This Bird Has Flown, pt. 2

Up until January 10, 2017, if anyone asked how I was coping with the loss, I would have said, “Poorly.”

I should be gone. I have metastatic GIST cancer, survived two major surgeries, and was told once, in December of 2010, that I would die that night.

Lark should be here, working on her next novel or play or music collection or falling in love.  Figuring out life.

Up until January 10, 2017, if anyone asked how I was coping with the loss, I would have said, “Poorly.”

On that January day, a little over four months after the death of my daughter and only child, I found myself still struggling to deal with the loss.  Certain things were triggers to my sadness, among them certain photos.

At about 2:45 p.m., I was walking through my bedroom en route to take a leak.  I noticed an older photo of Lark from around the 5th grade and it triggered the beginning of a sad spell.

Gradually, I’m developing strategies to manage the spells.  I remind myself that she is no longer in pain.  Also, I think of a happy photo of our Little Bird seated with both her cats on her lap.  She’s smiling and wearing a tee shirt of one of her favorite bands, Nirvana.

cats

This thought of the happy photo was in my mind as I entered the bathroom.  I decided to play a quick word game on my iPad as I took care of business.  Jumbline, a scrambled letters game, was an easy way to occupy a couple of minutes, but I found myself struggling to figure out the seven-letter final word to the puzzle.  Time was running out.

Then it hit me – NIRVANA was the big word.  I immediately realized the coincidence.  Unless it was more than a coincidence.  Perhaps it was communication.

I’m a skeptic, and certainly not one to make grand leaps of faith.  But neither am I one to ignore what is presented to me.

Two minutes before, I was thinking about Lark in her Nirvana tee shirt, desperately missing her. Now the word Nirvana has popped up in the game I was playing.

Was Lark telling me she was now in Nirvana and at peace?  It’s possible.

Was it just a highly improbable, bizarre coincidence?  Also possible.

I was shaken. People who know me know that I am almost never shaken.

I phoned my sister Valeta Boo, who has a Masters of Divinity degree, to get her take on the occurrence.

She wisely asked, “How did the experience make you feel?”

I replied, “Good.  Happy.  Hopeful.”

After our chat, I texted her the screen image from the game. She texted back, pointing out the word above Nirvana.  Avian.  Like our Little Bird, Lark.

jumbline nirvanaColor me shaken a second time.  That magical mystery tour of a January day changed everything.

The possibility that I might see her again on another plane of existence is comforting.  It gives me a ray of hope where I had none.

It also fills me with abundant parental pride that my brilliant, talented, creative, generous, caring, funny, adventurous, beautiful kiddo figured out how to hack the afterlife.

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This Bird Has Flown, pt. 1

My brilliant, talented, creative, generous, caring, funny, adventurous, beautiful 18 year-old daughter, Lark “Alou” Randon, died on September 4, 2016.  We chose not to immediately announce her death publicly because of our own struggles to process it emotionally.

Before her death, Lark completed a novel under her pen name, Alou Randon.  One way I am coping with the loss of Lark has been to get her novel ready for publication.

Lark’s novel, Christiania will be available from Amazon on Wednesday-Friday (Feb. 15-17) for free download.  Hopefully, as many people as possible will get it on Wednesday so she will get a nice spot on the free best sellers list.Christiania_Cover_for_Kindle

I’m putting her book, Christiania, out there for several reasons.  Finishing her novel was a major accomplishment and one of her dreams.  I want people to see how well she could write at a young age and envision what she might have been able to achieve had she lived.  Also, I just wanted to do one last thing for my kid.

I’d love for everyone who is comfortable doing so, to share the info about the free book to maximize downloads, as a final tribute to Lark/Alou.

However, Christiania is adult material with disturbing themes.  Drug abuse, sex, violence and profanity are used throughout.  If you are easily offended, this will not be the book for you to read.  Just read the About Christiania note at the beginning, and the About the Author, poems, photos, and Afterword at the end.

Alou Randon wrote in letters to prospective agents, “Christiania is comparable to works such as Naked Lunch, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Trainspotting and was influenced largely by the works of William S. Burroughs.  Its audience is similar to those of the aforementioned books — present and past drug users who want and need characters whose problems they can relate to and empathize with.”

Because of my metastatic GIST cancer, I had no expectation of outliving her.  Since her death, I’ve had days when I just wanted to stay in bed or curl up in a ball on the floor indefinitely.  Knowing that Lark really wanted to publish her book has given me a purpose when I wanted to give up.

My heartfelt hope is that if she is able to somehow view what I’ve done from some other plane of existence, she smiles.

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Dennis Green & I Interview Each Other

Dennis Green, Rob Cline, and I have been meeting in my basement on Sundays for nearly 5 years to discuss our writing projects. Our meetings have resulted in 5 novels and a collection of short stories. Most importantly for me, they’ve also resulted in two new friendships and a welcome distraction from my stupid cancer. Since Dennis and I have new novels launching this week, we decided to interview each other about our works.

DENNIS:  Let’s start by getting the elephant in the room out of the way. Your stomach cancer has returned. How are you feeling?

RANDON:  First of all, thanks to you and Rob Cline for visiting me in the hospital after my last surgery.  Sadly, that nasty scar puts an end to my childhood dream of being a Speedo model, so I hope this writing thing works out. Fingers crossed.

Joking aside, the second-line chemotherapy for treatment of GIST (gastrointestinal stromal tumors), Sutent, is harsher than the first-line chemo.  My oncologist has been tweaking the dosage to find the sweet spot where the tumors remain suppressed but my quality of life is reasonable.  I’ve lost a substantial amount of weight and my stamina is greatly diminished, among other problems, but that’s all due to the chemo as opposed to the cancer itself.

Since I didn’t even expect to be alive in 2015, I won’t complain too much.

RANDON: How would you describe your latest novel, Prisoner?

DENNIS: Prisoner takes place about a year after the events of Traveler. True to the promise he made to himself at the end of the first book, Trav Becker has settled into a normal life, or as normal as a policeman’s life can be. But he’s left all the parallel reality-jumping behind. Everything is fine, until dead and dying Trav Beckers start showing up everywhere Trav turns.

Pursued by an FBI profiler who believes (with some justification) that Trav is hiding something, the detective races to save two kidnapped girls while also trying to sort out why he keeps turning up dead. Desperate to preserve his home timeline, Trav is thrust into a hidden war that threatens to destroy the very fabric of reality itself.

DENNIS:  Memoirs is a very different book than Friends Dogs Bullets Lovers. Where did the idea come from?

RANDON:  In 1991 or 1992, I was courting my wife, trying to convince that her I had a modicum of class.  We went to a museum called The Menil Collection in Houston and saw an art exhibit of Jacob Lawrence paintings from 1939 and 1940 that focused on the lives of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.  Each painting had a caption below it. One caption mentioned that after suffering a head injury as a slave, Tubman, for the rest of her life, had a condition that caused her to fall asleep with no warning.

I was blown away that, despite her medical condition, she risked her life repeatedly to free slaves. Tubman’s story and courage inspired me to begin writing Memoirs of a Dead White Chick. A large portion of the story concept came to me almost instantly. As I did more and more research, though, I began to wonder whether the Civil War was the best way or the only way to end slavery, and that question informed much of the rest of the story.

RANDON: Prisoner is the second book in your Traveler trilogy.  Compare the experience of writing this book to the first.  Was it easier, equally as difficult, or harder?

DENNIS: In music, they say a band has ten years to make their first album and ten months to make their second. If you think about it, you can pretty much count on the fingers of one hand the number of follow-ups that even match, let alone exceed, debuts. So you definitely feel like you’re under some pressure to prove the first book wasn’t a fluke. On top of that, Traveler was intended to be a one-shot. I wanted to leave it a little open-ended, but didn’t intend for it to become a series. Then, toward the end of writing Traveler, I had this idea for a scene where a bleeding and dying version of Trav shows up on “our” Trav’s doorstep. After that, I had to write a sequel. Only problem was, I then had to figure out the rest of the story!

RANDON: What did writing your first book teach you that applied to the second one?

DENNIS: Like you, I’ve never taken any classes or had formal training in writing novels. At its most basic, I learned how to structure a novel. It’s pretty easy to think of the idea of a story, and maybe even to write a scene or two, but understanding the ebb and flow of a narrative, where to leave the little clues your protagonist (and reader) need, while playing fair, takes a lot more skill and patience than you might think.

DENNIS:  And I’ll ask you the same question to wrap up. What did writing your first book teach you that applied to the second one?

RANDON:  The biggest thing I learned was that I can actually write a book.  Doubt was my biggest enemy for years.

Secondly, I learned that the book doesn’t have to be written perfectly in the first draft nor does it have to be written in perfect chronological order.  By that, I mean, if I had an idea for the ending, I could write it early on and then write toward that ending.  If I got stuck in the middle, I could skip over that part and fill it in later.

Lastly, I learned how much I enjoyed meeting readers when we spoke at bookstores, book clubs, Rotary Clubs, and Optimist Clubs.  Their enthusiasm and support gave me the confidence to keep writing, and their questions helped me better understand my own process and the process of our writing group.

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The Cancer, pt. 2 – Cancer Sucks, But I’m Still a Lucky Guy

My first-line chemotherapy has failed and I feel like a guy who tried to disarm a bomb but cut the wrong wire.

Now the timer has sped up.

The second-line chemo has been kicking my taut derrière, and my 2nd novel is giving me a little trouble, so my spirits have been sagging.

Then I got the following uplifting comments on my website:

Christine Grandon on October 18, 2014 at 4:16 pm said:

read my daughter’s copy and really enjoyed it, especially since I’m from CR and moved to TX!! Also, Noh’s religious feelings mirror mine!! Also, coincidence, i had just finished Suspect by Robert Crais and you are WAY better!! His protagonist was predictable and made stupid choices. As i said, you are way better. Don’t quit writing and i hope “the Gods” smile on you and make you well again

Christine Grandon on October 18, 2014 at 4:23 pm said:

just finished my daughter’s copy of your book, having just finished Robert Crais’ Suspect by coincidence and you are way better than he is! I liked Noh and Lee so much! My religious journey mirrors Noh’s very closely and coincidentally was raised in Cedar Rapids but moved to Texas for work. Please keep writing with confidence, and I hope “the Gods” smile on you with complete recovery.

Now I realize that I’m a lucky guy and I should re-focus on the good.

I have a great wife and daughter who cheerfully assist me when my body isn’t up to snuff.

One sister and her husband and kids visit and check in regularly. My other sister keeps me up to date on the latest therapies.

My wife’s family both in Cedar Rapids and out of town consistently let me know they are thinking of me.

My neighbors read my novel for their book club and invited me to discuss it with them.

My three brothers-from-other-mothers call, email, text, and visit.

My bluesman cousin from Austin lifechecks me regularly.

A brilliant former co-worker/haiku laureate from my technical writing days agreed with a smile to be a beta reader for my 2nd novel.

The Writing Lads still get together most Sundays as we have for nearly four years, supporting each other’s efforts.

Cancer sucks, but my life doesn’t.  I’m a lucky guy.

(But I wouldn’t say no to a cure.)

The Cancer, pt.1

In September of 2008, I began feeling easily fatigued and light-headed.  I thought it was perhaps a blood sugar problem, but tests indicated otherwise.

Eventually, a gastroenterologist performed an upper endoscopy.  When I awakened from the procedure, I was shown a photo of a tumor located in the wall of my stomach where the esophagus connects to the stomach.   It had its own blood supply.

Pathology determined I had a GIST (gastrointestinal stromal tumor), a fairly rare cancer.

In October, surgery was performed and the tumor was removed.

Six weeks later, I began taking a targeted chemotherapy pill (Gleevec) on a nightly basis with its accompanying side effects.  For me, I had nausea, diarrhea, severe muscle cramps, dry heaves, hypopigmentation (skin color lightening), and teary and puffy eyes.  Over time, I determined by trial and error which foods and drinks worked best to lessen the severity of the side effects.

In April, another type of cancer was found in my bladder.  For the first time I cried and started to feel my situation was hopeless. I felt like I was a cancer-making machine.  I shook it off a few days later because it’s not my way to dwell on the negative.

By the end of January 2010, I was able to stop chemo after 13 months and my life returned to normal.

Unfortunately, on December 16, 2010, I began to have great pain and was unable to bend at the waist.  An ambulance transported me to the hospital where a CT scan showed innumerable tumors.   My cancer had metastasized.  Surgery was recommended but we were told I would not survive.

I was moved to ICU, and my wife and I said our final goodbyes.  She contacted family and friends.  Then we got practical, discussing bills and household matters.

Once we thought about the whole surgery deal, though, we realized it would be best to consult with oncologists before rushing to cut me open again.  The oncologists we consulted said that we should put off surgery and try bombarding the tumors with chemo first.  We liked that idea much better than certain death.

Over two years later, the tumors are still there but the chemo is keeping them suppressed. Research says that the first line chemo fails in 50% of cases after two years, so I have been understandably anxious with every new CT scan or PET scan.

Until just recently, I’ve lived with the knowledge that when the first line drug fails, it has meant I have about 24 weeks or so left to live.  Bummer.

A few days ago, though, it was announced that a third line drug had been approved which has been shown to add a median of 4.8 months of life (3.9 months on average).  Though that does not sound like a lot, it relaxes me to know I could still hang around 10 or more months after the drug I’m on fails.  Perspective.

I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a realist.  I hope for a longer life but don’t expect it.

Writing and experiencing reactions to my first novel serve as a welcome distraction from my worries.  Hopefully I’ll have enough time to finish a second novel, and maybe even see how readers respond to it.  I’m just trying to make the most of the time I have left.

Saint Lance, the Munificent

Just to be obstinate, I’m gonna put it out there.

I don’t believe Lance.  He didn’t cheat.  No steroids.  Ever.  He just confessed to shut people up.  He actually won fair and square.

Since few were going to believe him when he professed his innocence, he pretended to be guilty to quiet those who wouldn’t stop hounding him.  Maybe not tomorrow or next month or next year, but someday, people will realize what a saint he was to shoulder the blame and put the focus back on cancer research.

There, I said it!