Monday, April 15, 2019

The Name of the Game

I've been playing sports for so long that when it's time for anything important to happen, I almost always declare it's game time. That's been said before speeches, tests, interviews, and almost every race. For the first time ever in my life, this past Saturday it was 100% correct at a race. Elaine, Kiana and I were signed up for the Game. It's a race that has a 4.167 miles of an out and back on trail where you leave ever hour on the hour. The reason for the random distance is that if you last 24 hours it would be exactly 100 miles.

Before this, the longest Kiana had ever run in one day was 13 miles, the longest she'd ever race continously was 10. Before this, the longest Elaine and I had ever done continuously (and that's arguable due to the obstacles) was a 50k Spartan ultra. The longest I had ever run in one event, a Ragnar Ultra was 36 but that had multiple hour breaks between the 3 times I went out there. Kiana had committed to doing at least 4 originally but then they announced whoever did 5 got a cap and she started saying 5. Elaine said she wanted to do 8 (pretty good number!) and get 33.3 and get her highest single day mileage. I made it my goal to fail out there because I couldn't get back in an hour not because I wouldn't start a round, the way almost everyone completes it. I wanted to fail on the course, not at the start line, get my first DNF (did not finish).

The race was a little ways out for a 7 Am start so it was a 5 am alarm. My parents had come into town in case I was dumb enough to last well past Kiana's bedtime, they would take her home. In simple honesty, I thought I would last 50 to 60 miles, not so much because of the distance but because of the pausing. I've played sports and it was the long breaks or bye between rounds where I always hurt the most and I thought those would accumulate for me.

Round 1 was nice and steady, there had been rain the night before but it was all still pretty solid but damp. Round 2 it started pouring like crazy enough to where I thought, we better be getting some doggone good May flowers from these April showers. Moments after I warned Kiana to be careful, I took a serious fall. It was primarily reflex from sticking my arm out and my shoulder tweaking out of place. It kept popping regularly, enough to where I had the medic tape it since it was a bit of a nuisance. Turns out your arms are engaged during running. Round 4 was a prim, there was a prize for whoever came in first. I didn't care about the prize and multiple had said specifically that if you wanted to last a while you should ignore those. But as everyone knows, I'm not competitive at all so I took off fast. There was a friend right behind me for a while and so I didn't give up off the throttle until a little after halfway where I realized I had a solid margin on him. I did that round in 34 minutes, could have done it a few seconds faster but just having fun with the game, I crawled in the last 20 yards, exhausted from smiling.  Round 5 had more rain and hail and thunder and lightning. It had a 30 minute delay so more sitting around. Kiana and I were heading back where she had pushed herself to get her cap and she was trying to decide whether or not to take on a 6th. She said well I'll definitely do a 6th to get to 25 but maybe I'll do what you're doing and just run till I fail a round. Like the great father that I am, I said well I'll keep running next to you unless it's too close then I'll hurry back to not get DQ'ed. I did from that moment on though start running behind her to make sure she was keeping her own pace. After we earned our caps, Kiana proudly took hers. Elaine and I had brought our own so we brought them to my mom and dad who had brought Mexican cokes, Chips and guac, towels, more socks. They made us and them look good.

Round 6 Kiana was slowing down but still nowhere near dq time. There were poker chips you had to pick up at the turn around point to turn in with questions, some simple like chocolate or vanilla. Others were a little more philosophical, like hardest thing you've ever done, biggest dream. We did that last one with all 3 of us together and chatted it up. Kiana on the way out was thinking maybe one more but on the way back decided 25 miles was a nice round number plus they were making pizza at the start. I got both honest criticism and honest praise of the quality of my parenting about letting her run that long.

Round 7 and 8 were Elaine's last two and she was committed to finishing what she started. We ran them side by side and chatted some more about the weather and the mud. When she finished her last one, she said she would get changed while I was out on number 9 but they announced that it was going to be a prim. Several guys said they weren't just going to let me have it but only one really took off with me. I was in the lead the whole time and I never look back no matter how nervous or tired I am because anytime anyone has ever looked back at me at a race, they just became my biggest cheerleader. Still, when I passed my family the first time, they said you have a 30 second lead. The second time they said you have a 23 second lead, the 3rd time they said you have a 15 second lead. He was making up space. There was only one long section or gravel dry road around mile 3 and I put my head down to beat him. It would be the fastest round of the day, 32 minutes, this time moon walking in the finish.

The next round I'd take it very very slow just to let some recovery build up but I started noticing the other runners more. The guy consistently in the lead was keeping a very steady pace. Most people were. I was just running by feel and found that changing up speed helped the legs. All of a sudden a strong wind picked up and the guy who runs without a shirt in 30 degree weather was getting cold. So I started putting on a shirt and jacket in between rounds but then just started running with one. I was somehow both cold and continuously sweating. After 10 rounds, I said well only a couple of more and I'll get to the minimum I'd hoped for, 50 miles. Some people were saying, one round at a time but each time I was getting near the finish I'd think two or three ahead. When I got to 50, I thought well the kid born 8/8/80 is at 80km but I can surely get to 100 km and 13 loops. When I got to 12 loops, I thought well I definitely hope I don't fall apart at 13 that's bad luck. When I got to 13, I'm like well if I get to 16 I'll have gone twice as long as Elaine. Every once in a while I gotta last longer than her. While you can read the double entendre there, our first trail race together she did 30k while I did 10k and there's been other races where she's been doing the longer distance because she has more tolerance for loops than me (speaking of double entendres, see she can handle monotony).

When I got to 16 loops, I thought well let's get to 18, I'll be a legal runner on this game. At that point, I thought well once I get to 21 I'll drink something alcoholic just to make a point. I was actually feeling pretty good at 18 and with just two hundred yards out on a sharp turn, I tweaked a knee. I walked in the last couple hundred yards out. I said to Elaine I think this round may be where it comes apart, this is swelling fast and I don't know what it is. Earlier in the day when I'd fallen on my shoulder, two rounds in, I was sharp enough to say tape it. After some sleep, I wonder why didn't I think of tape or icy hot but I was barely thinking much less thinking straight. On loop 19, I got to the turn around point at about 29 minutes. Now in almost every round I actually did the second half faster than the first but I was struggling. I decided to ignore my watch and just finish that 19th loop but it would be too late. Still with only about a quarter mile to go, a runner passed me clearly hustling to make the cut and I followed suit but still couldn't run and so sped walk ran in pain till I got to the start line with about a minute to spare. By this time, it was night time and we'd been running with lights for quite a while. A couple of friends of those left said they could tell which one was me because the light was bouncing very sporadically, my stepping had become uneven. Still, I was there with time to start and start I did. I took off running but it didn't last long. I'd get a little overhalf way before the full hour passed. Elaine had come to try to talk to me but I told her to leave me alone as pacing was against the rules. When it was done, I went and apologized to the race director my friend Jason for not lasting longer. He hugged me and said no apologies needed. We got in the car and while the drive home was supposedly 45 minutes, I blinked and when I opened my eyes, Elaine said we were one block away.

A DNF is a DNF. There is no way I'll be proud of failing well ever. Could I have figured out a better way to put the pain away? Maybe. It was cold out there and I was literally physically shaking between rounds. Maybe I should have accounted for that and brought a long sleeve shirt. Could I have better planned out nutrition? Maybe. The winner I would learn after I woke up went 23 rounds. Somewhere in the night I'd wondered if I could hit the 24 hour mark and run a 100 miles but at least that night no one did.

Still, it was more than double the distance I've ever done in a single day. This race has no finisher's medal since only one is the finisher. Still, somewhere whether the failure was mental or physical I'll never fully know. I'm glad Kiana, Elaine and I got to be players in this game I love. I've had many failures in my life but this is the one I'm most proud of.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Good Grief

I am sad. I am very very sad. I know tons of people and being in the cancer community, I deal with death too much but the last time I was this sad was when my great grandpa passed away when I was in 7th grade. I know that may seem over the top since well, it was a dog versus people and let's be clear people as a group outrank dogs as a group but she was always here. It's against my religion to have bad days and I rarely sin and I haven't committed at least that sin once this week since Puppy's passing. 

But there have been moments, unpredictable some and some all but expected. When I finish my cereal and remember that I can't go put down the leftover milk for puppy to lick up that I tear up. When there's a little bit of salmon left and I tell Kiana and Elaine that we need to pack it up or finish it because it's expensive just to not bawl on that I can't put it in puppy's bowl. Puppy was never a loud dog, rarely barked but I miss the clicking of her too long nails in the wood and tile floors, the flapping open of the dog door and the magnets getting into place. I put away my laundry usually pretty fast since I fold it on the floor while watching TV but this week I let it sit in the middle of the living room for longer and took the coffee table purposely to where her food and bed used to be to make that space not look so damn empty. 

Speaking of damned, I don't know what to do with words of comfort people offer. I say thank you every time and don't argue. I mean even the vet's pamphlet talked about some mythical rainbow bridge. I've gotten the all dogs go to heaven a few times. There was the suggestion of a tattoo because of how much I loved her. There was even one person who shared about dog cloning things. I get it, we all deal with sadness in different coping mechanisms. 

I don't know what happens after humans or dogs die. I wonder if it's something like the movie from the invention of lying where heaven is just something we made up once to find comfort in. I have a degree in religion so I'm aware of the different portrayals/perception of the after life in both the good and bad. Even with humor as my usual coping mechanism, the only joke I've been able to make about it all was in response to "all dogs go to heaven" with a lame, "That can't be true about puppy cause they say dogs resemble their owners." I have enough of a sense of justice to where I understand the desire for people to get their just deserves when they've gotten away with much of life and I've received enough grace to know too many people like me, get a far lifer kind than they deserve here and dream up that maybe, just maybe the Universe forgives those willing to receive it in some way Forever. 

I've heard intriguing stories about what people do with pet and human remains this week. We were very very practical about puppy's remains, not an ounce of romantic effort was put into them. I mean I'm the guy who wants to be cremated and flushed down the toilet. But don't think I did it so quickly. I almost got remains that I thought about holding onto and taking her back to the Marshall Islands in the style of Lindo y Querido. Or perhaps just spreading them in some of the best places we took our walks. But in the end we were strictly pragmatic. (I mentioned the toilet seat that a friend made for when my time comes to the vet after it was all done. Surprisingly or perhaps un-surprisingly since she regularly conducts euthanasia, she asked to see it.)

Let me be clear; this blog never has been, never will be a place for me to give advice (or take any thank you). It's just a place to describe the memories of this journey and if brain cancer takes a common path, life is kind enough to give me that luxury to read this story in my own words, to hear the story the way I remembered it at the time, with only immediate coloring in retro activeness not the one that we do with years past.

But how I grieved, Elaine and I have cleaned out more of our house during the recent past than ever. Shoes, tshirts, medals all types of things that were just sitting in drawers were taken to goodwill or trashed. I've heard the give me joy pattern going around and I respect it but to me it was simply is it used and is it useful and with very few exceptions if it didn't meet that criterion, it was time for it to go. I have great joy in my even damaged memory but I hope that somewhere until very near my final end, amazing joy on earth is always more forward than backward.

I also have been deleting hundreds of people on social media. I got my twitter and instagram down to double digits. On facebook I've been working on it for a while. The media and speeches had people follow my day to day. I never did know quite what to do with it simply running with it (pun intended) with the old idea that to whom much is given much is expected. I hope I've kept up with expectations but it's been over 8 years since I did my first interview about my cancer experiences with lots more in the 6 years since I won a marathon. I still have speeches in recent past and future but I think on my social media I'm just going to treat it like an old fashioned way to say hi in between chances to actually catch up with people. If that's the only way we can catch up, no real interaction in text, or calls or chat or phone calls, I'll pass. I want to know people better, not just mine and their short projected ideas dancing. I got along great with puppy for 15 years and we never once texted.

I'm not denying my grief. The tear ducts are in the system for a reason.  In cleaning out my closet and puppy's gear and boxes of this and that, I dare to dream that open spaces, yes they remind me of what's missing and make a few or many tears burst here and there. But I hope, and hope is my 4 letter word, that leaving space open clears some room for those tears to give empty soil some new room to grow.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Dreams Were Made and Used, Not Wasted

Theoretically this blog is about brain cancer changes but today I emotionally deviate to what has been the most consistent part of the story, my dog. With running events, I always say its like lights and sound, if we do our job we should go unnoticed. In our life story, we sometimes neglect other people but that's almost always entirely wrong, their job is not to highlight ours. Relationships are a dance, a back and forth. With pets, they're just animals right, just furry fuzzy fun critters to keep us company. I mean who overdoes things like that or gets too emotionally involved? A guy as stoic as me certainly would not.

But the truth is that I had to put my dog down yesterday. She was just past 15, by all standards well above average life span at her quinceanera. She had some rough moments in the last few months from something they literally refer to as old dog syndrome back in October to being attacked by another dog in November to where her heart has been giving out for the last couple of months. I don't know much about heart disease but apparently it was causing it to grow some, turns out the grinch and hers stories don't line up.

Still, I digress. Death is so rarely the most important part of our story no matter how dramatic or emotional we latch on. She was a beach dog came from when I was volunteering as a high school teacher in the Marshall Islands at age 23. We were both born poor in the third world walking the streets. From a young age till the very end this dog had brains and would look both ways before crossing the street. She was part of the litter of a stray that lived in the building across from my apartment and she'd come up to my place to say hi. The most common meal in the Marshall Islands is chicken and rice and fish and rice. To get rid of the dog, I'd throw the left over bones from my front door to get her away. She'd chase them down and be back for more regularly. My intent of getting that puppy out of there was not working. So eventually, I took her in and since my creativity knows no bounds her moniker was "Puppy." Her name tag would say only that for a few years with the"Leon" part to be added when she was well past the puppy stage. I'll fully grant that sometimes I'm slow to recognize family.

When it was time for me to leave the South Pacific, there were several teachers that were attached to campus or neighborhood dogs. The rest of them took the rational approach and realized these were strays and said goodbye. For me, I took the dog with me. At the time, as far as I could find record of, no one had ever taken a Marshallese dog back to the states so I had to get some customs laws figured out. I booked her on two separate flights, one from Majuro to Hawaii and the other from Hawaii to Texas. That made it more expensive but if I had done it all on once she would have had to been quarantined for a few months and I wasn't ready to bring her to the land of the free to start in captivity. Like me, she arrived in the US illegally through no choice of her own. I've wondered for both myself and her if we'd gotten to stay in the 3rd world how different our life would have been, simpler perhaps, just strays on rougher streets living simpler lives.

She was around one when all that happened and when we first arrived, after immunizations and vet appointments and weather changes and the beach disappearing, she pretty much wouldn't leave my side. The entire world had changed except me.

Through the years she kept up the desire for freedom, bolting out everytime I had groceries or was mowing the lawn. Yet not once did I have to go look for her, she always came home on her own. She was wanting to stretch her legs, not runaway. I rented an apartment because it came with a small backyard. She regularly dug holes underneath in youth; I was annoyed and grateful my mom didn't know about the times I snuck out the window or have to do repairs (that's obviously just an exaggeration mom). There was never a time where she'd had to have dog food in the Marshall Islands, they don't have that so she regularly tried to sneak this 'human food' which to her was just food. It's still one of my funniest memories finding her having destroyed the oatmeal container and her head stuck in it.

She'd not even been here two years, so just shy of 3, when a child was coming into my life and I bought a house cause the apartment was too small. I was 26 and didn't know anything about real estate, just wanted my daughter to have a room of her own right from birth. Still, one of the big things that jumped at me from the home I purchased was that it had a doggy door. When someone pointed out that I could have put one in, I didn't have a logical answer.

She would run with me in both of our younger ages. Back then I was usually running 3-5 miles most of the time and she'd go with me and look back during all these runs as if she were saying "Is that all you got?". If you think the guy who walks out of ambulances and put off brain surgery to run a marathon had her on a leash during all that, I assure you it was rarely true.

She aged well and even as I amped my mileage she would too. She did a training run of 13.1 miles with me. I never got her a medal. Unlike me, an irrational creature that want impractical things for external recognition, she never cared. She got a lot more white hair even before I started to get any gray ones but it would be a while before she'd slow down. She would leap super high for treats and even until a few months ago she still would remember and step as high as she could. The more she liked the treat, the higher she jumped. She was less than 40 pounds but a time or two with the right leap and enthusiasm and tile floor, she managed to knock me over. She never asked how I was after that, would just take the treat and go on her merry way. Perhaps because she'd been a stray anytime she got anything super special she'd take it out side and eat it where she was hard to reach.

Time comes for us all and Texas summers got hot so after a few years she didn't care about going on runs and just settled for walks but those were long with many going a few miles at a decent pace. She never seemed to want to turn around and it was usually my time constraints that got us to return. Puppy never seemed to like sitting still. They say dogs resemble their owners and we resemble that remark. Up and down steep climbs, across wet streams, hey if I was going she was going.

She never cared for 'dog toys' or things like chasing a frisbee. She'd look at me like why are you throwing random things that aren't food. Even when I tried to throw the ones that had food in them, she knew she'd won the game as I was sitting there struggling to figure out how to put peanut butter in one and she was licking from the jar I'd put down on the floor (yep, not at all at once but she got the rest of that jar and we never did a dog treat trick again).

She wasn't a dog that reacted to other dogs or people, didn't bark much. She was just home when she was with us whether that was outside or inside but when she needed a break she took one and well there's a reason there's inlaid bricks across every single section of my fence cause otherwise she'd stage breakouts to return later. There were neighbors who were annoyed with it because of her safety but eventually they realized neither they nor I could catch her when she wanted to take herself on a walk and again she looked both ways before crossing the street.

She put up with a leash when she had to which was gigantically when Kiana was involved so that I could be a proper law abiding dad in her younger age. She never tugged just to go faster so when she did jet to chase that squirrel or two she usually was already out of your hand by the time you realized it. But you also knew she was always coming back.

Puppy was the definition of home. For about a month or so, she will lead in the category of who I shared a roof with the longest with us buying this house a month before Kiana was born. She will for at least a few more years be who I shared all roofs with. I moved out of my parents house shortly after turning 14 and Puppy and I shared 4 roofs in 3 cities and two countries but she was my companion for a little over 15 years. When she turned 14 last year, she was fading much and I wondered how much time she had left but as I gave her a few special treats and I was recently engaged, I looked up at my fiancee and said see I hold onto my bitches. I won't tell you her full reaction but it wasn't a warm hug ;).  Kiana will pass her in a few years and I trust and hope Elaine will pass them both in due time but I'm glad we all got it together. Still, with Puppy, I knew her from birth till death and shared a home with her that entire time. I'm highly skeptical anything like that will ever occur again.

In stories, we focus on the 'main' character too much and I think we often miss the more accurate portrayals. There are only two books I've read more than once and only two movies that I've watched more than once and only one literature piece that has a decoration up in my house, a sword. That overlap is in Lord of the Rings. It has the big monsters and this hero and that hero but my favorite hobbit one was always Sam not Bilbo and in the end he says "I can't carry the ring but I can carry you." Puppy couldn't take cancer away from me or a seizure or becoming a single dad or the biggest financial mess of my life or any or all the ups and downs. There may be few confessions that I would have a hard time acknowledging that in the midst of all that transition, I almost thought giving away Puppy was an option to be financially practical. The friend who talked me out of it, the guy who I've seen many world wonders with and who would be the best man at my wedding, Troy, said if I was really gonna do that, he would take her in. I'm glad we stuck together because there were days I came home just to her and our walks and staring at each other was a difference maker. I never talked to her, which surprised many friends both pet owners and non-pet owners but dogs don't understand speech. I had noises and signals and we definitely communicated but it was a language we could both speak and hear. She carried me and frankly she helped me understand why I've seen so many homeless people keep dogs because I assure you if I had ever gotten there, I would have been a lot more at home with puppy and no roof than at a shelter without her.

She got me to continue home and gave me approval of marrying Elaine by being the ring bearer at our wedding. It wasn't the best pictures when she came up and I gave her a treat as I got the rings from her collar so none of those have ever been shared but it showed how she felt surrounded by a couple of hundred people. Her tail was wagging.

The last few months were tough. Elaine and I came home one day to her barely able to get up due to a 'old dog syndrome.' She would still eat but only tiny portions hand fed and Kiana would slice them up and spend lots of time doing it. She had just healed form that when another dog attacked her and she required two surgeries. After that she was hesitant to take walks but eventually got back to it (it might have helped that she got 'human food' at the end of those). Still, that may not have been the best approach as it became the opposite it had always been where she was in a bigger hurry on the way home rather than on the way out.

As recently as the Superbowl she was still stealing chicken wings from people who put them down. She started to lose her appetite in the last month, stopping to eat all dog food and most dog treats and even pass up chicken. The early February appointment at the vet had shown heart damage but still stability. At her appointment a week ago, the vet said her heart was almost twice as big and the videos I shower her of the episodes she was having were as alarming to her as they had been to me. We'd noticed her stomach growing and apparently the inefficient heart beat was causing fluid build up and she had almost a liter of that in her stomach. The vet said if it was her dog she'd put her down within 24 hours. I bawled for half an hour, more than I've cried continuously since elementary school. She asked if I needed more time to make the decision and I said no, the decision was almost instantaneous but it would be a few days. She gave me meds to make things for up to a week. I talked to Elaine and Kiana asked them if they wanted to be there. They both said they did. The vet said her office actually does it for free but we aren't the dying in a facility type and I'd learned about Lap of Love who does it at home and we scheduled it for Sunday night.

Did I second guess it internally, a thousand or more times but never seriously. Even cooking her the foods she'd tried to steal off our plates she was eating very little. She didn't want to walk much and was mostly just sleeping and still had a couple of the episodes. There were logical statements made to me when I'd question why this was necessary when she 'looked so tough' during some moments like 'well dogs don't aren't meant to show weakness.' While during our soft moments she had questioned whether or not I was really a Lion descendant and I questioned whether or not she was a wolf descendent, we'd dropped all pretense and just laid next to each other eating peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies. A friend tried to reassure me with the statement of better a week too early than a day too late. It was logical and meant well and still painful to absorb. In the end my own emotional process was spent listening to a cover from Les Mis and while I dreamed we could spend more years together but there are dreams that cannot be and there are storms we cannot weather. I found comfort reminding myself that all puppy and I had done in youth and old age were dreams that were made and used, none wasted.

Her last few days were glorious weather with us going on walks, one the longest one she'd done in over a month, albeit very very slowly. The last thing we did before was all go on a walk together over rocky uncomfortable terrain. We all saw her take one last uncomfortable step over a steep rock about a block from home but with conviction. She had no leash on her last walk.

I had assumed we'd do this on her bed but puppy's most oft visited spot was on my deck over the stairs staring into the open space. Even as she'd become less physically capable, she would still stare at where we used to walk. As soon as the vet came in, she headed out there and the vet said it was up to us where to do this. I stared into her eyes and petted her for a bit from the front and Elaine and Kiana were on her side. All week long I said we'd save the crying for afterwards since Puppy had comforted us all in different times and well this one, this one thing was one she should not have to comfort us. Because her health issues were causing excess fluids she'd been having more water marks in her eyes which I would clean up frequently to avoid the salt build up. In over 15 years of life, I'd never once seen one come out. As I was petting her one last time, one came out of her eye like a single tear drop. I responded with a few of my own as the vet put something in her to put her to sleep. She would stay standing for a bit with her back legs collapsing and then her front ones buckling but she resisted as long as she could till she collapsed in my lap. Then a few moments later was the final formula and she died there with all of us. Elaine and Kiana went running immediately afterwards as I figured I should deal with the immediate remains as they'd warned me that her eyes would likely reopen and she'd have accidents to clean up off the floor. None of that occurred, she never opened her eyes again and had no accident. Even in the end Puppy kept her shit together.

We spent time cleaning up. Her food, treats, shampoo etc were given to someone who could use it for their dog. The rest was donated to an animal shelter this morning. I'm not super sentimental about things so Elaine and I kept one thing, the collar she wore at our wedding and Kiana kept her final paw print. We cried into each others arms many times and will again. I have no shame in my tears; there's a reason they are built into the system.

I could tell you the little things that have triggered tears yesterday and today but those are less important than the moments that brought smiles and laughter and company over a decade and a half. I lost some family member but the paths we shared I would not trade for anything. In the end it was her heart giving out that made this necessary and it was likely because she gave too much of it to me. While it feels cracked today, somehow, Puppy’s presence over such a huge portion of my life is a reason my heart is still intact.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Man On A Mission

Like the act itself, it has taken me too long to write about breaking 3 hours in the marathon. The desire to do so predates my cancer diagnosis which is over 8 years old. But still if this blog is about wanting to remember things that brain cancer changed, there is no way to deny that this, this was one of those things. 

I intended and thought myself capable of doing so in my first one back in 2010, when I was 29 years old. I was doing a series of races of the the Austin Distance Challenge. Each one was the longest thing I'd ever done period and the first time I'd really started to start training since college. I'd gotten a little faster each race, taking a couple of seconds of the pace from a 10k to a 20 miler, consistently dropping. It gave me enough... hubris... to believe I could do my first marathon at the fastest pace of any race. That didn't work out so well with me walking a fair share and finishing in 3:19, missing my goal by almost a minute a mile. I'd try it again two weeks later for a 3:23 in Fort Worth. 

I didn't try it for every marathon I did, the next one the one that I put off brain surgery for it was just trying to get a Boston Qualifier which at the time was 3:10 and I hit a 3:07. I'd try again at Austin but hit a 3:16 the next time around. I was going to try when I ran Boston but I had a seizure a couple of week before and barely broke 4 there. I'd get within one second slower at the marathon I won with a stroller  that put me on the media map but still about 8 minutes away. I'd be on pace in New York, Utah, Idaho, even requalify for Boston with a 3:04 under the lower 3:05 standard and try again at Boston but no matter how much my pride kept saying yes, my body kept saying no. I'd chalk it up the medication side effects like throwing up or improper training or bad weather or or or... I even took it to where I had 'almost' just accepted that maybe it just wasn't in me. The closest I would get would be in Seattle where my watch wasn't working, there was no clock at the finish line and I didn't see my results till my little brother printed them out and I had missed it by single digit seconds back in 2016. I took 2017 off doing marathons altogether despite it being the highest mileage year in my life. The only one I would do in 2018 was Austin during humid weather, always my kryptonite on the revamped course, which in my opinion was harder. I signed up again for 2019 within days of failing at it. 

Why couldn't I hit it? By all counts, the guy who could break a 5 minute mile several times in his 30's, who had broken an hour in a 10 miler, who regularly still breaks 18 in 5ks and 38 minutes in 10ks and the very far back of 'elite' standards had a soft marathon time. The Austin marathon was hard but it was also home. So this year, I didn't train harder for it. I didn't follow any schedule or any plan. I just made a mission to run the course, to run every chance I got, to tell the body that maybe my mental capacity had memory issues but if just once, at least once, it would share that with my body that it would forget how to quit or at least forget how to slow down

Some people travel to destination races that are flatter or even down hill. The latter are not eligible for World Records due to having gravity be a contributor so I didn't want to ever do it there. I wanted my personal records to have the same standard. Like most good things in my life, I got there with good company. I trained more and more with my friend Chris who was training for a different marathon in California in December during most week days. On the weekend, I did a lot of my long runs with my wife since we were doing some runs together. On Sunday, I added a second long run with my friend Steward who was trying to hit his first Boston Qualifyer and we ran over and over the Austin marathon course until I learned it turn by turn, street by street. Spatial orientation being gone was no longer going to be relevant since I knew the landmarks. I started doing a gigantic percentage of Kiana's training runs with her, something that well is not really an easy task anymore making for a few two a days most weeks. I started to have an IT band injury and plantar fascitis. I rolled and ignored it. Three weeks from the race, in where most people start their taper, I did my first and only 100 mile week.

I got to the race line with hotter and more humid weather than I prefer. I'd lost my shirt by mile 1 from being over sweaty. It didn't matter. Chris and I were running together and we both had a goal of breaking 3, him primarily helping me do so as he's done it many many times. I let him know I intended to drop him in the end, he smiled. A warm up mile in the first one, passing the 3 hour pacers by mile 2 and on the pace I wanted to keep for most miles 6:45 per mile by mile 4. At mile 6, there was a car almost driving onto the road. I yelled at them to stop and they tried to argue with me they needed to go that way. While keeping pace, I informed them with strong conviction the road was closed. A friend who didn't quite see what was happening told me to focus rather than be yelling at the street; I'd argue that in that particular moment, I was properly focused. We kept going through friends that I knew from Runlab, from a Track Fundraiser I helped with was holding a water stop further up. Every time there was a steep hill along the course, I did what I do, I surged up and then got back on pace. When I got to half way, I was on pace with a little under a minute to spare. I let that build no confidence because I'd been there before. Got into the lonely section where we've split up from the half marathoners where it was uphill into the wind (that's actually true grandpa) but I took the wind as nature cooling the sweat not holding me back. I remembered the jokes Stewart and I had shared there. Chris and I made new ones. We had to laugh at the fact that the one place I nearly, out of force of habit, I almost crossed the street to get to the sidewalk I was literally almost run over. Humor is still my coping mechanism so I thought of headline, "Man trying to break 3 hour marathon gets broken by car into 3 pieces during same marathon."

As we headed to the east side, there was Mariachi under a bridge right before a hill, I definitely surged up after hearing that. I passed by the Team Japan group around mile that was holding a waterstop that had invited me to speak to their runners and tried to remind myself what I'd said to them that no matter how it goes, I should appreciate the fact that for 26.2 miles they were shutting down roads just for me. About a mile later, Chris said well this is the longest I've ran since my marathon over 2 months ago. I don't know if that was the right thing to tell me or the wrong one but I'm like ok time to leave this guy and there was nothing dramatic, I just slowly started speeding up. This was shortly before mile 20. Never in my entire life have I gone unpassed after mile 20. Too many times, I've gotten passed too many times because I was falling apart. I decided then anyone who passed me was now who I was racing in. As I passed a friend I was hoping he'd be the one and said come on now you're getting passed by an old fat man. It didn't motivate him as I'd hoped. At mile 21, I thought oh man I'm feeling good I got this. All course, I would never once check my pace. I would simply look at the band that had the splits I should hit at each mile marker. Since mile 3, I'd been ahead of it and growing. By mile 22 the body was hurting but I still thought I'm fine; heck I can even slow down to a 7:30 pace with what I've got in the bank. I kept trying to smile internally and said this is the longest I've ever ran without music, I'm going to do a whole marathon without any music. At mile 23, I put on the music. At mile 24 I was like I think it's about an 8 minute pace I have to keep, am I doing the math right? I hadn't slowed down but I was thinking about it. At mile 25, wait if I have almost two minutes to spare it's a 9 minute pace I just have to hold right. There are 3 hills in the last mile. I heard someone say there was a special place in hell designed for whoever designed that. I pretty much agreed with them on each of them. The last hill is a hellish one itself and lots of people would tell me they were cheering me on. They said I didn't acknowledge one of them or react. One said they stuck their hand out to high five and I did. I have no memory of that.  I was singing in my head that I was very close to achieving this mission of nearly a decade of pursuing. Then well I could sign

I don’t ever want to run, I don’t want to start a fight
I just want to do my dance up until the morning light

I don’t want to fall sleep; I ain’t looking at the time
I’m addicted to the streets; baby steady on the grind
And I aint’ taking no more shit; I ain’t never going to start
I ain’t never going to quit till I make it to the top

Cause I’m a man on a mission 

You can’t stop me now

No one had passed me after mile 20. I got across the line without stopping my watch but knowing that when I was looking up the time started with a 2. That's all i needed. Literally danced at the finish line where the announcer said, if you can dance that well at the finish line then you didn't run fast enough. Those people who can't dance have to express their jealousy somehow I suppose ;). I had always said I wouldn't retire from the marathon until I broke 3 but excused myself on bad days that it was just an arbitrary number. But last September they lowered the Boston Qualifying time to under 3:00 (it's theoretically lower for me since I'm older but I've always said I'm never going unless I qualify under the strictest standard). It took me one try once they raised the bar. 

I'd stay there and watch Chris come in and also break 3. I'd watch Stewart hit his qualifying time. I'd hang there till my wife crossed the finish line and also qualify for Boston. It was her fastest marathon since we became a couple, though only her 2nd fastest ever. She was disappointed in that; her approach to life, that on a day she beats most of the field and qualifies for Boston she considers a bad day is impressive. Still we found some comfort in the fact we'd both come in 31st in our genders and 7th in our age groups. Talk about equally yoked. They had some bloody Mary's near there as it was getting colder. That's good for body temperature. 

But the good times didn't end there. There was a girl who I've written about here before, Kayleigh Williamson who was on her try to complete the Distance Challenge for the 3rd time. On her first try, I was the one who had to tell her that despite getting to the finish line by walking on the sidewalk she was ineligible because she didn't have a proper time. She said she would be back. If you google her name, there have been too many articles about people being impressed with her doing that because she has Down's syndrome. I've never once thought that was what made her victories sweeter. It was the will power. The fact that immediately after failing she'd come up and tell me that she'd be back next year. The fact that she and her mother had started a club to help others. I was at a couple of finish lines where she gave me some meaningful hugs and I apparently was more endeared it by than hers because when people saw the picture, her mom told me she pointed out to people that I wasn't her boyfriend. Man, the number of women who recognize and point out I'm out of their league should make me grateful that I'm married now. The Distance Challenge finishers get their jacket at the party a couple of weeks later. I was waiting with Kayleighs at the finish line. She was beaming and apparently at least my eyes got hot again because they started sweating as I handed it to her. 

I would write things about her on social media and I spoke about her during the award but I never once mentioned anything about her health. It is perhaps because I'm aware that people mentioning your achievements in light of a condition can be trying. Part of my past struggles with the Austin marathon is that the course passes along the place that fired me, it passes along the place I had my brain biopsy, where the brain cancer surgery started. It passes along places I've had medical appointments, ones I've given speeches about this process and a place I had a seizure in the middle of a 10 mile run. In many of the times I've ran it and on training runs, I mention that to people as we pass by it. The only two times I thought of my brain cancer in those 26.2 miles was when passing by some Livestrong people and some Camp Kesem people and the honest truth is that the only thought I had there was, aren't I lucky to be friends with some of these people? There may be times where my brain cancer becomes a lot more relevant again in many ways and there certainly will be again but for 26.2 miles, I got to just run this town at a 6:48 average pace to finish in 2:58.06. Mission accomplished. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Avoiding Duplicity

I got myself in trouble a few months ago when I deleted someone's post off a facebook event where a few of us were the managers. I had put in the info they shared plus a little more and I thought well, one has that and then some. When they questioned why I'd deleted their post, I said I was trying to avoid duplicity. In Spanish and English, duplicity can mean both deceitfulness and repetitiveness but the stronger connotation is opposite in the two strongest languages of my heart and mind. My mind not remembering the right one in English hurt someone's heart and I'm fairly certain that the damage I caused was something I've never managed to restore correctly despite multiple apologies.

Someone pointed out, I hadn't blogged once this year and it's true. But this was never a diary (dear diary, I hope I get chocolate for V-day) and blogging was never something just to check off on my list of things to do: (item #1) make a list of things to do. It was always as the title itself says An Incredibly Raw and Uncensored Blog of how a Guy copes and hopes with brain cancer and life changes. The less I blog the less relevant brain cancer and life changes are. Let's be clear, I still have brain cancer but the changes from it are the new normal. The other life changes I've had, marriage have been so happy and smooth that it's tough to write about anything while not sounding unusually arrogant: "genuine conversations, better meals, great sex. Married life is good" Plus, you know, my mom reads these entries. So anything I write about would really be duplicating previous entries and while my memory is still damaged, the ones I want to remember now take simple pictures or notes. It's like a new mural I visited recently, pictured above, of lover and fighter. I saw it on a friend's social media who said they were a lover not a fighter. I went out of my way to see it, and unlike my usual style, I posed with it because while it's a bunch of crayons it's tough to see that they resemble a bullet vest. Plus, while I have no idea what the artists intent was, there's certainly no implication in this piece of art that they have to be mutually exclusive. And so for me I liked it because I think I'm a lover and a fighter and well I try do both colorfully and with full heart.

 I am and always will be an optimist but in simple reality the optimism I have had with cancer was simply about beating it with lifestyle, never about beating it by not dying. I let it limit me in many ways, keeping some connections at bay for fear of damaging them (or was it me?). Some people may not call that optimism but I think it is similar to what Del Toro wrote "optimism is our instinct to inhale while suffocating. Our need to declare what needs to be in the face of what is." While not mean to be punny, my optimism has improved.

The truth is my mission has been to revisit some of the cancer journey and make it better, harder core, less afraid. The first marathon that I did after the win that inherited so much media was what labels itself as the hardest marathon in Texas, the Miracle Match Marathon. It was where I carried Kiana in a stroller up a set of stairs and gave up 3rd place because of it. Those same stairs took me from 1st place to 5th place when doing the half down the road. This year, this year was my favorite because we went back as a trio, Elaine, Kiana and I doing the marathon relay with Kiana doing the longest run she's ever done on her own, a little under a 10k, Elaine taking it to about the halfway point and me finishing the rest. They ran as a bird flies to Jacob's ladder and we ran it up together (okay maybe thy beat me up cause they were more rested). We were the fastest team out there and combined we pulled off something I've yet to do, go under 3 hours in a marathon. Many people have asked what my favorite marathon is and I thought at one point the one I put off brain surgery would never get passed but then I won one with a stroller, than there was... My favorite one so far is that one.

Shortly after winning that marathon when Kiana was just 6 years old, we passed by the iconic I love you at Jo's Coffee, I love you so much. I picked Kiana up spontaneously and we took a picture, literally 1 and it was framed. A few years ago, we duplicated it a little more intentionally. I framed it on top of the other one. Coincidentally, by chance it was a check point on the Where2NextRace that occurred last Saturday. We won that race, which came with some small cash winnings which will lead to Kiana starting her first bank account. Time to update the frame again. I loved it and love her still more that it's more side by side. But that's not really a life change, it's just an upgrade.

Of course, it's not all up and up. No one has life that smooth. I still have too many funerals to go to or people who tell me about their relatives who have stage 3 or 4 of this. I never really know what to say even after doing this for several years. I just go with a solid hug even if I can't manage how to be a shoulder to cry on. There is a death coming far too soon in my own life, which is theoretically mild by comparison but my 15 year old dog's heart is giving out. If it weren't breaking my own so much, it would almost seem appropriate hopeful romantic for it go for a dog that's lived life resembling her owner, with a full heart. That's a tough struggle and she gets a lot more treats and junk food than she ever has and I have no apologies for that.

There are a few races I did behind a stroller that Kiana still hasn't gotten to do and I've definitely got a mental list that they'll improve if and when I get the privilege to do it next to them. So life in general, like my tumor, does not have clear boundaries of what it does and doesn't affect. But thankfully, at least for the time being, the poetry of my life while still flowing freely rhymes more often. But while it does, if life is an art, I'm thankful to know where the lines are are most days but be assured that I still appreciate and take advantage of the choice and ability to color outside them.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Focus Point

Every year we have a tradition of putting an ornament representing the most important event of the year on Christmas Eve. This year, well to anyone with even a damaged brain, it was obviously the wedding. I originally started to type that in as the marriage but that would make no sense as that's not going to be something that's just part of 2018.

I've written long about the boyfriend girlfriend scenario and the engagement and the wedding itself so I won't repeat myself too much. Oddly enough, the ornament was of a wedding cake, something we did not have but it was customized with the year and with Kiana-hand-drawn figures of our astrological symbols which were used regularly in wedding decor. There are little moments of the tradition that matter like who hangs up the ornaments, subtleties that probably no one but me cares about but this year Elaine hung it up, formally part of it all. Although last couple of year's the ornaments were things she was also a part of and I presume that will be true indefinitely.

What was the greatest about the wedding was of course the union. What was not too far down the peg was that it was a re-union. There were friends and family there from every stage in life. Invariably, some will no longer be a part of the future because change is life's constant but with zero exceptions there are no previous ornaments that represent connections that are entirely in the past.

It's been the best year of my life thanks to that union and those reunions. It's been tough to watch some things like how mean spirited some people's social media posts have become about the other political side (I've literally deleted hundreds of people on mine, including some who were deleted before and were still invited to the wedding). I still struggle with how we define other viewpoints more and more as evil; I fully grant some things I disagree with are evil but not nearly as many as I see described that way on social media, some of those are just wrong and some are just variations. I loved that in my wedding there were different nationalities, viewpoints, religions represented. I like a variety of people. It is perhaps why a Mexican born immigrant married the child of Taiwanese Immigrants and have traveled to 5 World Wonders. The porters of Peru were as important as the concierged meals in high end restaurants. I mean that in regards to their personhood not just their careers. I believe Elaine understands that and thus one more reason why I love her.

But it was the best Christmas season I can remember but then again I have a damaged memory. There were good parties and good moments and my parents came into town where I showed them many Austin Christmasty things including ones I'd never seen before. There was a moment where Kiana, Elaine and my mom were all showing just how thoroughly they were unimpressed with me. It was one of those "It's a wonderful life" but in reverse osmosis moments.

I ran with a variety of friends this week including Kiana, Elaine, the guy who married us, hair dressers, people who I only know through running and I walked with my dog. You know I get asked as recently as last Sunday randomly by strangers at a Christmas like events what it's like to have been on the news a few times. Even the wedding represented by that ornament made the news. Still, honestly none of those compare to the fact that the little things like those walks and runs and traditions that predate my birth and my parents birth (so eternity as far as I'm concerned). Those were new once I suppose but even if I didn't have a damaged memory the only way to believe is to assume the story tellers and history makers did a reasonably acceptable job. I think they did but I am not worried if anyone besides the people who I've spent some Christmases with do and that I remember them. That's my focus and I'm glad we got to hang out with so many of them in August and with several of them at different times in life and throughout the year.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Time to Let the Old Ways Die

Maybe it's time to let the old ways die
It takes a lot to change a man
Hell, it takes a lot to try
Maybe it's time to let the old ways die
Nobody knows what awaits for the dead
Some folks just believe in the things they've heard
And the things they read
Nobody knows what awaits for the dead
I'm glad I can't go back to where I came from
I'm glad those days are gone, gone for good
But if I could take spirits from my past and bring' 'em here
You know I would, you know I would
For several years I'd be writing a lot of blogs around this time of year. They would be describing scanxiety and how I'm doing a lot of races as a way to deal with it. They'd be telling you what song I was listening to to shake off emotions before I got strapped into an MRI machine but for the first December since 2010, I was not inside a damn MRI. My doctor said a while back that if I got to 10 years, something I never thought would happen, we'd move to MRI's once a year. I'm the kid born 8/8/80 so when we got to 8 I emailed him and asked him if we could do it now, he honored it. That December tradition won't be missed. 
Look let's be clear, I'm a stubborn guy. There's times I aim it right and get commended for it; there's times I get into silliness with it and get my eyes rolled at and there are times it gets me in right down trouble. It would be a lie to say that I don't try to get the universe to bend to my will. It almost never does but neither my will nor the universe have broken the other yet. The universe will win in the end, of course, but as I have for 8 years with cancer and 38 years of life, I have a hard time believing that I won't be going down swinging. 
But that doesn't mean I'm not open to change. I head to court again with Kiana's mother on a petition of hers where I feel like I've made reasonable offers. My batting average is one I like in court and I feel like it goes my way more than not and so they seem like reasonable offers but I wonder if the stubbornness of years past is not forgotten because in simple honesty this has all along been more annoying than cancer. 
Still, the coping mechanisms remain. I've actually kept a pretty tight running schedule in the last few weeks. In November and December, I've won a 10k, a 5k and placed well in two other 5ks. I'm in good shape without having following any training schedule. Once upon a time I was doing well cause I was doing my training runs behind a stroller now it's because I'm running with friends and often doing a second workout next to Kiana who is getting harder and harder to keep up with. The 10k was my favorite was it was the first time Elaine and I won the same distance together and the first time I kept a consistent pace despite having a solid lead the entire race. In one 5k I beat a high schooler and in another one I got destroyed by another high schooler. It makes me think of the good old says back when I was good and wasn't so old. Ahh youth is wasted on the young. 
But it turns out that while anyone who plays poker against me knows I rarely bluff, I've started caving on some things. I always said I'd always quit doing Christmas cards (or holiday cards if you're more into PC terms) once Kiana was done with elementary. Still between friends and two out of the three household members outvoting me, I caved. It highlighted the big and little things. The wedding of course, that single commitment for the rest of my life. There is a nod to the hair that was such a fun conversation piece for a few months that will never occur again.  
It also highlighted my dog who a little over a month ago got attacked by an unleashed unnamed breed dog half a block from my house who got out of their backyard. I literally picked that 85 lb dog up by the collar and lifted both dogs because it was clenched so tight. I would end up putting my knees on its chest and squeezing it while pulling on its collar until it let go since it recognized who was the alpha dog out of the 3 in the fight. You can take a kid out of a rough neighborhood but you may not be able to take the rough neighborhood out of him. The vet ER bills are proportional to human ones but she's healing and that picture of her is actual during the healing process. She's about a month and a half away from turning 15 and she's had a rough year. I wonder how much time she has left more than I wonder how much I have left these days, something that's only been true for a couple of years now. I'll be there for her as long as she's got but we live in a house where scars get covered with hair and with hope. I dare dream that at the very least Elaine and I's ring bearer will make it to our 1 year anniversary. I've already got some high plans for that and well I hope she gets a treat out of it. 
I have a tradition of very rarely doing the same thing twice. My 1st world wonder back when I was 14 was Macchu Picchu but I did it almost entirely touristy with a bus on one day. This time a professor who invites me to speak invited me to hike and camp. It was still a little more glamorous camping than I like because you know my idea of good camping is when you pay lots of money to be homeless. Still, I'd taken my girlfriend/fiancee to 4 world wonders and now my wife and I have made it 5. However, it was all on foot including climbing above it. That last little section we left the great group and went up there on our own and for a fair second of the hike and a bit at the top, it was just us. And well, it's the only World Wonder, I've ever done twice, the only international trip I've ever done twice and we literally took it to a different level. Seems that anything that I thought wasn't in my future period or after cancer, ultras, marriage itself, repeating adventures, she keeps taking me to join her to a different level. 
The last picture on there is Kiana running on her cross country team meet. She continues to grow more independent, a beauty on some days and a problem on others, and a beautiful problem on several as well. She finally got a B in Jr High but took it in stride and as a challenge. She began playing ultimate as well and in her first clinic was definitely intimidated. When it was over, she was ready to go back. I don't know if it's fatherly love, pride or affectionate blindness but I really do think in both athleticism and intelligence, she's already ahead of where I was at her age and stage. Everything I've ever been a part of creating or raising I always hope makes me look like a joke by comparison and there's nothing or anyone who I've hoped that for more than her. And if she does it look like a joke, it's going to be the best dad joke ever and I'll be laughing the hardest. 
I'm still the president of the Austin Runners Club and we put in the biggest decker challenge of my stint and the biggest in a decade or so. I ran and won the 5k cause I really struggle to just be sidelines for an entire show. I saw we're like lights and sound but I try to sneak in a cameo like Stan Lee. Every year there are different stories out of all races and certainly the ones that we put on but my favorite one was someone who it took 3 tries before they could be successful at it. I had been the person who had told them that finishing the race was not a realistic goal two years ago. Kayleigh's mom was the best cheerleader as she's progressed over the last few years but I assure you I gave anyone who wanted the silver medal as a cheerleader some stiff competition. 
What was this blog about again? Oh yes, my Christmas card and brain cancer appointment with some slight nods to more court issues. I think in all of those situations, the song I've been listening to as I focus is the one this started one. That letting old ways die can be a very good thing, even if the old ways had good or bad things in them. Being open to the Universe and trying to bend it simultaneously are why I love life. 
Still, what got this writing going was the medical appointment last Friday. The doctor, like a lot of people noticed I'm a little thinner. That's primarily cause I wanted to look good in a wedding suit. I assure you now that the holiday parties keep happening I'm finding that weight. He had a new medical assistant, often the case as they seem to be studying for other things since he's a teacher doctor. My resting heart rate was incredibly low as usual. With new medical assistants in 8 years, it has always led to one of two reactions. Worry that my heart might be weak or questions about how much athletic activities I do. It has always been one or the other from anyone whose ever taken my pulse for the last few years. This new assistant didn't mention either but said, 'wow you must be very calm.' Without an MRI results there was, of course less to worry about. But then my neuro oncologist told me about how the mutation in my brain tumor there's possibility that instead of another brain surgery or chemo or radiation in a couple of years there may be a simple vaccine if this ever grows and it might attack the tumor cells (sometimes other people do but even with a damaged memory I never forget I still have brain cancer). I immediately asked if we could do it proactively and just get rid of the tumor now instead of when it grows. and he said that would be further away as with most cancer new treatments it's only done if and when a tumor is actively growing. I walked out thinking that maybe another one of those things I'd never do again, treatment if this grows, might also have to be revisited and fight with medicine not just with running down the line. I don't have an answer to that but I still try to remain serene about it all. Hope soothes my heart even if my brain is damaged. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Pro Long Life

For the first several years, I'd write here on the 5th of November, on the state of mine and cancer's union or perhaps mine and life's union with cancer's disruption. Last year, I wrote on the day after and I liked that idea that this brain tumor will never be irrelevant but that the day after tomorrow still matters and keeps mattering more.

This was a big year for me the kid who loves the number 8 due to my birthdate (8/8/80) and I said long ago that if I got here we'd have a big party and boy did we. But I'll come back to that, it wasn't big just because of the coincidence of my birth it was because it meant I was above average by a full year since the median survival is 7 years. I started celebrating that from 7 years and 1 day but hey this last full trip around the sun has been a big one.

I married a woman who was a stranger and not old enough to drink when this all started. She was a friend who became a better friend who I will love till my dying day and marrying her made me more comfortable with the idea of dreaming of further and further days. A few days before this cancerversary last year I proposed, losing a bet about marriage not being part of a future. I also said I'd never do an ultra but I did my first one, 1 year minus 1 day of my proposal at the same site, a Spartan race. Last year after I proposed the race great went for both of us in sub freezing temperature. This year I went in struggling with a hand injury and despite both of us being prepared we struggled with some obstacles and coordination including me dropping a 120 lb concrete ball on my leg before the halfway point. I had to have her help on an obstacle I'd never failed at shortly after that. A couple of guys looked at me and were clearly judging me for taking help from a girl. I got it the second time around on my own and I gotta tell you on both I was super proud and would call both of those significant successes in their own right. When we got done we were both exhausted and are still bruised and battered and the race hurt but we got it done. The vows weren't tested that day, they were just demonstrated, in the for better or worse at least in regards to races. I've always said Ultra were dumb because the guy who ran the first marathon died so why would I run longer? But when a girl as smart, cute and accepting and challenging of my humanity asks, it's an easy answer. Throughout the course, I said multiple times this was my first and last ultra but I know this instant that if Elaine wanted to do another one and wanted my company, I'd say I do if she asked for my company.

Unfortunately we came home to a very sick dog who was unresponsive for the most part. She is over 14, closer to 15 these days but she was there unable to stand up, a stiffly held crooked neck wobbly eyes, confused and dazed. Literally the day before, we had taken a walk in the woods and the day before that she had jumped up for a treat and now she couldn't even stand without falling and was not taking food or water. Speaking of things that are Greek, I am known for being stoic and I held it together until Kiana's voice cracked and then that and the tear ducts did for me too. Vet gave possibilities from an ear infection to something that's nominally called old dog disease (vestibular syndrome) to a stroke to a brain tumor. When I heard brain tumor, I thought I know dogs resemble their owners but please don't follow me down this path. They offered imagery but shy of the ear infection there was no treatment for the others so I bypassed putting her through the imagery that I hate going to. The only way she ate for a few days was literally with things sliced through tiny amounts and fed to her by hand tiny tiny amounts at a time by Elaine, Kiana or myself. I asked the question to myself and prepared as mentally well as I could for the possibility that the friend I had her whole life, her time was coming. They talked to me about iv's and feeding her by a bottle if it was worse things but the truth is I'm the guy who put off brain surgery to run a marathon, a guy who has a DNR order, and I decided quickly that this was a stray, a 3rd world immigrant that lived off scraps early in life (hey dogs do resemble their owners) and we'd of course not do this quick but if she couldn't get to where she could enjoy an unleashed walk on the trail without assistance, for both her and I, it's time to go. We've gone on walks in the trail the last 3 days. Last night at the cancerversary party, she snuck out a couple of times. She did so today too when I was cleaning up from it. Usually we get annoyed when she reaches for human food at the coffee table. Today I gave it to her. Puppy may not be as springy as she once was and may not have eternal life but hope remains. For at least a little bit further down the trail, I think we get to live long and prosper.

Kiana keeps growing up. She destroyed a 10 mile PR by 7 minutes on Sunday. She broke a 6 minute mile a few days before by less than a second. We celebrated by going to a baking class where Ms. Independent who asked for a pasta maker for last night nailed the recipe for pumpkin and pecan pie. I don't usually like either but I ate quite a bit more than I should both yesterday and the day before. We had some left over ingredients so she's making another one tomorrow where I may decide a slice or 3 is worth it. She's in jr high and we're discussing the details of earring and smart phones, neither of which I like the idea of but we'll figure out a dance as I realize there are bigger battles to fight. She was wired at the cancerversary party and stayed up later than she should on a school night period much less a Monday. She asked why this was a big deal and why so many friends were celebrating it. I responded with I wasn't supposed to be alive now and goodness I love that girl, she responded with, no one gets to tell you when you're supposed to be alive.

I watch my parents now in their 60's and 70's. My grandparents in decades beyond that and I am impressed by their quality of life. They all have some age related things but they are independent in a huge percentage of things. Even my grandparents with more serious health issues make me realize that maybe I've had some bad luck in a disease that has no genetic, dietary, lifestyle or environmental components but I've got some good genes in this pool and I'm not sure early in this process I didn't let it sink in that maybe I'm not a great swimmer but I've never been afraid of the deep end. I used to work in a nursing home in high school that left some impressions that were afraid of aging. I've been to hospitals and hospices that assure me that I don't want to go out like that. I'm not afraid of dying but I've been living life hard and with conviction. They still invite me to do speeches once in a while though I think after 8 years of this it may likely be time to start wrapping up the public eye life. Kiana and Elaine helped me create a big drawing for the garage of some of the most powerful symbols from the last few years. There is a huge range from the but without exception, without exception, it's not the crowd I remember and at some there were media and strangers applauding. It was the friends. And while there were several new ones last night, there was the friend who walked me back into the hospital, the friends who helped with medical bills, the friends who over brownies and tears I decided to brain surgery with, the friends who I played poker with at the hospital before the biopsy and during medical exams. There were big additions, like the guy who married us and the girl who married me. There are others but I honestly thought after brain surgery no real friends or meaningful relationships that would come after that cause they'd only know the guy who was damaged and I'd resent that guy but it turns that great friends when they break into you, it doesn't seem like there was ever a time you were strangers and if you work on those relationships, there will never be one where you are again. We kept the party till midnight and a measure of happiness in my book is how many people there are you can call if there's an emergency in the middle of the night but those are all people I'd call but they are all people I've laughed well into the night with and that's better than an emergency call.

So what did I do the day after, I ran and went to a meeting and loved my wife and daughter. Tonight, right now I'm about to head to play in a poker game that's a fundraiser for pediatric cancer and my medical bills are less relevant these days so it's more fun to give money as an option for cancer. I started this path carefully making mistakes. I know that sounds weird but that's a pretty accurate description, I made mistakes from being too careful. I'm going to keep making mistakes but I'll make them with more and more conviction. Tonight at this poker game, at this weekend's race, and every day, cause I don't take a single one for granted, I am going in like a pro longing for more life.