Tough challenge ahead this week.

Tuesday 17 May 2016. Almost very nearly precisely a year ago. Blog posts that I’ve not read back since I wrote them. Unable to look at what I tried to express on that Tuesday…..and then…then the Wednesday. I just tried again. I just failed again. 
My dad died on Wednesday 18 May. A form of lung cancer that spread to his kidneys and other parts of his prematurely-aged body. He fought and fought. By God, he fought. Just two weeks prior, we’d been watching the rugby live in Cardiff, drinking Brains in packed pubs, laughing with cousins and close friends… and then…then 10 days later he was rushed in to hospital again….and then he didn’t leave. We were all there, we all got to spend quality time with him, we laughed with him, and he never once mentally gave up. Sure, physically, you could see the collapse. His body fucked him about for days. Mentally,  he fought and fought, battled, scrapped with the terror taking him. I’ll never forget spending the night in his hospital room, darkness drawing life out of the room at 3am, despite the artificial, lifeless glare of the overhead lights. He couldn’t breathe,  his O2 was up at Max, and he stayed calm. He breathed shallow, controlled, hour after hour after hour…until daylight and the life of a new day returned. He slept then, recharged as best he could for what lay ahead.

I’ll never forget that. In the year since it has inspired me on more than one occasion. Of course, I’ve never been through a battle like that, what I do doesn’t compare even slightly. But his strength pushes me all the time.

So, this week is going to be tough. We put so much stock and attention in to anniversaries that it is impossible to treat this week…or that day…like any other. My mother, sisters and I will have dinner together on Thursday, 18 May 2017. I dont know how it’s going to be but I’m happy to be with them. Mrs Nomad and I have tried to anticipate this week, we’ve aimed off for the emotion with the children. I didn’t think it would actually be that bad. 

Feelings are already beginning to roll in, to hit, like the first, clean, building waves of a storm against a shore, before the chaotic riot of water, surf, weed, and hidden rocks tumbling me over and round, uncontrolled. 

Being a Wales Rugby Supporter – Rest week (sorta)

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Taken from the wrong side of Wales….the England side.

I tell you, supporting Wales at rugby is a hard slog. For my whole life, I have taken some really serious shit over it – some of it extremely physical (I went to a ‘robust’ school). Despite them being utter garbage for much of my life (and I mean PROPER RUBBISH), they have fought a fairly mountainous route in attempting to become a credible world rugby force. 3 Grand Slams (2005, 2008, 2012) and a championship (2013) should have established them as a consistent and genuine force of world rugby. Even going as far as getting to the semi-finals of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. In some ways hardest and most impressive of all, they fought their way out of the infamous “Group of Death” in Rugby World Cup 2015 by beating hosts England, and Australia and doing so with the longest injury list in the history of the sport; I think the locker room cleaner had his boots on at one point.

To read this, you’d think a supporter should be quite content. By oh no, this is Wales we are talking about. While there are beautiful trophies in the cabinet, this does not take in to account the tragic lows. There was the 5th placing in 2006 Six Nations – 1 year after the Grand Slam. There was the 5th place in 2007. The 4th places in 2009 and 2010 and 2011 – after the Grand Slam of 2008! oh, and I can’t forget the beating by Japan during the last Lions Series – yes, we supplied the bulk of the Lions team (and beat Australia) but still – JAPAN!!

There is also the complete psychological block that permeates Welshmen everywhere when it comes to the ‘Big 3’ of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. Whatever it is, we simply cannot get any run against those 3. We’ve had them here for tours, one offs and we’ve visited them for tours. It doesn’t matter. We get hammered or we get devastatingly close – there’s very, very rarely a win and no middle ground. We even got destroyed by a NZ provincial team on tour this year. I don’t care what people say, it really is psychological and as a coach, I find it fascinating. New faces come in, we show so much promise and we get close but after a few beatings, heads drop and it’s back to normal. Yet Ireland have just beaten New Zealand for the first time in 111 years. But then, they don’t appear to fear anyone. Ever.

And so it was again this Saturday. Australia, supposedly weakened and after a hard-fought Rugby Championship against NZ / Argentina / SA, were coming for a Northern Hemisphere tour, opening with Wales. It was to be (yet again) our best chance in years to take them on and beat them. Instead, what transpired was an utter horror show that is only not reflected in the score line because Australia gave a clown demonstration on 3 occasions and completely fluffed golden-edged opportunities to score. Pace, flair, off-loading in the tackle, not flooding the tackle area with people, support runners – all the aspects of the 2005 Grand Slam, completely and utterly devoid 11 years later. Australia had it all and more. Our ‘power play’ tactics were out-thought over 4 years ago yet blindly we appear to continue on.

And it’s Argentina next week – I’m genuinely afraid for the Welsh team. Knowing them though, they’ll actually show up and we’ll win in emphatic fashion!

I can say with complete certainty that supporting Wales is a tough one. In order to appreciate the glorious highs, you must take with it the most bitter and cavernous depths. I’ll always do so, with my whole heart, but trying to explain it to my kids is as tough now as it was for my dad with me.

I miss you, Dad, but thank you.

CrossFit Watford

It’s supposed to be a rest week this week; I’ve been feeling quite run down and even had a little bit of a cold over the weekend. However, that appears to have gone and while I’m happy to rest from the early morning shenanigans (because it is BLOODY COLD OUT THERE!), I need to get in to the box.

Strength

1 RM Weighted Pull Up

5 x 8kg / 3 x 16kg / 20 / 24 / 28 / 32kg

New PR!

MetCon

Head not in the game.

5 Rounds of, 4 min Window:

  • 200m Run
  • 35 x Double understand
  • 10 x Burpees

Score = slowest time

1:46 / 1:52 / 2:07 / 2:45 / 2:10

Rounds 1, 2 and 3 were ‘okay’. The run was at about 75% pace, the double-unders were ropey to say the least but the burpees more than made up for it. Then came round 4. Then I lost my shit. Well, just before that bit, I completed the run, picked up the rope and couldn’t get past 9 double unders! I just couldn’t coordinate my arms and legs. giphyLike Phoebe from “Friends”, I was unable to get anything in time, tripping over the rope and wasting time. All the hard work of the first 3 rounds seemingly wasted as I spent time like a newbie. So then I lost my shit, hurled the rope across the room and was ready to just stop right there.

But, of course, I didn’t. I didn’t because the time spent in the first 3 rounds wasn’t wasted and there was still a 5th round to go.

It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘competition’ but I’m not there for that. The competitive aspect makes me work harder but it isn’t the end in itself, it is merely a means to achieving my goals. The workout (despite getting a Wales-like score) was not a waste. I worked hard and I’ll be fitter for it. Yes, I threw my toys out like a petulant child but that is a symptom of just where my head is at right now (other story) and not CrossFit.
Nutrition

Back on the Wagon – almost

  • Breakfast: 2 x Scrambled Eggs on bed of Spinach & Rocket
  • Snack: 10g mixed nuts
  • Lunch: 3 x Scrambled Eggs on Spinach & Rocket, 1 x small Apple
  • Snack: 2 x 10g mixed Nuts
  • Dinner: Leftover Roast Dinner w/ Sausages (small chinese takeaway tub size)
  • Post-WOD: 25g PhD Diet Whey
  • Desert: 1 portion Apple Strudel and Custard (from the weekend) – NOM!

Just get…over…that…Hump Day. And why is my dad in my head?

Everything you Need is Already Inside

It’s Wednesday. This week started on a Tuesday yet still I feel like the weekend is too far away. Like the squatting this morning and just getting…one…more….lift, this week feels like just getting….through….Wednesday…the Hump Day. I guess it’s a symptom of having had such an amazing summer holiday, then supreme Bank Holiday weekend. You want to hold on to that feeling; with luck, we’ve got a BBQ weekend (and more open water swimming) on a farm this weekend (obviously not swimming on a farm, that would look a little odd and perhaps not achieve the gains I’m hoping for).

AM Squat Programme

  • 6 x 4 Back Squat @ 102.5kg
  • 6 x 2 Front Squat @ 92.5kg
  • 6 x 5 Back Squat @ 102.5kg

After last night’s Thrusters, I knew this would feel harder than on Monday; so it transpired. But a strange motivational message has begun creeping in to my head recently and I’m trying to figure out where it came from. I see an image of my dad in my mind and know that he always wanted me to achieve all I could…to be the best I ever could be. Unlike common motivational techniques / quotes / events (Olympics 2016, anyone!!) that can be powerful but relatively short-lived, this appears to have a lower ‘burn’ but longevity; it’s sticking with me. It’s been pushing me harder through WODs and lifting recently. I suspect it came from a chat with the Little Nomads about how we only want what’s best for them and to see them succeed in whatever they are passionate about. Wherever it has come from, “Thanks Dad, I miss you buddy.”

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CrossFit Watford

Strength

6 x 2 Dead Stop Front Squats (As Heavy As Possible)

60 / 80 / 90 / 92.5 / 97.5 / No Time

A Dead Stop Front Squat begins in the bottom of the squat under the bar that will be stable on boxes either side. You set yourself up under the bar and then drive up and out. This entirely removes any kind of rebound that you get in a regular squat and focuses on brute force leg strength / power. To achieve 2 x 97.5 is no mean feat, especially after my squat programme this morning.

MetCon

A cheeky session!

8 mins Ascending Ladder – 2, 4, 6, 8, 10……

  • Burpees
  • Toes To Bar

Rest

6 mins Ascending Ladder – 2, 4, 6, 8…….

  • Hand Release Push Ups
  • Sit Ups (Ab Mat)

105 Reps for the 8 mins set and 129 Reps for the 6 mins set. I was happy with neither; the Toes To Bar slowed me right down. It’s clear that I’ve not done TTB in a while but need to factor that kind of thing in…Muscle Ups too….there is a lack of higher end (for CrossFit) gymnastic work at the moment. I can’t focus on everything though and increasing strength is the priority. The HR Push Ups slowed me down in the second set but they’re just nasty! 😀

Nutrition

  • Pre-WOD: Banana – I have found that I need the sugar burst in order to lift at this time of the morning.
  • Breakfast: Bowl of Lidl Muesli (the blue one) with 200ml Whole Milk, 1 x egg and 25g MyProtein Impact Whey
  • Snack: Apple
  • Lunch: Lidl 180g Chicken Breast slices (and some HP sauce), a few white grapes and 2 x cherry tomatoes.
  • Snack: Primal Bar (Macadamia and Coconut)
  • Post-WOD: 25g MyProtein Impact Whey
  • Dinner: Tin of Tuna / Naked Thai Noodles / 120g Butter Beans in Tomato Sauce and Kale

The way I felt going in to CFW this evening, I knew I’d got my nutrition wrong today. I had very little energy and what I had was taken up by the Front Squats well before the MetCon. I’ll have a think about this.

 

 

Tuesday 24 May 16 – Head not in the game

My Dad Died

I am lost. Wandering around a hollow void in my own head. Hearing noise, decrypting a little of the noise,  creating a noise. Sounds echo in the space. Time vanishes.

I attempt to focus. It takes a lot of effort and struggle. A quick – witted response, an intelligent nod, I’m in the game. Time vanishes again. I’m out. Restart. Reset. Restruggle.

With a need to meditate, to focus, to view normalcy, I head to the gym. I might not be that strong but I relish the attention the barbell demands.

Focus. Setup, knees back, rise, second pull, power! Shoulders high, catch, rise from the squat. Clear stars from vision. Dip, drive under the bar! Catch. Hold. Focus.

Drop bar.

Rest.

Setup.

Clean and Jerk 1RM

70, 70, 80, 80, 80, 90, 90, 90, 92.5, 90kg

10kg below my best. Anger and frustration got the better of me and I had to control myself and leave. I’ve lost a lot of strength over the last 3 months or so. My head is not in the game. To have continued would have been dangerous. At least I recognised that.

Wednesday 18 May 16 – My Dad Died

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Peacefully. With his wife’s arms tight around him until beyond the very end, and his father’s own blanket tucked in his hands.

On his own terms, he made the call when he was ready. Mum, me, his daughters and our partners were all present throughout. He saw that. He chose to relieve our suffering, nothing compared to his but he always put us first.

To attempt to describe the precise events would be to do them a quite horrid injustice. I would fail to capture the emotions, feelings, tears and even genuine comedy that played out this evening.
Besides, some things are too personal, I’m sure you understand. That’s ours.

Sitting here in the families room, having made the necessary phone calls to the wider family, there is little emotion left.  We’ve sobbed, held each other, laughed hysterically,  eaten Chinese food and drunk Gin & Tonics.  We’ve been appropriate,  wildly inappropriate, enraged, desperate, denying, gentle, angry, stubborn, and loving throughout. The numbness I feel right now is the product of relief, an empty tank and the realisation not having properly sunk in that my father has died.

2.5 weeks ago, Dad and I trucked around Cardiff in a folding wheelchair to watch rugby, eat pies and drink beers. It was the weekend we never got to do for years while my folks lived in the middle east. We sang anthems, bought tat, took the piss out of each other and messed about as best buddies. We spoke of new adventures in the summer and autumn, of trips abroad and nights on the Port. There were plans.

Now there aren’t plans.

Cancer took our plans.

But this isn’t about cancer, it’s about my dad. As I thumb this post, the emotions I thought had numbed resurface in an overwhelming, flooding torrent and smash me around the corridor. I hold the wall until the room stops. Overwhelming loss. My 58 year old Dad is gone. My mentor. My confidante. The guy most unafraid to cut me down to size despite my 3 inches on him should the need arise. …as it did on occasion. The first in line to cheer me on the sports pitch, beam at my school (and work) reports, advise me on women stuff (I think ‘guess’ is a more accurate term) and buy me first official pint when I turned 18 – Guinness – in Red Lion, Drayton. My Anger bubbles beneath the waves. I want to smash doors, hurl tables, scream and yell at the moon outside. How fucking dare cancer do this to my family? Fuck you!! FUCK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
My mum is without her husband, lover, best friend, soul mate!!! FUCK YOU CANCER!!! Give my Dad back! !!
Aaargh!!!!! Aaaaaaaaarghhhhgfdddhhbcyfhhjxkfksksjfjdj hejshsbbsjwjhcnrnsgqfqgzcnfmkcmncnxjdnajxjci jfjdjfnfmdkxkc kk xkkdek FUUUUUUUUUCCCK YOOOOOOOOOOOOU!!!!!!!??????!??!!!

I can’t scream. There are other, living patients on the ward. I bury it, pull it all in, find a box and lock it in. There’s another day for this.

Instead, I sob. Mrs Nomad holds me while I squeeze my eyes shut until dry, like a defiant child against their parents scolding. For no reason, I recall a time as a very, very young child; we were staying with Gran in Neath. All three children were so small that we would sleep together in a foldout, sofa bed. One night we were messing about (every night!) and Dad was ordered by the Mum/Gran tag team to get upstairs and sort us out. I remember his standing in the door, trying to tell us off. What ever kept us belly laughing quickly infected him and he joined us on the floor, playing and rolling around.

Sitting outside his room on the polished, clean floor in my uniform, I’ve said my goodbyes now. I’ve been in uniform all day after a stint in work this morning. I stayed in uniform to let Dad know I’ll protect this family always; he can’t speak today but he can see, he can smile. Promises have been made to him. My eternal gratefulness passed to him. I am who I am in overwhelming part because of him.

He inspired me with every talk, joke, advice, quiet afternoon together. Please come back, Dad, we’re not done!!!! Please, Dad. DAD!!!!!!!???????

I got this, Dad, you rest now. No more struggles for you, Dad. No more indignity of a disease controlling you. You are free again.

Bye, bye Dad. Sleep well, old man. I miss you.

Mum goes in to talk to him. She has the final goodbye.

Wednesday 18 May 16 – The sun isn’t shining today.

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Leaving Dad at 0300, Mrs Nomad and I hand over the watch  to my elder cousin before curling up on waiting room chairs. He was in a good place. The dimorphine and midazolam were doing their job and he was sleeping soundly; the best sleep in weeks.

I awoke to the pizza boxes being cleared away by my sister.

“Why haven’t you cleared the last one?”, I muttered.

“Thought you might like cold pizza for breakfast”, she honestly retorted.

No, I didn’t start the day by wolfing down congealed pepperoni and bouncy, drying pineapple. Immediately recalling Dad’s good form during the night, I felt buoyed with hope. Yes, his comfort was drug induced but even so, his body was physically coping with the oxygen being delivered to him. He can stay like that for what… days? A week? More?
Scratching my unwashed head and feeling the product of 8 slices of Domino’s on my teeth, the world looked a little bit rosier.

Walking in to Dad’s room, the sound struck me first. The bubbling, gravel- crunching breathing sound is back. The bottom of his lungs is filling up again, limiting further his capacity to process oxygen. He wasn’t awake either. Still dozing, the shallow, strained, forced chest movements bellowed limited puffs in to his lungs. The monitor showed diminishing saturation levels.
Not over yet, the pain-relief of the dimorphine and anti-anxiety effects of the midazolam mean that Dad is not physically fighting to compete with the monitor’s score-keeping and is able to relax as much as possible, efficiently processing the O2 on offer.

But he is filling up with fluid. And the clots in his lungs are restricting blood flow. And his diaphragm is damaged from repeated chemo. And there’re those rapidly growing tumours.

The medication can be upped. And it can be upped again. Soon though, it can’t be upped any further.

That is the exact moment I am dreading and want to run from. The moment hope dies.

Our Team retreated to the home of close friends to shower, eat breakfast and, perhaps more importantly, play with the kids. Their laughter brought a little of the sunshine out and Summer almost seemed on its way again. I went to work for a few hours, Mrs Nomad took the Team to the hospital. The “Wales lot” were decamping, packing away, brushing hair, chatting, wandering, making excuses not to enter that room and say goodbye. Dad’s mum, “Granan”, with stoicism of an almost forgotten generation, made her farewell. She’s 84. He’s 58. Trembling tears and kisses from his sister, tight hugs and kisses and tears from his nieces, a stuttering, gentlemanly handshake and hug from his brother-in-law. This was their last goodbye.

I received a text from Mrs Nomad telling me his sats were dropping again; I logged off the utterly meaningless and irrelevant systems, unable to comprehend their screens anyway. The car journey to the hospital apparently took place. There was lunch in there somewhere, and conversations with the focused corum of Mum, sisters and partners happened. Oh, and the oncologist. Dad wants more air, doc will see what he can do. (Nothing). I hug my elder sister, she’s the medical one. She knows too much. She has the burden of knowledge, knowing not to hope, knowing the reality. No tears from us…..yet. …..just the long, tight, understanding embrace.

The numbers on the monitor fluctuated. Dad took a sip of diet coke, his sats collapsed to rock bottom. Mask on, sats slowly rise….but not as high.

It’s just him and me now. Complaining overtly for the last few months about womens’ intrinsic need to fill silence with noise, we sit quietly. I have nothing left I need to say and it would be selfish to make him talk just to satisfy my own cravings to hear him. Besides, the medazolam inhibits new memory formation, what would he take with him anyway? It’s enough that I am here next to him, right now. Father and son time. He can have his quiet.

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The younger sister, the practical one, is chasing tasks for Mum. Arranging accommodation shutdowns, darting around town, keeping busy for other people, relieving the burden of us and herself in the process.

He awoke to take the monitor off of his finger before then drifting off once more. No longer competing with the mechanical scorer, perhaps there’s less pressure on him.

Sats at 72. He wanted the monitor connected again but the alarm sounds immediately. We silence it and he sleeps, roughly, coughing occasionally, with some irritability and agitation.

We take the 3 Action Princesses to see him and he clocks them immediately, removing his mask and beaming at them through struggled gasps and gulps. We take them back out again, blowing kisses at him, just in time for him to replace his mask and suck down his O2. A lot of pride and dignity in my old man. I love him. I miss him already as he stumbles out of the door to this life. Dad, I’m so proud of you.

I want him back!!!! Fuck you, Cancer!! Give me back my Dad!!

Where is my equipment to deal with this? Why is there nothing to hit, blow up, run at, overcome? ???

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We’d hoped today would be like yesterday and tonight would be like last night. Dad wanted a Gin and Tonic last night but was asleep when it came. We’ve hoped a lot of things but my dreaded moment is almost. ….finally……maybe….maybe not…here.

Stop struggling, Dad. We got this.

I got this, Dad. Stop suffering. I got this.

17 May 16 – Fighting on. Cancer hasn’t won yet.

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Another day.
A better day.
A morphine day.

Dad made it through last night. Like a professional marathon runner, he controlled the pace of his breathing, adjusted his cadence with each change of the digits of the monitor and kept himself awake; he fought off the darkness. The sunrise was the finish line and he made it.

Daylight vs Darkness. Hope vs Despair. Life vs Death.

As Newt once said in James Cameron’s “Aliens”, “They [Monsters] mostly come out at night…….mostly”.

It’s been a whole new day, with hope, optimism and the increasing undercurrent of time escaping. After last night’s struggle, the damaging effects were clear.  Utterly exhausted, Dad had nothing more to give. It was down to the oxygen and drugs to work their magic and sustain him while he slept. As a wide, extended family, we have laughed, poked, prodded, wondered and caught up in the background. We are all so close,  having grown up as friends despite the distance.

Dad’s mum has seen enough though and you can’t blame her. Noone should see their child degrade like this. Fucking Cancer, how dare you?!
They’re all heading back to Wales tomorrow, there’s no need to be here any longer and, without being harsh, life goes on everywhere else.

I want life to be put on hold everywhere for my dad…but it ticks on.

It’s easy to become optimistic during the day,  with the sun streaming through the window once again. “He’s ok, look at him sleeping”, I found myself saying over and over again. We forget pain so easily, we naturally look for the positive, clinging on to hope and pushing back despair.

But pragmatically, his numbers have been out of whack for so long. Sure, he ran a marathon last night. But he ran a marathon the night before, and the night before that. He’s not an athlete, he does Cancer not CrossFit. A heart rate of 145+ for 8+ hours, blood-oxygen saturation levels of less than 70 throughout (around 80-90 for months) and pounding blood pressure take their toll on the brain and organs. Pain wracking the body, nerves tingling, itching, joint aches, headaches, irritability, frustration……His body is suffering.

But…….but……ahha…He sits there discussing next week….talking about getting over this and his new goals. ……enthusing about his new angle grinder. He’s got weeks left.

And…..AND…..yeah, and he ate a slice of Domino’s pizza, slurped down some ice cream and has a Gin & Tonic can waiting for him, at his request.

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(Yeah, we ate this….*coff* paleo. ..honest, guv)

“That’s the morphine”, explains the duty overnight doc.

During the afternoon, the Paliative care team came in to make some adjustments. Called in to ensure high quality end of life care, they’ve removed all unnecessary or invasive monitoring, added a syringe driver of dimorphine / medazalam (?), and have changed his bed to suit his limited movement. It creates a “less urgent” environment but delivers a false sense of security for all of us.
The drug combo relaxes him, allows easier breathing and slows the heart rate. It obviously makes him feel high, improves appetite and bursts of joviality between desperate gulps of piped oxygen.

His “sats” are slowly decreasing though as he gets the best night of sleep in weeks.

The same doc was honest with me after a blunt question.

“48hrs”, he said.

“But…but…..    and…AND……”, I begged.

“That’s the morphine”, he said.