Saturday, May 30, 2020

Nose to The Grindstone

"Keep in mind that a man's just as good as his word, 
It takes twice as long to build bridges you've burnt
And there's hurt you can cause time alone cannot heal, 
Keep your nose on the grindstone and out of the pills"

The world, or at least the part I inhabit in Austin and Texas is opening back up. Whether or not you agree with that may reflect your politics or your risk approach or your financial realities. I am balancing it as best as I can, only having gone out to eat once to support a friend's restaurant. The main business that opened up to my house's pleasure was salon's reopening where really I looked homeless while having been homebound but you know somewhere someone had the fantasy that I looked like wolverine. Someone corrected that might have been true about the hair but that the body looks more like Captain America... before he beefed up. 

School officially ended two days ago. We actually kept a pretty strict schedule here with the same block schedule that Kiana kept at school as opposed to the suggested 3 hours a day schedule. Kiana on more than one occasion complained about how no one else was doing that. I told he to pick a better father next life cycle. It/I was bad enough that on the second to last day I actually gave her the standardized math test with the same parameters that they have at school. She missed two and would have been in the 98th percentile in a high school level class she's taking in 7th grade.  I have a friend who has 3 elementary kids and his wife is still going to work as opposed out current family household where there have been 3 adults for 1 jr high and told him my ratio was much better. I shared that comment with Kiana who pointed out that she self taught with online video 4 of the 8 classes so she had 4 teachers. The subjects that are probably too tough for this brain damaged guy, Algebra and Science, were taught by the adult girls of the family. I am not sure I could have done it all and certainly not as well with apparently math having now changed and for some reason 7 grade math ending with sexual education at length which you know every macho father wants to get into details with his adolescent daughter but I gave up the opportunity. But just to make it clear, I'm not completely a hard ass on the last day we played games and had a splash fest with all of her home school teachers. Not saying that I'm competitive at all but I won ;). We actually have been playings tons of board and lawn games with a family of 4 and have been keeping a cumulative scoreboard. Kiana and I have decided that one of the games we will not partner up with other people again is Uker, uker for life bro or is it bra or brah. Can't keep up with the kids these days

But keeping up is actually something I've been trying to do is keep up with exercise. I was made fun of but it's probably true that PE was the class I put some of the most effort into. Box jumps, jump ropes, tire flips, running, sandbags, agility, body weight. Everyone in the family is a better cook than me and they've taken the extra time to make tons of good meals. There's a Columbian, a Chinese and a half Mexican kid who cook up storms.  Some of it has even been from a homegrown garden started by Jackie and Kiana in science class. If you're wondering how I'm pudgy despite all my running and exercise, it's because of this. I have not lost or gained any significant weight during all this and I think it's because of that... balance. 

All 3 adults of the household have lost their 'jobs' during all this. That is only in quotation because my source of income for a while of officiating and speaking etc at events well all the events were cancelled as late as September and there are none on the calendar. Jackie lost one and got one that will start later on relatively quickly. Elaine got laid off last week and is updating and sending out her resume. I've got some contract stuff that may happen in July and August. I've never been a paycheck to paycheck person so there will be some stretching of the savings for a while but the stress is primarily mental right now. I have joked that corona may end up being more expensive than cancer and I haven't even gotten it. In one of those murphy's laws we were right smack in the middle of a 4 day job of converting an outdoor room into an office with a bathroom when the layoff happened... if I'd only known a week earlier. Still I remember what my grandfather always said, 'if it's about money, don't worry about it, we don't have any.' 

Still, even when I was broke during cancer, I'd sign up for cheap local races once a month, that was my 'luxury item' and going out to eat once at a local sandwich place was Kiana's. Corona cancelled some trips and this is cancelling others and the little luxuries like keeping wine and Mexican coke around, a lesson learned from growing up poor and that I hope at some level gets instilled into Kiana that when you have no income, you spend less money. The adage I live by is spend less money than you make and while during times like these that's impossible, the spirit has to ring as true as it can. But these days there aren't even races! 

In the last few years as things rebounded right before MRI's, I'd do tons of races right before. Running hard always being one of my 3 main coping mechanisms, the one most socially acceptable one. Humor is the 2nd but that doesn't land with everyone and that sex drugs and rock n roll one ;). The races have been virtual during this time and if you're wondering how much I've applied that I've done a dozen or so in May including a marathon two weeks ago and 5 this week. The latest one was a 17:52 5k this morning. Most of them have been with my friend Chris, the guy I ran with the most before this. He goes back to the group he's part of next week so it won't be an almost daily thing but it's been a good ride. One of those was my family joining and crewing him for the only trail marathon I've ever done. Why they call them virtual, I really don't know as on that and a couple of others I've gotten lost and gone longer.

Still, my MRI is a little over a week away. As is my custom, I do my best to make the test or the results on the 8th and so it will be on June 8th with the results the next day. The test itself will be exactly 2 months before the birthday that statistically I'm not supposed to make. While the results will be in grey matter, I hope everything is stable enough that like Kiana's home school I pass with flying colors. The 10 year survival rate is 12% so I I'm almost at the B+ level? I'm not (too?) afraid of death but I have kept track of that cancer patients in general have a higher death rate when contracting and that in my case in specific because it does invade the brain and fevers put me at a high risk of a seizure that corona could be a factor. Nonetheless, this is why XX is my beer of choice or maybe I'm just not wild enough for XXX rated. 

I've seen people's social media during who have gotten this and passed in the last couple of months and others whose medical treatment got postponed, disrupted, interrupted through all this. My own appointment they've let me know that I need to come alone to the MRI. Originally it was not clear whether or not the results appointment was going to be virtual but I got notice a few days ago that it would be in person. I can't genuinely decide which way anyone, myself included, would feel more alone being told their cancer grew, in person with the doctor or virtually with family. 

Still, while I have watched more 'television' than usual, I've tried to keep my unemployed workaholic habits alive. That's not exactly true, I've probably watched in total less than I usually do but often it's sports as opposed to fiction, movies etc. I've listened to a song a few times, the one quoted at the beginning here which oddly enough I was supposed to be going to his concert that was supposed to happen back in March and then delayed to yesterday and then delayed to the fall and then cancelled outright because one of the artists in the concert got corona. 

But where I place my nose on the grindstone will have to shift. My 5 years as president of ARC ended two days ago. I think the new board is going to be great and I will both miss and be relieved to be relieved of duty. I intend to take the approach that W did to Obama which is just to be silent (of course I understand they had infinitely more important things on their agenda). Home school is done for the summer though we're going to keep working on Spanish, Math, PE and reading as those are more life skills than academic ones. 

I don't know what's coming, in an MRI, in finances, in the way the world opens back up, in how Kiana handles adolescence but I'm going to keep working on it as best as I can figure it out. I still remember what my grandfather says there too, "take it one day at a time, I get tired when I do two." Life was kind enough to give us a gorgeous sunset on the last day of school, the last day of my ARC presidency and I tried to remember an old quote that gorgeous sunsets need clouds. We took some pictures of it and absorbed some of it just our eyes noticing that like life, it doesn't take much time for it to change dramatically, some beauty, some contrast.  Invariably it all ends too whether it be with a bang or with a whimper but I hope like this blog that it expressed itself without filters, unaware and not veryconcerned with its observers. 

I love life, the good, the bad, the ugly. I prefer the simple practical stuff but in a few days I have to step into a machine that is the opposite of that to see whether cancer is growing. Whether or not that unhealthiness is, I go in believing that in the last year since the last one, in the months of quarantine and difficulty, beautiful things have grown and set and hoping, dreaming that those will continue. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Apocalypse

I haven't blogged in almost 3 months. That's crazy for someone who used to do it that often every month and when this brain cancer journey started I wrote that often every week.

There are certainly things I should have written about perhaps. 10 years ago in February almost to the date I ran my first marathon. It was on Valentine's day and I was running it with Kiana's mother. I've often joked in my speeches that we didn't do a single training run together, didn't run it together and just high fived at the end, no wonder we broke up. The next year was the one where I put off brain surgery for and qualified for Boston. I would win some divisions there, skip it to run a 5k with Kiana and my parents, etc etc. But this year was my favorite. I guess it was supposed to be better than it turned out, or so I imagined it. I was doing the first half with my daughter Kiana on her last half of the Distance Challenge. Then I was going to speed up/wait for my wife and do the 2nd half with her. A decade apart but finally learning that maybe running with the people you care about even if slows you down has its own importance. I was going to retire there. My parents were in town and Jackie, a recent addition to our life, was going to run the first half with Elaine and then receive Kiana and get her to my parents who were doing the 5k.

That's only sort of how it went. The race itself due to issues far beyond my control or understanding was delayed 40 minutes but not announced till a few minutes before the race in small increments. So we were just literally standing there, all dressed down with nowhere to go. The water and food that we take prerace messed with the system as opposed to preparing it because what your body does with hydration and nutrition when you take it before movement is different than what it does when you take it before quite literally standing still. I took it in stride and tried to share that spirit but knew that it was inadequate to be too nice as I was not racing at my own speed and knew that it would be more frustrating if I was trying to gun it myself.

Kiana's race did not go so well. The humidity was high, she'd tried a new shirt and it was the first and only time she's ever had to have a long bathroom stop in the middle of a race. It was clear she was slowing down before she communicated this and she was pushed and in discouraged tones said, "I'm not as competitive as you" with some adolescent attitude and some resignation and some cracks in her voice because quite literally the day before she wanted to her faster race. I tried to encourage her to finish but it got so bad she actually saw a portapotty off the course. It was not long after that where we were scheduled to split ways. The day before she had seen me give one of those "motivational" speeches I get invited to do and see me get thanked and said with tears in her voice "Dad, say something motivational to me." I teared up and said to her "I've done this course so many times but this was by far my favorite" and we split up there to her finish with quite literally sweat and tears. She finished a few blocks after that crying to Jackie's arms saying that everything that could go wrong with that race did. Jackie said her spirits were down for a little while and then she was back to herself laughing. I thought that was right; a race that you train for and give effort to should not be something you shrug off immediately but it's also not something that us amateurs should be over emotional for too long.

I had to actually catch up for about a mile to get to Elaine. It was mostly a quiet 2nd half. The person she hoped to beat was ahead of her and she was reflecting on her own distance challenge on a hot humid run. She never really slowed down but she didn't speed up like she'd hoped. The season she had a series of strong races where she hoped to finish with a strong marathon but it wasn't that much different than the previous year which came with injuries. She appreciated the company (except when I did dumb things like chug a beer in the middle) and she appreciated the sidelines. The truth is I've never been cheered on with as much conviction as she was during that race including a tunnel of people who she had to run through to get up the last hill and she also finished with sweat and tears from that support. She rehydrated all that with something that had bit of an alcoholic bite.

I had to work the rest of the event so I was not able to be there as fully for Kiana, Jackie, my parents or Elaine were gone before I headed home several hours later but... I kept reflecting during the quiet moments if this wasn't more meaningful in its own ways. There were no articles about any wins and really most people in or out of our household had tough races that day, not PR's. A few days later we still all celebrated continuing to the finish at a fancy restaurant, Comedor, where we shared most dishes.

And the universe went on or did it? Because March kind of fell apart fast with the corona virus (maybe this is why I was always more a XX guy or straight up tequila guy). I had a cancer trip in Tahoe cancelled shortly after a trip to Napa Valley tossed. The chips, dominoes have kept falling with the race I was supposed to start last Sunday of 25k people cancelled due to this. This extrovert who sees tons of people every day is now isolated in his own home. Every way I make income is now gone for the indefinite future if not permanently. It's funny I've survived off small but meaningful gigs but was thinking it might be time to return somehow to a meaningful workforce. I had actually applied for a couple of gigs that were looking promising and now they are both gone as they are laying people off and if and when they are ready to get going again, that's who they will be turning to. Every race, trip, and event I had planned to be a part of, was a speaker at, was an organizer of and through August is now cancelled. Kiana's school is now closed indefinitely and while once upon a time I was valedictorian of a high school class and a suma cum laude graduate, I'm struggling to keep up with a 7th grader's curriculum (I have help in the hard stuff with Elaine teaching Math and Jackie teaching science).

This is strange for the world as it should be. But for better or worse, it feels strangely familiar to me. I once couldn't drive for 3 years and was not exactly home bound in the same way but with too much pride to ask for rides, I spent a lot of time at home. I lost my job due to brain cancer issues and well, what was the point of keeping a kid in day care. I had no forseeable income. I keep hearing people refer to it as 'the end of the world' or some other armageddon reference. I have no way to know how it's going to play out but I'm intrigued. It's genuinely likely going to cost me as much as brain cancer personally and the world likely more.

I've been thinking about it more as the apocalypse. I don't mean what the last book of the Bible is called in Spanish (apocalpsis) but I know Greek so I actually know the word. In English we translated it rather than transliterated it and called it Revelation. Technically it means the removal of a cover, the Uncovering. Brain cancer showed me once what was wrong with me, what I had that I didn't have and what I did have that I didn't. I'm not harping on some etymology that it shows who we really are no more than I think being drunk shows who you really are (it shows who you are when you don't have discipline but choosing discipline can be part of who you are). I've seen people who make jokes about how much more they like their kids or spouses or the opposite. I've seen way too much political commentary; I've seen the argument over health care and economy, about life and death, about
individualism and community. I have my opinions on all of that but this isn't the place for them. I don't know what's coming; I certainly don't want to promise or guarantee that will all end or that it will be better than it was before. The universe isn't quite that clean; this has killed thousands of people fast so for them and their loved ones, how could anyone say that? I've personally known 5 people who had this so far (they are all recovered or recovering) and someone whose grandfather passed away of this on the east coast.

What will be uncovered about me, about my household is still too early to tell. I can tell you that some of it needed work. I moved my couches for the first time in too long and uncovered dust on the ground that badly needed to be swept up. Starting a garden for the first time took some uncovering and leveling, very little of which I helped with. Some long neglected sports equipment is getting used more as somehow PE seems to be the class I'm putting in a lot of effort into preparing for. On the 1st day of it, I was dumb enough to try to do my workout while showing Kiana hers; now I do it all to her scale after all it's her class I'm covering. Kiana has primarily been her own art teacher though this week I introduced her to wood burning (and by introduced her I mean I bought her one and showed her youtube videos).

I'm still running. I'm getting close to 700 days of continuous movement. I'm also having fun with the lack of vanity and a guy who has been clean shaven ever since hairs broke onto my face is having the longest facial hair ever. It's my way of making sure everyone is socially distant from me. Whatever gets uncovered about me, those I know, those I love, I hope we find a way to overall make it a positive revelation. What weaknesses get uncovered I hope we work on for improvement if neccessary. What strengths get uncovered I hope we focus on and utilize. What positive emotions we find, we relish, what negative ones and annoyances come on, we realize we love someone with all that they are not just despite their faults. While major holidays of 3 major religions are around this time, I don't personally think the world is about to end in 2020.  I wasn't supposed to make 40 and I'm 4 months and 1 day away today. It seems almost comical that I'm going to have to make it through the apocalypse if I'm going to make it. I hope good things are uncovered about me and that I work on the things that being uncovered about me that aren't good. I hope whichever side of it I meet you on that we're still in a good relationship.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

F in Function and Fiction

Some parts of life are fucked up. Some parts of me are fucked up. I don't just mean the obvious like the fact I have cancer with any known dietary, genetic, lifestyle or environmental component. I mean some of my tastes and passions.  The joke use to be in this blog and life was that I the fun in dysfunction and I still enjoy that attitude and that humor. What I don't want is to just keep the f in fuck and make it fiction; what I strive for is putting the f u part of that into functional.

I'm now just a little over 6 months away from making the age I wasn't suppose to hit, forty speaking of F's. 2020 vision was something my eyes weren't 'supposed' to see. New Years resolutions this year were the hardest they've ever been. I've hit every running time I've ever pursued, every running goal that had ever crossed my mine is in the past and I'm not a big fan of reruns so I'm now putting one foot in front of the other just for the run of it. The only running goal I have left is to go back and cover every race I did with a stroller next to Kiana; there is exactly one left and I hope we pull it off in November.

We're still running. I actually have yet to race this year. I've ran next to her as recently as two days ago where she did her 2nd half marathon and took about 2 minutes off from her first one. Since this was her first point to point race, we took a picture at the start and the finish. At the start, the person realized there was toilet paper in the picture and asked if we wanted to retake it and I said no that's part of the game. Any runner will tell you why there's such a long portapotty line right before every race. That's part of the function of the body before you go push it is to well push some other things out of it. Kiana didn't look super awake yet on this cold morning but removing the toilet paper would have been more fictional.

Afterwards she was talking about how much she hurt and I reminded her that if you do it right, it's supposed to hurt. Elaine was doing the same race and she Pr'ed by 7 minutes, a faster time than I've ever hit on that course. She did this after struggling with confidence due to an injury. And she nailed it and then afterwards because some allergy causers are at the highest they have been in 25 years, she napped with conviction. We also didn't see her at the start because talking of pissing and moaning she almost didn't make it due to that starting line. Is it called an adrenaline rush or just kind of a shit show if that's why you're hurrying to get to the start line?

A week before, we were out crewing and pacing the latest staple in our house, Jackie, through her first 100 km race. When she got to the aid stop she would point somewhere and Elaine would use the massage gun and Kiana was refilling her water bottles and giving her the nutrition of choice which was vegan. She had made a special vegan meal for us as a thank you (is that really thank you?!? do vegans actually live longer or does it just seem longer?) and we had some sparkling wine and code names to celebrate. (For those of you who are wondering what code names is, it's a cooperative board game where I have fun with double entendres). All 4 of us have played it and they all seem to communicate better with each other than I do with any of them. Speaking of cooperative, the one thought I had when Jackie was getting massaged and fed in the middle of a race by Elaine and Kiana that I did not share was, wait they're never this nice to me in the middle or after a race. I did not bring that up. Afterwards, we took Jackie to the nurse to deal with some toe issues and well anyone with a toe fetish is not going to have a successful relationship with her.

I'm not known for being a super clean cut guy. That's been helpful as Kiana hits jr high and we have conversations on different levels about things like sexuality and relationships. Last night we revisited the ones where I first told her about sex and made it more age appropriate (it was based on her sharing things in 3rd grade with a neighbor about how a relative had gotten pregnant just by hanging out). I have not made it about the adage that I got about waiting till you got married; I know a few people who pulled that off successfully but for a gigantic percentage of my friends and family it mostly led to ignorance and/or a lot of guilt. I've told her that it's something she should put off until she's an adult and that it be about a deep and meaningful connection that is not easily shared. We'll see in due time how all that pans out.

If you're wondering where this is coming from, well I have a TV interview today at 1:30 and a media shoot coming up soon. I also have a speech in February and another one in March. I am also currently on ads and posters as the ambassador for the biggest 10k in the state. (I did love how Kiana and Elaine made fun of that poster by trying to replicate the stance). A cursory reading of this blog shows you I've never tried to sell an image. Lunch with two of my great friends last week who call me out on stuff said that one of the things they appreciate me is that for all the odd things in life I appropriate, I don't try to hide them. There are some things like the toilet paper remark above where they're only implied and less explicitly but I don't try to pretend like I don't go to the bathroom. And while I still haven't quite got to where I'm never going to fully share many details to anyone like how my bed recently broke or with Kiana about the George Clooney days, I'm never going to lie about any it to anyone. It's part of reality that I do and did give a fuck.

The speeches that are coming up are to two very different audiences though both are cancer based not running based. One doesn't quite have a title yet but they're both based around hope and despite the foray into a few others in today's blog, hope is my constant 4 letter word. But that's a spirit with simplicity and at different ages and stages of the cancer world, the practicality of it varies. One speech essentially flows around the idea that "hope is not a strategy" and the other revolves around the idea of "What to Hope For." Appropriately enough both of those phrases are 'plagiarized' from people who I love and run with.

Anyway, this blog has always been about how I deal with cancer and life changes in the raw. With the cameras they'll work on the lighting and the editing. With the speeches I'll work on the revising and amending and proper humor delivery. But here there is no backspaces, no checking for typos, it's accepting that some of my f'ed upness is entirely by choice. I hope here and in the best relationships I am always able to not be fictional but trying to channel anger, sadness, occasionally despair into fuel for the fire to be functional.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

When You're Home

Since the brain cancer journey started, I became more emphatic about being a simple and practical man often declaring one or the other or both. I expound on these definitions with phrases like 'home is where the house is' or quote my grandfather that 'if it's about money, don't worry about it, we don't have any.' But I know somewhere in me always lies the hopeful romantic, somewhere a wild spirit that both runs with and to his fears, to overcome them or to be overcome by them on occasion if I'm completely honest.

One of the places where the idealistic memory prone despite the memory being damaged in me is an annual tradition of hanging up an ornament representing the most important event of the year. Sometimes it is a singular event like Kiana's birth or marriage or how brain cancer was handled. Others it's a little more stretched like on a year that was the most travel we stuck an airplane ornament.

This year it was difficult. It was a heavily traveled year with 4 out of town weddings, two local ones plus a couple of cancer events, plus a couple of athletic events. It was the year we lost our dog though for whatever it's worth, no sad thing has ever made the tree (getting her once upon a time was the ornament). Nonetheless, I contend that sadness should and I hope will never be the most important part of my year. It's against my religion to have bad days and I rarely sin and I hope your faith can absorb that whether you celebrate Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Festivus.

In the end, it was an ornament shaped like a piƱata representing Kiana's 2nd trip, Elaine's first and my first return in quite a while to the country of my birth, Mexico. I am an immigrant by no choice of my own since I came very young. I taught Spanish for 3 years and yet have been inadequate at sharing it with those I share a house with. Still there I walked them around neighborhoods where the houses all had protection like the poor people still had broken glass up on their fences because no matter how little you had, you protected the people inside.

But I've been expanding my definition of home to something less simple, less practical. I've been working on many relationships, some that took me too long. I've been trying to connect more with my biological father who I didn't meet till I was 15 and he didn't know I existed till then. I spent almost a quarter of a century putting almost no effort and now that we've been talking, I realize he's been keeping track of me through social media. All this time I've been sharing on there what would allow me to call some people less (yes, a cheap copout I know) and it allowed him to get me to know me more. I've been trying to do the same with phone calls. There's a possibility that my grandparents will be having their 70th wedding anniversary there next year and whether it's that or trying to get him here, I am embarrassed to admit that it will be when Kiana's also a teenager when they meet. Somehow the furthest thing on my calendar to dream/plan is a race in the state I was born so finally the place I've been running from I get to run to.

I've been actively calling my brothers more and we've traded stories that we didn't know we didn't know (some I imagine my mother is not happy that we finally shared). I moved out when I was 14 and we've never shared residence in the same city in adulthood but family is family. I'm absorbing it and sharing it more. Some people have the privilege of being born and a part of a more traditional 'nuclear' family. Neither in childhood nor in adulthood has mine paired out that way but in the modern age we say love is love eh? Turns out loving with conviction is the intimacy I'm searching for not how people will judge me. Believe you me as I hear about Kiana's first break ups and her friends ask me my pronoun and jr high shows me that karma is real with some of the things I said to my parents...

I keep letting go of fears as best as I know how, I suppose that's how we stopped being caveman. Though now I'm fairly claustrophobic and not a fan of the dark so perhaps facing caves more often would be good for me (I'm taking Kiana to a cave over the Christmas break). Maybe I can get what's damaged in my head to go to a different level than I'm used to. I am also not great with heights and still Christmas eve started with going up on a hot air balloon on the last used wedding gift that Elaine and I received. I didn't know much about it before going up it but it turns out just a small percentage of height can take you in different directions. The pilot wrapped up the flight by saying that it was like marriage you don't know where you're going but you do the best with what you've got. He concluded the lesson with letting us know that the first hot air balloon was torched because people thought it was out of the world. In order to be more recognized on future flights, they started waving champagne on their way down. I'll tell you that champagne helps me feel more human on occasion and it has this Christmas and I presume will on New Year's.

Due to all the wedding travel though, we didn't go anywhere and no one was here with us. It was Kiana's turn to be with her mother. So a fair share of Christmas eve and Christmas day were spent on the phone calling people who I could shout I love you to out of a car window if they were passing by but sometimes saying it softly and repeatedly is more effective. But I realized as I called people in different states and countries that home is spread more than just my property, more than just walls. I've left a little bit of home in many places and many people have left a little bit of feeling like home in me. I've been all over the world and I don't have much to show for it but I have a lot of heart and soul take it in. Turns out Dorothy was right about the sentiment that there is no place like home.

Christmas Day started with a run where we crashed into Santa sitting on a bench. Then we went out to traditional Chinese/Jewish food of going to an Asian restaurant. I've done Christmas in many places but life has been kind enough to where I've never been alone so turns out I've always been home for Christmas.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Live A Great Story

All around my hometown of Austin there are these big stickers plastered with a simple caption of 'live a great story.' I love the idea, that concept. I've been thinking about why I blog a whole lot less this year than I ever have before. I could make an easy joke about how I've got less time and space because I've been filling it with sex, drugs and rock n roll. I could tell you that now the worry is less cancer and the fact that I'm still alive to watch my daughter go through Jr High with its awkward ups and downs.

But just as in back in 2016, when the blog entries got to be half of what they used to be and now they're about half of that, it's that the intrusive brain tumor intrudes less and less into my life well there's less need to write here because after all it's own subtitle would be betrayed by that "An Incredibly Raw and Uncensored Blog of how a Guy copes and hopes with brain cancer and life changes." The MRI's moved to once a year. This year instead of spending December 8th wondering how the MRI or it's results or the neuro oncological appointment was going to go, I was sitting around a fire watching a sunset snacking on some mushrooms realizing that while my memory isn't all it used to be there were still some things making great impressions.

But I suppose another reason I haven't been blogging is the same reason I didn't blog a lot before brain cancer. This was that story specifically. I know we are in the sharing age where there's this platform for your thoughts (given the write number of characters) or that one for your pictures (as long as they're square) or that one for your links or that one that will self erase etc etc... But when I'm most honest, I know that many of my fun stories are not ones that I'm going to share on social media (like that crazy bachelor party, or some questionable financial decisions, or how my bed broke once, or some things from international trips which aren't super PC). There are ones that for better or worse I'll have an easier time telling my daughter than my mother and some that I'll likely never tell either.

Still, there are some relevant ones that I want to share. There was a time where I was going to a musical in the park, Hairspray, with a friend and her parents. I only downloaded one song, I know where I've been. Now I took them who were now my in laws and my daughter to see Evan Hansen where again I only downloaded one song, Only Us. Change is life's constant but some things have shifted and upgraded.

I'm 9 years into cancer and it was around this time I was deciding whether or not to have brain surgery. I put off brain surgery to run a marathon and then appreciated the people who walked with me afterwards. Now a friend of mine has a part of his skull missing temporarily and we have regularly gone on walks and outings. The universe balances itself out in the end I suppose.

The better part of 7 years ago, I was winning a marathon behind my daughter in a stroller and a lot of media would come. A lot of invites have come since then but among my favorite was the one into the obstacle world. A stranger soon to be friend Alex would lead me through that in Austin when he'd flown in from New York. This year I flew to Florida for his wedding celebration. I also had the chance to run with a friend on her first Spartan in her hometown in Chicago. It is the only race I've ever done with snow and ice to deal with.

Some of the media stuff still continues I suppose. I've been in some articles and am currently the ambassador for the biggest 10k in Texas, the cap10k. It seems appropriate I suppose because it's the distance I raced the most in 2019, 7 of them, placing in all of them and winning 2 outright, one on the road and one on the trail.

But the greatest racing story that I've gotten to live this year isn't that I finally broke a 3 hour marathon or the ones I've won but one in which at best I can be described as a pacer, really a spectator.

10 years ago, I ran the Decker Challenge as my first half marathon. I never thought I'd do it again as it was just supposed be a way to get to my one and only marathon. I mean I had a two year old daughter at home and I was 29, the body would be falling apart soon at 30. But I fell in love with the sport of long distance running and signed up for the next year. A little over a month before it, I got news of brain cancer but decided to do it anyway. Bibs are assigned at packet pick up and I randomly got bib 911, where both then and to this day in speeches I joked about how I didn't have to put the emergency number on the back, they put it on the front. It would be the first time I won my age group and PR'ed, a helpful thing as I absorbed the brain cancer diagnosis, realizing that maybe not everything goes down hill after you turn 30. They'd give it to me again upon request the next year but the year after that, a friend gave me the better bib, bib 8 for the kid born 8/8/80. I'd hit my PR out there once more and thought there would never come a day I'd stop running that race. It was so meaningful to me it would be where 5 years after my first one, 5 years ago, I'd retire the stroller. With each of those meaningful moments, I at first gave a glance to the thought that this race doesn't get better than this.

Still, the next 4 years I did not get to run it because I was now the President of the Austin Runners
Club and we put it on so it was set up and tear down. I got myself to believe that running the course a day or two before hand counted so that the streak would not break. But this year, at age 12, it would be Kiana's first half marathon. It is a tough hilly course and she had conviction on all of them. She never faltered and went from 121'st place at the first timing chip to 119th to 117 at the last one to 115th place over all and first female age 19 and under. She did this in a time of 1:40.26. I'd spotted her a minute a mile on her first half, she didn't need that. I've had so many good times out on that course and each time I thought it can't get better than this. Yet, each time does and let me be clear running besides her, telling her stories trying to encourage her while pushing her, just watching her grit, well this was by far my favorite.

If I ever get back to writing too much on here, it's likely because cancer has become a bit too disruptive again. I'll still write here on occasion, upon relevance but as long as I've got breath and love and hope and once in a while wine or tequila, I promise to live a great story.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Smell the Color 9

"Sometimes finding you Is just like trying to smell the color 9"

Remember, remember the 5th of November. 9 years ago almost to the minute I was having a grand mal seizure in the middle of a coworkers birthday lunch. And so the brain cancer journey, in its official capacity would begin. A cancerversary is like a birthday, what we celebrate is our delivery when we'd been developing before that but conception is a harder thing to nail down for most. I'd compared getting cancer to being born before and it still feels apt, oddly enough for a guy who never celebrates his birthday 8/8/80 but loves the number also never celebrates it but not one November 5th has gone without acknowledgement.

Everyone of them has gotten a blog entry. Last year it was a big party at my house, an above average party because I'd beaten the median survival rate of 7 years and got to my favorite number, 8 years. This year the effort of today is not as much of a celebration but as an acknowledgement. Everything that I had some say in today, everything I dream up was quieter than usual. I am hoping to play ultimate, the sport I rarely do anymore but just as pick up. I'm having lunch with people who have been there all along, some of the first to show up at the hospital. I'm actually getting very little time with Kiana unfortunately due to her being on the longest day field trip of her academic career but even when I got that notice, it kind of felt 'appropriate' as the day this all started I barely got to see her because I was trying to 'protect' her from the hospital. I am having a basic dinner where the company is more important than the meal. And I'm getting a run in. In some of that there will be some tension but that's the crux of cancer isn't it? Some of your bodies cell not doing what they are supposed to, trying to hill its host and isn't some of the body fighting against that and somewhere we put together medicine and hope and will power daring to dream that the right balance of the universe plays out?

9 is an odd number. We don't ever quite make it a big deal as multiples of 5. 8 is my number, 7 is often referred to as the perfect number. Still once I got someone a card about how they were a 9 in my book, they took the compliment as serious because it acknowledged that imperfections are acceptable but that it was better than even my own claimed number.

The reference at the beginning of this is a song which captures well how I feel. While it's someone talking about how they try to relate to God is trying to smell the color 9 , they realize that 9 is not a color and even if it were you can't smell a color. It would be incredibly dishonest, perhaps delusional to not talk about that there's rarely a day and certainly no November 5th where I make peace on that I'm one of the fortunate ones. I don't understand it. I've watched someone who beat me in a short race die so it's not the speed. I've seen someone who runs Boston every year have to go back to Duke because it grew back and they have to do more check ups so its not the long distance running. I've seen someone who makes any positivity or hope I have look dim compared to the light they shine who is having to go to Europe for experimental treatments because they aren't approve here. I've seen children pass away from this much less people who adore their children. I appreciate the kind thoughts that friends share of why the universe has been this kind to let me stay alive. I get annoyed at the platitudes from strangers about it. Ultimately I feel confused thankful and guilty when I acknowledge that I'm still here.

In the last few days before this I ran 3 races in 8 days. I won two of them, the other one I was running with Kiana where she Pr'ed but I can't decide what my favorite part of that was. Was it her holding speed or the fact that despite having a head cold and not sounding well she didn't want to slow down? She would trip about mile 8 and get up and run with tears. And for the first (and maybe I hope last) throw up shortly after crossing the finish line. I said with as much conviction as I could muster... sometimes that's supposed to happen but the pictures showed what I loved, that we somehow run perfectly in stride. I see her stubborn competitive pride get her places on runs. I also see it get her in trouble at school and with me. I don't try to change it, just channel it because maybe it's part of the reason I'm still alive.

At that same race, I got to cheer on participants as they finished in as they were participants in our distance challenge which is exactly what it sounds like, a challenge to go the Distance. Elaine is one of the participants as are a few dozen friends and a few hundred strangers. The only win for most of us (and I am doing it this year because Kiana is) is just completion, knowing we held on for a commitment. It's a few months and 5 races but you have to be there and finish. The lines aren't quite as clear with cancer but the methodology rhymes.

I'd attend a day of the dead fundraiser concert a couple of days ago. I got my face painted. In display of my manliness, I was the only adult male who got his face painted. Everyone else was children or women. The artist asked me what I wanted and I said I trusted her. She asked for my favorite color and then went with it, asking if I wanted a full face paint or just a half which she described as more traditional. Again, I repeated I trusted her and she went with more traditional. She would add a spider after having it confirmed that I wasn't afraid of them. When I saw the picture afterwards as November 5th grew nearer and I struggled with how much to embrace and how much to let go, I wondered if this was what I was 9 years later, half gone, half living. The tumor, diffuse astrocytoma, has often been described as like a spider with no clear idea of how many legs it has that sometimes grow or become independent tumors of their own. It was tempting to sleep in it even but you know it stains the sheets and one should leave staining the sheets for nights of sex, drugs and rock n roll not just made up stuff. I washed that off even if I can't cleanse all of the tumor, I am glad it's disrupting my life right now less than it has in times past whether or hat's not the case in the future. Someone asked me if I think I'm winning. Well, I think it's past the 9th inning now, so let's just go with that I won but all competitions, games, life have to end at some point. And no one will ever be able to make the case that I didn't enjoy it, share it, and try to contribute while it lasted.

I can't believe I'm still standing. Then again, I haven't been standing still. I've been running, living, loving. I won't deny all the ways cancer disrupted the course of my life but I'm competitive so I've tried to disrupt its course. It all started a long time ago and being a guy with a damaged memory, I don't remember it all. Nevertheless, I am absolutely thankful that the story is not over.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Windmills of Your Mind

Like a circle in a spiral Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending nor beginning On an ever-spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain Or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that's turning Running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping Past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find In the windmills of your mind

I have not written here in two months and one day. I don't know that I have a great answer as to why not. I mean maybe I finally found the right balance of sex, drugs and rock n roll to where I don't need the therapeutic blogging as much help. There have been some good days since that marathon that I pledged I wouldn't write what the time was (and I'm keeping that pledge) but I will tell you that something I loved from that race that I said my favorite start line was the next one and so because there was one for the half at 13.1, one for the 10k at 20 and one for the 5k at 23.1, I restarted my watch each time and actually did not know what my total time was until I was at the last finish line. That was a good life lesson. 

Cancer is not nor will it ever be irrelevant to my life. I mean I'm not kidding myself as to that it still scares me and that running and how cancer is related will be tied to my story at all times. I'm honest with that; it is why about a week after that marathon I came back to do the brain power race, a race I've done in all 9 years of its existence, the only person to do that. I took 3rd place on the 10k, hurting and sore that at 39 I'm holding a faster pace than at 31 but it also hurts more. Still, I always cross finish lines with a bit of a dance pep in my step. 

There were some non cancer running, watching my daughter Kiana start cross country. Elaine, Kiana and I are all doing this year's version of the Distance Challenge which will include Kiana's first half marathon. It's a loop that was my first half marathon in 2009, 10 years before Kiana's and that Kiana has done before in her last race in a stroller in 2014, 5 years ago. It's a big loop around Decker lake with some serious rises and falls that make you think what the hill quite often. 

And then there was the Livestrong 5.12 Brunch race two weeks after that got me shouting I got nothing but love for you baby. I won that and then enjoyed good food and drinks afterwards. Still unlike every other picture of me that has occurred for quite a while I wasn't wearing the Livestrong wristband. There are still plenty of shirts and decorations but that Distance Challenge comes with its own wristband and I traded a long sitting one for a temporary one. 

It was a clean moment but not necessarily a clean decision. Livestrong is focused on some re-branding right now and has changed headquarters down to its resizing. I know less of the staff as well and some of the specific ways they helped are not as much a part of the program. My loyalty has always been to people not some idea but I still look to them and feel life and love. Perhaps its just coincidence but within a couple of days of removing it (and I still have it in a very safe and important place, the Grand Canyon box) I happened to be running by the park where the Livestrong video was filmed and every single bit of playground equipment was being torn down. Within a day of that, Livestrong staff emailed me that they were throwing out the banner of the picture of me and Kiana because it wasn't really the rebranding but they felt bad throwing it out and offered it to me. I politely refused as I'm not sure what I would do with a gigantic banner of me... But it was odd for it all happen within a few days of each other. 

This was also the first time ever I missed the Livestrong challenge since I got the cancer diagnosis. This was due to being at a wedding in California. I had signed up and the hardest part of missing it was not missing the bike ride but missing people who come into town for that. Still the last few things I did before heading out of town was hearing someone speak that was in town for a health conference that I met at a Spartan due to both of us being in the media and then going and having lunch with some of the Livestrong leaders that were in town early. I had a moment who was doing her first century at a Livestrong Challenge and maybe felt I would be properly represented... at least until she told me she did it faster than I did mine ;). The smartest thing I ever said was in that video, you have to work on the relationships you want to keep. While I was in that wedding in California, I met with friends from half a lifetime ago. I can live and die with relationships being the primary driver of my life. But that video reflects on my divorce so obviously relationships themselves can die. 

I spoke recently at the University of Texas encouraging students to run for the 7th year in a row. I took out some of my lamer jokes and put in a couple of new ones and some nods and it went well. I've gotten to speak at corporate events, elementary events, middle school ones, high school ones, medical ones, cancer ones, running ones but somehow the college ones are high in the pecking order because college kids aren't easily impressed nor particularly polite if you aren't delivering. The day before I won a Halloween half marathon and I cracked the joke that other people had costumes but I had dressed as the winner. Not really that great of a joke but I had made enough other good ones to where it got some laughs. 

I recently got announced as the ambassador to the Cap10k, in it's 43 year. I'm in full page ads and press releases and lifesize posters. Two years ago it was an Olympic silver medalist, last year it was a gold medalist and this year they went with an international man of mystery, me (the mystery being why they chose me). Last year, despite its long history, it was the first time it fell apart due to rain. I went out there and helped clean up because isn't that what you're supposed to do when people you care about are in the middle of a mess? There's something about what you do when things are rained out and how you handle it afterwards that matters no? The honest truth is I hope this year is awesome and somewhere the race and I can rub some of each other's come back kid attitude. 

I've joked about retirement for years. Elaine mocks that because by that I mean trying to figure out a way to get back to typical employment, not how most people define retirement. I say well in April maybe as I pick my nose on a poster of me and have some fun with it, this public eye thing will cease and it will all come full circle with it being in the first and biggest race I've done in Austin. It would only be a few months after where the first place that invited me to speak (UT) and the first race that invited me for a paid speech (Pocatello) have had me back. I want to believe that it's all come to a full balanced circle, romanticize it a bit. I listen to the song quoted here at the beginning and realize its never ending nor beginning on an ever spinning real. I think I've gotten plenty wrong and plenty right and maybe in the next spin at the right Leon spot I'll improve, the circumstances will line up. It took me almost a decade to hit my initial goal time in the marathon and I've still never gotten good weather for it. A lot of the more important things in life are far more complex than putting one foot in front of each other, or so I try to say in a simple and practical fashion.

But that of course is not how the universe works. I know just by watching Kiana grow up. I've long said parenting kept getting purely more fun from birth but that would come with a break. Jr High the brakes have come. I'm not saying it's not still fun but there are moments where I am remembering some of the actions and attitude I took towards my parents in Jr High and boy is karma real. 

Keys that jingle in your pocket
Words that jangle in your head
Why did summer go so quickly?
Was it something that I said?
Lovers walk along the shore
And leave their footprints in the sand
Is the sound of distant drumming
Just the fingers of your hand?
Pictures hanging on a hallway
or the fragment of a song,
half-remembered names and faces
but to whom do they belong?

Still I can't help but reflect on the last two months even if I've been less faithful about writing some of it down. I assure you it won't be as long before I write again as the one day that gets faithful acknowledgement is just a few days away, the 5th of November, the day this cancer journey started. This blog won't be ending anytime soon I hope, the memories will keep coming but fading too and the windmills of my mind will take the wind to move and hopefully produce useful energy. I'm thankful I still have a mind, a heart, a soul and thankful they keep finding ways both to wake up and rest and be restless on some days. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Unmoved Mover

We all have ways to explain the universe. Many of us find our own ways adequate enough to at least get some sleep at night. But I have long struggled with the perception, projection of the unmoved mover. Aristotle started it trying to make sense of the simple laws of motion, that somethings move us but where were they moved from and ultimately concluding that a logical reasoning deduced an originator, a god/God that somehow was exempt.

I see this in my cancer world ("my cancer world" ... I wish I could explain that better) as we survivors deal with our mortality. Humans, the vast majority of us, are in denial of it; something I've seen on deathbeds. The unmoved mover is sometimes death itself, something that the fear and stakes we put on it doesn't seem to be with the force itself, or is life the force. Others have played with a concept that perhaps it was all one long cycle and therefore needed to be no originator; I've tried to never accept that as that's literally circular reasoning.

Why do we let the inevitable like death mess with us so much? And when we're truly honest for most of us is the thought of our own deaths or the thought of others harder to take? Why are we so often moved less by so much of life? I have turned 39 since the last time I wrote here, which now puts me less than 1 year away from the age, 40, that statistically I was not likely to reach. I avoid hubris and I don't want to be Icarus burned especially in the Texas summer sun but the even though the sun is also a star, the night ones seem closer now, a little brighter.

I've been doing a few more things in the cancer world perhaps because I'm a little less scared of it, some in groups, some one on one. While I was in Wyoming with TNT, I made a decision to make a conscious set of thoughts on a particular point in a familiar route that I've done at least weekly since returning. Tonight I am in Pocatello Idaho just having finished the speech of my favorite start line which like my favorite race is a simple answer, "the next one." It's the first marathon that invited me to speak after all the media and there was I talking about the race I won etc, and how I was focused to make sure that I die trying. But when I came the first time I came alone with no ability to drive. This time I came with my wife and I had friends here from back then and since then from other places. I took a rental car to the state fair the race director had been kind enough to take me to last time. I drove to a part of town to just walk around. I gave a speech where I didn't focus on my times or my wins but on just realizing that continuing to get to start lines is why it matters.

The last time I was in Pocatello I would qualify for Boston, PR. I didn't sleep well the night before. In fact I got up and wrote half this blog entry in the middle of the night to try to clear my head. Shall we call it progress that I'm writing this one before the race even starts because I just shared a conversation that for the vast majority of us, in regards to races, the journey to the start line often matters more than the journey from the start to the finish line of the race itself? I spend more time in my speech talking about why I put off brain surgery to run a marathon than I do talking about the 26.2 miles, I spend more time about why and how my mom started running, about how and why I started running with Kiana in a stroller than I do about the Gusher Marathon win. So suffice it to say that while there's a bib on me and my body is physically capable I'll always be competing, I'll always be trying to PR but right now I can't imagine ever writing about a finishing time in here and I'm going to focus on the start line. It feels particularly appropriate here because I found out after the speech that while the start line remains the same, the path to the finish line is not.

I do not think there are any unmoved movers, at least not any healthy ones. Death is an unmoved mover but death is the absence of light just as darkness is the absence of light. Its not it's own entity. I think even the creator of the universe has to be a moved mover because how could he create the beauty of life without being moved? Perhaps I'm romanticizing it too much but if someone messes with me and the connection isn't moving them back... that's not a dynamic I want to be a part of. I took pictures of some clouds from the plane coming in and thought that I've looked at clouds from both sides now from give and take and still somehow it's cloud's illusions I recall.

I have only ran 2 marathons in the last 3 years, this will be the first time since 2015 that I run 2 in one year because somehow I've never entirely shaken being the cancer guy that runs marathons but I think my own speech today may have moved me to  just focus on the start line and that retirement already came when I broke 3 but that retirement just means on the clock. So at least for tomorrow's marathon, no matter how good or how bad it goes, in this blog which is the last thing I intend to read before I die, the place where the most important things go either straight written out or have nods that I hope trigger the right confessions into my memory, whatever time I hit tomorrow will never ever be written out. Every marathon has a theme song I listen to as I prepare and this time it's the one from Hamilton Hurricane due to a couple of lines:

In the eye of a hurricane There is quiet
For just a moment A yellow sky

I'll write my way out Overwhelm them with honesty 

And the honesty is that what matters about tomorrow's race is that I'm still here, still somehow getting invited to share a story with strangers and with friends and more importantly still getting to live it.
Appropriately enough shortly after finishing a speech about the start line, I head to Wyoming immediately after the race where the exercise that conscious thinking came into view with a little bit of good luck. I've been running marathons for nearly a decade now, just a little longer than I've had cancer but in dealing with both, with life, with love, I'm going to try to take it as fine wine and let it improve with age, take it in and let it move me.