Anything is Possible

Settle in, this one is a long one, but I think, this is an amazing one, worth reading…

I want to tell you a story…my story, a story about Grace. A story that proves the connections we have in life cannot be denied. A story that demonstrates if we are only brave enough, patient enough, passionate enough, faithful enough and work hard enough, anything is possible.

Before we dive in, a quick flashback to January 17, 2016. Hours after discovering at age 31, 9 months after having a 95% blocked LAD (named the widow maker), that I had a large brain tumor in my left cerebellum I was transported from Miami Valley Hospital South ER to the Main Campus. I was taken to a hospital room on the neuro floor while awaiting a room in ICU to open up. In walks Dr. Fromke, he says “Hey, I hear you’re the guy who beat the widow maker” referring to my cardiac incident 9 months earlier. “Yes, that’s me” I remember saying, reluctantly. “Ryan, I believe that God’s Grace is sufficient. His Grace brought you through that and I believe that His Grace will bring you through this too.”

11 days and a lifetime of emotions later, after Dr. Pollack performed my brain surgery and removed the tumor, Dr. Fromke returned to my room during his morning rounds. “I told you that God’s Grace was sufficient” he said with a smile. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the inspiration for the name Gratitude and Grace Foundation.

Fast forward two years to last Thursday, the day before I left for Benton Harbor, Michigan to compete in my first Ironman 70.3 race, I listened to one of my favorite podcasts.  I listen to podcasts all the time, they are a source of encouragement and a great way to stay focused on personal growth and progress. John O’Leary’s live Inspired Podcast is one of my favorites, I listen to it immediately after it is published each week. The guest on John’s podcast this episode was Mick Ebeling with the Not Impossible Labs. mick-ebeling-social-final-600-375x375

To listen to the full podcast, click on the image.

This podcast was incredibly moving and had so many teachable moments, that hit me, just as I needed it the most, even though I didn’t know I was looking for it.  This was such a great podcast that I wanted to share some of my favorite moments.

Mick created the Not Impossible Lab, a company that is using technology to help as many people as possible. Their website notes:

Since 2008, Not Impossible Labs has engineered, programmed, hacked and crowd-solved issues of inability and inaccessibility and provided low-cost solutions for the most vulnerable on our planet.

The mantra of Not Impossible is commit, and then figure it out, by any means necessary. You don’t have to have a plan or an idea of how to do it, you just have to commit and then work your tail off to figure it out. This is completely relatable to my Ironman journey. Never would I have imagined after being diagnosed with heart disease and brain cancer in the past three years would I find myself competing in an Ironman. But I committed, without knowing how to do it, I committed. Then I figured it out by any means necessary and by working my tail off.

The podcast has some incredible stories that are worth hearing, but the most poignant moments come around the 31 minute mark. At this point the host, John O’Leary leads the discussion. In order to share this most effectively, I will translate my favorite parts:

John: How do you feel when you look back at the journey that you’ve been on, the things that you’ve bumped into and the things that you’ve launched regardless.

Mick: I fundamentally, fundamentally at my core, I don’t believe that brilliance is taught, I think experience is taught, I think relevant perspective might be taught, but I don’t believe that any single person lacks the ability to solve a major problem, an impossibility. Period. Everybody has the ability to solve an impossibility. […] What matters is that when you see something that is absurd, when you see something that from the human standpoint, you go “that ain’t right, that has to change”, and then you just commit to solving it. And what I keep witnessing over and over and over again is that sometimes the people with degrees behind their names solve the problems, and that’s amazing. And sometimes, they are the problem because their experience and their degrees and their diplomas and even the best people will have this certain sense of entitlement because of what they have learned […] and sometimes what you need the most is beautiful, limitless naivety. That you don’t know what you don’t know. […] Sometimes the solutions come from the most unsuspecting characters […] that gives complete credence to this fundamental premise that anybody can make impossible not impossible.

You are one of the most amazing stories that I’ve heard, watching your videos and listening to your stories is just incredible, you are just committed, you are committed to going out and doing it and telling your story, and what I call it. When I get the opportunity to talk to people about what we do at Not Impossible, is that I don’t call it inspiration, I call it reminding people. I am reminding people that they have the ability to make the impossible not impossible. My job is not to inspire you, my job is to remind you that you already have this potential and I am just dusting it off a little bit and reminding you that anybody can go do this, now get your a** out there and make the impossible not impossible.

At this point, listening to this the day before leaving for this impossible journey of an Ironman, I feel like they are talking to me. Its the pep talk of all pep talks, reminding me that I can do this, its time to get out there and make the impossible not impossible.

The podcast then continues into another layer of meaning for me. Mick takes over the podcast, goes from being the person being interviewed to the interviewer, asking John one very important question, the answer to which, put chills down my spine.

Mick: One of the things you say is that when you’ve been asked if you could back to that garage and not have that can explode (John was burned in his garage at 9 years old when a gas can exploded, he was burned over 90% of his body and was not expected to live, but he did) would you do it? And your response is “no, I wouldn’t do that” that you look back now and you look at the life that you have and you wouldn’t change it. Now I think most people, would, at first, say “John, come on, there’s no way, there’s no way you would say that, that’s not real.” And for those of you who maybe don’t believe John or think he’s just saying that, I’ve had the opportunity, just recently to interview a guy named Hugh Her. […] So Hugh lost both of his limbs, his legs, in a climbing accident when he was 17. He now runs the head of bio-mechtronics at MIT. He is basically the $6million man, he has two fake legs, mechanical prosthetics and I interviewed him a couple weeks ago and I asked him that same question, I said “Hey Hugh if you could go back in time and change that climbing accident would you” and he answered the exact same way you did, said no I wouldn’t do it. […] And I am just really taken by that, having not gone through something as traumatic as you went through, John and Hugh, I’m just really taken by that perspective of understanding that the life that we have is this incredible blessing and that our past does not make our future, but our past gives us perspective on how we can move through the present and move into the future powerfully, and I was just so crazy inspired, […] I was just really moved by that, and I wanted to ask you about that, what’s your perspective on that?

John: So my perspective is simply this. I spent the majority of my life looking back at age nine, viewing it all as a tragedy. Viewing amputation and scars and woundedness and pain, both then and now, physically and emotionally, as being bad. But then, with a little bit of perspective and and little bit of reflection, a little bit of prayer, a little bit of insight and wisdom, I look back at it and realize now, Mick, that my wife, who I woke up next to this morning, my four little babies who are probably still asleep this morning, this beautiful life we have, the time that I get with a guy I look up to named Mick Ebeling is the direct result of being burned as a kid. And if you realize and your honest about it, that the best of your life is because of something that is bad, you realize that maybe it’s not bad in the first place, maybe you viewed it as being bad for a little bit too long, and maybe its time to change that perspective.

And so here we are less than 24 hours until I leave to finish off 10 months of training and the message that I hear is, nothing is impossible, and don’t you dare forget, even though you are scarred, scared, wounded and have been through more than most, don’t for a second forget that those “tragedies” are what brought you to where you are right this moment.

As the podcast finished, I pulled into the parking lot at Miami Valley South, to pickup my “stuff bucket” the bucket that I would use to carry my triathlon gear to the transition area. The bucket that I would see as I transition from the swim to the bike and then again from the bike to the run, along this seemingly impossible journey. Earlier that day I dropped the bucket off, hoping my friends in the Oncology Exercise classes might sign their names for some support and encouragement to remind me during the race, of all those people in those classes who, like Mick described, are proving that impossible is a matter of perspective. The results were astounding:

IMG_3219I had planned to take the bucket to work and have my work family also fill my “stuff bucket” but since this group of amazing people gave me so much support, I had to come up with a plan b, I needed a second bucket. And so I got another one and took it to work: Same amazing results: IMG_3293One of the things that I always thought about the race was that I enjoyed the training, but sometimes just wish I had someone to train with, a group, a trainer, or someone to meet me late at night for a night run, or early Sunday morning for a long ride and run. What I found was that I did, it was all of you. Your writing on my buckets was the proof that I wasn’t ever alone. Throughout this whole journey you’ve been there, supporting me and pushing me to keep going.

So with emotions high the family and I packed up and headed up to Michigan late Friday afternoon. We got up to our hotel around 11pm, checked in and went to bed. Saturday we woke up and met up with my sister’s family, mom and boyfriend, who all made the trip. We went down to the beach, and checked out the Ironman Village.

I decided that I wanted to check my bike that afternoon to avoid the rush in the morning and I wanted to get a trial swim in the lake, since I’ve never swam in Lake Michigan, athletically, at least. This was the big question mark in the whole event for me. I’ve trained substantially in swimming, biking and running, but I had no way to expect or train for what the lake swim would be like. I was pleased to see it was relatively calm and comfortably warm Saturday. So Heather took the kids back to the hotel and I returned to check my bike and take a swim. The volume of the event settled in when I returned. It was an incredible feeling to be part of something where so many people had turned out to prove that anything is possible.

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The trial swim was great, I felt great, ready, motivated, comfortable with the water and ready for race day.

Sunday morning I was up at 5am, and headed to the race to put an exclamation point at the end of this journey. Upon getting to the event, I learned that the weather and water had changed overnight, it went from a calm flat lake to a windy, choppy and rough surf with 1-2′ chop with swells over 4′. Surrounded by thousands of athletes determined to push on, I mentally prepared to gut it out.

I decided to wear my wetsuit, as I entered the water it became one of the best decisions of the day. The swim was absolutely crazy. With the wind and the surf, I was unable to get any type of rhythm to my stroke whatsoever. Upon each set of strokes I would turn my head to catch a breath, as I had done thousands of times in training, only this time I would find a wave crashing into my face. Even though the sun was up, with the waves crashing all around, it felt like midnight and the set of a movie. Swimmers were being taken back to the beach via the jet skis monitoring the event left and right, the lifeguards on kayaks were fighting to keep their boats steady. I swam on, about 200 yards (in between the first two bouy markers) into the 1.2 mile swim I realized I had to figure something else out, so I switched to breaststroke, coming up for air in front of my body after each stroke proved to be much easier to combat the “seas”. The buoys designed to mark the course bobbed in and out of view beneath the waves. I trudged on for another 500 yards or so until the first turn. swim course.PNGAt this point the waves were coming out of the north, so I was swimming right into the surf. This was not going to plan. Throughout training the plan was to swim freestyle using almost all arms so I could conserve my legs enough for the 56 mile bike and 13.1 mule run that followed. The conditions didn’t allow this to be the case, although the breaststroke was great for breathing, it required a lot more effort, especially with my legs. As I passed the second yellow buoy on the top of the course, my left calf started cramping up.

This was the first time I considered giving up.

Scared, out of breath, stomach full of lake water, left leg in a painful cramp, I rolled to my back to try and regain any composure I had remaining. I thought then, of a lot of things, first, that I was about 0.6 miles into a 70.3 mile race, and I am on the brink of calling over the guards, how did it end up this way? Then I remembered this was the exact emotion that I had my first day of Oncology Exercise class. How did it end up this way, the former soccer player, runner and athlete who after heart disease and now cancer can’t even walk 100 feet without cringing in pain. Then I remembered how I kept going to exercise and built strength back up to the point that I felt good enough to sign up for this race. I rolled over to my back and swam backstroke for the next 3 buoys. As I approach the final turn, a lifeguard asked me if I was ok, I said yes, I have to keep going, he said ride those waves on in, I gave him a thumbs up and away I went. The last leg was much better, I was able to finally get some freestyle rhythm together, although once I did a wave would come over the top of me. I kept going, I was committed (re-committed), and ready to work my tail off to get out of the lake on my own.

I finished the swim in about 55 minutes, 15 minutes longer than I had expected and used about 5x more energy than I planned. As I ran up the beach and towards my buckets I saw my sister and brother-in-law, another boost of motivation to keep going.

The bike was awesome, I felt really good the whole way. I was able to maintain my training pace, ate enough that I felt good, and really just enjoyed the course. It was a beautiful, sunny and warm day. It was on the bike that I was able to gain some of that perspective that John spoke about. Without the “tragedies” of life, I wouldn’t be in the position to experience this great adventure, so maybe they weren’t such tragedies after all. The course was long, mostly straight, with gradual rolling hills. I was passing other riders and others were passing me. I felt like I belonged with the other athletes. It wasn’t an all out sprint ride, occasionally other riders and I would talk about how crazy the swim was and how we are happy to be on solid ground again.

The furthest I had ridden in training was about 45 miles in one session. As mile 50-52 approached I realized the extra 10 miles that I hadn’t trained to were going to be a decent amount of work, but I was committed. My legs were pretty tired at this point, but I pushed on. I pulled into the bike transition for another look at my buckets, and to change into my running shoes. Here I got the first glimpse of my mom and my girls. Heather and I locked eyes. There was so much joy in their faces.

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My knee had been hurting the past two weeks with training runs, I’d been using KT tape to help stabilize it, and that seemed pretty effective. I taped my knee up that morning, and knew it wouldn’t last the whole race, so I had planned to change my tape between the bike and run. As I sat on top of my bucket, held up through the support of your words, I changed shoes and attempted to re-tape my knee. It wouldn’t stick. 4 hours of effort, it was hot, I was sweating, no matter what, the tape wasn’t going to stick. So I had a decision to make, either sit here and keep fussing with it, and risk my muscles tightening up (more than they already were) and not being able to get up, or I could just get up and go.

Onward.

I started the run with a decent run/walk/jog strategy, my plan was always to mix those three, I knew I was in no condition to run the full 13.1 continuously. The plan was a 5 minute run, 30 second walk, 90 second jog, repeat, repeat, repeat. This was the plan I executed in my longest training run and it worked well. I ran into a small wrinkle with this plan though, my watch had died at mile 54 on the bike, so I was going by feel. Oddly enough, you may think you are running for 5 minutes and in reality, at this point, it was only about 30 seconds. So a few cycles in, I knew I had to change the game, so I just picked a spot as far as I could see, maybe a stop sign, light post, speed limit sign, anything. Run to that, then walk, then jog to the next landmark, then run again. My lack of consistency meant that I wasn’t in any type of rhythm so mentally I was drained. In turn my legs were too. At mile 1.5-2 or so, I realized my legs were done, it was time to walk.

This was another point where I thought about quitting.

I had neglected to wipe my feet very well after the swim and so I had sand in my socks, I was so pre-occupied with my knee I neglected to change socks between the bike and run, so now the sandy, wet socks created a painful walking experience, so I knew to complete this race, I needed to endure this pain and walk for the next 11 miles.

So I just kept walking.

One of the hardest parts of the Ironman (there are probably many) is that unlike other endurance sports (like marathons) headphones are not permitted, so your ability to distract yourself from what you are doing is very limited. You can’t crank the volume on your playlist and tune out the pain of your legs. And so as I walked along, counting step by step, a few hundred yards at a time, I thought about this crazy journey I’ve had. I thought about all of the people who supported me along the way. I thought about the good times, the bad times, and kept telling myself to breathe, and keep going. “You didn’t come out here to do anything other than finish, you’ve made it this far, so finish.” So I just kept walking.

The course had about a 5 mile loop on it that you did twice. So for the run portion you went about 2 miles, took a 5 mile lap, repeated that 5 mile lap, then headed 2 miles to the finish. The first lap was all about just learning what the course was like, where to go, where the aid stations were, etc. The second loop was about determination. In a previous post I wrote about my four steps I used to get through cancer: Information, Inspiration, Hardwork and Determination. I don’t know how else to describe it other than this second loop was about pure determination. Just putting one foot in front of the other, determined not to stop. At the aid stations I loaded up on water, gatorade, and whatever nutrition I could stomach, I knew if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to get going again, so I just kept moving.

Around mile 10 there is a very steep hill, at the top you turn towards the finish and head downhill for the last three miles. After this turn I look ahead and there is a guy walking up ahead of me. As I approach the man, I begin to read the back of his tri jersey:

Atteberry

In all fairness, I usually don’t do a whole lot of talking to other athletes at events. In truth, striking up conversations with strangers is not a strength of mine. But for whatever reason, I see this shirt and I’m curious. What’s this about, is it for you, a friend, are you part of a team, what’s the story? So I ask him.

Allow me to introduce you to Rob Atteberry.

Rob is a two time brain cancer survivor. Triathlete. Good Man.

An inspiration, a reminder that anything is possible. Someone who has turned the impossible into the not impossible.

We spent the next 2 miles walking together, sharing our stories. We talked about radiation, brain cancer, our jobs, our families. I shared with him my story of heart disease. At one point he told me “Ryan, we have to finish this race.” We were running close to the cutoff time for the race. “We are going to finish this thing together, let’s run the last mile, and finish this thing”. I remember telling him that I’m all in, but I don’t know if my knee will hold up. As we approached the last mile we jogged a little and walked a little, jogged a little and walked a little. Inch by inch, step by step, we were getting closer to the finish. Rob tells everyone along the race course cheering us on, that we are survivors. As we approach the final stretch we jog, together.

WE FINISHED TOGETHER.

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To paraphrase the words of Dr. Fromke: God’s Grace is sufficient, God’s Grace was sufficient to get you through heart disease, God’s Grace was sufficient to get you through brain cancer. I believe without hesitation that it was God’s Grace that intervened on Sunday to bring Rob and I together to get us through this race.

Not everything went according to plan that day; the swim was tough, the bike was long and my knee didn’t want to run. In some aspects these “tragedies” could be viewed as bad. In the words of John O’Leary, which I heard just 48 hours earlier, with a little bit of perspective and and little bit of reflection, a little bit of prayer, a little bit of insight and wisdom, I look back at it and realize, I completed an Ironman race. I completed and Ironman race because I met a complete stranger in Rob. I met Rob as a direct result of the swim being tough, bike being long and my knee not wanting to run, so maybe those things aren’t all that bad after all.

As we crossed the finish line Rob tells the announcer our story, that we just met two miles ago and that we are both brain cancer survivors. The announcer’s voice booms to the crowd: “Ryan and Rob, SURVIVORS, two brain cancer survivors, just completed an Ironman, out here proving that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE”. The same saying that is printed on the finisher’s medal.

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If you didn’t already believe that sometimes in life things align for a reason, let me give you another example of how this weekend’s events aligned. On the bucket that held my transition gear, a co-worker wrote 3 words, which have changed their impact now that I’ve met Rob. You see, Rob’s tagline is Go! Go! Go! It’s on his jersey, he said it Sunday all the time, it’s what he uses to keep going.  This same phrase was written on my bucket a few days earlier. I think it was meant to be.

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To wrap this one up…To all of my supporters, my family, my friends, my doctors, my nurses, my co-workers, my co-survivors, to Heather and to Rob, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for inspiring me, and for reminding me that I had it within me to make the impossible not impossible. I hope I can do the same for you someday!

 

Grateful

August 8 | 4 Days to go

Are you ready?

Its the question I’ve heard often lately. Friends, family, coworkers all seem to be asking me: are you ready? With my Ironman 70.3 only 4 days away, I understand the question.

So, am I ready? I think so, but more than ready, I am grateful.

 As I reflect on this idea of being ready, I am reminded of this quote:

Ready

Am I ready? Yes, and I am grateful for that. I have worked very hard over the past 10 months so that I can be as ready as I can. I’m grateful for the support from family, friends, doctors, nurses and co-workers who have pushed me, inspired me and encouraged me to keep working hard towards this goal. In the past 10 months I have logged over 250 workouts, accounting for over 160 hours of training. I have biked over 600 miles, run nearly 300 miles and spent over 20 hours in a pool or lake getting ready for this weekend’s race. I’m grateful for Heather and her support in allowing me to train, commit the time and take the lead in getting our girls to bed so I can train at night or watching them early in the morning on weekends, so I can get a long run in. Together, we have come such a long way in the last few years, for that I am grateful.

Yesterday I was reading the most recent USA Triathlon magazine, the final article in the magazine discussed how there is no mediocrity in triathlon. The writer wrote:

Triathlon is more than the sum of its parts. That special element, that je ne sais quoi that magically engulfs us when we consecutively swim, bike and run is what sets us all apart from mediocrity. Just the fact that we’re out there proves we’re not mediocre.

The timing of this article was great for me, as I am prepared for this race, I have no desire to win, I don’t have a timing goal in mind, my goal is to finish, to complete the race. The goal is to turn all of the hard work over the past months into achieving the goal of crossing the finish line. And so by most accounts, I anticipate a very mediocre performance this weekend. This article was a great reminder that I think we can all use sometimes. Putting yourself out there, reaching for your goals, working hard to achieve something you think is out of reach, that is the real success, and win or lose, finish or not, just starting and being out there is a feat in itself, that’s something beyond mediocre, that’s something to be grateful for and something to celebrate. Even if you’re in the back of the pack at the end of the race, you are in the race and that’s what matters.

The article also reminds me that just as triathlon is more than the sum of its parts, so is a community who cares about people. The community that has supported me throughout my journey is more than the sum of its parts. As the race nears closer and closer, and I reflect on the progress I have made, the focus is so much less about me and what progress I have made or anything I have achieved, it’s so much more about you and the effort you have poured into me to help me heal and recover and thrive again. My progress is more than the sum its parts. My progress is a reflection of the care of those who take the time to read this post, those who have helped me survive, those who have taught me to exercise again, those who have helped me see that recovery is possible, to see the hope in the darkness. Its a reflection of the care of those who have helped me put one foot in front of the other, time and time again. Its a reflection of Heather and our family, who believe in me, sometimes more than I believe in myself, the ones who make this life whole.

Through your care, I am ready, and for that I am grateful!

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Heather and three of the people who have helped me find the athlete in myself again and to believe that I can become whatever I dream and work towards. My nurses: Tricia, Christine and Debbie

This race was always a way for me to stay on the journey of health and raise money for the Gratitude and Grace Foundation, to help support those battling cancer, to help those who need it, just like I did. My community of caregivers has helped me go from heart disease and cancer to triathlete, the Gratitude and Grace Foundation’s mission is to provide care and hope to others who need it, like I did. If you want to support the Foundation, you can donate here.

 

Information, Inspiration, Hard Work & Dedication

July 22 | 21 days to go

I’m often asked what do I think is going to be the hardest part about an endurance triathlon. Most times, my answer is different, depending on what I’m feeling that day, but usually its one of the same three things: 1) finding the time to train, 2) nutrition – what to eat in a normal training day and what to eat during the race to have enough energy to race for 7 continuous hours, or 3) running for 2+ hours after 4+ hours of swimming and biking. Then this answer is usually followed up by either a “wow, that’s a lot”, or “I don’t know how you do it”. The answer to that statement, how I do it, is not hard: I made a choice. Last October I made the choice to start this journey, once that choice was made, I have relied on four words that I’ve adopted over the last two years as my pillars of strength, and my method to get up from setbacks and continue working towards a better future.

Four words, well five technically, that changed my life. Four ideas that became the cornerstones of my healing and ideas I continue to rely upon them to push towards this giant goal of completing a half-Ironman race 21 short days from today. These thoughts are things I’ve picked up along the way, learned from people a lot smarter than I am, read somewhere or heard someone speak about but together they are a powerful recipe that provides, for me, hope of a brighter future.

Information, Inspiration, Hard Work and Dedication

These are the ideas that helped me get through heart disease, brain cancer and these four ideas are continuing to help me aim for the goal of completing a half-Ironman next month.

Information | Learning as much as you can about something. There is great power in knowledge and with power comes the ability to overcome the fear of beginning. Sometimes the hardest step in any journey is the first one. Gaining information is the tool that has helped me to overcome stagnation, fear and launched me into progress. After the diagnosis of heart disease I read books by Dr. Ornish and Dr. Esselstyn about reversing Heart Disease; after the brain cancer diagnosis I read books like Anti-Cancer – A New Way of Life, and when I decided to run a triathlon, I immediately bought books like Strength Training for Triathletes. The point is that by gathering information, the fear dissipates, the cliff you think you are standing on the edge of is actually the base of a mountain, and the newfound information can serve as a map to the summit.

Inspiration | No journey up a mountain can be completed with knowledge alone. Many times, during cardiac rehab, throughout chemotherapy, and training for this triathlon, I have thought about giving up, thought about reducing my expectations for myself, or thought about skipping a workout. Its’ in these moments that I rely on inspiration to keep me going. Inspiration exists all around us, if we stop only to look and take it in. During cardiac rehab, I was inspired by the opportunity to regain my health. To see people 20 years older than I was, showing up and being committed to cardiac rehab as a means to live their best lives inspired me to do the same. In my cancer battle, I was inspired by the other cancer patients choosing to fight and the friends and family that supported me constantly.

Friends would send me pictures of their “DavisStrong” bands, a source of inspiration. Scott Treon, a friend and coworker who fought courageously through his brain cancer journey. Scott inspired me more than I ever had the chance to tell him.

Hard Work | Once you commit to doing something, once you make the choice to get up and keep going, know that its going to be hard work. Heart disease was hard, losing 30 pounds through Cardiac Rehab required hard work. Brain Cancer was hard. Enduring radiation and chemotherapy while trying to build a family and raise two young daughters was hard. Sometimes in life the things that are the most important are also the most difficult. We can’t be afraid to put in the hard work that is necessary to fulfill our dreams. Training for a triathlon has been hard work. My workout schedule is typically early morning before the girls wake up or 8:30 at night as they are making their way to bed. I am trying to minimize the amount of time I am away from them, the result of this choice is that training is hard. Running a 60 minute interval training after a long day of work and parenting is hard work. But it is also worthwhile. The mantra I keep repeating when the training is hard is the same mantra I used during the hard times of cancer “YOU ARE NOT DONE YET, KEEP GOING

This weekend I had my “race prep” training. Friday night swim workout was 2,700 yards, Saturday Brick (bike to run) workout was a 30 mile bike followed by a 10 mile run. This weekend’s work was hard, but I wouldn’t have made it through them without gutting out some hard workouts that were 500 yards in the pool, 10 miles on the bike or 2 mile runs. Hard is relative. Building strength in training is a lot like building love, hope and gratitude, it’s about muscles that require work to build.

Dedication | Probably the most important of the four. To really achieve our dreams requires a level of dedication that is stronger than the doubts that creep in and distract us from achieving our goals. Every day I have a choice, do I workout like my training plan says I should, or do I take a night off. It’s been 917 days since I was diagnosed with cancer. It is due to the dedication I have to be healthy, to be strong, and to be a positive example for my kids and my community that I would even be able to exercise for 42 miles like I did this weekend. I’ve had to make the choice to remain dedicated to the goal and that means dedicating myself to take each step, one at a time, that leads from where I’ve been to where I want to go.

To wrap up today’s post, I want to make a clarification, dedication is different than perfection. I do not always choose to follow my training plan, I sometimes choose to take the night off. I sometimes choose to have the cake, I sometimes choose to sleep in, and I sometimes am not the picture of hope and strength I wish to be. But that is ok. I am not perfect, and I don’t expect myself to be. Being dedicated to reach a goal is about allowing yourself to be imperfect. To know yourself and know when you need to reach back into the bank of information and inspiration to get back on track. Be dedicated to progress, don’t be afraid to fail, treat each failure as a learning opportunity.

Three weeks ago I had signed up for a 1/3 Ironman event at Cowan Lake. This 1.2 mile swim, 36.6 mile bike and 9.3 mile run event was the last stop on my race training before my half Ironman. It was 100 degrees out that day, and humid. About 10 minutes into the run, I couldn’t go any further, I had reached the limit of my ability to move with any degree of pace. I had swam the 1.2, biked the 36.6 and was about 1.5 miles into the run. With 8 miles to go, I was gassed, but I remained dedicated to the goal. I walked for 5 more miles and completed 6.2 miles of the run course. And I decided to end my race.

Here’s the lesson though, although “ending the race” may feel like not being dedicated, in truth deciding to end the race is the embodiment of my dedication. I knew three things that day 1) this was not the biggest race of my season, 2) I’ve met my quota of hospital visits over the past two years and 3) if I keep going, I will be down for a week recovering. So I stopped. But in stopping, I was able to stay on track of my training and this weekend’s output proved that decision to be a wise one. I remained dedicated to the larger goal and reached back into the information and inspiration bucket and got right back on track. Dedication is not about success and failure, its about persistence and choosing to get back up once you are able. The other great thing about ending the race early, my girls got to finish with me. The race team was nice enough to give them each medals, and to them, they didn’t see a quitter, they didn’t know I stopped one lap (3.1 miles short of the goal), they saw their daddy working towards his goals, and they got to have a medal around their neck to prove it. Remember when I mentioned that more is caught than taught? This was a catching moment.

Learning to Dream

July 15 | 27 days to go

I’ve heard before and was reminded of this truth in the last few days: “When you are surviving, you cannot dream”.

I am taken back to those days following the placement of my heart stent, where there were no dreams, focus was on survival, my view could not extend beyond my current circumstances. I am taken back to those days, weeks and months of cancer. From the first MRI, to the brain surgery, to the radiation and to the chemotherapy; nearly all thoughts surrounded getting through the current challenges, overcoming the obstacles immediately in front of us. We were unable to dream, even though we had two beautiful girls, precious and perfectly aged (1 and 3 at the time) to dream about, plan a future for and hope for how their lives would unravel into an adventure of joy. The mere act of survival, the focus required to work hard, overcome, and learn to become healthy overwhelms the space to dream. And that is ok.

Despite the possible negative connotation to the phrase, the truth is that although dreaming is not possible while you are surviving, you are not supposed to dream all the time. It comes as no surprise, that dreams are reserved for times of rest. In “normal life”, we are not expected to dream all day long, life’s design allows for dreaming during times of sleep, introspection, reflection and meditation. So when we are surviving we are not supposed to dream, we are supposed to focus, work hard and learn ways to heal, so that after the survival exists opportunities to dream.

In my story, it is the same, my survival was focused, infused with hard work and dedication along with vast amounts of learning. Learning to be healthy, learning to use my hands to their fullest, learning to walk without pain, learning to tell the difference between scars and healing. And after that, became the time to dream. It was during my time at cardiac rehab, after the survival was over, that I was able to dream. It was during the first visit to oncology exercise that I was had so much atrophy and weakness in my legs, I couldn’t walk 100 yards without pain and anguish, but I kept learning. I worked hard to embody the phrase my friends repeated “Exercise is medicine”, and I worked to heal. Then, as the strength built, as the learning sunk in, as the healing began, as the confidence built, the dreams returned. This time the dreams came back, but not as dreams are sometimes thought of as “I wish I could…” or “One day I want to…”, but with true conviction.

“I will run again, I dreamed. I will help people, I dreamed. I will be strong, I dreamed. I will share my journey, I dreamed. I will teach my girls about love, hope, strength, gratitude and grace, I dreamed.”

And once the dreaming returns, comes the opportunity to do the work necessary to transform these visions into reality. Yesterday, I rode with the sunrise, and ran with the mid-morning heat, 30 miles on the bike and a 4.5 mile run.


Bike at Sunrise (1) Bike at Sunrise (4) Bike at Sunrise (3)


27 days to go until a dream becomes realized. While its’ true, you cannot dream while you are surviving, if you are blessed enough to survive, in time comes healing and the space to dream. As I continue to work towards this big dream, I am reminded of why I am doing all of this in the first place. To run, to help, to be strong, to share, and to teach. For them…

Bike at Sunrise (2)

I race for the gratitude and grace foundation, if you wish to support the effort, you can donate here.

I wanna see you be brave

July 12, 2018 – 30 days to go

It has been a very long time since I have sat down to write on this page. Many days and nights I have been close to writing, had thoughts of what I wanted to share, envisioned images and passages and quotes and inspiration to pass along, but there was always an excuse or a distraction or some reason it just didn’t happen. Today I am committing to writing more often, especially during the next 30 days. Read on to understand why…

Last fall, I was honored to be recognized as a Champion of Hope from the Miami Valley Hospital Foundation. At the awards ceremony, I made a bold claim, that I would commit to running an Ironman 70.3 race next year. This is a race that consists of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and finishes with a 13.1 mile run. Since that evening in early October, I have quietly but consistently been training for the race. Today, we are 30 days away. August 12, 2018 is race day for the Steelhead Ironman 70.3 in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

ironman 640x480

After my experiences with heart disease and brain cancer, I have tried to commit to being as open, honest and vulnerable as I can. To commit to sharing my story, being proud of who I am, what I have overcome and not being afraid to fail. I have admittedly not always lived up to this desire, but I continue to try nonetheless. Other than the ceremony last October, I have not shared in a public way, my goal of completing this 70.3 mile endurance adventure. Friends and family knew, some co-workers knew, but I wasn’t comfortable announcing to the “world” that I would compete. The reasons for this are many, but the two main thoughts that plagued my mind were these: “What happens if you get sick again, your tumor comes back, your heart can’t take the stress, your body cannot handle the distance, and the doubts went on and on” and secondly “What happens if your healthy but don’t make it, you can’t complete the race, you don’t train enough, you get DQ’d because you’re too slow, and the doubts went on and on”.

I’m positive these are common thoughts for all those who have never completed a race of this distance and those who have been through serious illness like brain cancer.  These thoughts kept me from sharing this goal too loudly. As the race has gotten closer, I have felt the tug to share the journey more and more, but any time I felt close to sharing those two thoughts came bounding back louder and louder. It’s not that I am not confident in my ability, humbly I admit I have come a very long way. I have worked very hard, and trained many many hours to get to this point, I think it boils down to that age-old doubt of “am I enough”, “do I have it in me?”.

Today, on the way home from the gym, Hadley wanted to sing along to some music, something the girls and I do whenever its just the three of us. I said “Ok Hadley, what is your favorite song”. At this point a three year old normally would pick one of her kids bop songs, something from Moana, Frozen or another Disney movie, but tonight she said she wanted to sing the “brave song”. Sara Bareilles’ song “Brave”. I honestly don’t know the true context to the song and haven’t spent time digesting all of the lyrics to understand what the author was meaning, but what I do know is this: The song is one I first heard at the Oncology Exercise Program I attend, downloaded that day and since have listened along with the girls many times on the way to and from school (daycare). I’ve heard before that when it comes to parenting “more is caught than taught”. Meaning your children catch more life lessons from watching you than from any of the lessons you try to “teach” them. I hope this is true.

So the song goes…”I wonder what would happen if you say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out. Honestly, I wanna see you be brave. With what you want to say and let the words fall out. Honestly, I wanna see you be brave. I just wanna see you be brave.”

Maybe Hadley knew I just needed a push, that this feeling that has been welling up inside about sharing my journey to Steelhead is an opportunity to be brave. I just needed a reminder, that the doubts that creep in are not what matter, it’s the vulnerability to be brave that matters more.

So here goes, 30 days to go until the race. I initially signed up as a way to commit to staying healthy at the end of my cancer treatments, and thought of the race as a way to help raise awareness of the Gratitude and Grace Foundation, the non-profit we started to help provide hope, encouragement and support to those who are going through what we have been through. Today, I recommit to being more transparent about the journey, to sharing the struggles and the victories, and most importantly to being brave. If you want to join the journey, check back and read up, if you want to support the cause, visit the foundation’s website at gratitudeandgracefoundation.com. We are raising money to help share the message of being brave, fighting on, and showing that even after the darkest of days, there can be light. If you are able, donate here, all funds go towards supporting the foundation’s work of Hope.

Today’s lesson from a 3 year old: “I wanna see you be brave”.

hadley-e1531446833952.jpg

 

Rise Up, Life Goes On

This one may be a little lengthy, for that I apologize in advance. I haven’t written in a while so I’ve apparently got some pent up words to share. Today, we started round 3 of this journey we have been on for the past 5 months. Round 1 was surgery, Round 2 was the initial chemo and radiation treatments, and now we are on to Round 3, the “hard” chemo. This is the term the doctor has always used to refer to this step in our treatment. The round will consist of four, six week cycles for a total of 24 weeks. On weeks one of each cycle I receive two chemo drugs at the hospital via IV, then take another chemo drug in pill form. They let these do their job and give me recovery time, then on week 3 of each cycle I receive another dose of one of the IV chemo drugs. This format will be repeated until the 24 weeks have concluded. I can tell they are preparing me for being pretty sick during these treatments. I was given two separate medications at the hospital prior to the infusion to combat nausea, I will take steroids for the next three days to help prevent post infusion nausea and I have a decent quantity of Zofran on hand to use as needed. So while this doesn’t sound pleasant, I am happy to at least be prepared for it!

I have to share the best part of today: While I am hooked up to the IV machine getting this poison poured into my bloodstream, Heather and I were able to laugh with each other. Picture it: we are at the hospital in the one of the least pleasant circumstances one could imagine and to say that I am scared and nervous about this round (which means she is too) is an understatement. Then as we are talking to pass the time, we both enjoy a moment of true joy in laughter (the subject of which I will keep between us). This was not just the quick laugh at a joke type laugh, but a real laugh, the kind that starts with a deep connection between two people, that starts with love, and a laugh that evolves into sharing a moment together when everything in the room disappears so that its just the two of you, the circumstances you find yourself in are erased for that brief moment, joy takes over, and you laugh, together. Truly the best part of my day!


The lesson of the day: rise up, life goes on.

This is something I’ve experienced this whole time, but today was another great example of this. The girls don’t aren’t old enough (thankfully) to comprehend what we are facing. The point of life goes on that was brought to the forefront for me today, is that they don’t understand all this stuff we are dealing with, and so they still need to be kids. They need to be given opportunities to be fun, loving, exhausting, frustrating, silly, spontaneous kids despite whatever else is going on. Today, after getting the infusions taken care of, Heather and I ran some errands, then picked the girls up from school, went to a Farmer’s Market, ate out for dinner, then spent time with them at a park. As we were walking around the pathway that meanders throughout the park, we came upon a pond with a little boy fishing. He was using one of those kid fishing kits, and he was really into it, he had the tackle box, bobber attached to his line and he could cast like a pro. I did notice he didn’t have a lure on his line or any other form of bait on his hook, so he wasn’t overtly successful, but I bet he’s ok coming up empty handed. He seemed like he just loved being out there. So as we are walking, Hadley and Avery are watching, mesmerized by this boy and his fishing, “Mommy, I want a fishing pole for my birthday”, Avery said. Now, in Avery code this means, I really want one right now, but I know I have a better chance of you getting me one if I attach it to my birthday (she’s 3 going on 13 for sure). Heather then tells them about how she used to fish with her Grandpa for hours when she was little. We talked about our future fishing adventures for the next 20 minutes. Getting back to the point, life goes on. For Avery and Hadley, life will go on, despite daddy going through a tough time, they will learn to fish, and they deserve to. Today could have easily been comprised of a hospital visit and an extended stay on the couch, and I don’t think anyone would’ve questioned it. Don’t get me wrong, there will certainly be days coming up and there have been many along this journey where I am not physically able to be the “life goes on dad”, but today was about seeing that I’m sick (but feeling good today), they are not, so they deserve every opportunity to have their life go on as it normally would on this beautiful spring day. I am beyond thankful and truly blessed to have the ability to participate in this busy family filled day!

I must also address the other connotation to the “life goes on” term. In the past weeks, I know of at least two families who have lost a mother to this terrible disease, I have heard of many stories of other families who are having a rough month of May, medically, emotionally and otherwise. Life goes on in these circumstances too. This is not to say that life doesn’t hurt, doesn’t matter, or is fair. Life isn’t fair and it does hurt sometimes, but most importantly it definitely does matter despite any circumstances you face. It’s not as simple as taking the kids to play at the park, but life goes on for those of us who remain, to carry on the memories and share our own “fishing stories”.

John O’Leary says it like this is his book, On Fire. For full context you’ll need to understand his story and I promise its a story worth knowing:

“Before that day [when life changed], I was a typical nine-year old kid. I shirked responsibility and seldom owned my actions, and even less frequently the resulting effects. I cleaned my room because I had to, I did my homework because they made me, I went to church because they told me to. My parents were in charge, I followed. They gave me everything I needed and I happily accepted all of it. I was a bit entitled. […] I lived in a beautiful house. I had a father who worked, a mother who stayed home. I lived in a safe neighborhood [and] went to a great school. We had church on Sundays, blueberry pancakes afterward, and fried chicken at Grandma’s in the evening. We even owned a golden retriever. We had it all. Life was perfect. And then life changed. It always does.

When life changes, we can beg and plead to go back to the way things were. Feeling entitled to that reality. Waiting for someone to wave the magic wand and put things back to normal; back to the way life was.

Or,

We can step up, recognize that it is time to move forward from here, and embrace total accountability and ownership over our lives.” LIFE GOES ON.


Where does your inspiration come from?

While waiting to start Round 2, I decided I wanted to have something to constantly remind me where to keep my focus during the difficult times, and where to attribute the success during the good times. I bought this bracelet, handcrafted by a woman in Israel, I have worn it everyday, along with my #DAVISSTRONG band. These two items have been wonderful sources of inspiration. I cannot count the number of times I have glanced at them, if only for a moment, to either square my shoulders to gain strength, remember to give credit where credit is due (God and His grace), or remember the support of others traveling this journey with me.


In addition to gaining inspiration from quotes, like the one on the right, music has been a great source of inspiration for me lately. It’s strange that now that we are at a point in this journey that things happen slower, the need for inspiration has actually increased to me. When it was surgery, radiation, chemo in round 1 and 2 those were very much mandated steps that happened very quickly. Did I need inspiration, strength, prayer and support to get through them, without a doubt, in fact I believe that’s the only reason I did. Those rounds were scary and fraught with the opportunity for a much different and far less positive outcome than I am facing now, but now that life is a little more normal. There has been time to breathe and now, getting back up, dusting off my weak, light, bald, scared body and move forward requires a bigger boost than I anticipated. Starting treatment back up with a positive outlook and strength after a 5 week break has required a greater deal of inspiration. Today, I turn to a song again, not a new one, but a new song to me. Below are the lyrics and link to the song. It’s called “Rise Up” and to me this song is all about standing strong in the storm arms spread wide, screaming from the bottom of your soul, “I WILL RISE UP, I WILL BE STRONG, I WILL SURVIVE”. I hope you like it.

The way this song inspires me: I envision the first verse as someone talking to me, a pep talk of sorts. Someone telling me to get yourself together and remember the strength you possess, strength to move mountains. The tone then changes and to me, this is me standing up and vowing to rise up; but not to rise up for me, to rise up for you, for my family, for my friends, for my wife, for my daughters. The tone then switches back to someone continuing their pep talk, this time reassuring me that together, with hope we will rise up. This song is another one of those examples that when the student is ready, the master shall appear. I discovered this song on a day when I was feeling particularly weak emotionally and battered down by the thought of what Round 3 may look like. This song has inspired me to stand faithfully in the storm, spread my arms wide with my team surrounding me and screaming from the bottom of my soul:

“I WILL RISE UP, I WILL BE STRONG, I WILL SURVIVE, I WILL REMAIN DAVIS STRONG”

Thanks for sticking with me; Stay Strong,

Ryan (5/19/16)


Andra Day: Rise Up

You’re broken down and tired, of living life on a merry go round
And you can’t find the fighter, but I see it in you

So we gonna walk it out and move mountains
We gonna walk it out and move mountains

And I’ll rise up, I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up,I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up, And I’ll do it a thousand times again
And I’ll rise up, High like the waves
I’ll rise up, In spite of the ache
I’ll rise up, And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you
When the silence isn’t quiet, and it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe
And I know you feel like dying, but I promise we’ll take the world to its feet
And move mountains, we’ll take it to its feet and move mountains
All we need, all we need is hope
And for that we have each other
And for that we have each other
We’ll rise up, In spite of the ache
We’ll rise up
And we’ll do it a thousand times again
For you

Milestones

Tomorrow, April 27 will mark the one year anniversary of the day my life first changed forever. It was on this day one year ago I went into the hospital for a Cardiac Stress Test which turned into discovering a nearly completely blocked artery, followed by a stent placement. Tomorrow also marks the three month anniversary of the day my life changed forever for a second time. It was on this day three months ago I went into the hospital for surgery to remove the tumor in my brain.

Since its been a while since I’ve posted, in terms of updates, I am doing very well. I have completed the 6.5 weeks of radiation and 6 courses of chemotherapy. My last chemo injection was on April 6 and last radiation treatment was April 13. I think I experienced every side effect that these two treatments had to offer; I had nausea, fatigue, have neuropathy (numbness and tingling sensation) in my hands, battled with radiation induced tissue damage in my throat which caused pain during eating, lost my hair and lost my sense of taste. I made it through it alright and things are getting better now that the treatments are over. I go back to the doctor on May 5th to discuss a potential next round of chemo treatments. Despite all of this and all that I have lost, I have also gained so much in this same amount of time. I have gained an appreciation for normal routine, gained a closeness and appreciation for my wife, admired her strength through this, and gained an appreciation for all she has done for me and for our girls when I have not been able to. I’ve gained respect and appreciation for the people I work with and for, for being so supportive to me as I sort through what life looks like now. I’ve gained appreciation for what we have and who we have in our lives, we truly have a great support system.

Needless to say, tomorrow is worthy of celebration, and needless to say, tomorrow is a milestone for our family. Much has changed in our lives in the past year, we find ourselves today hyperfocused on our health, we have renewed appreciation for the things in life that matter, and we are still enjoying and sometimes struggling (most of the time struggling for me) through the journey, excitement, exhaustion and happiness of raising two young daughters.

When I first started this new journey three months ago I wanted to start this blog so that, truthfully in part, in a selfish way, my daughters could one day read this and see how strong their daddy was when he was in the fight for his life, and read how he fought for his daughters and stayed strong for them. Truth is now though, that is not what I hope they have learned or hope they have seen or hope that they one day read about. What I now hope the true lesson of this journey is is not the strength of their daddy. You see, I do what I need to do to get through this, there’s not much of a choice that I have in the matter. My choice was made long before this diagnosis, my choice was made the day my wife and I said our vows and the days my daughters were born, I made the choice then to be strong for them and to do what needed to be done to be there for them. The true lesson is in the strength of everyone else. The ways the community has supported us, the ways our work families have lifted us up, the way our friends have gone out of their way again and again to check on us, provide for us, and be there for us. The way that complete strangers are praying for us and the way that people have come together to pitch in to help take care of us, these are the real lessons to be learned. I hope they learn about the strength of our families, of our brothers and sisters, of our parents being always available and willing to help at a moments notice, opening up their homes and their hearts to help our family recover. Most of all I hope they know the strength their mother has shown. I can honestly say that despite however difficult chemo/radiation is for the person going through it, it doesn’t hold a candle to the strength needed to be the person standing by the one going through the chemo/radiation. The one raising the family when daddy doesn’t have the energy to, the one making dinner and driving to day care when daddy can’t. One way of putting it is this: True strength isn’t only about how much you can handle before you break, it’s also about how much you can handle after you’ve broken. Heather has shown remarkable strength through this journey, that is the lesson the girls should know. She is the true hero of this story. So tomorrow as we celebrate these milestones, we also celebrate the strength of love of those surrounding us and lifting us up.

As always, thank you all so much for your continued support, prayers, guidance, wisdom, laughs, and love. The fights not over yet, and tomorrow is a new day. Thank you all for everything, it means the world to our little family.

Love to you all,

– Ryan

Tell your heart to beat again

I have been the recipient of so many wonderful acts of kindness in the past few weeks. People have been so overwhelmingly generous towards our family. They have sacrificed their time, treasures and talents to help our family get through this difficult time and begin this journey towards renewed health. We will forever be grateful for the support we have received. You read in books and people who’ve had cancer talk about how once you have cancer, you are a different person, almost as if there’s this line in our lives that appears one day. Some idea of a pre-cancer version of ourselves and a post-cancer version of ourselves. I don’t know if I’m far enough on this journey to be able to say if this is true or not, but I think that the appreciation of kindness is one of the ways it is true. Once you have received such remarkable support, you cannot help but appreciate what others have done and find yourself looking for ways to return the kindness that has been so helpful to you, when you were in need.

So many people have been so generous towards us, we have received an overwhelming amount of support; financially, in the form of food, prayers, cards, a kind word, support bands, bringing gifts and coloring books to the girls, offering to watch the girls, visiting us, the list goes on and on. The school/day care we send the girls to has been remarkably supportive and have reflected the values of a true family. Both our employers have been so overwhelmingly supportive, flexible, and helpful to us, their values of family shine through as well. Our family and friends have been amazing! We are truly blessed to have such a great network of support. I have received gifts as well that are priceless, gifts that seems to arrive just when they are needed most. imageA shield of faith necklace, a clutching cross, 5 stones from the valley of Elah where David defeated Goliath…these gifts are so meaningful to me, simple thank you’s don’t do them justice. How do you thank someone for a gift, a card, a kind word so timely that it changes your mindset? How do you thank someone for prayers of support or a card or a kind word that arrives right on time to remind you that there are so many people that are behind you, supporting you in this journey? Please know that these gifts are appreciated and they have made a difference in my attitude, my mindset and my life. I read a quote that summarizes it well “Never underestimate the power of kindness, a single act may be the difference that adds lift that someone needs to go from falling to flying”. Gifts come in all forms, shapes and sizes. Gifts come in the form of kind words, thoughts of support, even likes on Facebook. All of these signs of support are gifts to me, and for them I am truly thankful.

Another gift I received recently was that of a song. The song below was sent to Heather and I recently by a family member that said they were thinking of us. We watched this together and of course it spoke to us. The song is called “Tell your heart to beat again” and the lyrics are great, but the story behind the song is just as important. This song, like all of the gifts and support we’ve received, has lifted me up, given me a renewed sense of strength, helped me stay positive, reminded me that I have control in this battle with cancer. This is how cancer fights, I’ve found. It fights in the mental spaces between doctor appointments, tests and physical therapy. It’s a mental giant, a Goliath, so large that the mere word Cancer holds such a powerful grip in our culture. The giant that tries to take you down by making you think you have no power. This song reminded me that we all have a choice, we all have power, because God’s grace is sufficient and God’s grace is enough. We just need to tell our hearts to beat again, to keep fighting, to keep living, to press forward in love, in faith, in hope and in Grace.

Youtube video posted above, story and lyrics written below:

There was a pastor in Ohio, who had a heart surgeon that belonged to his church. One of the things this pastor wanted to do was he wanted to see a heart surgery take place. When the day of the surgery came, they rolled the patient in, and began to cut her chest cavity open, take the heart out and they begin to repair it. One of the things they need to do is they have to restart the heart before they close. As they begin to do the procedures to start the heart, the heart wouldn’t start. Finally, the doctor did something so out of textbook, something not written down, something you really just don’t do. He got down on his knees and he said “Mrs. Johnson, this is your doctor;  we have fixed your heart, we have repaired it, there is nothing wrong with your heart, Mrs. Johnson, if you can hear me, I need you to tell your heart to beat again.” And her heart began to beat again.

“Tell Your Heart To Beat Again”

You’re shattered, like you’ve never been before

The life you knew in a thousand pieces on the floor

And words fall short in times like these, when this world drives you to your knees

You think you’re never gonna get back to the you that used to be

 

Tell your heart to beat again

Close your eyes and breathe it in

Let the shadows fall away

Step into the light of grace

Yesterday’s a closing door

You don’t live there anymore

Say goodbye to where you’ve been

And tell your heart to beat again

 

Beginning, just let that word wash over you

It’s alright now’ love’s healing hands have pulled you through

So get back up, take step one, leave the darkness, feel the sun

Cause your story’s far from over, and your journey’s just begun

 

Tell your heart to beat again

Close your eyes and breathe it in

Let the shadows fall away

Step into the light of grace

Yesterday’s a closing door

You don’t live there anymore

Say goodbye to where you’ve been

And tell your heart to beat again

 

Let every heartbreak, and every scar

Be a picture that reminds you who has carried you this far

‘Cause love sees farther than you ever could

In this moment heaven’s working

Everything for your good

 

Tell your heart to beat again

Close your eyes and breathe it in

Let the shadows fall away

Step into the light of grace

Yesterday’s a closing door

You don’t live there anymore

Say goodbye to where you’ve been

And tell your heart to beat again

Your heart to beat again

 

The speed of life…

Today marks 3 weeks since surgery!!! 21 days out and I think I’m doing pretty darn good. I feel stronger and more back to normal with each day that passes. I got my staples removed on Monday, my CT scans look good, the brain swelling is down and returning to normal function (and the tumor is still not there anymore, which is a great thing). The doctors have me taking it pretty easy, I still am not able to drive, lift much, return to work, or do many other functions. There’s a lot to recover from when they cut open your brain and remove a tumor, and one of the hardest lessons to learn in this whole process has been slowing down. It’s also been one of the best lessons I’ve learned.

It was one month ago today, on January 17th that I learned I had a tumor. Today, I am reminded of how time stood still that day. How in a single sentence, all of the sudden everything was different, and there was no going back to the way things were before. The pace of life changed in an instant. Everything stopped, the 4 hours we were in the ER now seem like seconds, the next three days in the ICU seemed like minutes and the 10 days spent preparing for surgery now seem like they passed in the blink of an eye. Since that moment the speed of our life has been so different than it was before. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss the fast paced world which I had grown accustomed to; the world where we were always going, always doing something, always working on something.

I have gained, from being forced to slow down, a true spirit of thankfulness and respect for life and for the moments that make it. Slowing down to stop and take a look around to truly appreciate what life is all about. I think that’s normal for someone going through any difficult medical situation, but I think it’s not a mindset reserved for an exclusive club of health-afflicted people.

Here’s what I mean…just one of many great moments I have been able to savor while recovering, but our most recent gem of a family moment. Our three year old Avery has learned to write her name, so she did on her magnetic board last night. Sure the E is a little goofy, but I am so proud of her to be able to do this at 3 years old.image More than this accomplishment, the excitement she had with her own ability was truly remarkable and something that was so special to be a part of. As a parent we always look for these great moments, and it’s not that pre-tumor Ryan would have missed this moment, but pre-tumor Ryan would not have had the appreciation for what this moment is, something to cherish and something to celebrate. And then, in true sisterly fashion, Hadley refuses to be upstaged. imageShe too wants to show off her work. She made sure to show us that she can write and wanted a picture taken of her efforts as well. This is life in slow motion, life paid attention to. There’s a unique mix of a lot going on for me these days and at the same time there’s not much going on these days. There’s all kinds of information, questions and plans running through my head, but at the same time recovery is a slow process, and allowing recovery to take place takes effort to slow yourself down. I am so thankful for my daughters for showing me how important it is to allow myself to slow down and rather than be frustrated with the pace of life, to instead enjoy the perks of life in the slow lane. I will be back to fast paced life soon enough, that is a fact I am confident in, and something I look forward to; but I am also confident that life is not the same as it was before, that now the appreciation I have for each day as the gift it is will shape how I see the world, to slow down just enough to really take in the view and love what we have been given.

Focusing on HOPE

Today, we begin a new week. Early Monday morning we get to choose our outlook for the week. For me, the focus remains on HOPE. We have 7 different appointments scheduled this week, a welcome back to some form of a “busy normal life” that I have missed for the past 4 weeks. Today we begin with a CT Scan to follow up from the surgery, confirming the healing process is taking place, then a follow up with the neurosurgeon to discuss follow-up care, hopefully removing the 28 staples that have held me together since surgery, and learning of future care needs. Then this afternoon its off to the cancer center to have another CT done to map my brain and spine to prepare for the radiation treatment. A busy day, yes, probably a lot of sitting and waiting, sitting and thinking, but today will be a good day, because we have the opportunity to hope for positive outcomes, because we have the opportunity to take the kids to day care, and because Heather and I have the opportunity to spend it together. Later in the week I have physical therapy appointments, and a follow up with the oncologist, so the hope is this week is very helpful in defining the next steps of this journey.

At church the past two weeks, the message has been preparing for Lent, and both weeks the message was very pointed, to me, at the idea of hope. Normally during Lent its about penance, or giving something up, which is ok and good, but the message I heard was slightly different. The message was if you’ve been tossing a net over the same side of the boat for a long time, maybe now is a good time to toss the net off the other side of the boat. What a great time to instead of giving something up, maybe take something on. That’s the message I heard, that’s the message I think I needed, so that is what I will do. I assume, with my current status of being a cancer patient with treatment beginning soon, the next 40 days of Lent will be very impactful to the future of my life; potentially defining what life will look like in the future, so instead of spending time giving something up, I choose to take on Hope headfirst, to fully embrace the Grace that God has given me and my family and will press forward in a positive mindset and focus on hope. I will hope for health, hope for happiness, hope for a bright future. Mondays are great days to set out with a new mindset, a new hope for a great week ahead!