For over 10 years, I’ve been participating in triathlons. I’ve placed in my age group a few times, but I’ve mostly always been a “middle of the pack” finisher.
In May 2015, I completed my first Half IRONMAN (Chattanooga 70.3) and loved the volunteers and atmosphere of the race. For my 50th birthday, that same year, I told my wife I wanted to do a full IRONMAN. I signed up for IM Florida for November of 2016, and again, the atmosphere and volunteers were wonderful.
For 2017, I was looking for another long-distance triathlon, and several of my friends told me about the RyanMan 70.3, a smaller event held in Mississippi in October. Along the way, I completed my first stand alone marathon, an Ultra-marathon trail run, several half marathons, 10K’s, 5K’s and sprint triathlons, in addition to the normal biking and swim training that year. At the peak of my training, I started suffering severe abdominal pains.
After a lot of probing and scans, it was determined that I had a blockage in my intestines and I was admitted to the hospital for a minor surgery to remove it. When I woke up after surgery on Oct. 3, I was informed that I had stage 4 cancer spread throughout my abdomen. An ileostomy had been installed because the cancer had clumped around my small intestine causing a kink in it, not allowing any passage. While this was shocking to me, I knew they were coming up with new treatments all the time because my wife is an oncology nurse. So I had hope.
I contacted the race officials at RyanMan 70.3 while I was still in the hospital, and they were gracious enough to defer my entry to the following year. We then found out from an intestinal oncology specialist that it was a very rare form of appendiceal carcinoma. So rare, in fact, that there is no treatment regimen for it. The cancer isn’t a mass on any one organ, described as a cup of rice sprinkled throughout my abdomen, ruling out any kind of surgical intervention.
The specialist told me that I may have approximately two years to live, and they began to treat it like any other colon cancer. I smiled and told him that I was going to “skew” the numbers because I had a lot of life to live yet. The treatment plan consisted of three hard-hitting chemotherapies every two weeks beginning in November of 2017. While the chemo is not a cure, it keeps the cancer from spreading, and so far has done its job.
When I first got home from the hospital, I could walk to the end of my street and back with the aid of two walking staffs. After about a week, I could walk further with only one staff, still waiting on the stitches around my ostomy to come out. The ostomy pouch proved difficult to manage, and I was constantly trying different methods of how to attach it, experimenting with different glues, pastes, and tapes — it’s no fun developing a leak around your ostomy.
Determined not to let cancer, or the ostomy rule my life, I knew things would never be back to the way they were before the surgery, but I was learning to find a “new normal.” After the stitches around my ostomy were removed, I started running again. In December, I ran the Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon with my sons. It was slow, and I had to make stops to empty my ostomy bag, but I did it.
I still get chemo every other Tuesday, and once they have infused all my chemotherapies, I wear a portable infusion pump for 48 hours. While wearing the pump, I’m limited to just walking or cruising around town on my mountain bike. Fortunately, I haven’t gotten sick from the chemo treatments, and have maintained my post hospital weight (I’m 6-2 and weighed 210 pounds before the surgery; I’m staying around 170-175 now).
The treatments make me feel lethargic — I do have some neuropathy in my feet and hands as a result from the chemo — and there are days when all I want to do is sleep. Getting out the door is sometimes the hardest part, but once I’m out the door and start swimming, pedaling, or running, I start to feel better. I feel better after a workout, and I get a lot of motivation from my family weekly FitBit competitions and from my friends on Strava. If I need a little extra push to get out the door for a run, I’ll scan Strava or check Fitbit to find out how many ahead my family members are and head out the door to catch up.
Throughout 2018, I continued to experiment with my ostomy bag and finally came up with a couple of combinations that worked. I also completed four half marathons, 15ks, 10ks, 5ks and several sprint triathlons and an Olympic-distance, all while working toward the 2018 Deep South Triathlon in October.
As October approached, I felt pretty good considering the chemo treatments every two weeks; I felt stronger on my runs and rides. Finally, I toed the line.
I finished with a time of 6 hours, 57 minutes. My 1.2-mile swim was 32:24, bike was 3:18, and run was 2:45 (I walked a lot of the run due to leg cramps). There were long transitions due to adjustments for my ostomy, but no leaks! I felt so good crossing that finish line, even better than my first full IM. I was so happy just to be participating!
I made it a point to thank every volunteer and police officer along the way. The entire event from packet pick up to the volunteers along the course was all encouraging. My goal was to complete these events, only racing myself, and pushing myself to find new limits.
I’m still searching for those new limits.
I completed all the same events in 2019 as I did in 2018, and this time I wanted not only to complete the events, but also to improve on my times from 2018. Even after another year of receiving chemo every two weeks, I still managed to improve my times in every event. As I’m writing this, I am three weeks from my next Deep South Triathlon 70.3 and I’m feeling pretty good. I feel the cumulative effects of almost two years of chemo, but I’m still pushing myself.
Having cancer is devastating, especially when there is no known cure, but it doesn’t have to rule your life! You can’t control what circumstances life throws at you, but your attitude is the one thing that is in your control. If life throws some challenge your way, you can learn to be resilient and find your “new normal.”
I am fortunate to have a wonderful wife, sons, family and friends that encourage and inspire me every day. While there is no cure for what I have, they are coming up with new treatments every day — I just have to outlast this cancer until they come up with a new treatment. I am confident that with faith, the prayers of family and friends, and a positive outlook, I will outlast this disease and beat it.
I plan on celebrating the two year anniversary of my diagnosis by completing the Deep South Triathlon 70.3 and following it up with a half-marathon trail run (Lake Powell Half Marathon) the weekend afterwards.
Push yourself and find new limits every day — cancer didn’t set my limits, I’m still trying to find mine!
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