-I have a cousin who dealt with cancer. He's one of the good guys. I don't know him real well. A couple of holidays as kids, a funeral or three, weddings. You know the drill. I saw him a few years ago during a layover at O'hare. Like I said, good guy. Single dad who raised his boys, has worked for the same employer forever, and puts out some of the funniest stuff on Facebook. Good parents (aunt and uncle), and good brother. (Another cousin. Of course.) Good people.
Since the cancer was treated and went into remission, my cousin goes back for periodic scans. "Scan parties," is what he calls them. I used to wonder how he dealt with the potential mortality of his situation. And the constant reminders at those parties. I assume that for each person that these questions and issues are so personal, so deeply wound around experiences and outlooks and friends and family and even the day or the week or the month, that there is no answer. There is no one-size-fits-all to contain these loud or quiet moments -depending again on the person. But I find myself now in a similar boat. And the newness of the situation has not provided ample time for definitive statements just yet. With one or two exceptions.
I am going to go back for scans on the lung nodule every six months. I have been fortunate that for now, they don't see anything that causes them great concern. I am going to go back for a scan of my esophagus soon, as well. Right now, I am on a script that should produce good results.
And I will be changing positions (career-wise) very shortly. Probably within the next week or two. (And on that bombshell...)
So, this trip, the Fast Present, thing is at an end. We have tied up the loose strings. Bartowsky is back in Wilmington supposedly editing the footage from the trip. We'll see. Heavy course load and social scenes that center around college life are hard to overcome. The heart, lung, pet scan, esophagus montage that started at the very start of this journey has been left with an ambiguous ending. But so be it. Scan, scan, scan... Alright. No problem. For today, and any foreseeable day, that is better than death, death, death. (Even though the thought of finally going home has an undeniable appeal.)
And the recent development of the job going bye-bye is also okay. My beautiful better-half and I have talked a lot about living a good life in lieu of simply living. Her mandate is clear. "Do something you love and want to do." As opposed to simply taking the well-paying gig that one may not enjoy. We have, in part, the health issue to thank for that. We also have this journey across twenty-five states to thank. The Fast Present Road Trip has lent a modicum of perspective to a sometimes busy life. Somewhere after day three...
I would do the trip again in a moment. Maybe slow down slightly more on the repeat, but definitely again. And I hope that I do.
And so, again, we are at the end of this chapter. Thank you so much for taking the journey with us.
I really hope you enjoyed the ride and the blog.
"Hello, New Beginning!" Possible updates to follow? We'll see. For now, we will take one road and one day at a time.
We loaded up on Sunday and headed off to the land of Big Ed's North. (A local eating establishment famous for breakfast.). Bartowsky calls the place, "Enormous Edward's," in that college humor, pithy banter way that corrupts names while retaining meaning. This, like a lot of things with Bartowsky, we've come to enjoy.
The occasion was slightly solemn in the sense that after this breakfast of high cholesterol and abundant salt disguised as pork, eggs, butter, and even a salt shaker, Bartowsky left for his sophomore year at college. Of course, his mother followed him in her new mini-van filled to overflowing with Bartowsky ephemera.
(The new mini-van came as a result of trading in the old mini-van and the beloved Avalon. Yes, the Avalon we picked up for the Fast Present trip. Happy wife, happy life. Debt-free life = Bonus Round. Bye-sniffle-bye, Avalon.)
The photo above shows Bartowsky reacting to an admonishment from his mother after throwing a fictitious UNC-W gang sign at Enormous Edward's. No gang garbage is allowed to intrude upon the sanctity of breakfast. Even fictitious gang garbage is banned. I myself silently removed a non-existent bandanna after taking the photo above.
I am going to miss Bartowsky and his penchant for hibernation in his room here at the ranch. (Which is code for a tract home in North Raleigh.) I already miss the road trip and dragging his tuchus through 25 states at a frenetic pace. I miss the fast, urgent way he talks and the way he laughs, and even guffaws, at his own jokes.
I will miss the Avalon, too. But truth be told, I am way too tall in the torso, not to mention fat, to be contained by the Avalon. Much like the way Buddy boy is too large to be contained by protracted hibernation in a tract home. His excitement about returning to school was and is palpable. Like the remains of an electrical storm.
Bartowsky told us the mockumentary/documentary he is doing on the Fast Present trip will be ready in six to eight months. "I underestimated the time involved," he said. No worries. We all do.
In the meantime, I am waiting for two things: the lab results of the lesion biopsy from the old esophagus. And I am waiting on the work being done on the Avalon replacement: a Honda 1,300 CC VTX that I picked up when we got the van. The dealer took it in on trade, and it was in need of attention. Eleven years old and it showed 6k on the odometer. I picked up the new van and the used bike in one fell rebel-without-a-clue swoop. Obligatory VTX photo below:
I already have visions of trading it in on a Stateline -the VTX successor that has EFI in lieu of a carb and a choke. But I will get comfortable on this bike first. It is vastly different than my Triumph bikes. Ah... the curse of the wandering eye.
I have visions of riding the beast down to Wilmington. Another road trip. Maybe early in the morning with the sun shining as the highway to the beach rolls out before me. Early AM so that we can meet for breakfast at an Enormous Edward equivalent. Bartowsky and his old man. The future and the past sharing a salt shaker.
Life is too short not to live.
As we wait for the (hopefully) the last test results, we pause on this 9th day of August to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY! to Bartowsky. (Pictured here in one of his many roles -this time as big brother from a few years ago.)
He is an outstanding, articulate and nice guy.
Like many others, I am blessed to know him.
So I need to update this blog. At the end of the day, this story is about a journey. And truth be told, the journey began long before the road trip with Bartowsky. But more on that another time.
For now, I had the first test on Friday. So far, so good on that one. Full results in a week, but only one polyp found and removed and shipped off to some top secret lab for testing. The doc said that if it was pre-cancerous, he still would not need to see me for five more years. I'll take that as a win.
I had the second test yesterday. I have told a couple of friends that I am nuclear now. The PET scan uses a solution that is nuclear in composition -or so I have been told. Am I glowing? If so, are you absolutely sure that it is from the nuclear stuff? The test itself was crazy. Do this experiment: Recline on a padded board with your hands over your head. Breathe normally. But don't move for 25 minutes. Wow! I quickly discovered what I already know; I am out of shape. And a wiggle worm. I can hear my third grade teacher now. She was hot. But she tied me to my chair. You could do that back then and no one would get sued. I was a "wiggle worm." Still am. Confined spaces? Restraints? I am going to kick against the goads. I am going to try to get out of it.
"Calm the mind, grasshopper. Be still and at peace. Breathe deeply through your nose and out through your..."
"Um... no. Got. To. Get. Out. Of. Here. NOW!" Panting. Gasping. Red in the face.
I thought the results would take a couple of days or longer to wind their way from the PET scan doc to my doc to her nurse and then to my ear. Turns out that I got the results today. Mixed review: The lung nodule is benign. YES! Yes, yes, yes! However, they found lesions in my esophagus and now want to do an EGD (upper endoscopy). I'm sorry. What?
So, to recap, I had chest pains and went in. Cut the trip with Bartowsky by four days and drove like a mad man across the country. Did 110 MPH in South Carolina. No kidding. 110. In a Toyota. So, they did a scan for the chest pains and said that the test was fine, but they found a nodule on my lung. I then went for a CT scan and they said that they weren't so sure about the scan. I then went for a PET scan -where they insert a nuke fuel rod into your veins -and they said the nodule is benign and to monitor it (read, "scan") every six months. Oh and they want to take a closer look at the esophagus. Something is no bueno with the old 'gus. This is some trajectory that I seem to be on. However, at the end of the day, the ride so far has taught me a few things -no matter how the EGD-Gus-thing turns out. So what are the lessons I've learned from this?
First, God is good. Everyday is a gift. It is incredible just to wake up and hear my new daughter snoring. Or my wife, for that matter. Tiny freight trains circling the base of a Christmas tree on December 25th. Every. Single. Day. I forgot that. I wrapped myself in layers of planning and thinking and debating and worrying and being tied up with work and making ends meet and this thing with that person and that thing with this other person and the wife and the kids and... Wait. Be still in the darkness. Stop for just a minute. Just one solitary minute out of a day filled with 1,440 minutes. Be thankful that there is at least one more day, or even part of a day, or even just that particular minute. Another second in the land of the upright. There is still work to be done. There is still a reason for existence. Even if it is only to be thankful. In that minute. God is good. All the time.
Second, perspective is vital. I lost my perspective. I have been so wrapped up in me. Self-absorbed. Narcissistic to a fault. What will I do? What will I work on? How will I spend the rest of my life? And then you walk into a clinic, or a hospital, or an endoscopy center where the patients are lined up like cattle along the walls with nothing but a thin curtain chute between them. You hear the stories through paper-thin whispers. The silence speaks volumes as well. And you realize that no matter how bad you have it, someone has it worse. Guilt, care for others, and thanksgiving intertwine in a strange dance that destroys balance. You are not the center of the universe. And possibly not even the center of your own universe. Or you return to work from your colonoscopy and find out that while you are worrying about a lung nodule, a co-worker has discovered that she is in stage three breast cancer. She's 33. Married. Planning a life with her husband. Thirty-three! And another co-worker, a friend, no, more than a friend-a "sister from a different mister" -reminds you in routine conversation (no kidding) that her adoptive son lost his young and besieged biological mother recently. As in death. As in the mother that didn't have much time for him because... Because of the little sister he barely knows. The child she didn't give up. Because of the dog. Because of the weather. Or because of the drugs that robbed both her son and her of youth... and eventually robbed her of her life. And your heart breaks and bleeds. For her, and her, and him, and the faceless voices in the clinic or the hospital. And it seeps out into the vast unknown. And you want to take another minute and regain some perspective.
This rocket ship has been a blessing of empathy and perspective and thankfulness poured out in early morning hours. Or in the car driving home. Or in the clinic. Or while trying to be completely still on a padded board for twenty-five minutes. It has been a payload of benevolence delivered in mere weeks of life. How wonderful! How undeserving, and at the same time, appreciative, I am of this gift. We are to be salt and light for others. Those we like. Those we don't. And the vast multitude in between. And all of this poking and prodding, and pinpricks, and IVs and scanning has reminded me of that fact. At the beginning and end of life, we are all connected. We often forget in the multitude of years between those two formative events. That is until the exponential blessings found in a health crisis reminds us. Wait a minute. One more minute to the two that came before.
I am scheduled for the EGD on Friday. And sure, I'll be praying ahead of time. But in those prayers, I will also be joyously thankful for any days that I am given. And I will be thankful that God loves people. I will be thankful that I remember now...
so do I.
Tomorrow (Friday) is D-day for the first test. If they find anything on this go-around, I will have the results in seven to ten days. This seems incredibly long and drawn out to me. But I guess lab tests require some send to lab-analysis-send back to provider-call primary doc- primary doc calls me -time. There is a profit opportunity in this someplace for some time-shaving, clever person or persons.
Monday is D-day for the second test. This is the one that keeps me up at night. Although, truthfully, both tests scare me. I expect the results from this second test by Thursday of next week. Which usually is code for it will actually be Friday before I get the call. I am hoping for a pleasant surprise of a Tuesday call and a pleasant surprise of "All good."
Right now this blog, and all my chit-chat to friends and family, is all nervous banter. Mindless rambling of a nervous guy.
Prayers are appreciated.
The specialists I have to see are slated for the 28th and the 31st of this month (July) respectively.
These two moments in time will be the bellwethers of change. The nature of the change remains indeterminate in both cases, but I know that there will be a blessing in all of this no matter what. Don't ask how or why... I can only say that I just know.
Meanwhile, Bartowsky continues to edit the vast amounts of footage we shot on this trip. He has no idea how simple his life is right now. And I have no idea how complex it truly is. We all wrestle with our demons. Usually alone. I with mine. Bartowsky with his.
Today, at 4:30-something in the morning, my spidey-sense is kicking in and I sense other changes coming. So much so that I have already moved towards the moment I suspect is on the horizon. What movements have I made? What is it that I suspect? Let's just say that if I am correct in my assessment, it will change the nature of my days. I should know more within the next 24 to 72 hours.
At the end of it all, right or wrong, it is what it is. And "it" will shift and become whatever is in front, and sometimes behind, a person. Either way, there is a small hint of futility left upon the tongue when anyone spends more time wondering about probable outcomes than when one takes action. When one wonders instead of merely accepts the outcome. But the same residue is sometimes also left behind in the wake of action. What am I saying?
I guess that I am saying what will be will be. However, we can either try to prepare somewhat for suspected events, which I have done, or one can worry and wonder. In both cases I sense the gyrations of body and/or mind that hint at futility. But of the two choices, I would rather opt for action.
I am am so glad that I took this trip with Buddy Bartowsky when I did. Like our trip, the horizons in my personal life are starting to blur.
Out there, somewhere past day three, which would be after the Badlands of North Dakota, I came to a decision. The Badlands have always been a place for clearing my mind, and for cleansing the palette of my soul. Teddy Roosevelt seemed to agree. I noticed in a recently consumed book on the man that his ranch in the Badlands became his go-to place after tradegy (his young wife dying, as an example), or the destination when he wanted to clear his head. I get it. My decisions always come easier after visiting one of two places; the ocean, or the Badlands.
We often say, "I made a decision." Or, "Did you make a decision?" I like my European colleagues' version of this idea. They substitute the word "take" for "make."
"Did you take a decision?" Or, "We must take a decision ." This is more precise. More clinical. Or so it seems to me. As if to say a smorgasbord of options will be laid out and one must take just one or two of the options and be done. A singular entrée, instead of a buffet.
I took a decision or two on the future. While Bartowsky read, or filmed, or studied the landscape, I thought of the options long and hard. I came to binary or algebraic decisions -meaning that the decisions used the syntax of, "if, then." As in, "if this comes to pass, then I will..." This method was used because so much of what I decided was (and still is) contingent upon other things taking place. There is a piece of Biblical wisdom out there that says, in essence, man plans his ways, but God determines his footsteps. Even my agnostic and atheist associates may say that life is what happens while we are making plans. I'll go with the first one. So...
The first of three steps was a promise to get "checked out." The heart is fine, but there are some other issues that need to be explored. So I went in for a physical yesterday. My doc is fantastic, and she suggested two specialists. The first is the most embarrassing. I'm 50 now. I can't believe it because I feel like a younger guy, but I am. With 50 comes a special male treatment that involves the lower extremities and a couple of hours of, shall we say, probing. I looked at her and said, "Great! Christmas in July." At the very least they will be able to call my wife and tell her that my head is actually not up there. Unless, of course, it actually is. One of us has to be right.
So I will submit myself to hanging the old rump roast in the wind, just to "make sure."
The second specialist, the non-scope-centric referral, is the math specialist. That is, that Doc's examination will produce a result of greater importance to me. Albeit, both specialists can change the direction I want to take. The second one though is the one that I think about. That Doc's result will be the basis for the big decision looming on the horizon. If the Doc says X, then I go with Y. If the doc says A, then I go with B.
I won't talk about that specialist here (now) in terms of the what. However, I will say that this Doc is number two of three steps.
Step One: Go see my Doc and among iffy banter get down to brass tacks on the specialists. Done. Completed. Fini.
Step Two: Go see the specialists. Leave the racial and body type profiling proctologist joke at home. But (and that's a big butt) share it here:
"Is it racial and body type profiling to desire a petite and anorexic Pygmy with no noticeable fingernails as one's
I hope not. That's my dream.
At at any rate, step two is not completed at the time of this writing. And Step Two, Part B -the non-rumpus room specialist-is the key. Step Two, Part B leads to algebraic Step Three.
Step Three: If X-result, then take Y-action. If A-result, then B-action. It will be one or the other. What are these results and actions and specialists? Well, they are related to the trip. To cruising an endless ribbon of highway. To adventure and whatever comes our way. Possibly to Steppenwolf (pictured above). But the real answer, the no-kidding, here-it-is answer, is...
We had a rule on the trip. It was called, "The Golden Ticket Rule."
Quite simply, if Bartowsky or I ever had visions of murdering our traveling companion (him killing me -most likely, or me killing him -less likely) we were to voice this inclination. Talking about it would produce an immediate action, best summarized as: Find nearest airport and put Bartowsky or Dad on a plane home.
"Congratulations, son! You just won a beautiful golden ticket on Delta Airlines!"
The intent behind this rule was not necessarily a concern about murder or being murder. Although we do watch The First 48, so... Rather, the concern was close proximity for 12 days or more. In a car. Designed by the Japanese. I'm 6'-3". Bartowsky is 6'-2." And thus, the Golden Ticket.
Which was never redeemed.
Happy Day After the 4th of July!
This morning I put on my serious shoes. That's how I think of the shoes I wear to the day gig. It doesn't matter if the toe is rounded or pointed, or the color or texture of the shoe. They are all serious if I am dining them for the old proverbial salt mine.
And serious shoes would normally denote the end of the road trip, and thus the end of this blog. However, there are a few loose ends to tie up. And over the next few days, in the next couple of weeks, I will wrap up everything as I close the loop on items that were either started or mentioned in this blog.
For now, suffice to say that I was looking for a few things "out there." And I found some of them. So I will come back to those things here -on this blog.
But for today, it's time for some serious shoes.
Have a great day.
More commentary to follow here -once we catch our breath at home for a few days.
Thanks for going along on the ride.