Yesterday was the last day of chemo-radiation therapy. Six weeks in total. I had no idea how hard it would get but I’m still not sure how hard it was… I have no experience in life to compare it to. The last three days were definitely tough with a constant underlying state of nausea, nerve pain from radiation, some minor skin burns and a continuous state of feeling irritated. I can’t complain though, I am here and I sailed through the first block of cancer treatment without any major compromises to my health. My fitness is pretty shot but it will come back. Each day will get better, each day I will get stronger.
While I type this post I am listening to John Fogerty’s song “Some day never comes” which has me reflect on the doctor who first treated me in July and his words to me in private… “enjoy your sunny days.” When the doctor told me that it seemed pretty dire and made me think of death… a premature ending. Looking back I appreciate what he said as we really do need to enjoy our sunny days, whether we have one hundred or a ten thousand. Death is always lurking around the corner but that doesn’t mean we have to be trapped by it. In yoga I like to practice warrior two pose which has us place one hand in the past and one hand in the future but our head is centre and our gaze is in the now. Perhaps I might be misinterpreting the warrior pose, or the song, who knows, but that’s how I “see” it and that’s how I want to live. Back to some day never comes. Someday doesn’t come if you’re sitting around waiting for it. Enjoy your days, be thankful and be awesome.
Enjoying the day with friends and family meandering through a canyon
Day 1 post treatment hike
It’s taken me a few days to sit and write about last week’s treatments, mostly because I am wiped and I now understand what a fighter goes through more than ever. In cycling you get dropped and the race is over. A fighter doesn’t stop until he hits the canvas and is out for the count. Last week I hit that canvas a few times but was able to brush it off and climb back up to take a few more hits. I have made it through most weeks so far without too much pain but now I am fighting fatigue and mild pain from radiation inflammation and I’m counting down the days now. I cracked a few times mentally but pulled it together. The fatigue wears your mind down and the body looks for outlets to let go. Sometimes that just means tears.
I’ve been humbled by cancer and my outlook and perspective on life has changed a lot. In many way it has made a better person, a more thankful person but I am still fighting and I am strong. I get a break for a month before scans and then surgery in mid November which will be my next big fight.
My big brother Keith on the left.
Much love to Misty and Alison for pampering me. Much love to those near and far who have been supporting me and our family. Much love to my brother Keith for giving up his vacation time to hang with me. Much love to the drivers for keeping me company. Much love to those bringing meals.
Four more days to go, four more days to go.
This past week was tough. The treatments I’m doing are leveling, or flattening, me out which in turn messes with my head. It’s hard to accept a physical state that I am not use to. I either overestimated my ability to keep strong or completely underestimated the impact of treatments on the body, either way how would you know what the impact can ever be? My vanity, or hubris, just assumed that I would sail through the five weeks while I kept up a normal life but if I was really listening to others who have gone through this fight I would have been more realistic with myself. Life isn’t quite normal but keeping up appearances, so to speak, is mentally stabilizing.
Lately my emotions have wider swings and the daily visits to the Tom Baker Cancer centre take their toll. One minute you are up and then the next you’re down. Every day I see new faces at the clinic of people facing huge challenges some of which may be insurmountable. I try harder each day to say hello to people and ask them how they are doing. The usual answer is “not too bad today.” When people ask me how I am doing its usually the same. I’m thankful that I have a body that can tolerate the chemotherapy for the most part and I have no pain. The upside of my current state is the belief that there is more “purpose” to be had in life. There is more love to give and more success to be achieved.
Having to admit that I can not be athletic for the time being is no longer an issue and at this point it’s coming down to measuring my efforts and keeping tabs on my stamina and immune system which is my current state of training. With two weeks to go I can see the end so its not really that long but the idle time in between days is my biggest challenge. Social time helps and I have to do my best to fill gaps in the day until my family comes home. The friends helping with rides to Calgary really help and we have good conversations. Talking and connecting with others is a great coping mechanism as is writing and sharing through social media. I’ve kept up with yoga through the week and its pretty funny, in an way, to find yoga to be my biggest physical challenge. I’m like a cat 5 yogi. Just staying flexible is a feat!
For the record I made it through week three with no changes in immunity markers which had dropped at the end of week two so perhaps all that lying on my ass helps.
If you’re reading this… thank you! If you have time for a walk, coffee or tea during the week ping me.
Last week I finished my second week of treatments and I had no idea how each day would progress. For the most part I found myself feeling better through the week but on a daily basis would be wiped by early evening which is to be expected. Like training, the body seems to adapt and regulate itself as we go forward.
In the first week I felt pretty beat up but that was not the case last week. I had mild discomfort in the evening with some low grade nausea but no reduction in appetite. We started a vegan diet over two weeks ago so I think that the change in nutrients has had a positive impact on my personal health and there has been no weight loss. The only noticeable sign of a toll on the body was some declining blood values relating to my immune system which is doing all the work right now.
Being in this situation has given me a lot of time to reflect, as it would, and while I wish I was not in this predicament it has given me a chance to really think about life and what truly matters. One word that comes to mind is grace. I see more beauty around me and I avoid being drawn to dark places. My family, my friends, my staff and my community have been incredibly supportive and I owe them everything I have to succeed in this.
I’m now at the half way point of my first round of treatments (pre-surgery) and I feel pretty good. I had the chance to get away and see some bike racing on the weekend at the Tour of Alberta and I got to meet up with Rob Britton who is a great athlete who has given me some extra inspiration through this process. A great way to describe Britton is “Grinta” which is what I am going to have be through this fight.
Me and Rally Pro Cycling Rider Rob Britton
Personally, cancer is not a journey, it’s a fight. I am not a victim of cancer. I have cancer and cancer is an opponent that you must respect and prepare for. I have no desire to commune with cancer on a journey. No disrespect to those that have come before me and there are many, many more than we realize.
I have trained my body to compete and to take a beating but I had no idea what I was in for when I started week one of combined chemo and radiation therapy. I expected to do more, be stronger and maintain “somewhat” of a normal routine but that was not quite the case. My opponent is not just the cancer but several other adversaries in the ring; the chemotherapy pills and my head. It sounds worse than it is but when you are use to being active and then one day you are not doing what you did last week you realize that this is bigger than you anticipated, but then how could you ever know what it might be like.
Within a couple of days of taking my chemo pills and going for radiation I started to feel toxic, as if being held on the ropes and taking repeated body blows. There is no physical pain but there is this constant nagging fatigue that starts to wear you down; like being punched in the gut over and over again. You begin to ask yourself if you are sick, are you really sick? By Friday of the first week I felt somewhat use to the the constant trickle of poison in my body and was looking forward to the bell ringing and being able to head to the corner in between rounds. Each day of chemo treatment left me feeling like a fighter slumped over an opponent beating on you. You are strong enough to stand and take the hits but you don’t have much in the tank for anything else. Thankfully all I am dealing with at this time is fatigue.
I kept up during the week with an almost daily yoga practice to keep the body moving and at the end of the week I got out to run. When I was running I started to recall all the faces of the people I met during the week at the Tom Baker Cancer Center and there are so many. All the sitting and driving tightens you up and yoga brings me back to a better place. People said to go for long walks but I want to run. I need to feel my heart beating strongly and to sweat. I want to know that I can have a day where I feel good and strong. The coming weeks will get harder, I will grow weaker but so will the cancer. I have responded well so far and I have changed my diet to help me get through the next four weeks of treatments. I was able to make a baseline assessment of where I am physically and mentally after the end of the week and I know that I have the stamina, enough that I wish I could share with the other souls that I sit next to waiting for treatment. My energy is high in the morning then tapers through the day so I can time the windows. I also have an amazing community of support in my corner helping me deal with being in the “ring.”
I will not be better tomorrow. I will not be better next week. I will not be better next month. I will get there though and I will raise my arm in victory when I come back out of my corner in the final round.
Every morning that I wake up I have to take a moment to set my head on straight and remind myself that life in the short term has taken a drastic turn and that my life is not quite the same as it was a month earlier. I have cancer and the cancer that I have is treatable but it will take a very aggressive course of treatment and surgery to beat it.
On July 8th I set a personal record for an individual time trial at the Bicisport Suffer Like a Dog ITT. On July 9th I broke away in the Provincial Masters Road Race and took another silver medal for the weekend. On July 10th I went to the hospital for a scheduled colonoscopy and learned that I had a large colorectal tumour.
Lying on the table at the end of my colonoscopy it seemed that my life was forever changed and perhaps was not going to last much longer. The surgeon said that he will need to speak to Misty and I in private after recovery. The nurse held my hand and told me that she was sorry. The world seemed rather dark at that moment and you wonder what’s next. You are in shock and you are scared. We will all face our fate but we are just never sure when it will come. Lying on the hospital bed the only thing I could think about was my family and my friends. Within a few days the thought of hope was on the rise as the cancer had not spread but the tumour was classified as stage three with local metastasis to two regional lymph nodes.
For the past month I have had a lot of time to think about life, how we live and what is important to us. I have also asked myself if I have tried hard enough and have I succeeded? I have failed in many ways, I have given up at times in life but I have had my share of wins. I have learned to be a father. I have learned to be a better husband and I have learned to be part of a community and to contribute as much as I can.
We can be hard on ourselves and we can question our validity. I have spent a lifetime being overly critical and wondering if I have done enough but in the last month I have learned to stop doing that and I have grown stronger. I am angry at times and I am sad at times but each day gets a little easier. Each day I grow closer to those around me and each day I try a little harder. In some ways I feel bad for what I am putting my loved ones through but I am sure that is normal.
I started this blog to express myself and to show a journey that I was on to find form. Form as an athlete, form as a family man, form as a community contributor. Today I feel that I have found form in many ways. The world around me has stepped up to help and to show support and I don’t think there is any great form of success than to feel the empathy and love from my family, my friends and my community.
I have shared my experience as my own therapy and it is very helpful for me to keep it top of mind and to talk about it with friends, family and my social media circles. When I don’t think about it and when I stop talking about it I find I get quite overwhelmed.
On August 21st I will start five weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Surgery will follow later in the winter.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and for your support.
While one light begins to shine brighter the other begins to fade. I’ll come back to that later.
This past year my friend Jeff mentioned, off the cuff of course, “you still have a few more years left to improve.” He was referring to the ability to get better as a cyclist as we start to push the darker side of the 40’s. I took Jeff’s comment to heart heading into the off-season and for my planning.
Bike racing is really hard. Actually, bike racing is really frigging hard, full stop. There is a chance that we will start having masters category races in Alberta but for now the old diesel engines have to line up with some highly tuned 4 cylinders. That said, I am approaching the season with a better tool kit. A few things have been missing in it for the last few years, namely a proper plan, investment in a dedicated coach, a nutrition map, and some lifestyle changes (code for less wine). I have noticed the crow feet around my eyes getting more pronounced and I will embrace the extra character on my face as I stare down my fellow competitors. I have targeted a few races as A races but most races will be riding support for the team as best I can. I dropped out of Cat 2 to ride with our juniors and this year I will go back to Cat 2 to ride for the team. There is some fun thrown in for good measure with some track racing and maybe I will go out in the fall and make a fool out of myself in some select cyclo-cross races. For some reason I tend to crash a lot when my bike leaves the tarmac and hits dirt and grass.
Having finally recovered from a hard crash in Mexico a few months ago we are now six weeks into the 2016 program plan and everything looks good so far. Cadence is improving, prescribed intervals are being completed as planned. Fatigue is more pronounced but that’s part of the process and the odd ice bath, massage and acupuncture helps.
As for that shining light.. well I am starting to plan for the day that our daughter takes up competitive sports. Cycling is selfish and takes a lot of time away from family and that’s time that can’t be recovered.
Riding with my daughter in a little critters race last summer