Author Archives: Larry

Everyday Is A Miracle

Aloha All,

On Saturday, July 25, Bobbie and I attended our first Bone Marrow Transplant at Stanford University Hospital. Once you pass the one year mark, you are eligible to attend the annual event, held each July. Our son James attended this awesome event and videoed the speech I gave at the event. Unfortunately, the file is quite large and I’m having technical difficulty uploading it to the site. I’ll do my best to work through these difficulties this week, but in the meantime I’m going to post the text of the speech. I’ll also try to post it on my Embracing Cancer – Embracing Life, Facebook page as well. I hope you enjoy it.

Albert Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.” Now I’ll admit that I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, as a matter of fact, if Einstein is the machete, then I’m the push broom, but I’m sharp enough to know that he was making the case for living life as though everything is a miracle.

I’ll confess to being about 60 years late to the party, but being diagnosed with cancer changed everything. Today, I stand here in full acknowledgement and acceptance that every breath I take is a miracle. My transformation began the moment I heard those three little words most of us gathered here today have heard. You – Have – Cancer! Looking back, I find it so ironic that it took being given an expiration date for me to finally wake up and notice that everything and everyone…including me is a miracle.

That amazing transformation continued through an unknown number of needle pokes and doctor visits, trips into operating rooms from sea to shining sea, an ambulance ride on the country’s bumpiest dirt road and countless hours watching chemo drugs drip, drip, drip into my chest. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? There were times when I wondered what possible purpose all of these little inconveniences might have. Now of course I know…it was to get me ready for the Bone Marrow Transplant!

Today, 18 months later, the transformation continues unabated. Each day I discover new ways to share my love of life with others and realize, more and more, just how beautiful the people around me are. Einstein was right, everything is a miracle. Thank you.

The Six Things You Must Do NOW When Diagnosed With Cancer

Your Must Do List

  • Get a second opinion.
  • Tell your family, friends and work associates about your illness.
  • Build a, “Go-To-Group”.
  • Prepare for battle.
  • Look for clinical trials.
  • Embrace your cancer.

The list isn’t very long, is it? Just six items on a list that I’ve created especially for you. Oh, I’m so tempted to make the list a little longer of course, but hopefully, once you’ve completed these six, you’ll have time to work on those things. Each entry, along with those not found here, are the pieces of a puzzle that, when placed together, complete a map that will guide you to that state of gratitude and joy that I mention over and again in the book, Embracing Cancer – Embracing Life.

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you must set your sights on these six items and complete all of them as quickly as possible. If you were previously diagnosed and are currently in remission, or have been cured, (cancer-speak for in remission) your family and friends should already have an intimate knowledge of your cancer and condition, if not, start talking about it now. You need to keep your, Go-To-Group primed for a call if you need them. Cancer doesn’t always come back, but sometimes it does, so you should keep yourself prepared for battle and keep abreast of the latest trials being conducted for your cancer.

If you’ve never been diagnosed, hopefully you’ll stay that way, but since there is about a 40% chance that you will be, you should concentrate on the fourth item on the list and get daily exercise and eat as healthfully as you possibly can. If you smoke, it’s a good time to stop.

Each week for at least the next six weeks, starting at the top of that list of six, I’m going to post excerpts from the chapter in my book that delves into that particular item on the list. This week will be, “Get a second opinion,” followed by, “Tell your family,” next week and so on down the line. These chapters contain information on exactly what steps forward you’ll want to take and why. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much, so I may decide to separate a chapter into two or more segments where I feel it’s necessary.

At this point you can click on The Book tab and start reading. Please leave a comment if you’d like, Bobbie and I love to read them. My heart is with you.

The (Second) Battle Between David and Goliath: The Times May Have Changed – But The Result Hasn’t – Part II

If you haven’t stopped by in the last few couple of days, you may want to read the previous post, so that all this makes sense.

On May 18, 2013, I was released from the hospital after my first round of chemotherapy. It was an exhilarating time.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sportscaster Bob Costas speaking to you from inside the Moanalua (Medical) Center:

Bob Costas: “Ladies and gentlemen, this week we have witnessed a tremendous battle of what I’ll call determination versus inevitability. Yes…and this time somehow, someway, the challenger, Larry, who I’ll refer to as “determination” found a way to pull out a victory… and regardless of how brief the celebration may be…it is a victory nonetheless. Overcoming the natural advantages our champion, Mantle Cell Lymphoma, brings to every match, Larry battled toe-to-toe for five days and five nights, until MCL threw his gloves up in disgust screaming “No Mas” and left the ring (hospital bed). Oh…don’t misunderstand me, we have a long, long way to go; after all this was just the eighth round of a scheduled fifteen rounder, but if this is how Larry intends to fight MCL from this point forward, you might want to put down that remote control and grab yourself some popcorn. For more insight and a little perspective, let’s go down to ringside (bedside) to our own Larry Merchant and Charles Barkley…Gentlemen.”

Larry Merchant: “Thank you Bob…Larry Merchant here, along with my Hall of Fame partner Charles Barkley…well, what more can I add? As you know, pre-fight, I predicted that the champ, after toying with our challenger for the first seven rounds, would finally knock Larry out for the count…hang him out to dry, like wet bed sheets on a Kansas clothesline. Frankly, Larry didn’t look good heading into this one…his recent weight loss, along with the pounding he’s taken in previous rounds…added up to disaster in my mind…Charles what’s your take on this astonishing turn of events?”

Charles Barkley: Oh, my, my, my! Larry, did you see the way MCL…sounds like a rapper name don’ it? left the ring…like a little crybaby! Like a little crybaby! Throws up his hands and yells “no mas”; hell, you don’t see no champion act like that…no way! And Larry, good god almighty…did you see that boy? The look on his face? I’m tellin’ you right here and now…this one’s going the distance…all the way, baby. Look, hear me out…I’ll tell you what turned the tide on this one; it’s his tag team partner…that made this one happen. Ain’t no way that bruised and battered boy do that on his lonesome…no way. His partner, Kemosabay…no…Aromatherapy…no that’s not it…oh yeah, I remember Chemotherapy! Chemotherapy! Larry got no answers ’til Chemotherapy comes to town. Now it’s a fight…we got us a fight!”

Larry Merchant: “Agreed, Charles…I could actually see the tumors and cancerous lymph nodes melting away…quite amazing. Charles, let’s recap the fight…round by round so far. In round one, back in 2009, it seemed like our challenger had a fair chance of holding his own against the champion. Charles what’s your assessment?”

Charles: “Well, I couldn’t agree more…he was in great shape coming in…with all that runnin’ and water workouts, it looked to me like Larry was up to the task, but then slowly, oh, so slowly…he began to wear down, as the champ just delivered one body blow after another.”

Larry: “In round two our challenger added a new tool to his arsenal…acupuncture.”

Charles: “Right…right! Looked good too. It definitely, revived him for a while…but, ha, ha, ha, sorry about the laugh, but come on, admit it…it was kinda funny seeing him bein’ chased around the ring by MCL! I’m right, you know I am.”

Larry (smiling): “Charles you got a way with words…brother. Now, in round three, Larry adds Chinese herbs to the mix and gets MCL stepping back a little. What about that?”

Charles: “Damn…that surprised the hell outta me…really did! Who woulda’ thought some little herbs would whack MCL upside the head? Nobody…nobody. But it did give Larry a little time to regroup and get ready for the rounds ahead…no doubt about that.”

Larry: “In round four, the champ had Larry on the ropes with his new weapon…h.pylori. In my opinion that was a devastating blow. Charles?”

Charles: “Jez’ you kidding me?…That nearly killed him! Did you see that dude rolling around on the floor? I jus’ couldn’t watch…I tell you, I had to avert my eyes. Damn, he lost so much weight a decent trade-wind woulda’ blown his ass all the way to the mainland! No kiddin’!”

Larry (clearing his throat):
“Charles, round five was incredible for two reasons, first the mere fact that Larry survived the relentless onslaught and then secondly, the way he came back to even things up.”

Charles (raising his eyebrows at Larry Merchant): “You, jokin’ right? You really think he made a comeback? No…not really. Look, that beat-down MCL gave him was just horrifying…he lost two feet of his small intestine and a third of his freakin’ colon! You ain’t never goin’ climb outta bed after that crap and think it’s business as usual. Ain’t no way that go’na happen. Ain’t no one got time fo’ that! I tell ya’, ain’t no one got time fo’ that.”

Larry: “Charles I think you’re on to something. So, in your opinion Larry never fully recovered from that fifth round beating?”

Charles: “Like I said, ‘Ain’t no one got time fo’ that.”

Larry: “Right. Let’s recap round six for a moment. Charles you must admit Larry looked pretty good in round six? He was on his feet the entire round…moving good in the ring, making the champ chase him.”

Charles: “Yeah, ha ha, thank the good lord he didn’ catch him…that’s all I can say. Oh, my god, he looked like a chicken bein’ cornered by a fox in the hen house! Larry, just never got back after the surgery…he looked healthy…kinda’, but he was running ’cause he had no game at that point. I half expected him to sit in his corner and ask for a cool pop. Actually, I crack myself up.”

Larry: “Okay, now for round seven. The challenger goes into the Cooley-Dickinson (Medical) Center to meet the champ in this one. Charles how did that one look to you?”

Charles: “It was jus’ pathetic! Right out’ the bell, he goes face down…what was that…a single belly jab?”

Larry: “Actually, it was a perforated stomach ulcer,”

Charles: “Whatever…he just laid there not talkin’…hell, hardly breathin’…what kinda’ entertainment value you got there? Still, I suppose we should give him some props for getting off the mat and making it through. All I can say is I thought it was pretty much all over at that point; so to see him come back in round eight like he did surprised the heck outa’ me…really did.”

Larry: “Okay, well that’s all from here Bob…back to you.”

Bob Costas: “Thank you Larry and thank you Sir Charles…we all love to hear reality according to Sir Charles. Well, that’s going to do it for us tonight; an exciting one it has been, as David slays Goliath in a battle of life and death. Be sure to join us next month when once again these two battle from Moanalua Center. Until then…good night and Aloha.”

The (Second) Battle Between David and Goliath: The Times May Have Changed – But The Result Hasn’t – Part I

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Chemotherapy Round 1: A Selfie On Day Three, May 15, 2013

While I apologize for the long pause between posts, it just couldn’t be helped. Simply put, it was much more important that I spend as much time as possible writing my book, Embracing Cancer–Embracing Life, rather than taking a day, or more, each week creating a blog post. It was actually a fairly easy choice to make, because, although the blog will provide useful insight and entertaining stories, my book will provide guidance and comfort to those living with cancer, as well as, to their families, close friends and loved ones as they continue their journey.

Now that the book is completed (it’s currently being edited and tentatively scheduled for an October publication date), I can pick-up where I left off with the blog. Each week or, perhaps more often, you’ll find a new post on this site (www.embracingcancer-embracinglife.com), which I trust will challenge your concepts of what is and what can be. I hope you’ll become emotionally caught up as you read tales of my harrowing and magnificent journey with cancer and be profoundly strengthened in your connection to your spirit-self. My journey has done all of these things for me, I truly hope it will have a similar effect on you.

So let’s begin anew with the first email I sent to my friends and family following my very first round of chemotherapy in May of 2013. My body’s reaction to the chemotherapy drugs was nothing short of amazing, literally millions of Mantle Cell Lymphoma Cancer Cells were killed, hour-after-hour. Each morning in the hospital, I would walk into the bathroom to shower rolling my IV pole behind me. I’d look into the mirror and be astonished at the changes that had taken place overnight!

After I was released from the hospital, I found myself lying in bed at night thinking about how best to describe, to those on my email list, exactly how I was feeling. Then, out of the blue, it hit me; since most everyone refers to those with cancer as, “fighting or battling,” why not write a synopsis of that battle, both past and present, using television sportscasters to describe the action and giving their assessment of my chances of survival.

You might notice something interesting, I do not speak a single word in this email, I let the sportscasters do all of the talking. I wanted those who read the email to recognize that physically I was doing fantastically well, through the fictional words of three of the greatest commentators who have ever lived, and to look beyond those words to discover how I was doing emotionally and spiritually. Judging from the many responses I received in the days following, I hit the nail on the head. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sportscaster Bob Costas reporting from inside the Moanalua (Medical) Center:

Bob Costas: “Ladies and gentlemen, this week we have witnessed a tremendous battle of what I’ll call determination versus inevitability. Yes…and this time somehow, someway, the challenger, Larry, who I’ll refer to as “determination” found a way to pull out a victory…and regardless of how brief the celebration may be, it is a victory nonetheless. Overcoming the natural advantages that our champion, Mantle Cell Lymphoma, brings to every match, Larry battled toe-to-toe for five days and five nights, until MCL threw his gloves up in disgust screaming “No Mas” and left the ring (hospital bed). Oh, don’t misunderstand me, we have a long, long way to go, after all, thiswas just the eighth round of a scheduled fifteen rounder, but if this is how Larry intends to fight MCL from this point forward, you might want to put down that remote control and grab yourself some popcorn. For more insight and a little perspective, let’s go down to ringside (bedside) to our own Larry Merchant and Charles Barkley…Gentlemen.”

Larry Merchant: “Thank you Bob…Larry Merchant here, along with my Hall of Fame partner Charles Barkley…well, what more can I add?  As you know, pre-fight, I predicted that the champ, after toying with our challenger for the first seven rounds, would finally knock Larry out for the count…hang him out to dry, like wet bed sheets on a Kansas clothesline.  Frankly, Larry didn’t look good heading into this one…his recent weight loss, along with the pounding he’s taken in previous rounds, added up to disaster in my mind. Charles what’s your take on this astonishing turn of events?”

Charles Barkley:  Oh, my, my, my!

 

(Click back on Saturday, June 6th, for the rest of the story)

 

One Year Cancer Free! Lucky Break, Good Fortune, Or A Miracle…Let’s Try Preparedness Meeting Opportunity

You don’t know how many people have asked me how I’ve been able to do “it”.  The “it” being my “ability” to battle an incurable lymphoma to a draw for now more than five years.  Well, at this point I’m willing to admit that it’s much more than a draw, it’s a clear victory for sure!  Yes, it’s quite likely that one day my Mantle Cell Lymphoma will return, angry and seeking revenge for the beat down I gave it nearly all of 2013 and into 2014 as well, but for now I’ll choose to bask in the knowledge that I’m living a cancer free life when many were telling me I wouldn’t even be here.

Today, I want to talk a bit about how I managed to pull off this improbable feat.  Yes, it took some luck, a smidgeon of good fortune and a miracle…scientific that is; but there was significantly more involved in the winning of the war against this, take-no-prisoners, illness; I’ll call it, preparedness meeting opportunity.   By all rights, I should have died in the winter or early spring of 2011, when both a severe outbreak of h.pylori and an intussusception of the small intestine that led to a loss of more than thirty-five pounds, and ultimately, the loss of 2-3 feet of my small intestine and my entire ascending colon.

H.pylori is a bacteria that lives within the digestive tract, unbeknownst to its host…you or, in this case, me.  It’s been suggested that more than 30% of all Americans have h.pylori and are completely unaware of that fact.  An intussusception is a telescoping of a section of the small intestine or the colon, causing a blockage that prevents digesting food from continuing its journey to a sewage treatment plant or septic tank near you.

In my case, I ended up in an operating room.  Those that were there that afternoon will tell you, I entered the operating room with a smile on my face and joy in my heart and woke up in the recovery room in much the same way a few hours later.  I was released from the hospital days ahead of schedule and back exercising, albeit rather slowly, within a few days.  There were several reasons for my speedy recovery; having the best cancer surgeon on the island sure helped, I had great nurses during my stay in the hospital and a wonderful Caregiver waiting for me at home.  But beyond that, it was preparedness meeting opportunity that saw me through.

While in Massachusetts in November, 2012, I suffered a perforated stomach ulcer that was so painful, I thought sure I was dying.  I was so convinced that death was at hand, that I told Bobbie in a weak, croaking voice to tell the kids and my siblings that I loved them.   Again I found myself on a gurney, being pushed into an operating room.  I joked with the operating team, with not a fear or trepidation, as they prepared for surgery and I awoke with a smile on my face and a joyful heart…and a plastic tube up my nose.  Again, when I arrived back on the island, I went back to exercising, rather gingerly at first, but exercising none the less.  As with the earlier surgery, I had a great surgeon and operating team, great nurses and a fabulous Caregiver, but it was preparedness meeting opportunity that won the day.

In April, 2013, I once again found myself in an operating room, this time for a surgery on my neck that would result in the harvesting of the cancerous lymph nodes that surrounded my jugular vein on the right side of my throat.  The actively dividing cancer cells in those lymph nodes were isolated from the remainder of the tissue and allowed to grow and divide in a laboratory dish prior to being irradiated and frozen, all in preparation for five vaccine injections I would receive in the fall and winter.  Just before I was wheeled into the operating room, the anesthesiologist asked if I’d like a little something to mellow me out, but I shook my head, “I want to take in every bit of this experience,” I said.  After I had moved from the gurney onto the operating table, we all joked about the Beatles music that was blasting from the overhead speakers and my being a pot smoker back in the days when the music was new.  A few hours later, I was waking up in recovery, with the same smile and joy, but sans the tube up my nose…oh, what a joy.

I was supposed to stay in the hospital for a couple of days, but because of my overall physical conditioning I was back on the road before noon that very day.  I can’t say enough about the surgeon or the surgical team, they were terrific, but it was preparedness meeting opportunity that got me out of the hospital that day.

The next month I started six rounds of intense chemotherapy, each round separated by three or four weeks.  Unlike most patients going through cancer treatments, I got healthier with each successive round.  In addition, rather than losing weight, I gained 3-4 pounds after each round.  Yes, I did have my Caregiver taking care of me, but it was preparedness meeting opportunity that made it possible to be out walking the day after each of those rounds of chemo.

It was Napoleon Hill who said, “Good luck can be defined as preparedness meeting opportunity.”  I heard an old recording of him saying just that when I was about thirty years old; since then I’ve kept those words close to my heart and told everyone I know about his definition of luck.  To me it means that to the extent possible, each of us has something to say about how our life will proceed.

Long before I was diagnosed with cancer, I was preparing myself for the battle.  Cancer was not my motivation for that preparation, rather it was the all too real specter of aging in poor health.  I was closing in on fifty and beginning to feel it.  Beginning next week, I’ll give each of you my recipe for Preparing for Battle, which happens to be the title of Chapter 8 of my book, Embracing Cancer – Embracing Life.

Happy First Birthday To Me!

Here's the birthday cake, but I can't find the dark beer.

Here’s the birthday cake, but I can’t find the dark beer.

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That is one sweet cake…worth every minute I had to wait!

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A few of my Earthbound Angels celebrating my birth.

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Coming out of the water on my first birthday.

It’s Tuesday, January 13, and it’s a very good day, because today is my very first birthday, one might say.  A highly unusual birthday that is for sure.  Unlike any other I’m sure you’ll agree; when I tell you that December 11, of 48 was the day my mother gave birth to me!  Of course, we celebrated that one, just one month ago, because it was the birthday few thought I would know.

It was because of what happened, one year ago today, that me and my treasured life, got another chance.  It was also the day, a year ago now, that the nurses at Stanford Hospital sang me a song.  A tune so magnificent, it brought tears to my eyes, the best rendition of ‘Happy Birthday” I’ve ever heard, one filled with sweet care and loving kindness as well.

What caused all the ruckus in my room that day, was the completion of my bone marrow transplant everyone would say.  The nurses walked in a little before noon, bringing with them smiles and two clear plastic bags.  In an hour it was over and everyone cheered, then it was time for the cake and I wished a cold beer.  Yet, it truly was amazing, even without the suds, how it all had transpired as I lay in the bed.

Two days later I was alone in a new room, that’s if you don’t count the doctors, the nurses, and Bobbie to boot.  Each evening at eight they drew some new blood, to see if my cells were beginning to grow.  Each day, for eight days the numbers kept declining, then on the ninth they started to climb.  We all were so happy to see those signs that my bone marrow was making new cells by this time.  It became quite apparent all was going to be fine and two days later I was kicked out of my room.

Three Words Changed Our World Forever!

On the day of my diagnosis, Bobbie and I left the clinic and headed into Waikiki to see Gina Musetti, our acupuncturist, bringing her the news of my diagnosis and asking for advice regarding alternative treatment options.  Ninety minutes later Bobbie and I found ourselves sitting at a table in the Hau Tree Lanai restaurant, located beachside in the New Otani Hotel just south of Waikiki Beach.  It was nearing the end of lunch service when we arrived, so we had our choice of tables, choosing one just two or three steps from the coral sand of Kaimana Beach.  The restaurant is beautiful, with high, cream colored stucco walls on three sides and only a rail separating the diners from the beachgoers on the ocean side.  In the middle of the restaurant stands the tree that the restaurant is named for…the Hau tree.  The limbs and branches of the tree spread out over nearly every table and therefore almost every diner is shaded from the sun by a canopy of large, crinkly, green leaves.

The table we chose was in the far corner of the restaurant, near the rail and angled in such a way so as to allow both of us to sit and look directly at the mix of tourists and locals, sitting on the sand soaking up the rays or frolicking in the small waves not more than fifty feet from where we sat.  Beyond the swimmers was a shallow reef that continued several hundred feet into the crystal blue ocean, on which much larger waves were crashing.  We could hear a low buzz of conversation and laughter coming from various clusters of sunbathers on the beach, but neither of us had an interest in listening in, we had other more important things to do.  Our life, as we knew it, was over…dead and gone.

We sat in near silence while the waiter presented the bottle of chardonnay I’d ordered.  Without saying a word I nodded my approval and after he’d opened it and poured wine into our glasses, he placed the bottle into the shiny, silver bucket of ice that was perched on the far corner of the table and excused himself.   Only when we were alone did we begin the arduous task of making an honest assessment of our life; where we were and where we were headed, which, at the moment was decidedly unclear.  At times we sat quietly, barely speaking at all, staring out to the horizon, lost in our own thoughts.   But for most of the afternoon we spoke in anxious and earnest tones about the reality of our situation.  It was a painful and revealing conversation, for it fully exposed the enormity of our grief and the depth of our love, which made my thoughts of Bobbie eventually being alone all the more unbearable.  More than a few times during the three plus hour lunch, the conversation halted, as one or both of us needed a moment to regain our composure.

We talked about how our children, my siblings and our closest friends, might react to the news and the manner in which we would break that news to them.  I knew almost instinctively, that everyone should hear the news of my illness at the same time and directly from me, so we decided on an email.  Our sadness overwhelmed as we talked about the life events I would quite likely miss; the wedding of our two unmarried children and the high school and college graduations of our grandchildren.

The discussion turned to our house, the home we’d watched being built from the ground up.  We spoke fondly and tearfully of our Sunday afternoon trips up to the construction site, bringing our camera and a bottle of wine along with us.  How we’d toasted each sunset, imagining one day sitting in comfortable chairs on our back lanai, rather than the concrete retaining wall on which we were then sitting, watching the sun dip into the black Pacific.  As we talked that afternoon, it became clear that our days of living in the home of our dreams would be coming to an end much sooner than we had ever imagined.

Finally, we talked about the impact cancer would have on my contracting business and the eventual total loss of my income.  We tried to envision what the future would look like and most of all, how it would feel, but it was useless; the news was too fresh, the hurt too deep, the fear too overwhelming.

Isn’t it amazing, how just a few words instantaneously changed everything?  Those three little words, “you have cancer” possessed the power to turn our life inside out and upside down!  It seems almost silly to even consider that such a notion is true, but that is plainly the reality of it.  If you ever hear those words, you’ll know it as an undeniable truth.  Even if you’re fortunate enough to be “cured,” nothing about your life will ever again be the same and nothing about you will be either.  In the future, the word normal may be used to describe your temperature, but it is a near certainty you will never again use it to describe your life.