Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Not So Lonely At The Top

Once several years ago, I woke up in an ambulance and a few weeks later I'd be heading to Duke, a place I'd never been, to get brain surgery and stay with strangers all because of how relevant cancer had become in my life... So when an opportunity came to travel with First Descents, I questioned it. I mean here was an opportunity to be in a place I'd never been, New Hampshire to do something I'd never seriously done, rock climbing with people I'd never met because of cancer... I've not really felt the need for a vacation ever but a trip that would suspend the cancer label for a bit would have been a way to catch my breath and this seemed like that opportunity or the complete opposite. But perhaps I dared dream it would be one of those moments where the universe dares to balance itself out.

So arriving and getting transported to the airport the first thing we had to do was figure out a nickname since at camp you have to be too cool to use your real name. Nicknames are always a fascinating thing for me... it's a way that we make things slightly more our own, sometimes out of affection, sometimes out of fear. I've met people on this journey who have named their tumors with names that range on the deranged to the sad to the comical. I thought about using one of my existing nicknames but in the end took on the drink I've only ever drank in reaction to cancer, since when getting out of the hospital they told me I should give up caffeine or alcohol, I asked if I could have rum and coke since they'd cancel each other out. Anytime some significant good or stable news comes about the tumor, I go and have one (always with Mexican coke for the record). This worried one person that thought the nicknames should be away from the diagnosis but rum & coke is exactly a way to be reminded I was away. 

There would be nicknames far more clever, from Vienna to Maps to Ruh-Ruh to Helix. The group had a variety of diversity in backgrounds and personalities but it apparently had some exceptions that were comforting to me. Apparently the camps are often primarily or entirely female and we had 3 out of the 10 participants as males. Brain cancer is a rarity in the community and yet 4 of the 10 participants were in my camp, with 2 of us still having some of the tumor present. This information made me nervous on that first day because I hadn't come here to climb, that was just a side benefit, I'd come here to feel normal in someway for at least a few days and wondered if these factors would make it less so.

Still with over a dozen of people staying in one house, sharing every meal, and campfires, there would be concerns shared. The youngest participant was 18 and was worried that with a bunch of cancer survivors their idea of rock climbing was going up one big rock that you could step off... I wondered about the physicality challenge. There were jokes and tears about losses, gains, realizations, reflections, some of which I shared, some of which seemed to be simple attempts at trying to make sense of the senselessness of cancer. There would be new coping mechanisms I'd not seen along my cancer journey but it was refreshing that almost no one had ever really been rock climbing before which made them my kind of people, people who sign up for new challenges consciously make the ones they didn't sign up for a little easier to rise up to.

Three awards were passed out everynight, a pair of wings for whoever had been nicest so that they could spread their anti-douche dust, a little skirt for off the wall accomplishments to show how to be impressive on their, and a superman cape to show who had accomplished the most on the wall. I was the first recipient for the superman cape which meant I had to wear it the entire next day during climbing and pass it on. Climbing is not my forte but with a cape it was a whole new game to be doing that and keeping an eye on who it was. But somehow between the climbing and the camaraderie, it was really on the second day where cancer diagnosis fades further into irrelevancy as we got to be normal climbing rookies, sharing a wall, ropes, hugs and high fives.  Smiles and tears often spoke of facing fears of heights and falling and for all of us literally going above expectations. I passed on the cape at the end of the day to someone who had gotten higher than she expected, cried at the end of going hallway up but immediately after going down helped belay (some fancy word for holding someone's rope as security while they climb). She finished the day by going all the way to the top. The Superman cape had been given to me for climbing the most but when passing it on I remembered that what made him a hero was that he was helping others even as he rose higher. She exemplified that incredibly well. 

The third day was a "break day" where we'd take a steep hike up to a mountain top but all walkable. It was the slowest of all the days, not my typical style, so I tried to calm it down by having it be the only day I started with a speed running workout. Still as we climbed and chatted, it was the day with the biggest variety of one on one stories I got to hear. And individually in a more full way I'd hear about people's jobs, relationships, dreams and that one on one humanity was very much appreciated. In my book, it was a good reminder that being just human makes you extraordinary if you enjoy those ordinary moments a little extra. When we all got to the top, we took a group picture reminding me of where today's title comes from, that sometimes going up together at each other's pace or with stops to let each other comes up, that it never really has to be lonely even at the top. 

The 4th and 5th days were by far the hardest physically with steeper and longer climbs. It would be over a thousand feet of climbing one day and the steepest climbing the other. We were partnered up with one other camper and one guide continuing in a different tone, more one on one time. It was incredibly physically challenging and the only time I fell with a rope there to catch me... my heart was pounding and it took other''s encouragement to keep going up but we got to the top.  


Between those two days there was actually an exercise where we went to a creek and wrote down on two rocks very different topics. On one it was supposed to be what you wanted to leave behind that you'd carried for too long and throw it in the stream. On the other what you wrote what you wanted to make sure to take with you. This exercise was very personal with no one, there at least, showing what they wrote. I personally wrote nothing on either rock because there really is nothing negative left in my life I'm ready to discard... I'm competitive and the few negative things still remain fuel the fire that keeps the fight going. For me those things are sometimes the rocks you kick on your way up to stay afloat on a hard rock. The positive rock was also left blank but it wasn't because there are not many good things in my life that I wanted to take back with me... I'm not sure a tablet the size of the ten commandments could have held that in place. I took an empty white rock to simply serve as a reminder that I came with little knowledge to continue to be open to first experiences, new experiences, perhaps in new places you'd never been with people you'd never met, where for at least a few minutes you remember there's still so much more, so much more that you can do and that on any given day, life may just be a tabula rasa, a place where you're just getting started. 

On the last day we finished on the mountain top together at different speeds but all finishing on the same spot. Some people were chatting, others were playing hacky sack, others quietly taking in the view. I did some of all that while mostly reflecting at one particular moment on the staff. There were the cooks who with health issues of their own had made ridiculously good meals, a song and dance in the kitchen, the house mothers who had cancer connections but would serve in memory. There was the photographer whose wife had died of cancer and used his vacations to volunteer to remember her by catching other people's memories. There were the guides who had a huge range of personalities and paired appropriately among ours, keeping us safe, challenged, some with zen like approaches, some with humor and heckling, some how able to guide sometimes from above, sometimes from below, and sometimes side by side. There were the two counselors who had a way of being connected and connective, both building a relationship you while nurturing the ones that were being built quickly. Still, I couldn't help but reflect that it was all but impossible that we would all or even most us all ever be in the same place again and even if we'd had different speeds, different arrivals, and different departures, it was a special moment or few that we had one all together there. I can't say I wasn't feeling emotional about the goodbyes but in my stoic coping mechanism, I chose to focus on the gratefulness that the hellos had ever happened. 


First descents has a logo in these camps whether they be surfing, kayaking or rock climbing of "Out Living It." I love the double entendre of finding a way to outlive a disease but also that you literally have to be outside to live. I don't know if I'll ever get to do anything again but I am very fortunate to have spent one week living it out there, up there, sharing a rock and life where we'd started together at the bottom and rejoined nowhere near lonely at the top. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

I know where I've been

I got to give the speech that I referenced here yesterday evening. I talked about those awesomely awkward first kisses... someone even caught my duck face that is how I start kisses (this may explain many many things). I tried to use that as a connection point that the first set of medical appointments but how it wore out a little bit of my spirit to sit through a lot of bad firsts that I started to taking too many things and my last. While I handled those intensely and that was commended, between that approach and memory issues, I was missing life because to see things as your last chances there's less desire and capacity to pay attention about learning. As always there a few jokes along the way and I think they were laughing with me, not at me... right? right?!?

I talked about a girl who was the first, honestly the only, girl who kind of resparked an appreciation of some new firsts. Perhaps it was because the romance started shortly after a stable MRI, perhaps because she is an actual writer in her own right (much better than these ramblings on one of those real websites), perhaps because she had heard of me before through the internet and wasn't so convinced that the idea of me needed to be as polished and was nice enough to the actual me, I don't know but I fell for her. She is absolutely the girl who I wish I'd asked and gotten a yes to my old fashioned way of getting a girlfriend for the first time since high school. With that said by any modern standard though it was never done in that official way, if I am honest with others and the man in the mirror, she absolutely was the first and only girlfriend since high school. I'm sure she's too polite or modest to think of it that way but somewhere she figured out she was out of my league and unlike the majority of George Clooney girls, this girl was the one who realized it was better for her to keep her life without us being together. I've tried to figure out how she opened up things in me that I barely knew existed but I just accepted that she is one of those people who bring life to life, who give hope a new ring. It was a good bridge for me to start appreciating firsts again as a place to learn. I think she realized her place in life was better with her on her own path and while there's no bad blood, I honestly don't think we'll ever be actual friends since, for me at least, that might be lonelier. Anyone who thinks I shared this much detail at last night's event thinks there's even more wrong with my brain than there is since that was a room full of strangers and only my friends read this blog ;). 

Still, the event itself was great. It was actually 5 of us speaking with someone sharing about their first time to first base (actual fist base in softball), another sharing about their first time in Indonesia, I was 3rd and shared about how bad I am at first kisses. Oddly enough while I was introduced as a good running dad (and I love both those aspects of my identity, neither of those made my story much. The last two speakers spoke about the parent child relationship or the child parent relationship. The reason we have 5 different speakers is because there's so many different types of people and different types of stories. The old idea, taken from a film oddly enough, that there are millions of people in the world but none of those are people is an extra. We're all the leads of our own stories. 

I imagine different ones spoke to others at various level but the one that struck with me was the person after me, who talked about their first cigarette alone, their first cigarette with their mother who once had discouraged her to not follow in her footsteps, her mother's diagnosis with lung cancer and her literally being there with her mom on her deathbed, facilitating her smoking on the way out. It was an incredibly human story about connections with faults from someone who was there and caused your beginning and you were there for them till their very end.

I actually love story telling events though most of the ones I can relate to are ones told at parties or at meals not at formal story telling events. But the human soul is alway a story teller, even when the rest of our system is shuts down the human mind stays up all night telling itself stories. Perhaps, it was in thinking about a girl so much as I got ready for this speech, perhaps because I went to go see the musical Hairspray for the first time recently, the last couple of nights I'd been dreaming of myself singing. The first time it was cross country music (I'm not sure whether it would be me or the audience who should consider that more of a nightmare). The second time it was me singing to her in Grease. You know it was interesting to realize that John Travolta was in both Hairspray and Grease but the line perhaps that maybe I should have stolen outright about firsts and last that when I got cancer I thought it was the end but it turned out to just be the beginning.

Still, this week, like far too many weeks of my life, I watched someone die of cancer. There are times, many times, where I think about bowing out of being the cancer guy. Sometimes it's because I'm tired of the reminder of what's likely going to be my death. But most of the time, by and large, its because this journey has caused me to meet a ridiculous amount of good people dying of cancer. There have been many cancers but it has been those with with brain cancer, especially those who are younger than me and each of them has had more potential than I could dream of, being robbed not just of life but of youth being exhausting and never recovering. That was one of those kind of deaths this week... Because of sharing my story, other have shared theirs with me but because of the connection point, I've watched more people die in the last 2.5 years than I ever expected to have happen. Let's just say this week, I flipped more tires that day and threw spears harder and carried a bucket longer than I had in a while. And then I went and downloaded a song from Hairspray and realize as long as there's a need and I can help in anyway, I should not, cannot bow out. While the song there is about race, there is a distinct echo in the human spirit about things not being fair due to biology we so often had no say in the matter that keeps us believing that while death may be inevitable and perfection may not be achievable, we still haven't found the better way. 

There's a road 
We've been travelin' 
Lost so many on the way 


But the riches 
Will be plenty 
Worth the price  
The price we had to pay 


'Cause just to sit still 
Would be a sin 


So that's what keeps me going because I know where I've been. This is a far broader approach to life than just cancer or first kisses but those are the ones life has currently handed me to learn to be better at. 

There's some rest spots on the way though I'm not much good for being a bum or taking break. I head to New Hampshire tomorrow. But before I do there's a meeting for the BrainPower5k at my house (if you can find it in your heart and in your pocket to donate, please do so here). And when I arrive I meet with a Livestrong friend who survived cancer but buried his wife from it. And then I head to go rock climbing with some other cancer survivors. There are many many times I miss the concept of me, the guy who never had cancer, whose brain didn't have gaps. And there are times where I find that escape in being Kiana's dad, plenty where running is the therapy but I've never done a trip like this but I hope, I hope that in the longest time I've been only with cancer survivors continuously, you find a slight respite in being oddly normal because even we know to keep going because we know where we've been. I think the legs may well need a rest from racing a few weeks before I turn 35 but I am not the kind of guy that can sit on the beach so my vacation will be trying to go up rocks with friends ahead of me, besides, and waiting to catch me if something goes wrong. The way I'm dreaming that up, my vacation sounds like my life. 

There are people who choose to believe that where we're at is where we're supposed to be. I don't believe that and find it a bit off putting because that suggests things like choices are irrelevant if whatever you got right or wrong leads you to where you're supposed to be. I take responsibility for my choices that got to me where I've been. But I am also dealing with a cancer that has no known dietary, genetic, lifestyle or environmental connections. So I will try to keep appreciating, keep dreaming both in the night and day (is it more likely that I am going to be singing and proposing to girls two days in a row in my dreams or in real life?).  But I hope I keep moving. 

There's a dream, yeah, in the future
There's a struggle that we have yet to win
Use that pride in our hearts to life us up to tomorrow
'Cause to sit still would be a sin

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Unbroken

Back in February of 2013 I would repeat the Livestrong marathon championship win for the cancer survivor division. It was perhaps the most beautiful trophy I've ever received because it was clear on "leaves," a very classy and yet classic look. It would be the last race report and trophy that would be heard about only by friends because the next race I would sing up for would be trying to fulfill, a simple dream, to run a marathon pushing my daughter in a stroller. I would turn out to win that one outright and that would change a few things.

Still the trophy from my home course had set on my shelf and  if I am completely honest, it would get cleaned more often than the TV or the pictures that hang on my wall, both as a reminder to be grateful and as a reminder of what life was like when cancer was an abnormality mostly known about by friends. It accidentally got knocked down a few months ago and broke into a few pieces. I take pride in the fact that I'm not materialistic but somehow that one really hurt... I sat and looked at it, left it on the kitchen table. I took a picture and sent it to the race director; they weren't using that company anymore. I thought about supergluing it but didn't trust my capacity because it's pretty heavy glass. I spent almost as much time researching and finding a company who could fix it as I did finding the right brain surgeon once upon a time. And well, while generally frugal, this one was just going to be chalked up on the medical bills column to get it restored. It took a while since apparently it has to be done piece by piece and they warned me it wouldn't look quite the same which it doesn't. Perhaps like it's owner, it's not quite as sharp in some ways and sharper around the edges from being repaired than when it was original, but the scars of survivorship help me notice and give thanks for both the damage and the restoration to a new level.

Perhaps it's apt that it was repaired at almost the same time that I finally finished the first book I've finished reading since brain surgery. I still read Time magazine regularly but books can be complicated with a  faulty memory about names and faces. Still, my counselor when we broke up, gave me a book to read, called Unbroken. I had heard about the movie but said I wouldn't watch it till I read the book through (Almost all the movies I watch are true stories which set up the joke of what does that say about me, that I'm too lazy to read). But to sit there and read a book about a runner who survives being on a boat for almost 50 days, who survives a war camp but eventually returns home and life is kind enough to hand him a family, forgiveness and a chance to carry the olympic torch was one of those stories that messed with my emotions. Like any other time I've taken in both, the book is better than the movie. 

The world would change slightly after that marathon trophy when the next one came, the one about me winning a marathon with a stroller due to a few media pieces and many reporters. Some of those reporters have become good friends, one of those could be argued by the way our lives have intercrossed may well be my soulmate. An ESPN feature filmed which started being worked on in April of 2013 and we filmed in March of 2015 (and a few times in between) is theoretically coming out sometime in August (let me know if you want me to let you know when I've got a few more details). They have said thank you with graciousness for letting them tell my story but while I trust they will do good work, this blog is my story, they are just capturing a 10 minute sliced and well edited version. Like most of the media pieces I won't be watching or reading it cause that just feels too weird. And like all of them, they'd have to do some great editing for the piece not to show me talking about other people because that's the only reason I'm ever in them is to hopefully point people to good doctors, good friends, good teammates, people whose story genuinely deserves to be told. 

But somehow the media pieces and the speeches, I'm starting to feel and perhaps come across as more unbroken. Spartan races have a band comparable to the Livestrong band that I've been given twice which reads unbreakable. I like the spirit of it and it actually does rest in my car but it doesn't apply to me. I am not even unbroken in the sense that I never cracked or defaulted or failed... I did plenty of that. If there is anyway I can remotely echo unbroken it's that I've tried to sit as things were getting glued back together, knowing that some of the surfaces that hit my sensitive areas were stronger than me and created some serious cracks and massive permanent scars. 

Whether it's life or me letting myself know which is truly my emotional state, it's often reflected in the song that Kiana cries out, "why won't you stop listening to that song?". There was a time where the media things and speaking engagements scare me... So when talking I'd go with a companion, realizing that I was talking to a friend I cared in the crowd, or to someone well behind the interviewer who I loved, sometimes intentionally and internally singing from Dave Matthew's the Stone:

I was just wondering if you'd come along
To hold up my head when my head won't hold on.

But I had a New Year's resolution to not use any notes on this year's speeches or interviews, to try harder before and risk my memory more.  Thus far I haven't; I have one on Thursday and don't intend to use any there either.  And the song I'm listening to these days is Rockappella's cover of I'll walk with you

I walk this road, dodging the wind and the ground
Why am I still surprised my feet make no sound?
My love, my friend, if ever the road breaks in two
If ever you're drifting and the hoping wears you down
I'll walk with you

And I think hope, dare, dream that I'm being there for more people and asking less for theirs. I'm not much of a hugger but it's perhaps those people who declare that they are and hug you anyway that help you appreciate another line from the song that surely applies  "my soul was poor, a babe left at your door but now I'm grown, I'm strong from your embrace." Being hugged is a solid way to start healing to getting unbroken. 

So perhaps this is why I've done more Spartans than any other type of race since winning that marathon both in number and in number of locations. It's the only type of race that I've gotten far more friends and family to do anything else. I've never come remotely close to winning one on my own despite winning many road races since then. Because I take it aggressively, they've left me with more scars than brain surgery at least externally. But it keeps challenging me to new things and if you sign up for challenges the ones you don't sign up for are easier. Perhaps it's no coincidence those and the Boston marathon are the only courses that I've ever stopped to hug and kiss people I love both in the middle and at the end of it (and yes like too much of my life it's been in pictures or on videos on the internet). Last year it was the Christmas ornament that represented the most important event of the year or it would be in contention for this year. Still, it should tell you something that my mom has always read what's important to me (my first stroller race was to get her to do one, the first marathon she watched was the Boston marathon, the first Spartan race I did with company was with my little brother with her cheering). She's shown up for two Spartans already and this time when my parents came to visit they showed up and delivered hay for me to keep practicing my spear throw. When your parents love you, it's so good that they bring you spartan hay. Before this year I was 50/50 on the spear throw. I've only missed it once so far this year in 7 spartan races. Appropriately enough my 8th one this year on 8/8 with my family.

Still the song I've been listening to starts with walk with me and after brain surgery well that's all I could do. But it talks about the healing process that when you walk, I'll be  your ground and just like it was once done for me, I always feel an honor when someone literally steps on my shoulder to get through the next obstacle. And the song ends with flying together which I've only done once in a Spartan flying over a fire with someone but that was an amazing moment.

The trophy is back on the shelf and I'm back on my feet realizing that being unbroken has some great possibilities. I changed my social media profile picture to one of me in the cathedral of junk, smiling among unbroken or properly used broken glass, looking up, dreaming, smiling at things more important than a camera. I rarely like pictures of me but it was a moment that captures a connection, one of those moments that leaves you speechless. It is those moments that make you understand why we try to communicate with writing, with songs, with pictures but perhaps the only adequate way is to give an unbroken smile. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Everything Else is Just Subtitles

One of the shifts in my neuropsychological evaluations from pre surgery to post surgery is that my
auditory memory isn't what it used to be and that I don't hear the range of voices that usually belong to women as well... if that's not a set up for a good joke or a good excuse, I'm not sure what is. So on the occasions that I watch tv, the subtitles are always on.

That was the entirety of thought I'd ever given subtitles until recently. Kiana and I have been having a great summer the last couple of weeks. We've been doing the disciplined stuff of running for a long time, getting some exercise in where she's joined me for running and shown me up in cross fit. She climbed all the way to top of a rope in a gym without hesitation. I've often said that the fact that she's fearless scares me plenty and that was one of those times (If it's any indication on these things whether it was that or the first time she learned to ride a bike or anything like that, I never quite have the confidence to take a picture the first time because I am trying to be there to catch her when she falls which has never happened but still).

But it's a summer of exploring new things for her so we're going from new activity to new activity. While there is a plethora of first time activities that we do that are typical, like going to Inside Out where it makes me teary eyed to hear her announce that she's always going to be joy, there are also some things that she's getting to join me in for the first time that I've had a chance to be there before. I took her to the Lady Bird Johnson wildflower center, trying to combine two things she loves and reminding her of the concept I love that butterflies are self propelled flowers. She loved all the different flowers and trees and the squirrels and the butterflies. With eyes wide open, she sat there and took it all in while asking a million questions. There were a couple of points where it was obvious she was my daughter, the place where she struggled the most was with the concept of mediation. She concluded (and I agree) with a pensive face something was insurmountable. When I asked her what she was thinking about, she said she was trying to think about nothing but it was impossible to do so. I'm sure there's an argument to be made about clearing your mind but I'm all right with her always thinking about something and dare to dream that she keeps it a positive thing. I'm not a guy whose big into flowers but count me in to go to that wildflower center or give flowers to get a smile out of a girl I love.

That certainly was true as we pursued happiness on 4th of July. We went to a party with the running crowd where even a little after a year I've been driving I realized how lucky I was to be part of this group because it was hosted by a guy who regularly gave me rides and there were 4 other people who were way better than uber or taxi's for all that time I couldn't drive. There was a magical moment where she was talking about being in GT program and someone asked, oh are you gifted and talent. With more humility than perhaps I ever showed at any point in life, she responded gracefully and humbly, well that's what the program I'm in is called. I was so proud of her for being humble :).

Then the evening finished up with some friends as we went for my first time ever to catch fireworks while having kayaked out to a lake. The friend we spent the most time with was actually Pamela Leblanc, a reporter whose become a friend, and her husband Chris. Kiana had a thousand questions about many things and I couldn't bypass the joke that perhaps with all of Kiana's curiosity she might become a reporter but I suggested that it was perhaps better if she had a more honest job. Still, as we sat there we kept having to row because of a tailwind to get back to where we'd not have a bridge in our view. Kiana had color explanations about beautiful explosions and declared it the best 4th of July ever. At the end of kayaking back over a mile back to the starting point against the wind, she still said that was the best independence day ever but she also asked if that counted as a workout. It obviously did but it was good to see her smiling at the end of realizing that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness sometimes takes some hard work in order to get it all done.

There is one title I didn't feel the need to defend that still I ended up signing up for. Last few years
our church has had a pie eating contest that I joined only in 2014 but I won it. This year for some reason they decided to make it a rib eating contest so I'd tried to bow out since it's not exactly defending a title if they change the event and I've never won a duathlon so... Still at the service before the picnic they had a child dedication service with several families. The family pastor as he talked about it twice said something which I couldn't quite figure out if it was a slip of the tongue or a conscious decision. He said that were challenges to raising a parent correctly. Some of the stories Kiana and I share together sure make me hope she's doing okay. Still, when the rib eating contest came, I questioned it when she insisted that I partake in it. With a crowd that echoes Ecclesiastes idea that whatever your hand finds to do, you do it with all your might, I couldn't resist. And I won. I've won races from a mile to a marathon but the two biggest trophies I've ever received have been for the pie eating contest and the rib eating contest which is fitting because they may have been the toughest to earn.

Still, it was the next day that had where today's title is from (notice title, not subtitle). Kiana and I
went on the longest walk we've ever gone on a little over 4 miles total. The point we went to was a natural spring which was the first and only time she's ever drank natural water. We caught some swimming on the way there and back. We saw insects, squirrels, a snake and caught some beautiful scenery. When we got to the water, I told her this was the point of today, for her to drink some natural water for the first time.  Showing that she's stepping up to the challenge of raising a parent, she said, "No the point of today was for us to have a fun day together. The water, the swimming, and everything else was just subtitles." She's doing a great job raising me.

So we've continued the summer adventures and I took her to places that I thought she was too young for not too long ago. There is a place I've only gone with cancer survivors and people I love. I'm not sure why but every time I've gone to the Hope Gallery, an outdoor spray paint park, people have landed in those categories (not that they're always mutually exclusive). It's open to the public both for visiting and for doing anything they want with spray paint so not everything is exactly kosher. Still, most things are and so I finally decided to take the child I love most to it, to let her know that a black and white world is not the world I want to live in. It's not even one that's grayscale but one that has a bigger range of color than even the fireworks had over the lake. So many things caught her eye and if it was any of the questionable ones, she didn't mention those or take pictures of any of those. We hadn't even left yet when she had already announced we should come back with more time and with a spray paint bottle... I said yes and then went into a small lecture about how there are appropriate places to do that... but not many.

Still in what has been a very good year,  I had to take the cue from Robbie Williams and swing while I'm winning. So the next day, yesterday, we went on a slightly shorter walk along the same river where I told Kiana that the point was to have fun but the subtitles this time included a swing. She laughed at me remembering her point and then we spent the better part of 3 hours going into a lake over and over and swimming. The first one I had to count down for her and tell her when to let go. The last one she climbed up on her own, jumped higher, went out further and let go the furthest. I had video taped and taken pictures of the first couple but the last ones I was in the water just mesmerized by how fearless she got. How fearless she is sometimes scares me but someone else we met there pointed out that maybe I shouldn't worry so much because the people who seemed to be struggling the most were those with more fear, nearly falling off the tree or letting go to close to shore. My parenting philosophy has always been first you gotta give them roots then give them wings. At eight years old, I'll take it that she's climbing up trees for some solid tree rope swings. Cause it was really about a fun time together with some very good subtitles.




Sunday, June 28, 2015

First and For Most

I was recently asked to speak at an upcoming event about my first time. I responded with my first time doing what... they said that was up to me... they were warned that you know I'm a typical male so they should be more specific but still left it open... This may well be the last speaking invitation I ever get ;)...

But at the risk of anyone whose coming to it knowing in advance, it'll be about my first kisses which were wonderful and horrible. She clearly had more experience than I did and it lasted all of a second and then someone got our attention and two teenagers were too shy to acknowledge anything. I didn't know at the time but because of an unexpected move, I would never see her again.  It would be months before the second one and the second girl, who would be my first girlfriend (and if anyone's wondering how romantic I get, I still use the way she put together my initials when I was 14 to this very day). After trying to kiss her, she looked up and said, you don't do this very often do you? I tried to be witty and said, "teach me."

The speech itself is actually at Livestrong and I am going to be reflecting a little bit of the approach I've taken since the cancer diagnosis which perhaps for too long was taking opportunities as if they were the last time. Has there been wisdom in that? I think some of course but as I sit here and wake up to some of the things that have been turned off, I can only wonder if perhaps a slight tune up would have been to keep the tune of first time because your first time at anything may well be your last time but if you only go in with your lifetime, you want to do your best but you're obviously not paying attention to the ways a future time could get better. 

And so June is about to wrap up and I'm thinking about some really cool stuff. It's only the second time ever in my life I've done 5 races in one month and the first time I've ever I've won 3 of them (which is 2 more than I'd won in all the other months of this year combined)! Well let me back up a little because while coming in first is cool (I am competitive), exactly 2 of those races were on the calendar not too long ago. An inaugural Voices Against Brain Cancer race in New Jersey which started it all, my first race and function as ARC president. Those were great and then I
got to go AT&T stadium, my first time in the New Cowboys stadium (yes I am a Cowboys fan and proud of it!). Just walking into the building and realizing that my first time there was exciting but realizing that it wasn't a spectator, it was as an athlete. We got to run through locker rooms and all the way to the top of the stairs, we crossed the 50 yard line star as athletes getting obstacles done (though not being chased down by gigantic NFL players). I saw some new obstacles and got them done (though we were being put on the big screen and of course the one time I made it was when I failed an obstacle and had to do burpees). Then I went back and cheered on the family and friends that were doing the course (does that make me a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader? Wanting and Dallas Cowboys cheerleader has gone through my mind before but wanting to be one wasn't how those usually go through my head).

The kids course has gotten cooler obstacle. But speaking of that, that was my  my favorite part of the weekend. I've gotten lots of family to join different races and a few friends but the friend I've had continuously for the longest time, since I was 8 and she was 9 came and did her first Spartan and then our kids, our kids did the race together at 8 and 10. Talk about circle of life stuff! Someone gave me a kilt once upon a time and I combined it with compression socks joking to Kiana about how this was how much skin you should be showing when wearing a skirt, a joke that luckily she doesn't yet understand. Still it was father's day weekend and my mom was there and would come to start the summer off with us and I'm not sure it could have been better.

But the firsts of the month things continued, there is this word game that Kiana has got me playing and I let her know that unlike running which I do next to her that there will be some things I never let her beat me at until she actually does it (she'll be learning chess this summer). On this word game, I thought it'd be a while, it was less than a month since we started playing and she beat me 3 times in a row! I mean I let her win ;).

And they happen with the position that I took as ARC president, I may be biased but I like to think the one I'm a part of is the best ARC board ever but as we get new things done or bigger things done, I think and say to them and to myself, "we're just getting started." And the nobility with which they are working hard as volunteers show that they know how to put other people first. So we have made some first time partnerships and tried to renew ones. It's a long way to go and some factors are out of our control but we had a great first month and did I mention we're just getting started.

And then on my first race ever on a driveway that I'd biked on, I'd been meaning to do one but the two I had in mine gotten cancelled because of all the rain, I went to one unexpectedly because another event I was going to had gotten rained out. And in my 4th race of the month, I took first place, first time I've ever won 2 races in one month since college which was done by my friend Kate who won the women's division for her second w of the month.. And because it's on a course that is 1.6 miles and we do two loops, it was actually a 3.2 race which I've been working a little more on speed after the calf healed and the long distance stuff was out of season and it was faster than the two 3.1 races I've done this month! I wasn't in the lead till the second half but it was pretty cool to get the W...

At everyone of these races, I've gone out with friends and family, people I love cause that's my style, the best style. And my ARC vice president and friend Elaine, she was celebrating her birthday by doing a trail race, Captain Karl's Pedernales Falls. It was my first one so I signed up for the 10k, she was doing the 30k. We actually had 8 people from our running group out there and all of them finished and 5 of them places with Elaine taking the women's 30k division and 7th over all. I would win the 10k but I wasn't in the lead till the second half. If you're wondering who I was trailing and who came in second place over all by less than a minute, it was a 14 year old high school girl! She's already one of those girls that doesn't chase boys... She passes them. It's very different to race on trails but it was kind of cool to get my feet wet with a win (literally got my feet wet, we had to run through a lake that had overflowed to the lake because of all the rain).

If you'd told me June 1st that I would have been doing 5 races by the end of the month, I might have believed you. If you had told me I was going to win 3 of them, I would have laughed at you. Still there's this lady from church who I affectionally called church lady who introduced me to a song Afterlife, one that has never made a race playlist but will make one soon. I've been listening to it a bit more... with lines that I am perhaps only starting to put together:

Living like you're dying isn't living at all
Give me your cold hands put them on my heart
Raise a glass to everyone who thinks
They'll never make it through this life
To live a brand-new start

We're going to live tonight cause there's no tomorrow
cause we're the afterlife.

So I've woken up in ambulances, I still have cancer all of which were unexpected. And there are things I should and will do with precautions because of that. And while I will probably still take some things as my last time (will I ever get to do any of those races again, who knows?) I will also take them as my first time because on your first time you're excited, enthusiastic and trying to do your best but still trying to learn. For me, for the most part, I try to put the people I'm grateful for first. I don't want to be like cancer which lives primarily for itself. And it hasn't always been entirely consistent but life has been kind to me where my first marathon with a stroller turned into what it did, my month with the most wins was to share life with people I care about. So perhaps the way what I've called life part II, what that song has labeled after life has worked out because has been so kind is because the universe balances itself with putting others first most of the time. After all, if you don't believe me, ask about that girl who I first kissed, I still smile at the memory 20 years later.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Happiness of Pursuit


One of those great declarations says that we are all created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. While waiting to show up to get MRI results, well,  I have no question how alien it feels to have someone else be the one who has a better idea of what my brain currently looks like. It certainly doesn't feel right that it seems that someone else has the liberty to more accurately interpret what's going on with something that could threaten my life which could certainly affect my happiness.

It is perhaps that reason, that OCD wants to have some say in this disease that I always take a copy of the CD home. After the last MRI, I was given a new Mac computer for Christmas which I've loved but on that day I despised it. Well let me take it back a step and say I was amused to realize my MRI was on national running day. I personally think everyday should be nationally acclaimed for running but as is my typical custom I ran home from the MRI. I always say I'm not sure if I'm running to or from something but that day, well that day I knew I was running from a machine I hate to a home I love. And then when I went to look at my CD, to pretend like I knew how to read it, there was a notice on it that, unlike in windows, it doesn't just automatically work. In fact it said this does not work on Mac's so for the first time in years... I didn't get to see my MRI before hearing the doctor's interpretation. 

The time between the test and the results the clock seems to be a lot slower but we did what we could. Kiana did her own run on national running day. And then we went to a concert in the park where on the last school night Kiana might have gotten permission to stay out later than usual and to bed well past normal time (shh don't tell anyone). 

And then Thursday June 4th when I would find out the results, I tried to find ways to stay distracted through the morning. It was my little brother's birthday so I started remembering funny memories like when we went camping and his head was on fire which I reminded him privately by posting it on facebook (if he was wittier he might have retorted with at least my fire was outside my skull but he's probably too kind to say that on MRI results day). Then I showed up to awards assembly where Kiana was one of a vast minority of students who had perfect attendance. I can't say I am not super proud of this since I'm the one who walks her to school almost every single day and because it sends a message I hope to always encourage, you can't make any difference without showing up. 

Then that wait which always seems endless ended with results that the MRI was still stable. Nothing had gotten better,
nothing had gotten worse. There was one thing that had never been there before which was fluid but apparently the body sometimes wants to fill empty spaces with water so the doctor said that unless I am getting really bad headaches, it's nothing to worry about. I am a constant pain in the ass but there have been no headaches. And then the guy who I've seen twice so far this year let me know we're going to take some space and not see each other again till December :). Actually, when we last met, he was telling me about some new studies and progress that was being made that could be dramatic but this time he didn't share anything like that. He simply said at one point "Maybe you'll be one of the lucky ones who this never grows on." He's never said anything remotely close to that and I have no idea what prompted it but perhaps my roommate who had gone with me caught it better than anyone because he immediately texted it to me. We would talk about the Boston marathon and upcoming races and events. There's many reasons I trust this brilliant mind but it's because despite being quirky enough to become a brain specialist and to wear bowties (bowties are cool; I've started wearing them since I met him), the reason he's a good doctor in my book is because he's a good human at sharing and receiving humanity. 

And somehow breathing easier I headed back to Kiana's end of year party at school where the girl had ended the last quarter of the school year with straight A's and improved behavior assessments. I hope she holds on to these skills and realizes that success is a marathon not a sprint. I don't know if there will be any more stroller races but she's done enough of her own races now to where I hope she goes from being pushed, to being besides her to doing things on her own in due time and that's the parallel I hope goes along with all of my parenting and when all the pursuits become entirely her own.

But before I knew the results, I knew that no matter what they were I was flying out the day after them to head to the east coast once again to help out with a couple of cancer causes. I got to be part of the inaugural team Livestrong marathon (first time I qualified for Boston), part of the inaugural Brain Power 5k (first race I'd won since college), the inaugural head for the cure 5k (first race Kiana won her age group) and now I got to once again join Voice's Against Brain Cancer. Their 8k in Central park in 2013 was the first and only one of 3 times I've ran faster with a stroller than without. I actually had not done a 5k on my own since the previous September when I won the brain power 5k and while I've kept running, I am well aware that the fast twitch muscles are different and hoping they worked. I couldn't resist starting the playlist with a song from Jersey Boys which feels the way  my life is on the good days, which is most days, that it was just too good be true. And while I've never prayed to beat cancer, figuring that there's plenty people who deserve God's attention more, I know there's been plenty of people who have done it for me and of course as I ran around there, I thanked God I was alive.

I don't usually write on the boards, not really thinking there are not adequate words evenn as a guy who talks and writes
too much. But I know that the first race I did with that was with Brian Conley who has passed away from brain cancer just a few weeks ago so in my head, in my heart I'd be running for Team Conley wearing my Duke gear, reminding me of where our paths had first crossed. It helped to start the race with a text from his wife to kick ass and take names. I gunned out with conviction, smiling at the guy who said since it was Jersey he'd bet $500 that I'd win it. I did win so I felt like I'd gotten the kicking ass part right. Fortunately, I was also given the privilege of introducing and announcing the courage award winners. Two years ago I was one of the recipients of that and I felt both fit and unworthy to be the one giving them in 2015. Each person had great stories like the person who put off surgery with multiple seizures to graduate college which was a long time and a lot of effort. There was a writer who did a great job of encapsulating her story and echoing those of others.. It was a tough moment for me to give one to a widow of someone who had passed away who had been at the first event I was at. It gives you perspective and I couldn't do anything but give her a hug. So I didn't take enough names but I certainly felt the honor of recognizing some good ones. I don't know where or what they'll do with those medals but I hope, I hope they serve as a reminder that there is a community that supports them, a gentle nudge like when someone puts soft fingers on your back because they don't know quite what to say but want to remind you they care immensely. Being surrounded and meeting people who were affected by brain tumors, winning a 5k and handing them awards. I'm not sure there was a better way to spend national cancer survivors day. 

The next morning I flew out to DC. It was an interesting reflection to go from Voices Against Brain Cancer to One Voice Against Cancer. E pluribus unum, from many one, is an idea shared a lot in the US government. And so to arrive from an agenda that's very specific to brain tumors to one that was about cancer in general felt fitting. Almost 50 organizations had joined hands that day. There was a lot to learn about appropriations, about the fact that government cancer research used to give grants to 1 in 3 trials, now it's 1 in 7. The funding for the cancer institute has not kept up with inflation and even when NHI has gotten additional funding it has not received it in proportion. We would meet with each of our state Senator's and House representatives. I'd love to tell you I met a bunch of bigwigs but while some delegations did ours would meet with representatives of representatives. I didn't know how long those meetings would go so I did my workout that morning at the hotel gym at 6 am. There were plenty of the One Voice Against Cancer folks already plenty of sweaty so it reminded me that while we are against a disease, I think most (all) of us were there pro health. My partner in crime was someone who had done this 3 times and was far more polished which I appreciated. She mentioned she appreciated my conversational approach but when you're a rookie that's the only approach you can really take. Each meeting felt better than the one before both in how we were presenting and how it was being received... Perhaps that's no coincidence. But I took each of their cards and they wanted follow up and well they're going to get it. 

This is DC and things don't happy too quickly. Generally speaking long lasting things occur fast and certainly not in government. Still when all my meeting were done, I took in a few of the memorials in a very quick walk before heading to the airport. I caught the new MLK memorial (a man who I've blogged about before) that said out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope. The cause he fought for was obviously different but it was intriguing that a guy who fought for so long to move things now was encased in a very solid way. This is perhaps the way some great change often happens, that active pursuit that if you do it happily even if it doesn't have the, will become something far more stable.

Still, in a recent crossfit workout, it was the first time I had done a team one with racing. My team was never in the lead but I kept helping in as many ways as I could. My Pr's are always in races where there's someone not too far from me ahead and not too far behind, the happiness of pursuit. This was the first time like that in crossfit and it was my favorite workout (it might have helped that while we didn't win we passed some people before the finish). Some of the people in Jersey, in DC while it was their first time for that organization or that event had done things like this before. Our ongoing pursuit had achieved things happily along the way but not nearly enough so we had to keep going. 

But in the middle of all this, I got to be in one of those homes where there seems to be so much love that you almost feel like it's your own home. It was one of those places that has optimism written in magnets and things on the wall and in the spirit that seems to just be in the air left over by people living and loving there. They had a magnet that said count your blessings everyday. While I appreciate the sentiment, after a few days like this, writing this blog where I realize each paragraph could have been it's own entry and this is just a way to encapsulate them in more diary format because they are so worth remember. So counting my blessings, I couldn't help but think there's no way I'll ever do that, I don't have that kind of time and I'm not sure I can count that high. But I'll keep happily pursuing them for the community and I dare dream that we will keep finding that's growing far faster and better than anything negative ever could. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Pleasure of Nightmares

Alfred Hitchhock said a very strange or perhaps very appropriate thing in regards to his movies, "Give them pleasure, the same pleasure they get from waking up from a nightmare." This is an interesting part of the human psychology that in simple frankness I don't quite understand enough to participate in. I don't watch horror movies or thrillers, I don't get on scary rides in theme parks not quite grasping the fun in a controlled scary but ultimately relatively safe choice. Now in case anyone thinks that's being too critical of people engage in those choices it may just show that people who chase their thrills that way are more intelligent than me since I've jumped out of a plane, off bridges, cliffsides. Like the runners shirt which says my sport is your sports punishment... perhaps those who enjoy the challenge of a whooping all like to get our spankings in different ways...

But I've finally actually figured out what my stress to MRI level indicator is I think... On the MRI's when most of my life is as settled as it can be, I am relatively calm until the day of or the day before. This is why I slept fine the night before brain surgery... I'd gotten things "in order" by putting off brain surgery to run a marathon, qualifying for Boston, I'd had some great meals with some good friends and put things in financial order for my daughter in case anything went wrong. In a stoic mind, losing the emotional human attachments will happen sometime regardless so I was trying to take that in stride. And every MRI since then my sleep patterns are related to how much I've got going and how clean my relationships are... it is why I often disconnect from people right before them.

Oddly right now, it is a sign of some very good things in my life that I've got going that I am not sleeping well the last few days before an MRI. I woke up to a horrible nightmare about how it going bad would damage both the relationships I'm working on and the projects I'm working on Saturday morning. My next few races are 5k's and Spartan sprints so I don't need to be doing any long runs but on a whim I woke up and went to meet with the Ship of Fools and ran 17 miles, the longest I've ran since Boston with every step of the way at varying speeds with some of the great friends I've made there. Then I went to breakfast with them and later that day we played poker. I've long said running is my therapy and how far I run and how long I run tells you just how bad I need therapy but it was very helpful. Still, at breakfast it was great to hear stories about what's going on in people's life as well as some guidance and suggestion on the office I've been in for less than two weeks, the president of the Austin Runner's club. I may have suggested to the people I'm working with most closely on this, the new Board, that shy of their president this was the best board ever... they continue to demonstrate that and impressed me to be thankful to be working with them. For perspective and because different presidents and boards have had different approaches, I have been reading through thousands of emails left in the official email. I've gotten to see people who were there before me as they reached out asking for guidance or offering to volunteer. It was amusing moments to see how some of them are leaders now or working in the running industry or have qualified for Boston since or were wondering if they would ever be able to run a marathon and have done a few since. It was intriguing to see the way people I've had conversations with since remember things as opposed to how they saw it in the present. But perhaps my favorite one was one where the new IT guy said to the new president that her email was now set up and how the new president was so attractive. They are engaged now :). I won poker that night against some of those running friends, some due to a little bit of skill and some just to the luck of the way the cards come out.

Yet, with an MRI coming up, and thinking about the odds,  it did not help to wake up Sunday morning to read the news of the Vice President's son Beau Biden had just passed away from brain cancer. I've seen stories of people with far better characters, far more money, far more influence get this and pass from it. Somewhere I feel guilt in standing with it because of the ones who are better men than I've ever been and it serves as an odd reminder of the fact that this does not discriminate in any form shape or manner. Because I live in a highly political town, I've gone to hear political candidates of both parties speak here in Austin and gotten to shake hands with a few (I voted for
Pedro). Joe Biden, whatever you may think of his politics and family always is more important that politics in my book, I was impressed with if for no other reason that I was really far back in the line and he still sat and talked to us for a few minutes. Perhaps the best thing I've heard in the news that Joe Biden says is parents know they're a success when their kids turn out better than them. I honestly can't imagine many things harder than a parent burying their children but I think Kiana's so far well ahed of me on the curve and I hope she finds a way to keep it up long after she's buried me.

It is these types of things why I am headed to the inaugural race of Voices Against Brain Cancer in New Jersey this Sunday and heading the next day to DC for an annual day of meeting with lawmakers put on by the American Cancer society, one voice against cancer. This may have affected my memory and languages skills but not enough to silence my voice to stand on its own or be part of the choir.

So I will keep trying to do what's right as best as I know how... it's been raining a lot here. There was a tree I blogged about once, one that I thought had died and had come back to life. (Tells you something about my life analogies or attention span that every single tree in my front yard has gotten blogged about). This same tree got struck by lightning over the storm and now is one branch sticking out of the branch. Like when it originally started growing back, I smile every time I see this thing holding onto life. When it rains Kiana still wants to play in it and go to the river and hang from branches. And perhaps even nature itself wants to remind me I have a heart because I found both a leaf and a rock with a heart on the same day recently.

So while there are nightmares about the MRI 48 hours from now and as always between Monday morning and Tuesday when I sit becomes a very long day.... I've got some good things scheduled to stay busy and happy between the two.  There are people, both those who have been through it and those who haven't who tell me not to worry about the MRI, that everything's going to be fine. With some cancer patients, myself included, one wonders if heading into an MRI with that attitude is naivete, denial, or optimism... The honest truth is I hate that machine, I hate being in it because it is the strongest reminder of how I learned I had brain cancer and a procedure where you're just laying on your back in a machine all by yourself. The noises don't bother me, just the inability to be able to do anything. I never quite know how to feel or what to think and have even fallen asleep in there. Perhaps though, because I have some new goals on the horizon, it's time to go into that machine with the dream that there will come a time where both that machine and I will be put out of commission and it isn't a race I would mind if the machine got finished first and I was way behind.

So I'm probably never signing up for Hitchhock's pleasure of waking up from nightmares voluntarily. But I will keep having good dreams. Jonas Salk, the guy who invented the polio vaccine (perhaps entirely appropriately since it's now being modified to fight brain cancer) said something that I like a lot more. He said "I have had dreams and I have had nightmares and I overcame the nightmares because of my dreams." Just getting through the MRI whether or not its stable isn't going to be quite enough; I'll try to head out of there to do good things. Because I'm competitive, my pleasure won't come from merely waking up from my nightmares but rather from beating them with my dreams.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Clouds be rolled back

To me life is magical, mystical, mysterious, wonderful. The simple act of getting up in the morning is the start of wonder as you try to make what dreams and fantasies life has let you have another chance at rising to them is a marvelous privilege.

This is the way I try to focus as MRI's get closer... I know people want to me to go just by how I feel but I felt fine moments before seizures everytime and it was MRI's that gave us a clue. Many cancer patients feel fine before imaging and the simple truth there are some things that some times feelings are not the indicators of truth. 

So to quell the nervousness... I try to focus on the positive. I've never had this rainy of a year in my almost 10 years of Austin and my lawn is in better shape so I capture a picture of my little girl and realize that the grass couldn't be any greener on any side of any fence. And she sits there and creates lions and giraffes and owls and monkeys out of toilet paper rolls and paper towel dispensers. I never had much of an artistic side (an elementary teacher once held up one of my assignments as an example of what not to do) but I sit here, trying to learn and absorb a girl who captures life better than any picture I've ever taken. She watches butterflies and snails with a care and wonder that I hope she never loses and that I dream, I hope I've contributed to in some way. 

And I realize that the things some of my family originally thought were crazy like races, they are now doing on their own and sometimes on the same course as me. All of the cousins who had done the previous weekend of Spartans came back and did it again the second weekend and improved their time and failure rate (myself included). And I went back and finished with all of them this time taking less time to find them on the course. Others are talking about doing races on their own again or joining me again. I don't know who to be more proud of among them, Cefy who did it all on his own long before he realized I did it and did it with an injury. Sammy who has been weight lifting all his life and is now signing up for 5k's and spartans which push him harder and he's moderating his diet and workout techniques to correspond, or Omar who was much smarter than me. It took me over 3 decades to realize that, yes some races you should do on your own but  the way you make some races special is to do it next to someone you love and in his son's first spartan they were a joint force that no obstacle would be enough for. I usually do the elite heat where we play for money and winner and all obstacles have to be done by themselves (sometimes figured out by yourself cause when you get there, there's no one else to watch in order to learn how it's done). And I'm competitive and I like it and realize that leaders in any field sometimes have to go a bit lonely to be innovators. They are extraordinary and should be commended as such but those of us who are just ordinary kids are glad to have some extra moments with each other.

And to head straight from the race to see my dad for his 70th birthday. It's not often that the three brothers are together but I was glad to have us there for a man who has been a force of nature for us, certainly for me or perhaps that would be better phrased as a man who has felt so natural to be part of the same family. He is not my biological father if we're arguing about genes but legally and more important at the heart of the matter, he is my dad. And like me, he grew up without a whole lot or too many birthday parties in Mexico and we had some very good serious conversations about many things including what he did with me, which was come into my life at a young age and then have a won with my mother which never have I perceived a difference in how much he loved and cared for each of us. But the man who gave me the Leon name we certainly had a good time cheering him hitting a Leon piƱata. It's not often I head to west Texas but I went straight from the finish line to his party for a several hour drive thankful for a lifetime of support as well as him having joined me for his first 3 5k's at 69 years of age. Appropriately enough, the next time we're celebrating a birthday will be the only time I'll likely celebrate one in my 30's at my brother's house
in portland where once again we do a spartan, first time a race falls on my birthday. Pinatas, burpees, whatever way we want to swing at catching a few more years. I mean seeing him turn 70 and hugging my grandpa who was 84 that weekend and remembering my great grandfather who made it into his 90's that we should definitely question the idea that only the good die young. Here's hoping I live to an old age because if I die young so that I can discredit that idea that way rather than the not so good dying young (I'm still young right?!?). 

Still as I rode home and had my iPhone shuffling through the many hundreds (thousands) of songs rather than a genre or a playlist, I took those moments to look back at that obviously since my wife left in the middle of cancer that there were some relationships I had not taken care of appropriately but also that I am closer now to many of my family members than I was before cancer. I don't know whether it's a mistake or a reveal when jobs, circumstances, cancer disrupt your relationships or a tell but I'm thankful for the ones that obviously moved the right way. A couple of people had shared some of their health issues so I looked back to my previous MRI were somehow life was kind enough to where right before those nervous moments someone came up to me unexpectedly and said "I'm a hugger" and hugged me right before the meeting with the machine and maybe the hug had enough strength to get me through two MRI's, guess we'll find out soon. But the song that got put on repeat a few times was the old hymn that came on, "It is well with my soul." I couldn't help but focus on the lined comparing life to weather. The previous race in Boston was cold, and windy and rainy; I thought of it like an ice bath and figured it had to be good for my joints. The Spartan races in Burnettt due to the rain were muddier than usual but it was warmer than the east coast so I figured the mud bath was good for my skin. But as I listened to an old hymn that my mom sang and hummed so much I took in the glorious weather and realized that no matter what had happened and no matter what had come... that well some part of my faith had become sight because it really all was well with my soul.

And I arrived home exactly as I had the previous time from west Texas to an Austin Runner's club run, a club that as of yesterday I am officially the president of. Home is where the heart is and leaving from races with cousins, to see my brothers and parents and grandparents and returning to the club I run with, well if home is where the heart is, seems like I was at home the entire time. I came home to work on logistics and I've actually been dealing with some medical billing issues from a couple of years ago that were incredibly frustrating but I went out and ran stairs to remind myself that if you do an intense enough workout, even if temporarily, at the top of those stairs you've put your problems beneath you. 

So I go to parties where we fight brain cancer with a race as we kick off the Brainpower 5k. And I sit through questions that I didn't expect where a pastor wanted to ask some questions so he could share it in his sermon this Sunday... And as I get ready for my first honest 5k racing by myself (the ones with Kiana were more fun so far this year) with Voices Against Brain Cancer in New Jersey followed up being an advocate in DC for One Voice Against Cancer... Both more important on a massive scale but on a personal scale hopefully preceded by a stable MRI, a happy ending to Kiana's 2nd grade, and someone to hug that puts in perspective. 

So the only thing that will roll back like a scroll is the medical room changing, I don't know what that MRI will put into sight but I have some faith that whatever my lot, I'll be greatful to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.