Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Getting back to the "old" normal?

Lots of little things are going on these days.  These are the kinds of things that I don't necessarily think about all the time.  They are also the kinds of things that get preempted when your life gets turned upside-down.

Last night, I was home by myself.  I skipped the day in the gym so my wife could go to her monthly "girls night out" night, after missing it for the previous 4 months, due to health reasons.  She had a lot of fun.  I sat at home and listened to music and tied flies.

Today, I spent an hour in the DMV getting the new Real ID license.  This had been a mess as the DMV lied to me a couple weeks ago, sent me to the social security office, who then pointed out that the DMV was wrong.  My license is fixed.  In the past 18 months, I've had no time in my life to get mad at the DMV.  Next, I take my battle back to the social security office.  And then a new passport.

I gave blood yesterday.  I was banned from giving blood for a year after my last cancer treatment.  My hematocrit levels were high enough that they suggested a double red cell donation next time.

My wife is done with radiation.  Her face still looks badly sunburned, but it's recovering bit by bit.  She is hoping to get to CrossFit and Sugarbush this week.

We are planning a trip to Pittsburgh later this spring, partly to see a hockey game and partly to just get away by ourselves for a while.

The super-cold temperatures have disappeared for at least a little bit, although it was very cold this morning.  Skiing this weekend should include more new snow and tolerable temperatures.

Trout season is just over 7 weeks away.  I tied some flies yesterday and ordered some more online.  I have 5 more weekends of ski instruction, and then March and April will be mixed weekends of fishing and skiing.

Now, if only my company could get a couple new contracts...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Almost forgotten in the midst of ski season

A year ago, I was still on the mend from surgery known as RALP - Robot-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy.  That surgery, on 1/6/2014, was the end of a 5 month period of time where I had a high PSA test result, two more high results, a biopsy of my prostate, and a diagnosis of prostate cancer.  To be honest, my wife has gone through worse issues in the past 6 months, but that diagnosis and surgery really shocked me and changed my life.  Aside from a simple skin cancer, I don't think that anyone ever feels like their life after a cancer diagnosis is ever the same again.  Mine certainly hasn't been the same.

Since the surgery, I've had my PSA tested 5 times.  In some ways, prostate cancer really is one of those "good" cancers.  If it does kill you, it usually takes a long time for it to happen.  And, when it spreads, it doesn't disguise itself.  No matter where it moves in your body, it is still prostate cancer and it still produces PSA.  So, unlike many other cancers, a simple PSA blood test will tell you if the cancer is active or not.  I have had tests in April, July, October and December of last year, and January of this year.  Two of the 5 tests were done using an "ultra sensitive assay", meaning they could detect lower levels of PSA in the bloodstream.

But, in all 5 tests, the machines failed to detect any PSA at all.  According to some calculators online, I have a 98% chance of being free of prostate cancer a year from now, and an 84% chance of being clear in 15 years.  Many doctors will start to use the word "cured" at 5 years.  At 5 years without recurrence, according to the online calculators, I would have a 91% chance of being recurrence free at 15 years.

My life has changed.  I will be anxious for every single PSA test for the rest of my life.  The side effects of the surgery truly suck.  I have done better than the average patient in my recovery, probably due to my fitness regime, or maybe just luck or the skills of the surgeon, but some things will never be the same.  To be honest, some of those permanent changes are frustrating, but I can't undo my treatment decisions.  I can only move forward and hope that future prostate cancer patients have better treatment options than I had.

So, where am I?  I appear to be free of cancer at the moment.  I'm in pretty good physical shape for an old fat guy.  I'm teaching skiing like I have for the past 13 years.  I'm in the gym 3-4 days per week.  I'm getting ready for trout season, which starts 8 weeks from tomorrow.  I have been setting new PRs in the gym for the last 6 months.

Life is pretty good.  My primary focus for the past few months has been helping my wife navigate the healthcare system due to a rare form of melanoma and a troubling uterine fibroid problem.  Her treatments are over and she is on the mend these days.  She even skied last weekend and did a CrossFit workout this week.

Bit by bit, we hope to get back to the less exciting (but certainly fun) way we lived our lives prior to all of this cancer nonsense.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Amazing skiing conditions

The past couple weekends have been pretty amazing.  We haven't had the snow amounts here in Vermont that people in Boston have seen, but we've had plenty of snow.  Because my students are mostly 7 years old, I am still somewhat limited in my terrain choices, but not for the reasons that most people would think.  It's actually the lift system that is the issue, rather than the terrain.  Most of the upper mountain lifts are fixed grip lifts, and my students struggle to get on those lifts and operate the safety bars properly.  So, we spend most of our time skiing on terrain that can be accessed by detachable chairs.

Another issue is that boys that age don't really think about safety.  There are a lot of rules that exist (for good reasons) to keep us safe when we ski in the trees.  Goggles on.  Pole straps off.  Everyone has a buddy.  Stay with your buddy.  Go 20 turns or so and then everyone regroups.  Keep a safe distance between skiers.  Ski in control.  Exit the trees onto trails carefully.  First person to exit spots for the rest of the group.  And there are a few more situational rules as well.

That's a lot of rules for me to remember.  Asking a group of high energy 7 year old boys to follow all of them all the time is an exercise in futility.  My biggest issue is the failure to regroup partway down the trail.  My students act like they are hypnotized by the terrain as soon as I say the word "Go."  They head downhill and they don't stop until they are out of the trees.  This creates a situation that is usually OK, but with the potential for bad things to happen.  In big glades, they spread out over a wide range, and I can't see them all.  It becomes easy for me to end up downhill from someone, or even leave a skier behind.  This could lead to a catastrophic event, and I'm simply not willing to take the chance.  So, despite the amazing terrain, I have to pull the boys out of the trees sometimes, simply to remind them that not following the rules has consequences.

The snow was so deep last Saturday that we actually lost a ski.  We were in un-tracked snow on the lower mountain and a boy took a fall in a stream bed.  He was leading and the 5 boys behind him then tracked up the stream bed behind him.  When I arrived, the boy had no idea where his ski had popped off, and we looked for over 45 minutes with no luck.  On Sunday, while out of bounds, the same boy did a pole plant, the pole stuck, and he skied almost 100 yards before he realized his pole was gone.  (Don't even ask me how that happens.) Luckily, I was able to backtrack and find the pole.  In May, I will go for a hike and find his lost ski.  But for now, the mountain owns the ski.

On Monday, I took a day off work to ski with a good friend, who is also a much better skier than I am.  We warmed up on a cruiser.  Then, a single black diamond bump run.  And then, straight to the trees.  By the time we took a lunch break, a bit after noon, we had covered a lot of steep tree terrain. Most, if not all, of the tree runs we had skied aren't on any trail map, even though Sugarbush has a lot of gladed terrain on the map.  My legs were begging for mercy.

After lunch, we did it all over again.  Luckily, my friend had to drive home to CT that night, so he had to quit at 3:00.  My legs were shot, but I would put Monday on my list of top 10 all time ski days.  The snow was great, the terrain was fun, and I was able to just relax and ski with friends.  As much as I love my weekend job as an instructor, it is a job and I have responsibilities all day long.  I sometimes forget how much fun it can be to just ski hard terrain.  Even when we do training before work on the weekends, it's not quite the same.  I enjoy that time, but we are constantly evaluating each other's skiing, dissecting movements, and having technical discussions about skiing and teaching.  Monday made me a little bit envious of people who just ski for fun.

This coming weekend is going to be a challenge.  It's the start of the final holiday week of the ski season.  We will have big crowds, given the holiday and the snow conditions.  And, the toughest weather conditions of the season will be hitting us, especially on Sunday.  Our current forecast for Sunday shows a high near -5F, with significant winds all day.  If I was skiing as a hobby, I would stay home and tie flies all day (trout season is just over 8 weeks away).  Most parents will probably keep their children out of ski school that day.  But, some will show up.  At that point, it's my job to keep the students as warm as possible and safe, and that includes safe from frostbite.  These are very challenging days for the students and the instructors, but I try to always keep a good attitude and keep the students focused on the skiing part of the day.

Other than skiing, everything else is about the same as normal.  I'm trying to get to CrossFit at least 3x per week.  Today will be my 3rd day this week and my 7th straight day of either CrossFit or skiing.  I'm looking forward to a rest day tomorrow.

My wife finished her radiation treatments yesterday.  She is feeling pretty run down, but she also did her first CrossFit workout in 2.5 months last night.  She scaled the workout quite a bit, but it was good to see her out there.  She still has a lot of recovery ahead of her - recovering from the side effects of the radiation, following up with doctors frequently, and then regaining her lost fitness.  She did ski this past Sunday - her first ski day since November.  She only skied 5 runs, but she was happy to be at Sugarbush and to see her friends again.

Life is pretty good right now, although I am looking forward to the day when my wife is feeling stronger she's a bit happier than she is right now.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

More tree skiing

Last week was off to a great start.  I had a great lifting night on Monday, hitting some good numbers on front squats after skiing trees all weekend.  On Tuesday, though, I really struggled with my workout.  By the time I got home that night, it was clear that I was getting sick.  I had a cold back in the second week of November.  I remember thinking that I was glad to have it then, thinking I'd go through the ski season without any head colds.  In mid-December, though, I got another cold.

Again, I thought that would be it for the winter.  I'm now on my third head cold of the fall/winter.  This time, my wife got sick as well, and she's pretty miserable right now.

So, I rested last Wednesday and Thursday.  Friday, I had plans that precluded going to the gym, and I was still less than 100%.  That meant I got to the mountain on Saturday fairly well rested.  Saturday was a beautiful day, with temps that climbed just above freezing.  After some warm-up runs, I did a little teaching, and we then headed for some intermediate tree runs.  The kids asked about skiing Slide Brook, a side-country zone with intermediate trees that leads well beyond the resort boundaries.  This zone requires a guide with wilderness first aid certification, and the guides were all busy on Saturday.  When I told my group that we couldn't ski Slide Brook, one of them asked if we could ski Rumble instead.

Every mountain has its own version of Rumble.  At Stowe, it would be Goat.  At Mad River Glen, it would be Paradise.  Essentially, picture something with all natural snow, no grooming, steep, tight, and with features to dance around the entire way down.  Every 1 of my 5 students wanted to ski Rumble.  I asked who had skied it before, and only 2 of the boys had.  So, we headed to the Castlerock chairlift.

After a fairly long wait, we managed to get up to the top.  I was surprised by the coverage on Rumble.  It wasn't completely clean, but it was pretty good overall.  The boys didn't listen very well as I described the trickier sections of the trail, so we had a couple minor "incidents" on a right-turning corner defined by 2 big rocks.  After we cleared that section, it was a race to the bottom.  Everyone cruised through the bump lines to the bottom.  We skied a few more tree lines in the afternoon, but Rumble was clearly the highlight of the day.

Sunday turned out to be a fairly cold day, and I was worried about hypothermia if we tried Slide Brook that day.  But, I was able to find a guide for us, plus my boss decided to come along for her first ever trip through the basin.  I was able to lead most of the way down (normally, I'm the sweeper in the trees, and leading is a lot more fun), and we went really fast at places.  The coverage was good enough that nothing too big was sticking through the snow, so we motored along.

Regretfully, when we were done, the line for the bus back to the resort was very long, and I think we waited almost 45 minutes.  This cut into our skiing time for the day, but I still showed the boys some new and adventurous terrain.

It's looking like #Snowmageddon2015 (that's the trending hash tag on Twitter for the past 24-plus hours) is going to mostly miss the Sugarbush.  I'm sure we will get some snow there, but anything beyond 6" or so would be a miracle.  The forecast doesn't show any days above freezing, so the snow should stay fairly soft until the weekend.  Regretfully, after 4 of the previous 6 weekend days being fairly cold, this Saturday looks to be the coldest ski day of the season to date.  But, we will still be out there.

My head cold is mostly gone by now, but not 100%.  I got to CrossFit last night and had another good front squat night.  My goal right now is to go to CF today, tomorrow and Thursday, and then rest on Friday.

On this date last year, I was 3 weeks post-op for some significant surgery.  I was starting to play around in the gym a bit, and I wasn't skiing yet.  So, when I complain about having a head cold, I know it's really minor compared to a year ago.  I'll take this January over last year every time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Into the trees!

I had a decent workout week last week.  I got to CrossFit 3 times, and I felt strong on my front squats on Tuesday.  Thursday's workout was tough, and I was ready for a rest day by Friday, knowing that snowfall through the week had changed the skiing conditions dramatically.

We had the green light on Saturday to start exploring tree lines.  I had 6 of my 7 students, and one of them got a late start to the season, so he's a bit behind the others.  Because of that, I focused on intermediate tree runs in the mid-mountain.  It was a brutally cold day, and I didn't want to force a group of 7 year old students to the summit anyway.  We had a lot of fun in the intermediate tress - Eden, Pump House Woods (not on any map), the Gallery (also not on any map), and Lower Domino Woods (not an official tree run, but its location is fairly obvious).  My biggest issue was having the boys stick to our safety protocols.

I am noticing one big difference between the older students I had the last few years and the students I have this year.  The older students simply tune out adults at times.  The 7 year old students seem to listen, but 30 seconds later, they can't recall a word that I've said.

We have a handful of rules in the trees.  Goggles on.  Pole straps off.  Everyone has a buddy.  Never abandon your buddy.  Everyone stays in sight of everyone else.

I'm happy with how most of these rules are being followed, but the last one is an issue.  When presented with a large glade, the boys just want to go.  They spread out quickly.  In a fairly open glade like Eden, I can stand at the top and see just about everyone.  But, in the Gallery, 2 of the boys pushed far, far to the right and used a different exit than the rest of us.  For a couple minutes, I had no idea where they were.  This might not sound like a big issue, but if someone gets stuck in a tree well or gets hurt, and I don't know where they are, this can be a major safety issue.  On a day as cold as Saturday or on very difficult terrain, the risks are amplified.  I spent a lot of time reinforcing the rules this weekend, but once people start moving, the rules seem to be forgotten.

Sunday, I had all 7 of my students for the first time this season.  It was also much warmer than Saturday, and I took that opportunity to spend most of the morning teaching some skills.  Just before lunch, we skied a popular tree line that ends in a creek bed shaped like a natural half pipe.  I found the snow a bit thin, but the boys blasted through it at high speed.

Because a lot of people wanted to beat an oncoming storm, and people wanted to watch the Patriots play Sunday night, a few students left at lunchtime.  As we headed out from lunch, I realized I had some of my strongest skiers remaining.  The boys asked if we could ski Egan's Woods.  My first thought was no, because I'd heard it was somewhat icy under the snow.  But, the temperature was above freezing, so I agreed.  We did skip the tree line above Egan's and used the standard entrance.  Things were a bit firm and thin, but it was a fun line.  On the next chair ride, the boys asked to ski the steep tree line known as Christmas Tree Woods.  They had skied the previous line so well that I agreed.  As we entered this line from The Mall, I reminded them to stay within sight of each other.  This is a line that gets wider and wider as you descend, and it's easy to get separated.

And, before we got halfway down, we were indeed separated, with 2 boys skiing near The Mall (the line I'd recommended) and 2 others skiing by Stein's Run.  At one point, I was helping one boy who had popped a ski off.  As I got him going again, I could hear the other pair yelling to me, but I couldn't understand what they were saying.  I basically yelled for them to head down and towards The Mall, but I wasn't sure if they could hear me.

Not wanting to take a chance, I pushed towards Stein's and found one of the boys stuck in a small pine tree.  I got him back together and had them start pushing back towards The Mall, but we couldn't catch the other 2.  Then, the same boy, who was clearly getting tired, got stuck again.  I asked him and his partner to abandon the tree line and ski to The Mall, but it took them a long time to pull that off.  Once I knew they were on the trail, I headed down to find the other 2.  They had followed protocol and I found them quickly.  But, it still took 10 more minutes for the other pair to clear snow from boots, put skis back on, and ski down.

So, we ended up separated for 20 minutes or so.  With teenagers, this would not make me uncomfortable.  But, with the younger boys, I was concerned for a bit.

The mountain has received another 17" of snow since Sunday.  We will clearly be in the trees again next weekend.  And, I'm going to have to say it over and over and over, but we need to all stay in sight of each other.  Safety always comes first, and for me to keep them safe, I have to know where they are.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Cold weekend at Sugarbush

I was surprised at the turnout with my ski group this weekend.  Six of the 7 boys showed up, ready to ski, despite cold temperatures and high winds.  It was so cold that I really couldn't do any teaching outside.  I had to keep the kids moving all the time to keep them warm.

We had a couple inches of fresh snow and early skiing was a lot of fun.  Stein's Run had gotten a lot of man-made snow during the week and it was groomed on Friday night.  It looked like a lot of fun.  But, of the students who showed up, it was the first day of the season for one of the boys.  I watched him on some easier black diamond terrain (Waterfall, Lower Organgrinder) and it was clear he wasn't ready to go to Stein's.  I was afraid he would get up there, feel some fear, and his form would regress so badly that it would take weeks to recover.  So, we passed on Stein's.  We spent a lot of time in the NASTAR course, where I witnessed a few students completely unlearn all I've worked on for the past few weeks.  I've been so focused on getting these boys to turn by standing tall and rotating the skis under the body, and then in the race course, half the group reverted to turning by rolling their shoulders to initiate the turn.  That gave me something to work on Sunday morning.

Sunday's weather was a repeat of Saturday, and this time, I taught a lesson, but I did it indoors.  We then went outside and I gave a quick demo of what I wanted them to do.  I was very happy that they all got it, did it reasonably well, and they all wanted confirmation that they had done it correctly.  From there, we returned to the NASTAR course and everyone stayed more upright, facing down the fall line, and turned their legs under their bodies a bit better.  There was still some shoulder rolling, but not nearly as much as the day before.

At lunchtime, the student who was there for his first weekend went home early.  Snow guns were blowing snow on Stein's and we headed there right after lunch.  The snow was variable and challenging, but it was mostly the steepness combined with poor visibility that made the run difficult.  My tendency is to be the "sweep" for my group.  That way, if anyone takes a fall, I can ski down to help out, rather than having to hike uphill to help.  But, the group is so fast that I can normally ski pretty fast as the sweep.  On this run, I could see a bit of apprehension in a couple skiers, and I had to slow down to make sure I stayed in back.  Even though a couple boys slowed down, they did manage to maintain a good stance and didn't regress at all.

Finally, about 1:00 or so, the winds seemed to be dying down.  We managed to get two runs in a row off Super Bravo with no breaks to warm up - the first time we did that all weekend.  At 2:00, we took a hot chocolate break, and when we got back outside at 2:30 or so, the wind had really picked up again.  We skied two runs off Gatehouse and the wind was whipping groomed granular snow into the air.  At times, it felt like my face was being sandblasted.

Monday would have been the day to ski of the last 3.  It snowed all day and the winds were greatly reduced.  But, I was back in my office, trying to catch up with work.  I've taken off a lot of time over the past 2 months to help my wife with some medical issues, and I seem to never catch up at work.  Right now, it's time to focus on that for a while.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2015 off to a slow start, but it's for good reasons

I rested on New Year's Day.  I was going to do CrossFit on 1/2, but it was my birthday, and my wife talked me into a date at our favorite local taproom.  I taught skiing on the 3rd and 4th, and we skied hard, especially on the 4th.

And then things got weird.  My wife has been fighting a gynecological issue since just before Thanksgiving.  This past Monday, we finally had a visit with the specialist we wanted to see.  After a somewhat invasive examination, the doctor wanted to do surgery as quickly as possible.  She tried to do it that afternoon, but couldn't get a team and an OR as quickly as she wanted.  But, due to the urgency of the situation, she got my wife scheduled for the next day.  We were happy to have this scheduled so quickly, but obviously worried that the doctor considered it that critical.

After the appointment, I went to CrossFit and my wife went back to work for a while.  When my wife picked me up after CrossFit, she was not smiling at all.  It seemed that the exam had re-triggered her bleeding, which had already taken us to the ED twice before.  We were an hour from home and only 10 minutes from the hospital.  We talked things over.  We went and got dog food and talked some more.  My wife made one more stop, and came back to car saying we should go to the hospital now.

If we went home, and the bleeding really accelerated overnight, her options for local treatment were probably going to be limited, and very invasive.  Or, she might have ended up in an ambulance or helicopter, at risk for bleeding to death before we could get her somewhere.

We got to the ED of the hospital where she was scheduled for surgery.  We explained the situation.  We jumped to the top of the triage line and got a room immediately.  And then we waited a lot for the next 6 hours.  We saw people off and on, they were doing IVs and monitoring her blood levels.  Her surgeon was called.  We eventually talked to the nighttime OB/GYN staff, and they were ready to operate immediately if needed.  Luckily it didn't come to that.  My wife was finally admitted and I went home for a few hours of sleep.

The next morning, due to blood loss, they moved my wife up earlier in the OR schedule.  The goal was to try a minimal intervention technique, and hope that stopped the bleeding and resolved the issue.  But, if it didn't, they would proceed to a hysterectomy.  Due to my wife's blood loss, they prepped 8 units of blood for surgery.

Before noon, she was off to the OR, and my daughter and I were left waiting.  We had been told it would take 2 hours.  At 2.5 hours, I was really worried that they had needed to do the hysterectomy.  Finally, the anesthesiologist came and talked to us.  Everything had gone great, but they were holding her in the OR for just a little bit.  Her red blood counts were low and they needed to be sure the bleeding was under control before they gave up the OR and the instant access to blood.

Finally, she was released to PACU.  I got to see the surgeon at that point, and she was concerned about blood loss (her hematocrit was 20.0 - right on the edge of needing a transfusion).  I'm willing to bet that all of the training that my wife does, which keeps her in great shape, helped her to pull through without needing blood.

The next day, she was released and she is at home, recovering.  It will take a while to rebuild her blood supply, so she will be tired for a while.  But, for the first time since Thanksgiving, her mood was light and happy last night.  This has been an unpleasant process for her, including 3 visits to an ED along the way.  It's been expensive, on top of a lot of medical costs last year.  But, the problem was solved without a major invasive surgery, and in a couple weeks, she will probably be back in the gym.

Today, I'm at work while my wife rests.  I will get to the gym tonight - only my second CF class of the year on the 8th of the month.