Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Great Full Loop

"If you really are thankful, what do you do? You share"
      W. Clement Stone
I long ago gave up on counting my blessings... I am just not good enough at math to count that high. But I say thank you every tangible opportunity I can find. Please is a polite way to request something but to thank I hope is a proper way the receiver and the giver bring the loop back around. 
Before I had brain cancer, I had done the Thundercloud Turkey Trot for the first time 10 years ago with a couple of friends from Ultimate. It was fun, if nothing else it justified eating a few more of the calories that I would take in later that day. Seven years ago, I did it as my first race after getting out of the hospital, after the biopsy, after the news that there was a malignant brain tumor. The medications and steroids were too new so it didn't go that well in time but somehow it would become the starting point that running was, no matter what else was coming, would stay in in the future. But once again, I'd go home and get that turkey and pie and stuffed myself with stuffing with family after running alone. 
By the next year the solitary approach got gotten it to where I'd become a single father. I had started running with a stroller and I would learn this race had a stroller division! It would be Kiana's first kid's k which she shared with her friend Mae, a girl she had become closer friends with because she had been babysat here often while her mom was going through chemo during a cancer bout. As it would be the first time that either of them would be running in the streets, little notes had been pinned to them of who to call etc, I mean obviously Turkey Trots are a dangerous place. While before the end of the race they were gunning for each other, they did most of the first half holding hands. They were 4 years old, hadn't even started kindergarten.
We'd take 2nd place in the stroller division and it would start a few years of stroller races up to marathons. Yet the Turkey Trot was special, the more meaningful it became, the more thankful I became, the more I wanted to share it. My mom and dad would join us for it. I would start putting together a team from the Austin Runners Club so my friends could join us. And they showed up along with several thousand other people. It was the first race we would do in the rain, the only race that to this day is the only distance I have a faster time with a stroller than without it. Two years ago, almost a year after we had really stopped running in the stroller Kiana wanted one more trip on that stroller and we went out having won the stroller division 4 years in a row before the ride came to it's end.  It has enough of an emotional connection I've actually only missed it once since getting cancer (and I'd say leaving the country to go to Egypt to be a groomsman in a wedding is a valid excuse).  Somehow each time it seemed so magical, so mystical, so meaningful I honestly couldn't figure out how it could get any better. I may not be that imaginative but the universe is, perhaps especially so when you share it's blessings. 
The race reached out to me about telling the story in a web interview and some local tv promotions and in a race I was so thankful for what could I do but share? So this year, we once again put together a team. For the first time ever, my girlfriend-recently-turned-fiancee ran it and captained the team. And Kiana was signed up to do her first 5 mile race ever. This was a hillier course than her most recent 5k a couple of months ago so I told her to pace herself a little slower trying to keep a 7:45-ish pace and she started that way. I was hoping she'd come in a little under 39 minutes. 
I started telling her (or was it telling me) memories from the stroller days since for the first time ever, I was the one doing the cheerleading while on that course. I remembered the hills were taking the stroller down the thoughts directed at it were please don't get away from me and up please don't run back over me. I remembered each hill, I remembered the song that was playing on that one one year as she was belting out Frozen's Let It Go or the Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha. Somehow those memories put more humidity in the air than the little there was because was absorbing in my eyes or maybe some had splashed from the water stop... Anyway he weather was perfect and she started to take advantage of it and I realized before half way that wow, she just might break 38.  She would keep speeding up and speeding up and ended up astounding by finishing in about 36:30, with her last mile being faster than any she's ever done in a 5k or in a stand alone mile.  
There were many times we stayed for the awards of the stroller division. I liked the Turkey Trophy to put on the shelf, Kiana liked the Thundercloud gift certificates that we always split since as I told her for those few years, we'd earned them together. This time I actually got to help in announcing the awards which were overall winners and then by age group. So the 4th name I got to call out after the women's top winners was the girls 10 and under and it was Kiana Leon. Those gift certificates this year were all hers to use up till they were done and I'd buy my own meal when we went.
A week before the race, in the preparation, Kiana and I went on a 5 mile neighborhood route she'd never done before. It was one I used to do when I was new to the neighborhood but I'd abandoned it for ones with more hills and less turns with spatial orientation being gone since the stroller having become the norm back then. Kiana asked if this new route was a loop or an out and back. I told her that it was a loop. After a few turns she asked, dad, how it was a loop with so many turns since it wasn't a circle. I explained that loops don't have to be a circle, they just have to get you around a bit before you get back to where you started and in our case, a route that gives you some good perspectives along the way. 
After the race, we headed over to Mae's house to do Thanksgiving once again where our contribution to the meal was a pecan pie and tamales that Kiana had made from scratch with. We reminisced about that 1st Turkey Trot and times in between and how then we were worried because we might lost them on the run but since then we're amazed at how it's been 6 years. I worry about blinking because these last few years have gone so fast and if she keeps speeding up this way I may lose her on the blink. I'm exactly two weeks from an MRI, about where I'm always around Thanksgiving. Who knows how that will go, life it turns out is unpredictable and whether that unpredictable comes in good or bad or surprises, I think if keep sharing the things that are good, you keep finding more to say thank you for. 7 years after I did it alone, 6 years after I did it in a stroller and Kiana did her first kid's k, this Thanksgiving is something I am grateful for because through all the running around, despite many turns, me and the people I love managed to get back where we started which is surprisingly an improved home. And that for at least this sharing Thanksgiving day is a great full loop. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

An Average Man

Without exception for half a decade now, I had blogged on the 5th of November. Someone once said my life seemed predictably scripted is messing with the formula. Remember, remember the 5th of November, an English saying about a failed assassination plot that is celebrated now as a day to burn effigies of a failed leader. There are in my group of circles people who don't celebrate their cancerversaries... an understandable measure of people who don't want to spend time looking back at part of their own system turning against them. To me, like the British, I like to think of it as a way to look back at the failures of that treason, reflect on the thankfulness that like that monarchy, what rules me even if not quite what it used to be, still stands. 

However, this one was special in that it's a marker. While I've been saying that the average survival rate is 4 years for people without surgery, 7 years for people with, that's slightly inaccurate. It's the median, the point at which half the people have passed away before and have passed away sometime after. It's why this year I blogged one day after, to make sure I got there. I'm on my way to year number 8. But it's so much easier to say finally about average.

Turns out celebrating it was as good as it could have been. I had Kiana, my fiancee Elaine (still getting used to saying that), my parents came to celebrate. Once upon a time I put off brain surgery to run a marathon, the first time I'd qualify for Boston but my favorite race of my life so far was going to be the 2017 Run for The Water because it would be Kiana's first 10 mile race. 10 miles at 10 years old, something I didn't do till I was 30. She went out there and held pace and then sped up for the last two miles, covering more ground than she ever had holding an 8:29 pace for the first half and an 8:08 pace for the second half! She would finish in 1:23.08 making it look as easy as 1, 2, 3. The last race I would ever do with her in a stroller was the Decker Challenge, both of these hilly courses and I would do it in 1:23.08. See what I mean about a scripted predictable life? She won her age group, top 10% of women, top 20% of all finishers and afterwards she was playing like she'd just gotten up. The rest of my family were cheering at the finish but they hadn't just been by standers, they had all done 5k on their own, my dad doing his first race in athletic clothes rather than jeans (and he made it look good). 

The Cowboys took home the win. We're in the middle of doing some organizing and changing at the house and the memories went even further back with me finding papers and things from high school and college. I used to have clever titles for papers back then not just plagiarizing song titles. 

But the 'formal' celebration meal was dinner on the exact same Kerbey Lane porch that I had decided to do brain surgery at. It was with 4 guys that were part of things 'way back' then. They were among the first at the hospital, one of them literally the first one there. Three have legal capacities in my life to this day. One had flown out to Duke, one had been there when they took the staples out of the side of my head (even if he did pass out while watching), one had been the one I'd called when I woke up in an ambulance from a seizure in the middle of a run. Without exception, they all took digs at me from the simple congratulating me to giving condolences to Elaine to the clever well I thought we were here to celebrate but now the brain tumor is messing with you and gotten you to propose. One even gave me a traditional card of how my tumor was jealous of my fiancee. 

But the reason they are groomsmen isn't because they were there for that. They were there long before that, we met through work and sports but had all done multiple sporting things together from ultimate to floorball to my first triathlon to road races to bike rides. Not a huge surprise that they are all athletes in different sports to this day. Some were there at the hospital as Kiana was being born. We were there for each other for poker games, travel, the first and only weekend I learned how to shoot a gun at a ranch, PH'd receptions, Super Bowl parties, getting tricked into eating a raw egg. Elaine said after dinner that my cancerversary where most of them show up often is the quietest she ever sees me... I'm just not clever enough to respond to so many jokes about me back to back. After dinner though they headed back to the house to see the new stuff and I said man more has changed in this house in the last 6 months than the decade before that when I bought it... they asked Elaine to try to have a similar effect on me. These are my friends, imagine what the people who don't like me say! But with the house, the wedding, and that joke, we were looking forward in thankfulness and I love that hope.

Until recently, really until even after I started dating Elaine, I'd only been looking an MRI at a time at the longest. I had thought that I'd only ever be mainly a middle distance runner and while my marathon win is a victory my more impressive times have primarily been middle distance races. But 3 weeks ago, I put in my first ultra pushing a pace like I didn't know I had in me and we won the ultra relay. That medal hasn't arrived but you better believe I'll be proud of it. I actually haven't signed up for a marathon since the one I won (though I've done a few that have come by good happenstance) because I couldn't quite shake that I was the cancer guy who ran marathons. I focused on Spartans and different distances because in my heart of hearts, I am and always will be a runner. I think it may be time to return home and sign up for one that obviously I'll train for but it will be above all things for just an honest run of it.

We've all but figured out a date and the save the date cards will come in due time but they weren't sure I'd make 40 but my 40th birthday falls on a weekend and I'm already daring to dream how we'll celebrate. But for today, while I'm feeling happy about being average, I think of Teddy Roosevelt I may only be an average man but I work harder at it than the average man. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Writings on the Wall

'I want to feel love, run through my blood
Tell me is this where I give it all up?
For you I have to risk it all
'Cause the writing's on the wall'

I long ago wrote about how Elaine and I got to be officially in a relationship. But as apparently is both our style, we stepped it up a bit and got engaged last weekend. I'll get to those details of how it actually happened shortly but as the past is prologue, it's good to tell some backstory.

Life has its twist and turns as each of us at some point learns. It was about two and a half years ago, when we were just friends and just starting to work together within the Austin Runners Club board that we were on the same side of an argument with some friends about how its silly how so many people make getting married a goal of their life. She and I backed each other up, though I was and am unsure as to why she was a bit of a skeptic considering her parents have been together for about three decades. It happened to be on the evening of when she had done her first Spartan, I'd gone out there with her and car load of other people and after I had finished my heat I had gone back and helped everyone out there, except her... she had been doing burpees and I'd never found her till after she was finished. We had finished a Spartan Super out that day where she had done 210 burpees, or 7 failed obstacles.

Exhaustion and consumption of alcohol have some similar properties. There are those who say that you show who you really are when drunk... I don't agree with that. I think your mind shows what it would become if it had less barriers whether those be ones of discipline or inhibition. But in perhaps the most unromantic first mention of marriage ever, I had sort of brought it up once before. Last December I was doing the beer mile, something I do annually and the quickest I get drunk every year. Because our second date was to the latest James Bond movie, I've always called her my bond girl and for some reason that day I had been 007, not just 7 but actually 007 printed on the bib. So after the beer mile, I sat on the curve and put my arm around her and then fell into some bushes and said something along the lines of, "I love you babe and maybe we'll get married once Kiana turns 18." I honestly don't remember that event or her response at all but I think it's telling that she kept the hat from the event and somehow it still warms my heart when she wears it occasionally. I usually only keep bibs that are #8. I kept that one.

This May we went out and did that same course on the same venue. I did the elite heat and got lost and ran a few extra miles but finished just before her regular team start. I would do the course again and it was and still is the most ground I've ever covered in obstacle course racing in one day. Didn't lose her or get lost myself again during any failed or succeed obstacles as it turned out side by side was more fun.

Less than a month later, we repeated the process with me doing the elite heat and then joining her in the Spartan Stadium Sprint in the Dallas Cowboys stadium. Obviously it had gone through my mind to marry her even if the only time it seemed to slip out was in jokes and that beer mile. I'd even had a few suggestions of this very romantic spot here in San Francisco and that very romantic spot there in Colorado. But somehow idyllic scenery didn't feel like the way to ask a question about till death do us part. Somehow life has been kind enough to take us to multiple trips together but she was the first to get me do a trail run and I was the first to get her to do her longest bike ride, we weren't afraid of new challenges from life or from each other. There were in fact times where we were doing different distances when the race had multiple options but in the majority of those scenarios she was the one doing the longer haul. I hadn't figured out if to propose but the how would have to be a more realistic scenario than one where everything in the backdrop was lined up.

While it may not have been written in the stars, the idea definitely came under them because one night I woke up from a dream in the middle of the night. I had been proposing at the beginning of the a Spartan beast. It felt so real, so right that rather than go back to bed I got up and wrote it down, than typed it up in a note with a lame file name in case anyone was ever looking for something on my computer. In late June, I had already decided to do so at the Dallas beast, the one and only other one we were signed up for, her first one. She had become a little frustrated with her lack of upper body muscles like I had when I started doing spartans and was now going to the gym regularly. I kept letting it sink in but there was less and less doubt. The friend I run with the most liked the idea but wondered if I'd really be able to wait a few months. When you're planning to ask someone about spending the rest of your life together, a few months somehow seems both like a short wait and an eternity.

Before too long, I had asked the people whose blessings I wanted before proceeding. My mom knows Elaine's out of my league so she gave it all but instantly. Kiana initially struggled with it even while immediately pointing out it had nothing to do with Elaine but gave her blessing and a hug when doing so. The last person I asked, the conversation I was most nervous about having was with her father. There was never a moment I considered skipping these conversations nor would I be getting married without them because marriage in my book is not merely a merging of individuals but a merging of families. While there's an old joke that the difference between inlaws and outlaws is that outlaws are wanted, I also wanted our families to think of each other as family more than titles with hyphens at the end.

But how to get her dad's number...? I never have felt the need to know Elaine's password on her phone and when I wanted her dad's number I couldn't seem to think of any organic way to ask without tipping her off. We had watched The Big Sick together where someone puts their finger on a phone in order to unlock it while they're in a coma and for just a few seconds I thought about doing that while she was asleep but how do you explain that if she wakes up while you're doing it. I'm not creative enough for a lie and the truth getting out that way would be less than adequate. Somehow one day right after a phone call with him she put her phone down and walked out of the room. I grabbed a picture of her screen with my iPad (my boldest screenshot ever!). I would call him a couple of weeks later on a weekend she was out and about and I hoped he would be available. My hand was shaking so bad that I put down the phone before I called to try to breathe and texted a friend how bad of an idea it was to take a shot before making that phone call (I did not do so). He was gracious in the phone call, saying he appreciated the call but that he ultimately trusted Elaine's judgement and my judgement. In an awkward attempt at humor in the middle of nerves I joked that oh I'm not sure anyone should ever trust my judgement quickly realizing it was not the time to make that joke. I realized it in the middle of it and kept talking but ultimately it went well despite my poor judgement about making jokes about my poor judgement; it's a vicious cycle. 

There was the question of choosing the ring but that had been sitting for a long, long time. Over 5 years ago when I did my first Livestrong challenge there was a young lady, Linda Santos who was giving out rings at the kids station made out of the same stuff as the yellow bands but the rings said hope. I passed by and joked that if I ever got engaged, I'd have to use one of those. Linda said oh wow, here take it. I responded with that I was just kidding but eventually took it because in the end, hope is hard to resist. Perhaps even then while pretending to be cynical, the hopeful romantic in me knew that cancer hadn't caused any permanent damage to the best parts of my heart. Maybe this cowardly lion wasn't lacking courage but just hope. I keep a collection of shot glasses of places I've been in my home and a few of them have small additional souvenirs from the trip. But that ring of hope had sat in the middle of the Austin shot glass which is always front and center, gathering dust I suppose but knowing if hope was ever coming out, it was going to do so just to stay home. Last year, Kiana got a bike and Elaine so they could do their longest ride ever, 20 miles. Since then, Elaine has bought her own bicycle and at this year's Livestrong Challenge, my 8th one, side by side, we were together for the long ride when she more than doubled it to 45 miles. Linda was at the finish line giving roses to cancer survivors and I might have whispered to her that her ring was about to get used later that week. I'm not sure we've ever smiled wider at each other. 

Working out the details of the moment was somehow simple and emotionally compelling... we had to get up at five on race morning to get there on time. As she had for so long, my Iphone once again gave me the direction to "Choose An Elaine" and I wanted to respond 'I already have Siri, chill out, just give me a couple more hours before I ask.'  I played the song that this blog borrows it's title from, that is quoted at the top, the writing's on the wall. The James Bond girl and I were starting our day with the theme song from it. I tried to somehow connect it without giving it away by saying we were going to have some special walls today of going under, over. "I'm prepared for this, I never shoot to miss." I made a reference to the upcoming spear throw and that I've gotten a great batting record at it but I knew that it was that I was prepared for THIS. She referenced that she didn't want help on any of the obstacles, she'd been going to the gym and had for a long time referenced it as her A race. I played it one more time...

Somehow, that was the longest drive ever to a race. But while I usually use pump up songs on the way to races, it was the romantic ones that didn't get skipped as it shuffled through them.  I had told my cousin the night before that I was going to figure out a way to write it on a wall while he distracted her. Once I met up with him, he knew where it was going to happen but because it was literally a few degrees above freezing so he said let's go to the sun. I said I'll catch up I gotta say hi to someone... might have noticed a race photographer to also take the shots. Usually Spartan has a chalkboard wall with their logo but this time it was a plastic one... I had asked for their blessing but would have done it anyway and wrote will you marry me? I called Omar back and said let's get a pre race picture. I had originally planned to say oh I gotta tie my shoes for an excuse to kneel but forgot that part. So I just knelt and at some level I was glad it was so cold because then it could seem like the shaking of my hands was due to low body temperature. I asked will you marry me and she said... 'what are you doing? what's going on? are you being serious? is this real?' My cousin said she looked really confused and unsure as to how to respond to that I pointed at the writing and said 'see, look, I wrote it on the wall.' Not sure why that was the convincing point but she looked at it and said yes. There will be a you may now kiss the bride but that day I just needed her permission. 

We dropped off our stuff and then did the race. Very early on, in that 14 mile race in stiff cold, we were under water chest high. In most races I overheat from the constant movement so might appreciate an ice bath mid race but in Spartans the obstacles stop you from the constant movement so I've never been so cold in a race. The mud seemed stickier and colder. The barbed wire though, one of the obstacles I hate the most went by faster than it ever had in both its first and second iteration maybe cause I kept seeing Elaine through each roll amidst rocks.  Elaine got obstacles she'd never gotten before like the monkey bars, the hoist, and the traverse wall without an ounce of help. She would joke that maybe the ring gave her extra grip strength. For the first time ever, we both nailed every wall obstacle including her first time getting the 8 foot wall and that moment where we dunked fully underwater for the dunk wall. I guess the writing at the first one made the writing more powerful than any wall could be. She did less burpees that day than ever and I hear that ranch has good natural views but I swear that the best one was a moving one in front of me and I got to go back to Austin with her after. 

We sat on the drive back and traded some of the stories written herein. She was apologetic about not being sure if I was being serious and I responded with, 'who jokes about something like that?' Elaine used to do improv and said she may have grown desensitized because an oft used mechanism when a scene is fading is for an improviser to drop to a knee to propose to work something from there. I had posted it shortly after doing it before heading to the race so there were missed texts, calls and social media but I'd save that for another day, this day was just about the start of a promise. Somehow the only call that made it while I was on my phone was from halfway around the world. Elaine and I have gotten to attend several weddings in the last year (talk about power of suggestion) but the only one I was in was a groomsman in Egypt. Louay called and said when we knew the date and time to let him know and he'd get here. 

We won't do things like official engagement pictures, Spartan had race photographers out there and hopefully they caught at least one during the actual race. Neither of us is particularly good at posing for the camera but many of the best pictures of us have been spontaneous with two of our favorites at being at weddings, that one in Egypt and one here in Austin. I'm glad that it's in sharing life where we smile so well. 

I've been amused at how quickly people think we should have wedding details figured out when she didn't even know I was proposing but we've started working on it. There's a date in mind if we can find a venue, there are groomsman and bridesmaids. I actually had already picked out another ring but wanted to get her approval and ring size. I'd ran it by a friend who works in jewelry .. who liked it but asked if Elaine wouldn't want a more traditional ring.  I responded and said someone who wants everything super traditional probably wouldn't make it long with me. Thankfully, Elaine approved and I now know her ring size. Seeing how overwhelming planning a wedding might get, I wondered if in the age of email and ecommerce, Elaine might approve of eloping but ultimately we got here together but also with friends and family and we want to have a chance to make that commitment with them. We're both nerds at our own level and I had once made reference to how people shouldn't propose too soon because some things changes in the way we see our significant others seems to shift around the two year mark. Obviously I follow scientific principles cause I proposed two years and one month after we started dating. 

Still, I proposed at the beginning of a race, before the hardest event I do every year, before the first beast she's ever done. The race went well but not perfect, the conditions pre-proposal were tougher than I had imagined or than I had ever done a Spartan in. But through the mess, through the hills, somethings didn't go well there. Elaine took a rope to the face that made her cry, I took a cut to the leg that made me bleed, there were failed obstacles but there was never a moment where the thought of a did-not-finish crossed either of our minds. Blood, sweat, and tears are better and easier in good company. Jones once said that love isn't what makes the world go round; it's what makes the ride worthwhile. Elaine and I have had some awesome adventures but I fully believe we're just getting started. 

I've been here before
But always hit the floor
I've spent a lifetime runnin'
And I always get away
With Elaine I'm feeling something
That makes me want to stay

Monday, October 23, 2017

Get the Job Done

I'm less than 2 weeks away from being above average in the diffuse astrocytoma world, the 7 year median survival rate is November 5, 2010. In different cultures, we make a big deal out of certain birthdays, quiƱceaneras for hispanic females, sweet 16 for females here in the USA,  bar mitzvahs for 13 year old Jewish boys, 18 and and 21 for legal reasons. I once was a volunteer in the Marshall Islands, where the biggest birthday party is the kemem, the 1st birthday party. In a country that once upon a time had much much higher child mortality rates than most places, they had figured out that if a child got to their 1st birthday party... well their chances of making adulthood were significantly higher. I didn't do much of anything for Kiana's 1st birthday party... didn't see a point in spending much energy in something she'd not remember and could barely figure out what it was but we've partied up a few since then. 

I still don't do much for my birthdays since I was born I've gotten over it but I'm excited about November 5, 2017. It's funny for being born 8/8/80 my age for the 1st 10 years of Life Part I was the last digit of the year. When you get cancer on November 5, 2010, it's turned out to be true for Life Part II as well. I think some good things will come if I make it to 007... A few years ago I wouldn't have bet it on but less than 2 weeks out, I'm recklessly optimistic. What celebration plans do I have? My mom is coming into town to cheer on a race I've looked forward to and planned since this summer where Kiana will cover her longest distance yet, 10 miles at 10 years of age. Even with a damaged memory, remembering this upcoming 5th of November I think is likely. 

But that's something I planned and trained for, the chess player in me thinking a few moves in advances trying to keep things in check. How we got here was team work and reacting correctly and that has absolutely showed for the last few weeks. The day after the last time I blogged I raced the 80's 8k and while I had talked a lot of smack to my bromance Chris about beating him, he actually would win the race outright a PR for him and his first overall win (and a faster PR than I have in that distance), something he credited my talking trash to (in an interview, in a podcast cause that's when you want your trash talk exposed when you're on the losing end). He did say it got him to check out the course more but I still had the cooler outfit and I mean that's what really counts in races right :)? Obviously I wish I'd beaten him but as I tried to catch up to him in the last mile I did finish with a 5:30 mile but so did he so I ended up in 3rd place overall. 

I actually wasn't signed up for that race till after the Philly Half went rough. I was wondering if it was a mental collapse and I'm not the type to make excuses but we were trying a new medication to try to fix my piss poor problems which apparently can bring on exhaustion and lower blood pressure. Let's just say that's now in the trash and while we prescribed another medication to try... I have not. I like to think I'm alive due to moving so much so let me keep doing that and taking medications for side effects of the seizure one that have other side effects is not a price I'm willing to pay. I almost bought it when my doctor said look the side effects of the brain medication you're on are way more than this one but life comes with pain so accepting that will make it easier from here on out. 

There was certainly an individual who put that in perspective. Last few years, a couple of UT professors have invited me multiple times to speak to their students. I used to think of it as flattering but it's probably like when I let Kiana help with the cooking or the librarian at school uses her as a librarian's assistant where you're going yeah I'm helping the overall situation and helping an individual by making my load lighter. But one of the students in there was a young man who was in a wheelchair, Archer. It was a political history class and after I spoke the professor did his lecture and then let students opt out of the end of class where they engaged in political conversations. Archer and the Professor were on opposite ends of the political spectrum and clearly thought the other one was wrong about their views on the role of government (despite that they somehow could think that without thinking the other was evil). Shortly after that, Archer asked to be pushed for the race that the professor and I had encouraged the student to run, 10 miles and we pulled it off in a solid time, the 1st time I'd been behind a stroller in about a year and Archer was a little tougher to take up hills than Kiana. This year Archer asked us to step up for more than a mile in his shoes in an event called, Archer's challenge. People had to do their regular tasks from a workday to a workout in a wheelchair. We put together a group of runners who did a relay, A RELAY!, of a little over 3 miles and it took 4 us more time to do that loop on a trail we all regularly run than it had taken 2 of us to run 10 miles behind Archer the year before. We appreciated Archer spending sometime in the middle talking to us in order to get the job done. It was not a timed event but someone on our team might have noticed we took 3rd place. 

I'd go from there to an ultimate tournament where we won or lost every game by one point so they were long drawn out games (on the plus side there was an ice cream break in the middle of the tournament where I defended my title as the ice cream eating champion!).  I got home to join Kiana for her longest training run yet, an 8 miler. The next day I got to pace a half marathon, 1st time doing so trying to keep 1:40 pace and I ended up with a 1:39.57, thinking I got my job done. But between the two days, my hamstring was cramping up bad at dinner. I went and laid out on the bean bag. Somehow life has been kind enough to give me some great family and my mom got me a drink while Elaine and Kiana came and just chatted with me as I tried to roll it out. My mom caught a picture of us all on the beanbag. That smile is nothing but thankfulness.

Unsurprisingly, the guy whose not sure whether or not he'll make 40, doesn't want to miss any chances. Last year we had a Ragnar relay team of 8 and we won the coed division and took the 2nd fastest overall time. Somehow a few days before the event, we collapsed and were down to 3. So I asked those who remained if we could just turn into an ultra team (so instead of 15.5 miles we'd all have to do 31 and find a 4th). Everyone agreed and we actually would end up with 2 people saying yes so Elaine whose been coming back from an injury bowed out and we turned into a men's ultra team. During the race, one the guys had a recurring injury come up and in order to fulfill our commitment we had to rebalance the rest of the over remaining 100 miles between 3 of us. Phil had never even done a half marathon, Mike was 2 weeks removed from a marathon, and I'd never done an ultra and this is the 1st year since I started that I haven't done a full... Low energy, high heat and humidity and Elaine turned into team manager/babysitter keeping track of where we were and needed to be. During my longest one time stint of 15.5 miles that started at 3 AM, I kept it going. We kept moving up in the rankings from 7th to 5th to 2nd but then back to 5th and then to 4th... I might be a bit competitive and I saw the rankings in the middle of my longest leg we were in second place. A song inspired from Hamilton was playing and I shouted it in transition to some cheering and then I went and lived it out knowing how far we'd come. I'd get about 3 hours till my next leg but when it was done, we'd won the Ultra Division and we'd gotten the job done

But there were still promises to keep after a night of no sleep so we went home and went to bed at 5 PM to get up the next morning for the Livestrong Challenge. The first one I did was my fastest 5k at the time, not even owning a bike. The next 5 were all Centuries, 100 mile rides and I would even say that I have ridden 500 miles and I would ride 500 miles for Livestrong. Perhaps I will but you gotta ask why did I do those all by myself?  For a guy who was in a video 5 years ago where I said the smartest thing I've ever said is, 'you have to work on the relationships you want to keep' it's a little bit odd that it wasn't till my 7th one where I rode with Kiana on her longest ride, 20 miles for the 20th anniversary. This year I rode with Elaine where she rode her furthest ever, 45 miles. I know we like individualism and I'm certainly proud of many individual successes but it's the team ones that are closest to my heart. Life is better with good teamwork. Relationships is my favorite why and how to get the job done. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

My life, my love, my God, they came from pain

'Take up my message from the veins
Speaking my lesson from the brain
Seeing the beauty through the pain'

I never can quite decide whether my approach to accepting that some of life will never makes sense is a sensical approach. Having a cancer that has no known dietary, genetic, lifestyle or environmental components is something I can never quite balance whether I've given it too much thought or not enough of it. It reminds me an old quote from college that there are things that if you think about too much you'll lose your mind but if you don't think about them at all, you'll lose your soul. They already took out some of my brain so I'm going to keep fighting for my soul. 

But there's been a lot of things that challenge the mind and the soul, destructive forces in nature, some we call political, others we call man made, others natural. The labeling or fault is obviously an important part of an equation to avoid repetition or get better at preventing... but while the past is prologue, the prologue's point is to get to fully appreciate the current story. 

I see people who say they have learned certain appreciative lessons from things that were destructive. In fact it's a regular occurrence in my life of people who say they are glad they got cancer because they learned to appreciate 'this' or 'that' because of it. I have a hard time saying that because I don't want to be thankful for something damaging. It's like I prefer learning from other people's mistakes, I just don't have enough time to make them all on my own. There is a friend who has heard me and another person tell their stories about cancer. He says it's very interesting to hear us talk about it and he wonders if the reason we sound so different is simply the age we got cancer. He says me getting at age 30 put it in perspective and made me appreciate the shortness of life and the reality of mortality. Our other friend beat it in childhood and he says it made him feel invincible to get through that and that our speeches come across that way even if some of it is the rhyme of getting through the challenges with the right company, the right attitude.

I was in New York last weekend with Elaine and we didn't throw away our shot at seeing Hamilton and Cats and Museums and memories that will last a lifetime. But while I was there I also had a few meals with people as I sometimes do when traveling that are I try to keep off the radar. It turns out if you're like me which is old fashioned (or perhaps just old) I can have very meaningful moments with people without hastags that I'm the only who has to like them. I had dinner with a friend's mom who passed away from cancer this summer. It happened too fast and I've kept in contact with her mom who says she appreciates and says often I'm the only one who checks this regularly on her. I've always thought that if I die of this there's no one I'd have more sympathy than my mother because we're not supposed to bury our children. I met her on a First Descents climbing trip which I raised money for the last time I wen to Boston. And when I'm completely honest with myself I wonder if staying in touch with some of the families those who have passed is a way to still try to reach out to them in a more tangible way. If it ever seems doing so brings on harsh reminders since I am also a cancer guy... I fade away but I try to make sure they never do. To this day, having been to too many cancer events, I've yet to go two full years without someone I met at one of them dying (and some of these have been events where no one was active and there were less than a dozen of us). I've raised money against cancer in general and brain cancer in specific hoping that eventually cancer goes the way of polio and leprosy where it's all but irrelevant globally and we just talk about the people who have to live with the effects of once having had it. Maybe this bar is too low but I just want to get to one where just two years later everyone from one event is alive, one day where everyone lives even if just a short while longer. She was supposed to be running the New York Marathon this year.

I also once again reunited with my friend Dave, the widow of someone who was supposed to be running the New York Marathon 3 years ago when I ran it. She would die on the 4th anniversary of my cancerversary of brain cancer, November 5, 2014. It is those type of events that always both increase the survivors guilt and the thankfulness to still be standing. The 7th one is less than a month away, a big one because it's the median survival rate of people with the surgery I had and I suppose the day after that I become above average. 

I reunited with Alexander, the guy who volunteered to lead me through my first Spartan. I'm on my way to my 5th year of trifectas if all goes well at the end of the month. He was the first to hand me a medal something I've passed along plenty since then, handing out happiness. He heard about me from the media and was there to help a cancer guy but we became friends. He's become a father since then, entered the Guinness book of world records and well the evening before I headed to see Cats I might have been a little buzzed as we did a couple of chugging contests at the bar before going there (not the worst way to see Cats just for the record). 

There were some precancer day friends to from Ultimate Frisbee. We'd catch some dancing and brunch and go to America's oldest pizzeria to try some New York style pie. It was good to realize we were still connected so far down the line. One lived there, one lives in Bahamas and just happened to be in town and there we met in NYC, a place I've now visited 8 times, every time with a new experience in what seems to be the center of the Universe. 

For a few moments, I almost let myself believe that almost all of those friends came because I'm an athletic guy and I would have met them all somehow through the climbing, the ultimate, the Spartans, the New York Marathon. For a few seconds, I almost believed it because happiness and solid connections come from healthy things like exercise right? But at the end of the day, my heart was too honest to let that hole in my brain let that logic slip and I once again realized and accepted that it's okay for parts of life to come from pain, from gaps. The song quoted about and the blog title is from Believer, a song I jam out too once in a while. It has many great lines like the ones quoted above but it makes it easier to accept that sometimes our beliefs about life, love and God they come from pain. 

The question isn't whether or not there is pain... we try to mask it with drugs both legal and illegal and activities. But while I was in New York, the only thing I've done every time is go see Van Gogh's Starry night. I also went and saw a few of his other pieces. Van Gogh also had a damaged mine, so damaged he would end his life by it but along the way he let his pain shout out beauty, in sunflowers, in churches, at night, in corn fields and even in his own version of selfies. I'll never have anywhere near his level of talent at anything but I hope that somewhere in between raising Kiana, and running races, and trying to be helpful in life that I'm expressing pain as hope, making them two sides of the same coin. 

Kiana's in 5th grade now and I'm thinking about what junior high and high school would best suit her. Elaine and I keep messing with the house in ways that really there's no point unless you think you're going to be there for a while. The long term thoughts keep getting longer and longer, because maybe, just maybe you start to realize that you're a believer that some of the last things that have entered your life are going to last. I've got about a dozen athletic events between now and my next MRI in early December and I promise to thank life, love and God for them like a true believer. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Middle Child

I am the second of three young men and while I have one, it takes no degree in psychology to diagnose some issues about middle children. I was never jealous of my older brother so of course I didn't super focus on soccer just because he was very good at it. I was never jealous of my little brother getting more attention when I was just a few years old nor do I care now that he's a better cook than me. I don't even remember that they took turns attending my graduations even though I attended both of theirs... but I digress ;). I may be showing why the strengths I have that are different than the ones I have are ones I'm super competitive in even if I'm the shortest of the three, the least handsome.

Seriously speaking though, in an age where we seem to struggle with self value and come up with ways to cope by labeling everyone as losers or winners or having a lot of participation trophies... my diagnosis is that most days, most times, almost all of us lie somewhere in the middle and well childhood prepared me well for that. While I've certainly heard some people who struggled with it, I don't really remember a moment where I felt a lack of my mom's attention or affection due to my birth order so somewhere in the middle wasn't so bad.

In fact, even as I get invited still for different cancer events or races or speaking engagements, I know that I get invited because I've won and placed in races. But with rare exception and probably still, I finish with the story of my mother finishing last in her first half marathon. Of course I always mention Kiana and how somehow this kid has never not PR'ed but perhaps... perhaps I'll find a way with the invitations coming up to to highlight that well just by the nature of it, while she's having personal victories and of course age group victories, she's usually somewhere in the middle and in my book there's nothing wrong with that as long as you're pushing.

Speaking of meeting in the middle and pushing, some races have gone very well recently. The BrainPower 5k, the race that was announced on my first birthday after brain surgery, the one where it was my first win since college, the one where I was the top fundraiser, all of which combined to make me realize it wasn't time to hang up the running shoes just yet was less than two weeks. Like a recipe that keeps improving or that small decoration or remodel that makes the house feel so much better, this race has continue to add in its special memories to me. It was my mom's first race one year, it was Kiana's first 10k. It's been one where I had the biggest team, the fastest team. It's one where I've met some great brain tumor survivors even as the frustration grows in seeing more 'in honor of' and 'in memory of' signs. But stressors and damage comes in life and that part of the story may be inevitable but we get to write how we react to it.

I won it in it's 1st year and thought that was an eye opener but it was just a blink in the end. But 3 years later in it's 4th iteration, I would win it again but when the awards ceremony came I wasn't around. Because there finishing last with some help from a nurse navigator and a member of my team was my friend Minerva, who diagnosed only a few months later and having sat through rehab was slowly moving forward and I was at the finish line cheering her on. I missed the awards ceremony that year but I saw something much more important. She's had 5 brain surgeries since being diagnosed, has had too sit through way too much rehab. I've visited her at her hospital, at her home and she reached out asking if I could push her in her wheelchair. We upped it one and there was an Ainsley's angel who had signed up to push someone in an adult stroller but thought they were just in shape for the 5k and I certainly didn't want to nudge them. It kind of was a good compromise cause I was planning on running with Kiana for her 5k. Minerva wanted to do the 10k because she had never gone the long distance the race offers and I said I'd push her for the 2nd half with it being a double loop. Kiana's race went very well. She now has her own GPS watch (my previous that looks gigantic on her but she loves it) and I did not pace her, just told her what pace to go. She got her fasted 5k by a little over 30 seconds for an exact 23:00.

I usually struggle with her growing up but this was one of those days I needed her to and we had talked before the race about what she needed to do afterwards while I went and did my second loop. I didn't include dancing in those instructions but somehow she managed to pull that in. But the second loop was magical. It was the fastest Minerva has ever moved on non motorized vehicles. The first loop well let's just say they were more polite than this guy because they would say excuse me and walk around or wait when there were large groups of people (probably the proper etiquette). On my loop, it was me shouting on your left, zig zagging, getting on the other side to move as fast as possible. I am not really in stroller shape these days and it would turn out I'd be sore the next day but Minerva said it was a lot of fun to move this way. Kiana won her age group, Minerva won her age group and even with me pacing these two lovely ladies, I took 3rd in my age group. But while Minerva credits me with her signing up for her first one and I think it an absolute wonderful memory to see her spirit take her to be the last finisher, meeting literally in the middle of this one, the story didn't end just that cleanly. Minerva I think thought that since she is not as mobile these days that I'd be pushing her across the finish line but that's not the way I view her capacity or the university so when we were to that last straight away that I once cheered her on, she got out of that stroller and slowly but surely, she got herself all the way across that final section of the course. There wasn't a moment I wasn't beside her in case something went wrong because us brain tumor survivors you better believe we've got each other's back. A local paper covered it in case you missed it but like pretty much everything ever written in this blog, it was far better experienced in person.

Only a few days later, I'd be headed to Philadelphia to run with Voices Against Brain Cancer in the Philadelphia half marathon. The guy who usually recruits us, Kevin Ogborn got motivated to run his own first half marathon as part of it. There were 3 of us out there who managed to raise almost $3000 for the cause (not to late to donate). It was a gorgeous and fun course and like with Minerva I was there cheering Kevin's finish at his longest distance yet. I was inspired by a guy literally stepping into new adventures for the cause.

 In both of those races because of my pace or pacing, I was somewhere in the middle but afterwards, Kevin was received by his wife and two daughters. Minerva would go home to a happy mother. In both Philadelphia and Austin, I'd have my girlfriend Elaine (who by the way placed 2nd in the brain power 5k and 4th in the Philadelphia 5k). Kiana and I were there for each other. I was part of and had a team in place for individual events everywhere. At the Brainpower 5k, my team might have taken plenty of the top spots overall and in age groups. Many of those people have been part of several of those races but I appreciate them all.

I mean there are people on my team who I've trusted with my daughter, with my dog, with my house, with financial things, with emotional things. I've passed by them in the middle of races and streets.
I've got a friend who jokes that he's really good at 2/3 of the relationships, the meeting them and getting a date and the breaking up part (ie there's no drama). I heckle him that that's like being good at the kick off and the closing play. Generally speaking it's the rest of the game that matters. The people who are there during big victories or big losses are memorable because those moments are easier to grasp in retrospect. But perhaps as I'm getting older or just plain getting old, I am more aware that it's the people who put up with you when you smell on the way home from an average slow long run or do those with you, the people who help you clean up after the party, the people who join you for the shopping or the picking up dog poop, the people who help you put away the dishes, those are the ones that matter the most, the ones that join you for the middle of the road stuff in life. It's too easy to overlook them sometimes but these are the relationships I most want to work on, these are the relationships I most want to keep.

Every once in a while when I share these stories on social media or in person, it has been suggested that I write a book. I always shrug it off because it takes a cursory reading of this blog to see how bad my writing is. Still someone recently suggested it on my facebook post that they'll pre order my book and I commented "Once upon a time, there was this guy who put one foot in front of the other. The end." Someone wrote a great follow up comment which was, you're nowhere the end. That comment, that moment, from childhood till today, I am thankful to realize that for me right now, the middle is a good place.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

But Every Now and Then I Fall Apart

We can take it to the end of the line 
     Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time 
I don't know what to do and I'm always in the dark
     We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
I really need you tonight
     Forever's gonna start tonight

Yesterday was one of those spectacular events, a total eclipse... if you were in the right place at the right time with the right weather. Otherwise, it was another day/night and even in places, like here in Austin, it wouldn't be hard to miss since its peak was about a minute at 65% at 1:10. I got out there, set up my iphone to take a picture of it and it was pretty cool (hot actually since its Texas August). Its not like I was nerdy enough to watch other views and reactions to it on TV and social media and the internet before and after my own personal experience. (Also, in case anyone asks, there's no way I started an astronomy club when I was in middle school or decorated my daughter's room with glow in the dark star constellations or named her after the Hawaiian moon goddess, oh wait...).

But I sat out there on Kiana's first day of school with a little extra time to spare and reflect which is where most of this train of thought today is coming from. I'm almost at 7 years of cancer, the median for people with my type of brain tumor. Is that almost a passing grade for a kid who who liked straight A's? But the grade that was messing with me the most was that morning I had dropped Kiana off for 5th grade, the last year of my dear's elementary. Hadn't it only been 5 minutes since Kindergarten started and I was the one making pancakes, plain old ones, not the blueberry and chocolate chip ones that she had made into smiley faces that morning? Everyone else was thinking about the don't look at the sun without proper eyewear during an eclipse (by the way isn't that just good advice on say any day?) but the advice I keep giving myself as Kiana grows up also has to do with my eyes but it's even more basic, just don't blink.

We had just returned from a trip to Alaska Friday. Without exception we took a hike and adventure into nature everyday. There were boat, helicopter, train, bicycle, off road vehicle tooks you could purchase but if you're in the last frontier, it just felt right to do it on our feet (though to get to the different adventures it probably was the most I've driven in one week). It will go down probably as the one week of my life that without any injuries or impediments, I was walking more than I was running. We climbed up Glacier Exit for a 9 mile round trip where Kiana was shouting and singing snow and threw a snowball at me. We climbed Mt. Marathon, a hill so steep that when they do a 5k on it people like me who do a 5k at almost a 1/4 that speed can't break an hour on it. I kept insisting to Kiana that she had now done her first marathon, a premise she rejected since it wasn't 26.2 miles. We finally compromised and said her first marathon was a mountain climb. Elaine had put together the entire trip and we realized that this 10 year old had enough energy to where there were times we were struggling on keeping up with her on some of the hikes. On one of them she literally would run to a section and come back to our walking speed, run out again. We ate a variety of local foods from salmon to reindeer to picking wild blueberries (sorry mom we ate them right off the vine without washing them, neither they nor the salmon, gave us salmonella).

Due to the nature of often needing your hands on some of the climbing, that a lot of it was on rainy days, and that there was no reception on mountains, my phone was away from me most of the time, social media tucked away with great landscapes in front of us. A week with each other showed clear natural, organic connections on so many levels. It was never lonely at the top, the middle or the bottom. On the way back down from our last and most dangerous climb, I took a serious fall and slid down some rocks and let out a string of swear words that is rare for me. I am not sure I've ever sworn quite that many times in a row but I'd certainly never done it in front of Kiana. When I got to the bottom, I looked up at Kiana, semi apologized and told her if she ever thought she was about to die in a bunch of rocks slide and she let out a bunch of swear words that even if everything turned out all right, she would not be in an ounce of trouble. She said okay and who knows if it was out of relief or reflection she said, well if you did die, you always say you want to die in the middle of an adventure. I laughed internally and externally smiled and said, that's true but I'd rather it not be one that you and Elaine are having to watch and remember. Maybe just maybe that fall and the thoughts immediately around it shows something about the way this kid and I are raising each other. Kiana would often shout when we were in certain areas because there were solid echos and she was amused by them. I encourage people to generally not live in echo chambers but that one was okay by me and perhaps the resounding of my approach towards life was at that mountain top when someone had laid out in rocks, 'love life' and I think each one of us at the top reaffirmed that we did.

There were things we'd hoped to catch up there that didn't happen. Mt. Denali, the great one, was not visible in any of the 3 days we were near it. The Northern Lights or even any stars were hardly visible because of cloud coverage (we did get to see the Northern Lights on our way out because it was a midnight flight out of the plane window). We got rained on the majority of the hikes and even when it wasn't raining every one was muddy and wet. But it was an absolutely incredibly great trip.

Okay perhaps not absolutely or at least not perfect. This is something that always percolates in my mind how much we strive for perfect or absolutes or totality. (There was an amusing moment in Alaska of a business building that was for sale but on the sign that had it for sale they had "John 3:16" and underneath "for sale by owner.") There were people here expressing large disappointment in that we weren't in the totality zone and I've already got facebook events for when it's total in Austin in 2024. I'm still not placing high best on whether or not I'll get to 2020 but either way I don't know that I think quite that far ahead on looking up into the sky.

In an age where it seems political or too much discourse is so black and white, where if you disagree with my wedge issue or candidate or favorite color then you are evil, it was comforting that a day that had started with rain, had great sunshine in the middle ended with the biggest rainbow, I've ever seen. There are hunters and hunted out there in the wild and Alaska has decided to leave them in place and not protect one from the other. There are other not native things like rats they are trying to eliminate but it is a minority of things that they take that approach, that attitude with. With most of life, it's live and let live and also die when the time comes. On most of those hikes if something had gone wrong, well we were on our own.

With John McCain being diagnosed with a higher grade of the same type of cancer that I do, there has been something floating in the news, the cancer communities, social media etc that I'm not quite sure what to do with. A basic google search will say that tweets of support from people like the who guy who he ran with against President, should not happen, "Cancer doesn't know what it's up against, give it hell.since plenty of people who try hard and give it all they got, well many of those still die. With this type of cancer, most of us still die from it. I've been trying to balance that with one of the mantras from Livestrong, 'attitude is everything.' Ours is a cancer that has no known dietary, genetic, lifestyle or environmental component but even the ones that have cleaner causes or cleaner treatments, there's none that have a 100% batting average or perhaps strikeout average is the better term. Even if you have cars with every safety feature and always do the speed limit with your seat belt on, random luck can happen and you can die in a car accident. Actually, no matter what, aren't the two certainties in life death and taxes (that's why I headed to Alaska to relieve my nerves on Texas tax free weekend)?

But does attitude matter? Should we dismiss it or dismiss the discourse of fighting against something within our system that is betraying something else within it? I think so thought it's not black and white and in the last 48 hours I've heard total eclipse of the heart more than I had in the last several years, even kareoked it to Kiana last night. I grant that Partial eclipse of the heart probably would not be as catchy of a song. Maybe why Livestrong go with "attitude is a high percentage change effector or at least it makes your mind and friends capacity better in the short and long run' (yeah I should never become a marketer). To dismiss attitude of fighting as irrelevant... isn't that somewhere not too far from dismissing medicine, hope, faith etc? Aren't they all ways that have given us tools to navigate life even if none are absolutely successful? A lot of life from conception to death is random but many of the things in the middle don't have to be and I believe attitude is one of those.

Neither life nor cancer is a clear journey for me, perhaps for anyone? It has had some well publicized messes and successes. My tumor isn't fully removed, it's just stable. These days the medical appointments are the exception not the regular occurrence of each month but there are still twice a day pill. I see and cheer for the people who get the NED, no evidence of disease, markers and mourn with those who it gets worse or with those who pass from it. Mount Marathon didn't have a clean trail for us on the way up or down (there apparently was an easy trail that we skipped and the tougher trail we made a wrong turn and didn't go up it). This was the only hike in which after a while Kiana had any complaints and I offered her to turn around early but she stated unequivocally no we've gotta get to the top. And we got there, with conviction and turned around with the same. We had some funs and some slips and cuts on the way down. I looked up the speeds and names of the Mount Marathon 5k runners and thats a way I thought of climbing to the top back on 4th of July when the event is held but ultimately decided that I'd rather do it at a family pace rather than a race one. Partial eclipses may not be as easy to write songs about, non absolutes may not be easier proclamations but I'm thankful to love life and find beauty in their presence. So maybe that's why there's something I can do as I continue to turn around to find bright eyes and why there's still light in my life.