The surely epic bucket list item I won’t get the chance to check off today has finally lost enough pain for me to talk about it. Tonight I would have stood on hallowed concert ground in Morrison, CO with all four of our sons and Michael’s wife, Janice Rice Venable, one of my dearest childhood friends, Craig Hospital Occupational Therapist Perry Ann Williams, and her husband retired landscape architect, Keith Gartin; Principal Architect and Senior Partner Sam Andras, of 2WR Architects, his spouse, educator Victoria Andras, and a host of their friends, band mates, lighting and sound professionals and advisors.
Today we all would have watched our son, Adam Venable/Obeah, perform with Daily Bread as they open for Pretty Lights on the Red Rocks stage. If you know about Red Rocks, you can likely conjure my deep loss for having to miss it tonight. If you don’t know Red Rocks, think Carnegie Hall and and I’ll conjure my deep loss for having to miss this tonight. I’ve had to unwind a 12-day walkabout while in the midst of enduring 2 surgeries, a CT scan, an MRI, some sweet Jesus pain and chronic nausea and vomiting. Thanks to my medical team, everything on that list has been fixed or alleviated. But without time on my side and the sensibility of putting the importance of my health first, tonight, my best hope is to be able to live stream the show, if they can figure how to send it.
Adam, I hope you leave a raw, bloody piece of your soul on that important stage tonight. That it comes from a place so deep that it shocks people to know you kept things like that in there. You have worked hard for this and you deserve your hard work and dedication to make an audience swoon. I will be joined with your spirit in the Colorado breeze. I could not possibly be prouder of you, son, and your brothers and that sold out show will watch the virtual walls come down in the foothills tonight. Now go out there and kill!
This post is a stream of consciousness update. Please excuse the lack of my usual attention to the conventions of acceptable language and grammar. I’m banging this one out. Dr. Pippas walked into our exam room this afternoon at about a quarter ’til 6 and we got down to business. I think today was our longest clinical conversation of the entire 8 years of our doctor patient relationship. This brilliant, good man has never disappointed me. He called us late last night with the sole purpose of giving us a night of good rest in advance of our meeting today. He knew a word from him and the better-than-we-thought-it-would-be news about my latest wrasslin’ match with kidney cancer.
We talked for over 40 minutes, not rushed, open to our questions about what we’re dealing with, what courses of action we could see coming, how to beat it again. His usual greeting, a pitch-ascending, “Michael” then he tips his head back, engaging his bifocals to get a sharp look into my eyes. He gets right in there, knowing the eyes are the window to one’s soul. I answered back, “Andrew,” and thanked him for being the kind of physician who calls a worried patient after a brutal day at the office seeing no telling how many other worried people.
I know we’re special to him, too. We have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds together, to date avoiding life-altering, permanent physical debilitation. I’ve had multiple surgeries (left kidney radical nephrectomy, lymph nodes, corpectomy of L2 spinal vertebra, laminectomy (8 weeks later) from L2-L5, thyroidectomy, knee scope, 32 grays of radiation beams and countless hundreds of needle sticks, claustrophobic rides in giant metal tubes, gallons of barium, bucketsful of pharmaceuticals. Yep. I knew early that my job was to stay alive until something that can cure me comes along. Already there are many more drugs than were available in mid-May, 2009. We have choices, based on my case.
I made a decision on June 9, 2009 to write our way through this. Last time I tried to measure my writing output, I was north of 300,000 words. I tried to tell the story the way it went down. From December 5, 2010: “Back From the Snake Pit.”
I wanted to leave electronic breadcrumbs for the ones coming behind me. Kidney Cancer is a tough diagnosis. Faith in God, trust in your medical team, support from your friends, understanding creditors, a rock-solid marriage, children who tested us as parents, but who are always present, and loving, and engaged in our familyness. Those four sons possess characteristics that indicate our every prayer for them to be smart, kind men has been granted. What a blessing it has been to have spent relatively few hours of our lifetime as parents worrying that one of them had gone off the rails and were going down a bad road. Today I realized with complete clarity how much more difficult these last 8 years would have been if one or more of them had gone bad.
“Make good choices.”
My spine is being attacked by an aggressive, fast-growing renal cell carcinoma metastasis in my L1 vertebra. The screw that Dr. Michael Gorum put there on August 19, 2011 during spinal fusion surgery is now embedded in this new tumor. Regardless of what procedure/medication is used to kill the tumor, I will imminently require another spine surgery with longer hardware that can bridge up into my thoracic vertebrae in search of solid bone that will hold a screw. We haven’t met with Dr. Gorum yet, so this is our and Dr. Pippas’ discussion about what will be needed. The tumor has broken through the outer lining of the vertebra and my spine is dangerously unstable at the moment. No horseback riding he says. Don’t fall he says. Some quick decisions need to be made and we need them to be the right decisions. No pressure.
Tomorrow I’ll send several packets of information to several kidney cancer specialists for an independent review and some remarks on how they’d recommend we proceed. Thank you Dena Battle and KCCure. At this moment, I’m not sure where treatment will take place. If we can do it here, we’ll be at Midtown Medical and the John B. Amos Cancer Center. If we need to travel anywhere but outer space, we’ll be traveling. We’ll be praying for the right people to be placed in our path. At this moment, more so than at any other crossroads of my medical life, we will be in a state of complete faith, untethered, but not unhinged. Enveloped in God’s arms with an army behind us.
We’ll see Dr. P in 10 days. The plan will be in place by then. We left Andy’s office today encouraged by his soothing words, his sincere grief for our plight and his heartfelt hope, conveyed in looks, hugs and purposeful touch. I love him for what he has done for me and for our family. I still have both of my parents and I hate cancer for flipping our lives upside down. Jill’s mom, Betty Owens has had to live with losing a son, and because we have sons, I can imagine the emotions that our parents are living with. This isn’t the way it should ever be. It hurts too much. I want to live so that my when my parents leave this world, they will leave it without ever having known what losing a son feels like.
I want this post to speak to Ann and John: Thank you for giving me everything I needed to make it to today. You have given Eric and me a good name, a joyful home, the gift of your strong marriage and spiritual, financial and emotional support in good times and bad times. There will more good times. I’m sure of it.
Jill is by my side. Always. When she grabs my hand will her thumb or mine be on the outside?
Let’s go write our next chapter.
I live in Alabama and I don’t have any children in Columbus public schools. Two of our sons, Michael and Adam, graduated from Hardaway High School, so there’s that. In spite of literally not having a dog in that fight, I remain intensely interested in the health and effectiveness of our Muscogee County School District, because great schools train great future employees and leaders, both being mighty important to our region’s economic development.
After putting my news nose into the wind yesterday, I had a feeling that last night’s Muscogee County School District meeting might be one for the record books, and that I probably should attend and see for myself what I have heard others say about the tone of the meetings.
Jill and I went to the meeting last night. It was my first MCSD school board meeting. I hope that many more of you, whether you have children in the public schools or not, will go and watch that process some time soon.
Jill and I each said one word several times last night on the drive back to Seale and even after we were in bed. “Wow!”
Wow, I can’t believe what I saw and heard there.
Wow, I can’t believe Frank Myers referred to Superintendent Dr. David Lewis and Chief Operations and Facilities Officer David Goldberg as “You two birds.”
How Frank Myers called David Lewis a liar. Out loud — with TV cameras rolling, in spite of the sweet presentation on RESPECT delivered by four children from a local elementary school.
How Myers finger-pointed and ranted about how he was “sick and tired” of this, that and the other and threateningly engaged other members of the board and the MCSD cabinet and then immediately began Facebook postings, writing or shuffling papers, very obviously not caring to hear what the person he was dogging had to say in reply.
A strong memory from my childhood is how I felt when I went to church as a little guy. I knew I was going to leave that church every Sunday feeling depressed. Just down. I went into each Sunday morning session knowing that I was going to be beaten down. I knew I would leave feeling smaller than I did when I walked in. It was such a bad experience that, to this day, I almost get sick to my stomach when I pass by my old church building on Hamilton Road.
That is exactly how I felt as the meeting last night opened with four precious children from Allen Elementary School talking about the efforts they make in their lives to treat others with respect. It was so cute that they held up the letters R-A-O-S (just a slight, old-school technical glitch), and talked about how they SOAR when they treat their classmates with respect. There was no more respect shown from the right side of that dais for the next more than three hours.
Here’s the other thing: Jill and I have gotten to know Karen and David Lewis. They are really fine people. We’ve had dinners with them and have found out just how much they love our community. They’re planning to retire here. The other thing I learned from them is how shocked they are that there is so much anger aimed at our local school board and administration. I really don’t think they’ve ever seen anything like what is going on here.
Beyond the friendship, David Lewis has got the passion, the knowledge and the personality to take our schools to the next level. He deserves the respect of a grateful community. He does not deserve to be called a liar in a public meeting in front of his wife, his cabinet, his board and his employees.
Frank Myers is a schoolyard bully. He’s a tall, imposing guy and his lawyer swagger just accentuates the bluster. Everyone in the room with a bully is wary of him. What is he going to say or do next? When will he point that finger at me about something else he’s “sick and tired” of?
We live in the Deep South, where people are a whole lot of different things, but what we are most is kind. We are genteel. We usually treat even our worst enemy with kindness and respect. Not so at the Muscogee County School Board. Not so when big, bad Frank is in the room.
There was joy in that room last night. People brought their families to see the votes that honored their loved ones with a promotion or a new job. That joy was short-lived as we all dived back into the sludge that was our county’s school board meeting last night.
You know the feeling when you’re walking at night along a stretch of unfamiliar road in a strange town? That feeling like something bad could happen and catch you by surprise? That is exactly what that meeting felt like last night and I am profoundly sad that it has to be that way.
From what I saw and what I have read, Frank Myers wants David Lewis to go back to Florida. My clear sense also tells me that Myers, if he’s allowed to keep his seat on the board, will think exactly the same thing about the next superintendent.
That’s exactly the way all bullies act — until they get the final, verbal ass whipping they deserve. Stirring up people’s feelings just because you like to do it is no excuse for the embarrassing show that Frank Myers put on last night. I think it is safe to say the palpable tension was unhealthy for every person who was in that room.
Hoping it will get better may be too much to ask for, unless Myers’ cavalier attitude about the rules, finds him on the wrong side of one of them and an angry citizenry decides to recall him from office. I think this is a great example of how someone’s passion about something diminishes his ability to act in a civil manner. My momma wouldn’t have put up with it. I’m thinking Frank Myers, like brilliant singer/songwriter Jason Isbell in his song If it Takes a Lifetime says, has “got too far from his raising.”
Last Saturday night and on into the early morning Sunday was one of the best — and worst — nights of my life. The night was replete with psychedelic highs and muddy dub step lows, simply brought on by the music. The only weed I consumed was second-hand, hotbox-delivered dankness that was shockingly prevalent in that fairly small room. Yes, this was my first real hiphop show and there is no doubt I was the oldest person in the room. For every one of the many reasons I was glad I was there, there are at least three for the sweet knowledge that I’ll never have to do it again. All in though, I would not have missed this show for anything. I got to see one of our sons launch from being a regionally well-known DJ into the outer edges of hiphop stardom. After all, he was standing toe-to-toe with hiphop mega-star, Chuck D, of Public Enemy fame and DJ Lord, whose turntable talents have helped craft Public Enemy’s sound since the late ’90s.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I call it like I see it, boldly owning it when I’ve done something I shouldn’t have done. Let’s rewind the tape back to some time in 2006, and a phone conversation I was having with our son, Adam. The one when he told me he wanted to pursue a music career after getting some kind of a music degree in college. That was back in my unenlightened days when being a DJ meant spinning records on the radio. I knew Adam didn’t play any type of instrument and I never had heard him exhibit any noteworthy singing ability, so I started to form the words, “Don’t you have to have some kind of musical talent to have a music career?” Somewhere in the middle of that ill-contrived and woefully knee-jerk sentence was when Jill started miming a slicing motion across her throat, wild-eyed and willing me to shut-the-hell-up.
I knew Adam had been working on developing his DJ skills and I should have realized just how serious he was about collecting vinyl record albums and using them to deliver his art. Adam and I went down to our barn one day and I presented him with my entire, well-taken-care of album collection, consisting of a few hundred pristine vinyl records. I thought he was going to cry, he was so overcome with joy and appreciation. I remember thinking, “Damn, he really does love these records!” and I really had no idea what he was doing with them. Since that day, and up until Saturday night, I have seen Adam perform a few times. I get what music mixing is all about. How you can take a Tammy Wynette song that meters 85 beats per minute and mix it with an Ozzie Osbourne song, also at 85 beats per minute. And, when you come out the other end, the whole is bigger than the sum of those two parts. I get all of that.
What I didn’t see was how he was ever going to make a career out of this. How was he ever going to make any money, have a great health insurance policy, a 401k, a pension plan or a paid vacation? All I could see in my future crystal ball was a 40-something man still waiting tables and trying to juggle family commitments. It just didn’t compute for me. Thankfully, Adam is one of the least money-motivated people I know. His wants to be happy. He wants to be surrounded by people he loves. He has an easy smile and a big heart. All these characteristics are to be cherished. He also has a shiny, 24-karat work ethic. He has kept his nose to the hiphop grindstone for well over ten years, perfecting his turntable skills, writing lyrics and beats and trying to find a way to be in the right place at the right time.
This article in Creative Loafing Atlanta tells the story about how the planets aligned to make this past Saturday possible. All the hard work. All the sacrifice. All the creative juice, the calendar and the place — ALL lined up. I’m reminded of a quote I once read, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Being lucky is a good thing in the music world, I’ve found.
Here are my take aways from the show:
• Even though this is my first hiphop show, I now can tell the difference between sophomoric rap (the first opening act) and really good, sharp, percussive rap (like the kind Adam does).
• I heard the word “fuck” used more times than you’d hear it used in one of Dr. Carlton Savory’s operating rooms.
• I was shocked that 90% of the audience was caucasian. Turns out old school R&B shows are highly frequented by African-American audiences and hiphop shows are primarily attended by white folks. Who knew?
• Although it was loud in there (and I came prepared by taking my Hearos), the sound was really quite great.
After my last Thursday meeting with Dr. Pippas, we’ve circled back around now and I’m on the full 800mg daily dose of Votrient. As I suspected, my quality of life has taken a noticeable hit. The superficial — and easiest to handle — change is that my eyebrows went stark-white within three weeks on Votrient.
My new hair is snow white as it grows in and white is winning the battle over light brown. Right now, I look like I’ve been coloring my hair, but have decided to give up and stop. There is a one-inch band of pure white hair coming out of my scalp and each successive haircut will reveal more of the white. My women (if you know me, you’re aware of the passel of sister wives it takes to run my life) say they like it. That it gives me a distinctive look. I think it makes me look like Father Time, but it is what it is.
The side effects of the medication that are anything but superficial and are very difficult to manage are the gastrointestinal issues. Nausea and diarrhea are a constant stealthy threat. Stealthy isn’t what you really want with these guys. I’d much rather see them coming so I can be prepared. But no, they just jump right up and bitch slap me at a moment’s notice. Not fun right now. Not fun.
I still can’t taste, although using plastic utensils and taking zinc have made my tastebuds more intermittent than a total loss. There are some things that I still can taste. I’m thankful for that.
Thanks to my brother, Eric, I got to ride along on my first quail hunt last Sunday down in Albany. I went with a borrowed shotgun that I had never fired and I was nervous as hell about what I was supposed to do. We got the safety talk and because of my weakened legs, I was allowed to get out of the buggy and be ready for the first covey rise.
Here’s the scenario: I have determined that my left eye is my master eye. This is probably why I haven’t ever been able to hit anything shooting a right-handed gun. So, I went with a borrowed over and under shotgun, which I shouldered on the left side. The first covey got up and I picked a bird and dropped it with my first shot. I got so excited and nervous, the next four shots were all attempted with the safety on. Let me tell you, that almost never works. You can’t shoot a bird when the gun won’t go off!
I was over-thinking all the safety concerns (if that is possible…I don’t think it is.). Worried about shooting that expensive, beautiful bird dog. Worried about pulling a Dick Cheney and shooting somebody. Worried about looking like a dumb ass in front of my brother and his friends. (I’m pretty sure I blew that one, though, with the four consecutive attempts to fire the gun with the safety on.) I got tired really fast and decided that I’d go out while I was ahead and take my place back in the bird buggy. I think I hit every bird I shot at. One. Technically, the safety-on misfires were called strikes, so I can’t claim I batted a thousand. Let’s just put it this way: I got a quail. I got to experience what a luxury, high-end quail hunts looks and feels like. I got to spend some good time with my brother and some of his best friends. And, If I had had a trunk full of Japanese toilet seats, I could have made some money that day.
I have been wanting to tell this story for months, but have been worried about how it would be taken by the male readers of this blog. So, Sunday, I tried out this story on a dozen or so of the manliest guys I know. They’re all rugged outdoorsmen. They like to cuss, drink, lie about women, shoot guns and grill large chunks of meat. I’m thinking this is the perfect crowd to test drive the Japanese toilet seat story. So I let it fly.
Some background first: I have given my sons some serious advice about how to keep a relationship fresh. There are a couple of bodily functions that should NEVER be shared with your mate. If it is possible to have your toilet in a separate room with a door, than that is what you should always shoot for. Anything that you’d do or any sound that you’d make while sitting on a toilet should be kept there behind that door. As long as you keep this to yourself, your relationship will always have a sense of mystery and have a better chance of being kept fresh for the long haul. This has been my philosophy and my sons will attest to the fact that I’ve counseled them in this regard.
So, let’s move on to the days after my back-to-back back surgeries. I had the excruciatingly embarrassing need for hospital techs to clean me in the bathroom on several occasions while I was still in the hospital recuperating from major back surgery. I couldn’t bend and reach like before the surgery. All I could think about was that someone was going to have to do this for me after I got home. By the time I got home, thankfully, I was able to take care of myself, but the horror that one day I might not be able to just stayed on my mind.
I started investigating Japanese toilets several years ago. They were unbelievably expensive when they first hit my radar. A couple of thousand dollars was the going rate and they were generally a modified, electronic entire toilet. Now, they have been engineered to be an electronic toilet seat that will simply replace the seat on most types of toilets in use today.
Okay, we’re back to Sunday in south Georgia. On a quail buggy with a dozen cussing men. I described in very vivid detail about my Coco toilet seat, what it does, how it does it and how it makes my life more comfortable and more easy and private. I swear if I had had a dozen of them, I would have sold out that day. I don’t know when I’ve been more uncomfortable at the start of a story to have it go so well. The Sunday story at the quail hunt was my warm up for this blog post.
I ordered the Coco 9500R a few months ago and despite my rather unhandiness, I was able to completely install it by myself, including retrofitting the electric wall plug to a GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) plug. It took only about a half-hour to do the wiring and replace the seat on our Toto elongated toilet. I can easily say that this incredible piece of electronic equipment has changed my life. Now, I’m prepared for whatever life throws at me and I can be confident that I’ll be able to maintain my dignity in the bathroom and the mystery in my marriage.
I wasn’t able to find anyone who sells these locally, but if someone steps up and confirms that they sell this seat locally, I’ll give them a special advertising deal in Columbus and the Valley magazine so they can let people know about it.
Please accept my apologies about these blog posts being sparse. This medication has, among other things, rendered me unable to write, at least write to my satisfaction. I’m hoping it’ll begin to turn me loose as my body adjusts to the dosage. I miss writing and from the encouragement I get when I see my great readers, many of you are missing these posts, too.