Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Power of Kindness

My dad started his new treatment regimen this week and successfully made it through week one! Not only did he make it through, but I think he's in better spirits and more determined and honestly, more healthy than he's been since the beginning of this journey. The funny thing is, this is by far the harshest treatment he's had so far. Prior to this, he had really only made it through three chemo sessions before his body just shut down. I think a lot of that was him just not taking care of himself as much as he could have. Though that's easier said than done when you have cancer. He was losing too much weight, was too sick (nauseated and vomiting), too weak, and most importantly, too unmotivated to do anything about it. Getting the energy to make something to eat was too hard for him. Even if someone else cooked for him, it was a chore for him to eat and nothing tasted good. It was much easier to sit in a chair all day than to get up and walk.

We got his official treatment schedule this week. 25 radiation treatments and 5 rounds of chemo. He made it through his first round of chemo this week and the first 3 radiation treatments and I'm taking him on Monday for his first really long day...Starting at 8am, he gets labs drawn, then meets with the oncologist, then has chemo for 4 hours, then has radiation. that will be every monday for the next 4 weeks, with radiation only for the other 4 days of the week. Here's the kicker though...He's been in better spirits than I've seen him in ages and he's actually been physically healthier than I've seen him in ages! There are days where he's not just ok...he's been actually HAPPY!! This is a big deal you guys. I haven't seen that in my dad for awhile. A good day for us lately has been a day when he hasn't been TOO depressed or has been able to see SOME positive. And I don't blame him for any of that. Cancer is a horrible horrible thing...and I truly can't imagine what it's like to be in his shoes. BUT I'm so freaking happy that HE is having some happy moments lately!!

Now I know he does not look happy in the least bit in this picture :p But I assure you he was. I wanted to post this picture for a few reasons. Let me just tell you though, it's impossible to get a good picture of my dad. My dad is not someone that you can say "smile at the camera!" and think that will work. He'll just talk to you and you'll get pictures of him with his mouth open. So you just have to call his name and snap the picture when he turns around :p A month ago, my dad couldn't get from the car to the receptionists desk at the hospital. We would have to get him a wheelchair. I took this picture after we walked a really long distance for my dad, and he was perfectly fine!! He was making himself a cup of coffee here, something he usually asks me to do for him. This was right before he got his third radiology treatment yesterday. When he was done, we walked all the way back to the car with no problems too and there was no negativity or anything. A really pleasant day! It just blows my mind that after chemo and three radiation treatments he's BETTER than he was a month ago.

This is attributed to this outpouring of love and kindness that this project has shown to him. It's not even just the physical things that he's gotten. Though those have meant the world to him. Each thing is so very precious to him. So much more than I thought it would be!!! So far, he's gotten two postcards, a greeting card, and some CDs. You would swear those are his most cherished possessions. He even asked for a keepsake box to keep all of his cards in. The greeting card came with an offer of food being delivered to him whenever he wanted it. This is just one example of people just blowing him away with kindness. It's had such a profound effect on him. What's meant so much to him is just knowing how many people have thought about him and wished him well.

I've showed him every comment, every post, every retweet, every instagram post, facebook post, etc that I can find. And he's hit all over again by the kindness of people he doesn't even know who have taken the time out to think of him. When he heard Renay and Ana's podcast (Fangirl Happy Hour), it truly made his night!! Thank you again ladies, SO MUCH! I swear though...I think explaining things like what a podcast is, is going to drive me more insane than caring for a person with cancer. This has all given him so much hope and it's had the intended effect...he feels like he has a team behind him now. Others who are following his progress. And he looks forward to the mail each day now :p All things to keep him fighting, all things to help him believe in himself more because others believe in him as well. My dad has struggled throughout his life with feeling like he deserves good things sometimes I think. This has shown him the power of letting the good in, it's shown him the power of compassion. It's shown that if you make yourself vulnerable, that vulnerability allows for growth beyond your dreams.

I talked in the last post about wanting to use this blog to help others as well and wanting to share the stories of others that could use support as well. There's a pretty amazing guy out there by the name of Christopher Sotelo. He's started vlogging on youtube about life with quadriplegia. His videos are pretty amazing. He thought it was time to start sharing his story and I'm so glad he has. The more we understand each other, the more we can help each other. And I'm proud of Chris too for telling his story...I'm sure it's hugely therapeutic for him as well. He's calling his series of videos "The Vent"...follow his journey by subscribing to his youtube channel. Taking the time to watch his videos can only expand your life and your understanding of human existence :) AND I'm sure Chris will appreciate the support.

Thank you guys so much once again for all of your continued support!!!! Keep sharing please and keep being awesome :D We still have a long journey ahead, but the journey is looking so much less scary now :) We can't thank you enough!! I wish I could adequately express what this has meant to my dad.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Overwhelmed With Gratitude!

This is the first of what I'm sure will be many, many posts to say THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. When I decided to start this project and hope for the best a few days ago, I did so on a whim...hoping that maybe a handful of people might see this post and send my dad a card and in turn I hoped that it would give him a boost in his motivation or in his overall outlook. I'm not looking for miracles here, I'm just looking for ANY type of forward progress. Anyone who's battled cancer or been a caregiver for someone battling cancer understands that, I'm sure. It's a relentless disease and it seems to just beat a person down emotionally and physically non stop. I created this looking for something that could put a halt to that pain even if for a second and make the brain go in the opposite direction....POSITIVE! HAPPY! THIS FEELS GOOD! Those are all things that the brain really misses, I think, when cancer comes into play.

I truly never imagined, nor could I have, the type of response that this has gotten!! I woke up the next day to see that several friends of mine had shared this on instagram, twitter and Facebook and then went on to find people that I don't even know resharing it. Not only were people sharing this project and this blog, but it was with the most kind and loving words which has touched me more than I can say. Then I found out we're going to be on a podcast this week!!! Thank you so much Renay and Ana :D If you're not doing so already, you should totally be listening to Fangirl Happy Hour! It's an amazing podcast run by two amazing women about amazingly nerdy and bookish things!

I went by my dad's house after work on Saturday to check on him and the first thing he tells me is "I don't know what the hell is going on, but something is weird...people are coming out of the woodwork from my past. Everyone knows I'm sick all of a sudden!" So I had no choice but to break the ice at this point :p Which ended up being perfect because he had amassed quite a few comments left all over the internet which I got to deliver. The response I got from my dad was much more than what I was expecting. Like I said in my initial post, we've gotten much closer since his diagnosis. My dad has made some amazing changes since his diagnosis. His outlook on life has changed tremendously and it's allowed him to be open to the kindness of others I think. More so than he was before at least. He was literally speechless after I read him the blog post. He would later send me some of the most heartwarming text messages that I will always cherish, but those will remain private.

To say that he's thankful for everyone that has wished him well so far, that has reposted this project, that has offered support, is an understatement. We both realized together as we were searching the internet that people he hadn't spoke with since his teenage years had found this project through Facebook already. We spent about two hours on Facebook revisiting old memories from his past. After which I realized that my dad apparently thinks the internet was written for him :p I had to continuously remind him that "no dad, the entire internet is NOT your project....these people were ALREADY on the internet and Facebook ALREADY existed before tonight" :p It's hilarious watching my dad discover technology. My dad just got a cell phone about a year ago and knows how to call someone and send a text message (which takes him about 5 minutes to do). That's it. This was an awesome bonus side effect of this project...watching my dad discover technology :p

I came home last night after visiting with my dad and he already had a little gift that had arrived for him at my apartment which I brought to him today. When I saw it, that's when it truly hit me how amazing and how powerful this project is and just how big of an impact this is going to have on my dad. And I was suddenly so overwhelmed and so filled with gratitude for everyone out there. All of you. My friends, my dad's friends and people I don't even know...proof that the human race is essentially kind and good and loving. This project is an example of how love and compassion can, if not save, at least extend and better a person's life. That's a gift that has no value that can be paid for. It's overwhelmingly beautiful. The gift, by the way, was The Beatles' Meet the Beatles CD, with a note reminiscing about the days of hearing the Beatles' for the first time. That's a gift that my dad literally can't look at or think about WITHOUT having a happy thought :) I realized when I saw that....this is going to be so good. In so many ways.

I wanted to take the time to mention this too - I wish there was a way that I could tangibly thank everyone for even taking the time to think of this project and think of my dad. I know there are probably already people that I'm unaware of that have shared this project. What I can do is this...I hope to keep this project going as long as possible, as long as it's needed. Along the way, if I can use this blog to be of support for anyone else, to get the word out about others who need support, others who are in need, others who have a project of their own that they would like to share, please don't hesitate to let me know!!! I'm happy to help. It's the very least that I can do!!

Also, if you send something and if you're comfortable doing so, would you mind sending your address or return address as well so that I can send a thank you card? Even if you feel that is not necessary, it would make my day to be able to send you a card ;)

Once again, thank you all SO much. More than I can put into words, I appreciate all of your support and your continued efforts. Please feel free to mention the project whenever you would like :) We're in this for the long haul. I wish you all a happy week ahead!


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Fighting Cancer With Positive Thoughts: A Request For Help

I'm creating this project because I need to ask for help. That's something that I'm not so good at doing. Many of us struggle with that, I think and Amanda Palmer wrote a wonderful book on the topic after giving an amazing TED talk. It's something that's stuck with me ever since. I find myself in a place now where it's time to put that into action and to ask. What I'm asking for here is something that's huge and hopefully something that's tangible as well...I'm asking for encouragement, positivity, empathy, compassion, hope, a smile, a laugh, a tear, a sliver of happiness in any way that you can offer it. Here's why:

For awhile now, my dad (his name is David) has been consistently losing weight and has struggled with numerous health issues. After months of awful doctors, we found an amazing primary care doctor that ran a battery of tests and discovered that my dad has Stage III non small cell lung cancer. We discovered that in September of this past year. His treatment team has been AMAZING! He's been more invested in his own health than I've ever seen him because others are invested in him as well. He started chemo in November and after two rounds, he had to stop because it was too much on his kidneys. He was hospitalized for a week to recover and is just now getting ready to start treatment again. Unfortunately, despite the first rounds of chemo, the tumor grew a small amount. He is now going to be getting radiation 5 days a week for about 7 weeks in addition to chemo once a week.

Me, my little brother and my sister with my dad this past Christmas

The biggest battle my dad is facing right now is a mental battle. When he began this journey, he was able to think positive. I've been able to have a closer relationship with my dad than I've ever had because of the positivity and the lifestyle changes he's made as a result of this diagnosis. I've worked hard with him at changing his thought processes when he can, though I know (to the extent that I can) that it's terribly hard to do so when fighting this. His appetite has been taken away by cancer and my dad's main passion in life has always been food and cooking. He's an amazing chef. He's down to 135 pounds now...about 100 pounds less than he once weighed.

This next round of treatment is not going to be easy. The hardest part is going to be the emotional battle. He has admitted so himself. He's scared and understandably so. My dad has one of the kindest and most giving souls I've ever known. But he doesn't always take the best care of himself. And when depression sinks in like it has lately, it really gets bad. He did so well at the beginning of this and he still is as far as communicating what he worries about and what his problems are, but it's a battle and a struggle to fight the challenges. He's not eating like he should. He's not moving around and exercising. He doesn't always take his medications like he should. My dad loves cooking, food, reading nonfiction, he'll talk music from the 60's and 70's with you until your ear falls off! But those things haven't been there lately. I want them back. And I want a smile on his face again! His face lights up when he knows he's making someone else happy :)

Chemo round 1 and Chemo round 2!

So here's my idea!!! Yes there's a point to all of this :p I've been blogging for about 10 years now in one place or another. I know the power of community and support that comes from connections made online. I'm also a counselor as a profession. I want him to know that there is so much kindness and goodness and love in this world and that there is so much to fight for. I want him to know that complete strangers care about how he's doing just like he shows concern for the other people he sees when he's at the oncology center. I want to do something like a Go Fund Me page, but for creative expressions, not money. Yes, he has bills coming out of his ears, but money we can take care of and deal with. You can't buy happiness. I KNOW that this idea would put the biggest smile on his face and would truly be life changing for him. Here's what I'm asking if you have the time and if it's something that you're interested in:

  • I would love to start being able to bring my dad little pieces of joy from all over the country and possibly the world to let him know he's being thought of and cared for. This is where you come in. I'm not asking for any money to be spent here! The possibilities are endless as to what this could be....a card, a postcard, a letter, a piece of art (any type of art!), something handmade or crafted, a little memento or good luck charm or trinket, a second hand book, a recipe, a bookmark....or any other myriad of things you can think of. Literally, the possibilities are endless and nothing is a bad idea
  • If you think of something that you would like to send but you can't afford shipping, please email me at chrisa511(at)gmail(dot)com and I will HAPPILY pay your shipping costs as long as it's reasonable :p My dad does not need a concrete statue shipped to him though that is extremely sweet if you have thought of that! :p It just might be a bit expensive to ship. 
  • There is a tab at the top of this page that says "Where to send things". Click on that and my address will be there. I live in a gated apartment and anything sent to my address will be secure. I assure you that anything that you send to my dad will make it's way to him :)
  • I will post updates as to how this project goes on this blog, hopefully including pictures and updates on how my dad is doing as well for those who want to know.
  • Right now, this project is a surprise for my dad. He doesn't know about it yet. I have not told him about it because this is a true social experiment :p I'm hoping it will not be a complete failure.
  • PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT THIS AND SHARE THE LINK TO THIS BLOG!!!! It is most definitely not a requirement that you know me or my dad to send something in for this project. In fact, the purpose of this project is to show the power that the kindness of strangers can have on others. I'm hoping this reaches as many people as possible and that I can continually bomb my dad with happiness :) I am doing everything that I possibly can to fight for my dad right now. It's my number one priority. If I could email everyone in the world personally asking for help, I would :p 
  • If sending something in the mail isn't an option or time is an issue, which I TOTALLY understand, feel free to leave him a message by leaving a comment on any of these posts :) I'll be sure that he gets it! Does anyone know of a good website to set up a guestbook or something like that that I can do for him? 
  • Please ask me any questions that you might have! You can email me at chrisa511(at)gmail(dot)com or find me on twitter or instagram as chrisa511. I'm all over the internet :p 
Above all, remember the purpose of this is to lift my dad's spirits. To motivate him. To remind him on the days where it's impossibly hard to fight that there are things worth fighting for and there are people who care. To let him know that there's an army of people out there who care about him and who are thinking about him. Ultimately, this boils down to letting him know just how much good there is to fight for on the days when despair and depression and exhaustion kick in and cloud all of that. 

Last but CERTAINLY not least