As I have for the past 12 years (see list), my first post of 2021 across all my sites is of three(-ish) words that are my aspirations or “themes” for the year ahead. As my 18yo daughter has reminded me, the beginning of a new calendar year is a completely arbitrary marker 🙂, but it does provide a moment to pause and reflect. Particularly THIS year with the pandemic, we’ve had a great amount of reflection time!
Note: while last year’s post was super short, this one is much longer...
Some of my colleagues at the Internet Society are undoubtedly tired of hearing me say that we must “Do Fewer Things Better”. That’s been my mantra for the past several years, particularly after I took on our website redesign four years ago at the beginning of 2017. As I looked at all the many amazing things we were doing, it was clear to me that we were doing far more than we really could with our small staff. It was hard to capture in our website what we did as an organization, because we were doing so many things! As our new-ish (2018) CEO is fond of saying “We aren’t the Everything Society!” We’ve worked hard over these years to be more focused and have more clarity of purpose.
In 2020, some internal organization changes and internal opportunities caused me to think deeply about exactly what it is I want to be doing - not only within the Internet Society, but also in my larger life. In the immortal words of the poet Mary Oliver:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I spent a great amount of time just… thinking. Reflecting. Writing. Mind-mapping. I re-read a book I’ve enjoyed - “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”, which may actually be from where I started using “Do Fewer Things Better” (although he uses a slight variation “fewer, but better” following on from the German “weniger aber besser”).
Perhaps most importantly, I went back and read my blog post about WHY I joined the Internet Society back in September 2011. A critical section stood out:
We have before us a choice of futures.
One choice leads to a future where innovative companies can emerge, thrive, disrupt and succeed.
Another choice leads to a future where what little "innovation" there is exists only at the will of the gatekeepers to the network after appropriate requirements and/or payments are met. Other choices lead to outcomes somewhere in between those polarities.
How will we choose?
I realized that something in my work that I had been missing from 2017-2019, with so much of my work focused on the organization’s websites, was being a stronger voice about this choice of futures we have. In 2020, I got a chance to speak and write more on this topic as I lead our Open Standards Everywhere project… and it left me wanting to do more.
The pandemic showed us how critical the Internet is. It is the lifeline that is connecting us in all we do. It is how we communicate, collaborate, create, connect…. It is how we work, how we go to school, how we buy things.
And yet… this “lifeline” of ours is not well understood by everyone using it. And in particular by so many of the people creating policies or making decisions around the Internet.
The “Internet” needs more voices explaining HOW it works… and WHY it works the way does… and why it is worth defending. (We see it right now with the “Section 230” debates happening where it’s clear that some people don’t understand what the actual topic is!)
This happens to be something I can do particularly well. And so out of all that thought and reflection emerged the clarity of a personal “mission”, not just for my work, but also for my larger life in general:
To help people understand our choice of futures in our ever-more connected society, and to be a voice for the open Internet.
There’s an amazing clarity that happens when you have that clear of a direction. It provides a lens through which to evaluate choices and opportunities. It provided guidance in those work changes and opportunities I mentioned above.
It also provided a lens through which to evaluate opportunities outside of work. As an example, over the past several months I’ve had people from two separate nonprofits that I greatly admire approach me about joining their Board of Directors. A few years ago I would have probably just said “yes” to both, because they are great organizations and I enjoy serving on boards and helping organizations move forward.
But this clarity of purpose, combined with “do fewer things better”, provided a lens through which I could evaluate the choices. With everything else going on right now, could I really give the time to help the organizations succeed? And secondly, would joining that board help move this personal mission forward?
For one organization, the answer was a clear yes. For the other, it wasn’t.
In 2021, I want to continue to focus on being more clear on my priorities in life, more intentional, more focused. As part of that, too, I want to evaluate the things I am doing and decide whether I truly want to continue (and have the capacity to do so), or if it is time to end some of those activities.
As noted above, if I truly want to be “a voice for the open Internet” and “to help people understand our choice of futures”… well… I kind of have to DO THAT, eh?
When I looked back over these 12 years of writing these “3 words” posts, 10 of the posts have included a word about doing “more” with creating content!
And yet… here I am again.
I have stories I want to tell. I have things I want to say. I have information that I think would help other people.
And yet… I struggle to get those stories and words out.
The “tyranny of the blank page” wins. The articles aren’t written. The podcast episodes aren’t recorded. The videos aren’t made.
As part of that clarity of purposed mentioned above, I’ve been looking at what is it that stops me from getting those stories out. In some cases it has been the fear of getting started. In some cases it has just been… well… life in a pandemic. In other cases, it’s been… getting distracted by everything else on the Internet.
A goal in 2021 is to break through those blockages. I want to get writing again. I want to more consistently create podcast episodes. I’d like to send out more than one email newsletter in an entire year!
Or not! Another goal this year is also to re-evaluate… if I’m not realistically going to send out email newsletters, then just shut it down! If I’m not going to publish posts on one of my sites… archive it! It’s time to do fewer content things better!
Finally, the pandemic of 2020 has certainly shown the strength of - and need for - connections with other people. In some ways, the pandemic has been amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever had a stronger connection with my wife and daughters than I have this year! My wife and I have been able to carve out some “date time” on morning walks that has brought us even closer together. The sadness of our 18yo not being able to attend her first year of university on campus has provided an amazing opportunity to learn so much more about the incredible young adult she has become. (For her sake, we’re hoping she can move on campus in the fall of 2021!) It was strange for our 11yo to start a new school entirely online and from home, but we’ve also embraced our ability to see more of her than we would in a typical school day.
But for all the strengthening of my immediate connections, I dearly miss seeing my parents and extended family. Video calls are great, but not the same. I miss seeing old friends … and making new friends. The pandemic has definitely highlighted to me that I while I’ve made some connections here in Vermont since we moved here in 2018, I do need to strengthen the ones I have and also expand a bit more.
As a strong extrovert, I enjoy the interactions with many people… and that’s so hard to do in this pandemic world. I’m hoping the combination of vaccines and behavior will help us put this virus behind us.
While those are my main themes, there are certainly two other themes that are constant in my life:
So these are all thoughts as we leave the craziness of 2020 and enter into 2021… we’ll see how the year shapes up - and how well I do!
How about you? What are things you want to accomplish or do differently in 2021?
Today is a special anniversary for me. It was 10 years ago, on May 30, 2010, that I made a decision to get serious about my health. I was about 60+ pounds over what a target weight should be for someone my age. I got winded just walking a few blocks. I needed to change! My wife and I both decided we were going to start getting in shape by just going walking. It was SO helpful to have her as a partner in doing this. We started walking in a beautiful, large cemetery in Keene, New Hampshire.
Over the weeks and months that followed, we started to add short bits of jogging to the walking. Then a little more. And a little more. And more. We had objectives - first we would run from the entrance down to the flagpole. Then we would extend it up to the Chapel. Then back to the flag pole... and so on.
Eventually over many months we were actively running through the cemetery paths!
And through it all I started to record my weight and other stats every Monday morning. I've continued doing that all these years later, leading to the nice chart at the top of this post. It's nice to have a decade of data.
There was a wonderful period of time in there from maybe 2011-2014 when I was actively running in 5K races. I even ran three half-marathons (the same race, three different years). And somewhere in there I would routinely run a loop through the whole cemetery after running an entire 5K!
Beyond adding in exercise, I was also looking at eating healthier, too. In large part cutting back on seconds, eating fewer sweets.
But then things happened. I kept finding excuses for not exercising. I didn't make the best food choices. And as the graph in this post shows, my weight kept climbing and climbing.
Then last fall I decided to get serious again. I tried increasing my exercise while also lowering my consumption of carbs and sugar. It was all working well as the red box on the right points out.
But then... COVID-19. And in the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty, I've chosen comfort foods and sweets, and have slacked off some on the exercise.
But... my goal is now to change that... and bring back more of the exercise, and make better food choices! Hopefully if I am still writing these posts 10 years from now, the story may be a bit different!
Time will tell... but tonight I'm just going to celebrate this anniversary of starting the journey toward being healthier - and all that that journey has brought to me!
As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day today, April 22, 2020, my mind jumped back 30 years to "Earth Day 1990" in the state of New Hampshire. I made some choices that year and seized some opportunities that introduced me to the worlds of communications, community organizing, and public relations. I approached 1990 thinking I was going to be finishing up a Masters in Education degree and heading back to Connecticut to teach in a public high school. But life took very different turns and presented new opportunities. The choices I made then set me on the path that led to where I am 30 years later.
I reflected on all this in a podcast episode:
Happy Earth Day to you all!
P.S. See also this post I wrote today: On this 50th Earth Day, We Are Using The Internet To Change The World
As I have for every year since 2010 (see list), I decided to start out 2020 with four words that are aspirations for the "themes" of my activities in this next year.
In truth... this 2020 post is really just a re-do of the 2019 post - read that one first. Basically, it's the same with one addition.
Still working on this. Doing some more exercise and trying to reduce the amount of carbs and sugar. Let's see what happens.
Still want to work on this. I had a period in November 2019 where I tried with NaPodPoMo to get more content out there, at least in audio form.
Still struggling to figure out the best path to connecting with people locally... trying a few different paths... but it's proving to be a bit challenging in the midst of our modern lives.
One more concrete goal for 2020 is to build on that "P.S." I had in 2019 and actually learn a bit more Français! In 2020 I've signed up for some face-to-face French classes with a local (Vermont) organization, and I'm also planning to put some time into some software and apps. We'll see!
What about you? What are you thinking about for 2020?
An audio version is available:
Today was a wonderful day. It was the one-year anniversary of the surgery (28 Aug 2018) that removed the sigmoid section of my colon, taking with it any potential cancer (there wasn’t any!).
By virtue of the joys of trying to align various schedules, it was also the day for a follow-up colonoscopy to see if there were any more polyps or signs of cancer. After the rather horrid preparation process, I went to the hospital this morning, had the test, and received the news that there were NO further signs of cancer!
Between this colonoscopy today, a CT scan earlier this month, and some recent blood tests, it does seem that the cancer is all gone. The other excellent piece of news is that I don’t need to do a colonoscopy for 3 years!
Many thanks to Dr. Peter Cataldo’s team - and to all the nurses and others at the UVM Medical Center here in Burlington. They were all excellent and very helpful and supportive.
All in all, a great day.
P.S. As a bonus for me as a geek and engineer… when they were taking me into the room for the procedure, the doctor asked if I wanted to be asleep or awake. I had been planning for sedation (and NOT looking forward to it) and wasn’t aware that there was even an option for being conscious.
Of course I had to stay awake and watch! So I got to see the video as they moved the scope up through my colon. I saw where they did the surgery (and was reminded that I actually have tiny titanium staples inside of me). And I got to see where my appendix is. All very cool to see!
Previous entries in my cancer stories:
Image credit: Cristian Escobar on Unsplash
As I have now done every year since 2010 (see past years), here are three words that I aspire to be the "themes" of my activity this year.
You'll note that these are really quite similar to my 3 words for 2018 - and in truth I think 2019 is really a continuation of everything in 2018 that was left undone with the severe disruption and chaos of both: 1) uprooting our family to move to Vermont; and 2) the unwelcome guest of colon cancer. I am SO ready to put a period at the end of the sentence of 2018 … and move on to what will be hopefully better chapters within 2019!
Last year I said that my health needed to be a focus - and the colonoscopy was part of that… but with all that insanity, there is much still left to do. I’m sadly now almost back up to the unhealthy weight I was in 2010. The dental issues that were there a year ago continue to be with me. And now we need to find all new doctors, dentists, vision centers, etc. It’s got to be a priority - as we do only have one body. And I’d like to be around for a while!
2018 was a year when I continued to struggle with writing consistently. It’s so easy to NOT write or produce other kinds of content because…. work responsibilities, family logistics, the time suck of social media… and… and… and… there’s a million reasons. Toward the end of the year I started to write more, but it was in part to get myself back in the regular practice of creating content.
In 2019 I’d like to not only write more, but also find a bit more of the stronger “voice” I used to have in my writing and speaking. I want to be a stronger and more vocal voice for an open Internet - and for an Internet that works for us rather than for mega-corporations, platforms and governments. My challenge is to carve out the time to do the writing and the research and to speak and more.
As I wrote last year, I'm finding that I'm communicating with a large number of people, but not necessarily connecting with people on a deeper level. This has certainly been highlighted with our move to Vermont. Beyond just “connections”, I’m looking at 2019 as a time to truly spend more time with friends - and for investing the time to develop new friendships in this beautiful part of the world to which we have moved. Nurturing friendships, both new and old, does definitely take time and energy - and I intend for it to be a priority this year.
That's what I am thinking about for this year... what about you?
P.S. Another life goal for this year - I want to be able to go into a Tim Hortons in Quebec and order a meal entirely en Francais! I’ve been dabbling in learning more French over the past years, but this year I want to be able to at least go in and order a double chocolate donut, a sandwich and a tea! ;-) Particularly since we are winding up in Quebec a good bit for curling and other travel.
P.P.S. And yeah, if I’m serious about “health”, I shouldn’t be ordering double chocolate donuts, right? But hey, every once in a while is okay, right?
An audio version of this post (with more commentary) is available on SoundCloud:
The call came this morning, right as my regular weekly Strategic Communications team meeting was starting up. Once I saw the call was the Burlington hospital, I muted my connection, shut off the video ... and waited breathlessly for the news...
The surgeon was delighted to call and say... no more cancer was found in the colon walls or lymph nodes!
It's done. Finished. Fertig.
I'm as close to "cancer-free" as anyone with colon cancer can be.
No further tests needed. No chemo. No other treatments. I'll go back in about three months for a "flexible sigmoidoscopy" where they'll use a probe to check how my reconnected colon looks. And they'll monitor my colon more often (which presumably will mean colonoscopies at more frequent intervals). But that's it. (Yes, I still have further recovery from surgery ahead of me, but that's moving ahead well right now.)
There are no words to truly express the relief washing over me and my family right now.
As I said in my original post, if a colonoscopy is recommended for you, don't delay, just do it!
The test caught my cancer early. Had I waited and delayed the test months or years... the cancer could have spread so much farther... and this would have been a much different post to write.
There are no words to capture the relief, joy and happiness of right now.
Image: a photo I took of part of the Burlington harbor from the patio of the restaurant where we had a celebration dinner tonight. Yes, the Burlington area is a gorgeous area in which to live!
I put on pants today.
With a belt!
This was a BIG deal.
It's not that I haven't been wearing pants 😉 ... but that I've only been able to wear running pants with an elastic waste since leaving the hospital on Thursady. My stomach was too bloated from the surgery and it hurt too much to wear anything else.
Another small victory!
Never having had surgery before, I'm learning what countless others have learned before me - that each day brings a series of small victories, without hopefully any major defeats along the way.
To follow on my previous post, I did go in for surgery for colon cancer last Tuesday, August 28th. Technically, I guess it was a "Sigmoid Colon Resection" because I was diagnosed with "Malignant Neoplasm Of Sigmoid Colon", but let's put that in plain language...
"They found a small bit of cancer in my colon and so they went in and cut out about 12 inches of my colon and re-attached the other sections to each other."
A high-tech fix of my internal plumbing. Slice out a bad section and re-connect the other open ends.
I went in at 11am and woke up several hours later in a hospital bed feeling like someone had stabbed me and cut me in the stomach! I also apparently had a rather pleasant conversation with my family... of which I remember absolutely nothing! Some time later when the anesthesia fully wore off, I was able to see them all and remember.
I was in the hospital all day on Wednesday but then by Thursday morning I was able to go home!
All along the way it was this series of small but ever-so-important victories! Passing gas and pooping turned out to be the first critical steps... which makes sense given that you want to be sure the pipes got all reconnected.
Then it was walking around the hospital floor, eating solid food, drinking lots of water, etc.
After coming home it was climbing the steps... taking a long, slow, slow, slow walk around the neighborhood. Trying to find some comfortable way to sleep. And so on.
Then it moved on to walking at a more normal pace and moving around more regularly. Saturday we walked around Church Street (photo above) and the Burlington Farmers Market. Sunday I drove the minivan and we took the ferry across Lake Champlain to visit Essex, NY. Today I put on pants. 😊
It's not all normal, of course. I tire easily and have needed afternoon naps. I'm still not sleeping through the night. And I have metal staples protruding from my stomach that I have to be very careful about! While I can eat almost everything, a big restriction is on raw fruits and vegetables, which is something I enjoy eating. (Raw fruits and vegetables (except bananas) turn out to be harder to digest, particularly the skins, and the doctors want only soft things passing through my newly-reconnected colon. (Cooked and mushy vegetables are fine.))
I'm very amazed and obviously pleased at how the recovery is going. The doctors had said that patients were generally in the hospital for 1-5 days, with most people being in 2-3 days... I'm glad I wound up on the low end of that. I'm also pleased that so far I've been able to manage the pain using only the Tylenol and have not had to use any narcotics/opiods.
Thank you to the many who have held me in their thoughts and prayers, or sent positive thoughts, or who just sent me nice messages. All seems good so far.
Tomorrow I'll try being back at work for a bit. Somewhere in here I'll get the staples out (10 days-ish).
Each day a few more victories!
Now, we just wait for the biopsies, which should come "in a week or so". Sigh...
"I'm sorry, but unfortunately one of your polyps tested positive for colon cancer."
Not the phone call you want to receive at 4:00pm on a Friday afternoon. Especially one week before you are about to buy a house in Vermont and start the process of relocating your family - and leaving behind your friends, other family members, and your whole "support system"!
In truth, not a phone call you EVER want to receive.
But I did get that call on June 29, 2018. And after many more tests, discussions and agonizing analysis, I'll be entering the hospital in a week, on August 28, to have my "sigmoid" removed - something I honestly didn't even know I had until about three weeks ago!
So a key message to all my friends and readers (and the "TL;DR" summary for this very long post):
Get your colonoscopy when you turn 50!
Don't delay. Don't wait. Just do it.
Here in the USA when we hit the magical age of 50, the healthcare system strongly recommends that we get a whole suite of various tests done. Perhaps the least favorite of those is the "screening colonoscopy", largely because the preparation is a huge, uncomfortable process. And, let's be honest, who really wants to have a metal probe stuck up their bottom?
But do it.
I almost didn't. As it was, I delayed doing it for 8 months. And with our decision to uproot our lives and move to Vermont, it was EXTREMELY tempting to push it off and "just wait until we are settled" ... which probably would have been next year... or the year after... or who knows when.
Had I delayed, the one very small cancerous "polyp" might have spread to much more of my colon. Or it might have spread ("metastasized" in cancer-speak) into other parts of my body and re-appeared as lung cancer or liver cancer or brain cancer or something else. (Or, in the annoying ways of cancer, it might not have done anything and just still been there alone - but do you want to take that chance?)
I was lucky. The test worked. The cancer was found very early. By all signs after the surgery next week I should be good to go for a long time ahead.
So don't wait. Just do it.
When the doctor at the Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, NH, did my colonoscopy, he found three small "polyps". Think of a polyp as a tiny growth shaped kind of like a lollipop. And by "tiny", all of these were 2-5 millimeters in width - not much more than a couple of hairs!
This was on Wednesday, June 27. The doctor thought they all looked small and, while we had to wait for the tests ("biopsies"), his initial reaction was that they did NOT look like they were cancerous. (They looked "benign" in medical lingo.)
So I went home with the attitude "Okay... done the colonoscopy thing. I can now forget about this until the next one in 10 years and focus on packing more boxes."
After all, other than needing to lose maybe 30 pounds, I'm in good physical condition. I have no medical issues. I'm not on any medications. I run a good bit - and past tests have shown my heart in good shape. All my routine physical tests and blood work at 50 show me to be in good health.
Except, it turns out, for that one damn polyp.
That call on Friday (two days later) led to a rush of tests the following week - a MRI, more blood tests, and a "flexible sigmoidoscopy" (a mini-colonoscopy where they just go in a little ways... and you can be conscious and watch it on the computer monitor!). Lori and I had all the agony of the question - "shall we pull the plug on this whole Vermont move?" It was INSANELY stressful.
The good news was - everything came back negative. No markers in my blood for cancer. No cancer found in any of the biopsies of the additional samples they took in the colon wall around where the polyp was found.
In theory, the one polyp they found might have been ALL the cancer in my body!
Now that they removed it, I might be "cancer free".
However... the cancer was unfortunately not just in the main "head" part of the polyp, it was also all the way down the "stem" (think of a lollipop).
It could have gone into the wall of the colon, somewhere beyond where they were able to sample. It could have gone out into the lymph nodes surrounding the colon - and could hang out there for a while before it goes somewhere else in my body. There were no signs of it anywhere, but the current state of our technology is such that we can't really know.
And... apparently the precise kind of cancer they found was a more aggressive one that could "metastasize" into other forms of cancer elsewhere in my body.
So, after being reviewed by my new set of doctors at the UVM Medical Center in Burlington, VT, and after more tests (including another video tour of my lower colon), the surgeon presented a rather binary choice:
He said he's had patients make either choice - and it really comes down to my own personal comfort level with either the surgery or living with the risk.
Ugh. Did I mention that I'm in otherwise good health? And so do I really want to mess that up by having people go in, cut me up, and re-arrange my plumbing?
But the choice is clear to me. Lori and I have been down this road before. We both learned far more than we ever imagined about cancer after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 - and after she had surgery and subsequent rounds of chemotherapy and more.
We live every day with the specter of her cancer looming in the background. Unlike what they tell me about my colon cancer after surgery, her cancer could come back at any time. And in some other form. You're never really "cured" of breast cancer. Even after all she has done - and the absolute hell she has put her body through, it could still be there lurking. So you learn to be grateful for every day you have.
So, hell yeah, I want to know, even with all my many concerns about the surgery (and never having had surgery before). I don't want a second specter lurking around.
From what I've now learned, colon cancer is much more localized than breast cancer or other forms. If they go in, take out the sigmoid and the surrounding lymph nodes, they can test it all and give me fairly solid results.
In the best case, they find nothing and I can be reasonably sure they got it all. I'll be as close to "cancer free" as someone with colon cancer can be. (There are NO guarantees.)
In the worst case, they find more cancer cells and then we will have to talk chemotherapy or something else.
Either way, we'll know more.
So one week from today I'll be entering the UVM Medical Center. They say I will need to stay there for typically 2-3 days to recover. (Visitors will be welcome!) In theory I'll be able to resume everything I've been doing - and by 3-4 weeks out I should be more or less back to usual activities. I'll now be getting more monitoring and more frequent colonoscopies (oh, joy!), but the theory goes that, in the best case, this should be the end of it.
The good news out of this (as I have to keep reminding myself!) is that the screening colonoscopy WORKED!
The test found the cancer early. Because of that, there is a very strong chance that after this surgery I'll be all set and won't have to worry about this again. I'll be alive and able to live for as many decades (or days) as I have ahead of me. I'll be able to watch my daughters grow up and to live long with Lori.
I'm so grateful to the doctors and technicians - and for the fact that I have access to tests like this (and insurance that covers it). And perhaps most of all... for the fact that I didn't delay having the test even more than I already had.
I write all of this story because, as a writer, this is HOW I process things. The act of putting words down on a screen... the act of naming in words those fears... those actions are how my brain makes things real.
I share this publicly in the hopes that perhaps MY story will help someone else take actions that may help them live a longer life. (Even if you make a different choice than I did.)
So, again, I will say to anyone reading - if you are recommended to get a colonoscopy, DO IT!
 The American Cancer Society is now (May 2018) recommending that colon cancer screening start at age 45 versus 50, but I don't know that that recommendation has yet made its way out to healthcare providers and insurance companies.
Image: a photo I took of the Burlington harbor. I just thought I'd use it as a reminder of the beauty of life around me.
“BEAR CROSSING - STAY ALERT” The bright yellow sign shouts its warning to me from the side of Interstate 91. I am in the middle of Vermont. There are few people here. Most of the time I-91 has walls of trees on either side, occasionally broken by amazing mountain views or scenic views of small towns.
And so we are warned of bears and... moose!
“MOOSE CROSSING - NEXT 5 MILES”
I have seen the photos of damage caused by moose. You have a 2,000 pound animal on thin, spindley legs. Knock out the legs and the main bulk of the body comes crashing down on you! New Hampshire has regular warnings about the number of people who have died due to moose collisions up in the northern part of the state.
Bears, though, are new. Not sure what I would do if I saw one. 😬