Autumn is upon us in more ways than one

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Foggy morning.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Fall is definitely in the air here in northern Ohio. The telling signs of autumn are everywhere.

A drive through our luscious countryside or a leisurely hike or ride along the Holmes County Trail or just a peek out a window all sing the same song. Fall has arrived.

The leaves have begun to change. Dense morning fog magically gives way to bright, sunny days, only to reappear the next morning to begin the misty process anew. The days cool, warm and cool again in alluring rhythm.

I marvel at nature’s humor.

I bask in the warmth of the morning sun high on a rural road. To the west, residents have to feel socked in. A thick, cottony cloud stretches the full length of the Killbuck Valley. The morning’s colder, heavier air spreads the wet blanket over the precious marsh teeming with its mix of migrants and year-round residents.

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Fog in the valley.

Fields of golden rod and patches of wild daisies bring a warming brilliance to the once verdant landscapes. The lessening sunlight and cooler temperatures tell the foliage it’s time to morph into the secreted richer colors. Once emerald stalks fade fast from a sickly yellow to a dormant brown even before the first frost of the season.

Wildlife sense nature’s urgings, too. Small flocks of Eastern Bluebirds, still flashing their azure brilliance, congregate, searching for both sustenance and winter cover. A few Cedar Waxwings still buzz from the tops of their favorite playgrounds, while the chatty Chimney Swifts have already checked out for the season.

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Changing leaves.
Despite having access to calendars and electronic device reminders, humankind seems to be in denial. Men and women clad themselves in t-shirts and shorts as if it were still July. Are they naïve or hopeful that fall will imitate summer? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

No matter my activity, I dress in layers or carry extra apparel with me. I suspect it’s more me than the weather. I’ve noticed that the older I get the colder the days seem, even though the temperatures remain near their seasonal norms.

Further reflecting tells me that I am entering the October of my life as well. Transitioning from the long summer of busy workdays mingled with family meals and overlapping activities have evaporated like those morning mists. My good wife seems to have made the adjustments better than me.

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The waning Harvest Moon.
I enjoyed my career as an educator. In the 30 years of serving youngsters and cajoling adults, I learned a lot. I embraced my second career in marketing and writing with equal zeal.

Now reality is finally setting in for me. My parents are gone. My wife’s parents are gone. Friends from the Greatest Generation are fading fast, not to mention acquaintances from my own generation. I must ready to face the fall.

This certain transition hasn’t been easy. At times I have emotionally struggled with entering life’s October time. Yet facts are facts. My diminished hearing, loss of nimbleness and achy knees tell me that my autumn has arrived, too.

However long I have, I want to live life out with zest, energy and productivity. Fall is in the air. The harvest full moon is waning.

Whatever your age, together let us greet each day with a song and a smile. Let us celebrate the goodness that surrounds us regardless of whatever circumstances or personal season we encounter.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Early detection is critical for prostate cancer

By Bruce Stambaugh

I remember the exact time and place when I got the phone call that said I likely had prostate cancer. A biopsy three months later confirmed the preliminary test.

I wasn’t surprised by the news, but I was disappointed. I had hoped to avoid the disease that was in my family’s medical history. My father died of prostate cancer, and a year and a half before my diagnosis, my older brother had had robotic prostate cancer surgery to remove the cancerous prostate.

With this background, my doctors kept a close watch on my situation. When my Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) began to rise, my urology appointments went from annual to semiannual.

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Each September, the lamp in my office shines blue in honor of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.
The PSA test, which requires a simple blood draw, has been the standard for monitoring a man’s prostate health. September is designated as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and having a baseline PSA score is an essential guide for healthcare providers to know their patients’ situations, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“Early detection is important,” said Dr. Timothy Coblentz, a urologist in Canton and a native of Holmes County, Ohio. “Men who are caught early with prostate cancer have very good cure results.”

Dr. Coblentz said the PSA screening is especially important for men ages 55 to 69. He said men with high risk factors of family history and race should also be screened beginning no later than age 40.

“There is no doubt that screening for prostate cancer saves lives,” Dr. Coblentz said. His practice is part of the Canton Urology Group, which hosts a prostate cancer awareness meeting on the second Tuesday of each month.

Luis Lacourt of Massillon, Ohio coordinates the group. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 42, or as he puts it, “About 25 years before the average age of diagnosis.”

Lacourt also had a family history with the disease. His grandfather, father and uncle all had prostate cancer. At the urging of his father, Lacourt asked his family doctor to begin PSA testing to establish a baseline.

At age 40, he began seeing a urologist, who happened to be Dr. Coblentz. When Lacourt’s PSA score doubled in a year, the red flag went up. A biopsy confirmed his prostate cancer in May 2012, and a month later he underwent successful robotic prostate cancer surgery.

Lacourt, now 44, is a guidance counselor at Perry High School in Massillon. He is also an ordained minister.

“I believe that everything happens for a reason,” Lacourt said. “It became clear to me that prostate cancer awareness was something I could share as a positive influence to help others.”

With the assistance of a urology nurse with Dr. Coblentz, Lacourt began the monthly support meeting, which is open to all who have had or currently have prostate cancer. He said the emphasis is on sharing and learning, and recognizing that prostate cancer awareness is important.

Lacourt’s proactivity about prostate cancer began immediately after being diagnosed. He organized a Prostate Cancer Awareness night at a high school football game last October.

Early detection of prostate cancer was critical to me. Knowing the disease was in my family raised my risk of having it. However, my baseline PSA level was much higher than my brother’s. His spiked significantly in one year, the biopsy was done, followed by the surgery.

My PSA went up gradually. When it exceeded the standard threshold of 4, my testing and the exams increased, though I had no symptoms that anything was amiss. On May 12, 2011, I had my robotic prostate cancer surgery, and have fortunately since been declared cancer free.

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Having a support group to get through the various stages prostate cancer is important both emotional and physical health.
More than two years post surgery, I am doing very well, partly thanks to a support group of other men who have or are fighting the same fight. Kim Kellogg of Millersburg, Ohio invited me to the group. Kellogg was diagnosed with prostate cancer a year to the day ahead me.

“Having an advocate and being an advocate to others is really important before and after treatment,” Kellogg said. “Stay positive, be vocal, ask questions of the doctors and others who have had prostate cancer.”

Being able to share with a small group of others with prostate cancer has made the physical and emotional recovery from the robotic surgery much easier than trying to go it alone. Our group meets about once a month.

Statistically, one in six men get prostate cancer and 30,000 men die in the United States each year from the disease. Those figures alone drive prostate cancer awareness. Excellent resources about prostate cancer can be found from the Blue Cure Foundation and the One in Six Foundation. Both foundations provide excellent information on prostate cancer prevention, and resources for those diagnosed with prostate cancer and living with the disease.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

A commitment to community

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Fire fully involved the barn in minutes.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The middle-aged man sat in the van watching what he really wanted to do. His physically weak condition didn’t allow him to help rebuild the barn that had burned a month earlier.

I knew this man, and knew his heart was with these good people, people from across the community who came together to help resurrect the barn. My friend’s presence moved me as much as the corporate act of mutual aid that we witnessed.

Though he couldn’t help, my friend wanted to be there for support, for community, to keep the connection with his people. His presence was his help. Everyone knew about the fire that had destroyed the old bank barn. There was nothing firefighters could do that night other than to protect the adjacent buildings, which they did successfully.

Only three days before the barn raising, the clarion call went out, one phone message to another, for help. The result was a swarm of activity that began at sunrise and lasted until the job was nearly completed. This was not only how the community worked. It was the community.

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Three hours after the work had begun the barn was fully framed.

My friend knew this. He viewed his vicarious participation as imperative.

He didn’t need to tell me this of course. In our decades of living here in this place, we knew the unwritten, modest code of conduct. When your neighbors need help, help them.

It is the way this community operates, has operated, will operate. It is who we are and how we survive. Without one another, we are nothing. No man is an island indeed.

Old Order and New Order Amish worked side-by-side, hammer by hammer, board by board, with one another. Conservative Mennonites, Mennonites, and probably a few Baptists and Presbyterians were in the mix, too. All hands were on deck, no membership cards needed.

One man served as the coordinator for constructing the structure back into a barn. One body, estimated at about 300 men, women and children, made it happen. The process was beautiful to behold, a community in action.

With the foundation and floor previously completed, the framing of the barn began before sunup. By 8 a.m., the trusses were already being set. No orders needed to be barked. Spontaneous crews simply flowed in precision without cue, and the building arose. It was mind-boggling, astounding and inspiring.

Bearded men, clean-shaven men and teenage boys, proving themselves worthy, massed over the 50 by 60 foot frame. Seated on church benches, youngsters and women, their bonnets bleached whiter by the day’s brightness, watched and waited their turn.

By noon, the siding and roof were nearly completed. Hearty meals of homemade meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, and plenty of side dishes and luscious desserts refueled the crews for the afternoon.

Even the weather cooperated for stepping casually across the peek of the roof. Clear blue sky, no wind to sway the balance, no humidity to dehydrate efficient work all made for perfect construction conditions.

In practicality, such a coordinated effort helped cut the cost of rebuilding for the owner. In a broader sense, such a coordinated effort reaffirmed that in a cooperative community no tragedy is too great to overcome.

Though he couldn’t help lift a board, my friend participated in this most sacred and iconic act. To the passersby who stopped to take photographs, it was a special treat to behold.

For those who knew what really transpired, like my friend, it was much more than a delight. It was communion.

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By evening work on the main barn had been completed.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Life lessons from Uncle Jack

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From the front porch.

By Bruce Stambaugh

After lunch, I took a glass of my wife’s incredible lemonade and a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie out onto the front porch to warm myself in the noontime sun. It was one of those perfect September days, fluffy white clouds sailing in blue sky, driven by a steady, cool northwest wind.

In front of me bumblebees and honeybees and Clouded Sulphur butterflies worked the patch of Sweet Williams and splay of fragrant Bubblegum Petunias. Under such a spell, my mind wandered back to similar days, days of my youth when our grandfather would come calling.

Even if we weren’t outside, we knew Grandpa Merle had arrived. We could hear our Uncle Jack, who always accompanied our grandfather, long before they entered our brick bungalow in suburban Canton, Ohio.

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The brick house where I was raised.

Jack’s speech was loud, unintelligible, and inarticulate. We knew though that Jack was a good soul stuck in a damaged body. Jack had suffered a traumatic, life-threatening head injury as a young child. He and my father, Jack’s only brother, were seriously injured in an automobile accident 90 years ago.

Their grandfather had taken them for an impromptu Sunday afternoon drive in 1923 in his brand new car on a lovely summer’s day, like the one I was enjoying. Just one block from returning home, a drunk driver hit their car, killing my great grandfather instantly. The other driver was uninjured, and never charged for causing the crash.

Both my father and Jack suffered serious injuries. Back then trauma medical treatment was limited. Fortunate to be alive, Jack’s injuries were permanent, leaving him mentally retarded. Our father was less injured, and recovered more quickly.

The accident devastated my father’s family. To say raising Jack became difficult wouldn’t do the situation justice. With no social or educational support available in those days, caring for Jack became tedious and demanding, and eventually frayed my grandparents’ relationship.

Less than a decade later, they were divorced, and grandpa spent the rest of his life discouraged, wrought with the pressure of raising Jack alone. He worked long and hard to make a go of life for them both.

His grandchildren were his safety net. He and Jack often visited us on Sunday afternoons. The five of us grandkids greeted them with a mix of eager anticipation and reverent reserve. Grandpa Merle usually brought candy, perhaps to sweeten the harsh reality of Jack’s presence.

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Uncle Jack in 1990.
Because of his brain damage, Jack had some unique physical idiosyncrasies that could be construed to be bothersome. Besides his boisterous incoherence, Jack slapped himself frequently. When he sat, he generally crossed his legs, the top one wiggling nervously like an out of control metronome.

I don’t remember any of us ever being afraid or even ashamed of Jack. We managed to get the gist of what he was saying and knew he meant well.

I wish others had had the same view. Because of his quirky antics and loud manners, Grandpa Merle had to be careful where he took Jack. Out of fear and ignorance, some people were really mean to him.

As I look back on it, I realize that despite his social and mental limitations Uncle Jack had much to teach us. Tolerance toward others, acceptance of people as they are, and compassion for the less fortunate were just a few of the life lessons Jack imparted.

I also recall that Jack liked pink petunias and white, fluffy cloud days.

Miss Maren doesn’t miss a beat in Amish country

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Aunt Meena and Miss Maren playing a game of tag.

By Bruce Stambaugh

As we headed down the last of eight mountain passes toward her home in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, my three-year old granddaughter, Maren, asked a gem of a question.

We were listening to a child’s musical CD when she picked up on the words “miss you.” Typical of inquisitive three-year olds, Maren asked a profound question. “Does ‘miss you’ mean you will be glad to see him again?” she asked. As I glanced in the rearview mirror, her expressive eyes twinkled the answer. I smiled, and simply replied, “Exactly, Maren!”

That type of interaction had occurred several times in the four days my wife and I had hosted Maren. It was her first time away from her parents and her two older brothers. She passed the separation test with flying colors.

Neva and I had planned several activities that would keep her and her very active mind occupied while away from her familiar surroundings. As it turned out, we need not have worried about filling in the time.

It’s not that Maren didn’t miss her family. It was more like discovering the freedom of being an only child with no one to interrupt her magical control over Nana and Poppy.

From the time she left her home with Nana, Maren knew what she was doing and soaked up every minute of her trip. She was in such a hurry to get to our place that she preferred to snack instead of taking the time to stop for lunch.

When she arrived at our home, Maren insisted on getting her own suitcase out and rolling it into her bedroom. Maren smiled and laughed and played the entire time. There wasn’t a hint of homesickness.

Maren decided to sleep in her little bed with a multitude of stuffed animals. Now this is the same bed and room where Maren refuses to sleep when she visits with her parents. Maren has a reputation for not sleeping through the night. She did at our house, one night for nearly 12 hours.

Besides the various activities we had in mind for her, Maren had her own plans. She enjoyed several swinging sessions on the hammock sans her brothers, and helped Nana make apple sauce.

Maren’s favorite pastime was to feed the goldfish in our little garden pond and to look for the lone green frog. Maren equally relished filling the many birdfeeders I have hanging in the backyard.

While dining on the back porch one evening, Maren said, “You have a lot of bird feeders,” and proceeded to count the five that she saw. I reminded her of the small suet feeder on the other side of the porch. She said matter-of-factly, “Oh yes. That makes six.”

Maren also enjoyed her own private playtime. She did puzzles, rode her scooter and looked at books.

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Photo of our garden shed taken by Maren.
Maren was fascinated with my cameras, and asked if she could take some pictures. How could I say no? Most of her shots were spot on.

Like her brothers when they were her age, Maren loved the horse and buggies that clopped by our home. She especially enjoyed the one with the blaring boom box.

Too soon, however, it was time to head home. As much fun as she had had, Maren was glad to see her mommy and daddy, and her brothers again.

The lyrics of the song we had heard coming down that last mountain resonated. We miss you, Maren, very much.

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Although she really enjoyed her stay with us, Maren was happy to be home.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013