Monday, August 28, 2017

The Least Depressed Terminally Ill Person You Know

First of all, I want to thank my friend Alan Cox for the above image. He gave it to me months ago to use in this blog, but this is the first post I thought was a good fit for it. Thanks for all your kindness to me, Alan.

Someone told me they thought they saw signs of depression in my last post. I assured her that I've been in therapy for sixteen months, and the subject of depression has never come up. I promised her that I'm the least depressed terminally ill person she knows. When I told my therapist this, she laughed out loud and agreed with me. I should be depressed, but I'm not. I'm having too much fun. I have too much purpose in my life to be depressed.

Now that our big anniversary celebration is past, my wife and I have settled into a comfortable retirement routine. We walk our dog. We go to our favorite spot by a nearby reservoir. We go out to eat. We hang out on our patio. We go to church. We see our friends. Serious topics of conversation come up frequently, and when they do, we talk about them honestly and realistically. But most of the time, we're just doing our thing like we've always done.

This Thursday, the two of us will travel to Nashville, Tennessee to attend a two day festival with my favorite rock star, Neal Morse, and his band, The Neal Morse Band. I told you the story of how this incredible blessing fell into our laps in my post The Conclusion. If we get to meet the guys in the band face to face again, this time, most of them will know who I am! We'll meet new friends from across the world, and thank those responsible for making this happen for us. At the worship service on Sunday, the whole crowd will pray for us and with us. Yes, this rock festival ends with a worship service! Only at Morsefest. I can't think of another musical artist whose fans would do something like this for one of their own. What a blessing.

This was my only bucket list item. If someone had asked what one thing I wanted to do before I die, I'd have said go to Morsefest. And God granted it, just like that. Depressed? On the contrary, I'm walking on air. Of course, I will blog about the entire thing. I plan to post about it three times, once for each day. This is a major event in the last season of my life. I will not fail to bear witness to it.

It's also an unexpected out of town trip, all expenses paid, for the two of us. It's just the kind of thing retired couples do. They travel, don't they? But we don't have the money for that kind of retirement. So God provided again, not by meeting a need, but by granting a wish. He is so good.

I said at the top that I have too much purpose in my life to be depressed. I am doing something right now that is an immeasurable blessing to me because of the purpose it gives me. It's kept me involved in things I thought I was done with, and given me great joy. It's crazy, but I'm in a band again. Never thought I'd be in another band. Except for my friend Todd and me, the band consists of teenagers, ages 16 to 19. Definitely never thought that would happen. If you're wondering if it looks weird having two old guys in a teenage band, the answer is yes.

That's not the best part, though. I'm teaching them songwriting. We began work on our first original song last week, and I hope to finish it this week. The day after we started on it, I got inspired and began working out the arrangement and song form in my head. Our lead singer, who I call my protege, is working on lyrics and fleshing out the song as we speak. The lyrical concept for the song is hers. I'm very excited to hear the finished song.

I never thought I'd do that again; work on a new song idea I'm really excited about. It's a feeling that's impossible to describe. You only know it if you've experienced it. But even that isn't the best part for me. It's fun and exciting, but not where my sense of purpose is. I find purpose in passing on the knowledge I've gained over the years to these kids. Having young people who want to learn from me gives me purpose. Feeling like I can pass something on to the next generation gives me purpose.

This is especially true of my protege. She absorbs everything I say like a sponge and puts it in into practice. I can't tell you what it means to have someone as young, talented, and driven as she is who wants to learn as much as she can from me, and wants to make me proud. I never thought I'd reach this stage of my life and have such an eager pupil. Especially one who will far surpass me, as I believe she will. I hope you have someone like that who wants to learn from you when you're at this stage of life. I hope you have this much purpose.

I find purpose in writing, as you all know. Writing music, lyrics, and this blog. This blog most of all. I've begun the work of turning it into a book, and I can feel the clock ticking. If my doctor is right, I'd better get this book done, and fast. This is a job that I don't want anyone else to do. I don't want someone else to decide what parts of this blog make it into the book, and what material should be added. I know what I want it to be.

It's my intention to keep writing for as long as possible. Ideally, I'd like to write something on my last day and have it posted to this blog. Maybe just a paragraph. Maybe just a sentence. But something. By then, hopefully, the rest of the book will be ready to go in its template, the artwork will be done, and all my wife has to do is plug in the last few posts and publish. I've asked my therapist to write the afterword. I'll never see it published or hold a copy of the book in my hands, but only because I must bear witness right until the end if I can. It's my purpose.

This means I may have to refuse pain medication in order to remain lucid. It's more important to me to be able to write and interact with my loved ones who visit me than it is to feel no pain. I'd rather know that someone is in the room with me and be able to express myself than be comfortable. It's my sincere hope that the cannabis oil I'm using will help with that. I am able to remain lucid and write with that in my system. I doubt that's true of morphine.

This is a recent decision. It was informed by a visit to a friend's hospice bedside. He never knew I was there. I don't want that to happen to me, no matter how much pain I'm in.

Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind about that. It's pretty easy for me to say that now. But I do mean it. Anyone who knows me since I got cancer knows that what drives me is writing and being with my loved ones. If I can't do either of those, I have no purpose.

And while we're on cheerful topics, I've also begun working on my memorial service. I have the slide show almost finished. I'm doing it because I don't want anyone else to decide what pictures of me to show! Not that I'm a control freak or anything... I know who I want to speak and who I want to sing. There will be a hilarious career retrospective video showing many of the parodies I've done over the years. I made my living in comedy, so my service will be funny.

I have three people I'd like to sing. I know what songs I want them to sing. I've already asked one person. She agreed. She'll sing the first song I ever heard her sing. The song that led to our friendship. I'll talk to the others soon. They are also singers of great importance to me, and all three will move you with the songs they sing. I just hope I can get all three.

I won't be there, obviously, but I will make an appearance in a video statement. Just a brief message to those in attendance. I have the last line of my speech already written. "I'll close by saying this. Men, get your PSA checked. Let me put it this way. If you don't wanna be the guy in the jar, get your PSA checked." Maybe that will get their attention.

I'm sure reading about how I'm thinking about pain management in my final days and planning my memorial service makes you sad, and I'm sorry about that. But it doesn't make me sad at all. All of these things are part of my purpose; to mentor and bear witness, to get my ducks in a row, to love and be loved. My days are full and so is my heart.

I will admit that I still dread taking Zytiga and its accompanying steroid. I had a random flash of anger last Friday that could have been from prednisone or hormones, or just heartsickness because I'm not following my heart in regard to my meds. But I made a promise, and I'm still not ready to call Hospice. So I'm back to taking 5-HTP to help keep me calm. That way, I can get through the rest of the time I'll spend on this stuff.

But none of that decreases my joy or sense of purpose. I may be in a bad mood sometimes because I hate my pills, but if that's the worst thing I'm going through right now, I am truly blessed. Many in my shoes are much worse off than I am. I won't allow chemically-induced mood swings to spoil our retirement, or my joy in mentoring and telling my story.

Sometimes I write posts that come off as very negative. I'm struggling over something, so I work it out in my head by writing. And there's no getting around it, this blog is getting very serious. We're in serious times. But I am not depressed, because I have a sense of purpose. My sense of purpose makes me the least depressed terminally ill person you know. #waroncancer #bearingwitness


  1. Mark, I am so glad you are putting this in a book! I had the thought several times along the way, "this would be a fantastic book." You are a great writer, and your chronicled journey is compelling. Thank you. -Mark Dorn

  2. I had to laugh. A couple of years ago I was playing at youth group at Grace Curch and i heard someone yell 'Who's the old guy on guitar"
    Love ya brother!