I haven’t written much since December and I don’t think I have really shared some of the darker moments that I have experienced along with the pain that you walk through with cancer. I want people to see the positive but I’ve been holding back some pain.
I’m lucky. I dodged a bullet. For the most part I have taken the treatments one day at a time without thinking too much about the end result. In the beginning the potential outcome was bleak, it was dark, it filled me with unimaginable fear and mostly being scared for the loss for future memories with my friends and family but each day after the diagnosis it got a little bit easier. As an athlete you learn to focus on the process and not the outcome. I think my journey started in 2010 when I got back in to racing. If anything, that history of training and competing gave me the initial strength and fortitude to tolerate the therapies and persevere through surgery and post op recovery along with the love of friends, family, team mates and current cancer fighters. My preparation also began with experiences that took me beyond my comfort zone like training with Jeff P. in Nelson each spring doing tough as nails intervals on Granite Road along with our annual epic death march ride through Trail and Castelgar. Jeff never liked to stop. I also learned to train better by listening to Sean and Gordon,* in those early days who shared their philosophies with me on trips. Epic memories to say the least and they play a big role today. Ironically, Sean and Gordon are currently resident doctors and they were both there visiting me in the hospital giving great support on some tough days.
If we do all we can in training and preparation then we have to be content with whatever outcome may be. To get to that final place there are days that have you feeling like you are “climbing out of hell one inch at a time“** and if you try to absorb or imagine the entirety of the treatments you can feel crushed. There was one night that I laid on a bed with a catheter (in a place that I won’t mention) for four hours waiting for the resident surgeon to remove it. I had a post op abscess that led to an infection which then led me to a pretty dark place. An infection is something that I was not in control of and a long wait in Calgary ER, then multiple cat scans, blood tests and treatments was much harder than what came previously, combine that with an belligerent and depressing neighbor in my room made matters more depressing but we move on and in those tough moments we have to break down time in micro moments and push through it second by second and minute by minute then day by day. It took close to six weeks to recover from that infection and I will not forget that one night waiting and waiting for
Lynda Gale’s awesome ginger cookies were a big relief.
some relief. The relief was not so much from the pain but the depression of lying alone trying to maintain some dignity. Thankfully, I have had no relapse.
My third phase of adjuvant therapy started in mid January and I am now on to my third cycle of six for chemotherapy. The chemo that I am receiving now is a preventative measure to fight off any remaining cancers cells that could come back for relapse.
The dosage on this round is higher than the Fall and is tougher for sure. The length of phase III is daunting and it draws me back to focusing on process. Day by day, week by week. Eventually I will have the opportunity to “find form” again and shouldn’t take too long to get back feeling good flow.
Thank you for reading.
* Sean Crooks (left) and Gordon Jewett are former Canadian Olympic athletes who competed in Cross Country skiing and later became the top road racers in Alberta in Cat 1-2 for a few seasons and basically crushed everyone. Sean shared his philosophy on process with me. Gordon taught me to be more stoic with his work ethic which is beyond measurable.
** Quote from Any Given Sunday (Al Pacino)
“I’m starin’ through my rear view, doin’ ’bout 90
The pedal to the metal, so I can’t see what’s behind me”
(yes I listen to Tupac)
In many ways I don’t want to look back on 2017 and share and brag about all the awesome things we did and achieved but it’s a year that will always be top of mind no matter what. 2017 was a pivot year. Diagnosed with a later stage cancer was not the epic experience I was looking for. Cancer is horrible and at the same time it has been enlightening. Cancer brings people close to you and also pushes people away. In my case I am very thankful to have had, and have, the support of my family, business partner, friends, community and employees. I’m 2/3 of the way through treatment with one more round to go. Prognosis is good.
We had a lot of excitement (good and bad) this year but I am looking forward to a little less in 2018.
Thanks for following and happy New Year.
ok, for the record… some highlights from 2017
Finally making the podium for a road race this year and the day before diagnosis!
Looking better than I did the day before! Postop recovery
Amazing trip to Portland with Wendy and Kevin
Best 50th ever
Lots of bonding time with my big brother this year.
Completing six weeks of chemo-radiation therapy
My community support group! All these people came together to support our family!
Watching Misty race her first TT!
banging off some serious spring miles in Mexico
It’s been almost a month since having surgery but I haven’t had much to talk about or, I should say, I haven’t had much creative energy to discuss. I was left with a bit of a fog in the days following the operation but that’s mostly due to the anesthesia hangover and pain medication. Surgery went well with no complications and recovery was ahead of the curve. About a week after surgery I wasn’t improving much and then I started to go flat in energy and then I started to spiral downward with pain and night fevers. I thought I was in the clear and maybe just not feeling well but under advice I followed up with my local doctor which then led to a number of phone calls to my Calgary surgeon and then, sadly, a trip to Canmore emergency for testing. A cat scan showed an abscess had formed near the surgical site and I had to head back the Peter Lougheed Centre for further testing and treatment. With the surgery that I had there is a 15% risk of having an abscess form due to a perforation in the resection site. Of course while driving back to the city I was stressing about having to have another surgery to repair the site but thankfully that was not going to happen and the medical team was able to get in to the site by a procedure through my right glute.
Within 24 hours I had three cat scans, a minor procedure and I was readmitted back to ward 44. I felt much relief being back in the ward I was in before. The nurses were familiar faces and the care was amazing. My situation didn’t leave me with a lot of dignity and I went through some very painful nights trying to get on top of pain management. At the end of the day if you have a tube going through your butt your generally going to feel like you have been shot in the ass and it’s just not going to get better right away. That said the pain and frustration was mitigated by the care and by my friends and family that came to visit. I should also say that the pain was also mitigated by some good meds and music.
After three days in hospital I was released and set up with home care to help deal with day to day management of the drain. This time coming home was a lot harder than surgery. I have a hard time walking and basically I am confined to the couch. Over the course of the week there was very little change to the pain but as I write this today, Saturday, the drain is starting to have less output and signs of infection are mostly gone. I just can’t walk much but I am embracing the inner sloth and just trying to ride (on the couch) this out.
Now for some better news. With my set back I was not able to follow up with my surgeon but yesterday we saw my chemo-oncologist in Calgary and he was able to give me the coles notes from my surgery and the news was good but it still hasn’t really settled in yet. It has been a long road in a short period of time with so many moving parts in terms of diagnosis, treatment, procedures, recovery, setback, treatment, recovery, testing but now we are at a milestone. My surgeon did exactly what he said he would do. My chemo-radiation did what it was suppose to do and now it’s up to me to do what I am suppose to do which is live. From what we can see from the pathology report the surgery was a success and here some highlights:
- No lymphatic / vascular invasion
- Tumor free resection margins
- 28 perirectal lympth nodes negative for metastatic carcinoma
- Tumor does not extend through the serosal surface
Now, on top of the oncologist reviewing my pathology report he added some more good news or at least I see it as good news but it comes with some odds. The modality of treatment(s) for the cancer that I have usually comes with a third phase of treatment which is chemotherapy. I have had phase three in the back of my mind as it is a tough course and very toxic. That said I am left with a choice that I may not have to go with an IV chemo treatment and can get away with just going through a course of oral pills. Both are toxic but one much less so than the other. The percentage gain is marginal with the tougher course but I have three weeks to decide. Funny enough, while Dr Monzon was reviewing with me it was the first time in months that I could see myself riding again. Phase three will take up to four months to complete and now I have some decisions to make.
Today is probably the first day that I can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. I still have a long way to go. I will have to deal with chemo and I will have to go back for surgery to reconnect my innards but I can honestly say today that I feel good again except for the lingering pain of feeling like I was shot in the ass.
Thanks for following!
Looking out a window from our cozy house at the trees and grounds that have been recently blanketed with puffy layers of snow leaves me with a feeling of quiet content. I always love November and the transition to winter which came with a fury this week. November is a time of change and a time to reflect. Before the snow comes the landscape is bleak and speaks to the change of the season as plants die off and the compost of leaves are returned to the soil. November is my favorite month. I was born in November and I have always found it to be a time of grounding and a time to settle, a time to think and a time to reflect.
November reminds me of the biblical passage from Ecclesiastes that is commonly known to most of us and has relevance… even though I am an agnostic I find wisdom in it:
For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.
As I face surgery in the coming weeks I take comfort thinking of the above and it’s relevance to my future.
Thanks for following!
Four weeks ago I finished a long course of chemo-radiation therapy and since then I have been recovering and getting ready for surgery which is coming up in mid November. My surgeon is confident and the outcome of the initial round of therapy has show to have shrunken the tumour. Next week I have a scan to check if there has been any spread. I have not shared much recently and that was mostly due to just been wiped but in the last week I managed a road trip to the coast and had time to visit family and reflect on the last two months.
With reflection it is interesting to look back at all that has transpired. Life (physical) is currently not normal and I tried to do my best to make it seem as though it was way during the past few months. On external appearance it looked like I am doing fantastic (well I am doing well relatively speaking) but inside not so much. Mentally I would have to say that life has improved and I have found a much better sense of kinship and family. I think there are many of us with cancer who take a militant approach and try to keep up appearances which would be natural for any athlete. We want to show the world how strong we are and how we are fighting but there comes a point when we have to say that we are tired, we are ill and we need to recover and that takes strength in itself. The normalcy of athletic training prior to cancer is not really possible to maintain during treatment and my body pretty much told me that about half way through the six week cycle. I managed to keep up with yoga and walking but that’s about it. The system is taxed so there is no point in pushing it at the detriment of a positive outcome. It is very hard to just stop doing what you normally do and then adapt to a different routine and if there is any advice that I can give, or wish that I had listened to prior, is to just slow down and let the body heal and deal with the onslaught, or insult, of treatment.
My most difficult period started with the last few days of treatment week #6. The side affects of long course chemotherapy and radiation were starting to show up. I had been looking forward to getting back to training after treatments but soon realized that there was a pretty heavy hangover from the radiation. It’s been almost four weeks and my energy is still flat but improving slightly. Side affects are abundant. Sleep sucks and was pretty much not happening for the last ten days, my junk hurts from inflammation (which I won’t elaborate on) and I feel like a slug. I’m nervous about surgery but at the same time it can’t come soon enough.
Some things that I have learned, or relearned, during the idle team in between days (in no particular order)…
listen to your body
realize that what was normal before cancer is what probably gave you cancer so plan to change what was normal
remove yourself from unneeded stress
be more social
spend more time with your family
work on your sense of humour
build on small victories
prepare for good news and bad news
plan for a better future
and most importantly…. be patient
Thanks for checking in!
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.