Cancer Free For 5 Years!

It was 5 years ago tonight that I was doing the “prep” for surgery to have my cancerous bladder removed.  Four months of chemo prior to this did nothing medically to deal with the cancer.  It did, for some reason, give me an incredible sense of smell (which I have since lost) and for some other completely unexplained reason changed my personality to be more chatty (no one ever accused me of being chatty prior to cancer – I still have some remnants of this chattiness left).  Just for clarification, chattiness is not the same as “chemo brain” and I might explain the difference another time.

On April 8, 2013, I arrived at the hospital at 4:59 am for pre-op at 5:15 am.  Some in my family thought this was early, but they were not the ones who milked cows at like 4:30 am growing up in God’s country.  I got out of surgery at 8:00 pm and had my  bladder and various other parts taken out and a new bladder constructed out of 2 feet of my small intestine.  So this takes a while.  But officially I declare April 8, 2013 as my cancer-free day!

The recovery was not problem-free.  I was in the hospital for 9 days, which is trouble enough, but apparently blood clots were likely forming in the OR and a few days after my hospital release, I was back in the hospital.  I had casually, almost apologetically, mentioned to my surgeon that I felt a little short of breath and after an immediate scan was ordered, found that my lungs were full of blood clots.  This was the most serious of all possible complications and with the highest mortality rate of 38%, which I kept to myself, but hey I like to know the percentages when possible.

Enough of the medical recap (trust me, there is a lot more I could say, but in the interest of non-chatty brevity, I will save you).

What I celebrate this weekend after being 5 years cancer-free, is not so much the cancer-free part, but the blessing that cancer turned out to be in my life.  Here is the cool thing about blessings, you don’t always know the “why” until later.  Literally two hours after I was diagnosed with cancer, my then future son-in-law called me to set up a time to “talk”, which meant to ask my “blessing” to marry my daughter.  I could not imagine having a better son-in-law!  The day after my diagnosis, my devotional guide verse was James 1:2  “Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you go through trials of many kinds.”  Wow, was that ever timely!  And it was true.  I fixed some relationships.  I devoted more time to finding God’s plan for my life, and then following it.  As of yesterday, I have helped 97 people in one-on-one mentoring through their individual cancer journeys.  This was something that I never would have expected to be good at or to find joy in doing had it not been for my own diagnosis and experience.

So, this weekend, I am grateful to be cancer-free, but thankful that it acted as a catalyst for finding a different life of meaning.  Thanks to all of you who walked with me on this journey!


A Boomer In Transition

Three Year Retirement Performance Review

Ok, so I am now “retired” for three years and I have not had a formal performance review.  If I were working in my full time job, I would probably be writing performance reviews this weekend.  I might have been one of the few people who actually enjoyed writing performance reviews because I viewed it as an opportunity to show appreciation for hard work and a job well done, to help develop people, and to give feedback that would be valuable for course corrections.

In the spirit of annual performance reviews, I am going to do a three year retirement review on myself.  Of course, I will be totally objective.

A good place to start is with my job description.  I had done extensive journaling (essentially a pre-retirement prayer journal) prior to my retirement in an attempt to follow God’s path for me and to establish a framework for how I would spend my time.  My belief is that I would have three basic buckets:  1)  Intellectual engagement activities, 2) Giving back/volunteer activities, and 3)Family care and personal care.  These three buckets are the closest thing that I have to a job description.

I attempted to determine what percentage of my time I would spend in each of these three buckets.  Like a lot of job descriptions, I believe these percentages ended up being a wild guess.  I thought, maybe one-third for each bucket.  I believe as I sit here at my computer that it has ended up being 25/50/25.  In the world of job descriptions, that is near-perfection relative to the initial wild guess.

Here is where it gets weird.  If my math is correct, a 7 day week contains 168 hours.  When you work a full time job, you think in terms of maybe a 40, 50, 60 or some other level of work hours in a week, and the job description is likely based on a 40 hour workweek, which may or may not be realistic.  But in this “retirement” phase, you think of percentages more in the context of waking hours.  More math then.  So, let’s say 8 hours sleep per night, means that waking hours are 112 per week. This is kind of how I think of my bucket percentages, in terms of this baseline waking hours.  Let’s be clear, I only have to wear a tie about 15 days a year now, so time spent getting that knot perfectly aligned with my collar is more available time.  Time spent commuting or in airports is now more available time.

Enough with the math.  Here is my review:  I am giving myself an A on my intellectual engagement bucket – I am on 3 boards and chair 2 committee’s and I really enjoy that opportunity for intellectual engagement and my unbiased opinion is that I am good at it.  My development opportunity is to continue to carve out time for regular continuing education (which I also enjoy).  On the Giving Back/Volunteer bucket, I give myself a B.  The reason for the B is this – most of my volunteer work is emotionally draining (e.g. working with cancer patients, often within a day or two of their diagnosis).  This work is very satisfying for me, but I am literally “on call” for a lot of this work with very little structure to the day or week by it’s very nature.  Maybe I have to take myself “off call” for periods of time, not sure.  The third bucket is Family Care/Personal Care and I give myself a B+.  Most of this has gone well, but I would like to find a little better balance on the personal care side.  I work out 6 days a week (3 with a trainer at a pretty high level), so that is a good grade, but my nutrition is not what it should be .  Starting Monday, I am going on a customized nutrition plan.  It is always good to have an “opportunity for improvement” category in your performance review where you have already taken action on it at the time of your review.

On the basis of this review, I am going to give myself permission to eat a serving of dark chocolate/peanut butter today (it is in my nutrition plan), take a nap, and do some calculations to see what my merit pay increase should be.


A Boomer In Transition

The Nursing Home

My Dad is in hospice at a nursing home and each week I spend time with him.  The first couple of times I went there it seemed really depressing.  It is.  Yet, I have come to appreciate the people who are gifted in working with elderly people in the last days, weeks and months of their life.  In addition to being a physically demanding job, the emotional toll may even be higher.  I am thankful that there are people who are willing to make this job their calling, and who do it with compassion, respect and diligence.

I have also experienced some significant belly laughs at the nursing home.  Amidst this environment that I described, things happen and words are spoken that fiction writers would never be able to create in their minds.  In order to protect the innocent, I am not going to get into specifics, but if you spend more than 8 hours in a nursing home, you will know what I mean.

Yesterday I experienced once of the most profound physical acts of compassion and understanding I have ever seen and it was between two residents.  My Dad has always been very social and extroverted.  He likes to be around people and see what is going on.  On my visit yesterday, he was having a tough day and it was difficult to get him awake enough to even know I was there.  So, I decided to get him around more people and started wheeling him all over the nursing home.  After a few minutes of this, we came across two nursing assistants trying to feed a resident who is in a very similar stage of health as my Dad.  My Dad has known this resident for years and now neither one of them can even verbalize a greeting.  As we were wheeling past, my Dad and this resident both simultaneously reached out their hands for each other and held each other for several seconds.  I think they both realized they are in about the same condition in this life and wanted to provide some comfort to each other (I spend most of my time in the nursing home holding my Dad’s hand as I know it provides comfort to him).

Amidst a place that few people aspire to spend much (or any) time, there can be great joy, compassion and understanding.  One of my favorite verses is Romans 12:12 “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.”


A Boomer (now 3 years )In Transition

New Blessings & New Gear

Over the past few weeks, we found out that we would be grandparents and would welcome a daughter-in-law to our family!

We are excited about both developments! It is also interesting  how quickly we have adjusted  our thinking on what we will add to our plates (or not) over the next several months as we both want to be fully present for these significant changes in our family.

Yet, another good reason for my decision to retire nearly three years ago.

On the topic of retirement, no regrets exist.  In two days, it will be 5 years since I was diagnosed with cancer.  I have not forgotten what a powerful catalyst cancer was to change some priorities in my life.  What I have forgotten is that fear of cancer returning has over the past two years completely disappeared and holds no power over me.  I used to know the probability of cancer coming back at years 1, 2, 3, and 5, and now I don’t even remember those numbers.

Instead of cancer probabilities, I am starting to get familiar with the plethora of baby gear that is now “needed”  to be an active grandparent, most of which did not exist when we had our kids!


Dean (Grandpa)

A Boomer In Transition

The 40 Year Reflection

I did something unusual this weekend.  I went to a social event, my 40 year high school reunion, and I stayed for 5 hours.

My rep is that I like to be one of the first out the door, as in leaving the event.  No so for this weekend’s reunion.

The next question you might have is why the change?  One potential answer is that I was not worried about recharging the energy levels for the week ahead.  I have an easy week.  No travel.  No speeches (that I am aware of).  No dress shirts or ties.

Another more important reason is that I had many meaningful conversations.  The time flew by.  I actually forgot to eat (maybe this is the trick to avoid snacking – have more meaningful conversations).    I only attended my 5 year and 20 year and I probably left within 2 hours at each and I don’t recall any meaningful conversations at either.  So why the difference?

My hypothesis is that at a 40 year reunion no one is trying to impress anymore.  Most have experienced joys, sorrows, loss and other significant life events and as a result “what do you do for work?” is seldom asked.  At 40 years out, examples of some of the conversation starters were:  “how are your parents?” , “do your kids live nearby and how much contact do you have with them?”, and “how are you doing after the loss of your spouse to cancer?”.

Not everything was that serious.  There was several minutes of discussion on how many students we had in our graduating class.  The numbers ranged from 45 to 58.  I was quite certain and confident in my view that it was 52, near the midpoint of the range.  There was also a lively discussion of what the school was thinking to “make us” act in a play called “Dumbbell People in a Barbell World”.  Let me clarify the phrase “make us.”  In a small school, it was all hands on deck for any drama productions. Nearly everyone was drafted and I don’t recall any serious auditions.  We also reflected on how none of us ever met with the guidance counselor. This then led to the question “what is the role of the guidance counselor?” and were we somehow harmed by not having this “guidance.”

My drive home was filled with reflections on the last 40 years, choices made, experiences of life and a sense of contentment and gratitude that I have been incredibly blessed.


A Boomer In Transition