Sunday, December 17, 2017

Hope is Hard To Resist

For the last few years, one of our holiday traditions, sending out cards, has become more of a Thanksgiving one than a Christmas one. This is mostly due to that I've helped organize a race that is shortly after Thanksgiving so it takes up too much of early December. It's become problematic to pick out the pictures that highlight the best times of the year because every year keeps having so many. As problems go, keep signing me up for that one. (By the way if somehow you didn't get one and should have email me your address because while I think I remembered everyone they say I may have a damaged brain that causes memory issues).

The pictures that were chosen this year for it were from our trip to China standing on that Great Wall, Kiana being Alice in her summer acting camp at Alice in Wonderland, a shot from our trip to Alaska in which we trekked through some mud during low tide on the beach, Kiana nearing the finish line on her first triathlon and me dropping down on one knee and asking Elaine for the chance to spend the rest of our lives, with a ring that had hope on it. Our card has a caption that like every Christmas card for the last several years has been a quote from Doctor Who: That's the trouble with hope, it's hard to resist. (Speaking of that ring of hope, it got a little more solid a few days ago).

Still, an even harder tradition came up recently.
Every year we hang up an ornament representing the best part of life. Some of those have been easy like Kiana's birth. Some of those have been cheating like one year where I traveled so much and couldn't pick one I put up a plane ornament. This year as we were discussing between the three of us what to put up a few things came up. All of the things came up that were on this year's holiday card. The remodeling elements of the house came up too since it feels so new with some paint and well some major touch ups besides that. Oddly enough I imagine that  the paint we will enjoy the most is the chalkboard wall one that is in the garage. All 3 of us already took a shot at it last night before the ornament. With Kiana painting a cool owl, Elaine painting a lion and me doing a Chinese symbol that will go on the wedding invites. The remodeling was interesting because every room in the house got repainted and a lot of work got done in other places so it feels like a new home but that one didn't fly. Even Elaine moving in was thought of as she became an official part of the household. The races were considered but medals have been on there before and it seems like a continuum. In simply honesty, the engagement wasn't really even considered. It's not that our engagement isn't important to all of us. Heck we've already done enough fun wedding preparation that I wish it was tomorrow for many reasons. But an engagement is a promise to get married and well making a promise is never the more important part, keeping it is. That promise gets fulfilled at the wedding. Still, I think marriage itself is a promise and that gets fulfilled with I hope a long fulfilling happy path but a heartbreaking ending when somebody passes away. With all that said, I imagine what next year's ornament is representing has already been decided.

Ultimately, the decision was a little thing we picked up in China when we were checking out where they made jade. It wasn't simply representing the Great Wall but the entirety of the trip. That wonder is important as it got me around to the last World Wonder while Kiana got to her first one and crossed the ocean blue for the first time. We all ran and cycled together in China. This was just a couple of week before Elaine moved in but I think it represented that merging of things. In fact when I was considering it, I ran with my friend Sean and he essentially said that her moving in was me marrying her with the way I approach life. The truth is that I'd been thinking about it then too so maybe so. It represented going into the country where her parents are immigrants of and the first time we'd taken a big trip to somewhere Elaine had been to before that I hadn't. It was a simple jade ornament over a grand event. It hangs between a brighter Santa one and gigantic one from Costco where its amazing origins and story would be invisible to anyone who doesn't know and that's quite okay.  It is, I hope, the only way any of the 3 of us will ever be 'jaded' about Christmas.

It was a simple ceremony, a simple ornament which we finished the evening with listening to some music from Pentatonix, hot chocolate and the fire place lit up on a cold rainy December night. The first song we listened to the carol of the bells and I think that at least for one evening celebrating many good things represented in one ornament we listened to those sweet silver bells and all they had to say and we threw our cares away.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Everybody Knows

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed

When I step in to get MRI results from my doctor, I am nervous. There are people who ask why... both people who have experienced the cancer world and people who haven't so it's not a naive approach (or maybe it is though which one is more naive would be a fair question). And while I've been probably properly accused of being arrogant more than a few times in my life, the one thing I avoid is hubris, try to avoid challenging whatever God rules the universe and somehow, somehow walking into an MRI results appointment assuming it's all going to be okay, seems like hubris encapsulated.

There are a couple of reasons for this, when you're waiting in a cancer waiting room by definition everyone in the room is sick or at least is there for an illness. Sometimes the wait is short sometimes it's quite long but either way I guess that's what you're supposed to do... after all it's called the waiting room. In Austin where we don't experience much cold weather, we had snow between the MRI and the results. It led to school being cancelled and my medical appointment being delayed for a couple of hours, longer than a half marathon takes me so it's forever. The waiting room included snow and was outside for a bit and at least Kiana enjoyed being an angel in it. In the modern age where people are telling me they're praying for me I'm not sure what to this day I've refused to pray for anyone with me to beat cancer when they mean not die from it because to me beating it is dealing with it right. But when they ask me if I believe in angels, of course I do, one lives in my house.

But as you walk into the Austin Cancer Center with your daughter and your fiancee for the first time, you realize the wedding formalities and ceremonies may be about 8 months away but you're already family even if you haven't figured out all the details. Kiana sat in the waiting room and said the pictures are the same. I had no clue what she was talking about and my mind was trying to make sure she wasn't 'doing hubris.' How could she possibly know the pictures are the same? We hadn't even seen the MRI images yet! Plus unlike I did for a few years where I'd take a copy home, I haven't done that for a couple of years since it only took me half a decade to realize I couldn't read them and sitting there trying to figure out myself served literally no purpose than to feed anxiety. But she kept insisting and I finally listened and she pointed out that there were painting prints on opposite walls where on one wall they were just sideways of what they were from the other side. I took pictures and rotated them to confirm but she was right. I honestly couldn't remember if I'd ever noticed the pictures before much less that they were the same but she noticed it on her first visit at this office. Was this some rorsarch test or lazy decorating? She'd said it so loudly that a couple of the other people in the waiting room looked up, one smiled at us, the other looked annoyed at us.

I sat there and thought and worried and was nervous. I thought of some 'cancer' siblings. I have a friends all over the country that have brain cancer, some the same and some different but 7 of us always have our MRI's and results within a few days of each other. Five of the sevens of us have had their tumor regrow since I met them. At the one in June two of them ended up having their tumor grow after years of silence... coincidentally it was two of the other three who had ever ran a marathon both of which I met through running after cancer so there were two things to bond over. But it also shows that well... long distance running didn't make you immune from regrowth but even though they've been doing treatment they are both still standing and running. One of those cancer siblings who also knows a few people in the community where we have overlapping MRI's said that she almost feels like that if you think about the statistics that if she's honest when she thinks about us and the results that it feels like Russian roulette. Russia is just getting such a bad rap on so many levels this day. Everybody knows in that room and community that not everyone wins against cancer and since I've chosen to be part of this community I've been to too many hospices and funerals. Everybody knows that the dice are loaded and so we keep rolling with our fingers crossed because we know some good guys have lost.

Shortly after that we got called in and after weight and blood pressure, I got to see my doctor where said as he always does immediately the results (that everything was exactly the same!). Last two times there was a millimeter of difference but nothing I should worry about (and I worried so little about it that I wondered why he mentioned it and have blogged about it now 3 times...). We went over history, a form that he'd gotten from my insurance and some of the piss poor side effect things that I'd gone to see an internal medicine doctor and then a urologist for and I may still have to see an endocrinologist for. But I told him I'd recently pr'ed in a race for the first time in almost a year and a half and he said it gave old men like him hope that I still had something in the tank. He said it may be long enough to where I need to do another neuropsychological, that 8 hour test that is somehow fun, intriguing, scary and awkward all at the same time. He brought up some medical records that are shared for custodial purposes. Elaine and Kiana stepped out of the room for that part since I figured that's best without Kiana in the room. When that was covered he actually asked again about some of the medication we tried recently and he said he meant to ask but didn't want to do it in front of my daughter if I'd had erection problems which is a possible side effect. I answered in the negative but somehow missed the opportunity to make joke that maybe he should have asked my fiancee... He once again brought up the 10 year mark and that if we got there we'd go to one MRI a year and that I'm on my way to 8 years and that he honestly thinks if I make 10 years I'll make it. It's only the 2nd time he's ever said anything like that... It somehow made the wedding a happier occasion to look forward to.

For the first time in forever, he didn't show me the MRI pictures and compare them to the previous one. Not sure why but I honestly notice but the image I walked out of the appointment with was Kiana's idea of the picture being the same but a different angle. What's disturbing my brain hasn't changed... I'm just learning to view it from a perspective that's shared with people I love a little more, only a little but if nothing else is progress, as soon as I set the appointment for the next visit I invited Elaine and she put it on her calendar. She's the only one that gets that save the date.

The weekend went well after that. We put on the Decker Challenge half marathon that working on for ARC is what got us to date. It was my first half marathon, it was my first one after finding out I had cancer, one I reference in speeches for giving me bib 911, voiding the need to put the emergency number on the back. It is my fastest half marathon period and my fastest one ever with a stroller. For better or worse, it was the first place I said I love you  to Elaine about 15 months after our first date. It took me longer to say I love you from our first date than it took me to propose but if nothing else it shows that I say what I mean and I mean what I say. I snuck into the 5k and took home the win. It's a finish line I've crossed every time since my initial run of it. And it's still getting better each time.

There are things everybody knows but sometimes we live in denial of, refusing to accept our mortality or our 100% probability of death. I don't want to live that way or with hubris. But everybody who knows me also knows that from every angle even if its not inherently obvious,  I will always see the future with hope.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Dream In The Dark For the Most Part

'We dream of a brand new start
But we dream in the dark for the most part
Dark as a tomb where it happens'

There are things that happen regularly in life and yet we never quite accept them as normal. Perhaps highest on the list for most people we know is death. In the circles that have come into my life that far too often comes prefaced with a cancer diagnosis. That of course comes with biopsies and blood works. Today was one of those normal abnormal mornings for me. I just left the MRI but I changed some of the chords on the way I usually sing the song. The most atypical bit is I had someone else there, good support back up if you will as I took Elaine with me. This wasn't someone having to give me a ride because I wasn't allowed to drive and waiting around, this wasn't someone filming for a media piece, this wasn't someone showing up thinking that my pushing them away wasn't sincere. This was my fiancee invited, awkwardly welcome at a theoretically minimally invasive procedure.

A few days before her, Kiana and I went to climb Enchanted Rock, a park that I'd never made it to. I had once attempted to go with two cancer survivors but it was closed. Now I was going with family and we discussed going on a guided tour but ended up climbing it ourselves in almost drizzly weather. We got to the top and then started to descend in a way that wasn't exactly on my agenda. We went down a cave which got smaller than opened, than another one which got even smaller and seemed to open up less. I'm claustrophobic and there were sections where my breathing was more disturbed than when I'm doing a track workout. I reminded myself, pretending that it was directed at Kiana that you don't let fears get in the way of adventure. There were moments of relief where there was a clear out somewhere in the way so at least I knew I could climb out far more efficiently than you got in and we kept going for over an hour, squeezing until we got to a place where Elaine and I literally no longer physically fit. Kiana was still able to go a little further but came back. Her fearlessness somehow deeply encourages and scares me so often. 

A hike down where Elaine would slip and almost go head first except for getting lodged by a rock and a climb where Kiana also had a bit of a panic getting down the side of the mountain made to where everyone had fair scares, scrapes and bruised or bloody body parts. How can you not love people like that who did all that and walked on smiling? 

Getting ready for the Decker Challenge that we put on and getting ready for an MRI on the same week makes for interesting head space so that was a good way to start the week. Self awareness is not a quality I lack so I know that somehow both of those stressors help me focus on my strengths and also make my bad habits a little worse. My track workout was one of the best I've had in a while with me singing some fun songs in the middle of 800's. My chocolate consumption, not my best habit but not one I'll give up, was higher than usual. And a questionable approach at best, engaging in online political debate on people who I have higher expectations of than cheap shots was also one I engaged disproportionately too much of the last few days. 

It's the coldest rainiest weather we've had here in a while but if there's one entirely healthy coping mechanisms is running so I went and did it in the rain. Kiana did it too and made a drawing of her run in the weather declaring that the smile on it was what we call artistic license. Appears she's picked up her dad's humor coping mechanism. But as I got ready to go to bed on a cold rainy wet night I thought of lyrics from the song the previous entry was plagiarized from and that are quoted about, we dream in the dark for the most part.

The dark hadn't stopped us from running or climbing or dreaming. So rather than entirely sit and think about the next morning, we sat and picked out some potential songs for the wedding. The truth is it's our hope that it won't be much like a wedding in many ways but just a party that happens to include one. But the wedding coordinator had sent a well timed email about be thinking about songs that you want to dance to or enter to etc so I started letting my mind go there instead of entirely about the dye that would go into it in the morning. (By the way, what songs are fun to dance to at a wedding in your book? I'm open to suggestions). Invariably some sad or worrisome songs got played to acknowledge all emotions but I think the hopeful ones won. 

Elaine came with me to this morning's MRI. She got to see the amazing medical clothes I get to wear which encouraged me ask the tech a wink-n-the-eye question about which one of us had the better outfit and can you believe the tech said her? I guess I gotta get used to that before the wedding. It was a new tech doing the bloodwork who asked me which arm; I hadn't thought about it in so long because the other one always did my right arm and I said I don't care. She did my left arm... which was a mistake because I look away but the stuff they're going to use is all next to my right arm so looking away still reminded me of those needles I dread. I closed my eyes and went to the dark. 

During the MRI itself Elaine was in the room. For a guy whose claustrophobic isn't it great being stuck in a tube where they tie you down but hey they put a little mirror so you can look out. I actually generally don't because it's just a window to the tech that also sort of reflects back to you. But this time, Elaine was in the line of vision and reflection and I couldn't help but think of that I was seeing her seeing me in a blanket in a machine. The tech had said that it was good that she could see something that was going to be part of my life. I thought of that as I sat in there. I thought of wedding dancing songs. I started working on my annual 8 year's resolutions (one of the 3 I'm already absolutely committed to is no longer engaging in any online political conversations). On those conversations people don't often make progress because they aren't really listening and therefore can't fully understand. I don't expect Elaine or Kiana or someone who hasn't gone through cancer to have all of the same association just as there are some things I won't fully understand parts of being female but we do I think fully listen and thus have a very meaningful connection.

The tests are done... now it's the long wait till the results tomorrow. Still going with the superstitious approach that 8 won't betray me and getting the results tomorrow are all but guaranteed by just having it on that day. But then again my biopsy started back on November 8, 2010. Still, for the first time ever, the techs who did know me were introduced to Elaine for the first time. I joked with them that as much as I like them, I don't miss them at all. But when it was done, they said something they've never said before. Usually they say good luck or good to see you or something innocuous but they said oh it'll be a good scan and we probably won't see you again for six months. I don't do hubris but I live by hope which they added a little more to in my soul even while the dye that they use to create contrast is still rolling around in my stomach. Still, I renewed my license this week and see how little people say I've changed in almost a dozen years between the pictures makes me wish that the tumor follows the example of my face, could use a lot of improvement, has some wrinkles but doesn't change very drastically for at least a couple of decades. 

It's still cold and it's still rainy and I'll repeat my oft said joke that I'd say the suspense is killing me but if something's killing me it's probably not the suspense. But no matter how it goes, I promise myself, her, and anyone whose listening that I'm absolutely committed to taking those dreams from the dark and putting them in the light for longer than tomorrow. At most MRI's if I was thinking that way I'd honestly be saying dream with me but at this one I'm saying dream with us. And if things get a little darker with tomorrow's results, we will take it like Van Gogh's starry night and add some dark dreamy chocolate.  

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Room Where STD's Happen

I'm a week out from results which means I'm six days out from the next MRI. Invariably I'm nervous... I like to live life as a hopeful romantic but often end up as a cynical optimism if any of that makes sense. How do you not step into the room that has the same type of machine that led to the awareness of cancer, the same type of machine that they used on you right before brain surgery, the same damned machine that they tested you after seizures and pretend it is no big deal? I am aware, I KNOW that I'm not on top of my game when those are nearby. My hoping and coping mechanisms are thrown off and while it's against my religion to have bad days, those are the days I come closest to sin.

A consistent thing I detest that happens on those days besides the machine is bloodwork. They always test for STD's because I always forget which ones, but apparently certain sexually transmitted diseases show up in the brain and if anything new shows up they want to know it's cancer not that. Is that supposed to be comforting? When the results come in they consistently say 'no new std's'  I joke if there are any old ones they aren't telling me about. It tells you something that I go to them alone, inviting almost no one in over 7 years of dealing with this brain cancer tumor. Reminded of my vulnerability and mortality, I try to protect other people from it (or is it myself I'm really trying to protect?). It tells you something that Elaine, the girl who is now my fiancee has never been allowed to come with me but the only people who have been properly invited since brain surgery are my brothers and daughter. I guess it was the people who were already stuck with me that I had to let in and this girl is now deciding to figure out the 'in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse and till death do us part' should be let in. Those vows mean something rich in this situation. Our wedding won't be very traditional by any standard but I hope we figure out a way to work that in verbally but I have faith it will be true in at least life.

But Elaine's finally invited and coming to this MRI. We can call it the rehearsal dinner in its own way. I proposed before the hardest and messiest and coldest race I've done all year. And she said yes and we got it done. My gender often idealizes women to be guiding forces or damsels in distress. The reason I'm fortunate enough to be marrying her is because this will be a partnership of equals even if we are nowhere near exactly the same. The inspiration for the proposal came from a dream but it got reinforced when reading something CS Lewis said about women: “The romantic chivalric tradition takes...the young man's eye off women as they are, as companions in shipwreck not guiding stars.” I'm asking for her company at a time I know I'm a wreck while there is imaging being done on the damaged rudder to see if its anymore broken. But unlike I've done in over two years of dating I'm finally growing up to invite her to be in the room where it happens.

We've been there for messes before, some fun ones like Spartans or last week with her first attempt at the beer mile where she thought about quitting and I said we don't take quitting in this family. She had to take a penalty lap for not getting all her beer properly drank but I joined her for both parts of it (I took 2nd place in the beer mile... not sure what it says that the only two local events I've always placed in are the stroller division and the beer mile). With obstacles or bloated stomachs or IV's in the arms and metal in the brain, it's not all fun and games but maybe you find a way to smile at the beginning points in the middle and hopefully at least one good in the end. We managed that in the beer mile; but even sober I dream that smile won't ever fully fade. Apparently while drunk that weekend, I got teary eyed and voiced how this year's Turkey Trot with Kiana's PR meant to me more than any of the stroller wins. I wrote that a few days ago so it was true then and if my true persona is one that finally lets a few more sentiments be physically honest, that's not the worst way to handle alcohol in my book.

Those are the type of things that I hope to be thinking about while a machine is whirring around me. Kiana drew the engagement ring and added her own little element on to it, a dandy lion. I'm not sure how hope gets any better. It's because we'll finally have a very intimate date together  with me inside of a machine while Elaine's outside of the other room that lets me forward to a wedding date. The date has been set on 8/18/18. People think its because I was born 8/8/80 which is partly but Elaine picked it, literally one upping my birth. But 8 is also lucky in Chinese culture which is where her heritage is from. We're figuring out the details of the Save the Date Cards and I'll be thinking about that ceremony and it's details while my brain is being scanned. I've started calling them STD cards for shorts so on that side there will definitely be a way I get STD's into some people's mailboxes and homes relatively soon. We've been figuring out the invite list. It's not a huge venue but either way well... we won't be inviting anyone by obligation. But in a world where we have lots of friends the criterion we decided on was that we would invite people who we'd shared time at one or the other's home in. There are people who we're friends with because they're a similar speed or people we've worked with who are good to chat with but did we ever have a relationship in 'our own time'. If that's not true, those in my book are probably not the right people for our wedding invites.
I want to share the special occasions for those who share the ordinary times, the rest of my life with the person who handles me at my most primal fear or intensity. Turns out that those are just gradients on the scale of the wedding and the wedding invite list. So if you don't get an STD from us, don't be offended, I mean trust me having seen it after so many MRI's, the medical world thinks that new STD's would be bad.

However, it goes, who knows what it will interrupt but it is perhaps a sign that the universe has given me that I have till Monday, 3 days before the MRI and 4 days before the results that I have to land a deposit on the wedding venue we picked out. And it will, if all things are stable, have at least one more MRI before the wedding could occur. I proposed with a hope band, the medal one that also is 'hope'ful will arrive in a little while. I grew up in a country with napoleonic code and Napoleon said at least one thing I want to to echo in my marriage and my MRI: "Courage is like love; it must have hope for nourishment." Both are the best nourished they've ever been.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Great Full Loop

"If you really are thankful, what do you do? You share"
      W. Clement Stone
I long ago gave up on counting my blessings... I am just not good enough at math to count that high. But I say thank you every tangible opportunity I can find. Please is a polite way to request something but to thank I hope is a proper way the receiver and the giver bring the loop back around. 
Before I had brain cancer, I had done the Thundercloud Turkey Trot for the first time 10 years ago with a couple of friends from Ultimate. It was fun, if nothing else it justified eating a few more of the calories that I would take in later that day. Seven years ago, I did it as my first race after getting out of the hospital, after the biopsy, after the news that there was a malignant brain tumor. The medications and steroids were too new so it didn't go that well in time but somehow it would become the starting point that running was, no matter what else was coming, would stay in in the future. But once again, I'd go home and get that turkey and pie and stuffed myself with stuffing with family after running alone. 
By the next year the solitary approach got gotten it to where I'd become a single father. I had started running with a stroller and I would learn this race had a stroller division! It would be Kiana's first kid's k which she shared with her friend Mae, a girl she had become closer friends with because she had been babysat here often while her mom was going through chemo during a cancer bout. As it would be the first time that either of them would be running in the streets, little notes had been pinned to them of who to call etc, I mean obviously Turkey Trots are a dangerous place. While before the end of the race they were gunning for each other, they did most of the first half holding hands. They were 4 years old, hadn't even started kindergarten.
We'd take 2nd place in the stroller division and it would start a few years of stroller races up to marathons. Yet the Turkey Trot was special, the more meaningful it became, the more thankful I became, the more I wanted to share it. My mom and dad would join us for it. I would start putting together a team from the Austin Runners Club so my friends could join us. And they showed up along with several thousand other people. It was the first race we would do in the rain, the only race that to this day is the only distance I have a faster time with a stroller than without it. Two years ago, almost a year after we had really stopped running in the stroller Kiana wanted one more trip on that stroller and we went out having won the stroller division 4 years in a row before the ride came to it's end.  It has enough of an emotional connection I've actually only missed it once since getting cancer (and I'd say leaving the country to go to Egypt to be a groomsman in a wedding is a valid excuse).  Somehow each time it seemed so magical, so mystical, so meaningful I honestly couldn't figure out how it could get any better. I may not be that imaginative but the universe is, perhaps especially so when you share it's blessings. 
The race reached out to me about telling the story in a web interview and some local tv promotions and in a race I was so thankful for what could I do but share? So this year, we once again put together a team. For the first time ever, my girlfriend-recently-turned-fiancee ran it and captained the team. And Kiana was signed up to do her first 5 mile race ever. This was a hillier course than her most recent 5k a couple of months ago so I told her to pace herself a little slower trying to keep a 7:45-ish pace and she started that way. I was hoping she'd come in a little under 39 minutes. 
I started telling her (or was it telling me) memories from the stroller days since for the first time ever, I was the one doing the cheerleading while on that course. I remembered the hills were taking the stroller down the thoughts directed at it were please don't get away from me and up please don't run back over me. I remembered each hill, I remembered the song that was playing on that one one year as she was belting out Frozen's Let It Go or the Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha. Somehow those memories put more humidity in the air than the little there was because was absorbing in my eyes or maybe some had splashed from the water stop... Anyway he weather was perfect and she started to take advantage of it and I realized before half way that wow, she just might break 38.  She would keep speeding up and speeding up and ended up astounding by finishing in about 36:30, with her last mile being faster than any she's ever done in a 5k or in a stand alone mile.  
There were many times we stayed for the awards of the stroller division. I liked the Turkey Trophy to put on the shelf, Kiana liked the Thundercloud gift certificates that we always split since as I told her for those few years, we'd earned them together. This time I actually got to help in announcing the awards which were overall winners and then by age group. So the 4th name I got to call out after the women's top winners was the girls 10 and under and it was Kiana Leon. Those gift certificates this year were all hers to use up till they were done and I'd buy my own meal when we went.
A week before the race, in the preparation, Kiana and I went on a 5 mile neighborhood route she'd never done before. It was one I used to do when I was new to the neighborhood but I'd abandoned it for ones with more hills and less turns with spatial orientation being gone since the stroller having become the norm back then. Kiana asked if this new route was a loop or an out and back. I told her that it was a loop. After a few turns she asked, dad, how it was a loop with so many turns since it wasn't a circle. I explained that loops don't have to be a circle, they just have to get you around a bit before you get back to where you started and in our case, a route that gives you some good perspectives along the way. 
After the race, we headed over to Mae's house to do Thanksgiving once again where our contribution to the meal was a pecan pie and tamales that Kiana had made from scratch with. We reminisced about that 1st Turkey Trot and times in between and how then we were worried because we might lost them on the run but since then we're amazed at how it's been 6 years. I worry about blinking because these last few years have gone so fast and if she keeps speeding up this way I may lose her on the blink. I'm exactly two weeks from an MRI, about where I'm always around Thanksgiving. Who knows how that will go, life it turns out is unpredictable and whether that unpredictable comes in good or bad or surprises, I think if keep sharing the things that are good, you keep finding more to say thank you for. 7 years after I did it alone, 6 years after I did it in a stroller and Kiana did her first kid's k, this Thanksgiving is something I am grateful for because through all the running around, despite many turns, me and the people I love managed to get back where we started which is surprisingly an improved home. And that for at least this sharing Thanksgiving day is a great full loop. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

An Average Man

Without exception for half a decade now, I had blogged on the 5th of November. Someone once said my life seemed predictably scripted is messing with the formula. Remember, remember the 5th of November, an English saying about a failed assassination plot that is celebrated now as a day to burn effigies of a failed leader. There are in my group of circles people who don't celebrate their cancerversaries... an understandable measure of people who don't want to spend time looking back at part of their own system turning against them. To me, like the British, I like to think of it as a way to look back at the failures of that treason, reflect on the thankfulness that like that monarchy, what rules me even if not quite what it used to be, still stands. 

However, this one was special in that it's a marker. While I've been saying that the average survival rate is 4 years for people without surgery, 7 years for people with, that's slightly inaccurate. It's the median, the point at which half the people have passed away before and have passed away sometime after. It's why this year I blogged one day after, to make sure I got there. I'm on my way to year number 8. But it's so much easier to say finally about average.

Turns out celebrating it was as good as it could have been. I had Kiana, my fiancee Elaine (still getting used to saying that), my parents came to celebrate. Once upon a time I put off brain surgery to run a marathon, the first time I'd qualify for Boston but my favorite race of my life so far was going to be the 2017 Run for The Water because it would be Kiana's first 10 mile race. 10 miles at 10 years old, something I didn't do till I was 30. She went out there and held pace and then sped up for the last two miles, covering more ground than she ever had holding an 8:29 pace for the first half and an 8:08 pace for the second half! She would finish in 1:23.08 making it look as easy as 1, 2, 3. The last race I would ever do with her in a stroller was the Decker Challenge, both of these hilly courses and I would do it in 1:23.08. See what I mean about a scripted predictable life? She won her age group, top 10% of women, top 20% of all finishers and afterwards she was playing like she'd just gotten up. The rest of my family were cheering at the finish but they hadn't just been by standers, they had all done 5k on their own, my dad doing his first race in athletic clothes rather than jeans (and he made it look good). 

The Cowboys took home the win. We're in the middle of doing some organizing and changing at the house and the memories went even further back with me finding papers and things from high school and college. I used to have clever titles for papers back then not just plagiarizing song titles. 

But the 'formal' celebration meal was dinner on the exact same Kerbey Lane porch that I had decided to do brain surgery at. It was with 4 guys that were part of things 'way back' then. They were among the first at the hospital, one of them literally the first one there. Three have legal capacities in my life to this day. One had flown out to Duke, one had been there when they took the staples out of the side of my head (even if he did pass out while watching), one had been the one I'd called when I woke up in an ambulance from a seizure in the middle of a run. Without exception, they all took digs at me from the simple congratulating me to giving condolences to Elaine to the clever well I thought we were here to celebrate but now the brain tumor is messing with you and gotten you to propose. One even gave me a traditional card of how my tumor was jealous of my fiancee. 

But the reason they are groomsmen isn't because they were there for that. They were there long before that, we met through work and sports but had all done multiple sporting things together from ultimate to floorball to my first triathlon to road races to bike rides. Not a huge surprise that they are all athletes in different sports to this day. Some were there at the hospital as Kiana was being born. We were there for each other for poker games, travel, the first and only weekend I learned how to shoot a gun at a ranch, PH'd receptions, Super Bowl parties, getting tricked into eating a raw egg. Elaine said after dinner that my cancerversary where most of them show up often is the quietest she ever sees me... I'm just not clever enough to respond to so many jokes about me back to back. After dinner though they headed back to the house to see the new stuff and I said man more has changed in this house in the last 6 months than the decade before that when I bought it... they asked Elaine to try to have a similar effect on me. These are my friends, imagine what the people who don't like me say! But with the house, the wedding, and that joke, we were looking forward in thankfulness and I love that hope.

Until recently, really until even after I started dating Elaine, I'd only been looking an MRI at a time at the longest. I had thought that I'd only ever be mainly a middle distance runner and while my marathon win is a victory my more impressive times have primarily been middle distance races. But 3 weeks ago, I put in my first ultra pushing a pace like I didn't know I had in me and we won the ultra relay. That medal hasn't arrived but you better believe I'll be proud of it. I actually haven't signed up for a marathon since the one I won (though I've done a few that have come by good happenstance) because I couldn't quite shake that I was the cancer guy who ran marathons. I focused on Spartans and different distances because in my heart of hearts, I am and always will be a runner. I think it may be time to return home and sign up for one that obviously I'll train for but it will be above all things for just an honest run of it.

We've all but figured out a date and the save the date cards will come in due time but they weren't sure I'd make 40 but my 40th birthday falls on a weekend and I'm already daring to dream how we'll celebrate. But for today, while I'm feeling happy about being average, I think of Teddy Roosevelt I may only be an average man but I work harder at it than the average man. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Writings on the Wall

'I want to feel love, run through my blood
Tell me is this where I give it all up?
For you I have to risk it all
'Cause the writing's on the wall'

I long ago wrote about how Elaine and I got to be officially in a relationship. But as apparently is both our style, we stepped it up a bit and got engaged last weekend. I'll get to those details of how it actually happened shortly but as the past is prologue, it's good to tell some backstory.

Life has its twist and turns as each of us at some point learns. It was about two and a half years ago, when we were just friends and just starting to work together within the Austin Runners Club board that we were on the same side of an argument with some friends about how its silly how so many people make getting married a goal of their life. She and I backed each other up, though I was and am unsure as to why she was a bit of a skeptic considering her parents have been together for about three decades. It happened to be on the evening of when she had done her first Spartan, I'd gone out there with her and car load of other people and after I had finished my heat I had gone back and helped everyone out there, except her... she had been doing burpees and I'd never found her till after she was finished. We had finished a Spartan Super out that day where she had done 210 burpees, or 7 failed obstacles.

Exhaustion and consumption of alcohol have some similar properties. There are those who say that you show who you really are when drunk... I don't agree with that. I think your mind shows what it would become if it had less barriers whether those be ones of discipline or inhibition. But in perhaps the most unromantic first mention of marriage ever, I had sort of brought it up once before. Last December I was doing the beer mile, something I do annually and the quickest I get drunk every year. Because our second date was to the latest James Bond movie, I've always called her my bond girl and for some reason that day I had been 007, not just 7 but actually 007 printed on the bib. So after the beer mile, I sat on the curve and put my arm around her and then fell into some bushes and said something along the lines of, "I love you babe and maybe we'll get married once Kiana turns 18." I honestly don't remember that event or her response at all but I think it's telling that she kept the hat from the event and somehow it still warms my heart when she wears it occasionally. I usually only keep bibs that are #8. I kept that one.

This May we went out and did that same course on the same venue. I did the elite heat and got lost and ran a few extra miles but finished just before her regular team start. I would do the course again and it was and still is the most ground I've ever covered in obstacle course racing in one day. Didn't lose her or get lost myself again during any failed or succeed obstacles as it turned out side by side was more fun.

Less than a month later, we repeated the process with me doing the elite heat and then joining her in the Spartan Stadium Sprint in the Dallas Cowboys stadium. Obviously it had gone through my mind to marry her even if the only time it seemed to slip out was in jokes and that beer mile. I'd even had a few suggestions of this very romantic spot here in San Francisco and that very romantic spot there in Colorado. But somehow idyllic scenery didn't feel like the way to ask a question about till death do us part. Somehow life has been kind enough to take us to multiple trips together but she was the first to get me do a trail run and I was the first to get her to do her longest bike ride, we weren't afraid of new challenges from life or from each other. There were in fact times where we were doing different distances when the race had multiple options but in the majority of those scenarios she was the one doing the longer haul. I hadn't figured out if to propose but the how would have to be a more realistic scenario than one where everything in the backdrop was lined up.

While it may not have been written in the stars, the idea definitely came under them because one night I woke up from a dream in the middle of the night. I had been proposing at the beginning of the a Spartan beast. It felt so real, so right that rather than go back to bed I got up and wrote it down, than typed it up in a note with a lame file name in case anyone was ever looking for something on my computer. In late June, I had already decided to do so at the Dallas beast, the one and only other one we were signed up for, her first one. She had become a little frustrated with her lack of upper body muscles like I had when I started doing spartans and was now going to the gym regularly. I kept letting it sink in but there was less and less doubt. The friend I run with the most liked the idea but wondered if I'd really be able to wait a few months. When you're planning to ask someone about spending the rest of your life together, a few months somehow seems both like a short wait and an eternity.

Before too long, I had asked the people whose blessings I wanted before proceeding. My mom knows Elaine's out of my league so she gave it all but instantly. Kiana initially struggled with it even while immediately pointing out it had nothing to do with Elaine but gave her blessing and a hug when doing so. The last person I asked, the conversation I was most nervous about having was with her father. There was never a moment I considered skipping these conversations nor would I be getting married without them because marriage in my book is not merely a merging of individuals but a merging of families. While there's an old joke that the difference between inlaws and outlaws is that outlaws are wanted, I also wanted our families to think of each other as family more than titles with hyphens at the end.

But how to get her dad's number...? I never have felt the need to know Elaine's password on her phone and when I wanted her dad's number I couldn't seem to think of any organic way to ask without tipping her off. We had watched The Big Sick together where someone puts their finger on a phone in order to unlock it while they're in a coma and for just a few seconds I thought about doing that while she was asleep but how do you explain that if she wakes up while you're doing it. I'm not creative enough for a lie and the truth getting out that way would be less than adequate. Somehow one day right after a phone call with him she put her phone down and walked out of the room. I grabbed a picture of her screen with my iPad (my boldest screenshot ever!). I would call him a couple of weeks later on a weekend she was out and about and I hoped he would be available. My hand was shaking so bad that I put down the phone before I called to try to breathe and texted a friend how bad of an idea it was to take a shot before making that phone call (I did not do so). He was gracious in the phone call, saying he appreciated the call but that he ultimately trusted Elaine's judgement and my judgement. In an awkward attempt at humor in the middle of nerves I joked that oh I'm not sure anyone should ever trust my judgement quickly realizing it was not the time to make that joke. I realized it in the middle of it and kept talking but ultimately it went well despite my poor judgement about making jokes about my poor judgement; it's a vicious cycle. 

There was the question of choosing the ring but that had been sitting for a long, long time. Over 5 years ago when I did my first Livestrong challenge there was a young lady, Linda Santos who was giving out rings at the kids station made out of the same stuff as the yellow bands but the rings said hope. I passed by and joked that if I ever got engaged, I'd have to use one of those. Linda said oh wow, here take it. I responded with that I was just kidding but eventually took it because in the end, hope is hard to resist. Perhaps even then while pretending to be cynical, the hopeful romantic in me knew that cancer hadn't caused any permanent damage to the best parts of my heart. Maybe this cowardly lion wasn't lacking courage but just hope. I keep a collection of shot glasses of places I've been in my home and a few of them have small additional souvenirs from the trip. But that ring of hope had sat in the middle of the Austin shot glass which is always front and center, gathering dust I suppose but knowing if hope was ever coming out, it was going to do so just to stay home. Last year, Kiana got a bike and Elaine so they could do their longest ride ever, 20 miles. Since then, Elaine has bought her own bicycle and at this year's Livestrong Challenge, my 8th one, side by side, we were together for the long ride when she more than doubled it to 45 miles. Linda was at the finish line giving roses to cancer survivors and I might have whispered to her that her ring was about to get used later that week. I'm not sure we've ever smiled wider at each other. 

Working out the details of the moment was somehow simple and emotionally compelling... we had to get up at five on race morning to get there on time. As she had for so long, my Iphone once again gave me the direction to "Choose An Elaine" and I wanted to respond 'I already have Siri, chill out, just give me a couple more hours before I ask.'  I played the song that this blog borrows it's title from, that is quoted at the top, the writing's on the wall. The James Bond girl and I were starting our day with the theme song from it. I tried to somehow connect it without giving it away by saying we were going to have some special walls today of going under, over. "I'm prepared for this, I never shoot to miss." I made a reference to the upcoming spear throw and that I've gotten a great batting record at it but I knew that it was that I was prepared for THIS. She referenced that she didn't want help on any of the obstacles, she'd been going to the gym and had for a long time referenced it as her A race. I played it one more time...

Somehow, that was the longest drive ever to a race. But while I usually use pump up songs on the way to races, it was the romantic ones that didn't get skipped as it shuffled through them.  I had told my cousin the night before that I was going to figure out a way to write it on a wall while he distracted her. Once I met up with him, he knew where it was going to happen but because it was literally a few degrees above freezing so he said let's go to the sun. I said I'll catch up I gotta say hi to someone... might have noticed a race photographer to also take the shots. Usually Spartan has a chalkboard wall with their logo but this time it was a plastic one... I had asked for their blessing but would have done it anyway and wrote will you marry me? I called Omar back and said let's get a pre race picture. I had originally planned to say oh I gotta tie my shoes for an excuse to kneel but forgot that part. So I just knelt and at some level I was glad it was so cold because then it could seem like the shaking of my hands was due to low body temperature. I asked will you marry me and she said... 'what are you doing? what's going on? are you being serious? is this real?' My cousin said she looked really confused and unsure as to how to respond to that I pointed at the writing and said 'see, look, I wrote it on the wall.' Not sure why that was the convincing point but she looked at it and said yes. There will be a you may now kiss the bride but that day I just needed her permission. 

We dropped off our stuff and then did the race. Very early on, in that 14 mile race in stiff cold, we were under water chest high. In most races I overheat from the constant movement so might appreciate an ice bath mid race but in Spartans the obstacles stop you from the constant movement so I've never been so cold in a race. The mud seemed stickier and colder. The barbed wire though, one of the obstacles I hate the most went by faster than it ever had in both its first and second iteration maybe cause I kept seeing Elaine through each roll amidst rocks.  Elaine got obstacles she'd never gotten before like the monkey bars, the hoist, and the traverse wall without an ounce of help. She would joke that maybe the ring gave her extra grip strength. For the first time ever, we both nailed every wall obstacle including her first time getting the 8 foot wall and that moment where we dunked fully underwater for the dunk wall. I guess the writing at the first one made the writing more powerful than any wall could be. She did less burpees that day than ever and I hear that ranch has good natural views but I swear that the best one was a moving one in front of me and I got to go back to Austin with her after. 

We sat on the drive back and traded some of the stories written herein. She was apologetic about not being sure if I was being serious and I responded with, 'who jokes about something like that?' Elaine used to do improv and said she may have grown desensitized because an oft used mechanism when a scene is fading is for an improviser to drop to a knee to propose to work something from there. I had posted it shortly after doing it before heading to the race so there were missed texts, calls and social media but I'd save that for another day, this day was just about the start of a promise. Somehow the only call that made it while I was on my phone was from halfway around the world. Elaine and I have gotten to attend several weddings in the last year (talk about power of suggestion) but the only one I was in was a groomsman in Egypt. Louay called and said when we knew the date and time to let him know and he'd get here. 

We won't do things like official engagement pictures, Spartan had race photographers out there and hopefully they caught at least one during the actual race. Neither of us is particularly good at posing for the camera but many of the best pictures of us have been spontaneous with two of our favorites at being at weddings, that one in Egypt and one here in Austin. I'm glad that it's in sharing life where we smile so well. 

I've been amused at how quickly people think we should have wedding details figured out when she didn't even know I was proposing but we've started working on it. There's a date in mind if we can find a venue, there are groomsman and bridesmaids. I actually had already picked out another ring but wanted to get her approval and ring size. I'd ran it by a friend who works in jewelry .. who liked it but asked if Elaine wouldn't want a more traditional ring.  I responded and said someone who wants everything super traditional probably wouldn't make it long with me. Thankfully, Elaine approved and I now know her ring size. Seeing how overwhelming planning a wedding might get, I wondered if in the age of email and ecommerce, Elaine might approve of eloping but ultimately we got here together but also with friends and family and we want to have a chance to make that commitment with them. We're both nerds at our own level and I had once made reference to how people shouldn't propose too soon because some things changes in the way we see our significant others seems to shift around the two year mark. Obviously I follow scientific principles cause I proposed two years and one month after we started dating. 

Still, I proposed at the beginning of a race, before the hardest event I do every year, before the first beast she's ever done. The race went well but not perfect, the conditions pre-proposal were tougher than I had imagined or than I had ever done a Spartan in. But through the mess, through the hills, somethings didn't go well there. Elaine took a rope to the face that made her cry, I took a cut to the leg that made me bleed, there were failed obstacles but there was never a moment where the thought of a did-not-finish crossed either of our minds. Blood, sweat, and tears are better and easier in good company. Jones once said that love isn't what makes the world go round; it's what makes the ride worthwhile. Elaine and I have had some awesome adventures but I fully believe we're just getting started. 

I've been here before
But always hit the floor
I've spent a lifetime runnin'
And I always get away
With Elaine I'm feeling something
That makes me want to stay

Monday, October 23, 2017

Get the Job Done

I'm less than 2 weeks away from being above average in the diffuse astrocytoma world, the 7 year median survival rate is November 5, 2010. In different cultures, we make a big deal out of certain birthdays, quiƱceaneras for hispanic females, sweet 16 for females here in the USA,  bar mitzvahs for 13 year old Jewish boys, 18 and and 21 for legal reasons. I once was a volunteer in the Marshall Islands, where the biggest birthday party is the kemem, the 1st birthday party. In a country that once upon a time had much much higher child mortality rates than most places, they had figured out that if a child got to their 1st birthday party... well their chances of making adulthood were significantly higher. I didn't do much of anything for Kiana's 1st birthday party... didn't see a point in spending much energy in something she'd not remember and could barely figure out what it was but we've partied up a few since then. 

I still don't do much for my birthdays since I was born I've gotten over it but I'm excited about November 5, 2017. It's funny for being born 8/8/80 my age for the 1st 10 years of Life Part I was the last digit of the year. When you get cancer on November 5, 2010, it's turned out to be true for Life Part II as well. I think some good things will come if I make it to 007... A few years ago I wouldn't have bet it on but less than 2 weeks out, I'm recklessly optimistic. What celebration plans do I have? My mom is coming into town to cheer on a race I've looked forward to and planned since this summer where Kiana will cover her longest distance yet, 10 miles at 10 years of age. Even with a damaged memory, remembering this upcoming 5th of November I think is likely. 

But that's something I planned and trained for, the chess player in me thinking a few moves in advances trying to keep things in check. How we got here was team work and reacting correctly and that has absolutely showed for the last few weeks. The day after the last time I blogged I raced the 80's 8k and while I had talked a lot of smack to my bromance Chris about beating him, he actually would win the race outright a PR for him and his first overall win (and a faster PR than I have in that distance), something he credited my talking trash to (in an interview, in a podcast cause that's when you want your trash talk exposed when you're on the losing end). He did say it got him to check out the course more but I still had the cooler outfit and I mean that's what really counts in races right :)? Obviously I wish I'd beaten him but as I tried to catch up to him in the last mile I did finish with a 5:30 mile but so did he so I ended up in 3rd place overall. 

I actually wasn't signed up for that race till after the Philly Half went rough. I was wondering if it was a mental collapse and I'm not the type to make excuses but we were trying a new medication to try to fix my piss poor problems which apparently can bring on exhaustion and lower blood pressure. Let's just say that's now in the trash and while we prescribed another medication to try... I have not. I like to think I'm alive due to moving so much so let me keep doing that and taking medications for side effects of the seizure one that have other side effects is not a price I'm willing to pay. I almost bought it when my doctor said look the side effects of the brain medication you're on are way more than this one but life comes with pain so accepting that will make it easier from here on out. 

There was certainly an individual who put that in perspective. Last few years, a couple of UT professors have invited me multiple times to speak to their students. I used to think of it as flattering but it's probably like when I let Kiana help with the cooking or the librarian at school uses her as a librarian's assistant where you're going yeah I'm helping the overall situation and helping an individual by making my load lighter. But one of the students in there was a young man who was in a wheelchair, Archer. It was a political history class and after I spoke the professor did his lecture and then let students opt out of the end of class where they engaged in political conversations. Archer and the Professor were on opposite ends of the political spectrum and clearly thought the other one was wrong about their views on the role of government (despite that they somehow could think that without thinking the other was evil). Shortly after that, Archer asked to be pushed for the race that the professor and I had encouraged the student to run, 10 miles and we pulled it off in a solid time, the 1st time I'd been behind a stroller in about a year and Archer was a little tougher to take up hills than Kiana. This year Archer asked us to step up for more than a mile in his shoes in an event called, Archer's challenge. People had to do their regular tasks from a workday to a workout in a wheelchair. We put together a group of runners who did a relay, A RELAY!, of a little over 3 miles and it took 4 us more time to do that loop on a trail we all regularly run than it had taken 2 of us to run 10 miles behind Archer the year before. We appreciated Archer spending sometime in the middle talking to us in order to get the job done. It was not a timed event but someone on our team might have noticed we took 3rd place. 

I'd go from there to an ultimate tournament where we won or lost every game by one point so they were long drawn out games (on the plus side there was an ice cream break in the middle of the tournament where I defended my title as the ice cream eating champion!).  I got home to join Kiana for her longest training run yet, an 8 miler. The next day I got to pace a half marathon, 1st time doing so trying to keep 1:40 pace and I ended up with a 1:39.57, thinking I got my job done. But between the two days, my hamstring was cramping up bad at dinner. I went and laid out on the bean bag. Somehow life has been kind enough to give me some great family and my mom got me a drink while Elaine and Kiana came and just chatted with me as I tried to roll it out. My mom caught a picture of us all on the beanbag. That smile is nothing but thankfulness.

Unsurprisingly, the guy whose not sure whether or not he'll make 40, doesn't want to miss any chances. Last year we had a Ragnar relay team of 8 and we won the coed division and took the 2nd fastest overall time. Somehow a few days before the event, we collapsed and were down to 3. So I asked those who remained if we could just turn into an ultra team (so instead of 15.5 miles we'd all have to do 31 and find a 4th). Everyone agreed and we actually would end up with 2 people saying yes so Elaine whose been coming back from an injury bowed out and we turned into a men's ultra team. During the race, one the guys had a recurring injury come up and in order to fulfill our commitment we had to rebalance the rest of the over remaining 100 miles between 3 of us. Phil had never even done a half marathon, Mike was 2 weeks removed from a marathon, and I'd never done an ultra and this is the 1st year since I started that I haven't done a full... Low energy, high heat and humidity and Elaine turned into team manager/babysitter keeping track of where we were and needed to be. During my longest one time stint of 15.5 miles that started at 3 AM, I kept it going. We kept moving up in the rankings from 7th to 5th to 2nd but then back to 5th and then to 4th... I might be a bit competitive and I saw the rankings in the middle of my longest leg we were in second place. A song inspired from Hamilton was playing and I shouted it in transition to some cheering and then I went and lived it out knowing how far we'd come. I'd get about 3 hours till my next leg but when it was done, we'd won the Ultra Division and we'd gotten the job done

But there were still promises to keep after a night of no sleep so we went home and went to bed at 5 PM to get up the next morning for the Livestrong Challenge. The first one I did was my fastest 5k at the time, not even owning a bike. The next 5 were all Centuries, 100 mile rides and I would even say that I have ridden 500 miles and I would ride 500 miles for Livestrong. Perhaps I will but you gotta ask why did I do those all by myself?  For a guy who was in a video 5 years ago where I said the smartest thing I've ever said is, 'you have to work on the relationships you want to keep' it's a little bit odd that it wasn't till my 7th one where I rode with Kiana on her longest ride, 20 miles for the 20th anniversary. This year I rode with Elaine where she rode her furthest ever, 45 miles. I know we like individualism and I'm certainly proud of many individual successes but it's the team ones that are closest to my heart. Life is better with good teamwork. Relationships is my favorite why and how to get the job done. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

My life, my love, my God, they came from pain

'Take up my message from the veins
Speaking my lesson from the brain
Seeing the beauty through the pain'

I never can quite decide whether my approach to accepting that some of life will never makes sense is a sensical approach. Having a cancer that has no known dietary, genetic, lifestyle or environmental components is something I can never quite balance whether I've given it too much thought or not enough of it. It reminds me an old quote from college that there are things that if you think about too much you'll lose your mind but if you don't think about them at all, you'll lose your soul. They already took out some of my brain so I'm going to keep fighting for my soul. 

But there's been a lot of things that challenge the mind and the soul, destructive forces in nature, some we call political, others we call man made, others natural. The labeling or fault is obviously an important part of an equation to avoid repetition or get better at preventing... but while the past is prologue, the prologue's point is to get to fully appreciate the current story. 

I see people who say they have learned certain appreciative lessons from things that were destructive. In fact it's a regular occurrence in my life of people who say they are glad they got cancer because they learned to appreciate 'this' or 'that' because of it. I have a hard time saying that because I don't want to be thankful for something damaging. It's like I prefer learning from other people's mistakes, I just don't have enough time to make them all on my own. There is a friend who has heard me and another person tell their stories about cancer. He says it's very interesting to hear us talk about it and he wonders if the reason we sound so different is simply the age we got cancer. He says me getting at age 30 put it in perspective and made me appreciate the shortness of life and the reality of mortality. Our other friend beat it in childhood and he says it made him feel invincible to get through that and that our speeches come across that way even if some of it is the rhyme of getting through the challenges with the right company, the right attitude.

I was in New York last weekend with Elaine and we didn't throw away our shot at seeing Hamilton and Cats and Museums and memories that will last a lifetime. But while I was there I also had a few meals with people as I sometimes do when traveling that are I try to keep off the radar. It turns out if you're like me which is old fashioned (or perhaps just old) I can have very meaningful moments with people without hastags that I'm the only who has to like them. I had dinner with a friend's mom who passed away from cancer this summer. It happened too fast and I've kept in contact with her mom who says she appreciates and says often I'm the only one who checks this regularly on her. I've always thought that if I die of this there's no one I'd have more sympathy than my mother because we're not supposed to bury our children. I met her on a First Descents climbing trip which I raised money for the last time I wen to Boston. And when I'm completely honest with myself I wonder if staying in touch with some of the families those who have passed is a way to still try to reach out to them in a more tangible way. If it ever seems doing so brings on harsh reminders since I am also a cancer guy... I fade away but I try to make sure they never do. To this day, having been to too many cancer events, I've yet to go two full years without someone I met at one of them dying (and some of these have been events where no one was active and there were less than a dozen of us). I've raised money against cancer in general and brain cancer in specific hoping that eventually cancer goes the way of polio and leprosy where it's all but irrelevant globally and we just talk about the people who have to live with the effects of once having had it. Maybe this bar is too low but I just want to get to one where just two years later everyone from one event is alive, one day where everyone lives even if just a short while longer. She was supposed to be running the New York Marathon this year.

I also once again reunited with my friend Dave, the widow of someone who was supposed to be running the New York Marathon 3 years ago when I ran it. She would die on the 4th anniversary of my cancerversary of brain cancer, November 5, 2014. It is those type of events that always both increase the survivors guilt and the thankfulness to still be standing. The 7th one is less than a month away, a big one because it's the median survival rate of people with the surgery I had and I suppose the day after that I become above average. 

I reunited with Alexander, the guy who volunteered to lead me through my first Spartan. I'm on my way to my 5th year of trifectas if all goes well at the end of the month. He was the first to hand me a medal something I've passed along plenty since then, handing out happiness. He heard about me from the media and was there to help a cancer guy but we became friends. He's become a father since then, entered the Guinness book of world records and well the evening before I headed to see Cats I might have been a little buzzed as we did a couple of chugging contests at the bar before going there (not the worst way to see Cats just for the record). 

There were some precancer day friends to from Ultimate Frisbee. We'd catch some dancing and brunch and go to America's oldest pizzeria to try some New York style pie. It was good to realize we were still connected so far down the line. One lived there, one lives in Bahamas and just happened to be in town and there we met in NYC, a place I've now visited 8 times, every time with a new experience in what seems to be the center of the Universe. 

For a few moments, I almost let myself believe that almost all of those friends came because I'm an athletic guy and I would have met them all somehow through the climbing, the ultimate, the Spartans, the New York Marathon. For a few seconds, I almost believed it because happiness and solid connections come from healthy things like exercise right? But at the end of the day, my heart was too honest to let that hole in my brain let that logic slip and I once again realized and accepted that it's okay for parts of life to come from pain, from gaps. The song quoted about and the blog title is from Believer, a song I jam out too once in a while. It has many great lines like the ones quoted above but it makes it easier to accept that sometimes our beliefs about life, love and God they come from pain. 

The question isn't whether or not there is pain... we try to mask it with drugs both legal and illegal and activities. But while I was in New York, the only thing I've done every time is go see Van Gogh's Starry night. I also went and saw a few of his other pieces. Van Gogh also had a damaged mine, so damaged he would end his life by it but along the way he let his pain shout out beauty, in sunflowers, in churches, at night, in corn fields and even in his own version of selfies. I'll never have anywhere near his level of talent at anything but I hope that somewhere in between raising Kiana, and running races, and trying to be helpful in life that I'm expressing pain as hope, making them two sides of the same coin. 

Kiana's in 5th grade now and I'm thinking about what junior high and high school would best suit her. Elaine and I keep messing with the house in ways that really there's no point unless you think you're going to be there for a while. The long term thoughts keep getting longer and longer, because maybe, just maybe you start to realize that you're a believer that some of the last things that have entered your life are going to last. I've got about a dozen athletic events between now and my next MRI in early December and I promise to thank life, love and God for them like a true believer.