Silver Linings: Tony Bliss 1966-2012

Tony Bliss was a close friend of mine who lost his heroic battle with cancer in late 2012. He wrote about his experience in a series of gripping posts that reveal a beautiful and courageous man. I was deeply moved by these posts — some of which are admittedly difficult to digest. This writing is raw. Real. Be forewarned that if you read what follows, you will never be the same. You will laugh, cry, fear, hope, and stare into the abyss of your own mortality. I am honored to share this great work with you here.tb_profile

“Houston, we have a problem!”

The clot thickens!

Oh What A Night!

How the Grinch Stole the Last Half of July and the First Half of August

Introducing the Side Effect of the Week! :-)

Denial is the sincerest form of courage!

I should get a part-time gig with Motel 6!

SEW, Week -1508 (That’s 29 years ago for you math-challenged people)

Burn, baby, burn!

Tony Bliss 1966-2012: Rest in Peace

Tony Bliss’s Final Blessing: Silver Linings

NOTE FROM JOHN MILES:  It has been a bit more than a year since my friend Tony passed away.  I was fortunate enough to have spent the last weeks of Tony’s life with him, his family, and some of his closest friends.  I was also an avid reader of Tony’s blog posts that Larry and the OC Housing News have been reproducing over the past few days.  Regular readers of Tony’s blog and the comments know that Tony was also writing a post for the MD Anderson hospital blog.  Unfortunately, it was never published.  Tony’s wife Deborah recently shared that post with me and gave Larry permission to reprint it here.  It is entitled Silver Linings, and Tony discusses the positive aspects of having to face cancer over a prolonged period of time.  It is a very moving piece, and it sums up Tony’s attitude and character perfectly and represents what I loved about him for all of those years.

Reading the post also made me consider whether there were any Silver Linings that I could take from having lost Tony to cancer.  I’d like to share two of those.  First, I am thankful that Tony had the courage to write his blog.  By doing so, I learned even more about my best friend.  In addition, by reading other peoples’ reaction to his posts, I also got to see others experience the qualities and character that I so admired in Tony over the years.  I was never more proud to have been his best friend as when I read those posts and saw the reactions to them.  The second Silver Lining for me has been my relationship with Tony’s two sons, Adam and Jason.  Not having Tony serve as a filter to my relationship with these two has allowed me to more fully appreciate what wonderful young men they are becoming.  I also get to see first-hand some of the best of Tony’s qualities in each of them.  For example, Adam overtly displays Tony’s intelligence and his will to succeed in those things important to him.  Jason, on the other hand, has Tony’s flair for fully enjoying some of the simplest things in life –The Andy Griffith Show, Pop Tarts, and Mt. Dew to name a few.  Both of them exhibit Tony’s compassion and caring for others.  I know Tony was proud of his children, and I can now proudly call them my friends too.

Before I turn you over to Tony’s final blog post, I want to thank Larry Roberts, who I have known and counted as a friend as long as Tony, and the OC Housing News for taking Tony’s words to an even larger audience.  I also need everyone to show up at my house to help me rake leaves before you finish reading Tony’s words (you’ll understand in just a second J).

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Silver Linings

I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) over 3 years ago. CLL is a slow-growing disease, so I’ve had plenty of time to experience a number of physical and emotional ups and downs during that time. I have learned a lot about myself, and about how I deal with life as a cancer patient.

For me, the single most important thing I’ve learned is that even cancer has silver linings. Yes, I said it – EVEN CANCER has silver linings!

Some were quickly obvious, and some I have only come to appreciate over time, but here is a list of the silver linings I have found in my journey as a cancer patient. Maybe this list will help you see the good things in your life, whether you’re a cancer patient or not – we all have things we should appreciate more consciously, and I don’t recommend waiting until you have cancer to enjoy the blessings in your life.

  • “The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.” George Santayana, Spanish philosopher, poet, essayist, and novelist

Ah, family. Who doesn’t think their family is, at times, bizarre, unusual, or otherwise surreal? Here are just a few examples that I have personally experienced:

  • When I was 4 or 5, my father thought it would be hilarious to scare me while I was drinking grape juice in my white pajamas – I don’t have to tell you how that turned out.
  • My best friend’s father once interrupted a Super Bowl party at his house to shanghai all his sons and their friends into raking the yard – we didn’t see another play of that game. Did I mention it was the Super Bowl…?
  • I once saw my wife’s best friend’s car in a restaurant parking lot, and I thought it would be amusing to put my wife’s best friend in the awkward position of watching me holding another woman’s hand as we walked into the restaurant, just to see what she would do. Fortunately my friends convinced me this was a bad idea, and when we walked into the restaurant there sat my wife’s best friend…having lunch with my wife! Hey, I never said I was smart…

Cary Grant famously said “Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops!” And it’s easy to view your family through the veil of familiarity, and recall the crazy stories of loved ones, and not see the full spectrum of the qualities offered by the family unit.

However, Maureen O’Hara once said, “I was born into the most remarkable and eccentric family I could possibly have hoped for,” and I think she hit the nail on the head. When viewed through the prism of a family member in need, the strength, generosity, caring, and compassion of my family and my wife’s family are truly remarkable, and I count my membership in this exclusive club as one of the biggest blessings bestowed upon me in my life. I was aware of that on some level prior to my diagnosis – my wife and I have mentioned it several times over the years, how fortunate we are in our families. But the way they came together to support us in our hour (or in our case, our year) of need defies description and makes me emotional every time I think about it.

I know not all people are so fortunate in their family life, and my heart goes out to them. But for those of you who maybe take your family for granted a little bit, here’s a gentle wake-up call – your family is amazing, and they love you, so please don’t wait for a crisis to let them know you appreciate them!

  • “A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.” Arnold H. Glasow, American businessman, author, and humorist

Everyone I know has a best friend. A friend you can call no matter what, no matter when. I’ve been blessed to have many friends that fall into that category in my life, friends I knew I could count on no matter what. I have also had this conversation with my wife several times over the years – how lucky I have been in my friendships throughout my life.

What’s amazing is how my cancer experience has revealed best friends I didn’t even know I had. The number of people who have expressed their concern, who have provided support both financial and emotional, and who have made themselves available to help not just me personally, but my family and my children’s caregivers in my absence, never ceases to amaze me.

As with your family members, I encourage you to look around at your friends and really appreciate them. They’re easy to take for granted – heck, that’s practically part of the definition of friendship, after all. You’re not supposed to have to pay attention, because you just KNOW they’ll be there for you. Like Marlene Dietrich said, “It’s the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.”

But that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate a token of your esteem from time to time. I know the etiquette is a bit different for men and women, so women, just tell your girlfriends what they mean to you, they’ll be touched. And guys, next time you’re at the gym with your lifting buddy, just offer to spot for him instead of laughing when he tries to lift too much – he’ll know what you’re saying. J

  • “Kindness is always fashionable.” Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr, popular 19th-century British author

It’s easy to be cynical about the state of mankind. It’s easy to listen to your parents’ stories of a kinder, gentler world when they were growing up. It’s easy to recall the 19 middle fingers you received and delivered from/to various road-rage-infused drivers on your recent commute and conclude that, in fact, the world actually IS going to hell in a hand basket. Where is Mayberry and Andy Griffith? What happened to the world of Father Knows Best, the Brady Bunch, and, even though they were a bit “edgy” because they were into that “rock-n-roll”, the Partridge Family?

I’m happy to report that those worlds DO still exist! You would think being a cancer patient would make you the most cynical person in the world, but in fact it has done the opposite for me. It has exposed me to a whole world of people, many times perfect strangers, who have exhibited the most humble and honorable side of human nature.

People from all walks of life have shown me that which should be the simplest thing in the world to give, but which all too often is lost in today’s world of superficial glitz and short attention spans  – kindness.

The acts have ranged from huge (a benefit concert thrown on behalf of my family that was organized by my AMAZING co-workers) to small, but they have all touched me and reminded me that the milk of human kindness does indeed flow as strongly as ever throughout our society.

Sophocles said “Kindness is ever the begetter of kindness,” and my experiences in the last six months have born that out time and time again. The simplest thing can make a difference in someone’s day – holding an elevator, getting a blanket for someone, filling out a form for someone when they would normally be expected to do it themselves. These simple things can turn a whole day around for someone who is having a rough day – and believe me, M.D. Anderson is full of people having a rough day. There are always opportunities to provide kindness, and my awareness of the impact these seemingly small acts can have on me, and how I can provide the same lift to others with even a minimal effort, is definitely one of the silver linings of my cancer experience.

  • “A pun is the lowest form of humor, unless you thought of it yourself.” Doug Larson, syndicated American journalist

They say laughter is the best medicine. I’m not sure if that’s medically true, but it’s sure the cheapest medicine, and you don’t have to wait for the pharmacy guy to update his Facebook page before he gets around to filling a prescription for you.

I know it’s a cliché to say “you have a choice with how you deal with adversity.”

The fact is, some people see the world through rose-colored, glass-half-full glasses, and some folks are naturally inclined to view the world with a healthy dose of doom and gloom, no matter how many smiley emoticons they finish their average text message with. Adding cancer to the glass-half-empty person’s burdens to bear is unlikely to elicit the kind of life change in which that person suddenly starts walking around whistling Louis Armstrong’s “Sunny Side of the Street.”

Having said that, any time you can find humor in your situation you’re bound to feel better off. I’m no Seinfeld, so I don’t have tons of witty observations that are germane to this topic, unfortunately. But there have been some funny moments along the way, like when after a shift change a nurse came in and started discussing the intricate details of my bowel movements, assuming the woman in the room was my wife (actually my wife’s best friend, my wife had just stepped out for a minute to make a call). It was hilarious watching her squirm, and knowing I was squirming just as much, yet somehow unable to interrupt the nurse and let her know.

Another time I was facing a potentially life-threatening blood clot in my throat, and this whole team of doctors, ENTs, and nurses had been huddled around me for over 2 hours, starting at 2am, just watching me slowly breathe more and more laboriously and waiting for the OR to be set up so they could perform a tracheotomy on me and remove the clot before I suffocated. I was conscious the whole time, hunched over at the waist because it was the only way I could breathe at all. Terrible situation for all involved, no doubt.

And then, quite suddenly, the clot broke free – the moment we’d all feared, scared that it would be too big for me to swallow and I would begin choking. My esophagus just smirked and said “swallow that? I don’t think so!” The clot made it about 1/3 of the way down my throat, and then my tummy said “thanks, but I reject blood products – out out, damn clot!”, and I proceeded to vomit for about 60 seconds (felt like 60 minutes).

Everyone is standing around watching this crazy episode, and seeing this magnificent blood clot come out of my mouth, and when I’m finally done, I look up at them with pure relief on my face, smile, and say in a totally light-hearted voice, “Well…thanks for coming!”

Hey, I’m not saying it’s the height of comedic styling, but I thought it was pretty good under the circumstances!

There is, of course, non-cancer humor as well. My son recently was forced to change soccer teams, because his old soccer team didn’t “make” this season. He played his first game with his new team today, and he did really well, so I said, “It looks you made the most of your debut with your new team!” and he quickly corrected me by suggesting, “Maybe they made the most out of me!”

The point is, there is humor all around you, and the more you can view your world with a bit of humor, the easier your time will be.

  • Patience/Time: “Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.” Barbara Johnson, popular American author and founder of Spatula Ministries

Ok, I’m not going to lie – hospital time is slow time. REALLY slow time. It brings to mind Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, that painting where the pocket watches are drooping around a desert landscape. I haven’t been able to confirm this, but I’m pretty sure he painted that while waiting to see his doctor.

You spend a lot of time waiting in the hospital. Like, seriously – a LOT of time. There’s a reason you’re called a “patient,” because if you were an “impatient” your head would explode after your second 2-hour waiting-room wait on the same day. Let’s review the two kinds of waiting periods I’ve identified.

Acceptable Waiting

Often there’s a quite reasonable explanation for your extended wait. For example, they won’t mix your chemo drugs until you’ve checked in for your chemo appointment. That’s just the hospital being practical – too many patients miss too many appointments, and they’ve learned over time to not mix your particular chemo cocktail until they know you’ll actually be there to receive it. That adds a minimum of an hour to every chemo treatment, unfortunately, but I can understand that – it’s perfectly acceptable.

Same with blood products – they won’t call them up from the pharmacy until you’re in a bed. Same reason (don’t want blood products to go to waste, definitely), same result – minimum one additional hour wait.

These delays can be frustrating, but at least they’re understandable and justifiable, thus acceptable.

There are, however, the occasional delays where the excuses are a bit thinner. Like, you get there at your appointed time and apparently the entire staff has gone to lunch. Or you get there and check in, and two hours later, after asking for the second time how much longer before they expect to call you back, you find out the front of the house thought you were in the back, and the back of the house didn’t know you’d already checked in.

These type of waits are frustrating, but ultimately you can’t lose any sleep over the human element. After all, the human element in the hospital is the most important aspect of the care giving – it’s the staff that makes it all possible and tolerable, and more importantly that shows they genuinely care about you as an individual. How easy it would be for them to shut down all emotion in the face of all the suffering they see every day! But, amazingly, they don’t, they manage to treat you with unwavering dignity and compassion, and for that reason alone I would categorize all extended waits caused by human error as acceptable waiting. It’s even easier to be forgiving about it when I think about how perfect I’m NOT.

“I wish the cancer would hurry up and do its thing…” Waiting

Then there are the totally inexplicable delays, like the clinic where you go, and no matter what time you check in, no matter what day it is, no matter what kind of poking and prodding you have scheduled for that day, it is ALWAYS a minimum of two hours waiting in the waiting room before you make it to the back. That’s before you make it to the back to begin your minimum one-hour wait for your blood product to arrive, which will take all of 30 minutes to transfuse.

Before you’ve spent five minutes in the waiting room you’re pretty sure your head is going to explode. Ten minutes into your wait you’ve heard three other people say they’ve all been there two or more hours already, and fifteen minutes in you’re convinced you’ve had a birthday or two since you got there. After 30 minutes you realize you’re saying “Cancer, take me away…” under your breath, and everyone else in the waiting room is slowly backing away…

These are the waits that drain the last vestige of tolerance and patience from your every pore, because you know, you KNOW, before you even get there, that it’s going to happen, and yet, when it happens again you are still somehow shocked and disbelieving that you’ve fallen for it yet again – a 3-4 hour wait for a 30-minute transfusion!

Clearly such predictable and extreme waiting periods could reasonably be defined as “I wish the cancer would hurry up and do its thing…” waiting, because it’s seems like it’s more a procedural or bureaucratic problem, and not the occasional human element gone awry.

Most people don’t know that these inexplicable yet maddeningly predictable hospital-waiting-room waits were originally identified as the 10th Circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. Unfortunately the medical lobby already had more clout than the publishing lobby, and that 10th circle mysteriously disappeared before the best-selling papyrus finally hit the shelves 700 years ago…

The Solution

So here we are, faced with basically ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ waiting – how do we find the patience to deal with the latter?

It sounds overly simplistic, and perhaps unrealistic, but really you just have to decide that there is no such thing as ‘unacceptable’ waiting. If you eliminate that as a category, and come prepared with books, iPods, and heavy sedatives to pass the time, then all waiting becomes tolerable. It really is that simple, you just have to accept it.

And how does accepting bureaucratic inefficiency translate into a silver lining, you ask? Again, it’s pretty simple – hospital time is ALWAYS slow time, but it doesn’t have to be BAD time. Accepting that these things, like most things with cancer, are simply out of your control, makes the slow time easy time. And it will translate fantastically to every area of your life, or it has for me. I’m a more patient driver now, I’m more patient with my kids and my wife – I’m even so patient that I’ve learned to watch tv without the benefit of a DVR to fast forward through commercials! In short, learning patience has paid real benefits throughout all aspects of my life, and made it much easier. I highly encourage you to eliminate the “bad waiting” and join the more relaxed side of life!

  • Mortality: “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Woody Allen, American screenwriter, director, actor, comedian, author, playwright, and musician

This is a tough one to articulate, because let’s face it, most people don’t really like to contemplate their mortality. We all know we’re going to die, except possibly Donald Trump. But like a bad hair day, that doesn’t mean we want to see it in the mirror or think about it.

However, with the kind of time you have as a long-term cancer patient (see last week’s post on Patience/Time), this topic inevitably seeps into your consciousness from time to time over the static of day-to-day life.

It’s such a fundamental question – will I survive this battle, or will I die? Sure, you start out with all the usual euphemisms, like “If I don’t make it,” or “If things don’t work out,” or “If I end up taking a dirt nap for eternity.” But these are just stall tactics before you inevitably are forced to square your shoulders, look yourself in the eye, and say the words out loud – “if I die.” There’s no way to duck the meaning of that or shrug it off. It’s just too fundamental.

Sure, there are real advantages to knowing you’re facing a life-and-death struggle. You have a real opportunity to do important, life-changing things, like tell people things you always wished you’d told them, or mend fences that shouldn’t have been broken this long, and ultimately appreciate the gift you’re being given that you will have an opportunity to tell all your loved ones goodbye personally, unlike heart attack, accident, or other sudden-death victims. You even have time for silly stuff that won’t really impact you much, but makes you feel better about your situation, like put your estate in order and line out details like how you picture your memorial service, where you want to be buried, etc. These are real advantages, at least in my mind – who wants to wake up dead one morning without warning and without all those things taken care of, with no one having any closure? Not knowing, in my mind, would be much worse.

However, there is no question that not knowing would be easier on the deceased person, anyway. There are too many questions for the slowly dying person to consider, too many things to worry about for those who survive you, too many things you wish you could do or that you’d done differently. You get sad about the things you know you’ll miss, you get queasy picturing what the end might be like, physically, the pain and discomfort. You get emotional.

For me, at least, facing my mortality was initially not a silver lining. It was a one-way ticket into the abyss, in fact, and I didn’t emerge for three or four weeks. It’s really not pleasant. Every time you think you’re over it, you picture your wife, or your kids, or your friends, and the abyss engulfs you once again. It’s hard to pull it all back to the present and remember you have to live like you’re going to live!

Ultimately that became the silver lining from facing my mortality. I finally did come to some kind of peace that it’s out of my control, and I can’t change the outcome. What I CAN control is how I spend my time and my mental energy while fighting this battle. And what a gift that is!!

To let go, to acknowledge and accept the worst that can happen, and find the peace necessary to get on with the much more important task of living your live to the fullest! Facing, and accepting, my mortality has been the hardest, but most rewarding, part of my journey so far.

Having said all that, I don’t know that you can really face and accept your mortality unless you’re facing a life-and-death situation, so, um, I don’t really recommend it for the non-cancerous reader…

  • Proactive: “Talk won’t grow rice.” Chinese proverb

I’m an easy-going guy, always have been. I’m most definitely not the type to “take life by the horns,” I’ve never (sadly!) had a true career plan – heck, I graduated college with a degree in German because it was the only thing I could graduate on time with after not having any kind of career plan or goals when I entered college!

In short, I’m the kind of guy that just watches life roll by. And that’s ok, to a certain extent. My relaxed approach has gotten me everything of value in my life – my job, my friends, and my family. By being willing to go with the flow I’ve been able to take advantage of opportunities that a more goal-oriented person might not have let themselves take because they didn’t see it as part of their master plan.

However, this approach, while relaxing, doesn’t push you much. You achieve what you either really really WANT to achieve, such as marriage and family, or what you really really NEED to achieve, such as earning enough to put food on the table every day. I don’t consider these to be real accomplishments, though, because they’re such a fundamental part of your survival that they’re like instinct.

I found out quite quickly that my lackadaisical approach to life doesn’t get you much with cancer – you can’t just watch cancer roll by, it simply doesn’t work that way. If you wait for it to roll by, it will roll over you instead!

Once I realized that, I took a much more proactive approach to cancer. I worked on my general health, I lost weight (cancer can be your friend in that department, anyway!), and I did everything my doctors told me to do.

More importantly, I made the leap from being proactive with cancer (which, let’s face it, can really be classified as a simple will to survive) to being proactive in non-cancer areas.

For example, I’ve had a guitar for 20 years that I never really learned to play, and I recently started taking lessons, and it’s been a real ball. I’ve found such joy in the guitar, even though I’m still so bad at it. But I’m better than I was a couple of months ago, so I’m heading in the right direction!

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with cooking for years, by which I mean I hate to cook, but I love to eat my wife’s cooking. Primarily at this point I feel bad that I haven’t helped Deborah out more with the household cooking chores over the years, so I I finally decided a couple of weeks ago to quit being intimidated by the kitchen and my general laziness and do something about it. I found a local cooking school here in Houston and last week I took my first class – basic knife skills. I’ve got wicked knife skills now, so don’t mess with me! Next month is stocks and sauces, so I’m not saying I recommend that you eat anything I’ve prepared yet, since all I’ve learned how to do is cut up a bunch of onions and other veggies. But hey, it’s a start!

Those of you familiar with me know about my passion for photography, and would understand how excited I was when I was recently invited to participate in an upcoming local show in my hometown. The theme is “Hidden Arkansas,” however, which makes it hard to shoot for in Texas, so I initially turned down the opportunity to participate nervous about the time commitment and my general availability to even get back to Arkansas to shoot for it. But after thinking about it some more, I threw caution to the wind and agreed to present two or three prints in the show. And lo and behold, I now have an unexpected opportunity to make it home sometime in the next few weekends, and I’ll be able to go shoot for the show, which I wasn’t sure would happen in time. By being proactive and accepting the challenge, I now have the opportunity to pursue my passion, even if it’s only for my one weekend home. What a silver lining, to learn to be more proactive and pursue my interests, not just my needs! I’ve been too lazy about that in the past, but no more!

  • “Going to church on Sunday does not make you a Christian any more than going into a garage makes you an automobile!” Billy Sunday, late 19th-early 20th century American Major League baseball player and Christian evangelist

Ah, religion. What a topic, no? My relationship with the church has been rocky at best, to be honest. And I do mean specifically my relationship with the church, not with God. I’ve always considered myself a believer in Christ, but the church…that’s a real conundrum for me.

I should make it clear at this point that I’ve tried several churches over the years, so I’m not singling out any specific denomination here. I’m just talking about church in general. I understand I’m supposed to be spiritually sustained in part by my relationship with my church, but the fact is…well, I’m just not. I WANT to be sustained by church, I want to find true fellowship and be spiritually re-energized by the time I spend there, and I want to feel like I’m contributing to my spiritual community.

But for whatever reason, that does not appear to be part of my genetic makeup. I’ll be honest – every minute I spend in church is spent contemplating all the things I could have done had I not gone to church that morning! The sermons don’t speak to me personally, I don’t know most of the congregants, and when I tried to engage on a more personal level by participating in small groups and Sunday school classes, I felt like everyone else was speaking a foreign language. I can’t really describe it, other than to say that the institution of church, while providing so much good to so many people around the world, does absolutely nothing for me, and I’m not currently regularly attending a church.

For years I felt like this made me a bad Christian. I prayed to God every night, but I’m no Bible scholar, and I wasn’t going to church, and basically I felt like God was probably looking at me and going, “Yeah, right…” I felt like something was missing, but I’d talked to friends, I’d sought out different church experiences, and still nothing was resonating with me.

It took cancer for me to realize that God doesn’t look at us through a prism of perceptions. God sees straight into our hearts, and He knows who we are, and it’s really that simple. I’m not saying that means I shouldn’t still be reaching out and trying to find ways to be more participatory in my spiritual community. It’s not an excuse to be a lazy Christian and not say my prayers every night. In fact, I’ve actually started reading my Bible for the first time in my life. I’m not sure I understand everything I’m reading just yet, but I’ve started. And I’ve started from  the strongest religious foundation you can possibly have – I have accepted Jesus Christ as my savior, and for the first time in my life I’m comfortable in the knowledge that he accepts me, including my many faults, including my apparent inability to garner positive spiritual strength from church, exactly as I am. As silver linings go, I’m happy to report that this is one of the most fundamentally important positive side effects of this whole experience. Jesus loves me – who knew?!?

  • “By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.” Socrates, classical Greek philosopher

I’ve been married to my beautiful wife Deborah for 18+ years now, and ours is, I believe, a fairly typical marriage. We’ve got two teenage boys, and we both juggle careers, kids, etc. and our “married” time focuses more on practicing good time management skills than on actually spending quality time with each other.

I realize some of that is just the nature of the beast in today’s over-booked, child-oriented world, so I’m not beating myself up TOO much for that. But there is no doubt that we have fallen prey over the years to taking each other for granted and forgetting to appreciate the unique qualities that attracted us to each other in the first place.  We’d even discussed, with some trepidation, what the empty nest would look like a few years hence. Would we find common ground again, would we learn to talk to each other as husband/wife and not father/mother again, etc.

I’m ecstatic to report that the answer to all those questions is an unqualified “yes!” These last four months, we’ve mostly been isolated from all friends and family and been forced to spend 24×7 together. We were both nervous about the prospect of that, to be honest. But it couldn’t have worked out better.

It started on day one, actually. We talked non-stop for the entire 8 hour drive down here – never once turned on the radio, even! We were both surprised, and delighted, at how easy it was.

And it’s pretty much been the same ever since. The conversation has flowed easily, and we’ve become best friends again, and suddenly the prospect of being empty nesters is pretty appealing (sorry, kids!). I won’t say our marriage was on the brink of disaster, because it wasn’t. But it wasn’t anywhere near where it should have been, and I was afraid something as devastating and draining as cancer would just make things worse.

I will never be able to bring myself to say that having cancer is a gift, but like all situations in life, nothing is all bad or all good. Clearly cancer has presented me with many silver linings:

  • A deeper appreciation of my family
  • A deeper appreciation of my friends
  • The ability to more easily see the kindness and generosity that surrounds all of us in society
  • The ability to see humor where it exists, maybe even when you’re not in the most receptive frame of mind for it
  • The strength to be patient in most all circumstances
  • Facing and accepting my mortality as part of the human condition
  • The energy and strength to approach life more proactively, at a time when it would be easy to be more passive
  • A closer relationship with God
  • A closer relationship with my wife