Sunday, June 5, 2016

For the Run of It

I'm not very good at ceremony. I'm certainly not opposed to ceremonies, I just don't personally like to be part of them. Being the first in my family to graduate from college, I wanted to skip the graduation. My mom vetoed that idea quickly.  I rarely do birthday celebrations (the 3 in my adulthood have been 18, 28 (08/08/08) and 30. Medals on races that I do alone last all of a minute or two on my neck.

This of course is an oddity at best because I love being on the other end of things. Many of the races I've gotten to be a part of I've stuck around handing out medals till the last recipient, handing out happiness is what it feels like. There was someone I crashed into a race that came up and remembered that I was the person who handed them a medal at the first marathon they finished. There hasn't been a year since Kiana was born where I haven't thoroughly cheered commenting one more year of life. And in the last 3 days of school alone I was there 3 times as she had her last music share and two performances. I sure like to think I'm raising a princess but at some level I'm a little worried that she landed two of the leads in the 3rd grade drama class and the UIL drama club (they revisited two classics Queen Midas who turns everything into chocolate, very disappointed she didn't practice that at home and Princess Cinderella whose shoe problem was caused by the fact that she was a shoe size 87 1/2). And there might have been a parent who was happier or more proud of their kid than I was but I doubt it ;).

Some might see it as a bit strange to be doing all of this in the middle of MRI appointments and it's
results or perhaps some might see it as a way to distract myself from the suspense of those long 48 hours. I would like to believe that it's strange that cancer interrupts any of those things and believe you me, they weren't there to distract from cancer at all. In fact I would be highly disappointed in myself if cancer had distracted from my full focus on those events.

Still, the MRI happened. I finally got the courage to make a prick joke to a new attendant who found it hilarious. I did listen to the Disturbed version of Sound of Silence before heading there to get injected for blood and then to get reinfected with a medal dye that has all but once made me throw up and then washed out by saline. I sat and tried to think about the things that had gone right in there since cancer, not the seizures, not the surgeries, not the bills (those thoughts must have gotten magnetically pulled in there but I kept dismissing them). I thought of the fact that my parents had never ran a race before all this and thought of the one we had just done. This was one of my favorite races of all. My parents PR streak finally ended on it because my mom's been having a knee injury. My dad, showing the man he is, has never once done a race at his own speed and always done it right next to her. This was no exception. Kiana and I watched them come in and they were lovely. My mom used to try to come for my medical appointments but she has finally accepted that the image of her doing these races is a much bigger factor in the imagining in my head going well during an MRI.

And it wasn't just any race, it was one put on by the Austin Runner's Club. While I gave my mom bib #29, my dad #71, and Kiana #9 cause of their ages (and I took my #8), the race really is in it's 39th year. It had hurt a little with about a 100 participants and it was one my biggest hopes when this board took over that we could bring it back a little. When the race was done we had over 350 registrants. Kiana did manage to continue her 2 plus year streak of PR's. I had my watch set to the wrong settings so I could only tell at the mile markers approximately what pace we were at (didn't tell her that). I was hoping she would break 26 minutes and she ended up breaking 25 with a 24:57. She would also be the top fundraiser of the event with $650 towards Marathon Kids, a program that's just about kids running. Did I mention I'm not big on medal display? Well Daisy had medals this year and like all the ones that I've earned beside Kiana, it hangs in the living room prominently on display.

The results appointment was actually almost immediately after the last school assembly. Kiana got straight A's in 1st grade but missed a couple of days of school. In 2nd grade, she got perfect attendance but had one or 2 B's. In 3rd grade she nailed them both. I sat there and watched her glow at the results knowing well, if nothing else, I hope I've encouraged her that showing up is a good predictor of success and once in a  while you get to nail them both on an upward trajectory. I might have heckled a parent who upon seeing her kid get one of the awards that Kiana got asked, "oooh what did you get for that" I responded immediately with she got to have a chance to learn more. I hope Kiana keeps much of her motivation in the internal reward not just the external one.

So those were the thoughts going through my head during the MRI. When I got to the results appointment, I was in the waiting room looking at the magnet on the table where I was filling out forms: "Treating cancer is caring for people." The doctors I got are great at treating cancer if that's the definition.

I got called in and weighed and pulsed and asked the traditional questions. I honestly didn't remember anyone in the room but they all asked about what races I had done lately. Then I got put in the next waiting room. It was different because it had a window with a  great view of the University of Texas. I don't know if the other ones didn't have windows before or just not much of a view but somehow it just felt right to be looking at a place I'd given speeches to doctors, pre-med students, raced alone, raced with Kiana. It sounds silly but that just was a comfort in its own way that before I got an internal view of what it was inside my skull I got to look down lanes with memories, to be reminded that I got to choose life with a view. 

The doctor came in and said my scans showed everything stable. He was wearing one of his signature bowties (bowties are cool!). We went over the scans from this angle and that angle, with contrast and without contrast. He went over realities that in the best case scenario they would have been able to remove all the tumor but that in my case my tumor was most likely dormant and may well wake up (where and when the mystery). But he talked to me about the latest phase of where brain tumor treatment is at Duke (coincidentally I was wearing a Duke jacket) with optimism but with reality that both he and doctors at Duke, Md Anderson had seen phases that got past phase 1 at trials and petered out in phase two or with a larger population. This was and is still only being used experimentally on people who it's aggressively growing but who knows there may come a day when it's able to used on people who have dormant tumors and come out with no tumors.  It was a cautious tone that said don't hold your breath but don't give up hope. Did I mention Dr. Vailiant rocks?

He then caught up about what races I had just done. We did some memory tests (I passed 2 our of 3) and he was impressed that I recognized we were in a different room since my spatial orientation doesn't exist. He thought it was memory but when you've been in enough medical rooms and waiting rooms and realize they have an entrapped feeling, there's no way that window with that view doesn't stick out in your heart of hearts, isn't that where the best memories are forged? He talked to me about running with his kids in a double stroller. It's funny he always tells me about his running and always prefaces it with "I'm a runner, not as good as you." I've never done it but I'm tempted to respond with something witty like "I have a brain, not as good as yours" but I always think of it after the fact not at it. 

I told him that I'd been re-elected as ARC president which led to some jokes about the current state of getting elected president in the US today might not be as tough as it should be (neither of us said who we voted for so far but in case you're wondering, I voted for Pedro). We also talked about how aging is affecting my running, that I'm still hitting my times but recovery is getting harder and for the first time ever in a medical appointment he stated the obvious, that time catches up to all of us with aging and death. It was not a deep philosophical remark but it was somehow refreshing to hear from a guy whose monitoring my life. 

But I got to answer a question which had taken too long to answer. Back in December of 2014, he had talked to me about the New York marathon, knowing my results in advance because he had live tracked them. He said what race do you have next and at the time I didn't really have anything on the calendar. In June of 2015 and in December of 2015, he had asked similar questions and gotten similar answers. Perhaps it's coincidence or perhaps it was subtle encouragement to look further than to the next visit to him but he'd be saying it me for the last 4 MRI's and never had an answer.

It takes a cursory reading of this blog to realize I race and run a lot. I've long said running is my therapy and how much I run and how long I run tells you how much I need therapy. In fact in my public speeches at races, I say "I never know whether I'm running to or from something but I keep running." However, a simple rule in most of our lives is if our words and actions contradict each other, our actions are almost always the ones telling the real truths. I mean I put off brain surgery to run a marathon but that's not where the pattern ended. If you look at November of 2014, May 2015, November 2015 each of them kept being the month that I did more races than I had ever done before. The MRI's feel and have been treated like a game of russian roulette where someone else is spinning the wheel and who knows what is pulling the trigger. So I've ran hard before each of them and then the month immediately after them are the lightest... some might think that's intelligent recovery planning but that's just not true. It was me afraid to make a commitment thinking that it was going to take time to get my affairs in order. I mean I did literally 3 races in 4 days before the last one. 

I did it different this time. The week before the MRI's I registered for multiple races, 4 of them within the next 3 weeks, a 5k, a marathon, a Spartan and my first night race. There was a further one out, the St. George Marathon, where I'm a speaker and originally I had plans to go to the Grand Canyon out there on my own but before stepping into the doctor's appointment I said that I was going to Zion with good company cause the Grand Canyon can wait. I dared to dream for the first time beyond the MRI. Somewhere between now and the next one I hope to get the courage to sign up for a race beyond that one. 

I sat in my car, relieved at the results and breathed thinking about reality, promise, the past, the present the future. And for some reason Emily Dickinson came to mind, I realized death will eventually catch up. However, I was grateful that I hadn't stopped upon becoming so keenly aware of my mortality. I combined the two thoughts with a nod and realized that I had not stopped for death, it has yet to catch up to me. I didn't do any great ceremonial approach upon finding the results. In fact after the last day of school, Kiana and I just went to the playground and then afterwards we did some hill repeats. 

How will life go, probably as well as the races have, some good, some okay, some great, some tough? But what can I say, it took me a long time to learn that the coping mechanism should get me not just to medical appointments but through them. It won't for me ever be primarily for the medals or even the times though I doubt I'll be completely not competitive. So until death do us part, I hope I keep enjoying life and these races for the entire run of it. 

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on your continued out pacing of the one that's chasing all of us brother! Enjoyed this post.