Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Fault In Our Breaking Bad

I read The Fault In Our Stars just before my surgery…I think. I don’t know, the cancer timeline has blurred. I might have read it between surgery and the start of chemo. Either way, I read it when I was deep into the emotional pool of cancer, treading water in order to find my way to some stable ground, so the book resonated with me deeply. I remember thinking the author, John Green, probably had cancer because I was struck with just how much truth there was in the first 2 chapters. He, despite NOT having cancer, developed an intimate knowledge of the cancer experience, what the patients are forced to consider and what we FEEL. It was refreshing to know others understood, even if they didn’t physically feel, the experience.

Then I realized the book was set in Indianapolis. But not some fictional creation plopped down in the boundaries of our city’s namesake…but actually IN Indianapolis. I’ve been to the parks Green describes. I’ve run in the neighborhoods. I’ve filled up at the gas station where Augustus has his late night brush with death.

That book didn’t just hit close to home…that book IS home.

Part of me loved the sense of connection I felt with both the story and the setting. Even today, I run by “Funky Bones” in the 100 Acres park Green describes and all I can think of is the book and the story (anyone want a personal “TFIOS” tour?). But, in a way, it’s now become TOO close to home. With the release of the movie came the flood of excitement by so many moviegoers who rightfully loved the book, loved the story, and have approached the film with the same level of enthusiasm as a comic nerd would to the newest X-Men. And that feels weird.

That feels weird because, to many of us, this is nothing to be excited about.

I quickly debated seeing the film and then even more quickly realized that would be awful. Now, I don’t fault anyone for wanting to see the movie, to approach it with the expected disconnect that we enter most films, recognizing them as abstractions, as simply stories. I would not want to deprive someone of this experience, but on a personal level, I just can’t get excited about seeing the film. I haven’t seen it, and I most likely won’t. Not while I’m in the middle (beginning? end?) of this cancer experience. It’s simply not fictional to me, unfortunately. This is, again, far too close to home…literally.

When I was in the hospital, a well-intentioned friend told me I should start watching Breaking Bad. In his mind, he thought I would enjoy the story line and get a kick out of the somewhat dark humor of the parallels between the show and my life. He thought, “He has cancer. You have cancer. You’ll love it!” Normally, he would be right, but there is that disconnect again. It’s just all too real and although I make cancer jokes and keep myself grounded through all this, the emotional weight is very heavy and even more difficult to push aside. So when I was trying to recover in my hospital bed, I started watching Breaking Bad, when all of a sudden, in the middle of the 3rd episode I freaked out and shut it off, internally yelling, “Ahh! What are you doing?! This is awful!” I never tried to watch it again, despite the internet’s enthusiasm with the show and attempt to quell the spoilers.

And then I turned it on last night. I thought maybe I should give it another try, while I’m doing very well emotionally, and before surgery comes again. Maybe this time I could find the humor in it all. I finished that 3rd episode, then went on to the fourth and fifth before falling asleep….with a disturbed feeling trying to keep me awake. I woke feeling the same.

That was stupid.

Right now, I’m doing very well emotionally. I’m very physically active, building a living doing what I love (design and running coaching), maintaining a very stress-free life, and simply enjoying every day, but I know this is temporary. Surgery is on the horizon and everything is about to come crashing down, and I should have known better than to jump back into that emotional cancer well, knowing how hard it can be to climb back out.

Sometimes, it feels important to let go and submerge myself in the cancer experience, feeling the emotional weight press down upon me, almost wallowing in the sadness. That can be cathartic. It can give perspective. But it can also be stifling. It can cast a negative shadow on days that would otherwise be bright and positive…so I’m trying to be careful with the influences I let into my life. And I know I’m not alone in this.

I’m not the only one avoiding The Fault In Our Stars. I’m not the only one who doesn’t share dominant culture’s enthusiasm for the story.

It’s a good story, no doubt. But for some of us, it’s not just a story. It’s a reality that doesn’t end after 2 hours, without scrolling credits, without a beautiful soundtrack, without the sense of relief that comes from knowing that when the sadness ends…so does the emotional involvement. We have to live with this everyday and make the most of it.

But I don’t mean to sound scolding or self-pitying, because honestly…I’m doing pretty good, and despite (or because of) all that has unfolded in the last year, my life feels even greater than anything Hollywood can fabricate. That’s no story.

Inside The Fridge

I was asked to contribute to this food / nutrition spotlight called “Inside The Fridge”, run by Dietician, Robin Plotkin. Aside from my ramblings on eating and other such matters, you get to..well…look inside my fridge! Come on, you know you’ve always wanted this privilege! πŸ™‚ Check it out in the link above.
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Disclaimer….maybe Laura cleaned out the fridge prior to the photo and maybe I bought more than just peanut butter and dark chocolate almond milk…maybe.

Running, Cancer & Lessons in Recovery

Cancer has brought me to many realizations and although I can stretch any perspective into the realm of running, they don’t always apply. However, the lessons I’ve learned about recovery are undeniable, as I face them every day. For better or for worse.

First off, ask my coach about my recovery process. He’ll probably tell you I suck at it. Now, that’s not to say I CAN’T recover, but rather that I don’t LET myself recover. Where I should be running 7:00 to 7:30 miles on my easy days, I’m usually pushing 6:00 to 6:30 miles…just because…just because I like to run, I like to feel that “high”, that struggle, that experience inherent to pushing oneself at a certain limit. I don’t like running to be boring, where I’m just passing distance and not even laboring in breath. Recovery and intensity of experience are oppositional forces.

Which means I’ve often run myself into injury. Or at the very least, compromised the intensity and value of my truly hard days of running.

Cancer, however, doesn’t play. There is no, “Eh, I don’t feel like taking it easy today” with cancer. There is, quite the contrary, the effort to actually make it hard. Cancer takes you down, whether through surgery or chemo. And I’m the better, more knowledgable, runner for the experience.

My first bout of forced recovery was after surgery just over a year ago. I don’t exaggerate when I say the effect on my body was equivalent to about 20 of my 2009 Chicago Marathon efforts…as if run back to back to back, without a change in pace. I was DONE. Just reaching across my hospital bed to grab a cup, or even just sitting up in bed, was an incredible effort in both pain avoidance and muscle engagement. But that recovery was unavoidable. I knew that was coming and I knew the trajectory of that recovery was only for the better. I could only get stronger from that point on. There was very little backsliding.

But then came Chemo, and the recovery mimicked the process necessary in running. It’s still hard to say to others, “I have cancer.”, because I don’t feel it. I FEEL chemotherapy and it seems more appropriate to tell others I’m fighting chemo….both through the process of strength and recovery, and I’ve learned more and more how important this is to my running as well, in part because they are intricately linked.

I have chemotherapy infusions every three weeks and where they were once debilitating in their side effects, I still fought against the destructive tendencies through aerobic and muscular strength building. Then the worst of the drugs was removed from my regimen and it was like the clouds were lifted. I was so much more physically able, or at least the unmotivating side effects were minimalized. I was, however, still taking chemotherapy pills on a 2 week “on”, 1 week “off” basis, which is where the importance of and inherent bodily processes of recovery became very, VERY apparent. The most noticeable of the side effects is Hand and Foot syndrome, which if I can try to succinctly explain, feels like taking course sandpaper to the bottom of your feet and then walking on sharp pebbles. It’s awful, and some days I was left barely able to walk through my house. And yet, in the morning, I could still fight through 4 or 5 miles of treadmill running before it got out of control…and then I had to stay off my feet to recover. And recover I did. Amazingly. Not necessarily of my own volition, but of my body’s. It just fixed itself so quickly, allowing me to run the very next day.

But there is an accumulation process with chemotherapy and where I could get away with running despite my complications, there was a point that the recovery was never strong enough and I really started to suffer. My fingers cracked and bled. My feet were covered in blisters and just walking through the house was excruciating. No amount of inherent recovery could push back against the destruction of chemotherapy. I was breaking down quickly.

That’s when my medical oncologist felt I had enough and adjusted my schedule, switching me to a 1 week “on” and 1 week “off” regimen, hoping to aid my body’s natural recovery process. And just like that, everything got better again. My hands and feet, although still problematic, felt better. My fingers stopped bleeding. The pain in my feet held off later into my runs and I was able to build more and more mileage. Where I was forced to take off 4 days at a time, I was now able to get away with just 2 or 3. I was encouraged and motivated to keep pushing, to build strength, and let the recovery process force it’s way into my plans.

This back and forth, push and pull, really brought me in tune with my body’s recovery process, it’s ability to regenerate against such destructive chemicals, in a way I had never really been forcedt o experience. I tried to follow its path. Without a pressing race (or ability to race) on the schedule, I began allowing myself days off when I could feel my muscles stressing too far. I cut miles short. I waited until I knew I was strong enough to run again.

And I was the better runner for it. I could run stronger, faster and longer on the days I COULD run, and I wasn’t worn down from continuously trying to fight against the chemotherapy. I was really just biding my time, whether that was for a change in diagnosis or surgery. Ultimately, I was learning more and more about my body and the value in recovering from the stresses of chemo and physical deterioration. I was learning when to push back and when to let go.

Last infusion my medical oncologist took a look at my hands again…and didn’t like what he saw. My palms were severely discolored and although they weren’t bleeding or in significant pain, he took me off my pills for the week, “giving my body a break”, yet again. I’m not going to lie…I was thrilled, though I didn’t show it to him. It’s a funny thing this, being in a position to fight off a life ending process of cell reproduction, and to be excited when you’re taken off the drugs that may be keeping you alive. But sometimes…as in running….you just need a break.

I stopped taking the pills, and just as I expected, the recovery followed immediately. The pain left my hands and feet…by the end of the day pretty much. The next morning I was ready to go, ready to run, unhindered by the destructive process of staying alive, which meant I could add my own measured stresses to my body, letting recovery do it’s thing in a different way…not just pushing back against chemo, but actually building the body stronger for the next battle. And the next two weeks…oh man…they were awesome. I let go. I ran and ran and ran, even doing my first WORKOUT…with racing flats! I put the over padded Hoka One One’s on the shelf and went back to running in trail shoes and racing flats, just trying to squeeze in enough muscle/aerobic strength as I possible could in this moment of reprieve.

I also didn’t let myself recover. Intentionally. And I’m sort of paying for it. I ran myself into problematic heel/foot pain, over stressing my systems with an increase in mileage that I knew was not advisable…but in my circumstance, sometimes good advice isn’t the best advice. So I kept running, because my time of strength building is limited and chemo will show it’s face again, forcing me into a state of recovery…which is exactly what is happening now.

I started taking my pills again Monday. And just as the body’s ability to recover is amazingly powerful and quick, so is chemo’s destruction. By the afternoon I was feeling the expected sensations in my hands and tips of my fingers. By the next afternoon I was feeling mildly nauseous. And on my runs I was, again, hitting the “wall of drugs” as my red blood cells are battered and destroyed by a big FU of medicine. Actually…that “FU” of medicine is literal. The acronym for my pills is called 5-FU. No joke.

And those pills said…hey…”F. U.” to my body.

So that’s where I am again, pushing back against the wall of drugs as I run to the end of the week..on a sore heel, which is the least of my problems really. At the end of this week, however, I’ll stop taking the pills for now, and although the sensitivity in my feet will be heightened, I’ll be able to recover once again and push back, building muscle fibers, recreating red blood cells, and engaging with the process of recovery yet again. I will get stronger. I will get faster. I will have been stressed, but recovering from the stress will only make me a better, fitter runner and person.

Then come August, I will experience that same destructive process of surgery and back to that trajectory of recovery.

Here’s my hope in all this. Through running, we break ourselves down only so much in order to build back up to a better place. We do this in a controlled manner and when we allow for sufficient recovery, which I’m learning to do through this experience, we get stronger and stronger very quickly. So maybe..just maybe…this repeated process of surgery, recovery, stressing, recovery, stressing, recovery, surgery, recovery is priming my body for something amazing to come. Maybe, just maybe, after surgery, (if I’m past cancer…and that’s a BIG if), my body will be able to handle the stresses of running even better than before. It will take the stresses of 6 x 1 mile and laugh. It will say, “That’s all you got? A little muscle pounding? Please…I’ve been FLOODED with poisons. You’re going to have to try harder than that.” And then it will recover. And it will be stronger. And it will fight back with more and more oxygen rich red blood cells.

And it will run faster than ever before….with a newfound sense of controlled recovery.

That’s my hope.

Running Towards Patriarchy?

As much as I’m an individual that thinks about and engages with the act of running, I’m equally an individual that thinks about and engages in social politics, though I often try to keep the two separated. For one, there isn’t a lot of crossover between the two. But also, politics is tiring. Wait…running is tiring too…but in a different sense. Anyways, I try to keep my running intense, but not weighed down by the trappings that seem to consume political action and groups. Sometimes, though, things need to be said, and today I engaged in a race environment that left me with a lot to say. So here goes…

I joined Laura at the Indianapolis Women’s Half-Marathon and 5k race downtown this morning, there as a supporter and spectator. This race has been plagued with a number of issues the past couple of years, the responsibility of which lay directly with the previous race director. This year the race was taken over by a much more professional and respectable promoter, bringing back a number of runners who had sworn it off due to the previous complications. Overall, the race was handled well, despite a few unfortunate logistical mishaps, and the promoter should be congratulated for salvaging a struggling event.

With that said, there are other issues with the overall presentation that I think are worth addressing. To summarize the event, it’s a women-only race, that seeks to engage women in the running community and, I have to assume, bring them into an activity and event that welcomes and supports them. I think that’s great…although, admittedly, I’m not quite sure the running community has ever been an environment where women have not been welcomed. I believe the gender breakdown overall falls in favor of more women at running events than men, though don’t quote me on that. Regardless, this isn’t football culture. This is running.

And I think it’s this generally gender neutral promotion of events that makes the running community so diverse. It’s also why I think there is a little pushback when it comes to the aesthetic and logistical promotion of these events. I know for a fact that a number of runners were put off by the stereotypical “feminine” aesthetic of the promotions, using flowers and butterflies and other dainty, pretty, soft elements. On the other hand, I got word that the butterflies were taken off this year’s logo, and there was such a swell of complaints that one of the butterflies was put back on the logo and this years Tech-T. Well, you can’t please everybody, of course. I will say, the dark blue Tech-T’s were a good color choice in staying away from the typical feminine aesthetic, and seemed to be received well.

The race, as races go, was a pretty standard start to finish affair, and that’s great…and although the “pump up” music at the start was a little cheesy, especially the dance remix of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”, that can be overlooked. I’m not convinced it falls into my overall critique and frustrations. Speaking of that critique, it all came together at the end of the race.

At the finish line was the normal digital clock, MC calling out names and encouragement, and a suspiciously stacked finish spread. There was the expected water and bananas, but then pizza, cookies, strawberries, and more. Again, I don’t want to LOOK for critiques, but was this just good planning or a touch of extravagance for the female crowd? Anyways…there was something else at the finish that put me off. Roses. For ever runner. Roses. I have NEVER been offered flowers at the end of a race. And guess what, I like flowers! I would actually like a flower at the end of the race, but, of course, no one would think to give flowers to all the finishers, because really, only women like flowers. Right? Right. I digress a little here.

There was another thing. At the finish there were very “manly men” draping medals over each woman before they were given a rose. These men were National Guard soldiers, stereotypes of the type of men our culture tells women they are supposed to desire. Strong. Protectors. But let me address one thing…it turns out these soldiers were volunteers for the race and were there from the start, helping set up the event, and helping close it down. They weren’t, as far as I know, “staged” as representations of “manly men” offering medals and roses to the expectedly swooning women. These volunteers may be nothing more than, if I may use the term, “collateral damage”, in the war on sexism, but the fact stands…other women-only races end with models, scantily clad dressed men, firefighters and other archetypes of the “desired male” handing out medals, jewelry (yes, jewelry), and flowers to the women. So, these soldiers may not have been set up to present this specific “extravagance” on the women, but we can’t separate gender stereotypes from well-meaning actions in this context, and that’s too bad.

So here are some of my thoughts about all this. Unfortunately, we live in a society severely skewed by gender privilege. We live in a patriarchy where men have the privilege, have the resources, and exploit them to their needs, which often amounts in subjecting everything “not male” to their desires. Women can be included in this hierarchical structure in so much as they serve roles to men. They can be waitresses, sexually-tinged dancers, and other objects of subjection. They are, at best, not taken seriously. They are, at worst, dehumanized slaves…literally. And, unfortunately, the processes of sexism range from the overt to the incredibly subtle, in ways that can even be seen as supportive, or internalized by women themselves. And it is the accumulation of all this subjectivity, overt and subtle, that culminate in a patriarchal society where domestic violence seems to be the norm rather than the aberration. And that’s not ok.

So when I see events organized against, or in this case for, women, I become highly critical, because the end results of sometimes well-meaning gestures are not pretty.

What’s the big deal with a rose then?

Well, that rose represents so much more than an object of beauty, unfortunately. That rose represents a perception of women as fragile, dainty creatures who are more interested in pursuits of beauty than they are strength, confidence and accomplishment. And that rose, culturally, represents the exchange between males and females that is predicated on the male as the giver, the wooer, and the female as the passive recipient, the wooed. She should be touched and grateful that her gentle femininity is being acknowledged. As a tangent, I can’t help but think of the time Laura bought a new car and out of the blue a salesman brought her a rose as some weird thank you gesture. I bought my car at the same place and barely got a firm handshake. I’m not trying to exaggerate this seemingly nice gesture. Our culture is far beyond the idea of a chivalrous knight rescuing the helpless princess with a rose in his teeth. Because you know what, when I saw the winners of the half come sprinting down the last .1 of the 13 miles, their suffer faces on full display, I didn’t see anything dainty, weak, or concerned with nothing more than the advances of the knightly men around them. I just saw some badass runners killing it against all common sense.

But let’s talk about those men some more. Admitting that they might have been just inadvertently placed volunteers, and ignoring the gesture of the rose and the typical exchange it represents between man and woman, there are other problems to address here. Notably, I reiterate the presentation of these chivalrous or sexualized archetypes at other races. There are the fire fighters. The scantily clad models. The men in tuxes handing out Tiffany jewelry. These are blatant ploys of, not service to women, but representations AT women. These are archetypes of the “desirable” male, that both insult the varied preferences of women and the idea of what constitutes a desired male. What if, instead of sexualized male gender representations, the individuals at the finish were men who worked in domestic violence organizations, or partners of the participants, or teachers, or any non-sexualized, non-relationship based individuals. Or, at the very least, what if the men weren’t there to offer wooing gifts of jewelry or roses to the women, but were simply there as most other volunteers were there…as support. As encouragement. As the individuals who helped collapsing runners to the side, or gave water, or directed them to the bushes for post-exertion puking. (see, I can retain a sense of humor through all this). What if the race was simply just like every other race, but with women only, acknowledging that there IS a need to create space for women only, for anyone not on the top of the hierarchical structure, but without all this other gender-based baggage?

And there’s something else. The men at the finish, whether inadvertently drug into this problematic social dynamic between genders or deliberately placed there by race promoters (such as at other races), are men. And women are women. And not all women are attracted to men. So not only is this dynamic subtly or blatantly sexist…it’s also heterosexist. It’s isolating the women that simply don’t care about sexualized males as props. And that’s gotta suck to some degree…to not be acknowledged in this way. And the same critique goes the other way. There are few representations of women in sports more annoying than the ring girls holding signs for the crowd, or the podium girls of the Tour de France. Women don’t exist for men. They are not props and they are not sexually rigid.

Organizing any event for a wide swath of people without discouraging some is hard…maybe impossible, but when trying to create a supportive, encouraging event that is aimed at a very specific demographic, the nuances can be tricky to manage. With that in mind, the best route is neutrality, or simplicity. Even if one’s attempt to appeal to a specific demographic is done with the idea of support or encouragement in mind, it is very easy to isolate or misrepresent that demographic when we resort to stereotypes, assumed desires and interests, or even aesthetics. Sometimes, although I hate to admit it, being sterile and bland is the safest approach.

Ultimately, I think creating spaces and events for individuals lower on the rungs of social privilege is a needed and necessary action, but must be carried out in a way that allows inclusion of that specific demographic and little else. It doesn’t assume their interests. It doesn’t try to represent their lives. It just exists and enables their participation, allowing them to derive from the event whatever it is they need. It might be camaraderie. It might be accomplishment. It might be the avoidance of judgement. It might be any number of things to the individual.

You might be saying…dude…it’s just a little fun. Lighten up. Some women liked the roses. Some women loved the military men. Some women love scantily dressed models. This race was a good thing that brought a lot of women together. Yes…I completely agree. It’s not that some women didn’t enjoy those elements or that they SHOULDN’T enjoy those elements. Not at all. But in an event where such diversity of perspective is going to be inherent, and in a social context where women are still primarily subjects, nothing is beyond critique. Because these well-meaning gestures (or just thoughtless gestures) so easily lead to the next level of subjugation, that lead to the next, that lead to the next that lead to women’s lives destroyed by acts permitted by a patriarchal society. And I won’t apologize for the perceived exaggeration, because, unfortunately, it’s not an exaggeration.

I want to see this race continue. I want to see this race grow with even more participants next year, but I want it to exist as nothing more than a race OF women, not necessarily for women, meaning not an act of coddling or attempted representation. Let the individuals represent themselves. That will get us much closer to another example of gender equality than any forced attempt.

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With all this said…I am of the privileged male sector of the population. I don’t attach myself to the “feminist” label because I’m too concerned with other things to worry whether I’m playing the game right or not. I’m just a dude trying to do good…that’s all…so these are thoughts influenced by my position of privilege and entitlement. Please feel free to add your own comments to this critique, whether as a participant of this race or just an individual concerned with the overall issue (or my critique itself).

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And finally, Laura ran a huge 5k PR at this race, finishing 3rd in her age group and clocking in at 24:22. That made me walk away from this race with positivity more than any other feeling…so that’s awesome. πŸ™‚