A Cancer-Free, Happy New Year!

Posted on: Wednesday, January 16th, 2019
Posted in: SoulTrain | 4 comments

NOTE TO READERS: This is the 25th cancer-related essay on BreakAway since announcing 2+ years ago. Your reading and support marks this milestone and has helped this Survivor get this far. THANK YOU!

  • After the party

HNY! While others were making the rounds of holiday parties, I was making my medical rounds with Mr. Monkey. Santa skipped me this year, I can’t imagine why. But I got the best-est gift of all: NO SIGN OF DISEASE. My doctors grinned. Mr. Monkey wept. And into the arms of The Future I leapt.

  • Test jitters   

I keep thinking the test cycle will change and become more breezy. But instead, this time brought a blizzard of jitters. Maybe it’s the season—the holidays usher in ghosts of Christmases past and the dismal darkness of December. Maybe it’s cancer flashbacks—the clinics trigger gloomy memories and forever feature real, live cancer sufferers. Maybe Mr. Monkey was the wrong companion—as comedy sidekicks go, he didn’t exactly kill it with impatient patients and frazzled staffers.

But hey, he was a hit with mychildren—back in the day. Tastes change, I guess.

I brought Mr. Monkey because I’ve grown weary of one question medical humans often ask: “Are you alone?” I suppose they ask because, if they deliver bad news, they want someone to sneak you out ASAP so they can stay on schedule, obscure the drama, and save on Kleenex. But it gets annoying anyhow.

So this time, I had my snappy one-liners ready. “I’m NOT alone, obviously. I’m with Mr. Monkey!” Or, “No, my caravan of immigrants is on the way.” Or, “No, my evil twin is right behind you…don’t look!”

  • Beware of Kirk imposters

One thing that won’t change: Waiting rooms remain strange. I have my rituals. Like, bring many diversions, choose a window view, and sit away from the masses. This time, that was a bad idea. You see, the door that takes you into the scanning suite is high-security. So when the nurse opened Oz and called, “Kirk? Kirk?” I waved and gathered up my stuff. BUT—imagine this—the elderly gentleman right by the door popped up and beamed “That’s me!” And away they went.

Who ever heard of such a thing? I mean, typically a guy isn’t all that eager to visit Scan City, have an IV jackhammered into the arm, and be given 32 ounces of blech® to drink in an hour (“sip it like a martini!” said this cycle’s clearly lush-y orderly). But…things change. I suddenly found myself pounding on the door shouting, “Hey! That guy stole my spot! What if you confuse our cancers and give me his chemo?”

The check-in clerk watched me from afar with that look that says, “What is wrong with you?

Eventually, they corrected the situation. When they returned the jolly old man, the nurse explained, “He’s hard of hearing. That’s why he sits by the door. His name is Bert. HE THOUGHT I SAID BERT!” she shouted at him. So they laughed and bobbed their heads as though this were the best joke on open-stage night. I slapped my knee and bobbed along.

“Hi, I’m Bert!” said my new friend. So I replied, “Hi Bert, I’m Ernie” with swift wit. The nurse frowned. And Bert automatically blurted, “What’s that? You’re who? I can’t really hear you…” And we left him there to steal other people’s scans.

  • When dread goes dozy

On the next day, when the oncology reckoning came with Dr. Zen, the unusually packed waiting room meant wait…wait…and waiting room. So I took one of the remaining seats—and was overcome by a rare, omnipotent need to nap.

Maybe when the stress maxes out, you pass out.

I became like that guy who can’t stay awake in church. I tried the position with your head hanging—and eventually toppled over like a tree. Then I slept with my head in my hands—until they gave out and I tipped onto the nice lady next to me. Then I slid my body forward so I could put my head on the back of the chair. This worked until I began to snore and sleep-slide further forward such that no one could walk around my legs. I awoke to see the cancer crowd staring at me with irked expressions, while one group was trying to wheel Grandma around or over me. I’m pretty sure she thwacked me with her cane.

“Sorry,” I said, “I guess I’m pretty tired.” “We’re ALL tired,” said someone (who was not a monkey) from Grandma’s entourage. “Get a room!” snarled Grandma as she wheeled by, perhaps not aware of what that expression typically means. I was tempted to “accidentally” flick her wig off, but then was overcome by a slap of compassion.

  • “Do you realize…”

I look forward to when this routine becomes humdrum. But maybe that will never change. And maybe that’s okay, because it offers fresh adventures for my cancer journey and updated inspirations for my cancer comedy career. Not to mention…these scenes force new opportunities to work on grace, grit, and gratitude—survival virtues that can always use a tune-up.

When the appointments subside and the good news settles in, the gray grass seems a little greener. Stepping in frozen dog poop elicits a shrug, not a curse. The crusty lake ice seems perfect for a sundown skate, after all, and the sky rewards with a brilliant explosion of colors.

(Do you realize the sun never really goes down. Stay tuned…)

Mr. Monkey survived his cancer scare and has returned to hibernating in the ever-shrinking bin of my children’s memorabilia. I’ve returned to the (almost) flashback-free reality that is life between Testing Time. And blessings like friends, family, and music remain the vital remedies to weather life’s storms and to heal life’s ills.

As the Flaming Lips so sagely sing,

“Do you realize that life goes fast,
It’s hard to make the good things last,
You realize the sun doesn’t go down,
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.”

Change. It’s the only constant in life. I got this.

Thanks for listening…

PS Got 4m? Please click that Lips’ lyric/vid link. You’ll be glad you did.

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BITN: Billionaires & Sexless Women BreakAway Bigtime; Americans Broke!

Posted on: Saturday, January 12th, 2019
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle | Leave a comment

Start seeing Career Breaks! They’re OUT there, perhaps calling YOUR name. While the interns have been busy digging up these highlights, the first story hardly requires a bevy of underpaid minions—because it’s getting a LOT of online ink. Clearly, human nature remains fascinated with the rich and fabulous.

Did you know that the top 1% worldwide now has more $ than the rest of us combined? They must find that boring. So they’re seeking rare-critter safaris (with helicopter spotters to make sure they don’t get skunked), dancing with the sharks, and RTW family adventures with nannies and tutors in tow.

In general, the more exotic and extraordinary the itinerary, the better. Think: Bragging rights. This story going viral proves, we believe, that the even 99%-ers (who must have everything) harbor getaway fantasies. That’s the good news. We wish the well-heeled happy trials. And hope we all can afford a BreakAway someday.

  • Women put sex on hold

Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga are doing it. Or rather, they’re NOT doing it—and are thus are part of a trending “sex recession” caused by women taking a sex sabbatical.

As this website preaches, BreakAways come (or don’t) in all shapes and sizes. And each one needs a mission. For the ladies who abstain, reasons range from rebooting careers to redefining Mr. Right to rethinking the partying and promiscuity morass. In the case of Ms. Minaj and Ms. Gaga, it’s all about bumping up creativity.

As of press time, 800,000 employees of Uncle Sam still work without pay while our Wallbuilder in Chief plays Russian Roulette with people’s livelihoods—which includes another 4.1 million contractors who depend on the business flow. One longs for days of compassionate civility. But meantime, we gain new insights into the budgetary train wreck crushing so many Americans (and our gov’t).

Like, 78% of US workers live paycheck-to-paycheck. So do 10% of those making more than $100K. (CareerBuilder.) And as BreakAway and some of our media partners reported months ago, 61% in the US have no plan or nest egg should a 6-month emergency emerge from the shadows.

Once again, we implore our dear readers to practice Fiscal Fitness, whether you work for Uncle Sam or yourself. Not only will you increase your odds of surviving an unexpected, “You’re fired!” you’ll also have a better shake at a dreamy break.

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BITN: Chance Takes a Bible Break; Moms go to work; Shrinks talk bucks

Posted on: Monday, December 17th, 2018
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle | Leave a comment

The interns have been busy again seeking BreakAways in the News. And they got VERY excited by the news that Chance the Rapper is taking a break from his break-neck schedule to study the Bible. Other take-your-time related bits keep hitting the telegraph, fax, and carrier pigeons. Read on for news and inspiration…

Few rappers—or rock stars of any stripe—have incorporated gospel choirs and sheer spiritual jubilation like Chance the Rapper, so it’s no surprise that he’s serious about his faith. He also claims that the arrival of a new nephew has inspired him to take family and leadership more seriously. Chance has been lighting up charts and fans alike for some time now so…good for him. Oh yeah, he also claims he’ll use this time to stop smoking. Good for him.

  • Break time is over, Mom, so get back to work

An impressive site called Know Your Value dishes tips about re-entering the workplace for women in their, say, 50s. After, say, raising kids and getting lost in the laundry room for, oh, 20 years. One interesting suggestion: Don’t ask for help with technology. (HELP!?!)

Ginny Brzezinski serves as the site’s comeback contributor, and points out that there are as many as 5 generations in the workplace now—and that comebackers may find themselves reporting to someone half their age. Shocking, perhaps. But a small price to pay for the priceless privilege of raising your progeny.

There are only about 250 who practice this craft. They charge $100 – $400 per hour. They can help couples who argue about things other than kids, chores, and sex. And that’s a BIG market, so they’ve found a niche that begs the question…what took you so long?

Our Senior Intern Supervisor first heard about this on public radio’s wonderfully quirky Marketplace. And it catches our attention because, obviously, the #1 reason people don’t take a sabbatical is…money. Despite that most folks who would consider the idea will make millions over their lifetime. So yes, they need budgeting shrinks, saving shrinks, and spending shrinks.

Therapy is never cheap. But if it saves your marriage and/or money (and/or saves your BreakAway dream from dying), it’s worth every penny.

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Concert Therapy: Live Music Kicks Ass Over Yoga!

Posted on: Friday, November 9th, 2018
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle | Leave a comment

This site encourages everyone to break out of their comfort drone and dive into experience. The off-screen kind with fresh sounds, sights, smells, surroundings, and homo sapiens. In a perfect world, we do this by traveling the world for 3 months every 7 years or so. Meantime, we maintain our practice with music and things.

For lots of guys, diversion practice features lots of fishing, hunting, sports, beer, and Captain Morgan. For women, such activities trend toward yoga, book clubs, retreats, chardonnay, and Tupperware parties.

IMHO, however, few things bring release like live music. Regardless of your gender. In the Twin Cities alone, hundreds of venues are routinely packed despite spendy tickets, pesky scalpers, and spilt beer. Euphoric fans fill the streets, bars, and eateries hours before (and after) the show. And—never mind that funky fog—there’s a palpable buzz in the air that few pursuits can match.

  • Boost your well-being by 21%

I’m not sure how, exactly, one quantifiably measures well-being—but sign me up. Disclosure: the study last spring that got much ink was commissioned by London’s famed 02 Centre, a big player in the industry and perhaps not a completely unbiased source. Still, there are many such studies floating around. And they all agree on findings like…

  • Attending a concert every 2 weeks may increase your life span by 9 years
  • Going to live music boosts your mood much more than yoga or walking the dog
  • Listening to music increases your dopamine level by 9%

Those are impressive numbers. But beyond any fuzzy math, this live-music buff rejoices in the way that a concert brings people together like few other things can, especially in these contentious times. Regardless of work, religion, or politics, giddy fans routinely stand up, scream, sing along, and leave feeling at least 55% better than when they came in.

02’s study asserts that regular attendance is the key—as in, seeing a show every 2 weeks or so. While that might sound ambitious, most any hobby or pastime that promises to elevate your life experience takes some commitment. And is worth it.

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Unplugging Becoming Unpopular & Uncool

Posted on: Friday, October 5th, 2018
Posted in: Unplugging | Leave a comment

We all see it often: The idiot driving in front of you is all over the map—breaking and swerving, so unnerving. When this happened to me yesterday, my car-model prognosis surmised this person might be old. That’s fine; we all aspire to become elderly drivers, right? But this time, I pulled up in the next lane only to see that this aging person was also staring straight at her phone. Gadzooks!

  • Teens at risk for device addiction, seriously!

10 years ago, the MYBA Editorial Komittee declared that obsessing with your own digitalia qualified as risky behavior—including the danger that you may miss out on the joys (and pitfalls) of Reality. Taking a 3-month BreakAway to a dream destiny offered the ultimate escape from screen fakery and other drudgery.

That was before the cell phone, as we now know it. The simple remedy for that obsession? A practice called Unplugging. But that movement has gone the way of Universal Health.

So, sadly, BreakAway has become relatively silent on that cause. Others research and write about digitalia abuse routinely. In fact, over-usage (and by that I mean normal usage) of cell phones and SM now qualifies as a veritable addiction. Among teens, it’s an epidemic, in plain view wherever they may stumble upon you.

But as the granny-driver in the relic Buick reminds us, this disease does not discriminate; all ages are vulnerable. And exposure always beckons.

Yet a guy could drive himself bonkers (and has) by asking children or other loved ones to put it away. We’ve lost. We’ve lost the expectation for focused presence of mind from others; they have somewhere better, cooler to “be”…on-screen. We’ve lost the connection of eye contact. Heck, we may have lost the art of conversation.

Consider these findings about teens from Common Sense Media, although I believe the numbers might be similar for a substantial (and growing) segment of adults (who may just be striving to be youngish, since the tight jeans didn’t work):

  • 35% say texting is their favorite way to communicate.
  • 32% say talking is their favorite form of communication, down from 49% in 2012.
  • Almost ¾ believe tech companies manipulate people into spending more time on their devices. (Yet they increase usage anyway.)
  • 64% come across hateful content sometimes or often.
  • 46% said their parents would be “more worried” if they knew what “actually happens” online.
  • Waving the white flag (is there an emoji for that?)

Although I still preach and prick the kinfolk I care about when they are phone-focused during, say, mealtime and relevant chats, I rarely sacrifice my own sanity any more. Too bad. In this case, the “simpler times” really were better.

I miss the basic human courtesies of mutual respect and attention. It’s rather heartbreaking to realize you’re less popular than a widget.

But hey, we’re not alone.

(Or are we?)

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Recession Forecast: Dark & Stormy

Posted on: Thursday, September 20th, 2018
Posted in: Spendology | Leave a comment

After a long and self-indulgent break, the Spendology category is pleased to get off the recliner and return to the turf of BreakAway. And thus ends the good news—and the party. Because we are here to predict that the U$A is exactly two years away (or less, maybe much) from the next recession. Duh.

Market timing remains a foolish and dangerous sport. So “SELL” makes little sense. But neither does “BUY.” So here’s our best recommendation: “GO!”

  • Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans (or not)

Stick to your plan, of course. If you have one. But if you’re like most Merrkuns, you don’t. Even worse, a recent LAT article made a painfully compelling case that most of us have not improved our fiscal fitness since armpit of the last downturn. Yep, despite the longest uptick in our history, our national personal debt has actually risen…from $12.7 to $13.3 trillion.

Last spring, CNBC reported that 1/3 of Americans have less than $5k saved for retirement, while 78% are “extremely” or “somewhat” concerned about having enough for their golden years. Naturally, we’re all also getting older. Meantime, youngsters are afraid of making babies and our “leaders” are afraid of immigrants. So, absent willing & able taxpayers, the next bust could be particularly painful on our aging populace (and bodies).

Let’s not even go into the recent tax cuts that may ultimately benefit only certain lucky citizens certain large corporations. Meanwhile, our government will go wa-a-a-ay deeper into debt. It’s the American Way, right?

  • Stupid students, etc.

Student loans are the new cash sow and guilty party. And really, let’s hope they’re enjoying their bookish bash because when the crash comes and they enter the Real World, the party’s over. Ironically (or not), the brain trust in DC is the loan shark here. And FBOW, they go all Soprano about collections: Death may be ex-students’ only option to escape paying somehow, somewhere, someday. But hey, as a fellow Armchair Economist chuckled, “Student loans are a killer way to pump up the economy…because kids spend that cash immediately!”

Later, many of them kids can’t afford a house and are missing that rare boom moment. Rents soar, while wages stagnate like a draining swamp. “Fintech” loans have created a new way to float billions that, when the levee breaks, we have no idea who will sink and who will swim.

Speaking of sinking, remember in winter of 2009 when the S&P 500 hit an epic low of 6,443? You don’t? Good for you. Even better for you is if you bought (or at least held) in the 9 ½ years since—because you’ve nearly quadrupled your money! In record time!

  • Feel rich? Cash out and BreakAway

All to say…Buy low/get high applies. Right here and now is a GREAT moment to consider cashing out some gains and taking a sabbatical. Skip the second property. Punt the Porsche or vintage Pinto. Or if you’re like most folks and are still watching and waiting to get your financial act together, you may as well go anyhow.

What are you waiting for? The biggest boom in the history of Our Great Nation? Bummer if you missed it. Awesome if your ship came in.

Either way, it’s a good time to ship out. Winter is coming. Again. You ain’t getting any younger. It’d be a dirty rotten shame if your dreams died before you do.

Happy sails…

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Family Leave Becoming the Hot BreakAway

Posted on: Tuesday, September 4th, 2018
Posted in: HR FYI | Leave a comment

Seems like literally every day lately when I pick up a newspaper, a bold-face headline announces major increases in corporate family leave policy. MYBA’s primary mission may be advocating career breaks and sabbaticals. But coming in a close second is taking time for other what-matters-most opportunities. And frankly, does anything matter more than welcoming a new Earthling into the family? No.

Yet government statistics reveal that only 16% of US workers are granted paid leave for a new baby. Talk about mis-spent priorities amid an allegedly booming economy. Insert tantrum here, and please aim thrown baby food at your elected, crusty upper-crusters.

By their own accounting, five generations work at General Mills. So individual needs can vary dramatically, yet every employee is likely to need time to tend to a sick or aging family member—if not a new baby. Thus GM has made leave policy expansions that include bereavement, disability, and more, while new parents will get 12 weeks paid time off. New birth mothers will receive 6-8 additional weeks.

That generous, yes! But it’s also just plain smart; GM admits they’d fallen behind other large food companies. And when you employ 40,000 people (and must please countless shareholders), talent recruiting and retention are the best path to profits.

  • Microsoft to require contractors to offer paid parental leave

Tech firms may be the most lavish (and well-heeled) when it comes to leave benefits. But MSFT is about to set a new standard—and not just for tech freelancers, but everyone who contracts with the firm, including cafeteria workers and janitors. MSFT already mandates that contractors provide vacation and paid sick days.

The state of Washington and a small number of states have created an employer- and employee-funded tax that allows new parents to dip into those piggy banks for family time off. The other Washington—as in DC—remains pathetically hands-off about baby care and many other perks real people need. (Drain the swamp, indeed.)

  • Sweden and Scandinavia: Nurturing off the charts

The progress gradually happening in corporate America warrants a standing (or resting) ovation. But lest we get carried away, a travel article about Stockholm I read today featured a Swede casually mentioning that new parents there get up to 480 days of paid leave—plus a monthly child allowance paid by the government.

Will the US of A ever get there? Of course not—let’s not get piggish! But meantime, we’ll be grateful for (dare I say) baby steps.

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Save Summer: Send Your Kids to Camp

Posted on: Wednesday, August 15th, 2018
Posted in: Travelog | Leave a comment

The game is called Gaga. And it’s been going on much longer than Lady’s been lusting for limelight. It happens in an octagonal, sand-filled pit, has no real beginning or end, can accommodate as many players as want to squeeze in, and beckons kids from about age 8-16. My best guess is no adults have competed, or are invited. It’s a Camp thing, you see.

Camp rocks. From my parents’ lakeside deck overlooking the bay where Camp happens, I listen day and night to Camp noises including singing, screaming, chanting, laughing and, of course, the sound of sailboats and kayaks and canoes capsizing. Which leads to more screaming, laughing, splashing… My son (now in college) and my daughter (in high school) have done an overnighter week at this camp since they were old enough. They (and their friends) unanimously call it “the best week of the summer” and give it an 11 on a 10 scale.

  • The summer conundrum

That one glorious week aside, many parents of late have taken to overscheduling their kids’ everything, including summer. I get it. After all, MN schools meet all of 180 days per year—and about 11 of them feature early dismissal. Is than an adequate education? Probably not. So this parent felt a hefty responsibility to augment those 169 classroom days with summer opportunities of all kinds, from arts to science to watersports and crafts to ________________.

Throw in our culture’s kid sports obsession—that can lead to multiple sports, games, and practices per day—and it’s little wonder that people say, “Kids grow up so fast these days…” Because we make them. We push them. We need to get them out of our face so we can work and take a break. And, well, they need to get off their butts and their stupid screens. Sadly, you know that’s where their minds will usually be glued if given too much free time. Yuck.

  • Welcome the do-little movement

Still, there exists a noteworthy backlash against over-scheduling summer. A early-summer Strib article told of parents (some of them social-media mavens) preaching the gospel of lazy days and mellow moments. Of un-programming. Of swimming, biking, pottery, libraries, and (my favorite) encouraging kids to stare at the ants for 30 minutes if they feel like it.

In other words, kids need to learn to create things on their own. To go outside and make-believe or make up a game.

To. Be. Bored.

  • Ahhhh, precious boredom…

Boredom. Now there’s a luxury most people can ill afford these days. Even youth. Yet, frankly, it feels so good. Sitting on that deck and listening to those kids celebrating summer and childhood and getting-away-from-it-all from sun-up through the wee hours is, for me, a sacred boredom. I never get tired of it. And I smile with deep gratitude inside that my offspring get the chance to be there. Do that. To just be kids. Surrounded by others just like them but from all over. With the supervision of counselors who, for the 8 weeks or so weeks of Camp, also become kids again.

We all need Camp, or at least that state of mind. We all need to feel young, to let summer float our souls into a sunny bliss, to wash ourselves in the timeless, warm waters of lakes and ponds and rivers and pools. To ditch our screens and careers and to-do lists.

There’s still time. It’s only mid-August. You’re still alive, and so’s that kid inside of you.

Jump in and enjoy!

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BITN: Dads Don’t, Professionals Won’t Take Time-off Plunge

Posted on: Wednesday, July 25th, 2018
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle | Leave a comment

BreakAways of all sorts continue to generate news, and (possibly) progress. Work perks like flex time, telecommuting, and parental leave gain traction here and there, while travel and entertainment are booming as people ‘go out’ and the economy hums on.

Yet people still seem to love their jobs. Or have a love/fear relationship with their job (in)security. Here are just a few noteworthy news bits passed along by the MYBA interns, starting with dads who seemingly rather cuddle their computer than their own earthling offspring…

  • Daddy leave won’t leave the building

Here’s the good news: From 2015 to 2017, paternity leave offered jumped from an average of 4 weeks to 11 weeks.  Now for the bad news: Only about 56% of employed men even qualify. Worse yet: Most men just say no. While 2/3 of women use all their parental leave time, only about half as many men do.

Why not? 1/3+ worry it would jeopardize their career; ½+ think it might show lack of commitment. As one Silicon Valley exec sagely comments, “If you don’t take it, it’s borderline idiotic.”

The dilemma is getting attention, from HuffPost to CNBC to a new book by Josh Levs, a former journalist (now blogger) who took legal action against CNN for their biased policies. In this election ‘year of the woman’…in this time of too many men getting spanked for impolite tendencies…in this era of #metoo women roaring, it’s noteworthy that not all men get their way (or even equal treatment) all the time, and that somebody cares about that, too.

Unfair benefits benefit nobody, people. Stand up for your rights!

  • Fly away, but leave the laptop

So says Star Tribune travel editor Kerri Westenberg. Makes sense, right? What’s the point of vacation if you don’t vacate your baggage (so to speak)? And these days, ‘work’ seems to be mostly screen-centered (like everything else). Yet, increasingly, people bring their laptop (and cell phone and WORK) with them when allegedly getting away from IT all.

Ms. Westenberg cites some heavy reasoning to temporarily cut the connection, including that 9 out of 10 Americans state their happiest memories took place while on vacation. (And no, the other 1/10 weren’t necessarily on the job.)

She also mentions a respected heart study that found that men who skip their vacations are 30% more likely to have a heart attack. And get this: Women who refuse to vacation are 50% more likely.

So take this medicine from Dr. BreakAway: Use your PTO and you’ll definitely live larger, and likely live longer. Or you can skip your prescription and end up with a broken heart. Literally.

Dosage #2: if you want to fill your head with happy memories, take your time. Work matters, and makes money! But what good is money if it won’t buy free time?

Moments make memories. Take one and make one.

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About Angels, Infusions & Test Anxiety

Posted on: Saturday, June 16th, 2018
Posted in: SoulTrain | Leave a comment

One-plus year ago, I received the blessed news that my Care Crew and their amazing arsenal had won the cancer war inside of me. Of course, the journey carries on anyway, like a long, lost cruise. Still, I’m pleased to note every little cancer-versary, even though I keep mostly mum and celebrate with nary a sliver of chocolate cake.

In this transition into the After-Life, I wonder: Should I continue writing about this topic? Usually I decide, Heck no, move on! But the appointments and occasional complication continue. And funny or forehead-slapping scenes persist. So then I figure, How can I let this stuff go? After all, my Cancer Comedy career is still emerging—and can a comedian ever have too much material?

  • Testing, testing

The good news is the bad news: When you ask anyone who has to endure thorough check-ups, they will say It’s not just you; it’s genuinely stressful and anxiety-inducing. I mean, just look at the guy in that picture. Does he look like he’s having fun? Has he lost that can-do attitude? Would he rather, say, be undergoing root canal? I think his kindergarten teacher would be ashamed.

I happen to know he’s trying, and he’s tough. But the process is also trying and tough, and the cheerleaders have left the building. Most staffers are kind enough and remember me; one saw me at a track meet recently while another had seen me biking. So those singing dollies at Disneyland got it right: Cancer is a small world—a world of laughter, a world of tears, a world of hope, and a world of fears.

  • Doing shots

A Disney dolly is not what I resembled today when the pain went to 11 as they shot some of Kim Jong Un’s ordinance into my veins as part of a scan. For some reason, it burned like hell. “F**KING A!” I screamed as I shot up from the plank. They apologized and offered an explanation (that made no sense to me) of what went wrong. I resisted the urge to run away and blow off the test.

When enduring this particular scan, a recorded Voice of God tells you what to do: “Breathe. Hold it in.” That’s when they shoot the high-octane gas into your veins and the machine makes extra-terrestrial sounds—echo-y little pings and pongs and the faraway crunch of bones and brains smashing. And then, 5 minutes later, Voice of God says “Exhale.” It can seem like forever, but I find my flesh looks surprisingly good in blue. Matches my eyes.

After a pause, Voice of God gets all tricky and says, “Exhale. Don’t breathe.” And the flush of molten asphalt flows again. In my mind, I’m fantasizing that I take the microphone from Voice of God and say things like, Please rise and bow your heads or Stand up! Sit down! Fight Fight Fight!

Now, about those infusions: They do a nice job of describing what you will experience, stuff like…A hot sensation…flows into your whole body…a bad taste will fill your mouth…and you’ll have to pee…then you’ll think you ARE peeing…but you’re not.

Of course, when those sensations happen, no one is in the room, since they don’t want to undergo the toxic radiation they’re putting you through. That’s probably a good thing—so they don’t hear us patients yelling, GAWD, this sh*t tastes like sh*t! and Stop! I have to pee! and Help! I think I’m peeing! I swear, when Voice of God tells me it’s over and I can sit up, I stare straight at my crotch and wonder, How DO they DO that!?!

  • “You have really nice veins”

The blood-thirsty nurses always say that to me. I don’t know what it means, and even though they’re usually women, I doubt it’s a come-on. But they are honest, because they don’t ever say, “This will be easy.” Or “This won’t hurt a bit.” And then comes the ice pick in the arm.

Blood. They take blood, lots of blood. I usually turn the other way and read the paper (upside down). If it’s not going well (some are more on-point than others), I try out some new material, like Are you part vampire? Or Shouldn’t I get paid for all that? Or Where’s the dang cookies and Kool-Aid? They cart the blood away like milk cartons. Days go by before they reveal what emoji face they might apply to the specimens.

  • The Rasta Angel appears

I’m unsure about spirits and angels and things. But they do make great literary devices. And sometimes, when you’re lost in the deep, dark woods of your thoughts, a perfect stranger can show up with a message of miracles and hope. So I was not surprised yesterday when a Caribbean dude with dapper dreads sat at the table next to me under the scalding sun at Chipotle. We were the only ones who could handle the heat and eat outside.

With that patois that instantly takes me to my don’t-worry-be-happy place, he lit up and went off loudly like only an Islander can: If you ees bone een America, you nevva tink life ees guud enough. Always be want-in’ mo’. Da people who get to come to dees country, DEY WANT to be hee-yah! Ass wha’ I’m say-een to you! We got to stop all da figh-TIN and fear-INN an’ com-plain-INN. We got to bring back da gra-ti-TUDE, mon!

We had a long chat, naturally. He told me lots of things, including that he is in love with a woman who lives in Norway. He wants to marry her, he says, And just teenk of datt! Den I might could gitt to leeve in No-o-o-rway, mon! he beamed.

I told him I’d been there, that it’s magnificent, and that it’s one country where the people actually like and care for each other. He bobbed while singing out Ya mon! Ya mon! and squeezing some lime. Then, with the timing of a master comedian, I asked, “Does your girlfriend have a sister?”

He bellowed out a large, life-loving Island laugh and guffawed, I Iike you! I like YOU! You eess faaaaah-NEE!

I don’t know if he really was an angel. Or if I’m really funny. But that really did happen. And since I must admit that these advanced-class tests can bring out the inner snark and angst, he really did remind me to be grateful. And that I must pass these tests, for I want to see Norway (and the Caribbean) again.

Gratitude. I got this, mon.

Thanks for listening.

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