Monday, September 5, 2022

Life with Cancer

 Well, I haven't sat down and written my blog in a while.

With so much going on I haven't had a lot of time to reflect or think about life much. I have been knee deep in it and just moving forward. I have had plenty of time for anxiety and worry and stress, thats for sure, but I haven't really put it into words yet. I am not writing songs about this experience, not yet, maybe not ever. Right now I am just living day to day learning more about patience than ever before. Playing music has been a relief for me. Getting to sing and play my guitar has taken on a whole new life and it's my therapy. 

If you are not aware and you're reading this blog - my wife Laura was diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer around the beginning of July. It sounds terrifying and it most certainly is, but it's much more than that. Those words have been engrained in our heads for so long, they depict a death sentence. But as I am learning along the way, in todays world that is not always so. The modern medicine and science available today is remarkable and life is not over with the diagnosis. A new life begins, life with cancer. Stage 4 only means by definition that the cancer has spread from its origin to another place in the body. That can mean one other spot or all over the body. Luckily in Laura's case, it meant one other spot. The tumor started in her pancreas and she has many tiny tumors that have taken form in her liver. They're so small they cannot be counted. The tumor in her pancreas is the origin and it's pretty big for that organ. When we asked the doctors how long this has been going on they replied 8 to 10 years. No symptoms, no blood test markers, nothing. Laura and I have an excellent doctor and have check ups every year, but pancreatic cancer is one of the worst to early diagnose. There are simply no symptoms until it's pretty late in the game. Luckily for Laura she began having pancreatitis and that lead to the discovery of the tumor. It was not caught early by any means, but there is still enough time to do aggressive chemotherapy treatment in hopes to eradicate the smaller tumors in her liver and hopefully shrink the tumor in her pancreas. As of now they do not believe it is possible to remove the pancreatic tumor as it has attached itself to arteries. But if they can shrink it in size she will stop having pancreatitis and if they can keep it from spreading further she can live with it. She's lived with it almost ten years already with no pain or suffering, the hope is to get it back to the size when she never knew it was there. Her team of doctors most certainly believe this is possible given her age and that is she is very healthy. But she may never be in remission, she may just live with cancer like someone lives with diabetes. She would get breaks from the chemo when the treatments have worked well and might be able to do pill form chemo when necessary or immunotherapies. Of course, if the treatments all work well, who knows what is possible. We are all very positive she will pull through this and kick cancers ass. She is a fighter and has a lot to live for and is certainly not giving up. She has a wonderful attitude and doesn't feel sorry for herself or cry "why me", she just takes it as it comes one day at a time. She's had a rough go this summer with many other set backs but I am happy to report that she's just had one of the best weeks yet and is really doing much better.

People have been wonderful all over the world. The outpouring of love and support is astounding. None of the well wishes goes unnoticed and we are truly thankful. Our family and our friends have been by our side since the beginning and continue to come to the house to clean and cook and make sure Laura has everything needs, especially when I need to be working. And I need to be working. Many people think I would quit touring and working and stay home to care for Laura, but that is simply not what is in the best interest of our family and certainly not what Laura wants. She will be retiring soon from teaching to be able to focus full time on her health and recovery and that will mean an income loss for the family. With all of the help and support we have from family and friends here at home, the last thing Laura wants is to think she is causing a financial burden on the family. She wants everything to stay as normal as possible for the kids and the family. She does not want me to stay home and stare at her 24 hours a day, she is not like that and never has been. This is why we always made such a perfect team - we both have careers and lives and we support one another. Our family is the center of our lives, it's what matters most to us. Laura will also not just stay home and lay around, she's not able to do that, she's a worker. She will continue to run the office for Gulf Coast Records. Shipping orders, doing inventory, and accounting. My touring schedule has been pulled back now that summer is over and I have made a decision to not be gone for more than a few weeks at a time. I want to be home to help with the girls and spend my time with my wife, but I still have to work. Many people have offered to start a Go Fund Me for my family or a benefit for Laura but we have thankfully declined each time. While the thought is generous and loving, we don't feel it is necessary. Luckily we have very good insurance because Laura is a school teacher. Yes we have medical bills to pay, but our deductible is manageable compared to the actual cost of her care. I am also able to continue to work to provide for my family and I will do so unless the time comes when I am absolutely needed to be home full time - we are hopeful this is never necessary. God forbid we are told that time is limited at some point, I will be home to spend every second with my beautiful wife, but we are absolutely praying this not be the case. 

People ask me "How are you doing?" - I say I am doing pretty good. I think I am doing pretty good... I don't really have any other experience in this matter to base off, but compared to how well I have done in the face of adversity in my life, I would say I am doing pretty good. When I was drinking and using drugs I would look for any excuse to run off and get loaded, but today that doesn't really cross my mind at all. So that to me is pretty good. I have certainly had my share of crying and feeling mad and angry and uncertain but as we continue day by day those feelings have drifted away. Thats what you feel when it's all still new. I call them "hurdles" - you jump through hurdles you didn't think you'd ever have to jump through. You jump through one and think thats it and then another one comes your way and its even harder than the last one but you jump through it and keep moving forward and eventually you start think there are no hurdles you cannot jump through. I have learned that this is our life now, life with cancer. Thats just the way it is, but it is life nonetheless. Laura is still here and she's not going anywhere anytime soon. I will take any life I can with Laura, because it's better than no life with her at all. It was very hard at first but as we learn more and more about the process of her treatments and see that she is feeling better than she was a few weeks ago, it all becomes "normal" again. I also have an amazing support team on my side. My sponsor and my recovery family check on me everyday and remind me to take care of myself too. I pray and meditate and exercise and give myself a break. I have really enjoyed playing my guitar and my music and being onstage more than ever. The music feels deeper to me and every note counts. I love spending time with my band mates and my friends and seeing all of the fans. They come and shower love on me and I know I am not alone. Life is much sweeter today than it was just a few months ago - it all counts. Laura and I are so grateful and thankful for everything we have and every minute we get to spend together and with our family - living with cancer has been a blessing in this way - it opens your eyes and your heart to what matters most in life.

The future looks bright. I am excited to head into the studio next week with my brother Albert Castiglia and the boys in the band along with Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith to make the first ever "Blood Brothers" album. This band has been so special for me right now. It's so fun to make music with Albert and just play my guitar. I believe we will make an excellent album. It's very special for me because it gives me a break from being "Mike Zito". I get to be in the band, one of the guys. I don't have to write songs that are too personal right now or about this experience I am going through - I am not ready to do that, it's too new for me. We are recording some great blues and rock songs that are fun and energetic. I can focus on playing guitar and singing and making a great album - I know with Joe and Josh on our side - they will push us past our own boundaries and bring out the absolute best in myself and Albert.

So - life with cancer is pretty good...considering. It's always there. We try and spend as many moments as we can not thinking about it - but we are always reminded. Laura doesn't want to spend every minute of everyday talking about her cancer or thinking about it - she wants to live and laugh and enjoy. She wants to stay busy as much as she can and she wants me to play my music. I follow her lead.

Thank you all for the love and support and prayers - keep them coming!                                                   We pray for full healing for Laura.

Peace, Love, Zito

Monday, March 14, 2022

You can't keep it unless you give it away

    I am currently drinking coffee and enjoying the silence of the house. 
It won't be silent for long. Wind chimes on the back patio are really active this morning.
This is my favorite part of the day, the calm before the storm.
This is spring break week here in Nederland, Tx. The girls and Laura are off of school and I have managed to be home and not working to spend the week with them. The Nederland Heritage Festival is this week, which is a big deal around here. Lots of rides, food and festivities - it's a good time in a small town.

    Really this week is the calm before the storm.
We head out next week on the first "Blood Brothers Tour" with Albert Castiglia and his band. It's a massive 3 and a half week tour of the midwest to the northeast of the US. 21 shows on the first leg of the tour, 10 days off and another 19 shows. 40 shows in total between next week and the end of May.
It's the first ever Gulf Coast Records event tour. We had this idea right away in 2019 but the pandemic of course stopped us in our tracks. It's exciting and will be a lot of work for us all. Two bands on the road together, it will be eventful I assume. So this week is my last week of time home and off to just hang out, go to bed early or stay up late playing games with the girls. 

     Our mantra for this tour (and really every tour) is to "Bring the Joy".
We are out there to be of service to the fans and our friends. Play our hearts out all with the hopes that people leave the show feeling better than when they got there. That is always the plan when doing a show. If the audience has a great time, we have a great time. Most often the audience lifts us up. We get tired and cranky from traveling and miss home but the fans show up and give us strength and hope and bring us the joy. In return we can do the same for them. It's a beautiful thing that we are all addicted to, the constant sharing of joy and happiness to be alive and make music. It all sounds a little corny, but it's true. Every musician I know will agree with me. The audience lifts us up, we give back and lift up the audience. It's a bond that can never be replaced by technology - it has to be felt in human contact together.  It is the transfer of energy. The transfer must happen, it can't stop without a return address. When one party is always giving and the other is always taking, the flow will end. 

    There is an old saying in recovery "You can't keep it unless you give it away".
It's one of those sayings that seem contradictory. Like "You have to surrender to win". They don't always make sense to a selfish person. It takes time to wear that selfishness off and learn to become selfless. Thats a lifetime challenge. Take it from me, I was the most selfish person there ever was. For over 30 years all I gave a shit about was me and what I wanted and needed and deserved. I did not give at all, I took. I took and stole and cried and pitched a fit when I did not get what I wanted. It's taken years to change that pattern of thinking and living. There is a reason a selfish person is always unhappy, because the energy stops with them. They do not give it away, they only take it from others. The joy is not passing through them and the true benefit of joy is to pass it on. I have learned over the years that if I want my dreams to come true I have to help others achieve their dreams first. When I help enough people achieve their dreams unbelievably my dreams just happen. Because my dreams become helping others. In return I get whatever I want, and mostly I want others to be happy. When I lower my personal expectations it's much easier to be happy with any outcome. I don't worry about things today, I assume they will work out and they always work out. 

    So, I'm and going to make a dream come true for myself now and have another cup of coffee. This house will get loud soon and the silence will be gone until tomorrow at this time. I need the caffeine to cope with the loud noises :)

Peace, Love, Zito

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Fat Face

 So let me be perfectly clear here........I am NOT writing this blog for all of you to coddle me and tell me how beautiful I am and pat me on the back and say it's ok.....LOL. I am writing this blog because I think most people relate and might get something from my experience and maybe a few laughs.

                                       Me, circa 1989, balloon tits and all. Photo credit Kurt Reese :)

Hi, my name is Mike and I have a fat face.

Yes, yes I do. I always have and probably always will. I am a 51 year old man who has a beautiful wife and family and none of this should really matter in the big picture of life. BUT.....it bothers me, always. My mother was short and beautiful and a little chubby let's say, not obese at all. My father was usually in pretty good shape his whole life being in the military and working all of the time. They were both short people. My mother's face was very round.....my face is round as well. We lived in a 5 room apartment in a 4 family flat and were not wealthy to say the least. My parents were much older than me and they grew up more poor than we ever imagined, especially my mother. My mother was raised in Ashland, Missouri and they had a dirt floor. They had cardboard on the ground or old linoleum but underneath was dirt....they were dirt poor. The most important thing to my parents was that we had food and that we ate everyday, that is literally all that mattered. We ate the worst everyday 70's style food there was - processed white bread, soda, ice cream, miracle whip, sugar, bologna, hot dogs, headcheese, potato chips....all the good shit! Of course my mother cooked and we had good meals in the evenings and on the weekends she would make a big Italian dinner with spaghetti and.....meatballs, neck bones, pigs feet - any meat would do. Pigs feet and spaghetti was my absolute favorite meal when I was a kid, I loved it! 

My mother constantly fed me - peanut butter and sugar sandwiches, miracle whip sandwiches, salami and cheese on wonderbread.....it tasted great, but not the most nutritious of foods. My dad would always take me to the Italian Import store on Saturdays and we would get olives, Volpi salami, pepperoni, cheese and really good Italian bakery bread.......this was and still is my all time favorite foods. My parents were older and I was like a grandchild with grandparents. We ate ALL the time. It's no surprise that I was a big kid. I was born 10 pounds and never stopped growing. I was bigger than most of the kids in the neighborhood and in school. I went to Catholic school my entire life and from 1st to 8th grade I had to wear a uniform. The uniform was a light blue button down short sleeve shirt and dark blue trousers. They sold these uniforms at Sears on Grand ave in south St. Louis. I was too big to fit into the normal size uniforms. SO...Sears had a lovely section in the boys department called "HUSKY"......thats where I got my school uniform. I had to wear HUSKY for 8 years straight. When I was a kid I didn't really care at first until I started getting called "Fat" and "Chubby" and "Big Boy" and "Tubby"......then I realized that the Sears section "HUSKY" was just another word for FAT Boys LOL!!!

Look, I won't bore you with all of the details of my fairly boring Catholic Italian South St. Louis life, let's just say I ate WAY too much, I ate a lot of SHIT food, and I was always the Fat Funny kid in school. It took me years into my 20's to develop an exercise routine and learn to eat better foods. Getting out of the house and around others made a big difference. But no matter what I did or how hard I worked at it, I always had a FAT Face. A big round, chubby cheeked, Dago Fat Face. 

Throughout the years I have developed what I would call a fairly normal eating disorder. I eat whatever I want until I hate myself so much that I will do something about it, then I don't eat anything for a period of time and lose some weight....enough weight to get to the point where I feel like I can eat anything I want and put all the weight back on again in a few months. Sound familiar? I know this is true, so over the years I have really tried hard to break this cycle. I have really learned to just eat moderately and stay away from most shit food when I can, it works and it's less of a roller coaster. Into my 40's and now 50's I am much more stable in my diet and exercise and really kind of stay in a ballpark weight range. But as I continue to get older, losing 5 or 10 pounds is NOT easy at all. It requires more and more exercise and eating less and less food. Most people don't really notice 5 pounds on me, my wife can never tell....but I can. It's in my BIG FAT FACE! I have made my way into a musical career which is awesome, but in the 21st century everyone and their brother LOVES to take pictures and videos of everything we do onstage - (which is awesome btw) but also a bit of a nightmare the next day when all of the pics are posted online. My first reaction is always "JESUS....that is a fucking fat face". I try and make it a joke and laugh or just let it go and realize it's nothing important........but I would be lying if I told you that it didn't bother me. It does bother me. It gets under my skin. I get this underlying feeling of dread and disgust. I see those pictures and think "thats not what I feel like inside" - I feel good inside and strong and excited, but seeing those pictures start to take that feeling away. I start to feel miserable and dull and not happy. Yuck. Why would anyone pay to come see that fat face play music? Disgusting!! (said in a Silvio Dante accent).

Obviously, I do my best to get over myself and be grateful I am healthy and very very blessed. I remind myself that the camera adds 50 pounds and the angle of the photographs are from 20 feet below and thats why I have 4 chins. But sometimes I get a little bummed about it all. So I tell my wife and she reassures me I look fine and I should give myself a break. So I do. I start to watch what I eat a little more and work harder in the gym. But the bottom line is - I think I look fat when I weigh 175 pounds and I think I look fat when I weigh 200 pounds. I think Sears might have traumatized me in the HUSKY section. 

so, to recap - PLEASE do NOT write comments telling me I am NOT fat and that I should love myself and how wonderful I am - That is NOT what I am looking for here. I wanted to share with you how I feel sometimes and I am pretty sure a lot of my friends and maybe fellow entertainers understand.  It's a touchy subject and I think I need to remind myself that how I feel inside is the most important feeling. I have to say, most of the time I feel real good inside. Maybe, I need to stop looking at all of the pictures and videos of myself and lose some of the narcissism. That's probably the best thing we could all do. I also need to just accept the fact that I have a FAT FACE.....always have, always will. It's the face God made for Italian Aunts to grab both cheeks and squeeze the bejeezus out of!

I hope you had a good laugh and maybe you'll feel better today about yourself, we're all in this together.


Peace, Love...Zito


Friday, February 25, 2022

Getting Older

 I know it's been a minute since I have made a post, but I promise I am trying hard to get back into a groove of posting thoughts and sharing stories. The blog is on my mind as I tour because so many people from all around the globe tell me how much they enjoy it and want more. Sometimes I just don't know what to write, but I think I just need to start writing again and it will start pouring out.

We have all been through so much the past few years. Stuck inside or cutoff from family and friends and so many people have passed away from Covid. It's been hard on us all. We have lost dear family and friends, but not all to Coronavirus. Many were getting older and had health issues, some were sick for long periods of time with other health issues. I think having so much time to spend contemplating has given me an opportunity to realize how fragile life really is in this world. When we are always on the go, you just keep going. But with all the time we have had to ourselves, there was more time for grieving....which I believe is good. When my parents passed away, I was always in the middle of work and raising my own kids and I don't think I had the time to really process the loss. It came back to haunt me in other ways down the road. I was angry for no reason, depressed and sometimes just didn't give a shit about much. But with this gift of time to grieve the losses and the setbacks, I think the anger and resentment is put aside. A lot of the time I will hear my wife, Laura, say "So and so died.....it's so sad, it's like everyone we know is dying". I tell her it's not "like" everyone is dying, everyone IS dying. WE are getting older and the older we get, the more people we know will be passing away, unless we go first. It's only going to continue to happen more and more if we are given the gift for another day above ground. Thats life.

My father was almost 50 years older than me. When I was 13 years old he retired and was in his sixties. I remember he spent most of his retirement going to funerals and wakes of all of his buddies that passed away. They would go and get drunk and celebrate their friend's life. That was mostly his social life that I can remember for all of my life. He was always happy to be the one still standing and drinking with his other friends. He missed the ones that moved on, but he was grateful it wasn't him. I think that is a good lesson. I remember my father always saying to me "Michael, you worry too much". That means so much to me now. My father survived WWII, saw a lot of action and was telling me that life is short and I should try and enjoy it while it lasted. 

I genuinely try and live by those words today. I try not to worry about much that is out of my control. I do my best to make sure my family is taken care of, that I try and stay healthy so I can continue to be a good father and husband and provide for my loved ones. I try to my best with my work and make it all count. But at the end of the day I think about what I could've done better and I give myself a break, I'll try harder tomorrow. Of course I get concerned with world events and Covid and everything the world is throwing at us, but at a some point I have to let it all go and leave it up to God. I cannot change the world events, but I can change my attitude toward life and bring some joy to my family and friends. I have faith that life will work itself out. I have not been let down yet. 

When I lose a loved one or a good friend, it hurts and it makes me sad, like anyone else. But ultimately I realize that I am getting older and thats what happens when people get older, they die. People get sick and leave us too young, it's tragic and painful. Life hurts. But I am still here for some reason and I have to continue to live. Those that have passed on would want it that way. My father would be telling me to stop worrying and live your life, it's short. 

I am getting older, we all are. I can age gracefully or fight it. I think I will try to be as graceful as possible. I am thankful for another day above ground and I will make sure to not worry so much and try and bring some joy to those around me.


Peace, Love, Zito