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Round 6 and the 20-miler


Round 6 and the 20-miler

September 20, 2014

A“A goal is just an awesome way to force growth on yourself.” –Deana Kastor

She is an Olympic bronze medalist (Athens 2004), a 2:19:36 marathoner, and the only American woman to break 2:20.  I paused when I read that quote from her in an article in the October issue of Runner’s World magazine.  She had put it succinctly what my running (and sacrifice) is all about: Growth.

For the past couple of weeks I have logged lots and lots of miles, and being a slow runner that means lots of time to think, contemplate, and breath.   If my Fitbit is correct, that means a weekly average of more than 100,000 steps, 52+ miles run/walk, and almost 20,000 calories burned.  However, what it does not tell you are the other activities I do or my almost daily 5:00 am start at the gym to cross-train, yoga, and stretch.

What gives?

That’s the point.  Why bother.  I know I will not win Chicago or NYC marathons or could even qualify for Boston.  I am a slow runner, who goes weekly to chemo treatment as a past time, a vegetarian by choice, husband, father, grandfather, and breadwinner.  And yet I push myself to get up early morning to hit the gym.

Well, I have grown just like what Deena said.  My training and change of lifestyle forced me to grow.  In return I like myself more.  I am able to fully appreciate life by earning it one mile at a time.  I don’t miss steak or pork or the late morning rise because I am able to see things differently.  Other people have notice the changed too.  It is all good.

Round 6 and the 20-miler

Last Wednesday, September 17, was my sixth round of treatment and tomorrow, Sunday, is our 20 mile run.  I have never done this before–short chemo recovery and 20 miles/32K–so we will see if I will still be standing up.  It is a prelude to the Chicago marathon in three weeks: October 12.  I feel good, anxious, and looking forward to it.  I try not to think of the distance because it can get to you.  All I know is I will be at the start and how I finish is the fun of it.  See you at the finish line.

Cheers.

Scan results: Stable.


Scan results: Stable.
September 9, 2014

TThere was a delay in getting the results because LindaJ, the nurse practitioner who monitors my progress, was on vacation.  I saw the email she sent asking me to call her.  So I was anxious to find out the result.

I also received a notice from the UofC MyChart  web application that the results of my test was just posted.  My eyes went to the summary right away filtering the medical jargon:

“No significant change in multiple pulmonary metastases.  New new lesions identified.”

“Your tumors are stable,” adds Linda.  The rest are normal.

That is all I wish.  We catch up on other things but my mind is already on being grateful for the positive news.  Fighting cancer is a game of inches and centimeters; in my case 3.8 cm. for one of them.  I have been in this situation before and at this point you just take what is given; and in whatever form.  I just have to keep on working at it.

After hanging up with Linda, I went to church to give thanks.  I am sure my mother will be happy when she reads this: me going to church on a Tuesday and the positive news of my scan.

Cheers.

P.S.  Tomorrow back to chemo, Round 5.  Then try to recover fast and build more miles.

Another scan: All seats taken.


Another scan: All seats taken.
September 3, 2014

All the seats were taken, all 18 of them. Some had blank stares in their eyes probably because they are hungry. You are not allowed to eat anything before your test. There we were, me included, waiting for our turn to have a CT or PET scan performed. In the background, the Price is Right show was showing and all were glued to the TV watching to see if the lady is going to win the brand new Porshe 911 Carrera.  The car would surely turn heads and fits into the category of a chick (or guy) magnet car.

Earlier I had already checked in and I am just waiting for them to call my name to have my CT scan done. The scan is one of those test I have to do to see if my tumor shrank again after two rounds of chemo.

“Oh no!” A collective sigh of regret filled the waiting room.  “She should have not taken the $3000 money. Oh my god, she guessed all the numbers and could have won the Porshe!” That is easy for us to say watching in the waiting room.  The car was worth $92K.  Ooopps.

Price is Right is an appropriate TV show for waiting rooms. That and People’s Court or Judge Judy.  It is neutral and entertaining enough to distract you from all your medical problems.  CNN is depressing.  Soap opera: nausea.  Sports: drama

“Alvarez.” The technician calls my name and puts me back to reality.  He hands me a big glass of clear liquid. “Finish the drink in an hour and I will be back so we can do the test.” He goes on and calls other three names and gives them same drink and instructions.

I asked for a straw.  The tech gives me one, then I realize it was a mistake.  The others were all drinking it straight up from the cup, including the lady in the far corner.  Damm people: This is not a beer cup and we are not in a bar.  Whatever.  I might as well drink, er..rather sip, this tasteless concoction with my pinky finger raised.

Raising the cup I start sipping.  The drink is not bad, I have had better prep drinks before.  The best one is from MD Anderson, which comes in different flavors and a choice of sugar-free or not. (I posted a picture of the drink in my previous post in June.  Check that out).  I was the last one to finish which made me think if the straw was a good idea.  It didn’t matter we all waited and try to get distracted.  Gone are the hunger pangs only to be replaced by bloatedness from the drink.  I am hoping for good results like the one last August 8th.  We will see.

CT scan prep drink... burp!

CT scan prep drink… burp!

Ding…ding…ding. Come on down!

Cheers.

P.S.  I drafted the post before being called for the scan.  The scan calls for a dye being infused during the procedure so your organs will light up.  Your body will have this warm and hot feeling when the dye is infused.  Right after the infusion and scan things got dicey: I had an allergic reaction to the dye they gave me.  I was flushed, itchy, palpating, and full of rashes and hives.  I called for my wife and when she saw me she had the look of concern.  A doctor was attending to me and I was red like a lobster.  They gave me benedryl and put me in a room for observation.  I have had these procedures many times but this is the first time I had an allergic reaction.  The medicine took effect and slowly my allergies cleared but it left me groggy and sleepy.  All is fine now.  Am back to normal.  Just another excitement to spice up my life.  Ha!

What happened?  S**t happens.

 


Round 4: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

August 28, 2014

She wrote “I looked south, to where I’d been, to the wild land that had schooled and scorched me, and considered my options.  There was only one, I knew.  There was always one.  To keep walking.”

That was from the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cherly Strayed, who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail alone to discover herself.  A worthy journey but not for the faint of hearts.

It is a journey of redemption that she undertook on whim after her mother died of cancer.  I am sure some of us have had fleeting urges to undertake a self-induced journey of rediscovery, like retreat, yoga or hiking.  Maybe some don’t know where to begin.  Cheryl’s road to rediscovery started in Mojave, California and ended up at the Bridge of the Gods, east of Portland, Oregon.  It was more than a thousand mile hike alone in the wilderness.

As I read the book I could not help relate to it through my cancer journey.  Much like Cheryl, my cancer journey has shaped me to what I am today.  Whilst her journey has long finished, I am still on the trails of my redemption not knowing if, when, or where it will end.  I too have looked backed; have been schooled, scorched, joyed, and learned many times over.  Then there is the only option in front: to fight and survived.

There is only one difference between me and Cheryl, she chose to the PCT to discover herself while cancer chose me to make me see life, family, and relationships differently.  I have long stopped asking why I was chosen, instead I just accepted my faith willingly.  Thy will be done.

I still marvel at the people I meet along the way.  Yesterday was chemo day, Round 4, and my nurse was Marissa instead of Sammy.  She is from the Philippines and had worked with Edith, my other oncology nurse at Swedish Hospital.  There is LindaJ, the nurse research coordinator, the crochet ladies at the waiting room, other cancer patients, and many many other people who have touched me during this journey.  To write I acknowledgements to all would risk not naming all but I feel grateful and blessed.  Besides, this post would not end.

So, my journey continues and I am glad you are with me.  I am sure some are on a journey too or have had one e.g. divorce, sickness or just a redemption-seeking adventure.  Whatever it is (or was), there comes a point when you stop to rest and think.  You look back and you look ahead.  Whether it is a pain-numbing 26.2 mile race or an unplanned-system-shocking event that paralyze you to stillness, just block it and take the only option: Move.  Don’t give up.  Have faith.  Soon it will be your moment of self-discovery.

Cheers.

Half-Madness 13.1 medals

Half-Madness 13.1 medals

P.S. Over weekend, my wife and I completed a half-marathon in 2:57:23.  Not a PR but it met our target goal considering I had chemo during the week.  Next is to continue to slowly build the miles to 15, 18, 20, and maybe enter Chicago this October while on therapy.


Back to the experiment: Round 3.
August 20, 2014

O

Over the weekend, I ran 14.5 miles (23.1 km) which is the longest run I have done so far. That’s a half marathon and a few. My wife was with me but she did only 11 miles (17.6) and did great.

I think I surprised her when I said that I was going 3.0 more miles as we headed back to the car. She did not object or discouraged me,but there was still a worried look in her face as I picked up my pace. I just want to take advantage of my one-week chemo holiday and log as much miles as I can. Plus, it is such a beautiful day to waste.

Now, I go back to treatment or back to the gerbil wheel. It will be another long day. I can’t complain; so far I have been responding to my treatment, manage to keep training, and enjoy each day that is given.

That is the secret: you take what is given and enjoy the moment. Similarly, I have had bad days but if you only hold on longer the moment will pass and things will be ok. Like running, there are times my legs refuse to take me the distance. Or my body just could not get up early to go the gym. These type of days are needed to balance things out, otherwise you don’t get to appreciate the good side.

Today, I will see Sammy again, along with Saray, Sonia, and others. I will sit in the waiting room and hear the interesting stories of my “friends”. I will get infused and take it all in with open arms. I will try to recover fast, shake it off, and set my mind for this weekend where I will be on the starting line for a half-marathon. With my chemo and training the race is appropriately called Half Madness 13.1: Mad to the Bone (It should have been called pure madness in my case). Yes!

Go number 5.

Cheers.

You got mail …ding!


You got mail …ding!

August 13, 2014

Imiss Dr. B, radiologist from my hospital.  He use to call me at home to give me news about my PET or CT scan (see previous post PET scan results dated April 30, 2013).  Now I get notified via email.  How impersonal medicine has become.

There is some comfort to be appreciated when you hear a familiar voice telling you the good news or there is bad news.  My doctor is there with me: good or bad.

The email reads, new test results are now available at the UofC’s MyChart web portal.  From the web portal, patients can access their medical records, schedule appointment, send secure email to doctors, and view test results.  MD Anderson has something similar and they call it MyMDAnderson, plus they even have a mobile app for IOS and Android.

Inspite of the coolness of all these technologies, I still could not shake off the feeling that I am about to see the results of my PET scan in a self-help web application.  I suppose doctors are just getting too busy now a days.

So I login to the site.  I get to the scan report and start reading it.  Time slows down for me when I am about to get the results of my scan.  I just don’t want to miss anything.  I get to the summary:

“IMPRESSION: Stable to minimally decreased in activity of multiple bilateral lung nodules.”

In English: my new treatment is working!  There are no new nodules and the existing ones have decreased, minimally.  Yes!  Let’s do the lab rat dance.

Go number 5!  Go number 5!  Go number 5!

This is where I miss Dr. B.  We would share a moment of happiness and I would be thanking him profusely, as if there is no tomorrow.  Nonetheless, reading the good news of my scan gave me a sense of relief.  After only two cycles of chemo treatments, I am responding to the new drug.

The minimal assessment is relative; fighting cancer is a game of inches and centimeters.  A 1.4 centimeter or 17% reduction in the size is still, at face value, a response in the right direction.  It gives new hope and is a blessing.  I know how this works, for having to live it in the past six years: You take what is given and be thankful.  Others may not be as lucky I am or would want to be in my place.  I know them.  I see them.  I pray for them.

What’s next is I continue with the trial.  My next treatment is next week so for now we celebrate.  We run and get ready.

Cheers.

P.S.  For the mid-week run, anything above 10 miles again.

 

Round 2 and a scan.


Round 2 and a scan.
August 9, 2014

Round 2:  August 5, Tuesday.
If you have to have a hobby while waiting in hospital waiting rooms, choose knitting.  It seems to be the universal thing people do in the waiting rooms and lobbies of Mayo, MD Anderson, and here at UofC.  I am not into knitting but I appreciate them, sadly there are no apps for that.

Sammy was there again greeting me in my assigned room.

“Hello.  Hello.  How do you feel?” in accented English.  I replied that I was feeling good and joke him that he should be into running because he from West Africa.  He just gave a big laugh.

We started late because the trial drug arrived late at the center.  It just means a longer day for me.  I was among the first to arrive at the center in the morning and with the delayed arrival of the meds I maybe be the last patient.  Oh, well.  This infusion center is really busy.  Patients come in, have their chemo, and go home.

While at the waiting lounge, an elderly black couple took up conversation with the people they were sitting across.

“You must be together for many years now?  We  have been been together for almost 68 years and was engaged for 4 years before that.”  Wow.  The wife was the patient while the husband dutifully attend to her slowly.  You would hate for cancer to interrupt their marriage.

Such is life or rather the fragility of it.  It can be interrupted anytime without notice.  But those things are further from everybody’s mind at the waiting room.  Cancer is just…an interruption.  This is our new normal.  The waiting room could have just been another breakfast gathering where people know each other, including the nurses and technicians.  Greetings are warm and pleasant.  Conversations here are open but tempered.  Each is curious as to what type of cancer the other one has.  Each has their own way of coping.  None of us wants to be here but we are here.  We make the most of it.

“Same protocol, Mr. Alvarez.  First the pre-meds then the chemo.” Sammy said.

As the pre-meds take effect, I sink again to la-la-land….zzzzz.  Lab rat number 5 is down again for the count.  I wake up a couple of hours later, groggy, and hungry.  Although the infusion is done, I still have to stay because of all the monitoring and blood test (many blood tests).  My wife and I move back to the waiting lounge and the crowd has thinned.  True enough, I will be among the last patient to close before everybody leaves.  Long day.

The scan: August 8, Friday.
After two rounds of chemo, it is time to see if I am responding to the treatment by doing a PET scan.  These tests are pre-scheduled so all I need to do is show up.  You really feel like an experiment when you have tests lined up for you.  You do not have any control of what happens next during the trial but I also know it is for my benefit…and others.

PET scans as are easy and I have done this many times.  They infuse you with radiated sugar and you just sit motionless or sleep (more zzzzz’s….) for an hour or so.  The idea for the cancer cells to absorb the sugar and scan them for size and activity.  CT scans has more discomfort because they make you drink this prep drink, infuse dye in your blood stream, and then scan you.

Like all tests, it is the results that always drive the anxiety.  In my case I have to wait perhaps until next week for the results.  We are looking for a response to my treatment; a reduction in the size of my lung tumors or their numbers.  Thanks for all the positive thoughts and prayers.

Cheers.

P.S. I had hiccups again after treatment.  Have been recovering good enough to maintain running.  For this weekend, will aim for at least 10 miles again.

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