Back to it…

Hey everybody. I know it’s been a while (quite a while in fact) but I’m back and determined to get my site updated and relevant once again! No excuses but the bottom line is it’s just easy to let the website go while I’m working on everything else. Social media is way more time-consuming than I thought it was going to be. ESPECIALLY my YouTube channel! Additionally, I’d decided to try going back to work at the end of August after spending most of last year on extended sick leave. Whew… forget it… there was just no way. I thought I’d have enough strength and energy to get back to teaching but I was wrong. I severely underestimated how important being well-rested is when you’re dealing with cancer and the therapy side effects. Mentally and physically I just was getting more and more depleted as the weeks went by. I made it six weeks, now I’m back on sick leave. My next set of scans are scheduled for the end of November so in the meantime I’ll be resting more and dedicating more free time to ALL branches of my Cancer Care Coloring vision.

I’m not sure where to start. I’m not a coder so I use WordPress templates for the site. I thought it would be much more intuitive than it is. To be honest it confuses the crap out of me… but I won’t be deterred! I’m feeling like the current template just isn’t great for showcasing artwork. I think that’s what should shine. I obviously want my story and vision to be featured as well, but it’s the illustrations that are going to be the building blocks of everything Cancer Care Coloring can become, whatever that is. In the coming days I’ll be changing layouts, adding pictures, and hopefully making this more of an art space. That’s my plan. Stay tuned for further developments and thanks for your support! Newest YouTube video link is below. Peace.

Coloring Book Update… The Blood Cell Body Squad!

Blood Cell Body Squad (or maybe Blood Cell Fighting Force?)

After months of research, sketching and ink drawings the design of the coloring book “team” is finalized. These five white blood cells… neutrophil, t cell, monocyte, macrophage and natural killer cell have become my characters for the upcoming adult/teen visualization coloring book. These are the blood cells that I visualize kicking the crap out of my cancer cells and if everything goes according to plan at some point in the not-too-distant future others will be able to use them in the same way (and enjoy the art therapy of coloring them as well).

THE COLORING BOOK: As an artist, I have a vision for the finished book. One-sided coloring page printing, thick (bleed proof) pages, perforated for easy tear-out, full-color high gloss cover (front and back) and ultra white coloring pages at a minimum. We’ve all seen cheap, dollar store quality coloring books and the Cancer Care Coloring book won’t be that. This is going to be a beefy (30 – 40 illustrations), high-quality book worthy of all the time and effort put into it.

THE FUNDING: As much as I wish I could pay for the cost of producing the book myself, this isn’t possible. Cancer care is expensive (even with good insurance) and the money my wife and I have goes to priority number one… getting me as healthy as we can. The generous donations of so many kind and caring people to the GoFundMe campaign my wife and son put together for us will only be spent on my healthcare. That said, I’ve seen firsthand just how effective crowdfunding can be. Even though our GFM didn’t raise the amount we’d hoped, the money raised allowed for additional cancer therapies that have improved my current quality of life and will hopefully help lead to an eventual remission. So in the spirit of community assistance (and to determine whether or not this is actually a good idea or not) I’m going to be firing up a Kickstarter campaign to attempt to fund production of this book with a stretch-goal of creating a less graphic book for younger colorists.

PROGRESS: I’m getting close to the halfway point. With 16 finished illustrations for the adult/teen book (updated art gallery coming soon) I’d like an additional 14-24 depending on how the “story” fleshes out. The storyboard for the book has 30 pages but I may decide to add to it depending on how it flows. It’s a time-consuming process that’s not only rewarding but also an import aspect of my cancer therapy. The mind/body connection is strong and these drawings continue to help me through the toughest challenge of my life.

In future posts I’ll continue to share the progress of the illustrations, the specifics of printing and production costs, Kickstarter information, and my overall thoughts on the process. Whew… I spend more time on the social media for this idea than on the actual drawings! Thanks for taking the time to read this and until next time, later tater.

Cancer Update

Hello everyone and thanks for stopping by! I’ll first apologize for the delay in a new posting. It’s been a little while and I really try to put out one a week but things have been a little crazy around here. Okay… now cancer update stuff…

I know that reading about someone’s battle with cancer isn’t the the most enjoyable subject matter in the world and I know that many people would prefer not to. I absolutely understand and there’s certainly nothing to feel guilty about if you decide to take a pass until next time. For those who choose to carry on, I have stage IV lung cancer (nothing new). I was diagnosed in August, started immunotherapy in October, and my tumors have up until my last set of scans been kind of dormant… not really growing, not really shrinking. Things started getting a bit more confusing a few weeks ago when I woke up with what I thought was a pinched nerve in the back of my neck. I was wrong (how’s that for foreshadowing?).

My total deal is that my primary tumor is in my right lung and it’s metastasized (spread) to lymph nodes around my heart and below my diaphragm. It also grew metastasis in five bone spots… one at the top if each femur and three in various spots on my pelvic bone. So I bet most of you see where this is going. Yes, the spot on the back of my neck is a new cancer growth, and just to make it even more interesting they found another spot on one of my ribs. This SUCKS!!! Clearly the immunotherapy isn’t working.

Cancer all around me! Yikes! (and may the 4th be with you!)

Now we’re working on plan “B”. In one way or another this means I’m starting chemotherapy. Most likely in three weeks. I can’t start it sooner because I’m starting radiotherapy on both femurs for five days starting Monday. According to my oncologist I have to wait two weeks after finishing radiotherapy before I can begin chemo. This will most likely end up with me doing chemo and immuno at the same time. While many of my tumors have grown a bit and I’ve had some new spots pop up, a few of the tumors have shrunk some so the immunotherapy IS doing something. Not much, but something.

I’m also being tested to see if I’d be a candidate for another cancer therapy… targeted therapy. I believe my chances are statistically low, but fingers crossed. If eligible, I’d only have to do chemo for a little over a month before switching to the targeted therapy (sort of praying/hoping/visualizing a little more right now for this therapy). I’ll know soon which path it will be, but regardless I’m ready to get going sooner rather than later.

That brings us all up-to-date. If anyone thinks “how does this impact Cancer Care Coloring?” I answer… not at all. This coloring book is going to get made. I’m focusing on the adult coloring book first, then the one for kids. My optimism is influenced by my doctors talking about what we’re doing next year for my therapy as opposed to only next month. It’s not much but I’ll absolutely take it. Until next time… later tater

Shout out to Gilda’s Club!

Most of what I post here will be directly about Cancer Care Coloring and the work I’m doing to create at least one, but hopefully two coloring books for people going through cancer therapy. That said, sometimes I’ll be posting more personal blogs about me and what I’m going through in my own “fighting cancer” journey. We all have ups and downs, and if I wanted to focus on less upbeat news I have my share of it (I may have a new metastasized spot on one of my vertebra in the back of my neck 🙄 ). But let’s not get into all that today (that’s it for bad news today… I promise)! Let’s focus more on some of the good… okay, great, things I have going for me during my adventure.

I knew I needed some form of therapy to help me through this. Over the months, as hard as I tried to avoid it, I felt more and more bitter about life, the universe, and the unfairness of it all. As my therapy continued (eight months so far) the feeling of despair started creeping in more and more. I started looking online for support groups and other options to be able to talk and get some of the weight off of my shoulders. I’ve never been a group therapy person, so initially I thought I’d just find a therapist and go the traditional route, but way back in December or January I came across Gilda’s Club’s website. It seemed like just what I needed. Support groups for cancer survivors (and those currently receiving treatment), support groups for those close to us (cancer patients), and all sorts of therapeutic activities (cooking, art, sewing, social gatherings, etc.)… and all 100% free. I really felt like I should become a member, but I’m also pretty anti-social generally, so I filed it into the back of my mind as “something I should really look into closer” and didn’t do anything else with it.

Fast-forward to late March. My spirits were hitting some new lows, and I finally got brave and decided to go to Gilda’s Club for new member orientation and my first group meeting. I’m not going to lie, I was SO uncomfortable at first. I didn’t know if I had it in me to open up and really share what I was going through and how I was feeling. Since my diagnosis I’ve become a different person in quite a few ways, and one of them (good or bad) is how close to the surface my emotions always seem to be now. It takes practically nothing to get me crying (or at least tearing up) and that’s never been me. How am I going to handle a group setting like this without losing my shit? Full disclosure… I totally cried my first meeting and it was absolutely fine. No judgement. Total understanding. Awesome. This is just what I needed!

My newest therapy… Gilda’s Club!

I’m a few weeks in now. The group members (and facilitator) have been beyond amazing! In all of my 51 years of experiencing social interactions I’ve never seen a more accepting, welcoming and helpful collection of people. Seeing and feeling that I’m not alone in my fight and learning from the experiences of others has brought me from some pretty low places to a place where I’m much better able to process what’s going on with me and my loved ones. Sure… I have it pretty bad, but others are dealing with worse. If they can find the time to come and share with the group, give feedback, give advise and be a group friend… then I can open myself up to gaining from that wisdom and kindness.

I hope that no one reading this ever needs the services that Gilda’s Club offers, but if for anyone that does, we’re luck to have it. Trying to get through something like cancer without being able to talk to and engage with others dealing with the same struggle is unnecessary. I know that group therapy isn’t for everyone, but if it’s not for you consider some of the other offerings. This isn’t a “oh… poor me” kind of place. To be honest, and as weird as it sounds, I’ve laughed more at the few groups I’ve attended than I ever would have expected. There’s a relaxed and comfortable vibe to the meetings I’ve attended and with that comes people’s willingness to open up to share funny stories, interesting situations, and learning opportunities. Not everyone talks much, and some people (like me) probably talk a little too much, but that’s up to the individual. Moving forward with my cancer therapy, I see the importance of finding and sharing with others that are going through the cancer fight like me. We’re all part of a “club” that we don’t want to belong to, but at least there’s Gilda’s Club to help us on our journey. That’s it for this episode. Until next time… later tater!

Alex

How violent is too violent?

I want my cancer cells dead. Not just dead. When I visualize my white blood cells destroying my cancer cells my imagination tends to get pretty violent. I like to visualize a lot of ripping and tearing and lots of bits of dead cancer cell pieces floating around waiting for my macrophage cells (or other team members) to come around to clean them up (eat ’em). The problem now is it’s not just about me. If I wasn’t trying to share my visions with others I wouldn’t give it a second thought. My visualizations are still going to be violent when I’m doing it for my own cancer therapy. What color “blood” do cancer cells bleed… probably should think about this a bit before I start coloring…

Now I’m sharing my ideas visually with everyone else and we all have various degrees of tolerance when it comes to violence. While I don’t think too many people would get upset over a graphic illustration of cancer demons getting torn to shreds by our amazing white blood cell team, if too graphic it could turn them off enough to want to avoid my imagery in the future. In that scenario I’m defeating the purpose of my art therapy for others. Obviously if someone is turned off to the graphic nature of my drawings I’ve just alienated them right out the door. Even if they like the concept, they won’t benefit from it at all. Just because I didn’t dial it down a little bit.

Natural Killer Cell character doing what it does best… killing!

On the other hand, part of my cancer therapy, besides the actual visualization, is the process of drawing my characters doing what I picture them doing inside inside of me. I think the best example I can give is the Natural Killer Cell. When I decided to bring my visions to paper, I had to decide which white blood cells would make the cut. Part of these decisions were base on how bad-ass the cells were and what their “powers” were. The NKC was a no-brainer. Based on my extremely limited understanding (feel free to help school me in the comments if I get something wrong), this cell injects enemies with a cytotoxic protein soup that eats them from the inside out! This is gross and amazing and I want to draw it! THAT’S the problem. If it were just for me most of my illustrations would probably run along the lines of the drawing above. I’ve already established my desire to create two coloring books… one for adults and older kids, and one for younger kids. There’s no problem for the creation of the younger kids coloring book. There will be no violence (implied only) and the characters won’t be too scary. Even the cancer monsters will be dumbed-down to come across as more silly than scary. This isn’t a problem. I want to create a book for younger kids too… but it’s not the passion project that I had in my head when I started this project. My passion… my vision… for this project was definitely for adults.

If there were ratings for coloring books (there isn’t is there?) my adult coloring book will either be rated PG or PG-13. The idea of ramping it up to a MA crossed my mind, but to be honest that probably would have ended up being too violent even for me. In the middle of the process now, I guess there’s a line I don’t want to cross in terms of graphic brutality, but I REALLY want the satisfaction of drawing the cancer creatures getting annihilated. As we continue moving forward, there will be some of you out there with opinions and some of you who would be willing to share those opinions. I’d appreciate hearing them. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, and some of it is going to be violent, but maybe this is a case of trying to avoid too much of a good thing. Every page doesn’t have to be brutal, but some will be. Trying to find that comfortable middle-ground is the game now and if you have thoughts or ideas to share on the matter please do. In the meantime, I’ll try not to let it get too dark or too far off the deep end. Until next time, later tater.

Foot Soldier (and cool guy)… Neutrophil!

Now that I’ve finally figured out which white blood cells should be included on the “team”, the next part of the puzzle is developing the personalities and character traits for each. Before continuing, a disclaimer… I’m not a doctor. I’m absolutely positive that I’ll make mistakes when sharing my immune system expertise with the world. Our bodies are so complex and as I look deeper and deeper into what our immune systems actually do it overwhelms my brain. The gist of what I’ve come to understand is that we have over twenty-five types of white blood cells (WBC) but only five of them actually attack and kill enemies. Those five make up this team (neutrophil, natural killer cell, T cell, monocyte and macrophage). I KNOW I’m oversimplifying all of this, but that’s okay. For my purposes it’s working perfectly (but please let me know if you notice a goof so bad it shows I’m a total idiot).

Okay, back to personalities and character traits. Today is only about the neutrophil. This guy’s our most plentiful WBC, is super aggressive, can phase through cell membranes to get to the fight, and I believe actually “eats” enemies (not the only one that does that either!). Don’t hold me to this, but I’m pretty sure neutrophils can also set web-like traps to catch and kill enemy cells. How cool is that!? These guys have super powers. Learning about these white blood cells is like reading science-fiction. Some of the “powers” they have are amazing, some a bit mundane, and some even seem a little gross… but learning about our WBC team really make me feel like we have billions and billions of teeny little super hero cells inside of us.

Neutrophil Fighter

The neutrophil is clearly a fighter/brawler. He’s going to aggressively hunt for enemies and attack without hesitation! I want the character to have a tough-guy (but hopefully still good guy) look on his face most of the time. Don’t know if I’ll ever illustrate him using his web-traps or not, but I’m pretty dang sure I WON’T be drawing him eating a cancer cell! I think he’s going to do most of his fighting with his fists but maybe he can change the shapes of his arms and hands into other forms… hmm, maybe not. I like the way he looks now so I think this is him. Thanks for taking the time to stop by!
Next week… Natural Killer Cell! Later Tater

Progress Update: How to Make a Coloring Book

I have no idea how to make a coloring book. Of course I’ve done a fair amount of research but there are so many different options, and each artist is going to have certain things that they feel are important (or not). For example, I know I’d like larger pages (11 x 14″ would be great), thicker paper (to prevent bleed-through), one-sided printing, and perforated pages (for easy removal). Everything I want costs extra, so obviously that’s going to be a concern. I’m still in the early stages of putting these together so for right now the cost of producing the books and the securing of the actual cash is on the back burner. I’ll be worrying more about that when it’s time… I still have a LOT of drawings to do.

Speaking of funding, I want to say this up front so there’s no uncertainty… to everyone who was so generous and kind by donating to our GoFundMe campaign… that money is for one thing and one thing only… treating my cancer. It goes towards necessary travel, treatments not covered by insurance, dietary supplements, medications not covered by insurance, and any other things we need that are directly connected to my cancer and my health. Not one single penny from GFM will be spent on this endeavor. Okay… now everyone knows… no uncertainty.

As for the progress update on the coloring books. For those of you that don’t know, the plan is to make two coloring books featuring my white blood cell characters kicking the crap out of the cancer (creature) characters. One book will be geared towards the younger colorists with more friendly character designs and less scary cancer character designs. They’ll still be able to visualize their white blood cells beating up on cancer, but the fights will be less graphic, with little or know actual violence (not sure where the line should be on this yet). The other book will be for older kids and adults. These characters are going to be more intense and intimidating, and the cancer creatures are going to be considerably more gruesome. The battles will be over-the-top, knock down drag out fights featuring the cancer cells getting thrashed, shredded, stomped… you get the idea. My WBC characters are going to DESTROY the cancer demons, and I’m going to enjoy every second I spend drawing them and visualizing them.

As of today I’d guess that I have around thirty finished illustrations. That kind of sounds like a lot, but it sure doesn’t seem like it to me. Of the thirty, maybe only fifteen will make it into one of the books. Months have been spent trying to finalize character designs, and I love tweaking and modifying things as I move forward, so I’m sure more changes are coming. Each book will require 30-40 full-page illustrations. If I figure on the low side and say I’ll need a total of sixty finished illustrations, I’m 25% there. Only forty-five more to go! To keep me directed and focused (and because my wife strongly suggested it) I spent a few hours putting together a rough storyboard outline for a book (see below). I plan on using this outline for both books, but the actual illustrations will be different.

Thumbnail Storyboard Outline

That’s where I am as of now. As much as I’d love to just snap my fingers and have awesome coloring books to give to kids (and adults), there’s still a lot of work to do. I guess it really is about the journey here. It’s clear that the books will be done eventually, but while I’m at it I can continue to share the journey through this site, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. I’ll post another update blog about the illustrating progress when I have another…. hmm… let’s say ten drawings done! I guess that’s it for this week. Thanks, and later tater

My Fight

If you’re reading this, chances are you already know what my fight is. Cancer. I hate (and I don’t use that word lightly) how devastating this disease is and what it does to those dealing with it. Not only those of us with cancer, but the families and loved ones close to us suffer right along with us. I often think that this is tougher on my wife than it is on me, and while this may or may not actually be true… there’s no debating that cancer hurts everyone it comes close to and is very efficient at what it does.

Big surprise here… I’m no doctor, but I’ve learned a lot since being diagnosed almost eight months ago. I was having some breathing issues over the summer (2018) and at the end of August I was officially diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma, which is a type of lung cancer. After a series of CT scans, doctors found a primary tumor in my right lung, and tumors attacking a variety of lymph nodes. Most concerning (in the lymph nodes) was a mass along the right side of my heart. This mass was large enough to push into my lung and cause the breathing issues that got me to go see a doctor in the first place. At this point we knew what the cancer was, but not what stage it had reached. It was time for a full-body PET scan.

I would have skipped this and just jumped further along, but the PET scan experience is significant in the “Cancer Care Coloring” story. We’d been watching a lot of “fighting cancer” documentaries since my diagnosis and something that really stuck with me was the idea of visualizing my white blood cells as soldiers, attacking and killing my cancer cells. One woman specifically had basically been sent home to die by her doctors and she was convinced that the power of visualization had allowed her to fight on (this was a couple years after doctors told her there was nothing else they could do). This idea really spoke to me, so I decided that I would incorporate it into my cancer therapy as well. Before the scan, there’s an hour of sitting in a dark room (after drinking a contrast solution). It was the perfect opportunity to try this visualization for myself. This hour was when I started trying to figure out how my “soldiers” should look, and what kind of powers they should have. The spark of CCC was lit.

Unfortunately, the scans revealed five areas of bone metastasis… one towards the top of each femur and three on my pelvic bone. This explained the pain I had in my hips. Once a cancer spreads to bone it’s officially stage 4 and considered incurable. Not the news I wanted to hear. Since then we’ve been fighting with any and all tools possible. Diet, fasting, supplements, visualization, exercise, and of course standard cancer therapy… usually chemotherapy. For me, it ended up being immunotherapy first. A drug called Keytruda. Chemotherapy would be plan “B”.

I had my first dose of Keytruda on my birthday, October 24. A couple of weeks later, the side effects began. I don’t want to get into the gritty of these side effects, so I’ll just say that the doctors thought that I may have developed Chrohn’s Disease. These side effects still haven’t been fixed, but after a number of tests and procedures it’s been determined that it’s not Chrohn’s. We still don’t know what it is or what exactly’s causing it, so that’s an ongoing adventure.

A CT scan in December showed that most of the tumors had shrunk some (THAT’S what I want to hear) and the mass on the side of my heart had shrunk significantly. We spent the rest of January and February working to determine whether or not I’d be doing a 2nd immunotherapy or switching to chemo. A CT scan at the end of February showed all tumor shrinkage had halted, and everything looked about the same as in December’s scans. We decided it was time for another dose of Keytruda.

Immunotherapy #2

Now that the immunotherapy is back in the mix, I’m hopeful that the next set of scans (scheduled for May) will show the same improvement that we saw between October and December. I’m a little weak right now (malnourishment) but I’m determined to continue using diet and exercise to build my strength up as much as I can. I don’t know how long I have, and I’ve never tried to find out my “odds” (never tell me the odds… and yes I’m a Star Wars nerd). If you tell someone that they only have a 10% chance of surviving for more that five years, too often it becomes self-fulfilling. I have every intention of being around for a while. I may have to explore some other cancer therapy avenues (I’m talking to you hyperbaric oxygen therapy) but that’s okay. While I continue the fight, work on the Cancer Care Coloring project will continue (and the characters will continue to help me when visualizing).

This entire experience is unlike any challenge I’ve ever faced. Some days it feels like an adventure and I can take whatever’s thrown my way smiling. Other days… not so much. Through all the ups and downs, I’m blessed to have my amazing wife help me through it. I really don’t know if I could do it alone. I’m tough, but she helps to make me so much tougher. Moving forward, understand that I won’t be discussing my cancer too often. Cancer Care Coloring isn’t about my cancer. It’s about our mind/body connections and finding ways to keep our power and spirits strong. My white blood cell characters can kick ass, and I’ll continue to enjoy visualizing that and evolving them into stronger and stronger characters! Let’s rip them cancer demon characters some new ones! If anyone has questions or their own experiences to share, please leave them below. Until next time…

Later Taters (Anyone know where I stole that from?)

WBC Character Updates… it’s a squad!

So after a few months of tinkering I think my white blood cell team is finally formed. It took a bit of research to make sure I wasn’t making a total idiot of myself (there are like 25 different cells associated with our immune system but only these five are definitely cancer fighting/killing cells). The team is… Neutrophil, Monocyte, Macrophage, Natural Killer Cell and T Cell.

As the process moves forward I’m sure the looks and “personalities” will evolve. It’s my hope that each cell will develop into a unique character with it’s own mannerisms, attitudes and fighting styles. What’s helpful from a creative viewpoint is the fact that they’re based on immune system cells so I pretty much have free reign to turn them into the “squad” that’s easy for me to visualize and to be honest, fun to draw. I’m curious to see what this team is going to look like six months from now, but as it stands I think it’s a good start.

As always, please feel free to leave thoughts or critiques in the comment section below. I’ll be posting updates here each Monday and will use any good suggestions I can, so thanks to anyone taking the time to give feedback! Until then… later taters.

Cancer killers… every one of them!

Here we go…

My first blog. I guess I was hoping to come up with something deep or profound for the kickoff of the Cancer Care Coloring site, but there’s so much time and so little to do… strike that… reverse it. This way please…

The “What’s Up” section of the site is my blog page. It’s been a long time since I’ve built a website and to be honest (and to show my current level of ineptitude) I’m not even sure what the easiest way to post a blog is. I stumbled into this when I saw an “edit” link that brought me here… so I started typing. As we move forward on this adventure I’m confident things will get more familiar and easier. Having said that, I’m open to constructive criticism (and take it well). If you have suggestions, questions or comments, please leave them for me. It’s my priority to keep any of my outlets (this website, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook) as positive and accepting as possible. Please keep this in mind when commenting or replying to the comments of others.

I’ll be posting updates here at least once per week. As I continue working to develop my characters and “coloring book” style, I’ll be looking at suggestions made by supporters (you) to help guide the process. Creating these illustrations is for me and my therapy, but I want to share them with as many people as possible, and I want those people to react favorably towards them. The best way I can find what people like and what they don’t like is being open to their opinions and suggestions. We know we can’t please all the people all the time… but I still like to hear ideas.

This concludes my kickoff Cancer Care Coloring blog. Thanks for taking the time to read it. If you’re interested in the process and would like to see more, visit my Cancer Care Coloring channel on YouTube and please consider subscribing to show your support. That’s it for now… later tater.