Andrew Banks Lyon aka Andy – Astro – D-Andy-lion

Dear Family and Friends and Followers,

Our beautiful son, brother, friend, hero — Andy — passed away on Friday, August 30th at 7:30am.

I feel so very fortunate that Andy was able to die in a place that he loved, as close to nature as he could possibly be, under beautiful tress, overlooking a forested ridge line and a graceful river.  Adjacent to the little cottage where we stayed during the last days of his life are beautiful gardens and a sacred chapel called the Crystal Hermitage.  Andy had taken me on a visit to the gardens a few years ago and what I remember most is that we laid down on a grassy area surrounded by colorful flower beds and looked up at the sky. Andy always took the time to appreciate nature, and he was so happy in that moment, recognizing a of a little piece of heaven.  He was delighted to share it with me as though it was his own personal discovery.  It never occurred to me then that he would die just a hundred yards from this peaceful place where he found beauty and sanctuary.  When I think back to that time and reflect on all the events that lead up to his death, I realize that all the pieces came together in divine right order.

On that Friday morning when Andy passed over to an infinite realm, we once again watched the sun come up together and then decided to sleep in “a little bit longer”.  When he woke up again I noticed that his breathing was definitely different. We laid on either side of him in bed.  We laid there for a long time holding him and crying, telling him how much we loved him, how much his life meant to us and what an inspiration he had been to so many.  It was peaceful and beautiful.  I could not have wished for a better ending of his human life.

I know that Andy’s spirit and our memories will live forever in my heart and in all the hearts that he loved and loved him.

There are so many people that I would like to thank for your unwavering support to me and to my family on this journey.  I hesitate to name names for fear that I would leave someone out. (I’ve done my best to thank you personally, but in the midst of it all I may have overlooked some)  May I say now THANK YOU . . .  your love and kindness has surrounded us on this path and it is with deep gratitude and joy I thank you!

We will be honoring Andy’s life in Laguna Beach on Sunday, September 29th.

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We’ve made it to Northern California, continuing our incredible journey, walking on a trail that we’ve never walked before, all without a map.  As I’ve said in an earlier blog entry, what’s really weird is everyone eventually takes this journey, but there is little preparation to know the way into death.  For Andy and our family we are navigating through by trusting the unknown and what lies ahead, not knowing how things will play out, or what the end will look like.

We are inspired by our spiritual values that are based on yoga philosophy and Buddhist teachings — but what I reflect on is this path is so much like what Andy and all PCT hikers do on the trail — to just keep forging ahead, never knowing what was going to be around the next traverse, over the next crest or even where we will would find the next watering hole to replenish and refresh.

Fortunately we’ve found a perfect place to ‘camp-out’ and at the same time replenish and refresh.  We are staying in the Guest House at the Crystal Hermitage in Ananda Village.  The house sits on the ridge of a sloping mountain surrounded by beautiful pine and oak trees.  We can see a peek of the Yuba River and all kinds of wild life including deer and fat furry squirrels.  Andy feels at home now is this quiet serenity.

It’s just the three of us — Andy, me and Alex (Michael is closing down the Laguna house). I haven’t referred to my daughter, Andy’s sister Alexandra during this journey, but she is an intricate part of Andy’s life.  If I can say so myself, she is a beautiful strong young woman who loves her brother dearly and has been by his side since we began hospice a month ago.  They have a very close bond with one another, having experienced so life together.

What do you say and how do you console a daughter who is loosing her brother?  I have to reach deep inside me to find words that support her grief.  Even though Andy is still alive, we are loosing little bits of him everyday.  And its painful beyond belief.  We are loosing his fast analytical mind, his agile ability in the kitchen concocting a new culinary masterpiece and his talk and hopes and dreams of his next adventure.

We cling to what is still left — his smile and wirily humor about the mundane things such as modesty — I should say lack of — and his meager attempts at hygiene as we both step in to do the dirty work. We still have his never wavering love and gratefulness for all we do for him now.  It is so amazing that he still shows his care and concern for Alex despite his slowed speech. It brings me to tears when he says to her in broken down gasping breaths, “How are you doing Alex?”  He says this in the midst of his own obvious frailty and broken down body. This is the spirit of Andy — compassion for others.

Alex and I cry a lot together and talk about what the end of Andy’s life will look like. Neither of us has seen someone die.  She is afraid to leave his side fearing she will not witness his last breath. I know from my research and trying to be more informed, despite being map-less, that he could take his last breath without anyone around.  Alex is fearful of the future of what her life will look like without her brother and regrets that she didn’t spend more time with him when she was able.

All of this is so delicate.  I can share with her my process and that through my spiritual practice I have been preparing for Andy’s death as best as I am able.  I also know in my heart that I have spent so many meaningful moments with Andy, more than most mother’s do in a lifetime. I hope that as his life comes to an end I will have no regrets, only memories of a beautiful boy that brought so much joy and excitement and the true spirit of what it means to be alive.

One last thing to finish this entry . . . in the middle of many sleepless nights Andy and I sing or chant together.  We sing silly little songs, some sanskrit mantras or we make up some of our own little melodies to suit the moment and bring peace and tranquility to our hearts and minds.  Here are two that we ‘sing’ frequently:

In breath, out breath
deep breath, slow breath
calm breath, ease breath
smile breath, release
present moment, wonderful moment
~Thich Nhat Hanh

May the door open to my heart,
may all people be free from suffering,
may all have joy flow in.

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The Big Move

Andy is hanging in!  It’s been wonderful these past several weeks to have so many of his friends stop over and visit with him, reminiscing about past adventures and old times. Even though the visits tend to wear him out, this is the most enjoyable part of his day.

As many of you may know, one of Andy’s favorite places in the world is Northern California. Specifically, Nevada City where he has spent a lot of time at Ananda Village, a spiritual community that supported his healthy lifestyle and yoga inclinations.  Ever since Andy discovered Nevada City he has urged our family to relocate to the area. Over the years my husband Michael and I, began to seriously consider slowing down and simplifying our lives; and we kept coming back to the idea of moving to Northern California.  Andy espoused it’s natural beauty, charming community and plethora of outdoor activities.  And the fact that there are more trees than people.

In January of this year, we made a decision to make this year THE year to move from Southern California to Northern California.  In our hearts and minds we thought this would be a wonderful transition to allow us to spend more time with Andy in the place he enjoys most.  (We did not know that Andy’s health would decline as quickly as it has.)  We bought a house in Nevada City and sold ours in Laguna Beach.

And now here we are . . . we’re moving!  On Monday we will be driving away from our beloved community of 25 years to stay at Andy’s beloved Ananda until our things are moved into our new home.  Andy is ecstatic about being at Ananda and seeing all of his friends and being on the grounds of this sacred village that has supported him on his path of healing and discovery over the years.

Please send us your prayers and well wishes for this journey.  Andy’s breathing has become more and more labored because of the tumors compromising his lungs and he is now dependent on oxygen round the clock.  He’s beginning to loose the use of his legs, those strong legs that got him from Mexico to Canada.  He still has a great appetite and is enjoying all kinds of yummy treats brought by generous friends and neighbors (thank you).  His spirits are good.  He is coming to terms with his death in his own way.  Some days he yearns for a way that will insure that he will have a little bit more time to see the people that he loves.  Other days he fantasizes about taking a trip to Spain, Italy and Portugal where some members of our family will be visiting late fall.  Then there are days when he asks how much longer we think he has and he can’t imagine that it could be much longer.

We talk very openly about what he wants done with his body (cremated) and his ideas about where he wants the ashes to go change like the wind.  Somedays he wants to be shot through a canyon into space, or scattered on the top of a hill at Ananda.  His biggest dream lately is to have friends and family take him on the PCT trail to one of his favorite passes in the Sierra’s, have everyone camp out, have fun, share stories and revel in what he loves so much — nature.

How is this for me? Hard. Yes. Of course.  But there is beauty in dying too, that most people aren’t aware of.  I brought Andy into the world over 24 years ago.  I suckled him to my breast, changed his diapers, feed him, gave him baths, listened to his first words and helped him learn to walk.  These days its like going in reverse — watching him as he can no longer balance, listening to the drug-induced stories of bravery, fear and courage, helping him bathe and brush his teeth . . . making food, cleaning up a mess or two.  There are two things that are different from those early infant years.  First he tells me how much he loves me almost every time I assist with his care, and now I administer medication when he is in pain rather than change his diaper.

I am so grateful for all of you that have commented on the blog.  It has made me feel so proud to be Andy’s mom and know all the hearts that he has touched.  It has made me smile and of course cry . . . and that’s a good thing.  Your words and loving kindness has let Andy and our whole family that we are not alone that we are surrounded by love and prayers and healing. Thank you!

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Astro post PCT — 10 months later

Dear Family, Friends and Followers,

It’s been a long time!

Some of you that followed Andy’s (Astro’s) journey on the Pacific Crest Trail I know quite well, you are my family; others are good friends that live in our community in Laguna Beach, California.  Others of you are complete strangers, curious about the trail and Andy’s journey.

Andy has asked me (mom — Betsy) to pick the blog back up — to write about a new trail that we are blazing right now.  I’m going to do my best to tell you things in his words, but I know that my thoughts and feelings will come through because that’s the nature of how it goes.

You may remember back in October when Andy got off the trail in Washington, his leg was giving him some trouble.  It was starting to give way and he was also experiencing some pain in his hip and low back.  The truth is Andy has been experiencing pain in his hip and low back for three and half years now, because he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma over five and a half years ago.

When he got off that trial in Snow Pass, Washington after being on the trail for 152 days, he had hiked 2,302 miles.  He got a hitch from the trail and walked into a little hospital in Yakima Valley.  They they ran their usual battery of tests to figure out what the pain was. In the back of his mind he knew, I knew, all those close to him knew . . . what they were going to find.  And they found it — the Big C — still lurking in tumor fashion along his spine, pressing on nerves and causing the increasing pain in his body, making it difficult for him to hike 20 -25 miles a day.  The day we got that news, I don’t think I ever stopped crying, I boarded the next flight out and drove straight from Seattle to Yakima, arriving at 1:30 am.

I hadn’t seen him for about a month.  When I got to the hospital room I found a very handsome, happy young man, and visually healthy — my son Astro who had been hiking the pacific crest trail.  I was there to support him in what lie ahead, would he be able to finish the trail, did he want to?  And of course he could and he did.

Fast forward for now to today.

The ‘miracle drug’ didn’t work.  Andy had an allergic reaction each time he had an infusion.  Now his body is beginning to slowly shut down, the lymphoma is growing and beginning to take over, compromising his internal organs.  He is on heavy pain medication to participate in life.  Andy is beginning to die.

He wants to let you know what this is like for him.  This new journey.  A journey that we are all going to eventually take.  Because we all die.

Personal Note:  I want to thank all of you whom have called, emailed, texted, sent cards and notes, stopped by, brought over food.  My heart is filled with gratitude for your care and kindness towards our family right now.  Because of all that we have going on, we simply can’t respond to each and every call, text, etc. personally. But my hope is that this doesn’t deter you from keeping in touch, because your support has buoyed us along and made us feel loved.  I’m going to use this blog to try and keep you updated as things progress.  If it is too much for you to endure the pain and uncertainty of the journey ahead — a 24-year-old man who is about to loose his life — please feel free to ‘un-follow’.

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Back Home

I can’t believe its been four weeks since Andy finished the PCT!

After his finish we decided on a more leisurely pace and visited Vancouver for a big city fix.  It was great for Andy to have some “real food”.  His big craving was for sushi and what better place than Asian-infused Vancouver to pacify his fixation?  We ordered out for pick-up — more food than what four people could ever eat, when there was just two of us and somehow Andy polished it all off.

The stimulation of the city wore off quickly, so we decided to ditch the car and catch a ferry to the beautiful and quaint Victoria.  On our way out of town Andy yelped a cute little vegetarian dive and we met up with an extraordinarily persistent fan.  A young woman had been emailing me every couple of days since learning about Andy’s side trip to Yakima with offers of rides, housing and general support in the hopes of meeting Andy.  Finally, I thought it must be fate, and suggested Andy call her.  I guess it’s nice to meet with your fans now and then.

We had a quick visit to Victoria, cut short when we learned the Clipper (fancy boat that would take us to Seattle) only left port once a day and we’d need to leave the next night.

While in Seattle we visited the Chihuly glass exhibit. A dose of culture always does a body and mind some good and this was awesome. Incredible outside glass garden too.

The clipper was a smooth ride into downtown Seattle, full of ease for crossing back into the states without the hassle of customs.  Our hotel happened to be in the complex of a Whole Foods market, which was our first stop after checking in.  We did a quick stock up on fresh fruit, veggies, gourmet cheese and of course, pizza.  Pizza has turned out to be a constant craving since Andy’s gotten off the trail.

The next day, after a visit and lunch to Pike’s Market and the Space Needle, we were picked up by our favorite trail angel Deon who works for Seattle Genetics (Seagen).  She had invited Andy on a tour of the bio-genetics company that makes the newly advanced chemo-drug for relapsed Hodgkin’s disease.  Vidoten, the drug he had to walk all the way to Yakima (2,200 miles) to find out about.  (I have a real bone to pick with City of Hope)

After Andy finished the trail we stopped off in Seattle to visit Seagen with our trail angel Deon. We also had a chance to visit with Gourmet and Dave.

So, there we were at Seagen, Andy still scruffy from the trail with wild hair and an unruly beard, refusing to wear close-toed shoes, so in flip-flops with socks on.  But at least Andy’s has his European flat cap that that gives him a little air of dignity.  We’re feeling a bit awkward around a formal company who engineered a chemo-drug after we’d made an informal pact to shift gears from western medicine, its scare tactics and toxic chemicals and now coming full circle and meeting the two chemists who made vidoten.  We were put at ease right away with the laid-atmosphere and friendliness of everyone.

Andy’s first question was did they have the ball and stick model of the components of the chemical configuration?  Only Andy would ask that.  We had a fun little tour of the lab and a historical prospective of the company and the 10 years plus it took to develop and get it FDA approved.  The corporate employees made up an intimate little reception where Andy shared his story to a receptive group in awe of his journey.  They were so happy to meet an ‘end user’, seems that Hodgkin’s Lymphoma patients don’t show up at corporate headquarters often.

We happen to live within a two hour drive of the Pacific Crest Trail and were up around the Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead area and decided to take a hike and reminisce about life on the trail. Andy seems happiest when he’s outside in nature, surrounded by trees and a big blue sky!

Fast forward to home . . . two days after we got home it’s a trip to the oncologist to meet yet another new Doctor.  Our criteria this time is a small office that is close to home, a Dr. who is accessible by phone and doesn’t have a barrage of staff protecting him/her and is open-minded to alternative therapies.  It’s been such a long time since we were in a regular Dr.’s office.  Those small little rooms where you sit there waiting, our eyes darting around the room, searching for something encouraging to say or looking for something to distract us from the reality of what is soon to come – a walk down a familiar path of getting treated for cancer.  You can just feel the various emotions arise – fear and dread being uppermost on the list.

Three days later it’s infusion number two.  The morning is tense with expectation and anxiety.  Not this again.  It seems as though Andy woke up that day nauseated.  This is totally normal and predictable in all patients that have been treated with chemotherapy.  The psyche is conditioned to remember the past trauma associated with what happens during an infusion – the unsettled stomach, the itchy skin, sometimes a hot flash or two and then . . .

We make it all a reality.  Clearly we weren’t prepared.  I blame myself for not insisting that Andy have a practical lunch, instead I rely on an inner mantra “he’s 23 and can make his own decisions”.  What I come to realize later is that the fear of what is to come sort of paralyzes him from thinking rationally and taking care of lining his stomach with some good absorbing foods.  He did not eat lunch.

We settle into the infusion room, get the chair to just the right angle and avoid eye contact or conversing with the other people nearby, one getting an infusion, the other there to support him.  It appears to be a husband and wife and clearly they are not there to socialize.  We can take our ques.  Andy gets his first pre-med, dexamethazone (a steroid) and then some extra-strength Tylenol for good measure.  Then we begin the vidoten.  Shortly into it Andy begins to perspire, then the bright red hives begin to appear on his forehead.  The room somehow gets smaller and feels a little intense with anticipation.  Andy begins to get agitated and says he’s nauseated and going to throw-up.  And before we know it he has.  Stop the infusion; let’s get some benadryl.

The couple that was next to us has quietly moved to another part of the infusion room.  Apparently no one wants to be so close to vomit – it’s so messy.  Our little corner starts to settle down a little as the benadryl works its magic and we restart the vidoten.

Here we are at the top of the Cougar Crest Trail where it intersects the PCT. It was fun to get out there and feel really nostalgic about the trail. In our own way all of us hiked this trail with Andy (Astro) including all of you — thank you for your words of encouragement. If you’re reading this I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving! So much to be thankful for!

Andy says it was much easier being on the PCT, surrounded by nature and wondering about where the next water source was, how many more miles to go and what am I going to eat at my next stop?

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My Hero!

Guest Blog Entry by:  Michael Gosselin (Astro’s Stepdad)

He did it!!!

When I dropped Astro (he wasn’t Astro yet) off on April 7th this spring at the PCT monument that sits at the California – Mexico border, honestly, I have to admit, I thought would be an impossible journey for him to finish.

Set aside the somewhat tenuous condition of his health, walking 2,660 miles over some very tough terrain seems like a long shot for even the fittest of any individual to complete.  I feel very fortunate to have caught up with him along the trek and walked parts of the trail in Big Bear Lake and Mammoth Lakes in California and then again in the  Cascade Lakes area in southern Washington.

Astro and Michael at the finish.

Each time I saw him he looked a little thinner and a little more “beaten up.”  But one thing was for certain, his resolve and determination never waivered.  I saw before me a brave young man that was certain he would finish this epic trek.  I think it surprised most of us, when a tumor on his spine forced him into the ER in a hospital in Yakima, WA he did not even consider it an “excuse” to get off the trail.

Instead, he got a chemotherapy infusion on a Wednesday morning and was back on the trail on the very next day.  Several days after that he got caught in a nasty rain/sleet storm without adequate clothing or protection from the weather and had to walk 10+ miles in freezing rain to seek temporary refuge in a Lutheran camp, only accessible by boat or foot.  Imagine the look on these folks faces when a very wet, shivering, grungy looking hiker shows up in the middle of a pitch-black rainy night.  They took him in easily, offering food, refuge and a warm bed for the night.  Trail angels seen and unseen seemed to have watched over him each step of the way.

When he discussed this incident later with me, he told me “it was the closest he had ever come to death.”  Given his history with cancer, I thought this was an extremely strong statement to make.  And then once again, amazingly, when the weather cleared a bit he was back on the trail.

I had promised Astro long ago I would walk the last section of the trail with him as I thought it more than fitting that I share the final leg of the journey.  I had started this with him six and a half months ago back in April and now he was close to the finish.  So, I met him in Hart’s Pass in Washington where we would hike the last 40 miles of the trail together.  Until the last two weeks of the journey, Astro had had near perfect weather for most of the hike, which is almost unheard of.  The weather was continuing to change which was going to make it more challenging.  It had started to rain the Cascade Mountain range.  The Rrain was turning into sleet and then into snow, this is definitely not fun on the trail.  Neither of us really had adequate weather gear to deal with these elements.  Not once did Astro complain.  He just trudged on fearless with determination knowing the northern terminus of the PCT was near.

Gourmet, on the left, is Astro’s friend he met at the beginning of the trail who came back to finish with him again! Astro, Michael in Manning Park.

Just after 4:30 p.m. on October 19th he reached the monument marking the end of the trail and the Canadian border.  We hugged and we cried as we celebrated his completion of his through-hike of the 2,660 mile long Pacific Crest Trail.  I have never been prouder of one person’s accomplishment.  As I said above, hiking the Pacific Crest trail is in and of itself an amazing feat.  Less people complete that Pacific Crest Trail than have climbed Mt. Everest.

Team Astro — Dave, Astro, Michael, Deon, Betsy (mom) (top). Gourmet (Marc) and Karen. This was the crew that worked to get Andy to the finish!

When you factor the fact that Andy has cancer and is coping with a certain amount of pain, into the equation, it seems almost impossible that he made it to the end of the trail.  I want you to know that Astro is my hero and I shout a HUGE congratulations on a job especially well done!!!

Andy’s story is filled with so many amazing people that helped him along the way. In an interesting twist, these three beautiful women who live in Seattle had been following this blog for awhile and were inspired by Astro’s story. They made some calculations and determined when he would be getting off the trail. They drove to Manning Park and started walking towards him, determined to welcome him to the finish, and they did! These photos and more are credited to these beautiful angels!

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He Made It! Astro Andy finished the Pacific Crest Trail!

Mile 2668.  0 to go.  He’s done!

Astro Andy finished the Pacific Crest Trail on Saturday afternoon at 4:30 pm.  He was accompanied by his step-dad, Michael, trail-mate Gourmet (Marc) and new friend Dave.  We are decompressing now in Vancouver.  It’s been a whirlwind past four days . . . will send more as we unwind and settle in.

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