Wednesday, February 26, 2014

THE RIPPLE: A Tale of Two Towns Part 2

Malvern PA

Last week I posted a blog about Malvern AR  as a study in contrasts between two places on my path. 

This past weekend I was filming and interviewing the oncologists and staff and patients at Hope Veterinary Specialists, (from left to right; Tara, Dr. Craig Clifford, Tom, Katelyn & Claus von Shitz, the German Shepherd).  

This Our Story

It was enlightening, educational, inspirational, heartwarming and, in a few cases, heartbreaking.  I gotta say, it's a totally different experience being behind the lens instead of in front of it like I'm most used to.  But that's the reason that we have been filming hundreds of hours of footage since the Summer of Murphy tour.  This isn't just my story, it's all of ours.

One of the stories I filmed Monday stands out and perfectly captures the experience.  And it's got a little of everything; firemen, dog rescues, British royalty, three different types of cancers, and the marvel of modern veterinary medicine. 


Meet Cammie

In 2008, she was found by firemen in the freezing cold with an inoperable Epulis, or oral tumor.  One of the volunteers at the rescue made helping and healing her, her mission, and that's Stacy, her mum.  

Once it was deemed that resection wasn't a treatment option, Cammie's tumor underwent radiation under the care of Dr. Siobhan Haney.  And while successful in stopping its growth, within a couple of months Cammie collapsed from a Stage 2 hemangiosarcoma.  

Following a splenectomy and a course of chemo, Cammie responded well although a complication from the Epulis occurred. Radiation had killed the tumor but the necrotic tissue frequently became infected and had to be removed resulting in the loss of part of her lower jaw.  

In the ensuing months a soft tissue sarcoma was discovered on her flank and a she underwent a second course of chemo.  Three cancers and six years later, Cammie is happy, healthy, and a beauty to boot!


Happy Endings

During the course of my interview with Stacy and Drs. Clifford and Siobhan I asked Cammie's mum what message she had for pet parents who adopt dogs with costly, preexisting medical conditions and those going through cancer treatment for the first time.  

Her response: "You need to believe in happy endings."  Indeed.  We all do.  


YBD's Notes 1:  I like being behind the lens.  The Canon camera was generously donated by Thunder for us to record Murphy's battle with nasal cancer back in 2010 but as it became unbeatable, I had to turn the camera off.  Maybe we weren't meant to tell our own story unless it's through that of others.  

YBD's Notes 2:  Many thanks to Dennis, Craig, Kate, Siobhan and all of the rest of the crew at Hope VS for being both generous and accommodating with their time.  

YBD's Notes 3: I even got to interview my first feline cancer patient, Shadow.  Me thinks we have to change the name of our organization to 2 Million Dogs and 1 cat.  

YBD's Notes 4: Oh, and Cammie got her name from Princess Camilla 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

THE RIPPLE: A Tale of Two Towns

Malvern AR.  July 2008

Walking through so many southern states, it wasn't always easy keeping hyperfocused on a singular mission of cancer especially since conditions in some places for animal welfare were deplorable and others, down and outright medieval.  

I tried as best I could but there were a few encounters intolerable and I had to stand up even though it put my mission at risk.  

The first was in Jacksonville TX a few months earlier than Malvern.  We were scheduled to stay at the home of a kind elderly couple as we walked through the area and after the first day, I noticed a beautiful brindle pitbull in the backyard of a neighbors house chained to a fence and that her water bowl was upturned.   

I made note of it and the following day, it remained still and unfilled.  There's no mathematical basis for measuring the generosity of a host family against a clear and present injustice.  It wasn't my neighbor, it wasn't my town, and it wasn't my cause.  


And Yet...

I assuaged our host family that my intention was to just inform the neighbors that their dog needed water since they shot down my original idea of just filling the bowl with water myself.  Texans take trespassing seriously so I understood their objection.  

After knocking on the neighbor's door a few times, a big burly man at least 1.5 times my size in height and girth answered with a mean ass, menacing look.  


"Excuse me, sir.  I'm staying with some friends next door and I couldn't help notice that your dog in the backyard hasn't had water in the past 24 hours and it's pretty hot outside...".  

"IT'S MY SON'S DOG", he continued in a gruff, 'seen-too-many-steven seagal movies-voice'.  

"And yet, the dog still needs water."


At this point, his chest was bowed out and he was spoiling for a fight and I tried my best to keep circumspect, though my great growl was growing.  "Look man, I no more want to be on your porch than you want me here.  It doesn't have to be this way.  Just give your dog water and I'll be gone.  But I won't until you do."

Like a Warner Bros cartoon I could see steam venting from his ears (and hear the sound a train whistle). I thought I was gonna get cold cocked but instead he slammed the door in my face and I watched as he filled the water bowl.  


The Evil that People Do

Maybe that set the stage for Malvern.  By the time we were just west of Little Rock, temperatures were running as high as solar flares it seemed and I walked most of the Delta to Memphis by myself.  

I remember the day perfectly.  As I was walking on east Hwy 67, I heard crying and yelping on my left.  There was a overgrown, condemned looking house, yellow in color I think, about 100 yards off the highway and I fought back the pokeweed, briar brush and Mimosa tree branches to get to it.  And what I found still breaks my heart.  

A momma pitbull chained outside and a litter of pittie puppies on the inside begging to be with each other.  You can see the momma's paws on the window sill in the picture top left so I'll spare you the visual descriptive.  No one should be haunted by an image such as that.  

I couldn't do anything at the time for them.  It was just me and my backpack so I bade them goodbye with a promise that I would return and rescue them.  And I did the very next day.  As soon as I was picked up by Melissa, our transport to our next host family, I said to her, "We have a stop to make first." 


The Evil That Good Undo

I was such a naif back then, unworldly caught up unintentionally and unexpectedly in the deep and dark underworld of dogfighting.  I'd never heard of terms like 'bait dogs' until that day when Melissa and I pulled them out of that nightmare just as a group of men came out of a nearby trailer to stop us.  

We tore outta there with all of the pitpups in a cardboard box and momma in my lap and I think my middle finger found its way out the window though I may be glorifying it a bit.  

Miles later, Melissa explained to me that we weren't rescuing dogs in distress - we were stealing them.  Dogs bought and sold like slave trade for the sole purpose of fighting for entertainment.  I had a lot of questions but they weren't going to be answered that day. Maybe they still haven't been.  

How can one steal a life trying to protect it?  How can one even claim ownership to a life?  

In the Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare wrote, 'To do a great right, do a little wrong.'

I'm nothing of a Shakespearean quote but I could not let a great wrong go unrighted.  


YBD's Notes 1:  Part 2 of A Tale of Two Towns Coming up - Malvern PA.  Spending time at Hope Veterinary Specialists this weekend.  Or Sweaty Tom's pits.  

YBD's Notes 2:  All of the pitbull puppies we rescued that day found homes.  

YBD's Notes 3:  Thanks Melissa

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Circle Just

The other day I posted on Facebook about winding things down in New England in preparation for Walk 2 and that moving on isn't the hardest part for an adventurer, it's the leaving behind.  But that's only mostly right.  


Ironically enough this was the first restaurant I ate at in North Conway NH with our dear friends Donna & Larry and it was where we ended up Wednesday night.  

That's them with their niece, Christina, and Jim the ball busting bartender that makes the waitstaff at Dick's Last Resort look like Disney workers. He's a good kid and infinitely entertaining though he makes girly drinks.  

I had hoped to get some exercise up in the White Mountains and man did my wish come true though not like I anticipated.  The accumulation of snow and ice was so steep on their driveway Larry drove his plow into the bank not once but twice and we had to dig it out both times.  

Heck I'm just a simple man from Texas and I started to think this is some strange sport up here.... Some folks down south canoodle catfish, some wrestle gators, but up here drive your truck in the ditch then dig it out.  I was ready to break out the Foreman Grill and the Brats and beer.  


Sea Glass

When I spent my first week in Newport this past year, Valerie convinced me to go to Fort Adams for what seemed like picking up trash.   I'm all about beautifying the world we live in but it was brutal cold and dowsing wet sand didn't seem like a productive use of my time.  Even after I uncovered a handful or two I still didn't get it.  

Some fellas at a frat party in Australia, say, threw beer bottles in the ocean decades ago and I'm collecting the shards.  Still, there was something storied I found in the sea glass and their ill-lustered beauty.  I made a bracelet for Valerie in memory of her Max out of them to thank her for hosting the fuzzybutts and I this past year.  But it wasn't easy.  

Six drill bits later and two deep puncture wounds to my thumb, I finally figured it out and finished it tonight.  


We've had a warm and wonderful send off as we start heading down south tomorrow and god willing, the three of us will all be back up here in November. But it's more than just moving on and leaving behind.  It's that you can't travel with.  


YBD's Notes 1: I've been inviting a few friends and colleagues to come out to the west coast and walk with us if even for a week.  I think it'll make the experience that much fuller and richer...

YBD's Notes 2:  Andre the Frikkin Giant.  Really?  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love Is

Since Murphy, Buddy, Pete, and a whole host of other mates of mine died from cancer since walk 1 ended, I think most of what I've written since has come from pain and loss.  But today, I write about what love is....

Love is Brotherhood (and sisterhood though only boys allowed in our tent)

Love is serving the Almighty Lint Brush

Love is sharing Maine lobster with a salivating mate even when you don't want to

Love is a sandy tequila sunrise with El Guapo (pistola in hand)

Love is a Long Island field of lavender that you wish everyone can experience

Love is friends you meet momentarily but their impression remains for a lifetime.  (And love is for men in kilts - ello luv - u look lively in a skirt)

Love is a bonfire and a flask of B&B after snowshoeing in the mountains

Love is being at sea

Love is when you're lost at sea

Love is even when unrequited

But love, true love, is eternal.

Love Is.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

THE RIPPLE: The Glory and The Grind

As I spoke about in a previous vignette about how if we weren't tested that first two weeks on walk 1, it's doubtful we would've made it.  That may seem counter-intuitive to some.  

You see most people will look for any reason to fail at things and they have a whole litany of excuses to justify it.  

A few, however, search for that one way, any way, to succeed.  It may take months.  Or years to find it but they do.  


We were trekking the Rails-Trails to DC in 2009 and I met a man who stopped us for a conversation for the 'who, when, why, and what about the walk'.  I answered as honestly as I could about our mission and our cause and his hapless almost helpless response was, 'You know, I'd love to do something like that.  But I have a family and a job and responsibilities.'

I suppressed the great growl within and merely responded, 'What makes you think that I don't?'  


I've met many people on our travels that would've, should've, and could've embarked on a grand adventure, traversed the AT, or climbed K2, and though I'm no scholar on the matter, my best guess is that why they didn't or why they did and failed can be reduced down to one simple phrase.  


Colin Fletcher, the Godfather of modern backpacking wrote that within two weeks of an adventure, you'd know if you were going to succeed or fail.  I read his books before the launch of Walk 1 and they were only academic to me at the time.  

But in our lonely tent along the TX highways, I learned what he meant.  There was one night I asked myself what the hell was I doing there and why.  I was beat down and in a bad way because I began to see for the first time not the finish line but the thousands of miles til then. 

A few sponsors had bailed, we'd been battered by unrelenting storms, setbacks, and other challenges, too.  


There's a moment at which faith crosses the threshold of self doubt and uncertainty and the only thing you need to decide is whether you have the will to continue.  There is no Glory without the Grind.  


YBD's Notes 1:  No longer will I chapterize Book 2, The Ripple.  As I plan and prepare for WALK 2, the past and present story will unfold as it's meant to, unscripted and non-linear.  

YBD's Notes 2:  One should never give up on the aspiring to inspire in all walks of life. 

Friday, February 7, 2014


Back in the backlot of an architecturally unassuming Westchester industrial park is the brainchild of two neurologists, Drs. Joseph and Berg, both brewed from the great crockpot of talent that is Manhattan's AMC.  

The Animal Specialty Center is in many ways not unlike the dozens and dozens of veterinarian clinics I've toured around the country.  Dedicated  staff. Check.  Exceptional and compassionate care.  Check.  

One things stands out, however as the focal point.  And it stands tall.  

Say 'Hello' to my lil new friend, the Cyberknife.  


Blake and Dr. Sue

To frame the entirety of this part of our story accurately, a bit of history is in order first.  I met Dr. Sue, one of ASC's medical oncologists back in San Diego 2010 while giving a presentation about our Walk 1 - Austin to Boston - to the attendees of the Veterinary Cancer Society (VCS) Meeting.  

Come full circle, last October at VCS Twin Cities, we met again and she extended an invitation for me to visit their clinic in Yonkers.  A reunion perhaps of greater prescience than either of us could've known at the time as Blake, one of two beautiful rescue labs and part of the 2 Million Dogs family was diagnosed only weeks afterwards with meningioma becoming an ideal candidate for the Cyberknife.  

Blake's mum, Chris, is one of our PUPS out of Baltimore and last week I spent time at ASC filming their story and learning about the relative benefits of Cyberknife vs. fractionated radiotherapy vs. stereotactic radiosurgery.  

Since I'm no scientist, I always try to reduce things down to their most basic elements and from my understanding, the differences between the three are merely a matter of time and precision.    



When he was DX'd with nasal adenocarcinoma just weeks after the conclusion of Walk 1, I chose  IMRT  once Withrow at CSU ruled him ineligible as a surgical candidate. I chose a slow course of radiation for an inoperable tumor and not only did it fail, Murphy developed a secondary Sarcoma in his nasopharynx.  

I got the best clinical advice at CSU but ultimately, I made a decision as a father rather than a patient and that faultline proved fatal and Murphy didn't even make it a year.  


That's the trade off between the three types of radiology at least from a textbook perspective.  Time and precision and clinical outcome.   Blake underwent three days of Cyberknife treatment and godwilling, that's all she'll ever need.  

I firmly recommend exhaustive research and due diligence for the best most effective long-term treatment plan if you have a companion animal with cancer, along with the wise counsel of a vet oncologist.  


I was grateful to be an honored guest at ASC last week; to herald in their 6 year anniversary, and most importantly, be there for friends of ours, Chris and Blake.  

And although I didn't get a slice of their birthday cake, I have bigger sights in mind.  To a few trusty friends I texted the image of the Cyberknife and it scared the hell outta them in a RoboCop sorta way.  

Not me.  I'm from Texas and all I could think of was mounting it and riding it like Slim Pickens did a nuke in Dr. Strangelove into a blaze of glory.    

Thanks to the staff of ASC for being generous and accommodating during our time there and to Drs. Joseph and Berg for being pioneers in the field of veterinary medicine.  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

THE RIPPLE: Ablation

ab·la·tion  [a-bley-shuhn]  noun

1. the removal, especially of organs, abnormal growths, or harmful substances, from the body by mechanical means, as by surgery.

2.the reduction in volume of glacial ice, snow, or névé by the combined processes of melting, evaporation, and calving. Compare alimentation

3. Aerospace. erosion of the protective outer surface (ablator)  of a spacecraft or missile due to the aerodynamic heating caused by travel at hypersonic speed during reentry through the atmosphere.


Years ago, my ex HJ - Murphy's Mum, and I were playing water volleyball in Lake Travis when I cut the hell outta the bottom of my foot - slashed open by a sliver of glass.  

Like some bad sci-fi feature, planter's warts infested and infiltrated that wound, and grew weirdly into a cauliflower type colony that became crippling to the point that I could barely wear sandals.

I went to see a podiatrist in San Antonio and the news was not good.

Two treatments were available.  I chose the harsher but surer. Chemical ablation.  It took weeks and weeks to burn it down during which was a pain so severe. 


Surprisingly, I only had two foot problems on the first walk: A corn that blistered up occasionally.  And a left phalange that when quashed down by the weight of my pack lost a toenail times two.   


YBD's Notes 1:  Still don't know what the hell a corn is but it'll travel with me on Walk 2.

YBD's Notes 2:  It was an amateur's mistake.  I carried so much weight on the first walk that my toes grew by a half inch.  My 11.5 became a 12.  

YBD's Notes 3: There's no shelter for love.  There are some things that just don't burn down and love is one of them.  

Sunday, February 2, 2014


We all try to live life large.  But sometimes it's just larger than us.  

I can count on one hand my true heroes in film and Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of them.  

Damnit man. I always thought at that table you and I would sit.  

An artist incomparable.  An actor to end all actors.  And an inspiration to all those independent spirits.