Even though things seemed to be going well on the surface, in many ways, I was not happy. A feeling of burnout that had begun after decades of volunteering at our old church was temporarily abated by the fact that I had a great paying gig where I could pretty much do whatever music I wanted. But even then, deep down, I wanted a way out. I wanted desperately to retire, but saw no way I ever could. If you've read my two posts regarding my career, "Counting My Blessings #3 - My Career" and "The Rest Of The Story," you know that at my age, and with the way the world is now, it's unlikely that the career I've had will see a sudden resurgence.
So through the first three months of this year, everything was going as it had before, and we had no reason to think it would change. We knew there was a strong possibility that the church would close sometime this year, but we were hoping we could find a way to continue, and that my business would keep busy.
John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens while we're making other plans." While we were making other plans, life took over. April was a significant month for us for three reasons. On April 3rd, I finally got around to going in for my checkup, which I had neglected the previous year. A few days later, I received the news that my PSA had gone from 6.6 to 15.8 in two years. I didn't know for sure I had cancer until months later, but I knew what the likelihood was, given my family history. My doctor told me I needed a biopsy, and recommended a urologist. I made an appointment with one, but could not get in to see him until June.
Also, in April, the decision was made to close Hope Fellowship. May 3rd was chosen to be our final Sunday. It wasn't just the loss of a job that impacted my wife and me. We have close friendships from that church that are more difficult to maintain because we don't see our friends as regularly now. And there is a sense of home that's hard to describe to those who don't have a church home. That feeling of home is very valuable when you're in an insecure place in life. We're still trying to replace that.
April wasn't all negative, however. We also met our new friends Derek and Amber in April. They have been an unbelievable blessing to us. It's hard for me to imagine the last eight months without them.
In May, I turned 60! We had a big party and a big snowstorm the same night. I think the blizzard made the party better. It kept everyone inside where the band was playing! It's always more fun for the band when there are people listening and dancing. Out of 62 positive responses, 49 actually showed up in a blizzard! Two of our dearest friends, Nicki Nielsen and Jan Koch, flew in from California and Texas, respectively, to stay with us, help us, and celebrate with us. Many of my musician friends showed up and played, and we rocked out. I felt very loved. I had no idea at the time, but I was only feeling the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
I had my first visit with a urologist on June 10th. He scheduled a biopsy for August 4th. Why was there so much time between my PSA test in April and the biopsy in August? You got me. I went through almost this whole past spring and summer suspecting that I had prostate cancer, but not knowing for sure.
Meanwhile, I needed a gig. Or at least I thought I did. I tried replacing my income from the church by driving for Uber, but I found out I couldn't make what I needed to make driving the hours I wanted to drive. I was fine being available during the day, but no graveyard shifts driving drunks home from bars at 3:00 AM for me. I really didn't want another church gig unless I could take our band with me, and not very many churches will let you do that. So my career options were not good, and still aren't.
After a spring and summer of blissful ignorance, August came crashing in. August was a huge month for us. My biopsy was August 4th. From August 3rd to the 9th, our long time friend Bob Drake visited from France and stayed with us for a week. That was a very memorable week, and not only for how it ended. It was a privilege to reconnect with Bob over so many days as he prepared for his one man show at the Mercury Cafe on Friday the 7th. But as we were loading his gear into my car to take him down to the venue, I got a call from my urologist. He informed me that my results had come back positive. I had prostate cancer, which he wanted to treat with a combination of surgery and radiation. Or so he said at the time.
I had taken the call in another room, so Bob didn't hear any of it. Naturally, I didn't want to put that on him right before his first solo show, so I kept mum about it until the next day. For the rest of the night, I wanted to scream at everyone I met, "I JUST FOUND OUT I HAVE CANCER!!!" But I put on my happy face and let Bob have his night. I told him the next morning.
My urologist scheduled an MRI and bone scan for August 18th to determine if there was any metastasis. One week later, on August 25th, 2015, I was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer. My high Gleason score indicated a very aggressive cancer which is inoperable. That diagnosis changed everything, for good and bad. All they can do for now is give me Lupron shots, which are supposed to stop the cancer from growing, but they don't kill it. They think the shots will work for somewhere between 18 months and 2 years, then the aggressiveness of my cancer will make Lupron ineffective. After Lupron, they said want to try chemo and radiation, but can't guarantee success.
Then I met with an oncologist, and he started talking in terms of a much shorter life expectancy than I was planning on. When I said my family tends to live into their 90's, he just looked straight at me and said, "You have a really bad cancer." Gulp. OK.
On September 24th, I got my first Lupron shot, my first official cancer treatment. Don't ever get a Lupron shot. Just saying. Unless you need it to keep you alive for another two years, that is. They're not fun. And just to prove how highly intelligent I am, I got my first shot the day before I was supposed to drive five hours to Grand Junction, CO. Not the best idea I had this year. I'm gonna make sure I have nowhere I need to go for at least two days after my next shot.
I'm referring to my calendar as I write this, naturally. As I look at September of 2015, I don't just see medical events. We also had wonderful times with friends on the 5th, 6th, 12th, 19th, and for the whole weekend of the 25th to the 27th. All of those gatherings were scheduled before my diagnosis. Suddenly, right after I find out I have a life threatening illness, my month is full of time with friends, just when I needed it. Coincidence? I think not.
October was notable for two things. The biggest is that on October 21st, I went public with my diagnosis. From then on, our world changed. All at once, responses flooded in from hundreds of people all over the world. Thousands began praying for me. We began our GoFundMe campaign, and in 24 hours we were almost halfway to our goal. Today, including offline donations, we've far exceeded our goal. But while it's amazing how fast the money goes, we're doing fine for now. The feeling of peace that you all have given us is impossible to describe. Thank you!
The same day, I began this journal. Writing this journal has changed my life, and given me purpose. They say that nothing helps you live longer more than having a purpose, something that gets you out of bed in the morning. For as long as I'm able to get out of bed in the morning, I'll keep documenting this process and writing this blog. Who knows, maybe someday it will turn into something more than an online journal.
There was also a musical event in October that was hugely therapeutic for me. I was able to perform some songs with friends that had a lot of meaning for me, and it was a sort of "coming out" party for me after my diagnosis. Many of my friends found out about my cancer for the first time there. I almost backed out at the last minute because I was afraid that I would be cold, but I'm so glad I didn't. People had been telling me to "stay strong." I wasn't sure what that meant until after that night. It means don't wimp out because you're afraid you might be cold. You might miss out on one of the best nights of your life if you do.
At this point in the story, the journal picks up. If you've been reading this journal, you know the rest. You know my PSA was down to 4.0 when I was retested in October. You know about the numbness, the sensitivity to cold, the ankle injury, and all the rest. I can't tell you what it means to me to know that you've been following all of this.
After everything that's happened, that feeling of being loved that I felt at my birthday party on May 8th has been magnified a thousandfold. At the beginning of this year, I was stressed, burnt out, and totally unaware of the many who would come to our rescue when we needed it. As 2015 draws to a close, I am happy, at peace, and looking forward to the future. And most of all, it's been made very obvious to me that I am loved. Deeply and by many more people I would have dared imagine. When I look back on 2015, I wouldn't change a thing.