News From The Woods - September 9, 2014

NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published September 9, 2014


"How One Month Can Change Your Life"

The month of August, 2014 was probably the most life-altering month of my entire life. And that counts all the emergency surgeries, vehicle accidents, and even getting shot. It was a most bizarre month filled with fateful twists and turns and a real mixture of horror, hope, and yes… even happiness.

It all started back around the first of the year, right after my hip replacement surgery in December, 2013. As a member of the Baxter County Historical Society I was asked to be a speaker at a monthly meeting. I had taken some old home movie film from the 50's and 60's to show the group. After the meeting Jennifer Baker, president of the Historical Society, mentioned that the purchase of the new Heritage Center building in town was putting a financial burden on the Society, with monthly payments of $650. She asked if I had any ideas, and mentioned that a few members hinted that I might be willing to put on a concert to raise funds. Actually, they HAD mentioned something in the previous year but that was before my hip replacement when I could not play the drums at all. After the replacement I healed quite quickly and got the use of my leg back, so I decided to commit to doing a benefit concert for the Society.

I contacted Jennifer in May and told her I would consider doing the show but it had to be done "the right way" because I didn't want it to turn out to be just another piddley little gig begging for a hundred dollars at the fairground building. I told her in order to maximize the income potential we had to turn it into the event of the year. She asked about a venue and I said "If you can't get The Sheid we might as well not even do it."

One week later she called to tell me they had not only procured The Sheid but also got a promise of co-sponsorship from ASU/MH. I guess the Society had some heavyweights in the community to back them up because the Sheid is usually booked a year in advance. I was a little shocked at how fast Jennifer had moved on this, but felt that three months would be enough time to put this thing together. I must say the Society gave me complete control over the event. (My concert promoter skills from the 70's was really coming to my aid now!) The Society is a very well organized group of folks and in no time at all they put together an event committee to assist me.

I had an idea that might fit in with the Society's mission statement, and we called it "Bob Ketchum and Friends: The Music Heritage of the Natural State". The idea was to invite some of my closest musician pals (in location as well as friendship) to join me for the event. But I didn't want it to be all about me so I insisted that each player would get their own "spot" in the show where they would perform two of their own compositions, with the rest of the band backing them up. To keep band expenses down I decided to pick the closest friends to invite. Randy Keck was one of the first to call, as he lives in Siloam Springs (the other side of Fayetteville) and would be travelling the farthest. Once I got his commitment, I started reeling in the others: Jerry Bone from Oxford…... Doug Driesel from Cherokee Village……and Ron Miller from Heber Springs. Mark Cheney and Tom Dappen both live in Mountain Home. I also contacted Gwenn Marie and Boots Walker of "Blue Dogwood" to open the show. I wanted to start simple and then build the show over time to a bombastic ending. We had just finished recording Gwenn's album "Rainbow Rider" and her gentle and sweet mountain music would be the perfect show opener. Then I would feature Boots and his music which would introduce a few players from the group and electric instruments. Ron Miller would be next and his mellow bluesy songs would be the perfect transition. From there we would bring up Doug Dreisel with his modern country flavor. The set would be rounded out with the most forceful rock stuff from the "Goldrush" catalog of the 70's. Mark Cheney and I picked three Goldrush tunes to play, backed by the band. Then I scheduled a break where we would auction off a brand new modern electric/acoustic Spanish guitar donated by another patron of the Society, Raymond Pace. After that the show would pick up again with sets by Randy Keck, Jerry Bone and then the grand finale, a song from my "New Tricks From An Old Dog" CD.

It was a good plan, and it took me the better part of the month of June to plot it all out, maintaining constant contact with the band members spread out all over the north part of Arkansas. I sent out CD's to everyone, containing all the songs we intended to perform. Their instructions were to listen to the CD and decide what they would play backing up the "star player" during their spotlight. At least that was the plan. It didn't exactly turn out that way. The toughest part of this plan (and critical to pulling off this show) was to impress upon everyone how important it would be to learn ALL the arrangements. Because everyone was so spread out and had their own careers and agendas to follow, I wanted to take as little time of their as possible. For instance, the gig was set for August 23rd , so I set our ONLY rehearsal for the Saturday before the gig. This way all the players would only have to travel here twice, once for rehearsal, and once for the gig. I had set a "dress rehearsal" for the hours before the 7PM curtain call as a last-minute reminder of arrangements. At least that was the plan……..

The Vada Sheid Community Development Center ("The Sheid") is a wonderful modern venue located on the campus of ASU/MH. The hall is divided into two large sections, with the front section comprised of 840 theater seats. The back section was not utilized as the manager of the venue felt they would not be necessary. At our first meeting Jennifer and I were told by the venue manager not to expect more than 200-250 because "The community has just never found that much support for these types of concerts". While 840 seats WAS expecting too much in my mind, I felt we should be able to do better than 300-400 people, but kept it to myself. The Dykstra Stage is huge. The lighting system is all-digital and uses a modern LED lighting grid, with stationary spots located in the catwalk above the stage. It is all computer-controlled from the center mixing position at Front of House. When I inquired as to what kind of lighting I could expect I got a blank stare. Finally I was told that for "the big shows" they hired a lighting tech out of Fayettevlle. In other words, no one at The Sheid knew anything about how to program the lighting for scenes. About all they could manage was to bring up the lights and turn down the lights. In my mind this was not acceptable, so I asked if we could furnish our own lighting director. They said it would be fine. I contacted my old friend Sid Pierce, who was sound engineer and production manager for Roy Clark for 20 years, and asked his advice. He said he'd "dig around" in Branson and see what he could come up with.

Now, concerning the sound system at the Sheid, it was also all-digital and I knew very little about it. My only experience at the venue with live sound was when two of "my" groups performed there. "Blue Fiddle" played there for the Council of the Arts, and "Cutthroat Trout" performed there for the opening of the Gaston Trout Center. Both bands were basically acoustic trios with no drums. The sound tech for the venue seemed to know his stuff, and he mixed portions of both concerts via his iPad. I was suitably impressed with the sound, so I assumed he would be up to the task. Well, you know what happens when you assume. This came back to haunt me later.

Meanwhile, Sid had located a Lighting Director from Branson. He was the lighting director for one of the big shows in Branson, and Sid prevailed upon him to come to our aid. After a conversation on the phone in which I promised to pay him myself, he said all he wanted was gas money and a Barnbuster. I liked this guy! I called Jennifer right away and told her of our good fortune. The LD even drove down (I paid for his gas) the following week to check out the lighting. He spent over an hour trying to get a grip on the lighting software, took copious notes, and left saying he would download the operating manual off the Internet and "do some homework".

Jennifer said she wanted me to see the Flyers for the concert. David Benedict, VP of the Society, came over to the studio one day and handed me the Flyer. I was completely blown away with his work! He is a whiz with Adobe Illustrator and this flyer was one of the very best I've ever seen. It was an indication to the level of commitment the Society was taking with my concert. The committee had set up advance ticket locations and the gears were starting to turn. Jennifer had set up half a dozen radio interviews to run in the week before the concert. Sonny Garrett at the Baxter Bulletin was preparing a big piece in the entertainment section to run the week before the event. Dan Reynolds asked Jennifer and I to be a guest on his "Hometown TV" program on XL7TV. All our ducks were lining up!

On July 19th, just five weeks before the benefit, Gwenn Marie drowned on Bull Shoals Lake in a tragic boating accident. I could not believe the headlines that greeted me on that Saturday morning as I had my coffee and checked the Baxter Bulletin Facebook page. I immediately called Boots, who was in a state of shock and confusion. He had little details of the drowning, except to say that someone on a See Doo noticed a body floating in the water next to a pontoon boat, and upon closer inspection discovered Gwenn's young grandson clinging to the body in the water. I hadn't even thought about the show (yet) and was just devastated at the news. We had JUST finished up her album "Rainbow Rider" and we were waiting to hear from the duplicating plant that her CD's were ready. She was such a sweet person and a real talent. She played upright bass on her entire album and played it well! Her lyrics and harmonies were as good as anything Nashville had to offer. It was tragic.

I had to get outside and clear my mind, and decided to mow the lawn. I put on my earbuds, cranked up my iPod Shuffle, and hopped on the riding mower. As is my custom, I mowed the front yard first, and then worked my way to the back yard where the studio is. As my house is built on a dozer-deck, the entrance to the studio is about twenty paces from the edge of a bluff which overlooks Lake Norfork. It is a gorgeous view, but the bluff pretty much goes straight down into Corps property. The first cut is the most critical, as I have to drive the mower along the sloping edge of the lawn, now with forty years of "relaxing" over the hillside. It gets worse each year. I made my way across the first swath and got to the little storage shed on the edge of the bluff. I had to back up a little to negotiate a turn and run along the side of the house. I put it into reverse and after moving backwards about a foot I pressed the brake, only nothing happened. In a flash, the mower continued backwards, cutting blades engaged, and went backwards right off the bluff, with me riding on it. It happened too fast to react. In the blink of an eye I recall the mower going straight backward, rolling right over me. I thought "Well, this is a Hell of a way to die" as the heavy mower rolled right over me, crushing me into the ground on the edge of the bluff, and then continuing down the hillside, coming to a stop against a tree about ten feet down below me. The jar killed the motor.

I lay there in a daze, my left shoulder useless. Somehow I crawled back up the bluff in my bare feet, iPad still playing in my ears. I was completely dazed. I limped up to the house. Jane was upstairs in the bedroom with the dog relaxing and watching TV. When I entered the bedroom I must have looked a sight as Jane said "What the hell happened to YOU?". I had grass in my mouth and thorns and brambles in my hair, bleeding from the left arm, no shoes, and whimpered, "I drove the mower off the bluff…." She gasped, turned around and looked out the bedroom window. There, sitting twenty feet down in the woods, was the riding mower. "OH MY GOD" she exclaimed, and jumped up to help me. She started to call 911 but I showed her that I could (barely) move my arm and that nothing seemed to be broken. We both knew if I went to ER they would place my arm in a sling that would immobilize it and I could not have that because it would mean the end of the concert. I begged her to help me into the shower and I washed all the dirt and grime and plant life off of my body, and then I lay down on the bed for a long while. By the next morning I knew how bad it was….. Probably torn ligaments at the very least. I could barely move my arm and the only comfortable position was holding it at an angle to my chest (just like they would have placed it in a sling).

And this was just the beginning.

At the Historical Society meeting on the following Tuesday I was again a guest speaker and had to fess up to my injury to Jennifer and the other members. I saw the looks in their faces and assured them the concert would still go on. I attempted to show them I could lift my arm but the winces on my face were probably not that reassuring.

By Sunday the 27th of July (8 days later) Mark Cheney confessed that he was worried and felt unprepared for the three songs we were to do. He wasn't alone. As a means of damage control - and to test the waters to see if I could still play drums - we set up a little "mini rehearsal" with Mark (guitar), Ron Miller (piano), Jerry Bone (bass), and Tom Dappen (drums/percussion) at the studio. We spent the afternoon rehearsing the three Goldrush songs. I managed to play the kit (with little or no fills) without wincing, but when it came to me playing guitar on one of the songs, I found I could not get my left hand down to the headstock of my guitar. I could play some lead lines (way up on the neck), using the guitar neck as a "crutch" of sorts, but I could not reach down the neck to play chords without pain after even five minutes. At least we got some rehearsal time and felt a bit more confident about the Goldrush tunes, which were the most complicated arrangements to learn. We even got a few moments to work on Jerry's songs, which pleased him to no end because he had trepidations about performing his own songs live on stage. He had never had an opportunity to do that, but I convinced him that we really needed his songs to fill out the set. To me, it was CRITICAL to get everyone on the same page. The real problem was that NONE of us would be in the same room together until the Saturday before the concert. The clock was ticking……..

Two weeks before the event I got a message from the lighting director in Branson. His boss at the theater had booked a last minute show and he HAD to do it (or lose his job), so he had to decline our show. To me it was just another brick in the wall. I finally called a pal in Fayetteville that I have known for years in the sound and lighting business. Turns out they were familiar with the Sheid and had actually done lighting for several shows there. As I was over a barrel, I hired a light tech for the date, and asked if the Society could help pay the cost. They agreed to pay the $350. Furthermore, the original Branson LD felt so bad he paid for half the cost out of his own pocket.

Meanwhile, on the home front….One morning my back was itching and I grabbed the back scratcher and searched for "the Spot". When I found it I realized it was a mole on my back that had been there since I was a teenager. I accidently scratches too hard and broke the skin, resulting in a bleeding mole right in the center of my back right on the spine. When I went to bed that night our daschund Fritzie went right to the spot and started "healing" the wound by licking it. We recognized his particular talent months previously when he would locate a dry patch of skin on our legs and would start licking it. We figured he was trying to heal the "affliction". After a while of shooing him off, we finally just let the dog lick our leg (or wherever) until he was done. I know…It sounds icky, doesn't it? But it's strange, the relationship between a person and their pets. Anyway, after a couple of days of this I started thinking that maybe there was something going on that needed attention, and so the very next day I made an appointment with a local dermatologist. They "froze" some spots on my arms (remember, I've had years of being in the sun as a teen, out on the lake all day), but when they saw the mole they got concerned. They removed the mole and sent it (and me) off.

I gave it little thought and attended to the last-minute details of the concert. The next day I did an interview on XL7TV with Jennifer Baker. But exactly one week after the mole was removed I received an urgent call from the dermatologist. I was told that they had discovered a Melanoma Cancer in my back. I didn't know how to respond, but then they went on to tell me they were setting me up with a surgeon's appointment ASAP. They recommended UAMS/LR which was a bit of a relief as we have had prior experience with the folks in Little Rock and were well satisfied with the results of those visits.

So here we were, ELEVEN DAYS from the concert, and I had cancer. Jane, being a medical professional, knew enough of the situation that she was extremely concerned for me. She said "If they want you down there you just have to go, concert or not". Well, this was too much for me. The Historical Society had already committed a lot of money toward the concert, and to cancel at the last minute would cause them to be in even WORSE shape than they already were. The pressure was enormous, and I cried for much of that day. Then a small miracle happened. The surgeon could not make a preliminary appointment for me until Wednesday the 19th, which meant they could not schedule a surgery until Monday the 25th. I had been given a TINY window over that weekend and could do the concert after all !

Our only rehearsal was set for Saturday August 16th. At that rehearsal I broke the news to the band. Everyone was as shocked as I was when I learned the news. We all sat stunned for a few moments and I explained because of the schedule I could still do the concert. However, even this ONE "real" rehearsal was not without its flaws. Jerry Bone had called me the day before to tell me he had a gig Saturday night and would have to leave rehearsal early. Then Doug Driesel called to tell me a friend of his had just died and he had to sing at the funeral in Hardy Saturday. He said he would try to get to the studio by 3 or 4PM. What could I say? Here were our two bass players and we had to make some critical last-minute changes. The pressure was on Jerry Bone who was not really prepared to play more than we had previously agreed to. But we pressed him into service because he was there and he quickly learned several more arrangements until he had to leave for his own gig. By the time Doug arrived we were on the last legs of our rehearsal time, plus the Baxter Bulletin had arrived and wanted some PR pics to print in the paper. Unfortunately our bass player's appearances did not overlap so the Bulletin had to be satisfied with one man short. I was pretty depressed by the end of the day because it had not gone according to plan. There were SO many loose ends, and I was still having trouble with my left arm on guitar. But we were committed.

At my Wednesday the 19th Doctor's appointment in Little Rock, the surgeon explained to us the seriousness of the situation. I had the worst possible kind of cancer and the PET Scan that day revealed it had spread into my lymph system under my left arm (of course… THAT arm!). The surgery would likely take four or more hours and they would have to go really deep into my back to remove the cancer. He was afraid I would not have enough skin to cover the wound, so a plastic surgeon was also scheduled for the surgery in case they had to graft skin off my leg to cover the back wound. As for the lymph nodes, they would just have to go in and see how widespread it was. My age and the diabetes complicated matters. It was not a good prognosis, but then, I doubt if there are many good prognoses for cancer. We stayed in Little Rock for two days while the did the tests and work up for my surgery four days later. On the very next day, Thursday, I had two radio interviews to conduct. On Friday I did another radio interview for the benefit and the Baxter Bulletin came out with a full spread on the concert. Also on Friday, I got a call from the lighting company in Fayetteville to tell me that although the man scheduled to come run our lights had been reassigned to a show in Tulsa, they would send another qualified tech. At this point, I hardly cared anymore. To me, the entire world was crashing down around me.

Finally, the big day was here. I started the day off by throwing up from the stress. Load in was at 1PM so Robert and some of his buddies loaded all my drums, guitar gear, and cameras and we headed for the venue. I had scheduled a "last minute" dress rehearsal to be held at the venue from 2:30 to 3:30. Of course, that never happened either! Several guys showed up at the last minute as they did not comprehend spending much time rehearsing and blowing what energy we had on that and then being too tired to perform at 7. I busied myself stetting up my drum kit and guitar rig. I had brought along two vintage 500W Colortran Spotlights that I intended to be hung directly over my drum kit for a "special effect" when I was doing my opening monolog. Also, I had to set up three video camera positions. I don't recall ever actually doing a real sound check. You know….. "Here's the kick drum [thump, thump}… Snare drum [snap, snap]… Tom #1, etc. etc." My friend Sid Piece was on hand and did an enormous amount of damage control in the sidelines as we struggled with trying to squeeze out a few arrangements, but it wasn't easy because the monitors didn't work properly. It took the sound crew fifteen minutes just to figure out why they could not get my microphone into my PA monitor. At least the lighting director arrived from Fayetteville and was frantically trying to put together some light scenes for us to use during the show. But we never got to discuss much for all the other pressing problems going on. We discovered the grand piano was slightly off tune from A=440, which meant our guitar tuners were useless and we had to individually tune to the piano. By this time my mind was getting numb. So much was going wrong I could hardly function. I was completely worn out and then realized it was already 6PM. One hour before the show! People were starting to come in! I was actually too scared to be depressed about it all.

I ran backstage to the green room, grabbed my stage clothes and hit the shower. The other guys were already showered and dressed and hanging out in the green room. I hardly noticed as I shaved and dressed. I walked out of the shower room and they were motioning me to head to the back stage. It was time! As we made it to the side of the stage, Jennifer Baker had just walked on and was making her introduction to the concert. I looked over to stage right and spotted my lights sitting on the floor. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. I stood staring at those lights as the "Stress" video began playing. Someone handed me a wireless mic and I made my way to the very edge of the stage. In 3 minutes the video was done and I walked out on stage and proceeded to deliver a lengthy 25-minute opening monologue which (to me) culminated into a complete melt-down on stage. Between my diabetes, the cancer threat, and the culmination of everything going wrong, I don't really know how I managed to get through that intro. Yes, I knew it was too long but I had a script and I was determined to stick with it if at all possible. SOMETHING had to come off as planned.

Of course the audience did not perceive the events as we did. At the end of the program I made my way to the foyer for the meet n' greet. Turned out the only guys out there were Boots Walker, Randy Keck, and myself. I don't know why the other guys didn't show up because they could have sold some of their CD product to the eager crowd. I sold several copies of my book "Face The Music" and ironically, I sold every copy I had of the WAVEFORM LLC CD that Ron Miller and I recorded. I was so wasted from the gig I hardly remember how many people came up and seemed so surprised to witness such an amazing concert (or so THEY said). We stayed out there for half an hour, and by the time I returned to the stage my wonderful son and his friends had taken down my drum kit and guitar rig and had loaded it all into their pickups. What a relief that was! I followed them home to unpack. When we arrived at my house a full blown party had exploded! Cars were on both sides of the street. I hardly had room to park. Son Jeremy was manning the grill and people were everywhere! I spotted Jane's folks, who had come over even though it was 11PM ! All of my children and grandchildren had come to the concert and the whole fam damily was present at the house, upstairs and down. I was so keyed up from the concert I was worn out but still not sleepy. Randy Keck was spending the night so we sat out in the garage and watched the party until I felt his head hit my shoulder around 4:30 AM. The party was still going strong and even a few kids were still up, but I had finally wound down. I got up, said goodnight and crashed. I learned the next morning that Jane and the rest of them stayed up another hour before finally giving up.

The family members started leaving by 11 AM on Sunday, and by 3 the house was once again empty. Jane and I packed up our things and took to the road around 5PM for Little Rock. My surgery was the very next day, Monday, at 10:45 AM. I was so exhausted I slept all the way down, but I had so much anxiety I hardly slept that night. I noticed after the concert a small squishy lump under my left arm which hadn't been there before. By Monday morning just before surgery, that lump was the size of a softball. Pretty scary but I had little time to ponder things as they took me in right away. I was very "dopey" after they brought me out, and it took a while to get my bearings in post-op. I was better by the time they took me to my room. The first indication of the depth of surgery was when they moved me from the gurney to my bed. It felt like they were leaving part of my back on the gurney but my back had just struck to the sheets. I could hardly move my left arm at all, and then realized that they had to over-extend my left arm in order to get underneath it and get to those cancerous lymph nodes. In doing so they had re-injured my old mower injury. The arm and shoulder were completely useless. I don't blame them. They had a job to do.

The surgeon came in the next morning and discussed what had happened during surgery. He said they got all the cancer in my back and under my arm that the PET scan had shown, but they had found more evidence of cancer around my chest. These other cancer cells were so small they did not show up on the PET scan, which I took for a bit of good news (always the glass half full). He said his job here was done and was going to hand me off to the Oncologist. And they cut me loose two hours later. They gave me a pain shot and an Oxycotin pill for the ride home. I slept all the way (again). Poor Jane. I felt like a rag doll, all stitched up like Frankenstein, and carried my little drain tube inserted in my left arm pit. I still didn't realize just how serious that surgery had been but was happy to get home to my own bed. I stayed in bed for almost two days, catching up on the sleep I had lost because of the concert and having over-extended myself, my mind, and my body. I hardly needed any pain medication because I slept motionless for two days.

Upon looking back at the footage over the following weekend, I realized we had somehow pulled it off. It is a testament to the professionalism of all the players to cover all those holes, mistakes, and technical shortcomings. Once I was finished with my monolog we settled in to the music. We all made mistakes, blew intros and outros, and even forgot entire arrangements, but the video doesn't show a band drowning on stage in insecurity. We could hear very little. Mark Cheney & I could not hear the grand piano at all. I could not hear my guitar when I played because the sound crew said it was "too loud" for the stage, and I finally turned the amp down to "1" and they put my guitar into the monitor. This was a horrible idea because the more you put into the monitors, the less vocal intelligibility you get. In addition, the audio mix being sent to the main camera at house position from the mixer was completely distorted and unusable for the video. Since the show ran very long, cameras ran out of videotape and in several places we had very little camera coverage. We had six cameras, and three were manned. XL7TV graciously volunteered two cameras and operators for stage front. Kent Jones (Awesome VIDEO Productions) brought three camcorders. He placed one on my drum kit close up, and another unmanned GoPro right at the grand piano on a tripod. Then he shot mobile with a third camcorder, moving around the stage to get as many "money shots" as possible. I had one camcorder out front for a wide stage shot and to capture the audio from sound mixer. I had a second camcorder but never got the chance to set it up. So we DID have several camera angles to switch from, which was the saving grace of the entire video.

The sound, when it came time to edit the video, was the real problem. I was so very disappointed with the audio. Apparently the audience got a half-way decent mix as no one complained much about the sound, other that not being able to hear the vocals very well. The audio to the camcorder however was completely distorted, and threatening to ruin the release of the DVD, but as we were already committed on behalf of the Historical Society I had to try something. I finally wound up taking the audio for ALL of the camcorder microphones and blending them in a way where you could hear a few things without so much distortion. But it was still bad, and unacceptable to my usual standards. On the very last day of my editing, Kent Jones showed up with a hard drive of the GoPro footage which was the piano mounted camcorder. As luck would have it, that camera was seated on a tripod which didn't ever move and was sitting right above one of the wedge monitors. The audio in that monitor did not have all the rest of the instruments mixed in it and therefore the vocals were kind of loud and NOT distorted. I was thrilled! I remixed the entire concert with THAT audio located prominently in the mix. This improved the sound by at least 50% and I removed the disclaimer that stated "We apologize for the sound, but had no control over the audio." It still left a lot to be desired but when you watch the video and all of the camera angles it makes it a bit easier on the ears. The concert was over two and a half hours total, but by the time I edited out the few things that didn't need to be in the video I got it down to 2:28.

Mark Cheney came over and we watched the whole show on our big screen Sony. Aside from the barely passable sound, we were amazed that the show came off looking as good as it did on the video. So many things happened that I didn't catch or remember! The audience response through the entire concert was enthusiastic. Even my melt-down monologue in the beginning didn't make me want to gag as it did in the beginning of the edit. It really is amazing that for all the things to go wrong this video seems to convey the massage that a good time was had by all. I was told many times by friends after the show that they were so impressed by the way it seemed to them that we were sitting in their living room and jamming just for them. I assured them that we WERE jamming for the most part, but they loved every minute of the concert, even my jokes and tales between songs.

So I guess in the end we really did pull this off with the vision I had in mind. But there is no doubt that because the band knew of the cancer they gave me 200% of themselves to make this gig work, and I will never forget them for that. It was probably the best drums I had played in 35 years (even with the left hand messed up). I somehow found something deep inside of me that welled up and forced me to transcend my own expectations of myself. I wanted SO BADLY for the people of Mountain Home to see me at my best, and to realize just how talented Mark Cheney is, and to know these guys live right around here……. It IS "the best music you're never heard."

The show is over. And the video has been produced and copies delivered to the Historical Society for sale. All that is left is the cancer and my battle coming to a head. At my appointment last Wednesday my doctor decided to leave the stitches and drain tube another week. When I groused about the drain tube he said "Well, I CAN take it out right now, but since you are continuing to drain a lot we'll have to stick a long needle into your……" And that's as far as he got when I interrupted with "Doctor, I would be PROUD to wear this drain tube another week". He left with a smile on his face.

Tomorrow morning Jane and I will be back at UAMS. Hopefully the stitches and drain tube will all be removed, and then after lunch we have our appointment with the Oncologist. I am not quite as scared as I was about the surgery, but then I'm not quite over the surgery yet either. I suppose we will learn where I stand at that appointment and maybe be given my choices of treatments (I hope I have choices).

I've always been a survivor. I have survived life-threatening surgeries (more than once), I survived getting shot in the 70's, a total hip replacement, double carpal tunnel surgeries, driving a jeep (and now a lawn mower) off a cliff, and extreme dental trauma through my entire adult life. I am a positive person, happy and for the most part healthy (if your don't count the diabetes and high blood pressure), and remain Hopeful in the Faith that my doctors will take care of me. I will do as they recommend and will fight this to the very end if necessary. NOBODY knows how long I may have. NOBODY knows how my body may act to the Oncology. I watched my mother-in-law sit right through her Chemo (never lost a hair on her head), while others with the same form of cancer fall by the wayside. If all cancer and treatments reacted the same we'd have beat this monster years ago. New experimental drugs are being approved by the FDA every week. And yet……… I still don't know how long I may have.

Is Is What It Is.

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