Tag Archives: Cancer

In Memory of Tolkien

TolkienSome research revealed that on this day in 1973, at age 81, the world lost one of its greatest writers, J.R.R. Tolkien. What, one might ask, does this have to do with fishing or curing cancer?

Any number of fantasy-inspired stories have been written or told over the ages, but Lord of the Rings has survived and thrived better than almost any other. In fact, as of 2010, the Lord of the Rings has sold more than 150 million copies. The few books that have topped that on the all-time list are ones like… The Bible.

When Peter Jackson brought the epic adventure to the big screen, the final installment, The Return of the King, grossed more than 1.1 billion in worldwide box-office sales.

Tolkien lost his father at only 3 years old and while he spent his earliest years living in Africa, he’d later return to England, where he’s most known and loved.

I fell in love with Tolkien, and all things Lord of the Rings, in middle school. I even feigned illness and skipped a class one day to finish reading The Return of the King. 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought about his work more, and why it has become such a universally endearing, seemingly timeless story in our culture.

Scholars have poured over his life and work, and anything I might write about the man and his stories has almost certainly been written before. But as a fan, a reader and a writer, I’ll do my best to remember him on the day the world lost him.

I think, more than any other single factor, it was the nature of his epic adventures that made them so universally endearing. Yes, he had an incredible imagination, he was a fantastic writer and his ability to weave poems and songs into his work is almost unparalleled.

But he did something that perhaps only a man who lived through his era could: He set before his heroes a task of seemingly insurmountable difficulty. Tolkien was a Second Lieutenant in 1915 in the First World War, so the type of evil he wrote into his stories isn’t something he had to create wholly from his imagination, he saw plenty of it on the battlefield.

During his time fighting he endured everything from trench warfare to lice-delivered disease, but unlike many of his friends, he survived to return home.

I have no doubt that the evil of war that he encountered served as a great inspiration in the works he’d go on to create.

What I loved and love most about the Lord of the Rings was the nature of the quest set before the heroes. There’s not a page in the books where you feel, for a second, that a hobbit has a chance at completing the task set before him. From the minute Frodo leaves the Shire, you can’t help but think that he’s undertaken a journey without a hint of hope. But a journey he must undertake nevertheless.

Even, for his part, Frodo never seems to see his task as a possible one. He understands, however, that it’s not a burden he can pass along or a responsibility he can neglect.

Tolkien’s ability to instill the nature of the mission into the reader, his talent at conveying the sheer hopelessness of the mission, is what makes the entire ordeal so inspiring in the first place. No task, mission or journey is more admirable than one taken on without a hint of hope, one born of obligation that necessitates sacrifice.

And perhaps there’s even some inspiration to be drawn from type of mission.

It is impossible, and unthinkable, that any one person might undertake or attempt any journey that would end with cancer’s eradication. The very notion that any of us might attempt this is laughable.

But for all of us affected by its evil, the journey is one, each in our own way, we must undertake. If Frodo passed along the ring, or gave it up, or threw it away, he’d be relieved of the burdensome task put before him. Tolkien, too, could have found a way to avoid the war. Neither did.

Both fictional and historical figures understood that whatever stand we can make against an evil that exists in our lifetimes, that threatens to affect our lives and the lives of loved ones, is one that we must make.

If we say that a growing evil on the horizon, whether it’s cancer, Sauron’s armies,  or a threatening enemy, is “not our problem,” then we allow all those around us to do the same with our example.

And evil, disease and death will exist as long as humanity does, but the only truly dangerous thing for any and all of us is complacency, is indifference.

On my best day I will never be the writer that Tolkien was on his worst, so I’ll leave you with his words rather than mine: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Image: Huffington Post

The ‘We’ Behind Catch a Cure

familypicWhen writing blogs or social media posts concerning Catch a Cure, I’ve tended to use the pronoun ‘we,’ referring to my effort, when addressing those of you kind enough to take a look at my project.

Lately, I’ve felt somewhat foolish, because the pictures you see of a guy holding fish, the pictures you see of a Jeep on the road with a driver, those pictures are (except for the incredible guys I’ve fished with from Oklahoma to the BassOnline crew in Florida to South Carolina) are mostly… well, me.

But I’m not trying to “create” the perception that it’s a team rather than an individual effort, because that’s the furthest thing from the truth.

When I’m home in Upstate New York, I reside at my grandmother’s house. I tell people it’s so that I can help her out (she is 82 and no longer drives and can use a hand with the heavy lifting like laundry, grocery shopping, and the like) but the opposite — namely that she helps me, with almost every aspect of life — is every bit as true, if not moreso.

My aunt, Erin Wheelock, was kind enough to ship out our first online order of shirts the other day, and has helped in numerous aspects of the project as well.

Another aunt, Tara Healey, helped me design the route and contact vendors along the way where I might sell the shirts, and is a source of daily inspiration.

My mother, well… there are not words. She has encouraged every dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember.

My cousins Everett Lockwood, and Joe and Chris Critelli, all roughly my age, are always inspiring me with outdoor ideas, their passion, and we can always pull a funny, hillarious, or outrageous memory from our childhoods to get a laugh when we need one.

We all need a ‘we’ in our lives, and those are some of mine. They have not been as blessed as I have, to travel, to fish, and to meet so many of the amazingly kind anglers that I’ve been fortunate enough to meet, which makes their effort, help and support all the more amazing and selfless.

But to not mention them, recognize them, and thank them… every chance that I get… would be a tremendous mistake on my part. And even if they were not, could not be, with me on the water, on the road, they were with me every step of the way. And to quote the late, great Muhammad Ali: “”Anywhere I go, there is always an incredible crowd that follows me.”

My crowd is smaller, but no less incredible, and I wouldn’t be here, doing this, writing, fishing or fighting cancer without them.

LOTR: The Tolkien/Cancer Connection

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 1.22.19 PMAlright, I’ll start this off with a fair warning: I’m a nerd. Certainly that word has had several meanings for different generations, but I think for the most part it implies that you care about something more than, perhaps, you should. For better or worse our society sees Apathy and indifference as “cool,” and so emotionally investing yourself in something risks your being called names. I’ve been called most, so I’m hopefully developing a thick skin. Who was, for all intents and purposes, the “King of Cool”?

I’ll give you a clue: He died driving a Porche in a reckless fashion, the same one in which he lived much of life. His legend is forever cemented in the immortality of youth and apathy toward danger. James Dean did, arguably, the “coolest” thing anyone can do: He died young and seemingly unafraid. We might give lip service to condemning that kind of behavior, but look around… we as a society are on our knees praising it. Hendrix, Cobain and Dean are all almost revered in popular culture.

When I was in High School, I absolutely fell in love with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was halfway through Return of the King on a school night, and I feigned illness the next day to stay home and finish it. Yeah… I was that bad. Something about (skip this if you’re not a LOTR fan) a King like Aragorn, disguised as a simple Ranger named Strider, was tremendously endearing. Perhaps we all want to believe that we are “more,” beneath the way we present ourselves to the rest of the world, and that concept embodied in Tolkien’s pages, and later on the screen, was an endearing one to a high school kid who got cut from every team he ever tried out for, save for bowling (They didn’t make cuts).

The most endearing thing about Tolkien’s work, which manifests itself in a great deal of literature, though… was a simple concept: Hope despite hardship. Tolkien chose hobbits, not kings or soldiers, to save the fate of the universe from evil overtaking it. Sure, a wizard helped… but ultimately it was a tiny creature from the Shire that defeated Sauron’s empire. To solidify my Nerd status, I’ll pull a second reference from Christian Bale’s portrayal of another of my heroes from youth: Batman. He says to Katie Holmes’ character at one point in the movie: “I am… more.” He was, in the movie, as was Frodo… “more,” than he appeared to be.

That kind of inspiration, and I’ve drawn it from several places, is what keeps me fighting this disease when I ask myself nagging questions like: “What will $4,000 accomplish against an illness that persevered, killing millions, despite trillions of dollars being devoted to cancer research?” What difference will this make?”

I try not to get too religious in my Catch a Cure ramblings… because I’m aware we all have our own faith… but a baby born to a carpenter in a manger might have seemed like an unlikely hero to save all of humanity at the time, too.

But Tolkien isn’t some obscure author you have to search through pages of Google returns to learn about. His work is published in dozens of languages, read around the world, it has become a million-dollar movie franchise, and he has a fanbase that spans the globe.

And although his prose was incredible, his understanding of language, fascinating, and his ability to tell a story, almost unparalleled… I don’t think that’s what has kept his works alive long after his passing.

I think that the central premise of his work is simple: Although the world at times can make us feel small and insignificant, that does not mean we are incapable of accomplishing incredible things.

As Tolkien illustrates… it wasn’t an army that destroyed the symbol of greed and evil… it was a small hand connected to a small creature… with courage much larger than his size might indicate, dropping the ring into the fires of Mordor.

And I know that millions, if not trillions of dollars have been spent fighting melanoma, the disease that killed my father… but when I read Tolkien, and stories as inspiring as his… I’m reminded that it’ll be the final dollar that funds the study that finds the cure that matters as much as all the ones that got us to the point where it might. And a dollar? That… that I can scare up, thanks to the help and support of so many companies, and individuals, that have come to my aid in this endeavor.

[And if you’re one of the 12 people who read this, please keep the secret of my not being cool to yourself]

 

Hope Makes Us Human: A Florida Story

DSC_0012 46
The Sun Sets Near Boca Grande, Florida

“Simple exchange of values. You give them money, they give you a stuffed dog.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

Reading The Sun Also Rises during my first year at Syracuse University changed my life, and I became a devoted Hemingway disciple. It was this line, more than any other, that endeared me to the story. Jake Barnes, Hemingway’s main character, has suffered a traumatic injury in the war, and he’s come to hold one simple truth in life: You get what you pay for. In typical Hemingway fashion, the concept is illustrated with a blunt and simple metaphor when Barnes considers buying a stuffed dog.

I left a full-time job at 24 to live in a Jeep and fish as much of the country as I could for Outdoor Life Magazine.

I sacrificed a great many of the things we are taught to work for throughout much of our youth: a full-time job, a steady income, security…

I gained… well, I saw almost everything in lower 48. I spent 200 nights, exactly, sleeping in that Jeep and fished my way from remote northern Maine down to the Keys, out to San Diego and up to Seattle. That was my “stuffed dog.” A simple exchange of values.

This morning I met a woman near Palatka, Florida named Jackie Bliss. Jackie’s husband lost his father to melanoma, and Jackie keeps the bait shop she works in, Bob’s Bait and Tackle in St. Augustine, stocked with strong sunscreen. I gave Ms. Bliss a Catch a Cure shirt, and a few surveys to hand out for the magazine I’m hoping to build.

I’m hoping to create a beautiful publication, showcasing a side of the sport that all of us appreciate but perhaps we find hard to articulate. I’m hoping I can find writers and photographers to wrap words and images around the beauty that draws us all back to the water. But most importantly, I’m hoping to build a magazine that you’re looking for, that you want to read, and you can help me do that here.

I spoke with Jackie for a moment, and we smiled and exchanged stories. I told her about my father, and she shared some stories about her father in law. She said the T-shirt was her favorite color, and with that I was back on the road.

We’d both lost something essential in our lives, a loved one. But now we shared this appreciation for the time that we do have, and a fight for a better future. A simple exchange of values. What was never traded, sacrificed or given up, is the one thing that I believe, above all else, defines us as a species: Hope.

 

The Untitled Blog (World Cancer Day)

cropped-p8270428.jpgIt’s 1 a.m., so I suppose World Cancer Day is over. It was heartbreakingly beautiful to see the outpouring of support on all forms of social media in support of our battle against humanity’s deadliest foe.

I’m an optimistic guy, on most days I truly love my life and I’ve been blessed in so many ways. But I got to thinking about cancer, and what it means to me, what it has done to my family. And the temptation in today’s world of “share-everything social media,” is to remain constantly upbeat and optimistic in your presentation of self.

I’m reminded of a scene from one of my favorite films, Cinderella Man, when Paul Giamatti’s character, boxer Jim Braddock’s manager, opens the door to his New Jersey apartment to reveal that he and his wife have sold everything they own during the Depression. They’ve kept the apartment, “For appearance’s sake,” but it’s bare inside. I can’t help but wonder how many Facebook profiles that friends use to showcase recent meals, smiling faces and 24-hour happiness are hiding, to some degree, that emptiness underneath. And that might be fine, or even “strong,” had I not chosen a profession that demands, above all else, honesty.

I’ll shut the door on my apartment tomorrow, but on today of all days, it seemed a sin to keep it closed.

I’ve tried having a conversation with my Mom in which my father doesn’t come up, but it’s impossible. On the good days we laugh about how much we loved him. On the bad ones we don’t. Our house in Upstate New York always seemed big to the kid inside me that moved there from my grandmother’s basement at four, but it never felt as enormously empty as it has since he left.

Because in truth it’s not what cancer takes that makes the disease so awful. Sure, those last months spent with Hospice care, with the drugs making communication harder, with the nightly phone calls that you think might be the last… sure… they’re painful. And if I ever wish he were here, I think of those days and nights, and I’m glad he’s not… not like that.

But it’s the emptiness that it leaves behind that is the absolute worst. I know that I am not alone in all those moments when I’ve almost gone to dial his number, just wondering if he’d answer, somewhere. I know that there are millions like me, staring at their phones, wondering where that number goes, now.

It leaves so much behind: His shoes, suits, favorite books or old files. It leaves the hollow inside of everything that’s not him.

My father was the type of guy who never got so much as a common cold. I imagine he got in the habit of waking at dawn in the Army, where he served his country in Arizona and Alaska, and it never left him. Even at 77, he woke at 5 a.m. and was to work by 6. ‘Retire,’ was a word you used when going to bed for the night, not when discussing life and/or work options.

“He would have lived to be 100,” my mother always says. “Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

Saying that cancer “just takes a loved one,” is like saying that a wrecking ball only takes out the window it first collided with after the building that held that window crumbles.

I didn’t take great care of myself when my father was sick, which is no one’s fault but my own. I’ve rebuilt my life, because it is what he’d want, but it took a while.

If there’s a 27-year-old man that could have flown home to say goodbye, waded through a living room of Hospice nurses to hold a hand connected to an unresponsive father, and then continued with graduate school for a week, flown back to give the eulogy the next and then kept moving forward without missing a beat, I wasn’t that guy then.

I hope I am becoming a man capable of not only enduring that kind of pain, but using it for good. And the people at Outdoor Sportsman Group, B.A.S.S., and so many sponsors have helped and are helping me turn hurt into hope. I hope I am becoming that man in his memory.

I guess I wrote this because I wanted someone to know that if cancer comes into your life, steals a parent, a loved one, a friend… that you can get back up and be better for having known them, for having shared the part of your life with them that you did. I wanted that person to know that they’re still with you.

And as I sat awake wondering whether or not to write something so personal, I couldn’t help but think about what the purpose, the point of “writing,” as an art must be, at its core. And certainly we all have our own definition of that purpose, but I know that the writing that has most moved me, changed my life for the better, and inspired me, has in some way articulated an expression of one single sentiment: “You’re not alone.”

So if you’re feeling this way, or have felt this way, about a loved one cancer has taken from you, know that you’re not alone.

Stationary Motion: The Sun Also Rises

The Sun Also Rises
So many tremendous human beings have come to the aid of Catch a Cure.

My favorite book is The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. There’s beautiful language, it’s concise and moving and it’s important from a literary standpoint, but that’s not why I love it.

In the book, the fictional character Jake Barnes, because of injuries sustained in war, cannot be in a physical relationship with a woman, despite being in love with one.

When I first read the book, in my freshman year of undergraduate school at Syracuse University, I was immediately taken aback by what type of modesty and openness would propel a man to write something that many men would spend a lifetime trying to avoid the mere suggestion of. There are many causes for insecurity among men, and we all deal with them in different ways, but few seem as harsh as the one described by Barnes. What I loved most about the book was the honesty, even if it were fiction. It seems that some of the most honest writing is.

I think that to admire a quality without trying to emulate it constitutes some type of cowardice or hypocricy, so here goes.

I was on the train into Boston yesterday, working toward a Directed Study that would function in the capacity of a repeated Catch a Cure project, in Texas this time, and I was trying to post something on Facebook in commemoration of my father’s passing on that day, two years prior.

I just started crying. There have been plenty of times, his birthday, Father’s Day, talking to my mother, when I’ve swallowed those tears but the well where I put them must be full. I just miss him, I guess. Emotion isn’t typically terribly complicated.

When I was 24-years old I slept in the back of my Jeep Wrangler at the time for 200 nights, to fish my way across the country. I lost 42 pounds. Some nights, toward the end of that trip, were brutally cold, and I mean like 20-below, Ketchum-Idaho cold. I’d shiver myself awake in the night to blast the heat and fall back asleep. Since I was about 18 I’ve been covering myself in tattoos that I hope act as some means of telling my story even if I’m too quiet to. Some were smaller and took less than an hour, but others took three-plus hours and the needle lingered on the skin that barely covers the bone. When my father passed, I flew home from Boston, stood in front of a crowded church, and did my best to eulogize the man I loved. I say all of this to suggest that tears aren’t an easy thing to extract from me, by any means. I could count the times I’ve cried in the past decade on one hand, with fingers to spare.

And I was very hesitant to write this, but two notions gave me some solace. First, I am fairly certain that only a few human beings actually lay eyes on these words, and most of them know me well enough to know these things about me anyway. Secondly, I thought: perhaps, and more than likely, there are others out there feeling this too, going through what I’m going through, and what purpose does it serve for us all to smile and hide our pain so that we might, on the face of the matter, all seem to be utterly alone in how we feel?

Two years ago yesterday I was on a plane back to Boston, having visited my father for the last time, when my mother called to tell me he’d passed, and yesterday at that same time I was on a train into the city.

It’s pure coincidence that I was aboard public transport both days, but I find the circumstance strangely fitting.

On a train, or a plane for that matter, you both are, and are not, moving. You might be said to be sitting still while speeding over land at dozens, or hundreds of miles per hour.

And losing a parent, as many of you might know, feels oddly similar. I know it has been two years since I’ve held my father’s hand, heard him speak or tried to make him laugh. I know that time has moved, and me with it. But, like on a train, it does not feel as though I’ve moved away from the son who would call every night to exchange casual pleasantries and assurances that I am okay, along with questions about his well-being.

I remember the first thing I did when I’d heard that he’d passed: I tried to call his cell phone. He was a nervous guy, and because he was constantly afraid of losing potential business as a criminal defense attorney, he’d answer his phone no matter the time of day or night, without fail. It just rang. And rang. I was 27.

I’ve undertaken a battle against melanoma, the cancer that took his life, and absolutely everyone who has shared my content, purchased a T-shirt, donated a product or given a dollar has meant more to me than I can express. It feels like I am fighting back against the evil that did so much harm to my family’s life. It is not happiness, but it is some solace.

So when I thought about sharing this, I heard the voices of those who might potentially respond, and I’ve heard them aloud. “Nobody wants to read about cancer.” “Death is depressing, move forward, find happiness…” And I’m trying. Friends here at Emerson in Boston, friends from back home in New York, and so many anglers in Florida have made that so much easier for me than it might have been otherwise.

But I thought that perhaps out there there might be one other person, going through something similar, something equally painful, if not more so.

And I’ve read and debated and listened a great deal about the purpose of writing, or any art, but only one thing has ever made sense to me in a way I can’t shake. I believe that whatever we are saying, in words, images or with paint or drawings or photographs… should be some variation of one simple idea:

“You’re not alone.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Measure of a Man, Or What I’m Coming to Believe it Might Be

This is some near-frozen trout water in Montana that, while daunting, didn't inspire us to stay inside.
This is some near-frozen trout water in Montana that, while daunting, didn’t inspire us to stay inside.

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about my heroes, about struggles they went through, and what defined them. I’m not just talking about those men (and women) who’ve reached a status of biblical proportions, like Hemingway, Frost and and Kipling, I’m talking about heroes in my own life. Joe Cermele  is an editor at Field & Stream who befriended and inspired me when I was an intern there fresh out of Syracuse University. Chris Megan at On The Water gave me my first job as a copy editor after that Internship and when I decided to take my first big shot… fishing the entire country, Gerry Bethge of Outdoor Life saw to it that that adventure had legs. Todd Smith at Outdoor Sportsman Group got on board when I decided to fight Melanoma and brought the full weight of all his years of experience in this industry to my aid. Joe Higgins at Tomo’s Tackle has been of great help to me since I moved to the North Shore.

And of course there’s my father, who you’ve heard more than enough about already. And if you get to know any “hero,” you’ll see that they, in their own lives, overcame great struggle and hardship before they even had a chance to become what they are today.

And if we’re fortunate, as I was, we come into this life with support and inspiration from our families and friends. But if we have enough courage, we reach a breaking point where the world hands us our first great hardship.

I was blessed to have work in the industry I loved, parental support and friendship. The work, which was a river, has ebbed to stream, although it’s not yet dry.

I’ve made new friends here in Boston, but I’ve lost some too, and yes that’s hard to write. And I am no more fit to site here and describe to you the measure of a man than is anyone who has survived 30 years on this planet. But I can tell you what I’m beginning to believe it might be.

I believe it is, after we use what gifts we are given to begin with, how we respond to hardship, how we win friendships back that are worth fighting for, how we decide what to stand for and how we make that stand.

When you go through something difficult, whether that’s losing a job, a loved one,  a vehicle in an accident, a parent or your health… or all five almost once as I did, there’s the tendency to think that your struggles are unique in their severity because it’s inherently true that you feel them to a greater degree than you might anyone else’s. But a close examination of any life will show its share of hardship, and many lives are burdened with far more than their share.

And it seems to me, now, although I haven’t drawn any conclusions that most can’t given enough time, that the measure of a man isn’t anything he has intrinsically at birth, but rather how he responds to those hardships dealt him, how he gets back up after falling and what he learns in the process.

We all, given enough time an opportunity, will fall. That much is almost guaranteed us at birth. I am coming to believe that it’s the getting back up that matters. I am coming to believe that it’s not some spectacular first effort that defines us, but rather the second and the third and so forth. I am coming to believe that whatever well of resolve and determination we dip into for more of whatever we’re given to begin with… that the contents therein are the measure of a man. And my faith in this ideology is strengthened because it is hard to reach for that, and then for more of it. And I believe that anything worth doing is necessarily difficult.

I won’t pretend to know what the measure of a man is, all I can do is share with you what I’ve discovered and hold to be true, for today anyway. And perhaps most importantly, what I can and need to do, is to keep my ears, my mind and my heart open to continue to develop and improve this understanding, and in so doing improve my own understanding of myself and my purpose here. I have mentioned and shared the work of those who have been so influential in my life because to understand yourself, you first must understand that it’s not about yourself. If it is, that’s all it will ever be about, which seems to me the greatest of all types of sadness: isolation. We should be about… we should strive to be about… the only thing that can give our existence here definition: one another.