Testing My Emotional Breaking Point

On our cross-country trip home, I got plenty of sleep in the car, but it was irregular and often interrupted by whatever was happening.  Shannon on the other hand had minimal sleep altogether.  Also battling the time zone change, we didn’t feel too bad about sleeping through to the middle of the day yesterday.  Soon after, I had a brief talk with Dr. O’Keefe over the phone about my up-coming surgery.  I learned that the surgery is being planned for Friday morning and they will be removing my right leg up to the socket in my pelvis leaving me looking like the picture below.

When I learned that I had cancer, I saw myself as the “classic” patient: bed ridden, feeling sick and nauseated, no hair, and only semi-conscious.  I imagined extreme pain and discomfort that would test my will.  I’m not sure where these images came from, but that has not at all been my experience (yet?).  Rather, my experience has been a long chain of bad news and emotional battles that over time have pushed me closer and closer to my breaking point.  I have now been through three surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, and several emotional CAT/PET scans and watched my cancer continue to progress.  This has tested my limits, but not broken me.  I had long viewed amputation as that breaking point, and now here it is!  Apparently when pushed in small increments we are able to expand our emotional will.  I no longer see amputation as a catalyst for misery and depression, but as a resolution to my pain and discomfort…hopefully I will feel the same way after surgery.  However, I must admit, my emotions are taking hold of me and I feel more easily angry, agitated, defensive, and overall uneasy as I am pushed closer and closer to my breaking point.  I don’t know how much more I can take? What’s next?  For now, I am hoping for clear scans aside from my right leg and a quick and strong recovery.

To clear my head, Shannon and I began the series, Long Way Round, about Ewan McGregor and Charley Boormen’s motorcycle trip around the world.  It was an excellent series that kept us both captivated, but I have to admit, I felt sad at times thinking that my motorcycle days are over.


About bhoefen

Going on a road trip.
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36 Responses to Testing My Emotional Breaking Point

  1. Carol burke says:

    Bret, Call me naive, but I see you finding a way to ride a motorcycle again. I have no doubt!!! Sending good, strong and positive energy your way!

  2. Cousin Mike says:

    We will find a way.
    I imagine this next phase will be challenging–but it can be done. It just needed someone with your strength to do it.
    Sometimes trusting that things happen for a reason and will always work out is tough. I’m sure some people will be surprised to learn that this is one of my favorite writings:

    Footprints in the Sand

    One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.

    In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.

    This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,

    “You promised me Lord,
    that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”

    The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”

    Mary Stevenson, 1936

    • Cousin Mike says:

      PS–by the way, you still owe me 5 bucks. It’s been like forever. Seriously, you’re damaging future credit opportunities with me.

  3. Uncle Kevin & Aunt Judy says:

    Bret, You continue to inspire and amaze us! We have no doubt that you will come through this just as you have through this whole journey–with a smile and upbeat outlook. Mike hit the nail on the head because you will certainly be carried through this. You also have so very many friends and family who will all be supporting you every step. Much love and prayers for a speedy recovery and quick return to the road.
    Love, UK & AJ

  4. John and Linda Ann Ventura says:

    our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family Bret. Your courage is truly admirable. And from reading your blog, I agree with your cousin’s comment. I’m guessing you’ll find a way to ride a motorcycle again.

  5. Kelly says:

    I continue to follow your blog on a daily basis and your strength amazes me. Not everyone could go through what you have and still keep smiling. Your adventures will continue, this is just a bump in the road for now. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  6. Aunt Bo says:

    You are so strong and continue to be my hero. The way you face each and every challenge inspires me in ways you will never know. I do not know how you do it!
    I am thinking about you today as you go through your PET scan.
    Let’s get you in and out of this lovely hospital quickly and home to a fast recovery. There is no better place to be than SMH. Here’s to pain free days back on the road!
    Love…from all of us

  7. Crissy Kid says:

    Yes, it will be (and has been) difficult, but as you put it you see amputation “as a resolution to my pain and discomfort”. Hang on to that thought, Bret! And about your “exterior”, do NOT think that will change things. And remember, you WILL probably think of a way yourself as was suggested earlier! You can do more than you think you can! I think the power of will is the singly most important thing you have going for you!

  8. Aaron says:

    Thinking of you all day today Brother!

  9. Johnny Z says:

    Bret, you have a support group like none I have ever seen nor could have ever imagined. Together we will make the seemingly impossible possible. So don’t even think of unpacking or putting that motorcycle helmet away. This journey is far from over. Alaska here we come!!!

  10. Uncle Lee and Aunt Sharon says:

    Dear Bret,
    All our love and prayers are with you today as you go through the PET scans and on Friday for your surgery. Believe with all your heart that you will be given the strength to overcome this hurdle…..this bend in the road. The strength, courage and determination that has defined you to this point is the core of your being and will only continue to be strengthened because you WILL be carried and guided through this. We hope you haven’t unpacked too much because you WILL be back on the road again soon!

    We love you and are so proud of you, Bret,
    Uncle Lee and Aunt Sharon

  11. Daniel says:


    This song reminds me of the courageous, inspiring & vivacious human being that you are. I wish you an expedient recovery and send every iota of positive energy my carcass has to offer.

  12. Zeke and Mary Lou says:

    Bret, only those that have went thru this type surgery can relate to the feelings you are now experiencing. I would suggest that you talk to your doctor and see if he can hook you up with someone who he has done this type surgery on. Talking with someone who has had this surgery can be the greatest help to you. If someone who reads your blog that has had this type surgery, would leave you a reply would be great. I can say to you Bret, is to have faith in God, for he can do more for you to give you peace that passes man’s understanding.

  13. Joyce Lasch says:

    Dear Bertt,
    Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with you and Shannon. Please continue doing what you have to do in order to heal, because you are worth the effort it takes to struggle through this illness. Keep your spirits up and know that many people care for you.
    With Love,
    Tim and Joyce Lasch
    (Friends of Lee and Sharon Auble)

  14. Laurie says:


    What I want to say really doesn’t align with all the other comments… Go ahead and GET MAD! You deserve it. If I were in your situation I don’t know how I would handle it. I come from a very small family and have lost five family members to cancer. But, I’ve never been the one to have it take over my body and my life. It’s okay to get angry as long as you don’t stay there. You have to move through the emotions – release them.

    When life gets too hard and the pressure rises to the point where I’m looking for the overpressure relief valve I like to do a controlled release. Scott and I count to three and then scream at the top of our lungs for as long as we can.

    NOTE: It’s important to let your spouse know that you are planning a controlled release.

    It doesn’t fix the problem but it makes you feel better.

    • Johnny Z says:

      Laurie, Is the screaming because of Scott? Because if it is I completely understand. I would do it more often in the control room but apparently it is frowned upon. Go figure. I think next time we get the gang together we should have a group scream and if that doesn’t do the trick we will have Keith fire up the cannon. Ahh yes, a little Kilo Kai spiced rum and a cannon. Lets do it!!!

      • Laurie says:

        I hereby declare March 31st to be Annual Controlled Release (SCREAM) Day. I encourage everyone who reads this blog to take a moment to release your frustrations and emotions with a blood curdling scream. You can make it a family event. The kids will love it. It’ll probably freak out the dog, but that’s ok.

        Just make sure you alert others in the area of the “controlled release”. I failed to do this one day and almost gave my husband a heart attack. (JZ – you know you love him.)

        I also think a group scream would be great next time we’re sitting around in Bret and Shannon’s living room. I think we did this unknowingly one other time – that was while driving Dune Buggies.

  15. Timpla says:


    Porter and I are sending hugges and kisses from NC.
    I know that you are strong and have a wonderful support system that will help you through this next part of your journey.

    Your perseverance is an inspiration to all of us!

    Porter and Timpla

  16. Dawn DeBadts says:

    Dear Brett, Your blog came from the guts today didn’t it? I hesitated for several hours to post my comment because I did not want it taken as a bad thing. However, Laurie is right on. Let it rip. You know you deserve to “break” if you have too. And maybe you have too. Getting to a breaking thing does not have to be a “wrong” thing. It can be a time when you do release, bottom out and come on back. And we will catch you and be there when you do . Let there be no doubt.
    Love Dawn

  17. Laurie Sherner says:

    I have been quietly reading your posts, cheering you on and praying for you everyday since my son, Jeff, who is a good friend of your COUSIN Jeff, forwarded your blog to me. I also know your Aunt Judy and Uncle Kevin.

    After reading this last entry, I am propelled to let you know you have my support, my admiration and my deepest respect. Please accept my promise to accelerate my prayers and I know God will hold you in the palm of his hand during this difficult time, Bret, and count me in on being your friend and supporter.

    Laurie Sherner
    Leicester, NY

  18. Tracey Z. says:

    Dear Bret,

    Your leg has been a beloved part of you for your whole life. Your grief is perfectly normal, understandable, and most importantly – allowed. Hold tight to you support group to help you through. We are all so proud of you and inspired by you. Sending all our love and prayers.


  19. Marianne Borrelli says:

    Bret ,
    I truly believe God won’t give you more than you can handle, Even though it seems like it. You will get through this. You have one hell of a support system and a wonderful wife , Mom and Dad,terrific brothers and much more… I’m sending you All my energy and strength to get through this and back on the road. THink of being pain free. THat’s what this is all about. You need to have a good quality of life so you can move forward and continue riding in a good direction. We love you very much.

    Auntie Cuz

  20. Jill St George Forsythe says:

    I agree with Laurie and believe you have every right to let it fly.
    Don’t be strong for us.
    Follow your heart

  21. Elisa says:

    You are strong and helps us be strong in our everyday life. You live to the fullest and this will not stop you from riding in a good direction. Stay strong Bret! We love you!!!!

  22. Sherri Kennedy says:

    I wish I had a quarter for every time I’ve thought to myself and said outloud ‘I don’t know how much more I can take!!!’ OR ‘I CAN’T take any more’ ….and then somehow..with God’s help….I’ve made it…and stronger/better for it. This will happen to you…I am sure. You are so strong and courageous I don’t think you really know how strong you are. But screaming, crying, etc. are not signs of weakness…they are signs of managing..handling…dealing with emotions…and that’s all good….it’s alright.

    This is another part of the journey you are on. It’s a rest stop on your journey. It’s a Bend in the Road.

    Bend In The Road –
    by Helen Steiner

    When we feel we have nothing left to give
    And we are sure that the song has ended,
    When our day seems over and the shadows fall
    And the darkness of night has descended,

    Where can we go to find the strength
    To valiantly keep on trying?
    Where can we find the hand that will dry
    The tears that the heart is crying?

    There’s but one place to go and that is to God,
    And dropping all pretence and pride,
    We can pour out our problems without restraint
    And gain strength with Him at our side.

    And together we stand at life’s cross roads
    And view what we think is the end,
    But God has a much bigger vision,
    And He tells us it’s only a bend.

    For the road goes on and is smoother,
    And the pause in the song is a rest,
    And the part that’s unsung and unfinished
    Is the sweetest and richest and best.

    So rest and relax and grow stronger
    Let go and let God share your load.
    Your work is not finished or ended
    You’ve just come to a bend in the road.

    Bret, you will be in our thoughts and prayers. You will get through this and be back on the road riding in a good direction.


  23. Diana Connolly says:

    Bret: Don’t know you but started following your blog a couple of days ago. I am hoping that the surgery goes well and that you make a speedy recovery. Have faith, and never give up hope. Positive energy comes your way from California. Best, Diana

  24. Debbie says:

    Ok Bret–it’s time to get your PMS on without guilt.

    Yes–now you too can have full blown PMS and rage at the world. I will share some of my personal favorite and please..please..do feel free to steal any of them for yourself.

    Play Linkin Park’s – One Step Closer (I’m about to break!) as loud as you can. Play it until the dishes rattle and the floor vibrates. At certain key times during the song, go to your nearest window and “give the bird” to the world beyond. Now, make sure it’s double handed for full affect.

    Get a large, very sturdy plastic tarp and spread it out. Go to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army store and buy all the inexpensive pieces of glass and pottery you can get your hands on. Proceed to smash at will (on said tarp of course). Screaming at the top of your lungs with each and every smashing feels gooooood.

    (This one comes from a friend of mine who is battling from terminal liver cancer)–write a hateful letters to your cancer. Every week she writes a hate filled “You’re not going to get me, ya bastard!” letter to her cancer. And man, does she pour it all out of her soul and onto that piece of paper. She says it makes her feel sooo much better afterwards. It may seem trivial, but she says it helps release the emotional toxins in her soul.

    And ya know? That’s all you need…a good emotional toxin purge. And whatever it may be you need to purge it? Go for it. Hit something. Break something. Scream! Punch! Let it out….

    And like so many before me have said in this string–your courage and your bold honesty humbles all of us. Today’s was a bit raw, but it’s ok because you are feeling raw.

    Is this your breaking point? Nah–don’t see it. I think that’s further down the road if anywhere. And–uhm..pay your cousin Mike his $5, you don’t want that on your karma.

    Love you guys!


  25. Nanette Hance says:

    To Bret … our inspiration. If only we could all be as brave as you have been, and continue to be. Know that your family and friends continue to pray for you and your comfort. Hopefully, the amputation of your leg will ensure your comfort all the days of your life and that it will enable you to continue riding in a good direciton at some point in time. As strange as it may seem for you to see your car and trailer in your driveway, know that it brings a sense of “homecoming” to your friends and neighbors in Pultneyville. Good to know that you are back and that you will have
    your surgery in familiar surroundings. All my love … Nan

  26. Debi Sterber says:

    Dear Bret,

    Your Mom told me about your blog a while ago when I asked how you were doing. I’ve been reading it pretty much every day and thank you so much for sharing your journey. I have been following your story and I feel the need to tell you how inspiring it has been for me. Your courage, sense of adventure, love of family, and ability to put your thoughts into the written word is amazing. The beautiful photographs chronicling your cross-country trip have taken me so many places I’ve never been and I thank you so much for that gift. I have been so touched by your strength over these past months. I’m sure there are many others like me out there following your blog, routing for you, checking in each day to see what you, Shannon, Betsy, Jim, Ryan, Aaron and other family and friends are doing. I think of you every day and send you my best wishes and prayers as you face this next challenge in your life. You have truly taught a lot of people how to live.

    Debi Sterber

  27. Ashley says:


    Perhaps this is an inappropriate comparison, but as I have been thinking about your journey to this point and the next point you are facing I find myself thinking about how much you remind me of my brother Travis.

    My brother Travis – like you – is just one of those people who I am in complete awe of in how he/you can handle a challenge. Travis has been selected to hike what is known in the ultrarunning world as the “most brutal 100 miler in the world” – the Barkley Marathons, which will take place in Tennessee this weekend. In short, Travis and the other runners have 60 hours to complete five 20+-mile loops…the “loops” are completely unmarked and are through some of the most brutal mountain terrain in North America. Racers receive a primitive map and compass the day before the race starts and are not told exactly what time the race starts…they are given a hour hour warning and then must start. Only nine runners (out of 800+) have ever completed the race in its thirty year history. I have no doubt that my brother will be the tenth person to complete the race.

    Like my brother, you have what I call the “internal switch” – in other words, both of you possess an innate ability to switch off the pain, block out things that may discourage you or tell you to quit, and to push beyond the limits of what the “rest of us” would never be able to push through. Like my brother, you have been sent out on a journey with little direction and must find your way. I cannot imagine how my brother can endure the pain of this race (and does so with such determination) nor can I imagine the pain you have fought – and have done so with courage, strength and grace.

    I hope that you will continue to find the strength to live life to the fullest, regardless of what is thrown your way. Praying for a speedy recovery so you can get back out on the road – I am anxious to read about this Alaska trip you have talked about.


  28. You have every right to be in the emotional spin cycle. Your story, your “leg”acy is amazing. We are all better for reading your words. Please keep sharing and don’t hold back.

  29. Steve says:

    I agree with everything that has been said here today and just wanted to add that “necessity is the mother of invention,” and with the engineers and mechanical geniuses of your support crew, I’m sure that you will be back on your bike before you know it. As you have said you are removing your source of pain and discomfort and once you have healed, physically and emotionally (dont forget to scream), from this it will be time to start thinking outside of the box and you will live life to its fullest and continue to make “today your best day.” Having been close to someone who has had to live with an amputation, I can say that with your positive attitude, perseverance and resourcefulness the sky’s the limit for what you can accomplish. Jamie and i continue to keep you and your family in our thoughts and prayers and hope for you speedy recovery so that you may continue with your adventure.


  30. Scott says:

    Here’s an amputee drag racing motorcycles…

  31. jean loughran says:

    #1 – in the back of my mind I was wondering if your CCS had something to do with working at the plant. I now realize how stupid (as in uneducated/uninformed) that was with your comment about the PET scan exposure. Bet I’m not the only one.
    #2 – LOUD MUSIC, great alternative to screaming. In my house it’s loud music, barking dogs, really bad singing. No wonder the next door neighbor left.
    Thanks again for your blog – you are a pretty sunny guy even when it gets tough.

  32. Bret
    Sherri Kennedy sent me an e-mail about your phantom pains. I will tell you it is a situation that is different with everyone. It is something all amputees have to deal with. There is a light at the end of the tunnel believe me. Let me give you a little taste of my situation that I doubt will be yours. I have been on pain medication for over 30 years and have managed it well without becoming addicted. Its just a willingness not to become depended upon the pain meds. My leg was torn off in the accident not surgically removed. It has to do with the nerves being cut not torn. You will see them reduce in severity over time. But in the meantime use the pain medication at night and try to deal with the pain during the day by taking your mind off of it like playing a video game or working on your motorcycle, even hydro therapy works in most cases. I understand it is too early for that, but in a few weeks or so you should be able to try it. Your insurance might even help with the purchase of a hot tub or whirlpool bath in your house. The other things that help are physical touch and light message around the surgical areas and I am sure your wife would be glad to help with that. It will take time to heal both mentally and physically so be patient my friend. Very few people like myself have phantom pain the rest of their lives so don’t worry to much about it, just take one day at a time. Remember it matters not the situation we are in, but there is always someone else that’s worse. Gods speed!

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