Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ride To Conquer prompts conversations about cancer, making it well worth all the work

Cancer creates unique conversations, and that's even with the fact I've been disease-free for over four years.
I was hanging out at one of our slopitch league games a few weeks back. A guy from one of the other teams called me over towards their dugout. Don't know him super well, but I've always thought he was good people.
It was just the two of us, standing there, looking over their pile of snacks on the bench. You've heard of beer leagues? We're a beer-and-candy league.
"I've been meaning to tell you this for awhile now," he said, "but thanks for not dying.
"A lot of people die with what happened to you."
First thought: Hallmark probably doesn't have a card for that.
Second thought: Good on him for starting the conversation.
To steal a premise from my buddy Bob Mercer: cancer is one of the scariest things in the world, but it might be THE scariest word in the world.
It is a major reason why I'm taking a second crack at the Ride To Conquer Cancer, the, two-day, 220-KM bike trip from Cloverdale to just outside Seattle that occurs on Aug. 29-30. It forces dialogue. It gets me talking about being diagnosed with a Solitary Plasmacytoma in my T-2 vertebrae back in October, 2010, and about having 20 radiation sessions and about undergoing eight surgeries after my back collapsed and about spending six months in hospital learning to walk again with six rods and a bunch of screws and other shrapnel holding things together.
The Ride to Conquer is the bravest thing I've ever done. It's the runaway leader. It's the farthest thing from my comfort zone.
I don't WANT to bike to Seattle. My bike especially doesn't want me to bike to Seattle. (Former junior hockey player turned ALS advocate Don McCusker offered to donate money to my bike seat.)
I WANT to eat pizza and sit on the couch and watch the WWE channel.
I NEED to do the Ride. I need to start those conversations. I need people to know if you're going to get sick and it's cancer in particular, B.C. is the place for it to happen.
The medical attention we received from beginning to end was next level. It was like my own all-star team. The system is messy. It's bogged down by red tape. The give-a-damn of the worker bees in it, though, is amazing and frankly quite inspirational.
This is why we do this. But it hasn't been simple.
I had lost so much balance from the operations and the hospital stay that my wife Carol-Ann and I weren't even sure if I could ride a bike at all when we bought one in the preparations to take part in last year's event.
We could sell it, I thought. It would have to go at a severely reduced price from all the scratches that I'm bound to get from crashing, I rationalized, but we could sell this.
Carol-Ann was well aware that the whole process scared me out of my freaking mind and if I had an out, like I was having trouble riding and had not bought a bike, I was going to bail on the whole process. 
I still remember my first trip around the block. Carol-Ann demanded that she come with me, walking alongside. I balked. I won out. Barely.
Our Ride team coaxed and cajoled me into doing about 150 kilometres of the event last year. This winter, I connected with a trainer, a guy named Derek Baker. With his help, we've dropped a few pounds, and I hope to have less trouble peddling my way across the border and beyond this time.
If you're interested, we're having a fundraiser for the Ride tomorrow night at the Earls on Fir Street in Vancouver. For more info on that, check out our Facebook site. 
For more on the Ride and my own personal donation page, check out here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Look who's Crushing the Tumour With Humour again, and taking yet another crack at the Ride To Conquer Cancer

Anybody asks me how I'm doing these days, my automatic response is, "I'm outstanding."
I'd like to tell you that it's because I'm so well adjusted after four-plus years of being cancer free. I'd like to say that I'm so enlightened because I'm mobile and active despite having six rods and a bunch of bolts and screws holding my back together from a Solitary plasmacytoma tumour attacking my T-2 vertebrae.
Sorry. I'm not nearly that noble.
I go with "I'm outstanding," as my default because there were two or three people in a row about a year ago who asked how I was doing and you could see the fear in their faces when I told them I was "crappy." I can't recall what the issues that were bothering me actually were. It could have been work or the house being messy, or, quite likely, the lame-ass performance of my Terry McKaig League fantasy baseball team.
Didn't matter. They went straight away to the cancer being back. You could see the panic. I felt horrible for them. I couldn't back track quickly enough.
A buddy of mine, Bob Mercer, says that cancer is one of the scariest things in the world to endure but the word itself -- CANCER -- may in fact by the scariest connection of letters ever.
That is why I'm going back for another crack at the Ride To Conquer Cancer. It's a 200-kilometre ride, from Cloverdale to Seattle, that goes the weekend of Aug. 29-30. If you're interested in donating, my personal page can be found here. I'm working on updating it.
We'll be having a fundraiser in the coming couple of months. Look for updates. I'll probably be begging lots of you for auction items.
I don't want to talk about cancer. I don't want to think about what happened. But I don't want to avoid it. I don't want people to panic about the very idea of cancer.
For some messed up reason, ever since I was a little kid I worried about dying on the operating table from some crazy complication during a rather routine procedure.
I had eight surgeries. Eight. Eight times I tried to say goodbye to my wife. I was scared out of my mind. I had a whole speech worked out. I didn't worry about her without me, I'd say. Carol-Ann is the toughest person I've ever met. I'd tell her that. I'd tell her, too, that I would just miss her, that I had so many things I wanted to go see with her and do with her.
She would smile and hold my hand and the proceed to tell me why I was going to be OK. Our surgeon, Dr. Robert Lee, was such a pro and so invested, she would say, and, by the end, he understood every inch of my system. So did his crew, Carol-Ann would explain.
By the end of her speech, I was psyched up. It happened every time. I was ready. I was going to my Super Bowl. My chin would be sticking out, all proud and defiant. In my head, I called it my "Jay Leno moment." (Apologies to Mr. Leno, who I am certain is a devoted reader of blogs about dudes with cancer.)
The nurses would be wheeling me out of the room and I would be telling Carol-Ann, "I will fight for you, I will fight you," again and again and again.
It's stupid. It's crazy. We did that dance eight freaking times. And you know what? We survived it, to the point that I am able to put my fat ass on a bike and pedal for a bunch of hours over two days. (Oh, mercy, it will not be pretty.)
I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm aiming to prove it again.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Crushing The Hills With Humour, plus getting some Boston Pizza help, in a bid to get ready for the Ride To Conquer Cancer

It's a good day.
Three years ago this very 24-hour period I moped my way into Royal Columbian Hospital. I had been feeling gross and listless for awhile and was worried that I had diabetes or something like that. In fine guy fashion, I was going to wait it out and hope that it went away, except that I had some pains in my chest that morning, and Carol-Ann worried that I might be having a heart attack.
Wrong. On all counts. Dr. Joseph Ip said he saw some cancer warning signs. Sure enough, it was a Solitary Plasmacytoma in my T-2 vertebrae. In an effort to speed things up we'll cut to the highlights: 20 radiation sessions, six months in hospital, eight surgeries, a bunch of time trying to learn to walk again.
Today, in honour of Dr. Ip and those other fine people at Royal Columbian and what they did for me, I dropped off a bunch of cupcakes at the emergency. OK, I didn't make the cupcakes. OK, they weren't particularly fancy ones I bought, either. But even average sugary goodness is pretty darn good, and especially when it's free and the calories don't count. (That's what I've been told. Free stuff = no calories.) 
I also had a meeting today with some fine, fine people from Boston Pizza (shameless plug for my mother's employer) and worked out early details for a fundraiser for our Ride to Conquer Cancer team. It's going to be in April, at their restaurant on No. 3 Road in Richmond, and it's going to be a hoot. We're talking silent auction, we're talking appys, we're talking drink specials. I'm just spitballin' here, but we might be talking Stump Scott Rintoul With Sports Trivia. (Shameless name drop...I hope I get to Scott before he reads this.)
I expect you all to be there. Yes, even you, Arnold Sison, you cheap bastard.
We're raising money for our to-be-named team for the Ride, and I feel the need to carry the financial load, particularly with so many of these people coaching me through this. For those who don't know, the Ride raises money for various cancer research programs. It's a two-day trek to Seattle in June.
I've been training for about 12 weeks now, and doing most of my riding along the straight and narrow streets of Queensborough. My buddy Carla McAloney and her brother Jerry (my Ride Yoda, if you will), took me out on my fist REAL ride on Sunday, and, suffice to say, 20 kilometres along the flat lands of Queensborough is quite a bit different than the 20 we did to get from our humble New Westminster home to GF Strong, the Vancouver rehab hospital I spent 10 or so weeks at while I was trying to learn that walking thing.
Hills suck. I hate them. Carla did say a couple of times, "you crushed that hill, Ewen." I assume that is a good thing. I was afraid to ask.
The little trek did show me that I have to much to learn. I'm also better at things than I thought I was. I'm encouraged.
I'd love to write more about it all, but I need to get on my damn trainer and get some miles on my tires before Carla comes over again.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

We're going from Crushing The Tumour to Riding To Conquer and, thankfully, I have a "rock star helmet" to protect me along the way

I'm doing the Ride To Conquer Cancer next year.
There. I said. It wasn't so scary.
Or not.
Yes, we're restarting Crush The Tumour With Humour (CTTWH) as part of my bid to continue to talk myself into doing the Ride To Conquer Cancer (RTCC), and maybe raise a couple of bucks in donations for cancer research.
I used to say that I wanted to "raise money for cancer." My good friend Fiona Rintoul, she of the very classy Flip Flop Shop (FFS) at Fourth and Burrard (shameless name drop and plug to receive discount footwear), always seemed to be around to correct me when I did that, explaining, "cancer is doing just fine. You want to raise money for cancer research."
Oh, Fiona. We're so BFFs. (Yes, I've suddenly become infatuated with abbreviations.)
Fiona did the RTCC this year pregnant. Hello? How cool is that?
It was her husband, Scott Rintoul (shameless name drop), and our buddy Carla McAloney behind this whole thing for me.
Carla hit me with the soft sell, the "You know...Scott and I were talking about it and we think you could do the ride...I mean, it would be a good story, considering the eight surgeries, the six rods in your back and all that CANCER you had."
OK. Carla never said the last part about the operations and the hardware and the CANCER. But she was totally feeling it. I know.
Then Rintoul came in. He's a closer and, to make matters worse, I'm a sucker. I would follow Rintoul into a fire. It's quite sad.
He throws down a couple of "you could totally do it," and "we could hang out and it would be great," and, even though the little voice in my head is screaming, "ARE YOU CRAZY?!?!? YOU DON'T LIKE TO DRIVE THAT FAR?", I heard myself say out loud and quite clearly, "Yeah, Scott. That's a totally good idea. Do you want me to double you on my handlebars?"
So we went to buy a bike. Carla took me to Dizzy Cycles in Kits (most shameless of all name drops, considering I need more stuff and could use a discount) and I found the staff to be quite friendly, intelligent and very well groomed.
I picked out a bike. I picked out a big boy helmet. I was excited. I told my wife, the adorable Carol-Ann, and said I wouldn't purchase anything until she saw it all.
She was keen. A few days later, we went back to Dizzy Cycles.
Took the bike up the cash register. Same with the helmet. And a helmet for her.
Went home. Went riding around the block a few times. I was pretty happy, to be honest, because I did lose enough balance from all those operations and all that hospital time that I wasn't sure I could actually get on a bike for any period.
Carla called later that day and asked how it went. I told her that the riding was decent, and I told her I was really surprised that I didn't feel geeky in the helmet.
She laughed and told me that I had the "rock star" of bike helmets.
"It was $275," she said.
I nearly fell and hit my head. Luckily I still had the helmet on. No way Carol-Ann would let me spend that. I yelled up to her in the kitchen, asking her the pricetag for the head gear.
"I think it was $275," she said.
Afterwards, she said that she knew I was freaked out about the whole thing, that I was way out of my comfort zone. She said she wasn't going to have me pull the plug if I didn't get the helmet I wanted.
Geez, I guess I'm really invested in this now.
I have a meeting tonight about dates and times and when the whole 2014 RTCC happens. I'll keep you up to date.
What have I gotten myself into now?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Happy anniversary: one year ago today I was discharged from GF Strong rehab centre

Happy anniversary.
One year ago today, I was discharged from G.F. Strong rehab centre, sent home with a walker, a wheelchair and, in my mind, more will than won't.
I thought about getting a tattoo to celebrate. Maybe something across the top of my back, near the spot where they found the Solitary Plasmacytoma tumour in October, 2010, and where they did most of the work on the eight surgeries that ensued. Maybe some italics stating, "Dr. Robert Lee was here," and then a rendering of our good surgeon smiling and giving a thumbs up, followed by a list of the operation dates.
Yeah, if it wasn't a Sunday, and I wasn't deeply afraid of needles and pain, I'd totally do that.
Maybe next year.
May 20, 2011 feels like a lifetime ago. I had hoped to walk out of G.F. Strong under my own power, but I wasn't ready and was exclusively on a walker.
One of my goals coming home had been to walker every day to a fruit stand up the street and around the corner.
I tried it the first time my first morning home. I got to the front yard, across the the length of our house and then up the street a few blocks before I could do no more. I cried every step. Carol-Ann cheered every step, and trying to make it all better.
That was a frequent storyline this year. I was frustrated and angry and sad a lot when I tried things for first time.  I'm still not sure to this day whether it's because I've always thought I was further along than I really was or I'm just a stubborn son of a gun.
I remember the first day physiotherapist Paula Peres came to the house. She put me through a series of tests. I was pissed off at my results in every one. Finally she said, "Get over yourself. I'm here because you need work on things. You're paying me to work with you on things. You know that you're paying me, right?"
I really wanted to be good to work with. I know that was part of it. I told her that I wanted her to know that I was a hard worker. She said, "You wouldn't have gotten this far if you weren't a hard worker."
Oh, Paula. You had me at "Get over yourself."
We quickly progressed from walker to cane to nothing at all. Freestyle, as it were. One of my first walks around the neighbourhood without a cane or a walker I told Paula, "I'm a little freaked out."
Paula said: "I've got some advice."
I was keen to hear it.
"Don't fall. It could hurt."
Oh Paula.
She really was amazing. There was something very logical about her approach. I could see how her progression was working from drill to drill and I trusted that she knew what I was capable of. She had also had a good sense when I needed a boot in the butt and a pat on the back. There was days that she'd show up and say, "Yeah, you don't have that much today. We're going to take it easy."
We don't get anywhere close to where we are at without Paula.
Paula punted me in December, saying that I didn't need acute physio anymore. I'm still going to the pool four or five times a week. I've joined a gym in New West, and I actually played my first slopitch game of the season last week. I've started jogging even, albeit a few 100 metres at time, with stints of walking in between.
I've been clear of any signs of cancer for a year, and our new surgeon, Dr. Scott Paquette, said that I have no restrictions. (Dr. Lee moved back to England. He said it wasn't my fault, but I reckon it may have something do with it. He said one time, "I'm not dreaming about your wound anymore." I told him, "You can have nice dreams about my wound. You and my wound could be frolicking in a meadow, for instance.")
"Just go ahead and live your life," Dr. Paquette said.
Thanks for that, doc. Geez. In front of Carol-Ann? I thought I was going to get a pass from moving anything heavy. I thought I was all set. No such luck.
She's fair though. She'll give me every May 20 off to celebrate.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Mumps? Seriously? Shouldn't I be exempt from that type of stuff after cancer?

First my doctor thought I had pneumonia. Just recently, she figured I had the mumps.
I had cancer. Shouldn't I be exempt from certain things now? Shouldn't I get a little, lamented card that allows me to bypass random stuff?
It's goofy.
No matter.
Sorry I haven't written in awhile. I have been doing well, working 40 hours a week, getting into a good fitness routine (the UBC thing didn't work out...a gym two blocks away from home is a better fit) and even throwing a little bit with my good friend Carla McAloney as we prep for the upcoming Headliner slopitch season. Scott Rintoul, our centre fielder, and Bif Naked, our catcher/infielder/outfielder/trash talker, would be so proud. (SHAMELESS NAME DROP TIMES TWO.)
Then my jaw swelled up two Wednesdays ago. Puffed up huge. Couldn't see my left ear looking at me straight on. Good thing my modelling career is long over.
I have to admit I was more than a little freaked, considering that we were told at the time of the Solitary Plasmacytoma diagnosis in my T-2 vertebrae in October, 2010, that there was anywhere between a 30 per cent and 70 per cent chance of recurrence. Stuff starts swelling up, cancer seems like a plausible answer.
We checked with the dentist first, though, hoping it was a tooth. It wasn't. He sent us directly to Richmond Emergency, which, of course, sent me into freaking out overdrive. Poor Carol-Ann. I wonder if she hasn't gone looking for the receipt on our marriage certification, hoping for a return policy.
At the hospital, a cheery fourth-year med student handled us at first, and then came back with a doctor.
They were wearing face shields and masks.
Good news? This doesn't present like cancer. Bad news? We think it presents like the mumps.
I'm over 40. The mumps? What next? Will my voice change again? (I'd like something with a Southern Drawl if someone somewhere is taking orders.)
Long story short (I know...too late), the mumps tests came back negative and our rock star GP, Dr. Jennifer Rogerson, reckons that I had some sort of virus acting some sort of gland. (Once she said, too, that it didn't present like cancer I stopped paying complete attention. Carol-Ann is on it. It's all good.)
The worst part, it's laid me up for the last 10 days or so. Back when she thought I might have had pneumonia (I didn't, by the way), I was still able to get my rehab work done. I was working out regularly. This thing has kicked my butt for about 10 days. I wasn't able to get my stories for the Province (shameless plug for my employer) completed, but little else. I'm just finally starting to feel like myself again. I got my first workout in over this stretch, albeit a lazy one at the pool, this morning.
Dr. Rogerson says that my immune system is only slightly compromised because of the radiation treatment and all the garbage they dumped into me during the eight back surgeries, but I really felt like I used to brush this stuff off before.
We'll see.
To quote my good friend Bif Naked (SHAMELESS NAME DROP PART DEUX), it's "always interesting."

BTW Here's my little speech from Interesting Vancouver.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

This cancer rehab thing still sucks three or four days a month

This cancer rehab thing still sucks three or four days a month.
Heard you missed me. I'm back. (Hey!) Brought my shameless plugs. (Shameless plug for Hot For Teacher, one of the all-time best Van Halen songs.)
Sorry I haven't blogged in awhile. I'm feeling great a large percentage of the time. I'm more active. My energy is increasing. I'm doing more around the house to help my Carol-Ann. I'm working 40 hours a week. At times, it's hard to remember that we were diagnosed with a Solitary Plasmacytoma tumour last October, went through 20 radiation sessions and eight surgeries.
And then there are days like today. My legs feel trunks full of encyclopedias. My back is squealing. My head is in a fog. It's a combination of more activity and more work and the fact that we're still not a year out from my final two surgeries and I'm being weaned slowly off the Hydromorphone pain killer.
I'd like to say no one told me this was coming, but my rock star physio, Paula Peres, predicted right away. She said that, as much as I've improved, there were going to be days like this (days like this my physio said) and I needed come to grips with it and not worry.
It's hard. I want to get something physical in, the pool or a walk or something. But I know that if I push through I could feel worse tomorrow.
I had my last apparent session with Paula last week. She said she was pleased. I don't know where we would be without her. Her and I meshed right away, and I trusted her methods, which, to me, is a major part of the battle. And she wasn't good for just the physical stuff -- the fact that she told me these melancholy days were coming does make them a little less daunting.
Another quick note....my radiation-oncologist Dr. James Morris gave another clean bill of health last week, meaning that we're up to nine months cancer free.
It's exciting but I'll be even more upbeat when we are more free of these type of days.