Post-Disney Visit

Just a quick update.  Yesterday marked the end of our adventures at Disney World.  We focused on the “left-side” of the park, visiting primarily Adventureland and Frontierland.  The highlight (for my daughter) was getting to actually meet with Ariel (pictures soon); we waited in line for 60 minutes, but we got to see Ariel (for those of you who scoff, it’s much like waiting in line at a Six Flags for the newest rollercoaster that last for only a few minutes).  Other excitement included a ride on the Jungle Boat, the Peter Pan ride, and “It’s a Small World” (which I would have been happy to avoid, but my daughter and younger son really enjoyed the ride).

Much of the joy of the trip was watching my daughter as she took it all in.  Everything was exciting and magical and that, as much as anything, made the trip a success.  Of course, the kids immediately asked when we were going back, and my response was that we’d go back in 2013, to celebrate my 5-year survivorship.

We are currently visiting with my father and step-mother.  My dad continues to have breathing problems (though, from what I can tell, the doctors are not completely sure what’s going on).  As a result, he gets winded easily and appears much more fragile than I know he is.  Nevertheless, I am glad that we can add this visit onto our family vacation.  Tomorrow we head back home and real life.  I’m not sure I’m ready for that.  I much prefer having to worry about important things like which park to go to or which rides to do.

As I said, I’ll have pictures from the last day up for your viewing pleasure shortly.  Thank you for “joining” us on our family vacation.  You are all invited to join us in 2013, in person, if you would like.

Cheers,

Merle 

Epcot – Part Deux

Today was our second day at Epcot.  As with Disney Hollywood Studios, much of Epcot (particularly the World Showcase) is designed to be experienced.  The morning was spent in the front half of Epcot (Future World, I believe) in the Innovention and Imagination pavilions.  We came back to the condo in the afternoon to give the kids an opportunity to rest (which none of them did).  MaryBeth took the kids swimming (except my oldest, who had some homework to complete).

We headed back to Epcot after dinner in the condo and strolled about the World Showcase.  We stayed until the end, getting an opportunity to watch Illuminations (the Epcot finale laser light and fireworks display).  Tomorrow is our <sniff> last day at Disney, and we’ll be spending out time at the Magic Kingdom.  We’ll be leaving Disney late in the afternoon to head over to Sarasota to spend time with my father and step-mother, before heading back to Atlanta.

As you can see in some of the pictures (as always, you can view the embedded slideshow below or view the slideshow in a separate, larger window), the Epcot horticulturalists do a great job creating topiaries of the various Disney Princesses.

Not sure I’ll blog tomorrow night or the rest of the weekend.  If not, I’ll have something for you on Monday (before I head out to Denver for work).

Cheers,

Merle

Disney Hollywood Studios – Part Deux

So today was spent back at DHS: the morning and early afternoon with the whole family and the late afternoon and evening with just my younger son.  The morning was spent walking from location to location trying to find characters for signatures (we did better today than the last time we were at DHS).  I’m bummed, though, that the one autograph we did not get was Woody’s (the line to see Woody was always really quite long).  The morning was spent on the Great Movie Ride (again), the Disney Animation Studio tour (where we saw the Incredibles), and going to Beauty and the Beast, the Musical (a hit with the whole family).

By the time we had done all that, it was time to head back to the condo for lunch.  MaryBeth and I decided that our daughter could use another low key afternoon/evening, so they stayed home, swam, played on the play ground and generally took it easy.  My older son also chose to stay home, ostensibly to play the new DS game he bought with his souvenir money.  I think, however, that he was also overstimulated and needed the time away from the crowds.

So my younger son and I went back and did all the shows and rides that we did not think was appropriate for our daughter.  We rode the Tower of Terror (twice), the Rockin’ Roller Coaster (twice — my fave), and Toy Story Mania (twice).  We also went to the Lights, Motor, Action Extreme Stunt Spectacular (a vehicular stunt show), the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, and Fantasmic (the big Finale program at DHS).  So all in all, I had an afternoon and evening of quality (I think) alone time with my younger son.

I know I haven’t really mentioned this previously, but our condo is located wonderfully close to all the parks.  This evening, we got out of our last ride at 10:05p.  We had to walk to the park entrance, take the tram to our parking spot, walk to our car from the tram spot, and drive back to the condo; when all was said and done, we were home by 10:25p.  We couldn’t ask for a closer condo (unless we were actually ON Disney property).

I only had my camera with me for the 1st half of the day, so there are only 10 pictures (embedded below or accessible through this link).

Merle

Day 4 – Animal Kingdom

It’s all about one’s frame of reference. Today we went to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and in our pre-trip research, we had read basically two different reviews of the park.  On the one hand, there are those who said that people could do the whole park in 1/2 a day and then there are those who say it’s a full day (plus) kinda park.  One reviewer summed it up by saying that the trick to enjoying the park is to remember that Animal Kingdom is all about “BEING” and not about “DOING.”  I went to the park, expecting to look at animals, enjoy some shows, and maybe ride some rides (as opposed to expecting to ride rides and maybe do a show or two) and you know, that’s what we did.

The day started out racing to the back of the park to take the Safari.  For those of you who don’t know, Animal Kingdom is essentially a zoo; a Disney-fied zoo, to be sure, but a zoo nonetheless.  The Safari runs through a wildlife preserve and we got to see a bunch of animals.  There weren’t any animals you couldn’t see at any respectable zoo, but Disney puts a nice spin on it by including a storyline for the tour.

We spent a large portion of the day walking about looking at animals (including a petting zoo in which folks could groom / brush the animals — mostly goats) and watching shows (the bird show, Finding Nemo, The Musical), but we also were able to get in several rides, including a roller coaster.  One funny story — I have a thing about getting wet at theme parks, but when my family all said they wanted to go on the raging rapids boat ride, I said sure.  As we were seated in the boat, a woman from another family sat next to me and I told her that I had incredibly bad luck with these kind of rides.  Sure enough, *I* got soaked.  I finally dried out by the time we left the park.

On the autograph side, we got a couple of new ones, including Baloo and King Louie, Pocahontas, Jimminy Cricket, and Rafiki.  Interesting story about Baloo and King Louie: the cast member in charge of the pair made it a point to say that only Baloo would sign; however, when we got up there and MB asked Baloo to sign my shirt (explaining what the shirt says), King Louie decided he wanted to sign too.  Now, King Louie’s costume doesn’t have flexible fingers, so the cast member wedged the pen into the hand and Louie gave me his autograph.  The cast member said this is only the 3rd time she had ever seen King Louie do that.  I guess there are some benefits to having cancer, but, truth be told, I’d be willing to give up Louie’s (and even Buzz’s) autograph in lieu of having cancer.

I told MaryBeth that we’ll come back to Disney in 2013 to celebrate my 5-year survival of this cancer.  You see, Disney is all about people celebrating something — your first time to the parks, your birthday or anniversary, even your un-birthday.  I have a button that says I am celebrating finishing chemo.  Several people have congratulated me and today, I had the opportunity to chat with another cancer survivor.

Tomorrow, we head back to Disney Hollywood Studios; the whole family will go for the first half of the day, but MaryBeth and my daughter will stay home in the afternoon / evening, so I can ride some of the more scary rides with the boys.

And lest you think I forgot, here is the link to the pictures from today, as well as the embedded slideshow.  Enjoy.

Merle

Disney – Day 3.5

Today was a recovery day.  MaryBeth went to visit her grandmother in Lakeland, FL, while the kids and I stayed back at the condo.  (Originally, we were thinking that all of us would go to Lakeland to visit with great grandma, but we found out before we left that Peggy might not be up for all the activity of our kids.)  While we were at the condo, the boys worked on their homework that they got before leaving, while my daughter and I played with dolls.

By the time MaryBeth got back to the condo, we got everyone ready to go to the park, loaded the car, drove there, etc., it was about 4p before we got into Disney Hollywood Studios.  My goodness it was crowded.   We spent a lot of time at various shows.  The kids really enjoyed the Great Movie Ride, the Voyage of the Little Mermaid, and Muppets in 3D.  We were also able to get into Buzz Lightyear (one of the big attractions at DHS).

As for characters, the lines to the characters were exceptionally long, except to see Prince Caspian (my daughter did wonder a little who Caspian was, but she liked the fact that he was a Prince).  The general consensus among the family, though, was that the Journey to Narnia “attraction” was less than worth the wait.  Essentially, the “attraction” was video clips from the movie. Bleah…

The kids did enjoy trading their pins, though.  For those of you who don’t know, Disney has pins that people can buy.  Folks put the pins on their lanyard, on their hats, or on some other thing and folks can then trade pins with one another and/or with a cast member.  Well, one of the books we used to do our pre-trip research (okay, we’re geeky) suggested that kids with the need to develop social skills might benefit from pin trading.  So I went on Ebay and bought 40 pins that we divided between our kids.  So now they go up to cast members and try to trade pins.  It’s pretty fun to watch.  My daughter is trying to get all princess themed pins; my older son is looking for pins with “hidden Mickeys” on them; and my younger son is going for an all pirate theme.  For those of you who don’t know (as it was described to me), the “hidden Mickey” pins are unique in that they are not sold in stores; they are distributed through the cast members.  Whether they are valuable or not, my older son thinks so and is enjoying looking for them.

Tomorrow we finish out the first four days at Disney by going to the last of the parks, Animal Kingdom.  More to report tomorrow.

Merle

Epcot Day at Disney (Disney Day 3ish)

Today started earlier than yesterday because we booked a “Princess Breakfast” for our daughter (of course, the boys were just THRILLED at being at a breakfast buffet with only princess characters).  Our daughter loved it, though, from my point of view, it was a little disappointing that of the 4 princesses, we had seen 2 last night; I mean, if you are going to go to pay a premium for princesses, they should be ones you haven’t seen.  We did, however, get new autographs from Princess Jasmine and Mulan.  In the end, I think Disney should program their breakfasts around me and my family.  What’s so unreasonable about that?

Breakfast was over by 9:30 or so, and the World of Nations does not open up until 11a, so we went to Tomorrow Land and did Test Track and Mission: Space.  Test Track was COOOL!  For those of you who don’t know, it’s sponsored by GM and you basically sit in a “test car” and go through some obstacles, finishing up with a high speed lap around the builiding.  It was fun to go fast.  My oldest son pretty much summed it up when he said, “Me likey!”  Afterward, we spent some time looking at (sitting in / playing with) various GM cars.  Mission: Space is a flight simulator which was okay, but not great.  They did work in some interactivity to this simulator, which is nice, but I don’t have any desire to do again.

My friend Seann and his family joined us and we went into the World of Nations.  Now, the various nations are Disney-fied representations of different countries of the world.  It’s a nice touch that all the cast members in a given nation is from that country.  However, by and large, the nations are more an adult thing.  Disney is trying to get kids involved by having the “Team Possible” challenge.  Essentially, kids can sign up and get a cell phone and get clues to a secret something in each nation.  The problem with the program, though, is that kids have to go to a particular location and find out which country to go to.  As far as I know, there’s no way to get the challenge for the country you are in or want to go to…you are at the mercy of the game.

Two sets of kids from our group did the first challenge.  My boys enjoyed the searching thing in Mexico, but the ending was underwhelming and they opted not to do another challenge.  Seann’s girls loved it and would have done it more, but we had to get together for lunch.  Your mileage may vary.

After lunch, we hit the Seas (with Nemo), Spaceship Earth, and the Epcot Character Spot (where my daughter got together again with Mickey, Minnie, and Pluto (no need for duplicate autographs), but also got new autographs from Donald Duck and Goofy.  Beyond that, the only other new autograph was Aladdin’s.

In general, today was a good day, but I had the sense that we just didn’t do all that much.  It seemed less productive than yesterday.  Perhaps it’s just we’re all tired.  Tomorrow morning is a sleep in morning, so perhaps we’ll get rested by then.

In the meantime, please take a look at the embedded slide show from Disney Day 3 or you can view the slideshow (a little larger) in a new window.

Enjoy (what’s left of) the evening.

Merle

Disney-Day 2ish

A couple of notes: (A) I’m fine.  I’m a little tired and my stomach seems to be giving me some fits (largely because I keep forgetting to take my enzymes), but I seem to have recovered from the chemo; (B) This blog is written as if it were still yesterday; that is, it is currently 12:50a on Sunday morning and I am pretending it’s still yesterday; and (C) I say this is Day 2ish only because today was really our first real day in the parks.  Yesterday was more of Disney batting practice.  And now, on with the blog!

Today started bright and early for me (like at 4:30a, that is).  I have this problem, you see.  When I am excited about something, I have trouble sleeping.  I woke up at 4:30a and my heart was racing and it wasn’t until this evening that I realized how excited I was about going to Disney.  The rest of the gang woke up at 7a and we ate breakfast in the condo and headed out ot the Magic Kingdom (I mean, really!  Disney World to my daughter *IS* the Magic Kingdom, so there really wasn’t much of a choice).

The morning activities were more suited to my daughter, as we stopped on our way back to Fantasyland to get autographs from any character we saw. Now, while my daughter has an autograph book, MaryBeth doggedly also got each character to sign a copy of my “I’m done with chemo” shirt.  Most of the characters write their name, but some of them use stamps.  Buzz Lightyear is one of the characters that uses stamps — usually!  Apparently, on hearing that I was at Disney celebrating being done with chemo (I have a button saying so, and everything), he decided to sign my shirt himself; according to his handler, my shirt was the only authentic Buzz Lightyear autograph given out today (Down cynical side!  Down!  I am sure the handler wouldn’t just say that to make us feel good…Down you cynic)!

A partial list of our signees include: Mickey, Minnie, Buzz, Snow White, Belle, Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Cinderella, Alice (in Wonderland), Pooh Bear, Eyeore (probably the cutest signature for the day), Chip & Dale, Pluto, and Lady Tremaine (the evil stepmother from Cinderella).  Not bad for a day.  More tomorrow, I hope.  There’s plenty of room on the shirt!

The pictures today are largely daughter-centric.  I spent much of the day either standing with my daughter to get autographs or riding rides with my sons.  The former is much more conducive to taking pictures.  I was able to get some of the other kids, though, and a rarely seen picture of my wife (don’t tell her I put it in).  The embedded slide show is below or you can open a somewhat larger version by clicking here.

Tomorrow (um…today) starts at about the same time, but we are having a Princess breakfast in Norway (well, the Norway pavilion in Epcot.  Afterward, my best friend from college, Seann, and his family are coming to join us for a day of roaming the nations of Epcot.  Not sure how long we’ll last, as we didn’t get home this evening (um…yesterday) until a little after 11p (though, we did come back to the condo in the middle of the day so that my daughter – and wife – could take a nap; the boys swam; I puttered around the condo).

Time for me to take a shower and head off to bed for a brisk 5+ hours of sleep.  Heck, I’m at Disney, I can sleep next week.

Merle

Disney – Day 1

Hello blog readers. Let me apologize about not blogging yesterday. The condo in which we are staying does NOT have a wireless connection (and I didn’t find this out until we got back from the evening’s festivities, which I’ll talk about that in a moment).

Our day began in beautiful, north Valdosta; all of us were rested and ready to get going. We actually made extraordinarily good time, which was a bad thing. You see, our room was not supposed to be ready until 4p, so when we were about 30 minutes away at 1p, we had to think of something quickly. As we were driving down Route 27, looking at the citrus trees, MaryBeth wondered aloud whether there was such a thing as “U-Pic” oranges. Not 15 minutes later, what do you know? We find a U-Pic Citrus farm. How better to pass the time?

So we pulled off and picked ourselves a ¼ bushel of oranges – couldn’t ask for much fresher, eh? (I have to say, though, that I still prefer to pick apples, as it is MUCH easier to eat the <ahem> fruits of your labor when one is picking a fruit whose skin can be eaten.) Nevertheless, 10lbs of oranges and an hour later, we were back on the road again.

We arrived at the condo around 2:30p or so and, well, our room wasn’t ready. Hmmm…we had a car full of anxious children, luggage, and dry foods – what to do? SWIM! So we dug through the suitcases (which, of course, were in the most inconvenient part of the car) and got everyone’s swim suit. We swan in, what I am sure, was a heated (to bathtub temperature) pool for about 45+ minutes. After which, I got dressed and checked in.

We unloaded the car, unpacked, did an inventory, went shopping for remaining necessities, came home, made and ate dinner, and then we were off to the races. The plan was simple: head over to the Polynesian Resort and watch the Electric Light Parade (a water based parade of lighted floats) and then watch the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom.

What we didn’t plan on was the blustery, near hurricane force winds (well, okay, probably not THAT windy, but it was pretty darn windy), that impeded MY enjoyment of the evening. Hey? I’m in Florida – you know, sunny, WARM, Florida. Well, guess what? When the sun goes down, it’s not so warm. I was out in my short sleeve shirt and shorts and was FREEZING. (Have I mentioned that chemo makes me temperature sensitive??)

Well, I found a towel, wrapped it around myself, and tried not to shiver too much. The kids thoroughly enjoyed the beach outside the Polynesian Resort and did not even notice (I don’t think) the cool temperature. I endured and the gang saw the fireworks (I even was quasi successful at getting images (which, is difficult if one does not have a tripod). Then we piled into the car, got back to the condo, threw the kids into the bathtub, and everyone promptly fell asleep (except me, as I am sitting up late writing this blog in Word, so that I can upload it more quickly tomorrow).

There you have it: a somewhat brief exposé of Day one in Disney.  I have embedded the slideshow below, but if you would like, you can see a larger version of it on Flikr here.

Tomorrow, the FUN really begins.

Merle

Disney – Day 0.5

First, let me say that I really appreciate everyone who continues to read my blog and who voiced support for my ending chemo.  I have to say that I remain surprised at the number of people who read — thank you!  A special thank you to Annie Ruth, who has been one of my biggest, most vocal, supporters over these last 11 months.  She took the time to call and leave a cheer on our voicemail that brought a smile to my face during an otherwise kinda yucky, chemo-y day!  Thanks also to JoAnn, Paul, Jenn, and the myriad of parents at karate who continue to be so supportive.

I say this is day 0.5 because we are in Valdosta, GA (only 4 hours from Disney World), and the mood in the room is palpable.  All the kids are, to one degree or another, too excited to sleep (though, my daughter was the first to say she couldn’t sleep and is the first one to konk out).  I think she believes if she squints really hard she can see Cinderella’s Castle from our hotel room window.  I know I promised pictures, but we got here late at night and everyone pretty much got into their pajamas (which for many of our family, that means their underwear) and got into bed…needless to say, I didn’t think there was any reason to document that particular sight.  However, I thought I would show you what the t-shirt that MaryBeth designed for me looks like:

FRONT (click for a larger image):

BACK (click for larger image):

One more thing, today I received an Email from my House Representative, John Linder.  As I have mentioned, I am participating in the PANCAN 7 Week Challenge to increase awareness of pancreatic cancer and to encourage our leaders in Congress to support HR 745.  As part of the challenge, I have contacted Representative Linder 3 times (twice by Email and once by fax) to request that he support this legislation.  In his response to me he says…

I have continually supported increased funding of our nation’s public health agencies…[H]owever, higher funding levels for NIH and CDC-sponsored research should come within the context of a larger, fiscally-responsible budget.  Rather than make the budget deficit larger than it already is, the Congress and President should work together to reach agreement on reducing spending elsewhere in the budget, so that the overall budget remains on track to become balanced.  Under these kinds of circumstances, I could support providing the NIH and CDC with higher funding levels.

I understand his point, but I am going to be selfish and say that if not by adding to the deficit, perhaps Congress can funnel more of the proposed $6 billion President Obama has identified in the FY10 budget for cancer research toward research on pancreas cancer in particular.  Certainly, this would not be the first time funds were specified to support a particular program…or am I missing something.

Until tomorrow…

Merle

THE END-ish

Well, here it is: my last day of treatment of this stage of my cancer. Like a good pavlovian dog, I started feeling nauseous as soon as I got in the car to come to the hospital. Now, I may have mentioned that in times past I have had difficulty with the parking garage, or the wait to get treatment, or the side effects after treatment. Debra, a good friend, suggested that instead of letting these things bother me, I should just accept the fact that chemo sucks and just expect a generally sucky day when going for chemo. The nice thing, that little pep talk helped; I have been (somewhat) less annoyed at the parking garage (though, I continue to be surprised that some people think a Ford Escalade is a compact vehicle). Moreover, I have been much less upset by the process of getting my labs drawn and getting treatment. Just that simple reframing really helped.  Nevertheless ,when I got to the hospital today, though, the parking garage fairy was looking down on me and a car was pulling out of the FIRST parking space as I was pulling into the garage! *SNAP*

I have to say, though, that I am feeling particularly angst-y with this last treatment.  This treatment represents the last thing I am scheduled to actively do to fight the cancer (beyond the general eating right, exercising, taking my vitamins, and saying my prayers — some of you might get that odd reference).  Moving forward, my fight with cancer becomes passive; I live my life, keeping up hope, but there are no plans to have any other treatments unless something shows up on a CT scan.  The other day, my friend Karen, called me a Type A personality (actually, I think she said I was a laid back Type A — which seems very similar to calling someone an uptight Type B person).  At any rate, I am not sure I agree with that assessment, but I do know that I don’t like waiting, but for all intents and purposes, that’s what I’ll be doing from here on out.

On a happier note, I’m wearing one of my birthday presents today: a t-shirt MaryBeth designed (using an inkjet printer and iron-on transfer). On the front, there’s a picture of me in my “I’m not dead yet” t-shirt with the phrase, “Merle, you just finished chemo. Whacha gonna do?” On the back, there is a picture of Cinderella’s castle and the phrase, “I’m going to Disney World.” I felt it was particularly appropriate to wear this t-shirt to my last chemo treatment.

Tomorrow, the family and I will load into the car (when the boys get home from school) and start our drive to Valdosta, GA (which is a little more than half-way between our house and Disney World. We’ll drive the remaining distance on Friday and begin our adventures in Kissimmee.

In preparing for our trip, I have read many different Disney-based message forums and uniformly I remain in awe at how obsessive some of the people going to Disney can be. For example, there are the people who include all the different dates they have gone and resorts they have stayed at over the years as part of their signature. Now, I do understand going to the same vacation spot yearly (though, I tend not to do this), but one of the things that makes Disney “magical” is that we haven’t gone a lot. It’s a special trip and something that our kids will hopefully remember fondly for years to come (I mean, that’s a major reason why we are going — so the whole family can have this magical vacation in the event that I respond less than optimally to this treatment).

Despite my lack of picture blogging thus far, my goal for this trip is to blog daily about our adventures, including pictures.  You can be sure I’ll be taking the pictures; hopefully, I’ll be able to get them on the web.  In the meantime, thank you, as always, for joining me on this journey.  I enjoy this particular milestone all the more knowing all of you are there supporting me.

Merle