Musicians with Cancer and Other Maladies is NOT about money or donations, or benefits, it’s about Friends reaching out for each other.


Yesterday we had the opportunity to catch up with some old friends we haven’t seen for a while, you know the kind, where the years melt away and it as if the last time you saw them was yesterday. Of course one of them also had cancer, you can’t escape it, so that made two of us.
There was classic discussion about how do you talk to people with cancer and there’s no easy answer to that. Don’t ask “How are you?” We get asked that all the time and you probably don’t want to hear the answer. Also, when we are getting treatment the doctors and nurses ask how we are doing and need to train us to share all the gory details, so you could find that asking that question leads to even more awkwardness. By all means do ask if there is anything you can do to help. I’ve had lots of kind offers, most of which I haven’t taken up, mostly because of fatigue, but the offers mean the world to me, truly.
One of our friends asked about my new Facebook group Musicians with Cancer and other Maladies and asked if it was about getting donations. The simple answer is a resounding NO. I’m not looking for money, I’m not after benefit concerts; and having trolled YouTube looking for something similar to what I’m trying to establish for other musicians, I can’t find anything. They all seem to be about donating to research or people who need help. So I understand why people might think that.
That’s great because it shows there is a need for something different. This is just about helping a friend. A lot of the videos I am posting are asking for money at the end of a heartbreaking story. There are groups who need that and we support many cancer charities and our Team, the Early Birds will be doing our 4th Relay For Life in March, but that is nothing to do with  this page.
s1560019-2What people need most is the encouragement of friends. For example when people shave their heads in support of cancer, what matters to the cancer sufferer isn’t the money, it’s the gesture of solidarity. When my beautiful empathetic granddaughter had her hair cut (which was her idea), it was so that it could be made into a wig for someone with cancer who had no hair.
So please, no money, I’m just looking to create an environment where people who have friends with a condition that makes it hard for them to motivate themselves get some support.
I’ve opted for musicians for a number of reasons, probably the most important is that playing music is cathartic, it generates good feelings for both the musician and the audience. But what I’ve found is that sometimes due to chronic fatigue in my case, or perhaps depression in other cases, you just can’t bring yourself to pick up your instrument, or if you pick it up, you don’t have the energy to play it.
motivational-txtHere’s an example of what I mean. I received this from a good friend who sends me a message every day. I also get similar messages from friends who are much worse of than I am.
I can tell you that even when I really feel too tired for anything and fatigue is a bitch, nothing like just being tired or sleepy, but I get the message and off I go to the music room and play. It helps my soul and spirit even if I don’t feel like it.
But this isn’t about me, it’s about creating a movement of people helping people. It looks like it’s going to be a hard slog to make this work but joining the Facebook Group even if you don’t know anyone with cancer right now, you will. Just knowing you have friends who care makes a big difference. If they see you post a comment or share a photo, video or story, you will make a connection.
This is an example of what I’m talking about. Not the advertisement at the end, just the concept of friends being there for each other.
Anyway, as usual this is turning into a book. My request for you is as a friend or associate of mine or of anyone that has cancer or depression or PTSD or whatever, join the Facebook group and tell a friend you are there for them. A lot of you are serial networkers and you can help by spreading the word through your network. You will be doing a good thing.
So send no money, just help pay it forward if you would be so kind. If music means something to you, if it has ever helped you, if your friends matter to you, this is a really small thing that could mean the world, even if just to a couple of people.
Thankyou so much. Feel free to leave a comment.

New Facebook page Musicians with Cancer and other Maladies


cropped-feb12-004.jpgSo there’s no point in saying you’re going to do something if you don’t do it, so I’ve set up the new Facebook Group called Musicians with Cancer and other Maladies. I couldn’t resist the pun because there are plenty of other conditions where people suffer similar effects which stop them from playing, practicing and plying the craft they love.

I would love you to join the group dear reader, whether you have a condition or not, because somewhere along the line, with 1 in 3 people getting cancer, then there’s depression, PTSD, Crohn’s, chronic fatigue and you are going to come across someone who could do with a little helping hand.

Since I told a few friends that I was going to do this, I have had messages and encouragement every day and have played every day. I’m not saying it has been easy, but I wouldn’t have played every day without them.

We are also doing Relay For Life again in March and if you have a spare dollar, you’re support there would be most welcome Last year I only managed about 20 km but my friends helped me raise over $1,500 out of a goal of $1,000.

Anyway, my Hairy Audacious Goal has begun and I want to thank Jane McGonigal and her book SuperBetter for helping me to motivate this, because it isn’t about me, it’s about thousands of musicians around the world who are struggling with cancer or other conditions.

If you have time, check out this short video about the book that got me motivated to start this new mission. It is about how we can use gamification to help with life challenges and ask for help from our friends.

 

I need a little help from my friends


Mercy ScannerSince I was told those words “YOU HAVE CANCER” I have been wondering how I could turn it into a positive. I’ve seen so many people on TV on shows like The Voice and they all have a story of troubles that they turned into amazing success stories.

It’s taken me two years to come up with a HAG. It’s not fully fleshed out yet and it is full of challenges and I’m hoping for my friends to help me out.

I’ve always considered myself a survivor, but I’ve struggled at times and often feel embarrassed when people suffering 100 times more than I am, try to make me feel better.

I’ve been reading an awesome (but huge as friends and fellow sufferers I have bought copies for) book called SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal which is all about using gamification to help yourself deal with chronic illness and trauma. Between that and two sensory deprivation floats over the last 2 days at FloatCulture in Auckland, I’ve come up with 4 ideas. I will flesh them out later, but I’m looking for a little help now and a lot in the future and I’m hoping you will find a way to join me.

Another Stretch in Iraq

  1. I am a singer songwriter, or at least I was before I got sick and I want to be again. Over the last 2 years I have struggled to play my guitars. I typically pick one up, play for a few minutes and put it down again. I struggle with chronic fatigue. In recent times I have often had to go back to bed during the day and even if I have slept most of the afternoon, I’m likely to be asleep again around 7:30-8PM. Here are some things I want to do:
    1. In about 9 months I want to do a gig somewhere with great acoustics, playing my originals (including new songs about dealing with cancer) with some backing from other musos.
    2. As per the SuperBetter program, I need 2 or 3 people (close friends) to check up on me and help me stay on track. That might be texting me or giving me a call each day and asking how my music is going to make sure that I stick with it, even if it’s only for five minutes.
  2. I’d like to help other musicians with cancer who feel the same way and would love to get back into their music but are struggling like I have. It might be that I can put together some sort of guidelines (everyone is different and it isn’t paint by numbers) based on my own experience, such that they can come up with their own model and get help from their friends to achieve the same results.
  3. If  we can achieve that, wouldn’t it be awesome if we could put together a gig/s of songwriters and musicians who have cancer or are in remission around New Zealand? Wouldn’t that be something amazing to aim for!
  4. I need a lot of help. At the end of this year I had most of the last 2 weeks off sick because of fatigue. I spent most of that time sleeping day and night. I need my job (both because I love it and because I need the income) but I’ve been struggling to front up. I need help putting together and maintaining a website or Facebook page to tell people about this initiative. Bottom line is it is going to be a struggle just for me to play every day (and keep my job), let alone grow this thing into something that will give energy and bring a spark back into people’s lives who are suffering and struggling just to get from one day to the next.

So what do you think? Is this a good idea? Do you know anyone who is a musician with cancer (or in remission) who has struggled like I have to motivate themselves and get back into it? When I have been able to play and write, like the song I wrote, which I blogged about here in a Cancer Meltdown,  it was extremely cathartic. Music is a healer.

I will be approaching a few close friends directly to assist me in my immediate journey to play every day. But for the other things I can do with a lot of help. Do you know songwriters and musicians with cancer? Do you know people who want to help them? Can you help in some way?

Can you please share this post with people who you think might be interested?

I’m going to try with a little help from my friends, actually a lot of friends if possible and friends of friends, because it’s 10 in the morning and I’m already tired. But I am going to play today.

Thanks for sticking with me. There is a lot of work to do and I can’t do most of it. We all know music is good medicine and can help drive a positive attitude. A lot of beating cancer is about attitude.

For now you can contact me through my blog. I don’t want to put my email address on here and attract phishers. Once I have a Facebook page for this project, we can communicate in one place.

Again, please share this so that we can help other people in a similar situation to me. Thanks a million.

 

Christchurch Cancer Patient Denied Test by TWO GP’s


 

After all the effort that the Cancer Society commits to educating people about the importance of catching cancer early, two doctors telling a patient that he didn’t need tests, as told in Stuff a couple of days ago amounts to malpractice in my humble opinion.

There was a comment about a GP who might have felt uncomfortable with doing a DRE, I’m not comfortable having one and it’s a level of relationship I never planned to have with mt GP. That wasn’t what raised the alarm bells for my cancer, it was the fact that rather than fluctuating as normal, my PSA levels from a tiny little blood test, had increased consecutively over 4 tests.

All credit to my GP because I was still within what is considered normal levels, however biopsies found 3 then 5 tumors.

Mercy ScannerI’ve since had radiation treatment for 8 weeks and am now on hormone treatment ad my latest test showed a small improvement for the first time.

EarlyMy Relay For Life team is called the Early Birds, because if we hadn’t found them then, I would probably be in a similar condition to the person in this story. Now I have the possibility of a full recovery. At the pace the multiple biopsies showed the tumors were growing, un-diagnosed, I would have been facing a potential death sentence.

20160319_133814

I know a lot of people don’t like the idea of a finger up their jack-see but all I had to start with was a PSA blood test that takes about a minute at your local test lab.

To the doctors, I say read your journals, attend your local local GP group meetings and have at least one person in your practice that is up to date with Prostate Cancer. For the rest of you mortals, did you know it’s BLUE September? The Cancer Societies on many countries around the world are running events this month. Find the info for your country here. I’m going to a Poker Night at Sky City Casino. I used to go to a tournament every month but these days I am too fatigued and generally fall asleep at around 7:30 every night, but I’ve told my boss that if I do any good I will be sleeping in the following day:)

Don’t freak out about getting tested. You can just go for the PSA test for starters if you don’t have any other problems. Do get the test, BUT:

Sort out your insurance before you get tested if you have never been tested. 

When I told my insurance broker that I had been diagnosed with cancer, he said “Luigi, my friend, you are now un-insurable.” Imagine getting tested getting a positive result and not having health insurance. Even with health insurance we have had to top up the gap in terms of tens of thousands of dollars.

Bottom line, I choose life. I have a chance and in fact for the first time in 18 months my PSA levels have dropped 12%. Obviously I want 100%, but its the first positive sign towards recovery. If I had visited one of the GP’s that Graeme Pollard went to, my options (I don’t know anything about his prognosis) right now would probably be either prostectomy surgery (with high risk of nasty short and long term side effects) or hormone treatment at much higher doses than the pills I’m taking now.

I don’t know what our rights are in cases like this and it sounds like a GP can do and say what they like and not be held accountable.

Yes, there is a school of thought that it is better not to know. Sir Paul Holmes the renowned Kiwi broadcaster said on TV that he would rather not have known. I know my life expectancy is now longer than it would have been if I didn’t know and knowing has changed my attitude towards life. I want to enjoy it and am no longer thinking about what I might do if I save my pennies for when I retire at 70.

Here’s a couple of facts for a small country.

  • Around 3,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in New Zealand a year. That’s 10 a day!
  • Around 600 men die in New Zealand from prostate cancer every year.
  • There is no miracle cure but research is happening at a fast rate and looking very positive.
  • Whilst we are a society that says (It won’t happen to me) 1 in 3 people in New Zealand will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in New Zealand.

Here’s an interesting little exercise. If you are catching up with your family or friends today. Play a little game. Put them in a line and get them each to consecutively call out 1,2,3. Every person who calls ‘3’ goes and stands on the other side of the room. Now tell them they have cancer, because we don’t have a choice over which one it is. If you wanted to make it interesting you could include all regular smokers. My father in law died from throat cancer from being taught how to smoke in the war and we believe another uncle has lung cancer from the habit he developed with free cigarettes while serving his country in Korea, but I digress.

If you are male, over the age of 50, get your insurances in order and go and tell your GP you want regular PSA tests, at least once a year. If he refuses, get a new GP that cares about you. Prostate Cancer is not a death warrant, especially if you get it early. Never knowing you have it, will very likely reduce your life expectancy. If you had a choice to live a bit longer, would you choose life?

Be an early bird.

 

I got Chastised for Owning a V8 Last Week


I felt like I was being made out to be a bad person and it shocked me. I’ve always considered myself a green person. I have planted tens of thousands of trees, lobbied for feed-in tariffs to make it attractive and economical to get the masses to install solar power. I’ve encouraged ride-share systems and spend a lot of my working time encouraging people to use public transport and to reduce the impact of congestion. I point out to people when their car or truck is blowing soot from the exhaust pipe and if I pick up rubbish that others have thoughtlessly discarded.

Since I was little I always loved Corvettes. As a boy i would watch them on TV and see the odd one in real life. As an adult I had a business associate who owned one while I just had a replica model.

20160611_175607 (2).jpgThe colleague who castigated me used to work for a car manufacturer and has a passion for motor vehicles and motor sport and maybe he was just envious of me that I have a sports car, but it made me feel bad. It shook me, perhaps because the car is an indulgence.

I didn’t bother telling him that I have cancer and that it made me decide to do a few things for myself and my family that were on my bucket list, things that like most of the people I know, I never expected to achieve. Anyway, now when I drive my 350 Chevrolet, people give me the thumbs up, kids stop and look at it as  drive past as I did so many times when I was little and I see big grins light up on their faces, just like I did. People compliment it and I feel like they feel happy for me in gas stations. They don’t know my circumstances and might think I’m rich. I’m not. The only new vehicle I have owned in my entire life was a no gear pushbike.

I have my dream car and I spend as much time cleaning it as driving it, which I find therapeutic (it helps me take my mind off my next lot of tests), while listening to business coaching, self improvement and music podcasts. It’s in great condition, doesn’t blow smoke (and neither do I), I never deliberately speed (in fact I am helping to test a green driving app) and  so the engine is never working hard, it is in fine tune so there is very little pollution, in fact I think it drives much cleaner on high octane petrol than the average car let alone the diesel soot smeared black smoke spewing trucks I see delivering frozen food to retailers.

I have spent half of my life working in voluntary unpaid positions after work, from boards and committees including as a Civil Defence Rescue Team Leader, Chair and committee member of boards including a music centre that has taught thousands of children to play music on instruments they couldn’t afford to own, volunteered in a food centre providing vegetables at farm cost to people who couldn’t afford to pay retail, fund a guide dog, support charities and worked hard all my life.

I indulge myself a little when it comes to my guitars and continuing to lean music and have done some travel (most of it on business with very little time for myself) and I consider myself to be a good citizen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from perfect and have room to be a better person, but I do care about my community and my environment.

But I do have cancer and I do have a bucket list. I thought I’d wait until I retired before I went and had a but more fun and I’ve recently been pointed out that I am no longer insurable for health and life. Obviously they consider I have a long life span ahead! I haven’t given up on that myself.

I do my best not to judge other people and I’d like to suggest that people who are quick to judge or try to make me feel bad for finally owning my (second hand) dream car should have a close look in the mirror. I hope they never find themselves in a similar situation to me.

 

 

 

A Cancer Meltdown


So a couple of weeks ago I felt like things were going OK. I had my cool car and whilst I was feeling really fatigued, I was coping. Then a pile of little things got the better of me. I was late with my tax (which I hate doing, because I normally do that at the end of the calendar year, when I was doing 8 weeks of radiation therapy and was too tired any other time. I’m between test results, so anxious about what the next result will be. My arm is really sore after taking the splint off my wrist from a thumb strain (which impacts on everything from using a mouse to playing guitar. Super busy at work and a number of other things, nothing that would be beyond the norm for any of us in isolation.

20160503_161554.jpgI had words with my wife, something that is very rare and after she left the music room, I lost the plot. I picked up my office chair and flung it at the floor breaking the base and ripping the carpet.

This was not good for our relationship and the following night I was away on business, which was probably s good thing to allow us to both cool down. It was totally on me and something I haven’t done since I was a teenager. I do not have an anger problem, it’s just one of the many emotions that you go through with grief and with cancer. Some people cry a lot (I only get emotional like that when giving speeches at weddings or when I’m watching an awesome concert). I might get slightly bloodshot in the eye when I’m passionate about something, but again that is when I’m happy.

So the following night I found myself in a hotel in Wellington after a 4:20AM start and a long working day. I sat in my hotel room looking out the window and pondering the meaning of life from about 5-7:00, went to bed. No dinner, no TV, a few SMS’s with my wife and slept for about 11 hours.

Bottom line, I really needed to let off steam. But I wasn’t finished and this is the good part. Right through summer when I usually write and play a lot of music, play a few gigs,  I couldn’t play, I had lost my mojo. Well after this exercise I got it back and over the last couple of weeks have written the backbone of a new song, which was the catharsis I needed.

Here’s what I’ve got  so far. It’s a country song, I really like country as a genre for telling stories. I hope to fine tune it enough over the next few week to start recording it, because I like the song as a song, not just a form of letting off steam.

If I Could Turn The Tables

Verse 1

If I could turn the tables I’d un-throw the chair that I just smashed

I’d un-rip the carpet that it tore when it flew down and crashed

Sometimes I feel that I can take no more, sometimes I derail from my track

I’ve got to get this cancer in control and find my way back.

Verse 2

If I could turn the tables I’d unsay the words that I just said

I’d turn down the volume of the voices that keep crashing through my head

Sometimes I feel like I’m OK, then the doubts start to shiver down my back

I’ve got to climb out of this hole and find my way back.

Chorus

Positivity is the frame of mind I ought to be in all the time

Everyone is nice and they want to give advice

Of a treatment they’ve heard of on the vine

Verse 3

I’ve got a lot to live for and each day I add on to my bucket list

I have great friends and family, there are special dates that I don’t want to miss

Sometimes I just want to cry, sometimes I wonder what its like to die

Then I think of those I’d leave behind and find my way back

Bridge

Every day’s a gift

Every day’s a steal

You can’t be the driver

Unless you take the wheel

Take the wheel

Chorus

Positivity is the frame of mind I ought to be in all the time

Everyone is nice and they want to give advice

Of a treatment they’ve heard of on the vine

Repeat Verse 1

If I could turn the tables I’d un-throw the chair that I just smashed

I’d un-rip the carpet that it tore when it flew down and crashed

Sometimes I feel that I can take no more, sometimes I derail from my track

I’ve got to get this cancer in control and find my way back.

-I’ll share a link once I’ve recorded it. It’s great to be back in writing mode and I hope I stay there. I’ve missed writing songs (other than my Pi project). I feel so much better having transferred my emotions into music.

I’ve been wanting to write songs about cancer to share, which might also help other people, be they the patients or friends and supporters. I have one other that I wrote but haven’t recorded yet, it’s more of a soul/reggae number which I wrote about losing my father in-law (also to cancer), but I thought I’d like to do a few covering different aspects.

Anyway, that’s me. Now I have to transcribe the song and publish it. If you’re still here, thanks for coming  on my journey with me.

 

Dealing with Cancer fatigue


It’s a little after 6AM and I’ve been awake for a couple of hours and decided to get up and do something constructive. My mind has been going ten to the dozen with ideas for my blogs, how to deal with all the exciting things happening at work, cancer and music.

This could become a book, which may help if you or someone you know is dealing with cancer, or it may not. At the very least it will help me as a journal and that’s fine.

Today is about emotions, not just for myself but the people that surround me and about coping mechanisms

The irony is that of all the people I know with cancer, my condition and prognosis is probably among the best. I’m about 6 weeks away from getting my next PSA tests, but the last one was the first one that went down since my 8 week’s of radiation, which is great.

Meanwhile 2 good friends have recently had mastectomies, one last week, she is still in hospital, another is making regular trips to hospital as the cancer has metastized, a colleague who is helping me by talking to me about her situation, which is terminal and another good friend whose cancer has now gone to his brain and is possibly inoperable.. None of these are people I met through cancer, they are just close people in my life.

My boss asked me a week ago how I was doing. I told her I felt I was improving, especially my fatigue and sleep, but that was speaking too soon, because as soon as I had told her that, it went backwards again.

Here’s a classic scenario for me, almost every day. I go to work and try to pace myself, with a goal to walk for half an hour at lunchtime (sometimes I achieve that, maybe once a week, because I suffer death by meeting). I love my work and when I’m busy I don’t think about the cancer at all. The goal is to leave around 3:30 and perhaps catch up on a bit of work reading when I get home or just rest. I then mostly leave between 4 and 5, which is still much earlier than I used to. If I don’t pace myself I really suffer to the point where it is an effort to raise my weary legs to walk from the car to the house, or do much of anything, where previously I used to go home and get on the cross trainer or go for a walk and play guitar. If I make it much later, I have to really think about whether I should be driving, make sure I have a coffee, windows wide open and focus. Don’t worry, I had one tiny moment once and have been ultra cautious ever since. I will not drive if I am too fatigued.

I come home, have dinner and fall asleep about 7PM. Once a couple of weeks ago I fell asleep eating a piece of steak, fast asleep, although my wife maintains I was chewing in my sleep, I think that was a moment when I woke up. I feel ripped off because that is my time and my time with my wife. She tells me to go to bed, but I feel too annoyed about losing my evening, the part of my lifestyle that I work for. By the 3rd time i grudgingly go to bed somewhere between 8 and 9PM feeling really bad for leaving my wife on her own every night.

Despite falling asleep in the lounge, I then need something to help me get to sleep when I get to bed, with which I am gone within 15-30 minutes. During the week I will sleep around 10-11 hours and wake up just as tired as when I went to bed.

On other nights, mostly weekends, I will wake up at 2 or 3 and get up and read for an hour and go back to bed, but I will still usually get 8-10 hours sleep.A couple of years ago I was fine with 6 hours sleep.

The fatigue is hard to describe. It is both physical and mental. At night it is a feeling of being dead tired and I have no control over it. I sit down, we watch TV or read my Kindle and within minutes I’m in a deep sleep. But it’s also physical. I now know what bone weary means, because that’s what’s its like. My whole body is exhausted. Lifting a limb is hard work. I go to play guitar and pick it up, put it down, it’s too hard and  LOVE my guitars.

I’ve been working on my attitude, but please don’t tell me to think positive, I think all cancer sufferers hate hearing that. It’s not helpful. I’ve been focusing, as in my previous blogs about things to look forward to. One of those was my new car. With the help from a malignant cancer clause in one of my insurance policies (which also continues to help with costs not covered by my heath insurance), I was able to by a  C5 targa top Corvette. Something I wanted all my life, but never thought I would ever own. The closest I thought I would get was sitting in one with my daughter at Disney World in Orlando. It is interesting how many people buy themselves a new car when they have cancer.

car

Ironically I wrote that goal in my bucket list app in 2011, not for a moment thinking it would come true and the due date for the goal was about 80 days from when it happened. I am a strong believer in goal setting, although I don’t do enough of it. I am starting to again though:)

But goals and things I look forward to may be as simple as putting new strings on my granddaughter’s guitar and giving her lessons, or a weekend away with my wife and friends, as well as bigger things like doing a rubber ducky boat trip on a glacial lake on the Tasman Glacier, a trip to Samoa this winter, or writing a new song. I’ve had several experiences where things on my bucket list that were highly unlikely, like being able to go to my grandmother’s 90th birthday party on the other side of the planet in Amsterdam, came true serendipitously and I subsequently got to go and visit her several more times before she passed away at 98.

The car is certainly good medicine. I love being behind the wheel and I even enjoy the process of polishing it, while listening to a podcast on my phone. We haven’t been on a road-trip yet, but it is now second nature, more or less, driving a left hand drive car in a right hand drive country. I am now the guy that I used to give the thumbs up to in a gas station or other places, when people see my car.

I’m going to break this up and the next blog is going to be about a melt down I had a couple of weeks ago, which was both bad and good.