Paul Fenn

Staying Healthy, Angelina Jolie and Living Large

DSC00323

Last August my wife Kim and I took our three kids, Will (10), Mollie (8) and Graham (6) on vacation to the National Lakeshore which runs along the bottom of Lake Superior. We spent the first week sailing in the Apostle Islands which was totally fantastic. The second week we moved west and camped just off the beach with a beautiful view of the lake. During this second week, Kim noticed a small lump in her left breast. I didn’t pay too much attention to this, largely because she was only 43 and in great shape; seriously, she runs, swims, eats well, is a vegetarian, and is not over weight. In short, she’s in good physical condition. What’s more, Kim’s parents are both healthy, so what was there to worry about?

After we got home, Kim went to see her doctor and learned that she had breast cancer. I remember her calling me from our local hospital and saying “you should probably come over here, it’s more serious than they thought it was.”

Over the next several weeks, we learned more than we ever wanted to know about breast cancer and how to treat it. We also learned that even with all the advancement in medicine over say the last thirty years or so, there’s still a lot that is still unknown about breast cancer, especially why some woman get it and some don’t. The latest figures from the American Cancer Society are that 1 in 8 woman will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their life, that’s a whopping 12%. To put that into perspective, It was estimated that upwards of 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in 2011 and more in 2012; that’s a boat-load of breast cancer running around!

After wandering around like a couple of deer in the headlights for the better part of September trying to decide on the best course of action to take, we reluctantly came to the conclusion that if we had any chance of licking this thing we needed to go the conventional route which meant surgery followed by chemo therapy or as Kim put it “when in doubt cut it out and then spray RAID on it;” charming thought I know. We decided to go to Johns Hopkins Medical Center which wasn’t far from where we live and where we would have first-rate medical care.

Kim had a total mastectomy on her left side in the last week of October and began the first of four rounds of chemo in November. By December, she had lost all her hair but she never lost her drive or her sense of humor. As a family, we trudged through January. Thankfully our friends and neighbors helped us out and before we knew it, it was suddenly the end of February and her treatments were over. She felt pretty crummy most of March but by early April she was sprouting new hair and beginning to feel like her old self again. She began running a few miles every other day and then at the tail-end of April, with some help from her good friend Margaret Osborne, she ran the Iron Girl Half-Marathon and finished. Two weeks after that, she was back at John Hopkins for reconstruction surgery.

Kim and Mar finish their half-marathon
Kim and Mar finish their half-marathon

Over these past many months, I’ve had a variety of different thoughts and ideas of how we should lead our life so that as a family, we are healthy, happy, and prepared for the unexpected. As a result, I came up with these 10 points:

1. Stay Fit: It’s always amazing to me how many overweight, out of shape people there are in America. Last time I checked exercise wasn’t a dirty word. Granted, it’s not always easy to find the time to get to the gym or to go for a run or take a bike ride but it’s so good for you in so many ways and your body is craving to be worked out on a daily basis. In the best-selling book, Younger Next Year, authors Chris Crowley and Harry S. Lodge state very matter-of-factly that you can turn back your biological clock if among other things, you exercise at least 6 days a week for the rest of your life. I’m game, who’s with me?

2. Eat Healthy: This is easier said then done I know, but for all you people running around slugging down gigantic cheese burgers with extra-large french fries, you’re killing yourself, really! Want the straight dope? It’s simple, eat more fresh fruit, vegetables and grains. The pepperoni pizza with extra cheese is good I know but the question is, is it good for you? Let’s move on.

3. Don’t Smoke: Talk about an easy basket! They put those large warning labels on the side of the cigarette packs for a reason you know, smoke too many of them for long enough and they will KILL you. Breathing fresh air is a gift, don’t squander it by deliberately filling your lungs w/ poison… hello!

4. Watch the Alcohol:  Drinking too much will make you fat, dumb, and lazy. Kim and I love our wine, we admit it. We usually have a couple of glasses of good Cabernet or Pinot Noir every night. I had to fill out a health form recently and there was a question asking me how many glasses of alcohol I drank each week, I lied and put down 14 (It was probably more like 20!). When my doctor saw that he looked at me and said, “WOW, really?” Bottom line, go easy on the booze!

5. Unplug: Too much TV, video games, game-boys, cell phones, iPhones, iPads and handheld electronics in general are a bad idea. It’s a big world out there and most of it is still 100% natural so unplug now and again and live a little. We did this for a week last year while sailing in the Apostle Islands and it changed our life, seriously, try it.

Dad and Graham work on getting the fire started
Dad and Graham work on getting the fire started

6. Take a Break: As Ferris Buhler said, “life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it. “A good vacation away from the stress and strains of the daily grind will put a fresh breeze in your sails and give you a new prospective for what’s really important.

7. Laugh More: We try to laugh a lot in our house and not take ourselves too seriously. I remember one time when Kim was going through chemo, she was taking an excessively long shower. I yelled through the door, “what are you doing in there baking bread?” My daughter Mollie piped up and said “well she’s definitely not washing her hair!” We all cracked up over that one, especially Kim. Bottom line,  “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and it’s all Small Stuff.”

8. Marry Well: Like so many people, I was impressed with Angelina Jolie’s New York Time’s article, My Medical Decision which detailed her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.  One of the many good points she made was how important it was to have someone by your side to love you and help you through the storm. When Kim and I got married, we stole a quote from Life’s Little Instruction Book that said “a successful marriage depends on two things: (1) finding the right person and (2) being the right person.” Having the right person by your side when things go sideways can make all the difference. Choose your life’s partner well and stick with them.

9. Have Kids: Making the decision to have kids was one of the very best decisions Kim and I have ever made. We have three but knowing what we know now, we would have had more. Having kids allows adults to enter into a whole new world that without them you would never be exposed to; dance lessons, baseball games, soccer tournaments, school plays, sleep-overs, pumpkin carvings, father-daughter dances, beanie weenies, it’s all part of a magical ride called parenthood. Go for it!

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Mollie, Graham and Will climbing on the Wishing Tree on Bear Island on Lake Superior

10. Live Large: Just before Kim was diagnosed w/ breast cancer, I surprised her w/ the purchase of a 2006, black, BMW convertible with a tan interior and a 5-speed manual  transmission. The car was mint and was exactly what I had been looking for. At first, Kim saw the car as an unpractical, unnecessary addition to the family. And I had to admit that the car did look a little out-of-place parked next to our 2004 minivan and our 1993 Volvo wagon with the dent in the side. However this quickly changed the first time we dropped the top and went humming down the road, shifting through the gears on a perfect summer’s evening. We were living large and knew it. After Kim’s diagnosis, she said that one of the things that she was most thankful for was that we had bought the BMW. It was unpractical for sure, unnecessary no doubt, but it was also fun and if you can’t allow yourself to have fun, what’s left? Live large, especially in small ways.

Jeanneau SO 41 DS sailing in Annapolis, MD.

That’s it, these are my thoughts and the way I see things in this post-cancer world. Will any of these 10 pieces of advice keep you healthy? It’s hard to say but one thing is for sure, if you do get sick or have an accident, you will be much better equipped to deal with things and recover from it, if  you’re in good physical and mental shape and hitting on all cylinders. I have always believed that life is meant to be lived on the balls of your feet. That way, when the unexpected comes your way, you can easily adapt to the new tempo and dance to the new beat wherever it may take you.

On we go….

Planes, Sails and Automobiles, The CanAm Rendezvous is Always an Adventure

One of the better events that I have been involved with over the years is the Jeanneau CanAm Owner’s Rendezvous which takes place each year in June in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a great event that usually attracts between 30 and 40 boats with 50% of them coming from the US and the other 50% coming down from Canada; hence the name, CanAm.

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About 30 Jeanneau’s sit on the dock in Bedwell Harbor for the first annual CanAm Rendezvous (2001)

Over the years, I have attended many of the Rendezvous including the very first one in 2001. I remember very distinctly sailing out from Anacortes, WA under what started out to be warm and sunny skies. With me was my friend and colleague Danielle Launais; neither of us had been in this part of the world before. I am sure Danielle had visions of lying on deck in her bikini as we sailed through the beautiful San Juan Islands but we soon found out that the further we got from land, the colder it got. First, Danielle pulled on a sweatshirt. then she broke out her long pants. This was followed by a jacket, then socks and shoes, and finally a hat. We learned very quickly that while sailing in the San Juan Islands is awesome, it can be chilly so be sure to bring along some warm gear for when things chill down.

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From L to R: Yours Truly, Dan Krier, Danielle Launais, Jim Rard, and John Basingwaith in 2001

One of my favorite CanAm Rendezvous came in 2008 when I travelled with another colleague of mine, Katherine, along with her 5-year-old daughter, Ellie and my 4-year-old daughter, Mollie. Our first mistake was not giving ourselves enough time to get to the airport in Baltimore to check in. While we did manage to make the flight, once we got to Seattle, we learned that our bags did not. This presented a rather awkward predicament because we were meant to be in Anacortes by noon and underway shortly thereafter. After considering our options, we decided that we really had no problems that couldn’t be fixed by a trip to the local mall and a credit card. We therefore decided to stick with the plan and head for Anacortes and worry about our lost luggage later.

Our 1993 red crown victoria w/ matching red velour interior

We had arranged for a one way rental car from the airport to Anacortes. Since Anacortes is not an overly big place, the number of companies that provide service to Anacortes is limited. We ended up with a red 1990’s vintage Crown Victoria complete with red valor seats. This baby had all the signs of having seen some serious action in her day and whoever had done most of the driving must have been heafty in stature because when I got behind the wheel, I sunk down in the seat to a point where I could barely see over the dashboard; talk about a low-rider, yikes!

We found a mall on our way north and quickly ran in and out of several stores throwing down our credit card like a couple of druken sailors on a mad spending spree. With our trunk now filled to the brim with new stuff, we continued on our way to Anacortes. We met our friend Dan Krier at the rental agency where we transferred our haul from the trunk of the Crown Vic. to the bed of his truck. We then made our way to the marina where we would board the Jeanneau 49i and begin our sailing trip through the San Juan’s, across the border into Canada and finally to Bedwell Harbor where the festivities would begin the next day.

Getting off the dock and underway is always a challenge under the best of conditions but throw into the mix a 4 and 5-year-old and it’s almost impossible. Despite this, we finally got loaded up, hopped on board and pulled away from the dock; at long last we were on our way or so we thought. I don’t think we had gone more than 200 feet when I went down below and smelled something burning. The burning smell sent us back to the dock where we learned that for whatever reason the starter motor which is meant to engage the flywheel while starting is supposed to immediately disengage once the motor is running. Unfortunately, in this case the starter never disengaged which resulted in its total meltdown. Since we didn’t have a replacement starter immediately handy, we would be stuck in Anacortes for the night. Just about the time this reality was hitting home, Southwest Airlines called to say that our bags had arrived and they would be delivering them to us before the end of the day. This was welcome news for sure but then we needed to make the decision of what to do with all the new stuff we had bought that now we didn’t need.

After a few minutes of debate, it was decided that Katherine and the girls would go back to Dan’s place and rack out while Dan and I would run back to the mall and return the unneeded gear. We figured this would take about an hour but it turned out to be more like two. By the time we returned to Dan’s place, our bags had shown up along with Dan’s wife Lisa and a few other folks. Cocktail hour had clearly started and dinner was on the stove and underway. The day had been a long one and a little frustrating at times but the good times we were having now was quickly making up for it.

Mollie and Ellie
Ellie and Mollie abaord the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 49i in route to the Bedwell Harbor, Canada

By the time we arrived at the boat the next morning, a new starter had been located and was in the process of being installed. The sun was bright and the sky blue when we finally casted off. We had a great sail that day and in the end we had a terrific time with the Jeanneau owners and the team from Marine Servicenter and Fraser Yacht Sales.

kenmore_Beaver_DockSunset
Beaver seaplane, operated by Kenmore Air services the San Juan and Canadian  Gulf Islands

In just about a month, I’ll be heading back to the Pacific Northwest for the 13th CanAm Rendezvous. It will be the first time since I’ve been back since 2008. This time I plan to bring my youngest son Graham (age 7) with me. I have no doubt that it will be just as much fun and as the previous ones. It will be a great father and son adventure. And, since Graham loves planes, maybe I’ll treat him to a truly unforgettable experience and come back to to Seattle via seaplane. It will be awesome!

On we go…

Staying Healthy, Angelina Jolie and Living Large

DSC00323Last August my wife Kim and I took our three kids, Will (10), Mollie (8) and Graham (6) on vacation to the National Lakeshore which runs along the bottom of Lake Superior. We spent the first week sailing in the Apostle Islands which was totally fantastic. The second week we moved west and camped just off the beach with a beautiful view of the lake. During this second week, Kim noticed a small lump in her left breast. I didn’t pay too much attention to this, largely because she was only 43 and in great shape; seriously, she runs, swims, eats well, is a vegetarian, and is not over weight. In short, she’s in good physical condition. What’s more, Kim’s parents are both healthy, so what was there to worry about?

After we got home, Kim went to see her doctor and learned that she had breast cancer. I remember her calling me from our local hospital and saying “you should probably come over here, it’s more serious than they thought it was.”

Over the next several weeks, we learned more than we ever wanted to know about breast cancer and how to treat it. We also learned that even with all the advancement in medicine over say the last thirty years or so, there’s still a lot that is still unknown about breast cancer, especially why some woman get it and some don’t. The latest figures from the American Cancer Society are that 1 in 8 woman will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their life, that’s a whopping 12%. To put that into perspective, It was estimated that upwards of 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in 2011 and more in 2012; that’s a boat-load of breast cancer running around!

After wandering around like a couple of deer in the headlights for the better part of September trying to decide on the best course of action to take, we reluctantly came to the conclusion that if we had any chance of licking this thing we needed to go the conventional route which meant surgery followed by chemo therapy or as Kim put it “when in doubt cut it out and then spray RAID on it;” charming thought I know. We decided to go to Johns Hopkins Medical Center which wasn’t far from where we live and where we would have first-rate medical care.

Kim had a total mastectomy on her left side in the last week of October and began the first of four rounds of chemo in November. By December, she had lost all her hair but she never lost her drive or her sense of humor. As a family, we trudged through January. Thankfully our friends and neighbors helped us out and before we knew it, it was suddenly the end of February and her treatments were over. She felt pretty crummy most of March but by early April she was sprouting new hair and beginning to feel like her old self again. She began running a few miles every other day and then at the tail-end of April, with some help from her good friend Margaret Osborne, she ran the Iron Girl Half-Marathon and finished. Two weeks after that, she was back at John Hopkins for reconstruction surgery.

Over these past many months, I’ve had a variety of different thoughts and ideas of how we should lead our life so that as a family, we are healthy, happy, and prepared for the unexpected. As a result, I came up with these 10 points:

Kim and Mar finish their half-marathon
Kim and Mar finish their half-marathon

1. Stay Fit: It’s always amazing to me how many overweight, out of shape people there are in America. Last time I checked exercise wasn’t a dirty word. Granted, it’s not always easy to find the time to get to the gym or to go for a run or take a bike ride but it’s so good for you in so many ways and your body is craving to be worked out on a daily basis. In the best-selling book, Younger Next Year, authors Chris Crowley and Harry S. Lodge state very matter-of-factly that you can turn back your biological clock if among other things, you exercise at least 6 days a week for the rest of your life. I’m game, who’s with me?

2. Eat Healthy: This is easier said then done I know, but for all you people running around slugging down gigantic cheese burgers with extra-large french fries, you’re killing yourself, really! Want the straight dope? It’s simple, eat more fresh fruit, vegetables and grains. The pepperoni pizza with extra cheese is good I know but the question is, is it good for you? Let’s move on.

3. Don’t Smoke: Talk about an easy basket! They put those large warning labels on the side of the cigarette packs for a reason you know, smoke too many of them for long enough and they will KILL you. Breathing fresh air is a gift, don’t squander it by deliberately filling your lungs w/ poison… hello!

4. Watch the Alcohol:  Drinking too much will make you fat, dumb, and lazy. Kim and I love our wine, we admit it. We usually have a couple of glasses of good Cabernet or Pinot Noir every night. I had to fill out a health form recently and there was a question asking me how many glasses of alcohol I drank each week, I lied and put down 14 (It was probably more like 20!). When my doctor saw that he looked at me and said, “WOW, really?” Bottom line, go easy on the booze!

5. Unplug: Too much TV, video games, game-boys, cell phones, iPhones, iPads and handheld electronics in general are a bad idea. It’s a big world out there and most of it is still 100% natural so unplug now and again and live a little. We did this for a week last year while sailing in the Apostle Islands and it changed our life, seriously, try it.

Dad and Graham work on getting the fire started
Dad and Graham work on getting the fire started

6. Take a Break: As Ferris Buhler said, “life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it. “A good vacation away from the stress and strains of the daily grind will put a fresh breeze in your sails and give you a new prospective for what’s really important.

7. Laugh More: We try to laugh a lot in our house and not take ourselves too seriously. I remember one time when Kim was going through chemo, she was taking an excessively long shower. I yelled through the door, “what are you doing in there baking bread?” My daughter Mollie piped up and said “well she’s definitely not washing her hair!” We all cracked up over that one, especially Kim. Bottom line,  “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and it’s all Small Stuff.”

8. Marry Well: Like so many people, I was impressed with Angelina Jolie’s New York Time’s article, My Medical Decision which detailed her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.  One of the many good points she made was how important it was to have someone by your side to love you and help you through the storm. When Kim and I got married, we stole a quote from Life’s Little Instruction Book that said “a successful marriage depends on two things: (1) finding the right person and (2) being the right person.” Having the right person by your side when things go sideways can make all the difference. Choose your life’s partner well and stick with them.

9. Have Kids: Making the decision to have kids was one of the very best decisions Kim and I have ever made. We have three but knowing what we know now, we would have had more. Having kids allows adults to enter into a whole new world that without them you would never be exposed to; dance lessons, baseball games, soccer tournaments, school plays, sleep-overs, pumpkin carvings, father-daughter dances, beanie weenies, it’s all part of a magical ride called parenthood. Go for it!

DSC00346
Mollie, Graham and Will climbing on the Wishing Tree on Bear Island

10. Live Large: Just before Kim was diagnosed w/ breast cancer, I surprised her w/ the purchase of a 2006, black, BMW convertible with a tan interior and a 5-speed manual  transmission. The car was mint and was exactly what I had been looking for. At first, Kim saw the car as an unpractical, unnecessary addition to the family. And I had to admit that the car did look a little out-of-place parked next to our 2004 minivan and our 1993 Volvo wagon with the dent in the side. However this quickly changed the first time we dropped the top and went humming down the road, shifting through the gears on a perfect summer’s evening. We were living large and knew it. After Kim’s diagnosis, she said that one of the things that she was most thankful for was that we had bought the BMW. It was unpractical for sure, unnecessary no doubt, but it was also fun and if you can’t allow yourself to have fun, what’s left? Live large, especially in small ways.

Jeanneau SO 41 DS sailing in Annapolis, MD.That’s it, these are my thoughts and the way I see things in this post-cancer world. Will any of these 10 pieces of advice keep you healthy? It’s hard to say but one thing is for sure, if you do get sick or have an accident, you will be much better equipped to deal with things and recover from it, if  you’re in good physical and mental shape and hitting on all cylinders. I have always believed that life is meant to be lived on the balls of your feet. That way, when the unexpected comes your way, you can easily adapt to the new tempo and dance to the new beat wherever it may take you.

On we go….