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.

15 August 2011

A Difficult Friday

Oh, I realize it really hasn't even started yet. This is going to be one long, long dance, and we are just starting to cue up the music. I sit here, alone at home for the first time since Friday morning.

At 9:48 a.m. Friday, August 12, 2011 I was given the big prize. No, that isn't the day I got to mail off my application for my Super Randonneur Medal. I can't do that until the 25th. No, this was when the phone rang and Dr. Sanford awarded me the news that the biopsies had come back positive for cancer. He was totally professional, totally detached and about as matter of fact as anybody could be. I accept his news, thinking how much I appreciate his frankness and at the same time, am glad he's not my 'real' doc.

10:12 a.m. I am on the bike. I ride off towards Doc Schuster's office where I will meet Mimi. 11 miles with almost 1,000' of vertical. Pounding my way up every hill I can find. I'm angry. I'm sad. I knew this was going to be the result, but it doesn't make it any easier.

11:45 a.m. I meet Mimi at the doctor. She's waiting in the lobby when I arrive. She's eaten, I've just picked up a sandwich. I force down what I can, but eating just doesn't feel fun anymore. I love to eat. I love to cook. Food has been a huge part of my existence, having grown up in restaurants and worked in them for a long time. Our family gatherings are food-centric. I love the smell of baking bread, baking pie, making a batch of fresh strawberry jam. Of course, I love to ride past the bakery and feast my eyes and my stomach on fresh maple bars. As I sit with my turkey and provolone sandwich and orange soda, though, something just seems wrong. I know I have to eat, I just don't want to. I force down about 2/3 of it and angrily, but silently throw the remains in the trash. Now, I'm really pissed. If I can't enjoy food, what the hell is the point? I keep my dark thoughts to myself for now.

We finally get put into an examining room and Doc Schuster is out in the hallway pulling some samples. We nod and exchange pleasantries. "It isn't the news I wanted to hear, but it's fixable," he says to me from across the room. A few minutes later he comes in and we talk. He talks. I cry. He hugs me. We ask questions. He has already talked to Dr. Henry Kaplan and Dr. Brian Louie and informs me they're going to be my team, filling me in on what great docs they are in their respective fields. He wants me in their office soon.

I question the need for surgery. Can't we just do chemo? Nope. Won't work. Need to cut this out, and do it quickly. OK. So what's the recovery time? 4-6 months, but that's "non-athletic" recovery. Because of my conditioning, I might be a lot faster.

Well, of course I will!

As we leave Schuster, we're on the phone to Kaplan's office while walking to Minor and James to pick up the DVD from my tests which we will walk over to Dr. Louie's office. First, we're told Kaplan can't see me until the 26th - until Mimi says Gary wants me in there quickly. Suddenly, we have an appointment for 6:00 p.m. Tuesday the 16th. Louie's office is pretty much the same; first they can't see me until next week sometime, until some shameless name dropping gets me an appointment on Tuesday at noon. In a whirlwind of activity lasting about 3 hours, my entire next week is thrown into a series of appointments with men I never wanted to meet.

Once it is all done, it is time for a little sanity; a trip for coffee with Elena and Igor. We sit in the back yard, sipping sweet hot coffee, munching cookies and chatting, with the birds singing overhead, the sweet smell of the garden surrounding us and talking about life plans for the next month (and next few years). It all seems so normal, and in my mind it all seems so artificial. It is like I am watching a movie, not really a part of it all, but simply observing.

Ken comes for dinner. Lots of laughter, but lots of seriousness, too. Then when he is gone, it is time to get ready for tomorrow's 100k bike ride.

10:10 p.m. I crawl into bed. Mimi turns her light off. I lay there with mine on. I'm a little bit afraid of the dark tonight. Can't explain it. Don't really feel like I need to. Just am not ready to have the lights turned out quite yet.

As my sponsor might tell me, "more will be revealed."

12 August 2011

It Just Ain't Fair - How to Accept A Diagnosis You Don't Like

Life ain't fair, huh? So who said it was supposed to be, Bub? HUH?? What about them apples? I'm life. How do you you like me now?

Thursday morning, 8:30 a.m. Upper endoscopy. Nurse takes me back into this little room and starts to prep me. Asks me if I have any questions. I share a few of my concerns. Is it gonna hurt? I mean, really. When they shoved that freaking garden hose up from the south end, my whole ass end ached for days, and this thing doesn't look much different. She's very calming; very helpful; very soothing. Explains the procedure and tells me probably the worst I'm going to feel is a sore throat for a couple days. She's right. It's now 3:30 am Friday morning and I feel like I have tonsilitis.

I tell her some of my fears. I mean, really. Just a year and a half ago, this was sorta the beginning of the end for Papa. It was just after Christmas and he kept throwing up; couldn't keep food down. Two weeks later he was in a hospital and never came out. OK, so that's my biggest fear.

Before the morning was over, I'd had the scope done and had been told that the good doc had found what he thinks is probably esophageal cancer. Biopsies will be back in 7-10 days. Whoopie freaking goddam!!! Ain't that special. After getting dressed, I head out to the waiting room and the nurse glances over at me. Is it my imagination or is she looking at me differently than she was an hour ago?

So he wants me to have a CT scan. Well, sure. Why not. Personally, I'd rather have a Krispy Kreme right now, but I suppose if I can't have a donut I might as well have a ten thousand dollar scan of my entire body. Ya want fries with that? It is about that time that my endurance cycling skills really come in well.

The tech brings me over a barium sulfate solution to drink. Tells me it is flavored, but might not be very pleasant. Hell, this stuff tastes like an Orange Ensure Plus. Got any more of these, partner? This isn't any worse than what I drink at midnight on an all night ride. Well, as a matter of fact, he DID have more. Two of these things in me in short order, then off for an iodine injection and then watch the little bubble man on the screen as he tells me to breathe in and hold, breathe out. I was reminded of our little buddah exercises we've been doing and chuckle. Who knew I'd need it now.

So many unknowns. So many quetions without answers. Read the internet. Look at signs and synmptoms. Look at all the information. The rest of the day is lived in a little bit of a fog. There is certainly some shock, but not much. I think I've known for a long time. This goes back. Way back. 1984. St. Francis X. Cabrini Hospital. 7th floor. Morning movie time. I sit and watch some yo yo doctor telling about all the different ways to die from alcoholism. It is the esophageal hemmorage that gets my attention. I think to myself what a horrible way to die. What a painful way to leave. I've lived with acid reflux problems for several years and if I don't take my one little pill every day, I have horrendous reflux episodes and can only barely imagine what it would be like to have all that crap hemmorage out into the body. YUCK!!!!!

So that's the way its gonna be, huh? Well, OKAY THEN! Let's dance. Boothby's ready.

Two rules:

1) No Whining
2) No Feeling Sorry For Yourself
3) Keep Your Sense of Humor

OK, that's three, but then, I do tend to use Pansy Math when it serves my purposes.

The rest of the day is a sort of a blur. Stop at the store. Buy a flat of strawberries to make jam tonight. Go home. Why does my house look so different all of a sudden? Why does the mess in my office bother me so much? Why do I feel like I have to do something about it all of a sudden (I don't, of course)? Why me? Why now? Well, why NOT me and why NOT now? What makes you think you're so special? You've had 60 really great years. You've got a wife who is your best friend. You have two really great sons who love you. You have a whole host of really great friends. You're one of the most fortunate men on the planet, so don't go giving me any of this whiney baby why me bullshit!

If the doctor wouldn't have told Mimi not to let me drive for 12 hours, I'd be out on the bike.

Well, of course you would!

At a little after 3, Elena and Igor come over with Anna and after a quick espresso and cookies, we're off to the park. I don't believe I've ever spent an hour at a playground surrounded by little kids that was any more poignant. Life. Lots of it. Watch the kid on the swing hogging it, while shooting hostile looks at the littler kid patiently waiting his turn. Mimi makes some remark about what a little shit he is. I respond back that a lot of life's lessons are learned on the playground. Soak in the laughter around me.

Life is so very precious. Or is it? Maybe it is just a little part, or maybe this is all there is. Who knows? Maybe it is my turn to start to find out. Maybe this, maybe that. The thoughts just turn around and around.

Bedtime. Falling asleep is easy; staying asleep, not so much. As usual, I'm up in the middle of the night. Here I sit. Work laptop on my lap. Open emails from claims unanswered. Somehow, they just don't seem important to me right now. Processes. Tasks. Regulations. Timelines. What is going on in somebody elses' life just doesn't seem to make much difference tonight. I need to do some things. I need to attend to some tasks of my own, and I'm not even sure how. But I'm okay with that. I'm okay with this process.

What's first? Well, I've spent the last 26 or so years learning to just "do the next indicated thing" and for right now, that just means taking little steps and letting a process work its way. Both internally and externally. I lay here trying to sleep and feel my body. Feeling my body on a cellular level is different. I feel like little spiders are working their way through my body, building a dark web. Well, I got news for you, ya little shits! I ain't goin down without a fight. I got me a big old can of bug juice I'm gonna hit you with and I'm gonna hit you hard. I've got a whole lot of riding to do and a whole lot of loving to do and a whole lot of pies to bake, jam to make, donuts to eat and cancer to beat.

So if you little cell killing assholes want to tangle, let's get ready to rumble! I learned how to do this from Pansy Palmetto, the most manned up woman in the universe. Acceptance, my ass!

Disability. That's a funny word, now, isn't it? Long term, short term, blah blah blah. Hey, maybe I can get one of them handicap stickers for the window of my car. I'll mount it on the handlebars of Katrina when I ride in to work in the morning! Work? Will I have time to work? Will I be able to work? Will I WANT to work? Will I be able to put my heart into my work? How do you juggle 8-4 with a bunch of other appointments to take care of? Should I pay off the mortgage from my 401(k) so Mimi isn't left with that if I don't beat this thing? All these random questions just keep cycling through my noggin. There aren't any answers, just questions.

That, I can accept. I don't really need answers. OK, they'd be nice, but they're not really important. Just put one foot in front of the other. Breathe in. Breathe out. Don't do something stupid in between. That has worked for a while now, and needs to continue to be my mantra.

Life is a juggling act. It feels like I've been trying to keep 6 balls in the air for a long time and the harder I try to keep them going, the faster they move, making it ever more difficult to keep them from dropping. I have to remember the rule. If you need to, toss them higher. That way it takes longer for them to come back down, more time to focus on another one. Simple.