My father-in-law, Bert, passed away last month. When my wife, Jodie, posted a eulogy on Facebook she referred to her dad as “a character”. Her assessment of him was quickly confirmed in a flurry of responses, thumbs up, and heart emojis, making it, in the day and age of social media, absolutely correct. Bert was a character and the truth is, as much of a pain-in-the-ass he was, I miss him. He drove me nuts but made me smile, too.
Being such a character I always felt Bert was ripe for inclusion in one of my comic strips, however I was always hesitant to draw him ( strip him? ) lest I offend him. When I did, I was always very careful and made sure my drawings pass the appropriate “censors”, mainly my wife and sister-in-law, Jayme.
I’d like to dedicate this series of strips to my father-in-law, Bert. They take place a long time ago in a memory not so far from my heart – about a month after I met a beautiful young college student named Jodie Fagan.
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!
“Dad! Can we do an Easter Egg Hunt on Minecraft?”, my oldest daughter, Ashley, asked me.
In years past we would go to the Westwood Club, our community center, for an annual Easter Egg Hunt with our friends and neighbors. However this year, due to social distancing restrictions enacted to slow the Coronavirus, the community center would be closed and the Easter Egg Hunt, cancelled.
“That is a great – wait, no, fantastic idea!”, I told her excitedly, “Let’s do it!”
So, during the week leading up to Easter Sunday we created a Minecraft World, populated it with a bunch of colorful “eggs” ( we substituted in-game colored wool blocks ), and scheduled a Zoom teleconference so that the participants could talk.
We kept the rule simple.
Each participant would be provided a “basket” ( an in-game chest ) that would reside in the starting area.
Each basket would contain tools ( a pickaxe and shears ) which would allow the participant to “mine” the eggs.
A hunt would last 15 minutes.
During the hunt each participant would have to find and mine as many eggs as they could and return them to their basket before time ran out. Only eggs inside the basket at the end of the hunt would be tallied.
And most importantly, the participant with the most eggs wins.
For each hunt we also hid a special “golden egg” ( an in-game gold block ) which would be worth ten regular eggs.
To get by Minecraft’s 8-player limit we would hold two hunts. The first would be for the older kids who would re-hide the eggs for the second hunt, which would be for the younger kids.
The hunt had it’s hiccups, but everyone seemed to have a good time. Hopefully next year we’ll be able to once again meet up with our friends and neighbors at the community center for a real, in-person Easter Egg Hunt, but desperate times call for desperate measures and this measure, in my humble opinion, wasn’t so much desperate as it was fun.
Take care. Stay healthy. Live life. And stay safe everyone.
Sexy, right? Amazon sells a model with a larger pill capacity but this one screams “minimalist and sleek” to me. Why a pill box? Because my medications keep increasing in number and complexity. As food can have a big effect on how a medication is absorbed in your body, it’s important to take some medications based around meals. The most logical way to do this is to organize pills by mealtime in cute, colorful, OCD-inducing plastic boxes.
This week is Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving, as everyone knows, is a time to reconnect with family and friends by filling your plate with food and then sitting down at the dinner table to compare illnesses.
Up until this year I’ve been the underdog in these conversations. However, this year is different! This year I get to slap my new pill box down and insert myself into the conversation with gusto! Maybe I’ll even raise the ante a bit and sneak a couple of placebo pills in as well!
Honestly, it’s a little disconcerting. In less than 6 months I’ve gone from no medications at all to enough to require, well, a pill organizer. My friend, Missy pointed out that it’s not forever. Retired from the Navy she used deployments as an analogy. She told me, “Deployments take two years. They suck, but in the end you get to come home and return to your normal life.” Coincidentally, my friend Pat who also has prostate cancer just ended his “deployment” and is doing great after concluding two years of treatments.
So, what goes into my pillbox?
The latest medication is Zytiga. Zytiga is used to treat aggressive prostate cancer, like mine. It along with Prednisone and the Firmagon shots that I started last week, complete the hormone therapy cocktail prescribed to me by my oncologist, Dr. Stewart. Dr. Stewart told me that Zytiga stops my adrenal glands from producing testosterone. If you remember from my prior post, testosterone feeds prostate cancer. Without testosterone the cancer should stop metastasizing and shrink. Zytiga is just another way of crimping the fuel line. One of the side effects of Zytiga is that it lowers the amount of cortisol produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol, known as the “stress hormone” helps regulate blood pressure, metabolism, and stress levels. Sounds important, right? The Prednisone is a synthetic cortisol to replace what is lost when taking Zytiga. I also need to take vitamin supplements such as calcium to maintain bone density and prevent muscle loss. Zytiga can also cause high blood pressure and liver problems. While taking it I will need to monitor my blood pressure daily and have blood drawn every two weeks to check my liver function.
Oh, and Zytiga costs $10,000 per month.
Yes, the zeros are in the right place. That’s roughly $160 per pill. I take two pills per night. My prostate cancer cells apparently have very very exquisite tastes. In retrospect maybe I should have bought a pill box with a padlock…
Zytiga isn’t even a cure for prostate cancer – it’s a treatment.
I wish I could peg the blame solely on some greedy pharmaceutical executive somewhere pricing these things. In reality, I know that the truth is a lot more complicated than that. Zytiga, being approved in 2011, is a relatively new medication. Newer medications can take up to a decade and well over a billion dollars to get approved. Of all potential candidates only 10% are ever approved by the Food and Drug Administration ( FDA ) for the market. That’s a lot of money and a lot of risk.
Thankfully, my health insurance helps a lot with the costs. I now understand why insurance rates increase annually as treatments like this skyrocket in price. No, it’s not okay and it’s definitely not sustainable but I’m at a loss how to fix the problem.
Fortunately, there are people smarter than me working on solutions.
Last night after I choked down my jagged little pills Jodie showed me a study that she had found with an innovative solution for cutting costs. Earlier I mentioned how some medications are absorbed differently based upon what they are taken with. Zytiga, for this reason, is taken on an empty stomach. The study found that if Zytiga were instead taken with food, the dosage could be halved and have the same overall effect. At $160 per pill the study estimated that the savings per patient were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Although the study hasn’t been clinically approved it is refreshing and a step in the right direction.
Take care. Stay healthy. Live life. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!