So…Um…Hey?!?!

Hey there everyone.  It’s been quite a while since we last talked.  A lot of “life” has happened since my last post.  Some good and some not-so-good, but for sure, there has been a lot of it!

After putting a few posts on FB over the past couple of months, I have gotten a fair amount of feed back from folks, saying that I need to blog more.  The thing is, I don’t feel like I have anything of value to offer right now.  Life is tough and at the moment, and I am just surviving (barely).

Over the last 4-5 months, I have unintentionally retreated into a dark corner of myself, reducing activities to the bare minimum…getting up every day, doing what has to be done, crashing into bed in the evening, watching a little TV then and going to sleep. Running, social media, blogging, date night, even church attendance has pretty much ceased.  It wasn’t a conscious decision.  It just happened.  I guess it’s kinda like debt, or weight management. It just kinda sneaks up on a person, without them realizing it.  Every day, becoming more and more overwhelmed with the physical pain and the problems of life, I have been giving up things I didn’t have the energy or time for, focusing on just “getting through the day”. Lately, the pain and despair has been as relentless as my desire for forward progress.

I know I have to turn the corner on this thing somehow, and I am resolved to do so. There are at least a few positive things that have begun over the past several weeks that will hopefully help me move in the right direction.  For one, I have changed anti-depressant meds and that has made a world of difference.  I am much more clear minded now and have the motivation to get up in the mornings.  Also, they have finally started weening me off the high doses of opioid pain medication that I have been on since my surgery 17 months ago.  One of the side effects of being on this type of pain med for so long is the body builds up a tolerance to it, and the pain can become intensified unless you increase the dosage.  I was at a point that I needed to either go up, or start getting off of it and learn to cope with the pain.  I chose the latter. That has been really tough, and I still have several months to go, but I already feel mentally clearer as I am coming off of it.

To be sure, I am still in a hard place.  There are many days where I still mourn the loss of things I used to take for granted: eating/drinking normally and pain free, sleeping soundly, singing loudly, boundless energy and motivation, even stupid things like whistling or drinking through a straw.  There are days, when I doubt I’ll ever regain even a portion of the active life I had before cancer.  Thankfully, there are also people around me that refuse to let me wallow in self pity and constantly remind me  how far I’ve come since March of last year.

Thanks again to all of you who have been there for me, encouraging me. I am so grateful for all of you.  I know the way out of this is through it, and hopefully my story will soon turn back to a positive direction to be an encouragement to others as well.

‘Till next time…

Relentless. Forward. Progress.

kp

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Over Worked, Over Medicated and Over Confident

 So how’s your week been?  Mine has been a bit rough.  In fact, if I am honest, the last couple of months have been much more than “a bit rough”.  So here’s the deal.  It has been great getting all the encouraging feedback about my positive attitude and my progress getting back into running after cancer surgery and radiation treatments, but the truth of it is, my life is hard, and frankly, it’s overwhelming me at the moment.

So first, let me say, I am not writing this post looking for sympathy or to have a pity party…I’ve had more than enough of both already. I do want you to understand my frame of reference for the point of this post though, so I feel you need to understand to some degree the weight that I am under at the moment.

To start, my load at work is quite heavy at the moment. After working as a manufacturing and design engineer for 17 years I have moved into the role of Supply Chain Manager for the company I work for.  With no training or experience I have found myself responsible for all purchasing, production planning and customer service for the company. My friend and mentor, who was to train me to replace him when he retired, passed away just a few months after I took on the role and since then, I have been flying solo, learning as I go and being pushed into 60+ hour work weeks more often than not.

In addition to the trouble of teaching myself a new job, the pain meds I am currently taking affect my cognitive function, making even more difficult at times to do my job as Supply Chain Leader. I desperately want to get off my pain meds, but I can’t. Despite the fact that it has been 3 months since I completed my radiation treatments, my mouth, sinuses and jaw are still healing, I am still passing bone fragments out through the skin in what is left of the roof of my mouth, and eating is still often difficult. The 3-day pain patches I am on, are highly addictive, and because I metabolize or absorb the medicine slightly faster than normal, on the third day of every patch, I’ve been going through withdrawals. So despite my wishes to get off my pain meds, they have actually increased my dosage to offset the 3rd day withdrawals.

To top that off, about two months ago, we were give a 60 day notice to move out of our rental house.  My family and I now have only 7 days to find another rental home and move. So far, we have not found a home in our school district that allows dogs, can accommodate a family of six and is in our price range.

All of this, along with the normal stress of being a parent of four busy kids has been piling up on me for the past few months. A few weeks ago I began having frequent episodes of both depression and panic attacks. It finally became severe enough that I began seeing a counselor to find a way to cope with it all.  After a couple of sessions, I’ve have been diagnosed with Situational Depression/Anxiety Disorder.

Now don’t get me wrong, in spite of everything I’ve written above, there are many good things going on.   Our four kids are doing well in school.  They are doing great in Cross Country, Marching Band and Cub Scouts too. Tania is continuing to recover from her migraine surgery, and even though there have been complications, she has’t had any migraines in a while, and she’s been able to actually get out little. I am back to running consistently. I had a clean 3 month PET scan a couple of weeks ago.  Even though it’s stressful, I am back at work full time, and starting to make small progress on catching up on my backlog of work. The adjustments they made to my pain medication seems to be helping, and they have started me on a prescription for the SDAD.  All great things!

So what the heck is up with me? Well, I have come to realize that this is not about work or moving, or family or cancer, but about me coping with loss:  loosing a core part of my identity.

If you asked me to tell you who I am in 20 words or less, I would quote you the bio under my picture at the top of this page:

“Christ-follower, husband, father, laugher, ultra-runner, cancer survivor, cubmaster, engineer, singer/musician/writer, November beard grower, dork.”

In my mind though, a large part of my identity is in the fact that I am a “self-made man”.  My dad bailed on us when I was about 12.  Although, he was in and out of my life from then until he died of cancer about 8 years ago, we never had a “father-son” relationship. Although I had a great mom and grandfather that loved me and served as great role models, I was forced in a lot of ways to grow up on my own.  I taught myself to ride a bike, drive a stick shift, balance a check book, change my oil/brake pads, do my taxes, paint a house…the list goes on.  When I got married, the trend continued.  Buying that first house, retirement plans, being a father…just me and Google and lots of prayer.  As a result, over the years I have developed a fairly high opinion of my ability to adapt/learn, a confidence that I can do or learn to do anything. I truly believed that there are no challenges I couldn’t overcome.  Even when I didn’t have the answer, I’ve always been confident that I could/would find it.  That confidence has served me well in life, in my career and even as an ultra-marathoner.

Fast forward to present day:  That confidence has been shaken.  At my lowest point during radiation, I came to terms with reaching my physical limits.  I saw it was okay to receive help when you need it.  Even though I am used to being the one offering help, there is no shame in being on the receiving end of that at times. Eventually, that happens to everyone. This is something different. I have now reached the limit of my own self-confidence.  When I lay down at night, I cannot confidently tell myself that I’m going to figure how to make it all work. I don’t believe that I will be able to come up with a solution to all these problems.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, to admit I am not who I thought I was.  That I don’t have the answers.  That I can’t do it all myself.

But maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.  The fact that I now know there are limits to my “load carrying capacity” doesn’t negate anything I have accomplished.  This has been an incredibly humbling experience.  I am so grateful at how understanding and supportive my wife and kids have been through this.  In the end, I have to accept that I can’t fix everything by myself, I can’t solve every problem on my own…and now I know I don’t have to.  Instead of finding my identity only in what I’ve accomplished on my own, I’m finding it through my part in the family I am helping create, and faith in the God I serve.

We have had several  family conversations about our (and my) situation.  It has brought us closer together.  I still don’t have the answers yet.  I am not sure what we are going to do, but now I know together, me, my wife and kids will figure it out together!

‘Till next time…

Relentless. Forward. Progress.

kp

Here we go….

Yesterday was my last planning appointment prior to starting my radiation treatments (for some reason, I have an aversion to calling it “therapy”).  They fitted me for my targeting mask and pillow, neither of which are as comfortable as they may sound.  The mask is a resin mesh that was heated and formed to the contour of my face.  It also has a mouthpiece to position my jaw.  The pillow is made out of some type of hardening foam that was contoured to the shape of the back of my head and neck.  Both of these are bolted to the table and ensure that my head is positioned in exactly the same position for every treatment.

These are not mine, but give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

      

I’ve never been claustrophobic, but the mask gave me a few moments of concern when they first pulled it over my face. After fitting me for all that, they performed a CT scan and sent me on my way.

Today, I got a followup call from the oncology office.  They are finally ready to start treatments next week.  So what is hopefully the last procedural phase of this ordeal begins Monday at noon.  I will be having a total of 32-34 treatments (to be determined by the oncologist by Monday).  These will be administered 5 days a week, for 6 1/2 weeks.  The logistics promise to be as exhausting as the treatments.  I will be driving 45 minutes (one way) every week day for over 6 weeks and paying $3 to park each visit, all for a 10 minute procedure.  The last piece to the puzzle is getting a time slot early enough in the afternoon each day that will allow me to work in the mornings, get to my treatments in the afternoon, and get out of Charleston ahead of the rush hour traffic, which could add another 30 minutes to my drive home every day.

The good news is, I am finally getting this thing started. That gets me one step closer to getting it over with, and on the road to recovery.  Everyone I have talked to  (doctors, nurses & friends who have gone through this) are telling me the same thing:  the first two weeks are pretty uneventful, the second two weeks are fairly tough, and the last two weeks are miserable.   The most likely side effects for me are fatigue, difficulty eating, and skin irritation on my face and neck.  One of my favorite sayings is, “Plan for the worst, and hope for the best.”  That is exactly what I am doing in this situation. I am praying / believing that I will come through this as I have the other portions of this adventure, better than expected.  I credit that in large part to your faithful prayers and encouragement, which I am shamelessly asking you for yet again. I know with your prayers and support, I’ll get through this!

While were on the subject of prayer, I would also appreciate your prayers for my wife, Tania. She will be having surgery at MUSC this Friday.  Although it is day surgery, it will be about a five hour procedure to revise some significant scarring from a previous surgery as well as performing a procedure to hopefully reduce or eliminate her migraine headaches. We were told to expect 3-4 weeks for full recovery and are praying everything goes better than that with the overlap with my radiation treatments.   Again, thanks for your prayers!

One last thing…a little positive motivation for you all today.

Relentless. Forward. Progress.

kp

 

The Toughest Person I Know

Throughout this journey of overcoming cancer, I have been so encouraged by the outpouring of support and encouragement from friends and family.  Beyond that, even people that I know only casually, or barely at all through social media have told me that I inspire them, or even used the word “hero”.

I have to say, that makes me a bit uncomfortable.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to be seen that way.  I’m sure most people want to be admired for something they’ve accomplished.  It is at least a small part of what motivates me to run ultras. It’s just that I am just not sure I have earned it.

When I hear terms like “amazing” or “hero”, I normally think of someone like Winston Churchill or Albert Einstein or Mother Theresa.  I would even include people like Dick Hoyt, or Erik Weihenmayer in that category.  But if I bring it closer to home, to people I actually know, I still wouldn’t include myself in that list.  I am just a guy, who loves his family and running, that is doing the only thing he knows to do in this situation.  There is someone else that I would put on that list though:  My wife, Tania.

Now, Tania would probably say the same thing I did above.  She would say she is “just a woman, who loves her family that is doing all she knows to do, given her situation.”  However, here’s the difference:

A few months ago, I was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor growing in the roof of my mouth.  I was given a pretty straight forward path to get well again.  Invasive surgery, radiation therapy and some minor, albeit life long changes to how I eat and my oral care routine and there’s a good chance life returns to a new normal.  It has been and will likely continue to be an extremely tough road, both physically and emotionally. However, there is an expected time frame and an expected outcome.  Although there are no guarantees and I may have to deal with other unforeseen results of this down the road, that’s really no different than the uncertainty that we all face every day.

When my wife was a teenager, she became extremely sick for several months following a missions trip to Guatemala.  The doctors never figured out what was wrong, and although she eventually got back to a level of health where she could function, her health never returned to normal.  About a year or so after we were married, her health began to decline again to the point she was no longer able to work as a dental assistant.  Over the next several years, as we began to build a family, she again was able to adapt to deal with the chronic pain and fatigue that she experienced daily and managed to be the most loving, caring and engaged mother I could have asked for.  Seven years, four kids, and countless tests later, we still had no idea what was causing her symptoms, but she continued to face every day with hope and determination.  Over the past 9 years, I have watched with both awe and desperation as my wife’s bad days have slowly become more frequent than her good ones.  Yet through it all, she continues to face each day with resolve to be the best mom and wife she can, and continues to find creative ways to do that despite her limitations…all the while having no end in sight to her situation.  On top of all that, she has faced the uncertainty of my situation with a unwavering faith  and hope, that I was surely lacking in the beginning.  It is her faith that has fed mine over the past several weeks.

 

So  this post is dedicated to my hero, my best friend, my lover, for sure my better half, Tania Palmer.  I love you babe!  Thank you for being all that you are for me and our kids.  You are amazing!

It is Easter!

Originally posted on Facebook April 5, 2015


On this Resurrection Sunday, I am reminded of the hope that sustains me through all trials. All healing is temporary unless the Lord returns, but His resurrection is the cornerstone of my faith that no matter what happens in this temporal life, my future is secure and His grace is sufficient.

Happy Easter everyone!

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

A Day at the Beach!

Originally posted on Facebook April 5, 2015


Fun day going to the Isle of Palms with my daughters (and one of their friends). Even though the weather was cool and cloudy, it was great to get out and enjoy the beach air.

  

However, today was not quite perfect. There are some rough side effects to the pain meds that I am on. Had some pretty gnarly GI issues this afternoon. It was a long ride home from IOP…and a long couple of hours once I got home. This brings me to another point I think I need to make.

I have noticed that I tend to post when I’m feeling positive, conquering foes and overcoming the odds, but not so much when things are going poorly. My hope is that my posts about my journey will serve to encourage others going through difficult things and offer them hope that if I can do it, so can they.

My fear is that if I only post the positive things , it may give people a false expectation of what it’s like to go through something like this. That’s the last thing I want, so I’m planning to post more often and regularly, the good, the bad & the ugly.

Thanks again for all of your encouragement so far and for hanging with me through this journey. Talk to you guys again soon!

Relentless.Forward.Progress.

kp

So…what’s next?

Originally posted on Facebook March 24, 2015


Update: Ok, friends and family, we met with the oncologist and dental prosthodontist today. We are ready to begin the next phase, which is to prep for radiation. Unfortunately, due to the intensity and field of the radiation, I am going to have to have my remaining three wisdom teeth extracted as well, as these can cause some significant complications down the road. That will happen sometime early next week as well as the scan to ensure the cancer has not spread.

The treatments will start within the next 10-15 days. I will have treatments 5 days/week for 6 1/2 weeks. The treatments are only about 15 minutes, so I will spend more time driving to and from the treatment center than actually there.

It’s going to be a long couple of months. I and my family continue to appreciate and rely on your prayers. Thanks again for being so epicly (is that a word?) supportive. I will continue to keep you all informed through FB and Spreaker. Love you guys! Keep being awesome!

kp

Relentless. Forward. Progress