Those of us in the cancer club sometimes face a temptation that’s seldom talked about. It doesn’t affect all of us but possibly more than care to admit it.

Even though blood cancers are more survivable than ever before, we are acutely aware of Leuk’s death threats. This possibility of a shortened life can get our minds cranking in a direction we’d not considered before, or if we had, it was something we rejected as fool hardy, morally wrong, or even dangerous.

Ideas that once played out in fantasies start becoming possibilities. Let’s call it the “I’d-like-to-try-that-before-I-die” syndrome. I’m not talking about your usual bucket list stuff like hang gliding or deep sea fishing. I don’t have any statistics but I’m guessing the problem is more common among men.

Okay, so I seem to be dancing around it. If you have this issue than you know what I’m talking about: the desire for a brief dalliance or even a full-blown affair outside of your marriage.

Now, I have friends and relatives who read this blog so I want to be clear here. I am talking about temptations and close calls – not actual actions. But when I started this blog I promised to be as honest as I could with my readers. If my goal is to help and encourage those struggling with leukemia I can’t BS them. I have to be real.

In the early stages of leukemia, especially with CLL, Leuk is invisible. You still feel pretty good and to the outside world you look quite normal. But you don’t know how long you will still have the energy needed to remain active. You don’t know, especially in the beginning, what will come of you – what sort of life you will be living, or even how long you will be living.

During this time of inward (and frankly selfish) brooding, that little dark spot in your soul, the secret place that everyone on the planet has and tries to keep under control, starts weaving through your mind like the threading tendrils of a parasitic plant. What was once a faint, empty whisper barely heard, becomes a slowly growing chant pushing you towards compulsion. If not checked, you will act.

This is not a battle with Leuk. It is a battle within yourself. So how do you beat this thing? What tools are there to resist these dark thoughts?

Here’s seven to consider. Keep them in your tool bag at all times:

(1) God. If you have a faith in God than use it. Put Him to work. You’ve already been praying about your fight with Leuk and maybe, just maybe, the fight we’re talking about here is even more important.

(2) A Friend. Not just a beer drinking, Monday night football friend. I mean a real Friend – the one you trust, the one you can open your soul to and know he won’t judge you but will hold you accountable. If you are lucky enough to have such a friendship, reach out for help. You may have noticed I capitalized ‘Friend’ just like I capitalized ‘God’. Why? Well, I have such a friend and he deserves the same kind of respect. I don’t see him often but I know I can rely on him. My faith in God often falters but my trust in my friend never does.

(3) Your legacy. Think about what you will leave to your family. I don’t mean any inheritance of wealth. I mean the legacy of who you were and what you meant to them. The desire to build a legacy, a reputation if you will, before you die can overpower any compulsions that might destroy it.

(4) Your mind. Keep guard on what you put into your head. Avoid pornography completely. Even some television shows can lead you in weird directions. Get rid of Cable and check out movies from the library or rent from Netflix.

(5) Read. Read. Read. Soak your soul with the bracing magic of good writers.

(6) Don’t spend too much time alone. Stay involved with your family. Just being with your spouse, your kids, and especially your grand-kids puts your mind right as to what is really important.

(7) Your roots. There is a beach grass that grows on the beaches here. Though it grows in the gravel and sand it is almost impossible to pull out. Each plant joins its roots with every other plant forming a strong underground web structure that holds the beach together confounding the erosive efforts of the winter storm waves . By applying the above suggestions to your daily habits you will grow stronger and find that your dark desires become less important.

Writer’s, all writers, whether writing non-fiction or fiction, put a piece of themselves in their work. It’s not blatantly obvious but it is there, hiding between the lines.

That’s why today’s post is a difficult one for me to write; a part of me is lurking in it. I don’t know if this will help anyone out there or if it’s just me unloading. But it needed to be written.

I wish you the best hope in your fight with Leuk and your struggles within.

LukemiaSucks[Editors note: This post is about how to overcome the beginning symptoms of depression. If you are experiencing serious depression you should seek professional help. Please read my Disclaimer page.]

Sometimes leukemia can make us just stop. Shutdown. It is, after all, a potentially terminal disease and that can get a guy down once in awhile.

Despite a positive attitude and the good face we put on for our loved ones, some days Leuk gets into our psyche in an overpowering way.

That’s what happened to me recently. Depression was hanging around all day and climbing into bed with me each night. When she’s empowered by Leuk it’s hard to shake her off. But I found a way and I thought I’d share it with you.

The depression started with a feeling of lethargy. Things that had mattered to me just faded away. At first common, every day tasks became harder to do.

Then my writing got hit. I stopped writing altogether. Though it can be challenging at times, writing is part of me – part of who I am. This blog and another one I write went silent. I couldn’t seem to muster the mental strength to even think of an idea, let alone write about it.

Even worse, a novel I’ve been working on became impossible. I had already written a first draft. The story needed filling out and revising. This, for me, is the hardest work of writing. At that stage writing can be a love/hate experience. But I normally push on through and ultimately enjoy it. But gradually, insidiously, I lost interest. No, it was more than that, I was afraid to write. Well, it’s hard to explain, maybe fellow writers out there will understand.

If a simple blog post was a tough hill for me to climb, the mountain of a novel was impossible.

Depression is like Alice’s rabbit hole. If you let yourself, you’ll fall deeper and deeper into it. Not many know this, but I once had real serious depression before I was diagnosed with leukemia. It was the real stuff requiring therapy and meds. A dark time in my life.

WeedPulling

Photo by Willie Smith

I think it was that experience that helped me see the signs in this recent episode. This time I wasn’t completely in the hole but teetering on the edge. There’s a point, a brief moment, when I can catch myself and climb out of the rabbit hole. I can stop myself from  going deeper. The lethargy and loss of confidence was the marker. The alarm was sounding and I knew I had to do something.

Then I remembered some advise I received not long after I found out about my leukemia. A woman I know had gone through breast cancer and beaten it. I asked her what she did, how she kept hope going. Her answer came fast and definite. “Have a goal. A long-term goal of something you want to accomplish.” She wasn’t talking about the goal of beating cancer. She meant a goal outside of the cancer. A life goal I’ve always wanted to accomplish.

It was the best advise I’ve ever had. I would only add one more thing: set short term goals as well.

My novel is my long-term goal. But it was being defeated. I figured my only way back was to make myself achieve very short term, I’m talking just one-day-at-a-time, goals. I promised myself I would do just one thing each day. The first was doing the dishes. Then soon I was doing a ‘honey-do’ project. I still wasn’t writing but I could feel my confidence returning.

Then sometime later, with some nudging from two of my readers, I began posting to my blogs again. I still haven’t gotten back to my novel but I feel it coming.

Last weekend I helped my son with some yard work. I was pulling weeds from what used to be a flowerbed when it hit me. I was actually enjoying it. Even more than just uprooting weeds, I was helping my son. I had a purpose. I was actually out there, outside of my head, and the depressive thoughts were gone.

I know my reader’s are at different stages in their fight with Leuk. Some, like me, can remain daily active, others have had to slow down their lives, and still others are bed-ridden. But each of us can find something, no matter how small, to keep us going. It might be pulling weeds or it might simply be giving a grandchild or other loved one an hour of our time.

Whether our goals are big or small, they give us a purpose, a reason for being. Victor Frankel, a jewish psychiatrist discovered this while surviving the hell of the Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII. His book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is a short, good read. I highly recommend it.

Anyway, I guess what this overly long post is trying to say is, don’t let Leuk make you forget who you are. Set realistic goals, both short and long-term. They will get him out of your head and keep you out of the rabbit hole.

Godspeed to all of you.

When I received the news that Leuk had come into my life, I was hesitant to introduce him to anyone. I felt that if I told my friends I had leukemia they would treat me differently. I even thought I would lose some.

But my attempts to keep it a secret made it difficult for my wife. She needed to be able to talk about it to others. I realized I was being selfish in not admitting I had CLL (see my first blog post, Coming Out).

This doesn’t mean I felt compelled to announce it to everyone I met. But my closest friends needed to know.

So what happened? Was I treated differently? Did I lose contact with friends?

Well, in a way, yes.

But it wasn’t my friends. It was mostly me. I became more reserved, more reclusive. I’ve never been a social butterfly. I’m more of an introvert. My circle of friends has always been smaller than most because I choose my friends carefully.

But my natural introverted nature feed my desire to hide. I’m not saying I became a hermit. My wife would never put up with that. But I found myself spending less time with friends.

It turns out my friends did treat me differently. Not for the reasons I had anticipated, but because of my own reactions to Leuk. Sure, some had difficulty talking about it with me, but mostly I was the one with hangups.

When Leuk intrudes in your life, it is important to do two things: (1) acknowledge him, admit that he is real, that he will cause changes in your life, and (2) determine to not let those changes and the threats Leuk makes effect who you are as a person. Your friends need to see you are still you. This can only happen when you see yourself for who you really are.

You have leukemia. But you are not the disease. You are more.

The road to beating Leuk begins with choosing one of two paths. On the one path Leuk is your master and he makes you into his image. On the other, Leuk is invasive but you are the strong, valiant fighter and your first battle will be to reclaim who you are.

There will be times when you feel you are out of control, that Leuk has the upper hand. But deep inside there is a place he can’t touch unless you let him. He has no power to go there unless you open the door.

It is your moral and emotional nature. It is your sense of identity. It is your soul.

Build a safe wall around your soul by staying in contact with your friends and family –  smiling, laughing, singing, and crying with them. Loving them and reassuring them. Staying active. These are the things that feed a healthy soul.

Your body may be sick. You may be having a difficult struggle with Leuk. But that secret place inside of you can be kept healthy. That part of you, the most important part, can stay strong and alive. It all depends on the path you choose.

Choose wisely.

Remember the Big Climb I attempted last March? Well, I made it! Here’s some pics:

Tee Shirt from Big Climb for leukemia

Logo on my tee shirt

Headed for the startling line

Headed for the startling line

posters on wall in stairwell

Posters of friends and loved ones were on the walls between floors

Lots of rests stops, but still going!

Lots of rests stops, but still going!

Floor 64 for and STILL more to go!

Floor 64 for and STILL more to go!

Made it to the top!

Made it to the top!

My son Guy was very patient when I had to stop and rest every 10 floors or so. But here we are at the top triumphant!

My son Guy was very patient when I had to stop and rest every 10 floors or so. But here we are at the top triumphant!

View from the top... That's the Space Needle way down there in the background.

View from the top… That’s the Space Needle way down there in the background.

Ta-dahh!

Ta-dahh!

Columbia Tower in Seattle

The Columbia Tower… Whew!

Feeling kind of tired and a bit weak today. But I’m still able to function. Unfortunately that means I still have to vacuum and do the dishes. Dang.

I just got an email from a real estate client wanting me to do more photography for her. I’m still thinking whether I want to continue the business. Some days it’s hard to get going. That’s mostly in the mornings though, so perhaps I can schedule all my jobs in the afternoon. I’ll have to decide soon.

Leuk can certainly get in the way sometimes, but I am so fortunate that my CLL is developing slowly and letting me live a relatively normal life. I know some of you are struggling with more advanced symptoms and some have much more serious types of leukemia than I do.

All I can say is keep the hope. You can beat this thing. Leuk may slow us down, even put some in the hospital, but he can be beaten. Hope, Faith, and the Love of others are strong adversaries against Leuk.

Keep up the good fight and live your life as fully as your strength allows. Even your weaker days can have meaning if you look for it.