Archive for adoption


Posted in cancer, Cancer Life with tags , , , , on March 27, 2011 by lawler

Not too long ago I was putting together a work sample for an artist residency I hope to do this summer in order to work on a play I am writing and in the process listened back to some of the podcasts Talish Barrow and I put together for Wisconsin Story Project. One of them contained a long intro by the hapless hosts (Talish and I) and at one point I say, “cancer is like Christmas,” and go into a fairly articulate explanation of that somewhat crass phrase of mine.

And so, here we are, one thousand three hundred and five days from the day my doctor told me I had cancer — many of them the most difficult of my life — and cancer has, in a way, given me another gift.

His name is Jack — Jack Abebe Lawler to be exact. We began the adoption process about a year and a half ago after deciding to not use the sperm I had banked just days before my first chemotherapy treatments in the Fall of 2007 (we’re still paying for its storage though, which reminds me…). In November 2010, just a week after adopting a pit bull from the Dane County Humane Society (see below), we got a call, the call, known as a referral. Moments later we were staring at a picture of Jack on my computer. We were in shock. The call had come about three months before we had been told to expect it, and here was this four month old little boy staring back at us from half way around the world in Ethiopia. Were we ready? Could we really do this? Yes.

After four months of waiting and traveling — two trips to Ethiopia in the span of two months, in fact — he is now home with us in Madison. He has brought such joy to Dawn and I that, cliche or no, it is beyond words. He is a happy, healthy, fascinating little guy. And, as I said, in some ways we have cancer to thank for bringing him into our lives.


Life Goes On

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , , , , on February 13, 2011 by lawler

It’s been over a year since I’ve posted on this blog, and I’m not sure that anyone will even see this (although I am baffled by the fact that I apparently still receive an average of 1000 hits on this blog each month) — but it occurred to me recently that Dawn and I are now in the midst of one of the stranger periods of our cancer journey…waiting. We are waiting for what is probably the greatest gift cancer has given us: our little baby boy, Jack Abebe. Here’s a photo of him from last month:

Jack Abebe Lawler, January 2011

We are adopting Jack from Ethiopia, and had the wonderful experience of meeting him a few weeks ago.We were in Ethiopia for about six days, and it was an experience of a lifetime. Much of the time I was looking around in disbelief thinking, “I’m in Africa, I’m in Africa, I’m in AFRICA.” It seemed so unreal, and while the persistent thought was of how to take advantage of the fact that I was in Africa, the overriding feeling was that it didn’t matter where I was, as long as I was able to meet my son — soon.

And we did meet him. We were able to spend quite a bit of time with him on two separate days while there. He is a beautiful, happy, healthy (if a little small) seven month old boy. And now we wait.

…and wait.

For those of you asking, “what in hell does this have to do with Mike’s cancer?!?” I’ll tell you: Mike’s cancer led to Mike’s chemotherapy, and lots of it. One round of the standard for testicular cancer, what’s known as the BEP regimen, and then, about a year later, a little process called High Dose Chemotherapy with Autologous Stem Cell Rescue (this link is to a paper written by the doctors that treated me in Indianapolis). All these drugs killed my boys pretty much dead. And while I banked sperm — viable sperm — before undergoing one drop of chemo, we decided that what we really wanted to do to have a family was adopt a child that needed one. If you’d like to hear a little story about this, you can listen to the podcast I recorded for Wisconsin Story Project by clicking here.

We began the process of adoption in the fall of 2009, and it has been a sometimes arduous process. But nothing could have prepared us for this part. The other night I ran into an old family friend of the Weithe’s (Dawn’s family) and he said to me, “it’s like the gestation.” And it is, I suppose (though I have no frame of reference here). Except that it’s not. As you can see from the photo above and those below, Jack is a very real baby boy whom we’ve had the pleasure and privilege of holding in our arms, rocking to sleep, playing with, kissing, and laughing with. He is not an ultrasound image on our refrigerator. What he is is a very real child living in an orphanage half a world away from us. Perhaps it’s impossible for people who haven’t gone through (or are currently going through) this, but I assure you it is rough. Concentration? Forget it. Peace of mind? Not really.

As we rush to finish the basement room that will expand our little house to make more room for our growing family, baby clothes, toys, cribs and changing tables have started filling every available corner and open bit of floor space in anticipation of his arrival. “When is the baby coming home?” is the question we are asked at least once a day by well-meaning people in our lives. “We don’t know yet,” is all we can tell them. I usually add, “in a month or so, we hope.” When we received the referral phone call in November (we were, I should note, completely taken aback by this as we weren’t expecting it for a few more months at least), he was four months old. He is now seven months old, and might be eight or nine months old by the time he comes home. I know it sounds like no time at all (a friend, also an adoptive father of a son from Ethiopia said to me recently, “Eff you, my son was eighteen months old when he came home” as a semi-serious joke about our impatience and the time we were missing with him).

Mike & Jack in Ethiopia

Dawn & Jack in Ethiopia

We are planning to name him Jack Abebe Lawler. His first name is from my father — whose given name was John, but was known almost universally as Jack. His second name was his given Ethiopian name, and we wanted to be sure that he would carry that with him throughout his life. In my own way, I can connect deeply with the idea of living with a significant shift in life at a very early age, and I am grateful for the tidbits of information and lore that I have to remind myself of my own early life with my mother. We are working very hard to ensure that little Jack has more than tidbits from his first year of life. And his name is a part of that.

Okay, so it’s time to stop writing this post. I’ll write more when I can about WHY we are waiting, but for now I’ve said something, gotten it off my chest — and now I’ll go back to waiting.

Surviving is a Journey

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2009 by lawler

*I wrote most of this post a couple of weeks ago. It never felt quite right at the time, so I didn’t post it. But…when is my writing ever quite right?



Oh, I didn’t die

I should be


I survived

It’s good enough for now

Wilco, “Sky Blue Sky”

I heard these lyrics the other day in the car. I’ve heard them before, of course, but sometimes such things stand out — or we hear them in a way that seems as if they should stand out. Anyway, the sentiment sounded about right. Over the last two years life has taken on a new meaning. When someone (preferably a medical doctor of some kind) tells you that you have cancer, you react in a perfectly natural way, asking and acting on a basic question: how do I survive? No time for splitting hairs over the meaning of life, or what you have to live for, really. You just know you want to live and go about finding the path that will take you to the place where life goes on.

Once you’ve found that place things get complicated again. I’ve spent a lot of words here on this blog and elsewhere espousing all sorts of ideas that cancer has either given me or forced me to consider. And now that I’ve emerged cancer-free (for the second time) I find myself struggling a bit to hang on to the ideals that I discovered were of paramount importance to me when I was sick. [The other day I forgot one of the three things I pledged to accomplish this year — what was it again? Get Healthy, successfully launch Wisconsin Story Project, and…and….oh yes, Live Purposefully–I actually had to look on my own blog to remember that third one. Yikes.]

The thing is that it’s not easy living up to your own ideals once you’ve actually had to say to yourself some version of “this will not kill me, I want to live.” Because saying that — if even to yourself — is the same as saying that there is not only something to live for (that’s easy: love, sex, beer, ice cream, et cetera), but that life itself is embraceable, that it’s not only worth it, but that it’s going to be good, that it’s going to bring happiness and something more valuable than what you’ve found in sickness — comfort, perhaps. Contentment.

What follows is a kind of greed. A demand that things be better than ever, and an inability to overlook the areas of life that bring dissatisfaction or somehow don’t live up to the ideal you settled on while sick and proclaiming life so worth living that you would endure a walk across the surface of the moon barefoot — even if it were paved with broken glass.

I’m sure this is a common ailment with a clinical description. No matter. For practical purposes it is simply another area of life to stare down.


Prognosis: Negative

[sorry, couldn’t resist a bad Seinfeld reference there]

Recently, in our exploration of adoption, I asked my oncologist here in Madison to write a letter for our dossier that stated whether or not I was healthy enough and had a good enough prognosis to be the adoptive father to a child.

This is, in part, what he wrote:


Dawn and I looked at this brief letter and asked, in a bit of amazement, “Fifty to seventy percent?!?”

“Those aren’t great numbers,” Dawn said.

I haven’t had a chance to ask Dr. Arbaje about this specifically — frankly, I’m unsure how to do so. “Are you sure you aren’t confusing me with more typical bone marrow/stem cell patients,” I might ask, “like those with Leukemia and Lymphoma?” I will see him again in a few weeks, and plan on asking him.

We now have a letter in hand from Dr. Einhorn. His specific expertise in testicular cancer as well as his familiarity with my “difficult” case (difficult is not my word — it has been used about my cancer by more than one expert) has given us a clearer picture of my ability to be an adoptive father, and a much better prognosis:

Einhorn Letter

Right off the bat, this letter attests to a current cure rate of 80% — already higher than Arbaje’s stats. It goes on to state that as of the first anniversary of my first bone marrow transplant, my cure rate sky rockets to 95%. Am I being defensive? Your gawd damned right I am. I have put my trust in the hands of medical professionals to a great degree over the last two years, and I have a funny feeling that one of those people didn’t do his homework. That bothers me.

Perhaps needless to say, this is the letter we have passed on to the adoption folks.

When we asked Dr. Arbaje earlier this month (in person) what he thought of our interest in adoption he said a few things and then asked Dawn point blank, “Are you prepared to be a single mother?”

We were stunned. We have always had the utmost respect and admiration for Dr. Arbaje, but recently feel as though he has lost some of his ability to properly filter. Although we have appreciated his frankness in the past, the latest information coming from him regarding adoption seems overly pessimistic. Is he trying to protect us? Does he believe that we are too optimistic or are simply unprepared for parenthood?

Okay, so how do I wrap this all up? I should be working on a paying writing gig as I finish this up, so why don’t we end on a…


Happy Note

Wisconsin Story Project and our Cancer Stories production are moving assuredly along. We have tentatively reserved performance dates for May 2010, and I will keep everyone posted on exact performance dates and times very soon! We also hope to have an art exhibit up in the Overture Center that is tied into Cancer Stories that will run much longer…keep you posted on that too. Thank you to everyone who has supported WSP and Cancer Stories in anyway — and if you haven’t shown your support, there is still plenty of time! Go to and have a look around — find out about the company, Cancer Stories, our upcoming podcast series, and check us out on Facebook and Twitter while you’re at it!

It’s personal, but…

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , , , , on June 24, 2009 by lawler

…isn’t all of this writing I’ve been doing on my life with cancer for nearly two years? When I first started writing this blog, I told you that there were two primary reasons for doing so: one, I wanted to be able to continue to focus on a writing project; two, I wanted to keep my friends and family informed about my life, about my illness, about Dawn, et cetera. I had no idea at the time that all of this would drag on for so long — no idea that it would affect my life in so many ways, trickling down as it has into my art, my self-identity, my relationships with friends, family, with Dawn…it goes on and on, and seems to be nearly limitless. The fertility issue is simply the most lasting trickle.

When I first got word last September that my cancer had returned — or recurred — I called one of my oldest and dearest friends and cried on the long distance line that what pissed me off the most about the news was that it meant that I would likely be left infertile. I cried, and told her “I just want to be a dad someday.”

When I have been in treatment I have found myself resenting those of you who are healthy and able to fully live each of the mundane, banal, seemingly uneventful moments of life; now that I have been told that I am infertile, I find myself resenting the young parents I see everywhere, clutching their children to their breast, holding their delicates hands. It’s unfair (obviously) but I think, “why did they get it so easy?” An exercise in self pity, yes.

But, Dawn and I have options. That’s for sure. Almost too many options. We are considering all of them, including using medical technology to create a child. We are also seriously considering adoption. I tell you this because I want to hear from you. I want to know what you have experienced that might shed light on how we proceed with our lives, how we decide to become parents. Tell us something.