Friday, October 14, 2016

The Misunderstood MRE

Most conversation about the famous MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) rations leads down a path of nostalgia, recalling one’s favorite meals and what they traded for it.  Some service members were able to enhance the field fare with creativity, bringing us delights like Ranger Pudding.  Many recipes, along with creative uses of MRE packaging, can be found in The Complete Ranger Digest.  At some point, someone usually says that they have a case or two stashed away for emergencies.  There’s some misconception about the MRE and how practical they are for emergencies.
The Famous MRE

                First and foremost, MREs aren’t designed for the long-term storage they’re often subjected to in civilian life.  They do have a long shelf life (up to 8 years or so) with proper storage conditions, but they’re often removed from active stores after 5 years.  Storing them in hot conditions, like an attic or vehicle, can reduce the life to as little as 18 months.  They won’t suddenly spoil or become poisonous, but you won’t be happy about eating it.

                MREs are intended to solve the logistical problem of feeding people in remote areas.  For the military, much of this is related to packaging.  There’s no magic in the food preparation that isn’t used in the civilian market.  An MRE needs to be relatively lightweight, able to survive parachute drops and being crammed into a rucksack.  They produce lighter packaging waste than cans, and a soldier can cram all the empty packaging together and stuff it in his ruck so as not to leave it behind.  

                Government rations aren’t available on the civilian market through any authorized channel.  If you get ahold of them, they’re probably past prime.  It’s likely they’re left over from a disaster relief effort or made it home with a veteran.  There was quite a stir over a flood of Ebay sales of Katrina leftovers.  It’s wise to check the date codes on government rations.  Old pretzels taste like varnish, but 20 year old M&M’s are a delicacy.

                Everyone needs a chow stash at home in the event of emergency.  We’re talking about real emergencies, like weather and power outages, not the varied forms of apocalypse prophesized by the foil-hatters.  It’s wise to be able to feed your household for at least a week or so without utilities, and be able to take your stash should there be an evacuation.  Portable food is handy for road trips, camping, hunting, and other places where we might want for convenience.  You can buy civilian versions of the MRE from government contractors, but beware that sub-standard knock-offs exist.  For the average person, there are more efficient, cheaper, and tastier options at your grocery store.

Chow section of my gear bag.
                Over the last few years of hunting, hiking, and motorcycle trips, I’ve found quite a few alternatives to the MRE rations.  Dinty Moore, Pace, Campbells, and  Prego offer decent choices in lightweight packaging (bowls or bags) that are a packable alternative to cans.  The only downside is that they can’t be heated on an engine like cans or the MRE.  Anything else works, including hot water, microwave, sun, or even an MRE heater.  Don’t microwave an MRE! 

                If you’ve been saving that case of MREs in the attic for zombie apocalypse, you may want to give it a taste.  Whatever your choice, don’t just hoard it.  Rotate your stock.  Take replaced items to work for lunch.  Experiment with heating methods.  Keep your chow stash filled with fresh selections that you will actually eat.  If you're ready to step up to prepper-hoarder behavior and filling a zombie shelter with a 20 year supply of nutrition, you'll need to order specialized dehydrated food.  Try to be with people you like when the aliens invade, because you'll be spending the apocalypse with awful food and a level of flatulence that will bring on a nuclear winter.

              Prepackaged heat-and-eat food from the grocery store doesn't seem as exciting as a case of MREs, but it's the most economical choice for anyone not needing to shove their food out of a C-130.  If you really need your stash because your pipes are frozen, utilities are out and your family is stuck in the same house for a week, the last thing you want is bad food.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

An Assault Rifle by Any Other Name

                Once again, social media is abuzz with emotional responses to an active shooter incident with a record breaking body count.  The “assault rifle” controversy is at the top of the list, and I’m seeing some bad arguments on the pro-gun side.  The most notable chatter is questioning the definition, or even existence, of the “assault rifle," an argument that makes me give an eye-roll usually reserved for flat-earthers.

                First, it’s important to understand that there are many definitions of an “assault rifle,” and the term has been around for decades.  Wikipedia is a good place to start on this one, as it links to the array of meanings.  There’s a popular argument that assault rifles must be capable of full-automatic fire rather than semi-automatic only, but it’s not present in some instances.  Semantics aside, we’re talking about the same thing:  Light, short, high-capacity, mid-powered, semi-automatic rifles available for civilian purchase.  If you’re not sure what to call them, here are the current trendy names.  Pick your favorite adjective and noun:

Assault/combat/defensive/tactical/patrol/black – Carbine/rifle/gun/weapon/platform

Author with his Colt AR15A3
 Tactical Black Combat Assault

Defensive Patrol Carbine Rifle
 Platform Weapon Gun
                Next, let’s not nitpick over the purpose of the black guns. Manufacturers have called them "sporters" as far back as the 1960's when the AR-15 first hit the gun shop shelves.  The vast majority of these firearms are used for lawful sporting purposes without incident, but they are ideal pieces for winning an armed encounter.  Unfortunately, this makes it the best choice for mass murderers in schools, theaters, and night clubs. 

                Imposing a ban on these weapons failed in the 1990’s, and would be a larger failure now.  Mexican drug cartels are currently producing AR-15 lower receivers (the central and federally regulated part of the firearm) for their own use.  I have no doubt that they’d be happy to ship them to the US if another ban was introduced.  They're probably looking for a commodity to replace losses caused by legal marijuana in the US.

                Rifles along the lines of the AR-15 are in police use because changes in criminal tactics required capabilities beyond shotguns and pistols.  When I hear the statement, "No civilian needs an assault rifle," I question why anyone thinks a civilian shouldn't be afforded the same protection as their police.  These rifles are at the top of the food chain of available force, therefore every citizen has a right to defend with and against them.  Despite claims to the contrary, they are ideal for home defense when correctly deployed.  They're a better option than Joe Biden's shotgun.
                Gersh Kuntsman’s article detailing his experience with the AR-15 is a common example of the emotional opposition to firearms ownership.  I’ve spoken to people who claim to experience physical anxiety at the mere sight of a firearm.  Although accepting unfamiliar cultures is all the rage in the United States, it does not apply to cultures in our nation where firearm ownership is commonplace.  Don't give them more fuel.  Own up to the reality of the controversy because the math is on the side of armed citizens.  All that's left is emotion, as illustrated by Kuntsman's masterpiece of un-manliness.  

                I’m often asked what the solution is to preventing mass shootings in the US.  I believe that an armed civilian populace is the only reason the United States isn't in the same condition as Mexico.  In my experience, our civilians are better armed than our criminals.  I have yet to have anyone explain how confiscation, bans, or new laws will help.  Individual choices on safety and defense are the most effective measure of protecting oneself and family from murderers.  Since the black guns have been on gun store shelves since the 1960's, perhaps we should be asking different questions about our active shooter problem.

                Looking at the math and other facts of shooters in the US, we come to realize that there are far greater threats to life in our country.  Criminals with rifles are a very microscopic speck on the chart.  However, murder is always emotional, and firearm issues are extremely polarizing and controversial, and everyone retreats to their political/social happy place.

                Stand strong against the flow of social inertia.  Avoid the pitfalls of political correctness standards of either side of the issue, and realize that government can't solve this one.  Stand fast to your rights and don’t waste time arguing a title.  Develop the courage to act on logic and pragmatism and don’t surrender to emotion.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The YouTube Era

               There’s not much on TV worth watching.  Reality shows aren’t for everyone.  The documentary channels are all gone.  Guys like me aren’t in the target audience for TV anymore, so there’s less on the dial that catches my interest.  I no longer watch the news.  There are still gems out there, and they’re available through “on-demand” sources that can be worked into any schedule.   Still, it’s enough to make us watch too much TV.

                I’m a collector of hobbies, meaning that I prefer doing things with my spare time other than staring at a TV.  That doesn’t mean I don’t watch the tube, but I have a rule.  I do my best to watch only when I’m doing something else.  I can cook, clean, work in the shop, drive, and handle similar mundane tasks with something on in the background, even if it's just listening to XM or a podcast.  This doesn’t apply to movie night with the bride or a solid first-run show, but it helps make the medicine go down.  With other options like audio books, there’s plenty of background chatter to keep awake on the interstate.

                YouTube has become it’s very own media platform.  Users establish their own channels, and viewers can subscribe and stay updated with episodes.  As soon as I dipped a toe into this world, I was hooked.  It has, without exaggeration, something for everyone, and a little time invested in learning the system will open the door to a valuable experience. I'm fortunate to have a couple of prolific YouTubers within my inner sanctum.

                I’m specifically pimping two channels because the owners of these channels send me into the video vortex.  Tim Kreitz of Tim Kreitz Adventures and Scott Green of Bonehead Guitars are both friends who share their interests in video for the world to see.  Tim is a motovlogger (MOTOrcycle Video bLOGGER) and Scott is a luthier, both of whom create episodes of their experiences and share in video.

                Motovlogging is popular now, and it’s nothing more than people taking video of themselves riding motorcycles.  It seems simple enough, but the themes vary. Tim combines a bit of everything and has drawn a crowd by visiting interesting sites around his west Texas home.  He's a professional musician, graphic artist and videographer, which is apparent in the production level of his motovlogs.  I’ve had the pleasure of appearing in a few of his episodes, which is always an honor.

                Scott Green started building guitars a few years ago, and is designs are being snatched up by local musicians.  I have the honor of owning the first solid-body electric design from his shop, which is a compact bass guitar.  He’s since produced guitars for other musicians, including Tim Kreitz.  Scott’s channel exemplifies what I love most about the YouTube world.  It’s honest, candid, and extremely real.  He doesn’t edit mistakes, bad ideas, shop disasters or failures.  You can watch as he finds solutions to problems, or tosses three digits worth of wood into a trash can.  After an episode or two on Bonehead Guitars, you’ll fast understand that Scott isn’t superhuman, he’s just dedicated.  His channel will inspire you to get off the sofa and create something.

                Both of these guys were fortunate enough to discover and use their own talents, and it’s very encouraging to watch them put their ability to sea.  Their channels are about accomplishing things that most only talk about.  Anyone can become a Tim or a Scott, all you have to do is watch and learn.  What they’re doing is attainable by anyone with an idea and the willingness to devote some time to it.  It’s inspired me to chop out a video or two, but I’m not willing to put in the time to match these guys in production level.  It’s been said that I should put some of my experiences on camera, and I’m willing to tinker with it.  I’ve landed a few views and it’s been fun.  The lower visual production value of channels like mine is a bonus because they’re easy to listen to while doing other things.  If you miss something, it’s only a click away from repeating.

                I’m footing this post with the latest editions of my two favorite YouTubers.  I’m also pimping my own channel, also named Matt’s World o’ Wonders, in the hopes that you’ll have a look at my subscriptions and get a feel for what’s out there.  

                As always, give a tip of the hat to your favorite YouTube vids by clicking "like" and subscribing.  You'll need an account, and that's quick and easy.  Having large numbers of subscribers opens doors for serious YouTubers, so please give them a little treat for their many hours of work.

Monday, March 14, 2016


A familiar look down Pennsylvania Ave.
     Sometime in the late 1980’s the executive producers  of  the TV show “Northern Exposure” scouted small towns around Seattle for a place to film what was slated as a summer replacement series.  The story was set in fictitious Cicely, Alaska.  Logistics prevented filming in Alaska, so they scouted the Seattle area for a suitable site.  After visiting a few other prospects, they got out of the car on Pennsylvania Avenue in Roslyn, Washington and declared their search over.  The replacement spot turned into six seasons of an unforgettable, timeless story.

The KBHR console.
     Around 1997, a few die-hard fans formed Moosefest, an occasional gathering of fans in Roslyn.  Sometimes the gatherings are formal, with visiting cast and production personnel, but other times it’s an informal gathering in Roslyn that meets up to visit film sites, restaurants, homes and watering holes in between.  My wife and I have wanted to attend for around a decade, but inevitable summer travel barriers and the sporadic frequency of the gatherings always stepped in.  Fortunately, the 2015 Moosefest was the 25th anniversary of the show and we were clear to attend.  We were off to Cicely for our first fan-fest of any kind.

     Roslyn seems larger than her on-screen character.  I’m always impressed with the artistry of cinema photography and the way it adjusts the illusion of size.  Maurice’s giant cabin really isn’t that large at all, and the most-used church building is only the size of a small house.  The childhood home that Maurice had shipped from Oklahoma is now a chicken coop, and the set-built church has been relocated to a residential block.  The Brick is a real bar, but is quite different on the inside.  The interior shots were all done on a sound stage.  The real Brick has a glass door, where the on-screen variant had two sets of solid doors to help with the transition between interior and exterior shots.  All of the main sets including Dr. Fleischman’s office, The Brick, Ruth-Anne’s store, and KBHR are located on the same street, just as in the story.

A relic outside the theater.
    The week of our visit was the last days for KBHR, the town’s radio station, to remain in her original location.  The building was purchased and is being developed, so the station is being preserved and moved next door.  The artistry of KBHR was where the details hit me.  The worn, tattered and dulled acoustic wall tile wasn’t worn, tattered and dulled, but carefully painted to appear so.  The microphone and boom weren’t scratched and worn from years of daily use, but it was carefully detailed by an artist to look as if it was.  Every detail was deliberate, even including cubby-holes to allow for various photography angles.  To spin the head further, there were duplicates of the KBHR and other elaborate sets in the sound stage in Redmond, WA.

     The event was a reunion for the cast and crew, and we ran into a gaggle of them at The Brick.  As a fan, it was a surreal moment to be bellied up to the bar at The Brick with Ed Chigliak and Maurice Minifield.  My bride and I both had some apprehension about visiting for fear that some of the mystique of the story would fade for us, but it was the opposite.  We put on DVD’s of the show while we unpacked at home and recalled all the spots we’d visited.
This is where Chris' bike took flight!

     We heard plenty of behind-the-scenes stories, like how a streaking incident resulted in the purchase of a new fire truck for Roslyn, an obstinate citizen who ran his chain saw in protest during filming, and all the challenges of shooting in Washington winters.  I’m more impressed with the show now that I understand all of the work that went into it.  It was certainly an unbelievable amount of work for everyone involved.

     We enjoyed four days of hanging with fans, cast, crew and locals and we made it home with some of the best photos we’ve ever taken, along with a couple of signed original scripts.  Had I paid more attention to the auction, I might have made it back with some original wardrobe.  It’s safe to say we enjoy the show now more than ever, and we look forward to a return trip to check out the many local hiking trails we discovered. 

     It wasn’t until Breaking Bad came along that I enjoyed a TV series as much as NYPD Blue or Northern Exposure.  My wife explains the appeal best; the combination of writing, acting and production actually take you to a place you want to be.  It’s an escape, and a little time among interesting friends.  We will continue to visit both Cicely and Roslyn.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Bliss Point Conspiracy

After years of torching conspiracy theories wherever they’re found, I hereby announce that I’ve found one.  It’s the real thing; it’s global, complete with government participation and a money trail.  It’s leaving a trail of dead bodies and the brainwashed masses are being herded to the slaughter.  It even has a symbol in the shape of a pyramid.

It’s our wheat and sugar based diet.

Look at the recommended intake for sugar on the nutrition information label on the first thing you can grab.  You’ll not find a percentage for sugar, because the government hasn’t made an official statement on how much sugar we need per day, which is 0.0. 

Here’s the thumbnail.  In an effort to curb heart disease, government health organizations decided that a low-fat diet was the best antidote.  Removing fats and/or their carriers removes flavor, so sugar was added.  Adding to this was the USDA’s “food pyramid” which directs us to consume up to a dozen servings of grains in the form of processed flour (bread, cereal, pasta, etc.)  Wheat, as we consume it today, not only metabolizes like sugar, but can stimulate opiate receptors and cause you to keep eating when you’re not hungry.  Anyone who's binged on a bag of Doritos understands this.
Food science has perfected the “bliss point,” or the point where effect of sweetness is maximized to boost flavor in processed foods.  I’ve never put sugar in my homemade salsa, but commercial variants contain a significant amount.  It’s everywhere, because if a maker doesn’t use it, their product won’t taste better than the competition and it will stay on the shelf.

Metabolic disease, diabetes, and obesity are higher than ever as we choke down the wheat and sugar.  We’ve created related scary stuff along the way, like gluten sensitivity and GMO terror, both of which are behind the science curve.  We’re giving our kids fruit juice and grain products, ensuring insulin issues from an early age.

The government won’t save us, because it’s a consumer-driven market and regulations are driven by lobbying.  We’re also a nation where people are free to eat whatever we want while our kids are given cheap, sugary, wheat-based food at government schools.

Drastically reducing wheat and sugar in my diet made a huge difference in my health.  After years of fighting weight, I finally reached my target numbers.  At 40 I was under my high school weight.  My hypoglycemia was instantly cured.  My strong physical condition helped me beat cancer, which was most likely developed before I made the change.  There’s no proof that a wheat/sugar diet caused my disease, but I’ll always be suspicious.

Correcting the problem isn’t about dieting to lose weight, it’s about changing everything you ever believed about nutrition.  Once you’ve crawled in this conspiracy basement, you’ll turn your suspicions on diet supplements, vitamins and “detox” products.  Welcome to the revolution.  Here’s your starter kit of reading material and documentaries:

*may be available on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Monday, November 23, 2015

MOvember II, Beating Cancer in a Manly Fashion

     Much of the patient-authored info floating around the net comes from our sister cancer warriors, and it seems that the boys are less likely to publish their thoughts.  Our wives and mothers know all too well how we handle being sick, so it's worth sharing some thoughts with the gents out there on how we get through this.  The points listed below are things that I was either told or should have been told, mostly from my medical team or survivors.  Getting through the initial stress of diagnosis was the least supported part of my treatment, but an experienced patient can nudge you in the right direction.  Wax the 'stache into some handlebars, pour a brandy, light off a good stogie and scroll on.  Here's how we beat cancer in a manly fashion.

Forget everything you ever knew about cancer, treatment, survival and how you expected to handle it.  If you thought you'd never seek treatment if diagnosed, or that treatment was pointless and everyone who gets it dies anyway, you're wrong.  Cancer and treatment are extremely complex, and the treatment between forms of the disease can be radically different.  Your will to keep walking on this planet will overpower your previous thoughts on dying with your boots on instead of seeking treatment.

You're not dead.  Not today.  Not tomorrow, either.  No matter how serious your case is, there is time.  It may sound ridiculous, but the stress at diagnosis feels like you're going to be executed at dawn.  Take a breath and read the next paragraph.

Prepare for the most intense stress of your life.  I dealt with some unbelievable mental pressure in my long law enforcement career, but the first couple of months after cancer diagnosis set the high mark.  It's time to clear the calendar and the mind, reduce your load and take any steps necessary to slow down and get a grip.  You'll stop sleeping. It's time for family, work and obligation to know that you're on the bench for now.  Your health must be the center of attention for a while.  The world will have to learn how to revolve around you for a bit.  Many head for the bottle or anti-depressants at this point, but I believe it's important to get through all of the stages of this hellish experience with as clear a head as possible to get it over with.  

Get off Google.  You want answers, so you'll become an online researcher.  It's a natural response, but results are hard to understand.  Survival charts can look pretty dismal, but they don't account for variations like age, existing health, treatment tolerance, genetic mutations, etc.  My favorite go-to place for information online is M.D Anderson's web site and COLONTOWN, a very closely moderated and secret Facebook page for survivors and caregivers.  Many people tend to fade from online forum communities after they are cured, but Facebook users stick around. "COLONTOWNies" are very helpful with new patients, and these sort of groups are extremely helpful and encouraging, and after a few weeks you'll understand what I mean about statistics. It takes some searching, but I guarantee there's something like it for whatever cancer you're facing.  You'll be very surprised at how many survivors are walking around disease free after beating aggressive forms of the disease.

Everything is slow.  Test results can take forever.  Appointments are days or weeks away.  Surgeries seem to be over the horizon.  It's not like a heart attack or a car crash.  Updates take a long time.  You'll feel like a shark, wanting to constantly move forward.  Be prepared and understand that the wait isn't killing your body, just your patience.  

Prepare for the reactions of other people.  This was the one I never saw coming.  Everyone around you will encounter stress over your cancer diagnosis, and their response may not be helpful.  It may even seem thoughtless or rude, or cause more stress.  The best defense is a buffer, a person willing to pass news and keep the load off the patient.  Others will have to understand that you're the center of the universe for now.  It's not a comfortable place to be, but it's necessary.  Make sure people understand what sort of interaction you need, and that needing to be alone to rest doesn't mean you have a pistol in your mouth.  Whether you need some space or some company, be honest to everyone around you. This is a great topic to share with other survivors.  

Understand "positive thinking."  We're warriors, fathers, fixers, teachers and leaders.  We're closer to reality and probability than the sending of good vibes.  Most thoughts will be pretty dark.  There's a lot of dread, ugliness and death around cancer, and positive thinking won't cure or prevent it.  Acknowledging the dark stuff is vitally important and a part of our thinking, but don't let go of anything that makes you happy and clears your head.  You'll need it.  If you're hounded about your dark thoughts, search hard for cracks of light to break the trend.  They're out there and will keep you sane.  

Don't be a jerk.  This is universal, old-fashioned good stuff from your dad here, but I've seen big, brawny guys act like bratty little kids in the chemo room.  This is where you "man up."  You'll feel like shit and be terrified, but don't take it out on anyone trying to take care of you.  Sometimes we have to be carried. Tighten up so you're easier to lift. If you're married, you'll understand why dealing with sickness is in the vows.  Treat your caregivers and supporters with the love and respect they're earning.

Dig in.  Treatment sucks.  It's painful and tiring.  It's frustrating because it eats your masculine fiber.  It does grow back, but it's slow.  Pull-starting a lawn mower or walking to the mailbox might be a "heavy" day for a while, but it's important to file that away as a healing evolution and be proud that you made it.  You'll get tired of sitting around being weak, but it will pass.  It sounds horribly cliche, but you have to be stronger than the disease.  Most importantly, listen to your care provider and do exactly what you're told.  If you go through chemotherapy, be prepared for temporary changes in mood and thought processes.  You'll likely be scatterbrained and emotional.  You may cry over chick flicks.  Really.

Beware the false prophets. You'll be amazed at the idiocy that people believe on the topic of cancer.  Don't discount valuable holistic and alternative treatments that help with your recovery and minimize side effects, but don't buy into the hype.  Your medical crew isn't out to suck money from you.  Saving your life is expensive and worth it.

Seek the best treatment possible.  Large cancer hospitals offer treatment may not be available in smaller cities.  That's not to say that physicians or treatment in other places is sub-par, but you'll find very specialized medicine in the bigger centers.  I received excellent care at my local center for chemo and radiation, but my surgery was handled by a specialist in a large center. The downside to big hospitals is that the cost of travel may be prohibitive for some.  There are charities and support groups for patients needing help with these extra expenses.  Please consider supporting them.

Do exactly as you're told.  Take notes, bring someone with a clear head to appointments,  read everything that's given to you, ask questions and follow directions. Know what you're supposed to do and follow every instruction.  Don't hide symptoms.  Most treatment centers offer an online log to write down notes as often as needed for your staff to monitor how you're doing.  Use it.  Feedback to your care team is critical.  Don't make someone have to tell your doctor how you're really doing.  This valuable advice saved me quite a bit of discomfort along the way.

Don't fear tough changes.  People have died because they feared life with a colostomy or similar life-changing mod to their factory gear.  I had an ileostomy (similar to a colostomy) for seven months, and it's not a big deal.  Colostomy bags and similar appliances come in cartoon character patterns for infants and children.  You can be as tough as them.  There's a reason you hear the word "life" before "limb." We're pretty resilient creatures and can adapt to just about anything.

Recovery feels strange.  Treatment is a battle.  It's a challenging, busy time.  When it's over, things are oddly quiet.  You're checked less and less often as you heal and beat the disease, and it feels very odd to not be under constant care.  It's tough to focus on rebuilding your health, but that's the goal.  Not only does restoring health seem to help prevent recurrence in some cases, it will be critical to survival should you have to fight again.  It may take years to feel completely normal again.  This is a great time to communicate with other survivors and keep your head straight.

When you're healed, give something back.  Be thankful and appreciative of your supporters and medical staff.  Help others.  Stay active in patient social media circles.  We always want to hear from survivors.  Volunteer at your local center.  Participate in fundraising and awareness.  Grow a goofy Victorian mustache and spam your friends with a blog.

Hopefully this is information that my growing reader base will never need.  Just about every survivor I've encountered is happy to discuss their treatment, especially the hacks that make it more tolerable.  We always look to veterans of the job at hand for pointers, and cancer is no different.  Never be afraid to ask for help.  It's out there.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

MOvember Message for Men

Movember/No-Shave-November is upon us.  It’s a great time to sport the monster “mo” to support a cause.  I’m sure there’s no shortage of charities happy to take money, but I’m using my magnificent handlebar creation for awareness.  I’m a colon cancer survivor.  What’s more, I’m the annoying diet/exercise guy who wouldn’t eat the office birthday cake and takes lunch at the gym.  In a 24 year police and military career, I’ve been subject to physical fitness tests and medical exams all my adult life.  My bride and I are solvent, young empty nesters who live mostly on home-cooked organic food.  I don’t have a family history of colon cancer.  I’m not a cigarette smoker or heavy drinker.  Statistically, I shouldn’t have cancer, but at 42 years old, I got the bad news.

I’m very often asked how I discovered the disease, and that’s an important part of my story.  I was passing blood.  In the vast majority of cases, that’s not a big deal.  It’s almost always attributed to hemorrhoids, which is the diagnosis given in my first doctor’s visit, without an exam.  I was given an expensive foam medication and sent home.  I returned a week or two later, insisting that I did not have any other symptoms supporting hemorrhoids and was still bleeding.  I was finally checked for ‘roids the “old fashioned” way and nothing was found.  I was referred to another doctor who insisted that I was “fine” before performing tests that discovered a tumor.  In further testing an unrelated tumor was found in my thyroid.

Otherwise, I felt fine.  I had recently made personal record length mountain climb and competed in the U.S. Fencing nationals.  I didn’t feel sick, but a year of treatment took care of that.  After radiation, chemotherapy and five surgical procedures, I’m currently cancer-free.  I’m not back to my original athletic levels, and that may never happen.  That’s one of the tick marks in the “sucks” category, but I’m alive and otherwise happy.  Whether or not I’ll stay that way for long is a complete crapshoot, but my cancer was discovered rather late (stage IIIc) which means that I most likely won’t have to deal with having gray hair. 

A number of reasons led me to be open about my experience, but the most outstanding was learning how many people lived with symptoms of the disease and never sought treatment.  Even more shocking is the number of people who sought treatment and were sent home with a non-life threatening diagnosis.  I was completely amazed by how many people asked detailed questions about the color, frequency and other characteristics about the bleeding because they were experiencing the same issues but wouldn’t see a doctor.  In a Reddit thread about assumptive behavior in medicine, I shared my story.  Here’s a response from someone appearing to be in medicine:   

  "A digital rectal exam can't diagnose colon cancer.  The vast majority of people who come in with bright red blood per rectum have hemorrhoids, it's not worthwhile to have them all undergo colonoscopies, plus if we did that, it would keep a lot of people from ever seeing the doctor." 

This person is right, but I have two issues with this.  First, my personal health concerns do not involve “the vast majority of people."  I’m all about the greater good at times, but this isn’t one of them.  Second, a digital rectal exam, in my case, excluded most hemorrhoid conditions and led to a colonoscopy.  Had I waited longer than a couple of weeks to press further, my life would have been shortened by many years, especially many good years.

Colon cancer isn’t just a man’s disease, but male survivors just aren’t as vocal as our fairer counterparts.  In honor of the No-Shave November theme, here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way for the midlife guys to squeeze a bit more juice out of life.  Gentlemen, I give you Matt’s MOvember Message for Men in a social-media listed format:

1.       Take charge of your healthcare.  You’re driving the boat.  Ask questions and make sure you understand everything. We’d all rather face a bear than deal with tough health issues.  We have to be emotionally courageous as well as physically.

2.       Take advantage of free screenings.  Blood drives, employee clinics and health fairs offer free screenings that may point out problems before they grow beyond control.

3.       Seek the best care.  We will drive hours for a good hunting lease, a new car or a concert.  Why not two hours for a specialist?   

4.       Don’t be cheap.  Yes, good healthcare is expensive and our system isn’t perfect.  Honest discussion with your provider will very often bring down the cost for a cash patient.  Much of the overhead in medical care is in the cost of dealing with insurance.  It never hurts to ask.

5.       Diet and exercise aren’t just buzzwords.  Yes, even athletic people with the perfect diet get cancer, but that’s not an excuse to live on potato chips and beer alone.  Facing the disease with a strong body significantly improves your survival because you can tolerate aggressive treatment and recover faster and stronger than most.  You don’t have to run marathons or Crossfit yourself to the orthopedic specialist.  Try walking for an hour.

6.       Don’t be afraid.  I have actually heard grown-ass men say that they won’t get any exam that involves butt stuff.  It’s time to grow up and get a camera poked up your arse.  Trust me, it’s better than the ass traffic involved in beating cancer.  If you get cancer, you’ll want to beat it.

7.       Don’t smoke.  Cigarettes will kill you.  

8.       Know your history.  Health problems are often hereditary, so start your prevention early.

9.       Easy on the booze.  Here’s another area where moderation makes the man.  If you have a problem, fix it.

10.   Your mind matters.  It’s time for us to realize that John Wayne was an actor, and just being tough all the time doesn’t fix everything.  It’s true that there’s a lot of hype and over-diagnosis in mental health issues, but depression, anxiety and similar issues are very common and will take a toll on physical health if not faced.  Grow a pair and face the demons.  Turn on the bullshit filter and turn off frustrating news feeds.  Whether it’s in a church, circle of friends or the middle of a lake, get your thoughts straight enough to sleep at night.

11.   Don’t discount “alternative” therapies.  Yoga, massage and chiropractic treatment will repair or prevent many problems before you take it to a specialist.  It’s not witchcraft.  Don’t be the guy in assless motorcycle chaps calling others “gay” for going to a yoga class.  Yoga guy is surrounded by women in tights.  Assless chaps guy is hanging out with other assless chaps guys.  Let that image sink in.

12.   Beware the snake oil.  I have had people look me straight in the eye and tell me that consuming some obscure fruit or baking soda will cure cancer.  Remember the red wine/resveratrol thing, and how great it is for your heart?  The damage caused by alcohol outweighs the benefit.  The bullshit tide rides high in health issues.

13.   Make time.  Take time for exercise and mental decompression.  You’re not abusing your kids by taking some “me” time and clearing the head.  You might accidentally teach your kids that everyone deserves a little space.

14.   Be safe.  Break out the safety glasses that came with your finish nailer.  They’re probably still in the wrapper.  Be safe in your work and play.  Injuries in the 40+ class will take you out of the game longer.

15.   Encourage your buddies.  Share success and lean on others to help with health goals.

Take care of the machine, gents!