Life, Photography, The Family Circle

Maizy the Survivor: Beating Cancer One Dream at a Time

The mother of my child and love of my life has eluded death at least three times. Twice she survived breast cancer. She once fainted in a movie theater lobby from a pulmonary embolism, due to complications with a stent in her arm relating to the cancer.
The disease took her ovaries and her breasts. Cancer made her voluntarily poison herself with chemotherapy.

She even survived a roll over crash on the highway before cancer was even a part of the equation. It decimates everything. The body. The spirit. The bank account.

Despite all that, she still smiles and cares for others more than she does herself. She encourages us and provides the roof over our head and the food on our table. She is kind, loving, responsible and strong. She makes our world go ’round. Together we see these close calls and consider them a sign. The sign says: “Live you’re life and don’t hold back.”

We had a child together after many conversations of what our future as a couple dealing with the repercussions of breast cancer would be like. We had Penny and then Maizy decided to let them take her ovaries to avoid the very real possibility of cancer developing there. Then she decided to let them take her last remaining breast. Total mastectomy. I still think she’s the sexiest woman on the planet. Survivors are hot. She sacrificed her body to have a chance to live a longer life.

Maizy is amazing. For almost dying several times, the life in her bursts out and infects me. She gave me an amazing daughter and encourages me to follow my dreams. I’m glad she’s in my life and I’m grateful to her for fighting to live as hard as she does and choosing to spend that life with a bum like me. I’m The luckiest guy in the world.

What would you do if you almost died? Wouldn’t you want to live your life to the fullest and not regret an existence of apathy? Experience things you never have? Go places you’ve never been? Enjoy YOUR life. Don’t wait for a life threatening disease to give you a wake up call. Do everything. Find what you love to do and follow your dreams. That’s what I’m going to do anyway. You can do whatever you want. It’s your life.

We want to travel. There are many reasons, but a big one for me is getting Penny out there to see the world. Cancer runs in the family. Maizy’s mom had it, and there is a decent chance Penny could have the BRCA gene. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are harmful genes inherited from the mother or father.

A child of a parent with the gene has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the mutation. I hope it isn’t true but I’m ready to deal with it if it is. I want to try to instill that appreciation for life in Penny, not that she doesn’t already have it. The girl is a firecracker.

Extremely emotional just like her dad. Intelligent and strong like her mom. A 50/50 chance that she could have to deal with ovarian or breast cancer? That’s tough to deal with. We are going to teach her to live life. What better way to do that than by example?

The fact is: any of us can die anytime. That’s news to nobody. We already know this. So why do we spend so much of our time doing things we don’t enjoy? I’m not talking about doing the dishes or the laundry. I’m talking about careers and life choices and doing things we wouldn’t normally do. Taking chances, trying new things, searching for fulfillment.

We live in a world where a majority of people think it’s crazy to follow your dreams. We think those people are crazy. Maizy and I have served our time on the hamster wheel and we are jumping off.

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M is for Maizy

 

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The Daily Prompt: Take a Chance on Me

What’s the biggest chance you ever took? Did it work out? Do tell!

I was sitting in my cubicle on an unspectacular day preparing to write an email to a co-worker. Her name started with the letter M, so I typed M into the search bar on my e-mail interface and the first name that popped up was Maizy Faithfull. I hadn’t thought of that name in a couple of years. I remembered she was kind and that I broke things off with her after a very short time.

I was in the middle of a “conscious uncoupling” with my girlfriend at the time. The level of insanity that my previous relationship reached was epic in its proportions, and I wasn’t sure the timing was right to dive into another relationship right away. I needed to be unattached, and for two years that is exactly what I did. I detached myself from reality.

Each morning getting up and riding the bus to work, suffering through the 8 hour day until the next time I could plop down on my couch, click on the giant TV and immerse myself in a virtual world of cynicism and death. I guess I was making up for all the times I couldn’t afford the newest and latest thing. I was more interested in advancing my Gamerscore on Xbox live then I was on advancing in my career. I was lonely, guilty, slovenly, drunk all the time, sick all the time, the hangovers were lasting for days instead of hours. I thought I was happy but looking back I realize now that I was the most miserable I had ever been.

I thought to myself that I should go ahead and write her a little note. We seemed to hit it off when we dated briefly a couple of years earlier. I was intrigued by the possibility of re-connecting with her. So I typed up a quick note, and I took the chance and hit send. I thought she might get really offended or just ignore me. I figured if that was the worst thing that could happen by sending that email, then I was willing to take the chance that she might like me enough to give me another chance.

I had my own place, a stable government job, and I was single. I was single just long enough to come to the realization that I might be single for the rest of my life. I didn’t see myself as dating material. I was caught up in that tangled web of low self-esteem, constantly preoccupied with what I imagined that everyone else must think of me. I didn’t have the courage to actively pursue a woman in public, and to be honest, I was wary of getting seriously involved with any other woman for the rest of my life.

In the two years prior to Maizy coming back into my life, I had two blind dates, and two really weird and awkward one-night stands, none of which were related. I remember both blind dates were awful. I just wasn’t ready. It wasn’t their fault. I just would get out on the dates and they would start asking me all the questions. What do you do? Why don’t you have your license? Why don’t you look at me when you talk?

I was just too socially awkward. Who in their right mind would want to sign on for that? Who would willingly date a cross-eyed guy with no car and a customer service job in a phone center? I don’t have the good looks to make up for those deficiencies. I went into those dates already defeated and that’s why they didn’t work out.

It takes a very understanding person to date someone with a physical deformity. That is a huge initial obstacle to overcome. Casual dating doesn’t work for me. It has to be a happy accident. I don’t have any official numbers to back this up, but I’m willing to bet that there are more people who would rather choose a mate with two straight eyes then one that was cross-eyed. So I live with this self-imposed stigma that being cross-eyed somehow makes me less of a human and therefore undeserving of true love.

Meeting Maizy for the second time really turned my life around. After several weeks of sending emails and chatting over the phone she invited me to her loft for dinner. I remember riding the train across town during rush hour, enjoying the warm sun through the window, savoring the last brief moment of relaxation before I would finally come to face to face with the girl I had been talking to for days. I arrived at Union Station and couldn’t find her anywhere. I walked the terminal twice before giving up and heading back to the train feeling dejected.

Just as I was opening the door to leave, there she was. She looked wonderful, and held my gaze with her eyes. She gave me a hug and held my hand on the walk back to her place. She put me instantly at ease, and I didn’t get that feeling of judgment from her. She was just a beautiful, kind and caring gal that was just my age and mutually single.

Typing that M on the keyboard changed everything. We made a life together. She was a recent cancer survivor and she told me so that first night. She just got a dog the day before. He ate my glasses while I was there. I mean literally ate them, chewed the lenses in right in half. I didn’t even know that was possible.

That night was 6 years ago this July. Once we started dating we barely ever left each other’s side. Now we share a home and a family. Our daughter Penelope was born on April 16th, 2010. She just turned four years old. I left my job and stayed home to raise our daughter. I started college to pursue a degree in journalism.

Pushing the M that morning was the best thing I could have ever done to myself. It changed my entire outlook on life. I found a woman who encourages me to follow my dreams, who supports me and accepts me for who I am.  I don’t feel like less of a person when I’m around Maizy. I feel like I “have just as much of a right to be here as anyone else”, which is something that she patiently repeats to me every time I get worried about holding up traffic or taking up someone’s time.

Maybe e-mailing Maizy wasn’t the biggest chance I ever took, but it is the one decision I made in a time of really bone-headed decision making on my part that has brought me to this point. It’s the one choice that paid off and trumped all the other choices. In that 6 year time span I quit smoking, quit drinking, drastically altered my career path, and fathered a beautiful baby girl. I gained an inordinate amount of courage, confidence, and self-esteem at the urging of my strong, self-assured, beautiful, wonderful girlfriend. She reminded me it’s okay to follow your dreams when everybody else was telling me to “stay the course,” even though they knew I was miserable. It seems like everything I do since I’ve met Maizy has involved me stepping out of my comfort zone in order to achieve the next level of self-improvement that I aspire to. It’s hard to look at someone who beat cancer twice and tell them that you don’t have it in you to try a little harder.

Maizy inspires me with her strength and reminds to be compassionate. She isn’t content to just sit around and wait for life to pass her by. She wants to live and so do I. Meeting Maizy and falling in love with her made me want to be a better man. That is why I’m glad I went ahead and hit send on that e-mail. You never know what little thing will change your life completely.

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Denver Street Photography

The Street Photography is my holding pattern. It keeps me interested in photography. It keeps me in practice. I do it to satisfy my curiosity and test my limits. I think that all people are beautiful and that beauty is only relative anyway. I’m looking for direction, trying to determine what story it is that I want to tell. I keep expecting that I will have this epiphany, that these journalism courses I am taking will somehow trigger the creative enthusiasm that lies dormant within me.

The truth is, I am learning a lot, but it is really just the basics, and so far I am not impressed by the level of instruction I have received versus the amount of money I am now on the hook for in my pursuit of this journalism dream. This is merely my opinion, but I get the feeling sometimes that my professors are competing with me. It might just be me being paranoid or egotistical, who knows? I just felt that in some instances I was being completely ignored, shunned even, when it came to positive or even negative feedback on my work. I felt virtually ignored. This is what $20,000 plus in student loan debt gets me?

I am tempted to go it alone, to try and break in on my own, but I’m afraid I need more structure and planning. In the next two years, I will be required to perform an internship which I both dread and long for, as I believe I will be ridiculed and exposed as a no-talent fraud, but I’m holding on to the hope that just maybe I am a diamond in the rough. A guy with a chance to break out into something bigger. Isn’t that what we all want to believe? That our dreams are attainable? Realistic even?

So for now, I walk the streets with my camera and document existence. One thing about taking your camera with you everywhere that they forget to mention, it exposes how boring and mundane your life actually is. I can’t even count how many times I’ve pointed my camera at the same thing over and over again, trying to capture it in a way that I’ve never seen before. All it does is drive me crazy and give me the urge to see something new.

While I pursue my personal goals, my family life also is presenting challenges. In three weeks, my girlfriend Maizy, the mother of my child, will have her final mastectomy. I await the day with great sadness and worry for her well being. the one story to tell that has meaning, but needs to be kept private for the most part. Suddenly my petty problems pale in comparison to the love of my life having flesh removed from her body permanently. Cancer is so overbearing. It all seems so matter of fact at times. We have to plan for it, schedule it, budget for it. It hangs over our heads at every chapter in our life. It’s always “once we pay off this $5,000 bill, everything will be so much easier,” only to receive another bill in the mail we forgot about.

So I grab my camera, I take off. I walk the streets and I watch. I walk until I can’t take another step, then I shuffle slowly back home clicking all the while. Hoping for the best.

This image has nothing to do with anything I just said, other than it is street photography. Maybe I shared it because the facial expressions are an illustration of how I feel inside right now at this moment. I can’t be sure.

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Denver Street Photography

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Walking Around with Penny

On a chilly Wednesday morning, my daughter and I decided to get outside and have some adventures. We traveled the city on foot, taking our time and exploring all the little details of the world around us. We marveled at the colorful, musical, interactive art installations at the Southmoor rail station, which we only discovered because of the kind act of one young lady on crutches. Struggling down the stairs with her one crutch, she shouted after us to wait so she could explain to my daughter how the art in the tunnel could be manipulated. Complete strangers, the three of us shared an elevator and chatted as if we were old friends. We happened upon a fire truck testing out its hoses in a vacant parking lot. We felt the cool mist from the hoses spray clear across the street. We sat and stared at manufactured rainbows and water shooting hundreds of feet into the air. She took her first ride on the light rail today, and the look of excitement on her face made the three miles we walked seem like nothing. Today, it was a good day.

I write this, because I am blocked. I am torn between assignments and deadlines and story ideas, and pressure. The pressure is all self induced. I put myself in this situation, and now I expect something from myself that I’m not sure I have in me. I’m trying too hard and overthinking everything. Or maybe I’m not trying hard enough. Or maybe I’m not good enough.

I write this post simply for the sake of putting thoughts down in words. The practice of remembering details and trying to paint a picture. The work of remembering moments that I can come back to later when I have alzheimer’s disease. That is if I can remember my username and password. I can’t even do that now, and I have a supposedly healthy brain.

I’ve spent virtually every waking moment with Penny since she was born. The only extended time I have spent away from her was when she had to spend the night at a friends house while my girlfriend had surgery, so it is inevitable that I would eventually bring her into this blog.

I’m still searching. What is the story I want to tell? I have a major photo essay assignment due in three weeks for Photojournalism. I want to nail this one considering it is what I would like to do for a living. I know, I know, I’ve heard all the stories. Journalism is a dying art and the job market sucks and the pay is low. That doesn’t deter me one bit from wanting to pursue my goal of becoming a journalist. I don’t need a lot of money, just enough to survive. My payment will be the experience of living the life I choose, not the one that I settled for so I could have a bunch of material crap that doesn’t mean anything when I’m dead and gone.

We are getting rid of our stuff, we are preparing to live our lives the way we want, we are freeing ourselves and celebrating our non-conformistness (not a word but I don’t care). I want to see new things and old things, and tell stories about them. I want my daughter to experience as much of the world as we can put in front of her. I never talk about this, but her mom is a two-time breast cancer survivor and also has the BRCA gene. If Penny has that gene, which is highly possible, it just makes me more determined to get us all out on the road and enjoying life to the fullest before she has to start thinking about death, and cancer genes, and all the hard stuff that life throws at us. We’ll get her tested for that gene this year, along with a scheduled surgery for my girlfriend to have a mastectomy to remove her only remaining breast. In my life, we plan for these things as a neccesity, we have to budget our money according to life saving surgeries and preventative care. So we look forward to our traveling lifestyle. We see it as the light at the end of the tunnel, something to keep our minds off the hardship and pain we are about to endure. That goal keeps us going through the tough parts.

I’m lucky. I know this. I have been down before, and I never thought that I would make it to the life I occupy today. Maizy showed me that anything is possible, she picked me up, dusted me off, boosted my ego, slapped me on the butt and encouraged me to go out and do something with my life. She made it all possible, and she still does.

We have sacrificed, and simplified, and planned, and now that plan is in motion. Here comes the scary part: the follow through.

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Walking Around with Penny

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