Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A True Honor

My blog post last night was about the LLS volunteer recognition get-together, and specifically about Coach Bob winning the Team in Training Outstanding Participant Award. But there is one other award that I could have mentioned, so tonight, I will.

Each year, the Virginia Chapter of LLS gives a very special award, the Winged Victory Award. It is based on the statue of Nike at Samothrace, or the Greek Winged Goddess of Victory. The award is for the following: “To honor the strength and beauty of those who have endured the journey and to recognize our Outstanding Patient Volunteer of the Year who lives to the fullest, gives back to the utmost, and inspires us all to do the same.”

To my amazement, I was the one that the Virginia Chapter selected this year to be awarded that honor. I can think of many others, a number of them in the room last night, who were at least as deserving as I was deemed to be. But only one person each year receives this, no matter how many are deserving of it. I am deeply humbled and honored to be so chosen by an organization and people that I deeply admire, respect, and care about. It is certainly something that I will never forget. And I will continue to try to live up to the message of the award, which comes with a handsome plaque and a beautiful statuette replica of the sculpture of Nike at Samothrace. I have attached photos of these below.

And I have to think: is this a sign that I should do Nike, the winner in my opinion poll, in 2010 for Team in Training?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Way to Go and Congratulations, Coach Bob!

Tonight, the Virginia Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society had their annual volunteer recognition ceremony, where they recognize the many volunteers working in so many ways to help LLP progress towards the mission of curing blood cancers. This includes the Team in Training, Light the Night, Leukemia Regatta, School Programs, Patient Services Volunteers, and the Board of Directors, as well as other volunteer areas. It is a nice chance to socialize for a bit, and then learn what is going on with LLS, and also to see some of the many people who give so much as volunteers get recognized.

One such extremely deserving person is TNT's beloved "Coach Bob", from the Virginia Beach Chapter. Amber said that he has volunteered as a coach for TNT for the past ten years, year round. That is an incredible sacrifice of hundreds and hundreds of Saturdays. Bob got the Team in Training Outstanding Participant Award this year, and a more deserving person you cannot find.

In my first marathon, Midnight Sun in Anchorage in 2005, Coach Bob was the Virginia Team's Coach. He worked so hard for us, and escorted every member of Team Virginia to the finish line in the marathon. He is a great guy, a great coach, a great volunteer, and I was really happy to learn that he received this award this year. Here is a photo of Bob and me just before the start of the Marathon in Anchorage:

Well done, Coach Bob, and well deserved!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Thank You Letter I Hope to Write

A co-worker and I have been talking about her philosophy on giving thanks, in writing, for things she hopes to have as if she already has them. She said that it has worked for her with many things in her life. So I thought, why not give this a try for the greater good? Therefore, here is a letter that I hope to write someday soon for real, thanking a generous donor to Team in Training. I am assuming that this person is a wealthy and grateful cancer survivor who stumbled on to my Racing for a Cure blog and said “If this person can sacrifice to do a marathon, I can write a check to this cause.” I am making up their name, but note that I assume that they are a Knight of the British Realm. Here goes – I’m expecting great results from this.

Dear Sir Vivor deGenerous:

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you so much for your incredibly generous $25,000 donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in support of my next Team in Training event.

Team in Training is now in its 21st year, and during that time, its dedicated athletes are approaching the one billion dollar mark in revenues raised. Your bighearted donation gets us even closer to that mark! This money helps LLS to fund research to find new treatments and cures for leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, and provide critical education and support to patients and families battling these cancers. With one person in the United States developing a blood cancer every five minutes, and one person dying every ten minutes, there is still plenty to do.

I'll never personally discover a cure, develop a new anti-cancer drug, or do ground breaking research on the mechanism of leukemia or lymphoma at a cellular level. But I am hopeful that by competing in this event, and by the generosity of your donation, someone else will.

Thanks again for your generosity. I, LLS, and cancer survivors everywhere appreciate it.

Best wishes,

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Remembering Dr. Jerri Nielson FitzGerald

Going though cancer, and the treatments for it, is tough under the absolute best of circumstances. Now imagine that you learn that you have cancer and:

** You are at a small research station at the South Pole, the most remote and inaccessible location on earth

** It is winter, totally dark 24 x 7, cold and windy beyond anything most of us can even imagine

** It is impossible to leave or to have help flown in

** There is only one medically trained person at the station - a doctor - and that is you

That is what Dr. Jerri Nielson went through in 1999. She had to do a biopsy on her own breast, figure out what type of cancer it was by consulting with specialist via email, and treat herself with chemotherapy drugs dropped over the pole by daring pilots. And she had to continue to provide medical care for the entire research station, even while dealing with all the side effects of chemotherapy. She got through it, and was flown out in an amazing rescue by some really brave pilots – the earliest date that a flight had ever come into the Antarctic spring.

She wrote about her ordeal in her book, “Ice Bound”. It was a book that was inspirational to me in 2002 when I was going through my own battle with cancer.

Unfortunately, Dr. Jerri Nielsen FitzGerald succumbed today from her breast cancer at age 57. Being that age myself, I can assure you that it is very much too young to leave this earth. She was a brave human being, and I believe that her amazing story will inspire people for decades.

Rest in peace, courageous Dr. Jerri.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Seven Future Events I'd Like to Do

It has been a long time since I written anything about my "surviving seven years" series, so I thought I would choose as this topic seven endurance events I would like to do before I hang up the running shoes / hiking boots / whatever. I am going to loosely interpret what I mean by endurance events, and most of these will be general in nature with no dates – with one key exception.

Previous posts in my "surviving seven years" series are: seven memorable hikes, seven great wildlife experiences, seven great TNT memories, and seven amazing experiences since surviving cancer.

And now, with no further ado, here is my list of seven events I would like to do, in no specific order.

1. Mayor’s Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska. This marathon was my first event ever, and I want to try it one more time. Maybe I will get decent weather next time, plus I know enough to stay in Alaska a couple of weeks next time and do some touring .

2. Honolulu Marathon, December 9, 2012. That date marks exactly 10 years remission from cancer for me, and I cannot think of a better way to celebrate, and see Hawaii for the first time as a bonus.

3. A Triathlon. Gotta learn to swim better, gotta get a bike and learn to ride, but I think this would be a great achievement for me as a cancer survivor. The Philadelphia Triathlon would be a good choice, me being a Philly boy. But I won't limit myself.

4. A Century Ride. Well, if I get a bike and learn how to ride long distance, and I’ve done that triathlon, I might as well go for the TNT Triple Crown. That would be another cool achievement as a cancer survivor.

5. Komen Three Day. Some year I want to do this. I know too many women affected by the terrible disease of breast cancer, including my sister and sister-in-law. Walking 60 miles in three days seems a good way to honor them, while raising money for another good cause. It would mean not doing TNT that year unless I meet some rich and generous people.

6. A long distance hike. Maybe not the whole Appalachian Trail, but it would be cool to hike two months or so. It would get lonely, wet, and tiring, but what an experience! Maybe that could be all of Maine and New Hampshire on the AT, the Long Trail in Vermont, the AT in Virginia, a chunk of the trail the runs through Michigan and Wisconsin, a hike all over Isle Royale (the first place I ever truly did backpacking) or part of the Continental Divide Trail. There are many, many other possibilities.

7. Hike for Discovery. Hey, if I am going to do a hike for a few days, might as well raise some money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. LLS doesn’t do Hike for Discovery in Virginia, but maybe someday I will live near a chapter that does them.

Well, there are seven potential events before I get too old or wear out (hopefully)! I can think of many more I would like to do, including the Nike and the Marine Corps Marathon, so nothing says I have to hold it to just seven! :)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Anniversary of my First Marathon

Four years ago today, I became a marathoner in the Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska! I walked it as a member of Team in Training and as a cancer survivor, but it was a marathon all the same. A couple of years later, I wrote a story about it for the TNT “Team Ties” e-zine, and in memory of this day, one of the most amazing days in my life, I decided to post that here, with a few modifications. I've also thrown in a few photos from the day, which don't always occur exactly at the point being discussed.

My First Marathon

In May of 2002 I got the shock of learning that I probably had lymphoma, then confirming that I did indeed have Hodgkin's lymphoma. I started chemotherapy that June and went into remission on December 9. During that time of much illness and physical misery, I had a chance to meet a lot of others who were even more ill than I was, with even less certain futures. I reflected a lot on the many things in my life that I was grateful for, and tried to stay positive from day 1, determined to recover and try to make a difference somehow. I read a number of inspirational books, including Lance Armstrong's story "It's Not About the Bike", one called "Cancer Combat", and another called "Chicken Soup for the Survivor's Soul".

About the time I went into remission, I learned about TNT and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and thought that this would be a great way to give back something for the things that helped to save my life. I was too weak for a while to consider it, and then, truthfully, kind of forgot about it. My interest was renewed in 2004 when I was in the National Susan Komen Race for the Cure, only a 3.1 mile race, but still a first step to giving something back. I learned about and thought about doing the Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day the next year, but then in January 2005, I remembered TNT and got in touch. Being a lymphoma survivor, that was a pretty natural fit. After going to a meeting about TNT, I signed up for the marathon in Alaska, and dove right in with fundraising and training.

At this same time, a friend was losing his six year battle against renal cell cancer. His name was Allan Bernstein, and he was always very courageous and upbeat, and thinking of his suffering - he was going through an especially difficult time in January - and his great spirit helped give me the resolve to train hard and persevere. He was my personal honoree for the race, and he was so touched and excited that his birthday was the same day as the race, June 18. Sadly, he died about 2 weeks before the marathon. Along the way, I was also touched and inspired by our two team patient honorees. They were Emma McFeely, a little girl who survived leukemia at age 10 weeks, and Ed Stone, who survived leukemia as a young man and has gone on complete marathons and triathlons for TNT. As I fundraised, I offered to write the names of donor's honorees on my shirt, and learned about many of their stories as well. During the race, with all of these names on my shirt, I felt that they were all right there with me every step of the way. It was just a fantastic experience, a lot of work of course, but for all the effort I made, I got even more back. After the Midnight Sun Marathon, I wrote my mile by mile thoughts as best as I could remember them from the race. So I will close my story now by sharing my memories of a few of these miles:

Pre-race: This is exciting but the weather is iffy, plus one thing we never trained for was standing for two hours prior to doing our miles. Coach Bob gives us last minute instructions, everyone braves the porta-potty lines, we line up and at 8AM, we step off. I will walk the first 17 miles with Cheryl from Virginia. Happy birthday, Allan – this one’s for you, big guy!

Milepost 4 – Porta-potties with short lines! Great, I was about to stop along the road (no privacy at all but getting desperate). The first mile post where the rain has stopped, and there is a little sun. Maybe the weather will improve. Feeling good, walking along. Mountains are so pretty. How amazing to be doing my first marathon in Alaska – I feel so grateful.

Milepost 11 – Solid rain now, forget about pictures. The trail climbs and is narrower now, very slick and muddy. We spray mud with each stride over ourselves and each other. Mood is high, the few spectators cheer us on and the adrenaline rushes, all along the route, when this happens. There is a man, maybe older than me. He has an artificial leg but is laboring along, slipping on the steep, muddy parts of the trail. On his back is a picture of a woman and the words “For Tina” – actually I can’t remember what the name was but you get the idea. Someone tells me that he has done this race every year with his wife along to help him over the rough spots. This past year, his wife died so he is doing this alone in her memory. This is so inspirational but so heart-breakingly sad. I cannot imagine what he is feeling.

Milepost 15 – legs are sore now, getting tired. Slowing on the soaked and muddy, narrow downhill sections (they call this part the Ho Chi Minh Trail). I almost fall several times – it is so slippery. How did the runners do it? Feel so cool, worried about hypothermia. Everything is soaked, but still I am in Alaska in a marathon – how bad can that be? Have not even had to use my mantra yet (“Each step saves lives”). Where the hell is this midnight sun we have heard about – will the damned rain ever stop?

Milepost 23 - It stopped raining and I finally get my third mile post photo. I start thinking of my friend Allan, who's birthday is today and who died 2 weeks ago of cancer. "Help me out here, Allan - give me a little shove." I feel a wave of emotion thinking about him dying and nearly cry. I think of his widow, Marcia. I think about all of the names on my shirt, those who have died, and those who have beat this thing, including me. I will finish and honor them all. It is pretty here - what a gorgeous wild area near a college campus!

Milepost 24 - Oh, my God! I know I will finish now. I do two miles all of the time. I will be a marathoner today. The blisters will heal, the cold and wet fade, the sore muscles recover, but I will always be a marathoner. I feel a huge smile. Now it's raining again. What is this? A single spectator, standing in the rain with a big sign: "Leukemia Survivor - Thank You." I stop, point to my chest with pride and say "Lymphoma Survivor". We chat for a bit, and I give her a hug, say "God Bless You" and go on. I am so appreciative for her waiting out in the cold and rain to thank us and cheer us on.

Milepost 25 - A mile to go is nothing. Rain coming in sideways; the path is going along a lake, heading around a little bend and up "Insult Hill". This is not such a bad hill at all, and I start really hauling ass. A coach yells to slow down on the hill, risking a muscle pull. I slow down. At 25.75 Coach Bob meets me with his moose head hat. I start talking, then babbling. I tell him about Allan and his birthday today, how he just died. I tell him about some of the other names on my shirt. I start talking about how I swore I would do something like this when I had cancer, and now I was doing it. I realize that I am close to tears and tell him that I may cry. He says to go ahead, I've earned it. But I stop babbling and get it under control.

Milepost 26 - My God, thanks for this. I am nearly a marathoner! I feel strong. Everything hurts, feet, legs, but the feeling is great. I see Sarah Clarke, our TNT Staff person, screaming my name, jumping up and down, yelling "Go Art, Go Art"! I take off my soaked hat and wave it to her. The finish is just ahead. Bob stops and congratulates me, and we bear hug each other. My smile feels a mile wide as I leave him and cross the finish line. Three years, two weeks, and one day after starting ABVD chemotherapy and feeling so scared that day, I became a marathoner! I hear them announce "Art Ritter, Glen Allen, Virginia" over the PA. I hoped those poor, cold photographers got a good photo of this, because this is one moment I wanted to capture. What a great feeling, one of the great moments in my life.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Results are In!

Thanks everyone, 22 of you, who voted in my "What Should I do Next (2010)" poll. Here are the results:

Nike Womens' Marathon in San Francisco: 9
Mayors Marathon in Anchorage: 4
An Olymipic Distance Tri (Philly, Washington, Tampa?): 5
A Century Bike Ride (Tahoe, Tucson, Asheville?): 3
The Komen Three Day: 1

Definitely the running events came out on top, heavy to Nike. 800 guys, 24,000 or so women!

Whatever I end up doing, I appreciate the votes and the comments I got. I think I would enjoy any of them, although the foot races feel more comfortable. But maybe it would be good to step out of my comfort zone and learn to swim better, and/or get a bike and learn to ride. Seeing my friend Susan get her Triple Crown was inspiring, and it is intriguing to think of getting one myself at some point - before I get too old.

But while I have a lot to think about, I have some time, because I won't be fund raising any time soon. In the meantime, I need to get back in a regular workout habit again, and quickly. It is an easy habit to get out of if you work, because the choice is often that extra hour of sleep or going for a run. I can never get to it after work, it seems, so the early morning is my window of opportunity. So that needs to be job one, or I won't be fit to run much longer! :)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I’ll Take the Fifth!

I got out of a long meeting today at work, returned to my office, and flipped on my radio. Set on NPR, the familiar strains of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony coming from its speakers instantly made me smile and forget about stressful meetings. And it reminded me of a chapter in my battle with Hodgkin Lymphoma seven years ago.

When I was a kid, I didn’t listen to a lot of music. Given how much I love music of so many kinds now, this is actually amazing even to me. But when I was fairly young, my sister gave me her old beat up record player and a few records that she no longer wanted, one of which was this incredible symphony by Beethoven, the 5th. Even if you do not listen to classical music, you will probably recognize at least the opening part of the first movement:

Da-da-da-daaaaaaaaah! Da-da-da-daaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh! I have loved this music since the time of hearing it as a boy. It is heroic and beautiful, triumphant and moving, passionate and serene all at once.

Long before I had cancer, Mary and I had bought tickets to hear the Richmond Symphony for a late May, 2002 concert, the program including Beethoven’s 5th. As it turned out, two days before the concert, I had my biopsy, which involved cutting deep into my chest to snag a chunk of this large tumor that rested silently and ominously near my aorta. I asked the surgeon the morning of surgery whether I would be in pain when I woke up. He looked at me and said with a chuckle, “Oh, you’ll know that I paid you a visit!” Was he ever right about that!

When I woke up from the surgery just before noon Thursday, it felt like a dozen very mean little guys were hacking away at my chest with saws, axes, and knives. It remained fairly painful that day and all night, and also Friday, and I remember telling Mary that there was no way I’d be going to the concert. But by Saturday, because the surgeon had done such a skillful job, I felt well enough to go. Most of the little guys had reluctantly packed up their saws and knives and gone home. The few remaining ones half-heartedly sawed and stabbed away, but it was nowhere near as painful. So I knew that I would be fine for the concert.

It was a great performance, even though the man sitting in front of us was clearly not moved by the music. He would often lean in and say something angrily to his wife – at least I assumed it was his wife. At the end, when everyone else began rising and applauding, enraptured by the magnificent music, he stood, said something to her, and stormed out, leaving her there. I remember so clearly thinking “What the hell is wrong with this guy? I have cancer and I could not feel happier at this instant. And he just seems pissed at the whole world!”

By that time, I knew I had lymphoma for sure from the surgeon’s report, and knew that I would be facing months of chemotherapy. I really felt as if it were fate that this piece of music, one of my all time favorites, was on the program at a time when I was learning about my illness. I decided that night that this composition would be my “theme song” during my treatment.

During my long period on chemotherapy, I would listen to this symphony at least once every week, never failing to be inspired and encouraged by it. The fact that Beethoven was almost totally deaf when he wrote it makes it all the more incredible and inspirational. Legend has it that the composer described the opening notes as “Thus destiny knocks at the door.” Whether that is so or not, apparently my destiny was to have lymphoma, survive it, and end up being motivated and determined to train for marathons while raising money for cancer research and outreach.

And so, whenever I hear this music, I gratefully think of the time when its heroic and triumphant nature helped me to take heart, fill my soul with courage, leave the misery of sickness behind for a little while, and ultimately triumph over a deadly and remorseless foe.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Go Anchorage Team!

I will always have a special affinity for any TNT team going to the Anchorage Marathon, because that was my very first event, and my first marathon. It is one of the all-time fantastic memories of my life.

Tonight, the Anchorage Team had their send-off and I crashed their party. I had asked for an invitation because two of my awesome spring team mentees, Cathy and Kathy, transferred from the Nashville Team after our season started. Cathy did so because she just decided that if she was going to do a marathon and raise thousands of dollars - she has raised $30,000+ or what it took three of my seasons to raise - she might as well race in Alaska. And Kathy got a nasty stress fracture early in our training and switched to the summer team after she recovered. So I wanted to see each of them off at their send-off. I am really proud of both of them. Kathy's daughter, Kayla, is a double leukemia survivor and so this cause is very special to their family. Kayla was there tonight, and so I got to meet her, which was great, because I had written her name on my Nashville race shirt.

We had a great team dinner at PF Changs, and in addition to the Anchorage Team and Amber, former coaches and teammates Sarah and Michal were there, plus Coach Chuck B., who I have never trained with but know from prior events. They are such a good group of people!

It was a lot of fun to be part of their celebration, and if I win the lottery tomorrow night, I will be up there cheering for them in person! Here is my little tribute to them. North! To Alaska!

Great job!
On to Alaska!

wesome scenery!
North Star!
Changing lives!
Helping cancer patients!
Overcoming obstacles!
Racing for a cure!
Accomplishments you will always remember
Getting closer to kicking cancer to the curb!

hank you from your patient honorees!
Everyone of you is amazing!
Achieving great things!
emories to last a lifetime!

Friday, June 12, 2009

My Guardian Angel Goes for a Ride

Before I leave the topic of the Fletcher Flyer Century, I need to post a very important fact.

I have blogged before about the two "guardian angel" medalions and the kind and generous friends that gave them to me. It was my Triple Crown friend Susan who gave me the replacement angel. So when I met her last week to give her the card and poem I had written for her, I also asked her if my angel medalian could accompany her on her momentous 100 mile ride through the North Carolina countryside. Of course, she was open to this. Now, the little angel means even more to me. Not only did Susan give it to me as an act of kindness to replace the original one, but it was with her during her adventure and ride that made her a TNT Triple Crown recipient. Thanks, Susan!

I hope whoever lifted the original angel in the Richmond airport in 2005 had good luck with her. I guess they needed a guardian angel more than I did at that time. But whoever has it, I bet it didn't have a greater adventure than my current one did (although it did climb Mt. Tumbledown with me and it was in the Anchorage Marathon with me).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Don't Forget to Vote!

No, not in primaries if your state had them. On my opinion poll to the upper right hand side of my blog! You can go to this post to see more information about the choices. I'd just like to see what readers of this blog think on this topic.

So far 17 people have voted (Nike Womens' Marathon is in the lead) and you have only 6 days left to cast your ballot! :)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

To Susan, My Triple Crown Friend

I blogged a couple of days ago about going to the Fletcher Flyer race to cheer for TNT Virginia, and the other Purple People. I mentioned my amazing friend, Susan, and how she earned her TNT Triple Crown that day. This means that she has run at least one marathon or half marathon, raced in at least one triathlon, and participated in at least one century bike race. In Susan's case, I don't know how many marathons, half-marathons, and triathlons she has done, but Sunday was her first 100 mile bike race, sealing the deal on the Triple Crown.

She is now done with that race, and is already fund-raising and training for her next event, the Half Ironman Triathlon in Augusta, Georgia this fall! This blows my mind, because I don't dare fundraise more than once a year but Susan seems to do it almost year round. It will be her first half Ironman, and she is fund raising for it. Here is her Team in Training webpage for this event:

A few days before her race, I gave Susan a card with this message in it, my tribute to her as my friend and in recognition of her new milestone, the TNT Triple Crown:

She’s run tons of marathons, each twenty-six two
She’s raced in triathlons, seeing every one through
Now with a smile on her face and seldom a frown
She’s one hundred miles from a TNT Triple Crown

She endures rides in the cold when her hands and feet freeze
Tough, long climbs up steep hills, plus some down hills with ease
She took a bad spill but you can’t keep her down
Nor delay her long quest for the TNT Triple Crown

Yet there’s a loftier cause for the things she endures
The money she’s raised will help fund cancers’ cures
For the mission she races, and not for renown
To Matt, Rich, and her Dad she’s dedicating her crown

She is not a grand duchess all decked out in jewels
Or a powerful empress with a retinue of fools
Or a pompous queen wearing an ermine-trimmed gown
But she soon will be sporting a TNT Triple Crown

As she zips by on her bike, hear the cheers from the crowd
She’s relentless and tough, and of her I’m quite proud
At the end of the race, she’ll be the talk of the town
For she’ll own the claim to a TNT triple crown!

Go Susan Go! You rock! Here she is after her race holding her Fletcher Flyer Century medal:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Cheering for the Fletcher Flyer Century Team

As part of my quick weekend trip to Asheville, NC, I made a surprise visit to cheer for the Team in Training Fletcher Flyer Century Team. These intrepid souls were going to ride their bikes 100 miles through the mountains of the Tarheel State, all after raising money for the mission of LLS!

A great friend, Susan, and a neighbor of mine, Ed, were on this team. I told no one that I was coming except for Elliot, the LLS staff member for the event. My original intent was just to surprise them on the race course, but Elliot said "Why don't you come by when the team forms up and do a mission moment?" That sounded like a better idea.

The team was getting to the park at 6:45, he said. So I got there at 6:25 this morning. I waited while more and more people showed up for the race, but I couldn't find anyone from Team Virginia. Finally, at about 7:10, I found a few from the Norfolk area, and eventually found the others. Ed and Susan were quite surprised, which was what I hoped for. No leaks!

Susan is awesome. She has done something like 25 events for TNT: marathons, half-marathons, and triathlons. But this is her very first 100 mile bike race, and it earns her the coveted and very difficult TNT "Triple Crown" Award! I will be blogging more about her in a couple of days. We first met in 2005, my first season, and then were on the San Diego team together a year later. We have been fast friends since. Here we are before the race:
Ed and I are neighbors in an "active adult" community - 50 and older. I hear rumors that some of the other people in the area sarcastically refer to our community as "Geezerville". Should I ever hear that directly from someone, I will invite them to do a marathon with me, or a 100 mile bike ride with Ed - their choice. Here I am with Ed before the race:
In addition to being a participant and mentor for TNT, I am also a patient honoree. The goal of patient honorees is to hopefully inspire participants by making them realize some of the things that we faced while going through cancer treatments. I don't know if I inspired anyone today - my job was easy today compared to theirs. I am thinking that I was the one coming away inspired by their dedication to train for 6 months in all kinds of weather on bikes, then show up to pedal 100 miles.

In my 4.5 years with TNT, I have never met with a cycle team, and felt honored to have this opportunity. I asked to be included in the team photo, figuring that no one would mind. Doesn't this look like a great team?
Because things had been delayed and time was rapidly going by, I scrapped the remarks I had prepared for my mission moment, and just spoke briefly "off the cuff". Hopefully, I was able to get across my admiration, appreciation, and thanks to this fine group of people. I snapped a shot of some of the team doing their final preparations, then headed out - by car - to my cheer station 9.6 miles away:
Supposedly, there were going to be three LLS staff members from North Carolina manning the cheer station and I would join them. I was looking forward to meeting them and chatting with them, then cheering together for the Purple People on Bikes. I got to the cheer point - first one there - found a place to park, and walked back to the cheer point. After about 15 minutes and still no one there, I double checked the material I had about the cheer point, and I was at the right spot. But for whatever reason, no one else showed up to cheer! Bummer! But would that stop any dedicated TNTer? No way!

I placed my sign that I had made along some granite steps to a little cemetery. The sign said that I was a lymphoma survivor, and said "thank you" to TNT participants. I also had a section on the sign that said "GO Susan - Triple Crown!" with a drawing of three crowns. It was now about 8:15 and I settled down to wait for people to race by. It was a very pretty and bucolic spot:
I didn't have long to wait. The first cyclists zipped by about 8:25 - man, can they haul @ss!! After watching a few groups, I tried to take some photos of the racers. Here is a group heading towards me and a group after they zipped by at 20 or so miles per hour, going up hill:

I thought it was hard to pick runners out of the crowd but with cyclists, they have helmets and they move so fast that there was no way I could get identification until they were past, and often not even then. Ed moved by me way too fast to get a photo. I recognized him at the last second. Sometimes, the cyclists would come by one at a time, in groups of 2 - 4, or in larger bunches like this one:
TNT participants not only had their distinctive white, purple, and green shirts, but they usually put little team symbols on their helmets: peaches from Georgia, horses from Kentucky, and hog snouts on the front and curly-que pig tails on the back from I am not sure where. Team Virginia had little red hearts on top of the helmets, and when I saw a bunch of them coming, I snapped this photo (zoomed in quite a bit). With pure luck, my friend Susan was right in it - she is towards the center of the picture. It was a thrill to see her in the race:
Of course, since I was looking through the view finder, I didn't recognize her, but she called out to greet me, and it was at that point that I knew she was there as she whizzed by. Note the guy in the photo lined up behind the lead cyclist - he is taking my photo! If I tried that on a bike, I would be in traction for 12 months or so.

I don't know if Susan had time to read my sign, but several people named Susan called out to me "Hey, that's my name!" So I would cheer back "Go Susan!" One woman called out "I can be Susan for you!" That was pretty funny!

I cheered until I was pretty sure the last racer was past. I wish I had been one of a group of cheerleaders as expected but it was a lot of fun just to be there. It was really a great experience to see the cycle team - TNT Virginia, TNT other states (Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Kentucky at the least), and the many participants who were not Team in Training. I hope they all knew that I was joking when I would yell "You're almost done!" and"Ice cold beer just ahead!" :) I was honored to meet our team, chat with them before their race, and cheer them on, and hope that they appreciated one of their patient honorees coming out for the race.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Four Marathons and Seven Years Ago...

Four marathons and seven years ago, I started chemotherapy. OK, OK, I know that really it was three marathons, one half marathon, and seven years ago, but that doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

On June 3, 2002, I got up early, ate a breakfast of oatmeal, and – fearful that my oatmeal would end up all over an oncology nurse in a few hours – went in for my first chemotherapy. It was a daunting experience, and I had a lot of trepidation and fear about the whole thing, but I also knew that it had to be done. The alternative would be a slow and pretty awful death from lymphoma. I learned that day that chemo will not make you sick the first day you get it, so cleaning up half-digested oatmeal was never an issue. Later in the week, after going in each day that week for more chemo, I felt sicker and sicker, so it was more of a concern. But as it turned out through six months of chemo, I never threw up in the chemo room. In a neighbor’s yard once, but that is a different story.

I got four drugs that day in my brand new portocath, which had been installed only the previous Thursday, so that area of my chest was still very sore from the surgery. The first drug, Adriomycin, is a beautiful red color and I came to nickname it “Jonestown Cool Aide” for its awful side effects. I’ve heard other people call it “The Red Devil”. One of the interesting and rather funny side effects is that you urinate orange or pink for a few hours as your kidneys work desperately and unsuccessfully to get this poison out of your blood stream. The other drugs, Bleomycin, Vinbastine, and Dicarbazine are all clear like water, and all very toxic. I have blogged before about Vinblastine, which is a true miracle drug. Bleomycin caused lung damage later and came fairly close to killing me. But all four of them saved my life.

Now, I am a seven year survivor and a four time TNT marathoner. OK, OK, three time marathoner, one time half-marathoner! Geez! Seven years ago, I never would have envisioned getting to this point, and am very grateful for it. I had never done a marathon, or even really given it a thought. I had never fundraised. Now I have done both, multiple times, meeting many truly incredible and amazing people along the way. As people in the past helped make a difference in my life, helped me to survive, I am trying to do something to make a positive difference in the lives of others now and in the future. And to increase their odds of survival.

If you read this and are a TNT alumni or are currently doing Team in Training, Light the Night, or something similar, then you are making a difference, too. I thank you for this, in a sincere and heartfelt manner. Like thousands and thousands of others, I am living proof that we can go through something like cancer and its pretty awful treatments, and come out even stronger than we went in. Even strong enough and lucky enough to do a marathon.

Maybe this time next year, or close to it, my topic will be “Three Marathons, One Half Marathon, One Triathlon, and Eight Years Ago.” What would Abraham Lincoln think? But for now, I will just rejoice in being a seven year survivor, and be glad that the most toxic thing I am likely to ingest on this seven year anniversary of my first chemo is a beer or a glass of wine, if that.