Hey folks, apologies to interrupt the Women’s World Cup and the Copa America for my dirge, but well, there you go.
Most of you who know me or have known this site since its inception (or, heck, my oooooold hangout at FmGT back in 2005/06) know my story: in September of 2005 I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of testicular cancer, one that required two rather invasive surgeries and a few months of chemotherapy to finally destroy.
It was a torrid period in my life, one I barely scraped through, but it taught me a lot about perseverance, inner strength, and plenty of those inspirational things you hear in heartfelt movies or impassioned half-time speeches. .
The sickness, the lethargy, the aching sensation of all those chemo drugs sliding through my system left me weak and feeble. There were days when I couldn’t raise a glass to my lips. I needed help walking to the bathroom. I survived on a diet of instant mashed potatoes and stove-top stuffing, for any hint of flavor or spice in my food made me vomit. I spent Christmas in my Brooklyn apartment, huddled in blankets and hoping for release.
For a man who played soccer since childhood and tacked over 12 years of high-level competitive rugby on top, it was humbling. I shared hospital wards with old men suffering of prostate cancer, colon cancer, and other strains that had much lower survival rates, listening intently to their personal histories. I lay awake most nights, hopped up on morphine and methadone—standard painkillers at the time for anyone who’d endured what I had, known as an RPLND. Google it. I have the scars—and listened to the wheezing, agonized breath of whoever was my roommate that particular evening.
Naturally, I greeted the painful rehabilitation and recovery in good spirits. I learned to appreciate the rubbery nature of tofu. I slowly built myself back up and, in September of 2006, I participated in the Livestrong Challenge, a grueling 100-mile ride across Philadelphia and Montgomery County. I was not ready for such a thing; overweight and muscles still tender from all the treatments made 9 hours on a bike a walking nightmare.
The humidity and oppressive sunshine cramped my legs. I fell numerous times. I was dehydrated and worn-out by midday, but I wouldn’t stop. My poor planning and naivety were unacceptable impositions, and yet, as the second-to-last person to cross the finish line, the toil and ardor of the day’s events were firmly set in focus.
At the finish, they had organized a large welcoming party for participants as they coasted down a shaded street to the finish, but when I made it, there were just a handful of tireless volunteers to throw confetti and applaud my effort, late as it was when I finally rolled, battered and bruised, across the finish line. I fell off my bike again, not through fatigue or pain, but out of sheer, unbridled joy, tears rolling down my cheeks and lungs burning with fresh air. A tangible conclusion to a year of therapy, heavy medication, and sobering thoughts about mortality.
There were major ups and downs in the months that followed. People I’d become friendly with in the hospital passed away, yet the people I rode with kept raising money and kept riding. One woman in particular, Ann M., was a particularly strident role model in that formative post-cancer period. Though I drifted out of touch with her in the years that followed, what with babies and houses and other life markers drifting into my sights, I’ll never forget her disposition. It was immovable. Stolidly stoic. Rigidly optimistic. A cancer survivor herself, she regaled me and the group with stories of how she’d ride her road bike to chemo sessions, something I can barely conceive of even now. I used to shake and shudder just stepping onto the sidewalk. To hop on a bike and zip down country lanes to be greeted with that comfy armchair, the needles, the IV pouches…?
Just last week, I learned that Ann succumbed to the filthy disease after a long and spirited battle, and it jarred me unexpectedly. In April of this year, I celebrated five years cancer-free, the five being significant because it signified that the odds of it returning in any form were back in line with those odds enjoyed by the general populace. And yet Ann, cheery and bright as I remember, didn’t get to enjoy the same luxury.
And so, in 6 weeks’ time, I’ll hop on my bike again and compete in this year’s Livestrong Challenge, out of tremendous respect to Ann and her family, and to mark my own personal victories. It’s been a while since I rode my bike, but I’ve been keeping in shape and losing weight so that I can be every bit the agile, indefatigable father that my son will no doubt demand. 100 miles is nothing to professionals, neck-deep in chain grease and the French mountains as they currently are, but to a publishing professional who loves a beer and a hearty plate of BBQ, it’s something else entirely.
Given that today is my last day at my current job—curs’d layoffs—I have time to practice, work harder, and put myself back in the shoes of Ann and the millions of others who have not been as fortunate as me in beating this noxious illness.
And so, I politely and humbly ask for your support in what I’m about to do. Please donate, if able, and cheer me on when August 21 rolls around. You can find out more about the event HERE, and my personal donation page can be found HERE. For an easier link: http://philly2011.livestrong.org/UFJamesT. Spread the word. Please get involved if you can.
I appreciate your support, love, confidence, and spirit. Now back to our regularly scheduled mirth and merriment.