Friday, March 25, 2016

Cancer Part 1 - Giving up Control

I had thought about blogging again for a little while now, as a form of therapy, really, but every time I'd start typing, I couldn't continue. I'd type a few sentences and need to run away from my thoughts again.  It was too hard to think about things. Thoughts about my health have consumed me all day and night, for months, and carrying that weight on my shoulders has been beyond wearing.  Many times I wanted to get on Facebook and tell the world about the hell I was living in - out of the need to be heard, wanting (& needing) support, to find my friends again and scream at them to "help me dangit!" Then I got to a point where I held everything internally.  I got depressed. I was anti-social. Some days I was gripped with fear so strong I literally couldn't get myself out of bed in the morning.  There were nights I was so exhausted from worrying I would fall asleep on the couch at 6pm.  My body was drained. At times I wanted to scream "people, feel sorry for me! I have cancer! Freaking cancer! Where is everybody??" Other times I just wanted to crawl into a hole and hide. 

Something I've realized more than ever the past few months is that I need people.  I get my energy from people. I'm an extrovert.  People lift me up.  Having support helps, immensely.  For a while I tried to go through my recent challenges mostly alone, other than a few close family members.  I felt lonely, but was stuck in a place where I had zero energy to be proactive enough to reach out and connect with people who I needed, like my good friends.  That said, the past month or two I have done a better job with that.  I've reached out to others more, and have found a lot of strength through relationships lately.  Getting back to work full time since mid December has helped me too. I need my job and the people I connect with through my job.  Not just to pay the bills (... and my 3 inch tall stack of recent medical bills), but to help me maintain balance as well, and to get my mind off of myself.
         I know I am weak, but I remind myself frequently:  I am weak but He is strong.   Yes, it sounds cliche...without my faith I'd have nothing. But it's true. Without faith that everything happens for a reason, you literally have nothing to hold onto when $h#t hits the fan.  The past few months have tested my faith a million times more than I've been tested my entire life.  When you are fearing death, it's then when you find if your faith is truly real. It's then when you find out if, and how, it exists and is a part of your life.

November 8th marks the start a trial I faced that was 100x harder than anything I've gone through ever before - and I'm still in that trial.  At the end of last year, my real estate career was going better than ever. I was working my butt off, making good money, and growing my business. That said, my life was crazy out of balance.  My job was my life, my marriage was suffering, and I was not putting my family first. I had almost stopped exercising entirely, was eating horribly (Chik-fil-a literally 4+ times a week), and had crazy high stress levels, non-stop.   My life was out of balance and I was hit with a wake up call - a big one.  It was a Friday night and Amy (my wife) and I were eating delivery pizza on the couch for dinner.  My 2 girls were asleep, and we were relaxing before heading to bed.  When I went to the bathroom before going to sleep, I noticed my urine was a bit darker than usual.  (Ok, I'm about to get medical here, so if human urine grosses you out, then skip down a paragraph down or two).  I had a couple of Coronas with my pizza, so I didn’t think much of it, and assumed the color was just from the beer.  I woke up around 3 am having to use the restroom, very badly.  I was about half awake only, but I remember going...and going and going and going - like my bladder was enormous.  My urine was dark brown. This time more noticeable.  Being half-awake, I went back to sleep in a daze. When I woke up in the morning, I had a vague memory of the incident, and I told Amy that I thought I had peed blood last night. I went to the bathroom in the morning, and my urine color was normal.  Good, I thought, it was my imagination. I put it in the back of my head and went on with my morning.  I scheduled some house showings for a new potential client, and went to the restroom before heading off to work.  That time, I noticed a tiny blood clot in the toilet.  I knew something wasn't right.  I texted my nurse practitioner sister Kristyn (who has been incredible to me and I'd be nowhere without her help the past few months), and she got me into see the doctor at her clinic that same day.   I showed one house in Littleton to my clients, and headed straight to the doctor after that, with plans to meet up with my clients later in the afternoon to show them a few more homes.
         For a few months prior, I had felt an odd tightness in my lower abdomen while lying in bed - like my lower abs just couldn’t relax; a symptom I still don't know what was all about. The Dr. didn't think it was bladder related, and it's since gone away.  That morning the Dr. ordered a chest x-ray on site to look for a kidney stone, and tested my urine for signs on infection - both were normal.   A kidney stone would be the most common cause of blood in the urine, but I had no back pain at all, and nothing on the x-ray.  He told me I likely have one of 3 possible things going on: a kidney stone, an infection, or bladder CANCER.  What?! Of course there could be a million other things that blood in urine can mean, right?  I've been a runner my whole life, and I've been around hard core runners quite often...and I know blood in the urine isn't unheard of, especially after a crazy race or workout.  I thought certainly there's got to  be other causes besides the three the doctor mentioned.  He told me to see a urologist as soon as I could early in the week.  When I was walking out of the clinic, I found him in the hallway and said "Dr C, you just said I could have 1 of 3 things, right?  And it sounded like you basically ruled out 2 of the 3, right?  You said I have no signs of a kidney stone, nor an what you're saying is that I'm left with possibly having bladder cancer?!" He said no need to worry too much, but he wanted me to take things seriously.   I could barely walk out of the clinic as I was shaking with fear.  Literally, my legs were trembling. I almost couldn't make it to my car.  I was shaking violently.  When I got in the car, I called Amy in a panic and told her everything that had happened.  I called my pastor Jeff as well. I needed prayer from everywhere possible, and I knew Jeff was a man of prayer.

 I can’t explain the fear I had on that Saturday morning - a fear I'd never felt before, but today a fear that's become commonplace. Fear of the worst. Fear of a deadly disease.  Fear that my girls could grow up without a dad.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of the one thing I told myself I could never handle in life... a serious disease.  Maybe God is giving me the very thing I fear(ed) the most, so that my faith was tested? Who knows. 

Fast forward 2 days later to Monday morning, November 9th.  I found myself at an imaging center for a pelvis and abdominal CT scan (thanks to my sister Kristyn who ordered one for me ASAP).  She also got me in with a urologist a few hours after my scan that same morning.   My scan came back with a few minor abnormalities, but showed no tumor in the bladder.   Luckily I only had to wait about 15 minutes after the scan to find out the results. In the waiting room, I sat next to Amy. My skin was yellow, cold, and my body shaking with fear and nervousness.  When I got the call from my sister with the results, I was relieved beyond belief. It was good news, after a traumatizing weekend of what felt like hell.   After the scan, I decided to keep my appointment with the urologist as I still didn't have an explanation for the blood in my urine.   When I got there, the Dr. took a look at my CT scan report, a look at me, and told me to calm the hell down!  The next 10 minutes consisted of him saying a bunch of sarcastic remarks, telling me I'm paranoid, still worried for no reason, and trying to convince me to relax.  He assured me I was way too young to have bladder cancer at 31, and there was absolutely no way it was cancer.  Bladder cancer is a disease of the elderly, he said. The average age of diagnoses is 78 years old, and most people who get it have smoked much of their lives.  After the chat, he wrote me a prescription for 2 meds, said I likely have a prostate infection, and said I could make my way back to the lobby.   He knew I was a healthy, fit (or should I say way too out of shape, formerly-fit) ex-triathlete.  There was no way in his mind cancer was a possibility.  Now, I knew I would not be at peace simply walking out the door of the exam room - I felt it.  I wanted certainty that nothing was seriously wrong with me. 

Now, I never planned to share this on a blog, much less to many people other than a few people close to me, but it's a pretty important piece of my cancer story to be honest. I had an experience that has strengthened my faith in God.  It's something I can't ignore and I can't act like didn't happen, even if I wanted to. Heck, and even if it's just coincidence - though I doubt it is. It's something that has definitely made me think outside the box, and outside my comfort level, really.  It's one of those stories that gives you chills. It's a story that if it happened to you, you'd have to share it too, because you experienced God like never before, and because of that, God deserves the glory.
While in the exam room at the urologists' office after my CT scan, I had a voice in the back of my head telling me to be persistent, and to find answers.  I had a voice telling me to look further into things, just to be thorough.  A crazy string of events happened leading up to that Dr's visit that made me insist that the doctor stick a scope inside my bladder - and I'll just say it, I think it was a message from God.  I've never experienced anything like it before, and wasn't even sure if I believed in prophecy before this, but what happened was way too ironic (and specific) to be chance.  It goes back to one month before Nov. 12th (the date of my tumor surgery), I got a random text from a guy I went to college with.  He was an acquaintance, not even really a friend of mine in college, and I didn't even know him well.  I didn't hang out with him in college either, and I hadn't talked to him other than maybe 1 Facebook message in the past 9 years. He is a realtor in Santa Barbara, so we had the real estate connection.
Exactly one month prior, I was sitting in the car just after pulling up to a listing of mine in Littleton, and I got the most random text I've ever received. "Hey Ryan, this is Daniel.  Do you have any reference of a green snake?"  A green what, I thought to myself? What on earth is he talking about?  It was the most random text I've ever gotten.  I asked him to explain what he meant, and he asked if I had any reference of a green snake in my life recently; such as, had I come across one, seen one, had a dream about one, or anything like that.  I thought for a minute, and said no, no green snakes that I can think of! I sat there thinking long and hard. The only thing I could think of was my daughter Riley had talked about snakes very once in a while when we would find them in the yard in the summer, and so I told him that.  He didn't text anything back to me.  A few hours later in the day, I texted him back. Of course I had to ask him why the heck he asked me such a random question.   He went on to tell me about a dream he had the night before that involved me, a green snake, myself responding to the green snake, and feeling like he was supposed to share the dream with me.  He said it was the gnarliest dream he's ever had, and it literally physically shook him awake.  It was extreme, and powerful...physically powerful. The dream went something like this...there was a room full of people sitting around, and this giant green mamba snake was going around the room either asking people something or trying to get them to do something or respond to it.  I was the only one in the dream who responded to this snake, and before he could warn me, I had to leave the room for something. He said he thought the snake referenced something in my life that appeared or seemed safe, like the snake in the dream, but actually wasn't. Of course in the dream, the snake was Satan, and he was trying to lure me into something.  In the dream he was friendly, and seemed safe...but in life, of course he is not.  He explained the details of the dream a bit further, which I won't go into in full, but he also shared a bit about a few other things that happened in his life lately, prophetic things...after never experiencing anything like this in his 30+ years until recently.  He didn't really know what to think about everything, as he was new to these experiences, but he felt he was supposed to share it with me. He felt God telling me to share this dream with me, as weird as it was, after not talking to me for 9 years since college other than a Facebook message or two.
  He went on and told me after he shared the dream with his wife, all she heard relating to the dream was the word "disease."  I guess you would say it was her interpretation of the dream, but there was no clarity what the word disease meant.  I responded with, "I sure hope that doesn't mean I'll get a disease; that's always been my biggest fear in life."  He told me he thought maybe it meant there was something in my life I needed to get rid of, or something that seemed safe or ok but was really damaging, and to be aware of things that could appear safe but maybe aren't. Again, he's not God, and he didn't know the full meaning of the dream. He just felt he was supposed to share it with me - whether or not it meant anything or not. It was too powerful of a dream not to share, he said.  And here's the kicker...he told me to be aware of any green snakes too, and to especially pay attention if my 2 year old daughter Riley (who could barely even talk) mentions snakes or green snakes.  I thought it was crazy, and extremely random, and so I put it in the back of my head, for a month and went on with my life... until a month later on the morning of Nov. 12th.  
       Amy and I were getting ready to go to my CT scan. It was snowing outside, and there was about a foot of snow in the back yard. My 2 year old daughter Riley opened the door to the back yard to look outside and she said, "daddy, there's some snakes over there", pointing into the far part of the yard into the snow.  I said, "oh really?" What color are the snakes, Riley?  She said "green. " Weird. Green snakes?  I closed the door, pulled her inside, and told her it was too cold to play outside that morning since it was snowing, and we needed to shut the door. Clearly there were no green snakes in the yard. There was a foot of snow on the grass, and it was still snowing!! No snakes anywhere, just a blizzard and snow!! Riley then said she wanted to play with her sticker books, and she pulled a few sticker books out of her toy cubby. She opened up one of the pages in the first book she grabbed...and the first thing she pulled out... was a sticker of a green snake.  True effing story!  I chuckled to myself.  No freaking way.  Wow, the irony.  Here she is, talking about green snakes.  All this happened a few hours before I was diagnosed with cancer, my "disease."

Back to the doctor's office to finish my story about that...
 So, after the Dr. told me I was crazy, had no need to worry, etc, I kept talking with him asking if we could take the next diagnostic step just to be sure I had no cancer, which I knew was a bladder scope.   I wanted a more thorough exam and certain answer.   He didn't even feel my abdomen or anything, after all. He just saw I was a healthy 31 year old and said I was crazy to be scared.  He explained that people who smoke get bladder cancer, and the average age of those diagnosed is 78.  It's not possible, he said.  After about 10 more minutes which consisted of me begging him to stick a scope up my you know what (odd request to beg for a cystoscopy, I know!), he told me that I could come back in a month if I still had any symptoms, and then he could scope me.  The Dr. was sarcastic - that was his tone the whole visit, until the end.  I continued to plead my case. I started telling him he needed to or I wouldn't sleep at night.  I told him I was a worrier. I BEGGED HIM.  Way back in the back of my head, I had a voice reminding me of Riley talking about green snakes that morning, a wild dream someone had about me a month before, and how I was supposed to pay attention to things in my life that appeared safe, but maybe were not.    After a few more minutes of convincing, he finally agreed to check if a cysto scope was available.  I waited in the exam room for about 20 more minutes until a nurse wheeled in a big scope machine, told me to unzip my pants, injected my you know what with some gel, and literally stuck a big clamp on my man part.  Well, I didn't expect that, but I guess it's what I asked for, right?   I saw the giant scope probe soaking in lime-green formaldehyde.  She said “we need it to soak for 15 minutes more since it was just inside of someone else before we stick it in you.” Such comforting words! Hmmm.. I guess I'll try not to think about that one, after all I'm somewhat a germ-a-phobe.
The Dr. came back in the exam room, and asked where Amy had gone. I told him she had went back to the lobby because she thought it would be awkward to watch someone shove a giant scope up me.  Apparently he thought it would be educational for her to watch, and he was still in his sarcastic mood, so he got her from the lobby and brought her back with us in the exam room.  Amy and I smirked at each other for a bit.   He stuck the scope in me while the 3 of us watched the bladder scope on a giant screen. It was quite interesting, and rather uncomfortable to say the least. It felt like that scope was all the way up into my throat, I swear.   While he took a look around my bladder with the scope, he kept saying “see, all looks good, clear, nothing here, nothing there.”  Right when he was about to pull the scope out, he turned it a bit to a different angle, and then we saw it - a big gangling growth. It filled up the screen. A gangling thing with tons of little fingerlike tentacles. It kinda looked like a patch of broccoli but a bit more wavy. “What’s that?,” I immediately said.  The Dr. didn’t respond.  There was silence. He was speechless. I'll never forget the look on his face. He was in shock. Finally he said, “that’s an abnormality, and it needs to come out.”  I said, "is it cancer?" He didn't say anything right away, but we all knew.
       I can’t explain the hell I went through the next few hours (or should I say days, weeks, or better yet, months).   I’ve obviously never felt anything like it - extreme fear like I had never known before.  I had cancer, and I knew it. The Dr. knew it.  Amy knew it. We all new it.  My sister Kristyn texted me, “how did it go?” I wrote her back. “Cancer.” “No way.” she wrote.  I said "yes."   5 minutes later, I was scheduled for a tumor removal surgery 3 days later on Thursday November 12th.  The Dr. was booked out for a while, but after what had happened he opened up a lunchtime surgery slot for me.  I wanted that gangling growth out of my insides ASAP.    The Dr. called Kristyn to explain everything to her.   She then left work early, drove to the medical center, and met Amy and I in the parking lot. I was the youngest person the Dr. had ever diagnosed with bladder cancer, at age 31.  We cried, shook in fear, paced back and forth in the parking lot, and finally I called mom and dad - who were in a movie theater in Idaho while on their vacation.  They left the theater, and immediately began the long drive back to Colorado right then.  I then called my brother Scott and his wife Rebecca, and told them the news. It was a living hell.
Tumor surgery day. More tears than smiles,
but we cheered up for the camera.
Three days later, the surgery went well, and the pathology report came back about 4 days after the surgery.  The waiting period was unbearable.  The Dr. had said it would likely be 7-10 days before we had the pathology report back, but thankfully it came back sooner.  I vividly remember the Monday morning after my surgery. I was so low I couldn't get out of bed. I was in bad depression.  I was shaking with so much fear and anxiety, my body wasn't functioning.  I was crying out to God; literally crying out that I needed an answer, and now. I need the pathology report right then, or I didn't think I could make it through the day.  5 minutes later, the doctor called me with the results.  I had low-grade, non-invasive urothelial transitional cell carcinoma.  Yes it's cancer, which we already knew from the look of the tumor, but they caught it early and before it had spread through the muscle wall and to other organs. I was lucky, very lucky. Most people don't even have visible blood in their urine at this stage of bladder cancer, but rather only microscopic blood. Many people, by the time they have visual blood, have a more advanced stage. I was lucky to say the least.  The doctor had decided not to inject any chemo into the bladder during surgery, which they often do, because of my age, the side effects, and the look of the tumor.

 I found who I was told was the best bladder cancer doctor in town, Dr. Maroni of Univ. of CO cancer center, and saw him a week later. He would become the doctor I see from here on out.  He will do my future cystoscopy scopes, one every 3 months to see if the tumor returns. I will do this for a few years, then we can space out the scopes if the cancer doesn't return in the first 2 years.  I've been told this type of cancer comes back about 50-60% of the time in the first year or so. If that's the case, then a local chemo and a hard-core treatment called BCG will be necessary, but we are praying it's gone for good.  I had my first scope a few weeks ago, and it was clear. Praise God.

Looking back, I still have no idea how on earth I got bladder cancer.  It just doesn't make sense, but that's life sometimes. I have exercised daily since 5th grade, eaten healthy, never smoked, and have no family history of cancer. The doctors were perplexed.  When I think of the sequence of events leading up to my diagnosis, I feel very fortunate.  I am very glad for the green snake dream, and the sequence of events the morning of Nov 12th, which made me insist the doctor scope me. It's why the tumor was found.  I'm thankful I had blood in my urine so early on.  The 3 days prior to my surgery, I had no blood in my urine, so who knows how long it would have been before any other symptoms would have come.  I am grateful it was not an aggressive, advanced tumor.  I am thankful the pathology report came back in just a few days, when I needed it most. I have a lot to be thankful for. When I tell other doctors my story, they tell me I'm extremely lucky.
My 3 month bladder scope. Many more to come.
The journey since getting diagnosed with cancer in November has continued to be extremely difficult. I sit here today feeling like the cancer is a much lesser concern than my current fears.  My hope is that the difficult health issues are in the past, but I am dealing with some more unknowns relating to my health.  Amy reminds me that God is screaming at me to "trust him!", and will continue to scream at me as loud as possible until I learn to give up control. Completely. Perhaps until I get to the point where I give up control, and put my trust in God, and have a peace that surpasses all understanding, I will continue to struggle with fear.  I'm not sure if that's how God works, but it's possible. I don't think he tortures us, or necessarily causes disease in us, but I do think he gives us trials that are so freaking hard that we have no other option but to say, 'God, I give up. I surrender. You are in control of my life. Clearly I am not.'   How would one grow in trust without opportunities to practice this? It wouldn't happen.   Every day I wonder what God is teaching me today, and wonder when these difficult lessons will end.  I wonder why I continue to be strangled with fear some days.   I know there are reasons for all of this, but I struggle to understand them at this point in time.  I remind myself of the story of Job in the Bible, and that God will not give us more than we can handle.  Sometimes I say, yeah right God - you've already give me more than I can handle. Way more! But I look back a the end of each day realizing I did make it through the day. I did handle it, somehow.

Since my surgery, I have had many odd symptoms and some blood and urine tests that have come back a bit abnormal, which doctors are still looking into.   It started a few weeks after surgery; my sister Kristyn encouraged me to get a physical since it had been a while and no one had drawn my blood in over a year (since October 2014, after Ironman Chattanooga - my last blog post. I did some blood tests to look into my cramping issues, in hopes to find a cause of muscle cramps such as low electrolytes).  You would think when you get diagnosed with cancer, doctors would draw your blood, but no one had yet.  My bloodwork from my physical came back with a very high red blood cell count, high hemoglobin count, and a high hematocrit level (55.9) - which is referred to as a condition called polycythemia.   I repeated my labs a week later to confirm if the original tests were accurate, which they were. I've repeated them about 4 or 5 times since the original blood draw in December, in addition to a bunch of other advanced bloodwork which the doctor was looking into things like leukemia, a pre-cancerous blood condition called polycythemia vera, and bunch of other hereditary and specialized blood tests.   I'm probably 15-20  rounds of blood tests beyond that first blood draw in December, and have been doing additional tests every week.

The polycythemia  was the start of many odd symptoms that have developed the past few months since December or so, including abdominal distention, blood in my stool, headaches, fluctuating vision changes and blurry vision which started Christmas eve, an ache on the right side of my abdomen, an odd skin rash,  large lymph nodes found on an ultrasound, very high blood pressure (160/100+), and facial flushing episodes where my facial skin turns red from my neck up, and my cheeks have a tight and tingling sensation. The past few months, the symptoms have continued to come and go, and my visual changes have gotten worse...until the past week or so, which I've seen a lot of improvement actually.   A few weeks ago while driving, I had an episode of blurry vision that got pretty bad. I felt like I was floating while driving home, and couldn't focus on the road.  I shouldn't have been driving.  That was the day I decided I needed to get it figured out, as my symptoms were getting worse, and starting to affect my daily life a lot.  Also, my hands had started to go numb at nights also, and a few nights I work up in the middle of the night having to walk around the house shaking out my hands to get my circulation back.   I've had a lot of odd stuff going on and I know something is causing it.   I've gone through many tests the past few months to try to figure it out.  Much of the problem was getting  to the right doctors.  My hematologist (along with several other doctors) who I see to monitor my polycythemia didn't take me seriously when I would explain my symptoms.  Every visit I'd come back with more symptoms, and he coughed it up as being  from anxiety from a young man who just went through bladder cancer.  He didn't take me seriously.  I tried to show him photos of my swollen stomach, bright red flushed face, etc but he didn't care to see the photos.  It was tough, feeling unheard again.    Finally a few weeks ago I saw an allergist who told me I have many symptoms of a neuroendocrine tumor, which can secrete hormones and cause these episodes like facial flushing. Thus, more testing began. He ordered a 24 hour urine test (for a carcinoid tumor), which came in abnormally high - however not quite as high as he usually sees in those with carcinoid tumors.  Tests also came back high for epinephine and cortisol levels, so they've begun additional tests to look into other things. I got connected with a great endocrine doctor and then an excellent GI oncologist last week. To be honest, they don't know what's going on.  They had a suspicion of possibly a neuroendocrine tumor, but they say not all my symptoms align with it either, so they aren't jumping to that just yet. Also, some of my follow up blood work for many types of these tumors came back normal as well.   I am still waiting for a few more important blood tests to come back the next week or two. Hopefully I will have some answers soon, and some good answers.   Medicine is extremely complicated. There's no one simple test to tell you what's going on.  You just have to keep after the tests, and pay attention to your symptoms.

 Although I haven't raced triathlons since Oct. 2014, and since this blog is supposed to be my triathlon blog, I'll tie it back into the sport a bit. I love sports, and being away from them for a while has made me miss it more than ever.  When I see my friends still into triathlon, I long for that lifestyle back.  I wonder every day if I'll ever do another race.  I would love to have a comeback story some day, but I'm focused on endurance another type of event right now, and I don't care about a comeback story right now. I just care about healing, and being there for my family, really.  So, my polycythemia has given me a hematocrit level of 55.9, and let me just tell you, that it feels awesome.  Essentially I have blood like dopers blood, and it feels crazy good. Obviously I have never doped, much less over a year after stopping triathlon racing, but the doctors questioned it due to my pro racing background and were looking for an explanation.  I hadn't exercised much the past year at all, but I started running a bit again about a month after my surgery because I knew I needed running to keep me sane.  The first month after my diagnoses, I was too depressed to do much of anything, but month 2 I got back on my feet, got back to work in the real estate world. and forced myself to get to the gym a few times a week.  As an athlete, it always takes me a long time to get my fitness back after taking time off, and I have crazy muscle soreness for many weeks until my body gets used to the training again. That said, this time around I started running 7 minute miles with ease, and with minimal breathing, and with no muscle soreness after runs.  I knew it shouldn't feel that easy after a year off. After my first run, on my next run a few days later I was running 6:45 pace with ease, and then 6:30 pace a few runs later.  This was all on the treadmill at 1.5% incline, the same incline every run, and after almost no exercise all year.   I began to notice I had zero muscle soreness after all my runs and  weight sessions.  6 months prior, one ab workout left my entire abdomen and rib cage sore for a week. Meanwhile, now I started doing 20-30 min core workouts, with weights and running all in the same day, and have no soreness whatsoever. It's crazy. I feel like superman.  I knew something wasn't right.  I trained for 35 hours a week for a few years, therefore know my body very well.  I knew something was up, and I'm suspecting it has to be due to my blood.  Dopers take EPO to get their levels where mine are at.  I know one thing now, doping works.  There's a huge advantage.   Last week we ended up doing an EPO blood test, and my EPO was in the normal range, so the polycythemia isn't from an EPO-secreting tumor, which was one of my fears.

At one of my early blood tests a few months ago, my hematocrit went down to 53.8 from 55.9, and I could tell I was running about 20 seconds slower per mile at the same effort as the week before with higher levels.  Crazy.   My hematocrit was 50 after Ironman Chattanooga in October of 2014, which is actually the top of the normal range, but had jumped way up since then. I remembered this because my coach John Spinney of QT2 Systems mentioned it was good that my hematocrit was high. That's what athletes want.  I hadn't trained much since that race in October of 2014, so the doctor and I knew the odd blood levels was a recent change, and not from athletic training. We looked back at my labs from 2009, 2011, and 2014 - the polycythemia was new and recent, and doctors are still trying to figure out the cause.
Time with Riley last week, date to Build-A-Bear.
It's been a total roller coaster the past few months, and I'm slowing learning I cannot control my life. I'm trying daily to give up control, to focus on trusting in God's plan, and focusing on making my priorities right - God first, then family.  I have put work over family for several years now.  I'd like to say I've come away with a better perspective after all this. I still have a ton of work to do, but I am very aware that tucking my daughters into bed at night is much more important than working on my next real estate deal. I love my family more than I thought I ever could, which honestly is why I have so much fear with everything going on.  For a few days there, I couldn't hug my daughters without crying, just in fear of losing what we have.  But it's not in my control.  What I can control, is how I love my girls, and my wife - something I am working hard on.

Every few days for months I have had tests, and more are likely on the way until we figure out the cause of my wacky fluctuating vision and polycythemia. I've gone through the ringer the past 4 months. I've had a tumor surgery, a CT scan, an upper GI endoscopy scope, a colonoscopy, a brain MRI, abdomen MRI, pelvis MRI,  chest MRI, heart echocardiogram, 2 ultrasounds, oxygen sleep test, 24 hour urine tests, and probably 60 vials of blood drawn... thankfully most everything has come back normal other than some blood and urine tests.
Family time.
I am meeting Tuesday with a hematologist again as they continue to look into the blood and other issues. I am guessing they may want to do a bone marrow biopsy, to see if the polycythemia is primary or caused by something else. I am taking it one day at a time. Thank you for your love, thoughts, and prayers.  It's been you, my family and friends, who have picked me up daily and given me strength when I have none. 
I need to constantly remind myself how fortunate I am, how my bladder cancer was caught early, how many test results have come back normal, and how things could have been so much worse.  I have a ton to be thankful for - sometimes I let my fears get in the way and distract me from giving thanks.
I've noticed the past few weeks, God has really helped me adjust my mindset.  I have been able to live lately releasing a lot of the fears I had.  I'm back to living a much more normal life, apart from a few doctors appointments here and there, and have learned to be patient. I'm really enjoying my job again (here's what I do: ...I'm no longer racing or coaching, which ended a few years ago), loving working with people in real estate, and it feels so good to focus on something, and someone, other than myself again.  I'm trying to be more intentional with the relationships I have through my job and elsewhere, and know I need my job as it's a big opportunity to get my mind off of myself and focus on helping people.    I've learned it's ok to soak up joy from the things I love, like real estate and endurance sports, even when other parts of life aren't totally figured out.

I've also found that there is strength gained from the strength of others. When you are weak, you still find strength. As vulnerable as it is writing here about life since November, in a way it's therapeutic to get it out on paper after months of bottling things up inside.  My hope is that my blog eventually becomes more a place of happiness, encouragement and inspiration to others, and a place others can experience God like I am beginning to. I know he is faithful and with me on this journey.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Return to Racing: Ironman Chattanooga

         It's been a long journey but I made it back to the starting line recently for the first time in a couple years.   It's also been a while since I've blogged - almost a year and a half, so I'm due for an update. Since I started this blog as a triathlon blog, that's what it shall remain, even thought I'd gladly love to ramble about my other passions: my growing family, my adventures in real estate, and things like theology and greater life purposes.   I was recently looking back on the past few years as a triathlete. Most people didn't know my triathlon life existed any more, as I have moved on to a full time career in real estate a year and a half ago as well as fatherhood, and I have closed my triathlon coaching business, but I've secretly kept grinding out the training, day after day, in hopes to race fast again.  I didn't tell too many people of my plans, partly because it's not that fun to explain to people my injuries and the frustrations of my recent athletic life, and also because I have much more going on in my life to talk about that triathlon.

       In December of 2012 I decided to give triathlon a go again after a year of struggling with burnout and finding joy in doing what I was doing.  Long story short, in June of 2013, after 7 months of what I was calling my comeback attempt to triathlon, I ended up having foot surgery, delaying this so-called comeback another 10 months.  I had to have a tendon in my foot detached, a bone removed, and the tendon reattached to a different part of the bone.  This surgery likely would have been the end of it all and caused me to hang up the running shoes for good, but the problem was that prior to my surgery I had just spent 7 months trying to get back into shape and racing.  To give up after that long of trying to come back seemed....well, to me like a waste of 7 months. So I viewed my surgery as just another hurdle in the way and decided to carry on. My doctor told me I'd be running 3-4 months later, which seemed hopeful.  Nearing the end of 2013, I realized my foot was not what it used to be, nor the new and improved foot I thought it would be after surgery. It was about 10 months til I was running again, and a few more months til I was pain free.  So there I was, after two attempted "comebacks", still trying to become a triathlete again.   The problem was that when you invest THAT much time in efforts to get back, after so long it really doesn't matter how much longer it will continue to be, since you've already made up your mind that you WILL get back.  After spending a year and a half working toward something, there was no way I was pulling the plug after that long

Here's a timeline of events:

March 2012 - Raced Ironman 70.3 California. Poor performance, throwing up from salt tablets. Left the race very unmotivated, decided to quit triathlon for good a month later. Burned out.
August 2012 - Completed Ironman Canada (10:01) on minimal training & only 6 short runs in past 4 months due to injuries. Wasn't able to cancel my trip, and I owed it to family to race, so I did the race with my father-in-law.  No emotion. No feeling of accomplishment crossing the finish line.  I hadn't put in the training.  It was a slow day, as expected.
December 2012 - After many 60 hour work weeks in a sales job, I got the motivation back to make a comeback. I hired coach John Spinney of QT2 Systems as I knew I needed accountability and structure.
January 2013 - After 8 short runs in Newton shoes, I got a foot pain while running on the treadmill in my 5th metatarsal (exactly where the lugs on the soles of the shoes stick out and put added stress on the foot). I was told it was only peroneal tendonitis.
Jan-April 2013 - Lots of cycling, was getting strong. Foot hurt badly walking around. Stopped running completely. Went to the QT2 pro camp in February (swim & bike sessions only). Motivated. Confident my 'tendonitis' would soon heal.
May 2013 - MRI showed a fully displaced avulsion fracture of the 5th metatarsal. I was shocked. Prayed for 1 month that it would heal. No healing, so surgery was needed.  My sales job recently ended and it was a great time to go to real estate school.
June 7, 2013 - My daughter Riley was born.
June 16, 2013 - Foot surgery. Dr. said I could run in 3-4 months (it took about 10 months)
6 weeks in cast while getting around on a knee scooter. Tripped on crutches 2 weeks after surgery while attempting to carry my newborn daughter in car seat; thought I’d have to re-do surgery. Depressed. More x-rays to see if sutures pulled out during my fall.
June 2013 - Started new job as a Realtor.
July 2013- Tried swimming with a foot cast cover…not too successful.
September  2013-  First bike ride.
December 2013- First run attempt. Foot hurt badly. Forced to keep waiting.
April 2014 - First run with no foot pain from the surgery! Finally
mid April, 2014 - Bad calf pain on a run. Torn soleus muscle in calf.  No running for several more months.
April 30 - May 10, 2014 - Bacteria sickness for 10 days. On antibiotics. Very sick.
July 27, 2014: Raced the Evergreen Sprint Triathlon; got 3rd. First race in a few years. Bad foot pain the following week caused by the race. Thought I fractured my foot again. Depressed.
August 10, 2014: Got another MRI, was sure I had a fractured metatarsal. Thought I'd never race again. MRI came back with lots of swelling, but NO fracture. I was overjoyed. Another few weeks off running.
September 28, 2014:  Completed Ironman Chattanooga (9:43).  Cramping starting in the swim, lasting all day. Very frustrated crossing the finish line.

8 weeks out from Ironman Chattanooga I signed up for my first race in a few years, a local sprint triathlon in Evergreen.   I was in pretty poor fitness on the run, but it was fun to get out there and race again.  I came off the bike in 2nd, and did what I could on the run to finish 3rd.  The run had a lot of up and downs, some on trail and some road.  I decided to wear my racing flats, which was a foolish decision after all my foot issues, and a low-key fun local race for training purposes.  I woke up the next day with some foot pain from the slapping of the feet on the steep downhills, but didn't think much of it. Fast forward a week later, and I couldn't put much pressure on my feet. I woke up with throbbing pain in bed. It was the same pain I felt with my fracture prior to surgery.   I was devastated.  I knew there was a good chance it was all over... again.  I remember going to the pool for a swim that week. I couldn't make myself get in the pool; instead I sat on the bleachers and began balling like a baby.  Two years of training every day with the goal to race again, and I thought it would never happen. I'm not sure if I was just frustrated never to race again, or the fact I thought I'd just wasted 15-20 hours a week training for the past 2 years; time that should have been spent with my family.
An MRI a few days later showed bad bruising and edema, but no fracture. Naturally, the next day I told myself I'd be an Ironman champion someday :).  The roller coaster of emotions was a bit crazy; my wife thought I was going insane. Depressed one day saying I'll never run again, and the next day I walk in the door telling her I can be a champion. She kept me in check.

The saga continued up until Ironman Chattanooga. Coach Spinney called me about 6 weeks out from the race saying he thought I needed to cancel plans to race it.  I just wasn't ready. I had very little run volume, and I was working 50-60 hour work weeks for the past 4 of months on top of training.  We both knew I wasn't ready, since these setbacks didn't allow the proper running, but I explained to him I had to do the race.  I couldn't cancel another race. I had cancelled way too many races the past few years.  I thought I could be about 80% on race day if I nailed every workout for the next 6 weeks.   I was longing for feeling of accomplishment and eager from 2 years of fighting to get back to the starting line.  I had sacrificed much; my time with my family was slim due to work & training all year, and I needed to do it for them as well.

The race:
I don't think I'll ever feel satisfied with race results until I race up to my potential, but I may be starting to realize that results aren't everything.  I raced in the professional division again as I had through the end of 2014 on my pro license, and it was the only way I got into the race as it was sold out.  It was strange coming back after 2 years toeing the line with a handful of fit guys, guys who wake up daily simply able to train and recover all day long, without much else going on and without responsibilities of full-time work and family. My lifestyle was pretty much the opposite.  Working all day, and training into the nights.  I was in shape for about a 9:15; truthfully no faster than that as my run volume was extremely low due to the pattern of injuries and inability to run any real volume for several years. I was in no fitness to compete in the front, or even middle, of the pro field, but knew I could get by without too much embarrassment if things went ok. I knew it would be a rough day, but was confident my swim and bike could carry me most of the way.  The swim started out like many races of the past 5 years, with extreme muscle cramping.  I hopped in the river to warm up, and instantly was met with severe cramping in the bottom of my right foot.  I had about 2 minutes until the start, and there I was holding onto a boat with one arm, and digging into my calf and arch with the other hand in hope to get my muscles to release.  I have no idea where the arch cramping came from, as I never cramp on the bottoms of my feet.  I got the foot to release about 30 seconds before the gun went off. The race started, and I swam steadily in the 2nd pack, feeling great and swimming conservatively. About 10 minutes into the swim, the demons came back and I was hit with bad muscle cramping - first in the groins, then the hamstrings.  Long story short, I found myself frozen in the river, frolicking, completely stopped, and digging my fingers into my legs hoping for some relief. Pack after pack caught me, and eventually I was near the back of the pro field, swimming alongside guys I'm usually minutes ahead.  Intervals of swimming, cramping, and attempting to loosen the legs up with breastroke sums up the swim leg.  I swam breastroke for at least a few minutes, and was stood still with locked up legs for another few minutes. All in all, I lost a good 4 minutes in the swim, and crawled out of the river hobbling with cramping legs as I ran into transition.   I thought my day may be done.   I saw coach Spinney and coach Kropelnicki as I exited the swim; they could tell I was hobbling and cramping badly.  Luckily the muscles had released enough for me to hobble out of the water; in the past I've had it so badly I am not able to move - like what happened in the water.
Onto the bike, I tried to regain focus and hold my 250-255 watt planned average.  I was getting passed at that wattage, but knew I needed to stick to my plan. The bike course was very rolling, so it's easy to spike your power and heart rate if not careful, which will come back to hurt you at the end of the day.  At mile 80, my legs were cooked. The cramping in the swim had completely trashed my legs, and I was completely done.  This bike course was 116 miles, 4 miles longer than the normal 112, which left me soft pedaling home for the final 36 miles.  My wattage had dropped to around 200-205 watts, which is my recovery effort. It was simply a matter of trying to make it back to the transition area; truthfully I didn't know if I could. I told myself this was my last triathlon. Too many struggles, too much trying without succeeding, and too many frustrations. Enough was enough. I had tried, but my body just wasn't working for this sport.   I was mentally out of the game, as the frustrations had taken over.
I made it back to transition, saw my family cheering for me, screaming at me how great of a race I was having.  If they only knew what really was going on...those were my thoughts.  I owed it to them, and to my coach, to try to get to that finish line.  The only issue was the 26.2 mile run ahead of me.  I ate my banana out of T2 and entered the run course. My first mile was about 7:10 pace. I had vowed not to run anything faster than 7:20s the first few miles due to my low run training volume; but my 7:10 miles felt more like 8:30 miles. They were easy, very easy! That said, I knew I had no adequate run volume in my legs due to the past 6 months, and it was a matter of relaxing, holding on, and having my foot pains stay away.  At about mile 9 the demons came back. My hamstrings seized up, and I was forced to a shuffle. This was the story for the next 17 miles. Jog, cramp, take salt, shuffle, walk, jog, cramp, take salt, etc.   That was the pattern.  Eventually the top 3 pro women ended up passing me, which was humbling. I remember Jennie Hansen, a friend who I housed with at the QT2 camp the previous year and who took 3rd on the day in the women's pro race, passing me on the bridge, a mile or two from the finish. She said "it's so awesome that you're back out here doing this" as she passed me.   I appreciated the kind words, thought back about the journey it's been, then quickly snapped back into the reality of not wanting another female to pass me... but she was gone in a flash :).  The race was probably the hardest physical thing I've done, simply because of having to force my legs to move for hours when they couldn't. It was much more painful than Ironman Canada, even though I was fitter, the cramping had destroyed my legs from the start of the race. Once your muscles go through that stress of seizing up, they never are the same again. With 800 meters to go, I just wanted to get to the line. Rounding the final turn, groups of spectators were cheering me on. I made one final push to get to the line, but both hamstrings seized up again, and I was stuck on the side of the road, completely stopped. My legs wouldn't move.  Cramps were in full force.  I was half a mile from the finish line, but I couldn't move my legs.  I yelled a few words I probably shouldn't have, got shuffling, and somehow made it down the finishers chute.  In my first Ironman in 2012, I crossed the line with no emotion.  I didn't feel accomplished, since I hadn't put in the training, nor had a successful finish (10:01). I was content with that situation though. My goal then was just to finish, and I had no expectations.  This time I had extreme emotion. No joy or sense of accomplishment still, but this time I was filled with pure frustration.  I knew the cramping had ruined my day again - a feeling I've had so many times before.  Coach John came to me at the finish line, and all I could say were a few too many expletives (which isn't like me) and how my body doesn't allow me to do the sport. I finished in 9:43.  I remember yelling "I'm not even tired" and "my body doesn't work for this sport!".  I feel badly how I handled things, but was overwhelmed in frustration.   I understand many people would love to finish in 9:43, but I know what my body is capable of when it works properly. It's extremely frustrating to be limited so much by something that feels so out of my control - especially after years of trying to figure out the cramping issues.  
The month leading up to the race, I did everything I could to prevent the cramping. I took epsom salt baths nightly all week leading up to the race. I did massage, took salt tablets the morning of the race, used the foam roller, ate a good diet, many vitamins, pills, etc.  I have been haunted by muscle cramping in most of the triathlons I've ever raced, so had a plan to hopefully avoid it.

The week after the race, I did the same thing I had done after a terrible cramping experience in the Chicago Triathlon of 2011. I got bunch of blood drawn, and did many tests to try to find deficiencies.  Everything came back normal, other than low Vitamin D and some odd results relation to the liver - but I'm told that is most likely caused by just putting my body through an Ironman.  Really, I was hoping to find an answer, and I don't think low Vitamin D is necessarily the cause.  My coach and I had thought perhaps my cortisol levels were off, and my adrenals may have been cooked, but that wasn't the case. Historically, I've cramped worse when I've been very stressed and sleep deprived.  There are no simple answers to my muscle cramping. I have it worse than anyone else I've ever known, and have tried for years to figure it out.  I have not been able to find a solution yet, and that's just the way it is.

Naturally, I'm not wanting to quit just yet. I don't think I really ever can until I figure out my open water swim race-day cramping issues and race to my potential, even if that's just for one race. 

Now, how can I spin this blog post to have a cheery, happy ending?  I'm not sure.  The blog is a chance to be open, honest, and pure.  I am an athlete who won't quit, and one who won't be satisfied until I succeed, and that's the type of person I am.  I don't do anything with a half effort, and with plans to 'just finish'. I have no desire to walk around in Ironman finishers clothing so I can smile and feel proud of my myself, and tell everyone what I accomplished. It's not about that.  I do this sport to reach my potential and use a gift I have, and because I absolutely love competing in sports.  

 Triathlon is not my top priority in life anymore - rather my family is and my job, but that doesn't mean I'm happy with mediocrity nor to I have goals to race faster than ever.  I have worked hard in building my business as a Realtor in my first year and a half, and have been successful in it so far. (Side plug: If you're interested in keeping up to date with my real estate happenings, please visit ) .I understand that's what happens with hard work and the right approach; but often times we can put in the hard work and not see the results, and that's just the way it is.  That is the frustrating part about my triathlon pursuits.  That said, it doesn't change my approach. I continue to believe in hard work, every day. There's really not any other option, other than quitting. I understand that nothing is worth doing unless you are happy doing it. I am happy doing triathlon, most times. I'll admit I'm not happy all the time, due to the struggles I've had with it, but I know the joy will be that much greater when results are achieved. Things don't always go the way we want them to, but I think perseverance is important. I'd rather try and try again til I can't try any more, than simply throw in the towel. That's the approach I take.

I understand without figuring out the cramping issues, I'll never be the athlete I want to be, so that is my primary focus.  It's what's been holding me back since the first triathlon I did in 2009, where I hobbled across the line with leg muscles locking up.  I will keep experimenting during races in hopes to find a solution.  I've got a goal of winning the overall amateur race next year at Ironman Coeur D'Alene, and to finish under 9 hours, so hopefully I will have an epiphany before then.  If I never figure out the cramping problems, I know my years as a triathlete were successful in other ways than results, mostly in the athletes I coached and the ability to impact others, and the relationships developed through countless hours of training with others. I also know that my cramping in racing is not a real life problem; it's a little annoyance in a pursuit of mine, but far from a real life problem. I don't have any real life problems. My family is healthy, I am blessed with a job, and I've faced no major tragedies.  Triathlon cramping is not a life problem. It is a very small frustration that is minimal in the grand scheme of things, and I need to remember that and keep things in perspective - a task sometimes more difficult to do than it should be.   I also continually have to remind myself, especially in a self-centered sport like triathlon, that my life is not my own and for my own purposes, and that I need to continually seek out ways to use triathlon to serve others.  A selfish life is a shallow life, but a life lived to better the lives of others is the life worth living, and a live with much more meaning. These are lessons I need to remind myself of daily.  Thanks for reading. Onwards and upwards...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Baby Bjorna Borger, Foot Surgery, & Real Estate

I decided to clear my head a bit and take a short break from real estate thinking and diaper wiping and give an update...mostly because I know everyone is eagerly awaiting hundreds of baby pictures - the ones your friends post on Facebook by the hundreds, because a handful isn't enough since their baby is just too darn cute! You tell yourself you won't be that dad, but once your baby arrives all that goes out the window when you realize he or she is far cuter than any other.  The truth is, not only is my baby better, but she's also perfect. She doesn't cry, she's well mannered, and she doesn't even poop. She's an angel.  So, expect pictures. Lots!
       From January through May, I filled my days with swimming, LOTS of cycling, coaching, and a few months of real estate school. I moved on from my previous job and yes, I went back to school! I had been working in and around homes for years, and actively been involved with sales for several years.  Since studying real estate in college and well before the day I gutted and remodeled my house with my brother (think trashed, urine stained, disgusting distressed house that has been totally brought back to life with a year and a half of TLC), I've had my mind on real estate. I've also hand my hand in managing various full home remodels the past few years. I love transforming homes and helping people find a home that's a fit. Getting licensed was always something I wanted to do, and it's something that I needed to do. It was the right time. I was initially held back the past few years a bit by fear of a paycheck tied to a full commission job (similar to my job last year), but ended up moving forward since real estate is what I love and what I want to do; no sense wasting time working in a field where you have no passion and things feel a bit stale. I experienced a bit of this working a few years in accounting out of college. I loved working with numbers and detail, but I yearned for more interaction with people. You have to do something where you feel you can help people, and that your efforts are valuable.  I passed up a few real estate opportunities last year since I wasn't licensed, another factor influencing my decision to become a realtor, but a lot of why I got into it was due to the opportunity to build relationships with people.  Relationships are what I love.  I love that real estate is not about selling someone a useless product, it's about having a hand in fulfilling a need. After real estate school came studying and prep for the state and national exam to get licensed, which was followed by office training and getting everything up and running on the real estate front - joining a managing broker, getting licenses in place, insurance, association applications, website up, business cards designed and made, for sale signs made, and diving in full force.  I decided to partner with Keller Williams Realty as my managing broker. KW is a company backed by great people, with great ethics and support, and the DTC office is about 10 minutes from home. It's the largest real estate company in the US terms of agent count, and has been a good fit so far.  I founded Podium Properties, my business I operate
in connection with Keller Williams as a KW agent. Ultimately, you are selling yourself, not a company name, but it's important to create your brand and image, and develop goals and have accountability. Why Podium Properties?  Well, the podium (in athletics and elsewhere) represents top level performance - a step above the rest, and the results of total commitment to the cause. I liked what it represented and the tie into my goal as a realtor; those who know me know I'm an all in type of person. It's hard for me to go 1/2 way into something. I like how Podium Properties flows and what it represents.  I've started working with clients for my first handful of listings, which has been fun.  I also have my hand in managing 4 full home remodel jobs getting properties ready to bring on the market. I get giddy managing the whole process, being able to pick out the design of the entire house, and seeing properties completely transformed.  It's been quite the scene at Home Depot lately - a guy with a pink cast riding around on a knee scooter (explained below), attempting to push carts full of tile and paint, while my wife Amy is lugging a car seat and diaper bag in one arm with boxes of light fixtures in the other arm. She is a trooper!  Things have been a bit crazy around here.

Back to the important stuff!  Riley Grace (aka Bjorna Borger) joined Amy and me on June 7th after a long 24 hours of labor. I joked for the past year about naming my first child Bjorn Borger, since I needed to make sure they turned out to be a super-athlete (think tennis star Bjorn  There was an ongoing joke for months that Bjorn was the name of choice, though when we found out it was a girl, the change to Bjorna had to be made.  When Bjorna arrived and when we were asked to fill out a birth certificate, we made a last minute switch to Riley, as we felt selecting the name Bjorna, a Swedish name, could be misleading and wouldn't truly represent my Dutch roots. We (when I say we, I mean "I" am, and since Amy married me, that means "we") are Dutch, not Swedes. Anyways.. Riley may not be Dutch, but it's less Swedish, so we went with it. That's the real reason ;) .
         I'm not exactly sure what happened 9 months ago in Denver. Well, I am, but I'm not sure why. Did Denver have a crazy snowstorm where no one could get to work? Was there a Barry White concert nearby? Maybe.  All I know is the labor and delivery unit was packed.  All rooms were full so we joined 2 other ladies in the backup triage room for about the first 7 hours.  There were curtains between us and the other two and a small divider wall, so it wasn't bad at all - though after the doctor was explaining C section procedures and instructions to the lady next to us, I thought things were about to get crazy.  They moved her down the hall for her delivery, so we didn't get to hear the play by play. A regular delivery room opened up in the evening, and Amy was moved from the small space to a fancy hotel style room.

Labor is amazing. Yes, it's kinda gross, bloody, scary, stressful, painful, and exhausting, but it's truly amazing.  I don't know how anyone who witness a labor isn't convinced there's a God.  The whole process is a miracle, from conception to the fact the body grows an organ (placenta) which provides everything the baby needs for 9 months and then discards it when it's no longer needed, to the milk that comes a few days after birth. Food that keeps the baby alive and well is magically produced after a baby is born, yet never any other time in a women's life.  That, to me, is mind blowing. If the entire process, from 9 months ago to after birth wasn't designed, that's extremely hard for me to believe.
Being a dad has been great.  Riley is a very chill baby, not much crying, just a lot of squeaking and plenty of grunting.  It's still kinda surreal, and crazy to think we created this little thing that started the size of a bean.
I threw a wrench into things a bit by having my foot surgery a week after Riley was born, but it needed to get done as I had waited months, was very antsy to get it over with and on the road to recovery and being a triathlete again. Also, I needed to be able to drive by the time Amy went back to work in early August.  (I explained my foot injury cause by a new running shoe in my last post HERE). I had put my triathlon season on hold for months already, and the motivation to be ready for 2014 is extremely high.  Honestly it was a bigger procedure and recovery than I expected, and it's affected me a lot more than anticipated - both mentally and physically.
I have a bit of a different perspective now, 3 weeks after surgery, than I did the week after. It was pretty rough at first. 
Pre-surgery, all smiles.
When you end up spending 6-8 hours a day on the couch, which is what I did for the first week, not able to get around, make a meal, go to the restroom as normal, take a shower, and really do much of anything, it's hard not to let it affect your spirits.  It wasn't until I was immobilized that I realized how active of a person I am - not just as an athlete, but as a person who simply can't sit still. I need to be doing something productive - mowing the yard, cleaning the gutters, vacuuming the house, organizing something, working on projects and the remodel jobs I'm managing.   I understand the power and importance of positive thinking, but I won't lie, it was surely a struggle that first week.  What really brought me to a low place was an accident that happened a week after surgery. I fell while on crutches when leaving the hospital after visiting my sister, who also had her newborn Katelyn two weeks after Riley. I caught either my shoe or the tip of my crutch on an edge of the sidewalk and went sprawling face forward. The worst part was that this happened while I was (foolishly) lifting my baby's car seat to try to help out and move her closer to the car. Amy had pulled up the car close to the hospital entrance, and was on her way to get the car seat from me. I attempted to lift the car seat, hop on one foot, and was going to hand her to my wife. Still stumped on why I'd attempt something so foolish, since it would save about 2 seconds of time,  but I think naturally I was having a hard time feeling unable to help out much. It was hard seeing Amy do so much after having Riley, and something deep down was feeling the need to prove I can take care of myself as well as Riley.   I also got extremely overconfident in my 1-footed hopping skills, which was also a poor decision since 1-legged hopping isn't a real sport. I viewed it as a means to get around a bit, and heck, if I was going to hop, I was going to be dang good at it. Clearly I wasn't thinking straight...maybe I can blame it on the meds I was on.  When I tripped the car seat tumbled and I hit the deck face first. The car seat rolled onto it's side. Thank the Lord Riley was strapped in. The seat hit the pavement as I landed partly on it, it rolled sideways, and Riley began to cry. I can't explain the horror I felt being mid air and watching this unfold.  All I cared about was Riley; thankfully she was totally fine.  I felt shooting pains in my surgically repaired foot as I landed partially on it.
The peroneus brevis attaches to the base of the 5th metatarsal, the spot of the fracture
At the moment, I thought I was in serious trouble.  I thought I had ripped out my sutures, and that my surgery may have to be redone. I rode home in the back seat of the car in shock. I was red in the face, tears coming from my eyes, completely drained from the past two weeks and so angry at myself for what I had done in putting Riley in that situation, not to mention what I had thought I'd done to my foot.  It shook me up for about a week and brought me to a low place.  I felt extreme guilt among many other emotions.  I didn't know if I'd be able to run normally again. I kept thinking what would happen if my foot didn't heal correctly due to what I'd done.
           I saw the Dr. the next morning after the fall, and he thought likely things were okay, but would have a better idea in a few weeks. I got another x-ray, but the he had used an absorbable screw to attach the sutures, so the x-ray was not helpful in determining if the suture anchor was in place.
 I recently went back a week ago and got a hard cast put on, which I have for 4 weeks total.  I decided to choose pink because...well, why not?  Baby cast...I figured it was fitting. Plus, it adds a little spunk to life; you only live once, right?  It was my first ever broken bone and cast, so I figured I'd go pink or go home.  The Dr. thought the healing looked ok, which was good news.  He did have to detach my peroneus brevis tendon to excise the bone fragment during the surgery, so the healing process will likely be a bit longer than I first anticipated, and I don't think the hard cast was originally in the plan before the surgery.

The battle wounds 1 week after surgery
Amy has been amazing in driving me to the office every morning, and picking me up later in the day. Everything takes about 50 times as long on crutches, though I got hooked up with a set of new wheels in the form of a rented knee scooter. It even has a basket on the front! Sounds silly, but honestly this thing has lifted my spirits so much. It's changed my life from life on crutches, really. I can get around a bit now. I made it to the gym the other day for a light upper body weights session, have been able to cruise around Home Depot, the grocery store, the mall, and everywhere in between. I've gotten used to it, and don't even notice the funny looks any more.
1st workout back
I am expecting 3 more months until I will be able to run, yet can swim and ride the bike sooner.  It will be a journey, just like last year was as I struggled with barriers getting in the way of racing, and only racing twice, but it will make the comeback that much sweeter.  I was thinking back, and I will probably have less than 20 runs under my belt in the past year and a half. I don't expect the comeback to be easy, but nothing good comes easy.  I'm determined to race at the pro level again, and at a higher level than I have yet.
Knee scooter grocery-ing

I constantly remind myself it's important to keep things in perspective, and Riley has helped with that.  She reminds me every day that life is great, and that things like injuries are just small speed bumps along the way - nothing that should depress us nor things we should dwell on when life around us is so good, and there are more important things in life than sport. The important thing is that Riley is healthy, and my wife's labor went smoothly, and we were blessed with a beautiful baby girl, which has changed my life. It's also made me realize how grateful I need to be when I'm back training that I have the ability to train. I've vowed never to complain about another workout (let's see if I can hold myself to that!).  The ability to do what we do daily is something we often take for granted.

Thanks for reading. I can't wait to get back in action, and I can't wait to teach my little girl how to play sports and how to become a world champion in something ;).

I know you're dying to see more pictures, so here you go:

One benefit of surgery was lots of this
1 week old
Timex baby-sized headband
1 week old
I'm outnumbered with 3 ladies at home.
Riley's first trip to the pool

Monday, May 13, 2013

Broken Bones & Baby Borger (coming soon!)

Hello world!  If I have any blog followers left out there, thanks for sticking around. It's been 8 months since I've checked in last, and life has been crazy. I left off last in September with a blog post about Ironman Canada, and I explained how I had previously been searching for balance in life and for the love of the triathlon lifestyle I once had. I told you that I was beginning to get the fire back inside to get back after it. After Ironman Canada I was extremely busy working for the roofing company through late-October before things slowed down, and I honestly didn't have the time to train. I had plans of starting real training again, but I found these plans getting pushed back week after week - just too much going on in my life.  I was also working home remodel management jobs on the side, in addition to the roofing company and coaching athletes.
Things changed one day on a job in December. I had an incident happen. I won't go into details but that day shook me up like no other.  I was scared, and I lost sleep for a few weeks, but eventually calmed down and came away totally rethinking how I was spending my life. I came away shaken in realizing that life isn't guaranteed, each day is a gift. I am a person who tries to control everything, and sometimes things are simply out of our control. It's hard to accept sometimes, but it's part of life and we need to learn to deal with that. Events like the one I had make you realize that life is short, and tomorrow isn't guaranteed. It kicks you in the rear and yells at you to "live a meaningful life!" Do things that matter!  Live for something greater than yourself! Don't waste it.  It's been a recurring theme in my mind lately.  Really, we aren't guaranteed another day, but we spend our efforts living for things that don't last. Three nights ago I was reminded of this again. I was driving home around 9pm and pulled up on a horrific scene - I drove by a man laying in the road after just being hit by a car.  His life was over, and the police were directing traffic around the scene. No one was rushing to his aid as it was already over, and no one had come yet to cover up his body. Just like that, in an instant, life can end. It was a horrible sight.  Again it reminded me that life is a gift. At the end of the day you realize that life is a blessing.  You realize that time spent on useless things isn't time well spent.  You realize what kind of car you drive doesn't matter, and no one cares about your clothes or the things you have, or your image you worked so hard on trying to preserve... it all doesn't really matter. You can live daily with the goal being to attain wealth, things, status, etc., and in the end it really doesn't matter. Life is short and time is valuable. 
A gift from Westmont, my baby will be representing!
Late last year, life was feeling a bit shallow again, and I knew I was searching for something more. I felt like I was waking up daily simply for a paycheck. I missed deep conversation and more interaction with those I had meaningful relationships with.  The god I was serving was one of work and money, and it felt at the time like that as about it.  I also felt physically awful. I hadn't done much in months in terms of training, and my body was beginning to feel it.
  I had stopped triathlon training due to being consumed with work. It was especially easy to justify my lifestyle at the time as I had thoughts of my responsibilities in becoming a father and providing for my family...Yes, the big news! (which isn't new news anymore, but some of you may not have heard yet).  Soon after Ironman Canada we found out my wife Amy was pregnant, and we are expecting a little girl any day now, with a due date of June 8. Whoa! I can't wait though, it will be great!
Kona is intrigued with the baby bump
In early January, after the on the job incident, I once again realized I was about the throw away all my hard work in triathlon if I didn't give it another go.  I felt I'd be hit with regret if I did. Plus, I was excited about it again... which is what I had been waiting for.  The fire began to come back, and I decided to give it a go again, but I approached things differently this time, taking my lessons learned in the past with me.  I didn't tell many people, as I really didn't have a need to, but I signed up with a new coach, John Spinney of QT2 Systems after being invited to the QT2 Pro triathlon camp in Florida in February put on by renown coach Jesse Kropelnicki.  I thought John would be a good fit, which he has been, and I loved the team aspect of QT2 and have becoming a believer in the coaching philosophy. Part of my decision to join the QT2 group was the team feel of being a coached athlete of QT2. You get to know the others well, and end up having a natural support system. You also want to see the other athletes succeed. 
 In my mind, my new approach to triathlon was this: a balanced approach, one with the purpose of doing the sport completely for myself (and my family), while keeping perspective on everything else in life. There was no more racing to impress others, or to achieve an image of this amazing 'pro' triathlete for self glorification, or bragging rights, or anything like that. This meant no need for triathlon talk on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc - at least for a while. No trying to impress people online with workouts and accomplishments.  No more wasting time thinking or caring about what anyone thought about what I was doing with triathlon or why I was doing it. This was about going back to the roots, about racing for fun again, and because I'm competitive by nature - racing because I love competition and too see how far I can take my talents.
As I mentioned, in February I went to the last 8 days of a 17 day QT2 pro camp in Clermont, FL.  Coach Jesse spoke to us one day about racing with external pressures, and how so many pros (new pros especially) completely drown themselves in self-inflicted pressures. They create them in many ways, like talking themselves up in person and online, boasting about training, chasing 'sponsors' whom they then feel obligated to perform well under, hyping things up on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc, and telling everyone they know exactly what they did for training daily, and where they are heading next to race.  I'm not saying I've never been guilty of this stuff, I have.  Triathlon is already a self-centered sport, and it's easy to get caught up in the "it's all about me" hype.   I went through that phase, and I get why athletes do it, but I also see the pressure it puts on us, and to be honest, it often hurts our race performances.  When you fly under the radar, race for yourself only, and don't give a d%$* what people think about you or who you have to try to impress - well, that's when you can simply go race for the love of the sport, and you'll likely race faster. There's no pressure, and it becomes fun again. So, I knew I needed that approach, and so I took it, and it was refreshing.  That's why there were no blog posts from me about the epic camp, nor Facebook updates about our training or anything like that. Also, I never told many people I was planning to race the New Orleans 70.3 in April. I wanted to show up without any of those pressures, and enjoy racing. Plus, not many people asked much about it.  Jesse explained it like this: with these external pressures, often many athletes become MAF athletes -  "Motivated by Avoiding Failure", instead of MAS athletes, as they once were - those who are "Motivated to Achieve Success."  Instead of racing to see how well you can do, you find yourself racing to survive, and simply to avoid failure and avoid letting others down. The goal becomes to "not fail" rather than "to win" - which inhibits our ability to let out full potential. We have forgotten the purpose of racing. Now, this whole 'avoid pressure' thing isn't about being soft or the inability to handle pressure. It's just smart.  Obviously some pressure will always be there, and one needs to handle it; there's just no need for unnecessary distractions.
This winter I spent a ton of time on my new Scott Plasma
thanks to Kompetitive Edge!
             As I mentioned, I began training again at the beginning of January. I was ready to get back into it, and I now had the time again in my schedule for the first time in 7 months. Eventually I had to leave my job due to personal convictions and the way things were being done there, and lack of being paid when owed - and it was good to put my energy back into triathlon and plan what I wanted to pursue next.  After last year's lingering heel spur issues and IT band syndrome, I decided to try a new running shoe starting back up this time around. I went a bit risky and tried Newton Running shoes. The shoes work for many, but they've also caused a slew of issues for others, and unfortunately I'm in the latter boat. After about 8 or 9 short, slow, easy runs in the shoes, I developed a pain on the outside of my right foot one run after 20 minutes into it.  I ran again the next day, very easily, and the pain was still there - a bit worse this time.  After 3 consecutive painful runs in the shoes, I ditched them and went back to my Brooks - my go to shoe for the past 10 years. That said, I couldn't rid the pain.  Fast forward a few weeks, and I had stopped running completely. I almost cancelled plans to go to the QT2 pro camp in February- but I decided to go and get in the group swims and bike workouts, and a bit of running if possible. I had a free flight down there, and already had plans to stay with Jessie Donovan and two others in a house for the week. It was a tough call but I decided just to go.
Thanks to a new sponsor, Normatec, I was able to use
my recovery boots daily at the QT2 camp and at home.
It was a great camp, quite intense from starting back into triathlon only a few weeks prior.  I think my weekly swim volume went up from 10,000 yards to almost 38,000 the next...not ideal buildup but it is what it is, and I got through it ok.  We did a huge bike volume week as well - the most mileage I'd ever done in a week; but my body held up fine. It was likely because I only did a few of the runs, and sat the rest out - which was humbling and difficult to do.  I came back from the camp, and my coach John and I decided to hit the bike hard. QT2 believes in bike durability, which is key for long course racing - so a main focus the past few months was on the bike. The bike was really my weakness in the past, and I know to be a strong Ironman athlete, it's all about the bike.   A few weeks ago, I was encouraged and was seeing the work on the bike pay off. I've still got a ways to go, but my power numbers during my 20 minute max test sets were up about 25-30 watts from a year ago.  I was riding 5 to 6 hours every Saturday this winter, and around 8-9 hours many weekends, many rides with a good friend and athlete I coach, Tripp Hipple, who is racing Ironman Texas this weekend.  I was excited, and amped up for my comeback season.
Tripp and I spent way too many hours together sweating in my basement this winter.
The next few months consisted of visiting different physical therapists, getting ART, Graston technique, and dry needling done on my foot, which was very painful (now I know why so painful!).  I was being treated for a bad case of what I was told was most likely peroneal tendonitis. I began to limp around a bit; even walking around the house was painful, especially after cycling or being on my feet a while. The foot pain lingered, week after week, month after month, and unfortunately wouldn't go away, though some days it was better than others.  Foolishly, I didn't get an x-ray early on. Honestly I didn't really even think of it, as I was so certain it wasn't a bone issue. I'd never broken a bone before, and never had a stress fracture, even while running 80 mile weeks in college, and all the running injury experts and physical therapists I saw were telling me it was a bad tendonitis flared up from the rubber lugs on the sole of the Newton shoes.  I was told it wasn't a fracture, since fractures aren't often near the point of pain (which is incorrect).  Certainly I never had guessed the shoes would cause a major issue like this after just 2 weeks in them, but I was wrong. Though few, others have had issues from running in Newtons also.  I assumed what was bad tendonitis in my foot would settle down soon and race season would be a complete success. Unfortunately, this won't be the case. I eventually had the chance (with the help of my amazing sister) to get in for a free MRI, so I jumped on it. I had the MRI the day before I worked a day for my friend Jordan Jones and his wife Amy who own, an online ski shop in Golden. We were up in Vail loading 400 pairs of skis in trucks to haul them back to Denver, when my sister called with the report. She said a radiologist had read the MRI and it showed an avulsion fracture of the 5th metatarsal.

I was completely shocked. Unfortunately, it was (and still is) a displaced fracture, and a non-union at this point since it's been around for so long, meaning the break is slightly out of place and that my bone has separated from the bone it was once attached to.  Originally I thought it was just a stress fracture, but as I researched more and talked to doctors, I realized it was worse. I got a load bearing x-ray a few days later, which confirmed the fracture.  The next week I talked to a number of orthopedic surgeons. Looking back, it all makes sense that it's a fracture, but I'm still stumped on why my foot bone was weak enough to develop a stress fracture (if it started as one, or a regular avulsion fracture) from 8 or 9 runs in the shoes.  I was walking around with pain for months, and never really stayed completely off my foot to give it time for a bone fracture to heal. 
The split at the arrow shows the avulsion fracture in my 5th metatarsal
Since I've waited several months and continued to walk and ride on it, not knowing it was fractured, I likely caused more damage; I'm told it is probably past the window of healing now since the fracture happened so long ago and there was no sign of healing in my x-ray (though there still is a small chance it could heal without surgery).  I had cancelled my trip to Ironman 70.3 New Orleans in April, as well as a few other races I had planned.
So here I sit, realizing my 'comeback' triathlon season likely may not exist this year; I'm a bit crushed honestly.  It's tough to swallow after what happened last year, where I only raced twice, and after many hours training to get back to the point I was at this year.  That said, I'll keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I will have my comeback, it will just be postponed.  I'm not done yet and I am determined to get back to a high level of racing as soon as possible.
 Right now I am stalling for a month before rushing into surgery, and praying the foot will heal without it, though chances are not good. I've stopped all cycling as well as running, in order to give the foot the best chance possible to heal, but thankfully have still been able to swim to keep my sanity.  If I rushed the surgery now, I'd likely be out for the season; and if I waited to get surgery in a month or two...well, I'd still probably be out for the season. That said, it makes most sense to go all in with one last chance of trying to get this thing heal by staying off the foot.  I'm heading back for more x-rays in a few weeks, and will make a decision then about surgery. They would most likely remove the piece of broken bone completely rather than pinning/screwing it; the difficulty is dealing with and reattaching tendons that are likely connected to the piece of broken bone.  Obviously you can see why I'm hesitant to rush into surgery - that, and my high deductible catastrophic insurance plan.

 I'm also starting a new career in real estate, which is exciting.  I've completed real estate school the past few months, and I'll be taking the real estate exam at the end of May. I've loved working with, in, and on homes the past few years, and have always had a passion for the real estate business and serving people. Real estate is something I have thought about doing for a while now, as I've been involved in about 5 fix and flip jobs or home remodels the past few years in addition to my sales and coaching jobs. My accounting background also fits in well.   It will be work, tons of work, but I'm excited to take on the challenge and have a chance to work for myself, do things the right way, and help people fill a need they have.  I love homes and I love working with people.

I'd be lying if I said I haven't felt the anxiousness of becoming a father, and the thought of hefty  medical bills from surgery is never pleasant of course at a time like this - with a baby on the way, the start of a new career, still being owed money from my previous employer, but it is what is is and everything will work out well in the end. I've been blessed to be in a position to choose what to pursue next.  Being a dad will be one of the best things that's happened to me. I'm sure it will help put everything in perspective.  I can't wait for the day, it's coming soon!

I've been floored by the generosity of so many people.
Lots of pink in our house from lots of baby showers!!

Amy and I in Oceanside, CA during a quick trip to California in March