Monthly Archives: September 2013

Run Off A Cliff

I’m running. I’m running as much as my poison filled extremities will allow me to run, my feet becoming shredded as the continuous rubbing peels the flesh from the pads of my feet, the ends of my toes, and anywhere else skin touches skin…but I do it anyways. And, even to my own surprise, I’m getting stronger and stronger, faster and faster, as if I’ve begun slowly building towards another go at taking down my marathon PR. And it feels AWESOME….and yet also a little absurd. Absurd, because at some point down the road all this effort, all this strength, all this speed will be undeniably lost. It will be lost to either an inevitable, metaphorical cliff that ends in a relatively abrupt death or it will be lost to the forced paralysis of cancer killing surgery and recovery, confined to the hospital bed for weeks on end as before. I will, if all goes as we HOPE, watch my muscles atrophy, feel my bones pressed up against skin, and feel my lungs deflate to nothing but thin receptacles for weakened gasps of breath. There will be no marathon at the end of my training. There will be no goal race, no triumphant breaking of the tape, no basking in the glory of an effort that was pushed beyond all previous expectations. There will only be weakened breaths…or none at all. So, you understand why it all seems a little a futile. SEEMS.

Because, you know what, whether I’m running off a metaphorical cliff that is only temporary or one that is inevitably permanent…I’m running off that damn thing. Isn’t that how you’d rather do it? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the cliff awaiting me is permanent. That means the path I’m on has only one direction, one trajectory, and there is no avoiding that, so tell me, would you rather be drug towards the edge of that cliff and thrown off screaming and wailing in despair….or would you rather start kicking up dust behind you, running faster and faster, stronger and stronger, and just as you hit the edge of that deadly drop, extend your arms out to the side, lift your face to the sky then pretend to soar as your feet leave the ground?

I’ll tell you what I’d prefer.

I’d prefer to get up every morning and start running. I’d prefer to expand my lungs over and over, feel the sweat accumulate and thrown off the end of my elbows, hit the ground with the force of my body reverberating back into my building muscles, activate the neurons that fill me with the emotional power of gods, and lay weak and depleted on the ground when I’ve burned up all the fuel in my reserves and then feel the wave of relief and accomplishment wash over me like a cooling tide, filling me with each slowing rise and fall of my chest. And I’d prefer to do that every morning, over and over, again and again, even if each day brings me closer to that unavoidable cliff.

And at some point, should that cliff come into sight, and it becomes deeply recognized that there is no other path to take, no diverging option, no alternative path….then that’s when I’d not only extend my reach outward, but also begin to run even faster until I’ve broken into an all out sprint.

Some of us aren’t fortunate enough to see the cliffs in our lives and spend our days in varied states of wishing and hoping, anger and frustration, always preparing to do something great..until we stumble right off the edge. So with this realization that my own cliff may lay off in the distance should nothing else we try divert me towards a continued path of stable ground, I’m going to keep running and running, getting stronger and faster…if not for the immediate reward I get at the end of each powerful effort, then at least because I’ll be able to leap into the air knowing I’ve gotten as high as I possibly could.

And should my cliff drop towards a landing that leaves me only temporarily stunned, then the efforts will feel that less absurd, and that more rewarding when I find another path to start on at the bottom.

So, what would you rather do with the path of your life that leads toward an unavoidable cliff. Would you rather triumphantly run off the edge pretending to fly or despairingly walk off simply because you have no other way to go?

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The Tragic Sibling Bond – In Remembrance

I was at work when I got the call from my mom…not so unexpectedly. I assumed every time she called, especially when I was at work, I would be given the final news.

“Cari passed away this afternoon.”

“Ok,” I casually responded, fully prepared for this undeniable outcome, “How are you guys doing?”

“Well…as good as one can expect I guess.”

And that was basically that. She was 36 years old, married, had 3 young children, and died from Triple Negative breast cancer, though to be totally honest I’m not sure if she died from the breast cancer or complications related to chemotherapy treatment. Today is the anniversary of her death…and I’m not sure what I’m about to say.

I just know I loved my sister.

She and I had the closest bond in the family, she only a few years older than me, so we shared experiences that come from such proximity. She enabled a few lunch time ditch episodes in high school, called on her friends to fend off some of my bullies, showed me life in the city of Boston one summer when I lived with her, and so on. She was also a runner, trudging through multiple marathons as an adult, even with kids.

And she was proud of me…as only an older sister can be.

She liked looking out for me, even when I rejected it. She celebrated my “growing up”, holding a grudge against me for not letting her post photos of my son on the internet. And bragged about my running, posting photos on her blog when I was leading the local Komen Race for a Cure 5k in her honor. And although the physical distance between us kept our communication sporadic, she lived in Minneapolis and I in Indianapolis, we still kept in touch and talked about what was going on in our lives. For better or worse. Unfortunately, towards the end more the worse.

Cancer was killing her and I didn’t know how to really process this. I distinctly remember being on the phone with her when her shingles flared up and she started howling in pain over the phone, caught frozen in helpless fear I didn’t know what to do until her husband got on the phone and quickly told me what was going on. I hung up and felt cancer in a more personal manner than I ever had before, absorbed by it’s sometimes vicious reality.

I visited her a couple times from the prompting of my parents as her body continued to break down quicker and quicker, closer to the end each time. The first time I saw her in such a weakened state she could barely walk across the room and her face had puffed up from all the steroids being pumped into her body. I tried to pretend like nothing was different.

“How are you feeling?”, trying to convey some rare sense of younger brother empathy.

“Ok, I guess”, she sheepishly replied, though her averted eyes told a different story.

The next time I came to visit she was significantly worse off than before, now barely lucid and only periodically able to respond to those in the room around her. Her days consisted of being taken from her bed to the couch and then back to bed at the end of the day. She was, mentally, off somewhere else I assume, lulled into a state of physical comfort from the drugs that suppressed the pain in her dying body. She was now unrecognizable to me. It was absolutely awful to watch.

I didn’t go to her casket at the wake. She was no longer my sister. She was whatever disease had killed her…and I didn’t want to see that.

And then I carried on with life after returning to Indianapolis. I ran with a piece of her marathon shirt pinned to my back in Chicago a few weeks later where I set my still standing PR. It was important for me to take her on “one last run”, but my celebration, as amazing as it felt to me, was periodically hollow when I realized I couldn’t call her and tell her about it. She couldn’t brag about it on her blog and she never got to share in my pride of the effort. I always wondered how she would have reacted to that performance.

Regardless, I just kept going on, saddened by her absence, but never forgetting the spirit she left behind, the emotional mark I can still feel when I think of our sibling connection.

I was also mad…that she died of cancer. Because in my naivety, I just assumed she had done something wrong, had been eating the wrong foods, living unhealthy in some way…because that’s what I thought caused cancer. I thought it was always related to either some sort of unavoidable, unknowable environmental factor or a lifestyle habit that most people know isn’t all that great, but aren’t compelled to change, like smoking, eating too much sugar, or buying mainly packaged foods.

“At least,” I told myself, “I WON’T get cancer. I mean…that would be RIDICULOUS if it happened. Just imagine. But…that’s not going to happen.”

I was sure of it. Sure of it more than anything else in life. I mean, I knew vegans got cancer and I thought that was just tragic, but some sort of weird anomaly. I thought, whatever they were doing, I was doing something better. I was eating whole foods. I was eating organic. I was physically active every single day. I was running 2:25 marathons. People like me DON’T get cancer…I was sure of it. And I gave it little more thought than that except to pat myself on the pack for a job well done and a boost of pride in the life I had created for myself.

And I’ll admit this to you. Knowing that I was doing things different than my sister, as far as my diet went, ran through my head periodically, as a matter of fact, very soon before my diagnosis. I thought to myself, no joke, “I’ve outlived my sister.” And as sad as it made me to think about that reality, there was still that sense of pride in knowing that I was doing something right, that got me past 36 years of living to 37 years of living…all the while my stomach was growing and filling with cancer. It wasn’t but a week later I was stopped dead in my tracks. Naive? Now THAT was an understatement.

It all happened so fast that I didn’t even have time to really process my thoughts, to internally berate myself for even thinking something so stupid, to figure out what went wrong. Before I knew it I was coming out from under the knife and clouded in a fog of morphine. It was not too long ago I remembered thinking about my stupid pride.

And now I REALLY wish my sister was here, to share this tragic bond, or if not to share it than to at least gain some perspective from her. Or joke about it. I would TOTALLY joke about it with her, and she would feign that she didn’t find it funny, but she really would. Because I’m her younger brother and to joke about these things and drive her nuts is my job. I don’t know how she would initially take the news, but our bond surely would have strengthened going through this shared experience, and it would have been nice to hear some of her own thoughts about it all, have someone to call on that REALLY gets it, that knows the intricacies of facing a potentially fatal outcome. But, well, she’s not here and that’s all there is to it. Cancer took her before we could share one more part of our lives together, but it wasn’t THAT final of a break as her own cancer experience left me with a valuable resource of memories to live with and prepare for in mine. I can at least draw a positive from that.

I do miss my sister, more now than ever, if not because I can’t call on her for advice and perspective, then because I can’t tell her about my latest running accomplishments in the face of cancer, only to let her feel that sense of older sister pride again. It would have been nice to lift her spirits one last time in this tragic sibling bond. I think she would have been proud for the way I’m handing this.

————–

You can read my sister’s words at her blog – http://www.undomestic.blogspot.com – that is still up.

Living In Limbo

In my formative years I used to start projects, get super excited about them, and then after they started to falter….quit. Sometimes I didn’t even get that far. The very IDEA of something would get me so excited that I would talk about it incessantly, as if it was already happening, and then when the logistics of the project became difficult, I would trash the idea without another mention…sometimes leaving people I had roped in to help me hanging without a clue. I hated that about myself and tried to curb my enthusiasm when ideas would come to me as I matured, thinking through the logistics and obstacles instead of leaping straight to the rewards.

Through these experiences though, I’ve learned a bit about how I function best, which seems to be in spurts of inspiration that involve projects with a definitive beginning and endpoint, that don’t take long, drawn out timelines to reach completion. I’ve learned that if things don’t come together quickly and organically, I quickly lose interest and move on. This is why running has been such a consistent force in my life since I rediscovered my talents back in the summer of 07.

Running is easy for me. I mean, it’s not EASY, but it’s easy for me to develop my success with repeated endpoints as goal races, or even on a daily basis as mileage or workout goals. Every day I had something that was an achievable goal, that was rewarding, that came to me easy, that was always building to a crescendo in the foreseeable distance.

But things are different now and I find myself having to re-evaluate my goals and endpoints in the face of the first CT scan, of which the story read a little more vague than I would have liked. Honestly, all I know is that a huge question hangs over my head…will the chemo continue to hold the tumors at bay and if so, does that mean surgery might be effective after 12 treatments….or not? Does this mean endless chemo treatments until the circumstance changes for the better or worse?

AND HOW LONG DOES THAT TAKE?

And what if, just what if, things go the “wrong” way and suddenly I find my time limited? What will I have thought about the time I’ve spent the past year in waiting? Will I have wished I had been doing more? Will I be satisfied with my efforts? Will I have regretted wasting time on projects with an end goal that far surpasses my cancer’s timeline? Will I wish I had ran more…or less? Ugh…so many open-ended questions.

And this has been my overall consideration the past couple of weeks. Suddenly, I’ve found myself inspired, to continue running and riding, yes, but also looking towards long-term life goals as if cancer is 100 percent curable, or never existed in the first place. I think about loving again. I think about my career. I think about my son. I think about my running.

And then I stop.

Because….is it worth it? Is it RIGHT to emotionally bring someone into my life that may be cut abruptly short, that may become incredibly tumultuous in the relatively near future? Is it really necessary to struggle with developing my design career aspirations, foregoing other experiences to settle down and make sure I’m set up for the…future that may not be there? Should I be planning a running comeback when I know the possibility that this may never get better, that my body may be so irreparably damaged that my hopes will be crushed when the time comes? Should I be engaging in easier to achieve experiences when I could be working to make plans to be with my son?

I hate being in this sort of limbo, where I feel initially inspired to live out various life goals, but hit a metaphorical wall when I think about the timeline involved and the huge obstacle that seems to sever that timeline like a sliced open artery, bleeding to death.

Then on the other hand, I am currently choosing to embrace each day fully and follow my passions and inspirations, whether that be my physical development, artistic motivations and even romantic interests, but then find myself faltering, forced to consider whether I should be more sensible and spending my time planning for the future, taking advantage of this open space in my life to prepare for a financially stable, emotionally grounded and physically superior post-cancer life.

But, ultimately, nothing is guaranteed either way at this point. There is no RIGHT decision to make in the face of a POTENTIALLY abbreviated life. I’d rather know one way or the other. Is it ‘just a matter of time” or does my span reach “average life expectancy”? That way I could at least make a plan one way or the other. I don’t like being left hanging. It doesn’t jive with my Type A personality.

For now, I really have no choice but to accept this swinging pendulum of uncertainty. I take each day as it comes, follow my passions in the immediate sense and look a little further out as far as it feels safe to do so…and then hope to adjust my expectations down the line. And this is the point where I could say, “We never know when it’s our time to go, so live every day like it’s your last”…but that’s stupid. We’d all be broke and depressed if we truly followed that advice. So, I’m not going to live recklessly, but also not excessively safe either. I’m just going to keep waking up and hopping on the swinging pendulum to see which way it takes me until the next CT scan results come in.

I can only hope my perceived timeline continues to stretch outward with a positive prognosis. Until then, I can keep running towards a future that is either defined or delusional…but at least I’m running.

What Is Dying? What Is Living?

“Ain’t it funny how it seems…as soon as you’re born you’re dying!” – Iron Maiden

I think I’ve used this quote to start a similar post…but whatever…cancer card!

One of the worst parts of this whole cancer experience is the idea that my body is dying or at least deteriorating in some way. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life developing my personal character through self-education, confidence building, and so on, all essentially cerebral pursuits, but it’s only been in the past 7 years or so that I’ve really come to understand the value of a strong physical existence, of living as well as possible. There is something secretively rewarding knowing that all the philosophers throughout time, all the celebrities, all the priests and cult leaders, all the wealthiest CEO’s….can’t outrun me should we ever step into the woods or on the roads together. So to come to this appreciation of the physical self and really, REALLY experience it’s value in my life, and to then have it get stripped away is incredibly difficult to reconcile. THIS is what I do. The one thing above all other interests I’ve taken into my life, running is the one that sets me apart…and so to have that taken away…well, it just sucks.

Of course, it’s not GONE…it’s just compromised. I can still throwdown to some degree, though I can’t last as long. I can’t attack the hills with the same speed anymore. And my breathing is labored from the get go. But it’s not GONE…it’s just being attacked as I’m attacking back. And, unfortunately, the tag team of cancer growth and chemo poisoning are a foe stronger than my efforts. I don’t deny that. And so as time wears on, I really fear that slow deterioration that is going to consume my body and cause complications further down the line.

But you know what…I’m still alive. But you also know what…I’m dying. Truly. I’m dying because my body is deteriorating through cancer and chemo, and if cancer doesn’t give up (as the CT Scan just showed) then this deterioration is a quickening process that will end in my death. I’m not going to mince words about this or hide the truth. That is the reality of my situation.

The funny thing though, is that I’m also living….as in growing stronger. I’ve ceased looking at the concepts of life and death through a linear perspective, where there is a beginning point we start from and then an endpoint that is our funeral. I choose to look at the concepts of living and dying as a constant exchange of deterioration and strength. No one would look at a newborn and say, “They are now dying”….UNLESS that newborn has a defect that is quickly deteriorating their body. So the same goes as adults and even with the elderly. You can look at a 40, 50, 60 year old and start to say, “They are beginning to die”, but that’s not true. Everyone, to some degree, has the ability to START LIVING through the process of strengthening themselves against deterioration. Someone with a heart that is becoming continuously clogged with saturated fats is in a process of deterioration and dying, but should that someone change their dietary and living habits, they can immediately reverse the process and start strengthening and living again. You following me?

So, this is where it gets harder for me. I wanted to believe the chemo was killing my cancer, though I was very reserved, for good reason it turns out, to internalize that. I wanted to believe that my dying process was being slowed, or even halted, so that in the meantime I could get back to living, to strengthening my physical body. But, well, that’s not happening. And it hurts, because at the SAME TIME I AM living, meaning I AM strengthening myself post-surgery. I am getting stronger and stronger in my legs, in my abdomen, in my lungs.

And none of it is stopping my dying.

Because the one thing that IS deteriorating me, that IS killing me is NOT stopping. And in this consideration, that is the ONLY thing that matters to me. I don’t care if I can run a marathon at 5:30 pace again right now (ok, that would be awesome again), because if the end result here is a quickened dying, then the glory is short lived. I want to continue living, to continue to experience so much in life, to watch my son grow, to love again, to run Brown County from end to end and back, and on and on.

So, my efforts are, although infused with such a greater sense of importance and victory right now, also more bitter than sweet. Because even as I bask in my trail run from this morning as I type this, the cancer slowly divides and multiplies within me, unless we find a way to stop it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t say all this as a manner of giving in, of giving up, of, excuse the phrase, rolling over and dying, but rather because it’s a consideration I am forced to consider. Forced to. Earlier in my life I could consider dying as a philosophical practice, and then post-diagnosis I consider dying out of necessity, but now I consider dying because it feels closer than ever….which, again, is weird, since in other aspects of my life I feel as if I’m living and growing and strengthening, as if I’m crawling out of my darkness and back towards my previous life. But, again, that fucking CT Scan. The evidence doesn’t lie.

But don’t consider this giving up. It’s not. It’s my healthy, necessary, frightening consideration that I’m sharing with you in a manner of trust. Believe me, no matter what deterioration process takes place (slow, fast, not at all) I’m going to continue living and strengthening my life as best I know how. I’m going to continue running the trails of Brown County, riding my bike day in and day out, binge watching New Girl on the internet, drinking coffee like it’s the last cup in the world, having vegan cookie parties at xmas time, taking my son skateboarding and teaching him my best jokes, and so on.

But I still have one more consideration hovering over all of this, the idea of complete deterioration. My body is dying, in part, on the inside…but I don’t feel it. I just KNOW it because the evidence says so…oh, but that’s not mentioning the parts I CAN feel through chemotherapy side effects. But the type that REALLY worries me is the kind that begins and doesn’t end. I actually started to feel it back in April, which led to my current diagnosis. I mean, hell, my stomach was so crowded with cancer (“a 38 out of 40”) that it caused an abdominal hernia by pushing my intestines through my stomach muscles, and immediately I was having significant trouble eating, going to the bathroom, etc. etc. etc. Things were falling apart QUICKLY. And that scares me, because that’s the process of deterioration should the chemo just not work, or surgery again, or any other alternative that is presented to us. Should NONE of this work, that deterioration and dying will slowly and then maybe quickly take over my body…shutting everything down, preventing any delusional concept of living by running the trails again or anything remotely similar. That is the worst. The last thing I want anyone to say about me is, “Well, at least he isn’t suffering anymore.”

Trust me, I’ve seen that slow suffering….and it’s awful. On the other hand, the stories of people getting diagnosed and being dead 3 weeks later isn’t uncommon either, and although the suffering in those cases is minimal, it’s a lot of emotional loose ends for loved ones to try and tie up. Honestly…there is just no good end to the dying process of cancer. Period. And there is little solace to offer anyone (as I had to try just today) in either scenario.

And, well, I just don’t know what to say about this anymore. I’m living again…and I’m dying too. There is no way around that and it helps me to confront it. Believe me, I hope the latter ceases to be a consideration in the short term…I hope to have to face it at another time in my life, as we all will, when it feels more appropriate. But for now, this is my reality. And as much as I internally curse my circumstance, it is mine to curse and wait for the situation to resolve itself, one way or another.

Until then, I will resist the dying and live through every moment available to me.

Let’s all do that.

Bring Me The Trails

It feels a little dangerous writing this write now….as I’m not sure where my emotions are going to take me. I’m holding back a little in the hopes of not causing any undue collateral damage. With that said…

My oncologist called me with the CT Scan results today. For the very reasons that I didn’t internalize his optimism too much during the last appointment and why I didn’t really care what he said until he actually VIEWED the CT Scan and why I let everyone else express optimism and encouragement while holding neutral, he said the following….

“Like I said during the appointment, CLINICALLY you looked good, but since looking at the scan it shows that your tumors have not reduced in size at all.”

I sort of expected this. I don’t know why, probably as part of my inherent skeptical nature that tends to act as a defense mechanism for me, but there it is regardless. The tumors have not shrunk.

The fluid, on the other hand, that was most noticeable prior to surgery and which kept my stomach distended even after the operation was significantly reduced, and that is most likely from the intra-operative chemo that I was given. That’s a good thing, of course, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot in terms of “curing” my cancer.

I questioned my oncologist just to make sure I had everything write as I quickly scribbled notes in my sketchbook.

“So, you’re saying the fluid is significantly reduced, but the tumors have not shrunk in size and there are the same amount of them.”

– “Well, the NUMBER of tumors doesn’t matter. They are everywhere. The way your cancer grows is….it’s more like icing on a cake (well THERE’S a pleasant way to describe it) and I hoped to see a thinning of that layer, from maybe 2 inches to 1 inch, but there has been no thinning. This is what we expected from your current chemo treatments.”

“So, the chemo I’m getting right now doesn’t actually shrink the tumors usually?”

– “Not usually, because it often can’t reach the tumors from that think layer (don’t quote me on how this was being explained…it’s confusing to me a bit…but i’m paraphrasing pretty accurately), and so we hope that SOME of it is getting there and at least keeping the tumors at bay.”

“So, we’re going to continue with the treatments and then at the end of 12 take another scan and…and then form a plan of action (Surgery? More chemo? Nothing? I didn’t ask that part)”

– “Yes. After your last treatment we’ll take another scan and then I’ll be seeing you in April.”

And that was that. Basically. I called my dad to tell him the news and then tried to get back to my design work right away to keep my mind off everything else, though I realized that was an absurd notion as this information began to sink in with all the other coffee shop patrons around me.

I started to react internally. “Fuck…look at THIS guy! Why doesn’t HE have cancer! Damn..this dude can’t even keep his pants up and stuffs his fat face with egg sandwiches and HE doesn’t have to worry about having cancer. Fuck.” I let the anger move out of me and decided it was best to pack up and ride home, though on the way back I could barely find the drive to push hard and just let the hills coast me to my door. I didn’t feel like fighting anymore today.

I’m at my parents now, setting my alarm clock for an early waking to drive in the dark down to my second home of trails for a long solitary trail run as the sun begins to rise. It’s the only thing that sounds good to me…to be away from everything, by myself, in the trails, physically hurting instead of emotionally. That’s what I need most. I don’t need prayers, positive thoughts, healing vibes, etc. I appreciate the expressions, but all that does little to make me feel better. I just need to go do what I do right now.

Finally, this Tuesday I go back in for my 5th chemo treatment and talk to my medical oncologist who also has a copy of the CT Scan. I’ll have more questions for him about the diagnosis, just for clarification, and the continued treatment plan, not to mention what to expect from the side effects as this continues on (I can barely see the words I type right now due to my blurry “chemo eyes”). I have a handful of questions, of course, and hope to understand a little more about the process…and probably ask a few tougher questions as well.

And for now…I”m just going to leave it at that. Just bring me the trails.

The Genetic Lottery

A few of the friends in my life have been really thoughtful about my cancer, often discussing the diagnosis with me or letting on that they have given great consideration to the “why” of it all. I get that. I think a good many people were actually shocked by my diagnosis, given the impression that I’ve been a “healthy individual” or at least someone who pays attention to the foods they put in their body, is highly active, and publicizes those efforts often. And so it follows that people really want to know “why this happened” to someone like me, because the general story goes that you get cancer because you messed up. You get cancer because you smoke. You get cancer because you eat hot dogs. You get cancer because you were unfortunate enough to live by a field that got sprayed with carcinogenic chemicals every other day. Basically, you get cancer from “knowable” circumstances or behaviors….but that’s not necessarily true.

What I’ve discovered in my own reading up to this point is that there is no ONE thing that gives you cancer. In actuality, we ALL have cancer, in that we have cancer cells in our body that are kept in check and prevented from growing, attacking, and spreading by specific biological mechanisms. And in order for those mechanisms to fail, thereby allowing cancer to grow and spread, a CASCADE of “failures” needs to take place. So it isn’t just ONE thing that causes cancer to grow. It isn’t JUST smoking. Yeah, we can confidently say that smoking is an aggravating factor, but it’s not JUST that. It has to be in concert with other developments, such as other environmental factors, or diet, or gene mutations. It’s that last one I’m going to discuss further here.

So even with these cascading influences, I’ve done a lot to eliminate the ones we know of from my life. I do a lot “right”. I eat organic often. I eat primarily whole foods. I eat little refined sugar. I am very active. But, ignoring environmental factors, there is nothing I can do about a fundamental gene mutation that allows cancer to grow. Now, I’m not at ALL saying that a genetic mutation is what caused my cancer….I honestly have no idea WHAT caused it….but it’s worth consideration. It’s worth consideration, if not for my sake, then for my son’s sake.

It should be mentioned here that my grandmother died from a stomach cancer and my sister died from breast cancer that metastasized to the rest of her body…and now I’ve got stomach cancer. That’s three people in just 2 generations, so to know more about our genetic lineage and if there is anything we can do specifically to address the potential of cancer risks is important. And I KNOW genetics is a powerful force in our family. For whatever athletic talents my parents did or didn’t tap into, I can tell you that me and my two sisters tapped into our running abilities and all succeeded at some level or another and it’s safe to say that is, in part, DIRECTLY related to our genetic lineage. That part of our life was, as my coach likes to say, “winning the genetic lottery”, but all the same we could be losing it too if we can’t figure out what MIGHT make us more susceptible to cancer growth than others, no matter if we do the “right things” or not.

Let me say this though….it’s too late for me, probably. I have cancer. But maybe my cancer, as the third in our lineage, is the tipping point to figure out why, or at least ONE factor. Maybe, with the advances made since mapping the human genome and genetic testing becoming more affordable, we can figure something out.

Just the other day my parents mentioned talking to someone, who after finding out about my family’s cancer history, strongly suggested I go for genetic testing. Now, on one hand I don’t care….my cancer experience has begun and is HOPEFULLY nearing it’s halfway point, but I’ll tell you, if the information gained from the testing could in any way help my son avoid having to go through this due to any genetic mutations, or whatever, that I might have passed on to him….then yes…let’s do this….yesterday. At this point nothing has been scheduled, but it will be an interesting experiment to discuss down the line.

So yeah, I’m not going to labor over the “whys” of my cancer diagnosis and I’m certainly not going to look for THE magic bullet, because there isn’t one. The simple truth is that we are biologically complex beings subject to shifting influences in our world, working our way through the evolutionary process, always works in progress that don’t follow a trajectory towards “perfection”, but rather wax and wane with the tides so to speak. We are incredibly imperfect, filled with microscopic DNA chains that can turn us into athletic superhumans and yet at the same time have us drop dead without warning all because of one tiny little break in the genetic chain. Seriously. We are both strong and fragile.

Following on this subject, a reader commented on my last post with the following (excerpt):

I guess after reading “The China Study” and seeing “Forks over Knives” I was just assuming that being vegan can stop cancer and prevent like 97% (that aren’t genetic) of cancers, so I am disappointed you have it.

The reader is relatively new to veganism and his “disappointment” is not directed at me, but rather the idea that maybe what is said in The China Study and Forks Over Knives isn’t necessarily gospel. Believe me, I get that. I had read The China Study and watched Forks Over Knives before my diagnosis and as convincing as they are, I had my skepticism. The claims were just too good to be true and I as read a little deeper into the science of it all I found a LOT of criticism on the way the studies were conducted and the conclusions that were published.

In this day and age it is folly to think that any CURE TO CANCER is being suppressed by some money hungry corporation. That’s just a level of skepticism and conspiracy theory mentality that is completely out of touch with the reality of the situation. So, with The China Study and Forks Over Knives, although they make a lot of great points about changing ones lifestyle and diet to benefit ones health, they aren’t THE SOLUTION to curing cancer. I’ve been eating vegan for 19 years now….and I got cancer. As much as these movies want to sell the idea that eating vegan will make you invincible to cancer (and they do that), I bet if you pressed the researchers and authors, they would tell you that is simply NOT the case. They know this and it’s too bad that the impression of these movies leads you in that direction.

Just recently THIS BLOG touched on the very subject of “disease shaming” in relation to vegans getting illnesses. To take an excerpt…

Every day, I see more and more far-fetched claims about veganism from a health perspective, presenting it as the ultimate magic bullet to unflagging wellness. Vegans do get cancer (less often, but still), we do get fibromyalgia, we do get aneurisms, and we can also break our legs, necks and so forth. These things happen. It’s nothing to be ashamed about, but, too often, we choose to live in isolation rather than risk exposing that we are mortal and vulnerable, just like everyone else.

This is very dangerous.

Veganism is a lifestyle that encourages compassionate living. Very often, there are real physical advantages to it, too, but perhaps this is overstated in our eagerness to win people over and to save more animals.

You know, there was a time when I WANTED to believe that veganism would make you bullet-proof to disease, but after thinking it through I quickly got that idea out of my head, which was good because I soon came across plenty of people who got cancer, had heart attacks, and other ailments…and guess what…it probably wasn’t diet related. Some of it may certainly have been (you can eat an incredibly unhealthy vegan diet), but some of these deaths were shown to be from genetic mutations and fundamental problems in biology (enlarged hearts, etc.) that can’t be eaten back to health. Hell, some of the country’s top marathon hopefuls (2:15 marathoners) have collapsed and died on the run just as they were breaking into the pro-circuit…and it wasn’t because they ate poorly. Anyways, I’m digressing.

My point is that not everything has a social enemy. My cancer may be, in part, from environmental influences, but it may also be primarily from an uncontrollable genetic mutation, just as my athletic abilities as a distance runner have A LOT to do with my genetic lineage. I may have both won the genetic lottery AND lost it (no offense mom and dad). It’s hard to say.

Ultimately, we are imperfect beings simultaneously growing and degenerating with the energy of existence and we should always do what we know is best to live “the right life”, to live as we know will best raise our quality of life, but also recognize that our imperfections are out of our control and nothing is guaranteed. That is the ONLY guarantee.

My only personal concern now is if I did, in part, “lose” the genetic lottery, that the part I “won” will work to take over and put this cancer into remission so I can get back to shaping the part of my genetic lineage that turned me into a unique distance runner. And then hope any potential cancer-causing mutation I might have doesn’t get passed on to my son. Above all else, that is what matters most to me in this consideration.

(Not So) Side Effects

If you follow my Facebook or Instagram you might get an impression that what I’m going through right now is less than pleasant, but that I’m also highly functioning and cruising through this whole chemotherapy process like it’s just an episodic interruption every few weeks instead of a consistently debilitating condition. I’m mostly to blame for this perception as I tend to celebrate my victories and only occasionally talk about the physical downsides to all this so as not to be a whiny, sympathy seeker. But that perception is skewed, because although I AM highly functioning and doing my best to curb the negative aspects of all this, it’s really not mostly clear skies and spring breezes, and it’s important that I make known some of my lesser physical problems for those that may be facing this or face it down the line…or even know someone going through it.

So yeah, I ran 10 miles yesterday. And it was AWESOME. Sort of. It actually hurt…a lot. A LOT A lot. It was probably the slowest and most painful 10 miles I’ve ever run, but I set out on a 5 mile out and back course and was determined to finish no matter what I encountered along the way physically, but I wasn’t expecting the pain in my feet to be SO intense. Oh, and it turned out that it was like 85 degrees with some ridiculous heat index to match, so that didn’t help either, but that was external and not related to cancer.

Anyways, the pain I felt on that 10 mile run was a direct side effect to my chemo treatments, of which these “side effects” are taking front and center to cancer, more than just hanging out on the side. This specific one I dealt with on the run is called Hand and Foot Syndrome, which has been making itself known during my past two treatments and is related to the 5FU treatment I get during infusion and the Xeloda pills I take for 2 weeks straight. The pain in my hands is tolerable, though not an enjoyable sensation to wake to every morning. My fingers are extra sensitive to both touch and temperature, most notably cold, and have experienced discolorations on specific pressure points. The sensitivity gets more tolerable by the afternoon, but right after treatment it can be a big issue with riding my bike into downtown and having to shift or brake. The feeling of pins stabbing the ends of my fingers shoots into my hands everytime I exert pressure on the levers, making for precarious braking. I just try not to shift while this happens. But even as that pain lessens throughout the days away from treatment, the sensitivity still makes for trouble as I struggle to open small wrapped candies, unscrew my tube valve cap, etc. Then there are my feet.

If I don’t take extra special care of my feet, the pain can get out of control. I learned this the hard way walking around in flip flops during my vacation two treatments ago, as by the end of the week I was essentially walking on a foot full of blisters and couldn’t even go to the beach the last day as the effort would have been excruciating. I started wearing shoes around the house and doing everything I could to protect my feet, which was working…until I started upping my mileage. Hand and Foot syndrome makes your skin A LOT more sensitive to rubbing and increases the chances of blistering, so although sometimes it FEELS like I’m walking on a foot full of blisters, other times I actually AM. This past week, with my increased mileage, I started getting blisters on my feet, but I assumed it was from running on the treadmill, which tends to both get more sweat into your shoes and slightly alters your gait enough to rub where your feet don’t normally rub, all leading to blisters. But then they got worse and worse and each night I find myself spending time popping blisters or trying to coax others from forming, to little success. Then the sensitivity from the continued pounding increased.

So I had it in my head to run 10 miles and although I had on a new pair of running shoes with sufficient support, and although I was running outside, and although I made it to my turnaround at mile 5 in relatively good shape…it started to go downhill from there. By mile 6 the balls of my feet were yelling at me. By mile 7 they were screaming at me. By mile 8 they were silent…because they lost their voice. The pain on the balls of my feet was SO INTENSE, like each step was landing on a pad of blisters…but I wanted to finish without walking, badly. Very badly. I just had to keep going…so I did. And I made it to mile 10, elated to both complete the distance for the first time since diagnosis, and to be able to stop. I walked to the lockers, took off my shoes to take a shower and at the first step was suddenly stopped in my tracks. Now that the adrenaline from the run and pain response had subsided it now felt WORSE than walking on blisters and I very, very, very gingerly made my way across the tile floor to the showers. And that’s how the rest of my morning went. I carefully walked back to the lockers, got changed and carefully walked up the stairs one by one. I then had to lean on my bike just to make it to the coffee shop and after sitting there figuring out how I was going to ride home on such painful feet, I gave in and called a friend who came and picked me up. I spent the rest of the day in bed hoping to keep the pressure off my feet and heal them up for the next day.

And now, well, I’m still popping blisters (pretty huh?) and pampering my feet so that I can get back to training as quickly as possible, my only hope being that the syndrome dissipates quickly now that I’m starting my “off week” of chemo pills, of which the symptoms do tend to subside. By the end of the week I hope to have continued training, but also lessened the symptoms, especially considering I’m riding the Century on Sunday!

And that’s just the latest physical setback I’ve been dealing with. The one that has interrupted my life the most this time after treatment, but of course, that’s just one.

There is still the incredible sensitivity to cold foods or liquids right after treatment, keeping me from ingesting anything cold for at least a week and a half.

There is the tongue numbness that follows treatment.

There is the overall gross taste in my mouth that comes and goes.

There is the low-level, but consistent, nausea that has sat in my stomach after the last round.

There is the light-headedness that threatens to topple me if I stand up too quick from bending over or laying down.

There is the awful feeling of my stomach contracting agains the food moving through my intestines on a daily basis.

There is the mild constipation from the nausea medication that gets in the way of daily plans without warning.

There are the dried eyes that makes focusing on text damn near impossible and opening my eyes upon waking downright painful.

And so on.

It’s just….not pretty. Granted, the “off week” is the best where I’m the farthest from treatment and the worst of the effects are lessened or gone, and anything related to the Xeloda pills is waining too, so I hope that pattern continues this week, but that is only part of the cancer picture.

Yeah, I feel VERY fortunate to be as functioning as I am. To be able to ride my bike with strong effort, run further and further (not necessarily faster yet…YET), and generally go about my days without too much restriction, but that doesn’t mean nothing physically troubling is going on. Something is ALWAYS going on. It’s so consistent that some of these side effects now barely register…they are just part of my life, as if everyone experiences them, as if they are supposed to be there. And that’s kinda depressing. Ultimately though, I do know these are temporary, and I can only hope to keep some of these from progressing as I figure out how to adjust to their intensity with each treatment.

Then somewhere down the line I hope to experience a continued progression of side effect minimizing until each one withers and dies completely, where I can focus again, swallow cold liquids, not always feel generally gross, and most importantly, run without concern of destroying my feet in the process. Until then, this is just a part of my daily life I have to figure out how to manage and not let consume me or my moods. With that in mind, you can expect me to keep celebrating my victories and suppressing my struggles.