Cancer at Conemaugh

A Medical Addendum to my
Memoir: Every Breath a Gift

Larry Pearce

The author’s high school graduation picture (1966)

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Similar to the sentiment at the beginning of my Memoir, I rely on Scripture to sustain my life, healthy or not. Aside from the Scottish superstitions that I inherited from my mother’s side of the family, I also rely on my common sense and higher education to live. But, as I opened an old Bible above my work station to inspire this introduction, a small (4 1/2 x 7 X 1-inch), zipped, red-letter, leather bound work which was given to me on my eighth birthday, again by my mother, two dollars fell onto my desk: one a paper bill and the other what seemed like pure silver. Was that just luck or good fortune from earlier days? You know what they say: “The mind is the second thing to go.” Or was it a message from a higher Power? Anyway, I turned to the first of two parts of  Psalm 73  [abbreviated here] that speaks so well of the faith that upholds me [ the second part is found at the end of this addendum ]:

Truly God is good to Israel. But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. [He then talks of the riches of the wicked.] Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been plagued, and chastened every morning. When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me. Until I went into the sanctuary and understood the end of evil. So foolish was I, and ignorant; I was as a beast before Thee.

I was a mostly healthy person, until I approached my biblical three scores and ten. Oh, I had my tonsils removed when I was six, glasses added when I was seven, and a few ear infections in my early teens – mostly likely from swimming in the raw stream below Parks’ barn near my first home. I made few trips to the ear doctor to have the antennae lanced so the pus wouldn’t run down my neck while I played junior high football. And to think I went on to be a music major in college! But I digress. By high school I had joined the band and given up football. No violence in those old wooden bleachers, and I had a better view of those beautiful majorettes and cheerleaders. I did, however, play little league baseball and compete in track and field. One doesn’t have to hear to bat and catch or run and jump. I guess the best part of having regular ear problems was a loss of hearing, which kept me out of Viet Nam. Seems the draft board wants its fighters to hear the guns going off and the bullets flying overhead to know when to duck.

My oldest brother taught me how to keep my weight under control and stay in shape when he was graduating from Penn State and getting ready to fly off with the Air Force. In addition to regularly running laps at the high school athletic field adjacent to our house, we played tennis and followed the Stillman Diet when necessary. I still love to eat while fighting my greater-than-40 Body Mass Index (BMI). I guess I get the excess weight thing from my grandmothers and parents. But, they all lived long, happy lives. Mom died of cancer in her 89th, year and dad passed with pneumonia in his 85th. This story will tell of my inheriting a number of medical conditions and how I’m living with them: Essential Tremors, Eczema, and the big one, Cancer. Where did I get the title, you ask? I’m paying tribute to this 135-year old institution that has served my family and me so well over our years in Greater Johnstown. The doctors, nurses, and support staff probably saved my life a year ago when I underwent cancer surgery. “Conemaugh” is short for “The Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center,” now a partner with the Duke University and Lifepoint Hospitals.

Susan & Larry Pearce on their Golden Wedding Anniversary
(November 2020)

For context, let’s look back briefly over my 76 years and my work and play habits. Wife Susan and I bought an 18-acre lot shortly after we were married. After installing a 900-foot lane from the main road to the hillside where our dream home was to be, a sturdy cement bridge was constructed over a trout-filled stream in the front field by Susan’s dad and with the help of my second brother. In 1975, Susan’s uncle and her cousins built us a comfortable split-entry house there, in which we raised our two kids. Seven years later, after the amenities like sidewalks and shutters were added, our entire family got involved in planning and constructing a small barn, a large covered porch, and a spacious swimming pool. There was digging, cementing, and lots of materials to haul and install. As if the farm animals we hosted over the years weren’t enough – a pony, beef cattle, and sheep – we had an acre of yard to mow and trim and nine acres of field to keep cut, all surrounded by electric fence to maintain. But wait, I’m not done. All-electric homes were popular in the 70s when oil and gas were so expensive. Coal-generated electricity wasn’t cheap either, so living in the country with lots of free dead trees, we decided to heat with wood. In addition to the dead trees on our property, I was fortunate to favor my neighbors by removing their dangerous deceased trees as well. I got a lot of exercise cutting, hauling, splitting, and stacking three cords of “the fuel that burns twice,” once when you prep it and again when you smoke it.

My first major health issue in later years was a bad right hip. I often wonder if swinging the old scythe to cut the tall weeds in the pasture led to the disintegration of the cartilage there. I do believe that having a left foot bigger than the right was probably the result of my limp. My left big toe still wants to poke its way out of my shoe. I know that after a successful right hip replacement in 2018 at age 70 in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside Hospital, I was again off and running – well, walking gingerly at least. If only my dad, also a former farm boy, had had this operation, he surely wouldn’t have wobbled when he walked. Maybe I inherited the bad hip?

I know I did inherit a condition called “Essential Tremors,” not only from Dad but from his grandfather. Toward the end of his life, my Dad had to have my sister write his checks. Great-grandfather quit going to church because his tremors were so bad, and embarrasing I’m told. My worst shakiness occurred during mealtime while trying to lift food to my mouth. A table fork just didn’t work unless I was able to stab the morsels. A large spoon became my right hand pal and enabled me to shovel most slippery calories up to my oral opening. The best news is that, after doing some research on the internet, I discovered a drug called “Propranolol”. I see from the internet description of the drug that it is also used as a remedy by musicians for performance anxiety. Lord knows I experienced enough of that over my 60 years as a musician. I even wrote a major thesis in college on the subject. My conclusion then was, “Don’t practice until you can play it right; practice until you can’t play it wrong.” I wish I had known about Propranolol back then. My primary care physician (PCP), whom I pridefully didn’t find it necessary to visit enough over the years, knew all about this miracle medicine and prescribed it immediately when I asked. Over time and with increasing dosages, I believe my tremors are now under control. What the doc didn’t tell me was that it also controls ones blood pressure, and mine had been on the high side. They told me this at Conemaugh Hospital when I was tested before cancer surgery last year. That’s another story coming later.

Larry’s Eczema
(Summer 2023)

In July of 2022, as I was beginning my 75th year, I was “grubbing” the field below the barn. For you “city slickers” that means cutting the tall weeds, trimming the trees, and collecting firewood. One day I found red, itchy spots on my arms. I had never had poison ivy in all my life, at least to the extent that I had to have medical attention. I was sure it was something I had acquired in the field, and as the condition grew worse, I went to see the local dermatologist. She used the terms “Atopic Dermatitis” and “Eczema.” My dad had “Psoriasis,” a white scaling on his arms, and I’m told my second brother had a mild allergy to gluten, or Celiac Disease, both of which were successfully treated. And here I thought All in the Family was just a TV show. My dermatologist prescribed an ointment and a moisturizer and gave me instructions on caring for my skin. I had no success in alleviating the symptoms and the itching got worse. Her associate at another office over the mountain in Greensburg eventually gave me a steroid shot and the condition went away quickly. However, some types of these shots, I’m told, suppress the immune system and can interfere with cancer treatments and must not be given regularly. Within a short while the Eczema came back with a vengeance. I went back to the original treatment in a tube, all the while getting advice and even homemade remedies from friends and relatives: concoctions of oatmeal, herbs, and even tar. I couldn’t politely refuse, but I didn’t spend much time with them either. Interestingly enough, my cancer research has suggested that Eczema is possibly one of the results of problems with one’s Pancreas, which we’ll poke at in a bit.

The author’s Vasculitis

A year after first acquiring Eczema, in July 2023, while I was itching, I acquired a new and different skin condition, which my physician’s assistant told me was “Vasculitis,” a multitude of bright red spots in various shapes and sizes on both legs from the knees down. She advised that I see a specialist, this time in Pittsburgh, but again I had to wait for an appointment. The good news is that by the time Susan and I drove the two hours to the Burg weeks later, the condition was nearly gone. In fact the specialist didn’t think it was necessary to even test for which of the many types of Vasculitis I had. We went home with smiles on our faces, perhaps never knowing what caused that extreme skin condition.

The year presented other, relatively minor challenges (or opportunities, depending on which side of doctors you’re on): New progressive lens glasses to fight the occasional blurriness and nausea – no success – and a tooth repair – I’m told only a temporary fix. My wife was in charge of what the insurance company calls the “Flex” card, a $500 credit each on certain tests, medical necessities, and over-the-counter medicines. I kid when I say that we keep Walmart in business. As an aside, we patronize our local pharmacy and a mail service of a subsidiary to a company where my dad worked, Merck.

Part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC)

Yes, what a way 2022 ended and 2023 began! But before I tell you about the worst to come – Cancer – allow me to frame my limited knowledge of hospital emergency rooms with the story of a brief trip to one in the opposite direction from Conemaugh’s. That hospital was usually less crowded. In the late autumn of 2019, after an initial trip to a nearby medical clinic after suffering from all the symptoms of Covid, I indeed was diagnosed with the virus. This was before free test kits and government sponsored shots. A few days later I found it difficult to breathe and, panic stricken late in the evening, I insisted that my wife take me to the Somerset Hospital (UPMC) ER. The discovery of Covid Bronchitis, treatable with a strong antibiotic shot and steroid pills, I was on my way back home with orders to stay away from friends and neighbors for a week. Somehow, my wife never got the infection, but about the same time, two years later, after two Covid shots, we each got a very mild case of the malady. This time we again stayed away from folks and rested. We were good to go after a week, but we had to miss involvement in a Christmas performance by our Johnstown Symphony and Chorus, for which we had rehearsed  for three months. We were also no-shows at the annual Nativity Festival choral night at First Presbyterian, Johnstown.

Imagine recovering from Covid for a second time, only to wind up in the Emergency Room of another hospital just four months later and under the knife there within six hours! But, suffering severe abdominal pain, there I went – off to Conemaugh in Johnstown, PA. By the way, I hope you’ll take the time to read the inspiring history of Conemaugh, begun amid the tragedy of the 1889 Johnstown Flood, thanks to the work of Clara Barton. The large medical center is named for the waterway, The Conemaugh River, a tributary is  visible  just across the street. The Conemaugh River system was the villain in the Great Flood which killed 2,000 people. The name itself means “otter creek” and comes from the Unami-Lenape Native America tribe of Pennsylvania, although they were often called “The Delaware.” Perhaps receiving life-saving surgery at Conemaugh was appropriate because of my life-long love of swimming. But, I don’t remember, in all my pain, specifically telling my wife, “I otter go there.” So, this begins the background of my story: the continual discomfort in my lower abdomen several months after that second Covid spell.

Dr. Amy Reynolds

My dear primary care physician (PCP), Amy Reynolds, prescribed many appropriate tests over those several months before my cancer diagnosis, but on Tuesday afternoon, March 28, 2023, the pain became so bad that my wife “delivered” me to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown. (Pun intended here – she had delivered our son next door in the old Mercy Hospital in 1973. It’s now part of Conemaugh.) Susan, who had been sent home from the emergency room that first night before surgery and told to wait for a call, no sooner got in the door after her 10-mile drive, when the phone rang with a Conemaugh nurse on the other end saying, “We’re starting Larry’s operation now. Will you come back in and wait?” Susan called our best friends, Rev. Jim and wife Sheila, in the middle of the night to ask if they could meet her back at the hospital. Susan laughingly recalls that every time the door to  the waiting room opened, they would jump up in anticipation. After my second CT scan in a month, anesthesia, and recovery from surgery given just six hours after admittance, I awoke in the middle of the night, looking up into the face of the angel who saved my life, Surgeon Shawna Morrisey. Coming out of the anesthesia, I really did wonder where I was. All I could see under her headdress and pulled-down mask were her gleaming eyes and wonderful smile. Her gentle voice assured me that everything would be alright. She explained that 16-inches of my lower small intestine had been removed, which had been rendered useless by a Neuroendocrine Tumor (NET). Unfortunately, the tip of it was wrapped in blood vessels and vital tissue and couldn’t be cut. Possible growth in my pancreas could not be ruled out. The good news was that after analysis of more than two-dozen surrounding lymph nodes, none was considered cancerous. The best news was the postulate that, “If one has to have cancer, the slow-growing NET is the kind to get.”

Dr. Shawna Morrisey

My recovery time on one of the upper floors of Conemaugh was a different experience for me: lots of pain pills, great food, caring staff, and visits from my pastors, friends, and family. I can say that I wasn’t very conversational when I got back to my room. But, the next morning, with all the tubing to sustain me and relieve my bladder, I slowly came around. In fact, I was on my way home by the third day. Is there something biblical about that? Unfortunately, the hospital gave me no specific dietary restrictions, which would come back to bite me.

Susan helped me up the stairs to the living room and the recliner when we got home on Friday. There I stayed to welcome the phone calls and food provided by our church. The home visiting nurses and therapists offered by Conemaugh assured me that I was on the road to recovery. While that road has had some bumps and tolls, my UPMC for Life health plan and Medicare have been more than helpful. I also thank the good Lord for ROKU-TV and food that I likely wouldn’t have experienced had I not had all the attention. But recovery was not all a bed of roses. I was released on a Friday, and by Sunday afternoon I began experiencing that same sharp pain in my lower abdomen I’d had before, at the site of the surgery. The wound looked fine, but I couldn’t stand the discomfort and so I asked Susan to take me back to Conemaugh’s ER, only another three days from my release. This time, however, the waiting room was filled and I was ask to have a seat. What choice did I have? There were folks covered in blankets and caregivers hovering over them. What was going on? Were we back in the days after the 1889 Flood? Fortunately, I was eventually taken through the doors behind the front desk, examined, tested, and given a shot to relieve my pain. Unfortunately, I was told I’d be spending the night for observation – in the waiting area; the hospital said, “they had no rooms for patients.” I was later billed for a regular admission, which I couldn’t believe. My wife and I discovered “patients” there who had been “admitted” and covered with blankets for as long as three days. The blood testing, exams, and some of the treatments were carried out there, without the benefit of any private space, which I’m sure is against some government agency’s rules.

I received a rather large bill for “admission number two.” UPMC, my insurance company, was charged $1,701 for the Emergency Room visit, $1,o51 for Hospital Room and Board, and hundreds of dollars for other things like IV Therapy, Pharmacy and Lab, various testing, and even Physical Therapy.  I returned it unpaid with a letter of complaint. After a brief phone call and short letter from Conemaugh acknowledging my complaint in the months to foll0w, I received a Notice of Denial from UPMC for a portion of the charges. I finally got a two-page, itemized list of charges along with an official decision letter from a hospital Patient Representative on September 27. She blamed the situation on a “national nursing shortage” and that, “They continue to recruit nursing staff.” She continued that, after consulting with the Surgical Department, I had been admitted and “examined at bedside” to avoid a “medical emergency.” The letter stated that “the  treatment received was the same as it would be on an inpatient unit” and that, “The charges are appropriate.” In other words, “We’re not budging. Pay the bill.” In lieu of further correspondence, I paid a portion, but will wait for additional contact from them to pay the rest.

I was discharged the afternoon of the next day, again without specific dietary instructions. Susan and I were suspicious that my discomfort had been the result of something I had eaten. We never heard that the pain may have come from another blockage of the small intestine of some type, or perhaps even a residual of the surgery. All was well now, and I began some computer research. One publication from The University of Virginia Health System referred to a condition similar to mine as “Short Bowel Syndrome (SBS)” and offered a four-page selection of comforting dietary choices. The bottom line is to eat smaller meals more often and stay hydrated. Advice well taken, especially with the fear of being admitted again to the hospital.

As springtime turned to summer, I had my final examination by Dr. Shawna and was introduced to my oncologist, Dr. Sheetal Highbee, a gentle, soft-spoken specialist who would also later treat my wife’s blood clots as her hematologist.

Dr. Sheetal Highbee

Thus began a series of further testing, medicines, very expensive shots, and getting the opinions of other specialists, which continue to this day. My PCP insisted that I see Cardiologist William Smeal, who gave me a clean bill of health, except for my weight of course. Shadyside Hospital Oncologist Ibrahim Sahin concurred with Dr. Higbee, and we will revisit Surgeon Amer Zureikat at UPMC’s Pancreatic Center should further surgery be necessary after the shot treatment. Lest I complain about the travel and $30 co-pays, I must admit that the food and fellowship I enjoyed with Susan was wonderful. Plus, it was always good to get out of the house.

My wife and I had our regular Colonoscopies last year, mine followed by an Upper GI, which almost killed me when fluid got into my lungs. It took a few days to recover from that. Aside from me having a sore throat and laryngitis for a few days and we having to refill our digestive systems, we both survived. Seems I surely have paid for the acquisition and installation of some of the scanning devices at Conemaugh Hospital over the past year. But, again, thank heavens for health insurance:X-rays (3), Dopplar Ultrasound (1), CT scans (5) with contrast dye (3), PET scans (2), and one awful MRI . The occasional Valium didn’t help much. I can’t say that downtown Conemaugh’s older machinery is considered “open,” but should another CT be necessary, I will seek another, newer scanner at another location. In fact, just before my last cancer shot, I received a CT scan at Conemaugh’s new clinic in Johnstown’s Richland suburb, and the experience in a newer machine was much more tolerable. In fact, when I asked the blood sampler when I should take my Valium, he said, “Oh, you probably won’t need that as the test will only last a few minutes.” He was right! When I got on the sliding exam table, I asked the sweet nurse-in-training for a pillow on which to rest my sensitive left shoulder, she said the same thing: “I don’t think you’ll need one because the scan will only take several minutes.” She too was correct, and soon I was out the door, this time with a smile on my face.

As virtually all babies and young people in America do, my wife and I received a series of vaccinations as science made them available. In our professional teaching years, we got annual doses to prevent the Flu and Pneumonia. Most recently, we sat at our local Walmart to be inoculated against Shingles. The cost of most of all that was covered by our  health insurance. Imagine my alarm after I received a bill from Conemaugh for my first Cancer shot in early November last year in the posterior for NET. There’s a joke there somewhere, but Ill let you fill in the blanks. The one milligram vial of the dark jelly, called Lanreotide, was approved by the FDA in 2007 and has been billed at $11,880. It is commercially known as Somatuline Depot. The good news is that, in addition to slowing the growth hormone that causes NETs, it can lower one’s blood pressure and reduce diabetes. The bad news is that, after about half of the accepted price is paid for by UPMC for Life, I still owe $1,163 for each monthly shot. Depending on the final interpretation of my  CT scan on February 26, I thought that perhaps a fifth vial in the butt might not be necessary. That would be great news, but I was given it just to be safe.

But the good news, again, is that Conemaugh Hospital has agree to bill me only $100 per month, at least until the results of the inoculations are known. I have been sending them more as I am able, being mindful of possible surgery or other treatments in the future. I intend to eventually pay my obligations, but Dr. Highbee has suggested that I may need to receive the shots for the rest of my life, as they are tolerated. My question is, “How can I rest, knowing I owe that kind of money?” Research has revealed another bright spot on my bill under the term “Sequestration.” Apparently the federal government has approved a 2-percent coverage of such expenses, not much but every little bit helps.

The monetary figures that have appeared in a mountain of medical paperwork this past year are mind boggling. UPMC allowed up to $33,235 for my brief stay in the Intermediate Care Unit (ICU) the night of my surgery in March. I received the first of many actual hospital bills for the three-day stay for $495. My problem has been to decipher what code is for what. The top suggested price for each of two PET Scans was over $27,000. UPMC agree to pay up to nearly $5,000 each. Unless I’m mistaken, I paid only $245 when I walked in the door each time. Although the suggested prices for each of 10 other tests, from X-rays to Dopplars to CTs were less, the Medicare-supported UPMC for Life plan seldom hesitated to support me.

This was only a small portion of my trials last year, to which we’ll return shortly. But, all the while, my wife had her own medical struggles. In addition to dry eyes and unusual lymph nodes on her neck, and several other maladies, she had spinal surgery under her favorite doctor who had moved from Somerset to Sewickley Hospital, now known as Heritage Valley, in September. I had grown up just across the Ohio River in Moon Township.  The bad news was that, as a college student, I had to have my middle finger sewn back on there after a freak work accident. Also, both of my parents died out of there in the early 2000s. The good news is that Susan’s surgery appears to be a success. After her three days of excruciating pain, I brought her home back over the mountain and waited on her hand and foot: cooking, cleaning, washing, you name it. Afterwards I thought, “My, but women work hard.” Later, Susan experienced Blood Clots, for which she was scanned, tested multiple times, and prescribed the expensive Eliquis.

I get dizzy when I think that, between Susan and me, we sought treatment at 5 different hospitals in Western Pennsylvania and the services of 15 doctors and physicians’ assistants last year. Thank heavens for our multitude of choices, their excellent services, and our ability to pay, at least some as we go into the future. I’m reminded of an article in Time magazine, published just one week before my Cancer surgery in March, entitled, “The Doctor Won’t See You Now.” It reveals the inadequacies of our health care system, especially since the attack of Covid. One survey found that 43% of Americans were unsatisfied with their experience, almost double that of patients in the U.K. and Canada. Paying much more for insurance than other countries, Americans worry most about wait times and high prices. While Susan and I agree with the article, we feel blessed by our proximity to at least two major players in medical research: The UPMC Hillman Cancer Center clinics nearby and Conemaugh’s Duke-Lifepoint association. The Hillman is finding new drugs called “Checkpoint Inhibitors” that neutralize cancer proteins. Their researchers just down the street at the University of Pitt, with whom I cooperated, are taking DNA samples to determine the likelihood of ancestors passing certain Cancer genes on to their descendants. My results came back negative. Susan was tested for genetic blood clots at Conemaugh, and unfortunately carries certain genes for blood clots that can be passed to our children.

Before I report this week’s more serious interpretation of my last CT scan, allow me to share what I consider to be “humorous” items. For example, in examining the internet reports on visits to various doctors, I chuckled at their descriptive choice of words:

“This is a pleasant 74-year old gentleman . . . whose tests were essentially normal.”
(Cardiologist, 5/2/23)

“Well-developed, well-nourished male in no acute distress . . . Alert and oriented to person, place, and time . . . He is tolerating a regular diet . . . and is having regular bowel movements.”
(Reporting Intern, 10/25/23)

“Dependent hyperdensity is identified within the gallbladder, which may represent sludge. There is fatty infiltration of the liver. There is diffuse mesenteric fat stranding in the the mid abdomen.”
(Report on CT Scan, 4/3/23)

Can you image what medical reports on Santa Claus would sound like? So much for my diet and Body-mass index. In all seriousness, the following are excerpts from my CT scan this past Monday, just prior to a scheduled meeting with Dr. Higbee, my oncologist. She will determine further treatments. I guess I should be happy that so much of me is “unremarkable”:

[ Abbreviated with some rewording – Google medical terms for more information ]

  • No abdominal or pelvic mass or enlarged lymphadenopathy.
  • No hepatic [liver]metastatic disease is detected. The gallbladder and spleen are unremarkable. The pancreas is moderately atrophic.*
  • No small bowel obstruction.
  • No ventral, umbilical hernia. No acute diverticulitis or appendicitis.
  • Normal functioning kidneys.
  • Aorta and IVC are unremarkable.
  • Normal appearance of urinary bladder and prostate.
  • Right hip arthroplasty.
  • Lung bases are clear.
  • Lumbar spine, bony pelvis, and left hip are intact. No fractures, malalignment, or osseous destruction.

* These are concerning. See my understanding of the Oncologist’s ongoing reports below:

So, the day finally arrived for the professional interpretation of my latest CT scan at the end of February. If the weather was any predictor of the outcome, I was in trouble: 60-degrees, high winds, and driving rain – I mean, literally, we had to drive to the Somerset office of oncology in the driving rain. I don’t know how to feel because by bedtime it was snowing! Anyway, Susan and I entered the registration to find that the doctor was not in. She was on vacation. The good news is that there were few other patients there, and between signing in, given the opportunity to question the doc’s assistant at length, and getting my monthly cancer shot, we were allowed 90 minutes. The assistant did the best she could to answer our questions. She expressed that her opinion of the scan was positive for it showed no sign of the earlier Neuroendochrone Tumor (NET). The only concern was the portion of the pancreas that was atrophied. While there is no treatment or cure for that, is it a cause of my Eczema and would diet help to remediate my symptoms? She finished by saying, “We’re ordering further blood testing to hopefully clarify some of our beliefs, and we’ll consult with Dr. Zureikat, the pancreatic specialist at UPMC.” The injections would continue, but this time, there would be a five-week interval because Dr. Higbee would be away again. Before leaving the exam room, I pulled down my pants with a smile to receive my fifth injection.

Aside from the question of the Pancreas, there remains the matter of air in the colon and the sides of the intestine. All I know is that after the shots, I am given to nausea and gas, but no pain. Stay tuned for a short report next month after another visit to my oncologist.

Susan & Larry praying to be able to relive their visits to the great cathedrals of the world

In addition to health problems, two of my chief stressors last year dealt with income taxes. I’ve done our payments to local, state, and federal coffers for almost 60 years, but the Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) that I mistakenly missed for Susan and me last year gave me fits. Together now, as I prepare for tax season 2024, I think I understand the taxation of our retirement funds and our folders of deductions is inches thick. While we’d like to pay no taxes this year, we are grateful to be alive and will lift up the governments that made survival possible and contribute to the various treasuries under the law. Having finished the draft of my autobiographical memoir at the end of 2022, I began the process of adding what I may have missed, editing the script, and posting to my website for the world to read. This piece, then, has been about the interruptions I experienced while preparing to live the rest of my life. I’m sure you have your own “interruptions” to life. They come naturally with breathing, but we pray day-to-day that we have the physical and fiscal resources to meet those challenges. All that goes to say that having a human support system is absolutely vital. My report plan has been to categorically mention my wife, family, and friends as a blessing, and my many ailments with the “biggie,” cancer, as merely a hurtle. Inherent in all this is the question: Are my other medical conditions, such as Eczema or even tremors, related to the cancer that I carry? Only God knows, and we’ll all find out one day. I’m sure that I’ll have additions to this medical addendum as the years go by, if the Good Lord grants me them. If not, I’m packed and ready to go. As I used to say often in my 20-plus years in radio, “Stay tuned.”

Here then is the close of Psalm 73, begun in the introduction, that has been my inspiration through these trying days:

Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou has held me by my right hand. Thou shall guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart fails me; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. It is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all His works.

Return to: Every Breath a Gift:  A Memoir – Introduction & Table of Content

Last revised 3/4/24