Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The “Good” Cancer

Hodgkin Lymphoma, what I was wrapping up treatment for exactly eight years ago, is sometimes called the “good” cancer. If you get it, and can get medical treatment for it, you have about an 86% chance of living five years. Compared to most other forms of cancer, these are pretty good odds, and if you are in the 86% group, as I was, then it does seem like the cancer to have. It is one of the few cancers that doctors use the word “cured,” I think, if indeed you do survive it and go into lengthy remission. Although I know anything can still happen, after eight years of being in remission, I would be considered in the cured group.

Every year, about 8,000 Americans will be diagnosed with Hodgkin’s, and every year, over 1,000 Americans will die from it. If you are one of those 1,000 plus people, then it is decided not a good cancer. It is horrible, painful, and life-ending, and devastating to the family and friends. Yesterday, I learned of one such person.

Jennifer Willey of Kennebunkport, Maine was just 31 – so young - when she died last week from Hodgkin Lymphoma. She was diagnosed on May 26, 2005, which was nearly exactly three years after my diagnosis and just weeks before my first marathon for Team in Training. I am sure that when she was diagnosed, she was told that she had the “good” cancer and had the same high hopes that I had to continue living. After all, she had an 86% chance of surviving. She finished treatment in November that year, but unlike my last chemo in November 2002, it was not to be her last treatment. She relapsed, got more chemo, two stem cell transplants, and fought the horrific effects of graft vs. host disease as a result. Her lungs were ravaged and she spent her last days in a wheel chair on oxygen. Technically, she was a five year survivor since she made it past last May, but that is a pretty hollow victory. From all accounts, she was a remarkable young woman, and I cannot imagine how devastating her death is for her family and friends.

I wish I could have known of her while she lived so I could have sent her some encouragement, and also told her that her name will be on my race shirt for my next Team in Training event. She had a website where she collected information about Hodgkin’s and also stories of others she had met virtually along the way who had battled this terrible disease.

Jennifer’s story, and her ultimate fate, is a sad reminder of how much work there remains to be done even with a “good” cancer like Hodgkin Lymphoma. The dirty little secret is there is no good cancer. Yes, with this cancer, medical researchers have figured out if you inject four very toxic substances (Adriamycin, Bleomycin, Vinblastine, Dacarbazine) into the blood stream every two weeks for several months, more people will live than will die. But many will still die, and all will suffer considerable misery. We really haven't figured out even a cancer like Hodgkin Lymphoma, despite the high survival rate. What makes it tick? Why do some people live, and others die? How can you really defeat it, without nearly killing the patient in the process?

So much more work remains in the war on cancers. It is staggering and overwhelming at times, especially when you consider how many people are suffering from various cancers at this exact moment in time. It is a disease that never rests, never tires, never takes a coffee break, never goes into recession. It is remorseless, pitiless, and relentless, and some times – as in Jennifer’s case – the best available medical technology, courage, and grit are not going to be enough. Even “curable” cancers are not really curable right now. If you are out there doing Team in Training, or taking some other action to raise funding for cancer research, and you happen to come across what I wrote here, thank you for helping to get us one step closer to a true cure.

Monday, November 29, 2010

December Progress on my 2010 Goals

At the end of 2009, I identified ten goals for myself for the upcoming year. I decided to do a little progress report at the end of each month to see how I am doing on each of these. Here is where things stand after 11 months into the New Year with December just around the corner! Diligent followers of Racing for a Cure will no doubt note that didn't do a summary since August. Sorry about that.

1. Do my fifth Team in Training event. On June 26th, I ran and walked the Seattle Half Marathon. Mission Accomplished!

2. Get a bike. Initially, this means saving money for a bike. Nope, had other priorities for my money. Probably I will get a new computer before I get a bike.

3. Eclipse $50,000 (cumulative) in fund raising for Team in Training. I needed to raise $8,500 this season to hit this target. And I surpassed this, people so generously donating over $11,000 to my cause. Mission Accomplished!

4. Lose my extra 10 pounds. I had lost about five pounds, so I will treat this as a partial success, especially if I keep it off during the Christmas season.

5. Practice swimming. Ouch! I’ve made no progress on this goal.

6. Write something, get it published, and get paid for it. Well, I did two out of three, but the getting paid was a big part of that. I got this poem published in a newsletter at Virginia Beach. No money, other than the currency of satisfaction, changed hands.

7. Run the Ukrops Monument Avenue 10K this March. Mission accomplished!

8. Hike more, and try to backpack again. I have gotten in a lot of great hikes this year, and even did a two day backpacking trip in up Priest Mountain earlier this month.

9. Do something about my work situation. As stated in August, given the economy, I am just going to hold pat. Things have improved, including my attitude. So maybe that is what I am doing about my work situation - improving my outlook.

10. Continue this blog, as well as my blog “Oh, to be Hiking,” through 2010. I've kept both blogs going pretty well this year.

Summary – mixed. After 11 months, I have accomplished five goals, partially accomplished two of my goals, made no progress on two more, and kind of abandoned one goal. And I would guess this is how the year will end up.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On Uncertain Footing

I’ve written before, both seriously and also attempting humor, about my painful left foot. Two or three times over the last year or year and a half, I’ve gone through major campaigns to have alcohol injections in attempt to destroy the little nerve between my third and fouth metatarsals that has led to a painful neuroma. This last time in particular, we hit that thing hard. Each shot was quite painful, leading me to believe we were hitting that thing where it hurts and taking it out.

My last shot was about three weeks ago, and the doctor said to make sure I run and walk to see how it is doing. I did my tough backpacking trip just over two weeks ago, and was encouraged that I had no pain to speak of. Maybe it really is going away. Then I had a sedentary week in Michigan last week, and did a three mile run Saturday. Sunday I did a seven mile hike around town to enjoy this fantastic weather and the last of the fall colors. From the start of the hike, my left foot hurt with every single step. In seven miles of hiking, my left foot is going to hit the ground about 7,500 times, and every one of those footsteps hurt. And as the hike went on, each footstep hurt more and more. I guess that little three mile run flared things up enough to result in a lot of hurting on Sunday's hike.

Although I really enjoyed hiking along the James River, including passing near some old Team in Training places like Hollywood Cemetery, I was really discouraged at the end. The alcohol shots are clearly not working. The pain for the neuroma is as bad, or even worse, than it ever has been.

I am not sure what to do next. I guess I will cancel next week's alcohol shot. It just seems like throwing $40 away. I may have to consider surgery. My lifestyle is very dependent on having pain-free feet. There are too many things I like to do - hiking, running, and of course just taking a nice walk – that foot pain with every step will impede.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Where Does Time Go?

Wow, here November is nearly over and I have barely written in this blog at all. It doesn’t help that I am not doing Team in Training at this moment. I have been blogging a lot in my Oh, To Be Hiking blog, trying to catch up with posts about my Alaska trip and also some of my fall hikes and my recent backpacking trip up Priest Mountain in the George Washington National Forest.

I just returned from a week in Michigan. I took my running gear with the best of intentions. But I ran not a bit. It was always so dark in the morning, with daylight coming close to 7:30 each day. It was cold every morning, and rainy – even a little snowy – more often than not. I could find one excuse after another not to run or work out – too dark, too cold, too wet, too much going on. But now I am back home in Virginia, and the excuses are wearing thin.

So I ran yesterday for the first time in a while. It was a beautiful day, the sun was bright, and the fall colors still brilliant. I ran in shorts and a tee shirt. I ran and walked 4 laps around Echo Lake near my home, which translates to about 3 miles. My combined run-walk pace is in the 10:30 range for that distance. I was a little tired at the end, but would have done another mile or so if I had not forgotten my water bottle. Now, three or four miles is a long way from being able to run a marathon again, or even a half marathon, but it is something. It will be five months this week since the Seattle Half-Marathon. It is time to get going again, to start thinking of the next race – whatever that will be.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I Voted With My Feet!

I voted with my feet yesterday! No really, I did. I haven’t run in a little while, so I decided to run to my polling place, about a four mile round trip. Combined with a three mile walk to Libby Hill Park at lunch, I got some decent exercise. Now, I have a dread feeling that I accomplished more with my run to vote than the Congress will in the next two years, but maybe they will prove me wrong. Maybe they will actually figure out how to get some work done instead of just fighting with one another, spin doctoring every little thing that happens, posturing, and blaming the other party. But in any event, I voted, exercising my right and privilege, my duty and responsibility.

I hope that you did as well. It is not my business how you voted, but it is my business if you voted. And frankly, it is your business if I voted. That is how a republic works. And every Election Day is proof that our republic has survived another year. So I hope you voted.

If you are Catholic or Jewish or Hindu or Muslim, I hope you voted. At one point in this country, you had to be white, male, Protestant, over 25, and a landowner to vote, or to serve on a jury.

If you are an American of African ancestry, I hope you voted. At one point, many of your ancestors were brought here in chains under unimaginable conditions, and treated as beasts of burden with absolutely no rights. It took until the after the Civil War for black males to have the right to vote, and it took another 100+ years for full citizenship. Many people sacrificed tremendously to make it so. You owe it to them to vote.

If you are a woman, I hope you voted. 91 years ago, you did not have this right, and many women worked hard and sacrificed much to convince men – who had all of the power - to allow you to be able to vote. Suffragette leaders were unjustly imprisoned, force fed, beaten, and generally treated inhumanely. What would they think if they could see the large numbers of women who do not vote?

If you are a young person, I hope you voted, because it was in my lifetime that 18, 19, and 20 year olds were given the right to vote.

If you are an American citizen of any race or religion or national origin, I hope you voted. All you have to do is drive by the tombstones of Arlington National Cemetery to be reminded of the sacrifices people have made on our behalf to keep this country free. Hell, all you have to do is look at the news, with a major war still going on nine years later.

I voted with my feet yesterday. Whether you did the same, or got to the polling place by auto, horse, bicycle, or limousine, I hope that you voted.