Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: Our Year in Review

One of the main - if not the principal - things that dominated and shaped our lives in 2014 has been Mark's prostate cancer. The year began with a cloud over our lives: Mark's PSA (the marker for his prostate cancer) had started to go up. In February, Mark met with his new oncologist. It was time for new therapies. I wrote about this period in a post published early in March that can be found here

Our lives, and our relationship with Mark's cancer, changed during those two months. This is how my therapist described what was happening: "[Your lives] are being lived by a story of cancer. It finishes every sentence. It is in your first breath as you wake in the morning and in your last breath as you fall asleep at night. This is the nature of the landscape of cancer." During this period of time, we decided that we would try to live each day in the moment, not worrying about the cancer. It was and is there.

In late March and early April, Mark went through a series of treatments, the goal of which was to infuse more white cells in his blood to help contain the cancer. These seemed to go well. He was also put on additional oral medication.

Meanwhile, we had our lives to live, not knowing when the therapies would start to fail ... which is eventually going to happen.


We had a wonderful visit from my sister and brother-in-law on MLK weekend in January, then we were able to spend a long weekend up at cabin in the mountains. It was great to be around both family and friends during that period.

On a walk with the kids in Millcreek Canyon

Mark and friends head up to go back-country skiing. I stayed in the cabin by the fire.


In February, we were able to do some skiing here locally and also head up to Jackson Hole for a weekend with friends. Meanwhile, we continued to enjoy our time with our children, whom we have every other weekend.


In early March, I headed north for a visit with my daughter and her family in Vancouver, BC. Mark was supposed to go, but couldn't because of the round of treatments he had started.

Me and my granddaughter, Hazel

Hazel, my daughter Hannah and me at Granville Island in Vancouver

One of Mark's treatments in March

It was also during this period that Mark's mother and sister came for a visit, followed shortly thereafter by a visit from Hannah and Hazel, who had come down to spend a few weeks in Utah. We only saw them for a few days, however, before our departure for our annual spring vacation in Maui.


This visit was different from previous visits in that we rented bikes and went cycling almost every day we were there. We wanted to get a vigorous head start on spring training in advance of our planned cycling tour in August and September in France.

That visit was also very special to us because it was while we were there that we got legally married ... on Little Beach.


We were anxious to see the kids upon our return from Maui. We had some fun up at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon and other places around Salt Lake.

In mid-May, Mark and I journeyed to North Carolina to see my sister and brother-in-law and to attend her graduation ceremony at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she earned a doctorate in French Literature. Our daughter Rachel had journeyed down by rail from Philadelphia where she was then working as a nanny. It was a wonderful, wonderful weekend.


The big news in June was our family trip to Moab and Zion National Park. Oh, and our bikes were stolen, so we had to get new bikes to train on for the rest of the summer in advance of our late summer cycling trip to France.


In early July, Mark made the momentous decision to retire from hospice medicine. He had hit an emotional wall. It was time. As someone who himself has a terminal disease, he found it increasingly difficult to deal with dying patients on a regular basis.

We continued weekend activities with the kids throughout the summer, such as the time we went to Snowbird to hang out for an afternoon.

Later in the month, we headed to Portland, Oregon for a family wedding, stopping for some cycling along the way. After the wedding, we headed to the coast for a few days with our married daughter Hannah and her family.

Cycling near the Three Sisters outside of Bend, Oregon

Mark's sisters, brother, uncle and aunt and Mother


August saw us going to San Francisco for a long weekend to participate in the annual Marin County Century bicycle ride. Then, all too soon, it was time to head to France for three weeks of cycling, followed by a week in Rome and a week in the Greek Islands.

Cycling up to the Col de la Croix de Fer in the French Alps

On the Shores of Lake Geneva

Mark overlooking Vaison in Provence


After the conclusion of our bike tour, we flew to Rome for a few days, then on to Athens where we departed on a week-long cruise in the Cyclades Islands before heading home. We were anxious to see our kids.

This picture says it all. We loved Greece.

I love this picture

I took Levi to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in late September.


Mark's PSA had been rising gradually ever since the first of the year, and he was very nervous about his upcoming appointment with his oncologist. But there was good news: the PSA appeared to be leveling off. It actually went down a bit in October, then remained stable through out the rest of the year. Once again, we were and are grateful.

Mark had some outpatient surgery in the first part of the month, and we headed to his brother's house in Colorado for him to recuperate.

Mark did a lot of painting on the Colorado trip. This is one of this past year's most exciting developments: Mark re-immersing himself in art and painting.

Later in October we celebrated the birthdays of Aaron, Esther, Annie and Levi, who were all born within about 10 days of each other.

Then we headed to the Big Island of Hawaii for the last part of October and early November. Some friends had invited us to stay with them in a condo there. It was a different kind of Hawaii experience for us and confirmed our love of Maui.


Mark on the beach at sunset
It was once again good to get back home to spend time with the kids and do some work around the house and yard to prepare it for winter and the holidays.

Our 16-year-old son, Nathan, came to live with us in November.


As we approached Thanksgiving, we had a lot to be grateful for, most especially Mark's health. The Friday before Thanksgiving, we received an early "Thanksgiving gift": for the first time since it started rising almost a year ago, Mark's PSA actually went *down* a half-point over the past month. His oncologist was (pleasantly) somewhat surprised. Now, rather than having the PSA drawn every month, we wouldn't have to come back until January. If the trend continues, every other month will become every three months. Of course, the cancer is still there. It will always be there. But, for now, it is contained, and we are grateful.

Mark expressed some of his thoughts to members of his family in an email:
"Just wanted everyone to know that my PSA (tumor marker) has stabilized and my last visit on Friday showed it decreasing. It means the medication I'm on is working. I was curious as to why after slowly rising for several months my PSA leveled off and is now going down. I believe it's related to several things. Every time we start our physical yoga practice, we are asked to set an intention for class. Mine has been to send my love and consequently the love of the universe to my cancer, never to be adversarial or have any other negative energy regarding the cancer.   
"Additionally I believe all the love sent to me by my family is a significant factor. Most importantly I have the love, support, and extremely positive influence of my husband Joseph who keeps me on the hopeful rails and reminds me daily to be here now.  
"I generally feel well. I skied everyday last week. My yoga practice is deep and refreshing. The ducks in my life are all in a row and I am content."
Just before we left to spend the Thanksgiving week with our married daughter in Vancouver, Canada, our daughter Rachel, a very talented videographer, presented the following video to Mark. The footage was taken while taking the kids to breakfast at Sharon's Cafe in Holladay.

We had a great time in Vancouver. It was fun to spend that time with Hannah, Cary and Hazel.


This past month found us busy, like everyone else, preparing for Christmas ... and choir concerts. I rejoined the Salt Lake Men's Choir in October, and we presented our annual Christmas concert the second weekend in December. Here is a video of our performance of my favorite song in the concert. It brought tears to my eyes:

We have just completed a wonderful, memorable holiday season. We were able to have all ten of our children here over Christmas, something that hasn't happened since 2009. It was a wonderful Christmas and a wonderful year. Truly, we are blessed.

Happy New Year!