Join The Choir
Reflecting on today, plotting tomorrow.
Love the ride
Set Your Heading


One Man’s Cancer Survival Story


To My Wife, Children, Family & Friends

 Who’ve Lived & Fought Alongside Me

 Every Day We’ve Been In



“I’m Sorry- It’s Cancer.”

     Those are words no one ever wants to hear.

  I know.

  I’ve heard them three times:

“It’s time to call Hospice”.

Been nearly written off twice.

     Every Cancer battle is intensely emotional, deeply personal, and indelibly unique.  I do not pretend to fully comprehend or appreciate the immense challenges others must face.

   Through these pages, however many in the end that may be, I can only share my own journey, offer hope & encouragement, continue fighting like hell, lend a shoulder to cry on, a warm blanket, a comfortable spot by my wood stove, my friendship, and prayer.


My Daily Prayer:

Thank You Lord

For Yesterday


And Each And Every Day Of Life



“Rangers Lead The Way”

United States Army Ranger School for me was a soul-searching quest. The “Black & Gold”, my “Tab”, hard earned, defines me. When the going gets rough, in those moments when God challenges me to search deep within my true self, through my Tab I find strength to persevere and drive on.

It reminds me what it is that I stand for.

Who I am.

Where I’ve been.

The “Ranger Handbook” guides my fight forward to where I must go.

The Ranger Tab is my talisman.

The Ranger Handbook, my manual.

My Ranger handbook, my Dog Tags, & my New Testament Bible
All 3 were & have been with me since Ranger School




“Roger’s Rangers were organized in 1756 by Major Robert Rogers, a native of New Hampshire, who recruited nine companies of American colonists to fight for the British during the French and Indian War.”

“His “Standing Orders” were written in the year 1759.”


1.  Don’t forget Nothing.

2.  Have your musket clean as a whistle, hatchet scoured, sixty rounds powder and ball, and be ready to march at a minute’s warning.

3.  When you’re on the march, act the way you would if you was sneaking up on a deer. See the enemy first.

4.  Tell the truth about what you see and what you do.  There is an Army depending on us for correct information.  You can lie all you please when you tell other folks about the Rangers, but don’t never lie to a Ranger or Officer.

5.  Don’t never take a chance you don’t have to.

6.   When you’re on the march we march in single file, far enough apart so one shot can’t go through two men.

7.  If we strike swamps or soft ground, we spread out abreast, so it’s hard to track us.

8.  When we march, we keep moving till dark, so as to give the enemy the least possible chance at us.

9.  When we camp, half the party stays awake while the other half sleeps.

10.  If we take prisoners, we keep ’em separate till we have had time to examine them, so they can’t cook up a story between them.

11.  Don’t ever march home the same way.  Take a different route so you won’t be ambushed.

12.  No matter whether we travel in big parties or little ones, each party has to keep a scout twenty yards ahead, twenty yards on each flank, and twenty yards in the rear, so the main body can’t be surprised and wiped out.

13.  Every night you’ll be told where to meet if surrounded by a superior force.

14.  Don’t sit down to eat without posting sentries.

15.  Don’t cross a river by a regular ford.

16.  If somebody’s trailing you, make a circle, come back onto your tracks, and ambush the folks that aim to ambush you.

17.  Don’t stand up when the enemy’s coming against you.  Kneel down, lie down, hide behind a tree.

18.  Let the enemy come till he’s almost close enough to touch.  Then let him have it and jump out and finish him up with your hatchet.

My Ranger Handbook, & my hatchet



     Summer- 2008.  I was in trouble.  I knew it.  The sore in my mouth just would NOT go away.  I tried everything- mouth rinses, every conceivable pharmacy remedy on the shelf. This was no canker sore. Nothing worked. Instead, it just kept getting worse. 

     I felt a slow wall of blackness envelop me-surround me.  I backed myself slowly into a corner, where my own walls of denial & magical thought met.

     Looking back- It’s easy now to second guess.

     “Denial?! – How could I DO that?”

     Once my subconscious stumbled into reality, once I was confronted by TRUTH- TRUTH called in reinforcements from its close ally – FEAR.

     TRUTH & FEAR- formidable opponents, especially when allied with CANCER in a full-frontal assault.

     Once subconsciously confronted, I pulled back and dug myself in, using DENIAL as a desperately mortal first line of defense.  As long as I denied it- it wasn’t real, just some bad dream.  One morning I’d awaken to find it had all just disappeared. 

    “Besides, I thought – I’ve already HAD cancer!” 



Magical Thinking…

“This happens to other people- not me.”

     So, I kept trying everything. Secretly hoping and praying. Silently continuing on with my life.    

 ***Flash Back***

     United State Army Ranger School-Frank D.  Merrill Mountain Ranger Camp- Dahlonega Georgia-Class 8-1989:

      My U.S. Army Ranger School Class started the Benning Phase nearly 450 strong.  A lot of good men pretty quickly washed out. Some, who were either badly injured or quit- got sent home.  Others were in “The Gulag” awaiting recycle, and another Ranger Tab shot.

     The rest of us were in Phase II: Mountain Ranger Camp- Platoon patrols, knot tying, rappelling, Mount Yona- another jump.

    I’d come to Ranger School prepared-The Combat Leader’s Course- four years “In”.  Schooled and mentored by those around me- Officers, NCOs, and my own men.

   But after a grueling Benning Phase of physical fitness tests, combat swim tests Day & Night Land navigation tests, timed forced marches and runs- my body was already run down.

     I’d weighed a rock hard 165 at the start, but after two weeks of training, my weight had dropped at least a good ten pounds.

    We’d been warned about foot care, minor wound care too.  As our bodies broke down, Cellulitis was a constant concern.

  I had two pair of combat boots- both well broken in.  I rotated to dry socks regularly, powdered my feet.  Most of us wore black leather gloves with the fingers cut out, protecting our hands.

     Despite my best efforts- the big toe on my left foot had somehow rubbed raw on the top.  My feet were constantly wet.  None of us had bathed in a week.

  We slept little, or not at all- except before a jump.  We were a winter class, so we got two MRE’s a day.  When in camp- we got blueberry pancakes for breakfast- but even that was not enough.  My body continued breaking down.  I kept losing weight.

     Certain tasks were required in order to successfully move on to the next phase.  One of them was knot tying.  Any Ranger Candidate who wanted to be successfully passed on to Florida Phase and the swamps- HAD to pass knot tying, or wash out, and head to the Gulag, or quit and go home.

     My “Ranger Buddy”- Ed, an Engineer Captain from Drum, and I had practiced our knots, Australian rappelled Mount Yona, and passed our patrols.  We were both ready.  All that was left was the knot tying test, one more jump.

     My foot kept getting worse.  My big toe was swollen, puss filled and red.  It looked bad.  It smelled even worse.

     Every morning, before new leaders got assigned for the next graded patrol- the medics would come through, to treat minor injuries and check feet.  I feared if they saw my left toe, I was done.

     So, Ed and I devised a plan.  Every morning, we gathered all our squad canteens.  When the medics came, I was gone. I’d head out on water detail.  Ed would vouch for me.  I did this for several days, dodging the medics, buying time until things got better, or I devised a better plan.  

     The infection kept spreading, my whole left foot swelled up and turned red.  I started feeling feverish, small red streaks began working their way up my calf towards my left knee.

     I was in trouble, I knew it.  But I’d seen the Gulag, and the men who’d washed out.  I pressed on.

    Then I caught a break.  We got scheduled to jump, which meant a return from patrol to the Ranger Camp, and a mandatory five hours of sleep.  One more jump, one last patrol, then the knot test finale. 

     The red streaks and swelling had progressed to my left knee.  I was feverish.  I could barely get my boot off, let alone walk.  When we got back to Ranger Camp, we got a break for chow, before lights out, the night before our next jump.

     After chow, instead of bedding down, I limped down to the aid station. I showed the Medic my foot.

     The Medic on duty was a Ranger/Special Forces dual tabbed Warrant Officer PA.  He took one look at my foot and said “Ranger: That’s it. You’re done.”

    I pled my case.  I don’t know why- but he listened.  That PA Warrant Officer agreed to give me one chance.

     “Okay Ranger.  Here’s some medicated powder, and some penicillin pills.  I’m admitting you to the sick bay overnight.  Powder your foot every hour, take the pills every two.”

     He drew a small circle with a pen on the top of my foot. 

   “If in the morning the infection has retreated to inside my mark- I’ll clear you for training and allow you to drive on.”  I took the pills, the powder, and climbed into bed. 

   There were other Ranger Candidates there. Most of them were asleep.  My body screamed “SLEEP!” too, but I knew if I did, I would never wake up to take the penicillin pills, or to powder my feet.  So, I stayed awake all night, while everyone else slept.

     In the morning, shortly before jump manifest, the PA returned.  He took my temperature, vitals, and looked at my foot.  I’m not sure who was more surprised- him or me. The swelling had gone down.  The red streaks had disappeared.  He gave me more pills & powder, then cleared me for training.

     I returned to my squad just in time to manifest and jump.  Ed & I completed our patrol, passed our knot tying test, and moved on to Phase III.”

***Flash Forward***     

     Late August- 2008:  In truth, I was frightened.  I felt cut off, surrounded, badly wounded, low on ammo, mentally fatigued.

    Cancer takes no prisoners.  It does not take turns.  Cancer envelopes all it touches in blackness.  Cancer seeks only death.

     Our kids. Our kids…. Chelsea, our oldest, was still only 15.  Abby was not yet a freshman.  My son RJ had just recently turned ten.

     The minute I surrendered to TRUTH- their whole world would change. Everything would become suddenly real. Their fight would begin.

Our kids- they were mere babies- noncombatants, innocent. They did not deserve this. Nor did my wife Robin. She did not deserve this TRUTH either. They did not deserve FEAR- but they all needed me.  

     So, I locked & loaded another magazine- backed further into my corner- kept blasting TRUTH & FEAR with bursts of denial & magical thought.

     But I knew… I knew…. time was running perilously short. I knew I had to step beyond FEAR- confront TRUTH.

     I knew I’d better call for a MEDEVAC soon- or I would start bleeding out.



“Just A Little Pinch Between the Cheek & The Gum”

Labor Day Weekend- 2008: The Monroe Clan congregated the same way we had for the past forty some years- over a smokey backyard barbeque pit, hand turning chicken splits, surrounded by family & friends.

      When old friends show up, it’s as if they never left.  Handshakes and hugs all around, that Genuine kind, that only true friends can give.  Conversations naturally pick up right wherever they last left off.

     Early birds who were “in the know” were treated to charcoal smoked lobsters and clams.  Everyone ate Mom’s deviled eggs. Women chatted and sipped wine. Men pitched horseshoes, cracked a few beers.  Robin & her Mom & my mom & my sister-in-law Patty were busy shucking corn, tossing salads, putting the finishing touches on snack trays & desserts. My Dad, brother Ray, & I manned all things grill. Everyone else lent a hand. 

      Kids drove the golf cart on the trails out back like it was an all-terrain vehicle.  When they got tired of doing that, they soaked in the hot tub or swam in the pool.  

     “The Monroe Chicken Barbeque” was a neighborhood event, every summer, in every town, where we ever lived.  

     I stood out behind our gazebo with Ray and Dad, over our signature concrete block pits.  Thirty-six blocks stacked three high in an overlapping rectangular pattern, just like Dad taught.  We had two sets of three grates.  Our vintage set, well cured after decades of baked in smoked drippings & sauce, had been hand welded by John Wamsganz from old truck grills in his garage shop up the street from our Stevenson Lane house back when the barbeques happened in Saranac Lake. John was standing there with us, like always.  His wife Claudia was there too.

     The second three grate set had been made by my father-in-Law, Jack Murphy, shortly after Robin & I were married.  We had just bought our house on Reasoner Road in Brownville.  The first thing I did when Robin & I moved in?  I paced off and drove horseshoe stakes- and stacked two barbeque pits.  Back then, in ’92, Dad still had his own pits.  He wasn’t about to surrender John’s grates.  So, Jack made mine.

     Why three grates?  Two on the pit, one to cover and flip every time chicken splits get a fresh 3rd generation “Cornell Sauce” paint and are ready to turn.  “Turning chickens” is an art. Every veteran Monroe Barbeque male is well versed. 

     Ray, Dad, John & I stood managing the charcoal fire, painting chickens, sipping beers, turning chickens, just like forever. I looked out across the yard.  What a great day.  We had assembled a pretty good crowd.

     It wasn’t just Labor Day Weekend; Chelsea, our oldest, had just turned 16.  We were celebrating that too. Abby was 14 at the time, RJ just 10.

     The chickens had been on for over two hours- one last paint, one more turn- almost done. I snuck a hot piece off one leg- just to taste.

     I winced unexpectedly – felt an odd burn in my mouth, like something just popped. I turned my head away, dabbed my lips with a napkin.  It came away stained with blood.

     I turned grate duty over to Raymond & Dad, looked around the yard at my family and friends one more time, excused myself quietly, and walked to the house.  Truth had just opened fire.  Fear reinforced Truth’s right flank.

  I’d just spent my ammo.  I was now on the run.


Jamestown, NY- circa 1968: We were visiting my aunt & uncle’s house on Marlow Road, in, like we did every year.  Aunt Lois was my mom’s older sister.  My Grampa Guichard lived with them.  He grew up in that area as a kid.  The story is that he dated Lucille Ball at some point growing up.  It’s a fun family legend.  I don’t know if it’s true.

      My Uncle Tony was Italian.  Every Friday night was spaghetti, family style.  A big pasta platter, homemade meatballs, sausage, one hardboiled egg in the sauce.  The grown-ups always argued good naturedly over who got the egg.  Traditions are funny.  Still to this day- one hardboiled egg in the sauce.  Well, okay- sometimes these days we might cheat and add two.

      My Mom, Aunt & my Grampa would sit around the kitchen table after dinner, get out YAHTSEE scorecards, hand sharpened pencils, five dice in a cup.  They’d shake dice & play YAHTSEE. The competition could get pretty intense. Still, occasionally I was allowed to play too.

        My Grampa Guichard would shake the dice and roll them out, three times, from the cup.  “Grumble- Grumble- Grumble,” He’d mutter, counting his score.

      “Another Fifteen for CHANCE. “He’d enter his score on the pad.

     He’d then reach into his breast pocket, pull out a small silver topped tin.  He’d pop the lid, take a small pinch between his finger and thumb, slide it neatly between lip and gum. He’d snap the lid back on the tin, stick it back in his shirt pocket, return to the dice.

    He’d grumble again:  

    “Find yourself a rich girl.” He’d tell me.

   “Love’s overrated.  Marry for money.”

   “An’ don’t take no wooden nickels.”

  Then he’d pass me the dice.


     I walked into the bathroom, closed the door, opened my mouth, stared into the mirror.  Fear jolted me like a lightning bolt.  There was blood.  This was bad.

    “What Now, Ranger?”  I asked my reflection.  I was 44 years old. A Wife who I loved very much, a home & mortgage, two car payments, a dog & three kids.

     I cried silently for a moment, took a deep breath, dried my tears. 

     “Deal with this later, Ranger.  Not right now. Get through the holiday weekend first.  Help Robin get the kids back to school.”

     I triaged as best as I could, cleaned the blood from the sink. I went back outside to the barbeque pit.

   “Ready yet?”  I asked.

    Dad reached in and tried to turn a leg bone.

    “Just about. Paint ’em up one more time and give them a turn.”

     I popped another beer and called out to Chels. 

     “Go ask your mother how long till corn & salt potatoes are ready- chicken’s almost done.”

     “Abby & RJ! Help your mother carry stuff out.  Start rounding folks up- Chicken’s on! Time to eat!”

     Chickens came off.  Food came out.  Guests filled their plates.  I looked around the yard at my family and friends.

     That vinegary Cornell sauce burned the wound inside my mouth as I chewed.   I winced.

     “Don’t look now Ranger. Life as you know it is about to get real.”

    I washed away the sting and the thought with another cold beer.

     I looked around the table, chatted with family, neighbors and friends. Everyone loved our Monroe chicken.  The barbeque meal, as they all were, was a big success.

          We’ve had many great chicken barbeques since.  But as things would turn out, that was the last time I ever tasted Monroe Cornell Sauce chicken.



 SLHS Varsity Baseball Field- Spring 1981:   It was my Senior year of high school. I had finally made the varsity baseball team, as a pitcher, after three years of getting cut and running track.

     I was sitting in the bullpen with the other relief pitchers while we played a home game.  The kid sitting next to me, Roger, pulled a pouch from his pocket.

   “RED MAN TOBACCO” it said.  It had big green and red letters and an image of a Native American in bright colors on the side.

     “Hey Dick, want some chew?”

      He stuck a wad in his cheek, then held out the bag.  I did the same.  We both sat there in the bullpen the rest of the game, with big wads of chew in our cheek, trying not to turn green.  Good thing I wasn’t called on to pitch that day.  I got pretty queasy and felt a bit sick.

    “Hey!” I thought-All the Big Leaguers did it.

      So, I sat there in the bullpen, the rest of that season.  Every time Roger pulled out that pouch, I put a wad in my cheek.  I didn’t pitch much that year- but by the time graduated day came, I’d gotten in a lot of bullpen sessions learning to chew without feeling so sick.

    Shortly after graduation, I got a seasonal job as a Laborer with the DEC.  I worked at Meadowbrook Campground, in Ray Brook.

   “Jake” was the Caretaker there. Another SLHS Grad named Dan, a couple of years older than me, worked there as a Laborer too. 

   I walked into the Caretaker’s cabin my first day on the job. 

“Jake” had two questions:

 “Do you know how to drive a stick?”


“Don’t worry.  Dan’ll teach you on the DEC mini-dump.”

The he pulled out a vaguely familiar silver tin and a pouch-


” Dan won’t go COPE.  I do both.”


U.S. Army Ranger School, Fort Benning, Georgia – March,1989

Eglin Air Force Base, Florida Phase:     Five weeks in, waist deep in Florida’s Everglade Cypress Swamps.  We got one or two MRE’s per day, depending on weather and our resupply drop.  I had lost more than twenty pounds.

     Mail call came every day or two, during morning formation. Robin & I were dating but weren’t engaged yet. She & I exchanged letters. We both had relationship decisions to make.

   My Sister-in-Law Patty & my mom sent me letters & cookie filled “care packages”. When those boxes showed up, Ranger Candidates had two choices:

Choice #1: Leave them in the mail room, sealed, until the end of the course.

Choice #2: Open any mail or care packages there in formation, in front of the “RI’s” (Ranger Instructors).

     If we picked Choice #2, any contraband, “Pogi Bait”- meaning food of any kind, was confiscated on the spot.

   We could keep Cigarettes, Chewing tobacco, and gum.  Ranger candidates didn’t eat or sleep, but we could have all the tobacco and cigarettes that we wanted.

     I chose Option 1 and went the rest of the way on MRE instant coffee, Copenhagen, and gum.

     By the time I survived Desert Phase, finished Ranger School training and graduated four long weeks later, I weighed in at a gaunt 125.

  Little did I know that twenty years later, once again with Copenhagen’s help, I would be headed there once again.


     Labor Day was behind us, Chelsea’s 16th birthday too. Any remaining Monroe chicken barbeque vestiges had been cleaned up.

     Backpacks, school clothes, pencils & pens and supplies were on hand.  Lunch money got budgeted, sports physicals done, practice schedules posted, transport plans coordinated.  Another General Brown school year was upon us.  We were ready.

     Chelsea was entering her junior year. Abby was a freshman.  RJ was in 4th grade at Glen Park Elementary.

      Robin & I hugged the kids and got them off to school.  I was restless.  The bleeding had stopped, but my mouth still hurt.  I took a deep breath, walked down to the bedroom- called to Robin.

      “Okay Ranger.”  I said to myself. 

      “This is it.  Now or never.”

      “It’s time.”

     Robin walked down to the bedroom.  I sighed several times.

     “What’s wrong?” She asked.

      “I’ve got a problem.”  I opened my mouth.

     “How long has this been going on?”

     “I don’t know.”  I responded.

     “A couple months, maybe more.”

     “Hun, this looks bad. Why didn’t you say something to me sooner?!”

     “I don’t know.  I’m sorry.  At first, I thought it was a canker sore.  Then I was scared.”

     I had called in a MEDEVAC.  Popped smoke. Robin was on site.  She assumed Command. I was no longer in charge.

     We went directly to “Urgent Care”.  The PA took one look, made one phone call.  We were off to the hospital, to Dr Chuang, an Ear/Nose/Throat specialist.

     “Mr. Monroe- I won’t know for certain until we run some tests- but in my opinion, this appears to be a tumor.  We need to schedule you for some blood work, an MRI, and a series of tests.”

     That was it.  My private battle with truth was over.  Robin & I had joined forces.

     Our cancer war had begun.





JUNE 1988

Paragraph 1-2 (excerpt):

“Successful conduct of a mission is the end result of thorough planning, preparation, and the efforts of every unit member directed towards the accomplishment of the mission.”


“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

Sun Tzu

“The Art of War”





Early September 2008:

      Robin and I returned home from Dr. Chuang’s office after I received the first of what would become many uncomfortably invasive oral exams, had some blood drawn, was referred out and scheduled for a bevy of tests.  We stood quietly in our kitchen, both in a state of up to that point what we thought was exhaustion.  In a state of mental shell shock.

     Robin worked.  I worked.  The kids were in school.  Abby played JV soccer.  Chelsea was trying her hand at Varsity tennis.  RJ was a proud Dexter Lion’s Pop Warner Football “Mighty Mite”.  We were at the tail end of an intense ten-year family martial arts Taekwondo journey.  Both girls played travel league softball on top of all that.  Our plate was more than quite full.  A typical 21st Century family with three active kids’ life.

     Robin & I gazed out the kitchen window telepathically sharing one dark, silent thought:    

“Okay.  What now?”

      We had no road map for this.  There were no battle plans.  We agreed on one thing.  We would keep things quiet, between the two of us, for a moment.  No need getting folks overly worked up.  At least not until we had more information.  Not until we had a clearer direction, a few answers, at least the outline of some sort of plan. Before upending our whole family’s world.  Before sharing all of our fears with our parents.  Especially before we broke any news to our kids.

     So, we agreed, for the time being.  Keep things inside the two of us for now.  Say nothing, pretend life was normal while I underwent a few tests.

     “For Better, For Worse, In Sickness and in Health” was our wedding vow.

  Silence, for the moment, was our mutual pact.

      September flew by.  I drank liquid chalk.  Got shot up with dye.  Medical technicians blasted me with x- rays, CAT scans, PET scans, upper GI’s.   I lay for what seemed like hours in humming MRI tubes.  Then when all that was done, someone would invariably come in, draw yet more blood, or stick another probe down my throat.  Endless tests, sent out for results.  Life was unfolding nightmarishly slow motion fast.

     I continued to work but took a lot of time off.  It was becoming more and more painful to eat.  I altered my diet, ate a lot of soft foods.  I began avoiding the spicy stuff, anything I had to chew very hard- all things steak.  Quietly altering my eating habits was hard enough.   I had a big appetite.  I liked to eat.  Never in my life had I needed help finding my way to the chow line.  As anyone who remembers the “Me” that I was back then can attest.

   The hardest fight though, was kicking that “COPE”.  That black death in a can.  I wrestled hard with that awhile, tried all the tricks.  None of them worked.  That nicotine pull was just wicked way strong.

    Finally, one day I just looked in the mirror, said to myself, “Ranger- If you’re gonna do this right- there’s only one way.”

      I dumped my last tin of COPE down the toilet, walked away from my 28-year nicotine fox hole companion.  I was determined to win my own private internal COPE battle.

      The only way, I realized at that point, to take the fight to my real enemy, CANCER, was to cut off its ally.  So, in late September 2008 that’s what I did.  I flipped the switch, went full auto.  I dumped my last can of COPENHAGEN SNUFF down the toilet.  I had taken my last dip, my last pinch between cheek and gum.  I defeated my own personal Benedict Arnold. I had bought my last tin. 

      I wondered then- I still to this day wonder now, had I somehow been betrayed by those I admired, looked up to, trusted and loved?  My Major League heroes. My backwoods upbringing?  My Grandfather’s shirt pocket snuff tin?  My Ranger School “Ruck up & move out-you’ll get to eat after graduation” tab pursuit friend?

      Had they all just killed me?  Had I been walking through a time released ambush all along???

Had I just killed myself???!!!

     We didn’t have answers.  Then Dr.Chuang’s office called.  Tests results had come in.  Robin & I scheduled an appointment.  I had been on this road once before.  We would soon enough find out……..


United States Air Force Academy

26th U.S. National Taekwondo Championships

Colorado Springs, Colorado

May 13, 2000

     There I stood, in the ring, U.S. Taekwondo Senior Nationals, facing off against my opponent – Montana’s Senior Blue Belt State Champion.  I guessed he went about 210, Six foot two, hair to his shoulders, missing one tooth.  I mentally named him “Montana Jack”.

    I was New York State’s Senior Heavyweight Blue Belt State Champion.  I’d fought my way through club fights across New York to get there- won twice in the State championship tournament.  I weighed in at 185, right at the bottom of New York’s heavyweight class.  That gold medal was my ticket to Nationals.

    When I got to Colorado though- I encountered a problem.  The weight classes for Nationals upshifted one pound from States.  Heavyweight started at 186.  I was suddenly reclassified middleweight.  There were no senior blue belt Middleweights registered to fight at the U.S. Senior Nationals.  The awards committee informed me after opening ceremonies.

      “Congratulations Mr. Monroe.  You are the 2000 U.S.  National Senior Blue Belt Middleweight Champion. No one else made the trip.  Here’s Your Gold medal.  You win by default.” 

     That’s no lie-“You could look it up”, as they say.   That medal still hangs at home on my wall.

     But I didn’t fly all the way out to Colorado to win by default.  That gold medal was cool but meant little to me.  I had come there to fight.  I pled my case to the Black Belt Committee, respectfully requested that they move me up.  A Black Belt judge from New York who was there pulled a few strings. The Black Belt Committee took the matter under review.  They reached a decision. They would recognize my New York State Heavy Weight Division Gold Medal. I moved up.

     So, there I stood, in the ring, facing off against ” Montana Jack”.  I consistently fought guys a lot bigger than me.  6’2″, sometimes taller- “heavyweight” was an open weight class that every man over 185 fell within.  The biggest guy I ever fought went about 250, I’d guess.  Two of me just about equaled one him.

     Olympic style tournament Taekwondo is at its base a pure points game.  One point for a scored body shot.  Two points to the head.  Round lengths and times varied by tournament.  Three five-minute rounds at the Nationals.  That’s a long time in the ring.  Anyone doubts that- gear up and try it. Especially at altitude in Colorado, where the air is just plain thin.  I arrived a week early to train, acclimate myself, before my first fight.

         We fought bare fisted & barefoot, protected with simple foam head gear, chest protectors, padded forearm and shin pads, all fighters were required to wear mouth guards.  “Montana Jack” must have forgotten his at some point. Any man with half a brain in his head wore a cup.

      Kicks were legal to the chest, head and face. The back & lower legs were off limits, no elbows, no grappling, no face punching allowed. Fighters weren’t allowed to kick an opponent who had fallen to the ground. 

     Four corner judges scored each match. There was one referee.  Fighters entered the ring with their coach, who sat, centered, barking instructions from ring’s edge.

     Tie scores were decided by simple vote of the judges, based on aggressiveness and overall strike effectiveness.

     “Don’t leave a decision in the judges’ hands,” was the best pre- fight advice any coach worth their salt could give.

   I was ready.  Our Taekwondo school back in New York had “fight night” every Friday, in our school’s downtown Dojo, back on State Street in Watertown. Anyone with a belt and a desire to fight showed up, donned their gear.  We fought “round robin” till everyone had enough. Sometimes “Friday night fight night” would run pretty late.  There was frequently blood.  Sometimes fighters got hurt.

     I ‘d fought several club tournaments too, before States.  I was something like 13-2 when I entered that Air Force School ring.  I’d fought my way there, weathered a broken nose along the way, a crack left wrist, two cracked ribs.  I took a spinning heel kick to my back in one fight, dusted two vertebral transverse processes on my lower spine.  An against the rules shot, but it’s martial arts fighting- sometimes stuff just happens.  I worked standing up for two months after that. Kept fighting though. Broke most of my fingers. Nearly all of my toes.

    Fact is- I was a damned good club fighter.  I was mean in the ring. I enjoyed stalking an opponent, embraced giving and receiving the pain.  I didn’t fear blood.  Once I entered the ring- game on.  My opponent had made a bad choice.  He was in MY ring now.  I enjoyed the hunt.

     When I was teaching other students to fight, I would tell them “Blood on your uniform is a good thing- that’s your opponent’s.  Blood on their uniform…don’t look down.  That’s most likely your own.”

     Olympic style Taekwondo is a points game.  It’s all strategy, patience, timing and space-

   “Managing time to create space for a point scoring strike.”

   A fighter needed only one more scored strike than their opponent to win.

  I liked to fight. 

I fought to win.


     My first true encounter with hand-to-hand combat had been years earlier, at Fort Huachuca, Arizona- The Military Intelligence Officer’s Basic Course- in an undisclosed field, out of sight of the billets.

   We had an old war hardened Special Forces/Ranger dual tabbed combat vet as one of our instructors.  He was a Major. He enjoyed taking a few willing Lieutenants out back and throwing us around after class, showing us a bit of “what’s what”.

   He’d take us on one by one- teach us basic Judo throws, basic self-defense techniques & tactics, what real pain felt like- what it REALLY meant to get mean- how to put your man down.

      I learned a few things from that Major.  He’d say “Don’t watch their eyes.  Find a focus point.  Watch their hips.  Keep everything else in your peripheral vision.  Watch their hips-It all happens from there.  Everything else is a distraction, a feint.”


    Those Huachuca lessons served me well later- Fort Benning, Georgia – Ranger School – midnight- spotlights glaring- bullhorns blaring- Ranger Instructors banging batons on garbage can lids.  Marching exhausted Ranger Candidates out to the field…. sand filled hand to hand combat pits in the middle of the night…….


Those Ranger Instructors would megaphone yell:


We’d shout in unified darkness at the top of our lungs.

     Then we’d enter the hand-to-hand combat pits. They’d hand us a practice knife or bayonet and teach us to fight.  If a Ranger Instructor thought you were doggin’ in there- not kickin’ or throwin’ your training partner hard enough- that Ranger Instructor was liable to kick you himself.

      A lot of Ranger candidates got hurt in those rings.  They went to the Gulag.   The ones who survived that training learned how to fight.

         To this day, when I hold a good fightin’ knife in my hand, I can feel my pulse race a bit- hear those voices whisper in the back of my head….

“What’s the Spirit of Hand to Hand….”

     The Army is good at taking men to where they need them to be in order to do soldier’s work.  Once there though, soldiers are left pretty much on their own.  Every soldier has to find within himself his own mental way home.

  No compass.

  No map.

 Some never do. 


       But back forward to 2000:  I wasn’t fighting hand to hand with a knife. This was Olympic style Taekwondo, civilian style, in a United States Air Force stadium sized gym.

     I had four main weapons in my Taekwondo arsenal – First, I pounded my opponent’s midsection with roundhouse kicks and back kicks.

    A Master Instructor who once watched me told his fighters: “Watch out for this guy. He’s got a heavy leg.”  Translation “This Dude kicks real hard.”

    I was quicker than most guys bigger than me.  Ever watch two blackbirds fighting a crow? That was my biggest advantage.  I was the blackbird, in the ring, fighting crows.

      I’d slip inside, so my always bigger opponents were suddenly up close jammed, unable to unwind a long-legged kick. I’d land a nasty right-handed punch, right on a thinly padded spot on the shoulder of their chest protector, right on the collar bone, right next to their face.  Then I used a head high inside crescent kick to introduce my heel to their head.  Then as quick as I slipped in, I’d slip right back out.

     It was an effective combination. If the roundhouse didn’t score- the back kick usually did. The punch never scored any points. It wasn’t meant to.  It was my intimidator, designed to earn my opponent’s respect, give me just that split second time and space I needed for point scoring kicks.

    My inside crescent kick was the deal breaker though.  Guys six foot two just aren’t used to getting kicked upside the head. Makes them go a bit crazy, takes them out of their game.  Happened time and again.  Slide in, turn their helmet ear hole into an eye hole with my big toe- introduce my heel to their nose- watch them go crazy – spin quick – back kick them hard with my heel, just below the bottom ribs.   They were done breathin’ good for a while.  Fight over.  I won.

     But “Montana Jack” fought just like he looked- lean, mean and hard. He was quick too.  I eluded his reach.  He never let me inside. We fought three rounds to a scoreless draw.  Judge’s decision.  “Montana Jack” got the call.   

     I returned to New York, hung my middle weight “Gold Medal” on the wall.  Went back to training, through Blue Belt, through Red Belt, getting ready for Black…

   I won a NYS Silver Medal fighting in Albany’s Pepsi Arena the next year.  Went back to U.S. Senior Nationals again, fought at the Convention Center in Cleveland.

Robin went with me this time.  We went to a Cleveland Indians game, toured the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  I lost again that 2nd year in Cleveland, 5-1. After that, I began doing more instructing, less fighting.

      I finished my “career” 24-4.  4-1 as a Black Belt in the ring. But by that time, I was nearly 40 years old. Tournament fighting became more work and less fun.   I never returned to the States or the Nationals.  For all intents and purposes, after Cleveland, I hung up my gear.

     I was a damned good club fighter though, in my time.   I just couldn’t compete at the national level against six foot two fighters who were quick, mean & good. Just as well, as it turned out.  I’d need all my stamina. My biggest fights still lied ahead.


     December 2001, Watertown, New York.  I was preparing for Black Belt.  Our oldest daughter Chelsea was too.  She was no slouch in the ring either.  Chelsea had won a bronze medal at Junior Nationals herself.  Fought a girl from Alaska in a ring set up on the Minnesota Twins outfield turf.  We’d come up through the ranks together.

   Our whole family took classes and fought.  All our family did at that point was go to school, work, train and fight. Taekwondo was our together thing. 

     As black belt test day neared, I started feeling really tired, wiped out, lethargic.  I couldn’t find any energy.  Something was wrong.  All my body wanted was sleep.

      Then I felt the lump.

      Black Belt testing day was upon us. A three year together journey for Chelsea and I. I’d seen so many others get to that moment and then for whatever life reason, let it escape and slip by.  Chelsea and I tested for Black Belt.  We both passed.

    I went to see the Urologist.  It was cancer, a tumor. Simple surgery, some precautionary radiation treatments as a follow up.

    I was a Black Belt, but I’d lost my right nut.


“I’m Sorry.  It’s Cancer.”

       Early October 2008:   Robin and I sat nervously in Dr. Chuang’s office at Samaritan Medical Center. My name got called.  We walked into the exam room and sat down.  Dr. Chuang walked in.

    “Mr. Monroe, your test results came back.”

    “I’m sorry.  It’s cancer.”

     Squamous Cell Carcinoma.  Late Stage Two.”

      “How bad is it, Dr.?”

     “What does that mean?”

     “It means that you have Stage Two squamous cell cancer of the tongue.  These tumors are aggressive.  Basically, there are two treatment options: Radical surgery, or a course of chemotherapy and radiation.  Choose to do nothing- in six months you’ll be dead.”

     Dr. Chuang described the surgery option in graphic detail.  “Salvage surgery”, they called it.  I’d lose my lower jaw and my tongue, be fed through a tube for the rest of my life, never eat by mouth or speak again. Two-year survival rates: well under fifty percent.

       The stark reality of that washed through me, swept me away.  My options seemed grim:  Continue to exist maybe two years as some mute tube fed Frankenstein freak show- or be dead in six months.  Those were two choices.  There was a third:

       “What’s the chemotherapy & radiation option look like?” I asked.

      “Three rounds of chemo. Each a week long.  That gets followed up by a long series of intense radiation treatments. No guarantees of success.  This course of treatment can only be done once.  If it doesn’t succeed in eradicating the tumor, the radiation treatments can’t be repeated. At that point it’s surgery or death. But you must decide now.  We are running a bit short on time.  We need to move fast.”

   Robin and I looked at each other.

   Robin asked:  “Can chemo and radiation be done locally?”

     Dr. Chuang answered “Yes. Do you need a few days to think about it?”

     Robin and I looked at each other again.  She squeezed my hand.

     “What do you want to do Hun?  Do you want a little time to think?”

     I shook my head.

    “No.  I have no interest in living like some freak.  We can’t afford dead.  Schedule me an appointment, Doc.  I’ll do the chemo and radiation. It’s at least worth a shot.”

     “Ok Ranger.”  I thought to myself.

     “Fight’s on.  Time to gear up.”




June 1988

Para. 5-3 Ambush Operations (excerpt):

 “An ambush is a surprise attack from a concealed position

 to assault and destroy a target or attack it by fire only.

 The unit does not seize and hold terrain; it just kills the enemy.”


“A Good Plan Violently Executed Now

Is Better Than A Perfect Plan Executed Next Week”

George S. Patton



#2:  “Have Your Musket Clean as a Whistle,

 Hatchet Scoured, Sixty Rounds Powder and Ball,

 And Be Ready to March at a Minute’s Warning.”  


Assembling The Troops

It was pretty clear to Robin & I at that point.

 Before things went any further, we had to tell our parents,

 our family, my employer…. our three kids.

There were hugs, some tears.  The news shook Dad especially hard.

 Everyone was supportive.

The kids, at least visibly, handled the news surprisingly well.

 We were ready. Our team stood united. 

It was time.


 OCTOBER 13, 2008:     Robin & I had just September celebrated eighteen years married.  We had about the same left on our mortgage – two car payments – three kids in school.  Chelsea was sixteen, Abby two years younger, RJ just ten. College tuition for all three lay ahead.

      Robin had a well-established career at the hospital.  She worked maternity, Labor & Delivery, a highly respected RN.

      Charge Nurse??  My wife most certainly was.  As every new Doc on Samaritan Medical Center’s maternity floor quickly discovered.  As all of Robin’s fellow RNs and patients would wholeheartedly attest.

   I had somehow found my way to Social Services.  Or maybe it found me. Child Protective Investigator/ Senior Foster Care Caseworker for Jefferson County, seventeen years in.  It was not a career I would ever have envisioned for myself – north country boy, former military man.  But after leaving the service, two simple facts set my path.  I scored well on the Civil Service Exam. I needed a job.

     Casework was a transformational experience for me.  Child Abuse – Domestic Violence – Mental Health Issues – Alcohol & Drug Abuse – Squalor.  They surround us.  Want to hear a child’s silent plea for help?  Listen closely- there’s one crying right now, just down the street.  I could devote an entire book to those tears.  Maybe once I get this day written, I will.        

       My war time service did not count towards NYS retirement.  I was in the wrong line of fire.  Military service credit application – DENIED!  Seasonal college employment as a DEC high peaks trail hand could be bought back, however.  So, I did.

      I was CSEA Union President.  A full-time job all its own.  650 Union members – contract negotiations – employees’ rights issues – nasty legislative battles – newspaper headlines. Why did I take on that cause?  I’m not certain.  Someone had to.  Duty called.  I made many enemies in that role.  Formed some alliances. Made few friends.  All for no pay.

      Robin & I had good health insurance coverage, life insurance policies, no cash to speak of, two 401(k) type plans. Retirement for either of us meant at least another twelve years.  We had just recently updated our wills.

     These were the things occupying my mind as I blew out the candles and folks sang.

     It was my birthday.  I had just turned 45.


     North Country Oncology – Mid October:

     Robin and I sat once again in a waiting room.  Our new routine.  Neither of us really knew what to expect.  We had Dr. Chuang’s diagnosis, some online research, my test results, that was it.

     Pain was constant.  I had never felt anything remotely akin.  It was as if someone was sledgehammer driving a spike through my skull, every heartbeat, every swallow.  It took my breath, knocked my feet from beneath me, tore me down.  I eagerly devoured any pain med any doctor would prescribe, struggled to chew solid food.  I began losing weight. I stumbled through days half lost, half broken, half stoned.  Robin was my guiding force.  Our kids were my light.

     The receptionist called my name.  Robin squeezed my hand.

    “Come On Hun. It’s our turn.  Let’s go.”

     We entered another exam room and sat once again.  A nurse documented my weight, pressures, drew more blood.  Then the Oncologist, Dr. Poggi, walked in, with my chart.

     I liked him immediately.  He was straight forward in an authentically gentle north country way.  I knew two things from the moment I met him. He knew exactly what he was doing.  He sincerely cared.  I also realized at that moment, that Dr. Poggi held my life in his hands.

     Dr.  Poggi outlined my prescribed course of treatment.  I would receive induction chemotherapy, cisplatin/docetaxel/Flourouracil, a three-drug cocktail, intravenously, in three one-week cycles.  This would be administered at their office, each week of therapy separated by a recovery week.  Six weeks total. That was the Phase One Plan of Attack.

     Phase Two: A course of concurrent chemo/radiation therapy with cisplatin, also done locally. Dr. Poggi explained that this was a proven course of oral cancer treatment.  Our best chance for success. My treatments would begin in two weeks.

     “So, his prognosis is good?” Robin asked.

     “Yes. Two-year survival rates are over 97 percent.”  Dr. Poggi replied.

     That’s when it hit me.  I felt time collapse.  Life up to then measured in decades, would now be measured in years.

     Dr. Poggi continued:

     “Before we begin treatment, we will need to schedule Richard for surgery to implant an “Infusaport.”  It’s a device that allows chemotherapy treatments without an IV.  It’s an outpatient procedure, fairly routine.  The good news is- once implanted, no more needle sticks, we can use it to draw blood too.

     At some point, before radiation treatments begin, we’ll likely have to make arrangements for him to have a feeding tube implanted as well.  But for now, the infusaport will suffice.  Dr. Kimball is your General Surgeon?  He can implant the port.  We ‘ll contact his office and set things up.”     

     Dr Poggi asked, “Any more questions?  How’s your pain.”

     I hesitated.  Robin spoke up.

     “His pain is constant.  He doesn’t sleep.  He can’t eat.  He needs something more.”

     Dr. Poggi hand wrote several prescriptions on a pad.

     He handed them to Robin.

     “Here. Start with these.  Pain management is critical.  If his pain levels spike, call my office.   We’ll up the dose.”

Robin examined the scripts, nodding.

     Dr. Poggi rose, shook my hand and said,

     “Well Richard, get some rest, stay hydrated, make sure you eat.  Call the office if anything changes.  Otherwise, we will see you in two weeks.”


     Dr.  Kimball’s office called to set an infusaport date.  I continued working.  My Supervisor, Wendy, & our DSS Commissioner, Laura, were nothing short of fantastic.  They adjusted my workload responsibilities.  They allowed me to manage my comp/vacation/sick time as needed.   They authorized half days, work from home, allowed flexible hours.  I was Union President; I knew.  Those things were not covered in our contract.  Those were things they did not have to do.  

     Robin & I occupied our minds with the kids.  Their lives were our outlet, our refuge, our relief.  RJ was playing Dexter “Mighty Mites” football.  A new venture for him.  He loved it.  He was an offensive lineman and on special teams.  Most of his friends at school played.

       The “Mighty Mite” Dexter Lions was a huge team.  There were “minimum play” rules ensuring every kid played. A parent kept a tally sheet to track each kid’s plays, every game, for each team. The Pop Warner Football “minimum play” requirements?  Two plays per game.  Not counting special teams.

      RJ practiced hard, studied his plays, supported his teammates from the sidelines.  I nicknamed him “Minimum Play RJ”.  He lived for his two plays.  His nickname was well earned.

     His team had a “road game” one night.  We drove up the road from Brownville to Clayton to watch his team play, under the lights.  It was mid-October chilly in those bleachers, a wind blew in off the lake.   Robin, Dad & I cheered our mighty Dexter Lions on.

     I walked down to the concession stand, purchased hotdogs and hot chocolate.  I absentmindedly added ketchup & mustard, then bit into mine.  I winced in pain, took a swift gulp of hot chocolate, hastily washed down more pain pills.  I dumped what remained of my hotdog in the trash.

     It’s funny- the things that stay with you through time.  The moments.  The memories.  I remember that hotdog.

      Dexter Mighty Mites Football – Clayton, New York – October 2008.  The last concession stand hotdog that I ever ate. 


     Dr. Kimball implanted my infusaport without a hitch.  A silver dollar sized below the skin disc, protruding slightly off center, between my right collar bone and my heart.  It made me feel bionic.  My first in a future of installed hi-tech parts.

    It was the last half of October.  While RJ played football.  Chelsea’s 16u travel softball team, “Northern Explosion”, under Coach Randall, next town over, in Adams, had fall practices and tournaments.

    Abby had played travel softball the previous summer, on Northern Explosion’s 14 and under team.  Once the summer season ended, Abby heard nothing from her teammates or coach.  We wondered.  Then one day Abby came home sobbing.  Robin and I were alarmed.

   “Abby!  What’s the matter?  Why the tears?”

   “I d-d-don’t h-h-have a t-t-team anymore.” She stuttered between sobs.

   “Huh?  Did something happen in soccer? What are you talking about?”

   “NO!   I’m not talking about SOCCER!  I’m talking about SOFTBALL!  I got kicked off the team!”

     “WHAT?!  How could that happen?  We’ll call your coach.”

     “NO!  You don’t understand!  I don’t have a TEAM anymore!  I don’t have any COACH!  There is no more 14U Explosion!  Some younger girls’ parents took over and made their own team.  “Northern Nightmare”.  They already started practicing.  I’m not on it.”

 “Where did you hear this?”

     I asked at school.  One of my last year’s teammates told me about it. 

    She said “Oh, we have our own team now.  We’re already practicing.”

 Abby went on. “Apparently some new parents took over, moved all the younger girls up.  No none said a word to me. Now it’s October, Dad’s sick, and I don’t have a team.  Is it too late for us to find one now?  It just doesn’t seem fair.”

     Abby was devastated, heartbroken.  She could not stop crying.  We had traveled all summer with the other parents on that team, cheered their daughters, sat at practices together, shared rides to games.  Not one single parent breathed a word to us.  Abby’s team had discarded our family like some used pair of cleats.

     I called Coach Randall, Chelsea’s 16U coach.  He apologized for what had happened.  Apparently, it was something beyond his control.  He offered to give Abby a spot on his 16U roster. We appreciated the gesture.  Abby would be Chelsea’s teammate, it sure would make the next summer’s tournament travel softball challenges easier, but Robin, Chelsea, Abby & I agreed, being much younger, it was likely Abby, like RJ, would see “minimum plays”.

*****FLASH BACK*****

     Summer T-ball League, Dexter NY, circa 1998:

     Cheslea and Abby played on the same team. Chelsea was six years old.  Abby was four.  RJ was not quite yet born.  Robin watched from the sidelines with “Momma & Pappa”, her mom & dad.   I coached first base.

   Chelsea was one of the star players on the team.  Her softball star shined bright.  Abby hung back, a bit uncertain.  She was Chelsea’s shadow. She had to be coaxed.

   They played with a baseball, co-ed. Ten batters per inning, or three outs.  Abby came up to bat.

     Abby threw left-handed, but for reasons I don’t recall, batted right. She hit the ball off the tee, started running to first.  Her batting helmet was one size too big for her head.  It fell forward over her eyes.  Abby stumbled, hesitated, couldn’t see to run.

  “YOU’RE OUT!”  The Ump yelled, as the first baseman caught the throw with one foot on the bag.

     Abby started crying.  She walked of the field, looking towards me.

    “Daddy, I don’t want to play anymore.”

   She spent the rest of the game atop my shoulders, helping me coach first base.


The Monroe Kitchen, October 2008:

     Chelsea’s travel ball team was playing in a fall league on Gillete Road in Cicero, about an hour away.  I had spotted a bulletin board there, next to the concessions stand, the week prior at Chelsea’s games.

     I looked at Robin & Abby.

    “Up for a road trip?  Let’s go for a ride.”

    “Right Now?  Sure Hun.  Where are we headed?”

     To Gillette Road.  We’ll check the bulletin board for tryouts.  We’re gonna help Abby find her own team.  All agreed.  Off we went.  Sure enough, two travel teams were still holding tryouts, the following week, Central Square’s “Red Storm”, and “Renegades”, the Syracuse area’s elite travel team.  We took down the tryout dates & locations. We weren’t too late.  There was still time.

     So, as we forged through October, that was it. Our Monroe “Attack Plan”.  Get RJ’s “Mighty Mite” plays in. Start chemo treatments.  Find Abby a team.




June 1988

Para. 5-4 (excerpt): Raid Operations:

Raids are done to destroy or capture enemy personnel or equipment, rescue friendly personnel, gain intelligence, or to gain the initiative.  A raid is normally a deliberate attack, but can be hasty.



#3:  “When You’re on the march, act the way you would if you was sneaking up on a deer.  See the enemy first.


“All you need for happiness is a good gun, a good horse, and a good wife.”



Santaro’s Softball Complex, Clay, N.Y.

Late October 2008

     Fall tournament play, 8am, bottom of the 7th:  Chelsea’s 16U Northern Explosion travel softball team was at bat.  Robin & I congregated with other parents, rooting for a late inning Saturday morning offensive rally from vantage points along Field #2’s chain link fence.

     Abby was with us. “Minimum Play RJhad stayed home. “Momma & Poppa“, Robin’s parent’s, would get RJ to Mighty Mites football practice.

       Abby’s Syracuse Renegades travel team tryout was scheduled to start over at Gillette Road, Cicero/North Syracuse, at 11.  I could tell she was nervous.

     I had an old, well-worn catcher’s mitt with me.  Abby came fully equipped; mouth guard, cleats, batting helmet & gloves, two composites; one practice bat, the other her “gamer”.

      She had a black Wilson 1st baseman’s mitt, two soft leather Mizuno outfielder’s gloves.  I carried my standard Dad “everything” pack; first aid kit, Motrin, duct tape, scissors, spare shoelaces, Leatherman’s tool, three scuffed softballs, nail clippers.

     I kept my pack well stocked with provisions. Several “just in case” granola bars in a baggie, chewing gum, cough drops, BICC lighter, flashlight, spare water bottle, a good pocketknife.

     Taekwondo fighting, U.S. Army Ranger School training, Pop Warner Football, Cancer; it mattered not.  Our family approached fast pitch softball the way we had come to approach all things in life:

 Mission Focused

Combat Loaded

Don’t Forget Nothing

All In”  

     There, on the sidelines, Abby & I paced off forty feet.  We did some stretches together.  I tossed her a ball from the bag.  Abby took a deep breath.  We began warming up.

     Chelsea still pitched occasionally at that point.  She had been General Brown’s JV starting pitcher, but once she hit varsity, found her niche playing 2nd base.

     Abby had just started pitching that spring.  Both girls took lessons at Lemoyne College, from the Dolphin’s DII softball coach.

      My arsenal of “Dad Baseball Knowledge” did not fully translate to softball.  Women’s fast pitch and baseball appeared similar to me at first.  I quickly realized they were not the same game.

      Softball field dimensions were more compact, games much faster paced.  The pitching rubber was twenty feet closer to home plate. Once thrown, pitched balls zipped past hitters super-fast. Lighter weight composite bats rocketed comeback shots past the pitcher’s head even faster. Pitchers & corner infielders frequently wore protective face masks.  The 3rd base corner was truly “hot”.

     Softball strategies greatly differed from baseball too; fielder positioning, pitching motions & grips, base running, swing mechanics, each unique to their game.  Softball teams used slap hitters at the top & bottom of the line-up, “re-entry”, a different rule book, “The Flex”. 

     In reality, women’s fast pitch softball and baseball had about as much in common as American football and rugby.  I was not too proud to recruit expert training help for our daughters.

     We drove to Syracuse together every Sunday morning, 8am sharp, Chelsea, Abby & I. An hour of private hitting and pitching lessons, Lemoyne‘s group clinics too.   We’d hit the McDonald’s drive thru on the way home for breakfast.  Over the course of the summer, it had become our weekend father/daughter bonding routine. 

       Abby was reluctant to try pitching at first.  She lived in Chelsea’s shadow, had a hard time breaking out.  I encouraged both of them to learn every position.  Probably because her older sister & I both did, despite being a lefty, Abby batted right-handed.  I knew that at some point, we’d need to turn her around.  One thing both games shared; coaches craved left-handed bats in their line-up, that lefty “ace” on the mound.   

    Abby once asked me: “Dad, what position do you think I should focus on playing?”

    My guidance: “You’re left-handed.  Outfield & 1st base. Every left-handed ballplayer should learn to pitch.  On the diamond, being a lefty can be an advantage. You’re left-handed – own it!”

     Abby seemed determined to heed my advice.  But that Saturday morning, two hours before her Renegades tryout, despite being left-handed, Abby still had just one pitch.

     Chelsea’s late inning offensive explosion failed to detonate.  Her team lost their morning game. Chelsea came over for a quick between game pick-me-up snack.  She stood watching her younger sister warm up.

    I said “Hey Chels- you know that peel off drop ball your pitching coach taught you?”

    Chelsea nodded her head, “Yes Dad.  It’s still my best pitch.”

    “Show your sister how to throw it.”

    “Right this minute?”

    I nodded & tossed Chels the ball.


    Abby learned the drop ball right there, from her sister, in about five minutes. She picked it up quick. Now she could head for Renegades tryoutsarmed with two pitches.  

    I told Abby, “Tell them you are also working on a change-up.”

   “But that’s not true Dad!  I don’t have a change-up.  I’ve never tried throwing one.  I don’t even know how.”

  I tossed the ball back to Abby, squatted down, pounded my mitt.

   “Throw me a fastball. Don’t change your windup.  Change-ups are all about deception, throwing the batter’s timing off, getting them off balance, setting them up.  Just try taking something off the pitch without slowing your motion.”

   Abby hesitantly tried to comply.  She ballooned a slow-motion wild pitch several feet over my head.

    I said, “There.  Not bad.  For a first try, that’s okay.”

    “You weren’t working on a change-up 3 minutes ago.  Now you are.”          

    Abby’s tryout pitch arsenal had just expanded to three.

     At that point in time, the Syracuse Renegades were upstate New York’s elite travel softball program.  Both Chelsea’s & Abby’s travel teams had faced off against them in tournament play that summer.  Northern Explosion was quickly “run ruled” each time.  Renegades teams were well coached. They had swagger.  I suspected that nearly every aspiring softball athlete in the Syracuse region secretly wished they could sport that Renegades uniform too.

     Abby had potential.  She was a lefty.  I did my best to teach her good fundamentals.  Abby soaked them up.  She was physically strong.  But she was still young, inexperienced, uncertain, raw. Outside of Chelsea’s South Jefferson Northern Explosion team, there were few quality softball resources in Jefferson County, New York. Competition was light. Our season quite short.  I didn’t give Abby’s Renegade tryout much chance of success.  I was proud of her though, for finally daring to step out.

     Chelsea had another game left to play.  Robin shuttled Abby & I across Cicero to the Gillette Road softball complex so we could sign in for tryouts. Robin returned to Santaro.   She & Chelsea would rejoin us once Northern Explosion’s second game was done.

     One Santaro tournament, one Gillette Road tryout, one Dexter Mighty Mites football practice.  A typical Saturday.  That was our world.  We knew no other way.

     Gillette Road was packed.  Two main fields, both busy.  Three things struck me immediately. The Syracuse Renegades were well organized.  They clearly meant business.  There were a whole LOT of girls trying out.

     Late Syracuse October is not prime softball weather. A stiff breeze off the lake made it worse. The effort of squatting and catching for Abby had sapped my strength. I felt chilled, hungry, tired. I opened my folding Coleman’s “Softball Dad” chair, plunked my everything backpack down next to it, and collapsed into it beside Abby.

      Pitching tryouts came first.  Abby was assigned a number and a field.  I slowly sipped lukewarm coffee and unwrapped one of my “just in case” granola bars while we nervously awaited her turn. I attempted to chew. Pain rocked through my skull. I gulped a few pills.  I had just been struck flush in the face by a pitch.


10th Mountain Division (LI), Nash Boulevard, Fort Drum N.Y. 1989:

     Army Lieutenants, in addition to their primary assignment, are routinely assigned a slew of “Additional Duties”, many of them of consequence, some slightly less so.

    Staff Duty Officer, Report of Survey Officer, Safety Officer, Personnel &Physical Security Officer….guarding the engraved 22nd Infantry Regimental Silver Punch Bowl & cups, those a were several of mine.

     I was also 1/22 Infantry Battalion’s “Morale & Recreation Officer”. In that role, I was responsible for organizing a variety of recreational activities for our soldiers in garrison.  Battalion barbeques, movie nights at the theater, holiday activities for single troops, or those who would not make it home.   

     A group of us organized a Battalion intramural softball league.  We played on softball fields next to the movie theater on Nash Boulevard, down the street from our barracks. I procured equipment, set practice times & schedules, kept leagues standings, umpired games.  Every company in 1-22 Infantry Battalion fielded a team.

     SGT Santiago was a E-5.  He volunteered to coach the Headquarters Company team.  He was built like a truck. Not 4×4 – 5×5.  He had cauliflower ears, a big goofy grin, thick bear paws where his hands should have been. Massive, sloped shoulders, his arms, big around as my legs, hung clear to his knees. Without being tall, or fat, SGT Santiago was just plain huge.

    It was clear from the start that he was one with the game. The minute he stepped on the field, simply put, he was pure poetry in motion.  Somehow that huge frame just flowed.  I watched him hit softballs one day, during practice.  He swung effortlessly, hit everything so deep into the woods that we ran out of balls.  I had to halt practice so we could go find them.

   “SGT Santiago!  Where did you learn to HIT like that?”

   “Sir?  Oh, I played some ball.”

   “Yeah?  Where?!”

   “Oh, Richmond, other places.  Ever hear of Dale Murphy, Sir?  I was his minor league roommate. I was a catcher.  I played minor league ball for the Braves.”

     SGT Benito Santiago had made it to AAA Richmond alongside future Hall Of Fame Outfielder Dale Murphy as a minor league catcher for the Atlanta Braves.  He quit baseball and joined the Army instead.

     I had to ask:  “Why?”

    “I didn’t like airplanes, Sir. In the minor leagues we rode buses and trains. I quit before I got called up. I was scared to death to fly.”

   The first thing the Army did with PVT Santiago once he enlisted? Put him on a plane and flew him to Basic.

     If Yogi Berra had a Puerto Rican look alike brother, SGT Santiago was it.

  Athletic talent hides in all sorts of strange places.


     Finally, Abby’s number got called.  It was her turn to pitch.  I flashed her a reassuring smile.

     “Take a deep breath, sweetheart.  Give it your best.  Just remember: Your Momma is a lefty. Your Poppa pitched for the Army fast pitch softball team during Korea. I was a pitcher.  It’s in your blood.”

     Abby went out and toed the rubber.  She wound up and began throwing pitches.  They put her on a radar gun, coaches with clipboards took notes.  Her tryout was over in under five minutes.

     “Thank you. Someone will be in touch.”


     Abby returned to the sidelines.

     “Did you tell them about your drop and your change-up?” I asked.

     “They never asked me. I just threw fastballs.”

    I thought to myself:  “So much for three.”

    We gathered her gear and walked over to the main field to hit.

     A pitching machine fired yellow balls. A long line of girls stood awaiting their turn to hit. I couldn’t see over the fence from the sidelines, so I sat in the stands.  Abby got her bat & her helmet and took her place at the end of line. I didn’t know anyone else who was there.  So I just sat alone, shivering, trying to sip some more coffee while I watched.

     Girls would step into the cage as their names were called.  They then proceeded to take about ten cuts apiece.  It appeared to me that they had the machine dialed up pretty good.  A few girls made solid contact.  Most simply whiffed.

     A man sat just below me on the edge of the bleachers.  He was wearing a black Renegades jacket.  He jotted notes on a clipboard as girls swung.  I did not recognize him  from summer tournament play, but he was clearly a coach.

    Abby’s turn at bat came.  She put on her helmet, adjusted her batting gloves, entered the cage,  took her stance.   The pitching machine delivered the ball.  Abby swung.

    The man below me stopped writing.  He put down his clipboard, and his pen.  Abby continued to swing.  She hit several balls pretty hard.

    The man below me said to no one in particular; “Now THAT’S a softball swing!”

   I responded.

   “Thank you.  That’s Abby, my daughter.”

  I extended my right hand.

 “Dick Monroe.  I’m her Dad.”

   We shook hands. 

   “Coach Felasco.  Pleased to meet you.  I coach my daughter’s Renegades 14U Silver team.  Where are you from?”

   “Up north, General Brown.  My daughter played Modified last season in school. 14U Northern Explosion travel ball this past summer.  She’s a freshman now.  She’ll play JV next spring.”

   “General Brown?  We don’t get many ballplayers from up that way.  What position does she play.”

    “She’s left handed. She plays 1st base, outfield, plus she pitches.”

    “She pitches too?!  I did not know that. Of course, no final decisions will be made until we finish tryouts and have a coach’s meeting, but from what I’ve seen here, I think I just may have found myself a new clean-up hitter.”

   “Anyways,  Nice to meet you.  Tell your daughter someone will give her a call.”

     Abby finished her turn in the cage.  Coach Felasco & I shook hands once more.  He picked up his clipboard and walked down towards the field.

     Abby took of her batting gloves and her helmet and walked over towards  where I was sitting.

    “Who was that you were talking to Dad?  It looked like he had a Renegades jacket on.”

      I did not want to get Abby’s hopes up, so I fibbed, just a bit.

      “Oh, that was just one of the parents.  He said he liked your swing.”

     Robin and Chelsea arrived.  Chelsea’s team won their second game.  Apparently she hit well.

     Robin looked me over.

    “Done already?  How are you feeling?  How’d tryouts go?”

     Abby shrugged.  “Guess we’ll find out.  I thought I did pretty good.”

      I told Robin “She did well. I’m tired.  You drive.”

     Robin nodded.

     “We need to get you warmed up, something to eat, and a nap.”

      We loaded the car and headed for home. We stopped at the Central Square Burger King drive thru and picked up dinner.  I ordered a fish sandwich, a coke, and some fries.  I chewed slowly.  The pain was intense. I couldn’t eat much. I gave up and popped some more pills instead. I put the passenger’s seat back and attempted to rest.  I listened to the girls talking softball all the way home.  They were excited.  I was starving, exhausted, and stoned.

     My jaw throbbed. My head pounded.  The meds simply dulled my pain’s edge.  We got home, got the kids settled and ready for school the next day.  I tried again to eat.  It was  becoming unbearably painful to chew.  Robin watched my struggle to eat with concern.

     “Hopefully chemo will  help shrink that tumor so you can eat with less pain.”

     I nodded in agreement. My first session was scheduled for Monday morning, 8am.  I was ready.  Something had to give soon.

     Sunday came.  I slept some, drank egg drop soup, my new “go-to”.  I slowly sipped 7-Up.   Sunday night dragged.  My head pounded.  Hours crept by.  Finally, Monday morning arrived.

     Robin drove me over to North Country Oncology. A nurse checked  my vitals, put an ID  band on my left wrist.

     She looked at Robin and commented:  “Your husband has lost weight.”

     Robin nodded:  “I know.  I’ve been worried about that.  He can barely eat anything.  At what point  do we  start thinking about getting him a feeding tube?”

     The nurse said, “I’ll ask Dr. Poggi.  It depends on the patient.  Normally he schedules patients for a feeding tube sometime before radiation treatments begin.”

     I entered the chemotherapy lounge.  Several other patients were already there, hooked to IV bags dripping clear fluids. A few were asleep, most looked emaciated, some had no hair.

     I shuffled in to the “lounge”, seated myself in a reclining chair. The nurse checked  my wristband, then  hung a fluid filled bag, and stuck an IV into my recently installed infusaport.

    She commented to Robin:  “These ports are so much better than standard IV’s.  As time goes on, it can get pretty hard to find a good vein.”

     To me the nurse said;  “Sit back and try to relax. This will take about an hour.”

     I complied.  I watched liquid poison silently drip from the bag, then makes its way downstream into my body via my port.  Robin squeezed my hand. 

     Our team was assembled:  One Northern Explosion, One Dexter Lion’s Mighty Mite, One Renegades Prospect, One Airborne Ranger,  One North Country Doc, One Good Wife.   

     We had just opened fire.  Our attack had begun.




June 1988

Para. 11-1(excerpt): Movement Formations:

“To Survive on the battlefield requires the use of stealth, dispersion, security, and simplicity in all tactical movements.”



#6:  “When you’re on the march, we march single file, far enough apart so one shot can’t go through two men.”


“Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching As To War

With The Cross Of Jesus, Going On  Before.”

– 19th Century English Hymn –



U. S. Army Ranger School

Ranger Candidate Patrol Base

Spring, 1989:

“Just One More Klick”

We were immersed somewhere

On some knoll, deep in some swamp

  Some of us were still there, some of us were not

None of us remaining knew, quite where we were

  We could all read a map, but that didn’t help

All that we knew, was that we were somewhere

Between something ending and some new beginning

That we had to keep marching towards one shared objective

Somewhere just beyond the next hill

So we rucked up and moved out, on our “Black & Gold” quest

We just kept marching forward

Towards “Somewhere”

  “Just One More Klick”


     As  any soldier knows, “klick” is military slang for “kilometer”, the military distance measurement.  We had walked a lot of klicks together as Ranger candidates.  In doing so, we  bonded, learned to lean on each other, share the load, take turns “on point.”

      “Just one more klick” was the automatic response, any time anyone asked the question:

“How much farther we got?”

     There one day,  in our patrol base, a slightly built black Major shuffled quietly  amongst us.  He was a Vietnam Veteran, combat patched and dual tabbed , “Special Forces” & Ranger”.  He was a Chaplain.

      His uniform patches, his soft steady voice, his weathered face, told his story.   He was there quietly sharing worship with soldiers.  He held a brief service right there in the woods.  He passed out small green bibles.

“New Testament”

“Psalms Proverbs”


     I still have mine.  It’s depicted in the header  photo to this chapter.  I keep it on a shelf at home. Right beside my “Ranger Handbook”, my “Dog Tags”, and my “Black & Gold” Tab. I should probably study it more.

     I had absolutely no clear idea what to expect from chemo.  I simply sat quietly, holding Robin’s hand, watching clear liquid poison, one drip at a time, descend into my veins.

     There is no “Ranger Handbook” for battling cancer. No Operations Order.  No intelligence briefing. No marching orders.  No manual. There’s just life.

      The only thing I tried to mentally prepare myself for, based on what I’d  read and experiences others had shared, was that life as I knew it was over.  From what everyone who had been there already and survived it had told me, for the foreseeable future, life would simply and totally suck.    

      So I resolved to take it one day at a time. I would ruck up and march on, beyond the next hill, and the hill beyond that.  Praying each day to God as I went.

     I resolved to keep moving forward, one step at a time, refusing to quit. Towards my objective. “Just one more klick”.

     As the nurse promised, my first dose of chemo took about an hour.  I didn’t feel any immediate ill effects.  So with an eye towards conserving sick leave, after  Robin drove me home, I changed clothes, put on a necktie, and reported to work.

     I was a Senior Caseworker with the Jefferson County Department of Social Services.  Current assignment: The “Preventive Services” unit.  Which meant I supervised several other caseworkers attempting to manage caseloads that were simply far too big for one caseworker to handle, while simultaneously attempting to manage a full caseload of my own.

     Casework was a stressful, thankless, heart wrenchingly impossible job. A mission tailor made for a Black Belt Army Ranger.  Though I had no idea what the “Preventive” in our unit’s name really meant.  By the time we got involved, a whole slew of child abuse and maltreatment had already happened. We weren’t preventing anything.  We just tried to keep whatever abyss children’s lives had plummeted into from descending deeper towards Hell.

     I finished my first week of three chemo treatments before reality hit. By the time that third dose finished coursing through my veins, I was wiped out.  Flat on my back. Zero energy. Unable to sleep.  Too utterly nauseated to eat.

    I lay in bed, alternating between channel surfing cooking shows on TV, restless dozing, and watching seconds slowly tick off the clock. Interrupted by staggered trips down the hallway to the toilet to vomit. Sustained sucking small sips of ginger ale through a straw.  That next week, I did not go to work.

     Time whispered softly. The minutes ticking slowly by on the clock.  Time slowed to a point where I could physically feel each second slip through me.  Days melted together, each into one. I began keeping a calendar.  I annotated all of my appointments on it.

      I marked off each day with a big “X”. Some days, other than changing the TV channel a few times, or shuffling down to the kitchen for more ginger ale and ice, that  “X” on my calendar was the only thing I accomplished.

     It was a bit ironic, really.  The weeks that I felt well enough to work were the weeks that I went in for more chemo treatments.

     I actually held down two full time jobs.  One  as a Caseworker, for which I drew pay.  The other as CSEA Union President, for which I did not.  They were both extremely demanding.  I took them each very seriously.

    By that point in time, I had been Union President for nearly ten years.  Executive Vice President three additional years before that. Our Jefferson County CSEA unit represented over six hundred and fifty civil service employees working in well over fifty different job titles. Each with their own unique concerns, interests, and needs.

  We had recently completed an intensely protracted contract negotiation process, my fifth. When the County Legislature and our employees finally ratified the terms of  that contract, I breathed a sigh of relief. Defining a middle ground, rallying a support coalition, and slowly guiding everyone to it, was a challenging task. As frustrating as it was, I enjoyed it.  I found it rewarding.

      I viewed protecting employee health insurance benefits as priority number one throughout my tenure. As did my predecessors before me.  Looking back now, I thank God that we did.  

     Chemotherapy was a six week regime.  Three weeks of three treatments, each followed by a recovery week off. While I went through chemo, life for our family went on.  RJ finished Mighty Mites football, and moved on to basketball.  The girls completed fall softball. They did the same.

     We all continued to attend Taekwondo classes.  RJ had recently achieved his Black Belt.  Robin, Chelsea, and Abby were all 2nd Degree Black Belts.  I had reached 3rd Degree the previous December.  For Robin, RJ and the girls, that martial arts journey had nearly ended.  I still taught weekly classes. Even through chemo, as best as I could manage, while I no longer fought competitively, I remained “All In.” I kept marching forward. I knew no other way. 


1/22 Inf Bn, 10th Mtn Div(LI)

100 Mile Road March

Harrisville, New York,

Summer,  1988:

      1/22 Infantry Battalion “Forced March”. Full Battalion Task Force. 17 minute miles, combat loaded.   20 miles per day. Five days straight. 100 miles total.

      The “Light Infantry” designation given 10th Mountain Division when our battalion first came on line was something of  a new mission concept.  Or, more accurately, a long standing one revisited.

     We had our own “Light Fighter’s” training center.  Our own “Combat Leader’s”  course. Specially designed weapons systems. Specifically tailored cold weather equipment.  Streamlined unit task organizations.  Our own uniquely designed set of  light combat infantry training requirements and standards.

      One of those sets of requirements involved timed combat loaded forced marches. Both individual soldiers and units at each level had set standards that were expected to be met.

     Individual soldiers completed a five-mile road march at least once a week.  Squads and platoons a ten miler once a month.  Infantry Companies a twenty-five-mile road march once per quarter.

   1/22 Infantry Battalion had a requirement to complete a 100-mile forced march once each year.  We were on one that summer morning, deployed single file in two columns flanking each side of Route 3 as we entered the village of Harrisville, New York.

     Appropriately, our Battalion Scouts led the way.  Followed in close order by 550+ camouflage uniformed, Kevlar helmeted, battle dressed soldiers carrying M-16 A1 rifles.  A convoy of camouflaged HUMVEES behind that. We must have been quite a sight as village citizens awoke and peeked out their front windows towards the street.

      I looked up as we marched through town. Up and off to my left as we neared the Oswegatchie, I could see the church steeple.  Then I heard music chime.

      “Onward Christian Soldiers” was the tune.  Our battalion task force marched through downtown Harrisville just after dawn on a summer morning, serenaded by ringing church bells.


     By the time Thanksgiving Day neared, I was headed towards my final round of chemotherapy treatments.  I continued to work when I could.  I attended my children’s school basketball games when I felt up to it. I had a hard time eating, not much appetite.  I felt increasingly weaker.  I had lost a great deal of weight.

  I remember that on the days that I did manage to work I would walk across the street to the Chinese place and order egg drop soup and Shrimp with Lobster sauce.  Chemo had managed to shrink my tumor quite a bit. Still, shrimp and cooked rice were about the firmest things I could chew.

   I ate baby cereal for breakfast, the instant powdered kind, mixed with sugar and milk. Instant pudding and Jello were my snacks.  Baby cereal, egg drop soup, instant pudding, Jello and ginger ale. Those were my staples.   

     Dr.  Poggi saw me for a scheduled exam. As always, Robin was with me.  My pain meds were increased further.  We made preparations for the next phase of my treatment, more chemotherapy, plus radiation.  I was not done yet. Things would only get harder.

     Robin expressed concerns about my rapidly declining weight.  Dr. Poggi concurred. I was scheduled to have a feeding tube implanted.  I also went to Samaritan’s Cancer Treatment Center and had my head measured for a specially fitted mesh radiation treatment full face mask.  Once I was done with straight chemo, they planned to bolt my mask covered head to a table and blast me with high dose radiation, then give me more chemo.

      In the meantime, we made plans for Thanksgiving.  My parents had left for Florida every October since Robin and I were first married, so our tradition involved sharing Thanksgiving dinner in Carthage with her family.

    I was so worn down by chemo that I was not up to travelling, even the short distance to Carthage. We changed our plan.  Thanksgiving moved to our house. Robin’s mom drove over from Carthage to help prepare.

     Thanksgiving had always been one of my very favorite holidays.  Growing up, my mom always cooked a big Thanksgiving dinner.  We ate pumpkin pie with homemade whipped cream for breakfast.  Mom made “Pink Salad”, my personal favorite.

     Mom’s “Pink Salad” was basically creamed cheese, whipped cream, crushed pineapple, and chopped Maraschino cherries.  I remember coming home from school one day growing up, when my family still lived in Saranac Lake.  I saw a big bowl in the refrigerator covered with Saran Wrap.  It looked like left over pink salad.  I devoured it all.

   As it turned out, it was not “left over” Pink Salad.  It was “not done yet” Pink Salad.  Basically, a brick of cream cheese with crushed pineapple and chopped cherries mixed in.   Hey!  How was I supposed to know?  I was hungry. It was in the refrigerator.  It was pink.   It still tasted good.  But I did get in trouble.

      I was in no danger of repeating that mistake. Robin’s Mom did make pink salad, I always insisted.  It just would not have been Thanksgiving without it.

     I don’t remember that Thanksgiving dinner very well.  I was quite sick.  I do vaguely remember carving the turkey when it came out of the oven, sitting at the head of our dining room table with a room full of family, saying “The Blessing” passed down by my Father:

“Bless Us Oh Lord,

For These Thy Gifts

Which We Are About

To Receive From Thy Bounty

Through Christ Our Lord,


     I remember trying to eat but not being able to chew or taste much of anything.  I remember wishing I wanted to be sitting there at the Thanksgiving table, when in reality I didn’t.  I just wanted to sleep.  But it was important to our kids and my family, so I did.

The thing I remember more than anything is:

That was the last Thanksgiving dinner that I ever ate.

     Things for me had reached a point almost beyond caring.  I staggered through days, living minute to minute. Feeling each second of time whisper through me.

     Thanksgiving passed and I finished my last two-week phase of chemotherapy treatment.  Robin & I, our children & family prepared together for the next phase.  My parents returned early that year from Florida to help out.  We marched forward together.  

   “Onward Christian Soldier”

“Just One More Klick”

     I think that at that point, we were all just beginning to comprehend the term “sick”.