A Little Disaster Can be a Good Thing

Friends and Family,

I spent last Friday to Sunday at the LUNGevity (lung cancer) HOPE Summit. I bet you weren’t expecting to see “Hope” and “lung cancer” in the same sentence, but there you go. That’s why we needed a summit, and it hit the spot.

I got fired up hearing about new research and treatments that are changing so rapidly that even oncologists are having a hard time keeping up. It gave me hope to meet 150 survivors, most of whom are Stage IV (spread beyond the lungs). It inspired me to find out how many of my peers are going on TV, writing articles, and organizing walks.

But that’s not my story. I thought it would be more fun to tell you about our little disaster. In a conference organized down to the minute, a tad bit of chaos erupted.

A local restaurant agreed to host us for a dinner away from our hotel. We loaded into five limo buses, with me on lucky #5.

Did I say local restaurant? The ride was so long that the natives started getting a little restless. Questions about where we were going and what state we were in popped up. Eventually, our bus pulled off the freeway. Moving slowly through an intersection, the bus weaved back and forth indecisively between lanes. The driver turned, stopped in the middle of the intersection, BACKED UP, and got back on the freeway in the other direction.

About that time, somebody spotted the driver Googling the restaurant address.

That did it. The backseat drivers couldn’t hold back any longer. At first it was one or two. But the more indecisive the driver got, the more people joined in. Soon, there were seven drivers, all telling the driver behind the wheel where to go. I get the parallels here: “Take charge of the bus before it gets out of control” looks an awful lot like, “Take control of your own treatment.”

The driver acted like he didn’t hear them.

It gets better. Bus alarms started going off, and the bus started sputtering. Fortunately, those noises were drowned out by the backseat drivers.

The front seat driver got more indecisive, weaving between lanes, taking no head of several people commanding him to pull over. A woman in a convertible passed us, first using her turn signals, and then using a hand signal not found in the Driver’s Ed book.

Katie, who has organized just about everything at LUNGevity since it has been around, got resourceful. She called the bus company, who called the driver. Problem solved? Surely you know where this is going. The driver wouldn’t answer his phone.

You would think this would be the time things would get more tense, wouldn’t you? HA! You don’t know my peeps! This isn’t even a PIMPLE on a problem. Cancer this big, bus problem this big.  Ya gotta love the perspective. This is when the laughter started!

There was, however, one person who began having panic attack symptoms. She was flooded with offers to help. “I’ve got anti-anxiety medication of you need it.” “Would an antacid help?” “I’ve got just about any kind of narcotic that you might need. Name it.” As the panic symptoms start to fade, we decide that we had an entire pharmacy available on this bus, which makes us laugh even more. This isn’t a disaster, it’s an adventure! 

Sputtering up a hill at half speed, the bus finally pulled off at an exit. The driver called his bus company and started talking in Spanish to his boss. This is great! Six backseat drivers, and the driver doesn’t understand any of them!

The more ridiculous it gets, the more laughter erupts. People start taking pictures. “Make a scared face.” “Eeeeeeeeee!”  

Making the most of the situation, a lot of us get off the bus and admire the Camp Marcy (wherever that is) scenery. Someone suggests “I survived the bus” tee shirts, which evolves into “I survived lung cancer the bus.” At this point people are taking pictures of other people taking pictures, because everybody wants to remember this.

Then Katie, our fearless leader, breaks out the big guns. She turns it into a promo video clip: “What takes my breath away? A BUS THAT RUNS OUT OF GASSSSSS!”  Don’t let lung cancer take your breath away!”

Finally, the bus company shows up… in cars. They offer to take some people in the cars while we wait for the next bus. We’re all hungry, and maybe a wee bit thirsty, but nobody wants to go. Through this “tragedy,” new bonds have been formed. This busload of strangers has become a tight group that didn’t want to be broken up.

Finally, a few reluctantly get into the cars, just as the next bus arrives. We all arrive substantially later than planned. The owners of The Old Angler’s Inn, who have graciously hosted this event, extend their hospitality even more by keeping their doors open until we have all been well fed and plied with alcohol.

So this is what I love about this group. Every person was focused on what they could get out of the moment, not on what went wrong. A potentially ruined evening turns into one of the highlights of the weekend. Warm friendships are forged over events that would sour the entire weekend for people who aren’t blessed with the gift of perspective.

I recently saw someone’s blog post that said, “If cancer is a gift, can I return it?” Sure I’d like to return my gift, now that I’ve had it for a while. But this little disaster, and these great people, reminded me what a gift it has been.

Here’s to the gifts in your life, whatever they may be.



Love and Trash

Friends and Family,

Things are pretty spectacular right now, and only partly because of trash.

I know that isn't what you would expect me to say when I'm telling you about a trip to Hawaii. You might be expecting me to tell you about the sunny, breezy, tropical weather, or the warm water that has been perfect for body surfing and boogie boarding. Maybe you're thinking I'll tell you more about the five mile sunrise walks on the beach with Genevieve, where we have the beach almost to ourselves.

You would be right to guess all of those things. But the trip gets much better.

The stars aligned so that my son Mike and his wife Victoria were able to join us. Since Mike hasn't lived with us since he was a troubled teen, and since he hasn't even lived in the same state as we have for the second half of his life, this time has been special.

It's pretty obvious from this picture where Mike gets his muscular build.

It's pretty obvious from this picture where Mike gets his muscular build.

We've had a chance to hear about Mike's and Victoria's accomplishments and challenges as missionaries for the past four years in the Philippines. Making a dad even more proud, it would be hard not to see the love in his relationships with his wife, Victoria, with his children (unfortunately not with us), and with everyone around him. It's been a special time, a chance to reconnect. This time of love and sharing has been a father's dream.

This time with Mike and Victoria has been the richest part of our trip, but it isn't the only thing we did that left us feeling full of love. We also picked up trash.

Even with their "aloha spirit" ("love"), the Hawaiian people are still learning how to treasure their environment. We've been collecting trash on our morning walks for years, hoping that when the beaches look beautiful, everyone will want to keep it that way. It's our gift of aloha.

This is where the healing comes in. Love heals. It heals our cells, and I believe this includes cancer. It heals our soul. It holds true whether it's the love of family, the love of everyone, or the love of the world. Even if we're collecting trash, it feels good to leave the world a better place than we found it. It's all love.

So what gives you the aloha spirit? I can't wait to hear your ideas. You know why? Because your sharing will be healing for you, and for me, and for everyone else who reads this. Please share your stories or thoughts about healing love, whether it is two words or two pages.



Things are going to H@%%

Friends and Family,

That four-letter “H” word is back on my mind again lately, and it’s not the one that would have gotten me in trouble in grade school.

About three and a half years ago, my company had new pictures taken of all of the brokers. Since I was just about to start chemo, the timing for a picture wasn’t the best. Should I have my picture taken with a full head of hair? If I did, then people who first saw my picture on our website wouldn’t recognize me when they met me and my shiny, pale, bald, head in person.

So should I shave my head bald? That would be confusing later, after I finished chemo, and my hair grew back.

So which H-word is the real me? Hairy or hairless? And why is this so important? Sorting this out was giving me a bad hair day.

I decided to compromise. I gradually cut my hair shorter over a few weeks, so that everyone – including me – could get used to it. Just before I had my picture taken, and before chemo kicked in, I had my final haircut. This cut left little to the imagination.

After chemo was finished and my hair grew back, Greg, one of the partners, asked me if I wanted to have my picture taken again. “No,” I said, “I like the picture. Let’s leave it as it is.” Greg kept asking over the next three years. Although my answer didn’t change, Greg was right to wonder.

I worried that I’d soon be back in chemo, and once again bald. And if that happened… well, before long  they may not need any picture of me on the website. See where I’m going with this? There’s more meaning to hair than hair. I had more doubts about my future than I would care to admit. It was a lot like  a couple of years ago, when I thought that there was no point in buying new underwear if I didn’t think I’d be around long enough to use it.

So why did I finally ask to have my picture retaken? It’s because of that H word. No, I’m not talking about H@%%. I’m also not talking hair. I’m talking hope.

Running laps around your life expectancy a few times can do that for you. So can having great success on a new clinical trial. Having amazing doctors that have creative ideas about how to deal with lung cancer can give you hope too , even if no cutting-edge treatments would be a fit in the near future. My future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades. Maybe it’s so bright because of all those images of rays of light zapping the cancer cells that all of you have sent me.  

Here’s more reason for hope: I have been on three treatments that didn’t even exist for lung cancer patients the first time I went through cancer. Tarceva, Avastin, and AZD9291 are all new. How can that not make you more optimistic?

You can probably even see it in my picture. You know, the new, permanent one.

Maybe I can even relax a little. You know, let my hair down. Not take things so seriously.

I hope there’s reason for hope in your life, too.