Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

An Uncomfortable Lesson To Teach/Learn


This Summer, I made a decision to let my daughters see the movie “8th Grade”.  While some expressed concern about the film’s R rating, others stated that the film was too important not to let kids, especially in 8th grade, see the film.  The filmmakers also expressed the importance of the parents seeing the film.  Once we had seen the film, we all had questions for each other.  And in today’s current environment, this conversation needed to be held, and the sooner the better.

The film basically deals with an 8th grade teenager who is social media smart, but socially present awkward.  She clearly struggles between being wanting to be cool and accepted, and just confused.

If you Google “uncomfortable car scene 8th grade,” the clip I am going to describe will come up and you can see for yourself.  But the clip does not show what kids need to see, just how innocent something can seem, and turn into a worst nightmare.

As I said, the girl is in 8th grade.  And one of the things that occurs during the school year, as the 8th graders get ready to enter High School, a program involving seniors, has the 12th graders have the 8th graders shadow them around school for the day to show a typical day and what it is like.  The 8th grade girl is matched up with a female senior, follows her around the school all day, including lunch.  After school, the younger girl clearly was excited about the day and called the older girl to say thank you for being so nice, for being so cool.

The senior responded, saying that she was going to be hanging out at the mall with friends later that evening, and invited the 8th grade girl to come along.  She was more than happy to accept the invitation.  And so her dad drove her to the mall.

Once inside the mall, she located her 12th grade friend, along with other teens at the food court, and joined in on their gathering.

Unfortunately, the other friends spot someone “staring,” and it ends up being the younger girl’s father.  Totally unaware her father was following her, she races up to him, chews him out for embarrassing her, and then informs her father that he needs to leave, and she will get a ride home with one of the kids she is hanging out with.

The driver, one of the boys, is dropping every one off at their houses until only he, the 8th grade girl, and the 12th grade girl friend are left.  They are near the older girl’s home, and the older girl replies, that they should take the younger girl home first.  The boy objects saying it was stupid for him to drive the other girl all that way, and double back just to drop off the older girl since they were right there.

At that point, out of the corner of my eye, I could see my younger daughter, also an 8th grader, begin to squirm as if she sensed something was going to happen.

The boy drops the older girl off, and then proceeds to take the 8th grade girl home.  He is in the driver seat obviously, but she remained in the back seat.  After a few words, he says, “you know?  This is really hard talking with you back there.”  Admittedly, I was clueless, as he pulled the car to the side of the road, thinking he was just going to allow the girl to get into the front seat.  Instead, he turned the car off, and walked around to the other side of the car and got into the back seat with the girl.  Now I may be forty years from being a teenager, but I know what this dirt bag was up to.

After a minute of small talk, he asks her if she wants to play “Truth Or Dare.”  This game has not changed over the years, and as an adult, I am not naive to think my kids have not dabbled in the game already.  The girl says okay.  The first round is a “truth” for both and while she asks an innocent “truth,” he puts her on the spot with something inappropriate.  But as round two begins, and she asks him, he responds that he wants a “dare.”  At this point, my blood is boiling because I know where this is going, and as I looked at both my daughters, I could see the concern on both of their faces.

And she dares the jerk to take off his shirt.  He knows that she is playing along now.  And when he asks her, “truth of dare?”, she responds with “truth,” to which he immediately calls her out because he did the dare.  She changes her mind and replies “dare.”  And of course he dares her to take off her shirt.  At this point, Iknow how this scene is going to play out, and clearly after the movie, there will be a conversation with my daughters.

She replies that she is not comfortable with taking off her shirt.  His response, “you think I’m comfortable sitting her with my shirt off?”  And when she does not respond right away, he approaches her again about removing her shirt, and she snaps back, “I SAID NO!!”

Rejected, the dickhead puts his shirt back on, and gets back in the driver seat, and drives her home.  During the ride, she actually apologizes to him.  WHAT THE HELL!!!  Apologize for what?!?  There were a couple of scenes in the movie that would be talking points, but with both of my daughters approaching dating age, this scene would be the one we needed to discuss as a priority.

There were all kind of factors that should not have taken place, but I want to stress, there is no blaming the girl.  She had innocent intentions and even explained to her father who she would be hanging out with.  Now honestly, I would not let my kids hang out with high school kids, mainly because they have enough friends their age.  But we all agreed, that the mall was a public place, and seemed safe.  And really, up until there were only 3 left in the vehicle, the ride home seemed uneventful.  But when the slimeball argued with the 12th grade girl about being dropped off before the younger, everyone knew he had a plan.  And now my daughters could see, for themselves, how something so simple and innocent, could turn into something so wrong.

I am glad that we saw the movie and could discuss it for several reasons, first, just as an icebreaker for a dad to have with his daughters.

But the other main reason, given today’s environment, which I have also discussed with them, the recent Supreme Court Nomination process, how a decision they make now, could impact them later in their lives.  And they both agreed that the boy was a jerk, and very wrong.

So with us so divided today, concerned with believing the victim, versus not letting boys be “victimized” by false allegations, I did my part.  I have had the conversation on being aware of situations to avoid, and how to respond if circumstances change and how to deal with something they are not comfortable with.  But make no mistake, there is only one warning, and then they are told to defend themselves any way possible.  And then talk to their mother and I.  All the boys have to do, is be a gentleman and be respectful with my daughters, and there will be no issue… now… or later.

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I Am Glad I Did, Or Glad I Did Not


This year marked my 35th year high school graduation.  To be honest, I never thought I would be around to say that.  To be honest, I never thought I would see it.  Sadly, I will not be able to attend the reunion for several reasons, but not because of what you are about to read.

As I said, I am not travelling back home for the reunion of my graduating class, but that has not stopped me from reading and participating in the chatter as my former classmates prepare for what will be a memorable and fun gathering, and for those fortunate enough, a great weekend.

A classmate who admittedly though I recall, yet never knew, provided me with something I often need here, to get me to write when I have writer’s block, a prompt.  And she has prompted quite a few entertaining conversations.  But this one really struck me.  She wrote about an event in her life, that could have ended very tragically, had she not done things differently.  She was also thankful for those who had chosen their paths, because they made a difference in saving her life.  So with that, here is my post.

I am glad I…

went for six second opinions when I was told I had cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Talk about major denial.  I was convinced I had a sports injury and only until I saw that 7th doctor, was I convinced that I needed to deal with cancer, head on.  Why was I glad?  Because up until that moment, I was a healthy twenty-two year old, who refused to accept and believe what I was faced with.  I would have died.

I am glad I did not…

go through with more radiation treatments.  As far back as the mid 90’s, very little was known by medicine as to the true damage done by radiation therapy, or should I say, the extreme amount of radiation therapy patients were exposed to.  Even today, it is not taken completely seriously by everyone except for those who work in radiation-related fields, or long term survivors like myself.

Originally I was treated with 4000 grays of ionized radiation, followed by chemo therapy.  By the 4th cycle, I was pronounced in remission, but necessary to go through with the full 6 cycles.  After, I was to choose between an extra 2 cycles of chemo, or another round of radiation as preventative therapy.  I figured that as I was already going through chemo, what the hell was 2 more months of it?  Little did I know what would happen to me, or rather, not happen to me because of that decision.

I am glad I…

reached out to my primary doctor in April of 2008 about a nagging “chest tightness” that  I had been experiencing four months already.  And I am really glad she made the decision and call herself, to order a nuclear stress test, not something done on a health 42 year old.  Had she left it up to me to make the appointment, instead of being seen just days later, I probably would have been scheduled weeks later.  And I most likely would be dead.

I am glad I did not…

walk out of the cardiologist office, never to return.  He had given me news that I was not prepared for, and honestly, made as much sense as telling me I had cancer.  It could not be.  Having that appointment scheduled as soon as it was, got me put on a table to undergo emergency life saving open heart surgery for a “widow maker” bypass.  And the name is not a joke.  You die when you have this type of blockage.  As my cardiologist told me, I am the “luckiest man alive to have prevented his fatal heart attack from happening, not if, but when.” (see my page “CABG – Not Just A Green Leafy Vegetable.”

It was discovered that the radiation therapy that I was exposed to, was the cause of this damage to the main artery, blocking it 90%.  As I mentioned earlier, I opted for more chemo instead of radiation.  If you mention the amount of radiation I was exposed to, like many of my fellow survivors, to radiation techs, nuclear power plant operators, or anyone with knowledge, they will tell you this amount of exposure is horrific.  And yet, I know people who were exposed to more, even double what I was exposed to.  I can only imagine what I would be dealing with had I opted for more radiation as my health issues from both my chemo and radiation treatments are bad enough.

I am glad I…

reached out for support, not just from doctors who at the time did not know about us long term survivors and all the complications we face, but from other survivors.  It is these other survivors, who steered myself, and others to get the help we need.  It was this support that took me to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where I met the doctor that would make a promise to me, to help me manage (these issues cannot be reversed) all the complications that I faced today.  Today, the things I have learned have been passed on to my doctor who now has more knowledge to help me survive hopefully for decades to come.

I am glad I did not…

walk away from what I faced, 30 years ago next month.  Not only is it my 35th year graduating from high school, but I am approaching 30 years since my diagnosis.

I am glad I…

made the decisions that I did during my life as a cancer survivor.  It has made me the fighter that I am today.  I had to.  I faced three more life threatening events related to my treatments since my cancer days, emotionally and physically, my decisions, intuition, and determination I believe is why I am still here today.  The hard part for me though, is even as I can express my appreciation for surviving this long, my heart aches for everyone that I have met throughout my life, fellow cancer patients and survivors who have not been as fortunate.  It is a guilt that I carry every day.  Why them?  Why not me?  What was so different?  Why could not they be given the chance I was?

Ultimately though, and thank you to my high school classmate,

I am glad I…

got this chance…

 

After Florence – Been There Done That


It is hard to fathom having to deal with such a severe weather event for as long of a period of time, even when it is scattered across many states as it progresses.  But Hurricane Florence has proven to be even more extreme than that, practically hovering over the states of North and South Carolinas for over three days already.  The media footage as well as photos posted on social media are nothing less than powerful to see.  And if you have ever gone through an initial impact of a hurricane, within the path of the eye of the hurricane or not, it is not an experience you will ever forget.

“Paul’s Heart” crosses over many ways between my world of cancer, adoption, medical rights, family, and such.  And right now, many of my fellow cancer survivors, as well as long time friends, are dealing with Florence right now, and will for some time.  But if there is one thing my fellow cancer survivors rely on me for, it is for my encouragement that I can provide based on what I have been through, and to believe, that things will get better.  More importantly, it will take time.  There is no such thing as an “overnight” cure.

By now, the preparation for the storm is long over, from evacuations to just hunkering down.  People are now in the “enduring” stage.  This is a frightening enough stage because most likely, many are without power.  And without any kind of “cell” coverage, may not know the timeline of when this storm will eventually be done.

My hopes, are that everyone who remained, are surrounded by friends and family, supporting each other.  It is during this time that we really appreciate the conveniences of home, because for us, we no longer have those conveniences.  During the storm, you rely on your resources that you gathered to get through the storm.  No cooking.  No watching TV.  No light once darkness comes.

The hardest part will be yet to come however, and that is when the storm has passed.  The city or town you have always known has been decimated.  You now truly know what it is like to start from the beginning.  The good part about this, is that you can see the daily progress being made in recovery efforts.  Patience will be tested as you wait for electricity, shelves to be stocked in grocery stores for even the most necessary items such as ice, water, and bread, but remember, perishable items in stores will have to be replaced and it will take time to restore that normalcy.  And of course, the clean up will be immense.

But safety must still remain your focus.  Water will not be safe as it is likely water treatment facilities have been compromised with bacteria laden sewage from the immense flooding.  Power lines will still be submerged.  With the ground so saturated, it will take nothing for more trees to fall with even the slightest breeze.  Of course there will be that curiosity to get out and look at the destruction.  But it is completely different once the sun has set, and there is no lighting from buildings and streets to guide you.  And forget about being able to see water on the roadway as you approach a flooded situation.

There will also be those who evacuated.  It may be days, or even weeks before you can return, or even be allowed to return.  But you need to understand, just as I warned many of my friends last year, though their homes may have been spared, or had minor damage, there was nothing here in the immediate aftermath for them.  We no longer had luxuries.  Hardly anything was open for business and anything that was able to open, was mobbed as soon as word got out.

Just as those of us got the gradual improvements being made from nothing, it is a different story for those who return some time after the storm has passed.  The shock of the damage seen can be overwhelming.

The important thing following an event like this, whether you stayed or evacuated, is to have patience with each other.  First responders will do all they can.  Local governments will do everything they possibly can to establish some sort of normalcy.  Clean up will take a long time, months, many months.  And damage, that will take a long time to repair, as my building itself is only now having its roof repaired from Irma last year.  Life will return to a sense of normal activity.  But going through a storm like this one, or others, will always leave you with an appreciation for what you have, and what is important to you.

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