Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Yeah. Another year's gone by already

Well, there's another year gone to heck.

It doesn't seem that long ago that I was sure I'd never get used to a year with a 20 in front of it. Having been in the 19s for 51 years. But, just goes to show you... I don't actually know what it goes to show you, but it must go to show you something.

I also couldn't tell you when New Year's Eve went from a meaning great party, complete with next day remorse and January resolutions, to meaning just another day, albeit one where my stuff all got a year older overnight.

I was saying last week that Christmas usually finds us looking back on Christmases past. I think New Year's tend to make us look back at things in general. Right?

Sure, you can spend time considering specific New Year's Eves and how much stupid stuff you may have crammed into one evening, but surely you 1) Wonder where the years went and 2) Remember some fondly, some not fondly.

Here's a funny thing you might not have seen coming: there isn't that big a difference, looking back, between the years since I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and the years prior. What?!?! Yeah. Truly.

It ties in with something that I've been saying all along- I'm much more than a guy with cancer. The years I live are about waaaay more than having cancer.

So when I look back, I think about- friends, lost and living, each still an important part of my life; places visited and visits not taken because of health reasons; visits from family not completely driven by their concern for my health; our cat Kenzie whom we lost to intestinal disease and our cat Wolfie who has already added so much to our lives.

And what about my cancer, you ask? The treatment has changed a lot this year. I stopped taking the oral chemotherapy because it was making me ill; likewise the medicine that was helping repair the damage done by cancer to my bones. My blood work has shown wonderful results almost all year long.

My stomach ailment, though. My stomach ailment is something else all together. It has gone from a mildly irritating pain in my intestinal area to really severe stomach pains and daily waves of nausea. I have spent more hours feeling ill than I have feeling well, many more.

I've tried treatments from methods suggested by my doctors, to holistic healing involving passing hands over my stomach, which had a basket full off bottled tinctures and things on it at the time, with a side trip to acupuncture.

Virtually every medicine I was taking at the beginning of the year has been changed to something else, all in an effort to fix my intestinal woes.

As the year winds to a close, I have hope that some of the latest changes have been successful. We are, obviously, I think, pretty guarded about our optimism, but there is some sense that the latest round of changes have had an impact. I still feel really sick in fits and starts, but they seem to be coming less often and are a little less severe when they do come.

As 2016 gets under way, I, again, have no New Year's resolutions to tell you about. I remain convinced that anything worth doing is simply worth doing. Decreasing the amount of gluten in our diet, for example. At one time in our lives, we would have put it on a list and likely postponed it until the next time we made a list revolving around our health. Now, we're just doing it. Not full scale yet, but baby steps. We're beginning with the obvious, even as we still are researching what the obvious might be, and we'll go from there. That's a new approach for us.

Like a lot of things we do, the decision on eating gluten is only tangentially tied to my having cancer... eating healthier can only help.

We do wish you a Happy New Year. May you meet your challenges and successes with the same spirit and may you grow stronger because of them.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Can we be more Christmasy, please?

So this is Christmas...

… though I guess when we say Christmas we mean much more than just the day itself; more like all the way from Black Friday (a term I dislike, a lot) to Christmas Day and slightly beyond.

It's a pretty emotional time, huh? Is there another time of year where we spend so much time considering Christmases past (damn you Charles Dickens!), or the past in general? I think it's like the entire country falls under some post hypnotic suggestion. “When you hear your first Christmas song of the season, you will immediately start longing for a time when Christmas was... well, more Christmasy.”

Most of us probably don't even know what that means, or at least, can't express it. Perhaps it's a time when we were younger, or the kids were younger, or the World was younger. It certainly can't be from Dickens' time. Have you seen the way the average person dressed in those days, let alone the poor? Please. Just eat your apple and chestnuts roasted on an open fire and move along.

Nah. There's something else. Is it despite the fact that most of us have so much more than we even know, that we are constantly reminded that we need more? Need newer? Need better?

I don't buy that (ar ar), because most Christmas buying seems to be for someone else. The most insistent advertising message is “Makes the perfect gift.” So, I don't see it being about what we want or what we don't have, unless it's the financial ability to provide “the perfect gift” for people we care about.

The irony in that- I guess we could call it the Christmas irony- is that, other than when we're very young, how much do we really care about getting the “perfect” gift? Not very much would be my guess.

Don't get me wrong, I like getting gifts. Like it a lot. But just show me that you put some thought into, and that would be excellent; that would be enough.

I suppose it's easy to sit back, at 66 years of age and say Christmas shouldn't be about the gifts. I have everything! Well, I should say I have everything I want, or, more importantly, I have everything I need.

I suppose one of the new giving trends is giving upgrades of things: the latest tablets, smart phones, Nooks, iPods and so on. And that makes sense. Rather than run the risk of buying someone something they don't want, buy them something they already have, only newer. Looking back at that sentence, it may or may not sum up consumer greed in a handful of words. I don't know, nor do I care. It just strikes me as a sensible gift-giving strategy.

This is the point of any Christmas column where the writer, in this case me, goes varying degrees of mushy to talk about what Christmas means to him or her. Know what I mean? And there's nothing wrong with mushy. Frank Capra made a career out of it. The word itself is a little deprecating, so how about if we say... warm, the writer goes warm to talk about the personal meaning of Christmas.

I think... Well, it seems... One thing I... Nope. Can't do it right now. No mush. No warmth. This has been a difficult Christmas season. I was too sick to visit friends and family. I've had these stomach issues for well over a year and we seem no closer to figuring it out than when we started.

But despite all that, Christmas remains a wonderful time to enjoy our friends and our families. We just need to keep ourselves centered on what is really important and we'll be just fine. Wait, was that a little bit of mush there??! A little warmth? It's true though. Celebrate what you have and what you need, and you'll have more than enough stuff left over to give to others.

I had real doubts about being able to be at all positive at this point in my journey. But, as always, when I really think about how fortunate we've been, Sheri and I, gratitude and positivity seem inevitable. Good for us and we wish the best for you!

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

'The Christmas we get we deserve'

Since I've been writing this column, I've always maintained that I would write it if no one read it. It came to me this week that that's only partly true. If it was completely true, I'd just write in a journal and keep it an a drawer.

But I've also said that I was doing it in the hope that it would help people. See, I know there are all sorts of people who do not have the good fortune to have a life like mine. Well, maybe I don't KNOW that, but I certainly sense it.

I also sense that there are plenty of people who are truly lonely, with no one to talk to about the biggest things in their life, good or bad. And we all have big things, good or bad.

I think the good generally takes care of itself. It tends to spill out of us and even strangers will put an extra little uplifting ooomph in their greeting as they pass us in the street.

But the bad... hmmm... the bad. To me, the bad lives in a lonely place and wants you to live there too.

That's why I hope my writing touches you and makes the bad more bearable. Heck, you can have all the friends in the world to help you through things, but who doesn't need at least one more?

I have an amazing support system. Family, friends, people I don't actually know wishing me well and praying for me. How could I have all that and not share?

This week, though. This week showed me there is a linchpin to all of this- my wife Sheri. She's been gone for the last six days on a trip to see family that we were supposed to take together.

When it came down to it, I was just too sick to go. It was nine-hour trip back to New York to see my daughter Alison and her family and to visit Sheri's mom. Too much. I was disappointed, sad, and felt that I had left everyone done. Still, there you are. That happens a lot these days. I make plans and then my body says, “Nice try, brother. Maybe next time.”

So, Sheri has not been here this week. Oh, I know that she's with me all the time, regardless of where we are physically. I get that, and it's true. Memories of her, of the two of us together, are everywhere I go, everywhere I look. But, here's the problem. When we don't get back together at the end of the day, a lot of those memories end up just making me sadder, more melancholy.

Back in the early 1990s, co-dependence became the next big thing in analyzing the human condition. It told us we tended to hang too tight to people we loved; we became too dependent on them for our happiness, for our own lives. I guess there's some truth to that. But, I also think the idea of co-dependency ties negative bits to things that are actually wonderful.

Look, when I'm sitting at night, in the big ole recliner that Sheri insisted we buy, I want to be able to look over to the couch and see Sheri sitting there with the laptop on... well... on her lap and I want to hear her keep up her stream of chatter about what's going on with our friends, her friends and the world in general.

I want to be able to see her excitement when our new cat offers further proof that he is Sheri's cat, not mine. Oh, I think I'm probably OK, as far as he is concerned, but Sheri is the bees knees in Wolfie's world.

I need her to take my hand to tell me she loves me and make my pain and the fact that I have an incurable form of cancer bearable.

Yes, she can tell me all that on the phone. Now that we have cell phones, which she absolutely loves using, by the way, she can even write to me (texting) and send me a picture of who she is with and/or what she's doing... and it's wonderful... and it's not the same.

Prior to actually finding out I have cancer, I'm convinced, if you'd asked, grateful would not have been one of the things I felt about it. But, it is. It has made me stop wondering if my behavior may be co-dependent. It's made me love my family and friends all the more and realize it's okay to need them; that it's okay to let them help me even though that's the last thing I want, it can still be the one thing I need.

Sheri will be back tomorrow, and we'll take our accustomed spots on the furniture and Wolfie will again show himself to be Sheri's cat. And I know this: no matter how sick I feel, I will feel better.

Let me end with my usual Christmas message from Emerson, Lake and Palmer: “I wish you a hopeful Christmas. I wish you a brave New Year. All anguish, pain and sadness leave your heart and let the road be clear... Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell, the Christmas we get we deserve.”

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A wonderful offer not seen on TV

I got a nice email the other day. It was like getting an actual letter. You know how few of those we get any more, right? Emails, for us at least, or becoming the same. We get lots of ads and so on that we don't want, and very little person to person communication.

So it was good to get an email that had some actual correspondence in it. Also, it was from someone I like and respect and haven't heard from in a long time. So, I was happy to get it.

It was from Ginger (not her real name, of course) and she wanted to tell me about an offer from someone she ran into as part of her job who reads my column and wanted Ginger to get a message to me. We can call him Roger... again, no real reason for Roger other than it sounds good. Ginger has red hair (hint), hence her name makes more sense than usual.

Anyway, Roger, according to Ginger, is a talented bagpiper and told her he will play any service for me, “should the unthinkable happen,” and that he would do it at no charge.

This is such an amazing offer, I was initially gobsmacked by it. Let's face it, when he says “any service... should the unthinkable happen,” he's obviously talking about when I die, presumably from multiple myeloma, though the offer did not seem to limit itself to that.

Think about this for a minute. How sensitive a subject is that? As I have observed here before, people have a difficult time talking about death and dying in front of me. To bring up the subject in regards to my exact situation is amazing. Not only is the offer very generous, but to be able to make it, knowing that it could be upsetting to me and my family, but willing to offer anyway. Wow.

I am from Scotland, so the thought of having someone play the bagpipes at my funeral has always been a natural. I realize that not everyone is a fan of the instrument, but I am. My daughter Jennifer had a bagpiper play at her wedding, and, while Sheri and I didn't have an actual piper, we did incorporate music from “Braveheart” and used a recorded version of “Amazing Grace” in our wedding.

At the same time, it would have been easy for Ginger just to say thanks and not pass along the offer because it was too difficult or embarrassing for her to do. After all, we are friends, and she certainly wouldn't want to make a difficult situation (my having cancer) worse. And how easy would it have been for her to tell Roger, “Yep. Passed it along. He said thanks but no thanks,” or to simply tell him I didn't reply? I think the answer is very.

So I truly want to thank both of them for getting this offer to me. As I wrote Ginger, we'll think about it and get in touch with Roger, one way or the other.

Now, in the never ending need I have for full disclosure, I must tell you this. In doing so, I take my own type of risk since you likely will think less of me. How much less, I could not guess, but less.

I am going to preface this by reiterating how wonderful the offer was and how much it brightened up another wise gloomy day. I am also going to claim that this part of my reaction was driven by the fact that it did bring up the subject of my death and funeral after all, and who wouldn't be uncomfortable around that?

Here goes: Ginger wrote that Roger plays in a Shrine band and... and... Darn it. I couldn't help but imagine a bagpiper riding on one of those little bikes while trying to balance and play the pipes at the same time.

There. I said it. I am so sorry. But it didn't seem right to be showing myself to be a deep, sensitive human being able to discuss actual funeral arrangements, without admitting that I'm not that deep and my sensitivity can be an on again/off again thing. It didn't help that off all the scenes in all the movies I have ever seen, one of my favorites comes from Woody Allen's early effort “Take the Money and Run.” It shows Woody's high school marching band taking part in a parade down Main Street when around the corner comes Woody... playing the cello... dragging his chair with him, and trying to sit and play every few feet.

I know there have been numerous times in my journey with cancer when I've distressed people with how I look at my situation. I hope this is not one of them. Roger's offer touched my heart in a way that not many things ever have. Ginger's part in it spoke volumes about the kind of person she is. And me? Well, sometimes I just need to laugh.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ballad of the Not-So-Easy Writer

I think I'm going to have to start allowing myself to be called a writer. I know, right? You'd think it would be easy, if for no other reason, then because of the 126 “Find the Pony” columns I've written since I started.

I haven't done 126 of anything else, that I can think of during the same period of time, except, of course, functional things like eating (though not much) and going to the bathroom (though not too much of that either, a fact I hope doesn't qualify as too much information). Well, sure, I've watched over 126 television shows and read over 126 books, but those are pretty passive acts when all is said and done.

I don't know why I've bristled at being called a writer. After all, I walked into a newspaper office and got my first job there in the fall of 1972 and worked in newspapers off and on until my illness forced me to retire in 2013. But, especially in the days when I worked for newspapers in New York, I really considered myself more of an editor than a writer.

My main job was to get out, initially, my one newspaper a week, If I did NO writing, I still had to do the editor's job of getting the paper to readers. Yes, I wrote something every week, but that usually seemed like “something else” that had to be done. First and foremost was the editor's work. So how could I call myself a writer? I had a hard enough time referring to myself as a journalist, though that is surely what I was.

Now it occurs to me, that most people probably couldn't care less if I think of myself as a writer or not, and I think that is actually the appropriate view to take. But here's the thing... An increasing number of people are coming up to me and saying variations on the following: “I've always had an interest in writing. Do you think you could help me get started?” Or, “My relative/friend does a lot of writing and really wants to do it more and get better at it. Could you look at his work and offer him/her tips?”

And the answer is “No.” I can't help. I really can't offer tips. I HAVE NO IDEA what I am doing! I don't want to say “No.” So many people want to be writers, even if it's just because their life story would make excellent reading. But “No” is the only truthful answer I have. I sit down, I think a lot, put a bunch of words together in a row, and out comes a column. I don't think there's much in that process that could help anyone.

I think, too, on the face of it, writing probably doesn't seem like itcould be all that hard. We all use words, and we all have to write things out, mostly every day. Notes to friends, personal notes on greeting cards, keeping diaries or journals. How much harder could it be to write in some kind of professional capacity? Well, it seems, a lot harder.

Of course I would like to help, and I sometimes try, although most people, I think, quickly realize that I don't have much to offer them; no magic bullet that will make the work easier.

All I can tell anyone is what happened to me. When I was a child, I was sent to my room a lot. Not necessarily for misbehaving, but because, I think, my parents wanted peace and quiet. There was no television in Scotland through much of the early 1950s, and even when it did become more accessible, most of it wasn't very good. So, I didn't have that distraction to deal with. I went to my room and wrote. After a while I also listened to records, but that was it for distractions.

You'd think another source of my writing development would have been in school. My academic history should be littered with a plethora of “brilliant,” “well written,” “highly regarded” papers in virtually every subject. Hah. You'd be wrong. B's were a triumph, and A's were few and very far between... very far between.

The result was that I never thought much of my ability to write because I genuinely believed anyone could do it. When I became the executive editor of a group of 15 newspapers, responsible for hiring journalists and writers to staff them, I realized I was wrong. Not everyone can do it. Far from it.

I won awards from the New York Press Association and the Syracuse Press Club in the last couple of years I worked in New York. I was also given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the press club, all of which must have meant my writing was certainly OK.

But, in truth, it is only since I started writing about my illness and sharing it with you, that I have begun to feel like a writer. For one thing, I take every column seriously and work it and rework it until it's as good as I can get it. I didn't always do that before. That comes down to you as readers and the expectations you have told me you have.

As part of my journey through cancer, I have, and continue to, look closely at just about every aspect of my life. I've picked up a lot of rocks and turned them over. By looking at this whole writing thing at least partially through your eyes, I've come to be okay with being considered a writer, even if I still don't fully understand how it works.

On a completely different topic, I wanted to update you on my serious stomach issues. It looks like stopping the bone densifier may have been the solution we've been searching for for over a year! Since we canceled the last infusion, I've had quite a few nights (in a row!) where I have not succumbed to nausea during the course of the evening. We are cautiously optimistic about this and ask that you continue to pray for us as we thank you for what you've done already.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Thursday, November 26, 2015

How many words is a picture worth, exactly?

“I think we should take that photo down,” Sheri called from some unidentified part of the house the other day. “I think it's time.”

I wasn't sure where she was calling from, and I probably should have wondered, “What photo?,” but I knew. It had been on our fridge door- the only thing on our fridge door except for the “We can fight cancer together” magnet that held it in place- since a couple of weeks after I got home from having my stem cell transplant; so, let's say it had been there since early June 2014.

Truth is, that since it had been in the same spot without really being moved in all that time, it had pretty much disappeared from my view. It was there. I knew it was there. I knew what it was. I looked at it, but I no longer saw it. Know what I mean?

It was a photo Sheri had taken in my hospital room during my recovery from the aforementioned transplant. I was standing (in itself a photo-worthy event at that point in time), leaning against my IV pole. I looked... unkempt... bedraggled... sadly cheerful. I'm not a big smiler for photos at the best of times and this was hardly that..

My hair had begun falling out and what was left presented itself in clumps. I wouldn't say I looked like “Alfalfa” from the Little Rascals, but I could have been taken for blood kin. There were five or six bags of fluids hanging from the IV pole, in various stages of distribution. Since I had a Hickman line, I was never quite sure what was going in at any given point, but the number of bags looked impressive. There may have been a day when I had one more, but I don't really think so. This was a... highlight?... low light?... sad moment?... hopeful point? Probably all of those. It certainly was dramatic, even if I, myself, looked at least a little lost and overwhelmed.

We put it on the fridge as a reminder of where we had been; that as the recovery process dragged on, at least we weren't... there.

So, sure enough; that was the photo and down it came. It went into a box along with numerous other reminders of moments of our transplant process: the first day visit to the cancer clinic here at home; traveling to Boston for the transplant; my room in the hospital; various shots of me not sleeping; the transplant itself where the blood was being IV'd back into my system; the slow steady climb of my white blood cell count till it reached the point we could go home; and on and on.

These things aren't in a box in a closet to be forgotten, obviously. It's sort of the same thing I do with my brain. I can't have all those bits and pieces pinned to the front of my brain where I have to deal with them every day- there lurks madness (haha). No, they're there... Well, I can't say carefully filed away because, yes, they are in one basic location, but, if you think of it as a file cabinet... some are on top waiting to be put away, some are on the floor where they fell. It's untidy, but they are somewhat put away. So this one went on the pile.

The magnet is still there, but right now it isn't holding anything. You might wonder if there was any emotion to putting the last visible trace of my experience out of sight and I would have to say, “Not really.” Or, at least, “I don't think so.” It was time. Simple as that really.

Interestingly enough we made a truly significant change to my treatment this past week as well. Since a few months before the transplant, and just about every month since, I've been receiving a once-a-month treatment with an IV fluid designed to repair damage to my bones cased by multiple myeloma.

When I was meeting with my oncologist prior to this month's treatment, we were talking, again, about my stomach issues. They have always bothered him because he is a conscientious person and doesn't like to see one of his favorite patients in pain, being unable to do anything about it. (Actually, I don't know if I'm one of his favorites, but, for dramatic effect, I'm going to claim that status, earned or not.)

As we talked, he wondered if it might be this bone fixing chemical that lurks at the heart of my stomach issues. It can cause those symptoms, evidently, and as he did some quick research while I was there, we decided it would be well worth stopping the treatment for at least a month to see what happened. We have tried so many other things, I couldn't see any reason why not.

So, two constants of my post-cell plant treatment changed this week. One put the transplant experience one step deeper into my memory, while the other opened a door to perhaps getting rid of this lingering pain that is severely affecting my quality of life.

All in all, I'd say that's quite a week. Stay tuned.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.”

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Finding the write stuff

A woman I know asked me an interesting question the other day, a question I had, in fact, been considering myself.

“How will you know when to stop writing?” she asked. That's not the exact question- memory lack and all that- but the gist is the same. If I'm writing about my journey through cancer, how will I know when to stop, since it appears that the journey is going to be longer than I initially thought.

When I first started, right after I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, I began writing as a way to cope with the uncopeable. There was no way for me to cope with having in incurable form of cancer; one I'd never heard of at that.

So, I started writing about what was going on. The things I was discovering about my illness, the steps we could take to combat it, and what the cancer would do to damage my health. It's hard to admit now, but I really didn't expect to be writing for that long a time. In the beginning, it all seemed a bit bleak. There was no prognosis, which was how we wanted it, since it would have been little more than an educated guess anyway. And that was fine, but it meant we didn't know if I would have months or years to live.

I soon came to realize, though, that a journey through cancer, living with cancer, is a lot more than doctor's reports, medicines taken, procedures followed. It also means living the other parts of your life, with cancer as a mostly constant companion. I am a husband, who has cancer. I am a dad, who has cancer. A friend, a former co-worker, someone you don't especially care for... with cancer.

If I was truly going to live with cancer, and journey through having cancer, I was going to have to find ways to keep it right-sized. It couldn't become the sum total of who I am or the person I hope to become. I wasn't going to be able to toss it onto the rubbish heap at the back of my mind and leave it there; every day was recycling day.

Writing about it, and sharing some of all that with you became more important, really, than the day-to-day medical bits. Yes, there was my stem cell transplant to write about, and these stomach issues, which I continue to have. But there was the challenge of getting by, day by day, with what could have been a medical Sword of Damocles hanging over my head.

Well, then you began talking to me, writing to me, letting me know what you thought about what I was going through and how you saw me doing it. So many people told me my writing and my observations gave you hope; helped you maintain perspective on the things in your own life that seemed uncopeable. Brothers and sisters, I didn't really see that coming.

I had thought that by sharing how I felt about things, big and little, connected to my disease, I might be able to express feelings that others had, but weren't able to talk about or, perhaps, even get a good grasp on. I wanted to be able to help others by expressing for them what they could not express for themselves.

What I didn't expect, was the depth and breadth of people's feelings about me, my wife Sheri, my family and what we are going through. At times, the reaction seemed like too much. Honestly? I'm just a guy who can string some words together and doesn't mind sharing deep feelings with other people, most of whom I do not, nor will I ever, know. To me, there's nothing special about that.

In answer, then, to the initial question, the guy I was could stop writing whenever it wasn't enjoyable anymore. When the main topics were covered, and so many words had been shared about so many different feelings and events... he could just stop. Maybe to resume if the cancer flares up again, but maybe not. Hard to know.

But, I feel like that guy is a goner. Simply put, too many people have told me that they and many of their friends look forward to reading what I have to offer, talking about it, and being cheered by it. As I so often do, I hope that doesn't sound like ego because it certainly doesn't feel like ego. It feels like a real responsibility. A big one.

So, when will I know to stop writing? Well, not today. Also, as long as one person, forced to deal with their fears in the wee hours of the morning, finds any comfort or solace in what I have to say... well, again, it won't be that day either.

I feel as though we are in this together. I gain comfort from what you have to tell me, and, evidently, you gain comfort in return. So, I will try not to write beyond the time I have comfort to offer or something I think can help me or you get through another day. Promise.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I think my high school yearbook got it wrong

It would seem I have become a curmudgeon. This brings me neither shame nor pride at this point in my life, it simply seems to be a fact.

It has never been a goal. In my high school yearbook (Roosevelt High School, Yonkers, N.Y., 1966 L'Envoi), under my senior picture, it does not say, “Longs to be a curmudgeon by the time he's in his middle sixties. Would settle for grouch, but aims for loftier heights.”

Under that picture, though, it did say something about the red hot flair for writing. That was amazing in and of itself, since I had written maybe two stories for our school newspaper, The Crimson Echo, both of which I remember as being pretty rotten. One, I recall, was a story about a Roosevelt Indians (Indians! Yikes!!) football game that I wrote in the fall of 1965 with access to neither a roster nor any real idea of how American football worked. I'm sure there was no lack of enthusiasm, but I doubt that even people who were at the game gained any sense from it.

Having realized this curmudgeon status, I must also say that I believe the heyday of the curmudgeon has passed. Work with me, brothers and sisters. As a kid, wasn't there someone on your street everybody called old Mr. or Mrs. (Fill in the blank). It was the person who left their lights off on Halloween. Yelled at you if you went on to their property to retrieve an errant toy. And if you employed that time-honored manner of getting even- ringing the doorbell and running away- they did indeed call your parents if they saw you disappear from view.

Now, though, things have changed so much that someone like that would be reported to the police the first time they yelled at a kid on their lawn. And probably rightfully so. But at a time when people working with youth are routinely being found out to be predators, I'm not sure we haven't lost the thread somehow.

Anyway, regardless of what else it means, I am a curmudgeon with a thick skin and a chewy center made up of annoyances, short-temperedness, perceived slights and no real arena in which to display my curmudgeonly ways. Back in the day, we virtually all lived in some kind of neighborhood that had a definable beginning and end. So a curmudgeon could be old Mr. Wilson down the block, or maybe Old Mrs. Hart, who didn't seem to have one, from around the corner.

I get less sense of neighborhoods now, especially when we can all get in contact with anyone in the world without leaving our house; play games with others in any country we chose.

But, this isn't one of those, “Why in my day...” sorts of things. I'm just thinking this out and realizing I'm a curmudgeon out of time. This has nothing to do with my having cancer, by the way. Or at least, I don't think it does. Then again. it may be exactly because I have an incurable form of cancer. I don't know. Is it the constant stomach pain? Another good question. Again, I don't think so, but I'm coming to realize that chronic conditions can have an overwhelming effect on a person and their peace of mind.

I can't even point to an increase in the number of people who seem to find me cranky or crankier than usual. No one is saying anything. But, then, riddle me this... why do I find almost every living creature on God's green earth annoying? Very annoying. Of course, I don't mean you. I mean everyone else.

And, if I'm being truthful, I think everyone is probably a bit of an overstatement. My children and Sheri are exceptions, though they do ruffle my kerfuffle at times, but usually with reason. The general curmudgeonness, though, comes from nowhere. You can't do anything to not annoy me. It''s...Well, for example... all that breathing- in and out, in and out. You need to stop that. It annoys people. Yeah, so you're thinking, “How can any human being say that about another?” It's easy.

These are the types of things, though, that cause Good Jim and Curmudgeon Jim to battle: GJ- You can't say that; CJ- Sure I can; GJ- No you can't; CJ- Sure I can; GJ- Well you can't act like you mean it; CJ- Watch me.

When I'm in this state, like now, every interaction with another person, at least in my head, begins with, “Shut up. Just... Shut up.” But, I keep that to myself so people will not know whether that's what I'm thinking or if I'm actually thinking something nice, or not thinking at all. It's better than opening my mouth and removing all doubt.

My being a curmudgeon is actually like my multiple myeloma. At this point it's incurable, but it is treatable. I'll always have multiple myeloma, and, as it appears now, I'll always be curmudgeonly. But, I don't always have to act out. I can be a curmudgeon in remission.

Or as my kids used to sometimes say about the curmudgeon on our street when they were growing up: “Mr. Marshall must be having a good day today. He yelled at us to get off his lawn, but he didn't throw anything and he didn't threaten to call you, dad.”

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

It's my obituary and I'll cry if I want to

It's 4:30 in the morning and I've been running some ideas for this week's piece through my head. I just realized it was shaping up as something of a companion piece to last week's where I mentioned things I didn't want to have to write about.

Now I'm moving through my mind ideas that I DO NOT want to see in my obituary. Oh. Feel free to enter your outrage here. Go ahead. Take a few minutes. “What kind of pompous ass thinks we'd even care.” “Controlling to the end, huh Arnold?” “Are you TRYING to make people feel uncomfortable, or is that just a side effect of your free range ego?”

OK. My turn. First off, it's now 5 am. You really think this is the time of night when fairy dust fills the air and you just have to walk through said mist to pick up a positive thought?!?! After two years-plus of dealing with my health, my cancer continues to be taking a beating. Yay! After over a year, my stomach problems have me right back where I was when the issue started, over a year ago. Boo!

The latest anti-nausea medicine I was given has been pretty effective at it's given task. My general crappy feeling has diminished some, but it has been replaced by an overwhelming anxiety and difficulty sleeping that takes me back to the early days, early morning hours, of having cancer, where I was thinking about copying over “War and Peace” in pencil just to reduce the amount of excess energy that was whanging against the inside of my head.

So, here I am in my pjs, if you can call sweat pants and sweat shirt pjs, thinking about my funeral... again. It is probably getting harder and harder to convince you that this is not a negative run of thoughts. But it's not. We don't lie to each other, remember. It's just how my mind works and what, frankly, makes me laugh. Ha! Ha??

First off, he said maybe getting to the point, if you write about/speak of me after I'm... you know... “gone,” please don't refer to his “brave fight,” “courageous battle” or like that.

Wait a minute. You know what... Do/Say what you want. It's very poor form, as we used to say in the snooty school I went to in Scotland, to be telling you what to do... ever, even about my own... you know.

But, here's the thing. I don't want people to say things like that because, simply put, they aren't true. There's nothing brave or courageous in what I'm doing. I'm just picking and scratching and thanking God every day for putting the former Sheri Martin (not her real name when I met her. Well, Sheri was, though, officially, it was Cheryl. She did later change it to Sheri, legally. It was never Martin, though. And as long as we seem to be off the point again... When you get married for a second, or subsequent time, and take your spouse's surname, are you still technically giving up your maiden name? It seems unlikely, right? Oh how my mind does wander...) in my life to fight along with me.

Back to the postmortem ...Don't put anything about being a great husband. Right now, I'm doing a pretty good job, I think, but I doubt that my first wife would say how great I was.

I'm an okay dad. Maybe a bit better than okay, but just a bit. I love my kids, including step kids Jason and Kristie. (I hate the term step kids, by the way. It makes them sound like less than. Truth is, they just haven't been my kids for as long; but it doesn't change how much love I have for them.)

I'm a horrible grandfather. Horrible. You think I'm overstating it? Ask me how old they are? I have to add -ish to the number of years... eight-ish, 14-ish and so on. I do have a firm grasp on the date of three of their birthdays. But unlike horseshoes and hand grenades, I don't think close enough on the number of grandkids or their birthdays is a qualifier when it comes to grandpas being great. At least on most days I remember their names. Again, “most days” doesn't seem like enough for greatness.

When we get to the part about “Survived by,” we face a situation that is easy for me to write but probably hard for most of you to either understand or accept. My sister and I don't really care much about each other. Notice I said about, not for. We don't. My sister has her life and I have mine. I wasn't even going to let her know I was sick, because I knew she didn't really want to hear it, but a second cousin of mine insisted, saying she would let her know if I didn't. Which would have been fine, but I didn't want to put the cousin in that spot.

So, I let her know and the result was as I expected. A lot of hand wringing followed by nothing for over six months followed by a “That's nice” when we discussed how well the transplant had gone.

Please don't feel compelled to convince me that that isn't true, that she just has a hard way of expressing her emotions. She loves her family to pieces and I just don't happen to be a part of it, except by blood. The same for me. You've seen how much love I have in my heart. Let me be clear, though. I don't dislike my sister; I certainly don't hate her. I just don't care about her or her life. Hard to understand? Sorry. It is made easier, I guess, with us living about 500 miles apart.

Still, let me close with a more typical Arnold observation, though still obit related: I was born in Scotland, and lived there for my first 14 years. I'm very proud of being Scottish and was, even before “Braveheart” made everybody burst with pride about being, or even knowing someone, Scottish. Loved the movie, used some of the music in our wedding, but... watching that movie and believing you know something about William Wallace is like watching “Robin Hood” and saying you have an understanding of the English feudal system. Just sayin'

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lord, how much would he write if he did have a topic?

I spend a great amount of time thinking about what to write about in any given week. I don't mean, sorting through all the choices. I mean thinking... about what... to write... about.

Someone asked me the other day if I write every day. Holy moley. I THINK about writing every day, but the actual writing tends to come in a blur right before my deadline.

So, imagine my surprise, this week, when I found myself thinking about things I didn't want to write about. Seriously. Not write about.

Obviously, death came immediately to mind. If you are a regular reader, you know it isn't something I avoid talking about, I'm just tired of writing about it. See, to write about death, there has to have been... What, class? Right. Some death in my life. I don't want any more of that. Not my family, not my friends, not my pets, nobody.

On the pet front though, we finally have some good news. Our newest cat, Wolfie (don't ask), has a heart murmur. Talk about deja vu all over again. We took him for an electrocardiogram to determine how serious the congestive heart failure our vet was sure he had was.

Well, what do you know. He got a clean bill of health! His heart murmur is caused by two slow closing valves, but that doesn't mean much of a problem in the world of kitty cardiology. That's the first time in two years a vet, through no fault of their own, has had any good news for us. Yippee! I'm actually thinking about asking our vet about the pains in my stomach. Haha.

Oh, back to the primary topic ... As you know I wouldn't want to have to write about having contracted ALS, Lou Gehrig Disease.

So, in thinking about what I hoped never to have to write about, I think one of the biggest worries is the answer to the trivia question: “I'm standing waist deep in the Amazon River. What could possibly happen to me worse than an attack by a school of piranha?” Your initial reaction is “Nothing could be worse,” right? But if that was the case, how would the answer be attached to any sort of trivia contest? Good thinking all my little Sherlocks and Shimlocks out there.

Now, before we go on - and I assure you we will go on, possibly at least glancing off the point, in a moment- you need to know that this is an unpleasant subject, especially to males, interesting though it may be. If you, male or female, are easily embarrassed by talk about pee pees, wee wees, and such, skip this bit. Also, if you are generally regarded by your friends as squeamish, skip this bit.

The Amazon's true horror, for me, comes in the form of the Candiru, which is a fish that can, and occasionally does, swim up a man's urethra. It's about the size and length of a smallish sardine (the Candiru, not the... you know), generally speaking, and it is usually found in the gills of bigger fish, sucking on blood. How do you like it so far?

Part of the urban legend, or jungle legend I suppose, is that it can swim up a man's urine stream and... well... you know. That hasn't been proven. HOWEVER, the rest of it can and has happened.

But, since I don't want to write about it, and Sheri hasn't gone to Bible study yet this week (which is how we adjudge the embarrassment level of anything I may be doing- can she hold her head up at Bible study?), I will stop there. It you must know more, go on the Animal Planet website and check out River Monsters.

There's also the thought of driving shotgun in a clown car. No offense to clowns, of course, but the thought of being cooped up with all those Jockos, Bozos, Bongos, Chuckles, Harpos, Jingles, Raffles, Shaggys, and Shirleys, Sheilas, Bettys, Bimbos, Candys and Hermoines, all screaming: “You've got your foot in my kidney!”; “Which one of you clowns ate garlic bread before getting in the car?”; “My urethra hurts since I got back from the Amazon!” and the ever popular, “That's not the door handle...” I don't want to write about something like that.

As you can see, there are plenty of things worse than cancer to have to write about- Like going to a Carpenters concert; oh, she's... never mind. Or being closed in a very small room with noted Sixties celebrity Tiny Tim, with or without his violin and his charming wife Miss Vicky (talk about the answer to a trivia question, two or three of them actually). Or getting a tattoo- I'm too big a coward to get a tattoo.

And so on. You can surely come up with lots of things not to write about. In fact, if you always wanted to be a writer, but just couldn't do it... it gives you the perfect solution. You can tell people, “Why yes, I am a writer. I'm just in a phase now where I'm focusing on things not to write about.” Poifect.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Look at those stars. Don't they look like a herd of stick animals?

Our friend Jack (not-his-real-name) underwent a quadruple heart bypass last week. He came out of it doing very well, in fact his family was delighted at how quickly his recovery started to pick up steam. The success rate of such operations tends to make us believe that it is less dangerous than it is, I think, so the fact that he is doing so well, so quickly, is wonderful.

I did think... Wait. Before I go on... This whole “not-his-real-name” thing is becoming an issue in and of itself. Not-his-real-name Jack is related by marriage to not-his-real-name Walter and I have a suspicious feeling that assigning the name Jack to a family member is going to cause NHRN Walter's issues to resurface. He does not love his alter ego and I'm sure he thinks Jack is a much more manly sobriquet. I, on the other hand, really like the name Walter, which is why I gave it to him in the first place! Oy. But, I will not falter, brothers and sisters, never fear. Walter it is and Walter it will stay.

As, I was saying... But wait, more on the not-his-real-name front. It turns out my longtime friend Not-His-Real-Name Peters has changed his name and is now legally called Bob Peters. Oh,man. See... What I've always said proves true once again- no good deed goes unpunished, although I'm not sure the whole fake name thing is up there with the least of Mother Theresa's acts. So, to all my friends in Idaho, which Peters assures me is growing steadily... Peters is THE Bob Peters of television evening news fame.

As I was saying, Not-His-Real-Name-Jack (now I'm just grinding it in) went through a serious operation and came out strong on the other side. But, it did get me to thinking about how we talk about the human heart and how we have come to view the term “heart broken” as defining anything but an injured heart. Right? When our friend went for his operation, his wicked smaht sister, NHRN Walter's wife, didn't tell me, “Jack's heart is broken and he needs an operation.” Not even close.

Someone, at some point in history, presumably a poet, decided that the human heart should be assigned properties which made if susceptible to injury from non-physical affronts. If the heart was, well, truly, obviously heart-shaped, I would still wonder what that has to do with anything, but at least I would see some basis for using it in situations involving emotional damage. But it doesn't. Maybe, if you put it at some impossible angle and connect the dots to show the heart shape... But, to me, it's like looking into the night sky and saying groups of stars look like... anything.

Take Leo the Lion, for example. You tell me you see a lion, if you don't have the lines and/or dots to connect. At best, it looks like every stick animal drawing you would find on any preschool class wall.

And don't get me started on Ursa Major, or Minor even. How does that look like a bear? Someone looked into the sky a thousandty-eleven years ago and said, “Look, honey. Doesn't that random assortment of stars out of the millions that are up there look like a big bear? It really does, right? It's like that cloud your Uncle Octavio saw the other day that looked just like a duck.”

So, maybe amidst the people who named the various constellations, was one who decided we needed to tie our body parts back to our emotional state and decided, “Hmmm. Emotional upheaval. Hmmm. We need to make that seem more real by giving it a bodily attribute.”

Then, no doubt, the great debate began. A broken liver? Nah. Kidney? Nah- you'd have to assign different types of pain to each kidney. Lost love would be a broken right kidney; grief a broken left. And, since as EVERYONE knows I have two of them, let's not even mention spleens.

So, the heart it is and I suppose it always will be. Look, I know there are plenty of you out there who could explain this to me, and explain it so it made sense. Please don't bother, and, by don't bother, I don't mean to be rude, I just don't really care. This whole column is about venting frustration and worry; concern over the health of my friends.

If someone you know has a medical heart issue, you know how worrying that is. And, let's face it, there isn't really anything we can do about it. So, join me in raving and fist shaking.

In the end, after all, I have a feeling all I'm really doing is raving and fist shaking about my own situation. As far as I know, no one invokes the term cancer for other than what it is, unless it's to name something so ugly/horrific that cancer becomes the only word that will help us describe just how hideous something is.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Reunions- not how I remember them

I feel philosophical today. I think it may have been something I ate, but, reunions are on my mind.

Yeah. Reunions. Thinking about reunions to me is akin to thinking about taking a trip to the zoo. Why would I waste any time- even thinking time- on either one? And I don't think I can charge this one off to having cancer. Even though looking into the past should be added to the list of cancer- any cancer- symptoms, I'm not feeling it around this latest reunion fetish.

See, reunions strike me as odd things to be involved in. Basically, to me, we're saying: “Hey! This event was great. We had soooo much fun and we are all closing our time together on a fabulous high. I love you. You love me. We all love each other. It's a veritable luvapolooza.

“I've got a great idea. Let's get back together for a reunion in a few years, after we've had the chance to really burnish this memory into something special, taking it from a truly wonderful and fun time together, and making it legendary.”

We mess with it so much, that, in the end, what was once a wonderful memory becomes just another oh-so-close, but not quite, FAAAAHbulous spot on the Circle Lines Cruise of the island that is your life.”

Now, as someone who has struggled with weight issues most of my adult life, any thought of any reunion must first be ID'd and assigned a weight age. Like the mesozoic, neanderthal, cro-magnon eras, my chubby, mostly near the right weight, and wow I don't remember ever being that big eras must be accounted for.

If you think of the chart showing the evolution of man, and, instead of it showing how upright you walked as the eons went by, it revealed how your stomach looked from the side, you'd maybe get some idea of what I'm talking about.

And once you've decided what those pictures are going to show, then you have to consider what your weight has done to you now.

So, what seemed like a good idea at the time- let's get back together to remember this in five years- morphs. Even when you get the reunion invitation in the mail, or email, you spend the first few seconds remembering the fun and the rest of.... oh, let's say...eternity remembering all the other bits. Time to hit the old excuse book, brothers and sisters.

Or maybe that's just me.

But, then, there's high school reunions. You'd probably guess that I don't like them. OK, but that wouldn't really be right unless you put at least seven reallys in front of “don't.” You'd have to also become so self-centered and hateful that you couldn't entertain so much as a glimmer of the thought that other people might enjoy going to their high school reunion. No way, man. There is no good reason for going back to high school... for anyone.

If you're like me, you surely have a list of people you've always wanted to see having had some terrible thing happen to them. There's a couple you might still want to serve a glass of punch that you've spit in (sorry, but it could be true), and, more to the point, a much larger number you want to grill on why making your life so un-happy was such an integral part of making their life happy-happy. “Seriously, man, why did you have to pull all that crap?”

It used to be that I wanted to be sure I measured up, that I was at least less of a failure, if I couldn't be more successful than my classmates. I wanted to be able to have all this “Stuff” to compare with their “Stuff” and have everyone agree that my “Stuff? was way better.

But here's the issue: you cannot go back. I might want to be 16 again and experience wonderful success, whatever that might have looked like back then, against a whole bunch of mean people. But I can't. The best I could do would be a 66-year-old guy laying some petty revenge on some poophead who wouldn't even remember what he's done or why I would still be so mad about it almost five decades later. Besides, having cancer took whatever minimal pleasure there may have been left in that. The person I didn't care for could have had any number of completely random bad things happen to them. I wouldn't want to add to a person's upset for even a second.

I did go to one high school reunion. It was my ex-wife Janice's high school reunion and it think it was the fifth, though I'm not sure. Actually, my ex-wife and her sister Jeanne are twins. So, being in some manner joined to the twins made it very easy to put people out of their misery when they stood in front of me putting undue pressure on their brains trying to figure out if I had been in Mr. Walker's sixth period trig class with them. I just said, “I didn't go here. I'm with one of the twins,” and that was more than enough.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Who'd a thought that was gonna happen?

When I first found out I had cancer, I thought that, from that moment on, it would be biggest thing in my life. I mean, who wouldn't? What could be bigger than having a life threatening disease, literally, eating away at you?

Well, come to find out, for bursts of time... plenty of things. As a human being, I don't think I can keep something like having cancer in the forefront of my mind all day, every day. I don't think it's possible. Hell, I can't keep things I like to think about in the forefront of my mind for any great length of time, why would cancer be any different?

There was, obviously, something new and shiny about the diagnosis when it was first given to me and Sheri. It came from completely out of the blue, for one thing. I got stung by a bunch of bees, went to the doctor guessing he'd tell me I had hurt one of my ribs while trying to get out of the way of the bees, and left his office with cancer. Boom Just like that.

Finding out you have cancer should have had a grander beginning than that, don't you think? In the “dream sequence,” Sheri would have been there, holding my hand, her entire demeanor indicating that everything was going to be alright; perhaps brave little tears forming, but not slipping over the edge of her eyelids. We would have been able to talk about it on the way home from the doctor and begin our plan of attack then.

Instead, I was by myself, driving home at least two hours later than Sheri would have expected, and the plan of attack I was trying to design was how to tell her there was a very good chance that I had cancer? Whaaat? Try to get that out of the front of your head, why don't you.

And then we started to deal with it. We went to the clinic together every week and every week we had some new aspect of the disease, and what it had to do with us, to consider. First, it became absolutely definite that I had multiple myeloma. Then we were told there were medical things that could be done. We didn't really debate them, per se. It wasn't as if the doctor said “There's this, and this, and even that, we could do. What do you think?” It was really, “There's this, and this, and that... we're going to do that,” and Sheri and I said, “You betcha.”

My first oncologist retired and my current one took over. He and my lead doctor in Boston both decided a stem cell transplant was the way to go. “You betcha.”

There are so many moving parts to a stem cell transplant, especially when it is being done some 250 miles away (in Boston), that it was about the only thing we could think about. We had to find someplace for Sheri to stay for the month I was going to be in the hospital; we had to build up my healthy stem cells; I had to have radiation on my fractured clavicle; I had to undergo massive doses of very strong chemo; had to have my healthy stem cells harvested, frozen, and then put back in. Whew, huh?

So, we did all that. I felt nauseous for the entire time I was in the hospital. I lost most of my hair and Sheri shaved off the rest. My stem cell count started at two and worked its way up to a number that allowed me to go home.

While we were gone, friends came to our house and cleaned, not only top to bottom, but side to side and then some. Dust and any little bits were my enemy. Little bits of what? Didn't matter. I had to wear a mask sometimes, especially if I went outdoors. Listen to this: if I went for a walk outside, I had to be sure I picked up my feet; no scuffling. My mother tried for decades to get me to pick up my feet instead of scuffling. Now I was supposed to do it on my own? You bet I was thinking about that... every time I had to pick up one of my feet, don't you know. I was a thinking fool.

So, I was isolated from folks and left with plenty of time to think while I was by myself. During all this, my friend Cindy helped keep me sane as we emailed back and forth about the progress of each of our transplants.

It was about the time Cindy's condition worsened to the extent that we knew what the outcome was going to be, that I realized my own cancer was not the only thing I was thinking about. Then Cindy died; my lifelong mentor Dick died; my new friend Dolly died(of multiple myeloma) and low and behold, my multiple myeloma was no longer in the forefront of my mind, 24-7.

I had an incurable form of cancer that was responding spectacularly to treatment, while at the same time there was something wrong with my stomach that was tempering our joy. At a time when love was crucial to our well being, Sheri and I had to say goodbye to our cat Kenzie who provided us with huge daily portions of love.

So, what do you know? I have cancer and that fact has taken its own place with the numerous other things that make up my life day in and day out. Who'd a thought that was gonna happen? Still, if there's one thing I've learned, it's that I need to stop saying, “Who'd a thought that was gonna happen?”

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Thursday, October 1, 2015

96 tears? Nowhere near enough

Guess what I've been thinking about? Go on guess... Give up? It's honesty. I know. I know. Not again, right? Jeez. Haven't we been through this often enough?

Well, evidently not, because here we are again.

This time I was thinking about it because I found myself crying last night for over an hour and it would be easy to skip talking about it. Not because, “Men don't cry,” or because... well, just because. It's a pretty sensitive thing to talk about it, and I don't see a lot of columnists mentioning it, let alone focusing on it. But, I do and say many things others don't and so...

Here's the thing... I couldn't figure out what was upsetting me so much. When I say I was crying, I mean cryyyy----ing, sobbing, blowing my nose frequently, the works- the water works, ha ha.

I kept running reasons through my head.

We lost another long-time friend to cancer this week. We had been close friends in New York for about seven years, and did lose touch when we moved up here and they moved to Florida. But, then, that's one plus in the Facebook v. Facebook argument. It does help keep you aware of what old friends are up to. We always knew he was there, but now he's not.

But, no, the crying didn't seem to be about that. Nor did it seem to be about our friend Neil who left us just last week. He is missed and will continue to be, obviously, and, just as obviously, Facebook isn't going to help us with this one.

So, no, not that. I had coffee with Cindy's brother yesterday and, while we didn't really talk about her and her struggle per se, it was still right there. It always is when we talk, or at least, it's never far away. He's a wonderful person to be with because I don't have to explain... anything. Nothing. He understands my moods and my reactions to him, based on how I feel at any given moment, so there's nothing to explain.

I also had coffee with my friend Dollie's son-in-law. (I don't really drink all that much coffee. It was just one of those days and, God forbid we should just get together somewhere without a beverage being involved.) In truth, in the end, it seemed like everyone was OK with Dollie's leaving us; she had done enough.

So, still going through my list, trying to sort it out. Part of it was probably about losing Kenzie, since that was still so fresh in my heart. Also, we adopted another cat from the Humane Association, so that opened a lot of wounds. This was the first cat Sheri has had, rather than a kitten, so that's different. He's almost three years old and was destined, I think, to be moved from shelter to shelter since he's huge (15 pounds) and had most of his hair shaved off because it had been so matted. My head and his butt feel about the same when I rub them. I can empathize with his hair loss. I anticipate becoming friends.

But that wasn't it either. These were older tears, coming from deep inside; so deep inside that I thought I might actually throw up while they were spilling out. So, the crying was at least in part for Sheri and me. All that we've been through- so much loss, so much pain, but so much love as well. Hell, if we didn't love each other so much, and all those others I've mentioned as well, I guess, there wouldn't be much need to cry, old or new tears.

After a while, though, it occurred to me that I was missing the point. I was crying because I needed to. There was healing to be done, and crying was an essential part of it. In our experience, that is where healing can truly begin and where it gets to grow and bring a new and essential piece, or pieces, to your life. We are truly works in progress, and, as with building or growing anything, that means plenty of breakage and lots of, “Hmmm. Does this part go there?”

At some point, I realized that the need to find a reason for crying could be found only by taking a trip in the Way Back Machine. When I was a kid, around our house, if you were going to cry, you'd better have had a darned good reason why. In Scotland, crying was called greeting, or maybe that was just around Glasgow, where I lived. But, I can still hear my mother saying “Whit are ye greetin' for? Keep it up and I'll gie ye somethin' to greet aboot.” Sometimes you had the chance to think, other times you didn't. It appears having a reason just became part of my DNA.

And, when all else is said and done... “It's my party and I'll cry if I want to.”

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Well... How did I get here?

So, tell me this. Do you find life- sometimes- to be... odd? Funny, but not ha ha. Hard to understand? Best to be accepted as is, with no more thinking than absolutely necessary?

This is a sincere question, or questions. I just find life puzzling sometimes, even when its pieces should make up some obvious whole.

I just lost another friend to cancer. His name is/was Neil and he was a nice man. I spent some time with him and another friend a couple of weeks ago and, frankly, he seemed to be doing well. He had previously had surgery to attack his lung cancer, and now it was back. But he didn't seem overly concerned about it. I got the feeling he thought all would be well.

Now, was that because that's how I wanted it to be, or how it was? Was it how he wanted it to be and was successful in presenting a wish as fact? Or did things just get rapidly worse, regardless of what anybody thought or considered?

He was a man of true faith. He knew God was there for him. One of the nice things he used to do- at least I thought it was nice- was pass out little... em... things, for lack of a better word, to people. Medallions, coins, little gee gaws... things. The common thread among them was that they were designed to make the recipient feel better. One might have had a positive saying on it, some few words to help prevent a stumble by someone he cared about. It might have been something with a religious theme or overtone to help people, literally, keep the faith.

I didn't get the sense it was a one size fits all sort of thing. Usually what he gave fit the person he gave it too, and was something that was likely to give the recipient a boost right there, right then.

Let's face it. We don't really “know” other people, do we? At best, we compare our insides to their outsides and, in the end, only know what we know about them. But, I think people really liked Neil, and his wife Kim. I know Sheri and I did. I know, too, that we wished he could stop smoking, once and for all. You know I've written about that before, though. My father couldn't stop, neither could my sister. It seems that Neil couldn't either.

But, though we had that in common, what was really at the heart of the relationship that Neil and I had began with the fact that we were both about the same age and both born in Scotland. More than that, we were born, as near as I can figure, about 25 miles apart. Greenock was his hometown, while mine was Johnstone. Growing up in Scotland in the early 50s and 60s virtually guaranteed that there was no way we were ever going to run into one another, never mind develop any sort of relationship.

Also, Neil was Catholic and I was Protestant. You have no idea what a big deal that was back then. It may still be for all I know. There was some mixing, but there wasn't a lot.

So, anyway, there Neil and I are growing up a few miles apart and at some point, both families moved to America and at some other point, as adults, we each moved to Maine and then at some other other point, we each moved to be back within about 25 miles of one another again.

Don't you find that... odd? Interesting? Funny, but not ha ha? What do you suppose the odds would be against that happening? If some cosmic bookmaker, in let's say, 1958, decided to make book on the chance of Neil and Jim living within 25 miles of each other, in Maine, United States of America, in 2015... don't you think you could get pretty good odds against that happening? Like eleventy seven gazillion to one?

And, oh sure... Let's also say that we would both end up with cancer in 2015? Whaaaat? If you read that in a work of fiction, don't you think you would be hard put to believe it? Don't you think you, and critics and darn near anyone else who read about that, would say, 'Nah. That's too much to expect us to swallow. I'm willing to suspend disbelief, but only so far.”

And yet... I'm glad it was true. I didn't know Neil super well, but I knew him well enough to be glad I did; well enough to see some of the encouragement and hope he offered to others, including Sheri and me. Look, he and I had both come a very long way to end up with cancer in a wee town in Maine. Still, I do know this: as far as Neil is concerned, a lot of people are very happy that he made that journey. It made a positive difference in their lives that wouldn't end just because he died this week. Besides, a lot of us have gee gaws we can pull out to remind us of the man.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fair, schmair

So, here's the thing. You don't really need to put a lot of thought into to it to understand that the belief that life should be fair causes more sorrow than virtually any other factor of our daily lives.

We had to put our cat Kenzie to sleep at the end of last week. There was nothing else to be done, not in fairness to her and her quality of life. She had been born with a birth defect that was going to limit the number of days she would be around to bring happiness to those about her. That was a fact, immutable and harsh. She did not have a full supply of intestine and that was enough to end her life way too soon.

Obviously, this has been very hard of Sheri and me. I hope you know how much a family pet can make difficult situations bearable, hard times less so. That would be a terrible thing to miss out on.

We got Kenzie from the Humane Association in October, just as, unbeknown to us, we were about to enter a difficult phase of my illness and life in general. Sheri had been ready to bring a new cat into our home much sooner, but I was resistant, still suffering from the loss of our Samantha. Still, it was time.

And what a great decision it was. There were times that having Kenzie in our home and in our lives made feeling bad, or sorry for ourselves, virtually impossible...

My point here is not to be maudlin. If you are a pet lover, you know only too well how disheartening the loss can be. I'd rather deal with fairness, loss, hope, faith... you know, all the big ones.

To me, the biggest issue with believing life should be fair is that it makes you think stupid thoughts and if you can think 'em, you can say 'em. For example, Sheri has type one diabetes and I have an incurable form of cancer. We were doing OK with it, and we were able to bring Kenzie in to brighten our lives, and she did. Given that, does it seem fair to you that she would then be taken from us? Does it seem fair to you that she was born without a genuine chance to grow old? Probably not. But, if I'm not looking for life to be fair, I'm not having these thoughts; I'm not saying these things.

My sense of hope has taken a battering lately. No matter what the doctors try, I feel nauseous every day. My wife struggles with her diabetes. And while the big things are hard enough to take, it's the drip, drip, drip of the endless small things that can drive one daft.

How did you feel the last time you were trying to sleep and one of the faucets in the bathroom kept dripping, just one drop at a time? And it was a night when you were exhausted and couldn't stop thinking and every “bad” thing you had ever done picked that night to show up for your nightly thought parade. Each and every loss, big or small, showed up right in your face. “Think about me!!!” “Hey, remember me??? Wasn't this horrible?!?!?” “Life sucks and then you die. You know that now, right??!!”

And drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip.

You're wide awake, a scream forming in your mouth, brain and heart. You wish you had a pressure valve like the one Popeye used, just as you thought his muscles were going to blow up.

But, you don't.

Fair? Don't make me laugh. Life is really hard. You have to go through it each day with absolutely no guarantee that “things” are going to get better; that those four bad things that happened are going to be evened out by four really cool, wonderful things. Life is an adult dose, an adult portion, brothers and sisters.

So why bother, right? In this latest round of heavy thinking, I've come to see that we “bother” because it's what we do. It's what makes people wonderful, exceptional. Show me a person, any person, and I'll show you someone who is doing the best they can with what they've got... each and every day. It doesn't mean you're going to like them, or that they're going to be anyone's idea of successful. It just means they're going to be brave, whether they know it or not, and whether they want to be or not.

Right now we miss our Kenzie so bad it hurts. But, we've already started focusing on the happiness she brought into our lives; the happiness we knew because of her. And that's why, ultimately, life being fair or not, doesn't really matter. Added up, we're probably going to find more happiness than sorrow; more laughs than tears. I guess I can live with that.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Another Labor Day, another health crisis

I think Ye Olde Knights of Yore had a pretty decent idea: cover yourself top to bottom, side to side, in armor and challenge anyone to hurt you.

True, it restricted your ability to interact with your fellow humans. Sure, that was the point, in terms of bad guys. But it also meant you weren't enjoying physical touches from the ladies, or your other friends for that matter. You also were at the mercy of the people who kept you from falling over and who helped work the crane to get you up on your horse, which probably hated you and wished you'd get your fat butt off of him.

And speaking of falling over... if you did, you were screwed. I mean, falling on your knees was bad enough simply because of the effort it took to return your seat to an upright position. But if you fell on your back? Authorities might as well come and draw the white chalk “corpse” outline around your body.

I guess it wasn't so bad when you were in jousting tournaments and such. There were do-overs and second chances galore. If you were on your back, things could be halted while they got the crane out and hoisted you back up, if that's what you wanted. If you took a bad enough beating, you could simply be dragged off by your feet and fixed up to fight another day.

Yeah. So all that physical protection had its moments, but it didn't really do much for the important part, did it. Your heart and your emotions were wide open to assault and it didn't take the medieval equivalent of a can opener to get at your vital spot.

I got to thinking about this when our cat Kenzie got sick over the holiday weekend. Almost two years to the day after I found out I was sick, it became apparent something was seriously wrong with this pet who had become so dear to us.

Two years of carefully constructed top to bottom and side to side armor shattered in no time. This time, I did ask why us? Why did this wonderful, warm little animal have to be sick? Isn't it enough that Sheri has type one diabetes? That I have an incurable form of cancer? That it was less than a year since we recovered enough hope after the loss of our beloved cat Samantha to try again to allow a third into our daily struggles? Evidently not, brothers and sisters. Evidently not.

Being a holiday weekend, we needed to travel about an hour to have her seen on an emergency basis. The hospital wasn't sure what was up, but gave her fluids and anti-nausea medicine and sent her home to see if that did the trick. It didn't.

I've been feeling pretty sick myself lately, so it fell to Sheri to drive even further to an emergency facility in Portland, by herself. Friends may well have been willing to go with her, but she needed to do this on her own.

The news got worse. Evidently Kenzie had been born with incomplete small intestines. That was OK, it seems, until they sort of telescoped into themselves and a portion of them became damaged enough that she had to have 16 inches removed. She stopped breathing during the operation and it was great work by the vet staff to bring her back.

Will she be OK? Will she be able to come home? We do not know. We call down there multiple times a day and, so far, she has been showing progress; small but consistent. Sheri and I have taken the hope and faith we were using for my cancer, and shifted it to Kenzie and her care. We could probably divide it up between us; there should be enough to go around. But frankly, it doesn't feel that way just now. We've managed with what we've been dealt, and I think we've managed pretty well. But this just seems like “piling on.” I know it's not, and I know Sheri and I will be back to being “strong” and “brave” and all that, but right now? Right now I don't have the energy for it, and I'm not sure Sheri does either, but you'd have to ask her yourself.

Speaking of Sheri, let me tell you two things about this latest assault on our family; things that may make clearer my claim that, despite my own health issues, I feel incredibly fortunate, like the you-know-what on earth (hint- Lou Gehrig).

When she had to take Kenzie to the first vet, an hour away, it was on one of the hottest days of the summer. One of our cars has air conditioning, but a manual transmission. The other has windows and is an automatic. Sheri decided to take the automatic because her gear shifting isn't as smooth as she would like it to be and she didn't want to keep jostling Kenzie while shifting gears. It meant she was going to be hot and uncomfortable, but there was no hesitation. She could direct air to keep Kenzie cool and she would just deal with her own discomfort.

The second thing involved a call to the vet after we were told that Kenzie was improving and was at least slightly responsive. Sheri asked the vet: “If you put your phone on speaker and put it next to her, do you think she would know we were talking to her and telling her how much we loved her?” It seems to me that someone like that should get an extra layer of protection over their heart if they're going to give it in love so freely. Doesn't seem to work that way, though.

So, here we are trying to regroup and give life another finger in the eye, rather than vice versa. And it seems that we're managing to get it done. We aren't going to be beaten, not if love has anything to do with it. Three points make a triangle and everyone knows a triangle is one of earth's toughest structures.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere