and the cardinal hits the window

I am one of the lucky ones.

At my first meeting with my oncologist back in April, I had a list of questions to ask, the most important of which was, how soon can I start chemo?  I hadn’t had surgery to put the port in my chest yet, and my worries were 1) I would have to wait until after I had the port, and 2) that if I had to wait that long, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to breathe on my own by the end of the week.  My lungs were running out of space to expand, filling with liquid, and my windpipe was getting smaller every day.

I’m a frequent reader of the webcomic xkcd.com, which as the header says, is about romance, sarcasm, math, and language.  Usually it’s nerdy jokes for engineers and programmers like myself, but every once in a while it takes a serious turn.  The first comic he posted after I got the results from my initial CT scan was this one, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I bawled my eyes out in the car on my drive in to work that morning.  You can read about survival rates til the cows come home, but in the end, it does nothing to help, and just makes you feel like another data point on a graph – which is technically true, but not comforting (as a Baseball Prospectus writer recently discovered).

Whoever coined the term “fighting cancer” must not have had cancer themselves.  Fighting is an active verb, and gives the idea that as if by sheer willpower you can make a difference.  In reality, you endure cancer – you sit back and take it – and you hope and let the chemo do the fighting.  But not everyone is lucky enough to let chemo and radiation get to work.

we're going backwards now

Yesterday, I had my 8th round of chemo at the clinic in Holland.  My mom and I kept our minds occupied by watching episodes of Modern Family and playing Scrabble.  I have to say, it was the quickest and easiest round I’ve had yet – I was in and out in 2.5 hours.  And more than anything, I’m thankful that my appointment was earlier in the morning than usual.  Shortly after we finished a light lunch at Panera, my mom got a call that Mary DeYoung was going to be taken off of her ventilator at the hospital in Grand Rapids.

Her cancer grew so fast that she didn’t have enough time to start radiation or chemotherapy.  We got to the ICU in time to see her one last time, before I had to force myself to step out into the hallway and watch the monitor in the nurses’ station show her heart rate from from 82 beats per minute, to 60, to 40, to 31, to a flat line.

And we cried, and cried, and cried until out tear ducts dried up, and then cried some more.

I am one of the lucky ones.

In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window

In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March, on the holiday
I thought I saw you breathing

All the glory that the Lord has made
And the complications when I see His face
In the morning in the window

All the glory when He took our place
But He took my shoulders and He shook my face
And He takes and He takes and He takes

Notes from a swinging chair overlooking Lake Michigan

I stubbed my big toe pretty badly a few nights ago.  I’ve been hobbling around on one leg, hoping that my toenail would just fall off already and provide some relief, to no avail.  Sometimes I think my tolerance for pain needs to be recalibrated.

I went to the ER late last night to finally get some help, and after 2 hours of waiting, a few X-rays, explaining all my other health issues, and noting how the grain direction of the drawer front of a cabinet was “incorrect” and bothering me (I’m such a furniture nerd), I left with a prescription for an antibiotic that should take care of the cellulitis (bacteria infection on the skin) and reduce the swelling.

And probably cause diarrhea.

In the meantime, I can’t run, or swim, or bike, or really do anything but keep my foot elevated.  So I’m reading, catching up on writing, shedding a tear that the best Tour de France I’ve ever watched is over.i can see why you'd want to live here

Holland Hundred

For all the races and events I’ve done in the past few years, there’s actually only one that I’ve managed to prioritize enough to not miss every year – the Holland Hundred.  It’s not a race, but a casual ride through country roads in Allegan county with several rest stops for food and water and where everyone starts whenever they get to the start.  The result is a long parade of riders all going at their own speeds; It’s really just a chance to ride with others for most of a Saturday without having to worry about finding food for yourself.

Riding 100 miles in a day is really not as impressive of a feat as I think a lot of people make it out to be, but it’s  not something that’s’ very enjoyable without a little preparation.  Three years ago, I was just getting into cycling, and since work sponsors the event and that year it started and ended at the park across the street from where I lived, I took advantage of the free entry and support and gave it my best shot with Abe.  Beforehand, our longest ride was in the neighborhood of 45 miles, but we were ambitious, and maybe a little stupid.  It rained for roughly the first 4 hours of the ride.  When we passed Hutchins Lake, I remember thinking about riding right off the road and into the lake as I was sure I’d be drier that way.  I experienced my first bonk, somehow managed to finish upright, and then swore that I’d be better prepared for the next year.

And we were.  In a mostly non eventful century ride the next year, Abe and I comfortably finished much faster – and actually enjoyed – the ride.

Year three saw me in the best cycling shape of my life, and I bribed my roommate to join me by saying I’d let him draft off me the whole way.  That resulted in a slow ride, which left me with some achy joints by the finish, but again, more enjoyable than not.

This year, with nothing really left to prove, I was debating if I was going to ride the full 100 miles or take the optional 67 mile route.  There was no real motivation to ride the entire thing aside from the fact that I really like to ride bikes (and if a 2 hour ride is fun, a 6 hour ride should be 3x as fun, right?).  I was feeling confident from my 83 mile ride a few weeks ago, but that was after 2 weeks of recovery from chemo, not one, like I’d have for the Holland Hundred.  I let the conditions of the day dictate how far I’d go, and if I wasn’t feeling strong enough, I could take any number of shortcuts on the route and save my body.

I rolled out from the start at the same time as Jim (the guy I bought my bike from) and a few other strong Jade riders, so I decided to suck their wheels and get an easy and fast lift for a long as I could hold on.  After 45 miles of hiding in their draft, I was feeling good and ahead of schedule (I think we averaged about 21mph) and the heat of the day hadn’t hit yet, but they were only doing the 67 mile route.  So where the routes split, I kept on heading south while they turned north.

I spent the rest of the ride at an easier pace with one other guy and few others who came and went.  After the final rest stop, and with only 10 miles to go, the midday heat picked up and the wind got taken out of my sails as fast as it rushed out of my back tire.  What should have been a 3 minute tire change took about 10 or 15 minutes due to muscles that were (finally) starting to feel fatigued and a frustratingly tight tire that was difficult to mount back onto the rim.

Finally, I did finish, to absolutely no fanfare, but to much happiness, which I must still partially attribute to this honeymoon phase I’m still in with my new bike.  (Ride details: Part 1Part 2)ICSWYWTLH #2

pure michigan

It’s been a slow week.  Each day the sun hangs in the sky for an extra breathe, an MJ-esque hangtime, refusing to follow its natural course and bring an end to the day.  I had my 7th round of chemo on Monday, which should technically mean I’m more than halfway done.  After 4 hours at the clinic getting blood drawn, seeing my oncologist, getting drugs pumped into me, and one case of the nurse remarking “Oh, I know why it’s [the infusion pump] is beeping. That’s the wrong bag”, I had the chance to meet up with Kristi, who finally made it back to Holland, and sample some of the best food in town (not saying much).

My next PET-CT scan is coming up in a couple weeks.  Based on how things have been progressing, the scan should show that the cancer is pretty much all gone, but I’m not counting my eggs before they hatch, and until I see from the test results that the cancer is indeed in remission, it’s hard to relax.  If that’s the case, which is likely, I’ll have a couple more months of chemo just to make sure it’s all gone.  If that’s not the case, my chemo cocktail would change to something “significantly more toxic”.  I didn’t bother to ask what that meant.  Sometimes, questions aren’t necessary.  Either way, after I’m done with chemo, I’ll have radiation treatments everyday for about 4 weeks.  No idea how that’ll affect me.

Except for watching the Tour every morning at my desk, the rest of the week has been mostly forgettable.  No energy, can’t taste anything, flush skin, and to top it off, finding out the bad news of another person who just got diagnosed with cancer.  There must be something in the water.  Water that I can hardly even choke down at the moment.hdr adirondack

time goes on

Run…ning…

On Monday, I finally laced up my running shoes and went for a jog with my sister – the first time I’ve run since mid-March.  It was a a semi-short run, around 3 miles, but about as far as my running legs can carry me at the moment.  It felt good most of the time, but the next day my newly-used muscles let me know that I have some work to do.

Back in February, my brother Matt and I signed up for the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington DC at the end of October.  At the time, my dream was to spend the summer training and possibly run fast enough to qualify for Boston in October, which would mean running a 3:10 marathon.  Obviously, that goal got derailed pretty quickly.  BUT, I’m still planning on running (maybe walking) and finishing it this year, cancer be damned, no matter how long it takes me.  I know what it takes to train for marathon, and maybe more importantly, what it’s like to try and and extend yourself to finish one without properly training.  I ran the Grand Rapids marathon in 2009 with my longest training run totalling out at 14 miles.  It was painful, to say the least, but I learned a ton, and I have no regrets.

They say you can’t sign up for your next marathon until you forget the last one.

The other week, I had a friend ask me what the appeal of a full marathon really was.  And I drew a blank.  What’s wrong with just running a few miles every day and leaving it at that?  I don’t know.  I don’t really remember what motivated me to sign up for the Marine Corp Marathon in the first place.  I think maybe I needed something hard.  Something that would keep me focused and a difficult goal to work towards.  If I rediscover what the attraction of the marathon is in the training process and can put it into words, I’ll share it here, but for now, I can’t remember what I’m doing this for.  Meanwhile, I’m reminded of a couple quotes by Yvon Chouinard: “The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning, you didn’t even think to ask.”

“So it’s kind of like the quest for the holy grail, well you know, who gives a shit about what the holy grail is, it’s the quest that’s important. The transformation is within yourself, that’s what’s important.”

“You get to the top of a wall, there’s nothing up there. Lionel Terray, the great French climber called it ‘The conquistadors of the useless.’ Yeah, the end result is absolutely useless, but every time I travel, I learn something new and hopefully I get to be a better person.”

Whatever it is inside me that’s itching to run a marathon, I can’t put a finger on it, but it feels like something I have to do.  I’ll figure out why it’s important along the way.

Which brings me to my next point.  In addition to running the Marine Corp Marathon with my brother (and cousin and cousin-in-law, who I just learned are also running it), my sister and a few of my cousins have decided to run the Chicago Marathon and raise money for lymphoma research.  I can’t describe how meaningful it feels to have others get up and run for 26.2 miles for me when they wouldn’t have done it alone.

I continue to believe that – barring injury – anyone can finish a marathon if they are willing to work for it, and so I’m looking forward cheering them along during every mile in Chicago in October.  So, if you want to help, I implore you to donate money to their Team in Training pages, even if it’s only $5:

Lydia

Susan

Caryn

Kim

And I can say how, directly, even though Hodgkin’s lymphoma is treatable and has a high cure rate, recent research into cancer drugs has made my treatment more pleasant that it used to be.  I mentioned to my oncologist a month ago that I was a little nauseous from the chemo, so for the last couple rounds, I’ve gotten a new anti-nausea drug that only came out on the market a couple years ago.  I don’t remember what it’s called, but it works, and as a result, chemo sucks just a little less.north by north