Tag Archives: Mason Loika

An Open Letter to Alice

Dearest Alice,

I brought you home yesterday, but only ashes remain.

I think you will like the vessel you’re in.  It’s perfectly color-coordinated to match our audio-video cabinet, although I know you would say, “I don’t care.”

You are no longer in this plane of existence, and that makes me miserable.  I have moments when I try to speak, but it’s garbled with tears. That’s become my own brand of aphasia, right?

No matter how competent a writer some people credit me with, that won’t bring you back to life. Please know that my grief is shared by your family and close friends in the aphasia community. I share the picture of your urn on this website post to substitute for a viewing ceremony in these days of coronavirus.

Please know I continue to practice physical distancing. (I don’t like to say “social distancing,” because there is nothing social about staying 6 feet away from well-meaning friends.)  The coroner’s report says your cause of passing was “probable myocardial infarction,” but you looked peaceful when I found you.

I believe your passing was due to the strain of movement caused by ever-increasingly painful arthritis.  Well, your hips and legs stopped hurting March 27th, and that makes me glad.

Being physically unavailable to lie naked beside me, though, makes me sad and lonely.  Now I must let you go to ease the star journey you earned after this life. You put up with me so patiently, my love.

Green Hills funeral home is located east of Kelso, Washington.

I hope you like the funeral home that cousin Margaret Johnston researched the day after you passed. Green Hills funeral home and crematorium is located 500 feet up in the hills east of Kelso, Washington. And both Margaret and cousin Carolyn Levin stepped up to pay for the whole shebang.

Also, please know that Kailey Cox drove up here Thursday morning to adopt your plants before they go to ruin.  I never had a green thumb, and Kailey wanted to make sure I didn’t give visible testament to a plant cemetery.

I hope you like the reverence the funeral home director, José Nuñez, showed as Margaret and I oversaw the disposition of your physical remains. I kissed your chin at our viewing, but your skin was so cold I realized you were no longer imprisoned in that fragile body. Your slender fingers and expressive hands will no longer hurt you.

Unlike your skin, our love will never grow cold. Alice, I love you. So blessed much.

The picture you saved from one of our aphasia gatherings on the Coast contains the following message from a Chinese fortune cookie: “Rarely do great beauty and great virtue dwell together as they do in you.”

Indeed.

Please accept my tears of grief as a gentle rain, and may each drop bring you peace on your unending journey.  Save me a spot, okay?

Preparing to return home with Alice’s remains.

Forever yours,

Mason

Members of the Aphasia Network have begun a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing

Alice Jane McCormick 3/6/1944 – 3/27/2020

Alice Jane McCormick, 76, formerly of Doylestown and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, suffered a massive heart attack and passed away Friday, March 27, 2020 in her recently acquired condominium home in Longview, Washington.  A private viewing prior to cremation is to be held Monday, March 30.

Mason Loika, 77, Alice’s domestic partner and co-conspirator in life, survives Ms. McCormick’s passing, along with a horde of students, nurses, organizers and teachers from the Aphasia Network who are devastated at her loss. Besides Mr. Loika, she is survived by sons Ed Goetz, 59, Park County, Colorado; and John Goetz, 54, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; daughters Elaine Krasousky, 52, Philadelphia; and Linda Goetz, 48, Philadelphia; as well as six grandchildren.

One of those grandchildren, Shelby Krasousky, was raised by Ms. McCormick. Ms. Krasousky and her son (Ms. McCormick’s great grandson), Vinny, reside in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

At a statuesque 6’3″ height, Ms. McCormick told me she made frequent after-school excursions to the ABC-TV Philadelphia studio to dance on the national broadcast of American Bandstand. Nevertheless, Ms. McCormick faced a bleak future after dropping out of John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School at the age of 15.

Ms. McCormick was born and raised in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, and gave birth to five children, rearing them in the beautiful Lawndale area. After 13 years of physical abuse, though, she fled her husband and divorced.

She eventually was awarded an associates’ degree from Camden Community College, Camden, New Jersey, and later worked with autistic children as a certified special education teacher.

Born March 6, 1944, Ms. McCormick met Mr. Loika on Sept. 24, 2010, and exactly one year later, they underwent a commitment ceremony led by an interfaith minister and a now-deceased Native American leader who guided them in an Apache prayer.

“May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years. May happiness be your companion, and your days together be good and long upon the earth.”

Ms. McCormick survived a stroke in March 2015 after moving west with Mr. Loika to Oregon, and her speech was never the same. However, the two of them became part of the Aphasia Network, where she regained enough of her speech to proclaim her independent spirit and speak openly of her love to Mr. Loika.

Now she has begun her star journey, and Mr. Loika has promised to honor the request she asked of him the day before she passed over: to write.

Members of the Aphasia Network have begun a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing

Life in Longview

Life is good.  And opportunity is at hand.

Five and a half years ago, I, Mason Loika (climate-change refugee from Miami), and life partner Alice McCormick (a true Philly girl) moved “Westward Ho.” We left a historic Pennsylvania town — Doylestown – to wind up in Longview, Washington, 50 interstate miles north of Portland, Oregon.  Longview has quite a history, but currently the sleepy town remains below the radar.

Most snow has melted atop Mt. St. Helehs.
Mt. St. Helens is 90 minutes away from Longview.
Alice meditates at Cape Disappointment.
Alice goes crazy over lighthouses. This one on Washington’s Long Beach peninsula known as Cape Disappointment provides a view for thought.

Positioned midway between Mt. St. Helens and Washington’s spectacular Pacific Coast, the self-contained industrial-residential town runs alongside the Columbia River, and was founded by timber-baron R.A. Long. Next to downtown is a magnificent, Japanese-styled,127-acre Lake Sacajawea, where residents wear their casual best to stroll – or show off their dogs’ pedigree – around a 3½ mile maintained gravel trail. (Lake Sacajawea is named after a Shoshone woman who guided Lewis and Clark west.) Longview’s population and that of sister town, Kelso, totaled 50,000 in 2017.

Serene lakeside concert
Longview provides free summer concerts with room to stretch out by Lake Sacajawea.
What does that darned cat want?
Two clever sculptures greet patrons at the Longview Public Library.

In September of that year, Alice and I bought a roomy two-bedroom condominium in Longview next to a manicured golf course, leaving three years of price-predatory apartment developments and unforgiving traffic in Portland, Oregon.

The Portland metro area incorporates Vancouver, Washington (not Canada), and has obscenely grown – over 2.4 million residents.  Once, pedestrians felt safe crossing city streets, but today population centers all over the West are bursting at the seams. Everywhere, people are increasingly crowded together.  Much of what ruined Miami when I grew up is happening today in Portland, and an unexplained number of Florida license plates can be observed.

For almost five years, I kept the financial wolves at bay by driving for Uber and Lyft in Portland.  Nowadays, Alice and I live a better life in Longview, although I continue “ride-share” work in Oregon. We have good neighbors in our newfound socially interactive community, and, after closing my garage at night, a neighbor offers me a solid toke from a well-stacked pipe containing some of the finest locally grown agricultural products.

Is this what they mean by "fresh air?"
Alice poses next to the mascot of the Freedom Market in downtown Longview.

It’s legal here, y’all!  So we don’t have to lead double lives to protect our right to partake.  Surrounded by the greenery on a nearly 1,000-foot-high, properly populated hill north of our development, this could be our forever neighborhood, limited to whatever Creator decides to gift us.

You never know quite what is in a hot dog.
This concession stand at a Longview outdoor concert piques curiosity.

And mercy of all mercies, musicians get work here.  I’ve already touted Teri’s Restaurant, which keeps getting better.  Teri now reserves Friday nights for local bands to perform in her two-story saloon-style roadhouse, just perfect vibes for performing musicians to jam together. And on the coast recently — Long Beach, Washington – a recent weekend event celebrated “Oysters and Jazz.”  Mmmmm. Sustenance for the body and soul.

Pacific Coasters endure unpleasant weather with style.
Friends at the Aphasia Network pose shamelessly when the Coast is rainy and chilly.
Gazing at the beach is relaxing to one and all.
When it’s sunny and warm on the Coast, a bonfire on the beach feels perfect.

Alice continues to manage me, occasionally making progress with her stroke-affected speech. Each year our closest buds in The Aphasia Network host two weekends at a Methodist church camp on the tip of a scenic peninsula on Oregon’s pristine coast. We attend regularly, and – especially – treat each other like family. (During breakout sessions, caregivers discuss relationship concerns with their group apart from their respective stroke survivors who simultaneously participate in activities designed to simulate everyday chores and challenges.)

Prof. John White is unique in more ways than one.
Professor John White of Pacific University stands tall on the beach.
"Let there be light."
Prof. White shows perseverance by holding sheet music in the light.

Looking around at the Aphasia Network staff – nurses, professors, occupational therapists, speech therapists, students, and executives (who don’t act that way), – we delight at how one musically astute professor appears to be attached by the hip to a guitar, with which he schedules bonding hootenannies with invited amateur musicians. This is, simply put, glorious territory for an elder inhabitant of Planet Earth to traipse about.

There is still much to share with readers. While Alice and I cocoon to avoid the coronavirus, Creator has decreed this time of fear and worry as a prospective blessing. Or as Jim Morrison once sang in “Light My Fire,” there’s “no time to wallow in the mire.”

Onward!

Millie the Cat

6/17/11 – 5/4/19

There’s no easy way to view the end of another being’s last breaths.  Nevertheless, in providing hospice care, we fulfill our responsibilities.

Yesterday, Alice and I drove Millie, ever complaining about our Ford Escape’s motion, to Cowlitz Animal Clinic, here in Longview, Washington.  The well-regarded clinic sits on a wide commercially zoned highway with little weekend traffic.  Because it was Saturday, we appeared to have the clinic almost entirely to ourselves.

A little history here: A month before we moved to Longview, Millie disappeared from our cramped Somerset West (Portland) apartment for 17 days.  Somehow, our tabby feline was found by a respectable homeowner more than a mile away, a fortuitous happening.

After 18 uneventful months with us in Longview, where we kept her indoors (and to our neighbors’ delight) Alice walked the cat several times a week outside on a leash, Millie was deemed to have diabetes.  Skeptical about treating her with daily insulin shots and frequent bloodwork; Millie was already down to skin and bones.  Less than six weeks later, even after changing her diet from Meow Mix to Iams, she was on the doorstep of wasting away — literally.

This visit to the clinic was made tolerable by a sensitive doctor of veterinary medicine, Kayleen McLain, who shared a professional sense of grief with us, especially while trying to find a vein — any vein — to administer the needed dosage to send Millie away to a permanent dreamland.

We mourned some as we said goodbye to her spirit, but found comfort once we noticed the serene look as she passed over.  We did not mourn long, because doing so would hinder Millie’s journey to “the other side.”

I once read that bonding with an animal comes with a limited contract: One of you will go before the other.  After that, life goes on.

That’s probably why, at the moment we returned home, Alice cleaned up Millie’s area from visible memorabilia.  Today, Alice is gardening outside, watching for hummingbirds, working up a sweat, and encouraging new life.

Millie was a great companion.  We dare not weep, because we would be crying only for our loss.  We will not be selfish.

Alice says, “We’ll get another cat.”

Alice gets a job

Two weeks ago, Alice and I visited the Longview YMCA to tour its facilities.  I have put on 20 pounds since my bladder operation, and we both could use some shaping up.  Our guide turned out to be the Y’s executive director who took a keen interest in Alice’s renewed ambition to care for infants and toddlers.

The director handed Alice an application, and the two of us put together a multi-page submission, hand-delivering it on May 2.  Two days later, as we prepared for a weekend with our extended family at the Aphasia Network’s Couples Retreat on the Oregon Coast, Alice received a call back from the Y.

Alice was offered a job!

We shared the good news with over 60 student counselors and staff, as well as other aphasia-recovering couples that night, and the people went wild.  After three years of wondering whether she could adequately function as the professional she expects from herself (Alice’s stroke was March 12, 2015), here was the promise of a new beginning.

Back from the Coast

After our return last Sunday, Alice returned to the Y for a late-afternoon confirming interview.  Two days later, Alice underwent training, and guess what?

Her first day at work is Tuesday morning.

The initial assignment calls for Alice to work one day a week.  If Alice is able to progress at the Y, will I finally feel confident to take a break from driving for Uber and lately Lyft?  Will I finally knuckle down and begin to write the book I’ve been bragging about?

At this point, it’s one step at a time.  Four years ago, we moved to the Northwest to fulfill our manifest destiny.  Now Alice is 74, I’m 75, and we’re settled in a beautiful condo apartment where we can jump-start our talents.

So here we go!

Longview Condo Is a Done Deal

On her birthday in March of this year, Alice told me, “This year, don’t buy me anything.  Instead, please, please get me a house.”

Alice realized the bloom had fallen off the Portland Rose City.  We started looking around and found a two-story townhouse for sale in Longview, Washington, next to a public golf course.  The photo above shows the crown jewel of Longview: Lake Sacajawea, a former channel of the Cowlitz River turned into a picturesque manmade lake, surrounded by 67 manicured parkland acres.  Live music fills the air on six consecutive Thursday night concerts.

Alice and I were in a difficult spot, because we didn’t have money for a down payment.  We were caught up in Portland’s rent crisis, and each year an increasing amount of money was being squeezed from us to rent a tiny 900-square-foot apartment next to a major freeway.

Eddie McCormick was recently honored as a Navy Seal.

Mason Was a Navy Reservist

Thinking about my Uncle Eddie McCormick, though, led to an overdue realization.  During the early 1960s, Eddie convinced me into joining the Naval Air Reserve.  As far as the Armed Services were concerned, I was not a “man’s man.”  This was especially true after I took the Navy’s aptitude test and set a new record for LOWEST score in mechanical ability.  Eddie suggested I join the Naval Air Reserve’s six-month active duty group known as “Weekend Warriors.”

During that era, I was subject to the draft.  So I enlisted as a preventive move and served six months of active duty – from October 6, 1960 until April 5, 1961, followed by 5½ years of active reserve duty spending one weekend a month at Jacksonville (Fla.) Naval Air Station and serving two weeks active duty during the summer.  Most of those two-week tours took me to Guantanamo Bay, but my experience did not include combat, thank God.

After my discharge, I discovered legislation that disqualified 1960s reservists who served 180 or fewer days active duty from receiving VA benefits.  This was a strike against six-month reservists, and I harbored resentment about the limitation of opportunity and expressed it to Uncle Eddie a few times.

Embracing a Revelation

Eventually, I found my niche as a broadcaster turned journalist, and regarded my military service as irrelevant history.  My military history soon became relevant as I wracked my brain figuring out how to finance a condo purchase.  I don’t remember how a flash of brilliance overcame me, but somehow I started counting my days of active duty from October 6 through April 5.  That added up to more than 180 days, it was 182.

Oh my God, the commander at Jacksonville Naval Air Station must have mustered me out two days late.  I was qualified!

Alice is greeted by the condo association president. We would share this backyard common area with one other resident.

Realtor Tami Cheatley was super-skeptical about VA financing, though, shunning it with a passion, but the Veterans Administration proved it was there for us.  It recognized Alice and me as a married couple, and acknowledged my service.  Oh yes, the VA did exact their pound of flesh, requiring me to document numerous explanations of every black mark our credit suffered over the last seven years.

We needed to get files from years past, copies of court judgments, visit the IRS, give every possible explanation for any bump in the road we experienced in life.   But we did it, and today, on Eclipse Monday, we closed on the sale.

Mason and Alice celebrate with a cold bottle of sparkling wine, just itching to have its cork popped..

As we celebrate our hard-won victory today, I acknowledge what Uncle Eddie did for by getting me into the Naval Air Reserve.  And I dote on his memory.  So congratulate us, for today Alice and I became homeowners in a quiet, desirable neighborhood.

Happy Eclipse Monday.

 

American Boychoir School to Close

I participated in the American Boychoir School’s 75th anniversary concert at Saint Joseph’s Seminary in 2013.

In a July 2016 post, I wrote about my unwanted encounter with a pedophile in this heart of cultural civility, Princeton, New Jersey, in the mid-1950s.  Anyone who wishes to read that post can find it here: sexual-predators.

The American Boychoir School never offered an open, frank discussion about rumors about its past.  People whispered and wondered what had gone on, and the School continued to stick its head in the sand.  I was there when a children’s show on Public Radio called “From the Top,” a showcase for young classical musicians, used the school as a setting for one of its young artists’ shows.

In 2014, Dustin Hoffman starred with Debra Winger in a movie called “Boychoir” that used the American Boychoir School as a backdrop; however, it only received limited release to tepid reviews.  Hallmark Cards bought the movie, retitled it “Hear My Song” for national exposure on CBS-TV until the company learned of the New York Times archived exposé of the school’s sordid history, and the showing was quietly shelved.  TV Week revealed the reasons Hallmark backed away in an article available online.

Here’s an update.  The school is coming to an ignoble end.  The American Boychoir School is abandoning its efforts to emerge from Chapter XI bankruptcy.  It will close down.  You can read about it here: boychoir school to close.

There is no joy in seeing the American Boychoir School go bust.  But there is a high degree of poetic justice.  This chapter of my childhood has reached its ultimate end.

C’est la vie.

 

Becoming an Elder

The last offspring of Mason Johnston and Grace Brantley passed away peacefully on Thursday, Jan. 5, in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Grace Wiley Johnston McCormick reached the age of 90, and in doing so, she embodied the name “Grace.”  My grandmother must be clapping her hands excitedly, exclaiming “My-oh,” anticipating her final daughter’s entry into that other existence to which we are headed.  There is no doubt that the two Graces are being reunited.

Husband Eddie McCormick took pride in this artist’s rendering of Cypress Point.

Grace Wiley was married for 65 years to Eddie McCormick, a Navy seal whose valiant service in World War II speaks of a dark world he once inhabited.  Grace bore up to Eddie’s demons, keeping them invisible to the outside world with nary a complaint, reflecting what it means to live up to the name “Grace.”

Grace Wiley and Eddie gave birth to two wonderful children: Barbara and Michael.  I became friends with them both, and I bless the day we became related.  Each of them manages his or her respective worlds under tenuous circumstances, and their daily sacrifices reflect on the quality of Grace’s motherly essence.

Barbara’s pride and joy offspring is named Dylan, who was conceived with her late husband David.  Michael, who regularly sends up dog apples to his dearest companions, enjoys a continuously bountiful marriage with wife Kim, which produced Cameron, Corey, Kyle and Kara.

Cypress Point was a stark picturesque viewpoint in Surrey, Virginia, across the James River from Jamestown.

Here’s what Barbara and Michael wrote about their mother: “She loved everyone and never said anything bad about anyone.  The word ‘hate’ was not in her vocabulary,” and they go on to relate how Grace was not shy about remonstrating her children if anything resembling “defugalties” fell from their mouths.

Barbara and Michael recall how Grace helped others any way she could, especially migrant workers.  “She was a very tough individual and never complained about pain or circumstances.  I think a lot of that came from growing up on the farm picking cotton and eating collard-green sandwiches.”

I, Mason Loika, am honored to have matriculated on my mother’s side through such fine family stock, and whenever I should feel frightened or alone, I have the advantage of recalling vivid memories of fine personages who set a high standard.  Grace Wiley McCormick was one of those amazing good hearts, and I am glad to hear that she passed peacefully while in God’s waiting room.

Grace Wiley’s memorial service takes place tomorrow morning at Cradock Presbyterian Church, where her family worships on a regular basis.  They ask nothing for themselves; rather, that all contributions go to the church.

Alongside her mother, Grace Wiley now joins her other siblings: Richard, Gladys, my mother Thelma and Bill.  In doing so, I become established as a next-generation elder to humbly salute the Johnston quintet along with their respective offspring.

On the 10th day of January, 2017, the Johnston family stands tall and proud amidst a glorious treasure chest of memories as we pause at 11 am Eastern Time to salute one more family hero who has passed over: Grace Wiley McCormick.

Completely Cured!

As Alice and I prepare to celebrate Christmas Eve with my cousin Margaret Johnston, here’s a Christmas tale of good fortune and considerable divine providence to share:

On Monday morning, Dec. 12, after having my bladder and prostate removed, I met with surgeon urologist, Dr. Daniel Janoff.  When Janoff walked into my patient room, he looked directly at me, beamed and uttered two words summarizing my pathology report: “Completely cured!”

Omigod!  Am I hearing correctly?  Then, like a proper surgeon, he muttered, “Well, unless something microscopic gets through.”

That’s as good as it gets, and the insurance I bought into by undergoing major surgery seems to be worth this post-procedure pain and rigmarole.

Cancer Affects Everyone Differently

The elation I allow myself to feel adds to the joy of this 2016 holiday season and causes me to count my blessings.  How many cancer sufferers endure the diagnosis of a malignant body part without years of heartache, excruciating pain and mind-numbing self-doubt?  For many of them, they’re always looking over their shoulder dreading the day when it’s confirmed that cancer has made its way into other vital organs.

On the other hand, what are the ramifications to a cancer patient when he or she loses a reproductive organ?

At an art exhibit opening in Bucks County, I once became attracted to someone related to one of the most famous show-business families in America.  We were so instantaneously enraptured that we began making out passionately on the second floor of the Lambertville, NJ gallery next to the Delaware River, in full view of everyone there, and I entreated her to see me again.

Upon calling her for the first time, though, she expressed inconsolable shame at having contracted ovarian cancer, saying she was no longer a real woman because her ovaries were being surgically removed.  She asked that I never call her again, and hung up the phone.  What horrible expectations some of us have while fighting cancer!

Other friends and relatives have faced the “Big C” diagnosis with far worse implications and over a far-longer period of time.  Therefore, it makes sense for me to be stoic about sacrificing certain body parts.  After 73 years of life in this state of consciousness, I rationalize that some organs can be regarded as irrelevant.  Considering I was diagnosed with “high-grade” cancer – somewhere between Stage 3 and Stage 4 – this was no time to play coy with life choices.

Earlier This Year

My cancer ordeal started in March, after Providence primary care provider, Dr. Mathew Snodgrass, confirmed another in what was a series of urinary tract infections.  He referred me to Dr. Janoff, a master urologist/surgeon.  Janoff, one of the busiest surgeons I ever met, ordered a CT scan, and in May diagnosed my urinary problems as being caused by bladder cancer.

The wicked carcinoma, he said, was caused by the chemical additives U.S. cigarette manufacturers put into their products to enhance addiction.  Throughout life, I always concerned myself with lung cancer.  But bladder cancer?  No way, I thought!

That’s why I recoil whenever I see anyone smoking a cigarette, and I retreat as far as I can get from the sweet seductive scent of tobacco smoke.

Looking back, I am grateful.  My ordeal lasted only nine months.  How many other cancer sufferers can say the same?  My late uncle underwent years of deteriorating health from Lou Gehrig’s disease.  How can I put my health challenges on the same plane as his?

I am one lucky guy.

Undergoing Chemo

Janoff recommended that before surgery, I undergo four rounds of chemotherapy, and oncologist Dr. Daniel Gruenberg at Compass Oncology kept an eagle eye on my changing blood work.

Three-and-a-half months of intense chemotherapy – consisting of Cisplatin and Gemzar – followed in July through early October at Compass’s location adjacent to Providence St. Vincent Hospital.  When my white blood cell count dropped precipitously in September, an injection targeted my bone marrow to precipitate increased white cell formation.  The stratagem – although quite painful days later – worked, enabling me to finish the course of treatment.

The surgery followed, and its results are now a matter of record.

Alice has been my confidante and partner throughout, although she would have preferred to see if cannabis oil alone would cause me to turn the corner.  I decided otherwise, and she shares this victory without mollycoddling me through the rehabilitation process.

The future ahead, she declares, lies in writing my own book, and she asks that I focus more on such an effort.  She is right, because we cannot continue our lives without seeking some semblance of adequate compensation for my creative work.

But on the eve of another Christmas Day, it’s time to spread some holiday cheer with my personal accomplishment.  It’s no accident that Hanukkah begins on Christmas Eve this year so whatever Jewish blood I inherited simultaneously shares season’s greetings with Christianity everywhere.

Merry Christmas, and Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

RELEASED!

“They say ev’rything can be replaced
Yet ev’ry distance is not near
So I remember ev’ry face
Of ev’ry man who put me here

“I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released”

Bob Dylan

This photo was taken two days ago after I walked into Alice’s and my apartment on Portland, Oregon’s west side.

I am a post-operative rejuvenated human surviver after Dr. Daniel Janoff, an eminently qualified urologist, removed my diseased bladder, prostate and a nearby lymph node in an operating room at Providence St. Vincent’s Hospital on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

I am left to wonder what life will be like without ordinary manly attributes.  Will my creativity be compromised?  Will I be a shell of the man I once was?  Will I be fun to be around?

Well, the true relevance is being able to contemplate essential questions.  That’s a gift.  No matter my mood, at least today I ponder such questions in my Mason Loika way.

I am alive.  And a team of doctors and nurses in one of this nation’s great hospitals is responsible for that mean feat.

So let’s bless today and every breath I take.  I have been RELEASED.