Sunday, January 30, 2011

Don’t Try This With a Sore Foot

One of the most dreaded sounds a cat owner can hear in the dead of night is the sound of their cat preparing to throw up. It seems to happen often in our house, and when it does, I end up coming out of a dead sleep. The big worry is that this is happening on our sofa. You or I, if we were getting ready to be sick, would make every effort to get away from the sofa or bed. Our cats seem to have no such concern. In fact, they seem to prefer soft, comfortable places to get sick on.

So when I was awakened in such horror two nights ago at about 2:30AM, I jumped out of bed without even thinking, landing on my left foot! The pain immediately erased whatever sense of sleep I still had. I sat back on the bed, listening to the lovely sound of a cat puking several times somewhere in our living room – maybe on the sofa, maybe on a computer. It turned out to be on the floor – because we have cats, we have hardwood floors. My wife awoke then and cleaned it up, as I could basically not move at that point. I laid back down, foot throbbing for a couple of hours as I vainly tried to resume sleeping. Eventually, I did sleep for a while.

Last night, I was awakened by the same sound, but this time, I ignored it. My foot is still quite sore, and I figured wherever it was, I could clean it up later – which I did.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Baby Steps

Well, I am coming up on four days post surgery, and doing OK! I got the initial bandages off yesterday so the doctor could examine the incision, which is about an inch and a half to two inches long. He said that the neuroma was a fairly large one, about twice the size of a pea, but no world record. I already knew the latter, as I had checked the Guinness Book of World Records, and my name was not in it.

With a much smaller bandage, I can now walk very slowly with just one crutch, which is much easier on the armpits – but slower. I’ve joked many times about being slower than a snail, and now, I really am! Only one crutch also means that I can carry something carefully in my right hand. And maybe even more importantly – at the risk of way too much information – I can pee standing up again! It is the little things in life, you know, when it gets right down to it.

The walking is a little painful so I only do it when absolutely necessary, and even so, my foot hurts more today as a result. So as much as possible, I am going to sit on my butt with my foot elevated. The stitches come out in six more days, at which point maybe I can take a shower without the elaborate procedures that I have to now! All in all, I am pleased with how things are going, but cannot wait to walk even semi-normally again.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How to Take a Shower in 20 Easy Steps

I got a shower last night, and it sure felt great, even though it was a bit of trouble. Here are instructions for a basic shower:

1. Wrap your heavily bandaged foot over and over in saran wrap and tape it securely.
2. Tape a towel over the saran wrap.
3. Start to strip
4. Realize you can't take your sweat pants off over the towel
5. Take the towel off.
6. Finish undressing.
7. Tape a towel over the saran wrap.
8. Put a big garbage bag over your lower leg and tape securely above the knee.
9. Turn on the shower.
10. Climb in, swinging on the top of the shower door frame and nearly pulling the whole thing down.
11. Sit on your spouse's little foot bench, which is like 8 inches high.
12. Realize you left the soap and shampoo up on the shelf, out of reach.
13. Struggle back up on your right foot and put the soap and shampoo on the shower floor.
14. Sit back down
15. Wash your hair, and soap the grime away.
16. Struggle to your foot (not feet) to finish rinsing off.
17. Put the soap and shampoo back where they belong, and turn off the water.
18. Climb out, swinging on the top of the shower door frame and nearly pulling the whole thing down. (slow learner)
19. Dry off while kind of staggering around and leaning on things
20. Tear off the trash bag, pull off the towel, and remove the saran wrap

Oh, the things we take for granted! But it sure felt good to get a shower, even though the whole process took at least a half hour and was very tiring.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

26.2 Miles? Try 26.2 Feet!

So, I have a goal for completing my fourth marathon (and sixth event) for Team in Training in 2011. Right now, that feels as likely as climbing Mount Everest. The only way I could even go 26.2 feet without crutches, much less 26.2 miles, is by hopping on my right foot. And that would be a challenge. I have learned that hopping, at least for me, takes a huge amount of energy. I hopped around my kitchen for about 10 seconds this morning getting some things moved around, and my pulse shot up to about 90! It might work for kangaroos, rabbits, and gerbils, but not for me. Of course, they use two feet to hop, not one.

My foot feels fine if I keep it still and elevated. A couple of times, I have lost my balance a bit while moving around and my foot has hit the floor, and not even that hard. And that is a very immediate reminder not to so that. So, while I am tired of sitting and lying around, at least I am catching up on some reading, and watching a movie or two on TV, and listening to music – plus making some updates on my two blogs. Although there won’t be a lot of activity on my hiking blog for a long bit, I should think. I still have a couple more of my Alaskan experiences from September to post there, however.

I am hoping to get a shower tonight if I can tightly wrap my left foot and lower leg in a big trash bag. My wife is looking forward to me getting a shower. My cats are looking forward to me getting a shower. My neighbors are looking forward to me getting a shower. The little stuffed Philadelphia Eagles bear that sits on our sofa is looking forward to me getting a shower! I have noticed that somehow, it keeps creeping further and further away from me!

I am also looking forward to seeing the doctor Friday, checking out the incision, and getting an update from him about how long I need to stay off my feet. Until then, it is a steady diet of RICE for me: rest, ice, compression, and elevation – as well as books, movies, and music, of course!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Game’s Afoot!

Well, the surgery went well yesterday. I think it took the orthopedic surgeon like 15 minutes to do the cutting and stitching. I remember the anesthesia doctor telling me that he was going to start giving me the sedative and the next thing I knew, it was an hour and a half or so later and I slowly awoke. Wow, whoever invented anesthesia and the proper medical techniques so it does not stop your breathing – a huge thank you! Can you imagine having surgery 200 or 300 years ago? Lots of whiskey, a stick to bite on, and some very strong people to hold you down.

My foot was numb for several hours afterwards, which was fine. When it was no longer numb, if I hadn’t been able to see, I would have assumed that a half dozen or so very mean tiny guys were whacking on my foot with little knives, saws, and pick axes. I finally took one of my 30 prescription pain-reducing tablets, which enabled me to sleep for a few hours on my back on our sofa.

So today, I am just taking it easy at home, and still adjusting to being an invalid for a few weeks. I am getting used to crutches, and trying to combine trips if at all possible, like holding off brushing my teeth until I have to pee, that kind of thing. I am really glad that I have strong legs from all the walking and running because I can push myself up with just my right leg using the crutches for balance. And I can balance very lightly on my left heel if I have to stand in place for a little while, like in the kitchen, while leaving about 95% of my weight on my right leg.

Less than 24 hours of inactivity, and I can’t wait to be active again. But I also know it will have to be a while unless I want to screw up the results of the surgery.

Here is my left foot, in a big bandage and with an even bigger ice pack. I like the purple skid-resistant socks that they gave me – pretty cool, and a TNT connection, I think!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Can Having Cancer be Worth It?

I spent a good bit of time with my sister, Ann, over a six day period last week, and we had a chance to catch up on things. Of course, the biggest single thing in her life right now is trying to survive metastatic breast cancer. Stage four breast cancer is not considered curable in general, and in her specific case from day one four years ago, her cancer seems particularly chemo resistant. It is looking kind of grim right now, but she has not given up hope, and she starts a brand new chemo on Monday. It is called Haloven and it has been on the market for just a couple of months. Hopefully it will buy her some time until the next big thing comes along.

During one conversation we had, she talked about hearing from time to time about people who claim having had cancer ended up being a good experience. She and a fellow cancer warrior had talked about this, and Ann said they both agreed that such a sentiment is pretty much crazy. As Ann put it, she can’t think of a single thing she got from cancer that was good, or at least was worth the price of admission.

I’m was a little more hesitant. I said something to her like I had not enjoyed having had cancer, but I did end up learning some valuable things as a result. And I have had some amazing experiences that I might not have had otherwise – Team in Training for one, because wanting to make a difference as a cancer survivor is what got me started with TNT. Ann’s counter was that there was nothing she has learned from cancer that she couldn’t have learned some other way. But also, I survived the whole thing and have been 8 years removed from the misery of it. Maybe I have some things that were worth the misery. Ann, on the other hand, has been dealing with it for four years now: illness and exhaustion from chemo, internal and external third degree burns from radiation, pain from a mastectomy, and all kinds of secondary infections. And none of it has worked. I can’t think of a single thing I could have learned that would have been worth that much suffering.

I guess at the risk of being misunderstood – and hear me now, I am not saying having cancer was fun or a good experience – being a cancer survivor is part of who I am. By the luck of the draw, I got a survivable type, and I was able to parlay some of that experience into becoming a better, tougher, and stronger person. Because I survived it, because it was six months of misery and not six years, because I didn’t lose any body parts: I don’t think I would change who I am today if it meant erasing all that. But for Ann, for my friend Ed dealing with the horrors of melanoma treatment for the fourth time, for my teammate Robin who had most of her right leg amputated this summer, for my friend Judy who died two weeks ago from multiple myeloma: I doubt anything they gained was even remotely worth the horrible price paid.

Friday, January 21, 2011

How Many Days Out of Work?

Well, I got back in town late Wednesday after spending six days (including most of two on Amtrak) in the Catskills of New York helping my sister out. Her battle with stage 4 breast cancer is a real reminder of the awful things that cancer patients face day in and day out. Love you, sis, and think of you constantly.

Today was my last day of work for a little while, but for how many days? I am getting my neuroma surgery on Monday. One lady at work said “Oh, I had that, you’ll be out a week. He covered it with a bandaide and it barely hurt.” Another lady at work is out for neuroma surgery right now, and expects to be out four weeks.

Then another co-worker said “You’ll be out all week? For a neuroma????” He looked at me as if I had told him I was missing a week of work for a hangnail. “My wife had neuroma surgery and went to work the next day,” he continued. Well, maybe his wife is tougher than I am.

Reading on the internet seems to indicate it is best to keep the foot elevated and rested for 7 – 21 days. They did tell me I will go home with the foot wrapped in a very large bandage.

Here is what I know – after years of suffering from this, I am looking forward to moving on and being in the 80% group that gets some relief from this surgery. It won’t be a piece of cake – unless you compare it to what my sister is going through, and also my friend, Ed, who just had “isolated limb perfusion” on his leg for melanoma. ILP sounds like an absolutely awful thing to go through, and he is still in the hospital a week later with some complications.

I guess I will miss five to 15 days of work, or one to three weeks. All I know is that I don’t want to go back until going back does not slow down my ultimate recovery, which is to be running again in a couple of months. So hopefully, I can work that out with the doctor and not go back too soon, saving the insurance company some money but costing me the full use of my foot for months more. Time will tell, I suppose.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Requiem in Pacem, Judy

Our dear friend Judy died Sunday from multiple myeloma and plasma cell leukemia, and I have written this in her memory.

“To Judy”

Your time with us on earth was altogether much too brief
As was my time to be your friend these seven fleeting years
Your family and your friends miss you so much in our grief
As we struggle through this time of sorrow with our bitter tears

I seek solace in my memories of times spent well with you
And so wish there could be more, although I know that cannot be
You were a friend to me, and Mary, and one so loyal and true
But you’ve slipped the bonds of earth, and of suffering are now free

Perhaps in some unknown way you can sense these words of mourning
Even though your time here with us has reached heartbreaking end
You have left us all behind with such very little warning
But we remember you with love, so rest well in peace, my friend

There may be a future time that our pain and grief is muted
From the loss we sense today, and our feeling so bereft
But I tell you one thing now that cannot be disputed:
We’ll ne’er forget you, Judy, ‘nor the memories that you’ve left

Art Ritter
January 11, 2011

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Really Tough Day

Today, I had to say goodbye to a great friend as she lay, unresponsive and on a ventilator, in her hospital bed in the ICU. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma just four weeks ago, and also now has plasma cell leukemia. Since her diagnosis, her condition has rapidly declined, and she has been too ill to even get treatment. As recently as two weeks ago, the doctors were saying that she should be in remission after two months of chemo – a chemo that would never happen. Over the last 10 days, she has had one horrific medical problem after another, the latest few being bleeding in the brain, pneumonia, and large amounts of fluid in her chest cavity.

Then last night, her husband called to tell us that she has bleeding in her lungs, with no hope of reversing it. He told us if we wanted to say goodbye, we had to do it today. Family is coming in from all over to see her before they remove the respirator. We went to the hospital today with two friends to see her one last time. It was a horrible and helpless feeling, the saddest thing I have had to do in a very long time. And it is going to take a long time to get over it. I held her hand and told her how much we would miss her, how we would look after her husband, and how I will wear a picture of her during my next Team in Training race. I tried, with limited success, not to cry while talking to her.

She and her husband were to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary this spring. That won’t happen. She spent her last birthday and New Year’s in the hospital, and her last Christmas in a hospital bed at home at a time we all prayed she could start treatment and beat this thing. We talked with her about celebrating her birthday later, and we talked with her husband about celebrating New Year’s later with the two of them. That won’t happen. My wife and I talked about taking them out to a fancy restaurant in a few months to celebrate her successful treatment. That won’t happen either. Right now, it feels like a nightmare and that it can’t be true, but we know that it is. And as bad as her friends feel, we know for her family it is much, much worse.

She is one more blood cancer victim. I pray we will have a cure soon, but it is too late for our friend. Apparently, she has had the myeloma for a very long time, and it got diagnosed much too late. It, and the leukemia, just took over her body starting about 5 weeks ago. It shows how important earlier detection is with cancer.

I don’t think I can write much more, other than to say it has been a pretty bad week, and a really awful last 24 hours. My usual upbeat personality has taken a beating lately.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Neuroma Reason

Oh, the agony of da feet! For years now, I have been dealing with this neuroma between the third and fourth metatarsals in my left foot. The pain has gotten worse when I started marathon walk training for TNT in 2005, and has particularly flared up the last two years for my Nashville and Seattle events.

Since Seattle, there is no rhyme or reason to the pain – or “neuroma reason” as my friend Kristi quipped so wittingly a few weeks ago. It might be tolerable on a long hike, then hurt like crazy on a three mile run. Or it might even hurt after an easy two mile walk. I’ve tried resting it a lot, and I’ve tried being active. I can’t predict when it will hurt and how much. The one constant is that is that, eventually, it will hurt, and in general, it hurts more and more often with – for me – fairly easy activity.

All the alcohol shots have not taken care of the problem. So I’ve decided to have surgery for it and scheduled it today for a few weeks from now. I can’t say I am looking forward to it, but I think it needs to be done, and there appears to be a 50-80% chance of significant improvement if I have the surgery.

It will probably mean two to three weeks totally off my feet, which will be very strange. And then maybe reduced activity for another month, then slowly getting back into things and hopefully working up to running late in the winter. I hate to think of missing the Monument Avenue 10K, so I am hoping it will be healed enough for me to walk it, if not run some of it.

I hope this does the trick, and I can put this long-lasting foot pain in my rear view mirror in the next couple of months. I depend on my feet for enjoying things in life too much to keep being encumbered by it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Starting My 2011 Honoree List

It will be a while yet before I sign up for Team in Training. I am thinking that in 2011, I will do the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco this coming October - although that may change. Running, walking, and crawling 26.2 miles may sound tough, and it is. But it pales in comparison to what cancer patients go through every single day. If you want a couple of my takes on comparing a marathon with chemotherapy, you can read here, or here. But trust me – cancer is tougher. Much tougher. Even though I am not formally signed up with the Team, emotionally, I am there, because I can’t help but think of all the people I know personally struggling with cancer as I write these words. I was up half of last night thinking about my sister, for example. So as 2011 gets underway, I wanted to start an honoree list with the names of several people who have died recently of cancer, and of 11 people I know who are fighting cancer right now. Every one of these people, and so many others I hear of, is a vivid reminder to me of how lucky I am to not just be a survivor but healthy again as well, and how we must be relentless in our attack on cancers. As time goes on, I will add many names to my list and, ultimately, to my race shirt for my next TNT event. But for now, here is the start of my list. Tragically, since I first wrote this post on 1/4/2011, one of my special honorees, Judy, passed away, and is much grieved by family and friends. And one more of these, Lanie Evans, passed away just three weeks after Judy did. In Memory of: Jennifer Willey – died in November at age 31 from Hodgkin lymphoma Judy Zettel – our dear friend, who died 1/9/11 from multiple myeloma, just four weeks after diagnosis Lanie Evans – died January 26 from Glioblastoma multiforma (very agressive brain cancer) at just age 40 Maurice “BJ” Beck – died in 2009 at age 16 from acute myelogenous leukemia Stephen Hauck – died in September from acute myelogenous leukemia In Honor of: Ann Ritter - my beloved sister, battling advanced metastatic breast cancer after four years Danny McGowan - my brother-in-laws brother, fighting cancer of the throat. Dayton Richmond – battling multiple myeloma, diagnosed around August Denver Bridwell – age 24, recovering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia after four years, including two hip replacements Ed Stone – 21 years after surviving leukemia, currently undergoing treatment for the fourth time for melanoma Elayne Minich – battling metastatic breast cancer after 12 years Gary Adams - terminal leukemia and colon cancer John Hunnicutt – recovering from surgery for recent prostate cancer Laura Kitchens - friend of a friend, breast cancer survivor, currently fighting leukemia with a bone marrow transplant scheduled for January 25 Paul Zamecnik – battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia that became active in October after years of inactivity Robin Yoder – 30 years after surviving osteosarcoma, battling bone cancer following mid-thigh amputation of right leg this past August

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Goals for 2011

New year, new goals. I am not going to call these resolutions. They are goals – things to strive for. Unlike last year, my goals are going to be a little more general, because each of them encompasses several things. I’ll give status reports every two months.

Goal 1 – Complete my sixth Team in Training event. I have not done a marathon in three years and feel it is time to do my fourth. Reaching this goal means accomplishing a number of things along the way. First, I have to get this neuroma in my left foot solved once and for all. Then I will have to join the team, train consistently, and raise sufficient funds. I will also have to maintain a reasonable weight and fitness level, and train on my own. Right now, I have my eyes set on the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco in October.

Goal 2 – Take the second step toward becoming a tri-athlete. During this year, I want to do one of two things so that I can complete a triathlon for TNT in 2012. I will either save the money for a bike and practice riding, or I will practice swimming. But I need a new computer more than I need a bike. So more likely, I will learn to swim a lot better – let’s say being able to swim a half mile by the end of the year is a good goal - if I don’t go with the bike.

Goal 3 – Write something, get it published, and get paid for it. I want to see if I can make at least a partial living as a writer, and I won’t find out if I don’t get more serious about it. Reaching this goal means practicing writing more, exploring markets a lot harder than I have been, reading more, and submitting articles to publishers. By the way, when you work full time and also want to train for a marathon, it is really hard to find the time to write and research markets, but I hope that putting this goal so specifically down in writing will remind me to focus on this goal.

Goal 4 - Continue to hike and enjoy the outdoors. I can measure how well I do by activity in my “Oh, To Be Hiking!” blog. Let’s set a goal that I’ll put 18 hike descriptions out there this year, or about 1.5 each month. I want to do at least two backpacking trips this year. Due to vacation time constraints, these will likely be weekend trips. As in goal 1, I need to solve this neuroma problem. I am also working on a project that is a long shot, but if I succeed, I will combine goal 4 and 3 to some success!

Goal 5 – Explore a book idea that I have once and for all. For years, I have thought I wanted to write a book about surviving cancer. But I think a book about “How Art Survived Cancer” would bore people to death, even though some of the stories along the way could be funny or interesting. So I have an alternate, and I think a better, idea that will help cancer patients out. It incorporates some of my experience but it is more about the experience of others. It will be a lot of work, as I will have to research markets to see if a similar book exists, reach out to a bunch of people to get material, and put together a proposal, and then try to get it published. But I think that after nearly nine years, I have to either put this idea to bed or see if it plays in Peoria. And maybe at the end, if I have a good product but can’t get a publisher interested, I will just publish it myself if I have the money.

Well, those are my 2011 goals. Check back every couple of months to check on progress.

What do you hope to accomplish in this brand and grand new year?