Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ring in the New!

So another memorable year is rapidly drawing to a close! Happy New Year! Out with 2009, and in with 2010!

I think that it helps sometimes to write goals and resolutions down. That way, it is more difficult to just forget about them. So here goes with a few of mine for 2010:

1. Do my fifth Team in Training event. Whether I take the plunge and do a biking or triathlon event for the first time, or do my fifth marathon / half-marathon, the important thing is to do it! Just do it! So I will!

2. Get a bike. Even if I don’t do a TNT event that requires a bike, I want to save up my money and get a bike sometime in 2010, and practice riding it to get proficient enough to do an event next year that requires a bike. If I don’t, it just becomes a convenient excuse next year to not do a century or tri.

3. Eclipse $50,000 in fund raising (cumulative for all my events) for Team in Training. I will need to raise about $9,000 - $10,000 to achieve this goal. It is not easy in this continued stinky economy, but who said goals have to be easy? It is attainable, with some work, planning, and effort.

4. Lose my extra weight. It is only eight or nine pounds right now, but that is more than enough. I resolve to get back to 172 pounds, and keep it off, not topping 175 (with clothes on) by the end of 2010. Gotta give myself a few pound margin for holiday gluttony, right?

5. Practice swimming. I’ve done almost nothing to improve my horrible swimming technique, and there are no excuses. Whether I do a triathlon or not in 2010, I am at least going to be able to swim at least ½ mile by the end of the year. Going forward, not backwards, that is!

6. Write something, get it published, and get paid for it. I have never tried to earn money for my writing. I resolve to learn how to do this and then do it in 2010. I have some good stories to write. For starters, there is the time my ex-brother in law made a fool of himself (with a little help from my brother and me) by thinking he was a wine expert. Then there is the tale of me buying my first car, what a classic (the story, not the car)! Or my first backpacking trip, a real snafu, where said car broke down 500 miles from home. I could go on, but won’t. I really see writing in my future, but it won’t happen on its own.

7. Run the Ukrops Monument Avenue 10K this March. Go for a PR! ‘Nuff said!

8. Hike more, and try to backpack again. This is difficult, because training for an endurance event and having the time and energy to hike a lot seem to be mutually exclusive. And backpacking again means using vacation time I don’t have, or using flex time to slip out of work early on a Friday to hit the trail. I don’t have that either. Which leads to…

9. Do something about my work situation. Yes, I am lucky to have a job and a paycheck. But it has changed radically there, and the biggest minus for me is that we can no longer have any flexibility with working hours. So whereas before, I could work an extra eight hours now and then and skip Friday, I can’t even do an extra hour anymore. It is simply not allowed there. So instead of complaining about it, I need to take some action where I have more flexibility in my life, while still having an income.

10. Continue this blog, as well as my blog “Oh, to be Hiking,” through 2010. I don’t get a ton of comments on either one, so I am not sure if people are enjoying them or not. But I enjoy writing them, so why not continue for a third year and see where that goes?

Ten things - I think that is a pretty good list for 2010! Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Flyer in the Mail

I got my Ukrops Monument Avenue 10K flyer in the mail, and have to say, it excited me to get this and just start thinking about this race. It is probably the most fun race I do. I’ve done it every year since 2005, my first year of training with TNT. Here are links to my posts for to this race in 2008 and 2009.

No matter what event I decide to do with Team in Training, I will definitely plan to run this race. I’d like to go for a personal record, although I will have to work hard to attain that. I was in much better shape this time a year ago, having been training with the marathon team for two months. This year, I’ve been mostly sleeping in till 6, doing very little running, walking some, working out a little. A 10K is not a hard race unless you don’t train for it, so I think I should just sign up and hit the roads for some training. I am finding the thoughts of those 4:30 wake up calls really tough to think about, I have to say. But there is no other way than to just do it.

Even if I do a cycle event for TNT, a 10K is short enough that I can still do run training. I’d like to also do the Shamrock half marathon, which is about a week before the Monument Avenue race, but I can’t commit to that until I decide whether to cycle or not. If I decide to cycle 100 miles, that is going to have to consume most of my fitness attention. I don’t even own a bike, so that is a big shift for me, and not something I can do unless I devote a lot of time and effort to cycle training. Training for a half marathon in less than three months would take too much away from that. But I can surely do the 10K.

It's also cool that the main charity for this race is the Massey Cancer Center at the Medical College of Virginia, and that Team in Training has a team in this race, starting last year. I like seeing those purple people in the race, and I always see friends and former teammates running or cheering. It is a great race and a ton of fun!

Monday, December 28, 2009

The 1.3 Kilogram Blob

I was thinking about the recent terrorist attack on the aircraft coming from the Netherlands to Detroit, Michigan. What makes some humans willing to blow up a plane with 250 people on it, including themselves? And even more amazing, what makes a human willing to strap highly flammable explosives to their groin and then ignite it, with a significant risk that instead of exploding, it will burn like hell when ignited (as happened in this case)? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I would just as soon keep fire away from that part of my body, or from any part for that matter.

I guess the answer lies in that 1.3 to 1.4 Kilogram blob of tissue hiding in our skull, otherwise known as our brain. It just doesn’t make sense to me that some people are so prone to hatred, to violence, to murder and mayhem, while others give in to doing good, to helping others, to trying to better the world. Maybe God can understand why this young man’s brain was so badly wired, but I sure can’t.

The people I associate with tend to be on the positive side of things. People that help others, that want to make the world a better place. Every day, although it never makes the news, people do incredibly good things. People are providing humanitarian services to refugees and impoverished people, often at tremendous risk and sacrifice. People are working to cure diseases, building housing for the poor, working on solving environmental problems, and providing medical services and food to those in need. And so many people, to use Team in Training people as only one small example, sacrifice their time to raise money for good causes. I could go on and on.

It is sad that so many of our species use our amazing brain, which would look like a big grayish blob of goo if we could see it but which puts the most advanced supercomputer to shame, for such horrible purposes as that young Nigerian attempted – on Christmas day no less. I don’t get it. Each of us can use our brains to choose to do good or evil, or I suppose to do neither. We all have the same basic circuitry in our brains. I wonder what makes the difference, why so many in this world are told by their incredible brain to hate and do evil. I guess I am grateful that I don’t understand it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Wow, only three more days until Christmas. I am pretty sure that Christmas was my favorite holiday when I was a kid. Now, I still enjoy it, especially if family get-togethers are involved. I love Christmas music and the decorations, but I don’t like the commercialization of it. I think we just emphasize the wrong things this time of year. It just stresses people out: the crowded malls, the traffic jams, the tense faces, the attempt to buy the perfect gifts.

I’d rather see everyone relaxing a bit and appreciating what they have. If you have Christian beliefs, remember the reason for Christmas and what it really means. Whether or not you are of a Christian faith, use it as a time to be especially kind to others, and thankful for the good things and loved ones in your life. If you are warm, have a decent place to live in a safe area, are well-fed, are healthy, and are loved by someone or a pet this Christmas, then you really have it pretty good. I know I do. The little things that don’t always go our way are not so important compared to those things that are truly important.

So this year, have yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Do something nice for someone! And remember to be nice to yourself! Relax! Smile! Be grateful!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Workout Doldrums

If Tiger Woods had the same lack of success with women that I have had lately trying to find the time to work out, he’d be having an easier time with life right now than he is. Plus he wouldn’t be looking at a divorce and losing custody of his children. Of course, if I had the same success with working out that Tiger has with women, I’d be running sub-two thirty marathons, bench pressing 400 pounds, and dropping in 30 foot jump shots.

And my lack of success in finding time to work out is showing. Last week, I actually found an hour or so to walk five miles. I put in a brisk pace of about a 14:30 mile, which is a little slow for my normal (or at least old normal) walking pace. The five miles felt pretty good, although I felt a bit tired. But when I woke up the next day, my legs were sore, especially my hips. In fact my hips were sore about three days! From five miles! The same guy who did a half marathon, 65% of it running, just last April and felt fine the next day, and my hips were sore from just five miles!

This past Saturday, I was going to try for about six miles, walking only, with the Spring Walk Team for TNT. It was our annual Jingle Bell Run, but it was cancelled because of our big snow storm. That was a convenient excuse to take it easy all day, other than some heavy lifting with a snow shovel, but I was really disappointed not to get in a workout with the team. With all the snow, work obligations, and Christmas coming up, I don’t see much chance of speed walking or doing some running for the next week or so, but we will see. Even lunch time walks of a mile or two downtown are out for now because of all of the snow and ice.

I did get in a nice upper body weight workout tonight, but that was the first time in a week or so. Hopefully though, even with the paltry amount of exercise I am getting, Tiger is getting even that less action than that prowling around and chasing young women.

The New Year is rapidly approaching, the time when so many of us make resolutions that we don’t keep. But this is one time that I really do need to resolve to work out a lot more and lose those extra pounds going into the New Year. After all, at some point in 2010 I intend on doing Team in Training again, and I need to start getting back in shape for that. I always feel better when I work out regularly. I just need to get off my butt and make time to do it more. Of course, the New Year is still 10 days away so I guess I will stay on my butt a little longer. Tiger, on the other hand, had better not wait until the New Year to swear off chasing women.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Message from the Captain (#6)

Ahoy Mateys! ‘Tis your captain speaking once again, Mentor Captain Art that is!

Old time sailors say “any port in a storm”, and we sure had a storm this weekend, didn’t we? It was time to batten the hatches and drop anchor in a safe port, just ride out the storm. I think that’s what we all did. Except of course, the cycle team, who put chains on their bikes and hit the road at 6:30 AM yesterday, right, Susan?

The next two weeks will probably be fairly quiet with Team in Training. Please remind your mentees to let the coaches know if they won’t be at training the day after Christmas or the day after New Years. That is really important.

Other than that, people are probably too wrapped up in the holiday season to respond to a lot of fundraising activities. I know I get bombarded this time of year by requests for donations. Given it is the last chance to make a tax deductible donation for 2009, it would be good to at least send out an update to their email list. It is a good time for participants to remind potential donors of what they are doing, and their progress. And at the same time, why not remind them that their donation is fully tax deductible in 2009, even if put on a credit card by December 31 and not paid until 2010?

The other things participants might want to be working on over the holidays is getting donations for the silent auction, and planning fundraising activities for the New Year. In particular, I would strongly encourage the latter. This is the time to plan for the big push in 2010 that will get them to their goal. What have they done so far? What has worked? What hasn’t worked? Are there things that they have been thinking of trying but haven’t yet? Do they have specific activities lined up? Are there businesses they want to approach about fundraisers or donations? How much more do they have to raise before recommitment and how much does that translate to each week? What is the plan to raise that much each week? And I would ask the same two questions for the rest of the season – how much each week will they have to raise to hit their minimum? If you have mentees that are not raising enough to stay on pace, you might want to remind them that every week that goes by, it means raising that much more on average for the remaining weeks.

If you have the time in this busy time of year, offer to meet with your mentees to help them plan. The goal will be to start off 2010 with a firm plan for completing fundraising, rather than starting to think about all of this after New Years. It is a time of year where it is very easy to put all this aside, which means essentially losing two weeks of prime fundraising and planning time.

That is about it from the Captain’s Chair this week. Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, or a Happy Holiday of your choice. And of course, Happy belated Chanukah wishes as well. Let me know if you need help with anything.

Cap’n Art

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Jingle Bell Run That Wasn't

Oh, the weather outside is frightful
But inside, it's so delightful
And since we've no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Oh, but we did have some place to go! Our spring TNT team was going to have our annual jingle bell run today. It started snowing around 5PM yesterday, and by 7PM, we had a couple of inches of snow. The forecast didn't look so hot, so Coach Vicki cancelled training for the first time in six years. And it was a good thing, too - by this morning, I would guess we had 15 inches of snow. After six or seven years of hardly any snow, we now have had back to back winters with major snowfalls for this part of the world. Given that we historically average 14 inches of snow a year (with much less than that lately), a 15 inch plus storm is pretty big.
Nothing to do but relax and enjoy the scenary today, and revel in Villanova's football championship last night. Here is what my neighborhood looked like today.
Click here to read about last year's jingle bell run.

Congratulations, Wildcats!

Last night, the Villanova University Wildcats beat the University of Montana Grizzlies in the Division 1 FCS Football Championship, 23 - 21. It was an amazing game to watch between two great and classy teams. Montana had a great first half, Villanova a tremendous second half, and although either team could have won, it was Villanova's night at the end of a soaking wet game in Chattanooga.

In case you are wondering what FCS stands for, it is football championship subdivision (as opposed to FBS, which is football bowl subdivision). In other words, in the FCS, they actually determine the champion with a 16 team play-off as opposed to the nutty FBS system of selecting two teams and letting them play. Every other really good team in the FBS gets to play in a totally meaningless bowl game. Yes, the FBS has the bigger teams, more money, and the best players, but what kind of a crazy scheme to decide a champ is that? Fans of Texas Christian, Cincinatti, and Boise State, all undefeated this year but with no chance to even compete for a championship, might agree with me. Decide the champion with a champtionship series? What a novel idea! Hey, I know! Maybe they could try that in college basketball! We could call it "March Madness!" Naw, that would never work!

So Villanova (14-1) and Montana (undefeated coming in but now 14-1) did it the right way. They not only had to have great years to get in the field of 16, they each had to win three playoff games to get to the finals. As a Villanova alum, I am really proud of this championship and of the team. GO WILDCATS! V for Villanova, V for Victory.

And to Montana Grizzly fans - congratulations on another great year in the tremendous football tradition you have up in Missoula. I know it hurts to come up just a bit short, but I know that you are justifiably proud of your team. They had a tremendous year, and were three points away from an extraordinary one. You have great fans, a fantastic young coach, and a wonderful tradition. Good luck next year. I predict championships in your future.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Keeping the Faith!

About a month and a half ago, I blogged about being on the team “Faith’s Hope” for Light the Night, and how Faith, a local woman with stage four Hodgkin lymphoma, started this team to make a difference even while she was suffering through chemo, hospitals, and blood transfusions.

I got some great news today from Faith – despite her lengthy battle for most of 2009, despite having tumors throughout her lymphatic system, despite having cancer spread to her bone marrow, lungs, and spleen, Faith is now in remission. While she has a 35% chance for developing cancer again within five years, today she is cancer free!

As anyone who has had cancer knows, she and her doctors will need to be vigilant. There will be frequent checkups and CT scans – here, just drink three pints of this delicious chalky barium fluid, it tastes just like candy. You get an ache or a little pain, and you think “Hmmm, what could this be?” And usually the answer to that is “nothing.” She has a two thirds chance of having this cancer behind her for good.

As someone who just hit seven years remission a week ago, I think I know how happy Faith must feel today for getting that news. It is an amazing feeling. You become overwhelmed with gratitude for making it to remission, and for not having to get poisoned anymore. And you hope that in the ensuing months, you will gradually regain some degree of strength and stamina, and that the fog that seems to envelop your brain will burn off in time. And maybe, just maybe, you will eventually feel like your old self.

With an American dying from a blood cancer every 10 minutes, not enough people know that feeling of reaching remission, the holy grail for cancer patients. One of the goals of all of us doing TNT is that this ten minute number will increase because more people are hitting remission and less are dying. Research and a lot of work has made it that way for Hodgkin lymphoma – so now we just have to keep making progress on other cancers. Maybe in a few years, the time lapse will increase to a death every 15 minutes, maybe a few years after that it will be every 20 minutes. Maybe someday it will be one person an hour, or even less.

I wonder how many minutes go by every day on average for a patient to reach remission? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that today was Faith’s turn. Congratulations, Faith! Live each day! In 7 more years, it will be Faith talking about being seven years in remission, just like I was last week. You’ll get there! Keep the faith!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Hundred Pound Feather; The Hundred Pound Truck

Believe it or not, upper body strength is fairly important for marathoners. And believe it or not even more, I think this is especially so for marathon walkers. For one thing, you are on the race course longer when you walk, and for every step, your arm opposite to your moving leg moves a little. It doesn’t move by itself – it is propelled by your arm and shoulder muscles. So the longer you are out there, the more times you move your arms. For another thing, I think there is a tendency for walkers to move their arms a bit further than runners do. Not the extremely exaggerated motion you see with some walkers where they swing their arms like they are reaching for the moon, of course. That is a waste of energy and muscle power. But you need to move your arms when you walk and run, and repeated tens of thousands of times as happens during a marathon, you do need some upper body strength.

I learned this a few years ago when I was training for walking the San Diego Marathon. I was near the end of a 21 mile day when I came to a wall that was about five feet high. It was either clamber over the wall, or retrace my steps and do an extra mile. I eyed the wall, and thought it would be easy to hoist myself over it. Wrong! I tried twice, and my arms were so tired I couldn’t lift myself even a foot!

When I trained for my first marathon, in 2005, I did a lot of upper body workouts. This is me, five years ago, doing just that. I would do three sets of 15 repetitions each with 140 pound weights on a military press machine. And I would do three different exercises with that machine, plus lots of work with 15 to 25 pound hand weights. Compared to a football player, that is not a lot of weight, but it was plenty for an endurance racer, and for a guy my age. I was pretty strong. Now and then, I would lift 100 pounds just to see how it felt, and it was like lifting a feather.

Fast forward to 2007. Some time around June, I partially tore my right rotator cuff, probably lifting 20 pound weights laterally. It was painful for a couple of years, and probably was finally healed only within the last six months or so. I did the 2008 Arizona Marathon with this injury, and I had to just about give up all upper body training. When I could resume it, the doctor stressed using low weights but a lot of repetitions. This was after some physical therapy with specific exercises, which I still do at times but not often or consistently enough. I started with 30 pounds and worked my way up to 70, which felt like too much for the number of repetitions I was doing. So a couple of months ago, I backed down to 50 pounds, doing 50 reps for those same three exercises.

A few weeks ago, just for grins, I tried 100 pounds. That weight, the exact weight that felt like a feather five years ago, now felt like a truck! Okay, not exactly like a feather or a truck, but you get the idea. It felt very heavy, and it required real effort to lift it. Five years ago, it was effortless. So while I will stick with the lower weights and more reps, I am thinking of maybe every three workouts of doing more weight and fewer reps. Maybe that will build strength and not just endurance. Are any of you experts on strength training? I’d love to hear ideas.

I wonder if I will ever get back to 140 pounds, and if 100 pounds will ever feel like a feather again? Maybe not, but I hope I at least get to the point where it doesn’t feel like a truck.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hold that Line! Hold that Line!

I stepped on the scale in the bank lobby the other day, and watched the dial jump to the right. “What the hell? 181 pounds? That’s it! I am holding the line,” I said. I heard the faint tee-heeing of laughter, but from where? I glanced around the bank lobby. A few customers lined up at the ATM machine a short distance away, but they looked totally serious. A security guard, pistol strapped to his waist, sat across the lobby. He looked like he had never laughed in his life.

I heard faint, high pitched peals of laughter again. I stared at the face of scale. No way! Was the laughter coming from the scale? To test my ridiculous theory, I said “There is no way I am gaining another pound!” The laughter got louder, and was clearly coming from the scale! “OK, scale, what is up with that?” The scale stopped laughing, and said “Oh, that’s rich! You’re not gaining another pound? Check your calendar. Do you know what time of year it is?”

“It doesn’t matter what time of year it is! I have gained eight pounds since running the Country Music Half-Marathon last April, and that is enough. I am holding the line!” (“I can’t believe I am talking to a scale in a public place,” I thought to myself.)

“Yeah, and I’m Santa Claus,” the scale said, laughing at its own joke. “You would not believe how many people say that to me at this time of year. But they forget about holiday parties, Christmas cookies, eggnog, family get-togethers, and pumpkin pie. How much pumpkin pie did you have recently?”

“Quite a bit, actually. That’s one of the many reasons I have gained this weight. But enough is enough. I am stopping this weight gain, and will start to reverse it,” I said. I thought of all of the extra deserts lately, munching on cookies or candy people bring into work, Thanksgiving dinner, a drink here and there, a few more meals at restaurants recently – often with a tempting desert. It all just adds up, an ounce or two at a time. I thought of how much more tightly my pants have been fitting. Jeans that were very comfortable a few months ago were now quite snug. Clearly, either some practical jokester is swapping my pants out in the middle of the night, or I have gained not just weight but inches. As a reflex to this thought, I sucked in my stomach.

“That won’t help,” the scale said. “Suck in your stomach or not, you still weigh 181 pounds.” Resigned, I relaxed my stomach. Suddenly, the button on my pants flew off, striking the bank window like a rifle shot. A customer screamed, several of them started to go to the floor, and the guard started to pull out his revolver. He quickly realized what had happened and began laughing. “Great,” I thought to myself. “He has a sense of humor after all.”

Around this time, several of the bank’s customers had noted that I was talking to no one in particular, looked at my ear to see if I had a Blue Tooth, and seeing none, began to look a bit nervous. So I stepped off the scale and headed outside. Damn! The last time I weighed myself I was around 178 or 179, and I resolved to get down to 176 or so for my class reunion. So much for that! It is now time to get serious about this – to stop eating as much - Christmas or not – and to start working out again. Mr. Scale, next time you see me, I will have the last laugh. I resolve not to go over 181 by the first of the year. I will hold the line, and ultimately, I will lose the extra weight. I hitched my belt tight to make up for the missing button, and got back to work. Hey, who brought the lemon poppy-seed cake in? Well, one piece won’t hurt….

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Message from the Captain (#5)

Ahoy Mateys! This is your captain speaking! Furl the topsails! Reef the mainsails! Set the sea anchors! Shiver me timbers! This weather has been so cold and wet that it makes one want to curl up in the fo’castle sipping an extra ration of grog! But my guess is that at least a few of you and your mentees were out training today in this mess. It seems like for the last month or so, we have had more that our fair share of cold rain.

Recommitment for our first port of call, The Big Easy, is this Friday. So it is really important to touch base with your mentees (if any) for this race and see how they are doing. Recommitment is a big decision for every participant, but one that one each of them can make. You can provide information, encouragement, ideas, and support, but you can’t make the decision for them. Let me know if I can help in any way.

We’ll be having a breakfast after training Saturday for the run and walk teams. Triathlon and cycle team members are free to join us. Coach Vicki will have the best idea when training should end, and thus when people will be going to breakfast. Ask your mentees if they are going to join us. We will need a reasonable head count. I am proposing Kitchen 64 up Boulevard, and would like to see if they can set a few tables aside, ergo, the head count.

After a month of so of the spring season, you should start to be able to separate your mentees into two major groups: those you feel are going to do just fine with fundraising and those you have concerns about. For the next week or so, I would concentrate my efforts on the latter group. What concerns do you have about them? Do they have a plan, and if so, where are they falling short? Are you seeing signs that they are struggling, or even worse, just not doing any fundraising? Are any of them appearing to avoid you? This would be a good time to reach out by phone or in person to meet with anyone that you are concerned about. If they seem stymied, help them pick one fundraising method that they want to try, and motivate them to do that one well. Could be letters, could be their webpage and emails, could be specific fund raisers. It could even be getting amazing items for the silent auction next month, although it would be risky to put all one’s eggs in that basket, since the results won’t be known for another month.

At the same time, don’t ignore your other mentees. While the one’s you are behind on fundraising need the most attention, every participant needs some TLC. Maybe they are fine with their fundraising, but just want to discuss the TNT experience with someone who has been there. Or maybe they have gotten off to a great start, but are not sure what to do next. The great thing about being a mentor is that you have been there before, and maybe experienced or felt some of the things that they are feeling or experiencing. Sometimes what a participant needs most is a smile and a pat on the back, and someone who can relate to their concern.

I am always looking for mission moments to remind me of how important what we are doing is. This week, a chance encounter at work was the source of my inspiration. I wrote about it here:

Speaking of mission moments, at the marathon training Saturday I have arranged for Faith Eury to come out and tell us about her experience with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma. She just finished chemo a month ago, and has had a really tough go of it, with a lot of time in the hospital.

Let me know if you need help, or have concerns. You know how to reach me so if you need me, get in touch!

Cap’n Art

Thursday, December 10, 2009

“Who Do You Know With Leukemia?”

The question came as a bit of a surprise. I was helping to orient a new employee this morning, and we were at my desk signing some paperwork. I left for a minute to get some information, and when I returned, he asked me that question. I guess I looked puzzled for a minute, and he pointed to my Leukemia and Lymphoma Society mug on my desk.

“Actually, I know a number of people who have survived leukemia and other blood cancers,” I said. “That includes myself. I survived lymphoma seven years ago.”

“You’re kidding!” he exclaimed. “My mother died from lymphoma!” I expressed my sympathy, and we chatted a bit about it.

His mother was 52 when she died about seven or eight years ago, just a couple of years older than I was at the time of my diagnosis. She had been ill for a while, and they just kept thinking it was the flu, or something like that. They finally figured it out in May of that year, and by July, she was dead. I guess she never really had a chance.

I reflected again on my amazing good fortune. Why would I not only survive, but return to full health, while this woman died? It is just the luck of the draw, I guess. I had something that could be treated, she did not. I could survive the chemo, barely at times it seemed, but survive it I did all the same. She either could not survive the treatment or the disease, one or the other. Two months is a quick period of time for someone to die after diagnosis.

I thought of all of the things I would have missed had I died that July. My diagnosis was also in May – maybe even the same May. It is a pretty long list of amazing things that I have gotten to experience in my life since that time, and I would have hated to have missed any of them. I was not ready to die at that point, and actually am not at this point either, should anyone ask.

This brief conversation was one more example of how many people are affected by blood cancers. And it was one more example of the loss that those left behind feel as a result. It is easy for people to hear about people surviving cancer and assume that survival is a given, and that the cancer problem has a solution. Sadly, that is far from true.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Remission Accomplished!

Today marks seven years of being in remission from Hodgkin lymphoma. Was this the actual date that the very last lymphoma cell, gasping and weeping, totally alone in the dark confines of my body, died a terrible death from being poisoned? Undoubtedly not, but there is no way for me to mark that exact date. So therefore, I declare two weeks after my last chemo as my total victory over cancer date, because this was the date I would have gotten my next chemo. But there was no evidence of cancer, so that chemo wasn’t needed. Remission accomplished!

I’ve done a lot with my life over the last seven years, blogging quite a bit about the last two of them. I am happy and lucky to be here. But my sense of celebration is muted by the sobering fact that my sister is once again in a fight for her life with her breast cancer returning. My remission has lasted seven years and continues. Hers lasted just over a year and has ended, as we recently learned. It is difficult not to feel sad and scared about that.

It reminds me how much more remains to be done in the war on cancer. The more treatable cancers, like the one I had, are still very difficult to deal with and there is no guaranteed outcome. The hard to treat cancers, like the one my sister has, are infinitely more difficult to treat. We have a long, long way to go. There are some cancers where patients will never really reach true remission, where the disease will be managed to the extent possible as a chronic condition.

On this day, one for me to celebrate my amazing good fortune, something like 145 Americans will die from blood cancers. In the short time while I write these words, a few of them will pass away, remission not to be attained. Their loved ones will weep and wonder why this happened. All I can say is, and it is no comfort, that it is the luck of the draw. When my cancer hand was dealt to me, I got cards that I could play to live, with the help of medical science. And I have used some of my time and energy since then to try to make a difference for others, so that more people will eventually survive these awful, awful diseases.

So on this day, I will give thanks to my four toxic buddies that saved my life seven years ago. Thank you, adriamycin, you Red Devil, you Jonestown Kool-Aid with your beautiful but deadly red color. Thank you, bleomycin, destroyer of lung tissue but also of cancer cells. Thank you, vinblastine, miracle gift of the Madagascar periwinkle. And thank you, dacarbizine, my slow companion with your drip-drip-drip delivery five days in a row. I appreciate all you did for me. You saved my life! You taught me a lot about myself and what I am made of. But most of all, I really appreciate that day - December 9, 2002 - when I could say “Remission Accomplished! I don’t need you anymore, ABVD! Goodbye!”

Monday, December 7, 2009

Message from the Captain (#4)

Ahoy me Hardees! This is your captain speaking, mentor captain Art that is, with another weekly message for you!

It was good to see so many of you yesterday at the fund-raising clinic and social. Thanks to Amy and her husband for opening their beautiful home to team members present and past, and for their hospitality. I know that everyone very much appreciated this. Not only did participants have some fun and get to socialize in other than running clothes and swim suits, but hopefully they learned something at the very interactive fund raising clinic. Thanks for all of the participation by mentors and coaches. I know that Cate and I wanted that. We didn’t want to be the only ones sharing knowledge, as vast and amazing as our store of knowledge is. J

Here are some things to look into this week, and some ideas. I don’t want to keep beating the drum of making sure people customize their page, get notes sent out, prepare letters and so forth. We hit, hard, that last night. Suffice to say, any participant that has not yet done at least two of these three things by now is having valuable time go by. So all that goes without saying.

Picture It! Some of the participants are interested in photos for their web page. I will not be at training this weekend. But maybe a couple of you could bring your camera to run/walk, bike, and tri training, and snap some photos – not just of your mentees but of anyone who wants to. They could be posed, group, or action shots. Or goofy shots, even. The next time I come out, I will bring my camera – beware – but for now, see if you can help with this. The same goes for coaches. Someone put across the idea of changing their web page photo every few weeks, which is a great idea. But you need a supply of photos to do this. If you want an idea on a little bit of an offbeat photo, look at the one of the running shoes in this older blog post of mine:

Go Online! Last week I sent you the link to the new LLS fundraising online slideshow. Make sure participants get this, because there is great information in this. And this includes some background information that participants might want to share with potential donors. I am pretty sure that the current team is the first to have this tremendous resource, so let’s put it to great use!

The Auction Block! Now is definitely the time for people to be collecting silent auction items. We threw a bunch of ideas out there last night, but see if your participants need any more ideas or help.

New Crew! A few of you have new team members. Make them feel welcome, and remind the coaches to introduce them to the veteran teammates. And if you lost crew, consider writing them a short note wishing them well and expressing the hope that they join us again in future times.

Leave no Sailor Behind! Work with the coaches to make sure that the slower runners and walkers don’t get left behind. If you are not training for an event, consider lagging behind to keep someone company. I think that the cyclists and triathletes pretty much stick together during training, but if not, the same principal applies. Training is usually more fun if you are with someone.

Time for an Update! For those diligent teammates who hit the ground running and sent out their initial notes a few weeks ago, it is time for an update and gentle reminder to potential donors. They can discuss training to date, progress in training and/or fundraising, people they have met, stories they have heard: whatever tickles their fancy.

Bon Voyage! For those of you lucky enough to be traveling for extended periods this month, just keep your mentees in the loop and load ‘em up with ideas in advance. If possible, check in by email with them during that time. And have fun! Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Holidays of your choice.

Mission Moment! Here is a personal one. This Wednesday marks seven years in remission for me. There is rarely a day that I don’t reflect with tremendous gratitude for not only still being alive, but healthy as well. And I know very well that a lot of things went into my survival. Things learned by doctors in the past. Patients who didn’t make it, but along the way, things were discovered about ways to treat these diseases. Money raised to deliver research. Dedicated researchers. I am thankful for life, and for what each of you and all participants in TNT and Light the Night do everyday to work for better and more humane cures. I am one of millions who is living proof that we are making progress with solving the mystery of these terrible blood cancers. So, THANK YOU!

We are heading along with fair winds and following seas as we cruise through the spring season, approaching our first port of call, New Orleans, in just a couple more months. Please contact me if you have questions or need assistance with anything. Thanks for all that you do.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Summer or Fall?

Well, Spring Team is pretty well out for me, kind of. So it is between summer and fall. If I do summer, it would be the Tahoe Century Ride or the Seattle Marathon, both in June. Technically, Tahoe is both for the summer and spring teams, just those that selected it with the spring team got a great head start on fundraising and training. If I did Fall, it would be The Nations Tri, Nike, or the Tour de Tucson. Oh decisions, decisions.

You may note that many of those choices requires a bike. I have determined that my bike is not going to cut it for even a triathon, much less a century. So that could be a factor if I choose spring. A bike and all the crap you need with it is a pretty big expense right smack in the middle of winter / Christmas. Not to say an economy that still sucks, with more rumors of layoffs where I work.

What to do, what to do? Fundraising wise, I would prefer to do summer, and get started with it in about a month. But I could do fall, as well. It would just mean a longer gap between events. A big part of it will be personal and family preference, conflicts with potential vacations, and so forth. I want to decide within a week or two, because if I do spring, I will want to start preparing for fundraising shortly, during a very busy time of year.

If I can't make up my mind in the next few weeks, it will probably be fall. The upside of that is that I would have several more months to get a bike, save money, and see where the economy is headed. So if I stay indecisive, it will probably be fall. If I get decisive, it may be spring.

No bad choice, just lots of choices.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Death Panel

There was much made earlier in the health care / health insurance debate about the “death panels” – these supposed panels composed of faceless, nameless individuals who would decide whether a person, especially the elderly, would receive any more health care or be given the thumbs down – write your will, and prepare to buy the farm, oldster! Your services here on Planet Earth are no longer needed.

Eventually, all but the most ardent opponents came to an agreement that there were not going to be these “death panels” in any plan being proposed. There was a provision in some of them, later removed I believe, to allow Medicare reimbursement for doctors to discuss – not mandate - terminal options with very seriously ill and elderly patients. Call me crazy, but it I were 80 years old and suffering terribly from some terminal illness, I would want to learn as much as I can about every option. I would want to make the final choice, but I would want information. Who wouldn’t?

But, you know, even though no one seems to get upset about this – where all of those folks who were really beating the death panel drum? – we have death panels right here in the good ole USA right now. Just check out this article about a young boy named Kyler VanNocker if you do not believe me.

But instead of “death panels,” we call them “insurance companies.” An insurance company has decided that this five year old boy, who’s birthday was a couple of days ago, will need to die from his neuroblastoma. The standard treatment did not work, and another treatment, which actually could be effective – or maybe not – is considered experimental. It is experimental because kids with this disease usually don’t live long enough to try this treatment, which sends a radioactive drug directly to the tumors. Why would we not try this for a child? Who knows if it will save his life or not, but what if it does? Not only is his life saved, but we learn something more about defeating this type of cancer to save other children’s lives. And who knows where this one life will lead? Didn’t these guys ever watch “It’s a Wonderful Life?”

How does the insurance company word this news, I wonder? Is it something like this? “Dear Kyler – We have reviewed your case and are pleased to inform you that we are going to cover death for you. There are other options, but our analysis shows that not only is death the most cost effective option, but it also will lead to a permanent treatment of your condition. Please do not hesitate to contact us in the future should we be able to provide you additional assistance. We value you as a loyal customer. Oh, and Kyler, happy birthday – have an extra piece of cake on us! Sincerely yours, Your Cost Effective Insurance Company, also known as your friendly Death Panel.”

Something is not right here. The only thing more wrong about a little kid getting cancer – which is out of everyone’s control – is a little kid not getting treatments for it. We are talking about a five year old kid, not a 95 year old person with terminal cancer, who is being denied treatment. If I win the lottery Friday night, I know where some of it is going. Sure, it is just one kid in this crazy world of 6,000,000,000 or so people, but I am going to guess that to him and his family, his life is a pretty big deal.

How Can I Get This Kind of Deal?

Imagine getting fired, and getting millions of dollars as a result? This is happening as we speak with at least two college football coaches, Al Groh at the University of Virginia and Charlie Weiss at the University of Notre Dame. Groh is getting 4.3 million bucks for the last two years of his contract at UVA. I don’t know what Weiss is getting for the last six years of his ten year contract, but I would guess it is a staggering amount.

And I wonder, how can I get this kind of deal? Where I get fired and receive millions of dollars? I’ll be glad to sign such a contract. I like sports as much as the next guy, but this just seems ridiculous to me. Things are out of control when college coaches make that kind of money for doing a lousy job. Hell, it’s out of control if they make millions a year doing a great job. Why should a college football coach get 2, 3, or 4 million dollars a year when department heads and professors are getting only a small fraction of that? Which contributes more to the true mission of a university?

The even more amazing thing is that the universities involved have to raise the money from donors to buy out these contracts, and that people will donate big bucks to get rid of a coach so that the university can at the same time pay big bucks for a new coach. How does that happen? Does the athletic director just pick up the phone and call some wealthy alumni? I would guess that the conversation goes something like this…

“Hi, Mr. Jones. This is Bill Smith, Athletic Director of your Alma Mater, Old Notre Dame. How are you? Great! Look, thanks for your past generosity, but we have a real crisis here. A few years ago, I really screwed up. I gave a new coach with only half a season on the job a 10 year iron-clad contract. Yeah, I know – dumb! My bad! Yes, I know. Yes, you’re right. Yes, he did talk a great line, didn’t he? Well, look, that is water over the dam. But it turns out that he has a worse winning percentage than the last guy we hired and fired. Oh, you were already aware of that? Yeah, six wins and six losses this year is not what we expect at Notre Dame, is it? So what we are doing is canning him, but we need to raise $20 million dollars for the last six years of his contract. Can you help? Oh, great! Can I put you down for two million bucks? Oh wonderful! Thanks so much, Mr. Jones, for your generous donation to such an important cause. Yes, that’s right, I will be a little more careful with the next coach’s contract, don’t worry. Thanks again. You have a wonderful day!”

One man’s opinion – you give a coach a long contract, you live with the consequences. UVA would not fold if Al Groh coached two more years. Notre Dame would still recruit good players if Weiss coached the last six years. Schools should learn from it – be careful with contracts. If I were wealthy enough to donate that kind of money, I would feel nauseous donating it so that someone could sit on their butt with millions of dollars in the bank. They ran the school’s program into the ground so we will give them millions of bucks?

As much as I would like to have a deal like that – fat chance - my second choice would be to find a wealthy donor who instead of donating a huge sum of cash to fire someone, donates that cash to a really worthy cause. To feeding the hungry. To curing cancer. To wildlife conservation. To providing shelter to the homeless. To making the world a better place. Wealthy University of Virginia and Notre Dame alumni, where are you? If you have that kind of money to fire a coach, donate to Team in Training! It won’t help win a football game at Old “U” but it will help win a fight against blood cancers. What do you say? I know you are out there – call me!