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Friday, April 3, 2015

Fringeville #130, April 03 2015: Early Warning System Activated... warned. I'm posting something this weekend. God only knows what, but I have to post something.

Oh... and Happy Easter weekend, folks. Try not to put yourselves in a chocolate coma.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fringeville #129, November 23 2014

...the corpuscles look like little chicken wings...
(Please note in the post below I am talking only from my own experience as someone whose prostate was surgically removed as primary therapy for my cancer. When I talk about PSA levels, etc. it is from my perspective as a surgical patient. Radiation therapy is a whole 'nuther bag. After radiation therapy, PSA may take a long, long time to drop to its lowest level. The prostate wasn't removed and there may still be some healthy prostate cells cranking out PSA. Whether surgery, radiation or some other therapy is the best choice for a patient is something that has to be decided on a case-by-case basis. There is no one-size fits all for prostate cancer. What worked for you may not be the best choice for me, and vice versa)

This past week I had to have blood drawn for my 6-month PSA check. With the surgical removal of my prostate, what the blood test should confirm is that my PSA (Prostate-specific antigen) levels are undetectable. Because we yanked the lil' sumbitch.

I have this test every 3 months post surgery. The first was in August. Last week was the second. And I've noticed a little something about myself when it is time for these tests. I dread them. And from what I've read, most guys in my shoes dread them as well.

I am not a needle-phobe (though my sister Mitty is...she was a legendary needle-phobe back in the day). It's relatively painless, and the most difficult part of it is getting to the testing center in Hazleton. I can't have it done at a regular lab because it is an ultra-sensitive test. They are looking for incredibly small levels of PSA, and they really shouldn't find them (because as mentioned above, we yanked the lil' sumbitch).

The dread is that the test will find measurable PSA.

How is that possible?

Let's say a couple of those bad boy prostate cells took a pleasure cruise up the river lymph, or otherwise got out of the box before the prostate was removed. Those little peckerwoods will multiply. And they will produce PSA. Therein lies the dread. Because as anyone with prostate cancer knows, you are cured until you're not. In the case of folks like me, who had the prostate removed, the longer you go without a return of detectable PSA the more likely you were cured. If it becomes detectable, well the later that happens and the rate at which the PSA level doubles guides the approach to treatment. If it starts showing up a decade from now, and rises slowly, that's not a horrible scenario. At that point, I'm much more likely to choke to death on a chicken wing than to die of prostate cancer.

But if those PSA levels return early and rise quickly, that's when a fellow starts to feel like a milk carton with an expiration date.

And so fellows like me ...who had the lil' sumbitch yanked ...go about our lives and push our cancer to the back of our minds. Until it is time for the test. And the intervening time from test to results is when we drum our fingers as we drink our morning coffee and wonder what we'll do if we lose the PSA lottery so soon after surgery.

And I still hate the term for the unwanted return of PSA. They call it 'biochemical failure', which somehow sounds like it's our fault.

Doc: "You've got biochemical failure, Mr. Hooter."
Patient: "But I stayed up all night studying for the blood test!"
Doc: "Yeah, well your PSA tells a different story. Slacker."

The dread motivates someone like me to some sort of action. In my case, I took a look at where I was in life and made some changes over the past few weeks:

  • Because I'm hopefully cured, I've taken on a second full time job because staring at piles of bills doesn't make them go away.
  • Because I may not be cured (unlikely but possible) I have adopted a 5-year horizon view of my life. If I become a milk carton, that's what I'm looking at as time remaining to get things done. This is just my own level of neurosis picking that span of time. Five years  is chunk of time that I can work with.
  • I have begun backing away from things that take me away from my family.
  • I have begun letting go of making all the big decisions around Jimboville.

And that segues me into the next piece of this blog...

* * *

...ignore the ugly blob and campaign stuff. Focus on the car.
See that beautiful red Buick behind that butt-ugly guy in the white shirt? That's Bess. I love Bess. Bess has been the HQ for two political campaigns. In the summer, when the air conditioning is on, it even has an indoor pool in front of the passenger seat. I used to call it "Lake Laureen" because when Laureen Cummings ran for Congress in 2010, that was her seat and she had to strategically place her feet where they wouldn't be submerged in those dog days of summer. Congressional candidate's feet shouldn't squish when they walk.

For the past couple of years, Bess has been my daughter's car. Bess has picked up some bumps and bruises, and if you lock all of her doors you can't open any of them. You have to break in. She's also become steadily more expensive to maintain.

With the impending addition of my second job, I realized we were facing a major dilemma in Jimboville: A 5-3-2 crisis. Five jobs requiring vehicles. Three people for said jobs. Two old vehicles to carry the burden.

I realized this wasn't going to work, and as I went into this past week facing the dreaded PSA test I decided to guide my daughter Courtney through her first car purchase. Before I got sick, her role in the whole process would have been to sit quietly and listen while I worked everything out with the dealership's sales and financial folks. I would have cosigned the loan, and she would have a dependable vehicle. But she wouldn't have learned a damned thing because I'd have done the whole shebang, and I'd have been her safety net financially.

But the worm has turned.

I knew that while unlikely, there was a possibility I might not be around when she buys her next car. So I did two things which are very, very difficult for me. First, when the salesman asked if I was helping on the loan, I said no. And that hurt. A lot. The second thing I did was shut up for 95% of the entire process. I watched her work with the salesman and then with the finance officer. If there had been any red flags during those sessions, I'd have stopped things dead in their tracks. I wouldn't sit there and let my daughter get taken advantage of. But I had faith in the dealership, was impressed with the salesman, and appreciated the way the finance officer took his time carefully explaining each piece of paperwork. He knew it was her first car purchase, and he wants her back next time. (A big shout out to Ken Pollock Nissan. Job well done. And if  you're looking for a car, ask for Keith Onyshczak.)

In the end, my daughter got a great vehicle. And I learned just how well she can handle herself. And oddly, that was bittersweet, because on the one hand I am enormously proud of her, but on the other hand she really doesn't need me any longer. Like her brother, James, she is smart and self-sufficient. Though she hasn't actually left the nest (and if she sticks with my plan of not dating till she's 40 she'll be here a while) she can make her way in the world.

So the two big takeaways are:

1) My wife and I have raised two fully functional and self-sufficient adults.
2) I have Bess back. Come summer, in the hot and steamy dog days, you'll find me cruising down the highway with the only mobile lake in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

* * *
...time to eat yet? I just made a Hack Sandwich.

Lastly, I watched the NCAA sanctions in full bloom as my Lions came up flat usual ...on offense and the D just ran out of gas. I'm not hitting the panic button. The Lions only had their mouths smashed once this year. 4 of 5 losses (including the holdup-by-zebras against the Buckeyes) were by a handful of points each. Any kind of consistency on offense and ...don't laugh ...we're a one-loss team and Coach Franklin is a miracle worker. But the reality is that we don't have the horses, thanks to the NCAA.

I will be in State College for the Michigan State game next week with my brother. I really don't know what to expect. They are a very, very young team and this will be an emotional game. The best we can manage, including a bowl win, is an 8-5 record.  But quite honestly 6-7 is a very distinct possibility. The NCAA wanted to damage the program. Mission accomplished.

But 2015 comes quickly and with it the ability to rebuild to full strength.  I'm already thinking about the Blue-White game and a belly full of Five Guys grub next spring.

* * *

Monday, November 17, 2014

Fringeville #128, November 17 2014

November 17, 1984

She will likely fillet me alive for posting this, but 30 years is a heck of an achievement. It hasn't always been easy. In fact, at times it was damned hard. But we have grown stronger with each crisis we have overcome. And we take the "till death do us part" thing seriously 'round these parts.

One thing is for certain, she didn't marry me for my good looks and boyish charm:

Anniversary Wings tonight!!!
 * * *

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fringeville #127, November 16 2014

The unstoppable ..and thank God for that ..David Yonki



Congratulations, LuLac Political Letter for winning the NEPA BlogCon 2014 Political Blog of the Year!
* * *

...people tell me to slow down. There's plenty of time for that after they plant me.

I made a somewhat ambiguous post on my Facebook page this past Friday. It concerned yet another big exclamation point in my life this year.

As Ricky Ricardo would say, "...Let me 'splain, Lucy."

"...this time, I've got 'splaining to do, Lucy. Then you 'splain why Fred is dead on the floor and his wallet is empty."

Coming into 2014 I'd ended my second full year of living in a post-job-restructuring world. Sane people would likely have run screaming after the first year, but as many of you have long suspected I do not think like most people. I do believe I am sane, but I also think my brain is wired a wee bit differently. I was able to stay calm when I went from making good money to no money to a smidgeon of money in the first twelve months. In 2013, I made more progress and landed a great job with a local small business. Financially, I still had a long way to go and the money was still flowing in the wrong direction.

But I had a master plan: I would pick up a second full-time job in 2014 to go along with the one I had already (plus some small but steady income from a monthly bookkeeping gig).

The whole plan came crashing down in March when I got prostate cancer.

Yet I stayed calm while all around me things seemed to be devolving at a rate that was bordering on the spectacular. Whole new piles of bills came in, which I dutifully ignored because they scared the bejesus out of me and I had no way to pay them. I bounced back from surgery very quickly, but my stamina wasn't what it was. I also seem to have lost forever the ability to sleep like a normal human being.

What kept me going through all this, behind only the tremendous moral support of my family and friends, was working with Melanie Madeira's campaign in Lackawanna County, putting together some activities together for the Third District GOP with my pal Susan Zaykoski, and working a bit with the Luzerne County Teenage Republicans. I kept myself so busy that I didn't have much time to dwell on my own mortality or the precariousness of my own finances.

Then, about a month ago, and for no particular reason, I was overwhelmed by a sense that things were going to take a turn. In my favor. I had no rational reason to feel that way. I told my wife I was on the cusp of something good. She looked at me, and for very good reason, as if I'd lost my mind.

I was physically back at 100%, and I'd been looking for 3rd shift work (my original 2014 plan). I did two interviews not long after I told my wife we were about to turn a corner. On this past Friday, I signed an offer letter.

This will cause a few folks to scratch their heads: "...Umm... Jimbo're going to work TWO full time jobs? That's terrible!"

Ummm. No it is not.

I prayed for this. I basically looked up at the sky and said: "Big Guy, I need this one. Can you pull a string here?"

It is going to be hard work, but as my good friend Yonk says: "All work is noble."

In my life I have worked as a laborer, a manager, as a self-employed one-man business, and I've even done a little reporting. I belong to that odd subset of people born with "Bear Bryant Syndrome:" In short, retire-and-die-immediately. I will never stop working. If I'm not working, go through my pockets for loose change: I'm dead. I've also never looked down at anyone for the type of work they do (revisit the Yonk quote above). And I never will. 

...Keep your butt moving Jimbo. Now drop and gimmee a dozen. Wings.

You know I don't blog about my work place (current or in this case soon-to-be second workplace). I think when you do that you're juggling hand grenades and sooner or later a pin comes out of one of them and you blow yourself up. But what I will say is that strategically this job will fix some holes that have needed filling since 2011. It will increase my cash flow and reduce my outlay in some other areas. It will allow me to begin replacing the savings that the last two years wiped out completely. (The last of that disappeared two hours ...TWO HOURS ...before my phone rang with the job offer. To my atheist friends out there, excuse me for seeing the hand of God in that. But it is what it is. I prayed. Prayer answered. And the timing was incredible.)

Since I have not yet figured out how to either clone myself or do without sleep entirely, something has to give. And my decision is to take a dramatically smaller role in politics.  I will end my current term as a GOP committee member but I will not seek another term in 2016 and will immediately scale back what I am doing in that capacity. I most certainly will NOT run for any kind of office in the foreseeable future. Please chisel that in stone. I will help a very few select candidates who can put up with me, but the vast bulk of what time I have available will be spent with my family. They must come first, because as with any cancer I don't know if I'm going to be around until I die at the end of a double shift at age 95 at a business I own (my super-secret long-term plan) or if I'm essentially a human milk carton with a 5-10 year expiration date.

So that's it. That's the big news. It may not seem all that spectacular to some folks. But it is huge for me. It puts me back on track. It mean's I'm working hard, which means I'm happy.

And I will be able to splurge on the occasional Wing Night at Dan's Keystone Grille.

Until next post... live large and eat more wings.

* * *

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fringeville #125, October 23 2014

Have a beer and some wings. Save some for me.

I am deep in the heart of election season. While I am not running, I am still very much in the thick of things and as I usually do around this time I've taken a mini-hiatus while I work with committees and candidates.

I will pop off a few quick notes:

1)  My last post was about Ebola way back on September 30 before the whole nation went bat-shit crazy over the disease. I have read some of the most bizarre things on social media about the disease. Full panic mode with some folks. It reminds me of the people who called the police because a mysterious white powder was on the hood or roof of their cars during the anthrax mania. It was, of course, bird poop. Or maybe the aforementioned bat-shit.

Ebola has, of course, become a big political football. Early on I asked if Ebola might be the current President's Katrina. I criticized the response, particularly not blocking access to travelers to the U.S. from West Africa. Local radio host Sue Henry has said repeatedly that Ebola shouldn't be politicized. I mostly agree with her. But unfortunately the only way that you can get the current guy in the White House to do anything seems to be by applying enormous political pressure. Which often doesn't work anyway. He golfs to a different putter.

But when I start reading bizarre theories that this or that Party or President did this on purpose, or that some off the wall "cure" exists using common household cleaning items, well enough is enough.

So no more Ebola posts from me. As I said earlier, some folks have gone bat-shit crazy and at that point I exit, stage right.

2) Once this election season is over, I am making some very big life decisions. It has been an extraordinarily challenging and difficult year. I am ending it in far worse shape than I started it on just about every level. (Yes, my health is holding. But the old me is way back there in the rear-view in a heap in the ditch).  I will probably be stepping away from a lot of things. I will probably be working a whole lot more because I need the moolah.

So that is it for now. Consider this one of my occasional "I'm still alive, gang" posts. 

Look for a return to Fringeville in early November, after the dust at the polls settles.

* * *

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fringeville #124, September 30 2014

The Ebola Virus

I was working in a local hospital when AIDS became a huge story in this country. My job was carting people around in wheelchairs or on litters to and from tests, etc. There was always the chance of contact with blood or body fluid. Because of that, we received instruction on Universal Precautions.

Because there was so much fear of this disease, and so many myths and misconceptions about how it was spread, we were given some training that was specific to HIV. The training was straightforward. I recall the doctor doing the training telling us that the HIV virus needed a human host to survive. It would die quickly in most situations outside the body. It was also not spread casually. You weren't going to get it from shaking hands, picking up patient dinner trays, or breathing the air in a patient's room.

Then he asked if there were any questions. And immediately I saw how poorly humans handle the unknown when it comes in the form of disease.

Time and time again the doctor had to explain to folks that casual contact wasn't going to do it. It just wasn't sinking in. The anxiety in the room was palpable.

People, you see, are not at their best when a plague comes to town.

I recall this today because we now have the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States. As the virus exists today, it isn't spread by the air or through casual contact. It is, however, a remarkably vicious disease, and there is no shame in being afraid of it.

But I have already read a post on social media blaming the disaster-that-is-our-southern-border for this first case. (Which is absolutely not true. According to news reports, the person diagnosed flew here from Liberia.)

When I read the post, it made me think of the early days of AIDS, when that disease was tagged by some as "the gay disease." It was an uncomfortable parallel. HIV: Blame the gays. Ebola: Blame illegal immigrants. Or Obama. Or both.

I don't expect Ebola, as it exists today, to explode in the United States as it has in Africa. We are much better poised to isolate and halt the disease. I am crossing my fingers that cooler heads will prevail and folks will realize the odds of getting Ebola in the U.S. are going to be very, very small indeed.

But notice I've twice used the phrase "as it exists today" about the Ebola virus. Should it mutate and become hardy enough to be transmitted through the air, all bets are off. This is a very, very unlikely scenario. But not impossible. Every time a virus replicates, there is a chance of a mutation. Stop an outbreak, and you stop the mutations.

If, however, the unthinkable occurs, I am confident of one thing: It will not be a shining moment in humanity's history. We fear the unknown, for the most part. And when the unknown is also unseen until it strikes, it is a recipe ripe for panic and paranoia.

* * *