Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, a day when express our love to others. Flowers, cards, romantic, teddy bears, trinkets, and more are the currency that are most oft relied upon on Valentine’s Day. But, let’s be honest, Valentine’s Day embodies a small portion of what true love is, and should be. Sure, fun, romance and gifts are important aspects of a loving relationship. However, on the day after Valentine’s Day, the day when the balloons deflate, in the hours when many roses begin to wilt, and during the moments when we realize that all the delicious chocolate we ate has left us is an extra pound that we need to shed, I want to talk about True Love.
Valentine’s Day and love is often symbolized by a “heart” – a very sanitized, de-veined, non-anatomically correct, bloodless and incorrectly symmetrical heart. As we all know, the heart’s function is to pump blood through our bodies at just the right rate and just the right rhythm. It is a monotonous, repetitive and crucial job. We can live without our tonsils, spleen, portions of our liver and intestines, but we need a fully functioning heart (whether it’s our own, mechanically enhanced or someone else’s). The 24/7/365 constant beating of a heart, the commitment that our heart provides to us, and the way our heart responds to our needs during times of stress is the essence of love. Consistency, commitment and providing for the needs of others.
This leads me to an email sent to me by a reader, Cameron Von St. James, about how he and his wife persevered through cancer (I am publising his email with his permission). Cameron’s intention was definitely not to discuss the topic of love. However, I believe that his story is a love story. We all need to read to know and learn from Caeron about the commitment and selflessness that are the bedrocks of True Love. Than you for sharing, Cameron
How my Wife and I Persevered Through Cancer
My wife has said more than once that she can’t imagine what I endured following her mesothelioma diagnosis. I’ll admit now that it was a very difficult time for me, as her husband and caregiver. I hope that by sharing some of our story, we can help another family currently struggling through a battle with cancer today.
Just three months prior to finding out that my wife had cancer, we welcomed Lily into the world. She was our first and only child, and we couldn’t have been more thrilled to be new parents. The future of our new little family looked bright and happy, but just a few short months later, all of that joy would be ripped away from us. My wife and I were told by her doctor that she had mesothelioma, a rare and very deadly form of cancer. Our lives were shattered.
Where was my mind at this time? Overwhelmed. Angry. Fearful. On the verge of a breakdown. But there were choices to be made, decisions to be sorted. The doctor began going over our treatment choices. And so it began, months making decisions with my wife and our family while I was totally and completely devastated.
At first, my anger overwhelmed me. I frequently lashed out at others with profanity for no reason at all. Fortunately, with the passing of time, my emotions subdued. I realized I had to be strong for my family. I took on the role of rock and caregiver. Once the shock of the diagnosis wore off (if it ever really does) the to-do lists showed up. Work and travel arrangements, caring for my daughter, tending to our pets, arranging medical appointments for my wife, the list seemed to never end. I learned to prioritize, which helped, but only to a point. I realized that I couldn’t do everything on my own, no matter how hard I tried. Once I realized this and let go of my pride, I began accepting the many, generous offers of help from our family and friends. After that, our lives became much easier.
Lily was flown to South Dakota to stay with my wife’s parents while we trekked to Boston, where Heather would undergo surgery. Following the operation, Heather joined Lily at her parents’ in South Dakota, in order to recover and prepare for further mesothelioma treatment, which would include chemotherapy and radiation. Unfortunately, I had to remain at home to continue to work and take care of the house. Over the next two months, I would be able to see my wife and daughter only one time.
I can remember one Friday after work, driving through the night for eleven hours during a snowstorm to see my family. I slept in the car that night, in the hopes that the roads would be cleared enough to continue in a few hours. I arrived Saturday morning, exhausted, and was able to spend the rest of the day with my family before making the trip back on Sunday to be at work on Monday morning. Was it worth it? You bet. It was a lot of travel for a few short hours with them, but it was worth every second.
I am happy to say that today, Heather is healthy and thriving, and has been cancer free for six years. Family, commitment, and learning to take help where it’s given have all allowed me to recognize how to let go, and accept help and love when it comes. I hope that by sharing our story of success over cancer, we can help another family currently battling today.
It has come to this. You might be thinking that things can’t be that bad. You might be thinking that my wife and kids would never let me do this – but they have and they will. You’re thinking that there is another way; and there was another way, and I tried it, and it didn’t work.
So it has come to this.
I am selling my pride.
I am selling my body.
I am willing to sell both to you, for a price.
“What would drive me to do such a thing,” you ask?
The answer is Alejandra.
Alejandra is my Honored Teammate, one of my motivating factors while I train for the Westchester Triathlon. She is a constant reminder of determination and optimism, and of the need to fundraise for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Alejandra was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was in kindergarten. She has undergone rounds of chemotherapy and numerous blood and platelet transfusions. She has to go once a week for her chemotherapy appointments, and she needs to get a spinal tap every other week. Yet, she enjoys singing and dancing, and she has a bright cheerful smile.
Without the work of researchers, many of whom receive their initial rounds of funding and grants from LLS and similar entities, the treatments that Alejandra is receiving to save her life would never have come to be.
No singing, no dancing, no smile.
I want to help. I want to raise money – and lots of it.
I’ve tried to raise money using the usual strategies (asking, reasoning and then begging), but I have not received the response I was hoping for.
This leaves one option.
I am selling my pride.
I am selling my body.
I am willing to sell both to you, for a price.
Here is how:
- Let me start out by saying that even I have my limits, so I am going to throw out some concepts, which I hope will provide you with some ideas of what I am willing to do.
- I am willing to hear any offers that you have for me.
- I will not guarantee that I will take you up on your offer, but I will do my best.
- I will offer up proof of my execution of the deal.
- You need to donate first, and then I will make good on my end of the bargain.
- We don’t need to know each other for you to make an offer/donate.
- You can donate without making me an offer.
- Prior donations and donations to any of my teammates do not count towards any agreement we come to.
- I don’t care if you pool money together from multiple sources, but the payment needs to be made by a single source.
- This is supposed to be a fun, offbeat way of raising money and awareness for an incredibly deserving not-for-profit organization, so offers should be fun and offbeat in nature; stay away from ideas that fall into the categories of “gross,” “twisted,” “angry,” “disgusting,” etc.
Some ideas (here is where my pride & body come in to play):
- Clothing: I run and bike on roads with a lot of car-traffic five to six days a week, with workouts ranging from 30 minutes to three hours in length; I have a pair of VERY pink, knee high socks at my disposal that I am willing to wear ($36 donation, per hour).
- Makeup (sort of): I am not a fan of the fact that my daughters, age four and six, wear nail polish, but, I am a realist – but, for $75, I will spend a Sunday of training in nail polish (I have a few colors for you to choose from at home – blue, silver, gold, pink, red – or you can send me a bottle of the color you would like me to wear). For evidential photos to be posted on the internet, the donation has to be higher.
Promotion: Is there a shirt promoting your company or a cause that you would like me to wear while I run through the streets of New Rochelle? For $10 per mile, I will wear your shirt while running down the main drag in New Rochelle, North Avenue.
- Waxing: Those of you who know me know that I have hairy legs, and while this falls into the category of painful, I am willing to entertain offers that include waxing. You need to pay for the cost of the waxing (though I am willing to work with the “waxer” to see if they will reduce the price for the charitable cause) and I don’t have a dollar amount in mind, but this will hurt me A LOT… so we will need to talk about this.
- My hair (or what is left of it): Do you want to see a specific color? Do you want to see it gone? Keep in mind that color can go in no sooner than Friday, after work, and must come out on Sunday night, before work; nothing permanent, except… it would take a lot of money to get me to shave my head, but it is up for discussion.
I think that there is plenty of food for thought, so please, open up your hearts, open up your wallets, and let’s have some fun and raise lots of money for a great cause.
Want to reach me? Leave a comment on my blog, Facebook or reach me via Twitter and we’ll get in touch.
Want to donate? Click here to donate via credit card; to donate by check click here to get to my fundraising page, where you can find the information that you need (you can also donate from my home page by clicking on the teal-colored “Donate Now” button on the right hand side of the screen – you might have to scroll down to find it).
In the meantime, I am going to gather up my dignity and prepare to ship it out to you… but, it is well worth it.
[Seriously] I want to be clear that this my intention in writing this blog post is not to diminish the true suffering and difficult process that faces people working through difficult personal situations, who are actually experiencing emotions and feelings of grief. The fact is that one of the main missions of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is to help people who face the very real physical and emotional challenges of fighting for their lives. This post is meant to be a somewhat flip and sarcastic view of the challenges of fundraising, which in no way rival the real emotional challenges that many people encounter in their lives. My hope is that this blog post gives you, the reader, a reason to laugh with me, for fellow-fundraisers to feel a common bond with me and maybe to elicit some pity from some kind souls who want to assist me (and more importantly, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society) in “my time of need.” With that being said, on with my post.
“The Five Stages of Grief” is a hypothesis introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying. Kübler-Ross outlines the five stages as follows:
Over the past two months I have moved through the gamut of these emotions (backwards and forwards) as they relate to my fundraising for the Westchester Triathlon. For a little insight into my experience, read on:
Denial – “I don’t need to worry about fundraising. People understand the importance of the work that the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society does. So many people know adults and children impacted by this form of cancer, so raising funds for such an outstanding and well run charity will be no problem.”
Anger – “I can’t believe that people aren’t begging to donate, ignoring the fact that there are a ton of other VERY worthwhile charities that people donate to, not to mention the current state of the economy, other financial responsibilities that people have, other very important commitments that people have and that the fact that I am not the center of everyone else’s universe… but ignoring those vital fact, I can’t believe…”
Depression – “I am slow at bicycling up hills and slow at raising funds for LLS… I am choking and sputtering when I swim… and so are my fundraising efforts… [Sob, sob, sob].”
Acceptance – “I know I have a challenge in front of me, but it’s one that is worthwhile. I finished the Westchester Triathlon last year and I am going to do it again this year. I raised almost $3,300 for LLS last year and I’ll do it again this year. It may be a challenge, but it’s mine and I am going to do it.”
Right now, I am somewhere between “Bargaining” and “Depression”… so let me know if you want me to sing and dance for you, and if not, at least pass me a tissue.
“You’re doing great! Keep it up!” an enthusiastic spectator yelled at me about one mile into the run portion of the Ridgefield Sprint Triathlon (it was no one that I knew).
“Thank you very much, but there’s no need to lie!” I yelled back, smiling broadly. “I am doing passable work at best; I am nowhere close to doing great!”
As many of you know, I completed the Ridgefield Sprint Triathlon a couple of weeks ago. While I enjoyed the beautiful course and the clean lake (in contrast with the salty/oily waters of the Long Island Sound, which is where I usually swim), what I enjoyed most about the Ridgefield Tri was the field of athletes and spectators at the event. For me (and I don’t think I am alone), triathlons are as difficult mentally as they are from a physically.
“You’re doing barely passable work! But, keep it up!” the spectator yelled back, with a laugh.
“Thank you for your encouragement,” I yelled over my shoulder, “and your brutal honesty!”
I smiled all the way up the toughest hill on that triathlon course – all half mile of it. I found out later that it was the toughest hill I have personally run up, in a race or in training. Luckily, on my way up the hill, I was more focused on my earlier verbal exchange than I was on the pain I was feeling, or my lack of progress up the hill. I have that spectator to thank for getting me up that hill.
Here’s the thing – for the vast majority of the time spent competing in a triathlon I need to focus on my body. I need to focus on my breathing to make sure that I am not breathing too hard; I need to focus on my speed and cadence (how fast my legs are moving on the swim and bike) to make sure that I am not moving too slowly or too quickly; I need to focus on my energy and hydration levels, so I know whether I need to drink or take in calories; I need to make sure that I am swimming, biking and running straight and I have to be aware of the competitors around me. Sure, not everyone worries about all of these things when competing, and I didn’t worry about these issues in my first triathlon. However, as I enter my second year of training, I have chosen to work on my mental and physical approach to triathlon-ing.
What I learned from the Ridgefield Tri is that every now and then it’s important, even for only a second or two, to forget that I am in a race. I need to look at the scenery on the course (best to do that while running), marvel at the people twice my age who just sped past me (sometimes, I will jokingly let them know that they are way too old to be moving so quickly) and thank spectators for their support. From my experience, taking time to smell the roses as I go by not only makes the trip more enjoyable, it makes it faster and less painful.
I’m Hungry! I’m really hungry! (great link!)
I can deal with muscle ache (Ben-Gay/Icy Hot/Advil). I can deal with fatigue (good ol’ sleep works wonders). What I find most difficult about triathlon training is the raging hunger pangs and food-cravings that I experience post-training, and throughout the day. Yeah, I know my last post discussed my pre and post-workout eating habits, and they work, for the most part. However, there are just some days where you just want to do this. Or this. Or this (maybe the best one of the three links – and many of you have probably done exactly what happens at 1:00 into the video).
Rather that fight the overwhelming hunger pangs, I try to roll with them, doing my best to avoid junk (as best as I can) and eat filling and healthy meals. However, as many of you might note that healthy is often a code word for bland or tasteless. There is only so much oatmeal and grilled chicken that a person can eat. So, in an effort to find foods that are filling, healthy and meet my needs for carbs and protein, not to mention taste, I reached out to a friend of mine, Serena Palumbo.
Serena was a popular and successful contestant on The Food Network’s “The Next Food Network Star,” not to mention an attorney and avid gym-goer. Serena’s solution:
“Quinoa,” she said. “It’s a powerful grain packed with protein, and if you mix it with a nice combination of vegetables and spices it can taste amazing.” She then sent me over to her website where she has a great video on how to cook quinoa (not such an easy task for some of us) and an amazingly delicious quinoa recipe, which I will be trying in the very near future (sans olives; I don’t like olives).
But wait, there’s more! “Quinoa is a seed but considered a grain because of its texture,” Serena explained, “You can find quinoa pasta, which is very similar to whole grain but packs a serious punch in proteins too.”
Pasta with protein; you don’t say… Throw in some sautéed veggies, spices and some salt (electrolytes!) and you have yourself a healthy, tasty and filling meal.
When I started training for the Westchester Triathlon, a year ago, I had lofty weight-loss goals and visions of pounds melting off of my body, as my body transformed into that of a triathlete.
While I did lose weight, and I look (and more importantly, I feel) better than I have felt since… ever, I learned the hard way that losing weight and getting a good work out can be oxymoronic in many ways. The science is complicated, but here is an attempt at a bullet point list (please feel free to comment if you are an expert, which I am NOT, in the comments section):
1) Your body needs energy to perform work and the human body creates energy by converting food (calories) into energy.
2) Not all food is created equal – during cardio exercise, carbs, especially those that are built to be metabolized quickly, are the most efficient mechanism to supply your body with energy, since glycogen is the most efficiently utilized source of energy, and carbohydrates can be most quickly converted into glycogen (it’s important to note that not all carbs are created equal and different carbs are metabolized more efficiently than others – certain fats, like the saturated fat contained in animal tissue and coconuts, are very easy for your body to convert to energy - the body does convert many carbohydrates into energy more QUICKLY, but this process produces other by-products, like insulin, which can confound weight loss and induce other strain on the body – but enough science!).
3) Your body has a store of energy, but extended exercise will quickly exhaust those reserves.
4) Once you are through your reserves, your body will hunt for more energy sources and if you don’t provide a food source the body will use your body as its source of energy.
Now here is where I made my first mistake. I figured, “Perfect! This is how all the fat melts away!” Not so. Fat will be metabolized, but so will muscle. So I was metabolizing muscle that I was also working to build. That was not very efficient. In addition, this does not allow for the body to obtain the energy that it needs in order to perform at an optimal level – I thought that my muscles were tired and spent, when in fact I just had no fuel in the gas tank. Here was the result:
1) I lost weight, but my performance gains were limited.
2) I was completely spent after my trainings.
3) My muscles ached for hours and even days after hard workouts.
4) I lost a bunch of weight, but at a certain point, the weight loss stopped and I started to gain weight back.
After some good advice and lots of reading, I changed my strategy. I wanted to keep things simple, because I did not have the time, capacity or intellectual bandwidth to do something complex. Here is what I did/do (and I have I been very happy with the results):
1) Eat good carbs before a workout (200 – 300 calories per hour of workout time), such as oatmeal or a healthy breakfast cereal.
3) Recover with a protein shake within 30 minutes after a workout, or as soon after as possible, as well as some additional carbs (some, not lots).
4) I then try to watch my calorie intake for the rest of the day; making sure to eat enough to meet my reasonable caloric needs for the day.
In order to wrap this up, I want to leave you with a couple of notes:
1) Rapid weight loss is unhealthy and unsustainable; aside from the fact that this can lead to muscle loss, which ultimately slows down your metabolism, too.
2) A pound a week is aggressive and sustainable; consult with a physician or dietician about how to best achieve that goal.
4) For a real picture of what training is doing for you, gyms and nutritionists will do an analysis of your body make up (fat/muscle/water/etc.), which will give you a true understanding of what your training is doing for you.
Bjogging. A distant cousin of Bjork and a direct decendant of Blogging and Jogging; Bjogging is one of my closest friends, who has saved my sanity more times than I can count.
USAT (the governing body of triathlons in the US), in their wisdom, bans the use of headphones during USAT events for safety reasons. In short, USAT wants all competitors to use their sense of sight AND sense of hearing to avoid potential dangers, especially on the occassionally crowded race paths. As a result, coaches exhort us to run and bike without headphones and music.
While I like listening to music when I bike in the gym, when I am flying along at 23 miles an hour, with cars, bikes and people potentially coming from various angles, I have more than enough to pay attention to, so I do not feel the loss of my headphones. The same is not true when it comes to running/jogging. Moving at a (generously) third the speed of my bike, usually on the sidewalk, when I jog, I get bored very quickly. Music allows time to pass more quickly and the absence thereof creates a void the size of a canyon. Some triathletes can get a song or two in their head and go with that for half an hour to an hour (I’ve heard that some guys favor some solid chick-rock, with the likes of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” inspiring them to forge ahead). That doesn’t get me going.
I’ve tried many strategies, but I have found that one of the best ways of getting through a run is to compose a blog post in my head. This post was composed last week during the 3.1 miles of the Ridgefield Triathlon course. So, what’s my point?
1) If you find running hard and tedious, you are not alone.
3) Running/jogging time can a great time to explore your thoughts and to think about things that you might not normally take the time to think about.
…just be careful not to get lost (in thought).
About a year ago, I issued a blanket apology to woggers (people who are ”jogging,” but move at the same pace as people who are walking). This past Sunday, 1.5 miles into the run portion of the Ridgefield Triathlon, I was reminded of my apology.
I’ll explain: The Ridgefield Tri is a beautiful sprint triathlon in Ridgefield, Connecticut. I completed the first two legs of the triathlon, a .5 mile swim (in 16:30) and a 13 mile bike ride on a rolling course (in 40:15), and went on to complete the 3.1 mile run in 25:30 (about a 7.5 mile per hour pace). However, the first 1.5 miles were an uphill ascent with a punishing hill at the 1 mile mark. I did everything I could to run at a pace that was faster than a jog, but when I hit the big hill I was in full “wog” mode.
At the bottom of the big hill, about 100 feet in front of me, I saw a white haired man who stood about 6’4″ and probably was around 64 years of age. He was walking up the hill (it’s interesting to note that this gentleman started in a wave 3 minutes after me, so he blew by me sometime during the swim or bike portion). But, Grandpa wasn’t just walking – he was taking these huge, giant-sized steps; but he was still walking.
It took me to the top of the hill, around .5 miles in distance and five minutes in time, (while I was ”running”) to catch up to Grampa, who was walking.
With that in mind, I bring you my apology to woggers.
You know who you are and I owe you an apology. I have laughed at you and mocked you over the years. Though I looked down on your clunky, ugly, gray New Balance sneakers and your too-short running shorts, your dress code was never at the heart of my mocking thoughts and scornful looks.
It was your speed.
Wogger, I mocked you because, though you intended to jog, you moved at the pace of a walk. Your leg muscles strained, your arms swung back and forth and your sweat-stained shirt all said “run”, yet, sadly, your body responded with “walk”. Your aspirations were those of a jogger, your reality was that of a walker. Thus, I dubbed you “Wogger.”
“Is that really the best you can do?”
“That’s just sad.”
“Why don’t you just walk?”
I apologize for these thoughts, for my haughty manner, for my better-than-you attitude, because I have been humbled. You see, I am now a Wogger, and I am the slowest type of Wogger there is. I came to this realization as I watched gap grow between me and the fifty-something year-old man who was slowly walking his dog. Though I was “jogging”, his meandering pace was somehow faster than my own.
So to you, Woggers of the world, I say that I now know that you wog because you refuse to stop. You wog because you are tired, but refuse to be limited by your body. You wog, though you are in pain, because you are mentally strong.
I wog because I am in horrible shape.
TNT’s first triathlon swim training was this past Tuesday and our first bike run training will be on Sunday. This new beginning takes me back a year in time to my first triathlon training sessions, my nerves and my excitement. I remember how excited I was when I came home from my first bike – run workout, having biked 10+ miles followed by a 3+ mile run, which I never in my life thought I could do. I remember how I was bursting to tell my wife and kids about the mental and physical challenges I overcame, how I was sure that they would be just as excited as I would by the success that I had met on my first day of real training.
I put my bike, helmet and other gear in their rightful place in the garage, I took off my sneakers, walked in the door to my house, full of energy, ready to share my news. “You won’t believe what I did today!” I yelled out to my wife and family. As my wife and kids entered the same room as me, my wife’s face contorted, her nose wrinkled and she said, “Apparently, you jumped into a pool and then rolled around in a pile of garbage… you stink! Go take a shower and you can tell me about everything, AFTERWARDS.”
What I learned very quickly is that a successful triathlon workout will result in buckets of sweat, buckets of sweat that no amount of deodorant (not even AXE) can cover up. Economists, business people and lawyers will call the smell that results from a successful workout an “externality” or an unintended consequence; scientists will call it a byproduct. Call it what you want, but the stench that is generated by a good workout is something that a triathlete, beginner or expert needs to be aware of and needs to address.
The point is, like in life, success has its costs. Unfortunately, when involved in a task, people are often not as aware of the ramifications of their actions because they are focused on the goal that they are working towards. We need to be aware of the byproducts of our efforts, and, whenever possible, we need to try to minimize the negative impact that these byproducts have on others (apply metaphor to life as you see fit). However, in the triathon context, my recommendations are: (i) bring a towel and at least a change of shirt for after a workout – eliminating some sweat will be appreciated; (ii) though deoderant will be overcome by your sweat, it is still essential– if not before, then after a workout; (iii) bathe often and as soon as possible, post-workout; (iv) do your best to be considerate of others – they may have signed up for your early morning workouts, your new focus and lifestyle, but they did not sign up to hang around the not-so-loveable Peanuts character, Pig-Pen; and (v) remember, the stench is just the byproduct – success is the REAL product; so keep working, keep sweating and have fun!
I am officially a mentor for the Westchester Triathlon on LLS’s Team In Training. For those of you who don’t know, LLS runs TNT, which is a program that will enable you to achieve fitness goals that you never would believe possible. Skippy’s Team, a fully integrated sub-group of TNT, is in its third year, and this will be my first as a mentor.
Here are a couple thoughts for my ST3 (Skippy’s Team 3.0) mentees:
1) You will finish (if you put in the time and effort).
2) You can put in the time and effort (and no, you don’t have to train 7 days a week, or even 6, but more is better for your performance and your health).
3) There is such thing as over-doing it; stick to the Coach’s plans and guidelines (+10% max) until you have a good feeling of what your body can handle – overtraining can lead to injury that can cost you far more than the gain you think you are getting.
4) You will be astounded by your progress, though you might be frustrated by your lack of progress, at times.
5) Remember the cause, your friends on the team (old an new) and that you are changing lives while you do this.
6) DO NOT daydream or lose focus while you train – we share the road with motorists, cyclists, runners, walkers, etc., not to mention cracks in pavement, sand, gravel, uneven surfaces, etc. and it only takes a moment of distraction…
7) DO remember to dream and visualize crossing the finish line and how amazing that will feel on September 23, 2012.
8) Remember that raising funds for LLS is a central focus of TNT and ST3, and is the reason why we are a team.
Since the impetus of this blog is to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, I need to add a link to my donation page (http://pages.teamintraining.org/wch/wchtri12/avispira) and ask for your generosity in supporting my triathlon training and this most important charity. For members of ST3, get out there, raise money, train hard and have fun!