Truth in Motion

When half of your hobbies involve getting outside and moving, fatigue and forced rest can make the days quite boring.  Summer weather has finally arrived in Holland, which is what makes living in Michigan worth it in the first place, thus making it even more painful to be confined to the couch and out of the sun.  I’ve been trying to fill my empty schedule by reading, writing, and walking more, but it doesn’t seem to be enough.

Almost exactly a year ago, I just returned home from Ohio after finishing 4 triathlons in 3 days.  And I’m supposed to just walk more to keep up with that kind of life-balance?element

On Saturday I had to get out and went on my first group ride of the year.  It was a large group of nearly 30, so the pace was high and there wasn’t much time to recover after the sprints.  I tucked into the pack and tried to follow wheels, which worked all the way until we hit Beeline hill and my lungs exploded and I got shot out the back.  Limit found.

Sunday brought the hottest day of the year (not really that hot), and I laid low most of the day, but still had the urge to get out while the weather was nice, so I headed to the lighthouse with my camera.  It’s refreshing how the temperature drops 10 degrees in the short 15 minute bike ride to the lake, and I sauntered along the pier for awhile watching boats come in and out of the channel.  Mostly coming in, as a storm was starting to brew over the lake.  It quickly gained steam in the hour or so I was out there, so I didn’t get to stay as long as I’d hoped.  But I did take this on the ride home:south shore drive

I think my camera might weigh as much as my bike.

At work, our fiscal year ends on Friday, and because we can’t carry over any extra vacation days – use ’em or lose ’em – I worked Monday morning, and that’s it.  I had been saving them to go somewhere far far away earlier in the month, but I’ve sort of had to stay close to medical attention, if you namean.  After getting my blood checked again (this time just a finger prick instead of a needle in the arm), I went home early and, feeling recovered from the hard ride on Saturday, decided to join the Monday night ride that leaves from the aquatic center.

Anytime I have time for a 30+ mile ride ride, my favorite route is the “Hutchins Lake loop”.  And because it’s not dark until 10pm this time of year, we had more than enough light, and I set out with the medium paced group for the 40 miles the route requires.  Last year I could hang with the fast group, but I’m not ready to flog myself that much yet.  The route has a good combination of quiet roads, a handful of hills (relative to the rest of western Michigan), and changing scenery that starts with freshly planted corn fields, goes past fields of hay, maybe a blueberry farm or two, and then swings around further south by apple orchards and finally the Fenn Valley vineyards.sunset red

It’s probably not the same as riding through Napa Valley or Tuscany, but you know what, it ain’t half bad either.  The route then dips down around Hutchins Lake before heading back north past more corn fields and over Kalamazoo River in New Richmond.  More cornfields and the rest of the way home.

The group I was riding with went just the right pace, trading pulls nicely, and although it was clear there was a wide variety of experience among the riders, I felt comfortable, and I think if you looked back at me at any point during the ride, I probably had a huge grin across my face.  Even during the last couple climbs into town when my legs and lungs gave out, I was smiling.  It was truly the best I’ve felt in 2 months, riding along the asphalt with nothing but the sound of rubber on road and chains whirring around cassettes.  It was better than the ride on Saturday by an order of magnitude, and no matter how tired I was at the end, I was glowing.  I felt completely connected with my new bike, and I can cycle again!  (At least every other week after I’ve recovered from chemo.)

Tuesday showed up with more good weather, though a little cooler, and legs that weren’t too tired, so after bumming around all day watching cycling in the morning and going to the coffee shop and reading about cycling in the afternoon, I joined the Tuesday night ride that leaves from the bike shop downtown.

I had to eschew the fast group again and settle into the much bigger mild-paced group, which can sometimes be hit or miss.  There’s a lot of less experienced riders in that pack, and riding next to some of them makes me nervous.  Let’s just say there are people I avoid and actively staying clear of.

But, as always, riding in some sort of group is easier, and 35 miles later (different, less-notable-but-still-good route), I was just as happy as Monday.  A not too difficult ride just to get my road legs under me again and have the wind flow over my skin.  It will be awhile until I can really hammer again, but for now, I think rides like these will do.  It’s the best drug I know.  It’s therapy.

She needs a name

sometimes i spoil myself

At the beginning of March, before I had a lump take residence in my neck, I ordered a new bike.  A custom fit, carbon fiber bike, which is damn sexy if I must say so myself.  After a few delays waiting for parts from Taiwan and the fact that I haven’t exactly been able to ride a bike for awhile, it was all built up and I finally picked it up last Thursday.  I had Friday off of work, and for once my legs weren’t wet noodles, so I went for my first ride it what seems like ages.

It took a little to settle into a rhythm and remember how to ride smooth, but I survived an hour on the quiet roads south of Holland, and only stopped because I didn’t want to push things too far.  I’ve never ridden a bike that jumps like that when I stand up to pedal.  I can’t wait to get out again, but Monday was my 3rd round of chemo, and I’m in no shape to do that right now.

It was also my first checkup with my oncologist, and I guess all things considered, everything’s going about as well as it can.  My bone marrow biopsy was negative, my blood work isn’t too bad except for my white blood cells counts, and the physical side effects of all the toxins I’m being fed aren’t as bad as they could be.  And I still haven’t lost my hair, but my nurse assured me, “this next dose will take care of that”.  The plan is to get another PET scan in about 3 months to see how much cancer has been killed, and until then, just to continue with chemo and recovery as normal.  I like to tell myself that my body is handling this all relatively well because I was so healthy beforehand, but I really have no idea if there’s any truth to that.  It just feels good to rationalize it like that.

I spent the weekend with family in Ohio for Lydia’s graduation, and it’s hard to imagine that my own college graduation was 3 years ago already.  Sometimes it feels like I haven’t done much growing up in that time.  All those existential questions that new grads face, I have yet to solve any of them.

Stories

To start, go here and read the text of Jesus Montaño’s excellent commencement address he gave at Hope this past weekend.  Montaño has had a large impact on my life relative to the short amount of time I actually had class with him.  Life lessons he’s taught me (whether directly or indirectly) include how to be a better photographer, how to be alone and enjoy it, the importance of staying actively creative no matter what your day job is, and the theme of his speech: stories need to be told.

This is largely why I’ve kept a blog of some form for the past 8 years or so.  It’s why I share so many photos.  It’s why I tweet.  It’s why I share a lot online.  I enjoy reading the personal stories that others blog as well, and wish more people shared, but I realize that it’s not for everyone.  Some prefer to share stories over a beer, or on a road trip, or at a meal, or (ugh) over the telephone.  Some people are excellent storytellers in person but maybe not so great in writing.  A lot of people actively try not to share things online, which I can sort of understand, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

So anyway, here’s a recent story for you.

Most mornings in May I sit at my desk and watch the Giro in either Italian or English, depending on which feed wants to load best on that particular day.  I don’t know more than a handful of words in Italian, but it’s good background noise, and you can still sense tension in the announcers’ voices when things get exciting – my cue to make the tab with the video active and watch for a bit.  Other necessary tabs for viewing include a text ticker of the race, a chat forum/thread, Twitter, and a gchat window with Abe, who’s usually watching along with me.

On Monday, as stage 3 wound it’s way down a mountainside towards the Italian coast, I remarked to Abe how unsafe I would feel riding along in a team car following the race.  Tires squealing, brakes smoking, race and team radios blaring, riders needing spare food or a new wheel – driving in the caravan takes skill.  Down the mountain the riders in the peloton looked so much smoother, strung out it a single file line, able to use the full width of the road and lean there bikes into each corner, nonchalantly clipping the apex of each turn.  Only needing to fling their 16 pound bikes around each bend instead of 2 tons of steel, everything just seemed to flow.

No longer.

At one point as I shuffled between tabs and windows to check in on the video, a rider had crashed.  Filling the frame was the all-white medic’s car parked on the side of the road, doctors huddled around the rider laying on the ground.  Team cars gingerly worked their way around the situation to continue following the race.  The video cut to a shot of Wouter Weylandt laying on the pavement, unconscious, as medics were cutting off his helmet.  The shot couldn’t have lasted more than 5 seconds, but it’s burned into my retinas.

His jersey was fully unzipped, making it hard to tell who had fallen or even what team they were on at first.  But one thing was immediately apparent – something was off, and this was serious.  Blood was streaming out his nose and down his right cheek.  It came out in pulses.  And then whoever was directing the video production recognized the same and cut back to the front of the race, tactfully never showing Wouter again.

CPR was started immediately, adrenaline was given.  The medics couldn’t have been at the scene any faster.  And on Monday, Wouter Weylandt died with a fractured skull on a shady road in Italy, and I literally saw his final breaths and heartbeats live on my computer screen.  And it’s fucked up.  And I couldn’t function the rest of the day.

I went out for lunch, and sat alone and stared out the window and ate and shed tears for a cyclist I’ve never met.  My thoughts on mortality have certainly shifted dramatically in the past couple months.  Three weeks ago from Monday I was hunched over in my doctor’s office with a fever, struggling to simply breathe, nervously waiting to hear how I could be made better.  Going into the appointment, I was worried I wouldn’t start chemo until the next week, by which time I’d have the port in my chest.  I was more worried I wouldn’t even last a week – each day it was getting more and more laborious to breathe.  Luckily, chemo drugs were flowing into my arm less than 24 hours later, and I’ve been feeling relatively better since.

But on Monday, like every Monday for who knows how long, I had to get blood drawn, to make sure my body is still functioning properly.  I looked over my blood test results from last week again, and it’s frightening to see certain values and how low they are.  I’d misread it the first time.  Nine of the 16 values on the printout were flagged because they were out of the healthy reference range.  My white blood cell count is a number on a paper that reminds me how a slight infection could take me down.

Cyclists die around the world every day.  There are certain risks I accept every time I head out the door on two wheels.  We’ve all crashed before and continued to get back on the next day and pedal.  And maybe because of that, my imagination can fill in the gaps of what I watched all too vividly.  Wouter’s biggest career win was Stage 3 of the 2010 Giro.  He died on Stage 3 of the 2011 Giro at the age of 26, and I watched it happen.  It’s not supposed to be this way.

sick to my stomach

Tulip Time

repetitionHow many different ways are there to photograph tulips?  I’m getting kind of bored of shooting them.  Last year during Tulip Time I just used my 50mm and opened it as wide as it goes for some nice results, but as I walked around today with my 15-85mm zoom, I wasn’t very inspired.  Maybe it’s because half the flower beds have yet to bloom, or maybe I need the windmill in the background to keep things interesting, but something seems off.

The Giro d’Italia kicked off this morning, so instead of cheering on the 10k/5k runners passing by the street corner (it was an 8k last year, which I ran and got a cheesy medal for winning my age group), I was inside watching cycling.  After the stage finished, I swung my own leg over the top tube on my bike for my first ride of any kind in about 6 weeks.  I soft pedaled downtown to enjoy the weather, eat some fried dough, and people watch, and besides, I probably wasn’t going to find any parking closer than my driveway anyway.  Even pedaling the 2 miles to Centennial Park left my legs tired, heavy, and weak, comparable to what a 40 mile ride would feel like last summer.  But it felt good to move again.

I finally tore apart and rebuilt my computer, so it works and I’m not stuck feeling extra-isolated at home alone, which feels really good.  I can finally process photos again, and I’m hoping that the fireworks tonight don’t get rained out, because I then might capture something more exciting than tulips.

Hair Loss

My doctor told me that my hair should fall out within the next week or so, but I’m not ready.  I think a lot of people with cancer struggle with body image issues, I just didn’t think that I’d be the one to be so nervous about losing my hair, especially considering the fact that as a swimmer I shaved every square inch of my body (except my eyebrows and what a Speedo covered) multiple times.  I guess it’s that this time, when I don’t have any hair, and it’s out of my control, the secret with be out, so to speak, and it’ll be harder to blend in with a crowd and pretend nothing’s wrong.

I have a slightly irrational fear that that’ll mean I’ll have to explain what cancer’s like to every acquaintance that happens to walk by and say hello, and to be honest, I really prefer to talk about anything but cancer if at all possible, especially if it’s someone I’m not all that close to.  I’m sure I’ll be over it all in no time, but it’s still an unexpected source of anxiety to wonder, every single day, when I scratch my head or play with my hair and think, “Is this the day my hair will leave me in clumps?”

I think I may just buzz as much hair off as I can tonight anyway.

The 2nd round of chemo hasn’t treated me nearly as bad as the first, but I’m still trying to figure out exactly how my body handles it all.  I’m fatigued, but not as bad as last time where I was mostly incapacitated.  I was very flushed on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I’m not sure why or how that all works.  I felt warm, but not feverish-warm, and my skin looked a bit like I had a sunburn.  It was slightly uncomfortable, but not painful.  The metallic taste in my mouth didn’t kick in until today, and hopefully will only stick around for a few more days.  So it goes.

Everything tastes like metal

Well, not all the time, but the few days after chemo it does – to the point where rinsing my mouth with salt water and baking soda is refreshing and a wonderful thing.  I look forward to it.

Anyway, last week was a good week.  Not a whole lot to update you on.  Plus, the PSU on my computer at home died and I’m still waiting for UPS to figure out how to leave a package of spare computer parts at my door, hence the lack of writing (and photos) lately.  I felt mostly on top of things, and aside from getting blood drawn on Monday, I didn’t even have any other medical related appointments.  I haven’t exactly been jumping around like a ball of energy, but I’m thinking maybe in another week I’ll be able to climb back on my bike and go for an easy ride.  Plus, it rained all of last week, so after coming home from work every day I felt validated watching a lot of TV.

I just got back from my 2nd round of chemo.  All the drugs got injected through the fancy new port in my chest, which was much more pleasant than an IV in my arm.  If things go roughly the same as last time, I’ll be tired as a dog on Wednesday, so we’ll see how I react this time.  I have plenty of DVDs and books and magazines to pass the time.

One more thing – I read through the printout of all my blood values from today (which they need to make sure they didn’t need to adjust my chemo dosage), and from my extensive reading of doping in cycling, I actually know what some of the values mean.  For instance, my hematocrit was 40.7%, which is a little low, and downright pitiful compared to cyclists who used EPO.  Just interesting to see how I compare.