When In Doubt, Get Checked Out!

Ham Family

Eric was sick around the same time as Lisa.  He was younger, early 30’s, married.  He grew up in Raleigh but lived in California, and he was hilarious!  I never met him but reading his CaringBridge page was funnier than a night at Goodnight’s Comedy Club.

Brian was an athlete, a swimmer and a real outdoorsman.  He was a doctor, my doctor.  Not an ounce of fat on his body.  He was serious and cared more about his patients than other physicians I’ve met.  When you were in his office, he was with you.  One-hundred percent focused on your needs for as long as it took.  Cool wife, two teenage sons.

I grew up with Angie, she was in my older brother’s class at Terry Sanford Senior High School, Go Bulldogs!  She was a cheerleader, not only in school but in life.  She worked at PSNC, the place that keeps the residents of Raleigh warm for the winter.  Ironically, she read my book not long before her own diagnosis of colon cancer.

And there was Lisa.  My wife.  Mother of three, just shy of 40.

All died.  All of colon cancer.  The oldest was 52.

Current recommendations don’t call for colon cancer screening until you’re 50 unless you have a family history of the disease.  But while rates of colon cancer are decreasing for older people, the are actually climbing for the younger generation.  And while rates increase, young folks are less likely to be diagnosed until the cancer has progressed.

http://www.wral.com/colorectal-cancer-a-growing-problem-in-young-people/15597972/

Colon cancer can respond well to treatment if caught early.

Younger people think and are often told by their doctor that they aren’t susceptible to this disease.

Younger people put off getting stomach problems checked out assuming it’s a reaction to food or stress.

Many are active which can cause hemorrhoids.  They attribute blood in their stool to a sore butt from running or biking.

And who wants to have a colonoscopy?  I’ve done it.  It was not fabulous.  I drank sixteen gallons of white syrup and 45 minutes into my feast, I ran to the bathroom like I was headed into a Black Friday sale.  It was awful.  But once I was cleaned out, the procedure actually wasn’t that bad.  And there was something sort of invigorating about imploding my innards.  I felt fresh and new.

Not every stomach ache is colon cancer.  But if ongoing, check it out.  If you just don’t feel right down there, you know your body, check it out.  If you have blood in your stool, RUN to the doctor’s office.  And don’t let them tell you it’s nothing.  Press for answers!

When in doubt, get checked out!

Visiting the Dead

Sometimes I dream about having the opportunity to talk to Lisa, if only for an hour or two.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could communicate with our loved ones who are gone?  Just an hour a month – or a one week reunion once a year like our family’s vacation trip to West Virginia each August.

I can envision the rush to get to the annual destination, the desire to be there as early as possible to maximize our time with the ones we don’t frequently see.  The hugs.  The laughter.  The recounting of stories that occurred throughout the year.  The asking of advice for the future.  A long embrace at the end of the week, knowing it will be 358 days before we would see each other again.

Before Lisa died I asked her, if there was an option to do so, to come visit us when she got to heaven.  She told me she wasn’t doing that.  “I don’t want to be stuck between here and there.”  Seemed like she had spent some time thinking about it.  “When I go, I’m not coming back.”

Last night I was laying by Stephanie right before bedtime.  We started talking about Lisa.

“I still miss her,” I confessed.  I then shared my desire to communicate with our deceased loved ones on a regular basis.

“I want to talk to her.  I wish she was here, on earth.”

Without hesitation, Stephanie said, “She is.  She’s inside of me.”

Sometimes kids can see things that we, as adults, cannot.

I think God sort of works like that too.  I’m often narrow in my ability to view His world.  I don’t want to be, but I am.  I’m unable, or unwilling, to see blessings, opportunities, solutions right in front of my nose.

Maybe I should just spend more time with Stephanie.  She sure does have a way of enlightening.

Have We Said Enough?

Valentine’s Day, 2010, was ten days before Lisa died.  Although it’s been five years, cupid brings back vivid, vivid memories.

In many ways, it is my hardest grief day of the year.  The reminder that it is coming is blasted everywhere I turn:  on TV, in the grocery store, billboards – even Jiffy Lube has an oil change coupon special for your sweetheart!

The last dinner my girls and I ate with Lisa was on Valentine’s Day.  Of course we didn’t know that would be the case, but deep down, maybe we had a hunch.

It was an odd evening.  Lisa and I were trying so hard to be happy for three excited kids.

Yeah, yeah, it’s Valentine’s Day!  Candy, candy!  Love in the air.  Ignore the fact that your beloved mother in the seat beside you is hooked up to a morphine drip and dying from cancer.

As difficult as it is to face this annual reminder, February 14, 2010, ended up bringing me the greatest gift I ever received.  It gave me what I needed to take the steps  to put my life back together.

It was this day that prompted Lisa to write me a note.  Although I knew my wife loved me, she was not one to gush.  But this note encapsulated her feelings about me.  The last sentence she wrote was:

You are the husband, father, soul mate and friend that I want – never been another.  I love you very much.  Lisa

If I died tomorrow, I wonder if the people around me would know how I feel about them.

I have a buddy, Steve, who occasionally texts with the message, “I love you.”  When I see him, he says the same.

Another dear friend, Brad, and I hug and share the same sentiment.  His wife occasionally rolls her eyes at our mushiness.

I pick on people who mean a lot to me – just ask those in the offices next to mine at the YMCA.  Do my co-workers understand how much they mean to me?  I spend more time with them than any other friends and often more time than I spend with my family.  Do those at church know how much I look forward to seeing them each week?  Can the girls see my love through the nagging?

I’d like there to be no question in the minds of those who mean the most to me.

I’m not sure why it is sometimes so hard to express love.  It makes us squirmy and uncomfortable.  I’ve been the recipient of unfettered expression.  Lisa and I were given that chance.  Had she died in an automobile accident, that would not have been the case.

I have lived the past five years with a lack of guilt or regret about my relationship with my wife.  She let me know I was what she needed.  And yet, at times I still struggle with sharing how much I appreciate and care for others.  If it is tough for me, I imagine it might be even harder for those who have not experienced the joy of knowing that someone you loved so much loved you so much in return.

Sunday Post 191: My Eulogy

Last week I did my first eulogy.  Do you do a eulogy?  Say a eulogy?  I guess you eulogize someone.

I was honored to be asked by an elderly lady who attended my church and who was an avid exerciser at the Y.  She called me a month or so ago and explained that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer.  She felt like her time was limited.  She was making plans.

Sarah told me I was a good man and that certainly I could think of something good to say about her.  She was right.  It was easy to think of wonderful things about my friend.

It’s a huge responsibility to speak at someone’s funeral.  The opportunity only comes around once.  It is the single time that folks will outwardly, in front of your friends and family, talk about what you’ve meant to this world.

As I thought about Sarah last week, I also thought about the end of my life.  When it’s all said and done, what would I want someone to say about me?

I really spent some time thinking about this and have decided there are about five things I hope someone will remember when they give that 10 minute synopsis of my life.

1) He made us laugh.

2) He was a really, really good father.

3) He made a difference in this world (and be able to support that statement with several specific examples).

4) He lived his faith through his actions.

5)  He loved people – he loved all people, and it showed.

When I look through this list, there are a couple I think I’ll knock out of the park.  There are a few, though, where I’m currently coming up short.  That means I have to accept that I’m probably going to fail or I’m going to have to make some changes now.

Suppose I lived my life with those five goals in mind.  What if I considered my daily actions determining if what I was doing was moving me toward those goals or away from them?

Perhaps a little focus today, will ensure a more interesting and thoughtful message upon my demise.

Happy Bday Little One

It’s Michelle’s 12th birthday, and she wanted to blow it out.  I’m guessing there aren’t that many 15 girl sleepovers left in me – but, as long as they’re willing to come to my house, I’ll have ‘em!

The girls and I got home around 5:10 on Friday.  The crew started showing up at 5:30.

Michelle was having 9 friends over.  Of course, that meant that Stephanie needed a couple as well which is fine with me.  The older ones sort of disappear for the most part and occasionally step in to help entertain the youngers.  I just check on them to make sure they haven’t smuggled in boys or started a fire.

At 5:50 Michelle ran out on the front porch.  I was under the carport with Stephanie trying diligently to hook my laptop up to a borrowed projector so that we could watch Netflix on the side of the house.  You know, bigger is better.

“Dad, can we open presents now?”

“Noooo.   You still have two friends who haven’t arrived!  We’re gonna do that later tonight.”

“But we’re bored.”

“Bored?  Bored?  Good lord child, they’ve only been here 20 minutes!”  This was clearly going to be the longest night of my life.

“What should we do?”

“Pretend.”

She looked at me as if she had never heard the word.

“Do you know what we did for my 12th birthday?” She braced herself for the “Walk Two Miles to School in the Snow” story, birthday style.

“Your grandparents blindfolded us, spun us in a circle and had us stick a tack into the sketch of a donkey which was hung on our paneled basement wall.  And you know what?”

“What?”

“We were thankful we had a basement with paneling that was soft enough a tack could penetrate it!”

“You’re the weirdest person I know.”  She ran inside with her iPhone in hand.

I’m a cheap sort of birthday dad.  I did spring for pizza – but not the restaurant kind.  I bought small circular crusts and let the kids make their own.  They at least acted like it was fun.

DSC_0860

We then headed out to the carport.  That’s when DJ drove up.

My oldest daughter looked at me.  “Dad.  You look tired.  Let’s project some music videos on the wall.  We’ll have a dance party.  Take a break.  I got the next 15 minutes.”

A quarter of an hour.  She is so thoughtful.

DSC_0855

The movie was a hit until it started pouring down rain about ¾ of the way through.  We grabbed all of our stuff and headed toward the basement door.  As the girls ran in, a snake the size of an earthworm squirmed passed the door.

From the noise that came out of the mouths of these children, I thought one had run into a chainsaw in motion.

The snake is probably in Montana by now.  Their screams no doubt scared the hell out of him.  He was slithering as fast as a serpent can slither.  I feel certain he will NEVER return.

At 10:30 we ate cake – well, sort of.  I rolled out cookie dough and etched a little pic of the kid ($3.69).  I figured after pizza and popcorn some fancy store-bought sugarfest would not be necessary.

DSC_0880

Look, if you’re gonna dress your children in Jack Rogers’ sandals, you gotta save somewhere.

Around midnight DJ came home from her adventures with friends, and she helped me settle the crew down.  I went to my room and began to doze off when I heard the back door open and a booming voice echo through the den.

“Happy Birthday Michelle!!”

Hayes at bday

The laughter and screeches began again.  Uncle Jesse had arrived.  He pulled out the family guitar and began strumming as he held court with the nine preteens.

His work was complete at around 1 AM.  He did the job of an uncle.  Rile them up and get out-of-the-way.

No stiches, no tears, no vomiting or fist fights.  Asleep before 2.  I’d say that it was a pretty good night.

Sunday Post 185: Too Much Too Soon

I likely made the wrong decision.  I guess that’s not all that unusual, and I don’t think it is a decision that will make much difference in life down the road.  But, nonetheless, I wish I’d had better options.

In the Tanner household, at the end of fifth grade it has been a right of passage to get your first cell phone.  With child 1 and child 2, both having June birthdays, it was their gift.  A flip phone, used solely for text, photos and phone calls.

With DJ, Lisa cut her left arm and exchanged blood with the other mothers in her friend group.  They pressed their wounds together and vowed not to get smart phones until the inital end of fifth grade, two-year Verizon contract expired.  At the time, it cost us $10 per month to add this additional phone line to our growing technological household inventory.

When Stephanie came along, I followed the path originally set out by her mother.  Although child 2 specifically requested an iPhone, I stood strong.

“But dad, ALL of my friends have one…”

We went through the list of ALL of her friends.  As I suspected, it was a lie.  Not everyone had a smart phone.  In fact, most did not.

As I entered the Verizon store last week with my final daughter, my plan was solid.  She did not need a data plan.  She was too young.  It mattered not that I had confirmed three of her very best friends did indeed have one.  For crying out loud, my 17-year-old is driving a car her same age.  I am not a parent who falls for the Everyone Has argument.  Plenty of people I know have a beach house, and my butt is thankful I have a father-in-law generous enough to rent a place for the family one week each July.

As we neared the phone shop, a nice young man with a pull over hoodie and pants anchored around his hips met us at the door.  His iPad in tow, he began crunching numbers.

“Mr. Tanner.  If you add a flip phone with unlimited text and calls, it will cost you $30 per month.”

“$30?  I thought it was $10.”

“Nah.”

That was his answer.  Nah.

“Well what does it cost to add a smart phone?”

“Let’s see.  You have plenty of data that is unused each month, so we could add an iPhone for $40.”

“A month?”

“Yeah.”

I mean, he couldda said, Yes sir.

So for $10 bucks we get the Caddilac instead of the Pinto… hummm.

I pondered.  Am I spoiling my kid?  Am I exposing her to stuff too early?  Is she going to watch videos all day and flunk out of school?  Will she become homeless?  Addicted to crack cocaine?

When we arrived home with the gadget neither of us had expected to return with, I broke the news to her sisters.

“It was en economic decision,” I argued.  I then reminded Stephanie of the unusually expensive boots I’d purchased her last winter because they were slightly on sale and were so stinkin’ cute.  “DJ didn’t get a pair of shoes that nice until she was in 10th grade and going to a school dance!”

DJ muttered an expletive and told me that I might as well have given my final daughter away.  “Don’t complain to me when she ignores you or won’t talk to you at dinner.  You might as well have shipped her off to college!”

I think that may be an overreaction, although I did have to ask Michelle to put her phone away during the worship service at church last Sunday.  She wasn’t texting, she was just rubbing it across her face, like you would do with someone’s hand as they departed this life for the next.

The frustrating thing is that had I not lost my wife to cancer, I wouldn’t even be making these decisions.  I would have been informed and could have chosen to support the decision or participated in the nonviolent resistance.  Either way, I would have basically been off the hook.

There are so many questions surrounding this decision:

  • Why did I cave?
  • Am I allowing my preteen to grow up too fast?
  • Why do young salespeople answer questions like they’re sending a text message?
  • Why don’t sisters want each other to have good stuff?
  • Why do I have to make all the decisions?

I have some pondering to do.

 

Check the Tanners out in the September issue of Family Circle
Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and Braids: Amazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful:Click here. And thanks!

Sunday Post 184: Six Days Each Year

RC-mainhouse-featured1 (1)

How can you feel close to people you only see six full days each year? It’s weird. And yet, that’s what you feel with those you meet annually at our August vacation in Capon Springs, WV.

Lisa’s mom was six or eight the first time she visited. They haven’t missed a week since.

I imagine my mother-in-law eating at the same table we eat at now. Her mom and dad younger than I. She likely had dark hair, maybe braids. Now her hair is short and white as my undershirt.

I wish I could string together a video with clips of each trip from years gone by.

The first time I came was in 1993. It was unprecedented because Lisa and I were already engaged. The potential suitors weren’t fully accepted until all tenured aunts, uncles and family friends approved. It was like a debutante, a coming out of sorts.

If the other guests liked you on your first Capon visit, it was a done deal. But many came through never to return again.

Capon is nestled right across the Virginia border near Wardensville. The most direct route takes you down a dirt road and over a mountain.

The first time I went Lisa was driving. We left Raleigh at 5 PM on a Friday. Neither of us had enough vacation time to go earlier in the week – we were mid twenties and new to our careers.

As we wound through the Virginia hills, service road signs discreetly displayed their names: Route 652, Route 664, Route 665. When Lisa pulled onto the gravel and we began to traverse the hill in the pitch black night I wondered if I had been duped. Was she taking me up Route 666 to dismember me? Was this some sick family ritual? Could they cover me with chicken blood and burn me at a stake?  How many other guys had she left in these woods?

There are informal initiations, like being pushed in the spring fed swimming pool (the temperature remains consistent – hovering around 70 degrees Farenheit). But there was no blood, no dismemberment. Just folks that I’d see six days each year.

These same folks drove hours to attend our wedding, and naturally they returned to Raleigh to support in our time of crisis.

We have no idea what we’re like in real life. We don’t see each other on a daily basis. In many cases we don’t understand each other’s career. You may be known as the best team captain in the annual Tuesday golf tournament or the guy who plays the banjo on the porch all day. Maybe your family is the one that enters four pairs in the Shuffle Board Tournament but never gets past the first round (I know that family well).

We may not have ever visited outside of August in West Virginia. But there is a tie, a connection, a closeness.

Life sort of stops this week. And then your return to reality until the next year where you pick up exactly where you left off… on the front porch of the main house at Capon Springs.

 

Check the Tanners out in the September issue of Family Circle
Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and Braids: Amazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful:Click here. And thanks!

Sunday Post 178: I Can Almost Hear

Lisa recorded our voice mail greeting at some point long ago. Over four years later, I had not recorded over it. So if you called our house, she would greet you.

However, after years of going out of my mind with Time Warner Cable, I decided to go with a new carrier. After I made the decision, I realized it would mean our voicemail greeting would be deleted. I’d have to re-record.

We worked hard to preserve Lisa’s voice, saving it on every phone and computer the family owns. And now, if I want to hear her, I just pull it up on my iPhone or Dell and listen.  Sometimes its just nice to hear.

A while back my minister talked about the importance of voices. Someone referred to your voice as your thumbprint on the world.  Man, I wish I could still hear those who are gone.

I imitate my friend Trey but I long for that slow southern drawl. He died in a car wreck several years before Lisa.

I lay in my bed the other night trying desperately to remember how each of my grandparents sounded. I almost could – my Grandmama Tanner’s laugh, Granddaddy Tanner telling me, “You have a hole in your head boy.”  I could see my other grandmother’s face – she was by me on the bed.  But I couldn’t quite remember her voice.

It’s like the inflection is there, rolling around the outskirts of my cerebrum, but I just can’t pull it out.

What a shame.

I get used to pictures, but I always had to brace myself when I phoned the house.  Not in a bad way, but I had to be ready.  Sometimes her tone would bring a smile.  Sometimes it would bring longing.

I don’t know what I miss most – seeing, touching, or hearing her.  She was a talker, man could she move those lips.  Sometimes I’d wish she’d stop chatting everyone up after church and just get in the car – I was hungry!

Now I’d give anything to stand behind and wait.  If only to hear her one more time.

 

Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and Braids: Amazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful: Click here. And thanks

Sunday Post 143: Heather’s Story

I remember when we first learned that Lisa had cancer.  We didn’t have many answers, we simply knew it was a “large” tumor in the lower part of her colon.

I naturally assumed it was Stage IV.  I was right.  It had spread.

I tried to put on a good face, but in the back of my head I knew this was it.  A nurse friend of mine told me of Stage IV colon cancer patients who were beating the odds – 5, 8 years out.

“That’s not long enough!  What about year 9?  Do you know anyone who has survived 9 years??”

Literally every single month I hear of someone else who has been diagnosed with some form of this crappy disease.  Sometimes it seems beatable.  At other times, it just seems ominous.  But what I’ve found is that there is story after story after story of strong people who are kicking cancer’s ass!

While at Duke with Lisa, I ran into an old friend who has Stage IV esophageal cancer.  I said “HAS” – because he is still alive and well, it’s in remission, more than five years later.  It hasn’t been easy, but he’s doing really well!

Checkout this story:

Heather’s Story

Heather took names!  Her body did the unthinkable!  A death sentence?  Not for her – somehow her system responded to the medications and she is living, appreciating life like she never did before.

I haven’t yet met her, but one day I plan to. Part of her new life draws her to spread the word about cancers associated with asbestos – see the facts below.

Many of you are fighting – either yourselves or with those you love.  Cancer is NOT necessarily a death sentence.  There are victorious stories everywhere you turn.  Ha-le-lu-jah!!

Asbestos Facts

Sunday Post 81: The Trent/Elba Exit

Posted by Danny

I knew the day would come.  At some point in my life I would have to return to the Cancer Center at Duke.

Thank God it was just a meeting for work that brought me back there. 

I always get a knot in my stomach when I turn onto the Durham Freeway.  This time, I had to get off at the Trent/Elba exit.  I knew exactly where to go.  My memory had not faltered. 

As I pulled up to the stop sign at the top of the exit, my heart rate increased.  I opened the compartment between the front seats – a leftover pass from 2010 would cover my parking fee for the hour.  It was the last one.  Maybe I should save it. 

Was I temporarily insane for wanting to hold on to the small green coupon?  Would I cashed in a memory when I gave it to the attendant?

I met a friend in the parking deck – he didn’t know me before.  As we meandered through the walkway from the deck to the building, a rush of emotion bowled over me.  Interestingly, the slide show of memories were mostly of laughter.  The two of us in that waiting room – she laughing at my jokes.  Getting temporarily stuck on the elevator, the one with the big red stripe.  A huge mirror behind the toilet in the radiation wing – what an interesting view of myself –

I could picture her in a wheelchair – that was not my wife.  Her fanny pack of 5-FU, the chemo cocktail of choice.

I had forgotten the pattern of the tile.  It was clear today.  Before my head hung low, the design blurred by tears. 

I had gotten used to the troops in hospital fashion.  They stood out now – their rubber shoes and names embroidered on their white coats.

I was intentionally focused in my meeting, my mind was alert.

And then I drove off to where I live now. 

Sometimes pain visits, but he doesn’t live with me now.

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