Monthly Archives: April 2013

Never Say Die…Unless.

Never Say Die…unless.

I know there have been many individuals wanting to hear more about my situation lately (mainly because you’ve said so!) and I apologize for any delay, but before I wrote more about my experience I wanted to gather a little more information that would bring everything up to speed, to keep everyone on the same page and not present this in a way that it very much is not, as if I’m misleading you in some way. See, some discoveries were made during the operation that changed the Doctor’s original plan at killing this cancer, and he had to effectively abort mission in order to prevent “doing more harm than good.” So the short of it is.

I still have cancer.

Two different types actually, both of the appendix, but still confined to the abdominal region.

The long of it follows. The plan for the operation was the “standard” HIPEC procedure, which involved cutting me open, removing/scraping away any tumors, removing the “mucin” (mucus-like cancer cells), then flooding me with 90 minutes of heated chemo, and finally installing 4 ports into my abdomen which would draw the chemo drip in for the coming 4 or so days in the ICU. Well, the doctors cut me open, started removing tumors, but found them significantly harder to remove than any other PMP tumors they had dealt with before, necessitating a much more vigorous approach. Then in removing the tumors they found more in areas of the abdomen (upper) they certainly weren’t expecting, leading them to believe these were behaving a little differently than PMP tumors and demanding a different approach for removal. They simply weren’t going to be able to remove them without getting so vigorous that they risked severe organ damage..and so they backed off. Instead of the 24 hour surgery they were looking at, it was cut to about 9 hours for further assessment. What they needed to do was extract the tumors and send them to a pathologist for deeper study, which will establish the next course of action.

After a few days of impatient waiting, my parents and I met with the doctor, who was quite excited about my current state of recovery. He explained the occurrence during the procedure again and I started following up with questions to get a grasp on what I was facing, which I pretty much understood, but needed to hear directly from him.

“So, this is going to involve chemo treatments down the line now, right?”

– “Yes, we’ll assess you in 3 to 6 weeks to see how you have recovered, make sure you are strong as you can possibly be and then start the treatments.”

“And the treatments will determine how to proceed?”

– “Yes, we need to see if these cancers are going to respond to the chemo treatments. If they do respond and we can shrink them down, we will then perform the HIPEC operation again to go back in and make sure we’ve removed everything possible.”

“Ok, and if the chemo DOESN’T shrink the tumors…if they don’t respond? What does that mean?”

– “Well, if that is the case, there really aren’t any other options for treatment.”

I nodded my head in complete understanding. “Ok….that’s all I really need to know.”

And they soon left after that.

Again, he didn’t say, “You will die”, but that’s what he said.

And so where I hoped at this point I would be slowly beginning my recovery from cancer, figuring out how to best get my life back in order, I’m now faced with not just an extension of this continued trauma, but the very real possibility that I may not HAVE a life that needs to get back in order. Very simply…that.

For now, that is all I can muster to write. Still very much battling the trauma of the operation and necessary recovery procedures, I’m just gonna ride that out for awhile and let it all come as it may. Thank you for being there with me friends. I will now stay in more frequent touch.

 

The First 5 Days

Disclaimer:

This was written as a much needed catharsis and documentation of some of my experiences waking from post-surgery. I don’t want to be a downer on this, but I feel the visceral truth of many people’s experiences goes unmentioned, leaving the next person in their path walking just as blindly as before, so I felt it was important to actually post this as well.

I am still in the throes of initial recovery at the hospital (out of the ICU yesterday), but have a long way to go before I’m able to really care for myself and leave this place.

Also, I haven’t wanted to post anything because there is a much greater story as to the “development” of my cancer and the forthcoming ways of dealing with it, a lot of which my parents and myself don’t know yet. We are waiting to have an appointment with the oncologist and after we get a wider understanding of what is happening and the plan from here on out, I will post a more informational update.

For now, I have this to offer, coupled with all the gratitude I can muster out of this broken body for the care packages, financial donations, and words of encouragement. If you would rather not hear about the less than pleasant aspects of post-operation life, I would suggest you not read this one…and I totally understand.

Till the next update friends, enjoy your runs!

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5 days with Cancer.

There is Cancer.

And then there is everything else.

There is everything else surrounding cancer, that may or not be directly related to that greatest of concerns. Those that often go unmentioned. Unnamed. They are there, on the periphery, out of the spotlight, as their individual states of pain and discomfort are trivial, but as I’ve learned, the combined effect is so incredibly potent.

There is the pain on the bottom of your foot from struggling to find a comfortable position in bed all night, but always resorting back to resting in that one same position. There are festering, multi-colored sores, highlighted by surprisingly tall, thin, fluid-filled blisters on the inner arm and abdomen, a map of sorts to the newly-discovered allergy from medicinal tape. There is the nurse that scrubs your forehead too hard with a soapy washcloth, painfully tearing away the acne that has built up and dried into clusters in the open air, now leaving little scabs dancing across the forehead. There is the tube that was pushed down your nose and into your throat, rubbing raw against the sensitive inner skin as your body swelled around it’s extension. There is the fear reserved for horror movies during those first two days when you lapsed in and out of consciousness, unable to communicate verbally as the tube filled and choked with your constantly draining mucus, causing at least one vomit episode in order to force a path through. There are the oxygen tubes inserted straight up your nostrils and taped to your nose so tight that after a few days every breath in drug them repeatedly over an already worn path of painfully raw cartilage. There are the chunks of blood and mucus dried up behind those indiscrete tubes, accessible by no one and choking off just that much more precious oxygen. There is the catheter unforgivingly extending from your penis and running off to a container somewhere on the floor, it’s exit point marked with a spot of pointed burning, causing fear of moving too much once you have appeased it’s complaint. There is the nurse that gave such careful and attentive care during the day, only to be replaced by strong, fumbling new recruits at best, and hardened-hearted veterans at worst. There is the swollen face, holding captive the sleep in your eyes, unable to drain away, so now drying up and becoming yet another abrasion to contend with at some point during the day, you ending up as the loser with stinging, salty eyes. There is the accumulated psychological fatigue of the passing of days and hours, which you can not find the energy to track, only waiting with fierce impatience for the ailments to fall away and die. There is the pain in your rectum that you aren’t sure what is it’s cause, hearing nothing mentioned from doctor’s or nurses alike, forcing you to consider if anyone even knows there is something down there. There is the rippled balloon pulled a touch too slowly from the rectum, unleashing the foulest of feces smells into the air after being trapped by the enema device for days. There is the morphine that offers such a magical release from the pain and yet holds the body down as if it is being crushed by a lead blanket, destroying all ideas of movement and basic self-care. There is the urinating container on the table next to you, just 2 inches further away than you need it to be for careful grasping, like a dare one can’t avoid taking, and the subsequent pain that stabs your abdomen as you are forced to roll to the side to achieve those precious inches. There is the swollen scrotum, expanded to a point one is hard-pressed to believe as a common response to surgery and something much more dire, creating great magnitudes of difficulty in movement, in distinct fear that a little too much pressure, or a mis-judged placement of sitting might rupture the whole casing completely. There are the leads that extend to the wires, their adhesive backs pressed deeply into chest hairs that involve a great ripping removal when procedure necessitates, multiple times in the span of a week. There are the fluid and electric pathways, so many of them, snaking in and out of the hospital gown and entering into the body in some spots or into ports in others, always a tangled hassle of plastic tubing, causing detailed calculation with every simple movement, wether across the room or just simple across the bed. THere is the epidural entry point that runs the back like an external spine, finding an IV access to bring it inside, offering the most precious relief on the inside, but an unavoidable point of nagging and discomfort on the out, ruining the hopes for a simple flat backed sleep position. There are the dreams, induced by restless sleep and a body filled with the effects of pain-numbing drugs, always difficult and hard to separate from reality, which upon awakening didn’t offer much safety. There are the moments during the day where one is hypnotized in and out of consciousness by the effects of the drugs, a set of closed eyes immediately bringing in images of frustration, discomfort, inhibited drunken movement, only to be awoken into reality with only the characters changed. There is the indescribable pain of switching off one pain management system to another, causing a brief lapse of time that becomes filled with a quick growing and increasingly mounting physical stabbing of the abdomen that threatens to consume the whole body, offers no respite, and is only fought off with minimal mitigation techniques and the slow drip of drugs, leaving the victim with a 100 yard stare and unable to recognize the world around them. There is the skin that dries with sores, and if kept still too long pries away at the attached with a forceful tearing of movement. There is the itching that comes with fabrics pressed to the skin for days on end, despite baths contained within wash cloths. There is the string of social workers, nurses, doctors, specialists, who some show themselves to be caring and considerate, while others merely filling formalities, but all unable to break from the procedure of interrupting sleep, thoughtful consideration and just necessary downtime for a wounded animal. There are the spaces between joints that begin to pop and press on each other with the most simple of movements that have now gone neglected for more time than one even gives thought. There are the days without real food and real liquid, replaced by a nutritional concoction and fed unceremoniously into the body, circumventing any tastebuds or pathway of enjoyment, making you feel like a dystopic, futuristic sci-fi movie character. There is the accumulation of mucus that builds in the mouth, throat and lungs as one sleeps with little positional relief, necessitating a morning of incredibly painful half-coughs, hoping to dredge up just enough chewable mucus to spit away and allow for a few moments of free breathing. There is the waiting, comprised of the boredom that can’t be filled with just movies, reading, individual passions, before being consumed again by the desperation of it all. There is the oxygen tube, snaking out from the nostrils before joining back up again to wind around the backs of the ears, rubbing a blister gently, slowly, but unremovably in its place. There is the poke in the back of the arm, to keep the legs from clotting post-surgery, that starts to come day after day after day, a dreaded morning companion who hangs around into the afternoon. There is the mouth as if filled with paste, robbed of quenching fluids and left to smack against itself in desperate longing for any tiny remnants of moisture. There is the line of staples, pulling together the incision as if a railroad was laid on the abdomen, making an abrupt turn around the navel before finding its course again, visually threatening to derail everything in its path should the rails split under tension. There are the arms and legs swollen and restricted from the water flooded into the body during surgery, fending off death in the moment, but creating a monstrous visual in the aftermath.

There is cancer. And there is all this.

And then there are the tears that arise like a rapidly filling well, all this accumulation, all this compounded discomfort, all these non-cancers that take a toll impossible to trivialize, the tears that flood out all the positive imagery and thoughts of strength, leaving behind a desert of cracked land where no individual with the passion of life in their body would find desirable to reside, or even visit.

These are the first 5 days after my cancer surgery, the externalities and the cancer itself…Right now, it’s hard to discern which is worse.

 

STATUS OF SCOTT’S SURGERY

Thank you to all Scott’s friends  – locally, electronically and universally.  Your friendship, encouragement and support is the best medicine for ALL of us during this journey.  What we have to report at this point is pretty general until we meet with the doctor today and know more about his pathology reports. We also want to make sure Scott is the first receiver of his condition prior to this blog.  What we can report is that because of Scott’s general great health, he came through surgery without any complications.  Surgery lasted about 9 hours and he is being cared for in ICU right now.  He is sedated,  breathing with the help of a ventilator,  but they anticipate removing that sometime today to see how he does on his own.  Wish we had more details to report.  Check back tomorrow and hopefully we can share more information with you.

Scott’s Mom & Dad

The Other Side

The starting line.

It’s such a cliche to say, “After the marathon, nothing will be the same”, but after running my first in Chicago ’09, I was surprised to find that it was also very true. Everything HAD changed. My understanding of my own potential, my awareness of a new kind of running pain, my own sense of accomplishment, my new goals, my shattered limitations. It had all changed. I found myself referring to running in terms of “pre-chicago” and “post-chicago” quite often, as if I was now speaking in biblical timelines. Anything before the marathon was my “before christ” period.

And now, I count down today’s hours as the last of my previous life. On one side, an existence filled without the concerns of a life-threatening disease, and on the other side….something different. Something changed. That, I already know, will be inevitable. It is why I have been saying to my friends the past week,

“I’ll see you on the other side.”

Which I know…sounds sort of final, almost morbid. As if I’m referring to the other side of “life”, where one side is living and the other is the afterlife. That, of course, is NOT what I mean to convey. But I can’t deny that when I enter the hospital tomorrow morning, get put to sleep on Tuesday, and wake up a few days down the line, that part of my existence now completely absent….I will be on the other side, and everything will have changed.

I will have changed quite physically. The dying part of me will have been killed itself (we hope, completely). And other parts will be missing, whether whole or in part, excised, removed, and disposed. I will experience the new physical sensation of being gutted, lying somewhere beneath the tides of pain that will be washing over and through me. On the outside I will be missing other things, hair, a bellybutton, some skin. Most prominently, I will have a rift that extends from the top of my abdomen to the bottom, like the story embedded in a timeline, but fortunately one I will not have heard. I will be physically changed.

I will also have changed emotionally and psychologically. Though I don’t know quite how yet. I don’t know what this new sense of identity will mean, this post-cancer existence. I don’t know if I will now feel a limit to my potential, tethered to the ground by the weight of my scars, or like post-chicago, will feel unleashed, as if the sky never ends and gravity doesn’t exist. I only know that it will be impossible to enter into a transformation like this and come out the same as when I went in.

I will be on the other side.

I will face a life of great uncertainty. I will be without work and self-generated income for months. I will be physically atrophied. I will have lost all expectations of my body’s functions. Everything will have changed.

Well…Almost. Not everything.

This cancer and this operation can change me physically and this experience can change me psychologically and emotionally, but I will never have lost everything, no matter what side I’m on. This is stomach cancer after all, not brain cancer. This experience and this operation can not erase my memory of what life was like pre-cancer.

I haven’t forgotten what it was like to run 2:25 in Chicago and I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to keep going after that PR. I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to run an easy 10 mile MGP run at 5:18 pace. I haven’t forgotten the feeling of finishing a back to back 4 hour trail run, coming off the trail and into the parking lot, drenched in sweat and feeling the power of gods and demons combined. I haven’t forgotten that, and on the other side, I still will not have forgotten. And so whatever has changed within me, that potential will still be there. Those memories, that drive, those goals, that return to the epic life will always be a part of me, in the distance, waiting to fill the physical void I will now harbor.

On the other side I will be changed. Broken down. Back to square one. Emptied and atrophied. It will be a new life…if only because I will be starting over.

And in starting over, there is only one direction to head. On the other side I will be empty, weak, slow….and so on the other side I can ONLY get stronger, faster. I will start with waking. I will progress to moving. Then walking. Then jogging. Then running. Stronger and faster. Stronger and faster. Until that day I stalk the grounds at the end of a sweat-drenched trail run, crush yet another seemingly impossible speed workout, and step over the finish line faster than I ever have before.

Today is my last day on this side. Tomorrow I will step into the hospital to be prepped for the operation on Tuesday, residing temporarily in space between my lives, like hovering in transition between earthly and other realms. I will not leave those walls until weeks later, stepping through the front doors and into my new life.

In the face of so many unknowns, so many potential worries and debilitating fears, I feel ready. I feel ready to face the coming pain and everything I can’t know is out there.

Bring it on. Bring it the fuck on.

See you on the other side friends.

Calling The Shots

I’ve had a few posts in my head that I’ve been reluctant to write, in concern that I might offend some of those who have offered support to me, but also not wanting to use my recent illness to be critical instead of positive and inspiring, but with that said, I think the following post is important enough to put those concerns aside, especially since I’m in the throws of it at this point, on the verge of surgery, my patience wearing thin and my emotions shifting from hour to hour. So let me just summarize this outright, and allow me to steal this phrase from another writer on the subject, and which doesn’t mince words….

It’s. Not. About. You.

Trust me in that I don’t say this in a manner of scolding, or even passively aggressively addressing this to a certain individual or individuals (more on that later). I’m not. But it’s worth repeating. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.

And although I’m going to talk about my own experiences, I’ve come to understand through reading accounts by others suffering from disease or illness, terminal or not, the sentiment is universal.

Since making my cancer diagnosis public just about 2 1/2 weeks ago, I have absorbed an overwhelming amount of support from friends, family and strangers, all in relatively unique and varied ways, but also residing in certain parameters of understanding and in a manner of playing it safe, treading lightly. Initially, I brushed off the concerns that friends expressed to me in their wariness of “saying the right thing” or even “not knowing what to say”, but as the surgery date nears, and again, my patience wears thin, I’m beginning to understand the importance for the supporters to tread lightly and take the safest route possible.

To be honest, this has surprised me.

I thought I was going to remain pretty normative in my emotional state, absorbing others sentiments and gestures as I do in more expected situations, you know, those not drug down by the weight of a quickened dying, but instead I’ve noticed my normal social behaviors adjusting by the moment, and where I could easily take the personalities and character intricacies of others without offense, I’m now much more vulnerable and therefore PROTECTIVE of my own emotional state. This has probably confused some of my more closer friends, so I hope to clarify my sudden changes in behavior lately.

As anyone who knows me rather well….or even not so well…it probably goes without saying that I’m the type that prefers to overshare rather than stay silent. I speak my mind, as constructively as possible, but speak it no less. I’ve been described as “transparent” and “brutally honest”…guilty as charged…and I’ve purposefully and inherently been open about my experience dealing with this cancer diagnosis from day one, which I understand might lead others to think they can interact with me in the same way they always have in the past…but now I realize they can’t.

And it doesn’t seem fair.

It doesn’t seem fair that I get to carry on and on and on through my blog writings, post as many normative statements on Facebook as I have in the past, carry out and express my emotions as I have become accustomed to pre-cancer…..but then respond to gestures of support by others in a way that seems counter to my expected sense of normalcy.

It’s not fair that I get to say, “I want to see so many friends before I go in for surgery next week! Let’s hang out!” and then when friends contact me again and again to meet up, I’m suddenly busy, finding excuses to be alone, or even silent to their requests.

And I’m sorry. I’m sorry because I know it’s confusing.

But I need to say this….It’s not about you. Right now I’m accepting an incredibly unique and unexpected moment of blunt and unapologetic selfishness as I prepare for this surgery. I’m doing what’s best for me and not giving much thought to other’s needs and concerns. And I’m sorry…but this is what I have to do. And so, It’s not about you.

Not only is it not about your needs right now…but my behavior is not about your gestures either. You are not at fault. No one is.

See, I’m facing down this life threatening disease, this quickened dying process, this risk of invasive surgery, this complete reworking of my life from Monday and onward…and that’s not even the extent of my worries…so suddenly I’m…not unstable…but protective. I’m protecting my emotional state and protecting others from my emotional state. I’m handling things differently (or maybe MORE honestly) than I often do.

Right now, I’m going inward. I’m simplifying even more than I usually do, which is saying a lot. I’m keeping all externalities to an absolute minimum, so I’m not hurting others and not getting hurt myself….it’s how I know best to deal with this situation…and it’s what you need to understand.

For those facing something emotionally weighted like this, the best thing you can do is offer two things.

1. A gesture of support. Express a sentiment of kindness or encouragement, even if that means saying, “I don’t know what to say”, and expect nothing in return. Don’t feel hurt if the individual responds differently than you had hoped. Don’t be hurt if they don’t respond at all, because again, it’s not about you.

2. Offer availability (if you are in the position to do so). If you can be available, offer that, but don’t expect it…and don’t hound it. Put it out there and walk away, because trust me, if the person feels like they need someone, whether that is to talk to, unload on or to distract themselves, they will contact you. Just offering your availability is what is most important above anything else.

That is all you need to do as a supporter, because both of those gestures leaves the decision making up to the person dealing with the emotional weight themselves. It keeps the ball in their court. It let’s them call the shots. It keeps the situation about them and not you.

This isn’t to say you don’t have something unique or unseen to offer the suffering individual…not at all…but that doesn’t even matter. If the suffering individual needs something more than what they are getting from their selected avenues of support, they’ll continue to look elsewhere, and it’s up to you just to be available and be there should they contact you. No matter how powerful you can be for them, don’t interject yourself into their place of need…they may not want you there. And it may be confusing. It may feel to YOU that they are making a mistake…but they aren’t. For SOME reason they may feel the need to be alone or keep their circle of support to a minimum, and most likely it is going to come from a protective need, and although you may not understand it, you must trust it and accept it.

Years ago a stray cat I was helping take care of suddenly went absent. A few days later I found him lying by the garage door, listless and apathetic. I moved him to a more comfortable, less vulnerable spot, but he went right back to that position open to the weather and predators. After a couple days of this behavior, I realized he was dying. He was protecting himself in the face of an irredeemable circumstance. Still, I took him to the vet and it was discovered that he had feline AIDS, to an untreatable extent. The vet picked up his limp body and purposefully (but gently) pushed his head into the side of the exam table. The cat didn’t protect himself, didn’t lift his head to avoid the collision, didn’t respond to the discomfort. He knew what was coming and had accepted it. We put him down. But if we had brought him home, he would have undoubtedly gone right back to that spot by the garage and let himself die, incomprehensible to me, but instinctually right and comforting to him.

Fortunately, I’m not a dying animal. Ok….I AM, but not irredeemably. I’m going to live, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel the need to protect myself right now, and so I’m surely acting in ways that confuses some of my close friends, but feels absolutely right to me. Because right now, It’s about me. So I’ll do things like this…

“Hey! I want to see you before I go into the hospital!” I’ll tell that to you in the morning. And by the afternoon I’ll suddenly say, “Hey, I can’t make it. I’m busy. I’ve got things to do.” And then by the evening I might say, “Can you meet up?”

Or you might text me…and I won’t respond. Or you might have made plans to see me in the hospital when I’m available for visitation and I’ll suddenly go quiet at the prospect. Because, honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to want right now. I don’t know this from day to day and hour to hour. I’ve driven 15 miles north to sit and write, because it’s theraputic, because it feels right, because it somehow feels good to be alone, but after sitting for an hour I suddenly feel like I want to be home…so I drive the 15 miles back home. And by the time I’m home, I don’t want to be there and drive back North right to the same coffee shop I left from to write some more.

And sometimes I want to see people, and the second I’m contacted by 15 people who have made themselves available, I suddenly feel overwhelmed and want to be alone again. I walk into coffee shops and see people I know, then instantly turn around and walk away because I don’t trust myself to respond how I feel is best.

I’m emotionally vulnerable and I have to protect myself. I walk through the back door of my favorite coffee shop and see people whose personalities I usually enjoy, but suddenly walk right back out the front because in that moment I can’t handle them. The extremism in character that I find so valuable and exciting in normal circumstances has now become dangerous to me and I prefer neutrality and solitude. It doesn’t make sense, I know.

And I’m physically vulnerable. I walk into coffee shops and if the available seating isn’t the kind I wanted, I leave. I walk into coffee shops and if it’s too cold, or the light sucks, or just doesn’t feel right, I leave and find one that works for me.

I’ll be driving home and suddenly stop at a business I frequent because I felt the need to have a simple conversation with someone I’m comfortable with, but then reject an offer to spend time with a good friend because it just doesn’t feel right.

And sometimes my body is just not cooperating. I’m experiencing varied degrees of stomach pain due to the foods I eat or other things going on inside me, and I just don’t feel like talking. I don’t feel attractive. I don’t feel motivated. I don’t feel like suffering through the pain while trying to hold a valuable and constructive conversation.

And I’m sorry, but it’s not about you.

And at some point in the future it WILL be about YOU, but I can’t honestly say when that will be. I have had so many people say they will be there for me when I can have visitors at the hospital, and all I need to do is put out the call and they will be there….but here’s the thing…that call may never come. Right now, I still want to be alone. I don’t envision wanting people to come see me when I’m able, for many reasons…but that may absolutely change. When the time comes, I may want a line out the door. I just don’t know, but I have to protect myself. I have to keep this about me…and I know you understand.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. And I’m sorry. But here’s the thing…you can’t feel hurt, because it’s not about you. But, of course, that’s not true. You CAN feel hurt, just don’t internalize it, and certainly don’t express it. Process it and understand that it doesn’t come from a point of maliciousness or callousness…but rather protectiveness.

Let me reiterate though….this is not a sentiment directed at an individual or individuals in my specific situation. This is just good advice and an explanation to those who may feel confused, and even hurt, at my behavior lately. Because this is a learning process…for me just as anyone else who may not get it.

And I’m fortunate…immeasurably fortunate, because I have not had a single person in my LEGION of supporters who has come to me with a spirit of negativity, judgement or admonishment. Not. One. No matter how I’ve felt about the gestures of support offered or given to me, I can say with absolute certainty that they were all from a foundation of positivity, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

So please, friends, understand that I express this in the most compassionate manner I can possibly offer….It’s Not About You.

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And with that said, I offer you this work in progress, this expression of gratitude through the naming of supporters. Thank you.

(These are in no specific order and I wouldn’t bother looking for your name…if you do, and don’t find it, it’s because this is a work in progress and I’m still hunting down all the gestures of support. This is going to take awhile.)

Sarah Meyer Overpeck, Chris Overpeck, Katie White, Amanda Owens Solis, Kindra Hunckler, Jon Nolen, Amanda Shuman, David Agranoff, Lisa Daugherty, Alan Vedge, Brenna Macias, Syed Jaffery, T Garrett O’Sha, Stephen Mason, Brian Kremer, Tricia Mera, Mark Finney, Mark Bowder, Wes Trueblood, Heather Dane, Jonathan Auyer, Wendy Miller, Nekoma Burcham, Andrew Griswold, Colleen Osterhaus, Kate Grass, Ian Phillips, Martin Stacy, Kipp Normand, Stephen Hanes, Matthew Moody, Chromis Pasqueflower Bowerbird, Jennifer Kennedy Wyrick, Stephanie Griggz, Megan Jefferson, Mary Balmes, Lori Thompson, Jamie Farhner, Dan Farhner, Kirsch Bowker, Fredrik Winberg, Scot Sedley, Matt Shull, Toni Giacoletto Bohannon, Tatjana Rebelle, Chloe Vincent, Kristen Tribby Cook, L. Leona Frank, Alex Shoebridge, Jim Jennings, Rochelle Del Gunter, Mark Bowder, Sally Marchand Collins, Ivy Campbell, Scott Brunner, Ben Hudelson, Emma Faesi, Matt Robison, Kate Van Winkle, Joyce Holsten, Scott Holsten, Mary Mezey, Kevin Huff, Steve Baber, Missy Baber, Joshua Mason, Nekoma Burcham, Raymie Anderson, Martin Stacy, Louie Langley, Sara Biniecki, Debbie Hassid All, Alicia Ford, Jayson Meyer, Jasmine Rau, Jon Rau, Chris Fettig, Anna Lissa Abad Smith, Melissa Cass, Jennifer Roberts Jorgenson, Abbie Shapiro, Rebecca Zink, Kyndra Moeller, Erica Westhoff, Ron Day, Piotr Paciorek, Mary Rittenhouse, Robert Scheer, Tim Gatreau, Doug Marcum, Christopher Newgent, Scot Sedley, Carrie Jae, Jimmy Ryan, Nicole Campbell, Amanda Shuman, Matt Woodman,Cecilia Santos, Lara Brainer-Banker, Whitney Bevins Lazzara, Kristin DiSeveria, Christy Victor, Deanna DiSeveria, Blake Roberson, Lauren T. Rider, Steven Rider, Lisa Menninger, Brooke Merry, Keith Woods, Brittney Walker, Alison Nichole, Chris Beck, Molly Trueblood, Alan Vedge, Dylan Hammons, Rodolfo Palma, Cheryl Harnishfeger, Fred Iversen II, Terry Wilson, Koy DePompeo, Dustin Eagan, Michael Hofer, Chris Swisher, Jenny Swisher, Jesse Houser, Wendy Miller, Becky Boyle, Scott Breeden, Wes Trueblood, Terence Shackleford, Jacqueline Falzarano, Aaron Miller, Alain Bonacossa, Daniel Roth, Collin Moses, Bridget Flynn, Heather Howard, Brian Wyrick, Holly Sommers, Sara Pugh, Luis Vicente, Heather Lake, Carly Cooke, Kelly Shull, Rev. John Sowers, Laurie Guerrettaz, Hillary Keyes, Kelly Darden, Blake Roberson, Tito Downer, Leah Downer, Suzanna Gural, Skott Daltonic, Katharina Addas, Andria Baumgartner, Natasha Bivens, Ryan Scott Love, Lucas Maxwell McCabe, Matt Ebersole, Garry Howard, Patrick Roots Dugan, Chelsea Butler, Laura Minor, Luc Rodgers, Nicole Kemerer, Jeremy Atkins, Bill Watts, Jes Valentine, Jackie Dikos, Ryan Howard, Dan Ziegler, Jill Ziegler, Kat Lev, Errol Katz, Jen Bex, Kevin Harvey, Tania Hines Juillerat, Jonathan Juillerat, Marie Ursuy, Angela Bryant-Hofstetter, Chad Bauman, Travis Ryan, Katharina Dulckeit, Patrick Clauss, Matthew Yeager, Erin Sloan, Chris Ryan, Corrado Francolini, Melissa Palma, Oscar Sanchez-Huerta, Jonathan Nolte, Antonio Leiriao, Leslie Dolin, Steven Dolin, Elizabeth Sparrow, Kate Nolan, Michelle Craig, Jeff Melton, Colleen Douglass, Aaron Edge, Michelle Pemberton, Seph Hatley, Russ Goodman, James Meldrum, Piotr Paciorek, Steve Allen, Heidi Keller Phillips, Eliza Innes, Nick Keener, Nichole Ossim, Shawna Jeanne Thompson, Heather Dane, Amanda TJ Scott, Eric Bogan, BJ Davis, Marcey Cram, Jess Livinghouse, Carroll Bilbrey, Patti Jean, Denver Hutt, Sphie Holman, Linda Waddick, Daf Davies, Samuel Hartman, Ayden Jent, Wendy Wahine Clay, Mark Lafay, Jennifer Denton-Walker, Terry Fletcher, Duncan Alney, Louis Gregoire, Rob Williamson, Cindi Cohl Browning, Stephen Cummings, Brad Quartuccio, Jeff Guerrero, Becca Hopson, Lindsay Gilliam, Mary Ellen Wheeler, Josh Pollack, Jon Little, Kara Egan, Casey Atchley, Clark Giles, Laura Johnson, Mike Luce, Maggie Brown, Nichole Pichon, Stephanie Crumley, Jerry Lee Atwood, Joanna Potocki Wiggins, Holly Hilton, Sarah D. Munson, Tricia Mera, Rudy Nehrling, Jamie Price, Austin Reedy, Kipp Normand, Leslie Hulvershorn, Kathleen Finn, Jennifer Zbikowski, Joel Capolongo, Curtis Singh, Cris Iles-Wright,, Gerry Groothuis, Bret Bright, Bobby Burnam, Julia Von Ranson, Amory Abbott,, Zach Mitchell, John Stewart, Erica Westhoff, Annie Skinner, Keri Mordue VanVlymen, Sara Lunsford, Kyle Jeffrey Kranz, Tim O’Donnell, Genisis Dancer, Freja Pelich, Kurt Austin, Brett Randy Bunting, Alex Bond, Hayley Trussell, Reillo Dahl, Christopher Banul, Bradley Saul, Beth Weik, Thomas Chute, Annemarie Katz, Kathryn Goggin, Scott Torguson, Greg Swallow, Nicole Boals, Lisa Menninger, Jenne Horne, Emily Schwank, Stuff Erin Makes, Heidi Gluck

The Sun Amidst the Clouds

I questioned my decision to watch the Carmel Marathon from the sidelines this morning, partly in fear that I was missing precious time to process the coming life change so close to my surgery date, but also fearing that being at a race that I can’t run might do more to bring down my spirits rather than lift them up. Then I thought about my teammates and friends toeing the line, facing their own battles,  and knew that I needed to absorb myself in the race environment and enjoy their moments while I had the opportunity. I knew once I got to the race the distraction would be worth it. And it absolutely was.

I mechanically followed my previous race routines, getting up stupidly early (despite NOT needing to prepare), consuming only enough coffee to fire up the engine, parked strategically away from the crowds and walked to the race start as the sun pulled up the night curtain. Instead of beginning my warmup, however, I walked back and forth nervously, looking for teammates or friends to offer encouragement before they took off down the course.

I can only remember one other time I’ve attended a race as a spectator instead of a participant, so it was definitely interesting to watch from this vantage point. I, fortunately, had injured teammates accompanying me on the side to talk to and cheer with. The conversations about my cancer and impending surgery date 2 days away were, fortunately, quite brief and basic, allowing me to stay absorbed in the race environment that feels so natural, so comforting. We talked mainly about injuries, team member fitness, potential competition, and other typical race talk. The excitement and atmosphere was so consuming that, besides the brief surgery discussions and a handful of painful surges in my abdomen, I didn’t feel all that broken. Of course, knowing that I couldn’t run even 800 meters of the 26+ miles some of them were about to begin wasn’t lost on me, but at least I could push it away for a few hours.

The race ended, well, at least for my teammates, and we went about recapping the performances, congratulating races run well, course records broken, and just being out there in the attempt. I fed off their excitement and with little fanfare or sadness said some goodbye’s as if we would meet again on the Tuesday night workout. But of course…our next Tuesday run is going to be awhile.

I walked back to my car, uploaded some race photos from my phone, and let the race environment melt away. Predictably, I found myself facing another empty, slowly passing span of time and the near physical wall that divides my life between Sunday night and Monday morning, one side marked by partial ability and movement and the other consumed with mostly unknowns, but undoubtedly a forced passivity. I just sat there, debating my next destination and what would most effectively consume my thoughts and pass the time, wear out the clock like I was in the midst of a marathon.

And as these hours wear on, allowing anything to absorb my thoughts and seemingly speed the process to get to the hospital feels crucial right now. The waiting is painful. I’m just done now. I’m done processing. I’m done with the inconveniences and growing pains of eating. I’m done with the not knowing of what is to come. I just want to get to the hospital, let them do their work and wake me up in my new life, so I can start my own process of getting back to the life I envision, however that might play out in the context of so many unknowns.

There isn’t much more I can offer right now really. I feel like a wild animal, resigned to its fate and sitting passively, letting the process of dying consume them…except I’m not waiting for the dying to consume me, but rather the final moment when I can walk into the hospital in one form and walk out another. I just want to get there. I’m slowly shutting down, as the clock ticks on….just waiting. That’s all. Not starting any projects. Not thinking into the future. Not planning many moves. Just waiting…that’s all.

Or maybe I’m not like a dying animal. Maybe I’m like a marathon runner…standing on the start line with little movement, not taking any run outs, not jogging one more lap around the staging area, but instead conserving every last precious bit of energy that will be needed before the fight begins, ensuring I have enough to get me to the end. It’s the calm before the storm, as the nervousness, tension and intensity builds at the very last minute, when it’s needed most. Maybe right now I’m in the calm….and maybe tomorrow I’ll look at the storm and instead of cowering under its menacing, ominous clouds, I’ll wait for the shout to begin….and start my run, head on and all out, to get through the violent winds as quickly as I can and find the sun on the other side.

But right now I wait, at the start line, conserving energy, looking for the sun through the darkened clouds. I’m anxious, but I’m not scared. This is just one more physical fight, one more race, one more finish line to reach. I’ll see you there.

“Why me, Cancer? Why me?”

Why?

To ask the question demands a conscious ability. It needs a “giver” with the consciousness to consider the “why” in the first place and it needs a “receiver” with the same consciousness to be able to absorb, comprehend and understand the questioning. Whenever we pose the question, “Why?”, whether internally or externally, we are inadvertently acknowledging the presence of consciousness, namely HUMAN consciousness. We don’t ask the rocks “Why?”. We don’t ask the wind “Why?”. We don’t even ask higher-brained non-human animals, “Why?”. If we do entertain that idea, it’s still an internal questioning, searching ourselves for answers, looking inward to answer the question.

So it follows that we CERTAINLY don’t ask the same of diseases, say, stomach cancer. We may ponder, “Why me, Cancer? Why me?”, but we don’t pause and listen for  a response. It’s just an expression of confusion, an attempt at merely beginning to understand, trying to make sense of the sudden shift in one’s fortune.

I have not asked the question. It has, however, been asked OF me quite often.

“Have you thought, ‘Why me?'”

“Do you think about why YOU got cancer and not the OTHER people, the ones that don’t take care of themselves…or…just anyone else? Why you?”

I repeat. “No.” I have NOT asked that question, and in not asking, I think, may help explain how I’m choosing to deal with this sudden shift in fortune in my own life. See, if I were to ask, “Why me?”, I would be acknowledging that I’m asking SOMEONE or SOMETHING with the comprehension to understand. I would be asking SOMEONE for answers, and I’m not talking about questioning my doctor for knowable, understandable, causes and effects that lead to cancer, but rather the deeper, almost moral, considerations that people offer in periods of great desperation. Asking “Why me?” is, to put it bluntly, asking GOD (or gods) for the answers. And it isn’t asking about the physical process of cancers. It isn’t asking for scientific explanations. It is asking the deeper, moral questions about justice and fairness.It isn’t asking, “How?”, it’s asking, “Why?”….

“What have I done to DESERVE this?…What lesson are you trying to teach me?…What sense of fairness and justice are you working from, because I don’t understand it.”

I don’t ask “Why?”….because I don’t believe in anyone to ask. I believe in blood and bones, legs and lungs, and the greatest, most unbelievable (if I dare use the term) circumstance of physical chance and consequence that have afforded us the existence we live within today. I believe in planets circling in just the right formation to develop the conditions ripe for life and living…not directed…not created…just “good enough” to happen. I believe we are fortunate matter, not MERELY fortunate matter, but tragically, beautifully, fortunate matter. And that is enough for me. I don’t look for greater meanings…a definitive purpose…and sense of fairness to it all. I don’t need to. Existence is enough for me.

And existence has no consciousness, aside from what we have developed within it. Existence doesn’t hear or answer questions of, “Why?”. It is just there, meaning here, meaning us and everything around us, outside of us, in us…even cancer.

And with that almost incomprehensible sense of order that comprises our existence, is development, and in that development is imperfection. We, in my belief, are not “created in his image”. We are not perfect, imperfect beings. We are, instead, shifting, changing, developing, physical beings subject to all the “imperfections” that allow us to be here, type this, and ask the question, “Why me?” And residing in all those imperfections is the chance to develop cancer. It is the ability for illness to simply happen, to develop, to take our lives the same as the sun can rise one day and a tornado can sweep through the next, taking countless lives in its path…not as an act of fairness, justice or morality…but merely as a physical process, undirected by human or godly hands.

So I don’t ask, “Why me?”. Because no one is listening. No one GAVE this to me. This was not a gift, not a lesson, not a punishment, not a reward. This is blood and bones, legs and lungs, chance and cancer.

And I am not desperate.

I have the development of science and technology and medicine and the accumulated knowledge of skillful hands on my side, to deal with this physical ailment using equally physical responses. That is what I rely on….for I have no other choice. I’m just here for the ride. I’ll lay down on the hospital bed, close my eyes, and let the doctors, nurses and tools do their work. I’m not desperate, because there is no reason to be, because I have no option but to trust the medical teams to do their job as best they can, to cut and kill the cancer and stop my dying process, my quickened physical degeneration. That’s all.

So I don’t beg and plead in the face of desperation. I don’t wail to the skies in confusion and ask, “Why?! Why me?!”.  Because I’m comforted by the developments of our modern age, reducing the relative desperation to a minimal degree. Cancer can be stopped. My dying process can be stopped. The processes that we have at our disposal to kill this cancer have brought the disease closer to the insignificance of chickenpox and influenza quicker than we could ever have imagined.

The desperation of disease is all relative.

When influenza killed, people were desperate. When chickenpox killed, people were desperate. They, surely, all the same, cried out, “Influenza?! Why me?”. And today, we scoff at our sniffles.

In a hundred years time from now (assuming we haven’t blown up or poisoned ourselves off the planet), I imagine we will be that much closer to viewing cancer in a light cast not much different from the flu, no longer questioning the morality of our existence, crying out, “Why me?! Why me?”. With a little luck and continued technological advancements, we may shrug and say, “Cancer? Damn, guess I have to cancel my Spring Break plans next week.”

I’m not being cut open on a kitchen table with rusty, unsterilized knives (as cancer patients and their experimental doctors were subjected to), so it’s hard for me to internalize this sense of desperation that compelled others to call out “Why me?”. Don’t get me wrong though….I get it. Cancer is not the common cold and the surgery, chemo, radiation and infection are not Spring Break plans jeapordized. Believe me, I watched cancer kill my sister…I know it’s seriousness. But that does not compel me anymore to internalize desperation, to seek answers from an indirect relationship between myself and a being of supposed consciousness.

I am not desperate. I am not special. I am not swinging on a karmic pendulum. I am not a subject of a higher morality.

I am fortunate matter…subject only to the chance and circumstance of our physical complexities, trying my best to live a valuable, rewarding, epic life as best I know how…in the face of adversity, in the face of disease, and equally surrounded by the beauty and joy we choose to interpret in the world.

So I don’t ask, “Why me?”, because there is no one to ask. The only question I ask is, in an attempt to build that valuable, rewarding, EPIC life….

“What now?”.