Facing Chemotherapy




I finished my second round of chemotherapy this week.

Up until now, the thought of the c-word conjured images of drinking a nasty concoction akin to weed killer. How else would you explain the array of side effects? I mean, I might as well go buy some Miracle Grow and ingest that—at least I could drink the poison in my own time rather than go through the rigmarole at the hospital.

If it’s not clear, chemotherapy is the part of my cancer journey that I have least wanted to face. In reality, I have feared it. It seemed to make my cancer so “official.” Up until now, people have often told me, “Wow, you don’t look sick.” I liked that and wasn’t ready to give it up.

But, sooner or later I knew I would have to face chemo.

That’s how I found myself at the Avera Infusion Center on a Thursday afternoon. I pictured all of the patients organized in neat rows in a large room, like a bingo parlor. But here there are no prizes to win, though at Avera, each patient does get their own room, complete with a reclining chair and flat screen TV. I was thankful for the privacy and comfort.

Rather than having to drink chemo, they actually infuse it through an IV.

First they start with a liquid bag of anti nausea stuff, then saline, and finally the cisplatin (chemo.) Surprisingly, I could not taste or feel the solution. Yet after a few hours of the infusion, I began to feel bloated and uncomfortable. But not sick.

That came the next day. It started around noon. My stomach began feeling a bit unsettled and by dinnertime, I had absolutely no appetite and I felt like throwing up. Nausea is this heavy feeling that takes over your body, though directed through your stomach. You feel tired and unsettled and it can be accompanied by a bad taste in your mouth. The thought of food is revolting. The only way to feel better, other than for time to pass, is to lie down.

And once lying down, TV proved a nice distraction. Lucky for me there was a channel playing back-to-back James Bond movies. In between fitful naps, I watched parts of movies, including the The Spy Who Loved Me, where Bond skis through a beautiful Austrian powder field, only to be chased by several Soviet soldiers on skis.

There were plenty of other movies, too, including the classic, Goldfinger, whose villain is obsessed with all things gold. In my suffering slumber, sometimes it was difficult to differentiate between the movie and reality.

“Ah Mr. Lawrence, I too have a new toy,” says Goldfinger. “You are looking at an industrial laser. It can locate a spot on the moon, or at closer range, cut through solid metal.”

Tied to a chair, the laser began to inch its way toward my crotch, while I sat there sweating.

“Ok Goldfinger, you’ve made your point,” I say.

“Careful,” Goldfinger says. “Your next witty remark could be your last.”

Of course, I find a way to narrowly escape, and do away with Goldfinger. And thus goes the famous scene.

Unfortunately my nauseous haze continued for another day or two—long enough for me to catch more bits and pieces of Bond movies. In all, I watched saw four different actors playing the famous British agent— Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton and Sean Connery (my favorite). Though, by now I was getting rather bored of TV and kept hoping I’d feel better.
It turns out my sickness could have been avoided in part. I later found out I was taking too low a dose of Zofran, an anti nausea drug. I certainly paid a high price! The next week during my second round of chemo I got the Zofran dosage right and felt much better—good enough to even go watch one of my niece’s soccer games and go out for dinner.

And so maybe chemo is not quite as bad as I thought. If I stay on top of my meds, the nausea can be significantly reduced. And, as far as other side effects, my doctor said I probably won’t lose much hair (if any). I’m sure there could be other side effects, but none that I’ve noticed thus far.

Then again, we will see what happens when they add the other two parts of chemo, which includes immunotherapy.

Following my Double O Seven Binge, I took a break from TV for the next several days. Though, the movies did make an impression. I realized I was quoting a lot of lines, some obscure and some well known. When my wife asked me if I wanted some ice water to drink, I quipped: “Sure…but shaken, not stirred.”

Even without logging the view time I did, she easily caught the reference.






A Different Kind of Backcountry Journey

It’s now mid May, and though Colorado’s resort ski season has wound down, the backcountry skiing in the high peaks couldn’t be more prime. What’s crazy is that I haven’t even been skiing once since December, making this the least amount of skiing I’ve done since I lived in Florida.

This was not how I saw the winter going. I planned for Backcountry Beacon to be filled with tales of ski adventures from winter 2015/2016, including many skimo races. Skimo, or ski mountaineering racing, is a fast growing endurance sport in mountain states where athletes race uphill on skins and fly downhill on super light weight gear. Not for the faint of heart, the sport is one of the most aerobically challenging workouts I have ever done. I have dabbled in skimo the past few years, but this season I wanted to compete in more races, including the Grand Traverse, and at the race division level (in the past I’ve stuck to the recreational division). Of course, I would be balancing this with my already busy life—helping lead an outdoor ministry in Colorado along with being a husband and dad.

These were my plans for the winter, yet three circumstances quickly derailed them, including a lost ski, a minor back injury, and some interesting health news.

Here’s the story.


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Though my ski days were few and far between this year, I did manage to have a few worthwhile outings, like this December powder day at Butler Fork. 

The lost ski happened on a Monday in early November. A buddy of mine and I decided to ski at Jone’s Pass, which had received a few feet of snow in the recent weeks. Early season skiing is always a little dicey because of the high potential to hit rocks and tree stumps that would normally be buried. I often wait until at least December to ski, but my stoke factor was unusually high this year because of my desire to race. In fact, as early as September and October, I was already thinking a lot about the season and training for it.

After skinning to the top of the top of the pass, my buddy skied first down the moderately sloped face. Then it was my turn. After about 10 decent turns, I tagged a rock and my right ski popped off, sending me tumbling. About 2-3 feet in depth, the snowpack easily cushioned my fall. I stood up, unhurt, and started searching for my ski. After 20 minutes without any luck, I grew I annoyed. After searching for two hours, I grew desperate. What had happened to my ski? It was maddening. Did it get wedged under a rock? Had it shot down hill (my skis had brakes but no leashes)? I felt like a conspiracy theorist trying to pin down the latest hair-brained JFK theory.

Eventually, I gave up looking. Leaving without my ski was extremely defeating, to say the least.

I wasn’t about to give up. I returned the next day, but this time with a metal detector, upon the suggestion of a buddy who heard about the idea on Teton Gravity Research. I hoped that technology might help, but the three-hour search proved fruitless. After 10 seasons of backcountry skiing, losing a ski in such a shallow snowpack was an ironic twist.

I began to wonder if there were forces at work trying to keep me from skiing—at least that’s the way it felt. I considered searching one more time at Jone’s Pass, but then a snowstorm dropped 16 inches of powder in the mountains, thus ending any hope of finding the ski until summer.

Also, a new injury also threatened my racing plans. A seemingly minor back sprain from late October grew much worse. After skiing on a frigid day at Berthoud Pass (wind chill of -21 degrees F) in late December, my lower back muscles tightened and eventually spasmed, which was crazy painful and ended the ski day early.

Physical therapists puzzled over the cause but assured me the injury would heal on its own in a few weeks. As the weeks passed into January and February, the injury kept getting worse. Frustrated, I insisted that my doctor give me an MRI. He was reluctant, but I kept persisting. What they discovered made my ski troubles seem suddenly insignificant.

I will never forget that phone call on Monday, March 21. The doctor told me the cause of my pain was not the result of a mere sports injury, but from a tumor in my spine. Even worse, the tumor seemed like it was spreading from somewhere else in my body. He recommended I see an oncologist, ASAP.

My wife and I were devastated, not to mention scared.

Things moved quickly from there. After being unimpressed with the oncology care in Longmont, my family suggested we travel to my hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Midwestern city boasts surprisingly top-notch health care and we knew that we would need the support of family.

Elizabeth and I and our daughter took a direct flight from Denver to Sioux Falls. Meanwhile, my brother and a family friend drove our Subaru from Longmont to Sioux Falls. By Monday, we met with several doctors and took tests to try and figure out answers to some critical questions: what type of cancer did I have? How serious is it? What is the next step?

The next few weeks were a blur of tests and medical appointments (more on the results in a future post). All I can say is that I did not choose this journey, but I am grateful for the Lord’s provision along the way. Though we have felt a bit like refugees being displaced from our happy life in Longmont, the care and support we have received in Sioux Falls has proven pivotal for us.

In the end, I would have much preferred a more typical winter. Anything sounds more enjoyable than cancer and chemotherapy. But here we are. God has my family and I on a much different path then I would have chosen, but I trust his plan and leading in this.

In light of this new journey, the content of Backcountry Beacon will be changing a bit from my original intent. Obviously cancer is a very different challenge than skiing a steep backcountry couloir. Instead of chronicling my latest outdoor adventure, this blog will focus for now on my cancer journey.

That doesn’t mean the essence of this blog will change. I intentionally chose to keep using this blog, rather than creating a new one. Even though I might not be getting outside as much as I’d like to for awhile, I certainly still value it. I am still a semi-serious/recreational outdoor athlete who loves adventuring in God’s Creation. Whether with cancer or cancer free, those values won’t change!

I want Backcountry Beacon to reflect that. I look forward to bringing you along with me on this journey.

IMG_5068.jpgMy wife, Elizabeth, had envisioned creating a snowbird like this for quite some time, in honor of the “Littlest Bird” in our nest. A March snowstorm provided the perfect conditions to make it happen. We used Lindor chocolates for the eyes and fallen tree branches for the nest.