Monday, February 29, 2016

One More Day

One more day before my next Lupron shot. One more day to feel relatively normal. One more day of walking without a limp for a few days. One more day of being able to taste my food for a few days.

My appointment with my oncologist is tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM, Mountain Time. We'll talk about where he thinks we should go from here. But the fact that I'm still scheduled for my shot tells us something. His assistant called about a half hour ago to confirm my appointment. At first, she said that my appointment tomorrow is just a follow-up, so I don't need to come in early. That raised my eyebrows. Change of plans? No such luck. She just hadn't read my whole report. I am still on the schedule for a 6 month Lupron shot tomorrow. There's also a 4 month version of the shot, but I can't imagine why anyone would want to get that shot more often. Maybe some people can't tolerate the 6 month shot.

I know that I could have it a lot worse. I could be in the hospital hooked up to a bunch of machines right now. Compared to many, if not most guys in my shoes, I'm getting off really easy, at least so far. So I am well aware that I have no room to complain about the relatively mild side effects that I'm experiencing. But in the immortal words of Joe Walsh, I can't complain, but sometimes I still do. I know you don't come here to listen to me complain. Or do you?

Please understand that I'm not making this out to be a bigger deal than it is. I'm not worrying over baseless expectations. Instead, I'm basing my dread on past experience. If you've been reading this journal, you know that it's pretty much been one long narrative of the effects of Lupron on my body. It affects everything. My appetite, my moods, my ability to go outside, my ability to feel, and for the first few days, even my ability to walk.

This is a huge, nasty needle. The tech warms the liquid in the syringe up in her hands before she sticks the needle in, since the fluid she's about to inject into the body just came out of the refrigerator. Even that causes dread in a guy who's sensitive to cold. The shot goes in my back hip, right below the belt. Once the shot goes in, she tries to work it in with her hands, because it tends to collect where the needle goes in. But that only goes so far. I end up with a stiff area about 4 inches in diameter that makes me walk with a limp until it spreads into my system. Once it's all the way in my system, then I can't feel or taste for about a week. After that, the side effects get milder.

But as you're well aware, they never go away completely, at least not for 6 months plus. Once I've had my last Lupron shot, I wonder how long it will take for the side effects to completely disappear.

I expect to only get three more of these. According to my oncologist, the aggressiveness of my cancer will prevent Lupron from working for more than about two years.

My wife is still off work this week, so she will be with me for the appointment. Immediately after the shot, she has a doctors' appointment. So I get to spend my first hour or two after the shot in waiting rooms, reeling from it.

I love the fact that Lupron is keeping my PSA level down for now, but I dislike everything else about it. I hate the way it makes me feel. I really hate the way it strips away my filters. I'm still having trouble with anger, but I'm at least aware that it's a problem, and I'm trying to learn to take a breath. It happened twice this morning, once while trying to plug in a computer cable that had bent pins, and once while running errands. But I managed to keep my cool. This is very strange for me, having to deal with issues like this.

I will definitely post tomorrow, but it may be late in the day. There will be lots to share, and I know you will want to know what's going on. But once we get home, we may want to talk things over between the two of us first. Then I will call my parents. Then I'll post.

It seems like every time I have a really serious post, I follow it up with a silly one. Like this past weekend. No Excuses was followed up by Welcome To Womanhood. My albums tended to be the same way. My second album, Sin No More, was deadly serious. My third, Drive-Thru World, is downright goofy. But I don't think tomorrow's post will be very funny. It will probably be mostly informational, which is rare in this journal. It will be nice to actually have news!

So like I said earlier, the fact that I'm still scheduled for my Lupron shot tells me that we're at least going to keep doing Lupron until it stops working. We'll see if a biopsy is in his plans, and if he recommends radiation. For the first time, I will ask for a prognosis. Once we know what he wants to do, we'll take some time and decide what we want to do. Because we have options.

I will devote an entire post to this issue soon, so I won't go into it now. But the major decision Sharon and I will be making soon, regardless of my results or prognosis, is whether to pursue standard Western medical treatment, or go with alternatives. Thanks to the generosity of friends, we can decide which we want to do, and it's covered either way. Have I mentioned lately that I'm the richest man in town?

We have a dinner tonight at the church that we've decided to make our church home for the time being, All Saints Ministry. I'm very glad that I can go because I haven't had my shot yet. I'm glad I won't walk in with a limp, and I'll be able to taste my food. One more day.

Welcome To Womanhood

My good friend Deanna said that in her comment to my last post. Welcome to womanhood. If you've read the post, you know that it's about the emotional outbursts I've been experiencing from Lupron in my system. To understand Deanna's comment, you have to understand Deanna and me. Our relationship is, shall we say, politically incorrect. We like to make inappropriate comments to get laughs. We're both pretty good at it, and we like to make each other laugh with lines like that.

Deanna is funny. That's one of the highest compliments I can give anyone, and it's one of the least of many admirable qualities that she possesses. I could go on and on about her like I have so many others, but I'll restrain myself this time. Your turn is coming, Deanna.

Here is my response to her comment, in the form of a question: Is that what a man wants to hear from a woman? Welcome to womanhood? That's just what you want to hear when you're not feeling so masculine. But I know Deanna loves me. More than butter, she says. That's a lot. So it doesn't bother me. In fact, I love it because she gave me this idea!

Her comment reminded me of another one I received last Sunday. I was at Walmart, looking for a T-shirt to wear under a jacket. I wanted it to be orange or blue, to go with the colors of the cross pendant I also wore. I prefer orange, but they didn't have any in my size, which is a men's small these days. I can also wear a boy's large, but they tend to be too short. At one point, the lady who was helping me held up a 2XL, and asked, "Can you wear this?" I opened up my jacket and said, "Look at me." She replied, "You are a tiny man." Is that supposed to make me feel good about myself?

But who am kidding? I am a tiny man. Getting tinier every day. I'll be downright skeletal if they put me on chemo. I work out, but Lupron makes me weak. Sometimes I need to carry my dog who's had recent knee surgery up a flight of stairs because she's not allowed to climb stairs during her recovery. But I'm afraid to try that now because she weighs more than half what I weigh. 67 to 124. If she squirmed and I fell, it could be disastrous for both of us.

Welcome to womanhood, huh? Who am I, Caitlyn Jenner? Actually, I kinda am. I'm pretty sure Caitlyn and I get the same shot. Lupron is widely used in gender reassignment. The night before my first shot, I watched a Frontline documentary called, "Growing Up Trans." About little boys that you would swear are girls, who identify as girls, and little girls who identify as boys. Transgender girls are given Lupron shots when they start to go into puberty to keep them from turning into men. That's an early step in gender reassignment. Welcome to womanhood indeed.

It's the emotional side that really gets me, though. I never did get a good cry that I thought I needed yesterday, but I know it's coming. Probably over something really stupid. I can't force it. It has to happen on its own. But it's bound to come, and at an inappropriate time. I just hope I don't take it out on anyone. I have to make sure I don't.

We're not really talking about womanhood so much as menopause, are we? The hot flashes, the emotional roller coaster, the loss of libido. What I'm really getting is a small taste of what my wife has dealt with for the last 15 years. At least. But my version, while shorter lived, has a distinctive edge to it. A weight. It's more than a nuisance. It's a reminder of why it's there. Sometimes when I cry, it's because I really have something to cry about. Other times, not so much.

Here's the kicker. I just got the results from my blood draw yesterday. My PSA is 1.42, down from 4.00 on November 5th, and 15.8 last April. So the Lupron is still working. There's no going back now. This coming Tuesday, I get to go in and get my next Lupron shot. I suppose I should get some spike keels too. Welcome to womanhood.

No Excuses


I am not myself, in both good ways and bad. I have a good excuse for it, but I don't believe in making excuses for bad behavior. Even if I'm under the influence of some pharmaceutical drug, I think I'm still responsible for my attitude, words and actions. Ultimately, though we can't control how we feel, we can control how we behave. But Lupron, coupled with the sheer weight of everything that's happening, is making that difficult.

If you've read this journal for a while, you've seen the emotional ups and downs I've been going through. For the first several weeks following going public with my diagnosis last August, I was walking on air every day. While many would have taken the news very hard, I was feeling blessed. I experienced a significant spiritual breakthrough during this time. I was "living on love," as I often said.

But at the same time, I experienced conflicts with others that damaged relationships. Lupron has not just made it easier for me to laugh and cry. It's also made it much easier for me to get angry. I get very angry very quickly. Recently I was apologizing to my wife for an emotional outburst, and she said that it was OK, because I'm not myself. I never wanted that phrase to be said about me.

I had a bad episode last night, around 12:30 AM with one of my pets. It frightened me to think what I might have done if I had been any angrier. I might have done something I could not get over, and I could not help but wonder as I laid in bed afterward, shaking, that if I'm this bad now, how bad will I be after two years of Lupron? Will I even recognize myself?

If you and I have been in conflict in the past, you know what I'm like when I'm angry. In the words of Bruce Banner, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry. I've never been a tantrum thrower, and I've certainly never been violent, but if I've been angry with you, you may have received a long email that came off like the Airing Of Grievances at Festivus. (Seinfeld reference) If you have ever received an email like that from me, how I wish I could take it back. I've said many times that I've never struck another person in anger in my life. I've actually been smug about it. Now I can see myself going there all too easily. Now I am prone to sudden emotional outbursts. This morning was a good example. Or a bad one, depending on how you look at it.

My oncologist, at my last appointment, said I should come in today and get a blood draw before my consultation with him this Tuesday. He didn't specify where I should go, so I assumed I should go to the lab I had gone to before, when I got my PSA number that started all of this trouble. He and my family doctor both work for Centura Health, so I assumed they all use the same lab. Silly me. It turned out we were at the wrong lab. The lady at the counter walked me to another lab, where she thought I was supposed to go, in a different building. That was the wrong place too.

Of course, you know that when you get your blood drawn, you're supposed to fast. So I had had no food or coffee yet. I had gotten up at 5:30 this morning, we had arrived at the lab shortly after 8:00 AM, and I was getting hungry and starting to feel weak. Rubber legs were beginning to set in. So after being turned away for the second time, I tried to find my way out of the hospital building, and got lost briefly. That's when anger turned to tears. Nothing makes me feel like crying more than getting lost.

But I managed to find my way out. I walked to the car in tears, and had to collect myself before I could call my oncologist's office to ask where I was supposed to go. It was just before 9:00 AM, and they weren't open yet. I got the recording, which said their office was closed today. That's when I almost lost it. I'm supposed to get a blood draw, they didn't call it in anywhere, and they're closed? But then I got through to the answering service, the office opened, and I found out I was supposed to simply come in to the oncologist's office. The recording was wrong. They were open after all. I'm sorry to say that in my anger, I was rude to the answering service person. I apologized to her. I went in and sat in the waiting room for a few minutes, trying to control myself. When I went in for the blood draw, I asked the tech if it's OK to get your blood drawn when you're emotional. It would have been nice if they had told me where to go in the first place.

My wife was with me this whole time, except when the blood was being drawn. She thought she'd be able to get hers done along with me prior to her checkup on Tuesday. Her checkup immediately follows my consultation and Lupron shot. What a fun day that will be! That didn't work out, so I felt badly that I had made her get made up to leave the house. But while this was happening, I was very glad she was with me. I think having her there helped me maintain control, such as it was. It probably would have been worse if I had been alone. When she is with me, I'm less likely to cause a public scene because I don't want to embarrass her. I also really didn't feel like driving after all of this.

As everyone knows, when you have to fast for a medical procedure in the morning, you go to breakfast when you leave. We stopped at a place close to home. As my stomach filled and I got some coffee in me, I naturally started to feel much better. At 9:30 AM, there isn't much of a crowd in breakfast restaurants, so when we were first seated, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. But then, a crowd started arriving, and they didn't have enough help because of the time of day. So our order came out late, and it sat getting cold while we waited for more coffee, and for a couple of items that were missing from our order. As my food got colder, I started to get angry again. But I was nice. I think.

Here's the thing. I know that I would have handled this morning's events better if I wasn't feeling so guilty about my angry outburst last night, which no one saw except me, a dog and a cat. As I said at the top, I know I have a good excuse, but I can't accept that. I can't say that God is making me into the man I was always supposed to be if I'm taking out my anger on people who are only trying to do their jobs. To say nothing of lashing out at loved ones because of my fragile emotional state. Or at pets who I love with all of my heart, and who have no idea what's going on.

On the one hand, I want to say please bear with me. On the other, I don't think I have the right to say that. I can't ask you to make excuses for me in a post where I'm talking about not making excuses.

I've always been more of a stewer or a cryer than a tantrum thrower. I didn't throw a tantrum today, but I missed my opportunity for a good cry. The moment passed. So I came here. If I can talk it out with you, I'll feel better afterward.

To bring it full circle again, it's not about how I feel. It's about what I do and say. No allowances for how we feel are made in the Bible. Paul and Silas sang hymns while being tortured in prison! (Acts 16:25-40, blog) What counts is our behavior, regardless of our circumstances. My feelings of anger last night passed, but my guilt for my actions, and realizing what I might have done if I'd been any angrier, will last much longer. I'm afraid that someday I'll do something in anger that I'll regret for the rest of my life, once Lupron has broken me down enough. So I need to learn control now.

Because if we really can change, and I have to believe we can, I can't allow myself any excuses for losing control over my emotions. The waitress at the breakfast place has no idea what I'm dealing with. None of this is her problem. My job is to treat her, and everyone else, the way they should be treated, regardless of how I feel, or how much I've been inconvenienced. Or how scared or confused or emotional I am.

A former pastor of mine used to say, "I don't care how high you jump, as long as when you hit the ground, you walk straight." Meaning emotions are great, but your religious experience wasn't real if it doesn't result in good behavior. I know my experience was real, and it continues to be. But how real it is is demonstrated by how I treat you.

Please don't anyone make excuses for me in your comments! That would be missing the point.

On a different subject, I think at least half of the five pounds I lost last weekend were from dehydration. A couple of days of drinking lots of water added 2-3 pounds by itself. Today I weighed 124.

I hope that my being so transparent about this stuff will help someone else who's going through it. This is all new to me. There's no instruction manual. Believe it or not, if there were one, I would read it. I do that. But again, that's not why I'm writing this. I didn't get the chance for a good cry today, but I feel better now after talking with you about it. Thanks again for being here.

The Wall

Not the Pink Floyd album or the song by Kansas. From Leftoverture, I believe. Both are masterpieces, in my opinion, but I'm not talking about music. I'm talking about my endurance, or lack thereof. I find that now, I don't get tired gradually. Instead, now I hit a wall. I'm fine for a while, then suddenly my legs go all rubbery and I get very unsteady on my feet. I feel like I have to step very carefully so I don't fall. I literally start to droop like a plant that needs water. It's very strange.

That happened to me at each rehearsal we had for last night's concert. In the first rehearsal, I hit the wall at about 9:30, but we were ready to stop then anyway. The next rehearsal, I had to leave before 8:00 PM. But last night, thanks to God and adrenaline, I made it through the whole night and wanted to stay longer. These were the first times I've hit that wall, but that may simply be because I haven't had to do long, intensive rehearsals that last for several hours since my diagnosis. When this band was together back in the day, we had 8 hour all day rehearsals. There's no way I could do that now. From now on, I have to watch myself, and take my lack of endurance into account before I commit to something.

But I am not sorry I committed to the concert last night, in spite of my struggles. Last night was just what the doctor ordered for me. Not really, but I wish it was. I don't really want to know right now what the doctor's gonna order for me. I'll find that out a week from Tuesday.

Last night's concert was as good as advertised. Everything sounded great, everybody had fun, and the Holy Spirit was there. I saw friends I hadn't seen for years. And I got to be back at the church that I love so much.

I still feel that God has released me from leading worship. For the uninitiated, that means I no longer feel that leading music in churches or for Christian events is the direction that I'm supposed to go. Individual, one-off events like last night are fine, but that's not what my main thing should be now. At least that's how I've been feeling, and no gigs I've had since my diagnosis have changed my feelings so far.  I haven't lost the love of doing it, but I've lost the motivation. But once I'm actually on stage performing, I'm back at home. Once the gig is over, though, I'm not waiting to book the next one like I used to be. Instead, I want to continue to work on my journal. I want to write. That's what I feel like I'm supposed to do right now.

At Friday night's rehearsal, one friend was very complimentary about this journal. He's the third or fourth pastor who's told me he's keeping and using material from here. It's hard for me to imagine a higher honor than that. He gave me one of the highest compliments I've ever received when he said, "Did you know you could write like that?" Write. Like. That. I told him that I did know I could write "like that," I just didn't know that "like that" was any good! I took his words as confirmation that I'm on the right track.

Yesterday I said that this gig was all about the people for me, and it was. It was about reconnecting. A recurrent theme for me these days. I reconnected with some people that I consider family. It's a precious thing.

But the greatest impact on me from this weekend came from my friend Paul Kelley. On Saturday, we had him and his wife Denise over for dinner. Paul gave me the pendant that you see in the picture below. It was made by his cousin. You can see that it's made of nails, bound together by orange and blue colored wire. Bronco colors, of course. Gotta love that. Hanging from the cross is a cancer ribbon. I was very touched by this gift, simple as it is. I think it means something. I thought about it yesterday, and talked about it at the concert last night. If you were there, sorry for the repeat. But it's too good not to repeat.


I think that the lesson this pendant is trying to teach me has something to do with nails, a cross, and their authority over my cancer. This will sound foreign to any non-Christian reading this, but I think this pendant is trying to tell me that I can take my cancer, and just hang it on the cross. So that's what I've done.

I'm not sure where the Broncos fit into all of this, but I'll figure that out later.

And you know what? I'm not afraid anymore. I'm a little nervous about what my doctor might say, but not scared. I'm starting to be able to trust again. I slept very well last night, probably more from exhaustion than anything else, but I don't believe I'll have another sleepless night tonight. The events of this past weekend were just what I needed.

One more thing. As great as the concert was for me, it came at a physical cost. This morning I weighed 120. That's what I weighed in the 7th grade, I think. Gaunt Cancer Guy may make an appearance soon.

Thanks again for being here. Your support keeps me going.

Jazzed

I can't sleep, so I'm gonna write. It helped me once before, so I'll try it again. When I have a post running through my head when I'm trying to sleep, it's best to get it out. But this time, it's not because I'm scared. It's for all the right reasons.

I wasn't gonna do this, but this is gonna end up being a shameless plug.

I went to that rehearsal that I told you about tonight. I felt really good today because of the good night's sleep I got the night before. Now, I really believe that God gave me that good night's sleep so I could get through as much of the rehearsal as I did. The first two rehearsals I went to were kinda rough for me. I tired quickly, and needed to leave very early the second time. But this time, my energy level was high, I was in good spirits, and I stayed until 10. It's 1:43 AM here right now as I write this. They may still be going.

This rehearsal was a tun of fun for a few reasons. For one, everyone was there for the first time. Two of our members live in Kansas, for some inexplicable reason. So they were not with us for the first two rehearsals. It really helps a band's sound if all the members are present! Duh!

For another, it sounds freakin' great. Let's start with the band. This is a really, really good band. One of the best I've ever worked with, if not the best. And the sound system in this church is to die for. So it sounds really good all the way around.

The biggest improvement in the sound, however, came from one person. Kristen Miller was there. Holy smokes, this girl can sing. Heidi, Phil and I are pretty good, but this girl will blow the roof off the joint. She makes all the difference, not only as a singer, but as a worship leader. And I discovered her. No one can say I didn't. Except maybe Ed Belzer. Not that I'm taking credit for how good she is or anything. OK, maybe a little. I'm very proud of her.

OK, that's enough gushing. Here's the deal. If you like good worship music, live in the Denver area, and want to hear a really good band this Sunday night, come to this concert. It's free, I think. If it's not, tell them you're on my guest list.

I only wish I could be a more full participant. But I'm happy to be doing what I can. Sure, it's great fun doing a big concert with a really good band. But for me, it's more about the people. When you're in a band for a few years, it becomes a family. Sometimes a dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless. That is certainly true of this band. I know Kristen feels that way, and she was only with us for a year. We miss the ones who couldn't be with us. Wish you were here. On a personal note, I especially miss Deb. Just saying.

The band consists of several members of the Hope Fellowship band, on and off, including Adam Rey, Mark Allen and me. C.J. Lewis was a regular there on keys, and he's the keyboard player in this band. Kristen also played keyboards and sang in the Hope Band briefly when we were in the Highline location. Come to think of it, Bob and Phil have both played there too. So everybody except Heidi, and I tried to get her in the choir a couple of times! Oh yeah, Dave Williams, the pastor of the church where we're playing, ran sound for our last Maundy Thursday service at Hope. He's as much a member of the band as any of us. Probably more. But I guess what I'm saying is, I want to see as many of our Hope peeps there as possible. Spread the word.

One more gush fest before we get to details. You've got to visit this church. Something special is going on there. Every time I've been there, I've been incredibly blessed. I was raised Nazarene, but if we lived farther north, we would be attending Broomfield Assembly Of God. Dave and Becky and their whole staff and church are amazing. And they have a kick in the pants sound system to boot! It helps when your pastor is the God Of Sound.

So here are the particulars.

WHEN: Sunday, February 21st, 2015, 6:30 PM. That's this Sunday, in case you're not paying attention.

WHERE: Broomfield Assembly Of God, 11900 Reed St, Broomfield, CO 80020.

Here is the Facebook promo. Feel free to share. https://www.facebook.com/events/1705195699700933/

So now you know why I can't sleep. It's not because I'm worried or afraid. It's because I'm jazzed. But I hope getting this written will prove to be a good sedative.

Better Day

Much better today. I slept through the night last night for the first time in over a week. The fear is still there, but I can handle it better today because I feel rested.

Most people say that I remind them of my dad. I do take after him in most ways, including prostate cancer! But when it comes to sleep, I'm much more like my mom. She's never been a good sleeper. My dad is one of those people who can go to sleep anytime, anywhere. Snoring as soon as his head hits the pillow. If you're like that, you need to thank God for it every day. It's a tremendous gift. I've never had that talent. I can't sleep on a plane or in a car. I need MY pillow to sleep. I need to be on my side of the bed. And there's more.

My problem is not with getting to sleep at first. It's with not being able to get back to sleep if I get up during the night. Most nights, I have no problem getting back to sleep, unless I ate something that didn't agree with me, or ate too much chocolate, drank coffee too late, etc. Or if something's bothering me, like now. Normally, if I have a bad night, I have a good night's sleep the next night. But that didn't prove true this time. Hopefully, last night is a sign of things to come.

In yesterday's post, I talked about new readers who, when they first come here, go back to the beginning and read through the whole journal in one sitting. That takes a while now, and CaringBridge's rather clunky interface is not well suited for that. I'm very honored that when people find out about my journal for the first time, they often want to read it from the beginning. A friend of mine compared it to binge watching a TV show to catch up. I told him he has a few seasons to get through, so strap in.

For this and other reasons, I've decided to mirror this journal in a Google blog. I blogged for years, and I much prefer the way a blog works to the way this website works.

CaringBridge provides a wonderful service for free to people who desperately need it. This place has been my lifeline for the past several months. So, I'm not going anywhere. I will continue to post here. CaringBridge gives my journal a legitimacy and gravitas that a simple blog does not. Therefore, I will post in both places. But as I put the blog together, (I started yesterday) I'm condensing some posts and deleting some information that's no longer accurate or applicable, to give the thing a consistent narrative, without losing the day-to-day "journal" quality of it.

But back to my original topic. While I'm sure that sheer exhaustion took over last night, I also think that I slept better because I was able to talk about my feelings openly with you yesterday. I'm sure you all appreciate the fact that there are things that I can't share publicly at certain times. But even under those circumstances, I'm very thankful to be able to share what I can as openly as possible. Thank you for making me feel like I can let my guard down here.

This Sunday night, I'm taking part in a reunion concert with some old bandmates of mine. I expect it to be a huge blessing and encouragement. But I am not able to be a 100% team player because of my illness. We've had two rehearsals so far, and both times I've had to leave early because I just didn't have the physical endurance to rehearse for hours. Tonight is dress rehearsal, and I expect that my friends will go through the songs I'm participating in first so I can get home and get to bed. And not sleep.

But that's the point. After the first rehearsal, it became painfully clear to me that I no longer have the goods for a professional gig. Sure, I can still sing, but when I have to limit my involvement in a 90 minute concert to half of the songs because I just don't have the energy to do the whole set, that's an eye opener for me.

But it just proves to me that I'm on the right track. I really am supposed to retire from leading worship, performing and recording. Music takes a lot of energy, in case you don't know. It's actually exhausting if you're doing it right. I'm never more wiped out than after I mix a CD project. It's totally draining, mentally. And as a singer, I put out a tremendous amount of energy when I sing. Every BTU of that costs me something. That's true for every performer. Just like an athlete, the quality of your performance is in direct proportion to the amount of energy you put out. Any performer worth their salt "leaves it all on the stage" the way true competitor leaves it all on the field or the court. Like Peyton Manning, I'm just not able to do that right now like I used to. Not that I was ever the equivalent of Peyton Manning as a singer. Maybe Alex Smith. A solid pro, but unspectacular.

Feeling like I have confirmation that I'm supposed to retire should make me less fearful, right? Maybe that's the lesson I just learned while typing this. Because if I feel that I'm getting confirmation that my days as a performer and worship leader are, at the very least, on hiatus, that must mean that I haven't been off base feeling like God is leading me to retirement. From music, at least. The peace I've been feeling until recently was not a fluke. This brief period is the fluke. I really hope that's true.

Sometimes, when I write, I know exactly where I'm going. I know what my opening and closing lines are before I start. I'm the same way as a songwriter. But sometimes, like today, I have no idea how a post will end when I start it. I just write until it feels done. Usually, when that happens, I learn something while I'm writing. We'll soon see if I've really learned this lesson or not. By the way, I've never written a song that way, not knowing where a song is going when I start and just writing until it feels done. I'm not that good.

That's another reason why I'm turning this into a blog. I looked at some other CaringBridge journals yesterday, and they were all very matter-of-fact. So-and-so is in the hospital, they're performing this test, we'll give you the results tomorrow. Stuff like that. Maybe 3 or 4 sentences. Nobody I saw is using their journal as a memoir, like I am. That makes me think I'm using this platform in a way that it's not meant to be used. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe CaringBridge will use my journal as an example of what can be done with it. Both CaringBridge and blogs have their advantages, so I'm going to use both platforms to try to get my story out.

Thanks for hanging in there with me! I'll let you know when the blog is online.

Another Sleepless Night

And they keep getting worse. Last night my injured dog woke me up to take her outside at 12:30 AM. I can't simply let her out. While she's convalescing, I have to take her outside on leash until June. I didn't sleep for the rest of the night.

It's amazing to me how as soon as I complained about having no ideas last week, now I'm posting every day this week. I think it's because I don't have a pastor right now. There's nobody I can talk with about this as much as I need to who really understands how I feel. So you are my counselors. You are my therapy. Thanks for listening.

I mainly want to respond to some comments from yesterday's post today. Rather than actually copy and paste quotes, which would take a lot of space, I'll try to summarize each comment and respond accordingly. If you think I misinterpreted your comment, please say so.

My sister basically encouraged me to give my fears to God. I believe in that, but I need verses. Are there Bible verses that specifically tell us to give our fears to God? If so, I'd like to see them. In my Bible, all I see are a whole lot of specific examples of believers being told not to fear, and there being consequences when they do. How many times did Jesus accuse his own disciples of having little or no faith because of their fear? Many, many times. Until someone shows me otherwise, I think the only way to get past fear is to learn to trust God. If we pray for that, God will help us with it, for sure. But in order to really learn to trust God, I have to get to know him better, and that takes time.

I continue to reconnect with loved ones, which helps a lot. Yesterday I had a great conversation with one of my oldest friends, and another with one of my newest. On Tuesday, I had the most amazing heart to heart conversation with my friend Tony Koch. He's Nicki Morgan's brother, whom I reconnected with last week. Their family means the world to me. I'm still overflowing from that conversation.

Our social calendar is completely ridiculous. Ridiculous, but normal. By March 5th, we will have had social engagements every weekend for 6 weeks. It's wonderful, and I really need the contact, but we're getting pretty tired. We have exactly one Saturday open from now until April, and we're keeping it that way. We need to slow down.

I also want to ask everyone here who believes in prayer to pray for my friend Sandi Labo today, who I've mentioned here before. Her dad passed away, suddenly and tragically, three days after we met, and she's been on my mind ever since. Today is her dad's birthday. He would have been 68, only eight years older than me. That really brings it home. Today will be very tough for her.

It might have been a mistake to post today, given how tired I am. I might come off more negative than usual. When I don't sleep well, I'm not myself. I can't concentrate, and I find it hard to care about anything. So I might feel like my tone is too down in this one when I reread it tomorrow, but this is how I feel today. Not great.

I realize that when someone reads through this journal in one sitting, which new readers still do, it's going to come off very inconsistent, almost hypocritical. From day one since I started this journal, I've been at peace, and almost been smug about it. Now I'm tied up in knots because of one phone call, which may turn out to be nothing. But while the peace may be gone temporarily, the joy is still there. I want to talk about joy soon, because this is the first time in my life that I've really experienced it for a sustained length of time. Joy isn't based on circumstances, like happiness. It springs from within, in spite of circumstances.

No matter how this turns out, I may not have peace in the midst of this storm right now, but I do have joy. And I have you. Thanks for bearing with my ups and downs. I don't have a church home right now, but I have you. I don't have a counselor right now, but I have you. You're amazing. I couldn't do this without you.

Fear Not

This one's gonna have a lot of Bible stuff in it. Fair warning. It's just that I'm afraid, and the Bible has a lot to say about that. So I'm going to try to remind myself what it says. Maybe these verses will help you too, even if you don't believe. It's important to learn to overcome fear. And I believe that God loves you whether you believe in him or not.

In the Bible, whenever an angel appears to anyone, they always have to say, "Fear not!" Or "don't be afraid," in more modern translations. One famous example of that is when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her she would give birth to the Messiah. (Luke 1:26-38, blog) I wrote a song about that passage in 1996. The song was called Fear Not. It's on my album, Sin No More. The message of the song is that God wants to say the same to us that he said to her. Fear not, the Lord is with you.

I'm having trouble taking my own advice these days. Fear has never been an issue for me until now. But of all the "thou shalt nots" in the Bible, one of the most common commands to believers is not to be afraid. When Peter sank as he walked toward Jesus on the water, I do not believe that he sank because he took his eyes off of Jesus. That's the common interpretation of that passage. I believe that he sank because he was afraid, when Jesus had just commanded him not to fear. (Matthew 14:22-33, blog) In fact, what Jesus actually said in the original language was, "Don’t be afraid. Take courage! I AM."

The trouble is, fear is an involuntary response. It's literally a chemical secretion in the brain that signals danger, which is vital for survival. It's an advanced mammalian characteristic, I think. All mammals feel fear. I could be wrong, but I don't think reptiles or fish feel fear. But mice, dogs, and people do. It seems to go right along with having hair and being warm-blooded. When it's that ingrained, how are we supposed to just stop? It goes against human nature, and that's the point. In order to do it, we have to really trust God. In order to do that, we have to really get to know him. It's hard to trust someone you don't know.

But I am afraid. Afraid of what next week will bring. If you've been reading this journal regularly, you know that I'm scheduled to meet with a radiation oncologist this Wednesday, and then I meet with my regular oncologist on March 1st to discuss the results of the MRI, and where he thinks we should go from here. That day will change my life forever, and I'm not sure I'm ready for it.

So I'm taking this opportunity today to remind myself of what I believe. What I've always believed. If we trust God, we're not afraid. If we're afraid, it means we have a lack of trust. Do we believe that God really loves us, and wants what's best for us? I do. Not only do I believe that, I believe that God wants what's best for us more than we want what's best for ourselves. Sometimes we don't want what's best for us. Sometimes we just want what we want. But I believe that God's love for us is purer and more intense than our love for ourselves or anyone else, and he not only knows what's best more than we do, he wants what's best for us more than we do. If I really believe that, how can I be afraid?

So here are a few Bible verses that talk about this. I'm going to keep reminding myself of them. I've never really had a "life verse." For the uninitiated, that's a Bible verse that a person might choose to be their motto, of sorts. It's usually a promise that one might want to cling to. Here's a very popular one. It's from Jeremiah 29:11. It says, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." That's a good one for me to cling to right now. But I've never really gone in for the life verse thing. So here are the verses that I'm reminding myself of. Maybe they'll help you too. There are MANY more, but these are the ones that jumped out at me today. 

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. Psalm 56:3

And this one, one of my favorites: For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7. That's pronounced second Timothy, Donald.

So am I gonna trust God, or am I gonna be afraid? Fear not, the Lord is with you. I want to trust God, so I'm gonna get to know him as well as I can for as long as I can. That's what I'm going to do.

Reconnecting Part 2: Quality Connections

It occurred to me after rereading yesterday's post that I've spent my entire life making connections. With wires. Hooking up equipment, either for recording or a performance. And nothing will ruin a recording or performance like a poor connection. But fortunately, bad connections are easily fixed.

We're very near the wireless age. Soon, all devices will be wireless and battery operated, even high end stereo components and the TV on your wall. But we're not there yet. My wife hates wires and cables, so I'm not sure how she's survived around me for all of these years. I don't even really see them. I know they're necessary to get the quality of sound and picture that I want. But as we downsize, I'll minimize and simplify our home theater setup for her, and get rid of all of those cables, as much as possible.

Whether it's in the living room or my recording studio, the quality of connections make all the difference. When a cable goes bad, it normally doesn't happen in the middle of the cable. They usually go bad at the ends, where the connections are. In a recording studio, I've learned that you can't simply leave devices plugged in all the time. If you do that, the connections get corroded. In order to keep connections good, you have to periodically plug and unplug cables from jacks.

I needed an optical splitter for music playback, (ten points for anyone who knows what that is) and the one that arrived from Amazon didn't work for me, because one of the optical cables I'm using doesn't "seat" well in the jack. So I can't get a good connection, and the splitter doesn't work. I had to send it back and try another one.

By the way, how did we live before Amazon? Seriously.

What's the point of all of this? Every preacher reading this knows exactly where I'm going. Go ahead and use this illustration if you want. The point is obvious. Connections need to be strong, and they need to be maintained. Sometimes it's difficult to make a connection because we just don't "seat" well, like my optical cable. Not everyone clicks with everyone else, and that's OK. Sometimes the quality of connection just isn't there, and it's nobody's fault. There just isn't any chemistry.

But many times, the problem is that the connection has been neglected. Like when I suddenly wonder why I can't hear my keyboard in my studio, and realize the connection went bad. If I unplug it and plug it back in a few times, it works again. If it gets really bad, the jacks need to be sprayed with tuner cleaner. Or as my friend Mike Johnson calls it, Ozone remover.

Some of my personal connections are well maintained with constant contact and interaction, but far too many are not. I've allowed the connections between us to get dirty and corroded with neglect. But now I'm frantically trying to restore these connections. I'll even get the tuner cleaner out if I have to.

The awesome part is, I'm not the only one connecting. You all have connected with me in a more powerful way than I would have imagined possible. The calls and emails don't come quite as often as they did for the first couple of months, but even now, for every person I call, it seems like someone calls me. It's your job to maintain those connections too. And you are. Don't hesitate to call, message or email. I'm usually at home. Let's keep the connections clear and strong, not just between you and me, but between you and all of those you've lost touch with. Everybody has people like that. Don't wait until you're in my shoes to fix it.

Reconnecting

I've been reconnecting a lot lately with people I haven't seen or talked to for a long time. I'm more motivated to do that now than ever before, for obvious reasons. Some reconnections are more successful than others. Sometimes it seems like no time has passed. We just pick right up where we left off. Other times, I feel like I don't have the right to try to really reconnect if I haven't made an effort to do so previously.

In a previous post, (God's 2 By 4) I said that if you've felt like I've been MIA as a friend or relative, it's not because I don't love you. I've just been wrapped up in my own stuff. And I'm lazy. But since my diagnosis, that has changed for me. Now I live off of contact with my loved ones. And it turns out I have many more loved ones than I realized.

But I also understand that everyone may not feel the same way. If I haven't called you for 20 years, I can't expect to "pick up where we left off" unless we were very close for a long time. A few times, I have texted someone I had not talked to for a few years, and got the dreaded "Who is this?" response. That's not a good feeling. But it served me right for assuming I'd still be in their address book when we haven't talked for years.

A very clear example of this happened to me in the past few days. I had phone conversations with two people I love, and who I know love me. One conversation was nice, pleasant, and short. The other was fairly long, emotional and intense. I was surprised about the difference in the two conversations, because the two individuals I talked to are both very precious to me. But I realized that while I love each one the same, I have not had the same quality of relationship with both. One I watched grow up. The other grew up without me around. I can't expect to reconnect with the one as easily as the other. Or the other as easily as the one, to keep it consistent.

On the one hand, I'm paying a bit of a price for the relatively solitary life that my wife and I have lived. We haven't had many close confidantes. For many years, we didn't have friends or family members that we talked to every day, or even every week or month. If we stopped seeing someone as part of our regular routine, we've always tended to lose touch. That being the case, I can't expect warm fuzzies whenever I call someone out of the blue.

On the other hand, I'm blown away by the number of people who I do have that kind of relationship with. I just got off the phone with a long time friend and musical colleague. We did wedding gigs together for many years, but we hadn't talked for a while. A mutual friend mentioned him to me last weekend, and today is his birthday, so I decided to give him a call. We picked up right where we left off. It was a great conversation, and very touching. He asked me what he could do for me, and I told him not a thing. I just wanted to talk. To reconnect.

I'm very tempted right now to make a list of the people of whom this has been true the past several months. All of the wonderful friends and family members who have reached out to me, some of whom I hadn't talked to for years. Some of whom I have never met. But again, the internet would run out of space.

I'm making more of an effort at this than I feel like I ever have, and I hope it isn't too little too late. This is one big reason why I'm still so taken aback by the love I've received. I don't deserve it. I haven't given love in anywhere near the amounts that I'm receiving now. Who could deserve this amount of love? Mother Teresa, maybe? I'm no Mother Teresa. I'm no George Bailey either, but the whole town is coming out to help me anyway.

So don't be surprised if I call you out of the blue. If you don't feel the same connection with me that I feel with you, that's OK. I want to talk to you anyway.

I keep quoting myself, but I can't help it. From my post,"People." What will it take to convince us that people are more important than work, more important than money, more important than just about anything? I always thought I believed that, but I guess I wasn't convinced. It took a life threatening diagnosis to bring it home to me. I hope it doesn't take that much for you to really understand the truth of that, deep down.

That's why I really hope there's time to make those connections that should have been made long ago, and refresh those long standing relationships. It's time to reconnect.

Valentines Day

Special thanks to my wonderful friend Tiffany Berland for this picture, and to her adorable daughter Eva for writing me this love note! I asked Eva to do this for me, and I think she did a wonderful job! Thanks, Tiff and Eva!

Valentines Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. I guess that makes me different from most guys. I'm a romantic. One of my favorite things to do has always been to shop for my wife. I'm not in a position to do that these days, really, but we still have a romantic dinner every year. We exchange cards and I get her flowers. She used to get me candy, but I don't think she stopped at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory this week. Maybe she'll surprise me. If not, I've had plenty of candy lately.

At least we're almost through the holiday candy season. Do you realize that for eight months of every year, one whole grocery isle is dedicated to holiday candy? It starts in September for Halloween. Then comes Christmas candy, then Valentines, then Easter. So it's candy season from September till April. It's no wonder we're so obese as a nation. But I digress.

When times were better, my wife and I also got each other gifts and went out to a fancy restaurant on Valentines Day. Those days are past, but that's OK. I hear the commercials for jewelry this time of year, but I've never been able to imagine giving diamonds as a Valentines gift. Unless you're proposing, of course.

We're having friends over for dinner and celebrating together tonight. Saturday night is way better for romantic dinners than Sunday.

I can hear the guys saying that it's a made up holiday, created by the Hallmark Corporation as a way to sell more greeting cards. That's not true. It actually goes back to Roman times, but for many years, I've written and produced song parodies for my radio clients about Valentines Day, and as a satirist, that was always the attitude I took in the lyrics. But I never really felt that way myself. Any excuse to have a romantic evening is cool with me.

One thing that couples often overlook is how cruel a holiday Valentines Day can be for singles. It's common around this time of year to hear people, especially guys, complain that they "have to" get something for their significant other. Do we not realize that most, if not all of our single friends would give anything to have someone that they "had to" get something for on Valentines day? There is no greater blessing or gift than simply having someone. If you do, you should be thankful, rather than complaining about having to buy a card or flowers.

Sorry to sound like a broken record, but this Valentines Day is different from all the ones that came before. When emotions run as high as they are for me right now, anything to do with love draws me like a magnet. Valentines Days become much more valuable when you think you may only have a few left.

Let's not forget that Valentines Day isn't just about romantic love. Kids give them to each other at school. Family members exchange valentines. And the holiday is actually named after a genuine Christian saint.

One thing I've been saying when people ask me how I'm doing is I say that I'm "living on love." The love that has been showered upon us from so many has sustained us this far, and we're counting on it sustaining us in the future. While my heart is still troubled, I can still feel the love that's surrounding me and supporting me from all of you. That's why I wish I could send each of you a valentine. Or maybe a love note: "I love you, do you love me? Check yes or no." But you've all already checked yes, and circled it with a big red crayon. I can't possibly thank you enough.

Just now, while I was proofreading, a dear lady from our former church called to ask how I was doing and tell me her prayer group are praying for me. That's What. Love. Is, to refer to a past post. That's checking Yes with a big red crayon.

So whether you're with someone tonight or not, happy Valentines Day! Will you be mine? You will, and you are.

Lent

After whining about not having any ideas yesterday, suddenly I'm awash with them. I realized yesterday that I would be remiss if I didn't talk about Lent. If I have time this weekend, I'll post about Valentines Day.

Lent is a Christian observance that is somewhat foreign to me, given my upbringing. When I was growing up, we didn't observe Lent in the Nazarene church, though many Nazarenes observe Lent now. To us, Lent was a "high church" thing. High church meaning liturgical churches like Episcopals and Catholics, not Rastafarians. I guess we were low church. It's become more in vogue in recent years to celebrate Lent among Evangelicals, which I think is a good thing, even though I don't observe it myself.

Lent is meant to commemorate the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the desert. (Matthew 4:1-2, blog, Luke 4:1-2, blog). That's why many Christians fast, or give up something for Lent. They're identifying with the sacrifice that Jesus made. I have a niece that gave up Facebook for Lent a few years ago. That was a major sacrifice for her.

I've never really taken part in that practice. I thought of it as a Catholic thing. But this year is different, as it is for everything.

There's no way I'll fast, of course. That would not end well. I wish I could give up cancer for Lent! But then it would come back after Easter.

I can't possibly describe how much a call I received from my oncologist's office this week rocked my world. I can't explain why, but suddenly I have no desire to know what they'll say when I go. I'm experiencing an emotion that is rare for me; fear. I'm afraid of what they'll say.

The last two days have been swirling with emotion for me. I don't know how to feel. It's hard to explain. I called my oncologist's office and discussed my concerns, but there's nothing for it but to go ahead.

I've never been much of a worrier. I've always just believed that things will turn out OK. And for me, for the most part, they have. But I had my first near sleepless night in a long time last night, worrying about this. Where is the trust in God that I've been so secure in all of this time? This means I have to apologize to all of the worriers I know. Turns out I'm mortal after all.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome it. Does the kid who's trying to jump from a tree branch into their father's arms feel fear before they jump? Yes, but if they trust their father, they jump anyway. And that's what I'm gonna do. I'm afraid, but I'm gonna jump anyway. I've trusted God this far. How can I stop trusting him now?

I'm giving up fear for Lent.

Creative Work

I'm sure you've noticed that I haven't been posting as much recently. That's partly because I've been very busy, but also because there isn't that much to tell right now. While I certainly want to document my personal and spiritual growth here, I don't want it to turn into a "Dear Diary, this is what I did today." Nobody cares about that but me. And I've never been one to narrate my life online.

The biggest reason is that I just haven't had ideas for posts. Much like songwriting, I'm stuck until I get an idea. Once I have an idea, I'm off to the races. I can honestly say that in all my years of being in creative work, I've always been able to come up with an idea when I really needed one. There's never been a case in 29 years of my career where I've needed to come up with an idea to meet a deadline, and no idea came. If you have trouble coming up with ideas, you shouldn't be in creative work.

One of my dad's closest friends, Jerry Sherrow, is a very funny, quick witted guy. Once my dad asked him how he came up with all of those funny things to say, and he said, "Nelson, I don't say half of the things I think of." That's what it's like being a creative type, especially in comedy. More jokes occur to you than you should say out loud. I've gotten myself in trouble many times by blurting out a joke without thinking.

But there are such things as dry spells too. I've mentioned before that I have six albums of original music out, but my last full album release was in 2009. I've been asking myself if I'd like to put out one more album, but I have no ideas, and no motivation. What I'm motivated to do is write this journal. I told a friend last week that I feel like I'm retiring as a musician and beginning a new career as a writer. I have very little enthusiasm for the musical projects I have going right now, but I can't wait to write my next blog post. If I have an idea that I'm excited about, that is.

I've had some very meaningful conversations with friends lately. Some are ongoing. I reconnected yesterday with someone who is as dear to me as just about anyone I can think of. She had no clue about my condition, which made our conversation a difficult one, but it means the world to me to bring her into this circle. One day soon, I want to talk about her and her family, and the impact they've had on my life.

I got a call from my oncologist's office yesterday. He discussed my case with the board of experts that I told you about in my post, "A Strategy." On the 24th, I meet with a radiation oncologist to discuss possible radiation treatments. On March 1st, I'll meet with my oncologist again, get my next Lupron shot, and we'll decide how to proceed from there.

After that appointment, I should have a clearer picture of what the future looks like. I may have a prognosis at that time. If I do, I'll share it with you. And I won't wait until I have a catchy idea before I do.

Winning

NOTE: This post was written the day after my favorite sports team, the Denver Broncos, won Super Bowl 50. So please excuse all of the Broncos talk. I do make an important point about my attitude toward my cancer in this post.

It's great to win. Winning is central to American culture. This is demonstrated by the fact that one of the worst things you can call someone is a loser. If you don't want your daughter to date some guy, you might tell her, "Don't date him, Honey, he's a loser."

If you ask any pro athlete which drives them more, the desire to win or the fear of losing, they all say that they hate to lose more than they love to win. Nobody likes to lose. My favorite sports team is the Denver Broncos. The thrill of the Broncos' two Super Bowl victories in the 90's are wonderful memories, but the memories of those other Super Bowls, those humiliations on national TV still haunt me. My fear of that happening again yesterday was much greater than my excitement that they might win. When you're 2-5 in Super Bowls, which they were until yesterday, it's easy to get a complex. And believe me, Bronco fans have one.

The problem with winning is it's a zero sum game. In order for one side to win, the other side has to lose. Only one NFL team is happy at the end of the season. I don't think that giving every child who participates in a sport a trophy or ribbon prepares kids well for life. Life doesn't work that way. Everyone doesn't get a trophy. Most of the time, you win or lose. If someone else gets the promotion you thought you deserved, do you feel like you won or lost? When you get that promotion, how do you feel? Like a winner.

What brought this on today was not the Super Bowl, but a comment I heard in church yesterday morning. Someone talked about a cancer patient who had "lost" their battle with cancer. We've all heard that expression many times before, but now it really bothers me.

People talk about dealing with cancer as "fighting." They frame it like you're in a contest, a battle with cancer, and if you win, you "beat' cancer. If you die, you "lost" your battle. If you don't try every treatment out there, you're giving up. I don't hear people talk about any other disease that way.

Let's get two things clear. One, if I'm cured, it won't be because I beat cancer. I don't have that ability, and neither does anyone else. Except one. If I'm cured, it will be because God healed me. No other reason. It will be a genuine miracle, because that's what it will take. If you've never seen one, hang on. You might see one soon.

But if that doesn't happen, here's the other thing I want to make clear. If the percentages prove true for me, and a miracle cure is not in the cards, don't anyone ever say that I lost my battle with cancer. No one exits this life as a loser. Instead, I will have won the greatest prize of all. Eternal life, in the presence of God and my loved ones. What could be better? Death is not losing. It's going home. It's actually way better than winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy or even the billion dollar Powerball. And it lasts forever.

Of course, I understand while I might feel like I win either way, I know that's not how you feel. If I don't "beat" this thing, if it beats me, like it does most guys in my shoes, you'll feel like you've lost. I've been there. I know. But if that's what happens, remember that you haven't lost me. You'll know exactly where to find me.

Many thousands will line the streets of Denver tomorrow for the Broncos' victory parade. I might even be there. I want to celebrate this championship as much as any Bronco fan. But my cancer is not a contest. If I live, I didn't win, and if I die, I didn't lose. Either way, I will have accomplished my goal.

Groundhog Day

We had a snowstorm here in Denver yesterday, so my wife stayed home from work. We had what we call a "sock in day." Those are always fun. There's a blizzard outside, so we we stay inside, build a fire, make soup, and watch movies.

Every year, on Groundhog Day, which yesterday was, we watch the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. It's one of our favorite movies, so naturally, that's what we started with yesterday. I've never gotten emotional watching that movie before, but I did yesterday. I saw myself in Phil Connors, Bill Murray's character. I saw parallels between his journey (there's that word again!) and mine.

I assume we've all seen the movie. If you haven't, you need to. It's about a guy who keeps repeating the same day over and over, and it's always Groundhog Day in Punxutawney, PA. He's the only one experiencing it. At first, he doesn't believe it's happening. Then he gets angry. He goes through all of the stages of grief, and finally learns his lesson. It's very much in the vein of A Christmas Carol. A story of a bitter, cynical man who, because of circumstances beyond his control, learns what life, love, and happiness are really about. Bill Murray played that role too, in Scrooged.

It's not that I feel that every day is the same for me, nothing ever changes, and nothing I do makes a difference. In fact, I feel just the opposite now. Life is an adventure for me these days. I'm experiencing happiness on a level that I haven't before. Actually, I don't think it's happiness. Happiness is based on circumstances. This is joy. But that's another subject for another day.

I do feel like Phil Connors in the sense that I very much feel that I'm being taught something important. I feel like my diagnosis was like the blizzard in the movie that kept Phil in Punxutawney. It put the brakes on any plans I had, and forced me to reevaluate my life. Priorities changed.

I've said all of this before. I feel like I'm repeating my "God's 2 By 4" post, and I probably am. And I know that I was never as bitter, cynical, or negative as Phil was at the beginning of the movie. But I was burned out, discouraged, and unhappy. For both Phil and me, it took a catastrophic event to wake us up, teach us a lesson, and set us free.

In Evangelical circles, you often hear the phrase, "coming to the end of yourself." Which means reaching a point where you realize you can't rely yourself. It's much easier to realize our need for God and for others when we reach that point. As the old saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes. I've never been in that circumstance until now.

As I've mentioned before, I've had it way too easy. Never had much in the way of tribulation. So I never had to grow up, spiritually. Or any other way, for that matter. I always heard that the only way to really learn to trust God and experience the peace and blessing that come with that is to "come to the end of myself" and realize my utter dependence on him. I believe that's what Jesus taught in the first Beatitude, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3, blog).

In the Western world, most of us have no idea what it means to be really poor by world standards. I've never been rich by American standards, but by world standards, I've been very wealthy my whole life, even now, with almost no income. My material needs are met, and compared to millions, I live in luxury. It's easy for people like me to feel like we can take care of ourselves, and it's always been hard for me to convince myself that I really need God's help when I've been getting along just fine for so many years.

Don't get me wrong. I always believed. But I never achieved the kind of spiritual strength and peace that I saw in others, nor the joy they seemed to have. I was told that it was because I had never come to the end of myself. Never had to "let go and let God," as the bumper sticker goes.

But then, everything changed. Phil Connors finally realized that if he kept living the same day over and over, he could do a lot of good with that time. When he learned that lesson, things really changed for him. When I realized that my future was completely out of my control and in God's hands, it liberated me. Control is an illusion.

I saw a bumper sticker recently that said, "Don't give up, surrender." When you come to the end of yourself, all you can do is surrender. When you finally surrender, that's where you find joy, peace, and freedom. But that doesn't mean giving up. Just giving up the illusion of control.

I've been wanting to write about coming to the end of myself, but didn't want to write a post titled, "The End Of Myself." That might scare you. So I was glad to have Groundhog Day to tie into it.

It's funny, but before my first Lupron shot, I was telling people how Lupron takes away your testosterone, so my wife was gonna come home from work and find me crying, watching romantic comedies. That hasn't happened, but something pretty close to it happened here yesterday. I was misty, sniffing, and wiping my eyes watching Bill Murray become a better person because of circumstances taking over his life, and I saw myself doing the same thing. Or trying to. But it took coming to the end of myself to make it happen.

Ridiculous, But Normal

Last night I saw some friends I hadn't seen in a long time. A band I was in for three years has decided to put on a reunion concert, and our first rehearsal was last night. It was really great to see everyone and make music like we used to. It's amazing how, when you're in a band for a while, you can break up and not play together for five years, and then still pretty much pick up where you left off years later. But as usual, the rehearsal started late. Once we were ready to start, 30 minutes after we were supposed to, the keyboard player and band leader, my friend C.J., said that 30 minutes late is actually pretty good for this band, which is true. Then he said it's ridiculous, but normal. I knew then and there that I had the title for my next post.

Isn't that true of so much in life? There are so many things that are both ridiculous and normal. Two small examples from our house:

Since the Broncos are in the Super Bowl, I've been wearing Broncos gear every day for the last three weeks. I'll continue until at least Sunday. If they win, I may wear Broncos every day for a few weeks after that. Ridiculous, but normal. At our house, at least.

Today the Iowa caucuses take place. I've mentioned before what a political junkie I am. Once I finish this post, I will be watching cable news for the rest of the day, until I go to bed. Ridiculous, but for me, normal.

By the way, I've promised my wife that this will be the last election I'll follow like a sport. She doesn't enjoy it like I do, and I'm getting tired of the hatefulness. It's not enough to disagree now. Now we're supposed to think the other side is evil. That has to change. Also ridiculous, but normal.

Of course, nothing is normal about life for us now. Now, it's all about finding the new normal.

For me, the new normal is weighing myself every morning and hoping I weigh at least 125. I'm still hanging around that weight, by the way. I'm eating bacon 3 to 4 times a week just to keep my weight up. Delicious, but not exactly in keeping with our healthy lifestyle. I'm drinking protein shakes and always choosing the highest calorie option. Ridiculous, but normal.

It took me two hours to fill out all of the forms I had to take in to my oncologist appointment last week. Ridiculous, but normal.

Having to wear long underwear when it's in the 50's because I might catch a cold breeze. Ridiculous, but normal.

Living on one level of your house for four months for your dog? Ridiculous, but that's my new normal until May.

Not realizing that my loved ones love me as much as I love them? Truly ridiculous, but until recently, normal.

I have been called ridiculous many times, but few people think of me as normal. Normal is something I've never aspired to. I want to be different. Unique. Of course, we're all unique, one of a kind. There's a Bible verse that, in the old King James translation, says that Christians are to be a peculiar people. I figure I've got that part down pat.

But when you come right down to it, we're all the same. We all want the same things; to love and to be loved, and to be happy at work and at home. We're all subject to the same human frailties. And we all must keep the same appointment one day. No one escapes with their life. This truth has become very real to me. I may think I'm special, maybe you do too, but I'm not that special. In that respect, at least, I'm very normal. But still ridiculous.

All my life I've thought there was some conflict between being this goofball I've always been and being normal. But thanks to C.J., I now see that I can be both. Ridiculous, but normal.

A Strategy

I was going to title this post, "A New Strategy," but I haven't really felt like there was one until yesterday. My oncologist's appointment was yesterday afternoon, and it was much more informative than I was expecting. There will be a lot of nerdy detail here, so hang in there.

My new doctor spelled out the whole diagnosis in a way that my urologist never did. He explained why my urologist staged me where he did, and why he's inclined to agree for now.

I won't bore you with all of the numbers, but one number in particular got their attention. My Gleason score. If you know someone who's had prostate cancer, you probably know about the Gleason score. It measures how aggressive prostate cancer is. One of my biopsy samples back in July had a Gleason score of 9, which indicates a very aggressive cancer. Most of my prostate is cancerous. The high Gleason score make it inoperable.

My oncologist does say that Lupron is the treatment of choice for what I have. My next shot is scheduled for March 1st. I'm dreading it already. My previous doctor, the urologist, said that Lupron only works for two years, but apparently that was an estimate based on my Gleason score. Some people can stay on it for a long time, and it keeps their cancer under control. But that only works for less aggressive cancers. The more aggressive the cancer, the less time you get from Lupron and other "systemic" treatments.

As I've mentioned before, Lupron is a hormone suppressant. Prostate cancer feeds on testosterone, and Lupron reduces your testosterone level, creating unfavorable conditions for cancer to grow. Some cancer cells, however, are resistant to Lupron and continue to reproduce without testosterone. So once Lupron is no longer effective, they'll try other treatments that may work on those cells.

The good news is, there are lots of those treatments available, and more are coming all the time. There may even be a prostate cancer vaccine available soon. Also, my otherwise good health and relative youth will help me stay strong so I can tolerate all of these treatments. My life expectancy is increased by the fact that all of my other numbers, the ones that don't relate to cancer, are all great. My cholesterol, my blood pressure, all of it's really good, except for this one thing. That will help me fight this.

The bad news is, because it seems that I do have a very aggressive cancer, it's likely that I'll burn through treatments pretty fast.

But here's the plan so far. It's so nice to be able to say that!

First, my oncologist is very intrigued by my case. He meets with a group of cancer experts each month to discuss various cases, and he's taking my case to this board next week. He'll get input from them and let me know what they said. He also wants me to meet with a radiation oncologist to talk about possible radiation strategies.

Radiation may not be a good option for me, given where I'm at with this. The cancer in the prostate area is very slow growing, and my prostate isn't causing me any problems in terms of physical function, so it might not be the best idea to radiate my crotch several times, especially considering the potential long-term side effects.

I appreciated the fact that my oncologist doesn't make any more money for recommending procedures, so he's more than willing to tell me I don't need one thing or another.

But he still wants me to talk to a radiation oncologist in his group, just to gather information. That appointment is February 24th. I'll go in for a blood draw a few days before my next Lupron shot, and when I go in for my shot on March 1st, my doctor and I will discuss everything we've learned, and decide which direction to go. He may order new tests and scans to see where we are, but he wants to talk to the board first, and wants me to talk to a radiation oncologist before we make any decisions.

So that's where we are. I'm encouraged just to have a strategy, and be a little more informed. I'm also glad to have some actual cancer news for you! Thanks so much for your love, concern, and support! It's an amazing thing to realize how many people I have going through this with me.

Major Life Stuff

This is a big week, with lots going on. Major life stuff. But first, I should address last weekend some.

My friend Paul and I never made it to the Avalanche game Friday night. I don't feel free to go into detail as to why right now, but I'm not at all sorry that we missed the game, even though the Avs won, and the game went into overtime, and ended in a shootout. I would have eventually forgotten that game, but I'll never forget what transpired that night instead. Sharon and I were very privileged to be with our friends Paul and Denise that night. I believe that God put us together, and it had nothing to do with a hockey game. I was supposed to be with Paul that night.

It was a very meaningful and emotional time. Once we got home, I was overcome by emotion, and had a really good cry, to the point where I could not stand or even sit. Afterward, I felt much better.

As emotional as I am, I rarely break down. Five years ago, I lost five people in my life in one year, one of whom was one of my closest friends. We lost him shortly before Christmas that year. But I never broke down until I got a note from the son of my third grade teacher about a week later. I'd kept in contact with her for several years prior. He told me that she had passed away the previous year, and for some reason, that opened the floodgates. I well up easily, but it takes a long accumulation of stuff to get me to break down, for whatever reason. It's happened twice since my diagnosis, and I welcome it when it happens. But I made sure to be at home when it happened on Friday night. You don't want to break down at Wahoo's Fish Taco.

There have now been two instances that I can think of recently where I was able to be a small blessing to someone who had blessed me. That's another good way to process all of this love I'm receiving. Give it back. Pass it on. As Michael W. Smith said in his song, "Give It Away," love isn't love till you give it away.

On Saturday, I went to the performance by the Littleton Conservatory Of Rock, directed by my friend, Todd Labo. His wife Sandi was there. She's the therapist I've mentioned a couple of times, who's been a great help to me. So it was great to see her too. I actually do think I made a difference in at least some of the kids' performances. At least I got them thinking about performing, rather than just playing and singing. At this stage of my life, I really enjoy passing on some of the knowledge I've gained during my career. I'm looking forward to working with them again soon.

My appointment with my new oncologist is Wednesday afternoon at 2:30. I'll post about that on Thursday.

What. Love. Is.

My posts this week have been short because it's been a relatively uneventful week. Not that much to talk about, and that's a good thing. It's nice when things slow down for a few days. The only problem is that when not much is going on, it's hard to come up with things to write about! But starting tomorrow, things will get busier.

Tomorrow, at noon, I'm coaching some kids on stage presence. Yes, you heard me right. I have a friend who runs a "School Of Rock" type school for kids, teaching them how to play rock instruments, learn rock songs, and how to be in a band. I volunteered to help coach them on stage presence. They have a gig at the Buffalo Rose in Golden, CO at noon tomorrow. Tickets are cheap, so come on out! I worked with them at their rehearsal on Monday, and I'm really looking forward to their gig tomorrow. I've recorded with kids for many years, and I'm a long time choir director, so I do enjoy mentoring and coaching. That will be fun, and I hope useful to the kids.

My only hope is that maybe one or two of them will remember one simple thing I said later on, and use it in their performing career, if they have one. Simple stuff like make eye contact with your audience. Dress for the stage. If someone is soloing, everyone look at the soloist. Don't stare off into space. Don't just walk on stage, make an entrance. Believe you belong up there. Own it. Have fun. Look like you want to be there. And oh yeah, know your music cold so you can even think about stuff like that.

If you've read my posts this past week, you know that I've been preoccupied with trying to take in how much I am loved. It's a difficult thing to process. But I'm starting to get it. I've believed for many years that love and hate are what we do, not how we feel. We can say we love someone, and genuinely feel affection for them, but if we don't treat them in a loving way, do we really love them?

I know we can't rely on emotion, but lately, emotion is what I've been living on. So while I've preached that emotions come and go, but true love shows in our actions, right now I can't discount the importance of that emotion. In sports, emotion can mean the difference between winning and losing. I've joked about how emotional I am these days, saying it's the Lupron talking, but the feeling of loving and being loved has sustained me through this process as much as the material support has.

Since my diagnosis, I find that the emotional part of my love for all of my family and friends is right at the forefront. Before I knew I had cancer, my love for you was real, but I might not have felt it as intensely as I do now. The love was always there, but now I feel it much more. And the feeling makes me want to do more. So it's not one or the other. The feeling feeds the actions. But when we act even when we don't feel it, that's real love.

You all are teaching me about love through your actions. As Forrest Gump said to his true love, Jenny, I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is. Or as he put it, What. Love. Is.

In church last Sunday, the preacher preached on love. What it is, and what it isn't. After the service, we were talking with some friends, and I said, "I'll tell you what love is. It's moving onto one level of your house for four months for your dog! That's love!" The feeling of love that I feel for my dog is indescribable. But the proof of my love for her is what I'm willing to do for her. That's What. Love. Is.

I have not mentioned these people by name before, but I must do so now. While I was worship leader at Hope Fellowship, Bill and Nanci Suro attended there. They founded, own and run Maxfund, a no-kill animal hospital and shelter in the Denver area. We've gotten two cats from them over the years. In 2014, Nanci asked me to write and produce a commercial jingle for them, which I did. It aired on Channel 2 and Channel 31 in Denver last year. Because of our financial hardship, and their friendship, they are providing all of our veterinary care for free, including Sookie's surgery. Bill is a vet, and he personally examined each of our pets. He decided that our older dog Ziggy needs to be on prescription food for the rest of his life. If you've ever had a dog on prescription food, you know how expensive it is. They're also supplying that for us. They've also supplied us with the means to treat certain things at home so I don't have to drive down there three times a week anymore. All of this is an unbelievable blessing, given purely out of love. That's What. Love. Is. We'll never be able to thank them enough.

I'm going to an Avalanche game tonight with my friend, Paul Kelley. He has season tickets in the lower bowl. Row 8. He's taken me to games before, but the last time he invited me, I felt like I couldn't go because I would be too cold. So do you know what he did? He took me to REI, a popular outdoor store here for hikers, campers, and mountain climbers. He bought me the most expensive and comfortable pair of long underwear I've ever had. I want to wear them 24/7, and I almost do. He bought them for me so I could go to a hockey game with him, which he also pays for. That's What. Love. Is.

Your computer or phone tells you I've posted an update to my CaringBridge journal, so you click on the link and read what I have to say. Because you love me. Because you want to know what's going on. Because you care. That's What. Love. Is.

Thanks for your prayers, and as always, for being here! You are teaching me about love. I may not be a smart man, but I know What. Love. Is.

DUNWORKIN

Once when my family was driving down the road when I was a kid, there was a motor home in front of us with a sign on it that read, "DUNWORKIN." It was obviously a retired couple on the road in their RV, enjoying retirement. I don't know why that made such an impression on me that I remember it all these years later, but I find myself thinking about that sign lately. I think I'd like to hang it on the back of my Rav4. DUNWORKIN. Too bad it's too many characters for a vanity plate.

Yesterday I got a text asking if I'd be interested in a possible worship leading position in a local church. My response was immediate and emphatic. Thanks, but not interested. The mere thought almost makes me shudder. Just the idea brings back that feeling of burnout that I talked about in my previous post, "2015."

While I very much enjoyed and am grateful for the time I had as worship leader at Hope Fellowship, I can say that as of now I have absolutely no desire to get another gig. I feel like I'm done with that career. I feel "released," as you sometimes hear evangelicals say. I feel like I've done my job, and now I get to retire. And I couldn't be happier about it.

And that doesn't just apply to paying work. For our entire adult lives, my wife and I have been very involved in our church. Lots of volunteering in the music program. That's over too. For the first time in our lives, we're just going to church like normal people, and it's wonderful. Wonderful not to be responsible for anything. Wonderful not to have to make sure the service runs on time. Wonderful having no Christmas rehearsals. By the way, the same people who sacrificed their Christmas season so you could have a nice Christmas Eve service? They started working on Easter the next week. That's not an exaggeration. I have friends who did that very thing this past season.

I asked our friend Nikki when she was here if she thought I was crazy because I wouldn't change a diagnosis of metastatic cancer if it meant I had to get another job. She said, yes, I am crazy, but not for that reason. I expected her to say that. She said it's perfectly natural to feel feel like you're done. That is how I feel.

While I do continue to do a minimal amount of work, and while I want to make sure that my musical and ministerial legacies are in good hands for the future, for all intents and purposes, it is my sincere heart's desire to be done. Not done with life, but DUNWORKIN.

The Barney Song

I've been saying since all of this started that I find it difficult to process all of the expressions of love and support that we've received. That feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer weight of all of the people who tell me they're praying for me is hard to wrap my head around. After my friend whom I mentioned in my last post made me feel so loved last Friday night, I spent this past weekend shaking my head in amazement that anyone outside my immediate family would feel that way about me.

Why should I be so surprised that my friends love me as much as I love them? I've always believed, and have said in this journal, that I believe that the reason I'm basically a happy, optimistic person is because I was raised in a home where I knew I was loved, and where I was validated. So I do know that I'm loved. I just had no clue how much, and by how many people.

What my friend said to me forced me to turn it around and think, "Hey Dummy, how would I feel if he or his girlfriend had cancer?" I'd be crushed, of course. Devastated. That helps me to process the love, realizing that if the shoe were on the other foot, I'd be feeling about you the way you feel about me.

I must be pretty dense to just be realizing this now, after 60 years on this planet. Maybe it's because I never had kids, so I never learned the Barney song. "I love you, you love me...." Sorry for that ear worm! Now that I think of it, that may very well be one reason why I'm having trouble receiving all of this love. Maybe having kids helps you learn to do that.

I still feel overwhelmed, and probably will for a while. But I'm starting to get it. So to all of you here reading this, please know that I love you as much as you love me. If I can ever be there for you the way you've been there for me, I will.

Permission

Last night I was talking with a close friend and a buddy of his, and my friend's buddy was completely aware of my whole story, even though I think we'd only met once before. My friend had filled him in on everything, which I appreciated. It's nice when I don't have to keep repeating the whole thing all the time, especially in fun social settings. The C word tends to bring lively conversations to a halt. But at one point in the conversation, my friend seemed almost apologetic about the fact that he'd been talking about my cancer to his friends. I assured him that I trust him to say whatever he wants to whoever he wants. After all, I did go public on Facebook back in October. The cat's out of the bag.

I was very touched by the fact that he wants to tell people that I don't even know about his concern for me. He said it helps him to cope. That meant the world to me.

That conversation had such an impact on me that I wanted to tell all of you the same thing I told him. Feel free to talk about my cancer with your friends. If there's someone you think should be informed, tell them. You have my permission to tell anyone about this that you think should hear about it. As I've said before, I need as many people praying for me as I can get.

My need to talk about this stuff is obvious, and it's obvious why I need to talk about it. It's therapeutic for me. But it blows me away to think that others might be so upset about my cancer that they need to talk about it. I've never felt more loved in my life.

So please, feel free to share with anyone and everyone about me. If there's a journal post that's meaningful to you, or that you think is funny or good, feel free to share it on social media. The more people we have here, the better.

Once quick update: I made an appointment to see my new oncologist on Wednesday the 27th. I'm very much looking forward to it.

To all of you who care enough about me to be here, to love and support us, and even care so much that you need to talk about it with others, we owe you a debt that we'll never be able to repay. We are rich indeed.