Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hell, yeah. Another clean CT scan

Got my CT scan results back today. No new cancer growth in my lymph nodes. Yeah!!!! They did find some dots in my lungs - could be the start of a viral growth in my lungs that could have taken hold as my immune system has been regrowing. My lungs feel pretty good so I don't have any obvious symptoms and I am taking acyclovir, which is an anti-viral. Still, the radiologists feel like another chest-only CT scan in another month is prudent just to make sure I'm not growing some crazy viral structure in my lungs. And they still see some sign of scarring from the Bleomycin. And this is the problem with lots of diagnostics. You can get lots of "false" positive that make you go digging around and the digging around activities are not without risk.

But the big, happy news is that my lymphatic system looks to still be OK. That's the news I was hoping to get (and fearing that I wouldn't). Man, it feels pretty good to be alive today after getting that news. So I'm focusing on that and we'll work through whatever lung issues come up. So I will be focusing on being healthy for the next month, keep taking the acylovir and see what the next CT scan of my lungs show.

That's it for now - just wanted to share the good news. Most excellent!!!

BStrong - another good ride in the books

Saturday Susan and I did the BStrong charity ride which was great fun. Susan did the 25 mile loop with Ross and I did the 70 mile loop with a couple of folks from the DCTBL cycling team I'm on. It was really a great day, marred by one really unsettling moment. Going up a 16 mile canyon (Lefhand Canyon for you local folks), we came across a cyclist that had suffered a heart attack. The ride support was great - there was a sag wagon there when we came by the guy and they were doing CPR on him. They had an AED unit in the car and managed to get him stabilized with some combination of CPR and the AED. They then ambulanced him down to a broader section of the canyon and medi-vaced him out to a Denver hospital. As of two nights ago the paper reported that he was in serious but stable condition. So my hat is off to Paul Balagher and the other organizers and volunteer of the ride. Without prompt medical attention I think it's highly likely that the cyclist would have died there on the side of the road. I hope to never see that again - active CPR on someone is surely a sign that some serious shit has hit the fan. So after that, the whole way up to Ward and Peak to Peak highway, there's a little voice in your head going "Hmm, so just how hard should I push?" That guy looked to be in his 50s. I'm in my 50s. That guy might have had some medical issues that triggered a heart attack. I have some medical issues. So when my feet and hands start tingling and my vision starts to tunnel and my chest starts to get tight, is it just the happy dance of hypoxia brought on by my low hematocrit count? Or is it the grim reaper moseying by for a little visit? I have to admit that I did back off a bit on the 12% grade up into Ward. And I was darned happy to get to the top and out onto Peak to Peak highway in one piece. Yeah, life! Yeah, not having a heart attack! At the top of the canyon they had a nice aid station and I happened to run into  one of my oncologists that was also doing the ride. It was really touching to be able to share that moment with him. To be healthy enough to climb 4,000 vertical feet on my bike and receive all the congratulations of the volunteers at the aid station and have them celebrate my efforts to get fit again after 18 months of hard illness. A special moment - made even more special by the fact that my friendly doctor had a big snot hanging out of his nose. Hey, at least his immune system is working, right? Pretty funny stuff - or at least, funny to me. After that I got to enjoy a screaming descent down the Peak to Peak highway into Lyons - 4500 feet of descending in 25 miles or so. I got into a good pace line of about 5 other riders and we swooped down the canyon at speeds of 25-40 mph. Each of us taking our turn to pull, sitting 10" off of someone's rear wheel you've never met before, trusting each other to ride safely and share the joy of being outside, carving through awesome canyons, a roaring mountain stream next to you and being healthy enough to actually share the work load a bit. A pretty special 20 minutes that will stay in my memory for a long time.

Another 30 miles on the flats north of Boulder and we were back at the start/finish line. From there, we hung out at our team tent giving information out to people about Livestrong and our team. And oh,  yeah - rehydrating with some tasty beverages, courtesy of Avery Brewery.

After more than a few beverages, I let everyone know that my stomach hair seems to have grown back at a faster rate than my chest hair. Ryan and Ross were not to be out done - they each also claimed to have some manly man hair adorning their umbilicus. So of course, in keeping with the blog tradition of slightly inappropriate body photos, here 'ya go:

And finally, a big thank you to all of you who donated to the ride. Susan and I raised over $1,000 to support Livestrong and Boulder Community Hospital's efforts to make cancer patients and their families have an easier go of things. The total numbers aren't in yet but the afternoon of the ride there was some estimates floating around that the ride in total raised over $200,000. That's a pretty good day's work! My plan is to participate in this ride for the next 20 years or so and I hope to see you there next year. Be warned, though. I plan to kick it pretty hard on the ride up and over Peak to Peak so start your training now or you won't be there in time to join the pace line coming down from Ward to Lyons!!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Copper Triangle fun

Last weekend Susan and I achieved one of our big goals - riding in the Copper Triangle bike ride. The ride is 80 miles long (in one day!) and climbs 6,000 vertical feet over 4 ascents in Summit and Eagle counties in Colorado. This was a race that I had wanted to do last summer but had to pass on when I got sick with my lung problems from the Bleomycin. This spring when I went through the intense BEAM chemo protocol and got my stem cell transplant, we decided to aim for this as a big  milestone celebrating my return to health and our collective return to a life of activity with less focus on medical issues. I'd done the ride in 2009 and really liked it. For Susan, this would be the longest and hardest ride she had ever under taken. We both worked hard in June and July getting ready for the race, culminating in a 73 mile, 5400 ft of vertical training ride in Boulder County last weekend. After that ride I was pretty confident that we would be OK but we were both pretty anxious about whether we would get through the ride successfully.

Here in Colorado in the summer there's always a risk of afternoon rain so most rides start pretty early. The CT is no exception. We were on our bikes and starting the course at 6:01 am Saturday morning. We had a brief thunderstorm the night before but the sun came up at about 5:45 with no clouds in sight. The starting temperature in Copper Mountain at 9300 ft was in the low 50s which was quite warm compared to previous years. Right out of the start the course climbs for about 12 miles to the top of Fremont Pass at 11,200 ft. We had done this part of the course in a training ride so we were both comfortable with the climb. From Fremont Pass you're treated to a 6-8 mile fun descent that goes down about 2,000 vertical feet. Imagine yourself on your bike at 7:15 on a Saturday morning, the sun out, a brilliant blue sky, snow capped mountains surrounding the valley, wild flowers by the side of the road, the quiet hum of hundreds of cyclists zipping down the road. Next, compare this to spending 32 days in a row sitting in a room at the infusion clinic getting toxic chemicals squirted into your chest, transfusions, nausea, etc. Quite a contrast! Although my fingers were kind of hurting from the cold temperatures and some 35 mph descending, I was pretty euphoric about being out on the ride with Susan. The course is very, very scenic - here's a photo of some of the mountains around Fremont Pass:
The ride over to Minturn through Tennessee Pass and over Battle Mountain was really fun as well. We did see one bike accident coming down from Battle Mountain. A girl hit a rough patch of pavement and went down. We saw her sitting by the side of the trail getting care and she looked OK. But we did ride over a pool of her bright red blood on the road which was pretty sobering. Last month a cyclist died coming down this same mountain pass in another bike tour so it's a place where you have to pay attention to what you're doing on the bike. So down from that pass in one piece and all the way down to about 7700 ft in Minturn. Then, the big grind - 20 miles of road, 2400 feet of vertical up to the top of Vail Pass at about mile 72 of the ride. We were both feeling pretty perky up to the East Vail aid station. From there, it's about 8 miles to the top of Vail Pass and I think that no matter how fit you are, at this point in the ride you're suffering a bit. Early in the ride there's a lot of chatting on the bike as you and 4,000 of your closest friends grind up the mountains and fly down the other side. But on Vail Pass, the cyclists are pretty quiet. There's a bit of suffering going on which I really like. Nothing like shared pain to remind you that you're alive and doing something hard! At this point I thought of a couple of people I had known during my chemo treatments that have passed away. It was another powerful moment to call out their names (Roy and Mary!) and think about how thankful I am that I could be out there sharing it with Susan. We both cried a bit as we got to the top of Vail Pass. A celebration of life, of companionship, of love, of hard work and creating a realty (Fra Jaad would call it a narrative) where we can do this together. Super powerful and yes, we did pass some people going up Vail Pass and that made me feel pretty good!

Over the top and a 6 mile coast down into Copper Triangle. A few hours later and here's a look at us enjoying the post ride dinner with our friend Suzi:

So in summary, a very, very happy day. After 4 months of training we achieved our goal. We weren't the fastest around the course - but we weren't the slowest, either. It was a special day. The goal now is to do this ride every August for another 20 years or so! Consider yourself invited to the 2012 CT; I would love to have you along for the ride next year!