Monthly Archives: June 2013

Active Inspiration

I want to share this email with you and then elaborate a bit. Trust me that in sharing this story I’m not self-advertising for egotistical purposes, but setting up some thoughts I’ve been considering regarding the idea of “inspiration”. Regardless, this story hit me deep and my spirits were lifted tremendously. Thanks for sharing Mike.

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I had an olympic distance triathlon yesterday. At each event, I write someone’s name on my arm for motivation. Somehow, I feel like if I can make myself hurt a little bit more I can take away some of the hurt they’re feeling. I don’t know if it works or not, but it’s something I do anyway. Yesterday, I was writing your name on my arm, and the guy next to me noticed what I was doing.

“Extra motivation?” he asked.
“Something like that,” is how I replied.

We started chatting and it turned out that he moved here from Indy last September. I mentioned you, and he said that while he didn’t know you personally he was aware of your diagnosis. He still keeps in touch with the Indy endurance crowd. When he figured out that he knew the guy who’s name was written on my arm, he asked for my marker. He had never done anything like it before, but he wrote your name on his arm too.

I don’t know how you felt yesterday, but I finished 33rd overall and 4th in my group. The guy from Indy scored his first top 10 age group finish ever.

Your influence is reaching across the country. We’re thinking about you out west.

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So much lately I’ve been told how inspiring I have been to others, how “inspired” I am and how I’ve been in others thoughts as they’ve been forced to face down and push through adversity of their own. From close friends to complete strangers on the other side of the world, my experience has touched those outside of me in positive ways, and although I am privileged to receive these statements, and although I accept them with great humility and gratitude….I won’t deny that I feel a twinge of awkwardness with each expression. Let me explain.

I feel awkward, in part, because the inspiration others have received from me seems to be little of my own doing. Simply, my existence through this ordeal has inspired others to push on through their own obstacles. And this is great, but meanwhile, I do nothing but lay in bed, watch crappy television, manage my pain with pills, and wait out the cancer killing process. I’m reminded of a quote by Christopher Hitchens,

“Courage? Show me a fight I can walk away from.”

I just don’t feel like I’m consciously offering anything of inspiration to others. If others are deriving inspiration from my experience, then again, absolutely great. I would never think less of anyone finding the drive to push on, whether I have actively contributed to it or not, but there is more to my awkward response.

When others express being inspired by either me directly or simply my experience, I can’t help but internalize a sense of obligation…to BE INSPIRING. And that poses problems, because I don’t always feel that way. I don’t always feel I CAN be inspiring and I can’t promise that I’ll always be able to offer that inspiration. I know the tone of my blog writings can take a dark turn, that sometimes I’m physically destroyed from the process, that I tire of having to deal with the whole experience, that sometimes I consider the relief that would come through death, that I just want to disappear and hope this all goes away as soon as possible. Ultimately though, I just don’t want to let anyone down. When I internalize this idea of “being inspiring”, I set myself up for failure in that I won’t always be able to perform, to offer that sort of inspiration.

So if you’ve ever said to me, “You are so inspiring”, please don’t take offense if I’ve looked away and unenthusiastically replied, “Thank you”, and then changed the subject.

But on the other hand….I WANT to be inspiring. And if this cancer is an opportunity to capitalize on that, then I’m going to do everything I can to make it happen.

As a runner, I’m constantly driven to pull inspiration from outside sources when I can’t find it in myself to keep pushing on. I pull from my music, my internal stories, the accomplishments of others, and anything I can sink my desperate, struggling claws into until I can overcome. It wouldn’t be fair if I selfishly harvested inspiration from others to achieve my goals, to run like I never thought possible, and then not try to actively reciprocate. So it was a cruel coincidence that at the very point I started to do just that, to actively return the inspirational favor, cancer hit.

I had taken an inspiring meme that began turning over in my head one trail run, “Legs and Lungs. Legs and Lungs. Legs and Lungs”, into an Instagram hashtag, then expanded it into a wider culture of inspiration, followed by a building clothing line and, most importantly, a series of videos where I interviewed individuals who I felt had inspiring stories or accomplishments to offer to others. I wanted to build and add to the idea that we can do and be so much more than we think, using the inspiration of others to help get us there as individuals and a culture. I just wanted to reciprocate that inspiration. Unfortunately, cancer brought those concerted efforts to a screeching halt (for the time being).

You can see the Legs and Lungs interview videos here.

But it wouldn’t be fair to say that cancer killed the inspiration I was trying to build, because the experience I’m now facing has brought me into contact with so many people across the world and whether they have taken inspiration from something I’ve been active in creating or simply pulled from the experience itself, the inspiration is there. Honestly, I don’t know what part I’ve had in creating this, aside from a hopeful blog post here and there, but I’m glad to have had some part in it regardless.

I accept that others have gained inspiration from my experience, but if I haven’t made it entirely clear previously….I’m getting the greater inspiration from all of YOU. You have no idea how important that inspiration is in this compromised emotional and physical circumstance. Every encouraging word, every trail run photo, every summit photo, every winding road, every expression of accomplishment….they drive me to reject what could be a self-imposed confinement, an acceptance of the shitty hand I was given, a depressing physical state that compels me to sit and whither away instead of continuing to live my life. On a daily basis I am inspired by the accomplishments of others, those facing avoidable and unavoidable adversity alike, to get out of bed and, no matter how frustrated or uncomfortable I feel in the moment, to work through the adversity and live against cancer.

Some of you make a concerted effort to offer me that inspiration, contacting me directly, and yet some of you have no idea that you effect me all the same, whether it’s by simply posting a photo or expressing the excitement of getting out there and living your life. The value I receive, the inspiration I get, is immeasurable. And I try to make the most of it.

Take yesterday. I had not run the trails of Brown County, my second home, my second heart even, since before diagnosis and I felt a strong emotional pull to get back down there and get on the trails, no matter how hard the effort was going to be. I just wanted to be IN the woods, to feel that comfort, that familiarity, that life I lived before it became consumed by this stupid cancer. I was excited, no doubt, but I was also greatly concerned. I had only run once outdoors since my surgery…and it was hard as hell. 4 miles at 9:00 minute miles and I was destroyed when it was over, so to think of running on trails, with significant inclines, had me a little more than concerned, so despite being very excited to get down there and experience those trails again, I still held great reservation as to what it might be like and what might happen once I entered the woods.

Then a package came in the mail with some clothing and a note that not only expressed being inspired by my experience, but equally gave me the inspiration to continue on. Then my instagram was flooded with images of trails around the country. Then I received the email I copied above. Suddenly the reserved excitement turned into a determined inspiration, and any reluctance I had about what running those hills was going to feel like dissipated in the powerful gestures of friends and strangers. I was unreservedly inspired.

I entered the woods, absorbed by the familiarity of every turn, every tree, every rock, and began pushing forward at a pace that, no matter how slow, had my heart rate pounding at its maximum. The very act of simply making an effort, what would normally have been my incredibly slow recovery pace, was redlining my systems as if I was doing hill sprints. It was hard, but I kept going. I let the familiar rhythm of labored breathing take over despite the flattened terrain and concentrated on hitting solid footing under noticeably weakened legs. The trail twisted and turned and I kept focus on moving forward, not letting up in pace, but not trying to be a hero either. The trail began turning upward and I felt my redlined heart rate try and revolt against the new strain, but I managed to keep it in control and focus on picking up my weakened legs over precarious rocks and roots. In what would have been a laughable warm up just two months ago was now like pushing through the last 5 miles of a marathon. It was hard..real hard.

But I was inspired. I thought about those who thought of ME when they hit a rough spot in their training. I thought about those who thought of ME when they wanted to cut their run short. And I knew I had to keep going, not only because I was inspired by their efforts and wanted to do them justice, but because I wanted to reciprocate. I wanted to actively offer the inspiration this time…so I kept going…and I topped out that hill, giving my suffering heart rate a brief respite before starting back into a downhill section of the trail. Mind you, it was still hard and I didn’t expect it to get any easier, but the inspiration I carried was much greater than the beating my systems were taking. I carried that inspiration through the rest of the run, hitting my turn around point and following the trail back to the trail head where I could finally let the wave of relief wash over me. The inspiration that carried me through the trail, however, might have been a little more powerful than I hard realized though, as I stopped at the back of my car and suddenly had to bend over and hold onto my knees for stability. My legs were wet noodles, threatening to buckle under the weight of everything above them. My head swam a little in a fog of imbalance and the all too familiar nausea crept into my abdomen. Maybe I had overdone it a little.

I took the time to recover, had a couple mountain bikers take some trail head photos so I could reciprocate the visual inspiration for others, and made it into town for a celebratory lunch. The day, despite the discomfort that would come later, was an undeniable victory that I might not have achieved without the inspiration I was able to gain from others gestures and experiences.

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I don’t have any great realizations with these considerations, nothing that hasn’t been said before, but I can offer you this, if my cancer experience affords me the opportunities to consciously and actively inspire others….I will capitalize on those opportunities. However, I could never do this alone. It takes that same inspiration of others to give me that strength, to create something of an inspirational feedback loop, where you and I work together to create the lives we want to live. Let’s make a pact…You continue to offer me inspiration when I’m beaten down, when I need it the most, to keep me living against cancer….and I’ll do my best to reciprocate every chance I get. We can take the value of passive inspiration and increase it exponentially by making it active.

Deal? Deal.

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This. Sucks.

This. Sucks.

Forgive me for my simplistic, brutal honesty on this one, but there is no point in mincing words. I’ve been encouraged for my honest depictions of my cancer experience, and although I’d like to always offer something of positivity and seeking the best in the situation…well…sometimes it’s necessary to just put that all aside and call a spade a spade.

And this spade SUCKS.

It sucks when I’m forced to walk hunched over every time I eat a meal of substantial portions. It sucks when I look out the window and see the most beautiful weather and know there is very little I can actually do in it. It sucks when my stomach muscles cramp and spasm. It sucks when the nausea creeps in and I find myself frozen in place, waiting for it to pass. It sucks when I have to continuously count the hours and measure out which pills I have to take and when. It sucks when I think of what I’ve been physically reduced to in just two short months. It sucks when I think about the larger picture of life, devoid of justice and fairness, and am resigned to just accept this random circumstance as that….random. It sucks that I get no relief from even thinking about my cancer, that it sits with me physically and mentally at all times. It sucks that I look far into the future and have no idea when this ends, when I can get back to the work of building my life. It sucks when I wake each morning to a blank slate, crippled by the ability to do so little and so few options regardless. It sucks that the circumstances of my days have me passing the hours mostly alone, fighting off the frustration of isolation and loneliness. It sucks that I’ve just begun the next step of treatment and it has expectedly knocked me to the ground again, with so far to go before I can pick myself back up. It sucks that every step I take, figuratively and literally, is with caution and concern for what comes after.

I’m sorry…it just sucks. And there’s no way around this.

I know the potential in positive thinking and I appreciate the encouragement along the way, but sometimes you have to strip away the veneer and just accept the marred surface for what it is, to face it down and see what you’re dealing with. The surface IS marred, extensively, and there is no point in denying that and I wonder if it does more harm than good to deny it, or ignore it. After all, if this situation DIDN’T suck, I suppose I wouldn’t be making such efforts to get past it. Of course, I’m not going to just let the suckiness of the entire situation consume me and drag me down emotionally. I’ve seen enough shadows of the emotional darkness as it is and I’d rather not be pushed towards them any further, but I also don’t think it’s fair to live in a state of denial, to pretend this isn’t so bad or present a situation where everything comes out roses. Because honestly, it’s just not always like that.

Sometimes, it just sucks. And you can’t do anything about it except wait it out. You pass hours and hours watching horrible television. You struggle and strain to find a comfortable sitting position. You stare into the distance waiting for the discomfort to pass. You sit hungry, but too nauseous to eat. You remain uninspired, but desperately wanting to be occupied. You want everything, but are relegated to nothing.

And there is nothing else to say about it really. Sometimes it just sucks…and that’s all it does.

Updates

Three days after my first chemotherapy treatment I walked into the oncologists’s office for a follow up appointment, to see how things were going and get some basic information about treatment and schedule the next appointment. I slowly drug my poisoned body up the stairs, fought hard to distract myself from the non-stop nausea that had consumed me since the treatment and waited to be called into the exam room. A nurse called out my name, weighed me (down to 129 from 134), took my vitals and then had my dad and I sit tight while we waited for the oncologist.

He walked in cheery as usual, making small talk.

“You staying out of trouble?”
– “Hah. I wish I had the ability to even make trouble. I’m so nauseas I can’t do anything.”
“Well, you’re taking your anti-nausea pills aren’t you?”

*Pause*

– “Uhhhh…no. I wasn’t GIVEN any anti-nausea pills….but if you’ve got some I’d LOVE to have them.”

He wrote me a scrip for generic Zofran on the spot.

It had crossed my mind that I probably should have been given anti-nausea pills after treatment, because the overall feelings of debilitating nausea were not subsiding as I had hoped, assuming each day would bring greater and greater relief as the chemotherapy poisons left my body….but this didn’t happen. I didn’t know what to expect really, so when the nausea did not subside, it seemed only right that I would have been prescribed some pills to help with this.

The problem was most likely due to the change in procedure because of insurance absurdity. We’ve been waiting on approval for Medicaid for over a month and a half now, and because I was still “Medicaid pending”, I couldn’t have my chemotherapy administered through the oncologist’s office, but instead had to take it at the hospital across the street where the routine is so common that the whole experience seemed as casual as plugging me in, unplugging me and sending me on my way. Well, probably somewhere in there I should have been given some anti-nausea meds…but I wasn’t. So for the three days after treatment I was in a constant state of debilitating sickness, always feeling on the verge of vomiting, afraid to move, afraid to speak, afraid to eat, afraid to do anything so much as send an email in fear of setting off some internal imbalance that would have me on my knees and grasping at the sides of the toilet.

But this is now, somewhat, water under the bridge. We left the oncologists’s office, drove straight to the drug store and picked up the anti-nausea medication that I swallowed as soon as I could. Of course, it wasn’t THAT simple.

I was prescribed a 10 day supply, that I could likely extend into 15 or more days if I was feeling well, but because of some sort of insurance policy, I could only get a 2 day supply. Yes….TWO. DAYS. So that means, every two days I have to head back to the drug store to pick up another two day supply….for the next 6 months, should I continue to need these meds. I’ve been told there are other ways to deal with these insurance restrictions and I’m looking into them, but as it stands, this is going to be my procedure for quite some time.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful though, for the fact that accumulated knowledge has actually created these anti-nausea meds in the first place is an immeasurable relief. Not too long ago, people were generally just screwed (that is, if they weren’t privy to the powers of marijuana), having to suffer through the effects without any relief at all. I honestly don’t know how they did it…and I only hope the advancements in dealing with the side effects only continue.

For me though, I’m ingesting a cocktail of chemo pills (3 in the morning, 2 at night), a vicodin (1/2 in the morning, 1/2 at night), and anti-nausea meds (1 in the morning, 1 in the evening) like I’m living with the Jetsons in a future where humans survive on pills only and food production has become unnecessary. As out of my normal routine and perspective as this may be, I’m just happy to be functioning and moving towards my next chemo treatment, each one a step closer to ending this once and for all.

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I’ve tried my best to contact or express my gratitude (in various ways) towards everyone who has helped me along the way to this point. I continue to have friends step up and offer gestures of support, whether that be simple conversation, transportation, food, financial support, and more. I’ve said it many times, but it will never be enough….thank you. The timeline to kill this cancer has been drawn so far off into the distance that it’s hard to see the endpoint, and it has become quite difficult to reconcile my life coming to a complete halt (in ways) during this time period, where I am unable to work and provide for myself financially. I have been, however, so incredibly fortunate to have friends come forward and contribute financially to ease that burden upon me, and I don’t want that to go unrecognized.

Each penny is so incredibly appreciated and takes so much off my mind. You all are helping me keep my house, pay my utilities, stay on top of working out of debt, and most importantly, help provide for my son. Above all other financial considerations, knowing that I can continue to provide for my son, and to give him the experiences he deserves, despite my condition, when he is with me next month warms my heart more than all else. I will NEVER be able to thank you enough for helping provide for my son.

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Speaking of, next month he will be with me…and I can’t wait. I won’t deny that I hold a small amount of apprehension at his arrival, but only because I want to always give him the greatest experiences I can offer as a parent, and knowing that I’m not 100% physically saddens me, knowing I’ll have to work extra hard to make sure I give him everything I want for him. Of course, I’m not doing this alone. My parents are with me or available 100% of the time and so he will not want in anyway, but of course, I don’t want to miss out on one second of parenting time either.

With that said, I am never more emotionally grounded or satisfied than when he is with me, so his presence will be the greatest distraction I can think of during this trying circumstance. If there is any direct correlation between a positive mental attitude and the healing of the physical body, I’ll be well prepared to deal with the next chemo treatment during the coming month.

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That’s about it for now. My days are simple, just managing the discomfort that has been added with chemotherapy, waiting for the next treatments and trying my best to find the little joys that get me to each coming day with a hopeful outlook. Thanks again for helping me work my way through this all.

Revolting

And then the body revolts.

I left the hospital feeling unimaginably well, no…good. Almost great. I don’t know if there were extra pain killers in the pre-meds, something in the anti-nausea medicine, or what, but I left feeling unrestricted, able to take deep breaths, stand completely upright, and in a generally relieved mood.

Quite hungry and wanting some comfort food after the ordeal, my dad took me to Whole Foods to use up more of the gift card given to me by my running teammates. I got a vegan muffin, lara bar and crunchy sugar cookies – my latest “cancer craving”. I ate the muffin and lara bar before my dad dropped me off at home and nothing felt too different, but no later than he had driven away from the house I started to notice some changes in my abdomen. It felt full, slightly bloated, and I began to feel a liquidy rumbling deep within, causing both discomfort and increasing pain. Suddenly, I felt very much like I did in the hospital when I developed bowel complications and was forced to various invasive procedures to alleviate the pain. I began cathartically rolling back and forth in bed, unable to shake the feelings. Soon enough, I hit my breaking point and called my parents, pleading with them to come pick me up and take me to their house for monitoring and very desired creature comforts (a soft bed and my own private bathroom).

I made it to their house, headed straight to the bedroom and tried to ride it all out, with only the most meager of relief that seemed to come and go with small doses of vicodin. The night crept in and I knew I was in for a ride, probably only falling asleep from exhaustion instead of a deliberate attempt. But still, I didn’t know what was going on inside me. Was it just eating too much food during the treatment? Did the anti-nausea medication wear off and bring forward the need to vomit? Or was my body revolting from the flood of poisons it had just been administered all day, unable to process the deadly, foreign fluids? I don’t know….but it felt absolutely horrible. I knew what was coming.

At some point the exhaustion did take over and I fell asleep, but woke consistently to the shifting tides of nausea, until It built to a crescendo. I couldn’t take it anymore, walked to the bathroom and found myself immediately on my hands and knees both trying to embrace the sensations and yet also fight them back. It was undeniable though, my body was revolting from the poisons.

I threw up. The pain of the act itself almost throwing me to the floor as I punched the bathmat as if to fight back against the attack, waiting for the next wave to either take me over or dissipate. A temporary relief came over me and I was able to fight off anymore, finding my way back to bed and falling back asleep after the effort.

And 2 hours later I woke right back up, racked again with the same all-consuming nausea. I was immediately back on all fours, gripping the side of the toilet and succumbing to the wave of sickness driving up within me. As we’ve all felt, the sweat built on my body and suddenly I was wretching, once, twice, three times…and then unceasing. Again and again, at least seven times I threw up, far more than I’ve thrown up in the past 10 years combined. I was sweating out of control. The backs of my hands weren’t just glistening with moisture, they had full beads of sweat pulled to the surface and sitting on my skin as if I had just walked in from the rain.

It. Was. Horrendous.

And yet, it also felt all so understandable. I had just been flooded with poisons and my body was saying, “Um…no. This doesn’t work for us and you know it. This junk doesn’t belong in us.” It was sort of a relief, knowing my body wasn’t just accepting the poisons, processing and handling them without issue, but conditioned and memorized to keep in the good and push out the bad.

But that doesn’t mean it didn’t feel like hell. It did.

It does.

I’m STILL feeling the effects of the chemo, hoping to hold off this final wave of nausea and allow me to ingest food without worry…and just feel ok for a bit.

And to be honest, this is what I was worried about. What I’ve said from day one is that I didn’t want this extended chemo. After seeing the effects upon my sister, this is what I was hoping I wouldn’t have to deal with, knowing the potential effects of the killing process can be some of the worst in the process. And admittedly, I was hoping what was to come might hold off for a few sessions. I’ve heard the fatigue and complications come after the accumulation of treatments, so to have this happen IMMEDIATELY isn’t very comforting. I might be in for a ride a little less appealing than I was hoping for. But, as I’ve been saying, nothing is guaranteed and I just have to take each day and each treatment on it’s own, see what happens, and manage what may come.

But let me use this latest setback, this latest physical beatdown, to reinforce an obvious message. Stop. Whatever lifestyle habits you engage in that we KNOW potentially contribute to the growth of cancer (smoking, nitrate ridden hot dogs, red meats – hell, most animal products -, chemical consumption, etc.)…stop. Stop doing them. This sucks. You DON’T want to deal with this. This stopping of one’s daily life, the alteration of identity, the potential financial ruin, the effect on your friends and family, and the continuous, shifting and unavoidable wracking pain, discomfort and dying. There isn’t much to say about this except, you just DON’T WANT THIS. Period. I know you can’t FEEL this. You won’t be convinced by an experience you can’t have, but trust me, it’s not worth it. Whatever short term satisfaction you get from your habits, the potential long term negatives are simply not worth it. So stop. And I’ll leave it at that.

For now, I’m waiting this out, hoping the dilution of chemo in my body stems the tide of revolt within me and I can become somewhat functioning again…until the next time.

Vessel

The process of administering chemotherapy, or to put it quite bluntly, POISONING, is freakishly routine and unceremonious. There is no sort of preparation phase. No warnings. No, “Are you ok? Are you ready for this?” Because, frankly, all they do is hang a bag of poison from the “tree” and let the poisons drip through a long clear tube into the access point somewhere in your body. I was fortunate enough to have a special “Power Port” implanted into my body, which makes the continuous poking of an increasingly weakening arm vein unnecessary. Now, the nurses just use a connection device and “plug” right into me. And that’s that.

My body begins to fill with poison.

As a matter of fact, it’s filling with poison as I type this. It’s a weird thing that, coming to terms with the body as a receptacle for poison, a vessel for fluids that kill in the process of saving. But it’s not just the poisons that fill the vessel either – that have turned the perception of my body from a symbiotic machine, acting in concert with its environments, taking in energy and exhaling the by-products effort, into a closed vessel that contains everything that enters – but all the other pills and fluids I must necessarily ingest and retain.

My new routine demands swallowing three poisonous pills (Xeloda, to be exact) upon waking and two more before sleep. These slow release pills enter my bloodstream (or somewhere) and begin to kill off the cells, some of the good with the bad, that reproduce the life-stopping cancer hiding within. I don’t know how they do their job….but I trust they do it.

At some point by the afternoon I will also take a vicodin, it too acting in ways I don’t understand, to ward off the discomforting and painful effects that come from the crowding cancer in my abdomen and the unpleasant sensations that are central to post-surgery recovery.

Those, however, are merely the daily efforts to fill the vessel. At the hospital, once every couple weeks, I now not only fill the body slowly with pills, but FLOOD the vessel with poisons…after the initial formalities, of course.

There is the stabbing into my power port for blood draws, which conversely is a small emptying of the vessel, before the clear tube is hooked in and a saline solution injected to clear the entry point. The first of a handful of liquids runs its course, right down the pathway into my heart.

The saline is then followed by the first nausea medication, the power of which I trust is warding off a sensation I hope to never experience, the powerful effect of the poisons that are to come, the sensations that not many years ago left patients racked with misery, doubled over, knees to the floor, most likely praying out for relief. Those prayers have, fortunately for me, been answered by the accumulative knowledge of modern medicine, of which I am inexpressibly grateful. The medicine drips casually into my system, allowing me the privilege to sit here and type without restriction.

Then 40 minutes later the tube is clamped, cleared, unhooked, and then rehooked into a separate bag of vessel filling fluids. The fanfare still completely absent, the clamp is released and without so much of a flinch the poisons begin to drip into my heart, drop by drop, cautiously controlled this first time in to empty itself over a 90 minute period. If I handle this initial dosage well, the next treatment will be shortened, and so on.

Drip. Drip. Drip. The poisons fill the vessel, flooding the body with cancer killing agents. And despite being fully conscious of this seemingly unnatural act, a slow-suicide of sorts, I remain as calm as the procedure, letting the vessel fill, not trying to fight off or expel the liquid death. Fighting fire with fire…in a lounge chair.

It’s odd to look at the body this way. Where before I sought to fill my body with the healthy energy I knew was necessary to create a healthy output, I now recognize the need to pour in a terrible substance, a killing liquid, and hold it inside, to contain it securely. It’s an ugly thing this poison. Let’s not pretend otherwise. But this disease is immeasurably uglier and right now these chemicals, these poisons, are the best weapons we have at our disposal to deal with it effectively, so I don’t mind submitting to this unnatural act.

And I am inexpressibly grateful that we’ve come to the point that I can fill my vessel with these cancer killing, yet life-saving, poisons and do so calmly, rationally, and functionally enough that I can even type all this in the process.

Ultimately, however, I look forward to the day my vessel tips and these poisons come spilling out, letting the healthy cells grow into the place where the bad used to reside.

Living Against Cancer

I really feel broken right now. Physically mainly.

I have always been proud of what I’ve done with my body up until this point, the effort I put in to be able to run the miles I have and the subsequent changes that took place in my body. The muscles I built in the process. The toning of arms and legs. The eradication of any dead weight body fat. The expansion and lengthening of my genetically “long lungs” as the radiologist called them. I enjoyed watching my body transform, knowing the work I put in to run as far and as fast as I could was making that happen, day in and day out.

So right now it hurts to see that fade. But it’s more than that. It’s not just the lack of physical activity I can’t participate in that is changing my body, reverting it almost, but the foreign, outside influences that are having its effect. That is the part that is hard to reconcile. I can handle doing this to myself, because I know I can always turn it around and build my body back up, but when something out of my control is changing me, well, that’s just harder to swallow.

I feel broken when I look at the scar running up my stomach. It’s the piece of plastic wedged beneath and protruding out from my skin. It’s the blue plastic of the internal sutures pushing through my scar and snagging on my clothing. It’s the potentially permanent markings on my arms from where I broke out in an allergic rash to the medicinal tape used during surgery.

And those are just the parts I can see. There is the lack of breath, just going about my morning routines. There are the muscle spasms that viciously grip my insides every time I eat or drink. There is the overall lack of strength and energy consuming my body. And there is who knows what else going on inside me from the ravages of the surgery itself.

All of that is at the forefront of my every step, every portion of my day. It is not forgotten, not even in the land of pretend health brought on by pain pills. What I can’t feel, I can see.

But this is not the end of my physical story. These are just the parts I can’t control. On the other side, there is my determination. There is that part of me that is beyond cancer, beyond my physical body, that has driven me every day to this end. It is a part of me that will ALWAYS be there, no matter if I call upon it or not, it can’t be taken away. It is irrevocably mine, part of me, somehow coded into my DNA in a way that not even life-threatening illness can reach.

And it is this determination I draw upon to fight back against cancer, against the ravages of my physical body, against my current state of brokenness. If I can use the phrase, “fighting against cancer”, it is in this manner, not actually killing the cancer inside of me by my activities, but by drawing upon my determination to live the life I had not two months ago, to fight against every broken part of my body and live despite them…live against them.

I assure you, I do not romanticize this. When I go out for a 30 mile bike ride, it is not just an every day, casual bike ride. It is an act of great determination to live against cancer, to grasp the epic in the every day, no matter how small, how compromised, how relative. In the face of what I used to define as epic and amazing, it may seem laughable, but in relation to my broken body, it is nothing but. No matter how normative it may look, no matter how casual I may seem riding along the trail, inside my spinning legs and behind my shielding glasses is an act and appearance of great determination, that piece of me deep inside, that is no different in experience than when I was running those 30 miles instead of riding them. With each turn of my legs I’m struggling against fatigue. With each bump and shortened breath I’m fighting against my brokenness. With each completed ride I’m successfully living against cancer, refusing to give in to an entirely altered life and letting the externalities of killing the disease within me dictate my days.

I may be broken, but I’m far more determined. So no matter how hard it may be, no matter what new traumas may come when chemotherapy starts on Monday, I’m going to continue living against this cancer. You have my word on that.

Moments In Context

It can be a little trying living in moments, because right now it seems like moments are what mark my days. They are sometimes physical, sometimes emotional, but perpetually swinging on some sort of pendulum that pauses only so briefly for relief at the end of it’s arc before careening back in the other direction.

Most notably, I’m seeking moments of physical relief, marked by four 5 hour intervals in which I swallow a vicodin and wait for the wave of comfort and energy to wash over me. If nothing else of value determines my day, these small moments of comfort certainly do, and I seek them out with a scheduled determination that rivals any programmed machine. I am my own clockwork. I take the vicodin, wait an hour and bask in that moment, that realization that the small pains and larger lethargy have dissipated. Where I was uncomfortable and almost unable to work up the energy for the most simple conversation, I find myself in a moment of physical freedom and opinions spilling from my mouth like an overturned faucet. I do love those moments.

Then sometimes those moments seem almost stretched out on “good days”, strung together like xmas lights, each one lighting up a portion of my day, so close in proximity that I think an entire morning is good or an entire afternoon. On those days I feel good, almost healthy, and I make the effort to do something physical strenuous like riding my bike around the city, or when I’ve planned ahead, to even get out for a run. The point is that at every opportunity, I try to make the best of the moments, because I can’t rely on having good “days”. Right now, I can rely on the moments that come with medicinal relief and those seemingly extended moments that just happen to show themselves on various mornings.

Like I said, it’s trying to live like this, never to rely on guaranteed comfort or physical ability, unable to plan ahead for more valuable moments, especially when pre-cancer I shaped my life around these guaranteed moments. Prior to cancer I held to my mantra, “Do something amazing every day”. I held to that mantra because I could, because without fail I could rely on my running efforts to fulfill that quota, to give me those moments. And I miss that.

Right now, in this moment (influenced by a “good day” coupled with pain medicine), I want another chance so badly. I want to start over. I want to push the reset button on my running. To zero everything out. To be placed right back on square one. To start over and have another chance. I verbalize this for two reasons. First, I want those moments again. I want those epic experiences where I pushed my body past boundaries I didn’t think I could reach in the first place, hitting distances and speeds that seemed superhuman. I want those moments back. And second, I want to know what my TRUE running abilities are when my body is cancer-free.

Regarding the second consideration, this cancer is very slow growing, so it’s quite probable that I’ve been struggling against it for over a year, possibly two years back. As I’ve touched on before, I struggled HARD with my running in the last month or two before cancer showed it’s face, and the effects of it’s growth undoubtedly worked against my running abilities, so I can’t help but wonder how far back it was compromising my work. There were times I questioned my ability to progress, shaking off the “you’re getting too old’s”, to put in more work, but only making nominal forward movement. I just couldn’t seem to regain that strength I once had not but a year prior. And now, I can’t help but wonder if cancer was playing a part in all this. Who knows? But I do know I at least deserve the chance to find out, to start all over and build my fitness back up without cancer getting in the way.

But here’s the thing…I’m saying this now in the context of a “good” moment. Because all systems are firing and I feel good and I can imagine this happening again. I can imagine the strength filling my body again and my drive to succeed taking over once again, because I’m in the moment.

But this is rare.

To be totally honest, most of my days are consumed with the thought that my competitive running days are done. That my running days, period, are done. However, EVERY thought is in the context of the moment, and unfortunately my days are strung together with moments of self-doubt, lethargy, and physical discomfort. To even consider the act of running in this context is just absurd and I deeply question if cancer has taken this away from me, the one act I’ve been able to rely on for so much daily value for the past 7 or 8 years.

Fortunately, I know what it is to doubt, and to do so in context. I’ve been there with my running in the past. I’ve been in those moments where I’ve said, “Fuck it. I’m done. This just isn’t working. I’m moving on in life.”, and yet two months later I’m screaming, “OH hell yeah! Bring it on!”, because these are the thoughts in context. Every runner knows the all-consuming desperation during times of debilitating injury, and we equally know the superhuman strength we feel after crushing our hardest workout. We are creatures of context.

And this is where I am right now, my days more often overcast by negativity and desperation instead of brightened by hope and excitement. It sucks, to say the least, because the longer those overcast skies hang around, the deeper I sink into the context of negative thought, which does no one good. And for that I am incredibly grateful for these days, like today, where the pendulum has swung heavily towards the other side of context, into moments filled with comfort, energy and corresponding thoughts of positivity, where I can look past cancer and see me putting one foot in front of the other again, quickly, with deep breaths, and unceasing drive.

And that is what is always to be remembered, that life is just a matter of context. In a state of negativity, we will be negative. In a state of positivity, we will be positive. The goal then is to shape that context, either through thought or action, to build those moments of value until you’ve strung so many of them together that your context is only of value. It’s not an easy task no matter how succinctly stated, and I, admittedly, struggle with it now, but it is also not insurmountable. Even in the face of a life-threatening illness I fight to keep it all in context, to know that with a great deal of expertise and a little bit of luck, this will all be temporary and I’ll be back to running again, starting from square one.

I’ll see you out there under brightened skies.