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”! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The End of the Season

Since my last blog, Dan has had 2 Chemo appointments and 3 Cross Country Meets…I guess it’s time I got everyone caught up!  On October 13th, his monthly Chemo appointment included the works:  IV chemo, a lumbar puncture and a bone marrow biopsy!  That means getting up early, traveling the 100 miles to the Cancer Center and per our previous experiences, a very long day!  We had to be there at 8:00 am for labs with the LP and BMB scheduled at 9:00.  Usually, this meant we would be upstairs in the procedures area by 8:30 and have to wait for the Doctor until close to Noon to do the procedures!  The labs have to be gone over carefully by the Research Coordinator and then the Doctor…if his ANC (neutrophil count or immunity) is too low, sometimes, depending on the grading system, his daily oral chemo (Mercaptopurine or 6MP) and weekly Methotrexate (MTX) can be reduced or even suspended – we look forward to that!  If it is too high, it can be increased…which is not a prospect we look forward to.  Also, if his hemoglobin or platelets are too low (haven’t been in a long while, thankfully), they may have to postpone or cancel procedures due to the risk of bleeding or hematomas, etc.  His monthly IV chemo, Vincristine almost never gets cancelled…it doesn’t really work against the ANC and other levels!  He could basically be unconscious (God forbid) and still receive the Vincristine!
Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls, SD
  So this time, we arrived a little late…just a tad after 8:00 and found a line in the lab…at 8:00…seriously???  We made it upstairs to the Infusion Center and went immediately into the procedure room.  Usually, when he has an LP, he goes into a room that is similar to a hospital room (only smaller) with a hospital bed and TV and that is where the office visit and LP is done.  If he was having an LP and BMB eventually he would be brought to the procedure room – so this was a first for us!  The down side…there is no TV in the procedure room so not much to do while we wait for the labs.  We didn’t really have a long wait…after we found out his labs, they started prepping him!  We were informed our new Doctor, Kelly runs a very tight ship and should be there shortly to start the procedures!  So I was kicked out to sit in the waiting area…trust me, I don’t care to watch the needles (deathly afraid of them) and I know of 2 people (medical residents) who have passed out or went down while watching one of Dan’s BMB’s, so I am happy to miss out on that!  I have full trust in the Doctors as they do this several times a week!  Our nurse, Nancy came to tell me that everything went fine and that he was sleeping – he is not completely out during the procedures but he is given Versed – which means he has little or no memory of the pain.  He usually sleeps for about an hour afterward – plus he needs to lie flat for about an hour after the LP to keep away those nasty LP headaches!  They usually give him the Vincristine chemo while he is sleeping – it only takes about 10 minutes anyway!  
This is one of the Infusion Bays where we go for chemo only.
 After reviewing his labs, Dan’s ANC was .35 (normal is 1.8-7.7) which was very low. The Clinical Study he is on  ECOG C10403  requires that the daily dose of 6MP & weekly dose of MTX be suspended until the ANC rises.  We were so sad about that…not!  This would bode well for his upcoming cross country meets!  He would need to get labs in Storm Lake every week to check and see whether his counts were responding to the suspension of his medicine.  (One week later they were back to the appropriate ranges and the 6MP and MTX were back to the regular doses).  We were actually out of the Cancer Institute Building by Noon – a first for us on a procedure day – and had plenty of time for a sit-down lunch with my daughter, Alicia before we headed home.  You are actually not supposed to drive for 8 hours after going under but we waited awhile after we got home and made sure he was fully awake and then Dan drove back to college (75 miles) – he had no issues, thank goodness!
Dan running at the Jim Drews/Tori Neuhbauer Invite
 That following Saturday, Dan ran at the Jim Drews/Tori Neuhbauer Invite in West Salem, WI.  I wasn’t sure he would even be able to run being he had an LP and BMB just 2 days prior!  Most people are so stiff and sore after, they have a hard time walking, not to mention running an 8K!  But you have to know my Dan…he doesn’t think anything of it – doesn’t see what the big deal is that he is able to do this – it is just what he does!  He ended up running 30:36 – 20 seconds faster than the last meet and a minute faster than he ran at the same meet a year ago!  I was not able to go to the meet since it was so far away but was so surprised to see his time for the race!  I never imagined that he could do so well after what his body went thru just 2 days prior!  He continues to amaze me!
Dan running at the IIAC Conference meet in Decorah, IA
Every year, the BVU cross country team’s main focus is on the Conference Meet – that is where they try to peak and run their best times of the year.  Dan was especially focused on this meet and now had the added incentive of running after a week free of oral chemo!  The meet was in Decorah, IA and I had pondered attending but with a 4+ hour drive each direction and the car issues I had driving to the Waverly meet, I reluctantly decided to sit this one out.  I now really regret that decision but that is hindsight – nothing I can do about it now!  I kept watch on the conference website for the posting of the results and the text from Dan!  When it came in, I was shocked…he ran a 28:54…a minute and 40 seconds faster than previous his best time of the year…and almost 3 minutes faster than his best time last year!  I ran into another BVU parent last week, who told him how good Dan looked at the Conference Meet.  He actually had something left at the end of the race and finished with his (former) signature kick!  Dan was so excited about how he did!  He had gotten a glimpse of what it will (hopefully) be like his senior year…running track with no chemo in his body – (he finishes chemo on January 19, 2013)!  I think we are all looking forward to what he will be able to accomplish then but still appreciate what he is able to do now!
Sunrise on the way to Regional meet - somewhere South of Milford, IA
 This past Saturday, Dan ran at the Regional Meet back in Waverly again. We were in Sioux Falls the Thursday before for his IV chemo appointment so we weren’t sure how he would be able to run just 2 days after chemo.  Of course, typical me…I had to stop twice on way to take a couple of sunrise photos!   I met his girlfriend, Bre outside of Storm Lake and rode with her to the meet…along with her new (and by extension Dan’s) puppy, a golden lab named Mazy! 
Dan, Bre and Mazy...aren't they cute?
 She is just 2 months old and is adorable!  She is also, we found out at the meet…a chick magnet…also, a guy magnet, a couple magnet, etc.  We had so many people coming up to us…asking to pet the puppy!  It was so funny! We also got to spend time with Bre’s sister, Caitlyn and her new baby, Brock!  He is absolutely adorable and it was fun getting to meet him for the first time!  The Regional Meet is a little different from a regular meet – in a regular meet, all members of the team are able to run – some have 40+ team members but only the top 5 figure in to the team totals.  At the Regional Meet, only 10 team members are allowed to compete so there are less competitors!  Most of the rest of the team members come to cheer on their teammates – many dressing up (2 girls were Tele Tubbies), painting school colors on their bodies, carrying huge team flags, etc.  My favorite was the Luther College group – they are the Norsemen.  There was one guy in a typical Viking hat with horns, another guy with a huge axe, a huge flag and after the men’s start, they ran together in a line, screaming with the flag flying!  It was like a scene from the movie, “Braveheart”.  It was really quite a sight!   
Dan running at Regionals in Waverly, IA
 Dan ran the 8k in a 30:19 – about a minute and 20 seconds slower than at the conference meet but still over a minute faster than his best time last year!  He said he knew after the first 400 meters that it was not going to be a good race for him…his breathing was not good, probably due to his declining hemoglobin from restoring the chemo.  It comes with the territory – you never know what is going to happen from one race to another.  That goes for any athlete but for Dan it is especially so…there are so many variables that can influence his performance! 

I am so very proud of what Dan has accomplished this year in Cross Country!  He has worked really hard and it shows!  He now gets a couple of weeks off and then will start training for the Indoor/Outdoor Track Season.  He will start working (as will the whole team) with the new Strength & Conditioning Coach – hopefully he can help him get back his quad muscle mass that he lost during the first, intense stages of chemo.  He gained back the muscle, but it is now much leaner…we will see what he can do!  He is also anxious to see what his track times will be since his cross country times came down so much - what will his 800 and 1500 meter times be???  Only time will tell!

P.S.  For those of you in Iowa, please tune in on Saturday afternoon to watch the Spirit Lake Indians in the 2A Championship game - first time ever trip to State for the Indians!  Best of luck to them!  Gooooooo Indians!!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Road trip to Waverly...with a detour to the Little Brown Church in the Vale

Last Saturday, I took a little road trip to Waverly, IA to watch my son, Dan run cross country.  It is about a 3 and 1/2 hour drive from home.  I could've taken the interstate half the way, but decided, instead to take the scenic route!  I intended to stop only on the way home since I wasn't sure how long it would take me and didn't want to be late!  I headed out of town about 6:45 am in the dark.  About 20 minutes into the trip, a deer ran out in front of me...luckily I had plenty of time to sure woke me up!  A little further down the road, the sun began to come up with a gradual change from gray to the lovely orange & yellow of the rising sun!  I just had to stop and take a couple of pictures...twice!  The second set was definitely the best...I am still working on figuring out the light settings, etc.
  The rest of the trip was beautiful with the changing leaves and rolling hills and perfect, sunny weather!  I made it there without taking a wrong turn and in plenty of time to watch the women run and get a feel for the course!  I also got a chance to talk to Dan, some of the other parents and the Coaches.  I still get a little nervous when Dan runs...hoping he won't be disappointed with his time or effort...hoping that he doesn't have any medical issues...that he can finish the race even though he has done so for the past year!  When I am not at the meet and I get a call close to the race finish time, I immediately wonder if something went wrong.  I can't help's the Mom instinct in me to worry...but I don't let it consume me...I let it go!  I do still get a thrill when I see him lining up at the start is just so amazing to see him run again!
 This meet he looked especially strong.  He finished the 8K with a time of 30:57...over 30 seconds faster than at the last meet at Ames!  He finished in 138th place (78th for the team) out of 174 runners!
 After the race, they always have to run a few miles for "cool down"...first, a couple of guys came back...then a couple more...then finally the only ones that hadn't come back were Dan and Brian.  Immediately my mind goes to that place...where in my mind I see him laying on the ground and something is wrong...but I snap back to the confidence that he will be ok...and he was!  Soon I could see him jogging up the field!  Whew!  After a few goodbyes, I headed back to the car to head back home.  I had decided to stop in Nashua on the way is just a couple miles off the main road.  When I was a kid, we had stopped there to see The Little Brown Church in the Vale and I wanted to see it again and take some photos.
 It is located on the side of a highway just a short distance out of Nashua with a parking lot and park across the street.  They even have a crosswalk across the Highway so that you can cross over to see the church.  Upon entering, there was a couple inside visiting the church also.  It is really a very quaint church with lots of antiques and old photos, etc.!  It would be a great spot for a wedding!
As I was leaving, another couple was just coming in for a visit.  I wandered around the grounds a little...there was a prayer garden that would've been beautiful in the Spring but now the blooms were gone.  When I got in my car to leave, a transit bus showed up with about 10-15 people on it!  I was surprised there is still so much interest in the church - I'm glad it hasn't disappeared like many of our other landmarks.  Click here for the history of the Little Brown Church in the Vale.  If you're in the area, make sure you stop by to see this awesome little church by the side of the road!
 After that I stopped to get gas ($3.22 a gallon!) and go to the bathroom and then decided to stop at a park in town that I had passed on the way to the church.  It was right in the center of town, on a lake and there was a tank (yes, a tank) and other machinery there!  So, I parked, grabbed my camera and got some shots of the lake, the spillway & old power plant that fed into a river.  There were several people down on the river fishing.
 When I was done shooting, I got in my car...ready to get back on the road...and home!  I put in my key and went to turn my car on and...nothing!  It wouldn't turn over!  Here I was in a little town on a Saturday, knowing no one and I have car problems!  After using a few expletives (sorry!), I decided I had no choice but to ask the strangers down by the river for help!  Gulp!  Again, not my strong suit...asking for help!  I went down by the river and asked if anyone knew anything about cars.  A nice young man (OMG - that makes me sound ancient!) asked me what the problem was and he offered to take a look.  He tried the car and it didn't start for him either...he popped the hood, messed with a couple of things and then tried it again.  Success!!  He showed me what he had done and told me what to do if it happened again...I told him I had no intention of shutting off the car until I got home!  I was not taking any chances!  I offered to give him something for helping me out but he declined!  So thank you to the "nice young man" from Nashua for helping this "old lady" out!  You were definitely an answer to a prayer!
 The rest of the way home was uneventful...thank goodness!  I drove by some beautiful trees, buildings, and a rainbow that I would have loved to shoot but I was determined to get home safely...which I did with no more problems!  This week will be a full one!  Dan has his monthly appointment in Sioux Falls but this time he has the works:  IV chemo, a lumbar puncture and a bone marrow biopsy!  In other words, we will be there most of the day...although it will be the first time with our new doctor, Kelly.  Who knows!  Then on Saturday, Dan has a meet in Wisconsin...not sure if he will be able to run or not but he is planning on it!  He really has an iron will and I have no doubt he will run...not for time but just to get a run in and get that poison out of his system!  I am not going to this one as it is a really long ways for me to go!  I hope to get to the conference meet in Decorah on Oct. 29th, weather permitting.  Maybe I can stop and see the Decorah Eagles Nest while I am there...I know the eagles won't be there but it will still be cool to see.  Anybody up for a Road Trip???

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Gift of Cancer...2 Years in

 Happy 2nd Cancerversary to Dan!  Two years ago today, I was headed down the road to college to pick Dan up and take him for a Bone Marrow Biopsy (BMB).  We knew there was something wrong with him but we really weren’t sure what it was.  There was an issue with his blood but we figured it couldn’t be too bad since just a few weeks before he had been running 5-10 miles per day!  We were basically clueless about what was to come and I am grateful for that!  After the BMB, we were told we wouldn’t know for a few days what the results were but that everything had went well.  Afterwards, I brought Dan back to college and drove the 75 miles back home.  It was a relaxing drive…the surgeon had given me the impression there was nothing to worry about so I actually enjoyed the ride home…singing to the radio, etc.  Good thing I did, as it would be the last time I would truly relax for about 8 months!

Later that evening, the phone rang…it was Dan.  He had gotten a phone call at school from the Hematologist that had sent us for the BMB.  He told Dan that he was “pretty sure” that he had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) and would need immediate treatment.  Since we had requested a doctor in Sioux Falls, he said he had arranged for a doctor there to call us to tell us the plan.  Imagine…you are 20 years old…a college student…alone in your dorm room…and someone calls and tells you that you have Leukemia!  I can only imagine the shock, pain and confusion that he went thru in those moments…And then, to have to call his mother and tell her, he had cancer!  I know that was the hardest thing of all for him to go through…knowing the pain I would be in and not being able to hug me!  After he told me, we both cried for a few moments…then I went into fight mode!  Before a race, I had always told him, “Kick some (insert opposing school) @ss”!  So I told him, “We are going to fight this.  We are going to kick Leukemia’s @ss!”  He chuckled and said “Yes, we will!”  That seemed to calm him down…even then I knew that I had to stay calm and in control, so that he would be strong for whatever was ahead.  Then he went off to tell his friends, teammates and coach what was going on and waited for the Sioux Falls doctor to call with the plan.  I can’t comprehend what those conversations were like – I know they were shocked, just as we were.  He would need to leave school the next day to begin treatment…leaving his schoolwork, friends and teammates behind…for a year!
Dan in the hospital with his "fake hair"
  So here we are two years later.  Although Dan has done incredibly well during treatment, there have been many tough times…financial issues, medical issues of all kinds (including a blood clot in the jugular that required 2 shots a day in the stomach for months) and the removal of his Triple Lumen Hickman catheter due to an infection.  When I look back, it is not these things that come to mind first but rather the good things that came our way…the incredible outpouring of support from family, friends & co-workers…the wonderful doctors & nurses that cared for Dan…and the amazing survivors we have met along the way.   The best part of this experience though has been how both Dan and I have grown in the past two years…hence the title “The Gift of Cancer”.

Dan has always been a “good kid”…not that he didn’t get into trouble.  It wasn’t often but when he did, he learned from his mistakes and tried to never do it again.  He was quiet and shy…introverted but thoughtful.  His teachers always said they wished he would speak up more – they were certain he knew the answers but wouldn’t raise his hand!  He rarely started a conversation with someone but would answer, briefly, when spoken to.  Sports were always his focus and after winning state in the 4x800 he earned a bit of swagger!  Schoolwork was important but sometimes he did just enough to get a decent grade…accepting a B when a little more work would have gotten him an A.  He could’ve made it onto the National Honor Society but didn’t want to write the essay – who needs that anyway, right??  That was his mindset.
Dan crossing the finish line at state - State Champs!
 Today, Dan is still a quiet guy but is much more engaging.  After 2 years of doctors, nurses & techs greeting him and asking him how he’s doing he has learned to reach out.  At first, he would just say fine…then, eventually “pretty good” and now he will engage first and tell them about his latest running exploits or his perfect 4.0 from last semester.  His grin has turned into an all-out smile that brightens the room.  He is also so determined to do well in college…the B’s just aren’t good enough anymore and he is now gunning for one of those medals around his neck at graduation in 2013!  He can’t indulge like other kids in the partying…with all the drugs he has in his system, more than one or two drinks are not wise!  Most nights he is in bed by 9 or 10…after the up to 10 miles of running, classes and the chemo, his body is just worn out by the end of the day!  It doesn’t seem to bother him…he keeps the end game in sight and focuses on the ultimate goal…finishing chemo and graduating!  Before, Dan’s prize possession was his medal for winning state in the 4x800 relay.  Today, it has been replaced with a purple medal from the Relay for Life!  The track medal sits at home under glass while the Relay for Life medal goes with him to college to remind of what he’s been thru and what is to come!
 For me the changes have been gradual…I have found my voice…literally…as proven by this blog!  It started out of necessity with Dan’s Caring Bridge to keep everyone informed on his progress and transformed into a growing passion that I am just beginning to realize.  I used to write – both stories and poems but haven’t done it in years.  I am happier & more content with my life now.  I think when you go through something like this you learn to not sweat the little stuff anymore but focus on the bigger picture.  My kid has cancer…so if I make a mistake or someone doesn’t like me or my hair looks like crap…in the big picture, those things are really pretty insignificant!  I am much more positive…to be honest, I was a little bit of a Negative Nellie… looking at the glass half-empty instead of half-full!  I enjoy life more and notice the little things…like the chipmunk in my yard…I’m sure he was there before but I never bothered to look.  I love the feel of the sun or wind on my face and try to take the time to just see what is going on around me!  I am not so hurried anymore!  I take the time to watch the birds and the butterflies in the yard.  I don’t take myself so seriously anymore.  I am finally at peace with who I am and what my life is…boy, that took awhile!

Like everyone says…you find out who your friends are…and I have many more than I thought!  I found support from my brothers & sister and their families as expected but also was lifted up by my work family too!  They put up with my frequent absences and occasional breakdowns and still kept me around – I am so grateful to all of them!  All the Coaches, Parents, Teachers…they all stepped up to help keep us going in this fight.  I actually learned to ask for help…I still have a way to go with that one but I am working on it!  
Dan and I at the ISU Meet in Ames
 But the biggest gift that cancer gave us was each other…that neither Dan or I had to go through this alone…we did it together.  I remember one time early on saying “we had a lumbar puncture” and then I apologized to Dan…I didn’t have the LP, he did!  He answered, “No, we both did…you’ve been with me thru everything.”  So from then on, I used “we” when I talked about anything regarding his illness.  We have gotten very close in the last 2 years…we sure spent a lot of time together.  I did get a little sick of the non-stop viewing of ESPN Sportscenter and the Food Network but I am getting a respite from that when he goes back to school.  The bond we have forged is stronger than ever and is one of the greatest gifts I could ask for.  I would trade places with him in a minute and take on all he has gone through but I know that he is grateful for this gift also.  He wouldn’t be who he is and where he is without the Leukemia.  I wish it could have come to him in a different manner, but “it is, what it is”.  So Happy 2nd Cancerversary Dan…and here’s hoping for many, many more!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What a Difference a Year (or Two) makes...

Dan running at the State XC Meet Senior Year
 The smell of Fall in the air means football, falling leaves and to us…the Cross Country season!  My son, Dan came to Cross Country a little late in the game.  As a freshman in High School, he played football but as much as he loved the game, it just wasn’t for him!  He took the fall of his sophomore year off but decided the Summer before his Junior year to go out for Cross Country.  He had been out for track every year but at the most ran an 800 so the 3.1 miles he would need to run would be a stretch for him but he was determined.  I knew very little about the sport…it is one of the most overlooked sports in High School and College too!  Even when you continue to contend for a state title as our school has, it is usually overshadowed by Football and the other Fall sports.  But after the first meet, I was in love with the sport of Cross Country, as was Dan!  The parents and kids are the best…everyone cheers for everyone else…even other teams!  Dan ran on the JV squad that first year and was always towards the front of the pack, gaining medals at most of the meets!  Senior year, he made it onto Varsity and was consistently the number 6 or 7 runner on their team that was ranked in the top ten for most of the season.  They made it to State as a team and ended up in 7th place as a team.  Dan was the number 7 runner at State and also had one of the highest places for the number 7 runner.  He decided to attend Buena Vista University mostly to run track.  He had decided to practice with the Cross Country team just to stay in shape and run at the Conference Meet only if needed.  But after just a week, he decided that he could run with the guys on the team and he felt good, so he ran his first meet on Labor Day Weekend at Central College at Pella, IA.  It is a 6K course and he ran a very respectable time of 22 minutes flat.
Dan (# 189) running freshman year for BVU
 The following Summer, Dan worked harder on training than the year before because he knew he would actually be running the Cross Country season.  A week or so before he was to leave for college, he ran with his former High School teammates just to see where he was in his training.  He was a little disappointed because he couldn’t keep up with them but we thought he just hadn’t put in enough work.  At school, he struggled a little bit in practice but that is not unusual as the Coach never knows how much work everyone has put in over the Summer.  The first meet was again at Central in Pella…I was not able to go because of the distance.  Dan would always call me on his way home to tell me how he did.  I had found the times online and had to go way to the bottom to find him…that was very odd for him!  His time was 27:47 – 5 minutes slower than the year before!  When he finally called me, he said that he had needed to stop several times during the meet!  His coach thought he might be anemic as he had all the signs so we decided he would see a doctor in Storm Lake to get his blood tested.  About three weeks later he was diagnosed with Leukemia and the season and the school year came to an immediate halt!
Dan finishing strong in his first meet back in 2010!
 After finally finishing the intense rounds of chemo for his Leukemia, Dan finally began training again in May of last year.  His doctor was on board as long as his hemoglobin stayed high enough for him to run.  I really don’t believe the doctor thought he really could compete, but knew that having that goal would be very good for Dan’s morale.  We really had no idea how he would do and if he could actually run an entire race or not.  The first race of the year, again on Labor Day weekend, was this time in Mitchell, SD – a new course for us.  It was only a 4K course due to the large amounts of rain they had received in the area…which was a good thing for Dan.  I was so nervous…I thought he might collapse or just not be able to finish!  It was a course with several loops thru the same area.  The first time thru, he looked very strong…hanging with the others guys on the team he usually ran with.  The 2nd time thru, he seemed to struggle a bit more and by the last time, he really was slowing down!  I went to the last hill to try to motivate him up it and then went to the finish to cheer him on!  He finished with a hint of a kick to fight off a contender that was behind him!  It was such a huge relief to see him cross that finish line!  He wasn’t last but was only a few runners from the end but it didn’t matter!  To be able to finish and to compete again, at any level was the goal!  He continued to amaze us throughout the rest of the season by getting better…slowly but surely.

 This Summer, Dan was an “animal” in training!  He ran up to 10 miles a day and I think he is in the best shape ever!  Last year, he was just beginning to get his hair to grow back in and had a little bit of “moon face” from the high doses of Prednisone he had been taking.  He also was just starting to get his muscle mass built back up!  Now, his hair and face are back to normal and his muscle tone is back…better than ever!  The only giveaway that he is still ill is the port in his chest.  His expectations are high due to the training he has put in and how he feels.  He is ready to compete…for real, this year!

Fast forward to Labor Day weekend…just a week ago.  Again, I was not able to go to the meet in Pella again this year.  It is a 4+ hour drive for me and starts at 9:30 in the morning, so it would mean staying overnight in a hotel which just isn’t in the budget!  Even though Dan is doing great, we still have the same prescription bills, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses we did in the beginning…it just takes a little longer to get there.  Anyway…I anxiously awaited the text from Dan with his time!  I knew he was gunning for that 22 flat that he ran as a freshman to prove he was back to “normal’!  Finally, he put me out of my misery with a text…He ran 23:11.3 – just a minute slower than he ran his freshman year…Healthy!  He said he was very happy with his time as it was a tough course!  He finished just one second behind a teammate and 10 seconds behind a former HS teammate!  He had led them most of the race but it ended up a hill and he just didn’t have the kick he used to be famous for so he fell back at the finish.  He finished 79th overall out of 120 and was the seventh runner for the team!  I am so proud of him for this accomplishment but it didn’t come easy.  I saw the blood, sweat and tears he put into his training this summer…along with holding down a full-time job and monthly chemo treatments!  
Dan running this year at the Pella Meet
  This coming Saturday, Sept. 17th Dan will run at Ames for the ISU meet.  He hopes to break the 30 minute mark for the 8K course.  I certainly wouldn’t bet against him! I will be there to cheer him on along with my sister, Anita.  Hopefully, we will be missing the pouring rain that they ran in last year! I think this team will do great things this year with plenty of talented freshman pushing the upper classman!  I also think that those who know Dan’s story will be inspired by his progress and pushed to do better also!  Two years ago, I never thought he would be at this level!  I have learned what a strong, courageous and very determined young man my son is and I am so proud!  To me it doesn’t matter what his times are…I am just happy to see him back out doing what he loves…running!  That was something a few days after diagnosis I wasn’t sure would ever be possible!  What a difference a year (or two) makes!