Sunday Mornings

I struggled deciding between a long run and a long ride.  Two weeks ago, riding won out, and I spent the morning soaking up the completely empty roads for a few hours accompanied by only my own thoughts.  I counted fewer than a dozen cars that passed me on the road for the first two hours of the ride.  The advantage is mine when nearly everyone else in the area is busy shifting their weight in uncomfortable pews in church.  My sanctuary is outside, in the fresh air, an extra dose of Vitamin D.

In the winter, when the roads are unpassable by bike, I particularly enjoy running through the streets in town as families shuffle in and out of church with pained expressions on their faces.  They never embrace the icy cold like I do.

I’ve biked enough lately that I can tackle just about any course with little preparation, but as a result, my running mileage has been low.  So this morning I set out for a long run (not really that long) to build up the necessary muscles to run a marathon in two months.  To hopefully run a marathon in two months.  I’ll be in the midst of radiation treatments then, and I have no idea how my body will react to that, but I’m worried.  By all accounts, I’ve taken chemotherapy as well as physically possible, but radiation will be every day for 4 weeks, with no time to recover between doses like with chemo.  There’s no use in worrying about it now, but still, I’m worried that I’m going to be in rougher shape than I am now.

The best thing I have going for me confidence-wise, is that I ran my first ever marathon without following a training plan and never having run further than 14 miles.  It was a painful marathon, and I don’t recommend following that method, but it was doable, and it’s opened up my mind to what I once thought was impossible.

So I ran a peaceful 8-ish miles this morning.  Simply in my new lightweight running shoes, skimpy running shorts, and sunglasses.  No shirt necessary (summer isn’t over yet!)  I passed a group doing yoga by the water in Kollen Park.  I passed no one at all around Windmill Island.  The roads, sidewalks, everything, still seemed asleep (or at church, or asleep at church).

There was an classic boat show setting up next to Centennial Park.  Some beautiful wooden hulls on display.

The run itself was comfortable.  I didn’t worry or think about pacing or technique, but just tried to stay relaxed and let my legs turn over.  To the point where it would almost take more effort to stop my legs from running that it would to keep them tapping out a tempo.  It was never “painful”.

Upon returning home, I was surprised to find out that I’d actually set a personal best time on that familiar route.  Last year, I logged most of my runs online, and when running the same routes, it’s easy to compare times.  Was I that slow last year?  Am I actually in better shape than I think I am this year?  I ran a relatively modest 8:26 min/mile pace this morning, and it felt – not easy – but certainly not hard.  I only stopped when I did because I’m wary of running too far too soon.  Better to build up the mileage at a steady rate.

And yet, combined with a wonderful sprint ride yesterday morning, and my run this morning, I’m riding a natural high.  Let’s see how long it lasts.

don't settle

Still learning

After a quick day trip on a perfect afternoon in Chicago watching the Air and Water show with my dad from the VIP area right on the water, I was back in Holland on Monday getting yet another round of chemotherapy.

This time, I remembered that I could get a prescription for lidocaine, which numbs the skin so the poke of the needle into the port in my chest didn’t leave me squirming in the chair.  Don’t ask me why I forgot to ask for it until this week.  My nurse told me I could use it the first time I had chemo through my port, but I think at that point I’d been poked by so many needles that I figured one more poke wasn’t going to really affect me.  My memory may be cloudy, but I didn’t mind it too much the first few treatments.  Lately though, it’s been a major source of anxiety and, well, it hurts.  And there are no extra points for being “brave” and dealing with any more pain than necessary.

So there was lidocaine, and it helped a lot, and now I feel dumb for not using it before.  The treatment seemed to go quickly this week, partially because my dad and I watched Senna the whole time, and didn’t even have time to finish it before it was time to leave.

I also figured out that whatever solution they use to flush out my port at the end of treatment (so blood doesn’t clot it up) isn’t odorous to anyone but me.  It only takes a few seconds to flush, but in that time it somehow directly attacks my taste, and with it my smell, and it’s nauseating.  I usually sit there with my nose plugged to at least lessen the effect, and I didn’t even realize that I was the only one who could taste/smell/feel it until this week.  I don’t know how injecting something into a vein in my chest triggers my sense of taste so quickly and so strongly, but the human body is a weird machine.  Luckily, it isn’t nauseating for that long.

Monday and Tuesday were predictably rough, but I’m back on top of things again by today.  Enough for a fast bike ride this morning in which I finally won a sprint for a stop-ahead sign.  First time in a long time.  And I’m going to keep telling myself that nobody gifted it to me, even though that’s a distinct possibility.

Go. Do.

It rained hard yesterday.  At first, lightly, a refreshing antidote to the humidity fogging up my sunglasses that requiring me to stash them in the vents of my helmet.  While circling around some hills north of Kalamazoo on my bike with Abe, I lost track of time.  These were new roads.  New to me.  Remember to stay off the painted lines on the road.  They’ll be slick.  I should’ve grabbed my BAAS cap before we set out.  It would’ve kept some of the water out of my eyes, at least.  On the climb before stopping to refill water bottles, the rain let up and my legs shimmered in the golden sun still struggling to climb its way into the sky.

Driving home, the sky turned night and all that was visible were the taillights of the car in front of me suspended above the road.  There was a road there somewhere, I think.  Somewhere through the all encompassing grey of rain and water and mist and spray and streaks on the windshield.

I’ve been trying to get out as much as possible this past week.  I bought new running shoes that are fluorescent orange, because, well, aren’t there enough white running shoes?  I broke them in with a few runs – pavement and sand.  Woodchips and boardwalks.  They still have that new car smell to them.

I bonked for the first time this season on the Wednesday night ride.  I’m better at eating properly before and during rides, but it was a little hotter than the previous few days.  It was a little faster than I was ready for.  As soon as we hit the cornfields south of Zeeland, the pace was relentless, and I fell off the back with two others.  We took a shortcut to catch the group again.  I fell off the back again.  On the ride home from the shop, every pedal stroke was a mental exercise.  Instead of my legs spinning the cracks, I had to tell each muscle how to contract and expand.  Every revolution.  My legs doubted me.  “Are you sure this is how it goes?  And again?  Have I done this before?”

Almost exactly a year ago, I was in the same situation, barely managing to ride my dehydrated self home.  I survived to pen an entry starting with the words “This sport is mostly stupid…”  I was cooked.  Not angry, not disappointed, just, full.  I had to take a break (it didn’t last long).  This year, knowing the signs of the bonk as soon as they surfaced, I immediately fixated on getting to the McDonald’s on 8th St. for a Coke.  It was smart to take my credit card with me.  I sat in the drive through lane for minutes, in silence, before walking in and sucking down the HFCS water and an apple pie.  Turns out the drive through lanes are notified by a weight sensor, which is why no one asked to take my order.  I’m not sure I would have made it the final 4 miles home without that dose of sugar.  But when I got home, completely spent, I couldn’t not still smile.  It was fun.  A ride that’s too fast to hang onto beats one that is too slow every time.  I put my legs up on the couch and cracked open a beer.  Everything in its right place.


Pass the salt

What if Venus Flytraps had a sense of taste?  Like if ants were the equivalent of fast food – tasty and plentiful, but not all that dignified – and flies were like Alaskan King Crab – endlessly delicious, but you’d starve if you held out for it to land on you plate every night.  Would there be a rare strain of Venus Flytraps that decided to release spiders but developed faster reflexes to grab more jumpy grasshoppers?

who said it's easy?

Every week, chemo ruins my taste buds and sucks all the enjoyment out of fine food.  For 4 or 5 days I do everything I can to suppress the geysers of dirty pennies overflowing my tongue.  Sometimes it’s anything doused in Sriracha hot sauce to make my mouth burn, other times dairy is best.  Usually not sweets.  Lately it’s been anything salty – potato chips, eggs (with plenty of added salt), bacon, some sausage, just about any cheese.  In rounds past, salt has only made things worse and an ice cold Coke has been my savior, but not this round, or today, or these next few hours.  Who knows what I’ll be craving tomorrow.  It makes planning ahead for meals a fruitless endeavor (and usually I don’t plan on fruit very much).

There might be a light at the end of the tunnel

The good news is that my PET-CT scan results were what we were expecting.  Mainly, the cancer hot spots throughout my lymph system are no longer there, and the mass in my chest that was 16 cm across is now just 6 cm, and more importantly is not metabolically active anymore.  It’s most likely just scar tissue, which may not shrink any further, and is something that I’ll probably have to live with for the rest of my life. (Normal size of the lymph nodes in your chest are like 1 cm).  It’ll still be there slightly reducing my lung capacity, but honestly, in all of my recent exercising, my breathing seems back to normal, so I think I can live with it.

With the good results from the scan, I finally have a rough end date to my treatments.  Yesterday was my 9th round of chemo, and I’ll have 3 more treatments total, then a week or two to recover, and then a month of daily radiation focused on my chest and and… and then that should be it!  Obviously, the real measure of beating this dumb thing is it being in remission for 5 years, so I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to breathe completely easy until that day, but I know I’ll be holding a small celebration at the end of October or November when my checkups get spread out to every 6 or 8 weeks instead of every 7 days.

November might still seem far off, but considering how long it has been since this all started, it almost sorta kinda feels within reach in a way.  Phew.

you're waiting for a train


It’s been a long, deliberately busy week, and I’m drained in more than one way, but I’m finally able to kick my feet up and be alone and recharge.  Not that I don’t like sitting by the lake chatting with others every night, but every once in awhile it feels necessary to slow down the mental stimulation and settle into the familiar groove in my own couch.

I had my second PET-CT scan this afternoon.  It seemed to go faster than last time, partially because I’m getting really good at passing the time while sitting in a chair with an IV in me.  I’ll get to hear the results on Monday from my oncologist, but hopefully that’s the last time I have to be injected with radioactive sugar.

red summer sun #2