Wednesday, April 18, 2007

PET Scan Results

Tax day is over and done with now...thank God! Although Virginia's state tax is due on May 1, just in case you were wondering. And what's more, they don't even let you lame is that? I suppose it is alright though considering I owe them money this time around.

April in the DC Metro area is turning into a big disappointment. The weather has been absolutely freezing. Waking up to snow on the ground the day before Easter is not my idea of a good time. I just want it to warm up, and soon, because I've got important things like softball to focus on!

This weekend is the 10-Mile George Washington Parkway Classic down in Alexandria. I was hoping to run in it but I woke up yesterday feeling very ill. I made it into work for a couple hours and then had to leave. I collapsed in bed and didn't make it out until about 9:30 this morning, only getting up to switch out movies in my DVD player and to take another shot of Nyquil. I'm feeling a bit better today but still definitely not 100%. I'm not sure what it is/was, but it affected my whole body. Started out as discomfort in my stomach but then progressed into what felt like the flu. Not fun. In any case, I'm definitely feeling better and I'm hoping to be back to quasi-normal status tomorrow.

Now for more interesting news. As some of my more loyal readers will remember, the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler here in DC last year was a big deal for me. Sort of a welcome-back-to-a-healthy-life event for me really. My goal was to finish the race last year in 1:30:00 and I beat that by more than five minutes with a final time of 1:24:37. This year, I decided that I would again run the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler, if for no other reason than to just help me get in shape for the warm weather that has been elusive so far. My goal this time around was to run it in 1:20:00--or 8 minutes a mile--which would be a new personal best for me, beating my time in 2002 by 19 seconds. After a slower start than I had hoped for because of the crowds at the starting line, I found myself forcing a faster pace than I was accustomed to just to make up some lost time. I could have hit 80 minutes with a very solid last mile, but I just didn't have it in me and ended up at 1:20:40--missing my goal by 40 seconds. Oh well...there is always next year and I will be out there!

The most recent update specifically having to do with the whole purpose of this blog--that is, my cancer--came yesterday. Last week I had my first PET scan since last August when the results came back hazy and meant that I needed to get what was left of my tonsils removed. As usual, I was a little apprehensive about it. (As a sidebar, I would strongly encourage you to read the front-page article of a recent issue of Newsweek. It was written by Jonathan Alter who was diagnosed with a serious form of cancer in 2004 while he was covering the Presidential campaign. He puts to words a lot of the uncertainty and emotion of a cancer diagnosis and course of treatment that is difficult to capture and is a very good read.) After going through the usual pre-scan steps--not exercising, not eating, not wearing metal to the scan--it was time and it went as well as any scan I had had up to that point. I'm still not okay with small spaces and so every time into that tube is a battle for me in itself. This time I actually fell asleep for a bit during the scan, which is something that I would have never dreamed possible, so maybe I am making little improvements.

Anyway, yesterday, while I was lying in bed sicker than I had been in quite some time, I got a voicemail from Georgetown University Hospital. It was Eva, Dr. Davidson's assistant, letting me know that the results came back and everything looked good. Needless to say, I was happy to hear that. I like to think that this is expected, but every time I hear the good news, I feel sort of lucky in a way. Like I've just dodged another bullet or something. That's really the only way I can describe it. But in a way I have dodged a bullet. I've always maintained that I've been lucky to have had the type of cancer that I did while many others are diagnosed with much more serious types of cancer on a daily basis. They are the ones fighting the real battle.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Two Years Later

Today is February 11. Not a big deal for most people, but it will always have a measure of significance for me.

On this day two years ago, I received the phone call that changed my life. It was the call from my doctor with the results of the biopsy I had undergone three days earlier. I remember, quite vividly in fact, all self-awareness leaving my body. It was a numbing sensation where I wasn't quite sure where my body ended and the world around me began--when people describe shock, I imagine that this is exactly how they feel.

But this is not about two years ago. This is about today, the two-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. As many of you know, Lance Armstrong is the closest to a hero that I have. My cancer was nothing like his and yet I can hardly imagine a more difficult experience. The fact that he lived through his cancer and then went on to win 7 Tours...well, it's nothing short of miraculous. If you have read Lance's books, then you know that he celebrates the date of his diagnosis every year--kind of like a birthday. I have shamelessly adopted this tradition as my own as well, because in a way, it is like a birthday. Going through the experience of cancer without being changed is nearly impossible. When you finally find yourself on the other side, life looks differently--more colorful and vibrant. The routine that you thought you hated before you now love for its simplicity. So even though I was born on May 3, 1978, the date when I really started to live my life as it was intended was February 11, 2005.

Tonight I will share dinner with a few of my closest friends in D.C. to help commemorate this significant date in my life. Not only is it a celebration of a new perspective, it is also a reminder that life is not guaranteed. I often describe my hurdles of the last two years as things I would never want to repeat or have anyone else experience even once. But with most of the physically painful experiences behind me, I embrace them as a part of who I am--part of my story that I have lived. In a strange way, I'm grateful for the experiences because they have made me stronger and I hope a better person. The lessons through it all have been many, and I don't want them to be wasted. This is my way of not forgetting.

As always, thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


In a blog about the experiences with and about cancer, no news is good least that's what I tell myself so that I can justify not posting anything to my blog since (gulp) last April! A couple of people actually have asked me where I've gone and why I haven't been posting anything recently. Well, the truth is I really haven't had anything to post, which is good, except for marathon training, which isn't really exciting, trust me. If I wrote about marathon training, it would read something like this:

Monday: ran 4 miles - my knees hurt
Wednesday: ran 8 miles - my knees hurt
Thursday: ran 4 miles - my knees hurt
Saturday: ran 18 miles - my whole body hurts

So that is another reason why I haven't been keeping y'all as updated as I could would have just been far too boring.

BUT, there have been some things happening that are worth telling you about so I'll get you caught up as best I can. After running the 10-miler in April, I decided that indeed yes, I would train for the Marine Corps Marathon on October 29 in DC. Well, I started my serious training in June and went throughout the summer. During that time, I moved from studio--filled with lots of memories of what has undoubtedly been the hardest year of my life--to a small house with three other guys about 2 miles away. That was at the beginning of July. Then, I was approached by a buddy about interest in working on another campaign--this time, the Governor's race in Oregon. After a lot of missed connections and waiting, I was finally given an offer and decided that I would do it despite the fact that it was so late in the election and it would be very difficult to get up to speed before Election Day.

So ever since the day after Labor Day, I've been working for the Saxton campaign in Portland. That meant no more marathon, sadly. I've still tried to run when I can, but there would have been no way that I could continue the training and then fly back for the race. I was pretty bummed but I guess I'll just have to do it next year.

The reality is that I overextended myself this past summer. After spending all of 2005 in either pain, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, recovery, or some weird combination of all of those, I was eager to get on with life and I think I tried to make up for some lost time! So working a full-time job, playing on two softball teams, and training for a marathon really meant that I had no time left for me. Latching onto a campaign was the last thing that I thought I would want to do but nonetheless the opportunity came up so I took it. Hopefully it will yield some positive results and honestly we are looking pretty good with less than a month to go before Election Day.

Just before I moved out here to Oregon, I had my 9-month checkup since radiation and I was expecting another clean bill of health. One thing you should know about my checkups is that there are two types. There are the big checkups and small checkups that alternate every three months...really confusing, huh? Well, the first checkup was in February and was a big one, then three months later (May) was a small one. So my last checkup was in August and that was a big checkup--basically they do all the physical stuff but they also run a PET scan. Well, the most recent PET scan (remember, the PET is basically a presence of cancer test) indicated some kind of "activity" as they like to call it. THE BIG NEWS is that the levels of activity were no different in August than they were in February, but still enough that they want to err on the side of caution.

So after checking with my doctor to see if I was taking any unnecessary risks by doing the campaign (he assured me that I was not), I decided to do the campaign and get checked out at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU). At his request, I was seen by a doctor he knew and trusted. So that happened a couple weeks ago and he came to the same conclusion--that I should go in and just have this problem area removed. I've got another checkup later this month and then I'll probably have what will amount to a tonsil removed the week after Election Day. Fun stuff.

The weird thing about all of this is that very few people really understand my concerns. I'm not worried about the surgery (this will be my third), but about the tests that are run afterwards on whatever it is they remove. If it is negative, all is good. If not, then I could be looking at the possibility of another round of radiation, which is enough to make me want to vomit. I honestly don't know if I can go through with something like that again. But, that is getting way ahead of things so right now I'm just focusing on working on the campaign the best I can and hoping that everything works out alright, which it probably will.

I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't disappointed. Obviously I was hoping that I was over and done with all this, but the situation is still pretty good. The important thing to remember is that there wasn't any change in activity--based on the PET scans--between February and August. Nevertheless, considering my health history, this isn't something that I want to mess around with.

Hopefully I'll get a few more posts in before I go under the knife again. My next checkup is on October 24 (I think) and I'll most likely have my surgery scheduled at that time. I'll try to take a few minutes to post an update at that time.


Sunday, April 02, 2006

10-Miler Report

As promised, here is a report of how my attempt at the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler went today.

Strangely, I was pretty nervous going into this thing. I didn't sleep much last night because of that but also because I was afraid that I was going to wake up an hour late due to daylight savings time.

So my day began at about 4:30 a.m. and I couldn't really get back to sleep. I got out of bed an hour later and prepared for the race. There's a lot more preparation for a distance race than you would imagine, especially for someone who doesn't run a lot of them. By 6:30, I was on the Metro (DC subway) and headed toward the Smithsonian Metro stop that is right by my office which is where I was meeting the rest of my team. At 7:15 we headed over to the starting area and it was PACKED. I knew there were going to be a lot of people, but 15,000 people in a park is just ridiculous. After all the elite runners started, it was our turn at 8 a.m.

The course, as is pretty much any course in our nation's capital, is beautiful. It started out on Ohio Drive--a road that winds along the Potomac River. After less than a mile, however, it peels off to the right (east) and heads up Independence Avenue towards the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. It loops back around and down Independence Avenue, this time going west towards Virginia, and then heads over the Memorial Bridge which leads you directly into Arlington National Cemetery. After you make what is essentially a huge u-turn, you head back over the bridge and take a left at the Lincoln Memorial, or north onto Rock Creek Parkway past the Kennedy Center. The route then follows the parkway for about 3 miles before u-turning and leading you south on the parkway. After doubling back, the road splits, you go right, and find yourself back on Ohio Drive where the start line is now the finish line.

I mentioned earlier that I was hoping to run this race in 90 minutes--a 9-minute mile pace. The only 10-miler I've run before now was four years ago in Santa Barbara, where I lived for six years. For that run, it was pretty good and I ended up finishing in about 80 minutes. So you can see that four years later, after all the health crap that I've been through, 90 minutes was a legitimate goal.

My thought was to conserve energy as much as possible until the turnaround on the parkway at mile 6.5. I did alright but ended up keeping a pace at the beginning that I hadn't intended--it was about 8 minutes a mile, I found out later. By the time I got to the halfway point, my time was 46:47 (or something like that). I knew I had to speed it up a little bit if I had any hope of beating my 90-minute goal. So I did. After the turnaround at mile 6.5, there was a portion of the race that was slightly downhill, and while it seemed others were holding back, I took advantage of the gravity and lengthened my stride almost without effort. By the time I got to mile 7, my time had been trimmed and I was at 1:03:00 roughly. I kept the tempo up knowing that I needed only to sustain a 9-minute pace to reach my goal--thankfully, I was right back on pace. Then came the late surge from the pack and I turned it up yet again. This last portion had a few hills (not many) that were generally just gradual upward slopes. Again, the pack just kept pushing. If running with 10,000+ other people doesn't give you a herd mentality, I don't know what does. Trying desperately to keep pace with those around me, I kept charging toward the finish line which was now two miles away.

(On a side note, if you ever go to a race like this, do not stand at about mile 8.5 and yell, "Only 200 more yards! You can do it!" like some idiot did today. Luckily, I knew he was wrong but there were others around me who started sprinting to the finish prematurely.)

So at mile 9, I'm sucking wind and it feels like we are collectively running a 6-minute mile, which, of course, we are not. This stretch was horrible because there were a lot of gradual bends and you expected to see the finish line...just...around...the...bend...and time and time again it was not there. Any mile past 5 is pretty good because your body pretty much shuts down the pain sensors and you just go without feeling anything, for me anyway. Once you get to the last mile, however, you start to imagine what it will be like to take a nice long drink of Gatorade and that's all you can think about.

After running what felt like two miles since I passed mile 9, the finish line came into view--a long ways down the road. Even this stretch wasn't close to 200 yards! It was more like a quarter mile, at least. I literally wanted to vomit at this point and almost did, until I realized that the clock was somewhere around 1:27:30. For a second I was content with any time under 1:30:00 and I started to slow down. But then I realized that I wanted to get under 1:28:00 so I poured it on--as much as a person can after running 9.98 miles. I picked up my pace, lengthed my stride, and actually started to get a headache from a lack of oxygen. BUT, I crossed the line at 1:27:59. Sweetness.

About 30 seconds later I hear my name and I realize that one of the guys I had been training with came in just behind me. I had beaten him by 28 seconds which I really did not think possible. I was lucky that he hadn't seen me approaching the finish line, though, because if he had he would have really poured it on and given me a run for my money.

One thing that I failed to mention earlier is that with 10,662 runners starting from the same spot, it's impossible to begin simultaneously. Consequently, we found ourselves WAY back in the starting chute. When the gun went off, it took us about three minutes to get to the starting line. And due to modern technology, the clock for each individual runner (remember the tracking chip I mentioned in the previous post) begins when he or she crosses that line. So, instead of a time of 1:27:59, my time was trimmed to 1:24:37. A pace of 8:28 per mile.

For me, this is a big accomplishment. I had built this event up so much in my mind as a symbol of me being back to "normal." In essence, by doing well in this race, I was, shouting, "I'm back!" And it felt wonderful, satisfying, exhilirating, all of the above.

The design and resiliency of the human body and spirit that God infused in me is all that made this possible. It's nothing short of amazing that after two surgeries and seven weeks of both radiation and chemotherapy, the body is able to come back alive with hard work and (for those of you that know me) just maybe some old-fashioned stubbornness.

I am so utterly sore right now I'm wondering why I ever thought this was a good idea. Of course, I quickly remember that the accomplishment (for me) is so utterly unbelievable that I wanted to do it, I needed to do it. I needed this just to prove that I could. The crazy thing is that in spite of, maybe because of, all the pain that I'm feeling in my muscles right now, I'm considering training for the Marine Corps Marathon here in DC in October.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Cherry Blossom 10-Miler

I can't believe it's been more than a month since I've updated this thing. If you still check in on this that often, you're a champ. If you are just stumbling across my blog for the first time, thanks for checking in.

It's hard to believe that I've been at my current job for more than a year now. Yesterday was my one-year anniversary. Of course, I've had a few other issues to take care of during that time so it has gone by a little faster (yet slower in an odd way) than I had ever imagined.

As many of you know, the biggest side effect from my radiation treatment has been the fatigue. January turned out to be a real turning point for me and since then I've been gaining more and more energy. Somewhere around January or February, I decided that I would run the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler here in Washington, D.C. I haven't run a 10-miler since April 2002, and here I am four years later trying it again on April 2, 2006. More importantly, I'm about nine months removed from my last surgery and six months removed from my radiation and chemo. Who'd of thunk it?

Something about me that you need to know is that I don't necessarily enjoy running. Every time I go out I wonder how my body, and more importantly my mind, will respond. The human body can withstand more than you think and this is just one way to push myself to do more than I want or think I can. Plus, there is something about the adrenaline you get from running a distance race with 10,000 other people. It's "easy" at the beginning and at the end, but it's the middle part that's so hard.

Anyway, the race is this Sunday morning at 8 a.m. EDT (don't forget to turn your clocks forward an hour). I've been training for the last couple months but have battled two flu viruses during that time so I'm not entirely confident of my performance. My hope is to finish it in 90 minutes but we'll see how it goes. I'm not sure yet but I may be able to provide a link that will allow you to follow my progress during the race if you are so inclined to follow it on Sunday morning. If not, then I'll just let you know how I did later that day.

Be back soon...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Fast Forward

For those of you keeping, February 8, is the one-year anniversary of my biopsy. To this day, I think the pain from that procedure surpassed anything I had ever experienced before or since. Of course, I didn't have pain medication at the time and everything since has involved a strict pain management program.

At this same time, on the other side of the country, in Oregon. My sister is in induced labor to have her second child.

My how things change in the course of a year.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

When Words Fail

It's funny. Some of the times that you feel like you should be on the top of your game as a writer are when you fall flat. It's not quite like writer's block, because writer's block is more like lack of inspiration--at least that has been my experience. It's not because I'm putting too much pressure on myself either. Usually when I do that, I'll come up with something, because I'm in survival mode. It's like the old college effect. You either write and pass the assignment or don't write and certainly fail. It's sink or swim.

Tonight is different.

Tonight is better.

Tonight I know, that no matter what I write, it won't adequately communicate the thoughts and feelings inside of me. Sometimes, but not often, words fail. Usually it requires a lack of a reference point such as when something is beautiful beyond description (like the birth of your child, so I've heard) or something is unspeakably evil (think 9/11).

So here I am trying to wrap my head around something to make it more understandable for those who are reading and I don't know where to start. Maybe it's impossible for you to understand unless you have heard the words, "You have cancer," and then spent the majority of the next year trying to avoid thinking about the what ifs while recovering from surgery, radiation, and chemo. Hard as it is, I have to try, because days like this don't come very often.

It's what I was expecting, I guess, my doctor's appointment, I mean. Last Friday, as I outlined in my previous post, I had my first PET scan since my treatment finished up. I was able to withstand the needle and the time alone in the tube, thank God. Today, however, the results of the scan would be made available to me during my check-up with my radiation oncologist. But after going to the doctor every day for nearly two months, the apprehension of "What's the doctor going to say?" wears off and you are left with routine. I forgot somehow that today was not routine.

I forgot, that is, until I heard my doctor say, "The PET scan looked great...better than we expected. It was everything we could have hoped for." Then I remembered that I hadn't heard anything close to resembling that in the past year-and-a-half. And this is where words fail me, because I just don't know what to write.

Like I said, I was expecting to hear good news. But despite the fact that I thought I was prepared to hear the good news and be on my way, I wasn't. I wasn't able to just sit and be told that the cancer, at this check-up anyway, was not there. I wasn't able to not care enough to be deeply affected by what my doctor said. I had too much invested. I had given too many drops of blood, sweat, and tears to not care. My memory flashed back to the mouth sores that were so raw I would spit up blood; the daily ritual of sweating in fear and apprehension as I climbed upon the radiation table; the tears of both the physical and emotional anguish that would surprise me in the middle of the night and the middle of day and sometimes, the middle of a conversation.

Sometimes words are meant to stand alone: "The PET scan looked great!"