Hello mates…….flying back from London as I write blog post #3 and boy are my arms tired! Thanks for reminding me of that one Ari Bluman, I know you love shameless plugs and you are now officially on my late night blog writing team.
It was quite a week, thanks to my buddy Dan who organized the trip and got me out to Europe. First stop was in Bristol, England, a quaint little town about an hour outside of London where Dan was filming his pilot ‘Galavant’ for ABC. I met a few unlikely and inspirational figures on this journey that stuck with me and my first encounter occurred that first night in Bristol at the cast and crew party for the show. Among some of the actors and crew I hung out with that night was British actor and Hall of Fame professional european football player, Vinnie Jones. In America, you might know Vinny Jones from such movies as ‘Snatch’ and ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, in Europe he also known as one of the most intimidating and best footballers of all time. Vinnie is a tough, straightforward kind of guy with a great sense of humor so of course we hit it off right away. He didn’t drink and I had to order a special meal from the waitress……….we both looked at each other curiously about that but ignored it. What I found out later was that Vinnie had a good reason for not drinking. Vinnie’s wife Tanya was a heart transplant survivor at the age of 21. He met her shorty after her life changing event, married her and she had convinced him to change his ways, to live a healthier life and leave his hard partying days of drinking in the past. They’ve been married for 20 years and he calls her ‘his inspiration’.
Heart disease and Cancer are the #1 and #2 causes of death in the United States and Cancer is projected to pass Heart Disease as the #1 cause of death by 2020. Their are many studies that prove that both can be curbed and sometimes cured by nutrition. The next night, Dan introduced me to the director of his pilot, Chris Koch. I have met Chris before but was looking forward to sitting down to dinner with him. He shared his story with me, an amazing one. Basically about 3 years ago, Chris, a healthy guy in his 40s, was feeling strange and having pain in his right arm. What he did not realize was he was about to have a massive heart attack and probably die. If not for the quick actions of his neighbor who suggested he go to the hospital and a paramedic, who got him there quickly, he would not have survived. This event as you can imagine literally woke Chris up, he changed his diet and lifestyle in various ways and with heavy odds against him is now in complete turnaround with no signs of heart disease.
When Irish Eyes are Smiling
From Bristol, we took a quick 1 hour flight to Dublin, Ireland. What a city……a pub on every corner, and these people are as happy as pigs in shit. Their happiness may or not be because they are drinking daily but hey life is hard and sometimes you just need a pint. They speak English but we could not understand half the words they said.
Right away we toured the city, saw one of the oldest churches in Dublin, Christchurch, and settled into an old pub. The scene was right out of Central Casting, we were clearly the only out of towers in there. Picture a few older irish gentlemen at the bar, sitting next to each other yet by themselves. At the end of the bar is the town drunk who is being cut off by the bartender as he asks for another pint while the pint he is drinking is still full. We sat down at a table, ordered some Guiness and as the beer started to kick in, could not help but feel the excitement of being in a far off land that was not our own. Fascinated by the town drunk, we wondered about his life. Did he do this every day? Was he happy? Did he have a family? Did he lose them? Was he drinking to forget or was it much simpler. Maybe this was all he ever wanted or needed at the end of the day, his bar and his pints of beer. Maybe life was just that simple for him and instead of feeling sorry for him, we should have realized that he was the happiest guy in there. Or maybe not.
From our corner table of the pub, we observed these local irish folk and tried to figure out their lives. We eventually got back to ourselves and asked ‘what was on our bucket lists?’ What do we want and what do we still have to work out in life? We eventually talked about my situation and how similar to Chris, it has awoken me again. Recently, before and even after my diagnosis, I had been feeling a little stuck in some parts of my life, job career, relationships, all the good stuff that we all worry about. There’s a quote from the movie ‘Her’ that struck me, here it is below.
‘Sometimes I think I’ve felt everything I’m ever gonna feel……and from here on out I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of things I’ve already felt.’
This described perfectly how I had been feeling about certain things in my life over the past few months. But all the sudden, since my news I feel everything again, more and more every day. I have been delivered a diagnosis that few people have beaten and on average proves fatal after a few years. Ironically, I feel more alive than ever than I have felt in a long time.
Music has always been an escape for me. Sometimes to work through an issue, I’ll jump in my car, drive up the PCH and blast some tunes. When this first happened, I could not concentrate on the daily things in life as I had before. Walking my dog, having a conversation with a friend, watching my favorite show, etc. Getting into my car, turning up the volume to a great song was the only thing that I could truly enjoy. It was my only escape, it would re-energize me and helped keep me positive. My music tastes vary……..I love reggae and listen to it all day at a low volume while I work, it’s my white noise and keeps me focused while making me feel like I am also on vacation. I love 90s hip hop, 80s music, Indie, Classic Rock, Classical Music, Enya (really?), I could go on. Though such an overused word these days, I call it eclectic. I know my stuff but I’ll admit that I also tend to also like what’s on the radio. They call this Top 40, catchy pop music that is overplayed daily in your car, in restaurants, at bars/clubs, at airports. Eventually you cannot get away from it and love to hate it. Let’s say I have more of a tolerance, some say enjoyment than most of my peers to top 40, hence the nickname given to me in college, Top 40 Alex, T40 or TFA for short. And there’s a song out right now by One Republic, many would say a top 40 band, that says states exactly how I have been feeling these days. The song is called ‘Counting Stars’, a couple of lyrics below
‘Everything that kills me, makes me alive’
‘Everything that drowns me, makes me want to fly’
It all made sense when I first heard this song a few months back and makes even more sense now. When you’re hurting you’re more alive. When you get hit, your reaction is to take stock and defend yourself by putting together a plan of action, whether that is within a split second or more long term depending on each situation. When you get hit hard, you are forced to take a look at everything. That’s what’s happening with me right now. I’m looking at my past, my present and my future. I’m taking at a look at some of the choices I’ve made and reassessing for the future. I’m taking stock of this condition, gonna do all I can to understand it, beat the hell out of it and prove statistics wrong. Meanwhile I’m taking more ownership of who I am and what I want to continue to be……or not to be. This my friends, is a good thing.
Goodbye Ireland, Hello London
Next day we hit the Guinness Factory and watched a rugby match between Ireland and England in another classic pub, this time a bit wilder of an atmosphere. It was like watching an NFL playoff football game, the pub was packed and scene was electric. Ireland lost a close match but it was great to see the strong rivalry played out between these two neighboring countries with controversial pasts.
Dan left a day before to head back to Bristol, so I had Sunday and Monday to myself in Dublin. I decided to take it easy, walk around town and get a massage at the hotel spa. The masseuse was great but at the end of the massage as she was walking me back to the lobby, she asked me what was going on with my chest as she had felt a big tightness there. I couldn’t believe it. Of course I did not let her know about my condition but she knew there was something wrong and it made me wake up again. Here I am in Europe, 5,000 miles away from home, traveling through 3 cities like there is nothing wrong with me literally one month after I have been given a debilitating diagnosis. Was I crazy?
I got in the cab to the airport to catch my flight to London for the last leg of my trip. The cab driver and I started chatting about this and that. He eventually asked me what brought me here, and I decided to tell him what I did not think I would tell anyone during my travels. That I had recently been diagnosed with a serious form of cancer, had come out to visit a friend and get some perspective. He was taken aback and immediately told me I had a great spirit and he would never have thought anything was wrong with me. He told me about a trip he once took to America, the Kennedy Space Center in Washington DC. There was a souvenir that had stood out to him as we was ending his tour and walking through the gift shop, a fridge magnet that read ‘Failure is Not An Option’, also the title of this week’s blog. That souvenir sits on Liam’s fridge today, he looks at it every morning before he goes to work and it pushes him to face the day with determination and a smile no matter how bad things are. I met many people on this trip, Liam Kirwan, cab driver from Dublin, was the only person I told of my condition. And I was very glad I did.
As I got into London, I got a message on Instagram, an app I hardly use but should. An old work friend, Marc Bonfeld, had gone for a run, took a picture of himself and tagged it ‘Inspired @alexhanan’. I messaged Marc, thanking him, and he told me had one of his best runs in months. That he had shaved 2 minutes off his normal time thinking about me and the news I had shared with him the night before. Sometimes it’s the small things, thank you for sharing Marc.
There are stories out there, inspirational stories of people beating the odds, people getting up every day when they feel no hope but refusing to quit. They are all around us and I plan on being one of them. Until next time, I Got This.
My Irish Cab Driver, Liam Kirwan