Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday Musings

It was tough to go back to work today after spending Saturday afternoon at the beach, and taking a dip in the warm Atlantic, and then having a great hike yesterday in the mountains – and taking a chilly dip in a mountain stream.

I was pleased with the hike yesterday. I do this hike every summer – it was my August challenge this year, to celebrate being strong and healthy one more August after being so ill in August of 2002. But usually when I do this hike, I really struggle on the steep climb up Wildcat Ridge at the end. For example, in 2003, just seven months after finishing chemo, it about killed me. It seemed like I had to stop and sit down every 10 minutes for about five minutes. Young men passed me. Young women passed me. Heck, if there had been 90 year olds using walkers on that trail, they would have passed me. Once, as I trudged along, a snail raced by with a turtle hot in pursuit of him, intending to make him his lunch. But when the turtle saw me, he stopped and laughed his butt off and the snail escaped.

But not yesterday. I made two brief stops on the way up to drink water and sit down for about two minutes. It was still tiring, but didn’t carry the sense of being totally worn out and continually needing to rest. My uphill pace was about 35-40 minutes a mile, a far cry from my normal 13.5 – 14 minutes per mile walking pace on roads. But I wasn’t on any road. Checking my pulse a few times on this section, it was about 140-150 as compared to my resting pulse of 56 – 64. So it was a great aerobic workout, and my legs are a little sore today, but not excessively so. I did some light walking at lunch, and some water aerobics tonight, and those felt good.

I guess despite carrying about 5 pounds more on my frame than when I did the race in April, and not exercising anywhere near to the degree that I had been, I am still in decent enough shape to do this hike without feeling like I am going to drop. And that feels good!

I almost didn’t take a dip in that cold stream yesterday. It was pleasantly warm but not hot in the mountains, and I didn’t really feel like I needed to cool off. But then I thought – “I won’t be back in here until next summer. And who knows? Take this opportunity while I have it. Carpe diem!” I am glad I did. While I was there, at least 12 hikers came by but not one of them took the plunge!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Art Did a Tri! Well, Not Really ...

I got a comment the other day that I should write some humorous things about training. And today on my hike in the mountains, I said to myself “Self, what could be more humorous than the idea of me doing a triathlon?” Well, of course, other than me wearing a pink tutu and ballet slippers, and dancing “Swan Lake” with the New York Ballet. Now maybe next year, the idea of me doing a tri won’t be so funny, but right now it is. So that is today’s blog topic – my triathlon earlier today!

I don’t own a bike. I am not a strong swimmer. So I needed a different type of triathlon than, say, triathletes. So here is what I came up with part way through my hike: The Riprap Hollow Tri. First leg: 6.6 miles hiking on the Appalachian Trail and the Riprap Hollow Trail in Shenandoah National Park. Elevation loss: about 2,200 feet. Elevation gain: about 1000 feet.

Second leg: 20 feet of swimming in an ice cold mountain pool. Not impressed? That is 20 feet each way for a total of 40 feet of swimming in water that is about 64 degrees. No wet suit either! Still not impressed? Well don’t think of it as 40 feet. Think of it as 1,220 centimeters! Now that is an impressive number. Still not impressed? Don’t blame you.

Third leg: three miles hiking on the Riprap Hollow and Wildcat Ridge trails. Elevation gain: 1,200 feet, most of it in the last two miles. Great cardio workout after that cold swim.

So let’s see – my first leg took about 3.25 hours. It was a lot of fun – here is a photo that I took with the camera's timer at Chimney Rocks on the Riprap Hollow trail:

T1 (that’s transition to you non-triathletes) was about 30 minutes, but that included finding a discrete place to strip and change into a swimsuit, eating lunch, and trying to set up the camera to take a picture of myself in the water. The swim didn’t take long. I put my feet, sore from hiking, in the water and it felt pretty good. I waded in up to my knees, and it felt a little cold. I submerged part of my swimsuit area – holy crap! I jumped in – double holy crap! I swam across and back in a few seconds.

Here I am, swimming the difficult second leg of the triathlon, 20 entire feet each way!

T2 took about 30 minutes. I was used to the water by then, and swam a little, explored up stream, dove to the bottom of the pool (only about 7 feet deep) a few times looking for trout, sat in the sun to dry off to the extent possible, and finally dried off the rest of myself off and got dressed and put my boots on. Then I packed everything up and started hiking out.

The third leg, a steady uphill for the last two miles, took about 1.66 hours. And I was declared the winner of the event – not just my for age group! Why? Because no other person had the cajones (or was it the stupidity) to jump in the water. Well, a dog did, but he didn’t count.

All kidding aside, it was a lot of fun, and I was pleased because hiking out (I do this hike every year) didn’t seem as tough as usual. So I guess I am in better shape than I thought. In a day or two I will post a full account and lots of photos on my hiking blog, if you want to check that out.

Here is the link to the trip details and photos.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Things that Go Splat in the Night!

I blogged the other day about how much I like being out in the dark before the rest of the world is bustling and hustling about. Well, quite often when I am going down a path in the early morning darkness, I brush through spider webs and can feel them sticking to my face and arms. Just an occupational hazard, I guess.

But today, being a weekend, I went out after dawn, and when I got to the first to two paths on my regular four mile route, there was a very large spider right in the path. It had constructed an elaborate web about 8-10 feet above the path, and was dangling below the web from a single strand exactly at face level. My face level! Square on to my nose! Right in the middle of the path! Had it been dark, I would have walked, face first, right into her!

And this thing was huge! It had just finished eating a couple of woodchucks and a goat and so wasn’t too hungry. But it clearly was annoyed with me. As I skittered along the edge of the path past it, it roared out a warning, snapped a small tree from the forest, and hurled it at me.

OK, it wasn’t really that big, but its reddish-brown body was about the size of a fingernail, and it had red legs over a centimeter long. That’s big enough that I would not want it on my nose in the dark (or daylight). I am not too squeamish about creepy-crawly things, although I do have some fear about wasps from being stung a number of times when I thought I was minding my own business but had clearly broken some basic rule of wasp etiquette and had to be taught a lesson. All at the same time, I don’t like spiders on my face and I don’t particularly like to handle most insects or arachnids.

So this was one time I am glad I was out in daylight and not the dark. And I am having second thoughts about doing this route in the dark for a while until it gets cooler. What would you do?

What Topics Do You Want to Hear About?

I’d like to keep this blog rolling in the long period between the event in April and kicking off my next TNT season, probably sometime in 2010. So far, it has been 4 months, and I have been writing about what strikes my fancy at any time. But it is also an ideal time for a poll to see what people who visit think. What topics do you most like me to write about and post? Please send comments about anything specific, or anything not covered in the poll. Here are the topics I’ve come up with. Multiple answers are allowed.

A survivor’s mind – what are we thinking and how is it different than before cancer

Inspirational stories about people I meet along the way or have heard about

Tales from past TNT events

Tales from my cancer experience

Reflections on TNT and the war on cancer

Ways to cope for people with cancer, their family, and friends

Humorous reflections on things

Training updates (I am not training for a specific event right now)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Flashes

I thought I’d end the work week with some quick random musings.

TGIF! Let me repeat that: TEE-GEE-EYE-EFF!!!!

I’m not training for an event right now, but I have been trying to work out more consistently in the past few weeks. For example, this week I have done weights twice, water aerobics twice, elliptical twice, and fast walking three times in the relative coolness of the early morning darkness. I need to make keeping in shape a high priority. On the other hand, I am starting some feel renewed pain in my left forefoot, and am guessing that the neuroma is going to be a big issue for a while.

It is amazing that two weeks have gone by since the Cure by Design Fashion Show for the American Cancer Society, my brief foray into the glamorous world of fashion models. And nearly a week has gone by since the TNT Silent Mile event.

We all have lottery fever at work. Very few of us are happy there, other than happy to have a job and a paycheck. So we have banded together to buy lottery tickets as a group. I have a lot of chances to strike it rich tonight in the Mega Millions Game, although the odds are still very long. But if I do get so lucky, I have no excuse for not keeping in tip-top shape. And also if I hit the big one, a bunch of TNT people in Virginia and other places will be getting some very nice surprise donations.

So far, I am doing well on my goal to post thirty times in thirty days, starting August 16. Stay tuned tomorrow, and visit again, to vote on the new poll I will be setting up.

Planning on a day at the beach tomorrow if Tropical Storm Danny cooperates. It will be my first time at the beach since the end of May. And Sunday, my goal is to go for a tough hike in the mountains, my 2009 August celebration of continued good health.

Did I say TGIF?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thank You Virginia Beach Half Marathon Team

On Sunday, September 6, teams from Virginia and all over will converge at Virginia Beach to participate in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Half-Marathon. For anyone running or walking as one of the Purple People from Team in Training, it is a lot more involved than merely traveling 13.1 miles on foot that morning. Because they have raised, in the past few months, hundreds of thousand of dollars to support the mission of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.

For anyone from Team Richmond, Team Virginia, or any team who will be in that race, I thank you deeply as a blood cancer survivor. I am alive today only because of cancer research and treatments, and you are helping to give others that chance. Thank you so much, and remember to enjoy the fruits of all that hard work you have expended since May. Have a great time at the race with your teammates, and remember to feel pride when they hand you that 13.1 TNT pin afterwards at the tent. You are checking in at the TNT tent, aren’t you? AREN’T YOU?

Special thanks to your coaches, mentors, and LLS staff that have worked so hard to help you get to this point. And thanks to each of you for making a difference. Have a great time!

"To the Virginia Beach Team"

You’ve worked so very hard, putting in lots of miles
In hot, muggy weather, but usually with smiles
And now you can see that your goal's within reach
In ten days, you’ll go thirteen-one at the beach

You’ve been out before dawn, running while it’s still dark
Meeting teammates and coaches for a run from the park
But it’s not about running, for you have a great cause:
Defeating cancers that attack without pity or pause

Others rise before dawn, but wake up filled with dread
For later this day, in a chair or a bed
Into their veins deadly poisons will flow
Will they live strong or die? Right now, they don’t know.

For those who can’t run you are running your race
Helping them reach for the dreams that they chase
To live as survivors, to be healthy and strong
But for too many with cancer, the odds are so long

In the fight against cancer, you’ve now joined the ranks
We survivors, all over, give you humble thanks
And remember next weekend as you fret about pace
It's not chip-time that counts but your time at the race!

Art Ritter
August 27, 2009


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Ghosts of Augusts Past

Each August – and especially late in August – I get a bit nostalgic about a couple of events that happened in the Augusts of 2002 and 2003. These are related to my fight with cancer and subsequent recovery, and I guess I will call them the “ghosts of Augusts past.”

By late August of 2002, I was two and half months into chemotherapy, and was more or less used to the routine and how I would feel at various points. My brother-in-law was coming down from Boston for a week and we had selected the week after chemotherapy, as I normally had a little more energy and a lot less nausea. I was looking forward to hanging out with him. But as his visit approached, I was feeling worse and worse, and when he arrived that Sunday I ached all over and felt exhausted. Usually by that time in my chemo cycle, I had a pretty good appetite and really enjoyed meals, but I remember the first night Tom was here, I felt awful, barely touched my dinner, and went to bed about 8PM. The next two days were pretty much carbon copies, and I kept apologizing, saying “I don’t understand why I feel so bad.” He kept saying “Don’t apologize! It’s not like I came down here expecting to be entertained!”

That Wednesday about 2:00AM, I awoke with a high fever, soaked in sweat, followed by chills. Fevers are really dangerous for cancer patients, so I went to the ER (where I got the first of my guardian angels) and was admitted to the hospital. I spent the next 5 days there, feeling about as awful as I ever had in my life. My brother-in-law had to go back home hours before I got out of the hospital, so any plans of hanging out together were dashed. None of the medical staff could figure out why I was so ill, and they called it a “fever of unknown origin”, but a bacterial infection was ruled out.

It wasn’t until about a month later that a pulmonary specialist looked at the CT scan images and considered all of the other data, including an abysmal pulmonary function test the week after I got out of the hospital. His conclusion was that I had suffered lung damage from bleomycin and was lucky that it had not killed me, and even better, that the damage appeared to be reversible. I made the decision to stop the bleomycin at that point, but I have always remembered how absolutely awful and weak I was the end of that August. I consider it the “low-water mark” of my fight with lymphoma.

Fast forward a year, and on August 24, 2003 I was standing on top of a mountain in western Maine, quite tired but healthy again, and feeling exhilarated. I have blogged about that story here, and here, and so won’t repeat all of those details, other than to say this was the specific point where I declared total victory over cancer. Of course, one can make the point that maybe that should not have been until I did my first marathon, although I look on that marathon as a huge explanation point!

So each August since, as the days begin to dwindle on the summer’s march towards September, I really like to reflect on the difference a year can make. One August, I was lying in a hospital bed, drifting in and out of sleep, racked with fever and chills, too weak to walk a quarter mile I would guess. A year later, I was standing on a mountaintop looking out over the forests and lakes of Maine – my promise to myself of the previous summer fulfilled, and cancer a memory. Every August since, I specifically try to do something to celebrate strength, good health, and good fortune. I am hoping that my “ghosts of Augusts future” will all be of that nature – strength and good health - for a long time to come.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reflections in the Dark

I love being out and about in the dark! There is something so peaceful about it. Now, I am not talking about having your car break-down in the middle of nowhere at 2AM. Or being stranded in a crime-ridden part of a big city after dark. Or being lost on the plains of the Serengeti on foot in the middle of the night, listening to lions roar and hyenas laugh as they get closer and closer.

But walking or running miles in the early morning darkness is entirely different. Or if I were filling out a dating profile, it would certainly include the standard cliché “likes moon light walks on the beach”. Or camping out in a remote place, miles from anywhere, with only the stars for illumination – even better with a friend or two - those are the things I am talking about.

So this morning, when I woke at 5:15 and had a chance to get in a fast four mile walk before work, I took advantage of it. I enjoy the solitude of this time of day, the quiet, the inky darkness. There is no TV, no noise, and even though I love music dearly, no iPod – too dangerous not to have all of your senses on alert going along even quiet streets. It gives me a chance to reflect on things in my life, on what the day ahead might bring. This morning, because of a situation at work, I thought about that for a while, trying to think through long-term solutions. I don’t want to share the specifics with the entire World Wide Web, but it has been on my mind a lot. I didn’t come up with any solutions, but at least I got to think about it away from a stressful place.

It was totally dark this morning – no moonlight at all. Because of heavy rains over the weekend, the path through the woods I travel on for 0.4 miles of this route was heavily rutted, and even slowing my walking pace, I almost turned an ankle twice on the unseen ruts. Out of the wooded area and on the way back home, it was getting marginally less dark and I could see clearly along the roads. Back in my own neighborhood after 6:00, there was enough light to be able to finally discern colors.

It was on a walk like this about a year ago that the idea for my 2008-2009 TNT fundraising came to me out of the blue, like a furball in the night! As I walked along, I drafted complete ideas in my mind for my first two notes to potential donors and wrote out an outline later that day, knowing that would lead to other notes as my campaign progressed.

It was in March of 2005 during my first TNT experience that I was in a small city far away for work on a morning where I needed to walk 10 miles to stay on schedule. I started out from the motel before 5AM, with no clue of where to head. After 4 miles of weaving through neighborhoods, I came on a path that crossed the road and realized that it was the Virginia Creeper Trail. Even though it was still jet black, I decided to walk on it for two miles each way. It was a unique experience, walking on a footpath through the woods by myself in the dark. All of my senses were fully aware. I could hear streams babbling in the early spring, and frogs called out in their eagerness to attract mates. On the way back, the first distant hints of daylight appeared and I saw 4 deer run across the path. All these years later, it still ranks as one of my coolest TNT training memories.

Back at the hotel, one of my coworkers who had made the trip with me asked me if I had been scared. I admitted I had been a little worried about blundering into a skunk in the darkness. “Did you carry a knife?” she asked. “A knife won’t help with a skunk,” I replied. “No – a knife in case you run into people like you!” was her retort. “Think about this, Betty,” I said. “Someone running into a guy, dressed all in black, moving quietly along a trail through the woods in the dark – are they going to give him any trouble?” She had to agree that maybe I was right – but I could tell that she still thought that I was a little crazy.

Getting back to today, it was a great start to the day. I got some exercise, it was relatively cool compared to recent mornings, and I got to reflect a bit in the darkness. Not a bad combo, in this man’s opinion.

Thirty in Thirty

I have decided that starting August 15, I want to post 30 times in 30 days on my blog. It is always easier to come up with ideas when I am training for a TNT event, so it might be a challenge. But I think I can usually develop something to write about. Finding the time can also be a challenge.

But let's see if I can pull it off. So far, in 11 days, I have written 11 posts, so I am on track. I am working on a really long post that I will break into multiple parts, and that will count as multiple postings because of the amount of work involved.

PS: this post does not count!

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Survivors’ Tales

At the team Silent Mile last Saturday, each of the patient honorees present spoke for a minute or so about their cancer experience. I thought I would summarize these remarks. Maybe someone out there will take inspiration or hope from them.

My message to the team was that four marathons and seven years ago, I was undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin lymphoma. I am very grateful to be alive, and wanted to thank everyone there for all they do so that future cancer patients can have the same hope. I used the rest of my time to talk about Madelyne, a local seven year old girl recently diagnosed with leukemia.

Then the rest of the patient honorees spoke – they are such inspirations! Every one of them has done one or more marathons, century bike races, and/or triathons (including Emma, who did a triathlon for children last summer).

Ed had acute myelogenous leukemia when he was 19, and nearly died. His life was saved when his sister made a bone marrow donation to him. We got to meet his sister, because she was there along with Ed’s lovely wife, Leslie. The three of them, another sister, and a nephew are all doing the Rock ‘N Roll Half-Marathon next month at Virginia Beach to celebrate his 20 year survival. In the last few years, Ed has survived two more cancers – a growth in his neck and also melanoma. He wonders if these were caused by earlier harsh treatments, and stressed how important it is to have better and more effective treatments.

Kristi spoke about developing lymphoma while pregnant. Her grandmother died from Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and her mother had the Hodgkin variety, so Kristi knew she had one or the other when the initial problems showed up. It was Hodgkin’s and she delivered her child, survived and got on with her life. It has been 13+ years now. Just this past winter, she found out that she had thyroid cancer and it is believed that the radiation that helped to save her life before probably caused it. Like Ed, she stressed the need for better and safer cures.

Nicki is a walking, and running, miracle. She survived Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma more than 12 years ago with a bone marrow transplant from a stranger who is now more like an older sister or aunt. Even so, her odds of living were about 5%. I don’t think there were many dry eyes when she talked about the recent death of two dear friends from cancer, and how we need better cures – a common theme that morning. Nicki's mom, Sue, herself a breast cancer survivor, also came out Saturday to support the team.

Holly, Emma’s mom, spoke for Emma, who had turned 10 the day before. When Emma was 10 weeks old, she was found to have acute lymphocytic leukemia, and she and her family went through hell. Holly felt a number of times that her baby wouldn’t make it, and you can tell she feels such a deep gratitude that her child is a healthy survivor. Go here to see a photo of Emma on the 8th anniversary of her remission from A.L.L., this past Valentine’s Day. Everyone of us feels such wonder at seeing Emma as a healthy young girl. And it brought tears of joy to my eyes to see this photo of Emma last year as she finished a triathlon:
Paul spoke last. A dedicated long distance cyclist, Paul is kind of odd man out in this group, because while he has a blood cancer, he is mostly asymptomatic. He stressed that he has not yet gone through the tough times that the rest of us have, but knows that they are coming. He has a very slow growing cancer, chronic lymphocytic leukemia. At some point significant symptoms will occur and he will do chemo, which will get the symptoms under control, until they return. This cycle will repeat until at some point, the chemo will no longer work. But the hope for Paul and other C.L.L. sufferers is that a truly effective cure will be developed well before that point.

And that, as well as for more cures for other blood cancers, and cancers in general, are why we are all doing Team in Training!


Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Little Girl Named Madelyne

Yesterday, as I prepared early in the morning to go out for the Silent Mile, I saw an article in the paper about a local seven year old girl named Madelyne Blanton. Just days over a month ago, she was diagnosed with leukemia, and started her second round of chemotherapy yesterday.
A week ago, she and her dad released some balloons with a note telling about her and asking people finding the note to write. By an amazing coincidence, one of the balloons landed in the back yard of a building where people work to help out those with chronic illnesses. As a result, Madelyne’s family got some badly needed financial help.

Now I didn’t find the balloons, but I thought, what if people doing Team in Training from around the country and elsewhere wrote Madelyne to wish her well and to tell her what you are doing to help find a cure? If you would like to do this, here is her address:

1512 Wilson Wood Road
Midlothian, Virginia 23114

And here is a link to read the story about her. She sounds like a brave and gutsy kid.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Silent Mile

Today was a Team Richmond first – we did an all-team training with a silent mile. The run/walk, cycling, and triathlon teams all met this morning, and survivors of cancer all told our stories in brief. Then, for the first mile of training, we did not talk and some of us survivors held signs for the rest of the team.

Not being a part of the fall team, for me it was almost like a little training reunion. I know only a few of the cyclists, but many of the triathletes, because so many of them started as runners. Several of them were on my very first team, the summer team of 2005 when I trained for my first marathon. So it was great to see so many old friends on this hot, muggy day.

Fellow Hodgkins survivor Kristi and I held our signs as some of the marathon team went by, and then we started walking together. I am a fast walker but Kristi is amazingly fast, so she slowed down a bit so I could keep up. We walked 6 miles, which felt really good. I had not seen her since we did the Nashville half marathon together. To give you an idea of her walking speed, she walked it in something like 2 hours and 54 minutes, not running a single step for 13.1 miles.

We chatted a lot about our next event, but I will write a separate post sometime later about that.

Here are some photos of this fun day with all the teams together for a little while.

Nicki, my friend and teammate - and a real inspiration to me - and her mom Sue - both cancer survivors.

From left: Amanda, Susan (my "Triple Crown Friend", little Emma, Emma's grandma, and Emma's mom Holly. Emma had leukemia at age 10 weeks and is now 10 years old yesterday. Susan, Amanda, and Holly were all on my first team and are going to be doing a half-ironman triathlon in five weeks.

Some of the survivors who were there and who spoke at the start. Everyone of us, including little Emma, has done one or more marathons, triathlons, and/or 100 mile bike races as cancer survivors. From left: Art, Rob, Emma, Nicki, Kristi, Ed, and Paul.

The whole team for all sports was a nice sized group.

Kristi - a double cancer survivor - walks along on our route.

Leslie and Coach Betty walking as part of 9 miles this morning.

Three amazing ladies - Holly, Jen, and Amanda - will all be doing a half ironman in five weeks in Augusta, Georgia. That is 1.2 miles swim, 56 miles bike, and 13.1 miles running. I am in awe of them and their teammates. Holly and Amanda were on my first team in aught-5, and Jen was our LLS team coordinator for my just past season. They are all tremendous!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Be Inspired by Lindsay!

I blogged last weekend about the inspiration I received from being part of the Cure by Design fashion show for the American Cancer Society. I was part of a group of 45 people who met cancer head-on and were lucky enough to still be standing at the end of that ordeal. I heard a lot of inspirational stories, and I am sure there were many, many more that I did not hear. Yet of everyone there, I am willing to bet that the most inspirational story belongs to someone who was not even in the show and is not a cancer survivor, a beautiful young woman named Lindsay. This amazing lady is a quadruple amputee, and undoubtedly faces more hardships in any given hour than most of us need to get through in a week or a month. Yet she clearly has an indomitable, incredible, and beautiful spirit.

Lindsay was one of the key people in helping to select outfits and put on the fashion show. You cannot spend 1 minute with her and not be amazed and inspired.

Every day, nearly every one of we humans complain and feel stressed about many little things, and some fairly big ones. “Oh, if only I could win the lottery.” “If only my (husband / wife / boyfriend / girlfriend / teenager / parent / friend) were more (understanding / considerate / loving / neat / responsible / patient).” “If only I could get a better job / better paying job / any job.” “I wish I could get a bigger house / beach house / less expensive house / fancy car.” “If only my IT band / sore knee / sore hamstring / plantar fasciatis / sore back would heal.” “If only I could run at a 7 minute mile pace.” “If only I could take a Hawaiian / European / African safari vacation.”

I urge you to take 15 minutes and read this article about Lindsay. It is a testament to the human spirit and also to the power of a mother’s love for her daughter. I guarantee that you will be humbled and amazed, and that it will – at least for now – put a lot of things in your life in perspective. Plus you will learn something about an incredible human being, and also be reminded to seize the day. Because just as Lindsay’s life changed forever on that day, so can yours and mine. We are guaranteed nothing beyond the next second.

Thank you for all that you did, Lindsay, leading up to and during the show. My life is richer for having met you and learned something about your story. I hope that your hopes and dreams will come to pass.

Celebrating Elayne!

Today, my blogger-pal, friend, fellow survivor, and soon to be fellow marathoner Elayne celebrates 11 years of surviving breast cancer.

Congratulations on this milestone, Elayne! May you have many, many more, and may God be with you always!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Cures are so Hard

I had lunch with a friend today. I knew her daughter had leukemia when she was three or four, and then relapsed a few years later. She survived, and is now in college. My friend told me a bit more about the hardships this young woman has gone through. I will call her Jenna – for privacy reasons, this is not her real name.

Now by itself, the fact that Jenna survived is great. Not too many years ago, surviving for this young girl would have been a very long shot. And so we can be glad that there are cures that work. But the glass is no more than half full. True, people survive cancer more and more but at what cost?

Consider that the first time she had leukemia, Jenna had to undergo two years of chemotherapy at an age that no child can possibly understand the horrible things happening to them. In addition, she had to have frequent tests that caused her great pain and suffering – spinal taps, bone marrow cores, and other things. My friend told me of the heartbreak of watching four adults holding her tiny girl down as they extracted bone marrow, helpless to respond to her screams. It had to be done to save her life, but how could Jenna understand that? How could a four year old undergoing this understand that her mother is trying to save her, and that her mother is not a conspirator in her torture? To this day, as a young adult, Jenna can experience post-traumatic stress if she goes past a medical center. She has had many medical problems as a consequence of the hardship that chemo puts on our bodies, especially young bodies that are still forming and growing. She has to get periodic tests to check for heart damage, for example.

If you are doing Team in Training, Relay for Life, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Light the Night, or some other activity where we are trying to defeat cancers, I applaud you, because this is so important. But remember that the goal is not just to defeat cancers, but to defeat them without nearly destroying the patient. The job won’t be completed until we not only can save children (and adults) from cancer, but also save them the extreme pain and suffering that so many of them have to go through to live. I really believe that every dollar raised is a tiny step closer to that goal, so thank you if you are involved in some way.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

So Muggy

The alarm was set for 5:55 today, same as usual when I don’t have plans to go out for a run or walk. But what I didn’t know was that my “bladder alarm clock” was set for 5:09AM, and the snooze alarm doesn’t work so well on that particular “clock”. So since I was awake anyway, it seemed like a good opportunity to get in a quick four miles before work in the cool of the early morning.

I pulled on running shorts and a cotton tee, grabbed running shoes and socks, put my key and one of my guardian angels in my pocket, and headed out the door. Maybe I will even run a bit, doing my favorite four mile local route. But I stepped into a steam bath! The humidity had to be 90%, and the temperature, I found out later, was 81 F. I was dripping sweat within 5 minutes, and decided that a fast walk made more sense than running.

The darkness seemed complete, other than some stars visible through the broken clouds and Venus shining up in the eastern sky like an airplane. When I got to the portion of the route that went through the woods, it was so dark that I had to slow my pace a bit, since I could barely see the trail. For a change, it actually felt good to get out of the woods, and shortly thereafter, the hint of the sunrise to come made it easy to see. There was also enough light for me to figure out why my running shoes didn’t feel quite right – I had grabbed my really old pair in the dark and not my somewhat old pair.

Even though it was an uncomfortable morning for a workout, it felt really good to get in a few miles. This is the fourth day in a row that I have gotten in from two to 10 miles each day. I need to make sure that special alarm clock is set more often, because with the cooler weather around the corner, I really need to keep those legs moving. I am also unhappy with how much running fitness I have lost by not running regularly. On the plus side, I've been power walking enough that my walking form seems to have returned to nearly full strength. During my half-marathon training, I had been running so much and walking so little that I was losing some of that edge.

Strutting Our Stuff Down the Runway!

I blogged this past Saturday about what it was like to be in the Cure by Design Fashion Show for the American Cancer Society. It was an amazing feeling to look at all my co-survivors, to hear stories of things they went through – some of them multiple times – and to realize this was one more statement to cancer that it did not defeat us. It was one more little act of defiance to this evil beast that tried to kill each of us. One more time to say to the world, to each other, and to ourselves that “I survived!” And to be so incredibly grateful for this fact, for many people are not this fortunate.

A few of my gentle readers have wanted to see pictures, and thanks to a friend who saw a photo on another friend’s Facebook page, I can now comply with that request. Don’t worry, I am not in a thong or anything like that! See below.

The show was pure fun, even aside from the celebratory aspects of it. We spent the afternoon learning about what we were going to do, watching people demonstrate it, and then practicing the whole routine a couple of times. Then we had some free time to eat, relax, read, or chat. An hour or so before the event, we got hair and makeup done. For the beautiful women in the show, this was fairly elaborate, but for we manly men – UH, UH, UH – it was thankfully simple: just some gel in our hair and some light base and lip gloss. Then the men retired to our man-cave to get dressed for the show. Most of we men were in the group of “tail-gaters”, dressed in our team colors and in fairly simple outfits. The women, on the other hand, generally had very elaborate and beautiful gowns and hair pieces, and looked stunning! And the children were just plain cute, also generally in really pretty outfits. Seeing these young innocents that had been through so much suffering was one more reminder to me of how evil cancer is, and how we must figure out a way to cure it without causing so much harm in the process.

Each of us followed a routine where we walked along, with the runway to ourselves, slowly looking from side to side. The lights were very bright, and I had been plagued by migraines all last week, and I was very thankful not to get one from the bright lights, which can trigger them in me. At the end of the runway, we stopped and struck the pose of our choice for a few seconds, then turned and walked back. Halfway back, we stopped and struck a brief pose to the left and to the right, as the next contestant came out on to the runway. We passed each other, and just before disappearing behind the screen, we turned briefly to pose one last time.

At the end of the show, each of us made one last appearance, walking close behind one another in a continual fashion. That is what the photo is from, and I am the one dressed in white (with some dark blue accents). It was a fun event, and a great experience to be a part of. Many people at ACS and in the clothing business and other places worked very, very hard to make this a success, and I would like to thank them all here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

This and That

First, thanks to the three people that voted on my poll about my best post. I didn't get a whole lot of interest this time, although "Relentless!" edged out "Look! There's One of the Leukemia Society People!" by two votes to one. I will try to think of a more interesting topic for my next poll. Hmmm, how about one about sex? Ah-ah, peaked your interest? Stay tuned, because it won't be quite what you are thinking...

I’ve not done a ton of working out since the half-marathon nearly four months ago, but now and then I will walk or walk/run some miles. Actually, this past Sunday, I walked a total of 10 miles. Four miles were early in the morning, a fast walk using my favorite local route. A short bit of this was running, but my back was hurting a bit and hurt more when I ran. One thing is clear – almost all of my hard-earned running gains of this past season are gone from not running often enough. But I can still walk with good speed and power.

The remaining six miles of my ten mile day were a hike at Spotsylvania Courthouse Battlefield that very hot afternoon. I made the mistake of only taking a liter of water along, and was pretty parched and a little dizzy at the end. It was a rookie mistake for someone who has not been a rookie in a long time. But even so, it feels good to have enough strength to walk ten miles despite not getting nearly as much exercise the past few months as became my habit.

At the end of the day, I did feel twinges of pain in my left foot Sunday, telling me that my neuroma is still going to try to be part of my life. It is hard to see where this will go. I hope to go for a long and hard mountain hike soon, and this will tell me more.

Over an eight day period, I will experience two cool survivor events. The first was last Friday when I was a fashion model in the American Cancer Society’s fashion by design show. That was something totally different, and a lot of fun! The next will be this coming Saturday, when the Richmond Fall Team does the Silent Mile. Several of us survivors will speak to the teams – marathon, triathlon, and cycle – before training. Then we will hold signs thanking participants at various points along the way for the first mile as everyone goes by on bike or foot. There will be no talking or cheering during this mile as we remember the struggles of cancer patients everywhere.

The weather has been very hot here the last two weeks. I am looking forward to cooler days ahead. I hope to get back into more intense workouts, and more hiking in the cool weather. I still need to lose about 4 of the 6 pounds I gained since stopping marathon training!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Visit with the Fall Team

Yesterday, I decided to go meet the Fall Marathon Team when they came back from their 6, 8, and 12 miles runs. I got to Byrd Park by 7:45, walked a couple of laps around the lake, and settled in on a park bench for a while.

First in was my friend Susan, training with the marathon team yesterday, but preparing for the half Iron-man triathlon next month in Augusta, Georgia. Seeing her was a great surprise, because I had no idea that she was working out with the marathon team yesterday. Others began to come in shortly after she did. Since I have not trained with that team, I don’t know a lot of the people on it. But I did see some old friends, such as Chuck, Betty, and Liz – all teammates from prior events. And I got to chat for a while with some of the folks on the team that I don’t know well. Also, I got to meet my TNT “penpal” Michelle. She was working out with the team in Fredericksburg, and she and I have been exchanging emails for almost two months, talking about our experiences with Team in Training. She had decided recently to train with the Richmond team, making the 50 mile trip down here. She also brought some great home baked apple muffins, and some homemade granola. It was wonderful to finally meet her.

I’ve missed working out with the Purple People, even though my life and weekends have been pretty busy. So it was nice to be around the team for a morning. Plus Chuck and I set a time to catch up in a week or so over a beer, and Michelle and I agreed that I will buy her a Legend Brewing Company brown ale to celebrate her becoming a marathoner in a couple of months. She is training for the US Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. I will look forward to both of those brews, both with great people!

Here are photos of Michelle and I, and of me with some of the Fall Team:

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Model Cancer Survivors

Cancer, you took your best shot at us! You took our hair, and at times, our dignity and serenity. Like a thief in the night, you crept into our bedrooms and purloined our sleep. If we were children, you stole our innocence. You turned our insides inside-out. You robbed us of our breasts, prostates, ovaries, and other body parts. You scarred us. You enshrouded our brains in a fog so thick, so murky, that we wondered if we would ever find our way out. We felt exhaustion we never believed possible. Now and then, we wept and trembled in fear as we searched for the strength to fight back. You were relentless, tireless, pitiless, and remorseless.

But despite all you did, and all you tried to do, you never took our courage, our will to live, our hopes and dreams, our strength, and most importantly, our spirit. While we might allow you a few body parts, those other things you may never take from us – now, or in the future.

You took your best shot – and we prevailed. And the 45 of us proved that again last night, when we strutted our stuff down the runway as models in the American Cancer Society’s “Cure by Design” fashion show. We survived just about every form of cancer there is: breast and prostate, ovarian and testicular, leukemia and lymphoma, brain, colon, cervical, bladder, and lung, among others. The women were all beautiful in their gowns, hairdos, and fashionable hairpieces. The men were all handsome, and the children, cute and innocent. As we walked proudly down the runway last night, we were model survivors!

The show was a lot of fun. I wish I could have taken pictures but that was not feasible, other than this one I got of the manly-men cancer survivors just before we went out before the audience:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Wow! In a few days, I’ll be sauntering down a runway at the American Cancer Society's fashion show. Bright lights! Dolled-up people! Big crowds of spectators staring at me! In my worst case scenario, I trip over my feet and fall flat on my face.

It could happen but I don’t plan on it. My secret weapon will be confidence. I told my friend Jackie what I am up to and she gave me this advice: when you walk down that runway, all eyes on you, say to yourself “I’m wealthy, great looking, brilliant, and all the women want me!” She said that will give me the confidence to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving along. Maybe, although all of that might be stretching the truth just a tad! Of course, if my lottery ticket comes in tonight, that will take care of wealthy part!

In any event, it is for a good cause and it should be kind of fun – totally out of character for me, but fun all the same. I am looking forward to the rehearsal Friday afternoon. The whole bunch of us will spend all afternoon rehearsing together, going over the show step by step four times. Then we will break to get some food – always good – and spend three hours getting dressed and made up. Three hours??? Are you kidding me? In my case, it shouldn’t take more than about 3 minutes. Hopefully, the guys won’t wear makeup, right? After all that, the show will go on well into the night, hopefully before a great crowd. When my turn comes to walk out there, I will try to project confidence, or at least not to trip!

One thing I do know is that I will be inspired by all of my fellow cancer survivors, dressed up and strutting for a great cause!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Pink Power!

Today being Sunday, I could have slept in a little before the start of the work week. I could have, but I didn’t. Instead, my alarm was set for 4:45, all to help my fellow man. Or should I say my fellow woman? Because I was volunteering as crew at the Pink Power Triathlon, an all female race with an all male volunteer crew.

I woke just after 4AM, I guess just nerves for not wanting to be late. I lay there until the alarm went off, slapped on some deodorant, shaved, and brushed my teeth. I pulled on shoes, shorts and a tee, and, as I headed out the door, grabbed a bagel to eat in the car during the drive. The event was in a part of town that I am not familiar with, and so I got an even earlier start than I needed, arriving for check-in at 5:35AM instead of the requested 6AM. Even so, volunteers were already there in the pitch-black darkness.

My job was as a bike course monitor, working with another guy to direct cyclists to make a U-turn as the course doubled back on itself, and make sure everyone was safe. The bike crew chief gave me a map with emergency phone numbers on it. “Just call if there is any emergency,” he said. “Great,” I thought, “I guess I would need a cell phone to do that.” I figured that the chance that the other volunteer at my post also not having a cell phone was remote. I mean, what is the chance in America that both of the only two people in one spot don’t have a cell phone? Plus, there was a police officer directing vehicular traffic.

I was at my station before 6AM, and the first triathlete came by at 7:10. It was fun. A lot of the women appreciated my pink bunny ears, and I wore a Team in Training shirt to advertise TNT a bit. A few of the participants that went by were old teammates from prior foot races, so that was really cool. Included in this mix was my friend Susan, who so recently got the TNT Triple Crown!

I felt proud of these 500 girls and women – all ages and races, all shapes and sizes, and all exerting themselves on a very hot day to swim ¼ mile in a pool, bike about 12 miles, and run 3.1 miles. We’ve come a long way since the days when women were not supposed to exert themselves and show how strong they can be, and were considered "the weaker sex." One of my prior teammates used to wear a tee-shirt that said “Strong is the new Beautiful.” That being the case, I saw about 500 beautiful women today!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Nothing Like a Shot of Alcohol!

So, it was time for a follow-up appointment with the podiatrist to look at my foot and see how that neuroma is doing. My foot hurt for a good week or two after the cortisone shot, but has felt pretty good since. Of course, I am not doing a lot of miles – no more than 4 or 5 at a time, and most of those are my fast walking pace rather than a lot of running.

The doctor said that while the neuroma is a little smaller, it is still very evident, and he recommended another injection, this time with alcohol. The idea is that the alcohol will “short circuit” the nerve in the irritated area. The nerve will stop sending pain signals to the brain, the brain will stop sending inflammation signals to the nerve, and the neuroma will be absorbed and disappear. That is the principal, but of course, only time will tell if it works that way. Time, and a lot more miles. I will probably have to repeat these shots for several months.

One of the key things will be whether it hurts when I hike. I am not going hiking this weekend, but will hope to next weekend. I also want to start adding training miles and add running back in as the cooler weather approaches. If I am doing all that, and the pain isn’t coming back, then things are headed in the right direction. If the pain comes back, surgery may be the ultimate answer, but that will leave a little part of my left forefoot without sensation.

I am getting a little taste of a triathlon Sunday morning. I am going to volunteer to crew the “Pink Power” sprint tri. All the participants are women and all the volunteers are men, so it is a fun event for everyone. There will be a lot of pink, lavender, and purple out there. I will wear a purple TNT shirt to fit right in, and maybe my pink “energizer bunny” ears. It should be fun, and plus I am helping out fellow athletes. I will blog about that Sunday.

I will also blog in a few days about an interesting experience with Wellsphere. That may be of interest to other bloggers, and make them more aware and alert than I was, not to say less dumb!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Health Insurance Debate

This is an endurance training and fund raising to achieve cures for cancer blog, not a political one. But now and then, topics are going to come up that cross the boundaries between my normal topics and the political realm. The highly polarized health insurance debate is one of these areas. People get very emotional about this. I know of people who think that if the plan before the Congress passes, it will wreck health care as we know it and bankrupt the country. I heard a quote attributed to Fox News that only 10% of Americans without health insurance want it. I am no expert on the first statement, and don’t know the best solution. But I can’t imagine that only 10% of uninsured Americans would want health insurance. Maybe if you asked the question with a price – “If you could get health insurance for $1,000 a month, would you want it?” – maybe then people would say no because they can’t afford it. But who would choose to be without insurance if they could afford it and had that choice?

Someone I met recently with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma and who is currently getting ABVD chemo, the same regimen that I had, is without insurance. Because of this, she is being given cheaper, less effective anti-nausea drugs, and is sick a lot. She often throws up all night. She has never been given a lung function test. For someone with insurance, or who has enough money to pay out of pocket, these would be givens as part of this treatment.

I know first hand what it is like to throw up all night from chemotherapy, to lay on the bathroom floor at the feet of the “porcelain god” feeling like your insides are going to come out your throat. But I had insurance, and when I talked to my oncologist, he put me on an incredibly expensive drug – like $800 for 12 pills but my co-pay was only about $50 – that kept the nausea more or less under control for 12 hours at a time, so I could get through the night without being sick to my stomach. Because once that vomiting starts in the middle of the night, you are not going to be able to take a pill and keep that pill down. It made all the difference in the world.

I guess if I hadn’t had insurance, I would not have gotten pulmonary function tests, either. I am convinced that I am alive today only because of this. They caught the beginning of severe lung damage in time to stop using bleomycin and to allow the damage to apparently heal. Someone who gets bleomycin and doesn’t get a PFT is playing Russian roulette with their lungs. And also with their lives, because as it turns out, one’s lungs are fairly important organs.

Can you imagine having cancer or some other serious illness and not having medical insurance? Plenty of people are in this boat, and I would imagine they often must choose between being bankrupt and taking huge chances with their health and/or getting suboptimal medical care. I think it is a real shame that in such a wealthy country that so many people are not able to afford medical care.

I don’t know what the answer is. It seems to me that we should be able to analyze all of the possible plans in use over the world, and come up with the best features of them all and implement them here. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it should be a lot better than what we have. As I blogged a couple of weeks ago, we got to the moon 40 years ago. Aren’t we smart enough, and more importantly wise enough, to come up with a more optimal health coverage plan for the nation?

I welcome civil comment and discussion about this. What are your ideas? I plan on blogging more about this in future posts if there is sufficient interest and comment.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

It's Just not Right!

I just got back form my nephew’s wedding in upstate New York – over nine hours of driving away counting thunderstorms and traffic jams. It was a great deal of fun, and a good chance to catch up with my widely dispersed family. It made me think again how fortunate I am to have survived cancer seven years ago. Only by surviving was attending the wedding, as well as so many other great memories I have, even possible. It also made me think about people who are not as fortunate.

One of these was a 20 year old friend of a former TNT teammate. She had leukemia and died recently after a horrific experience with graft vs. host disease following a bone marrow transplant. For the privacy of her family, I will call her “Jane”.

Jane was a beautiful and active young woman who never will have the opportunity to live her life fully. She was so young. Now, if you are 15 or so, you think 20 is pretty old, but if you are older than that, you know if really isn’t. And if you are closer to my age, you know how young this is, and how little of your life you have had a chance to live by this point.

I don’t know Jane, so I cannot say for sure what she had and hadn’t a chance to experience in her life. I know that she experienced the love of her family, now feeling pain I cannot truly imagine. But did she ever have a chance to finish college? To fall in love? To have children? To pursue a career she loved? To fully develop her passions and talents? To help others? To travel and see amazing things? To go to her children’s graduations and dance at their weddings? To have grandchildren?

A 20 year old cannot possibly experience all of these things. Probably she can, at best, only experience a few of them. And it simply is not right that this disease we call cancer can rob a young person of all these things, of her life, and to leave her grieving family and friends wondering “why?” and “what if?” It is just not right!

No matter how much each person participating in the war against cancer has done, it is not enough, individually or collectively. Not when we have 20 year olds with so much of their life ahead of them losing their future in such a painful and awful manner.