  The best nights during cancer treatment were when I would turn off all the lights, light all of the candles in the room, play some relaxing music or guided imagery CDs with my trusted canine companion curled up next to me.  I miss the simplicity of that kind of day to day living.  And in that sense, life during cancer was good.

This has been a crazy long post.  I feel like it is almost the outline of an autobiography.  But, as I’ve said several times, this was an exercise I felt I needed to do to take stock of where I am, and the exercise was worth it.  I’ve always trusted my gut in my decisions, and my gut has served me fell for extra-personal decisions, but when it comes to matters of the heart, not so much.  I’ve also learned that decisions that put me in a situation where there is no social network for me to easily plug into, I struggle.  I’m an INTJ personality, and that’s just how they operate.

So, conditions under which I’m happy:
  • good work/life balance (ideally, less than full-time work — e.g. part-time at Intel, my engineering gig at Moto and Intel)
  • close to friends/family (returning to Madison for law)
  • a social network I can plug into (Motorola new recruits, Wisconsin marching band)
  • recreational opportunities nearby (Seattle area, Portland)

Conditions when I’m not happy
  • Overworked (last year at Intel as an engineer; private practice attorney; past year at Intel as an attorney)
  • Having to build up my own social network (all of my time in the Pacific NW)

Using what you have learned

So, if I’m going to make a change, and changes *ARE* needed, I need to maximize the conditions that make me happy.  That means working less than I am now, having a stronger social network (which means either building up a new one in Portland (work ...) or moving to a city where one somewhat exists (extremely limited options here — Seattle, Denver or Madison) pretty much.  I simply *cannot* afford to move to somewhere *new* (unless I have a partner), and it has to have recreational opportunities nearby.  That makes Wisconsin a bit tough.  But, to be honest, when I was in law school, I survived.  I didn’t think too much about not being able to climb and hike and backpacking and snowshoe all of the time.  Maybe I was just too busy with school.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Not-so-great Moments in Stoma History

So, I’m traveling again.  

This time it's an extended solo trip, with a focus on the outdoors and being active, rather than sightseeing, which was the focus of my trip to Europe July.  This trip is about getting out amongst it -- hiking and backpacking -- seeing natural.  And to clear the head, get a nice break away from work, recharge the batteries, and do some thinking.

It's a long trip -- 45+ days -- which is the longest trip I've been on since my around-the-world trip in 2007 (3 moths).  It's been a lot of fun so far.  Just chilling -- watching nature go by for a few days while camping on the Alaska marine ferry from Bellingham to Skagway, driving the Al-Can down from Whitehorse, and hiking in Banff, which is where I am now.  It's been great.  Just great.

But, this trip is different from my big 2007 trip in that I had to bring my stoma along.  Damned thing follows me everywhere.  (And for those of you who are wondering, no, I don't have a name for it -- I think naming a tumor or a stoma is just plain odd.)  I don't too many concerns about stoma care and feeding on this trip since most of the trip I would get too far from modern amenities -- mostly day hikes and 1-night overnight backpacking trips.  But, that hasn't kept my stoma from creating a few surprises (headaches).

Two days ago I was staying at a hostel in Banff and was getting ready to irrigate.  I was happy that the common showers and bathrooms were located together, so that I could quickly move from one to the other without others seeing me and  asking questions about my irrigation setup.  So, after showering after a lovely hike, I got things all ready to go in the bathroom stall, delivered the one-and-half-liters of body-temperature water into my stoma, and then sat back, ready to let nature do its work for the next 30 minutes.

Ninety-nine times out of 100, irrigation goes flawlessly -- water exits the stoma into an irrigation sleeve attached to my abdomen (via an adhesive -- it's just a big sticker), and everything winds up in the toilet.  When that 1 time out of 100 where things do not go right, it gets messy.  Usually it's the irrigation sleeve adhesion failing.  And when that happens, when the effluent starts pouring out of my stoma, it can be a mess.

Which is what happened in the hostel.

Halfway through irrigating, I could tell bottom part of the irrigation adhesive failed, so while some effluent made its way down the irrigation sleeve, a good amount squeezed out the bottom of the seal, and all over my gym shorts.  (I almost never wear shorts while irrigating, but this time I did.  Maybe it was because I would have felt odd sitting completely naked on a toilet in a common bathroom.)  By the time the irrigation was done, the shorts were completely soiled.  Which left me in a jam.  The only clothes I had with me was a t-shirt, a towel and the shorts, and the towel was not big enough to wrap around my waist so that I could make it upstairs to where my room (and clothes!) was.  Well, at least without making a scene.

So, I was a bit stuck.  How do I get to my room?

I came up with the ingenious idea of just "washing" my shorts in the toilet.  At least well enough to get the waste off of them so that I could walk upstairs.  I must have flushed the toilet 25 times, and god knows what everyone else in the bathroom was thinking.  But, at this point, I didn't care.  So, I cleaned my shorts (mostly), cleaned myself up, got back to my room, put on clean clothes, and, lacking access to an incinerator, promptly chucked the shorts.

That was two days ago.

And then yesterday ...

Yesterday was another great hiking day.  Did an awesome hike starting in so-so weather that eventually turned into a heavy wet snow snowstorm.  But, the stoma angle is that, even after irrigating the night before in the hostel, my body began kicking out waste right at the end of the hike.  Way more waste than my stoma cap could handle.  It was a 30-minute drive from the trailhead to Lake Louise, and by the time I get there, I knew I had a bit of a steaming pile in my lap.  Again, I couldn't just drive home and deal with it there.  I found a public washroom and dealt with it there.  Big mess, lots of cleaning up, lots of flushing, lots of confused guys in the bathroom I'm sure, and me chucking the completely soiled Be-Band. 

Not sure what set that off, as I usually get 30 hours of a quiet stoma after irrigating.  I'm placing the blame on the overly greasy breakfast I had at the hostel.  Extra greasy food can shoot through me pretty quick and have created messy stoma events before.  Maybe I've learned my lesson.


So, stoma joys on my vacation.  Is it a pain?  Yes.  If I don't want to deal with any stoma output while I'm walking, hiking or backpacking, I have to irrigate.  And that takes time.  And after doing this for six years, I've grown weary of the task.  And even then, when you think you've done everything right, you get events like those above I just have to freaking deal with.  I can get pissed, but getting pissed doesnt solve any problems.  It's more just frustration when it happens.  It's just stoma overhead.

And when I get sick of it, I ask myself, do I regret having this stoma?  For the most part, no.  I made the decision to take out the best insurance policy I could for not having a cancer recurrence, and I'm living with the consequences.  All of the stoma bullshit I have to deal with is the insurance premium I pay for peace of mind, knowing that I've done everything I could to still be here today, to still be here to do the things that I want to do.  If I wasn't here I couldn't hike, backpacking, cycle, do anything outdoors, or spend time with friends and family.  Not only does would that suck for me, but I'd hate to leave that hole behind for those whose lives I'm a part of.

If I had gotten a J-pouch, or any of the non-stoma surgical alternatives, who knows what quality of life I would be leading.  I'd probably be running to the bathroom 10 times a day, or squatting in bushes every mine or so on a hike.  I think I have more freedom with a stoma, given how good modern stoma medical supplies are, than still have just part of an anus that could only partly control keeping waste in when I need it to stay in.

So, all in all, I'm good.  I'm OK with this.  I'm going to have more stoma problems in the future.  But at least I'm here and living my life the best I can.  I wouldn't trade it for anyone else's.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

I'm a lottery winner -- many times over

As I'm taking stock of things, I'm looking at the gaps between where I am and where I want to be, and what I need to do to get there.  In order to really do this exercise right, I have to be brutally honest with myself.  This means owning my faults, my weaknesses (which, of course, I have -- I lay no claim to perfection), and maybe realizing where along the way I should have zigged when I really zagged.  And, if I'm not careful, I know that I can wind up beating myself up, which can lead to me dragging myself in the gutter for a good wallow in my shortcomings.  I think that's OK once in a while, to do it briefly, but I can get lost there sometimes, and it takes a *lot* of energy to pull myself back out.

But, not going there this time around.

All I have to do is realize how odds-defyingly lucky I am to have the life I have.

The way I look at it, I'm a lottery winner many times over.

I was born in a country with amazing opportunities and freedoms.

I was adopted by a loving family.  Sure, like most people, there's times I wondered "how in the world did I wind up with this bunch?, but never once have I question my family's unconditional support and love.

I have a knack for science and logical thinking.  I've done well as a computer science geek, electrical engineer and lawyer, and doing well in those fields has provided me with great opportunities.

I consider myself a pretty healthy guy.  I know, sounds like the last thing someone who has had stage III colorectal cancer and now poops in a bag hanging off his stomach would say, but I believe this.  The cancer thing was an aberration.  Like being shot by a stray bullet.  I've proved to myself that my body is still highly functional and capable, and as long as I take care of my body and my mind, I should be here a long time.

So, I view where I was born, the family I was adopted by, my technical skills, and my health are all lotteries that I won.  There's plenty of people out there who would love to have the "problems" I have, such as they are.

I feel beyond fortunate and blessed to be in my position.

I just owe it to myself, my friends and family, to live the best life I can.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Comfortably Doug


That's what I've been feeling the past few days despite facing some adversity and seeing signs of upheaval and change ahead.  And I'm pretty happy with that.  Serenity is so much better than stress, worry and anxiety, which is likely how I would be feeling if I was the person I was just a few years ago.

I think it reflects the confidence I have in myself to sit back, take of stock of where I am, decide where I want to be, and put together a plan to get there.  Whether its making small changes to my current daily life or blowing things up completely.  I''m a highly capable person and have faced enough adversity (cancer) and have pulled off enough adventures (mountain climbing, traveling around the world) that I'm sure I can do pull off whatever I need to do to get to where I want to be.

Is my life perfect?  Are there things I see in other's lives that I think to myself, I would like to have?  Sure, I'm only human.  But it's not jealously.  I'm happy others are where they are.  And, really, there's nobody else's life I would want to have.

This journey is mine.  I own it.  And I'm the one who wants to see it through to its end.

(And yes, I've been listened to a bit of Pink Floyd (Pulse) of late)

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.


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.


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


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 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.


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.