Wow. Today’s Monday, and the marathon is this Sunday, June 3. I’ll be flying out Friday evening to San Diego. Here’s the website for the marathon, if you’re interested — San Diego Rock N Roll Marathon
I’ll be bringing the camera, and my laptop. I’ll be blogging over the weekend, including after the event. Check back to this blog Sunday and Monday.
As I get closer, the butterflies commence. I have run several miles several times since the Monterey run, and I’ve felt ready…. I can tell I am processing the run/walk in the way that I’ll be able to do it for several hours. I get into that “zone” and stay there. Still, I know what it was like to have some problens on mile 19 in Monterey, and know it will happen again. While ready for it, I can’t help thinking about it.
So a few things keep me going, and let me know I’ll make it.
The first is all of you — the many diverse family, friends, co-workers and others who have honored me by donating for me. I am proud to say that, with the last few donations, and when the matching funds from work is counted, I will have surpassed $6,000 in donations. Thank you to all — you’ve made this all worth it.
Another thing that will keep me going is remembering the honored patients, friends and family I’ve introduced you to will be there (go to the link at their names below their pictures to go to that blog entry) —
and others who have been mentioned privately to me — I’ll remember them all.
Another that will stick with me is remembering an origami crane.
One person from AIG in the SF office, Mary Hancock, who made a donation also gave me a little goodie bag for the marathon. In it were some sunscreen packets (nifty!) an AIG cap, and an origami crane. The origami crane was also in purple, one of TNT’s colors. (Mary whas been a past participant, having walked the San Diego Rock N Roll marathon a few years ago for TNT.)
We got to talking about the origami crane, and we started talking about he history of it. While origami cranes have been around for centuries, it has a history in the 20th century involving leukemia.
In 1956 a young Japanese girl in 1956 named Sadako Sasaki was running a race and collapsed. Turns out, she had leukemia. As a toddler, she had been in Hiroshima and had been exposed to radiation.
According to a Japanese legend, the crane lives for a thousand years, and a sick person who folds 1,000 origami cranes will become well again. So, in an attempt to find a cure for her leukemia Sadako started on a quest to fold 1,000 of the cranes. While she passed away before getting to 1,000, she is remembered as a symbol of peace, along with the crane itself.
The ironies in this story really struck me. Here’s a young girl who discovered she had leukemia while running, while we run to find a cure for leukemia. Also, she attempted to find a cure for herself through legend, while we attempt to find a cure through funding scientific research.
Here’s hoping that the money we raise for research can help to keep other young girls like Sadako to be able to run later in life and survive leukemia.
I’ll be taking the crane with me on the run.
One of the challenges of my training this season is my work – I have an intense travel schedule this spring, so I’m working hard to keep up with the running while traveling. In previous weeks I wrote about running in Orlando and Denver. On March 28, I flew to Honolulu for a business meeting, and was to come back the next night on a red eye flight back to San Francisco. (I’ve made over 20 trips to Hawaii for work in the last five years. I’ve been able to enjoy some but mostly it’s work and not vacation fun.)
To keep from missing training, I’ve tried to run during every trip, either in the hotel gym or in the outdoors if I have a car. I arrived in Honolulu about 5 pm, went to the hotel, changed, and then drove to Ala Moana Park.
If you’ve been to Honolulu you might know the park – it’s right at the edge of downtown, between the downtown business district and Waikiki. It’s one of the largest urban parks in the US, and has its edge a very beautiful beach. I usually drive through it when I’m in the area, since even if I’m just working on this trip I can at least see a little sand and surf. It also has some nice ocean side trails, for about 3 ½ miles.
Just to prove I actually did it, I took some photos. The pics are a bit odd – I’m still trying to figure the best way to take pictures at night, and It was dark by the time I got there, so the yellowish night lights were on. But you can still make some of it out.
And, to top it off, I had time after I finished my meetings, and time before I left that night. So I went to the 24-Hour Fitness gym and did 45 minutes of elliptical cardio, plus some cross training, there. No pics of that, but I am proud of it.
I was the very fortunate beneficiary of support during my illness and recovery from a lot of people in a lot of areas — family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, business partners, — many many types of people. Some I’ve talked about so far, and others I will soon.
But there were a few surprises. When I say surprises, I don’t mean people, although some people I weren’t expecting to hear from. It was how I reacted that was the surprise. Certain people, either during my recovery, or the first time I saw them after, told me that they thought of me often, they prayed about me, or something similar. The big surprise was my response. I knew. I knew they had, and I had felt it. Not that I had felt it at that moment, but somehow, inside, I’d think, “Yes, you did. I know.”
It happened in a couple of instances with people who told me they had prayed for me. One of the people at AIG Consultants I work with, Beverly Cottle, told me that she had prayed for me in her church on most Sundays. Another person I hadn’t heard from in over 30 years, an old school friend in my older brother’s class, Brenda Taylor Baranowski, sent me a very nice letter that said she had her Sunday school class pray for me every Sunday, after she had heard about it from my brother Terry. I’m not a terribly traditionally religious person, but I somehow knew, and I knew it had made a difference.
I got the same feeling from every email and card, that said “our thoughts are with you,” I got it. It really makes me believe in the interconnectedness of life.
My favorite was from another AIG co-worker, Kristina Huff. She told me, when we got together as a group at an AIG Consultants national staff meeting the summer after my recovery, that on her refrigerator she had a map of the US, and a star over California. (She was in Georgia at the time.) She told me every time she went to the refrigerator, she’d look at that map, and that star, think of me, and say a prayer for my recovery.
You know, I’ve been working on this blog for over the month. Thinking about what Kristina told me was the first time I started crying. Yes, Kristina, I knew. Thank you.
And thank all of you.
One of the most important groups of people who supported me were my AIG collegues and friends, both in San Francisco and around the country.
I’ve already talked about how important my job was to me, and as I discovered a big part of why it’s important is the people. No one from AIG was able to come to visit, and to be honest being in semi-isolation and not feeling well having visitors from the SF office was not something that would have been good, anyway.
But I got so many cards and emails from all over the country. Like I said, I called Emily first after family when diagnosed. I know Emily had been in contact via email with both those around the country and in SF. And as soon as I had been able to email, I sent messages to all work and family to keep everybody updated.
I have a box in which I keep the get-well cards I got. I gotta say, there must be several hundred in there. Sam would bring in grocery sacks filled with cards that had come in the mail. Everybody in AIG Consultants at that time had sent a card. Most were funny; some were spiritual; some people sent numerous cards, seemingly one each day.
The people in the SF AIG offices didn’t send as many cards, but almost everyone sent emails. They would provide support, but in several cases, they’d talk about what was going on in the office — as if they were just wanting to keep me up to date on news. It was great — made me feel normal in a very abnormal time…..
You’ll never know how much all those cards and emails helped. It really made a huge difference in my outlook. I’ll never be able to express the gratitude I have for the outpouring of support those cards and emails represented.
I can’t name you all individually, but you know who you are.
Here’s a picture of the AIG Consultants for healthcare nationwide from the summer of 2002 at our staff meeting in Georgia. The folks who showed that support are around the table. (I call it the “Last Supper” picture, with the then-head of Healthcare consulting at the head of the table.)
And another pic from Stone Mountain. (Boy was it hot that day….)
While I don’t have pictures of the claims people in the SF offices who provided so much support, here are more pics from the Christmas party with the UW side of the office from December 2001.
See, I was loved.
There’s another person who’ll be with me when I train for and run the marathon — Peggy Cwik.
Peggy was the first person from AIG Consultants I met in person after I was hired. She was flown out to San Francisco to do my orientation in June 1999. And what a refreshing personality she provided; quite an interesting beginning.
Peggy has a life spirit and sense of humor of her very own. While she would often be cynical and quick witted, she had a heart of gold. She was a very hard worker, and was loved by her fellow consultants, her clients, and everyone. What she didn’t tell that many people was regularly she volunteered at a local nursing home almost every week.
I loved working with her, traveling with her, and talking about AIG and her life with her.
Then comes the surprise – just last spring we heard she was taking a few months off to begin chemotherapy for uterine cancer. She struggled most of 2006. And just after the first of the year, she relapsed, and finally succumbed to her illness.
Here’s hoping, just like with Aunt Martha, that the funds raised for Team in Training and the Society will help find treatments and cures that can help people with the life spirit Peggy had to live the life they desire. I’m running this season for you, too, Peggy.
History #10 – treatment – induction – first hospitalization – last week December 2001 – Merry Christmas…February 3, 2007 at 7:01 am | Posted in AIG, chemo side effects, My initial treatment -- induction, Sam Cantin, Susie Engard | Leave a comment
When I’ve spoken to groups for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society over the years, I sometimes started with a question – “What were you doing Christmas 2001?” My answer was, in Stanford Hospital getting treatment that would save my life. (A good opener – very dramatic and catchy.)
In the days before Christmas 2001, I had the preparations for chemo made as described above, but felt good. The mental attitude was another thing. All of the preparations increased the fear of the unknown. Mouth sores? Infections? I wasn’t having headaches from the ATRA, but still worried about that. And although the prognosis was good, there was that 20% possibility of not making it to remission or surviving. It was all still there, looming. And all one could do was to prepare, and think about it.
One thing that really helped was my connection to my work. At the time I was working as a healthcare consultant for a medical malpractice insurer, and my job was to travel to places all over the western US, including Alaska and Hawaii. I really enjoyed the travel, and the content of the work. I was able to do education and write professionally for work newsletters and other things. At the time of my illness, I had been working on a risk management newsletter for long-term care. I had an outline, and all the content laid out in bullet points. So I had asked to have my laptop brought to the hospital, and to keep my mind off the uncertainty I worked some on the publication. I also sent emails to my co-workers, not just about finishing that publication, but to tell them about how I was doing.
My connection to the people of my work was a godsend, too. I was always very open with what was going on, what was about to happen, and how I felt. I remember reading a story about a woman in the early years of treatment of breast cancer who went through treatment without telling anyone – most of the family, co-workers and friends – for a decade. She hid all the details of her illnesses, taking “vacations” when the symptoms and treatments got worse. Most never knew until just before she died.
I could never do that. I didn’t want to be private about this. There was something about telling others about what I was going through, and implicitly soliciting their thoughts and prayers, that I knew would help me. So I was emailing from the hospital room to not just work, but to old friends and all my family. Not long after admission, I started getting cards and calls from everyone. It really helped. Others started sending emails, just talking about normal routines and things that happened at work. It really really made a huge difference.
But I suppose the one thing that kept me sanest of all was Sam and Susie. One, or the other, or often both, had been there all the time those first few days. They were there through it all – the insertion of the pic line, the shaving of the head. And they kept me grounded – they worried about me, probably than I worried about me.
And probably the best thing they did for me was to make my Christmas and New Years of that holiday season as best it could be. They worked to find various kinds of foods I wanted, that I could eat. Sam made incredibly terrific homemade pecan pies – and he was smart enough to make enough for the staff, which made him very popular. I recall wanting pizza something fierce, which of course was off-limits (no cheese). Somehow they got some processed cheese and did something. I remember getting some kind of cheese at that time, and it was really great. They both decorated the room, and were there to help me make it through those times.
The best thing, though, was a gift Susie got me. I’ve mentioned it already in her own post honoring her, but it’s worth repeating here. She gave me a battery-operated candle, with a card on it that read, “To remind you there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
That’s exactly what I needed at that time. In fact, I still need it today. We all do.
More on the history of how I talked myself, or rather, let myself be talked, into running a marathon….
After finishing treatment in the summer of 2001, I was still on low dose chemotherapy and was still tired, roughly at about 75% of normal. I began volunteering for a Team in Training program, but as an honored patient, not as a participant.
I’ve thought of running a marathon with TNT for several seasons in the past couple of years as I got back to 100% health. I had really considered, told a few people, made a few plans. But I never could do it. I never thought I could finish it, with my travel commitments for work (I still have the same position, now as a manager, but with similar travel). Plus, I never thought I could finish mentally. What was holding me back was more a bit of confidence that I could complete it. Now, I have seen people of all shapes, sizes and abilities train over the years in TNT programs, and almost all finished their marathon. But that was others, not me. Yet another irony — some people when they go through a terrible life-threatening disease have a new appreciation for life, and attempt all sorts of things they never attempted before. For me, though, it didn’t work out that way.
I have other posts which go into detail about the reasons why I’m doing a marathon, from the perspective of the 5th year anniversary, the people I admire, and the need to raise funds. But from a purely athletic perspective, the reason I know I can do this now is a co-worker at AIG, Rene McGillicuddy.
Rene is another consultant from another division in AIG who I’ve known for years. She also has faced a similar health challenge that she’s overcome. After, she began running triathlons, having completed a few sprint distance triathlons. We were talking about her athletic experiences, and I mentioned my desire to eventually train and finish a marathon. She immediately told me I could, and encouraged me. Not just verbal — she has begun running with me after work, pushing me to run farther. Our runs on Marina Green towards the Golden Gate Bridge on afternoons are a great treat.
Since we began running last fall, I have gone from just being able to run a few minutes without stopping, to, as of last Saturday, January 20, I ran five miles. I have never run five miles in my life, but it seemed easy, the right thing to do. In a casual conversation recently Rene, without thinking about it, said “Gregg, you’re pretty athletic, and ….” I don’t recall the remainder of the sentence or the point. But I was honored to think someone would consider me something of an “athlete.” But that’s what you call someone who runs five miles, right?
I have thoroughly enjoyed running with Rene, and now feel fantastic when I run, just incredible. I now know that finishing a marathon is quite doable, and it will be done, even if at my own slow pace. There will be lots of people who will help me finish the marathon, but I can say that it was Rene who first got me to really understand I can run, and got me to understand the fantastic way you feel when you run.
So, on December 21, by the evening so far I had been to a hematologist, had been told I did in fact have leukemia, been set up in the morning to go to Stanford Hospital for an exact diagnosis and to start treatment, had told Sam and my boss Emily, and and finally broken down and cried. When I got over that, what to do now? What to think?
It was a surreal experience. I had several thoughts at that time. First, it seemed really hopeless. Without a specific diagnosis, which would come in the morning, there was no way to know the prognosis and potential outcome. So I was faced with not knowing what was going to be my life for the next few years. How can you have hope for a future — any future — not knowing what was going to happen? Was I going to have an easy time with it, or go through what little I had heard — years of treatment, severe, with multiple complications? Or perhaps even not making it? It was a very difficult moment.
I tried to do anything to figure out what might happen. Normally I’m a very inquisitive person, and will find lots of info about what I have and what I’m about to do. The only thing I could do at that time was to go on the internet. A bit of advice — unless you’re at a very reputable website that is frequently updated, never get health information from the internet. At least that was true in 2001. That evening I got on the internet, searched “leukemia,” but found stuff that was either very outdated, or very depressing. I have no idea what I actually did see, but what I tell people I saw was akin to “Fred’s Fishing Bait and Leukemia Page,” where someone just tells his story — with experiences much worse than what you can ever expect. And also I remember seeing material that had an extremely poor prognosis, talking about difficult treatments and poor survival rates. Much of that was several years old. I knew I was going to Stanford, and I would have the most up to date treatment there was, so it might be better than that. But there was no way to know.
Bottom line — Listen to your doctors, and don’t rely as much on the web for information. The docs will know best and have much more correct info than what you can find on your own in most cases.
Another thought that went through my head was that I didn’t want to end up as a “movie of the week.” You know, one of those really awful unnamed disease movies, that ends with the hero or heroine, very pale, saying goodbye to crying children and friends while stoic. It seemed like a clique. I couldn’t believe that it might end like that.
So, I knew I didn’t want to think about any of this. I didn’t know what to do to pass the time that evening, to not think. So what did I do?
I went to my office. And I packed.
Our offices were scheduled to move to another part of the floor in January. I knew that one of two things would happen to my stuff — either (1) someone would move my stuff while I recovered over the next few months or perhaps years, or (2) someone would pack my stuff after I died. Morbid, I know, but it was a time for morbid thoughts. So, to save anyone from packing my stuff after I died, and to give me something to do to get my mind off thinking, Sam (who had gotten up) took me into San Francisco, and I packed that night. It was a weird thing to do, but it helped.
Time to introduce and honor someone else who made a big difference in my treatment and recovery.
Emily Rhinehart has been my manager for the last six years, and was at the time of my diagnosis. As you may have read here, she was one of the first persons I shared my symptoms and what I had been thinking was happening (some kind of blood disease, I thought) before the first diagnosis. She was also the first person after Sam I talked to about my diagnosis. She was also the first person whom I broke down and cried while talking to when first diagnosed, and probably the only person other than Sam that I cried in front of during this whole experience.
Emily has been a delight from the beginning to work with. She’s smart, inquisitive, and entertaining to talk to. And to her credit, she’s always told me what a good job I do [wink], and has been very supportive. But more than any of that, her just being there that first night, and helping me through that first moment of weakness, was a moment I’ll never be able to forget.
Emily also played a big communication role throughout my recovery. In the six months I was on disability leave from work, she kept in contact with Sam and me, and kept everyone in AIG — both the consultants nationwide and the healthcare underwriting group in San Francisco — updated.
There were a LOT of people in AIG who made a difference, and I’ll post about them later. But for now, I have to thank Emily individually for helping me through that first night.
In the pic below, Emily is the woman with the shocking white hair. The other person with her is Claudia. Claudia was the consultant who was hired while I was recuperating, and became both a peer and a good friend. The picture was taken at the end of the Bay to Breakers in 2003. We walked together, NO running.
On December 21, even though I had a appointment with a hematologist that I implicitly knew would change my life, I went to work. At least I think I went to work that day, I can’t remember for sure what I did that day after the Christmas party with my co-workers. My appointment was at 4 in the afternoon. When I went in, the hematologist looked at me, looked at the bloodwork my primary care physician sent, and went into the other room. When he came back, he told me those words that changed my life — “You have leukemia.”
“You have leukemia.” I knew it was coming, but it still shocked me. I was numb.
He had no way of knowing what kind, or what the prognosis was, without further testing. So he went in the other room to had made arrangements for me to be worked up at the Hemotology Clinic at Stanford Hospital that next morning. He gave me the name of the hematology fellow — I remember talking to him on the phone in the first hematologist’s office that afternoon — and directions on where to go in the morning. I was scheduled for 7 am that next morning.
I went home. Sam was asleep (he had been working nights, and had to work that night, so he was sleeping to be ready for work that night). We talked a bit, and Sam reiterated that no matter what I would go through he would support and care for me during my recovery. He was terrific and supportive. He went back to bed, since he had to work.
I then didn’t know what to do, who to call. I tried calling my sister and for some reason she was unavailable, as was the rest of my family. Then, all I could think of was to call my boss Emily in Atlanta at home and tell her, well, I wouldn’t be at work for a while. I don’t remember much of the conversation, but I do remember breaking down on the phone with her. I was crying, she was crying. She was terrific, and said she would keep in touch with Sam to know what was going on.
More of what occurred that day in the next post.