Last weekend was an interesting one… but we’ve long known what I continue to experience that the power of a group is far more than just the sum of the parts. It was a privilege to attend a REV cancer conference where pharmaceuticals, organizations like Livestrong and the American Cancer Society, world class treatment places (like the Head of the Duke Oncology Department!) discussed how to make things better, how to balance collaboration and competition. Friday night was the Livestrong dinner. Lance Armstrong made an appearance and recognized what I hope is the echo of our lives that whatever we contribute to has to be bigger than any one individual. I don’t know what else to say about that entire situation other than like a child born of my parents who weren’t, planning or even hoping for a child, I’ve never been ungrateful for my life. In the same way, I am grateful for all of the Livestrong help and I don’t know what to say about the origins of it but I don’t think that gets within a 100 miles of nullifying the good directions they have pointed me. There were technical difficulties so the video of why I had been invited was not actually shown but other people who had been at the dinner… let me know they had seen it and were moved it and I awkwardly said thank you and moved the conversation to my guest, my mother who had just done her first half marathon. It was a good meeting point where she met the woman who gave me those rings of hope, a friend from South Dakota and from Chicago whose own facebook posts and approaches to life and cancer makes me realize that I’ve done some growing but they are giants compared to me.
I was an incredibly grateful mood that my daughter will continue to sleep in the house she’s dreamt at since birth, that in no way really was cancer any longer an emergency in any way of my life. I sat and absorbed what will probably be the fanciest dinner of my life and the kid who almost 2 years ago was told to make sure he didn’t take in caffeine or alcohol, well let's just say at that dinner, I made sure I had both. I wish I could have brought everyone to the dinner who has been part of the help but as I sat a crowd of people who were grateful for life and for living it strong, my mind where making new memories didn’t struggle with one. At court earlier that day, there had been someone from my local medical team, a letter from Duke, people from ultimate Frisbee, people from running, friends who had known me since elementary, family that had known me since birth, the minister I’ve sat and done counseling with for over a year,coworkers and for those of you who have seen the Livestrong video, the woman who taught me how to braid Kiana’s hair, and my own mother who had given me some clue as to how to parent, something I’m far from perfect at but I think cancer’s made me work harder at it.
Saturday morning, I went and coached the marathon training group I have and ran with the guy who wanted to part midway and do harder workout through tougher hills. He gave me the option to bow out since I had the 100 mile ride but we ran side by side for the workout. If I’ve learned nothing else, it’s best to have some company through the up and downs.
The 100 mile ride would come Sunday. It was hell. It was hotter than I’d ever cycled in, tougher hills than I’d ever done, and a 20 mile an hour head wind for what seemed like 80 miles of it. I’m still not good at this drafting thing but I sure tried it more than I ever have. I’m not good at breaks so I didn’t take any so when I was drafting I did it behind a variety of different groups, making small talk with some people, seeing banners of people I’d never heard of and others that now I knew of or had heard of. I’m not sure which was emotionally more difficult to process, the “In Honor of,” “In Memory of” or “Survivor” but the longer I get into this journey I had echoes of each of them.
I am still nervous about this custody thing, about this cancer thing, about this employment thing but I let those things be in the back of my mind during the ride, and well the center of my mind has a hole so I keep trying to focus on my heart which is stronger in many ways. This has to be at least a combination of the fact that my medical restrictions make me walk, ride or run most places. There was one hill in the ride which was a 16% grade (showing how big of a rookie I am, I’m not really sure what that means), there were a half dozen riders who had to walk it. I went to my lowest gear and pedaled as hard as I could where a crowd at the top was shouting us to make it. About halfway up, there was a guy sitting on the floor looking frustrated and tired. Another rider stopped, got off his bike and started walking both bikes up and the other person stood up and looking both frustrated and grateful got up and walked behind them. I never saw them again but that moment burned into my memory.
Someone had a sign there that was “In Honor of Iram J. Leon, stronger than ever.” I don’t know that I think I’m stronger, even if I am more athletic which at the end is literally one foot of the other but I am more grateful, which has to be a form of stronger. There’s part of this journey where I’ve been the guy on the floor with his bike laying next to him, perhaps too many. But every once in a while, today, anyday, I hope I can be the guy walking with both bikes. Cause whether it’s a peleton, or a conference, or a relay team or an ultimate team, being in it together is important. There’s an old quote that that teamwork is working towards the same vision, even when that vision is blurry. Cancer, my life and the ways those have intertwined have some very blurry elements but I’m very grateful for the team. And 100 miles further into it.