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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Gratitude as an Attidude

Greetings from Philly! I received a nice compliment from the cleaning person. Apparently they have been working on this floor for four years and have never seen anyone exercise like I have been. I figure I can't lay in bed all day trying to beat this disease. I've got to get up and fight!

My amazing mother Lucile has kept me company in the hospital when Amanda is busy with our son. It has been a joy to be in her presence, she has always been a great example of compassion and charity in my life. I also have my amazing mother-in-law to thank for her sacrifice. She has uprooted from her down home ranch in Idaho to help take care of our son so that he can be with his mom and dad during this crazy time in our lives.

Love these ladies!
I'd go on to thank my wife now, however it would take several more pages to describe the smallest fraction of the love and gratitude I have for her and the amazing strength she is to me.

What am I trying to say... I'm grateful. 

Yes, it looks pretty grim right now. I can't even close my mouth to swallow without using my finger to help push it shut, but I am grateful :)

In his recent conference address President Uchtdorf reminded us that, 

"It is easy to be grateful for things when life seems to be going our way. But what then of those times when what we wish for seems to be far out of reach?

Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be."

I continue to contemplate Joseph Smith's experience in Liberty Jail. Under the most horrific conditions he received some of the most amazing revelations that are recorded in the doctrine and covenants. In a CES fireside about the topic Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated the following, 

"You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experiences with the Lord in any situation you are in... In the most miserable experiences of your life. In the worst settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and opposition you have ever faced."

When we show gratitude and humility to the Lord, he can and will edify us in any circumstance of life. Holland continues, "Every experience can become a redemptive experience if we remain bonded to our Father in Heaven through that difficulty."

In this way our gratitude becomes an act of faith. Faith that we trust in God's will and his plan for us. I am grateful because I have faith in an eternal plan of happiness.

D&C 78:19 "And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Now is the Time to be HEADstrong!

Last summer while struggling for a cure in Houston my heart was touched by an amazing community who united in love and gave of their time and talents for our family. Simultaneously three warriors had begun a journey across the entire country to raise money for cancer research and awareness. These two forces united in the heart of the city and my life was elevated. Within only two weeks of treatment I had already reached remission. 

I realized that I still had Miles 2 Give.

Although he can run for miles Kezman is never short on hugs and smiles!
Just when I thought my cancer journey was complete, I was shocked to find that I had only reached an apex; my cancer coaster came crashing down another cliff. We recently found that the leukemia has found its way into my brain. Irony... No... This is Destiny!

Now is the time to be HEADstrong! 

Tis' time for cancer to walk the plank!

As strong as I need my head to be in order to overcome this most recent challenge I am unable to ignore my heart. I want to thank my wife for sharing this scripture with our family the other night.

Proverbs 3:5

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding." 

As I'm amidst my third year battling cancer,there is much that I have found difficult to understand. What i do know is that I have seen more kindness, goodness, and selflessness; more of the pure love of Christ in my life than I have ever before. I am grateful to the Lord for his tender mercies each day, and thankful to each soul who has touched our family with your love.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Remember, Remember, Remember

Early last week I had the opportunity to talk to Cheryl Colleluori, the President and CEO of the HEADstrong Foundation. She is also the mother of Nick Colleluori, a cancer warrior who devoted his final days to something bigger than himself. It is because of his desire to serve and his wonderful family that carried out his dying wish to create Headstrong, that we have a place to stay while I'm being treated in Philadelphia.

As I spoke with her last week I shared my gratitude, and let her know that I had been thinking about the sacrifice their family has made. I explained that it must be challenging to be reminded of her son's death every day. That I had lost a brother to suicide, and that even though the circumstances are not comparable, the heart ache from the loss of a loved one never really goes away.

I admitted that I almost felt guilty that I have days in which I become so distracted with my day to day activities that I don't really think about it. The thing is, the Colleluori family doesn't have that "luxury", they are surrounded by their son's legacy every day, and I'm sure that there are times when it is difficult. I told Cheryl that I admire her for that.

As I reflected back upon our conversation later in the week, I was reminded of another parent who lost a dearly beloved child. 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." St John 3:16

'Carry your World' by Landon Cooper
It reminded me that I lost another brother, even Jesus Christ. He died on the cross and overcame death by the power of the resurrection that we too may share in this wonderful gift. It reminded me that when I was baptized I made a covenant to always remember Him and keep His commandments. 

Accordingly, in a poignant parallel,as the Colleluori's remember their son and brother every day, even when it's hard, even when it hurts - they remember and turn it into something beautiful and benevolent; I to will strive to remember every day, my brother, my Savior, my God, and turn sin into sanctification, suffering into serenity, and great worry into good works.

Monday, August 11, 2014

How to Speak Like a Philadelphian

After spending over a month in the city of brotherly love I have started to pick up some of the local accent. I thought I would share this tutorial with anyone who is interested in speaking the local language.

Replace the hard "A" vowel sound as in Ant with "ee-A"

Ya = Yee-A
Cat = Kyat
Pants = Pyants

Precede the soft "A" sound as in Awesome or Drop with a short "oo" sound. The "oo" and "ah" should only take up one syllable. Shape your mouth like your going to say "oo" and then open up to the "ah" sound.

Water = Woo-ah-der
Bought = Boo-aht
Audio = "oo-Ah-dio

The vowel sound in words that end in "or" such as Floor should also be pronounced this way but only open up half way to more of an "uh" sound.

Door = Doo-uh
Fort = Foo-uht
Board = Boo-uhd

Finally, talk (t'oo'ahk) about your local sports (sp'oo'uhts) team with resentment, and then cheer for them like you can't (kyant) remember how many times they've let you down.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Double Your Fun...

The headache started Tuesday night and greeted me promptly in the morning. After they prescribed some maximum strength headache meds my oncology team and I tried to figure out why these hives are lingering. Following a great deal of speculation they scheduled me to meet with the dermatologist. He put my mind at ease when he explained that it is not uncommon for hives to persist for several weeks. The downside to that however is that they don't want to give me my CART-19 cells while I have hives. Long story short - more delays.

They drew a lot of labs on Wednesday!
To complicate matters I began to have bouts of double vision that afternoon. They increased in duration throughout the week and by Friday I felt like I was living in a double mint gum commercial. We met with an Ophthalmologists at the Eye Emergency Department on Saturday. After extensive examinations, hours in waiting rooms, and an MRI, surprise surprise... they had no idea what was causing my ailment. Apparently causes of double vision are almost as difficult to decipher as causes of hives!

Things grew even more exciting at about 3:00 AM when I woke up with a headache like I'd been smacked in the back of the head with a two by four. Then I looked in the mirror I realized that I couldn't move the right side of my face. The fun part was that I got my first ride in an ambulance, although I must say it's probably more exciting in the drivers seat where you can see all the traffic move aside as you cruise through red lights.

There's a first for everything...

Well that's pretty much the update. I have more testing scheduled for tomorrow, Currently we're just hanging out on the 6th floor at the University of Pennsylvania hospital. I'm squinting at my laptop with one eye closed (otherwise it appears like I have two laptops). Which reminds me of a couple good things about double vision: one, you have twice as many friends come visit you in the hospital, and two, when you open up your wallet you have double the cash!

Valley Forge Fun

Friday, August 1, 2014

Thank You For Loving Me Enough to Cut Me Down

Earlier this week I had the privilege of going to dinner with my friend Aymon. We met in the hospital on my first trip to Philadelphia back in June. I was waiting to have my t-cells extracted for the CART-19 study, and he was awaiting an infusion to help treat his multiple sclerosis. Initially we were all staring at our "smart" phones, then somebody made a joke about it and we began interacting like people used to before the invasion of "social" technology - and I'm glad we did because it gave me the opportunity to meet a truly awesome individual.

We found out that our diseases are nearly opposite - his immune system has gone out of control and attacked his nervous system; my bone marrow has gone out of control and my immune system doesn't do anything about it. We swapped hospital horror stories, and found that despite the differences between our ailments we had undergone several of the same chemo therapies.

Aymon has been dealt what some would consider a tough hand, but he manages to keep a smile on his face. He was a long distance runner in high school, but at age 24 he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of MS. He is now confined to a wheelchair, has gone blind in his right eye, and is beginning to lose control over his arms and hands. Notwithstanding all this, he related the following to me, "If I had the choice to be healed today, or to go back to when I was 24 and never fall ill with MS I wouldn't go back. I've had too many amazing experiences. I've learned so much. I wouldn't trade it."

I was inspired by his words. I told him I have never considered my cancer diagnosis in that way and that I would need some time to ponder it. As I've contemplated this interesting proposition throughout the week two things came to mind:

First, was the Lord's council to Joseph Smith as he endured the horrendous circumstances of Liberty Jail,"If thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; If fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good." (D&C 122:7)

I don't know about you but in my mind that scripture conjures up visions of some of the darker scenes in The Lord of the Rings! That said, I've never had the elements combine against me, or the jaws of hell gape open after me, but if those terrifying scenarios can be for one's good, then I suppose I too can gain experience and learn something from my trials.

Second, is a story related by Hugh B. Brown that has come to be known as, 'The Currant Bush'. These are his words,

"I was living up in Canada. I had purchased a farm. It was run-down. I went out one morning and saw a currant bush. It had grown up over six feet high. It was going all to wood. There were no blossoms and no currants. I was raised on a fruit farm in Salt Lake before we went to Canada, and I knew what ought to happen to that currant bush. So I got some pruning shears and clipped it back until there was nothing left but stumps. It was just coming daylight, and I thought I saw on top of each of these little stumps what appeared to be a tear, and I thought the currant bush was crying. I was kind of simpleminded (and I haven’t entirely gotten over it), and I looked at it and smiled and said, “What are you crying about?” You know, I thought I heard that currant bush say this:

“How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. I was almost as big as the shade tree and the fruit tree that are inside the fence, and now you have cut me down. Every plant in the garden will look down on me because I didn’t make what I should have made. How could you do this to me? I thought you were the gardener here.”

That’s what I thought I heard the currant bush say, and I thought it so much that I answered. I said, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and someday, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down. Thank you, Mr. Gardener.’”

We often think we know the Lord's plan for us only to be disappointed when things don't turn out how we expected. We may be tempted to complain, "How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth." It can be difficult, or even painful, but sometimes the Lord has to remind us that He is the gardener, He knows what we are to be, and if we could only see from His eternal perspective we too would say, "Thank you [Lord], for loving me enough to cut me down."