Saturday, December 30, 2006

What The...?

This was the picture that greeted me as I woke up this morning:

Are you ready for 15 inches of snow, up here in Enchanted Hills? Across town, they recorded over 20 inches.

I'm happy I was able to witness a real, live snowstorm in New Mexico, before I head back to Dallas. The storm will delay my trip back by at least a day, now set for Monday... which means I won't be able to spend New Years Eve with my friends Monk and Quinn, for the first time in FOUR YEARS. On the flip side... another day to spend with family, yay.

It's been a good trip. I've spent a lot of time with my folks -- although much of it has been spent with me typing on the computer, finishing up End-Of-Year preparations for Aero-News. I was also able to secure a tour of Eclipse Aviation's facilities around the Sunport. I took Mom with me. She loved it... and got to see a little of what her little boy does for a living.

I've also gotten to see all my friends back here, and actually spend meaningful time with them. Well, except for one: the snow Friday kept me from having lunch with my friend Sebastian, who flies for America West. As I just saw him last month out in Dallas, that wasn't too bad... but we were supposed to meet at Sadie's, that most quintessential of all New Mexican restaurants. 
Rats. No green chile fix again.

Other news... I called ahead this week to get the results of my CT scan, the first one since the lung scare. All was normal. Phew.

Need I say I hope this year is a bit better than the last one? At least 2006 is ending on a positive note.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Devil's Car?

It hit me yesterday, when I called the local Mazda store to make a service appointment for the New Car. The 'Check Engine' light has taken to flashing when it's cold outside... totally unacceptable in a car with only 3,700 miles on it.

"What year is your car?" 2006

"Make?" Mazda, duh. I'm calling a Mazda service department because I hear you guys do great work on Lexuses, and all that lush carpeting, leather furniture and free champagne in their service departments all struck me as a bit gauche. I want Formica and laminate tile, damn it!

"Model?" 6. That's either a really cool name for a car, or a really stupid one. Haven't decided which. (An entirely new post could be devoted to 'remember when cars had actual names?' Technically, it's referred to as a "Mazda6," one word. Which is even cooler. Or dumber.)

"Engine?" V6.

A pause. "That's a lot of sixes," the advisor says with a laugh.

I'd never really thought about it... but yeah, three sixes, all in a row. Cue ominous music. I silently begged the advisor to ask what kind of transmission it has, so I could emphatically shout "6-speed automatic! Yeah! FOUR sixes! The Curse is lifted!"

Actually, I find this entire exchange highly ironic. For starters, I don't buy into the whole "Devil's Number" thing... although I do suspect George W. is the Antichrist (although I would think Satan would have picked someone smarter. And more likable. And did I mention smarter?)

I've also referred to the 6 as something of a good luck charm -- only partly joking -- because the news on the medical front started getting better as soon as I got it. I know there aren't really such things as "good luck charms" and omens, but still... I got the same feeling when, after I got home from a doc appointment back in early October (I've forgotten which doctor it was) I heard an odd sound overhead. I looked up just as a Piaggio Avanti came buzzing overhead, to land at Addison. I was heartened by the sight, and took it as a positive sign. And as far as I know, it worked.

I've taken to looking for signs. No, that's not quite right. I'm SEEING signs everywhere... and they're making me feel very hopeful.

And as for owning the Devil's Car? Well, the devil you know...

Thursday, December 7, 2006

I Wish The Weather, And NASA, Would Make Up Their Minds

Just a quick post as I listen to the NASA TV broadcast of the countdown for the launch of the shuttle Discovery, in about 45 minutes from now. Contrary to the best guesses of nearly everyone, the clouds and winds that have plagued the Kennedy Space Center all day appear to be lifting.

As a reporter and a space fan I'm happy to see it... I can't begin to say how juiced I get watching these launches... but as a TIRED reporter, I was kinda hoping to put this story to bed hours ago with the headline "NASA Delays Discovery Launch Due To Clouds, Rain". Instead, I'm providing ANN REALTIME UPDATES on a launch that appears will actually happen (now in 40 minutes... it took me five minutes to type one three-sentence paragraph?)

I promised an AOPA Expo update in my last post. In an odd bit of kismet... and a stroke of timing... just as I had recovered from the biopsy, my boss went down with the worst case of the flu I have ever seen (him too.) That meant he couldn't attend AOPA Expo... meaning the entire three-day affair was The Rob Show, assisted by His Merry Band Of Aero-Fools.

And it went... well. I had great writers (one of which has since been let go... drat) and I also put in three days of solid work, both in writing and in managing a six-person staff. Everyone had nice things to say about the job I did. I also had the chance to speak with some big names in the industry, most notably AOPA president Phil Boyer.

I also did an extended audio interview with Alan Klapmeier, the very affable co-founder of Cirrus Design. The topic of the interview was safety... but he started out by telling me how his father had suffered a bout of histoplasmosis, as well, about 10 years ago. How we got on that subject is another story.

Something I noticed... last year, AOPA was the second event I covered after just being hired F/T by ANN. Being the staff newbie in more ways than one, I spent most of that show being told what to do, and looking up at the grown-ups Who Knew So Much More Than I Did. This year... I wasn't looking up to them. I was looking them in the eye, asking questions that I expected answers to. It was an awesome experience.

(Rats! The weather just tanked at KSC once again... this is gonna come down to the wire.)
I'd better get back to work... one way or another, I'll need to do a lot of fast writing in the next few minutes.

(Photo courtesy of NASA)

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand, Six Hundred Minutes

"525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes -- how do you measure, measure a year?
"In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee.
"In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
"In 525,600 minutes -- how do you measure a year in the life?" -- from "Rent"

One year ago today, just after noon Central time, my life changed forever. I didn't really know it at the time... but I kind of did, too. That lingering voice that tells you, "your worst fear is no longer what you thought it was."

A year ago today, just after talking on the phone with an acquaintance in New Mexico, I took a shower... and noticed something wrong "down there." The actual diagnosis would follow six weeks later, after I'd made one trip back to Omaha, two trips to Albuquerque, and had two different doctors say it was probably nothing to worry about.

But one year ago today, the first evidence presented itself that I had testicular cancer.

You could give me nothing that would make me want to relive the last 365 days. Nothing. I wish every day I hadn't gone through it, and that I didn't have to face the uncertainty for the rest of my life that something may crop up yet again. Yeah, I know the odds of that are about the same as they are for everyone else out there... but I've gone through it already, and I have to face the question "what if it comes back?" every month as I get another x-ray or CT scan, and have to hear the results from Dr. B.

If this sounds pitying, it's not meant to. It's meant to sound angry. Pissed. Resentful. But at the same time, I also want to rub the devil's nose in it. You tried to scare me, and succeeded. But I'm still here, and everyone tells me I'm healthy. For two days out of every month, I'm scared... but I do all I can to live my life as usual for the other 28 (or 29... or 26 in February, except on leap years...)

The past three months, in particular, made me question a lot in my life... including the very question of whether I wanted to continue on this path, period. The uncertainty and fear from the news "we see something on your lung" made me feel every emotion under the sun... and for every moment I felt confident, there are three where I wallowed in fear and self-doubt.

But I still woke up every day, I still did my job, and I still managed to laugh at jokes and cry for reasons other than my own situation. There is a victory in that, a big one. And without realizing it, somewhere along the line I think I grew up a lot more than I ever had before.

"I was scared, not only because of what you were facing, but also I was scared how you'd handle it," my friend Lee told me this weekend. "You'd call and sound so depressed, and then I wouldn't hear from you for days... but just when I would say that I was going to find a reason to be in your neighborhood, just so I could drop by and check on you... you'd call to let me know the latest. And you always sounded stronger."

"I've seen how you've handled adversity in the past," Lee said. "Not very well." (OK, so there was that ONE time he rescued me from Fresno... and he's also seen me in the aftermath of three other breakups... yeah, he has a point.) "But this time you faced it, and you handled yourself very well."

That floored me... but not as much as something my Mom told me, the night before she went back home last month.

I didn't want Mom to go back home, but I knew there was really no reason for her to stay here. I was recovering from the biopsy well, the incisions were healing nicely, and I was due to go to Palm Springs in the next week.

But for the moment, I was little Robbie Finfrock again, who didn't want his mommy to leave him at kindergarten alone with the other kids. This time around, I wasn't crying... on the outside, anyway... but I also felt less than confident I could resume life as normal.

I will never forget what my Mom told me, as I grabbed a drink from the refrigerator while pretending to be a lot more self-assured than I really felt.

"You're my hero."

She could tell I was about to question her by the look in my eyes. "Throughout all of this, I know you've been scared. I know there were times you cursed God, and felt sorry for yourself, and felt so depressed you wondered why you should go on. But you've also shown how strong you can be. You have handled all of this so well, Rob... better than I ever could have. I'm so proud of you... and you're my hero."

I don't think I'll ever be able to tell that story... or type it on a computer screen... without my eyes welling up. They are now. Both of my parents have never failed to be supportive of me, to be there for me. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to say that.

And I know that, had I gotten cancer two years ago... I don't think I would have been able to handle it the same way as those around me say I have handled it now. The same way I know I've handled it today.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes ago... my life changed forever. And in the minutes since, I proved to myself... and to those I love... that I could handle it.