Sorry I haven’t been around the last month or so. I got in a fight.

No, it had nothing to do with the Big Guy. In fact, at the very moment Gov. Paul LePage was raising his right hand and taking his second oath of office back on Jan. 7, I was lying on my side at Maine Medical Partners while a surgeon repeatedly poked a needle into my left armpit.

Penance for being a perennial thorn in the Guv’s side it was not.

A late-stage malignancy, unfortunately, it is.

So begins, at long last, my “battle with cancer.”

I’ve actually been a cancer patient for just over 11 years, living all that time under a cloud called chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL. But with the exception of a round of chemotherapy back in 2008, it hasn’t been what I’d call a battle.


Symptom-free virtually the whole time save for the occasional enlarged lymph node, I often felt like an impostor when people referred to me as a “cancer survivor” or referred to my “struggle with cancer” as if I were perpetually knocking on death’s door.

No longer.

Over the course of the last 11 months, one of those enlarged lymph nodes, located just beside my left armpit, grew to the size of a golf ball. What’s worse, it became increasingly painful.

Thus I found myself undergoing a “core biopsy” on the same day I’d hoped to be pounding away at my keyboard on the latest goings-on in Augusta.

And when that biopsy proved inconclusive, the same surgeon checked me into Maine Medical Center and took out the nasty node along with a good number of others in the vicinity.

The verdict: melanoma.


The stage: 4, meaning it’s spread to other parts of my body, including my lung and what appears to be my liver.

The prognosis: Well, let’s just say more than one doc has looked me in the eye these past few weeks and said, “This is not good.”

Which brings us back to that “battle with cancer,” an oft-used phrase that, in my humble opinion, misses the mark.

There’s no doubt that the good doctors – I’m now up to four – have the malignant cells in their sights as they consider treatments that will likely include radiation, additional surgery and drug immunotherapy to halt the spread of the melanoma if not eliminate it altogether. I see that as not-so-simple medical science – either the treatments will work, or they won’t.

The real battle for yours truly, though, is not with the cancer. It’s with myself.

Take fear, for example. It’s there day and night, just waiting for me to project out a month, six months, a year … The more I wander into the uncertain future, the more I succumb to my ever-active imagination and all those things I can neither predict nor control.


The antidote? I’ve found that living in the moment, the right now, works wonders in keeping those fears at bay. Refilling the bird feeders, once a mindless task, is now a welcome ritual that culminates in standing by the kitchen window and smiling out at the cardinals, chickadees, mourning doves and blue jays as they go about the simple act of winter survival.

Then there’s my addiction to the news, which until recently consumed an astounding portion of my day. Rather than toggle compulsively from Huffington Post to Politico to The New York Times and then on to all the Maine news websites, I’ve found unexpected comfort in the quiet act of reading a book. I’ve finished two so far.

One, “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown, chronicles the heroic tale of the University of Washington eight-man crew that rowed out of nowhere to victory at Hitler’s 1936 Olympics. Brown focuses in particular on young Joe Rantz, a teenager abandoned by his Depression-era family who went on to wear an Olympic gold medal.

It left me thinking about beating the odds.

The other, “Empire of the Summer Moon” by S.C. Gwynne, tells the often-heartbreaking story of the Indian wars of the mid-to-late 19th century and, in particular, the rise and fall of the once-proud (and combative) Comanche Indian nation. The narrative revolves around Quanah Parker, one of the last Comanche holdouts, the son of an Indian father and a white-captive mother.

It left me pondering destiny.


Finally, I find myself battling a sense of isolation as I wait for the post-surgery soreness to subside (it has) and go about the many and varied house projects that, for lack of time, have languished for so long. Plastering an old kitchen wall is great physical therapy. Who knew?

But as my dear departed mother used to say, “Everything in moderation.” Too much time alone invites a sense of detachment from the rest of the world that I’m not ready to embrace.

Hence the dozens of phone calls to and from our beloved children, my ever-supportive siblings, my closest and oldest friends. Two buddies from high school came running when they heard the bad news – one, upon hearing that I needed to replace my basement steps, showed up with a ready-made staircase in the back of his pickup.

Then there are you, my faithful readers, many of whom have emailed or called to ask about my absence.

Your concern means more to me than you’ll ever know. Your hope that I’d return validates what for the past 20 years has been the best job a Maine journalist could imagine.

So I’m back.


I can’t yet promise the usual three columns per week as I balance work with the appointments and procedures that already fill my iPhone calendar like the snow piling up at the front doorstep. And my amazing wife, Andrea, and I fully intend to go ahead with a long-planned vacation to the Virgin Islands – if anyone deserves a break from this Maine winter, she does.

But I can tell you this. I’m blessed to live in a place like Maine, to work at a place like the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and to be surrounded by family, friends and colleagues who, worry as they might, buoy me day in and day out with their care packages, their words of encouragement, their thoughts and, last but by no means least, their prayers.

To hell with the cancer.

My battle is for them.

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