Helping Soldiers with PTSD through Music


As you know, a few days ago I set up a new Facebook page called Musicians with Cancer and other Maladies. It is about people helping other people. Today I came across a group that help soldiers with PTSD by using songwriting to express themselves and tell their stories in a trust environment, which is helping a lot of people, even those who are not musical themselves, or don’t realise they are.

Several years ago I wrote a song called Another Stretch in Iraq. You can hear a demo on my Reverbnation page. It was motivated by a newspaper story of a service woman who came home looking for some love and normality only to find that her man had left her for another woman. A common story sadly.

I joined a military blogging (milblogging) site and spent a good year or so talking to military personnel, mostly serving overseas at the time to get a feel (as much as that is possible, given that family members who served almost never spoke about their experiences when a civilian was present).

They trusted me and I learned a lot about their lives, their hopes, their agonies in losing brothers and sisters, general life and the isolation from their families where their fellow soldiers in fact became their families such that many could not and still can not adjust to civilian life without their brothers and sisters from he service.

When I was in Orlando some years ago, I played a couple of sets at a biker-friendly bar in Longwood and my song Another Stretch in Iraq was one of the songs I played with some great backing from the house band. I wish I had taken some photos because it was the classic bar with 30 Harley’s in a neat row out front, sawdust on the floor, the sort of place that Kiwis only see on movies and TV shows and that the cab driver thought I had no place being until he saw the friendly bear hug greeting I got from the woman who ran it.

After finishing the song a group of 6-foot something burly men came up to the stage. The biggest of them all came up to me with tears in his eyes and I thought I was about to become roadkill. He and his friends looked me in the eye and then he shook my hand and said I took him right back to the theatre at Desert Storm. He re enlisted twice and his son had just left for Iraq a week ago.

It was so rewarding to me that I had captured the emotions and environment with integrity and that the song gave them some comfort. I haven’t worked harder on a song and would love to record it professionally. It is on Reverbnation as a free download and is also on a couple of sites of free MP3 downloads that is made available to all serving US military.

Back to the Facebook page. There are thousands of returned servicemen in dozens of countries who suffer from PTSD. They come from all walks of life and many of them play musical instruments, or used to. Many of them can no longer motivate themselves and need a hand. Some of them join groups like the one in the video above. Many will not join groups, either because they can’t or won’t ask for help, because they don’t want to appear weak, or because they are still in service and don’t want to jeopardise their careers by showing weakness.

The concepts in this Facebook page mean that all they have to do is talk to a few friends and family that they are close to and trust. Then all they need to do is ask for a little encouragement, it’s as simple as that. For those who wish to or are able to contribute stories, I am hoping they will join the Facebook Group because it can only grow and flourish if they know about it.

I’m hoping that if you know people like that, you will share this post or the link with them so that they can be made aware that help is available and whilst it is not easy as it sounds, with a little help from their friends it can happen.

As John Lee Hooker and my idol Carlos Santana sang, Blues is a Healer. It heals those who play it as much as those who listen to it. If you can help someone pick up their instrument, or raise their voice and break the silence, you can have a profound influence on people’s lives and it can be as simple as my mate Rob sending me a TXT message saying “pick that gat up and play for 10 minutes man.”

If you know of anyone that could benefit, please share the Facebook group with them and perhaps join us yourself. My thanks on their behalf.

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.

 

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.

 

Update and coping with cancer


It’s been a while since I last posted on this topic and I know some of you are more comfortable reading this than asking how I’m doing.

In a nutshell, I’m improving. My last test a couple of weeks ago was the first time my PSA levels have come down, although not as low as we need them to be. In 10 weeks I’ll have another test and we’ll hopefully see that it is trending down, which will mean tests every 3 months and I’ll be on the mend.

In the meantime I still suffer from fatigue 24:7 but not as bad as it was and when I’m busy and focused on doing things, I don’t notice it. But that also means that it is really easy to overdo it and if I have a really busy day at work, or even just at home, I pay for it.

I now have some nights when I don’t fall asleep at 7:30 or earlier, but it is still more common than not that my wife wakes me up somewhere between 8 and 9 to tell me to go to bed and off I trot, feeling ripped off both because I’m missing out on my time and our time and I feel bad about leaving her on her own each evening, while I trot off to sleep. It’s also frustrating that you feel tired all day whether you had 5 hours sleep or 12 hours sleep.

Anyway, what I’m focusing on is looking forward to things and trying to live in the moment. We have spent much of our lives looking to pay off our mortgage and reducing debt, rather than living life for today. Cancer makes you want to make sure you have taken care of your loved ones financially, but it also makes the bucket list more important. One of the things on my bucket list that I was confident I would never have is the new toy we bought.

carI have always loved Corvettes and now I have one and I love it. Hopefully my wife and I will have fun doing road trips and make lots of new memories. Living in the now isn’t easy and it is important to be financially secure if you can. It is also important to have fun and enjoy life, which isn’t easy when sometimes life feels like crap. It doesn’t have to be a cool car, it can be just looking forward to going out for lunch or catching up with a friend you haven’t seen for a while. It is important to have a focus that takes your mind off the fact that you have cancer. Doing things that make you happy creates good chemical reactions in your body and if you are creating endorphin’s that has to help your immune system.

I want to share a poem with you that reflects a bit of the feeling I had about living. It was written by Alistair Morrison and I hope I’m not breaking any copyright laws by sharing it.

Such a Good Boy

He never said ‘Die’ to the living

He never said ‘Scat’ to a cat.

He never said ‘Boo to a Kangaroo.

He never did this or that.

He always kept clear of propellers

Never spoke to the man at the wheel

He always said ‘thanks’ to people in banks

And always took food with his meal.

He never took umbrage, or opium

Or ran round the rugged rocks

He never missed school, or acted the fool

And always wore woolen socks.

He never sat on a tuffet

Or pulled out a plumb with his thumb

And never in churches left ladies in lurches

Or opened the OP rum.

He never pinched little girls bottoms

Or peered down te front of their necks

Considered it folly to covet a dolly

Or think of the opposite sex.

He never did anything nasty

He never got stinking or cried

Unmarred by one speckle, a permanent Jeckyll

With never a shadow of Hyde.

He never called anyone ‘Drongo’

Or even ate peas with a knife.

He never crossed swords with the overlords

Such a good boy all o his life.

When he finally died and was buried

His loving ones tried to mourn

They put at his head a tablet which read

“Here he lies, but why was he born”.

 

 

It’s my birthday and have a request


I don’t ask for much and I don’t need much. I am the worst person to buy presents for, ask my kids.

photoAs you may know I have prostate cancer and I am doing the Relay For Life, as per countless posts below. What I am asking for is for all my friends to donate $5 to my Relay For Life entry at https://aucklandnorthrelayforlife2016.everydayhero.com/nz/luigi. If you are in NZ it is tax deductible. The money goes to the cancer society, but I would consider it an awesome gift to me. Do it now.

I know $5 seems like such a piddly amount that it’s hardly worth the effort. But it is. I have a lot of friends and associates and if you all did that, it would add up to helping the cancer society deliver on the needs of a growing client base, big time. Every single person in New Zealand, diagnosed with cancer gets offered a pack with brochures and booklets giving them information about their condition and support services available to them. 60 people will be diagnosed with cancer in NZ today going by averages.

If you really don’t feel that this is something you want to do, here’s something else you can do for me instead. Guys. go get a PSA test. It’s just a blood test, and even if it comes up healthy, you now have a base line for future tests. I didn’t have any symptoms and his simple blood test led to us finding out that I have cancer. At this point due to my urging 13 men have had their blood tested and a woman has also had a lump tested that she had been putting off. 60 people are newly diagnosed with cancer in little old New Zealand every day. If you do, let me know, I’d love to know that I have helped more people.

How am I doing? One day at a time. The side effects are slowly reducing, but I’m generally nodding off to sleep from about 6:30-7PM every night which doesn’t make me very good company for my wife and family, but I have lots of support and lots to look forward to. My next meeting with the oncologist after another PSA test is the beginning of April, so I don’t have too long to find out how I’m doing.

iPhone 279The Cancer Society has asked me to do a brief speech at the Opening Ceremony of the Northern Relay For Life on the 19th of March at 15:45 before we start our 18 hour baton relay around the running track at the Millennium Institute. That will be a real honor and I have promised to keep it brief, but I will be thanking you. Come and check it out and keep an eye out for Team Early Birds.

So as to my birthday request. Got five bucks you can spare? Don’t do it for me, do it for one of the many people that you know or are related to that are battling or have battled cancer. 1 in 3 Kiwis get it at some stage in your life so you will be helping someone you know or care about. Don’t put it off. Do it now. If you know someone else who is doing the relay, donate it to their account, it all ends up in the same pot. And guys get that blood test.

Thanks from the bottom of my heart. In the meantime, I’m off to work. Busy day ahead before I catch up with my family tonight before I fall asleep again:)

 

 

Shuffling of Papers


image_4

HOPE

Yesterday I arrived at the Oncology office to see my specialist, confidently expecting good news. I thought that he would be telling me that my PSA had dropped to zero or thereabouts and we could start looking towards 6 monthly catch ups, despite the fact that the fatigue and frequent bathroom visits continued.

He shuffled the papers and took a little while, with a big confidence inspiring smile told me that not everyone gets over the radiation quickly. He reminded me that no one gets cured of cancer, the goal is to achieve remission.

I took confidence from his smile and asked him about my PSA levels. He had another look at the papers, frowned a little and then told me that they had increased by about 50%. He said that I am in the 5-10% of people who take 6-12 weeks to get over the radiation treatment, gave me a form for another PSA test and a script for more Ural and we arranged another appointment in 4 weeks.

So, not what I wanted to hear. I’m still digesting it and what it means. I need to take some action steps.

  1. I need to learn to pace myself at work and leisure. I’m not good at that. I’m at my best when I’m focused but when I get home I’m often asleep within an hour or less after walking in the door, even when I manage to get home early. Whatever I do one day impacts on the next.
  2. I need to drink more fluid. It was much easier when I was going to radiation for 8 weeks and had to drink my bottle of water before I got there.
  3. iPhone 145I’m starting to focus on Relay For Life and I hope you’ll join me in that, either supporting our team at Millenium on the 19th and 20th of March, either in person, or by making a $5 tax deductible donation Donation. $5 isn’t a big deal to any of us right, but I keep thinking what a difference we could make for people like myself if all of us gave $5. I’ve already used up the donations some of you have made with phone calls to the society, attending a support group (which costs money to run) and met people who get to stay at Daffodil Lodge for free because they don’t live in Auckland and it’s expensive to spend a couple of months here when you are getting treatment and not working.
  4. I need to see a podiatrist as I have a sore foot. I don’t expect to do 50km this year, that’s probably not consistent with pacing myself, but I don’t want to be cut short by a minor injury either:)
  5. As of this morning I’ve gone back on Pomi-T again. It didn’t help before, but I still have plenty and it can’t hurt.
  6. Focus on quality of life. Play my guitars more, write some more songs and have fun with my friends and family.
  7. Look forward to a better PSA result in 4 weeks time.

iPhone 274Thanks so much to you all for your support and positive vibes. It means a lot to me. I really am serious about the $5 donations. It may seem hardly worth the effort for the price of a regular flat white, but it truly is, both in lightening my spirit and in everyone giving a little, we actually give a lot. Can you do that for me? Don’t worry about the donations buttons for bigger amounts. I have so many connections, if each of us only gave that amount (which is tax deductible) it would add up to something meaningful for the Cancer Society, but each little one will also put a big smile on my dial and smiles generate endorphin which makes you feel good.