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December 5, 2018

Recently I attended one night of a trail running festival that is sponsored by Rainshadow running and developed by James Varner.  Back in 2015, I ran my first ultra-post cancer diagnosis, the Orcas Island 50K was my race.  It so happens to be part of Rainshadow Runnings’ events.   It was my fourth overall.  What is super cool is that Jessica is about to embark on her first Ultra this coming weekend, running the Rainshadow Deception Pass 50K.  She has been working hard and training diligently and I know that she is going to rock this race.  I am proud of her and excited as I have been telling her to come over to the “dark side” and leave the pavement behind and stick to the trails, for quite some time.  50K’s are more fun than marathons, IMO.  I have run both and would rather go longer with lots of hills on dirt, than fast and flat on pavement.  Anyhow she has been on it, training like a beast to get ready for this weekend.  It’s some cool stuff for sure!  I know that she is going to do awesome.  I believe in her.

Back to the film festival.  One of the films we saw was called “Proof of Life” and featured a guy, Brad Thiessen, from Spokane who had been training for 50K, when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  It was a brilliant film that really hit home with me.  The film featured his recovery from surgery and treatment and his goal to train and run the 50K that he had planned to regardless of brain cancer.  He decided that he was going to do what he did before regardless of a tumor – sounds familiar for sure.  He talked about how the goal of running that 50K gave him purpose and hope to battle through by physically and mentally.  For obvious reasons it was my favorite film of the night.

Proof of Life Documentary

The cool part was that he was actually at the showing, so I was able to introduce myself and talk with him.  I learned that he has an Oligo, like me.  He mentioned that he had not met another person in the flesh with an Oligo (Oligo’s are only about 3% of brain cancer world – pretty rare).

One of the first parts of the film really struck me as he talked about how his diagnosis was terminal.  Which is true, there is no known cure for an Oligodendroglioma.  In the brain cancer circle, these types of tumors are typically slower growing and not quite as aggressive, however despite treatment, they always come back.  When they do, they become more and more aggressive each time.  Generally speaking there are two paths, one where a surgeon is able to perform a complete resection and remove 100% of the tumor, so the patient, waits to see if the tumor will return.  Or the other path is that not all of the tumor can be removed, so the waiting game is to see if the tumor is growing or changing.  I am in the second category.  I am waiting and watching to see if Goliath grows and changes.  This did occur at the end of 2015, which is why I did proton radiation back in 2016, 3 ½ years after doing 12 months of chemotherapy.  Goliath was growing again, thus additional treatment was done to try and keep Goliath at bay.  The likelihood that Goliath will grow or change again is extremely high.  Science says that I am not done with Goliath yet…

Brad had mentioned in the film that several people had made comments to him about having terminal cancer, along the lines of “We are all going to die, so does it really matter that you have terminal cancer?”  I am paraphrasing here by the way.  I have heard comments like that before as well.  Typically when you hear the term “terminal cancer”, the idea is that the person has days, maybe months to live.  People with Oligo’s, it’s more like years, versus months.  But what people fail to realize is the mental shift that occurs.  The diagnosis is like a black cloud that is always there, hanging over you.  It’s like the Peanuts character Pigpen, who leaves a trail of dirt and dust behind him wherever he goes.  He can’t escape it as it’s always there.  It follow him around, just like a brain cancer diagnosis does.  It changes your planning, your outlook on life, your thought processes.  You have to think about and plan for your family after your death.  I can tell you that I didn’t give those types of thoughts, much time prior to Goliath.  At age 34, I was unstoppable, I had the world at my fingertips, and anything was possible.  After cancer, I had to think about things, such as how would my family get by without me?  What would I do if I started to become incapacitated and couldn’t work or function properly?  Do I have enough life insurance?  How will this impact my ability to work?  When you leave surgery and the left side of your body does not work as it should, it’s scary.  That fear is hard to ignore.  Yes I am not going to die tomorrow, but I can assure you that I never thought much about dying or what I need to do to prepare my family for my death, prior to Goliath.


2018 Brain Cancer Walk – a fitting quote to think about after watching Proof of Life

So let’s not trivialize the feelings of fear and unknown that come along with a cancer diagnosis, especially when it’s something without a cure that can have a very nasty and brutal ending.  Yes it’s true that we are all going to die, however when death comes to live in your head, it for sure changes how you see the world.  It would be like attending a memorial service and walking up to the mic and saying, why are all of you crying and sad – we all are going to die so it really doesn’t matter.  Add the “We are all going to die anyway.” comments as things not to tell people with cancer.

I finish with a big high five and “go kick some butt” to Jess as she goes after her first 50K on Saturday!  I am excited for her.



One Comment leave one →
  1. Jessica Chapman permalink
    December 8, 2018 1:54 pm

    Hey David!! It is Jess Chapman here, I got a new phone and lost people’s numbers. Just caught up on your blog. My boyfriend just completed the PCT SOBO thru hike on November 4th. Fun to see Andy did too! What an amazing adventure. We are so lucky to live in the Northwest.

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