Moving more slowly for good reasons


I’ve been moving a lot slower lately. At my age, that can be expected. That, however, is not the primary reason for my more leisurely pace. I recently had a right knee replacement.

Before the operation, I had been hobbling along at my usual rapid stride for too long. With bone on bone, arthritis, and bone spurs, I knew my knee would need medical attention.

I sought the absolute best orthopedic surgeon I could find. His reputation clearly preceded him. I had to wait three months for a consultation, and then another five months for the knee replacement surgery itself.

Three and a half hours after the surgery.
I took that delayed process as a cue. I needed to be more patient, more deliberate in my approach to life. I wasn’t a spring chicken anymore, and my achy knee daily reminded me of that fact.

My wife and I attended pre-surgery classes together. The instruction covered the do’s and don’ts of my activities both before and after the operation. Also, a friend from church had had the same surgery by the same surgeon at the same hospital as me with impressive results.

From these sources, I gained confidence, and specific themes emerged.

“Stay ahead of the pain,” was one. In other words, don’t try to be a hero. Take the pain medicines as directed.

“Ice is your friend,” was the second piece of wisdom. Elevating and icing the leg helped reduce the swelling and inflammation. Ironically, though, swelling is needed to properly heal the soft tissue, muscles, and ligaments that have been cut into and/or moved in the surgery process. The key was to keep the long, stapled incision dry and clean.

Long before the surgery, I began a routine of recommended exercises. I continued to do them in the healing process. Doing so clearly paid dividends.

On the stationary bike in the hospital rehab.
The doctor had told me that he would have me walking the same day as the operation. My surgery was at 10:30 a.m., and I was strolling down a hospital hall with a walker and supervision by 3:30 that afternoon.

Staying hydrated was another essential element in the post-surgery protocol. I drank like a fish.

The doctor had one more piece of pre-surgery advice for me: “Keep moving.” So I did.

I walked around the neighborhood, usually in the morning, as much as I could. I also went hiking, though I often stopped to rest, especially on inclines.

Though I have yet to have my post-op surgery visit with the doctor, it’s clear all that locomotion paid off. At the end of my first session, my physical therapists said I didn’t need either my walker or cane. A week after surgery, I was walking unaided up and down our street.

How I kept writing.
I noticed that my gait was nearly half of what it was before the surgery. As we walked side by side, I told my wife that I think this is the stride that I should continue to maintain.

I felt comfortable walking at a slower pace. An occasional sharp pain radiating from either side of the knee kept me focused on each and every step. It was the first test of my new, slower resolve. I had a new knee and a renewed appreciation for all that was around me.

I know I am fortunate, and that I still have a long way to go in the healing process. I hope that the more unhurried stroll through life will enhance my awareness. I’ll breathe deeply, observing, absorbing, and appreciating with even more vigor of whatever finds me along life’s path.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Same walk, new results

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH.
In my “hood.”

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love to walk outdoors. Treadmills don’t do it for me.

I guess I’m a multi-sensory walker. I need to exercise my listening, my observing, my sensing, my thinking as well as my muscles and my entire bony being.

Walking is an easy sport unless you’re a fair-weather walker. That’s me. I don’t do well in wet, windy, cold conditions.

My pickiness has its consequences, however. My body complains in multiple ways. My achy bones cry out in rebellion. My hamstrings tighten in protest. My soft tissue succumbs to gravity.

tulip
First tulip.
Other symptoms sneak up on you, tricking you into sullenness. Blood pressure is one of those conspirators.

All my life people would offer to buy my low blood pressure scores. I never fully appreciated the physicality of high blood pressure or the corrective medicinal ramifications. I do now.

Age apparently has caught up with me. At a routine check-up, my blood pressure was the highest it had ever been. Thinking it an anomaly, the nurse took it again. It went even higher.

I drove straight to the pharmacy and purchased a new digital wrist blood pressure cuff. My old manual one with the stethoscope had given up the ghost. I didn’t want to join it, so I began daily recordings of my blood pressure and pulse.

My good doctor tweaked my medication according to those results and my body’s physical reactions. I wasn’t ready for what followed. I hated the melancholy, lackadaisical feelings, the fuzziness and body fatigue, though I had done little physically.

I had a new appreciation for those with the same condition. I longed to return to my daily walks, but the weather was as uncooperative as my new pills. I brooded beneath the seemingly perpetual steel gray Ohio sky.

phlox in woods
Wild phlox.
Then, a week after the last snow, spring broke through. Daffodils sprang back. Spring beauties and phlox carpeted woodlots and pastures. The season’s first tulip brightened our yard. It was time to walk again.

The warmth alone drew me outside. I was in heaven again once I got past the roadside dead deer decaying in a woodlot south of our house. When I turned onto the little township road, I hit my stride.

I crested the first knob, and my favorite valley opened before me. The gently undulating and curving road reflected the morning sun. The road resembled a silver ribbon as it ran through the vale beyond the comely farms and up and over the eastern hill that separates one watershed from the other.

red-bellied woodpecker
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker.
The birds rejoiced with me. A dozen species regaled and entertained me with song and their territorial acrobatics. I rejoiced in the many varieties of the spring birds that had returned to mingle with the year-round residents.

At the halfway mark, the stream gurgled its own refreshing tune, too, though it hadn’t rained for days. The artesian well ran strong into the roadside trough. The willow tree teased yellow with its drooping canopy of leafy buds.

When I reached the little rise at the first farm, a familiar fragrance freshened the morning air. An invigorating mix of soap and cotton wafted all the way to the road from a recently hung line of laundry.

A few more steps and purple martins greeted me with salient salutations and arching flyovers. In contrast, the one-room Amish school stood silent, scholars already having completed another year of studies.

I felt incredible, transformed. My blood pressure was thankful, too.

valley, Ohio's Amish country
Evening in my favorite valley.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Staying healthy in the throes of winter

shoveling snow, Ohio
Finished shoveling.

By Bruce Stambaugh

February is upon us. Hopefully, winter in northeast Ohio is nearing its peak.

We don’t know what that means regarding the weather ahead. We simply long for milder days when we can be outdoors without the clumsiness of thick coats.

Most of us senior citizens avoid the nasty weather by staying inside or fleeing to warmer locales. In the process, we tend to overfeed February’s cabin fever. That’s not good for our health at any age.

I have a rather restricted diet due to some inherited genes I’d rather trade away. Of course, I can’t, so I am careful about what I eat. My loving wife goes out of her way to create the food that my body can handle.

For me, though, eating has never been a top priority. I’d rather be out and about, even in the harshest weather. After a measurable snow, you’ll likely find me outside pushing and shoveling the white stuff from the sidewalk and parking pad.

When I was younger, I’d take it as a personal challenge to shovel the entire driveway out to the county road. If the snow was heavy and wet, I took my time. Neva often joined me, along with our daughter and son, if they weren’t already off sledding with friends.

Amish buggy, snowy day
At rest.
Those days are long over. After this winter’s first measurable snowfall, I was out in it as usual. I bundled up in my typical fashion, hoodie, stocking cap, insulated coveralls, warm gloves and gumboots.

Snow removal isn’t a fashion show. It’s hard work, especially for someone pushing 70. For whatever reason, that thought blew into my head like the cold north wind. I remembered to take plenty of breaks and to pace myself.

During my frequent breathers, I observed crows sail through the still falling snow, and heard a state plow truck’s discordant rumble echo in the frosty air from a mile away. I stopped shoveling after I had cleared the sidewalk and turnaround.

I didn’t want to be a statistic, a seasonal casualty to stubbornness. I knew my limits and decided not to push them. When the snow is too deep, my good neighbor rescues me with his pickup’s snowplow.

The amount he charges is a whole lot cheaper than the negative consequences if I try to exert myself beyond my physical capacities. No one needs that heartache.

northern cardinal, snow, bird feeder
Beauty in the snow.
I’d rather pay the pittance charged than incur the repercussions. My inflated male ego has to take a backseat to my bodily well-being. It’s that simple.

I know I need the exercise, but braving winter’s harsh elements at my age can prove counterproductive. I look for other options to stay physically fit though some would question whether I have ever been in that condition.

I like to walk when I can, but that isn’t always a year-round option in northern climes. Other exercise options are easy to find.

My wife and I enjoy doing yoga regularly either in our home or at class. We have found it both physically and spiritually healing. The good Lord knows I need both.

I do simple stretches daily to ease my tennis elbow pain and to loosen my tight hamstrings. Those simple practices do wonders for me.

I’ll continue to be mindful of both what I eat and the portions I consume. I’ll continue to intentionally workout my body and mind daily.

Every new day is a gift. I must do my part to welcome another tomorrow.

farm lane, winter in Ohio
I’m glad my drive isn’t this long!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Celebrating something good out of something bad

Blue men by Bruce Stambaugh
Kim Kellogg, Randy Murray and I meet monthly as a support group following our treatments for prostate cancer.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We were rowdy without realizing it. What would you expect from three baby boomer couples?

About every month I meet with two other long-time friends for breakfast. Besides our age bracket, we all have something very special in common. All three of us are prostate cancer survivors.

Randy is a pastor. Kim co-owns his own business with his wife. Through a crisscrossing, intertwined past, we have known each other for most of our adult lives. It was the cancer, however, that brought us even closer together.

Blue light by Bruce StambaughWe jokingly call ourselves the Blue Men’s group. Blue is the official color for prostate cancer, juxtaposed to pink for breast cancer in women. There’s no joking about either.

We meet at a local restaurant to share. Finding others who have gone through the cancer experience is critical to full recovery, especially emotionally. We are our own support group.

We were all diagnosed within a year of one another. Like so many other cancer patients, we had the same disease in the same location. However, we all had our differences, and each chose, to use the term loosely, a different route for treatment.

Randy had radiation treatments and has stayed cancer-free. Because his cancer had escaped his prostate, Kim’s options were not as simple. He had chemotherapy, radiation and Lupron shots. He has just recently been given better news regarding his long-term recovery, and has good reason for a much more optimistic outlook than he did only a few months ago.

Based on my situation and diagnosis, I chose robotic prostate surgery. I was in the hospital one day and out the next. My PSA tests continue to be immeasurable, just like my compatriots.

We meet to share our progress, and to encourage one another. All three of us are in long-term marriages, and cancer, no matter which kind, affects the spouses, too.

We have been meeting for two years now. Because our spouses are such an integral part of our recovery, we annually do a nice dinner out with the wives. We did so recently, and this time we had even more than our trio of good reports to celebrate.

Happy couple by Bruce Stambaugh
Mr. and Mrs. Stambaugh.
On this particular occasion, we were exulting with Randy’s wife, Amy. Like too many other women, Amy has breast cancer. She just recently completed a lengthy series of challenging radiation treatments. Amy said she was really rejoicing because she now had more hair than I do. That wouldn’t take much.

Her journey isn’t over. But it was a joy to sit around a table and laugh and share instead of worry and dread the unknown. By communing together, we lifted each other’s spirits in a way that none of us could have alone.

My wife and Kim’s needed support, too. As faithful wives, they have had to endure the consequences of both treatment and recovery. They also cared greatly for Amy, with whom they could easily identify.

There is nothing good about cancer. There is no good cancer. There is only cancer.

This night, in this restaurant, gathered with comrades in loving arms and warm hearts, we were as one. Around that dinner table an unspoken common spirit of celebrative unity reigned. Gratitude overcame dread. Communal relief replaced disquieting uncertainty. Laughter was our dessert.

Finally, something good had transformed out of something really bad. We only hoped the restaurant staff and other patrons understood our irrepressible joy.

Amish sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Changing diets to live

Walking by Bruce Stambaugh
Bruce Stambaugh

Nearly five years ago, I was forced to change diets. That’s right. Forced.

During my annual physical exam at the doctor’s office, I happened to mention that I had recently had a couple of dizzy spells. With a family history of strokes and heart issues, the doctor ordered some tests, including a MRI.

On the return visit, I was told that I had cerebral arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries of the brain. If I continued my regular lifestyle, including my normal, unrestricted diet, I would run a high risk of a stroke.

The doctor of course prescribed medication, encouraged me to increase my exercise routine, and to drastically change my diet. The “don’ts” of the new diet far out numbered the “dos.”

Fresh veggies by Bruce StambaughThe orders were no beef or pork, no processed food, no fried food, and only no-fat dairy products. Instead, my choices were grilled, roasted, baked or broiled fish, chicken or turkey. In addition, I needed to eat at least five to six servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Basically, I could eat anything with two legs or no legs.

My head was spinning. The doctor must have sensed my tension because he did something rather unusual. He pulled up his own medical chart on his laptop and showed me his blood work scores. He, too, had the same disease, and had been on the same diet for more than a year.

“You can do it,” he said.

My doctor was right. I could do it because I did. I have been eating that way every since and enjoying it greatly. In fact within a month of going meatless and eating lots of fruits and veggies, I felt much better.

Of course I had increased my exercise, walking for 30 minutes at least three times per week. I rode the exercise bicycle if the weather was bad.

My wife, the chief cook in our empty nest home, was diligent about preparing food that I could eat. Together we followed the same diet.

Heirloom tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

My change in diet came right when our heirloom tomatoes came ripe. That was both good and bad. The tomatoes were great to eat fresh off the vine or in a salad or salsa or soup, but I missed one of my favorite foods, bacon, tomato and lettuce sandwiches. Having the latter two without the bacon hardly qualified as a sandwich.

At my three-month checkup, I told the doctor about my BLT cravings. He said that it was all right to eat some meat once a month or so. I looked forward to my BLTs the next year, but kept to my no meat diet as best I could.

Fried tilapia by Bruce Stambaugh
Fried tilapia and rice served to me in a home in Honduras.
If I was served meat as a guest in someone’s home, I politely ate it, but only a small portion. While working in Honduras on a mission project with a group from our church, we were sometimes served beef or fried fish. Not wanting to be insulting, I ate what was prepared for me or furtively shared with another person.

A year after first going on my new diet I received the best news possible. My homocysteine levels, the important blood work scores, were below the danger threshold. The diet, exercise and medication were working.

My doctor was as pleased as I was. I told him that to celebrate I was going out to eat and have a steak. I didn’t of course. By then, the desire for meat had long faded. In fact, the greasy smell exhausted by restaurants makes me nauseous.

Even though the dizziness about which I had originally complained was unrelated to my disease, I was ever thankful that I had mentioned it. I feel better, less lethargic, and more vibrant. I have lost a few pounds, and enjoy my regular walks, which have the added bonus of communing with God and nature as I stroll along our rural roads.

Best of all, I am able to maintain my regular routines and enjoy not only the food I eat, but the life that God has given me one day at a time.

Country view by Bruce Stambaugh

This article appeared in the July 2012 edition of Purpose, Stories of Faith and Promise.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

One year later, all is well

Biking by Bruce Stambaugh
A year after prostate cancer surgery, I am enjoying regular activities like biking with my family.

By Bruce Stambaugh

A year following my prostate cancer surgery, all is well. It’s hasn’t been a totally uneventful recovery. It certainly could have been worse.

I am extremely glad to be able to say “cancer free.” And yet, I do so with humility, appreciation and the realization that too many people never get to utter those precious words.

Men tend to be pretty squeamish even just thinking about prostate issues, much less talking or writing about them. That’s mainly due to the two unspeakable potential side effects, incontinency and impotency. Because of those two potential consequences, some men unfortunately never return to their doctor once they have been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Father and sons by Bruce Stambaugh
My older brother, Craig, my late father, Richard, and I all had prostate cancer.
I wasn’t surprised at all when I received the word that I likely had prostate cancer. My older brother had had robotic prostate cancer surgery 18 months before my own diagnosis. Our father had died of the consequences of prostate cancer after a 17-year battle.

It was this family history and the marked vigilance of my good doctors via annual, then semi-annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing that kept the possibility of having prostate cancer at the forefront of my medical exams. I am forever grateful for that watchfulness.

In the months before and after the surgery to remove my cancerous prostate, I received invaluable advice from friends and strangers alike regarding their personal experiences. I also read and researched as much as I could.

Veggie pizza by Bruce Stambaugh
A healthy diet is essential to good health, especially if you have or had cancer. This homemade veggie pizza is both colorful and healthy to eat.
Months after my surgery, a government sponsored panel recommended that regular PSA tests be discontinued as a way to monitor for prostate cancer. That conclusion was based on what was determined to be an overuse of the test and subsequently a high rate of prostate biopsies.

Without either the PSA tests or the conclusive biopsy, I could only guess today whether I had prostate cancer or not. I exhibited no symptoms. When my PSA steadily rose over the course of nearly two years to beyond the danger threshold, I was given a relatively new medical test, called PCA3, that was 90 percent accurate whether it returned negative or positive.

I remember exactly when and where I was when I received the call that my test was positive. It’s the kind of news that one never forgets, like where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001 or December 7, 1941. This was my personal 9/11.

Yet here I am today, alive and well and steadily overcoming the after effects of the surgery. Last November, I had a non-prostate related second surgery that dramatically impeded my recovery. True, left untreated the prostate cancer would not have killed me by now, perhaps never.

Grandchildren by Bruce Stambaugh
This picture was taken just three months after my da Vinci surgery. My wife and I were already traveling with and enjoying the grandchildren.
The biopsy determined that my cancer was the same moderately aggressive type that my brother and father both had. I leaned heavily on my older brother for advice, especially once I decided to move ahead with the robotic surgery, called da Vinci. It’s a surgery that is less invasive, less painful, causes less blood loss, has a quicker recovery than regular radical surgery, and focuses on nerve sparing to lessen the manly issues of being impotent and incontinent. Implanted radioactive seeding or direct radiation were my other options, both with similar long-term side effects that I deemed undesirable.

Through marvelous treatment and care by my doctors, and proper diet and exercise, I have survived. At this point in time, I am ahead of the curve on the two “big” side effects. They are only occasional and manageable inconveniencies. With the cancer out of my body, I don’t ever have to worry about prostate cancer again. No medical test can measure that satisfaction.

I cherish the words “cancer free.” I only wish every cancer victim could say them. Until then, I’ll keep telling my story to whoever will listen. If doing so helps save just one life, it all will have been well worth it no matter what the experts say.

Dewy web by Bruce Stambaugh
Being cancer free, I try to cherish whatever each day brings, even the dew on a spider’s web.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Reflecting on an unhealthy year

January sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

This hasn’t been the healthiest year of my life. It began in January with bronchitis that turned into pneumonia and has ended with recuperation from a second surgery.

In between, of course, came the confirmation of prostate cancer. I had to endure uncomfortable tests to determine both its presence and infiltration into my body. Fortunately, the cancer was caught early, and removed without major complications.

Helping hands by Bruce Stambaugh
My good wife braved the cold winter elements to fill the bird feeders while I was sick.

I chose the robotic or da Vinci surgery to get rid of the cancer as opposed to the regular radical surgery. The da Vinci was proven to be less intrusive, cause less pain, have less blood loss, be more exact in saving the bundle of nerves that control men’s precious plumbing, and have a quicker recovery.

I was more than glad I went that route. Of course, like anyone else facing surgery, especially surgery for cancer, I ran the full gamut of emotions that ranged from anger to fear to doubt to denial. Still, I wanted that cancer out of my body. My good doctor expertly did just that.
Bluebird by Bruce Stambaugh
After the surgery, I knew I had to behave and follow the instructions religiously. With the aid of my wonderful wife, I did my best to get my life as close to being back to normal as possible.

My recovery was progressing along nicely until I had an unexpected sidetrack, which led to my second surgery. Repairing a hernia certainly isn’t life threatening, but it did set me back considerably in my initial rehabilitation from my May surgery.

Kids and balloons by Bruce Stambaugh
My grandchildren did their best to keep me smiling.

The second surgery was also successful, and once again my recovery has gone well. I still have some lifting limitations that I tried unsuccessfully to get the doctor to extend for six years.

All that being said, I tried to keep my focus on others. Clearly, many, many people in this socially connected world of ours have had or do have it much worse off than me. The last thing I wanted was to feel sorry for myself. But I did. I’m a man. What would you expect?

Mom's birthday by Bruce Stambaugh
My mother celebrated her 90th birthday in June.

My wife made sure my self-pity didn’t last long. Thankful to be alive and alert, I worked around my physical limitations as best I could by trying to focus on the circumstances of others. There are lots of hurting people out there who have it much worse than me. Friends, relatives and even friends of friends are going through unthinkable miseries.

But think of them I must. To be down and out, sick or disabled through some accident or illness is bad enough. To be that way during the approaching holidays makes it all the harder. I try to visit and pray and do whatever I can to help. They did that for me. It’s the least I can do for them.

Three survivors by Bruce Stambaugh
Three prostate cancer survivors, Kim Kellogg, Randy Murray and me.

I greatly appreciated the kindnesses shown to me. I feel obliged to return the favor wherever and whenever I can.

Chances to help unexpectedly present themselves. The key to being helpful is recognizing when those opportunities arise, and responding accordingly.

Being a survivor, I hope I never forget that that’s exactly what I need to do. Respond where and when I can, even if it’s just listening and holding a hand. Having company in times of personal distress is a mighty gift that needs no unwrapping.

This has been an unhealthy year for me. But I’m here. I made it, grateful to be alive and determined to help those in need, even if it is nothing more than offering a smile.
Foggy sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh