Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Live Your Life

First off, sorry I haven't posted in awhile. Things have been busy since I returned from Florida last week... mostly because my parents arrived two days later for Easter, which gave me just enough time to stock up on groceries and vacuum the apartment one final time before they got here Wednesday night. It's been great having them here.

Backing up a little... for the most part, Sun 'N Fun, well, Sun 'N Sucked. Early April might seem to be a good time to hold an airshow in central Florida on paper, but in reality it was akin to about the sixth or seventh level of Hell. Which, I might add, will probably wind up being somewhere in Florida (have I mentioned how much I despise this state?) Hot, muggy, bug-infested... mostly mosquitoes the size of AH-64s and caterpillars that resemble angry centipedes. (Or maybe they actually were centipedes... in any case, they love climbing on people as they sit and listen to yet another droning presser.)

A couple of cool things, though: one, I got to fly the StingSport light sport aircraft on a somewhat balmy Wednesday evening. It was only a 45 minute demo flight, but it still represented the first time I've been at the controls of an airplane since last July (just before Oshkosh.) While I was already a Sting fan... it's the most "real" looking of the LSAs available to my eyes... the test flight showed me three things: One, it's not hard to have A LOT of fun in this airplane; Two, boy, is it a lot smaller than a C172; and Three, have I mentioned how much fun it is to toss this plane around the sky?

Something else that was pretty cool, too, was that fellow ANN'er Kevin O'Brien -- call him Hognose, he doesn't mind -- flew in formation with me on a demo flight of his own. He snapped some pretty neat shots, one of which is below.

Oh, and the other cool thing about going to Florida? AirTran's $50 upgrade-to-business-class promotion. I blew $100 of my own money for the luxury of added legroom, a positively cushy chair and free drinks... which I partook of on the flight home. My rationale was, I've just spent eight days in central Florida, I've earned the right to attempt to fry some memory cells. Oh, and the onboard XM radio (at every seat, not just biz class) is a treat, too. If this sounds like an AirTran promotion, it is... this airline really impressed me. Just try to forget that little ValuJet snafu in the Everglades 10 years ago... (AirTran merged with ValuJet in 1997.)

Now, though, I'm back... and reality once again sets in, as it usually does around this part of the month. I had my monthly follow-up appointment on Monday, and I'm waiting for the blood test results now. They should be fine... in fact, everyone -- including my oncologist -- would be surprised if they weren't. In the meantime, those "changes" I alluded to in my last post still have me a little freaked out... OK, a lot freaked out, as my friends Monk and Quinn can attest to.

(A definition of "friendship" you won't find in Websters: those people who listen patiently, over an otherwise normal, friendly, fun dinner at a nice restaurant, about how you're freaked out about how your one remaining testicle is growing bigger... and do so willingly, with no sign of awkwardness.)

I asked Dr. B to examine the... situation... during Monday's appointment. He reiterated that all was normal. Yes, it's gotten bigger -- as he said it would. It's now doing the job for two, after all -- a SuperBall, if you will. But I was still nervous, as he could tell.

"OK, tell you what," Dr. B told me. "I'll write a scrip for you to have it ultrasounded before your next appointment. It will tell us that all is normal."

Dr. B then did something that, in the brief time I've known him, was unusual. His voice -- usually very clipped, very clinical -- got softer. "Robert, you're OK," he said. "I want you to live your life. You're fine... and if you ever aren't, we'll take care of it and THEN you'll be fine."

After the checkup was over, he went out to the waiting area, where my folks were. He introduced himself (he'd already met Mom in February) and then reiterated "your son is fine."

"Whether he thinks so or not," I added shakily.

I guess it's normal to be freaked out... but this has developed into full-blown paranoia, I admit. It's just that after four months... it's finally set in how scary this all has been. In the absence of action -- we're now in "wait and see" mode that will probably never detect anything abnormal again -- my mind is working overtime. Worrying. Obsessing. I have to stop that... I guess I can be comforted by the fact that, yes, it WILL eventually get easier.

It hasn't yet, though... but it will. In the meantime... I have to live my life. And fly more airplanes.

Sunday, April 2, 2006

The Eagle And The Hawk

Another time change, another trip to Florida... this time, I'm heading back to Winter Haven to help cover the "Sun 'N Fun" airshow in neighboring Lakeland, FL, which goes on from April 4th to the 10th. The timeframe isn't the only thing that's kind of weird about this airshow -- which has been accused in the past of several safety oversights and of inflating its attendance numbers to the nth degree (a trend not confined to SnF.)

What promises to make this trip most interesting, though, is that my boss, Jim Campbell, has been the most vocal critic of Sun 'N Fun... to the point that he has been banned from the show grounds for life. The ban doesn't extend to Aero-News staffers, and from what others have told me wearing an ANN shirt does not necessarily mean a bullseye is painted on my back. Still, though, this should be interesting.

To read about the Sun 'N Fun saga, you may begin here.

Apart from that, there really isn't anything new to report. I'm already freaking out a little about my next observation appointment, on the 17th... I guess it's because right now, having just gone through such an ordeal, I'm pretty much looking for constant reassurance that yes, really Rob, you're OK. (Or, conversely... something new has cropped up, but it's good we caught it RIGHT NOW.) Granted, it's unlikely anything significant will suddenly pop up in the four weeks between observation appointments, and even if it does it's very treatable. All looked good on my last appointment, too, at which time my oncologist even bumped off my scheduled CT scan (every other month) from this month to the next.

Still -- my body is still adjusting to its new... equipment complement... and as such, some of those changes take a little getting used to. The doctors have all said this is normal, and it's completely normal for guys to freak out a little when those changes happen, too. At this point, though, I'm going to be paranoid..

The 'rents (and Abby... who was featured in ANN's recent April Fools edition) are coming down from ABQ for Easter, too, which will also help to calm my nerves a little. They'll be here for the next appointment, too.

Having said that, yesterday brought a positive development: I got on my bike, and rode it longer than I think I have in years -- following my friend "Monk" (name has been changed to protect his cushy corporate gig) through the streets of downtown Dallas to help shoot his latest skating project. Ride a little, shoot some video of Monk falling off the board (not always... he's pretty damn good, and a stubborn perfectionist to get the trick exactly right, which is also good), get chased off by security guards and/or city workers, ride some more, repeat. In all, I think we covered about three or four miles, on a circuit from the Farmer's Market, through the Federal District, past the Arts District and through the West End -- areas I'd only driven to/through before.

Being on the bike gave me a new perspective on downtown -- it's very cool to see the skyscrapers from different angles at sidewalk level (especially with the tops of the tallest buildings shrouded in fog off the Trinity) but you're also much closer to the blight that continues to plague the city's downtown area. It was an experience. It was also, again, the most pedalling I've done in years, and my body is feeling it today.

As I now log off to finish packing (and run to Wal-Mart for, of all things, socks) before I head to DFW, I'll wrap this up with the lyrics to one of John Denver's perhaps lesser-known songs, "The Eagle And The Hawk."

Say what you will about his musical style, but Denver had a lock on the mysticism and magic of nature and, I think especially, of flight. An accomplished pilot, Denver was sadly killed in a Long-EZ plane crash several years ago.  Investigators believe he was distracted by switching a nonstandard fuel valve in the airplane (located behind and above him) which he had just purchased, and that caused him to become disoriented.

It's kind of poetic, albeit in a morbid way, that he died doing something he loved, even though the crash was tragic. Most pilots I talk to speak of Denver with something approaching reverence, though... because they feel that Denver got it. This song sums "it" up pretty damn well:

I am the eagle, I live in high country
In rocky cathedrals that reach to the sky
I am the hawk and there’s blood on my feathers
But time is still turning -- they soon will be dry
And all of those who see me, all who believe in me
Share in the freedom I feel when I fly

Come dance with the west wind and touch on the mountain tops
Sail o’er the canyons and up to the stars
And reach for the heavens and hope for the future
And all that we can be and not what we are

Amen, brother...