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