Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Mishaps . . .

When you come into our booths at shows, you see the finished product that takes us hours to build.  But sometimes there are a few monkey wrenches thrown in along the way.  This story is from setup at the Syracuse show in May . . . and I should begin by saying that I took the first picture because Julie told me to . . .

Julie and Tom Creek from Creek Bank Creations were rolling one of their carts past where I was setting up my own booth when I heard Julie yelp and looked up to see her going to the floor.  I was afraid that her back had gone out, or worse -- and when I ran to her, she couldn't talk for a moment.  Then she gathered her senses and explained that one of the wheels on the cart had rolled over her toes.  Ouch . . .

I had packed my lunch, so I had an ice bag in my cooler and Julie put it to good use.

By later in the day, we were laughing about it -- and Tom and rigged a way to get Julie around the room without putting weight on her foot.

You had to know that I couldn't tell the story without an image of the affected digits.  Julie is a trouper -- worked the whole weekend and I don't think a single customer knew that she was less than 100%.  And fortunately, nothing was broken.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Superheroes Assemble . . .

"Superheroes Assemble" was the costume theme for the Stampaway USA Preview Party three weeks ago.  Didn't see as many customer entries as I have some years, but several of the vendors went all out.  Here are some of the best that I saw . . .

Brett and Michelle from Stamp-N-Storage won the customer vote as Best Dressed Vendors -- and deserved it.

But, of course, by Saturday morning the costumes had been put away . . .

And we were back at our posts dealing with booths full of happy customers.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Best Thing I Saw All Summer . . .

I have traveled thousands of miles this year – haven’t even tried to count the number of states I have rolled through.  At every show, there is at least one image that burns itself into my brain.  Some are better than others – and this one is the best I have seen so far . . .

A lot of you know Debby Drabik – either from Just for Fun or as the promoter of the two StampFest shows in Florida each year.  Her dad, Jim, was the “Sheriff of StampFest” along with Bill Mielke for years – they would sit by the door and watch the masses go in and out of the hall.  They actually had little toy sheriff’s badges that they wore.  Health issues have kept both of them away for the past few years, but Jim was able to make an appearance in Kissimmee at the end of June.

When I found out that Jim was in the hall, I ran over to the Just for Fun booth to make sure I got to see him.  Then I went back to my cash register – and a few minutes later felt a tap on my shoulder.  It was Jim – he had made his way across the room to visit with me. 

Jim Drabik is in his 90s now, and it was a special moment to get to see him again.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Frozen . . .

The other story that needs to be told before we can move forward (or at least bounce back and forth) started last November 2.  I had just gotten off the phone with my friend Ben Andrews, who called to tell me that his prostate cancer surgery had been scheduled.  Went back to my computer and checked e-mail – and in my inbox was one from my family doctor’s online system with the heading “Test Result” – so I logged in to get my bloodwork results from a couple of days before and found myself staring at “PSA – 5.1”

FIVE POINT ONE?  I have had bloodwork every six months for more than 20 years because of my high cholesterol.  About the time I turned 50, my doctor added a PSA check once a year – and my numbers were always fine so I was shocked, because anything above 4.0 is cause for alarm.

And so the journey began.  I had bloodwork done again two weeks later, just to prove to me that the first reading wasn’t a mistake (and, of course, it wasn’t).  Then I was sent to a urologist at the University of Cincinnati just before Thanksgiving, because in our area that is where the cutting edge prostate treatments are performed these days.  The urologist sent me for an MRI the week before Christmas, which discovered a mass on my prostate “suspicious for malignancy.”  (Side note – the MRI was very cool – I had never had one, and mine was the first on UC’s brand new MRI machine – the control room was full of doctors who wanted to see how it worked)  In mid-January, I had a biopsy that confirmed the MRI’s suspicions.

Up to this point, Ben and my brother Blake were the only people who knew what was going on – Ben because I wanted to pick his brain about his surgery, and Blake because I figure anything medical that happens to me might eventually happen to him.  But I started slowly bringing the rest of my family into the loop.

In mid-February, I went to a “Multidisciplinary Clinic” at the University of Cincinnati – the head of prostate surgery, the head of radiation, and a world-renowned expert on MRIs went over my test results in the morning and then individually met with me in the afternoon to present their recommendations.  As it worked out, mine was caught so early that I was a candidate for a relatively new procedure called focal cryoablation – essentially it’s the male version of a lumpectomy where the surgeon goes in with needles and freezes away the cancerous portion of my prostate, with a minimal recovery time.  This sort of thing has been done for years on larger organs, but the prostate is only about the size of a walnut and the expertise of the MRI expert makes this possible – she could combine my MRI with a live ultrasound image so precisely that the surgeon would know exactly where to put the needles.  They told me that my other options (surgery or radiation) were essentially overkill at that point.

So on April 2, I reported to the hospital at 5:30 a.m. – this picture was taken just before I was wheeled to the operating room around 7:30.  When I came to, I was assured that they had removed all of the malignant tissue (and a little more just to be sure).  And I was home by noon.

My nursemaid was on constant watch – Zoe wouldn’t even move at mealtime until I forced her, and then she came right back to her duties.

The next day, I ached everywhere – I’m told this is common after general anesthesia.  But other than that and having to drag a catheter around with me, I was pretty much fine.  Also was having trouble remembering some details, but I decided that I could follow a recipe.

Went back to the surgeon on the third day and the catheter was removed – and I went straight back to work.  Probably not the smartest move I have ever made – I was worn out at the end of the day, and was tired off and on for the following ten days or so.

But this is the only scheduled thing that I missed – Emily and I were supposed to walk a half marathon five days after my procedure.  When the surgeon told me that the catheter would come out on the third day, I said “Then I might be able to walk the half marathon with Emily!”  He just laughed at me.  Needless to say, I was not up to it – but I drove Emily there and was there to greet her when she finished.

My PSA was checked again six weeks after the procedure, and it had dropped from 5.1 to 0.4.  The surgeon was thrilled (so was I) – he said that was a number they might have hoped for if he had frozen away my entire prostate.  Another PSA at the three month point had the same number.  I will go back in October for another MRI and biopsy – assuming they come back clean (all have so far after this procedure), I will go back once a year for an MRI for several years.

I have shared this story for one reason – if you or your significant other are male, get that PSA checked.  That is the only way my cancer was detected – I had no other symptoms.  And if reading my story helps to save even one of you or one of your loved ones, I will be very pleased.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Elephants in the Room . . .

I want to start by thanking all of you who responded to my request in the last post for direction on where to go next -- and what to do with a cell phone full of pictures that go with untold show and travel stories from the past eight or nine months.  The vast majority recommended that I move forward, and intersperse the older stuff in as I saw fit.

Works for me.  But enough of you had no idea what was going on in my family until two days ago – and your support has meant so much to us over the past ten years – that I need to address the elephants in the room first.  So today I will bring you up-to-date on Mom and Dad, and in a day or two do the same with my prostate cancer.

This was our 2018 "Christmas Eve Eve" family picture -- we have done this every year since the boys were born.  It has been fun over the years to watch the family grow -- and we already knew that the 2019 picture was going to be very different, since both Gina and Jordan were expecting here.

Six days before, Mom had moved into an Alzheimer's facility about five minutes' walk from their condo here in Ohio.  Dad had taken care of her, mostly 24/7 by himself (his choice), for three years since she reached the point where it was no longer safe to leave her by herself.  But Mom had reached the point where she needed more specialized care, and frankly Dad was worn out.

Mom is very happy and very active here – we visit often, and the staff tells us how sweet she is and that she goes out of her way to help people.  She has good days and bad, but most of the time she recognizes me when I come in and we usually take long walks in the hallways together.

In late January, Dad decided that he needed to go back to Arizona for a while – he hoped that some time hiking in the mountains that he loved so much surrounding Tucson would help to clear his head and relieve the stress of caring for Mom the past few years.  On February 5, he went hiking in Madera Canyon – an area he had hiked many times in the past and an area that Blake and I hiked with him eight years ago.  Somehow he lost his way and couldn’t find his way back to the trail.  He called 911, but despite a massive search over the next week in subfreezing temperatures and snow, rescue teams were unable to find him.  I listened to the 911 call several weeks later, and suspect that he may have had a mini stroke, because he couldn’t tell the operator the names of the trails he had been hiking.

A few weeks later, Blake and I went to Tucson to wrap up Mom and Dad’s 30-year retirement life there and thank the sheriff’s deputies who led the teams that put their lives on hold while searching for Dad.

We took some breaks along the way to hike some of Dad’s favorite trails.

Life went on – life always goes on – and months went by.  The deputies told us that they planned to hold search and rescue training exercises in the area where Dad got lost, but the Arizona winter was so unusual that four feet of snow were there until well into the summer – in an area only 20 miles from the Mexican Border.

By early July, I started telling people who asked that if the mountains surrounding Tucson that Dad loved so much became his final resting place, I was fine with that.  And then a hiker (ironically from Ohio) got lost in the same area, and while trying to find his way back to the trail stumbled upon Dad’s belongings. 

Two days later, he took a search team back to that spot, and it took only a few minutes to find Dad’s remains.  These pictures are from that hiker’s blog – he was very careful to post pictures that would not show anything upsetting.  We are very grateful to him for his efforts.  About three weeks ago, Dad’s remains finally arrived in Ohio and were buried in a local cemetery.

Along the way, we discovered that there is a blessing to Alzheimer’s – Mom has no idea what happened.  We are very grateful for that, too.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

I'm Back . . .

It has been eight months since I wrote something for this blog.  In some ways, it feels like eight days – in others, more like eight years. 

I pretty much went off the grid about the first of November after I got my bloodwork results with the unexpected shock of an elevated PSA (didn’t tell anyone except my brother about that until the first of February). 

I remember thinking in mid-December that I would start up again in January with our family Christmas pictures.  That was right after we put Mom in an Alzheimer’s facility.  But life was hectic.

Then Dad went missing in early February.  And I remember thinking that I thought life was hectic in January.

After Blake and I got back from Arizona, I saved a bunch of pictures and decided that I would write one long “catch-up” blog post during the convalescence after my prostate procedure the first week of April.  But it was uncomfortable to sit at my desk.

I had a million excuses – but mostly I think I wasn’t ready to write about any of it, other than a couple of quick paragraphs that I added to e-mails that went out to our list.  Didn’t have any trouble talking about it – have had lots of nice folks checking up on me at shows.

But I kept taking pictures at shows and while I was traveling, so I have a phone full of little stories that I intended to share.

Now I am at a crossroads, and I have two choices – start from scratch today and move forward without looking back – or start today and move forward, with jumps backward as time allows until the camera is emptied.

I figure you folks will tell me which you prefer – you always have, and I have always appreciated it.

Either way, I think this is the starting point . . .

The Preview Party costume theme at Stampaway USA in Cincinnati ten days ago was “Superheroes Assemble” -- I decided to pay tribute to mine and pulled out the outfit I wore the first time we hiked the Grand Canyon ten years ago.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

A Special Request from a Special Lady . . .

A lot of you know Connie Williams.  If you don’t know her, but have ever attended a rubber stamp convention in the eastern U.S., you owe her a debt of gratitude – because I think hers was the first.  As I understand it, Connie went to a convention in California with Judi Watanabe (Judi-Kins) back in the early 90s, and came back to Cincinnati with a dream to start one of her own. 


Over the years, Stampaway USA grew and grew and grew – people came from 500 miles away, and I can remember lines going both ways all around the Sharonville Convention Center before the show opened.


Connie “retired” after the 25th Stampaway in 2017, but I think she will always be around the second weekend in August.  She and her husband Bob wanted to spend more time with their daughter in Atlanta and at their winter golf home in Florida.  But sometimes life gets in the way.  I got a message from her earlier this week . . .

Could use as many prayers as I can request. Greg, on November 8 Bob went in for a brain tumor surgery. It was successful and benign. The only problem, which the doctor felt could be corrected, was a nerve was stressed. The nerve affects vocal cord and swallowing. He was off to rehab and two days later back to hospital for a reaction to the steroids. Adjusted medication and a few days later back to rehab. Two days later tried to get out of bed and fell. Back to hospital and in ICU with pneumonia. Now a feeding tube through nose because food was going into lung. Then put on a ventilator, removed tube from nose and surgically put it in stomach. Two weeks later. . . yeah back to a hospital rehab facility. Lasted three days and sent to ER. Fluid draining through scar area. He is back on a ventilator and has MRSA. Tomorrow back to surgery to put a shunt from head to stomach to decrease pressure on the brain and then put a trach in to get him off the ventilator. It has certainly been a roller coaster ride these last 41 days! Hoping you can send prayers his way. Doctor has confidence that he’ll come out of this ok but full recovery may take 6 months.

Doctor said Bob would have died within a year if the tumor hadn’t been removed. It was massive. Discovered it two days before we were to leave for Florida only because in a doctors office I mentioned that I thought his tremor was a little worse. He sent Bob to get a CAT scan. Thanking God for that other doctor, too.

I’m getting a lot of reading and knitting done! Would rather have been in Florida.


So this Christmas season, as you are counting your blessings, please take a moment and ask for some blessings for Connie and Bob.

Thanks – and a very Merry Christmas to all of you.