Writing this to you from St. Josephs in Tucson. All is good!

Had my surgery (proctectomy) yesterday, and it went well. Spent more time in the recovery room than last time because I was feeling pretty sick. But I eventually made it back to my room. My surgeon, Dr. Schluender, stopped by today to give us an update. She said everything went well, she took the rectum and some lymph nodes, and sent biopsy samples out. But she didn’t feel any reason to be concerned about anything, and she feels super good about how it all went. She doesn’t envision there being any cancer at all (which is good, because this was a preventative surgery for that).

So, at this point, we’re just waiting. I’ve been walking a lot, and trying to catch up on a bit of sleep (which is hard with how often the nurses come in). So far I’m literally in no pain…I haven’t hit the dilaudid pump a single time! Sure, it’s uncomfortable, but not really painful.

I’m hoping to get released tomorrow, but she says it depends on if I’m basically able to pee on my own. Right now I have a catheter, which she want to keep in for a bit to give the nerves time to settle down. It’s not uncommon to have peeing problems after a procedure like this, so we’ll see how it goes. If you want a specific prayer to pray for me, as crazy as this sounds, please pray for continued peeing ability!

The nurses here are super cool as usual! Michelle got a cot to sleep on for tonight, so that will be much better than the reclining chair she was in last night. I’ve had a good stream of visitors, which I appreciate very much, and thank you for everybody who sat with Michelle during the surgery. Also major props to everybody who is helping with the kids, getting them where they need to get to on time!

That’s pretty much it! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the thoughts and prayers sent my and my family’s way during this time. It means an incredible amount to us, and we already seen answered prayer. You guys rock!

Love you all!

Mark and Michelle

One Year Bag-a-versary!

I realized today that this past Tuesday, September 8th, was my one year bag-a-versary! It was one year ago that I had my colon removed and a bag attached to the outside of my body. It’s amazing how time flies!

This realization came to me this morning while I was lying in bed sick. I woke up this morning to a beautiful rainy day in Houston. I got to work feeling just fine, but within an hour (and not having had anything to eat), I had stomach pains and felt like I was going to throw up. At that point I realized I needed to head back to my hotel room for a bit…which turned out to be the rest of the day. About every hour I woke up having to empty my bag….things were flowing for sure. And it hit me how grateful I was for the bag instead of having to get up and run to the bathroom every few minutes!

The goodness of the bag also came into play during my trip to England and Spain. Normally, such a trip would have stressed me out to no end, as I tried to imagine what it would be like to travel, go to work, and sight see with my usual bathroom concerns. But, this time around, I didn’t give it a second thought! Flying 9.5 hours to England…no problem! A full workday in Hursley….not a concern! Walking the streets of Barcelona with my amazing brother…bring it on! The bag has literally freed me in ways I never imagined. it’s hard to believe all the years of torment I went through prior to my surgery, and it it affected me and my family. But, in the end, it’s truly made me appreciate life much more, and showed me the true grace of God.

Now, this isn’t to say there aren’t some days I abhor having a bag. I mean, let’s face it…I walk around carrying a bag of…well, you know…on the front of my body. And I have to wear this very annoying strap to keep the bag tight to my body, which sometimes I just want to rip off and throw away. Changing a bag can be somewhat messy sometimes….you have to watch your skin for issues…and sometimes it just plain stinks. But in all that, I can’t fully express how grateful I am to God for giving me such an amazing surgeon who got everything set the way it should be, and such supportive family and friends. It’s truly a gift.

So, happy bag-a-versary to anybody else out there who might be a year or more into their own bag adventure! Here’s to many years of clean skin and tight seals!


The Day We Met Taylor Swift’s Mom!

A person’s life is filled with many important memorable events : the day we turned our lives over to God; the day we got married to our spouse; the day our children came into the world; and many other significant events. This is a story about one of those events – the day Samantha and I met Taylor Swift’s mom, Andrea.

Some backstory to start…

Samantha is a HUGE Taylor Swift fan. She has been listening to her for years, knows all her songs, probably knows the lyrics to most of them, and even knows her cat’s names (which, strangely, I do as well). Two years ago she and I went to our first Taylor Swift concert. We had our choice of places to go, but decided on taking a road trip, and went to see the Red Tour at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. I have to admit…it was one heck of a show. You can think what you want about Taylor, but she absolutely knows how to entertain. We had a great time, and pledged to make it a regular thing whenever Taylor had a new tour.

So, the end of 2014 rolls around and Taylor releases a new album, 1989, which means it’s tour time! In January 2015 tickets become available and, after much discussion, Samantha and I decide to attend the concert in Denver! Yep, it’s a long drive, but it’s somewhere she’s never been before, so it sounded like a good idea at the time (and, aside from the long drive, it remained a good idea). We bought our tickets, only being able to afford seats in the very upper deck of the arena. But, it didn’t matter because we were going to see Taylor Swift!

As I’m sure it has for you, 2015 has flown by and all of a sudden it’s time for our trip to Denver! Fortunately it coincides with the Labor Day weekend, so I’m able to get a nice four day weekend for the event. We hit the road after school last Thursday, and by Friday we’re at our hotel, anxious for the concert on Saturday. We spend Friday night exploring downtown Denver, figuring out where our parking is and where the stadium is. On Saturday morning we spent time in Boulder, doing a very small hike and driving around a bit.

By 3:30ish, it was time to leave for the concert. Doors opened at 6, with the concert at 7:30. Samantha wanted to get in line early so we could be among the first in arena so she could check out the various booths. We got there, and the picture taking commenced!

It was a beautiful day, and we were in line by 5PM, when the line was relatively still short. They had a merchandise booth outside, with only a small line, so Samantha was able to get her shirt and stuff without much of a wait. At one point I went across the street to use the restroom, and when I got back, they had split the lines, so we were even closer to the entrance! Everything was lining up for a great evening.

We finally get inside, and we start making our rounds. First off was a picture at the Xfinity booth, which was fun. After that, we headed to the Taylor Nation booth, which was what Samantha really wanted to check out. At that booth you get to take a picture, but also have a chat with Taylor’s social media reps. They’re constantly scouting people to invite down to the floor, or to invite back stage. Since Samantha had made an awesome sign that she was proud of, she wanted to show it off. And the Taylor Nation booth was the perfect place for doing just that.

Let me pause and talk about the sign. From the start Samantha wanted to do a lighted sign. She wanted something that people could see from across the arena, and which showed her Taylor Swift spirit. So, we made a nice sized sign out of foam board, put 60 LED lights around the edge with two battery backs affixed to the back, and Samantha wrote out the lyrics to quite a number of Taylor’s songs. It was quite a sign, as you can see from the picture:

She worked very hard on it, including time on another 11×14 sign without lights in case this one wasn’t allowed in the arena (which the Pepsi Center customer support team told me it would NOT be, but they apparently decided against upsetting Taylor’s fans). Samantha got a lot of great comments from many people on her sign, and they were all well deserved.

And let me tell you…when we turned this sign on, our entire section in the arena was lit up. I’m pretty sure you could see us all the way across the stadium!

OK, so let me cut to the chase. Taylor’s mom, Andrea, attends each of her concerts. And she does this thing where she seeks out fans from the arena and invites some of them down to the B-Stage, which is on the floor and just feet away from where Taylor sings. Samantha, and every other Taylor Swift fan, knows this and they all secretly hope that they will get the call. Doing things like making signs, or dressing like Taylor did in certain videos, or other things that call you out as a super fan are all helpful in attracting the right kind of attention. Samantha did both these things – two awesome signs and dressing like Taylor from one of the videos. But, we were very high up in the arena, so it was a long shot to get Andrea’s attention.

The concert is now going on, and here’s the view from our seats:

As you can tell, we’re pretty far away from the action. But we’re still having a great time, on our feet, dancing to the music. This entire time, Samantha is dutifully carrying her sign, dancing with it, and lighting up the general area. In fact…she and I are one of the few people actually on our feet during the concert, which is kinda odd. You’d think for that much money, everybody would be up and getting their groove on!

So, we’re jamming along, and Samantha notices that Taylor’s mom (she knew what she looked like) is in our area talking to some girls to our left. They start walking away with her, and Andrea looks at Samantha and gives her the “come here” finger thing! Samantha is just ecstatic, and is pushing me to move over there. I’m watching the concert and not realizing what’s going on, but once I do, I get us from our seats to where Andrea is. Now it’s just three girls and their mom, me and Samantha. Andrea asks the girls if they’d like to go down to the B-Stage!

Well, the answer was a resounding YES from all of them! To give you some perspective, here’s a picture I took from our seats (you can see Samantha’s sign on the right). The area circled in white…that’s where we’re headed. Right at the end of the runway, and right in front of the sound booth.

We’re whisked down an elevator, and told no matter who we should see backstage, we need to stay with Andrea. We’re now backstage, and Andrea remarks about the catering food smelling good! As we’re walking, who do we happen to see, but Vance Joy…the opening act! I shake his hand as we walk, telling him he did a great job. A few moments later, we’re at the B-Stage, getting wristbands and being told there are soda’s and water in a cooler for us. This, now, is our new view of the concert.

We are literally about 20 feet from where Taylor did most of her show. The girls are beyond themselves with excitement, and, I must admit, so am I. This is the one thing that every person at the show hopes will happen to them, and here we are! Turns out Andrea was able to see Samantha’s sign all the way from the floor, and noticed she was dancing the whole time. Talk about a great reward for being a super fan!

We spend the rest of the show here, literally not believing our fortune. There are only about, I’d guess, a total of 30 people in the B-Stage area, and I’m the only dad there! We watched the show with the others, along with Andrea, and were just constantly amazed at this amazing blessing. I stopped many times to give thanks to God for this great gift.

Here’s how close it was with Taylor:

You could see everything. It was like she was singing to just us. Everything about this experience was amazing. At one point, I turned to my left, and Vance Joy was standing right next to me! Like a normal dude! And Taylor, of course, put on a show to remember for a long time.

For me, a special moment came right after Taylor, up on the raised platform you see above, started telling the audience what they “are and are not.” She was giving some great advice. After she was done, I turned to Taylor’s mom, and in what I can only call a moment between parents, told her how great I thought her daughter was. I literally called Taylor “your daughter,” and spoke to her as a parent and not as a person talking about a superstar. She said thank you, and gave me a big hug. I caught Andrea watching Taylor many times during the show, with what I can only describe as parental pride on her face. As a parent, knowing what that kind of pride feels like…I was very touched, and it put an entirely different spin on the concert for me.

Unfortunately, after two and a half hours, the show came to an end. It was an absolutely amazing show, and an experience that Samantha and I will remember and cherish forever. I have nothing but good things to say about Taylor, her mom Andrea, and the tour in general. Samantha and I can’t wait for the next tour, when her sign will probably light up the entire stadium! Until then, I’ll leave you with one last picture, of Samantha and Taylor Swift’s mom, Andrea.

What a night!


Some International Flavor


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!


It’s Been A While…


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!


And The Verdict Is…


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!


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!


No Mo Chemo! The Party!


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!