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. 

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.

Tues 17 May 16 – Watching my dad slowly go (Fuck you, Cancer, give me my dad back!!)

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This was the screen that welcomed me in to my dad’s room at 0230. Having sped down here yesterday after he was rushed back in to hospital,  I made my way 2hrs back to London to change clothes, have a bath and get some sleep. An hour in to blissful solitude, my younger sister phoned with an update that brought me right back down again.

Yesterday was looking positive, truth be told. All the family from wildest Wales had been through the room with smiles, jokes,  balloon flowers, hugs and kisses. Even the sun made a wonderful pre – summer showing. Dad was chatting between sucking down on his O2 mask. I thought we might even have weeks left with him.

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I mean, if you’re gonna have a view from your hospital room then this isn’t a bad one, right?

But now, the night has taken hold.

The darkness fills the windowscape.

It might be hours, not even days.

My dad is struggling to breathe, his oxygen bag failing to fill as he gulps it all in immediately, despite the 15 litres being pumped through to him. I will it to fill each time, begging the pipes to give him just a little more. His shallow, swift breathing scrapes his desert – dry throat. He’s fighting. He’s somehow keeping control of his intake despite hypoxia, mild delerium and aching pains throughout his body. He is still so strong, he won’t give in despite the odds. He humbles me as I sit next to him and stifle back my tears, welling sadness and budding grief. Mum grips his other hand, my younger sister retreats under a blanket in exhaustion while the elder one takes her shift on guard. Holding his hand, the damage of 3 courses of increasingly destructive chemotherapy are evident. Patches of missing hair along his arms, muscular weakness where even last year there was natural strength; him wrestling my three young daughters before Christmas is still clear and fresh in my mind, in fact. The speed of this degradation borders on insanely criminal. How dare he not be given a chance to fight back and win? Fuck you, Cancer, give me back my Dad!!!!

He’s not slept properly in days but can’t for fear of losing the forced control of his breathing. He presses on.

He’s just told my mum, “don’t be afraid, I’m ok”.

It’s 0400 now, his SpO2 drops to 59% before crawling back up the charts to rest in the mid 60s……come on, Dad.

His breathing rasps on, a gravel-like hoarseness, in and out.

Sunday 15 May 16 – Here’s why. Well, one motivation anyway. No to Cancer!

My avid and loyal readership will recall two weeks ago me asking the question “Why?” to my love of CrossFit and why I don’t just hole up in a military gym on my own. It’s been my intent to follow up with a mini – series on motivation, goal setting and success. Due to a new job, irregular hours initially and travel, this hasn’t yet happened. It is going to and I know it will serve many people well.

Right now though, I’m sat in a hospital watching my dad deteriorate in front of me. On constant oxygen, unable to sustain satisfactory blood-oxygen saturation levels, he is closing in on the final obstacle in a Spartan Ultra against Stage 4 Lung Cancer. For well over 3 years he has fought, dodging,  ducking, smashing and overcoming. Eventually though, nature trumps our still very crude science. He’s taking it well and I’m proud of him.

Despite this brand of Lung Cancer being apparently unassociated (at least directly) with smoking,  you can’t argue that a lifetime of smoking did him good, especially when done inside a diesel submarine for many years! While we know more about the causes of cancer now than ever, we are still amateur detectives fumbling in the dark for a light-switch in many ways.  However,  in this age of instant information,  we do know many things that cause ill-health & decrepitude and we know the things that have never been associated with cancer and general ill – health. While we might not have the answers to the disease, we also know can be assured the very best care through Macmillan, who looked after my aunt in her breast cancer days, and we shall be reaching out to them imminently (@macmillancancer). Let this be the first notice of some upcoming CrossFit charity fundraisers too.

Strong, well-formed exercise in fresh air, green veg, lean meat,  nuts, some dairy (lots of eggs) and some fruit. These are quality staple sustainers of a healthy body (@epaleodiet).
Sure, there are the uncontrollables. There are the daily airborne pollutants. There are the chemicals on our food (even organic) and our water ain’t exactly untainted.  There are the long hours in air – conditioned offices, recycling each other’s slime and forcing our bodies in to unnatural positions. There are the random genetic mutations that the body just a hours,  “what the fuck!?!” to.

But I see it as my responsibility to myself,  my children and my family to put myself in the best possible position to control the factors that I can and to overcome those I can’t.

My dad grew up in a society of conflicting and limited information as 20th century medicine developed. The encyclopedia was wrong the moment it went to print, as medical science moved on. You couldn’t just buy a new one easily. I’m so proud of my dad, all he has done, his service to our country, the role model he is to me and my family. He’s doing all he can to battle this now yet nature won’t give up.

We all have access to every bit of knowledge now; it’s still not as developed as it will be and we still know so little about our own selves. However, there is NO excuse for intentionally degrading yourself and not taking the time to read. You choose to learn and understand in order to make positive steps or you don’t and you degrade. There isn’t a middle ground. I know it’s militant. I know it might be seen as extreme. But I am the one watching my dad right now, asleep in his hospital bed with an O2 mask over his face, and I am the one determined to be the 60 year old grandfather still playing rugby with my grandkids, running about in the rain with my family and climbing mountains long in to my later epochs. I have to put my own nature on the front foot now and not let those external factors take it down.

CrossFit and the lifestyle it espouses give me access to everything I need to achieve my goals. Based on a healthy approach to nutrition  (100%, 80% of the time 😉 ), with good stamina, strength, mobility & flexibility as the core pillars, this community of semi-competitive but highly inclusive health & fitness enthusiasts keeps me motivated and on course. There is nothing like it out there that meets my intrinsic needs in the same way. This is why I pay my money to do what I could do alone in a military gym, to haul my arse to a warehouse with former strangers and to utterly thrash myself daily, sweating in to a sorry mess yet fist-bumping all those within reach. It’s why I bore people to tears with stories of my latest Personal Best, my current struggle and my new goal.  It’s why I surround myself with like-minded individuals and spend my time talking a different language.

This is my motivation. I will be that old guy running past/around/over the younger guys. I will be the granddad throwing the long spin pass out to my teenage grandkids in the park. I will be the crazy old guy standing half naked on top of Snowdon, laughing and having fun.

Come join me.

Tues 03 Apr 16 – Reflecting on Rugby, illness, and Murph

Sitting on the tube in to London, I’ve a chance to catch up on my humble blog and reflect on the weekend and last night’s WOD.

The Weekend

I had the distinct fortune to spend the weekend with my Dad. Some months ago, he booked Judgement Day IV for us to watch. Judgement Day in this context refers to a Welsh Regional Rugby double – header between Ospreys & Cardiff Blues and Scarlets & Dragons.  Played at Cardiff’s “Principality” Stadium (Millenium Stadium), it was billed as a feast of local derby rugby. In front of 70,000 people, it really didn’t disappoint. Fast, open rugby, big hits, tries aplenty and proper end-to-end, nail biting play. Dad and I,  being Ospreys supporters, were overjoyed at the 40-24 result over the Blues although it was only put to bed in the last ten mins or so. Up until then, Blues had us pinned for long periods and took the lead twice. The second match was great for a neutral too with more adventure in the evening sun.

Bracketing the matches (and interspersing) were pints, pies and puddings. We certainly made the most of it. I don’t get a chance to spend enough time with Dad, mainly as a result of geography, but now he and Mum are back from overseas we are trying to make up for it. With parties,  battlefield tours and more rugby planned, we’ve got a lot to look forward to.

Dad

I actually almost forgot…..and I’m not sure why I’m writing this, perhaps to just get it out there. Dad has Stage 4 Lung Cancer. Diagnosed over 3 years ago, he has battled his way up to this point and is undergoing his third round of chemotherapy. As a result, he has acute lymphangitis resulting in significant breathing difficulties.  He carries a compressor and O2 bottle, as well as a collapsible wheelchair. He is currently unable to walk up more than 4 or 5 stairs without extreme shortness of breath. Our rugby weekend required me to push him about in a chair but I’d almost absolutely forgotten that. The wheelchair doesn’t really feature as important in my own head when compared to the laughs, food, rugby, food, beer, food, family, rugby and friends over the 3 day weekend. I know things are going to get worse, and people keep offering me a shoulder to cry on but I’m not “there” yet.  There will come a time when tears are important but it’s not now. Why waste 5 mins on tears and melancholy when it could be spent laughing, planning and being with my family? Besides, it’s not about me.

Murph

So on to Murph. It being a Bank Holiday,  I was away from work and so the Box. Not wishing to miss out on hard work, I quickly checked my route back and found CrossFit Camberley. Regularly visited by a friend, I gave her a call and she booked me in. Oh, how joyed I was when I was told the WOD. Murph.

The bodyweight hero WOD, this is a beast. It’s the one I’ve not done before and I’m very pleased to have cracked it, finally.

For Time:

1 Mile Run
100 x Pull Ups
200 x Push Ups
300 x Air Squats
1 Mile Run

Time: 42:40 Rx

In unfamiliar territory, I got out the gates slowly while hanging with those who knew the route. This proved costly. Quickly identifying this, I asked the route and sped off, completing the first mile in 7.30. I’d aimed for 7 and wasn’t too disheartened given the situation. Breaking the work in to 20 rounds of “Cindy”, I plodded through 5 Pull Ups, 10 Push Ups and 15 Squats. It was a plod, too. Pull Ups and Squats were entirely unbroken throughout but the Push Ups slowed me down (again). Where I’ve changed from traditional ‘military’ wide arm Push Ups to tidy, elbows – in, I have had to redevelop strength. This meant that only the first three rounds were unbroken, all others being 5/2/2.
The 20 rounds were chipped away in about 22.5mins, a Cindy score that I would be extremely unhappy with, and I set off on the final 1 Mile looking at about 9.5 mins with the expected jelly leg syndrome. However, the legs recovered very quickly and I was pushed throughout to a time if about 8.5 mins!

This was my first ever Murph, with a 75%ile score, but lessons have been reinforced; where once, Push ups were a major strength, now they are a constraint….but improving.

Thanks

A big thanks to CrossFit Camberley. I love the Box tourism. Grace, the extremely strong coach, was great. With a tidy warm up, thorough review of movements and good motivation through a slog of a WOD, she kept us in the game. The Box is large enough for a class of about 8-10, well maintained, clean, modern and all – inclusive. The other athletes were very welcoming. Highly recommended for a visit.

Nutrition

Um……perhaps best not to go over this one. Needless to say, it’s back to eggs, nuts, lean beef and leaves for a few days!!