Sunday, February 23, 2014

Thoughts

It's Sunday night -- the end of a weekend spent logging some much needed "Doug time".  Both my work and personal lives have been busy and stressful of late, and I needed a weekend of solitude to just escape the stimulus of everyday living and to give myself the time to do some thinking.  A good friend of mine, her family has a cozy little cabin on Forest Service land around Mt. Hood and I went there to get away.  Friday night was books and Scotch in front of a fireplace, Saturday was snowboarding at Mt. Hood Meadows, Saturday night was more reading and whisky, and Sunday was snowshoeing up the White River valley.

I'm perfectly comfortable with me as my only company at times and I didn't miss having people around for one second this weekend.  In fact, going to Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort, which was just seething was people, was a bit of a bummer.  I wanted some physical activity to get the blood pumping this weekend, and thought I'd buy a lift ticket to get snowboard as a treat to myself, but there was just so many people on the hill that the long lines to get on the lift were a downer.  I had some fun moments zipping down the hill and testing out my incredibly limited boarding skills, but it wasn't what I was looking for.

Sunday was another story.  It was just tremendous.  Staying at the cabin, I was already on the mountain when I woke up, which put me way ahead of the Portland hordes that were driving their way up.  That means I got to the White River sno-park early, with only one other party gearing up as I entered the lot.  I passed them quickly on the trail and as soon as they were out of earshot, I felt I had the entire mountain to myself.  The weather was amazing.  Clear skies, not too cold.  And the mountain was showing off a billowy gown of white from the recent snow dump we've had the past few days.  Postcard perfect.

About a mile and a half from the parking lot, the trail hits a morraine wall and if you want to keep going, you have to go straight up.  There were a few tracks from one or two other early risers and from snowshoers from the day before, so I felt good about the avalance concerns and headed up.  Once I gained the morraine ridge, the already fantastic views opened up further.  I could see the upper lifts of the Timberline ski resort to the northwest and Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Washington to the south.  And with me forging new tracks in the new snow, with all the conifers covered in snow -- it was just perfect.  I couldn't have been more content.  Even though it was over 6,000' up and many miles away, I felt like I could keep going to the summit if I wanted to.

It's been a long time since I had woken up early to head up the side of a real mountain in the middle of winter, and gearing up and putting on the sunscreen took me back to when I was really into mountaineering and did this kind of thing more often.  That was back when I first moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1998 and got into mountaineering.  (I left in 2003 to move back to Wisconsin to spend more time with family and eventually go to law school.) But when I was living in Washington I really spent a lot of time in nature.  In the mountains.  And I miss that.  One of the best periods of my life was the 9 months of so when I was working part time for Intel and working remotely from Wisconsin.  I finally had all of the free time that I had longed for so I could pursue the outdoor adventures I wanted to.   I hiked the Wonderland Trail (the trail around Mt. Rainier).  I even organized an expedition to climb Denali.  It's amazing to think that this May it'll have been TEN YEARS since that Denali trip.

I don't need to necessarily take up mountaineering again, but I do realize after this weekend that I need to make it a priority to spend more time outdoors.  I want to recapture a bit of that old Doug.  I've been letting some real life practicalities weigh me down and I've been making excuses for not getting out amongst it.  I finally have a job that allows me more work/life balance than what I had at my private law firm, and I need to take full advantage of it.  This job does not give me all the time that I need to go off and do the adventures that I REALLY want to do, but that's another issue.  I've worked so hard to get where I am profesionally, but I think some changes need to be made to get me where I want to be lifewise  Some changes that may require me to give up some of what I've worked so hard to get.

Anyways, I could write tens of thousands of words about everything that's on my mind and the kinds of things I was thinking about this weekend, and just scratch the surface.  But, for whatever reason, I feel its worth sharing some of the advice that I've gotten over the past 25 years of my life that I find myself keep coming back to over and over again in the years since being diagnosed, including this weekend.  Again, each one of these I could write on at length, but I'll just put them out there and leave it at that.

1.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.
2.  Happiness comes from within.
3.  Other people matter.
4.  The most powerful thing in the world is love.
5.  A person builds a life.

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Another quick topic.  Chapters.

If I were write a book abut my life, it's very clear what the chapters would be.  It hasn't always been clear to me at the time when one chapter has ended and another has started, but looking back, it's clear when the page turned to a new phase of my life. 

So, here's how I see the chapters of my life:

1.  Growing up -- Everything up through finish High School.
2.  College, Part 1 -- My first two years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
3.  Virginia -- My internship at IBM in Manassas, Virginia during my junior year of college.  It was only six months, but it was my first exposure to the "real world."  Eye opening.
4.  College, Part 2 -- Finishing my undergraduate degree, two internships with IBM in Rochester, MN.  Getting my Masters Degree.
5.  Austin -- My first "real" job, with Motorola.  Made many life-long friends during this time.
6.  Intel -- Moving to the Pacific Northwest to work for Intel.  (There was no way I was ever going to stay in Texas -- I knew that going into my Motorola job)  Finding my birth family.  Moving back home to Wisconsin.
7.  Law School -- Back in Madison for three years.
8.  World Tour -- Spent three and half months traveling around the world.
9.  Law firm, Pt. I -- Start of my legal career as a patent attorney.
10. Cancer -- The diagnosis and treatment part of cancer.
11. Post Cancer / Law firm Pt. II -- The remainder of my time in private practice.
12.  Post Cancer / Back at Intel -- Making a significant work/life change to a job situation that is sustainable.  Where I am now.

Not sure how long of a chapter this last chapter will be.  It could easily take me to retirement or it could take me to next spring, at which point I quit my job for adventures unknown.  I think about this latter scenario a lot.  I like my job, I find it challenging, and it pays very well, but 45 is looking me square in the face, and there's things I want to do with my life that I don't want to put off much longer.  Tomorrow is promised to nobody and, 5, 10, 15, or 20 years from now I don't want to find myself in a situation where I can't do the things that I want to do.  I don't want to have any regrets.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Four years in -- things still looking good

I spent a fair amount of time at Portland Providence last month.  January is when I received my cancer diagnosis, so that's when I have my annual CT/MRI scans.  And, since it was three years since my last colonoscopy, I was due for my Year 4 colonoscopy (3rd since diagnosis, 2nd since treatment).  So, I was busy with scans and a scope.  (For those who looking to care compare surveillance notes, under the protocol that my surgeon follows, he does a colonoscopy one year after diagnosis, and if that's clean he doesn't do another colonoscopy for another three years.)
Side note on colonoscopy logistics.  The prep was different this time -- they had me use Suprep -- no Miralax, no Gatorade.  It was expensive (~$90) and my insurance didn't cover it, for whatever reason, but my surgeon's office floated me a sample.  Anyways, this stuff, just like all of the other colon cleansers I've used before, did its job just fine.  (They all taste nasty after a few gulps, no matter what kind of artificial flavoring they throw in.  No getting around that.)  My only beef was the timing -- you have to drink one liter of Suprep mixture 12 hours before the procedure, which meant 6:30P, and another liter of the stuff six hours later.  Yes, that meant getting up at 2:30AM to finish the prep.  And since I was already up for a few hours to deal with the first liter, not much sleep was had.  But, whatever.  I'll drink their liquids and follow their instructions.  I want what's left of my colon to be clean whenever someone needs to go in there to take a look.  And, not getting a full night's sleep doesn't mean much.  You get a nice nap at the surgeon's office anyways and then you get to spend the rest of the day sleeping off the anesthesia.  No work.  No email.  No driving heavy machinery.
The results were of the scope and scans were good -- "no evidence of disease."  That's a nice lawyerly phrase -- no evidence of disease.  It gives the doctors a nice out because if cancer does come back, say, next month, and I say "What the hell -- I thought I was clean?!?"  they can say, "Well, we didn't find any evidence of it back in January.  That doesn't mean that you actually didn't have it.  We either missed it or it was too small to see."  So, while it's great news (sure as hell beats "We found something .... "), it doesn't allow me to relax entirely.   My mind is pretty much occupied with day-to-day concerns, but still, the part of my brain that is responsible for worrying still casts a wary eye on cancer now and then.

So, I'm pretty happy with being even further down the road to recover and oh-so-close to the magic five year mark.  I've said it before and I'll say it again -- I'm always surprised by how relieved I am once I get the "no evidence" news.  Damn scanxiety builds up without me even knowing it.  I always think I'm cool and collected about things as I'm getting the scans and then when I get the news, a big weight that I never knew was there is always lifted. 

Practically, what does this mean?  Well, for one, it means fewer colonoscopies.  Now, it's one every five years (twice as often as the recommended screening of once-every-ten years after 50).  So, when I'm 49, one year before the recommended colonoscopy screening age of 50, I'll have had FIVE colonoscopies.  As far as blood tests, it's now once every six months instead of once every three.  And as far as scans, I have one more set of scans next January, and then I'm DONE with scans.  And blood tests, too, I think.

I'm a little nervous about the idea of living without the safety net of regular blood tests and CT/MRI scans.  I like being watched closely.  If cancer comes back, I want it to be caught immediately.  But, the statistics say that it's not needed.  If I make it clean to five years with no recurrence, that odds are something like 98% that the cancer I had will not return.  Something is going to kill me eventually, that's for sure, and if may even be cancer, but it won't be the ass cancer I had in 2010.  Plus, not getting any more CT scans will be good.  Each one is radiation equivalent of something like 5,000 chest x-rays.  Surprised I already don't glow.

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Some cool happenings with The Colon Club.  They've invited me to help out with the 2015 Colondar photo shoot, and they're planning a Colondar model reunion in Breckenridge in October.  For the photo shoot, they've asked me to help with some writing.  There'll be more writing in the 2015 Colondar than in years past.  It's in Nashville, not upstate New York, and I'm I'm honored to have been invited and can't wait to meet the 2015 crop of models and watch them bond.  I'm excited about the reunion since I missed the one they held last fall in Park City, Utah while I was traveling in Scotland.