Friday, January 20, 2017

My Team

Until recently, if you'd asked me who my team is, I'd have said the Denver Broncos. I even found a graphic for this post in their team colors! They're still my favorite sports team, but I have a much more important team now. My medical team. My oncologist and his wonderful staff. I couldn't ask for a better team. I just hope I get to keep them.

After my last visit to the oncologist's office, when I got such stellar PSA numbers (.16, my lowest result ever, down from 1.3, my previous all-time low) and great care, which I talked about in detail in my last post, I received an email from Centura Health, where I get all of my treatment. Cypress Hemotology and Oncology at Porter Hospital here in Denver, Colorado is the actual oncology office I visit most often. They are part of Centura Health. In the email, Centura wanted me to fill out an online survey about the care I received.

I almost never fill out online surveys about anything, but this time, I made an exception. Each page of the survey asked a series of questions about my visit, from the reception staff to the doctors, nurses, and assistants. Each question asked for a rating, from Poor to Excellent. There was a box for comments at the bottom of each page.

As you can probably guess, I gave them an Excellent rating on almost everything. I think I gave them a Very Good on one thing, but I don't remember what. And I typed glowing reviews in the comments box on most of the pages.

On the reception page, I talked about how most of the receptionists seem to know me by name now, and how nice that is. On the page dedicated to the nurses and physician's assistants, I asked if I could give Melanie, my cancer care nurse and Nikki, who is the PA who does most of my blood draws, a ten. The ratings only went up to five. I love these ladies. And on the oncologist page, I raved about how my doctor is just the kind of doctor I want. A no-nonsense science guy who gives it to me straight, and always respects my treatment choices.

As I filled out that survey, the feeling that began after I posted Melanie And Me grew very strong. These people are my team. I honestly hadn't thought of them that way until recently. But the incredible, unprecedented response to Melanie And Me had brought that idea home to me. So many responded about their own cancer care team, or the team a loved one has or had. I realized that I love my team too.

After that visit, I felt so good about the way my treatment is going, I said in this blog that, since what we're doing seems to be working, we're gonna keep doing it. That is certainly my hope and intention. But it all depends on my ability to continue this treatment, and my ability to keep seeing my team.

Because, in spite of my good PSA numbers, I still have aggressive, Stage 4 prostate cancer. My prognosis has not changed. We're very hopeful that the good numbers will continue for a good long while, but that can only happen if I can keep getting treatment as planned.

There's a reason I'm writing this and posting it on Inauguration Day. I've talked about it before in this blog. I'm concerned that I'll lose my coverage. If I do, I'll have to stop seeing my team, and these good numbers won't last long.

I'm not here to blame anyone. I know that people who love me, and care about me deeply voted for this result. It's hard for me to reconcile in my head how that could be, but I have to accept it. And of course, I know it's not all about me. Everyone votes based on the issues that are important to them. I can't honestly say that I had the fate of my health care in mind when I voted. I can't expect you to be thinking about me when you vote.

I know that everything government does takes time, and even if they repeal my coverage tomorrow, there will be a period of some months, at least, before it expires. So I should have some time to keep going with my treatment. I should be able to keep seeing my team for a little while longer, at least. Maybe I'll even be able to get my next Lupron shot six months from now. But I fear that won't be the case. There are too many in Washington, D.C. who subscribe to the "makers and takers" view of society. There has never seemed to be a great desire on the part of those who share this philosophy to help those who are viewed as takers. I've been a maker for my whole adult life until I was diagnosed, but now I definitely fall into the taker category. I need help. A lot of it. Much more than can be raised in a GoFundMe campaign.

So just as I realized what a great team I have, I'm faced with the prospect of losing them. I know that the current system forced many to change their coverage and doctors, and if that happened to you, I don't minimize your experience at all. But it didn't take away your ability to get coverage. It may have made it more expensive and less convenient, but you probably still have it. And it provided a way for self-employed people like me to get coverage. Many of us, for the first time in our lives.

If I have to buy insurance on the individual market with no help, insurance companies will be able to charge me whatever they want. I have a $9,000 prescription every month! What will my premium and deductible be? If that's my only choice, I'll have to go without insurance, and without care. Nightmare scenarios involving paralysis, forced hospitalization or institutionalization with no insurance, followed by a seizing of all of our assets to pay the bills, leaving my wife with nothing but debt race through my head.

You may try to reassure me, but this possibility seems all too real to me. It happened to many people before the Affordable Care Act was passed.

I'm sorry if this post went off the rails for you. If it did, you probably haven't read this far. And I realize that my team extends far beyond my medical team. Everyone who prays for me, supports me, and loves me is part of my team. My extended team comes in all political stripes. I love each and every one of you, regardless of how you voted. But I still really hope I get to keep seeing my medical team for as long as I need to. #waroncancer

Friday, January 13, 2017

Melanie And Me

Today's visit at my oncologist's office was very good. My consultation with the doctor was first, followed by treatment. As usual, I "checked in" on Facebook when I arrived, and was overwhelmed with the amount of support once again, just from that simple post. You people are amazing.

I loved knowing my PSA number before my doctor had a chance to tell me. The "drum roll please..." aspect of waiting for him to tell me my PSA level has been a little unnerving in the past. I like their new system better. As promised, I made a list of questions and suggestions from some of you and asked him each one. Here are his answers.

First of all, I told him how, three months after my first Lupron shot, when my PSA had dropped from 15.8 to 4.00, I had asked my old urologist what those numbers meant. My urologist at the time said that it meant my cancer was only growing at four percent, rather than 15.8 percent. I've been using that as a measuring stick for future PSA numbers. My oncologist agreed with that first assessment, but said that now, it's more about the trend than the actual numbers.

Different types of prostate cancer produce different amounts of PSA. So while my score of 4.77 a few months ago didn't seem that high when taken by itself, the fact that it had risen so fast from the previous score of 1.97 was a cause of real concern. But others can have much higher scores, and their number may mean something completely different than my score.

In fact, he said that my contention in my last post that a score of .16 means my cancer is growing at a negligible rate is wrong. It's better than that. The fact that the number is trending down means the cancer is actually shrinking. So there's that.

I asked him about Zometa and Prolia, both of which are bone-strengthening drugs that were suggested to me in comments to my post, My Next Big Decision. He didn't think either of those would be as effective for me as Xgeva. I asked him about waiting until I have symptoms to start on Xgeva, and he replied that the point of starting it now is to try to postpone the day when symptoms begin. I'm all for that.

I asked about getting a bone density scan, which one of you suggested. He agreed that would be a good idea, to get a baseline of how much bone density I may have lost from Lupron over the past year or so. They will schedule that for me, and let me know. He says it's easier than a bone scan or MRI. Nothing awful to drink, and no IV. It's basically just an x-ray.

I asked him about the statement from a friend's physician husband that with Xgeva, I have a 2% chance of having jawbone problems, but I'd have a 100% chance of cancer wreaking havok on my spine without it. Wreaking havok is a direct quote. He agreed with that, but added that since I've had a dental exam and x-ray and been cleared for Xgeva, my chances of getting ONJ from it are less than 1%. So that pretty much clinches it.

I told him I'd started the Rick Simpson Oil suppository program in December that he and I had talked about previously. I said I thought my low score could be partially due to that. He said it's possible, but he would expect to see a number that low just from this much time on Xtandi too. So who knows what's really working? Something is, so we're gonna keep doing what we're doing. He says he's all for it, though he winced when I told him the suppositories are frozen.

Finally, I asked him about getting the shots every three months instead of every month, which was also suggested to me. Some patients only get the shots that often, and some studies have shown it's just has effective that way. My oncologist is not opposed to that in the future, but would like me to get the shot every month to start with. Maybe we can back it down to every three months later, after we see how things go. But I'm happy to go in once a month for a while, because it gives me a chance to see my favorite nurse, the famous Melanie.

If you read my last post, you know that Melanie doesn't normally work on Fridays. She came in special today, just for me. When the doctor left the room and Melanie came in, I teased her that she only came in today so she could get another look at my butt. That's where you get Lupron shots. She joked right back, that yes, my butt is pretty cute, and I should be proud that I have my own personal nurse who will make a special trip just to get a peek at it.

This joking was in reference to the last time I saw her. A dear friend who shall remain nameless had just posted a picture of her husband's butt getting a Lupron shot on Facebook. An image that's still seared in my brain. I'll never be able to unsee it. Thanks for that, guys. I told Melanie about that when she gave me my previous shot, and we had a good laugh about it. She said I have a really nice butt, and I should put it on Facebook! But I will spare you that. You're welcome.

As expected, the shots were easy. I barely felt either of them. For whatever reason, they went with the six month version of the Lupron shot this time, which amounts to more of it in my system. So I'm starting to feel it in my hip now, and walk with a bit of a limp, but that will go away in the next day or two. All the while, Melanie and I joked and laughed and enjoyed each other's company.

When we were finished, I showed her my cross pendant, and told her about them. Then I pulled one out of my jacket pocket in a nice jewelry box and gave it to her. I repeated to her what I said in my last post, that since she treats cancer patients all day every day, and she had come in especially for me today, I thought she should have one. My wife makes them in just about every color, and she picked out a green one to give to Melanie. When Melanie opened it, she was delighted, and said it was her favorite color. In the selfie above, you can't see her cross, but we're both wearing our pendants.

As I was waiting at reception to schedule my next monthly visit for an Xgeva shot, she made sure that the date would fall on a day when she's working. It seems I really do have my own personal nurse. Then she gave me a big hug. The kind where you think it's over, but the other person doesn't. I tried to let go a couple of times, but she wouldn't. She said that this is the reason she comes to work; days like this.

I think this has to go down as the best visit to my oncologist that I've had so far. I hope you never need a Lupron or Xgeva shot, but if you ever do, ask for Melanie by name. She may even say you have a cute butt. #waroncancer

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Almost Zero

I was going to wait to post again until after my appointment with the oncologist tomorrow, but I got the results of my last PSA test, and I couldn't wait to share it. It's .16! That's as close to zero as I ever expect my number to get, since I still have my prostate. It's a very good day today. We might have to break open the half bottle of champagne that we didn't use on New Year's Eve.

I'm sure my oncologist will give the credit to Xtandi, now that I've been on it for three months, especially after my number dropped from 4.77 to 1.3 in only two weeks after I started taking it. But I think the Rick Simpson Oil suppositories have a lot to do with it too. See my post Tiny Popsicles if you don't know what those are.

My head told me I might get a number below one for the first time in, like, ever, but my heart didn't believe it. For some reason, I was really nervous about this result. So this is a huge weight off of my shoulders.

What does this number mean, in layman's terms? It means my cancer is growing at a negligible rate. Less than two tenths of a percent. After 4.77 percent, I'll take that! It means my cancer is under control, more so than at any time since I was diagnosed. It's very good news.

My PSA will never be zero, because I still have my prostate gland. In spite of the fact that it's riddled with cancer, it continues to produce PSA. Only those who've had surgery to remove their prostate, or had radiation treatment to kill it, can hope to have a PSA score of zero. But .16 is pretty darn close.

I'm sure this means I won't have to get another test until April or May, when my next Lupron shot is due. That will probably remain true until my number starts to rise again. Which, hopefully, won't be for a while.

After much consideration, and a lot of support and feedback from many of you, I've decided to go ahead with the Xgeva shots to strengthen my bones. In all of my inquiries, I wasn't able to find one person who had dental x-rays and was cleared by a dentist, but still suffered from osteonecrosis of the jaw, a.k.a. ONJ, a.k.a. jawbone death from it. As you probably know, I had a dental x-ray done, and was cleared for Xgeva. That's one factor.

The comment that more or less clinched it for me was from a friend whose husband is a physician. He said the chances of my experiencing jaw problems from Xgeva are two percent, but my chances of having spinal problems if I don't are one hundred percent. If that's true, it pretty much makes this decision a no brainer.

I'll still collect all of the suggestions I got from many of you, write them down, and ask my oncologist about each of them. One suggested I ask if I can get the shot every three months instead of every month. Xgeva stays in your system for a long time, so that may be an option for me. Another wondered if, since I have no symptoms now, can I wait until I start having symptoms? Others suggested different drugs I might try instead. I will ask him about all of it.

I can't express how grateful I am for your response to my last post, My Next Big Decision. Over 200 responses of support, love, prayers, and valuable input on Facebook and in the comments of this blog have been very helpful. I'll never be able to thank you enough. You helped me gain some clarity in this very difficult decision. I feel very loved.

One last story before I close this post. When I was at the oncologist's office the morning of my blood draw, I stopped at the front desk to make sure my favorite shot giver, Melanie, would be there to give me my shots on Friday. I found out she doesn't work on Fridays. I stood there while one of the receptionists talked with Melanie on the phone, hearing one side of the conversation. She tried to reschedule my consultation with my oncologist to a day when Melanie was in. As I listened, it became clear that both of these women knew exactly who I was, in spite of the fact that they treat hundreds of patients, and I only see Melanie every four months.

After a couple of minutes, Melanie said she'd come in on Friday morning just for me. Just so I'll feel better about getting my shots. I think I need to take her something to thank her. This is a lady who treats cancer patients all day, every day. I think she might need a cross pendant.

I'll post again tomorrow about my appointment, and let you know how all of that went. I rarely post on back-to-back days anymore, but I thought this news called for it. Thanks again to each of you for all your support, and to the God from whom all good things come. #waroncancer

Saturday, January 7, 2017

My Next Big Decision

I have a major decision to make with regard to my treatment in the next few days. It's a very difficult decision to make, at least for me. My next PSA test is next week. I expect the number to remain low, since I've only been on Xtandi for three months. But I'll find that out on Friday. I'm also scheduled to get two shots on Friday: My next four-month Lupron shot, and my first monthly shot of Xgeva to strengthen my bones. But Xgeva can have a scary side effect. That's why I'm still on the fence about starting with it.

I've talked about Xgeva before in this blog. In past posts, I've been pretty well decided against getting the shots because of stories I've heard about this particular side effect. It's called osteonecrosis of the jaw, or ONJ for short. In plain English, it's jawbone death. Some who are on Xgeva experience this side effect. You get exposed areas of bone in your jaw, and your jawbone starts to fall apart. Doesn't that sound lovely?

In case you're not up to speed on my condition, I am Stage 4 with metastasis to spine and ribs. Cancer on your bones can compromise their strength. This is especially concerning when you have cancer on your spinal cord, like I do. I have a friend whose husband's diagnosis is very similar to mine. He didn't go on Xgeva, and he had a vertebrae collapse from a tumor. He lives with paralysis from that to this day. I wouldn't want that, so that's an argument in favor of going on the Xgeva shots.

On the other hand, I've heard stories of those who have experienced ONJ from Xgeva. For some, there is terrible pain. You start to lose pieces of your jawbone. But this side effect is supposed to be confined to those who need a tooth extraction or root canal. So you're supposed to go to the dentist and get an x-ray first to make sure you're a good candidate for Xgeva.

If you've been reading this blog, you know I did that last October. I have a lot of fillings, and a few caps, and I hadn't been to the dentist in years. So I was nervous about the quality of my teeth, and how susceptible I'd be to getting ONJ. But my x-ray showed no need for extractions or root canals, praise the Lord, although I did have some cavities that needed to be filled. My bite still isn't right from that, which makes me nervous. I still have discomfort chewing on my left side, which I've only had since I went to the dentist.

So I hesitate. On paper, I should be fine to go on Xgeva. I asked about it in a support group today, and haven't heard from anyone who was cleared by a dentist, and still ended up with ONJ. But I keep hearing it's a very common side effect.

I don't know how common paralysis is in those with mets to spine who don't go on a bone-strengthening drug like Xgeva. I should research that. But frankly, I'm tired. Tired of the life-or-death choices I have to make. Tired of weighing which horrible side effect would be worse.

Which do you think is worse? Having your jawbone fall apart, or paralysis? Having to drink all your food through a straw, or not being able to get out of bed? I suppose paralysis would be worse, but I wouldn't want to live with either. Quality of life over quantity. That's my motto.

So one of my biggest questions for my oncologist when I see him on Friday is, what are the risks of both? If I go ahead with Xgeva, what are the percentages? Likewise if I don't. What an awful choice to have to make.

I know that for many, any treatment that the doctor says will help is a no brainer. But not for me. I want to know the odds. I want to know what is the worst that could happen. A low percentage is not necessarily comforting to me. And while I still have no symptoms, it's easier for me to believe I'll experience problems from treatment than from my cancer itself. That's all I've experienced so far.

I don't have a spiritual point to drive home in this post. I'm just letting you all in on my dilemna. Do I go ahead and take my chances, or hold off and take my chances? It's a gamble either way.

That's the life of a cancer patient, especially one with an aggressive, Stage 4, incurable cancer. So many life-or-death decisions, and many times, there are no good choices. Please pray for me over the next few days that I'll make the right choice. #waroncancer

Monday, January 2, 2017

Hopes And Expectations

In a conversation with a friend last night, my friend expressed the belief that this year will be better than last year was. I replied that I hoped so, but I don't get that feeling. My friend's reply was that it will be a good year because we will make it one. I understand what was meant by that, and I agree up to a point, but when I look at my accounting of what happened in 2016, much of what made it a good or bad year was totally outside my control.

That conversation got me thinking. I decided that a good follow up to my retrospective post about 2016 might be one that looks ahead to this new year. I have hopes, and I also have expectations. Sometimes my hopes line up with my expectations, but not always. It's a little like making football picks. The team you want to win isn't necessarily the team you expect to win.

So what do I hope for in 2017, and what do I expect? First of all, I both hope and expect that when I get my PSA tested on January 10th, and see my oncologist on the 13th, I'll get the news that my PSA has not risen at all. If anything, I expect it to drop further. If my PSA has started rising again so soon after starting on Xtandi, this train will go off the rails fast. But I don't expect that. I got a good ten months out of Lupron before my number started going up. Surely I'll get more than three months out of Xtandi. Won't I?

In fact, as I told friends at dinner Saturday night, I expect the combination of what I'm doing now to give me a year of good numbers. But that's assuming I'll be able to continue doing what I'm doing now. There's no guarantee of that. That's where my hopes and my expectations diverge.

I hope that the coverage I have for my health care will remain in place. Until last November, I had no doubt that it would. But the results of the last election have cast that in serious doubt. So while I hope to keep my coverage for as long as I need it, I do expect to lose it sometime this year. If that happens, I will have no way to pay for Lupron or Xtandi. Then I'll be in serious trouble.

I have no control over whether that happens or not. But if I do have to stop traditional treatment because I lost my coverage and can't afford private insurance, I'll be able to do what I've wanted to do from the beginning of this process; Just trust God. Ultimately, he will decide if I stay here, or he calls me home. And I'm OK either way.

I hope and expect to continue seeing my therapist for the rest of this year and beyond. Even if I lose my coverage, I hope to be able to continue, either as a pro bono patient, or with help from a friend. I hope and expect that one of those two will be available to me, if the need arises.

I hope that I will continue to be pain free. I'm thankful for every day that I don't have bone pain. But I don't expect that to last. Before the year ends, I expect to be dealing with pain. I am a total wimp when it comes to pain. I'm not sure how I'll handle that when the time comes.

I have travel plans twice in February. I hope and expect that I'll be fine for both of those trips. Maybe I'll need an extra nap after I arrive, or even a full recovery day from travel. I haven't gotten on a plane since my diagnosis. Flying has always wiped me out. Now it will only be worse. But my endurance will not get better with time, so better to travel now while I still can.

Those are things that I can't control; My energy level, my PSA, and my coverage. As much as I'd like to think I can control my cancer with lifestyle choices, I don't really believe I can. All of the links and articles you send me don't mean a thing to a Gleason 9 score with metastasis to spine and ribs. Ultimately, my cancer will do what it will do, and I'm not in control of that. God is.

But there are things I can control. Those things can make a huge difference in what kind of year 2017 turns out to be.

I hope and expect to have published my book by the end of this year. I hope and expect to get my ice cream on the market in 2017 as well. I hope and expect to produce my last CD project in the first quarter of this year. I hope and expect to still be working with the kids I'm helping to coach. Barring unforeseen complications, all of those things should come to pass, and they should all be major factors in how well this year goes for me.

Those things really lie beyond hopes or expectations. They are commitments. I will do these things, or die trying. And there are other commitments as well.

I'm committed to celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary in July. Come hell or high water, we will have our anniversary pictures taken to go on our wall, and I will not look like Cancer Man when we do. I will lead the band for the party. Nothing will stop me. I might have to recover for a week afterwards, but that will happen. Count on it.

I will continue to be proactive in making new friends this year. The friendships I made last year helped make the bad news not seem quite so bad. So I hope and expect to have made new connections. But that's a two-way street. As Bonnie Raitt once said, I can't make you love me if you don't. I hope you do, but I can't expect that.

Likewise, I will keep cultivating the friendships I have now. I tried to do that last year, and in most cases, it bore fruit. But a few fell by the wayside. There's a new standard of friendship that I've begun to apply to my life in the past several months, in light of my prognosis, in light of my limited remaining time on this planet: I only have time for the people who have time for me. It may seem harsh, but I feel like if you don't have time for me, we must not really be friends. To paraphrase Forrest Gump's mom, friendship is as friendship does.

So I hope and expect that all of my current friendships will have deepened and grown by the end of this year. But that's a two-way street too. I can only control my side of it. The rest is up to you.

I neither hope for nor expect a miracle cure or healing this year, or any year. You may have a hard time accepting my prognosis, but I don't. But I do expect God to keep revealing himself to me this year. And I commit to being open to whatever he wants to do in my life.

As the old saying goes, while we plan, God laughs. Things I haven't thought of will play a significant role in how good or bad 2017 is for me. That's true for all of us. That's why I place my trust in God alone. Circumstances are bound to change, and friends may fail me, but God never changes or fails.

I love my friend, but we don't get to determine what kind of year this is. God does. If I've learned one thing in this journey, it's that I'm not in control. Nor do I want to be. I'd rather be at peace. I have found that peace and joy come from relinquishing control. From realizing we can't fix everything. They come from accepting that fact and being fine with it. Not worrying about it. That's where I've tried to live my life ever since I was diagnosed. And I'm committed to staying there for as long as God wants to keep me around. #waroncancer

Saturday, December 31, 2016


I hear many people talking about what a bad year 2016 was. Their measuring stick seems to be the sheer number of celebrity deaths, or the worst presidential election ever, or both. If I were in a different place in life, I might agree. But I tend to personalize years much more now than I used to, now that my remaining years can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. There's been a lot of bad this year for my wife and me, to be sure, but also a lot of good. And I wouldn't change the bad if it meant losing the good.

2016 was my first full calendar year with cancer. The changes that have taken place this year have not been as stark as they were in 2015, a year that began with my being a worship leader in a church and having lots of studio work and ended with my being diagnosed with aggressive, inoperable prostate cancer, and well on my way to retirement. I had begun this journal in October of 2015, and wrote a retrospective post about that year that you can read here.

But it's been a very eventful year nonetheless. In this post, I want to look back, take stock, and count my blessings. I'll try to just hit the highlights, but you know me. I may have a few things to say.

In my first post of 2016, I said this: Remember my post on thankfulness? If we thank God for the mountains, we also have to thank him for the valleys. Without the valleys, the mountains don't exist. Without mountains and valleys, all you have is Kansas. How true that has been this year. This year has been a series of mountains and valleys.

In January of 2016, I was battling weight loss. I've always been naturally thin, and had a high metabolism. It's great when you're in good health, but not so great when you have metastatic cancer. Much of this journal (which I had not yet turned into a blog - I was still only posting to a smallish group of friends and family on CaringBridge) was dedicated to my effort to keep my weight up.

At the beginning of this year, I was posting almost every day. About every little thing. I don't do that anymore. You're welcome. If you're one of the blessed souls who have read through this entire blog, you know that's true. Now I wait until I really have something to say.

On January 27th of 2016, I had my first appointment with my oncologist. I liked him immediately, which was a welcome change to how I felt about the urologist I had previously. My oncologist is a no-nonsense, just-give-me-the-facts kind of guy. I appreciate that. That's what I want in a doctor. He also respects my treatment choices, which not all doctors do.

At that visit, he clarified my diagnosis for me, and gave me my options, from his perspective. He works "for the man" (his term) and doesn't make any more or less money based on the treatments I choose. I like that. It helps me to trust him.

At the time, there was controversy about a suspicious spot that looked like metastasis on my left upper arm bone. He recommended an MRI of that specific area. He used an image from that MRI to consult with several experts about it. I've posted this image before, but in case you haven't seen it, here it is again.

It looked scary, but it turned out to be nothing. But because of my high Gleason score, we suspected that I had microscopic metastasis, and we turned out to be right. More on that later. But at the time, the news that this spot was not cancer was very good news indeed.

When it was decided that the spot in the MRI wasn't cancer, I started getting pressure to have radiation treatment to my prostate area done. I was told it could be confined to the prostate only, and it could be a cure. But I hesitated. I met with a radiation oncologist who tried to persuade me with very low risk percentages, but I wasn't convinced. I thought I would either have unbearable permanent side effects and reduced quality of life, or I would end up being metastatic a little while later anyway, so why go through it?

Nobody was happy with my hesitation. Not my doctor, my wife, or my friends. But I just couldn't go through with it. It turned out I made the right call, but nobody knew it at the time. Certainly not me.

The events I've been talking about happened in January and February of 2016. A few other significant things happened in February. Sometime in mid-February, I reconnected with my dear friend Nicki, who I had lost touch with after the death of her dad five years earlier. I've known Nicki since she was two years old. After her dad, who was one of my closest friends, passed away, I made Nicki a promise that I would do my best to be a surrogate dad to her, as much as I could. But I didn't keep my promise. It was only when I knew I had cancer that it became urgent to me to reach out to her. Now Nicki and I have reconnected in a powerful way. I now call her the daughter I never had. This year wasn't just about cancer. It was about relationships, more than anything.

Top: Nicki and me when we were both much younger. Bottom: From her visit here last summer.

On February 20th, I received my first cross pendant as a gift from my friend Paul. This cross pendant was made by his cousin Tom, who makes them to give away, as a ministry to cancer patients. This image of it has been displayed in many of my posts.

Recently, my wife started making them, and now I'm able to bless people with them when I feel led to do so. It's such a blessing to send these out to my brothers. And it's cool having one in every color!

So other than finding out I wasn't Stage 4 (as far as they knew at the time, anyway) receiving a gift that would turn into a ministry for my wife and me, wrestling with whether to undergo radiation treatment, and reconnecting with my surrogate daughter, I didn't have much going on in February. Except for a reunion concert with a band I used to be in, and my second Lupron shot, which was actually on March 1st.

My first six months on Lupron had not been fun at all. Oh sure, I got all squishy with emotion and practically walked around glowing, like I was pregnant or something, but behind closed doors, it was a rocky road. And Lupron provided the rocks. My first shot itself was horrific. It was very painful and made me stiff for days. I suddenly got very sensitive to cold, and felt numb. And that was just the beginning. Hot flashes, mood swings, loss of libido, all the joys of menopause forced on a man. If this is how hormonal women feel, it explains a lot.

So I really didn't want that next shot. But the first shot had been at my old urologist's office, and apparently, the tech there who gave me the shot wasn't very good at it. I expressed my fears at my oncologist's office when my next shot was coming up at the end of February, and they assured me that I'd get their best shot giver. Her name is Melanie, and she's given me my last two shots. I'll make sure to schedule my next shot on a day that she's in the office. I could hardly feel the two Lupron shots she's given me. Ask for Melanie by name.

It also seemed that my body had adjusted to Lupron when I got my next shot. Its effects have gotten milder for me. The way it lays emotions bare continued to be a problem, however. The emotional roller coaster continued at our house.

March was the low point of my battle with weight loss last year. My normal weight is 130 pounds, but as I'd gotten older it had gotten up around 136 to 138. After I was diagnosed and started treatment, my weight crashed. At its low point, my weight was down to 120 pounds for a few days in a row.

So I decided to see a nutritionist. She helped me learn how to eat to gain weight. It took a while, but my weight has been stable in the 128 to 132 pound range for the past few months. Holiday treats are pushing it a little higher right now, but that will end soon.

But the most significant thing that happened in March of 2016 is that's when I took the step of converting my CaringBridge journal into this blog. That's why, if you look at the list of posts in the sidebar, there are so many in February. I didn't really write all of those posts in February. February is when I copied and pasted them into this blog. The first post that I wrote here and shared on Facebook was The Ministry Of Silly Walks, on March 1st, the day of my second Lupron shot. I don't know why the date on the post says March 2nd. It was definitely the day of the shot. I remember that.

Sharing this blog on a wider platform, and in prostate cancer support groups has made an immense difference in my life. On CaringBridge, it was just about keeping friends and family in the loop. With this blog, here and on the platform, it's much more about being an encouragement to my brothers and their loved ones. Since I began sharing this blog on Facebook, I've made some wonderful friends. I've connected with people that I never would have otherwise. And the readership keeps growing. I'm humbled and grateful for all of it.

When 2016 began, my wife and I were without a home church. We are both lifetime churchgoers, so we were a bit disoriented during this time. We had always had a home church. But when the church where I led worship closed in May of 2015, we drifted for quite a while. It wasn't until late March and April of 2016 that we felt God had brought us to the right church, one that met our needs at this time in our lives. We're still part of that church today, and love it there. It's called The Table Community Church. If you live in the Denver area and are looking for a church, come join us.

There's an old saying. Church people go to church. We are church people, and for us, it's much better to end the year with a church than without one.

In April, my disability claim, which I had been pursuing for months, was denied. My wife and I were crushed, and I was advised by everyone to appeal the ruling. But I felt the Holy Spirit clearly indicate to me that I should not appeal, but just trust God. We did that, and some amazing friends stepped up and began supporting us financially, and we've never looked back.

That turn of events was a major emotional wave for both of us, and I saw no end to the ups and downs I seemed to be locked into by Lupron. But also in April, one crucial component to my emotional recovery began; Therapy. I highly recommend it, especially if it's covered. It's made a huge difference for me. Therapy helped me get back into a mindset where I could get work done. It helped tremendously with some anger issues I was having. We're well past my original reasons for going now, but I don't think I'll ever stop if I can help it. I can look not too far down the road, and I can see what's coming. I know I'm going to need counseling for the rest of my life. A huge thanks to my friend Sandi for helping me find the right therapist.

Another component in my gaining some emotional equilibrium back also happened in April. I began taking the supplement 5-HTP, on the advice of my close friend Deanna. 5-HTP worked wonders with my hormonal mood swings. It helped me let go of what was bothering me, and there was a lot bothering me then. After months of counseling, and my body growing acclimated to the effects of Lupron, I no longer feel like I need to take 5-HTP every day like I used to. I only take it now when I feel upset, or I feel like I may get upset about something. But for a few months, it was a Godsend. My wife said it gave her husband back to her.

In May, we lost our health coverage and had to find a new provider. But that situation only lasted for a few months, and our old coverage was reinstated as of August 1st. That was a real answer to prayer.

We had two pet losses during April and May. My wife's cat Midi died on April 8th, and our dog Ziggy (he was also her dog) died on May 9th, just over a month apart. We still have one dog and one cat, but they're both "mine." The house is much quieter now. They are both missed.

Ziggy in the prime of life, Midi on Sharon's lap.

June is when I began my work as vocal coach for the rock band school for kids that I've talked so much about. I had no idea when I started with that how much fulfillment I'd get from it. I love every minute of it. It means a great deal to me to be able to pass some of the knowledge I've gained on to young musicians in their formative years, and to get to spend so much time with my friend Todd and his family. Sometimes I have to leave a rehearsal early because I've "hit a wall," but I want to keep doing it as much as I can, for as long as I can. Our next show is coming up soon, and I'm looking forward to rehearsals starting up.

On July 1st, my wife retired from her job of 25 years to stay home with me during this time in our lives. I'll admit, I had a bit of trepidation about this, seeing as how I've had the house to myself all day, five days a week for so many years. But retirement has been great. It's been awesome having her here, and having the freedom in our schedule that retirement brings. It's also nice that she can go the the doctor with me when it's called for. We're still figuring this whole retirement thing out, but I can tell you one thing for sure. There's nobody I'd rather spend my days and nights with.

39th Anniversary Brunch at Red Rocks

I had a blood draw on July 8th and an appointment with my oncologist on July 12th. That was when the trouble started. That's when my PSA began to rise, from 1.42 to 1.97, indicating that Lupron was losing effectiveness. But my oncologist wanted to wait and make sure, so we scheduled another blood draw and PSA test for August.

The next two months were tough. On August 20th, we helped our dear friends Derek and Amber move to their new place in the mountains of Colorado. It's hard for me to explain the place that they hold in my heart. They only live 90 minutes away now, but that's enough to make it hard for us to see them, especially in the winter. I'm very proud of them for seizing the opportunity to live their dream, but when we pulled away from their old house here in Denver after helping them load up the U-Haul trailer, I was inconsolable for about two days. That was just the start of a stretch of bad news for us.

Taken at Derek and Amber's moving away party last August

On August 31st, I got the news that my PSA had risen to 2.7, up seven tenths of a point in six weeks. This result prompted my oncologist to order a CT scan and bone scan to see if any new mets could be found. Those scans took place on September 7th. The results came in two days later. On September 9th, 2016, I was diagnosed Stage 4, with metastasis to spine and ribs. The white spots you see in this scan are cancer.

The next week, on September 15th, I had another consultation with my oncologist, and for the first time, I asked him for a prognosis. He said if I continue to respond to treatment the way I have so far, I can expect to live another year or two. If we happen to find a treatment that I respond to better, I could maybe live another three to five years. That was exactly what I was expecting him to say, but it shook me anyway.

He also said he was glad we hadn't gone ahead with radiation treatment. He thought I would have ended up being Stage 4 anyway. So I was right to follow my instincts, and I'm glad I did.

Two weeks later, after another PSA test, I found out my PSA had risen more than two full points in four weeks, to 4.77. My cancer was definitely on the move. So I started on Xtandi, which are pills I take every morning now in addition to my Lupron shots every four months.

But September wasn't all bad. I got to officiate the wedding of some chosen family in September. That's something I'll always cherish. If you remember little Gloria and her sister Maxine from my recent post, The Things You Think Of, this was their mom's wedding. Gloria was the ring bearer, and Maxine was the flower girl.

And by far, the most incredible blessing of 2016 happened in September. Our closest friend Nikki moved back here from California. I can't begin to quantify what her being back here means to my wife and me. It makes all the difference in the world. All the bad news that got thrown at us in August and September doesn't seem quite as bad because Nikki's back home.

Nikki with us last Christmas

Like magic, with Nikki's arrival, the bad news ended, and the good news began. I began taking Xtandi in early October. Two weeks after starting it, I had another PSA test done. My PSA was down to 1.3, the lowest it's been since I was diagnosed. This news was met with widespread celebration, and for good reason. I hadn't realized what a stretch of bad news it had been until I finally had some good news. As far as I know, that's where the number still stands. My next PSA test is in January.

In October and November, I spent much of my time and energy preparing for my last big public performance, which took place November 20th. If you've been reading this blog, you know all about it. You may have seen the YouTube videos of it. It was a very special night for me.

On December 1st, I began the Rick Simpson Oil suppository treatment program that I talk about in my post, Tiny Popsicles. It's going very well so far. No results yet, but I'm tolerating it very well. I've moved up from taking the 350 milligram suppositories twice a day to the 500 milligram ones twice a day, which puts me at 1,000 milligrams per day, which is considered the therapeutic dose level to kill cancer.

I actually love the way it makes me feel. Not high or stoned, just good. Sometimes within the first hour of taking one, I feel a slight buzz, but it's not enough to keep me from doing anything, including work or drive. And boy, does it help me sleep. I haven't had a bad night's sleep since I started taking them. They don't make me sleepy, but when I lay down to sleep, I fall asleep right away, which is not like me. More importantly, when I get up during the night, I fall right back asleep when I go back to bed. I'm getting a good ten hours of sleep every night now. That can only be helping.

I'm sorry if this post went on too long, or if it ended up reading like your aunt Agnes's Christmas letter, but I've hit as many of the important events as I feel I can justify in this long post. There were many others, but if I included them all, the internet would run out of space.

Before I close, I have to mention the names of the new friends I've made this year, both online and in person. You have helped make this year a real blessing. I'm not doing last names or tags anymore, but you will know who you are. Very early on when I started sharing these posts in support groups, Miki and I became friends. Right around the same time, there was Robert, and Pete, and Peter, and Christopher and Lori. I can't imagine the last year without you guys. It's hard for me to believe that we've never met face to face! But one day, we will.

The list of new in-person friends is not as long, but just as meaningful. Garrison. Laura. Sandie. We love each of you, and can't wait to see what the new year brings in our friendship.

2016 was a bad year in many ways, but when I count up all of the blessings, for me, it more than balances out. My cancer got worse, but my circle of love grew exponentially. I am closer to God than I was at the start of the year, and life at home is better now than it was then. So many friendships which began in 2015 deepened in 2016. Janice. Todd and Sandi. Derek and Amber. Thanks for being there, all of you.

I hope and expect to be sitting here writing another retrospective post titled 2017 next year. But whatever happens, thank you for sitting in the mud with me in the meantime. #waroncancer

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Sitting In The Mud

I have a good friend who's dealing with grief right now. In a recent conversation, I started to make the mistake of saying, "I know how you feel." But I caught myself and said, "I don't know how you feel. I have no idea how you feel. But I'll sit in the mud with you while you feel this way."

I don't think I came up with that phrase. She might have said it in a previous conversation. I'm not sure. I may have gotten it from her the way I think she and her husband got a cold from me. Sorry, guys. Whoever came up with it, it's an apt metaphor for difficult times.

My friend and I have known each other for just over a year. Our friendship bonded around tragedy in her life and cancer in mine. We both realized a while ago (or at least I did - she probably knew it long before) that that's what people in our situation want. We don't want platitudes. We don't want advice or cheerleading. We definitely don't want to be told how to feel. We just want someone to sit in the mud with us.

I think that's what's been so valuable to me and many others about the online support groups dedicated to prostate cancer. There are a whole bunch of people there sitting in the same mud puddle I'm sitting in. I've made some valuable friendships in those groups. There is discussion and information that's helpful, but mainly, it's just nice having people who are there, who understand the nature of your mud.

But it's not necessary to understand. What's more important is just being there in the mud. Presence, not absence. That's what matters to those of us who are stuck there.

The thing about sitting in mud is, it gets messy. If you get too close to my muddy mess, you might get some on you. If you actually sit next to me in it, you'll get as muddy as I am. But that's exactly what I need. I need someone to sit in the mud with me. I need as many people who will do that as possible.

Not everyone will do it. When your mud is grief over the loss of a loved one that nobody understands except you, or a terminal illness that nobody wants to talk about, the number of people willing to just sit with you in it shrinks significantly. It isn't comfortable. Conversations tend to stray away from the light and pleasant, and nobody wants that.

So rather than get down in the mud, some shout platitudes from dry ground. He's in a better place. Keep fighting, you can beat this. Some actually tell us to get over ourselves, get up out of the mud and take a shower. Change our clothes and get on with our lives. As if our lives will ever be the same.

I am blessed to have people who will sit in the mud with me. I have so many, I'll never feel alone. I'm grateful for every one of you. Especially my grieving friend, who sits in her own mud. I think we have adjacent puddles or something.

Therapy is also very valuable to me for this reason. A therapist is someone who's paid to sit in the mud with you! If you have a good one, they will. And I have a very good one. I expect her to sit in the mud with me for the rest of my life.

Part of the difficulty of the mud puddle is feeling like you won't ever be completely clean again. Speaking for myself, I know I'll never be cancer free. I'll do what I can to extend my life, in accordance with my beliefs, but it will take a miracle to cure me. Nothing less. So I'll be in this puddle for the rest of my life, however long or short that is.

Some puddles dry up faster than others. It's not my job to tell anyone else how fast they should get out of their puddle. If I call myself their friend, it's my job to sit with them in it for as long as they need me to.

I didn't figure that out until I fell into this puddle I'm in. I didn't realize how much my friends needed me when they were stuck in the mud until I was. I'm trying to be that kind of friend now, but I have my own mud to deal with.

Your mud may not be grief or illness. There are countless varieties of mud that we can find ourselves sitting in, but they all can be made better if someone will just sit in it with us.

Here's a reminder to everyone who believes in the Nativity we just celebrated. It was the greatest example of what I'm talking about ever. God himself became an infant, and got down in the mud with us. He didn't just sit on his throne and shout at us about how we should live. He got his hands dirty, and his feet, and the rest of him. He did it for the same reason we should do it for each other. Love. So if you need a reason to sit in the mud with someone you say you love, here's one; It's Christlike.

Love doesn't shout platitudes from dry ground. It doesn't give unsolicited advice or judge. Love sits in the mud for as long as it's needed. #waroncancer

Saturday, December 24, 2016

One More Thing

In my family, we have a tradition at Christmastime called One More Thing. After all of the gifts have been opened, someone yells, "One more thing!" and brings out another gift. Many times, it's the biggest gift of all. I once gave my wife a puppy as a One More Thing.

Many times, there has been more than one One More Thing. After the first, someone else would take up the call. There might even be a third or fourth One More Thing. Not often, but it has happened. So in that spirit, this post has a few One More Things.

See, I'm getting into the Christmas spirit. Finally. We watched three Christmas movies one day last week. You can do that when you're retired. Die Hard, Babe, and The Polar Express. If you don't think Die Hard and Babe are Christmas movies, it's your loss.

This past week has been a little rough for me, emotionally. I'm sure you could tell that from my last post. Among other things, we had company scheduled on three different occasions, and all of them had to cancel. None of the cancellations could be helped, and we certainly don't blame any of our dear friends for having things come up that were beyond their control. But it made for a difficult week for me.

My wife and I have spent many Christmases alone, just the two of us. Since we didn't have children, and we moved away from our families decades ago, we've developed our own traditions and generally spent Christmas at home by ourselves. But last year, and now this year, that's started to change. We don't have anyone coming over for Christmas Day this year, but we do for Boxing Day. And there are other friends who will visit during the week between Christmas and New Years. Since my diagnosis, I find I need people around me more than I used to. I have to pace myself, but I need to be with my peeps too.

One more thing. My next PSA test and Lupron shot are scheduled for January. I'll talk more about treatment in a future post, but things seem to be going well at this point. That's reason to be thankful.

One more thing. Three months after having seen the metastasis spots on my spine show up in that bone scan, I still have no pain from them. I'm thankful for every day that's pain free.

One more thing. God is good. I keep saying that I'm getting closer to God, and it's true, but it's not like I'm inching closer to him each day on my own. No, he's revealing himself to me. It's like he threw a big door wide open and he's just showing himself to me. Not really telling me anything, just showering me with his presence. It's indescribable.

One more thing. Thank you for reading this blog. It means the world to me. I hope it's an encouragement to you. If you're a cancer brother or sister, I hope you can relate to my journey. I hope I speak for you in some small way. If you're reading because you know me and are concerned about me, I hope it helps to give you this window into what it's like. I'm gonna keep on writing it for as long as I can.

One more thing. Merry Christmas! #waroncancer

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Changing Of The Passions

This post won't be very Christmasy. I'm not feeling very Christmasy today, nor have I much this week. Cancer didn't steal it, circumstances did. But that's not what this post is about. Several things have deeply affected me this week, one of which was a post in a support group yesterday by a friend I've met along the way. His name is Dan.

Dan titled his post, "The Death Of Passion." In it, he described how Lupron and Xtandi - the same drugs I am on - have robbed him of the passions he used to have, and even the man he used to be. Once a guy driven by his passions, now he's lost interest in most of them. Now he finds it hard to care about much of anything. He misses the guy he used to be, and the life he used to have.

Many responded to his post. Most of the men who responded felt the same as he does. They miss their old lives, interests and passions. One put it perfectly in a comment. He said, "I must force myself to do everything I once loved." Sounds familiar. Hormone treatment doesn't just suppress our sex drive, and hopefully, our cancer. It suppresses our motivation and ambition too. It's amazing how much of what we accomplish as men comes from the pure drive of testosterone. But testosterone also feeds prostate cancer. So suppress it, we must.

Dan's post resonated with me, and got me thinking. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that in my mind, there is a clear demarcation between "pre-cancer Mark" and "post-cancer Mark." The entire theme of this blog is summed up in its title: God's 2 By 4. I feel like God had to metaphorically hit me over the head with a 2 by 4 (cancer) to get my attention, and wake me up to what's important. As a result, I thought, I lost my desire to "run the show." My desire to perform and record has been sharply reduced, if not killed off altogether. But after reading and rereading Dan's post, I can't help but wonder, how much of that is chemically induced?

I recognize that Lupron makes me weak, and makes it hard for me to do things that require a lot of ambition. But I hadn't thought that this new direction my life has taken could simply be the work of a drug in my system, rather than an abrupt life change brought on by the realization that I'm running out of time.

My wife and I led the congregational singing in church last Sunday. It was just a few carols with piano accompaniment, so it was easy. It didn't require much energy output on my part, so I didn't mind doing it at all. But it stirred up a bit of a hornet's nest. A couple of friends who were part of our previous church where I was worship leader came up to me after the service and started trying to push me back up on the platform on a regular basis. Not that it's in their power to do so, but that's their desire, and that was how it felt to me. This only made me upset. It showed that, in spite of the many conversations about this we've had, (and we've had many) neither of them understand how I feel.

Someone needs to explain something to me. Why is it that people understand the concept of retirement in every field except music? In any other line of work, when you retire, people slap you on the back and congratulate you. They tell you to enjoy your retirement. But musicians are expected to keep going until we drop dead. Why is that? Maybe it's because music is perceived to be so integral to who we are, people can't separate the musician from the person.

Many musicians feel this way themselves. I used to think that way.  I'll always do music, I thought. Maybe in a different form, or not to the extent that I'm still trying to make a living from it, but I never thought I'd want to stop doing music altogether. But that was before I got whacked by God's 2 by 4. That was before my first Lupron shot. Now I feel differently, and nobody seems to understand it except my cancer brothers. Some of them don't even understand. When I posted Done Running The Show about this, one of my brothers in a support group commented, "For now." He must not be on Lupron. If he was, he'd get it.

Mostly, I think people's inability to accept that I want to hang it up for good when it comes to performing, recording, and leading worship comes from pure selfishness on their part. They've enjoyed what I've done, so they don't want me to stop doing it. It's about them. But others worry that I'm losing my zest for life.

To be honest, at times, I am losing that spark. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that recent events have reduced my desire to live. I am both horrified and terrified by things that I will not discuss in this blog. There are mornings when it takes an effort for me to take my pills in the morning, and not just because they're so hard to swallow. A lot of things are hard for me to swallow these days. I'm just being open with you about how I feel. And I did take my pills this morning. I haven't missed a morning yet.

On the flip side, my journey differs from Dan's in fundamental ways. He began his post with a very amusing statement: Warning, your results may differ. Please consult your doctor if you have any of these symptoms or you could be just as messed up as Dan is. I can certify that I am at least as messed up as Dan is, but my results do differ. For one thing, I don't miss the old me at all. Not one bit. I like the new Mark much better than the old Mark, and everybody else seems to as well. Except those who want to hear me sing, that is.

I have new passions that I'm excited about. I don't mourn the death of my old passions. I have one more CD project to produce early next year. I want to do it, but the thought of the energy it will take makes me tired just thinking about it. But the thought of selling off my studio gear when it's finished excites me. I'm excited to move on to the next chapter. So for me, it's not The Death Of Passion, it's The Changing Of The Passions. Like the seasons, my passions are changing. Or they have already changed.

I'm excited to continue working with the kids in the rock band school I've talked about. I'm excited to begin the process of turning this blog into a book. I'm excited about sharing my story with as many as I can for as long as I can. I'm excited to get my Chosen Family Chocolate Ice Cream® on the market.

More than anything, I'm excited to experience more of what God is showing me, and to spend as much time with the people I love as I can. That's more than enough to keep me busy for my remaining time here on earth.

I've said many times in this blog that if I could go back in time and change my diagnosis, I wouldn't do it. Not if it meant I had to lose everything I've gained, including all of the friends I've made along the way. Friends like Dan. Not if it meant I had to go back to being the guy I was before. No, thanks.

It's a moot point, anyway. I'll be on these drugs for the rest of my life. So I'm not likely to change my mind. The old Mark isn't coming back, and good riddance to him. So to everyone who has scoffed when I've said I'm retiring from music, who reminded me of every band or artist who did a farewell tour and came back, who can't conceive of how the one thing that drove me for so many years could just disappear, I can only say that you must not have Lupron and Xtandi running through your veins. If you did, you might understand. I sincerely hope you never do.

Dan is a good writer. Several said so in their comments on his post. If he found any joy in writing that post, or in the responses he got to it, or both, I hope he'll pursue writing about his journey. I hope he'll find a new passion in it.

Dan closed his post with this: Find whatever passion in life that you can. I thank God that while I've lost my old passions, he's given me new ones. At my age, my old ones were a dead end anyway. The new ones have real possibilities. I'm sorry if you miss what I used to do, but I hope what I'm doing now has some meaning for you too. I know it does for me. Thanks for getting me thinking, Dan. #waroncancer

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Truth About Christmas

In case you haven't noticed, I tend to be an independent thinker. I don't just go along with popular thought. Even as a Christian, I question everything. So for years I've wished I could go to a church where "the truth" was told about Christmas. And by the truth, I meant the historical facts about its origin as a holiday.

Things like the fact that the Apostles and the First Century church didn't celebrate the birth of Jesus. And the fact that Christmas was created by the Church centuries later in an effort to replace pagan winter solstice festivals that happened around December 25th with a Christian holiday. Many of the traditions that we still use today come from those pagan festivals, like the tree and the Yule log.

Most Christians know by now that Jesus was not born on December 25th. He was born in the spring, during lambing season. That's when the shepherds were out watching their flocks, not in the middle of winter. But if we celebrated his birth in the spring, it would conflict with Easter, the most holy Christian holiday.

So I have no trouble celebrating Christmas at this time of year. December 25th may not be Jesus' birthday, but there's nothing wrong with celebrating his birthday now. And as I approach the end of my first full calendar year with cancer, I realize that the historical facts about the origin of Christmas are not the same thing as the truth about Christmas.

The truth about Christmas is, love is in the air at this time of year. We are reminded of how much we love the people around us, and how much they love us.

The truth about Christmas is, we try harder to be the people we want to be at Christmastime. Though our schedules may be hectic and our nerves may be frayed at times, those hectic schedules and frayed nerves usually happen because we're so busy going to see people we love, or because we're out fighting traffic and crowds buying gifts for those we love. It's the only time of year when most of us expend that much energy on others.

The truth about Christmas is, the music, decorations and lights stir something in us. At least, they do in me. There's a sense of comfort and home in those things. When January comes around, for me, the comfort disappears, and only the cold remains.

There's a generous spirit around this holiday season. People are more giving than at other times of the year. We tend to entertain more, and socialize more. Long neglected relationships are rejoined with a call, a visit, or a card. That's the truth about Christmas.

I am not one who cares much about whether people say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas." From my point of view, the holidays go from Halloween to New Year's Day. I greet people by whatever holiday is next. Happy Halloween, Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. But if a retailer wants to save time and ink by lumping them all together into one season, along with other ethnic holidays at this time of year, it doesn't bother me. Because those things have nothing to do with the truth about Christmas. I didn't go to that store to hear the correct greeting. I went to buy something for someone I love.

Of course I believe in the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus. If you follow me on Facebook, you've seen my relentless Bible Blog posts about it. I believe in celebrating his birth at this time of year, whether he was born in December or not. But I think Christians sometimes get a little defensive about this holiday. Yes, we celebrate the birth of Jesus at this time of year, but Christmas is about more than that. It's about family. It's about friends. It's about love and giving. It's about telling our kids that a fat man in a red suit delivers toys to all of the children of the world in one night, for crying out loud! It's about believing in miracles.

Last Christmas was my first with cancer. Now, after more than a year with this disease, after having been diagnosed Stage 4 and being given a prognosis which predicts that I won't be here for many more Christmases, this season has become much more precious. It's true that I've had a hard time getting into the spirit of the season this year, for whatever reason. Or maybe for one very obvious reason. But I'm there now. I'm not letting cancer steal this Christmas.

So to the traditionalist who boycotts stores for saying, "Happy Holidays" or the skeptic who loves to tell people Jesus wasn't really born on Christmas and Santa Claus was made up by the Coca-Cola Company, I say you're missing the point. I used to be that guy, but not anymore. Now I'm here to tell you that Jesus came to bring love into the world, and love is never more clearly on display than it is at Christmastime.

To quote my wife's favorite Christmas movie, Love Actually, love actually is all around at this time of year. Those who believe and those who don't show and bask in that love on and around December 25th, and in so doing, reflect the love that God sent into the world when Jesus was born. That's the truth about Christmas. #waroncancer