Tag Archives: Steve Kaufman

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Journey of a Pain Sufferer: Part Three

Since I first saw the pain management specialist, and changed my diet, the mysterious and unexpected jolts of pain have disappeared. So far.

By Steve Kaufman

Those searing pains that come out of nowhere, periodically disabling my shoulders or hands, elbows or knees, legs and feet – those have pretty much disappeared, thanks to Dr. Cassaro of Painless Living.

Pain medicine specialists have a lot of tools at their disposal for treating patients – injections, massages, therapy, manipulations, exercises, braces and other devices, salves and ointments. And some prescribe medicine.

As I’ve written in this space before, Dr. Michael Cassaro Painless Living – who does not and will not prescribe pain medication – takes a more holistic approach.

For me, that approach centered around diet modification.

He did take a series of X-rays and CT scans that showed I have age-old bone and joint issues. Some I was familiar with. Since breaking my right femur when I was 18, I know that the hip above and the knee below are unstable. I know that the shorter leg and stiffer knee that resulted from months in a full cast has thrown my back out of whack and affected the muscles and tendons in my foot.

And some I was completely unfamiliar with. Cassaro showed me evidence of some trauma to my neck, clearly from when I was quite younger. I have absolutely no recollection of anything like that ever happening.

There was not much I could do about that. They happened. They’re there. But I could minimize the effects they’re having on me.

Since seeing Cassaro last fall, I’ve eaten no bread or pasta, tried to eliminate all starchy sweets from my diet (good-bye, my precious doughnuts) and severely limited the hidden sugar found on supermarket shelves. (Actually, it’s not so hidden if you just look at the food labels.)

I think I’ve probably lost a little weight, but this is not a weight-loss program.

It’s always good to keep weight down to avoid overburdening knees and backs, but I don’t think that was my problem. In any case, I’m certainly not a poster boy for a Nutrisystem program. So how has the pain management gone?

Realistically, at my age, the ravages of arthritis do not go away by eliminating ketchup. I still wake up in the morning with a soreness and stiffness that take a little while to ease. Sometimes, aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol) still help. (I don’t use ibuprofen – Advil or Aleve – because of their effects on my stomach and kidneys.)

I get some relief from walks, mild exercise, light stretching and hot soaks. A better pillow has helped my neck. So does five minutes a day on an inversion table.

But here is what I’ve noticed. Those searing pains that come out of nowhere, periodically disabling my shoulders or hands, elbows or knees, legs and feet – those have pretty much disappeared. Cassaro once explained to me (which I’ve passed on to you) that sugar, preservatives, starches, et al. are irritants that – to use his words – “light things up” as they move through your system and sting those injured nerves that are already susceptible to pain.

I can handle the familiar pains that are part of everyday life. It’s those unexpected jolts that seem to respond to nothing and last for days or even weeks – those are debilitating. One, because they don’t react to the normal, familiar treatments. Two, because they limit my ability (and frankly my desire) to take a walk, to stretch and exercise, to be active. And three, because they weigh on me, depressing me, squelching my creativity, making me feel the victim. Making me feel older.

You can deal with what you understand, and what is familiar. So, knowing that I’ll wake up every day with a stiff lower back, but that the pain and stiffness will ease and go away in an hour, makes it tolerable. It neither surprises nor disables me.

The unexpected may yet remain . . . unexpected. Just because I haven’t had an elbow suddenly become red and swollen with pain in the last several months doesn’t mean, I guess, that it won’t happen again. But we live our lives with a combination of evidence and faith.

And the evidence – that I haven’t had those kinds of pain in the last six months since seeing Dr. Cassaro – gives me faith that maybe I won’t have them again. That they’re history.

So far, so good. Can’t ask for more.

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The Family Guy

Brad Estes’ home life is all about family. So is his work life.

By Steve Kaufman | Photos by David Harrison

Neace Ventures is a Kentuckiana-based private equity management company with a diverse set of holdings.

As with many venture capitalists, the activity can be frenzied and the pace quick. Before starting the company in 2003, founder and chairman John Neace built one of the country’s largest property/casualty insurance brokerages. Since then, his holdings have extended into the food and beverage industry, manufacturing and construction, waste removal and recycling, engineering, publishing, custom fabrication, residential and commercial real estate, recreation and the sports world – on both sides of the river.

Ever heard of Falls City Beer? That’s Neace Ventures. Brownie’s “The Shed” Bar and Grille? Neace, again.

Louisville City FC, the area’s professional soccer team? Neace is chairman and a major shareholder.

The classic profile of a venture capitalist can be constant motion, a steady stream of deals requiring something of a risk-taker. When things are firing at their most intense, tornadoes can form. Sitting in the middle of it all, in Neace’s Louisville offices on West Main Street – sort of the calming, placid eye of the hurricane – is company president Brad Estes.

“In some ways, I’m the risk-manager,” Estes said. “I’m the ‘yes . . . but’ guy.”

Not that the risks are always that risky.

“Deals constantly come to John (Neace),” Estes said, “but most of our investments are with friends or family, based on personal relationships.”

For example, Jason Brown, the owner/operator of Brownie’s, was a childhood friend of Neace’s daughter. Neace’s son, Jon Ryan Neace, is president of Old 502 Winery. His son-in-law, Shane Uttich, is president of Falls City Brewing. Neace’s partner in Allterrain Paving & Construction is his very good friend, Steve Triplett. 

The company’s mission statement states: “(John Neace) has always carried the attitude of ‘family first.’ Atypical in his approach to business, John has long surrounded himself with family and friends as a foundation to spur growth. We attribute our success to our strong relationships in fast-paced environments.”

“We’re not cutthroat Wall Street guys,” said Estes. “We don’t measure everything in terms of return on investment.”

Or, as the mission statement goes on to say, “Some deals require lawyers, and other deals require a handshake over dinner and drinks. No matter the means of acquisition, once they become a part of our portfolio, we treat them like family.”

Estes brought an accounting and financial background to Neace when he joined the company in 2016. (His hiring was typical of the John Neace way of doing things. “I knew his son-in-law,” Estes said, though he kept quiet about his plans to apply to work for Neace. “Also, my father’s former boss sent John a note about me.”)

As a financial executive, Estes had the requisite restlessness and curiosity for a venture capitalist. In his 15 years out of college, he had worked for two public accounting firms; was part of a team that saw high-tech information and communications company startup eventually sell for nine figures; was vice president of finance and information technology for a health services company; and was CFO for a company in the basement waterproofing business.

“My father worked for the same company for 43 years,” he said. “I’ve had six jobs.”

His father was a large influence in his career decisions after his football career was abruptly ended his freshman year in college. A tight end on St. Xavier’s 1995 state championship team, Estes had gone to Marshall University on a football scholarship only to severely injure his shoulder eight weeks after he arrived on campus.

“Four surgeries later, football was over, but I told my father I’d stay in school, get a marketing degree and join him selling heavy equipment,” Estes recalled. “He said, ‘The hell you will! You don’t know how difficult it is to fight the ups and downs of this industry. You’ll get a degree that means something!’

“So, I studied accounting,” said Estes. “Life is funny. I thought getting injured was the end of the world. But when you’re playing college football, you never know how much time you’ll be able to devote to your studies. Without football, I had plenty of time to be a student.”

After graduating in 2000, Estes went the public accounting firm route: large firm (PricewaterhouseCoopers for two years) and small firm (Crowe Horwath for three years). Along the way, he got an MBA in 2002 and his CPA in 2003.

Then he heeded the call of private enterprise. He was hired by Smoothstone IP Communications, one of his clients, as controller. It was, he said, a “cloud-based unified communications” company. He eventually became vice president of finance.

“I was 29, it was a way to get great experience in an executive role.” Estes said. “Smoothstone was funded by venture capitalists, but it was losing significant amounts of money every year. As their public accountant, I’d known the business and how the company worked. I also believed in the product and in the people, so I took the gamble.”

Five years later, Estes and other executives engineered its sale for $120 million. Then he was vice president of finance and IT for Trilogy Health Services for 10 months, until he got a call from one of Smoothstone’s founders.

“He was putting together another business deal, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.” That business was B-Dry, LLC, which had developed a basement waterproofing system. The company owned all the franchises and had nine company-owned markets. Estes was CFO.

“I was there for three years, and then they relocated to Knoxville, Tenn. My kids were involved with school here, and we were part of the community. We didn’t want to leave.

“Besides,” he said, “I’m an old Kentucky boy at heart. I couldn’t stand ‘Rocky Top.’ ”

That led him to Neace. Their adventurousness was a good fit. “In my father’s day, if you had three jobs by the time you were 30, they’d say, ‘Why can’t you hold a job?’ Now, if you don’t have three jobs by the time you’re 30, they say, ‘Why can’t you find a better job?’ ”

Estes runs the Neace offices in downtown Louisville, one of the period buildings that define West Main Street, all cast iron on the outside and exposed brick on the inside. Impellizzeri’s Pizza is on the ground floor.

A staff of about 15 moves through the large, comfortable space, pleasantly shady despite the large windows looking out onto some of its neighbors – the KFC Yum! Center in one direction, the cranes that bustle about the Kentucky International Convention Center in another direction.

For a company with so many lines in and out of the water, it all seems very relaxed in there. “I like to keep it light around the office,” said Estes. “I want people to enjoy coming to work every day. I don’t want coming into work being a chore for them. I know there will be times I’ll ask someone to stay late, or to come in on a Saturday. I want everyone to know there’s an offset to that. I want them to know that they’re valued, that their opinions are valued.”

If Estes is the calm in the storm for Neace Ventures, he finds his calm at home in East Louisville. Family is clearly important to him. He met wife Emily during grad school at the University of Louisville. He was tending bar at Bahama Breeze, and she was working as a hostess while finishing up at the Speed School of Engineering.

(She subsequently worked with Luckett & Farley architects and with Heritage Engineering.) They were married in 2002. They have three children at home – sons Owen, 11, and Mac, 10, and daughter Stella, four. Estes also has a daughter, Madeline, 23 who is a senior at Western Kentucky University.

A look at the pictures around his office tells the story of importance of family to Estes. There are team pictures of youth sports. He coaches Owen in baseball and Mac in football, and expressed sensitivity to the handling of each boy.

“Coaching them is a challenge for me,” he said, “because they’re two dramatically different people, though just 18 months apart.

“Owen is intelligent and reasonable. You have to treat him like an adult. Nothing will resonate with him unless it makes sense. Yell and scream, and you’ve lost him.

“Mac is the quintessential second child. He wants to please, to do everything right. If I sometimes have to get on him about something, I have to explain that he shouldn’t take it personally, that I’m actually getting on the whole team. And he’ll say, ‘OK.’ He takes it well.”

Stella is, not surprisingly, the princess at home. “She’s proud to say she’s the tallest girl in her nursery school class,” said Estes. “She isn’t – but she says she is.”

If she were, it would be in her genes. Estes himself is an imposing 6-foot-3 and, at 240 pounds, he works hard to keep the ex-tight end’s body from veering out of control. He once decided that competing in a triathlon would be a good way to do it.

“I started training in January, and in August I competed in the 2012 Louisville Ironman,” he recalled. “I finished – which is the objective of most triathletes – and in 15 hours, which wasn’t terrible.”

His triathletic career was short-lived. The next morning, he said, “I woke up and Emily told me she was pregnant. Three kids at home is not conducive to intense Ironman preparation.”

So, he concentrates on cardio workouts. And he works hard to eat smart. “Being in the beer and wine business is not necessarily great for the midsection.”

And he hikes. “We try to do quick weekend getaways,” he said. “Emily and I just got back from a hiking trip to Gatlinburg. We love the Smokies.”

Those kinds of things are important, he said, because he could otherwise fall into the trap where his life becomes “work, home, and then back to work.” It would be an easy rhythm for him, because the job is so comfortable to who he is.

“My background has given me a diverse skill-set,” he explained. “I have the financial background, but I’ve also worked extensively on the operations side. This company is an aggregator of operational companies, and I’ve dealt with customers, managed employees and negotiated contracts.”

He said that when a new company comes before them as another possible acquisition, he’s able to evaluate the financials but also the operational profiles. Fit is critical, he said, because of the Neace approach – which is not always just rate of return.

“We invest in our areas of competency, segments where we already have some experience,” Estes explained. “We’ll joint-venture with people in areas where we don’t have core competency, but we’d never invest in businesses where we didn’t know what we were doing or didn’t have people who did.” It’s almost a mantra: “We know what we don’t know.”

“You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. You have to be comfortable saying ‘I don’t know,’ ” Estes said. “That’s the key to this business: We have to identify a key someone to operate the business, a trusted partner – someone we know.”

But that’s what holds out the possibility of endless growth to Estes, working with Neace in a business based on relationships.

“John knows everybody!”

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Journey of a Pain Sufferer | Part 3

Cut out sweets? Here’s why certain kinds of sugar aggravate your system. While others simply taste good.

By Steve Kaufman

In my previous update, I mentioned that Dr. Michael Cassaro of Painless Living is a strong advocate of less pain through smarter eating.

“There are a lot of treatment interventions in medicine,” he said. “Surgery, prescriptions, devices. I use nutrition as a treatment intervention. In fact, I believe it’s one of the most powerful.”

We all say we want to eat better. Maybe to lose weight. Maybe to live longer. Maybe to improve our immune systems. Maybe to improve the planet. But how, exactly, will changing my diet affect my pain?

Hang on, some of this might sound like your high school biology class.

It starts, perhaps not surprisingly, with sugar – which, unfortunately, shows up all over our supermarket shelves. “Market research shows that people like the taste of sweet,” said Cassaro. “So manufacturers find ways to sweeten up their foods.”

But using plain cane sugar is fairly expensive. Beet sugar is less expensive. High-fructose corn syrup is the least expensive – and the most effective. At least, it’s the sweetest.

Look at your packaged food labels: Catsup. Spaghetti sauce. Cereal. Soups. Crackers. Peanut butter. Coffee creamers. Salad dressing. Baking ingredients. Almost anything that’s pre-made.

“Catsup used to be made primarily from tomatoes,” Cassaro pointed out. “Now, tomatoes may or may not be the first ingredient. High-fructose corn syrup will certainly be up there.”

I just looked at the catsup in my pantry. “Tomato concentrate” is first, “high-fructose corn syrup” is second.

Fructose is the bad guy! It’s one-half of a sucrose molecule. The other is glucose. But fructose is not friendly to our systems.

“When we ingest sucrose, our body divides it up into glucose and fructose,” Cassaro explained. “The glucose probably doesn’t cause much harm. The fructose, on the other hand, causes a lot of harm. Glucose is a fuel, burned for energy. Fructose has to be broken down first. And, since sedentary lifestyles don’t need as much fuel and break down fructose more slowly, it gets stored as fat. It raises blood pressure and uric acid and changes the way our airways react, which leads to allergies and asthma. It can also lead to heart disease and other degenerative diseases.”

What about its effect on pain?

“Fructose causes inflammation, both by increasing uric acid and by lowering the body’s pH level, which is a scale of acidity.

“Also,” said the physician, “the fat, which comes from fructose and other dietary factors, is not just a storage depot. It’s metabolically active. It releases a lot of metabolic products into your body, including hormones and inflammatory mediators. Fructose is 200 times more likely to promote pain in our joints and nerves than an equal amount of glucose.”

Interestingly, dietary sweet things like honey and pure maple syrup are the perfect antidote to those fructose-laden products the food industry thrusts at us. Primarily, they have lower concentrations of the insidious fructose. “Honey has dozens of different types of sugar,” said Cassaro, “but it’s a natural product with relatively low amounts of fructose. On the other hand, it’s high in glucose. And it tastes good, so it’s an easy switch for people looking to reduce their dietary sweeteners.”

Maple syrup has no fructose. None! Zero! And because the process of concentrating the syrup from the original sap extrudes the water out of it, you’re left with a sugar that’s almost all glucose.

Also, said Cassaro, there will almost always be a difference between products that are naturally occurring and synthetic products produced in a lab. “Even if they seem identical, the fact that something came from a factory rather from than a plant means there will be impurities, and aspects where reactions might not be quite the same between some of the molecules. A synthetic is never as high-quality as a natural product.”

It’s the old dictum: Try not to fool Mother Nature.

Were you one of those people who dozed off in biology class? Or chemistry? I’m afraid I was. And there’s much more to say about my doctor’s approach to the food we ingest and the pain that results.

Like bread. Pasta. Rice. Artificial sweeteners. Diet Coke, and its relationship to Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s Disease.

You may not think you’ll get excited about a discussion of hydrogenated oils. But I promise you, if you’re looking to reduce those flashes of pain that come at you every day, seemingly out of nowhere, you’ll want to read the next few installments of this column.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In 2016, Steve Kaufman was asked to write an informational piece about Dr. Michael Cassaro of Painless Living in Jeffersonville. Unbeknownst to us, Steve has suffered from chronic pain for years and sought out Dr. Cassaro’s pill-free treatment of pain on his own. He has since agreed to chronicle his journey in Extol and ExtolMag.com.

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Valentine’s Day

Former University of Louisville Basketball player Robbie Valentine talks about the hard facts and personal fouls he’s experienced off the court.

By Steve Kaufman | Photos by David Harrison

What could have been Robbie Valentine’s story gets played out hundreds – thousands? – of times every year.

The product of a single-parent family – whether from a small rural town or large inner-city – finds out early on that he is gifted at basketball (or another sport), which leads him (or her) to the path of a big college program.

There, he single-mindedly focuses on a professional career, puts his name in the draft and, maybe, he’s a lottery pick. Or at least a first-round pick. But maybe he’s a second-round pick, with less signing bonus and practically no contract guarantees. Or, he’s not drafted at all. So, he rides the D-League buses from Erie to Ft. Wayne to Des Moines, hoping to get noticed by the big-league teams, and hopes, too, to stay healthy. Because if he’s injured and his career is jeopardized, what’s he going to do with that one year of college and a once-famous name that’s now gathering some rust?

SCREEETT!!

That’s the sound of the phonograph needle grinding to a halt. Because, while it’s a way-too-familiar story, it’s not Robbie Valentine’s.

It could have been. But Valentine saw something else along the way. He saw a Radcliff, Ky., mother who raised seven children by herself, working in the local schools and cleaning other people’s houses to make sure there was food on the table and clothes on her kids’ backs.

Frances Valentine also instilled far more in her children: faith, self-respect and the v1value of education – that there was a world out there, beyond sports, even for her oldest son who was breaking all North Hardin High School basketball scoring records.

Of course, Valentine came along at a different time. Back then, there was no one-and-done. College coaches had time to nurture and mentor their players. Valentine needed that mentoring. He had been a high school All-American. The sky was the limit. But jumping for the sky was his downfall.

“When you jump high and come down, you put a lot of pressure on your tendons,” Valentine recalled. “Back then, we wore Chuck Taylors, Pro-Keds, Converse. Those shoes weren’t made for jumping.”

Valentine started seeing Dr. Rudy Ellis, the noted Louisville sports medicine physician, as early as seventh grade. “My file became very thick,” he said. “I popped both Achilles tendons, ended up with surgery on both knees. Plus, I had four screws in my back.”

But, along with his medical problems, Valentine developed a remarkable perspective for someone so young.

“When he came here (to the University of Louisville), he had a lot of natural talent,” recalled his Cardinals coach, Denny Crum. “But he also had a great attitude. Even as a freshman, he was a leader. Everyone respected him.”

Early on at Louisville, Valentine was playing only a few minutes a game. “I now realized I wasn’t going to make it to the NBA,” he said. “So why continue to dream for something you know isn’t going to happen?”

He began to see basketball as an opportunity toward something else. “It was going to help me get my college education,” he said. “I wanted to make it in the job world, someone who could speak, who could write, who could read, who could talk to anyone at any level.”

Crum instilled in him the idea of service to others. “He’s done more for his community in Louisville than anyone I know,” Valentine said, “and (Coach Crum) shaped our lives to do the same.”

Then there was the group of freshman basketball players who arrived on campus in the fall of 1982, shortly after Louisville won the 1980 national championship.

“I came in with Milt Wagner, Billy Thompson and Jeff Hall,” Valentine recalled. “When we were freshmen, seniors Rodney and Scooter McCray sat us down and said, ‘This is our senior year, but you guys are the people who’ll help us get there.’ And we did go to the Final Four that year.

“So four years later, Milt, Billy, Jeff and Robbie, we were the four seniors. And it was up to us to change the lives of those new freshmen kids, led by Pervis Ellison.”

“We could tell we had a great team, but it was young,” said Crum. “Robbie and the other seniors helped keep those freshmen in line.”

It was then that the four seniors came up with the word that would bind them for the next 30 years, changing the way Valentine began to live life.

“We seniors told the freshmen that the one word driving us all was ‘live,’ ” said Valentine. “Before every game, before practice, after practice, in the locker room, during time-outs, our chant was ‘one-two-three-live!’

“What did that mean to them? “When you grow up in a three-bedroom home with eight people, it’s pretty tough,” said Valentine. “Though all the odds were against us, to be able to live the life we lived and to make it as 22-, 23-year-old seniors, that’s pretty incredible.

“We weren’t supposed to be there. We all had some tough times at home. We wanted to make a difference, in school, on the team, in the community. Our goals were to make the next person better than we were, starting with those freshmen.”

They Did, Of Course 

On March 31, 1986, Louisville beat Duke 72-69 for the national title. But the injury-hampered Valentine, who’d played only 41 minutes that entire season, did not get into that game, but he was on to his next phase of what it meant to live. “My focus had become: What is Robbie Valentine going to do to become more successful in the community?”

He studied education in college, and then earned a master’s in sports management. He became Crum’s graduate assistant coach. He joined the broadcasting team for Louisville games on WDRB.

“He had the desire to succeed, and everyone knew and liked him,” said Crum. “I couldn’t wait to see what Robbie would do with his life.”

“The way I took it was, the more education I got, the more doors were going to v2open up for me,” Valentine said, “and the more doors that opened up for me, the more important people I’d meet, and that would help open even more doors.” He also got married in 1989, to college schoolmate Beth Kantor, and almost immediately had identical twin boys, Eric and Aaron. Daughter Brooke came along in 1993.

He launched Robbie Valentine Enterprises, running education programs – such as basketball camps – throughout Jefferson County and Southern Indiana. “We got some large grants for the work we were doing, and it was pretty successful,” he recalled. “I was determined to pass on the values that I’d learned as a youngster, so we required kids to go to class and study if they wanted to participate in the program, just as I had.”

Dejuan Wheat passed through Valentine’s program. So did Sara Nord. But the program was not only for the superstars, it was for any kid from the streets.

“When I started playing basketball through the Stithton Baptist Church in Radcliff, our pastor, Gene Waggoner, said that if we wanted to participate, we had to be a ‘Royal Ambassador.’ That meant attending Sunday School, being in choir, joining the youth group.”

In other words, you had to get involved and fully.

Valentine further walked the talk he’d learned by joining the board of the Greater Clark County Schools.

Robbie Valentine’s life was on-track. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t.

 

He was divorced in 2004. In 2008, the economy began to crumble and the grants dried up. In 2010, Robbie Valentine Enterprises Inc. filed for bankruptcy.

And that summer, he was arrested for a DUI in New Albany.

Life Intrudes 

As is often the case, the actual details are murky. According to Valentine, he left a New Albany establishment after dinner around 7 p.m. on a July evening and was soon arrested for driving under the influence. Eventually, the DUI was dropped and he was charged with reckless driving.

While the details were ambiguous, the newspaper accounts were not: “Robbie Valentine pleads guilty to reckless driving. The former University of Louisville basketball player and current Greater Clark County School Board member won’t go to jail for his drunk driving arrest.”

Back on the Ladder 

“That was a low point for me,” he said. “Divorce. Bankruptcy. Headlines. To get out of that, I went back to the past, and started thinking, ‘What do you do when you fall off a ladder? You take one step at a time to go back up.’ ”

All the contacts and networking Valentine had done, the support system he was v3able to build, started kicking in. Following a recommendation by Crum, he got a phone call from the Kentucky State Fair Board, offering him the opportunity to work for the KFC Yum! Center as assistant general manager.

“It’s the best job in America,” he said. “I love customer service, marketing, public relations and, of course, Louisville basketball. I’m involved with an amazing team of employees. And I get to deal every day with some of the best people in Kentuckiana and around the world.”

He also revived his youth basketball camps, although now he conducts them during the summer at the Yum! Center. He also does free camps around the area during the summer and the Christmas break, sponsored by the likes of Papa John’s Pizza and Vision Works. Participation at the Yum! Center camps is based on school attendance, grades and behavior.

“My program is identical to what Mom’s vision was when I was a kid, and my preacher, and my high school coach,” he said. “I put it all together and now I’m doing all the work they did for me to this day.”

Life Intrudes Again

But another low point was about to send Valentine reeling again. He had been divorced from his first wife in 2004 and, in 2010, married his second wife. In June of 2016, they were separated.

The divorce came through in October. Valentine was devastated.

“I think a lot of our issues were due to our similar childhood situations growing up,” he said. “A lot of times, when you don’t grow up in a normal family environment, it can affect you in different ways. I really believe that some of the things I dealt with as a young person made our marriage tough.”

Equally rough for Valentine was dealing with his divorce. “It really hurt me. When you go through those things, you have to find ways to pick yourself up. It’s that ladder thing, again.”

And so he turned to what would give him strength – his friends and his church.

Having Faith 

“I’ve been with Northside Christian Church in New Albany for six years,” he said. “George Ross and Nate Ross, the senior and associate pastors, have been absolutely my rock, the ones I could talk to about anything or everything. And they’d pray with me, or just listen to the hurt.”

“A person has to want to get well,” said George Ross, referring to the story in the Bible of Jesus at the healing waters of the pool of Bethlehem. “The paralyzed man said to Jesus, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool,’ and Jesus asked him, first, ‘Do you want to get well?’

Did Robbie want to be a survivor,” said Ross, “or remain a victim and blame everyone else?”

The two pastors led Valentine to the church’s 18-week Divorce Care course. “Divorce Care helps people process their hurt and brokenness,” said Ross. “It lets them know they’re not alone.”

“You discover hope and experience healing in a group setting every week,” said Valentine. “We talk about everything, all the hurt, the pain, the emotions, the anger, the shame, the ups and downs. The feeling is almost like death, except that the other person’s not dead, you’re still going to see her.”

Partly for that reason, Valentine chose to stay away from places where his ex-wife might well be, as well as where he’d be faced with an alcohol-fueled atmosphere. “I chose not to go to clubs, bars, environments where alcohol could be a 100 percent downfall for me,” he admitted.

“When people go through tough times, sometimes they drink and do other things because of the hurt they’re going through,” he said. “That doesn’t make you heal. It might make you forget for a few hours, but you’ll wake up with the same problems.”

Besides, he said, “I chose to go faith-based; (I’m) not interested in dating. They teach you to wait and heal before you get back in a relationship. If you’re not healed and you go straight into a relationship, what are you doing to yourself and to your partner?”

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The Rock and the Ladder 

Another rock for Valentine was Jim Shannon, the successful basketball coach at New Albany High School (last season’s Southern Indiana coach of the year).

“He saw my hurt. We went to the Outback in Clarksville, and he just listened. Sometimes all you need is a listener. And we can use basketball as a way to talk about the positives and the negatives. Sometimes, it’s good to lose, because when you lose, you learn what winning means.”

Overall, though, Valentine chose his support group carefully. “You want to be around as many positive men as you can, but you have to be careful how you choose to speak to women.”

If he wants a woman’s input, he said, he can talk to one of his five sisters. But he doesn’t necessarily expect sympathy.

“My family will sometimes tell me what I don’t want to hear,” he said. “They’ll say, if I’m going to whine and cry, don’t go to them.

“They’re tough!” With his faith firmly in place, Robbie Valentine has been rebuilding his life – or, with the analogy he likes to use, getting back on the ladder, step by step, and returning to the lessons he learned early in life – about commitment, perseverance and values from his boyhood pastor, Gene Waggoner, and his high school coach, Ron Bevers.

But most of all, there was his mother. A hard worker, a disciplinarian, believer in family and faith.

“When I think of my life as being difficult, I think of her. Difficult? My mom worked three jobs to raise seven kids by herself. That’s difficult. By comparison, my life has been blessed,” Valentine said. “I derive my faith from God and my strength and inspiration from her.”

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Virtual Reality Goes to School

Purdue Polytechnic has installed a phone booth in its New Albany campus building that dials up the future of experiential technology

By Steve Kaufman | Photos by Danny Alexander

A project by two Purdue Polytechnic Institute New Albany professors to harness virtual reality (VR) as a teaching tool has turned into a compelling attraction in the school’s lobby on Charlestown Road.

The VR adventure they provide for the building’s visitors, using an Oculus Rift headset and a menu of content options, is pretty cool by almost any generation’s adoption of the term.

But the device itself goes beyond cool. The two forces behind the project – Rustin Webster, assistant professor of mechanical engineering technology at the school, and Richard Kopp, associate professor of computer graphics technology – found an old wooden phone both, likely from inside a restaurant, at Joe Ley Antiques on East Market Street in Louisville.

“Because VR can be disorienting, we needed an enclosed environment with a seat so people wouldn’t lose their balance and fall,” Webster explained.

There was work to be done on the old booth. “We painted all the wood, did a lot of brushed aluminum trim treatment, silk-screened the windows, put chrome plating on the floor and ceiling and applied white subway tiles to the inside,” said Kopp.

Then Kopp’s computer graphics students provided imagery to turn an old phone booth into a 21st century movie theater experience. The exterior graphic, developed by Kopp’s students Ben Durcholz and Bailee Kruer, blares, in movie poster art and melodramatics: “NOW SHOWING – VIRTUAL REALITY – EXPERIENCE OTHER WORLDS.”

It was truly an interdisciplinary student effort. “We hired students interested in developing code for VR,” said Webster, whose familiarity with the technology goes back to his work with a military contractor in Alabama trying to integrate VR into Army training and education programs.

“We also needed software developers, digital asset developers and people to provide texting, lighting and audio.” The booth was placed in the school’s lobby, heavily trafficked not only by students and school personnel but also by workers and visitors to the private business offices that occupy some of the building’s upper floors.

The hope was that people would be attracted to the booth and feel invited to go inside and “experience the experience.”

“Oculist Rift comes with a lot of free, pre-programmed software built in,” said Kopp, “so anyone can pick and choose almost anything they want to do.” Primarily, he said, it’s the world of video gaming in 3-D.

But gaming, or some other form of entertainment, is not the endpoint for the two educators. They want to improve the technology enough to make VR a viable educational tool. “Research shows there’s a big increase in learning and retaining content when the process is interactive,” Kopp said.

“There are too many passive-learning lectures in the world,” agreed Webster. “Part of my research at Purdue Polytechnic Institute is figuring out how to get VR into a classroom and replace ‘death by PowerPoint.’ ”

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It’s Tax Time, Southern Indiana

Most People who’ve been filing income taxes, and maybe also business taxes, for years know the drill: gather all your records, keep your receipts and use an experienced professional tax preparer.

Beyond that, though, what are some items that frequently slip through the cracks? Nicole York, senior manager at Rodefer Moss & Co., took time to share her expertise. 

By Steve Kaufman

EXTOL: What are the things your clients need to bring to their tax preparation visit with you?

NICOLE YORK: First, any income statements: a W-2 for an employee, a K-1 for someone in an S-Corp or partnership, 1099s for sole proprietors and independent contractors. Then, all reports regarding mortgage interest paid, real estate taxes, property taxes (on cars, boats, motorcycles, campers) – it’s called “excise tax” in Indiana, “advalorem tax” in Kentucky. In short, I always tell my clients, “Include anything you get in the mail that says ‘Important Tax Documents Enclosed.’ ”

EXTOL: What about business expenses?

YORK: Have a list of all ordinary and necessary business expenses that might be deductible – anything they’ve had to pay to keep themselves in business.

EXTOL: What might change from year to year?

YORK: The birth of a child. A job change or relocation. Sale or purchase of a home, investments or other large assets. Distributions from a retirement plan. Significant medical issues. It could be something as simple as putting a child in daycare. We also recommend that they show us a couple of prior year tax returns, so we can see what’s been normal in the past.

EXTOL: Is it too late to make any significant changes to one’s 2016 tax situation?

YORK: Not at all. Many people don’t know theystill have time, even after the prior tax year ends, to take steps to mitigate their taxes for that year. You can still put $5,500 into your IRA ($6,500 if you’re over 50) until April 15 to count against last year’s taxes, assuming you meet the eligibility requirements. Self-employed individuals can still set up retirement plans until April 15. With a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension), you can put in about 25 percent of your net earnings. In fact, you even have until Oct. 15 to do that if you need to file for an extension on your taxes. And you still have time to max out a Health Savings Account (HSA) if you have one – up to $3,350 for a single taxpayer, $6,750 for a family, with an option for an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution if you’re over 55.

EXTOL: A Health Savings Account? What is that?

YORK: It’s a set-aside fund to pay for qualified medical expenses that exceed your health insurance plan’s deductibles.

EXTOL: Can anyone set one up?

YORK: No. First, you need to have a high-deductible health insurance plan. The government defines that, for 2016, as having deductibles of at least $1,300 for an individual, $2,600 for a family. In addition, the total out-of-pocket expense can’t exceed $6,550 for an individual, $13,100 for a family.

EXTOL: Do many people have that?

YORK: More and more, probably. It’s one way to keep premiums down, whether for health insurance coverage you’re required to carry under the Affordable Care Act or for health insurance coverage you’re getting through your employer.

EXTOL: How do you set up an HSA?

YORK: If it’s an employee benefit, your employer sets it up and withholds the contributions from your paycheck.

EXTOL: Is it too late to set one up now for your 2016 taxes?

YORK: It is. Those plans have to be set up before year-end. If you already have one, though, the deductible contributions can still be made until April 15. However, any HSA contributions made in 2017 for the tax year 2016 have to be made by the individual, such as a check deposited directly into the account. Just tell your bank that those are “prior year contributions.” Any contributions that come from the employer’s withholding on your paycheck will only be credited for the year in which they’re withheld.

EXTOL: We live in a two-state, multi-county community. It must get complicated.

YORK: Yes. For instance, a lot of Indiana residents working in Louisville have Louisville tax withheld from their paychecks. Indiana allows for a tax credit for those payments. One thing we find with new clients is that they’re not taking that credit, especially if they’d been preparing their own returns, or if the returns were done by a tax preparer unfamiliar with Indiana tax law.

EXTOL: Does that apply to state withholdings, as well?

YORK: No, Kentucky and Indiana are reciprocal states. So, if an Indiana resident is working in Kentucky, the employer withholds Indiana state income tax. And, of course, vice-versa.

EXTOL: Indiana residents do pay county income tax,
too, don’t they?

YORK: Yes, based on the county they lived in as of January 1 of the taxable year. It’s a flat tax filed with their Indiana state return. It’s not a separate metro return, like in Louisville/Jefferson County.

EXTOL: And the county tax rates are all the same?

YORK: Not at all. Around here, it’s 1 percent in Harrison County, 1.15 percent in Floyd County and 2 percent in Clark County. Something to think about if someone is planning to move this year.

EXTOL: Does anything still surprise you?

YORK: I’m still shocked that people enter into large transactions – selling a house, selling land, selling large investments – without first consulting their tax preparer about all the tax consequences. After the fact, there’s not always much we can do to mitigate the tax effects.

EXTOL: Any particular examples?

YORK: Social Security recipients are often shocked when a large transaction puts them over an income level and suddenly makes 85 percent of their Social Security income taxable. We get a lot of timber sales in Southern Indiana, where someone will have a logger come in and cut down standing timber on their property. Then they sell it and – oops – it raises their taxable income.

EXTOL: “Oops” sounds bad.

YORK: Nobody likes “oops,” especially when it comes to taxes.

About Nicole York

Nicole York is a CPA and a senior manager of the firm Rodefer Moss & Co. She works out of the Corydon office. “If you haven’t seen a tax preparer yet, there’s still time,” she said. “If you’re seeing a new preparer, you should pull together at least one prior year tax return (two is better), and write down a list of questions you have. If you’re a small-business owner, summarize all of your income and expenses for the year. Having these items handy before we meet will expedite the preparation process.”

For more information on Rodefer Moss, go to roderfermoss.com/indiana.html

THE FIRM’S THREE INDIANA LOCATIONS ARE AT:

301 E. Elm St., New Albany | 812.945.5236 119

E. Beaver St., Corydon | 812.738.3777

1074 Copperfield Dr., Georgetown | 812.951.2708

extol_backpain

Journey of a Pain Sufferer: Part Two

Pain is not always a matter of who you are or what you do. Remember that old adage: You are what you eat.

By Steve Kaufman

In November, I began telling you about my journey with everyday pain, a journey that would take me to a pain medicine specialist.

First, though, I brought the subject up with my primary care physician. In my insurance PPO (Preferred Physician Organization), I had to get a referral from the primary doc before I could move on to a secondary specialist.

He scoffed.

“All they are is pill-pushers,” he said. “They’ll take your money and prescribe a whole bunch of tests and medicines.”

Well, medicines didn’t sound all that bad – especially since all he was prescribing were hot baths, cold compresses and plenty of sleep.

You may recall, from last time, that I was drawn to Dr. Michael Cassaro, a pain medicine specialist in Jeffersonville. So imagine my surprise when the first thing the nurse said when I called for an appointment was, “Dr. Cassaro doesn’t prescribe medicine. If that’s what you’re looking for, we suggest you contact someone else.”

“If I said I was going to prescribe pain medication, I’d have a line around the block,” Cassaro told me later, during our first appointment. “But I’ve decided I don’t want to do that. When I tell people I don’t prescribe pain medication, I end up seeing the people who want to get well instead of the people who kind of like being sick. Then we’re all on the same page for me to help them.”

Okay, so much for the “pill-pusher” charge. Encouraging.

Cassaro’s office is immediately off of the Clark Memorial Bridge if you’re going there from Louisville, a long strip of one-story medical offices. It somehow comforted me that the office was unremarkable, a suite of functional examination rooms. Anything much fancier would have given me concern about his motives. Anything much less fancy would have given me concern that this practice of medicine was somehow operating on the margins of the AMA’s ethical guidelines.

I know, it sounds paranoid. But this was all new territory to me.

So where do these pain medicine specialists come from? In Cassaro’s case, it was from the world of anesthesia – which is a form of pain-management, of course, though only in the most extreme circumstances.

Why did he abandon anesthesia for the pain-management sub-specialty? “Because, in anesthesia, my patients are asleep,” he explained. “I prefer working with people who are awake, who’ll remember me, who are appreciative of what I did for them. I’m a people person.”

That was evident from the moment I entered his exam room. He felt my areas of pain, poked here and prodded there, had me bend this and flex that. He watched me stand and walk. He looked at my hands and feet, elbows and knees, wherever my chronic pain often erupted.

But mostly we talked. For the better part of two hours. There was no rushing through this. And he listened!

He asked me some of the usual questions: How I slept. How I ate. But he seemed to absorb what I said. And he never resisted a follow-up question from me. He even seemed to enjoy the back-and-forth. This was a conversation we were having.

What he said about diet was the most eye-opening – especially sugars. Not just table sugar, but all the hidden sugars in just about everything. He analogized it to a toothache.

“Have you ever had a cavity and eaten a candy bar?” he asked. Who hasn’t?

“Sugar is an irritant,” he explains. And so are preservatives, chemicals, starches – there are myriad hidden irritants in your kitchen and on menus. “They go around your system lighting things up,” he says. “And if you have arthritis or nerve injury, and these chemicals are lighting things up, you’re going to have pain.”

Diet? Who knew?

It’s more than just diet, of course. It’s lifestyle, occupation, medical history, genetics, bad habits and what you thought were good habits. As Cassaro says, he’s not only my physician, he’s my pharmacologist, my nutritionist, my dietician, my behavioral counselor, my physical therapist, my occupational therapist, even my psychologist.

So what did my physician, nutritionist, et al., do for me? Tell you next time.

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The Face of Hope

Story by Steve Kaufman | Photos by Danny Alexander

John Bostock has brain cancer, so why does he feel like the luckiest man alive?

Nobody should have to say “glioblastoma” without the words tripping awkwardly out of their mouths. It’s a tough, tongue-twisting word, made all the more twisting by what it represents. In the past year since John Bostock was diagnosed with glioblastoma– an aggressive form of brain cancer – the word has become an everyday familiarity to John and wife Jessica, a young Floyds Knobs couple.extol_digitalcover_400x600_12

Glioblastoma is an aggressive form of cancer generally beginning in the brain. It has non-specific symptoms in its earliest stages, is almost always Grade Four by the time it’s detected and there appears to be no clear way to prevent the disease.

Only about three out of 100,000 people a year develop the disease, though most are usually in their 60s. Once diagnosed, the common life expectancy is 12 to 15 months. Less than five percent survive longer than five years.

John Bostock was 34 years old when his glioblastoma was discovered, in the summer of 2015. In that respect, he defies a few of the odds. He’s statistically too young. He’s supposed to be one of the 99.999997 percent who’d never even heard the word.

For him, it was like walking across a railroad track with no reason to think a train was coming right at him. In other words, not particularly lucky.

And yet, the other word John and Jessica say, frequently and convincingly, is “lucky.” As in, “We’re very, very lucky!”

Who says that? Lottery winners, maybe, or people who’d had a good week in Las Vegas.

“Lucky” is not the word you’d expect from a young couple with an infant daughter and a brand-new home-of-their-dreams farmhouse who were told, over an excruciating Fourth of July weekend, that the husband and father had this rare form of brain cancer and might have only six months to live.

No Time for Pity

Once John was diagnosed, there didn’t seem to be much time for self-pity. For one thing, the Bostocks knew they had a lot of work to do, starting immediately. For another, they had a daughter, Olive (who will be three in January), at home who needed their care and attention.

Plus, they faced an overwhelming program of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, doctors’ visits, grief counselors, paperwork, insurance forms and an unending overload of medical information. “It was all a blur,” Jessica says now.

But, they also had a wonderful support group of family members on both sides, who researched the disease, got involved in the driving and running and going that was involved, and kept up a steady flow of reassurance.

“I remember having conversations with my father-in-law,” recalled John, “and he said the goal is to bostock2prolong and extend this as far as we can, until new research or treatments hopefully might come along. There was never a feeling of ‘I’ll beat this’ so much as ‘let’s keep trying to prolong this.’ We’ll get through this today, and then we’ll get through tomorrow, and then the next tomorrow.”

“We were told that John might have six to 12 months to live,” said Jessica. “But we’re not the kind of people who crawl into our holes and cry each day.”

When Crying Came

Not that there wasn’t plenty of crying, too. “We all cried a lot and had horrible days and great days,” Jessica said. “I talked to my mom, honest conversations about what would happen in a couple of months if John weren’t around – insurance, jobs, money – not fun conversations.”

Coming to grips with unfairness? Not easy.

“But life’s not fair for a lot of people,” said Jessica, “and we have each other. It has given us a whole new definition of ‘fortunate.’ Small things don’t matter anymore. It completely changes your perspective on life.”

She said there were lots of evenings, sitting around watching TV, when she’d get up and go to her room to cry, so as not to upset John by breaking down in front of him. Later, she found out he was doing a lot of the same thing.

Learning About Radiation And Chemo

There was also the matter of getting right into the treatment plan. “When you get the glioblastoma diagnosis, your treatment plan is pretty much set in stone,” Jessica said. “There’s no ‘here’s what you could do.’ It’s, immediately, six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, every single day.”

“Radiation helps kill the remaining cells and the chemo keeps the tumor from coming back,” John explained. The surgery removed 99.2 percent of the cancer. The rest couldn’t be removed without risking brain damage. “I can live with that 0.8 percent tumor. The goal is to limit it to that.”

Blindsided By Fate

Limiting a tumor was hardly the goal in May 2006, when the two Floyds Knobs youngsters who had known each other since Floyd Central High School – introduced by families who were exceedingly close to each other – got married.

Nor was limiting the growth of cancer a goal in January 2014, when tiny Olive was born in difficult circumstances. There were other medical concerns then. “She came into the world 10 weeks early, weighing all of three pounds,” Jessica recalled. “We had had a hard time conceiving her, and I went into labor at just 26 weeks. I was in the hospital for a month on bed rest; she was in the hospital for six weeks. She came home weighing five pounds. This tiny little thing was a blessing, a miracle.”

Glioblastoma wasn’t in their vocabulary in the spring of 2015, when John began having migraine-type headaches he thought were from allergies.

He also recalls, retrospectively, that he had been having problems balancing the precise Medicare pricing calculations he was doing for Humana, where he worked. “Basic functions,” he says now, “but I could never get things to match. Very frustrating!”

He’d not had recurring headaches before, and these always came in the middle of the night, waking him up with all kinds of pressure, “but I took Advil or Excedrine Migraine and kept grinding through every day.”

Plus, Jessica said, “we went to all these places – a chiropractor and our regular family doctor – and nobody seemed concerned about it.”

Eventually, they went to a neurologist who put John on steroids, which helped for a week or two. “He told us, there were no signs that I needed any immediate tests, like a brain scan,” John said. “I’d had no history of headaches; he agreed it was probably migraines due to allergies.”

Then the headaches started coming back, and John started not making sense a lot of the time, frequently coming home from work at lunchtime in pain.

Rush To The ER

One Friday a year ago July, John came home for lunch, and Jessica left him something to eat before going out of the house.

“When I came home at night, he hadn’t remembered eating the lunch,” she said. “He was being unusually weird. I was upset and I insisted we go to the hospital right away. John’s mom, stepdad and I took him to the emergency room at Norton Downtown (in Louisville), and they took an MRI. The scan came back that there was a 5-centimeter mass on the right front of his brain.”

Neurosurgeon Todd Shanks performed the surgery on Monday.

Sharing Inspiration Jessica said they weren’t eager to talk to others about the condition once John got home and into his grueling set of treatments. “I guess I thought, ‘Who cares, this is our problem.’ But we did have friends and family who needed to know what was going on.”

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To keep that group informed, she found CaringBridge.com, a social networking web site that allows people to post blogs and exchange information, mostly about health and disease situations.

Jessica formed the John Bostock Journal – https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/johnbostock – with an intial entry dated July 5, 2015, that was simply headed, “Surgery”: “I totally forgot to mention that John’s surgery is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. Probably between 2-4. Should last 3-4 hours and he should be in little pain afterwards. We will stay until Wednesday or Thursday and then will return home and will know much more about the treatment plan next week.”

What Jessica found was “we got such a warm and wonderful reaction from people I didn’t know. People said things like, ‘You don’t know how inspiring you are, how much we pray for you.’ It made us feel good. If our story can be an inspiration to anyone, how great is that?”

She said, “People tell us that when they complain about the weather or about their kids, they think about us, and that gives them perspective – and that’s amazing!”

Sometimes, said Jessica, “people think people with cancer talk about it all the time, but it’s completely the opposite. People say to us, ‘Oh, I don’t want to make you talk about it, you probably talk about it all the time.’ No! We don’t talk much to other people and, when we did, we found that was therapeutic.”

John agreed. “Sometimes you have to talk about it out loud, instead of just talking inside your own head. Sometimes we’re surprised by the answers.”

“We’re not scared of crying anymore,” said Jessica. “We’ve been doing this for 15 months. We’re not scared about reliving it.”

Finding Faith

The Bostocks also get great comfort from their church, Northside Christian Church in New Albany, which they had been attending for some time – “but we’ve never missed since John got diagnosed.”

“We probably took it for granted before,” Jessica said. “I have a relationship now with God that I didn’t know I could have.”

Keeping Olive Happy

That moment was much appreciated because John needed to be the same father that little Olive kept expecting him to be.

“After John’s diagnosis, it was Olive who made us get up every single day and put a smile on our face, because we had no other choice,” Jessica said. “And John’s being home and spending time with her made them so close. We’d go to the zoo, and then we took her to Disney World. It made her happy, and that made us happy.”

But, living a normal life was important for more than simply Olive. It was important to all of them. They credit much of this to Dr. Renato LaRocca, John’s oncologist.

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“He always says, ‘love hard, travel, drink wine,’ ” John said. “He tells me to eat healthy, but also have some red meat if we go to a steakhouse.”

“He says, ‘Live life to the fullest and enjoy yourself, you never know what tomorrow will bring,’ ” said Jessica. “It opens your eyes and your sense of things around you that you didn’t really pay attention to before.”

Dream House Deferred

At first, much of the focus of normal life was on the farmhouse the Bostocks had purchased, off of Paoli Pike in Floyds Knobs, just four weeks before John’s diagnosis.

“We love old houses, and this was our dream house,” said Jessica. “Lots of character, on a couple of acres. We were so excited – and then ‘boom!’ ”

Initially, she said, it was a great project to focus on, diving into it, keeping them busy, their minds occupied. Eventually, though, with John not working and with the determination to travel and take Olive to Disney World, they sold the house.

“For me at the time, with John having 12 months to live and not going back to work, it made sense to sell the farmhouse,” said Jessica. “The plan was to make the best of everything for him so we would regret nothing.”

Pills And Daddy’s Backpack

Without the farmhouse, the focus turned to all the treatment options that might keep John alive. Through John’s brother, Zach, a hospital administrator in Naples, Fla., who had worked at Jewish Hospital in Louisville for 13 years, they were plugged into a pipeline of information.

It was through oncologist LaRocca that John was approved for Temador, a “chemotherapy pill” specifically for glioblastoma that he takes every four weeks.

LaRocca also helped arrange for John to be fitted with a new device called a Optune, from Novocure, a kind of helmet specifically developed for glioblastoma (which you can see John wearing on this cover of Extol). It was still in the final testing stages, but LaRocca sent a request to Humana, and John was approved as a non-recurring tumor patient.

John explains: “It creates a ‘tumor treating field’ that confuses the cells, inhibiting them from rapidly dividing and regrowing. It forces them to turn into normal cells.”

There is a soft helmet-like device around John’s head and a power supply that’s strapped to his back. Developed by Novocure Ltd., a British oncology research company based on the Channel Island of Jersey, the first iteration weighed six pounds. The newer version, the one John wears, has been trimmed to a more comfortable 2.7 pounds. (The company explains it was able to reduce Optune’s size and weight “by utilizing novel digital signal generation technology.”) It received U.S. FDA approval this summer, but it has been available in Europe in 2015. John was fitted for his a year ago.

The Bostocks refer to it, cautiously, as “John’s life-prolonging device.” Olive calls it “daddy’s backpack.”

“The timing of this was practically a miracle,” said John, “in that it was approved at just the time we needed it. They still don’t have enough data to determine how this might change the prognosis long-term, though some preliminary data said it could prolong a patient’s life about a year past what the current diagnosis is.

“I’ve worn it a year, now. I will wear it for as long as I need to!”

What’s Ahead?

John, who admitted to a somewhat bumpy educational tenure the first time around – “I went back and forth between Ivy Tech Community College and Indiana University Southeast (IUS), getting an associate degree from Ivy Tech. I was a terrible student” – is back to taking online business classes at IUS in pursuit of his bachelor’s degree.

He said Humana is keeping the door open for him, should he decide he’s ready to return to work. “I’m teeter-tottering about going back.” Jessica, who had started at IUS, ended up going to hair school at The Hair Design School in Louisville. She now works at Angell Salon & Spa in Sellersburg.

John gets an MRI every 12 weeks. “The first couple of scans were apparently hard to read,” he said, “because the scar tissue from the surgery shows up white, just like the cancer cells.”

In early April, they were told his scan “was stable.” In July, there was evidence of “considerable shrinkage.” In September, “stable again – no change.”

“Stable is good,” they said, together.

“The doctors are happy where we are a year into all this chemo treatment,” said Jessica. “They’re happy with the way John lives his life, how regularly he wears his Optune, how proud they are of John going back to school.

“They’re mostly positive about the results of the bloodwork, the platelets are really good.”

The docs have been positive, she said, but they’ve also been honest. “We’ve shown we can take it and we can handle it. We just keep doing the same things. I want to know exactly where we stand, and I always ask the hard questions.”

Searching For Answers

Like a lot of 21st century questioners, Jessica and John also turned to the Internet for answers.

“The Internet can be a scary place,” said Jessica. “You read a lot of uplifting stories about cancer-sufferers who’ve beaten the odds, but then you run across the occasional story, too, like ‘My mom was told she had 18 months to live, but she died within six months.’ ”

Particularly frustrating for the Bostocks is that there’s no particular explanation for why John was hit with this.

“I have no medical history to speak of,” John said, “there was nothing like it in my family.”

“We did some research about living near a nuclear plant,” said Jessica. “For some reason, this area has a lot of glioblastoma – not just Southern Indiana, but also Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.” (Editor’s Note: Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee worked with nuclear reactors in the 1940s, during World War II.)

“They wanted me to take a survey to find some common things among all these glioblastoma patients,” said John. “There are no findings yet. I’d love to know.”

He mused that he used to drink from plastic cups, “but Jessica does too. We all the use the microwave oven.”

A Cluster Of Cancer

There are 22,000 diagnoses of glioblastoma a year, all of them Grade 4. “We found out that the mother of a friend I grew up with passed away a year ago,” said John. “When Jessica put it on Facebook, (the friend) reached out to us. And there’s a man who lives near us who also wears the Optune device. “So three of us within a few miles. Maybe we should move.”

A year ago, USA Today reported that the Indiana State Department of Health was asking the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate “a potential cluster of brain cancer cases.”

“State health officials started looking into concerns this summer that an unusually high number of people living in the same neighborhood in Henry County east of Indianapolis had been diagnosed with a type of brain cancer, known as glioblastoma, over the past 23 months,” said the article, dated Oct. 23, 2015. The article quoted state health commissioner Jerome Adams as saying, “We are listening closely to people’s concerns and methodically investigating these cases.”

Focusing Forward

For the most part, though, Jessica and John keep their focus clearly in front of them.

“John’s no longer on radiation, and he’s in the 13th month with this pill and wearing the Optune device,” Jessica said. Reviews of his progress will continue.

If John’s platelets get too low, the medication will likely have to be switched, but they say there are always other drugs in the pipeline or, because of where John’s tumor site was, perhaps there might be another surgery.

“At the end of the day, it’s all guesswork,” Jessica shrugged.

“Of course, that all might be 15 years down the road,” said John. “At that point, I’m winning.”

“If you were told you had a year left to live, think of all the things you’d do,” Jessica said. “We were told he had six months to live. It’s now been almost 17. This is our story and we can’t do anything about it. There’s no other way than to be positive about it. John and I have been given a gift. We get to look at life through a new lens, that of a cancer patient. We take nothing for granted and our hearts have expanded more than we can imagine over the past year. We are confident in knowing that our paths have already been carved, that God can bring silence to our busy minds and that we consider ourselves the luckiest people alive.”

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B.YOU: Building a Better You

Story by Steve Kaufman  |  Photography by Steve Squall | Photography Assistance Provided By Shepherd Ahlers

B.YOU her modern fitness boutique coming to New Albany, lifts people off the ground, literally and figuratively. 

There always seems to be something new in the world of fitness, but B.YOU Her Modern Fitness Boutique is here to stay and offers participants far more than a way to get fit.

Remember aerobics? Which gave way to yoga, which gave way to kick-boxing, which gave way to Jazzercise. Then there was Pilates. And spinning. And CrossFit. And Zumba.

It’s not just fashion or trendiness. Each seems to be a new and different way to build on what we’ve learned about conditioning, health and the human body.

But something new has come to the Southern Indiana area – by way of B.YOU, which is opening its first location on Pearl Street in New Albany – though it’s already quite popular in European and East Coast cities. It’s the same intense, well-crafted workout, only it’s done not on the ground, not on a mat, not reclining or sitting or squatting, not lotus pose or downward-facing dog, but in the air.

Actually, it’s not an “it” – it’s a “they.” Two separate types of workouts (though they offer far more than that). One is done while twirling and rotating in the air, using a long sash – a silque – suspended from the ceiling. Think Cirque du Soleil.

The other is done while bouncing up and down on a rebounding platform. Think trampoline.

The local pioneer of all this is Stephanie Bristow, a former ICU trauma nurse who just wanted to get in shape for her wedding. In a Lexington fitness studio in 2010, she discovered barre, the rave of the moment: stretching and toning using a ballet dancer’s simple flexibility routine. Two years later, Bristow moved to Louisville and opened a barre studio in St. Matthews.

“I fell in love with barre,” Bristow recalled. “It was challenging and low-impact, without any equipment. I saw a lot of changes in my body and felt challenged physically and mentally.”

Among the things Bristow liked was how barre addressed her particular gender needs. “I targeted what was important to me, to most women – my inner thighs and arms – with a lot of repetition and with stretching, so it didn’t bulk up my muscles.”

She found it safe and low-impact enough for women of all ages. And, most important perhaps, it was a welcoming, comfortable environment for women, away from the sweaty, muscular, masculine feel of so many gyms.

“At (the barre studio), it was the men who tended to feel out of place,” Bristow recalled. “Even the men who delivered the mail were uncomfortable.”

Eventually, the studio became so popular that Bristow and her partner, a fellow barre enthusiast named Rashna Carmicle, had opened a second location in Springhurst in Louisville. But they were already looking past barre to other things.

On a trip to the New York area, Bristow and Carmicle visited a facility in New Jersey called AntiGravity Yoga. Participants twirled off the ground, hammocked in a sash of material suspended from the ceiling by safety chains and carabiner shackles that gave them elements of calisthenics and also yoga, achieving a total-body workout.

Bristow was fascinated. But she wasn’t satisfied. “I didn’t like the way the class was created,” she said. “We wanted a more full-body approach, to burn calories but also strengthen the core. So we developed our own approach, a set of targeted exercises so you’re not just flipping around.”

The two barre studios were renamed B.YOU Modern Fitness Boutique. Recently, a third location was scouted in the bustling New Albany/Southern Indiana area.

And Bristow began looking for yet something more. On a trip to New York, she and Carmicle discovered a workout routine based on a mini-trampoline. “It was amazing,” Bristow said. “Sixty minutes of high-energy, adrenaline-packed fun. We’d never done this before, and there’s nothing like it in this area.”

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So now, B.YOU offers three workout alternatives:

Barre fitness, using a ballet barre and light hand weights to lengthen and tone muscles through tiny movements and isolated holds, with two-, three- and five-pound weights. “There’s not a wide range of motion exercises,” said Brooke Vernon, one of B.You’s instructors (who are actually called “inspirers”), “it’s all precisely controlled.”

Aerial fitness, in which clients are enveloped in and suspended by silque hammocks. “You use your own body weight to build strength, length and muscle,” she said, “transforming your physique, head-to-toe.”

Trampoline fitness, incorporating the individual mini-rebounders along with hand-weights, to firm and tone muscle, improve balance and core strength, “all while being kind to our joints,” she said. “The rebounders absorb up to 80 percent of the shock to joints, versus that which you feel on roads, treadmills, running tracks and other hard surfaces.” Also, she said, it’s a low bounce that utilizes the body’s core and pelvis to lift your feet off the ground. The goal is to stay low. “Forget what you think you know about those big backyard trampolines, with a lot of aimless bouncing and jumping. This is very controlled, very targeted.”

Within the three methods are several different classes, Vernon said: cardio, sculpting, high-intensity interval training, stretching, yoga/meditation.

“The goal is a well-rounded repertoire of fitness levels and classes,” Bristow said. “We want to offer everything anyone needs at one location, so she doesn’t have to have five gym memberships. And we now feel we have that great, well-rounded, complimentary offering, three workout options that balance each other out.”

For example, she said, barre and silque are a great complement to one-another for full-body sculpting. “And, with the bounce, we now offer a great cardio workout, as well. We looked into spinning and treadmills, but we didn’t feel those things fit our studio environment. The rebounder seems perfect for us.

“The rebounder adds exercise science to our offering. It’s popular in physical therapy classes because it’s so good for your joints.”

A big part of B.YOU’s special sauce is its focus on women.

What’s important to women?” asked Vernon, a former cardiac nurse and self-described marathon runner and cardio junkie. “Safety. Effectiveness. Results. How fast are they seeing results? How much time are they having to spend before they see changes? Is there the potential for an residual injuries?”

It’s also aiming its service at all levels of fitness, age, physical acuity and objectives. “We have women in their 60s, women who are pregnant, women who are in fantastic shape and women who would like to get into challenge is always the fear of intimidation – that you’re not good at it and everyone else in the room is. That’s especially true with methods as new and unfamiliar as ours are. You might go to our web site and the aerial silques look terrifying, everyone up in the air, flying around.b-u

“That’s not what we want. We have beginner-level classes and we help people advance at their own pace. We don’t want to be forcing anyone to do something, to advance beyond her comfort level. Our approach is to ask, ‘What do you do for exercise?’ If you say you don’t have the time, we say ‘Give us 60 minutes of your time and we’ll give you an escape.’ ”

While the boutiques are open seven days a week, most members are encouraged to work out only three or four days a week. “Within that time, switch up your classes so you’re varying your routine, so every workout every day is not the same,” said Bristow.

In fact, she said, “if you’re doing a strength workout, we encourage you to put 24 or 48 hours between those, to let your muscles rest. Take a cardio class in between to keep the blood flowing and relieve muscle soreness.”

B.YOU is currently in the midst of preparing the space for the third location at 302 Pearl St. in New Albany. Vernon believes it once was a Walgreen’s.

The 2,675-square-foot fitness studio will have shower facilities, a changing area, vanities and a boutique retail space.

The owners felt Southern Indiana was a natural location for another B.YOU location. There’s a growing community of interested consumers there and, in fact, Bristow said she was seeing an increase in the number of Indiana residents who came to the two Louisville locations. In October, said Vernon, B.YOU took space at New Albany’s annual Harvest Homecoming, with a portable barre device in the booth and a small trampoline on the sidewalk.

“It was amazing how much interest and excitement there was for this,” she said.

Vernon said there will likely be a soft opening some time in December. B.YOU will offer a special “founding membership” of $79 a month for unlimited use of the facility. “That’s locked in; it will never change,” she said. The membership will come with free child care, priority on all wait lists and 15 percent off all retail purchases. B.YOU has a small boutique inside, selling workout apparel from some of the top fitness brands, including Karma, Alo, Beyond Yoga, Shashi. Vernon said the post-founding membership rates have yet to be determined, but in the two Louisville locations, the going rate is $138 a month. Bristow is excited about the way her business is progressing. “There are other barres,” she said dismissively of the exercising phenomenon that, after all, hasn’t been the rage for two or three years, “but nobody else in has the silques or the rebounders.”

While the official New Albany opening is being pegged for January, Vernon said there will likely be a soft opening some time in December. B.YOU will offer a special “founding membership” of $79 a month for unlimited use of the facility. “That’s locked in; it will never change,” she said.

The membership will come with free child care, priority on all wait lists and 15 percent off all retail purchases. B.YOU has a small boutique inside, selling workout apparel from some of the top fitness brands, including Karma, Alo, Beyond Yoga, Shashi.

Vernon said the post-founding membership rates have yet to be determined, but in the two Louisville locations, the going rate is $138 a month.

Bristow is excited about the way her business is progressing. “There are other barres,” she said dismissively of the exercising phenomenon that, after all, hasn’t been the rage for two or three years, “but nobody else in has the silques or the rebounders.”

B.YOU Her Modern Fitness Boutique

302 Pearl St.

New Albany

812.302.2348

byoufitness.com

newalbany@byoufitness.com

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Journey of a Pain Sufferer: Part One

By Steve Kaufman

I’m going to a medical specialist for my chronic aches and shooting jolts of pain. Will I get relief? Might you get relief, as well?

I wake up every morning in pain.

Whether it’s the familiar dull throb of my lower back, muscle pains in my calves and thighs, some sharp pain in my hands or something new – my foot, my wrist, an elbow – something is always clouding my first-thing-in-the-morning brain.

Some of that goes away gradually. Some of it benefits from a brisk, pre-dawn walk around my neighborhood. Some responds to a hot bath.

And some of it never does go away, not the rest of the day, not for several days. It’s just always there. Always ready to remind me with a sharp zing when I suddenly reach for something on my desk or quickly twist past an open drawer. When I raise my arm to run a comb through my hair or just take a wrong step.

Do I know what it’s from? I guess. Some is clearly arthritis in my joints. Some is the inflammation and irritation of what I’ve self-diagnosed as bursitis in my elbows and knees. Some is degeneration in my back. Some is just age.

I don’t always know.

What I do always know is that pain is a constant companion, distracting, disabling, slowing me down and keeping me from my creative best when I need that the most.

Like a lot of people, I live with it. I always chuckle when doctors’ offices ask me to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. People like me have long ago lost the perspective to rate our pain.

I always felt that the stabbing everyday pain, the kind that I maybe rate a 4 or 5 on the scale, would have drawn a 9 or 10 from my ex-wife. We’re all calibrated to tolerate pain differently. And much of it comes from living with, accommodating and adjusting to it.

Doctors’ offices. They used to help. Today, not so much. They’re afraid to prescribe almost anything for patients’ pain-relief. And I realize that even bringing that subject up probably makes someone out there nod and say, “Addict!”

Opioid addiction is clearly one of the elephants in the room. But you know what else is? The true addict is going to somehow score his Oxycontin or Percoset somewhere on the street. The poor, pain-addled person like me, just seeking some relief so I can function more or less normally, has to hope his doctor is willing to write a prescription for even a low-grade analgesic like Tramadol.

I know. It’s not an easy conversation to have. Of course, if you don’t raise the conversation with your doc, the conversation goes away. But the pain doesn’t. And really, do we chronic pain sufferers have to live our lives with the constant, throbbing, familiar pain? And, more importantly, should we?

I’ve been aware for some time that there are a number of what are called “pain-management centers.” What do they do? Are they physical therapy facilities? Hypnosis? Chiropractic? Acupuncture? Some other mystical art? Or are they a legitimate branch of medical science?

I recently decided to find out for myself. Maybe I could realize some genuine relief. Or maybe it would result in just a good magazine story.

This summer, I contacted pain-relief specialist Dr. Michael Cassaro of Painless Living in Jeffersonville. In fact, I’d seen an ad for his practice in this very publication and thought maybe this was someone who could help me, provide some relief or just offer some understanding in how I should cope with the pain I feel.

I’ve been seeing Mike Cassaro since September. I’m really quite confident that I’m going to feel better. And I plan, in this space, to share my experience with you in subsequent issues of Extol.

Maybe you, too, will have your curiosity sated. Or maybe you’ll discover that perhaps you don’t really have to live with pain after all. Stay tuned. I know I am.