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.
It has been 5 weeks since Mark left us. I find the days getting harder as the weeks pass. I am more aware of the little things that I miss the most. He was such a booming personality in our everyday lives. There are times when I come home and expect to see him sitting there on the couch. But reality sets in. I envy those that grieve him, but get to go home where nothing is different for them. I am sure that does not make sense to some of you, but I know it does to those who have experienced it. And by no way does that belittle their grief, it is just different.
The boys and I are managing through it. Learning to lean on each other as we have before. Seeking Mark’s guidance through memories, and making new memories in his absence. We are finding things that bring us comfort, and stay away from things that bring us more angst and pain. I am grateful for the time we had to share things about what death brings. I am grateful he was not afraid to talk about his death and not deny it happening. I was more afraid of it than he was. But it helps clarify a life without him.
We have already had some firsts since he died, with Father's Day to start. Matt did some planting in his dads garden as a gift to him. Right after he finished, the skies grew dark and rained. When he came inside he asked me if I thought dad would have like what he picked. I said yes! So much that he is watering them for you. (I know Mark didn't believe in intervention, but I do believe in signs). Another first was the 4th of July. We always spent it as a family with fun, food, and fireworks! This year was harder but we managed to get through and still enjoy the fireworks. Another was a family movie outing. This may not be a first per say, but anyone that knew Mark knew how much he loved the movies. We saw Monsters University. I cried part way through thinking Mark would have loved this!! On the way home we discussed who our favorite monster was and which one we thought dad would have loved. Keeping his memory helps during those times.
And then the little everyday things that I miss: His chair sits empty at the dinner table. No texts saying “hello my love”. His laughter filling the house watching his favorite shows. Him whistling his favorite tunes. His bantering back and forth with the boys. His bird calls. His variety of tea (and the teabag sitting out). Waking up and going by his office to say good morning and he is no longer there. His computer stays closed. I miss His friendship. His love. His affection.
But as Mark would say, you need to realize sadness is part of the equation. You can’t get rid of that. And you don’t call what is sad, happy. You look for the happiness that is right next to it. So what is my happiness to the sadness? He is no longer suffering in pain. Because he was.
My world is a better place because Mark left it that way. And at the end of the day, that is all that matters.