Mark A. Myhra:  Died December 18, 2021

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I wanted to share a story and a journey that I was fortunate enough to have been a small part of.  In July of this year, I attended my 34th retreat at the Demontreville Retreat Center.  Each year up to four men share a table and eat silently during the three-day retreat.  First and last meals allow communication, and we introduce ourselves at the first supper and do some brief chit chatting before the three days of silence reigns.  Then at supper on our final day, our torrent of thoughts are released as we are allowed to speak.  Surprisingly, even though we are silent through breakfast, lunch, and supper for three days, we get to feel that we know the other men at our table quite well.  There is something about saying prayers and breaking bread with another human being that is ineffable.

This year, I had two other men at my table whom I had never met before.  As it turned out, the father (Mark) and son (Daniel) had come together because Mark had been too sick to participate in his scheduled retreat earlier in the year, so he rescheduled, and his son came with him.  Through our introductions, I learned that Mark had been diagnosed and was being treated for Pancreatic Cancer.  I was very surprised at this, mainly because of his optimism which I felt was probably unwarranted, but I kept this to myself.  Who was I to say that you could not defeat pancreatic cancer, even if I had never known anyone who had?

Mark had a very dynamic and, despite his condition, energetic personality.  I was struck by his positive attitude.  Mark loved life, his family, and God, perhaps in the reverse order.  He led an interesting life and seemed much younger than his sixty years.  When we left at the end of the retreat, we exchanged business cards.  Mark mentioned that he had a Caring Bridge site and would be posting updates there.

Over the next five months, Karen and I followed the postings by Mark and some of his family members.  It is hard to describe my feelings for Mark’s writings.  I was touched deeply by his spiritual convictions, his love of family and the love of so many around him.  It was clear that Mark was a very unique individual who had made a positive impact on the lives of many people.  I felt jealous of the amazing family that he had and the father that he was to them.  I could only wish that I had been as good a father as Mark was.  It was evident from the postings by his children how deeply they admired and loved Mark.

The postings that I am listing below are from his Caring Bridge Site.  I am posting them in chronological order dating from the week following our retreat at Demontreville together.  Mark has some other postings before then and if the following inspire you, then you can find them on his Caring Bridge Site.

Mark’s postings tell an amazing story of resistance and finally acceptance.  Mark walks the line between knowing when to hold them and knowing when to fold them.  Throughout his battle with cancer, he is never prone to blame others or condemn God for taking his life away.  He is never maudlin and right up to the end he continues to make the best of each day.  He is well aware of the impact that his illness has on others, and he is as much a caregiver to them as they are too him.  He dies with dignity, respect, integrity and the love of many family and friends.  I hope you will take the time to read all of the postings that Mark made.  The final two postings include two by his sons after he passed and an obituary by a good friend.

In this era of bad news and then worse news, we need to have some inspiration to get up each morning and to have a positive attitude towards life.  I think Mark forges a path than we can all follow to live each day the best we can and to do our best for others in the world.

Rest in Peace Mark

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July 19, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — July 19, 2021

I write from the chemo infusion bay in Maple Grove, MN.  I am undergoing Round 4 as I type.  This is the first time I’ve been able to schedule my infusion to occur at MG rather than the University cancer center.  The logistics are much better for us here, as we avoid the drive into downtown MPLS, ramp parking and longer waits.  This morning at the MG center, I parked (literally) outside the front door, and for free, and then walked inside to be immediately processed for labs and, shortly after being cleared for chemo, started the drip.  Unless something strange arises, I will get out in record time today.  My labs were “good enough” for me to proceed with chemo.  That means my blood cell counts were within reasonable reach of the lower normal range, such that they would pass me for chemo today.  I don’t have the PA 9-19 (tumor marker) results yet as they get processed downtown.  Perhaps one of my kids will give an update tomorrow when those results arrive.  We are hoping, of course, for a continued decline in the marker count, although I won’t risk a jinx by predicting the new value.

This is a big week for us; round 4 of chemo today and CT scans on Thursday.  We hope to learn much after the scans are completed and compared to the baseline scans of early June.  It will give a better measure than the tumor markers of how well this chemotherapy is working against my cancer.

I haven’t written for a while, and I have some time to spare as I watch the steady drip of chemicals into the rigged apparatus and then into my implanted port.  So, I will write about my weekend.  Of course, you, dear reader, may not have as much time to spare in your reading as I in my writing, and you may not find my topic (the Jesuits) as interesting as I do.  I pause to consider my common tendency to judge others for assuming the interest of their audience (me) in their personal favorite topic.  So, I proceed with some trepidation (“the measure with which you measure …”).  In any event, as a safety, if you’d rather not hear about my take on the Jesuits or my silent retreat of the weekend, I have bracketed that entire section so you can quickly skip to the rest of this update.

[It was a great weekend.  My youngest son, Daniel, and I attended our annual men’s retreat at Demontreville. This is a silent retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola –  the founder of the Society of Jesus in 1534.  I really love the rich history of the Jesuits, including the complex personality of its founder.  Ignatius was a professional soldier who liked combat in formal warfare against the French as well as informal skirmishes with local adversaries.  He liked to stand fast and hard on principle.  He was rather fond of himself – chock full of self-admiration for his presumed personal honor and his physical appearance.  He was a man-about-town and a rabble-rouser.  He reminds me of some of my best friends.  But then, after a major life event, he was challenged to contemplate a different course for his life.  His is a biography worth reading, but in short the life-changing event resulted in his exchanging his sword for pen and prayer, his interest in women for a devotion to one woman, the Blessed Virgin, and his worldly swagger for a life-long commitment to the Lord.  His Spiritual Exercises are the product of his discerned experience and the spirit-led contemplations of a man committed to holiness and to servant-leadership of others.

I am fascinated by modern day Jesuits.  They are an apostolic order, not a monastic one, so they are meant to be in the world.  Accordingly, the breadth of their wisdom, connection with the realities of humanity, and appreciation for the challenges of life in the world is quite impressive.  The Jesuits seem to know a lot about a lot.  These guys are a great balance of soul and intellect, of practical wisdom and humor.  Of course, they all can break open sacred scripture, converse the great theological mysteries of the faith, and offer a unique perspective of the Exercises to bring life to a historical document written 500 years ago.  In addition, in casual conversation, they are as likely to explain Pascal’s Wager as to discuss Mozart’s Symphony No. 61, or Judge Easterbrook’s economic theories, or the rationale for a major league pitcher to throw “chin music” on an 0-2 count, or discuss the best films of either Hitchcock or Tarantino or both, not to mention the low-hanging fruit of predicting whether Gonzaga will contend again in the Final Four next year.

I have come to love Ignatian spirituality, and I have prospered much over the years from contemplations gained and decisions reached during my weekends of directed silence at Demontreville.  This year, in addition to the normal daily regimen, I also received an Anointing of the Sick, as well as a special group blessing from all of the men on retreat.  On Sunday night, I returned to the noisy world feeling the grace of God’s voice and His healing power.  It is said that “silence makes audible the still small voice of God.”  I have come to believe it.

My deep connections to the Jesuits and Ignatian spirituality have become more and more clear to me and prominent in my life the older I get.  I have linked their advancement of the Sacred Heart devotion to my Catholic beginnings at Notre Dame.  My Ignatian library grows too.  So, as a gift to anyone interested, I simply commend to you the benefit of a Demontreville Retreat.  They hold a Retreat almost every Thursday night through Sunday of the calendar year.  I can say the experiences have been life-changing for me.  Typically, not like a lightning bolt on a personal journey to Damascus, but more like breaking in a fine pair of Tony Lama boots.  Demontreville has taught me to trust in the slow work of God.  Finally, I will share this significant contemplation from the weekend – it occurred to me as I walked the pristine grounds early Saturday morning that this could be my last time here: “what if this turns out to be my last retreat at Demontreville?”  This led to a series of similar contemplations of some potential “last times” on the near horizon.  But due to a word I received in a lectio divina reading of Psalm 103 (“I will heal your diseases, all of them”) I left this contemplation in peace and gratitude, believing I’d be back to Demontreville for precisely the right number of future retreats in accord with God’s will.  If you are local/regional or readily mobile, I highly recommend a Demontreville retreat experience for you.]

Now I look ahead.  Not too far ahead, as this diagnosis has helped me to land the mantra “one day at a time.”  I look forward to living well and praying and learning.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve been praying for many of you in precise ways and all of you in general ways.  This will continue, even as  I continue to be touched by the incredible generosity of the many people in my life, past and present friends, all supporters in this journey.  Thanks for the meals that have been delivered to my home or Paige‘s place for a weekend family gathering (typically 10-12, not counting babies). The cleaning service has been a wonderful benefit.  The cards and care packages and texts and emails and voicemails and etc. have all lifted my spirits.  I hope I have a chance to thank everyone face-to-face at some point.   I hope to travel some this late summer or fall.

As I close, I must ask if anyone feels discouraged and would like to chat about any topic, please drop me a line at myhramark@gmail.com and perhaps we can find time to encourage one another.  Thanks to everyone who has shared your special prayer needs; I assure you I have carried them to the cross every single day.  Thanks also to those who have shared recent accounts of cancer survivors.  Together, these “shares” give me purpose and hope.   I know that I am being called to new life.  The question is where, and I think it will be here (above ground) for a good spell yet.  My hope is in the Lord.

Love to all, Mark

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July 26, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — July 26, 2021

My dear friends and family.  Peace be with you.

We have had a string of very good news, especially regarding tumor markers and dealing with side-effects.  Regrettably, today I break the hitting streak and share the news of my surveillance scans.  Last Thursday, I had a new series of x-ray and CT scans to compare to the initial scans of May 24th (the initial scans were the first real evidence of pancreatic cancer).  I met with Dr. Greeno today to discuss the results.  Of course, we hoped to see definitive signs of remission – shrinkage of the existing tumors.  Instead, the new scans revealed that the tumor in the tail of my pancreas has grown slightly.  This may mean that my cancer is resistant to the chemo I am on now, which would mean switching chemotherapies.  However, based on all facts and variables, it’s a close call.  So, we decided to stick with the current chemo for one more month (two more rounds of chemo) and then get another set of scans. Those scans (at the end of August) will determine if it’s time to change to Plan B.  So, we wait again.

The good news is there is a Plan B — a different chemo that some patients respond to better than the one I’m on.  There was some other good news today – there are no new tumors anywhere in my abdomen and one of the tumors in the liver actually shrank.  Plus, we won’t discount the declining tumor markers as a positive sign.

I am not Pollyannaish – yet I remain optimistic that this battle against a formidable foe will ultimately be won – for God’s great glory.  So, I continue in my Confidence.  I know many are praying for me daily, and I will be most grateful if you’d keep it up (and perhaps even dial it up).  Please remember my family in your prayers, as they are struggling more with this diagnosis than I.

Peace, Mark

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August 3, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — August 3, 2021

Good morning.  I’m in the midst of Day 2 of Round 5.  To the extent most folks define their nights (at least the 3rd and 4th watch) in terms of restful sleep, mine was terrible.  I sat awake from midnight to 4:00, with some nausea, but mostly just wide awake due to the heavy-duty IV steroids I receive at the start of Day 1.  The sleepless nights do serve a very important purpose in my current journey.  My prayer life has never been so intense (and, hopefully, so fruitful).  I continue to welcome your intentions.  I may have written this before, but I will risk being repetitive (and lazily won’t re-read the mounting number of prior posts) because I can just blame it on “chemo-brain” (a very real and useful phenomenon).  I believe God the Father is moved by the prayers of children, the poor and the dying.  So, if you happen to be an adult and wealthy and healthy, you may consider a prayer advocate; I’d be honored to serve.

In the early morning hours I have continued to scour my memory bank for occasions where I mistreated or slighted anyone (by act or omission) and have prayed for their success and happiness as a sort of living amend.  More on praying for “enemies” below.  As far as my prayers for myself, I know I have lots of you in my corner already and many have responded to my request to “dial it up.”  Thank you.  But, as for my personal prayer for myself, I am praying simply for strength in battle and acceptance of God’s will, however that ultimately manifests.  Here is the powerful Third Step Prayer, which I like very much: God, I offer myself to Thee – to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of Life, May I do Thy will always!

I am technically on vacation this week for Lynn’s annual family reunion up in Brainerd Lakes, but had to come home to Plymouth for the 3 days of chemo.  (NOTE: If you’re planning a vacation, I don’t recommend getting cancer.)  Tomorrow I will head back up north for the last 2 days with Lynn and my extended family.  But being home alone has been fine.  I had lunch with a dear friend from Boston yesterday who flew in for the purpose, and dinner tonight with another dear friend here on business.  Plus, I can watch a west coast ball game on TV in bed with the sound turned on, which is strictly forbidden when Lynn is beside me.

Over the past 10 weeks I have read many great books of prose and poetry, many recommended by friends of great faith.  The  retreat director at my recent Demontreville retreat asked us all to ponder The Ravensbruck Prayer as part of the second week of Ignatius’ Exercises:

O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will but also those of evil will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted upon us; remember the fruits we have borne thanks to this suffering –
our comradeship,
our loyalty,
our humility,
our courage,
our generosity,
the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this;
and when they come to the judgement, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness. Amen.

This prayer was written by an anonymous author on a piece of wrapping paper found near the body of a dead child in Ravensbruck where 92,000 women and children died in the Holocaust.  I can barely imagine the beautiful soul who wrote this.  I hope to meet her in heaven one day.

Love, Mark

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August 10, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — August 10, 2021

Good morning.  I am having some trouble with the side-effects again this round. that is to be expected, as the side-effects are cumulative, and they will worsen as I move through the next months of chemo.

I feel very grateful today for all the support you’ve provided to me and my family.  I am in the process of seeking a second opinion from a doctor at Mayo (author of “Slaying the Dragon”).  Not sure this will change anything at all, but the inquiry feels right to me at this time.

I am planning a short trip to Montana to visit my mom and siblings.  I sense they need to see me in the flesh to believe I am doing so well.  I really am doing well.  I am confident in winning this battle.  Most importantly, I feel great confidence in God’s Providence.

Today, I share for your enjoyment one of my favorite poems, The Convert by G.K.C.

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead

   The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,

   They rattle reason out through many a sieve
   That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
   And all these things are less than dust to me
   Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

Next chemo is next Monday followed by scans.  We will keep you posted.

Peace be with you, Mark

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August 24, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — August 24, 2021

Dear friends and family.   My surveillance scans were completed yesterday and I received the radiologist’s report in MyChart.  I can’t discuss the results with my oncologist until next Monday — an excruciating wait even for someone gifted with the virtue of patience (not me).  So, I reviewed the results.  And so, take this post with a grain of salt; I will quickly refresh this update if I hear otherwise when I meet with Dr. Greeno next week.

The scans did not provide good news.  My cancer is not in remission with the current chemo; the tumor on my pancreas grew more over the past 30 days.  So, it is time to stop this chemo (Folfurinox) and shift to the other option Gemzar.  The regimen with Gemzar will be a little different/easier (3 Mondays in a row, followed by a week off; no home pump) and the side-effects are typically easier to endure too.  I’m glad about that and look forward to slurping down a chocolate milkshake as soon as the Folfurinox side-effects completely subside.  Folfurinox causes a painful reaction to anything cold so I’ve been without ice cream for a few months; this has been one of the greatest sacrifices during the past months of chemo.

I must confess I’ve been feeling a bit punk lately, but I have thought it related to my COVID booster (I got shot #3 on Saturday).  Maybe it was my body telling me its time for a new chemo.   I am eager to start up Gemzar and get back to winning the battle.

My hope and spirits remain very high.  If I am to be cured, and it is to be for God’s great glory, then He should render the healing clearly His doing.

I continue to pray for all of you (whether you’ve asked for prayers or not).  Please pray for my family.

Your, friend, colleague, acquaintance, Mark
Semper Fidelis

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September 9, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — September 9, 2021

(this update was started yesterday, but updated and posted today)

Sept 8

Good morning from the infusion bay at the U in downtown Minneapolis.  Thankfully, I am getting Round 2 of Gemzar today.  I say thankfully because my WBC count and my platelet count were both below the “absolute” lower limit the oncology nurses are allowed to proceed with infusion.  In other words, I failed my labs today.  It took my urgent plea, conveyed by a very helpful nurse, and a special “override” from Dr. Greeno for me to get chemo today.  I was actually jubilant when the nurse said Dr. Greeno had given the go-ahead.   Who in his right mind would ever be joyful to receive another dose of this medicine cursing through his body?  Well, me; and, I believe I’m in a right mind.  I really wanted to keep the treatments going today – not just because I’d made the effort to get to the U of M early this morning, but mostly because I want to keep constant pressure on the cancer.  If my body can stay stronger than the cancer, the chemo has a better chance of pushing this beast into remission.  And, remission is necessary for any “next” options to open up.

The past week was a bit rough.  I felt great on Day 1 of Gemzar, but by the afternoon of Day 2, I got quite sick – chills, body aches, nausea, and a terrible side-effect of Gemzar – sores in the mouth.  These leave a bad taste in my mouth (literally).  All of this added up for me to having no appetite.  I could barely eat anything.  Nothing sounded good, nothing tasted good, and a couple meals left me quickly as they arrived.  So, it was a rough week.

But, there were also some great moments to rejoice in over the holiday weekend.  Our oldest son, John Paul (1st Lt. USMC), surprised us by coming home from Camp Pendleton for the long weekend.  Our family is tightly knit, and each child supports the other. Yet, John Paul is the natural leader in this respect and has a special role in uniting us in a spirit of loyalty, happiness and appreciation for simple fun.  He also helped us get the dock out of the water at the cabin on Monday (a task I dread each season, and I rejoice in its completion).  One of the highlights of the weekend for me was a family Rosary, which John led and in which the assembled group actively participated by adding intermittent intentions.  On Tuesday we enjoyed a boys’ outing and spent a couple hours at the gun range shooting my various handguns.  Also, my mom and niece (Hannah) traveled from MT to spend time with us and have been here for the past week to help Paige (post-surgery) manage her busy household.  They were incredibly helpful to all of us and just plain fun to have around.  And, to say the least, they were very low maintenance guests – they cooked and cleaned for two households and “babysat” Paige’s kids most days and one night.  Having them visit was a joyful luxury to us. They leave tomorrow and will surely be happy to get home from their “vacation in MN” to get some rest.

After we finally got it going, today’s infusion went smoothly.  I felt no acute side-effects during the chemo drip and had a Viking’s appetite for both lunch and dinner.  I spent good time over lunch with my great friend Gary and came home to a lovely dinner of homemade hot and sour soup made by Hannah.  I was able to sleep fairly well last night despite the heavy dose of steroids.

(Sept 9)

I feel great today.  I woke up a little groggy, but surprised it was already 5:30.  I have been awakening much earlier than that on most days since the diagnosis.  I ate some breakfast despite a still sore mouth, and made it to the Mass.  I find morning Mass to be the best way to start my day – a real grounding in priorities for the day as I acknowledge my errors and give gratitude for all my graces and benefits before receiving my Daily Bread.  I am now at the office for the rest of the day before a visit with granddaughter Hayley and later a visit with all of Paige’s crew.  Oh, and back to the cancer front, we await the PA-19-9 tumor marker results sometime later today.  We are hoping for a little sign – a decline in the markers – to give us some evidence that the cancer is responding to the Gemzar.  The next CT scans aren’t until the end of October, so some drop in the tumor markers now will give a boost in our hope as we wait the scans.  In the meantime, I will continue to try to live in the present, one day at a time.  I have found that one way to succeed at this tall task is to focus my personal prayers on the intentions of others.

I continue to get the loveliest messages from people on this site and off-line.  Thank you.  I trust so much the power of prayer, and I feel the great benefit of an army of prayer-warriors from around the world addressing my cause.  Thank you.

Love, Mark

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September 15, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — September 15, 2021

Good morning.  We had another little set-back yesterday – I was sent home from chemo without the chemo.   My WBC count (and mostly the neutrophil count) was too low for me to proceed with the scheduled round of Gemzar.  I pushed hard to receive the scheduled drip, but could not convince anyone that it was a good idea to proceed.  The infusion nurse was quick to say “I know this is disappointing but if your WBC count gets much lower, it could be deadly for you.”  I was quick to respond, “speaking of deadly, you realize I am fighting Stage IV pancreatic cancer.”  I think she thought I was being a wise guy.  I was not.  I was just continuing to advocate for myself, pushing hard for the doctors to be bold in my treatment.  As far as I know, my plea for an exception never reached Dr. Greeno’s ears, which was another part of the frustration.  The cancer club is marked by such frustrations, as well as various pains & sufferings, humiliations, indignations, uncertainties, and dashed hopes.  Considering these, I think one of the greatest challenges of the cancer journey is keeping one’s spirits high and one’s attitude positive.  In my case, my support network (the likes of you reading this blog) is so strong and so active in prayer and positive attitude that I can’t help but be uplifted and follow your lead.  I thank you.

So, where am I this morning (figuratively)?  I am hopeful.  I am trusting in God’s Providence.  The low WBC count is a sure sign that the chemo is killing fast-growing cells, so I am confident the Gemzar is finding and killing cancer cells too.  I will try to enjoy the “week off” and hope the one-week delay in receiving Round 3 of Gemzar will give me a little reprieve from the side-effects I have been experiencing the past two weeks, including fatigue, constant mouth pain due to mouth sores, and almost constant nausea.  Maybe I can even add a couple pounds to this ever-thinning frame.

I have written previously of my great appreciation for Ignatian spirituality and the Jesuit order.  The Jesuits have reared more than a few wonderful poets.  One poet, whose pithy poems I like a lot, Anthony de Mello SJ, gets quickly to the point.  These lines are especially meaningful for me just now:

You do not have to change for God to love you.

Be grateful for your sins. They are carriers of grace.

Say goodbye to golden yesterdays – or your heart will never learn to love the present.

Peace is only found in Yes.

Peace be with you.  I am now scheduled for round 3 on September 21st and we will keep you posted.  Thanks for checking in.

Love Mark

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September 20, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — September 20, 2021

Good evening. I just realized that I gave the wrong date in my last post. This week’s chemo was today, not tomorrow. At 7:30 this morning I arrived at the Cancer Center hoping to resume the 3rd round of Gemzar. My WBC counts were still low – below the necessary level – but they were up a bit from last time and the doctor was willing to let me proceed. (And, my platelet count continued to rise, so the “week off” apparently did some good!) Now, I have one cycle of Gemzar under my belt.

I came home to Lynn feeling grateful that we were able to keep the chemo ball rolling. Because this officially ends a Gemzar cycle (3 rounds), I now have another week off before I start the 2nd cycle. The Gemzar must have started working quickly – within an hour or so of arriving home, I felt very tired and had a bad case of the chills; I took a little nap and awoke an hour later in a pool of sweat. Now, I am up and will try to eat some dinner. I have lost two more pounds since last Tuesday, not a good trend. My legs are starting to look a bit like they belong more under a rooster than a grown man. I have another consult with the nutritionist tomorrow, and I expect she will gently scold me for not fully complying with her advice from last time. (Remember – 6 meals and 3000 calories per day.)  I remember having a similar problem some 40 years ago on a cold weather training exercise in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with the Marines. We were issued LRPRs – highly fortified rations that were intended to “keep the lights on” while patrolling in cold weather, but which bore the disadvantage of being totally inedible. As I recall, orange nut cake was particularly distasteful. Funny memories now!

I enjoyed a lovely surprise today. A new nurse popped into my infusion bay while I was getting hooked up to the pre-meds – an old elementary school friend of Amanda’s. She was so full of positive energy and cheer, and just a few minutes with her made a difference. Then, she came back to discharge me – I really appreciated her taking time for me. I am experiencing often the incredible impact of small acts of kindness.  I have received so many from so many of you. Thanks.

Peace be with you. Mark

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October 5, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — October 5, 2021

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

Yesterday I spent the morning at the infusion bay.  It was an important day, I believe.  My labs were very good (positive rises in platelets, WBCs and liver enzyme tests) and I had no problem receiving Round 1 of Cycle II of the Gemzar regimen (which also includes Paclitaxel).  The doctor decided to switch the regimen to every other week, with a shot of long-lasting Neulasta in between.  The Neulasta aims at keeping my WBC count within a range that will permit my steady ability to receive Gemzar every other week.  I returned home with a small contraption taped to my belly, which will deliver the Neulasta shot at about 10:30 today.  Amazing what our device companies develop for the improvement of patient’s lives!  The only down-side of Neulasta is that, because it stimulates bone marrow production of WBCs, it can also cause bone pain.  Bone pain, from the inside out, is no fun; but it can be combatted by taking Claratin for a few days while the Neulasta is at work.  I bought some Claratin OTC yesterday and later this morning I will start taking it.

I am told that, if the Gemzar regimen proves to be effective in putting my cancer into remission, I will continue for as many Cycles as my body can tolerate.  (The next CT scans are slated for Oct 27, which will give evidence of remission or not.)  My biggest on-going concern these days is that the neuropathy in my hands and, especially, my feet is getting worse.  The neuropathy is caused by both my old chemo and the new chemo, so it’s been brewing since early June.  It is progressive and, ultimately, irreversible.  Bummer, I’ll have to endure some foot discomfort as I’m hiking the BWCA with my sons and grandsons ten years from now.

My trust in the Holy Trinity has been unshakable these past months.  “I begged the Lord that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’”  2Cor12:8

At times I have cooperated with Grace precisely to allow this enduring trust to manifest as Hope.  Hope looks forward.  I had a great hope yesterday, prompted perhaps by my receipt of so many texts of well-wishes, my good labs and the presence of a nurse (new to me) who shared her optimism and this great quote: “I love it when patients prove doctors wrong.”  Yesterday’s hope was of more years on this earth.  As I ponder those years, I allow myself to dream a bit about various family events, another trip to Croatia with Lynn (and other travel adventures home and abroad), more grandchildren to hold and sing to, more trips to the BWCA and the Frozen Four with the best men I know, more retreats at Demontreville, more professional contributions (recalling with gratitude that the Law was one of the three original “healing professions,” along with the clergy and medical professionals).

But, I am also content to return to my simple trust and live here, in the moment, and search for God’s call in my day-to-day encounters.  That call is certainly found (in part) in my particularly vibrant prayer life.  My mornings start early and are used to cover a growing list of intentions from you, for which I continue to be most grateful.  Please keep them coming.  Another call is certainly for my own continued conversion.  It seems the more mature I become in my faith, the more I recognize the need for continued conversion in the faith.  I am surely being purified.  I am learning to be less judgmental and more generous.  As I have written before, the graces of this cancer diagnosis are many.  Perhaps the simplest call is to cooperate with Grace.

I will close with expressions of gratitude for my friends, old and new, who have given such incredible support.  A contingency from BSC, who traveled from MA on the corporate jet to share a picnic in my backyard; an old friend from Chicago who brought a family dinner; a Marine from VA who came for a simple visit; and a host of friends from throughout the Twins Cities who have dropped by for prayer and conversation.  One of my best and wisest and most inspirational friends recently introduced me to St Patrick’s Lorica, the first lines of which I used to start this post.  St Patrick wore the Lorica prayer on his breastplate.  I commend the entire prayer to your reading, just as it was commended to me.  It’s a beauty.

In closing, I must thank most notably and humbly my great family for their incredible support these months since my cancer diagnosis.  Lynn and the children have uplifted my spirits daily; they help to carry my cross even as they carry their own crosses.  Life is hard.  Thankfully God’s grace is great.

I feel called to life; called to embrace each day with Confidence and Joy and to live a full life, one day at a time.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

_______________________________________________

October 19, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — October 19, 2021

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

My labs were great yesterday, and I received another round of chemo without debate or drama.  I left the infusion lab with Gemzar coursing through my body and a small Neulasta pump attached to my belly, ready to auto-inject at around 3:00 this afternoon.

Since I wrote last, I have been to MT to visit my mom, sibs and nieces and nephews.  It was just the kind of visit to MT that I’ve come to appreciate so much – simple hospitality; simple meals; good visits; genuine care.  The reality of my diagnosis is hard for the family to grasp, and my face-to-face visits help.  The unspoken reality – everyone is worried about losing me “early” – a concern I have not learned to assuage.   But, despite the overlay of worry, every such visit blesses me deeply, and seems to be quite welcomed by the family.  In this case, I totally surprised my mother.  I will relish always the joy in her eyes when I walked into her kitchen previously unannounced.  After a short recovery, we started right up with the usual stuff – gathering around the kitchen table (with or without food) or the family room (with or without food) and reminiscing old stories, most of which have been told over and over with some evolution and embellishment.  The highlight of the 4 ½ day trip was the all-hands dinner at brother John’s (where the entire Billings’ crew, save one nephew, congregated for chili and corn bread) and my walk around the neighborhood with mom (all by ourselves, just being together).

I have little to report on the health front.   My neuropathy continues to worsen, but that is a small price to pay if the chemo is also winning the battle with my cancer.  Otherwise, I have only fatigue to combat, nothing a little mid-day nap and an early bedtime can’t address!  With trust in His Holy will, we await the results of the next CT scans, now slated for October 29.  I don’t feel anxious in the least about this looming event, but we’ll see if I’m so steady as the date draws near.  Our Lady of Confidence, pray for me.

For good reason, I have been thinking quite a lot lately about the meaning of life – especially the differences in a person’s pursuit between what might appear on one’s resume vs what might make it onto their eulogy.  For years, my focus was on the former, and I see now this focus resulted in a fair amount of time and effort not terribly important to me.  In the past, I’ve wanted more title, more money and a bigger team.  I’ve wanted to make “big” professional contributions that the world might notice, so then I might command more title, more money, and even bigger teams.  Indeed, now I see the tension between the two pursuits as mostly one of time, self-awareness, and maturity.   The more precious the time, the more aware I become of the essential value of “small” human contributions (the kind the world doesn’t notice but individuals do), and the more my spiritual life matures, the more I lean toward the eulogy and away from the resume.  Ironically, the ability to ponder these matters is one of the great blessings of the diagnosis, even if the prognosis proves wrong (as nurse Jody predicts).  It’s a whole new outlook, quite free from the desire for the big contributions, and happy to live the gift of life one day at a time.  There are so many small contributions waiting to be made over the next year or two or ten!

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

________________________________________

October 30, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — October 30, 2021

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

It has been a while since we last posted, even though we’ve had news quite worthy of sharing on this blog.  I apologize for not keeping all of you great friends and prayer-warriors apprised of my status.  Here is a truism: it is harder to share bad news than good.  I regret to report that we received some sobering news from Dr Greeno on Thursday. The CT scans (which were moved at the last minute to earlier in the week) were very discouraging. It appears that the Gemzar has not been winning the battle waged inside my body.  Indeed, the cancer advanced aggressively in both size and number of tumors. Making matters worse, the pancreatic tumor has grown at one end into my stomach wall.

We could say more about the CT scan, but it probably makes more sense to outline where we’re at in this moment. My chemotherapy infusions have been canceled going forward. There is some good news in this respect:  I hope there will be a return to feeling in my feet and hands. The neuropathy has advanced to the point where I am constantly dropping everything, not just bars of soap, but also scissors and forks and pills and papers. It is really quite humbling, and perhaps that is the perfect value of this particular chemo side effect – minor humiliations give rise to humility which help me combat pride.

Back to the plan: we will keep our eyes open for an appropriate clinical trial. There are lots of clinical trials going on in the United States for pancreatic cancer, although many of them have inclusion criteria I would not meet. We also are not inclined to travel too far from home for a clinical trial. So we hope for an opportunity to participate in a trial, but that hope is not so great is our hope in a cure from the Divine Physician, Jesus.   Saint Raphael, God‘s Healer, Pray for us.

Now I suppose, more than ever, I am confronted by my own mortality. It seems somewhat surreal to ponder the end of life measured in terms of weeks or months rather than years. But it is actually a helpful metric. Now, there is to be a particular focus, to live each day as fully and joyfully as possible, which I believe is ever more accessible and more attainable in these circumstances. I feel at peace. I feel grateful. I am sorry that my demise will cause sadness for people close to me. But I trust that they will be fine. After all, loved ones have been dying for as long as there have been loved ones.  And, for as long as humanity has peopled the face of the earth, generation upon generation have seized upon the goodness and the character of those who have gone before (and overlooked their flaws and foibles). So 100 years from now it will not matter whatsoever that I lived 60 years rather than 50 or 70. What will matter is that I have lived a fruitful life.  I reflect upon my life with gratitude. Mostly, this relates to so many wonderful relationships (both friends and family) that have blessed my life. It relates also to wonderful experiences, adventures, and successes. It also relates to some bumps and bruises, as I have alluded to previously in these posts, but such pains and sufferings have fanned the flames of my spiritual growth.  I dare say I am grateful for that learning curve, despite the collateral damage.  God alone brings forth from the ashes great benefits, especially in the spiritual realm.  “May I seek You with a sincere heart knowing that it will profit me nothing if I gain the whole world yet lose my soul.  So, help me to see Your good and gracious purpose in all my trials. Help me to see Your blessings in every day and help me to love You more.”  [praymorenovenas.com]

I trust that the next few weeks will provide a great opportunity to share deeper insights with my children and shore up and make amends for some of my parenting missteps.  I hope to teach them well. Every parent has an opportunity to teach their children how to live. It is a rare opportunity to teach them how to die. That feels to be my call now.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

____________________________________

November 10, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — November 10, 2021

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

Just a quick update on our journey.  Based on my recent prognosis, I have decided to stop work, at least temporarily, until we have reason to hope in a better prognosis. I will now focus my time and energy mostly on Lynn, my children, and my grandchildren.  I will also spend some time pondering the state of my soul and accepting God’s grace and purification.

I have an upcoming appointment with the Mayo clinic to discuss potential clinical trials currently enrolling in Rochester which may be available to me.  There are two local trials here in Minneapolis (through the University of Minnesota), but neither of them is particularly promising. My meeting with Mayo is now set for November 19, although Lynn and I call each morning to check on cancellations, with the hope that we might get in sooner.

Physically I continue to weaken, my stomach pain is nearly constant, and my neuropathy is worse than ever.  But my psychological, emotional and spiritual state is stronger than ever.  To be clear, I make no claim of personal heroics.  This strength is fully attributable to home training, Marine Corps training, and genuine faith in the Almighty.

Last week, two of my great friends from private practice (and beyond) completed a three-sitting video project focused on me and my life.  John prevailed upon me (and me upon Lynn) that there could be value in creating an auto-biographical video to be shared with my grandchildren (born and unborn) at some future time. It was really a labor of love on their parts as we sat outside for a few hours during crisp autumn days slogging through my rather mundane life.  Yet, the fundamental takeaway for me in spending these hours in front of a camera talking about my life was just how much I have to be grateful for.  As reinforced in today’s Gospel at the daily Mass (Luke 17:11-19), I believe that faith and gratitude together empower a life of joy!

Last week, two old friends made surprise visits from afar to offer spiritual support to Lynn and me.  It was a great blessing to pray with them.

On Monday one of my best friends from the Marine Corps and his sweet daughter Mary (my goddaughter) came by for a visit and re-inspired my hope for victory over this pernicious illness.  Rob is an inspiration to me in many ways, and he has often shared scripture and other prose which girds me for the battle.   His parting words on Monday:

“Then out spake brave Horatius, the captain of the Gate: To every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his Gods?

Our oldest son, First Lieutenant JP Myhra USMC is coming home for the long weekend. We will draw strength from him for the next few days. Life is good today!  We will try to schedule another anointing while he is here.

All of our friends continue to reach out in so many ways that are most humbling and touching. I have never felt so much love and support from so many.  Thank you.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

______________________________________

November 13, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — November 13, 2021

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

It was a restless night, and I believe my subconscious self is wrestling with current facts and options. I had a dream that was unsettling such that I was awakened. I dreamed I was in the BWCA with my great friend BH.  It was a dark and cold day in the wilderness, and we were trying to navigate the canoe in very rough water. We were losing the battle against wind and waves.  Then I was alone in the canoe.  It went over a Niagra-like waterfall (the likes of which don’t really exist in the Boundary Waters). The last thing I remember is, after a long fall of several hundred feet, I was flung from my canoe and submerged in a large pool of turbulent waters. Then I woke up.  I was wet from night sweats and experienced pain in my gut. I took Advil and went back to sleep, troubled by the thoughts and fears of my subconscious.

I pray to the Almighty to maintain my courage in the weeks to come.

Yesterday, John Paul, Dan and I visited Mayo Clinic to learn about potential clinical trials.  Due to my lack of remarkable genetic mutations, the available options are few and not especially promising.  However, it was great to have the boys with me and we had plenty to talk about on the drive home to Plymouth. It felt a bit like old times as we rolled into Cannon Falls for a late lunch at Dudley’s.  Based on what we have heard from both Mayo and the University of Minnesota, we’ve concluded there are only two viable options now. One is to request Dr. Greeno to pursue the third FDA-approved chemotherapy (5FU and liposomal irinotecan). It’s a bit like Fulforinox but without the prospect of nerve damage – a welcome advantage given my continued issues with neuropathy.  This therapy probably would not put my cancer into remission but may have the potential to stabilize it for a time.  The other option is a clinical trial at the U of Minnesota – a phase I clinical trial using antibodies to stimulate my immune system.  Sadly, Phase 1 trials are not famous for providing radical cures.

We whittled down our choices to these two based on input from doctors and others.  Truth be told, there’s not much out there for me – unless we were willing to go on the road.  I am inclined to stay close to home to be around kids and grandkids these next weeks/months.  I am beginning to feel that my family is accepting of the fact that medical science may not hold the answers to prolong in my life for very long.

It has occurred to me that a miraculous cure from the Divine Physician may be the only remaining option for a long life. I like the option because I have accepted from the very beginning that God’s will be done in the course of my cancer. I believe that, if my days are numbered (as they really are for all of us), I will serve my family quite nicely from heaven.  To be clear, I do not presume the immediate gain of heaven, but I have experienced fantastic spiritual growth in the last six months.  My life during this time has been one of nearly constant prayer and contemplation, which has nurtured my continued conversion.  Any benefit to others from my journey would be a great blessing in my life.

I must say that I am not surrendering.  Neither am I predicting my death in the near term, although it is a possibility.  Rather I am predicting new life, as I suggested previously, here or in the eternal life that awaits.  I also remind myself of Fr Phillipe’s great lesson that all of humanity is “called to life.”  Roughly translated:  God gives us life, and we are obligated to carry on our lives in cooperation with Him to live fully and joyfully for as long as possible.  So, I hope in more time here.

We will make a decision to pursue either another round of chemotherapy or enter a phase 1 clinical trial early next week. We will keep you posted.  We greatly appreciate your continued prayers.  I continue to pray for all of you.

In closing, allow me to share one of my favorite poems with you, by Edward Sill.  My kids heard it often in their young lives as a reminder that every trial and adversity in life presents an opportunity.

Opportunity

This I beheld or dreamed it in a dream:
There spread a cloud of dust along a plain;
And underneath the cloud, or in it, raged
A furious battle, and men yelled, and swords
Shocked upon swords and shields.

A prince’s banner wavered, then staggered backward, hemmed by foes.

A craven hung along the battle’s edge,
And thought, “Had I a sword of keener steel —
That blue blade that the king’s son bears, — but this Blunt thing!”

He snapped and flung it from his hand,
And lowering crept away and left the field.
Then came the king’s son, wounded sore bested,
And weaponless, and saw the broken sword
Hilt-buried in the dry and trodden sand,
And ran and snatched it, and with battle-shout
Lifted afresh he hewed his enemy down
And saved a great cause that heroic day.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

____________________________________________

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­November 24, 2021

Journal Entry by Mark Myhra — November 24, 2021

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

I have been reading back through many of the old posts here, and especially to the beautiful responses. It is quite humbling to have so many great friends. I am grateful in this season of Thanksgiving to have such support.

To the extent any words of mine these past 6 months have had any positive impact on your outlook in this fragile life, with its joys and sufferings, please give all the glory to God.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We continue to count our many blessings.  Hopefully we will have something substantive to share regarding my medical journey next week.

In the meantime, let’s continue to pray for each other.  Peace be with you!

Love, Mark

____________________________________________

December 15, 2021

Journal Entry by Daniel Myhra — December 15, 2021

Loved ones,

A hospice nurse has dropped by the past two days. She’s been giving us support and pointers in caring for Dad. She said we’ve done a great job thus far, but I’m still glad we have this new and experienced support line, and I know Mom is glad for it as well.

Mom has been such a rock star for Dad this whole journey, and now she’s stepped up to the plate with even more courage, focus and love. It has been a blessing to see Mom embraced and share in this suffering with such willingness and fortitude. Moreover, what a blessing it is to have parents that walk with one another the way Mom and Dad do; he has supported and loved her through trials and tribulations, and she has done the same for him—especially now.

The nurse from hospice told us that she expects Dad to live weeks, and that is a longer timeline than myself or anyone else here at home would have likely anticipated. We’ll take all the time we can get, and give glory to God all along the way.

“Let us understand that God is a physician, and that suffering is a medicine for salvation, not a punishment for damnation.” -St. Augustine of Hippo

Blessings to you all.

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, pray for us!

_____________________________________

December 18, 2021

Journal Entry by John Myhra — December 18, 2021

Dearly beloved! Our strong and faithful prayer warriors! Peace be with each of you.

Please pardon my absence from family updates. My sweet siblings have taken the reigns on the Caring Bridge communication and have done an outstanding job of keeping you thoughtful loved ones up to speed on my dad’s health and the state of the Myhra family.

It is with a grieved heart to report that at 1045 on this cold, but sunny day of the 18th of December 2021, Dad offered up his spirit and passed into eternity – on Mary’s day of the week. By God’s Grace, and I imagine one of my dad’s many prayers, Mom and all five of us children were by his bedside during his very last moments. A priest joined us shortly after his passing to offer a parting blessing and a multitude of prayers.

There is one guarantee in this world, those born into it, will all be exiled from it. And, it is our responsibility, while on earth, to live with love, and encourage one another to seek heaven. My dad did just that.

I say with confidence that our dear Dad, son, brother, friend is currently in Heaven leaping for joy with the other heavenly bodies – specifically Mother Mary, our Queen of Peace, St. Joseph, Pillar of Families, Jesus, Savior of the World, the Holy Spirit, Giver of Life, and God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth. I can also say with confidence that, in his humility, he has already begun advocating for each one of us.

I have a saying that I remind myself of daily, “Suffer well. Carry your Cross.” As suffering well brings about peace. He is at peace now. Take joy in that. The battle is now over, and we can rejoice in God, who gave us Mark Allen Myhra—a small, but wonderful piece of His creation.

I thank each one of you for your support these past months. As I’m sure the love will pour in after reading this post, I ask you to please have patience in our potentially delayed responses.  We will share funeral details here once the arrangements have been made.

We love you all,

JP and family

____________________________________________

Obituary for Mark A. Myhra:  Died December 18, 2021

The following is dad’s obituary written by our beloved friend Mr. John Ursu:

Mark A. Myhra, a talented youth hockey player who grew into a prominent Minnesota attorney and, most importantly, a devoted family man and Catholic, died on December 18, 2021, in Plymouth, Minnesota. The cause was pancreatic cancer. He was sixty-years old.

Mark was born in Minot, North Dakota, on April 4, 1961, to Don and Marge Myhra.  When Mark was still a young boy, his father bought him a pair of figure skates, dyed them black, and sent Mark to an outdoor rink to learn hockey. For the next fifteen years, Mark barnstormed rinks from Winnipeg, Canada, to Washington D.C. as a youth-hockey phenom. Often, his mother—the great hero of his life—stood on the frigid snowbanks watching.

In 1979, Mark arrived in South Bend, Indiana, as a freshman on a Navy ROTC scholarship.  There, at Notre Dame, the three pillars of his future life were established. First, under the guidance of Father Richard Conyers, C.J.C., Mark became a committed Catholic. Second, he opted for the Marines over the Navy, ultimately completing the Marine Officers Candidate school at Quantico, Virginia. Third, and most importantly, he met his future wife, Lynn Rukavina.  After graduation, Mark served in the Marine Corps for five years as an infantry officer with First Battalion, Seventh Marines. He was honorably discharged as a Captain. On January 2, 1988, six months before his discharge, Mark and Lynn were married at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Winona, Minnesota.

Mark attended law school at Loyola University in Chicago.  Soon thereafter, Mark and Lynn moved with their growing family to Minnesota. While still a young lawyer, in 1993, Mark co-founded the Greene Espel law firm in Minneapolis. In 2006, Mark moved to Boston Scientific, ultimately rising to Senior Managing Counsel. Both in private practice and as an in-house counsel, Mark was known for his selfless servant leadership. Over his three decades in practice, Mark inspired countless young lawyers to lead with their finest qualities. In 2021, Mark received a lifetime achievement award from Minnesota Lawyer as an Attorney of the Year for Outstanding Contributions to the Profession, an award that received support from across the Minnesota bar.

Mark’s most meaningful contributions were at home, where Mark and Lynn raised their five children: Nicole, John Paul, Paige, Amanda, and Daniel. The family are congregants at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Wayzata, where Mark was a regular at daily mass and a devoted community member. Mark’s formula for family success was simple: let the children see how much he loved their mother. For Mark, as he would later describe it, the great victory of his life was that he loved Lynn just as much as he did when he first met her.

Mark died at home after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer surrounded by his loving family. He is survived by his wife and children, six grandchildren, his mother, and his three siblings.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jennygirl1278
    Dec 22, 2021 @ 08:30:52

    May we all leave behind the beautiful legacy that Mark left. Rest In Peace Mark. Heaven is yours.

    Like

    Reply

    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Dec 22, 2021 @ 08:55:48

      I am sure that if there is a heaven, Mark will be there.

      Like

      Reply

      • Dr. John Persico Jr.
        Dec 23, 2021 @ 12:34:23

        John. Your friend’s life and caring bridge notes were indeed interesting..useful to me..more than interesting. They are helpful as I deal with my own aging, earthly form.

        What a wonderfully loving, faithful and productive life he lived. He was surely a blessing to all who knew him.

        Writings such as his should be mandatory for all young people..and repeated at life’s major academic and career bifurcation points.

        I’m better motivated to “get off the stick” and make progress on deciding best use of our resources to live out our remaining years.

        Thanks, John..very much.

        Fred

        Like

        Reply

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