When I was on chemo, I was adamant that I would go for a walk each day regardless of how I felt. During the summer I have a vivid memory of one of those walks. Jessica, Colby and Cade had left the house to play at a playground that is very close to our house. The plan was for me to go for my walk and then meet them at the park. The chosen playground is one that sits at the Community Park, which is basically across the street from my house. However they were going to go to the area that sits on the top of a small hill. OK correct that, It’s not really a hill, but a knoll.
During chemo, I had a standard loop I did each day – part of the goal was I didn’t want to have to think about where to go. I did my normal loop, then headed for the park, but as I got halfway up the knoll, I realized that I was struggling. This hill was hard. I had to stop about halfway up the knoll and catch my breath, I felt weak and unsure if I could even make it up the maybe 50 ft of gain to the top. It was a surreal moment, to go from climbing mountains and running ultra-marathons, to not being able to easily climb a 50 foot hill – I mean knoll. It was the ultimate reminder of just how far down my health had gone.
I wrote a blog post several months ago called the Gauntlet. (Yes I do now realize I spelled the title wrong the first time!) It was about how I was going to run a 50K ultra marathon (post Goliath)- The Orcas Island 50K to be exact. During my training there were times when I wondered what the heck was I thinking. I wondered why I was doing this, was it my ego, just why on earth would I want to go out and just suffer and push myself to exhaustion? What do I really have to prove to anyone or even to myself?
The truth is the hardest part of my journey with Goliath has been mental. It was never the physical recovery. It wasn’t trying to get my left hand to work properly after surgery. It wasn’t dealing with the challenges of chemo – always being tired, the constant nausea and a complete deterioration of my fitness. It has always been the mental challenge. Dealing with the new reality of living with brain cancer. Dealing with the lows, the frustration. I would consider myself pretty mental tough, but yet the mental battle has pushed me to my mental breaking point.
Truthfully it’s hard to but into words some of the mental struggles. Probably the best way to describe it would be the fear of forever feeling compromised. That my life will consist of two parts, the part before cancer and the part after cancer. I picture myself telling stories to my boys about how I was like before cancer and how since cancer, I just can’t do that anymore. Which gets harder to think about when I know that there is not a cure, baring a miracle from God, I will never be cancer free. I will never be in remission. That piece is hard for me to except. The concept that no matter how hard I work, how hard I push, I will never be free of Goliath. It’s my forever battle. A battle that someday I will lose.
The mental challenge is breaking those chains that connect me to the forever battle. It’s the challenge to not let brain cancer feel like its pulling me down and not allowing me to dream, not allowing me to feel confident. It’s a big anchor that’s holding me down, it’s holding me back from reaching my goals, my dreams. The challenge of running the Gauntlet is to remove those chains and feel free once again. To know that I can do anything. It’s allowing myself to live with confidence again. To live to my full potential. This 50K gave me purpose and a goal. It required hard training and commitment. The last ultra-marathon that I ran was back in 2008. Back then I was in much better shape as well. It had been a while to say the least.
For this race, I was fortunate to have a friend – Jason Boyle – who was going to run it with me. Jason is an old hiking buddy of mine. When he was my neighbor, we did a lot of hikes and runs together. On several occasions I didn’t even need to talk him into doing some crazy hike, with lots of mileage and no sleep, he would always volunteer for the trips that make “normal” people think that we are crazy. He is my kind of person. So a 50K with 8,500 ft of gain over the 31 plus miles sounded like fun to both of us. This would actually be our second 50K running together.
After I had a client meeting a work on Friday the 6th, we rolled out from Kirkland and headed up to Anacortes, to catch the ferry. We had a really cool cabin booked on the Island for the night and were excited to embark on our adventure. After a nice home cooked meal and review of the maps and important details, we went to sleep to the sound of rain hitting the roof of the cabin. We woke up to that same sound. The race was to start at 8am, we arrived at the start staging area around 7am. It was still dark, we brought head lamps to walk from the car to the start area. Everyone packed into the main lodge at Moran State Park as the rain fell outside. Why get wet now, when there would be ample time once the race starts. There is always a cool vibe of nervous energy prior to a race start.
Quickly time flew by and we were off. The race opened up with a road section, to spread out the field, then it hit some singletrack. We quickly realized that it was going to be a muddy slippery course within the first few miles on the trail. We then hit the road up Mt. Constitution. The course cruised up that to the south summit. We had decided the night before that we were going to walk that section. We soon discovered that we were towards the end of the pack. However it didn’t phase us. Stick to the plan, we talked about how we would be reeling in people later on in the race. Not worth the pain later to run the big hill. Next was a steep downhill section to the first aid station – 6 miles in. I watched the guy just ahead of us take two pretty good falls on the muddy trails. At the aid station, it was time for some Oreos and gummy bears. We didn’t stop long as the longer you stop, the harder it is to get going again.
The next aid station was at mile 14 and this part of the course was to feature 2 smaller hill climbs. It was this section that we started to catch up with some folks. We got into “chase” mode and would try to run to those ahead of us. The course took us around two small lakes, here I actually slipped and ended up sliding down into the mud. No big deal, I popped up and we were away. We pasted some more people and then made it to the next aid station. Ginger Ale and of course Oreos were on the menu.
After the aid station, it was six more miles until the next one. This part of the race was challenging as we were not anywhere near the end to start thinking about the finish. The course was super muddy to the point where you were not really able to rest on any of the downhill sections for fear of falling. At around mile 17, my backpack strap broke and we had to tie it back together. There was a great waterfall during this section. Very beautiful. Finally we hit the mile 20 aid station. Progress was being made. We knew what was ahead, a grueling super step trail, back up towards the top of Mt. Constitution.
The step section is one that we had both heard about. It is part of the lore of the Orcas 50K. It is like the cable line on Tiger Mountain. Since both of us are hikers, this section really wasn’t so bad. We zoomed past a bunch of people that were feeling the steep incline. It was this part that we had our one amazing view of the water and the other Islands. From the top of the hill, the next part of the race was a small decline of several miles. Honestly for me, this was one of the most difficult parts of the race for me. I was very thankful for Jason as he had energy and so I just followed him and ran when he ran and walked when he walked. Then the course turned back uphill for the final push to the summit of Mt. Constitution and the final aid station. Jason was rocking it and helping me to complete the task at hand.
I had a nice surprise waiting for me at the top, my family was there to give me that final boost of energy to push through the final 5 miles to the finish. It was a huge lift to see their smiling faces and feel their encouragement. It’s hard to say just how awesome that felt. It was very cool. I am thankful for their support and love through training and the race. We stopped at the aid station then were on our way, after some Oreo’s and gummy bears of course. The next part of the race was basically all downhill to the finish. I really relied heavily on just following Jason at this point as I was physically beat at this point in the race. The two things I remember most about this section was there was a humongous tree at the bottom of the trail, that actually stopped us both in our tracks to admire it. The second thing was that once we got back down to the main road in the park, we had to take a side trail to avoid the road and of course it had some climbing to do! We crossed the finish line in 8 hours. My family was there again to cheer us into the finish. It was a magical feeling.
We did not set a record pace, but that was never the point of the race for us. It was about the challenge, it was about the company, it was about fighting through when you want to quit, it was about the mental toughness that suffering brings, it was about having friends and family around to support us through the long hours of training and the race, it was about the mud and the rain, it was about the bonds that happen when you push yourself to your limits with friends, it was about breaking the chains that hold us back, it was about feeling free, it was about me forgetting about cancer, it was about not having the separation of things I did before cancer and the things that I couldn’t do after cancer, it was about finishing the gauntlet.
The weekend after Christmas, both of my boys competed in a wrestling tournament. Like all tournaments, it was a double elimination tournament, so you either lose twice and are out, or you keep winning and place in the top three. They wrestled tough, but in the end both lost two matches and left the mat in tears. Wrestling is the toughest sport that I ever competed in and as a parent it’s the most gut wrenching to watch. In wrestling, two people compete, one wins and one loses, there is nowhere to hide, no team, just you and the competition. I know there are people out there that wonder how on earth I could be so excited and passionate about a sport that at times leaves your child in tears and in pain. Why would I strongly encourage my kids to compete in a sport that is intense and can be brutal? The simple answer is adversity. Unlike any other sport, wrestling teaches you about dealing and overcoming adversity.
For me wrestling was probably not my best sport, in terms of my abilities, but it was my favorite sport. It was the sport that really helped to transform me. The first year I started wrestling was in middle school. At the time, Tolt Middle School had a crazy long streak of league wrestling titles. Everyone wrestled, it was the thing to do. The team numbers were huge. The number one move was the head and arm. For some people it was the only move they knew, but it worked and lead to a high number of wins by pin. I was a different story, wrestling did not come easy. In middle school, I was five-foot two and about 160-165 pounds, a little tubby kid. I worked as hard as I could, but finished the year winning a few matches and losing about the same or more. My eighth grade year, I was pumped about it as now that I was in the eighth grade, I should naturally be much better and start to pick up some victories, like my teammates. However that didn’t happen. I actually had a worse year my second year. I even battled with a strong desire to quit the sport. One day, I just couldn’t handle practice, so I took the bus home, instead of staying after school for practice. When I got home, my Dad was there. I told him that I wasn’t feeling good. Honestly I didn’t really want to tell him the truth, that I wanted to quit and was frustrated by the lack of success. He just told me to get some rest. Despite the fact that he would have been fine if I quit, there was something about looking him in the eye and telling him that I was quitting was not something that I ever wanted to do. After that night, I knew that I was not going to quit, I was not going to surrender, despite the pain and punishment, I was not going to surrender. Even many years later in college after having shoulder surgery from playing baseball, it was easier for me to sit down with my college coaches and tell them that I was done with baseball then it was to have that conversation with my Dad. Lessons on never giving up started when I was in middle school, wanting to quit wrestling because it was too hard. I finished the year out as best I could, with the encouragement from some great mentors and coaches.
The next year in high school, I had a choice: basketball or wrestling. I had played both in middle school. The truth is that I sucked at both sports, but liked wrestling better, so I chose to wrestle. This is where my physical transformation started, I went from the 5’2″ 165 little tubby to finishing my sophomore year 5′ 8″ and weighing in at 143 pounds. Running is what started that process. I would go to school super early in the morning and do a morning run and lifting workout. It was there that I started what is now a lifetime of running. I used to run all over Lake Marcel in the summer, constantly training. I am still running today. It has become my staple workout routine for all of my climbing, hiking and other adventures. I really do not think that I would have gotten into all of the outdoor adventures that I do, if I hadn’t started running in high school due to wrestling. The lesson learned, a lifetime of good fitness. It started with wrestling.
On the mat, those first two years of high school wrestling was extremely difficult. I finished my sophomore season 0 and 16 in varsity matches. Nope I did not win a match the entire year. I wrestled varsity at 148 pounds. I learned perseverance. It was hard, but I marched on as I had already decided that I wasn’t going to quit.
I went into my junior season coming off a defeated season. I had successes in other sports, in football my junior year, I was an all-league lineman, but was coming into the wrestling season with very little success. Our first tournament of the year, I ended up in the finals. It was shocking to me to go from not winning a match, to now being in the finals of a tournament. During my first two years of high school wrestling, I actually banned my parents from coming to any matches. They reluctantly agreed. Before the finals, my coached asked me where my parents where. I lied and made up some lame excuse. Luckily for me, one of my teammates – Erik Backstrom – told our coach the truth. I had banned my folks because I was ashamed of myself. Lesson: not be ashamed and It’s OK to let others help to carry your burden. My coach made me call my parents and tell them I was in the finals. They left our house and drove to watch me wrestle in the finals. I lost in overtime, but they got to come and watch me, which was all they ever wanted. My Dad never missed a match after that.
I went through this period of learning to believe in myself. Learning to believe that I could win and that I was not that tubby little kid anymore. Lesson: to believe in myself. I started goal setting and challenging myself. Lesson: Set big goals and chase them down. I finished my senior year with a record of 20-5 and was a league champion. The amazing part was the growth of my mental toughness and learning to believe in myself, to learn that I was very capable of amazing things.
Wrestling transformed me and even today I still benefit from the positive ways that it changed me. I dealt with tons of adversity during my career and many people would have quit, but I think it harnessed my greatest athletic attributes, my ability to suffer and will to never quit.
The transformation I went through is one of the reasons I want my kids to wrestle. The other one is much more selfish: I want my kids to have exposure to adversity. I want them to learn how to fight through difficult moments, to controls their emotions and believe 100% that they can accomplish anything. I just hit my 3 year mark from being diagnosed with brain cancer. Currently I would say that I feel the best I have in over 4 years. 3 years from surgery and 2 years removed from chemotherapy treatment and finally I am feeling back to my “old” self.
As good I am doing currently, I know that down the road, a battle awaits me. Part of the tumor is still in my head. The odds state that at some point Goliath will return. The cure was complete removal. That didn’t happen. Thus I now monitor and wait. But what I do know is that at some point it will be back and I will have a major fight on my hands. I want my kids to deal with adversity, so that when they day comes, they will be prepared as possible for that battle and the possible outcomes. I don’t want them to look back and say that they had never dealt with adversity before watching their dad battle cancer. I think they were both young enough to not completely understand what was really happening after I had surgery. Nor do I think they truly understand the concept that their Dad has brain cancer, to which there is no cure and that most likely it will return. When that battle happens it will be an epic one, as I don’t give up and I have learned how to suffer, thus Goliath will be in for a struggle. But no matter what the future holds, I want them to be comfortable with tackling adversity head-on and not to be afraid of the hard things that life will throw at them and I believe that learning to deal with adversity through wrestling will someday help them deal with their Dad’s battle with brain cancer. Adversity- that is why I want my kids to wrestle.
The quote “Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure” was displayed prominently in the weight room of my high school. It was a reminder that a new era was coming. That no longer would the same lame excuses of the past be acceptable anymore. The truth is, though, that we all have excuses. No matter where you go and who you meet, everyone has some type of excuse. Some type of reason why they can’t do something or why things didn’t go the way they were planned. There is an attitude that if the excuse is good enough, then somehow, someway, we will be spared from the results. We will be justified in some way shape or form.
I would like to think that since my diagnosis that I haven’t made any excuses for anything, but I know that would be a complete lie for me say that. I love being in the outdoors, hiking, climbing, skiing, mt. biking, etc. I think in some ways I have curbed back on pushing the limits in these types of endeavors. Granted on the outside, I am still climbing and doing some really cool things. Since surgery, I have climbed 10 of the top 100 highest peaks in the state of Washington, I have completed an adventure race, I did a multi-pitch rock climb of the Sharkfin Tower in the North Cascades, all of this along with countless hikes and trips to lesser known peaks and areas. But despite all of this, the truth is that I bailed in many cases; I passed up the sharp in of the rope on the Sharkfin Tower and didn’t lead. On a trip up Rainier, I turned around at 12,500 ft. Granted I was moving slow and we were trying to make it to the top in a single push, but still I choose to turn around instead of to push on. It was always easy to say that it was “too soon” after treatment, or I am not sure how I would perform no that I am on “anti-seizure drugs”.
Excuses allow us to escape failure without having to deal with the blame. Excuses shield us for the wrath of failure. Without question, everyone hates failure, especially me. It sucks to fail. I will admit it, one of my biggest fears in life is failure. Excuses mask the pain of failure. The better the excuse the less pain we have to feel because we are able to move part of the blame from our feet and place them on the excuse. It works great in our society. When we fail, it’s always some else’s fault. Just like the ref’s lost the Superbowl for the Hawks back in 2005. For me, I have been given the excuse of all excuses: brain cancer. It pretty much covers all of the bases. It’s cancer, so I have all of the excuses that someone with cancer has. But it’s also in my head, so any mental issues or gaffs, can be whisked away due to brain cancer as well. It is the excuse that can cover everything.
This past summer we were on vacation up in the Canadian Rockies and staying at Lake Louise. Jess, the boys and I were heading back to our hotel from completing a 12 mile hike. I was with Colby and Jess has hiking next to Cade, just ahead of us. I forget how we got onto the conversation, anyhow Colby looks at me and says “you can’t run as far as mom can.” Now it is 100% true the Jessica owns the fastest marathon and half-marathon times, as she is fast and an incredible runner. And no, I haven’t been able to keep up with her for quite some time. But I hold the lead in the longest run category as I have completed 3 ultra-marathons, including a 50 miler. But really I sort of “stopped” racing and training in 2009. Thus too long ago for my boys to really remember that stuff. Really what they remember from recent history is a dad who was constantly exhausted and worn out from surgery and chemo. 2014 represents really the first time since not only diagnosis, but also even a year before that, where I am finally feeling as good and strong as I was prior to all of this. In hindsight looking back, I was for sure impacted by Goliath in 2010 and 2011 – I just didn’t know what was going on at the time. But there were many signs that are obvious now, that showed I was just not right. Colby provided a wake-up call to me. As I really have been afraid of putting myself out there, taking a risk, setting a goal and working towards something. Brain cancer has become my excuse. An excuse to avoid any chance of failure. An excuse to avoid any possibility of not measuring up. The truth is, it a pretty good excuse. It goes something like this:
“What’s your excuse?”
“I have brain cancer.”
“Are you in remission?”
“No, I can’t be in remission.”
“Is there a cure?”
Case closed, that excuse wins out every single time. It works for every circumstance and situation.
But Colby provided me with a wonderful reminder of this. A reminder that using cancer as an excuse not to push and not to dream is not the way to live. It’s just not. It’s not acceptable and I am glad I have an almost ten year-old that is able to challenge his dad to be better. It was the first call that it is time for me to have my own personal “Gauntlet”.
About a month later, I was able to go for a hike with an old hiking pal of mine, Jason Boyle. He is a fellow “crazy” and has done some 25 mile plus hikes with me, hiked through the night and other kinds of things that most people think is insane. He used to be my neighbor, but now lives in Alaska and was in town for a meeting. We hiked up Tiger Mountain. He suggested that I run the Orcas Island 50K. Many years ago, we ran the North Face 50K when it was held on Cougar Mountain. The Orcas Island 50K, so its 31.6 miles and features over 8,500 ft of elevation gain. It sells out every year, so there is a lottery process, thus you also need to be lucky to get in! After hanging out with him, I left that was the second “call-out” of me using excuses not to challenge myself anymore. Thus the “Gauntlet” challenge has been borne and not it is time for me to stop hiding behind excuses, time to push myself again and time to move forward and stop using the excuse of brain cancer to hide behind.
“You can spend your time alone redigesting past regrets, oh
Or you can come to terms and realize
You’re the only one who cannot forgive yourself, oh
Makes much more sense to live in the present tense” PJ
I put my name in the lottery and got it. The Race will be held on February 7th 2015. And the training has already started. And no matter what, moving forward, Goliath is not any excuse anymore…
September 20th, was the 2014 Seattle Brain Cancer Walk. Once again I captained Team Defeat Goliath. Although this year I decided to just go with my own team. The past few years I have teamed with the Chris Elliot Fund to join forces and resources. The past two years we had over 250 people walk and raised over $40,000 dollars. Not too shabby. But this year I wanted it to be a little bit more personal. I wanted to know everyone walking with me. And I didn’t want to feel the pressure of organizing, coordinating and getting tons of folks to donate. I really just wanted to go with friends and family and just enjoy the event and the people. It turned out to be a perfect day! Team Defeat Goliath ended up with around 70 walkers, we raised over $2,000. But to top it off, I had a wonderful day.
I just wanted to say thank you so much to everyone who came and walked and all of those who donated to the cause, and those that just shared my story to hopefully raise awareness to brain cancer. Really that is the first thing that needs to happen. Enough people need to care about this disease in order to bring real change. Compared to other types of cancers, brain cancer is vastly under funded. Especially if you consider the mortality rate associated with it.
But off of my soap box and back to the day. It began with my name being drawn in the raffle for teams that had raised at least $750. I won two Delta Airline tickets. Pretty awesome way to start things out! Then I was able to partake in the walk surrounded by some incredible people who were all there to support me and this crazy journey that I have been on the past three years. Three years- it is pretty crazy to think it as been almost three years since my first seizure and then the MRI that revealed the presence of Goliath in my head.
For me the walk always brings out some emotions for me. One of those is guilt.
Guilt: I have often heard stories of people who survive a life threatening event, in which others lose their lives, but they make it through. Only to be gripped with an overwhelming feeling of guilt. They don’t understand why they survived, while others perished. For me that feeling of guilt is real. At times I struggle with it. As I have mentioned many times in my blog, I am lucky. My type of tumor is one of the type you would choose if you were told that you must choose a type of brain cancer. Granted, there currently is no cure for me and I still have a part of Goliath in my head – which requires continual MRI’s and daily seizure medication, but my tumor is slow growing and even the stats aren’t that bad as compared to most other types. Yes I am lucky.
Through my journey, I have met many others in the area who have a form of brain cancer. And in almost every case, my type of cancer is less aggressive and by the numbers, I have a better life expectancy then they do. Many are measured in months, yet I am measured in years. The people, that’s what makes the walk so special to me. I love touching base with some incredible survivors. I was talking to a fellow brain cancer warrior, whom I actually helped as a client in dealing with some financial issues that had arisen due to their battle with cancer. Which was challenging in its own right. Helping a fellow warrior prepare for the worst case possibility really sucks. At the walk, I was informed that the tumor is back and a third surgery is two weeks away. Two children younger than mine are involved with this family. Heart breaking. The guilt is gripping, why him and not me? After the walk a group of us went over to the Seattle Armory (the Centerhouse) and had a bite to eat. A fellow brain cancer warrior, whom I had not met before, came over and took a picture of our group. She asked who we were walking for, of course the answer is me. She asked me “So how long did they give you?” Guilt grasped me. I was never given a number by my doctors as I am beyond a point where they could make any kind of logical guess. But when you look at the stats, the answer is 12 years. She was given less then 12 months. She has a GBM, which is the death tumor. She is now at over 5 years. Again why her and not me. I felt like I was not worthy to call myself a survivor. 12 years versus 12 months! That is not in the same stratosphere. Yes I feel guilt. Why am I a lucky one? The cards I have been dealt suck, but they are good enough to stay in the game for quite some time. Long enough to maybe even get lucky and win the whole pot in the end.
Reality: One of my favorite parts of the walk is when they call up all of the survivors on stage for a picture. I love feeling the energy and strength of such a strong group of people. It is awesome. But at the same time, it is a huge dose of reality. There is a reason why I am here, a reason why I walk, a reason why I am on that stage. I have brain cancer. Yes I am living with brain cancer. Most of the time it doesn’t really register with me. I try to live my life as I always have. Screw the cancer, it won’t control my life. That moment on the stage is the reminder that Goliath is still here. He is still in my life, and I will continue to have to monitor him forever. It’s the blow to the jaw that says “You are not at this event because it’s wonderful and raises funds to help people, but you are here because you are living this, you have brain cancer. And we are raising money because there is no cure.” I will be honest, shortly after I left that stage, tears started to flow. Especially as I walked back to my two boys. I was hit on the head with the reality that I have a terminal disease.
Emotions are good. They help to remind us that we are all real people, we are fallible, that things matter, that there is more to this life then we know. It reminds us of what is important and helps us to battle on through the ups and downs of life. They connect us to others and bind us all as one. They are important.
Once again the walk was a huge success, thanks to all of you who lift me up and support myself and my family.
It’s September, which means that school has started, the Seahawks are playing again, the days are getting shorter, its getting colder at nights, and of course it’s time for the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk. It’s Saturday September 20th at the Seattle Center, start time is at 9am. Once again Team Defeat Goliath will be there. This will be my 3rd brain cancer walk as November will be my 3 year mark since being diagnosed with brain cancer. Over the past 2 years over 240 people have joined with Team Defeat Goliath and $40,000 has been raised. The funds from the walk go to support the Ivy Brain Cancer Center, which is at Swedish Hospital. The funds typically stay local, so you can feel good that not only do the funds go directly to finding a cure, but they also stay in the Northwest. The man heading up the Center is Dr. Charles Cobbs, who is a brilliant surgeon, an oncologist and also is doing research and clinical trials. He is the type of person you want to fund, as he is the kind of person that really can find a cure.
The walk is a special event for me. It allows me to feel tons of love and support. I don’t feel alone. It also is a place to connect with others in the same battle as me. I can share struggles, fears and triumphs. Its a time for hope, for high fives, a time to reflect, and a time to celebrate life. It is a truly great event. Although I realize it also can be difficult. This year, tragically, there will be some faces whom I know, who are no loner with us to walk. Also unfortunately I will know some new faces, where this will be their first walk, who have gotten the difficult news of a brain cancer diagnosis. These things can make the walk difficult as well as uplifting.
If you would like to join Team Defeat Goliath that would be awesome! You can register to walk, you can donate to the cause, or you can just share this message to people around you who may have been touched in some way by this disease. All of it can help! Thanks for your support!
To register go here:
I look forward to seeing you at the walk!
Ever since I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I have always said that I am extremely lucky. If you go by the stats alone, only 20% of those diagnosed with a brain tumor live 5 years from the date of diagnosis. Often times people are given a year to live. For my type of tumor, the life expectancy is about 12 years. I think that counts as being lucky. One question that often pops up after people find out that I have had brain surgery and have brain cancer is: ” Do you have any side effects?” Now immediately after my surgery, I have to say that I was a complete wreck. My left hand didn’t work properly, I had a hard time recognizing what I was seeing, I was in a constant zombie-like state and I was exhausted all the time. Train wreck for sure. However once I got past the initial surgery recovery, I really have only been left with one exterior side effect. Which is an occasional stutter. I actually did spend some time in speech therapy to try and work on this. When I was tested I actually scored just slightly over normal. I notice it all the time. However I think only people who knew me well prior to surgery can really notice it. Again, considering all of the other side effects that come along with brain cancer, I would say that I am pretty lucky. Although I constantly think I should have “played up” the side effect angle with people just to mess with people. As I know that right after I think people weren’t sure if I would remember them or not. They would look at me and be like “do you remember me? I am _______.” They would be totally expecting me to be clueless on who they were. I missed out on a lot of fun, by acting as if I had major memory loss and didn’t know who people were. What is interesting looking back, though, is that is the expectation people had of me after surgery. The expectation that I would have side effects and not be the same person as before. Point learned: give brain tumor surgery patients the benefit of the doubt after surgery, before assuming that something will be wrong with them.
I have mentioned the exterior side effects, however I think for me the larger side effects have been internal. Since diagnosis, I look at the world a little bit differently. My long term plans now seem to have about a 12 year life-span. My goals have shifted. I feel like some innocence was taken from me. Like someone took a little bit of the joy out of me. Its kind of hard to explain, but I would say that I am different now. One of the more challenging things for me has been work related goals. Not in that it’s overwhelming or more challenging now due to Goliath. I actually think that I have settled back into my job and can do it just as good now as I could before, maybe even better. I have not lost any capacities. I had a long term goals set in motion that I have been working for quite some time and now the 12 year time bomb has changed my outlook on things. Causing me to ask if I still really still want the same things I once did? A career used to seem like such a huge thing. As a man I think we wrap a lot of our identity into what we do and it can be hard to separate the two at times. I hold fast to the notion that, yes I do want to push for the same goals. Despite the 12 years – I have always vowed to be the exception. I do want to advance my career as I planned many years ago when I was in college, and started making some of my career decisions. I have always had other choices and opportunities, but I always seemed to come back to the same path that I am currently on. Which tells me that is the path I belong on. And I know that am going to continue on that path. I am going to try my best not to let Goliath alter things, alter my goals.
The other issue that comes up is how do you tell a new client that I am a CPA that has brain cancer. People work with me because of my brain, my knowledge, my ability to help them. However without my brain operating at a high level, I can’t perform my job. A fear of mine is that people will look at my ability to perform my job differently, because of Goliath. That they will see me as a risk or a questionable option. I think that is a natural reaction for people, so I can’t really blame them. Do you really want to hire a CPA with a disease in his head? It has been a challenge for me to figure out what to disclose and what not to disclose. Although if you look me up you can find my blog and things, so my brain cancer is not really a secret, but how to I deal with it in terms of my profession? I actually think this is going to be an issue I am going to be working through for a while.
One thing I do know, is that Goliath creates uncertainly, which leads to fear and doubt. That is what I would say my real side effects are. Fear and doubt. It has caused me at times to doubt my abilities, to doubt if I can and should chase my goals. To question if I am still capable of the same things I once was. This is something that never would have crossed my mind before Goliath. Doubt has reached my life in the form of wondering if I can achieve the fitness levels I had prior to surgery. Doubt that I can be the person that I once thought I could be. Being full of doubt is an extremely difficult obstacle to deal with I have to say. Its hard to always tell yourself to push through regardless, not worry, not to fret. But that everything will be OK, when you know that may not be the case. Doubt sucks.
It has also brought fear to my doorstep. Fear for my family. Fear for my two boys, that they will loose their father at far too young of an age. Fear that I will not leave my Family financially secure. Especially since, per the life insurance companies, I am not insurable anymore. Fear that I will start to have seizures once again. I am still climbing and I would be a liar if the seizure issue doesn’t lurk in the back of my mind at times. A seizure while lead climbing would not be good. Fear of what my climbing partners think as a seizure would most likely put them in danger as well. Fear that I will have to go back on chemo or radiation. Fear that if I have a headache, its the tumor. Fear that memory problems might be in my future. Fear and doubt, those are the side effects that I have been left to deal with. They may not be on the exterior, but they are even more frightening for me.
At first, I wasn’t going to write on Father’s Day. But after going to see How to Train your Dragon 2 at the movies, something changed my mind. I don’t want to be a spoiler for the movie, but I will say that it contains a sad moment (if you have seen the movie this connection makes complete sense). I got the report from Jessica that Cade had some tears rolling off his cheeks. After the movie, he pulled me aside and said “Dad, at the sad part in the movie, I almost started to cry.” (I didn’t tell him that we all knew that he really was.) The truth was that I was in the same boat.
I think as kids, we view Father’s Day as a time to make a card for our Dads, maybe see some family, and say the common line “Happy Father’s Day.” We don’t really understand the impact that our fathers have on our lives until we get older. I know that for me the impact of my Dad has lasted well beyond his lifetime. He was a teacher, a mentor, a coach, a friend, an example, a hero. He was a lot of things. But thinking back, the most important and lasting impact that I think he made on me was that he was not only present, but he was engaged in me and my life. I actually talked about this at his memorial service. He was always there. But not only was he physically present, but he was always engaged with what I was doing and what was happening in my life. I think its huge as a child to feel secure, to feel loved, to know that someone always has your back. That when the stuff hits the fan, you know that someone will be there to pick up the pieces. Probably my favorite story of this occurred when I was in college. It was right before a break, I was supposed to pick-up two high school friends who were both in school at nearby colleges in Oregon, and take them home. The night before, some friends and I went out to dinner. I was one of the drivers, on our way home, I got into a car accident. A driver made an illegal turn and collided with my car. Both the person riding with me and myself were unharmed, but my car (a 1986 Acura Integra, AKA Hot Wheels) was not fine. Back at the dorms, I called my parents and told them what had happened. I was fine but my car might be totaled. Then I realized that the next day I was supposed to be heading home, but picking up people along the way. Crisis. What am I supposed to do? My Dad rearranged his work schedule and took the day off. He drove down to pick me up, then made the 45 minute trek down to McMinnville to pick up Billy Ojeda, then we all drove to the University of Portland to pick up Amanda Kelley, then we made the trip back to the valley. It was about 12 hours of being in the car for him, and on a day off that he rarely took. But that is who he was.
He was the person who would give me information just as it was. While doing sports, I could go 0-3 in baseball with 3 strikeouts and my mom would tell me that I played great. However my Dad was the realist. Not only would he tell me like it really was, he would also talk about what I needed to do to improve and he would be willing to help me make it happen.
Some of my favorite moments were out fishing with him. We would go on vacation to a fishing lake in Canada each year. The two of us would basically spend just about the entire day out in a boat fishing. It was great. There would be moments of great fishing action, where we would only keep trout that were 16 inches or bigger. There would be times of great conversation. Times peeing in a bottle, since the fish were biting, thus we couldn’t spare the time to go in and use the bathroom. And there were times of just silence. Which was just as great. Sometimes silence is all we need.
I was taught to always do my best, no matter the circumstance. That not trying was something I should never accept. I used to be asked, why I didn’t just take over my Dad’s business. The truth is that he forbid me from following in his footsteps. However, I did spend a summer working for him after my freshman year of college, which was a great experience and lots of hard work, but lots of good father-son time. Following in his shoes was not an option for me. College was the only option he really gave me. However he was not able to see me graduate. Even when he was sick, he wanted me in school and to stay on track. He did know my career choice however. He was happy with my selection of becoming a CPA.
In looking back, I realize that we have shared some different, but yet very similar challenging experiences and unexpected curveballs. One thing that comes to mind is losing a friend as a result of alcohol. My Dad lost his best friend and business partner, Mike. M&M Floors was founded for Mike and Mark, which unfortunately turned into just Mark after Mike took his own life as a result of battling an addiction. Tough to lose a friend and your business partner. For me it occurred a few years after I graduated from college. My best friend from college and really the person who got me into climbing, was killed in a motorcycle accident. He had been out drinking and got on a motorcycle, he crashed and never got up again. I lived with him for 2 years at college, he was the person who taught me to lead on rock and place gear. He was taken too early for sure.
Cancer is another thing that we share. We have both been told that we have cancer and that our type of cancer has no known cure. That lifespans can vary, but we can’t “cure” you. We both have been through chemo. His was much worse than mine, so I can’t completely compare our experiences, but that is a bond that we share, It’s hard as its something that I can’t talk with him about it. I am not able to have shared experiences about feeling weak, being afraid, how hospitals really, really suck if you have to spend any time there. We can’t talk about the side effects and how to deal. There are some experiences that it sucks to share with my Dad.
So in past blogs, I have talked about how I found Jesus on a mountain. Through Young Life’s Beyond Malibu. I was on a mountain in the Canadian Coastal Range. I was about 6 months removed from being told that my Dad had terminal cancer. I held most of my anger and sadness in. To a point, where I basically just exploded on the trip. One of the days, we had some quiet time. I remember laying out on the side of the Mountain and asking that God would heal my father. I was asking for a miracle. The response I got was “David, your Dad is going to die, but you will be OK”.
My response: “But there is still a lot more that he needs to teach me. I am asking for a miracle here and I think that I am owed one.”
The answer: “He has already taught you everything that you need to know.”
When I reach a point in life, when I really wish I could seek his advice and counsel, that is what I come back to. Whatever I need to know, he taught me. My challenge is to figure out which lesson that was. So far it has held to be true. He did show me or teach me what I need to know. I reach back and think of my Dad in the same situation and ask myself, what did he do. That answer has guided my course of action. The part that is hard for me though is looking back at the parallels, I was 21. What happens if Goliath comes back? At 7 and 9, would God give my boys the same answer? Have I taught them everything they need to know?
Happy Father’s Day Dad!!