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Monday, September 7, 2009

I don't know which was harder.

I spent two days this week doing two very different things, and honestly, I don't know which was harder. I'm still processing them both.

First, and way more important, on Thursday I went with my friend Julie for her first round of chemo. She has been diagnosed with cancer for the second time after being cancer-free for six years. That will most definitely ruin anyone's summer, but somehow Julie remains to stay afloat and enjoys herself as much as possible. She's just wired that way. She's a good person straight down into her soul; let's face it, she's the only person I know who is friends with the Jehovah's Witnesses that frequent her house. (Since it's the only place they are greeted with friendly converstaion, I suspect!) Anyway, Julie is exactly the type of person you hate to see go through this: she's someone everybody loves. So, I picked her up Thursday morning for her appointment in our convertible. We're finally getting a few days of summer here, so we need to enjoy it whenever possible. And can you really think of a better time to be in a convertible?

Suffice it to say it turned out to be a lot longer day than we thought: seven hours. We actually closed the chemo ward down. To be fair, this was her first visit and she had to meet with her Doctor, hear all the "possible side effects" of her treatment and sign off on any paperwork. But she was in that chair for a very...long...time. The nurses were awesome, friendly, helpful, and not too intrusive. They kept her meds coming as quickly as they could. But it was a long, hard day. Julie came through it with her laughter in tact. Thank heaven she enjoys my sarcastic sense of humor, while the final nurse we saw that day did not. The conversation went something like this:
  • Nurse (directed at Julie) "We're letting you go home a little earlier than normal, but be aware of any of the following side effects: shortness of breath, heart racing, chest pain, falling down, lightheadedness...if that should happen, go to the E.R."

  • Alane (also directed at Julie) "Oh, NO. That WON'T be happening. You are NOT going to do THAT!!!"

  • Nurse (directed at Julie but clearly meant for Alane) "This is your friend? She's mean. What'd you bring her for?"

  • Ouch. No sarcasm allowed on the chemo floor.

Suffice it to say, the day was hard for Julie. But she came through it very well. I drove her by the Portland Malt Shop for a chocolate malt on the way home. (They are the best: hurry up and go before they close for the season! The mint chocolate malt is my fave...I love the little cookie on top!)

I was so happy to hear the next day that despite feeling flu-like, Julie was doing pretty good. No nausea to date, and I hope she is out enjoying this awesome weekend.

Of course that night, I couldn't sleep. I get into a routine when I'm stressed but can't process it: I grind my teeth a lot when and if I do sleep. My feelings about her going through this are being held deep right now. I know when they do bubble up, it's gonna hurt, but for now I'm dealing with it. Being on the other side of the chemo bag is no picnic, I'm not gonna lie. But it's nothing like having to go through it yourself. That is the truth. Mystery solved, people: as survivors we often say watching what it's doing to your loved ones is harder than going through it. I can officially, and authoritatively say, "BULL!" It's a lot harder to go through it. Trust me.


So on to difficult day 2 of a completely different sort. Around the time of Julie's chemo I started getting calls from our friend and neighbor Mike inviting Brad and I to go on the killer ride that would test out mettle and prove we were ready to ride the Tour de Pink. I will admit, I was dodging his calls. Every time I heard his voice on the answering machine, I'd tell Brad he needed to call him. Needless to say, Brad was in a similar stance of avoidance. On Friday Mike caught me on the phone, and of course, because he could sell anything to anyone, I agreed. Plus, I knew it had to be done. The plan was to meet at 8 AM on Saturday for a 70 mile ride. Which he promised would be "Low Key".

At this point I should tell you that Mike rode his own individual TDP ride earlier this summer: he started out on what was to be around 800 miles from his High School Reunion in MI. The important thing to know is: he was doing it alone. No back up. In the end, he made it 500 miles before the knee pain and numbness in his hands was so bad he had to call for a ride home. But he'd done 500 miles in 4 days. Yikes! Needless to say, I was not certain that his definition of low key and mine were one and the same. Here's a photo of me & Mike after his ride, when he was awarding me with some of the over $5000 he raised for YSC:



So shortly after we agrred to the ride, the next shoe dropped. At about 10 or 11 PM, I get a message from him that another friend, Steve, and Bill S. were coming with us. It is hard to describe my reaction to this news. Bill S. is a bit of a joke in our household (and not in a mean way because he is a very sweet guy). He runs, bikes, swims, skis, you name it, constantly. He is literally an Ironman. Brad and I often joke that we stand in our front window eating donuts watching him run, bike, and ski by all day long. Needless to say, the intimidation factor was at an all-time high.

So Saturday 8 AM arrives. We suit up and head out for our "low key" ride. Very quickly, it became clear that we were so out of our league. Anyone who knows Duluth, knows the nature of the hills. The city is built on a cliff, for heaven's sake! We zipped along Skyline Drive in fog as thick as peanut butter. The pace was a little faster than what we're used to, but at that point in the ride, we were feeling okay. It was what came after our first rest stop that nearly killed me. We rode into Jay Cooke Park, a state park near here that has two absolutely brutal hills to get up. The three of them were chatting about the view, while Brad and I prayed to suddenly have the ability to fly. Don't get me wrong: they were awesome, and encouraged us every bit of the way. I literally would have quit many times if Mike had not ridden next to me and talked me up the hill. He was like Yoda. "Patience...take your time..." It was brutal and painful. Then we got to rest stop #2. I have never consumed so much sugar in my life. By the end of the ride, I actually didn't want anymore. (That's a definite first for me...to not want sugar or chocolate!) We hit the "easy" portion of the ride with lower, rolling hills and straightaways. Mike was leading us, and suddenly the speed increased tremendously. I though Brad was going to kill him. (But of course he'd have to catch him first!) In the back of my mind (and I'm sure Brad's) was the fact that we needed to save the last bit of energy we had to make it up the hill that leads to our house. That hill loomed like a demon in my mind. It loomed until Mike gave us the choice to get the inevitable climb into the city over with in one fell swoop rather than dragging it out over a series of inclines. Fools that we were, we fell for it. After riding 55 miles, we hit it. I almost wept. A one mile long hill going straight up, back up to Skyline Drive. I honestly cannot believe I made it. This time Mike tried to talk to me, and I couldn't even expend the energy to do that. It was all I could do to keep pedaling. The cruelest part of all was that there was a curve at the top that made it look like it was the end, but when we hit the curve, it just kept on going. Brad said a little piece of his heart died at that moment, and I believe him. Finally, we made it to the top and the others were like "Yay, that was totally kick-ass! You made it!!!" But they failed to notice, that even though the big hill was done, we were still on an incline. If I was a violent person and had access to a firearm at that moment, I would have used it. Don't judge me, you would have too if you'd been there.

Remarkably, in the end we made it up our last hill to home. I can say without a doubt that was the most physically difficult thing I have ever done. Today is the first day that I don't feel like crawling back into the bed.

All of these guys were stellar, including Bill. He drifted back and chatted with us, and never left us in his dust even though for him, this was an easy ride. Steve, thank God he was there. The man is in incredible shape (he practically bounced up the hills, chatting all the way.) But he made us laugh and kept us out of our heads. And Mike, we can't ever repay him for building our confidence like he did. It really was a gift, and he was a great cruise director.

I thought I'd include a pic I took while on the ride. It's terribly out of focus since I was bouncing on potholes when I took it. But you can see Brad in the pink shirt in the middle of the pack. Way to go, honey! That's Steve on the left, Mike on the right, and Bill at the back. They are a truly great group of guys.


So which day was harder? I'd take the physical stuff anyday over the mental anguish. But this time, they were both hard and rewarding in their own way. I'll have to reflect on this question for a while....if I come up with an answer, I'll let you know.

1 comment:

  1. Alane...I am speechless...I have finally been able to sit down and catch up with your world (it can't be about me all the time you know). You are such a true and wonderful friend! I was really hoping that you and I would be cheering each other on while riding up those big hills. But that is exactly what you did for me last week!!! Keep up the hard work and thank you for being there...Julie

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