Advice to New Readers

Welcome to The Last Train!  If you’re a new reader, my advice would be to begin by reading the “Introduction” and then work your way up the topics from oldest to newest (see the recent posts on the right).  That way you will start from the beginning of this journey rather than joining on a later stop.  Welcome aboard…and I hope you become a regular “rider” on The Last Train!

Jeff Schmahl

Introduction

May 6, 2014

A week ago at the end of a 30-minute phone conversation, a good friend of mine said, “you should start writing, it would be good for you, and you’re a good writer.”  Terry Pettit has written several books and has a mind that looks at life from just a slightly different perspective.  But in turning that crystal ever so slightly like Terry does, an array of light exposes an entirely different vantage point and I have always loved to discuss, argue, laugh, and be enriched in my time with him. Continue reading

My Rollercoaster Ride

I love rollercoasters…always have…always will. But right now I’m on a rollercoaster ride that I don’t like very much.

I have ups on this rollercoaster…but unfortunately there are quite a few downs as well. More on that in a bit.

My fascination with rollercoasters began in high school and then hit its zenith while Zach was growing up. We’ve visited dozens of theme parks across the U.S.A. and ridden some of the best coasters the country has to offer.

One of our favorite groups to ride with were Zach’s cousins…from both sides of the family. Worlds of Fun in Kansas City was our favorite meeting place and in typical “Uncle Jeff” form, I was the one who coerced, bribed, bullied, and convinced the cousins to ride a coaster for the first time…or to take on the latest, greatest, highest, and fastest that the theme parks had to offer.

Some might claim I was part sadist with the cousins…but I prefer to believe that my goal was to create lifelong memories, to challenge them to face their fears, to gain confidence…and most of all to have fun! I’d feel guilty when the rides would sometimes begin or end in tears…but darned if the little twerps didn’t jump right back on…and it wasn’t long before they were the ones challenging me!

When I was first diagnosed last April, I got a special e-mail from my niece Molly Adler. I’d like to share it with you…the ”Jillsey” she refers to is my oldest sister and her mom.

Uncle Jeff, 

I am literally dumbfounded. Silenced. Humbled. I don’t even know what to say. Jillsey told us last week and I am still searching for the words… You have been the best uncle a girl could ever hope for. Despite not living terribly near each other, I think our families did a great job maintaining special, meaningful relationships. I can’t even begin to recount all of the amazing memories. And of course the horrific: you convincing me that I would be just fine going down the elevator drop ride and just as we were about to drop, my bottom lip started quivering and my tough facade disappeared instantly ;). Classic Uncle Jeff! What a ride it has been indeed. 

Even a whisper of the word cancer brings me back to the day Jillsey broke the news to us about her illness back in… 2002? 2003? Its funny that I cant even remember the exact year, but I literally can completely remember that moment as if it were yesterday. I thought my world was crashing down. I can only imagine what you guys are going through. It’s not easy stuff. 

I know you are incredibly proud of the life you have led so far and you should be. It’s truly amazing. Beautiful, funny wife… smart, successful son… fulfilling career (from sports to cookies! Who would have thunk it??). You certainly have had a lifetime of happiness. 

I know my family wasn’t necessarily raised to be particularly religious, but I still have my Mama so I know good things can happen to good people and that miracles are possible, so if there were a time for prayer, this is it. As I told Zach, I’m bringing out the big guns, crossing fingers and toes, asking for favors and praying with all my might. 

I am sending so much hope and love to you guys. 

Love always, 

Molly

The “Mollser” is now Dr. Molly Adler and lives in San Francisco. Like all the cousins, she loves adventures and recently went skydiving for the first time.

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Molly – then and now

Now…more on my current rollercoaster ride. In trying to remain optimistic, positive, and encouraging…I haven’t shared a lot of the downs that I’ve been going through the last four months. But today, I’ll do so.

Bottom line…it’s no fun getting sick. For the first 57 years of my life, I was very rarely sick. I called in sick about once a year. But now, out of every 14 days, I get sick for about three to five days. And this isn’t just your ordinary…got a little cold type of sick. This is like having a full-blown case of the flu. Because of extreme nausea, I don’t eat, don’t drink…and I make quite a few trips to the bathroom during those three to five days. Thankfully, I usually sleep quite a bit which helps the bad days go by rather quickly.

The good news is that once I get over my chemotherapy sickness, I bounce back to “normal” fairly quickly and then I feel pretty good…that is until the next chemotherapy treatment.

I would love to get off chemo sometime in the near future…but the reality of the situation is that I might be on chemo for the rest of my life. And if that’s what it takes to stay alive…then I am okay with that.

I share all of this not asking for sympathy…but rather to try and be as honest as possible in sharing with you my journey…and let you know what it’s like to live with the big c.

I also continue to count myself as one of the “lucky” ones…not just for the wonderful life I’ve had…but to be one of the few pancreatic patients who has actually gotten better with treatment and am still able to lead a fairly normal life.


Medical/Personal Update:

Maria and I are in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico for five days escaping the cold and enjoying some fun in the sun. We’ll golf, snorkel, and sightsee…but mostly we’ll lay by the beach or pool and enjoy a margarita or two.

Jeff and Maria in Mexico1Jeff and Maria in Mexico2

This is one of the reasons I remain so thankful…despite being stage four and undergoing chemotherapy every two weeks…it hasn’t stopped me from scuba diving, skiing, playing 144 holes of golf in four days, and taking numerous trips to visit friends and family.

These trips really re-energize me…and I plan to stick with this routine for as long as possible!


Next Stop: A special Husker football locker room story…that’s never been told!

Facing Your Fears

Some of my most vivid memories are when I’ve been afraid…really afraid.  I can still remember with absolute clarity some fearful situations that I encountered all the way back to elementary school.  No doubt about it…fear is one of the most powerful emotions we must all face.

In the midst of the most joyful time in my life, I faced a fear that scared me to death.  It occurred about 10 minutes before Zach was born.

Everything had been going smoothly in Maria’s labor…easy for me to say at least.  Maria was a trooper despite the obvious pain during contractions.  The nurses were calm, relaxed, and professional…and Dr. Lucas, in his cheerful and humorous manner, indicated that everything was going smoothly.

But as Zach entered the birth canal, everything changed in a matter of seconds.  When Maria had a contraction, his heart rated dropped below 50.  Dr. Lucas said the umbilical cord was likely wrapped around Zach’s neck and added emphatically “we need to have this baby now!!!”

The calm didn’t quite turn to chaos…but it was clear that our baby was in possible peril.  A nurse threw a surgical mask and gown at me…pointed to a room and said quickly, “get changed right away and meet us in the operating room at the end of the hall.”

I went in the small room and began uncontrollably weeping.  I had never been so afraid in my life.  We didn’t know if our child was a boy or girl…I had never even met this person….and yet I had never felt such a powerful love and I would have done anything to ensure my yet to be born child’s safety.

I said the most sincere prayer of my life…asking God to please, please protect our child and let him be born safely…and then hurried off to the operating room.

The mood there was extremely tense.  Dr. Lucas had a huge pair of forceps ready to go in and extract Zach…but they were the wrong type.  He shouted something like “get me the 15 inch Simpson forceps now!”   Maria started to have another contraction and Dr. Lucas implored her to push with all of her might as I stood watching helplessly, still gripped in a terror I had never experienced before.

Seconds later, Zach was born.  He was slightly bluish in color and Dr. Lucas deftly used his index finer to take the umbilical cord from around Zach’s neck.  Zach immediately started crying as his color quickly turned normal.  Dr. Lucas shouted with joy, “It’s a boy and he looks great!”

It’s been more than 31 years since that emotion filled day when I experienced a love…and a fear…unlike anything I had felt before.

As a result of that day, the one thing I like to tell first-time to be parents is that “human beings do not fully comprehend their capacity to love until they experience the birth of their child.”

And few things bring more joy to my heart, than when I see new parents totally enthralled with their young child…knowing that there is nothing they wouldn’t do to protect that child which they love with every inch of their being.

As life begins…and as life ends…we overflow with love and that is when human beings are at their best.

There are a couple of things that have allowed me to face my mortality with a minimal amount of fear…at least thus far.  The first is my faith.  Secondly, I remember others who have gone before me, like my father, who have faced death with courage and dignity…and it is comforting to know if they can do it, so can I. Finally, it is very comforting to feel and hear of the love and concern of friends and family.  Having others to support me on The Last Train, has been a tremendous lift.

Often times when our children are afraid we say, “don’t be afraid” but I think that’s the wrong message.  Fear is real and it is not easily dismissed.  Instead, when our children are scared I think we should take them in our arms (or let them sleep in our beds) and say “it’s okay to be afraid.  Daddy sometimes gets afraid too.  But I’m here to protect you and I won’t let anything bad happen to you.”

Being afraid of death is natural and is one thing all humans have in common.  I only hope that by sharing my journey you can have just a little less fear when it is time for you to board your last train.


Medical/Personal Update:

I had my 19th chemotherapy treatment on Tuesday.  Dr. Ocean changed my regimen, taking me off the chemo drug that has been making me so sick and adding back the powerful platinum drug that I can only take in limited quantities (because of negative side effects).  We’re hoping that six treatments of the platinum chemo will get my tumors back under control and hopefully even eliminate them.

The FDA has also recently approved the use of PARP inhibitor pills for ovarian cancer patients.  PARP inhibitors have also shown to be effective in the treatment of some pancreatic cancer patients so hopefully I can get approval to start taking PARP’s in the near future.  These are the drugs that Dr. O’Reilly and Dr. Ocean have been studying and using in clinical trials.

In late December/early January, Maria and I had a great time in Nebraska and Kansas visiting our moms, brothers and sisters, as well as our 12 nieces and nephews on Maria’s side that we love so much.

I then spent a couple of days skiing in Breckenridge with a college buddy Tom Beam and also got to ski with my nephew Nick and his girlfriend Emily.  It was awesome…although I did cut my skiing short when I took a hard fall on an icy black (expert) run.  I fell hard on my left hip resulting in the biggest bruise of my life…made worse by the blood thinners that I am on.

My nephew Nick, his girlfriend Emily and I Tom Beam and I
From Left: Nick, Emily and I; Me and Tom Beam

bruised hip photoOUCH!

The hip looks way worse than it feels…and don’t worry…I’ll be back on the slopes in March and will work hard to keep up with all the young bucks in our family ski trip with more than 25 of the Adler clan.  It will be a blast!

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Next Stop: My rollercoaster ride