Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

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In the movie up, the canine character, named “Doug,” is easily distracted by furry rodents, and lets us know in the movie, stopping his conversation mid-sentence, yelling “SQUIRREL!” focusing his sole attention on the squirrel, forgetting what he was in the middle of.

In 2009, I made a conscious decision, to enter local politics as a school board candidate. I had no experience as a politician, and the only personal connection that I had with government at that point, was that as a house page for the capital of Harrisburg in Pennsylvania when I was in 7th grade for Representative Joe Zeller. My platform for school board was clear and not political. My campaign would be about “anti bullying.” Sure, there would be other responsibilities associated with the position if I would get elected, but this was what was most important to me, at least in the beginning.

I would get scolded by both members of political parties as I was an independent, stating proudly, “because I hate politics and politicians.” But if I was going to give up a major part of my personal life time, I was going to make sure that I got done what was important, and not get tied up in the politics.

Even the campaign signs would reflect this was not about politics for me. I was willing to represent everyone. After all, bullying in schools had nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans. After testing the waters for approximately a year, an official campaign was kicked off. And in true political fashion, it was not soon after, the political attacks came out all of us. Again, keep in mind, I had no political history, but that did not stop innuendo and rumors from getting tossed around. In fact, one of the incumbent’s mailers, actually depicted a picture of a gun, accusing myself and my campaign mates of committing “robbery” in the form of taxes. Offensive as it was, they were proud of their effort, shocking bragging about it in televised interviews.

I expected ugliness, just one of the reasons I hate politics and politicians. But it was the morning of election day that threw me for a loop. Unbeknownst to myself or my campaign, two days prior, an individual had circulated a flyer, by himself, in the parking lot of his church, a large Catholic church, listing all of us on our school board slate, making claims that we all supported abortion.

The issue of abortion had absolutely nothing to do with the school board director position really, because a policy already existed with the school district, pretty straight forward, and I supported it. But as none of us felt abortion had anything to do with the office we were campaigning for, we never discussed it. The fact is, I do not talk about my position publicly, and for the most part, privately.

But that morning, as I began my tour visiting elections polls, the very first voter I ran into, without even saying “good morning” to me, just blurted out, “what’s your position on abortion?” And as I tried to explain that abortion had nothing to do with our campaign, that we had a platform in great detail, it soon became clear, that instead of actually dealing with issues of the district, this last minute distraction, a “squirrel” was going to end up being a serious concern as that would become where the focus would end up.

A couple of years later, we were more prepared for the “abortion” position during the election, as nothing had changed on our part or our platform. But we were better prepared to deal with this distraction.

This kind of thing happens in all realms of politics, whether local, state, or federal. It is why I hate politics. Because this crap is what keeps things from getting done. This year has a new “squirrel,” “critical race theory,” or “CRT” for short. This one is a major “boogie man,” but is actually not new. Many years ago, something similar came up, but it did not have the controversial name. But the motive was clear. One political party, the Republican party, felt it no longer wanted black history taught in schools. Why? Because they felt it reflected poorly to teach our children just how ugly our past was, and that was starting our kids off with a bad attitude.

And honestly, it is not that black history was actually being taught in our schools in great detail to begin with. Sure, there were small mentions about slavery and Lincoln freed the slaves, and Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. That was pretty much all I remember, and that was back in the 1980’s. It was not until over forty years later, that like many, I would learn about the Tulsa massacre, Juneteenth, and other dark historical events of the US in regard to black history. And that is all this is about, teaching history. But just as “affirmative action” was actually meant to help produce some racial equality, for many, it actually had the opposite effect. And those that were against it, are also likely against CRT today. And why?

We should all be upset with the senseless murders of unarmed black individuals, so many to mention. Instead, many, especially CRT supporters are quick to make excuses for the murders, putting the blames on the deceased. And because support for the victims has reached global levels. And this has made certain members of society feel uncomfortable. So the heat gets turned up to slow down and/or eliminate this support. And this is where CRT has become this year’s boogie man if running for public office. The problem is, the average voter has no idea what CRT actually is, and politicians do not either, or just simply do not care. They have found their platform to get votes.

My former running mates found out this year, this is their “abortion” issue to deal with this campaign. CRT. And what is actually being done with it? The CRT controversy has made its way all the way down from the federal level to the local level. Those hearing the cries have no idea what CRT even means, but give it their full attention because leaders tell them it is the worst fears coming true. The politicians taking advantage of this fear, are planning on riding everyone’s ignorance to either a new term or re-election.

But what if CRT was actually nothing about nothing? No, there is such as thing as critical race theory. But its literal purpose is directed toward the law, and therefore mainly taught in colleges if available at all. But certain politicians want us to believe it is happening in our schools, from grades Kindergarten through 12th grade. Politicians and spokespeople on certain networks pushing this fear want us to believe that:

  • a religion of secularism and guilt (a device meant to make whites feel quilty)
  • denial of critical thinking
  • working to change or overthrow infrastructure
  • overturn the advances of human civilization
  • teaching to hate the United States and to hate each other
  • anti-Christ indoctrinations
  • destroying society using gender, climate change and immigration
  • and even the Freudian Oedipal complex has been referenced with mixed race marriages

I have two daughters still in school, and I assure you, that none of this garbage is even being mentioned in school. I have asked them, what they do get taught as far as race goes, and I have been told “some history,” such as slavery, the Civil Rights movement, but really only as “matter of fact” or honorable mention. Nothing in great detail. There is no issue with teaching world history and the atrocities that other nations have in their past from the Holocaust to the war in Yemen just to name two.

But here, in the good ole ‘Murica, we have our own dark past with Native and black Americans just to name two races to this day, still facing hurdles, harassment, and violence. What is the big fear of teaching things such as:

  • the slave trade
  • slave holding
  • the Emancipation Proclamation
  • the Great Immigration
  • Juneteenth
  • 1919 Elaine Massacre
  • redlining
  • poll taxes
  • Jim Crow
  • segregation
  • the Little Rock Nine
  • Brown vs. Board of Education
  • the Kerner Commission
  • reconstruction
  • lynching
  • Opelousas, Louisiana
  • Colfax Massacre
  • Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921
  • Emmett Till
  • The Creole Rebellion
  • April 1712 Revolt
  • Rosa Parks
  • Greensboro Four
  • The Civil Rights Movement

And that is not even all when it comes to black history in the United States. Everyone is to be assumed they know who Martin Luther King, Jr. is, so no need to teach about him either right? But what about other races? The Trail of Tears (Native American History), violence against Italians and Irish, and of course, Asian Americans, who most recently have been targeted because of the false correlation with Covid19 just because politically the false premise was pushed by some.

We are a great country, one of the best. But we also have an ugly past, which clearly certain aspects continue today. And it has nothing to do with CRT that politicians are pushing to scare everyone, because blocking the education of our nation’s past is not enough, we simply still have people who believe in the ways of the past. And every time there is a discovery of a mass grave site, a murder of an unarmed black person, swastikas painted on a synogogue, or an Asian American is assaulted because the perp cannot differentiate between science and racism, every time, it is going to be because we did not learn from our history that these acts are wrong. Those of us who have learned, have no problem denouncing the violence against any human being, regardless of color or race. We have no problem calling it out by name, because we learned that it was wrong. Those in our personal lives also knew that it was wrong, but unfortunately, there are still those in households who still believe the year is 1950. And it is their thoughts that have been passed down to the generations pushing the boogie man of CRT.

Teachers are not teaching the horrific things that were mentioned above from the particular network. And they barely get to teach history at all and that was before all the attacks on them from politicians, and now angry parents who most do not even know why they are pissed off about it.

But the argument against CRT, is a quick and easy talking point for politicians to use for their campaigns. In the end, nothing will have changed, but people will have been foolishly scared to vote a particular way. And that is unfortunate.

In Recognition Of World Cancer Day

Today is World Cancer Day, established back in 2000.  It is a day that many cancer patients and survivors take time to recognize, that they are not alone in their fight.  It is a day of hope for awareness and support.

I am approaching my 31st year in remission of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma next month.  I am the lone survivor of cancer of four other family members, who faced other forms of cancer.

In my decades of survivorship, I have been blessed not only with longevity in spite of cancer, I have met literally thousands of other cancer survivors in one form or another.  I am even fortunate to know of other survivors who are decades ahead of me in lifespan.

I have witnessed the progress of diagnostics, treatments, follow-up protocols, as well as the increase in rates of survivorship.  In less than 30 years, my modes of treatment are considered obsolete.

I have faced my share of health issues that are caused by my treatments from long ago.  But that has not stopped me from living life.  I do what I am able and I enjoy it.  Sure I miss many of the things that I used to do, but I have found other things to do instead.

But my biggest blessings are my daughters, my reason for every tomorrow I get to experience.

I have not only gotten to become a father, I have been able to watch them grow.  And now, I prepare to witness their next phases of their lives.  I never take this for granted.

I have also experienced my share of sorrow as I mentioned multiple family members I have lost, but also friends and other acquaintances.

No matter where you are in the world of cancer, a patient, a survivor, a caregiver, or if you have been someone fortunate to never have been touched by cancer, please keep everyone in your mind and hearts, not just on this day, but every day.  No struggles are the same, and successes are not necessarily guaranteed.  That is why we have to capitalize each possible moment we have with each other.  Because it can all change with three simple words… “you have cancer.”

In closing, I found some inspirational quotes that I would like to share on this day, that I found on the web site,

“Working out is my way of saying to cancer, ‘You’re trying to invade my body; you’re trying to take me away from my daughters, but I’m stronger than you. And I’m going to hit harder than you.” – Stuart Scott

“There’s no one way to tell how our experiences change us or shape us. Not all transformations are visible. What I’ve learnt is to never let it hold me back. I’d rather dress up and show up!” –Sonali Bendre

“Time is shortening. But every day that I challenge this cancer and survive is a victory for me.” – Ingrid Bergman

On this day, those who are now facing cancer, perhaps just diagnosed, you can get through this.  For those who are close to completing treatments or have done so, YOU DID IT!  For those in remission, I say this, a popular expression I have used over the years, “as I continue down the road of remission, I will keep looking in my rear view mirror to make sure that you are still following me.”  And for those who have longevity greater than mine, you are my true inspiration for not only lays ahead for me, but drives me to want that as well.

Guest Author And Fellow Long Term Survivor – Lynn

A few weeks ago, I had put out a challenge to friends of mine to honor medical personnel who are making the sacrifices, too many, the ultimate sacrifice, by putting into words, by example, of just how extraordinary these people are, whether you know them personally or not.  The fact is, they exist.  And they are making a difference.

Lynn, pictured in between two other fellow long term Hodgkin’s survivors, is a long term cancer survivor such as myself, her late term issues, some different, and some similar to mine.  The following is her story that she wished to share on “Paul’s Heart,” in her own words.

Thanks to Two Great Doctors

A FaceBook friend, from one of The Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Survivors’ groups, asked us to post about favorite doctors and/or nurses. There are two doctors in particular I will never forget.

While my husband, who was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force, and I were living at George AF Base, California, I discovered a swollen area near my left clavicle while packing to move to a new base. I showed it to him, and we decided we could wait till we arrived at Moody AF Base in Georgia. Apparently, Scott was more worried than I realized, because he told a Flight Surgeon at Luke AF Base in Phoenix, while traveling to Georgia. We had stopped in Sun City, AZ to visit Scott’s Mom and sister, Karen, for Christmas before moving. Scott had bronchitis and went to be checked. The Flight Surgeon told Scott to bring me out the next day. Testing was done, and nothing could be decided until I had a biopsy. So, it was decided the biopsy would be done at the base in Georgia. Before we left the Flight Surgeon’s office, I asked him what he thought was wrong with me. He said it could be Cat Scratch fever, Hodgkin’s Disease, or something else. The biopsy would tell.

We traveled across the U.S. sometimes silent, and sometimes talking about what was going to happen. I was also pregnant with my first child. We were both very excited about having a baby, but concerned what was wrong with me. We arrived at Moody AFB in early January. I went to the Base Hospital as soon as possible to the obstetrics department. It was decided, because I was pregnant, not to do the biopsy right away. Finally, on March 9th I had the biopsy.

A few days later, I was called to Dr. Jerome Cohen.’s office. He was a young internist, probably in his late 20s. He was a very caring person. I knew what he was going to tell me, so I sat and wrote my questions out to take with Scott and I. Dr. Cohen. had a difficult time getting the words out. I finally said, I have Hodgkin’s Disease, don’t I? Through tears, he said, “yes”. I asked him my questions, “Would my baby be ok?, What would I have to go through? Would I die?” were just some of the questions. I was told through tears that I would have my son at Moody and then be sent to Biloxi, Mississippi at Keesler AFB, because it was a bigger facility.

All went well with the birth of our son. He was very healthy. We named him Ryan Scott. I was able to stay home till the end of April when Scott drove me to Biloxi. His sister, Karen, came to watch Ryan. When I arrived, I was given a Staging laparotomy (all your major organs are biopsied, appendix and spleen removed). A doctor told me I had Hodgkin’s, Stage II A. I had a few days of care on the surgical ward and went home for a few weeks. It was great to have some time home with my baby and husband. In June, I went back to Keesler AFB to begin radiation treatment. That was the treatment decided upon by a Board of Doctors. This time back is when I met Dr. Rand Altemos.

He was only a few years older than me, not very tall, with brown hair. Dr. Altemos was friendly and caring. I soon found out that most of the patients called him, “Sugar Bear” like the bear on the cereal commercials. Dr. Altemos checked on me everyday at rounds. Several times, he came in, sat on the end of my bed, and looked at baby pictures I had just received in the mail. I think I was extremely fortunate to have someone like Dr. Altemos as my oncologist. I was 25, had a new baby over 300 miles from me, had cancer and didn’t know if I was going to live or die. Dr. Altemos was there comforting me and reassuring me.

In October I went home to our base housing at Moody AF Base. Scott and I were so happy.  We could finally try to be a normal family and try to put the past behind us. The day after Thanksgiving, Ryan and I drove to Decatur near Atlanta, GA to visit Scott’s father and step-mother. Scott was leaving the next day for peace-time war maneuvers at Nellis AF Base near Las Vegas. Scott called me over the weekend from the Atlanta airport to tell me he had been delayed. He also told me how much he loved me and our son. He kept saying he needed me to know how much he loved me! I think now it was a premonition. Scott was the navigator in an F-4 and the pilot’s name was Rick. They were killed in the F-4 doing peace time war maneuvers.

That first week was a haze. My parents came, Scott’s parents and sister came, and Scott’s grandparents came from Florida. My parents were watching Ryan while my father-in-law, Dick, and my stepmother-in-law took me out to get a dress to wear to the funeral we hoped we could hold on Saturday. That’s when Scott’s grandparents showed up at our Base house. My Mom handed Ryan to his great-grandmother. Very soon, she yelled for my Mom to take back Ryan, clutched her chest, and began to fall.

My parents caught her. The ambulance was called, she was taken to the A. F. Base Hospital about a mile away, and my sweet Dr. Cohen became her doctor. As soon as we were told when we came home, we went to the hospital. Dr. Cohen met us and told us time would tell. We stayed for awhile until Dr. Jerome told us to go get rest, and he would call if anything happened. About 1 am my phone rang, and it was Dr. Cohen telling me to come quickly because Scott’s Grandmother Jane wasn’t going to be with us long. I got dressed and rushed over. Dr. Cohen came out to meet me. He shook his head and said he couldn’t believe all I had been through. I went into her room, held her hand, and told her I loved her. Dick and Lou had not arrived yet. A sheriff’s deputy had to go get them, because there was no room phone and no cell phones back in the 1970s. Eventually, they arrived, and I left so they had time to say goodbye.

Dr. Jerome was another caring doctor who went the extra mile for his patients. I always hoped that I could someday see Dr. Jerome Cohen and Dr. Rand Altemos to thank them personally.

They were doctors I have never forgotten.

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