Saturday, April 29, 2017

What Makes A Difference

I was taking my supplements this morning, and a thought occurred to me. I take quite a few supplements, mostly for my bones, since I have osteoporsis from hormone treatment. I take Glucosamine, Magnesium, Calcium, and vitamins C, D, and K2 every morning. I also take local bee pollen for my allergies (highly recommended - it'll change your life if you have pollen allergies) and wash it all down with orange juice spiked with a fiber supplement.

Once you add in the four Xtandi horse pills I take every morning, that's a lot of pills. So as I was taking all of those pills this morning, I couldn't help but wonder if they make any difference. The only ones I know for sure are making a difference are Xtandi, bee pollen, and the fiber supplement. I've been taking the last two for years. I can testify as to their effectiveness. My last two PSA tests have shown Xtandi to be very effective. But the rest of them? Who can tell?

My oncologist wants me to take calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D in certain amounts for my bones, so I'm following doctor's orders on those. But I'm still not convinced they're doing anything. Someone on Facebook said I should take K2 to help my bones absorb the calcium and magnesium, so I'm taking that, but again, how do I know if it's making a difference? I don't. There's no way to know.

Of course, the phrase making a difference takes on a specific meaning when you have cancer. It means, is it helping my body fight the cancer? Is it strengthening my bones? Is it doing more than making me feel like I'm fighting? Would my results be any different if I were taking a placebo? I have no idea. But I keep taking those supplements.

I haven't done chemo, nor do I intend to, but my friend Christopher Charles Caminiti has. He completed a full treatment. But his doctors can't tell him if chemo has done him any good. It has made a difference; it's torn his body down and made him feel worse, but nobody can tell him if it's helped with his cancer. It doesn't seem like it has.

I suppose there will be a bone density scan in my future to see if the Xgeva shots I'm getting every month are making a difference with my osteoporosis, but as of yet, I don't know if that's making any difference either.

I completed my cannabis oil suppository treatment program at the end of February, and now I'm on a low "maintenance" dose. Did it make a difference? Again, there's no way to tell. My PSA has been incredibly low for a Stage 4 prostate cancer patient who still has his prostate, but that could be Lupron and Xtandi alone. However, that may be put to the test in a little over a week, when I get my next PSA test. If my PSA has crept up a little, I may go back to a full dose of the suppositories for a few weeks and test again, to see if the number goes back down. That would be a good way to see if it's making a real difference with my cancer, rather than just helping me sleep.

I'll tell you what makes a difference for me. The love of family and friends. Being with those closest to me. And the random acts of kindness and support I continue to receive. Those things make a huge difference. Maybe not in what my next test result will be, but in making this journey easier and better. In reminding me that I'm not alone.

I woke up sad this morning, just missing absent friends. Because being with them makes such a difference. But then I went to a rehearsal that I'd been looking forward to, and that made a difference. I didn't do much, but just being there with them feeds my soul.

On my way there, I stopped and checked the Post Office Box that I use for business. In it was a key to a larger box. We hadn't ordered any checks, so I couldn't imagine what might be in there. I pulled the box out, and it was heavy. What could it be? I couldn't wait, and opened it in the car. When I saw what was inside, I laughed with delight.

It was from a friend who I've worked with at ministry training events like the one where I sang and spoke a few weeks ago. I posted the video on YouTube and shared it on Facebook and Twitter a while back, but if you missed it, you can see it here. Her name is Brenda Marshall. We discovered, somehow, years ago, that we both like black licorice. And we were the only ones who worked these events who did. So when we worked together, one of us would invariably bring black licorice. The fact that nobody liked it but us meant we got all of it!

I'm not sure if Brenda still works those events, but I haven't for a few years. There's no way I'd have the energy to work one now. You're on your feet pretty much all day. So Brenda and I will probably never be able to share a bag of black licorice again, since she lives in Texas, and I live in Colorado. We haven't seen each other for years, but she's kept in touch on Facebook since my diagnosis. When I opened the box I got in the mail today, it was full of black licorice, with a note that said:

And you thought I forgot! 
Enjoy, my friend! 

I didn't remember her promising to send me licorice, or even having a conversation about it, but when I messaged Brenda to thank her, she said she thought it would make me feel better. Guess what? It did. It made a difference in my day. Check this out:

Two kinds of black licorice, black jelly beans, and two kinds of black licorice candy. And not the cheap stuff! I've already gotten into a couple of them, and I will make good use of the rest of them over the next couple of weeks. Thank you so much, Brenda! You really made a difference.

No comments from the food police, please. This is a gift from a friend, and I really don't believe it will make one bit of difference in my outcome. But it does make a difference in how I feel.

And if you don't like black licorice, go put yourself in time out. More for Brenda and me.

Then, as I sat down to write this post, someone from our former church called to check in on me. A dear lady who is in her eighties, and who I've always regarded as a saint. Several years ago, our worship pastor asked us to find someone in the church and ask them to support us in prayer. This was the person I asked to pray for me. Her name in Lois Golden. She prays for me still, every day. She calls me every once in a while, and makes sure her Sunday School class and Bible study group know what's going on so they know how to pray for me.

We only talked for a few minutes, but before we said goodbye, she asked to pray with me. I was more than happy to have her do that. I think she quoted three or four scripture references in her prayer, complete with book, chapter and verse. She is a woman of God, which is why I asked her to pray for me in the first place. I've said before in this blog that I love being prayed for, but being prayed with is much better. Especially when a saint like Lois is praying with you. That made a huge difference.

Here's the point. Many of us in prostate cancer treatment, and maybe all cancer treatment, wonder if all the hoops we jump through to try to fight this disease make any difference. But we can all testify that the support and love we receive from others makes a huge difference. You make a difference. Thanks to everyone who makes a difference in my life. #waroncancer

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Almost There

Retirement. For most of my adult life, it seemed an impossibility. When you're a self-employed musician like I've been, there's really no such thing. We tend not the be the best at saving for retirement. And there's no pension, unless you belong to the Musicians Union, which in the Denver, Colorado area, is a joke. No, for most of us who cobble together a living with a combination of gigs, teaching, and recording work, retirement's a fantasy.

Add to that the fact that most of us don't really want to retire. We want to keep making music till we drop dead. It's what drives us.

For years, I've told young musicians who think they want to do music for a living that if they can do anything else and be happy, anything at all, they should do that and be a musician as a hobby. It's those who can only be happy doing music who should try to do it for a living. And we are the ones who will find a way to make it happen. I did, and so did several of my friends.

If you're interested in a retrospective of my music career, I wrote about it in an early post; Counting My Blessings #3: My Career. I also wrote about the decline of that career in the follow-up to that post, The Rest Of The Story. I've been very blessed to have such a career, but it's been winding down of its own accord for years now.

Once I was diagnosed with cancer, and began treatment, the things that drive me changed. I was no longer driven to perform, write and record music, or lead worship. I've felt a distinct sense of God saying to me, "Well done. You rest now. I have something else for you to do." He began leading me down this path that I expect to be traveling for the rest of my days.

But it's been a slow transition. I couldn't just stop when I wanted to more than a year ago. I had obligations to clients, and I was too young to start drawing my Social Security benefits. But that changes in two weeks. On May 7th, I turn 62 years old, which is the youngest age you can start collecting in the U.S., unless you're on Social Security Disability. I applied for that early in this process, and was denied. I won't go down that road again.

My family tends to live into their early 90's. Until cancer took over my life, I had expected to keep working until I could draw my full benefit at 66, which would be a few hundred dollars more than I can make starting at 62. But when I was diagnosed Stage 4, waiting was no longer an option. When you have a terminal illness, they tell you to start drawing your Social Security as early as you can. So I went down to the Social Security office yesterday, and applied to start receiving my benefits.

I've been retired from leading worship for two years now. With rare exceptions, the same has been true for performing. But I've continued to do recording work. Not for long, though.

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I'm starting work on my last CD project, Righteous Pop Music Volume 20. I expect to finish that by the end of May. But I haven't talked about my weekly song parody service for radio stations much in this blog. It's called Bradford's Boogies, and I've been doing it since 1999. I write and produce a topical song parody every week for stations who subscribe.

When I began, I had ten or twelve subscribers, along with a chain of stations who subscribed at a reduced rate. This gave Bradford's Boogies a total of nineteen or twenty subscribers at its peak. Which, along with everything else I was doing, made for a pretty nice living at the time. Without going into what went wrong - see The Rest Of The Story for that - my list of clients shrank over the years rather than growing.

For the last few years, I've had only two radio stations who still paid to have my weekly song parody service on their morning show; KGLK in Houston, Texas (107.5 The Eagle as it's known by locals) and WMGK in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dean and Rog are the show who plays my songs in Houston, and John DeBella is my guy in Philly. I've been with Dean and Rog since the early 90's, and with DeBella since 2003. I consider all of these guys friends. They stuck with me when so many bailed. When I told them of my diagnosis, they still stuck with me and have been patient with me when I was struggling to think of something funny to write about. I'll never be able to repay the way they've supported me over the years. But it's time for me to move on now.

I had expected to keep doing Bradford's Boogies until I couldn't do it anymore. It's still a nice amount of money for relatively little work. But it never lets up. It's 52 song parodies per year, without exception. No vacations. If I travel somewhere, I have to work ahead, or catch up when I return home. This does not amount to retirement. It's become a burden that I'd rather lay down at this point in my life.

There are places I'd like to go and things I'd like to do while I still feel good enough to do them. The weekly obligation of Bradford's Boogies makes that impossible. But as it happens, my Social Security income will more than make up for what I make from Bradford's Boogies. So I've decided to stop producing this weekly service at the end of May, as well as finishing my last CD project in the same time frame. This will enable me to sell my recording gear starting in June, and truly retire.

I can't tell you how happy this makes me. I had a couple of days of indecision about this, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Why can't I have some retirement time that I can enjoy while I still feel good enough to enjoy it? Why should I have to keep working until cancer forces me to stop? Especially when I have other things that are more important to me now than getting a topical song parody out.

Here's one problem with continuing to do a job that amounts to commenting on current events. I don't pay attention to the news anymore. I used to be a news junkie, but now I find it brings too much negativity to my life. I don't need that right now, so I choose to live in blissful ignorance. It's the only way I can keep my emotional equilibrium and avoid "black cloud" days. That makes it a little difficult to be a social satirist.

I spoke to John DeBella in Philadelphia a little while ago, and he couldn't have been more gracious or understanding. I expect the same when I talk to Dean and Rog tomorrow. It will be a difficult conversation, since I've been friends with these guys since 1991 or thereabouts, when they were here in Denver on KBPI. But they'll understand. I've worked with them longer than any other radio show in my career.

But as you know if you've been following along, retirement does not mean inactivity for me. Different things drive me now, and I have a few irons in the fire, so to speak. Chosen Family chocolate ice cream is on its way to production. When the Kickstarter campaign for startup capital begins, I will shamelessly promote it here. I'll still work with the kids in the rock band school I've talked so much about. And of course, I will continue to document my journey, and begin the process of turning this blog into a book starting this fall.

But retirement means I can also do other things, like take a week to drive out to my friend Christopher Charles Caminiti's benefit concert in June. I couldn't do that if I was still required to crank out a song parody every week.

Once I've sold my gear, we'll start turning this room that we've called The Studio into a third bedroom and office. My goal is to have it ready for guests who travel here for our 40th anniversary party at the end of July. That room is yours if you want it, Christopher and Lori.

My wife and I are unsure, at this point, how we'll be able to make this work financially, long term. But God has provided so far, and I have no doubt that he'll continue to do so.

Truthfully, I've wanted to retire for a long time. Years. I never thought it would be possible. Yet here it is, just over a month away. I couldn't be more excited. Not only is there light at the end of the tunnel, the light streaming in now overwhelms the darkness of the tunnel. I'm almost there. #waroncancer

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Incredible Shrinking Man

I've loved this classic movie since I was a kid, and it still works for me. Based on an even better novel by Richard Matheson, it tells the story of Scott Carey, who because of exposure to chemicals, among other things like a mysterious, glowing mist, starts shrinking. By the end of the movie, he's small enough to fit through a window screen. For a ten year old boy - and there is still a ten year old boy alive and kicking inside my head - it doesn't get much better than the scene when Scott fights and kills a giant spider when he's less than an inch tall. He uses a hat pin as a sword, as I recall.

At the checkup with my new family doctor in April of 2015, when the PSA test that started this whole mess was taken, the first thing the assistant did when she called me in was measure my height. She wrote me down as five feet nine inches tall. I said, "I am not! I've been five ten and three quarters my whole adult life!" So she measured me again. Guess what? I'm five nine. I've shrunk. That's what happens when you get old.

As you all know, that was just the beginning of the bad news, and by far the least of it. Once I was diagnosed with cancer in August of 2015, they put me on hormone treatment. It immediately started shrinking my cancer. But it also started shrinking me. Not literally, just in terms of how I feel.

When my PSA began to rise after ten months or so of one hormone treatment alone, (Lupron) another hormone treatment was added to it. Xtandi. The four horse pills I take every morning. That combination has had my cancer shrinking at an astonishing rate. But it's shrinking me at the same time, seemingly even faster than Lupron alone did. Shrinking my strength, my stamina, my endurance. My desire to do the things I used to love to do.

And there's no end in sight. I have to stay on this stuff for the forseeable future. It's giving me great numbers for now, but at the same time, I'm starting to feel like Scott Carey wearing boys clothes, and then moving into a doll house before being chased out of it by the cat. How small will I get? I feel pretty small now. 

My latest description of my treatment is that it's doing a great job of keeping my cancer under control, but it's also doing a great job of turning me into a wet noodle. The two go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other. I almost titled this post The Adventures Of The Wet Noodle, but that sounds like a children's book. And I couldn't have put that cool vintage movie poster at the top. 

There is one way that hormone treatment is shrinking me physically, and I've been talking about it in this blog. It curbs my appetite and makes me lose weight if I'm not careful to eat enough calories, carbs and fat. But my weight is back up where it should be now, thanks in large part to the ice-cream-before-bed-every-night diet. Oh, the sacrifices we make... 

My wife and I just got back from a road trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to meet our friends Christopher and Lori Caminiti. Christopher is also a Stage 4 prostate cancer patient. Our journeys are very similar, though he is farther down this road than I am. Our first evening together was nothing but fun, but this subject did come up. We both feel like our strength is shrinking because of treatment. Then, the next day, we proved it.

It was a beautiful day in Santa Fe, (sounds like a song lyric!) and the four of us went to the central plaza to shop and have some lunch. We walked around for a while and took some pictures. But every few minutes, Christopher needed to sit down. I was happy to join him. Each time we sat down, the conversation turned to cancer, and how treatment is taking its toll on both of us. 

By the time we sat down in the beautiful courtyard restaurant our wives had found for lunch, Christopher had about had enough. I could see the pain on his face, and in spite of how little time we'd spent together, I could tell he was not doing well. Christopher always puts on a happy face, no matter how he feels. But not yesterday at lunchtime. When our food arrived, we held hands to pray for the meal, and I was overcome with emotion. Instead of praying for the food, I mostly prayed for my friend.

Later, I told Christopher and Lori that I hated seeing Christopher suffer like that, but I also internalized it. To me, it looked like previews of coming attractions. This is what I have to look forward to. Yes, when we got back to the condo we'd rented, I needed a nap, but that was the extent of my "shrinkage." Christopher is the strongest man I know, but yesterday, fighting the spider would have been too much for him.

The way I feel some days, including today, there's no way I could take on that giant spider, like Scott Carey does in the movie. I'd be spider lunch pretty fast.

And we all know what the spider represents in the movie of my life, and Christopher's. Cancer. I'm doing my best to fight the spider, but the smaller I get, the harder it is to even lift the hat pin. And while I don't have proof yet, I fear that the spider is growing again, after shaving shrunk along with me for months. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many Orkin men I bring in to try to kill it, (little known fact: I used to be an Orkin man - ask me about my Daddy Long Legs story sometime) we'll never be able to kill the spider. One day the spider will bigger than I am, and I'll be too small and weak to fight it. Then the spider will eat me.

That's the biggest difference between me and the guys with varieties of my cancer that are curable. The ones who can be cured through treatment are able to slay the spider, like Scott does in the movie. The rest of us put it off for as long as we can, but we'll never make it past the spider to that window screen on our own.

When Scott Carey defeats the spider, he walks to the window and discovers that he is now small enough to escape through the screen. He's been so small that his wife has been unable to find him since the cat chased him out of the doll house and he fell into the basement. He had been completely alone for a long time, and would be for the rest of his life. He wonders, as the movie ends, how small will he become? The size of a molecule? A sub-atomic particle? He wanders into the forest that was once his back yard, contemplating the nature of the universe.

As I keep shrinking, I find myself doing a lot of contemplating as well. I do it right here in this blog. But I'm sure of some things. I'm sure I will never be lost and alone, like Scott Carey is in the story, no matter how small I get. I don't need to wonder what will happen when I'm no longer able to beat back the spider. I know I'll have the love of family and friends to surround me, and I know Who will be there with me to face the spider, and usher me through the window screen into a world of wonders when the battle is over.

Because even when the spider eats me, it won't win, and I won't lose. I may be getting weaker and smaller, but I have resources Scott Carey didn't have. I have an army of people praying for me. I have an incredible inner circle of family and friends who support me and love on me. If I may risk paraphrasing Obi Wan Kenobi, when the spider strikes me down, I shall become more powerful than it can imagine. If a spider can imagine anything. Because I am The Incredible Shrinking Man. #waroncancer

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

My Legacy

When you reach my age and stage of life, you think a lot about your legacy. Having a terminal illness only brings those thoughts into sharper focus. But really, we should all be thinking about our legacy, no matter how old we are or where we are in life, because none of us knows how much time we have on this planet. What will we leave behind that will have an lasting impact?

Most people consider their children and grandchildren, if they have them, to be their legacy. But my wife and I don't have children. We have to look harder to find those lasting legacy items that will continue to make a difference after we've left the field of play.

Early April of 2017 consists of several reminders of what I feel my legacy will be. Last Saturday, April 1st, was the most fun reminder.

On Saturday, we had some dear friends over for lunch, including Candice, who is our partner in our ice cream venture. I thought I had finally perfected my recipe for my gourmet chocolate ice cream, in both dark and milk chocolate flavors. I was anxious to see if Candice and her family agreed that these were the recipes that we should go ahead with.

Candice has two daughters, Maxine and Gloria, ages nine and seven, respectively. Their opinion was of prime importance. Not least because they are children, and who better to judge ice cream than kids? I also wanted their opinion because Gloria, last Thanksgiving, chose the name for the ice cream. Chosen Family Chocolate. I tell that story in my post The Things You Think Of. Here is a video of their unbiased review. You may have already seen it on Facebook.

To my great satisfaction, all agreed that I'd found the final recipes. Now we're on to the next phase; finalizing our business plan, consulting an attorney, crowdfunding startup capital, deciding on branding and packaging, and making presentations to investors. It's very exciting. I never thought this would be possible, but Candice's vision has made it possible.

Another of the things that has to be decided is which cancer-related organization we'd like to donate a portion of our proceeds to. It's important to me that we do that. That makes it even more of a legacy item than it would otherwise be. It's about more than just getting my ice cream out so more people can enjoy it, and so it can hopefully become a source of income for us in retirement. It will also be about fighting this disease, and/or helping those who suffer from it. Legacy. Something that leaves a lasting impact.

I'm in the early stages of producing my last CD project. I'll begin work in earnest on the first phase of that process, writing the lyrics, next week. It's volume 20 of a series I've written and produced since the 1990's. That series has been used in children's ministry around the world for decades. It's one of the reasons I began my cancer journey with such a large base of support, and it's my main musical legacy. It's called Righteous Pop Music, or RPM for short. I'm very grateful and blessed to have such a legacy that will continue to be a ministry to others long after I've gone home.

I began work today on a speaking and singing engagement I have this Saturday morning for a ministry training event hosted by the same company for whom I produce the RPM series. I'll sing a few songs and talk about hope, which is their theme. I'll end my three song set with an original song called, "My Hope Is In The Lord." That's the song I talk about in my post, "My Song." During a time when I could not seem to get back into a music-writing head space, almost exactly one year ago, the fog lifted for one day, and I was able to write that song for a musical this same client was putting together. It seems a good place to begin my testimony/devotional, which will run about 20 minutes.

I think the talk will begin by telling that story. Then I'll transition into talking about hope, and tie it into Palm Sunday, which is this Sunday. I'm thinking that what I say will be largely based on three posts in this blog; My Song, What Gives Me Hope, and my Palm Sunday post from last year, My Crowd On The Road. If you live in the Denver area, you're invited. Just tell them at the door that you're there to see me. I'll be putting the details out for it on Facebook soon, but it's Saturday morning, April 8th at 9:00 AM (I think) at Tower Community Fellowship in Aurora, Colorado.

Telling my story, bearing witness to what God's been doing in my life since my diagnosis is a huge legacy item for me, as you know. I look for opportunities to speak now, rather than for opportunities to sing. This time, I get to do both. But I'm only allowing ten out of my allotted thirty minutes for singing. The rest is dedicated to talking about the transformation that's taken place in my life since I found out I have cancer, and the hope I've found that I didn't have before.

I'm being told that the whole thing will be captured on video, and I'll be able to post it soon thereafter. So like my "sermon," The End Of Myself, this message will live on for any who want to watch it. I don't know how long I have to live, but I'm pretty sure YouTube will outlive me.

As we speak, my friend Todd is beginning to plan the summer show for the rock band school for kids I've talked so much about. Here is where my hopes for a legacy may exceed the impact I actually have. I'm a late joiner in this endeavor, and sometimes I wonder how much of what I say and do there has lasting value to them. But it's been huge for me. I was brought in as a vocal coach, but I work with all of the kids, because of my background as a band leader. Some of the kids are just there for fun. Others are serious about a career in music. I just hope I can impart some wisdom to the ones who want to pursue music as a career. Things I wish someone had told me when I was their age, and that will stay with them throughout their musical careers. I hope I can leave a legacy with them.

And of course, my other main legacy is this blog. I'll begin the process of turning it into a book this fall, after RPM 20 is finished, and after our 40th anniversary celebration. The impact that this blog has had is already apparent, and I'm not anywhere near done, nor has its readership peaked. It continues to grow. This blog will be here as long as Google is. Google will outlive all of us. And it's my sincere hope that the book will have as wide a reach as the blog has, if not a much wider reach.

Because now, I'm thinking about my legacy, and treating everything I do like it's part of that legacy. I should have been doing this all along, with volumes 1-19 of the RPM series, and with everything else I did. But at least I finally understand how important my legacy is, now that I'm awake.

The friendships I've been blessed with are a major part of my legacy too. So many would never have happened were it not for cancer. The love we share is as much a legacy as anyone could want. If love is my legacy, who could claim a better one?

It's not about me. That's what I've learned. It's not about any of the things I used to think were so important, like money, career, and self promotion. It's about legacy. It's about leaving a lasting impact. That's what the rest of my life will be about. #waroncancer