Monday, May 16, 2016

To Infiniti and Beyond

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!” 
―Don Quixote

There is an apparent pattern of madness in March in my life for the last few years. In March of 2011, I had brain surgery at Duke during official March Madness. In March of 2012, I woke up in an ambulance again a few days after my first post surgery marathon. In March of 2013, I won the Gusher marathon pushing a stroller. In March of 2014, I went back to Beaumont and won the half.  In March of 2015, it was my first time to go to a new country since before brain surgery. In March of 2016, I got to be part of March madness, be part of a fundraiser against Cancer with Infiniti with March madness pick. 

Like any previous March the full effect isn't known immediately but sometimes it's not too far down the line you start seeing some where things are going. Those of us from Coaches vs Cancer got to be present for the check presentation from Infiniti to the American Cancer Society. It would be over $700K raised. For almost all of us who came, cancer was a part of the past and most of us were from Texas, so it seemed only appropriate to give this as we hung our hats in Tennessee. 

We would have a formal dinner with a smaller crowd where there would be some laughs, some impersonations of each other, some memories. Mike Thompson, the friend who had been a huge part of the reason I ended up getting to be a part of this had the bright idea that we should all share a little something in a more formal way. He started it and it was great to listen to his style. Each person would share things, some more simple than others, others more eloquent, but all human, honest, grateful to the cause, to each other, to the future. Quite a few of my teammates would say they were thankful for getting cancer because of the perspective, the appreciation it gives you for life, for love and loved ones. Just by sheer coincidence of sitting arrangement I was going to be the last survivor speaking.

I've said things in the past about some of the lessons I've learned from the cancer experience, some of
the mistakes and wise moves that were facilitated by that, some the strengths and weakness highlighted by that keen awareness of my mortality. I've said that I was glad I got cancer because maybe I wouldn't have picked up some of that progress without it. Perhaps because it's been 5 years of pills and medical appointments and bills and worries, perhaps because I dare have faith that life will teach us lessons one way or another, in simple honesty, I have said many times that cancer was a good wake up call, a good thing in my life but if I said things like that these days I'd be perjuring myself.

So when my turn came to speak, I remembered of all things, a place I volunteered in high school. Now I was one of the oldest in this young adults basketball event so I still remember the days pre-internet and personal computers. Back then I used to volunteer for an organization called the post polio syndrome society. It was people who had to deal with some of the effects that had come from having polio years or decades before. I'd type out a newsletter and format it and it would get distributed to people who had a range of neurological issues because of a disease that was no longer active in their life. I was 14 learning about a disease and its side effects, its long term effects, and the privilege getting to know it's survivors. It was a bit strange period much less at that age because well for all practical purposes it was a disease that no longer existed but here were lots of people still dealing with the aftermath, the long term effects.

I thought of using one of my standard quips from when I get invited to speak, it would have been less nerve racking that way. But I said what I hope that there will be a generation not far removed from my daughter's where cancer is just something like polio, something only the older people know about because it happening while once common is all but extinct. Perhaps in due time only a memory even for them, something that we educate people about the past.

The next day we were there at the formal presentation at Infiniti headquarters. This was far more formal with Infiniti talking about how this had led to different people reaching the website and inquiries about the brand. My favorite part of the Infiniti presentation was that the idea came late and they originally said well that sounds like a good idea for 2017 but someone dreamt big enough and they went along with it and it happened. It was dreaming big that allowed all of us to step in to the stadium where the Final Four would play and we'd get to do it not just as spectators but as athletes and advocates. The coaches spoke in suits and ties with my coach actually giving a nod to what I had said the night before. I have to get better at picking where I sit because they announced we were speaking again and I happened to be where I'd be the last one out of the survivors to speak. I said thank you again with the knees shaking but somewhere the heart sold or at least solid that a room full of people like this will continue to make cancer less and less relevant to the modern and future ages. It was tempting to quote one of my daughter's movies that the work they had done, the money they had raised would help people at "Infiniti and beyond" but I am guessing that they've heard that joke too many times but hey this is my blog so I'm sticking it in here. But in all seriousness, I think what we were all able to be a part of, no one in that room will ever know the full positive effect of.

A few days after I got home to see my doctors again on 60 minutes. When I was on E60, they interviewed my doctors but they didn't end up in the piece which was disappointing but it was good to see them there. The 10 year survival rate of my brain cancer is 12% but at Duke it's 18%, thus as a poker player, I'll definitely take 50% better odds even acknowledging they aren't great. Still, I believe the universe balance itself out in the end and somehow appropriately, and somehow at Duke those doctors and that institution that I've helped raise money for specifically, have found a way to take the polio disease and insert it into the brain and help patients who typically have a short time left now only having scar tissue and being cancer free. I have an MRI in a little over two weeks; there's no way to not be nervous because I'm not cancer free but perhaps even if this thing has grown, there's an option once again at Duke that there isn't in Austin (I went there for many reasons 5 years ago but one of them was no doctor in Austin would operate and were recommending others out of town). As the sign in the cancer center says and is echoed in my home, at Duke there is hope.

Perhaps the moment I liked the best in the 60 minutes was one of my neuro-oncologists, Dr. Desjardin talking about how she failed a patient because they hadn't gotten this far when he was going through brain cancer. His wife disagree with that assessment because they had helped keep him going to where he was able to be at both of his daughter's wedding and meet his first grand child. With MRI's looming, I can try to pretend like I'm not nervous but that's not true. But I find hope, comfort in that the races I did once behind my daughter in a stroller I get to do races next to her these days. Life is after all about love and connection isn't it?

Perhaps there's the balance of it. Polio used to damage a lot of people and has been made virtually insignificant. Than someone at Duke got clever and turned around and utilized it to fight cancer. A few of us cancer survivors have taken the lessons from the disease and utilized it to get better at life and positive connections. A car company helped us cancer survivors in the present and donated to research that will hopefully make cancer also irrelevant and perhaps someday someone really smart will turn cancer into something that fight's another disease. I hope and trust that this Coaches Vs Cancer was a step in turning life and love in the right direction and that it goes from Infiniti to beyond.

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