Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cashing The Karma Check, Hoping The Account Isn't Overdrawn

I live my life in two-month increments -- the amount of time between cancer check-ups. If that sounds bad, consider that it used to be one-month time periods, until this past April when Dr. B put me on a two-month observation plan. The next checkup is coming up June 4th.

The weeks leading up to a clinic visit always slow down. I get little accomplished; I put my life on hold, awaiting word on whether I may continue it or not. After my last checkup -- with the pronouncement that two lymph nodes have shown up on my last two CT scans, although "they're probably nothing to worry about" -- I attacked my life with vigor. I went down to Lakeland, spent time in a helo and a new Cirrus, and looked forward to coming back to Dallas and wrapping up my sport pilot training... knowing I wouldn't have to face potentially bad news for another two months.

Then the plane went down for a week, waiting for a new aileron... and while it was only a week, the down time deflated my sails on the training front. I've flown the SportStar once since then -- 10 times around the pattern at Grand Prairie, to remind myself that, yes, I still know how to fly the plane -- and I planned to do some cross-country flying before heading back to Albuquerque to find a place to live. But I wound up cancelling those flights... because I admit, my heart just isn't in it right now.

What good is accomplishing the cross-countries -- and even taking the written test and passing my checkride -- if June 4 is going to hold bad news? And if that appointment goes well... what about the August CT scan, which will update us on those lymph nodes? Nodes don't just get bigger; they react to something.

There is also a part of me -- that started small, but has grown louder with each passing day -- that feels I used up all my good luck last year, when a similar inflammation proved to be nothing serious -- a determination made following an incredibly painful and evasive lung biopsy. God, please, I don't want to go through that again... but did I use up all my karma last year?

Yeah, I'll admit, right now I'm feeling sorry for myself. This is the other side of living with cancer, one I don't like showing the world at large. But it's a very real part of living with this disease. 

Since the good news last year, I've felt lucky, blessed, and incredibly grateful. I've also felt like I've been wearing a target on my back, waiting for The Next Time something pops up.

How could I have gone undiagnosed for seven weeks following the first signs of "something wrong" in December 2005... and incredibly, have had this voraciously fast-growing cancer confine itself to just that part of my body? That is not logical; it should have popped up somewhere else, as it does for most TC patients.

I can't shake the feeling I'm facing the day of reckoning... if not now, then someday. I hope I'm prepared if that time comes... I suspect I would be, at least, as I've already gone through it twice...

Though at this moment I'd trade almost anything for a cosmic guarantee that I'll never, ever have to face that demon again. No, on second thought... anything.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Choose Your Own Adventure

The move begins. Following a nine-hour drive back from NM Sunday (my 11th time overall making that trip, and second in the Mazda) I rested a bit, and then got started on the task of packing up the past three years of my life. Although I'm not actually leaving until June 30, I figured any head start I get will be appreciated come this time NEXT month, when I hopefully won't have much more to do than throw some last minute items into a box or two. (That approach worked well for the move out to Dallas in July 2004, when I had some boxes packed by the end of April.)

So already, there are no pictures on the walls, no CDs or books in the bookcase, and paper plates and plastic cups in the cupboards. I've thrown out a lot of the sentimental detritus I've hauled with me over the past several years, and donated a bunch of old clothes to Goodwill.

As usually happens when one delves into the remnants of their past, I've also stumbled across some past mementos... inside a box marked "Do Not Open - Storage" that has languished toward the back of several closets over the years. Like a fool, I opened it... and rummaged through its contents.

I came across a creased and torn piece of pink paper, with various typed numbers on it... along with the handwritten "$1988.47." It's the "pink" -- the pay stub -- for a white 1997 Corvette I sold during my time as a salesman at a Chevy dealership in Albuquerque. The first new C5 sold in the entire state, by the way. March 7, 1997.

That moment is as much a "nexus" point in my life, as my first flight on a small plane was over five years later. On the morning of March 7 -- a Friday, and the official rollout date for the new, significantly improved C5 Corvette -- I had walked through the doors of that dealership with every intention of not working that weekend. My struggling career of selling cars was barely two months old, I only had about 20 cars out for that time, and I was already fairly sick of it. I had planned to quit at the end of that day... after giving it one more halfhearted try.

I still remember standing at the receptionists window, talking with another salesman and the aged phone operator, when a sales call came in. "It's another Corvette call," she told Jonas and me. "Who wants it?"

I'm pretty sure both of us rolled our eyes. We'd been getting calls all morning, all of them lookie-loos asking if they could test drive what was apparently the only 6-speed manual 'Vette in all of Albuquerque. "I'll take it," I sighed. I figured I could at least note the call as a phone "up," and keep the sales managers off my back that much longer.

That decision netted me close to $2,000. The call was from a prominent local attorney, who told me he'd be in to look at the car "after I finish up an interview with CNN." Sure, I replied, no problem. "And hey, say "hi" to Wolf Blitzer for me, would you please?" I added, albeit after I hung up the phone.

Turns out, though, he WAS talking to CNN... about a misquoted price for his company's stock that had gone out on the OTC that morning. About an hour later, he called me back... asking if his wife could come by and look at the car. Sure, again, no problem.

I didn't "sell" the Vette, per se. The car sold itself, by merit of its singular manual-transmission status in ABQ. My sales manager --who I'd later follow to a Ford store in Fresno -- conned another $4,000 above sticker price out of him. I just demo'd the car, did the paperwork, and reaped the rewards.

That was the day I decided to stick with car sales a little while longer, too... and I was fairly successful at it, hitting the pavement with renewed vigor, after seeing what was possible. I never made $2,000 on a car again, although I did make over $1,000 on a few used cars, and at least $500 apiece on a pair of Vettes. (I also still remember the car I sold AFTER the Vette, a green Cavalier two-door, to a single mom who desperately needed to get rid of her aging 80s-vintage Corolla. "We'll get this done quick," I told her. "I've already made my money this month." We sold it for just above invoice, and I made a $100 mini on it.)

That decision, in turn, kept me at the dealership long enough for me to meet the woman with whom I'd later move to Fresno, who started work at the dealership later that summer. It also set the chain of events in motion, that led me to where I am now.

I looked upon that pink slip of paper with a mix of pride and despair. I have no regrets about my life today... but I do occasionally lament the twisted, rocky road I took to get here. Still, it's easier to wrap your mind around past events, than contemplating what the future may hold.

I repacked the pink slip in the box, and sealed it tight... destined for the back of yet another closet.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Land Of... Providence?

It's been a nice trip back to New Mexico, surprisingly free of drama and undue angst on the home-finding front. Speaking of which, I have: I found an apartment Monday afternoon, right after I got into town (nothing like slamming down a 680-mile road trip -- less than 24 hours AFTER a marathon skating trip to Austin, a story captured quite eloquently heated discussions and all, here -- AND then searching for a place to live, all on less than four hours of sleep.) It was the second place I looked, though the first I found on the Internet -- CORE Vistas At Seven Bar Loop.

Yes, that's the name of the complex. CORE Vistas, and yes the CORE is supposed to be capitalized. Sounds like a) a mental institution, b) a low-income jobs program, or c) a residential development within walking distance of Three Mile Island. I can't decide which.
In either case, it's a third-story, 911 square foot, two-bedroom (and, unnecessarily, two-bath) apartment with a mountain view (albeit a narrow one, over another apartment building) and washer/dryer hookups, in a gated community, at a decent price. And it took me less than a half-hour to find it. Can't complain. And no, the flowers don't come with the apartment.

As the apartment hunting was eerily simple, that has given me time to get around and see some friends, and reacquaint myself with Albuquerque. I also had the chance Wednesday morning to drive out to Double Eagle II airport, to take a look at the SportStar the FBO out there just purchased. After all... that will be the plane I'll be renting once I'm out here.

Imagine my surprise when I approached the hangar, and saw N819EV with its cowling off -- awaiting its own modified fuel pump, as per the Rotax SB. It was a shock... as this is the same plane I flew last month, down in Kerrville (shown below on the ground at ERV). I have 1.1 hours in my logbook in this same plane, the trip up to Gillespie County Airport and back with Barry Pruitt, Evektor America's technical guy.

That would have been cool enough. Add the fact 819EV has a full glass cockpit, AND autopilot, AND a Garmin 396 with XM Weather and radio... and I think I'm going to have great fun tooling around New Mexico skies in this plane. I'm already plotting my cross country trip to Tucumcari in my mind.

First, though, I have to plot my dual cross country, scheduled for next week in Grand Prairie. This flight has been delayed a few times... but it's on now. I have a renewed sense of commitment to getting my license.

It's really weird how that particular plane ended up in New Mexico...

Monday, May 7, 2007

Living With It

I'd heard the advertisements. I watched Ted Koppel's interview on "The Daily Show." I made a mental note to avoid the Discovery Channel at 7 pm Sunday night, when the three-hour special "Living With Cancer" was scheduled to air.

I don't need to watch a television program on what I already know about.

But last night, when I turned on the television, planning to watch "The Simpsons"... my fingers instead went to Channel 47, and for the next three hours, I watched.

The documentary was a very personal project for Koppel, as it involved his friend Leroy Sievers' journey after being diagnosed with tumors on his brain and lungs, four years after a bout with colorectal cancer in 2002. According to the documentary website, Sievers learned of his recurrence right about the same time I found out about my TC diagnosis.

His case is difficult to watch. Case in point: Koppel shows Sievers undergoing chemo... which is presented in its all its clinical glory. The boredom is the worst part of the actual experience... as for five hours at a time, once every three weeks, Sievers is hooked to the machine dispensing drugs into his system. He maintains his strength throughout the process; the debilitating weakness and nausea comes later. The cameras don't show that.

Sievers was given a death sentence. His doctor flatly says Sievers' cancer will kill him... and later receives some criticism for doing so, although the patient sticks up for his doctor, and his honestly.

Through a combination of chemo and radiation, as well as an untested procedure that involves literally burning off lung tumors, Sievers is tumor-free today. He is not cancer free, as his doctors believe cancer cells are still floating through his system, waiting to attach themselves to another part of his body, and start spreading.

Still, a win is a win... and Sievers realizes it. He is at once incredibly upbeat at his good fortune... and also respectful of the fact it is likely a stall, at best.

I cried three times watching this show... as every fear I've had, every emotion I've experienced since January 24, 2006, was explained and presented, with very little attempt to cover up the insidiousness of this disease. But, at the same time... the program is very hopeful, and is beautifully produced and edited (I know, that's an odd term to use in this context. Watch the program. You'll see what I mean.)

As I watched it, I experienced a sense of well-being and hope very similar to my experience meeting another TC survivor last year. After all, the program is called "Living With Cancer," not "Dying" from it.

I'll probably write about this more... but for now, I encourage everyone to watch this program. Consider it a personal request. It repeats Monday night on Discovery Health, and I imagine Discovery will repeat it quite a bit after that.

It literally shook me to my core, and today I'm still in awe of the emotions it forced me to confront. And that's a good thing.

(Photo by Tyrone Turner)

Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Thing We Do Not Talk About

Well, Friday night, I took the first real steps towards moving in July. Raided my closet and drawers, throwing old clothes into one of two bags -- either heading for the trash, or Goodwill. Sigh.

Actually, my "first" real step towards moving came earlier this month, when I included my "intent to vacate" letter with my apartment rent for May.

A lot more is coming. I head back to ABQ on the 14th to sign on an apartment... still not sure where, per se, although odds are it will be somewhere on the Westside. I'm oddly unfazed that I still don't have a place to live; I figure that if I was able to find a decent apartment in Dallas in one weekend trip, I can do the same in ABQ, a place I'm a lot more familiar with.


Other news... the SportStar lives! Evidently the damage was either repairable, or not so bad the plane can't be flown safely. I have it scheduled for Sunday morning -- just a few touch-and-goes, to get a feel for it again -- though the weather is supposed to be crappy, as it's been the past five days.

(Did I mention how beautiful the weather was last weekend, when the plane was down? Three consecutive days, Friday thru Sunday, of light winds and clear skies. Perfect weather to wrap up a few cross-country flights. Sigh, again.)

Heading out tonight to watch Monk play with his band. Kinda ironic, it's taken this long for me to make it to Deep Ellum... and, to see him perform. He's a drummer... in a Latin-themed rock band. Should be interesting.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


Yikes... what a couple of weeks. A brief update:
  • My grandmother is now in assisted living... and hates it, calls it the worst decision she's ever made, and all-but-screams her family talked her into it against her will. She is used to a two-story duplex; she's now in a studio apartment. I can understand her feelings, really... but she needed to move to a place that had help readily available, and DIDN'T have rickety stairs.
Sadly, the situation has also devolved into a classic Family vs. Family power play... with my aunt's husband attempting to assert control over the situation, most recently by flatly turning down a cash offer my grandmother had for her 1989 Cavalier, telling the interested buyer he was her "executor." Sigh.
  • I'm still recovering from Sun 'N Fun. The single coolest part of the show came the Sunday morning before I returned home... when I was able to snag a demo flight of a Cirrus SR22 Generation 3 aircraft. Beautiful plane... beautiful flying characteristics... an absolute joy to fly. There's something about a 310-hp motor (over three times the giddyup of the SportStar's Rotax) powering a four-seat, leather-lined, glass-cockpit, parachute-equipped, composite-bodied uberplane. I loved it. I didn't want to let it go. I almost threw the keys into the Florida marshland after the 45-minute flight, loudly proclaiming "If I can't have it, no one can!!!!"

Now I just need to come up with $555,000 to buy it, and get a year's training. I want to be rich. I hear it's awesome.
  • Speaking of the SportStar... I was supposed to go on my dual-and-solo-cross countries last weekend, the first time I was to be at the controls of 6EV since the week before Sun 'N Fun. Alas, what goes up, must come down... sometimes scrapping a wing in the process. Someone bent my plane last week, apparently over-compensating on a crosswind landing. I saw the damage Friday... scraped wingtip, bent aileron, and a few wrinkles in the wing skin. I'm waiting to hear on how bad the damage is... and how that may affect my plans to wrap up the license before I move back to ABQ.

  • In better news, the Evektor folks tell me a flight school based at Double Eagle II now has a SportStar. Ironically enough, Bode bought the plane after their original high-wing LSA got bent in a hard landing. Weird.

  • With the dawn of the new month, I need to start getting serious about moving -- pretty much the only time I'll have to do it will be early July, before Arlington and Oshkosh. I have yet to sign for an apartment... looking at two, one of which sounds REALLY nice. One bedroom loft, on ABQ's Westside, just up the road from a complex I lived in back in 1999-2000. It's cheap, too... barely more than what I'm spending here now.

  • Last Friday, I went out with Shoe, Lee, and another former coworker Dennis to Lower Greenville... the first time I'd been back there in awhile. Did the Crow thing, then had dinner at a new jazz/seafood place that opened where another old haunt, Nero's, used to be. Not bad -- tried alligator cheesecake for the first time -- but horribly pricey: $17 for Fried Shrimp. (If you are gonna spend $17 for shrimp, though, I have to admit this place was a good joint to do it.)
Earlier in the evening, as I listened to Dave and Lee talking about logistics and trucking... my gaze wandered to the bar at The Old Crow. I probably stared at it for a full minute, at least.
"This place has so many memories," I later told Lee. And it does... so does Dallas. Hard to believe it's only been three years... and I admit, there are times I'm having a rough time leaving it behind.