Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ending 2011 Right

2011 will never be my favorite year. It began with the death of a good friend, Judy, in January from multiple myeloma. My sister Ann lost her fight with breast cancer in May. I spent much of the year with foot problems, although those pale in comparison. So I am looking forward to seeing 2011 disappear in the rear view mirror, and plan on staying up until midnight just to be sure it does go its merry way.

But I ended 2011 on a good note. Despite doing hardly any running this year, and none at all from April through September, I joined Team in Training for a seven mile run today. I did walk part of it, maybe two miles worth. I spent most of the time with Nicki and Babs, both of whom are blood cancer survivors too. It is a cool thing when three cancer survivors are all running together. Nicki is at 15 years, I am coming up on 10, and Babs is coming up on four.

It was good to see the Team out there, although it is a painfully small group - hopefully because of the holiday weekend, a lot of people weren't there. It was great to catch up with Nicki - she and I go back nearly six years together with Team in Training. And it felt great to run on a beautiful winter day that felt more like spring, with the Shamrock half-marathon less than three months away. It felt good to go more than half of that distance. Now I just have to work on speed and endurance while gradually increasing the length of my runs. Seven miles is probably the longest distance I have covered this year with running my dominant mode of locomotion.

Along the way, Nicki introduced me to a coach she has had through some of her training, Lynn. Lynn is 67 but looks and moves more like someone in their fifties. She is getting ready for one of those 48 hour relay runs. Now that is inspirational - how many 67 year-olds do you know that can do that?

Goodbye 2011. It's been a nasty year, but I ended the year on my feet and moving, and I guess that will have to be good enough for now.

Monday, December 26, 2011

What Are Your Pet Locker Room Peeves?

I've found that I get really annoyed by a few things men do in locker rooms. (Maybe women do them as well, but I have never used a woman's locker room.) And I was wondering: what annoys other folks? Maybe the same things? Maybe something else?

For background, our community center has a nice little fitness center, and indoor and outdoor pools. We have very small men's and women's locker rooms to go with these. There is a row of over-and-under lockers - 24 in total. There are three small benches. There are a few hooks to hang towels and so forth. And there are two shower stalls. In such a small space, one would think that people would be very considerate of others. Think again! In order of most annoying to least (but still, very) annoying, here are my three top pet peeves in the locker room.

1. People get the benches wet. The either throw stuff on the benches that is wet, or they hang wet stuff above them to drip. It is wonderful to come back in to get dressed and all three benches are wet. There is no place to sit and stay dry as one attempts to get dressed in dry street clothing.

2. People use the benches as lockers. You come in to change and the benches are covered with people's gym bags and clothing. For good measure, they hang clothing from the hooks. If every locker were full, I could see it, but that is never the case. Hang your stuff in the lockers, people! That is why we have them. Which brings me to ...

3. People either leave a lock on the locker, or leave it full of stuff, essentially claiming one of the 24 lockers for their own. Right now, about half of our lockers are claimed for sole use by one person or another. When it reaches about 18 out of 24, I might just bring in a pair of bolt cutters!

Okay, I've had my rant. What ticks you off about people in locker rooms?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Sobering Evening of Helping

A runner friend of mind, Chelle, does a really nice thing every year a week or so before Christmas. She gathers a bunch of runners to do a five mile run on a Wednesday night, and they each bring a poinsettia. Then on the next night, she and whoever can help takes the poinsettias to a local nursing home to try to put a little Christmas cheer in the lives of some of the elderly.

I've never been able to make the run, but last week, I was free Thursday to help distribute the flowers at the Hermitage Nursing home. About six of us showed up to help distribute maybe 60 plants. We would go into rooms and just leave a plant if the resident was not there or asleep, or chat with them a bit if they were there and awake (and aware). We did the nursing home side first, then took the remaining plants to the assisted living side.

It was sobering and a little sad. I've not spent a lot of time around really elderly people. My grandfather died at 69, and my other three grandparents were long gone before I arrived. Neither of my parents made it to really old age. A lot of these people are essentially warehoused, waiting to die. Some are very mentally confused, others on medication I would guess that made them sound asleep at 6:30PM. Most of them are extemely weak. Many of them were thrilled to get the plant, and to chat a bit, even if they were a little confused about why a poinsettia was being given to them. "Who is this from again?" one elderly lady asked me for about the tenth time. "There is no one I know who would send me this beautiful thing."

Most of them were alone, having outlived a spouse. One 90 year old man I talked to was grieving for his wife of 50 years who had died. He was a World War II vet and started crying when I shook his hand and thanked him for his service. But he pulled it together and we had a long chat. Another man was 97, and still in assisted living rather than nursing care. Most of them were watching TV alone in their room, or wandering about a little confused. But some of them had gathered in a common room and were chatting together. Some told us of family in there area who visited, of grandchildren who called regularly. Others were clearly alone in the world.

I guess all of us, if we live long enough, will get there. We'll outlive a spouse. We will get too mentally feeble to understand how to take care of ourselves, or we will be too physically feeble to be able to even if we still understand what needs to be done. Maybe our kids will care, maybe they won't. These strong legs which carried us through marathons and up mountains will barely be strong enough to help us get out of a chair, and eventually, maybe not even that. When you are younger and have strength, it is hard to visualize being feeble, infirm, and confused. But I hope if that is me someday, someone will bring me a poinsettia at Christmas and have a little chat.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

One Second Between Life and Death

Had I left my parking garage one second sooner yesterday, a man would have died. Had this idiot cyclist been one second slower, he would have died. But he didn't. Fate, God, luck, random chance gave him a narrow escape. I wonder if he thought about it as much as I have, and used the reflections to change his ways.

I left the parking garage around 11 to go volunteer for LLS at an event. Because of a movie being filmed in town about Abraham Lincoln, traffic is messed up. Trucks are parked all over the place. Horses, oxen, and Civil War soldiers walk around. When you leave the garage, you have to turn left down a narrow alley that exists on Ninth Street. Ninth Street is one way, heading north, so you must turn left at its intersection with the alley. I stopped at the end of the alley - with buildings on each side, you must do this to make sure that no pedestrians are about to step in front of you. The sidewalks were clear, so I pulled up over the sidewalk, and stopped again to make sure no one was driving up Ninth Street. It was all clear to the right, the only direction traffic should come from. To the left, parked along Ninth Street, was a solid line of large movie trucks parked along the side of the street, totally blocking the view of the road in that direction. It was if there were an impenetrable wall there. Since no traffic would come from that direction and it was all clear to the right, I took my foot off the brake and hit the gas pedal.

At that exact instant, a cyclist appeared from behind the parked trucks just feet away and almost exactly in my space. Ninth Street is all downhill there, and he was moving at least 20 miles per hour, probably faster. With amazing reaction time, if I do say so myself, I hit the brake and stopped just in time as he zipped by. I screamed "You moron!" at him. Well, okay, I may have prefaced moron with an adjective, a rather colorful and useful one. Had I gotten there one second earlier, or had he gotten there one second later, I would have been pulling out into the street in front of him, and he would have slammed into the side of my car. At 30 or 40 feet a second, he would have either catapulted over the car and landed in the street some distance away, or he would have smashed his head or broken his neck against the side of my car.

It left me shaken as I drove away. This fool - I call him a fool because he was riding the wrong way on a street, and riding very fast - came very close to dying. I reflected on all the things that could have conspired to save his life. We arrived at the same point in space at almost exactly the same instant in time. But not quite - there was a matter of a single second's difference that saved him. If I had gotten to my car one second sooner, if I had walked just a tiny bit slower, if I had taken one more second to make sure that the mirror was adjusted right, he would be dead. Although we could argue that someone that stupid shouldn't be in the gene pool, I am glad that I am not the one who removed him from it. Really glad, actually.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Another Run, and Continued Heel Pain

It has been two weeks since I did a run of more than two miles. Now that I am going to participate in the Shamrock Half Marathon in 14 weeks, I need to start running consistently. So this morning, I put on a few layers, gloves, a hat, and started running, going just over four miles. I did a run - walk combination, the same splits as last time. It seemed harder, maybe because it was cold and I had layers on instead of shorts and a tee. Or maybe, with as little running as I have done in the past year, it just is harder.

I generally stuck to my splits, but a few times, I seemed tired and out of breath, and walked a little longer. Another time, I ran a quarter mile around the track to see what my running pace is: 9:30 per mile. So I decided to do some math. My running speed of 9.5 minutes per mile means I average 9.26 feet per second. My walking speed of about 14.5 minutes per mile means I cover 6.07 feet per second walking. Given a run split of 1:05, I run 602 feet in that time, and my walk split of 1:30 means I walk 546 feet in that time. So I average 7.41 feet per second overall, which means an 11:53 overall pace per mile. That is if I strictly follow all my splits, which I didn't completely today. Today, my 4.1 miles took over 50 minutes, or a slower pace than 12 minute miles. So I have a long way to go.

The bummer is, my left heel has hurt all day. This plantar fasciitis has hung in there with a vengence for 7.5 months now, and it clearly means to bug me still. I should have iced it, but it didn't even cross my mind until this second.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Silent Mile Message

The Team in Training Spring Team has formed and is having a silent mile, like the one last July, today. Unfortunately, I can't be there, but I asked Kate to read something from me. Here is what I submitted to her.

I wish I could be here today to say hello and more importantly, to say "thank you." Yesterday marked a big milestone for me, my nine year remission anniversary from Hodgkin's lymphoma. Yes, nine years ago, I was celebrating finally being done with six months of chemo, one of the hardest things I have ever been through. I was eagerly awaiting a CT Scan in a few days, which would turn up no evidence of cancer. It was a thrilling time, but also a little sobering. A couple weeks before, in the chemo room for the last time, the man next to me nearly died when they tried a tiny dose of a new kind of chemo on him. For a few minutes, doctors and nurses frantically ran around the room like ants at a picnic. "I'm sorry," the oncologist said to the man and to his daughter after they revived and stabilized him. "That new chemo clearly isn't going to work for you, and there are no other options left for you because the current treatment isn't working at all." Imagine getting that message just before Christmas or Chanukah. Here I was, getting ready to return to my regular life and hopefully feel healthy again, while at the same time, this guy three feet from me was essentially being told to get his affairs in order. He was about the same age that I am now, which still feels far too young to die.

I've tried to do a lot of living in these nine years. Nine more birthdays and wedding anniversaries. Get-togethers with family and friends. Trips to Alaska, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and Glacier National Park. Lots of great hikes. Lazing at the beach with a cold drink. Being there when my granddaughter was born. Being a comfort to my sister Ann as she fought, and lost this spring, her four year battle with breast cancer. None of this could have happened for me without research that figured out how to effectively fight Hodgkin's lymphoma, at least most of the time.

When I had cancer, I was struck by two concepts. The first was that if I indeed survived, I owed my life to people who came years and decades before me. They were the patients who suffered horribly; they were the nurses who tended to them; they were the doctors who tried new things and made observations; they were the medical researchers and the biochemists and the geneticists who figured out what would work and not work. And they were the people who provided funding for medical research. Without their efforts, I'd be pushing up daisies - or as I like to say with the Shamrock Marathon coming up, shamrocks - right now.

The other key concept was that when I was well and healthy again, I wanted to do something to make a difference, to pay it forward, to help others. I wanted to be one of those people that cancer patients, when reflecting on their survival, would be thankful for. So another thing I have done in my nine years of earnest living has been to participate in Team in Training five times, and also, most recently, the Komen breast cancer 60 mile walk. And by virtual of your participation in Team in Training, you are also one of the people that future cancer patients - unknown to you - will thank. None of us can cure cancer by ourselves - even the greatest doctors and medical minds cannot. But just as tiny rain drops, one by one, will form a mighty river, so too are each of you helping to create a flood that will one day wash away incurable cancer. So from this cancer survivor, in absentia, thank you so very much. And - GO TEAM!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Winning the Lottery

I play the lottery with 19 co-workers, and we all dream of that day when we will split a big jackpot and be done with the work-a-day world. We'll have money to help friends and family members, give to good causes, travel a bit, and live reasonably well without having to work everyday. Nice dream.

Well, you know, in a way, I hit the lottery nine years ago, big time. Bigger than any multi-million dollar jackpot. Far bigger, actually. For I won my life. Nine years ago today, I went into remission from Hodgkin's lymphoma, and as far as I know, I am still there, strong and healthy once more. I've done a lot of living in those nine years, and hope to continue to do so.

Getting chemo for the last time two weeks before, after the sheer misery of six months of it, was the most amazing feeling. Now, here I am, nine years having gone by like the blink of an eye. I am one lucky guy. I have won my health and my life back. I am a survivor.

Come back tomorrow to see my message to the team for their Silent Mile.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Another Leap of Faith

Well, I'm all in! I signed up for the Shamrock Half Marathon yesterday. Now, all I have to do is finish getting over the plantar fasciitis, and start doing some serious running.

As I've written before, 2011 has been a year of minimal running, even though I did manage to get in two 10K's - the first coming off of foot surgery, the second with continuing plantar fasciitis and coming off the Komen 3-Day 60 miler. And even with the foot pain, I have done hundreds of miles of walking this year.

2012 is a big year for me - my ten year mark of surviving lymphoma. Now technically, I almost surely had cancer 10 years ago from right now. It wasn't detected until late April of 2002, but it didn't just spring up overnight. So you could say that I have already survived 10 years. Cancer survivorship is measured from diagnosis, though. That would be late May for me, because it took them a month to figure out what it was and give it a name - a specific type of Hodgkin's lymphoma. But March 18, the date of the Shamrock, is pretty close to that official 10 year point, and I wanted to make a strong statement at the start of my 10 year mark.

I was wavering. The race is 100 bucks, right at Christmas time, with my wife's birthday just two months later. Plus, I still have heel pain. Will it ever heal completely? It is a fraction, maybe 10%, of what it was in May. But how will it be after a lot of running? I was not sure I wanted to find out.

Then two nights ago, I was at an LLS function, and Kate wanted to chat. Kate is the Team in Training Coordinator. "How would you feel about doing Shamrock for us? And how would you feel emailing some local alumni and telling them that you are doing it and trying to convince them to join the team? Our recruitment is really suffering, even though the season has already started." I told Kate that it was too soon for me to fundraise, just two months after Komen, but that I had been thinking of doing the race on my own and, sure, I'll do it. I am still going to hold off on fundraising because while I could probably raise the minimum for this race, I want to do an event later for my 10 years and raise even more money. Hopefully, my note will convince some alumni to re-up once again in the battle against cancer. Maybe it will even convince you! Come on, join the team - you know you wanna! We need you!

So now, I'm all in. I have to really start running, and doing all the stuff needed to stretch and continue to get my heel to heal. Shamrock, and 10 years surviving, here I come!

Here is the note that I wrote and sent last night to over 400 TNT alumni:

Hello, Fellow TNT Alumni -I've felt for a long time that I have the luck of the Irish. Anyone who has survived cancer almost certainly feels this way. And for me, coming up on 10 years surviving Hodgkin's lymphoma this spring, I feel doubly lucky to still be on God's green earth! I could easily be pushing up shamrocks right now, but instead of pushing 'em up, I plan on running for the shamrocks! That right - my plans are to run the Shamrock Half Marathon on March 18, so close by in Virginia Beach. I've had a rough year with foot surgery in January, and then severe plantar fasciitis in the same foot in April, and I am still trying to get past that to see if my foot will hold up enough to run the race. But I am hopeful, having gotten my foot to the point of being able to walk nearly 60 miles in September for the cause of fighting breast cancer in memory of my sister Ann.

As a fellow alum of Team In Training, I am asking you to join me for the race, and fundraise for the cause of ending incurable blood cancers. I know that a lot of people associate TNT with heavy-duty fundraising, and that can happen if you are doing the West Coast or Alaska. But the Shamrock doesn't fit that category - it is a local race, and you are not going to find a sweeter deal to do an amazing TNT event for a very reasonable fundraising minimum: just $1,250 for alumni such as yourself. As alums, you already know the great fun, camaraderie, sense of accomplishment, and mission of TNT. Now, combine that with Irish stew, people decked out in green, cold beer, and Coach Bob dressed up as a leprechaun! What more can one ask for? So what do you say? Are you ready to Train, Endure, Achieve, and Matter once more?

Ten years ago from right now, I certainly had cancer growing in my body, but I had no idea. I was living my life, going to work, feeling completely healthy. Cancer would not have crossed my mind, not even as an afterthought. Just months later, I was in the fight of my life, facing all kinds of weird things and consequences that were all new to me, and quite often amazingly miserable to boot. My life has never been the same, even though I have been fully healthy for all these years now. I try to give thanks for surviving almost every day, while at the same time mourning my friend Judy, who died from myeloma last January, and my sister Ann, who died in May from breast cancer.

With a decade of surviving cancer ccoming up shortly, I want to start my celebration of living strong these last ten years by running the Shamrock Half, foot willing. I hope you will join me and Team Richmond again, to fight cancer and save lives! The team and cause need you! Sign up TODAY by calling Kate at the Richmond office (xxx) or by email at xxx. Thanks for all you have done for this cause, and I hope to see you wearing purple in Virginia Beach in March!

Go Team!

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Hike Down Memory Lane

Nine and a half years ago, I was preparing to start chemotherapy. The day before starting, I took a little hike to the Black Rocks in Shenandoah National Park. I knew that this would be my last hike for a long time, and even worried a bit about whether it would be my last one ever. A couple of weeks ago, while backpacking in the mountains, I returned to Black Rocks for the first time since that hike. While there, I reflected on that time so many years ago. You can read about that here.