Updates

Well…. I have Cancer.

How will it define me? How will I define it? I know in my heart that this Cancer is part of my destiny. It was predetermined and has always been waiting for the right time. My entire life has led me to right now. I have been in training for 38 years for this moment and I just never knew it.

All the challenges and growth that I have gone through over the years, from the ups and downs of building a business, divorce and marriage, the long hard worked nights, money, time management, raising an amazing son… All the the things I have had to grind through to keep getting to a better place, have led me to right now.

There is no “why me” in my mindset. It makes perfect sense why it is me. I feel I am the perfect person for this job. It is now my role to make something amazing from this. To turn this into literally the best thing that has ever happened to me and hopefully others around me. To some how make the world a little better, because I got Cancer. I have always felt I have a sense of purpose beyond the norm. This may just be my outlet to finally sit down and think and write.

It’s been 9 days since my entire life went a completely different direction. It’s been 9 days of non stop intensity and overwhelming, confusion, wonder, pain, fear, exhaustion, and facing my new reality. It has also been 9 of the most amazing days of my life, filled with genuine love, so much support, and a new amazement for the absolute smallest of things (which I will explain later). I love all of you and thank you from the bottom of my heart for loving me. I have been touched of course by my family, April, Brandon, and my closest friends. But I have been shocked by the love from people I don’t know as well, people that I didn’t know I had affected so much in the past. This is eye opening and humbling.

I asked my doctor a few days ago, if I hadn’t gone into the hospital how long would I have survived this Cancer. He said that I probably would have passed away this week or next. This week or next? Holy Sh#t. That will certainly open your eyes.

I think this writing serves a couple points. One is to keep anyone curious about my condition, in the loop, and the other is for me to help understand myself. I don’t ever want to forget these feelings. They are more real and honest than anything I have ever felt. As I write if any of it sounds overly dramatic or deep, well… that’s because it has been pretty darn dramatic and deep. If any of it sounds preachy, well… that is because I am feeling a newfound instant wisdom that I could only get by being in this situation. It’s impossible not to. I want to be 100% transparent with myself and with all of you. I just want to be me.

So how do I know I will beat Cancer? I already wrote it in my domain name. For me, beating Cancer is 100% in my control. Surviving Cancer will have to come from prayer and whoever is listening beyond this world (yes, this is coming from guy who is not religious). I have hope and faith in in my heart that I will survive this. But right now that is irrelevant and wasted energy. It is 100% out of my control. What I have control of is the ability to beat Cancer. What that means to me is that I keep and maintain my heart and soul. I need to make sure that I find happiness everyday. That I stay positive. That I appreciate every breath offered to me. Happiness, I’m realizing, is a very simple thing. It’s as simple as breathing in and breathing out. Opening and closing my eyes. It’s taking more time outs to realize how special we all are to have been given this gift of life. I think of all the amazing steps along the way that it took for all of us to be born. So every breath is a gift.

I realize that most of the “problems” that we face in our lives, we create. 99% of our problems just simply won’t matter in a day, or a week or a month. We allow them to last so much longer because we get away from the simplicity and appreciation of true happiness. 99% of our problems can be solved in 10 minutes with the right techniques. Happiness can be achieved everyday in any condition. I realize that as I write at 4:45 in the morning. I am not scared, or sad right now. I am really happy. Im happy that I can see and breathe. I am happy that I can write and think. More of these long random thoughts to come, I have a feeling….

So let’s do a quick update, How did I get here?

Dec 13th – It was my holiday party at the building that I was living in, in Denver. It was great. April and I were about 40 years younger than most of the guests at the party. There was food and music. As we went to the party, I found myself looking for a place to lean. I had no energy. I told April I needed to leave the party early.

Dec 14th – I had a sore throat, and just felt sick, normal achy stuff.
I continued over the next few days to get sicker. Taking DayQuil and Sudafed.

Dec 18th- I had an amazing holiday party with my team at True Photography. I was so excited to see everyone that I honestly faked my way through the party as far as health goes. I took medicine to try and get through it, drank a few drinks, and had an amazing time. But after that was an all out crash. I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt this beginning pressure in my lungs and pressure on my heart. I was convinced that I just had a bad flu.

Dec 19th-23 I felt that maybe I have Pneumonia. So I took some medicine to help with that.

Dec 25th- Had a great Christmas but could not get off my butt. My lungs were feeling like they were swishing water back and forth. There were only certain angles I could breathe.

Dec 26th – I go to bed in a separate room and start coughing. The medicine isn’t working. I cough until the point that I could not cough anymore. I also couldn’t get a breath. I felt like I was going to pass out, and may have for a brief moment. I knew I had to go to the hospital. That morning I go to Urgent care. They do an x ray and find that my right lung is 20-30% blocked. The Doctor thought initially it to was Pneumonia but was curious about something behind my sternum. He said “Hmmm. thats interesting”, not what you want to hear your doctor say, by the way. He said that I should go to the emergency room right away. So I went. The rest is history.

They said I was drowning from the inside out, and that they had to drain my lung. They drained 2 liters of water. That is 4 pounds of water from 1 lung. The also found a large mango-sized mass that has been growing probably for a year according to my doctor. You would think there would be more symptoms, but until it hits into vital organs, it just was growing. Then it made a crash landing. I have a rare cancer that typically runs in children. This makes sense based on my maturity, Ha.

Less than 5% of adults with Cancer have what I have. It is a form of T lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoma. It was interesting enough that the doctors over at UCSD medical center were very excited to recruit me over to their facility to put me on a new aggressive clinical trial that only 4 others have taken before me. A few years ago this would have been terminal, but they have made a lot of progress over the years. It is the most aggressive form of Chemo and also the longest form of Chemo. Meaning it is going to kick my ass. The program is 2.5 years. 7 months of intensity, then another year less intense, than the rest if all goes well is chemo pills and less treatment. My immune system will drop basically to zero at times.

I am basically bubble boy. I am around anyone slightly sick it could be doomsday for me. I have to eat very specific foods. The opposite of what you learn. I don’t have the immune system to handle raw foods. In fact they would kill me. Our natural immune systems fight off the small things and take in the nutrients. Mine wont be able to do that.

I started Chemo 2 days ago. The timing was so close because the mass was touching my heart and creating arrhythmias that were getting stronger. So they ran every test and turned around these 24 hr test in 9 hrs. They then gave me emergency Chemo at around 1:00am. 3 rounds for 100 minutes. 2 of the doses were manually administered by a nurse timing it to precision. Believe it or not I already feel some of the pressure lifted off of my heart. so this stuff works quick. I haven’t had arrhythmias again. So that is where I am now.

It may sound funny to say, but I am so curious to see what I can learn from myself. For the first time I don’t have a plan. I don’t have anywhere that I have to be. I don’t know exactly how I feel. So what gets written from here is to be determined. My thoughts will probably evolve and change along the way.

But wait… There’s more! In my next post, I will rewind a few days, as there have been amazing moments in between first going to the hospital and where I am today.

Updates

Every day is a new day

It’s been a few days since I last wrote on the blog. I want to start off by thanking everyone for being so thoughtful, caring and generous. With the world being so fast moving, it is humbling that people have taken a timeout for me. The past few days from a physical side have been pretty rough. The Chemo is strong and really messes with the entire body. I feel ok one minute and then it hits me pretty hard where it is difficult to open my eyes or not feel a crazy amount of nausea. For me, keeping a positive mentality is the key to overcoming the physical effects.

I want to share a few stories from the past few days. I will start with one of my positive energies, Brandon. My son was with me the day after I discovered that I had Cancer, and handled it like a champion. He stayed positive the entire way. I know he is scared but by being part of it, I think it helped with his fears. His positive energy led to me being positive, which led to others being positive. It is viral. Good thoughts travel from one person to the next.

Right before I was to start my Chemo, which will keep me indoors for weeks, I had one last trip outside with the family. I had a couple of baseball gloves, and even though my energy was close to zero, I played catch with Brandon. It is one of our favorite things to do together. I threw the ball to Brandon and on the throw it accidentally went off his glove and hit him on the side of his head. I could see he was trying not to cry but the pain was too much and the tears came rolling down. I told him to come over and I would give him a hug. When he did, he surprised me.

I asked him if he was ok, and his response back was “you’re going to beat this dad, you’re going to beat this.”  It touched my heart in the most real way. He didn’t care about his head being hit by the ball. At that moment all he was thinking about was his love for me. I will never forget that moment.

For me, it is about working through the struggles while embracing the amazing moments. That is my happiness.

Updates

Too much information

I never truly understood what it meant to survive cancer. Or maybe I just didn’t have my eyes open. I would just hear “so and so beat Cancer.” I would think, “Oh wow! That is great they beat it.” But what I am discovering is that it is literally a war in your body.

If you know me well, you know that getting me off a computer is next to impossible. I am always doing something. I have to. But yesterday, the drugs from the steroids were so powerful, I felt as if I was in a straightjacket. You can’t think, watch TV, write, walk around or anything. It pretty much paralyzes you, and although there are medicines to help, those do a whole other number on you. There were only two things I could do: breathe in and breathe out. So for 12 hours, that is what I did.

Guess what? The 12 hrs have passed. I am awake, feeling a little better today, and ready to tackle another day.

Lets do a quick rewind again to get to some humility for a moment. Lets talk sperm bank, shall we? The other day I was told that if I want to have children again in the future, that my love stuff needs to be banked. There is a very high chance that I will be sterile. So here is how the hospital sets the mood for this magic moment. I am hooked up to a heart monitor all over my chest, holding an IV drip in one hand, and my wiener (to use the medical term) in the other. I’m looking in the mirror at my recently shaved Cancer face, next to a toilet. Then they say, “take all the time you need, we will be back in 5 or 10 minutes.”

I have to say that a miracle somehow managed to make it happen (TMI). Then they said, “Oh, and by the way, we will need it delivered.” So I had the joy of having my parents drive my future offspring to a nearby spank bank. May the future be strong!! Sorry no pictures could be attached on this topic.

Back to today. Today is another round of steroids. I appreciate all of those wanting to visit, and look forward to being ready, but right now it honestly takes way more out of me to visit with people. I have to get my body more settled so that I can sit and have a normal conversation. For now, these postings will need to be my outlet and way of connecting. So I ask, please no surprise visits. It isn’t in my best interest right now. I do love you all and look forward to settling in a bit more soon.

Updates

The Flood Gates Have Opened

Until the last 9 days, I could count on my fingers how many times I cried. I have always had emotions, they just didn’t come with tears. The last two times that I can recall were from my fear from love. The first was saying my vows to April. My fear was loving someone so much. I said that she was my heaven. I had had so many relationship chapters in my life, and all the relationships led me to my wedding day. In April I found my heaven. Is it mushy? Absolutely. But guess what? I have Cancer, and I am officially a mushball. I cried because I feared loving April so much. That it was to good to be true. But love shouldn’t be feared.

The other time I cried is when Brandon my son moved from San Diego to Rocklin. I never knew fear and love until I had Brandon. I felt sadness because I felt I had failed a bit. I felt that because of myself not making every perfect decision, the one thing I loved most was no longer 15 minutes away. I have so much love for Brandon and I want to see him grow up to be the very best version of himself. I no longer have tears from this either. Instead I understand that it is exactly what it should be.

Everything leads us to where we are. We get to choose whether to accept it or feel bad for ourselves. I will keep pushing to make my life as fulfilled as possible, but by accepting my life for exactly what it is, I have found happiness in everything.

So the flood gates have indeed opened. I have over 7 different types of cries these days. The first days of my diagnosis, I will admit, I cried out of fear and anger. Those cries just didn’t help me at all and are now completely gone. They won’t be returning again. Those are tears of suffering and fear. They stop life from moving forward. They paralyze you and make you forget the real truth of happiness.

Instead, I have been getting hit with overwhelming tears of  joy, love, togetherness, graciousness, and appreciation for literally everything. I’ll give a few examples. My company isn’t just a business where I want to make a buck. It is part of my mark. It is me. Its a part of what makes me exist. Creating memories for people, connecting people through photographs. My business is 15 years of endless hours, figuring out how to make it work, grow, and evolve while staying heartfelt and honest as a company. It is my baby.

Seeing my team at True Photography become a real family and working together makes me cry literally right now as I write. I can see how much everyone really cares. The individuals that I assembled in True I realize all share common traits. They are genuine, real, honest, thoughtful and take pride in themselves and everyone around them. Their hearts are gold. Everyone is so different, with different lives, but share these ingredients.

I love you, Team True. You’re not my employees. You’re not my friends. You are my family and I love you so much. You bring me peace and hope. You bring me faith and trust. I believe in you.

I cry because I see people talking more. Sharing more. Taking a step back for a moment to reflect. Putting everyday things on pause and taking a time out to think of me. I’m humbled. I now know how much I matter to people and that gives me purpose. We need to tell each other more how we really feel.

I cry because of all the people that have donated because they love me. I cry because people I don’t know or haven’t talked to in 20-plus years have come out to say hello in one way or another. There are people in my past and childhood that I think about, and I have always wondered what place I held in their memories. Now I know. Even when you don’t talk to someone for years, you still matter. You still shaped each others’ lives in some way that got you to being who you are today. We all matter.

I cry because my family and friends would go to the end of the earth for me. I feel I can call on anyone if I need a hand, no questions asked. This world that I am in is truly good. My faith is restored. We want to be good and happy. We want to make each other happy. We just get confused sometimes when opinions are different.

I now know what happiness is. It is each other. It is being able to see each other, touch each other, play together, laugh together and just be together.

I cry because I can write this all down. I can feel my body, I can touch, talk, and feel.

But here is what I won’t cry about. I won’t cry about having Cancer. I won’t cry because of the pain I am in, or lack of energy. I’m not going to cry from vomiting, or because I can’t go outside. Im not going to cry because I can’t play baseball, or I can’t work. I’m not going to cry because I have to endure this for the next two and a half years. I’m not going to cry because literally life as I know it has changed. I’m not going to cry for everything that I can’t have or don’t have. I am not going to cry about what has been taken away from me. WHAT FOR? That would be crying from fear and anger and what will that do??? It will paralyze me.

I have 2 challenges of the day for all of you. No more crying from fear or anger. Don’t allow yourself to get paralyzed. We all have crap that happens to us. It won’t stop. Whatever you want to call it… The crap, the shit, the unfortunate circumstance, the why did this happen to me garbage… Take a time out and remember what life is all about like I am right now. You will only find joy. Don’t cry because of money, losing a house, stress at home, a bad fight, don’t cry for the unknown of what is ahead. Don’t cry out of fear. Trust the world to work as it will. If you’re going to cry, cry because the overwhelming opportunity to feel, touch, smell, and share stories with someone you love.

Challenge 2. I have officially opened up my love gates. If you love me, let me know. I will do the same. P.S. If you’re reading my blog, I love you ;) So now you know. We need to tell each other more how much we love each other. Be inappropriate. Who cares. You love someone at work, let them know. You love the Chipotle guy because he gave you double the guacamole for still only $1.80, let him know. Tell the people you love that you love them. Tomorrow or this weekend, find two people that you don’t normally say you love, but in actuality you really do. And just say I love you. Don’t explain it, don’t fear it. Just say I love you to those you care about. If you’re not ready to say it in person, or you want to let everyone in on how you feel, say it on my comment wall. There are 700 something people that have read this blog. Let’s have a moment where we just make each other feel good.

Me getting Cancer is not a tragedy. It is not something to feel sad for. It isn’t something that is OMG awful that happened to poor Aaron. If you’re going to cry for me or this Cancer, make sure it is the right kind of cry. Because there is one thing that I am sure of. Cancer will not beat me and will be my biggest accomplishment yet. It already is heading that way. I’m already a more complete person and I feel others around me being more fullfilled as well. Lets all find the good in everything. Even in this Cancer that I am battling. I love you all from every part of my soul. I cry amazing tears for you tonight, and all that you have given to me in my life. I have never been more alive.

Updates

We Are All Connected

I am seeing now how we are all connected to each other. I remember chatting one night with April in our Denver condo about how much life really changes with friendships and family over the years. It’s not better or worse. Just different.

In high school, you live for your friends. Life is about spending every minute together. You are involved in everything they are doing. Where they are going for lunch, who they are dating, what they are doing after school, how they did at their soccer event. Everybody knows everything about everybody.

In college, the conversation turns more towards where life is going. What it will be like in the real world. After that…. the 20’s approach. Friends spend time falling in love, many friends have babies, people focus on building their future careers.

Time shifts. Life quickly shifts. I no longer know that Wolpoff decided to skip lunch because he wanted to draw a cartoon character. It is impossible to live the same way as the past, and that is ok. It is just life continuing to move forward as it should. But the power of friendship doesn’t change.

It seemed to me in Denver a few months back that everyone was kind of in it for themselves. People were living in their own worlds and April and I were in ours. Trying to get through the hustle of life. Trying to get to a better place, just to get by, always looking forward towards something better. Life was about surviving, and finding moments of fun when you could, but I felt that real connections between people were getting lost in the process.

I was very wrong. Although sometimes I do feel we need to slow down (mostly me), we are all still connected. We always have been, even if we don’t stop to acknowledge how much people matter to us.

I now realize that I need to take more pause. I need more reflection. I need to make that random call when a person pops into my head. Share a story of a moment I remember enjoying with them. Let them know how much they matter to me.

I need to keep making new connections too. The connections bring back the roots to happiness and purpose. Connecting with other people is what is important. It’s the purpose of life. Everything else is a distraction.

In the past 10 days, I have seen so many connections re-established. Do you feel it? It’s not just from me. It’s not just from having Cancer. It is from all of you. People are talking more, really talking. People are listening more, laughing more, reflecting more, connecting more. I know people have hugged more, kissed more, you-know-what more…. This proves that nothing bad can happen in life if you maintain those connections. There are no setbacks if you choose to keep moving forward. Staying connected gets you through everything. We are all holding hands. We are in this together.

I received an amazing email today from a client I photographed in 2009. I felt a connection with the couple at the time, and still completely remember their entire wedding. Well, apparently they too held on to that connection, five years later.

She wrote me a very endearing letter, and offered me a bird bath.  She wrote, “Animals live completely in the now. They are not burdened with thoughts of what may, or may not be, in the future like we are. Us humans do a lot of worrying. When I watch the birds, or any of my other animals for that matter, I’m reminded to live in the now. Exist in the moment I’ve got at hand.”

I will take that bird bath with open arms :) Sometimes you have to get really close to death to understand just how alive and connected we all are. I love you.

Updates

Random Thoughts of the Day

I find that good days are so much simpler in my mind than they used to be. Today was a good day. I woke up :) I was able to go outside for the first time in over a week with my wife April, my sister Shosh, and my brother-in-law Brian. I had an appetite, the strength to do a little exercise, and the ability to chill with people I love.

I will have up and down body days. So I appreciate it being a good one today.

I have become Neutropenic, which means my white cell count is at a .8  It was at 9 the other day. Basically, I officially have no immune system. Neutropenia results from heavy doses of Chemo. It is normal. With Cancer, your body never feels close to normal. But there becomes a new normal that you just adjust to. During these times, I just need to have very little company and stay in my room the entire time. I’m glad I have a laptop.

It’s strange watching TV now. It really makes me laugh when I see all of the vanity infomercials. The ‘modern miracle skin rejuvenation.’ It all seems like a joke even more than ever now. I can’t help but look at all the healthy people who don’t realize how good they actually have it. Health is such a blessing.

You always see the Cancer commercials. But it is always them. Not me. It is such a strange feeling to be the other guy. But I now see that it is any of us.

It also feels strange now when I hear about someone who died from a long battle with Cancer. I was just watching the news about Stuart Scott (the ESPN News anchor). As well as comedian Taylor Negron. My heart goes out to their families. When you have Cancer, the entire family has it. Everybody goes through it. I am beginning to understand more and more what the families have been through over the years. What sacrifices they have had to make.

Staring at the reality of Cancer doesn’t scare me, though. It motivates me to keep writing, thinking, and connecting. I find myself thinking much more about what I have, versus what I don’t have.

In the past, I focused so much on what I didn’t have yet. For example, I didn’t have as many wedding bookings as I wanted, so I didn’t yet have the money to buy the house I was after. I put valuable time into thinking about big things and little things I didn’t have. But concentrating on what you don’t have brings misery. We have more than we know by simply being healthy.

Now, when my brain starts drifting towards what I don’t have, my goal is to tell myself to shut the f up. My entire focus now is on what I do have. I have a whole lot of love coming my way. It has filled me up and made me full of joy. Let’s keep it rolling!

More random thoughts…. I was thinking about Facebook today. I am by no means anti-Facebook. It really does connect everyone to each other. But I’ve noticed that by being so connected, there is a major disconnect. It connects us so well that we don’t have to call each other anymore to know what happened over the weekend. We click a button instead and read a status update. It makes it so easy to be lazy. I am the first to be guilty of that.

My personal goal over time is to pick up the phone more to say hi, and to send more emails from the heart. I won’t always have the energy to write or talk, but that is one of my new goals in 2015.

Updates

OMG. Was that a fart or did I just shart?

If you have a weak stomach, you may want to skip this post. But I want to share all the humility that comes with this process.

When I was a little kid, and was learning how to poop on my own, my parents would say WOW in encouragement each time. So I used to tell my parents that I needed to go take a Wow. Last night, I rediscovered my wow. Wow oh wow oh wow!! WOW.

The chemo I am on can cause major constipation. So after 14 meals, with no Wow to show for it, they said, “we are going to have to give your body a little extra motivation.” I had to drink a maple syrup solution every two hours. Syrup sounds yummy until you are drinking it on rotation. Eight hours and four of these cocktails later, it began. The storm started brewing. My stomach made sounds that I had never heard before. I could feel the swirl. The tornado from within. I knew I was going to meet my biggest Wow yet.

I sat down on the toilet and let out a fart that I would time at being at least 35-40 seconds long. There was no pause in-between.  Or was it a fart??? Nope… it was indeed a shart. For those that don’t know what a shart is, here is the urban definition: “a small, unintended defecation that occurs when one relaxes the anal sphincter to fart.”

I was in trouble. Big trouble. I literally could not tell whether I had to fart or shart. I was stuck. I would go back to my bed, feel a rumble, run to the bathroom, and… nothing but a fart. Head back to my bed, feel a new rumble, go back to the bathroom, and… out came a shart.

This confusion eventually let to four straight hours on the toilet. No exaggeration at all, I was on the toilet from 8:00 pm to 12:00 am. I was officially making mud castles and could not stop for four hours. They were no longer farts or sharts.  It was an out of body WOW experience. At one time my left butt cheek completely fell asleep. I had to lean in different angles. My left calf cramped up. It felt a bit like the scene out of Dumb and Dumber, but times a hundred.

A couple of hours in, the nurse came in and said to make sure not to flush, because they wanted to see it. So I had to sit among the ever growing mud castle. Am I traumatized? Yeah. I will admit it. Never in my life have I experienced anything close to this.

I have been talking a lot about the simplicity of happiness. Sometimes it is just taking a good solid WOW.