Thursday, February 22, 2018

Growing in Anger

For the 3rd year in a row, Kiana advanced to the regional science fair. This year's experiment tilted nurture or nature was about whether talking to plants in different tons affected their growth. The experiment title was intriguing enough cause she's such a great kid, I often joke about that I feel bad for whoever took mine home. But she tested whether talking in a happy tone, an angry tone, a neutral tone, or no talking would cause the best growth. They were all in the same light and room other than when she took them out to talk to them each day. I suppose like all of us who think the pursuit of happiness is the key to life would hope it was that positive tone that created the most growth. But it wasn't, it was the angry tone. They did matter, however, as the plant that didn't get talked to was the one that grew the least.

Kiana tried to theorize why the angry plant grew the most, perhaps it was because you speak louder when you're angry and more CO2 gets emitted. Still, Kiana is smart enough and scientific enough to do her experiment but realize a single data point is an anecdote so she researched more and while it has not been fully nailed down this experiment has been done with full green houses where they've done two with positive, two with negative, two with music and one without. In that experiment, the tones actually did not change but the one without sound once again grew the least. The one that grew the most was the one with music, seems right to me but maybe that's because everyone in my family seems to like to sing and dance, loudest in the shower it seems.

She'll present at the regional fair Saturday and we'll see how it goes. But it reminded me of times when I kept getting faster and faster on running. At least as an adult, it seems to be when I'm angriest at the circumstances of my life. I am not the type of person who thinks that we should try to get rid of anger or sadness or really any emotion. They are in the system for a reason and all of them should be channeled appropriately. I often wonder if the reason cancer hasn't killed me yet is that simple fight or flight survival mechanism. In the entire planet, most everyone who can outrun me, I could beat them in a fight and most everyone who could beat me in a fight, I can outrun them. Cancer took on a guy with great survival instincts and capacity and at least today, at least today, I am still winning.

I have a speech in a couple of hours at an event called Testify:Austin. It was actually an event where I heard Elaine speak a few years ago and the story she told there was probably the beginning of me realizing that we had potential. The theme is racy and most of the story tellers will be telling stories that rhyme more along with that while I was asked to share the story of when I put off brain surgery to run a marathon, no more, no less. There's no won a marathon down the line, just a self contained so I'll get to tell it with more details and more self reflection. They made us practice it in front of the producers and they gave feedback. The producer suggested I be a little more honest with the emotions I was feeling at the time. She says this to a guy who deals with his emotions so well that he hides them in a public blog! She messed with me enough to where I went back and re-read my first neuropsychological evaluation report which says that my "self-perception may actually represent utilization of denial as a psychological defense against anxiety." I'm telling a few parts of the story but sharing the line that I said on my goodbye tour as I finished dinners with old friends before brain surgery, "The guy going in may not be the same ones coming out; but this one loves you guys." Everyone then heard the affection and I meant that but it was as close as I came to acknowledging that I was very afraid that the guy going into brain surgery and the guy coming out of brain surgery were going to be strangers.

The running I was doing then was therapy; it was channeling the anger. It was why I qualified for Boston that day. I ran the Austin marathon Sunday and the weather wasn't great but you know what it wasn't great back in 2011 in either. But I'm just not angry and for better or worse, I don't channel happiness into better running. I loved running with a friend for a good section; it's the happiest I've ever been during a race. People always say they wave at me or cheer at me but I'm there with those angry songs (listen up, listen up there's a devil in the church... this is gonna hurt) looking intense and don't see them. This was the most signs I've ever seen, the most people I've ever waved at, the most happy I've been during a race. Someone who saw me with about a half mile to go genuinely expressed shock as they cheered for me and said..."you're smiling?"

Was it a mistake to run happy? I don't know but I don't think so. It certainly didn't lead to anywhere near my fastest marathon. I think I'll find the edge again and properly train but once my friend and I were running together the song that came on was "Despacito." While it's good to dance to and fun to run to, it means go slow. Usually I create playlists for races but I didn't for this one, I just put the ones on that I'm hoping the band or DJ plays at Elaine and I's wedding and I'm never in a rush to get off the dance floor and so I was singing and dancing for the second half of the Austin marathon, thinking about a cute girl, hoping I wasn't two stepping so slow that she would pass me... We've done a couple of marathons together where we caught up afterwards but on this one, I stayed at the finish line for a while until she finished and medalled her. This marathon was about looking forward to things with her. I planted a big kiss after cause I gotta start practicing for when they say you may now kiss the bride.

I'm not saying happiness isn't driving some growth in me. There have been many areas in my life that are growing again for the first time (though if you look carefully at those pics of me without the shirt, the happiness with Elaine and Kiana's good cooking may be the waistline). And I'm not saying there aren't things I'm angry. I went from finishing the marathon to visiting a friend from the Brainpower 5k who is now in hospice and has very little time left with the same disease. I was actually supposed to push her for this race like I did for that one and there were many times I thought of her. She got hugged a little tighter with my stinky self when I went by after the race. That anger has and will be aimed at being part of taking on cancer defeating efforts on a more global scale.

But the happiness is feeding good things. I'm trusting both Elaine and myself more...I think those are correlated. Some of the other things from my neuropsychological evaluation, the deficits are still there but I'm learning to cope with them, to work around them. I'm actually on quite a streak these days of hitting some high scores in brain rehab games that I hadn't hit in literally years.

I am hoping life keeps letting those parts of my brain grow. I am going to keep letting some fears go because as I heard recently there's no real point in tip toeing through life to arrive safely at death. And like sadness or anger, there's times I'll let those grow to and like happiness just try to channel them appropriately. And I dare dream, I dare hope, I dare believe and love that no matter which of those emotions I allow to driving growth it will be what prevents and deters this tumor from growing.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Too Early In the Race

A week ago Kiana was racing her first race of 2018. While she had done other races including a 10 miler since then she had not done a 5k in 5 months. It was a small 5k and we went out there hoping to beat her previous PR of 23:00 with me hoping she'd get close to 22 but these days she has her own watch so I don't even turn mine on and she sets her own pace and well, I'm just running with good company.  Somehow, a little under halfway in an out back she was in 2nd place over all, 1st female. I turned to her and said you know if you keep this up, you might be the women's winner. Adding to the list of moments where it's a fair question of whose raising who, she turned to me and said, "Dad, it's too early in the race to be thinking that way."

She however started slowly speeding up and would end up holding that 2nd place overall and 1st female and hitting a PR of 21:37, taking off more time than frankly I imagined possible. As she out kicked me crossed the finish line, it was only a few steps beyond it where for the 1st time in any race she collapsed into my arms, clearly having left it all out there.  It was a valentine's themed race, Cupid's Chase where single people and unavailable people got different shirts but at least at this point, running with me is still her favorite guy. She would actually have a fever the next day and miss school for the 1st time in yers so I wondered (and felt guilty) if the illness had started or been contributed to by that 5k. She took it in stride. She's got a new training schedule starting next week based on her new time and it's going to be harder but she's not hesitant.

I, on the other hand, am a little more nervous. I am running the Austin Marathon tomorrow morning. It is momentous for many reasons to me. It's home... It was the first marathon that I completed and a year later it was the one that I would put off brain surgery for, the one I would first qualify for Boston wondering then if it would be my last. Because it was sponsored by Livestrong for the next two years, it was one in which on the 3rd and 4th tries at it, I won the Cancer Survivor's division in... something I'm still not sure I've appreciated or let sink in appropriately. The next year Kiana was with me and it would be the 1st time I'd skip it to run with Kiana, her first timed race and her first 5k (in case you're wondering, she has taken more time off her 5k than I have of my marathon). But tomorrow, for the 1st time in 5 years, I am back on the course.

It's an emotional thing for a variety of reasons. For better or worse, it's actually the 1st time I've signed up for a marathon since I won the Gusher Marathon with Kiana in a stroller. I've ran several by invites and loved it but somehow at the gut level since I give speeches and there's articles etc, I hadn't been able to just totally sign up for one. I put off brain cancer surgery to run a marathon, but winning one with cancer made me the cancer guy who runs marathons... it took 5 years for me to do it on my own. I kept running tons of other distances but the marathon... it took me a while. I mean don't get me wrong, I'm still running plenty. 2017 was the highest mileage year of my life and also the 1st one I didn't do a marathon. I signed up late in the game, and while I've been running a lot I haven't been training (as in the watch doesn't come on at the track or on tempo runs), I just get out there for the run of it. I get nervous that when I was going to consciously amp up my mileage in January I had a cough and didn't do as much mileage as I liked. None of those are excuses just for the record... I just don't know what kind of shape I'm in (except for round, round is a shape).

The guy I run the most with, my good friend Chris McClung is going to run the 1st half with me. I've told him I'll do it like I do all of our regular runs where I'm not looking at the watch or the mileage, just running next to him. I'm guessing like all good friends do he'll make his pace be one that makes me less conversational than our usual runs. I also know that once a bib is on me, I can't possibly pretend like I don't care about where I stand in the race so maybe once he fades, a competitive spirit will kick in. Okay so that's not a maybe. But I'm having some fun with it. While he and I are both Cowboys fans, he heckles me over wearing jerseys because it's weird to wear some other dude's name on your back. So I wrote his name on the back of the shirt I'm starting with a shirt that has his name on it. Elaine might have digitally altered it to show which team she knows I really belong on.

But the shirt actually is significance that I'm trying to make insignificant. It is literally the shirt that I was wearing when I won the Gusher Marathon. It's sat in a closet forever, too worn to keep using. It is and likely will always be the shirt I will be seen in the most ever since that win got a lot of media coverage. But the reason I'm wearing it tomorrow is because one it gets a little too sweaty, it's time to discard it and toss it to the side to be picked up and thrown away by whoever does that at races. I've long said I'm not sure if I'm running to or from something; I'm not sure I'm any closer to figuring that out. Tomorrow however, I am absolutely running from that I am the guy running marathons to get away from cancer, I am running marathons because I am me, the guy who put marathons before he had cancer and when he had cancer he put marathons before it's treatment. Marathons are back to being ahead of cancer forever and that shirt and any idea that competes with that will lay by the wayside.

Appropriately enough part of the reason I signed up is because the course has changed. There have been people who think the course is tougher (I concur) so that's why I signed up because as I've long said if you sign up for hard things in life, the ones you don't sign up for, are a little easier. Still, the changes feel so interesting. The last time I ran the course it was just emotionally draining because it passed by too many tough places, the job that fired me, the place that I had my first seizure treatment for, a courthouse that there's been too many legal places on, the medical establishment area that I had and have way too many treatments at. Only two of those still remain and they are the two earliest and they are both within the 1st three miles... Early on and moving on. So maybe the course isn't tougher after all.

We had a Valentine's themed run earlier this week and I said that my first marathon run I did on Valentine's Day but we didn't do a single training run together, we didn't run it together, no wonder we broke up. I've learned my lesson and proposed at the beginning of a race to Elaine. We're riding together tomorrow. We aren't running together (unless I have a really bad race I should come in ahead of her) but we've done several runs together and we'll be there for each other. We have done several races and have other ones planned but we enjoyed a good dinner last night and tonight we're headed to catch a movie together to get off our feet. Appropriately enough, not too long past the finish line will be the Paramount Theater, the place of our 1st date. The Save the Dates went earlier this week so believe you me, I'll be looking forward well past the finish line of tomorrow's race.

Anyway, I've got a hot date here in a bit and nerves that I'll try to dismiss to try to get some sleep.
Let's see what happens. While I'm always shooting for my best time, I can't guarantee I'll get it but I promise, if and when I get to the finish line, I'll be smiling to still be at home enjoying my life for the entire run of it.