Wednesday, August 29, 2007

LiveSTRONG 2007: Part III

I leave the aid station and begin a rapid descent. The problem is that the road has just been freshly cindered…on a descent. I’m not sure who had that brilliant idea, but it seems to me they could have postponed it ONE weekend. Seriously. How hard is that? I put the brakes on and feel some slippage in the back tire. I ease it up and the bike straightens. I continue this dance with the cinders, my bike, and the downside of a hill. I reach the bottom and mercifully turn off onto a normal road.

I come up on a woman who is struggling mightily up the next set of rolling hills. I ask, “Are you okay?” She nods she is, concentrating on her effort. I am about to just pass on, when something stops me. From that moment to this, I honestly don’t know what it was. It is like the Spirit of God whispered something, deep within my heart, to slow down.
“Do you mind if I ride with you?” I find myself asking.
“Not at all.” She seems glad for a little company—like I said, it was a little lonely.
I learn her name is Diane, and she drove out to the event from Chicago. She is working on her PhD in speech issues, and we talk about Little Fish, who stutters. Then, she explains that she has finished her chemotherapy, and that she has planned her first round of radiation to start AFTER this ride. In essence, she has planned her treatments to make riding the LiveSTRONG 100 her window. I thought I was tough; she humbles me and inspires me at the same time. We ride together for some time.
“I don’t want to slow you down,” she says.
“You’re not.” It was the first time I wasn’t thinking about the time.
She explains that she is going to stop and take a break with two other riders who have stopped, and are rubbing out cramps. I wish her all the best, give her a (BIG) BUTN and pedal on.
“Good luck!” she calls after me, and I shout the same back to her.

The aid stations are an interesting mix. The one at the top of the 60 mile hill was a blast. There was a party atmosphere, people were blasting music and it was more than just the pretzels, oranges and Gatorade. The next one I pull into is at a Fire Station, and it is the lamest aid station. In the world. EVAR. They have Gatorade. Period. The volunteers don’t even talk to the three or four riders who are there. If I sound bitter, it’s not intentional, it’s just that this one was in sharp contrast to the others I had been to up this point.

It makes me think of Donald Carnes. Donald’s family sponsored me in the ride, in his name. Donnie was a teenager from my church who was taken in a tragic car crash this year. He was one of the funniest teenage pranksters, always looking for a good time. But Donnie also had a heart for service, which is how he came to be a volunteer firefighter, and I can’t help but think if he were here at the Fire Station, people would be having the time of their lives. It makes me smile to think of him, and a little sad that so many will never know his spirit.

I leave TLASITWE (The Lamest Aid Station In The World EVAR) and pedal on. I am now at mile 70 and trying to make up time, but the cramps have begun again. They start out manageable, but keep getting worse. I am shotgunning the Gatorade to try to stay ahead of them, but I am barely keeping up with the tightening, at best. At one point, they are so bad I tear up. It hurts so bad. I think about Diane and it hurts a little less, but only a little. I do not have the fuel I need to make it to the next rest station in good shape. I take my last two GU packs and pray for a miracle at the next rest stop.

I pull into the next rest stop. I have pushed my body as hard as it has ever been pushed before. I eat every salty thing they have—pretzels, crackers, peanut butter, anything. I shotgun more Gatorade. I have about 20 miles to go. I look at my clock on the odometer and it is 3.20. I am not going to make the 4.30 cutoff.

I look around the rest stop. I realize there is a group of riders, just kind of sitting around, and it occurs to me that:
1) This is the first large conglomeration of people I have seen since "The Party"
2) They’re not being very active about refueling or even moving.
One guy is talking about how the SAG Wagons have already started picking people up at the back of the course, coming up behind us. He resigns himself to wait for the SAG wagon to meet him at the rest stop. Apparently, all of the others at the stop have a similar outlook.

I realize I will not make the cutoff.
I realize they will probably pick me up and put me in the van.
I realize it will be easier to just sit at this comfortable oasis of salty Heaven.
FUCK THIS! I came to ride.

I grab another cracker and get on my bike. I focus my mind on doing everything I can to go as deep into this ride as I possibly can. I am pedaling with incredible efficiency. I look down at the speedometer and I am cruising at 24 miles per hour on a slightly declined flat. I feel…good. The cramps return within 2 miles of leaving the rest stop. I take in more Gatorade, but I am hurting for sure. I don’t care. All I can think is about how far I can pedal. I am on rolling hills now, and I pick up three other guys. We work together, nobody talking. We are all focused.

The burning in my legs is like the branding irons of the Inquisition, expertly applied to the one part of my body critical to succeeding: my quadriceps. Still, I plough on. On one uphill, the pain becomes so intense my field of vision shrinks to a toilet-paper-roll-sized tunnel. Everything outside of that is pitch-black. The downhills offer a merciful reprieve.

I look up and see, inexplicably, the 90 mile aid station. I have covered 10 miles in about 40 minutes. Again, I grab anything salty I can, but I know my stomach is wickedly close to open revolt. I need to feed my legs, but I know my stomach will reject it if I stuff it in. I eat a couple of pretzels, grab more Gatorade and pedal out. I have 20 minutes to cover ten miles. Maybe, if I get close enough, I rationalize, they will let me finish.

I pull out, throw down the gears and roll. The pain returns very quickly, my legs not responding to the signals I am sending them. The last ten miles of the course are rolling hills, small by comparison, but at this late stage, and in my current shape, they are murderous. I pedal on. Over hills, around corners, down slight descents, trying to balance between conservation and momentum to make it up the other side with a minimum of pain.

I crest a hill…and I see it: the SAG wagon. A guy is holding his hands out for me to stop. I look at my odometer. It reads 95 miles.
“I’m sorry, we’re closing the course,” he says.
All I can think is that I won’t get to finish. “Please, I say. Can I just finish?”
He explains that they have to close the course, but they will take the people down to the finish line and drop us off about half a mile from the line. I will be able to finish the ride in front of my family. I’m sure everyone else will have departed, but I know TEAM FISH be there.

I get in the SAG and there are two other guys in there as well. We chat about the ride, the utter brutality of it. I tell them that I am celebrating one-year cancer-free, and they both talk about relatives, one man his wife, the other his father, who are survivors. We agree that we’ll be back again next year.

I talk with the SAG wagon people and it is then that I realize who they are. It is the same people who stopped to help us with my brother Pat’s FIRST flat tire. I look and they are wearing their “I Support TEAM FISH” BUTNZ. They both want to shake my hand, and I oblige. They drop us about half a mile from the finish. I call TEAM FISH and let them know I am on my way in as the SAG people unrack my bike.

My legs are okay now. As I sit on my bike, I settle in. I ride to the entrance to the college, and there are very few people still there. I wind through the maze to a cattle chute that will take me to the finish line. The adrenaline is flowing, there is no pain, only the joy of riding, of finishing. I hear Little Fish screaming “DADDY!!!!” and I see my family, in the t-shirts my wife made, erupt to my right. They are going crazy and I feel tears well up…only, there are no tears because I am so dehydrated. I raise my arms, a thank you to God for seeing me through all of this.

My brother has a cup of water and he launches it high in the air, allowing me to ride through it perfectly. It is so blessedly cold, and I use a little to wipe the salted crust from my face.


I cross the line and pull off to the side. I look back to where TEAM FISH has assembled, and I see Little Fish tearing across the field at top speed, screaming “DADDY! DADDY!” Her feet don’t even touch the ground. She flies into me and gives me a huge hug.
“I love you, Daddy!”
“I love you too, puppy.”

Mrs. Fish is the next to reach me, and I melt into her arms for a moment, allowing myself to finally soften. “I could not have done this without you. I love you,” I say. She just holds me.

Then TEAM FISH is mobbing me: My cousin LizFish, my brother (and fellow LiveSTRONG rider!!!) PatFish, my sister-in-law SaraLouWhoFish and my parents, NiniFish and Pop-Pop Fish.

I wasn’t sure what to feel after the event. Cheated that I missed the cutoff? Angry because I didn't plan properly and they didn’t have the GU I needed to survive this thing? Cursed because of all the flat tires? I took some time in quiet to think about everything, to put it into perspective. This is what I arrive at.

There are people who may think I didn’t finish the LiveSTRONG Challenge. I know better. Sure, I might owe Lance 4 miles (you'll get them next year, Lance) but I wanted to gain strength, to pass along that strength to others, and to show that cancer hasn’t and never will stop me. I gained it from people like Diane, who showed me what it is to have that desire in your belly. I passed it along to Melissa as she walked her bike up the hill, telling her she was going to be a great nurse (and cyclist!) because she believes in herself. And, I pedaled 96 miles over grueling climbs in a brutal heat with TEAM FISH by my side, hurting with every stroke but never, ever quitting until someone stopped me and peeled me off my bike. I was stopped, but I never quit.

I love TEAM FISH. You guys RULE! And next year, I’m going to bring more people, and we’re going to serve notice on cancer: Your days are numbered. Believe it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

LiveSTRONG 2007: Part II

MILES 20-32
The next twelve miles are an all-out suffer-fest. I have done the math in my head, and I know I must make it to mile 32 before 11.30 or I will be redirected to the 70 mile course. That means an average of 16 miles per hour. For the next 45 minutes. Over the hilliest terrain I have yet faced. I make up my mind to give everything I have to make the cutoff.

The first climb is tough, right out of the refueling area. I grit my teeth and go. I rise, passing people who are walking their bikes up the hill. I think about Pat, and hope that he gets the nerve to face the hill, and that he finds the strength to conquer it. I come to the split, where Pat will take a left to go back to the finish. The volunteer cheers out, "40-Left! 70-Right!"
"HUNDRED!" I shout back to him.
"Hundred?" He sounds surprised. "To the Right! GO!!!"

I reach the top of the hill and then I am flying down the back side. I know I must make time, so I am pushing the limits of speed. I glance at my odometer: 41.5 miles per hour. I can do this. I can do this. I WILL do this.

I am hurting, my legs are burning. I hear the JP Fitness Crew for Team Fish in my mind: "You've got no quit in you." It was my mantra for a triathlon, the one that got me through. I look down again. 30 miles. I am getting close. It's after 11.00. Then, I see the road, the split, the volunteers. I cross over into the hundred-mile course at 11.18--twelve minutes to spare. The volunteers again seem surprised.
"He's going for it!" one of them shouts, and another adds the French cycling cheer, "ALLEZ!"

I am thrashed and trashed...but I have made the cutoff! I pedal a mile up the road to the refueling station. I learn later that Pat decided to face "The Hill" and that he made it all the way up, without stopping or putting his feet down. He said later, "Rob. I just made up my mind that I was going to make it up that hill, or I was going to pedal until I lost all of my momentum and fell over in a ditch." TEAM FISH PWNS YOUR FACE!


When I make the turn to go onto the Hundred-Mile Course, I know that almost the entire ride group is ahead of me. I also know what this means: No drafting, no camaraderie, no easy pedaling. I resign myself to a long, lonely pedal. To my surprise, there is a small group of cyclists still in the fueling station. I quickly hook up with them and they help me through the next ten miles, but it is becoming apparent that I have not taken on enough food. At the next rest stop, they refuel quickly, but I need carbs, salt, electrolytes. I can feel the beginnings of cramps on the insides of my quadriceps. I need to take care of this now, but the station does not have any GU left, my fuel of choice. I take in Gatorade and Captain's Wafers with peanut butter. I feel better.

I leave this station, and again the cramps begin in my legs. I ignore it as long as possible. Finally, I reach a point where they are so bad I cannot straighten my leg on the pedal-down-stroke. I grind to a halt at the edge of the road. I cannot go on. I can't straighten my legs past 90 degrees. I am sucking down Gatorade. Then, I feel it hit my legs--I can straighten again, slowly, but it's there. I look back and there is a woman walking her bike up the hill. I wait for her, and ask if I can walk with her.

I learn her name is Melissa, and she is from Oregon. She traveled east to go to school in Boston, where she is studying to be a nurse. We get back on our bikes, coast downhill for a bit and then I give her a BUTN and wish her Godspeed. I am feeling better, and I am off again.

I am also alone again. I look at my odometer and see I have passed 50 miles. I have a private conversation with my cancer. It is, paradoxically, both a low point and a high point for my ride.

When I look up, the mile 55 hill is in front of me, rising over 500 feet almost straight up, or so it seems. I slip down into my low gear and just start spinning up. I pick out landmarks and just resolve to make it to the next leaf....that stick...the rock...again, it hurts. And then, I phone? There is no way I can answer it. But I know who it is. It's Mrs. Fish and Little Fish, and they're calling to spur me on. I make up my mind to own this little chunk of hill. A guy passes me going the opposite direction in a SAG wagon: "Dude! There's a party at the top of the hill!"

I find myself thinking of the Road Bike Review part of Team Fish--how they would handle the hill, the heat, the adversity. They'd buckle down and get the job done, probably with "a Corgi and like that." I dig deep and find it. I can hear RBR laughing as I jolt up the hill.

I reach the top of the hill and there is....A PARTY! People are eating hotdogs (I think I would toss 'em if I ate 'em), drinking homemade sports drink, and...what's this? Chicken and rice soup? You'd think it would be gross, as hot as it is, but it is salty, carb-laden, and easy on the stomach. I have three cups of it. Again, they have no GU, a trend that is becoming just a little alarming as I am down to my last three. I hear a guy asking about them, because he has none. I give him one of mine. Surely one of the next aid stations will have more...right? I now have two.

LiveSTRONG 2007: Part I


Mrs. Fish and I journey down the day before to pick up my race packet. It is extremely well-organized and only takes one minute to check in. That’s awesome, as I’ve been to these events. Some are organized better than others, and I am glad this one is better organized. I also take a walk around the event area, spending some time with “Lance” and then return to home base: my Mother-in-Law’s condominium. I lay out my transition area (T-0?) to make sure I have everything, call all of the people who were coming down, cook salmon and asparagus with a baked potato for dinner (AWESOME!) and called it a day.

The essentials: Lucky Socks, cool jersey and Assos Chamois Cream (trust me!):

Also, my SURVIVOR card, a reminder of just how far I've come in one year...

I wake up around 5.00 am and made breakfast: oatmeal, mango, peach and some turkey. I get on the road and it is still dark out, arriving at the site and it is still dark, but lightening. I put the bike tire on by my neighbor’s headlights, pull my gear together and cruise over to the event area. I spend some time talking to people and pass out some of the Butnz that Kurt had sent me—again, they totally ROCK! People love them. Note: The "I Survived..." is from my dear friends Diane and Steve)

I am waiting for my brother, who is going to ride the 40 mile course, when some guy cruises up next to me and forgets to clip his foot out of his pedals. Those of you who ride know where this is going. He couldn’t clip out and fell over right onto my leg. HOLY CARP! Ouch. I thought, “This is just perfect—I get prepared for this whole thing and some dude in the parking lot breaks my leg before I get on the course. OUCH!” Luckily, nothing was hurt, and he has the foresight to land on his leg and shoulder to protect the bike. Good man…everyone is fine.

Pat arrives and I decide to start my ride with the 40 mile group. It will put me at about a 25 minute deficit, but I know I can make that up easily enough. Furthermore, there is a cutoff at the 32 mile mark of 11.30, but that still gives me almost 3.5 hours to get there. In essence, I will have to average 10 miles per hour to make the cutoff and proceed onto the 100 mile course—otherwise they will redirect me at that point onto the 70 mile course. I can average 10 miles per hour backwards, so I think I will be great—no worries. Right?

Pat has two friends that hook up to do the ride, Sean who works with him, and Chris, who used to. They’re very nice people, and I would have like them a lot if they had signed up with Team Fish or Cut Bait instead of Team WMMR (kidding…).

Lance gives the opening remarks, greeting the crowd, and thanks us for the work we have done to raise money to fight cancer. He also announces a Presidential forum to discuss cancer in America and what the role of the President is in helping to secure funding for the research. It’s long overdue. It’s funny, because Lance is not anywhere near as eloquent as I thought he would be. He seems almost shy before the group, like he doesn’t know quite what to say or how to say it. It is kind of interesting…I just picture him as more polished.

So Pat and I start rolling with the 40 mile group, Chris and Sean riding with us. It is a good group, chatty, ready for a good ride. About three miles out, I am chatting with Pat and I hear POP-SQUEEEEEEEE…

Yes WAI…Flat Tire! Oh carp. We pull of to the side of the road and the 10 milers are going past us. The SAG wagon pulls up to make sure we are okay and I assure them we are. I watch as Pat takes his tire off—his first time ever! He does a good job and he puts the wheel on. Off we go.

We pass a grandmother and her granddaughter and even though she is weaving a little, I tell her she is doing great. “Keep on rolling!” Another 2 miles and we’re talking about Brazilian soccer and Tom Cruise watching soccer matches and how the announcers think he’s a wanker and POP-SQUEEEEEEEE…

I wish I was TRIPPIN' but I'm not…Flat Tire--AGAIN! What the carp? Pat busts the wheel off and takes the tire off the rim quickly. It’s a good sign – he learns quickly. Riders continue to roll past. I think we are now DFL. Dead Freakin’ Last. In the ENTIRE LiveSTRONG Event. Okay. A BikeLine guy pulls up and offers to help. “YES!” Pat and I say. He mounts the tire quickly and gets us back on our way.

The entire course is supposed to have volunteers at the intersections, supported by local police or state troopers. We come up on one intersection and there is a mother and daughter riding. The daughter asks her mom, loud enough that I can hear, “Do we just go through? Do we just go through?” The mom does not reply, but I quickly look and see there is no police officer OR volunteer. “No, no, no,” I think, and something of the Daddy in me comes out as I see this girl rolling against a light. “STOP!!!!!” I yell and she slams the bike and skids sideways as a car rolls through the intersection. It would surely have killed her. She is shaken, but unharmed, and we roll on.

Pat and I are picking up steam and feeling pretty good about things. We pass the grandmother and granddaughter (again) and I tell her she is still doing great. “Thanks!” she says. I show Pat how to tuck in and draft off me. Again, he learns quickly. We come to some rolling hills and rise over them, down the other side, around a corner and…POP-SQUEEEEEEEE…

Yup...Srsly and like that…Flat Tire--AGAIN! You have GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!! We are less than eight miles into the course and Pat has had three flats. God I love my Gatorskins…but I curse the monkeys that made his stupid tires! Again, Pat has the wheel off in a flash and strips the tire off. He looks like a Marine field stripping his M-16, now. Steve, a BikeLine SAG wagon guy stops and helps us out. I explain that we’ve had three flats in eight miles, and he triple checks the rim tape, tire and everything else. I show him where this one was a side blowout and he replaces Pat’s tire along with the innertube. At this rate, I think Pat might be able to get a TREK Madone by the time the 40 miles are over.

We get going and rolling forward. We pass….the grandmother and granddaughter…AGAIN! “You’re still doing great,” I say, trying not to let the irony of my situation into my voice. “Look,” she says, “it’s those two hotties again!” I’m still laughing my butt off!

We get to the first help station at mile ten, stock up on innertubes (two more....EACH) and get rolling. It’s a decent pace, and I realize the hills are hurting Pat a bit. I show him how to spin on the hills, using the granny gear to spin up instead of grinding it out. Again, he learns quickly and soon we’re rolling along more comfortably. I look up and see a lone rider coming down on the far side of the road. There are two police motorcycles behind the rider. He draws near me and I recognize the form because it is so unique in cycling, long before the face…Lance. Too late, I realize I could have yelled, “Yo Lance! On your left!” I’m not sure it carries the same weight if he’s traveling in the opposite direction, though.

Pat and I arrive at the second aid station. It is now 10.45 and I have only 45 minutes to cover nearly 12 miles of the hardest part of the course thus far. Pat is taking the 40 mile turn and he has reunited with Sean and Chris. He is debating whether or not to do the big hill, and I hope he does. It occurs to me that rides like this are, in large part, a way to find out what lies inside of us. Pat isn’t sure he could finish the 40, especially with the hill at mile 20, but I suspect he can. He has a lot of grit, and when he puts his mind to something, he’s unstoppable. Again, I hope he goes for it, but I realize if I am going to make the cut off, I am going to have to go all out (bust a nut?) to make it. I do the math and realize I am going to need to average 16 miles per hour over the hills. I grit my teeth and roll out.


To my family, and my friends who are just as often like family,

I wanted to take another opportunity to thank you for all of your help, love and support. Riding in, and finishing, the LiveSTRONG ride was probably the second hardest thing I have ever done in my life (cancer and the hit-and-run still top the list), and there is no way I could have done it without you. Your thoughts, prayers, and encouragement lifted me up, and I am assured that finishing this incredible ride was thanks to you: TEAM FISH!

Together, Team Fish raised $1,920.00 to fight cancer, fund research, and support people who are battling this disease. In short, your kindness and generosity is saving lives, like mine.

I will be posting the story of my experience here. Note, there is a place at the bottom of each entry that says “Comments” and you can click on that to leave comments in the blog, or to respond to something that was said, if you’d like.

Again, my heartfelt thanks and most sincere gratitude to each and every one of you. You have my deepest respect and sincerest thanks. I could not have done it without you:


Thursday, August 23, 2007

One Last Request...

One last plea--if you are able to give, and you would like to support me on my LiveSTRONG Century CLICK HERE. I assure you no amount is too small.

Thanks for everything, and a HUGE THANKS to those of you who have supported me already. It means the world to me.


Sure, he's in a rec league on a Tuesday night, but even my friend Lt. Dan has to admit this is pretty amazing.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Buttons, and like that...

Kurt at read my story online and made a bunch of buttons for me to give to friends and family members. It's truly one of the nicest things anyone has done for me. This is one of the reasons I sometimes believe cancer is the best thing that happened to me. It enables me to see what is best in people. Thanks Kurt! Like the buttons, YOU ROCK!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Tour of South Central PA

Some pics from my ride yesterday. You can click on them to make them bigger. The rolling country roads...

Along the Yellow Breeches, some of the best fly fishing east of the Mississippi...

Over the Breeches...

This guy uses the caboose as a mother-in-law quarters or an office, I think...

Winding roads...

And rolling hills of South Central PA

This was pretty cool: you come up at the top of a shaded hill and someone has hung an American flag:

How did they KNOW?

God, I love the feel of fresh, smooth asphalt in the morning...It feels like: VICTORY!

Children's Lake: Boiling Springs, PA

Looks yummy....

When I'm done, I LOVE me some pickles....

...and Apple Juice, from my local!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Barium...the Other White Meat

I went for my one-year CAT Scan. It's not so bad, except I needed to drink two 20 ounce containers of barium, which is pretty much a mixture of chalk, modeling clay and monkey sweat.

Completely nasty stuff. On the bright side, they used these new needles went into my arm like a normal needle. Then they withdrew the metal part and there is just a flexible plastic tube feeding the contrast dye into my body. It allowed me to move my arms freely while I was in the CAT Scanner. Here's a copy of my CAT Scans:

I haven't received the CAT Scan results yet, but all of my blood work came back NORMAL (well, as normal as anything of MINE gets).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cancer: One Year Later

On August 14, 2006, one year ago, today, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. It seems so long ago, yet, paradoxically, like only yesterday. I resolved to become, on that day, not a cancer victim but a cancer survivor.

I am able to do the things I do today as a result of a lot of people. As I reflect on what it means to be a survivor, the thing I keep coming back to is the people I have met along the way, or the people about whom I have gained a deeper understanding.

When I was a kid, one of the things I loved to do with my father was watch ABC’s Wide World of Sports (“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports, the human drama of athletic competition: the thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat”). I remember there was a Russian power lifter named Vasili Alexiev. It seemed, to my young mind, that there was nothing he could not lift, no weight too large. My heavy lifters were the doctors and nurses.

I still remember going to see Dr. W. because I was having some abnormal pain in my testical. He checked it and said, “You know you have a lump?” At that second, the only lump I felt was the one in the back of my throat. I was hustled through procedures, concluding with a Radical Left Orchiectomy, which is Medicalese for “took my ball out through my stomach”. I am assured it is still an easier procedure than pregnancy.

Then I went for radiation with Dr. K. having researched every possible resource available. By the time I got there, I knew more than he did. I remember him describing the procedure and drawing a picture of "me" lying on the table, so he can show where the radiation will be directed. "Hey, doc?" I said.
"The drawing is wrong. You gave me two testicles."
We both laughed, then he looked at it and said, "One of these will be the penis. Here. I will make it bigger for you." And he did...very generously.

The nurses throughout the whole process were amazing. When it comes to heavy lifting, nobody tops nurses! They were the salt of the earth, the kindest people I got to meet, and they managed to help through EVERYTHING with a smile and a sense of humor. When I started, I had a HUGE fear of needles. I revealed my fear to one nurse, and she replied, “Don’t you worry, honey. We’ll cure you of that, too.” And they have. Another thing I learned: Be nice to them, and like Trish, my nurse at the hospital prior to the procedure, they’ll bring heated blankets…NOICE!

There is also a person I have dubbed Fanny Granola. Cancer survivors and the seriously ill know this person well. They’re the one that shows up and starts giving you all kinds of advice about herbal supplements, roots, berries, and tree barks that cure cancer. Her favorite saying is “Try this!” At one point, I was sure she was going to tell me that lying down on a bed of cocker spaniel fur and eating the rinds from limes grown in Belize would stave off cancer. Note: It’s working so far, but I still don’t know what to do for the itches and green teeth…

I met a lot of brothers and sisters in arms, the people I knew who had cancer before me. For me, the biggest influence was my friend Bev, who had breast cancer when I first met her 8 (Good night! Can it be eight) years ago? Through her whole ordeal, she was bold and optimistic, a trait she carries to this day. In fact, she’s so bright I just call her “Sunshine!” I would call her at all hours and she was always available, always positive, and never complained. At one point, I was having a different emotion every 20-30 seconds. I asked “Is this normal?” She assured me it was. She guided me through procedures and served as my sage, sounding board, confidant, support, and teacher. Most importantly she was, and is, my friend.

There’s also a group of people I didn’t know before I had cancer. They kind of come out of the woodwork when they find out you have cancer. I call them the Anne Sullivans, because in many cases you don’t even necessarily see them. I frequent several online discussion boards based on my interests: Health and Lifting at JP Fitness, Triathlon at Beginner Triathlete and Cycling at Road Bike Review. It was though the latter that I “met” Bill. He gave me advice on doctors, tests, dealing with people, being an advocate for myself, and even occasional insomnia. I found myself being totally honest with him, sometimes more honest than I was even being with myself; at one point we talked about fear, and it was hard because I thought the people around me needed to see me as strong and optimistic, and he helped me to realize that in times like this, people are okay with our fears. I will never forget the care package Bill sent me right before my surgery that contained Spinervals CDs, workout videos that are designed as absolute torture for cyclists; an iPod to inspire me, featuring music and songs his daughter had arranged for him when he had cancer; a picture of a squirrel that is decidedly not for the faint of heart; and a blanket, reminding me that Life is Good.

There were so many others that I still haven’t met, and may never, though their influence and the love they have shown me will never be forgotten: Dave Hickey, for those early moments that made all the difference when I was really scared. Jean-Paul and the JP crew, who sent me a planter that I still have to this day. Alwyn, whose simple mantra: “FUCK CANCER!” remains a source of constant enjoyment. CycleSpice who wrote to me: "Remember even a handful of mud will reflect heavens beauty if you shine the right light on it." Eric Martin who reminded me: “You got no quit in you.” Alan, who drew from his own experiences of hospitals and fighting through to give me insight and strength. Mahler, for the reminders of the strength I had inside me already. I got so many e-mails, PMs, general reminders, prayers, thoughts and love from people I have never met, and it carried me through a load of dark times. In a fair world, I would buy you all a beer, and perhaps in the next life I shall—surely Heaven has a beer or two for the lot of us.

Then there’s the President in the disaster movie (or perhaps real life, depending on your perspective). You know him. The person you thought would respond better, but just didn’t. I had people that just disappeared on me. There are reasons for it, I’m sure. People just don’t know what to say, or they don’t want to be around cancer-guy, or whatever. A NOTE TO WHOMEVER READS THIS: If your friend gets sick, call them. And if you don’t know what to say, just say, “God. I don’t know what to say, but I just had to call.” The rest will come from there. Trust me. I had a discussion with my friend, Amy, about one particular friend who disappeared. She asked if that friend was actually capable of giving more. I thought about and decided they honestly were not. She responded, “You cannot expect people to give more than they are capable of giving. Can he give more? If not, don’t expect it, and move forward.” It gave me a new perspective, and some grace, allowing me to GIVE compassion in moment when I was expecting to get it.

The Disaster Movie President is offset in my life by Aurora. If you’ve ever seen the film Terms of Endearment (before you threaten to take my man-card, I ask that you watch the entire film and not get choked up when Debra Winger says goodbye to her children…then we’ll talk), I define her as the person who responds BETTER than you expect her to. For me, it was Mom and Dad. Like Aurora, my mom has a flair for the dramatic. But, they were there when I needed them with prayers, support, and coming up to help out. It made such a difference because they were there.

I am fascinated with ant colonies. I think they are the coolest things, unless they’re too close to the house, in which case I have to kill them. But aside from that, I love watching how they move in concert, everyone with a purpose and a job, the colony taking care of the one. For me, my any colony was my neighbors. They stopped by, took care of my family, and made sure all of the little and big things were taken care of. They cooked meals for my family, which meant the world to me because I am the cook in the family and we were able to eat GREAT even when I was sick (it wasn’t mac ‘n cheese from a box, it was restaurant-quality food that was each neighbor’s specialty). My neighbor Bob even came over and cut my lawn (I’m considering getting testicular cancer in the other “boy” to get my basement cleaned out). I had another ant colony at work, handling my clients left and right, emergencies large and small. I would be in sorry shape indeed without them, especially Joan who knows my clients, and Mary, who saves my ass on a regular basis as it is (I still have the planter they sent me, as well—turtles RULE). And my coworker Susan, who organized a basket of videos and books and treats for those days when i was home alone...all kindnesses which will stick with me.

During the Day, there were enough things to keep me busy, with appointments, people, work, and recovery. But I woke up a lot during those wee hours of the morning, and spent a lot of time praying, especially for my wife and daughter, and my friends: the people I love and the people who love me. God reminded me not to take things for granted and to always keep things in perspective. At one point, I was thinking about some of the amazing things I’ve done in my life, and God reassured me that this was not my time to go. I thought of Randy’s words, what God taught him on the death of His son: Remember what’s important—the people you love, the people who love you, and how you serve your God.

Isaiah 40 has always been a source of srength for me, and I found myself returning to it, time and again in those days:

28 Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

Most of all, I saw my family in a new light. The prospect of them moving on without me was almost unbearably hard. I love my wife and daughter, and I don’t think I have taken that love or the time I spend with them for granted, it’s just that now I see things differently. I hear The Mavericks and think about dancing with my daughter at her wedding, but also remember to dance with her now.

I try to communicate with my wife more, better. I find myself calling her in the middle of the day, or e-mailing her, just to tell her love her. It’s not that I think she’ll forget, it’s just that I find more joy in those moments of interaction, the small things like working out our schedules, planning dinner, or even working out our differences.

I have learned and continue to learn so much from the people who surround me. My hope, my prayer for each and every one of you is the one that has been fulfilled for me through, oddly enough, cancer: Find the courage you need to face your challenges, the strength you need to overcome them, and the dignity to do it with grace. God bless you all.