Some International Flavor

Greetings!

So, last week I was afforded an amazing opportunity to travel to our IBM office in Hursley, United Kingdom. About 60 miles outside of London, and just a few miles from Winchester, I spend the week meeting with people I’ve worked with for 10+ years that I’ve never met in person, and doing some detailed study on VMware testing. This was an absolutely amazing opportunity to meet with some great minds, and I’m glad I was able to take advantage of it! I learned a ton, and forged some new relationships with some gifted colleagues.

My main goal, as I’ve said, was to meet with the folks at IBM Hursley. This is the entrance to their site:

IBM HursleyYou’ll notice off the bat that it’s green there…very green! England as a whole is super pretty, but for some reason, I found the Winchester/Hursley area to be particularly beautiful. Perhaps part of the reason was because it rained most every day!

The IBM site has a rich history, having been bought in 1963, but having been used for development efforts since 1958. The main attraction on the site is the Hursley House, which has a long history of things like being a hospital and Spitfire production site. Here’s a look at it from the front:

Hursley HouseThat’s my red rental car there! What an experience to drive on the left side of the road and the right side of the car! But, I made it!

Here’s a shot of the back of the Hursley House:

The house is currently used as an Executive Briefing Center, but there’s also a very cool Hursley Museum, with some vintage IBM stuff in in it, as well as a cool library that they’ve restored. If, in this picture, you were to turn around, you’d see their cricket field, along with the IBM Club house (had lunch there…awesome!). The Hursley IBM site is simply magnificent. I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to visit.

While doing my work in Hursley, I stayed in nearby Winchester, home to, among other things, the Winchester Cathedral (which was about 200 feet from my hotel). Here are a couple of night shots:

This church, or perhaps some other nearby ones, has bells ringing literally every 15 minutes. Yep, even at 3AM, as I found out one day! But you simply cannot beat the ambiance of having a major cathedral right next to your hotel!

I can’t say enough about Winchester as a city to visit. It’s about as European as you can get, the people are nice, the food is good, and it’s rich in history and scenery. Like this:

This the the River Itchen, which runs though town. I love how the buildings go right down to the water. There’s an old mill upstream, and downstream you seem some ruins of old Roman activity in the area. There’s a nice walk along the river as well. Super beautiful place.

I’ve resolved someday to go back there with Michelle. I found a garden, called the Abby Garden, that is just amazing – tranquil with a great view. I sat on bench there…deemed it “our bench,” and vowed to sit there with Michelle someday. It WILL happen!

So, here’s where things get interesting. Given that I was already “all the way over there,” I decided to take a few days and visit my half-brother (on my dad’s side), Paul. He lives in Barcelona, Spain! I’d never been there before, and the flights from London to Barcelona were cheap (in addition to it being cheaper for IBM to fly me home from Barcelona than London). So, I decided to spend the weekend with Paul, and, boy, am I glad I did!

I can’t say enough about Barcelona. It’s an amazing city with amazing architecture, good food (even a ton of gluten free stuff), and nice people. There’s literally nothing I don’t like about that city! So, let me show you a few things we did:

This is me, on the left, with Paul, in the center, and his partner Toni, on the right. Paul was gracious enough to let me stay at his apartment, and both he and Toni took many hours of their day to show me around the city they love. Paul has been living there for over 20 years, and I can see why. He is the owner of Barcelona Virtual, an internet marketing company. You really should check them out! And, yes, I do own a selfie stick!

We saw so many things that I can’t put all the pictures here. But we did see the Arc de Triumf, which was very cool:

This scene is typical of many of their streets. They cater very heavily to pedestrians and cyclists, and it seems to work out well. In addition, all their streets have great foliage and are very clean.

Next we have the facade on the Hotel Gaudí, who is one of Barcelona’s famous citizens. I really like how the balconies look like opera masks!

Of course, no visit to Barcelona would be complete without taking in Sagrada Familia, which is another Gaudí work. Here it is in the Barcelona skyline, on the right:

It’s so huge that you really can’t take it all in from the outside. You REALLY need to visit in inside as well, from where you can see things like this:

Those colors are from sunlight streaming through some stained glass windows. There’s no real way to describe how warm and inviting these colors are…it’s something that truly has to be experienced. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen light like this before.

Here’s a panorama of Sagrada Familia:

I also have an interactive way to experience the cathedral here.

We did a LOT of great walking the city. On evening we spent some time in the Plaça d’Espanya area, which includes Font Màgica de Montjuïc, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and the Estadi Olímpic de Montjuic Lluís Companys, which is the Olympic Stadium. Here’s what the art museum looks like from down near the fountain:

And here’s what it looks like at night:

The scale and grandness of the architecture in Barcelona is staggering. It’s huge, super detailed, and just shows a sense of pride that you don’t see in many other areas. Crazy big pretty much sums it up!

I could go on and on with pictures of this trip, and I’ll be putting more in a Google+ or Facebook album coming soon. But I’ll end the pictures with this one…a full moon on the Mediterranean at Port Olímpic:

I truly feel blessed to have been able to take this trip. From meeting my colleagues in Hursley, to walking the streets my brother so loves, often praying along the way, and not once having to worry about where the bathroom was…it was truly a great week!

Mark

It’s Been A While…

Hello!

Well, it’s been quite a while since my last post. Despite my lack of posts, quite a bit has gone on. I’ll try and summarize as briefly as possible!

Since my last post, life has been pretty active. School ended shortly after I last wrote, and life kicked into high gear. We did a TON of things with our church : Mark520, a community service project; Vacation Bible School; attended the Elevate Music Festival in Prescott; and our regular Blender get togethers. In addition, Samantha was able to attend CHIC this year, which was an absolutely amazing experience for her and the other Blender kids that were able to attend! That event happens every three years, and Samantha is already looking forward to a return trip. Even better is that Alex gets to go next time as well!

During our Mark520 experience, I has the misfortune to severely sprain my wrist, as well as break my left elbow. How, you ask? A simple misstep on a trail at Honeybee Canyon while doing an Amazing Race with some kids from The Blender. It’s taken me quite some time to heal from that, but I’m finally almost able to put my complete body weight on it.

In the end of June, beginning of July, we took a family vacation. We left from Prescott after Elevate was over, drove to the Oregon Coast, and started a trip up that way, spending some time in Seattle, and eventually landing back in Portland. It was a whirlwind trip, but super fun. I documented much of it on my Instagram account, so you can check out pictures there.

School started again recently, with Samantha continuing on at Ironwood Ridge (much to her chagrin), and Alex starting at Pusch Ridge Christian Academy. The Lord granted us an amazing amount of financial aid for Alex, blessing us with the opportunity for him to attend. Both the kids are being well challenged at school this year.

That’s a super fast update bringing us to now. I’m writing this post from a hotel room near the Heathrow Airport in London. I’ve just spent the last four days at IBM Hursley working with some amazing colleagues of mine, getting ramped up on VMware testing. Their hospitality was second to none, and I’m honored that I got to make the trip and spend time with them. IBM indeed has some super great people working for it.

Given that I’m this far East from Arizona, I’m taking the opportunity to visit my half-brother (ALL brother in my eyes!) Paul, who lives in Barcelona, Spain! I’m taking a few days vacation, flying there on our dime, and spending a few days with him in what I hear is an amazing city. I totally can’t wait to hang with him and see the city that he loves so much. You can bet that I’ll be taking a ton of pictures!

That kinda bring us to things medical. I’m still 100% cancer free, so that’s pretty awesome! I’ve had a CAT Scan and MRI, as well as numerous blood tests, and everything keeps coming back clean. I am, however, scheduled for an operation on September 21st at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Basically, I’m getting a proctectomy. I’ll let you look if up if you’re interested in the details. This is the inevitable last step in things related to my colon cancer. There was the hope that we could “hook things back up” sometime down the road, enabling me to ditch the bag, but continued inflammation of the parts left inside have made that not a possibility. If I keep everything in, it’s almost guaranteed that I’ll develop cancer again. And, to be honest, I’m quite comfortable with the bag and the life it allows to me lead, so it’s all good!

God has once again blessed me with the same amazing surgeon I had for my colon surgery to do this procedure. I’ll likely be in the hospital for about three days, and then take a few weeks off work to recover. Robots will be used for the procedure, so that’s super cool! Recovery will be a bit rougher than my first surgery, but we’ll get through it. The super down side to the whole thing is that I won’t be able to coach Fall Ball softball as I had wanted to…sorry about that, girls! I really, really wish I could.

Well, I think that’s it for the moment. I know I’ve glossed over a lot of details, and probably left out tons, but I wanted to catch you up a little bit. The kids are doing well, Michelle is doing well, and we’re blessed in so many ways I can’t even count them!

Oh yeah…back in March, we moved into a new house! We’re loving our new digs!

I promise to keep you informed as to how the surgery goes as well as recovery.

I hope this finds you all well!

Mark

And The Verdict Is…

…STILL CANCER FREE!

Met with the doctor today to discuss my PET scan, and all is still well. No cancer clusters showed up in my scan, and my blood work looks good. Interesting thing, though…I have a fractured rib! I’m not sure exactly when that happened, but I think it was shortly after my surgery when I tried to work out. I remember doing some dips and ab work and being in some serious pain the next few days (or weeks). So, it must have been a stress fracture. Doesn’t hurt a bit at the moment!

So, life is somewhat normal now. I check in with the doctor every three months for some blood work, and then a PET scan every six months (that’s less than I originally thought). I can handle that for sure.

Thanks again for all the thoughts and prayers. They DO make a difference!

Mark

Day One!

Yesterday, Monday, is what I’m calling Day One with respect to my cancer! I’m officially over two weeks away from my last chemo treatment, and that’s the longest I’ve gone without having those nasty drugs in me! How did I celebrate? Well, I flew to Houston to be with my team and get some work done, and I did an hour on the treadmill at the hotel. Oh, and I had a pizza!

Why call it Day One? Because it’s a new, fresh beginning! I’m feeling stronger, less fatigued, and ready to take on the world! I’m super motivated to get back into shape so I can be very active this summer. In fact, today during lunch, I climbed 12 flights of stairs in our building! Totally kicked my behind, but it was good to do!

I suspect going forward there will be less entries in this blog, at least related to cancer. I may post some pictures from time to time, or report any cancer related progress. More specifically, lack of cancer milestones! I appreciate everybody who followed this blog during my battle with cancer, and I and my family very much appreciate all the support from everybody during the last 6 or so months. You guys rock!

To close, here are some lyrics from Matthew West’s “Day One” that seem appropriate!

It’s day one of the rest of my life
It’s day one of the best of my life
I’m marching on to the beat of a brand new drum
Yeah, here I come
The future has begun
Day one

Well, every single day Your grace reminds me
That my best days are not behind me
Wherever my yesterday may find me
Well, I don’t have to stay there

Have a great week!

Mark

No Mo Chemo! The Party!

Hello!

Monday was my last chemo treatment as I mention in a previous post. It was a great day for many reasons! To start, the nurses at Arizona Oncology had a special sendoff for me! It was truly cool! (Click the image to see the video).

After treatment, and after having an AMAZING lunch with my BEAUTIFUL wife Michelle at Firebirds, using a gift card from my mom (Thanks, Mom!), I got back to work. I had to work from the Oro Valley Public Library because I’m having connection problems where we’re staying…not a big deal at all. After work, I picked up Alex from track and headed to the Irwin’s house because Michelle told me they wanted to BBQ for us. As I walked in the door, I was literally surprised to see many of my dear, close friends there! It was a actual surprise party for me! Complete with a No Mo Chemo poster and people jumping out from hiding spots!

We had a great meal provided by everybody (awesome hamburgers, Kent!), and spent some time watching the NCAA Championship Game between Wisconsin and Duke. Wisconsin was soooooooo close to winning that game! But, aside from that, it was an excellent evening!

I am so very appreciative of everybody who has helped me through this unique time in my life. I’m not at all kidding when I say this was a team effort. I watched a lot of the single chemo patients that would come in for treatment, and it strikes me each time how going at something like this alone is virtually impossible. Not only do you need the prayers and thoughts of everybody, but the constant encouragement and asking how I’m doing is a true source of inspiration. It’s amazing to know that so many people truly, deeply care for me. It’s both humbling and exciting at the same time. I COULD NOT have done this without all of you…so I offer my many thanks!

Blessings to all of you! Have a great week!

Mark

 

Links Of Hope #12 – LAST ONE!

Hello!

Today is MY LAST CHEMO TREATMENT! And, unfortunately, this is also the last of the Links Of Hope, from the Vonk’s, which I have valued tremendously during this process. Here is the Link Of Hope for today, which is Psalm 16:8:

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

This has literally been the cornerstone of my battle with cancer, which I don’t feel has been a huge battle because of focusing on God. This whole ordeal has brought me much closer to Him, and closer to His word. For that alone, having cancer has been worthwhile.

Thank you, Vonk’s, for the constant reminder of God’s great word, and the weekly encouragement your Links Of Hope provided me! I cannot thank you enough!

So, not much to report with respect to treatment. We got in super quick, and even the pharmacy got my treatment drugs to me super quick! And I got a visit from my sister-in-law, Magel Bagel (my nickname for her), bearing gifts of a chocolate shake and some popcorn from Starbucks. If you haven’t tried it…it rocks! By the time you read this, I’ll be done and heading to lunch!

Main side effects these days : super fatigued (was way tired last week in Houston), loss of appetite (I rarely want to eat), and my hands are super sensitive to cold (not pins and needles, but it just hurts). And, major chemo brain…which is frustrating my wife for sure! Can’t wait for that to clear up.

I thank ALL  OF YOU for your thoughts, prayers, well wishes, gifts, and everything else. This has been a HUGE team effort, and I’m glad to have you all on my team! Now that I’m done with chemo treatments, I’m not sure the direction this blog will take, but I’ll for sure keep you up to date on my progress!

LOVE YOU ALL!

Mark

Photo Apr 06, 9 55 49 AMMy usual chemo pic!

Me and Magel Bagel!

Me and my wonderful, beautiful wife!

Happy Easter!

Hello!

I hope everybody had a great Easter! I know we did! Here’s how things unrolled for the Fleming Family during the day:

Up very early (5AM) for Sunrise Service at Riverfront Park. It was a beautiful morning for sure, but it was also very early!

We then headed to church where we helped during the three services that were conducted. This is Samantha hiding eggs for the first egg hunt of the day.

And this is Alex helping with the kids and their art projects! Michelle and I spent the time helping out where we could…me taking pictures of course!

After service, we headed home to change and head over to the Tuck’s house. I stayed behind for an hour to take a nap…I was dog tired. But so was the rest of the family, so I feel bad. But I fell asleep almost instantly!

Once we hit the Tuck’s, we enjoyed some awesome food, and then began to do Eastery things.

What would Easter be without dying eggs?

And of course you need an egg hunt! This is Samantha finding one of the easier ones. They’re plastic eggs filled with candy she couldn’t eat because of her braces! Ah, the cruelty of it all!

And Alex literally jumping for one of his eggs! What a great vertical leap!

After egg hunting, we engaged in another tradition of ours….egg tossing! We buy a whole bunch of eggs, or use some slightly expired eggs, have the kids line up in the desert behind the house, and basically throw eggs at them. If they catch them without them breaking, they can throw them back at us. Needless to say, they get quite eggy by the end of the day!

This one ended up breaking, but it was a valiant effort.

I’m not sure how Samantha can catch them with her eyes closed! We’ll have to work on that before Softball in the fall.

And here’s Hanaa about to get either totally eggy or catching it…I can’t remember which!

After the egg toss, we move on to another one of our traditions….Peep burning!

Yes, it’s cruel and unusual punishment, but probably better than being eaten. You’s be surprised how flammable they are once they catch on fire!

Sometimes we need a little help in getting things moving. Nobody was hurt in this endeavor!

We capped off the time at the Tuck’s with some eggs full of confetti. That was fun!

Overall it was an awesome time hanging with friends and family!

After the Tuck’s, we went down to visit my mom and our cats, as she’s watching them for us. We brought her some food, and spent a bit of time with her. But, being as how we all work up so early, we didn’t stay long. But, we had a good time!

All in all a great day! Hope you’re Easter was a special one! It’s easy to forget what the meaning of the day is…the day Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven, just as was promised. What an amazing thing!

Next post – MY LAST CHEMO TREATMENT!

Mark

Tuition Assistance

Hello from Houston!

Howdy from the big state of Texas! So far things are going well here. Getting lots done as usual, but much more tired than usual also. I pretty much go from work to my hotel, where I end up doing some more work but also just chilling. For some reason I’ve lost my appetite, so I’ve actually been getting stuff from the local Krogers and making it in my room, versus going out to eat all the time. Crazy, as one of the things I typically enjoy about traveling is eating out!

The main purpose of this blog post is a call for assistance of any Arizona resident who thinks they might be able to help. We’ve decided that we’d like to send Alex to Pusch Ridge Christian Academy (PRCA) next year if at all possible. We very much love the Christian approach they take, and we think the school will be a much better fit for Alex than Wilson Elementary, which he is currently attending. The major hurdle in getting him there, though, is tuition, which is quite expensive.

Fortunately, Arizona has a tax credit program in place where you can donate money to the school/child of your choice, and get that money back at the end of the tax year. Basically, it costs you absolutely nothing, because whatever you donate you get back. It just takes until you file your taxes to get the money back. But the assistance it provides is invaluable.

PRCA uses Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization to handle these transactions. You can click the link for more information, or contact Michelle to get more details.

If you haven’t filed your taxes yet this year, it’s not too late to make a donation, which you would get back with your current tax return. If you’ve already filed taxes, you could donate for next year, which would be awesome as well! Either way, if you feel compelled to help, that would be just amazing. Michelle can provide all the details you need…and I think most of you have her contact information.

Thank you for considering this proposal. A Christian-based education is priceless, and we’d love to have Alex get one if at all possible (and potentially Samantha as well, but she seems to like IRHS). Please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions!

Thanks!

Mark

Links Of Hope #11

Hello,

Today marks my second to last chemo treatment! At this time next Monday…the day after Easter…I should be done!

Today I’m joined at chemo by my father-in-law Harry, as well as Michelle. The place is fairly empty today, which is kinda nice!

Two links on the Links Of Hope Left. I wasn’t 100% sure which one was supposed to come next, so I left the most decorated link for the last one. Today’s verse is Psalm 30:2, which states:

Lord my God, I called to you for help,
    and you healed me.

I feel that’s exactly where I sit at this very moment. God put together an amazing team that has contributed to my diagnosis, surgery, and chemo treatments, as well as the absolutely most amazing support team (that’s you guys!) that I could ever have dreamed of having. In my mind…I’m 100% cured of cancer. And that’s all due to your prayers, and the Grace of God!

Treatment today is the usual. Wait in the lobby a bit…get vitals and blood work…start the IV drip…then start the main drugs. Then it’s over! Easy peasy!

Heading to Houston for the week right after treatment. Looking forward to seeing the team again…it’s been over a month! Downside is that I have a middle seat on the way from Phoenix to Houston. But I’ll just plug in my phone and listen to my “God Rocks!” playlist!

I hope everybody is having a great day, and looking forward to Easter Sunday. I know I am! Have an awesome week, and the next post from chemo should be my chemo post!

Rock on!

Mark

PS – Don’t be worried about the bruises on my legs…those are just from moving. I bruise super easily these days!