Every Valentine’s Day for as far back as I can remember Jodie has surprised me with a delicious hand-made dessert. Three years ago I started reciprocating by drawing her a Valentine’s Day comic. This year, to celebrate our addiction to LEGO, I drew her the comic you see here. In return, to celebrate our almost two years on a whole food plant-based diet, she made me delicious Flourless Sweet Potato Brownies.
If you’re interested, here are some Valentines comics of years’ past…
2020. What a year, right? My family and I started the year off strong with back-to-back trips to Legoland and Universal Studios, and then life got interesting. In March, just as COVID was rearing its ugly head in the United States, Kaylee and I underwent surgeries for a broken elbow and a prostatectomy. I owe our quick recovery to Jodie, Ashley, and each other – and the fact that, like everyone else, we were stuck at home with nothing to do but recover. Over the next few months of lockdowns, social distancing, and travel restrictions my family and I all did our best to maintain normalcy as much as possible.
Ashley and Kaylee adapted to virtual “distance learning” and used Chromebooks to finish 4th and 2nd grade at Westwood Elementary. Ashley is now in her final year at Westwood and, sadly, likely to graduate without ever setting foot in a classroom there again. On the upside, both girls seem to be learning and doing great. Ashley, known as the “human calculator” by her classmates, has joined Math Olympiad for the second year, a national mathematics competition and study group. Meanwhile, Kaylee has joined “Roadrunner TV”, a weekly school news broadcast. She loves being in front of the camera and interviewing staff and students and reporting on school affairs.
Ashley and Kaylee have continued to excel in Karate and, after two years, have both achieved Green Stripe Belts. The classes, which were held online during the initial months of the pandemic, are now outdoors with face coverings, no-contact restrictions, and gratuitous use of hand sanitizer.
Kaylee is wrapping up her second year of singing and piano lessons with her awesome music instructor. This year she was introduced to the Ukulele and has now performed several recitals, the latest of which have been held virtually over Zoom. Her voice and ability have improved remarkably since she started. Jodie and I are looking forward to her upcoming virtual Holiday Recital where she’ll be performing, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”.
LEGO has now officially taken over our house to the extent that our formal dining room now looks like a toy store, and gets much more use because of it. During the early months of COVID Jodie and I started holding weekly LEGO Master competitions over Zoom with our friends to stay connected. We’ve been amazed by what our daughters and their friends are capable of building and just finished our 35th competition.
We tested the limits of our health insurance plan this year. In addition to Kaylee and my surgeries in March, Ashley has had several tooth extractions (and subsequent tooth fairy visits) whereas I have continued to receive hormone therapy and, more recently, radiation to fight off my cancer. To keep everyone healthy Jodie and I have continued to maintain a plant-based, no dairy, low sugar diet for ourselves, and be more mindful of what our daughters eat as well. Jodie has had fun experimenting and replicating some of our favorite dishes including sloppy “Jods”, vegan nachos, pumpkin-quinoa chili, stuffed sweet potatoes, and plant-based fish tacos.
Jodie, after more than ten years of working as a real estate agent, has decided to start her own brokerage and will be taking her broker exam in early January. 2020 has proven to be a challenging yet successful year for her; even with COVID headwinds she has managed to complete several transactions. I am looking forward to supporting her in her new endeavor and have passed the realtor exam in preparation to be her first “part time” employee.
As for me, after losing my job due to COVID-related cutbacks I took some much-needed time off. I have just recently started a new position at MedImpact Direct as a Software Engineer. I will be working on their direct-to-consumer and specialty pharmacy platforms, two things that I have become very familiar with during my battle with cancer.
Last but not least, we have added a new furry four-legged member to our family, Maddie, a small black-and-tan Rat Terrier with hugely adorable ears. Since we adopted her, she has brought more smiles to our faces than I thought possible and has proven to be the perfect sidekick for our other dog, Chip.
Overall, it has been a difficult yet strangely rewarding year. As a family, I feel that, throughout all the weirdness that is 2020, we have all become much closer and have a much better understanding of what is truly important – each other.
…with that, bring on the vaccines and an ultimate return to real normalcy!
When my mom got her kitchen remodeled in the 1980’s she was adamant about placing the microwave as close to the refrigerator as possible for convenience. Most of our food was prepared in an assembly line; from freezer, to microwave, to plate, to table. It wasn’t until I was older I figured out what all the other boxy objects ( the “stove”, for example ) in the kitchen were actually for. My mom sure could rock the ‘wave though. It was the Instant Pot of the day, capable of doing almost everything …
It has been a little over a month since I finished 45 sessions of radiation therapy for prostate cancer at UCSD. The radiation therapy itself was a follow up to a surgery that I had in March to remove my prostate. The good news is that I’m doing great! I’m about where I was prior to radiation therapy, which, although is nowhere near where I was before prostate cancer, makes me incredibly happy nonetheless. To put it another way, I can live like this. This week I had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Rose, my radiation oncologist to discuss my recovery and the road ahead.
For the foreseeable future my cancer ( or ideally, lack thereof ) will be monitored by PSA tests. If you’ve been following my posts you’ll remember that the PSA blood test measures prostate inflammation. A normal PSA score is below 3 ng/mL for men my age. However, since my prostate was surgically removed my score should be undetectable, or less than 0.01 ng/mL. If my score rises above that threshold it means that the cancer wasn’t eradicated and managed to survive.
“If I have a recurrence will it be in the same area in which I received radiation?”, I asked.
“No, usually the cancer will metastasize somewhere else.”, Dr. Rose replied.
“And if it does, can I receive additional radiation therapy?”, I asked.
“Yes.”, he replied. He then continued to list a variety of scenarios. Bone metastasis. Lymph node metastasis. Each scenario could potentially be treated with radiation, albeit with much shorter spans.
“So, no more 45-day benders?”, I reiterated.
“No.”, he shook his head.
“Good. I mean, you’re a great doctor … person … and all, but I hope I never have to see you again.”, I joked.
The big test will be after I complete my two-year course of hormone therapynext November. The therapy, also known as Androgen Deprivation Therapy, or ADT, has been starving my cancer of testosterone, which it requires to grow. Once I’m off ADT my body will start producing testosterone again which will provide fuel to any remaining cancer. The big milestones for long term remission are at the 5-year and 10-year marks. However, I’ll always be at risk of a recurrence.
“I, like most doctors, really don’t like using the word ‘cure’….”, Dr. Rose started.
For a doctor it’s got to be rough not being able to confirm the one thing that every single cancer patient wants to know.
“….yeah, I get it. You really just don’t ever know. It’s too bad, but I get it.”, I interrupted.
“So, is there anything I should be doing”, I asked.
Is your household a little too calm and relaxing? Do you have lots of nice things that you need destroyed in short order? Is your carpet looking a little too clean? Is walking through your backyard without stepping in something too easy and you need more of a challenge? Well, if that’s the case I have a solution to your problem – adopt a puppy! A puppy will resolve all of these problems within days of bringing one home.
In practice, there’s really no such thing as “visiting” a puppy that is up for adoption. That was Jodie and my first mistake. The second was bringing our daughters, Ashley and Kaylee, with us. There was no way “Mattie” ( now “Maddie” ) wasn’t coming home with us.
Take care. Stay healthy. Live life. Adopt a puppy ( you won’t regret it ).
For the last month and a half I have been driving to UCSD 5 days a week with 30+ ounces of water sloshing around in my bladder and an empty colon to get everything south of my belly button irradiated. Fortunately, my team at UCSD has been fantastic, and to thank them, I handed out bags of See’s Candy to everyone. As I was rolled into what I have affectionately dubbed the “glory hole” for the last time, I requested that they blast Oingo Boingo’s “Goodbye” during my final treatment. Patients are not not supposed to move while getting treated, but that didn’t keep me from drumming my fingers and humming along anyway.
“You guys have all been great and all, but …. I hope I never have to see any of you ever again.”, I teased my crew as they helped me out of the machine. After some awkward, socially distanced high-fives and elbow bumps I quickly made my way to the lobby.
For radiation therapy, at least at UCSD, there’s a huge brass bell in the lobby that patients are encouraged to ring on completion of their therapy. I was so excited to be done and to head home that I completely forgot to “ring the bell” and made a beeline for my car. My crew, busily eating their chocolates, forgot to remind me as well.
As I pulled up onto our street I saw Jodie chasing a blue balloon across our driveway. I stifled a chuckle and pulled into the driveway. Jodie quickly waved me back onto the street where I parked along the curb. After exiting the car and walking up to the driveway I saw why. She had our friends all write encouraging and uplifting phrases, with chalk, all over the driveway.
“I had planned to tape balloons to the garage door, too, but they kept popping.”, she smiled.
On the garage door she had hung letters that read “We are so proud of you”. After a couple of quick pictures against the sign Ashley and Kaylee ushered me inside.
“Open your gifts dad!”, they said in unison after plopping our new puppy, Maddie, in my lap.
In the first bag were several things, but it was a handmade stuffed orange tiger which I was immediately drawn to. If you don’t know why, I encourage you to read “Calvin and Hobbes”, a popular comic strip of the 80’s and 90’s which I grew up with. Earlier in the week I had hung a Calvin and Hobbes picture over the couch in my home office / fortress of solitude. My mom, unbeknownst to me, sewed me up my own “Hobbes” to accompany the picture. “Hobbes” primed the tears for my next gift.
“Can you read what it says?”, Jodie asked me after I unwrapped it.
It took a box of Kleenex and what seemed like forever before I could get my mouth to cooperate, and what finally came out wasn’t much.
“….I …. I …. really don’t know what to say.”
Jodie and my friends had created a collage. Each picture was a family member or friend holding a word. Together, the words read :
“One step closer to cancer-free! Keep kicking cancer’s butt! We love you and are proud of the strength and humor you have brought to this fight!”
Hours later and I’m still at a loss for words.
Take care. Stay healthy. Live life…. and surround yourself with people that love you.