Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +314

I was trying to find a word to describe 2011. This was my top ten list: grievous, mean,  difficult, demanding, burdensome, nasty, hard, onerous, trying, and wicked. These were tough words for a tough year. Yet, as I thought about all the changes and challenges, all the pain and prayers, all the angst and anxiety, all the fright and fight; it came to me that the appropriate word is illuminating.

Shine a Light

2011 was a year of hard lessons and hard-won victories. I learned more about my self, my strengths and my limitations, than I ever thought to comprehend. I stared death in the face, and he blinked. I came to understand the pure power of prayer and the warmth of friendship and love. I learned humility from the selfless generosity of our friends and the anonymous kindness of strangers. Perhaps most importantly, I learned to live in the precious present, one day at a time, and to appreciate the wondrous gift of life.

One of the toughest lessons to absorb teaches that it can be infinitely more difficult to be the caregiver than to be the patient. I was raised to be stolidly and obstinately independent. Experiencing others' ministrations, even though totally unable to manage it on my own, was difficult. Watching the patience and care given both by Marian and by professional nurses taught me the meaning of "awesome."

Finally, I learned that each bad break or set-back carries the seeds of victory within. I learned that life is all about change and that I should not lament when change becomes challenge, but seek the seeds of victory and tend that garden until it flourishes.

Like Bob Cratchit in the vision of the death of Tiny Tim...despite the illness, the pain, the uncertainty, and the cost, I am a happy man...I am alive.

More Challenges

My son-in-law Chris Davis, was hospitalized on the day after Christmas. Surgery yesterday revealed that he has a glioma. We do not yet know the prognosis, but we are once again raising voices to Heaven in prayer for him and his family. I sent Chris a quote from Mother Teresa which has helped me keep perspective all year: "I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much."

Please pray for Chris and for his family.

My Situation

Presently, I am doing well. Blood tests are monthly only and I hope soon to be off the Cyclosporin (anti-rejection medication). My hemoglobin, although not yet normal, is much higher than before. My surgical scars have healed, and I hope to remain out of hospital for a while.

If all goes well, we will travel back to Rochester at the end of February or beginning of March to begin my inoculations...just like those given to my immune system hopefully begins to establish itself.

God bless all of you who prayed for us and sent us your good thoughts.
Happy New Year!


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +301

Our 2003 Focus has developed CVWD (Car Versus Wallet Disease). The transmission seal is leaking. The thumping we heard last week is malfunctioning rear shock absorbers. Tonight, as we drove to the restaurant to celebrate our 40th anniversary...the brake pedal plunged to the brakes. The ride home was tense. No joy in Florida Location tonight...however a strained voice may be heard faintly singing in the darkness near my home:

Ho, ho, ho...nowhere to go;
Ho, ho, no transpo;
Out in the driveway, click, click, click -- 
A broken Focus makes me sick...

We were in the parking lot when the brakes nearly failed. So, we had a nice dinner (courtesy of our younger daughter, Amanda who shared both victuals and terror with us), and with the intestinal fortitude provided by large portions of comfort food, we crept home slowly -- by a route with almost no stops and with one hand on the emergency brake.

Tomorrow morning, I will arrange towing to the repair shop. This must be similar to what Marian felt as my caregiver for all those months...always something new failing and always a new expense. Like pushing a rope up a hill: I move forward, but it seems nothing gets accomplished but the generation of frustration. At least the car doesn't complain and doesn't snore.

On a positive note: We are safely home. The Focus is in our driveway, ready to be towed. We had a nice (if nervous) meal -- better than last year's anniversary, spent in hospital and sick from chemotherapy.

Thanks for your prayers and good thoughts. Please pray the repairs will be minor (and inexpensive).

Good night and God bless,


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +300!

Wow! It's December 17th, and it's now 300 days since I received the gift of life from my brother Kevin. The first 100 days crept by, awash in discomfort and uncertainty, yet so challenging I had time for little else but fighting to survive. The second 100 days thundered along, a swift summer storm clearing a path through my old life and paving the way with gifts of each new day. The third 100 days, a sudden semester blazed past in heat and light, bringing new lessons on limitations and yet re-opening doors I thought closed forever.

Reflection is difficult. 

A retrospective of the last year paints a complex portrait and a frightening map, documenting each twist and turn of our journey, so many of which might have gone awry on paths not taken, whether by choice or chance. I am intrigued and discomfited by so many places along that path where guided by the Lord's hand or led by luck, a misstep was avoided. I am more certain than ever that the prayers and good thoughts of our friends powered us past pitfalls and proffered the strength and the optimism to fight on.

New Lessons -- New Teachers

I have been learning (slowly) that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. I also learned that hubris is no defense against human frailty. We all carry within us the seeds of our own downfall. When leukemia first came knocking on my front door, I hid in the den, hoping it was just the wind or a bothersome soul soon to go away and darken my doorstep no more. Yet, insistent as a cold Keweenaw breeze, it found its path into my leaky old house, swept away the dust of my assumptions, and scattered the pages of the script I had so carefully written for my life. It was time to learn how to improvise and ad lib. The movie of my life was now a daily serial, and the script was no longer mine to dictate.

In the last 300 days, my focus has been primarily on me: A private morality play with a paranoid twist. However, while I was busy declaiming my lines and discerning my blocking, the audience crept up on the stage with me. The dark comedy, which started as a monologue, grew into a duet, and now has an ensemble cast. I am becoming merely one player on a very crowded stage, and I am thankful there is still room for me to tread the boards a little longer.

I am learning that pancreatitis hurts worse than chemotherapy. I am learning that I am not the only one in pain. I am learning to be a character actor in my own production.

A Milestone Tomorrow

December 18, 1971, Mick and Marian became man and wife. Tomorrow is our 40th wedding anniversary -- traditionally the Ruby Anniversary. For obvious reasons, rubies are a little beyond our budget, but I am certain I can find something red to wear -- especially at Christmas. Our last two anniversaries were disappointing. In 2009, I was already sick, unemployed, and hanging around the house. In 2010, I was in the hospital, undergoing my third round of chemotherapy...we celebrated with muffins (provided by the hospital staff). I could not eat mine. We held hands in the hospital room and prayed for better days and better health for our 40th.

Well, I am doing very well at the moment. My numbers are good and my ongoing blood tests have been reduced to once per month. If all goes well, they will begin my inoculations by March 2012 (just like a newborn) and I hope to be off my anti-rejection medication in January.

A Merry Christmas

I put up more than half of our cache of decorations, accumulated over 40 years of marriage. I want this Christmas to be special because I have learned not to put off such things, depending on next year. Because I have been looking back at past Christmases, I want to share a poem I wrote in 2007. Little did I know it would offer solace and reassurance for me in Christmas 2011.

Christmas Silence

We sing of peace on Earth and goodwill to all people at Christmastime. We think of a silent night, when all is peaceful and bright with love and caring and joy. Yet, if we could but see and hear everything on that wondrous night, would it be a boon or a bane? Perhaps the peace and joy of Christmas is not around us, but within us. Maybe the happiness of that blessed night is our gift to ourselves, a wonder and a peace we bring with us, and if we are lucky, we can share it with another.


Christmas Silence

Long, long ago, in a land far away,
An angel rested upon a high hill.
He'd chosen a comfortable place to stay
On Christmas Eve, and he grew very still.
He listened with all his angel power,
Straining to hear happiness in the air.
A statue on an impromptu tower,
The angel stood still for hours up there.
He heard a few jet planes, as they flew by,
And the clouds, as they drifted through the night.
He heard the stars dancing above the sky,
And the moon banish shadows with its light.
He heard babies crying in homes below,
And mothers crooning to silence their tears.
He heard those leaving, with no place to go
But back to a lonely night, full of fears.
He heard the soft silence of children's dreams,
An old man who snored like a backed up drain,
And couldn't help hearing those anguished screams -
A victim, abused and battered again.
There were voices raised in anger and grief,
And howls of laughter from a local bar.
He heard the footsteps of a teenage thief,
In his first attempt at stealing a car.
Disgusted, distressed, and ready to cry,
The angel stood up and prepared to leave.
He spread his wings and was ready to fly,
When a tiny hand tugged on his right sleeve.
Startled, he looked down into a small face,
With the largest, darkest, most tearful eyes
He had ever seen in all time and space -
Blue-gray, like the stormiest winter skies.
Clad in pajamas, bare feet in the snow,
The tiny waif whispered in pleading voice,
"Please, Mr. Angel, oh, please do not go!"
And pausing a moment, he made his choice.
The angel knelt down in front of the child,
And opened his arms in welcome embrace.
He stroked the child's hair, with hands soft and mild,
And he prayed for peace and for Christmas Grace.
He stayed long hours through the now silent night,
Till parents, searching in early dawn's glow,
Were met with a wondrous and blessed sight -
Their small child, asleep on a bed of snow.
As the child leapt awake at their loud cry,
A joyous sweet sound set their ears ringing -
Far overhead, in the early morn sky,
A joyous Christmas Angel was singing.

Mick McKellar
December 2007

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +291

Welcome to my adventure of 36 (and a half) hours!

10:30 PM Tuesday (December 6): Marian rushes me to Portage Health emergency room after two and a half hours of "pouring forth" from nearly every orifice. Sweats, shakes, spiking fever all coordinated in a symphony of misery. Amanda had to call Marian home from league bowling to bring me to the hospital. On the scale of 0-10, the pain was a clear 9+.

It took a couple of hours for the staff at Portage Health to get the pain, nausea, and especially the shakes under control. After many tests, it has been decided that I had an attack of pancreatitis. The cause of the attack remains unknown, however suspicion is centered on a can of clam chowder (not expired) I had for supper -- about an hour before my attack began.

At 11:00 AM Today (December 8): Marian picked me up at Portage Health. All tests show normal values, and though quite sore (from the "pouring forth"), I am back to normal -- although a bit weary and frazzled by the experience. I received high dose antibiotics while hospitalized, but none are prescribed beyond my normal cadre of medications.


The sudden trip, to what is rapidly becoming my second home, was so abrupt and unforeseen there was no time to pack up my ancient -- yet trustworthy -- laptop. Hence, I was out of touch and "off the air" for the 36-plus hours of my little adventure. Nearly as frightening as my medical adventure was the realization of how dependent I have become on my Internet connection. I felt isolated and "cut off" from the world.

Relying on broadcast television for information meant some of that information was hours old before I received it.

Somewhere in the night, it dawned on me how ridiculous that sounds. Growing up, I had radio, newspapers, magazines, books, and the occasional TV show. Hearing or reading news that was only hours or a day old was felt like being there. Later, television brought images and news either minutes old or even live -- but that was only on certain stories. Only newspapers brought details and a wider variety of coverage.

Then came the Internet. Originally an ocean of inch became my source of choice for instant coverage of news and events anywhere in the world. It also provided an open door for me to publish my own thoughts and my own news to folks who wanted to know.

And there I was, on hiatus from my information immersion experience, frustrated beyond reason at a golden chance to rest and recover from a painful and terrifying attack. I laughed about it this morning, but I booted my computer as soon as I walked in the door at home. Guess I am hooked.

In any case, I am home and we are all once again well. I will likely be spending the next few days around the house as much as possible. Maybe I will even turn off the computer for a few hours and watch daytime TV...nah!

God bless and thank you for your prayers and good thoughts.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +286

"As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence."
-- Benjamin Franklin

Many of my friends have inquired: Why have I stopped writing? I confess that, at first, I had no answer to that simply happened. While planning what to write in this update, I found a quote from Philip Pullman that opened a door to understanding for me. He said: "For that reason you can't write with music playing, and anyone who says he can is either writing badly, or not listening to the music, or lying. You need to hear what you're writing, and for that you need silence."

I stopped writing to quiet my own voice and all the associated noise. I sought silence to once again hear what I was writing, to listen to my own words, and to perceive the integrity of my message. For the tales of my journey have grown taller with the telling. I have taken time to reflect, and apply the guiding principle of Arthur Conan Doyle's famous sleuth: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth"

Lookin' Good

Folks tell me that I look good. Watch for the quick smile before I brush it off...because I love hearing it. I am doing improbably well, and have beaten so many odds that I feel like I am living on borrowed time. Each new day is a gift, and I have received more than 286 wonderful gifts since February 21, 2011. The best way I can describe my current condition is a full remission, supported by a core group of powerful medications and a healthy dose of personal paranoia.

Checkin' Up on Me

Marian and I returned last night (Friday, December 2, 2011) from Rochester, MN; after two days of testing, poking, prodding, and consultations. The pulmonary function studies showed no further decrease in my lung capacity. The CT scan showed no perceptible lung problems, but did show some pericardial effusion (fluid build up around my heart). An echo cardiogram demonstrated that, although there is some pericardial effusion, it is a small amount and only bears watching.

My other numbers and counts continue to alternately impress and disturb my physicians.

I have (by all measures) recovered very well from my laparoscopic cholecystectomy (removal of my gall bladder).

My liver seems to have recovered completely and the medication for treating my liver has been discontinued.

My anti-rejection drug (cyclosporin) has been reduced to only 25mg per day and may soon be stopped completely. However, my anti-cancer drug (imatinib) will continue and may increase -- to prevent a recurrence of the leukemia for as long a possible.

If all remains well, I will go back in late February or early March 2012 to begin the inoculations each newborn must face...

What does it mean?

For me, each new day is another chance to "get it right." Like all traditional human bunglers, I never seem up to the task, yet I appreciate each new opportunity and try to make the most of it. It means I can shovel some snow. It means I can give my grand-kids a hug. It means that, despite the aches, pains, shortness of breath, frustrations, and fatigue, I get to keep keep living.

Earth-shattering, profane, or profound insights remain in short supply, but I get to spend time examining my conscience and scrutinizing my soul in the soft, golden light of the precious present. If the conduct of my life and the content of my love has been lacking when measured against my capacity or intent -- I seek forgiveness and another chance to do better. I find I have little time for either recriminations or regrets.

It no longer frightens me to need a nap. I go shopping and don't want to buy anything. I understand flannel.

Your friendship, prayers, and good thoughts mean more to me each day.

Now, I must sleep. God bless and good night,