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Coping with My Fears

It has been a very long time since I wrote in my blog. I should start out by acknowledging this. I told myself that when I had something to write about, I would write again. But I wouldn’t write just to write.

So what have I been doing? I have been living! I stepped away for a bit to find my new happy. My health is currently steady. I am in maintenance mode. I take chemo pills every other day, do labs twice a week, and have chemo in my port once a month. Overall I am doing great. I am alive, and it is crazy that I am.

It’s been almost a year and a half since I experienced a fear I didn’t even know I had. Cancer has been life changing, and in addition, this year has brought on so many other potential fears. To name a few:

  • One of my best friends just left to do his final deployment. Will he come back the same as when he left?
  • My cousin, who suffered from bipolar disorder and was more of a very close friend growing up, unfortunately ended his life. Will his young kids and family be ok?
  • My aunt just found out yesterday that her Brain Cancer is back after 9 years of remission. They won’t know the results for another 10 days.
  • My good friends have a 1 year old daughter that is suffering from AML, will she be ok?
  • In my business, I have an important person/employee leaving our studio, and it’s the busy season quickly approaching. How will I get someone new trained in time?
  • Will I keep bringing in enough money to paying all of my HUGE bills
  • April is venturing into a new job. Will she like it, is it the right move?
  • The photography market is changing and there are a lot of new photographers that keep popping up. Will the value of photography stay where it is?
  • Then there is my own health fears. If someone near me coughs, does that mean they have the flu, and I will catch it? Should I eat here? Is it ok to travel? Will my Cancer ever come back????

Those are just a few on the long list of my own potential fears. Each person I mentioned has their own fears also. The list goes on and on for everyone. We all have a laundry list. If you just focus on the fears, the world can seem pretty bleak. It is stressful and depressing. So how do we fight the fears? How do we maintain our sanity? How do we stay happy in the present?

To fight my own fears, my biggest weapon is faith. I don’t necessarily mean faith from a religious sense, or maybe I do without realizing it… For me, faith is more about trusting in my decisions. Even if the judgements I make are sometimes based on intuition, and not my own experiences, I have to believe they will be correct. As long as I learn and grow from my own choices, I will continue to evolve.

I don’t think it is necessarily healthy to remove all fears. We have them for a reason. Ironically, though, it is typically the fear we create in our minds that causes the majority of our pain and suffering. Once we have the outcome, whether it is good or “bad”, the coping or healing has already begun.

It is sort of like eating good fat or bad fat. Good sugar or bad sugar… There are fears that are necessary and good, as they keep you cautious. But fears of the unknown get in the way of happiness and can be bad. They keep us from taking good risks. These are the fears that need to be conquered.

Over the course of running my business for 16 years and then going through a year and a half of fighting Cancer, I have developed techniques for myself to get through what I consider to be the “bad” fears. I will share some of them in hopes that it can help someone else have a better day :)

  1. The first step is to take a moment and acknowledge the fears. The quicker you can do this the better. By doing this, you don’t get sucked in and overtaken. It is really easy to go into that panic mode. The heart starts racing, the mind wanders, the body tightens up, and now your body is working against you, rather than for you. Just take a moment and stare right at the fear. Acknowledge its existence and then stop for a moment.
  2. Don’t jump too far ahead. That is when most of our fears grow.
  3. I then think about the things that are outside my control, and have faith and trust that it will all work out, as it is supposed to. There just isn’t any purpose worrying about something you have no control over. (I know, easier said than done). If anything works out differently than I had hoped or expected, then I will eventually discover why, and will grow from it.
  4. I then list out what I think is in my control. Once it is listed out, I don’t look at the entire list. I look at the first step on that list and start to execute the tasks. If you look at everything you have to do, it is like putting gas on a fire. Its overwhelming and then allows fears to grow. Just go one step at a time. I try to simplify everything into step 1, step 2… Before jumping 10 steps ahead.
  5. Finally, after I do what I can, I accept and trust the outcome. I did what I could, and what I couldn’t control worked out the way it was supposed to… even if I couldn’t understand why at the time.

All of these techniques are easier said than done. I still have moments of being overtaken by my fear. But I am aware of it, and try to quickly combat it. If we live our lives in fear, I truly believe that we never really lived.

As we get older, there is so much more to fear, with all of our responsibilities, our childrens’ well being, our personal health, paying our bills, and the list goes on and on… But if we can have the faith and acknowledge life as it is, then we can still be very happy. We won’t let our days be consumed with fear. We just have to trust, and know that everything will be ok.

Rachel and Kenneth, you will be ok. Mom and Dad, Shosh and Brian, Brandon, Rachel and I will be ok, with whatever lies in front of us. Marsha and Gene and Rachel, you will get through this. The kids will be ok. Tim and Lynn, Hazel will be ok, you will be ok. Ryan, you will be ok. Cheryl and Nathaniel, Ryan will be ok. Kristin Q, you will be ok. You have gotten through everything life has thrown at you. You will be ok. Megan, if you’re reading this, your mom is more than ok. She is smiling down at you and your family everyday, but especially this Sunday. I know this. I really do know this. Your family will be ok. April, you will be ok. April, I will be ok. Jill, you made a tough decision, but you made one, so you will be ok. My business will be ok. Everyone in it will be ok. Those that are struggling financially, just strive to be the best at what you do, and you will be ok.

Lets all just take a moment to shake off those fears, and trust that we will be ok :) If you feel like it, click on the comment wall and write down one of your current biggest fears. I think we will see how connected we all are. Then let’s see if we can all let those fears go.

Updates

Wife for Life!

Over the past year, my amazing wife April has given me endless support and love. She has gone through this entire Cancer journey with me, seen me at my worst, and remained by my side every step of the way. I am happy to say that although I battle with health a bit, I remain in full remission. I thank you for sharing my journey with me so far, and will continue to post updates as life happens.

This time, I wanted to send an update on April as well. Incredibly, over the past year and a half, April has also been able to create a ton of new designs in whatever moments she could find. She now has a strong collection to show for the effort, and we have officially launched her product in our company Arelor, which is online at arelor.com.

Am I plugging the site? Heck yeah. But I really believe in it. I’m sharing this because I truly am a huge fan (of April and her art), and would love for you to check out her hard work. In addition to handmade jewelry and boutique throw pillows, there is a full range of exclusive greeting cards and fine art prints.

April and I want everything we put our energy into to bring happiness to others and ourselves. For the next month, Arelor will be donating a portion of every sale to organizations that work to combat Leukemia & Lymphoma. It’s very important to April (and me) to give back, and to recognize those who devote their lives to making people like me healthier.

I hope that you will check out the website and all of April’s recent work at http://arelor.com. As well, you’ll see gift certificate options that can still be sent out in time for Valentine’s Day gifts ;)

Thank you for all of your continued love and support!

Updates

What Cancer Has Taught Me

In a week and a half, it will be a year since my life was forever changed. On December 26th of last year, I sat in a doctor’s office, thinking I had bronchitis or pneumonia. Instead, I heard: “I’m sorry that I have to tell you this, but you have a large mass in your chest, and it is a rare Cancer.”

This year has easily been my worst year of my life. I have experienced the worst pain that I could have never even imagined, the worst fears, and the worst dreams. I have experienced my body going through hell and back, over and over again.

This year has also been the best year of my life. I have experienced more emotion, thoughts and feelings than ever before. I have gained perspective, learned perseverance, and acquired an understanding of what really matters. I have discovered how to maintain confidence and faith, and how to trust. I have realized what is most valuable to me, and what brings me happiness and peace. I have built tight bonds with my family and friends like never before. I have seen that no matter what bad is going on in the world, overall, humanity is kind and caring and loving.

I have been in “maintenance” for four months now. It hasn’t been easy. In many ways, maintenance has been more difficult than when I was in the hospital. Throughout the past year, I have had Chemo injected in my spine, taken high doses of steroids (not the kind that make you buff), and ingested Chemo pills. The doctors basically have to play around with the quantities of the drugs until I am balanced, and my body has had a very hard time adjusting. I have yet to find that balance.

There are moments where I do feel good. But overall, it has been rough. During the last few months, I have had recurring dizzy spells. These feel like I just spun around in a circle for five minutes and then tried to walk. When I transition from sitting down to standing, or talk energetically for more than 10 minutes, I get dizzy.

On top of that, I have headaches. I did wind up having an MRI and fortunately all is clear. But these are not headaches where you say ouch and go about your day – we are talking 10 out of 10, can’t open my eyes or move. The pressure is so intense, with no exit point, that it eventually forces tears out of my eyes. These are all effects of the serious drugs that I’m on.

As a productive person, it is very challenging for me to lay on a couch and listen to the TV. But I have learned that when my body tells me to stop, I have to put on the brakes. It isn’t like working out, where you have to push through. It means stop. Tonight, I admit, I tried to push through. Because I did, I learned humility and what that really means.

I was on the phone with a potential client. I love talking with potential clients. I find a lot of enjoyment in it. After I was on the phone for 30 minutes or so, I knew I had pushed more than I should. I started getting sounds in my ear like when you take a big yawn. I could physically no longer speak and my body was shaking, but was able to quickly mumble to the bride and her parents that I need to call them right back in a few. I then abruptly hung up the phone.

I had to go to the bathroom, but remember… getting up is not a quick process for me. So now I’m spinning, have to pee really bad, and can’t quickly get to the bathroom. I pushed it again, and tried to get to the bathroom anyway. Less than a quarter of the way there, my body gave out on me. I found myself lying on the floor (soft carpet, phew), and unable to get up. I felt like that old commercial where the old lady says: “I’ve fallen and can’t get up.”

This is where humility kicks in. No matter how much perseverance I have, my body told me to stay down. I was trying to hold my bladder, but felt myself starting to lose control. So what happened? Well… I peed on myself. Later, April saw the clothes on the washing machine, where I had put them after I had regained my composure. I had to explain what happened, and couldn’t help but feel embarrassment as a grown man. These are the kinds of challenges that Cancer and treatment have brought me.

This situation was my fault, and was avoidable. I should have been aware of my limits and respected them. But I have grown tired of sitting on a couch. I want so badly to be active.

I feel like I am constantly being tested. The moment I feel good and I think I’m through it, then BAM!, I get hit again. If you saw me day-to-day, you would think there are two of me. There is a guy that looks healthy, seems healthy, is walking on the beach and laughing… Then there is the guy curled up on the couch, just trying to open one eye, and unable to lift his head.

So how do I handle it? How do I keep my sanity through all of this? These are the questions I constantly ask myself whenever I feel like I’m losing control. Should I try not to think and just stay numb, so I get through it? Or should I allow myself to think and feel, no matter the situation?

There is nothing to gain by becoming numb. It’s fine to cry, laugh, be angry, or sad, as long as it is a real feeling. I have to keep expressing myself however my mind feels necessary. I have learned from Cancer that becoming numb is the same thing as being dead. As long as I can feel, then I need to keep feeling and letting it out. That is the key to getting through all of this. I have to keep sharing my story and thoughts with my friends and family, otherwise I am alone.

This journey remains my biggest challenge. You just read what I went through tonight. I am not through it yet – I have 20 more months of treatment ahead of me. I do find myself frustrated. Until shortly before my diagnosis last year, I felt like a healthy active guy. Suddenly I am a 95-year-old man. But I have to go through this with a sense of humility, confidence and faith. I will see tomorrow, and it will be a healthier day.

I have changed my views on hope a bit as well. I think hope is ok now, as long as it is balanced with the acceptance of the way things actually are. I very much hope that I will find health in 2016 and I will accept what my body throws my way. Cancer has taught me to never, EVER take advantage of the fortunes of being healthy. Good health is a treat, a gift. I understand much more now how amazing our bodies are, and that even when they are failing, they are always trying to heal.

We never truly know what tomorrow will bring. No matter what happens, I am here now, and I appreciate every minute of it. Even if it is with just one eye open. As long as I can feel, I am alive.

Updates

The Ups, Downs, Pros and Cons of Maintenance

It has been a very interesting couple of months (to say the least) since I last wrote in my blog. With me being in full remission and in maintenance mode, you would think that that it would be all peaches and cream. It really hasn’t been. Maintenance is a cute word for “we’re going to still kick your ass, but now you don’t stay at the hospital.” There of course have been many highlight moments. I will start with those.

The Ups:

  • I took an amazing trip with my Dad through the coast of Big Sur.
  • I surprised Brandon by visiting him in Rocklin. I saw him hit a baseball to the wall in center field for a double, swam in the river with his brother and sister and mom, and watched him run a jog-a-thon.
  • I have enjoyed restaurants again with April, and riding my new fat tire bike on the sandy beach of La Jolla.
  • I have been able to play with my hero, Brighton (sister’s baby)
  • I have hair on my head and have enjoyed a second round of puberty!
  • I have gone to the office a few times and enjoy being able to chat with people a little more again.
  • I have seen my family more and have been able to relax
  • I carved a pumpkin for Halloween and got to hang out with friends at the house.
  • I love being able to spend time with April 24-7

The Downs:

  • Getting balanced on the chemo pills and steroids is a big, frustrating challenge. I feel great one day. Then, literally the next day I have a fever, aches, and headaches that feel like a sudden zap to my brain. I can’t get off the couch because it almost feels like I’m short-circuiting. I’m fine one minute… but it is a tease, because then my body crashes.
  • I have had to go to the ER, and spent 6 days in the hospital because of a fever. When I get a fever, it is life threatening because I don’t have the immune system to fight it off. So guess what I get… More drugs.
  • Adjusting to food has been a crazy transition. An example is salad and chicken slices. I loved it in the past. But now, any of the foods I was given in the hostpital are a struggle to eat. They make me nauseous, like trying to eat in a porta-potty. Chemo (although amazing) is the most disgusting feeling mentally. You are putting poison through your body. It just feels gross. So anything connected to it is now gross. Now, certain smells and foods I associate with Chemo are no longer enjoyable.

My biggest challenge has been readjusting to society. When you’re in the hospital, you are thinking about one thing, and that is surviving. But then when you get out, there is a lot more to think about. I now have work, friends, family, and all of these other thoughts on my mind. Even good things can be overwhelming.

People often say, “Congratulations, it must be great to have this behind you. You must be excited to just live a normal life again.” I would have said the exact same thing if the tables were turned. Like I said, being in remission is a good thing. But it is not like a light switch. I can’t just go from normal to Cancer patient and back to normal. I have been so programmed over the last 9 months of things to watch out for that I tippy toe around a bit. Going into a bank is super uncomfortable. Eating at a restaurant where the tables are near each other is strange. Going to a public bathroom, shaking a person’s hand and just being around people is scary. It has gotten easier, but it will take time.

My Predicament:

If I posted all the fun things that I have done since remission started, it would look like I am back to normal. In some ways I am. But it feels like there are two of me, the sick guy and the healthy guy. They are constantly battling each other. The sick guy loves the Chemo because it is like fuel. The healthy guy also likes the treatment because it will ultimately help him defeat the sick guy. But that leaves me, my soul, caught in the middle. I hate them! I can’t wait to be done with them and say goodbye to the sick guy. I’m so ready to work out, travel, explore. I’m ready to have a cold or fever without fearing if I will wake up the next day.

My Discovery:

They say “Live Life to the Fullest.” “Live Every Day Like it is Your Last.” I remember thinking about these two phrases even before I got sick. They didn’t make total sense. I took it literally. Like, if I am to live everyday like it is my last day, then screw work. I’m going to a tropical island and am going snorkeling. But I understand the true meaning of that statement now. It is basically saying don’t take a single day for granted. You can be healthy one minute and the very next day wake up, feel a little funny, go to get a check up and find out you have a rare Cancer. Ok… maybe that is a little dramatic, but that is my story.

Appreciate something every day. Take a moment to realize how special the simplest of things are. When I walk, my feet are numb and tingly. I can’t even feel them. Are yours? My head is in a constant pressure cloud from these drugs. Is yours? Appreciate being healthy, appreciate being able to run, appreciate walking outside, looking at trees, meeting up with friends, etc.

Now we can’t stand around appreciating all day long, every second of the day, or we will be hippies twirling and dancing in a forest somewhere. To me, living every day like it is your last just means to take time out at some point in the day, step back, and smell the roses. Realize not what you wish you had, but appreciate what you do have.

“Live Life to the Fullest” to me means to cut out as much BS as possible. Get through all the bullshit that exists out there, and find what is real and meaningful in your heart. Believe me, I don’t want to ever go back to intensive Chemo in the hospital again. But the one thing that I have discovered and appreciate is how real it was. My disease was 100% real. My battle is 100% real. There was only one thing to think about and that was to survive. No BS. It was honest and didn’t beat around the bush. Now that I am in this “maintenance” mode, I see all the BS much more clearly than in the past. It sticks out like a sore thumb.

I want every decision that I make to be a good one, because it will ultimately make me feel more fulfilled as a human. I only want to associate myself with people that enhance and make my life better. I see how much we do for show. I would say we were born into the fakest generation yet. It is all about the glitz, all about living a facade. It’s a fake-it-till-you-make-it mentality. We don’t really talk to each other and don’t really listen either. Now this isn’t the case for everyone, but overall, it is what I see. I see it in business. People have 50,000 Instagram followers, yet when a picture is posted they have only 83 likes. How is this possible? Well, because they pay people on fiverr.com to add a bunch of fake friends. That is social media.

People also become “friends” with other business people, but it isn’t because they like or care about the other person. It is because they can gain from them. So there is a fake friendship established there as well. I have discovered a few of those since I have been sick. A few people I thought were friends, I didn’t hear from once, throughout my journey, at a time I didn’t have anything to offer them. This has been a big discovery. On a positive note, I also learned who my real friends are.

My main point is that “Live Life to the Fullest” isn’t about just buying a house, making connections, showing off how great you are, etc. It is discovering what truly makes you happy, who truly enhances your life (surrounding yourself with genuine people) and where you want to dedicate your precious time.

I find myself anxious to get my health back on track. I look forward to all that is ahead. I look forward to feeling more balanced mentally and physically. It continues to be a big challenge. In many ways I feel like I have come back from war. But it is all within my own body. It is strange to love your body but also be so afraid of it. I look forward to my own continued discovery of what gives my life the most meaning, and how I can make other peoples’ lives better.

Updates

Health Update: MUST READ

Yesterday was a crazy crossroad in this journey. I had a full-body exam. I had a CAT scan, PET scan, and blood work to determine the success of 8 months of treatment. At 9:00 am, I went into the doctor’s office and sat down. I was there alone (by choice). I wanted to accept my fate, no matter which direction it took, and come to terms with it. I sat there for about 20 minutes. When you are waiting to hear whether you still have Cancer, 20 minutes feels like a lifetime.

If the tests say yes, it means I have a very resilient Cancer that will most likely come back. I will have to try even more drastic treatment methods. It means the odds of needing a transplant are high. Scary stuff.

If the tests say no, the treatment worked. The odds of my Cancer being gone and staying gone are quite high. I will still be facing two more years of treatment, but it will all be outpatient. I will never have to stay in the hospital ever again. I will be able to resume social activity, eat at restaurants, travel, etc. I will still need to be cautious, but will no longer be the fragile bubble boy that I have been.

The doc asked if I was nervous, and I just laughed. I bet you’re waiting for the results. It is nerve-wracking, right? HA.

At 9:00am yesterday, I was told that my CAT scans and PET scans show that I am in COMPLETE REMISSION. There is NO evidence of Cancer. Holy crap. I can’t scream this loud enough…. There is NO evidence of Cancer!!! I took the biggest and happiest breath of my life.

I immediately called my wife and family, and told them the great news. Then I called my son Brandon. “Guess what?,” I asked him. “They looked through my body and can’t find any Cancer.” All he did was laugh and laugh and laugh. I should have recorded it. It was an 11 year old boy, my boy, experiencing pure joy with me. He asked again, “So they don’t see anything?” I said “Nope,” trying to keep from completely losing it… and then he laughed some more and said, “Well, that’s good. Now you can come to my baseball games.”

This is really one of my happiest moments. Yes, I have a long journey ahead. I am at the hospital now, and just had a bunch of painful procedures, including getting Chemo through my spine. I have two years of treatment remaining. I will be taking Chemo pills every day. My body has to keep fighting. But knowing that it is all working, everything hurts a lot less.

I want to thank everyone that has been supporting me. I want to thank everyone for making me feel so loved. Thank you to my family and friends. I really am alive because of all of you. You all gave me so much strength. A major hurdle has been achieved, and I am grateful to have passed through it.

You know the famous saying: “So Aaron, you just beat Cancer, what are you going to do now??” Well… I’m not going to Disneyland. Instead, I’m just going to the taco shop to get a California burrito. That sounds pretty good right about now :)

PS: If you’d like to post a comment, please feel free to visit the comments section on the site. I will make sure to give it a read. Have a happy and healthy day!

Updates

Health Update August 24th

Today I am on my 8th day in the hospital. It has been very difficult for me this round. But let’s first start off with the fun stuff.

I had my son Brandon in San Diego for 32 amazing days. He is the best medicine :) Fortunately, we timed everything just right, and I was only in the hospital for six of those days.

When I got out, I felt surprisingly healthy. I went to the beach, swam in a pool, took bike rides, threw a frisbee, and played catch pretty much every day. I also learned Minecraft, thanks to Brandon. I remember trying to teach my parents Mario Bros, and they were clueless. They just couldn’t pick it up. That is how I felt trying to learn his game. I guess each generation will get more and more confused by the games our kids play.

It felt nice to feel pretty normal. When I say ‘pretty normal’, I mean far from normal, but not in any pain. More energy.

Now I’m back in. This round is called 3B. It takes place over two phases. You go in for 4-5 days, and then out for a week. Then back in again. They give you chemo for 36 hours, and then special fluids to rescue you from the chemo effects. Your levels have to get down to .1.

The last round, my levels dropped to the desired range within two days. This round, however, my kidneys have suffered injuries. Basically, they got their kidney butts kicked. So my levels have not been able to recover at the same speed. I’m stuck. It is now Day 8, and I am still here.

I think it is always important to stay as positive as possible. That is the best way to heal. But everyone has a breaking point. I will fully admit that this round broke me a bit. This round, this final round, has been brutal. It is like a tease. You will see pictures of me at the beach and think, “Wow, looks like he is getting better!” And I am. But then, the second I go back on chemo, I go right back to where I was physically. I feel so weak right now, like an old man.

This round, I have experienced things that I hadn’t really gone through in all the previous rounds, like post-traumatic stress. I have felt anxious, depressed, frustrated, angry, and, negative. These are all words that I would definitely never use to describe me. Actually I am the exact opposite. But you reach a point, (and I believe this exists in every human), where you just can’t take it. You feel defeated. I had moments of this for the first time in my life, and I couldn’t escape it. So yesterday I just embraced it. I cried a bit, then cried some more, and then a little more after that. I couldn’t help it. But after that, I felt a little better.

Now, I believe there are two ways to recover. 99% of the time I am going to keep it positive. I think it ultimately helps the healing process much quicker. But 1% of the time, If I need to, I will allow myself to crawl in a ball and have a little pity party. It mentally released a lot of frustration, and I am feeling better today.

This isn’t easy. It is not the same as feeling tired and waiting to have energy again. There is no feeling like this. Your body just takes a beating. It really is a war.

The good news is that this is my final round of in-patient treatment. Assuming my Pet scan checks out well, I will not have to stay at the hospital anymore. When I go in for chemo, I will be able to leave afterwards. I will also be taking chemo pills/steroids at my own house. It will still be tiring, but there really is no place like home. I wish I could click my heels and be there now. So I am in a waiting game until my numbers improve and my Kidneys repair themselves.

So back to the good news/fantasy. I am hopeful that the doctors clear me to go home tomorrow. I am optimistic that my Pet Scan will be clear, meaning that Cancer can no longer be detected. Then, I begin my two years of maintenance. During this time, I will grow my hair back, start working out more, take a trip with April to see the fall leaves, visit Brandon, work a couple of days a week at the studio, hang out with my new nephew, enjoy my family and friends, throw on the baseball uniform and play first base and bunt, ride my scooter, go to the beach, eat at restaurants, go to the All Star Game, and just enjoy my body getting healthier every day.

I don’t think these are crazy dreams. I look forward to seeing them come true very soon.