Category Archives: Zebra

Predeployment “Desert Storm” and My “Force Field”

Welcome back to my blog! Just some thoughts as I get on with life as I tackle Neuroendocrine cancer, and prepare for this year’s London Marathon. I’m establishing some solid habits in my training (mental and physical), and part of the mental side is to write.

It is only 58 days until the London Marathon, and the training is going well. It was a bit of a slow week, as my body was telling me to take a break for a little recovery. I’d been training pretty hard, and my body and mind were a bit tired.

To continue on with my “Desert Storm” experience 25 years ago, this blog covers the time of selection through our pre-deployment in Florida. It amazes me as I wrote this blog entry how much going to war parallels dealing with cancer. I wish I had written this story years ago, but I probably wouldn’t have been ready to see it really.

Here is the next part of the story.

Once selected for the deployment, it started a whirlwind of training, administrative tasks, and the hardest parts of notifications and then saying the good-byes.

The similarities of telling your loved ones are so similar between deployments and dealing with a serious disease. There are uncertainties and tears. It is pretty scary really. If I can take a moment to thank It was a tip from a friend, and it saved our sanity in the early days. Thankfully, I haven’t had to update it for quite a while, but it is comforting to know that things like this exist to help.

Ok, my “war” story’s next phase was the preparation.

Chemical warfare “gas mask” training is normally held over a couple days. A special training session was set up for me, and it only lasted 2 hours. They threw all the different scenarios and appropriate “MOP 1,2,3,4 levels” at me, and I can remember thinking, “Are they kidding me?”. I managed to remember: how you clear your mask, don’t use your gas mask bag as a pillow or the Atropine auto-injector pen would go off against my skull and kill me, and if you see someone rolling around on the ground you better put your mask on before you help them or the last words you may hear would be “thanks”.

They seemed to throw so much at me, but I think it was so much harder because of all the mental chatter I had rolling around in my head. I’ve had these feeling loads of times with different cancer treatments. I wish I had been prepared for this overwhelming rush of too much information.   I think this could be a good example for anyone right after cancer diagnosis.   The definitions of types of cancer, carcinoid syndrome, neuroendocrine, differentiated, well-differentiated, metastatic, the different “stages”, survival rates, progression free survival, clinical trials, chemo, treatment options, and the history and statistics hit like an information fire hose.

Weapons training went just as quick and pointless really. “Here is how you tear down, clean, and reassemble a M16, 9mm, grenade launcher” – over in about 30 minutes.   I’d qualified as a “marksman” in basic training, and had my own guns. But looking back, I probably should have raised my hand with loads of questions. The range was closed, so no practice.   I was kicking myself for letting this happen, and let this distract me from issues I could control.

On the cancer side; figuring out the documentation maze seemed overwhelming. Insurance paperwork, disability paperwork, social security, and how to find the right team and treatment were literally more stress than I’d ever known. For me, I know I’ve lost a lot more nights sleep worrying about paperwork than the actual disease. That’s just not right is it?

I’m starting to remember what a moron I was back then, and I sincerely hope this doesn’t offend any morons. I’m also getting a surprising feel on how close this experience was to my cancer journey. I’ve never really thought about it this deeply before, but looking back it is amazing to me how this experience prepared me for the biggest battle of my life.

I’d convinced myself that goodbyes weren’t going to be that hard. Nothing was going to happen to me. This was all being played out on CNN and Americans didn’t get hurt. I was so naive. I am finding though, this can be a good thing when you are dealing with cancer. I think it is very important to feel invincible.

Nothing really hit me until my parents pulled out of our driveway to head back to Iowa after a short visit, and that was tough. But, it was when I had to tell my pregnant wife and 10-month-old daughter good-bye as I walked through the gate at the airport that it really hit me. I really didn’t know when I would be back. It is kind of like the moment right before you go in for surgery, but there was no shot to knock you out.

It was dark as I walked off the plane in Tampa; I remember vividly how the warmth and humidity took my breath away. Coming from an Omaha winter I could instantly understand why people left the Midwest for the Florida.

I first met the team I would deploy with as I checked into the hotel. Captain Mark Meaders (USAF) was from the program office (Pentagon), Sergeant First Class (SFC) Gary B (US Army) from the Whitehouse Communications Agency, and Air Force Technical Sergeant (TSgt) Jerry Hibberd from Engineering and Installation and I (Staff Sergeant Z) would meet Senior Airman (SrA) Ryan Bradshaw from HQ TAC at Langley AFB later (that’s a separate story to be shared only in a bar over beers).   We bonded quickly over a meal and a lot of drinks.

Capt Meaders was the expert with dealing with the program offices and CENTCOM leadership. SFC “B” was the expert in dealing with the factory engineers and had supported senior “National” leadership before (he was the Ace). TSgt Hibberd was an expert scrounger, and could get anything. SrA Bradshaw and me (SSgt “Z”) were the grunts, and we were labor and just knowledgeable enough do the day-to-day maintenance while not screwing anything up, and if this deployment went long haul we could be left to keep things running for at least six months.

I can pick out the same players and their roles several times over in all the different departments I deal with in several hospitals I’ve used. Finding the right team in dealing with cancer is crucial! You have to trust them. I’ve been fortunate to have some of the best in the world on my team. I only say “some of the best” to not offend any of the other cancer teams, but I really believe mine are the best. You have to believe!

We spent the next several days configuring the equipment borrowed from “Whitehouse Com”. We watched the news each night, and were updated by CENTCOM channels on the Air War, and later the ground war. It seemed to be a lot of information, and included a lot of speculation and waiting. Just like the “wait and see” game of blood tests, scan results, and the “what if” game of thinking of the scenarios. Waiting sucks!

While we waited, the air war had started and was a couple weeks in, and right before we left saw the start of ground operations. This was no bluffing game.

The last weekend before we left for came and we were ready. Our equipment was configured, bags were packed and all that was left was to wait a couple more days for our turn on the military transport schedule. I was allowed to go visit my Grandparents in Dade City, Florida just about 30 miles east. They were living in a mobile home park with several “snow bird” families from my hometown region in Iowa.

This generation came from a different era of war. My great uncle had been a prisoner of war in WWII, and was also at the park. Several of the men there had been to war. But, it wasn’t really talked about. It was the elephant in the park, and nobody really spoke of it. Ok, I’m getting a bit repetitive here, but this is just like the elephant called “cancer” that seems to be right over my left shoulder most of the time.   The veterans in the park seemed to give me a little nod and a quiet word that seemed to say, “you’ll be alright”. Some didn’t say anything. I now understand that talking about elephants can be hard.

I’d never been to visit my grandparents in Florida before, but had heard so much about it that I felt like I had. It felt like Iowa in that little community. They even had a version of the Nashua Iowa’s “Little Brown Church” called the “Little White Church” of the South, and their reverend was a woman named Dr. Rose.

My grandpa was a pretty quiet man, but he really wanted me to meet Dr. Rose. I’d never seen him quite so animated at making something happen before. He had a tremendous amount of respect for her.   I don’t consider myself a very religious man, but I do try to live to Christian values. I’ve never been a very big churchgoer, but there would be no point in trying to excuse myself this time; my grandpa was taking me to church that Sunday. Saying “no thanks” was not an option.

I was spending the church time quietly thinking about the deployment, and wasn’t really paying attention as Dr. Rose, the choir and congregation worked their way through the program.   Then they went through their prayer list (it was about 30 minutes long), finishing with the servicemen in the “Persian Gulf”, and then I was called up in front of the congregation.

“WHOA! What? Why? No Thank You!” was on loop in my head. But, my grandpa smiled and pushed me up. I felt like a little boy. “Who was this man? There was no way he would have been pushed up there”.

Ok, I was obviously not in control, and there was no point in resisting. He was doing this on his own. Don’t make him have to get Grandma involved. I’d just go up front, and they would introduce me and then I would sit down right? I calmed myself and went up.

“Lord, please put a force field around this young man”, was the introduction from Dr. Rose. (My grandpa smiled even more!) “What? Oh my! Seriously? Was this some kind of cult? I’m not worthy of this!” was the new loop in my head.

This was one of the most surreal moments of my life. A “force field” sounded a lot more direct than any prayer request I’d ever heard.   To say I was uncomfortable was a bit of an understatement. I’m uncomfortable typing this part of my story.

On the lighter side; I’m pretty sure this “force field” hasn’t hurt. For years I never seemed to get caught in the rain or a storm unless I spoke of the “force field”. Go ahead and snicker; but seriously….very rarely do I get caught in rain. It has happened too many times in the last 25 years for me to think it was just a coincidence. I’ve definitely enjoyed recalling the story quite a few times.

If there is one thing I can say in a positive light about cancer, it is that it has generated surreal events at a rate I could never have imagined. Prayer, meditation, positive attitude, “signs” and visualization are probably just as important as common sense, medicines, treatments, exercise and diet. Examples happen all the time. I’ve got loads of examples, and I’m struggling to narrow it down to a couple quick stories for this blog.

One example happened over Thanksgiving 2011. We were invited over to our friends for Thanksgiving dinner, and there would be several friends and a senior “healer” from their Church. It is a well-known church in the area, and a bit controversial and hard core Christian for both England’s conservative standards and mine.

I thought it was a bit weird that when I was introduced to anyone from their church that they would touch me while they talked to me. Either on the arm or shoulder or would hold my handshake for an extra few moments. It was weird but it wasn’t awkward.

I had just had a round of Y-90 targeted radiation therapy a couple of weeks before. I was safe to be around, but I was supposed to sleep on my own for another week or so to limit the exposure of radiation to my wife. Anyway, as I awoke alone in the morning it was really quiet when I felt like I was being touched with a warm washcloth on the back of my right shoulder.

I mentioned this to my friend (her name is “Faith” by the way – I know right?) over coffee a few days later, and she got very excited.   She then explained to me that her friends were all trained healers, and they had laid their hands on me and prayed for me. She knew I would never have agreed to have a healing session. So, this was her plan. She you can imagine how she took my “washcloth” feeling as a sign it was working, and I can’t really argue with that!   (BTW, I didn’t even know at the time that I had bone metastasis in my right scapula.)

More recently; I was on a training run along the river on Sunday, and I was thinking of all the friends I’ve lost to cancer. I was wondering if I could come up with a list of 26 to run a mile for during the marathon. (The number is pretty close). I was also trying to decide if my light-hearted blog version of my Desert Storm story was disrespectful to them and those servicemen who paid the highest sacrifice during Desert Storm and all the wars in the Middle East since. I sure hope it doesn’t disrespect them; they have my highest respect and gratitude.

I was also wondering what was the point of all the physical and mental training, the healthy diet, the treatments, and writing. These friends are no longer with us, and how would anyone ever know they had been here. I was getting a bit down really, and then I noticed ripples on the water from a breeze come directly toward me.

This breeze was a bit different. I was like a breath. That is when it hit me, and I realized their effects were just like the wind. We can’t see them, but we can see their effect in their families and friends left behind. I was reengaged!

As if this wasn’t surreal enough that I noticed something that may have been a message. Later that night (completely unexpected) I received two separate messages from daughters of two different friends of mine who have recently passed away. One thanking me for supporting her mother as she dealt with cancer, and the other asking for my advice on a topic she would normally have asked of her Dad who passed away a year ago.

A “force field” seems a bit dramatic of a name to call the summary of all this stuff? But, it is a pretty good title, and I’m pretty sure it is still there! At the very least, I know it is kind of cool to believe it is anyway. You have to believe in something!

Thanks for stopping and reading.




















Day 47 – Status Update and Good News from the Professor

Are you kidding me?  46 days down, already? 

Well, yesterday was a good day!  Had the park to myself in the morning, and Django was able to swim a lot!  Which, is great for training a 1 year old Golden Labrador.   

Above is the worst pic ever taken of this handsome dog in mid shake.  

Here is a better picture of the two posers I hang with.

After the dog walk I went on a training run for the Great British 10K 12 July.  
Part of my 182.5 mantra goals is to run the 10K with 3K splits of 18.25 mins through the whole thing.  (6min 6sec/Km).   

Yesterday, I made the goal for Km’s 2,3,4 out of a 10Km run in 18min 18 secs.  First time I’ve done it.  I felt strong on the run too!  

In the afternoon, I set off on the 3 hr trek to the Royal Free at Hempstead London.  (Ok, I’d never noticed it takes about 182.5 mins to get there.)

Note:  yesterday I was armed with a great quote from Marc and Angel Hack Life.  “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”.  How brilliant is this quote?  I’d already used it about a 100 times on the run.

I prefer to drive to Edgware, and tube into Hempsted.  Then, if I’m early enough I like to stroll down Hempsteda High Street.  

I was so early to Edgware I decided to have my car cleaned.  Where I had a real nice chat with the Albanian boss.  He was very cool!  We talked about the UK (he’s lived here 14 years, and was swore in as a UK citizen a few years ago by Boris Johnson).  He loves Cameron, because he is clamping down on free benefits.  He loves Bill Clinton, because of how he handled the Serbs in Kosovo (he wants a statue).  He talked about his memories as a 13 year old when it all kicked off, and how brutal it all was.  He hates Yugoslavia!  He likes boxing, but does know a bit about freestyle wrestling.  

I was fascinated by this guy!  On a humanity scale, this man was up there!  Simple, hard working, family man, and seemed content.  Thanks universe or whoever organized this meeting!

After about an hour I made my way to the Royal Free.  Passing my favorite shop window in London.

I arrived at thd Royal Free with 35 mins to spare.  ……..  “Sorry sir, your appoint is at the Wellington (swiss cottage area)”  (No worries, this must be the pain from the quote of the day.)

So I made my way to the taxi stand.  5 taxis there.  4 empty and 1 guy mudering a bucket of KFC.  “Sorry mate, I’m having me dinnah” (pain?  I’m still not buying… “Cheers mate”, was all I said.)

I flagged down another taxi, and still made it to the Wellington with 10 mins to spare.  (I’d like to point out this Hospital is so POSH  it has valet parking.  And, only takes about 15 mins longer to get to as Edgware…pain?  Nope!  I wouldn’t have had the chat with my new Albanian friend.)

I checked in, and also inquired about a bill I was sent.  “Sorry sir, the scans you had last week weren’t part of the Authorization Letter, £3300 please”.  (Painful yet?  You bastard universe!  But, I’m still not chosing to suffer-I’ll claim it myself.)

Made it to the appoint bang on time.  “Sorry sir, Prof is running a bit late”.  (Pain?  Nope, I know how in demand this man is, and in cancer appontments you have to assume some appointments are the first.  These have no time constraints.)

It turns out he wasn’t that late (30 mins).  

The news was good!  Scans showed stable tumors.  “Might only do 3 rounds of Lu-177 instead of 4.  Taking a long term approach to limit the radiation for a couple years.  And, there is possibly a better isotope coming in a couple years”. (Inside my head voice, “2 more years…guaranteed”)

He examined me and said “whatever you are doing….keep doing it”.  

“Great” I said aloud “Thank you!. “182.5…positive visualization”, I said under my breath.

It was a really good appointment.  We talked about purines & uric acid, vit D, angiogenesis, immunetherapy, Israel NETs, Great British 10K.  

Next round of Lu-177, exactly the date I hoped for in August!

Cheers universe!


P.S.  On the way back to my car I really wanted to avoid the tube going through Kings Cross at 6pm.  So, I took a black cab taxi to “Edgware”.  But, the driver took me to “Edgware Road”.  (Piss off universe, you and some black cab drivers are assholes!  I’m not suffering!)  So, I smiled at everyone on my way through Kings Cross…sorry if that creeped anyone out!


Music and Pain

This past Sunday (Father’s Day) I was a substitute singer for a friend’s band at a local pub (the normal singer and wife had just had a baby, and had to pull out of the gig).  Some fans of their band had asked them to play for their 25th Anniversary party.  It was standard “Dad Band” stuff, and I’d jammed with a couple of the guys before.  We rehearsed hard on the day before, and all seemed well under control.

How hard could it be?
Well…it turned out that I’d overdone the rehearsing the day before.  About 30 mins before leaving for the gig I “tanked”.  Just seem to lose all energy, and usually just have to take a nap to recover.  Its something I have to manage with the cancer.  A major reason I don’t take a lot of gigs.

But there was no time for a nap, so I made my way to the pub.  Surprise, I was the first one there.  Ok, so I started carrying the PA the 75 meters to the pub’s patio.  One guy came, and we set up the PA.  Drummer?  Not yet, so I started carrying over his kit.  This was not good, I was using the last of my energy units up before we even started.  (BTW, the anniversary party was a lot bigger (200 people) and really quite formal looking…damn, I was seriously under prepared).

The guy that asked me to do this still was nowhere to be found.  I was starting to get pissed off!  But, I couldn’t let rage zap my remaining energy.

I used all my new found coaching skills and knowledge to keep a positive mindset.  Surprising myself really.  I was cool.  Part of my new life sentence vs death sentence attitude.

We started off a bit ropey.  Even with experienced bands, it can take a while to sort out who is driving the tempo, eye contact, sound levels, and audience expectations.  I had already visualized this situation, and managed to lead the band through this awkwardness.

We went on to do about 30 songs over the next 3 hours.  We rocked it!  I was going for it, the crowd was dancing, the couple was dancing, people were singing along….brilliant!  We recieved comments like “you guys are better than the normal lineup!  Thank you so much, we wouldn’t have had much of a party if you wouldn’t have played”.   Plus, two more bookings were on the table.

I don’t know why, but I don’t feel tiredness or pain when playing music.  (Actually, I think I do know why.  But, like a magician I’m not sure I want to tell how the trick is done.  At least not yet!)  I do crash pretty quick after we stop, but that is ok.

I’ve wanted to write about this topic for a long time.  But, have hesitated because I’m a bit afraid I won’t do it the justice it deserves.  Warning:  this is going to be a multi-part blog post.

Well…putting this off isn’t getting us anywhere, so here goes.  It is 430am and I’ve already checked facebook, twitter, wordpress, whatsapp, email, youtube…ok, enough Mark!  Write!

Just a quick recap, I’ve been battling with Neuroendocrine cancer with liver metasis since diagnosis in 2007.  A couple major surgeries in 2008-2009, Y-90 targeted radiation therapy in 2011, and curently half way through Lu-177 PRRT this year.  Its been a roller coaster to say the least.

Pre-carcinoid syndrome in 2000, my wife had bought me a guitar after my fourth and final knee surgery to set up the next chapter of hobbies after racquetball and rugby. The goal was to be able to play rugby songs for the club, so I would still have a role to play with the lads.

(BTW, drinking and singing with the guys was probably the first indication of music’s power. You could be severely beaten up by the rugby match, but were instantly “whole” again as soon as you someone started “I Used To Work In Chicago” or “Grand Old Duke of York”.)

At the time I was working hard on my career, rebuilding and raising a family life, playing hard, and I was not taking very good care of myself physically or mentally.  I was heading towards a physical breakdown.  Overweight, out of shape, binge drinking, and addicted to nicotine (I was chewing tobacco 90% of the time I was awake).  I was setting up the “perfect storm” for serious health issues.

Before diagnosis I had several years of feeling pretty bad.  Which, I put down to my lifestyle.  I was spending hours on the toilet.  While there, I took solace and taught myself some basic chords.  The first song I taught myself was “Hang” by Matchbox20.   A song about a guy who’s woman just stops the car and kicks the guy out, because she is bored with him talking about himself and “realized she didn’t care”.  It was my mantra at the time, and I wallowed in it.  I played it over and over for months.   Literally over a thousand times.

I didn’t know it was carcinoid syndrome at the time that was sending me running to the toilet. (That is part of the problem with Carcinoid/NET cancer, it appears to be IBS or diet related.  If caught before metasis, you can take out the primary tumor and you are cured.  You just have to “suspect it before you detect it.”)

At the time, I just knew I had to get to the toilet.  (It was violent and painful and gut wrenching and really not nice).  I was running to the toilet several times a day.

In 2001, I was in my last year of active duty USAF, and for some reason I was stressing over the looming retirement speech I would give in August 2002 (a year away…come on Mark, get a grip!).  I was so stressed I developed panic attacks when public speaking.  These attacks were crippling!  I’d never experienced anything like them. Literally felt like I was suffocating.

In an effort to get a grip, I forced myself to go to an open mic.  If I could do an open mic, I’d surely be able to deliver my speech.  (Right?)

Well, I couldn’t have been less prepared.  Armed with my one song “Hang”…which, nobody else in the UK knew, I was going to come off as some pathetic dumbass who’d taught himself how to play G,C, & D on a cheap clasical guitar.  Right?  But, was I somehow wrong?  Nope, I was right…pathetic dumbass!   I was a one and done performer.  (So I thought.)

But, I had done what I set out to do.  I took my beating, and was able speak again in public. (Thank you music!) BTW, my retirement speech was epic (in my mind’s eye).  I’ll post it someday.

I also noticed that all the nerves I experienced before doing my song were quiet when I was actually performing.

I had no intention of ever doing another song in public, but one night at a dinner (and drinks) with some friends I told my open mic story.  And, thats when I met my guitarist.

End of part 1.


Day 41, Status – and explanation to a alternative medicine expert on what I’m doing.

Here is a message I’ve sent to a friend who sent a suggestion on Essiac Tea to me.

I looked it up and, din’t think it is right for me.  

I feel really blessed to have friends looking out for me, and I’ve been wrestling with how to gracefully address advice.  

I think I’ve come up with a “compromise”.  Explain exactly what my plan is and where I think I need help.  

BTW, my friend is well versed in Reiki and diet (specifically, how to get Ph levels right).  


Thank you for the tip on Essiac Tea. Looking at it doesn’t look like a recommended option. I’m not new (7 years since diagnosis) and I’ve had almost my limit of radiation and surgery isn’t an option any longer.

What does the tea do?
I’m doing pretty well at the minute. Diet, exercise, visualization (be ready for the immunotherapy cure that is coming in about 4 years), and targeted radiation therapy lu-177.
My challenge at the minute is getting to my ideal weight. Where I’m genetically to be. (83KG) 
I’m shooting for 9 Nov. the end of my 182.5 mantra I’ve set up. 83Kg =182.5Lbs 182.5 days should be long enough to get there at a healthy/safe rate. Reptilian brain training as well…haha!
Also I’m training to get stronger and have more stamina to increase my resilience.
My problems at the minute seams to be uric acid. Diet, cell death, and chemo are pushing my scores up into high levels. The uric acid has caused 2 gout attacks so far. Painful! But, i wonder what the uric crystals are doing to my kidneys. I need my kidneys to stay strong (obviously) but at least functional enough to handle the (PRRT).  
I was also deficient in Vit D a little over 2 months ago.
So far, my uric acid scores in 41 days into getting serious have went from 
349 to 546 (2weeks after a rd of PRRT) to 512 (5 weeks after). I’ve met with my GP on taking Allopurinol to reduce this level. But it works by blocking enzymes that breakdown purines into uric acid. I would think this is the way the body gets rid of dead cells. Something I want (dead cancer cells).   

My Vitamin D scores have risen from <50 (deficient) to 86 a month ago(pretty good). I’m aiming for staying in the range of 70-100. 

I just reread your messages you sent me on raising my ph levels. 

I’ve cut out foods high in purine, and I’m drinking a lot of water. And, i expect the levels to all be good and balanced at the end of my 182.5 day program.  

Make any sense?




Day 37 – Are you f’ing kidding me?

Wasn’t planning on a blog post today.  

But, that changed when I woke up with a super short fuse, ready to fight about anything!  

Was I in a “Positive mind”?  My ass!  

I wanted to get in the car and drive an hour and a half up the A1 to Hooters Nottingham for a couple dozen chicken wings and an eyefull of boobs!

What’s the f’ing point of this “mantra” bullshit?  

Yep, it was a rough morning.  Checked the blood…7.7 (damn, “normal”… “Normal person normal”).  

Hmmm, maybe this is working?  

(Self talk “If you pull this back, get a grip….you’ll be able to go to Hooters any time”…”because you’ll be alive”). 
I said to myself, “walk the dogs”…”play some golf with Alan”…”lift some weights”… “do some cardio”…”meet with my GP about high uric acid levels, and tell him my plan”…”mow the yard”…”grill some burgers”….”and if you feel like this tomorrow we are off to Nottingham”.

Well, its bedtime.  I did all those things.  I’m feeling better.  I feel exhausted actually.  I’ve pulled back the ANT’s today. (win)  But, I wouldn’t be surprised if a trip up North is coming soon (win win)!
Anybody want to come with me?