Sunday, July 15, 2007

Heaven Is In Awe

Brian started this blog to keep everyone in touch with his greatest challenge in life. He called it his Journey and it has truly been a Journey not only for Brian but his family and friends. The internet not only allowed him to share with everyone the ups and downs of this battle but was a mission for God to continue the ministry of his strong belief and a legacy for his two daughters in the form of a book. Anyone that had the privilege of reading the creative compositions that came from Brian felt the urgency to pass them on to someone else. It's amazing how many times it was said that Brian's choice of careers could have been one of many including writer, sports commentator and even a minister. Yesterday was sunny, cool with the slightest of breeze. It began early for those that have been at Brian's side everyday for the past few weeks - his wife, children and parents. Several calls are made and the house begins to fill with those that are closest and have stood by and come to realize what impact one person can make on so many lives. We've all read of such people, but to actually have had a person of this magnitude in your life mixes up some emotions that may have been hidden. Emotions were everywhere yesterday. Tears, laughter, memories, stories, and lots, and lots of hugs all to the beat of Jimmy Buffet and Michael Buble (Brian's favorite music). Folks moved from room to room, inside, outside but each one eventually ended up at the sofa where Brian has slept for the past few weeks. Taking turns on one end of the sofa rubbing his feet or on the floor holding his hand - ways that Brian would know "hey guy we're here with you". Kisses were abundant for this handsome young man that everyone is drawn to on a day that we all have come to realize will be the end of the Journey. Brian began his newest Journey, one that we all hope to take some day at approximately 5:45 PM,. Everyone was close by and Brian was at peace knowing he was loved by all that knew him. He was a strong individual that accepted this Journey and decided how it should be remembered. A Celebration of Life will be held in his honor on Saturday, July 21st, 2007 at 3:00 followed by fellowship with family and friends. Scriptures and music were all selected in detail by Brian and Kimberly right down to the request that beach attire is expected and no black allowed. Brian loved people and looked for any opportunity to have a party going on with friends and food so what better way to remember his being than with all that meant the most to him. Kimberly, Breanne, Brooke, Dick, Nadine, Larry and Brad want to thank those that took time out of their day to read Brian's Blog. It came to be a part of so many peoples day and something to look forward to in the form of a book. Keep the family in your thoughts and prayers and remember that we were blessed to have had him but Heaven is in Awe at what it has received.

Friday, July 13, 2007

"If there is anything I can do to help..."

I cannot begin to tell you how many times in one day I hear that question. And you know what? I never grow tired of hearing it. This whole journey has helped me to fully understand the compassion and humanity of the human race. I am amazed at the help and support our family has received from so many people, some of whom we don't even know. A heart felt thank you to you all.

One of the devasting aspects of cancer is the financial toll it puts on a family. Even with insurance, there are co-pays, deductibles, expenses not covered, etc. Needless to say, one area that we have "robbed" is our children's college funds. Long story short, we have had many people ask us to create a charitable fund. This account is in leiu of sending cards, flowers etc.
The fund is entitled "Breanne & Brooke's Future" and you can make a donation at any Wachovia bank. If they question where the original account is set up, it's the Bridford Parkway location in Greensboro, NC. I feel somewhat guilty doing this. So many of you have been so generous to our family over the last year and we are grateful for this. But the bottom line is I have lost my ability to be there for my family and it really grinds at me that I cannot go out and give them the things they need in life.
Should you have any questions, please don't hesitate to send me an email or post a comment on the blog. I thank God everyday for putting folks like you in my life!
Till next time, Brian....

Behind every great man...

Is a great woman, and boy have I come to realize that in a huge way over the past few months. Read on.
We started dating in April 1980 (27 years ago; yikes!) and were married in September of 1984. Like many marriages, we've had our ups and downs, but somehow we always managed to make it through the tough times to once again enjoy the good times. And then comes something like cancer, an event that forever and dramatically changes the fabric of your relationship. Many crumble simply due to the stress of it all. Thank God our marriage is even stronger, and that is due in large part to my wife.
To fully understand what I am saying, you would have to spend a day in our home. I have become housebound. I sleep on the sofa in the den. I don't get off the sofa unless I have to go to the bathroom. My physical capacity and ability to do anything is next to nil. (Thank God the mind is still sharp!) This is where Kimberly really begins to shine. Not only does she wait on me hand and foot, but she does so with a smile and a laugh. Her energy level is somewhere around a 15 on a 10 point scale. She would make the Energizer Bunny look like it's stuck in neutral!
So, heres to you sweetheart! Lift a glass of wine and make a toast - to the most wonderful woman God could have ever given me. Saluda!
Till next time, Brian.....

Monday, July 02, 2007

More pictures from Florida...

Food was an intregral part of our vacation. Brooke got the opportunity to meet with the Hard Rock's pastry chef, and if was all out room service from there. Once again, rock start treatment! This was a breakfast spread the day of our departure, and there was enough food for a dozen people!

The fountain in front of the the Hard Rock is made of bronze guitars...pretty cool.

Blue Man Group! What a great live performance! This is our third time seeing them.

Till next time, Brian...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Orlando here we come...

We made it! Through the generosity of others we were able to fly on a private jet to Orlando. A limo was waiting for us right beside the jet when we landed and then we were off to the Hard Rock Hotel. Man could I get used to this kind of treatment. Rock star baby! We are having a blast at our "home away from home". The weather has been perfect. Stay tuned for more updates. We are blessed.

Till next time, Brian...

(click on the pictures for a larger image)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Another amazing answer to prayer....

We've had a family vacation scheduled for several months now, obviously contingent on my health and the ability to travel. Plus we all realize this vacation will be the last hooray, the last family vacation as a complete family. So we started lining everything up - 7 nights on the Club Level at the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando, our favorite summer destination for many years now. Some people ask us why we keep going back to the same place over and over, why not try something different? The only quick way to answer that is when you are a repeat customer at a place like the Hard Rock, there are LOT'S of perks that go along with the stay. We definitely get the rock star treatment. Next we lined up the airline tickets, rental car, etc. So about a month ago we had everything in place. However, there was a lingering concern in my mind that I didn't dare share with anyone. The kids and Kimberly are SO excited about going, and I had it in my mind that I was flying down there come heck or high water. But the concern stuck in my mind - we are flying commercial with layovers in Charlotte. The plane ride doesn't bother me, but the thought of getting stuck for hours in an airport due to something like a weather delay really bothered me. Remember I am wheelchair bound and even sitting up in a wheelchair for an extended period of time is difficult. Thoughts of me being wheeled into an ambulance due to exhaustion (or whatever) kept popping up in my brain.

So what does a guy do? I want this vacation for my family but I also don't want to create some type of travel nightmare that would ruin the vacation. I did the only thing I could think of and that was pray. I prayed to God to let me know if I should just cancel the vacation and stay home, or, God give me some kind of sign that I can and should make this trip. I prayed for weeks with no real answer either way.

As a part of our pre-vacation planning, I made a visit to my oncologist last Friday to make sure he thought I was okay to travel. Everything checked out well, and then he asked a question. "Are you flying commercial" Yes I answered, with layovers in Charlotte both ways. "That's no good. Why not fly on a private jet?" Well DUH, yes I would love to but I cannot afford that. "Let me check my resources and get back to you". At this point I had no idea what he was up to.

Well, long story short, within the next 4 hours we were scheduled to fly on a private jet from Greensboro to Orlando! Evidently my oncologist has a friend whose company has their own jet and they donated it for us to fly to and from Orlando. Is that amazing or what?!?! It never ceases to amaze me or surprise me when I submit to God, ask for his help, and wait. I'm so glad I quit fighting him years ago and gave it all to him. Amen.

So this kind of changed things a little. A rental car, fuel, and parking for the rental car would cost about the same as having a stretch limo take us to and from the airport to the hotel. So....cancel the rental car and let's go limo! We are going to have dinner at one of Emeril's restaurants at Universal on Fathers Day, we'll catch the Blue Man Group one night, cabana rentals by the pool. I can't wait! I literally have had nothing to really look forward to for months now, so I am really pumped up about this trip. We will post pictures while on vacation so stay tuned.

Okay, enough for now. Godspeed to you all. Till next time, B.....

I lost my man card....

Well, when you have a wife, 2 beautiful daughters, and 2 female pugs, you tend to lose the man card from time to time. I think I have lost mine permanently. The girls gave me a pedicure complete the purple sparkly toenail polish. I have to admit I think it looks rather trendy. Yee Ha!!!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Now THIS was interesting...

Traveling outside the house is difficult for me now, so I thought I would attempt to give myself a haircut with my mother's assistance. Long story short, my dad ended up taking me to Great Clips. No more bathtub haircuts for this kid!

Simple pleasures...

A few weeks ago I was in bed by myself when my almost 82 year old dad crawled in bed beside me and simply took my hand and held it. No words, just love. I am so blessed.
We later shared a bowl of chocolate ice cream. Life is so good.....

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Give me some oxygen, PLEASE….

Well, it has taken a couple of weeks to write this post. The emotions and the tears flowed heavily after my trip to Sloan Kettering. And I also had this cloud of fear constantly over my head. What was the fear about? Telling my kids that I do in fact only have a short time to live. I feared they would break down crying. I imagined them taking the news in a very bad way. Boy was I wrong. Kids are so resilient, plus we have been very open about my prognosis. Both of them had a yes I know response. Both of them understand exactly what is going on and that my time with them is limited. We have worked hard to give our kids the gift of salvation and to know the Lord. Man is it paying off big time.

The outpouring of response from my Preparing to Die post has been overwhelming. I haven’t been able to respond to everyone yet. My lung capacity continues to shrink, making simple conversation a difficult chore. Thank goodness for email and this blog. It is so easy to communicate with everyone via the written word versus having a conversation. This brings me to my next update. My physical ability is so limited now. How so? Walking up a flight of stairs is darn near impossible. I now have to sit on the bottom step, with my back facing the steps, and “rear end” my way up the stairs over a two or three minute process. Walk outside to get the newspaper? Thank goodness my driveway is only about 50 feet long. Run around the house terrorizing the dogs while everyone else laughs? No more. Go hiking with Brookie in the mountains. Unfortunately, those days are gone. Play a round of golf with friends? Never again. This has been one of the difficult mental obstacles to overcome. I have so much time on my hands now, so I tend to sit and think about all the fun stuff I have done in my life. Brooke and I love to go hiking. It is classic daddy/daughter time, plus we both love nature and the outdoors. I can’t do that anymore. Dammit, that thought makes me very angry and sad at the same time. I am being robbed of my ability to enjoy my family. That’s not fair! BINGO! Poor, pitiful me. You selfish idiot. Why can’t you relish the fact that you WERE able to enjoy these things in your life? Do you not understand there are some people who will never go hiking, who will never see a beautiful mountain stream, and never be able to enjoy God’s wonders? Sometimes I feel so stupid. I really do have to work on getting away from the selfish junk and being thankful that God has blessed me in so many ways. The reality angel that sits on my right shoulder can really give it to me sometimes.

Another mental obstacle that I have finally succumbed to is the fact that I need a wheelchair to get around. Truth be told, I simply cannot walk more than 50 feet without getting winded. The wheelchair makes it so much easier to get around, plus it’s a real snazzy new model. Lot’s of bling,ya know? I also got a handicapped placard for my Suburban. Although I may not live to be 90 years old, I sure do feel like it now! I’m also very dependent on oxygen. When your oxygen content in the bloodstream gets below 90% you become oxygen starved. This causes panic, anxiety, disorientation, restlessness, shakyness in my speech, etc. When this happens, I feel like a fish out of water. Panic is the first thing to set in, and then I realize I can’t do anything to help myself. This turns into a very precarious situation resulting in a panicked frenzy. Kimberly will get the oxygen machine turned on and puts the tubing in my nostrils. Then she sets up the morphine nebulizer. Ah yes, the morphine nebulizer. It’s a little machine that takes small amounts of morphine and saline and turns them into a mist, which is then inhaled through a pipe. This is starting to sound like illegal drug activity, eh?!? The morphine calms down the lungs by changing the way it processes oxygen. Simply put, it helps me to breath once again. Lately I have been taking 3-4 morphine treatments a day. The events leading up to the treatments tend to be very frenzied to say the least. Never a dull moment.

I am amazed at how quickly my health is deteriorating. To give you an example, I went to Florida to play golf with some buddies of mine just one month ago. Today, that trip would be impossible. My goal now is to make it to July. We have a family vacation scheduled in June to visit the Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando once again. We love the Hard Rock and we get the rock star treatment every time we go there due to the fact we have gotten to know so many people on staff. Fun stuff and great memories.

I visited the onc this week because one of the hospice nurses thought I have fluid in my lungs. This is not good because it can lead to pneumonia. So my onc called me in for a chest x-ray. There is no fluid, so that’s good news. But man if you could see the x-ray. My lungs are littered with cancerous spots that show up white on the film. How am I even breathing at all? After Kimberly and I left the cancer center, she mentioned am I okay with my decision not to continue chemo. I guess the chemo was keeping the cancer from growing too fast was her comment. It’s funny, I’ve had a lot of advice and opinions from a lot of people on what I should do. Very few are in line with what I have chosen. Allow me to explain. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I made a conscious decision to give everything to God; all my pain, my cancer, my suffering, everything. In return I agreed to be a faithful servant to the Lord and glorify him in all I do. When people offer up their ideas of ways to help “cure” my cancer, I simply smile. Most think I am crazy for not taking their advice. What they don’t understand is I remain steadfast and faithful to my God. He has a plan for me. He has revealed that plan to me over time. He has blessed me in ways I simply cannot comprehend or try to explain. Psalm 55:22 is the best way to explain how I feel.

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the comments and suggestions of others. It shows compassion and goodwill. I am forever indebted to those who have done so much for me and my family and continue to offer help and assistance. As for me though, I chose to cast my cares on the Lord.

Till next time, Brian….

Monday, May 07, 2007

Preparing to Die...

Yea, yea, I know…this is a rather harsh title. But you have to understand where I’m at and where I’m coming from as to why I used this title. Read on.

I made my whirlwind trip to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City last week. I flew up on Wednesday, had my appointment on Thursday, and flew back home on Friday. This much travel in three short days was pure hell on the body, but the trip was well worth the effort. It was something I needed to do, to get the curiosity out of my system. The purpose of the trip was to get another “set of ears” to review my treatment history and offer up any possible alternatives to add some time to my life. Long story short, the gentleman I met with didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know. Don’t get me wrong, he was a compassionate, knowledgeable person who spent a total of two hours dialoging with me. This is obviously a man people are sent to when they call Sloan Kettering looking for help because all else has failed. Throughout our meeting, there was one thing he kept saying that really stuck with me. “We can try this treatment therapy, it may add another two months to your life if it works”…aha, there is the magic phrase; if it works. No one knows for certain if anything will work, and no one can put their thumb on the exact amount of time I have left in my life. No one except God.

On the flight back home, I spent a lot of time reviewing in my mind the appointment at Sloan Kettering. What the doctor said, should I continue treatment or stop it altogether and enjoy a better quality of life, and so on and so on. Then it really began to hit me – you have to begin to prepare for the end. I have thought about this for a long time now, but I never really took action. Now, I must take action. The reality of my situation is I probably have months to live. I don’t see me making it to 2008 to be honest with you. The cancer continues to invade my lungs, making a walk up a flight of stairs seem like a one mile run. I began to think deeper, and the idea hit me that I need to put together a fat, three-ring binder for Kimberly that explains everything that has been my responsibility. Life insurance info, credit card info, bills, even passwords and user names to the web sites we frequently use. All of this stuff is stuck in my brain. I need to do a brain dump and organize it in such a fashion that she will not be struggling to make sense of everything once I’m gone. This makes sense, and it will make her life easier given the difficulty of the situation. A pretty cool idea if you think about it. I get to plan for my death instead of someone who is tragically killed in a car accident for example. They are here one second, gone the next.

Then I picked up a magazine and began to scan the pages, doing something to pass the time on the flight. It was one of these Skymall magazines, advertising all kinds of stuff you can buy. I came across a silver bracelet, with a very simple inscription – Loved. That’s when it hit me. The emotional enormity of my journey hit me like a ton of bricks. I began to cry, uncontrollably. Sitting in the back row of the airplane, I quickly put my sunglasses on and used one of my hands to shield my quivering face. The constant drone of the jet engines helped to stifle the sobs coming from my mouth. I simply could not stop crying. Luckily no one was sitting in the seat beside me. I cried for what seemed like an eternity, until the pilot came on the speaker and announced our final approach into Greensboro. Finally, I was able to gain my composure. I must admit though, it felt good to cry.

As I have said so many times before, I am not afraid of dying. But, I don’t want to leave anytime soon. I keep thinking about my family, my wife and two beautiful daughters. I think about the pain they will suffer up to and after my death. The emotional scars will last a lifetime. It pains me so. But then I begin to think about heaven. I begin to think about how God wants to work through me today to touch others, including my family. It very clearly states in the bible that our days are numbered before we are even born. And then another revelation hit me. My concerns about how my family will react is nothing short of selfishness. Stay with me here. Matthew 6:25-34 is one of my favorite verses in the bible. It is entitled “Do Not Worry”, and here I am worrying about my family and how they will react to my death. That, my friends, is a sin. It is a selfish emotion that is seeded deeply in our own persona, wrapped up in our own self absorbed guilt, and topped with a bow of anguish. It goes directly against what God tells us in Matthew 6. Do Not Worry. Think about it.

So today, Monday, I met with my oncologist here in Greensboro to discuss my trip to Sloan Kettering. After the small talk he asked the obvious question – what are we going to do next? I shrugged my shoulders, took a few seconds to think, and then blurted out “I don’t know!” It seems like I’m damned it I do, damned it I don’t. If I continue treatment, the chemo will beat the hell out of me physically and emotionally. But it may add a few months to my life. If I drop chemo altogether, I will have a better quality of life, but…but…but. Paralysis through analysis. It happens to all of us from time to time, some more than others. I tend to be pretty decisive most of the time. If I see something and it makes sense, then I do it. But now I am faced with decisions that literally impact how long I may be alive. Aha, another magic phrase. How long you may be alive. There are no guarantees my friend. We can analyze things until the cows come home. There are some things that you simply must accept. At church last Sunday, it was announced that our Senior Pastor is stepping down. Burnt out. Been there for 10 years, served the church well, a tremendous growth in membership and programs, you name it. Very successful. However, the mood was quite somber, almost like a funeral. “We will get through these difficult times…” was something many leaders in the church said during the service on Sunday. As I sat there and listened to the dialogue, something caught my eye. Years ago, during a Sunday sermon, I wrote the following in the blank space at the end of 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28. My notes say “God’s sovereign will is frequently the opposite of human nature and what we often expect and want.” BINGO! The congregation wants the pastor to stay. Please don’t leave us!! We love you! The pastor has been burning the candle at both ends, literally giving a portion of his life and sacrificing his family and his marriage to serve the church. As for me, I want to live. I want to watch my kids grow up, get married, and have grandchildren. I will be a GREAT grandfather! I want to be a husband to my wife and enjoy the rest of our life together. ME…ME…ME!!! Stop. Read it again - God’s sovereign will is frequently the opposite of human nature and what we often expect and want. Bingo. It’s God’s will, not ours. It’s God’s plan, not ours. It’s God timing, not ours. We are a selfish society driven by self-centeredness and the need to have it now. How sad is that? We have lost focus of what is important in this world. How sad. After the sermon on Sunday, the pastor and his wife went to the gym to accept well wishes from the congregation. He was so worried about the congregation feeling abandoned, like an athlete retiring at the peak of his or her game. People were in tears. He was in tears. Why I thought? This man has nothing to be ashamed of. I looked at Pastor Bill, gave him a big hug, and said “I have a different word for you. How EXCITING!” Sometimes we have to embrace the good and ignore the typical human emotion. Bill feels God is calling him to begin another chapter in his life, to better serve the Lord. I feel God calling me home, saying “Job well done, good and faithful servant…” Get off this “poor me” train and jump on a more positive means of transportation. This is something I am reminding myself of, right this very minute. Believe me, I know it’s tough my friend.

In closing, I am going to share a verse with you, once again from the sermon last Sunday. It is from 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12. It reads “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Second Thessalonians was written by the apostle Paul, the second letter to the church in Thessalonica. It was written to clarify points misunderstood in his first letter (First Thessalonians). While he assured the Thessalonians that Christ would eventually return and set the world aright, he emphasized focusing on the present. As you read this scripture, be hopeful about what God has in store for your future, but concentrate on living and working with what he has given you for today.

Till next time, Brian….

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

In the wake of tragedy...

How do you explain what happened on the Virginia Tech campus? When tragedy strikes we all ask this question along with many other questions, all starting with why? I found some answers appropriately enough from the pastor of our church. The following is compliments of Bill Simpson, Senior Pastor at Community Bible Church in High Point, NC. Check this out:

God will bring about good from these senseless murders. He will strengthen his people and draw the lost and hopeless to faith in Jesus. We can pray. We can also assure our kids and our friends and co-workers that there is no guarantee we’ll be protected from such acts of violence. Our hope is in a good God, who is always good, who always has our best in mind and he alone is in absolute control of our world and our very lives.

He reminds us that our days on earth were numbered by him personally before we were even born (Psalm 139:13-16). He alone is our hope in hardship, grief, temptation, depression and the uncertainties of life (Psalm 25; 143 & Lamentations 3:19-33). We are commanded not to live in fear but to trust our God, the One who measures the cosmos with the span of his hand and whose love for us is unfailing (Isaiah 44:2 ; John 6:35-40 & Philippians 4:4-7). So we mourn and we move on in hope. We remember our days are uncertain and hopefully, tragedies like this one help us to seize each day to live it in Christ. I know I have today, right now. I’m not sure about tomorrow.

Bill really hit home in one area for me personally in regards to my battle with cancer. That is from Psalm 139:13-16. It reads "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

Read the last line again. The above scripture speaks to the sanctity of human life. God knows us. We cannot surprise him. Nothing we have done or will do can catch him off guard. However, he will never let go of us. For many of us, we can get caught up in the why. If we continue to ask those questions over and over again it will lead to an insurmountable level of stress and anxiety. As for me, I have never asked God why do I have cancer? Instead, I ask him what I can do today and every day to make the world a better place. What can I do to make one person have a better day today than they did yesterday? This is a constant challenge, but one that I must admit I do enjoy taking on each and every day.

Have you ever heard the saying Let go and let God? Putting your complete and absolute faith in our creator is a tough concept for some of us. We have never seen God; how do we trust him? The bible is the instruction book for life. Unfortunately some choose not to read it. Remember - the choice is yours.

God bless you all. Till next time, Brian....

Sunday, April 15, 2007

This is a good story...

A friend of mine emailed this to me today. It's well worth posting it here and reminding us all about God's plan in our life. Read on...

Two Traveling Angels

Two traveling angels stopped to spend the night in the home of a wealthy family. The family was rude and refused to let the angels stay in the mansion's guest room. Instead the angels were given a small space in the cold basement. As they made their bed on the hard floor, the older angel saw a hole in the wall and repaired it. When the younger angel asked why, the older angel replied, "Things aren't always what they seem."

The next night the pair came to rest at the house of a very poor, but very hospitable farmer and his wife. After sharing what little food they had, the couple let the angels sleep in their bed where they could have a good night's rest. When the sun came up the next morning the angels found the farmer and his wife in tears. Their only cow, whose milk had been their sole income, lay dead in the field. The younger angel was infuriated and asked the older angel how could you have let this happen? The first man had everything, yet you helped him, she accused. The second family had little but was willing to share everything, and you let the cow die. "Things aren't always what they seem," the older angel replied. "When we stayed in the basement of the mansion, I noticed there was gold stored in that hole in the wall. Since the owner was so obsessed with greed and unwilling to share his good fortune, I sealed the wall so he wouldn't find it."

"Then last night as we slept in the farmers bed, the angel of death came for his wife. I gave him the cow instead. Things aren't always what they seem."

Sometimes that is exactly what happens when things don't turn out the way they should. If you have faith, you just need to trust that every outcome is always to your advantage. You just might not know it until some time later.

Till next time, Brian....

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A call for prayer…

Another call for prayer; why you may ask? Allow me to explain.

About a week ago I was faced with a rather strong paradox, a dilemma that I have been struggling with for some time now. Last Thursday I was supposed to go in for my routine treatment. It has been 4 weeks since my last treatment due to our vacation last week. The cancer is continuing to spread and I’m not feeling any better. If anything, I feel worse – much worse. The combination of the cancer, the chemo, and all the drugs I take has my body feeling like a train wreck. Fatigue, pain, lack of appetite, loss of weight – you name it, I’m struggling with it. I continue to benchmark my current condition against where I was 6 months to a year ago. Six months ago I had just returned from Houston and I was dreadfully depressed but I wasn’t as bad as I am now. A year ago I was rather fat and happy (and I mean fat literally; I have since lost 30+ pounds). Today I look at myself in the mirror and it scares me. My cheeks are shallow and my body in dangerously below a normal weight. Even when I do eat a bunch of carbs and fat, I don’t gain any weight. I am a mess, simply put.

Anyhow, I have debated what I should do about treatment for over a month now. My first thoughts back in March were “I’m taking the entire month of April off (from treatment). We have family vacation Easter week, a golf trip to Florida 2 weeks after that, and I want to spend some time with my brothers on the golf course in Hickory soon thereafter.” Plus, my body simply needed a break from chemo. The cumulative affects on the body are not pretty. Then the thought of my ever-progressing cancer pops into my brain and I quickly realize that even though the chemo is not eradicating the cancer it may be holding the cancer at bay, keeping it from spreading like wild fire. I feel like I am slowly slipping into an abyss. The cancer is winning the battle and the way it looks right now I am losing the war. Before you tell me “keep your chin up and keep fighting” you must consider my condition. There are days that I can barely get out of bed. The combination of the fatigue and the pain can really take the fight out of me. I can’t take a deep breath anymore because the cancer has invaded the entire lower area of my lungs. I have these coughing fits 2 or 3 times a day that make me feel like I’m going to die right then and there. I feel like I’m in the middle of a field with snipers all around me; I can’t escape and they keep firing at me at will. Sometimes I want to just lie down and have the Lord take me home. Believe me, it is that tough.

There is also another twist in the story. I have just been given an appointment to visit an oncologist at Sloan Kettering in New York City. I’ve been considering this for some time now, and I finally put the ball in motion back in March. My current treatment cocktail is not cutting it. This is where the paradox came from over a month ago. Do I continue doing the same thing and feeling like crap, or do I stop treatment altogether and try to get a second opinion? The latter statement came to fruition when I finally got through all the red tape and insurance mess to get an appointment at Sloan Kettering. The appointment will last 1-2 hours and will thoroughly go through my entire treatment regimen, my current condition, and possible changes we can make to future treatments. OR – do I quit chemo completely and live out the rest of my life feeling better than I do now? Man what a dilemma. The way I feel right now, there is no way I will be alive 2 years from now. I know that sounds harsh, but the reality of the situation is I don’t have a long time to live given my current condition and the steady progression of my cancer.

So, I ask that you pray for God’s will. I ask that pray for His peace, grace, and mercy for my family and me as we continue to face the decisions of a lifetime. I am not nervous or anxious. I don’t fear my situation or the possibility of dying. But I am concerned about the affects my death will have on my family. No one wants to lose a loved one.

Godspeed to you all. Till next time, Brian…

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Pictures from Emerald Isle...

Man what a beautiful place...I may never return home. THIS is my new home...

In the picture of the house, the upper right corner that has an open window, this is what I call the crow's nest. It's a little room with a chaise lounge and a rocking chair, and spectacular views of the ocean and surrounding community. How lucky we are to enjoy this place.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Paradise...for a week...

We have finally arrived at our destination for the week, a huge house in Emerald Isle, NC. This place is FANTASTIC! What a wonderful change of pace from the day in and day out routine. I woke up this morning and watched the sunrise from the observation area above the kitchen which is on the 3rd floor. Take a look at this place, it's amazing!

I'll be posting some pictures later this week. We have a lot of family and friends that are staying with us this week, so it should be fun.

Till next time, B...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Quick update...

A trip this morning to the onc for a simple follow up turned into a pretty deep discussion about my most recent CT scan from my episode last week. Turns out the spots in my lungs are turning "confluent" meaning you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. This is obviously the source of the consistent cough, and I've felt the spread of the cancer for some time now so it wasn't a big surprise to hear the news. I'm pursuing some different options right now so we'll see how everything pans out. Keep the prayers a comin'....

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Painful Second Anniversary…

I woke up Thursday morning of last week with a cloud of dread over my head like a college student on the first day of final exams. I had chemo later that morning, and as I have said before I simply abhor chemo, I hate it, it sucks. And as usual I started my day with my typical routine; coughing until my lungs felt like they were going to explode, blowing massive amounts of mucus out of my nose (hey I know it’s gross but it’s my world, eh?), and feeling like a truck had hit me only 20 minutes into my day. After my coughing fit I sat down and noticed a strike of pain in my left rib cage. I blew it off as yet another pain (more on pain later in this post) and struggled to get up and start moving. Later that morning during chemo I noticed the pain had increased noticeably, and a muscle spasm had erupted in my left shoulder. The chemo nurse kept asking me if I was okay, given the constant grimace on my face. “I’m okay, just a little muscle pain” was my response. Fast forward to about 10:30 Thursday evening. The pain had become unbearable. Every breath I took felt like a knife was stabbing me in the ribs. Any movement caused both my ribs and my shoulder to explode with pain. I couldn’t sit, stand, or lay down to ease the pain. So….off we go once again to the Emergency room at our local hospital. By the time we got there I was doubled over in pain while sitting in a wheelchair. Long story short, they did x-rays and a chest CT scan on me and found no broken ribs or blood clots. Good news, but the pain persisted. They sent me home at 5AM with some drugs and a wish for good luck and feel better soon. Whatever.

Two years ago last Saturday was my second anniversary for my colectomy surgery. At that time, I had absolutely no clue what the future had in store for me. The recovery time in the hospital was by far the most painful experience of my life (see some of the first posts below). Little did I know what I was going to endure for a solid two years – pain, and a lot of it. I have literally lived with pain for 730+ days and counting. On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain, my typical days are a 3-5 on the scale. Annoying little pains to moderate pains that slow you down. Then there are the 90-120 day stretches where my ­daily pain index is a 7-10. I hurt everywhere. Why? Chemo. It ravages the body, killing everything in its path. The problem is it kills the good stuff too. To give you an example, for a few days after chemo it hurts my mouth and lips to simply brush my teeth. The toothpaste burns. Last night we ordered pizza, and a single slice of pepperoni pizza set my mouth and stomach on fire. Dammit, I hate chemo. My little adventure last week was definitely a 10+ on the pain scale, and it lasted for days non-stop. There are times when the pain is so bad that I find myself talking to God, asking Him to please end the pain and suffering and simply take me home. As I have documented many times in the past, I don’t want to die but there are times when death seems like a better alternative than what I’m going through at the time. Be careful to pass judgment on me; until you have walked in my shoes you really don’t know what it is like to endure this wicked journey. Faith pulls me through again and again.

Well, I’ve been up since 5AM this morning due to pain, of course. It’s now 6:40 and time to get the kids up and start a new day. I am thankful that I can share this journey with so many of you, and to all of you that keep asking – yes, a book is in the works. I guess all I have to do is copy and paste my blog! Godspeed to you all.
Till next time, Brian…

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

212 Degrees....

This is an awesome, 3 minute online video. Very inspiring.

Enjoy. Till next time, B....

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Feeling better...

Well, for the first time in literally months I am feeling much better. I am amazed at how something as simple as how you feel has tremendous impact on your overall viewpoint. When you feel bad, for MONTHS, you really get run down emotionally, psychologically, and obviously physically. I'm still dealing with a few side affects from chemo, but they are much more manageable than, say, a year ago. Thank God.

I had lunch yesterday with several former co-workers. I left this company back in 2000, so it's been many years since we all worked together. It was so much fun getting together and sharing stories from both the present and the past. Events like this make you cherish the relationships you have with others. People come and go in our lives, but some folks have a lasting impact and for this we should all be very grateful. I know I am.

I'm going to share a quick story with you. A few nights ago I was putting our 12 year old to bed, and as usual I ended up laying down with her to help her fall asleep. I tend to use these quiet moments as my quiet time, praying. I started out with my usual "thank you lord for a wonderful day and your many blessings on me and my family." Then out of nowhere I asked "how is Ansley doing?" (read blog entry below) All of a sudden, I had this inner feeling of joy and peacefulness. This was coupled with a mind's eye view of a bright and beautiful light, then an image of Ansley's smiling face. God was speaking to me, very clearly. It's amazing the response you get when you talk to God and listen quietly. I had this image of pure perfection in my mind. I then saw Ansley with angel wings on and, once again, smiling a big smile and simply enjoying the beautiful place we call heaven. It was awesome.

I'll close with a funny little tidbit I heard on TV this past Sunday. The preacher on TV told a story about a man who was begging God in prayer, his life is shambles. "God PLEASE help me, I cannot do this anymore, my life is so troubled. Why do you do this to me?" God responded, "my child, I send troubles your way so you will talk to me from time to time." The congregation erupted in laughter, just as I did. Man does this exchange tell it all. When we are troubled, stressed out, hyperventilating, we turn to God and scream HELP! What's wrong with that? Well, think of it this way. If a friend only talks to another friend when they are in trouble, there is little value in the relationship. The troubled person is using the other to simply satisfy there own emotions. You have to give to get. Plain and simple.

Till next time, B....

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Another painful loss but a gain for heaven...

I first met Ansley at church well over a year ago. I was just coming off my diagnosis and beginning treatment. Through friends at church I was introduced to Ansley and we had an immediate connection via our fight with cancer. She was very interested in how I was doing, and was obviously a faithful, unselfish person. She had been battling cancer for a couple of years, and I was surprised at how well she looked, very healthy. At the time I silently guessed her age in the mid thirties, too young to have cancer I thought. I explained my situation, then looked into her eyes and asked "what is your prognosis?" My question was met with a decidedly changed emotion; she simply pursed her lips, dropped her head, and began to shake her head "no" without saying a word. I will never forget that encounter.

Ansley went home to be with the Lord last Tuesday. She has entered into the visual presence of our creator, and I must admit I am a bit envious. I know, I know, you should never wish your life away. But when you've gone through what I've been through, well, some days you just feel like throwing in the towel. Ansley was 39, a wife and mother of 2 small children. A celebration of life service was held at our church on Saturday, and I have never seen so many cars at our church in the 2 short years we have attended CBC. Ansley was obviously a loved and respected person because the church was packed, standing room only and I am talking about the entire facility, not just the sanctuary. The service was wonderful, the mood was certainly painful but at times funny and upbeat. It was, in my opinion, a wonderful way to show your last respects to a person who possessed a tremendous faith strength. Three folks that were close friends of Ansley spoke about how their lives were touched in an extraordinary way by a person whose faith went well beyond the ordinary. To give you an idea of how strong she was, she would ask the doctors "how are YOU doing and how can I pray for you?" This said in the face of adversity and during the challenges of treatment. Think about the last time you went to a doctor. Usually the doc asks "how are you doing and what is wrong?" When is the last time you approached your doc the way Ansley did? In my case, never. Another example of how we can improve our faith by simply asking instead of being consumed by our on situation. Think about it.

Treatment last week was postponed another week due to the fact that I am simply worn out. Chemo is taking a rather brutal toll on parts of my body. For example, the skin on my hands continues to peel off in the same areas every 2 weeks. When I'm on chemo these areas hurt so much I can't even button a shirt. Ah yes, the joy of treatment. It looks like I will be on an every 3 weeks treatment schedule for a while, allowing my body an extra week to heal prior to the next "zapping".

In closing, take the time to consume the following poem, written by an anonymous 17th century Puritan who most certainly experienced great amounts of opposition, persecution, and unwarranted suffering at the hands of ungodly men. The poem is entitled The Valley of Vision.

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,

where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;

hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

that the way down is the way up,

that to be low is to be high,

that the broken heart is the healed heart,

that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

that to have nothing is to possess all,

that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

that to give is to receive,

that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,

and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,

thy life in my death,

thy joy in my sorrow,

thy grace in my sin,

thy riches in my poverty,

thy glory in my valley.

We all face challenges in our lives. Life is difficult at best, and at times can be very painful. We are born sinners in a sinful world. You must place your faith in Jesus and He will light your path and help you on your way. We live in a society of "I have to have it now and it has to be better than what my neighbor has..." How ridiculous. Be thankful for the blessings you already have. When (if) you go to heaven, God doesn't judge you by the home you lived in or the car you drove or the clothes you wore. He judges you by asking did you give shelter to those in need, did you offer help to those who could not get to where they needed to be, and did you take the shirt off your own back and give it to someone who had nothing to wear? Tough questions that we all should take seriously as we examine who we are. Okay, enough preaching for today. Have a great week and don't forget to tell the one's you love that you love them and give them a hug. You never know when it will your last. I hugged Ansley the last time I saw her about 2 weeks ago. How priviledged I am to be able to savor that moment. Godspeed to you all.
Till next time, Brian....

Monday, February 05, 2007

A time of reflection…

Hello once again to everyone in virtual Bloggerville. I know it’s been a long time since my last update; there are good reasons behind this, read on for the details.

If you will recall, I came home from Houston on Halloween, October 31st. Ever since then I have felt worse than I ever have during this whole ordeal. Is this attributed to the clinical drug I was on? Who knows, but I can tell you this – for over 2 months now I have simply felt bad. No energy plus the garden variety of side affects from chemo has me feeling like I’ve been hit by the “train of feeling no good”. I’m not used to feeling this way. I’m not productive, I certainly can’t do anything physical because I simply do not have the strength and I’m terribly out of shape. I ended up in the hospital right before Christmas, and until recently I really didn’t know the severity of my condition back in December. My white blood cell count was down to 0.7; 3.0 is the low end of acceptable. Anything below 3 is not good. Your body cannot fight off the bad bacteria and it puts you at great risk for infection or even worse. Some of you may wonder “how in the world could you not realize the severity of your situation?” Understand, when I walked into the cancer center the day they admitted me into the hospital, I could barely walk and I refused a wheelchair because of stubborn pride or whatever. I was almost completely out of it. When the nurses saw my lab results they started talking with great motivation and followed every sentence with STAT. I was not in good shape.

The new year brought hopes of a new start. Then the news of another loss to cancer started working on my brain. Benny Parsons, a former NASCAR driver turned announcer, lost his life to cancer. BP was diagnosed last summer with lung cancer, a terribly aggressive form of cancer. He maintained nothing but pure optimism during his battle with cancer, and vowed to come back cured and ready for the 2007 season. He was actually told he was cured in the fall, only to have problems in the non-cancerous lung pop up a month or two later. He was put into a coma the day after Christmas and died a couple of weeks later. I didn’t know Benny personally, but as a fellow cancer patient you feel like you know the person intimately regarding their battle. Then your brain starts the deadly process of analyzing your own condition; how am I? Worse? Better? Which way do I feel I’m going? Worse? Better? How much time do I have left to live? This ends up becoming a battle between concern and reality, and there is no winner.

The death of Benny Parsons was followed last week with the untimely and sudden death of a former co-worker who was only 50 years old. Tom Zaliagaris was a star basketball player under Dean Smith at UNC back in the mid and late 70’s. He went on to a very successful career in the furniture industry, where we got to know each other. Tom was a charismatic type; he could walk into a room and command attention. His tall stature and handsome good looks made heads turn. The truth be told, Tom was just another guy that you really enjoyed being around. Anyhow, he started feeling bad a couple of Saturday’s ago and long story short he was dead by Monday morning. A staph infection had taken over his body and simply killed him in a quick and staggering manner. Ironically, his cause of death was identical to what killed my mother-in-law some 10 or 12 years ago. She was about the same age as Zal and her death was just as sudden and unexpected. Painful stuff.

So, I go thru the brain battle once again. Is the cancer going to kill me? If not, the chemo damn sure will all kidding aside. How much time do I have left? Stop it; there is no winner in this game, period. But – when you have cancer these questions tend to raise their ugly head more often than not. Not matter how optimistic I am, the reality of the situation is I have cancer and I may die from it – soon. Going back to my opening comments, I haven’t felt well in a long time. I tend to benchmark how I feel today versus how I felt a year ago. This time last year I was feeling GREAT. I had energy, I could do a fair amount of physical activities, and I was optimistic about my prognosis. Now, today, I’m not doing as well as I was a year ago. Does this mean I’m slowly slipping into the grave? Dammit, I just don’t know and THAT is the rub of the whole situation. Uncertainty due to the inability to see into the future equals frustration (or even worse for some folks). Cancer sucks.

As I contemplate my situation, I’m beginning to realize my viewpoint on death is ever changing and evolving. For many people, death equals terrible fear. As for me, I don’t fear death anymore. I don’t want to die, but if God determines that my time is up I’m going home to heaven and I will enjoy eternity in a perfect world. I think a lot about heaven - pure, vivid colors unknown to those of us on earth; a place where the streets are paved with gold; a place where there is no suffering, no pain, no disease, no fear, no anxiety, no sin. When you look at the afterlife in this light, you begin to think “why do I not want to go to heaven, now!?” Obviously there are good reasons; a wife and kids, an extended family, friends, you name it. I have the love and support of so many people around me that I cannot even begin to explain it. For this I am eternally grateful, I am blessed. But then I begin to think once again about my situation. Not only have I felt bad for months, I endure physical pain on a daily basis. Some days it’s manageable. On other days the pain is so severe that I can’t even function. The details on the source of the pain isn’t important. The fact is pain is almost as bad as chemo, they must be twin brothers born from a mean ugly mother. Pain wears you down physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Sometimes I sit with my head in my hands, thinking it can’t get any worse. Then it does get worse, or a whole new problem erupts and slaps me against the face once again. How do you describe this? It isn’t a roller coaster. It’s a constant. Some nights I can’t sleep. Some days I can’t get out of bed. Then there are days where I wake up feeling well, go to work, and get hit by the “pain bus” at some point in the day. When the bus hits you, you’re done - period. The question is how long do I have to drive to get back home? If I’m an hour and a half away from home, I in serious trouble. The really tough part of this whole scenario is that I have been in pain for a solid two months now. I’m not talking about paper cuts or a mouth sore. Unfortunately, it is much more severe. Cancer sucks.

So out of all this, where I am at right now? Easy answer. This Sunday in church our pastor delivered a sermon that really caught my attention. The sermon was based on James chapter 2, Faith and Deeds. Verse 24 reads “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone”. This was the verse in the entire sermon that hit me hard. I’ve always told people my faith is strong, I believe God has a plan for me and it’s big. But when I read verse 24, I realized my actions are where God is testing me. What do I mean by this? PMA – Positive Mental Attitude. I have to maintain focus on being a faithful steward of the Lord’s word, and I need to do so in an uplifting and motivated manner. Is this tough to do when you feel like crap from chemo? Damn right it is. But guess what – you have to dig down deep inside and find that thread of hope that will pull you through the situation you are in at the moment – me included. We all have to maintain hope or we become desperate and out of control. Saying you have faith is hogwash unless you back it up with action. Something to think about.

Well, it’s time for a big bowl of fattening ice cream and then off to bed. Hey, I have to gain some of the weight I have lost over the last 2+ months, so ice cream late at night is the cure. Till next time, Brian…

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy New Year!

My mother always told me "don't wish your life away". With all due respect, I'm glad to see 2006 coming to an end. It's been a tough year, but my hopes are high for a healthy and prosperous 2007.

Still been feeling kind of run down lately. Apparently I've had a virus on top of everything else, and since my body is so wrecked from the chemo it can't heal as quickly as it normally would. Regardless, I'm moving forward.

Wishing everyone a very happy new year, filled with good health and good times.

Till next time, Brian....

Friday, December 22, 2006

Another challenge....

As I sit at home typing this latest blog entry, it's 2:30AM. Why am I up so late on a Thursday night/Friday morning? I just got out of the hospital Thursday evening after a 3 day stint. Man, I tell you what, my life is NEVER boring. I've been feeling pretty run down for several weeks now, thinking there was something like a virus making me feel worn out, this on top of the regular stuff you deal with on chemo. Well, Monday night I started feeling really bad, and by Tuesday AM I literally could barely walk. Kimberly took me to the onc, who promptly admitted me to the hospital. Turns out my white cell counts were dangerously low (0.7), making me a walking time bomb for infection. They did a battery of tests on me while I was in the hospital, making sure there wasn't some type of bacterial infection. Everything came back negative, thank God. They pumped me full of fluids, I enjoyed some decent inpatient meals, and did nothing but rest. Originally my doc told me I would be in the hospital for 5 or 6 days. Doing some quick math made me realize I could be there on Christmas eve. No way, period. Through the grace of God and modern medicine, I was out of there in 3 days.

My "sleep clock" is all whacked out right now. I've basically been sleeping in 2 hours segments for 3 days. There are constant interruptions in the hospital, and the bed is a bit less than comfortable. Regardless, I so enjoy being home.

Happy holidays to everyone in blogger-land. I wish you the best for 2007.

Till next time, Brian...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Spoke too soon...

Well, in typical fashion I put my foot in my mouth after last week's post. Thursday night I started feeling crappy (once again) and by Friday I was "hit by the bus" again. Complete fatigue, a fever, an infected port, yadda yadda yadda. I feel like the merry-go-round of pain and suffering simply will not stop and LET ME OFF! Oh well, along rolls Monday morning and I'm feeling fine once again. Which brings me to a comment I made to my wife yesterday. I want my old life back. I long for waking up on Monday morning and going to work and being productive. I want to come home, have dinner with my family, and do something fun with my kids. I want to finish long forgotten household projects that have not only been taken off the burner, they've been lost in the process. For all of you that hate Monday mornings and the dread of going back to work, rethink your thinking. Do not take your good health for granted.

Okay, I'm going to do something productive today and actually work. I love it.

Till next time, Brian...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ever wonder who God is?

Copy and paste this link into your web browser for one of the best sermon pieces I've ever heard attempting to describe God, it is simply awesome. Turn up the volume and enjoy...


For the first time in over a year and half taking chemo, I am "alive" the day after a full treatment. I thought the adjacent picture would give a visual description of how I feel. Amazing...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thanksgiving 2006

The photo was taken in Boone last week during Thanksgiving holiday. We enjoy the mountains so much! The time away was refreshing to say the least.

A quick I am in for round #2 of chemo since my return from Houston. After round #3 in two weeks I'll get scans and hope for progress. Keep the prayers a comin'!

I've been feeling much better lately, which is kind of wierd. You don't expect to feel better following a round of chemo; maybe it's working and the tumors are subsiding ??? As I've said before, you hope for the best and expect the worst.

Till next time...B.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I see way too much of this lately...

You get three guesses what this is - and the first two guesses don't count...

Me and my girls...

This photo was taken on September 30 at the Appalachian homecoming pre-game party. It was a beautiful day and I was lucky to have two of the most beautiful kids in the world with me. Ain't life grand?

Another sleepless night….

It is now 1:30AM and I have been trying to fall asleep for over two hours now. Believe it or not, when I got to bed each night I “write” in my mind. I have so much information stored up in my brain that it would fill hundreds of pages of text. I will be grateful for the day that all of it gets put into this laptop and out of my brain. I would be so lucky.

Today was, unfortunately, another bombshell day for yours truly. To be honest, I have had this feeling in my gut for a couple of weeks that tells me things are not going as planned, or at least not as hoped. Very rarely is my gut wrong, and almost always is my gut dead on. After waiting close to three hours for my oncologist to show up for my schedule appointment, she walked into the room with four other doctors, none of which I recognized. This was my first clue that something was amiss. After the gratuitous “how are you feeling” questions she told me my latest PET scan showed the cancer continues to spread and they are going to have to take me off the clinical trial immediately. Dammit. What is it going to take to get a thread of good news? She went on to explain the details of the PET scan, none of which I can recall. I was once again uncomfortably numb. She paused for a moment, and then went on to explain that another clinical trial is available for me to participate in. “What are my options” was my next question. “This is it” was basically her response. I got that all too familiar feeling of a balloon slowly loosing its air, like the life is being sucked out of me one breath at a time. To even attempt to describe the feeling is difficult. Depression, shock, hurt? Yes. Anger, fear, anxiety? No, not really. I guess this is God’s way of giving me a little peace in the midst of a fierce storm. I actually just thought of what it feels like to have one of these little “meetings” with the doctor. It feels like you are walking down the street, and you have this uneasy feeling that something isn’t right. The next thing you know – WHAM! – you just got smacked square in the face with a 2x4. You loose your sense of where you are, what you are doing, just what in the hell is going on? This lasts for about a second or two and then reality kicks back in again and you realize you are in one of those “this could be it” conversations. Man, I tell you what, this stuff is exhausting at best. I can only take one of these every six months; unfortunately they are happening more and more often.

I don’t really remember walking back to my car, which was parked almost a half a mile away from the cancer center. I recall little of the drive back to the hotel. Again, the severity of the news sent me into this mind numbing funk that you just don’t want to ever have to witness much less live through. But something snapped in my brain as I was walking up the steps to my hotel room. “If I have (x) months to live, then I’m going to live it to the fullest and I’m going to be thankful for every minute of it.” I quickly realized I cannot mope around in this self inflicted haze and start the “why me” crap. Look, I have been blessed beyond compare. I have a wife and two beautiful daughters. I have a family that loves me and I thank God every day for them. I have great friends who have stepped up to the plate to help me and my family in our time of need. I have an employer that has continued to support me even though I haven’t worked full time in a year and a half. I have a church that prays for me and my family, a church that offers spiritual help that we need so much. To walk around saying “why me” would be a slap in the face to all of those that have prayed for me, that have helped me, that have lifted me up in my times of need. God has blessed me in ways that I still don’t fully understand. That is the wonderful thing about God; HE is in control, not me or you or my doctors or whomever. How can you complain about that?!? I pray several times a day. I pray when I wake up in the morning before I even get out of bed. I pray before every meal. I pray at bedtime each night. I also pray during random times throughout the day. Do you know what I ask for when I pray? Three things – peace, grace, and mercy. I ask God for peace during the moments of challenge, like today. I ask God for grace, for His blessing over me that I will conduct myself in a way that will make others ask themselves “how can he be that optimistic and be staring death in the eye?” And finally I ask Him for mercy. I ask Him to lift up and carry this tired, worn out, and sometimes troubled soul. How awesome is it to have someone to turn to, when you most need it, and have that someone to always be there to help you, to hold you, to comfort you. Amen.

Well, I could go on and on. There is so much I have to say and so little time. I must get to bed as it’s now pushing 2:30AM and I have a flight back home tomorrow (actually today since it’s already past midnight). I will be home for about a week and a half then I’m back out in Houston for another 2 weeks or so. I should have more details on the new clinical trial later this week, so check back soon.

Till next time, B...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

First Annual Golf Tournament

Some of the folks that joined us for the golf on the image for a larger view.

Back in Houston – I think….

Boy I tell you what, when I don’t update this blog I get all kinds of heat from all of you in bloggerville. “When are you going to update your blog!?!” Hey, I don’t get paid to do this! Seriously, things have been crazy lately, read on for the details.

After close to 12 days at home, I jumped on yet another 6:30AM flight out of Raleigh last Monday (Oct. 16) en route to Houston. I was packed for a full 3 week trip this time; that is, until my wife informed me that I was returning to NC that Thursday. “Why?” I asked. “Don’t ask, just go” was the response. Okay, something was up, obviously a surprise, so I decided to go along with it. My guess was something was going on with my oldest daughter, maybe a school event? I really had no clue. So after 2 short days in Houston I went to the airport to fly back to NC. Not so fast. There were severe thunderstorms in Houston last Wednesday. It’s funny to watch the reactions on everyone’s faces when their flight is delayed or cancelled. You would think their mother was shot by a bank robber. I kept thinking to myself “these folks need to take a trip to the cancer center and see the anguish on the faces of so many people that are fighting for their life”. A flight delay is really no big deal in the grand scheme of things.

As luck would have it, I made it on an earlier flight and got into Greensboro just before midnight. Kimberly told me my “date” would be picking me up at 7:30AM so be ready. Sure enough, right on time, is one of my golfing buddies and he isn’t dressed for a school event. Okay, now I have a little clue on what’s happening. We pick up another golfing buddy and head south on I-85 toward Charlotte. After an hour and a half of driving, we pull into the parking lot of a golf course and that’s when I realized what was going on. There was my dad, my father-in-law, friends from my hometown, customers, fellow co-workers – these guys had planned a benefit golf tournament for me. I was blown away! A total of 45 folks showed up for the first annual Brian Stoll Invitational Golf Tournament. I cannot begin to tell you how surprised I was, but more importantly how thankful I was. This was simply incredible. People taking time out of their busy schedules to play a round of golf for me. I thank you all for your time, your generosity, and the great time we had last Thursday. I sincerely appreciate it.

So Friday morning I’m on another 7AM flight back to Houston. I did some quick math yesterday, and I’ve traveled close to 4,500 miles via plane and car in the last 8 days. I am WORN OUT! But it was all well worth it.

I’m in Houston until Halloween, back home for about a week, then back in Houston on and off for another 2 weeks. I had a PET scan yesterday, my CT scan is scheduled for November 8. I get the results back on November 15. This will determine what the future holds for me, whether I stay on trial or go off trial. I’ll keep you posted.

Till next time, B….

Monday, October 02, 2006

Another Monday, another airport….

Its 5:20AM Monday morning, and for the third Monday in a row I’m sitting in an airport while most of the sane world is sleeping. Treatment #2 starts at noon today in Houston and after an overnight stay at the airport Marriott, I’m flying back home Tuesday morning. Then its home for 12 days and back to Houston for at least 3 weeks. If all goes well, I will get my last treatment as a clinical participant on November 13. If the tumors have stabilized or reduced in size, then I will return to Houston every 2 weeks for treatment. I welcome the opportunity to make many return trips here, as long as it keeps me alive. I did some quick math today, and I have spent 33 days in a hotel in the last 37 days. I have traveled over 8,000 nautical miles by private and commercial aircraft, and I have spent over $5,000. Which brings up another opportunity to say THANK YOU to so many of you that have donated money, time, airline miles and tickets, hotel points; you name it. I really haven’t had to pay for an airfare yet. Between Corporate Angel Network (flying for free on private jets) and donated commercial airfare, I have only had to pay $76 for a USAirways “buddy pass” and that was a last minute life saver to get me back home the weekend Brookie had surgery (thanks to Gary and Margaret!). Again, thank you so much, you know who you are…

Not too much to update from the last blog entry. This nagging cough just will not let go. The suspicion is the cancerous nodules in my lungs are causing irritation and thus the cough. Fatigue has been another factor, but sleep easily wipes out this problem at least for a little while.

Actually, there is an update from my last post. Brookie came home last Monday following her surgery Saturday for an emergency appendectomy. She is doing just fine after spending last week at home. In her words she was “bor-ded”…this is how she pronounces “bored”. The kid ain’t all there….

The weekend was another quick one with family, but it was a great one. We drove to Hickory Friday evening and spent the night at my parent’s house. My alma mater, Appalachian State, had their homecoming over the weekend so we zipped up the mountain to Boone Friday evening for the bonfire and fireworks. I can’t believe it’s been over 20 years since I graduated from App. On top of that, Breanne is a senior in high school and is considering App for college. Yikes, am I getting old or what?!? We drove back up the mountain Saturday morning to tailgate with friends, and enjoy the festivities of the day. Kimberly and I both love going to the mountains, so we jump at the chance any time we get it.

The cough and fatigue have shifted my thoughts back to the inevitable for all of us. It’s funny how I can go for weeks and not even think about death, then go thru periods such as lately and think about death often. It’s not an anxiety laced thought process, but instead an examination of what to expect if things take a turn for the worse. Is the cough an early indicator of a worsening condition, one that will eventually lead to my passing on? Will this happen soon, in the next six months? What will it be like when that time comes? Will it be painful and agonizing? Will I go slowly? What does it look like, what does it feel like? Thoughts like this simply create more questions, and in the “I want it now” society we live in we expect answers NOW. Unfortunately, there are no answers to these questions until we experience it personally. What is a person to do? Actually there IS an answer to that question…fully rely on God (FROG). A former co-worker and friend of mine gave me a little silver frog recently with a card of encouragement. My kids first shared the FROG saying with me some time ago, and when I opened the package from my friend I smiled and knew exactly what the tiny medallion meant. When things are going your way, you need to praise God. When you are being challenged by life, you need to seek God; fully rely on God. Times like this test my faith. It is an internal battle that is fought on a daily basis. Seek God, trust God, keep the faith. I must continue this internal dialogue so I don’t go crazy. On a lighter note, have you ever thought what you want as your epitaph? I’ve got mine picked out, and it is as atypical as you would expect from me. I’m not sharing it until the time comes, so you will just have to wait (ha, ha, ha).

Fast forward to 8:30PM Monday evening. I had treatment #2 today and it went off without a hitch. There was some concern that my white cell counts were too low, but they came in just over the acceptable threshold. I was able to talk to the physicians assistant today about my cough. “There is a lot of disease in your lungs” was her statement, and she winced when she said it. “I understand” was my response. The honest truth is this clinical drug needs to do some magic on my cancer, otherwise I have just about run out of options. It is so wildly ironic; I’m in the waiting area today and there are people all around me, dozens of them, with masks over their faces to filter out any germs they may inhale. They too are battling this insidious disease, but unlike me they show signs of the war. Me, I’m standing in the corner trying to avoid contact with others, and I look fine. Man is cancer deceptive.

The fatigue is a side affect of the clinical drug according to the research nurse. I will take fatigue over just about any other side affect. Feeling sick for days on end is simply gut wrenching, and for once in my treatment life I can actually function after a treatment. Thank God for the little things.

Till next time, B…

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Another unexpected twist….

There is never a dull moment in the Stoll household. Kimberly called me early Saturday morning saying “I’m on my way to take Brooke to the emergency room”. WHAT?!? Long story short, her appendix was enlarged and had almost ruptured. Her white blood count was 18,000, which is sky-rocket high and an obvious indication of a major infection. Toxins were building up in her appendix and had it ruptured, she might not have made it. Boy oh boy, another grace of God event that happened without even knowing it. Think about it – they catch it before it becomes a MAJOR issue (if not a fatal event) and she is now home resting and gets a week off of school. Ain’t God great? I was, of course, caught completely off guard by the phone call, so I started scrambling trying to figure out if I can make it back to Greensboro before the surgery Saturday afternoon. I was able to get a flight through a friend (thanks Gary and Margaret!) and spent all day flying back to NC. Brooke got out of surgery when I was waiting for a connecting flight out of Philadelphia, which made the last leg much easier on the mind. So….I was back in the air at 6:30AM this morning. Another 36 hour weekend at home! The funny thing is I left a hotel room in Houston to go to an empty home (not counting Pug 1 and Pug 2). Bre spent the night with a friend Saturday night, and Kimberly stayed at the hospital with Brooke. How ironic.

Back in Houston, today was labs and I have 2 days off until another round of labs on Thursday. It looks like I’ll fly back home Thursday night, fly back to Houston Monday morning for treatment Monday afternoon, and fly back to Greensboro early Tuesday morning. WHEW! My fanny is getting flat from sitting in those oh-so-comfortable airplane seats. NOT! Thank God the treatment is not giving me any side affects so I can travel back home with relative ease. I’ve been in a hotel room for close to month now, so the thought of a couple of weeks at home in my own bed is simply decadent. Sometimes the simple things in life are wonderfully fantastic.

Till next time, B...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

So Far So Good….

Monday was my first treatment on AMG-655, a new clinical drug targeted to kill colon cancer cells. Unbelievably, I had ZERO side affects. If you are not familiar with my situation, I have had many challenges with chemo in the past year and a half. Basically put, it is toxic to me. The only way I can begin to describe the feeling is like getting the flu every two weeks. It’s put me in the emergency room more than once, and made me sick for days on end. I have a cloudy memory of 2005. “If the cancer doesn’t kill, then the chemo will” is a statement I have said many times in the past. Hopefully this is behind me. After a one hour drip and six hours of observation, they sent me to the hotel Monday evening and a short list of possible side affects. My mood was cautious, just waiting for what would certainly be another side affect that would make me feel terrible. It is simply a conditioned response. Thankfully nothing bad happened. Another prayer answered.

I mentioned in my last posting that I had a surprise in store for the weekend. After 19 days away from my family and living in a hotel, I made last minute plans to fly home. My wife and oldest daughter knew I was coming home, but we kept it a secret from my youngest daughter. Through the generosity of Corporate Angel Network, I was able to fly back to Charlotte on a private jet, once again the only passenger on a six seat jet. I was a rock star for a day! This is so cool. We arrived at the hanger in Charlotte around 10PM and Brookie was SO surprised. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. This is why I am fighting so hard to beat this damned disease. We had a fantastic weekend together as a family, spending Saturday touring Franklin Street in Chapel Hill and having lunch at Mama Dips – nothing like down home southern cooking. Sunday was spent at church updating folks on my trip to Houston and packing for my return trip. A very good friend and golfing buddy of mine offered to accompany me back to Houston. We met at his home Sunday evening and staying near the Raleigh airport Sunday night. A 4:30AM wake up call had us ready for a 6:30AM flight on Southwest Airlines. I was literally home for only a day and a half, but it was well worth the time spent flying back and forth to Houston.

This week is mainly lab work to see how the clinical drug is affecting my body. I have two more treatments over the next four weeks, then scans at week seven to see what progress is made against the tumors in my lungs. PRAY for positive results. God bless you all. I should be able to return home after treatment a week from Monday. I am looking forward to the trip back home in a big way.

Till next time, Brian…

Friday, September 15, 2006

A quick update....

Sometimes the best laid plans can go haywire. I was supposed to go in for a PET scan today, only to find out if was rescheduled for Monday. This wouldn't work because I am supposed to start treatment on Monday, and the PET scan is a requirement PRIOR to starting treatment. How do mixup's like this happen ???

I simply decided to show up first thing this morning at the cancer center and see if they could work me in. After a few anxious hours, they called my name and started the 3 hour process of doing a PET scan. Another small prayer answered....

Have a great weekend, I plan on doing something big but I can't tell you yet. Check in on Monday.

Till next time, B...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Coming up on crunch time....

Yesterday revealed more information about my acceptance into the clinical trial and my current situation regarding the severity of my cancer and future prospects. Simply put, I need this clinical trial drug to either stabilize the tumor growth or reduce the size of the tumors in my lungs. I have acquired a nasty little dry cough that is due to the spots in my lungs irritating the surrounding areas. You know how you get a scratchy throat and you try to clear your throat, drink some water - anything to get rid of the sensation? I have the same problem only it's in my lungs and coughing or drinking water doesn't do any good.

My first treatment will be on Monday. Sixty minutes getting intravenousous drip, then six HOURS of observation to make sure the drug doesn't make me grow two heads. The known side affects so far is a mild fever, some nausea, and body aches the first night after treatment. If that's the case, this will be a cakewalk for me. Toxicity to chemo has been an issue from day one, with some episodes lasting well over a week and keeping me bedridden for that long if not longer. The clinical drug will be my only treatment so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the side affects are minimal. I will receive treatment every 2 weeks, with lab work and other tests scattered in between.

As usual, there will be a lot more down time than busy time, such is the case for dealing with an institution this size. I keep busy as best I can, but I must admit there is a whole lot of time to do little if anything at all. No lawn to mow, no cars to wash, no floors to vacuum, no dogs to walk, no kids to cook get the idea. I did have my oldest brother out here for a week which was great. We've never been able to spend that kind of one-on-one time together, ever. We talked a lot about everything, shared a bunch of laughs, and even got in a couple rounds of golf. Doesn't get much better than that.

After my appointment yesterday, I left the cancer center in a wicked mode, a combination of disappointment and anger. The disappointment came from a question I asked of my oncologist. How long, left unchecked, do I have until this situation becomes serious? "Some patients can go months and even a couple of years" until the situation becomes serious. I knew I was going to get that type of answer - "not very long". Remember what I've said before. The mantra for cancer patients is to "Hope for the best and expect the worst". I'm still convinced the medical community takes a course in college entitled "Worst Possible Scenario Patient Discussion 101". The outlook is always so bleak, so heavily laced with pessimism. I appreciate the fact they have to be up front and honest with you. Data is data, no arguing that fact, and when the data suggests you have a limited time frame, well then...… The last thing I want is to be mislead into thinking I'm okay and will live to be 100 years old. But at the same time the delivery of the message, simply put, sucks. Part of the problem is I'm a sales guy. Not only can I turn lemons into sweet tasting lemonade, I'll sell a tall cool glass of it to you and make you think you got the best deal of the day. Hey, my initials are BS, what did you expect? Seriously, you can tell me the facts but give me a glimmer of hope to boot. Such is not the case with most folks in the medical community. God bless them all, they have a tough job that at times yields terrible results. Cancer sucks.

The anger side of the situation involves my inability to lay down and give up. There is this small part of me that is prepared to give up, to accept the fact that I have terminal cancer and I need to go peacefully. Whenever I encounter that part of me, I bring out the virtual sledgehammer and beat the hell out of it. I'm going to fight this damned disease until the bitter end. For those of you that do not know me, I'm a pretty laid back guy, not easily rattled, and I can adapt to most any scenario. Yet there is a competitive streak in me that wants to win at all costs, regardless of what I'm doing. The interesting part is I typically keep that driven determination hidden. It is a part of my nature, part of my makeup. You can thumb your nose at me, but I'm going to whip your butt in the end and you probably won't even see it coming until it's too late. I love a good challenge.

Many of you ask how I cope with situations like this or make comments like "there is no way I could go through what you are going through". The truth is I have learned how to adapt. Stuff like this used to freak me out, send me into a panic striken funk. It's different now. There is a split second of dissapointment and frustration, selfish "why me" stuff. When the "why me" enters my mind I've learned to turn it off, and do so NOW. No time to think junk like that. We all are faced with what appears to be insurmountable challenges and you know what? We get through them. Some of us do a better job than others. My secret is this - the true peace comes when I think of one, simple thought. Something that immediately brings a smile to my face and a comfortable warmth to my soul. Something that makes me realize it's all going to be okay. What is it? Heaven. If you believe in salvation, you know there is a heaven where the streets are paved with gold, where there is no pain, no suffering, no cancer, nothing at all negative. If I die tomorrow, I know I'm in good hands, and I'm not talking about Allstate. The good Lord has got a grip on me and it's a good one. He will protect me. Do I want to die tomorrow? Hell no. I have a wife and kids and a lot of living yet to do. I love the feeling of the hot sun on my face. I relish the smell of sweet flowers, blooming in all their colorful splendor. There's something about hitting a golf ball exactly like you intended to and grinning from ear to ear when you see the results (and the astonished look of amazement on the faces of your fellow competitors). I love life and I have been blessed beyond comparison. But - if my ticket is punched tomorrow and my time is up - I rejoice in the fact that I get to enter into the visual presence of our creator and enter into a land where there is no pain, where this is no suffering, where cancer does not exist. That's not a bad thing.

Tomorrow is consumed with waiting for a PET scan. I'm on the schedule for 1:30, but you have to fast for at least 6 hours prior to the scan. The heck with that, I'm showing up first thing in the morning and beg them to work me in so I can eat something before 6PM! It takes a total of at least 3 hours for the scan and the required "down time" after the scan. If I have to wait until 1:30, then I won't get out of the cancer center until 5 or 6PM. Forget that! Stay tuned.

Till next time...Brian.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Just another manic Monday...

First and foremost, Godspeed to the families of the victims of 9/11. Can it really be five years later? Boy does time fly, but the raw feelings of 9/11 remain strong in all of us. Let us not forget.

Well, today was a busy day if you consider counting the dots in the ceiling tiles as being busy. I arrived at the Cancer Center at 7:30AM for my first scheduled appointment of the day. Only 3-1/2 hours until my last appointment, so I should be out of here by noon, right? WRONG! Man this place is just packed with people, so many innocent souls stricken by this dreaded disease. Again I look around the waiting area and see so many folks that are struggling big time with the effects of chemo and radiation. Cancer sucks. After my 7:30 appointment I had time to talk to the research nurse regarding the clinical trial they want me to participate in. She answered my questions and went over the schedule with me. The good thing is the clinical drug is the ONLY treatment I will receive, so I’m off regular chemo at least for a couple of months. If all goes as scheduled, I will be home by Thanksgiving, with a few quick trips home to see the kids. If I don’t have any serious side effects from the clinical drug and it yields positive results, I will return to Houston every 2 weeks for a one day treatment for an indefinite period of time. Let’s pray for positive results. After we reviewed everything, I asked the clinical nurse “why am I a good candidate for this clinical trial?” Because you are in excellent health was her response. I find this wildly ironic; I’m in excellent health, and I have cancer…oh well, you work with what you have. Thank God I am in relative good health. I will be the 21st person to participate in this trial, which is pretty cool. I’m going to be on the cutting edge of research, hopefully contributing in a positive way to the trial while getting the benefit on a drug that is not yet FDA approved. Hopefully I will be one of those participants that will go into the research books as a participant that had positive results. If the results are good and the drug shows promise for everyone, then it will gain FDA approval. I must admit this is complicated stuff and difficult for me to articulate (and understand). However, this is why I’m here so let’s strap in for the ride.

After meeting with the clinical nurse, I went to the waiting area for my CT scan. Again, the room is overflowing with people. A few folks are in wheelchairs, unable to walk on their own. One of those folks was a young girl. I overheard her father talking to one of the nurses, confirming her personal information. She was born in December 1988. The same month and year Breanne was born. Only 17 years old, and she is confined to a wheelchair due to the callous affects of cancer. Damn this disesase. It makes me hurt and get angry all at the same time. I felt so sorry for this child, who was obviously scared but was most likely a “veteren” of the treatment circuit. Why must she suffer? Why her instead of my child? Stop. I cannot ask why, it’s not my place to do so. Instead I must focus on the mission at hand while praying for people like this young girl, praying that God will give this child peace and comfort. Damn this disease.

Well, I was able to get out of the Cancer Center by 2:30PM. Not too bad. You simply have to be patient, wait your turn, and count your blessings that we have a place like MD Anderson to come to in our time of need. It beats the heck out of inpatience and getting cranky because your day is shot waiting on the next appointment.

I’m back on Wednesday for a meeting with the oncologist, another scan, and more tests. If all goes as planned, I’m starting treatment on Thursday. A one hour drip followed by six hours of observation. Maybe I’ll take a nap.

Till next time...Brian.