Thursday, April 28, 2016

Blood Thicker Than Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 comment: