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.