Choose to be united and protest without having to be divided and self–righteous

lovecompassion_dalailamaobamahug


The other day a Seattle resident struck up a conversation with me at the lounge of our building. She was knitting by the sofa near the T.V. and had switched the channel to Fox News. Then she started talking about giving President-elect “a chance”, and wondered why “liberals” were being uncooperative and mean to him. Instinctively, I judged her political views and tried to avoid discussing the upcoming demonstrations in Seattle. I felt like leaving without being rude. Instead I whispered to myself “Don’t judge”, and told her there is blame to be shared on both sides. Though I tend to be politically progressive, I do not have much respect for Democrats, as a whole, and what they have done to the party. Frankly, both parties suck. It’s just that one party sucks more than the other.

We discussed how politically correct many people are around here, and we talked about the “Seattle Freeze”—it really does exist! We lamented how much easier it was to strike up a conversation in the neighborhoods where we grew up. Our conversation moved to where we are from (most Seattleites are transplants from another state). She is from the Southeast; I am from the Northeast. She lost her life-long partner to Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Her husband had a heart condition so he could not receive the full blast of chemotherapy and radiation. Eventually, he achieved remission and improved his health, only to suffer the unforgiving cruelty of relapse (the cancer came back with a vengeance). I moved to the Pacific Northwest and started anew after battling concurrent types of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was deemed “cancer free” four years ago having endured 10 rounds of what my body and brain could handle from an intense and full complement of I.V. chemo and intrathecal injections (chemo administered into the Central Nervous System).

It was a candid and thoughtful conversation. At some point I discussed the situation with my parents: neither of them has it made in the shade. My mom is a three-time cancer survivor with multiple health issues, and she is working full-time. My dad has advanced Alzheimer’s disease and signs of Parkinson’s disease: he can barely utter words (let alone sentences); he cannot walk or hold things, and he needs to be spoon-fed puréed food. He is also incontinent. At some point I mentioned that I would rather go through the hellish regimen of high-dose chemo again than to see my father suffer such a precipitous decline. Suddenly, the weight of emotions got to me. I stood there speechless with my head tilted downward–my heart was overwhelmed with compassion for my parents. She came over and gave me the sweetest, caring hug.

There will be protests, revolts and boycotts. People will express utter disapproval of the President-elect, his Cabinet nominees; and voice disappointment in our city and state representatives: both Democrats and Republicans. And there are valid reasons to do so! It is important to acknowledge how strong we are as individuals and as a movement. But don’t forget the underlying fragility that makes us so vulnerable and lovable, no matter what our ego attempts to project. Every person has suffered some form of loss in their lives. We can choose to be united and protest without having to be divided and self–righteous. If we are open-minded and compassionate, we can find something in common with one another.

When no scents make sense

scent-chemical-free-zone


Since moving out to Washington state in May 2014, I have been going to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for annual check ups as part of post-chemotherapy protocol. It is a great facility. I particularly like that they are a fragrance-free facility. I shared my thoughts on this matter and had it published on the SCCA blog titled “When no scents makes sense“.

What a journey it has been during and after battling Double-Hit Lymphoma

04-23-14_01

Cubs game at Wrigley Field April 2014 with my best friend, Tom Brophy, and some awesome people from The Double Hit Lymphoma Foundation, including Jill and Mike Folan, Dr. Adam Petrich and Aubrey Sharman.

In late April 2014, I drove across country from my former home in Hackensack, New Jersey to the Emerald City of the Pacific Northwest. Many thanks to my best friend, Tom Brophy, who took time off from his new job to fly out from Seattle and accompany me on this journey. Tom’s companionship was invaluable. And he did a great job as my co-pilot.

We matched the itinerary day-to-day from the start on Sunday, April 20th to the final destination on Monday, April 28th. I estimated 3,300 miles, including sightseeing stops, and we ended up covering 3,275 miles–only off by 25 miles or 0.7% from initial estimate.

Along the journey, we enjoyed Major League baseball games at PNC Park, and Wrigley Field (on the day of the Cubs centennial celebration). Tom and I canvassed the beautiful campus of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana on our way to Chicago. We visited Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa. We drove through and hiked parts of Badlands National Park in South Dakota (and we avoided the rattle snacks). We saw plenty of prairie dogs in Buffalo Gap National Grassland. And we stopped by the “must-see” Wall Drug in ‘The Mount Rushmore State’ then hung out in Deadwood, where I went jogging along the George S. Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills. We made the awe-inspiring “Close Encounters” trip to Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming (because it ‘meant something’ to us). And we got a glimpse of the historic Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in ‘Big Sky Country’ (in addition to seeing wild horses up close). I jogged along the natural sandstone Rims in Billings, Montana then Tom and I caught some nice views at Headwater State Park in Three Forks—just south where the Missouri River begins (longest river in the U.S.) and is met by three other rivers: Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin. We traversed three mountain passes on the last day of the trip, including the Rockies west of Missoula, MT and again upon entering Idaho then the Cascades in Washington state as we approached Seattle from the east on Interstate 90.

We met wonderful folks at The Double Hit Lymphoma Foundation. I reached out to Jill Folan, the founder of TDHLF, before I set out on the transcontinental journey. And I wrote this perspective of my battle with Double-Hit lymphoma for their Patient Stories. Tom and I had a great time with the TDHLF group at the ballgame and afterwards. I met three Double-Hit lymphoma warriors, and with other friends who I had been communicating with online prior to finally meeting them in person. It was a darn awesome and an amazing trip!

Kudos to my Honda Civic Si sedan for holding up just fine through multiple heavy downpours, including hailstones (the small, non-damaging size), sleet, wet snow, slick and winding roads, and occasional steep grades and fierce cross winds. In all we covered three time zones and 13 states: NJ, PA, OH, IN, IL, WI, MN, IA, SD, MT, WY, ID, WA.

Last but not least, let me just say there are a lot of beautiful places to see and people to meet in this country. Don’t be afraid to stretch and challenge your comfort zone! The benefits can far outweigh the risks.

TDHLF Patient Stories: My Battle with Double-Hit Lymphoma (February 9, 2014)

A Survivor’s Triumph Over Double-Hit Lymphoma

 

jp-humc-5pw_03-11-13orig

I’m the guy in the middle flanked by the wonderful nurses of 5 Pavilion West cancer ward at Hackensack University Medical Center in NJ. The photo was taken upon being discharged on my final day of treatment: a journey encompassing 10 rounds of high-dose chemo over seven straight months at two different hospitals.

In the summer of 2012, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  During the next eight months, I went on an incredible journey which tested my will to fight. I gained a greater appreciation and understanding of what is to be patient and to be a patient; what it is to be focused, to be humble and to be grateful. The researcher in me searched the Internet and perused reports to gain a better understanding of the multiple blood cancers that plagued my body.

I joined online support groups for personal insight from other patients. Soon afterwards, while undergoing chemotherapy, I took on the role as an online support group moderator for aggressive lymphomas like mine. In doing so, I got acquainted with my caregivers and warriors who went through similar ordeals. An editor from one of the lymphoma sites saw the work I was doing for the support group. She reached out to me and asked if I would write about my experience. At the time, I was only one month removed from having completed the final round of intense treatment. Initially, I thought the experience was too fresh: allow time for the turbulent odyssey to abate so my mind could be in a more peaceful place before tapping into those memories. But it was exactly what I needed to do: to share my story, and let other warriors and caregivers know it is not all gloom and doom; there is hope!

Here is the three-part story I shared with LymphomaInfo.net:

Part I: Reality Sets In  (April 3, 2013)

Part II: Attitude Is Everything  (April 10, 2013)

Part III: Perseverance Is Rewarded  (April 17, 2013)

Here is a snapshot of the chemotherapy I endured, intravenously (administered into my bloodstream) and intrathecally (injected into my central nervous system).

chemo_cumulativelog_cycles1-10