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Berlin Marathon: Done.

October 5, 2012

Basel, Switzerland.

erlin is done. I still have the afterglow from running Berlin marathon last September 30. It was a memorable weekend in a historic city. It was my second time to visit the city but never this close to see its people and the city first hand. I felt like a celebrity as they came out to cheer you. All along the way you would hear…

Bravo. Aller (‘go’ in French). Laufen (‘run’ in German), Roberto!  Bravo.

There are the beautiful little kids who would even come up to you and extend their hand. High five, dude. As you pass-by they would do ‘the wave’ in chorus with others. Cow bells, horns, and bands every couple of kilometer. As the morning turns into afternoon, the beer gardens lining the route becomes crowded and noisy. They love their beer in Germany. There are no open bottle restriction.

The aide station are well stocked with water, Powerade, hot tea (yes, hot tea!), banana, and apples. Of course, if you are not happy with the selection you can always stop at the next beer garden. Ha!

The historic significance of Berlin is not lost on me. I love history. The marathon start at the Tiergarten, Berlin’s equivalent of NYC’s Central Park or Chicago’s Grant Park. The park was previously the hunting grounds reserved for royalty and the literal translation meant animal garden. The marathon also ends at the park passing through the famous Brandenburg Gate.

Berlin marathon is the fastest marathon course in the world and it is designed for fast runners. I am not a fast runner in my current state and did not break any personal records. I was just so thankful I was able to run it. I was full of anxiety coming to Berlin not knowing whether my cancer-stricken lungs will be able to carry me to the finish line.

Each cough I make would elicit a look in my wife’s eyes to see if I was ok. But as I got pulled by the energy of other runners and started knocking down the miles at a steady pace, my confidence started to build. At the 21 km marker, we were still on pace on my target to finish under 6 hours. My cancer nodules were cooperating. However, by kilometer 32 (mile marker 20) fatigue, stiffness, and cramps started to set in. My lung capacity was limiting me to remove the build up of lactic acid in my muscles.

The sweeper bus have caught us but I was determined to get this done.  It was such a grind so we ended up walking most of the way.

As we near the finish at kilometer 40, other finishers were cheering us on. Bravo! The roads were already open and we are running on the side. Then you turn and get a glimpse of the Gate. As you approach the Gate, you go through a column of other runners merrily drinking their beer. They stop and clap as you pass thru. All were urging you to finish. Laufen, Roberto!  The back-of-the-neck hair raising moment was when you pass under the Gate and whole thing opens up to the finish line (Ziel) with people watching you.

I felt like a deer when flashed with headlights. The Gate was partially obscuring the people behind, then all of the sudden it is there. We get to the finish line with the official timer off but still very thankful we finished and have the medal to prove it.

I did it. I have metastatic lung cancer and I finished the Berlin marathon in 6 hours and 38 minutes.

Before the start of the marathon

Berlin finishers

Berlin medals and bib. Bravo!

Cheers.

P.S. Have been taking my chemo pills for the past 5 days with limited side-effects.  Thanks God.  Also, good luck to all runners running the weekends Chicago marathon.

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Berlin bound.


Berlin bound.

September 27, 2012

Basel, Switzerland
his is to acknowledge all the greeting and well-wishes my wife and I have received on our journey to the Berlin marathon.  I am slowly getting the marathon jitter in anticipation of Sunday’s event.

Tomorrow, we leave for Berlin to start the festivities of marathon weekend.  I am still overwhelm at the opportunity of running Berlin.  With the relapse of my cancer, I had thought this would not be possible.  I will soak in every moment when I stand on that starting line.  I have won already by being there.  All I have to do is enjoy the bliss of excruciating pain for six hours.  Ha!  I will see you at the finish line.

Cheers.

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Its a dead end.


Its a dead end.

September 21,2012

ayo is a dead end. The solution I wanted to hear did not pan out. The doctors at Mayo told me that my only option is more chemo treatment. There’s more. They validated the only two remaining chemo drug options available to me: one I had an allergic reaction to and the other a new drug recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Needless to say I was disappointed and at the same time relieved. The trip to Mayo clearly showed not only the road ahead is hard and challenging, but I am also headed in the right direction. I am getting the best care possible from my current doctors—world class care.

The Mayo world is amazing; you can see their singular focus on patient care. The technology and resources they harness for their patients are impressive. They make it easy for you by building a whole ecosystem around you.  You check-in and you are provided with your scheduled appointments.  If additional tests are needed, they handle it.  They help you find the find the answer, thereby giving hope.

Symmetrical Labyrinth

Reluctantly, I found my answer: my options are limited. I need to trust the path in front of me and use hope as a guiding light. This journey is like walking through a labyrinth, wherein the only choice is the decision to enter and trust the path. I wish it was simple. I have anxieties.  The anxieties I feel, at times, suffocates the trust that needs to shine through for me to finish. I am glad you are there. I will get to the end of this path, just be there.

Tomorrow, I leave for Basel, Switzerland for a month on business. From there it will be a short hop to Berlin, where my wife and I will run the marathon on September 30. I have many people to be thankful for this opportunity and I know you will be cheering for me. The Berlin marathon is a new ‘labyrinth’ for me and it is the fastest course in the world. I will be lost among the over 40,000 runners. I will be a runner not a cancer survivor. It will be blissfully painful.

Besides, I got to give those Kenyans a run for their money. U-S-A! U-S-A!

Cheers.

P.S. My oncologist gave me his consent to be gone for a month on a condition I take an oral chemo treatment (in pill form) after the marathon. Whoever invented this oral chemo should be shot! But I love my oncologist. No worries. I have my personal nurse, wife, training partner traveling with me so, I am good to go.

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Rochester, MN: Home to Mayo Clinic

September 16, 2012

have traveled to Rochester, MN many times for business. The first thing you would notice at the boarding gate are the number of people on wheel chairs or those needing assistance. Today, I have a different perspective of them.

I am one of them. I don’t need a wheel chair or need assistance, but like them I am going to Mayo Clinic. My wife and I decide to get a second opinion to find a cure for my metastatic lung cancer. This was what was agreed upon with my oncologist, after discussing all my options.

My oncologist prescribed more chemo using a different set of drugs but before I submit myself to another hardship treatment, I want to find out other options e.g. surgery or radiation or whatever. I just want to be cured or be given a break.

“The Mayo Clinic is the largest employer in Rochester, MN: over 40,000 employees. It use to be IBM but Mayo has surpassed them all.” The shuttle bus driver interrupted my thoughts. Except one, all the passengers were Mayo-bound.

I use to arrive here confident in my stride, heading straight to Hertz, where they have my car rental ready. With my bags in tow, I head straight to work. For this trip, I could get a car but this is not work; this is personal. As the bus driver continued his entertaining stories, I am starting to see this city differently.

I have seen the cluster of Mayo buildings many times, while driving from the hotel to work, but I have never entered it before. Tomorrow, I will enter it as a patient. I have front-row seat to one of the best hospitals, if not the best, in the world for patient care. (At the airport they even have Arabic-translated brochures of Mayo; a favorite in the Arab countries).

Needless to say I am anxious. I have gathered all my medical records, scan images, surgical report, biopsy slides, etc., and put them in a binder. I made my own summary of my medical history, which brought back memories of my journey. My cancer journey started in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (March 2008) and I hope it ends here in Rochester, MN. That’s four years of numerous chemo cycles, two surgeries: colon and liver, and long days and nights of dehydrating chemo side-effects. Some of you were there to witnesses to my hardship.

Of course, I could not help look at those episodes of grief and pain with as sense of accomplishment and blessing as well. In reading about Mayo, I was struck by their mission statement that begins: “To inspire hope…” There it is no need to read any further. I get it. Let this journey end here. Suddenly, Rochester is beginning to look different to me.

Our Mayo visit

Our Mayo visit

Cheers.

P.S. Some factoid: Mayo is a not-for-profit organization that channels all their resources to patient care and research.  With that in mind, I will run for Mayo Clinic at the Berlin marathon this September 30.

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Sense of urgency

August 15, 2012

ince coming back from Manila, I feel a sense of urgency. It is not so much to respond to the many work email that greeted me upon my return but, it is the sense that I have such limited time to do the important ‘things.’ I am sure some of you may have experienced this feeling too. In my case, it is about my precarious life of living with cancer.

I have a scheduled PET scan coming up next week (August 21), the result of which can change my life again. It can mean more treatments or surgery, or it can mean I run Berlin and NYC marathon as planned. So what can I accomplish in less than a weeks time?

Many…if I keep things simple.

I am sure I have already accomplished many things also, which can be the envy of others. However, this full realization of limited time and the after-glow of spending precious moments with my mom gave me resolution to try something new.

Like writing a book about my mom and life itself: A Sense of Urgency.

Gulp!  There I have committed. How I am going to do it? I wouldn’t even know where to start. All I know is just like running, I do it with one-step-at-a-time. Perhaps in writing, it is all about one-word-at-a-time.

When you think about it I got this far with a pair of well-used running shoes, wobbly legs, tired feet, and chemo-battered body, so what could be worst.  Writing definitely is less painful compared to running or undergoing chemo, so I am ready for what surprise awaits me as I start this new adventure.

Moreover, I do not like to experience regret in the future. I think this is what motivates me just to even try: running a marathon, finishing all my treatments, or just for the sake of trying. In this instance, I don’t want to have to say ‘I wish mom was here to read this tribute.’

Hopefully, it is also a tribute to those who try to beat cancer like my cancer-survivor friends, ChrisB, NoreenK, and others. Or it is homage to those who have tried and are no longer with us, like my cousin Manuel.  It can be your story too if you think about it.

Cheers.

P.S. I am nursing a nagging plantar fasciitis on my left foot. I know I should rest it but I have an ‘urgent’ commitment to be on the starting line for the Batavia (IL) Half Marathon on August 26.  It is dubbed ‘Half Madness’, which is my kind of race.

 

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I am ready.

November 7, 2011

omorrow, November 8th, I will be starting the first of 12 chemotherapy cycles to address the metastatic nodules found in both my lungs. It will be my third time to go through this (colon in 2008 and liver mets in 2010) and it is not something I really wanted to do.  In fact, since finding out that my cancer is back again I have been dreading the day I go back for chemo. My journey has taken me to many twist and turns without knowing if ever I will be free of cancer.  I just go on one-step at a time savoring every opportunity given.

Last week, I was in Atlanta  for work and had the opportunity to bond with colleagues I have not seen for a while. I am glad I went there for it allowed me to renew friendships (Frank, Artie, Jim, and Henrik) and establish new ones (Bill and Anji). It boosted my confidence that after I am done with my treatments, given another opportunity, I may see them again.

Especially, Frank who finished the Frankfurt marathon last October 30 in very good time to qualify for Boston next year. I asked him to bring his medal so I can see, then he surprised me.

“Are you sure?”  I said, while admiring his medal.

“Why don’t you take it and wear it on the day of your chemo? When you want to give up (in your treatment), just look at it.” I was touched by the gesture.

I know runners and their medals. I have mine hanging in my bedroom as a reminder of the hardship and sweetness of finishing a marathon. Runners wear them with pride no matter what time they finish. In Frank’s case, the Frankfurt medal qualified him again to Boston; the most elite event among amateur runners. It is as close as I can get to making it to Boston.

I got to make it. I got to finish these treatments so I can get back out there, perhaps to Berlin and hook up with Frank in 2012. Something to look forward to.

I am ready. Even my cancer cells are ready. They are plump from eating wonderful chocolates by Ghirardelli after the weekend’s Hot Chocolate race. Cancer loves sugar, you know. Now that they are well-fed, it is time to line up against the wall and meet your destiny.  Die, suckers.  Hasta la vista, baby!

Danke. Salamat, Tak. Abhinandana. Thanks.

Me and Frank the Boston Qualifier

Cheers.

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