Sunday, March 23, 2014

Running

I ran 2.5 miles this morning.  No great shakes, and in the past I'd scoff at running such a short distance, but today's run was my first run in my fourth week of running since hurting my back in February.  So, 2.5 miles is big stinking deal to me right now.  Every run I'm feeling a little bit stronger, which only tells me out of shape I was running-wise a month ago.  I really haven't run steadily in such a long time.  Yet, it's the best exercise I've found for getting into shape.  (Started running with my heart monitor.  My heart rate averages 155 bpm, which is way higher than the 125 bpm I average when cycling.)  And today, I didn't want the run to end.  I was feeling it -- got into a groove, and just wanted to keep on running.  Every single one of my prior attempts at running steadily in life have ended due to injury, usually overuse.  I hope that doesn't happen this time.  I really don't.  I'm trying to be so careful, stretching and doing core strengthening exercises like crazy.  I just want to get to the point where I can put on the shoes, plug in the earbuds and just run until I feel like I don't want to run anymore, no matter how long that is.  I wanna be Forrest Gump.

A photo from my run.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Stories

Just got done reading the biographies of the folks who will be featured in the 2015 Colondar and who I'll be meeting at the upcoming photo shoot in June.  The folks at The Colon Club did a good job with this bunch.  These models' stories are as inspirational and moving as any other year's models.  Their stories are important reminders about life -- how fragile it is, what to cherish in it and how to live it.  Timely reminders for me given what I've gone through the past few months.

I had planned to spend the rest of the day catching up on work as my work plate overfloweth, but after reading all of those stories the LAST thing I want to do is hunker down and read through a bunch of patent applications.  Especially when it's such a beautiful spring day.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bittersweet symphony

I've hit a bit of turbulence the past few weeks (months, actually) in my life and I think things are finally settling down a bit.  Work-wise, the new job responsibilities I was given at the start of the year got a bit overwhelming at times.  I was totally thrown into the deep end.  Learn as you go.  Sink or swim.  Plenty of self-doubt about my abilities and whether I even wanted to do this, but I think I've righted the ship.  Still, some challenging times ahead.  And yes, still better than private practice.

On the personal side of life, it looks like my most recent attempt at a romantic relationship has run its course.  I'm bummed.  I'm sad, really.  I really gave this one a shot.  I met a woman, dug her chili (big time), had high hopes, and despite my best attempts, it's not there.  I know this happens, but when it's the same outcome over and over and over, you start blaming yourself and beating yourself up, which isn't a terribly productive exercise, and it makes you more and more reluctant to throw your hat in the ring again.

On top of it all, I threw out my back in a big way in early February and have been slowly regaining the ability to exercise again.

Anyways, with work and personal stressors abating, I feel I've regained some control of my life.  When things were getting rough, I just wanted to quit.  Everything.  Give up on the job, the relationship, Portland.  Everything.  Just cash in my chips, let loose the moorings, and go.  Travel.  Explore.  See the world and have some adventures.  Consequences be damned.  The easy way out. 

But now, I'm motivated to meet these challenges head on.  I've already mentioned how things are getting better at work.  I really think I can pull it off.  Once I get everything set up, I'll be able to run my own show the way I want to run it.  It could be a very good gig.

Physically, I put on even more weight the past few moths.  Ugh.  I feel like a fat slob.  Exercise and good eating habits are always the first two things to go for me when things get busy and stressful.  It's amazing I let this happen, considering I was dating one of the fittest and health conscious people I have ever met.  But I did. The back has healed up a bit and I've been biking and running again.  I've cleaned up some of my bad eating habits and am motivated to get back into some semblance of shape over the remainder of the year.

And mentally, I've decided to start seeing a therapist again.  First appointment is next Monday.  I'm so tired of relationships not working out.  To me, it's clearly a "Doug" thing ("it's not you it's me" truly applies to me) and hopefully a therapist can help me out.  They've been helpful in the past.

So, I have my challenges laid out before me.  Work.  Physical.  Personal.  And none of these are small challenges.  They're each going to take a lot of work and commitment on my part to come out ahead.

I came across this NYT article last week about Stuart Scott, the ESPN anchor who continues to battle cancer and is fighting the good fightt:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/12/sports/espn-anchors-private-battle-with-cancer-becomes-a-public-one.html?_r=0.  It's a good read and contained this powerful and chilling photo.



I've been thinking a lot about that slogan on his t-shirt -- EVERYDAY I FIGHT.  I'm no longer fighting cancer, but I still need to fight everyday to regain my physical health, to stay balanced, to work out some personal issues that are holding me back, to put things in place in my life that will allow me to live the remainder of my life the way I want to live it.  And it is a fight.  That's how I have to view it.  A fight.

Everyday I fight. 
Every. Single. Day.



Thursday, March 6, 2014

Other People Matter

I said in my last post I could write at length about each of the bits of life advice I've been contemplating of late, "other people matter" being one of them.  I just Googled it.  Plenty's already been written.

==

Threw out my back (for the umpteeth time -- old college injury) in a big way about a month ago.  It was terribly painful and I've been working on recovery.  Lots of stretching.  Lots of core exercising.  Lots of all the things that people are supposed to do before exercising that I used to laugh at when I was in my 20s.  Got back to running just this week and things are holding up.  18 mins on Sunday.  19 minutes on Tuesday.  20 minutes tonight.  Feels like I'm running six minute miles when I'm going, I'm working so hard, but when I look at my smartphone, I'm lucky if I'm running 10 minute miles.  Gotta start somewhere.  It's been awhile since I've ran regularly.  One step at a time.  Patience.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Thoughts

It's Sunday night -- the end of a weekend spent logging some much needed "Doug time".  Both my work and personal lives have been busy and stressful of late, and I needed a weekend of solitude to just escape the stimulus of everyday living and to give myself the time to do some thinking.  A good friend of mine, her family has a cozy little cabin on Forest Service land around Mt. Hood and I went there to get away.  Friday night was books and Scotch in front of a fireplace, Saturday was snowboarding at Mt. Hood Meadows, Saturday night was more reading and whisky, and Sunday was snowshoeing up the White River valley.

I'm perfectly comfortable with me as my only company at times and I didn't miss having people around for one second this weekend.  In fact, going to Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort, which was just seething was people, was a bit of a bummer.  I wanted some physical activity to get the blood pumping this weekend, and thought I'd buy a lift ticket to get snowboard as a treat to myself, but there was just so many people on the hill that the long lines to get on the lift were a downer.  I had some fun moments zipping down the hill and testing out my incredibly limited boarding skills, but it wasn't what I was looking for.

Sunday was another story.  It was just tremendous.  Staying at the cabin, I was already on the mountain when I woke up, which put me way ahead of the Portland hordes that were driving their way up.  That means I got to the White River sno-park early, with only one other party gearing up as I entered the lot.  I passed them quickly on the trail and as soon as they were out of earshot, I felt I had the entire mountain to myself.  The weather was amazing.  Clear skies, not too cold.  And the mountain was showing off a billowy gown of white from the recent snow dump we've had the past few days.  Postcard perfect.

About a mile and a half from the parking lot, the trail hits a morraine wall and if you want to keep going, you have to go straight up.  There were a few tracks from one or two other early risers and from snowshoers from the day before, so I felt good about the avalance concerns and headed up.  Once I gained the morraine ridge, the already fantastic views opened up further.  I could see the upper lifts of the Timberline ski resort to the northwest and Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Washington to the south.  And with me forging new tracks in the new snow, with all the conifers covered in snow -- it was just perfect.  I couldn't have been more content.  Even though it was over 6,000' up and many miles away, I felt like I could keep going to the summit if I wanted to.

It's been a long time since I had woken up early to head up the side of a real mountain in the middle of winter, and gearing up and putting on the sunscreen took me back to when I was really into mountaineering and did this kind of thing more often.  That was back when I first moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1998 and got into mountaineering.  (I left in 2003 to move back to Wisconsin to spend more time with family and eventually go to law school.) But when I was living in Washington I really spent a lot of time in nature.  In the mountains.  And I miss that.  One of the best periods of my life was the 9 months of so when I was working part time for Intel and working remotely from Wisconsin.  I finally had all of the free time that I had longed for so I could pursue the outdoor adventures I wanted to.   I hiked the Wonderland Trail (the trail around Mt. Rainier).  I even organized an expedition to climb Denali.  It's amazing to think that this May it'll have been TEN YEARS since that Denali trip.

I don't need to necessarily take up mountaineering again, but I do realize after this weekend that I need to make it a priority to spend more time outdoors.  I want to recapture a bit of that old Doug.  I've been letting some real life practicalities weigh me down and I've been making excuses for not getting out amongst it.  I finally have a job that allows me more work/life balance than what I had at my private law firm, and I need to take full advantage of it.  This job does not give me all the time that I need to go off and do the adventures that I REALLY want to do, but that's another issue.  I've worked so hard to get where I am profesionally, but I think some changes need to be made to get me where I want to be lifewise  Some changes that may require me to give up some of what I've worked so hard to get.

Anyways, I could write tens of thousands of words about everything that's on my mind and the kinds of things I was thinking about this weekend, and just scratch the surface.  But, for whatever reason, I feel its worth sharing some of the advice that I've gotten over the past 25 years of my life that I find myself keep coming back to over and over again in the years since being diagnosed, including this weekend.  Again, each one of these I could write on at length, but I'll just put them out there and leave it at that.

1.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.
2.  Happiness comes from within.
3.  Other people matter.
4.  The most powerful thing in the world is love.
5.  A person builds a life.

===

Another quick topic.  Chapters.

If I were write a book abut my life, it's very clear what the chapters would be.  It hasn't always been clear to me at the time when one chapter has ended and another has started, but looking back, it's clear when the page turned to a new phase of my life. 

So, here's how I see the chapters of my life:

1.  Growing up -- Everything up through finish High School.
2.  College, Part 1 -- My first two years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
3.  Virginia -- My internship at IBM in Manassas, Virginia during my junior year of college.  It was only six months, but it was my first exposure to the "real world."  Eye opening.
4.  College, Part 2 -- Finishing my undergraduate degree, two internships with IBM in Rochester, MN.  Getting my Masters Degree.
5.  Austin -- My first "real" job, with Motorola.  Made many life-long friends during this time.
6.  Intel -- Moving to the Pacific Northwest to work for Intel.  (There was no way I was ever going to stay in Texas -- I knew that going into my Motorola job)  Finding my birth family.  Moving back home to Wisconsin.
7.  Law School -- Back in Madison for three years.
8.  World Tour -- Spent three and half months traveling around the world.
9.  Law firm, Pt. I -- Start of my legal career as a patent attorney.
10. Cancer -- The diagnosis and treatment part of cancer.
11. Post Cancer / Law firm Pt. II -- The remainder of my time in private practice.
12.  Post Cancer / Back at Intel -- Making a significant work/life change to a job situation that is sustainable.  Where I am now.

Not sure how long of a chapter this last chapter will be.  It could easily take me to retirement or it could take me to next spring, at which point I quit my job for adventures unknown.  I think about this latter scenario a lot.  I like my job, I find it challenging, and it pays very well, but 45 is looking me square in the face, and there's things I want to do with my life that I don't want to put off much longer.  Tomorrow is promised to nobody and, 5, 10, 15, or 20 years from now I don't want to find myself in a situation where I can't do the things that I want to do.  I don't want to have any regrets.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Four years in -- things still looking good

I spent a fair amount of time at Portland Providence last month.  January is when I received my cancer diagnosis, so that's when I have my annual CT/MRI scans.  And, since it was three years since my last colonoscopy, I was due for my Year 4 colonoscopy (3rd since diagnosis, 2nd since treatment).  So, I was busy with scans and a scope.  (For those who looking to care compare surveillance notes, under the protocol that my surgeon follows, he does a colonoscopy one year after diagnosis, and if that's clean he doesn't do another colonoscopy for another three years.)
Side note on colonoscopy logistics.  The prep was different this time -- they had me use Suprep -- no Miralax, no Gatorade.  It was expensive (~$90) and my insurance didn't cover it, for whatever reason, but my surgeon's office floated me a sample.  Anyways, this stuff, just like all of the other colon cleansers I've used before, did its job just fine.  (They all taste nasty after a few gulps, no matter what kind of artificial flavoring they throw in.  No getting around that.)  My only beef was the timing -- you have to drink one liter of Suprep mixture 12 hours before the procedure, which meant 6:30P, and another liter of the stuff six hours later.  Yes, that meant getting up at 2:30AM to finish the prep.  And since I was already up for a few hours to deal with the first liter, not much sleep was had.  But, whatever.  I'll drink their liquids and follow their instructions.  I want what's left of my colon to be clean whenever someone needs to go in there to take a look.  And, not getting a full night's sleep doesn't mean much.  You get a nice nap at the surgeon's office anyways and then you get to spend the rest of the day sleeping off the anesthesia.  No work.  No email.  No driving heavy machinery.
The results were of the scope and scans were good -- "no evidence of disease."  That's a nice lawyerly phrase -- no evidence of disease.  It gives the doctors a nice out because if cancer does come back, say, next month, and I say "What the hell -- I thought I was clean?!?"  they can say, "Well, we didn't find any evidence of it back in January.  That doesn't mean that you actually didn't have it.  We either missed it or it was too small to see."  So, while it's great news (sure as hell beats "We found something .... "), it doesn't allow me to relax entirely.   My mind is pretty much occupied with day-to-day concerns, but still, the part of my brain that is responsible for worrying still casts a wary eye on cancer now and then.

So, I'm pretty happy with being even further down the road to recover and oh-so-close to the magic five year mark.  I've said it before and I'll say it again -- I'm always surprised by how relieved I am once I get the "no evidence" news.  Damn scanxiety builds up without me even knowing it.  I always think I'm cool and collected about things as I'm getting the scans and then when I get the news, a big weight that I never knew was there is always lifted. 

Practically, what does this mean?  Well, for one, it means fewer colonoscopies.  Now, it's one every five years (twice as often as the recommended screening of once-every-ten years after 50).  So, when I'm 49, one year before the recommended colonoscopy screening age of 50, I'll have had FIVE colonoscopies.  As far as blood tests, it's now once every six months instead of once every three.  And as far as scans, I have one more set of scans next January, and then I'm DONE with scans.  And blood tests, too, I think.

I'm a little nervous about the idea of living without the safety net of regular blood tests and CT/MRI scans.  I like being watched closely.  If cancer comes back, I want it to be caught immediately.  But, the statistics say that it's not needed.  If I make it clean to five years with no recurrence, that odds are something like 98% that the cancer I had will not return.  Something is going to kill me eventually, that's for sure, and if may even be cancer, but it won't be the ass cancer I had in 2010.  Plus, not getting any more CT scans will be good.  Each one is radiation equivalent of something like 5,000 chest x-rays.  Surprised I already don't glow.

===

Some cool happenings with The Colon Club.  They've invited me to help out with the 2015 Colondar photo shoot, and they're planning a Colondar model reunion in Breckenridge in October.  For the photo shoot, they've asked me to help with some writing.  There'll be more writing in the 2015 Colondar than in years past.  It's in Nashville, not upstate New York, and I'm I'm honored to have been invited and can't wait to meet the 2015 crop of models and watch them bond.  I'm excited about the reunion since I missed the one they held last fall in Park City, Utah while I was traveling in Scotland. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Poison free for three years

There are three date from my cancer experience that I mark: January 20th, the day I was diagnosed; June 2; the day of my surgery; and today, December 7, the day I finished I took my last chemo pills and finished treatment.

So, three years post-treatment.  Going to celebrate by spending some time with the new gal.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Irrigating in Iowa

Can't sleep.  Mind racing.  Combination of sleep patterns being off and having my mind on a work presentation for tomorrow.  So, might as well blog.

--

Got back today from the annual Big 10 road trip that I go on with a bunch of the guys from college.  Each year we pick a Wisconsin football away game, meet in Madison and take a friend's RV to get there.  Always a good time.  Before I got diagnosed, I went to these pretty infrequently.  I always had an excuse -- too busy with work, too busy with life, etc, etc.  Now, I make the time to go.  These are good friends from my college days and this is an opportunity to spend some quality hang-out time with them.

Another example of cancer providing me with perspective on what's important.

The trip wasn't without stoma and irrigation adventures.  I ate a greasy Italian sausage sandwich for lunch the day we drove to Iowa.  I didn't think too much of it, but by the time we rolled into Iowa, that sandwich had run through my colon like a freight train, and I had a steaming pile in my lap.  Pretty unexpected as I had irrigated that morning.  I wasn't able to get to the bathroom without things spilling over, and I made quite a mess in his house.  It was pretty embarassing.  My friends, to their credit, helped with the clean up.  Being anyone's friend, you're going to have to deal with their crap now and then, but when you're willing to deal with it literally -- that's being a good friend.

Having food shoot me like that happens so rarely.  But now that it's happened to me three times in the past 4 months, I've taken a little time to think about it.  The only common denominator I can think of if a fatty, meaty dish (lamb shank for dinner, greasy scrambler for breakfast, and greasy Italian sausage sandwich for lunch).  That and maybe a greasy meal plus some alcohol.

So, the lesson i guess is to avoid those kinds of fatty greasy meaty meals.  Or if I do indulge, I switch from my stoma cap to a full-on bag to catch any output.  Come to think of it, even switching to a bag isn't a guarantee.  In two of the cases, I switched to a bag and  that couldn't handle the sudden output.  So, maybe just avoid the fatty meat (or meat + alcohol) all together.

The irrigation adventure is that I think I may have done something to my colon by irrigating with very hot water.  I've been getting some blood is the regular discharge the past few days.  I don't know if blood is a symptom of a burned colon, but I'm going to see my surgeon.  Just to be safe.

--

One last thing. I met someone.  We've hit it off and are digging in each other's chili.  I shared my cancer story with her and it didn't phase her, which was a relief.  Frankly, that's what I expect -- that women I meet shouldn't have a problem with it. 


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Group

Just got back from tonight's cancer support group session.  I went just to share my thoughts on our friend who passed on Sunday.  It was a small group, mostly comprising the few people who, like myself, have been going for years and have known our friend since she first started comping.  It was good, but her absence was notable.  She was kind of the anchor of our group.  There's a memorial service a next week from now.

After group, I reached out to a person who I had been put in touch with by the facilitator of our group, another guy who is just starting his own cancer journey.  He's starting down almost the exact same road I started down (same diagnosis, same pre-surgery treatment), so we chatted for about an hour and compared notes.  He's off to good start, but has a long road ahead of him.  I wish him the best.

So, one person loses their battle and another springs up in their place.  It's never-ending, isn't it?  Wave after wave of people being diagnosed.  Even if every sporting event and TV show had athletes and actors wearing ribbons, wristbands and whatever else of every color mapped to every kind of cancer, and a portion of every product sold went to some kind of cancer screening, prevention and research efforts -- people would still get cancer and people would still die from it.  I bet it'd drop off quite a bit, but people would still get cancer and people would still die from it.  And as soon as we all take our foot off the screening/prevention/research pedal, cancer rates would shoot back up.

You know what it reminds me of?  Stoats in New Zealand. 

When I was traveling in New Zealand I trekked the Milford Track in Fjordlands National Park (an area of amazing natural beauty).  It's a multi-day hike and each night you get to stay at nice huts along the way.  Well, one of the nights one of the park rangers came in to tell us about stoats and stoat trapping.  Stoats are little weasel-like animals that the government takes great pains to continually trap as the stoats would otherwise just completely devastate the local bird population.  Why are the stoats trapped?  Why don't the birds just fly away?  Well, Wikipedia says it better than I could:

The rabbit as introduced as a food and game animal [in New Zealand[ by European settlers and by the 1870s, it was becoming a serious threat to the newly developed farming economy. Farmers began demanding the introduction of mustelids (including stoats) to control the rabbit plague. Warnings about the dangers to bird life from stoats were given by scientists in New Zealand and Britain, including the New Zealand ornithologist Walter Buller.  The warnings were ignored and stoats began to be introduced from Britain in the 1880s, then, within six years, drastic declines in bird populations were noticed.
New Zealand has a high proportion of ground-nesting and flightless birds, due to the long geographical isolation and a lack of mammal predators. The native birds have evolved to fill the niche that is otherwise filled by mammals. Stoats are the greatest threat to these ground-nesting and hole-nesting birds since they have very little means of escaping predation. In addition to birds, stoats eat insects and mice. During times of a "beech mast", when the southern beeches produce a far greater than normal amount of seed, the stoat population undergoes changes in predation behaviour. With high beech-seed numbers, rats and mice become more plentiful; this increase in prey encourages stoat breeding. The higher stoat numbers, then reduce the rodent population and the stoats then prey on birds.  For instance, the endangered takahe's wild population dropped by a third between 2006 and 2007, after a stoat plague triggered by the 2005–06 mast wiped out more than half the takahe in untrapped areas.
Point being, the government continually traps the stoats in order to stem the time.  There's no way they can trap all of the stoats, of course, but they keep at it.  And in regions surrounded by a perimeter where stoats are trapped, the birds do better.  If the trapping stops, the birds get annihilated.  So, the stoats are cancer, the birds are people and the traps are cancer prevention, screening and research efforts.  Trapping of the stoats doesn't stop the problem (and it never will), but it does help and the alternative would be letting the stoats run amok.

OK, maybe it's not the best metaphor, but it works for me.  

I'm a bit wiped.  Time to hit it.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Passing

I stopped by my friend's house to drop off a card earlier this afternoon.  Took me most of the day to figure out what I wanted to say.  I had planned to just drop the card in the mailbox and go because I didn't want to intrude -- I knew she had been spending most of her time resting and I figured her close family would be with her.  But, their mailbox is right next to the door (of course), so her husband saw me walk up and invited me in.  I sat next to her, said Hello, but not much more.  She'd just been given a shot of morphine, so she was out -- I doubt she heard me.  After that, I spent a few minutes talking to her family, some of whom remembered me from her 50th birthday party just two years earlier, expressed my condolences, and then left.

I headed straight to a bar and had a few beers while trying to process the visit.  It was a bit raw.

And just a few minutes ago, I heard that she passed.  Less than three hours after I visited.

I need to go for a walk.