Carter Mondale pin

Voting With Jeff

Today is Election Day, so declared in 1845. It was a practical decision that accounted for a number of factors our young nation was facing.

We recognized the realities of our agrarian nature by scheduling a vote after harvest season, but not so far into winter as to make northern roads impassable from snow. We saw the effects of technology improving our communications, compounding the advantages of some states voting later than others, and so we made everyone in the U.S. vote on the same day. We chose Tuesday so as not to interfere with either Sabbath or Market Day, two institutions of our society. We tossed in the specificity of waiting until after the first Monday of November to keep the vote of electors a consistent 29 days apart.

Today is that day. While some of the magic has dulled from widespread adoption of early voting, I am still an open-presents-on-Christmas kind of guy. I like the pageantry, taking the day off to bask in democracy and share the experience with friends.

One of those friends, however, is now gone.

The earliest conversations Jeff and I had about politics came during our time at Northwood Elementary School. At some point, our teachers taught us about the election process by having us pick sides, hold up signs, and pretend we were at a national convention. Despite living in a Republican county, I started on Team Carter and never looked back. I’m certain Jeff wasn’t on my side of the fence initially, but as the years progressed we found common ground in the same pasture.

Politics drove much of our conversation over the years. We wrote—poorly—articles with political themes for the LeProCon, our high school periodical. We exchanged letters in college, occasionally commenting on the different politics of the Midwest and California. Long before social media, we emailed our debates. At some point, frustrated with the crop of politicians and policies, we created ThirdParty.org to be a forum for alternative politics. Four decades into our relationship, our politics was still central to our interactions.

On this particular Tuesday, I find myself missing Jeff more than any point since I got the sad news of his death. This is the kind of day we lived for, with high stakes following a long period of activism.

I want to talk to him about walking for Liz Watson, my local candidate for Congress, and why it took this long to knock on doors and donate meaningfully to a campaign. I want to tell him when our Indiana polls close and inquire about his own ballot choices. I want to stay up late into the night (for me) to watch the results come in, looking for virtual high fives or hugs, depending on the results. I want to conspire once again on impractical projects to change the world.

Today, I find myself angry at the arbitrary choice to vote on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November. I don’t know if Jeff was able to vote this year. California’s early voting started on October 8th, and it is conceivable he might have stopped his last Uber at a polling center somewhere, just in case, or filled out an absentee ballot as a precaution. Probably not, though. When it came to voting, he was an open-presents-on-Christmas kind of guy, and an eternal optimist. I find myself cursing agrarian society and the Sabbath and Market Day and all of the things that conspired to keep Jeff from enjoying today.

I found an old Carter/Mondale button in my son’s car. It reminded me of those early political conversations with Jeff, so I pinned it to my chest. I carried Jeff with me to the polls, and he helped me fill out my ballot.

Today, should you be on the fence about voting, please let Jeff take you to the polls.

 

 

hands on wall to make 50

Beginning

“How do I begin?”

This is the question that paralyzes me most when facing the death of someone I know and love. As I start to consider possible answers, my mind and my heart talk over each other with a swirl of suggestions that avoids consensus. I get stuck between a desire to connect with others and the guilt over not doing enough while my friend was alive, between fixing the unfixable and making a bedsheet fort where I will live the rest of my days. I want to do everything and absolutely nothing. How do I begin?

Just Bad for You is an archive of my friend Jeff Poehlmann’s experience living through a serious health challenge that ultimately cost him his life and us his voice. It is a space he made to help himself and others understand the particulars of lung cancer and how to live beyond the prognosis. From the testimonials on Facebook and LungCancer.net, where he spent the past year as a contributing writer, Jeff’s reach proved considerable. While he may not be here to continue publishing, Jeff did leave works-in-progress and a community of friends who can curate and contribute to the continuing story of what makes life meaningful.

In the wake of his death, I find it both comforting and intimidating to read and hear his words. Through his podcast, Jeff accompanies me on walking commutes to work, though usually only at the end of the day for fear I may be rendered useless. I see a dozen or so drafts in his queue, each started at different stages of his health journey, but I cannot yet bring myself to touch them.

With a brain and heart muddled in grief, I don’t have a clear idea how this blog will evolve. Perhaps it will be a place to process his life and our loss, or expand as a resource for the state of care for this and other diseases. Regardless, I do know that I want it to continue.

For four years, Jeff wrote about what he knew, what he learned, and most poignantly what he was experiencing. I do not have lung cancer. What I am experiencing now is loss and the challenge of regaining forward momentum in a world without Jeff. For a little while at least, that’s what this blog may focus on. We’ll draw from the strength he showed, even when not physically at his best, and the time he made to love the world.

I do not expect to be alone in this. Others who knew him or were impacted by his story may contribute as well, by sharing memories of Jeff that continue to resonate in his absence or by making meaning from the struggles they endure. For the moment, this space is for us.

Caring for Jeff’s community, however, requires starting with something. Right now, this is where I am and what I can do. Tomorrow, I will know I have already begun.

 

Living Well / Ending Well

Dear Readers

It’s with a heavy heart that I write this message.  My younger brother Jeffrey Poehlmann passed away from complications due to a sudden and fierce reoccurrence of his lung cancer in his “good” lung.  Jeff, as you all know from reading this blog, spent the last four years of his life with the knowledge that he had an unwelcome and invasive guest in his body and forged ahead every day looking to the future and taking as much positive living in the moments as he could.  He knew he was working on borrowed time and wanted to do as much good as he could for the advancement of lung cancer awareness through this blog, his writing for www.lungcancer.net, and his Patreon site.  Hopefully, we will be able to round up all this writing in book form at some point,  one of the goals he had in mind from the start.

 

Jeffrey’s last treatment, which you read about, was taking its toll.  The Poziotiniv  chemo treatment began May 23rd. This targeted therapy was appearing to work incredibly well at reducing the main tumor marker and other metastases, while at the same time providing a litany of other symptoms including a full body rash that all his remaining energies went to battling.  Since the 26th of  September,  Jeffrey’s doctors took him off these meds to give his body a chance to recover.

He subsequently developed what appeared to everyone to be pneumonia.  As pneumonia symptoms seemed to progress and his cough kept him from any sleep, Jeff began taking oxygen on October 10th during his last week at home.  On Thursday morning, while his wife was at work and daughter at school, Jeff called an Uber to take him over to USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center for evaluations.

That Thursday the x-rays showed complications in his formerly good lung; he was placed in a private room in ICU.  His lung was then drained giving Jeff incredible relief and the ability to feel well enough to easily communicate and had what he called his most restful and full sleep in weeks that night.  Unfortuntately, the bronchoscopy on Friday showed a huge cancer invasion of the lung and it was obvious to the hospital staff that he wasn’t long for this world.

With his typical good nature and positive outlook, Jeff continued through till Sunday morning Oct 21st, 2018 at 3:37 am when he finally let go.  He was with family his final day and able to be fully present with his daughter and wife, two surviving siblings and his mother to say goodbye.  We had a few tears, plenty of smiles and lots of talk about how grateful he was for the love and support all around him — family, friends, caregivers, and this extended community of you, his readers.

We will continue to maintain this site with more information and postings, albeit on a more limited basis.  His last wish in his Will was to establish a fund for his daughter’s future education.  Please follow this link to the GoFundMe site that we set up for the college fund.

https://www.gofundme.com/aubrey039s-education-fund

In the process of fulfilling Jeff’s wishes, like posting this announcement on his blog, I am frequently overcome by the love and support Jeff received from you, his readers, as well as from friends and family across the US. He loved well and was well loved.

Best,

Christopher Poehlmann

10-29-2018

Inability To Write

Trigger Warning: Graphic and Bloody Content Related to Medical Treatment

Also, there is a link to my podcast, equally scary.

I call the following picture “Why I Can’t Have Nice Things…” Continue reading Inability To Write

Itching, Itching, Scratching…

By chance, cleaning through my unread emails, I stumbled across notes and pictures for a post I had planned for nearly a year ago and for some reason never published. It struck me that it could very nearly have been something I wrote just this week. There wasn’t much written, just two rough paragraphs, but it did come with a nice collection of pictures. Here is what would have been, from November 4th, 2017:

Side Effects Have Me Scratching My Head

There’s no doubt that dealing with the side effects of cancer treatment can be perplexing. Patients deal with everything from digestive issues to pain to total hair loss to fatigue to stiff joints.

Over the last 3 years, I’ve had my share of issues and adaptations. Sometimes, alleviating a side effect proves relatively simple: take a pill, stop taking a pill, wear compression socks, change diet, wear a hat, take another pill, just accept it as a new part of life… But my current side effect of note has me scratching my head. It Itches. Oh, it itches. And nothing seems to be able to make it stop.

Continue reading Itching, Itching, Scratching…

Self-Care Challenge: Just Ask

One of the hardest things many chronically ill patients face is that moment when they realize they must ask for help. Why is that so hard? We live in a society that values self-reliance to the point, one might argue, that it becomes dogmatic. If you require assistance, you’re a taker. Everyone should be self-sufficient — or at least privileged enough to be able to rely on assets they may or may not have truly earned. But clearly, we cannot all be that fortunate, and certainly not all of the time. Reaching out for help should not be stigmatized. And one way to normalize the process is simply by practicing.

Another Month, Another Challenge

It is time for my monthly Self- Care Challenge, as an ambassador for the Health Storylines self-care program. This month, the challenge is to Just Ask. Every day, without being gratuitous, find something that you genuinely need assistance with and ask for it.  Continue reading Self-Care Challenge: Just Ask

To Clear or Not to Clear

I was told twice in one day this week that I looked “bright.” I was smiling and active, keeping myself busy and directed, and I was surrounded by people who I had not seen in several months (along with a few I had never seen at all). It was the good nature of reconnecting in a friendly crowd without the threat of being lost in it, I imagine, that sparked my particularly good mood on that occasion. The description was used again on subsequent days by unrelated people, causing me to take note that, perhaps, the whites of my eyes have simply become whiter. (Insert your own Revolutionary War joke here.) Continue reading To Clear or Not to Clear

Dying, Redux

I have tried to gather a few different perspectives on what it feels like to die or go through the process of dying, including my lengthy interview with Michael March just prior to his death not long after I met him online. Below, I present a different perspective entirely from Claire Wineland, a Cystic Fibrosis patient who had been advocating about her disease for quite some time. It is a video I found on YouTube that she uploaded a while back, explaining her own experience with technically dying on a number of occasions from complication arising from her disease. Continue reading Dying, Redux

Poziotinib and Me at Month Three: Feeling Crusty (But Still Onboard)

I spent well over 45 minutes combing scabs out of my sparse hair to commemorate the end of the second week of my third month on poziotinib. Not all at once, mind you; I had the good sense not to stand hunched over the sink for more than 20 minutes at a stretch. When I was done, or at least thought I should be, I rewarded myself by sort of washing and conditioning the wiry bristles that cover much of my scalp. Such are these minor celebrations. Continue reading Poziotinib and Me at Month Three: Feeling Crusty (But Still Onboard)

August Self-Care Challenge: Making Time to Laugh

Each month lately, I have been posting an easy to achieve (but still important) self-care challenge for my readers. And for myself, really; these are all issues that I need to be working on for my own well-being. Self-care is an essential component of any patient’s treatment process and should be an essential component of life in general, whether or not you are going through physical or emotional hardships outside of the ordinary.

As classic citizens of the modern world, we all will typically ignore our own needs at some point. Even the most greedy, narcissistic, self-involved among us will sometimes fail on the basics of self-care (and sometimes directly because of those very traits). But I’m not talking to that particular demographic right now, because my readers are certainly among the more enlightened, caring, and genuine people out there. Look, I’ve said it, you’re darn awesome. But that does not mean you don’t have room to improve yourselves or the lives you lead.

One way you can do that is by making time to laugh. Continue reading August Self-Care Challenge: Making Time to Laugh