Sunday, June 28, 2015

First and For Most

I was recently asked to speak at an upcoming event about my first time. I responded with my first time doing what... they said that was up to me... they were warned that you know I'm a typical male so they should be more specific but still left it open... This may well be the last speaking invitation I ever get ;)...

But at the risk of anyone whose coming to it knowing in advance, it'll be about my first kisses which were wonderful and horrible. She clearly had more experience than I did and it lasted all of a second and then someone got our attention and two teenagers were too shy to acknowledge anything. I didn't know at the time but because of an unexpected move, I would never see her again.  It would be months before the second one and the second girl, who would be my first girlfriend (and if anyone's wondering how romantic I get, I still use the way she put together my initials when I was 14 to this very day). After trying to kiss her, she looked up and said, you don't do this very often do you? I tried to be witty and said, "teach me."

The speech itself is actually at Livestrong and I am going to be reflecting a little bit of the approach I've taken since the cancer diagnosis which perhaps for too long was taking opportunities as if they were the last time. Has there been wisdom in that? I think some of course but as I sit here and wake up to some of the things that have been turned off, I can only wonder if perhaps a slight tune up would have been to keep the tune of first time because your first time at anything may well be your last time but if you only go in with your lifetime, you want to do your best but you're obviously not paying attention to the ways a future time could get better. 

And so June is about to wrap up and I'm thinking about some really cool stuff. It's only the second time ever in my life I've done 5 races in one month and the first time I've ever I've won 3 of them (which is 2 more than I'd won in all the other months of this year combined)! Well let me back up a little because while coming in first is cool (I am competitive), exactly 2 of those races were on the calendar not too long ago. An inaugural Voices Against Brain Cancer race in New Jersey which started it all, my first race and function as ARC president. Those were great and then I
got to go AT&T stadium, my first time in the New Cowboys stadium (yes I am a Cowboys fan and proud of it!). Just walking into the building and realizing that my first time there was exciting but realizing that it wasn't a spectator, it was as an athlete. We got to run through locker rooms and all the way to the top of the stairs, we crossed the 50 yard line star as athletes getting obstacles done (though not being chased down by gigantic NFL players). I saw some new obstacles and got them done (though we were being put on the big screen and of course the one time I made it was when I failed an obstacle and had to do burpees). Then I went back and cheered on the family and friends that were doing the course (does that make me a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader? Wanting and Dallas Cowboys cheerleader has gone through my mind before but wanting to be one wasn't how those usually go through my head).

The kids course has gotten cooler obstacle. But speaking of that, that was my  my favorite part of the weekend. I've gotten lots of family to join different races and a few friends but the friend I've had continuously for the longest time, since I was 8 and she was 9 came and did her first Spartan and then our kids, our kids did the race together at 8 and 10. Talk about circle of life stuff! Someone gave me a kilt once upon a time and I combined it with compression socks joking to Kiana about how this was how much skin you should be showing when wearing a skirt, a joke that luckily she doesn't yet understand. Still it was father's day weekend and my mom was there and would come to start the summer off with us and I'm not sure it could have been better.

But the firsts of the month things continued, there is this word game that Kiana has got me playing and I let her know that unlike running which I do next to her that there will be some things I never let her beat me at until she actually does it (she'll be learning chess this summer). On this word game, I thought it'd be a while, it was less than a month since we started playing and she beat me 3 times in a row! I mean I let her win ;).

And they happen with the position that I took as ARC president, I may be biased but I like to think the one I'm a part of is the best ARC board ever but as we get new things done or bigger things done, I think and say to them and to myself, "we're just getting started." And the nobility with which they are working hard as volunteers show that they know how to put other people first. So we have made some first time partnerships and tried to renew ones. It's a long way to go and some factors are out of our control but we had a great first month and did I mention we're just getting started.

And then on my first race ever on a driveway that I'd biked on, I'd been meaning to do one but the two I had in mine gotten cancelled because of all the rain, I went to one unexpectedly because another event I was going to had gotten rained out. And in my 4th race of the month, I took first place, first time I've ever won 2 races in one month since college which was done by my friend Kate who won the women's division for her second w of the month.. And because it's on a course that is 1.6 miles and we do two loops, it was actually a 3.2 race which I've been working a little more on speed after the calf healed and the long distance stuff was out of season and it was faster than the two 3.1 races I've done this month! I wasn't in the lead till the second half but it was pretty cool to get the W...

At everyone of these races, I've gone out with friends and family, people I love cause that's my style, the best style. And my ARC vice president and friend Elaine, she was celebrating her birthday by doing a trail race, Captain Karl's Pedernales Falls. It was my first one so I signed up for the 10k, she was doing the 30k. We actually had 8 people from our running group out there and all of them finished and 5 of them places with Elaine taking the women's 30k division and 7th over all. I would win the 10k but I wasn't in the lead till the second half. If you're wondering who I was trailing and who came in second place over all by less than a minute, it was a 14 year old high school girl! She's already one of those girls that doesn't chase boys... She passes them. It's very different to race on trails but it was kind of cool to get my feet wet with a win (literally got my feet wet, we had to run through a lake that had overflowed to the lake because of all the rain).

If you'd told me June 1st that I would have been doing 5 races by the end of the month, I might have believed you. If you had told me I was going to win 3 of them, I would have laughed at you. Still there's this lady from church who I affectionally called church lady who introduced me to a song Afterlife, one that has never made a race playlist but will make one soon. I've been listening to it a bit more... with lines that I am perhaps only starting to put together:

Living like you're dying isn't living at all
Give me your cold hands put them on my heart
Raise a glass to everyone who thinks
They'll never make it through this life
To live a brand-new start

We're going to live tonight cause there's no tomorrow
cause we're the afterlife.

So I've woken up in ambulances, I still have cancer all of which were unexpected. And there are things I should and will do with precautions because of that. And while I will probably still take some things as my last time (will I ever get to do any of those races again, who knows?) I will also take them as my first time because on your first time you're excited, enthusiastic and trying to do your best but still trying to learn. For me, for the most part, I try to put the people I'm grateful for first. I don't want to be like cancer which lives primarily for itself. And it hasn't always been entirely consistent but life has been kind to me where my first marathon with a stroller turned into what it did, my month with the most wins was to share life with people I care about. So perhaps the way what I've called life part II, what that song has labeled after life has worked out because has been so kind is because the universe balances itself with putting others first most of the time. After all, if you don't believe me, ask about that girl who I first kissed, I still smile at the memory 20 years later.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Happiness of Pursuit

One of those great declarations says that we are all created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. While waiting to show up to get MRI results, well,  I have no question how alien it feels to have someone else be the one who has a better idea of what my brain currently looks like. It certainly doesn't feel right that it seems that someone else has the liberty to more accurately interpret what's going on with something that could threaten my life which could certainly affect my happiness.

It is perhaps that reason, that OCD wants to have some say in this disease that I always take a copy of the CD home. After the last MRI, I was given a new Mac computer for Christmas which I've loved but on that day I despised it. Well let me take it back a step and say I was amused to realize my MRI was on national running day. I personally think everyday should be nationally acclaimed for running but as is my typical custom I ran home from the MRI. I always say I'm not sure if I'm running to or from something but that day, well that day I knew I was running from a machine I hate to a home I love. And then when I went to look at my CD, to pretend like I knew how to read it, there was a notice on it that, unlike in windows, it doesn't just automatically work. In fact it said this does not work on Mac's so for the first time in years... I didn't get to see my MRI before hearing the doctor's interpretation. 

The time between the test and the results the clock seems to be a lot slower but we did what we could. Kiana did her own run on national running day. And then we went to a concert in the park where on the last school night Kiana might have gotten permission to stay out later than usual and to bed well past normal time (shh don't tell anyone). 

And then Thursday June 4th when I would find out the results, I tried to find ways to stay distracted through the morning. It was my little brother's birthday so I started remembering funny memories like when we went camping and his head was on fire which I reminded him privately by posting it on facebook (if he was wittier he might have retorted with at least my fire was outside my skull but he's probably too kind to say that on MRI results day). Then I showed up to awards assembly where Kiana was one of a vast minority of students who had perfect attendance. I can't say I am not super proud of this since I'm the one who walks her to school almost every single day and because it sends a message I hope to always encourage, you can't make any difference without showing up. 

Then that wait which always seems endless ended with results that the MRI was still stable. Nothing had gotten better,
nothing had gotten worse. There was one thing that had never been there before which was fluid but apparently the body sometimes wants to fill empty spaces with water so the doctor said that unless I am getting really bad headaches, it's nothing to worry about. I am a constant pain in the ass but there have been no headaches. And then the guy who I've seen twice so far this year let me know we're going to take some space and not see each other again till December :). Actually, when we last met, he was telling me about some new studies and progress that was being made that could be dramatic but this time he didn't share anything like that. He simply said at one point "Maybe you'll be one of the lucky ones who this never grows on." He's never said anything remotely close to that and I have no idea what prompted it but perhaps my roommate who had gone with me caught it better than anyone because he immediately texted it to me. We would talk about the Boston marathon and upcoming races and events. There's many reasons I trust this brilliant mind but it's because despite being quirky enough to become a brain specialist and to wear bowties (bowties are cool; I've started wearing them since I met him), the reason he's a good doctor in my book is because he's a good human at sharing and receiving humanity. 

And somehow breathing easier I headed back to Kiana's end of year party at school where the girl had ended the last quarter of the school year with straight A's and improved behavior assessments. I hope she holds on to these skills and realizes that success is a marathon not a sprint. I don't know if there will be any more stroller races but she's done enough of her own races now to where I hope she goes from being pushed, to being besides her to doing things on her own in due time and that's the parallel I hope goes along with all of my parenting and when all the pursuits become entirely her own.

But before I knew the results, I knew that no matter what they were I was flying out the day after them to head to the east coast once again to help out with a couple of cancer causes. I got to be part of the inaugural team Livestrong marathon (first time I qualified for Boston), part of the inaugural Brain Power 5k (first race I'd won since college), the inaugural head for the cure 5k (first race Kiana won her age group) and now I got to once again join Voice's Against Brain Cancer. Their 8k in Central park in 2013 was the first and only one of 3 times I've ran faster with a stroller than without. I actually had not done a 5k on my own since the previous September when I won the brain power 5k and while I've kept running, I am well aware that the fast twitch muscles are different and hoping they worked. I couldn't resist starting the playlist with a song from Jersey Boys which feels the way  my life is on the good days, which is most days, that it was just too good be true. And while I've never prayed to beat cancer, figuring that there's plenty people who deserve God's attention more, I know there's been plenty of people who have done it for me and of course as I ran around there, I thanked God I was alive.

I don't usually write on the boards, not really thinking there are not adequate words evenn as a guy who talks and writes
too much. But I know that the first race I did with that was with Brian Conley who has passed away from brain cancer just a few weeks ago so in my head, in my heart I'd be running for Team Conley wearing my Duke gear, reminding me of where our paths had first crossed. It helped to start the race with a text from his wife to kick ass and take names. I gunned out with conviction, smiling at the guy who said since it was Jersey he'd bet $500 that I'd win it. I did win so I felt like I'd gotten the kicking ass part right. Fortunately, I was also given the privilege of introducing and announcing the courage award winners. Two years ago I was one of the recipients of that and I felt both fit and unworthy to be the one giving them in 2015. Each person had great stories like the person who put off surgery with multiple seizures to graduate college which was a long time and a lot of effort. There was a writer who did a great job of encapsulating her story and echoing those of others.. It was a tough moment for me to give one to a widow of someone who had passed away who had been at the first event I was at. It gives you perspective and I couldn't do anything but give her a hug. So I didn't take enough names but I certainly felt the honor of recognizing some good ones. I don't know where or what they'll do with those medals but I hope, I hope they serve as a reminder that there is a community that supports them, a gentle nudge like when someone puts soft fingers on your back because they don't know quite what to say but want to remind you they care immensely. Being surrounded and meeting people who were affected by brain tumors, winning a 5k and handing them awards. I'm not sure there was a better way to spend national cancer survivors day. 

The next morning I flew out to DC. It was an interesting reflection to go from Voices Against Brain Cancer to One Voice Against Cancer. E pluribus unum, from many one, is an idea shared a lot in the US government. And so to arrive from an agenda that's very specific to brain tumors to one that was about cancer in general felt fitting. Almost 50 organizations had joined hands that day. There was a lot to learn about appropriations, about the fact that government cancer research used to give grants to 1 in 3 trials, now it's 1 in 7. The funding for the cancer institute has not kept up with inflation and even when NHI has gotten additional funding it has not received it in proportion. We would meet with each of our state Senator's and House representatives. I'd love to tell you I met a bunch of bigwigs but while some delegations did ours would meet with representatives of representatives. I didn't know how long those meetings would go so I did my workout that morning at the hotel gym at 6 am. There were plenty of the One Voice Against Cancer folks already plenty of sweaty so it reminded me that while we are against a disease, I think most (all) of us were there pro health. My partner in crime was someone who had done this 3 times and was far more polished which I appreciated. She mentioned she appreciated my conversational approach but when you're a rookie that's the only approach you can really take. Each meeting felt better than the one before both in how we were presenting and how it was being received... Perhaps that's no coincidence. But I took each of their cards and they wanted follow up and well they're going to get it. 

This is DC and things don't happy too quickly. Generally speaking long lasting things occur fast and certainly not in government. Still when all my meeting were done, I took in a few of the memorials in a very quick walk before heading to the airport. I caught the new MLK memorial (a man who I've blogged about before) that said out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope. The cause he fought for was obviously different but it was intriguing that a guy who fought for so long to move things now was encased in a very solid way. This is perhaps the way some great change often happens, that active pursuit that if you do it happily even if it doesn't have the, will become something far more stable.

Still, in a recent crossfit workout, it was the first time I had done a team one with racing. My team was never in the lead but I kept helping in as many ways as I could. My Pr's are always in races where there's someone not too far from me ahead and not too far behind, the happiness of pursuit. This was the first time like that in crossfit and it was my favorite workout (it might have helped that while we didn't win we passed some people before the finish). Some of the people in Jersey, in DC while it was their first time for that organization or that event had done things like this before. Our ongoing pursuit had achieved things happily along the way but not nearly enough so we had to keep going. 

But in the middle of all this, I got to be in one of those homes where there seems to be so much love that you almost feel like it's your own home. It was one of those places that has optimism written in magnets and things on the wall and in the spirit that seems to just be in the air left over by people living and loving there. They had a magnet that said count your blessings everyday. While I appreciate the sentiment, after a few days like this, writing this blog where I realize each paragraph could have been it's own entry and this is just a way to encapsulate them in more diary format because they are so worth remember. So counting my blessings, I couldn't help but think there's no way I'll ever do that, I don't have that kind of time and I'm not sure I can count that high. But I'll keep happily pursuing them for the community and I dare dream that we will keep finding that's growing far faster and better than anything negative ever could. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Pleasure of Nightmares

Alfred Hitchhock said a very strange or perhaps very appropriate thing in regards to his movies, "Give them pleasure, the same pleasure they get from waking up from a nightmare." This is an interesting part of the human psychology that in simple frankness I don't quite understand enough to participate in. I don't watch horror movies or thrillers, I don't get on scary rides in theme parks not quite grasping the fun in a controlled scary but ultimately relatively safe choice. Now in case anyone thinks that's being too critical of people engage in those choices it may just show that people who chase their thrills that way are more intelligent than me since I've jumped out of a plane, off bridges, cliffsides. Like the runners shirt which says my sport is your sports punishment... perhaps those who enjoy the challenge of a whooping all like to get our spankings in different ways...

But I've finally actually figured out what my stress to MRI level indicator is I think... On the MRI's when most of my life is as settled as it can be, I am relatively calm until the day of or the day before. This is why I slept fine the night before brain surgery... I'd gotten things "in order" by putting off brain surgery to run a marathon, qualifying for Boston, I'd had some great meals with some good friends and put things in financial order for my daughter in case anything went wrong. In a stoic mind, losing the emotional human attachments will happen sometime regardless so I was trying to take that in stride. And every MRI since then my sleep patterns are related to how much I've got going and how clean my relationships are... it is why I often disconnect from people right before them.

Oddly right now, it is a sign of some very good things in my life that I've got going that I am not sleeping well the last few days before an MRI. I woke up to a horrible nightmare about how it going bad would damage both the relationships I'm working on and the projects I'm working on Saturday morning. My next few races are 5k's and Spartan sprints so I don't need to be doing any long runs but on a whim I woke up and went to meet with the Ship of Fools and ran 17 miles, the longest I've ran since Boston with every step of the way at varying speeds with some of the great friends I've made there. Then I went to breakfast with them and later that day we played poker. I've long said running is my therapy and how far I run and how long I run tells you just how bad I need therapy but it was very helpful. Still, at breakfast it was great to hear stories about what's going on in people's life as well as some guidance and suggestion on the office I've been in for less than two weeks, the president of the Austin Runner's club. I may have suggested to the people I'm working with most closely on this, the new Board, that shy of their president this was the best board ever... they continue to demonstrate that and impressed me to be thankful to be working with them. For perspective and because different presidents and boards have had different approaches, I have been reading through thousands of emails left in the official email. I've gotten to see people who were there before me as they reached out asking for guidance or offering to volunteer. It was amusing moments to see how some of them are leaders now or working in the running industry or have qualified for Boston since or were wondering if they would ever be able to run a marathon and have done a few since. It was intriguing to see the way people I've had conversations with since remember things as opposed to how they saw it in the present. But perhaps my favorite one was one where the new IT guy said to the new president that her email was now set up and how the new president was so attractive. They are engaged now :). I won poker that night against some of those running friends, some due to a little bit of skill and some just to the luck of the way the cards come out.

Yet, with an MRI coming up, and thinking about the odds,  it did not help to wake up Sunday morning to read the news of the Vice President's son Beau Biden had just passed away from brain cancer. I've seen stories of people with far better characters, far more money, far more influence get this and pass from it. Somewhere I feel guilt in standing with it because of the ones who are better men than I've ever been and it serves as an odd reminder of the fact that this does not discriminate in any form shape or manner. Because I live in a highly political town, I've gone to hear political candidates of both parties speak here in Austin and gotten to shake hands with a few (I voted for
Pedro). Joe Biden, whatever you may think of his politics and family always is more important that politics in my book, I was impressed with if for no other reason that I was really far back in the line and he still sat and talked to us for a few minutes. Perhaps the best thing I've heard in the news that Joe Biden says is parents know they're a success when their kids turn out better than them. I honestly can't imagine many things harder than a parent burying their children but I think Kiana's so far well ahed of me on the curve and I hope she finds a way to keep it up long after she's buried me.

It is these types of things why I am headed to the inaugural race of Voices Against Brain Cancer in New Jersey this Sunday and heading the next day to DC for an annual day of meeting with lawmakers put on by the American Cancer society, one voice against cancer. This may have affected my memory and languages skills but not enough to silence my voice to stand on its own or be part of the choir.

So I will keep trying to do what's right as best as I know how... it's been raining a lot here. There was a tree I blogged about once, one that I thought had died and had come back to life. (Tells you something about my life analogies or attention span that every single tree in my front yard has gotten blogged about). This same tree got struck by lightning over the storm and now is one branch sticking out of the branch. Like when it originally started growing back, I smile every time I see this thing holding onto life. When it rains Kiana still wants to play in it and go to the river and hang from branches. And perhaps even nature itself wants to remind me I have a heart because I found both a leaf and a rock with a heart on the same day recently.

So while there are nightmares about the MRI 48 hours from now and as always between Monday morning and Tuesday when I sit becomes a very long day.... I've got some good things scheduled to stay busy and happy between the two.  There are people, both those who have been through it and those who haven't who tell me not to worry about the MRI, that everything's going to be fine. With some cancer patients, myself included, one wonders if heading into an MRI with that attitude is naivete, denial, or optimism... The honest truth is I hate that machine, I hate being in it because it is the strongest reminder of how I learned I had brain cancer and a procedure where you're just laying on your back in a machine all by yourself. The noises don't bother me, just the inability to be able to do anything. I never quite know how to feel or what to think and have even fallen asleep in there. Perhaps though, because I have some new goals on the horizon, it's time to go into that machine with the dream that there will come a time where both that machine and I will be put out of commission and it isn't a race I would mind if the machine got finished first and I was way behind.

So I'm probably never signing up for Hitchhock's pleasure of waking up from nightmares voluntarily. But I will keep having good dreams. Jonas Salk, the guy who invented the polio vaccine (perhaps entirely appropriately since it's now being modified to fight brain cancer) said something that I like a lot more. He said "I have had dreams and I have had nightmares and I overcame the nightmares because of my dreams." Just getting through the MRI whether or not its stable isn't going to be quite enough; I'll try to head out of there to do good things. Because I'm competitive, my pleasure won't come from merely waking up from my nightmares but rather from beating them with my dreams.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Clouds be rolled back

To me life is magical, mystical, mysterious, wonderful. The simple act of getting up in the morning is the start of wonder as you try to make what dreams and fantasies life has let you have another chance at rising to them is a marvelous privilege.

This is the way I try to focus as MRI's get closer... I know people want to me to go just by how I feel but I felt fine moments before seizures everytime and it was MRI's that gave us a clue. Many cancer patients feel fine before imaging and the simple truth there are some things that some times feelings are not the indicators of truth. 

So to quell the nervousness... I try to focus on the positive. I've never had this rainy of a year in my almost 10 years of Austin and my lawn is in better shape so I capture a picture of my little girl and realize that the grass couldn't be any greener on any side of any fence. And she sits there and creates lions and giraffes and owls and monkeys out of toilet paper rolls and paper towel dispensers. I never had much of an artistic side (an elementary teacher once held up one of my assignments as an example of what not to do) but I sit here, trying to learn and absorb a girl who captures life better than any picture I've ever taken. She watches butterflies and snails with a care and wonder that I hope she never loses and that I dream, I hope I've contributed to in some way. 

And I realize that the things some of my family originally thought were crazy like races, they are now doing on their own and sometimes on the same course as me. All of the cousins who had done the previous weekend of Spartans came back and did it again the second weekend and improved their time and failure rate (myself included). And I went back and finished with all of them this time taking less time to find them on the course. Others are talking about doing races on their own again or joining me again. I don't know who to be more proud of among them, Cefy who did it all on his own long before he realized I did it and did it with an injury. Sammy who has been weight lifting all his life and is now signing up for 5k's and spartans which push him harder and he's moderating his diet and workout techniques to correspond, or Omar who was much smarter than me. It took me over 3 decades to realize that, yes some races you should do on your own but  the way you make some races special is to do it next to someone you love and in his son's first spartan they were a joint force that no obstacle would be enough for. I usually do the elite heat where we play for money and winner and all obstacles have to be done by themselves (sometimes figured out by yourself cause when you get there, there's no one else to watch in order to learn how it's done). And I'm competitive and I like it and realize that leaders in any field sometimes have to go a bit lonely to be innovators. They are extraordinary and should be commended as such but those of us who are just ordinary kids are glad to have some extra moments with each other.

And to head straight from the race to see my dad for his 70th birthday. It's not often that the three brothers are together but I was glad to have us there for a man who has been a force of nature for us, certainly for me or perhaps that would be better phrased as a man who has felt so natural to be part of the same family. He is not my biological father if we're arguing about genes but legally and more important at the heart of the matter, he is my dad. And like me, he grew up without a whole lot or too many birthday parties in Mexico and we had some very good serious conversations about many things including what he did with me, which was come into my life at a young age and then have a won with my mother which never have I perceived a difference in how much he loved and cared for each of us. But the man who gave me the Leon name we certainly had a good time cheering him hitting a Leon piƱata. It's not often I head to west Texas but I went straight from the finish line to his party for a several hour drive thankful for a lifetime of support as well as him having joined me for his first 3 5k's at 69 years of age. Appropriately enough, the next time we're celebrating a birthday will be the only time I'll likely celebrate one in my 30's at my brother's house
in portland where once again we do a spartan, first time a race falls on my birthday. Pinatas, burpees, whatever way we want to swing at catching a few more years. I mean seeing him turn 70 and hugging my grandpa who was 84 that weekend and remembering my great grandfather who made it into his 90's that we should definitely question the idea that only the good die young. Here's hoping I live to an old age because if I die young so that I can discredit that idea that way rather than the not so good dying young (I'm still young right?!?). 

Still as I rode home and had my iPhone shuffling through the many hundreds (thousands) of songs rather than a genre or a playlist, I took those moments to look back at that obviously since my wife left in the middle of cancer that there were some relationships I had not taken care of appropriately but also that I am closer now to many of my family members than I was before cancer. I don't know whether it's a mistake or a reveal when jobs, circumstances, cancer disrupt your relationships or a tell but I'm thankful for the ones that obviously moved the right way. A couple of people had shared some of their health issues so I looked back to my previous MRI were somehow life was kind enough to where right before those nervous moments someone came up to me unexpectedly and said "I'm a hugger" and hugged me right before the meeting with the machine and maybe the hug had enough strength to get me through two MRI's, guess we'll find out soon. But the song that got put on repeat a few times was the old hymn that came on, "It is well with my soul." I couldn't help but focus on the lined comparing life to weather. The previous race in Boston was cold, and windy and rainy; I thought of it like an ice bath and figured it had to be good for my joints. The Spartan races in Burnettt due to the rain were muddier than usual but it was warmer than the east coast so I figured the mud bath was good for my skin. But as I listened to an old hymn that my mom sang and hummed so much I took in the glorious weather and realized that no matter what had happened and no matter what had come... that well some part of my faith had become sight because it really all was well with my soul.

And I arrived home exactly as I had the previous time from west Texas to an Austin Runner's club run, a club that as of yesterday I am officially the president of. Home is where the heart is and leaving from races with cousins, to see my brothers and parents and grandparents and returning to the club I run with, well if home is where the heart is, seems like I was at home the entire time. I came home to work on logistics and I've actually been dealing with some medical billing issues from a couple of years ago that were incredibly frustrating but I went out and ran stairs to remind myself that if you do an intense enough workout, even if temporarily, at the top of those stairs you've put your problems beneath you. 

So I go to parties where we fight brain cancer with a race as we kick off the Brainpower 5k. And I sit through questions that I didn't expect where a pastor wanted to ask some questions so he could share it in his sermon this Sunday... And as I get ready for my first honest 5k racing by myself (the ones with Kiana were more fun so far this year) with Voices Against Brain Cancer in New Jersey followed up being an advocate in DC for One Voice Against Cancer... Both more important on a massive scale but on a personal scale hopefully preceded by a stable MRI, a happy ending to Kiana's 2nd grade, and someone to hug that puts in perspective. 

So the only thing that will roll back like a scroll is the medical room changing, I don't know what that MRI will put into sight but I have some faith that whatever my lot, I'll be greatful to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Quiescent Orientation

I was seeing my internal medicine doctor last week on 5 de Mayo for a 6 month check up and to my disappointment they had neither chips and salsa nor margarita... It started with checking my weight and pulse as it always done... not sure how reflective it was but I went literally there from hill repeats and it turned out I had lost weight (170 lbs of pure muscle baby, yeah right )but my heart rate was the highest they'd ever measured it at, 61. From an appointment in March where it was 42 to 61 was explained by coming straight from a workout.

It would not be long before the nurse and the doctors were checking my internals. They're both great beautiful brilliant woman. Still two women talking about what's in my blood while this was informative not exactly my fantasy of two women and what my blood is doing. They threw out counts and various things, some of which I understood and some of which I just accepted that even if nothing was wrong with my brain I likely would have never understood. The doctor though kept using a word about how quiescent my tumor was... she used it enough times to where I tried to subtly google what it meant but couldn't figure out how to spell it so I finally asked. It means dormant and/or inactive and she said that she honestly believed that how active I've stayed plus taking onthe variety of activities that I've taken on is keeping my tumor quiescent because other healthy cells are the ones using the energy's body to regenerate. That was obviously a theory and she mused about how being part of group statistics was probably not going to be too helpful (I am unique just like everyone else) because of how different I live life than so many other cancer patients but that she'd be intrigued to have me as case study. We talked about Boston and the upcoming Spartans. The appointment ended with two surprises both of them being pleasant. The first was that the internal appointments were going to become annual instead of biannual as long as things stay steady or improving really. All this time in this battle against cancer, I've been playing to win and lately I've started to believe I think I just might. The other was that like my neuro oncologist she was also leaving her practice but also taking me with her as one of the patients she was taking. I try to take it as a compliment that they take me with them and hope that it's not like a train wreck where they just can't take their eyes off the mess....

Still... I went from there a little bit more pumped about the Spartan race weekend. I hadn't done a race since Boston and hadn't done the Spartan since before that. Now I was going to be doing two races in one weekend, the Super in the Elite heat where I went back and cheered friends into the finish line. The one that I was more excited with in case it's not obvious that my favorite races are the ones with company was Sunday where it was the shorter race with my cousins. Now it wasn't like my brother's first Spartan where I did it side by side with him. This was a cousin who could bench press more in junior high than I can now. There was a cousin who was always more athletic than me and to me this was going to settle a generational argument about who was the best athlete even if all the girls think they're taller, darker and more handsome. 

Sammy actually came in to stay at my house the night before. Spartan right now has a campaign going of #whyIrace (cause things are cooler with hashtags) but he's a guy whose not really been doing aerobic stuff till recently running 5k's for the first time and this Spartan sprint would be the longest and hardest event he'd ever done. I asked him why he had started doing this and he told me it was a way to get over a girl and then we traded girl stories, mostly he wanted to hear about the girl kissed in Boston and turns out he had figured out who it was from a previous conversation so I was impressed with all aspects. But it made me realize why we're family because we'd figured out a way to calm the demons of our heads, our hearts of our emotions with healthy things when they were most disturbing.

I love marathons and always will but spartans have a special appeal to me in that I've done them in different places but they tweak the obstacles, make them different, put in new ones, make them harder. On Saturday during the super I had missed 3 (resulting in a 90 burpee penalty) but they were all ones I'd never seen before so that was comforting at some level (I was far more excited about the new ones that I'd gotten on the first try). It was rainy and muddy so I'd hit some rocks seriously in the worst possible way I've ever gotten shin splints... still I'd had enough left to jump over a fire into water to finish with conviction. 

Sunday I was not far from the finish when I saw my mother not far with the last 5 obstacles left. I had already missed the one I'd missed the day before and the other two were at the end. And internally I was like oh come on, I gotta try to do better, mom's cheering now on mother's day (this is the place where I should get judged for my mom coming to me on mother's day and not the other way around... do I get any credit that I stopped and gave her a muddy hug and kiss in the middle?). Still, somehow with actually far more ease than the day before I failed exactly zero of the obstacles she was watching which was true in the last Spartan she cheered so turns out loving your mom and feeling it back on the course is very good for me. 

Then I went back to finish with my cousin, my cousin Omar was doing it with a friend of his and was showing his athleticism. Then I went back to finish with Sammy who had less than a mile left but had started to struggle... Still there wasn't a single obstacle where he even seemed to suggest anything other than finding some way to get it done never taking the option of walking around it or doing burpees without at least trying. Perhaps the hardest thing to watch was when he took a serious slide down a muddy rope wall... he didn't say anything and I had climbed it and looked down at where he had slid and said... "well at least you've  wiped off the mud for the second climb..." His mom and my mom cheered their heart out as he did it once again all the way to the top successfully. He'd miss the same two obstacles I'd missed the first day and even as he sat there cramping we sat there and did burpees. It occurred to me that we should face the finish line which was a frisbee throw away so that even as we went down, every time we came up we got to have a glimpse at the goal he'd reach for the first time, a Spartan finish line. He got across the line and while I'm not usually much of a hugger, I couldn't resist embracing him with the heart and conviction he'd faced the course with. 

Less than 48 hours later both of the cousins since it's in Austin back to back weekend had signed up one more time. I think this time I'll remember to hug them at the beginning of the course too. Omar is even bringing his son and they're going to do the course side by side and my cousin Cefy is coming from West Texas so 4 cousins from four cities. I guess for some people racing is an individual sport but for me, it's something I do with people I love. 

Kiana and I had dinner tonight with a friend whose dad died of brain cancer. She told me stories about him and their childhood memories. About how he had outlived the prognosis and made it to 15 years. She told me about the cool activities they shared and some of the ones he did on his own. Like me, he had lost spatial orientation due to it all (I usually run with friends or a phone but my latest GPS watch Vivo Smart has a built in feature which points you back to where you started). I'm known for getting lost which has happened in races and workouts and I take the jokes about it good natured. That and the fact that I've been mostly a runner makes the spartans particularly tough but also particularly rewarding.  She shared about her dad had always stayed active but there were certain things in water events like surfing that the spatial orientation had made for some amusing and nerve wracking moments. e had clearly oriented life for her into active healthy things and the heavy negative things he'd kept quiescent by doing so far longer than expected.  The way she spoke about her dad with such affection and warmth that if I do half that good a job of parenting I'll be fortunate.

People have questioned why I don't focus more or just strict running or strict spartans or strict anything... they don't realize that like today where I went on a trail run and we stopped in the middle of it to drink water from a natural spring or to jump off a swing that landed in the lake. Those things reminds you the running is the excuse, loving life that's the reason. I had no clue where we were and Joe and Ty helped me stay on track but never once did I have to look to my watch or anywhere but my heart for the right orientation. And those 8 miles were more fun than any training run in a while with company. 

So I don't know why the tumor cells or at the things that haunt me I try to remember that I want to feed the right cells and the right parts of my body which are the parts that interact and love others and not just like cancer are all about self replicating... or like CS Lewis said

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

But I think in being vulnerable in new activities and in life and in love, it's made the ghosts of me quiescent and kept my head, my health and my heart to stay correctly orientated.

Monday, May 4, 2015

F is for...

After my last MRI back in December, I was given a new computer for Christmas which resulted in some interesting mistakes. But a guy who makes memory mistakes keeps a pretty accurate calendar to not miss being where he's supposed to be... for most things I set up a reminder of 30 minutes before but by the nature of my life some things take a few days preparation for travel etc. I don't know if it was the fact that I didn't know the way to put in calendar things correctly, the relief of the MRI going well, or just not paying attention. However just because the computer was given to me that day it would be the first thing I'd put in the calendar program and this morning I woke up that my next MRI is 30 days from today (the warning has been changed to minutes since then). I did not want that reminder this far out but I'm here trying to absorb it. I try to remind myself about that there was time the MRI's were a month apart and then 2 months apart and now they are where they will remain until as long as things are stable, 6 months apart.

I try to be a planner so in simple frankness my MRI schedule revolves around one thing which will be no surprise to anyone who knows me.  The MRI's are always around the end of the semester in case there is something growing or something bad then I can enjoy the Christmas/Summer vacation with Kiana and if it's necessary for her to change schools it'll be a more "convenient/smoother transitional" time from her to having to change from the house she's lived in since birth and the only school she's ever attended. While some have called that planning sentiment cautiously noble on moments of more awareness or honesty, I have to acknowledge to me and well this blog that it may just be trying to have some say in the parts of my life that are uncontrollable. I've been commended for finding doctors which enabled my running and exercise habits despite other medical restrictions (scuba diving, soccer, being on a roof)... it's a delicate dance to me which parts of my life they and I are in charge of, people who I've literally placed my life in their hands and how we manage that trust. The two executors of my will have power of attorney over my entire life so that they don't have to defer to any doctor but rather to knowing me and doing what I would want (though many disagree with my approach but it's deferred to friends since waking up in ambulances reminds you that the technicians and doctors who end up working on you may be people who you have no say in and couldn't pick their faces out of a crowd literally not far down the road). There have been four cancer deaths in my life in the last 4 weeks with the one mentioned in the last blog the one that's messed with me the most in my entire life. I see the things people say and post and worry; one of them even triggered me to update the Facebook settings that apparently now will let you decide what happens with your page when you die (mine will do the same thing as the rest of me; it will cease to exist). It shows perhaps how good of a friend I have in that one of those executors when he sees me struggling with all this sincerely asks how I'm doing and then sarcastically uses my humor coping mechanism and says look if you do this too fast before we're like 80 years old, I'm not setting anything up for Kiana, I'm just going to Vegas.

Still, like birthdays, anniversaries, school years, months etc, the passing of time in the ways we've tried to define it gives us some measuring sticks so I let my mind wonder during today's about things that have changed since that last MRI... the last time for the first time ever I went somewhere I usually run at top of a hill and just took a city in while breathing at a regular speed with a cute girl who while nothing else happened in a place where lots of couples apparently do other things, she turned out to be a hugger at just the right time. That moment has sunk in and I've used that thought to go on walks with other people in places I'd previously only run including other cancer survivors... learning to appreciate places and people of different speeds at places I had associated only with training before.

I found about all this through an ambulance ride followed by imaging... some people find out things getting worse from no sensation but only through imaging... I could tell it more politely but that's really shitty. Since before the brain surgery I'd had a plan that I didn't want to drag out death; that if I didn't have responsibilities and promises to keep I would have just gone to the Grand Canyon and climbed in and out having seizures till I died. The Grand Canyon's been mentioned multiples times both in here and actual articles about me and the answer to why it's there is because while I'm a guy who loves company... to go die alone is a way that I hope will make it easier on other people and frankly for myself. One person who I was visiting in hospice once yelled at me that I didn't warn her enough about how miserable this was and that I would probably like it since I sign up for things that causes pain... Another person dealing with hospice more quietly said that they finally understood my Grand Canyon idea but didn't have any way to get to anything like that. A girl who is usually a better communicator and writer than I'll ever be was reprimanding me pretty strongly into what I've built it up. It made me reflect that I really had made a place into a monster of my own making; I'll let you decide whether or not it was better communication when she responded with, "it's your fucked up death fantasy." She apologized for that but I'm not sure an apology was due... It was one of my new year's resolution to go there in 2014 and I didn't go and I think about going this year to face my fears, perhaps even making it the first time I take a trip entirely on my own. Maybe breaking the association the fantasy would be to have some fantastic french kissing there or a fabulous race...

May is brain tumor awareness month... I'm never quite sure why we have so many faux days like siblings day and this awareness month but if it gets people to smile at some of the cheesy ones and do something positive for the other ones... that's not much of a price to pay. We kicked of the Brainpower5k registration with a marathon relay all by brain tumor survivors... Shocked I was that I got the longest leg out of anyone :). But anyone  who knows me know I didn't do it alone and Kiana did it with me riding her bicycle. It was on a crowded trail and so we had to maneuver and go a little slower so I actually had run 10 miles before since they don't let me get out of shape. When someone found that out that I had done that, gone home showered and was now back to do 4 more, they said "man, you have an illness." I couldn't resist apologizing with "Yeah that's why I'm here." The race director whose always been an older sister to me (I mean younger if she's reading this) wanted to talk to me about how I finally need to get a girlfriend still since it's her and the race committee's decision that I will step up my game like George Clooney did propose at the finish where we have a blown up brain every year. This year will be the first time I don't have a chance at winning it by the way since we're doing a fundraiser where I start behind all the runners and see how many I pass and are hoping people will donate anywhere from 1 cent to any amount for as many runners as I pass... if I and the race have a good day it should fall somewhere above 1,000 people. I hope Kiana will be running it to but it won't be next to me for the first time but maybe I'll have a girlfriend who can keep up with her by then in many ways. I'm sure Kiana will be fine with either.

But with the calendar reminder, it made me look at other things around then. Besides the MRI results coming in the last day of school and before Kiana goes to visit with her mother for the first 2 weeks of summer vacation, my next trip is to Washington DC. It'll actually be the first time I fly anywhere this year not for a race but I'll be joining many other good voices in One Voice Against Cancer. We're only there for a day and I've never done any government lobbying but no one should assume that me going is like when Mr. Smith went to Washington. I'm flying there the day after MRI results and there are no parliamentary rules or procedure that will accurately predict whether I'd be more or less effective depending on if the results are stable or less than so.

I have multiple races this month, currently 4 spartans and perhaps a relay leg of a triathlon so the body is going to be hurting but I just keep believing, hoping, dreaming that if I keep moving that when I have to sit in that magnetic machine that was so lifeless and dormant that they built a room around it that I'm still ahead of it. If there's a way to have no fear, I haven't entirely learned it. But there will people from the Spartan world, my family, running, the triathlon world, the ultimate frisbee world all there during one of those races and I think it's awesome and I hope it's one of many good ways to continue to relationships and say thank you for it. I've done races next to exactly a hand full of people and I'm a hispanic male who struggles with sharing emotions but I hope I made it clear that's a way I say I love you.When I attend church and they have baptisms they talk about people who faith not having fear but studies confuse me since Christians tend to stay on life support than any other religious/non religious group. No one should judge the church I attend in by me (which is why I'm not a member) but their grace and humanity continues to help me believe in both.

There are moments where the beautify of Kiana catching that just fascinate me... A butterfly landed on her and just kept landing on her. On her hand, on her shirt, on her hair... it just flittered and flirted with her and while I tried many times I was actually only able to get one decent picture of it with the butterfly on her hand.... Kiana was enthralled and enthusiastic and I couldn't help but smile and think (internally), I hope that catching beauty like this is always the only way my daughter gives life the middle finger.

This blog and certainly this entry have never served any grand purpose other than to remember the moments that mattered and try to make sense of them. It is not as clean or as effective of a therapy as running (or as seeing a therapist for that matter) but it helps when accident calendar reminders pop up 30 days before they should. This was certainly a stream of consciousness writing where we discussed a lot of f words, friendship, faith, fiancee, fantasies, finally, feelings, fingers but I am a cheesy guy and now the Star Wars previews are coming out and it's May so let's just go with that F is for me wishing anyone who reads this a good day and saying "May the 4th be with you."

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Icebergs and Penguins

There is an analogy I heard recently about how our brains are like icebergs and penguins... The brain is the iceberg and penguins are the things that occupy it. If you have too many some things are bound to be bumped off. If some penguins are bigger than others than there is room for a totality of less of them. The good days are the ones where there's a few less and the weather is more reasonable your penguins can be happy as they work and play with some smooth sliding. It was a fascinating little analogy. While some people have bigger or more capable icebergs, there are none of us who have infinite ones.

A few days ago, the cancer death that has messed with me the most ever happened. When this all started for me in 2010, I had had zero, ZERO friends and family who had ever had cancer. Then I woke up in an ambulance and found out that it was something that had no known genetic, dietary, lifestyle or environmental components and much too low of a survival rate, a very sad way to think of a losing lottery ticket. I have chosen to become involved in the cancer community since then in general and very specifically in the brain cancer world. My own aunt passed away since then from breast cancer and I've seen far too many friends I've made since then go far too soon. The ones that outlive the typical prognosis even by a year or two have called themselves the lucky ones, an interesting self concept.

If I am to be blatantly honest, something I am known for, I've not been entirely exempt from letting thoughts slip into inappropriate places when someone passes from cancer in trying to relieve my own fears... I think well they'd been a smoker their whole life or they drank all the time or it took a simple glance at them to tell their weight was less than ideal. They don't really work out or eat anything other than junk food. Even those who have the same type of cancer (of which I've personally met zero people so far who have beaten the average prognosis) you want to try to believe you're doing things better in the fact that I work out more, make better smoothies, love my kids more. While I bet on the odds and have lived accordingly, somewhere I've let glimmers of hope believe that something would be special.

I've been on the other end of this when people try to make sense of a guy who looks like me and runs like me wakes up in an ambulance in the middle of a restaurant or a run because of brain cancer. A friend who also runs marathons once asked which ear I held my cell phone to since my tumor was on the left side of my brain... another friend asked about my stay in the Marshall Islands where the US tested the atom bomb; something had to be a clear explanation of a guy who'd never called in sick and was athletic having cancer. The human brain wants to believe that if all facts were known, everything is a linear clean cause and effect A+B always equals C. My experience is that's the pattern but there are times when life is incredibly random sometimes in very bad ways like only having missed school in 12 years for the chicken pox and still 4.5 years later all bills from brain cancer not settled yet. Sometimes in very good things where you realize that at least you're still standing, that you won a marathon and there's a moment where someone says "I'm a hugger" before a medical appointment and in their arms despite a great resting heart rate you find it relaxing even more and remembering what it was like to breathe.

But then there are days where the reality of randomness, the chaos of cancer, the absurdness of life being affected by it... they hit hard enough to knock the wind out of you. The night before the Boston marathon I got news about Brian Conley. I've mentioned him many times in here but we met at Duke running a a race that raised money for the Brain Cancer Center and it was the only time that the Angels Among Us 5k had 1st and 2nd place be patients (may it be clear that at 40 years old he owned me despite that being my fastest 5k at the time; he owned me by so much that his father yelled at ESPN that they were filming the wrong guy). If the annoyingness of ESPN's scheduling and rescheduling had frustrated me, and even if they never air a piece about me, they completely won me over when they edited and sent a video of where they caught us interacting in that race and during ultimate the next day.

We would become friends over that weekend, playing ultimate, running together and having a barbecue. We kept in touch even if neither of us was particularly touchy feely guys. We met up in DC and New York when I went out there, our kids met and played together. Him and his wife both got the Make Him Work for It Shirt and my fastest 5k, by coincidence or divine guidance I'll let you decide happened to be on a day I was wearing a jersey his friends had made the Team Conley shirt which was branded with Ironman, something he liked.

And yet two years after he owned me in a race, with the exact same doctors at Duke that I had and the same cancer I have, he's gone. He got less time from prognosis to passing despite having been in better health his entire life and working till a few months ago. He'd had a seizure while driving and come out okay. He died with his family around him, a way so many of us dream of going but certainly not with kids so young. I found out how bad he was doing and that he likely wasn't going to make it more than I was going to be in Boston the night before the race. Some people can fuel that heartbreak into anger to run faster... for me it's always just a reflection of sadness to not give up till the end. A death like that is a break in the ice that takes up too much room on my iceberg to let any penguins play happy. I don't know to direct sadness to be what wins that day and use it to run fast. It's sadness that makes me say there's never coming a day where the legs work that I don't keep racing to try fight for both cancer research and cancer in the here and now. I tried to connect them with the counselors that Kiana used and I hope it's helpful.

He continued being a coach, a husband, a father, a friend... holding on with all he had to all he had as best as he could and the guy was in better shape than me so he could hold more with more conviction. In the end he spent much of it awake and I dare believe doing exactly what his family perceived, despite no ability to take much nutrition in, he was taking them in as best as he could and sending out affection. If from this much distance I feel those much loss from the ripple effect, those closer feel it much worse but I hope that's also true of the thankfulness for the connection which even his parents who knew him from birth recognize that it's much too short.

A picture of he and I has sat on my fridge for a long time both as a memory and as reminder of the delicateness of the situation, the beauty and delicateness of cancer connections and a reminder of the life and death cycle. The family from early on raised money for Brain Cancer research and perhaps in one of those ways that shows the universe is sometimes kind enough to repay kindness there has been a nice obituary and a fund set up for his kids. In the end, he and I had some similar stories of being decent runners with sometimes and a rare cancer that there's no way to not have some anger and sadness about. He kept trying to do what mattered with him and to his family even as he fought cancer personally and at a bigger level. We were hanging out at a museum in New York once and as we watched our kids do something together at the Museum of Natural History, he said I'm glad we're doing something that's all about the kids together. We all have different icebergs and different penguins but even in the unexpected cold that came by too fast, I am heartbroken by the loss but thankful for the opportunity that there was somedays where we lined up our penguins to slide and have some fun adventures together.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

More Than A Feeling

I'm a guy with known memory and language deficits but there are weekends like the one filled with the Boston marathon that there just are not adequate words even while they are completely unforgettable. To return there three years from the first time I qualified and to see the enthusiasm, the excitement the energy of that place was somehow both easier and harder to take in the second time around, certainly far more appreciated.

The day before was perfect outside weather where I took in an orchard and apple donuts, a castle and a lake, I don't know if I have a sixth sense but I enjoyed the other five. I'd never had apple donuts before but if anyone is ever hunting for good will, I gotta tell you I really liked them apples. Still, pulling into this old historical down and seeing it's skyline I couldn't help but think, hello Boston my old friend, I've come to see you once again. The point of life, at least mine anyway, is people, relationships so the first stop was a meal with friends old and new.

The pre race meal was where I first got two officially meet two other brain tumor survivors who were going to be
running the marathon. The cute girl wanted to show off all her scars but she had longer hair but still wanted a way to show off our scars next to her... it should take you a second to come up with who came up with the idea that both of us kissing her cheek and showing off the scar was a win/win/win. There were friends from the world of the Austin Runner's Club, friends from Spartan, a friend from LA from over a decade ago who had now run marathons, a multiple world record holder Michael Wardian (who nudged me with the fact that he actually was the one who held the world record for a marathon with a stroller). There was one of the survivors of the Boston marathon bombing, the person who was kind enough to both make my entry possible and let me stay at her place. She also struggled with being called a survivor of happenstance, her with the bombing me with a tumor and the connections of it to a marathon. We couldn't decide which one of us more stubborn, more sarcastic but she was definitely the bettter looking one. Maybe it's happen stance, maybe it's perspective but all those people give you a level of admiration of fighting for something which somehow includes and so evasively exudes yourself. I floated around to all the tables which in those moments that the marathon revolved around getting to know these people and catching more than just a meal but knowing that I was lucky to have it. The meal ended with many hugs and with the other brain tumor survivor Tom who actually is about my speed saying that we hoped we saw each other on the course and would get to take a few strides together.

Packet pick up was special... I had to sign the wall knowing somewhere somehow I wanted to leave a little bit of
Boston since I knew I was taking so much of it with me the next day. I'm always amused at the cleverness of running jokes but in a tshirt that was very cute but not exactly my cut quoting Boston's more than a feeling made me smile the biggest.

I can't remember the last time I slept well the night before a race and this was no exception. I laid my stuff out trying to figure out what was missing but couldn't quite catch it (it was the pins for the bib which when it came time to put on I figured out). And then it was off to the race... a struggle with races like this is you get up at the same time but because of security and it being point to point, you hurry up to wait. Luckily the bus I was on was full of friends from Austin and mostly we made fun of each other with the only person who drew a bad seat was the person who was next to me. It was very very cool to have friends there who I'd known only a few months and those who were there before my first marathon ever happened in 2010. We were all in different corrals so we'd not get to start or race together but it was a touch of home before getting on the official road.

The race started with about decent but I've ran 12 marathons and know that I've had good marathon weather for zero of them. I simply tried to regulate and if you look at my first several splits up to 25k I was nailing the pace I intended, 6:46. The music was pumping, I high fived tons of people, did a bit of singing. At
mile 12 there were all the Wellsley girls offering their kisses with some incredibly creative signs like "If you think I'm a good kisser  you should meet Isabelle" and a few girls down, "I'm Isabelle."  I'd spend a bit of time the last time I was in Boston but I was 31 then and I'm 34 now so I figured it'd be creepy trying to kiss too many college girls at this age. There were some less than creative ones like "Cleavage" pointing at well... cleavage." "Is that a shot block in your pocket or are you  happy to see me." "You've got a great ass." "I use tongue." and perhaps slightly more creative "Oooh you've got stamina, call me." Probably my favorite in that section was actually a girl who you couldn't see anything besides skin of her legs, shoulder and arms. She was behind a big cardboard sign that said "if you run fast enough, I'll drop this sign." I guess I wasn't running fast enough. It's an amusing college tradition that made me both smile and make a mental note of where Kiana will not be allowed to apply in high school. 

I kept taking in signs... One I'd actually seen in preparation that I stole outright for my facebook status without giving any credit was "this is a lot of work for a free banana." There were a lot of good ones but I can't remember most of them but a  clever one I saw twice was "The patriots say it's okay to run it in right now." While I've often seen go random stranger go, this was the most I've ever gotten cheered for "Go shirtless guy." Still someone had a good spirit and a good sense of humor because they had wrapped a sign in great plastic on the kind of day that you watch TV that said, "You run marathons; I watch them on Netflix."

At mile 17, someone moving over to a water stop accidentally stepped on my shoes and I went down; nothing really critical but my shoes came untied and so I triple knotted them and got back up but it kind of messed with the mojo a little bit. It had been cold and rainy and windy and it kept getting worse. For the first time in any race, I was regretting not running with warmer gear. The humidity got to me to where I chocked back up a bit of breakfast and when a slight bit of vomit came out was near some college kids who cheered for me vomiting louder than I've ever been cheered for doing better things during  race... Didn't know what to do about that other than high five and fist bump them as they requested. They offered me a Samuel Adams beer to feel better... I passed.

At the beginning of heart break hill there were two cute girls holding signs for me and the crowd in general... that
definitely made my heart have no chance of breaking on the way up. I couldn't quite seem to hold speed for the rest of the race but kept trying from the encouragement. At the 23 mile market, a man who was wearing a sign that said he was 60 slipped and I offered him a hand. He got up and bolted and I was wishing adrenaline was contagious. With about 2 miles to go, Tom the other brain survivor and I met up and we'd run a few strides together. About a mile to go, there were friends with Texas flags and signs for our running group and then I turned it on hoping to qualify for Boston at Boston, something I would miss by 32 seconds but my last mile was actually at the pace I started which is one if not my fastest closing mile so I'll take it. (Plus the kiss I'd planted on a really cute girl had to have taken at least that long right?) Two shipmates and I finished within seconds and we high fived. The other tumor survivor Tom and I hugged it out and while I finished ahead of him his time was actually faster at 51 and 6 years with a tumor than mine at 34 and 4 years with one and I assure you that made me smile. He said he'd never run without a shirt because hypothermia can cause a seizure (which I know) as can hyperthermia.... oddly enough the two times I've run Boston have been the hottest marathon I've ever run and the coldest one.

As I picked up my medal and my wrap around one of the volunteers said I had to go to the medical tent. I said I
felt fine but they thought I was shaking too much. They insisted and put me in a wheelchair. At the tent a few minutes later, they took my heart rate (77) and my pulse (110/86) and my body temperature (92.9).  When I was given some beef broth was when I realized how bad it was because I couldn't hold it to drink it without splashing it everywhere so a volunteer held it while I sipped it... When I answered if I had any medical history, they said I'd be staying till my temperature was better and they kept me till it was 97 degrees. As I was sitting there smiling in a medical tent where some people were struggling more obviously and I felt guilty about taking up a spot... a volunteer said why are you smiling so big in the medical tent and I said "I just finished the Boston marathon, what else would I be doing but smiling." She smiled back.

There were thoughts on the course like the 26 donors who had supported it. There were memories of that Boston was the first race that I'd ever stopped to hug someone, my mom and daughter. But 12 marathons in and 2 of them being Boston, all I can say is I'm incredibly thankful to still be going. A little later I got to the happy hour with local friends and we had beer and  happiness. While only three of the group there got their fastest marathon ever for a good chunk of the group including me, it was our fastest Boston which no matter what the weather is has an unusual difficulty of never being able to completely find your own rhythm because of the crowded narrow streets. There are zero times where immediately after I finish a marathon I wonder why I sign up for this and even less times where when we're trading stories after with friends I train with where I don't have an immediate answer. About half of the crowd there I knew last time I was in Boston and half I've met since. Like any marathon the better half to me is always the one you're currently running and I hope I still have half a lifetime left of making friends like this no matter how tough the weather or hills.