Came up in discussion today as I considered the fact that I really like to travel. Not able to teach in Russia this summer was certainly a disappointment, but I will be able to help friends on an MIT project. I will serve as a TA on the development of an online Edx course in entrepreneurship and occasionally travel to Boston. More about that later.
Meanwhile, I am hoping that at my next doctor’s meeting later in the month, I will get a favorable report and approval to be out among larger crowds in enclosed settings. Would like to get back into the classroom in the fall.
But “Where to?” That is an important question, and as soon as I can fly again, to be answered!
When there is “time left” that must be acknowledged, (my affliction is not curable, just managed), answering what’s next and where to are wonderful questions to ask.
A beautiful weekend of weather! I hope everyone enjoyed.
Yesterday, I watched some of the Centennial League Championship Track Meet at Muhlenberg. Fun to do since years ago in High School, I ran winter track. Amazing to see these athletes run and jump the way they do. Incredible shape. In one case, the 5,000 meters averaged just over 1.25 minutes per lap!!! Later, I ran 5 single laps with a walk in between. Saturday’s 5 mile hike made my legs feel like lead, but the energy is still there to finish multiple laps!!!!
The time watching the meet was worthwhile. Allowed me to continue to think about what I want to do in response to fighting a serious illness with success. Coaching was always fun and a reason for teaching. Becoming more of a spectator might be sufficient, but I do not think so. If I were to just watch, college would be the focus because I have come to dislike how professional sports are merely marketing havens.
But a spectator is not that active. So I think of my interest in urban affairs, only to realize how “political” that world is, and I am tired of politics. I did my share, and understand how the local circle works. Perhaps, someday, people will realize that cities are more than simply buildings and one particular social class in power.
There is my involvement in data science and learning the intricacies of its techniques. At best, however, I can read code. I am not a programmer. Instead, I have the business knowledge coupled with an intermediate understanding of analytical tools and the underlying databases. My work in Cambridge is very satisfying. Teaching is great, but exploring new fields carves new paths to follow. Must continue this.
I was invited to teach in Russia this year, but obviously could not take advantage. The location would be Sochi. How intriguing! Maybe next year.
Then, there is traveling in general. I still cannot take a plane trip, but certainly can drive. Who knows where that might take me?
Lots to think about. No clarity, yet. Urban affairs and data science stick out. Travel does, too.
For now, though, preparation for summer courses and excitement of sunny days ahead.
Muhlenberg College used their track yesterday for a field day. So I took a walk in the Parkway. 5 miles. Felt good. The energy is coming back. The time was spent thinking, and enjoying the great weather.
Today is to be spent getting ready for summer courses. Not all day. Will decide whether to run later. Legs are tired from the walk.
And based on yesterday’s post asking “What’s Next?” I welcome comments and suggestions, especially from those who know me well. Your advice is important.
“I am so pleased for you — 4 laps. Wow! And the blood results. Amazing.” Catherine reached to the top shelf to grab the hot mustard. “I know you like mustard. What do you plan on grilling?”
He trails behind her a few steps and felt relieved. Given her situation, he had dreaded telling her his good news. Always that question of being happy in the presence of someone still facing challenges.
“It was a long winter for both of us. I feel awkward telling you. I am sure you understand.”
Catherine turns and looks at him closely in the eye. “Do not say that. We both have had our fears. They are our own. I know you care about me. Do not worry. You have to care about yourself, also. Understand? Now, what do you want to grill?”
“Well, I can make my famous burgers with everything but the kitchen sink in them.”
“Hard to believe that six months ago doctors suggested something as serious that it could kill me in 3 to 4 weeks. I am glad that I don’t mind needles or moderate pain. I was stuck over 160 times.”
“I know. The pain from the operation is long gone, but this chemo crap sucks. It has made me think deeply, too.”
As she continues down the aisle, he notes the thin spots in her hair. She had decided to cut it short in anticipation of what likely was going to happen. He misses brushing it and the satisfying feeling that vice provides.
Catherine adds, “I think about dying more and more as the treatments continue. The nausea and fatigue are getting to me. It is a weird feeling. I don’t want to die, but I have to face it… What kind of ketchup do you like? You are on the other side of that immediate fear, it seems. How does it feel for you?”
“Plain is fine,” he answered. “Well, this is the $64,000 question. I faced it. Coped. Remained optimistic, but wondered. How should I feel? I think i was able to forget about the future — dying, and just live moment by moment. That has changed. Now that the blood has recovered a bit, and the danger has passed, the future opens again. I need to ask, what’s next?”
He becomes quiet. She does, too. They turn into the next aisle.
“Do you have the answer? Can you bottle it?” Her laughter breaks the tension.
“We both have incurable situations. Just enjoying technology that keeps us alive a bit longer. Only, we don’t know how much longer. You know, I read about people asking the same question. I look at what they find. Each discovery is personal. For me, I don’t know. I am trapped right now on a fixed path that defines the short-term. The opportunity to run again is important. The commitment to meditate as much as possible helps. Years ago a boss of mine said I should just grow my hair and head out on a steamer for 6 months. I think he was right. Every time a disaster occurs in the world — take Nepal — I remember my desire to be part of an emergency team. Joining the Peach Corp would have been a good choice. The Ukrainian experience was amazing. If my blood goes completely to normal, it would be nice to teach overseas, again. Still, nothing clicks. I just feel closer to knowing.”
“I am willing to listen as you struggle. I am not sure if I am going to be as lucky. We have both read what I have to face.” Catherine turns to him again. Kisses him on the cheek.
“Facing mortality and asking what’s next? A paradox? Certainly. Let’s grill. Let’s explore.” He accepts the kiss, one of the few times he has allowed someone to touch him since diagnosis.
Time left. It cannot be ignored. It cannot be forgotten.
Over 160 pricks of the needle later, six cycles, dozens of infusions, and immense worries, he steps out on the track and wonderfully completes four laps in about twelve minutes.
The only weakness he feels are in the thigh muscles that have not been worked this hard since August or September.
He continues with running the straights and walking the curves for another four laps.
Later, his nurse calls with the morning blood test results: two measures are 3/4’s of the way back to normal! The red cells are finally over 10! This explains the new energy, all in one week. Platelets are in great shape; he is not going to bleed to death any more.
AND, white cells are finally recovering. Not close to normal, but significantly higher than they were months ago, when this all started.
Writing, writing, writing
At home exercising and then pushing myself back out onto the track and redefining what it meant to run
Acknowledging sadness without giving up
Did I say friends?
And much more
Thanks to everyone who has read this blog, either once or many times.
Rounding a corner from Route 302 onto 113, the ridge looms in front of them. Green hills leading to higher mountains striking in contrast to the vivid blue sky.
Catherine sighs as she looks. Her question digs deep, but is not a surprise to him. For hours they talk about the trials back home and its impact on their lives during the last several years. She has not been to New Hampshire, and the ride into New England is different. She remarks about the changing landscape, so different than much of PA. Yet equally beautiful.
“Oh my,” she says. They crest a small hill to see the panoramic view of the Green Hills that lead to North Conway.
Across the Saco River and around Sherman Farm. Then left up Green Hill Road toward Chatham.
“When I get close to here, what you see begins to close a curtain and allows me to forget. You will see these last 8 miles envelop you in a forest. Only a few homes. Quiet. On the left you see Sherman Farm. I go there often for groceries. Simple, but real. Are you sensing distance from the Lehigh Valley?” He is not driving quickly anymore. These few miles are always luxurious to drink in and enjoy.
“The last months,” Catherine notes, “I have had some very strange feelings whenever I am forced to be shut away from the world. That first time in the hospital for the week. After a few days, I found myself separated from stresses of life by the window. Out there did not matter. I was actually relaxed after a few days. Then, the chemo treatments at the Infusion Center clamps me in a chair for almost five hours. It’s like, no one can force me from where I am. I am me, alone, and protected from interruption or even better, invasion.”
The end of the Spring’s bumpy road is noticeable. Frost heaves have not subsided yet. There is even a trace of snow protected from the sun in the woods. The winter has been harsh. He is afraid of what he might see when he reaches the cabin. The Kimball Lakes, though, are ice free.
“We are almost there, about another mile. When I can, I canoe out on the Upper Kimball, there.” He pointed to the dam that connects Upper with Lower. “Public access is on the New Hampshire side, here. Access to Lower Kimball is way over on the other side in Maine.”
Michael continues, “shutting the world out. I did feel the same way both during my weeks in the hospital and during transfusions, especially red blood transfusions, those that took as much time as your chemo infusions.”
Catherine stretches. “Yesterday I thought about this isolation again, and had a thought. If I could feel that while in the hospital, what is it about living my life that does not allow me to take the same type of deep breath? I pondered this a long time, even during this trip. When I slept for a while as we drove through Massachusetts, I found myself thinking about separation. Now, looking at those hills, the feeling emerged again.”
“My meditation over the last few months has helped. Here we are. It’s steep. I always worry if the road is passable this time of year, but my repair guy says it is.”
The dirt road on the left slanted up the hill. In front was a large rock with the street number painted in red and white. Up they go taking the first corner to an even steeper slope. The road is clear, but for a few branches.
“Sometimes, I have to get out and clear away a large branch or even a tree that has fallen. Once, I had to go get the chain saw before I could get to the top.”
They reach the general parking area, but he continues another 30 yards up and over the crest. There the cabin lies, boarded up for the winter, and unharmed. Early spring. Leaves are coming out, and he sees the Lady Slippers spread around the grounds.
“The Lady Slippers come out this time of year, but quickly die. I have always loved them.”
They get out of the car. Catherine walks around the front, takes a deep breath, and looks across the valley.
“I see why you come here,” she says. “It’s like a cocoon, sheltered, protected.”
“I know. Somehow, we need to find a path that provides tranquility more frequently. Let me start getting the plywood off the screens and the batteries hooked up. It takes about 30 minutes.”
As he takes his step on the track, a feeling that two laps are possible bursts forth. There is energy he has not felt for a long while, and it feels good.
He is off. Usually, the third turn is where he begins to feel the energy wane and the struggle to finish one lap begins. Just last Saturday, though he can complete a couple of separate laps, he still feels the strain that has existed for months. No stamina after 400 meters. He gasps at the end of a lap and must walk a bit before trying something else. Over the last week, though, he has noticed that he can run several laps after walking a lap. That is progress. Notable. Coupled with better blood test results, what might be happening? Finally.
This time, to his surprise, the fourth turn is comfortable. He crosses one lap and feels good. Onward. He detects almost forgotten energy. The legs are stronger. The heart is pumping normally. He is breathing normally. The speed is not great, but times at 3 a minute lap. That is about normal for his age. To a second lap. Still comfortable. Half-way around. Still going. There is enthusiasm to remember the sensation of a plain old jog. He reaches he end of 800 meters and decides that is enough. Don’t push. There is plenty of energy to perform walk/runs, which he does for 4 more laps.
A year ago, 8 miles is the norm. Sadness prevailed over the winter not being able to run, even in the gym because of infection potential.
Is it hard to understand why this would be a shot in the arm (instead of the belly) for making progress?
Would love to run again, today, but I’ll rest one. Over doing it and hurting my legs is not a good idea.
Shortly after receiving my diagnosis I thought about the immense and dangerous splits that have occurred in our country and around the world. “To Move a Nation: To Split a Nation” seemed an important perspective.
I said in the piece that facing mortality introduces a different thought process and opens the mind to many different reasons to ask “why?”
Though the breakdown of peaceful protest in Baltimore is yet to be explained (so many stories, so little trust), it is quite clear that anger exists, anger from all asides, pointing fingers at anyone and everyone. Baltimore is partially in flames because unquestioned force too often is used and trust has disappeared. I do not have an answer to this, but I do look closer to home.
Allentown is a city with much poverty and demographic shifts bitterly criticized by many who originally were in power. I heard it often while a member of City Council, while a candidate for Mayor, and continue to hear it in subtle ways today.
Recently, the message of racism has been brought to the school board after an incident where one racial/ethnic/religious, distasteful epithet was countered with another, in a manner about which we do not know. The exact facts are not released. Still two sides with different worldviews used descriptions that simply should not occur in a civil environment. A trusting environment would work out the meanings and misinterpretations that might have happened, on both sides. We are left, however, with a battle about which statement is worse. We can guess who takes a particular side in the controversy, and that is sad.
Trying to balance two sides that are far apart is never easy. I thought one opportunity existed when the NIZ went into development way back when. I argued then, strongly, that social issues were as important as physical development, to no avail. Indeed, no one, NO ONE, in power would even consider the ramifications of continued stratification in this city, and how an unequal distribution of NIZ benefits might eventually be perceived. Racism and classism were ignored or blinded, and yet clearly in existence.
And then, I read today an opinion piece from someone who could have set the stage from the beginning for cogent and substantive discussions about inequality of the NIZ. Now he brings up the importance of resolving the vast trauma inflicted on too many people by building gates to opportunity. I don’t disagree. Glad he says this. I just wish that 5 years ago, Allentown leaders would have had the foresight of what could happen here if, IF, anger got out of hand, again on both sides.
I find it funny that people do not understand the ramifications of anger. Look what happens on most athletic courts or fields — brawls, fights. Why? Men or women are angry. Typically, they have been hurt in a way that accusations flair. We tolerate these fights, and seem to understand why they might escalate. Someone was hurt, wrongly, we think. Let them sort it out, until the referees/umpires intervene.
Can’t we broaden our thinking to understand what might be wrong and producing anger in much of our nation, especially Baltimore right now, and even here, in Allentown?
Late April 2012, St. Luke’s Half-Marathon. Sub 12 minute miles and in the past never thinking that he could do it. Years of running only 4 or 5 miles, but this time training for six months and achieving a good goal, a wonderful goal, one to savor.
Mileage continues. He runs along the Carpathian hills of Ukraine that summer, but breaks a toe shortly after returning. Running has to stop for 3 months. That was difficult, but in 2013, he starts again and is back up to 5 miles fairly quickly. Runs regularly on the streets of Pereyaslav, Ukraine throughout the summer. Even finds time in the fall to run during an election campaign. He continues. Runs on the treadmill over the winter and into the early spring. Then, back out on the Lehigh Valley Parkway where he runs 8 miles for the first time in two years.
Ahhhhh. To run. It is a pleasure for him, even though he is not very fast. Plods along at 11 to 12 minute pace. Something begins to happen, though, as the summer progresses. His mileage taps out at 4 then 3 then 2 and finally 1 mile. He blames it on the Lupron shot for Prostate Cancer received in March, not realizing something else is the culprit stealing his stamina. The distance drops finally to 1 lap, just as his doctor calls to report this tremendous and surprising drop in blood counts.
Diagnosis. (MDS) myelodysplastic leukemia.
No running over the winter because of germs in the gym.
Spring arrives. He gets back out on the track and slowly, ever so slowly, starts to build some stamina, but still only 1 lap at a time. He feels that strength might be returning for 2 laps, but not pushing it. Instead, run a lap, walk, another lap or short sprints on the straights. Thanks to Muhlenberg College for keeping its track open to the public. He does not know what would be the result going back to the Parkways where hills and distance becomes an issue.
All of these thoughts on April 26, 2015 — the day of this year’s St. Luke’s Half- Marathon. Good thoughts of the past. Redefined running now. Acceptable, and he still feels the joy of running, and even the unique pleasure of its loneliness. Those who run, he is sure, understand.