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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Clinical Trials:  I am in.
July 25, 2014

II am number 5.  That number looks like the number of an elite marathoner, but it is not.  It just means I am the 5th participant to this new anti-cancer drug.  Yes, I am in … for real.  I count myself among the select few to undergo this human trial, and I start Monday, July 28 at the University of Chicago Medicine.

The objective is to determine the safe and effective level for this new Phase 1 anti-cancer drug that address the RNA part of cell molecular structure. Don’t ask me explain, it is complicated.  All know is, it was first tested in mice and monkeys with positive results and now they are trying it on humans.  Guess what: I am the 5th “sucker.”  Ha!  I love it.

This trial is different from the one that was offered to me in April (see A Different World: Part 1 and Part 2), wherein I did not even get to start because of my platelet problems.  However, from what I am told this new trial is a better fit for my profile and that they are getting positive responses from the other trial participants.  That’s good to know.  Frankly, my options are not exactly a lot: either I do trial for a chance of another tomorrow or just give up.  I have tried all the other traditional chemo regiments and I am now immune to them.  I am willing to participate in this trial just to conquer my cancer.

Last Wednesday, I did all the pre-trial test such as: blood test, EKG, PET scan and CT scan.  With my platelet up (thanks to MD Anderson) and other blood work looking good, they allowed me to start Monday.  My start date would have been end of August, but the drug sponsor liked the initial results and decided to accept more participants.  It will also be chemo infusion and would require me to stay long at the hospital.

Well I am ready.  Since coming back from MD Anderson, I have been working out, running, and keeping active.  This cancer has brought me all over and tested me at every turn.  Cancer is my reality; the life I live through everyday is the dream.  I have so many wishes but I temper my expectation to what I can achieve or get.  That’s why it is better to live your life one day at a time.

Monday is marathon day for me.  My bib say number 5.  I know there could be problems ahead, right now all I want is to finish..in one piece.

Start

Cheers.

P.S.  My miles are slowly building up again.  Tomorrow let see if I can do 10 miles.

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My Father’s Day
June 6, 2014

This is one holiday that I look forward to after Mother’s Day.  With all attention towards Mother’s Day, it is time that we Fathers take the stage.  Ha!  After all we are not only bread winners in a family, we are also keepers of the honey-do list: Honey do this…honey do that!

In my household, I rule.  Whatever I say goes.  If I say I am going to clean the bathroom, nobody opposes.  If I say I am gong to wash the dishes, I do not hear a word from the family.  I just have a wonderful family.

For this year, we celebrated Father’s Day early, June 6.  There is a reason for it is that I will be back at MD Anderson Houston, TX on Father’s Day weekend.  I need to consult my low platelet problem and undergo an embolization of the spleen (Note:  The spleen functions as a blood filter to the body).  They noted my slightly enlarged spleen and want to address this problem.

I would rather stay home but that is not the case.  I am use to this.  We celebrated our version of Father’s Day by having a picnic at the lakefront.  It turned out good too and I definitely enjoyed.  Ethan, my grandson, enjoyed the most because he has room to run and was playing baseball with the family.  I am definitely blessed.

At MD Anderson Houston, TX
June 14, 2014

It is Father’s Day weekend and I am here at the hospital.  It is a Saturday.  It is quite at the hospital, but there is still plenty of activity on this floor.   Cancer does not wait.  I am waiting to have my CT scan done.  They will be giving me my prep drink soon and I will have to finish that before the scan.  I know the routine having done this many times.

It is my first time to have a scan here at MD.  In my quest for a cure I have been to many places too like: Mayo, Northwestern, and University of Chicago.  All of them are different but the patients who go there are the same.  It is the look in their eyes that I always notice.  These medical facilities make an effort to make things easy for the sick and desperate.  I always get a jolt of reality when I sit in waiting rooms for test or consult.

It is a totally different world here compared to the outside in the “normal” world.  I straddle both worlds and am always in conflict between the world I want and what I was given.  I just ran a half-marathon two weeks ago and now I am here at MD Anderson.  Two weeks ago I was surrounded by runners aiming for personal records (PR) and now I am with patients just aiming for a chance of more tomorrows.  It is what it is.

There are fathers here in this waiting room.  They are surrounded by their families.  I know each of us wish we were not here but we also know why we are here.  Knowing that gives me comfort, I am in good company.

Drinking my prep drink at MD Anderson

Drinking my prep drink at MD Anderson

Cheers

P.S. Looking forward to seeing my wife tomorrow to complete my Father’s Day.

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Memorial Day

May 26, 2014

Today is Memorial Day holiday here in the US.  It commemorates the continued sacrifice of soldiers and veterans.  My wife and I started our holiday weekend by running the Soldier Field 10 miler last Saturday (Note: Soldier Field is a football stadium and home to the Chicago Bears).
This is my second time to run this race; the first (2011) one I cheated and did not even run the whole 10 miles.  I just had my treatment that week and was in no condition to run, so I just walked the course and turned back when I got tired.  This year I made it to the starting line and completed the whole 10 miles (2:15).  I felt good after and it boosted my confidence.  It is like breaking a psychological barrier since this is my longest run for this year.  From here on, it will be double-digit miles and the training gets harder.  All for NYC marathon this November.

November is still far away but it is a goal I have set for myself.  I don’t even know if I will be at the starting line, all I know I need to do something today to to be ready for tomorrow.  They say sports, any sport, is a metaphor for life.  It reflects all the challenges you encounter in life and lets you experience the rewards of your righteous efforts.  That’s what running gives me: blissful reward for my effort.  Unfortunately, running and my cancer share the same path as well; it is part of me.  I roll with each good run or any positive news about my cancer and struggle when I have a bad run or when things are complicated.

My world is a hodgepodge miles, platelet count, pace time, blood tests, etc.  I understand all these numbers, they are my life signals.  Lately, my life signals are showing positive: My platelet count is now 70K up from 55K and my tumor count is down to 9 from a high of 11.8 a month ago.  I am breaking barriers here too.  I am happy with this fragile progress but there is still work to be done.  I have to earn each day (or mile) towards the goal of one day be cancer-free.

What’s making it work this time?  Diet, exercise, and prayers; the same formula available to everybody.  I also think the difference is how to make it work and the effort you put in it.  When it works you are given a medal as a reward and if you are lucky, it will be given by a uniformed Marine .

At Soldier Field getting our medals.

At Soldier Field getting our medals.

Cheers

P.S.  Next race is North Shore Half Marathon on June 1.

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2013 Chicago marathon
October 14, 2013

Over the weekend was the running of the Chicago marathon.  Dennis Kimetto won the race at the same time breaking the course record in 2 hours 3 minutes and 45 seconds.  It was an amazing run by Dennis.  Congratulations!

Normally, I would tell you the back stories about the winner and all the details of his run.  I was even there to see him at mile marker 26, just 200 yards to the finish.  I was cheering him on to break the world record of 2 hours three minutes and 23 seconds.  So close and yet so far out of reach.

This time around it is not the winner of the marathon who made news in Chicago, but the story of the last finisher, Maickel Melamed from Venezuela.  Maikel finished the race in 16 hours and 46 minutes by walking!.  He crossed the finish line around 1 a.m Monday when the race had started at 7:30 a.m Sunday.

Hampered by a medical condition that limits his muscular strength, Maikel has completed three marathons: New York, Berlin, and now Chicago.  What a guy!  His message:

“If you dream it, make it happen.  Because your life is the most beautiful thing that could happen to you.  So make the best of it.”

I can relate to his message.  Cancer or a medical condition should not stop you from making the best out of life.  This year I did not run, instead I volunteered at the American Cancer Society (ACS) tent helping runners prepare for their race.  It gave me the opportunity to see some of my old friends and fellow runners.  It feels good to see them again, and they said the same thing of me.  Don’t write me off just yet, I told them.

Among those who I met up again was  Kristin McQueen.  I met her as I was doing my rehab in 2009 (she is a licensed physical therapist) and at the ACS charity event.  If you have been inspired by my stories and achievements, I pale in comparison to Kristin.  For one. she is a triathlete, have finished nine triathlons, 17 marathons, and have raise more than $100,000 for ACS.  And oh by the way, she is a throat cancer survivor and has been fighting it since 2003–way longer than I have been fighting my cancer.

She is my idol.  A living proof that you don’t stop living your life for cancer.  Seeing her renewed my spirits.  We need not see each other everyday to commensurate or catch up on life, but when we do see each other, there is clear understanding and appreciation of how we live our fragile life.

Kristin and me

Kristin and me

Sometimes the long absence of news and living with cancer makes you wonder how my fellow survivors are doing.  I pause once in a while to remember all of them who have touched me.  All have their own way of coping, and all have their own way of living life to the fullest.

For me it is just about getting to the starting line …of a race or a brand new day. From there, I will do the rest.

Cheers.

P.S.  My CEA count or tumor count went down but it is still above the threshold.

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