Can you support CaringBridge during our Holiday Giving Campaign? Generous donors like you ensure that CaringBridge remains ad-free, private, and protected. 

Welcome to Bill’s site. Please sign in to show your support.

Journal

View comments
April
9
2019

April 9, 2019

Post by Wendy Clark
April 9, 2019

BILL THOMPSON III
March 3, 1962 - March 25, 2019

As you are all aware by now, our beloved Bill died fifteen days ago following a short battle with pancreatic cancer. As a final Caring Bridge entry, I'd like to share with you his final entry in his personal journal. Something tells me he intended for me to find this and share it with you! It sums up his beautiful, deep-yet-whimsical spirit perfectly, I think.

Our dear friend Shila Wilson often reminded Bill in his last months that our earthly bodies are just our "meat suit", and that the real person lives inside. That real person goes on living long after the meat suit has worn out from sickness or old age. Meat suits were not made to last forever, but our spirits - our real-life energy - was created to last for all eternity.

Thank you for following Bill's journey from this life to the next. 

If you'd like to stay in touch, please follow me on Facebook, or contact me at
wencrowmusic@gmail.com
or at Wendy Clark
700 Scotts Ridge Road
Whipple, OH 45788
I'd love to hear from you!

Here is Bill's final journal entry, "Meat Suit".
Written in his hand on March 13, 2019, just twelve days before he died.

MEAT SUIT

Here I am in my meat suit
It fits me kind of loosely
The outer skin holds everything in
The blood, the bones, the juices.

You're living in a meat suit too
It's just like mine but different
You may have curves or longer arms
But your meat suit is magnificent!

On the day you're born your life energy
Slips into your body

On the day you die that energy leaves
But that's not the end of the party.

~Bill Thompson III, March 13, 2019

Show your love and support for Bill.

Make a donation to CaringBridge to keep Bill’s site up and running.

March
24
2019

My Bucket List

Update by Bill Thompson III
Saturday, March 23, 2019

People have been asking me how I’m dealing with being terminally ill. I think I’m doing terminally well, actually. I feel pretty good most days. If I feel good, the old BT3 rears his balding head and overdoes it. Then I’m down for the rest of the day or sometimes longer. Lesson learned: It’s hard to go from running at 600 mph on a daily basis to roughly 0.05 mph. I honestly have trouble remembering a time when I didn’t have the energy to get up and run headlong into whatever the day held for me. I miss that rush.

It’s time for me to get serious about the old Bucket List. Things that were on my BL formerly that have to be asked to step off the list, include:

1. Visiting Hawaii, the only state I’ve never set foot in.
2. Birding in Australia. A dream deferred, I guess.
3. Hitting a home run over the fence in an organized game of baseball or softball. I haven’t got the          strength anymore. I was getting there this winter, working hard on my legs and torso torque. Still        gonna write the book, though, with a different ending, and with Phoebe’s help
4. Drinking a beer while shooting hoops with Barack Obama. The man is just so cool and one of our          greatest Presidents (and I’m not just saying that because of the current occupant of the White            House).
5. Jamming with Wilco. Reading Jeff Tweedy’s autobiography hasn’t changed my mind that all their          band needs is a bit more birder influence.
6. Seeing a gyrfalcon. That was a target life bird for this winter. Dang it!
7. Recording another Rain Crows’ CD (do people even buy CDs anymore?)
8. Holding a big music jam here in Whipple. No time to organize it.
9. Swimming in the ocean one more time—any ocean, any time.
10. Driving north with the spring migration from the Gulf to the boreal bogs. A lifelong dream.

Of course, there are far more serious things that are now out of reach, which stings and sometimes makes me cry. Not getting to see my kids launch into the world, make some cute grandbabies, and come visit PopPop and Mimi regularly. Not being able to enjoy with Wen the decades we thought we had together. Not being able to build the small house on the Indigo Hill acres, near to Julie and Curtis Loew. Not being able to take care of my mom. Not being able to be a gentleman farmer anymore. Not being there to celebrate the continued growth of Bird Watcher’s Digest.

So, I am contenting myself with some short-term BucketList goals:

1. Play some original songs at a Songwriters’ Night (DONE 3/6/19!)
2. Record a few more podcasts (DONE, but not edited)
3. Work on audio projects with Julie and Wen
4. See Liam (DONE 3/7/19 when he came home for spring break!)
5. See Phoebe: (DONE! And…)
6. Meet Phoebe’s incredible “novio” Oscar (DONE! If you haven’t seen the video of Oscar walking into      the Pink Palace to surprise me, you should. It’s a blast of pure love and joy.
7. Go to the Pirates’ Opening Day on April 1 Let’s GO BUCS! (Probably not happening due to my              declining energy)
8. Play another music jam with my local music pals (looking less likely…)
9. See as many of my dear friends as possible (ongoing but stopping soon)
10. Live until May and spring migration (this may be quite a pipedream).

Again, thanks to everyone out there for the love and support. We’ll keep you posted.

Love,

Bill

March
12
2019

So, Now What?

Written by Wendy Clark
March 12, 2019
 
I've always wondered what it would be like to receive news from a doctor that you have "X" amount of time left to live. 
 
It's quite a dramatic scene, isn't it? A beautiful, brilliant doctor at the bedside of someone too young to die, unfairly struck with illness, holding hands, tears on cue, dramatic words delivered in academy award-winning style, life suddenly flashing before the eyes of the patient. I've seen it play out time and again in heartwrenching films, on soap operas back in the day, in dozens of stories and biographies. I've even imagined receiving that news myself as my mind has wandered to dark places while awaiting biopsy results.
 
But when it happened to Bill, it was nothing like the movies, books, or soap operas. It was quite anticlimactic, actually. Days earlier, Bill was already sure this was the news we would receive, his Piscean vibes on point as always. I was hoping for the best, preparing for the worst, and deep down, I knew it too. I knew it on December 16th when they found the "suspicious mass" on his pancreas. When Dr. Siva matter-of-factly uttered the words, "Our best guess is 2 to 6 months", I felt nothing. Nothing at all.
 
You've read Bill's account, and mine is no different. We left the Strecker Cancer Center, hand-in-hand, no words spoken because there was nothing to say. We drove to the grocery store where we shopped for his birthday celebration the following day. Shouldn't there be some kind of dramatic scene here? Shouldn't I fall apart, yelling, screaming, begging him in tears to fight this and not to leave me? Shouldn't it be like that scene in Titanic where Rose realizes Jack is gone as he clings to the floating plank with his frozen, dead fingers, Rose whispering the words "I'll never let go" as Jack floats down into the deep, cold Atlantic? (Cue "My Heart Will Go On" soundtrack)
 
Nope. None of that happened. I just felt a quiet peace, an eerie sense of closure, like putting the last puzzle piece in the jigsaw puzzle. We waited for the news. We received it. So, now what?
 
We walked through the grocery store together, checked things off of our list, paid & bagged it, loaded up the car, and drove home. I finally released some pent-up tears on the drive from Marietta to Whipple, but it was a quiet time. He held my hand, we told each other we would love each other forever - in this life and the life after - and that we would get through this together, no matter what lay ahead. And so we are.
 
But I knew what lay ahead of us. I knew because I just walked this path with my mom precisely twelve months ago after spending her last month of life with her in Nashville alongside my Nana, brothers, and sisters-in-law. Friends and family visits, tears, hugs, goodbyes, food everywhere that you don't feel like eating, funeral planning, Hospice, slow decline, last breaths, and gone. 
 
I knew in my heart that Bill would not want to continue chemo because we'd discussed every possible scenario. If cancer had spread despite a full-on attack with the most potent chemo that is legally permitted, he was not going to put his body through any more of it, only to gain a few extra months with horrible chemo side-effects. He had already made peace with his decision before the news was confirmed. 
 
The head of the Strecker Cancer Center, Dr. Kelly Cawley, came to our home the following week and met with Julie, Bill, and me for over two hours. We are under her thoughtful care now, and the care of Marietta Hospice. Dr. Cawley confirmed that, in her opinion, Bill was making the right choice not to continue chemo. We've had multiple medical opinions, we've had Bill's case reviewed by clinical trials, and we've talked to some of the best oncologists in the country. All have said the same thing. Dr. Cawley assured us that this is the path she would choose for herself, or for anyone she loves. That gave Bill a great deal of peace. 
 
To all of you who desperately wanted to help us, to fix this, to offer alternatives to chemo, THANK YOU. Thank you for sending links about successful cancer stories, people who beat the odds, miracle cures, Scientology, St. Raphael, oils, vitamins, diets, and even drinking and bathing in pickle juice! (We've tried a few of these, by the way. Not the pickle juice though.) We've been overwhelmed by your heartfelt suggestions, and we know they are offered in the spirit of love and genuine concern. Thank you for caring enough to extend hope to us through your words, remedies, suggestions, and stories. We love you for that.
 
So, now what?
 
Now we focus on people and relationships. We've been given the gift of terminal illness. I call it a gift because we've been told ahead of time that Bill has a few months left on the planet. Most people don't find out in advance that their days are numbered. Bill has the opportunity to get his affairs in order, to heal any brokenness in his life, to say all of the essential things one says at times like this, and to say goodbye. And I have been given the great privilege of walking him through the last leg of his earthly journey, helping to prepare him for the next life that awaits him. That preparation includes spending time with friends, classmates, family, Julie, children, grandson, his dog (hurray for Curtis Loew!), his pastor, his guides, his healers, his mentors, his music, his colleagues at BWD, his birds, me - everyone and everything that is important to him. And that's precisely what we're doing.
 
Some days Bill has the energy to do things, some days he doesn't. The only constant is his pain, increasing daily, nightly, all the time - which we are managing with about 18 different medications. We're done with the after-effects of chemo, and now his suffering is due to the inevitable growth of cancer. His body is fighting it, even now. That robs him of a lot of his energy, according to Dr. Cawley. But Energizer-Bunny-Bill is still managing to find purpose and productivity in each day and to do the things that matter most. He's doing this better than anyone possibly could. 
 
I'll leave you with this. Dr. Cawley, whose entire career has involved caring for terminal cancer patients, explained to us that, along with his body's physical preparation for death, Bill would begin to be prepared spiritually as well. She told us not to be surprised when Bill and those close to him started to experience loved ones who have died coming to us in dreams. (Bill, Julie, Phoebe, Jade, Laura, and I are already experiencing this phenomenon.) She told us that as he nears his final weeks, Bill would begin to have waking dreams where these loved ones would talk to him, converse with him, preparing him for his passing. She didn't want us to be surprised when he hears and sees things that the rest of us can't see or hear. She said this normally happens in final weeks with terminal cancer patients, and to remember that dying is as natural a process as being born. She wasn't mystical or religious at all about these facts but was sharing her experience as an oncologist. She is convinced that there is a life beyond this one and that those loved ones who have gone before Bill are nearby, and will be there to receive him. Bill will be met with light, love, and the people he loves most. There is no need to fear death because it is a transition, not an ending.
 
So, now what? 
 
I don't have all the answers, and I don't believe anyone else does either. 
 
And until I experience it firsthand, I'm putting my money on Dr. Cawley.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


March
5
2019

The News.

Caring Bridge Update March 4, 2019
Written by Bill Thompson III

Well everybody, this is the update I never wanted to write.

Wendy and I went into the Strecker Cancer Center last Friday, March 1, to get the results of my CT scan from Dr. Siva. When your doctor starts the visit off by saying “I’m glad you could come in because I wouldn’t want to share this news with you over the phone,” it gives one pause. She then pulled out the two-page print out from the radiology lab and circled the keywords: spreading, liver, spleen, … at which point my only reaction was to say: “Thank you, Dr. Siva. How long do I have?” She wrote and spoke at the same time: without treatment 4-6 months. With more chemo, perhaps 10-12 months.

Stay with me…

Now, I have to tell you, I expected this news. I know my body and—despite feeling better since the chemo ended—it’s been sending me signals that not all was copacetic in my midsection. At the weigh-in, before we saw the doc, I was down to 188.5 pounds—the amount I weighed as a freshman in college! That’s a loss of 66 pounds since November. Most middle-aged people would be thrilled to lose so much weight. Not me. I have no desire to become a stick figure. I’m already so skinny that I have to run around in the shower just to get wet.

Dr. Siva then talked about options going forward, addressing herself to Wen, who was engaged in the conversation. I couldn’t do much else other than stare at the dust bunny on the floor in the corner of the examination room. I was numb and my head was full of all kinds of thoughts, images, and a bit of sorrow. There’s no fear, however. I am not scared of dying, but I am scared of leaving so much undone, of letting down my family, loved ones, and friends. That’s the hardest part for me. After a lifetime of trying to make sure everyone around me is happy and content, that function is being taken away from me. It’s a very hard reality pill to swallow. And trust me, I’m a Hall-of-Fame-level pill swallower these days.

The option of continuing chemo just to hang around for a few more months in a diminished state isn’t very appealing to me. Here’s why. After two months of enduring the strongest chemo treatment permitted for cancer patients, my pancreas tumor decreased by just a few millimeters in size, and cancer still spread all over my abdomen. It’s a checkmate chess move inside my body. Even though I see my cancer as a back-stabbing, death-bringing, soulless ninja, I still gotta give it props for tenacity. We nuked the crap out of my cancer and it still found time to invade my other organs. That’s impressive, if completely evil.

Wen and I left the Strecker Cancer Center after speaking with the hospice social worker, a conversation I recall only dimly. And we ran some errands around town. At the grocery store, where typically I wait in the car to avoid germs (due to my compromised immune system), I made a few calls to my kids and my mom to let them know the results. Those were very hard calls to make. Afterward I went into the store, with my germ mask on. While Wen and I walked down an aisle, a young fellow walked past us, headed the other way, and said: “God bless you, Bill Thompson.” This touched me deeply and I had to take a moment to compose myself.

We got the news on Friday afternoon, March 1. That night some of my dearest musical friends began arriving in Whipple from all over. Sunday, March 3 was my 57th birthday and I was determined, whatever the health news, to have a weekend of music with my favorite music pals. My sweet angels of mercy, Wen and Jules, helped make it happen, in spite of schedule challenges and iffy weather. My buddy John Kogge came out from Bloomington, Indiana with Heather and Jessie. John and I are special birthday twins, both born on 3/3, but he’s 12 years older. We played music together in Oxford, Ohio, starting in 1981, and it was a natural fit from the first note. I’ve leaped at every chance to play with John ever since.

Caroline Quine came from Boulder, CO, bringing her ethereal voice and guitar abilities. Mimi Hart and John Borchard came over from Athens, OH to surprise us. When Mimi sings (and John plays) “Open Arms” by Patty Larkin, I fall apart. My brother, sister, and mom came out on Saturday, too. It was sweet to feel all the Thompsons together again in a music-filled house. Craig Gibbs and Mike Austin from The Rain Crows made the scene later on so we could rock out a bit. Music-loving, dear friends came, too, including Annie Babcock, Tanya Wilder, Shila Wilson, Bob Scott Placier, Jade and Nat Thompson, Dan Harrison and Jessica Lynn, and our newest family member, Curtis Loew, to lend us their ears and energy. The music possessed me completely. Music has been such an important part of my life, a priceless gift from my parents. Nothing could have filled my heart more than the music we played this weekend. It was bliss. Closing my eyes, I drifted out of my present condition, out of my body, to a magical place of peace and soul-restoring love, as the music washed over and through me.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=

I don’t think for a moment, and I hope you concur, that all the thoughts and prayers and healing energy and meditations and happy thoughts and wishes for my recovery and good health were a waste of time, or that they failed to work. On the contrary, every single word lifted me up, which is why I can face this, frankly, shitty news with courage. I won’t be able to thank you each for your support—the volume is far too huge. But my heart is just the right size to hold it all. And I will remain grateful for the love long after I shuffle off this mortal coil.

We have no way of knowing how fast the cancer is spreading or how long I really have. So I’m making plans for the shortest timeframe.

For those of you from my bird watching life, Bird Watcher’s Digest will continue as it has for the past 41 years. We appreciate our subscribers so much, and the amazing BWD staff is dedicated to keeping the magazine, and all its wonderful extensions, going and growing. I glow with pride that we’ve survived for so long. And I’m proud to have had a role in keeping my parents’ vision alive amid all the changes and challenges of the publishing world. We’re still here because of the personal relationships we’ve enjoyed with our readers, contributors, and partners.

To those of you who have donated to our Go Fund Me efforts, what can I say, but a heartfelt, loving thank you! Our medical bills are significant even with insurance. It’s assuaged one of my main worries that I would leave my family with debt from my care. Hospitals don’t give you your money back when your treatments fail to restore your health. Maybe that’s something for the 2020 presidential candidates to look into, however!

I’m planning to have a green burial—no embalming, casket, or other needless stuff. When the time comes, I’ll be buried in the meadow at Indigo Hill, near a pine tree in the middle that—for some reason—I decided not to bush hog about 15 years ago. Now I know why. Wen and Julie will be in charge of any other festivities, but they know I want any celebrations of my life to be joyous, fun, and full of music and birds. So stay tuned…

If you and I are friends, you know that I love you. If we’re friends who’ve never met, please know that I love you, too. This has been such an amazing life! I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wish I had another 40 years. But I’ll happily take the 56-plus I’ve been given. I haven’t been perfect. I’ve made many mistakes. I’ve hurt people and I’ve been hurt. But all that angst and worry and pain just fades away for me now. What lingers is love and the joy of connection I’ve experienced in this life. Thank you for that gift.

Love,

Bill

 

 

February
24
2019

The Waiting is STILL the Hardest Part.

Update from Bill Thompson III
2/24/19

 

It was the late, great American poet Tom Petty who sang “the waiting is the hardest part,” and, boy, was he ever right. I’m currently on the second really good day of recovery after chemo round 4—feeling more like my old self than I have since early December. But I won’t know if this upswing in health is “real” until I get an abdominal scan on February 27. The docs will then compare that one with the one I got back in mid-December to see what changes, if any, the treatment has wrought. Then we get our options and marching orders for the future.

 

I am NOT getting my hopes up at all, though I remain hopeful. I trust the good folks who have been treating me that this was the proper (actually, the only) course of action. And I trust the science and testing behind the chemotherapy regimen. But I do not trust cancer to play nice. As I’ve said before, cancer is a backstabbing mofo. I do not plan to be surprised by it again.

 

Some amazing things have happened since I last took laptop in hand to write to you all.

 

Julie opened up her heart and our lives to a new family member: Curtis Loew, a soulful member of the canine tribe. This furry dude is sunshine with a wagging tail. I’ve already begun laying the nicknames on thick, the best of which is “Jackpot.” Because we hit the jackpot with this rescue dog, brought to us on the wings of Angel of Mercy, Kelly “Mango” Ball. On his first visit, when I was still flat-out weak from the chemo, Curtis jumped up on my bed, lay down next to me and put his head and one paw on my chest, as if to say, “I’m here, bro. It starts getting better from here on.” SO much love for this brindle bundle of joy. Check out Julie’s social media channels for the cuteness.

 

Yesterday, Wen took me birding. The weather was crappy but the birding wasn’t. We got 33 species in about three hours, including a vagrant American white pelican, who is hanging out on the Ohio River, along Ohio’s international border with West Virginia. On previous birding outings, I would be worn out after maybe an hour, and I’d have to head back home to nap. Yesterday, I had great energy, so we kept going with some take-out comfort food and dinner with my mom at her house. We ended the day back home, by the woodstove with a tiny, watered-down rye whiskey. Lovely. In a surprising turn of events, Wendy wore out before I did! I have no idea where my energy came from, but I’m not looking gift horsepower in the mouth. All in all, a perfect day!

 

We got a juicer as part of our shift to a cancer-starving diet (no sugar, no dairy, no meat, etc.) and we are already big fans. We drank our first glasses of power juice yesterday morning, and I wonder if that was part of my big energy boost?

 

We’ve been blessed with lots of visits from dear friends. The gifties and sweet cards and messages have been constantly flowing. I’m trying to keep up so I can send thank you notes, but in case I forget one or two of you, please know my thanks for your thoughts, prayers, healing energy, kind words of support, and gifts comes straight from my big old heart.

 

So now we wait. I’m watching the buds swell on the water maple out back. I’m listening for the “peent” of the timberdoodle each evening. Signs of the hopeful spring season ahead. We’re counting the days until the kids come home, and we’re relishing every moment of feeling better.

 

Love from here to there.

 

Bill

 

 

February
17
2019

"When you just know."

Written by Wendy Clark, February 17, 2019



Dear Friends,

Yesterday Bill completed his fourth chemo session, which is quite a milestone. This "round" of chemo, four full sessions in eight weeks, is now complete. It's been incredibly tough, but we've made it this far, and we are grateful! We now wait for a full evaluation that will compare scans before and after chemo. This is the news we've been waiting for, and we're anxious to have answers.

Because many of you are, have been, or will one day be a caregiver or a partner to someone in crisis, I thought I'd share my side of Bill's story with you, and how our lives were turned upside down just eight weeks ago today.

December 16, 2018. That was our personal "Day that shall live in infamy". That was the day I drove Bill from Pittsburgh, PA to Marietta Memorial Hospital at 3:00 a.m. in a torrential downpour, and in record time.

We were in Pittsburgh celebrating my 51st birthday, a surprise weekend that Bill had been planning for months. Our dear friends from Marietta, Dan, and Jessica, had joined us that weekend as one of my many wonderful birthday surprises! The weekend was filled with all of the things I love, and Bill had given careful attention to every detail. It was a dream come true, a perfect romantic weekend with my favorite person. I felt incredibly loved, adored, and treasured by this man who took the time to make this weekend so very special, for me.

Bill and I had just dined at an outstanding 5-star restaurant overlooking the city on the night of my actual birthday, December 15th. After enjoying such a beautiful dinner, we would normally have stopped at a fancy-schmancy upscale bar to enjoy an after-dinner drink or two, to enjoy conversation, and to bask in the afterglow of our special evening. We both love good food, fine dining, atmospheric places, and special date nights. Unbeknownst to us, in a matter of hours, the beautiful life we had worked so hard to build would come crashing down around us. 

As the valet pulled our car to the front door of the restaurant, Bill asked me if I would please drive us back to our hotel. Bill always prefers to drive, being a true gentleman, so I knew something was wrong. He asked if we could end our evening early because he needed to lie down. Anyone who knows Bill understands how uncharacteristic that was for him. Bill, who at 56 years old was still the life of the party, the last guy on the "last call", the king of fun and celebration, was visibly weak and in pain. He could barely walk as I helped him into the car and buckled his seatbelt for him. I was deeply troubled, yet I was thinking about how relieved I was that he had a follow-up doctor appointment scheduled the following week. All previous tests he'd had were either negative or inconclusive. They had not found the root problem. It was time to get to the bottom of this and find out what was causing his pain, fatigue, and his complete shift in energy. Bill slept hard from 8:00 pm until 1:30 a.m., and woke suddenly with unbearable pain, moaning in agony. 

I was startled from a deep sleep by painful cries for help, the very definition of crisis. I immediately tried to make him comfortable but to no avail. My brain was racing, frantic thoughts tumbling about like a bag of marbles spilling onto the kitchen floor. What should I do now? Do I call 911? We were three hours from home in a hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. Should I have an ambulance take him to a hospital in Pittsburg? Should I drive him myself? Should I take a chance and try to make the 3-hour drive back to Marietta with him writhing in pain like this? In my heart, I knew that whatever the cause, we were likely headed for an extended hospital stay with multiple tests and possibly surgery. I don't know how I knew that, but I just knew.

I ran into our hotel bathroom, took a deep breath, and centered myself. I splashed water on my face, looked in the mirror, his loud moans echoing in the background, and prayed to God, the Universe, to anyone listening, "WHAT DO I DO NOW?". The answer was not audible, but it was as clear in my mind as if it had been spoken aloud to me. The calm-yet-intense voice said, "He's going to be okay. You already know what you need to do. NOW DO IT."

That was all I needed.

Bill had denied my previous attempts to take him to the hospital during the weeks prior. Bill honestly thought this was severe indigestion, constipation, something common for a 56-year-old male. Neither of us suspected that this was something life-threatening. However, the days leading up to our trip to Pittsburgh I grew increasingly worried about him. This man is NEVER sick, has 24-hour energy, and is clearly suffering from something that Rolaids and vitamins couldn't fix. But my sweet Bill, who always thinks of everyone else's needs before his own, didn't want to ruin my birthday weekend. He promised me he would see the doctor, and/or go to the ER, on Monday after we came home. As fate would have it, his body just couldn't wait that long.

I walked out of the Pittsburgh hotel bathroom determined, and with a plan. I had my marching orders. I sat next to him on the edge of the bed in that strange, unfamiliar hotel room. We had clothes and packages scattered about, the loot from our birthday shopping spree at the Cook Shop, the Gourmet Spice Store, and German Christmas Village. I took both of Bill's hands in mine and asked him to look me in the eyes. In a calm, firm tone, I said, "Babe, I know you're hurting, but I need you to hear me. This time I'm not asking you, I'm telling you exactly what we are going to do. I'm going to help you get dressed, I'm packing up our things, and we're driving straight to the hospital in Marietta." He did not fight me this time. There was no argument. It was time.

I can barely recall the three-hour drive to Marietta Memorial Hospital. It's a blur in my memory. I do remember horizontal, blinding rain throughout, Bill writhing in a fetal position in the passenger seat next to me, and my thumb resting near the emergency button on my cell phone in case I needed to call an ambulance to meet us en-route. Somehow we made it to Marietta Memorial Hospital safely in just 2.5 hours.

It's funny how 99% of the things we worry about in life never come to pass. We waste so much time worrying about things we can't control, things that might happen, could happen, but never actually happen. This time, however, we became the other 1%, and our worst fears were realized. Within an hour of our ER arrival, a CT scan revealed a suspicious golf-sized mass on his pancreas. I read people well enough to know that our attending physician was certain this was a malignant tumor and cancer in an advanced stage, but she couldn't confirm it until we had a biopsy. As soon as the words began to fall from her mouth, everything became slo-mo. I knew it was cancer. I just knew. 

The days that followed felt quite surreal, like an out-of-body experience, or watching a movie about someone else's life. I spent two nights sleeping next to Bill at the hospital. He had never stayed overnight at a hospital before, and I wasn't about to leave him. Julie came and spent hours with us, Shila gave us much needed massage therapy, Liam came, who was still on winter break from college. They were all supportive, wonderful, helpful. They are our family, and we would trust them with our very lives. We spent days and nights talking with a myriad of doctors, oncologists, nurses, and one special nurse named Clarissa, who was our guardian angel. (Clarissa, if you're reading this, you know how much we love you!). Clarissa was the head nurse on our floor, and we bonded with her quickly and intensely. She was the first person waiting for us in our room when Bill was admitted to the hospital, having been moved there from the ER. Of all our wonderful caregivers, Clarissa took the most time to prepare us for what was ahead. We had long, detailed conversations with her about this type of cancer, about chemo, about side effects, about how to eat and live, about next steps, about navigating the insurance hassles, about all of it. This was all before we had a confirmed diagnosis. Clarissa's candid, caring words helped prepare us for where we are now. Everything she said was spot-on. She respected us enough to give us the whole truth. She just knew. 

On December 17, 2018, Bill underwent exploratory surgery to gather biopsy tissue and to take a look with a camera at his entire abdomen. It was immediately confirmed that the tumor was malignant. Further tests would show that cancer had spread throughout his stomach, but it had fortunately not reached any other organs. When cancer has spread beyond the tumor to other organs or lymph nodes, it is considered Stage 4. So, the fact that his stomach was also cancer-ridden meant he had a clear diagnosis of Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. He had another surgery the following week to install a chemo port in his upper left shoulder.

Today is February 17, 2019, exactly two months from "diagnosis day", December 17th. We've been through so much in a few short months, but we're still here and still fighting. We moved our bedroom to the living room. I've spent dozens of hours reading books and researching everything I can find about Stage 4 Pancreatic cancer. I have a demanding job that I love, and I work from home alongside Bill, anywhere from 8 to 12 hours per day. I spent 16 days in South Africa with my job in January while Julie lovingly cared for Bill at Indigo Hill. We've been through four roller-coaster, traumatic chemotherapy sessions, all with different, dramatic side effects. We've sequestered ourselves at home and rarely leave the house so we don't unnecessarily expose ourselves to crowds with germs. When we do go out, Bill wears a mask and gloves, and I'm a frantic hand-washer. 

Bill can barely use his hands most days because of severe neuropathy, one of the unfortunate side-effects of chemo. His hands and nose feel like knives are stabbing him if they are exposed to anything cold. Bill enjoys his frequent Video chats with Liam and Phoebe, the brightest lights of his life. Bill has taken a sabbatical from work, leaving BWD which is his heart-and-soul, in the capable hands of his amazing team. He has had a handful of "good" (relatively pain-free) days over the past few months, but far more have been spent fatigued and sick from chemo. Bill has lost about 55 pounds, to date, and takes anywhere from 8 to 15 pills per day.

We've had lovely visits from dear friends, we've received an outpouring of financial and emotional support and lots of love from our community of friends and family. We've been given delicious meals, flowers, desserts, protein shakes, vitamins, cards, gifts, socks, poems, music, funny movies, and so many lovely, thoughtful things. These are beautiful reminders that Bill is adored by so many people. What an incredibly special person Bill Thompson III truly is, and how very many lives he has touched! These gifts, prayers, and heartfelt words are treasures to both of us. Thank you for your generosity and for sharing your love with us. It keeps us going each and every day.

We have not found a stride, or a "new normal" because normal is long gone, somewhere in our rear-view mirror. Life will never be normal again. Every day brings different side-effects, new pains, varied energy levels, and different emotions. We cry a lot. We say "I love you" much more, to each other and to all the people we love. We have deep, no-bullshit conversations. And Bill STILL makes me laugh out loud EVERY SINGLE DAY. Because Bill has control of the TV remote, we watch a lot of ESPN, MSNBC, Quentin Tarantino movies, and oh-so-many Westerns. Who would have known that in the big blue ocean of Direct TV, Lonesome Dove is on just about every day? And baby, if Lonesome Dove is on, we're watching it! But I feel that anyone who is sick and confined to a small space should get to rule the remote. And, go figure, I'm learning to like Lonesome Dove.

We spent Valentine's Day at the Strecker Cancer Center for his 4th chemo treatment, and we came home and ate grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner and collapsed. That's what Bill wanted to eat, and that's what he got. Bill has his binoculars beside him all the time, straining to see each and every bird that visits our feeders, and we watch deer, skunks, and the occasional bobcat traipse freely through the yard. Sunny days are a gift, as Ohio is mostly gray and cold this time of year. We keep both fireplaces going, and Bill enjoys lighting our wood-burning stove and watching birds at the feeders from his cozy spot by the fire. 

My, how things have changed since our romantic birthday weekend in Pittsburgh, and our date night at the five-star restaurant atop the city. Bill turned to me from his chemo chair on Valentine's Day, with tears in his eyes, said, "I'm so sorry we can't enjoy a fun Valentine's date night tonight."
 
I replied, "All that matters is that we're here, and we're together. That's all I've ever wanted."

And it's true.

I'm so proud of Bill as I watch him pull himself up by his bootstraps every single day and face it all again. I watch him fight through the fear and despair that is always lurking. I watch this Energizer-Bunny-man who has never slowed down have his entire life brought to a screeching halt. I see this man who was defined by his music, his writing, speaking, podcast, his career, and his love of birds and nature, instantly reduced to the humiliating life of an invalid. I watch him eat when he has no taste for food. I watch him hurting daily, wincing, being physically tortoured from the inside out. I watch him carry on when it would be so much easier to give up and to give in to self-pity. But not Bill. He's a fighter, and he has so much to live for. If anyone can beat this, he can.

We're fighting for Bill's life, and for our life together. With the love and support of Julie, our kids, Elsa, Bill's siblings, and our beautiful network of friends, we just might make it.


The next two weeks will tell us if Bill's chemo has had any effect.
Then once again, we will cry out together, asking, "WHAT DO WE DO NOW?"

I believe when we need the answer, we'll just know.




February
6
2019

A Double-Decker-Update from Bill Thompson III!

From BILL THOMPSON III
January 30, 2019

Dear Ones Near and Far,

Today is my last day of reasonable clear-headedness before the good people at the Strecker Cancer Center hook me up tomorrow for several more bags (over 6 hours) of “nuke juice” administered through the port in my upper left chest. This will be round 3 of 4 and I’m interested to see how I take it. The experts tell me that the side effects of the chemotherapy are cumulative. I was most disappointed to learn this, especially after round 2 nearly did me in. I’ve been wondering how I can take two more rounds of this. The only redeeming thing about chemo is that it might be killing cancer. Other than that, it’s just a pure killing, devastation machine. I’m back at the Pink Palace with Wen now. She and Julie have tag-teamed my care so amazingly, and for that I am thankful. It’s too much for one person to handle, I believe. Having them with me is nothing short of a miracle for which I am thankful on an hourly basis. The wood stove here at the Pink Palace gets a lot of my time these days. I enjoy starting the fires each morning and sitting by the hot stove. My local buddy (and Rain Crows’ bass player) Craig “Gibbsy” Gibbs came out last Saturday and sawed up a downed ash tree for me and Wen so we could keep the wood stove going. Some dear friends came to visit this week, bringing food, fun, laughter, and a welcome break from the daily routine. Geoff Heeter and Keith Richardson came north from West Virginia toting along Wisconsin’s-own Ben Lizdas. These guys became our personal country cabana boys for three days of cooking, hauling, firewood splitting, and general jocularity. We even got to play a little acoustic music and sing a few songs. Heaven.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
February 6, 2019

I’m now a week removed from chemo round 3, and I feel my body moving almost imperceptibly toward normal. Fewer cramps and pains in the stomach, a wee bit more energy in the mornings. I find myself wondering if they accidentally gave me a lower dose. They did give me a subcutaneous shot of something aimed at boosting my white blood cell production. This is intended to build my numbers up so they can give me round 4 without worrying about my system’s capacity to handle it. So far, so good. Round 4 will be my valentine from the Strecker Cancer Center on February 14. While my body is being held underwater by these treatments, my mind—for the most part—is not. Now that I’m off most of the pain meds, I’m clear-headed for long stints. My mind is free to roam wildly throughout time and space. If I had any stamina at all, I’d be doing more writing, music, planning, work stuff. Instead, lacking the staying power to be up and active for more than a handful of minutes, I resort to just thinking. Time will tell if this mental exercise is helping. Maybe I should try bending spoons with my mind! 

The one big battle I’m fighting emotionally is a sense of guilt for letting people down. I know this is silly. I did not ask for this illness. I did nothing to bring it on. Yet I cannot shake the seismic impact this illness has had on my family and loved ones, my colleagues and friends. One day I was BT3, fully functioning in the world, making things happen, working hard. And the next I was in bed, immobilized by the weight of my diagnosis. How did I get here? I know I can’t beat that giant monster of irrational emotion. So I’m trying to outrun it by keeping my wandering mind busy with stuff. Like Julie feeding mealworms to one of her bats, I just keep stuffing things into my head to keep it busy chewing. Weird analogy, huh? Let me once again say how touched I am by the sweet notes, letters, messages, gifts from everyone. They are a central part of my daily positivity efforts. It’s humbling to hear from people I’ve never met who feel a connection through birds and Bird Watcher’s Digest. If that’s to be my legacy, it’s one of which I’m deeply proud.

Love, Bill

Please stay in touch with Bill by emailing him at BT3.updates@gmail.com. 
You can write to Bill at 700 Scott's Ridge Rd., Whipple, OH 45788.
Lastly, you can donate to Bill's GoFundMe campaign by following the "Ways To Help" link at the top of this page

January
24
2019

"It's All Quite Abby-normal."

Update by Wendy Clark, January 24, 2019


Dear Family, Friends, and Loved Ones,

Much has happened in our lives over the past week. 
Here's the latest.

Bill returned to the Strecker Cancer Center on January 17th for his second chemotherapy session. Julie accompanied Bill, and she communicated with me throughout the day. Bill seemed to experience more severe side effects this time than last, and those side effects are still lingering, but are now waning a bit. We are grateful for the plethora of information our doctors have provided us, which soberly prepared us for the onslaught of side effects Bill would experience during and after each treatment. So far, Bill has managed to experience just about every side effect possible. We are now at day seven following chemo session #2 and are hoping for a significant improvement over the next few days before he returns for session #3 on January 31st. Just when he's starting to feel better, it's time for another "nuke session". Suffice it to say, Session #2 slammed him much harder than Session #1 did.

I was away for sixteen days in January, which was hard on all of us, but necessary. I began a wonderful new job six months ago that I absolutely love. It really is my dream job. Of course, we had no idea that Bill would be diagnosed with cancer back in July when I launched this new career adventure. Unfortunately, life doesn't give you advanced-warning when a major crisis is on the horizon, which is probably a good thing. After discussing this scheduled trip at length with Julie and Bill, we decided together that I should keep my commitment to work with my team in South Africa for two full weeks in January. Julie was a wonderful caregiver to Bill during that time, looking after him 24/7, and we cannot thank her enough for being a rock for all of us during these weeks. Go figure, JZ is not only a top-notch rehabber of birds, bats, plants and critters, but of humans, too! Again, our unique situation may seem strange to some, but we are family. Your family is there when you need them. You take care of each other. It's what we do. 

Bill stayed at Indigo Hill from January 5th until the 23rd, and we returned to the Pink Palace yesterday afternoon. Because of Bill's weakness and difficulty navigating stairs, we have moved our bedroom to the living room, our living room to the music room, and my office was moved to our bedroom upstairs. Actually, our California King bed looks quite fetching in the living room!  I'm sure we won't win any interior design awards, but hey, you do whatcha gotta do, right? A big comfy bed, big screen, Direct TV with a gazillion channels, scenic winter views, and same-floor access to kitchen, bathroom are just what the doctor ordered. One of my life mottos is, "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken". Not an exact quote, but true nonetheless. 

Now, for the difficult part of this update. Friends, I don't know any other way to say it other than to tell you that Bill is suffering tremendously. He is miserable most of the time, day and night. This is primarily because of the after-effects of chemotherapy which include nausea, fatigue, bowel upset, and pain, and the intensity with which the chemo is attacking his cancer. We were warned that, because Bill is young and otherwise healthy, his treatment would be much more aggressive than with an older, less-healthy person. This experience has been exactly what we were told it would be: A living Hell. I'd love to tell you that Bill spends hours reading, talking with friends, taking slow walks, writing, finding some enjoyment in life. But that's just not the way it is right now. There are times he would rather die than suffer this agony. His quality of life is pretty much zero, right now, although he's sitting up today, eating, and enjoying some HBO movies. This experience requires superhero-level strength and courage, and Bill is definitely my hero!

Not only is Bill in chronic physical discomfort, but he is also suffering from extreme fatigue and the emotional trauma that accompanies a diagnosis and treatment like this. He has lost nearly forty pounds since his diagnosis in mid-December. I don't know if the emotional struggle or the physical struggle is worse, but both are exhausting for him. As his caregivers, Julie and I struggle too as we try to keep him comfortable and peaceful. I can't imagine anything worse than experiencing the kind of pain that Bill is suffering. This horrible disease could not have chosen a better, more loving, more generous person to assault. Our hearts ache for him and with him. There is little we can do except make sure Bill is eating, taking his medication, resting, and avoiding unnecessary stress and upset. Mostly we try to encourage him daily, reminding him of the many people around the world who are thinking of him right now. 

Bottom line: We're halfway there. His final chemo session will be in mid-February, and the effects of chemo will be evaluated at the end of that month. Every single day is different. There is no "new normal". It's all unpredictable, unstable, and incredibly "Abby-normal", to quote Young Frankenstein. (That's pronounced "Fraahhnk-en-Steen", by the way). 

On behalf of Bill, Julie, and myself, we would like to offer heartfelt thanks to the many friends and family who have visited Bill, brought meals, shared therapy and healing sessions with him, and those of you who have sent cards, letters, emails, made calls, and shared notes of encouragement. We have your cards displayed in our kitchen so that Bill can look at them every moment as a reminder of your love and friendship. Thanks, also, for your generous donations to Bill's GoFundMe campaign. Those funds will help offset the ever-increasing medical expenses that accompany this cancer treatment.

We also send very special thanks to Bill's sister and brother-in-law, Laura and Bill Dauber, for the beautiful meals they prepared for us. It's wonderful to have a sister who is a culinary goddess! Special thanks to Elsa, Bill's Mom, who talks with Bill every day and always cheerfully says, "You sound really good today, honey!". She also blesses us with scrumptious homemade pies, which even in his nauseated state, Bill enjoys wholeheartedly. To Bonnie Buchman and Terry Pettry, our own "Dr. Bonnie", who gifted Bill with the best natural supplements and delicious protein shakes to drink during chemo; to Geoff and Kyle Heeter, who brought oodles of healing love and laughter to Whipple from West Virginia; to Bill's longtime college friends Brad Parker and Jenny Greenlee from Pennsylvania who drove down to spend an afternoon with him; to Dan Harrison and Jessica Lynn who have been with us since this all started, and who have always been a huge source of love and support for us; to Pastor Steve at St. Luke's Lutheran Church who generously offers his listening ear and calming spirit; to the staff of Bird Watcher's Digest who remain steadfast, productive, and enthusiastic as their leader takes a leave of absence; to my Rockjumper family who is fully supportive of both of us during this crisis; and to our children, Phoebe, Liam, Spencer, Cooper, Hope, and grandson Emerson, and their significant others, Oscar, Casie, Brooke, and Alex. You give us ALL hope for the future. You are the reason we fight and carry on.

As the chemo cycle continues, Bill will likely be on the upswing next week and will share another personal message. Till then, we will use this channel to share with you any changes that may arise.

We love you all more than you could possibly imagine.
We are holding on to hope, doing our very best to stay positive, and are sustained daily by your kindness and love.

Thank you.