Journey by Robert Garcia- Copyright 2015
This May will mark three years since I underwent major cancer surgery; a 7-hour operation that resulted in the removal of more than half my stomach, about 10% of my liver and my gall bladder. Five months earlier I had suffered a perforated ulcer, a dangerous situation in which I was within an hour or two of going into full-fledged septic shock, which would have been fatal. The ulcer saved my life because it was a follow-up endoscopy a few months later that found the cancer that would later be removed.
All’s well that ends well and I have been cancer-free ever since. The smaller stomach has allowed me to maintain my girlish figure. The liver regenerates, so no loss at all really. With no offense to God’s design, the gall bladder, whose main function seems to be processing fatty foods, I have not missed for a single moment.
After a combined 15 weeks of recovery from the two operations- I returned to work and got back into the swing of life, and I wrote the song, Journey. My Producer, Jeff Severson, says he thinks it’s the first time anyone has ever rhymed the words “journey” and “gurney.” One would hope it doesn’t happen too often.
The inspiration for the song actually came after the first operation when a friend of mine drove me home from the hospital and it felt in some strange way like I’d just been let out of prison. I’d been in there for a very long 7 days and I was just grateful to be alive. As the beginning of the song notes, the leaves were starting to change- Fall had arrived. The colors were beautiful. The cold nip in the air was refreshing. Like the tune says- “so much better than being dead.” And that’s the story I try to impart in Journey– the appreciation for a second chance at life.
Half way through the project, I decided to drop the song from the album. Musically, Jeff and I were not really connecting on it. It also seemed like a totally self-absorbed story. Lots of people go through stuff like this- what makes me so special and why should anyone give a crap what I have to say on the subject? But Jeff convinced me to put the tune back in. He pointed out that several hundred people had supported me and went along through my little health odyssey with me, following the thing on my blog and on Facebook; they might be interested in my take on all this.
I decided to make the song brief and to produce it as basically as humanly possible. No separate vocal and guitar tracks. No other instrumentation of any kind. I asked Jeff to just set me up like I was playing at a café or something. A mic on my voice, a mic on the acoustic guitar- and we’d record what amounts to a live performance.
So we did the first take. The song ended, and the last drop of sound from the harmonic that closed the tune faded into silence. Jeff turned and said, “That’s it.”
One take. First take. Bam.
I swear I could play Journey a hundred times over and it will never sound as spot-on as the version we recorded that day. It would be the very last thing we recorded for the album.
By Robert Garcia
Somewhere along a tree-lined road
I lost a heavy load
The leaves were turning orange and yellow and red
I was thinking to myself
This so much better than being dead
It’s been a journey
It’s been a long, long trail
I was lying on a gurney
Just an hour or two from heaven or hell
You learn to take things a day at a time
Sometimes an hour at a time
Sometimes, well, there’s no time at all
Sometimes, time flies- next thing you know it’s the fall
It’s been a Journey
It’s been a long, long trail
But it’s really kind of lucky
To have yourself another chance to prevail
I ain’t ready to say goodbye now
I ain’t ready to say farewell
Taking off into the deep, blue sky
Climbing back onto the carousel
It’s been a Journey
It’s been a long, long trail
And it occurs to me
It’s time to unfurl that sail
And so it goes
And here we go
Wherever the wind will blow
Robert Garcia- Copyright 2015
Dylan’s Ghost- Songs of a Lifetime is available for digital download at I-Tunes, CD Baby, and Amazon Music. Purists who would like a hard copy of the CD can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll make arrangements to ship it out to you.
I still find it hard to believe I received a cancer diagnosis almost a year ago. The tumor that was discovered in the stomach was surgically removed last May and there are no signs of any return of the disease though I suppose you’re never really certain enough to declare victory over such a thing, pretty much ever.
One of the courses of treatment you take to prevent the return of cancer via the bloodstream is chemo therapy in pill form- a much more civilized, seriously less horrible alternative than the kind of chemo you get intravenously. It’s called Xeloda and it’s a rather amazing drug. When used to actually attack tumors, it has an excellent track record of shrinking if not annihilating them. And for preventive purposes, as I used them, there is strong statistical evidence they do the job as well.
They are no picnic. Extreme fatigue is one of the effects, along with nausea and uncomfortable things that can happen to your hands and feet. I started taking them July 1st and they gave me weekends off to recover.
I take the last of the pills tonight and I’m done which is worth celebrating- but also kind of scary. As long as you take them, you feel like you’re doing something proactively to keep cancer from coming back. When you’re done with them, it is apparently quite normal to feel like you’re operating without a safety net.
Except you‘re not. My doctors at Georgetown tell me there is new research that indicates that minimal, regular exercise, to the tune of 45 minutes a day of even casual walking, has just as strong a statistical correlation for cancer prevention as chemo-therapy. About a week after they told me this, there it was in the Washington Post- same research-same conclusion.
This is good news for me as I don’t own a car and I actually already walk 36 minutes a day back and forth to the subway. Hopefully, the weekends I was using to physically recover from the effects of the chemo drugs will now be filled with more energy and a little less couch potato action.
This is the last time I intend to blog about this whole thing. It was, honestly, very helpful to me to write about this journey from fear to good health. It’s been a long path, but one that need not be revisited. I continue to be incredibly grateful to my friends, family and colleagues for the tremendous support, love and prayers, all of which worked remarkably well. Thank you all.
And now on to the business of living.
I attended my son’s graduation this past weekend in the Atlanta suburbs. Congrats, Charlie! Twelve occasionally anxious years of private and public schooling are making way for four more years of higher education.
I have blogged before about how much air travel sucks and, sure enough, having flown maybe 30 times to Atlanta over the past five years I had never experienced what occurred on this trip into Hartsfield. You know you’re in trouble when the wing tips noticeably because it means you are in the dreaded circling pattern waiting to be cleared for final approach.
Being the smart guys they are, the leaders of the airline industry thought it would be a good idea to make hubs out of Dallas, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia, two of the most thunderstorm-prone cities on the planet Earth. Didn’t affect me because Atlanta was my final destination but I felt sorry for all the folks with connecting flights into the now closed Hartsfield airport due to some nasty storms in the area.
We didn’t have enough fuel either. The pilot matter-of-factly informed us we’d have to gas up in Greenville, South Carolina. New one on me. Turns out other flights in the same boat as us were diverted both there and to Alabama for refueling.
To make a long story shorter, we were the first plane in to the humble little South Carolina airport. We hung out on the tarmac for about 45 minutes, fueled up and left for Hartsfield which, gratefully, reopened. We finally landed three hours past arrival time, but thanks to a $91 cab ride directly from Hartsfield to Roswell High School, I made it to the graduation with literally 3 minutes to spare.
It takes a long, long time to read the names, congratulate and hand diplomas to 500 graduating seniors. Today’s High School students are considerably tamer than those from my generation. If I’m not mistaken, the Herndon High School class of ’74 was the last Fairfax County school for awhile to graduate from Wolf Trap. That would be thanks to one smoke bomb and one streaker. Roswell High’s version of mischief was a beach ball that was let loose upon the sitting and giddy graduates. It was quickly confiscated.
My binoculars and Charlie’s grand-dad’s cell phone camera captured the big moment as my son’s name was called to a nice round of cheering and applause. He had found his place in the mini-universe that is High School. From a nervous Freshman to a confident Senior, he had achieved this right of passage with flying colors.
The Parties and Barbecues
The weekend was spent shuffling from one barbecue gathering to another, congratulating Charlie’s friends, many of whom I had known as 8 and 9 year-olds and now on the verge of life itself with, for most, only a brief 4-year college interlude before assuming true independence.
The final barbecue was at Sean’s house. Charlie and Sean used to be the best of friends and played on the same soccer teams for years. As happens in High School, they had pretty much gone their separate ways but Charlie put in a gracious cameo appearance before heading off for a musical performance at a friend’s church.
Sean is headed for the University of Georgia and loves politics and economics. Smart kid. I swear the conversations I had with him at the barbecue were the most intelligent of any I had with most of the adults over the weekend. As I left the gathering, the poignancy of the moment hit home as I wished Sean luck and told him it had been fun watching him grow up.
Middle Tennessee State- Here We Come
As for Charlie, he’s known for a couple of years now precisely and exactly what he wants to do with life. He’ll be moving on to the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee to pursue his degree in audio engineering and music production. He doesn’t care about money. He cares about the business and art of music. Period. His heart is so in the right place, I know he will do very well. All I ask is for a small little bungalow on his estate twenty years from now where I can close out my existence typing out my final blog entries about how great it was to have such a kind, smart and successful son.
Sometimes our polarized political views on issues like global climate change don’t allow for grey areas. Well, here’s a big grey area- a scientist who thinks climate change is man-made, that pro-warming theorists are full of it, and that there’s not a hell of a lot we earthlings can do about it.
The BBC broadcast an interview this week with the 91-year-old scientist who developed the “Gaia” theory which posits that the entire earth is one, large living organism.
Professor James Lovelock believes, as the BBC puts it:
…the earth’s climate will not conveniently comply with the models of modern climate scientists. As the record winter cold testifies, he says, global temperatures move in “jerks and jumps”, and we cannot confidently predict what the future holds.
He also points out that a cottage industry has emerged of scientists who’ve staked their careers on the premise that they know how the earth’s climate will change:
Prof Lovelock does not pull his punches on the politicians and scientists who are set to gain from the idea that we can predict climate change and save the planet ourselves. Scientists, he says, have moved from investigating nature as a vocation, to being caught in a career path where it makes sense to “fudge the data”.
He also points out that our march to renewable energy sources is admirable and makes business sense, but is not based on “good practical engineering.”
So good luck trying to put a label on this guy. In a nutshell:
♦ Liberals will applaud that he thinks global climate change is the result of human industrialization.
♦ Conservatives will cheer that he thinks many scientists have developed an agenda and try to twist the facts to defend their notions.
♦ Those in the moderate middle, like me, can agree with his argument that nobody really knows what’s happening out there and that no one can confidently predict the future.
♦ Cynics can nod their heads when he says humans are so insignificant and clueless and the earth so large and complex, that it’s presumptious for anyone to think we could actually “fix” or alter the earth’s climate.
There is, however, one thing Professor Lovelock believes that we can all agree on. He doesn’t know if Earth will adjust or fix itself from whatever we may have done to it, but, ultimately, he concludes that all we can do is:
…enjoy life while you can.
Amen, Brother Lovelock.
Returned to Manhattan for the weekend and found out Mayor Bloomberg and the Taxi Commission have started cracking down hard on cabbies and their cell phones. No hands-free or blue-tooth either. There’s a $200 fine for a first offense, some kind of reeducation camp for a second offense plus license suspension and permanent loss of license on a third offense.
Along the way to researching this little post, I found out there is a lot of hostility toward cabbies out there. I ran into a taxi-passenger blog in which the writer talked about how virulently horrible it is that taxi drivers talk on the phone all the time, and besides, they often “talk in a foreign language.”
I personally have never minded cabbies talking on the phone, much less hands-free. I’ve never had a near-miss in a cab or ever seen them get lost or miss my stop because they were distracted. But it is an angry public; convinced they are at death’s door when a taxi-driver is chatting on a blue-tooth. And they are encouraged to turn cabbies in. Mayor Bloomberg gives you a phone number to call on the little TV/credit-card set-up where you can also get news updates from the local TV station while you’re in the back seat. Frankly, I’d rather hear a guy talking Ethiopian to his girlfriend than have to listen to yet another local TV newscast, but, apparently, that’s just me.
I’ve had some really great conversations with cabbies through the years and have documented some of those chats on this very web site. I’ve never viewed them as antiseptic chauffeurs. They have lots of great stories and each one is like a fascinating character study. But increasingly, in New York anyway, the city seems to be trying to do everything possible to keep cabbies and passengers apart. They raised the height of the glass separating driver from passenger. They put in those god-awful TV’s in the back seats.
Ironically, if these people who hate cab drivers so much would bother talking to them- guess what? They wouldn’t be on the phone because they’d be talking to you! Oh, but then conversation is probably a deadly distraction too.
I suppose it’s a lot safer, technically, that cabbies are now supposed to be silent mutes ferrying human cargo from point A to point B. Somewhere along the way, though, it seems to me we’re losing some of our humanity.
I started my broadcasting career at WAGE-AM Radio in Leesburg, Virginia a little over 32 years ago. I learned recently that last August, it went dark. I felt like a little piece of my life kind of died. Certainly, a piece of Loudoun County died too.
The station had a strong tradition of local news and did remotes at local businesses, covered High School sports, and kept what was then a fairly tight-knit, agricultural community very well informed.
One of our most popular features was the obituaries we read after the local noon news. I remember the time new management rode into town and thought reading the obits was too quaint and tried to kill them. It didn’t last long. The station was overwhelmed with angry complaints. The people of Loudoun County demanded to know which of their neighbors were no longer among the living and that was that.
But you could see the end of WAGE Radio coming like a freight train barreling down the tracks. First, development took its toll and where there were once 63 dairy farms in 1977, there were just three by the turn of the millennium. Houses, McMansions, country clubs, and ribbons of highways and overpasses were testament to the fact Loudoun had turned into one of the fastest growing counties in America.
It also morphed from a community where people said hello, nodded and smiled at one another into another faceless, sprawling Washington suburb. The mom and pop shops that used to advertise on the station gave way to Wal-Mart conglomerates and their ilk.
You gotta laugh
We not only informed the people of Loudoun County, we gave them a few grins too. My favorite blooper was the time an unnamed news anchor, trying to explain the cause of a recent heat wave, pinned the blame on a “stagnant mare’s ass.”
Another anchor, while reading the community events calendar, referred to an appearance at the Sterling Park library by the famous author of the Three Faces of Eve and actually called the book the Three Feces of Eve. I was in the studio at the time and nearly fell to the floor in barely stifled laughter.
The station was owned for many years by Huntington Harris, as in the Harris Bank of Chicago. He loved classical music and gave himself his own time slot on the weekends to spin his albums. This also required that he read liner cards. The station’s motto used to be WAGE- in the Heart of the Hunt Country. Regrettably, Mr. Harris gave a memorable rendition of the phrase that would have made a sailor blush. The very next week WAGE became the Sparkling Sound of Loudoun County.
And, yes, I had my own contributions to the blooper reel. Like the time I was doing the noon news live at the 4-H Fair near the hog pavilion, complete with an audience of farmers and their kids and referred to the “23 million dollars in crap damage” the county had suffered in a recent drought.
But all hilarity aside, it was here I cut my teeth as a journalist. I covered school board meetings, raging barn fires and car accidents. I covered a small plane crash. I got dirty looks from Senator John Warner back when he and his then-wife Elizabeth Taylor threw annual dinners at their Atoka mansion. Apparently I asked a political question during what was supposed to be a social event and it didn’t go down very well. I moderated a live on-the-air clash between the Board of Supervisors and representatives of a very angry Loudoun County Taxpayer’s Association.
I have one of their pay stubs framed as a reminder of my humble roots. I made $155 a week. WAGE Radio, I used to joke- a contradiction in terms. But as I think back on it, I would have worked for them for free if it would have added just another two weeks to its once central and intimate role in the life of Loudoun County. How sad and ironic that I have just written its obituary.
We all agree smoking is terribly bad for you. So, apparently, is taking this smoking cessation drug called Chantix that you see advertised on TV all the time. Do people actually listen to the side-effect warnings on these commercials?
The drug manufacturer, Pfizer, apparently has some very worried lawyers. Perhaps it’s the two warnings that were issued by the Food and Drug Administration in 2008.
The Chantix commercial I was watching is a testimonial from a kindly, slightly meek 50-something guy who appears to be sitting in a garage workshop of some kind in his home. He’s shining up motorcycle parts and attaching them to his Harley. As the commercial continues and the health warnings start popping up on the screen, I become aware that it’s just possible this man’s family has purposely locked him up in the garage to keep him from being a danger to himself and others.
Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, and suicidal thoughts or actions while taking or after stopping Chantix. If you notice agitation, hostility, depression or changes in behavior, thinking or moods that are not typical for you, or if you develop suicidal thoughts or actions, stop taking Chantix and call your doctor right away. Talk to your doctor about any history of depression or other mental health problems which can get worse while taking Chantix.
Ok, so there are a few mental side effects. Uh, physiological ones too:
Some people can have allergic or serious skin reactions to Chantix some of which can be life threatening. If you notice swelling of face, mouth, throat or a rash stop taking Chantix and see your doctor right away. Tell your doctor which medicines you’re taking as they may work differently when you quit smoking. Chantix dosing may be different if you have kidney problems. The most common side effect is nausea.
And then, for good measure, back to the creepy psychological effects:
Patients also reported trouble sleeping and vivid, unusual or strange dreams. Until you know how Chantix may affect you, use caution when driving or operating machinery.
The 50-something guy in the garage, I notice, is not technically operating machinery; he just seems to be adding parts to it. He pronounces that his 14 year old son is very happy he has quit smoking. In fact, he repeats later in the commercial that his whole family is happy he quit smoking. I begin wondering what kind of people these are who seem to favor trading off a few more years with crazy ol’ Dad for putting up with hostility and agitation and the possibility he may off himself.
But- wait- there’s more. A few additional items from Pfizer’s Chantix web site add some disturbing detail you don’t hear in the TV spot. Turns out the skin reactions include swelling, redness and peeling of the skin. And the allergic reactions can include swelling of the face, mouth, and throat that can cause trouble breathing. In addition to nausea and sleep problems there’s also gas, constipation and/or vomiting.
Also, a few additional details on the psychological issues: On top of “hostility, agitation, depressed mood, and suicidal thoughts,” there’s also “anger, panic, mania, abnormal sensations, hallucinations, paranoia and confusion.”
Chantix- the wonder drug! Here’s one anti-testimonial in New York magazine from a guy who knows first-hand about the effects of Chantix.
Lawyers appear to be getting increased business- or at least they’re trying to. The firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi has an article on their web site that also mentions Chantix patients have reported serious car accidents while on the drug. They add psychosis, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia to the mental effects. They offer an 800 number through which they will be more than happy to represent you in any possible legal proceedings.
Yes, smoking is very, very bad, but if your family decides it’s your time to quit and hands you a bottle of Chantix, race into your garage, slam the door, set up a barricade and start working furiously on your Harley so you can make a clean getaway. This appears to be one cure that for “some people” is way worse than the addiction.