New Orleans with Cancer and No Booze

My recent trip to New Orleans proves it is possible to have a rich life while living with stage 4 lung cancer. Although I couldn’t drink because of the medication I’m on, I still had a great time.

I flew down on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. I hate flying and it’s been several years since I had to get on a plane. I had some anti-anxiety medication left over from when I was also on steroids, and I took one before I got on the plane. It worked wonders, and I wasn’t nervous at all on the way down or on the return flight. In the air, I finished an audiobook about the Arcadian settlement of Louisiana.

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A street preacher on Bourbon Street.

We arrived early in the afternoon on Tuesday so we still had half a day to explore New Orleans. Bourbon Street was one of our first stops, but I wasn’t impressed. It was pretty busy for a Tuesday night in the off season, but it wasn’t much more than cheap liquor and bad music. Plus, it stank!

We had dinner at Crescent City Brewing Company  where I had an alligator sausage po’boy. It was unremarkable, except that the sausage was a little tough and chewy.

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Beignets all day every day.

Then we had beignets for dessert at Café du Monde. They were an interesting treat and tasted like a crispy donut. My dad loved them so much we went back almost every day, and they lost some of their unique appeal as a result.

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My kind of parade.

As we were eating beignets, a parade of illuminated bicycles rode up Decatur Street. The cyclists had strings of LED lights attached to their wheels that lit up the night. Some cyclists hauled small speakers on trailers behind them that blasted music, while others used megaphones to produce wacky special effects and other noises. It was a joyful, and entirely unexpected, event, and was just one of several serendipitous experiences we would have before we left New Orleans. These “social” bike rides have been occurring several nights a week for the last seven years.

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A great place for arts and music.

On Wednesday, we explored Jackson Square and the French Market. We visited the old US Mint which had some interesting historical displays and artifacts about the process of minting coins. It also had two modest displays about Jazz musicians Louis Armstrong and Pete Fountain. We went to Central Grocery for lunch and split a single enormous muffuletta sandwich between the four of us. It had ham, salami, provolone, mortadella, mozzarella, and olive spread. I’m not a fan of olives but I enjoyed it none the less and suggest you should try it next time you’re in the Big Easy.

On the way back to the hotel, we stumbled upon a tiny National Park visitors center in the middle of the French Quarter. Named for the legendary pirate Jean Lafitte, the visitors center provided a good overview of Louisiana’s diverse cultural history, including Native American, African, French, and Spanish influences.

However, after only a day in New Orleans, the city’s luster had already begun to fade a bit. It’s impossible to ignore the large numbers of homeless people as well as beggars in the city. The French Quarter was also crowded with cheesy stores full of cheap trinkets for tourists, such as t-shirts and pralines. It reminded me a lot of Pigeon Forge. At the same time, there were lots of high-end art galleries, fashion stores, and restaurants. Later we visited the Garden District, and I was overwhelmed by the stark inequality. Massive mansions, decadent palaces, and enormous castles lined St. Charles Avenue. On the other hand, the homeless lived in tents under the freeway. The huge gap between the rich and poor disgusted me. Of course, it’s not just a problem that needs to be addressed in New Orleans, but across the country and around the world.

We ate dinner at the House of Blues and I had some pretty good salmon and Cuban beans. We walked around the French Quarter some more and stopped back at the Crescent City Brewing Company. As you will see, my dad has a habit of latching onto something once he likes it, while I prefer to try something new.

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A Sherman tank – very common and uninteresting.

On Thursday, we visited the National World War II Museum, which was one of my top destinations. It was a mixed experienced. The introductory session at the museum was very interesting and visitors board a train just like recruits did during the war. Each visitor was assigned a “dog tag” that allowed him or her to follow the story of a real WWII veteran. However, the museum was so crowded that it was impossible to find and use the interactive stations that told each veteran’s story. I was impressed that the museum included a section about the merchant marine, because it was an essential part of the war effort that usually doesn’t get much attention. The museum also did a good job of balancing local and national perspectives in the exhibits. Lunch at the Soda Shop turned out to be our worst meal in New Orleans. The service was very slow, the tiny shop was crowded, and the food was very expensive and bland. My uncle Dave exclaimed that it was indeed possible to have a bad meal in New Orleans!

The museum included a rather modest collection of tanks and plans. I was expecting more than just a Sherman, Stuart, and a few fighters. None of the vehicles on display were that interesting or rare. I also achieved a small personal victory over my fear of heights when I walked out across the catwalk that was suspended several stories above the ground. My one regret was not paying the extra $5 for the USS Tang experience, which recreated the tragic sinking of an American submarine in the Pacific.

We skipped the Nazi propaganda exhibit and the display about the Pacific Theater because we were running out of time, energy, and emotional stamina. The exhibit on the European Theater was quite comprehensive, albeit a bit superficial since it’s hard to accomplish both depth and breadth. The most interesting exhibit was the 4-D movie narrated by Tom Hanks. It only lasted an hour and was therefore also very superficial. However, it was very frank about the horrors of war and had lots of entertaining technical gimmicks. The nose of a bomber plane was lowered on cables when the movie discussed the strategic bombing campaign. The nose made it feel like the bomber was actually coming out of the screen towards the audience. Artificial snow fell when the segment on the Battle of the Bulge began. The chairs were equipped with motors that shook violently when the film depicted the detonation of the atomic bomb.

After being exhausted both mentally and physically by the WWII museum, we took the trolley car back to the French Quarter. It was very cheap at $3 for a day pass and every efficient. Trollies moved quickly and arrived at regular intervals of about 20 minutes. The weather was also warm and breezy, so riding in the trolley was also very pleasant, even if it was crowded. It’s an essential resource for anyone visiting New Orleans.

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Circa 1855 soda fountain.

Back in the French Quarter, we stopped at the pharmacy museum. My paternal grandfather had been dean of the college of pharmacy at the University of Cincinnati where my brother is now studying to follow in his footsteps. Although we only had a few minutes before the museum closed, we had fun exploring the collection of medical equipment, bottles, and advertisements.

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Book heaven.

Our next stop, Arcadian Books, was another priority for me, and is said to be one of the best foreign language book stores in the Crescent City. As a Francophile, I originally planned to get a book published in French, but instead, I bought The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans by Lawrence Powell. The store was small and filled with books, and the owner was very knowledgeable and helpful.

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Everybody in the band is white because they’re German.

Upon exiting the bookstore, we immediately encountered the Louisiana Funky Butts, a brass band from Stuttgart, Germany. This was one of several fortuitous musical encounters we had before leaving the city. It’s amazing to find such great music out in the streets. The bands we found simply by strolling the streets were much better than the mediocre cover bands playing on Bourbon Street.

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Totally not phallic in any way.

After dinner, we went back to Jackson Square where we had yet another surprising musical encounter. Two musicians were performing in front of the Presbytère museum. One musician was on a drum kit while the other was playing the kora, a west African stringed instrument that sounds like a harp. I had never encountered the kora before and it was an interesting performance that highlighted the wonderful cultural diversity of New Orleans.

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10 pound rifled artillery.

Friday was our last full day in New Orleans, and we started out by visiting the Confederate Civil War Museum. It was small but packed full of weapons and various personal artifacts that humanized the soldiers and brought the Civil War to life. Several Louisiana units also received special attention.

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Very ornate.

Afterwards, we rode the trolley out to the Garden District and eventually arrived at Loyola and Tulane Universities. We stepped into the beautiful and massive Holy Name of Jesus cathedral which is located in between the two schools. It was a quiet and peaceful moment of reflection. The two beautiful campuses are located right across from Audubon Park.

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Dad at the Audubon Park.

The park was gorgeous and peaceful. It was filled with southern live oak trees that dipped their limbs down towards the ground. Some of them live for hundreds of years. The park was filled with ducks and turtles too. It was a peaceful and relaxing place. On the way back to the hotel, we took the trolley and looked at the decadent homes that lined St. Charles Avenue.

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The meat lovers special.

I wanted to have at least one slightly upscale and adventurous meal before we left and Cochon was on at the top of my list. My dad wanted to go back to the restaurant where we had lunch earlier on Friday, but my uncle Dave helped me gently persuade him to give Cochon a try. It was an amazing way to end the trip. The entire restaurant smelled like a smoky palace and the wonderful aroma stayed on my clothes until I got back to Cincinnati and did my laundry. I ordered the beef brisket with horseradish potato salad and split a boucherie plate with uncle Dave that had pork shoulder, pork check, pate, head cheese, intestines, and pickles. I tried it all and loved most of it. The pate was good, and the head cheese was very spicy. The pork cheek was delicious and salty, but the intestines weren’t really my thing. They were pretty chewy and didn’t have much flavor. My dad surprised me by ordering a boucherie plate as his main dish! I really appreciate that he was willing to try something new with me. The brisket was amazing – very smoky and flavorful.

Although I was sad to leave New Orleans, I also felt encouraged. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, because time felt so precious I felt the urgent need to accomplish things that I had left undone. I was worried that I might fall back into my old inertia-driven habits as the prognosis became more optimistic. New Orleans was an initial victory and proved that I can follow through with my new priorities. Because I was a Francophile, I had always wanted to visit New Orleans but never took the initiative to actually do it until after my diagnosis. There is a lot more that I want to accomplish and it feels good to get the ball rolling. Next stop Paris!

New Orleans was a relaxing break and a great distraction from dwelling on my diagnosis, job search, and anxieties over my personal relationships. It was very refreshing and invigorating!

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Lunch with uncle Dave.

The trip was also great because it was such a good family experience. My dad and uncle Dave went with me. I am extremely lucky to have my family that will help me fulfill me dreams. My dad and uncle Dave helped me plan and finance the trip. I was a little worried about spending so much time together and was afraid that we might butt heads over what to do, but it was very fun. I haven’t taken a family vacation for years and never one with uncle Dave. During the trip, I got to hear lots of interesting family stories, especially about my paternal grandparents who are now both deceased. I learned that grandpa Glasser flunked pilot school during WWII because he hit another plane during a landing exercise. I also found out that my dad ate reindeer hearts while at a conference in Sweden!

The only regret I have from the trip is not visiting Mid City Rock and Bowl or partaking in a crawfish boil. I’m not sure I’d like crawfish, but I want to try it in the spirit of living my new life without regrets. I have a three-month checkup later this month and it looks like the results should be positive. I think it would be a fitting celebration to partake in the weekly crawfish boil at BrewRiver Gastro Pub. Perhaps I can recruit a few friends to participate with me!

Cancer at 34 Part 11 – I’ve got cancer, but what’s your excuse?

I’ve talked about how invaluable family and friends have been during this process, and it’s still true. Rev. Mitra and members at St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church have also been very supportive. I’ve also talked about my experience with Cross Fit before, but I’m revisiting it today because I just finished competing in the 2017 Open.

I started Cross Fit when I lived in Pittsburgh last year and I joined Cross Fit Blue Ash when I returned to Cincinnati. It has been a great source of continuity during the last three months as I began my treatment for stage four lung cancer. Cross Fit provided a respite by giving me an hour each day where I couldn’t think about anything but finishing the workout. If you missed my initial post about Cross Fit you can read it here.

I decided to participate in the 2017 Open, even though I was afraid of embarrassing myself. The Open is the first stage of the Cross Fit Games and any athlete can participate. The competition spans five weeks and each week a new workout is announced. Participants must report their scores online and are ranked according to how quickly they finish the workout or by how many repetitions they complete.

I’ve never been very fast or strong, so even before I was diagnosed with cancer my performance probably would have been mediocre at best. Ten days before the 2017 Open began, I underwent thryoplasty in order to restore my voice.  Afterwards, the doctor told me to avoid any strenuous activity, including Cross Fit, for 10 days. So, my first day back at the gym would be the first day of the 2017 Open. That really put me behind the eight ball but I decided to go through with it. The workout for 17.1 featured an increasingly difficult progression of dumbbell snatches and burpee box jump-overs.

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I really struggled with the scaled 35 pound dumbbell snatches, and I only managed 122 reps during the 20 minute time limit. I was sore for days, but I came back for the next Open workout.

17.2 included a 12 minute AMRAP (As Many Rounds as Possible) workout with 50-foot weighted walking lunges, 16 knee raises, and 8 power cleans. I couldn’t even manage the scaled version of 35 pound lunges so I ended up doing 15 pounds instead. Even then, I only completed 78 reps before time ran out. For days after, my knees were raw from rubbing against the ground.

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The gym had organized four different teams that all competed against each other and talked trash, good naturedly, on a Facebook page. Most members finished the workouts during the gym’s “Friday Night Lights” event each week. Everyone brought food and cheered each other on as they sweated and strained.

Until 17.3, I had done the workouts during morning sessions at Cross Fit Blue Ash. Steve Hollowell and Sam Spice dedicated the “Friday Night Lights” session for 17.3 to me, and their effort was very moving. Steve had already paid for wristbands that honored me. They even created a flyer for the event that featured a true-to-life photograph of my amazing physique.

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This photo is 100 percent accurate.

I had originally planned to be out of town the night of the 17.3 “Friday Night Lights” session, but I could hardly skip an event held in my honor. For most people, the workout was over quickly because few athletes, myself included, made it past the first checkpoint at 8 minutes. It featured a progression of increasingly difficult jumping pull-ups and squat snatches. The weight on the squat snatches quickly increased from 45 to 75 pounds, which overpowered me. I lack the stability and strength for heavy overhead lifts, and I was only able to complete two of the heavier squat snatches, even though Steven, my team captain, was cheering me on.

In addition, my parents and brother also attended the 17.3 “Friday Night Lights” event and talked to Steven after. My parents were terrified that I might hurt myself at Cross Fit or somehow damage my voice. But as time was running out, I looked up at my mom as I got ready to try one final squat snatch. I had to summon all my strength and concentration, but I managed to do it. My mom’s face burst into joy and pride as I lifted the barbell above my head. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her be so exhilarated before. It was great to have them there, and I think it also made Cross Fit seem less threatening and dangerous to my parents.

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In the end, I only managed a paltry 45 reps, but from then on I made sure I went to the “Friday Night Lights” event. Afterwards, many of the participants went to the Firehouse Grill in Blue Ash. It was a great opportunity to get to know some of the other athletes, especially those whom I never saw in class.

The workout for 17.4 included sets of 55 deadlifts, wallballs, rowing, and hand-release pushups. However, I only made it half-way through the rowing for a total of 134 reps. My lower back was sore for days, and when I repeated the workout the following Monday, my score was even lower.

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The final workout, 17.5, was a timed competition that called for 10 rounds, each with 9 thrusters and 35 single-unders with a jump rope. Thrusters are one of my least favorite lifts and 17.5 was no exception. I only managed to do half the workout on the scaled 65-pound requirement, although I did do well when it came to single-unders. I eventually finished just shy of 20 minutes.

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Most of the participants again went out to Firehouse Grill after the workout was finished, and I enjoyed socializing. I know it’s a crude measurement, but during the last few months the number of connections I have on Facebook has grown from about 100 to more than 170, and many of the new friends are people I met at the gym.

I finished the 2017 Open with a ranking of approximately 11,000 – hardly a great accomplishment. But I did finish, which many people keep telling me is a great victory in itself. However, it was frustrating and humbling to see other athletes, even those much older than me, record much better performances.

The end of the 2017 Open was bittersweet. I will miss the challenge and competition it inspired, but I won’t be sad to return to regular Cross Fit workouts (which are challenging enough on their own). Again, I am extremely grateful for what the athletes and coaches at Cross Fit Blue Ash have done for me, and I plan to continue strengthening my connection the Cross Fit Blue Ash community in the months to come. I also hope to improve my performance at the 2018 Open.

Cancer at Age 34 Part 10 – This Doesn’t Feel Like Cancer

According to the Ohio State University’s James Cancer Center, “there is no such thing as a routine cancer.” In my case, I’m amazed by how quickly my life is returning to “normal.”

It’s been almost three months since I was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. I’ve undergone radiation therapy for my brain tumors and have begun treatment for the seven-centimeter tumor in my lungs. In another month, I’ll have some follow-up scans to see whether or not the treatment has been effective. I’ll probably never be in remission, but hopefully the drugs will stop the tumors from expanding and perhaps even reduce them. Everything seems to indicate that the results next month will be satisfactory.

As shocking as the diagnosis was, I haven’t had it too bad really. Of course, the month that I was on steroids to reduce the swelling in my brain was pretty unpleasant, and I couldn’t drive for awhile. I’ve also gone through some painful operations, but I recovered quickly. The only complaint I really have right now is that I can’t drink alcohol, but that’s a minor inconvenience. I’ve met people whose situations are a lot worse than mine. All I have to do is take a pill at night.

In fact, sometimes I even forget that I have cancer because I can do almost everything I did before my diagnosis. I hope I don’t live to regret these words, but so far things haven’t been too bad, all things considered. I’m not doing chemotherapy and I haven’t had any serious operations, such as brain surgery. When I was diagnosed, I had this image in my mind of what cancer “should” be like. I expected weeks of terrible chemotherapy treatments and a major reduction in my quality of life, if only temporarily. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I wish that’s how things had gone, but it does feel sometimes like my situation is somehow less authentic and that I don’t really have much to gripe about. At some point in the future, new tumors might form or the drugs might stop working, but right now, the outlook is pretty positive.

Ever since I was diagnosed, I’ve been impatient to get my “old” life back and I’ve already almost got it, or at least something very close to it. I started looking for a job a few weeks ago and already had an interview. I also went on my first date since my last relationship ended about eight months ago. It might be premature and overly optimistic, but it seems like this whole ordeal might be more of a speed-bump rather than a major breakdown. Everything might change next month, but it seems like I’m going to have a relatively normal life again pretty soon. I’m incredibly lucky that the cancer was discovered soon enough that it could still be treated. I’m also very fortunate that there’s a specific drug that targets my mutated cancer cells.

Perhaps it was my own ignorance, but I never thought stage four lung cancer could be so easily contained. For that I’m very grateful. I suppose popular media might have contributed to my perception of treatment cancer as an acute and destructive battle. For many people, that’s unfortunately the truth, but I’m learning that cancer can be a chronic, low-intensity conflict that grinds on for your entire life. I don’t want it to sound like I’m boasting about how easy I have it. I hope my story can give hope to others enduring a similar situation or sheds light on the many different ways individuals can experience cancer.

One Shot – “Nuit Noir sur Brest”

Story and Dialogue – Bertrand Galic and Kris

Illustration and Colors – Damien Cuvillier

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“Nuit Noire sur Brest” is a departure from the other comics I have reviewed so far in several ways. First, it’s not about airplanes but a submarine. In addition, all the other bande dessinée albums I have reviewed were published by Paquet but “Nuit Noire sur Brest” is published by Futurpolis. Furthermore, the story is presented as a one-shot and is contained in a single album as opposed to the other stories so far which have been serialized over three or four books. In addition, “Nuit Noire sur Brest” violates the usual format for bande dessinée albums with a hefty total of 66 pages, as opposed to the standard of 48.

Although my main passion is French history and culture, this BD caught my attention because I also have an interest in the Spanish Civil War. “Nuit Noire sur Brest” tells the story of the Spanish submarine C-2 and is based on the book “Nuit Franquiste sur Brest” by Patrick Gourlay. Gourlay also wrote an extensive post-face for the album which includes lots of contemporary photographs, a thorough discussion of the political atmosphere in 1937, and a description of the aftermath of the C-2 affair.

The submarine C-2 appeared unannounced in the port of Brest in September 1937 after experiencing a technical problem. The submarine’s arrival was politically sensitive because France had declared it would not intervene in the Spanish Civil War. “Nuit Noir sur Brest” follows the actions of X-10, a shadowy secret agent who supports the Spanish Republicans. X-10 investigates a plot by Franco’s agents and their conservative French allies to capture C-2.

However, the writing can be a little cliché at times. For example X-10 declares that “personne ne me connait” (nobody knows me) and “je suis le pêcheur en eaux troubles” (I am a fisher in troubled waters).

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Damien Cuvillier’s art is more engaging. He uses watercolors for the sky and utilizes thematic colors in several scenes. For example, each case (image) that depicts a scene at l’Ermitage, a red-light dancing hall in Brest, is tinted in red. Scenes occurring in the interior of the C-2 submarine are viewed through a greenish-yellow filter. In addition, Cuvillier utilizes a plongée (high-angle) shot to emphasize the hustle and bustle of the dancing hall.

Unfortunately, my complaint about the male gaze in Paquet’s “Cockpit” series remains true for “Nuit Noir sur Brest” as well. The cast of characters is almost entirely male, and the only female character, Mingua, is a dancer at the l’Ermitage with little agency. She amounts to little more than a pawn and seductress.

Overall, I found “Nuit Noir sur Brest” to be an intriguing and refreshing break from the “Cockpit” series. The dialogue can be clichéd at times, but the art is engaging and Gourlay’s post-face helps this little-known incident come alive.

Pittsburgh’s Booming and Diverse Brewing Industry

Brewers and other industry insiders were confident that Pittsburgh’s booming craft beer scene would eventually make the city a premiere destination for tipplers in search of the perfect pint.

In December, a report by SmartAsset.com, a financial technology company, ranked Pittsburgh as the third best city for beer drinkers in the nation.  The report calculated the rankings based on the number of breweries in each city, each brewer’s average Yelp score and the average price per pint.  Arch-rivals in both sports and beer, Pittsburgh edged out Cincinnati, which came in fourth. Although Cincinnati has more microbreweries, the Steel City brewers had a slightly higher Yelp rating. Both cities rose six spots since the initial report in 2015.

Rob Soltis, owner of CraftPittsburgh magazine which covers the regional brewing industry, said other cities, such as #1 ranked Asheville, NC, had a head start on Pittsburgh but it was only a matter of time before Pittsburgh broke into the top tier.

In the last five years, the local brewing industry has grown significantly.  In 2011, there were eight breweries in Pittsburgh and now there are about 20, with more scheduled to open this year.

“It seems like there is a new brewery opening every week,” Soltis says. “Pittsburgh is a city with deep hard-working industrial blue-collar roots.  That same spirit is leading this craft beer boom, and shit is being made in Pittsburgh again.  But until recently, if you wanted Pittsburgh-made beer your options were pretty limited.”

The Church Brew Works, which opened in 1996, was one producer that entered the Pittsburgh market long before the industry took off.  The Church Brew Works is located in a deconsecrated Catholic church on Liberty Avenue and celebrated its 20th anniversary last year.  The brewery offers a wide variety of beers ranging from pale ales to stouts and everything in between.  Brewery Manager Justin Viale has been working at The Church Brew Works since 2011 and says not only has the number of Pittsburgh breweries increased, but brewers have also become more innovative. Both trends have helped make Pittsburgh one of the top beer cities in the nation.

“Brewers are putting all sorts of stuff in beer now,” Viale says.  “Now just putting a little coconut in a stout might seem a little tame.  People have taken to it like cooking – they find some ingredients and look for what they can do with it in a beer.”

The Church Brew Works also includes a full restaurant and can seat about 400.  But, Viale says the current trend amongst Pittsburgh brewers is to open smaller neighborhood taprooms without a kitchen.

“In the new brewery model, they don’t need massive facilities,” Viale explains. “They don’t need to grow every year.  They’ve become watering hole-type places.”

Although they are competitors, local brewers often collaborate to create unique recipes, share information and assist each other, Soltis says.  Tony Zamperini, brewmaster and co-owner of Draai Laag Brewing Company, says the plethora of new breweries has created friendly competition that makes it harder for a taproom or brewpub to stand out.  Draai Laag, located in Millvale, specializes in Belgian and sour ales, but Zamperini says the decision to focus on a particular type of beer is not a gimmick.

“We brew what tastes good to us,” Zamperini declares.  “I like big bold flavorful things.  We push the envelope with flavors.  There are a million ways to skin a cat but we just do it a certain way.”

Zamperini uses special yeast strains to create flavors without adding additional ingredients, such as fruit.  In addition, most of Draai Laag’s beers are aged for at least six months in wine barrels, or less often bourbon barrels, to add oak or apple flavors.

“You can’t rush it,” Zamperini says.  “It tells you when it’s ready.”

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Tony Zamperini, brewmaster at Draai Laag, inspects the brewery’s pilot system.

Because each barrel produces a slightly different flavor, Zamperini blends the beer together in varying proportions to create the final product.

“Blending is probably the most artistic part of what we do,” he says.  “We mimic the wine world in a lot of ways.”

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Max Morrow, assistant brewer at Draai Laag, fills barrels.

Although most other Pittsburgh breweries avoid specializing in a particular type of beer, they do have their own distinctive styles.  Zamperini, Viale, Soltis and other experts praised many local brewers, including Insurrection AleWorks in Heidelberg, which specializes in Vermont-style bitter and unfiltered beers.  Penn Brewery, established in 1986, focuses on brewing beers in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot, a 16th-century German purity law.  Roundabout Brewery, in Lawrenceville, has a New Zealand-inspired theme that includes beer brewed with hops from the southern hemisphere and a menu that features meat pies.  Meadeville-based Voodoo Brewery is known for its barrel-aging program.  In addition to numerous noteworthy local producers, Carnegie-based Apis makes honey wine, known as mead, and Lawrenceville-based Arsenal creates cider.

Despite the competition, local artist and craft beer enthusiast Mark Brewer agrees that there is still room for additional capacity in Pittsburgh, although some businesses may close.

“I don’t think there’s a craft beer bubble,” asserts Brewer.  “I feel like we are in the beginning because so many people are still learning about craft beer.”

There’s no shortage of opportunities for novices and aficionados alike to sample local beers.  There are several beer festivals throughout the year, including Oktoberfest in the fall and the Pittsburgh Winter Beerfest in February.  There are numerous tastings and other special events as well, including beer dinners where craft beer enthusiasts and foodies alike can enjoy a multi-course menu paired with local brews.  There are many other examples of the synergy between Pittsburgh’s booming brewing industry and local restaurants.  Hop Farm Brewing Company has a coffee-infused porter and the Butcher on Butler uses the grinds to create coffee-cured bacon.  Eliza’s Oven uses local beer and whiskey to produces pies, cakes and cookies.  Zamperini, brewmaster at Draai Laag, has collaborated with several regional chefs to create a beer-infused sorbet as well as a beer that mimicked the flavor of blue cheese.

“Food and beer go hand in hand for sure,” Zamperini argues.  “Pittsburgh is definitely turning into a hip city.”

The construction of a proposed beer museum in 2018 could also help cement Pittsburgh’s reputation as a premiere destination for craft beer enthusiasts. The proposed museum would have 20,000 feet of exhibit space and a 300 seat-brew pub. It could accommodate up to 40,000 visitors, including many from out of town.

Pittsburgh also has a strong homebrewing community which contributes to the city’s rich brewing culture. Both Zamperini and Viale, as well as many brewers in Pittsburgh, started by brewing beer at home.  Viale says he learned a lot through trial and error and became a volunteer at a brewery in Chattanooga before becoming the manager at Church Brew Works.  Zamperini quit his job as a carpenter to become an informal apprentice at Draai Laag.  His advice to anyone interested in becoming a brewer is to start experimenting with homebrewing kits and then find an opportunity to get involved at a local brewery.

“You have to be willing to make sacrifices,” Zamperini says.  “It really is an art form.”

Pittsburgh has two local homebrewing clubs – the Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers (TRASH) and Three Rivers Underground Brewers (TRUB).  The clubs hold meetings where members share their latest batch of homebrewed beer and swap advice or recipes.  TRASH has grown from 40 members a decade ago to more than 100.  The clubs also host and participate in brewing competitions where beers are judged according to taste, color and mouthfeel.  Shane Walters, secretary for TRUB, says homebrewed beer originally had a stigma of being “basement swill,” but that label has disappeared as the hobby has become more popular.

“It’s no longer this weird taboo thing,” Walters says.

Homebrewing tends to attract individuals who have careers in information technology or engineering because they enjoy solving problems, Walters says.  He began brewing malt extract kits and later created a more expensive and complex all-grain system that eventually occupied his entire garage.  Walters says it’s common for homebrewers to continually upgrade and expand their systems.

“It’s a never-ending process,” he laments.

Walters suggests that anyone interested in becoming a homebrewer start by making malt extract kits which don’t require as much equipment as all-grain brewing.  Making sure everything is sanitized after you take the pot off the burner is the most important part of homebrewing, he says.

“If you get some bacteria in there it’s going to taste like crap,” Walters warns.

Anthony Rowsick, vice president of South Hills Brewing Supply company, says, in addition to sanitation, paying attention to detail is also important in order to succeed as a homebrewer.  He also suggests that first time homebrewers treat yeast like the living organism that it is and clean their equipment soon after they are done brewing.

“It’s not rocket science but you can’t just throw it together either,” Rowsick says.

South Hills Brewing Supply has been open for more than 20 years and is where most homebrewers in Pittsburgh get the ingredients they need.  Rowsick says interest in homebrewing spiked a few years ago but has declined slightly since then.  He says younger men seem to be more interested in homebrewing, however more women are participating both at as amateurs and professionals.

“We have a lot of bearded guys in here doing their own thing,” Rowsick says.  “It’s kind of big toys for big boys for some people.  But women are making inroads too.”

The local chapter of the Pink Boots Society is trying to accelerate that trend.  The organization wants to increase women’s participation in brewing at all levels.  The western Pennsylvania chapter has about 15 members. Meg Evans, head brewer at Rock Bottom and chair lady of the local Pink Books chapter, says the society has provided a lot of guidance and other members are very supportive of each other because they understand the struggles women face in in the brewing industry. She became interested in brewing because it felt like a boy’s club.

“It felt like forbidden territory and I liked the idea of a challenge,” Evans says. “I felt inclined to try something that not many females were dabbling in yet.”

The Pink Boots Society has increased the number of women involved in the industry both locally and nationally, but Evans says she hopes to see even more progress in the future. Historically, women dominated the brewing industry until about 1700 because it was regarded as a household chore. When the industry began to become more commercial and profitable, men took over, Evans says. Women were also discouraged from doing physical labor and were taught to drink wine rather than beer.

“Patriarchy seems to be at the core,” Evans says.

However, attitudes in the last few decades have begun to change.

“There isn’t as much of a stigma or restriction on women making beer or doing a physical job,” Evans explains. “Once we stop stereotyping beer as male dominated or focusing on ‘female beer,’ we will find that gender neutralizing beer will move the industry into a place that includes more women.”

Thus, the Pittsburgh brewing industry is not only becoming more innovative but also more diverse.  However, the current brewing boom is not new in Pittsburgh’s history.  Edward Vidunas, a local amateur historian, says brewing has been an important part of the city’s economy since the first brewery opened in Pittsburgh in 1795.  Production increased and the late 19th century was the golden age of Pittsburgh’s brewing industry, Vidunas says, although the lack of documents makes it hard to get an exact count of breweries in the city at the time.

The ongoing expansion of the brewing industry is probably the largest number of local producers since the end of the 1800s.  Although it is may not be as dramatic as the growth of the technology sector in Pittsburgh, the expansion of the brewing industry creates jobs and generates tax revenue, Vidunas says.  There’s no reason to think the trend will stop any time soon, he says.

“Pittsburgh always has been and always will be a beer-drinking town,” Vidunas says.

Cancer at 34 Part 8: The end of Silence

This whole ordeal began with what I thought was a temporary case of laryngitis in November 2016. For the last two and a half months, I’ve been isolated and frustrated as I dealt with my limited ability to speak. At one point in December 2016, I was reduced to writing everything down on paper in a desperate attempt to “save” my voice. I also had to pound on the walls of the house in order to get my parent’s attention at times. I avoided social engagements and cancelled work obligations to avoid straining my voice further. After my vocal cord was paralyzed, friends said I sounded like Christian Bale’s Batman or a film noir gangster. Although humorous, some even said they began to forget what my real voice sounded like – a horrifying proposition!

That seems to finally be at an end. I had thyroplasty on February 17, 2017, when the doctor made an incision and inserted a piece of hardened Gore-Tex that forced my paralyzed left vocal cord back into contact with my right vocal cord. A previous effort to inject medicine into my paralyzed vocal cord provided temporary relief but ultimately failed. However, the thryoplasty result should be permanent and seems to have been immediate and significant. I can already talk and it’s nearly the same as it was before the cancer diagnosis. It might take a few weeks to readjust and relearn how to speak properly using my vocal cords instead of my neck muscles. The operation resulted in a pretty ugly incision right across my neck, but hopefully it won’t leave a permanent scar.

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February 17, 2017, was a long and unpleasant day. I couldn’t eat breakfast or lunch because my operation was at noon. However, I wasn’t hangry, probably because I was so tired. I’m still not sleeping well although I’m done with steroid. I was pretty resigned to the whole thing because I didn’t have much choice – either I had the operation or my voice would continue to wither. It was the third time I’d undergone surgery at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in the last six weeks, so I was pretty inured to the whole process. However, my dad and especially my mom were very anxious. It only got worse when the nurse twice failed to start the IV in my left arm.

But, Rev. Mitra from St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church was again a great comfort to my family. She kept us company for almost two hours while we waited. I dozed off, but Rev. Mitra distracted them by talking about how we all love cats, among other things.

Unfortunately, I was awake for the whole operation because I had to be able to speak at the end so the doctors could be sure everything had gone smoothly. Again, I was sedated but only in a “twilight” state and I remember most of what happened. The doctor used a local anesthetic where he actually made the incision. Although it didn’t hurt, I actually felt the doctor making the incision and pulling my flesh apart. In addition, he forced a thin camera down my nose and used a horrible-tasting medicine to numb the back of my throat. I still gagged when the camera hit the back of my throat. Overall, it was a pretty horrible experience, but I didn’t have much choice other than to endure it.

In the end, it was worth it. It marks the end of almost three months of isolation and frustration. I had numerous frustrating phone conversations when doctors called to schedule or confirm appointments and they were unable to understand me. In frustration, I often flung the phone to my parents and had them deal with the situation. I also work as a freelance writer so I had to conduct my interviews via email instead of over the phone, which led to unsatisfying results. I also felt left out of conversations, although most people said they didn’t have any trouble understanding me in person. Speaking wasn’t painful, but it was tiring because I compensated by using my throat muscles to try and make a voice. I also got tired of explaining over and over again why I couldn’t talk. It’s been a long and exhausting process, but I hope this is this beginning of the end. The only downside is that I’m banned from Cross Fit for the next week or so, but I’m willing to make just about any sacrifice at this point.

I’ve also had to put my job search on hold while until this was resolved, so it will be great to finally start getting my life back on track. I’m working on an alternative/temporary teaching license but nobody would hire a teacher who can’t speak. Now, I can start applying for positions for next year and hopefully start lining up some interviews. Although there’s been a temporary setback in my cancer treatment (I had to stop my medication because it was damaging my liver), it’s great to finally speak again. I always took my voice for granted, but I hope this experience has ensured I’ll never do that again.

Cancer at 34 Part 7: My brain is on fire

Until today, my blog has been silent for several weeks and I even stopped writing in my journal. During that time, I struggled with a tremendous sense of ambivalence when nothing interested, inspired or excited me – not even writing. That partly accounts for the silence, but this blog entry is about how dexamethasone set my brain on fire and made it hard to focus on anything besides cleaning.

I’m taking dexamethasone as a precaution against brain swelling due to my tumors and radiation therapy in January 2017. Apparently, I am suffering from some pretty common side effects of the drug, but they still make it difficult to function like a normal person. The dosage is slowly being reduced, but I’ll still be on it for a while and it will take some time for the effects to completely subside.

Most importantly, my brain was constantly firing on all cylinders day and night. This manifested itself in a strong desire to clean and organize all my possessions. I moved around a lot in 2016, and now I live at home again with my parents. A sudden and persistent urge to organize and purge my possessions struck me. It may seem to be a reasonable feeling, because a lot of that stuff has been in boxes in my parents’ basement since I finished graduate school in 2014. In almost three years, I’ve never even opened most of the boxes or used any of the items down there. So it makes some sense to do a little house cleaning now because I’ve got time on my hands, right?

That sounds logical, but I was obsessed with it. The books were stored in nine milk crates, and I sorted, purged, and organized them about three times. I set aside six crates to be sold or donated, and kept three. I tried to pare it down to the books that were most important to me and relevant to my interests. However, it was also very difficult because it felt like I was somehow giving my life away. I also struggled to give up books that I never read (especially if they were gifts or ones I had bought). But in the end, it’s just stuff, and replaceable items that I don’t even use or want any more. But it still felt strange to cut down everything, although it will certainly make it much easier to move out when I finally get my new life going.

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Six boxes of history books and textbooks are still available – stop by now before it’s too late!

In addition, I had a modest collection of five boxes of comics that each held about 150 issues. Again, I’d been collecting them for years, and I even carefully put them in bags and boards so that they would be stored properly. In all these years, I’m not sure I ever reread more than a handful of issues. I purged most of them and kept one box that had books I thought were interesting or important (artistically, socially, politically, etc). At the same time, I felt as if I was giving up an essential part of who I am, even though it was just physical media.

Again, to the reader that appears to be productive and it certainly was. However, my poor parents were dragged into this process for four or five days straight. As soon as I ate breakfast, I felt compelled to start organizing my possessions in the basement, and I worked at it for hours. I recruited my parents to help me affirm my decisions, organize items, sort things, and throw it away. I certainly appreciate their help but I was very anxious and irritable during the whole process. I also purged boxes of ephemera as well – movie tickets, concert stubs, beer tasting flyers, etc. How did I accumulate so much crap? On the other hand, it also made me realize how full my life had been up to this point, so it was affirming in some way.

But it didn’t stop. One of the other big side effects of the dexamethasone is difficulty sleeping, and I only get about 2 or 3 hours of sleep a night right now. The rest of the time, I lay in bed thinking about where some item might be, how I could find it, and where I would put it when I located it. Before the urge began to subside, there were still a few missing items that gnawed at my mind and it was difficult to ignore. If I could have gone down in the basement and kept searching at all hours of the night without driving my parents completely insane, then I would have. Since I couldn’t organize my stuff, I sent emails and text messages at all hours of the night (especially to Amanda, sorry!).

Next, I moved on to my bedroom and closet. I sorted and purged clothes for donation that I hadn’t worn in years. I finally unpacked my collection of scale models and put them back on display so that it looks like my bedroom is actually inhabited instead of just room with furniture in it. Originally, I vowed to throw away any models that I deemed inferior, but I relented and kept almost the entire collection. It told a narrative and showed my progress from a beginner to intermediate modeler (don’t believe anyone who says I’m an expert). Again, my parents were recruited as assistants.

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A portion of my mediocre scale model collection on display for a limited time!

Now, I still only get a few hours of sleep a night, but I’m taking Ativan which has helped control the fire in my brain a bit. In addition, I’ve been using Kardia, a mindfulness app, available on Android or iPhone to help me focus and control my breathing during the sleepless hours. I usually I stay awake all night but the Kardia app makes it easier to avoid fixating on anything for too long.

Clearly, my parents have been incredibly loving and understanding during this whole thing, especially the peak period of my irritability and anxiety last month. I often voiced and rehashed the same worries and guilts several times a day to them. Being in close quarters all day every day has obviously worn my parents a bit thin. I’m not sleeping well and they aren’t sleeping well either. I often snap at them for no good reason and I feel awful for it. Everyone says it’s not my fault and it’s because of the steroids. But I can’t help but feel like a tremendous asshole who snaps at my loving parents every day for no good reason even when they are just trying to help. I try and make up for it by cooking, cleaning up, or buying a little treat for them, but it feels awful to hurt someone who loves you so much, even for a second.

On top of all this, there is the knowledge that my fight isn’t even all that hard. I’m not doing chemotherapy and I only had one radiation session. I’ve already met people who face much more serious obstacles, so it is hard to accept the fact that my situation is worth complaining about. It’s hard, but, given the circumstances, it’s manageable and I feel worse when I lash out because of that. I just have to ensure that when the dexamethasone is done, I try and hold on to the love I feel right now.

Cancer at 34 Part 6: Cross Fit and Tenacity

Cross Fit became a regular part of my life in April 2016 when I moved to Pittsburgh. My girlfriend at the time encouraged me to give it a try, and I liked having something we could do together. I was an occasional runner and had done some exercise machine workouts before, but nothing as intense as Cross Fit. I completed the on-ramp program and started working out at Industrial Athletics. The coaches and other athletes were all very helpful and supportive. I was very slow and very weak, but I learned a lot! I completed a half-Murph workout there, which was a huge accomplishment and really boosted my confidence.

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Cross Fit Blue Ash – Photo courtesy of Blake Evans

After I moved back to Cincinnati in July 2016, I knew I wanted to continue with Cross Fit because it had so many benefits and pushed me to my limits. I dropped in to a few nearby gyms before settling on Cross Fit Blue Ash. It was a convenient location, with lots of classes that fit my schedule. The members and coaches were all very welcoming as well. In addition, all the coaches have been patient as I continue to learn – especially Dr. Bob and Ali. Blake, the owner of Cross Fit Blue Ash, went out of his way to get to know me better. We come from different backgrounds, but share a common interest in Cross Fit. Through my workouts and the annual holiday party, I also came to know some of the other athletes too.

Since my diagnosis in December 2016, Cross Fit Blue Ash has become especially important to me as a way to hold on to some part of my previous life and organize my new one. In addition, the workouts give me structure, stimulate my motivation, and require a lot of physical effort. It feels great to focus entirely on the workout and be exhausted at the end of it. However, it’s getting harder and harder to do the workouts, and I usually don’t even finish them any more. I’m fatigued every day, and the WOD always kicks my ass. All I can do any more is show up three days a week and do the best I can.

Even before my diagnosis, I was never particularly strong or fast. It’s very frustrating to feel like I’m back sliding so quickly, although I know it’s due to a combination of fatigue, the drugs, and self-doubt. Rule #9 at the box is to leave your ego at the door, which I try and accommodate, although it’s not always easy. I appreciate it when other athletes congratulate me after a workout, no matter how slow I am.

Recently, I haven’t been writing much (which I’ll discuss in another rapid-fire blog post), but another athlete at Cross Fit Blue Ash reached out in a totally unexpected way that prompted me to resume. I slowly realized that the box had become as much a part of my support network as my friends, family, and church. Now I’m correcting that oversight and providing recognition to all the people who deserve it.

I recently signed up for the 2017 Cross Fit Open. I’ve never really competed in anything like that before, and I was hesitant because I didn’t really want to embarrass myself. I felt like I wouldn’t get much out of it other than to pay $20 for the privilege of looking like a weakling. I’ve been trying to be more bold, but I’m not perfect. After another athlete reached out, I decided that I had to participate in the 2017 open.

Steve and I don’t know each other that well, although we are both 34 years old. He’s the captain of the “Dancing Pandas” team at CFBA for the 2017 open. He heard about my diagnosis and printed some wrist bands so that the rest of the team and others could show some support. His kindness amazed me.

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Another shock came when Blake, the owner of CFBA, told me that I inspire him! I was pretty sure the inspiration flowed in the opposite direction, because I have never been quick or tough. I never expected to galvanize anybody when it came to physical fitness, let alone the owner of the gym where I workout! However, I begrudgingly admit that my tenacity is inspirational.

However, it looks like my attempt at the 2017 Cross Open will face an immediate obstacle. I’m scheduled for surgery to try and restore my paralyzed vocal cord on February 17, 2017. The doctor ordered no strenuous physical activity (that includes Cross Fit) for at least 5 days. The first WOD for the 2017 Open will be released on February 23rd. It looks like the odds will be stacked against me, especially at the start. But I’ll close with one of my Dad’s favorite quotes from Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back – “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Cancer at 34 Part 5: Intimate Devastations

In a little less than a month, I’ve gone from being a healthy person who does Cross Fit three times a week to having stage four lung cancer. Initially, it was a whirlwind of bad news that has been replaced by a more optimistic outlook. However, the cancer is still finding new and painful ways to attack me. This blog post will focus on some of the unexpected legal and medical consequences my diagnosis has sparked. It will be very personal, and I will try to be honest without being profane, but as Leah wrote “reality is not tactful.” (Between her and Rev. Mitra I will hardly have to write an original thought from here on out).

First, I’ll address the legal ramifications I’m facing. At 34, I never expected that I would have to consider drafting and signing a Healthcare Power of Attorney or Durable Power of Attorney. Until these brain tumors are destroyed, there’s a chance I could have a seizure, although I am on a steroid to reduce brain swelling and an anti-seizure medication. In addition, some other entirely unexpected event could happen along the way, so it’s better to have these documents ready and not need them than vice versa.

The durable power of attorney would basically allow my parents to manage my financial affairs, including taxes, banking and investments, if I am incapacitated for any reason. The Healthcare Power of Attorney would enable my parents to make medical decisions for me if I am unable to do so. It includes making choices about whether or not I want to be left in a permanently unconscious state or if I want to make an anatomical gift. These are never things I thought I would have to address at age 34, but this is what my life has become. Again, to quote Leah – “Devastation is a situation to which one quickly acclimates.” However, it still feels surreal at times and I am not sure I fully comprehend it all, since my treatment is still not yet underway.

Now I’ll address one of the newest and most painful assaults cancer has made against me. First, it took my voice (partially), then it stole my ability to drive (if only temporarily). But it also threatened my ability to have children. The data was unclear, but my oncologist said my medication could make me infertile. In addition, simply being diagnosed with cancer may have meant I had already become “sub fertile” for reasons that weren’t clear. The oncologist mentioned this during our first meeting, but the good news overwhelmed everything else and it didn’t really sink in until a few days later. Having children has not been particularly important to me up until this point, but I always assumed it was a possibility. I have thought about it in an abstract way and always wondered if I might make a good parent. I would like to think I would, but until now I’ve had a hard enough time running my own life, let alone caring for a tiny helpless person. Anyways, having kids isn’t exactly a priority at the moment.

I took it for granted that I had more time to sort out my feelings on the matter, but after my diagnosis I didn’t have that luxury any more. So on January 13, 2017, I went to the University of Cincinnati’s Oncofertility Clinic to try and preserve my sperm. It may be a moot point at this stage in life, because most potential partners probably already have all the children they want, and I’m sure I would love them as my own. If she doesn’t, then this would at least give us a chance to start a family. Again, I think it would be better to have it and not need it than the opposite. Even if it doesn’t work, there’s always the option of adopting or fostering children, of which I was already a proponent. On the other hand – children aren’t a necessity either, and it’s entirely possible I could find happiness without offspring at all.

However, this new attack has left me feeling angry and vulnerable. It was something I never even considered when this ordeal began. Although I never felt particularly manly or virile, I felt like something very private was being taken from me.

The whole thing made me feel very anxious and self-conscious for days before the appointment. Everyone at the fertility clinic was very friendly and supportive, but really it was the last place I wanted to be. I was even more uncomfortable because my dad took me to the appointment and waited for me in the lobby, because I can’t drive anywhere. The entire situation was sterile and unpleasant. I know there wasn’t really any reason to feel ashamed – this was all beyond my control. However, I couldn’t help feeling hurt and scared.

Thankfully, I only had to wait a few anxious hours to find out that I was in fact still fertile. It was a huge relief, and I was thrilled to know that the cancer wouldn’t take this very private thing from me. The rest of the day of was full of other appointments that occupied my time. I had an initial appointment for radiation therapy where I had to be custom-fitted for a mask that would immobilize me during the treatment next week and ensure that the radiation only hits the tumors. The process was a little unsettling and creepy. It felt like I was being fitted for a death mask, and it was tight enough that I could feel the blood pumping through my face.

In the end, I have some peace of mind, although I might not ever need it. Although I want to celebrate another small victory, I also hope this blog post helps raise awareness about this issue, sparks a conservation, or provides comfort to anyone dealing with the unexpected intimate devastations of cancer.

Cancer at 34 Part 4: Searching for Equanimity

One of my main efforts thus far has been trying to come to terms with my diagnosis. Especially at the beginning, I was overwhelmed with thoughts of regret and became obsessed with “what if” or what “might have been.” But, the only the thing I can do now is put my head down and get through this. As Leah has said, I’m where I need to be right now, whether or not it’s nice or fun. That doesn’t mean I’m not angry about it, as you’ll see in my next blog post.

People have reached out on Facebook, by text, and through email to express their love and support, which has been great. But it’s also been tough, because I see former coworkers, colleagues, and friends going on about their daily lives, taking nice trips, and buying cars. I do feel jealous and envious, but I try to remember that is just temporary setback. I’ll be able to accomplish all the things I want after the treatment gets underway.

In many ways, I’m very lucky, and the serendipity of all this has been another common theme on my mind. This was going to happen, sooner or later – there’s no way around it. Now is probably the best time it could have happened, because I’m in Cincinnati with family and friends who love me. I had enough time to restart my life here, build a network of friends, and find a church community where I fit in. I was on the cusp of moving out and getting a new job – those are both gone for now, but in a way it’s a blessing because I hadn’t signed the lease yet. On the other hand, I could have still been in Pittsburgh when this happened where I didn’t have much of a support network.

I’m not a particularly religious person, but the timing of all this makes me wonder if there isn’t something more powerful than just chance at work here. I don’t put much stock in divine intervention on the personal level. I think it’s kind of arrogant and greedy to expect whatever divine power there may be to intervene on my behalf. I’m just one of billions of people on this planet, and many of them need help more than I do. Friends and acquaintances have said prayers for me and maybe they helped – I have no idea. I’m not going to turn into some bible-thumping born again Christian, but I do feel obligated to try and develop a more concrete personal spirituality and philosophy.

I’m becoming a cancer patient. I won’t be a survivor because I’ll live with this disease the rest of my life, however long that may be. I’ve started to meet other people with cancer, and it has really put my situation in perspective. Recently, I met a man about my age who was diagnosed with cancer at age 18 and had a testicle removed. At a recent support group orientation, I met a married couple, again about the same age as me, with two young children. The wife has breast cancer and is scheduled to undergo 16 rounds of chemotherapy, as well as a mastectomy. I’m sure I’ll meet other people with more harrowing stories than mine. I’ll try to keep them in mind, because it seems like I have a good chance to hold my own against this disease.

In a way, this ordeal is blessing, since it gave me a newfound urgency in life. As Henry Rollins wrote:

“No such things as spare time

No such thing as free time

No such thing as down time

All you got is life time”

I know what’s coming. This cancer may not kill me for a long time; in fact, it might be something else entirely, such as a car accident, heart disease, etc. But at least it gave me the chance to prioritize what’s important to me, and I don’t want to have any more regrets. Previously, I was afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing and I had a very heavy filter that hid what I thought and felt. Obviously, that’s gone now because I don’t have time to waste. I can live with looking stupid, but I can’t live with regrets any more. I’m probably not going to go skydiving (although I wouldn’t rule it out entirely), but this experience has made me feel very keenly the pressure of time. I know it’s a terrible cliché, but time is very precious, and I’m glad that I had the chance to appreciate that while I can still do something about it.