All posts by johnkuby@gmail.com

A full year after my radiation treatment

It has been a full year since my last radiation treatment so I am writing this blog to bring you up to date on my progress. I have not blogged for the last few months. Linda and I have been very busy, too busy to blog, as you will see as you read on.

My new normal is here. Normal is not what it used to be; but it’s not too bad. I have changed; in some ways for the better and in others for worse. I am proud of myself for having survived and for blogging about the experience but in many ways it has humbled me and left me feeling vulnerable. I am physically weaker and somehow less vibrant. Cancer can do that to a person I guess. My challenge now is to get my vibrancy back.

I have not blogged for a few months, so to bring you up to speed with everything will be hard. I am writing this partially to catch you up on where I am at and partially because I find I miss writing the blog. I miss the writing and I miss having readers. I miss knowing I am connecting with readers out there who care.  I suspect I don’t have many readers left, but I have no doubt there are people out there who care. That is one thing this blogging experience taught me. People care.

I quit blogging because I felt the drama of my cancer story was over. I had survived a challenging experience, there was no more drama.  The story was over, so why continue.

I also did not have time to write it. I got caught up in turning the blog into a book which is time consuming. It’s still not done. I am only half way through editing it.

I have also been distracted by my rapidly unfolding life. In late May, Linda and I started the first leg of our retirement travel plans by driving our Sprinter van, our “Casita” (little home), to Vancouver Island. The trip was supposed to last a month. We had such a great time, and the Vancouver Island is so nice, we decided to stay. We bought a condo in Comox, BC. A great place to retire.  Now we ae moving. The plan is to resume our travelling once we are settled in Comox.

Right now, we are back in Edmonton preparing for our move. We take possession of our new place in late August. There is a lot to do. Purging our belongings, packing, getting a mover, renting out our home here, selling our rental property, trading our two older cars in on one nice one, saying good bye to friends.

We came back in early July to get started and we have been busy, busy, busy. We move out at the end of August and will be in Comox early in Sept to meet our the movers with our stuff. My sister Shenta and her husband Gary are also moving from Edmonton to Courtney, right near Comox, at exactly the same time. They bought a house 10 minutes from us.

Life  has just taken over and has left me no time for blogging. But here I am again.

This is a cancer journey blog so let’s get on with that part of my life. It’s a year from the end of treatment so to make the story complete I feel an update is required.

I recently had my 12 months from treatment CT scan and met with Dr. Debenham for the follow up. My throat looks healthy. No signs of cancer.

There are signs I am aspirating and food is getting into my lungs. The spots on my lungs, shown in the last CT scan, which are indications of food having entered my lungs, have receded but are not gone. There are new ones now.

My epiglottis has hardened and my swallow has been impacted. As I have described before, I have trouble getting the food down because of the lack of saliva so often when I swallow I chase the food down with water. There is always a chance I will aspirate (liquid or food going down my air passage) because the epiglottis does not fully cover my air passage as it would have normally.

I am still working with my swallowing coach, Anna. She has me doing exercises that may or may not help develop my swallowing muscles. I did the exercises faithfully for a couple of months but recently not so much. Too busy. I went for testing this week to see if there has been any improvement. They take X ray images to show my swallow in action and watch water go down to see if some escapes into the air way to my lungs. Turns out that it still does. I am controlling it better using techniques from my swallowing exercises but for the most part I can not sense or detect it slipping down the wrong way. When I begin to aspirate I usually choke and cough the water back up into my esophagus, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. Unfortunately, I am apparently aspirating sometimes without even being aware of it.

So, what are the consequences? The liquid that gets to my lungs is a potential source of bacteria that can cause pneumonia. Pneumonia can kill an old man. Especially if the old man gets pneumonia repeatedly, and the risk is higher the older and more frail the old man is.

What can I do? Three things. First; thicken the water I drink with meals. There are thickeners I can add to my water that makes it slide down past the wind pipe opening with less risk of aspiration. I am now using it and it seems to work. Second; brush my teeth frequently and make sure my mouth is clean despite not having normal saliva levels. Manually do the job that my saliva does. I have found that chewing sugarless gum also helps keep my mouth clean. Third; be physically active so that my lungs are healthy and naturally moving any accumulated wastes. The first two are new aspects of my new normal. The third one is not new but it has become even more important. So, I can’t stop riding my bike, weight training and doing yoga.  Not the worst life sentence.

I also have to get myself to a hospital any time I have a fever. A fever could be a sign of infections in my lungs. Something I always have to be aware of.

Other than my swallowing issues I seem to be healthy. I look good. Skinny in an ‘old man’ way, not in an ‘I have been sick’ kind of way. My face has more wrinkles but my eyes still sparkle.

I am eating well these days. I eat everything except spicy foods. My tongue and the skin at bottom of my mouth have developed a sensitivity to spices and they explode in my mouth. Something is going on that Dr. Debenham did not predict and does not know what to do about. I have what are sores or sensitive areas in my mouth that are always there.

Occasionally they get worse or they flare up and bother me but mostly they are not too bad. Spices charge them up so I avoid spices. They are also sensitive to something in normal toothpaste so even brushing my teeth is a bit of a problem. I recently found a new toothpaste called GUM that does not aggravate my mouth.  I try to control the sores by gargling with salt water and it kind of works. I am not sure if they will ever go away. It is frustrating but manageable. I think of it as a small challenge compared to the ones I would have had if they had decided to operate and had to take my tongue out.

I am having trouble gaining my weight back. I still weigh 148 pounds. I get up to 150 pounds but I lose it easily and sometimes go down to 146. Tough for most people to imagine, I know, but gaining weight is hard. I rarely feel hungry and eating is a challenge so I am not always prowling in the kitchen foraging for food like I did before I got cancer. I used to feel like eating all the time. Now, not so much. A blessing I guess. I never worry about getting fat.

The weight I lost was not all fat. Of the 20 pounds I lost, much of it was muscle and I can tell by how weak I still am. I have continued to try to exercise every day, either riding my bike or doing high intensity interval training but I am not making much progress in gaining strength or stamina. All I seem to be doing is keeping myself from gaining weight.

When we were on the island travelling I had trouble fitting rides and exercise into my day and since we have been back home I have got back at it but not as hard as I need to.

I can’t keep up with the guys I used to ride with, so I found a new bunch of guys. They are younger, mid thirty to 40-year-olds, but not as fit or experienced as the F’n riders. They are also busy guys so they do not ride as often or as regularly as my old group. I can keep up with them on our rides but it’s harder on me than I think it should be. I do not recover from exertion anywhere near as fast as they do, or as fast as I am used to. Once I get short of breath and feel physically drained at the end of a climb, it takes a long time to recover. I had no idea it would take this long to get my base fitness level back. I am frustrated. It will take a long time to get myself to where riding is more fun than hard work.

I am looking forward to riding in Comox. One reason we chose to live there is that the area has some of the best mountain biking trails in Canada. We are also only 30 minutes from a ski hill. And the winters are temperate so there will be days I can both mountain bike and snowboard. If I ever get my strength back.

My new plan is to become more serious about resistance training. One of the super fit F’n riders, Bryan Fontaine, has started taking me to his gym to train me on how to use free weights. Brian at 58 years of age did 2 sets of 8 pull ups. I can do 2 sets of 2 repetitions. Then he did another set of 14 reps. Really? Super fit. He is an inspiration. The plan is for me to find a gym in Comox and start to muscle up. Byan has also got me using TRX straps for doing workouts outdoors. My goal is to add another ten pounds of muscle. Being muscular in my 70’s would be a good thing.

I have had some of you comment that you sort of follow how my illness has affected Linda’s and my relationship, so here is a comment for you. As I have noted in previous blogs, my illness or my retirement or my advancing age has slowed me down and made me even more inattentive, inconsiderate and disorganized than I have always sort of been. Linda on the other hand is attentive, considerate and organized in spades, so, she is also predictably exasperated with me. i tell her she has to learn to live with people who are not as smart as she is.  It’s not our fault that we can’t see what she does. We are coping. I try to be more attentive. She tries to be more patient. We still talk and laugh a lot but I would have to say not as much as we used to. Our problems are pretty minor in the big scheme of things. Right now we are both really looking forward to getting this move over with and being in our new condo in Comox. Coping with the new slower me and our changing relationship is challenging but there is a lot of love and appreciation. We are good together. She still laughs at my jokes.

Back to publishing my book. Yes, it’s sort of coming along but it has been bogged down, first by travelling and now by moving.  I am doing the editing using an on-line editing program which is really effective but the whole process takes a lot of time.

Each blog takes a couple of hours to edit. I have done 34 blogs now. By edit I mean clean up the sentence structures and language usage so it reads better.  The program helps me do that without losing the flavour of my original writing. It also catches all the grammar errors.

I am also reading a book on self publishing that explains all the different steps along the way. It provides links to all the companies that can help me create a ‘print on demand’ paper back book or an e-book you can buy on Amazon

It’s a complex process that will cost me $5,000 to $8,000 to do it properly. If I can ever get around to it I am thinking of doing a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign to raise the money and get the book promotion started. Right now the move is our priority.

I will also need to find the time to promote the book. It seems like a worthy retirement project for me; promoting HPV cancer awareness, early throat cancer detection and advocating for immunization of boys. Boys get head and neck cancers from HPV whereas girls, who already get immunized, are more likely to get cervical cancer.

 

So far, I have only edited 35 of my 76 blogs. Progress is slow. I have a really good forward to the book written by Dr. Debenham and another written by Anne Ryan, one of you blog readers. I also have a bunch of testimonials but could use more. I need testimonials to entice new potential readers into buying the book and reading it. I want to have two pages of them inside the front cover so they get read when someone opens the book for a sneak peek on Amazon. I would appreciate any of you writing a short testimonial.  Just add it to the comments, I will get it. Or you could email it to me at johnkuby@gmail.com

I have also chosen the cover I will use. Here it is:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And as part of the promotion I am going to make a T-shit available to order on line. You will eventually be able to order both the book and the T-shirt on Amazon but I have not figured out how to make that happen yet.

I have also not chosen a supplier for the T-shirt yet but it will be a quality T-shirt when I do.

Here is what it will look like.

 

 

 

 

 

I also have “No Quit in Me” stickers to put on bike or bike helmets or on your lap top or the back of your phone.

Thank you to JP King for the great graphic design work. And thanks Michael Kuby for the photo on the book cover.

I am kind of looking forward to seeing the book in print but I am getting apprehensive about going out and promoting it.

I am kind of looking forward to seeing the book in print but I am getting apprehensive about going out and promoting it. Seems like a daunting task, but a worthy one. I just heard on the CBC news last night that the incidences of Oral Cancer have increased by 50% since the year 2000 in Canada, 74% of them are HPV related, 85% of the cases are in men and HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world. Something worth talking about as I promote the book.

There, I have finally done another blog. I guess I will know soon if I still have any readers. In the coming months, I will find out if there is merit in turning this blog into a book.

Tongue cancer has been an inciteful journey for me. I learned a lot about myself. I endured a lot of frustration. I had a lot of help along the way especially from Linda. It also brought me even closer to my family. Blogging was a therapeutic experience and I certainly appreciated the fact that so many people followed my journey. Thank you all, especially those who wrote comments on the blog or on Facebook and all of you who referenced reading the blog to me in conversation or emails. I appreciated getting that attention when I really needed it.

Going forward I know I will always have trouble swallowing. That, and being skinny is my new normal. I am going to keep on exercising and doing yoga to get my strength back so I can keep on riding, snowboarding, maybe even surfing, until old age catches up to me. It will, but I can hold it off for a long time if I just don’t quit.

I do hope that reading this blog or the book has inspired you and others to not quit. Don’t quit whatever is important to you. Don’t quit being healthy, which means don’t quit being active. I know that I will be snowboarding and mountain biking in my 70’s because I just never stopped being active. I have pretty much always tried to make physical activity a part of my life. I didn’t quit like most guys do in their 20’s when their careers were taking off or in their 30’s when family was too important or in their 40’s when their skills were diminishing or in their 50’s when injuries stop them. I also did not let cancer stop me from being active, and I am proud of that.

Being active is easy to do. Its even easier to not do. Quitting is so easy. Every time you miss a day of not being active you are beginning to quit. Don’t let it happen. Start again the next day. Starting is easy too. If you are not currently active, start now and don’t quit. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Every day, for the rest of your long life. That’s what I am going to do.

Thank you for reading.

Beat Cancer?

When I am out and about these days I often meet people who know about my cancer. They tell me how good I look and ask how I am feeling? To them it seems that, since I look and feel pretty good, I have beat this thing. They are kind of right. I have won the big battle, if that is what it is, but in some important ways the fight still continues.

What I am dealing with is hard to explain in a social setting. So I end up just saying I still have swallowing issues and that some day soon I will have to write blog post to explain my issues and the implications.

This is that blog post.

First the good news!

I have beat cancer, in that I am cancer free and it will likely never come back, and my recovery from radiation is almost complete. Yes, there is radiation damage I will not recover from and there are long-term implications. I will explain after the good news.

I am felling great. My mood has shifted. I don’t seem to have that low grade depression I was experiencing. The counselling helped. Talking it through with Linda helped. Even blogging helped. It also helped to get out on my bike and get riding. Maybe the Oilers winning their hockey games has helped.

I am healthy. My weight is up to 150 pounds at 16% body fat. I could add a few pounds of muscle and I continue to work on that.

I am eating three big meals a day. My swallowing troubles limit some of the foods I can eat but I eat pretty well. Linda is now cooking us meals that will help her lose weight, so I have to supplement her meals to get up to my 3,500 calories a day for weight gain. Bonus! I eat a lot of high calorie foods without worrying about it.

I still do high intensity interval training workouts. 14 minutes each day. One day upper body and the next lower body. All body weight exercises except for a few that are done with dumbbells. Go hard for a minute, rest for half a minute and go hard again, for at total of 14 minutes. it is meant to be exhausting, and it is.  This is an exercise regime that works. I can do 36 push-ups now and 2 full pull-ups. That is incredible progress from 6 months ago. when I could only do 4 pushups and no pull ups.

A week ago the single-track mountain bike trails in Edmonton’s river valley dried up and I was able to get out on my bike again. In the last week I have been out 4 times and rode stronger each time. On a whim, I joined a Hard Core Bikes’ Monday Night Club Ride to see if I could cut it and was surprised to find that I rode for two hours. Sure, I was with the slow group but three of the 12 riders we started with dropped out. I didn’t. And I climbed some steep hills.

I have been out with other riders three time since then, and was able to hold my own. I am lighter so it’s actually easier to climb those steep hills than it used to be. But I am not kidding myself, its going to be hard to get my base fitness levels up to where I can ride hard with my friends on the F’n riders. It will take time on the wheels.

And spring is here. The ice is off the river so Linda and I will be out kayaking again soon.

Life is good. But it’s not all good. Here is how I have “not” beaten cancer. My new normal has complications.

Two issues – my teeth and my swallowing. Both are issues caused by radiation. Both are long term and will always be with me. There are things I can do to minimize their impact over time. It’s a good thing there is ‘no quit in me’. The bad thing is I have to form some new good habits.

First the teeth issues. There are two. Radiation to the throat area weakens the bones that the teeth are embedded in.  I am not experiencing anything now but apparently over time, I will have problems. The dental people do not talk about “if” I start losing my teeth, they talk about “when”. Any extractions will have to be done at the U of A where it is done in a bariatric chamber.

They took extensive pictures of my face, jaw and teeth when I was first diagnosed and recently took another set. They need them to track all the changes over time.

My friend Freda, who had throat cancer twelve years ago, just emailed me to say she has teeth breaking. She is also having difficulty getting used to her lower dentures. There is ‘no quit’ in that lady though. She still seems pretty cheerful and active at 77 years of age, despite her teeth problems. I hope the treatments are better now and I will not have the teeth problems she is experiencing. I use fluoride trays for my teeth every day. She wasn’t offered them.

My friend Gary in Vancouver, who also had radiation for tongue cancer, recently mentioned in an email that he broken a tooth.

I guess it’s very likely to happen to me too.  We will see.

My teeth are now much more prone to decay and cavities. Radiation damage to my saliva glands means that saliva isn’t naturally cleaning my teeth like it used to. It’s not that my mouth is dry all time.  I have saliva but I don’t have as much as is as I need. In fact, I chew gum almost all the time to generate more saliva. I am not sure chewing gum is good for me otherwise, but it sure seems to help with saliva.

The gum also keeps my mouth fresh. I hear dry mouth causes bad breath. No one has complained yet.

I also have a teeth cleaning routine I have to follow. It’s time consuming. Every morning and every evening, I have to clean between my teeth with a pick, brush for at least two minutes with an electric toothbrush, then floss. Every evening I do a four-minute fluoride treatment and then have to wait half an hour after that before I can eat or drink.  I am also supposed to rinse my mouth after eating with a fluoride mouth wash, but I alway forget. I used to be a “brush quickly twice a day and floss now and then” kind of guy. I am now on a serious dental care regime.

A month ago, my dental hygienist cleaned my teeth and announced that I already had decay showing. That kind of scared me into following my new regime. Fear works.

Now, for my swallowing problems and their implications.  Like all the stuff happening in our bodies swallowing is more complicated that we know. I used to just gulp my food down and not think about it. I still eat too fast and rarely concentrate on how I swallow, but when I do, I pay a price.

If the food is a thick and heavy like bread or potatoes, the price could be my throat getting so clogged up that I almost choke. When that happens, I have to tell myself to try be calm and relieve the congestion with that ever-present glass of water. It’s scary when I don’t have water handy. Choking is always unnerving.

This is happening because my natural swallowing mechanisms have been compromised. The food just does not get pushed down like it used to. The nerves in my throat are not sensing what is going on. I can’t always tell that the food is not going down unless I eat consciously and I think about each swallow.

The food that sits at the top of my throat gets caught there for a long time, even after a meal. It can take about 10 minutes of throat clearing, nose blowing, swishing water and spitting to get all the food particles and gunk out of my mouth, throat and nose.

Another issue with the food jammed up in the top of my throat is that food particles find their way into my nasal passages. Then my nose gets runny like I have a bad cold. I blow my nose with that ever-present Kleenex and I get a Kleenex full of snot and bits of food. Gross stuff, I know. I also do a lot of spitting into the sink. Same issue.

Sometimes the food particles in my nasal passages make me sneeze, like a tickle in your nose will do. This is a bad thing if I have a mouth full of food. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often any more. I am smart enough to catch it.

If the meal has a lot of liquid, like a clear broth soup, or ever the liquid from fruit that is juicy like pineapple, the liquid can slip into my wind pipe during my swallow. That causes me to cough involuntarily. That used to happen a lot but I am more careful now. Also, I have a new swallowing technique to keep it from happening.

About an month ago I had my six month check up and did a bunch of swallowing tests at the Misericordia hospital. The speech therapist, Georgina, had me swallow liquids with a variety of consistencies and captured images of my swallow on what looked like an ultrasound. We watched the images together and she showed me how she interpreted them. What I learned was not good.

Her expert opinion was that I was aspirating more than we had earlier thought. Remember aspiration is when liquid or food goes down the wind pipe, usually liquid. Why does it go down there? My epiglottis, the cartilage that covers the wind pipe as food goes past, has become fibrous from the radiation. It has hardened so now it can’t fold completely over the entrance to my wind pipe. Hence the liquid slipping down.

What happens then? I cough involuntarily. The cough drives the liquid back up and out. Sometimes that does not happen and the liquid goes down to my lungs. According to Georgina, I do not always cough and don’t always know if I am aspirating. The nerves in my throat have been compromised by radiation so they are not as sensitive as they used to be.

What are the consequences? The liquids coming from my mouth are full of bacteria.  So there is always a risk of inflammation or infections in my lungs from whatever bacteria the liquids are carrying. I have more bacteria than usual because the saliva does not clean my mouth, just like it does not clean my teeth.

Lung infections can lead to pneumonia. Once you get pneumonia a few times, you become susceptible to getting it more easily. Over the long haul pneumonia kills people. Do I have to worry about dying of pneumonia any time soon? No, but I have to guard against getting it and be hyper alert to getting any inflammation or infections in my lungs.

Georgina also expressed concern that liquids getting into my lungs will cause some of the cells in my lungs to die which will cause hardening in my lungs over time. Not a good thing, long-term.

She painted bit of a nightmare scenario for me. If I am aspirating too much or too often I could end up eating all of my meals through a feeding tube so the aspiration just does not happen.

Am I at that point? No. But she I could tell she was worried for me.

She said, if I was ever hospitalized for any reason and could not sit up straight I would need to be fed through a tube to my stomach. To her, it seemed that serious.

What can I do about it? Georgina sent the results to Anna, my swallowing coach, with instructions to get me back to doing daily exercises to strengthen my swallow muscles and to try change how I swallow. It’s going to take time and effort and it may not work but it’s well worth the try.

Anna seems more confident than Georgina that I can overcome this. Anna has graduate student, Anita, who now works with me once a week. Anita seems confident too.

One of the key things that Anna and Anita do is hook me up to an instrument that graphs the quality of my swallow. The graph shows the breathing sequence and the strength of each swallow. I do an exercise then look at the graph to see if I did it right. That way I am getting feedback on my swallow that I would not ordinarily get from my senses. As I do this more and more I learn to hold my breath as I swallow.  I also get sense of what it feels like so I can adapt.

I now have breathing sequence exercise to do 30 times a day and also two muscle strengthening exercises, one for my tongue and another for my throat muscles. I do them 30 times a day as well. The exercises take a full half an hour to do. Not too long, but it’s hard to get into the habit of doing them. Linda will tell you I don’t create good habits easily.

Here are the exercises:

Breath hold: take a sip of water and hold it in my mouth. Take in some air, hold it. Swallow hard, swallow again continuing to hold my breath, then clear my throat and clear it again before I take in another breath. If the swallow does not feel complete then I have to cough hard.

The idea is to hold my breath until the swallowing is done and my throat is cleared so that no liquid gets down the wind pipe. Then I use a cough to drive any liquid out of my air pipe.

I am engaging or closing off  my vocal folds, located in my voice box, to stop any liquid that has got past my epiglottis from getting into my lungs. My throat clear is to move the liquid back up out of the wind pipe.

If there is still liquid there, the hard cough will drive it out completely. If I cough involuntarily or I feel a tickle in my throat, it is caused by the liquid being where it’s not supposed to be.

I am supposed to repeat 30 times without either of these things happening, coughing or feeling that tickle. So far, I cough as often as 6 times in 30, and as few as 3. I feel I am getting better.

That is the complicated exercise.  The other two are easy to do. I swallow hard 30 times while biting the front of my tongue. This is to strengthen my tongue and help my tongue and the back of my throat squeeze together more tightly when I swallow.

Then I have a little gizmo I blow into 30 times to strengthen my throat muscles. It provides resistance so that I have to blow really hard to get air to go through it. I stop when the air flows. When I can do it easily, we adjust the gizmo so it’s hard to do again. Over time we continue to gradually adjust the gizmo so the resistance gets harder and harder and my throat muscles get stronger and stronger. Anita says there is good evidence that this works to improve  swallowing.

Like everything that is good for you, especially exercise, this is easy to do, but even easier to not do it. There are no immediate consequences for failing to do the work. I have to create a daily routine around doing them.

Does everyone with tongue cancer, or radiation to the throat area have this problem? No.  Some do, most don’t. I do. This is my long term issue.

Others have different problems. Georgina also tested me extensively for issues with my voice and ability to speak. I am good. No problems talking. That’s a blessing. My taste buds also work well. Another blessing.

Sure, I have saliva issues but they could be so much worse. I have much to be thankful for.

In the big picture, I am doing OK.

I have this retirement and beat cancer party planned for this coming Friday, May 12. That’s exciting. I was worried that too many people were away, and not many of you would come, but that seems to not be the case now. We expect well over 100 people.

Many of those who couldn’t make it wrote nice comments. That makes me happy. I am looking forward to seeing everyone and partying. If you are a reader of this blog, you have probably already reveived an invitation. If I have missed you I apologize and hope you show up.

 

Cloverdale Community Hall  – 9411 97 Ave, Edmonton

Drop by to say hi between 3:00 and 5:30 0r come to party from 7:00 to 11:30 or longer. There will be food and drinks (including a toonie bar) available. There is a playground at the hall, so bring your kids if you want.

Linda and I have summer trips planned in our Sprinter van which we now call “the Casita” (Spanish for ‘little house’). We are spending June on Vancouver Island and in Vancouver for a wedding, then we are meandering back to Edmonton.

After the Folk Festival in Edmonton we head east, visiting folks along the way, spending time in Toronto and Montreal then going to the Maritimes. We will come home via the US visiting friends in Maine and Boston. We will be home in late October I suspect.

Linda and I are looking forward to travelling and we are glad I am feeling up for new adventures.

Recovery

It was gratifying to receive so much support after the last post about my low grade depression.

My sons were the among the first to respond. Both asked if I wanted to talk. I appreciated that.

Of course, I got good advice from my blog of readers. Many who have had cancer did not seem to be surprised.

One of the most interesting comments was from Bryan one of the F’n riders. He let me know that he appreciated sharing as much as I did about my personal life and family struggles and assured me that other families, including his, go through the same stuff.

His comments were really well written and heart felt and I was touched. So touched that I accidently deleted them when I was trying to respond. Fumble fingers. Sorry Bryan.

He got me thinking about why I write this, and why I seem able to be open to writing honestly about what is happening.

Many of you have expressed admiration for that quality in my writing. I assure you that what apparently seems hard to do, or brave on my part, is not. It’s just what I am like. I think it comes from a need to be understood. I have always felt that if people understood me they would like me. It has not always been true, but it is what I still believe. This blog also seems to validate that belief.

When I first met Linda, she was surprised at how much like her girlfriends I was, in the way we spoke to each other. I told her that was because I was “part girl” in that I have the female quality for talking about feelings. I do what most men won’t. I disclose. I give up a lot of information about myself.

Generally, I trust people to be kind so I don’t feel like I am taking any big risks. I have also found that it lets other people be open with me. It works.

I am not stupid about it though, I don’t think. I don’t disclose everything. Just enough to be understood , to try get to the truth of what is going on and enough to be interesting.

It’s a good way of sorting out who you like and want to hang out with. I like people who like the real me.

Ok, I am glad I wrote that. I have been thinking about it for quite a while and wondering how to get it into the blog.

I also want to say that the hard part for me is not the disclosure, it’s the actual writing it down so that you understand what I am going through and that it is interesting. So far, the response to my blog has confirmed that I seem to be getting it right. That makes me feel pretty good.

So, back to recovery.

I am feeling better. As soon as I wrote the last blog, things started to pick up. Linda and I talked. She edited the blog so, of course, we talked. And yes, I am more committed to contributing around the house. That has to happen, and it will.

Linda and I are now seeing my counsellor together and it’s good. Counselling is a good thing when you are going through a life altering event. It’s great that the medical system provides counselling for cancer patients. Who knew?

Generally, things have seemed better. The last blog also got me lots of attention. That always perks a person up. All me, all the time, is not healthy but can be healing.

To those of you who expressed concern about me, thank you.  To those of you who did not, you are forgiven. You all have your own issues and distractions.

That many of you are still reading this blog is surprising and gratifying in itself. I know lots of people have quit reading and that’s not a surprise; the drama has been over for a while.  Apparently, its easy street from here.

Actually not.  Healing is not simple. The other part of my recovery, physical part, is also proving to be more of a challenge than I thought.

My swallowing problems are not going away soon and apparently not ever. So now it’s about learning how to live with it and minimize the risks associated with aspiration. I have been though a bunch of swallowing tests and am now working on exercises that improve my swallowing. That is going to take a while to talk about so maybe I should do it in another blog. It’s actually quite interesting, at least to me, and I want to take the time to get it right.

I should also say that Linda’s and my time lately has been taken up with helping PlayWorks plan my retirement and beat cancer celebration on May 12. Those of you who are in town are certainly invited. It’s at the Cloverdale Community Hall. We are sending out invitations via email. If you do not get one, it was probably an oversight. For information or  let PlayWorks know you are coming  contact Melodie at the PlayWorks office, Melodie@playworks.ca or me at johnkuby@gmail.com.

 

My world is flat      

There is something missing in my life. Everything feels flat. No fizz. I can’t explain it and I don’t know why I feel this way. It makes no sense.

My counsellor from the Cross Cancer Institute told me that to some degree that is what depression is. Unexplainable feelings that you can’t get over. A sense of loss. She suggested that I was experiencing low grade depression.

When I went in to see her, I started by talking about where I was with cancer recovery and in my life.  As I outlined it for her it occurred to me, as it often does, that I have a pretty good life. There is really no good reason for me to be seeing a psychologist. So, I told her I felt guilty taking up valuable time when she could be seeing someone else. (Her services are provided free to cancer patients.)

Her response was that her cancer patients often tell her that. “Do not worry” she said, “You are the type of patient we are here for.  This is just another stage of your cancer recovery.”

She explained that when she came to work with cancer patients she was all prepared to deal with trauma patients suffering through operations and radiation, chemo and full on drama.  What she has found is that most of her patients were people like me; over the physical illness essentially, but dealing with low grade depression.

She said that cancer recovery was not often the big ‘triumph of the human spirit’ story that people expect. The arch of psychological recovery is longer than the physical recovery, and it is not dramatic.

The feelings I have are not dramatic either, but they are pervasive. It’s actually more of a lack of feeling. No one would notice, except probably Linda. I don’t mope. I get around and do all the normal things and look like a success. Looking good is still important to me so I keep up with appearances. But there is something missing.

My world is flat.  Well, not flat but flatter. I am not as interested as I used to be. I have lost some of my lust for life.

Let’s deal with the “lust” part first. It’s not something we dwell on, but both Linda and I know I do not have my usual sex drive. I have the physical energy but I have lost some of my “interest”. That is a huge loss. I really should be depressed.

Will I get it back? I am sure I will. If I don’t, we will adjust, but……

Right. What do I say now? Hmmm.

My psychologist used the word ‘anhedonia’ to describe what I feel or don’t feel. The opposite of hedonism. If hedonism is the seeking pleasure and the full on embracing of life, then anhedonia is its opposite. Seems like a good word for what I am not feeling, what I call flatness.

Anhedonia is the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable, e.g. exercise, hobbies, singing, sexual activities or social interactions.

The flatness is pervasive. I can sense it in almost everything.

When I go snowboarding, I am not as driven. I get out to the ski hill later in the day. I quit earlier.  I am not as interested in improving. And don’t push myself as hard. It’s not as much fun.

I buy new books and only read the first chapter. I know that is common for lots of people but for me it’s worse than it used to be. I am interested at first, but the interest is not sustained.

I used to be a hound for finding new music and adding it to my I-tunes lists. Now, not so much. I hear new songs I like.  I add them to my I-tunes, but then I rarely go back to them and listen again. Many of you know that, for the last 15 years, every year, I burn my favourite new songs CD’s and give them to friends and relatives. Like inflicting my bad taste on them. This year I probably won’t do it. I have no interest. No new songs to reveal.

When I am out riding my mountain bike, I wonder when the magic is going to kick in again. Riding is more like work than the teenager fun it used to be.

I don’t drink alcohol any more, and I don’t miss it.  To be honest, drinking was a source of pleasure for me. That is gone. A sign of anhedonia; flatness.

Do I find this loss of joy in life debilitating? No, I am quite functional. It’s just that I don’t seem to care as much. I care, or I want to care. It’s just that I am not present. Not there. Dull.

I think that is what Linda notices. I am not present. OK, those of you who know me are going to say, “That’s not new.” I have always been absent minded. That is not what it is. It is more than being absent minded. It’s more like being absent.

Now, when I miss the thread of a conversation I am having with two or three people, I don’t take the trouble to make sure I understand so I can participate fully. I just let the others carry on knowing the conversation will go on without me. This is not how I used to operate.

I used to be full on. It’s bad enough in social situations but in business meetings it can get worse. When Linda and I are dealing with financial planners or our accountant, people like that, I notice myself just letting the conversation go. Sort of like I don’t care enough, even when I know there is money on the line and I know I really should care. It’s kind of irresponsible behaviour.

So how do I get it back?

My psychologist seemed to say that the trick is to, “Not give in to giving in”. Participate as fully as I can. “Fake it till I make it.” Nurture myself back to life I guess.

And I guess I have to be patient. Let the healing happen in its own time.

I don’t want any of you to worry about me or feel concerned. It’s not going to ruin me, but I did want to acknowledge in my blog that this is happening.

I had expected to be back to normal by now. I think everyone sort of expects me to be normal now that I am recovered. Those expectations now seem to be unrealistic. Apparently, this is normal according to my psychologist. Recovery does not happen on a schedule. I am not going to be over this by exactly a year from the end of my radiation treatments. Everyone thinks they will get back to where they used to be, and that is unrealistic.

If you think of depression as coming from a sense of loss, then my low-grade depression is probably explainable. I can’t put my finger on what I have lost exactly, but I have certainly changed and I miss the me I used to be.

Maybe that explains it. I am not as engaged as I used to be, so I am not as engaging. I want to get that back.

My counsellor also pointed out the obvious. I have been through a lot of stress in the last year. Cancer, selling my business, retirement. Three high stress life events.

Yes, I can say that I conquered cancer, and I did. Yes, I can say I sold my business, and I should be proud of that. I can say I have every reason to look forward to a successful retirement. Logically that is all true, thank god, and I acknowledge it but…. parts of me are reacting is to some other truths. I lost my health. I lost my business. I didn’t really want to retire. I am feeling diminished by it all, not energized. I have lost something.

Most importantly I feel like I have lost something in my relationship with Linda. Fortunately, she is very understanding and we will get back on track. But she has been patient with me for a long time and her patience is wearing thin.

This visit to the psychologist came about because of a family fight that did not even seem to involve me. Linda and my son Mike had a huge blow up a couple of weeks ago. The yelling was worse than anything the three of us have experienced since the kids were teenagers. Both Linda and Mike were unreasonably mad at each other and it simmered for a long time. It brought out the worst in both of them.

Linda decided she would get some help. I agreed to do the same. Hence my trip to the psychologist.

Linda’s visit to her counsellor revealed that her anger is towards me. And it is justified. I have recovered but I have not adjusted. I am not carrying my weight around here. She is still the caregiver.

Linda needs a wife like her, and she certainly does not have one. I am not a helpful guy around the house. She is better at everything than I am, so she does almost everything around here. Cooking, shopping, banking, travel planning, tech work, household management, everything. I am a passenger.

When my son Mike asked me what I do around the house, I had to answer, “Not much really” Then I smiled and said, ” I have my blog to look after.  I am a blogger.” Funny, sort of, but not really.

This is may be a retirement issue. Us –  being together every day; all day long.  Her – being more competent than me at everything.  A common retirement issue, yes, but it’s compounded by Linda becoming my care giver before I retired. Our relationship was changed by the cancer experience, and not for the better.

Add this to the fact that I am not as engaged, or engaging, as I used to be. I am not as much fun to be with. That is how I used add value around here, but I have lost some of that charm.

Actually, I think a lot of this started when I was not able to talk. For three or four months, I did not talk and had to communicate by writing everything down. I got used to the silence somehow and our communication patterns changed. I lost some of my comic timing so I did not try to amuse her. We did not have as much fun together during that quiet period.  Of course, I was sick then too, so that’s no fun either. Since then we have picked it up and we still have fun, but it has diminished.

There is also the issue of Linda’s hearing. She now has hearing aids and frequently does not hear what I say. It is a bit of work for me to make sure she hears me, and for her to make sure she understands what I am saying. Sometimes we just don’t make the effort.

Linda is experiencing these three major life events just like I am. Taking care of me as a cancer patient is only one of them. Selling a business was a huge stressor. She has been a big part of that. Facing retirement is also a huge.  It’s not surprising that Linda and I have challenges.

We are also getting old. I am having some trouble adjusting to that fact of life. Illness, selling my business and retirement have compounded that concern for me. I can feel myself slowly drifting into irrelevance. Is that one of the feelings retirement brings?

Good thing we are still optimistic and energetic. Good thing we both have good life habits that will carry us forward.

I should end this on a hopeful note. After I saw the psychologist, less than a week ago, I immediately started feeling better. Knowing that this ‘anhedonia’ was fairly normal for cancer patients is comforting. This is just a stage of recovery that I did not anticipate. I will recover from it too.

Writing all of this down today has been therapeutic. The whole blog experience has been therapeutic. When I get into the flow of writing, there is joy. I also really enjoy getting your responses and knowing there are people like you out there reading this.

Of course, there is also the aspect of the blog being, all me, all the time. I am kind of addicted to that. There is hedonism in this blogging. I need more of that. I need more hedonism.

Bring it on.

Can’t quit yet.  

Nope, it’s not over. I can’t quit yet.

You can stop reading, but I can’t quit writing  the blog. This cancer experience is ongoing. Now that I am turning the blog into a book for new throat cancer patients to read, I am obligated to capture the full experience. And, it did not end with me going on my cat ski trip and celebrating my victory. I am still dealing with cancer related issues.

It was going to be so perfect, wrapping up the story with a successful cat ski trip to book end my one year cancer journey that had begun right after the same trip a year ago. Apparently real life is messy. It does not work in tidy patterns like it does in books.

Now I  have at least three new blogs to write since I decided to stop writing. I don’t mind the writing, in fact I enjoy it, but don’t really have time. I have way too many other things on the go.

I told you I sold my business, and I did, and I am happy, but it’s a complicated sale and I still have work to do before I get all our proceeds from the sale. A chunk of the money is tied up in the receivables for two big projects that I have to collect the final payments on. So, I feel like I should be working on them not, not writing blogs.

And PlayWorks is planning a ‘retirement / beat cancer’ party for me in early May. I need to give them my list of people to send invitations to. That is no small matter, searching names and compiling that list, complete with emails, for all the people I would want to see there.

My family, friends, staff at PlayWorks and my friends and associates in the playground business. There are a lot of industry people I would like to see again before I drift off into retirement: suppliers, contractors, and even some competitors. And then there my favourite former playground committee customers, landscape architects and a whack of parks department employees. I have been doing this for over 35 years. That is a long time and a lot of people.

What about the readers of this cancer blog? You should come too.  If you are reading this, consider yourself invited. Details to in the next blog. You will need to RSVP.

It’s a good thing I don’t have current email addresses for lots of the people I want to invite and that so many of them are not in Edmonton. Otherwise the party could be way too big. Another good problem to have.

Linda and I are also elbow deep in doing retirement planning, getting our finances in order, making travel plans, figuring out where to live, considering volunteer work, mapping out our future.  In some ways, we feel like twenty-somethings again; trying to figure out what to do for the rest of our lives.

We are also in the process of selling the rental duplex we own. These are the kind of problems we feel blessed to have, but they add to that feeling of, “Hey, shouldn’t I have time on my hands. I am supposed to be retired”

I am also busy trying to turn this blog turned into a book. I have finally chosen a self publishing company to work with. Now I need to get the blogs edited so they are good enough to publish. I have had readers helping me and I just found an on-line editing program that I can use but it is still taking a lot of time. So, I don’t really want any more blogs for the book. Not the blogs, or the lived experience that they have to cover.

I am a busy guy and the Oilers are on a roll, Donald Trump is dropping bombs, and there are so many shows to watch on TV. I don’t have time for cancer recovery.

But the recovery is not over.  I have had three appointments with the health care community in the last couple of weeks that have made that point very clear.

The first was a trip to my dentist’s office that unnerved me. I went in for my regular cleaning. As I have said before, radiation to the throat area affects the teeth so I have to take extra special care of them. Well it turns out I have not really taken that message to heart.

Yes, I feel like I have been brushing more frequently and more carefully, but, apparently, I have not been doing enough. After the cleaning, my dental hygienist said that she is already seeing signs of the enamel breaking down. This is not good. The hygienist was concerned.

She wanted to know if I was using the fluoride trays that were given to me. Of course, I said “yes”, but had to admit that I had only started to use them recently since they used to aggravate my mouth sores, that have now gone away. I am supposed to do a fluoride treatment every night. Fill these trays that are like hockey player’s mouth guards with fluoride and put them in my mouth for five minutes. I also had to admit that I missed a lot of nights because I am just not in the habit of doing it. I don’t make good habits easily. Ask Linda.

Apparently, this treatment is meant to protect my tooth enamel and so far, the evidence is that the enamel needs protecting. Just like I was told eight months ago, when they gave me these trays.

We then discussed what could happen in the long run. I am now much more afraid of the prospect of major teeth decay and losing my teeth. I am now afraid this can happen faster than I previously thought. Remember, I intend to live another 30 years. Apparently, I will be outliving my teeth.

She also showed me how to use an electric toothbrush properly. Linda bought one for me recently because it works so much more effectively than a regular toothbrush.  I did not like using it, so I didn’t. You can bet I do now. I also do my fluoride treatment every night. Now every night I wonder how much damage I have already done to my teeth by having not done this regularly since I started the radiation treatments.

The second meeting was with a psychologist. She hit me over the head with something that should have been obvious. I may be over the physical part of cancer recovery but the psychological recovery can take much longer. It may also be even harder to deal with. No wonder I am not feeling happy even though I thought my cancer recovery was almost over. Good thing I went to see someone for help.

Cancer is major life event. So is retirement. Any one major life event is hard enough to deal on its own. Linda and I are coping with two that compound the effects. There is complex stuff we have to deal with.

The third meeting was with a speech therapist at the hospital where I went yesterday for follow up testing on my speech and my swallowing. I learned a lot about what my new normal is going to be like. Some parts of it are going to be hard to swallow. (Pun intended.) Believe it or not, I will need a full blog to explain what I discovered and what the potential impacts are going to be.

Just like with the fluoride trays, it turns out I am going to always wonder if my swallowing would be better if I had done my swallowing exercises regularly. Again, I have excuses, mostly it was the pain, but for the most part I could have done them and really should have.

I had been starting to think I was almost over this thing, but I should have known better. The drama of cancer discovery, radiation and chemo treatments are over, but the after effects just seem to keep going on and on.

 

My Cat Ski / Snowboarding victory trip

A year ago, almost to the day, I came home from this same annual snowboarding trip at Retallack, near Nelson, BC. I was feeling elated and proud of myself, only to have those feelings come crashing down when I discovered that the minor throat problems I had been experiencing were from cancer; tongue cancer.

The trip this year was supposed to be my victory lap after beating cancer and surviving a very tough year. For the last few recovery months, this had been my goal.

Well, the trip was a victory of sorts, but not what I had expected. Even though there is “no quit in me”, it turns out that there is at little common sense.

Of course, all 24 of the guys, the guides and staff at Retallack were full of compliments. They made me feel glad I was there. They were impressed that I had come back so soon to challenge the steep mountain runs and the deep snow. However, there were concerns about my strength and stamina. Personally, I was pretty sure I could handle it.

Turns out I was wrong.

The last thing Linda said to me on the way out the door was, “Don’t try show off to those young guys. In your case, showing up is showing off”.

She was right. The best I managed to do was show up.

After my second run through the deep snow and trees it was clear to the guide, and to me (reluctantly) that I had overestimated my strength and ability. It was time to recalibrate.

At the top of the hill I had been very confident. It looked steep and there were trees beneath me but there were openings between the trees that I knew I could navigate through. The snow looked deep and soft. What damage could I do? I had done this before so I could do it again.

Wrong. I had trouble with my toe side turns and pretty soon I was picking up too much speed and had to fall in order to stop. Once I had fallen I realized that getting up was going to be hard. The snow was deeper, wetter and heavier than last year.  My ski buddy, Sandy, helped pull me up using his ski poles. I got up but my snowboard was embedded under the heavy snow and struggled to get the front end up and free of the snow so I could start again. It took effort and time, but I got going.

I fell at three or four more times on the way through the trees to the bottom where the others were waiting. The falls were not dramatic.  Getting up was difficult each time and it was already starting to drain my energy. But, I felt my riding getting better as we approached the end of the run. I was confident I would get myself under control the next run. The first run is always the hardest.

Back in the cat and going up the mountain I got into a deep discussion with Joey Hundert, one of the really good skiers, about “Flow” experiences and how skiing and snowboarding can get you into a flow state. After the discussion, he decided he would be my partner on the next run. I welcomed riding with Joey because he is one of the stars and, I guess, I was also trying to impress him with my riding or at least my courage.

Hmmm? Not a good idea to will myself into a flow state before I had  even established that I could snowboard in this deep wet snow. Naturally, I tried to ride faster and actually did. It was exhilarating when I was hitting my turns, but scary when I was out of rhythm and loosing control.

Once out of control, of course, I fell. Joey pulled me up and away I would go again. I fell a couple of times with no consequence but the last two falls were into tree wells. Tree-well falls are dangerous.

Once you are in a tree well you generally need help to get out. The snow is deep and you have nothing to grab on too. If you fall face first you can really be in trouble. People suffocate in tree wells. Both times I fell backwards and slipped under a big tree. My board stayed uphill with my body and head below. I was deep in snow, wedged under the big branches with my back against the trunk.  No leverage. But my face was not buried  so I was OK. Just embarrassed to be upside down in a tree well. Especially the second time.

Getting out was exhausting. Both times, with lots of help from Joey and the guide Chris, I managed get my snowboard off and I squirmed up and out of the tree well. Once out, I had the challenge of strapping my boots to the board. With all that wet snow built up in my bindings I struggled to get the bindings to connect.

I started to realize that much more of this would eventually sap my already limited energy. It became clear that I was not as strong as I needed to be. I was also acutely aware that I was taking way too long to get down this run. There were guys waiting at the cat who had paid big money for this adventure. Wasting their valuable cat skiing time started to weigh as heavy on me as the deep wet snow.  Watching Joey ski through the snow liike he was in a beer commerical made very concious that i was riding with some elete skiers and riders and I was holding them up.

At the bottom, I talked to Chris and Savage, our guides, and we decided it would be wise to wait out the next few runs. The idea was to find runs that were more open, less trees, and maybe flatter so the boarding would be less challenging. That never happened.

The avalanche danger was high that day so the wide open areas were too dangerous. We could only ski in the steeper heavily treed runs. So, I just rode in the cat. One of the other skiers, Sean, also had some issues and sat out the rest of the day with me. At least I had company.

The next day I drove to a local ski hill, a couple of hours away, with Tommy Kalita. Tommy comes on the trip for the social life and networking but does not feel comfortable cat skiing so he drives to Whitewater, a ski hill near Nelson. We had fun. I can ride the groomed runs all day long and enjoy it.

When we got off the groomers and into the tree areas the snow was really hard and no fun to ride so we avoided the trees. We drove back to Retallack feeling good about our day. We arrived there just as the two cats were getting back to the lodge. When I saw how happy the guys were getting out of the cats I was totally envious and jealous.  Everyone had had a great time, including the guys I was sure I could keep up with. I wanted some of that.

I decided right then that I was going with them the next day and I told the guides. The guides accepted my decision reluctantly and in the morning the head guide reassured me that it was OK with them but as we talked I could tell he was concerned. The avalanche danger was worse today and I started to realize that if there ever was an incident on the mountain I might be the weak link and the guy keeping our guides from effectively taking care of other guys.

Later on, Antoine Palmer, my good friend and the organizer of the trip, sought me out, looked me in the eye and asked if I really wanted to do this. He made it clear that, in fact, “showing up had been showing off” and no one would think less of me for not going. I already knew that but I had my own expectations of myself to live up to. We both knew what the wise choice was. Thank you, Antoine.

I went back to Whitewater with Tommy. We had a great time. The snow was really good and I got closer to a flow experience than I would have in the steep and deep. I even got in some good tree runs. The guys in the cats also had a good time and I am OK with my cat ski experience.

Later, we learned that two weeks earlier a skier at Retallack had almost suffocated in a tree well. That explained why the guides were hyper nervous.

Despite not doing much cat boarding, I had a great time and got my money’s worth out of the whole experience. Cat skiing is not for everyone but the guys who do it tend to be pretty interesting. This group were all friends and associates of Antoine and Joey, so they are amazing guys; like Antoine and Joey. Remember; “We all become a composite of the six people we associate with the most.”

These guys had a lot in common. Entrepreneurial – most of the guys owned their own companies. Successful – they were all playing at the top of their games. Nice guys – they treat people well. Socially conscious – they were all working towards a better world. Young – everyone was between 30 and 40 years old with one or two near 50. Fit and athletic – of course. Couragous guys who take calculated risks – the kind of guys that cat ski, own their own companies and might go to Burning Man.

Hanging out for five days with 24 high performing guys was a treat. Over the weekend I either participated in or overheard conversations about; Altered conciousnes techiques for performance enhancment.  The metrics used to manage an internet sales company; the use of toy robots to teach children about complex decision making.  The pro’s and cons of various construction processes – Design Build vs Cost Plus vs Design – Bid – Build. The math of investing in commercial real estate.  The appeal of open marriage and poly-amorous relationships in today’s world.  The challenges of creating robots to do day to day work. The reasons for going to Burning Man. The costs and paybacks for various forms of power generation. The challenges of hiring a GM to replace you at work. The best places to surf. What it feels like to be at own a company that is about to experience an exponential growth explosion.  The challenges of raising kids in junior high. The social value of hedge funds. Mountain biking vs running as a fitness activity. The appeal of living in a sprinter van. The experience of leaving a safe job to start a new company. The excitement of concieving a product and bringing it to market. Being a dad (or not).

Yah, we also talked about Donald Trump. (How could we ignore him?)  But you get the idea. It was fun hanging out with so many guys that live their lives on what most of us would think of as “the edge.” This whole experience was inspiring.

I am thankful for the opportunity to hang out with these guys and grateful to them for making me feel like I was one of them. For a weekend, I felt like I was a high performer, too. And I sort of am; but not really.

That I was with these guys when my cancer was discovered and was able to beat cancer and recover from radiation and then get back to join them in Retallach a year later is an accomplishment.

I am proud of my accomplishment. It has been quite year. Living on the edge. I am also thankful for all the help along the way and appreciative of all the caring and attention I have received in support of my recovery.

Special thanks to “you”, dear reader. You know who you are.

I am back…. continued from last week

I am actually just back from my annual snowboarding trip but I wrote this blog last week so I am posting it now while I gather my thoughts about the cat skiing adventure.

Generally I am doing well. Eating a lot but still with saliva and swallowing issues. Making good progress towards my new normal. The doctors say I am good. Now working on turning the blog into a book for new tongue cancer patients to read.

I am back eating three big meals a day.

I eat three good meals a day. Linda makes sure of that. But the meals she makes for us are lean and healthy and lean meals won’t help me gain weight. I have to get back to drinking meal replacement drinks like Boost, twice a day. And I can start snacking more. More nuts. More cookies, cake and ice cream, all the good stuff. I know, in some ways its a privlidged position to be in.

I am eating almost everything now. The good meals are pastas, most meats, fish, and eggs. My most favourite meal is ribs. They are tender, moist and solid enough to got down easily. And they taste great.

The hardest foods to eat are ones that are dry, like pork chops and chicken breasts. Chicken dark meat and drumsticks are better. Not as dry. Some other favourites are pizza and the old stand-by wor wonton soup.

I still have to stay away from spicing foods. Spices make my mouth explode. I also I find that lettuce is harder to eat so I just eat cut up vegetables instead of salads.

My taste buds seem go be working and I actually enjoy the tastes more than I ever did.  I was never much of a foody. Now I seem to  enjoy flavours more. I appreciate sauces. I add salt to food, which is new for me. I use a lot more butter now. Taste is good.

For breakfasts, I eat a lot of porridge and granola cereals piled high with berries and other fruits and hemp seed when I remember. I am also good with all the omelette and other egg dishes Linda fills with vegetables.

As long as they are moist, most meals go down.

I still have saliva and swallowing issues.

There is not enough saliva in my mouth to help push the food down, which is why food cannot be too dry. I often have to wash food down with water. There is a glass of Perrier water or Club Soda by my plate at every meal.

It is not uncommon to get a heavy dry gob of food caught at the back of my throat till I feel like I am going to choke. I don’t panic but I do need a quick slug of water.

As I have explained before, the saliva glands in my lower part of my mouth, the ones that produce watery saliva, may never work properly again.

After each meal, I often still have to clean my mouth. It takes a lot of swishing with water and spitting to get the gunk out of my mouth. I think this is a saliva issue too.

Another part to the saliva issue is that I get food caught up in all the cervices in my mouth, my teeth, my cheeks and even up in my nasal passages.  It is hard to know how saliva naturally cleans your mouth until you don’t have it.

The upper saliva glands that produce the heavier more mucus like saliva are normal but I think the mucus is what sometimes clogs food at the back of my throat and interferes with swallowing.  It happens because there is not enough of the watery saliva. This is probably my part of my new normal, but I it could get better.

The other thing that is still happening is aspiration. Coughing when water goes down the wind pipe. Usually it’s not so much of a problem but occasionally I will suddenly sneeze when I have a mouthful of food. When that happens I instinctively close off my mouth and the sneeze drives the food out through my nostrils and sprays over my plate. Then I am dripping snot and having to grab a napkin to clean myself up. Disgusting. It happens. Not often but often enough.

That said if you measure progress in the amount of Kleenex I use, I am doing very well. Food particles getting up the nasal passages seem to stimulate a lot of runny mucus and i blow my  nose a lot while eating. Gross. But this is getting better. Before I left on holiday I would use six to ten napkins or Kleenex’s a meal. Now it’s two or three. Sometimes none.

Have I explained all of this in an earlier blog?  I think so, but I am try ing to get accross that my new normal is a cluster of minor irritantsand frustrations. Nothinig too big, just  messy and uncomfortable.

Thankfully now there is no pain involved.

Oh yah, there is some pain. I get canker sores on my cheeks and tongue that kind of come and go. The pain is not to bad but it does interfere with my eating and drinking. Today they are gone but I expect another one soon. Apparently they are a symptom of my lack of saliva.

Are these problems going to go away over time? We don’t know.

Back to normal?

I saw may Radiologist, Dr. Debenham, recently and he said he expected continuous improvement in my eating over the next few months. So, it’s not my new normal yet.

He also looked at my latest CT scan and put a scope down my throat today.  I am cancer free and doing very well.

He also talked about how big my cancer was when he first met me. The cancer was 5.5 cm long, and 4.5 high and wide. Big and growing fast. It grew another cm before they radiated it. He also said they never had any doubt that they would get it with radiation and chemo.

Apparently, he will be taking care of me for as long as I live in Edmonton. I see him every three months and get a CT scan every six months for the next two years.

I also went to my support group last Tuesday and realized that I had sort of “graduated”. The stuff they were talking about had happened to me so long ago that I had forgotten most of it. The sharing of experiences just brought up bad memories for me. Linda was there too and she felt the same way. It seemed I was there just to let the guys know that it does get better. This too shall pass.

On to the next thing:

My new goal is to get this blog published in a book format. I will be working on that for a while. I will probably self publish and that will be interesting. But it will be a lot of work and expense to get it done. I hope I get help marketing the book so the people who might benefit from reading it, tongue cancer patients and their care givers, actually find out about it. And I hope whoever reads it does get something out of it. Personally, I sure got a lot out of writing it.

Publishing and marketing a book is going to be a whole new adventure. I am up for it.

There is no quit in me.

Next blog is about my snowboarding trip which has already happened. I just have to write it up.

I am back. Back in so many ways.

Back from  seven weeks of holiday in Costa Rica and Panama.

Back from learning to surf

Back doing what I am good at; snowboarding.

Back to feeling strong and healthy.

Back to the playing weight I was at when I was 24 years old.

Back to eating regular meals.

Back to feeling like I should be doing more.

Back to normal? No, I still have issues. But for today lets talk about the good things.

Our holiday

How was the holiday? Just as you would imagine a holiday in Costa Rica and Panama would be like. Sunny and 25 degrees every day. Nice!

Get up at 6:00 AM with the sun, walk on the beach and watch the sun rise if we are at a beach. Have breakfast and do stuff in the morning while the temperature is decent. Rest, read or sleep in the afternoon when it’s hot.

Have dinner and socialize in the evening. Go to bed at 9 PM or so when the sun is down and after catching up on our daily Trump news. No, you can’t avoid it even in Costa Rica and on a holiday.

It was not like that everywhere but you get the idea. Sometimes we were inland where it was cooler and but a lot of time was spent at beaches where I could learn to surf. For those of you who were curious as to where we went here is the quick outline.

Arrived in San Jose on January 3 and visited with Lorna, Linda’s twin sister and her husband George who have just moved to Atenas. It is a town near San Jose that advertises itself as having “the best climate in the world”. It kind of does. We enjoyed a few days there.

Then we caught a bus to Tamarindo, a great little surf town on the Pacific Coast, on the Nicoya Peninsula. We spent two weeks in a nice hotel with a great dunk pool that Linda enjoyed a lot. I took seven surf lessons there. George and Lorna joined us for the second week.

Then back to Atenas for a week helping George and Lorna move their worldly possession that had just arrived from Atlanta where they used to live.  During that week we took a bus to Jaco, a beach town on the coast two hours by bus from Atenas, for a couple of days of surfing.

After that it was a flight to the Puerto Jimenez on the Osa Pennisula in southern Costa Rica. We spent five days at an ecolodge, located next to Corcovado National Park. We had to walk 3.5 km to get there and our luggage was delivered in a horse cart. There we slept in a high end tent and were treated to monkeys, majestic macaws and many other creatures. Along the way, we met a lot of really great people and generally enjoyed ourselves. We were on the coast but it was too dangerous to venture into the ocean. The waves were huge and loud. Very impressive.

We spent a couple of days in Puerto Jimenez, a very dusty frontier town. The highlight was a tour of a wonderful farm where we learned how they make chocolate from growing the cacao beans to grinding and forming the bars.

We spent a few days on a beach across the Gulf in another dusty beach town that was so hot we literally slept most of the day. By luck, I found a 52-year-old ex-California surf bum who gave me lessons. Finally, I had an instructor who spoke good English! It helped. I learned a lot from him.

We then headed for Panama to the mountains where is it very cool (merino wool shirts and down jacket cool). From there, we made an 11 hour, six bus changes, trek to Playa Venao, a great surf beach for a few more days of surf lessons. Then on to visit my sister Shenta and her husband Gary. They go to Punta Chame every winter for three months so Gary can kite surf.

Surfing

And I sort of learned to surf. The last blog had a photo of me surfing.

Here is a link to a you tube  video of me after seven lessons. I took five more lessons and I think I look more relaxed on the board now but watch this. I am pretty happy with my progress.

I had great instructors and I worked hard at learning. At first it was two hours every second day but eventually I could go every day as I got stronger. I was pleased with how strong I actually was. The dry land training I had done in Edmonton, practicing my “pop ups” on the living room floor, really helped. It also helped that I had been doing high intensity interval training (HIIT). More on that later.

I intend to continue to learn to surf and try and get good enough to catch bigger waves. Right now, I am a total beginner. But a 69-year-old beginner, so I am just pleased to be surfing at all. But it’s more than a bucket list thing. I want to be good at it. Good for an old guy.

As it is, I am doing very well for a recent cancer survivor.

Snowboarding

I started snowboarding at 50 and am pretty good at that now. Check out this video from when I was 64.

Now that I am back in Edmonto and back to snowboarding. We drove to Marmot Basin near Jasper with our friends Kevin Taft and Jeanette Boman for two days of snow soon after we got back. It was great. I found I was fit enough to ride pretty hard from 10:00 to 3:30 each day.

I have also been boarding at Rabbit Hill, Snow Valley and Edmonton Ski club for a couple of hours each time. I am preparing for my next adventure. A cat ski/ snowboard trip to Retallack near Nelson in BC.

It is now March 8, 2017. I was diagnosed with cancer on March 18 last year, a day or two after getting back from what was the third annual PowPow Crushers snowboard trip to Retallack. I am very pleased and proud to say that I am joining the group for the fourth annual trip.  We leave tomorrow.

This is snowboarding in the outback where two track machines each carry 12 skiers/snowboarders and two guides up the mountain into the deep fresh snow. We ski or board down in steep terrain and deep snow; usually through the trees. Then the cat picks us up and takes us up to another area of untracked snow.

We get in eight long glorious runs each day for three days. It’s exhilarating but kind of scary going through the trees. It takes a lot of skill and it’s hard to get used to the deep snow after riding on hardpacked snow at the ski hills. When you are in the groove and feeling it, powder snowboarding is the best. But when you fall, and I often do, it’s exhausting getting up.

Last year I felt old, and I am compared to the others, but I earned the reputation of having no quit in me. Hence the name of this blog. This year I am not only old but I might be considerably weaker. Apparently, I have been recovering from radiation for the last 8 months. We will see how it goes. I do feel like I can handle it.

I am boarding with a fantastic group of successful young entrepreneurs and professionals in their thirties and early forties. They are all friends and associates of my friend Antoine Palmer who, along with Joey Hundert, organize the trip. Such a great trip. Such great guys. I am honored to be included. We stay in a pretty nice lodge, eat some great food and generally have a great time. Expensive but well worth it.

Feeling strong and fit.

All things considered, I a pretty fit, but am I fit enough for the intense snowboarding? I will let you know in the next blog. But I have been training. Surfing is great exercise. I was able to go out for two hours of surfing and not be too exhausted.

I have also been doing yoga almost every day since before Christmas. My yoga has been steadily improving since I recommitted to doing it regularly. I am much more flexible now than I was, even a month ago. I now have a very solid routine based on Power Yoga that I do each time. It takes me an hour. Good thing I am retired and have the time. I try do it in the morning when I won’t be distracted but often I do it at night.

I am getting to the point where I do the movements well enough that I can concentrate on controlled breathing as I do them. That is real progress compared to how I usually do yoga. More stretching than yoga practice. I hope I can keep it up.

The yoga is keeping me flexible and nimble but what is getting me in shape is the high intensity interval training. I have mentioned it in previous blogs. I am a big fan of HIIT as a way of getting fit. It only takes a few minutes a day and you can create a program without any, or very little, equipment. You can also do it all at home. Fast, convenient and no expense.

Here is my program:

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

You do seven exercises in seven minutes and work up to 15 exercises in 21 minutes

In the beginning, you do each exercise for 40 seconds and then rest for 20 seconds before you start the next one. Eventually you add more exercises and do them for longer. I do 15 exercises for a minute and rest for half a minute.

You do each exercise as quickly as you can without losing form.

The idea is to exhaust yourself in that 40 seconds. You will probably be breathing hard at the end if it’s an aerobic exercise like jumping jacks or feel you can’t do another repetition if is an anaerobic exercise like curls or push-ups.

There are apps for timing yourself but I just use the stop watch on my I phone.

I do the exercises in our living room.

Here is a good example of the sequence of exercises I do:

  • Stride jumps
  • Push- ups
  • Run on the spot
  • Curls (with dumb bells)
  • Burpees
  • Shoulder presses (with dumb bells)
  • Lunges
  • Dips (between two kitchen chairs)
  • Plyometric jumps
  • Triceps presses (using the front of a chair)
  • Squats
  • Pull ups (I have a pullup bar above a door frame)
  • Wall sits
  • Plank
  • One leg alternate toe touch.

Notice that I alternate upper body and lower body.

I get all the major areas of the body.

I also alternate the anaerobic with aerobic exercise.

If you want to do this at home start with the Seven Minute workout. It’s an app you can download and follow along with the instructions. Once you are into it for a few weeks you can get this book, “Doctor Metzel’s workout prescription.” Check it out wherever you buy books on line.

I don’t do HIIT every day. But I try to do something that would be considered strenuous exercise every day. With one day of rest a week. I usually do yoga that day.

I am lucky. I actually enjoy physical activity. Actually, we all did when we were kids, it’s just that I never gave it up.  It just gets programmed out of us over time from a variety of pressures. Exercise is work but it can be enjoyable, and it makes me feel so much better after I am done.

My next goal is to get back on my mountain bike and be able to keep up with the F’n riders, my high functioning bike riding buddies, by the end of the summer. These guys ride a lot, summer and winter, so I am going to have to really work to get up to their fitness levels. And of course, they are younger. Most in their fifties but a few in their sixties. I can do it.

Back to my playing weight.

I still only weigh 146 pounds. 146 pounds of saggy skin and bones. The muscle is starting to come back from the exercise but I am not adding weight even though I am eating a lot.

Bonus, I can eat virtually whatever I want.

……..to be continued in my next blog.

Update from Costa Rica

Get yourself a cup of coffee. This is a long one.

It’s been a long time since the last blog. We have been in Costa Rica since January 4th. Missed all the really cold weather. It’s generally 25 degrees every day here so Linda is happy.

This is a cancer blog. No more taking about the weather.

A lot of progress has been made as far as recovery is concerned but it’s mostly pretty subtle and slow. I will detail some of that for those readers who want to know how recovery progresses.

But first, let’s get to the surfing. Isn’t that why I am here? The idea is that if I enjoy surfing enough I can make it my new sport  so Linda can enjoy the sunshine and flowers and have more summer in her  life. So far her plan is working.

Those  of you who are my Facebook friends already know I am getting up on the surfboard and looking like an old man learning to surf. I like it. It’s hard to do but not impossible. I have taken seven private lessons and have made good progress. On the last day my instructor’s friend did a video of me that is almost ready to go on you tube. It’s well done and makes me look like a an old man who could eventually learn the basics of surfing. Actually being a good surfer would be a whole different unattainable realm.

But I am hooked. Bought the Tamarindo Surf boarder T-shirt. And proudly wear a hat that says, “I surfed Costa Rica.” I am even reading “Barbarian Days: a surfers life”. It is a book that won a Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography. It’s high on Barrack Obama’s  reading list in 2016. Did you know he is a voracious reader? 79 books just last year. Mostly novels.

I was worried that I would not be strong enough to learn to surf and that was almost true. I needed a day of rest  to recover after each time out on the water. Each session was two hours long and by the last few  sessions I did not need the to break up the two hours with shore time. I am definitely much stronger now. It’s amazing how the body responds when you put big demands on it.

It also turned out that at Tamarindo beach we could walk out in the water far enough to surf so there was not much paddling. It’s the paddling out to the waves that is exhausting. So I was lucky on that count. The next places I go, Jaco, also in Costa Rica and Playa Venao, in Panama, may not be so easy on me.

That I am stronger is a good thing but it does not mean I have recovered or that my life has not been changed, probably forever.

Let me put it to you in terms you will likely understand.

I can’t drink beer. Can’t drink wine. No hard liquor. Probably never will. True fact.

My throat is still tender, so the alcohol has a sharp bite. Also, my taste buds have changed so my days of being a wine conniseur are over. Ha ha.

The taste buds may come back but apparently most throat or tongue cancer patients never do  get back to their old drinking habits. Probably a good thing for me. I used to have a drink or three every night and more on weekends.  I guess I am that designated driver guy now.

And eating or rather swallowing will continue to be an issue. Actually my swallowing  has improved since we got here but I can see that I will never eat like I used to.

The food I chew just does not want to go down. I chew but there is not enough moisture from my lower saliva glands to carry  it down my throat. So I often have to use a swig  of water to get the food to go down. Also, the saliva glands at the back  and top of my mouth which were less affected by the radiation actually produce a thicker more mucus like saliva. That mucus collects with some of the food and just clogs up the back of my throat after each swallow. Somehow water does  it clear it away immediately and I often find myself clearing my throat and spitting to get rid of the junk, especially after meals. Sort of disgusting. I disguise it well in polite company so don’t worry we can still have dinner together.

The saliva issues mean that food sticks to my teeth and gums so I have to swish a lot of water after each meal to clean my mouth out. And the gunk at the top of my throat often backs up into my mouth. It’s food, so no big deal but it’s a bother.

It is also not uncommon for bits of food to back up into my  nasal passages and cause my nose to run like I have a bad cold. Two or three kleenex’s later I am OK. I do not use much Kleenex at all compared  to the bad old days.

Food particles in my nasal passages can also cause me to sneeze suddenly and uncontrollably. Particles can sometimes be ejected from my nose in an untimely manner. Also disgusting.

There has been slow steady improvements. My swallowing is better but as I have said before even with better saliva my throat has lost some of its sensitivity and I will continue to aspirated or choke  a bit every now and then to stop the aspirations. (Food or moisture going down my wind pipe)

We will see how it goes. I still have five more months to the anniversary of the end of radiation. Where I am at then should be my new normal.

I have gained some weight. Was 146 lbs coming here and now I see some fat starting to collect again on my stomach. Welcome and not welcome at the same time.

We have been eating some great meals in Costa Rica. Eating may be challenging but what I do eat is great food. Linda feeds me well there are great restaurants. My favourite meal is now ribs. Mmmm! We eat three good meals a day and I still down two Ensures or a smoothly every day. Trying to keep my calorie intake just below 2,500. I would guess I wiegh about 152 now. I would be happy at 155 or 160 with more muscle.

i hope some of my recent gains are from muscle. I am still on my high intensity interval training (HIIT)  program. That is building up muscle. Since we left Tamarimdo about 6 days ago I can’t surf so I do HIIT. It is short bursts of high intensity exercise  and intermittent rest that I do for 20 minutes. I am up to  26 good push ups now. From only 4 in late November.

I know that most of you think I am pushing myself too hard but I am not. Remember the physiotherapist who does research on exercise and cancer patients. She told me I could get back to the former me if I worked at it. I am working but also resting. (Yoga) I was in great shape when cancer hit me. I lost 30 pounds of mostly muscle so I have a long way to go.

My first recovery goal was to surf in Tamarjndo. Met that. Next goal is to go on a cat ski snowboard trip in March with the guys I was with the days before I was told I had cancer. I think I will be strong enough. The next goal is to be able ride with the F’n riders again. That gang of mountain bikers are super fit. Give me a year.

I did go on mountain bike ride here in Atenas. A young Costarican  working on Lorna and George’s property had a nice new Scott mountain bike so I paid him for its use and went out for an hour of not too hard riding. It was nice to be riding again.

Enough about fitness. Let’s talk about what normal is these days.

There are still teeth cleaning issues do discuss. I have brush my teeth after every meal to clean and protect them. Remember radiation is the enemy of teeth.

And my mouth always tastes kind of funky. Not sure why. The gunk in my throat I guess. I drink a lot of club soda and Perrier water with meals, and after because the fizz seems like it’s cleaning my mouth.

I also chew a lot of gum. Trident is my favorite. It generates saliva and takes the gunk taste away die a while.

The real discipline I have cultivated is giving myself a flouride treatment every day. Gotta keep those teeth healthy.

My new friend Freda, a one of my mother’s bridge partners, and tongue cancer survivor, broke a tooth last month. They fixed it for her but we know that our teeth are not the same as before radiation got to them.

Bowl movements? Every three days seems normal now, whereas it used to be once a day.

Sleep? I sleep well now. Again, something to be thankful for.

Be aware that now that I have decided to publish this blog in book form for new oral cancer patients to read I have decided that getting all the detail down, as gross as it might be, is important. They will want to know everything they might expect to have to experience.

Also new for us in Costa Rica is going to bed early and getting up at 6:00 with the sun. Nice sunrises. And I have recommitted to a daily yoga program which I do, first thing every morning.

I do  a yoga program which I learned from a book called Power Yoga. I have done it off and on, mostly off, for many years. In Tamarindo I attended a Power Yoga class with an advanced group of young women who inspired me (and  fascinated me) with their flexibility. Actually I  was pleasantly surprised at how well I kept up with those pretzel girls.

Pretty well for an old man. It is surprising how your body responds if you continually tell it to work.

How is Linda? She loves Costa Rica. Loves the sun and the flowers. Also loves the people. She speaks Spanish fairly well so she engages easily. She loves the farmers’ market.

We are enjoying visiting with her twin sister Lorna and her husband George. They have recently moved to Atenas from Atlanta, Georgia.

Lorna has had heart problems this year, now under control. Just after arriving in November, she broke her ankle.

She is recovering nicely from that as well. She is now walking without assistance. She is showing remarkable resilience. George has started to experience Vertigo. He too is remarkably resilient and carries on despite the Vertigo.

Resilience seems to be a theme here. Take it, make the best of if, carry on and don’t quit.
Too bad George and Lorna did not blog about their move here. It would have been a rich story.

That is another thing happening. I am exploring my options for turning my blog into a book.
If any of you have experience or advice on how to do that I would welcome your input.

Our hope is that the book will find an audience with new oral cancer patients and their professional care givers. Apparently over 50,000 people in the USA get my kind of cancer every year, up to 100,000 if you broaden the category.

It is time to start immunizing boys, not just girls against HPV cancers. Women typically get cervical cancer while men get throat cancer. And it is sexually transmitted.

Sex life. Another casualty of cancer recovery. That too comes back slowly. More on that next blog. Nah. Just kidding.

Meanwhile check out the video  of me surfing. It will be on you tube shortly under:

69 year old man learns to surf in Costa Rica

I had a great instructor; Julio from the Costa Rica Surf Club.

Linda’s plan to turn me into a surfer as an alternative to snowboarding is working.

 

 

An old man takes a surfing lesson.

Tamarindo is full of surf shops. Every business seems to offer surf lessons. We ask Cedric, from the Hotel Gardinia, where we are staying,  who we should chose. He tells us he has a good friend, Sabrina , who he will call. She is a serious instructor he says. She owns the Costa Rica Surf Club.

Sabrina picks Linda and I up at the hotel in her nice Chinese built SUV. She is a beautiful 30ish soccer mom type. Very friendly, very bright.

Turns out she and her husband, Diego, both from Argentina,  own a shop on the busy street that parallels the beach. They have been at it for 12 years. They have two kids nine and five.

In 2006, their first shop burned down and they lost everything. It was not insured. The same year their friend lost a child in an accident. They feel fortunate to have only lost a business. Now they are thriving again and thinking of building a house.

As I suspected she is not going to teach me. That will be Julio. He is very good she says.

At the shop we pay only $45 not the $80 that most shops charge. She says they control their own prices. Julio says the $80 includes board rental for the day but after a 1.5 to 2 hour lesson I will not want to go out again.

Julio is a good looking, super fit 24 to 28 year old. He has been teaching for  ten years, two in Costa Rica. He is actually a displaced oil trade worker from Venezuela, now happy to be only teaching surfing and playing bongos in a band. His girlfriend is pregnant. They are happy.

Julio starts with dry land training. I have seen it all before you tube videos except that the “pop up” technique I have been practicing is more for short boards not the 10 ft foam long I get to learn on.

He is impressed that I am almost 69 and learning to surf. His dad is 65 and fit but will not surf. Surfing to Julio is the ultimate sport. He explained “Everyone should learn surfing. It’s just you, your skills, a board and the unpredictable waves. Like life.”

We walk out into the water away from where all the other beginner surfers are to a less busy area near some body surfers. The waves are good beginner waves. Maybe 4 high. They come in groups of 4 or 5 with lots of flat water between groups. The water is colder than I expected. I am glad I bought my “shorty” wet suit. I am skinny and I know I will be cold. Julio wears one too but we are the only ones who do.

Julio shows me how to walk the board out to where the body surfers are. Lift the nose when the waves come in. There are a few beginner surfers out there too but they do not have instructors and are struggling.

I am glad to notice that there is no paddling out to the waves. We can walk. We start where the water is chest high. Good, I will not have to exhaust myself paddling.

He shows me how to pull myself up on the board from the side and position myself relative to the markers on the board. A line down the middle. A mark that my chin should be positioned above. Hands to the side of my chest. Do not grab the board. Feet touching each other. Toes on the board.

He reads the waves and lines the board up facing the shore so he can push me with the wave. As he pushes, the wave catches the board and I feel a rush and the front of the board starts racing. It is fast. He yells, “Get up”. I arch my back up like I have practiced and bring my feet under me and get up. I am up and almost balanced. For a short ride and then I fall backwards.

Julio is impressed. He says my front foot has to be more forward. We walk back to our start point. The next few rides are the same. Up and fall. Things happen so fast I am not sure if my front foot is coming up further or not.

Finally I get a longer ride going. I fall and he tells me my back arm is behind me like a snowboarder, not elbow bent forward like a surfer. I say I will try but in fact there are too many little things to think about and it all happens so fast. A surfboard is much less stable than a snowboard.

Next time I get up and feel balanced for the first time and think I am actually surfing. He yells “bend your legs”. I drop down deeper and am pleased that my balance improves. I have a moment of being proud and the ride ends with me pitching to the side. Julio is excited for me like a good instructor should be. He praises me for being a fast learner. The body surfers have noticed my long ride too. Smiles all around.

The next three tries are short. I am losing concentration. I suggest we go in for a rest.
We find Linda where she is watching on the beach and she is full of praise.

We have another half hour of lessons left. We go out again.

On the first ride I get up quickly and am doing well when I notice that the board is going parallel to the wave behind me not perpendicular like Julio says a long board has to be. I make a quick adjustment automatically like I would on a snowboard (not sure what) and all of a sudden I am rushing toward the beach. I crouch lower and think, “I am surfing”.

It’s a long run, but of course, I fall. I get up and face the beach toward where I think Linda is and flex my muscles in celebration.

Julio and I celebrate and congratulate each other on the way back out. He is pleased. The next rides are not so successful but still promising.

Finally I have another long ride, like a surfer, and I make it almost all the way to the beach. I fall off noticing that sand is only 6 or 8 inches below the water.

Nice!

The next few times I get up but have lost my concentration. Julio says it’s the wind that has come up that is causing us problems. We try one more wave and it’s a good enough ride to quit on.

It’s been a successful lesson. Linda is impressed and Julio and I are happy. Agreements are made for more lessons. Julio says I will be exhausted and need a day of rest. He is right.

Sabrina offers to drive Linda and I to the buy groceries and back to the hotel. Service above and beyond.

That night over a nice dinner that Linda prepares I ask her if she had seen my long rides and if l looked like a surfer. She Looks at me kindly and  says, “You looked like an old man who is learning how to surf”. Then she smiles. That is as good as I can expect.

Next lesson I learn how to read the waves and paddle to start without Julio’s push.