Monday, December 22, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1400

Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused— in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened— by the recurrence of Christmas.” ― Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz

Merry Christmas! Well, Sort of…
For the second year, our Christmas tree is approximately 30 inches tall. In years past, we  decorated extensively, with lights in many windows and a six-foot tree decked out in hundreds of collected ornaments, each with a story or a memory attached. When we first moved here (36 years ago in October) I decorated outside the house. However, four straight years of vandalism by the Rubber Knife Gang and associates convinced me to decorate our windows from inside only.

As I was gazing at our diminutive decoration, I was suddenly swept away by a flood of memories. My mind's eye was filled with Technicolor, high definition, home movies: Younger versions of us were decorating the tree with whichever of the kids weren't yet too cool for Yule. One by one, they lost interest in our family Christmas traditions, and I believe began to view my fascination with them as quaint.

For a short time, our grandchildren shared the old-fashioned Christmas activities. However, they quickly moved on in this digital age, not wanting to be slowed down by ponderous old-time activities.

Way Back in the Olden Days
Gripped by overwhelming nostalgia, I flashed back to when I was smaller. It was at Christmas that I came closest to being a child. I don’t remember really being a child, just a miniature person with more medical problems and fewer privileges than I wanted. Usually, my siblings received toys and clothes for Christmas and birthdays. I received clothes, but my toys included: books, a chemistry set (and additional lab equipment), a microscope, a telescope, and a typewriter (because my handwriting sucked). These were great gifts (and expensive) and I quite literally wore them out, but I did it alone. It seemed I was on the fast track to be mayor of Sombertown.

At Christmas, my folks did more things with us, and there was always lots of great food, great decorations, and great music. The old black and white TV seemed brighter with holiday episodes of regular shows and musical guests on Ed Sullivan and Jackie Gleason. Even Lawrence Welk was tolerable at Christmas, though I could never figure out how his singers could sing so well while constantly showing all their teeth.

At Christmas, I felt more a part of the family than at any other time of the year. I was participant, not spectator. I could play, not just observe. It never lasted long enough.

The 1400
1400 days sounds so much greater than 1399! It amazes me that life goes on, despite battles with bugs and viruses; with allergies and asthma; with cold hands, numb feet, and side-effects. Our home has become a hidden hermitage, haunted by a hoary hermit -- an ancient curmudgeon afraid of viruses and bacteria, fearful of every fungus among us. I don’t think of myself as a hypochondriac, for the same reason I don’t believe you are paranoid if they really are out to get you.

I’ve had success avoiding illness by generally avoiding groups during flu and cold seasons. However, I fear the effects of keeping to myself so much and I try to sneak out once in awhile. As Dean Koontz wrote in Velocity: “A fine line separates the weary recluse from the fearful hermit. Finer still is the line between hermit and bitter misanthrope.”

I may keep my distance to avoid unnecessary visits to the hospital, but I pray hard not to become a hermit. I may be a curmudgeon, but I will endeavor to never be a misanthrope. In honor of this pledge, I wrote: A Hermit’s Christmas.

God bless and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1395

Hurts So Good
After many months of enforced inaction, my muscles bear close resemblance to oft-used rubber bands (elastics?), and complain when forced into service. Tonight, they are feeling abused and ill-used. Their workout began this morning, when I walked out the front door with Dante in search of snow to discolor.

I had intended to shuffle to the road, so Dante could unload, and then toddle into the backyard for a few minutes of his snow-diving in fresh powder. However, there was considerably more powder than I thought, and nearly 24 inches of snow plow deposits in my driveway. Marian and Amanda usually tackle the tundra with scoop and shovel, but this stuff was heavy and growing stiff while sitting there, compacting under its own weight. So, I opened the garage door and grabbed the scoop.

Two passes with the scoop reminded me why I don't do this -- I spent more time coughing and trying to find enough oxygen than I did moving any appreciable amount of snow. It was then my eyes drifted to the ancient (25-30 year-old) John Deere snowblower in my garage. It was festooned with summer detritus and surrounded by yard tools, but I figured, what the heck, why not?

I checked the oil -- still full from fall. One tire is a bit low, but that only gives better traction. I tested the electric starter, and it worked. At this point, the little voice in my mind began reciting its usual mantra: "Things are going too well." I decided to ignore it, and poured about a half gallon of gas in the tank. I looked around and found no apparent leaks, so I opened the valve on the bottom of the tank, at which point sudden dripping told me I have a problem: really old gas lines that finally dried out. What to do?

There was no easy way to get the gas out of the tank again, so I cranked the creaky old machine, and it wheezed, coughed, and roared. Why not burn as much of the gas as possible, while throwing snow out of my driveway? The impeller was well lubricated, so it worked well. This is a John Deere 1032, which means (I believe) it is a 10 hp blower with a 32 inch maw. I have a 15 foot driveway -- which explains why the blower spends most winters hulking down in the dark of the garage. I backed it out, and pushed on into the snow...

I had forgotten how much muscle this ancient behemoth required. After ten minutes of casting white drifts halfway to the neighbor's yard, I ran out of oxygen. From this point on, I would blow a strip of snow, and pause to find enough oxygen to continue. I was fortunate the temperature was in the mid 20's, for colder temps would have caused my lungs to seize and bring on a full asthma attack. With only about 27% lung capacity remaining to me, I have to be careful to not to allow oxygen saturation to drop sufficiently to let hypoxemia occur. It's sorta like drowning, only not so warm and fuzzy.

As I was staring at the last strip of snow remaining, I heard another rumble over my shoulder, and turned to find a neighbor and a friend approaching with her snowblower. She said: "Put it inside and I will finish up." Gratefully, I nodded and trundled off to the garage, where I shut off the machine, closed the valve, and placed an old soda bottle under the valve to capture any fuel seepage. I thanked her for her help, closed the garage, and collected a thoroughly frustrated Dante (tied safely out of the way) to go indoors.

No Rest, Though
I went inside to finish my morning meds and have breakfast. Shortly thereafter, Marian started baking her Serbian Kifli, a labor intensive, but delicious cookie we have only at Christmas time -- not just because of the work involved, but because we'd both weigh an additional 50 lbs.! I figured, in for a penny, in for a pound; so I volunteered to assist.

It was a lot of work, but I was well rewarded with hot tea and "kiffles" later in the day.

Now, I ache from the unusual activity and I don't mind a bit. I think I will sleep soundly tonight. I need to rest up for tomorrow: our 43rd Wedding Anniversary!

God bless all of you who continue to pray for us, Lord knows, we need it.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1379

The Once and Future Word
Every once in a while, I do a web search on myself. I do this for a very specific reason: I want to know if my ancient footprints still exist among all the dust and cobwebs of the darker corners of today’s Internet. Once again, I found an old post on a technical writing discussion list, one I posted March 31, 1993, lamenting the rising cost of attending conferences and suggesting that technology could provide methods to attend a conference without leaving home. Hint: streaming was not even a glimmer in my mind’s eye at the time.

I go through this exercise to remind myself that what I send out there -- into the great black hole of online media in that immense cyber universe -- tends to remain out there...somewhere. Like radio waves into space, once launched there is no retrieval. Once out there, I have no control over who reads it, who might save it, or if anyone ever sees it at all. How odd it is to think that I have been casting messages in bottles on the Internet sea for more than 22 years.

The Most Wistful Time of the Year
I had plans for the 2014 fall months, most of them aimed at correcting oversights in home maintenance and comfort, but they fell away as early snow and cold (and an unfortunate sinus infection) have driven me into an early hibernation this year. I’m five days into a ten-day course of powerful antibiotics and (gulp!) prednizone, provided by my doctor at Mayo Clinic for just such an event -- primarily to keep me home instead of hospitalized. It seems to be working, but the side effects of prednizone are disturbing and pronounced. So much so, I reduced the dosage myself, so the tremors would be less violent and debilitating.

My October 15 report from Mayo Clinic was excellent. The bone marrow biopsy results showed me to be in morphologic, cytogenetic, and molecular remission -- with 100% donor chimerism (my blood DNA is still 100% my brother’s). The doctor even called to congratulate me. Woohoo!

Now this.

I’m back to trying to sleep “in the upright and locked position.” The trick is slide off into oblivion before the next paroxysm of coughing begins. The shortness of breath is intense and prolonged coughing can leave me gasping like a fish out of water. I wonder if this is what waterboarding feels like? However, I believe this too shall pass and I will begin my winter-long hibernation -- away from most sources of potential infection and away from crowds.

Put the Demon Away
My grouch genie is once again out of his bottle, thanks to the gentle effects of prednizone. My long-suffering family forgive my outbursts, for they know the source is chemical, not personal; steroid, not stress; and most importantly -- me, not them. Five more days and I hope to put the demon away, back in his bottle of prednizone pills

Special thanks to all who have sent prayers and good thoughts, the genesis of my daily gift of life and blessings from God.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1346

M58 in Minnesota
An Unplanned Experiment

It seemed our trip to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN was proceeding without mishap or misadventure. The weather, though rainy and chilly as we left the Copper Country, cleared up as we crossed the border into Wisconsin at Ironwood. Fortified (stuffed, actually) from breakfast at Mike's Family Restaurant in Ironwood, and happy to be past the mess of road construction on U.S. 2 in town, we cruised on through WI with fair weather and 40+ MPG from the Focus.The DQ in Cumberland, WI had not yet closed for the winter, so we stopped for a rest and a well-deserved treat (the last sugar I would consume that day, for I had blood tests the next morning).

We crossed both branches of the Mississippi River at Red Wing, MN — not yet mighty, this far north, and turned left on M 58. About halfway to our junction with US 52, we stopped to take a photo of a most interesting cloud formation, and to double check the status of our baggage in the trunk. Imagine my shock and dismay: The case with all of my medications was not there!

Marian heard me howling and uttering unintelligible sounds while frantically drumming a Malaprop mayday on the largely decorative rear spoiler of the Focus. Naturally, she was concerned for my health, thinking perhaps I had been overrun by a herd of belligerent baboons or savagely displeased Sasquatches. When I calmed down enough to remember how to open a car door, I informed her of our sin of omission.

We decided that returning over 350 miles to retrieve the medications was a non-starter, and proceeded on to Rochester, in a substantially more subdued mood. After all, my afternoon meds were not a concern, because I carry my next one or two doses in an old contact lens case in my pocket.

In later discussions with my doctor and the BMT staff, we decided to forgo all meds until I returned home. Ultimately, I suffered few ill effects -- mostly from rapid dosing when I returned to my Copper Country home.

Testing, Testing, 1 - 2 - 3…

Wednesday, October 15, was a busy day. First stop (as always) were the fasting blood draws (nothing to eat after 6:00 PM the night before, and no water after midnight). My veins usually run away and hide, but the experienced phlebotomist at the lab speared one on the run and obtained my samples. From here, we went to the ninth floor to meet with a pharmacy rep about my medications. Usually I show him what’s in the box. This time I relied on my memory -- this was not fun for either of us.

Next was a bone marrow biopsy with sedation. This also required spearing a larger wild vein for an IV. I was invited to sit in a narrow recliner with wheels. The nurses placed an IV, hooked me to monitors, and strapped on an automated sphygmomanometer (a torture device that squeezes your arm until your fingers nearly explode). I knew something was up when they adjusted my seat belt.

Seat belt?

An hour and about a thousand questions later, they unhooked some of the machines, and pushed my recliner (transformed into a high tech wheelchair) down the hall to an operating room.  Upon arrival, my Transformer, excuse me, my recliner, changed again -- into a rather narrow operating table/gurney. I was hoping it would fold up once more to become a BMW or a Porsche, but no.

I dropped my drawers, someone pushed an innocent looking white liquid into my IV, and the next thing I knew, I was back in my recliner in the cubicle where I started -- with a bandage on my lower back.

Next stop was with my old friends on the 18th floor of the Gonda Building, for a pulmonary function study. Sitting in the booth and doing the stair climber was not fun with a bandage on my back, but we got through it. The rest of the day was for consultations/exams with my doctor and my transplant coordinator.

The Results Show

Blood test results showed that all but a couple of test parameters were within NORMAL limits. Wow! Technically, I wasn’t even anemic anymore. This was great news. My doctor even reduced my anti-rejection medication again. My pulmonary function study was down slightly, back where it was before my last one (in May). Because I really had not lost any ground to the disease, this was good news. Biopsy results and the Chimerism test would have to wait -- unlike the science fiction machines on CSI, DNA testing and genetic tests take time to process and be analyzed.

The trip home was uneventful. In fact, we never saw a single deer (other than road kill) on the entire trip.

October 25th

My doctor called me on a Saturday! Hesitantly, I asked what was up. He wanted to let me know that my bone marrow was clear -- no sign at all of the fusion protein that indicates my leukemia is active! This means full remission remains in effect! Also, my Chimerism test showed that my blood remains 100% donor. My blood pressure is still a little high, but we’re working on that.

Unless I do something stupid (like eating clam chowder again), I don’t go back until next May. 2015 sounds super to me -- February 2015 will be four years since my transplant.

I am still amazed and grateful when my eyes open each morning, and I go to sleep thankful and hopeful for the gift of another day. I take nothing for granted and try not to waste a moment of this extra time I’ve been granted.

Thanks to you all for your prayers and good thoughts. My road ahead remains bumpy and full of potholes, but then again so does Atlantic St. I just slow down for the bumps and try to get around the potholes.

Good day and God bless,


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1326

We are preparing for another trip to Rochester, MN, so the Mayo Clinic can ascertain why I am still alive. Although I do not look forward to long road trips anymore, I hope we will have some decent weather for our travels. I’m once again up for a bone marrow biopsy and the ubiquitous pulmonary function study, as well as multiple blood tests. Mostly, they are tracking my remission and checking medication levels. They search for a type of fusion protein whose presence indicates active CML, but whose absence indicates that their tests are not sensitive enough to definitively state it is not there. They will also do a chimera test, which so far has indicated my blood remains 100% donor DNA, and we hope it stays that way.

All my medications and the chemotherapies I endured have left my memory like a fine Swiss cheese -- aging very well, but there are some holes. I continue to write, poetry mostly, with increased use of a thesaurus and dictionary. Often, I know there is a word I want to use, but I just cannot put my mental finger on it. Frustrating.

Recently, I found I can no longer remember all the poems I wrote. In fact, I cannot directly quote from most all of them. So, I began cataloging all the recorded poems I could find in my records, at least since I started putting them into digital files, in or around 1999.

This afternoon, I brought my catalog up to date in a searchable, cross-referenced file. My ancient paper records are still in the attic, awaiting some long winter afternoons. The poems I wrote and gave to my mother prior to her death in 1990 appear to be gone forever. They disappeared upon her death and I did not keep copies of those hand-scrawled poems. Those poems were carefully crafted correspondence in meter and rhyme, and one simply did not keep carbon copies of personal letters.

The official count from the last 15 years is 876 poems, including a few Haiku and more than a few limericks. I was pleased to discover that over that same 15-year period, I duplicated titles only twice. Now, I can run a title search and prevent duplication.

The Minstrel cycle is well underway, with many more stories haunting the edges of my waking dream, begging to be completed and shared. Lately, they clamor so incessantly, they wake me in the middle of the night. I must rise and write them down -- fearing that else, they will be lost forever. I wish I didn’t love it so much...I would get more sleep.

Having been granted many more days than I thought possible, I search for a reason. I pray constantly that it is to help someone or entertain/inspire someone who is lonely, lost, or losing it. I would be seriously disappointed if I was spared only to be an object lesson to others.

Thanks to all who still pray for us and send good thoughts our way. Though we are often running just ahead of the wolf to get to our door, life is good. It’s increasingly complicated, but good.

God bless,


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1300

My mom died in 1990, and today would have been her 84th birthday. Although she passed over 24 years ago, I still miss her every day.

An Odd Milestone

OK, it's only a little special and a bit odd that the 1,300th day since my blood and marrow stem cell transplant comes on the 13th day of the month and on my mom's birthday. It’s enough for me. When it comes to special, I will take what I can get!

It sounds like a terribly long time, but it has flashed by in three heartbeats.

Lessons Three

When I wake each morning, I still marvel that I’m still here; especially when I consider all that we have been through since my diagnosis on May 26, 2010. Three times we prepared for my imminent departure, always at inconvenient times or during inclement weather. Three times I was brought back by the trifecta of extreme medicine, prayers of friends and family, and a stubborn streak a mile wide. Three times = three lessons about the value of a life.

I complain about the medications and the pain, the weakness and the shortness of breath, but I am happy to be able to complain...and I hope to continue complaining indefinitely! A box full of medications still greets me every morning, with the promise of interesting side-effects throughout the day. My Rip Van Winkle feet (and lower calves, etc.) have been “asleep” so long, I don’t remember what it felt like when they were “awake.” It always feels like someone has added extra steps to our stairway to the second floor and my bedroom.

For someone who always slept from four to five hours a night, graduating to sleeping eight to nine hours makes each day seem much shorter. I walk like I’m racing snails.

I feel cold.

I am also alive, and can communicate with my friends and family. I can (usually) taste food and drink. I enjoy a good book, a great movie, and a long conversation. I love to write poems and share them with friends. And perhaps most important of all, I retain the capacity to be a royal pain in the posterior to my long-suffering caregiver and wife.

Life is good.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1246

This morning began with the usual pills and potions. I consumed the medications requiring an empty stomach, snorted the Flonase, and inhaled the Flovent; before preparing Dante for our stroll. It was nearly 10:00 A.M., and my fuzzy friend was anxious to be on our way.

Dante can be quite a handful when our walk first starts, because he has so much energy. It was very hot this morning -- 80°F -- and the sun, though often hazy, was bright and burning on my fragile skin. It felt as though the sunblock (SPF 50) was functioning as barbecue sauce. I thought for certain I would return as my crimson alter-ego: Chris P. Vermilion!

Dune, in Florida

However, it appears I passed my Bene Gesserit death-alternative test of human awareness, for my sunblock prevailed and apparently no damage was done. I will not have to face my personal gom jabbar: a flare of cGvHD (or worse, a visit from the melanoma fairy). It’s three hours since our walk, and still I could audition for a role as a vampire…

Our morning constitutional starts at home in Florida Location and usually ends somewhere uptown in Laurium -- mainly because the village provides several collection boxes for blue baggies of Dante doodoo -- which means I don’t have to carry them all the way home. Now, if I could just convince seagulls, starlings, and pigeons to use the little blue baggies…

Training Day

Everyday is training day for Dante. His natural exuberance and his fierce need to protect his home and his pack (that’s us) make him a small dog with a big attitude problem. For most things, he is learning that he is NOT ALPHA. Our walks are becoming more pleasant as he increasingly follows instead of trying to lead. This is a good thing, for my arms grow tired of reaching backwards to enforce his place at my side and slightly behind. Making this more difficult for me, is my perpetual forward motion speed: Dead Slow.

Still, despite our ongoing wrestling matches over who should lead in our daily dance out the door, he loves the walks. He knows my morning routine and watches me take my meds. After the meds that require an empty stomach, I wait at least an hour to take the rest of my tier 1 medications.  When I inhale Flovent, I must rinse my mouth. Dante sees this as his cue, and he (very loudly) heads for the front door and paces, waiting to be rigged with his harness. He waits impatiently for me to don my hat and sunglasses. This is the time for our adventures in watering power poles.

Most mornings, he will hear me rattling about in my bedroom as I strive to achieve an upright and semi-stable position and dress for the day. When I open my door, he is sitting right there, waiting for me to get the day started. He even follows me down the stairs, one slow step at a time, and is visibly relieved when I get to the bottom safely. He does not want me to screw up his day by falling down the stairs.

Whatever his reasons for his behavior, most likely different than those I ascribe; Dante’s desire to sally forth on our morning marches moves me off my apprehensive arse and gives me impetus to improve my physical condition -- or at least, delay its decline. For that, (after we return, of course) I am grateful.

Good day, and God bless,


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1234

Growing Up Breathless

After conversing with an old friend last evening, and explaining about my illness, my transplant, and my journey since that life-saving event; I was pondering what it meant to grow up nearly always short of breath, and how that translates into surviving my current situation.

I was five years old when my life-long nemesis, bronchial asthma, first made its presence felt. On vacation with my family at the shore of Lake Erie, my first severe reaction to ragweed (probably goldenrod) triggered my first overt asthma attack -- requiring medical intervention. My parents, already overprotective because of an accident at age 18 months that left my feet and hands severely damaged, were stunned by this latest development.

Stand Up Drowning

I remember that attack, which happened when I retired for the night, after a full day of splashing about in the water and reading all the magazines in the rented cottage. It felt like my lungs were filling up with water and I was trying to breathe that water. The air seemed to have the consistency of a liquid and I was drowning while sitting on the edge of my bed. Later, when I was beside my parents’ bed and pulling on their sheets to wake them up, I could barely get any sounds out of my throat, other than a terrible, whistling wheeze. I felt helpless and afraid.

Smoke and Mirrors

In 1955, there were few asthma treatments that provided immediate and measurable relief. One of the most interesting was breathing deeply the smoke and vapors from burning belladonna (aka deadly nightshade), which my mom or dad set on fire in an ashtray. It smelled terrible, and the fumes burned my throat and stung my eyes. Yet, the cloud of vile vapors also numbed and relaxed the bronchial tubes, allowing some air to pass -- replacing the terror of anoxia with a sore throat and a nasty odor in my nose. It was as close to the now debunked treatment of asthma with “asthma cigarettes” as we ever came.

Inhaled corticosteroids were available if hospitalized, but that was emergency treatment. I had no inhaler in my pocket. Therefore, I experimented with whatever made me feel better. I found that beating on my chest sometimes helped open the airways. Vick’s Vaporub sometimes helped. Early on, I found that sipping hot tea and later, coffee was very effective at soothing an attack.

During these years, I learned a great deal about the psychosomatic nature of asthma attacks and began meditating and practicing a childish form of deep relaxation I called “floating.” I centered my thoughts on an image of myself in an imaginary mirror, noticing how every move and gesture appeared backwards -- as if I stepped outside my body into the image in the mirror, which could float and move about with no effort and, of course, no shortage of breath. Images felt no pain.

I still use a version of that imagery to help control pain.

Extreme Trade-offs

Sometime later, over-the-counter medications containing ephedrine (and usually, guaifenesin -- an expectorant) helped control the one-two punch of hay fever and bronchial asthma. There was, of course, a trade-off. Use of medicines like BronchAid and Primatene came with side-effects like sleeplessness and hours of shaking and quaking. Frequent use also lead to tolerance and reduced effectiveness.

What finally helped the most was moving in 1967 from the Detroit metro area to Dollar Bay in the Keweenaw Peninsula  of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The cleaner air and abundant oxygen made breathing a pure joy for the first time in my life. I learned to push my limits and improved my stamina, but also took care not to push it so far I triggered an attack.

The Silver Lining

For many years, I identified with a cartoon character named Joe Btfsplk from the Li’l Abner strip.  A small, dark rain cloud perpetually hovered over his head to symbolize his bad luck. Every time I tried something new, there was my personal rain cloud, my asthma, teaching me my limitations. In 1997, I decided that enough was enough and signed up to act, sing, and dance in the Calumet Players production of South Pacific. Shortly after that, I auditioned for the chorus in a Pine Mountain Music Festival opera -- the geezer and the wheezer was singing tenor 1 in an opera chorus. These wonderful challenges were central to my life until my diagnosis in 2010.

All those years of fighting for enough air to function taught me how to breathe and gave me an accurate sense of my oxygen levels in my bloodstream. I could do a creditable job by simply remembering my lines, my blocking, the lyrics, and the music -- while navigating around “breath bombs” -- mistakes that would leave me gasping and dizzy.

Now that I must function with 27% lung capacity, those skills are instrumental in making life without an oxygen tank possible. I can no longer sing (except in very short bursts) and all my dancing is done with my eyes, yet I get around without hardware and breathing support. There was a silver lining in my personal rain cloud after all!

I realize now that all those challenges over all those years prepared me to confront and conquer an even bigger challenge. 

BTW, I love that today is day 1234 since transplant. I just think it's cool, that's all.

Good night and God bless,


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1219

Sometimes, when my mind grows restive, a discussion touches a life-thread and thrums in rhythm with my thoughts, reverberating through my memories, awakening lost dreams. When I woke today, I did not expect to journey where mirrors gleam and shadows dance away -- among the foundation pillars of my life. What follows are mostly my arguments and opinions...the only ones I truly own. Not all were shared online. Your mileage may vary...

Life Debt

Owing a great debt to one who saves (or spares) your life is a common enough literary theme. From Robinson Crusoe to Pacific Rim and from Star Wars to Harry Potter, fictitious characters pledge their own lives to repay a perceived obligation incurred when another ensures their survival. Such commitment to an ideal and willing acceptance of such responsibility adds stature and dignity to each imaginary individual in the story. But, is there translation to real life?

I posted to a discussion this morning, in which one person was saying that, if the world owes him nothing, he owes nothing to the world. At this point, we had not resolved what “world” meant. Was it the Earth beneath our feet, or the totality of humanity, or a bit of both? Oddly, the target of each dart seemed aimed somewhere in between the extremes of each definition. The article under discussion was from a judge who lectured youth about their responsibility to a world that did not owe them a life or a living. Of course, being who I am, I tried to argue the case for responsibility -- for both definitions of our world.

Terra Firma and All the Rest of It…

Take a breath of air. Take a drink of water. Open your eyes and see the daylight coming through your window. All the basics of life spring from the Earth -- from the world as we physically define it. Many do not readily perceive  the value in these things, but as someone who has faced dying, I value every breath, every drink of water, every break of dawn. The fundamental fabric supporting my physical existence is a gift and I am responsible for preserving it for my own use and for the use of others. Perhaps, I owe the world a life debt?

At this point, the old "Humanity is an infection on Gaia" argument put in an appearance; i.e., “The world would be better off without us!” (humanity). I found this a great segue to:

The Culture Club

The world as referenced in the newspaper article under discussion was (or included) the totality of humanity. Without us, there would be no world. There would be a beautiful, blue planet spinning in space -- with no one to see it, touch it, change it, damage it, care for it, and/or love it. Earth would be a gorgeous, but eerily silent and spiritually sterile terrarium in perpetual flight about its sun.

Imagine visually stunning vistas that no human eye would perceive and no mind would love. Imagine the same vistas, but underscored by soaring music and preserved in the flight of poetic prose. Now, imagine the same vistas damaged by human hands. We change our world, for better or for worse.

Geologically, our minds tell us the Earth has been here approximately 4.5 billion years, always changing, always in motion, always in danger of some sort, yet always here. Our recorded culture extends back little more than 4,000 years and tells us the world started about 2,000 years before that. Belief systems and faith often paint a very different world than the one our current tools can detect.

Multiple interpretations of our world coexist, often uncomfortably, in an ever-changing evolving relationship. Yet, despite our different views of the same world; it remains the only game in town. It is our responsibility to preserve the world on which we live, regardless of how we view it, and to coexist, despite our differing world views. We are both nature and nurture and perhaps owe a life debt to our cultures as well as our planet.

It was an interesting discussion; one that touched some basic chords within my personal symphony. I love living and experiencing my world, and co-existence with my friends and family means most everything to me. Our world is the perfect home for humanity.

Maybe that's why God put us here.

Good day and God bless,


Friday, June 20, 2014

Mick McKellar Update — Day +1215

Settling for a B+

On Wednesday last, I visited with my local oncologist, Dr. Geddes, for a checkup and review of my blood tests taken that morning. My glucose level was 97 (under 100...yay!) and sodium, potassium, and calcium levels were all in the normal range, which means my diet and medications are not undermining my health. My white blood count, red blood count, hemoglobin, and platelets were all on the low side...perfectly normal for me. This was all good news. I passed. Not with honors, but I passed.

Surprising Admonition

During the course of my examination, I explained about my personal walk-fit program. Daily walks (weather allowing) with Dante, up to 2.5 miles, are the core of my health maintenance schedule. I detest exercise machines, though I understand their function. Walking early and wearing lots of sun-block and big hats help protect me from over exposure to cancer-inducing UV-B rays. 

I sat back and waited for praise and at-a-boys.

Though sanguine about my work ethic and maintenance of my weight (easy when you are NOT hungry), he surprised me with his next comment. He warned me not to get too ambitious with my physical training. Pushing myself too hard, and creating anoxia (hypoxia, or extreme low levels of oxygen for my organs), can cause damage to internal organs, especially the brain.

I explained that having lived most of my life as an asthmatic, I can sense my oxygen levels with fair accuracy, and I am careful not to push past the point of slow return. Besides, I told him, Dante has a large tank, and stops to empty some at nearly every light pole and tree. It takes me over an hour to walk 2.5 miles, so I am not overextending my oxygen supply and suffering anoxia. Still, it was an eerie sensation to hear my doctor warn me not to overexert. 

Usually, they tell me to get off my abundant posterior and move something.

Good day, and God bless,


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1206

Chicken Fat?
I was busy washing dishes from supper -- yes, I DO DISHES -- and I heard, “Go, you chicken fat, go!” coming from the television in the living room. I hurried from the kitchen to catch the last few strains of what sounded like Robert Preston’s voice singing music and lyrics by Meredith Willson (of Music Man fame). The flashback was instantaneous.

Suddenly, I was a whole lot shorter and doing calisthenics indoors at school, because it was raining outside. A record was blaring from one of those utilitarian record players in a heavy gray box, and for about ten minutes or so, we would try to do whatever Robert Preston told us to do. Our grade school teacher (Mr. Neinas) was playing a record called Go, You Chicken Fat, Go! It was funny for the first few minutes on the first day. After that, we prayed for good weather and access to the playground. 

I don’t remember President Eisenhower advocating for physical fitness, but I understand he started the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports when I was five years old. I always thought it was President Kennedy who prompted the whole exercise thing. Apparently, they were worried that television was going to create a nation of couch potatoes. To me, it was simply gym class in grade school...on the cheap.

I’ll bet there are folks all over the country tonight, wondering what the television images have to do with chicken fat, or the tortoise, or the hare. When exercising as a kid, I remember thinking that I was neither “chicken” nor “fat,” and  I remember waiting for the final word: “Dismissed!” If you don’t remember, it might help to listen to the full routine at:

An asthmatic kid with a penchant for reading instead of running, I was out of breath and wheezing like a steam engine by the end of the record. However, like most kids of that era, I spent more time outside than inside -- except during late summer, when my allergies flared and had to stay inside, praying for the first frost and the rapid death of my arch enemy: goldenrod.

I didn’t play with the other kids often or for long. I watched them, trying to understand what they were doing and why they were doing it. Playing silly games seemed a waste of time, when I could read exciting adventure stories or inspiring biographies of great people. It was then, at age eleven or twelve, that I began writing poems for my mom to read, based on the biographies I read and stories I made up from observing people. However, I never saw the point of Go, You Chicken Fat, Go!

I guess that’s why I remember it so well.

Good night, and God bless,


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1205

My Protector

As often happens these days, my day started a little late. As a consequence, Dante and I started on our 2.5 mile stroll around 11:00 a.m.. I have been slowly training him to the leash and teaching him to “stay with me,” i.e., walk next to or behind me and to one side. American Eskimo dogs are highly intelligent, extremely loyal, and more than a bit high-strung. He is also hyper-protective of his pack (that’s us -- or me).

I did not know that children would be coming home from school around noon. Dante is not well socialized and is especially skittish around groups of active and noisy kids.

Normally, I simply avoid the near occasion of contact with children and give wide berth to groups of youngsters. Today, however, buses were dropping small groups everywhere (like paratroopers behind enemy lines) and those exiting the buses for the last time this school year were in high gear and several were screaming in glee.

Dante was getting nervous and started pulling on the leash (a definite no-no in our walking relationship), which required me to stop, demonstrate we were not going anywhere until he stopped pulling, and to (finally) praise him for falling into line. Suddenly, a block ahead, a group of three or four young girls literally jumped off their bus and began shrieking, screaming, and jumping about -- obviously happy school was out -- this had my partner on his hind legs, straining against the leash and yapping in extreme excitement.

Five minutes later, cooled down and calm once again, we set out for the next corner.

Kamikaze on Blades

About ten minutes later, we were strolling past Tony’s Country Kitchen, smelling the pasties and thinking about lunch. My hearing is not so good, partially because of my tinnitus and because each footstep when I walk sounds like a bass drum in my ears, so I had no warning when a young lady on roller blades blasted past us from behind, brushing my shoulder and startling me. My protector went ballistic, leaping after The Flash on Skates and nearly pulling me off my feet. Like most dogs, Dante can read my mood and sense when I get nervous or angry. I was amazed at how quickly he read me and launched into protect mode.

I don’t wish to give up my route, mainly because there are three doggy doodoo receptacles along the path, which means I don’t have to carry bags of poo very far before I can deposit them. with last summer, I will have to get up much earlier and have our walks before such distractions are abroad.

And all this time, I expected not to complain anymore when the kids are out of school for the summer…

Good night, and God bless,


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1200

1,200 Days

What on earth is so special about 1,200 days? Well, in and of itself, nothing really. Still, when I woke up this morning, something about the sound of "Day twelve hundred" was special to me. One thousand two hundred days ago, we took a chance that I could live longer than the few weeks or months granted by four rounds of chemotherapy. Thanks to the skills of many medical professionals, the gift of stem cells from my brother, and the prayers of family and friends I didn't know I had, I received the building blocks of the blood currently coursing through my veins. I started on a journey, full of twists and turns, now fully twelve hundred days young and rollicking on towards a future I never expected to see.

Celebrate, Celebrate...

Celebrating...Mick style...
If I "Dance to the music," it best be a slow waltz. Almost a year and a half ago, during my last hospitalization, I was struggling to walk two laps of the corridor outside the door of my hospital room. Yesterday, Dante and I walked two and a half miles and thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the shade in Daniell Park. I think I've learned to appreciate and celebrate such small achievements, to mark them as they pass, and to share each small dram of joy as it graces my glass.

My trip from moribund to merry has not always been marked by sunshine and fair winds, and many of you have followed me down some dark and dreary paths into shadow and cryptic chill and challenge. I appreciate the company in the dark times and love to share the sunny days. I’m not a naturally jolly person -- my mother said I was “grim” as a child -- but I love life and lovely days -- all 1,200 of them!

Good day, and God bless!


Monday, May 26, 2014

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1190

Today is a special day! I was diagnosed with leukemia on May 26, 2010. Today I become a four-year survivor! Woohoo!
An Unexpected Battle
About an hour and a half ago, I was busy changing the battery for the upstairs smoke alarm. Thoroughly disgruntled about prying open the device to end the “chirping” which began an hour earlier, I used my screwdriver to brush an errant lock of hair out of my right eye, not realizing that: 1 -- my hair is too short to get in my eye, and 2 -- my hair does not move by itself.

I glanced to the right, and hovering in front of my face was a humongous, black wasp -- slightly out of sorts about being “brushed off” my forehead. Being a level-headed and calm person, I raised my screwdriver to do battle with the belligerent bug. Somehow, I tapped him with the tool, and he landed on a bedroom door to get his bearings.

As a technical writer, I know the value of a well-written and handy instruction manual, so I grabbed one that happened to be on a nearby shelf and applied the entirety of the instructions to his situation. Overwhelmed by the impact of all that data, he retired from the battlefield with severe injuries. He later was lost in a whirlpool and is presumed to have drowned.


As I post this update, I realize I may have stayed out in the sun a bit too long yesterday. We were invited to a friend’s graduation party. Because my doctors granted permission to leave behind my cloistered existence on occasion -- and this being an occasion -- I ventured out into the brilliant, suddenly summer day to smile and mingle. I smiled (grimaced?) and mingled (talked incessantly) for a couple of hours, enjoying both the company and actual daylight.

However, my skin is telling me I may have overstayed in the warm sunshine, and will sleep tonight as extra-crispy Mick. There appears to be no sunburn, but very dry skin with a bit of a blush. As Marian is always saying, “Everything in moderation.”

I must remember that…

Good night, and God bless,