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Ethan’s World.


Ethan’s World.

May 1, 2015

FFour years ago I was blessed with the arrival of my grandson, Ethan.  Back then while in agony of late night chemo rebound, I had asked God to make me live long to see my grandkids.  He took my moment of weakness seriously.  Ha!  I am glad he did.

Since then, I have been enjoying Ethan for the past four years.  He celebrated his birthday last Saturday, April 25.  He received a bike bike for his birthday so now he can’t wait to go home after school to ride.  He would don his Spider man helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, and gloves, and off he goes.  His world is protected, care-free, and innocent.

My boy

My favorite baby pic of E

Where has time gone?  Looking back I count: That’s four years with Ethan and seven years of living with cancer. You really have to make the most of the time given you because you will never now when the fun stops.

Each night, after taking a bath and in his pajamas, Ethan would come to our room to say good night.  He would enter our room sometimes prone like a frog then leap his way to our bed: Ribbit…Ribbit.  Or sometimes he enters as a cheetah roaring and trying to scare us: Roar!  He completes my day.

 

He is oblivious to the fact I have cancer: I am Ampa, his playmate, and nemesis at times.  I am thankful he came to my life.  His innocence makes me forget cancer and makes me look forward to tomorrow.  He gives me hope that somehow I will be leaving him something that is part of me, like the memories of our time together.

Cheers.

Big boy at 4 years old.

E-boy now 4 years old

“The only thing we take with us when we die is what we have given away…” – Archbishop Sartain of Seattle, WA.

 

Taking things for granted.


 

Taking things for granted.

April 23, 2015

 

YYesterday, I started the cycle 2 of my treatment.  You might say I started the second set of the same immune-therapy treatment I started March 30.  So far I am doing good other than the mild facial rashes that looks like acne.  It is not too pronounced because I have been taking antibiotics to control it but it is there alright.

With this regiment I am unable to run but I am able to go to yoga and do a few exercise.  I tire easily and have been coughing.  I miss running.  It helps me find peace and it gives me a sense of normalcy.  When I run, especially on a beautiful day, I hear my rhythmic breathing, I feel the crisp air and the warm sun against my skin,  and I start to perspire.  Lately, I have been sluggish and unable to run, which makes me bitter at times.  That’s when I really have to dig deep to put things in perspective.  I may not be able to run but I am still here.  Life is such a tease.

Last Monday, April 20, was the 119th running of Boston.  Lelisa Desisa from Ethiopia won the race in 2:09:17.  He was also the winner in 2013 during the bombing.  I watched it online and tracked a friend (TimU) who finished to qualify again for next year.  What an achievement.  Boston is always a dream for me because of the challenge.  Unlike other marathons, you need to pass a qualifying time based on your age to enter, and that’s the challenge.  I am too slow for this race but there are other races to join.

The trick is to make the most of the opportunity.  I need to tattoo this in my forehead.  I need to hear this when I don’t feel like getting out of bed after a miserable night from chemo rebound.  Also, I need to take things in perspective.  I am still here.

Cheers.

P.S.  Former Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal George, passed last Friday from cancer.  My wife and I tried to go to the viewing but missed the time slot.  I mourn his passing.  He was also treated at University of Chicago, where I am being treated.  He paid it forward for me.

Happy Easter.


Happy Easter.

April 5, 2015

Happy Easter, everybody.  Our day started by going to mass.  The church was full and everybody was in their Sunday’s best.  Christ rose from the dead; a day of renewal.  It is a beautiful spring day too and I am grateful to have come this far.

Last Monday, March 30, I started on my new clinical trial which consisted of two drugs: one to suppress the growth my tumor (given Monday) and the other to “weaponize” my immune system to attack my cancer (given Tuesday).  They gave me a loading doze and I really felt it.  I had chills, nauseated, and was just wasted that Monday night.  I don’t know how I made it back to the hospital Tuesday to receive the immune-therapy drug, but I made it.  Then there was the never ending blood tests Wednesday and Friday.

I have recovered now.  Tomorrow is the second cycle of my treatment which is going to be a lower doze.  It does not matter, I will take whatever they give me.  That’s how it is.  They gave me my schedule all the way to end of May so there will be no travel for me for a while.

That’s ok.  Chicago is beautiful during springtime and there is the lakefront for running.  Unfortunately, I cannot have too much sun because one of the side-effects of this treatment is skin rashes.  The sun aggravates the rashes.  I will survive and adjust.  That is the key to this madness, just take what is given and appreciate your blessings.  It’s all good.  We will see the initial results of this treatment next month when I have my next scan.

Cheer.

Ready and waiting


Ready and waiting.

March 30,2015

II am sitting in the waiting room at the new building waiting to be called.  I have cleared all my test, given a briefing by the research nurse, and my port is accessed.  Today is my first day to received a new clinical trial drug; an immuno-therapy treatment.

Needless to say I am anxious since this is new.  The nurse order anti-nausea drugs and skin rash drugs.  I was told to expect some skin problems like acne (OMG, acne at my age.  Oh well…).  Bring it on.  Today is the chemo drug, tomorrow is the immune boosting drug.

I am already thankful I got this far and entered into this new cutting edge trial.  I try not to put too much expectation on this, after all this is a clinical trial.  We will not know unless we try.  Such is the life of a gerbil on wheels.

Cheers.

It is a matter of believing.


It is a matter of believing.

March 25, 2015

WWe are back from our trip and I am back at University of Chicago hospital for tests: CT scan, blood test, and EKG.  These test are needed for me to start the new critical trial on Monday, March 30.  It will establish a baseline for me before I start the trial, a new immuno-therapy trial.

New trial, new hope.  That is all I can ask for: hope that this next treatment works.  The optimistic way is to say; I believe this next treatment is going to work.  After all it is a matter of believing.

Back in Jerusalem and Rome, there is a lot of that — believing.  At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, I placed my hands on the stone where Jesus was said to have laid after being brought down from the cross.  Is that really the stone?  Similarly, Golgotha, the biblical name where Jesus was crucified, has three locations depending on which you believe is the true site.  Most believe that the true site is where the Holy Sepulcher church lies, and that is where most people flock and worship.  It is a matter of believing.

In Rome, where the city is replete with history and artifacts even before the time of Jesus, you need every ounce of belief to accept all the things you see.  It was mind boggling.  I was in awe of the magnificence of St. Peter’s Basilica.  I experienced hair-raising moments when I saw the Pope, attended mass at the Basilica, viewed the Sistine Chapel, and when I climbed the Scala Santa on my knees.

All the sights, statues, obelisks, churches, etc., tells the story of man’s tribute to God and his belief.  There is not enough buildings and basilicas to compensate man’s insecurities in his quest for perfection as reflected in the beautiful artworks and paintings. I carry the same inadequacy, that’s why I pray.

Right now I pray, not for lofty offerings or perfection, but the courage to fully believe I will be cured.  It is a matter of believing.  Now, let see what my doctors will tell me.

Cheers.

P.S.  I gave my Jerusalem medal to my friend and PT, JamieM.  I told her she deserve the medal for helping me get back, while I got the memory of running Jerusalem.  Then she asks “so what’s next?”  Huh?

Jerusalem medal

My Jerusalem finisher medal

Rome: The Eternal City


Rome:  The Eternal City

March 20, 2015

 

TThis is my first time to Rome but not to Italy.  They call it the Eternal City because there is so much history behind it.  It was the center of the western civilization and at its peak the Roman empire conquered most of Europe.  At that time, it is either you are a Roman or a Greek or a barbarian.

The rise and fall of the Roman empire is well documented and this city has all the evidence of its glory and scars of its past as well.  I came to Rome to continue my spiritual journey and I was not disappointed.  Upon arriving, our hotel managed to get us tickets to the Papal Audience ahead of time.  So I was very excited.

The Papal Audience.

Every Wednesday is the Papal Audience held at St. Peter’s Square.  The morning we attended there were several thousands of people gathered at the square.  The mood was festive.  There were country flags, welcome banners, kids on tour, and many pilgrims.  Before the Pope arrive, they announced all the groups present or were represented in the audience.  There were schools and religious groups from all over the world, and each time when their name was called they cheered.  We sat among high schoolers from Toronto, Canada led by their teacher.

At the appointed time the Pope came out riding in his Pope-mobile.  The crowd surged and stood on their chairs to get a glimpse of him.  I was among them.  Then, I saw him and felt a surge of excitement.  Wow.  I felt like a teenager seeing my idol and I was on the verge of tears.  I could not believe I am in the presence of the Pope.  Everybody was reaching out to him.  He would stop and his security would bring babies or kids to be blessed or kissed.  His path was lined with kids and adults on wheelchairs, all seeking for blessing.

(Note:  I took this video of the Pope giving his blessings.  I was close.)

I am among those seeking his blessings.  I asked for guidance and strength to face all my challenges.  Seeing him gave me comfort.  It was an unbelievable experience.  I was mesmerized in his presence.  He message was about the importance of family.  At the end, he led the prayer for the Our Father (Pater Noster) prayer in Latin.

Rome is full of Christian monuments and statues.  They all reflect tributes of greatness or adoration to God.  There are churches, castles, and symbols that some how relate to a higher being one way or another.  They show the dedication of man to his God.  The statues of saints and angels provide a way to relate our true feelings and confess our inner doubts.  Being among these beautiful masterpieces has given me a way to reflect and appreciate all the blessings I have.  It can be overwhelming.

Cheers.

 

 

In God’s Land: Jerusalem.


In God’s Land: Jerusalem

March 17, 2015

GGod is everywhere.  That is what I remember what my grade school religion teacher told me.  God is here. God helped me cross the finish line during the Jerusalem half-marathon.  He was also watching if I cheated during the race …hehe.

During the race there were lots of opportunities to cheat, cut corners, or plain just give up. There were stretches along the course where you can just make a quick turn and nobody would know. I know I will not win it anyway so why bother. Beside I have I every bit of good reason not to be at the starting line: I have metastatic cancer in my lungs.  But I was not going to be robbed of this opportunity.  I am hoping in between the pain of running the hilly terrain of Jerusalem and the solitude it brings, I find peace.

Magnificence of this place is striking.  The history and the scenic view the city provided was inspiring. The pavement on the course might have been man-made but this is God’s land, therefore holy. There were olive trees, which made me wonder how old they were? Were they around during the time of Christ? Are there olives in Mt. Olives?  Perhaps there is something in running that enhances your senses to absorb your pain in your body, the loud cheers of the crowd, and appreciate the beauty of Jerusalem. You notice everything and I could not help but appreciate the significance of this place. I am blessed.

Catharsis, a purification or purgation of emotions that brings about spiritual renewal or tension – Merriam/Webster dictionary.  This is my Jerusalem marathon: a cathartic moment.

Shabbat Shalom

After my 13.1 mile cleansing, my wife and I got to see the preparation for Shabbat.  The hostel were we stayed hosted a Shabbat dinner serving a full vegetarian meal (I can live here).  Guest pay for the meal but if you want help out in the kitchen, like cut vegetables, you get a free meal too.

It is not the traditional Shabbat meal prepared at home with fancy silverware and mapah levanah (white table clothes), but the essence of the meal is there.  There is the Shabbat candles, Shabbat challah (whole-wheat bread), wine, prachim (flowers), etc.  I am sure the food taste good too as well as company of fellow travelers in the table.

There is something to be said about food in this place.  It was as if all the fruits, vegetables, and food were touch or made by God himself.  The oranges from Jaffa, even bottled ones, taste sweeter.  The olives were plump and tasty, perhaps picked from hundred year old trees in the surrounding area. I could go on and list all the typical Israeli food that I tasted which was influenced by many cultures when this country was formed. These are the tahina, hummus, falafel, salad, halva, kebab, and many more. I love it.

A trip to the Mahena Yehuda market is an experience that cannot be miss, especially on a Friday.  It is were the locals shop for their daily needs. Going there is an assault to your all senses. Amazing place to explore, taste, and learn. I am definitely not in Chicago.  This early I know I am going to miss this place.

The Old City.

The Old City is about one square mile and it is densely packed with more than 45,000 residents that includes Jews, Muslim, and Christians.  There are churches, museums, schools, apartments, markets, toilets, eateries, etc., and history. The city is divided into four quarters: Armenian, Jews, Arabs, and Christians.

I came to walk the Via Dolorosa and it is more than I bargained for.  The narrow streets were full of merchants selling their wares from fruit juices to pots and pans.  If you can think of anything that you would need on a daily basis it is there.  The air is punctuated with all sorts of perfume, scents, spices, and vendors calling your attention.  It is hard to imagine these are the steps (the Via Dolorosa) that Jesus took on the way to Calgary or Golgotha.

The path of the Via Dolorosa ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the place according to Christians is where Christ was crucified, died,and was buried.

Golgotha

 

There are many artifacts on display in the church but the most electrifying object for me was the stone where it is believe where Jesus laid and cleaned after he was brought done from the cross.  I touched the stone much like all the visitors coming and felt something inside me.  The stone was cold to touch but it pulsated and gave me warmth.  What was it telling me?

 

In Jerusalem I was hoping for answers and peace.  I saw and absorbed all the sights and sound of Jerusalem.  I indulged in the experience.  I prayed to all the Gods (Jewish, Orthodox, Christians, Jesus) and went to all the religious sites, including at the Western Wall.  I contemplated.  I ran its streets.  I swam in the Dead Sea.  Met many travelers who come to this place seeking whatever they seek.  At the end, it is left to me, and those who came here. It is about believing. And in this place it is not hard to believe.

Cheers.

P.S. We are at the airport now on the way to Rome. The next leg of our adventure. Hopefully, I get tickets to see the Pope tomorrow.

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