Sunday, March 5, 2017

Life With A View

'From a vantage point high both the mountain and I
Found a world bigger than ourselves
I choose life with a view, give me life with a view
Now that I know otherwise, I choose life with a view' 
-Mike Mennard

With a couple of days, 6 years ago I was waking up from brain surgery. 5 years ago, 1 year to that date, I was once again waking up in an ambulance with a Grand Mal seizure a few days after my first marathon. However between the two I took a trip out to California, to Sonoma and Napa. 4 years and 4 days ago I was winning a marathon in Beaumont TX. For anyone, much less a guy who spends a lot of time essentially keeping an online public journal, I don't spend much time looking back. There are things like why the universe lines up sometimes from being born on 8/8/80 to how it doesn't make sense, how a guy whose never called in sick all of a sudden has two years of medical appointments without a single break from a brain cancer that has no known dietary, genetic, lifestyle or environmental components. But I still hold that there are a few things that if I think about too much, I'll lose the little I have left of my mind but if I don't think about at all, I might well lose my soul.

The last month has been one of those reflective months. Perhaps because I've been helping a friend train for an ironman and long bike rides give you time to think, perhaps because somethings have been so incredibly organically connected that I wonder how it's possible. I joke that some of the realities like World Series, NBA Finals, Super Bowl come back and presidential direction polling have all had unseen before things happens maybe the universe trying to simply realign probability somewhere (If you're unhappy with the results of any of those, of course I'm joking. If you're happy, hey you're welcome). 

Kiana was 3 when it started but is now 10. She hadn’t started school yet and now is running towards middle school. If I look forward 6 years, she’ll be old enough for a driver’s permit. Both of those distances in time seem so far away and yet far too imminently close. The Austin marathon came again and unlike it being the one where I put off brain surgery for and qualified for Boston, or the two that I won the cancer survivor division, I was just part of the people that helped put it together. In complete frankness, there was a calm reassurance in being behind the scenes rather than on the course. That might have been because the weather was so tough that very few people had a good race. Yogi Berra may have well said it best that it’s not the heat, it’s the humility. I just did the 5k during the lull between the start and the half marathoners finisher where despite winning my age group I got seriously sweaty.  

I returned to Sonoma the weekend afterwards, just like I had after my first marathon after surgery. Carrie, someone who was a stranger at the time and is now an angelic friend in my book, was kind enough to provide a place that the view out the window reminds why I always say that Northern California is where God lives and you get a little closer to his view. I lived in that state for 5 years during college and an internship, some formative years (or at least those that as adults we are able to self recognize as formative). I hadn't been there in too long when the brain cancer journey started but it was part of the goodbye tour where I went and saw old friends and college professors and said 'I don't know if the guy going in is the same one going but this one loves you guys.' With rare exceptions I'm still in contact the people I saw on that trip. I went out there and saw some of them again. It was the most gorgeous the area has ever looked and perfect weather the entire time I was out there. But a couple of things like some roads being closed off or some serious damage from the floods after years worth of droughts puts in perspective that sometimes beautiful growth comes from unexpected messes. The fact that in both of the departments that I majored in there was exactly one professor left, both near retirement reminded me that change is life's constant. They both got serious hugs from me. Going to a waterfall I loved in college and seeing that before it was a little more of a technical hike and now it essentially had a carved trail just kept putting things in perspective. I still climbed it in a way that was less than safe and the Bond girl got a few pictures while I didn't realize it and she said she was glad to see me so happy. I was glad to show her some key points of life part I. I went out to that waterfall when I was happy or worried, either way I 'd always walk out more happy than I walked in because as Jimi Hendrix sang my worried seemed so very small out there. 

But the point of the trip was to be part of Huck Cancer, an ultimate tournament raising money for Livestrong. I don't play much anymore but I actually played fairly well that day. The tournament was originally in honor of but now in memory of Eric, an ultimate player who got and died of brain cancer. I spoke about what Livestrong had done briefly for me but couldn't help but thank the ultimate community because of the way it lends itself. I used to travel to play for it like I do for races now and then. Two ultimate players would open homes in Duke for me to stay at during trips there, one I had met in a traveling event, we'd never even lived in the same towns. Other ultimate players flew out to Austin or to Duke from Chicago, California. The ultimate community itself threw a hat tournament to help with my medical bills in Austin and in Toronto, another to raise money for Livestrong in Houston and once I was recovered enough I organized one also to raise money for Livestrong. Ultimate is a game, one I still play once in a while, I'm in fact the head ref of the local professional team. But more importantly it's a community, and to get to play near my college, for Livestrong, while addressing that community, life has been incredibly kind. Of course it was the 8th edition that I made my first appearance at. 

Back when I was learning to bike, it was also for a fundraiser out in California to support the Texas 4000, a group of 70 something students who bike from Austin to Alaska. I was training for a 100 mile ride back then... Talk about putting it in perspective. It would end up being a necessary skill due to seizures and the bike becoming my car. Yet somehow this year's crew was having a community speaker series for the first time and they were kind enough to invite me. I told the stories that have gotten repeated a few times but they actually wanted a longer q&a because a few had heard me speak before. I gotta tell you between the presentation they gave before I spoke and the questions they had afterwards, if those college students are the near future of where we're going with cancer, there are some sharp intelligent sensitive caring minds tackling it. They're going to be giving presentations all along the way there and I think both them and whoever hears them will be better for it. I'll be riding along their start out of town in the Atlas Ride. I never quite get why I get invited to speak so much but wonder, dream that it's not so much because I can put emphasis on the right words but because I once in a while manage to translate my feelings into words. 

But while I'm in for the ride, I returned to Beaumont the day after I spoke As a few people might have heard, I won a marathon pushing a stroller out there. Without exception, I've returned every year at least once to Beaumont, twice more than once. This was my 4th time at Gusher. When I went out there it was just a road race. Now they have incorporated a 40k bike time trial, a roughneck (a fitness challenge essentially). I couldn't figure out which one to do so me and the Bond girl signed up for all 3. I took 2nd in the half marathon. I had never done a cycling time trial and it was downhill with a tailwind one way and uphill with a headwind the other way... Well let's just say I was dead last among the men in my category and out of the 78 people doing my distance of either gender, I only got beat by 67 of them... I fared about the same in the roughneck though I did win one category, the tire flip. Perhaps because it's in Spartans but more than likely because I have one in my actual backyard. But far more importantly, I saw the people there who had let me into the race, the announcer who had ben there. Some of these guys had been out to the Austin Marathon and I'd had dinner. I am so glad we've kept some of the connection points from this community.  The Bond girl got 4th and a PR on the half but struggled more on the other two. Still, I'm glad that she can handle that singing up for things that show you've got areas to improve on doesn't have to be a drag that you skip out on trying for. 

So 6 years removed from brain surgery, almost 6 and 4 month since the brain cancer journey started. It's no coincidence that while I've gotten to go many places (heading to China next week) that the places I've visited the most are West Texas where my family is, Beaumont, and California where the friends who feel like family are. Many cancer survivors and boy do I understand why, when treatment is done or when it's past enough, they let it be part of the past, something not to look back on. I understand that, I don't celebrate my birthday always joking that I was born, I've gotten over it. But the truth is even while I emphasize my birthday (8/8/80) in many ways I don't remember it and consciously speaking, I didn't learn anything from it. But for me brain cancer, the surgery, that marathon, that 'goodbye' tour even with a damaged memory helped me learn a lot. That was the gestation and birth of Life Part II. As I told the UT kids at my speech last Thursday in response to a question (this was one where the room got awkwardly quiet but I diffused it with a joke), the median survival rate for people without surgery is 4 years, for people with surgery is 7 years. I'm getting close enough to where I dare dream I may end up being above average. But no matter whether or not that's true, there will come a day when I die because we all die. Dr. Seuss day just passed by and this year Kiana decided to wear thneed from the Lorax. In there the Lorax warns about out thneeds and trends and how we use our resources. He acknowledges that inevitable mortality that belongs to us all in a way I appreciate, 'A tree fall the way it leans, be careful which way you lean.' I appreciate the views that my life is giving me and feel like they reflect the right lean. As I have raised Kiana, I've watched her fall while learning to walk, while learning to ride a bicycle, on obstacle courses. The beauty of life is that until one last time you get to keep rising from falls and I hope I keep appreciating all the views. 

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading your reflections--thanks for the post.