Lucky Number 13

June 11, 2021— For centuries, the number thirteen (13) has been considered unlucky, which developed an irrational fear of the number and anything associated with it. Some historians trace the stigma of “13” back to Judas Iscariot—think Last Supper—the biblical betrayer of Christ. Others note the fear may be attributed to October 13, 1307 when the Knights Templar were rounded up and imprisoned—or worse.

That date fell on a Friday, leading to the Friday the 13th superstition, along with a series of really terrible horror movies in the 1980s and 90s.

Lucky Number 13

On Thursday, June 10th, the date of my 13th infusion, we received some good news—some really good news: my tumors have shrunk anywhere from 10% (in my lungs) to 20% in and around my right adrenal gland.

Vicki and I were ecstatic. Now, after almost nine (9) months of treatment, Keytruda (my immunotherapy medicine) was beginning to turn-the-tide in the battle against my metastatic melanoma.

In addition, my oncologist told us that my lab work looked fantastic. The results, in his words, were like a “normal person’s.” I assumed he meant someone not undergoing cancer treatment. 

A Long Way to Go

While this is great news, we still have a long way to go. Thursday’s CT scan was the first one I’ve had since February (which showed no change), so, for now, we’ll continue immunotherapy treatments and monitor my blood work.

Bittersweet Morning

Even with all that good news, it was a bittersweet morning. My oncologist announced that he’d taken a new position—heading up a cancer center in Reno, Nevada—and would soon leave the West Cancer Center. While we’re sad to see him go, we know we’ll be in good hands with a new oncologist.

Sharing My Journey Story

In a weird coincidental twist, on Wednesday (June 9th), the West Center posted my melanoma journey story to their Facebook feed and on their website.

I received several FB comments of encouragement and support from strangers who are either West Center patients or their loved ones. As I wrote in a recent essay (see below), my goal with continuing to share my story is to provide hope and/or inspiration for others fighting cancer.

With Good Fortune Comes Greater Responsibility

So, after Thursday’s good news, my good fortune continues. I write that not with glee or contentment. I write it (repeatedly) to remind myself that there is so much more work to be done. So many goals I want to accomplish. So many people I want to help—directly and indirectly.

On June 4th, StoryBoard Memphis published my latest personal essay, Happy Birthday, Spiderman.  While the initial focus of the essay was about my birthday and the joy I feel celebrating another trip around the sun with my family and friends, it was also much more about the burden I carry—like many other cancer survivors—to never forget those who were less fortunate. Here’s a quote:

Sharing my journey story is both cathartic and purposeful. Those of us who are still in this fight remember all those who were less fortunate. Our grief and frustration are channeled into meaningful causes and activities. Ultimately, we want to change current behaviors, raise awareness, and stem the tide of suffering and pain.

I use my good fortune to help others whom, like me, have been saddled with this dreadful diagnosis. An advocate for skin cancer prevention and melanoma research, I volunteer with non-profit organizations by fundraising, lending my voice through personal testimonials and op-ed columns, mentoring other late-stage melanoma patients, engaging congressional staffers on the merits of upcoming appropriation bills (to fund more research), and, finally, by analyzing research proposals as a patient member of scientific review panels.

In my own words? With good fortune comes greater responsibility.

When you get the opportunity, go back and the read my story—either on Facebook or on StoryBoard Memphis. Thanks.

And, as always, thanks for listening.

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Writer’s Note – I’ll continue to update my blog on a periodic basis. No set schedule. So, I want to thank everyone who continues to stop by and check out my blog. Please leave a comment or message; I’d love to hear from you. 

I’m a Mess

April 28, 2021—The phlebotomy tech begins to poke an IV needle into a vein in my right hand. As part of the little stick portion of the process, he tries to distract me with small talk—a question about why I’m having an echo, questions about my overall health—and I give him a complete rundown of my present and past health woes. He looks at the plastic id cuff on my wrist and says, “You’re only 58.”

I laugh and tell him, yeah, I’m a mess, and my wife tells me I’m a mess, too.

I’m a Mess

I’m at Sutherland Cardiology today for an echocardiogram—there’s a minor concern about my heart function given that I’ve been on a new cancer treatment regimen (immunotherapy) for a while and that my blood pressure is higher than normal (for me). You may recall that I had a heart attack at the end of 2018 (see All I want for Christmas…).

As part of my rundown, I tell the tech that just this week I’ve been to Campbell Clinic for physical therapy, I’m here at Sutherland for my echo, and, tomorrow (Thursday), I’ll be at the West Cancer Center for my 11th infusion. I go on to explain about the last six weeks of PT for a torn rotator cuff and frozen shoulder, and my stage IV cancer diagnosis and treatment.

It’s enough to make your head spin…yeah, I’m a mess.

Delta Blues

Vicki and I took a four-day road trip into the heart of the Mississippi Delta. A great trip that I documented in two parts for StoryBoard Memphis, an online publication about arts, community, and cultural of Memphis and the MidSouth. I’m proud of these pieces (Delta Diaries) along with other articles I’ve written for StoryBoard. 

I’m excited that my writing has improved and is being recognized by others. I also have a short story that will appear in an upcoming local mystery anthology. (A second story is in the works for another anthology.) My long-term goal is to get a book published, and I feel closer to achieving that goal every day.

Number Eleven

Infusion number eleven (11) was the next day (April 29th) at the West Center. While there’s nothing new to report regarding my prognosis, we were excited when the nurse practitioner told us that my lab (blood) work looked great. Liver, kidney, and other internal functions all looked really good. Couple that with how I currently feel—which is also really good—and we’re very happy.

Now, let’s hope the adrenal gland tumor shrinks. We’ll know more on June 10th.

Melanoma Awareness Month

May is Skin Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Month. As an active advocate for prevention, treatment, and, eventually, a cure, I’m involved in a number of activities, initiatives, and fund-raisers—both locally and nationally.

You’ll see a lot of Facebook posts from me about donations, support, and, of course, taking care of your skin. For obvious reasons, this issue is important to me and my family.

While donations and support are special and mean a lot to me, it’s much more important that all of you make the effort to take care of yourselves and your loved ones—especially younger ones. Excessive sun exposure and sun damage when you’re young—even one sunburn—can impact your health years down the road.

Protect your skin!

Final Thoughts

The screen shot below is from the website of Aim at Melanoma, one of the national non profit groups that I work with. You’ll see a dark blue box on the top row (almost in the middle). That’s me and that’s my sincere sentiment. I could not survive or continue on my journey without all of you!

Thanks for everything…and thanks for listening.

Note:  If you want to leave a comment, just choose “Anonymous” from the Profile Selection drop down bar right below the Comment box. (It’s the very last choice.) Sorry for any confusion.

Also, please make sure you leave your name or sign-in somewhere in your comment. Thanks.

Writer’s Note – I’ll continue to update my blog on a periodic basis. No set schedule. So, I want to thank everyone who continues to stop by and check out my blog. Please leave a comment or message; I’d love to hear from you. 

Rollin’ Stone Week

Pre-excision

March 13, 2021— It’s been a week…man, it’s been a week. As many of you know, I love blues music, and this week has been one continuous blues song—full of highs and lows, and just about everything in-between. The theme of this post is dedicated to that legendary Mississippi Delta bluesman who made Chicago blues an international sensation: Muddy Waters.

Like Muddy’s iconic song, Rollin’ Stone, this week had me back, back down the road I’m goin’. In other words, every time I moved forward, I seemed to move even farther back.

A Shot in the arm

Monday I received my first Pfizer vaccine dose. I posted on Facebook that the process was fairly quick and well-organized. In fact, Muddy was there to accompany me (see bottom photo).  I’m glad to be closer to being fully-vaccinated and, hopefully, safer from the coronavirus.

Time after time

This week I started a new writing gig for StoryBoard Memphis. I now have a recurring column, currently titled Time Capsules. I’ll focus on personal essays, stories, and observations/commentary. My first column (Time Capsule) was published on Thursday, March 11th.

 

I’ve written several pieces for StoryBoard, and I’m excited about the opportunity to continue developing and improving my craft. In addition to the new column, I have two short stories that will be published (hopefully sooner than later) in a local mystery writers anthology.

Deja vu all over again—Warning: Yucky picture!

It was a little more than a year ago (see Don’t Believe the Gripe) that I had my ninth melanoma removed. Yes, nine melanomas! The 9th melanoma (in situ) was on my upper right ankle.

On Thursday of this year, my dermatologist informed me that the biopsy she took Tuesday morning was another melanoma in situ. So, on Friday, I had a wide local excision (see photo) on my lower left jaw.
That’s now ten melanomas removed. Ten! Like I said last year, I’m not a happy camper. Last year’s diagnosis came at the same time COVID exploded, so I was simply in a huge funk. Frankly, I was pissed.
I’m a little more philosophical this year. Perhaps it’s the overall timing—true, the irony is not lost on me—but, maybe, it’s that I feel a lot more comfortable dealing with these challenges because the world seems to be getting better.
Obviously, we have a ways to go—with many questions and concerns still unanswered. But, for me, the future looks brighter.
Funny thinking for a guy who—in 2020—had a melanoma removed, had (stage IV) melanoma spread to his right adrenal gland, lost a family member to COVID, self-quarantined at home for over three (3) months, and started a new treatment regimen.

It’s not only been a heck of week, it’s been a hell of a year!

Sure ‘nough, I’m a rollin’ stone

Next week, it’ll be more of the same. Infusion #9 on Thursday (March 18th). Story deadlines and edits to be made. Thinking about some place nearby to visit. Within driving distance. Isolated. Where to begin work on our gardens and what plants to buy.
So, I’ll leave you all with the last stanza of Rollin’ Stone—I think Muddy says it best…
Back, back down the road I’m goin’
Back down the road I’m goin’
Back down the road I’m goin’
Sure ‘nough back, sure ‘nough back

 

Thanks, as always, for listening.

 

Note:  If you want to leave a comment, just choose “Anonymous” from the Profile Selection drop down bar right below the Comment box. (It’s the very last choice.) Sorry for any confusion.

Also, please make sure you leave your name or sign-in somewhere in your comment. Thanks.
 
Writer’s Note – I’ll continue to update my blog on a periodic basis. No set schedule. So, I want to thank everyone who continues to stop by and check out my blog. Please leave a comment or message; I’d love to hear from you.

Heart to Heart: A Year-end Reflection

December 31, 2019 – It’s been a year. Man, has it been a year! Like many folks, the end of the calendar year brings reflection and remembrance…and, perhaps, a little remorse. For me, even the month of December brought a flood of new experiences along with memories from the prior year.

I decided, in an indirect way, to have a heart-to-heart talk with myself. Maybe this time I’ll listen.

Writer’s Block

Two more feature articles (see screen shot below) were published online this month (December) at StoryBoard Memphis. While I’ve enjoyed writing these stories along with researching and learning about my subjects, feature writing has taken me away from my true writing love – fiction. So, at some point in 2020, I want to block out enough time to finish my novel.

Yes, Elvis is truly everywhere…even in Arizona’s Verde Valley.

Heart-to-Heart

It’s been one year (December 21, 2018) since I had a heart attack. I wrote about my experience last year at this same time (see All I Want For Christmas…). Life has changed, life has stayed the same, and, as we all know, life moves on. My heart attack was essentially genetic, but I’ve got to continue to take care of myself – like all of us – in order to prevent any more issues.

In an ironic twist, on December 21st (2019), Skincancer.net re-shared one of my blog posts (A Walk in the Park) in their Facebook feed. It’s one of my favorite pieces from 2019 with a very simple message: nothing in life is a walk in the park.

Survivor’s Guilt

One definition of survivor’s guilt states that someone may feel guilty – as though he or she has done something wrong – because they have survived a traumatic or life-threatening event when others have not. Those of us who deal with cancer walk a tightrope of emotions, and survivor’s guilt can rear its ugly head at any moment – especially during the holiday season. I previously talked about my own guilty feelings in the post An Emotional Morning.

A great shot from Miles for Melanoma. Our Centrum Silver moment.

That guilt and pain took center stage right after New Years when I found out that yet another friend had died from cancer. This friend and I shared the same birth date (May 20) and with his passing the close-knit blues music community (national and international) lost a great advocate.

Reflecting on Another Year

I’ve grown tremendously this past year – both as an advocate for skin cancer research and melanoma prevention and as a writer with several published stories to my credit. One of my big successes -under both advocacy and writing – was a piece published (online) nationally by Coolibar Sun Protective Clothing. As it turned out, the original story (from July 31, 2019) was re-shared by Coolibar on Facebook on December 30th.

December 31st

It’s been five (5) years since my mom died, so 2019 ended with an anniversary that no one wanted to celebrate. I’ve written two posts about her decline from dementia and her passing. My dad still misses her very much, of course, but it’s a sad way to ring in the new year…any new year.

Note:  If you want to leave a comment, just choose “Anonymous” from the Profile Selection drop down bar right below the Comment box. (It’s the very last choice.)  Sorry for any confusion.


Also, please make sure you leave your name or sign-in somewhere in your comment.  Thanks.

Writer’s Note – I’ll continue to update my blog on a periodic basis.  No set schedule.  So, I want to thank everyone who continues to stop by and check out my blog. Please leave a comment or message; I’d love to hear from you.