Three Phases of a Deployed Soldier

I have deployed quite a few times in my military career which is normal or less than normal to sum.  I deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Kosovo for two years, Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Guantanamo Bay deployment was back in 1995 and was the most difficult if not the hardest due to a lack of real time information and communication to my family back home.  Internet was at it’s infancy still, pagers were very common still and cell phones were more luxury than what we have now.  Afghanistan was the easiest because we were issued a satellite cell phone and I can call mostly anyone who had a cell phone.

But in all my deployments, there was a trend for anyone who was deployed to experience the following three phases: workaholic, physical fitness, and religious phases.

The workaholic phase is self explanatory.  You work from the time you wake up until it is time to sleep.  Yes, you make time for personal hygiene and you ensure you get your meals in for the day, but for the most part, you just focus on your work and don’t care about anything else happening in the world.  Your are focusing all your efforts on the tasks that are on hand.  And if you do end up with a day off or a half day, you spend it asleep trying to get some rest or binge watching some TV.  You may call home but home is not your focus.  Your work is and that is what it is all about.  That is what evolves around you and you around it.  It’s not a lifestyle for sure to have when you get back from a deployment.

Another phase is the physical fitness phase.  During this phase, you squeeze a workout in every day and it is at least one hour in length or more if you can.  You do two a day work outs if you could so maybe a run in the morning following by weight training in the evening.  You will even do crossfit if you can if somebody is hosting one.  During this phase you are still focusing on work but you realize that now is the only time to get into better physical shape and that being round is not the required shape.  You may give up a sleep in day but you won’t, instead you will run 10 miles during the same time as the actual Army Ten Miler located in Washington D.C.

Another phase is that you will start attending a church service, reading your bible and praying everyday.  For me, being a Christian, that was me, but I saw others who focused on their own beliefs.  Personally, of the three, I enjoyed this one the most.  I re-read some passages in the Bible and I felt a certain peace in what others would describe a very stressful period.  I felt I grew closer with my faith as I prayed daily and when I went to service with fellow service members.  It was like a community within a community and a way to learn about one another and help one another with the tasks at hand.  It was also a way to share your problems and issues and to help carry each others burdens.

Now it was based on my experiences that typically you progress from one phase to another and vice versa.  Sometimes you started off strong in your faith and then moved to workaholic and end up with physical fitness.  Other times one can experience two at the same time or maybe even do all three simultaneous but that required a lot of skill and time management.  Personally, I find myself always in one of the above.  Prior to my diagnosis with Cancer, I was doing more workaholic with no physical and very little faith.  Now I have an opportunity to increase both my physical and faith and focus now on a different career in which I can do all three.

Ruby Red Grapefruits

I grew up in a beautiful agricultural along the border in South Texas town of McAllen.  And by agricultural I mean there were acres of all sorts of foods being grown with the two being citrus; oranges and grapefruits.  A neighbor town, Mission, even had a parade to celebrate the citrus called the Orange Parade.

In our first home we had two trees; a peach tree and an orange tree.  This was back in the 1970s and I remember Jimmy Carter was president and times were rough economically for the nation as a whole.  My dad, a Vietnam Veteran, had one of his old Army buddies come down and visit, whom me and my brother affectionately called Uncle Jeff.  Well on the first day of his visit, me and my older brother go outside back to get a snack.  You guessed it, we brought back a couple of oranges.  Uncle Jeff just freaked out that here we are just eating the fruit from the back yard as if we had no care in the world.

Growing up, I would spend time with my grandfather working on the yards since he was a yardman.  It was easy work and it was just to make sure that nothing happen to Papa Nene during the heat of the day.  Now, a couple of the yards had orange trees and every now and then Papa Nene would just stop work and cut up an orange to snack on.   The owners didn’t mind as we were throwing away rotten fruit just as quickly as we could pick them.

In Junior High, I ran cross country and the route we took from the Junior High out to the old Reynolds Metal fabrication on 3 mile line was a long a large groves of oranges.  Now I never stopped, but a few of my teammates would stop and grab one and quickly eat it.  Of course our coach would check our hands after each practice, but I was never caught because I had one in my own back yard still!

The freeze of 1983 really did a number in the citrus industrial but eventually everything came back.  It was during the 1970s and even today, that the Ruby Red Grapefruit is still one of the better fruits out there.  But I did not care much for it and it is not for lack of trying.  I did try it more than once; first with salt then with sugar then plain but the tartness was just too much for my tastebuds.  All that changed one day when I was out helping my dad mow some yards out in the sticks for a lack of a better term.

It was me, my older brother, my dad, and two other co-workers and we mowed somebody’s acreage.  We loaded up the truck and started to make the trip back home when the truck wouldn’t start or just gave up the ghost.  Either way, we were stranded and had to wait for someone to “rescue” us.  In the meantime, my stomach is grumbling and I was starving.  For those who know me, I love to eat food and unfortunately we were all out except we were parked by a grove of Rudy Red Grapefruit.

Now let me tell you, when you are hungry, that was the best tasting Ruby Red I ever ate.  It was sweet and delicious and was just enough to make me fill full.  I only took one and I hope the farmer didn’t know or if he reads this I am really sorry for stealing.  I can now stomach the tartness of a Ruby Red and I love eating it plain or with some salt and nothing else.  I enjoy it cut and peeled in different ways and I really miss eating this fruit.

We are faced with a lot in our lives and I know that I am faced with a lot these days.  We get used to living a life a certain way, such as eating oranges.  But we have to learn to adapt when we face a crisis or a different situation and we have to learn that sometimes we have to eat a Ruby Red Grapefruit in order to survive.

Are we done yet?

Apparently not, today was only Thursday and I don’t recall getting a hump day.  I first want to give a huge shout out to SAMC and the doctors who work there.  If anyone who knows me, I am about executing a 75% plan.  I don’t wait to get all the facts and figures.  If I did, I would never execute.  These doctors on the other hand were like, “hey you got cancer and we need to get you treated like yesterday.”  Don’t ask me what happen the last two weeks because it is a blur at best and I still have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow after lunch!

I had appointments with just about every specialist you can think of; from the ENT doctor, Radiologist, Oncologist, Speech Pathologist, Nutritionist, and more Education you can shake a stick at.  We were given an empty 2 inch three ring binder.  It is now filled with information from all the appointments.  Some days were spent all day at the hospital, others were more like just want to make sure all is ok and we were done.  I still need to read that information.

Today was one of those long days with 2 hours of educational information on chemo therapy with the Nurse Practitioner followed by a pneumonia shot and some blood drawn.  Not to mention a quick bite for lunch at the grab and go; another cheap under 10 dollar meal it’s a steal of a location, no wonder it is always busy.

Let me break it down Barney Style for those who don’t understand chemo therapy.  When your body is injected with chemo, it blocks any more cells from reproducing, both the cancer cells and your normal cells.  So your white blood cells are destroyed, hence why people feel like crap after treatment and why one is more susceptible to getting an infectious disease.  But at the same time your good cells which you need to live are dying, so are the cancerous ones.  With flu season hitting full swing, the Nurse Practitioner was like, “you are now getting a pneumonia shot” as a preventive measure.

That was today’s business and boy was it taxing on my body.  I don’t know if it was the shot or just always having to go to the hospital for this or that appointment.  I came home after that and pretty much laid down for the remainder of the day.  Each time I see a doctor, I am wearing masks and I quickly tell them, I am not sick, I just don’t trust everyone else here in the hospital.  They applaud my effort.

Finally, I am grateful for the combination of treatment; the chemo and radiation.  As chemo wrecks havoc all over my body, radiation comes in just with the affected area and zaps it for a few minutes.  For those who study military operations, this is more like a anvil and hammer operation.  The anvil holds the enemy in a static position and then the hammer drops and kills them all and let’s God sort them out.  Chemo is my anvil, Radiation is my hammer and I am looking forward to them to kick the crap out of this cancer.

Slightly Bent but Never Broken

In my military career, at one time, I was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery based out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.  Yes, it was a tough hard assignments with weekends spent on Wakiki Beach smoking cheap cigars and drinking Mai Tais.  The unit’s motto was “Never Broken”, given to the regiment during World War I by a French General.  The official motto is Never Broken thru hardship or battle.  Somebody along the way changed it to the current title of this blog.  But it was in this unit that I learned three critical components when it comes to being a resilient person; your faith, psych and physical fitness.

Now, I never had any issues with physical fitness.  In fact, most of us don’t.  If we take the time to count the number of steps we take a day, or all the activities we do, we would discover that we are actually fit people.  Our issues; fast foods, alcohol, and smoking are all bad contributors to our health and physical well being.  Most people take it a step further and do things like swim in a very large bath tub, or instead of walking they run around the neighborhood and some even take it to the extreme by trying to attempt to lift their own body weight with weights.  Crazy I tell you.  Personally, I enjoy working on my yard and walking to the mailbox and back.

Our mental ability is just that.  The ability to cope with the cards we were dealt with.  Currently, I was dealt a very bad hand but I rely on a saying I learned as a young lad in ROTC at my university; Everything ends in time.  A simple philosophy which I learned and apply it to many a situation I find myself end.  But as opposed to the Hakuna Matata, which is more carefree, I do believe everything has some good or bad consequences.  But, even if the situation changes, the philosophy doesn’t, because everything ends in time.  Because of that, I have learned that I must continue to live each day regardless of my situation.

I leave faith last, because I believe my faith to be a very personal matter, and it should be for everyone.  I tend to line up my faith along the Judeo/Christian values and I will keep it simple too.  I believe in the Bible and I don’t go around judging anyone.  I go to church on Sunday’s, I believe in Jesus, I pray daily and try to read my bible daily.  But that is me, and I believe that each and everyone of us have our own faith and we should exercise it. So what is faith?  Let me explain it this way, when my grandson asks for some water, he knows where the cups of water are at and knows where the purified water is located, but he is not big enough to serve himself.  He sees me grab a cup for him off the cabinet, he can see me go to the location with the purified water and he can hear the water hitting the cup.  When he takes the cup of water from me, how does he know that it is good water?  How does he know it is not soda? or coffee?  He doesn’t, he takes it because of his faith.

And that is how I view my current situation in fighting this cancer.  I may not be the same afterwards.  In fact, my doctor’s appointment today pretty much stated that.  I am going to change.  Hopefully to a mutant with super powers, but I doubt it.  Most likely, I will lose some hearing, the hair under my chin due to radiation, the left side of my lymph nodes and saliva glands, taste, numbness of my extremites and rough skin around my neck.  All this due to my chemo and radiation treatment plan.  But I am ok, because I have a plan to continue my physical fitness regime, my mental health, and my faith.  So in the end, I will be slightly bent, but Never Broken!

Biopsy Day

Nothing good can come from hearing the words, “biopsy” and when I heard the doctors had to do a biopsy on my lymph nodes, I was pretty much nervous about the results.  Now I have had a biopsy done before, on my liver, and that came out ok in general terms.  You see, I drank my liver away in Kosovo in 2006 because I was assigned to the NATO Headquarters which allowed me to consume alcohol.  To give you an idea of what the evenings look liked, for the older generations, it’s the movie Animal House, for the younger generations it’s the movie Neighbors.

So my liver biopsy was easy.  In fact, it took the nurses and doctors more time to prep me than the actual procedure.  The actual procedure was less than a second.  I felt a slight pinch on my side and that was it; I was done!  But, deep down in my gut, I knew that this biopsy done on my lymph nodes was not going to be as easy.  And it wasn’t.

So let me backtrack here for a bit.  My doctors wanted to do a biopsy on Monday, however they couldn’t because it was just past 3pm.  Apparently, the pathologist is off on Monday’s at 3pm.  Coincidently, we were going thru the government shutdown process and my conspiracy mind took over.  When my doctor told me they were unable to do the biopsy on Monday, I quickly replied, “damn politicians and the government shutdown.”  He laughed.  So we had to wait to Wednesday, and no it wasn’t because of the government shutdown as to the reason I wasn’t able to get it on Monday.  I think he either has bankers hours or had a tee time at the country club.

So I waited for the pathologist to stroll in with their fancy machine not knowing really what to expect.  The pathologist explained how they were going to stick a needle in my lymph nodes and extract some fluid in order to view it under their machine and also to take some samples up to the lab.  I was ok with that.  I really don’t mind needles as long as it’s not like the one they use on Princess Leia in Star Wars: A New Hope.  So the good pathologist asks for his “gun” and I happen to see it and commented with, “you call that a gun!? I played with bigger ones.”  Being the old Artillery man that I am, I played with about every artillery system we have in the US Army.  Same basic principle in firing pistols and artillery.  But it made the pathologist smile a bit and my wife to smile.  She explained the whole Artillery bit to the doctor.

So they grabbed the tube with the needle and told me to expect a pinch.  I felt nothing.  Really, I didn’t feel anything at all.  If I did, it was very small like if you pinch yourself as lightly as you can.  My wife is freaking out with, “Are you sure you are not feeling anything?”  I was like, “yeah, in fact do as many as you want, and if you suck out all the mass all the more better.”  The pathologist chimed in with, “Well I might have to hold you on that comment.”  And he did.  He drew about 3 tubes worth of liquid goo out of my enlarged lymph nodes.  The technician kept some samples for further study, and they examined some of the goo under their microscope.

It was during this time they I didn’t really understand Doctor’s speak.  If you ever want to learn Doctor’s speak become one because they have their own fancy language; one which I really don’t care for knowing and it was at this point I wish I had.  They mentioned the term “carcinoma”, and I had no clue what they said.  The technician told the doctor a statement like this, “this plate has some carcinoma cells, can you confirm?”  Luckily, my wife, now she learned herself in the ways of the Doctors English and quickly caught on what they were talking about.  Me, nope, just a clueless fool making jokes about playing with bigger guns.

When they left, and they were nice about leaving and saying I did a good job and all, my wife informed me then that I have cancer.  My life as I knew it, was changing fast.

My Family

Family Picture

Before I continue writing, I need to explain that thru this all, I know the importance of the family.  Unfortunately, not all my family lives near me as my older brother lives in Washington DC, only one of my nephews live near me, my folks and the majority of my in-laws live down by the border in South Texas.

I was released from the hospital after getting three procedures done over the week which I will get into more detail in my other blogs.  My son drove down from North Carolina so I can spend time with the youngest in the family, Emilie, or as she likes to call herself, “M”.  She is the one sitting on her daddy’s lap and her mama, my only daughter in law, is sitting at the end of the photo.  She is turning 2 soon so the kids decided to throw a quick last minute birthday party for her.  I decided to take a quick photo before they left the next day.

I am holding my two older grandkids, Eva and Calvin, who are currently living with us.  There mom is directly behind me and is in a fire academy; training to become a firewoman.  My baby girl is sitting between her big brother and big sister.  I love my daughters very much.  They mean the world to me and I would do anything for them.  My babygirl is learning how to drive which scares me a bit, going to be honest about that, but I know that one day she will grow into her own.

The person who always makes everything possible is standing behind me, my wife, Maria.  She was the one who informed me about not including the family and I told her I didn’t, I just needed some time to include them.  So here we are!  She has been a great sounding board throughout my life and I am fortunate that she is with me.  We have had our differences and sometimes it results in unpleasant results.  But at the end of the day, I love her with all my heart and soul.  I don’t think I can make this without her; I can but it would be very very difficult.  For that, I am eternally grateful for her being with me through out this process.

Behind her are my mother and father in laws.  I really appreciate all they have done for us throughout the years.  I joke that my father in law is my ranch hand, and I even told my neighbors that if they needed any work done on their yards, he is a very hard worker.  I show him his resume, my own yard and the work he has done.   My mother in law is a great cook and loving mom.  I love to see her cook in the kitchen and take mental notes and try to repeat her style.   Maybe one day, they will move in and set up shop here at the hacienda.

Truth is this, if you are going to go thru chemo/radiation, you need a very strong support system.  I loss a cousin to leukemia but what I saw was that my aunts and uncles all got together to support her.  I know it was rough and I know that my treatment is going to be difficult as well.  I know this because my doctors told me so.  But, family is a way to cope with the stress of going thru the cancer treatment process.  The joy and laughter of little ones, the political discussions of the next generations, the poking fun of one another or just getting together burning some meat on the grill celebrating a 2 year old’s birthday are all things that a family can do to bring a sense of ease into what is otherwise a very difficult road to recovery.

Let’s start with the middle

Every story has a beginning, mine just happens to start in the middle of my life.

post I have always enjoyed the ocean.  Maybe it’s because I was born on March 3rd.  Even though I love the water, I don’t have the sea legs.  So needless to say, get me out in open water and I get motion sickness.  Took a deep sea fishing trip while I was stationed out in Hawaii; I provided the chum that day and we caught a lot of mahi-mahi.  Now, I just enjoy the beach and walking barefoot on the sand allowing my feet to sink in a bit, while I search for sand dollars and interesting shells.

I am getting ready to turn 48 later this year.  I have lived a very interesting life to say the least.  I studied History at the local university and I believe it was a quality education.  Do you know how many self proclaimed learners of history do not even know who or what is the Frederick Turner’s Thesis?  In 2015-2016, I was fortunate to visit the Valley Forge NHP, Yorktown NHP, and the battlefields of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.  Living in DC at the time gave me not only that opportunity but also to visit the Smithsonian Museums and other local historical sites.  The history of Harpers Ferry, for example, can easily take up a days worth of reading.  Not to mention this is the location of the Appalachian Trail HQ!

I just retired from the Army and boy was that ever an adventure.  Remember those old commercials, “Be All that you can Be!”  Well that was me.  I managed my own career.  Made some bad decisions and some good ones along the way.  But in the end, I managed to obtain the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and my last position was the Branch Chief for Foreign Military Interaction for US Army South.  I was responsible for the execution of 3 exercises in Central/South America and in the Caribbean focusing on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief.  The Army, in it’s infinite wisdom, moved me to Texas and we were able to purchase our forever home in the hill country just south of New Braunfels.

Now, in my second career, I am a Finance and Insurance Manager for a car dealership here in San Antonio, Texas.  I just barely started and I am still figuring out a lot about this business.  I love this job!  I help people finance their vehicles and also provide them insurance products to protect their investment.   The best part is meeting new people from all walks of life and from all over Texas and I get to hear their stories!  The historian in me is just loving it!

Overall, life has been good to me.  Not bad for a boy who grew up in a small dusty border town along the Rio Grande Valley.  Growing up, the dream was always to retire north of Falfurrias, Texas, because that was where the last border patrol check point is located.  The idea to be north of this little town and the border patrol, in my mind, meant that I made it to the promise land; the city on the hill; I am successful.

But, alas, all is not well.  Earlier this week, I was diagnosed with some sort of Cancer.  I thought I was getting the flu as my lymph nodes were swollen.  But, that’s not the case.  I have a cancer which now throws a monkey wrench in my life.

I haven’t written nothing about my family yet.  That is yet to come.  Let’s just say I loved one woman with all my heart, I will do anything for my three kids, and I love my grandchildren to the moon and back.

But there are days, like today, oh how I wish I could just be by the water.  To hear the slamming of the waves on the shores, the sound of the seagulls above and the wind blowing over the sand dunes…picking up sand dollars and interesting sea shells.

So, this is where I find myself in my life and it makes perfect sense now to start in the middle.