Lots of issues with dizziness, and other illnesses besides leukemia, have hit me lately. The focus of this blog is Leuk and not anything else; I’m afraid if I talked about all the things that are wrong, I’d have to call it “Me and the Gang!”

Suffice to say, the whole Gang has had their way with me lately so my get-up-and-go kinda got-up-and-went.

Leaving a blog alone this long usually loses readers. I hope none of you have gone away. I’ll try to be better about writing.

So… despite the above complaining, life is good. Why? Well because it’s life! And Life is a whole lot better than his darker brother!

I’ve stopped driving for now since the dizziness comes more often and is less predictable. I say ‘for now’ because the doctors think they may have figured out it’s cause. Leuk may not be the culprit after all. I’m having an MRI in a few days and will hopefully get some answers. Then, if they can fix things, my pockets my once again jingle with the sound of car keys.

In the mean time, with no steering wheel crowding my belly, I have lost some freedom. Friends will help me when I need to go somewhere though, so all is not lost. It does, however, make me feel a little like Howard Hughes – all shut up and cloistered but, unfortunately, not with billionaires.

Well, my friends, I hope I can treat you to some writing that’s more uplifting than this was. Just know I’m still here, still happy, and still living. I promise Leuk and the Gang won’t get me down. At least not often.

Take care. See you again soon.

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My son Guy suiting upLast Sunday my son, Guy, and I went scuba diving at Alki Beach in West Seattle. That’s him in the photo.

It’s been four years since we were certified and yet this was our first dive. So, we needed a lot of practice and, ah, well, I was four years older and out of shape. More about that in a minute.

Once our gear was on we walked down the beach and into the water. As we waded out, the cold water started climbing up the inside of my wetsuit. This is normal – your body heat warms the water inside and keeps you relatively comfortable. It wasn’t so bad until the cold water reached my crotch. That’s particularly disconcerting for men because, well, let’s just call it shrinkage.

We used up our first tank of air reviewing some underwater safety moves from our class. Here’s a few:

(1) Properly operating your BC (Buoyancy Compensator) so you can hover over the bottom.  The thing is a sort of life vest but with the strange option of releasing all the air so you can sink like a rock.

(2) Taking your mask off (thus filling it with water), putting it back on, and blowing with your nose to purge the seawater. All the while attempting to not snort the briny fluid.

(3) Pulling your regulator (the thingy you actually breathe with) out of your mouth, throwing it behind you, then attempting to swing your arm back, find the damn thing, and get it into your mouth while you’re still alive.

All this happens 10 feet below while the fish are floating on their backs – not dead, but holding their bellies laughing.

Our second dive took us out to a wreck about 45 feet down. There were huge anemones. One had a trunk about two feet long. There was a cluster of beautiful white plumed anemones on the wreck looking like a small, snow covered forest. And Guy saw a nudibranch.

We lost sight of each other once and, as we’d learned in class, both headed for the surface. We were only about 10 feet apart but the visibility had worsened with the sand we’d stirred up.

Soon after, while diving towards the bottom, I could no longer equalize my ears (like when you ‘pop’ your ears in a plane.) I moved higher until the pain in my ears eased off. Then I headed back down trying to equalize again but couldn’t. So I instead swam high above Guy. I couldn’t see him but I followed his bubbles. This, of course, freaked him out because he couldn’t find me. It seems I have a talent for disappearing – not a good thing when diving with a buddy.

Remember that “4 years older and out of shape” thing I mentioned? Well, as we were finishing our dive and heading back to shore, my muscles decided they’d had enough. I was breathing heavy (imagine panting but with a hose in your mouth that you daren’t spit out), my limbs felt like old rubber bands that had lost their stretch, and I swallowed so much water Puget Sound suffered a drop in sea level.

So, we’re near shore. Now comes what should be the easy part – taking off our fins and walking up the beach. The fin part wasn’t too bad. But then came the walking out of the water part. Of course my young, muscular, fireman son quickly stepped out and trotted up the steep beach. I then attempted to stand but, burdened by my tank, weight belt, and rounder-than-four-years-ago tummy, promptly fell backwards with a splash.

You see, rising out of the water is akin to stepping from the Moon onto Earth. What was once my light body floating blithely amongst the fishes suddenly took on the weight of all my gear plus my own 165 pounds. Okay, okay, 170.

(I know that wasn’t a great metaphor, there probably aren’t any fish on the Moon.)

Anyway, there I lay face up as the waves gently rocked me back and forth along the shoreline – not unlike a beached whale, except I don’t think beached whales would lie there, staring wide-eyed at the sky and flailing their limbs about like a beetle on it’s back.

Guy, god bless him, was up the beach causally taking off his gear – possibly ignoring my pleas for help hoping no one would think we were related. Finally his love for Dad overcame his embarrassment and he saved me.

All in all, it was a fun dive. The only real disaster was afterwards when Starbucks forgot to put chocolate in our mochas.

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Okay, my last post was too serious. So here’s a little song I wrote years ago. It’s meant to be sung as an Irish diddy. (Sorry about the flatulence reference, but hey, it’s about a little boy so what’da expect? Here goes…

When I was just a young wee lad
I thought I was so smart
Cause I made pets of bullfrogs
And I knew how to fart

We never played with girls cause
They all had cooties
And it was the mark of a really fine day
Whenever I skinned my knees

(And it was the mark of a really fine day
Whenever he skinned his knees)

Now I never knew what cooties were
But still I stayed away
Until Willie Jean came by
One frozen winters day

She hit me with a snowball
And something changed inside
The more I got tall, the more that I’d fall
And soon she was me bride

(The more he got tall, the more that he’d fall
And soon she was his bride)

My wife she tried to change me
But to no avail
Seems the Peter Pan inside
Simply will not fail

She hopes some day I’ll grow up
But no faster than I can
For the girl inside the Misses loves
The boy inside the man

(For the girl inside the Misses loves
The boy inside the man)

Now boys ‘ill be boys and men ‘ill be men
They’re really just the same
Except that the wee one’s
Have a ‘Y’ behind their name

When Billy is Bill and Johnny is John,
And Teddy is Ted, and Freddy is Fred
They’ll all still have a wee young lad
A bouncin’ in their head

(They’ll all still have a wee young lad
A bouncin’ in their . . . head)

copyright Jim W. Smith 2013

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I’m discovering I have more readers than I thought. I’m told there might even be a man with leukemia reading this from Spain.

I don’t know that I’m really qualified to write this particular entry. My type of leukemia, CLL, is a slower moving form and since I am 61 I might live a full life. I am having a bone marrow extraction next year and may have other treatments, but my cancer is less threatening than most. Still I want to talk a bit about, well to be direct, death.

Death is something we are all facing, healthy and sick alike. Even though all 7 billion of us will face it, it’s still a very personal thing.

‘Stepping out’ is scary, Or, I should say it can be. And, of course, in war stricken and some Third World countries, many people die frightening and violent deaths. But I’m writing here about those of us lucky enough to die from more or less natural causes.

I’ve watched other people die (you don’t get to the age of 61 without having someone you love pass on) and I’ve noticed they shared one thing in common. Near the end each of them faced it calmly. I’m sure that during their lifetime they dealt with fear about how they were going to die, but when it happened it was a brave and even peaceful acceptance. One in particular, my father, and our family, even had surprisingly humorous moments the days before he passed.

Some of us believe in God. Some do not. And some just aren’t sure. There may actually be an afterlife. Some books even discuss evidential experiences of near-death patients. Whatever the truth is about what happens when we breathe our last, I think we don’t need to be afraid.

Fear plays a role the weeks before our demise, but from what I’ve seen, the days just before it happens come with a sort of peace,  a sort of phlegmatic acceptance. That’s not to say that the few seconds or minutes when it is actually happening can’t be hard, or even frightening. But those short moments have been shored up with one’s own preparation.

As you can see, I am stumbling here. You might even say I don’t know what I’m talking about. And you might be right. But this is what I’ve noticed in those I’ve lost. I can also say that those of us left behind suffer a much harder fate; that of grieving and learning to live our lives without the one who left us. I think I’ll talk about grieving in another entry. Grief is something I know more about than I’d care to.

Anyway, if you are living with Leuk right now and he is filling you with fear, that’s normal. You have every right to be scared. Just know that death, at the end, means your suffering and pain will be gone. I believe you can find a solace in knowing that. And who knows, there just may be something amazing on the other side.

Have you ever been on a roller coaster? As you are climbing towards the top, you are apprehensive of what is to come, and when you speed down the other side you really freak out. But when you near the bottom, and you know everything is going to be alright, your fear fades. I think that’s how death works. Even though you don’t know what’s on the other side of that hill, you will discover that the Engineer who designed the ride knew what He was doing.

Trust Him.

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Family and friends often ask me the question, “how do you feel?”

It’s the same question I ask people who have health issues. And I get the same response I give: “I’m fine.”

The truth is, I am fine. I’m beginning to get more tired than before Leuk came aboard. And I can’t seem to put in a full day’s work. (I’m only working a part-time business.) But I mostly feel okay.

There are two reasons for my “I’m fine” response. First, I don’t want to be one of those people who go on and on about their condition. Second, I’m not really sure how to put into words how I feel.

The physical symptoms are easily explained and, for now at least, they are easily dealt with.

[[Okay, so I ended that sentence with a preposition… big deal. It’s my blog and who cares… plus – technically it’s not really a grammar rule.]]

How I feel in my head is harder to put into words.

Try as he might, Leuk doesn’t scare me. Well, maybe sometimes. But mostly he has become a part of my life. I hate him. I wish he had past my doorpost. But he is here and I have to deal with him. Needless to say, it’s a triffle bit more than dealing with the common cold.

[[“Needless to say” is a strange phrase, isn’t it? If it really is needless to say then why am I saying it?… Things that make you go hmmmm.]]

Anywho, in my head I sometimes feel frustrated that, because of Leuk, my life is different than others. Sometimes I feel dull – not sharp (that’s one of those hard-to-explain feelings). Sometimes I worry about the future – how will it affect my creativity, my work, my marriage. Sometimes I struggle with my spirituality.

You probably noticed a lot of “sometimes” in that paragraph. That’s because those thoughts never stick around for long. Most of the time I am going on with my life as if I don’t have leukemia. I feel Leuk physically. I know he’s there. But I roll on with the blind optimism expressed by Paul Simon: “And so I continue to continue to pretend, my life will never end, and flowers never bend with the rainfall.

Hey, why not? The alternative is to whine, whimper, and curl up in a corner. Or, be one of those irritating guests who go into long diatribes when asked “How do you feel?”

So, you ask, how do I feel?

I feel fine.

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