Time to Dance again

I’m back at it again. I went in for my annual scans and bloodwork, and they found a dime-sized spot on my left lung, and Non-Hodgkin’s markers showed in my blood. A week later I went in for a needle biopsy to see what type of cells were on my lung. That test came back as Non-Hodkin’s, the exact cell type. I’d have to go dig for it. The bad news is that I have cancer. The good thing is that there were two case study options that are not standard chemotherapy. I chose the treatment that is 3 months long, and I get an infusion for 3-4 hours every two weeks. I’ve had one so far. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a 10 on the suckfest scale. A solid 6 but not a 10 on the Jason scale. So far body aches, headaches, and a general lack of energy. So far manageable by my experience. As this dance progresses, I’ll come back here and try to keep everyone updated.

I am home, and I’m the healthiest I’ve been since starting this dance both physically and mentally.

Why Did I stop writing?

Why did I stop writing on my blog? Why so long between writing? Did I think that since I wasn’t fighting cancer my story wasn’t relevant anymore?

The short answer is yes. I’m a 48-year-old man who, through many reasons and decisions, moved in with my parents. Was I a failure, running home, back to mom and dad?  

At first I felt like that, and with that there’s the built in self-doubt and shame of not being able to survive on my own. I survived the Marines, I survived cancer, and now I was living at home.  

Those are all things that, when I first packed up and left California and moved back to Chicago,  ran through my head that I had to process.

Moving back home was the smartest, healthiest thing I could have done. My physical and mental health is the best it has been in years, maybe even decades. It’s hard to believe that for 2 decades I fought that demon, but when fighting demons you get beat up and scarred pretty badly. Many of those scars aren’t visible. I have the insides of a 90-year-old. With everything that I went through, you could say I have a form of PTSD, or mental quirks that are similar. I joke about it, and have always joked about it, that I’ve been resuscitated so many times, 47 to be exact. Now let me clarify something: this isn’t times my heart has stopped. This is the number of times it’s taken an outside source, either CPR or defibrillation—aka the paddles, someone yelling “clear,” then getting 200 joules pumped through me—to get my heart to beat again, and in a good rhythm.  

All of this adds up and has caused long-term damage, both physically and mentally, but all of it is hidden from the public eye. I mean, looking at me and talking to me on a normal day you wouldn’t/can’t really tell the differences unless you know what to look for.  

It took me a bit to come to terms with the reality that I can’t live alone. Over all the years of living with roommates, it just didn’t work out with my health issues. How can you really expect someone to truly help take care of you? This isn’t a dig on all of my past roommates, just some of them.

I digress though. When in that head space of self-pity and wallowing it felt like I would be doing nothing but moping and complaining, and who really wants to listen to that shit? Getting healthier and in a better headspace and surrounding myself with people who are positive instead of negative were the first steps to admitting to myself that I am not a failure at life.

So the long and the short of it all is I’m healthier, both physically and mentally—mostly mentally, lol—so now I’m sharing again. Welcome back to the ride. May this one not be as much of a roller coaster as we have had.

Toxicity and Advocacy

What is toxicity? It comes in many forms, relationships, jobs, and the internet. We’ve all encountered it and with this day and age of the internet, it’s made it easier for toxicity. People are comfortable sitting back in the protection of their home and making judgments of others based solely on a one-sided perception or image.

The service dog arena per se isn’t immune to this. Take a stroll on any social media platform and you will see “fake spotters”, “call-outs”, handlers doing things to attention grab get likes, or whatever status increase they can garner. And some of these could be fakes too. Who knows I’m not here to say one way or another.

A few years ago I did a meet-up with another veteran handler at one of the local malls to practice crowds and there were other handlers from his group that I didn’t agree with the way that they pro ported themselves and represented the Service dog world. Doing saying things that were attention-grabbing, confrontational, and representing other handlers in a manner I didn’t agree with. I didn’t say or do anything to them I just chose to leave and separate myself from them. I would rather represent myself and my dog in a positive manner than it what they were doing.

I think this is one of the reasons I like to advocate and educate the Service dog world. Going into a situation with an open mind rather than a confrontational one.

I went to dinner with a few friends the other night. It’s one of those Hibachi restaurants where the cook puts on a show at your table. They also serve great sushi. We were there for the sushi, when we went up to the hostess stand she had seen Hunter with me when I asked to be seated for three for sushi. She had a stricken look on her face and asked us to wait as she went to a side room. A minute or two a manager came out and approached us. Now I knew this was about Hunter. Now I could have immediately gotten confrontational and an attitude about her even going and getting him, but I waited and wanted to see how this played out. When he came up he clarified that we were asking to be seated for sushi to which I affirmed. He pointed to the hibachi room and proceeded to explain how the room is set up and what goes on. Open flame, loud noises, and the tables are in such a style there is little room under them due to the chef’s station. He then described the standard dining room and stated he felt that it would be safer for my partner to be in the dining room but him being my partner it was my choice as to where we would like to dine. At no time did he ever say I wasn’t allowed to eat in any area, he took it upon himself to show me the area and let me decide for us.

Some may say he was being manipulative or discriminatory by even approaching me and advising me of the conditions and giving his opinion. I didn’t and still don’t, now having had time to sit back and think about it. We sat in an area with many other tables that were filled with other patrons. Hunter tucked under the table and eventually fell asleep. The manager when doing his rounds even did a double take looking for Hunter when he saw us. I feel this is the way Service dogs and handlers should be welcomed to any establishment. One thing that keeps coming back to the surface when I think about this is how he referred to Hunter. “My partner”. He never said your dog or anything other than “My partner”. Hunter is my partner in so many ways and for someone to see that and to naturally just say this struck a chord with me.

The last bit of advocacy/education on this outing is in two parts. A table near us had a large group at the table 10+ people. A few of the tables got up to use the restroom and when they were coming back one of them spotted Hunter’s head poking out from under the table. I saw them do a double take and then talk about “there’s a dog under the table” at no time did they interrupt our dinner, stair, or make a scene. They talked amongst themselves about seeing him and how well-behaved he was and how they didn’t even know he was there until just then. Then when we left and I had Hunter get up and then stand next to the table as I collected my things the comments from other tables giving comments on how they never knew he was there. This to me is the best form of compliment and the best way to advocate for Service dogs. Thank you Wu’s House Merrillville for the great experience. http://wushouse.com/

Dogs dogs dogs

Many people ask what does having a service dog mean to me? That’s a pretty loaded question because it has so many different aspects to being a service dog handler that a lot of people just don’t think about.

Most are positives but there are some negatives. The biggest positive is the freedoms he allows me to not be tied constantly to machines and to have an ever constant vigilant companion that gives his all even when i’m not feeling my best. Watching over me even when I’m sleeping.

But with the good there are some negatives. Having a service dog is like having a toddler you have to make sure that you have everything they need at all times not matter what. Food/water and protection are just the tip of the iceberg. I carry with me a go-bag with all the things I can think of that I may need during an outing. It’s a full on diaper bag for a dog.

You lose a lot of your privacy. People have no problems asking personal questions. “Why do you have a service dog?” What does he do for you? These are just a few of them. The talking to him the distracting of him from doing his job. Would you come up to someone in a wheelchair and start moving it around without the consent of the person sitting in it? That’s what you are doing to a handler by talking to their dog.

The one statement that is said constantly without thought is. “I wish I could bring my dog everywhere I go.” Well I wish I could sit down at a restaurant in a chair without fear of my heart stopping as I sit there. We don’t want to be disabled, we wish we could lead a normal life, but we weren’t dealt those cards. Would you tell a person in a wheelchair that you wish you could sit in their chair all day?

I was talking to another handler who’s a veteran and one of the things that people say to him is “well you chose to join the military.” To me that’s just a total bullshit statement. That’s like saying well he chose to drive.. giving an excuse as to why/how someone got injured in a car accident. Or say “you asked for it to any person ever..” Yeah I went there, that’s how disrespectful and hurtful statements like this are.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not all bitter and grumpy. I as part of the group I’m involved in advocate and educate stores, restaurants, places of business, and multiple groups locally. An example came from a friend at work who has a young daughter who wanted to take their family dog to Outback restaurant. My friend used my story pictures and videos to explain how only Service dogs “special dogs” are allowed and why. To be invited to girl scout troupes as part of their badge work to teach them about service dogs. These moments outweigh any time someone comes up to me and asks or says something intrusive.

Here is a link from a video filmed and produced by the Crown Point Community Foundation the Group I am involved in Pets n Vet’s is a recipient of a grant from them.

How things change

This blog originally was made to share my fight with cancer. I fought that beast for nearly 20 years, a beast like no other. Zombie apocalypse in your own body, yeah it was that bad.
Last month I just crossed the 3 year mark for being in remission. I’ve had a lot change in my life.

I left my life in California. Left a very toxic relationship, Left the job I had worked hard to be in. I’m building a new carrier, admitting to my disabilities and have a service dog, become a mentor, and advocate and educate for service dog handlers.

So this blog will be a conglomeration of this as I catch up with everything so bare with me I’ve been a bit silent the last few years. Let’s see if I can break that.

Days In Remission

In Remission for 83 days.

Calendar

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