The on-going, first-hand tale of a journey through medical oncology... and what happens after.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Challenges in life

As the aphorism says, you'll never know what you can do until you try. Or something like that... Over my short-but-not-so-short-anymore lifetime, I have approached and conquered or been defeated by many challenges. Some of them were silly little things like a lemonade stand business - where we had such great initial success (underwritten by a grant from Mom) only to find that the ingredients and transport time and a saturated customer base (everyone had already bought lemonade) and a cooler evening made for an overall negative income for that day. Others have been earthshakingly difficult - like writing a Master's thesis over the course of eight weeks one sultry, caffeinated summer in State College, or slogging through a toxic chemical haze toward the elimination of cancer.

Just last weekend the temperatures topped 100 degrees all around Oregon. Following a phenomenal snow season last winter, this led to some pretty impressive, snowmelt-fed stream flows. Nothing resembling a flood in our neck of the proverbial woods, but rivers and streams in the valley are much higher than they usually are in May. So I am out for an early morning training ride on my bicycle, and am riding on familiar bike paths adjacent to the Willamette River. The path is about four feet wide and is paved with asphalt. I am near the end of a roughly 15-mile ride, and at one of the dips in the path I come across about 15 feet of standing water (an inch or two deep), which I carefully ride through and think, "Hmmm... unusual." But thinking no more about it I ride on.

This path is a long double loop, and I am traveling on the outer loop - which means a long ride in either direction. As I am nearing the end of the loop, where it rejoins the road, I notice some more water over the path and begin to ride through it as before. This stretch of water-covered path is at least 50 feet long (it goes around a bend ahead), but my recent experience did not set off any alarm bells. It would be easier and faster to ride through the water than to turn around and ride back, and I did have to get ready for work.

Bad decision. In no time at all, I was pedaling through deep enough water that each foot submerged at the bottom of each pedal stroke. The grass-lined path winds between a farm field and a line of trees beside the slough, so I couldn't see very far ahead, but I knew where the path had to be even though it was submerged. It was too difficult to turn around without getting off the bike, which would mean disengaging my cleats underwater while trying to remain balanced. The drag of the water began to make pedaling really difficult, and the water was now almost as high as my knees. Feeling pretty dumb (and a little concerned), I needed to downshift to maintain my forward momentum. I feared that losing momentum would soon have me toppled over into the water, since my submerged feet would not allow my cleats to disengage quickly enough to let me step off the bike and stand up. With some trepidation, I reached down to shift gears (actually, this was no problem, as the water does not really affect mechanical devices that are well lubricated with grease) and then pedaled mightily against the added resistance of the water up the gentle slope toward the road. Soon enough, I was on dry path again, and was merely a little wetter than the sunny day would have generally caused.

I rode through knee deep water for a mere two hundred yards or so, but the time seemed to stretch on forever. I rose to this challenge, and my strengthening legs were more than a match for my underutilized brain (this time). It's a good feeling - finding yourself able to weather an unexpected challenge. And it was nice to know that some of the faith that I used to have in my body is returning. But, if you can avoid stuff like riding your bike through knee-deep water at the tail end of a fifteen mile ride, I suggest that you do so. It's much easier, safer, and faster, to just backtrack a little and ride around the obstacle.

Life sometimes throws us a curve ball. But it is nice to be pleasantly surprised when you not only swing at the pitch, you actually connect. You'll never know if you can hit that ball until you step up to the plate. And if you haven't already done so, consider a colonoscopy to check out the lower insides. Shaving off a polyp or two or finding a small something is FAR better than waiting and finding a larger something that then has surgical and oncological implications.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

2008 LiveStrong Day

Hello Blog-land,

Last week was a very long week. Between the early morning bike rides and the long days, it felt like at least ten days over the course of the seven that actually passed. But the point of this blog is to talk about LiveStrong Day 2008 - which occurred on Tuesday last, and featured at least 50 people milling about our front yard and porch connecting with each other around the impact of cancer on our lives. We had doctors and nurses and representatives from cancer care facilities and a wonderful trainer (who specializes in helping cancer patients and survivors stay as physically active as possible) and friends and neighbors and people who are now friends and political campaign representatives and... well, a bunch of really neat and good folks.

My wife and her friend (breast cancer survivor) put it all together. Food and information were plentiful, but the main (and best) part was meeting other cancer patients and survivors that needed to know stuff. I don't claim to know everything, but in the process of dealing with my colon cancer I learned a lot and so had many other survivors. There's nothing like seeing and talking to others who have "been there" and who are still here to smile and laugh with you, and to suggest ideas, and to connect you with other info...

I am still recovering from the emotional and physical trauma of colon cancer - but that day was a long and wonderful day. The Lance Armstrong Foundation is working hard to make this topic a more central one, and we should be thankful for his work. I am.