×

CaringBridge Is Funded by People Like You

Make a donation to CaringBridge

Honor Mark with a tax-deductible contribution to CaringBridge today.

Click here to make your donation.

Mark’s Story

Welcome to the Operational HQs for OPERATION TRUE GRIT.

(IF YOU VISIT THE GUESTBOOK, please say how you know me.)

Yea, call it corny, but with 23 years in the Army I intend to take this on like any Army Operation, and for starters, an Operation needs a communication center.  This is it.

----   Make sure you click the "Read My Story" link below or on the toolbar so you can see the "Background Story" of this bizarre freak'in ride.  ---

NOV 07-NOV 09 – Bleeding ulcer.

JUL10 – Stage IV Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Cancer.           

AUG10 – Diagnosed with different form of the same cancer.

NOV10– Diagnosed with Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor.

TIMELINE DETAILS:
The Beginning.   Started experiencing some unusual fatigue on/about 20 JUN 10.  Not bad, just enough to raise concern.  I concluded that it was either a late Spring bug OR something related to my ulcer.  (I have a history of bleeding ulcers - twice in three years - with no known cause; “It’s not stress…some people just get ulcers.”)  Decided to take a trip to the doc, who ultimately decided to take blood.  Not a whole lot of concern on my part or hers given my weight, health, and lack of any other symptoms.

First Bolt of Lightning.   On the day GEN McChystal was relieved of his command, I had an email exchange with an old comrade - GEN Petraeus.  He recommended me for a position on his team and the very next morning I got a call from LTG Caldwell in Afghanistan.  We immediately dispensed with the formalities - he and GEN Petraeus had talked and they wanted me to do in Afghanistan what I had done in Iraq.  In this case, they wanted me to be the Military Assistant to Minister Bismillah Mohammadi, the newly appointed Minister of Interior in President Karzai's cabinet.

Initial Blood Work Results.  Blood work from routine check up showed Hemoglobin of 8.9...just above what I understand is a red-flag threshold.  Immediately referred to a GI specialist.

Scheduling/Endoscopy.  On 15 JUL Dr. Matlock performed an Endoscopy and found a fist-sized lesion in my duodenum (small pouch just past the stomach)...same spot as the previous ulcer, but a hell of a lot bigger (18 months ago it was the size of a pencil eraser).  The doc ordered more blood work and an immediate CT scan for 19 JUL.  Normal iron stores run from 100-300...mine were at 2.  Something was wrong.

CT Scan/Initial Diagnosis - Second Bolt of Lightning.  The scan was uneventful.  We met with Dr. Matlock the following day, Tuesday, 20 JUL.  Kristin and I watched a poker-faced Dr. Matlock enter the room and deliver through the softest voice possible that the news was not good.  He walked us through the slides of the CT scan one by one and the scene honestly took our breath away.  The "ulcer" was not an ulcer, but cancer.  And roughly 75% of my liver was filled with tumors – about 15 and they were big.  One looked as large as a baseball and several others were the size of golfballs.  He didn't know the prime source, but given the ulcer, and it's location to the pancreas, he believed it was either duodenal or pancreatic cancer.  He repeated through tearful and incredibly sympathetic eyes that he thought that this was going to be the thing that took my life.  He ordered a liver biopsy to determine exactly what we were facing. 

I notified my immediate family and found myself bracing for what I thought would be the remaining few months of my life.  I fired off a note to GEN Petraeus as well, and, as is typical, he responded within about 30 minutes with the following:

“Very sorry to hear this, Mark....  Needless to say, your focus now is to fight this enemy and leave the Taliban to us for a while.  Pls keep us posted.  God bless –“

I'll consider that an order.  Follow along in the journal for updates.

Latest Journal Update

Valentines Day without my Valentine

I'm a widow. I never thought I would say these words. I never thought I would say them in my 40s. Widows are supposed to be old women contemplating the end of their lives.  I hate that word.  Widow. Whenever I hear that word I immediately picture a black widow spider. And then I realize the irony of it.  How much the two have in common. People avoid both, are scared or freaked out over them, try to steer clear of them.  Luckily in my version we are not exterminated. But I do realize that some people really don't know what to say.  I would struggle with it myself.  It's OK if you just say “I don't know what to say”, or “I’m sorry for your loss”, or don't even bring it up!  But don't avoid us because it makes a lonely situation even lonelier.  A lesson I need to remember myself.

It is hard to believe it has been 8 months since Marks death.  Some days I wake up and ask myself did all of that really happen?  Yes, it did. I am a widow. My kids no longer have a father.  As a mom I want to shield my kids from pain, but I cannot take any of this away. It is an experience they were chosen to have at this young age in their lives. As a parent we can usually share our experiences with them on things because we have been there, done that, but this will be a lesson they will share with me someday. We try our best to ride the waves of grief.  You cannot avoid or escape grief. It is best to face it and work thought it. If you don't, it will always be there, festering, and it will find you, making life harder. Don't get me wrong, I don't think you ever fully get over it and are cured from grief. I believe by dealing with it you learn how to positively cope and live. Because that is what we need to do, live.


Much has happened since I last wrote and too much to get into detail. In July, we celebrated what would have been Marks 42nd birthday with our dear friends the Sterns. We had wonderful food and made a toast in his honor. I started a new job and as unsure and scary as it was at first, and at such a hard time in life, it has been a good change for me.  Svenja, our German exchange student came to live with us for three weeks this fall.  It was a wonderful experience and would recommend it to anyone.  We all celebrated birthdays with the twins starting it off turning 13, then myself, and most recently with Matt turning 18!  We celebrated by pulling off a surprise party for him. The look on his face was priceless!  So far I have been surviving three teenage boys in the house! But I do feel like I live at the grocery store.


The holidays were different but manageable. Those that are familiar with our cat Simon and his naughtiness appreciate that we could not put our Christmas tree up in the family room as we have always done. He would not leave it alone. So,this year it went up in our basement family area so that we could keep the door shut and the cat upstairs. I was sad at first, but realized that it was a blessing in disguise for me. A new area to celebrate and open our gifts and it made the pain of his absence more bearable. Since his "spot" was not empty as we never celebrated there before.  I could share with you all some of the difficulties the boys and I have had over the months. But those are private to me. And I am sure you all can imagine some of those dark days. As for today, we are managing along. The memories and talking about Mark are not as painful and I can talk more about him without breaking down in tears.  I think about Mark and miss him everyday.


Despite all we have been through we have much to be thankful for. I am thankful for the years I spent with Mark and the family we created. I am also thankful for the village that surrounds and supports my family every day. I honestly don’t know what I would do without them. We can laugh again and make plans.  I will live in today.