Two Words Beat Three, Cancer-free!

On Monday (August 30, 2010), my medical oncologist told Lisa and me that I’m “cancer-free”. Those two words shattered the words “you have cancer”, that I first heard March 10, 2010. This strange journey has ended. I will still need a few months to fully regain my strength, endurance and energy, but being out from under the banner of “cancer patient” to “cancer survivor” is absolutely incredible.

I’ve learned a lot about myself, other people and God’s character. Personally, the human body is amazingly resilient. A lot of “parts”, muscles, glands, nerves and lymph nodes were surgically removed from my face, neck and shoulder. Although I have left facial paralysis, limited strength and range of motion issues in my arm and neck, my body is compensating and finally healing. Adjusting to the new, abrupt ‘normal’ is strange, but getting better each week. I would never have chosen cancer, but I’m glad God allowed it as I’ve learned so much in a short period of time. Lessons that I’ll be able to share with my three sons as Lisa and I continue to enjoy watching them grow up.

I’d love to know how many people prayed for me and my family during this strange time, certainly, hundreds. Thank you, thank you friends! God really does hear our prayers. He answers them on-time, never early, never later, on-time, His perfect time. The answers are not always what we think they should be. Lisa and I prayed with our pastor early on the morning before my first surgery and God’s answer was stage IV CxPA cancer. That’s not what we were expecting. I thought God might make the recovery period from that surgery even quicker than expected or perhaps not even necessary at the last minute. I was wrong.

The random acts of kindness, meals, notes, cards, gifts, visits, hugs and encouragement demonstrated by you my friends is wonderfully overwhelming and incredibly special. I am a blessed man. Throughout chemotherapy treatments and especially radiation, those gracious gestures lifted my spirit and gave me the determination not to quit. Lisa knows that I considered quitting a couple of times, either due to the frustration or pain. Thank you for being used by God to spur me on to get well.

God’s character is love, perfect love. As it says in John 3:16 “God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.” I love a lot of people, but I wouldn’t consider killing any one of my sons for anyone. God allowed his only son to die for us, that’s a perfect love. Here’s a cool video that tells the story of hope: http://www.billygraham.org/specialsections/graffiti/graffiti.asp

I titled this post as “Two Words Beat Three”, but one Word beats all words, Love.

Thank you friends for praying for me and caring for me when I could do neither for myself. I am grateful.

Love and press on, Rich

Apollo 13 & Cancer

One hundred and sixty days ago, I was diagnosed with stage IV carcinoma ex pleomorphic adenoma (CxPA) cancer. My health care team performed three aggressive surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy and other targeted therapies. Over the past several weeks, since initial treatments concluded, I’ve been waiting to physically heal enough so I could get tests to determine if the cancer is gone. This week, I had a two medical examinations, blood work, PET and CT scans. On Monday, August 30th I’ll receive the results, prognosis and next steps.

I love the 1995 Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton movie Apollo 13. It’s a documentary style movie about the near lost of the three astronauts from the 1970 NASA mission to the moon. “Houston, we’ve had a problem” is a classic line from that event. Over the years, I’ve called times in my life when I had to wait to see if something was going to turnout the “Apollo 13 Principle”. The Apollo 13 Principle is essentially that awkward feeling when we don’t know how something will come out and when we are not in full control of the process.

Neither mission control or the astronauts were in full control when the spacecraft lost radio communication and was traveling on the dark side of the moon. Thankfully, Gene Kranz, Flight Director, led his team to a successful conclusion.

I am confident that Jesus Christ, who causes all thing to work together for good for those who love him, will be glorified in whatever the outcome may be (Romans 8:28).

On another note, reconstruction is in full swing at Digital Lightbridge. The new space, upgrades and improvements will provide our amazing clients, employees and business partners with a great, unique experience when the work is complete.

Two weeks ago, Chandler began high school and Mitchell started middle school. Lisa has them off to a great start. Our foster son is enrolled in a nice preschool and a program at a local elementary school. God continues to protect him for his birth-parents by keeping them incarcerated.

Today, the boys are shooting another “Army” movie in the backyard and Lisa served women in an domestic violence shelter. Tonight, we are taking friends out to dinner.

We all have Apollo 13 moments in our lives, times when we absolutely have no control over a situation. That’s the perfect time to patiently wait upon the Lord to perform a miracle.

Press on my friends, Rich

Five Months

We spent Lisa’s birthday at her best friend’s house in Canton, Georgia. Her super husband and beautiful daughters gave Lisa a very special memory. It’s awesome that they’ve been inseparable “sisters” for over thirty years.

Yesterday, marked five months since my cancer was diagnosed. I thought that by now my “side effects” would be a faded memory. My energy level is still very low and unpredictable. The pain and discomfort in my head, neck and shoulder is only tolerable after significant mediation.

Thankfully, this week we are in a very restful place. Our friends, Julie and John Faulkner have allowed us to vacation for a week in their beautiful Waynesville, North Carolina cabin. Lisa, the boys and I have enjoyed peaceful times relaxing in rocking chairs on their back porch listening to the creek and watching hummingbirds. We’ve explored quaint nearby towns, National parks, eaten farm fresh fruit and vegetables and the boys enjoyed an afternoon at Sliding Rock.

This additional recuperation time gives me lots of hours to think about lots of different things.

Most of us have had a moment during our lives where we thought that we should have died. Whether a car accident, terrible illness or some other “near-miss”. The fragileness of life becomes very real in those moments. The key to life is knowing where we’ll spend eternity. This leg of my journey is a vapor, a puff of smoke, a short excursion when compared to forever. Where do we find real hope to make sense of this crazy world, something that we can really trust in? The government? Our careers? People? Money? Stuff? Intellect? The only thing that passes the test is a person named Jesus Christ. Knowing about Him is not enough. I know about airplanes, but you surely don’t want me to pilot a plane, especially if you’re the passenger. Knowing is the start, experiencing a trusting, perfect, loving relationship can be your hope, comfort, confidence and assurance.

On August 23rd, I have a PET scan and blood work and a CT scan on the 25th; we get the results and next steps from the oncology team on Monday, August 30th. The outcome is in God’s hands. Perhaps He’ll radically heal me from this rare, stage IV (CXPA) cancer. Maybe, He’ll want me (and my family) to go through another series of treatments (second mile). Whatever the course may be, I am really content knowing that God is in control and that He’s being glorified through this faith journey.

On Thursday, July 29th, we received the permit to begin reconstruction of Digital Lightbridge. Anclote Construction began the process the next morning! The aesthetic and functional improvements will advance our ability to serve clients and provide them with critical business, marketing and communications solutions to advance their organizations.

Digital Lightbridge’s stalwart board of directors has continued to provide Lisa and I and my team with incredible important perspectives that drive long-term client and employee value.

Please also lift up our foster son (3 1/2 years old) in prayer. He needs protection from his birth parents and the “system”. His mother was just released from jail yesterday and his father will be incarcerated for a long time (new charges sentenced yesterday). They need our prayers as well. Lisa, the boys and I went into foster parenting as our family ministry, with the idea that we could help young, struggling parents gain life skills. To date, we have not been able to meet our foster son’s birth parents due to their active drug and severe criminal activities.

Chandler (14 years old) starts high school and Mitchell (11 years old) starts middle school on Monday, August 16th!

Thank you for the prayer support and continued notes of encouragement.

Press on dear friends, Love Rich

Sent from my iPad

Confidence

On Monday, I had an appointment with my medical oncologist due to some weird numb and cold sensations in my hands, arms and feet (weird because it’s been over 90 degrees every day for the past month or so) and to hear the results of the Caris report. Dr. Robbins recommended blood work and a CAT Scan. Wednesday afternoon, I had the CAT Scan and should get the results on Friday. Monday was the blood work. The results from the Caris Target Now report didn’t indicate any significant changes to our current treatments. The radiation burns have healed faster and better than expected and the stubborn wound behind my left ear from the first surgery on March 10th is finally beginning to heal. This week, my energy level is much better than last week.

It’s amazing to realize that 2010 is half over (or half undiscovered).

Lisa continues to be a huge encouragement to me during this strange journey. Chandler is at Word of Life camp this week and Mitchell is spending time with Lisa’s Mom, my parents and my sister Stacey. Our foster son has been blessed with some new resources to help keep him protected for the horrors of the “system”.

Through so much uncertainty, early this morning during my quiet time, I was reminded of where my confidence is found and renewed by reading the following passage.

“We Are at Peace With God Because of Jesus
Now that we have God’s approval because of faith, we have peace with God because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done. Through Christ we can approach God and stand in his favor. So we brag because of our confidence that we will receive glory from God. But that’s not all. We also brag when we are suffering. We know that suffering creates endurance, endurance creates character, and character creates confidence. We’re not ashamed to have this confidence, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
~Romans 5:1-5

This life is so fast and so short and so quick. The temporary suffering that each of us endures has the potential of making us more or less Christ-like. I choose to be confident.

Hopefully, the reconstruction plans (due to the May 17th accident) for Digital Lightbridge will be approved soon, so Anclote Construction can begin to remodel our office building.

Thank you for the comments to my Blog, Lisa’s CarePage, emails, cards and especially your prayers for healing. You are a blessing!

Press on friends, Rich

The First 100 Days

Today marks the first one-hundred days since I was first diagnosed with stage IV cancer. A lot has changed for me and my family over the past few months. Physically, I haven’t adjusted to the new normal yet. The facial paralysis, left neck and shoulder numbness is tough believe is permanent. It’s odd getting used to the sensations and weird limitations.

A good friend of mine, Danny, sent me a song by Charlie Hall with the lyric, “Your love is like a rock when I’m spinning around.” Here’s the song on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jr4Fcj0it1E. I’ve felt like I’m spinning around lately, especially as I’ve ending radiation treatments last week and now must wait until I’ve completely healed from the surgeries, the swelling has gone down and the chemotherapy is out of my system. Waiting is something that I don’t tolerate very well. I’ll have a full body PET scan at the end of July to see if the cancer is gone. I pray that it is and my family and I can beginning planning for the future (big stuff and small stuff). We’ve also been spinning around with quite a few insurance companies, both on the disability insurance and property damage to my office. Thankfully, I am anchored to the Rock. I thank God for my faith, without it I probably would have given up by now. The spinning hasn’t stopped yet, but the ground is solid. Maybe the spinning will never stop. We’ve had our foster son for over eighteen months now. His little life is spinning all the time. We try our best to protect him from his biological family, the drama, the trauma and provide a normal childhood. He growing like crazy and becoming a fine boy. The foster system is completely broken and inadvertently damaging him. We pray that his spinning stops soon and all of his childhood memories are joyful ones.

Chandler completed 8th grade and is heading to high school. Mitchell finished 5th and is ready for middle school. I am so proud of my sons. They have both excelled in very awesome and individual ways. As Lisa and I attended their “moving up” ceremonies and year-end functions, I couldn’t help but think about the future. I hope that I’ll be around for their graduations from high school and college. We also recently attended a beautiful wedding. We’ve know the couple since they were just kids. That also caused us to contemplate the possibility of missing the boy’s weddings. So many unknowns. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow, next week or next year. Our death will come like a thief in the night. We will be surprised whenever it comes, at forty-one, fifty-one or one-hundred and one. No one likes to talk about dying (especially me). Lately, as I’ve spent too much time in hospitals, doctors offices and cancer treatment centers; death, prognosis and survival statistics have becomes real terms. Ultimately, each of us has a mysterious expiration date. The key is to really know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will accept you into heaven, right now. If you were to die tonight would Jesus say that He knows you or not? Big question.

I am so thankfully to my incredible staff at Digital Lightbridge, board of directors, encouraging clients, friends, family, church, neighbors, medical team and prayer warriors. As things continue to spin for all of us, keep ourselves grounded to the Rock.

Press on, Rich

Another Test

Yesterday, at approximately 11:30am a Nissan Altima drove through my business, Digital Lightbridge. Amazingly and thankfully no one was seriously injured. An elderly gentlemen passed-out and hit his accelerator, sped across six lanes of traffic including a grass median into the left front window of our office. With the accelerator floored he crashed through the wall hit the couch when through another wall then hit my controller, Robin as she was working at her desk. She was directly in the path of the front bumper of the car. She was seated and cradled by the couch. It pushed her 6 to 7 feet out of the path of the car, breaking the wheels off her chair. A multitude of broken glass, shattered furniture and sharp building debris surrounded her and unbelievably, she was safely positioned inside the wreckage.

I was a few feet away in our conference room have a sales strategy meeting with my president, Ron Altman. We heard the incredible sounds and I couldn’t imagine what could have made the explosive noises. I opened the door to see Robin terrified and seemingly impaled by the debris. The car’s accelerator was still floored and the front tires were coming off their rims. The office instantly filled with thick, toxic smoke. I grabbed Robin’s trembling hand and helped her to her feet and Ron and I got her out through the jagged hole in the building. We then ran back inside to see who was in the car. We couldn’t see so we felt around and screamed and banged on the windows. We thought the car was about to explode. I open the rear passenger door feeling around for people. I grabbed a large cloth object that I feared was a baby, but it was a large book bag filled with groceries. I then moved through the debris and managed to open the front passenger door. I was yelling and feeling through the air near the head rests for people. Through the dense, yellow, blinding smoke I saw a hand with blood on it. Finally, the engine and hellish noises stopped. The driver was facing the seats. I scooped him into my arms and carried him toward Ron and we again walked out through the hole. We got him into the shade and went back in to make certain everyone was out.

The Pasco County Fire Department, Police and Florida Highway Patrol (and my courageous wife and her best friend Michelle Meek) showed up very quickly. They were all amazing and very professional. Thankfully, they didn’t use water to put out the fire caused by the tires coming off their rims and burning the carpet and couch. They immediately ventilated the office with fans put out the fire and worked with the County building inspector and electric company. After power was restored, the firefighters let us get personal items and begin to assess the interior damage. Another blessing was my State Farm Insurance agent Mike Peters arrived on the scene within the first few minutes and began to provide counsel. We immediate made the decision to employ Anclote Construction to secure the building. In addition to the hole in the front wall the North side of the building moved about three feet off it’s foundation and the ceiling dropped an inch. My office staff, my beloved pastor Mike Hughes, Chris Stafstrom (Robin’s husband), Jeff Salliotte, Kim Johnson, John Faulkner Sr & Jr., a few beautiful, close friends and Anclote Construction, within a few hours cleared all of the debris into construction dumpsters and completely framed up new, temporary walls. All of our computers, electronic devices (iPad:) and massive hard drives are perfectly operable. We took a moment as a group, in the midst of the disaster, held hands and thanked God for protecting all of us, especially Robin. I prayed that the driver (Alex) would recover from his bump on the head and that God’s business, Digital Lightbridge would be better because of the “accident”. I can already sense that God is going to allow the staff, through it’s culture and values, to serve our clients better and create more value for them.

Today, was my fifth chemotherapy/injection/radiation session. Cancer seemed very insignificant yesterday and today. A long-time friend of mine, Jody Simon gave me a book a many years ago called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, It’s All Small Stuff. The concept of the book is right. In the light of eternity, it’s all small stuff. Only relationships matter. They matter to me, more importantly they really matter to God. Our relationship to Jesus is really the only thing that matters. The most important thing about you, is what God thinks about you and what you think about Him. Some people are beginning to call me Job. God loved Job and restored and blessed him (he lived 140 years). I take comfort in really, really knowing that God is in control of everything. Daily things appear out of control, out of my control and my finite understanding and reason. The beginning of real wisdom comes from “fear”, respect and submission to the Lord. I am still learning from this journey.

Thank you prayer warriors who lift me and my family up daily. Your love and petitioning to God give me endurance to fight cancer. Thank you to everyone who jumped in and rebuilt Digital Lightbridge yesterday. Tomorrow, the weekly Bible study is on and the entire office is going to our favorite restaurant for a celebration lunch at Zen Forrest. Within three weeks, the front office and marketing showroom will be reconstructed better than before. I can’t wait for the grand reopening party.

Press on friends, Love, Rich

You can see a few pictures here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2064837&id=1263506962

Sent from my iPad

Treatment Week Four

Today, we completed the 4th chemotherapy treatment and 17th radiation session! It was a very long day and I slept a lot which is a bit frustrating. After the morning blood work, which my numbers are still good, but changing significantly due to the quantity of medications, my good friend Chuck Coit (President of One Stop Pharmacy) visited Lisa and I at the Florida Cancer Institute in-between procedures. He personally delievered several much needed medications to help with my mouth, throat and skin. The custom formulated skin cream is called Res-Q. It feels great and should help reduce the effects of the radiation burns on my skin better than the prescribed Biafine due to it’s superior ingredients. Our tradition after chemo has been an early dinner at a great sushi restaurant. My oncologist advised me not to eat raw fish due to my compromised immune system. We compromised and ordered all cooked sushi, miso soup and ginger salad.

We’ve also decided that since my weight is stable and my swallowing is good to postpone the feeding tube (and perhaps skip it (that’s a prayer request friends. Another surgery and hospital stay is very unappealling to me)).

My good friend Marty Morris emailed me this verse: “The righteous cry, and the LORD hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles.” Psalm 34:17

The Lord has convinced me by His Word that I will be healed! I don’t know when, but I have confidence that He will. Until then, we’ll continue to push through with the treatments and celebrate when we hear the words “You are cancer free!” I’ve also been reading a book that another friend and mentor, Dave Dunkel gave me recently, Andrew Murray’s book Spiritual Healing.

Business at Digital Lightbridge is good and my incredible team, board of directors and new president, Ron Altman are providing great value to our clients. Most days, I work about six hours before I leave for treatments. The new projects and ministry initiatives that we are managing are very exciting.

Today, Chandler received his last progress report for eight grade (all A’s & B’s!). Mitch is doing great and overcame his fear of roller coasters this weekend at Busch Gardens. Thank you to those who’ve been praying that he would become less fearful. I can already see that his confidence is better. Our three year old foster son has parental visit soon. I ask for you to pray for his protection. The visits usually result in regressive behavior.

Thanks for the encouragement dear friends! I cherish your comments, notes, Tweets, status updates and support! Love Rich

One more…

Wednesday marked eight weeks since I was diagnosied with cancer. Wow, we’ve survived three surgeries and the first three weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Lisa is my encourager, coach, nurse and protector. She truly is a Proverbs wife (Proverbs 18:22). The boys have patiently allowed me to heal, rest and keep me laughing. I’ve installed an incredible board of directors and a world-class president for Digital Lightbridge. I have my legal and financial obligations in order. My beloved staff is executing their responsibilities with excellence and exceeding client expectations. Our friends have given us energy to fight and endure this strange season in our lives.

We’ve met many hurting people throughout our travels in and out of medical offices who not only seem to have no hope they appear to only focus on their disease. I thank the Lord that He is allowing me to have the perspective that He is in control and is working out His purposes in, with and through me (and most of the time and I an obstinate servant). I’m glad He uses me anyway.

Late next week, I’ll be spending the night at Mease Countryside Hospital to have a feeding tube procedure. Typically, that’s an outpatient surgery, but due to my unique, internal neck anatomy (post neck dissection) they want to monitor me a little closer. The feeding tube is to help with the esophagus irritation that I am experiencing due to the daily radiation treatments. My weight is presently stable but food is increasing becoming a challenge.

I’m very glad to have the weekend to rest without doctor’s visits, injections or “the mask”.

Thank you to everyone who encourages me and my family with your random acts of kindness!

Love, abide and press on, Rich

Technology & 25%

Today, Lisa and I went to the International Plaza and I purchased an iPad, this model was released yesterday. It will enable me to Blog and communication more regularly (and it’s very cool). I continue to be able to eat well with the aid of a terrible tasting, very expensive but amazingly effective mouth rinse called Caphosol. I’ve also begun to apply daily a topical emulsion to my face called Biafine to help with the redness and soreness caused by the radiation treatments. Yesterday was day 10 of the 40 day program! We are twenty-five percent completed with chemotherapy, injections and radiation. While at the mall we had a great lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. At the Apple Store we meet a great Mac Specialist named Steve Fidrych who is pushing through his own physical challenges beautifully. I hope to speak with him again soon. My energy has been good today. Last week it was very low, which is very frustrating to me. Thankfully, Lisa and the boys have allowed me to heal and recover from the treatments with great support. I love ’em!

Have a great evening and Sunday friends!

Press on, Rich

Whew!

Today, as I sit in chemotherapy with my incredible wife and about 20 other cancer patients at Florida Cancer Institute, I’m reflecting on how “lucky” I’ve been throughout my life. I’ve survived lightning strikes, serious head injuries, broken bones, car accidents, many burning buildings as a volunteer firefighter, driving NASCAR solo at Atlanta Motor Speedway, whitewater rapids on the Chattooga River and other stuff that I don’t want my Mom or kids to know about 😉 The Lord has clearly preserved and prepared me for this cancer journey. He determines all of our longevity.

In the chemo treatment room today, I see patients from every walk-of-life, affluent, dependent, very old, too young, terminal, funny, grouchy, determined, defeated, dedicated, anxious and peaceful. The full gamut of the human experience.

I don’t want to waste my cancer. I know that my experience is meant to be shared. Those who know me, know that I’m a private person that prefers to encourage over promoting oneself. Since I know God doesn’t make mistakes, He must have chosen me to for a specific reason. He has a plan for each of us.

We began this morning dropping the boys off for school, quick breakfast, at 9:15am for blood draw in the phlebotomy room, vital signs (BP, temp., pulse), weighed, medical oncology examination/consultation with Dr. Robbins, then IV (Aloxi & Prednisone), two Amifostine injections (ouch!), chemo drugs (Taxol & Cisplatin). Lisa brought me fruit salad, olive oil sea salt almonds, Raisinettes and chocolate covered pretzels and green tea. Chemo should be over just in time for radiation. Basically, I get bolted to a table by the mesh head mask for about 10-15 minutes five days a week @ 2:10pm (most days). Tomorrow, I plan to attend my monthly C12 meeting at Tampa Palms Country Club. I’ll need to leave early ($10.00 fine) to get radiation back in New Port Richey.

Thankfully, on Saturday I had just enough energy to take my three sons and their friend Luke to All Pro Dad at Raymond James Stadium to listen to Tony Dungy and the Family First team. It was a great experience.

Well, it’s now 2:40pm radiation is over and we are going for an early Sushi dinner (the steroid makes me very hungry).

Whew, one week and one day down, less than seven weeks to go.

Press on friends!

Below is a picture that I shot today with my iPhone of the ceiling directly above the radiation table. The lasers are used for alignment.