Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Song That Runs Under The Credits

People who clearly have too much time on their hands have asked why I'm blogging less than I used to... The truth is actually immediately under the Picking Up A Hitchhiker blog title, An Incredibly Raw and Uncensored Blog of how a Guy copes and hopes with brain cancer and life changes. Somehow life has been kind enough to where for a good share of life, brain cancer and life changes have been fairly minimal for a while. There's an MRI next week which has started to and will invariably shake my nerves till the results (and I hope less, not more after I get them but I never assume things are going to go well).

But there have been pleasant little reminders of life that keep me grinning. For a guy who has memory problems I should take advantage of facebook's memory features of on this day x number of years ago. However, since I'm a guy who tends to look forward constantly and so rarely back, I miss it most of the time but yesterday it popped out at me because of a joke I made. I had just started driving after the second time I got restricted (it last about two years, the first one had lasted about six months when this all started). A friend was excited that because of a new job they had gone almost 2 weeks without refilling their car, I told them I had gone two years. But now, NOW, I've been driving for almost two years.

I hope next week's MRI doesn't change the relevance of cancer in my day to day life next week. But right now the relevance of that the tumor and scar tissues creating seizures is under control. So now I am not riding a bicycle because that's my main mode of transportation but because it's fun. Livestrong day was last Friday where I had to pretend to be a little cooler and use hashtags in my instagram of #livestrong day and #bandedtogether. I looked through some of them and some highlighted just the band and I understand the power of symbols which is why it stays on my wrist, a reminder. But my picture was me hugging Kiana, the girl who it helped me livestrong with and band together and I thank them for many things but above all the cancer and relationships class where I learned the biggest tenant of my life, work on the relationships you want to keep. In fact this year, by virtue of the custody calendar, it will be the first time Kiana's with me during the Livestrong challenge so instead of riding 100 miles like I have 5 times, I'll be biking 20 next to her. There was a time I skipped the Austin marathon the 1st time to go through the finish line next to her doing her first 5k. That race was more meaningful than any including the ones I won behind her in a stroller. I dream that's going to be true as well for her. Plus with the way she's been growing, I'm fairly sure she's going to get a new bicycle before the ride and certainly will...

The electricity in my brain isn't causing me to lose control of my muscles or lose control of my brain. It may take a maximum twice a day dosage of pills with some side effects but hey that's life... or at least that's avoiding death. So the voltage in my brain isn't running wild, so I run in the wild. Another brain tumor survivor, Sara, talked me into doing a trail race last weekend with all of a few days notice. I did the single loop 10k. She was doing the 30k which was a triple loop that started half an hour earlier. Still I did her 3rd loop with her after taking 5th in my race. I put off brain surgery to run a marathon. She's coming out of a tumor and now in a later stage and age in life (I mean she's 29!) she's signing up for her first ultras, taking on tougher challenges. She likes to say I'm inspirational but she's doing harder stuff than I am and the one talking me into things. Let's just say that was the conversation and experience that finally got me to sign up for my first 30k trail race which is going to be at night. What could possibly go wrong for a guy who has no spatial orientation running at night on a trail? She ended up taking 1st grand masters. Brain tumors aren't making us pause.

So speaking of grand masters, why I blog less is because there's less things where my own cancer is relevant on day to day to stuff and I start to dream a little further out. It's like chess grand masters where they think a lot more moves in advance than beginners. I'm not chess grand master but I am please to report that the chess club I coached all year this year swept the competition. My daughter's school took 1st place in every grade (2nd through 5th) and the top 3 spots in 2nd and 3rd (Kiana took 2nd)! That was the only event that any school did that at. A parent who was there tried to get me to take a picture with the kids (I passed and let the kids just be the ones in the pictures). But the parent added you must be very proud of what you did... that is of course absurd since I didn't do it, all I did was coach those kids and pace that grand masters winner. The potential was always inside them, I just got to be beside it and witness it. That's a privilege.

The mind problems are still there, the damaged brain hasn't healed but hopefully remains stable. But in the age of digital clouds, I can make notes on my computer that show up on my phone or I can log into anywhere where the internet exists and I get to cheat that damaged memory. Other people call it compensating... I still don't know if its not cheating. But we hold on to what we can and try to do good things with it. Speaking of memory problems a few days ago was the first time ever someone didn't put some cash after Kiana lost her tooth. It was one with a metal filling on a stormy night so I said the tooth fairy was trying to keep herself safe so we wrapped it extra carefully and Kiana got her biggest gift ever from the tooth fairy... I don't know if that's teaching her that guilt trips can come with exorbitant interests rates.

I'm still helping out with multiple cancer causes but things like chess club or getting re-elected as president of the Austin Runner's Club (would I have won had I been running against the current US presidential candidates!?!?) helps to focus energy elsewhere as well. The two balance each other out I think because the cancer events help me appreciate everything I've got going and that I'm still standing and the non cancer events help give me even more energy to give back. All of our ARC events and membership have grown because we have had great boards with ridiculous focus and energy but like everything I'm currently working or part of, I wonder how I got so lucky to be part of such good teams? My constant joke (but probably the truth) is that it's because only really good people will put up with me.

So that's why I blog less because the hopes and copes of cancer are more normal to day to because they are less relevant. There were 2 years straight of medical appointments and now it's 2 years straight of driving because the driving restriction was taken away. There were a lot more medical bills than I could have imagined but assuming life stays all right, I will actually get out of all the debt of the last few years by the end of this one. The blog title today is actually from one of Kiana's kids movies, Jonah. It makes fun of the fact that the credits song rarely has anything to do with the actual movie:

There should be a rule that the song under the credits
Remotely pertains to the movie’s basic plot
That rule has not been made so for now we’ll have to say
Hey! Hey! Hey hey hey hey hey hey...

So mom, when you're worried about why there's less entries, it's just simply because I want this blog to pertain to the blog's basic plot. So here's hoping there keep being less entries, less worries, and more life. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

To Infiniti and Beyond

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!” 
―Don Quixote

There is an apparent pattern of madness in March in my life for the last few years. In March of 2011, I had brain surgery at Duke during official March Madness. In March of 2012, I woke up in an ambulance again a few days after my first post surgery marathon. In March of 2013, I won the Gusher marathon pushing a stroller. In March of 2014, I went back to Beaumont and won the half.  In March of 2015, it was my first time to go to a new country since before brain surgery. In March of 2016, I got to be part of March madness, be part of a fundraiser against Cancer with Infiniti with March madness pick. 

Like any previous March the full effect isn't known immediately but sometimes it's not too far down the line you start seeing some where things are going. Those of us from Coaches vs Cancer got to be present for the check presentation from Infiniti to the American Cancer Society. It would be over $700K raised. For almost all of us who came, cancer was a part of the past and most of us were from Texas, so it seemed only appropriate to give this as we hung our hats in Tennessee. 

We would have a formal dinner with a smaller crowd where there would be some laughs, some impersonations of each other, some memories. Mike Thompson, the friend who had been a huge part of the reason I ended up getting to be a part of this had the bright idea that we should all share a little something in a more formal way. He started it and it was great to listen to his style. Each person would share things, some more simple than others, others more eloquent, but all human, honest, grateful to the cause, to each other, to the future. Quite a few of my teammates would say they were thankful for getting cancer because of the perspective, the appreciation it gives you for life, for love and loved ones. Just by sheer coincidence of sitting arrangement I was going to be the last survivor speaking.

I've said things in the past about some of the lessons I've learned from the cancer experience, some of
the mistakes and wise moves that were facilitated by that, some the strengths and weakness highlighted by that keen awareness of my mortality. I've said that I was glad I got cancer because maybe I wouldn't have picked up some of that progress without it. Perhaps because it's been 5 years of pills and medical appointments and bills and worries, perhaps because I dare have faith that life will teach us lessons one way or another, in simple honesty, I have said many times that cancer was a good wake up call, a good thing in my life but if I said things like that these days I'd be perjuring myself.

So when my turn came to speak, I remembered of all things, a place I volunteered in high school. Now I was one of the oldest in this young adults basketball event so I still remember the days pre-internet and personal computers. Back then I used to volunteer for an organization called the post polio syndrome society. It was people who had to deal with some of the effects that had come from having polio years or decades before. I'd type out a newsletter and format it and it would get distributed to people who had a range of neurological issues because of a disease that was no longer active in their life. I was 14 learning about a disease and its side effects, its long term effects, and the privilege getting to know it's survivors. It was a bit strange period much less at that age because well for all practical purposes it was a disease that no longer existed but here were lots of people still dealing with the aftermath, the long term effects.

I thought of using one of my standard quips from when I get invited to speak, it would have been less nerve racking that way. But I said what I hope that there will be a generation not far removed from my daughter's where cancer is just something like polio, something only the older people know about because it happening while once common is all but extinct. Perhaps in due time only a memory even for them, something that we educate people about the past.

The next day we were there at the formal presentation at Infiniti headquarters. This was far more formal with Infiniti talking about how this had led to different people reaching the website and inquiries about the brand. My favorite part of the Infiniti presentation was that the idea came late and they originally said well that sounds like a good idea for 2017 but someone dreamt big enough and they went along with it and it happened. It was dreaming big that allowed all of us to step in to the stadium where the Final Four would play and we'd get to do it not just as spectators but as athletes and advocates. The coaches spoke in suits and ties with my coach actually giving a nod to what I had said the night before. I have to get better at picking where I sit because they announced we were speaking again and I happened to be where I'd be the last one out of the survivors to speak. I said thank you again with the knees shaking but somewhere the heart sold or at least solid that a room full of people like this will continue to make cancer less and less relevant to the modern and future ages. It was tempting to quote one of my daughter's movies that the work they had done, the money they had raised would help people at "Infiniti and beyond" but I am guessing that they've heard that joke too many times but hey this is my blog so I'm sticking it in here. But in all seriousness, I think what we were all able to be a part of, no one in that room will ever know the full positive effect of.

A few days after I got home to see my doctors again on 60 minutes. When I was on E60, they interviewed my doctors but they didn't end up in the piece which was disappointing but it was good to see them there. The 10 year survival rate of my brain cancer is 12% but at Duke it's 18%, thus as a poker player, I'll definitely take 50% better odds even acknowledging they aren't great. Still, I believe the universe balance itself out in the end and somehow appropriately, and somehow at Duke those doctors and that institution that I've helped raise money for specifically, have found a way to take the polio disease and insert it into the brain and help patients who typically have a short time left now only having scar tissue and being cancer free. I have an MRI in a little over two weeks; there's no way to not be nervous because I'm not cancer free but perhaps even if this thing has grown, there's an option once again at Duke that there isn't in Austin (I went there for many reasons 5 years ago but one of them was no doctor in Austin would operate and were recommending others out of town). As the sign in the cancer center says and is echoed in my home, at Duke there is hope.

Perhaps the moment I liked the best in the 60 minutes was one of my neuro-oncologists, Dr. Desjardin talking about how she failed a patient because they hadn't gotten this far when he was going through brain cancer. His wife disagree with that assessment because they had helped keep him going to where he was able to be at both of his daughter's wedding and meet his first grand child. With MRI's looming, I can try to pretend like I'm not nervous but that's not true. But I find hope, comfort in that the races I did once behind my daughter in a stroller I get to do races next to her these days. Life is after all about love and connection isn't it?

Perhaps there's the balance of it. Polio used to damage a lot of people and has been made virtually insignificant. Than someone at Duke got clever and turned around and utilized it to fight cancer. A few of us cancer survivors have taken the lessons from the disease and utilized it to get better at life and positive connections. A car company helped us cancer survivors in the present and donated to research that will hopefully make cancer also irrelevant and perhaps someday someone really smart will turn cancer into something that fight's another disease. I hope and trust that this Coaches Vs Cancer was a step in turning life and love in the right direction and that it goes from Infiniti to beyond.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Blood Thicker Than Water

I have a slight confession. There are many things I have hated about the cancer experience, absolutely hated. But one of the pluses, a tiny one is that because I now have cancer I am not allowed to donate blood. See, I have the universal donor type and so before all this, at my employer's they had a van come through once every three months. I had done it twice in college and both times all but passed out, turning a shade of green. They had encouraged me then to do it regularly since my blood could be used so much... I never passed up an opportunity to do so that came up but I never sought one out but at work it came every three months, so I did it each time. Still after the diagnosis came up, there was this instruction about no caffeine or alcohol (I responded with the joke about rum and coke, don't they cancel each other out). There was the one about no more soccer (finished and won the league I was in). Then there was the one about never donating blood again and I all but smiled (might not have been that reaction had I known how many needles I was going to be taking in over the next several years; at Duke I stopped counting from check in to surgery the number of pokes; unlike on Facebook they were only annoying and nothing good came out of it!).

So when I had a medical appointment this week that was theoretically just a check up, I was less than happy because it seems a rare appointment comes without blood being drawn. That thought got bypassed when I arrived for the appointment because my doctor had moved. She was now in the exact same complex as Kiana had been born in. I didn't know if that made perfect sense or was non sense or was some zen circle of life type of thing. I've been in many medical complexes in the last few years but I was in the exact same parking lot I had once put in Kiana's first car seat.

There was long conversation about general states of health and medication management. They had asked if it was okay if a medical student watched the appointment (I get that asked at a lot of medical appointments; maybe that's true for everyone or maybe the doc goes man you gotta see this crazy case. I always roll my eyes and say we've had cameras in here, I can handle a medical student). I honestly don't remember her name and she was off to the side but perhaps the reason I like it is because there's a fresh audience for my jokes of someone whose not used to the irreverence that I treat medical appointments with; she laughed more than anyone else in the room. When we talked about the state of my ear for some reason my doctor said I had "handsome ear canals." That's a part of my body I've never been complimented on by the way. We talked about the state of my feet in which well if you've ever wanted to give me a gift a pedicure for each toe would probably only get me halfway there. I joked that apparently any girl with a foot fetish would never be my type but those girls that like ear canals... I mean obviously it means I'm a good listener ;).

Still the conversation ended with that there would be unexpected and more thorough blood work the
next morning. I had to re schedule a run and a meeting because of it and the medical staff said I had to do the blood work fasting, so no breakfast. Isn't that just asking your patients to get hangry? I arrived there and never know what to do with the fact that I am almost always the youngest person in the waiting room. That was definitely true by a couple of decades this time. There were two guys there, one very quiet and one who had no capacity for keeping his thoughts to himself. It was a fascinating distraction because he clearly said everything out loud. The thoughts he wanted to share he'd say out loud to himself and then to the person who he was directing them to. I didn't make much conversation with them other than to find out that they were veterans who had stayed friends after their service. It's times like these I wish I knew a little more about military tattoos. The one who had provided the ride seemed like the one with more health issues, breathing in and out with the aid of an oxygen tank. Finally he said to himself and then to his friends "we've been waiting for an hour and 15 minutes; this is dumb. I'm going to go home and sleep and you call me when you're done and I'll come get you." Almost word for word, he directed at his friend who quieted him down and asked him to wait which he did.

There was a problem with the insurance processing computer so that was the hold up apparently. I'd been there almost an hour and a half before they called my name. I thought that meant they were ready for me but all it meant was I had finally been put in the system and then they handed me that thing that vibrates whenever it's called. I've long ago made peace for waiting during medical appointments, that's the name of the room after all but this was atypically long. I hadn't brought anything to read or do so I just kept absorbing the room quietly, some looks of fear going in and out, others trying to be stoic, others of relief.

I was there to test my cholesterol primarily along with other possible side effects of the medication. It is a dumb dumb thing to google side effects of medication while you're waiting for blood work because you start reading because you read the honest and true, sometimes exaggerated sometimes played down stories and all of a sudden you're deep in the rabbit hole. People who were athletes like me whose cholesterol went up prematurely or unnaturally (the nurse the day before had said they had seen it spike up decades earlier than they did in people without the medication). They end up having to take medication to mess with cholesterol that reduces their athletic ability which makes other side effects worse. The day before the medical appointment I had run 10 miles on a Tuesday (I've never ran that long on a Tuesday) just continuing to remind myself that the grim reaper catches up to us all but I want to make sure to make him work for it. Was I projecting or receiving feelings from the people around the room, I don't know but I kept checking in on those two friends who had served together and I think were now the definition of blood brothers.

Perhaps it's because I'm afraid of needles. Perhaps it's because the wait was so long but somehow as I
waited I was lucky enough to receive an email that the pictures from the Spartan Super were up.
See Kiana had done a Spartan Super. It was the most ground she'd ever covered in one day, a little over 8 miles with lots of obstacles. Officially kids aren't allowed till their 14 on there and so anytime anyone asked how old she was, I said she was 14 for the day with a nod and wink. She always answered 9 honestly and gave me a bit of a glare. Our deal was that she would try all the obstacles by herself before I'd help. She would take help in almost none of them. I'd see her pull a heavy sled entirely by herself with an adult woman unable to do next to her. I'd see her jump down an 8 foot wall without fear (which scared the crap out of me). I'd see her go in water that was shallow enough for most adults to walk through but that required her swimming. I'd made her do her own set of 30 burpees for each obstacle she failed the same way I had been made to. I'd seen her pass adults who were impressed; one just like her 10k 2 weeks previously called her the exact same thing, wonder woman. I'd seen her panic before jumping over the fire and even as I tried to get her to do it on her own realizing she wasn't quite there and scooping her up and jumping with her at the end. Still in my book she had always been super but now she had a medal that made it official. The official photographers hadn't caught it all but caught enough to where I started looking through some of my own pictures and some of the ones grandma had caught.

For a guy who posts too much on it, I'm actually fairly critical of how often we miss the company in front of us to share our life with other people who aren't there so I try to put my phone away more. But perhaps, a medical lab room is the right place to go through social media and remember not just why but who has kept you alive. There were pictures there of the people who had joined us from the Spartan, once again the friend I've had the longest who I joined in Houston though she was separate from us at that point, I was keeping Kiana's pace. But almost step for step joining us was Alex Street, a friend who had flown to Duke while I was there and helped me and my mother during my last appointments before I came back. This is one of those friends from that time who had watched me with staples in my head and IV's. He is absolutely a blood brother. We have done other events together before but it felt appropriate that someone who had been there for my brain surgery, my mid life crisis was now joining Kiana and I for a little mud life.

I reflected, remembered the Spartan some more. Kiana did the kids one after, looking and feeling exhausted while doing one more mile than I would. To me that was actually the more impressive moment as she went over one of the kid's wall she saw someone else struggling and reached out and grabbed both their hand and feet and pulled them up.  Grandma was there at the end to give us all hugs and warnings about how no one better have made Kiana do anything to hard :). Here's hoping she doesn't check out the pictures of Kiana flipping over a tire all by herself. Mom, you don't read this blog right? I think if you look at those pictures of me in media I've got the right posed smile for that but if you look at the one of me watching Kiana be super girl, well that's the best and most natural smile I've got. That's what I've been staying alive for in many ways. My parenting philosophy is first you gotta give them roots but then you gotta give them wings. Some parts of watching them take wings is harder. This wasn't one of those times.

I looked back at what we had done the night before and gone on a bat cruise with a place I volunteered at. We were the only one who danced to the music and even though many were, we danced like no one was watching. I reflected on a recent triathlon that I had signed up with way too little notice but had signed up with a friend who was there the night the cancer started and who would beat me in that triathlon by about 20 seconds but I'm not bitter. I looked back at the picture of the friends who had met because she was visiting me as the cancer stuff got started and now they're engaged. They asked me to conduct the ceremony almost exactly 6 years after they met. See, who says I'm rubbish at weddings?

I don't know how much time passed between the buzzer being handed to me and me looking at those pictures and then it suddenly going off. It went by a lot faster than that other time had when I was absorbing the room. But those were the images I re-played through my head as they were drawing the blood with my eyes closed. My own blood was draining out my arm and making me light headed and uncomfortable with what results would come. There are people who always say well this is just routine follow up. I never know what to do with that comment. When this is all started it was just hey "we'll just do a CAT scan but that may not tell us anything"... then it was an MRI... then a biopsy... then brain surgery... then blood word which suggested the seizures weren't under control... then neuropsychological... then EKG... then EEG... etc etc. They were all theoretically routine at some level but they all showed some things wrong and some things right that on certain days, I'd almost rather not know.

I had gone long enough without eating or perhaps they had taken enough out that I was really light headed. This is when I needed a sugar mama not to pay the bills but to provide some Mexican coke or wine or ice cream or something just to feel better. I sat for a while before getting back to driving and thinking wait, I'm still driving and it's been almost 2 years of doing so!

The results would take a day. I skipped the crossfit workout I was supposed to have at noon since the wait had gone so long and that seemed less than safe but later I would do hill repeats with a weight vest. This was also the first time that Kiana ran with a weight vest (mine was 25 lbs, hers was 2.5). When the blood work came in, they were intense on lots of levels but everything was within normal range. Having lived in England, I couldn't help but say it was bloody good.

I went and looked at the pictures one more time that I had visioned during the blood test. Somehow it struck me that perhaps by happenstance or sheer coincidence again, every race Kiana has done this year, the Rogue Distance Festival, the Paramount 5k, the Gusher 5k, the Cap 10k and now the Spartan Super were without exception ones in which I'd been interviewed and filmed for articles in too many place. In none of them were there now cameras focused on me and it was better this way. I was never in it for anything other than to share time with people I care about and somehow the privacy in a public place was welcome. All I had been trying to do then and now was give Kiana a place to write her own name. She had done it on the Spartan wall before we raced. I hope someday she realizes that the reason I have ran with some of those friends, family and with her through roads, mud is that the people who were there for the health crisis were all family forged in blood. I hope she keeps realizing these bonds is why blood is thicker than water.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This Is My Fight Song

T. S. Eliot once said that "good writers borrow, great writers steal." Actually I wrote that shortly after I invented my time machine but TS Eliot took it shortly afterwards and has been getting credit ever since. A rudimentary look at this blog and its titles in particular shows that a whole lot of it, like today's start is quotes. Some are from speeches or nods to writing. I am even secure enough to quote artists and poets. But the vast majority of them are from songs, this online adventure often feeling like the soundtrack of my life. People ask where I get my song since so many that I quote are so old (like from the 80's and 90's). There's a simple reason for that and it's that I pretty much never listen to the radio so any more modern songs are because of something I saw in a movie  or show and I end up downloading the song. 

But recently, in February, I was inspired by Justin Bieber (you're welcome to judge me for that... how you're judging me, let's just say it probably reflects how I'd judge you in return). I was in the shuttle for the Coaches vs Cancer event and they had the radio on and it was playing a song that said "My momma don't like you and she likes everyone." That particular day I didn't catch anything else or know who the artist was but I realized I was sounding more like my grandpa and thought "What are the kids listening to these days?!" This event was after all something for young adult cancer basketball players that had been billed to people 18-35. I was the oldest person that met the criterion and therefore the oldest in the van and everyone else seemed to know the tune and know a lot more about Justin Bieber than I did. So I made a resolution to be cooler and to listen to the radio when I was in my car on the current hits station till the finals...Let's just say that while there were some good songs, I've made peace with being old quickly and just putting on my own old tunes.

But even if it led to listening to all those songs, I still appreciated the Coaches vs Cancer experience. I practiced basketball for the first time in a couple of decades (my skill level reflected that). Still I wanted to go in with that you can't teach height, you can show hustle. Me and a local Livestrong Friend got to do an interview or two before we went with local stations promoting it. I sent the one where I was actually playing to the Doctor that did my surgery with a gigantic thank you. I was at Duke during March Madness and that positive energy there helped the recovery. They were out of it by the time I won it but I still cheered for them in my own way. My doctor wrote back a nice note (classy guy, 5 years post surgery still corresponds on a personal level anytime I write) and he loved that the video showed us both wearing Duke gear. Somehow the fact that we're both still fighting cancer in our own way, still standing was a great March highlight. The round by round bracket ended up raising $700,000 for the American Cancer Society and some of the highlights ended being in a commercial. Me and all the others who did it stepped into it for that purpose but because it was used for media purposes for infiniti we all ended up getting some payments according to the Screen Actors Guild (does getting paid for that make me able to put professional basketball player or professional actor on my resume??). The checks came in various amounts  for it being used on cable on broadcast etc at different time. Once upon a time I received a staff of different bills from being in one place for cancer things and this time I received a stack of checks for being in one place. The checks have already been put towards debt but maybe these nods to Duke, march madness all show how the universe is kind enough to balance itself out. The game itself was on April 1st so I was wondering if the craziness of all this was not just some really elaborate April Fool's joke since it was beyond March Madness. 

We were asked to write a thank you note to the sponsors and even here a week removed, I'm not sure what I'm most grateful for. It's a long list of blessings: getting to step into NRG for the first time not as spectators but as athletes, getting to be spectators during the Final Four Semifinals and what has to be one of the greatest March Madness Finals ever when Villanova sank that shot. Still, that cannot compare to the things we won't get to spectate, what that money raised will mean there will be less people sidelined by cancer in any form shape or manner. I used to volunteer for a "Post-Polio" group in high school that helped people who had gone through polio with the side effect but I've never seen polio because we've all but eradicated. I hope somewhere not too far in the future there's some high school kid whose talking to previous cancer patients who doesn't quiet have a concept of how cancer used to affect so many people since it's not really around anymore as a disease. Still for me the greatest thing in life is still relationships and the friendships that have come out of this far extend the parts of our bodies that were damaged. One of the teammates went home and proposed. Another went home because despite having testicular cancer, his wife was now pregnant and his swimmers worked. Another had his twins recently born in his hands shortly after the game. Others brought their wives or fathers. And hanging out with enough young people with cancer made me, an old man realize that maybe it was time to grow up enough to at least be open to going to prom. We had to play against each other and yeah we kept the score but in the end I think that was not the biggest win. The progress and work was done. I even had some fun switching roles with the coach Jim Harrick who has an NCAA ring!

Still I got home and showed Kiana the commercial which she thought was kind of cool. That is the beauty of raising a little girl who gets fascinated by birds and flowers and only a little impressed by the media stuff; I'm not sure which one of us has the better perspective on it. She had been sick the weekend I was gone, nothing too serious but enough to where the girl who usually sleeps in the top bunk was sleeping in the bottom to keep tissues and a trash can for that coughing and mucus that builds up as you lay down. We both had 10k's that weekend. I was running the Longhorn Run that I'd encouraged people to do the 10k for several years but had never actually done it... Gotta put your money where your mouth once in a while. Kiana was doing the Cap 10k which was going to be her hilliest run yet. For both, the weather was looking hot and humid. 

Mom was in town for the weekend so I got to get away for the first one while everyone slept in (Kiana is not a morning girl, making her get up to watch one race and do another would have resulted in revolt!). Because my parents were in town I moved all the stuff to where I was staying (Kiana's room) and forgot the plugs. Both my iPod and watch were on very low battery. The battery would run out the iPod as I entered the loneliest section of the race in which I heard a song being played on the side I didn't know till the last couple of months, "this is my fight song." Well... let's just say that's what played in my head the last couple of miles. As always I was gunning for a PR but couldn't quite hold it on a course with some serious hills and missed it by a few seconds per mile, a little over twenty seconds total. Still, I was the first non student placer and there were students from both of the classes I've gotten to speak to this year who came up and said hi as I showed them what the T-shirt said that I was in for the Long (horn) run. Even got to take a picture with the mascot during the awards presentation. Call me a simple man but that was as exciting as some of the celebrities I got to meet during the Final Four weekend. 

Kiana getting up the next morning she still had some snot. I tried to teach her how to blow snot rockets while running. The weather was rough and she had gotten the option of bowing out of the Cap 10k race (that got an immediate no). I asked her if she wanted to  try to PR or just run this one. since her first race in over 2 years she has not ever missed a PR. I mean I'm still Pr'ing once in a while but that kind of streak is unbelievable to me. So I paced her on her hilliest race yet while wearing a weight vest. Truth is she was struggling, pretty much the entire time. At the halfway point, I asked her if she wanted to ease up cause we'd have to speed up a little to get her fastest. She said let's keep trying. There was someone dressed in a Spiderman costume around there and clearly seeing her struggle I tried to make her laugh or at least distract her. She actually kept going back and forth with "spiderman" and I was like see Spiderman's not a good runner, that's why he uses those web things to move fast cause he can't run very well (small smile). Another good adult said, "that's not a little girl cause I don't get beat by little girl. That's wonder woman!)" (small smile). She actually got talked to more partly I think cause it was clear she was trying but more than likely cause it's the biggest race she's ever been a part of (20K+). I was impressed with her politeness even in the midst of the pain. Somewhere between wanting to pick her up and carry her in I just said, "sweetheart sometimes when you work hard it's supposed to hurt." Perhaps not my best choice of words because she started crying then (not like sobbing but those it hurts tears; I've done that during races more than most places cause there you can't tell if it's tears or sweat). There was a lady who saw it and said "you're almost done; crying's not an option." I'm not sure it was any wiser choice of words but I said "Crying's okay; quitting's not." That is my parental and life philosophy that all of our emotions, sadness, frustration, anger all serve their purpose which is why they are built into the system but I concede that saying that towards the end of a tough 10k may not be my wisest move. Then unexpectedly a big smile came across her face and she said "Did you see that sign?" There were tons of signs so upon asking for clarification she said the one that said "Go, random stranger, go" and she followed up with, "next time we go cheer a race let's make a sign that says that." The smile didn't last till the end of the race but it lasted a bit and somehow I think it was the fuel that got her to her fastest 10k ever by just about 20 seconds despite tough conditions internally and externally. Pam Leblanc, a reporter turned friend caught a picture of us shortly after the finish line, where you can see the smile I usually have after a tough race. It's a look that you're not sure whether the happiness is covering the exhaustion or the other way around. Three years ago she wrote a story about how I was doing that race but couldn't do it with a stroller but I'd go on to PR. Let me just say that this picture and this race meant far more than the one in the paper ever will. Let's just say we stuck around the kid's zone as long as Kiana wanted afterwards and then we enjoyed brunch at a restaurant and Netflix when we got home. 

I'm amused at how hard we work to impress strangers on social media sometimes. The age of selfies and following, trying to rack up more followers or hearts or likes is something I don't completely comprehend (says the guy who posts his journal on the internet). But there was something that I said to our assistant coach when he was asked if he'd been touched by cancer and he said no. My reaction was simple, "It is exactly those types of people that are necessary for us to beat cancer." While I stand by that neither self nor strangers shouldn't come before family and friends (we do that often and call it work obligations, hobbies etc), humanity's best chance is when we're open to other people's experiences from next to them or even by the sidelines cheering a random stranger. It seems all of my social media posts or blog posts pretty much say the same thing (hang out with people you care about, get some exercise). It's that kind of logic why I don't entirely get the popularity of one of the songs from the radio "This is my fight song" because if you have to have a song that says it that basic how clever is that, why should something that corny or cheesy  be catchy? But sometimes basics and fundamentals of connection help. You can do it a little tongue in cheek like SNL and remind yourself that "I'm smart enough, I'm good enough and doggone it people like me." But I am thankful for both myself and for Kiana that everyone once in a while there's someone on the side of the road with the right sign or the right song for a stranger. And I loved that even as she was smiling from it before her race was over, she was wanting to make that sign and go cheer a race with it. So I hope that once in a while we also get to be that stranger, those angels unaware and perhaps,

Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Into motion
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion

If you're wondering where I got that poem from above, well I wrote it. Don't believe me, ask TS Eliot. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Smell The Color 9

This blog started, stayed and will be till it's end a simple thing, a boy with a damaged memory trying to remember life in real time, a diary (I mean journal I'm obviously way too manly for a diary) that happened to be online because in the age of the internet I could write to it or access it from anywhere.  It usually focuses around brain cancer and the changes and side effects that have come that I would not have been able to guess, if my life depended on it. Fortunate and thankful, what it is my life depends on, it's still working.

Some of the things that don't surprise other people, they still surprise me. I won a 5k in Houston recently; it was the inaugural one of the Seabrook series. I've won races before and I dare dream I'll win them again though the last race that I "gave up" the lead on, one particular element stung. So even though I've managed to win races since 3rd grade into my mid 30's, never once had I broken tape. Not once but I'm not bitter. I mean it's not like I noticed back in that race in January that I had less most of the way that the actual winner had broken tape... Or that race where I got out kicked last year that the winner broke tape within my view. Or that in other races I'd been that the pictures of the winners was always with them breaking tape. The closest I'd ever gotten to the tape was holding it once while was someone was crossing. Not all races have tape, I'm not sure if its the majority or minority of races that use it but usually even when I win races I don't do anything "triumphant" until after the race not across the finish line. But in Houston they had tape as I crossed and I saw it with less than a tenth of a mile to go and I pumped my arms up in a fashioned that showed that breaking tape was something I'd given enough emotion to garner an entire paragraph in this blog. And not only was that the coolest thing because it was an inaugural race and I was the first winner of it ever, they had planned to give it to the winner and it now sits in my home though I haven't figured out a way to put it up.

Still that was only the first of 3 races for the weekend, a feat I'd never even attempted before, with the races doubling up distance each day. The next day was a half marathon relay where I bonded even more with a girl from the Austin Runner's Club. I had the second leg and we were in second place by a few minutes by when I started, a gap I thought I couldn't make up (I also wasn't sure what place we were in but I knew we were in at least second). The watch is never quite my motivator, it's beating people but since the course was a double loop, there were people all along the course to pass and that serve as inspiration for perspiration. I gunned a little  faster than I ever have on similar distances on the road or trail. We would eke out the half marathon relay victory over 2 brothers that were 13 and 11. There was no tape the second day to break so the lack of tape might have inspired us to get a little cheeky after our victory.

Still having gunned to that left the legs hurting and realizing I was going to be running more than those two days combined for a half marathon. I had two goals and a dream, the goals were beating our joint time on my own and beating my fastest half marathon with a stroller (1:23.08). The dream was to get my faster half marathon ever but I knew with burning legs that might be pushing. I ended up 12th with a 1:22.58 and an age group win and managed to pass 3 people in the later part of the race. I was afraid I'd fly and die or crash and burn but turns out that there was still something in the legs. I got to speak at both the finish line and the awards presentation. Since it was a St. Paddy's themed half marathon I changed into my running kilt. To answer an age old question, if you're wondering what was underneath the kilt, it was my running shoes and the legs that had gotten me to 3 trophies and medals in 3 days!

Still I came back home and realized that despite the 3 races it still wasn't a full marathon distance for the weekend so when Kiana got home from spring break with her mom, we finished it up. Then we got back into the groove of going to school where for the 3rd quarter this year, she would once again get straight A's and perfect attendance. So we're both still showing up. They get a gift certificate to a Tex-Mex place for straight A's and I am amused cause when I got straight A's, I got Mexican food too but mine was my mom's home cooked and with no offense meant to anyone, my mom's way better.

I couldn't help but reflect that with 3 races in 3 days (and I kid you not the room we stayed in was 333) I also had 3 speaking engagements in less than a week. Apparently all the skills I needed for this stage in my life, running and talking about my life, I had by 3rd grade. The third speaking engagement was the most formal at a fundraising dinner for Camp Kesem. It's a camp for children of parents who had cancer, some of them orphaned by it. When someone suggested sending Kiana to it, I blew it off. One was the part of not wanting to say on my deathbed of "I wish I'd spent more time with my kid." I never went to camp as a kid but I figured that the right developmental age for my little girl to by away from home and not be able to call or write was about the time she'll be old enough to have a boyfriend, say 20 or so. She loved it when she went and missed me so much that the first thing she said when she got back was if she could go back the next year. The speech was well received but despite me getting invited still to speak at places, there is the reality check that this was the first speech Kiana had been to in a while and she, like she often does, brought a book with her (old school still giving her books instead of my iPhone). It certainly keeps things in checked that she asked that if my speech was boring if she could read during it... To my credit, she did not get the book out while I was talking but that may be because her question ended up being my opener which got lots of laughs from the audience. From Kiana it also got me a smile (albeit if you know her it was one of those glaring smiles... she's learning early). It was a formal dinner so it was the first time we got to dress up together in a  bit and showing she's already got a better sense of fashion than me, she wanted to make sure my outfit coordinated with her.

That still may not have been the biggest surprise of the weekend. I hosted a playdate with a few of her friends, something that just kind of came together after school. I worry about many things about Kiana but one is definitely that she's an only child with no family in town. My mom is the oldest of
12 and I am one of 3 and there's a social development that comes from family and friends your age that can't come up no matter how good of a parent you are. It was easter weekend so I hid eggs (being called a master egg hider by 2 nine year olds was a serious compliment since well 9 year olds tell you straight up things like when they are bored at speeches). But the one that took the cake (or earned them chocolate) was that we had this new rasberry nail thing that everyone single one of the 4 little girls called the most fun nail thing they had ever done! I never though I'd be hosting a nail salon with 4 little girls  at my house period (much less enjoying it) nor it being called the best one and by one little girl's account something that their mom had been talking about doing and she was glad to finally have the chance. I didn't do my own nails (I only do my toes with Kiana and this was finger nails) and there are certainly a few dads and friends who would think that the activity I chose to do was a nail salon reflected the damage in my brain but I dare dream it's the growth of the creativity in my heart.

So Easter was a good weekend with a chance to reflect on New and Renewed Life and that at least for now, keeping all my eggs in one basket hasn't gone too badly. There have been a few things that have come since then that are still blowing my mind. I am a boy who had never called in sick in his entire life... had missed 5 days for chicken pox from Kindergarten through college and then got a cancer that has no known dietary, lifestyle, genetic or environmental component. The things that have come from it, both good and bad are ones I would have never guessed.

But the strange life continues as this weekend I'm heading to Houston for the 4th time this year to be part of the Final Four weekend. Infinite is donating up to $700K for people's pick to the American Cancer Society. There will be 14 cancer survivors playing against each other as part of the weekend and then we get to attend the game. We had tryouts in February and if you check out the details, you can see during the selection process that I am the first one announced, which if you watch the game will be inversely proportionate to the talent on the field. I don't know for sure but I'd bet more money than I have on any on any bracket that it's because I was the last one picked :). Still,  since I was at Duke during March Madness, that's when I started following college ball, there's something cool about getting to be there as both a part of it, as a fundraiser against cancer, and as a spectator.

Yesterday I did an interview locally for it and another one with Nike about running. Today I have another one of those interviews and and I'm also speaking to UT premed students for the 4th year in a row about running more (I always want to sneak in hey by the way go cure cancer along the way). I hope that none of them have heard me each year because it's essentially the same story with a few minor tweaks and updates and some new jokes (besides do we really want doctors that take a class 4 times?!?). This is my 8th time speaking at the University of Texas, in 5 different buildings in 4 years. Yet in the middle of all these talks and interviews, I've also been on the phone quite a bit appealing an insurance claim. Cancer has strange side effects.

I am incredibly thankful to still be standing... daring to dream it's because I haven't been standing still. But it's hard to configure or reconfigure the emotions of thankfulness, guilty and responsibility when I'm visiting friends in hospice care who are dying of cancer, most of which I met because of cancer and way too many whose prognosis were better. I've been to too many of those visits, though on those I've never taken Kiana. I think and hope that I had been preparing her if my time came when oddly enough the first person whose death she has to experience was a few days ago and it was her maternal grandfather who passed away of cancer. We sat and talked about it with a game where we've playing more and more, backgammon, a game where strategy and chance and foresight all matter and nothing ever reigns consistently supreme. But in the best way, I tried to encourage her that sharing emotions anger, hurt, sadness were all okay. Those emotions are useful and serve a purpose they just have to be channeled correctly. But this was coming from me a  guy who still often hides (it it hides or experiences) his emotions in running, in music, in this blog, in a nakedness that wants to be seen but is afraid it may be too much.

There's times you want to cry out to the universe or pray and try to deduce it to logic, which cannot be done. It's one of those things that if you spend too much time thinking about you'll lose your mind, even more than I already have. Still I also believe that if you don't spend some time reflecting on it, you may well lose your soul. Trying to make sense of any or all of this is like trying to smell the color 9. You may say that 9's not a color and even if it were you can't smell a color which is my point exactly. But despite the strangeness of life in general and mine in specific, I am infinitely thankful that for me that the secret to having it all is appreciating all the life that I do have.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Deus Ex Machina

Take it from a guy with a damaged one, memory used to be a thing that was all alone in the moonlight, where you dreamt of the old days and thought life was beautiful then. Then humanity  got more efficient with writing, then drawing, then photography. Now in the modern age of social media, remembering anniversaries or birthdays has gotten easier as we get literally prompted to it. However even with a scarred temporal lobe and a not quite there hippocampus, there are days that despite having very little recollection of them, they are still unforgettable.

Just a few days ago it was 5 years ago since brain surgery. I don't recall honestly anything after 'waking up' but the humor coping mechanism was there before the surgery with the joke of "I'm going to give you a piece of my mind" to the neurosurgery team about half an hour before. Before counting down as they put in anesthesia, knowing that having someone slice up my brain was the highest chance of death I'd ever had on any given day since birth, I said what can be construed as a joke, or a prayer or a fear. Just before they injected in what would put me out, I smiled a fearful smile and said, "into your hands I commend my spirit."

I thought the fact that having put off brain surgery and qualifying for Boston was a good story, a good way to go out. There would be some physical therapy and neurological stuff but the hardest things were yet to come. I won't forget the date March 3, 2011 but when Facebook reminded me of it, I made it a point to reach out to the friends and family who had been kind enough to come out to Duke. I'm proud to say that with rare exception they are all people who I am still regularly in contact with whether they live near or not. And then I emailed the guy who actually cut me up, Dr. Allan Friedman to thank him. Like before he could bill me for something, he just wrote back and we traded some emails as humans that were somehow a doctor and his patient. I send him an old fashion Christmas card every year but I also sent him a picture of Kiana's latest 5k's. One of them may show why this kid has gone over two years without having a race that wasn't a PR. It's a finish line picture from the Paramount 5k. This the race I've done 3 years instead of the marathon that I put off surgery for because well while running is a solitary sport in many ways, I hope Kiana learns a lesson earlier than I did which is the while you have to do most of life alone, when you  have good connections, it's improved by doing it alone together. When the doctor asked for her time, Dr. Friedman responded with that her PR is now better than his. I've long joked that this whole brain cancer journey would be worth it if Kiana became a brain surgeon. Hmm, she's measurably already better in one way at 9 years of age, and in several others at least in her dad's eyes.

I shared with him the beauty of life that continues and that I still am trying to be like the one leper. Because somehow among the other memory feeds from March are that I went to Beaumont and won a marathon a little over 3 years ago, we talked about some of the running and things that have come from then. Two years ago, I went back on my own and won the half. This year I went back and ran next to Kiana who once again Pr'ed. The finish line picture wasn't that different, I was behind her looking tired and she looked happy to be at the finish line. But while this one would garnish far less attention from most people and no media, it garnished just as much affection between Kiana and I. In my book that's what counts most. In both of those races she would place in her age group, 3rd and 2nd respectively. Kid's going to have to get a proper coach someday. She's literally flying in both those pictures, with her feet seeming to not touch the ground.

I'm a chess coach at Kiana's school but this is only my 2nd year doing it because when this all started when you go through over 2 years without a full month break from a medical appointment... you stop thinking out more than a move in advance. But I think no matter what has come or will, the best choice of my life was to recognize that parenting would be my most important privilege and responsibility. It was a reassuring award that when she took her qualifying test for chess where only the top students would advance to the competition, she saw me grading it and didn't ask how she did. She knew her dad wouldn't tell her any sooner than the week everyone else had to wait. She by the way got the highest score and advances (she knows the latter, not the former). Good to see that we've both started thinking a little bit about the long game.

I've watched too many people die with the same diagnosis as me to not stay keenly aware of both the beauty and fragility of life. But when we're 3 months into 2016 with zero medical appointments and still almost as many till the next one, I breathe a little easier. I've been reading "The Whole Brain Child" and it's comforting that her neurobiological development is taking more of my thought than the disease of my brain.

We're still going and not intending to ease up anytime soon.  Yesterday I did my first Spartan race of the year competing against some family (though I beat them all, this was the first time that any of them were ahead of me at some point in the course, 2 of them in fact!). Then I did a second lap right next to my oldest friend who we've known each other since I was 8 and she was 9. Our kids did a Spartan kids race together last year and now so have we side by side... Ahh the circle of life and it moves us all.  I'm doing 3 races this weekend back to back to back, a new feat that's got me intimidated, 5k Friday, half marathon relay with the Bond girl Saturday, half on my own Sunday.  Kiana's got another 10k and Spartan coming up both in April and I'll be right there next to her. 

If you'd ask me to predict my life from brain surgery 5 years ago to now, I would have gotten it all wrong. If you'd asked me to predict my life from signing up for a marathon with a stroller years ago till now, I would have gotten it all wrong. Honestly, I would not have bet I'd still be standing but if nothing else I dare dream it's because I haven't been standing still. Perhaps just as importantly it's because even when moving, I've chosen to not do it alone, being committed to that relationships are the most important part of my life. I got to return to New York as well recently (now Beaumont and New York are both places I've been to both more than Duke for medical appointments not just period but since brain surgery!; that may seem a strange thing to note but to me, it keeps one more way in which life not cancer is winning).

The title of today's blog literally translates as God from the machinery. It is usually a reference to an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel. There are days that I don't quite understand how life has been so kind and strange and normal in odd circumstances. But while nothing that I know of lasts forever, I am glad to be waking up each day to see that hope still prevails. Or as Van Gogh said I know nothing with certainty but the sight of the stars makes me dream. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Bright Smile

These stories in this blog that I write started with one purpose and one purpose alone, if this tumor
was going to damage my memories, and I had to hear the stories of my life from someone else, well, I wanted that person to be me. While not everything is spelled out blatantly, there are nods and winks occasionally, there's never misdirection or creativity. It was never meant to inspire, be fuzzy or sad just a journal of both happenings and happenstance, a wandering writing of the wondering mind. Be forewarned this is one of those types of entries.

I'm a smart kid. It's been in this blog a few times that I was valedictorian of my high school and the first in my family to graduate from college. But I grew up in a rough and poor neighborhood where being "nerdy" was nothing to be admired; we (I was part of those we) made fun of the smart kids. The ones we looked up to were the ones who knew how to handle a fight (this may be why I'm a decent runner... how I handled a few fights; with that said I do know how to both throw and take a punch, never once started a fight but I finished a few.) I spent my entire life trying to "hide" that I was intelligent. I got put in gifted and talented program shortly after learning english in the United States. I graduated college with two degrees, suma cum laude, with honors and part of several honor societies but the only people who ever knew that were the people who took classes with me. Every year they would have an honors assembly at the school with all the seniors where they wold announce the awards they would be receiving at graduation. I attended every year except the year I was graduating. It wasn't humility; it was still a guy hiding the fact that he liked learning things at school more than (insert cool fashionable thing here). There was a guy I worked with for almost 3 years, a premed student who is now a brilliant doctor, who only saw my hiding coping mechanisms of pretending to be just as "normal" as everyone at intelligent things. He would say somewhat joking but mostly serious shortly after that awards assembly, all this time we've been working together and I never knew you were one of the smart kids. 

I also grew up with bad teeth. That was true of pretty much everyone in the neighborhood in a street with unpaved roads in Mexico and of almost everyone in my family. Something about the water stained your teeth, made them more susceptible to cavities, and absolutely stained them. I grew up with brown marks on white teeth or perhaps the other way around. I have zero memories of that in my first 8 years of life, neither noticing it on me, or noticing it on anyone else. Childhood pictures in Mexico have a smile that beams from ear to ear....

But then I moved to the United States, a blessing and a privilege in almost every way, but there was one very traumatic element. Most of the kids had much much better teeth and not most, perhaps not many, but enough to where it wore down my smile through elementary and certainly junior high to where I never did it without being a natural smile and even then it often came with an awkward self consciousness. This was true even around people I cared about and who I consciously knew loved me but the smile would shut down quickly because I'd remember a phrase/nickname I've never quite shaken out of my consciousness "crap teeth." Sometimes in junior high "crap" got upgraded to a more strongly rated word. It's something that I've never quite shaken from smiling even now. 

In the age of selfies and me, a guy who has been in far too much media, people wonder why I am almost never in pictures on social media that I myself put up. My brother, good friends tell me I should be in more pictures with Kiana. I joke around with something that's a hyperbolic truth; that I look much better behind the camera. But it developed in high school when I became a yearbook photographer for many reasons but an absolutely certain one was that I wanted to be in as few pictures in the yearbook as possible. I didn't want those teeth showing. I would do some yearbook photography in college and in the years I was a teacher as well. I was best friends with one yearbook editor and married another one...Despite being the first in my family to graduate college, I skipped the graduating class picture in college. Unless the photographer managed to make me smile somehow, almost all my pictures are with closed lips. A college professor, a kind old man, said what I believed he meant kindly in the middle of a conversation in front of others, when you're older you should get veneers cause you have a nice smile but those stains distract from it. I smiled a lot less for several months consciously and when doing natural smiling shut it down faster. Still, looking back through yearbooks I am grateful that my desire to hide from the camera put me behind it where I caught so many real smiles. I'd climb trees and buildings and hide and people would smile when they noticed and that got some good shots of them in the yearbooks.

Later on, less than a year into my first professional career, I'd blow through almost everything I saved into getting veneers on my front teeth, the ones I'd been most teased about. In simple frankness, I didn't know much about dentists so I may have chosen too quickly. When the brain cancer stuff started (and to this day), I stopped going to the dentist for anything regular. There were enough other medical bills to take care of. If you were wondering what my pain tolerance is, I went over a year needing a root canal before I got it done, not coincidentally on the very first month since the cancer journey started that I didn't have a brain cancer appointment. When the brain cancer appointments were further apart, I no longer had medical or dental insurance after the job issues nor had them paid off so the dentist still got neglected (I brush and floss and use mouthwash). It may well tell you the sensitive nature of this that I put off brain surgery for a few months, a root canal for longer than that because of the brain surgery bills but when my front tooth chipped, it was fixed very quickly. You may call that vanity and perhaps that's part of it but it's not the main thing. I mean this is coming from a guy who someone suggested hiding their brain surgery scar with some cosmetic surgery. I tried to grow my hair out for a few months and quickly said forget about it. 

The projection of parenting is sometimes what we want our kids to be too often to make up for our failures, or the damage we received. It was the awareness of my mortality with the diagnosis of brain cancer that me more fully aware of the fact I should be more invested in parenting. It was that possibility that Kiana might not remember me that made me be a better dad since I hadn't met my biological father till I was 15. And it was the ESPN media piece suggesting that I didn't have one that made me realize that while I didn't get one till I was 8, I'd had a great one most of my life.  Other times we parents are are trying to protect them from our bad experiences... I almost cancelled a media piece interview cause Kiana had lost a tooth naturally presuming that my issues with teeth problems would be passed on to her, that she'd hate the camera. She didn't care and smiled at me just as much in that piece as in any other. And while she's not had a perfect teeth career (we had to get her a special toothpase), a few days ago when she went for her 6 month check up she had zero new dental issues which was true 6 months ago as well. But no matter what with teeth missing or not, that kid has never hidden her smile. 

Kiana is also super nerdy and we embrace it. She's part of the chess club I coach and despite being one of the latest learners, she's consistently been one of the better players. Her science project ended up being the one that won her entire grade's competition and went to district. I thought that was awesome but it ended up not just winning her grade but being one of only 30 placers out of projects from several school districts. It's as high as they go at this level but I've joked around forever that if this brain cancer thing ends up with her being a scientists; it'll totally be worth it. They gave her a certificate that said she's a genius (it's something I've always suspected but now it's on a piece of paper so that makes it real, right?). In my neuropsychologicals, I actually still show to be in the 1 percentile so I try to make myself feel better about my damaged brain with that (while overlooking that some memory functions are now in the mildly retarded level). I never once talked bout being smart when it was normal; I was embarrassed. I've talked a lot about since I lost it, a defensive mechanism at best. Kiana has a more balanced approach because when she talks about her gifted and talented program she says well that's just what I am in, I didn't name it. Nonetheless, I am thankful she has a neighborhood, friends and a family where her intelligence is not something to hide. 

Where is this writing coming from today? So this morning one of the veneers brook off and now my teeth look horrible again (only one of them does but it's an all or nothing smile in my emotional scars). And even when they were all in place and people said nice smile, it made me self conscious, a lifetime of emotional scars or perhaps just ones that came at a young and critical age. For a guy who often says that pretentiousness isn't one of my fault, I wondered if my veneered smile itself wasn't a lie. I worked a little harder on memory tests and perhaps the guy who is usually stoic feeling his damage back in his smile, didn't do as well as usual. 

In the big scheme of things though, it's just a broken tooth. The dentist I previously use has retired so I gotta find a new one and see what the damage is both physically and financially. But while I'll probably never be comfortable in front of the camera not ever quite accept that my damaged mind is worth much anymore, I'm thankful that this is probably the best I've ever owned it. I'm thankful that I've gotten to stay alive now 5 years after cancer to watch Kiana's intelligence and her teeth be more than just flashes but more and more of a constant. So for this moment, at least today, I'm glad we both get to share a bright smile.