Friday, December 15, 2017

My Last Christmas

My last Christmas will be like most others have been, yet unlike any before it. And certainly unlike any after it. We're going ahead with all of our traditions, and spending Christmas Day at home, as usual. But as much as we try to celebrate like we always have, there's a bit of melancholy around this one. When someone in the house is dying, jolly can be hard to come by. But love and joy abound.

The above pictures are of some of our decorations. Yes, that's a genuine aluminum tree from the 1960's. I bought it on Ebay about fifteen years ago, complete with color wheel. My favorite piece is the candy cane mailbox. When I posted these pictures on Facebook last week, someone asked if I will be able to go home for Christmas this year. I replied that this is home. We are home for Christmas.

When my parents moved from our hometown of Plymouth, Michigan to Illinois decades ago, visiting my family ceased to be "going home." When many of my friends go to visit their families, they are also visiting the place where they grew up. That hasn't been true for me since the 1980's. For Sharon and me, Denver, Colorado is home. This house where we've lived since 1999 is home.

Most of our friends have their own families and traditions, or live out of town, or have to work on Christmas, or some combination thereof. And the list of people that we would want to spend Christmas with, to be honest, is very short. For many years, Sharon and I have spent Christmas Day here at home, just the two of us. We have a specific set of traditions for Christmas Day, and we will follow them one more time.

One more time, we'll listen to Handel's Messiah all the way through while we get ready and open our gifts. One more time, we'll tag our gifts to each other using names of characters in movies, TV and books. To Clark from Lois, and so on. One more time, we'll light a fire in the fireplace in the room where the tree is (we have fireplaces in two rooms) and throw our wrapping paper into the fire, watching the pretty multi-colored flames. One more time, we'll have a frittata with mimosas for brunch, and fondue for dinner. One more time.

Buying gifts is an issue when you're in my shoes. At our stage of life, we're not accumulating things anymore. On the contrary, we're giving everything away. When friends come to our home, we beg them to take our CD's, DVD's, and books. We give away boxes and bags of clothes and other household items to charity every month. My wife has given away whole sets of china and glassware, and is planning to give away more. If we are close, dibs are accepted. I've sold most of my musical equipment, and given the rest to my protege. So it's really pointless for us to get gifts for each other. But we're doing it anyway, because it would spoil Christmas morning not to. It's my last Christmas, so I want it to be Christmas.

I wish I could describe the joy I get from giving my worldly possessions to those I love. People feel weird taking our stuff. They feel like vultures or something. Please don't feel that way. I recently gave a couple of CD's to a friend because he said he was a fan of the band. That was a couple of weeks ago at least, and he continues to tell me how much he's enjoying them. I can't tell you how that makes me feel. It's worth a lot more than those CD's I wasn't even listening to anymore, I can tell you that.

They say it's the season of giving. That's certainly true at our house this year, but I'll repeat something I said in an earlier post. When Jesus said it's more blessed to give than to receive, he wasn't making up some new law. He was stating a simple fact. The giver gets the greater blessing than the receiver. I can testify that it's true.

Our decorations are more minimal this year than in past years. It's hard to work up the enthusiasm to go all out, considering everything that's happening. Our dear friend Sandi got up on our rickety ladder to put up our icicle lights this year because my balance is no longer good enough to climb up a tall ladder. That's a true friend. Those of you who were reading this blog last year at this time may remember how conflicted I was about buying an LED spiral tree for our front yard. I didn't know if it would be worth it, not knowing how many Christmases I'd get to enjoy it. That number turned out to be two. Last year and this year. After this Christmas, we'll give that away too.

But I don't mean to imply that this Christmas is not being treasured and enjoyed. Last year, I had a lot of trouble getting into the Christmas spirit. But not this year. This year, I've been reflecting on Christmas throughout my life. All month, I've been posting Christmas pictures and memories on social media. I found out this week that my baby dedication was on Christmas Day, 1955. I posted a scan of the certificate.

Christmas has been a very special season for me all my life, starting with my first Christmas. I'm one of those people who is totally into Christmas from the day after Thanksgiving until New Year's Day, but don't want to see it or hear about it any other time. That's more true this year than ever before. I'm wringing every bit of enjoyment I can out of my last Christmas, because as of January, I have other things to focus on.

I'm enjoying listening to our vast collection of Christmas music more than I have in the past. I know I'm listening to most of these songs for the last time. I'll enjoy listening to them for two more weeks, then put them away. I love Christmas, and I'm enjoying this one as much as I can, but I don't have time to dwell on it after it's over.

I wish I could communicate the joy as well as I do the melancholy. Because the joy is ever present. I wish I could describe how concentrated the appreciation of time is. As I said in an early post more than two years ago, when you can see that it's finite, life becomes much more precious. Because of that, I'm glad to know that this is my last Christmas. I wouldn't be so focused on remembering past Christmases and telling about them if I didn't know that. I wouldn't be so determined to spend time with those I love the most. If I'm making an effort to spend time with you, it's the highest compliment I can give. Time is the most precious thing I have. Because this is my last Christmas. #waroncancer #bearingwitness

Monday, December 11, 2017

Why I Have A DNR

I posted something on social media which raised some eyebrows this week. I seem to have a habit of doing that. This time, it was a seven second video of me showing my new Do Not Resuscitate bracelet. In case you haven't seen it, here it is.

My tag line on both Facebook and Instagram was, "Here's something you don't order from Amazon every day." It had just arrived from Amazon. $6.99 with free shipping. It's made of silicone, and is bright red (or maybe orange) so as to be noticeable. There's no point in wearing something like this if it isn't seen.

The reaction to the post was interesting. Many were sad, or just didn't like it. But some were understanding and supportive. Between Facebook and Instagram, that little video starring my bony wrist has been viewed over a thousand times. Given the reaction, I thought I should explain why these are my wishes.

This is very personal information that most people don't air in public. But I must be a faithful witness. I've committed to being as open and transparent about all of this as I can be. I have no problem with the world knowing what my final wishes are. In fact, the more people know, the better, especially where CPR is concerned. That's what I really want to avoid.

This subject came up because of a couple of conversations I had with my hospice nurse, Carolyn. I told her about the "sit down quick" moments I've had at rehearsals, and she asked if I have a contact there. Someone who could call hospice, or maybe 911 for me if I fell and was unresponsive. I didn't, so I talked to a friend about that. As part of that conversation, I mentioned that I have a Do Not Resuscitate order in place. My friend was not sure he could tell an EMT not to revive me, so I asked my nurse about it again at our next appointment this past week. I learned some disturbing facts about CPR from her.

EMTs are trained to look for a DNR (short for Do Not Resuscitate), but many people have taken CPR training who are not medical professionals. Those people are not trained to look for a DNR. If I collapsed on the sidewalk, any stranger could come up and start CPR on me if I'm not breathing and don't have a pulse. If I'm carrying a wallet card with all of my medical information, even including a legal DNR, signed by a doctor, no stranger is required by law to look for that on my person. So many people choose to wear a bracelet or pendant, or even get a tattoo. I chose a bracelet. I just hope it's noticeable enough if I ever need it.

As I mentioned earlier, CPR is only for if you're not breathing and your heart has stopped. In order to do it properly, they have to crush your ribs in order to massage your heart. It's excruciatingly painful, and has a poor record of reviving people, especially terminal cancer patients. A recent study showed that 88% of over 1,000 doctors surveyed have a Do Not Resuscitate as their advance directive.

Let me state this plainly. In case this has escaped anyone's attention, I am terminally ill. I will die from this disease sometime in the next few months. I'm not likely to make it to my 63rd birthday on May 7th. My driver's license expires that day, but my driver's license still has a better expiration date than I do. Witness how fast symptoms have advanced when they weren't supposed to start until Christmas. That being the case, if I am not breathing and have no pulse, I do not want to be revived. If I die, let me die. Don't crush my ribs in a vain effort to bring me back. I don't have that much longer to be here anyway. Let me go home.

I have this, and other wishes for "scope of treatment" laid out in the form pictured at the top of this post. It's been signed by a doctor and laminated, and it's affixed to the side of our refrigerator, where EMTs are trained to look for it. Feel free to click on the picture and read my other choices regarding treatment. I hope and expect that, when the time comes, I will be at home and all of my wishes will be honored. My wife will be here to confirm my DNR. But just in case something happens elsewhere, I wanted something I could wear. Something easy to spot. So I ordered the bracelet, and showed that video of it on social media. And here we are.

I found two comments particularly understanding and affirming. One was by Randy Newman, who simply said, "As a physician, I agree wholeheartedly. I continue to pray for you." Randy also sent me a link to an article that lists the study I referred to earlier.

I also got this one from Cindy Manteris, who said, "Well, here’s the deal as seen from a nurse. When a cancer patient dies - heart stops, breathing stops - you can do CPR for a week and it won’t help. It’s over. So you might as well bypass all that stuff and go out with some grace."

That's why I have a DNR. I want to go out with some grace. No heroic, last-minute measures for me. Even if I were revived, what would you be saving me for? To die in a hospital instead of at home? A few more weeks of life, spent in agony from crushed ribs at the same time as I die from cancer? How cruel the irony would be if cancer never brought me pain, but I died in pain because some misguided person took it upon themselves to try to revive a stranger without checking to see if I have a DNR.

If you are CPR trained, God bless you. I hope you save many lives. Just please check to see if the person in distress has a DNR on them before you start. I understand that there are legalities at play here. From what I understand, the law favors those who administer CPR over those with a DNR. But I also know what's right. It's wrong to perform CPR on someone who is wearing something in plain sight saying not to do so. Let alone someone who went to the trouble and pain of getting a tattoo on their chest to make sure it didn't happen.

I know there are many who, while you are sad to hear me say these things, you know you feel the same way I do. If you don't want CPR to try to revive you if you die, make sure you get an advance directive in place. It's like a living will. You never know when you might need it.

I hope this explains that cryptic video. With my due date fast approaching, it's important to me to get the kind of death I hope for, and not to have my suffering prolonged needlessly. That's why I have a DNR. #waroncancer #bearingwitness

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Sick And Tired

I saw my doctor today. He didn't have good news for me, but we're past the days of good news from the doctor. My symptoms are getting worse, and they won't be getting better. Ever.

But before I get too much into the subject of how much dying sucks, I should tell you how my weekend went. It was amazing. Saturday, I took an extra amount of the steroid we call Dex, and it got me through rehearsal that day and the party that night. Rehearsal was a blast, like always. My favorite part was singing some sick three-part harmony with my Dynamic Duo. I had no energy or balance issues.

The party was very meaningful. It was the last time we'll host that annual party. This group is like a family, and our house has been home to two annual events for this group for many years. The feeling of family in the group has been largely created here. I said a few words to our friends about how much the Colorado Art Rock Society has meant to Sharon and me for the past twelve years, and instructed anyone there who thought they might not see me for a few months not to leave without talking to me. I have to say my goodbyes.

One by one, friends came to talk to me. One was deep in denial, and it was painful getting her to face reality. At one point, she expressed disbelief that I was smiling while she was crying. I simply said, "I'm smiling because I'm loved." One wanted me to explain my experience with God in detail. That was a cool conversation. There were a few friendly, "If this is goodbye, it's been great knowing you" type conversations, but I knew I'd see most of the people there again soon, at one of our regular meetings. If my body will let me, that is.

I slept about four hours that night, then got ready for a Wik band meeting at our house at 9:00 AM Sunday. That's the band I'm in with teenagers. Seriously. We were all tired, but the meeting went well. A lot was decided, and as a result, we now have a gig on January 13th. All good. The whole weekend was good. Then this week hit.

Starting Monday, my nausea has been almost constant. I'd been able to control it with medical marijuana, but this week, I had to use the prescription Ondansetron. It doesn't help a lot more than the pipe I keep by my bedside, but it doesn't impair me. On the other hand, it causes constipation, so I can't rely on that every day. It's a juggling act, just like trying to find a dose level for the steroid to give me the energy I need and still allow me to sleep.

As happened with coffee, I wonder if something is aggravating my nausea the way coffee does. I think it could be the number of holiday sweets I've been consuming. I've been denying myself no treats this season. Why would I? No reason, unless eating those things made me miserable. So I have to try it. If I have to go through Christmas with no coffee or chocolate, this Christmas will be a lot less fun.

My energy level continues to drop. I hope the new regimen I'm trying of a quarter steroid pill four times per week will keep me active for a while, but it's a constant experiment where I'm the guinea pig. As my body continues to break down, I'll need more stimulant to keep going, which will compromise my ability to sleep.

I know I should go easier on myself. But I can't. The things I'm doing are too important to me. I don't care what it costs me in terms of recovery time. This past weekend took about three days to recover from. But I still didn't feel fully rested today, four days later, and I still felt sick. Sick and tired.

At the doctor's office today, I was thrilled to see my team again. I took the stairs, but slowly, holding onto the hand rail. For the first time, when they asked how I was feeling, I told them not great. When I checked in on Facebook, I listed my status as "feeling sick" for the first time ever. When I saw the doctor, I told him about my symptoms. The nausea, fatigue and balance issues. He said he never expected that nausea would be a symptom, much less my first and most prominent one. He wasn't surprised by the fatigue and balance problems, however.

He told me I should expect my symptoms to get worse, not better. My doctor is nothing if not an optimist. Every prediction he's given me so far has missed on the generous side. So for him to say that is significant. That's why I like him. He tells me the truth.

I told him I realize I'm pushing myself hard. I know it's only going to get more difficult from here. But I also told him about the show dates I have coming up on January 13th and 28th, and how I intend to perform at both of them. Not much, just a little. He's all for that. Goal dates are important for hospice patients.

I don't know if we're going to find a good solution to my nausea and fatigue, or if I just have to power through. Either way, I won't stop until I have to. I can't. The day I have to stop doing those things is the day I start dying in earnest.

This is the first week since I began hospice care that I've felt bad all week. I hope we can get a handle on this and I can start feeling better, but we may not, and I may not. For now, and maybe from now on, I'm sick and tired. #waroncancer #bearingwitness

Friday, December 1, 2017

Living Versus Waiting To Die

It's been a while since I've told you how I'm doing. After two weeks in Heaven, it's time to come back down to earth. Time may not pass in Heaven, but it's passing all too quickly here. I still have much to do, and despite minor difficulties, I'm striving to do it all. I want to finish well.

My symptoms are manageable. I still only have the original three; nausea, balance issues, and pronounced fatigue, or what I call "that run-down feeling." I'm still in no pain. My weight is good. I'm controlling the nausea with medication. It tends to be worst at night and first thing in the morning. Once I have it under control in the morning, I'm usually fine the rest of the day. If only my other two symptoms were as easy to treat.

Before I get off of the subject of nausea, let me answer a frequently asked question. Yes, I still can't have coffee. The thought of one sip makes me nauseous. It's brutal. It's like being pregnant. The thing I loved so much now makes me nauseous. But as I've said before, I know that one day I'll wish my worst problem was not being able to have coffee.

I deal with my balance problems by making sure I can hold onto a handrail when taking the stairs, (and I do still take the stairs) being careful to stand up slowly, and making sure I always have a place to sit down quickly if needed. There doesn't appear to be a prescription for that. So I just have to be careful. My balance is better when I have more energy, and I tend to have more of those "sit down quick" moments when I'm running low on energy. Which leads me to my main battle at this point.

Without artificial help, my energy level is not good at all. So I've been trying different dosing levels of the steroid Hospice prescribed, which we call Dex for short. I reported on my first try with that in The Marathon. I took a whole pill, and that was far too much for my system. I had great energy, but could not sleep. I also had one of my dizzy episodes after taking it, though I don't know if the two were related. I tried a half pill a few days later, and still could not sleep that night. Finally, I tried a quarter pill. It worked, but I can't do that every day. If I do, I can't sleep by the third or fourth night. So, on the advice of my hospice nurse, I'm taking a quarter pill every other day to see if that will give me the energy I need and still allow me to sleep. The jury is still out on that.

But my sleep has been much better lately for one reason. I got a new batch of cannabis oil from my caregiver. I had stopped taking the cannabis oil suppositories I've talked so much about (see Tiny Popsicles and Tiny Popsicles Part Two: The Experiment) because I thought the latest batch of oil I got was keeping me from sleeping instead of helping me sleep. My caregiver made me a new batch that's 50% CBD, and that's been helping me sleep much better.

When I was off the oil, I would typically have at least a sleepless hour, if not two or more each night. But since I started taking the oil again, I'm sleeping like a baby again. That will only help my energy level. I'm very much hoping that the combination of the oil and the low, every-other-day dosing level of Dex will do the trick, both energy-wise and sleep-wise. And I need all the energy and sleep I can get, because I'm not just waiting to die. I'm living.

Progress on my book, Bearing Witness, is a bit slow at the moment, but will pick up again soon. Once I've caught up to the present in the template for print, I'll begin formatting it for Kindle and iBooks.

I'm also busy at work planning my memorial service. I've held one rehearsal for it - which spun a few heads on Facebook - and I expect to meet someone else to run through another of the songs soon. There are two versions of the service order, depending on who is available to sing. The slideshow and a video retrospective of my song parody career are in the can. Soon, I'll write the program for the service, complete with introductions of every person who will participate; Who they are, and who they are to me.

But the main thing on my plate right now is the winter show for The Littleton Conservatory Of Rock on January 28th. I'm the vocal and performance coach there, in case you're new here. Rehearsals started for that three weeks ago. We rehearse on Saturdays from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. As you can imagine, with my energy issues, these rehearsals are very taxing. I tend to have at least one of those "have to sit down quick" moments in the afternoons there, just from fatigue. My balance is worse when I'm tired.

I've had a couple of those in front of the singers I coach. My friend Todd has seen them too, but I don't know if anyone else has. One of these days, I'm afraid something will happen that everyone will see. But none of that keeps me away. I love being there with them. It drives me. It gives me something to shoot for; being able to take the stage a few times at the end of January with these people who mean so much to me. So don't tell me to stop. I won't. If I stop doing what I love, I might as well lay down and die.

The next rehearsal is tomorrow. It's the start of another marathon weekend. First, an all-day rehearsal, then that night, Sharon and I host a Christmas party that we've hosted at our house for many years. The Colorado Art Rock Society holiday party. Others have volunteered to host, but it's my last one, so we're doing it here. That usually goes till about 10:30 PM. Way past my bedtime.

Then, I have to stay up to get the house ready for a band meeting at our house the next morning at 9:00 AM. It's the only time the band I'm involved in, Wik, could meet this week, and it's been a month since we played Prog Fest. I wasn't willing to let it go any longer. And there's no other group of people I'd agree to meet at that time after a day like Saturday. Especially since I will have seen most of them at Conservatory rehearsal the day before. But this band is important to me. So I'm going ahead with it, and looking forward to it very much.

In order to do this, I'll have to take more than my usual dose of the steroid Dex. Which means I'm basically committing to not sleeping Saturday night. If I get a few hours, great. But I'm not counting on it. It's OK, though. I'll be able to take the rest of Sunday and all of Monday to recover. I only hope I don't have another episode like the one I described in The Marathon from pushing myself too hard. I'd hate to call off the band meeting because I had to go to the Emergency Room.

I could tell Todd I can't make it to rehearsal tomorrow, and stay home and rest up for the party. But then I wouldn't get to see those kids. I could have told someone who volunteered to host the party that I needed them to do that. But then I'd miss out on an important Christmas tradition for us. I could have said no way to a band meeting on Sunday morning. But I didn't, and I won't. I miss meeting as a band with them. I know that one day soon, I won't be able to leave this house. So as long as I'm able, I'm gonna keep going places and doing stuff.

It's such a blessing to be able to finish well. One of the benefits of cancer is it gives you time to do that. The absence of pain is the miracle that allows me to do all of this. More than a year ago, I felt a distinct sense from God that he was giving me this time without pain to get some things done. To allow me to finish well. My heart is filled with gratitude for that.

The night before Thanksgiving, I wrote a Facebook post about what I'm thankful for. Here's one of the examples I gave:

I’m thankful to have a sense of purpose that drives me, even in hospice care. Because of this, I am living, not just waiting to die.

Yes, I am in hospice care. Yes, I am dying. But I won't let that keep me from living. I am driven by a sense of purpose. Because of this, I am living, not just waiting to die. Now please excuse me. I have some living to do. #waroncancer #bearingwitness

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Dream Of Heaven

The following story is a work of fiction, obviously. If you haven't read my previous post on Heaven, Homeward Bound, please read that first. It sets up the concept of Heaven that this story illustrates.


My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3)

I awake in my own bed. But it's far more comfortable, somehow, than the bed I fell asleep in. For one thing, it's clearly not a hospital bed. I open my eyes and see a room that's strange and familiar at the same time. It's much nicer than any room I've ever stayed in, but has many familiar objects in it that I recognize. I prop myself up on one elbow, and am not surprised to see Baby Bear next to me, the teddy bear I slept with from infancy through elementary school. His formerly ragged brown coat gleams, and his formerly missing button eyes are now eyes that look real, and shine brightly. I resist the urge to curl up with him again and get out of bed.

Across from the bed is the desk set I had in my teenage years. The closet is filled with every article of clothing I loved to wear on earth, but made of materials I could never have afforded. There's a keyboard and a guitar by a window through which an unearthly light shines. I have no doubt where I am. I'm in my rooms in my Father's House.

Presently, the door opens. The most beautiful woman I've ever seen enters, and smiles at me. "So you're awake," she says. I run to her like I hadn't been able to do since I was in that hospital bed, and we embrace. Sharon looks to me like she did when she was forty years old; blonde and tan. My favorite version of her. But somehow, she also looks both older and younger. I can now also see the woman she became in my absence; a towering figure of strength.

"I'm glad you look like you did at forty," I say to her with a sly grin on my face. 

"What do you mean?" she replies. "I look like I'm thirty!" 

"Not to me, you don't." At thirty, her hair was long and black, and her skin was pale. That was her favorite version of herself.

"When I look in the mirror, I look thirty to me. But others see me at different ages, or some combination," she explains. As the words pass her lips, suddenly she looks like she did when we met as teenagers. It's bewildering and wonderful at the same time. Suddenly, I need to see what I look like.

In the mirror, I look about thirty years old. My curly brown hair is more relaxed and longer than it had ever been on earth, hanging down around my shoulders. The way I had always wished my hair would behave. In Heaven, I'll finally be able to rock my hair. My body looks and feels stronger than my old one ever was. Health and vigor radiate from me. But somehow, I still have the scars on my legs from accidents in my childhood. Then I remember that Jesus' resurrected body had its scars too.

"Stop staring at yourself, handsome," she smirks. "Would you like some coffee?" Coffee! I hadn't had coffee since my old body started deteriorating. Now, with this new body, I crave it. I can smell it brewing in the next room. "I also made some apple pie for you. It's better than I ever could have made on earth. The apples here are incredible." Now I know I'm truly in Heaven.

As we walk into the next room, I see a man I don't recognize. 'That's Josh," Sharon says. "He's just finishing up some work on the room. He's the maintenance guy here. You should see his carpentry work." Josh gets up from his work and walks toward me, smiling. "So glad you're here, Mark. But then, you always have been," he says with a twinkle in his eye. I offer a formal handshake, but Josh gives me a big hug. Somehow, I know exactly what he means. In a sense, I have always been here. My time on earth was a brief visit compared to eternity here.

I walk to the window. A golden city beyond my wildest imaginings appears before me. "Just ask the window to show you anything you'd like to see in Heaven, and it will appear." Josh says. "If you see someplace you'd like to go or someone you'd like to see, just touch the glass, and you'll be translated there instantly." The glass is transparent to the point of invisibility, but when I touch it, it's harder than diamond.

"Is that how we get around Heaven?" I ask him.

"You can, but we also enjoy walking here," Josh replies. "With these bodies, you never get tired. And time never passes, so there's no need to hurry."

A voice comes from the kitchen. "Hey guys, coffee and pie are on!" Josh and I exchange a look. "Her pie really is the best," Josh says. "You were right about that."

The three of us sit down to a leisurely breakfast. Now Sharon's hair is the glorious salt-and-pepper color of her late fifties and sixties, but her face looks no age at all. Or every age at once. I think to myself, "I could get used to this." The coffee makes the brief time I lived without it worth every minute. The pie is, well, heavenly. 

As we eat, drink, and bask in the wonder of it all, people start walking in the door. My parents and sisters are the first to arrive. I marvel at how healthy and strong my dad looks. He no longer needs a cane or a walker. He looks, acts, and laughs like he did before he ever got sick. All of my family seems to share that ageless quality I saw in Sharon.

My friend Galen Koch comes up behind me. I know it's him by his laugh. The pain of the depression that plagued him for decades on earth is gone. His face radiates pure joy. With him is his wife Jan, looking more beautiful than she ever did on earth, and she was quite something there. Another towering figure of strength, molded by loss, like my Sharon.

Their son Tony is with them, as are their daughters Nicki and Athena. All beam with love for one another, and for me. Nicki's beauty shines like the sun. This is a family reunited for eternity, and my heart can't contain the joy.

Right behind them is our mutual best friend, Nikki Nielsen. Her love for Sharon and me and the family she accompanies is palpable. What I could feel before I now can see all around me. The air is thick with love. I see in her eyes the price she paid to be there for us while I was sick and for Sharon after I fell asleep. My eyes fill with tears, and the embrace we share speaks the words we cannot say.

My college professor and mentor, George Dunbar walks in. He looks stronger than I ever knew him on earth. His voice is clear, and his eyes still command that awe and respect that they did in our former life. His wife Linda is with him. Her laugh sounds like bells ringing.

My closest friends during my time with cancer start to show up. Some I'm seeing in person for the first time. The rooms are full of people, but it never seems crowded. I'm surrounded by loved ones. I am home.

One by one, our guests go about their business. Apparently, we have jobs in Heaven. I wonder what mine will be. When it's just Sharon, Josh and me again, I ask Josh, "Do you have other rooms to work on after mine?"

"I always have more rooms to prepare, but since you're just getting started, I thought I'd show you around a bit. Some events are planned for you." I raise my eyebrows. Events? This should be fun. "Your first should be arriving presently."

"That sounds wonderful, Josh," I reply. "But I want to go to the Throne Room. I want to see Jesus."

"He is with you all the time," says Josh. "The light that comes through that window comes from the Throne. There is no sun here, only the Light of Jesus. He will see you when you are ready to see him."

I find this statement impossible to argue with, so I remain quiet. I hear a knock at the door that sends a thrill up my newly cancer-free spine. I wonder who it could be. Sharon just smiles like she knows what's coming. She does, of course.

I get up and answer the door. It's Eric Gillette, standing right in front of me, like he did at Morsefest. The lead guitarist for The Neal Morse Band. His career was just starting when I arrived here. His album, The Great Unknown, helped me through a difficult time in my cancer journey. I did all I could on earth to get his name out. I felt a calling to do so. To see him now, with the wisdom of years in his eyes, he reminds me so much of his dad. Eric is the first person I've seen here who isn't better looking in Heaven. That's because it's impossible for him to get any better looking.

"Hi Mark!" says Eric, with a big smile on his face. "We're so glad you're here."

"Eric!" I cry, "What an honor! What brings you to my door?"

"We have a concert planned for you," says Eric. "I know how much you wanted to hear The Great Unknown live, and I never got the chance to perform it for you on earth. You also never heard any of my subsequent albums. I want to thank you for what you did for me by performing a concert of The Great Unknown, and each album after it, in their entirety. The audience consists of those who found out about me because of you. Come to the venue. We're ready to start."

Earth Mark would have begun crying at this point, but all I feel now is joy. I turn to Josh and ask, "Should we use the window, or walk? You know, I've always heard that when God closes a door, he opens a window."

All three look at me patiently. Apparently they've heard that one before. "Let's walk," says Josh. "It's not far." We walk out of my door onto the streets of Heaven.

Don't ask me to describe it. I can't. Just ask the prophet Isaiah and John the Apostle. When you try to describe what Heaven looks like in earth language, it just sounds weird. It's like describing the most beautiful dream you've ever had to someone, and it ends up sounding lame. I have no eyes for the scenery anyway. What I can't take my eyes off of are the people. Such indescribable beauty, serenity, and love emanates from everyone I see.

Every few steps, someone stops me and tells me of the impact I had on their life. Some were because of music, others because of my testimony. My heart is very full, but never reaches its limit to receive this love. My feet never leave the ground, but I feel like I'm walking on air.

Eric, Josh, Sharon and I arrive at the venue. Eric's wife Jaci appears at the door. Her beauty almost knocks me over. But it's not her outer beauty I see. I see the heart of a nurse. I'm unsurprised to see my oncology nurse, Melanie, and my hospice nurse, Carolyn, with her. The light coming from the hearts of these three is almost too bright to look at.

Eric takes his leave to start the show. The three ladies enfold me in a group hug. Jaci takes us to our places, front and center. "Eric's so excited to do this show for you," Jaci says with a smile. I turn around and see that the crowd looks like about ten thousand people.

"All these people know about Eric because of one Facebook review?" I ask her.

"Not just that," she says. "The blog and the book too. Every one who learned about Eric from you bragged about him to others. Each new fan made more fans, because of you." I'm speechless. "His audience grew much larger than this, but we limited this crowd to those you turned on to his music. But once he wrote that love song that got picked up by a movie, he became a household name."

The familiar strains of the opening title track sounds like the song I've heard at least a hundred times, but more intense and glorious than it ever could have sounded with human ears. The whole concert is overwhelming, and I see the star that Eric became. I can't contain my happiness, and the rest of the concert is a blur of sound, lights, emotion and blessing.

When it ends, I turn to Josh, who is still there with us as my guide. "That was incredible!" I cry.

"It's just the beginning," answers Josh. At that moment, I see Neal Morse walking up to me. Neal was my favorite music artist for the last ten years of my life on earth. His music ministered to me in a unique way during my time with cancer. I'm overjoyed to see him.

"Mark!" Neal calls, "Awesome to see you, man! I know you're not tired, because we don't get tired here. So we have another concert for you, in a larger venue. The band and I are going to perform every album we put out after The Similitude Of A Dream, in their entirety. As with Eric's concert, the audience consists of those who know about me because of you."

'That's why it's good to have these new bodies!" laughs Eric, who has rejoined us. "I can do two marathon Prog shows back to back and never get tired!" My head is spinning from what I've already seen and heard, but I'm ready for more. So we all head out into Heaven's streets to our next concert.

On our way, we pass another large concert venue. EDM - which stands for Electronic Dance Music - pulses from the stage in front of a massive dance floor, which is packed. In the crowd, I can see my friends Derek, Amber, Garrison and Sandie. Derek sees me and gives me a smile. If I know him, he promoted this show. I think I recognize the stunning brunette at center stage. She gives me a wink and keeps on entertaining the crowd, just like I told her to do. It's my friend Anne Bryant, known to her huge fan base as SnoWight. I know we'll get a chance to talk to all of them, so we keep moving.

We arrive at an arena-sized venue. Neal and Eric go backstage, and we're met at the door by Pamela George and Paul Hanlon. Pam just looks at me and laughs. I start laughing too. We're laughing with joy, not just at seeing each other again, but at what Paul is doing. He's dancing. No sign of a wheelchair anywhere. He looks for all the world like a taller, more muscular David Tennant. But like everyone else here, his physical appearance is secondary. His heart is what's making us laugh for joy. 

"Are you ready to jump around like crazy Brazilians?" I hear from behind me. There are our friends Daniel, Kyle, and the rest of their crew. "Their music got even better after Similitude. Can't wait for you to hear it!"

"Good thing there's no waiting in Heaven, then." I reply with a grin.

This arena looks like it holds at least 25,000 people, and it's full. Full of people whose knowledge of this band's music originated with my testimony. I don't know what to say. But I don't get the chance to think of something to say, because that's when the music starts. I look back at the sound booth, and there's Rich Mouser with his Echoplex. No digital delays in Heaven.

Each song sounds like their entire catalog up to that point was merely an introduction to the Main Event. I always thought their music heavenly, but here, it's transcendant. It's a good thing no time passes in Heaven. You never run out of time for epics. I'm not the least bit surprised to see Mike Portnoy up there, killing it on the drums and entertaining the crowd, just like he did on earth. He gives me a knowing look, with a nod that says, "Look behind you." 

I turn around, and it's Trevor Downing, my former atheist friend from England. He hands me a cold one, like we promised we'd share. Only since he's English, he has a room-temperature one. We clink our pints together and laugh. No words are needed.

The emotion of this concert is almost too much to bear. I know this is how this music was always supposed to sound, but our puny human ears and brains couldn't contain it. In Heaven, we hear it in all its God-given glory.

When the music stopped, all my friends from Morsefest and the Neal Morse community surrounded me and shared in my ecstasy. I wondered what could happen after this. As though he heard my thoughts, Josh answered. "We have one more concert for you. I think this one will mean the most." 

At that, this vision of a woman comes walking towards me. She looks at once like the girl I knew and the woman I never met. I know her instantly, and my heart leaps. It's my protege, Payton Roybal. She exudes confidence, decades of experience, and professionalism. As I passed from my former life, I wondered if her dreams would come true. Now that I see her, it's all too obvious.

"I'm so happy to see you, Mark!" Payton exclaims. "I missed you so. Like Eric and Neal, I have a concert to perform for you. Unlike them, you never got to hear any of my albums because they all came out after you fell asleep. So I and my band are going to perform my entire discography for you. And again, the audience is made up of those who know about me because of you."

I can't contain my excitement. This really is a dream come true. Our party keeps growing. Everyone I've met so far wants to go to Payton's concert, including the entire Neal Morse band. And of course, they all know about her because I couldn't shut up about her. All of us make our way to the venue. I wonder how large it is.

On the way, Payton and I talk. She assures me that the work we did together made a difference for her. When we arrive, I can see what a difference it made. Her concert is in a stadium that holds at least 100,000 people. And it's jammed. We're greeted by her mom, Marni, and her sister, Delaney. Behind them are my friends Todd and Sandi. We exchange a look and a big laugh. Again, no words need to be spoken. We're together, and that's what matters.

In the crowd, I see many of my friends from The Littleton Conservatory Of Rock. I see the adults they grew to be, and the love they have for me. This is truly home.

The lights go down and the concert starts. On the stage, I see the megastar I always knew was there. She works the stage, pours out intensity, and holds the audience in the palm of her hand. Her voice is so powerful, she needs no microphone, even at heavy metal volume levels. The songs seethe with emotion, and all there are consumed by their power. I realize that this performer before me had reached even higher heights than I thought she would.

"I can see you're proud of her," Josh says in my ear. "I'm proud too. One of the best voices I ever made." I give him a quizzical look. What does he mean by that? Before I can answer, he says, "We have one more event for you."

"The Throne Room?" I ask. 

"A reception your honor," he replied. The guest list is everyone who was impacted by your ministry, whether it be your work in music or the witness you bore during your time of trial. Come." 

This time, we don't walk. The crowd that had gathered with me does not follow. Josh simply motions, and a window appears. We step through, and arrive at our destination.

We stand in front of doors so high, the tops are obscured by clouds. Beings of pure white guard the doors. Josh signals, and the doors open. On the other side is a crowd beyond counting. Millions, as far as I can see, even with this body's eyes. I am overcome. I turn to look at Josh, and realize who has been guiding me since I awoke. The same one who guided me until I fell asleep. Josh. As in Joshua. As in Yeshua. The Carpenter. Jesus had pulled that Emmaus Road trick on me! Now I see him in all his glory. I fall on my face before him, but he touches me on the shoulder and says, "Look, my son. Look upon this crowd who is here to thank you for your faithfulness. Great is your reward."

I remember what he said in my rooms. That Jesus is always with me, and that he'd see me when I was ready to see him. "Go," he told me. "Receive your reward. You see that brilliant light beyond the crowd? That's the Throne Room. When you've greeted every person who is here to see you, follow the light to my Throne. There I will receive you."

What happens next, I cannot tell. I am engulfed by love, gratitude, and joy. With every step, the light gets brighter. I know I am home. #waroncancer #bearingwitness

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Homeward Bound

Home, where my thought's escaping
Home, where my music's playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me
                         ―Paul Simon

It's time I wrote about Heaven. I'll do it in two posts. In this one, I'll try to explain what my concept of Heaven is, what Eternity is, and what makes Heaven home. We often hear Heaven referred to as home. We talk about going home. But what does that mean? That's what I want to explore in this post. In the next, A Dream Of Heaven, I'll try to imagine what my initial experience in Heaven might be like.

But first, what is Eternity? Eternity is another dimension; a different state of being than what we know. In Eternity, time does not exist. In fact, time and Eternity are opposites. Time and space are part of the physical universe that we know. Beyond the physical universe, or outside it, or above it, is Eternity. Heaven exists in Eternity, not in physical space-time. The observable universe had a beginning, and it will have an end. But Eternity existed before time, and when time ends, Eternity will remain.

This is what the phrase from everlasting to everlasting means. (Psalm 90:2) I think of physical space-time as a bubble. Everything we can observe exists within that bubble. Like the air we breathe surrounds a bubble, Eternity surrounds the universe of time and space, matter and energy.

My point in sharing all of that arcane philosophy is to underscore one of my main points about Heaven: In Heaven, there is no time. Time cannot exist in Eternity. Therefore, in Heaven, there is no past or future. Only an eternal present. And that's one of the things that makes Heaven home.

But before I explain that cryptic comment, let's talk about what home means. Is home a place? Or is it a person or group of people? When you say the word home, do you mean the place where you live? Do you mean the house where you grew up? Or is it something else, something less definable?

For me, home is a feeling. When you first move into a new place, it takes a while for it to feel like home. What is it that eventually creates that feeling of home? There are a number of factors; familiarity, smells, and comfort, among others. But most of all for me, it's people. It's being in the presence of my loved ones. That's what makes a place home.

Since there is no past or future in heaven, that means one important thing. From Heaven's perspective, all of it's already happened. All of history, and all of time that's yet to come for us here on earth is like a distant memory to those who are in Heaven. From the perspective of Eternity, we're already there. This is where I may lose some of you. I don't believe that those who have died before us are watching us here. They're not waiting for us. How can they be waiting when there is no future for them to wait for? In fact, I'm pretty sure that one of the things that makes it Heaven is that there's no waiting.

I believe when I leave this earth, my wife, my family, and all of my loved ones who are still here will have to wait to see me again, but I won't have to wait to see them. When I arrive in Heaven, from my perspective, all of my loved ones will be there, including those still alive on earth from earth's perspective. You poor saps will be still be bound by time, but I won't be.

I think of many dear friends who have lost loved ones and miss them terribly. I'm sorry to tell you I don't believe the one you miss misses you, or watches over you, or waits for you. But it's not because they've forgotten you, or they're so distracted with Jesus right in their face. It's because to them, you're already there.

I believe it's the same for all of us. When we arrive in Heaven, it's like we're the last one arriving at a party. Everyone we love is already there. And it will seem to us like we've always been there. Because from Heaven's perspective, we have. I believe it will feel like home, smell like home, and be the reality of what home was always supposed to mean.

I know there are many for whom home is not a warm, happy place. If you didn't grow up in a happy, loving home like I did, or if you live in a toxic situation now, home may be a place of dread. If you live alone, home can be a lonely place. But deep inside us all, I believe there's a longing for what home is supposed to be. A place of love, caring, support, laughter, and warmth. Whatever your best version of home is, that's what Heaven will be like for you, only magnified infinitely.

There are many other aspects of the afterlife I'd like to talk about, like what our bodies will be, (I don't believe we'll be disembodied spirits, but have resurrected, glorified bodies like Jesus' resurrected body) what our relationships will be like, (Jesus clearly taught that our earthly relationships will not be the same in Heaven) or whether there's really a choir in Heaven with a baritone section I can take over. But that's not what this post is about. It's about going Home.

Home is about love. It's about comfort and safety. It's about being with those we care about. And in our ultimate Home, the One who loves us more than anyone else could is there. He prepared that home for us. All love ultimately comes from him. Everyone who ever loved or was loved reflects his love for us. When we are in the presence of Eternal Love, we are home.

And here's the best part. It never ends. Unlike our earthly home where we are separated from those we love, in Heaven, there is no more separation. We're together forever with the One who loved us so much he wanted us all to live in his home.  

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3)
In a little while, I will see this with my own eyes. I'm looking forward to seeing you there. I am homeward bound. #waroncancer #bearingwitness

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Marathon

This weekend was one for the books. It was a marathon. I knew it would be taxing, but I had no idea just how taxing it would be. God got me through it, but I'm starting to understand why hospice patients don't leave home much. All the same, I am not sorry I went through with any of it. And I have no intention of slowing down, because my disease is still speeding up.

I continue to collect symptoms. It seems like there's new one every week. The one that started this week is not very nice, and it's not relevant to this story, so I won't talk about that today. But it's telling that, for the first month of hospice care, I had no symptoms to report to my nurse. Now, I have something new to tell her every time she visits.

The symptom that I was most concerned about going into this weekend was fatigue. That run down feeling I've been having, which seems to be increasing. I can't seem to get enough sleep. No matter how many hours of sleep I get, I still don't feel rested. I'm tired all the time. I had some important events on my schedule this weekend, so I felt I needed some help to get through it.

I told my hospice nurse about this when I saw her last Wednesday. She suggested a steroid called Dexamethason. Say that three times fast. It's supposed to help with energy and strength. I knew I'd need both to get through this weekend, so I asked for some to be delivered. That's one cool thing about home hospice. Everything comes right to your door.

The pills arrived Friday night, and I took one of the pills on Saturday morning. I needed the energy to get through the day, and I'd been told by more than one hospice nurse that I shouldn't take it too late in the day, or it might prevent me from sleeping. I took it at about 7:30 AM.

This was a big weekend for me. On Saturday, The Littleton Conservatory Of Rock, where I am vocal and performance coach, held our first rehearsal for our winter show on January 27th. The rehearsal went from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM, and that was a short one. I don't need to tell you how important this is to me. Rehearsals are thrilling, but exhausting. I needed energy for that. The steroid worked wonders for my energy level. I felt like I was forty years old again. It was awesome. I still battled some nausea and balance issues, and had to sit down a lot, sometimes at odd moments. But I got through the day with flying colors.

As soon as I arrived at home, Sharon and I headed back out the door to meet our friends Victoria and Andrew. Victoria and I became friends in a support group on Facebook. Her dad passed away of prostate cancer recently. She and her husband Andrew had driven here from Wichita, Kansas, about seven hours away to meet Sharon and me, and visit Denver. We had a dinner date with them Saturday evening. Though I was tired, the steroid kept me going. And I was excited to meet these friends I'd made online face to face.

Our time together was wonderful. We felt like we'd been friends forever. And now we are. When we drove home for the night, I felt good about how the day had gone. I had had enough energy to get through it all, and thought I was tired enough to sleep when I went to bed. But I was wrong.

I could not sleep. The stimulant effect from the steroid kept me awake. As I lay there, buzzing from this steroid, I began to pray. I prayed about the next event of this marathon weekend; my speaking engagement at our old church, Denver First Church. I was scheduled to speak for about ten minutes in two services. I had been praying about this for weeks, but still had no idea what I would say. Each time I prayed about it, I asked God to tell me if he had anything specific he wanted me to share. If I didn't sense him leading me in any particular direction, I'd try to follow where the Spirit led in the moment. Vamping for ten minutes is no problem for me.

I prayed that prayer again last night as I lay there, trying to sleep. This time, God gave me something. A complete, coherent message, lasting about ten minutes, in whole cloth. I got very excited. I ran through it in my head three times while lying in bed, and it stayed with me. I knew what I was supposed to say. I thanked God with tears in my eyes for this message, and asked him to help me do it justice.

Finally, I slept. For about five hours, I think. I awoke at 5:45 AM. I needed to be at the church by 8:30 for sound check, so I thought I was up for the day. But for the third time in eight months, I had an episode like the ones I describe in A Scary Episode and Episode 02. I was overcome by a wave of dizziness, with sweat coming out of every pore in my body. I had to literally crawl back into bed. I laid there for a while, just trying to recover.

I was devastated. How could God give me that message, and then allow this to happen? I couldn't understand it. I thought I'd have to stay in bed all day, and miss my chance to share what God had given me.

I called Hospice first. I explained what happened, and they set up a nurse visit for today. Then I called my friend Shaun, who is the worship pastor at this church where Sharon and I were active for 34 years. It was 6:30 AM, but he was up working. The life of a worship pastor. The services were at 9:00 AM and 10:30 AM. He asked if I could possibly make it to the 10:30 service. We had four hours till then, so I thought that might be doable. I remembered that I got through a Littleton Conservatory Of Rock show the day of my first episode, so as bad as I felt, I knew it might be possible, even though this one had happened much closer to the event time, and I am much weaker now than I was then.

I did make it to the church, but had to move very slowly and carefully. I couldn't stand up for long, so they got me a stool. When the pastor introduced me, I climbed the stairs to the platform slowly, hanging onto the hand rail. It's a big stage, and crossing to the center had never taken me that long before. But I made it to my stool, and delivered the message God sent me there to deliver. The video is on my YouTube channel here.

I went long, as usual. But it was amazing. God was very real. And he proved again that it's not me, it's him. I am so weak, but he is so strong. I should have known he wouldn't give me that message without enabling me to deliver it. That's what he's been doing from the beginning. Using my weakness to show his power. He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)

I don't know what this experience means with regard to my future. If I can't sleep after taking the steroid, how will I get through rehearsal days? That's a question I'll ask my nurse on Tuesday. I cancelled today's visit. I decided to sleep instead. But I am doing those rehearsals until I can't leave the house anymore. That's non-negotiable. In fact, I still plan on performing in the show.

The last time I saw my nurse Carolyn, I told her the date of the show, and asked her how realistic it is for me to expect to be able to perform on January 27th. She smiled and said I should probably plan on just being a spectator. But I need that goal date. And I need to keep doing what I love. If I don't, I might as well lay down and die. So I want to find a way to keep doing it without a drug keeping me awake. Maybe a lower dose, or a different drug.

You may say it happened because I'm overdoing it. You may be right. But at least I have no more Sunday morning commitments after rehearsal days from now on.

Here's an interesting thing. I just checked the dates, and these episodes have come at intervals of four months apart. The first was in March, the second in July, and this one in November. If that timing holds, and I'm still here next March, at least it will mean I can still get out of bed. They always happen within a few minutes after I get up. But if another one happens soon, I will need to go off hospice care to get it diagnosed. Episodes like that are too dangerous for me now.

But I wouldn't trade this weekend for anything, regardless of the difficulties. For one, I got to hear my protege sing Sweet Child O' Mine by Guns 'N' Roses for the first time. That was worth the price of admission right there. Then to meet such wonderful friends as Victoria and Andrew, and be able to spend some time with them. And to top it all off, my disease knocked me down, but God got me back on my feet and enabled me to fulfill his purpose for me. It was a marathon, but it was more than worth it. #waroncancer #bearingwitness

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Jesus Loves Me The Most

My friend Nikki Nielsen keeps telling me that Jesus loves me the most. Every time some incredible blessing falls into my lap, (which has happened regularly these past two years) Nikki says, "See, Mark? Jesus loves you the most." With a smile on her face. We both know it's a joke. I know Jesus loves us all the same. But when I look at the way things have gone since my diagnosis, I'm starting to think she might be right.

Before you think I'm bragging, read the Gospel of John. He calls himself The Disciple That Jesus Loved! Many times! I bet that made him popular with the other disciples.

I've written many posts where I recount the good things that have happened in my life since I got cancer. I don't want to repeat those posts, but I also don't want to stop counting my blessings. They have been many, and they have been constant. Let's start with the mere fact that Nikki is here. I told that story in Providence, Part Two. God brought her here just when we needed her. He did this. Many others are benefiting from Nikki's presence here, but I'm convinced God brought her here for Sharon and me. Because he loves me the most.

I don't know any other cancer patients who love going to their oncology office like I do. I don't know any who have the amount of support I have. I don't know any other cancer patients, let alone those who have stopped treating their disease and are in hospice care, who have the sheer sense of purpose I was given. All of this didn't happen because I'm so special. I'm just some guy, remember? I didn't do any of this. He did it for me. Jesus must love me the most.

A true friend paid our airfare so we could visit our friends in Texas just a few weeks ago. I told that story in Saying My Goodbyes. By the time we arrived, God had held up the construction of my dear Nicki Morgan's house for almost a year just so she and her family would be there in Jan's house while we were there. As soon as we left, Nicki's house started going up. Clearly, Jesus loves me the most.

I wrote and produced weekly song parodies for radio stations for eighteen years, many of them sports-related. For the last several years, my only remaining clients for this service were in Philadelphia and Houston. When sports teams were winning in those cities, it meant extra work for me. Not extra money, just extra work. I had grown burned out on what had been a really fun career mixing music and comedy. It wasn't fun anymore, and I wasn't making much of a living. But I didn't have that much extra work in my last few years of doing that because the teams in those cities weren't that good. As soon as I retire, the Houston Astros win the World Series and the Philadelphia Eagles are 8-1. Jesus must have kept those teams mediocre to lighten my load, and then as soon as I was on the sidelines, he allowed them to start winning again. He definitely loves me the most.

And can we just take one more look at the embarrassment of riches that was Morsefest? Come on. First, a bunch of people we've never met raised more than enough money for us to go in less than three hours. Then, were were included in the most elite VIP group there; The Hanlon Crew. We were put in the front row both nights. The second night, they interviewed me for the DVD, and put me front and center so I'd be in the camera shot for the DVD taping and final performance of my all-time favorite album. What other possible reason could there be? He really must love me the most.

And of course, that's why he has to take me home early. Because he loves me the most. He just can't wait any longer to see me. I'm thinking there's an opening in the baritone section of Heaven's choir. I am totally taking over that section, by the way. I'm thinking the choir director's been bugging Jesus about it. "Thy will be done and all, Lord, but that guy next to the empty chair cannot stay on his part! We need Mark up here!" And before long, I'll be the substitute director. Anyone who knows me knows it's true.

Of course, I'm having fun with this post. I'm not serious. In fact, every one of us can look at our lives and see evidence that Jesus loves us the most, if we care to really look.

You might think I'm crazy to say this, considering my condition. You may be asking, "Wait a minute, aren't you dying of cancer right now? How can you say that?" I say it because I've seen it. I feel it. I know it. And he keeps on proving it.

Though he slay me, yet will I trust him. (Job 13:15) The closer I get to him, the more I feel his love, and the more clearly I see the things he did for me when I had no clue what he was giving me, or what he was protecting me from. When you get to this point, I hope you can see it too. But right now, it sure looks like Jesus loves me the most. #waroncancer #bearingwitness

Friday, November 3, 2017

In A Hurry

For as long as I can remember, I've been in a hurry. Very few things were more frustrating to me than being stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle, or a slow-moving person. Until I reached my fifties, I always took stairs two at a time. I had places to go, and I wanted to make good time getting there.

I have actually thought many times, when I couldn't get around an elderly person who was moving too slow for me, that the less time we have, the more in a hurry we should be. After all, we're running out of time, right? Of course, my attitude about this has changed. But though I'm not in such a hurry anymore, my cancer is.

In a comment on my last post, my friend Trevor Downing said, "You want to stop rushing things, mate. Heaven can wait!" I replied, "I’ve always been in a hurry. Can’t stop now."

I talked in my last post about what I called the first symptom, nausea and weight loss. To give you an update, the nausea has not been bad today, and my weight is steady. There's a constant undertone of queasiness I feel, but I've discovered that one thing I love makes it worse. Coffee.

I've been a daily coffee drinker since I was sixteen. I don't drink it all day, but I generally have three cups each morning, at least. But yesterday, I met a friend for coffee, and only finished about a third of my Grande at Starbucks. I realized that the coffee was making me feel worse. So I drank water instead, and felt better. I felt very little nausea when I got up this morning, but as soon as I started drinking coffee, the nausea came to the forefront.

I also realized that coffee is an appetite suppressant. Dieters drink coffee to curb their appetite. One thing I don't need is an appetite suppressant. So I have to give up coffee.

This is a huge blow. But as a singer, I've had to go on "coffee fasts." Coffee is not good for your singing voice. It's dehydrating. One of my rules for the singers I coach is, no coffee the day of a show. So I'm used to not having coffee for a few days in a row, though I never liked going without. But now I'm going on my last, longest coffee fast. I hope they have really good coffee in Heaven.

No, tea is not a good substitute. What my stomach wants is water, nothing else. I drink a lot of water anyway, so I can do this. But your sympathy is appreciated. I'm sure that, before too long, I'll wish my biggest problem was not being able to have coffee.

There are a few other changes in how I've been feeling, as well. These are both very recent changes, like within the last week. For one, I'm having trouble with balance. Not vertigo or dizziness, just feeling unsteady on my feet. I usually need to hang on to something when I go up and down stairs. I take stairs slowly now, most of the time. But I'm still taking the stairs.

I also have to break a lifetime habit of standing up fast. When I do that now, I tend to feel lightheaded, and need to grab on to something. Its not an occasional thing, like we all experience. It's every time. So I have to learn not to be in such a hurry.

I also feel like my body is running down. I seem to have less energy, strength and stamina every day. I'm sleeping better, so I don't think it's that. I just feel like an old car that there's no point in trying to repair. I'm beyond repair. I've been totaled.

I have to say that I'm a bit shocked at how fast this is happening. I thought I'd have more time feeling like my old self. I even thought I might start to feel better when hormone treatment began to wear off. But that hasn't been the case. I got about a month of hospice care before I started to show symptoms. I expected more.

But I shouldn't be surprised. This is the way this disease has gone from the beginning. Everything has happened faster than predicted. And the rest will too. All my cancer has done is accelerate. Sure, we've been able to slow it down temporarily a time or two, but it always came roaring back, faster and meaner than before. There's no reason to believe that, now that we're not treating it, it will decide to slow down. As a matter of fact, it's spiking.

It's like the expansion of the universe. According to recent observations, the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. There isn't enough mass in the observable universe to slow it down, much less reverse it. It will continue to expand until the last star dies, and all that's left is a dark soup at absolute zero.

Likewise, my cancer will continue to accelerate until I am no more. Please listen to me, my dear friends. I know I'm breaking your heart right now. I know you don't want to hear this. Neither do I. But I must be a faithful witness. This is happening, and fast. People I love very much are telling themselves a story right now about me living longer than expected. I want to let you down gently, if I can. Please just ask yourself what in my history indicates that I will beat the odds. Not a thing. If past is prologue, we know how this will go.

The cancer cells in my body are not an alien organism. It's not something I picked up from someone sneezing on a bus. It's part of me. These cells originated in my body. That being the case, is it really such a surprise that a guy who hurried throughout his life would hurry toward his final destination? Not intentionally, but because it's how I was made.

If you love me, please stop telling yourself I'll be fine for a while. I'm not fine now. Please don't tell yourself we have plenty of time. We don't. I'm still hoping and planning to do everything on my schedule for the next few months. But with each day that passes, I wonder more and more if that will happen. My cancer is in a big hurry.

I'm sorry this post hasn't been more uplifting. There are no jokes, and God doesn't make an appearance. And I'm sorry I feel the need to put this in your face. But if you care for me, you need to understand what's happening. I will not be one of those who outlasts the six month hospice time period. I will go home with time to spare. It's what my heart tells me, and what my history with this disease tells me. If you want to see me while we still have an opportunity to do something fun, you'd better hurry. Because my cancer is in a hurry. #waroncancer #bearingwitness

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The First Symptom

Day 35 of hospice care. I now have symptoms.

It seems a bit incongruous to have a picture like this at the top of a post as serious as this one. But I won't let this disease keep me from having fun. But before I get to my visit with my team, I have to tell you about my appointment this morning with the main member of my new team, my hospice nurse, Carolyn.

She arrived at our house at 10:30 this morning. For the first time, I had news for her. I told her about the trouble I've had sleeping. She didn't think that was a symptom of my cancer. I told her that I think it might be the last batch of cannabis oil I got from my caregiver. I'll talk to my caregiver and try a different batch before I ask for sleeping pills. That oil has never kept me awake before. Just the opposite.

I'm actually glad for the mostly sleepless night I had last night. It gave me a chance to write The Last Encore. I'm glad I was able to report on that important event in my journey. But now we're back to hard news. Very hard.

After I told Carolyn about the insomnia, I told her about nausea and weight loss I've been experiencing for a few days. She considers this a symptom of my cancer. If true, this is very disappointing. Remember, I wasn't expecting symptoms until closer to Christmas. If they started before Halloween, that's really bad news.

She told me about a drug for nausea in my Comfort Kit, the Mysterious Box in my refrigerator. Ondansetron. Isn't that a Transformer? After she left, I was feeling pretty nauseous, and took one of the pills. I hated opening that first bottle of pills from that box. It seemed like a concession. It makes it more real, somehow. I'm now using something from that box I never wanted to open again. And only five weeks after starting hospice care.

The bottle said nothing about taking it with food, so I took the pill on an empty stomach. It made my nausea worse. I had to lie down until it passed. That wasn't encouraging. For a while I wondered if I'd be able to make it to my doctor's office for my consultation. But I managed to eat something, which settled my stomach a bit, and I went. But before I did, I put on my red suit.

Today is Halloween. When I set this appointment, my friend LaShay told me they were dressing in 1980's garb for the holiday. So I decided to join in the fun. I still have all of my skinny New Wave ties from that decade. I thought I'd wear one of those ties. But then I remembered that Sharon had made me a bright red suit in the 80's, modeled after the one Huey Lewis wears in a music video. As you can see, she did an amazing job.

When she made that suit in the mid 80's, I had a 28 inch waist. The last time I tried these pants on, I couldn't fit into them. I probably weighed in the upper 130's at the time. Now I'm losing weight because of the nausea, so those pants fit again! I knew that's what I should wear to the office. I wasn't just wearing 80's clothes, I was going as someone!

When I walked in, they all loved my outfit, and we took the picture at the top. It was really fun. I almost blinded my doctor when he walked into the room, though. I offered him my sunglasses. It was great to see him. I told him about my nausea, and he wasn't ready to say for sure it's a symptom, but he agreed that's the most likely explanation. He recommended I try taking Ondansetron sublingually, so it doesn't hit my stomach so hard. I'll try that next time.

But I also told him that I had discovered that what they say about medical marijuana is true. It really does help with nausea and appetite. Being a medical marijuana patient, I do have some, though I prefer the oil. But the suppositories never helped with appetite. Apparently, it's best to smoke or vape it for that. So yesterday morning, after I woke up feeling very nauseous, I decided to try it. Thirty minutes later, I was hungry. So that's a solution I can use when I don't have anywhere to go. I'll also try CBD, which is non-impairing. Better that than a pill, in my opinion.

But one way or another, we have to get a handle on this. Gaunt Cancer Guy is knocking on the door. Sooner or later, I'll have to let him in.

My doctor and I talked for a while, and I finally pressed him for a new prognosis. I had told the office I wanted one based on the new PSA number, 13.2. He said my cancer is growing at a steep rate. He knows that my cancer moves very fast, and keeps growing faster. But he wouldn't give me a number. All he would say is "months."

At the same time, he acknowledged that the appearance of my first symptom this early is disappointing. It's not likely to get any better from here. It will only get worse. Everything has happened sooner than predicted with this disease. And the pace keeps increasing.

While my doctor wouldn't give me a due date, here's what I know. They don't put you in hospice care unless you have six months or less to live. I've been in hospice care for 35 days. You do the math. And that's the maximum. If past is prologue, it's likely to be less. Maybe much less.

But I didn't let my discomfort or disappointment keep me from having fun today, nor will I in the future. And I still believe that, despite the odds, if God wants me here, I will be here. I still have things to do, goals to meet, and people to love. I'll keep doing that for as long as I can.

I've never written two blog posts on the same day before. But I've never had two such important events happen so close together, either. The last encore and the first symptom are connected. It's all one story. A love story. A story about a dying man who plays in a rock band with teenagers and wears red suits to the doctor's office. A story that's funny and sad at the same time. A story of meaning and purpose. A story with a beginning and an end. And all good things must come to an end. #waroncancer #bearingwitness