Tag Archives: carcinoid

Resilience & The 25th Anniversary of Desert Storm

Welcome 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.

Here is a little recap about the physical training habits I am establishing. It is day 264 of my “182.5” mantra and only 85 days until the London Marathon. I’m currently taking a spin class on Mondays, rest day Tuesdays, circuit training for an hour on Wednesdays, 10km run on Thursdays, rest day Friday, 5km and weights on Saturdays, and a long run of 10 miles on Sundays. I’m finding the training hard, but tonight’s 10km run was the first time I have felt strong since the cold I caught over the holidays. My diet is working quite well too. I’m trying not to focus on weight loss, but to make healthy choices.   I’m trying to eat for fuel.

This week includes a big milestone for me personally.   This is the 25th anniversary of Desert Storm. 25 years? Really? It seems just like yesterday. My “war” story isn’t very action packed, but it was quite a big event for my family and me. I was lucky, only a couple months and no injuries or traumatic events. I cannot begin to believe I understand anything the servicemen and woman have gone through in WWII, Korea, Vietnam or in Iraq and Afghanistan, but can empathise with them over issues of separation from family, heading off into the unknown, and the unexpected feelings on returning home.

It is crazy how the mind catalogues events, and some events carry more impact than others. You know; big occasions when you are a child, high school, first times, wins, pain, joy, and sorrow. I’d like to add – saying goodbye to your family as you prepared to leave for war.

As I write this entry, my mind is flooded with both good and bad feelings. I can easily see how some veterans get stuck on the bad, and that can lead to very dark places. So, why do some veterans seem to be able to adjust to living with these experiences? My experiences seem to feel a lot like dealing with the traumatic experiences of dealing with cancer. Maybe I can use them to help myself through this battle, and that is exactly what I’m going to try.

I’m starting to feel another essay coming on. If you think you may need a break, you may want to go to the toilet now. This could be a while. In this blog I’m going to discuss how (25 years ago) I was selected to join a small team charged with taking a secure telephone switch to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for General Schwarzkopf and his staff. Seems like yesterday.

From 1982 to 1991 my career in the United States Air Force was no script for an action movie. I was a Strategic Air Command (SAC) airman. Not even close to be involved in anything Tactical like Desert Storm. GThe first four years I was an administrative clerk in the Offutt Air Force Base education office. It is where I took night classes in electronics and finished my degree in 1986. From there I retrained (Keesler AFB, Mississippi) into the career field of electronic computer switching systems maintenance (early computer maintenance).

I was then reassigned from Keesler AFB, Mississippi back at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska to the HQ Strategic Air Command (SAC) underground command post. Over the next five years I worked on some really old gear (back to the Cuban Missile Crisis days of the early 60’s), and also on state of the art communications (for example, lasers and fiber-optics were new back then). The Cold War was still going on, and as the headquarters for America’s nuclear arsenal, we were at “Ground Zero”.

Even though I was “technically in the military”, it really didn’t feel like it. We didn’t bother with chemical warfare training, physical training, putting up tents, map reading, marching, etc. We were only going to be around 15 minutes into a nuclear war. What was the point? It was at this point in my life that I established some pretty unhealthy habits (smoking & chewing tobacco, skipping breakfast & lunch, drinking coffee and diet coke instead of water, binge drinking, not exercising, not effectively dealing with stress….wow, typing this list is quite depressing!)

However; if there was something broken, we worked our butts off until it was restored. This equipment was used to send out the nuclear alert messages. There was no messing about, people got hurt even on false messages. They could cause whole B52 bomber units to spin up. It was very serious!   Some very challenging problems, and since it was a one of a kind facility we’d have nobody to call for support.

Our military exercises were short and sweet. They were held several times a day, and often I didn’t even know they were going on. All ending pretty much with us getting “smoked”. You’ve seen the movies when a missile office has to point a gun at their partner to turn the key, right? Well, I was one of the guys behind the gear that made sure they got that message. Most of the time I had a cigarette in my mouth (we could still smoke in the office then), a cup of coffee within reach, and a Snickers candy bar in my pocket.

My specialty (1989-1991) was on a new type of secure voice telephone switch. These switches allowed national leadership to pick up the phone and call & conference on encrypted lines (“specialty” was in my mind’s eye, because I’ve since realized I wasn’t even a novice compared to true specialists). It was a switch used by White House communications, the Pentagon, HQ SAC, HQ TAC, and US Central Command.   At the time of Desert Shield & Storm, CENTCOM Forward (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) was configured off “long local” telephones. These were over Satellite communications, and a lot had to be right for these phones to work (especially in encrypted mode).

My Desert Storm mission!

Not knowing how long the “Gulf War” would go on, this setup was too unreliable for critical communications to General Schwarzkopf and his staff with General Powell and other national leaders. The secure voice program office started looking for military guys that could deploy with a switch (which was a mini-computer with routing tables, digital and analog interfaces, and was capable of direct and conference calls). It was quite a “state of the art” piece of gear at the time.

At the time contractors maintained the CENTCOM switch, and at that time could not be forced into a war zone. This is where I came in.   They would take one “active duty military” from HQ SAC, one from Whitehouse Communications, one from HQ TAC (Langley AFB, VA), an Engineering and Installation expert (E&I), and our leader would be from the program office at the Pentagon. I was selected from about half a dozen guys in my work center that all volunteered to go. In the military, most don’t want to be the guy left behind, and I definitely “wanted” to be in the game.

We would meet in Tampa, Florida to configure our equipment, get on a transport plane to Riyadh, set it up, and then kick back and watch it all run smoothly. Have you noticed there was no thought of how this would all end? I was so naive.   (BTW, the contractors were really disappointed not to be going. They were just as dedicated to the mission as the military, and they still are. Contractors, National Guard, and Reservists have proven themselves vital over the years, and today more than ever!) In 1991 I didn’t feel this way…I was so ignorant!

This story is starting to get long, and I’ve already left out numerous points I could write a separate blog entry about.

I think this is a good place to take a break, and bring this story into parallel with my cancer and marathon journey.

I feel this point in my Desert Storm story lines up well with my cancer journey’s pre-diagnosis stage and on the marathon side it lines up with up to my selection to run for the NET patient foundation.

Some of you know over the last four or five years I have been spending a lot of time reading and studying the power of keeping a positive attitude. My goal was to understand myself a little better, and then maybe be able to use this knowledge to help others as well as “cure” myself.  I’m a long way from being cured, but it has helped me establish a level of resilience I’ve never had before.

One of my favourite resources is Mark Manson.net, and in one of his earliest articles he shares a commencement speech of writer David Foster Wallace. He started off the speech with a short story.   To quote: There are two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two you fish swim for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and says “What the hell is water?”

It is pretty obvious to me now, that in 1991 I was one of the young fish. I was swimming in things bigger than I realized.   What I was getting into was not as simple as I early laid out “meet in Tampa, Florida to configure our equipment, get on a transport plane to Riyadh, set it up, and then kick back and watch it all run smoothly”. It was much more complicated than that, and its the same with the battle against cancer.   The stages for cancer for me are; before diagnosis, diagnosis, educating yourself, dealing with the disease, deciding on a treatment, going through the treatment, living with the disease, overcoming or succumbing to the disease, and life after the disease.

Up to this Desert Storm pre-deployment point, I had set up a point where I was definitely swimming in “water” I did not understand or appreciate. That’s not to say I had not envisioned it. When tensions mounted, and war was looming I had visualized all the pieces that would need to fall into place for me to be involved. I’m not saying I wished for it, but I do vividly remember visualizing. It is one of the few times I really remember visualizing to such detail. And, years later I often reflect back to this example of when visualization has worked.

In the early days of my cancer diagnosis (probably over the first couple years) I didn’t realize what “water” I was swimming in. I was ill for quite a while, but ignored to signs. Convincing myself the signs were just “getting older” and probably diet related. I would have used visualization then if I had understood the water.

Do I really know what swimming in “London Marathon” water is? Do I really know what running 26 miles is like? Do I know what a “wall” is? Do I know who and why I’m running? How can I handle this with honour? I can’t pretend to know I will be able to know for sure until I do the marathon, but I’m going to use the lessons learned from Desert Storm and cancer to get myself as prepared as I can envision. Including the eventual post marathon.

If you look at the speech by David Wallace I hadn’t learned how to think, but was definitely the “center of my own universe”. I had learned how to troubleshoot computers and work hard, but I was clueless on how to take myself back and really look at the big picture of what was going on.   The mission I was going to support was setting a world stage we are still dealing with today.

But to me, I was doing something big in my career. When I am in this mode I’m quite good at putting blinkers on, and pushing off all other responsibilities. It can actually be a place you can hide from other responsibilities that don’t go away. Things like taking care of my wife, daughter, unborn daughter, home, and my family’s needs. These still need to be dealt with. Oh my, I’ve just realized I better re-evaluate my marathon and cancer journey. (Note to self & point taken!)

My “war” experience could not have gone any easier really.   I can only imagine the effects on some of the same type of men that have been deployed over and over again into Iraq and Afghanistan. I continue to be amazed and inspired by the resilience of these young military men and women and their families. Just as I continue to be amazed by others affected by cancer and their families.

The military and patients aren’t really that different. Those that seem to handle things the best have set up habits that establish resilience. Exercise, diet, meditation or reflection, planning, education, and keeping things organized. Simply establishing good habits.

My habits of exercising, diet, meditating/reflection, and staying on top of my appointments and paperwork are paying off for me over the past 263 days. (I’m 8 years into my cancer journey, in control of the disease, and I’m training for the London Marathon). I’m also feeling pretty good about things!

Over the next few days and weeks, I’m going to continue this story through the post-deployment period.   I’ll talk about the shocks of: chemical warfare & weapons training, Florida, CENTCOM, flying on military transport, Saudi Arabia, the awe of heroes, food poisoning, and a couple stories about returning home.

If you’d like help setting up your own mantra, I’m happy to help – just drop me a line at zwanny@hotmail.com. If you’d like help with dealing with NET cancer, please contact the NET Patient Foundation, which exists to help NET patients, their families, and carers.

Thank you for stopping by my blog, and if you’d like to donate towards my run & NET Patient Foundation please click here. http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/MarkZwanziger.



I can also be found on Twitter – @zwanny63










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 http://www.cancertutor.com/essiac/ 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?



Mantra Update Day 25 – I Feel Great!  (Just kidding, its a piece about how I love playing music in my kitchen)

Day 25 of my 182.5 mantra.  Feel great!  Morning blood sugar at 6:45 was 8.2.  (I was up at 6:45?  So, I’m sure it would have neen below 8 at 0815.  Note:  between 4 & 8 is “normal person normal”.)

Ran 6K yesterday,  and started to push the pace a bit.  My goal is to run 3K splits of…wait for it…18.25 mins.  Is that clever or what?  My pace yesterday was about 21 mins.  It will happen!   (Yawn…hang in there, the music story is coming)

I’m also really enjoying lifting weights again.  Its been several years.  I’m focusing on feeling stronger with a stronger core.  (Double yawn)

My diet is in full swing!  I really seem to have it balanced right now.  You can follow me on “myfitnesspal” if you’d like specifics.  Its starting to show in the mirror and with how my clothes fit.  (Nap time?)

Blah, blah, blah….the real reason for this post is –

Last night, I had a 3 1/2 hour music session with a friend I’ve been visualizing singing with for a couple years now.  Finally, our calendars finally lined up with some spare time.

In my studio (kitchen) I had Spotify, youtube, the “Ultimate-Guitar” app, iphone, five binders full of paper “Books of Dreamz” tab, appleTV, my Martin Guitar, JamMan loop pedal, Bose L1 PA, Scottie Dog “Dexter”, kettle and tea bags, a Hungarian au pair, and a few cell phones all in sync and in top form.

 We came up with about 12 songs for a set we could have “pub ready” very soon!  Loads of stuff I’d never really played before in a bluesy and jazzy and in a “perfect pitch” way.  From KT Tunstall to MJ to Coldplay to The Commitments.
I’ll tell you what…you see a lot about diet, exercise, medical innovations, alternative medicine, meditation, etc (and they are crucial to fighting cancer)…but for me, nothing lets me escape dealing with cancer like playing music!

I guess it all started wIth carcinoid syndrome that hadn’t been diagnosed.

I was on the toilet so much I started taking a guitar with me, and taught myself how to play.  (Please don’t visualize!)

Over the next few posts I’m going to cover that time period until now. Where presently, I gig a couple times a month with my band “The Acoustic Supper Club”.  The gigs are fun, but it is the sessions where we jam on new music I really enjoy.

I think I’ve finally figured out what I can bring to the blog world.

Stay “Tuned” (pun intended)… Ok, that’s it…time to post!


Mark aka “Zwanny”

(Look for me at zwanny63 on these sites, and you can see my playlists)

1st Post – Live Boy!

Over five years ago I was scared.  As my wife and I sat in the Dr’s office I thought I’d heard the death sentence as it was explained that carcinoma was indeed cancer. 

From there, it has been one hell of a roller coaster ride.  But, I’ve learned it is not necessarily so.  It is a “life” sentence, but that ain’t all bad! 

I hope this blog helps me capture some of the stories with the emotions and lessons learned. 

I plan to write about what I’ve learned.  What I did or am doing about the obstacle or opportunity.   I plan to write about my views health, finding a Dr., relationships, diet, exercise, depression, inspiration, music, and things that matter to me.   
Thank you for stopping by,