Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Best Things I Did This Year

This is not a year-end retrospective, like I wrote the past two times New Year's Eve came around, in 2015 and 2016. If you want a quick synopsis of my whole story, read those two posts. But this year, I'm taking stock. I want to talk about the things I did this year that I'm happiest about. The decisions I'm glad I made, and the things I'm most glad I did. Lord knows I'm not shy about bragging on myself, but that's not the intent of this post. When I talk about the best things I did this year, I'm not touting my achievements. I'm counting my blessings.

These are not in chronological order, or in order of importance. It's not a Top Ten List. They're all the best. It's yet another embarrassment of riches. I have led a charmed life, even as I approach death.

The best thing I did this year was finish a career well. While I wanted to stop recording for a living much sooner than I did, I was happy to be able to finish three album projects and complete the twentieth volume of a CD series I've been writing and producing since the 1990's. I ended my song parody service for radio as well. Since then, I've been able to focus on the things I'm passionate about now.

It's such a blessing to be able to finish well. In all ways, not just professionally. Many people never get that opportunity. I'm very grateful for it.

The best thing I did this year was get monthly Xgeva shots for my bones. I experienced no side effects from it at all, and I believe it's a big reason I'm still walking around right now, even with a spine full of cancer. It was a decision I agonized over publicly, but I'm glad I made that decision now.

And speaking of cancer treatment, which I ended this past September, the best thing I did this year was form relationships with my medical team. It's why I found it impossible to leave them, even in hospice care. I go back for my next appointment on January 9th, and I can't wait.

The best thing I did this year was help two friends find love. With each other. 'Nuff said.

The best thing I did this year was visit my family last February. At the time, it seemed to all of us that we'd get another chance. But toward the end of this year, my dad had a health problem that prevented him from having visitors, and by the time he recovered, I could not travel. So I am thankful that we got that visit in when we did.

The best thing Sharon and I did this year was celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. We threw a huge party, and friends came from near and far. Three bands played, and I was in all of them. There was an undertone of sadness to this event due to my circumstances, but we felt loved. I am more blessed than anyone I know to have been married to this incredible woman for forty years.

And speaking of Sharon, the best thing we did this year was spend a lot of time together and do a lot of fun things. We took four fun trips together in 2017. Three flights and one road trip. We visited close friends, took our last tropical vacation together, and went to Morsefest. More on that later. But we also stayed home a lot. We hung out at our favorite spot by a nearby reservoir several times this past summer. We went to neighborhood summer concerts. We spent time on our patio. We ate out a lot. We went to church.

It seems like I'm always running off somewhere; to a rehearsal, a gig, an appointment, or to meet someone I want face time with. Each time I do that, it costs Sharon time with me. I am keenly aware of that. That's especially true during rehearsal season for a show with the kids. But more and more, I'm asking people I want to see, and those who want to see me to come to our home, so I don't have to leave her so much. That trend will continue.

The best thing we did this year was find Greenwood Community Church, about ten minutes from our home. We love it there. We love the pastors, the worship team, and the whole feel of the place. I wish we'd found it sooner. Now, it's too late to assimilate the way we normally would in a church. At my stage of life, we can't get involved like we used to. We just need a place close to home that feels right to us, and Greenwood does.

The best thing I did this year was finish my book, Bearing Witness. So far. It's up to date, and now I'm just adding as I go. I plan to keep adding right up to the end, or as close as I can get. I'm close to printing manuscripts and I've already asked a few people to proofread it. I may ask you soon.

The best thing I did this year was continue to mentor young musicians. From The Littleton Conservatory Of Rock to the band Wik to my protege, Payton Roybal. Payton is the lead singer of Wik, and we've just launched our Facebook page. Check it out and give us a like!

I can't describe the feeling I get from working with them. Being with them turns a horrible day into a great day. I've made made new friends and gained chosen family. It gives me a sense of purpose, and keeps me involved in music, my first love. I love every part of it, including listening to the set list for the next show in my car over and over for weeks on end. It gives me goal dates to shoot for. Because of this, I have two gigs in the next five weeks! It's one of the things that God and medication are keeping me upright for, and it means the world to me.

The best thing I did this year was give away many of my worldly possessions. Sharon and I continue our campaign to give away our things to the people we love, because people are much more important than things. Large items and small go out our door regularly to those who can use them. As I said in my last post, if we are close, dibs are accepted.

Notably, I gave my sound system and my keyboard to my protege, because singers in bands need those things, and I have no more use for them. But more than that, I gave her my support, and my confidence, and my time. Time is my most precious gift, but I'm not giving it as a favor. I'm giving it, and everything else I'm giving to her and everyone else I love because it's more blessed to give than to receive. And I want all the blessing I can get.

Finally, the best thing I did this year was join the Neal Morse Forum on Facebook. I actually joined that group one year ago today, New Year's Eve, 2016. Close enough. This is the best group of people I have found anywhere. They've been incredible supporters for Sharon and me. They decided we should be at Morsefest this year, and raised more than enough money to send us there in three hours. That led to VIP treatment at Morsefest beyond anything we had ever experienced. As a result, now I have personal relationships with most of the guys in the band. Now I have memories that will sustain me for the rest of my days. Now I have a whole new family. A #progfamily. That's the best part.

And the Neal Morse community is the gift that keeps on giving. We keep receiving gifts from Neal and his people. The picture above was taken at Morsefest by Neal's official photographer, Joel Barrios. That's one of about twenty pictures he took of me crying at that moment. I guess that was the best one! I don't even want to see the worst. Joel, as well as Scott Henry and Thad Kesten, Neal's videographers, have been very kind to me. They have given me things I'm pretty sure no one else has. In the world.

Scott and Thad are the ones who asked me to be interviewed for the Morsefest DVD. At the time, I expressed regret that I'd never see the interview because it takes so long for them to come out. But they made sure I did see it, and much more. Name another rock festival where that would happen.

Every week, someone from the Neal Morse community, whether someone from Neal's camp, or his fans, or Neal himself reaches out to me in some way. I can feel the love from these people, from all around the world. It's a precious thing. A year ago, I knew very few of them. Now they're family, and one I know will also be there for Sharon when the time comes.

After the Littleton Conservatory Of Rock show on February 3rd, my next goal date is March 17th. The night of Neal's solo acoustic show here in Denver. I can't wait to see him.

Some of you are probably thinking, "Hey Mark, what about God? You always end these things with some sort of God paragraph, so get to it." But that's not something I did. Not at all. I'll confess something to you. I do very little of what people would call praying. Instead, I have a running conversation with God, mostly not in words, every waking moment. I can feel his presence all the time in a powerful way. I don't have to do anything, or say anything, or go anywhere. It's not the best thing I did this year. I didn't do it at all. It's something he did for me more than two years ago, and he's still doing it. This is why the emotions are so close to the surface. Because he is so real, it's overwhelming.

I don't know how much of 2018 I'll be here for. My due date is approaching fast. I feel like it will come sometime this spring. But as I look back on 2017, I realize that many of you have been here with me for all of it, some for much longer. The support I receive from the readers of this blog helps to keep me going. If you make a list like this, I hope reading this blog is one of your bests. Because writing it is the best thing I did this year. #waroncancer #bearingwitness

Saturday, December 23, 2017

One More Thing

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

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

I wrote a post with this same title last year about this time. It began with the same two paragraphs as this one. But this year, there are new One More Things. And there are many more than one.

I will give you a full update soon in an upcoming post titled Gaunt Cancer Guy Vs Puffy Steroid Man, but the short version is that my nausea and energy issues are under control, thanks to some new medications. I sometimes still have trouble sleeping, and I'm just getting over a cold, but overall, I'm doing really well. Things are much improved since I wrote Sick And Tired. Thanks for your prayers, and for worrying about me.

One more thing. I've discovered a new passion; Giving away my worldly possessions to the people I love. It's a feeling I can't describe. I can't stop saying it. It really is more blessed to give than to receive.

One more thing. A year and three months after having seen the metastasis spots on my spine show up in that bone scan, I still have no pain from them. Now, with a spine full of cancer, plus more in my hip bone and tail bone, I still can't feel a thing. I'm starting to believe I may never have pain from my cancer. Some people don't. My maternal grandmother didn't when she died of cancer. Whether it's coming or not, I'm thankful for every day that's pain free.

One more thing. I am the recipient of far too much love. Every day, people randomly love on me in unexpected ways. It happened three times in one day this week. That's why I have to keep giving it away. If I don't, all of that love goes to waste. Because as Michael W. Smith once said, love isn't love until you give it away.

One more thing. This Christmas season has been especially meaningful to me. Going through old pictures, stirring up memories of Christmases past, and posting those pictures as another way of telling my story at this time has made this Christmas very special. It's encouraging to see the responses to those posts. The love keeps flowing.

One more thing. I gained some new chosen family members this year. You know who you are. Two groups in particular come to mind; Those who are part of my passion for mentoring young musicians, and the Neal Morse community. You inspire me. You keep me going. I love you.

One more thing. There are a very special few who take it upon themselves to check in on me regularly, just to see how I'm feeling that day. I can't tell you how much that helps. Thank you.

One more thing. God is good. I keep talking about the experience I've had with God, but I never seem to get any closer to describing it. It's like being bathed in the warmth of the sun, but that warmth is Love, and it penetrates every sub-atomic particle of your being and the space between them. Or maybe it feels like the biggest, warmest hug you can imagine, and it goes all the way through you. How's that for a description? When you feel like that all the time, tears are usually close to the surface. Especially at this time of year.

One more thing. Thank you for reading this blog. It means the world to me. I hope it's an encouragement to you. If you're a cancer brother or sister, I hope you can relate to my journey. I hope I speak for you in some small way. If you're reading because you know me and are concerned about me, I hope it helps to give you this window into what it's like, and helps you know how to pray for me. If you are in hospice care like I am, or have a loved one who is, I hope my account brings you comfort, or informs you in some way. If you are searching for God, I hope I can point you to him. I'm gonna keep on bearing witness for as long as I can. This is my calling.

One more thing. Merry Christmas! #waroncancer #bearingwitness

Friday, December 15, 2017

My Last Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 11, 2017

Why I Have A DNR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Sick And Tired

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

Living Versus Waiting To Die

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Dream Of Heaven

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The Throne Room?" I ask. 

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Homeward Bound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Jesus Loves Me The Most

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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