I’m a Wood Badger and I Want…

As I said in my last post, it’s been a year since I was diagnosed with pancreas cancer.  It was also a year ago this weekend, that I attended the first weekend of MY Wood Badge course.  For those of you who do not remember, Wood Badge is a 6-day training program for Cub and Boy Scout leaders, to help develop skills to be the best leaders for their scouts.  I commented last year, in several blog posts, that several of the staff had indicated that I was an inspiration to them (and how I felt, and still feel to a lesser extent, that what I am doing is not terribly inspirational).

It is now one year later and I am no longer a Wood Badge participant.  Instead, I am a Wood Badge staffer and I have attended 4 staff development meetings to get ready for this weekend, and I am more excited now than I was when I was a participant (and NO! it’s not because last year I had just found out about the cancer and this year, I’m done with treatment — though, that IS a very, VERY good difference).  I really have enjoyed my time on staff so far and I have been assured that I will like it even more once the participants arrive.

At any rate, a couple of weeks ago, the staff Scribe (the scout version of a secretary) asked me to write something for the “Gilwell Gazette” (the Wood Badge newsletter).  When I asked for guidance, he told me that I could write anything I wanted that would inspire the staff.  I am including below what I wrote for your edification.

Merle

I’m strange! I work on the top floor of a 10-story building, and every day as I get to work I have a conversation with myself about whether I will use the stairs or the elevator. Of course part of me wonders if I should just take the elevator because it will be easy, but then another part of me argues that I should take the stairs because it’s good exercise. I can honestly say, though, that over the last year I have walked the stairs probably 90% of the time. In the end, I usually realize that option that is good for me is not always the easiest option (of course, there is also the piece that I feel guilty when I do, in fact, take the elevator).

Part of our job as scout leaders is to inspire the young people we serve to grow, develop, and mature and perhaps to help them decide which options through life THEY want to take. To inspire or motivate someone into their own greatness is one of the greatest gifts we can give. Each and every scout has latent skills, talents, and ideas for which he has hopes and dreams. If we can be just a small part of helping him to see the possibilities and to move forward and break the barriers that will give these dreams life, we have caused the world to be a better place. But how can WE inspire each of these scouts?

Albert Einstein once said, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.” Thus, we can inspire our young people by serving as a model of appropriate behavior. Inadvertently, I guess, I have done that for the last year. You see, it was almost one year ago today that I found out I had pancreas cancer (indeed, I found out the Wednesday before I came to MY first Wood Badge weekend). People have commented that I have inspired them, in part, because despite getting this diagnosis, I have continued to live my life. I have dealt with my situation the only way I know how: taking each day one at a time; naming the problem; and having an open discussion with folks about how I am dealing with my illness.

People have told me that they were inspired because I didn’t hide from my cancer; I met my “challenge” full on rather than hiding from it. I have been not only willing to speak candidly about my diagnosis, but, more importantly, to continue to live my life to the fullest in spite of it. But why should that be inspirational? A friend of mine suggested that when people learned of my diagnosis and how I was dealing with it, they stopped to think how they would react in my situation.

Perhaps people were inspired because they were not sure they could continue to function if faced with the same challenges I have been. I believe, however, that people are wonderfully resilient. By and large, we all learn to deal with the challenges (large and small) we are dealt, each and every day. While we can guess how we might respond in situations such as mine, the reality is that we really do not know how we’ll react. What my friend was suggesting, and I have come to believe fully, is that we often surprise ourselves, responding to tragedy (or just simple challenges) with grace and dignity.

Our scouts face a myriad of challenges with school, friends, sports, band, dating, and so on. The challenges our young people face may not be as life-threatening as cancer, but to these scouts, they are just as serious. Sometimes the most important thing to help inspire or motivate someone to continue is a little encouragement, a friendly smile, or a vote of confidence from someone else. As scout leaders, we are uniquely placed to provide that encouragement. Other times what’s most important is to just lead by example.

I truly believe we can all help to inspire our scouts by living our lives as role models. Through our actions, we can show them that, sometimes, choosing the more difficult pathway is the best way to go. Paraphrasing the words of John Quincy Adams, If your actions inspire your scouts to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a truly a successful scout leader!

Happy Anniversary

It is with bitter sweet apprehension that I celebrate today.  One year ago, today, was (essentially) diagnosed with pancreas cancer.  Despite my beliefs to the contrary, here it is one year later and I’m (STILL) Not Dead Yet!  This has been a tumultous ride for me and, though I have said it several times before, I want to make sure you all understand just how important and helpful it is to me that you have joined me on this trek.

I don’t blog all that much anymore (though, as I have previously stated, I keep having plans to pick that up again and just blog about me and my life (rather than me dealing with cancer — though, in many ways, they are one in the same).  When I logged on today, however, I was tickled to see that people are still reading and leaving comments; it made me smile (thank you Adele and Michele and Sherri and Debra and…and…and…).

It’s funny; I’m not sure if I am imagining this or not, but it seems the last several days I have said the following phrase to people many times: “The nice thing about pancreas cancer…”  Usually, it has been in the context of people telling me I look good / don’t look sick.  Essentially, I tell folks that one of the nice things about pancreas cancer is that it doesn’t really impact someone externaly until it gets pretty advanced; even while I was going through chemo and radiation (before my surgery), I was still able to get around pretty okay and stay active.  I expect that should the tumors come back, I will continue that effort.

I guess I’ve been lucky that the majority of my “problems” associated with pancreas cancer have been treatment related: being nauseaus after chemo, my digestive quirks (a result of my “replumbing” surgery).  Today, I feel good.  This is a good thing!

For those of you who have asked (or have wondered), my father was discharged from the hospital in the Bahamas on Tuesday and traveled back to the U.S. on Wednesday.  He will be following up with his doctors shortly, but for now, he feels better (of course, when he was taken off the cruise ship, he was hypertensive and had great difficulty breathing — in retrospect it would be hard to feel worse)!

One thing that many people have commented about recently is my continued hair growth.  As I mentioned earlier this month, my hair has been growing much more quickly in the since I’ve been off chemo.  It’s amazing, you stop taking medicine designed to slow fast cell growth and guess what, among other things, your hair grows faster.   For the first time in many, many, many months, I think I actually need to have a haircut.

Again, thank you for your love and support!

Merle

Busy weekend

Hello boys and girls and welcome for another (delayed though it might be) installment of “How is Merle Doing Today!”  I’m your host…um…er…Merle, and well, let’s get to it.

I am in day 5 of my 2 month reprieve from hospitals and I have to say I’m a little lost as to what to do with myself.  Actually, I have to come clean; I actually will go to the hospital a couple of times in the next 2 months, but that is to attend the pancreas cancer support group the first Thursday of each month.

Physically, I’m getting better and better each day.  I have slowly built up my tolerance to running and am again running at 6mph again (I had been running closer to 7mph before all this fun stuff began, but when I went back to running a couple of months ago, I could hardly muster 5.5mph.  I’m glad I’m getting my running legs back.  It’s my goal to be able to run the Pancreas Cancer fun run in November.  :-)

This weekend was particularly busy.  As I have mentioned previously, I am on the training staff for this years WoodBadge program.  We have had 4 staff development meetings and next week we start the real thing.  Originally, I was tapped to be part of the logistics team (and I continue to function in that capacity), but I was also tapped to be the course photographer, too (which I love).  So I’m looking forward to the coming weekend.

You see, on Day 2 of the training, the participants engage in an activity in which they make rockets out of coke bottles (they’ll be filled with water and pressurized and then “launched.”  One of the staff members, though, has an airplane and while they are having the rocket lauchings, he and I (and maybe another staff member) will go to the airplane and I’ll get some aerial shots of the activity.  Anywho, we flew the trip this past weekend and it was a blast.  That was my first time in a Cessna (or any really small airplane) and it was way cool.  I got some pictures of the fun!

Ross’s plane is named after his wife (I believe)

For some reason, Ross let ME fly the plane!

Me with Trixie after the flight.  Did I mention it was way cool?

On the downside of things this weekend, I got some discouraging news about my Dad.  As you will recall, he had surgery to treat his lung cancer last May.  Well, over the past several months, he has had difficulty breathing, which, it turns out, was due to some pneumonia.  Well, he and a bunch of other folk from the family went on a cruise this past week and on Saturday, my father was feeling so yucky that he ended up being taken off the cruise ship and admitted to a hospital in Nassau.

I talked with him today and he is due to be discharged either today or tomorrow (depending on when he and my step mom can get a flight out of Nassau.  I suggested to my Dad that perhaps going into the hospital was a bit extreme for wanting to stay in the Bahamas.  He agreed.

Okay, kids, it’s time for bed.  In short, I’m okay.  The family is okay.  My dad, well, he’s working on being okay.

Hope you are okay…

Merle

No News is DAMN Good News!

I just wanted to leave a quick note about my appointment today.  I am happy to report that my bloodwork is generally clear (I still have low red and white blood cell counts, but they’re presumably coming up).  The really big news is that there was no appreciable change in my CT scan.  As a result, I am done with the hospital and Dr. Kauh until June.  YEAH!

I would like to ask you to send your positive thoughts and energy to Cindy, a woman from my pancreatic support group I mentioned previously.  Cindy was diagnosed a month before me, had her Whipple procedure in April, and back in January went for her 2-month follow-up visit.  Unfortunately, she found out that 3 tumors had developed on her liver.  Luckily, she was able to undergo some radio frequency treatment which successfully dealt with those tumors.  MaryBeth and I ran into her at the hospital today and we found out that she has an additional 8 tumors growing in a variety of different places (along her lymph system, in her digestive system, etc.).  She is now undergoing palliative therapy and she and her husband are trying to wrap their heads and hearts around her current situation.  Please keep them in your thoughts.

Thank you!

Merle

A Bit of Anxiety

So I know that I said in an earlier post that I’m not terribly anxious about getting the results of my last scan from my doctor and all that, but as I sit here, I realize that I am a bit more anxious than usual.  There is no reason to expect that anything has changed and that the cancer has come back; I’m feeling generally okay;  I’m getting my stamina back (particularly as it relates to my exercising); I’m getting back into the swing of life on this side of cancer treatment.

Nevertheless, I think despite my efforts to the contrary, I will always experience anxiety the day before I get test results from the doctor; at least for the time being.  Perhaps after a year or two of getting clean bills of health, I will learn to relax.  The joys of being an overthinking scientist.

Otherwise, the family is re-adjusting to post-Disney life.  The kids and MaryBeth are back at school and I am back at work.  This past weekend, we celebrated Passover on Friday with a seder at our house (we invited my friend Luis and his family to join us) and then celebrated Easter on Sunday.  It was nice to have that family time together.

Merle

Slowly Recovering

As those of you who are long term readers of my blog know, I hold Dr. Randy Pausch in some pretty high regard.  I hope that I have been able to live my life with cancer as eloquently as he did his life.  I remember reading in his “blog” that when he finished his chemotherapy, he posted the following picture:

I have to say, I felt much the same reaction on March 18th as I left the hospital for my last treatment (okay, perhaps not on the 18th, as I recall I felt pretty yucky that day, but the feeling was the same).  The reality, though, is that MY mission is just starting.  I might not be able to do anything more (at the moment), but we (my doctors and I) will remain vigilant for the next…oh…4 years!  :-)

I find that as time moves along, that I am feeling more and more like myself.  Things that I have noticed: I have (a little) more stamina in the gym — I’m able to run for about 15 minutes (broken up into sections at the moment) — and my hair is growing faster.  For the latter, I had stopped shaving my head before Christmas, but my hair just didn’t really grow that much.  Now that I’m done with chemo, I have actually begun needing to use a brush / comb on my hair.  Woo Hoo!  Other big news is that I was able to delete the recurring appointment to get my chemo from my Outlook calendar (it’s not a big thing, but it was certainly meaningful to me).

What’s on the horizon.  The biggie is that I have my post-treatment, restaging CT scan (and bloodwork) tomorrow, with a follow-up appointment with my oncologist next Wednesday.  As with my scan in February, I do not expect that anything will be there, but knowing me as I do, I am sure there will be some anxiety tomorrow.

I still want to have a party to celebrate my finishing up with chemo, but my weekends are pretty busy (with scouts and family stuff) for the next couple of months.  We’ll see.  On the other hand, one could argue that we celebrated my being done with chemo by going to Disney World, which was very cool.

Thanks for checking in.

Merle

Pictures from Day 7 at Disney

As promised, here is the slideshow from our last day at Disney (the last 2 pictures has some guy modeling the shirt we got signed by the Disney characters).

We made it home safely and everyone was glad to be home (even if it meant going back to school).  Unfortunately for my family, I turned around and headed to Denver (where I currently am) for a business trip.

I am doing well (if not recovering from eating a little too much while on vacation — back to the gym on Monday).  On the cancer front, I am dealing with the “wait and see” stuff pretty well.  I have a CT scan scheduled for April 10, to serve as my post-treatment baseline.  I will then have subsequent scans every 2 months.  Here’s to no changes, eh?

More later!

Merle