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John’s Story

Welcome to our CaringBridge website. We've created it to keep friends and family updated about John.

Feel free to sign up for email updates, or to just visit when you have the energy; either way is fine with me.  Please ignore the "Donate now" button on the right; I'll make a nice donation to CaringBridge to thank them.  

I've set privacy to "low", so you do not have to create an account to view. However, I would prefer that this site be for my friends, not for the world, so please don't post the link publicly. (Though it's fine with me if you share it with people you know are my friends.)

In late June of 2010, I decided to have a growth removed from my bicep.  It looked more like a nodule than a mole, but it was often irritated by the seam in my short sleeved shirts and it seemed like it might be bigger.  Much to everyone's surprise, the biopsy showed melanoma - 4.65mm in depth.  In early August 2010, I had a wide excision biopsy and removal of 2 sentinel lymph nodes.  Both lymph nodes were loaded with melanoma, so 9 days later I had all the lymph nodes removed from under my arm (23 total), 4 of which showed very small numbers of cancerous cells. 

Within a month of the last surgery, I began a course of interferon treatment.  After just two doses, I stopped treatment because of neuropathies in my left foot and my left eyelid.  The Mayo Clinic recommended a course of GM-CSF as adjuvant treatment, and I have been receiving injections of Leukine for 14 days out of every month.  PET/CT scans every 4 months showed no evidence of disease, right up until my most recent scan this month.  Unfortunately, this scan showed three areas of tumor - one a subcutaneous tumor beneath the skin of my left buttock, one a lymph node beneath my left collarbone, and one possible in the bone of my left wrist.  And so, the battle begins again . . . .

Latest Journal Update

Thank you

Good Morning,

We would like to take a moment to thank all of you for your prayers and support throughout this journey, especially in the last few weeks. My Dad would have been honored to see and hear all of the wonderful people that have shown their support at the Vigil, the funeral and on Caring Bridge. 

I think I speak for many when I say that I am a better person for having known him and the world will be a little less vibrant without him in it.  

A few people have asked for the eulogy that Eric (who beautifully delivered it at the funeral), Kevin and I wrote - I have copied it below:

Dad always helped me with my speeches.  It feels weird giving a speech without him looking it over first.  I went to Karen and Kevin, and we decided to write this speech together in the hopes that we could put into use all that he taught us, or, if things don’t go well, to conclusively prove that oratory skills aren’t genetic.
Dad was many things, but when we thought over the qualities that made him so special, we kept coming back to two: his love of careful analysis and his relentless optimism.  Sometimes I think of it this way: he wanted to see the world clearly, and he wanted to focus on the good side of things.
(lighter, faster, more fun)
On our family vacation to Guadeloupe, we rented a house in a quiet secluded valley.  One afternoon we came back after a long day and discovered the washing machine had spewed water all over the floor.  Dad said “Guys, I know it looks like a lot of water right now, but I think if we all work hard, we can be done in 15 minutes.”  We all grabbed mops and brooms and started trying to sweep the water out of the house.  Over an hour later, he said to us, “Okay guys, I know this has been pretty tough, but I think that in 15 minutes we’ll be able to get all of the water out of the first room!”  When the waters had finally abated, he said, “You know, there’s no one I would have rather had this happen with,” which we decided was meant as a compliment.  Even during the onerous cleaning, he couldn’t help himself from focusing on the good.
As many of us know, Dad loved analyzing things through books.  When he wanted to coach soccer, he bought books on soccer.  When he wanted to improve his squash game, he bought books on squash.  When he wanted to have kids, he bought books on parenting.  When we were getting ready to go to college, he bought books on having kids going to college. When he... well, you get the idea.  Anything he did, he wanted to see clearly how to do it right.
His love of analysis and optimism could merge together to hilarious effect.  For instance, he once looked into how likely people are to follow your book recommendations based on how many books you recommend.  We went to his talk at the 2008 Adaptive Hypermedia Conference in which he described the answer.  It turns out that if you recommend too many books to people, they get overwhelmed and are less likely to follow your suggestions.  As he told us in his talk, the optimal number of books to recommend turns out to be about two.  When he said this, Karen, Kevin, Mom and I burst out laughing from the back of the room, because we knew that he usually didn’t even come close to limiting himself to two books, and sure enough, he proceeded to recommend about seven or eight books during the talk.  Even though he saw the situation clearly, he couldn’t restrain himself from focusing on all the good books he had read.
His love of analysis could be frustrating.  Every time we wanted to stop for fast food on a road trip, we first had a long and complicated decision-making process.  Unlike many families who would quickly decide where to eat, we always decided by voting.  The first and most important step in voting was deciding what voting process we would use.  We could spend upwards of half an hour discussing the merits of the different systems before finally voting on a place to eat.  He wanted us to see clearly how the various voting systems had different benefits and drawbacks.  He also got to see clearly the drawbacks to depriving Mom and Karen of food when they were hungry.
(more serious)
Although we teased him about his tendency to overanalyze, it was clearly an asset to him.  His incredible academic record speaks for itself, but it also let him see some important things very clearly.  One Christmas when I was in middle school we had relatives visit us and I threw a fit because they wanted to celebrate Christmas differently from how we usually did it.  I’ll never forget what he told me: “With family, it can often feel like you put in more than you get out.  But if you look around, the people who take the time to invest in family are happier than those who don’t.”  Sometimes with family, things are wonderful, and everything feels easy.  He saw, though, that with family, it can often feel like you were the one bending, that you were the one putting your needs second, that you were the one who had to make the bigger compromise on what you wanted.  And he saw that focusing on family was good and worth it.  He saw the world very clearly.
Mom, Dad, Karen, Kevin, Anthony and I spent Christmas at my dad’s hospital in D.C.  With all that had been going on, there were few gifts, and few of our usual Christmas traditions.  But Dad wanted to focus on the good, and so we focused on the good.  We did crossword puzzles.  We sang “I’ll be home for Christmas” with limited choreography, and we had to do several takes so that he could get the swaying right, with my mom and I each grabbing one of his shoulders so that we could pull him to the side at the right moments - Dad had many gifts, but music wasn't one of them.  And we did my dad’s daily walk through the mostly deserted hospital halls in true Christmas style, my dad the squash player panting after the first one hundred yards but insisting that the rest of us sing Christmas carols, focused on how good it was that we were all together.
One final thing that Dad saw extremely clearly was the value of his marriage.  He made no secret of his love of Mom.  As he was gearing up for one of his grueling rounds of treatment, he told me, “It’s hard to imagine anyone more nurturing than your mother.”  One of the side effects of the treatment was that his body retained fluid.  This made it impossible for him to wear his wedding ring, which he called “his most precious possession.”  There was a special moment before that treatment, when he passed his wedding ring to my mom and she slipped it on her finger inside hers (“closer to her heart,” she said).  He had a vulnerable look on his face as he passed the ring over, so clearly seeing what she did for him, and how much she meant to him.  She had a more practical, determined look on hers, the look of someone who is about to spend a week in the hospital with her husband as they fight for his life.
One morning at breakfast my dad mentioned how much he hated the phrase "lost a battle with cancer." He said it made it sound as though if he only tries harder, he could win his own battle. So today, let’s remember my Dad as a winner: the wonderful father, the loving husband, the curious scholar, the caring friend, the thoughtful Catholic, the patient teacher, and the good man that he was.