More Links Of Hope!

I got a nice visit from the Vonks and their completely adorable kids yesterday. They brought me two more links for my chemo treatments! So I no longer have to worry about spacing the remaining ones out…I have a link for each treatment. And the last two have some incredibly cute decorations on them…I can’t wait to share them with you (especially since it’ll mean I’m down to my last two treatments!).

Thanks, Vonk Family, for the continued inspiration and prayers during my treatments!

Links Of Hope #7

Hello!

Well, today is another chemo day. Including today, I have 6 sessions left over eight weeks. Looks like I’ll be done the Monday after Easter, if all goes well! Very much looking forward to that.

Because I have a different treatment schedule now, I have more sessions left than Links of Hope to show! So, I’ll do one every other week until the last two, and then two in a row.

Today’s amazing Link of Hope from the equally amazing Vonk family is Psalm 23:4, which reads:

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

Every time Michelle and I come here for a treatment, I wear a t-shirt with a Christian related message on it. That’s very intentional on my part, and almost every time we’re here, we have some faith-based discussion with somebody. It’s actually quite amazing. But the common denominator is exactly what it says above, that God is with us through any walk we may take. Every person I’ve talked to here says they couldn’t make it through this process without God and lots of prayer!

Today’s treatment is pretty basic. Got here at 9:40AM, and about 10AM went back to get my blood drawn from my port. For some reason, they just couldn’t get the blood flowing, and we had to try all kinds of things : laying down, moving my head from side to side, touching my toes, and moving my head back. Eventually she was able to get what she needed. This sometimes happens, she says, when people are dehydrated. And despite all the water I drank during my hike on Saturday, I suspect I’m still quite dehydrated. But, it all worked out.

After getting blood drawn, we saw Karen, and we talked about what’ s been going on. The biggest thing is that lately I’ve been gaining a lot of weight, and it’s not all related to my terrible diet. My legs and hands are super puffy, so I was concerned about fluid retention. Karen agreed, and it looks like I’ll be on a diuretic for a bit. The thought is that between my steroids and the general treatment, fluid retention is occurring. So, I guess I’ll be spending some good time in the bathroom in the near future! We also talked about hair loss, which is absolutely occurring. Ask to see my legs sometime!

After that, we headed into the treatment area, got hooked up, and as of this writing, I have about 15 minutes left. Easy peasy!

Life is good these days, but very stressful! Between all that we have going on with the kids, the monumental amount of debt we’re in because of this, the house on the verge of being sold, and just general life, we’re doing a fair job of keeping our heads above water! Looking forward to some time with the kids over Rodeo break and then during Spring Break.

Many thanks for the continued prayers, thoughts, help, and general support you’ve given me and my family during this time. We couldn’t do it without you all, and of course not without God!

Have an awesome day!

Mark

Spring Weekends Rock!

Hello!

What a great weekend I and the family had! It sorta started on Friday when I flew home from Houston on a morning flight, and got in around 1:30PM. After getting my luggage, I sprinted home to spend 15 minutes with Michelle, grab my camera gear, pick up Alex from school, and head downtown to do photography for a wedding! That was a fun experience, and a great couple tying the knot. After that, I sprinted back home, spent about 20 minutes with the family,  and then headed to the Hillis house for a combined Grace FT/OT meeting. We had some amazing food, and spent some good time making sure the two teams were in sync with a vision and goal for Grace. It was a nice evening!

Saturday began very early, because we had to be at the Applebee’s at the Foothills Mall to do The Blender CHIC Fundraising breakfast. The deal was that Applebee’s would do all the cooking, and the kids would do the serving. Tickets had been sold, and everybody was stoked. But this is what we saw when we arrived.

Apparently whomever closed the evening before, set the alarm but forgot to lock the door! And when Chris arrived, and found literally nobody around, he went inside to investigate (very briefly). The alarm went off, and a bit later the sheriff’s arrived. They did some investigating but found nobody. And by now, it was well after 8, and not a single person from Applebee’s showed up to run the breakfast.

So, in true Grace community fashion, we quickly formulated a plan to move the breakfast to Grace. Several people headed to Walmart for supplies, and the rest of us headed to Grace to get things prepared. In no time flat, we had all hands on deck making pancakes and sausage (that was my assignment). We truly rocked the day!

It was hard work in the kitchen, pumping out all those pancakes, but it was a lot of fun!

And of course I had to do some quality control on the product!

All in all, I think the people who came had a great time. Not sure how much money was raised, but was an amazing example of the Grace community and spirit! You’d be amazed at how many people dropped what they were doing to show up and help!

After the breakfast was over, I felt the need to be outside! I’d spent a lot of time in the office in Houston (and got a lot done, so it was worth it!), but I needed to be on a trail. So, Alex and I headed out to Catalina State Park and hit the trail to Romero Pools. This is roughly a 5.4 mile round trip hike, with lots of elevation gain (over 1000′), and some pretty strenuous hiking, especially for a person undergoing chemo! But not for somebody like Alex, who literally ran up the trail, while I struggled most of the way.

The views were absolutely gorgeous on this fine Spring day! This particular section is like a huge saguaro garden.

After a couple hours of hiking (I was really holding Alex back), we finally made it to Romero Pools. It was super nice!

We took a load off our feet, spent some time hydrating, eating, and cooling our feet in the super cold water (and by that I mean freezing cold).

The water was running in some pretty nice falls!

After we were somewhat rested, we hit the trail to head back home. Along the way I saw this little guy…it’s like he was trying to hold up the huge boulder all by himself!

When we finally made it back, we were exhausted, but in that good way you get after having done something special. Our dogs were barking (“our feet hurt”) big time, and it felt like we almost couldn’t make it to the car, but we did! Once we got home, I absolutely had to take a nap, and Alex had some friends over. Later in the evening, we hit the UA vs. ASU Hockey game! It was Alex’s first, and he and his friends (along with Michelle and I) had a great time! But, we did loose, 2-0, in the last few minutes of the game. :-(

Sunday brought a good message at church, a nice Fleming-Tuck lunch at Chipotle, and The Blender in the evening. The night was beautiful, and prompted some selfies that I managed to photo bomb!

We had breakfast for dinner, much to Brian’s chagrin, because he was out of town. But it sure was tasty (at least the sausage was, which I was in charge of again). God also blessed us with an amazing sunset!

You just don’t see colors like that anywhere else in this amazing country!

That about sums it up! We’re all pretty exhausted, but for good reasons. I have chemo tomorrow, which I’m not much looking forward to, but it brings me one step closer to being done. I hope you all have a great week and I’ll leave you with this parting shot of Alex and I having a super fun hike!

Mark

 

Help A Brother Out!

Good Morning,

I’d like to introduce you this morning to Brian Brinkley, an amazing brother in Christ and a good friend of mine! He’s the guy in red, sporting that incredible beard!

Brian is a superhuman volunteer at Grace Community Church (the church we go to). He puts in 15-18 hours a week at Grace between YouthWav (Youth With A Vision, which he helped found 13 yeas ago), The Blender (ministry for middle and high schoolers), and the Divorce Care Ministry. This is in addition to working full time for AT&T and taking care of his three kids. This man is a serious rock star!

A little over a year ago Brian decided to attend Fuller Theological Seminary to obtain his Masters of Theology and Ministry to equip him to pursue ministry vocationally full time. What that means is he wants to spend his remaining days on this earth developing intentional programs and support for raising and equipping this newest generation of Christians. Brian has been working with kids at Grace for over 13 years and is truly loved by everybody he meets.

Brian estimates that each class costs around $1300 each, and he has about 16 classes remaining. At his present pace, he has about 2.5 to 3 years left to complete school. As you can imagine, it’s quite costly to complete these classes, and he’s asking for some financial (as well as prayer) support for his efforts. Until now, Brian has been relying on personal funds and family assistance for tuition. Grace recently set up a scholarship fund (Grace Seminary Fund) for people attending such institutions, and since he’s the only one currently doing so, he’s been the sole recipient!

Brian is asking for either donations to the Grace scholarship fund, or regular monthly donations, which several others have already committed to. Absolutely any amount would be helpful and appreciated. If you are a member of Grace, and have access to Realm, you can arrange donations online via http://onerealm.org/gracetucson/Give. Or you can send donations to Grace Community Church, designating them for the “Grace Seminary Fund”.

I hope you’ll consider helping a fellow brother in Christ out! Brian is an amazing man, a true man of God, and a super positive influence on the youth he comes in contact with. I have no doubts that finishing his masters program will equip him to become a super good and effective influence in the children in our lives. And that, my friends, is an investment in all our futures!!

Here’s to a great week for everybody! I’m in Houston again this week, and am looking forward to getting a lot done. Have a great day!

Mark

 

Flagstaff Rocks!

Howdy!

I hope everybody had a great week, and are starting an awesome weekend. Happy Valentines Day to everybody!

So, I’m having a super fun weekend! Took a half day on Thursday and a full day on Friday off from work. Samantha had a choir competition in Flagstaff this weekend, and Michelle was heading to Pinetop with her peeps, so Alex and I drove up here to watch Samantha’s performance, and then to go skiing! We’ve had an amazing weekend together, bonding as father and son.

Samantha and the Ironwood Ridge Glitz Choir did a superb job at their competition! The morning started super early for them with an 8AM performance at a local church. It was the static portion of their routine…no dancing, just “gorgeous” singing as the judge put it.

Then the moved over to the music school at NAU for their 10:50 performance, where they got to dance the numbers they’ve been rehearsing all year. It was truly beautiful!

The thing that really, really impressed me about this competition was the feedback they got after each performance. The judges came onstage and worked with them for a good 15 minutes, providing some very useful information and actually having then sing and work out what he was saying. It was very impressive! And the girls of Glitz should be super, super proud of their performances.

After Samantha was done, Alex and I booked it up the mountain for a half-day of skiing at the Arizona Snow Bowl. The day was absolutely gorgeous, and the snow was pretty darn good for this late in the season.

And I have to say, for a guy undergoing chemo, I did pretty well with four hours of skiing! To be totally honest, I got more winded putting on my ski boots and walking to and from the car than I did skiing!

And like I said, the day was absolutely beautiful!

After we were done, and returned the skis, Alex and I headed to dinner at Picazzo’s, which is our favorite gluten free restaurant. We happened to be there at Happy Hour, and got all our food half-price! Between us, we finished off 20 baked wings and some gluten free cheesy bread!

After that, we headed to the hotel for a bit, and rested our muscles in the Jacuzzi. Then it was back on the road for 2nd Friday Science Night at the Lowell Observatory. We attended a lecture on basic mechanics (in the physics sense) which was actually quite interesting! I learned that a screw is really a circular wedge. Who knew! We also looked through some telescopes, and saw Jupiter (super cool) and the Orion Nebula (super, super cool!). Then I spent some time trying to take star pictures before my battery died.

The stars are absolutely amazing up there.

Now we’re hanging in the hotel, ready for some sleep. A great end to an awesome day!

Mark

I Was Wrong! In A Good Way!

Michelle informed me this morning that I’m wrong on my count of remaining treatments. Since we switched over to the new four week cycle (one treatment a week for three weeks then a week off) instead of the two week cycle (the one with the pump), I actually only have TWO cycles left, for a total of SIX times that I have to go in for treatment! That’s WAY better than what I was thinking! We’re basically looking at about 24 hours total of time at Arizona Oncology left. NICE! I should be done the Monday after Easter, according to the schedule they provided us, unless there are additional treatments scheduled we’re not aware of.

Have a great day!

Mark

Eight Down, Four To Go!

Monday marked the end of my eighth chemo treatment! Only four more to go. We’ve calculated that I should be done the Monday after Easter.

I didn’t give a blow-by-blow because it basically goes like this : check in at 9:30, go back shortly after to have my vitals taken, then grab a chemo chair, get my IV started with saline solution, and then the chemo drugs for 90 minutes. Easy peasy! I’m only supposed to get blood work once a month now, on the first day of my cycle. And that’s the day I meet with the PA to see how things are going.

Feeling pretty good. Tired, fatigued, but nothing I can’t handle. I feel like my muscle weakness has improved, as well as my balance. I went hiking on the Romero Canyon trail on Sunday before The Blender, and felt pretty strong! Didn’t make it all the way to the pools, but that’s only because I ran out of time. And I didn’t fall off any cliffs, so that was good! It was a beautiful day out, and exactly what I needed after my time in Houston.

Today my mom, Kay, spent the day with me at chemo. Being a nurse, she was very interested in the equipment and procedures. We then enjoyed a nice lunch at Gluten Free Girls with Michelle.

Well, that’s pretty much it! Next chemo cycle will start with another Links of Hope from the Vonks. I can’t wait to see what the verse is!

Mark

Home Is Where The Comfy Bed Is!

Well, there’s more to a great home than that, like an amazingly beautiful wife (and just amazing in general), two awesome kids, and a couple of cute cats. But I will admit, we have the most comfortable bed in the universe!

The trip to Houston rocked! I so enjoy hanging out with my team and getting lots of face-to-face time with other people in the department. The people on the FlashSystem team at IBM are second to none…they are true rock stars. I got a lot done (depending on how you look at it) during the week, working late into the evening. And for those of you who expressed concern about my over doing it…I came straight back to the hotel and chilled each night. No exploring the city or going to Galveston like I usually do!

I’m already looking forward to my next trip out there. I miss my family and friends in Tucson a ton when I’m gone, but I truly do get a lot of work done when I’m there.

The flight back home was awesome. Had an aisle seat behind the first class bulkhead on the way to Phoenix, giving me plenty of arm and leg room. I dare say it was actually somewhat comfortable. From Phoenix to Tucson I had a windows seat, and while it wasn’t the most comfortable seat in the world, the flight was only 20 minutes, so it wasn’t too bad. Thank you, God, for providing me a better experience this time around!

I listened to my “God Rocks” playlist on the way, and a couple of songs spoke to me. I’ll let you listen and draw conclusions for yourself. If any of you are on Spotify, and want me to share the playlist, just let me know!

Speak Life by Toby Mac:

There Will Be A Day by Jeremy Camp:

I hope everybody had a great week like me, and you’re having a great weekend! Many thanks to all the people who encouraged me this week to take things easy and get some rest. I very much appreciate that!

Mark

The Sun Is Out!

Hello,

The sun came out in Houston today after a couple days of rain. Personally, I’d rather have the rain, but it was actually pretty nice out, so I can’t complain too much. Hopefully I’ll get to walk to work tomorrow…had to drive today because it was drizzling just a bit too much for me to make it to work dry.

Life is good these past couple of days. Getting stuff done at work, things are kinda coming together at home with respect to selling the house, and the family is hanging in there. I’m constantly amazed at how incredibly blessed we are, even in the midst of all the crazy things going on in our lives. Sure, we have bad and trying days just like everybody else, but we’re often reminded during those days how blessed we really are. Work…friends…family…care givers…I just can’t say enough about all them! Thank you God for providing so much to us! From the dark days follows sunny days!

Spent some time on Pinterest the other day (don’t do that very often) looking at cancer boards. Found a few images that I kinda like:

I think this one is particularly cool. We all watch people who are going through trials in their lives, and often try to learn from them. I know my wife, Michelle, inspires me on a daily basis with how she handles all that goes on with her. She’s an absolutely beautiful, amazing woman!

This one’s tough because we have no idea what an “extraordinary destiny” might be, if there’s one at all. This requires huge faith in Him.

Too true! Sometimes knowing you’re going to face the same thing tomorrow that you did today requires a lot of courage to get up again in the morning. But, with God, all things are possible!

I love this one! Again, all things are possible with God on your side!

Finally, if Super Grumpy Man were to turn into an actual super hero, this is what he might look like. I made this online one night at the Marvel Comics site! If being injected with super poisonous chemo drugs will give me muscles like that…then bring it on!

To wrap things up, a verse from the Bible to sum up life. We’re looking at Jeremiah 29:11.

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I feel this to be so true. While I can’t fathom what some of those plans are, I already feel like we’ve prospered in so many ways; that even with cancer, I’ve managed to escape serious harm that could have happened had it not been treated; and that there is much hope for the future of the Fleming family. With our continued faith in God, we can overcome anything that comes our way, and at the end of each day, we can count our blessings and be happy!

Hope you’re having an amazing week!

Mark

 

There Are Dark Days

Howdy!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably realized that yesterday (Monday) was a chemo day, and that I didn’t blog about it in real time…or at all…like I normally do. The reason for that was because I just didn’t have it in me to write anything positive.

Sunday night was a night filled with basically no sleep…maybe an hour, but not much more. Both kids had one or another sickness that had to be dealt with, and it caused Michelle and I to stay awake most of the night. When we weren’t dealing with the kids, both of us were kept awake with thoughts of our massive medical debts (way more than you can probably even imagine), the house sale falling through, the kids’ general health, our health, and a host of other issues. Basically, life came crashing down on us at the time we were supposed to be getting rest and rejuvenation.

Monday morning came and it was back to the grind. Got the kids off to school (more or less), and Michelle started her job of looking after a couple of the kids in our neighborhood. I left for chemo at 9:10 by myself for the first time since we started the treatments. It was all good, though…I don’t mind spending time alone (and there were offers from people to meet me there). And Michelle did end up meeting me there later.

Chemo was uneventful. I didn’t even have to get labs this time…just once a month now since I’m not on the Oxaliplatin. But my numbers did look good from last week. I didn’t meet with a doctor or PA or anything…just got my vitals, got situated in my chemo chair, and they started the 90 minute IV and then finished with the 5FU push. I was out the door around noon, and I headed home for a few minutes before I left for the airport.

Yep, the airport. Another trip to Houston (which I truly do enjoy, because I get to hang with my peeps). Check-in a the airport was good – somehow I seem to be on the Pre-Verify list so I didn’t have to remove my laptop, shoes, or anything else! That was nice. The flight from Tucson to Dallas, however, was not. I was in the middle seat between two people who spilled over into my space. They also forgot the cardinal rule that the middle person gets both arm rests. So, I spent the two hour flight with my arms crossed. Totally crazy.

By the time I reached Dallas, I was less than enthused about life. The three hour layover in Dallas didn’t help much either, but I made it OK, and eventually got to Houston. Of course, once there I spent an extra long time waiting for my luggage. Then I got my car, but by then it was too late (almost 11PM) to get anything good to eat. Finally made it to my hotel around midnight. By then, I was completely exhausted, out of energy, out of good attitude, and ready to just watch sleep.

The reason I’m providing all this detail is to let you know that, while I’m able to maintain a pretty positive attitude with respect to my cancer and chemo treatments, sometimes the rest of my life sneaks in and lots of realities come crashing down. I try to remain positive about that as well, but sometimes it’s just to much (especially the financial stuff). But, even in the midst of all that, I feel super blessed for all the amazing friends and family who have helped me and my family out through all this. You are ALL AMAZING!

I hope everybody is having a great week! I’m getting stuff done in Houston…it’s been raining all day…I finally found some decent Mexican food…so life is good again!

Love you all!

Mark

My selfie from chemo day…can’t you tell how happy I am! ;-)