Tag Archives: Melanoma

From My Family to Yours: Merry Christmas

familypicI’ll not ramble on, or attempt to wax poetic here, but I just want to say, from the bottom of my heart, to everyone who has in any way aided this effort: Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

So many fishermen, readers and sponsors have lifted me up in these past years, and it has meant more to me than I can express.

Native Eyewear, Get Vicious Fishing, Buff, Sunology Sunscreen, Rick Roth at Mirror Image Printing, B.A.S.S. and Outdoor Sportsman Group… each of these companies have gone out of their way to see that this project had a chance.

The faculty and students at Emerson College have supported me every step of the way.

The guides at Bassonline were so incredibly helpful, that I could not envision this project having taken place without them.

The people at the Melanoma Research Foundation are the ones truly doing the important work, and I’m so thankful to have those organizations who are working daily to cure this disease once and for all.

To everyone who has helped, whether it was through a day on the water, contributing money or gear, reading or sharing the effort, or even just an encouraging word on Social Media, I just want you to know what a profoundly positive impact you’ve collectively had on my life, and the lives of the people in my family.

I sincerely hope you have an incredible holiday season, and I’m so thankful for the ways in which you’ve lifted me up along this road.

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 Guys at BassOnline: The Best

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Steve Niemoeller of BassOnline shows off the trip’s biggest fish no the St. Johns River in Florida.

I’ve tagged on Facebook, thanked and thanked again the guys at BassOnline in Florida for their help with both Catch a Cure I and II, and still every day I find myself thinking: “What more can I do? How can I demonstrate how much of a difference these guys made in this project and in my life?”

When I set out on the second Catch a Cure, after sending e-mails to everyone in the iCast catalog to see what sponsorship or contributions I could solicit for the Melanoma Research Foundation, truthfully I had no idea if it’d work. For all of our planning, effort and hope, a lot of any attempt or endeavor boils down to faith, luck and persistence.

I knew that I could crash in the Jeep or find the most “interesting” (see: cheap) possible motels on the road. In South Carolina it came down to grabbing every card from nearby tackle shops and just dialing number after number until I finally found Brian Roberts, an incredibly kind and cool guy who helped me explore the freshwater rivers flowing into Winyah Bay. Roberts is an aspiring entrepreneur himself and is trying to get his “Keeper Reeper Jigs” on the market.

In Oklahoma it was still February when I arrived before the Bassmaster Classic, and while I’m used to freezing temperatures in my native Upstate New York and adopted home of Boston, fishing on open water in February in Oklahoma was a new experience for me.

But when I got to Florida to pre-fish the tournament on the St. Johns River, the BassOnline crew, for the second time that year, were more helpful than I ever could have imagined or asked them to be.

These guys had almost single-handedly made Catch a Cure I possible, and for a second time, they saved the trip.

A great deal of this effort is done behind the scenes, e-mailing potential sponsors like the great people at Native Eyewear, Get Vicious Fishing and Sunology Sunscreen to get backing. For every sponsor that gets on board, there are a dozen who, understandably, can’t. And it just takes faith and persistence to keep reaching out until you find the people who can help.

The guys at Bassonline, though, didn’t hesitate for a second to help this trip and effort in every way that they could. Steve Niemoeller is a combination of one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met and one of the best anglers, too. He is completely responsible for the largest fish (a bass of about 4 pounds) that I encountered anywhere on either journey. While we fished he offered several insightful ideas on how, if the project was repeated, it could garner even more support.

Brett Isackson understands the Florida fishery so well, he even invented a snake-like rubber lure to take advantage of the biggest bass that were feasting on snakes in the Sunshine State.

Todd Kersey will absolutely amaze you with Florida’s (relatively) newfound peacock bass fishery if you give him the chance. I’ll never forget Todd and his wife putting me on an incredible peacock bass bite on Catch a Cure I.

All of which is to say, if you ever get the chance, please do yourself a favor and fish with these guys. There are no guarantees in fishing, but I’d bet everything I’ve got that you’ll have a fantastic time, catch more than a few fish, and… like I am now… you’ll be wondering how quickly you can return to give it another shot.

Don’t Give Yourself a Choice

One of the hard parts of going through a difficult part of life is the feeling, especially in today’s social-media driven culture, that we always have to present a positive face to the world. Whenever I see someone on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram mourning the loss of a loved one, or being honest about a difficult time, I’m always amazed by that courage. My tendency, and I’m sure many of ours, is to “grin and bear it,” and keep that smiling face regardless.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe playing Irish Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock. In one scene, Braddock’s wife, played by Renee Zellweger, goes to visit Crowe’s (Braddock’s) manager, played by Paul Giamatti. Giamatti opens the door to their apartment to reveal that they’ve sold everything that wasn’t nailed down (the movie takes place during the Great Depression). Sometimes glancing past a Facebook feed I wonder how many of us are, like Giamatti’s character was, “keeping up appearances.”

I read an article this morning by one of my favorite outdoor writers, Bill Heavey. Heavey is an absolute master with words, and this piece will break your heart.

It reminded me that we have one true obligation as writers, and that’s honesty, even when it’s not easy.

I was outside of a Boston classroom when I got a phone call from my mother in 2013, saying “You’d better come now.” That was November 18th. I booked a flight out of Logan, caught a cab to the airport the next morning, flew to Syracuse, got a ride from a relative home, and held my father’s hand. Whether it was the drugs to keep him comfortable, or the disease, he could no longer speak. He squeezed my hand, though… that I do know. I knew he’d want me to be back for class the next night, so I made arrangements to return on a morning train. On the train between Utica and Boston I got the call that he was gone. I don’t remember much about that class, just sitting through it, kind of numb, ordering train tickets back during break on my phone, and because I love words… starting to think about a eulogy.

I’ll never forget the friends, Anthony Malta, Curt Dircks and Andrew Fillipponi, who stopped everything and traveled great distances to be at the funeral. I’ll never forget how full the church was. Standing room, only.

A few years prior I’d asked my grandmother a simple question: “How did you survive the times you must have gone through?” Marilyn Jones was a mother to eight children, before losing a daughter to leukemia before she was even a teenager. She scraped for enough to support her family by running a yarn shop and then a daycare where I’d meet some people who’d turn out to be lifelong friends.  She’d later lose her husband, a grandfather that I never knew.

“How did you get through it?” That’s what I asked. “I had no choice,” she said. I’ll remember that forever. Of course she had a choice. We all have a choice, every day. I don’t think I that could even remotely understand what she was talking about until 2013. I don’t know how I bought those train tickets, plane tickets, or made it to that class. I suppose I didn’t give myself a choice.

When I thought about a project to raise money for melanoma research through fishing, by soliciting sponsors, and when I think about getting your input to help me start a beautiful magazine that I hope you’ll read and love, many times the question has and does pop into my head: “But how will you do it?”

And then her answer, always her answer…

“Don’t give yourself a choice.”

A Life Story: Told in Tattoos

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The guys at Miami Ink in Florida donated the cost of this tattoo to the Melanoma Research Foundation.

If you ask 10 different people about tattoos, you’ll likely get ten different answers, ranging from the inked aristocrat who believes that they’re art to the conservative person who believes that they’re a regrettable and passing fad. I’ll not weigh in on where I stand (although it might be obvious) but I’ll share the story of mine, save one, and I’d love to hear yours.

Catch a Cure: I’ll start with my most recent, a fishing hook through the melanoma ribbon on my left hand. Rick Roth is a guy who designed the T-shirts we’ve been selling to raise funds for the Melanoma Research Foundation, and the design he put over the back shoulder was so cool, I decided to have it tattooed on me permanently. I didn’t know when I made that decision that the guys at Miami Ink. would donate half the cost for the tattoo to the MRF, but it was a great addition to the story.

Zane Grey: When I first read the Zane Grey quote, “The lure of the sea is the same strange magic that makes men love what they fear,” I knew it articulated a sentiment about the sea that I’d had for almost my entire life, and better than I ever might.

The Hold Steady: The Hold Steady is a band that I love, and one of their songs contains the lyric: “Heaven is whenever, we can get together.” When I lost my Dad I thought a lot more about what heaven might be like, and came to the conclusion that if… all it was was seeing those who’d gone before us, that’d be as good as it might be.

Bruce: I’ve been a Springsteen fanatic for more than a decade now, and having his Telecaster with the sneakers hanging from the headstock (an image pulled from the back of an album) was a logical decision when it came to choosing the next tattoo.

Pearl Jam (1): I once drove for 14 hours from New Jersey to Wisconsin to see Pearl Jam play their 20th anniversary concert. Suffice it to say, I love Pearl Jam. Perhaps my favorite song is “Given to Fly” and so I had those lyrics, with a feather pen containing the ‘Given to’ and writing ‘Fly’ on my hand, tattooed on me when it became evident I’d be a Pearl Jam fan for life.

Pearl Jam (2): One thing that we learn as we get older, is that try though we might, we can’t control every aspect of our lives. That lesson came hard to me, but it finally did. Pearl Jam’s song ‘Release,’ is about Eddie Vedder losing his father, so the lyrics “I’ll ride this wave where it takes me” around the famous stickman from the Alive single seemed like a logical conclusion for my inner right arm.

Ireland: ‘Bach’ might not sound Irish, but my ancestors are almost all from the Emerald Isle. My mother came from a long line of Gillorens (after Killorglin County, Ireland) and my father’s mother’s side were McCabes. My first tattoo was the Irish words for ‘Hope,’ ‘Love,’ ‘Faith,’ and ‘Strength’ on my right shoulder, around a cross with a shamrock at the center. Muinin, Gra, Dochas and Neart… in case you were wondering.

Striped Bass: When I was an intern at Field & Stream, now-Fishing Editor Joe Cermele helped design my second tattoo, a striped bass over a nautical star. Suffice it to say I’ve loved stripers for the two decades that I’ve been chasing (and sometimes catching) them.

The Red Sox: I got the Boston ‘B’ when I moved to Boston. ‘Nough said, right?

Writing: One of my favorite bands is a group from New Jersey called the Gaslight Anthem. In a song called “Handwritten,” they sing: “From heart to limb to pen, every word handwritten.” I’ve loved to write for as long as I can remember, so having lyrics from a band that I love articulate a sentiment about writing seemed only logical.

Redfish: When I was a kid, we used to vacation in Florida and the house we’d rent was on a saltwater canal. Throwing a shrimp-tipped jig from dawn to dusk might get a hit from any number of species from ladyfish to jacks, but the one that kept me casting was redfish. I’ve been lucky to catch them in every state where they swim, but when I caught a 30-plus-pound red with Emerson classmate and friend James Spica, I knew it was time for a redfish tattoo. I have the redfish tail, with a bit of blue at the tip (a coloration they get from an oyster diet), and the signature black false eye.

Foo Fighters: Again, Dave Grohl has produced some of my favorite music in the past twenty years, but it took me about that long to understand the lyrics “Times like these you learn to live again.” During a period of my life when I was…. learning to live again, I had those lyrics, around the now famous double F, tattooed on my forearm.

One More: My father was a man of few words, but one thing he said to me that I’ll remember forever, whether it was regarding push-ups, hours of work, or attempts at something you cared about… was: “Do as many as you can, and then one more.” When he was diagnosed with melanoma in 2010, I had those words tattooed on my arm. He kept fighting, one more day, week and month, long after doctors predicted the disease would beat him. And I’ll keep fighting, in his memory, to raise one more dollar to beat the disease that took his life, once and for all.

It’s easy to look and someone and pass judgement based on appearance, and we’re all guilty of this at times, but if that’s going to be the case, I’d at least like to share the story and the inspiration underlying the ink. So there it is.

Any fishing, cancer-battling, or musically inspired tattoos out there? I’d love to hear about ’em.

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.

Melanoma Monday: Please Read

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St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, and one of many beautiful reasons to live as long as you can.

Today is a day dubbed “Melanoma Monday,” by a group seeking to raise awareness about sun safety, not just for anglers, but for everyone.

Here’s the thing about melanoma, and all skin cancers for that matter: When you get diagnosed, it hits your life, and the lives of your family, like a ton of bricks.

This isn’t the type of illness where you’ve smoked for years and part of you saw it coming. We’re not talking about people who aren’t… we’ll say… “nutrition conscious” and know that sooner or later it’s going to catch up with them. Those types of cancers or illnesses, while devastating and unfortunate, are like car accidents that occur when someone’s speeding and running red lights: You hope like hell they don’t happen, but at the same time you’re aware to some degree that they might.

Melanoma is not like that. And I’ll stipulate here, that yes, there are people out there tanning on a regular basis to achieve that perfect glow. They’re not the people I’m talking about here. I’m talking about anglers and outdoorsmen who just consider sunscreen as something to “maybe put on if they happen to remember.”

I’ll share my family’s story, not for sympathy, but because I believe it’s one that many families probably share, and one that we need to prevent at all costs.

My father, a hapless driver, was in a minor car accident at the age of 74. It was nothing serious, a fender bender, but they asked him to allow some X-rays just to make sure nothing was broken.

Nothing was broken. There was, however, melanoma spread throughout his body: Stage IV. As many of you know, there’s no Stage V, unless it’s Heaven.

That is how you get told you have six months to live. You’re in a fender bender, doctors run some tests, and then you’re having the most grave, terrifying conversation of your life with a doctor. You’re consoling your wife and calling your son with the news. I’ll remember that phone call forever, just sitting on the stairs of my Red Bank apartment, holding my phone in my hand, wondering how to phrase the news to my then girlfriend, wondering if I should drive home immediately, wondering if it were a dream, wondering if I could just go back to sleep and wake up and have it not be real.

But this is not a story of sadness, the human condition is not despair, the default emotion, for all of us, if we can maintain it, is hope. My father’s hope turned a six-month death sentence into two-plus more years of life.

My tattoos tell a story I am too shy to share, and my first one was four Gaelic words surrounding a cross and a shamrock (our family’s maternal side are Gillorens from Kilorglin, Ire.). One of those words is Dochas, which means, and I’ll quote directly here: “Hope: bringing faith to the future.”

Until we are broken, that is our default emotion that, despite whatever hardship, we return to again and again: Dochas… hope… faith in the future. And that’s what I’ll summon today, Melanoma Monday… faith that we are ever closer to the cure.