Saturday, November 29, 2014

Happily Thankful

They say it's not happy people who are thankful. It's thankful people who are happy. This is perhaps why there are no days, no holidays for sure that I'm more grateful for than Thanksgiving. A holiday which in my book if you're doing it right, you're looking at what you have and realizing life has been kind and smiling at least in some areas of life. It is perhaps because of this that somehow the universe has been nice enough to have it be the only holiday, the only day I've managed to get some time with Kiana every year. And every year it has a race which is an entirely for charity race called the Turkey Trot which for 5 races straight running has been the only race that has gotten better, one where you hear from people who you know you've only ever gotten to share some lovely moments in life.

It would be the first race I'd do after getting out of the hospital in 2010. I was still in pretty bad shape but I'd finish it smiling glad there was still a race left in me even with issues in my left temporal lobe. In 2011, it was the first time I'd ever do a race with a stroller because they were the ones who instilled the idea in me because it's such a family friendly event that it has many division including a stroller division! It also would be Kiana's first ever race that year because they have a kid's kilometer race. She would finish smiling and I'd take second in the stroller division. In 2012 and 2013, Kiana would run a little faster kids k and I'd win the division in the 5 miler.

Still, in 2014, it was my 4th race in November alone, the 2nd one with a stroller. The recent half with her had not been a PR and the up and downs had shown she's grown though she emphasized that she's not too big for the stroller over and over so it may be me who decides that.The course is also a hilly one for the first few miles. The competitive mode never quite turns off but even as I unloaded the stroller I knew I was both happy and thankful to get one more year of this tradition no matter what the results would be. And even better, it was the first time ever that the race had added a team division and I got to put together a team with the Ship of Fools,the group who had driven me to 3 of the 5 races.

I've always ran the kid's k next to her trying to get some pictures and this was the first year I barely got any shots because I was struggling simultaneously keeping up with her and running. She would run the fastest pace she's ever gone and when she saw a boy she knew from her school ahead of her, she ran up to say hi and then she passed him (here's hoping she always keeps this habit up of not chasing boys but rather passing them).

As we headed to the start of the only race Kiana has ever cared where we placed in (the 1st three spots get gift certificates to a local sponsor, Thundercloud Subs and she loves that we get to celebrate the win over a few meals over a few weeks), she said try to win but make sure you place. I said, we'll try but you gotta keep an eye out for strollers.

So the start was there and we were off again. This is by far the biggest race we've ever done with a stroller with roughly 20,000 people.  We got on the outside edge trying to find our pace among the crowd. Kiana pointed out someone running in a stroller ahead of us where someone was running with a full turkey costume on while pushing. There were all kinds of great costumes and they made both Kiana and I smile for that first mile.

Shortly after the first mile was the first turn and Kiana said there's no strollers in front of you but there's one that's catching up with you. Less than a quarter mile later, a guy with a double stroller, A DOUBLE stroller was right next to us. A few seconds later, Kiana said, "Daddy he just passed you." I'm like "Thanks Kiana, I can see that." He would be gaining on us and getting further away with both of us still passing non stroller runners. Somewhere, I just tried to keep up with him with miles 1 being at a 6:06 pace, mile 2 at a 6:13 pace, and mile three at a 5:36 pace, I was still behind him but somehow we passed him somewhere between mile 3 and 4 which was at a 5:30 pace but he was literally immediately behind us. We kept it on and when I looked down at my watch at the finale, we'd average a 29.09, literally our fastest 5 miler ever, my fastest 5 miler ever including college days and the Turkey Trot becoming the only distance I'd ever run faster with than without Kiana. At the finish, I sat and talked with friends and made a new one of the guy who'd run right behind us. It was his first race with a stroller and he said he hadn't realized how hard it would be but we both appreciated how much we'd "pushed" the other even while pushing our children because may I remind you he had a double stroller.

As we sat and waited for official results, we'd take in some of the festivities, some of the scenery, some of the kids arts and crafts and a few of the cookies because obviously the calories are irrelevant after a run like that. It would turn out several people from our team would place or win their division. We'd all enjoyed the course and the challenge of taking on one of  our passions and hobbies as a way to start the day. When it was all said and done, the shipmates would win the Turkey Trot's first fastest team challenge ( ).

A few of us gathered at a house for some more cookies and I'd later head to catch some Thanksgiving and football at a friend's house. The day would end with a couple more friends with a shot or three that make you appreciate why you love some of those still moments in life. I'd sleep well from and because of all the festivities. So one more Thanksgiving Turkey Trot and day done, I am thankful that I'm happy and dare to dream that it's because I'm happily thankful. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tests and Star Throwers

I've always been an organized guy but back when the brain was that of a kid who made good grades, it was almost entirely kept in my head. Even when I worked a legal docket, I kept no reminders anywhere. One brain surgery and some memory deficits later, a lot of it has become dependent on paper and reminders etc. The things I used to run through in my head a few years ago are now performed far more formally (an example is I didn't get a smart phone till after brain surgery had
made me dumber and I used to keep no calendars up as reminders and now there are 4 in my kitchen alone all of which are also reflected on my phone).

So early each which week on Sunday or Monday, I sit and look through the next two weeks worth of commitments, plans, dreams etc. I used to do just one week but due to some oversights and some costly consequences, I look a little further out in advance (but shh officially my motto is still one day at a time, I get tired when I do two). As I sat here and looked at the next two weeks this morning, the thing that glared the most out of the calendar was the MRI a week from Friday. It got moved up a few weeks for a variety of reasons but let's just say it's times like these that I miss the world of academia where there were tests I could study for.

I've been part of the young and strong club, a young adult cancer survivor's group where compared to most people I actually feel like a geezer. There were people in there who had to drop out of college and move in friends or family to be able to take treatment seriously or handle the finances of it all. Some have gone back and even changed their focus or degree in light of the circumstances. There have been others who had to focus an intense amount on school if they were going to take treatment seriously. And still others who when they finished treatment remembered that college was easier or harder than chemo or medical tests. (Actually interestingly enough I learned that if you have cancer for academic purpose it counts as a learning disability). Still, me personally, I just wish there was someway to study for this MRI.

There are different ways of dealing with anxiety, with the things that overwhelm us because there's no possible way to have control. Last night, Austin had one of the biggest thunderstorms I've ever seen. 
Unfortunately no one was home for my puppy and unlike anything she's ever done before, she
destroyed a bedroom trying to find some comfort. She received and will receive no consequences for this but I felt bad that there was nothing I could do about the thunderstorm. But far worse, far worse I felt bad I wasn't home to be there for her. There's no rational way to explain to a dog that you care and that even if you can't stop the storm, you'll hold her through it. Let's just say she's getting a lot of love and attention today.

And so as I head to the MRI a week from Friday, I literally highlighted other things on the calendar, all the things that I believe will be positive. There is a Thanksgiving dinner at my church tonight. There are the only two races I've managed to defend the title of ever, the Turkey Trot Stroller Division and the Austin Beer Mile. (No promises that I'll threepeat on either of them but you better believe I'll be trying). There are two Cowboys games this week but those are stressful in their own way and I have about the same amount of same and a little less emotion as to how my MRI goes. Then the day after the MRI Kiana is running her own two mile race through the Austin Trail of Lights, our first nighttime race. And the day after that I am running the Decker Challenge half marathon with a stroller, the only race in Austin and certainly it's hardest half that I haven't done with Kiana since this all started.

It was a coincidence that I was training for a marathon when this all started; it began after the first time I ever   
finished fastest out of our group workout and the next day I was in an ambulance and in
the hospital. I would joke that obviously running fast causes cancer. One year to the date of the brain surgery, a few days after I'd placed in a marathon, I'd once again wake up in an ambulance this time while I was in the middle of a 10 mile run, after a few races which had been PR's at the time. Let's just say I got that joke out of my vocabulary. But coincidentally, the universe was kind enough to show me both what worked as therapy, running and what I dramatically needed to improve (sharing the emotions and the humanity rather than trying to protect everyone from it

So I'll sit and try to have some good times in running and life as the MRI gets nearer to think about it less. A doctor friend joked to me that it's one of those times where you're hoping there really isn't something in your brain; I doubt the tumor will be gone just hoping it hasn't grown so the joke I make is that I just hope I've been using it enough to where it hasn't gotten more rusty. There's quite no way to completely shake off that if it goes well, there will be no medical appointments for a while and if it doesn't there will be quite a few and if that's a multiple choice test, which one would you pick. Good friends, good people try to find their own ways to comfort you. They say they're praying for you or sending positive vibes (perhaps one of my favorite smart aleck remarks I ever made was a friend who said to me, I don't pray very often but I'm praying for you and I responded with "whoa, don't be asking strangers for favors). Anyone who knows me well that I've never once prayed to beat cancer and never will but actually the last few days I've been praying something about my MRI that probably most people who pray regularly wouldn't approve of but hey I'm not talking to them anyway. But with that said, I'm neither going to ask people to pray nor tell them not to (I get the feeling they wouldn't take the direction either way)

I sat at a church program where people shared what they were thankful for. I've said it multiple times but 2014 is the best year of my life period. And yes it has to do with medical stability and less appointments, and yes it has to do with PR's in every single distance, but those are minor elements compared to what I believe has helped cause those. It has been to me the fact that good people have been there and I hope I've been there for them. Some have been for limited moments of interaction, some were here from years ago and will be there I think as long as we have breath. Some are just
entering the picture and I dare dream we'll be painting on each other's canvases as long as we can. Sometimes it's just being there for them with things like letting my face pretend like it has a mustache in support of Movemeber... If anyone ever doubted I was a good sport about having cancer that should answer it. I was at a place where I had to nickname it and probably the end of the beer mile is the only time you could get me to share the name. Two people who said this facial hair shows why I'd never make it in porn and started then deciding what outfit I would wear if I had... I felt very awkward.

Speaking of outfits, when Kiana dressed as a ninja for Halloween, I joked with her that it's better to throw stars than wish upon them. A friend remarked the old story of the little boy who after a storm, probably like the one that scared puppy last night, that boy was walking on the beach throwing starfish back in the ocean. An old cranky man passed by and asked him if he really thought he was making a difference with hundreds if not dozens of those stars stranded on the beach. The little boy aptly replied as he threw one more in, "it made a difference to that one."

I've shared the story of Job before a while back ( While I am nowhere near the same level on either, he was a guy who had a series of great and bad events happened to him and tried to make sense of it in the construct of how the entire universe ran. When he was confused during the bad events, some friends showed up and while they have been criticized by many for saying dumb things, I give them credit (and believe Job did too) for showing up and just sitting with him in quiet some of the time and venting their views back and forth in the senselessness they perceived in each other or happenstance. But one of my favorite aspects of the story is just simply they were there perhaps more aptly put in the quote: In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends”.

My holiday cards are almost done and from people who were there long before cancer to doctors to people
I met relatively recently, those are the people I've been trying to say thank you to for being there and for letting me be there. Some were there for a good walk, or a good meal, some were there during MRI's and medical appointments. The MRI is loud and obnoxious and probably feels like the thunderstorm did to puppy. Luckily I have (or hope I do) some reason to deal with it better by
running. Still, I've appreciated the people who were there for medical things and those who when they couldn't be there because of distance or scheduling found a way to still show they care (I haven't quite figured out an appropriate way to apologize to puppy for not being there during her storm last night).

And so while in simple frankness, with their presence or their prayers or their positive vibes, for me especially when they shared that with me, I don't know how much of a difference it actually makes in how those "I can't study for tests will go" but those star throwers make a difference to me.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Different Thank You Think

Not long ago, I blogged about an interaction with a friend I continue to be impressed with, Scott who is handling difficulties of cancer and life with a positive grace (  As I called him one of my heroes,  he said we could be each other's heroes as long as we didn't have to wear capes. I said I'd wear a cape if I wanted to damn it. I definitely won that arguement as I sent him a holiday card, he was kind enough to send a Livestrong cape for Kiana and I.

It made for an amusing conversation when I shared the picture on facebook with a lady who I can best describe as a Wonder Woman with all of her abilities to save and capture parts of life and smiles. But the conversation about who our favorite superhero was led to me sharing and perhaps showing that my mentality has always been somewhat grounded while still in flight, my fictional favorite hero is Batman. I don't know why that was true when I was a kid but I think the reason that it has remained Batman is that he's the only one whose "theoretically possible." There was no special element we've never discovered, no extra terrestrial birth, just a damaged guy with the means, motivation and discipline to do something with what he'd been given to defend Gotham (it's a little tough to accept that probably the worst rendition of Batman on the big screen was played by George Clooney). While most of us don't have those type of resources, I believe we can all do things proportionately with focus.

This is to me somehow both a difficulty and a beauty of humanity; we like ideals and we should pursue them. Christmas isn't far around and so we'll talk about a Guy who had a virgin birth and a perfect life and death and thus was able to save us. Maybe that's what it takes to redeem our faults and sins but Christianity hasn't always done it done it as well. Like in physics, we use perfect squares and spheres in order to be able to design things, and it works so well we've gotten to the not perfect sphere moon and landed on mars. But despite our best telescopes, we've never found anything remotely close to the "ideal" we designed. I tutor math where as we worked on Pythagorean theorem and I couldn't help but think there are ZERO perfect right triangles in the entire known universe. We design, conceptualize, imagine the perfect in order to understand the world we live in, a little messier, a little less predictable (a lot?). Now before all my religious friends get offended, let me also offend my non believer friends and say I don't have enough faith to be an atheist. I'd never come across an iphone and go yep given enough time that got there by itself much less the far more complex things in the universe. And I think it takes a huge leap of my imagination to say there was nothing and then there was this big ban explosion and it got to be everything. Both of those are gigantic leaps of belief to me but all life I know from Kiana to the tree in my front yard, need some external help to get here.

So as I think about the faith it takes to be open to outside help, my friend Josh had a good time heckling me about the fact I caught the garter at his wedding, saying I was next in line; I tried to dismiss him by saying it was just my competitive spirit kicking in. Plus I had reminded him that while I had great taste in women, great woman would show something wrong in their taste for a guy like me. But somehow, coincidentally, I had actually recently  had a dream where I was getting married (psychoanalysis begins here). In that dream, I was frustrated cause I coudn't find my bowtie and I went and asked the bridesmaids (zero of which I knew) and it occurred to me as I was waking from that dream that in it, I had no clue who I was marrying... If that dream was not disturbing enough, a song from Caedmon's Call came on not long after that (

Because I don't know what I want
But at least I know that much
Now I'm afraid love came right up
And it slapped me in the face, but I did not know, no

Because love is different than you'd think
It's never in a song or on a TV screen
And love is harder than a word
Said at the right time and everything's alright
I said love is different than you'd think

So I imagine if I ever do find the "true" type of love, if I ever quite relax enough, it will be different than I think. But I do think that I have found love in many relationships like friends, in family made in so many ways because we accept that it's different than we had thought. That a bond can be made where if somebody's cheesy and someone's lactose intolerant, we can find dairy free chocolate cake. Or that recipe that doesn't offend your choices of how to make waffles and either way you can cover them with maple syrup. It can be made in bicycles, on tracks in mud, over a good joke. There's no script in each of our lives where we can't choose to get some say in both the progress and the ending.

Over and over, how I've gotten through the day and the people I've described in here that are my heroes are impressive and humans. I've talked about MLK who we've made an impressive statue of in DC who was lets just admit far less than adequate in how he handled much of his personal life ( I've had to answer to more than a few people why still support Livestrong despite of Lance Armstrong's performance drugs ( and  I've talked over and over about Van Gogh and why he's one of my heroes caused with a messed up mind and emotions he tried to find a way for it to shout in color. He didn't see the black of the night, he saw that the stars spread more colors and beauty in any given moment than the darkness could conjure or cover up. He found a way to channel madness, sadness, anger into starry nights and sunflowers.

Recently I was a little surprised at how much coverage this half marathon tenth place article picked up I've never quite understood how this story is still getting coverage. It was shared in Puerto Rico which was cool since Kiana's got Puerto Rican heritage. I appreciate the conversations I get to have about races because I get to hear about why someone got motivated to their first Spartan, their first half marathon,  how the person who called their daughter for the first time in 14 years... Those are neat moments but perhaps just if not more meaningful ones are the ones where someone said, I don't pay my bills until after I get my kid to bed anymore, where it's not just one dynamic moment but a shift in frame of lifestyle. While I was one of the stories in the book Supersurvivors when I went to the reading of it and the authors read some great things but it was actually something they said during the Q&A time that was my favorite moment of the session. They said that often people talk about getting inspired when they hear stories but when asked what they get inspired to do, most of them end up describing just a change of feelings or thoughts. That's of course useful and I'd pay money for someone to help me line up my feelings and thoughts better but the stories that the authors used, the ones we like to hear, the ones we'd like to live is what we do with it. There's been amusing moments when I saw through an interview where the person interviewing before me says "I don't let my kids watch TV" (that didn't make the cut). But ultimately what does make it is what they are doing, the narration explains the why, but without the what, the why is so much less relevant. 

I'm not saying, nor have I ever, that we should excuse our humanity. This is "raw and uncensored" because isn't it healthy to acknowledge it? I say, "I don't know" when Kiana asks a question I can't google, I mean when she asks a question I don't know the answer to. I wonder and worry about what she'll look back on of a dad that has saved newspaper articles about us but who at the annual daddy daughter thing she described my job as running and says my clothes of choices are bowties and running shoes. But I also try to tell her to find productive things to do when she's angry or sad rather than pretend those emotions don't exist. There's times where you just have to find the right person to hug for many reasons like letting you find comfort while hiding your face. Perhaps this is why heroes wear masks so often because it's pretty scary to try to deal with comforting emotions when yours haunt you as well.

In psychology, we have shown over and over that when actions and thoughts don't line up, if we can't find a way to live with the dichotomy, we too often change our thoughts to justify our actions rather than up our actions to live to our ideals. No one bats 100% at anything in the world but with love, with running, with raising a kid, with all that I care about, the things in life that matter I hope that when I think I can do more that I find a way to try to keep doing it. And when I fail that I try again. Not in that madness where you slip into a cycle but where you tweak it, twist it, step it up. If I am different than I think, it's because I want to think that I'm overreaching, maybe aiming for the stars and falling on the barn roof, not the worst failure in the world. If I am different than I think, I really hope that if ideals keep getting higher it's because my actions are trying to catch up. And even if we can't always keep the exact same pace, I hope I keep thinking different.

Monday, November 17, 2014

I swear we lived

As we were preparing to head to the La Porte By the Bay Half marathon (, Kiana asked what time our flight left and it wasn't until that moment that I realized that for the first time since I started running with a stroller, I was the one driving Kiana to the race and it wasn't a friend or a flight carrying us there. While the fact that this was my 3rd race in three weeks (a marathon, a 10k, and now a half marathon), that awareness made me smile immediately because, while it had come out for training still, it was the first race that we were getting the stroller out for since January.

The races to Kiana and I are always just a part and never entirely the point of the trip. So it was great to join up with my friend Keith and for the first time ever our little girls would meet. We'd meet at the Kemah Boardwalk where while the girls would take in a couple of the rides, they seemed to most enjoy just playing with each other. We'd take in the aquarium where they fed some fish. It was amusing that among all the paid attractions, they'd spend more time than anything hula hooping with someone who was sharing those just on the boardwalk. I tried it for a few seconds okay for less than a few seconds cause apparently I have no dip upon my hip. I don't have those muscles but the girls could keep it going in what seemed an infinity of time. That's the beauty of childhood is that being friends is done easily, you don't have to disarming because well you're already hip with each other. 

When we got our packets, La Porte showed their kindness and how classy they are by making sure Kiana and I both got our own bib, echoing what I've always felt that even if she's in the stroller we're both doing the race. We sat and had some carbs with some of the race staff and when Kiana's ordered arrived, it was the most generous kid's menu I've ever seen. Everyone joked about how it would mean she'd weigh an extra pound in the morning. With this thing already being over 80 lbs, I couldn't have found that joke less funny ;). They asked how I was hoping to do and I said that based on previous results, I'd be proud to come in the top 10.

The legs weren't quite back to 100% but I'd never passed up the opportunity of any race that was kind enough to let Kiana and I take in a new place. Still, as I got up race morning, the race weather which had been predicted cold and rainy was neither. It was certainly cool for spectating but by my running standards the 100% humidity certainly made it feel muggy and warm. Still, I was pumped for our first stroller race in the better part of a year and started listening to some pump up music with One Republic's I lived (

"Until my moment comes, I'll say, 
I owned every second 
that this world could give!
I saw so many places, 
the things that I did! 
And, with every broken heart,
I swear I lived!"

So we headed to the race start and I just kept being impressed by the community. They observed a moment of silence due to a tragedy in the community the day before and bowed with quiet respect to that, to the opening prayer and lifted their heads with grace to the national anthem. The race was off and because it's one that raises money for a charity called Bridge Under Troubled Water that helps victims of domestic violence, Simon and Garfunkel's classic was the song we would start with on our speakers. 

For the first few miles it was questionable with me and a few others which one us was trying to keep up with who but eventually we'd all settle into a good rhythm. Then about mile 5 we'd start to get onto the bridge... the longest bridge I've ever ran with Kiana at just slightly over two and a half miles and apparently the longest of its type in Texas. Keith had said it wasn't too hard or too steep; as I started to climb it behind Kiana, let's just say that my thoughts about my friend weren't all that friendly. 

Kiana saw the yellow cables as we were heading up and asked what they were. Because of the traffic, I made the excuse that she wouldn't be able to hear me on the way up the bridge and I would explain what they did as best as I knew how on the way down because obviously the traffic was lighter on that side where the stroller isn't as heavy. Still, as we were right underneath she told me to look up as she was doing so and we did. And somehow it was one of those moments, that like a good bridge or when you get lucky enough to meet that type of person that helps you both focus and be at ease simultaneously. It probably also helped to know that at that point we were about halfway done. 

This race only had one distance, the 13.1 miles and it was the only half I've ever done that was a complete out and back. So as we would turn around about a half mile after the bridge, I realized that it was the first time in my running career where I would see everyone who was both ahead and behind me in the course. There were about 1600 runners out there and it was the most high fives we've ever given taken. On the way back across the bridge, there were people who got down to high five Kiana, something that had never happened before and she enjoyed it. 

Still I was at about mile 10.5 when the mugginess officially "went away" and it started raining. Continuing the list of firsts, this was the first time it had rained on us while running and Kiana immediately pulled the stroller top as her an umbrella. Despite me asking, she would not trade places so I could stay dry saying my sweat already had me wet. We'd keep gunning it as best as we could till the finish line which we'd take at an hour and twenty five minutes. 

We have an everything's bigger in Texas attitude and the medal to this race was gigantic. Since Kiana had used the stroller when she came out I picked her up with the medal she had just earned to use as my umbrella. I was not quite ready for the weight on the medal on my face :). 

The race had one of the best post race areas I've ever seen with such a variety of food that you could easily compensate for the calories you had just burned off. It started to get colder after the race but the race director had made sure people had made sure that people had the chance to put on a beer jacket on after if so desired. Kiana would eat to her heart's content and once again found her friends and they enjoyed playing, eating and dancing in the rain. 
When the awards ceremony would come, they would be kind enough to say a few words introducing me and mentioning the marathon I won. They asked me to share a few words and I said there, the same thing I had said at the start of the marathon I won. Before realizing something was wrong with my brain, the mistake I'd made  was to not constantly and consciously spend time with people I cared about. I encouraged them to just make sure that the experiences they loved and the people they loved coupled up together as much as possible, to continue to work on the relationships they want to keep. When the award ceremonies came out, we'd come out 10th overall in my 10th half marathon and I'd taken second in my age group. 

Still the adventure wasn't quite done. I'd get to catch up with some people from various cities that I'd done races in and I got to meet new people. Kiana just kept making better friends with Keith's daughter. Before we headed out of town we'd go to a bounce house unlike anything I'd ever seen before and the girls jumped and jumped and jumped for longer than Keith or I had taken on our halfs and still nowhere near out of steam. When that was all done, well Keith's daughter gave Kiana her mailing address.

When we got home there were facebook posts to like and tweets to favorite and an article to read (The Houston Chronicle had shared a great repoter If you want to read the whole article, they were kind enough to make it available  here Still, I'd said to anyone whose ever listened, that sometimes just basic old fashioned human contact is important. So while me and some people my age or older were texting, Kiana got home and hand wrote a note to her first penpal, a girl she'd jumped and talked to on a weekend where her father had gone to just put one foot in front of the other with her in a stroller. 

So between some new first time events and some oft repeated one, I am glad that the little girl I care about most listened and made a friend and has already put something in the mail. But between that and the high fives, the medals, the conversations around the meal we and others were having, I was greatful to have been part of a community that for one weekend, one day, and one half marathon, I swear we lived. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Call Them Miracles

I've started working on my holiday cards (while it's early and someone reprimanded me that you aren't supposed to do them until after Thanksgiving, aren't I known for being relatively fast?). Gathering addresses since I mail them the old fashioned way, I was amused people were asking if I was putting together a wedding invite list (with that said, if you're someone who reads this from out of town and I don't see you in person please send me your mailing address so I can send you one. It's not a snub, just blame my damaged memory). While no single picture would nail down best part of the best year of my life, it was a lot of fun to pick out pictures which highlighted a few special moments.

Being guy who uses quotes regularly I know there is nothing else all year that is likely to be put up on people's fridge, I try to put a good quote on there and this year what went in there was, "sometimes very rarely impossible things just happen and we call them miracles." The entirety of that quote is actually, "The universe is vast, and complicated and ridiculous and sometimes, very rarely impossible things just happen and we call them miracles" but that's a big long for a holiday card.

Trust me when I say it's not lost on me that this year I was again highlighted in media and got to speak all over the country. But some of that occurred last year as well so on that holiday card I used some professional pictures and some from my phone. This year, I decided it was probably more appropriate if they were all just "amateur" pictures. It was actually really hard getting it down to just five pictures. In the end, there was one highlighting that marathon where after two and a half years, I finally beat the time that I'd put off brain surgery for. There was one showing the race me and my little brother did together in the world of Spartans that would air on TV (the second one I'm in is showing this Sunday at 3/2 central on NBC). There was one highlighting the first time I'd skip the Austin marathon for the privilege of running Kiana's first 5k next to her. But the two biggest pictures by far are one from Dr. Seuss Day where I made Kiana green eggs and ham and another where we enjoyed a butterfly garden.

Because I take it as a miracle that it's been over a year since a seizure happened but also that each time I've had a seizure I've been lucky to wake up from it to friends. I take it as a miracle that somehow it almost seems scripted that the guy who put off brain surgery to run a marathon would win one with his daughter one second slower that would translate into trips beyond my wildest dreams. And I take it as a miracle that I'm a few days past the median survival rate and hit the fourth anniversary, the fruit and flower one.

But just as big to me (perhaps much bigger than those miracles?) continue to be the very, very extraordinary ones that impress you the moment they walk through the door. What's the bigger
miracle that on the fruit and flower anniversary blood tests come back better than you would have dared dream? Or that you make a joke about fruit and flowers anniversary and two different friends congratulate you with fruits and flowers (one was a guy, one was a girl and I'm reminded sexuality is found in the left temporal lobe where I'm damaged)?

I've been recently featured in a new website called be a dad not a fad ( And they highlight many good dads in many ways but ultimately it's the day to day stuff where you try to find a way to both cause and catch the smile of your child that makes for good discipline in my book. When you get it right, that's the miracle. And I've seen it, in Pamela Leblanc who wrote two articles about me and whose father passed away from cancer recently. He was a rocket scientist, an actual rocket scientist whose best intelligence was in raising that woman. I wondered how she captured stories so well when we met. She believes and I echo that it's because her father told stories to her so well. And as we sat and talked about the passing of her father recently she was heart broken for the loss while realizing the complete gain she'd had in having that good of a dad.

In case you weren't aware, this blog's title is from the fact that I've actually never passed by a hitchhiker that I didn't pick up (that hasn't been very useful for most of the last four years due to a driving restriction). While there are some quirky stories were one  told me where their outstanding warrants were, and once where I picked up Jesus Christ (I'll tell you that story in person if you ever buy me the right drink), and perhaps my most heartbreaking/heart warming hitchhiker story is the only person I've ever picked up twice, but simply put, most of the stories are fairly inane. It was someone who had a car break down on the way to work and they were on thin ice with their job, a grandpa who had a flat tire and really wanted to get to grandkids special day on time instead of waiting for a tow truck, an incredibly hippy engineer, someone who was conducting a social experiment etc. Oddly enough, it was actually on the way back from the 10k that I picked up only the second hitchhiker I've gotten to since being cleared to drive again. He was a heck of a quirky conversationalist who told me about how certain parts of the economy were ponzi schemes, how the cure to my cancer was apricots and told me some amusing stories about his girlfriend who he fondly referred to as his baby mama. But the interesting thing about both of the people I've picked up since then is that the first was someone who wasn't allowed to drive because of seizures and the one on the way home from Port Arthur was someone whose baby mama had seizures. Now you're welcome to lecture me on the safety of this hitchhiking thing and I'll roll my eyes at  you (with that said, I'm not endorsing anyone else picking up hitchhikers; but I also don't recommend sneaking out of the hospitals to run or running a marathon with a stroller either). Perhaps it's just a coincidence but I am the guy who depended on many rides because of seizures so I'll take the risk. If the universe balances itself out in the end, (somehow simultaneously a very comforting and rather scary thought) but on this aspect, I dare to dream it did/does.

So I'll keep enjoying what I still consider a major miracle, that once I struggled to get into races with a stroller and this week, the stroller will get to be part of at least two more races before the end of the year. One of them is this weekend ( and the other is the only race that I did between diagnosis and surgery that I hadn't gotten do with Kiana yet ( So while the day is probably coming that the stroller races are behind us, well that day is not today.

But the biggest miracles to me will always be the daily ones: that moment where you meet an attractive lady that you know you won't forget and you're not sure if it's because she balances you out, lowers your inhibitions or raises your IQ. That great friend who makes fun of you in a way that is so demeaning but you know that no one else could pay you a higher compliment. That meal that sings your heart comfort, that song that makes life taste so good you realize they invented digital music so you wouldn't scratch the record.

And these rare miracles, which we think happen everyday but really each of them comes only once in each forever, well I hope that Kiana loves them always as she does now. Kiana's art teacher tells them a quote that she loves that earth without art is just eh. So when there wasn't school because of Veteran's day, we caught some of the parade but also did an art project where we went all over town taking in murals. It was many artistic methods, some which were clearer than others to my non artistic mind. But Kiana was supposed to make her own mural. She would make one of us playing in the sun among flowers. When I admired what she had done on our driveway, well I'll call that a miracle.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Love is the Bridge

Stephen Levine wrote  "Go to the truth beyond the mind, love is the bridge." As I headed back to the running community that was kind enough to let me into a marathon with a stroller once, this quote seemed so adequate for me, a guy with a damaged brain. It would be my 4th time there, the second time doing the Pleasure Island Bridge Half marathon and 10k ( While the previous year, I had done the half this year I was taking on the 10k. The drive out there was just me, but it didn't occur to me till the day before but for the first time in years, I was driving myself to an out of town race. While most races I've taken company (or company has taken me), I went out there knowing the privilege of focusing on that community was my primary goal for that weekend. While there was a 10k on the calendar, it was literally in the same week as a marathon so I didn't know how realistic it was to be in full race mode. They  had been kind enough to say just run it however I want giving me some leeway but everyone who knows me well knew I want to do it is with as full intensity as possible.

Still the primary goal of that weekend was one thing and one thing alone, to say thank you to a community that had shown kindness over and over. From letting me in to that first race, to helping me repair a flat stroller that day to cheering with conviction, I continue to return there the same way one returns anywhere where true love exists. Not that fleeting love which turns out to be nothing more than infatuation but that love which isn't merely a feeling, it's an unbreakable promise. This is one of those places, no those type of people where that's always true.

So from the mere arrival at a dinner where we were trading stories about various races. There was a couple who had also been at the New York marathon and gave me a hard time about how I had not looked for them on the race. There were people sharing their stories about wanting to run a race once a month, others who are getting into the 50 states club. Others who feel like they don't get any faster so they keep going for longer distances and are training for a 100 miler (and here I thought something was wrong with my brain). Someone asked what my goal was for the 10k itself and I finally said it out loud, "to get PR and keep a sub six mile pace" since my previous 10k PR was a 6:03 pace. I took the next bite of food with more conviction and more nervousness but grateful to be in good company as both the food and the idea sank in.

Race morning arrived and it was the best conditions I've ever had for a 10k and for many races period. It was a cool, crisp overcast morning. I'd forgotten my usual pre race shot block but someone was handing out chocolate with almonds so I took the noble sacrifice and had some Hershey's instead. I was also part of a team of 3 where the results would be which team came in with the fastest average of the three with the Golden Triangle Strutters so we discussed our complex put one foot in front of the other strategy. This 10k has a serious bridge on a fair share of it with some seriousness steepness that is both beautiful and beats you up as you take in the scenery and the pounding. For the first two miles I was at a sub six pace with tired legs then we started going up the bridge... then the pace wasn't quite there anymore. By the time the bridge was done when we were about two thirds of the way done, it was a 6:01 pace and let's just say the legs were... crying, I mean sweating. When I got to the 5 mile mark I was at exactly 30 minutes and knew it was time to turn on the heat for 1.2 miles. It would prove harder than I thought but I would end up finishing in 37:05 with Julie, the cyclist who accompanied the second place runner filming my sprint finish. This would put me in
second place for the 10k. While I had placed in the previous races in this community, it was my first time ever to get my fastest time in any distance there at a 5:59 pace. I couldn't help but think they sure know how to hand out happiness here.

The handing out of happiness would continue as I got my award medal and our team got the first overall team award. But then I figured, if you've been handed so much happiness, you should hand some of it off so I went to the finish line and handed out medals. The responsibility was primarily the responsibility of a team of a college softball team from Lamar, the Seahawks, who was volunteering it to give back to the community. They would make fun of the singing I'd been doing as I'd passed them by on the way to the finish line; they made fun of me a little less when I brought them some of the pizza and chicken wings that the race had provided. But we kept giving out medals, receiving people with cheers and high fives and sweaty hugs. Some were pumped about PR's or first time covering that distance. And we'd be there to watch someone get helped in from an injury. And there till the very last finisher who several of them would walk in side by side for her with the last share of it.

But the race was only the start of the day. It would wrap up with dinner and dancing later. I bowed out of the line dancing joking that I was too brown to line dance and so later in the night I was taken to the dance floor and expected to perform James Brown style. I'm not sure I lived up to it but I tried. (Speaking of trying, someone handed me a piece of alligator and talked me into trying it by saying it would taste like chicken).

I started this with Levine's quote of "Go to the truth beyond the mind; love is the bridge." On my 4th
trip back with this community, I couldn't help but remember, recognize, realize that when I was a stranger with brain cancer wanting to push his kid in a stroller for a marathon, they looked beyond that part of my mind and offered a bridge of love to make it happen. A year before when NBC was filming the race, they were no different. So I think over and over and they had looked beyond my mind and bridged it with love. And on that Island for one day, a 10k personal best, surrounded by good company, it was nothing but an absolute pleasure.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Four years ago today, I would wake up in an ambulance at a Friday birthday lunch and confirm what all smart people had suspected my whole life, something was wrong with my  brain. While that day I suppose is officially the beginning of the story, there are simple realities like that we found out next to nothing that day. No one would go over the MRI with me till late that night after hospital admission. The biopsy wouldn't be till Monday November 8th and the results would not be in for a few weeks instead of the few days originally stated. So while today I acknowledge the anniversary, cancerversary, beginning of Life Part II, whatever you want to call it, but much like my actual birthday, I don't remember it very well. However, it should tell you something that the guy with memory problems who can't remember the date he won a marathon, or the date of the marathon he put off brain surgery for, somehow doesn't forget this date (it may have something to do with the old British rhyme, Remember, remember the 5th of November; still there are no other dates that have been blogged on every single year since it started).

Speaking of British, there was recently an article about how cancer shouldn't be called a battle ( because in those things there are clear winners, losers. Yes, I've lost some brain functions, a job, a few people I love we didn't make it work partly because of how we handled cancer. I won a marathon, some press and everyday still try to win over the heart of a cute little girl. (She's picked up my competitive side as demonstrated by yesterday's interaction:

Me: Kiana, I'm prettier than you.
Kiana: No you're not.
Me: Okay well, I'm smarter than you.
Kiana: I don't know about that.
Me: Well which one is more important to be prettier or smarter?
Kiana: Prettier or smarter period or just more than you?

Fortunately she decided that both in relation to me and society the more important one was to be smart and not pretty.)

I'm a competitive guy so I like to keep score, so while I've acknowledged the date every year, in my book the score is my team 4, cancer 0. While this is an imperfect metaphor (are there any perfect metaphors for indescribable situations?), I like the analogy. And let me be clear whether or not I make it through this next year because of something related to cancer, I hope, dream, and believe that I've done some good things with  my life since then and that if cancer is what I die of, that then the score will be at worst 4-1 and that cancer will still have lost.

Because while the final result obviously matters, still, like time splits in my races, or quarters in a game, or wedding anniversaries, measuring progression or regression also matters. So in looking back on the last year, I started realizing how good it has been. Financially, while there are still outstanding financial things from then, it's better than anything since 2010. Sportswise, since my 3rd cancer anniversary, I have PR'ed in every distance I've raced in from a mile to a 5k to the half to the full marathon and pulled off my first Spartans without failing any obstacles (even won some more races on my own and a 5 miler with a stroller). Kiana has done races, some on her own with  me cheering and others where we did them side by side. Emotionally and relationship wise, my counselor and I parted ways. I still haven't had a girlfriend since high school though perhaps my heart opened enough to where it could happen (speaking of which I looked up today that the 4th anniversary the traditional gift is fruit and flowers. I wonder who came up with that list and if girls would stick around longer with those gifts?). Friends wise, I have made more great ones but still have so many from so much of my life that it reminds me of what I've long suspected, all my friends are good people (because anyone shy of a saint probably couldn't put up with me).

Medically speaking, well, I got cleared to drive a little over six months ago which has been liberating. I had an appointment with a doctor yesterday that when they wanted to do sometime soon; there's been a few changes in blood pressure and weight, nothing too dramatic. Somehow at the end of it they asked if I wanted a flu shot which I got despite never having had one before. I had purposely scheduled yesterdays appointment not on the 5th wanting to not have to deal with medical stuff but the universe doesn't always line up and to check a few things the doctor ordered some bloodwork for this morning after not eating all night. Still, it tells you something about how awesome my doctors are in that before we started talking about anything medical they a picture up of my New York marathon finish that I hadn't even seen.

Because I now have insurance that is an HMO I had to go to a new place for the bloodwork. I am still amused at that I got moved over to a different receptionist not because of the procedure but because of the type of insurance. Oddly enough, the bracelet they put on me had the number 4 on it so I asked why and it was a code for something I couldn't quite comprehend. {Speaking of progress, because of someone who I wanted to be there for them at their medical appointment, I have in this last year learned to deal with blood in a way I'd never done (this took watching some online videos of bloody procedures)}. While the universe doesn't always align this nicely, it ended up helping me be completely calm for the first time while blood was being drawn intravenously and me being able to watch it. I guess that little buzzer they gave me for when it was my turn of "comfort call" was labeled correctly. The results won't be in for a bit.

I don't usually celebrate my birthday much nor do I acknowledge this cancer anniversary thing much but today I wanted to make a special note of it. While like birthdays, each of them is significant, there are ones we make a bigger deal of than others for whatever reasons, legal driving, voting, drinking age etc. This cancer anniversary year is significant to me because 4 is the first significant mile marker in this cancer journey because 4 years is the median survival rate ( While, I hope to be a wild outlier in this game, if nothing else starting tomorrow I'm in the better half of patients (I mean this with no disregard for those who didn't make it that far).

So how do you acknowledge that day? Well, I'm a runner so I was going to run 4 miles in miserable weather, but instead I ran 4.08 miles since cancer doesn't get to play entirely on it's own terms. It's a cold rainy day one of those where you wonder how people make out in the rain in movies instead of just going into cuddle. I don't think either of things will happen but sometimes cancer, like rain, does make some of us feel down ( But running in the rain or with cancer helps me keep believing that while no person has complete victory or much control over all circumstances, but you've got to hold on to some say in the matter.

I had a a meal with friends who I believe we will be friends till each other's end whosoever come first but hey I'm generally faster than them. They gave me an appropriate card and questionable, no generally inappropriate remarks. I am having a bit of time with someone who I met because of cancer. It's a connection I think is deeper than cancer could ever be and this comes from characters whose blood and brain are part of the cancer story. Yet, while I wish there'd be times where you just had brunch or comedy shows together, it seems we only see each other on cancer related days or events. That's somehow both discomforting and comforting if that makes any sense.

And I'm just a few minutes away from picking up Kiana where we'll do some fun indoor activities and keep an appropriate rainy day dinner. We are going to work on our annual card which captures the most important events of 2014 (it's awfully cool that this is the hardest it's been to pick which are the pictures to put in because of the variety of events).

And since I'm known for being corny, it has had some rough parts but I think over all the last few years have been overall, a fantastic four. I feel as lucky as a clover with four leaves for all the good parts and since Kiana and I got to go to DC and since yesterday was election day, I'll gladly dare to dream today for at least four more years.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Run for Life

The simple New York Road Runners motto "Run for life" may have captured my exercise motivation and approach better than I ever have. As I arrived into one of the coolest cities in the world, it was not difficult to appreciate and try to get into an Empire State of mind. This included everything from capturing as much of the city as I could in a brief time to running the biggest and most spectated marathon I've ever had a chance to do.

Luckily I had a partner in crime join me for a fair share of the adventure, Alanna, a Livestrong friend from San Francisco. While we'd met in California, were now meeting up in the Big Apple on Halloween so taking the relationship from coast to coast. Our costume that night was me pretending to be classy enough to take in a musical, Jersey Boys. One of their songs would make the marathon playlist and if you can figure out which one maybe we should go see a musical together.

The next day the Today show which had had featured Kiana (and me) was kind enough to give us a
tour and let us watch it being broadcast ( Afterwards Alana and I did our best Ron Burgundy impression in front of the today show but I still couldn't talk Lester Holt into running the marathon with me. Remembering the story they did and watching them do other stories I couldn't help but wonder and be amazed at how good they were at capturing humanity. Somehow, in that famed building, 30 Rockefeller center, that gave them a birds eye view of the city, they were able to capture and share both big angles and intimate perspectives side by side.

The lunch after was with the organization I was running with, Voices Against Brain Cancer ( Sitting there, everyone at a couple of tables shared why they were running the marathon with this organization. The three people to my left each were there for the same reason, their fathers had passed  away from brain cancer. They shared stories about their dads in general and then started sharing the difficult part that joined them. . One had done multiple races over the better part of
a decade with the Voices. He had passed a few years ago and yet much too soon but she had not forgotten doing race after race with the voices. One was doing what they intended to be their only marathon ever for their dad the next day. He shared a story of their last holiday together, Thanksgiving. It was one of genuine and heartbreaking story about some funny family and that while dad was not really able to talk, dad seemed to come alert at that meal and smiled with laughter before passing a few days later. I think that smile was echoed clearly there by his son. The third was someone who had done many marathons but when her dad had gotten diagnosed not even a year before. decided to do New York with Voices Against Brain Cancer. I think she hoped he could cheering her on. Her dad had passed about a month before the race but she was clearly going to run with him in her heart. I was the only person there this year who was both running and had brain cancer, not someone who was doing it in honor of or memory of someone. That fact was not lost on me during a single moment of that meal. 

Trying to catch a bit more of the greatest city in the world, I couldn't pass up a chance to see Van Gogh starry night in the museum of modern art. Perhaps like Van Gogh, the muses that inspire won't stay forever but like the other Voices I hope doing something of beauty, Van Gogh was painting is how we deal with damaged brains who somehow painted his dreams into reality. And he gave perspective which even small points of light in a dark sky were brighter and the sky less dark.

Unable to resist an hour of extra night time due to the time change last night, Times Square was taken in before laying the gear out and calling it a night. The next morning I got up feeling the same as I do before every marathon, nervous, excited, intimidated. It was in the low 40's so it took some ridiculous gear on to stay warm. My pre race routine was impossible since the
start was near the time I usually finished. There would be taxis, ferries, buses and separate corrals to the beginning. During the ferry I saw this very classy lady but she was too far away to have any chance of getting her number, probably out of my league anyway ;). Security checks were a new experience in a marathon for me but I understood why. Because of the size, it was longer standing times than I'd ever done before a race start would feed the excitment and build the nervous energy. There were bags to drop off to UPS who reminded me of what Brown can do for you.  I've never seen so much clothing discarded before the first mile of a race than that day.

But finally it was time to start the New York City marathon! I started in the lower level of the bridge with a cold wind you could feel in your bones. My GPS watch couldn't be getting accurate readings because it was saying I was doing 9:39 pace for the first couple of miles and corrected later. Still, I was smiling with broadway songs in my ears, a bigger crowd around me than I've ever had during a marathon. Except when we were on the bridges there were never any lonely desolate roads without packed spectators on both sides. There were some typical marathon signage but some incredibly New York appropriate/inappropriate signs and more flags than I've ever seen some which in simple honesty, I didn't even know what country they were from and wished I'd had a camera to look them up later.

The miles like in any marathon kept piling up and there would be friends from New York, from Austin, strangers that cheered with so much conviction to me the "shirtless guy," that they felt like friends. One of my favorite moments of the marathon was at mile 17 where the producer from the today show was out there with a handmade "Go Iram" sign. In that second alone I realized why she was so good at capturing humanity, it's because she was so good at being human.

I was on PR pace till about mile 22.5 but the system couldn't handle the speed anymore but the finish
line is never negotiable. I started high fiving if nothing else to warm up the hands. With about a mile to go I saw the run for life logo and smiled running with that in mind. No one I know gets life always exactly right or life in the right direction but my favorites go the finish line of your commitments, your goals as best as you can as long as you can. I ended up in about 3:10 and was grateful to receive the medal and the warm up wrap (not necessarily in that order).

There would be a couple of happy hours with friends from Austin, high school, Spartans but another cool meeting this weekend was with Dave. He and his girl Lisa were people I was supposed to meet up with. Lisa also has brain cancer... She was supposed to be running the marathon and they were supposed to be having a wedding not far down the road. Her health was such that the marathon wasn't possible and they just got married at home with it webcast to the right people. Since I don't know New York that well and he lived further out, he was kind enough to meet
me to pick up their wedding present.

The marathon was an incredible experience and it reminded me I run for the same reason the New York Road Runners do, for something elegant and simple, for life. Running gets my lungs in better shape for singing musicals letting me be a louder voice against brain cancer. It gets me legs better for dancing and walking around NYC (though apparently with daylight savings time hotel, subway and airport stairs gets steeper.) And it gets my heart in better shape for love even if it's as tough as Dave who has to recognize that it's better to have loved even under those circumstances. So I'll keep running for life and hey I made it in New York so I can make it anywhere.