Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Enemy of Growth

JFK once said, "Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth." I am not much of a conformer. In fact for a guy who likes to plagiarize, I mean quote people, one of the most oft things I say, "The reasonable man conforms to the pattern of the world, the unreasonable man demands that the world conform to him; therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." But while that romanticizes non conformity, it takes a simple look at any days headlines to know that sometimes non conformists are the enemy, the danger. So conformity, like so many of life's beautiful things whether it's good or bad is not a black and white matter.

It's a gray zone which is also the case in the gray matter of my mind. The MRI results were relatively stable with the doctor going over all of the measurements as he always does. Showing that there was a slight growth in one section from 13.66 mm to 14.01 mm. My neuro oncologist said it wasn't enough to where he was worried about it and somewhere you understand and somewhere you go well why was it enough for you to mention it to me. We did some new memories tests and I told him about some of the ways I keep learning to cheat with iCloud, and iPhones and help from people where I hide it well. Some people spend their money and time doing makeup or hair to look better or hide aging or damage.  I spend it working on memory, spatial orientation, face recognition. We fight the damage of our mortality perhaps with as much conviction as another Leon sought the foundation of youth. 

We measured different things. My resting heart rate is still 42 so I've managed to continue to have the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, at least in my heart.   I also managed to 'not age' in one area. They weigh me at every appointment, something I rarely do despite a scale in my bathroom. The medical scale is a little more precise there I imagine but I weighed exactly the same I had six months ago which got my oncologist to joke that maybe the scale was broken. No in the end he did manage to congratulate me on not letting the 'weight creep' get to me. There may be creeps that get to me but that one I've avoided... so far. He asked about my running life which is perhaps how I've not gotten any fatter and I talked about how there were still some wins and some PR's but that it was getting harder. 

He's talked about how he now runs up to 10 miles with his kids in a stroller and the section he doesn't like in that loop is the section I didn't. I told him about Kiana's races and mine. It was an appointment that was awfully close to lunch and while there has never been an appointment where he seemed unconcerned, this was the most relaxed time and longest conversation we've ever had during a medical session. We talked about a couple of mutual friends and even about my dating life which is of course all sex, drugs and rock n roll. If you want more details about that, just ask him oh wait there's that doctor/patient confidentiality thing. 

But he told me about the details of research that keep emerging, the progress that we've made on both learning more about brain cancer and where it comes from and where it's going. It's funny I have a cancer that we knew very little about when it started for me, at least not in a way that was being shared with patients. It had no known dietary, lifestyle genetic or environmental components. We've figured out a genetic component but it's not a gene that is passed down just a genetic abnormality so it's not much progress. But it turns out that there are at least two very different variations of this tumor, one of which is more likely to not grow as long as the body and brain are getting enough varied stimulation. In my public speeches, in this blog, in that hope that floats in me, that thing with feathers, I've long said that perhaps, perhaps the reason this hasn't grown hasn't just been the running, the thing that everyone knows me for. It has been that I've kept running and running harder but also perhaps, if not more so, importantly I've added a new exercise approaches every year  cycling,  spartan, crossfit, swimming, trail running and basketball. I want there to be an enemy of growth in this area and I hope it's that I keep making the mind and muscles take on new challenges and the good brain cells are using up too much energy so that the tumor doesn't have any to grow. There's not enough left of my tumor cells to do proper tests on them but I'll keep conducting tests in the field since they can't be done in the lab. 

The end of year tumor check up, MRI whatever you want to call it is always the toughest. Perhaps it's because it's interrupting the holidays. Perhaps because it's so close to when it all started, November 5 of 2010 it brings back many bad associations (Put the emphasis on the beginning of that. There are ways where a bad ass is a good thing but this is not one of them and I prefer nice ass...ociations anyway). But it's not the only place where the patterns were tweaked and changed for the better. 6 years ago, this weekend would be the one where the ultimate community would throw a hat tournament to help with my medical bills. This year Huck Cancer was putting it on to benefit Livestrong. There was a friend who was there for me at Duke and another who had flown in for the tournament. They didn't know each other back then and now they're roommates. There was someone from San Francisco who helped put together the tournament and a friend who helped teach me about proper bicycle maintenance and basketball and now we were all part of the same tournament where each of us shared why living with cancer has to be fought with more than just medical approaches. The person who they started the tournament for in 2010 has since passed away from Brain Cancer. When it was my turn to speak, I mentioned the name of the organization, Huck Cancer and acknowledged that the emotions that from that reality rhyme with that. It is my sincere hope and belief that both tournaments 6 years ago and a few days ago were ones that in the end were both beneficial to individuals and the greater good. 

6 years ago the day after that tournament I ran a half marathon in my fastest time ever. They had randomly assigned me bib 911 and I joked that they saved me the hassle of putting the emergency number on the back. Now I was the president of the club that put on that race, assisting the director put it together. I'd gotten up at 6 back then to run. I'd spent most of the last few days organizing it and somehow I was just as happy at the finish line holding the tape cheering and watching as both the men's and women's course records went down in the same day. Both to me were signs of very good growth. 

None of it, NONE of it came alone. There were signs of measured grown in that I didn't shy away from being from people that I care about before the MRI, between the results or after it. I certainly am not perfect and am still pretty damaged in the area but I honestly believe this is the best by far I've ever handled the pre during after MRI period. Those PR's matter too. 

The night before the MRI I had a meeting about that half marathon and it took me a second to shake the rest before addressing all the crew that would put it together but ultimately I reminded them that the shirts mattered, the timing mats, the finish line, the food but it was because for a lot of people this would be their first half marathon, or their first medal or their toughest one. If nothing else for all of them it would be their latest one and each day, each race should be special. The details matter of course but it's because each detail makes the angles, the direction that whispers itself into a beautiful picture in just the right language. The race grew in both registrants, finishers and what we will get to contribute as a non profit. We had the crew to get that together. Or as our race director likes to say  teamwork makes the dream work. There have been some very good dreams coming to life these days.

I was not nor likely will ever be completely selfless. I snuck into the Brown Santa 5k which was the hilliest short race I've done all year. I did it last year and took 2nd. This year I snuck in and won it in a faster time. But we were there cleaning and tearing down after it all and I saw the small tweak we'd make in the shirt. It's called the Decker Challenge but we'd snuck in 'your limits' under it to tweak it to say 'challenge your limits.' The tumor did that in a few ways a few years ago. Me, my friends, my family, the people I love we've challenged it back and we are winning. 

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