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A New Chapter

Please come visit my newest blog at http://daretoliveon.blogspot.com/

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Crutching Right Along

This coming Monday I will be getting the staples removed from my knee. I’m really looking forward to this, partly because the staples are a little annoying – they get caught on the gauze and bandages – but mostly because it means my knee is healing. Naturally, I wish I wasn’t injured at all but, if an injury had to happen I wish that it had been something that heals quicker than a tendon!

All is going well however. I am hopefully going to be starting back to work, ‘driving a desk,’ around the first of the year and am excited to be able to contribute. It is a very difficult process to have gone through – not being able to be shoulder-to-shoulder with my co-workers doing what we do. This knee injury really came out of left field and actually hit me harder than the cancer – for that matter, it is harder on Kim and Courtnie. With the cancer treatments I was able to mask the terrible parts with drugs. With this knee I can only mask the pain, which frankly isn’t something that really alters my day-to-day interaction. I can’t take a drug to make my leg work so that I can pull my weight with household chores or play with Courtnie at the park.

But this is only temporary – just, unfortunately, at the tail-end of a longer ordeal. Kim and I watched a program – Heroes at Home – and I was reminded that things are pretty good at the Hutchinson house. I encourage everyone to check out the Heroes at Home Wish Registry because those are some very deserving folks that we should all be helping out.

What an incredible Christmas this was.  The feeling is hard to describe but I have one story from my life that comes close to conveying the feeling.  When I was younger, I think this was when I was in junior high school or high school (Mom can comment and let us all know when it was), I was fortunate enough to make frequent trips to the resorts of Mexico.  One destination our family frequented was Mazatlan and I loved open-water swimming even back then.  What became a regular thing for me was swimming to Isla de los Venados (Deer Island).  On one of those swims it was a foggy early morning and I was about halfway between shore and island when I made out a very large cruise ship (when you are swimming in the ocean all cruise ships are very large!) coming my way.

Not good!  I began swimming as fast as I could to get further from that midpoint and closer to the island.  The ship passed and I wasn’t run over – probably counts for at least a half of one of my twelve lives – and I watched, relieved, as the ship continue on its way.  That’s when things really became interesting.  Big ships generate a significant undertow and there is a pretty good delay between the ship passing and the undertow passing.

After a long period of furious swimming during which I stayed in one spot (and thankfully mostly above water) I was just about completely spent.  I knew that the moment I couldn’t swim strongly, I was going under.  Then the undertow was gone.  THAT was the feeling of this Christmas – I was and am so thankful to have just had the holiday.

Spoke too Soon?

Okay, maybe I’m a little slow to react or something.  To use the now famous word of my story telling daughter – “Apparently” there are a LOT of nerves in a person’s knee.

Changes

What an experience knee surgery yesterday was!  I was being told so many times by some how painful and difficult the first few days after surgery are that I was really worried.  And then, just prior to my surgery, I watched as Cadillac Williams returned to playing in the NFL after having sustained the exact same injury and I was further worried by his statement – “When I first got hurt and started hearing what other people were saying about the injury, doubt definitely crept in.”  His interview, however, was inspirational and filled me with hope.  Cadillac Williams has made it back and is now playing in the NFL and that made me realize that although the physical therapy is going to be very difficult, it is doable and I too will be back “in the game.”  For those who don’t mind gore, and I mean really graphic stuff, the procedure they did on my knee can be found here.  But do not go there if you don’t like blood and guts – I am the type that has to see it so I looked, but that link is not for the queasy amoungst us.

Once again God looked after me because so far things have been fine and really not that big of a deal.  My surgeon, James P. Lindberg, came highly recommended and I highly recommend him to anyone in the area needing that type of service.  He is all business but I like that in a surgeon.  Except for an excruciating moment as I came out of general anethesia, I haven’t felt any pain really.  Joanna Bull, founder of Gilda’s Club, said “Survivors [of cancer] have a unique way of looking at the world, a depth that the experience has given you.”  I think that that depth includes a whole new perspective on discomfort.  And, although not thankful obviously to have had cancer, I am thankful for the experience and, as I’ve said before wouldn’t trade it for anything.  This setback with my knee will be that much easier because of what I underwent over the last several months for the cancer.

Backing up a little bit, it has been interesting to hear, and worth sharing, how different people reacted to my going into remission.  You can really tell, for the most part, the people that have had to live through cancer or something similar – either themselves or with someone in their household.  And those who haven’t.  “Family and friends can tire of talking about cancer;” said a woman named Helen Spence in an interview for Heal magazine (a publication aimed at cancer survivors and their families),  “They didn’t want you to have cancer in the first place, and ‘now you’re done’ and ‘let’s move on.’ But that isn’t reality for the person who has it.”  Or, I would add, for the household of a cancer survivor.

Unfortunately, cancer has been overly present on Kim’s side of the family these last few years.  It very recently claimed a beloved uncle and another uncle has been hard at the work of fighting his cancer.  Those two uncles and aunts really get it and it shows in the way they react to news of remission and the way they communicate with us.  They understand that once you have cancer things are never the same and the spectre is with you forever.  You are never done with it and there is no moving on.  There IS, however, a whole new appreciation for and love of life – that is the upside, that is the blessing.

That observation, that you can really tell who has and hasn’t gone through cancer or something similar, certainly isn’t meant to say that those that haven’t are unsympathetic or somehow lack appreciation for the hardship of cancer.  It is simply that they don’t have the experience to know what it is truly like.  It makes me think of when I would talk to someone that is getting a divorce in hopes of supporting them – I really haven’t a clue because I haven’t been in that position as a spouse.  And I’m guessing, like cancer, every situation is different in divorces even if the underlying emotions are pretty much the same.

Joanna Bull, the same person I quoted earlier, also said that “If you are living with cancer, there is ample opportunity for discovery of deeper meaning and purposefulness, or understanding living and dying, and being there for other people.”  Undoubtedly, our going through cancer gave us a new perspective on life and returned Kimberly and I to taking the opportunity to discover ‘deeper meaning and purposefulness.’  Something we somehow allowed the busyness of our lives to interfere with.

It is said in Romans 8:28 – ‘Now we know that for those who love God all things are working together for good–for those, I mean, whom with deliberate purpose He has called.’  I have to believe that God has called me with a deliberate purpose, otherwise he would have not answered all of those prayers that have ultimately given me some more time here on Earth.

It is amazing the change a person undergoes in battling cancer – Kim and I have experienced it first hand obviously, but we also have seen it in those around us that went through, or are going through, the same battle.  I think the neatest part is the renewal of a marital relationship.  Kimberly and I feel like we have just started our love again – the relationship has that same feeling it did in the so-called ‘honeymoon’ period of marriage.  We can hardly believe that we will be going on twelve years this next anniversary – it feels like we married a few months ago.  That is something we have seen in each of the relationships that has been touched by cancer and it would sure be neat if everyone could have that opportunity – not the cancer, the relationship renewal.  Here is my twisted version of how to achieve that mindset – imagine that you might lose your spouse and/or family soon and make the most of every minute you have.

Speaking of all things working together for good.  Many of you may remember that just prior to my cancer detour, I was sent to the fine state of Georgia for Federal training as a specialist in human trafficking and smuggling.  This was in anticipation of my becoming a part of the Immigration Enforcement Unit for my agency.  Well, that opportunity has finally come to fruition and I am excited to announce that I have been transfered to that unit.  I am looking forward to starting in a ‘light duty’ capacity for that unit on the first of January.  Out of respect of my Agency’s policy I won’t be blogging about my work in this unit.  But I did want to share the news.

As with any change, it is going to be difficult to leave behind the ‘family’ I have been working with since I graduated from the Colorado State Patrol’s Academy in 2005.  Many of those peers graduated with me and it has been an incredible experience to share my first years with them.  The silver lining is that I will continue to work in the same area and see those officers day-to-day.

Before I go, I wanted to mention an incredible gift I received when I was last at my oncologist’s office and learned that there was “no evidence of disease” in my PET/CT scan.  My Aunt Brenda is a pyrography artist and she has been a huge pillar of support during my months of chemotherapy.  I mention she is a pyrography artist because she sent a work she did for me – a picture of my Golden Retriever, Aspen, and the Golden Retriever that I included in my blog that was my friend at the oncologist’s office, Cashew – to my oncologist and they presented it to me there.  It was the best gift befitting the news I got that day.  I would like to encourage everyone to check our my Aunt’s business at Blazin Engravins.  A picture of the gift she gave me can be found under the Custom section of that website.

Once again, thank you to everyone for all the support and help you have given me and my family – you have no idea how much it has meant to us.

By the way, the Friends of Hutch organization hasn’t been forgotten.  It will likely not be fully realized until the end of 2009 because I’m learning there is a LOT involved with putting such a non-profit together.  But the work is already under way and it will really be under way when I have two working legs again.

Oh Brother!

What didn’t destroy me, made me stronger.  For whatever differences or agreement I might have with the views of Friedrich Nietzsche, that particular thought has motivated me in life.  After these last several months battling cancer it has certainly solidified its place as part of my credo.  It has been my experience that when you are faced with a difficult situation in life you have two choices – you can give up or learn from it.  And after making either of those choices you do something better.

 

Before going on I have to share the exciting news – the report generated from my last PET/CT scan declared that I have “no evidence of disease.”  I found this out this last Wednesday and, the following day being appropriately Thanksgiving, it took me until today to recover from the amazing food and family gathering and get this news on the blog.  Most everyone seems to have found out before I had a chance to tell you anyhow – good news travels fast!

 

As I began to think about this blog entry I spent a great deal of time thinking about the delay from the last time I wrote.  On several occasions now I have run into one person or another who has asked when my next blog would be or that I needed to give an update.  And I would acknowledge that person and remind myself that I needed to get it done.  But it took until now.

 

Initially the delay was for the same reason there was a delay after each time I got out of the hospital – plain old just not feeling right.  And the final cycle was the worst in some ways and so the delay was that much longer.  That time passed, or at least got better to the degree that I could have written.  Yet, still, it just was not “there.”  Not a loss for words so much as a lack of desire to type them.

 

And it took until now for me to figure out the ‘why’ behind that.  The why is/was because I had come to a milestone in a difficult journey and found that it was not really something to celebrate.  And after all the incredible support I have received, after all that I had been through, after what those around me had to go through – I wanted to say “We did it!”

 

But all that I could see was that I had completed eight rounds of chemotherapy which may or may not have gained anything – that I (we) had simply arrived at a place where we could get off this train for a minute to stretch our legs and breathe some clean air before getting back on board to continue this trip.  The track stretches far out behind us but it also stretches far out ahead of us, disappearing into the horizon as the sun sets and we rolled into another night.

 

That night was the period between my last blog and my return to regular duty as a State Trooper on November 16th.  It has been a time of recovery and really nothing to report because I had just been rolling through the darkness.

 

The sunrise was Sunday, November 16th.  On that day I went back to work and could once again see the lay of the land and feel good knowing where I stood and the direction I was heading.  Getting back to work was incredible.  I won’t rehash the point I have already made in previous blog entries other than to say that I truly love what I do.

 

My first day back started with the discovery and arrest of an intoxicated driver within ten minutes of leaving my office.  That set the tone for my day and I had a great day doing what I do.  With almost two hours left in my shift, Kimberly called me to say (mostly in jest) that I needed to promise to not go looking for trouble.  I laughed and said, ‘Of course I won’t.’

 

Twenty-five minutes later it was me that called Kimberly prefacing our conversation with the dreaded ‘I’m alright but…’ as I explained that I was calling from the back of the ambulance that was transporting me to the emergency room of one of our local hospitals so that they could have a good look at my dislocated knee.

 

One of the remembrances of my time at the Colorado State Patrol Academy is a phrase that started an explanation of what happened.  That phrase was “So there I was…”  So there I was, thinking I would pull over this car that had a minor violation – displaying expiration stickers that did not match motor vehicle records.  Next thing I know we are off to the races and my minor traffic violator has decided to add a string of felonies to their list of things they had done.

 

The vehicle pursuit ended with what we in the Colorado State Patrol call a Tactical Vehicle Intervention.  As my felon’s car finished its spin, the driver decided they were not done yet and we were off on a foot pursuit.  During that foot pursuit my knee decided it did not want to continue on this particular chase and I quickly found myself on the asphalt.

 

The frustration on my part is hard to put to words.  I wanted to blame the chemotherapy – there is no known connection according to each of the experts I have asked.  I do not have an answer other than to say that I am almost 40 and although I was working out and thought I had prepared for my return to regular duty I possibly had not done enough.

 

What I really am unhappy about is the stress and difficulty this places on my beloved Kimberly.  After eight months of my cancer treatment, I return to work for not even a full day and now she is faced with my surgery this Thursday and up to six months of recovery afterward.  If there is an award out there for my poor Wife… send it now because she has gone well beyond earning it.

 

I will have more soon.  I am trying to limit the length of my blog entries.  However, the silence is now broken.  I am planning on an entry a week.

My Incredible Team

This week begins the last trial for this chemotherapy season that began back in March/April.  So far, I have managed to remain undefeated in each round throughout this year and I do not expect that this last time will have any other result.  This is only because of something I learned long ago when I was a competitive runner – the efforts of my support team.

Way back when I competed nationally in track and field I had the good fortune to surround myself with a literal world-class support system.  It started with a step-father that was obsessed with my success.  Through my entire running career, which began when I was 10 and ended when I went off to college, he rarely missed a training day – even when I already spent part of a day working out for a school coach, we would usually have a second workout of the day.

My step-dad was not a world class coach or athlete, although he studied and implemented the coaching techniques of world class coaches and was a former state wrestling champion.  He did, however, connect me to a long string of world-class athletes and coaches whom I would train with and under.  I learned, through that, a number of things which have made my life rich.

First, I learned that even the average person could reach the loftiest of goals or meet the greatest of challenges – but not if they rely on only themselves.  I do not have natural ability as a runner and yet I ultimately became a national champion with at least one age-group record that I know of that is still standing.  I cannot take credit for that because it was my team that truly achieved that level of performance.

Second, I learned that George Bernard Shaw got it right in his poem True Joy of Life.

True Joy of Life

This is the true joy of life.
The being used for a purpose
Recognized by yourself as a mighty one.
The being a force of nature
Instead of a feverish, selfish
Little clod of ailments and grievances
Complaining that the world will not
Devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life
Belongs to the whole community
And as long as I live,
It is my privilege to do for it
Whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly
Used up when I die,
For the harder I work the more I live.
I rejoice in life for its own sake.
Life is no brief candle to me.
It is a sort of splendid torch
Which I’ve got hold of
For the moment
And I want to make it burn
As brightly as possible before
Handling it on to future generations.

That poem, and its interpretation, is pretty self-explanatory.  But the reason I learned that Mr. Shaw was right in what he says was because of the model provided by those people who supported me.  They believed in and lived by each of the points made in the True Joy of Life and in fact lived lives that have or will transcended generations.

Third, I learned that no matter how bad I hurt or how daunting I thought my challenge was, it would be (and always was) easy for me to find someone who faced greater pain or obstacles.  I remember the first time I figured this out – a moment of great motivation and even greater shame.  There is ALWAYS someone who has it worse that is meeting their challenge.

Fourth thing I learned was that the team comes before the individual.  This one is a challenge for me and I’m the first to admit it.  But no individual is truly anything particularly special or interesting – they might be the BEST at something but that is pretty much only useful if they are plugging that into a community and/or team in which the others are BEST at other things.  Therefore, the team has to be a first priority.

I learned many more things from my initial success in life as a runner being surrounded by a world-class team but the point of mentioning it is that here I am once again – surrounded by a world-class team of support that includes an oncologist and his staff, a cadre of specialized nurses, a mother who took the time in life to know me, parents-in-law who not only set things in motion but also were a driving force behind the support that has come in during these months of treatment, co-workers who have not only shouldered the burden of an even shorter staffing situation but have been there for me throughout this ordeal, family that has had its own equally difficult set-backs and yet never missed an opportunity to encourage and support me, old friends whose actions yet again redefined what friendship truly is about, new friends who took it upon themselves to traverse that sometimes risky chasm from stranger to friend, my amazing and incredible wife who not only had to work day and night as a caregiver to both me and my daughter but also had to give up a job she loved, my pastor who was there cycle after cycle to remind me that in God lays our strength and hope, my daughter who kept me sharp with her creativity and laughter and who kept me focused on the why I was going through this awful “chemo” stuff, the many fellow victims with MCL who corresponded with me and educated me, and the surviving family members of the 14 MCL victims that I personally got know who died during these last few months while I have undergone treatment.

This blog entry marks the beginning of my transition back to ‘normal’ life.  Although, that really cannot be true – life can never be the same after something like this.  That said, I am very happy with what is to be my new normal because going through these last months of treatment has enhanced my life and the plans that I have.

Thank you, all, for what you have done for my family and I.

Lucky #7 of 8

Just a quick update for everyone.  I am back in the hospital today (August 26th) for the week to get my chemotherapy treatment number seven of eight.  Almost to the end of this!

I am doing well.  Dr. Lee, my oncologist, gave me an extra week of recovery because my platelet counts were still too low.  This was in spite of a platelet and whole blood transfusion a couple of weeks ago.  But I have recovered from that and am now back to the fight.

It was nice to have the extra week because it was Courtnie’s first week of Kindergarten.  It was so exciting to be able to be a part of that.  She is loving school and has an awesome teacher and student teacher for her class!

I want to thank everyone again for all of your support over the last months.  It has made all the difference in the world.

I’ve already begun to fulfill my promise to help others.  For anyone who wishes, please visit my Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Team in Training fundraising homepage at http://pages.teamintraining.org/rm/pfchangs09/ghutchinson.  I have a lofty goal with this new effort so please share it with as many people you know as you are willing to.  Having been the recipient of the generosity of others as well as help from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society I can tell everyone that it makes a HUGE difference!  Please don’t remind me that I’m nuts to pursue this – I was cleared by my doctor and there is no stopping me now.  Also, my beautiful Kimberly is seeking donations too so if you’d prefer you can donate to her efforts which are seperate from mine.  Her website should be http://pages.teamintraining.org/rm/pfchangs09/khutchinson.