Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Pro Long Life

For the first several years, I'd write here on the 5th of November, on the state of mine and cancer's union or perhaps mine and life's union with cancer's disruption. Last year, I wrote on the day after and I liked that idea that this brain tumor will never be irrelevant but that the day after tomorrow still matters and keeps mattering more.

This was a big year for me the kid who loves the number 8 due to my birthdate (8/8/80) and I said long ago that if I got here we'd have a big party and boy did we. But I'll come back to that, it wasn't big just because of the coincidence of my birth it was because it meant I was above average by a full year since the median survival is 7 years. I started celebrating that from 7 years and 1 day but hey this last full trip around the sun has been a big one.

I married a woman who was a stranger and not old enough to drink when this all started. She was a friend who became a better friend who I will love till my dying day and marrying her made me more comfortable with the idea of dreaming of further and further days. A few days before this cancerversary last year I proposed, losing a bet about marriage not being part of a future. I also said I'd never do an ultra but I did my first one, 1 year minus 1 day of my proposal at the same site, a Spartan race. Last year after I proposed the race great went for both of us in sub freezing temperature. This year I went in struggling with a hand injury and despite both of us being prepared we struggled with some obstacles and coordination including me dropping a 120 lb concrete ball on my leg before the halfway point. I had to have her help on an obstacle I'd never failed at shortly after that. A couple of guys looked at me and were clearly judging me for taking help from a girl. I got it the second time around on my own and I gotta tell you on both I was super proud and would call both of those significant successes in their own right. When we got done we were both exhausted and are still bruised and battered and the race hurt but we got it done. The vows weren't tested that day, they were just demonstrated, in the for better or worse at least in regards to races. I've always said Ultra were dumb because the guy who ran the first marathon died so why would I run longer? But when a girl as smart, cute and accepting and challenging of my humanity asks, it's an easy answer. Throughout the course, I said multiple times this was my first and last ultra but I know this instant that if Elaine wanted to do another one and wanted my company, I'd say I do if she asked for my company.

Unfortunately we came home to a very sick dog who was unresponsive for the most part. She is over 14, closer to 15 these days but she was there unable to stand up, a stiffly held crooked neck wobbly eyes, confused and dazed. Literally the day before, we had taken a walk in the woods and the day before that she had jumped up for a treat and now she couldn't even stand without falling and was not taking food or water. Speaking of things that are Greek, I am known for being stoic and I held it together until Kiana's voice cracked and then that and the tear ducts did for me too. Vet gave possibilities from an ear infection to something that's nominally called old dog disease (vestibular syndrome) to a stroke to a brain tumor. When I heard brain tumor, I thought I know dogs resemble their owners but please don't follow me down this path. They offered imagery but shy of the ear infection there was no treatment for the others so I bypassed putting her through the imagery that I hate going to. The only way she ate for a few days was literally with things sliced through tiny amounts and fed to her by hand tiny tiny amounts at a time by Elaine, Kiana or myself. I asked the question to myself and prepared as mentally well as I could for the possibility that the friend I had her whole life, her time was coming. They talked to me about iv's and feeding her by a bottle if it was worse things but the truth is I'm the guy who put off brain surgery to run a marathon, a guy who has a DNR order, and I decided quickly that this was a stray, a 3rd world immigrant that lived off scraps early in life (hey dogs do resemble their owners) and we'd of course not do this quick but if she couldn't get to where she could enjoy an unleashed walk on the trail without assistance, for both her and I, it's time to go. We've gone on walks in the trail the last 3 days. Last night at the cancerversary party, she snuck out a couple of times. She did so today too when I was cleaning up from it. Usually we get annoyed when she reaches for human food at the coffee table. Today I gave it to her. Puppy may not be as springy as she once was and may not have eternal life but hope remains. For at least a little bit further down the trail, I think we get to live long and prosper.

Kiana keeps growing up. She destroyed a 10 mile PR by 7 minutes on Sunday. She broke a 6 minute mile a few days before by less than a second. We celebrated by going to a baking class where Ms. Independent who asked for a pasta maker for last night nailed the recipe for pumpkin and pecan pie. I don't usually like either but I ate quite a bit more than I should both yesterday and the day before. We had some left over ingredients so she's making another one tomorrow where I may decide a slice or 3 is worth it. She's in jr high and we're discussing the details of earring and smart phones, neither of which I like the idea of but we'll figure out a dance as I realize there are bigger battles to fight. She was wired at the cancerversary party and stayed up later than she should on a school night period much less a Monday. She asked why this was a big deal and why so many friends were celebrating it. I responded with I wasn't supposed to be alive now and goodness I love that girl, she responded with, no one gets to tell you when you're supposed to be alive.

I watch my parents now in their 60's and 70's. My grandparents in decades beyond that and I am impressed by their quality of life. They all have some age related things but they are independent in a huge percentage of things. Even my grandparents with more serious health issues make me realize that maybe I've had some bad luck in a disease that has no genetic, dietary, lifestyle or environmental components but I've got some good genes in this pool and I'm not sure early in this process I didn't let it sink in that maybe I'm not a great swimmer but I've never been afraid of the deep end. I used to work in a nursing home in high school that left some impressions that were afraid of aging. I've been to hospitals and hospices that assure me that I don't want to go out like that. I'm not afraid of dying but I've been living life hard and with conviction. They still invite me to do speeches once in a while though I think after 8 years of this it may likely be time to start wrapping up the public eye life. Kiana and Elaine helped me create a big drawing for the garage of some of the most powerful symbols from the last few years. There is a huge range from the but without exception, without exception, it's not the crowd I remember and at some there were media and strangers applauding. It was the friends. And while there were several new ones last night, there was the friend who walked me back into the hospital, the friends who helped with medical bills, the friends who over brownies and tears I decided to brain surgery with, the friends who I played poker with at the hospital before the biopsy and during medical exams. There were big additions, like the guy who married us and the girl who married me. There are others but I honestly thought after brain surgery no real friends or meaningful relationships that would come after that cause they'd only know the guy who was damaged and I'd resent that guy but it turns that great friends when they break into you, it doesn't seem like there was ever a time you were strangers and if you work on those relationships, there will never be one where you are again. We kept the party till midnight and a measure of happiness in my book is how many people there are you can call if there's an emergency in the middle of the night but those are all people I'd call but they are all people I've laughed well into the night with and that's better than an emergency call.

So what did I do the day after, I ran and went to a meeting and loved my wife and daughter. Tonight, right now I'm about to head to play in a poker game that's a fundraiser for pediatric cancer and my medical bills are less relevant these days so it's more fun to give money as an option for cancer. I started this path carefully making mistakes. I know that sounds weird but that's a pretty accurate description, I made mistakes from being too careful. I'm going to keep making mistakes but I'll make them with more and more conviction. Tonight at this poker game, at this weekend's race, and every day, cause I don't take a single one for granted, I am going in like a pro longing for more life.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Always Remember Us This Way

Lovers in the night
Poets trying to write
We don't know how to rhyme
But, damn, we try
But all I really know
You're where I wanna go
The part of me that's you will never die
So when I'm all choked up
But I can't find the words
Every time we say goodbye
Baby, it hurts
When the sun goes down
And the band won't play
I'll always remember us this way
Humans, we anthropomorphize things. We literally try to make the world revolve around us like the ancient idea that the sun revolved around the earth. The story is cleaner if the angles are sharper, if the story flows better. It's literally wired into our brains as that's the way we make memories in our dreams with our brains subconsciously telling itself a story to implant memories. 
There are times that, like most of my human qualities, that is easier to live with than reality. But I like reality better than myths anyway so I try to hold onto both. Kiana and I recently did a race called Where to Next? Race. It was a scavenger hunt where we were figuring out clues and challenges. A friend had suggested that we were contenders as we got ready for it but Kiana and I were partners needing internet and social media, neither of us is an expert at either yet (and I'm not getting any better). Still the first clue took us to the Hope Outdoor Gallery and that's when it was game on. From there to the second challenge for a clue being a relay between partners running around the block, we were contenders. We'd be in 3rd place for a good chunk of it but between her brains and my driving since I'm not sure I contributed much more, we were always relevant. There were a couple of points where I was intensely, competitively, aggressively, primally telling her to focus on getting it done, almost, ALMOST, forgetting she was my 11 year old daughter and that winning wasn't the only task at hand. Kiana has on multiple occasions pointed out that I look angry during races, that's my focused look I suppose, my game face. In a moment of self awareness after that intensity, I asked her if I should relax and we should just worry about getting it done. She said, no, let's go I want to win too. Somewhere after that we got to a more balanced competitive but friendly mode. Suffice it to say we both ended up happy, dancing and in first place with the team "Smarter Than We Look."
Our race had just ended and coincidentally a Livestrong lunch was happening at the restaurant we ended at. We would hang out with old friends, some which were at my wedding, some which were professional cancer relationships like the dean of the new medical school's cancer institute. Those back to back moments that lined up put it in perspective of I am always running away and somehow run into some cancer related items. I never have and likely never will be the people who say that the good relationships that came from cancer were worth it (I mean I'm a fan of the old idea of learn from other people's mistakes, you don't have enough time to make them all on your own so along that theme don't wait till you become aware of your mortality before you appreciate life). 
It is why I appreciate those people, the humanity they share even perhaps while there's humanity to overcome. The friends like Bob who can't ride due to some health issues and volunteers instead. One of the top 3 fundraisers and a 15 year survivor, Scott, who comes with his daughter and posts a picture that looks like it rhymes to one of his wife from 13 years before who has since passed from cancer. The guys who we sit and have a men's dinner over pizza and beer and one of them has done me a solid and Hurff baked chocolate chip cookies for the family (Kiana and Elaine both got one a piece... I'll leave how many I ate a mystery). The group moments, the one on one moments remind you that cancer is a body misfiring but perhaps one of the best way to fight misconnection and negative growth in the body is to combat with good human connections growing. I am certainly not suggesting that's the cure to cancer but in my mind, if cancer kills me tomorrow, it's how I won. There are those who would suggest that's cheesy or over simplification; fair enough, I have a damaged brain after all. But it's what got me to do a 30 mile ride with Kiana and Elaine. Two years ago I did 20 with Kiana and told Elaine we were probably going too slow for her and encouraged her on my own, somewhere that was between the truth and not ready to move too fast with who I'm married to now. Last year we were in better shape and did her longest ride of 45 miles together. This year we did Kiana's longest ride of 30 miles together. Love has many ways of showing itself. 
But I remember that while this was my 8th livestrong ride, I did the first one all on my own. I made friends but didn't have any going out. It was a 100 miles. I've kept making friends and invited more and family too. Those are never competitions so it was easier to do at an easier pace which definitely has its place. 
I've now been doing running competitions for 30 years. I say I'm officially retired for a last few years because I haven't had an A race or a particular training program but no one believes me when they see me on a course (myself included). Somewhere I don't want to be the guy hanging on too long but then I read about 70 year olds still doing marathons and 100 year olds still doing races. They of course are no longer at their fastest though anyone who is still going man that somehow feels like they are at their prime.
I don't want to be the guy who cleans up memories of others to only the good things. I don't want to be remembered for only the good things or bad things either. The universe is messy and chaotic and inconsistent and so is life, at least mine. I love the line from the song that this starts with, we don't know how to rhyme but damn we try. So I'm okay being forgotten but rather than the victories or the losses, I aim to live and make my memories perhaps being able not to always rhyme but always knowing I tried.