Cancer Diaries: What is That Creeping Behind Me?

taROT

Angels represent refined earthly wants and desires, and that allows writers to slap “pure” in front of just about any word to heighten its sense of value and universality.

Truths…those absolutes that play out the same way, over and over in life.  Not everyone is going to pay taxes, so that cuts the cliche down to 50%, and really, Michael Jackson is still alive in so many of our hearts, music turned into data or perilously preserved in vinyl grooves, so is even death a certainty?

Legacies…memories with the brain’s Play button pressed in someone’s head, somewhere, right this minute. Since I just wrote it, I’m thinking about seeing him a few nights ago, on a Motown tribute concert, singing Billie Jean, all those sequins refracting light, the one glove, and of course, those dance moves. Because you just wrote it, you’re thinking about him right now too, but maybe you don’t like his music, maybe you think him having Mr. Bubbles the chimp for a pet was inhumane, but MJ left many marks.

MJ…I hear it, I think Michael Jordan. Just my most popular internal search result. The man was the flat out the best to ever play the game. His competitive spirit the thing that should be envied, from playing baseball and gambling, to out-dunking Dominique back when the NBA mattered.

Add up those first 4 paragraphs, you obviously reach the sum of MFJ, the author of this blog, me, physically being consumed by cancer, an unknown quantity of numbered days remaining, who values the one sole truth of love being the answer, and wanting to leave that mark on someone in this world.

I mean clearly, that’s the inside picture from my exact thought process- as one word suggests the next in sequence, albeit my order. A progression where I am denying a very important certainty, we all die. The difference is- I know my time is just about up. Doctors tell me this and the searing pain in my chest remind me there just might be some veracity in their claims, proving they are indeed fortune tellers. Tomorrow there might be a radical discovery curing all malignancies, because a team of doctors have been in the Amazon (which, in this rare case, is NOT a vast place of consumerism, where you can buy Shoestring Theories), find that the feces from a rare moth larvae pulls the plug on this unchecked cellular aggression. That or God is sick of my fucking ‘Cancer Diaries’ blogs.

Bingo Michael.  Enough is enough. I mean, I have given you the PERFECT opening to reignite the halcyon days of Tinderfish, OurTinderTime.com, – that collection comedic genius- that was pure (<- see what I did there?) sophomoric humor at its most sublime. So, you’re going to wrap this blog up, and go edit your Tinder profile:

Ladies, I respect your honesty: that you are not on an app that brings people together based on solely on attraction to fuck and have one-night stands. That somewhere in those right swipes, love blooms. I really want that too, but I have terminal cancer. Do you think we might be able to wave that rule you have  though, because I’m dying – and I know Vanessa Williams is on the money, because I want to Save the Best for Last too.

Enough God, I will not stoop to that level or shut up about my illness. I mean, you’re the one who writes this story line, so at least let me fill in the some of the blanks. That people in similar situations can share exactly how some of this feels, that type of sharing is vital.

I’ve become obsessed with my phlegm. Is that a fleck of red in there? Is that some of my once healthy lung? What exactly is happening on my insides and more importantly, this- you gave me so many shots at dying before- is a shitty way to take me out. I mean it-why did you waste all the time from even my last overdose in 2014 to now. It could have just ended then. My guardian angels would have gotten some extra time off, or re-assigned to someone who had enough to offer he wasn’t just killed off 2 years later.

I am angry. I am sad. Both because I am scared.

I shouldn’t be mad, I should be celebrating life. But I’m in my own panic.

I’m sick of this.

I can’t fall asleep because I might not wake up.

And well, I have more shit to accomplish.

deathcard

I’m invested in Star Wars– I have to make it to 8 & 9. Give me that. A legacy. That humor deflects, it never changes the truth. The greatest truth in life- love, for my fellow human being- that is pure. That is joy, to help another human being, to unknowingly pull someone back from the edge so that one day, their faith outweighs their fears, and something beautiful is created.

Never stop living Michael. It’s okay to be afraid, just don’t become paralyzed. Be grateful. Be kind. There’s work to be done.

Peace & Love,
-MFJ

Deep Philosophical Bullshit

Get out your pens, because you can’t make a mistake and there will be a test after all is said and done.

gsdgssgs

In a word, authenticity. Existentialism at its core means we determine our thoughts, actions in this crazy, mixed-up world. Left out of the above picture is Jean-Paul Sarte, the man credited with first coining the word and philosophy of existentialism. You’ll probably recognize him from his likeness on the Haitian flag…

sartre

That was a joke. He’s not on the flag. I also don’t think he has any Haitian features. These blogs are getting harder to write, but that word, authentic, it’s a word that can be so inspiring or vile, but either way, the adherence should be respected. Like it or not, but that serial killer who can’t get away from wearing pink chiffon dresses with fishnet stockings who only goes after bearded guys who smoke pipes, well, he stays true and fits neatly into his jigsaw piece in the puzzle of life.

All the above though should be read, at least one per author. This lesson of we make ourselves, it plays out a crazy story line in my life. My surroundings, my traumas, my broken heart never made me put a needle in my arm. A funny thing happened though when I read another loosely existential book, the Big Book, it dawned on me that my essence where all cultivated by my actions. There was no blame game. even though I tried my damnedest to create a herd of scapegoats.

I was incapable of facing my problems head on, to quote Nietzsche:

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

Now I feel like that nothingness, and I don’t know what to do. I used to sum up my life in a single sentence, I was a heroin-addicted pharmacist, who spent a year in federal prison and couldn’t stop until 12 years later when I tried to kill myself and found rehab in the aftermath. 
December 18th, 2015 I hit the milestone of 18 months without using. A lot went into making that happen, too many God/guardian angel interventions (all are recounted though in Shoestring Theories, my memoir, available by clicking the title in fact 🙂 ), lots of coincidences, which I define as  acts of God where he keeps his anonymity in tact, an amazing list of friends and more than anything, becoming an authentic human being. I got honest with myself, another human being and God. That 10-ton bag of bullshit I had been lugging around with me was gone, and let me tell you how much easier it is to walk around without that weighing me down. Life just got better.
I was blessed with the great fortune of waking up today, of getting enough pain killers in my system so I can actually write an entire blog in one sitting and not curling up into the fetal position, just another thing to be grateful for. I’m surrounded by people that love me. I get these phone calls daily, from friends who are in complete shock when they hear why just exactly I am feeling like an abyss these days. I’m dying. And what can you possibly reply to that statement?
I don’t want to be that hushed whisper that’s on the other foot- it used to be ‘he’s a junkie.’ Now it’s, ‘Can you believe Mike’s cancer is going to kill him?’ Authenticity, til the end. I’m not changing, I am still grateful for every morning my ryrs open, for when I have an appetite there’s food to eat, for Holly providing a roof over my head, for the chance to talk to someone and be as much of a help as I can. I’m still the Mike that sent his Michigan State Spartans fan the joke: what does MSU football and marijuana have in common?  Both are green and get smoked in bowls. I told him I am willing my Big Book to him, signed even, because he goes to a fellowship that uses a different set of books.
I know it’s hard on my family. A family who prayed for years that I quit shooting heroin and just find happiness. Well, family, I have. As tough as it is to write any of this, I am peaceful, I am joyous. To all my friends whose support never dies down (terrible pun, shoot me, that’s even worse, I’m shutting down this parenthetical now), I’m grateful you all, even you Eugene. To the man that help forge the man writing this blog, that inspired me to write more with his compliments, Greg, I love you. To Eli, the man who gave me my 1-year medallion, we’re NOT watching the Steelers playoffs. To any of you I call friends, and there are so many of you, I love all of you.
And for shit’s sake, I’m not dead yet. I’m taking every precious second God is giving me. I’m going to be greedy. And of all the shit we put a value on, platinum, gold, silver, Pat C’s mom, diamonds, cars, brand name clothes, all of that stuff added together will never be as valuable as life is. Take that from this blog. The rest, I’ll get back to you all on it.
BONUS: Mike’s Reading List of the Pictured
The Stranger – Camus
The Metamorphosis- Kafka
Being and Nothingness- Sarte
Shoestring Theories- Janflone
Beyond Good and Evil- Nietzsche
The Sickness Unto Death-  Søren Kierkegaard
Notes From Underground- Dostoyevsky
Just thank you all for praying for me, thinking of me, liking me, loving me, just knowing me. God willing, I’ll be around for a long while.
Peace and Love,
-MFJ

Cancer Diaries: Afraid to Sleep?

vintage nurse

Mitt Romney, paraphrased at the 2012 Presidential debates, said something like, The emergency room can provide adequate health care to those who don’t have health insurance. Yeah Mitt, you’re deadly wrong.

A little history as to what I am calling Mt. Cianflone (elev 4.12825″ above sea level), i.e. the chondrosarcoma on my chest.

PLEASE NOTE: I’ve not seen scan images, but being a formal health professional, I don’t want to since it is easier to live in naive bliss. Plus, my imagination can get a brief workout, as I am confident Michael Jr. is none of the following: It is NOT the leftovers of my long lost twin I  only partially consumed in utero.  Nor is it the accumulation of Swedish fish and Five Guys’ burger ‘juice.’ It does not deflate when poked with a safety pin or syringe.

What it is though: I was born with what my family called bone spurs, one of which was under my left armpit. Dormant since birth, this calcified lump suddenly erupted about 5 years ago, becoming built up little by little, until it became a noticeable entity. It looked like I could only afford one boob in an augmentation, and this surge in growth I blamed on the Fukushima reactor meltdown. I was also getting very high at the time, a few years into a ‘this time it will work,’ multi-year love affair with heroin. I knew it was there, I certainly understood that it was a tumor of some kind, but that is where my curiosity ceased.

By the time I added cocaine to the routine, another year or so had passed, and it had grown noticeably. (Another shameless plug ALERT: Shoestring Theories (BUY ME) in fact begins with a trip to West Palm hospital. which is where I had this mass first scanned. I was told it was an osteochondroma, a benign bone tumor. However, if it grew in the future, I needed to get it checked out. It grew, I didn’t have it checked out. It stopped growing, then it made an attempt to really gain some attention, or finally make me pay it some mind.

Why I had avoided this for months:

  1. It was benign, I would get it cut out when it physically bothered me.
  2. I was fairly new in recovery, and didn’t feel I was ready for major surgery, the pain, and the pain killers.
  3. No insurance, if I could just make it til January 1st, I could afford this and not just be swept along from one cancer place to another.
  4. Couldn’t be living paycheck to paycheck

I was in a place that even missing one week of work would set me back because I was trapped in the Delray halfway house scene. Paying week-to-week rent, all that it takes to derail the locomotive is one unexpected expense and next thing you know, you’re getting thrown out over not paying the rent. Let’s just say, where I was staying, they were not flexible when it came to the money

All this has left me where I am at this moment, coming to an understanding that all the support in the world does not change the intimacy of my relationship with death. I have my good days, where my smiles are genuine. I feel it deep down inside- this path I am on has a beautiful outcome, be it survival or not. I’ve said it before, writing Shoestring Theories, if it reached just one addict or family of an addict and helped them get the truly awesome gift of recovery, then confessing all my sins was well worth it to help spur that change.

Today is not one of those days. The pain level is intense, every breath is a cacophony of high pierced wheezes that deafens as I close my ears. Days like this, where just trying to roll out of bed seem super hero feats of strength and mind control.

Worst of all is this new anxiety that attacks me at night- I am afraid to sleep. There’s this loneliness with sleep these days, unexplained, crushing. My eyes close but the lids are spring-mounted. Irrational fears hold thought veto control, am I afraid of not waking up? Or being startled conscious by sharp pain? Would company ease my mind?

I hope this feeling and I divorce quickly. It is absolutely draining, it’s soul-devouring and my first true ‘doomsday’ emotion. In the meantime, I patiently wait for exhaustion to take over. Somewhat ironic fatigue is lazy and can’t show up even on the same night.

Prayers please. Peace and Love,
-MFJ

The Cancer Diaries

vrn

Death may be the greatest of all human blessings. ~Socrates

Not feeling you right now Socrates. By no means am I arrogant enough to say, I’ve got this, it’s not my time. Maybe it is. It’s a weird position to be in, knowing you have to both be prepared that death is a possibility, and at the same time have to fight my ass off to survive. I hesitate to start a blog series based on this subject, I am not out to depress friends and family, but this is a recovery blog at its core, that every once and a while drifts from that center.

My diagnosis is that I have a chondrosarcoma that has metastasized to my bones and lungs. I spent 10 days in the hospital to find this out, and have spent the past few days being referred by my referrals. I’ve finally landed at the doorstep of a University of Miami orthopedic oncologist. UM is the best around, so I am excited and trust this is whose hands I am supposed to end up. What’s hard for me to get out of my head is the doctor who told me “It’s bad.”

Do it big or go home. My medical background is a curse right now. There’s a line in my first memoir, Long Sleeved Summers, that says something like, I wish I had bone cancer so that I could be an acceptable junkie. Come on God? Really? Was there a genie present when I wrote those words? What about my other two wishes? For those who don’t know bone cancer pain sucks. It’s a slow, progressively shitty ride to the end.

So the great debate, some people will not welcome me when I pick up 18 months, because a medical professional has me on narcotics. The doctor is well aware I am an addict. I am not a martyr. I am not just going to writhe in pain. I can barely sit up or lie down without them. I take them as prescribed and I am not looking for needles or crushing them up. Don’t get me wrong, it awakens those thoughts, because what’s the point right?

Wrong. Any fight is winnable, unless you throw in the towel, give up by giving in in this case. Heroin has always wanted to kill me, and circumstances went that it took the rather slow approach. 17 years is a long relationship, to spend with someone who seemingly does so much for you, some of you get that. When you get it though, that she sucks all your innate goodness, that she disconnects you from God, it’s not worth throwing that away.

There’s so much running through my head, quiet moments when I cry, let my guard down and understand life’s countdown just got a little nearer than is comfortable. There’s moments of resolve, that I’m too young for this shit, that if anything, I am a survivor. Then there’s the peaceful balance, what will be will be. That if I stay in that fit spiritual condition that book talks about, I won’t wast my time, whatever it is, that I will continue doing what I can to help the next human being. It’s not about me and my problems, it’s about altruism. I sat in my own shit for too many years, and I’m not about to do it now over something that is ultimately in God’s hands.

He has my back. No matter the outcome, he’s got me. That’s my comfort. I don’t think there is anything even close to that level of solace available, everything in its right place. Oh, and in case he forgets me, which he never has, I’ve got hundreds of people reminding him, and for all of that, I am thankful.

Peace & Love,
-MFJ

Procrastination Remedy

product_4615

I’m dying, let’s not sugar coat it. Not in the sense we are all dying, but as in, I’m at the deli counter of life and fell for the Take a Number ploy. I’m in a line now and these mother fuckers behind the counter are moving efficiently. This never happens, what the hell? What I need is for some people ahead of me to not know what they want, to get some samples. Take your time Ethel, Boar’s Head makes a lot of  crazy varieties of turkey. Stop being so plain boring. 

Speaking of diversity, what do I want when it’s my turn? Maple? Salsalito? Should I do turkey and ham? That changes everything. Dammit!

This isn’t real, something happened to the script. Did I miss a re-write? Did that director feel some kind of way and have to have things unfold his way? Was I just a lot of back story that tested poorly with screening patrons? Pace. Things need to move along or people lose interest. Why else are there vines? We live in an ADHD world and I have something that takes a little longer than 15 seconds to explain.

I’m dying, and not alright with that, but the facts are what they are: metastasized cells in my lungs I can deal with, but the bones? That’s the number I have to take to get service, even if I am not even hungry. Some people asked me why I put a pocket watch and a skull and crossbones on the front cover of Shoestring Theories, so I’ll just go ahead and tell everyone- it’s a symbolic representation of life, for me. I’m living on borrowed time. We are all in a sense, just seems others take out a larger line of credit than I did; no, wait, I’m thinking I maxed out at the store of overpriced dreams, and spent recklessly on the most foolish illusions. No bank is willing to extend me any further, and my firebug nature caught up to me, there’s only so many banks and Indian (wigwam kind) payday loans out there to scam.

Live and learn. That used to apply, but the time has come to build a new bridge and hope that is spending the rest of my life and the best way possible. This blueprint is from the last lesson I learned, another taken completely to heart- a lot of people care. I had a steady stream of visitors at the hospital, a virtual flood of digital love and prayers, and private talks where friends and family don’t like how this blog commences. It hurts them. A leech on society and trust, now people see my inate goodness.

Borrowed time, because I shouldn’t be alive. 18 months ago I literally clawed and crawled  my way into rehab, far beyond broken, only fixable by the supernatural. God put the right repair men in my life, the best in the business, because I needed to let go, I needed to stop trusting the wrong voice in my head. I had to get well.

That transformation happened for me, not overnight, but it happened.

“Aren’t you pissed off God did this?
“Did what?”
“The terminal cancer Mike?”
“Why would I be mad at God for that?”
“Because man, you get clean and are just getting ready to celebrate a year and a half only to find out you’re going to die? Don’t you want to go get high?”
“No, I don’t get mad, and he didn’t sit up there and say, you know what Champ, let’s give that grandson of yours some ass kicking cancer.
“I guess.”
“Faith makes guessing non-existent. Seriously, here’s what God did do for me:

  • Saved my life. Repeatedly.
  • Have my family and so many old friends back in my life.
  • Brought a new, incredible group of friends into my life.
  • Freed me from attachments, which brings me peace.
  • Gives me exactly all I need every single day, the necessities.

I could go on and on, but this- situation- is not going to change my perspectives, it’s not going to give life to that sick voice that wanted me to suffer.”

I used to say I am one of the lucky ones. I am not, I am one of the blessed ones. Right now, with my diagnosis and prognosis, whatever, I am here one more day, and am going to make the most of the gift we take for granted.  Cancer is going to wreck me physically, but it is not going to destroy the peace inside me, it’s only going to strengthen and nurture the connection between God and I.

And those friends and family: I love you all. We’re going to get through this, and it’s going to be something to hold on to, remembering it for the joy.

It’s also gave me the title idea for this blog; it’s going to get me off my ass when it comes to writing.

Peace & Love,
-MFJ

Knives Need A Good Honing

image

About a ten days ago I had this post I started, about being thankful all 365 days a year, and not just the one lore tells us of, where the Indians, seeing we were going to bite it, decided to kill those weird birds that always hung around, the ones who never laid an egg, who had scrotums dangling from their beaks. Once a year the most irrelevant, tasteless fowl takes center stage on a dinner table.

Truth be told I’m Italian and much more thankful for the lasagna on the dinner buffet. Yet here it is, Pearl Harbor Day, and I’m just getting around to writing something about being grateful. I’m doing it from a hospital bed. I have had a benign tissue disorder get bumped up into something that has metastasized into my lungs. I sit here waiting for my biopsy results to come in, to see what this hunk of flesh in my chest is made up of, is it bone, muscle, fat, parts of my twin I imagine would have been named Stanley, the one I partially digested in utero or a little bit of everything? How cool would it be if it were just Swedish fish goo?

image

That’s me, and my trophy I claimed at the hospital.Most improved satisfaction. The first night I was here, I was scared. 5 people waited with me in the ER. Every day I’ve been here I’ve had company. I’m still scared. Words like metastatic get thrown around, or the simple fact having a ten pound tumor removed is going to be in medical terms, “one hell of surgery,” it would be easy to say to myself I’ve had a great run at this thing called life.

Some things just aren’t meant to be. Love is not enough. Bad things happen to good people. Pick a cliche and run with it. While I had hoped my tumor would have been featured during this past weekend’s closing of Art Basel, there’s always next year.

Some things can’t be rushed. The most important, soul fulfilling things march along at their own pace, on an unseen timeline that only comes into focus in retrospect. I’m thankful though, right this second, I’m going to get through this. Moments like this, I am incredibly grateful to have lived out my life exactly as I have. I am loved.

The suicidal junkie of 18 months ago, the one so alone my shadow was a stranger us gone now. The world had no use for me, or so I thought. Moments of clarity caused full scale shifts in perspective, I had no use for the world. I was a selfish taker, never giving back  to anyone. Now there’s a guest list to see me here.

I’ve become someone just true to myself. I embrace my talents, use them to make a person laugh, to view life from a different plane of view. I encourage others to do the same and am so excited for upcoming Mind Shrapnel projects. As for cancer, I don’t fear that one either.

I’ve got time to leave some more marks on the publishing world, and a few people I can allow to rule the Mind Shrapnel  empire after I’m gone. Point is, I could die tomorrow and not worry the most minuscule bit about things left undone. I accomplished something huge, I got clean, I became recovered. Those people coming to sees me, baking and texting me, I want in their lives 18 months ago. Everyone one of them can tell you who I am. Until the day I step away from gravity, I will always have my integrity in check. Accomplishing that is the ultimate blessing and god gave me that chance- to be someone instead of a something.

Peace and Love,
-MFJ

I Got Clean For This?

72newspaper

Active addiction sucks. Take my last ‘run.’ I came to Florida with nothing and in about a year and a half, I had a wife, house, car and most importantly to me, normalcy. When I started using, the highs were not like I remembered, because there was this huge cloud of guilt hanging over me. I had clawed through the sludge and gotten what I always dreamed of, a Norman Rockwell painting of what defined happiness, everyday life, enjoying the simple things.

For a while my use was justified, back pain from auto accidents. A doctor prescribing mass quantities of oxycodone, and I was just snorting it. Then buying more from acquaintances because 210 were not lasting. Then realizing I was doing too many per day, decided the smart thing to do would be to boot (inject) them. I would use less. The pressure of keeping my secret was slowly crushing me. My wife’s suspicions were growing like weeds in a forgotten garden. Everything precious, everything beautiful in my life was getting choked out, so bad wild flowers couldn’t even bloom.

When pill prices went out of control thanks to the pill mill crackdown, that logical voice spoke up one more time, heroin is way better and way cheaper. I had painted myself into a disastrous corner, and the lies were so plentiful there was no way to keep track of them. The inevitable happened, I was divorced and mad at her. That’s how addicts think, and I knew how to play the victim so well. It was her fault I was going to sink deeper into the quicksand.

I most certainly did, because we got divorced around August or September of 2011. My clean date is June 18th, 2014. If there was a single day clean between the days, it was because I had to gut it through for a day until whatever plan for money I had launched would deliver. By the end I was homeless, and had given up on life. If I had bothered to look over my shoulder, I would have seen the smoldering ashes of all the bridges I set ablaze, faces in the smoke of the people I fucked over. And I would fuck you over and over until finally those people had to throw in the towel.

“That can’t be Mike, he’s not that kid of guy.” Yeah, I was, way worse in fact. People existed to help me spiral down. By the time I added cocaine to the spoon, all I wanted was to just die. And when luck didn’t intervene, I grew some balls and did enough to kill myself.

One more failure. I ended up in rehab beaten up physically, completely destroyed mentally, and completely empty spiritually. Slowly but surely I began looking human again. I remember a guy asking a question of why there needs to be a CA. There’s AA for alcoholics, and NA for drug addicts. The difference was the Big Book. A few days later I read Bill’s Story. It rocked me. A few weeks later a guy asked about working the steps, and time.

I don’t remember what the speaker said, but if the promises of the Big Book came true, I wasn’t waiting around to get them. I was masterful when it come to creating and enduring tragedies. A few weeks later I was getting out, I met my sponsor the very last night of inpatient, and 2 months later I had done the steps, I was recovered.

One of those torched bridges cried when he heard my voice for the first time, the first time not all scratchy and deeper thanks to opiates. The words that came out were different too. There was a sincerity when I spoke. I held my head high without even thinking about it.

There was a peace about me, that people that really knew me sensed just over the phone. I wasn’t miserable anymore. I wasn’t manipulating a system or person to get something from him or her. A stranger collecting signatures for something gave me $10 to go get him cigarettes. Not even 5 months before that, I couldn’t get a fucking quarter.

Two major things happened to me- gratitude and a shift in perspective. I’m thankful for waking up, food, a bank account, a cell phone, friends and family, of which there are so many. I’m blessed. Truly blessed. And a new perspective, life isn’t a series of positive and negative experiences, they are all opportunities for me to grow as a man. In short, I found my conscious contact with God.

I didn’t get clean to be miserable. I got clean to finally live life. That’s a beautiful  thing, a peaceful, joyous thing I’m not giving back because I try to give a piece of it away every day.

IMG_3630

Peace & Love,
-MFJ