Monday, December 26, 2016

Fatalistic nature or just life?

I have not updated my blog for several weeks. “Life” gets in the way.


Sometimes, “life” is just a word. The text book definition of “life” is “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.”

I am so grateful for my life. This time of year should be a celebration of life. Yet, I am having trouble being merry because of a sense of loss I feel.

Today, I drove around Boise just to “feel.” It is a wonderful winter day, with bright sunshine. I have so much to be thankful for. I look at my son's happy face with his dog, and I am in my happy place.

5 years ago, I was wrapping Christmas presents when my first signs of the ominous and impending strokes that happened in January of 2012. It has been five years of struggle and wondrous joy.

Nevertheless, the fatalistic nature of my soul still gives me pause. I try not to dwell on the past, what I have lost, and terrors of my family’s future. There is always a sense of foreboding in the back of my mind.  I do not know why.

I should relish life because I am here. My struggles are nothing compared to what many people go through.

My friend, Stuart Davis, was in a plane crash years ago. He lives with debilitating aftereffects. He perseveres despite physical and emotional pain.  And then, he posts something about MY courage.  He is one of the bravest men I have ever known.
Matt Eames and Mark Dunham

Another friend of mine died December 23rd.  Cathie Eames, his wife, posted this on Facebook this morning:
“To all of our dear friends, it is with great sadness that I share with you the loss of the love of my live, Matthew Carter Eames,December 23rd at 12:27 PM. As most of you know, he fought a courageous battle with a very rare form of dementia over the past 8 years and he did it with the utmost strength and dignity to the very end. We ladies have stood by his side always caring, supporting and helping him in his journey and will be forever grateful and proud that we were able to sit by his side as he broke through the confines of this world and was freed from this terrible affliction. We love and will miss you Matthew/Daddy!”
Another friend’s mom died on Christmas Eve.
Yet another friend’s mother-in-law is expected to die any moment.
My last uncle is in rough shape.
Christmas Eve, 1993, my dad lapsed into a coma and died December 28th.  
Of course, people get sick and day everyday. But, this time of year seems especially cruel to celebrate when I cannot feel happy. 
Mom sleeping before she passed
I will have to move on. I know that. When my mom was dying of ovarian cancer, I was so distraught about my life, my strokes, my stepfather dying, and Mom’s imminent death, I just told Mom “I do not how I can handle this grief.”  
Mom held my hands. Her veins, knuckles, and hands ravaged with weight loss and a calm serenity about her welcome death, Mom said, “Mark! Your strokes happened for a reason. You cannot dwell on this. It is an opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives.”
As usual, her advice helps me with what could be shattering anguish. I thought about Mom’s lesson today when I was driving around. I am sad yet still hopeful.
My friend Stuart is here. I alive. We will have lunch soon. We will discuss politics,blessings, and be grateful to share this holiday our loved ones. Rather than complaining that we cannot ski with our kids, we will revel with the reality that we can “be”with our kids.
For my friend Matt, I treasure our friendship. And, I am thankful that his death will not be the death of my memories of him. Where ever he might be, he is laughing with that smirking smile he has.   
I am hopeful that my uncle and the others I have mentioned – with their families-- will have some solace.

Today, I will start taking down our Christmas tree. After my strokes five years ago, I came home from the hospital January 27, 2012 with all the Christmas decorations and the tree still up.
Still a fatalist at heart I guess.          

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Community colleges

My Great Grandfather Martin Ludvig Robertson was born December 14, 1871 in Stensvig, Norway. He arrived from the USA in 1891. He moved to Kalispell, Montana, married, and started his family. In 1908, he built this house north of Kalispell.  My grandmother Agnes is the little blond girl on the right in the photo. Martin died January 8, 1937. My great grandparents farm is now the site of the Flathead Community College. It seems fitting -- or not! -- that his Great Grandson (ME) is the new chair of the College of Western Idaho. I often think about my ancestors who struggled for generations to build a better life for their descendants. We are all so lucky.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


A lot of people have been asking me about the CWI elections including my race and the CWI Bond Election. Before I comment, here is some background.

At CWI’s inception in 2007, Boise was the last metropolitan area in the country lacking a community college.

According to the publication “Inside Higher Ed,” in 2007,

“J. A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation led an effort called “Community College Now!”  an awareness campaign. At the same time, leaders in the Treasure Valley including prominent businesses such as Micron Technology Inc. and the Chamber of Commerce’s, began a campaign that raised more than $300,000 for voter registration, mailings and advertisements in various media.

Proponents of the new district knew what they were up against: a state with a significant aversion to additional taxes. But the campaign emphasized the proposed college's benefits to the local economy, as well as the educational opportunities it would open up to new high school graduates, people switching to a second career and adult learners.”

On May 22, 2007, a Supermajority of Ada and Canyon County voters passed referendum to establish a community college district, enabling the creation of the College of Western Idaho (CWI).

On July 17, 2007 the first Board of Trustees for CWI appointed. I was one of the founding members. This will be my third term.

On July 30, 2007, first Board of Trustees meeting held.

CWI acquired the programs, personnel, and property of the recently defunct Boise State’s Selland College. Essentially we had one building in Nampa and one vacant building with a hundred acres. We didn't even have a phone. 

Nevertheless, we had huge dreams and expectations!  In those nine years, CWI has become the hallmark of community college innovation, serving more than 20,000 students every year and helping business and industry to succeed. 

From vague promise 9 years ago, today we have: 

  • 20,000+ students served each year
  • 91% positive placement in professional-technical programs
  • 13.9% return on taxpayer investment
  • 5,000+ students have earned degrees and certificates
  • 400+ business and industry partners
  • 28% decrease in student borrowing

In our nine years of history, we have never asked the voters for help until this summer and fall.

The Board of Trustees voted in favor of placing a $180 million general obligation bond on the November 2016 ballot. The bond would fund campus development in Boise and Nampa to expand program offerings and serve more students.

CWI has grown from 1,200 students in its first semester in 2009 to serving more than 20,000 students a year with projections for continued growth in the years ahead.

Again, this is the first time Ada and Canyon County voters have been approached for a bond since the College was founded.  

This this lengthy contextual background, these are my thoughts my race and the CWI Bond Election held yesterday.

My race was NOT a tough race because I was unopposed!

Nevertheless, here are my vote totals:
  • Ada County:  123,426 votes 
  • Canyon County: 53,056 votes
·   Therefore, I received 176,482 votes.  I am humbled to serve another term.

On the CWI Bond Election, the voters supported the bond by 57%. 

However, Idaho law requires a 2/3rd majority to pass this bond. 
  • In Ada County, the Bond got 58.6%. 
  • In Canyon County, the Bond got 51%.
In the scheme of things in a historic yet weird election with huge voter turnout and angst, getting 57% is OK. Arm-chair quarterbacking will ensue right away. 

9 years ago there was an enormous effort with a $300,000 spent. It was also not a general election. The campaign won. And the whole region saw the benefits. CWI became this innovative successful institution.

9 years later, we had a low-key campaign.  We did not use any CWI dollars.  CWI cannot spend money for advocacy. Therefore, a small group of committed CWI supporters led this effort using no college funds. Rather, we utilized “free” outlets like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, CWI Foundation members, and community presentations to spread the word.  

As a result, with 57%, I am heartened by the confidence shown by the voters.

I want to thank those who supported us not only with this measure but in the past and in the future.

Simply stated, the need for skilled/ready workforce does not go away.  We must work to meet those needs as stated by local business and industry.

The Board of Trustees and the senior administration of the College will evaluate potential courses of action in the future.

Thank you for the support!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Disenfranchised disabled voters, strokes, and aphasia

I voted early. I have always voted on Election Day since I cast my first vote for Ronald Reagan when I was 18 years old. 

That was the 1980 election. I could not stomach another four years of Jimmy Carter's inept presidency and "malaise."  

I wanted to vote early this year for several reasons. I voted for myself for another term on the Board of the College of Western Idaho. I am unopposed. Tough race!

My second reason is to support the CWI Bond Election. It will be a tough race because state law requires a 2/3rd vote. Despite the compelling need, the reactionary anti-tax voters will be voting against us. I voted early to change my luck!

Third? Well. Our horrifying presidential candidates. At the voting booth, I thought I would get a vision about who is the best of the worst candidates in our history. No vision came to me. I voted begrudgingly and held my nose.

The early voting at my county was crowded. The handy cardboard temporary voting booths did the job.  I did my civic duty. Ada County Elections staff are so knowledgeable. Though crowded, the process was a breeze because of the staff.  

However, four years ago, it was different. Why? November of 2012 was the first election since my stroke. I voted for myself again. And, I knew who to vote for. I have a long history of being engaged politically. I “knew” the people. Nevertheless, because of my strokes, I could NOT “READ” the names on the ballots.   

You see, I have aphasia.  The difficulties of people with aphasia can range from occasional trouble finding words to losing the ability to speak, read, or write; INTELLIGENCE, HOWEVER, IS UNAFFECTED.

My aphasia is pretty mild, and reading a ballot is easy for me. NOW.

I was listening to an NPR broadcast today dealing with people who have disabilities. My aphasia is an invisible disability.  How can people with aphasia read a ballot? They completely understand the issues and candidates. If they fill out a ballot using the standard 2# pencil with oval shapes, who can help them?

The NPR commentator was focused on disenfranchised disabled people. It is often difficult for disabled people to get to a polling place. Think about it. The convenient cardboard temporary voting booths are not “convenient” when you need a wheelchair or a walker. Long lines are especially hard when you are disabled.

Not to mention transportation to get to a polling place. Are there accommodations like vans or busses? In rural areas, it is even tougher to exercise right to vote. 

Even if you have the opportunity to get to an accessible place, what if you cannot read the ballot because of aphasia?

This morning when I was listening to the NPR report about voting and disenfranchised disabled people, was going to an Aphasia Support Group. We talked about voting, aphasia, and disenfranchised people. 

Absentee ballots are wonderful. There is no pressure to hurry. They can read the ballot slowly. They can use a device which “Reads” the ballot aloud. There are more options than before.

Ada County does many things. According to Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane, "We do a number of different things for disabled voters. As you would imagine it depends on the disability. The most significant of which is our Touch Writer. It is a device made available to voters who would not otherwise be able to mark a  ballot independently. It's a machine that will assist voters in making their marks by using a controller, touchscreen, puff and sip, or other accessible attachment. So for instance a blind voter can use the machine to have the ballot read to them and then using the controller they can make their selections and a marked ballot is printed out for them at the end. Each voters experience and need is a little different, but we try to accommodate everyone as best we can."  

I took my responsibility to vote for granted.  Until I could not.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Strokes and broken relationships

A very insightful article about strokes and broken relationships. Every stroke survivor has similar stories.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hearing loss and loss in general

About five years ago, my step father suffered a minor stroke. I rushed to Twin Falls to be with him and my mom. 

The neurologist made Karl do several tests. My mom and the neurologist left to talk. I held Karl's hand, and he mumbled "it's tough to get old."

Karl was very athletic and vibrant. However, almost overnight he got old. He was diagnosed with macular degeneration and then started to wear hearing aids. I still have a picture of Karl showing our son the lighted magnifying that Karl used in a vain attempt to read.

The loss of his hearing plus his eyesight was devastating. It seemed it was it was a 10 year long struggle to the death.

When Karl had his stroke (maybe more), I didn't really comprehend what a stroke meant. When my strokes happened, I realized the horrible affects.

Karl not only had a stroke and perhaps a heart attack, he had to deal with loss of eyesight and hearing.

No wonder was so depressed.

Because of my strokes, I have vision loss. Certainly is not as bad as macular degeneration. Nevertheless the stroke and my vision affected my reading skills in a bad way. I remember Karl loved books. The loss of reading was horrible for him.

My recent ear surgery has left me with hopefully temporary hearing loss.

I now completely understand what Karl went through. The loss of reading, hearing, and eyesight makes me feel like I am in a silent cocoon. 
Trying to watch TV or listening to the radio is difficult. I can only describe it as an old AM radio station with bad reception with no stereo.

I've always loved Karl. The fourth anniversary of his death was September 10. I miss him a lot. I miss him even more now because I'd like to talk to him about the loss that we have both experienced in different ways.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

"Mark van Gogh" and Cholesteatoma

For months I have been plagued with earaches. I saw several PAs and finally my doctor.

The PAs essentially said, "You have a virus but it'll get better." It did not.

I was prescribed an antibiotic to get better. It did not get better.

When I finally saw my doctor he laughed and said, "Wow! Your left ear is a mess!"


Finally I saw an ear doctor and then an ear specialist/surgeon.

It seems I have "Cholesteatoma is a destructive and expanding growth consisting of keratinizing squamous epithelium in the middle ear and/or mastoid process. Although cholesteatomas are not classified as either tumors or cancers, they can still cause significant problems because of their erosive and expansile properties resulting in the destruction of the bones of the middle ear (ossicles), as well as their possible spread through the base of the skull into the brain. They are also often infected and can result in chronically draining ears." 

I do NOT need any more brain damage!

Here's a short video about it: 

My surgery was yesterday. Technically it was outpatient. However, given my medical history (you know, strokes and seizures), I went to my second home Saint Alphonsus Hospital.

The surgery went well. I'm very relieved. 

Though it is serious, because of my medical history we had to prepare in a different way.

I take Plavix which is a blood thinner. When you have surgery, blood thinners are not good. Therefore, last Sunday morning, I quit taking Plavix and instead started to inject myself with Lovenox twice daily, a different blood thinner.

My abdomen is now a series of colorful bruises! During that week of preparation, I also made sure that my "papers" were organized just in case: passwords, Power of attorneys, living wills, etc. 

When I woke up after the surgery, the first thing that I wanted know "am I OK?" The nurse said, "You are OK. You did not have another stroke." 

I prayed a lot about that. I'm so relieved.

I took a picture of my bandages send to friends. One commented that I am "Mark Van Gogh." Perhaps I need better friends.

Bad ear aches were second nature to me when I was a kid. I used to pray that my eardrum would rupture. I'd wake up and the pain would be gone. What was left was a stained pillow. 

My mom would put a terrycloth towel on my pillow to catch the oozing blood. Last night, my wife did the same. 

My life has come full circle. Earaches from my childhood could've been the cause of this condition that resulted in surgery yesterday.

"The same as it ever was!"

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Blood thinners and Calgon

On Friday I'm undergoing minor ear surgery. It's not a big deal until you have to take blood thinners like Plavix. I take Plavix. 

Sunday morning, I quit taking Plavix on Dr.'s orders. Lots of doctors! Instead, through Sunday to Friday morning I inject myself twice a day with Lovenox.

The syringes are small.  The needles are about a half inch. 

Using blood thinners makes people bruise easily. However, injecting myself with Lovenox is a different story! Throughout the week I will inject myself nine times.

This bruise resulted from three injections. On the other side of my abdomen, I have similar bruises.

To make it even better (or worse), when I get out of surgery it seems my head will be wrapped. My son laughed, and said, "Just like a dog, you'll be wearing the cone of shame."

The Saturday Market downtown, Boise State's first home game and Art in the Park. Great timing.

Calgon - or anesthesia - take me away!

Friday, August 19, 2016

College of Western Idaho: Promises Made. Promises Kept. Dunham Is Running for Re-election!

IT IS OFFICIAL! I am running for re-election to the Board of the College of Western Idaho representing Zone 5! I am asking for your vote November 8th! Though I represent Zone 5, I am “elected at large” meaning ALL voters in Canyon and Ada Counties elect trustees.

I have been on the board since the beginning in July of 2007 when we had one vacant building, a hundred acres, no programs, and no personnel. We didn't even have a phone. 

Nevertheless, we had huge dreams and expectations!  In those nine years, CWI has become the hallmark of community college innovation, serving more than 20,000 students every year and helping business and industry to succeed. 

Look what CWI has done so far!

My job as a trustee is not finished yet. I am seeking another four-year term because I want to complete the accreditation process, finish our strategic planning process, and help develop our campuses in the valley.

I have always been focused on student success, working with our stellar faculty and administration, working for underserved populations, and helping business and industry.  I am keenly aware of taxpayer dollars. I have always been diligent to make sure our budget is cost-effective and conservative. 

On a personal note, in January of 2012, I had two strokes. One was devastating. Throughout those difficult months of intensive therapy, I never missed CWI meeting. This wonderful college and the students I serve gave me incentive to persevere. 

THEIR strength gave me strength.    
Mark Dunham’s bottom line? When the voters approved the creation the College of Western Idaho May 22, 2007, there were huge expectations for the college.  I was appointed July 17, 2007, and the initial trustees made many promises. I have run twice before. 

In my 9 years, I have kept my promise to the voters, taxpayers, students, faculty, staff, and businesses to provide “a public, comprehensive community college dedicated to supporting the economic and social well-being of our community.”

From vague promise 9 years ago, today we have: 

  • 20,000+ students served each year
  • 91% positive placement in professional-technical programs
  • 13.9% return on taxpayer investment
  • 5,000+ students have earned degrees and certificates
  • 400+ business and industry partners
  • 28% decrease in student borrowing
Promises Made. Promises Kept. I am not done yet! I need your vote to complete my job!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ghost life

Yesterday, I was deleting a whole bunch of old computer files because I am donating an old laptop.

This laptop was the state of the art when I bought it in 06. I bought it when I cofounded a real estate school and I used it until my stroke in 12.

I couldn't use the laptop after my stroke simply because it was confusing to me. 

Therefore, opening old files was like opening a ghost life.

I had thousands of emails from Envision Real Estate School, Boise State University, Idaho Commerce and Industry, and the Idaho Associated General-Contractors.

For many years, long before Hillary Clinton had a private email server, I used two laptops: Company ones and my HP laptop.

I have a habit of copying important emails from my work laptop and my HP private laptop. "Just in case."

Opening old emails trying to clear sensitive information was like opening a window to a forgotten world.

Real estate matters, strategic confidential emails plotting legislative tactics, often funny yet profane observations about work life between friends and me, sensitive contract negotiations, and every day things like lunch plans and recipes. Thousands....

Glancing through those emails was sad in a way. I remember being so busy and secure in my own thoughts and plans.

Was that really "me?" How could I juggle everything that I did? 

After my stroke, my neurologist said that I am a "ruminator." In my head I was always thinking strategically about work, life, and family. 

The ruminations did not stop after my strokes. Rather, my brain "short-circuited" my plans and hopes.

When I emerged from the brain fog, I had no idea about what I lost. I was just grappling to live day to day.

Recently when I chaired a stroke support group, a caregiver said, "I remember you! You were the 'guy!' You're a legend." 

I was startled. Embarrassing! Even now it doesn't seem that was me.

Opening thousands of emails and glancing into my life on a old laptop, was a stark reminder my "old normal."

But I need to move on. I could grieve about my old life and think about all of those emails.

Or, I could format the hard drive to erase everything. And that's what I did. 

I deleted my phantom life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"Anomic Aphasia and me!"

Yesterday I had a doctors appointment. My wife is out of town and my son was still asleep when I left.

Therefore, I wrote a note for our son to explain. Same handwriting! No misspellings other than a dog's name.

The phrase "wrote a note" would seem to be second nature. 

However, when you have aphasia, simple every day tasks sometimes are an unbearable struggle.

For several years since my strokes, writing a simple note was incredibly difficult.

When I try to write notes, I have to concentrate on every single letter. I used to be a grammar and spelling whiz. Today, my spelling skills are at best mediocre.

That same doctors appointment, I had to fill out work. I had to write down our pharmacy which is "Fred Meyer on Franklin and Orchard."

I had problems remembering the spelling of "Meyer." I could not remember how to spell "orchard." 

Recently, noticed that filling out paperwork or writing notes are getting better if I "speak" what I need to write.

My wife has noticed that when I type my blog or write a note I "speak it" also.

Certainly, I am compensating. Subtly, I seem to be recovering to the point where simple written communication is getting a little better.

Recently, our Idaho Aphasia Support Group heard a presentation about different forms of Aphasia.   

It seems that I have a form of aphasia called "Anomic" with a little bit of "conduction aphasia" for good measure. 

According to Wikipedia, 

"Anomic aphasia is one of the milder forms of aphasia. The term is applied to persons who are left with a persistent inability to supply the words for the very things they want to talk about, particularly the significant nouns and verbs. Their speech is fluent and grammatically correct but it is full of vague words (such as ‘thing’) and circumlocutions (attempts to describe the word they are trying to find). The feeling is often that of having the word on the tip of one’s tongue, which results in their speech having lots of expressions of frustration. 

People with anomic aphasia understand speech well and they can repeat words and sentences.  In most cases they can read adequately. Difficulty finding words is as evident in writing as it is in speech."

That is the textbook definition. It describes me better than most definitions. However, I don't struggle with nouns and verbs. I struggle with prepositions or "connector words." It is rare for me to struggle for "words." I understand financials, but I cannot calculate or ask questions about math because of the conduction part of my aphasia. 

Just like every stroke is different, my aphasia is different.

My aphasia is better than most. I made only one typo: "Lucy" versus "Lusy!" Not bad.

Pretty grateful.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Stroke and Bullshit

Yesterday, I met a new stroke survivor. She wept.

Her stroke was 2 months ago. She cannot speak well. She has aphasia. She has some paralysis.

I met her at a stroke support group. I have often said that “Stroke survivors are an exclusive club that no one ever wants to join.”  

Like it or not, she has joined our club.

Her emotions are incredibly raw. At our group, all of our survivors tried to say “it will get better.” And it will.

Nevertheless, we said it is OK to be pissed off and angry. “People” (in other words, non-stroke individuals) say things like “It’s God’s plan” or “This is your new reality.” The one that I detest the most is "my new normal."

Really? Most survivors – if they can talk at all – respond to be polite:  “Well, excuse me! That advice really helps! Thank you! I never thought about that.”

Inside our broken brains, we are saying “bullshit.”  You have NO idea what we go through every single day.

New survivors are always told “you are a survivor not a victim.” We cannot feel sorry for ourselves for too long.  Our victimhood will only last for a moment. 

Then, the recovery mode kicks us in the ass.

"People" say things like "Your stroke should not define life." Again, that sentiment is great until you live it. Again, "bullshit." 

Also yesterday, I found out that another stroke survivor is now divorced and living with his mother. He is 60 years old. His wife of 40 years could not handle “God’s plan.”

The new survivor implied she cannot deal with this situation. Through her tears, unable to communicate, she hinted “I would rather die.”

I get it. I felt it.

All of us get it.

We tried to comfort her and her husband. For example, she is recovering pretty well for her new 2 month truth. At two month after my strokes, I could not attend a stroke support group. All of us told them “it will get better.

Nevertheless, it is bitter pill to swallow. You can overdose and die, or just keep trying and trying.

Survivor or victim. Depends on the day.