Saturday, September 8, 2012

Labor Day Fun

Someone needs to tell them how to spell "Antique"!

Labor Day Weekend has become a last blast of summer…a three day weekend to experience the last fun of the Season.  I don’t remember much about Labor Day as a kid.  I know we sometimes made a trip to visit relatives but mostly just hung out, played cards and enjoyed the freedomof three days off of work or school!  When my kids were younger, Labor Day Weekend meant a couple of things…Football and Flea Markets!  In the IA Great Lakes, every holiday weekend in the summer includes getting out on the Lake, hitting the Amusement Park or the Barefoot Bar for the last time of the season.  My favorite is heading out to the Flea Markets…there are usually 3 of them but my favorite is at Vick’s Corner.

My kids never really wanted to go the Flea Markets…although once they got there they could usually find something to look for.  My son would look for football cards and anything sports-related.  My daughter would look for cool (cheap) jewelry.  They would grudgingly follow me around while I looked  at the antiques, glassware and anything else you can think of.  I rarely bought anything…unless I found a cool cup & saucer that I just couldn’t live without!  Sometimes my Mom would come up to visit and go with us.  She couldn’t walk around much, so she would sit on one of the benches and let us roam around and tell her about what we had seen!  She enjoyed people-watching and always seemed to bump into someone she knew!
This year, I headed out to Vick’s with a friend on the last day.  The weather was awesome and although some of the vendors were already packing up, there was a plethora of exciting things to see.  I love it when you see something that your Mom or Aunt used to use in their kitchen…it brings you right back to that time and place.  I miss not being able to go with my Mom now that she has passed but I feel like she is near when I see some of the things she used to use!  My favorite items are always the glassware and china but I also like seeing old things being repurposed and wish I had the talent to do that.  There is always something new and different to see…even if you went on Memorial Day or July 4th.

There is always one thing that is a must on my way out of the Flea Market.  When the kids were little, the only way I could get them to go with me was to promise them each a bag of mini donuts.  They had to go thru the whole Flea Market with no complaints and we then we would hit the Mini Donut cart and eat them on the way home.  So, of course, I still have to grab a bag of donuts on the way out…for old times sake!  Ummm….just as nummy as I remember!

Up next…the Clay County Fair…The World’s Largest County Fair!  Always, a winner!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Heart of a Runner

“The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race, it’s to test the limits of the human heart.”
Bill Bowerman

Steve Prefontaine and Coach Bill Bowerman
Those of you in the Track & Field world, know the name, Bill Bowerman.  He was the legendary Track Coach at Oregon or “Track Town” where this years Olympic Trials will be held.  He coached standouts such as Steve Prefontaine, was the 1972 Olympic Track Head Coach and along with Phil Knight was the co-founder of Nike and inventor of the waffle shoe tread.  I’m sure he had someone like my son, Dan Pearson in mind when he said this!  Dan will be running this weekend at the Sioux City Relays for Buena Vista University.  This isn’t his first experience at the Relays.  In high school, Dan ran both the Open 800m and the 4x800 at the Relays in 2008.  Later that year, as the anchor of the Spirit Lake 4x800, he would earn a 4th place medal at the Drake Relays followed by a 3A State championship!  He crossed the finish line just seconds ahead of the perennial state champion, Isaac Wendland.  Dan chose to attend BV and run both Cross Country and Track.  But In the fall of 2009, his life would change forever.
 He began to struggle in practice and in the first cross country  meet, he had to stop several times during the race which was very out of character for him.  After a blood test, he was found to be anemic and told to take off a couple of weeks from running and take some iron pills.  Two weeks later, a blood test revealed an even lower hemoglobin level and something else that was unexpected.  On Sept. 30, after a bone marrow biopsy, he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia.  He left college immediately to enter the hospital to begin 8 months of intense chemotherapy.  He gave up a year of his life at college, lost most of his muscle tone…eventually lost his hair and was almost unrecognizable compared to the chiseled athlete he had been. 
What kept him going thru the seclusion of this time was the desire to run again.  After completing the initial rounds of chemo, in May he began the Maintenance form of his chemo which he will finish in January 2013.  It involves monthly IV chemo, daily and weekly oral chemo, lumbar punctures (including intrathecal chemo) every 3 months and bone marrow biopsies every 6 month.  It may sound like a lot, but compared to what he went thru during the first 8 months (chemo up to 4 times a week), this is almost easy…or at least Dan seems to make it look that way!
At first, the running came slow…it took weeks to be able to run a mile.  At times, the effort to run even the shortest distances was so great that he wondered if it was worth it!  In the end, it was!  He ran Cross Country (with his Doctor’s approval) that next fall – he finished every race without stopping, was never last and continued to better his times throughout the season and into the track season.  His race times were nowhere near his “healthy” times but were still amazing for someone on chemo!  More than once, he ran a cross country race within days of receiving chemo, a lumbar puncture and bone marrow biopsy!  Track has been a little more difficult to see an improvement in his times.  The 400m & 800m which used to be his forte, are now the most difficult.  Without getting into too much physiology which, to be honest, I am no expert at, the shorter distances require an efficiency that the chemo deprives him of.  In the longer races, he eventually pushes the chemo out of his body to run a faster time.  He now focuses on the 1500m, the 3000m and now, the 5000m.

It doesn’t come easy though.  He has to work as hard or harder than everyone else just to stay the same or see a minimal improvement in his times.  He misses practices because of chemo treatments although he has been known to hurry back to school after a lumbar puncture and/or bone marrow biopsy and run the same day!  He has worked thru the pain of the devastating lumbar puncture headaches.  They are similar to a migraine…he says it is like you had the worst stiff neck of your life that doesn’t go away.  The only thing that makes it feel better is laying down flat - helped a bit by some caffiene.  In January of this year, while suffering from an LP headache, Dan went to track practice…he wasn’t required to…his coaches are very cautious of his condition!  They were running  repeats  and the pain was excruciating.  The coaches told him he didn’t have to do it…that he should just stop  but Dan wanted to continue.  He continued to push thru the pain!  He would finish each rep and immediately lie flat on the ground until the next rep…then he would get up and do it all over again.  I’m sure it was inspiring to the other athletes to see what he was going through just to be able to run like everyone else!  He runs thru the pain and the disappointment of (to him) inferior times because he loves it…because it is who he is…a runner!  He refuses to let cancer take that away from him. 

So this Saturday, in the back of his mind as he steps up to the start line, is the hope and promise of next year… being able to stand at that line (God willing), still in remission from the Leukemia and free of the poisonous chemo that now runs thru his veins.  You probably won’t see his name on the leader board…he won’t be setting any record times (maybe a PR) or getting interviews from the local press but if you take a poll of the athletes with the most courage, determination and heart, he would definitely be right there at the top!  He is the epitome of courage and determination and continues to test the limits of his heart every time he steps on the track.   I am so proud of all he has accomplished with such humility!  I’m sure Bill Bowerman is up in heaven, smiling down on Dan as he watches him run!
 Here’s wishing Dan and all the other athletes good luck this weekend at the Sioux City Relays and wishing you all “the best of times”!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Final Countdown

I have not written a blog for awhile…at first I thought it was because I had temporarily lost my Muse!  Now looking back, I think it is because I have been so busy…lots of planning and projects to work on!  A couple of milestones have been achieved for us in the past few months…both life-changing and exciting! 
 The first exciting event happened a couple of weeks before Christmas.  Dan had been dating his girlfriend, Bre for over a year.  They first began dating his freshman year of college and then had broken up the following summer…a few months before he was diagnosed with Leukemia. He told me later that it was probably a good thing that he was not dating at the time, as it would have been too hard for someone to have to deal with his illness. They reunited again a year ago last November and have been an item ever since.  Dan decided it was time to pop the question.  They had decided not to do Christmas presents since Dan has lots of college & medical expenses and Bre has college loans etc.  Dan and I worked on a Shutterfly book of photos with a key as the last photo…the actual key was to a wooden box.  So at Bre’s family Christmas, in front of her family (all of them knew what was coming), Dan presented her the book, and then the box which held the ring box!  He got down on one knee and asked her to marry him!  She was so surprised and excited…and she said YES!  They are planning for a wedding in June 2013 in Storm Lake!  So the planning begins!  So exciting!  Just 2 years ago I wasn’t sure if Dan would be around to experience a wedding!  It will definitely be a celebration of life, love, joy and triumph over adversity!

The second milestone occurred this past January 19th!  The last day of Dan’s treatment will be on January 19, 2013…we now have less than a year of treatment!  A year may seem like a long time to you…but for us, after already completing over 2 years of chemotherapy, it seems like we are finally entering the last phases!  We now have a countdown!  Only 11 more IV chemo treatments, 3 more Lumbar Punctures and 3 more Bone Marrow Biopsies – one of them will be 3 months after he is done with treatment.  He will continue to require monthly office visits and blood counts for a year after treatment ends.  The reason for this is that the first year after the end of treatment is the most common time for relapse.  Since this disease takes hold so quickly, it is imperative to make sure it is not growing again and thus, the monthly blood counts.

Just to put this all in context for you, here are a few of the numbers since we began this journey.  During the first 8 months of intensive chemotherapy Dan received 12 Lumbar Punctures and 6 Bone Marrow Biopsies.  As of February 1, 2012 Dan has had 24 LP’s and 9 BMB’s.  By the time he is done with treatment, he will have had (if my calculations are correct) 27 LP’s and 12 BMB’s.  Wow, just seeing that in print is amazing!  He has never once complained…has suffered in silence many times…struggled thru work or practice fighting debilitating LP headaches…trained really hard just to see those around him improve while his times stayed the same!  He really has been incredible through it all!

He has been given the following chemotherapy drugs in different combinations:  Allopurinol, Daunorubicin, Vincristine, Prednisone, Pegylated L-asparaginase (both Intramuscular and IV), Cytarabine (Injection & IV), Methotrexate (Intrathecal, IV, and pill), Cyclophosphamide, 6MP or Mercaptopurine, Doxorubicin, Dexamethasone, 6-TG (6-Thioguanine).  He also had to take many other medications on and off throughout mostly the early treatment including:  Bactrim, Acyclovir, Levaquin, Acetazolamide, Fluconazole, Coumadin, Lovenox injections, Prilosec, Tamazepam, Sodium Bicarb, Hydrocodone, Anzemet and Zofran!  Wow…what a cocktail!  Dan has always managed the pills he takes himself (with limited reminders from me) and rarely missed a dose.  His medical professionals would be able to tell if he was not taking his mediations correctly – that would be “non-compliance”.  That is not an issue with Dan.  
 You may have noticed Methotrexate (MTX) in the news lately as well as ALL Leukemia due to the shortage of the injectable form of the drug.  Dan receives the MTX every time he has an LP and he takes the pill form once a week.  As far as we know, Avera McKennan is not having a shortage of the drug but it is scary to think that his treatment protocol could possibly be derailed because of it!  Although the drug is one of the drugs that has given him the most side effects (losing his hair early on), it is vital to him being in and staying in remission from Leukemia!  Without it, he may not have survived or had this positive an outcome!  Hopefully, something can be done to make sure these lifesaving treatments stay available to all that need them and don’t disappear because there is no money to be made by creating them!  

The next time you see Dan, looking so healthy and strong, think back about all his body has been through in the past 2 years.  When you watch him run at a meet or practice, consider what a miracle it is that he can compete with all the poison that still runs through his body!  Most of those from other teams that run beside him have no idea what he has been and continues to put his body through.   I still get a little teary-eyed watching him run and it kills me when I can’t go to every meet to see him!  
 Dan runs next at the IIAC Conference Indoor Meet in Mt. Vernon on Saturday – he will run the 3000 at approx. 3:15 pm CST.  There is a live feed if you would like to try to watch him…no guarantees on the quality of the video…it varies year to year!  We wish him “the best of times”!