Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Better With Age

The beauty of memory not being completely gone is that once in a while it gives you a little nostalgia. My dog turned 10 a few days ago and we did some special treats and activities and I got out a photo album. I got her way back in the day when digital photography was relatively new and I still had an old fashioned film camera so it was kind of nice to be able to touch those pictures.

It was comforting/disturbing to see pictures of her aging if nothing else to remember our adventures. She was an occasional running partner when she was younger and logged in quite a few miles by my side. Mostly we go on walks now but not nearly enough and not like the ones we had when she was first born. Her name is “Puppy” because she was the bastard dog of a stray that lived across the way when I was volunteering in the Marshall Islands in the South  Pacific and she kept showing up on my porch and I’d throw a treat down the ways to  “get the puppy out of here.” Clearly I’m well trained in how to get dogs to not like you. While we walk around a neighborhood or park now and then now, back then we used to walk along the ocean… And when it was time to leave, I had to bring her home with me and we had to get customs rules to be able to bring her back from the South Pacific to Texas. And here, we’ve settled into a house that was bought partly because it already had a doggy door installed and not too long ago I put a doggy “window” into the fence so that she can look out when she’s home alone.

But as I started looking through those pictures… well I looked through another photo album and another… and another. I realized it had been a little over 10 years since I graduated college, more than 15 since I graduated high school. I saw a picture of me the only time I grew my hair out… and one look at that will tell you why I keep it so short. I saw my face with less wrinkles, with no scar of cancer. I remembered something that I’d completely forgotten, how my running career began. I’ve ran since I can remember but the first time I was put in a race was in 3rd grade. I kept getting in trouble for running in the hall in Kermit’s Elementary, Purple Sage. Teachers warned me multiple times that this was against the rules and I listened so well that a few weeks later I got “spanked” three times. Shortly after that I got put on the track team. (I don’t know what your thoughts are on corporal punishment period or in school but let’s just say that another set of licks would come in Jr. High for running in the call and somehow I got lucky enough in high school that my classes were all outside and there was no “hall” to get in trouble for running.)

When I had that hair, what a friend kindly described as an animal attacking my head, it was when I had the privilege of attending a college in Napa Valley, Pacific Union College. Raised in a family of teetotalers, I somehow managed a full academic scholarship to 4 years in wine country (if you want another theory as to why I have cancer, there was a group of friends that stole some wine grapes and tried to ferment our own wine, a felony in that part of the world, and the deal was that all had to drink some of it… let’s just say it’s not my favorite wine memory but I drank what I said I would). One of the sayings I learned in college was a less than humble friend who would say he was like the fine wine, he’d just keep getting better with age (is that less than humble or more than humble?).

Perhaps there are many  more things that get better with age than I realize but generally speaking time makes our cars, our haircuts, our furniture, our well being less than what it used to be (http://www.prevention.com/health/healthy-living/?s=1). There are friends who have tried to comfort me in that some of the brain functions that have given way in my brain would have gotten worse with age anyway (how that’s supposed to be comfort I am not sure since I can’t imagine being excited about having all of my hairs gray tomorrow or the wrinkles being further set in). I still do lumosity regularly and while my score is not at its highest point, it’s still higher than it was after brain surgery. And I’ve started facing some fears. One of my issues is aphasia, an inability to come up with some basic words. I used to love playing scattegories because I was pretty good at it but after the surgery I was horrible at it. For the first time in over two years, I took it out this week and played. And while I wasn’t what I used to be, it really did feel like I’d made some progress.

 And I still focus on running for the simple reality that it is a place where reward and effort have some correlation (had a fun and killer track workout last night). And I also have gotten to go back to little moments of fun that used to be taken for granted like after not having played for almost 8 months, I played ultimate Frisbee twice in two weeks. I miss both the game and the community but it mostly happens on weekends and evenings which is when my primary duty of being a dad occurs. But it was kind of flattering to beat kids a decade younger than me (I am going to focus on that and keep ignoring when the kids were skying me or outrunning me). And the next day I went and had lunch with Kiana who asked when our next race was, when her next race was, and when we were having ice cream next; turns out the apple still hasn’t fallen too far from the tree.

But even there I know that I can’t keep my speed forever. There’s a reason in ultimate, age 33 (how old I am!) is considered master’s age and in running master’s is 40’s. In both athletic endeavors, they get their own separate division. There’s a reason most Ph’D’s and a gigantic percentage of research and innovative ideas are done or at least started by people younger than me (invariably someone with tons of optimism will point at the exceptions to all this and that’s fine, go be exceptional, I’m okay with a lot of the ordinary stuff of humanity and think that if we just give it some extra time, there’s a beauty to getting some extra ordinary). I try to blame this old age as the reason that when I tried to go dancing Saturday night I sounded like my grandpa (“what’s happened with music these days? When I used to go out a few years ago, we had music and lyrics, now it’s just a loud techno beat that gives you a headache?!”). There’s a reason at a party where all I did was chat and talk to people that I thought it was a great party (as opposed to a decade ago when that kind of party would have sucked, how did they not have a cool card/yard/drinking game). It’s not that you didn’t talk to people at those parties; it’s that wasn’t enough to make something into a “cool party.”

I am still going to another run tonight and I’ll be trying to tear up the hill workout tomorrow. I return to Beaumont in a week and a half where since only half the team is going (Kiana is with her mom that weekend), I’m only going to do the half and then hand out medals. You better believe I’m going to race but I’m going more than anything to say thank you to that community. Because to me that matters more than my speed.

Because that is and always will be the part of my life that never stopped getting better with age. I actually have a special bottle of wine saved up for I don’t know what and another one to give to Kiana when she turns to 21. Maybe fine wine does get better with age and some parts of the body do not. But relationships can and have. And if there’s anything that cancer changed on me, it wasn’t running as an outlet, or my hopes or fears, those were intensified but not changed. It was just a simple awareness that relationships, no matter how natural the connection, just as natural as running is to me, get better and more enjoyable and more meaningful by putting in more effort and signing up for meaningful events together. The smartest thing I’ve ever said wasn’t in my college honors thesis; it was in that Livestrong video (www.livestrong.org/iram ) “you have to work on the relationships you want to keep.” In music styles, dancing approaches, athletic achievements, how one parties, an aging body and mind may make it more difficult to hold. But for me, it takes a cursory glance around humanity, to realize that the meaning of life is connection, that the friends that have stayed together for decades, the couples that celebrate anniversary (not acknowledge them, celebrate them), the parent who recognizes that it is much cooler to be equals as adults with their children. That is my biggest hope as a parent, that there will come a day where I’m still standing and I’m no longer raising a child but seeing an adult making all decision for herself, good or bad, but hopefully great. I see her put together her backpack and perhaps in that nostalgic music mode, I start singing

I watch her grow 
She'll learn much more than I'll ever know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world”


I hope that in someways the meaningful relationships of my life will in their own way outlive me because while I hope it’s years away, I know it will do it with my dog (isn’t that what a president said, if you want a true friend, get a dog). So even as I sat in nostalgia some of the last few days, and even though on each one of her birthdays I somewhat dream that will be the age Kiana somehow is forever, I am grateful that time keeps passing with me living in it. If nothing else, it beats the alternative. An old graying dog and a young growing kid sure give you perspective. And I hope that the relationships I’m creating with her and all meaningful people are something that we bottle up like that fine wine. If you live in Napa Valley you learn that some of it is natural organics, some of it is good years and bad years, but even with all that, this is done carefully with effort and with intelligence and effort and time and effort. While nothing lasts forever, I want to keep treating memories, relationships and connections like fine wine so they will keep getting better with age. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Dance Goes On

I grew up in a denomination that while it has no official stance on it, let’s just say that dancing is discouraged. An old joke says that we don’t have sex standing up because it could lead to dancing but if there’s one exercise I appreciate infinitely more than running or spartaning or cycling, it’s dancing. It’s something that I’ve definitely passed on to Kiana because while we have a relatively small house we have a big empty space in the living room. A couple of weeks ago she said… well some people would have a dining room table here but I am glad we don’t because it leaves more room to dance.

And it was fun to think that way because after the 5k Kiana was hula hooping and dancing. That’s easier to do after a 5k than a marathon and I felt bad for many of those doing longer distances because the weather was rough and for the vast majority of them, they fell short of their hopes/expectations. I saw some of them sobbing at the finish, some crying shortly after, some frustrated and disappointed a few hours later. I saw a few of them crying happy to have qualified for Boston or to have gotten their fastest one or finished their first one. I’ve been in both the happy and sad situation and imagine will be there again and like them, some of them declared shortly afterwards, “I’ll never do another marathon again.” But a day or two later there were facebook statuses about them having signed up for Austin next year or another marathon, or an ironman. There are some who were still pretty beat down. Within a few hours, perhaps my favorite moments was to see some of them had, even though they were already dehydrated, drank a margarita or two and they were dancing in post race pictures. Because in the end, at least for me, the marathon, the races are the excuse for the connections, for the healthiness, for the dancing after.

I figured that since I have reminders in my life anyway through medical bills and insurance notices (whatever your thoughts are on Obamacare... I have health insurance for the first time since my COBRA ended so... I am grateful for it. I am paying for it and would have "gladly" paid for it before but in Texas, the law used to allow them to not have to insure anyone until they had been cancer free for 5 years... which right now I may never get to do). Rather than be reminded of just my own cancer issues and side effects, I have chosen to connect with others in the cancer community. Because of that choice, I hear of death too often.  And not too long after celebrating a marathon finish with them and seeing them and Kiana dance, I received an email from Jimmy Fowkes’s family, someone I had met at my first Livestrong bike ride and seen at all three of the ones I've done. He had passed away from brain cancer the morning of the marathon and of mine and Kiana's 5k. (http://www.stanforddaily.com/2014/02/18/outpouring-of-condolences-for-jimmy-fowkes-14/). Here was a kid who with brain cancer had started at Stanford, received scholarships and each time I saw him seemed always positive. It was a few days ago it seemed like when I last sat across from his family in October where he was ringing the opening go signal for the 100 mile bike ride. The simple truth is that most of my interaction had just ended up being with his parents at most events we were together because I obviously worry about Kiana if brain cancer ever takes me. Still Kiana has her mom and I hope an army of people that would/will be helpful if/when that event comes. But at some level, I admit that the person I worry the most about is my mother because the way I see the universe… we’re supposed to bury our parents not the other way around. I think this is one of just many reasons why we struggle when children and young adults have cancer. While there are those who want/choose to believe that everything happens for a reasons, the simple truth is I can’t think of anything where parents burying their children makes sense… I sent a tribute to Jimmy but while I’m  a guy who blogs and has been in media interviews, I am also a guy whose attended a few too many funerals and memorials in the last few years (oddly enough many of them for people he’s only met in the last few years) and I can tell you there’s no words that I’ve ever come up with that adequately describe the tribute that good folks deserve.

That was all part of an interesting weekend because the statesman article about Kiana’s first 5k (http://www.mystatesman.com/news/lifestyles/recreation/running-a-family-affair-for-man-with-brain-cancer/ndF84/) quoted Steven Curtis Chapman’s Cinderella (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrWMBC6yoME) a song that’s been quoted and blogged about here (http://pickingupahitchhiker.blogspot.com/2012/03/cinderella.html). David Armstrong, an old friend, gave us
tickets and as Mr. Chapman introduced the song he talked about how he wrote it on a night his girls were being less than behaveful as they went to bed. But he realized then that it was probably best to enjoy the moment than be rushing them to bed because he had things to do. I get Kiana to bed early because she has school and various things but I still keep trying to catch each moment that I can with a bedtime routine that includes a countdown that “blasts off” into the hope she gets good sleep and good dreams. But one of the daughters he wrote that song for would be killed a few years later in a tragic car accident. He spoke about how he didn’t know what to do with that song, whether to stop singing it in light of that but he eventually got back to singing it. But when he did it live Saturday night, he changed the lyrics. Usually it’s “I will dance with Cinderella; I don’t want to miss even one song, cause all too soon, the clock will strike midnight and she’ll be gone” But he closed it out by singing “All too soon the clock will strike midnight but the dance goes on.”

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that slight shift in lyrics. There are those who like Stephen Curtis Chapman find hope in that they will reunite again in heaven. There are those who think this life is all we get. There are those who think we have cycles or karma. While I attend Christian church regularly, I have no grand knowledge of the universe, no absolute truth has been granted to me. But I do know… that no matter which one of those is true, that I can’t imagine regretting a single dance with anyone I love.

There is another song that often makes race playlists, Caedmon’s call “Dance” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVPzb4od9lk Dancing’s been referred to many times here because there is a rare opportunity that I pass up the chance to dance.  The song is about an old lady in a nursing home who loves when someone comes in to play music so that she can dance. To quote the lyrics a little more directly

And I wanna dance 
I wanna snap my fingers all night long and dance 
I wanna move around the room just like a madman in a trance 
All night, I wanna dance 
I wanna wrap my arms around your neck and dance 
I wanna listen to the music that's been ringing in my ears 
And one day I’m gonna dance my way right outta here

And to quote the lyrics even more, the guy who runs or maybe dances to and from being George Clooney and a hopeless romantic even likes the line in the song, "I’d marry you if you could dance.” I don’t have a girlfriend but if I ever do, it will be someone I can do all kinds of dancing with. When I hear adults talking about how they aren’t comfortable dancing… I question which one of has the more damaged brain. I hear many adults at various places questioning my exercise habits. However, I think people who question my marathoning are more sane than those who pass up on dancing. Take it from a guy who regularly attends elementary school things, when they have something in assembly that requires running, most of the kids in elementary do it to some level and enjoy it to various levels. When they have something that involves dancing, almost all of them do it and the vast majority of them are dancing with ridiculous smiles on their faces. The older Kiana gets the more I think growing up may be overrated (just kidding) but I am beyond certain that there are some things that nothing is served by growing out of it. And dancing… I don’t think anybody needs to or gains anything by outgrowing it.

I’m part of a group on facebook, the solidarity run group, where you dedicate runs to other people. I’ve been part of other groups where you’re supposed to dedicate a run/workout/moment of silence to someone else. Being part of those is good for all because I believe it’s good for everything  and everyone to think outside of yourself to look for symmetry and syngery. While I am aware there are those who might dance at my grave for different reasons, let me send a message to anyone who reads this and loves me, to anyone who reads this and I love, be aware that whichever one of us gets to the end of life first, if there’s only one thing you do as an acknowledgement, don’t let it be a run, or a ride or words, just dance. Believe me when I say I don't care whether you to dance to remember or dance to forget. Because for me, and for many of the friends I’ve made who have passed, if there’s anything that will help us rest in peace, it’s knowing that the dance will go on.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Paramount

The dictionary defines Paramount as "more important than anything else; supreme;" appropriately enough it gives a sentence as an example that says "the interests of the child are of paramount importance." So it felt incredibly appropriate that the first time Kiana and I ever did a race together was the Paramount Theater's 5k... Kiana asked why I was calling it our first race ever since I had ran beside her on track meets and behind her in a stroller; I stumbled as I tried explain to her that it wasn't just me joining her or just her joining me for a race but that this time, this time it was us joining together and sharing the road.

It was the first time since I started running marathons that I wasn't going to get the privilege of participating in the Austin Marathon course since I started running marathons in 2010. It was incredibly tough mentally to watch people taper and talk about their goals and diets since my training group usually has almost everyone doing either the full or the half but I knew I had something more important that I'd get to share, not Kiana's first race but her first 5k, nor my first race but my first one actually with her.

The Ship of Fools has called shots of what time they will get the race in, with the person closest winning the privilege of a picture with Coach Al and free breakfast from him. I called our race at 53:08 based on well... pretty much nothing other than a 5k is 3 miles and them added together equals 8 and that other people had talked about their kid's first 5k being 45 minutes or an hour and so that seemed reasonable. And I want running to be fun and something Kiana sticks (or at least some form of exercise) so I wanted this race to be just a joy for her. With school, she has to do extra homework and extra reading. With chores, she has to do plenty but those are responsibilities you have to learn to be moderately capable to get through a career or managing a house, the responsibilities of life. But the joys and meanings of life like exercise and music and art, the things which make life better, are so much more simple and complex than that. So I stole the mental attitude of how to approach this from a conversation from a group of musician friends I was hanging out with. They were all people who had been introduced early onto music, playing the piano for most of them. There were some who had been "sternly" directed to play the piano regularly, others who it was just a fun activity with their parent. Now, there are people who make a career out of that but in that conversation of friends, no one had. Their level of gratefulness and skill varied, some had kept up with it into adulthood and some had not. The ones whose musical experience had been fun discipline seemed to love their parents, if not life itself more.

So that was the attitude I tried to approach Kiana's first 5k with... I'd never even run a mile till I was in junior high nor done a race event of any sort till I was 8. And because the course has the exact same beginning and the end of the marathon of Austin, the live musical capital of the world, I knew there'd be music along the course and didn't know if she'd be trying to take it in more slowly or quickly. (Anyone who thinks that I was completely relaxed about her approach doesn't know me that well because she was promised ice cream if she did the whole thing without walking). But that was the mind frame I went in with... odds are unlikely for any of us to become professional athletes or musicians because well there just aren't very many of those but I don't know that there's any of us who aren't happier if we take exercise and music in so I just wanted her memories with that to be ones of happiness.

But we got there and watched the marathon start and cheered everyone we could recognize as loudly as we could. Some would hear us, some were tuned in to their ipods or the road on their way to start. Some of them looked nervous, others happy. I'd actually never watched a marathon start so I was amazed at how long it took for thousands of people to get from beginning to end.

Then we took a picture together where Kiana was pointing at the capital and I just though I'm glad to see her smiling at the start... here's hoping that's true at the finish. And then we were off... I was nervous that she would make the mistake of starting too fast but I had no idea what speed she was supposed to do. We'd never run on the road since all of our workouts had been at her track where there's no "real" turns and no elevation change. After 1 mile, she clocked it in at almost exactly 13 minutes and I wondered if she was going too fast or too slow but with no real way to know how to decide that. Shortly after that, her mom and boyfriend on the side of the course cheering her on, taking pictures, and holding up a sign cheering her on. She gave them a quick high five and kept going, beaming all of a sudden. At that point, she asked how many "laps" we had to go, her acknowledgement of distance. After the turn around point, she looks up at me and says "my heart is beating fast" and I just simply said, it's supposed to do that and added that we're at 7 laps.

On the way back in she gave her mom a hug and that helped her keep going as she started picking up the speed. Shortly after I had to stop and tie my shoes and she kept going, letting me know to catch up. With a half mile to go, she saw that it ended going up hill and we reached out and held hands. We'd been passing people for the last half mile or so and an older lady who we were next to at the bottom of the hill said, I was going to walk up the hill till I saw you guys so I'm going to run it next to you. And we did; and she did. The finish line is visible for only about a block but when we saw it Kiana kicked it in and sprinted but we held hands the entire way in. One of the first questions she was asked was who came in first and she said we came in together, (at 36:02 with her last mile being her fastest, with plenty of people both in front and behind us). She received a medal for finishing it. More importantly, she finished the race the same way she had started it, smiling.

And after her race and cheering on others, we were out having ice cream where since she knew she has her dad wrapped around her finger on days when she's exceeded expectations, Kiana and I shared a banana split where she picked the flavors of scoops and all of the toppings.  I've ran in races since I was 8 years old but while I've long been embarrassed to admit that I didn't run with a stroller till I got cancer, I was proud that my first race with a stroller was to get my mom to do her first half at age 60, I am just as proud of the fact that I won a marathon with a stroller. And I've been on relay race teams, cross country teams, obstacle course teams, but simply put those are merely a shadow of how proud and how happy I am that the first time in my entire life that I ran a race entirely side by side with any person was with Kiana, the greatest kid I've ever known. The paramount 5k t-shirt played off Shakespeare and said "All the road's a stage and all the men and women merely runners in it." There are many things I am grateful for but on the stage of that 5k... well I am glad that for an entire 5k I got to be Kiana's sidekick and show her that well... in her father's eyes, she is Paramount.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Can't Be Good

In my younger days, an old friend said to me as I was heading out for an evening, "Be good." And with a nudge and a smile I said "What's the fun in that?" He responded with "Well if you can't be good, be good at it." And that's a line that I've held in my repertoire for over a decade. Obviously it's a semi tongue in cheek joke about if you're going to misbehave might as well go all out but I try to apply it elsewhere.

There are people who have calm lives who seem to be surrounded by angels if they aren't angels themselves. But as I watch life both near and far, it is how we deal with our demons that I find both comfort and fear. Some of the end results are scary... like the recent news of an actor whose films I've enjoyed, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, passing away from heroin use. It's fascinating watching how people react over the spectrum of whether he was a victim of this or that or an abuser or an overuser... The person who I agreed with most was Aaron Sorkin who wrote about it, [Hoffman] did not die from an overdose of heroin, he died from heroin. We should stop implying that if he’d just taken the proper amount then everything would have been fine." But again I've enjoyed some of Hoffman's films... and it made me think of something else I recently read in Time Magazine about other artists who have dealt with what haunts them

"an individual striking out against the expectations of his culture, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropping out of Harvard, Miles Davis coming out of heroin addiction to produce 'Round About Midnight, the 14-year-old Billie Holiday turning the pain of her childhood into the bluest beauty, Sylvia Plath taking on death with pills and poetry, William S. Burroughs writing from the bowels of his addiction in Naked Lunch; it's Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Cheever and Carver drinking and writing, writing and drinking through their demons."


And these reflections on what people have done with their demons, the expectations, is a fascinating concept. Them struggling with it and when not always able to be good, finding something creative that they were good at. It's why I love Van Gogh, a tormented man who "transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world."  And at the end of the day, I'm sure there are lots more people who deal with their pain by creating beautiful and intelligence who no one ever hears about but their own inner circle friends. And I hope to never hide from my demons in only bad food or porn or alcohol or in staying so busy but unproductive, to where I think of myself as a victim, because then there will be no time to reflect when push comes to shove. I'm 33 years old and have met tons of people and perhaps somewhere in the world there are those who aren't good at something but I've yet to meet any though I've met some who choose to stop using . Some of us excuse it with what to me feels like cheap lines of if you don't deal with me at my worst, you don't deserve me at my best... blah blah blah. To me, the best are those who are there at my best and my worst and try to help me improve and acknowledge both as human and capable of growth. 


So admiring how some of the most creative they handle their demons I reflect on that cancer is one of my demons... echoed by me not having enough faith in my  own brain... perhaps not enough faith period, why I've been sitting further up in church, my faith is still lacking in at least in my own life and my own capacity to love from damage. And so I think of those kind of guys that did those types of things where they found a way to let out their demons and I did a pretty solid track workout tuesday and my first ever Spartan full workout of the day where it was the most pull ups I'd ever done in a day. And a 5k yesterday at a sub six pace as a training run in freezing weather. Because on the days, I'm not good... well this is how I try to be good at it.  


Someone chatting with me asked if I really only had a night or a day left what would I do (they suggested they'd  have a pretty wild night). I reminded them I put off brain surgery to run a marathon so I'm a little more boring. A newspaper and video piece came out about me yesterday (http://www.austin360.com/news/lifestyles/recreation/running-a-family-affair-for-man-with-brain-cancer/ndF84/). I will likely never get comfortable with media nor quite understand why the story of one foot in front of the other hasn't gotten old but what is said in there is absolutely true, I've qualified for, ran Boston, and won a marathon but Kiana's first 5k is going to be my favorite race yet. Luckily the start line and the finish line of the Austin marathon, where my first marathon happened will be the same for Kiana's first 5k so for us running ain't no thing but a family thing. 


But while I dismiss being called inspirational as perspirational, I do find much of my inspiration in other people... Oddly enough there was another article written by the same author, Pamela LeBlanc about a friend of mine referred to in here before.  This friend  Sean, who is not going to be able to run the Austin marathon because of cancer surgery a few days before went and did the course (http://www.austin360.com/weblogs/fit-city/2014/feb/06/after-getting-cancer-diagnosis-sean-maguire-runnin/). The Austin marathon staff and Livestrong both organizations I love made the finish into an event and put up the finish banner for him and gave him a finishers medal. And he was one of two heroes to me today... because he was the only person who ran the entire course turn by turn but for a good chunk of it, someone joined him. There is a team Kate, a subsection of team Livestrong, for the Austin marathon who was the biggest team last year as they supported Kate, someone who was going through brain cancer and would ultimately pass away from it much much too young. But the person who ran a good chunk of the marathon (18 miles) with Sean was her widowed husband. I've only met her husband briefly a couple of times but... Sean was running that marathon with no fans along the way or closed roads and Mr. Kate... I wish I had better words but it's guys like that which remind me that people aren't good with "cancer" or being widowed but these guys sure are being good at it. And when a friend who didn't know we knew each other said this guy Sean obviously found a much smarter way to handle cancer surgery and a marathon than the way you did it, I responded, of course. I put off brain surgery for 5 weeks. Sean won the marathon and he beat the guy in second by like a week and a half, that has to be a world record for how far ahead the leader is in front of second.  

So there are people perhaps whose demons, whose ghosts, whose diseases whose life is not as deafeningly disturbing as others... and frankly I'd trade lives with them any day... because they get to be good.  And if you take in the statesman piece... I say that I run because it's my therapy and and how much I do it shows just how much I need therapy (I write before I head to go meet with my actual therapist but there's a track workout later as well). The newspapers show Kiana and I hugging, and they show us running and her painting... And there would be nothing better to me than her getting to grow up be one of the people who has no large demons. And there would be no greater relief than having Kiana be fortunate in such a way that it never ever happens. But if anything negative happens to her as it does to most of us from poor choices of hers or others or or unexpected circumstances or disease... I hope, dream, pray that the parenting I've done prepares her for handling it creatively. I hope she's always good, that she is an angel that has to deal with no demons, but if that's not the case, I hope Kiana's good at it. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

False Hope

Today is World Cancer Day, http://www.worldcancerday.org/ a global organization with 9 specific goals by 2025. I'm a fan of goals and deadlines and approaches... perhaps why I keep running because there's this pace at this speed for this distance to aim for, a bit of normalcy in what feels like days of insanity. I love many of those causes and approaches because they give us real numbers that when my mother was born cancer used to kill 2 out of the 3 people who received the diagnosis and now it kills 1 out of 3. And while even some of them are still nowhere near removable, some medications are effective enough that people die with it not from it. They've stated it better than I have on their website and ever since this started, I have raised money for various cancer causes because I believe in them but on these types of days, I try to take the macro fight down from the day to day level. But it is in both that having some goals, great or small, feed hope.

There are people who it appears from day one their diagnosis they are 100% sure they are going to beat the diagnosis. Some people seem to accept defeat on day one. Some people seem to not know what to do. A friend who I met in Duke, who was there in New York, is having great progress with a more advanced version of the same cancer. He's one year into it doing very well. He owned me at the race there and had to take a break from running due to treatment. He's got almost a decade on me but I believe we aren't far away from the day where he'll be outgunning me again in a race. At least I hope so.

Another friend with a brain tumor declared that his doctors joked with him that if brain surgery didn't kill him, the medical bills would and he was proud to announce that his doctor was 0 for 2 when 7 years later he finished paying it all off. I checked and was relieved to realize that all medical issue finances 3.5 years into it were under 10 grand. He had to relearn to walk and talk but he's ran 2 marathons since I met him and he's still getting faster. He jokes that one day he's going to put concrete in the stroller to get ahead of me. But he's got the Austin marathon in a week and a half and I would bet he smiles at the finish line or shortly after. At least I hope so.

And while I joke about retiring from running, we all know good and well that it's not going to happen. The distance, the approach, the capacity to run it with a stroller, well I'm not making many promises. But they found me on the side of the road once in the middle of a 10 mile run and while I was relieved to wake up... I can't imagine anyone would be surprised if my last steps were in the middle of a run. And as Kiana's getting ready for her first 5k, I took her to the track to do 2 miles. She doesn't have a GPS watch and she says it's no fun to remember how many laps she does so she does one of two things between each lap. She either stops at the starting point and write the number she's done (it's a dirt track at her school) or she sets off a pile of rocks and knocks one off after each lap. I run the opposite way and we high five so I don't actually keep track of her laps but I couldn't understand why I was done before her and I thought maybe she was having an off slow day. Turned out, she had added rocks so that she could do 2.5 miles and wanted to "surprise" me; at the Ship of Fools we say you can always do extra and apparently she's heard. That paramount 5k is going to be fun. At least I hope so.

So because other cancer patients and my own daughter serve as inspiration to keep going, with two months into this increased anti seizure medication, I have chosen to take my own babysteps. I chased my facebook profile into purple for the cancer awareness day foundation. The soreness from carrying the stroller made me realize I'd once again started to neglect upper body balance so I signed up for a Spartan in May because for me it's easier to train with a "purpose" for it on the calendar. And I'll do it less nervous and get less burpees. At least I hope so.

But I also chose to hope on a few things that I've been ambivalent or avoiding. Since I've been in West Wing mode, a candidate declares "There is such a thing as false science, there is such a thing as false promises, I am sure I will have my share of false starts. But there is no such thing as false hope. There is only hope." And so my next appointment is in April and I choose to believe that everything will be stable. I choose to believe that for the first time in almost two years they're going to let me get back to driving but I will choose to regularly still bike or walk places and save the car for the necessary. At least, I hope so. 

And I choose to be open to, to hope that I will have my first girlfriend since high school. People keep asking who the girl referred to in here as if I'm going to put in someone's height, weight and social security number. But I don't believe love is magical or mystical anymore than running (which is by the way magical and mystical). I don't completely understand why people try to do relationships so privately. In my running group, people with more experience than me and obviously those with less, get training schedules which tell you what to do this many days a week at what speed. Some use different schedules or different approaches because the reason running is magical and mystical is because we're nowhere near figuring it out. And yet in romance, a much higher high than running for most of us, we want to figure it all out. Let's just say I don't trust my brain that much. But the girl that's been running through my head, who in simple frankess it feels like it's ending before it really is even getting started because we're failing to give it a proper chance is amazing for many reasons but I like the fact that she knows that  despite her brillaince and accomplishments and the fact that the media seems to think that me putting one foot in front of the other, we're both just ordinary people (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1l0NYQUGHU). And well walking along life with some big questions of what to do with careers or cancer or calendars or chocolate or costco, sometimes feels like too many things set on the edge of cliffs and all you can hope for is if one of you jumps in or another one gets pushed, that you hold hands on the way down. (With all that said, Kiana made my day the other day when she said that when asked if she would kiss a frog she would absolutely say no and while she's a princess in my head, it's good to know she's not magically hoping to turn something into a prince overnight). Maybe this is running through my mine cause Kiana's talking about valentine's card. I've got no date for Valentine's day (three years ago I was at a Valentine's date distracted by medical things, two I was at an anti Valentine's day party, last year I wasn't thinking about it enough and well maybe if I'm still standing in the future, in future years, it'll be a really cute date that we figure out together with both guidance and our own rules. At least, I hope so.


So will all this come true? I don't know. But I choose to believe and aim for it on world cancer day, putting some faith that things I hope for will gain substance. These may be small things but they are progress. People are impressed by my running but after I got out of brain surgery, the one I'd put off the Boston Qualifying marathon for, it took all I had to get through one two mile run. The first race I did was a 5k before even considering longer distances... but I also remember that I didn't even run a mile till junior high...and look my daughter's doing her first in 12 days. So will these babysteps get me anywhere? I hope so.

Monday, February 3, 2014

At least I know that much



The blogger has recently been blogged about (http://runninglimitless.com/monday-motivator-iram-leon-fighting-brain-cancer-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other/ and http://runoregonblog.com/2014/01/31/from-the-heart-iram-leon/ . On the second article, it has one of my worst and favorite lines… as anyone whose read this for a while knows that I clearly reject the idea label of  hero or inspiration correcting it always to that I’m perspirational but it does talk about my two favorite races and they are both races where I was getting to cheer other people, my mother and my daughter (http://pickingupahitchhiker.blogspot.com/2012/10/my-better-half.html and http://pickingupahitchhiker.blogspot.com/2013/06/finally-final.html). Watching and cheering turns out is almost as fun as running a race and sometimes a little bit better. But coincidentally in those races, both Kiana and my mother were each the very last finisher of the race.  (There are people my speed and slower and faster who complain about the fact that marathons and half marathoners were being given too much time on courses, that they should have to work harder. Well, first of all it turns out the data doesn’t back them up on the health end since it turns out that covering the same amount of distance is about the same health benefits no matter what speed you do it at.) Now there are those of us who have screwed up brains and think if we cover an arbitrary distance faster than other people we should have higher self-esteem. But why those are my favorite races is because it reminded me that I learned from a great woman and teaching to a magnificent little girl that if you sign up for something, you do what it takes if at all possible to complete it. And in a bit I’m headed to pick up Kiana from school and like we have been doing after many days at school, we go do 1-2 miles of a track workout of hers. And I’ve made it clear over and over and over about this 5k that she doesn’t have to do anything other than finish and if she doesn’t like it we don’t’ have to do it ever again (by the way, if you haven’t donated yet, this is the last week, http://www.livestrong.org/fundraising/iramandkiana/).

Kiana clearly understands commitment because she follows through as she did during the race that’s my favorite, during the Spartan she cried and followed through to the end. She also understands that people giving up easily damages others besides yourself as she turned in an assignment for MLK day in which she said her dream (which she drew) was her parents getting married again and that the world would be a better place if divorce didn’t happen. You try to protect your children from so many things but it’s sometimes the poor emotional handling of a relationship with her mother that creates memories and I hate that part of my life. And it’s questionable whether I’m compensating with other things or paying penance with it. But I also know that those are rare days and most of her drawings are rainbows or her post marathon drawing was her being carried up the stairs… so that helps…

But the simple truth is that I’m starting as my doctor’s appointments get further apart to at least dare to dream that maybe I get to be part of the minority that beats this thing. There never has been or never will be a day that I’m one hundred percent sure that I’ll beat it… I am both suspicious and jealous of people who take that approach when presented with unfavorable odds. But the increased anti seizure medication isn’t going too bad (though a doctor who met me at Waco said when he realized that I was on near maximum dosage of Keprra, you do realize that hurts athletic performance right? And I said theoretically speaking but I don’t think I’d be anywhere near this level of athletic performance without the stress of cancer) and even if I don’t beat cancer, well my car sits in the garage and while it will be almost two years without driving, I have been running it once a week in case when I see the doctor in April, he lets me get back to driving. That may not happen but I try to echo the sentiment of a song in Spanish is that “Y es tanta mi fe que aunque no tengo jardin ya me compre una podadora,” which reveals that  “and such is my faith that even though I don’t have a garden, I bought a pruner.”

The Superbowl was a horribly uncompetigive game and there weren’t really many great commercials and there might have been brought a few liquors and beers brought. For the first time in a while, I have an entire month without a long distance race in it so like the rare times that I drink since my doctors don’t let me have alcohol or caffeine I may have gotten some rum and coke. And then because two of the girls there have bets that if I  ever get married again they have to run a marathon… I started making jokes about how I’d be married by the end of 2014 (it was all a joke folks). I’m not sure I’ll ever dive into a full belief of that I’ll beat cancer and I’m a total coward about marriage but I have decided that if the next set of medical appointments go well… I will stop using the term George Clooney girls and start being a little more honest and open to dating someone or calling them regular people words like a girlfriend if it gets to that stage, trying to not hide behind clever things about how I haven’t had a girlfriend since high school.

(Mom don’t be getting all hopeful that I’ll be getting into something soon) but I also recently heard and downloaded a song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmJgdQwrG1Y) called middle distance runner.

Well my heart is beating hard
And I'm off with a shot at the start
And my legs tremble from strain
But by the finish line I'll drain

So won't you run to me tonight?
Tonight let's not talk about next summer
Cause I'll only ever be a middle distance runner


But when I was training for my first marathon, I did the Austin distance challenge which is a series of races that began with a 10k building up to a 20 miler race not just training run on the way to the marathon. The simple truth is that to this day while I have placed in 5 of the 9 marathons I’ve ran and won one, before that started I placed more in the middle distances than I did in the sprints of the fulls… So I am going to relax about my beliefs that I’ll never get to drive again, or not be so convinced that I’ll be part of the majority that beats cancer, or that I’m never going to take any relationship to seriously. I’m not going to go to the opposite extreme and say that I’m looking for my forever love or that nothing will ever go wrong again but simply try to take it not forever and not just the immediate moment but somewhere in the middle distance. The commitments I’ve made I’ll follow through with conviction but I’m going to be more relaxed to the ones that I have no control of and see what we can do with the mess for a while.

And those are the songs I’m listening to right now… like Caedmon's call's love is different than you think

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

'Cause 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

Because you can't just turn it off
And put a blindfold on your heart
But I'm off to a good start

But maybe you're the dream I'm waking from
Well, I see you everywhere I go
Darlin', you are such a mystery to me

Cause love is different than you'd think


So right now, I don’t know what I want but at least I know that much. If this blog seems semi lost it’s because it’s been an odd week for many reasons one is that there’s not a clear immediate race. But coincidentally it has been a cancer week of people with my particular cancer. Because I hung out with a friend who brain cancer friend who shared they had a low platelet count and how chemo had to be delayed for a week because of it… and another friend who moved out of the house whose husband died of brain cancer to a different house with her son about a year after his death to get space but she still hung up paintings that dad had made for son in his room… and another who was acknowledging the one year anniversary of his friends brain cancer death… and another who had officially hit a big 5 year mark…and those were all within a few days and each of them messed with me. And the simple truth is that none of those people are people I would have met had I not “decided” to be active in the cancer world as whatever label you want to put on me. And there are times where I wonder why exactly I keep doing this when there are days I feel exhausted by it all. But then I’m reminded of a story from the West Wing…

This guy's walkin' down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, "Hey you! Can you help me out?" The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. 

Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, "Father, I'm down in this hole; can you help me out?" The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. 

Then a friend walks by. "Hey, Joe, it's me. Can ya help me out?" And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, "Are ya stupid? Now we're both down here." The friend says, "Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out."


And then the guy with memory problems remembers that when this all started, even with Livestrong and with good people, he couldn’t seem to find any others who had the human experience. And I love my doctors but I see them when I see them and while I like them, the less I see them the more I like them. And I love my church and I sat further up there on Sunday hearing the preacher talk about the messes that the ones who were trying to further ministry had gone through. But it is these friends, who I am not sure on any given day which one of us is jumping in for the other or how stupid it is. Nor am I sure that either of us will ever find the way out… but it is these friends, that humanity that makes the hole a little bit easier to live in.