25 December 2011

Merry Christmas to All

OK, so I'm not a Christian and neither are a lot of my friends, but I'm going to say it anyway and if it offends you because of the name, sobeit. I can't be responsible for your reactions to the word Christmas. What I can do, though is to wish for you that it is a day filled with joy, happieness and peace. But then, I sorta wish EVERY DAY is like that for you.

We have usually tended to celebrate Christmas in a pretty traditional American way with a gathering of family, exchange of gifts, big meal and lots of laughter. Thank goodness I have a family that doesn't do bar room brawls every time it gets together for a holiday! I can't imagine it.

This holiday season has been a bit strange for us, not quite knowing whether I would be here, and if so, what condition I would be in. With Tom and Megan off to the east coast to celebrate the season with Megan's family, we won't be doing our annual family gathering until the 30th, leaving Mimi and me a quiet house and no big family plans. I was asked what I wanted to do and it was pretty hard to really think of actually doing anything, being tied down to this 24-hour a day feed tube, pumping the calories into me and trying to gain weight. I told her I wanted to go out for Chinese Food. I was thinking of "A Christmas Story" where the Bumpis' dogs got the turkey and so they all had to go out to eat. I also thought of my friends Chris and Deena and something Deena told me about getting together with some Jewish friends for chinese food, and it just sounded right coming off the tongue.

But having been hospitalized for so long, I found myself watching a lot of daytime and late night tee-vee and seeing the ads for all the new movies coming out. I thought maybe it would be fun to go to a movie and see what it is like to be out in public for the day. Josiah agreed to go with Mimi and me so we're off to see The Adventures of Tin Tin - in 3-D - and then later will join Chris and Deena for a nice Chines dinner at Hong's Garden in Renton. Still on a liquid diet I'm not sure what all I'll be able to enjoy, but ought to be able to eat some soup and sip tea and enjoy my small family and my friends.

Whatever your day brings, whether it be Christmas or just another day on the calender, I hope you find time to give thanks for the many blessings you have received and hope you receive the warmth of family and friends surrounding you with love.

04 November 2011

The Laying On Of Hands

I am not a religious man. I am, however, open to learning and developing a manner of living along certain spiritual lines. 27 years ago on November 4, 1984 I walked into a small hospital in Seattle, and after a few days in their mental health unit, transferred into the alcohol and drug treatment center. It generated the most profound change that had ever taken place in my life. It saved my marriage. It saved me from the hell in which I had been living and forcing my family to live in. We were a family of hostages.
I had a lot of choices to make in life, and one of those choices was where I would go to find my recovery. I could go to AA or NA or I could try to find something else. At one of my first "outside" NA meetings, I heard a message from a young woman with long blond hair. "Let us love you until you can learn to love yourself." Being somewhat of the free love generation and not of the John Barleycorn generation, maybe I heard this differently. It doesn't really matter. The message was about love and hope. For all this time, I have surrounded myself in recovery with individuals who espouse this ideal, and they have taught me a lot about love. They taught me that love is not a noun. It is a verb. If you truly love someone or something, you will act out of that love. And it is not always a big thing. A hug, a handshake, a pat on the shoulder, an offer to do some small task like visiting a sick friend in the hospital. Doesn't seem like much, but it is.
After being diagnosed with EC on the 11th of August 2011, I found myself headed down a very rapid road to recovery. I have what I consider to be the finest oncologist, radiation oncologist and surgeon that I could have. But I have something much more. I have friends. I have family. I have a world of caring professionals. I have once again been taught some lessons about love and the impact of laying on of hands. We happened by my neighbor Sam Rainwater's house one warm late summer evening and I disclosed my cancer to this couple we've known for almost 30 years and whose children went to school with ours. We do not share the same religion, but we share some very strong common bonds. We have never been close, but we have always been good neighbors to each other. That evening, Sam did something nobody else had done.
I had been told by many with whom I discussed my cancer that they would keep me in their thoughts and prayers. Sam, however, ASKED me if I would mind him praying for me. What a unique request and one I found most touching. He then (of course I gave him permission) said he would like to pray with me right then. There we were on the street corner where I feel as much at home as in my house a half block away, with Sam, Geraldine, Sam's good friend, Mimi and me, with them laying their hands on me and praying for my healing. It was one of the most significant spiritual turning points in my life. No proseletizing, no plea for me to open my heart to Jesus or anything, just a simple prayer for the removal of cancer from my body, with faith that through prayer, it would happen. I think Sam knows better than to try to convert me, but just provided a simple act of love and grace, from his own experience and faith.
Fast forward to October 26th. We arrived at Swedish before it was even light out, with a 6:30 check-in time and 8:00 am surgery scheduled. I was in pretty good spirits, considering that I was about to undergo one of the most difficult and complex surgeries that is done on the human body and knew that the next couple of weeks were going to be quite painful, and the recovery time would be pushing me to probably not being able to return to work until close to the first of the year. I knew the risks, knew the statistics for full survival and recovery from EC and was prepared to be as aggressive as possible to beat this thing growing inside me. Mimi was there and held my hand until they rolled me away. I had planned to drift off to sleep with the vision of Ruby Beach and Mimi and I playing there together. It worked, I guess, because as I was waking up some 9 hours later, I remember walking through the woods on a trail back to the car. But what I remember most waking up is a hand on my arm and a soft voice saying, "Ah, you're back" or some such. The words weren't important; what was important was that hand. It felt so warm and I could feel its life energy move across my body, something that would be repeated a lot of times over what ended up being a 52-day hospital stay.
There were a couple of nurses, especially, who particularly stood out above the “duties” of their job. Shannon was my first nurse when I checked in for chemotherapy, not sure about what to expect, trying to keep myself strong and brave. This was very early on in the game and I didn’t have a clue yet about what was coming, but when she came into my room, she touched my right forearm in a reassuring way that let me know I was going to be okay. Throughout the week, she continued to check in on me, and in my long surgical hospitalization, came to visit me, held my hand and kept me thinking I was going to come through it all just fine.
Then there was Min. I think life change happens sometimes when we are at our lowest point and when I met this particularly gifted nurse sometime in November, I had been through a seemingly endless run of surgeries, I’d spent several days in ICU and when they brought me back to 10E, she was assigned to me. Now, the nurses were all very good, kind, patient, caring individuals, but Min stood out for how she attended so gently to my needs, staying with me nearly without interruption for 2 full days as Mimi remained at my bedside. For those 2 days, I received the most loving and gentle care any human could ever hope for. She later gave both Mimi and I birthday gifts, for Mimi a jade bangle and for me some jade prayer beads that have become a part of my daily meditation routine. She taught me things about love I didn’t think possible to teach and old man and my heart will forever keep a place open for her.
What impressed me most, though, was just how many people laid their hands on me with loving, healing touch. Each time a nurse came into the, they touched my hand or my arm or my legs, and it became so very clear to me that it is not the touch of one man or spirit, it is the touch of loving healing that is given by the multitudes of people who cross our path that give us what we have.
I began to pay more attention as the days turned to weeks and it seemed like every time I began to become discouraged, someone would pat me on the arm, shake my hand, kiss me on the forehead (Renin did this every single time she visited me!) or gave me some other small gesture of love and healing that renewed me. Some of the hands did things a little differently. My neice Megan and her husband Tommy came to visit for a weekend. On one of the days, she sat at my bedside, crocheting a cap that I thought was for Mimi. Nope, turned out while we visited she was putting her love into making ME one of her handmade caps. Beautiful but simple black and red (well of course it was!) with white accents to match Katrina. I noticed that every time they walked into our out of the room, Tommy reached out (except the time I had my toes exposed) and touched my foot somehow; most of the time it was just a little squeeze or pat to let me know he was there for me.

Mimi, of course, was there every day with loving touches, massaging lotion into my feet and hands, arms, back and gazed lovingly into my eyes while she did this. Her love and care proved to me just how strong the bonds of marriage are after 32 years.
Tom came down from Canada and spent an entire week when I was beginning to lose hope. He not only touched me every time he came, but brought me a talisman that provided healing of its own kind.
Josiah spent several nights with me, one in particular that will be forever etched into my brain as he just attended to putting either hot or cold washcloths on me. I was so tired, weak and in so much pain and so distressed from the drugs that with each rag he layed on my forehead, I could feel that same healing energy I had felt in post-op, and by the time he left at 6:20 the next morning, I was feeling stronger, more positive and was "clean" shaven for when Mimi arrived at 6:30.
Chris and Deena came, and when they did, Deena brought me little things she had either made or found and just thought of me. Chris shook my hand and I felt that strong old bond of the randonneur course through my veins, giving me hope to get back on the bike soon and ride with them.
My NA sponsor, a sponsee and a few friends made sure to bring a meeting in to me a few times so I would remember how important my recovery is and how I got the spiritual strength to get through these hard times. Always with gentle hugs, a little hand holding and reciting of the Serenity Prayer and and usually with a pat on the arm as they were leaving. I always felt stronger when they left.
Sam came back to visit me in the hospital and this time, we got to visit for a while. I think he was actually there twice but I was pretty lost and confused for a few days and forget a lot. When we did sit and visit, though, I told him about the article I was writing and his inspiration and gift to me. I hope he can understand and appreciate what it means to a possibly dying man to have a man of faith pray with him. Somehow, I think he understands and appreciates it far more than I do.
To all of you who have touched me, either with the actual physical laying on of a healing hand or the cards, prayers, letters, notes on either facebook or bike journal, a hearty thank you. I did a lot of work over the past several years that built me up physically and I honestly believe that my physical condition going in one of the largest contributing factors in my ability to make it through 52 days in the hospital, five surgeries and come out the other side still prepared to accept any outcome that the future holds. While that physical conditioning was important, however, it is you, your support, your faith in me and your own spiritual condition that have been responsible for getting me this close to the finish line.
Now it is time to recover. Some folks have told me it is time to recover and get my old life back. One of the lessons I guess I needed to learn, though, is that it is not my old life. It is just my life right now, this very moment that is important. I look forward to living it to the fullest.

23 October 2011

Nutmeg and Raleighdon

When Mimi and I first met, I tried to get her to spend the night with me and she wouldn't, saying she had to go home and feed her cats. I said, "Well, I'll go with you then." for some reasson, I'm still not sure why, she let me. Heck, I'm not evern sure why I wanted to. She had a gazillion cats, she wouldn't let me smoke in her car and didn't even like to drink my wine. This relationship obviously had no future.

She was awfully cute, though.

3 months later we were married.

I was NOT a cat lover. I tend to favor dogs over cats since they just have a way of always keeping life entertaining. Our dog Mooch was a great example of this. When our friend Jim was teaching Josiah about roping calves, Mooch had a calf of his own in mind.

mostly, though, I'm just not really into being caretaker to critters. Too much work, can't leave when I want, all the usual excuses. Over the years, we've had many of Mimi's beloved pets (and my goldfish) pass on to the great on beyond, and it is always sad.

Like Lumpy. Mimi took the boys off to Florida, leaving me behind to take care of the cats. While she was gone, the pregnant mama decided it would be a good time to give birth. Could she wait a day or two until somebody got home who actually knew something? Hell no!! She had to do it with me, the one who doesn't like cat puke, cat screeching and all the attendant difficulties to tend to her every need. the result? This litter of furballs that crept all over the house making a general nuisance of themselves. The boys fell in love with one (well of COURSE they did!) and named him LUMPY. Lumpy was the biggest of the litter, and his name fit like a nurse's rubber glove. Unfortunately, he was about the same color as the bedroom carpet. I, of course, wear glasses and don't usually put them on to go to the bathroom. As I walked across the room, I stepped on Lumpy. Poor Lumpy. Poor ME!!! I've never heard the end of that one, to be sure.

We recently lost our 16 year old Barbie Q, who was a lovely little kitten until some of my nieces kids terrorized her and she was never the same after that. We miss her terribly, though, as she was always the one who welcomed new kitties into the house.

During the past 33 years, I went from resistant acceptance ("Love me love my cats" was the operative phrase at our engagement) to peaceful co-existence and even to limited friendships with a few of these furry beasts who always like to puke up hairballs on my side of the bed as a "gift" to me when I get ready to crawl into bed at night. Lovely! And then, too, they also like to bring "offerings" into the house. Enza, the mighty hunter, loves nothing more than to bring her kill in to share. I'm not sure, but I think she wants me to make rat soup.

About a year and a half ago, we were on our way to the Co-op. The lot was full, so I parked across the street in front of the pet store. BIG MISTAKE. She got out of the passenger's side and said, "Ohhhh, they have kittens. Can we go in and visit them?" "Sure. Why not?" I said, somewhat begrudgingly.

We entered the store and there was a huge stack of metal crates. In the upper one, was a little tabby kitten, nothing spectacular or particularly unusual. I looked at her and said, without any aforethought and totally unprepared for what was coming out of my mouth, "We'll be taking that one home." Mimi and the clerk (who knows us) sorta laughed it off, and Mimi said, "He's just kidding."

But I insisted, for some reason that we were going to adopt that kitten. I didn't understand what was coming out of my mouth. It was very confusing. Why would I do such a thing? She was just a plain, ordinary, kitten, like every other furry little beast I'd been forced to go in and look at over the years.

But, for whatever reason, adopt her we did. The tops of her ears were a brown much the color of ground nutmeg, hence her name.

I'd told Mimi for many years that if I ever had a cat, I'd want one I could train to jump up on my shoulder and ride there like a pirate and his parrot. I also told Mimi shortly after bringing Nutmeg home that I wanted to try to get her used to riding free in the car, so we could take her with us easily. We traveled to Portland car shopping once and took her along. We took turns driving as we headed down the highway. Nutmeg decided the safest place was to climb up on whichever of us was not driving and wrap herself around our neck.

She rode that way for a long, long way. A few months later, out of the blue, she "pounced" Mimi, jumping up on her shoulder. She doesn't particularly like being picked up, and the only way we can carry her is over the shoulder. She will, however, jump up onto our shoulders (especially if she thinks we'll give her a piece of dehydrated chicken breast ($17/3 oz pkg). Hell, I'd probably jump on your shoulder if you'd give me a steak for a treat!

Expensive tastes, this cat. She really MUST be "my" cat. Next thing, she'll be wanting a custom bicycle......

But here's the real story I wanted to tell.

I came home the hospital after my second round of chemo and the next morning, Sunday, I woke up not feeling very well. I was planning to ride my bike to Sunday Starters in Fremont (breakfast NA meeting). Not feeling very strong, and barely awake, I thought I had better take a shower and see if I could get woke up. Chemo tends to leave me feeling pretty crappy for a few days afterwards, and I go on some pretty intense emotional roller coasters from time to time. As I stepped out of the shower, I saw my image in the full length mirror and suddenly my legs looked like strands of spaghetti. I suddenly felt very weak and puny. I've worked so hard over the past few years to build strength, and here I was losing ground. Mimi tried to console me over "first breakfast", but to no avail. I found myself in tears at one point, and my way of dealing with the world when I want it to kindly stop so I can get off is to curl up in a ball and put a blanket over my head. It only ever lasts for a moment, and that is about as much feeling sorry for myself as I ever allow.

Then I start my surrender/acceptance/gratitude routine and the world comes back into focus. I was having THAT kind of a moment. I left the breakfast table, went to the sofa, and crawled under a blanket. I was snorting and sniffling and having a very productive pity party when Nutmeg came over, sat down in front of the sofa and began to cry. I lifted up the edge of the blanket and she climbed in under it with me, stretched out the full length of my chest and began to purr. I could feel her healing energy through the ribs and right into my esophagus, the cause of all of this crap that was draining me of my strength and energy. As I lay there with her radiating her warmth, my world was made better in that instant.

I suppose the moral of the story for me is that even in our darkest moments, we can find some peace, solace and comfort if we are open to it. Sometimes, we don't even need to reach out and take the hand that is trying to comfort us; we just need to let that hand of love embrace us and not run away from it.

Since that morning, I have thought a lot about this weird little kitty and wondered what she knew that morning when we walked into the pet store. Did she sense something? Did I sense something? I've thought about Steve Jobs and what he said about connecting the dots. I've been doing that for a long time, knowing that every one of life's experiences brings me to the exact momennt in time I am living. I think a lot about the interconnectedness of everything around me and am filled with wonder.

Life is very interesting. Especially if we can somehow spend just a moment or two reflecting on what makes it special for us right now. Today. This minute. Just this one brief moment in time. What surrounds you that makes you feel special? What or who is there, reaching out their hand or their paw in friendship to give you the boost you need? How can you give that back? What little thing can you do that will let that person, that pet, that teacher, that nurse, that whomever, that you know and appreciate them?

Mimi really was cute, and I know how very special a person she is, and am grateful today for the gift she gave me as, over the years, I have come from resistance to surrender, from surrender to acceptance and finally from this acceptance into gratitude, allowing me to love back. Over the years, she has been the constant companion in my life adventure. She has shared her self with me, and shared her love of her faithful companions, never wavering, yet never forcing. As a result, today I have another loving companion in this silly little cat who knows me and knows when she needs to nurture me.
Every day, when I look at the love of my life, this is still the girl I see:

Excuse me, I need to go give Nutmeg some chicken.

22 October 2011

Round Two

Well, where did we leave off with this little tale? Oh yeah. Donald (aka Raleighdon the Bold) had just jumped up off the stool and answered the bell, ready to score some punches to this cancer crap that wants to knock him down and out.

So, Josiah and I “smuggled in” the bicycle.
Nobody gave us any resistance, in fact the nurses on Swedish Hospital's 12-E Oncology Unit actually encouraged me. None would hop on and give it a try, but they were all impressed at the set-up. We had the music playing. We had unpacked everything and after a nice hearty lunch,
finally the nurses came in and got me going with the pre-hydration, then the steriods and then the chemo drugs. It wasn't long before I was chasing Josiah out of the room and settling myself in.

In Round One, the fatigue of the drugs really hit home for me on Wednesday afternoon and for about 18 hours, it was all I could do to get out of bed. This time around, for whatever reason, I did much better with maintaining a high energy and high spirits. I had lost very little weight, didn't puff up like a balloon with water retention after the steroids and discovered the wonderful world of ATAVAN! One of the things about cancer treatment is that it opens one's world to pretty much anything that will fight off the pain, fight off the nausea and fight off the demons. I found Atavan to work very well on these last two, simultaneously. Every night, when it came time to sleep, I took an Atavan which kept the nausea down and allowed me to get quite a few calories in late in the evening and drift off to sleep and wake up refreshed the next morning. What could be better?

On Wednesday, the hospital's cabbies came and took me away for my second PET/CT scan. I'd been down this road before and found it to be the most uncomfortable of all procedures, having to lay in a dark room after drinking a nasty tasting barium drink that made me feel bloated, then after a 45 minute “nap” having to lie again in a room all by myself while this machine whirred, buzzed and moved around me, keeping my arms overhead and not moving so much as an eyelid. This is tough for a guy like me who can't sit still for a minute without itching, twitching or bitching.

This time was somewhat better, though, since they had some handholds for me, which allowed me to relax better. I found I was able to almost go into a meditative state and take my mind off of the little issues that were coming up. All of the things I have learned in the past were now starting to come back to me and I was beginning to draw on some of my deep inner resources I hadn't thought about for a long time.

I heard not long ago in a recovery meeting that this individual's recovery moves at the speed of pain. I like that analogy, and think it is a bit true in my life, as well. It seems like I've gained a vast amount of some skills over the years that I tend to take for granted, and it is only when I am visited by a great pain that I have to dig down, truly discover them and focus on how to apply them to the situations at hand. Something about lying around in a hospital bed for a few days gives me a lot of time to focus on that kind of thing.

Thursday morning, Mimi came in early as we were anticipating Dr Kapsule coming in and giving us the results of the PET/CT scan. Just before 7:00, in came this wonderful, silver haired doc, wearing a smile as big as a Dutchman's pair of britches, and he told us the news was really, really good. The more he talked, the more the news sounded good, but not quite as good as we wanted to hear. He was talking about this as being a Stage IV cancer, not Stage II as we thought, but with the shrinking of the lymph node in my neck, they had to assume that somehow, that node was cancerous and the chemo was killing it off. He said Louie Louie would be coming in to visit us on Friday to go over the surgery schedule.

I was left with a mixture of elation and depression. Elation because the tumor had shrunk by almost half and the lymph node in my neck showed as normal now, but depressed because I was really a “Stage IV” patient, and I've read all the statistics; I know the odds; I don't want to face that reality. I knew I needed to.

I started to think about the gift again (see my last article), and how this was an opportunity to learn new and wonderful things about myself, an opportunity to grow both emotionally and spiritually, even as my physical body was doing something other than what I wanted it to. I had to reframe my thinking, and spent most of the day Thursday and Friday working through it all in my mind and heart, remembering my agreement with myself that I would not feel sorry for myself, I would not whine and I would keep my sense of humor. Both of those rules needed to be enforced, and I am the only one who could enforce them. I started to look that nasty foe Cancer in the eye, looked deep within myself and found that it is a weak, pathetic, piece of shit disease that can only gain in strength as it saps me from mine. I got on the bike. I rode. I gazed out the window at my office and Puget Sound. I took naps and dreamed of pleasant things. When I woke up, I reflected on the good times I've had and laid on my back envisioning myself next year doing a lot of them again. I started (again) making plans. Cancer got weaker with each moment.

Louie Louie came in late Friday afternoon to talk to Mimi and me. He wanted to do a mediastinoscopy to rule out any involvement of the lymph nodes in the chest. OK, fine. Just another day of surgery. Seems the debate twixt him and Kapsule about continuing treatment included the need to rule out any spread that could not be seen on the PET scan, otherwise they may be doing a surgery that would leave me weaker and not kill the cancer. Not the best approach. OK, doc. I'll take your word for it. I really don't have a choice here, since both of them have been down this road many times and I never have.

Saturday came and it was time to go home. After getting settled in, I decided I needed to ride to the store. Loaded up 35 pounds of groceries at Red Apple and Mimi and I rode back to the house, giving me my first outdoor ride in October, about 9 miles, half of it with my bike fully loaded.

Then came the first knockdown of the round. I thought I had cancer on the ropes and was working to the body really well, figuring I'd start coming on with a few uppercuts in the next few days, but out of nowhere, I took a right hook to the jaw that lay me out on the sofa and that was where I stayed from noon Sunday until sometime Wednesday. Talk about taking the 8-count.

By Thursday, I felt good enough to try to ride my bike again – this was the first time since December, 2008 that I had taken more than 2 days off the bike in a row and it felt very odd, not even wanting to ride, yet wanting to be on my bike in the worst of ways. This was another of life’s little lessons coming at me. Sometimes it is more important to listen to the body than it is to listen to the heart. I decided to ride to work with Mimi, then ride to the Renton Highlands for my therapy appointment.

Right after receiving this diagnosis, I had gone back on anti-depressants in anticipation of a severely decreased level of physical activity and when I do that, it is equally important to be working with a professional to maintain my mental and emotional balance. Dale (aka Happy Trails) has proven to be an excellent match for me, seeing through all of my little defenses and listening very well to my cues so that she can help coach me through some very tough times. Her office is in a quite inconvenient location – for anyone other than an endurance cyclist who loves nothing more than pulling a 1-mile 12% grade first thing in the morning, that is.

Unfortunately, on this morning, just as I was crossing over Sunset at North 3rd, a guy yelled at me from his car, “GET OFF THE FUCKING ROAD, ASSHOLE!” This as I was trying to move across traffic to navigate into the left turn lane so I could do exactly that. Very bright guy, indeed, and obviously well versed in the law as respects bicycles and their rights and duties. As I was fantasizing about making an about face, chase him down, pull him out of his POS car (and it really was a POS!) and beat the living crap out of him, my chain broke, leaving me in the middle of a busy road and nearly falling off before I could dismount and walk through the light. Every other vehicle, of course, treated me with extreme patience and confirmed my belief that for every 100 or so very good people there is one asshole. Sometimes we meet up and life gets “interesting” for a moment in time.

I walked up the hill. I heard Pansy Palmetto cackling and telling me “This is God’s way of telling you that you’re trying to do too much.” Thanks, Pansy, much appreciated. NOW you tell me!

After my therapy appointment, I had the opportunity to try out my tow service, Better World Club, for the first time. Like AAA, our new service will come and tow your car, help you get in if you space out and lock your keys inside, jump start your truck if you are smart enough to leave the key on, the door open, the heater fan running and music playing for 4 hours (not that I’d ever do THAT!), but they will also come and “tow” you and your bike if you have a breakdown. They were great!

Fast response time, courteous service and drove me and my bike right to my garage. Within 45 minutes I was home, taking a nice hot bath. And had a nice 15 mile bike ride to show for it, as well as a grand adventure. People kept telling me they hoped the rest of my day went better. Thinking about it all, though, I thought the first half had gone exceptionally well. I’d ridden and felt better for it. I’d had a nice chat with Pansy. I’d had a great therapy appointment and an adventure. What could be better?

Well, what was NOT better was the nausea. Talk about a pity party. If ever I was going to get through this I had to stop feeling like I was going to throw up every time I tried to eat anything, drink anything or even brush my teeth. After Round One, I’d had very little nausea, but this time was different; it just seemed to go on and on. It was just this constant feeling that cancer had hit me a really good body shot to the kidneys, followed by a punch straight into the solar plexus. Nothing seemed to be helping. I knew I needed to gain some weight, but was finding it difficult to do with wanting to throw up every time I even thought about food.

Then I made Jell-o.

I don’t know what it is about this magical food from my childhood, but it worked like a charm. Cherry jello with cut up peaches. I made it and waited impatiently for it to set, then ate a big bowl. It was like manna from heaven. I went to bed feeling quite comfortable for the first time in a while. An hour later, I was up, eating more jell-o. I did this throughout the night, and by morning was feeling much better. Thanks, Mom, for teaching me about this wonderful, cheap and tasty treat so many years ago.

And there was the fatigue. I wasn’t sure if it was the cancer or the chemo or the radiation. Mimi told me it was all three. REALLY? Wow! I guess that made sense, but it seemed like the radiation and chemo should have been done working their magic by now. Cancer seemed to be having its way with me in the middle days of this round, and I was just trying to take some strategy from my hero Muhammad Ali and play some rope-a-dope with it. Lean back into the ropes and take the punches, allowing some cushioning and letting my body rest while it got hammered on. He did, after all, say some of the most important things that continue to influence my life: things like, “It's the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.” I believe I can beat cancer. With every punch I absorb, I think to myself that it really isn’t so bad. I’m stronger. I’m tougher. I can win.

After a week of feeling the blows as cancer and treatment continued to pummel me, we went out and rode a 100Km ride, giving Mimi her 1,000Km milestone for the year with RUSA and our 10th consecutive month of these 100Km rides together. Dr. Codfish hosted the Pie Run
and a little dinner afterwards. We did it and finished it. At the end, I felt like I often feel after a ride three times that long, and Mimi had to drive us home. It was a beautiful day, riding with friends to the edge of the rain,

turning around and coming back, finishing in bright warm autumn sun. For a few moments in the day, I was able to completely forget about cancer and just enjoy the moment. These seem to be fewer and farther between right now and I was feeling pretty punchy by the time we got home.

The next week, I slept at least 9 hours and sometimes 10 hours every night, and on Monday had my first general anesthesia surgery of this treatment course, the mediastinoscopy to remove and biopsy some of the lymph nodes in my chest. By the time we got the results back on Thursday, we’d met with the surgeon, met with a neck surgeon (who told me the way I ride is just crazy) and met with my oncologist who sprinkled holy water on my esophagectomy, calling it the “mother of all surgeries” and totally rejecting my idea of doing hernia repair surgery at the same time. I’m telling you, these guys go to 12 years of medical school, spend their whole lives dealing with cancer patients and all of a sudden they think they know everything! Sheesh!

With the news that all my lymph node biopsies came back “normal” AND the report that I have a lot of “extra” lymph nodes and they are all “healthy urban lymph nodes”, we were pretty ecstatic and ready to start punching back a little bit. And then I got one of the coolest gifts I’ve ever received. Cousin Margy had made me a quilt. I came home from a bike ride to find a package waiting for me. It was soft and squishy. “Whee,” I thought at first, “another tee-shirt or sweatshirt.” I’ve received four really awesome tees from friends and family that have become my principal wardrobe, letting me wrap myself in their love every time I put one on. What a surprise to open the gift and find this gorgeous hand-stitched quilt, with my cousin’s love in every single stitch of the needle. “Donald’s Wild Ride” is the name of this beautiful piece of art. I wrapped myself in it. I went to the sofa and sat there and wept tears of joy and gratitude. I’ve got the best handlers a guy could ever hope for.

I was now starting to get rid of the nausea, starting to pick up a little more energy (and gaining a half-pound a day) and riding almost every day again, even just 10 or so miles.
Little jabs, some good body work and not trying to punch myself out to the point of exhaustion. That was the strategy all my handlers were giving me, and it was starting to work. I knew, though that I needed to take a little bit of a mid-round break. I’d been knocked down pretty good earlier in the round, and needed to be careful not to work so hard in this round that I can’t make it to Round Three, which is going to be really tough.

So I hatched a scheme.

Mimi and I have this wonderful beach we love.

I’ve spent a lot of time up and down the California, Oregon and Washington coasts, and visited beaches in lots of other places, but Ruby Beach is one that I love more than most. I think since I discovered Seal Rock on the Oregon Coast, this is the place I have found that brings the greatest pleasure. It has all of the things I love about the ocean. It has some old grown forests to wander through; it has sea stacks (some of the Quillayute Needles); it has a nice quiet stream; it has wide, long expanses of beach to walk; it has beautiful driftwood and lots of smooth stones. It is “our beach” – I have no memories there except with the light of my life. We took two days, essentially checked out of contact with everyone and went to Kalaloch Lodge

for the night, then the next day, spent time at Ruby Beach. The entire time, we spent our time just holding hands, sitting together and reading/painting, playing on the beaches, watching eagles, and taking turns driving and playing disk jockey with the music we had on board. A truly wonderful honeymoon and exactly what any sensible doctor would order. Even if he would not agree to let me get my hernia repaired at the same time they’re removing my esophagus, gall bladder and all the lymph nodes on one side of my neck.

Coming home, I stepped on the scale Friday morning only to discover that I am now within four pounds of where I was at the start of this little boxing match. Every doc I meet tells me I look really good. I am rested and thinking that I can score a knockout here in Round Three. Like Muhammad Ali, I can not only beat my opponent, I can pick the round. I am the (second) greatest!

I think I just heard the bell ending Round Two. Everything is done and it is time to sit on the stool, take a sip or two of water, let my handlers do their magic and get me ready for Round Three. I feel really strong. I feel really positive. I’m ready for whatever takes place in the next three weeks.

As I sit here, reflecting on my hero, this is another thing he said that has shaped how I view life: “Life is a gamble. You can get hurt, but people die in plane crashes, lose their arms and legs in car accidents; people die every day. Same with fighters: some die, some get hurt, some go on. You just don't let yourself believe it will happen to you. “

Some days, you just gotta believe!

14 October 2011


"When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us." These words by the inventor of one of life’s most troublesome inventions, Alexander Graham Bell, have rung in my ears for years. Is he right? Is he wrong? Who knows.

So, on August 12th at 9:48 a.m., I received a call from Dr. Sanford. The results of the biopsies were positive and I was assured that I had esophageal cancer. There was no surprise. I had already started to deal with the shock and grief that Mimi and I had received the day before when I had my endoscopy and I started to process this new information. I was now a cancer survivor. For the rest of my life, regardless of how long or short that may be, I would be a cancer survivor.

Anger. That was the first real emotion. I wanted to rage against the disease. I wanted to attack it like I attack a long steep mountain pass on my bicycle. I screamed. I cried. I pouted. I paced the floor and wanted to upend all the furniture in the room, throw a chair out the living room window just to hear the crash of glass. This all lasted for about 5 minutes. Then I got on my bicycle and rode to my doctor’s appointment and started working on a solution.

I read many years ago that if I focus on a problem, the problem will increase but if I will focus on a solution, the solution will increase. I set my mind to this task. I’ve done long endurance rides before. I am a Super Randonneur, after all. I’m a tough guy. I am Superman. I can do anything, surmount any odds, overcome any obstacle, bounce back from anything that knocks me down and kick the crap out of anything or anybody that gets in my way.

Yeah? Well, here’s a newsflash, Boothby. Cancer just doesn’t give a shit! It doesn’t care how tough you are. It doesn’t care how many miles you rode this year or how many pretty little medals you have hanging on the wall. It doesn’t care how much money you have, or how many friends you have or what religion you practice, what color you are, where you come from, how pretty your mama is or even how young or old you are. The only thing cancer gives a shit about is killing you and doing it as fast as possible, even though it is a suicide mission. The only way cancer can win is to kill you and kill itself in the process. Now, that there is one hell of a message to roll around in my brain for a weekend. And I did.

By Monday morning, I had myself pretty well worked up into a dither about it all, and after telling my co-workers what was going on, started to set a process into motion for a solution. Over the next week, I began a process that, at least so far, seems to be working for me pretty well. It is the simple application of some of the spiritual principles I have learned by working a 12-step process learned over the years by my involvement in Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. In the readings at any NA meeting, there is a statement that says,

“There is one thing more than anything else that will defeat us in our recovery; this is an attitude of indifference or intolerance toward spiritual principles. Three of these that are indispensable are honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. With these we are well on our way.”

Well, over the past 27 years, I have tried to apply these to my daily life as much as possible and have really broken my recovery process down to a simple, oftentimes very difficult process:

• Surrender
• Acceptance
• Gratitude

So here I was faced with my second terminal disease. If I truly accept that the disease of addiction is one for which there is no known cure and that I must remain vigilant on a daily basis to keep it in remission, then can I not apply this same principle to the disease of cancer? It’s worth a shot.

Surrender? Not me. Marines just don’t surrender. We march forward to take the hill. Giving up just isn’t a strategy that wins wars. Or is it? In recovery from the disease of addiction, I have learned that surrendering hasn’t meant giving in to the enemy; it has meant letting go of control and allowing my Higher Power to do for me what I was unable to do for myself. As long as I struggle for control, I cannot surrender into a process of finding a solution. This battle rages on inside of me every day, and I have become used to dealing with each of life’s challenges by first surrendering my control and then working within the bounds of my knowledge, experience and strength to find a solution. And it is almost never done alone.

Acceptance? Once I begin to surrender, it is far easier to become accepting of a solution. In the first step of AA or NA we learn that we are powerless over our addiction and that our lives have become unmanageable. If we stop there, it is a feeling not only of powerlessness, but one of hopelessness, so critical to develop new ways of thinking and reacting and feeling and doing so that we build hope. This is done by coming to rely on something or someone outside of our own self-centered being that can help us to make the necessary change in our life. Once we learn to do this with removing the obsession to drink or consume other drugs, it becomes possible to apply the principles to other aspects of our lives. If we develop a manner of living that keeps us doing this on a daily basis, we can have a pretty good life and achieve miraculous things.

Gratitude? Now here’s the biggie. It happens differently on different days; sometimes easy and sometimes not so easy. Here is where “THE GIFT” comes in. On a daily basis for many years now, I have maintained a ‘gratitude list’. It is different every day, but most days it starts out with the fact that I have a roof over my head, a refrigerator full of food, a warm jacket and a good pair of leather shoes to protect me from the cold winter. It includes the love of a good family. It includes the fact that I have all five of my senses, good health, a good job and am surrounded by a whole lot of people I can call my friends. It often includes the fact that I was born in the USA, a white male and grew up in an intact family, albeit one with many problems. I reflect on the incredible advantage I have had over so many other people and try to remember that if not for a lot of other people who have sacrificed much, I would not have the fantastic life I have today.

I try to start my day off thinking about the many, many blessings in my life and in that way, as the day’s stresses mount, I can keep them in perspective, remembering that no matter what happens today, I am still part of a very elite part of human life on planet earth.

And this is truly where the gift comes in.

About 2 weeks after I received my diagnosis, I was meeting for a consult with my dentist. I “owed him” a 1-1/2 hour appointment to do some corrective work I’d been putting off, and wanted to see him and figure out how to schedule this, as time was short before starting cancer treatments. We sat in his office for over a half hour. He very generously gave me his time to talk not just about my mouth, but he also probed a bit into the rest of my life. He, too, is a very active endurance cyclist and before we finished, he said to me, “Don, I’m really sorry you have to go through this.”

Without really thinking about what I was saying, I told him, “You know, Paul, I’m not. And here is why.”

I proceeded to tell him that nearly 27 years ago, I had begun a process of recovery from addiction and that I had learned that each day is a gift. The only thing I had asked for was an opportunity to live life on life’s terms and this is one of those “life’s terms moments” that I needed to be able to surrender into, accept as simply a new challenge, trusting the outcome to be what it is meant to be regardless of whether or not it is what I want or hope for and remain grateful for each and every moment of my life for the gift that they are.

Over the next week or so, I began to explore this gift thing. I’d been in recovery for about 2-1/2 years when my father died of lung cancer. I spent about 2 weeks in central California with my mother and 3 of my 4 siblings. A most interesting time, to say the least. While I was there, I attended several NA meetings and one night, there was a speaker who talked of being a “grateful, recovering addict,” a phrase I’d heard many times. But he spoke of this gratitude in a different way. He said he wasn’t just grateful for his recovery, but for the disease itself. I tried to wrap my head around that and it wasn’t easy. How can we be grateful for a disease that wants to kill us? He talked about his life in recovery and the gift of the spiritual principles that now allowed him a freedom not just from his drug use, but a freedom to make incredible changes in his own life and become a part of a solution in the lives of those about him. He had become a responsible and productive member of his society for the first time in his life and without the disease of addiction; he would never have learned these tools. And from that base, an inner peace is gained.

So with this in mind, here’s the deal we get in life.

Each and every moment is a gift. It is our choice whether we open the gift. Each person we meet provides us with a gift. It is up to us whether we accept or reject this gift, which is not always easy to even see, much less accept. Each and every encounter we have, every one of our experiences is a gift. What we do with that gift is entirely up to us.

I began to think about this after I left Paul’s office. I think what I had told him probably confused him just as much as it had me, though I am confident he went home and looked at his wife and children differently and told them he loved them with just a bit more understanding than he had when he left for work that morning, just as I did when I got home that night and greeted Mimi when she arrived home from work.

That chance encounter with a man I’ve seen for several years, always in a professional sense, got me to thinking more and more about the gifts of my life.

Granted, this gift of cancer came with some pretty dark wrapping, and I really didn’t want to accept it. I wanted to push it back under the Christmas tree for another 20 years or so. I wanted to pretend it wasn’t for me, but for somebody else. I wanted to do anything other than touch that black ribbon and untie the bow. I wanted to do anything else rather than remove the bright red foil wrapping of this gift, but I knew that I must, if I was going to be able to surrender into a solution, accept my life for what it has now become and somehow manage to become grateful for the disease of cancer, not just grateful for the cure.

This is no easy task. How does one become grateful for something that wants to kill them? It is really quite simple; just not very easy. It is done through faith. It is done through trust. It is done through a knowledge that just like every other challenge in life; the outcome will be exactly as it is supposed to be, regardless of what I WANT. It is done by exploring the gift of the moment. And when I was able to see this last bit that I started to get it. Explore the gift of the moment. Living a day at a time. Living an hour at a time. Living sometimes a minute at a time, and then learning to live a breath at a time. In something I read recently, the teacher is discussing “mindful breathing” and says that with every exhalation is a death. If this is true, then with every inhalation is a rebirth, right?

Without the recent diagnosis of esophageal cancer, I would not have the time to relieve myself from a lot of other daily stresses that prevent me from focusing on my spiritual lifestyle. I’ve learned much over the past 27 years, and tried to apply it to my daily life. Recently, I have had an incredible opportunity to apply these principles on a moment to moment basis, coming into a clearer and ordered loving relationship with the woman with whom I have lived for the past 33 years. I’ve been able to re-explore my own belief systems in a way I’ve never been able to before. I’ve gained a clarity of mind and purpose that I never knew was possible. I have watched as my oldest son has gone through some of his own transformation and we have developed a closeness I never dreamed we would get to have. I have learned that I am a man who is much loved and respected.

The gift is in the learning.

I have learned a lot of life lessons over the past 27 years that are being reinforced daily as I continue to recover from addiction and apply those same principles to my work in surviving cancer. I have learned to listen more (and maybe one day will learn to speak less). I am learning to say “I love you” more and “fuck you” less. I have learned to turn off the noise and truly hear the silence. I am learning new lessons every day about letting go and accepting the hand of a friend gently offered. I am learning that it is okay not to be superman some days. I am learning more each day about the importance of community and of giving back what has been so freely given to me.

I have spent hours and hours (far more than my family would have hoped, I’m sure) learning to be an endurance athlete. Those lessons I have learned about hydration, nutrition, determination, making my way to the finish line despite wanting to give up, learning to help others and allow them to help me become a finisher and a winner are carrying me along nicely on this newest and hardest brevet I’ve ever ridden. My friend Larry, with whom I trained for and rode my first STP and shared many hours talking about recovery and cycling, used to say to me that a lot of days, staying sober was just like riding a bike up a long, hard mountain pass. Some days one had to just keep their head down and keep spinning, not looking too far out up the road and becoming discouraged by what lay ahead. Wise words. Neither of us has ever found a need to return to drinking or using other drugs to become something other than who and what we are.

I have learned that there simply is no “I” in this life I live. There is only we. I have never had an original thought, and everything I talk about is something I have learned from one of you. By being willing to surrender into recovery, I gained insight into myself and others. By accepting who I am, what I am, where I am and the process of life as I walk through each moment, I have become a man who can be proud of his accomplishments, yet am daily humbled by how little I know and how much I have yet to learn. It seems that the more I learn, the more I know how little I truly know. This, then, is my gift, and I share it willingly with you.

By remaining grateful for the incredible bounty of my life, I am able to remain clearly centered and focused on what is in front of me, having faith that regardless of the outcome, I will be well cared for and lovingly supported.

I don’t know if Alexander Graham Bell was right when he talked about doors opening and closing, but I do know this one thing to be true in my life. The only constant is change, and it is unavoidable. If I fear change, I fear what is not, not what is. If, on the other hand, I remain open to change, whatever it may be, wherever it may lead, whatever the outcome, and embrace it with open-mindedness and willingness, miraculous new worlds can open for me. Those new worlds are not out there someplace; they are here, deep within. It is up to me to reach out, pick up the gift, carefully and lovingly open the wrapping and see what lies inside.

Thank you.

07 October 2011

Afternoon Recess

The air is warm
Neighborhood sounds drift about the quiet house.

The bell rings.

Slowly at first, then increasing rapidly, the sounds of children fills the air.
Girls screaming in delight
Balls bouncing against the building
Swings squeaking in offset rhythms.
Boys yelling out their adventures.
The sounds run together into a sweet autumn melody.

School is back.
The children are back.

I lie here in the solace of my home, surrounded by a lifetime of memories.
As I listen, my mind drifts back to those days so long ago.
I smile and let the children’s song carry me into my dreams.

Again, the bell rings.

Slowly at first, then increasing rapidly, the sound of the children fades to silence.
An airplane flies overhead.
A bird sings.
A gentle breeze drifts through the house, and the wind chimes bring me back to now.

My heart is full.

9 September 2011

26 September 2011

Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

Well, Round 1 of this little match between me and my #1 opponent of the year, Esophageal Cancer (EC) was a bit of a back and forth battle there for a while. I like to think of myself as a tough old buzzard, but there is just something about laying around for 5 days with constant infusion of cisplatin and 5FU that tends to take just a bit of an edge off a guy's game. OK, I'll admit that I may have over done it just a LITTLE bit going out 23-1/2 hours after leaving the hospital and doing a 65 mile ride with my pals, but thinking back, I wouldn't do it any other way. The weather was perfect, I felt really good and I took it pretty easy throughout the day.

What a difference a day or two made, though. On Monday, I rode about 25 miles and still felt pretty good,but by the next morning, it was all I could do to get off the sofa. The chemo had given me some pretty severe mouth sores which was making it difficult to eat. By cooking a big pot of oxtail soup, I was able to get something in me that was high calorie, high protein and actually was able to stimulate my appetite by cooking. Thursday morning, I took my bike out of the car in Renton, rode 3.5 miles to Starbucks and had to rest for a half hour before riding back to the car. I did take on one little challenging hill - a whole 70' "climb" to a water tower that left me feeling weak-kneed and out of breath. I went home exhausted and feeling very strange. I mean, REALLY!!! I'm a guy who has worked myself to the point where I can comfortably do a 200 mile ride and feel strong at the finish, enjoy a nice dinner and get up the next morning refreshed. Here I was barely able to get back to the car after 8 very flat miles. It was very confusing to my legs and brain.

The next week was somewhat better, as the sores went away and I could suddenly eat pretty much anything and everything I wanted. I managed to ride every day to my radiation appointments and I wasn't losing my hair or my weight. "Hell, there's nothing to this chemo/radiation stuff," I thought to myself. But I dreaded the next time I had to go through it, knowing I had 2 more weeks of daily radiation to go through, I'd been cautioned by the oncologists that this was going to produce the worst heartburn I'd ever experienced and I was going to be sunburned inside and out, in a lot of pain and that it was a cumulative effect. GREAT!!! Just what I always wanted to do.

DREAD. That was the big word. I had to overcome it. I've had some friends who have "bravely battled cancer", "lived with cancer" and all those other wonderful terms given to this shit disease that sneaks up on us from out of nowhere and takes over our entire lives....and I don't mean just the person that has the disease, I mean their entire families sometimes. I know I have to put on my "bravely living with cancer" game face. I know I have to remain positive and upbeat and have a good attitude because people with a good attitude survive better than those without. Well, I think this may be part true but is probably also part bullshit. Cancer is cancer and it kills its host. What a weird thing. An organism that can only survive by killing itself. My head spins some days with this garbage.

So Round Two was scheduled to commence on the morning of the 28th. It was now the 21st and I was at home DREADING having to go back into the hospital. I knew with certainty that I HAD TO change something and as I sat and pondered it I came up with an idea. If I could move from dread to acceptance and from acceptance to joyful anticipation, I could do this thing. No small task. How does one go about having joyful anticipation when they know they are going to voluntarily subject themself to injecting a series of poisons into their body that is going to, a) make them vomit their guts out, b) constipate them to the point they have to take all kinds of crap to make them crap that they never gave a crap about before and don't even want to think about much less ingest, d) leave them with mouth sores so bad they can't eat for days on end while people are yelling at them to get 3000 - 5000 calories every day, e) kill not only the bad boys in the body, but all those beautiful, strong, vibrant and hard earned muscles in the legs that have worked so well, f) turn the brain into cream of wheat, and g) leave the patient with the doubt that it is working at all. Dread was all that and much more. So I did some thinking about it all and came up with a couple of ideas. First up was how I was going to do this hospital visit.

I've been trying to make a charitable donation to them - a recumbent style stationary bicycle that would be able to be used by the patients. I'd talked to the nurses, who loved the idea. I'd talked to the Nurse Manager for the unit and found out I needed to work through "The Foundation", which made perfect sense. I gave her all my contact information, the make and model I thought might be appropriate (like I know anything about bikes, right?) and she was to have somebody from "The Foundation" get back to me. Have your people contact my people and we'll do lunch. That's about how it felt when I had not heard back from anybody in 2 weeks. Well, screw them, I thought. I'll just take my own bike in. This became my mission. I ran it up the flagpole with Josiah, who loved it. We plotted and planned. Weather has been pretty good. I'll hook my trailer up to the back of Katrina, put my suitcase with all my goodies in it aboard and load up my wind trainer. Now, I generally hate riding indoors, but thought under the circumstances, this would be better than not riding at all. So now I had at least one thing I could joyfully anticipate.

But that POISON!!! Those chemo drugs. There was that dread again.

Another little bike ride, some more exporation of the inner sanctums of the brain wherein all three remaining cells argue about which one is going to drive the bus today and came up with a new term, MAGIC ELIXER. I tried it on for size. It didn't fit at first, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. OK, so these are poisons, right? Their very intent is to make the cancer cells sicker than they make me. So if I could view this not as a poison, but a magic elixer that is going to save my life, I could do this thing. Acceptance of the drugs is really not a problem. Hell's Bells! I'll accept anything right about now that will rip this thing out of my body including reading "Personal Surgery For Dummies" cover to cover and scheming on how to get the right mix of general anesthesia to knock me out for the operation while allowing me to walk in my sleep well enough to conduct surgery. I came up with a couple of sleeping pill combinations I thought might work.

After three days, I had successfully begun to joyfully anticipate my return to the hospital and started to talk to my friends and family about this. At first, most of them looked at me sorta weird and all "well, we'll see" while nodding and giving me their encouragement. I honestly can't say what was going through their minds, but when I talked about it in my cancer support group on Thursday, I was met with a nice mixture of skepticism, doubt and encouragement from my fellow "survivors".

A quick aside. My job includes use of a very antiquated data management system called WINS. I have to change my password every 20 days or so. The password has to be unique, consist of both numbers and letters and can have no character in the same position as the last password. Quite challenging some times. Right after I got my diagnosis, I had to change my password. CANCERSUX2. As I was going out on disability, my supervisor wanted my passwords so they could get some of my work done. I read it off to him. I don't think he was nearly as amused as was I.

The weekend came around. Mimi and I had a very pleasant day together, rode to my home group, Sunday Starters, and afterwards rode home along the trail, through the back of the Arboretum, along the lake and up the hill to home. It was a very warm day and I picked the shadiest route I know so Mimi wouldn't get too overly warm. It was one of the longest bike rides I had done since my big 100k the day after leaving the hospital. I was riding along a ways in front of her up the hill by Frink Park and started to get a little pissed off. I'd been averaging nearly 1,200 miles per month through July, but had cut back to about 750 miles in August and now was down to not even breaking 500 miles for the month. The more I thought about it the more pissed I got. But then I got to thinking to myself that I had spent the first 2 days of the month in the hospital, had ridden every single day except one since then, had ridden to 10 of my radiation appointments and put in OVER FOUR HUNDRED MILES for a month that included two 5-day hospital stays. Attitude adjustments are really necessary. It isn't the facts, it is how I view those facts that is critical to my wellbeing.

Sunday evening the weather changed. Josiah was here for the night. We'd get up, have a nice breakfast of eggs and hashbrowns, ride up to the hospital and while I was getting tucked in, he'd go back to the gargage and bring up my trainer, then go get the bike and set it up. If anybody said anything, he was to say, "Hey! His doctor approved of it." Not exactly a lie, since Kapsule told me he wanted me on my bike as much as I could be. He was no more or less specific and left it up to me to interpret his meaning. Poor guy. I could just wait to get THAT call! "You told them WHAT???" Sorry, doc. Won't happen til the next time. You know it is much easier to seek forgiveness than permission, right? I live by that credo.

Now when I say the weather changed, I mean the rain hit and with a vengeance. Monday morning dawned with a full on downpour with winds out of the southwest. Normally, this is just another day on the bike for me. Right now, though, I'm not really too excited about going out in a downpour and putting myself at risk of catching cold or worse. We called Mimi. She came home and we loaded everything into the truck and she drove us to the hospital. I took Cayuse instead of Katrina and locked it in the garage. Josiah and I walked my suitcase and trainer up to 12 East and deposited them in the visitor's lounge and went off to Kapsule's office for the pre-admit bloodwork and meeting with the doc. After getting the labs done, the nurse came out and told me to just head back and get tucked into bed. All my labs looked pretty good.

So now it was off to get some secret magic elixer. I got into my jammies and gown, unpacked my suitcase, set up my cy-fi bluetooth speaker and got myself some tunes going. I was setting myself up in my little "apartment", choosing to view it not so much a hospital room, but a personal suite. Josiah went and got the bike. NO PROBLEM. Nobody questioned him. By the time the nurses came in, I was unpacked, had some nice classical music going and was feeling about as comfortable as a guy could be. I was happy to be here! It worked. When the nurse came in with that bag of cisplatin, I welcomed it into the room. Once she was done and out of the room and Josiah had departed, I lay there and felt this elixer coursing through my system, seeking out the dna it was supposed to work on and knew that everything was going to be just fine.

Round Two was underway and Boothby was in the center of the ring and ready to rumble.

12 September 2011

Herding Cats On Pacific Rose

When life gets interesting, it pays to get interested in living it. September 3 was that kind of a day. It really wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be something really simple; something easy something uncomplicated. Boothby always has a plan. Not always a good one, but a plan, nonetheless. And the plan today was to make sure that he could get a couple other folks out for an easy 100k so that he could be certain that the lovely and talented Mimi could be sure of getting her “P-9” ride in.

Now, this all goes back to sometime in December. Boothby was sitting around the house one rainy afternoon pining away the day and feeling sorry for himself because it was raining hard, had been raining hard for some time and he’d only been able to get a 35 mile ride in. Poor baby! Well, here he was wandering aimlessly about the house when out of the blue, Mimi says to him, “You know, this new RUSA thing comes at a really interesting time. I was thinking of doing more 100k rides next year.” Well, let me tell you, the first thing ol’ Boothby thought was that this stranger who looked like his wife was either a stunt double hired by his pals or she was some evil long-lost twin who had killed the real Mimi and hidden the body. This was just NOT what he would expect to hear. Of course, after a couple of very carefully placed questions, he found out she was really interested in getting a P-12, completing a ride of somewhere between 100 and 199 kilometers every month for 12 consecutive months. No easy feat, that.

So, in early January we started out. We amassed a gang of 8 or 9 riders to go out and brave the ice and sub-freezing temperatures and did this flat route that I’d helped to design for Seattle Randonneurs called Pacific Rose. A very simple, pretty straightforward course that is almost half ridden on bike trails, with a majority of the rest being on fairly low traffic streets and much of them with bike lanes or sharrows. The only climbing is about 500’ or so during the last 5 miles. After a little more than 6 hours, there we were with our first month out of the way, and we’ve continued along ever since, finding some other really nice rides including one of Susan France’s permanents called the “Snoozeville Populair.” Of course, I couldn’t be satisfied with that. I had to also do a 300 kilometer or more ride every month for the whole year.

Everything was going swimmingly until the last month when life suddenly became very interesting and challenging for us. First I had to abandon my quest for that 300k every month, then I needed to abandon my quest for 100 consecutive months of at least 200 kilometers or better at least once a month. But, when Mimi told me that this goal for the P-12 just wasn’t the most important thing for her right now, it shook me up a little. I discovered that, for some unexplainable reason, it was even more important for me. Suddenly, it became a sort of must do goal, and I really wanted to see her complete this for herself. After all, this is the woman I love more than life itself, the single most important person to ever influence my walk through every hardship of life and it was important to me, even if she was willing to let go. So I organized a ride. Same course, different day.

Then people started to respond. I started to count heads of those who said they might like to come out and play and before I was done, I was printing up almost 20 control cards. Of course, I knew Dr. Codfish was coming up from Olympia because we’d ridden together a few weeks ago and he said he might just want to do this. And I knew Amy was coming, though we ended up changing from Saturday to Sunday and I feared she might have other commitments. Then Lyn told me she was coming. And the emails just kept coming in. I was thrilled when I got an email from Pam saying that she and Will would join in on their tandem. Thrilled because he’d just come back from Paris-Brest-Paris and I wanted to hear about his 1200 kilometer adventure. After I got that email, I sent a note to Chris Heg asking him if he was back, hoping he might be able to join me, too. “Nope. Still in Norway.” Darn! I was surprised to see him at the start. He didn’t exactly lie to me, just told me a very, very simple truth, planning the whole time to be on that ride. He arrived back home sometime around bedtime the night before and was here for a 100k today. These randonneurs are very interesting folks, indeed.

One guy showed up who had never ridden a rando event before, and another guy showed up who had done a couple of permanents, but always by himself. Both got to meet a bunch of the finest folks in the area and ride the day with them. Peg and Kris came up from Olympia. And then, just before we were about to leave, Robin showed up. When he rolled up, he said, “Hey, Boothby. I’ve got something for you.” He reached down and started fiddling around with his shoe. I couldn’t figure out what he was doing. Digging for some toejam? Hiding donuts in his socks? WHAT??? Nope. He took off a little white and red disk and handed it to me. “That’s your timing chip for PBP. You’re going to need it in 4 years.” I just about lost it.

Ralph and Carol also showed up on their tandem, leading us off right at 9:00 for a rocket ship descent down Holgate with Will and Pam right on their heels on their tandem. I easily hit 42 mph going down this hill and the tandems were leaving me far behind.

We were all hanging out together in the mid-morning sun with everything going just fine until we got to Harbor Island where the salmon enter the Duwamish River from Elliott Bay and the fisherfolks were lined up elbow to elbow reeling them in as fast as they possibly could. We were joking about why we quit fishing and all was right with the world until all of a sudden, my pedals would not turn around. I looked down. I couldn’t see anything. I back pedaled and the chain came off. NOW WHAT? I pulled off and discovered I had sucked up a spool of jumbled up fishing line discarded by one of the fisherpeople.

It was in my pedals. It was in my chain. It was in the cassette. It was in the rear derailleur. It was a fine mess. As cyclist passed me one by one, each with their own smart alecky comments about my nice bird’s nest, Mimi, Geoff and I tried to extract it. Lyn took pictures. After 15 minutes, we had it cleared enough to ride on. I reflected that it took just about as long as to clean out a fishing reel when I had a “real” birds nest years ago out fishing for trout in the streams of Western Washington, thinking to myself it is not a darned wonder I quit fishing. Sheesh!

I would like to report that after that it was a very uneventful ride.

It wasn’t.

With two construction detours and several people not knowing the area well, we had folks heading every which way. Mimi, Robin, Amy and I were riding along together south of the Post Office facility in Tukwila. Robin asked me if I liked funny stories. Well, of course I do. He started to tell me of his PBP adventures.

All of a sudden, there was no Mimi and no Amy.

We waited for them, then we all took off together. Suddenly, there was no Amy.

We waited. I told Mimi to go on ahead and try to catch up to the gang, making sure to turn off the trail at 196th. She did very well and even called me from 212th to tell me she had missed the turn. . But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Robin and I rode back to find Amy. When we didn’t find her, I called about a half hour later. “I’m lost,” she said

“Well, where are you?”

“I’m near the Tukwila Park and Ride.” Great. That’s just back a ways. We rode there and waited. I called her in my little voice. I even whistled. No Amy. Finally, I see her riding toward us. From the wrong direction. She’d turned back north.

So I ask Robin if he can “jet ahead” and try to reel Mimi in and I’ll ride along with Amy.

“Hey, I’m done jetting,” he said. That was when I found out he’d only been off the airplane since 5 pm yesterday. He did take off a little bit faster though.

Amy and I rode on. Just about the time we were approaching 196th, Mimi called. To avoid undue delays we rode down to 212th to pick her up so the three of us could at least ride together. Once we got back on course everything went off without a hitch. Well, almost.

We knew we were well off the pace and when we hit the second detour, I just took us over to the Interurban Trail, figuring we might see some of the earlier riders as they’d be making their way north by now. We had to go almost 5 miles south yet. I found it a bit odd that we never saw one of them. Then as we rolled into the control a Giu’s Market, there were the tandems and a couple other singles. I figured we could ride out with them and went to get an ice cream. Mimi came out of the store and looked like she was a race horse headed for the barn as she said, “You don’t mind if I ride out with Sue, do you?” I knew she really wanted to finish and do it with time to spare. “Naw, go on.”

So I thought I’d ride out with Dr. Codfish and Amy and we would be able to ramble our way back. Just as they, Kris, Peg and I were rolling out, my phone rang. It was Chris. They were at a different place and wanted to know what to do. Now this posed an interesting dilemma. Lucky for us all, the Permanents Coordinator was with that gang (who had been the lead pack earlier – still don’t know what happened there) and he was able to make the executive decision to use that as an alternate control since the mileage of the detours had made up the distance. I rode over to meet up with them, since Dr. Codfish, Amy, Peg and Kris were well ahead of me now. FINE! Be that way.

I found Geoff who told me Robin had gone off in search of me. Now I was really confused, so I rode back to the store, but never found him. On the way back, I did find Chris and eventually we had a gang of about 6 or so headed north together. Lord, almighty! I can’t think of a day or a ride when I’ve seen so much cat herding. We eventually caught up with Amy. Seems Dr. Codfish had dropped her like a hot potato somewhere. So I let the rest of the gang go and rode with her, then Chris dropped back and we chatted a while. I was really glad to have the slower pace, since I’d been working pretty hard to keep up with Geoff’s gang at 18 mph. 12-13 felt a lot better to me, especially as it was warming up pretty good.

Chris took off after a while and Amy and I chatted our way along until we arrive in Tukwila and stopped for a few minutes to let Peg and Kris show up so we would be able to ride the stretch through Renton together and not have anybody getting lost. I really enjoyed this part of the ride, ambling our way through Renton, onto the Cedar River Trail and chatting pretty much constantly. I think that was what I needed more than anything, just a nice easy day with lots of conversation.

Somehow, we managed to catch up to a lot of other folks and we ended up with 7 or 8 of us heading out together from the last info control, with Geoff, Amy, Kris, Peg and me finishing the last several miles together until we got to the one big climb of the day, at which point everybody just sorta rode off into the distance as Amy and I continued to work our way to the finish line.

Arriving at The Station, we found that most of the riders had either come and gone or were still hanging about, feasting on tamales and beer....

...or sipping lemonade or iced coffee. For almost an hour, we hung out in the shade enjoying the company of the day, listening to a couple of Robin’s adventures from PBP and savoring the late summer warmth of a beautiful Seattle afternoon. Finally, it was time to head for home.

Life just doesn’t get much better than this.

30 August 2011



As most of you probably know, a lot of my season goals have taken a very quick and unexpected turn for the different. I've had to make some serious life adjustments (as an adjuster, this is what I do best - or worst depending on which claimant and/or insured and/or supervisor and/or coworker and/or broker you talk to) that included setting aside my 300k per month for 2011 goal, then this last weekend letting go of my R-100 pursuit. I know, I know, there is no medal for R-100. I was 37 months into it and although I felt strong enough and even had a buddy willing to fly from Tucson to Seattle to ride with me for a 200k, I knew that it was more important that I come to terms with some changes going on. The quickest route to acceptance is through self-determination rather than having somebody tell me I can't do something. So, I determined that I'd rather do an 85 mile non-brevet style ride, relax, enjoy the day with a good friend and eat lots of pie, drink lots of coffee and generally screw off, in advance of checking into the hospital at the butt crack of dawn Monday morning.

Sunday was spent with family, getting my son's car up and running, washed, driven (with expired tabs) to my house for more work, storage or selling, and then doing a very nice little loop with #1 son, followed by a fantastic dinner and evening spent screwing off, and a good night's rest.

Monday morning, and here's where the story starts, included Josiah and I riding 6.7 miles to the hospital with not quite 500' of climbing involved. A very nice morning spin to get the legs under me and prepare me for a long day. I checked into Swedish Hospital at 7:24 and by 8:30 was tucked into a temporary bed where a lab tech came in and placed an IV in my left arm - right where my arm band and my "FIGHT THE PHOMA" support wristband for my niece was. She made a little bloody mess and was trying to clean it up, diluting it and making it worse so she decided she was going to cut my id band off. In the process, she cut my wristband and felt horrible. After a few hundred "i'm sorrys", she finally left and we joked about that all day, what an auspicious start to the morning. Now, mind you, RALEIGHDON DOESN'T TAKE LIFE LYING DOWN. He fully intends to negotiate long and hard in an effort to get a stationary bike installed in his room or a trip to PT every day to spin for a half hour or so. He's got it all planned oot, as he is wont to do. So next up on the agenda was the dietitian, Lara. She comes in. She looks vaguely familiar, but not really. So she gives me her talk about weight loss, diet, all the good stuff. She is ADORABLE! Obviously very athletic, gorgeous, long flowing brunette hair, dressed to the nines and extremely attentive. I think to myself this is a great opportunity to start the negotiations. So I start my argument. You do realize that the best way to stimulate appetite is to exercise and what better way than cycling. Yada yada yada. I go on and on and on, as I am wont to do.....

She finally cuts me off and tells me that she might not be the best person to talk to since her husband is and "avid cyclist" himself. Now sometimes when folks tell me this, I find out the guy rides every weekend 10 miles to meet his buddies at the tavern for the football or baseball or basketball or whatever ball game is on teevee and then 10 miles home. But then Lara called herself a widow. The only people I know who refer to themselves this way are either rando wives, racerboy wives (or racergirl husbands) or actual widows. She didn't put out that she had lost her husband physically, so I assumed her hubby was probably a racer. Then she said that, in fact, she'd just had to be alone for the last 10 days while he was off on a big ride. Raleighdon starts adding up days........."Really? Where was he riding?"


"Really? Does he ride with SIR? What is your husband's name?"

"Chris Ragsdale"

Oh him.........

Now I get it.

I did get my bike though.

For anyone unfamiliar with PBP, that is Paris Brest Paris, a 1,230 kilometer (765 mile) ride in France, the oldest and most prestigious cycling event in the world. Chris finished this year with a time of 44 hours 36 minutes. You do the math.

20 August 2011

Life's a Shit Sandwich Sometimes - Deal With It

What do you do when life deals you a shit sandwich? I mean, really. It isn’t like it is always fair. Or that it should be.

A couple weeks ago, I made my second trip to Boise this year to spend a little bit of time with my niece, Megan, who was diagnosed earlier in the year with Stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma. At 26 years old. Life had really dealt her a shit sandwich, and I knew it was going to be a long year for her. I wanted to reach out and take it away from her. I wanted to kiss her on the forehead and say, “It’s okay. You’ll be fine.” I wanted to grab my magic wand and make everything better. I couldn’t do any of these.

Now, I’ve been in active recovery for 26-1/2 years. I came to terms with powerlessness over the disease of addiction a long time ago. I have had to recognize my own limitations time and again but this was different. This was one of the kids I’d gotten to see come into her own in the past several years, a young person with incredible promise, astounding personal strength and a heart so full of love that is was frightful at times. I never get enough time with her. As I sat on the sidelines, all I could do is be a cheerleader. Here is just a little bit of what she has taught me.

First, it isn’t worth it to get pissed off about the little things. This is huge, really. I spend a lot of my time worrying, fretting, raging a the world, tilting at windmills and in fear of not getting my way, not having control of any situation and angry if things don’t work out the way they “should”. Well, life just doesn’t work that way all the time. True, if I work hard, if I do the right thing, if I treat people the way I want to be treated, if I live according to my own spiritual principals, things usually work out pretty well, but there are still a lot of bumps and bruises along the way, and when those little mouseturds of life wind up being in my path, I still tend to find the longest pole I can to vault over them. What Megan taught me the other day was that it just isn’t worth yelling at somebody because he didn’t do the laundry exactly how she thought he should. Interesting concept. Especially since I know HOW everything should be done……my way!

Well, my way wouldn’t necessarily include walking into the doctor’s office at 25 years old and having him tell me I have cancer. My way wouldn’t really include having my whole world tipped over on end just as I was starting into a new marriage. My way wouldn’t include trying to brush my beautiful red flowing hair in the morning and watching it come out in handfuls. My way wouldn’t include a 6-month series of treatments that left me sick and weak and not knowing if I was coming or going. My way would be to rage against this kind of news. My way would be to pick up a coffee cup, throw it across the room and hope that it crashed and banged and made a huge mess, because it is only in making a bigger mess than I feel, that MY WAY works. Only it doesn’t.

What Megan did with that diagnosis, was use it against itself.

Megan grew up with a dad who is a little bit like me, and even more extreme in some ways. When she had left her childhood home and made a home with her new husband Tommy, she began to experience some of the same rage I have dealt with my whole life. What she has done with it fills me with a much deeper understanding of what it is like from the other side of the relationship, that of a loving child who grew up has internalized the rage of a painful childhood. By integration of the emotional upheaval and directing it into positive healing processes with her father, Megan has begun not just to heal from the cancer, but insisted upon healing emotionally at the same time. Through the process, she is coming out of the treatment process not just cured from the cancer, but with a more wholesome relationship with her father and better able to deal with all of life's other challenges.

Hearing what she has put into place took me back so many years to when Pop was first diagnosed with lung cancer and a little bit of the process he and I were able to go through, only here was a 26 year old kid, just starting out in life and it wasn’t the old man dying but her need to do emotional healing as she was preparing to live. I have been reminded the past several months of that line from Shawshank Redempion, “Either get busy living or get busy dying” and Megan’s drive has been pretty incredible to watch.

Another thing Megan taught me was just how critical it is to be able to be true to our own values and stay involved in the process of life, no matter what. And she taught me what a blessing it is to continue to give, even when it seems like we should be the ones reaching out and taking. Both visits I have made, here we were invading her home which she shares with her husband and another 30 somethings single guy with whom both Megan and Tommy have a very close relationship. What does Megan do? Does she expect them to wait on her and take care of her? Hell no. She is up and about, DOING stuff. Keeping her body active and her mind engaged. She is up making dinner, playing games, making sure “the boys” have what they need. Now, to someone from the outside, this might seem incredibly selfish on the boys’ part and foolish on hers. A little watching, though, and I was able to see how important it was for her. It was about normalcy. It is about maintaining the routine that is comfortable to her. Sure, there have been “those” days. And I’m sure on “those” days, Tommy and Marshall have been there doing what it took to make sure Megan had what she needed, but when she’s up and about, she is all about taking care of other people and to take that away would be unthinkable.

Then there is the dedication to a dream, coupled with the need to either give up or let go. Now, I’ve said for years that giving up and letting go are two very different things. Megan certainly helped to reinforce that for me and prove my point. Here is a young woman who was forced to drop out of culinary school because she was about to go through 6 months of intense chemotherapy. Tough to manage class schedules around chemo appointments, especially with very limited course offerings and the extreme discomfort brought on by chemo. OK, so what does Megan do? Well, she goes out and gets a couple of jobs. Working in restaurants – not a field of employment known for their generosity and flexibility. She is so good that they work with her to allow her to work around her doctor’s appointments, allowing her a pallet for her developing artwork of cooking new and exciting things. And she excels.

Well, of COURSE she does!! We would expect no less.

Through letting go without giving up the dream, new worlds have opened to her. I have so much to learn.

It’s kinda funny – not a funny ha-ha but a funny aha – I set this article aside for almost 2 weeks and what happens? I receive my own cancer diagnosis. So, now I am going through much of the same thing Megan went through earlier in the year. I called her, reluctantly because I knew it was going to really hurt both her and me when I did. Sure enough, the first few minutes of the call were about tears, cussing, shock, anger, frustration, rage, pain and I’m sure for Megan, some pretty unpleasant memories of her own process that has to be still fresh. But what was the first thing she said when we wiped the tears away and started to talk again? “You know, an airline ticket to Seattle is only $110. I can be there any time.”

I’ve now been through the first round of consultations, have scheduled an appointment with a mental health therapist to deal with mood swings I haven’t experienced for many, many years, set a process in motion to be able to take several months off from work so I can get my body back to its good old way, and am amazed by the comfort I now get from watching my young niece deal courageously and with purpose through cancer treatment. Little did I know how much I would need her strength. Little did I know how valuable her teaching would be. I can only hope that I am able to face the next several months with the determination, drive and courage that Megan has taught me.

I think the major lesson here for me is that when life deals you a shit sandwich, you just need to slather on a little more mayo, close your eyes and with faith that everything will be alright, and take a big old bite. If that sandwich doesn’t kill you, you’ll be stronger for the experience.