I choose to start my story on May 10 of last year. I wasn’t diagnosed until almost six months later, but it turns out that May 10, 2014 was the date I started training.
For weeks, one of my oldest buddies, Au Pair (Zack Bolen), had been leaning on me to join him for one of his F3 workouts. I later learned that F3 had started in Chapel Hill in the fall of 2013, but the cold of the winter months soon after didn’t help with numbers, and it struggled to gain an initial foothold. To reenergize things last spring, guys from Raleigh and Charlotte mined their networks and pushed to bring out friends and neighbors for a Resurgence.
So on May 10, 2014, a Saturday morning, thirty-eight guys showed up, including 8 FNGs.
Here is the backblast. That’s me (Lo Pair) in the white shirt, fourth from the right in the back row. Au Pair (my namesake, albeit considerably taller) is over my right shoulder.
If I’m honest with myself, I can’t say I was hooked right from the start. Initially I thought of myself as a “Saturday only” guy. 7:00 am on Saturday was early enough; there was no way I was getting up at 5:20 am for a weekday workout. But you all have heard the story countless times. Or maybe you’ve lived it. After a couple Saturday workouts, Coco (Andrew Cocowich, in the blue shirt immediately in front of shovel flag in the photo) asked if he’d see me Monday. I said yes, why not – and that one time was all it took.
Like so many of you and so many more that will follow all of us, I’ve changed my life so that I can get up in dark of morning to exercise with my new brothers at F3. This has not been a burden; the life changes I’ve made (going to bed earlier, eating better) all happened, and have stuck, because they are what I want to do. Not what I was told I should do, or what I feel guilty about. I want to get up and hit a F3 workout with my brothers. Going to bed a littler earlier doesn’t even feel like a trade-off.
Last summer and fall I typically I hit three workouts a week (MWF) and if my schedule permitted I’d hit Saturday or an occasional Tuesday as well. By September I was ready for my maiden Q. (Here’s what happened. I learned later that someone spilled the merlot, which I must say was a source of personal pride.)
It’s almost a cliché in F3 circles, but by September I was in the best physical shape of my adult life. I am certain this timing was not by accident. I was in training, and it was not a coincidence.
I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point I noticed some blood in my stool. It wasn’t enough to cause major alarm – just enough to notice, and cause me to think that I should get it checked out. When I did, the primary care doctor ordered a colonoscopy. On October 23, the colonoscopy revealed a tumor, and the doctor felt certain (she was “99 percent sure”) that it was cancer. The hope was that it had not metastasized.
Cancer in the colon is serious, but if it has not spread it also is very curable. The surgeon can go in and do a resection of the colon (removing the portion of the colon containing the tumor) and, sometimes with chemo as well, patients often are completely cured.
Initially we were told there were several promising signs, mainly that I was not demonstrating any physical symptoms other than the blood (no pain or weight loss). The doctors scheduled a CT scan for the following Tuesday, to look for evidence of cancer outside the colon. Two days after the scan my wife Carey and I met with the surgeon to learn the results. The fact that the surgeon had invited an oncologist to join the meeting did not bode well. We learned at that meeting on October 30, 2014 – my son’s 10th birthday – that the cancer had indeed metastasized. The CT scan revealed several small spots, fairly evenly distributed throughout my liver. Stage IV.
Even walking into that meeting knowing that I had colon cancer, and knowing the possibilities, it is impossible to prepare yourself to hear the news that you have Stage IV cancer. I’m 41 years old. My wife and I have a 12 year old, a 10 year old, and a 7 year old. This sucks.
The next Monday, November 3, I hit the regular F3 workout at Fetzer, along with twenty-eight others. Shooter (Lee Pace) had the Q and, as usual, it was a beatdown. Following the workout and during the COT I shared my news with my F3 brothers. Not surprisingly, the support was immediate, and complete. During the BallOfMan I could already feel the healing touch of twenty-eight brothers, as they gathered around me in healing prayer.
Like brothers would do, I soon started getting e-mails and texts. A box of books showed up at my door, along with some ginger mints (for chemo). A link to an audio book showed up via e-mail. Cards and letters arrived. Visitors showed up during infusions. Eventually the guys got together and ordered this, as a surprise:
(I have two, plus one for my wife and one each for my brother and sister…) Even though my workouts eventually would be curtailed somewhat by my chemo treatments, the guys have had me in their thoughts and literally on their sleeves (“LP” = “Lo Pair”) during these past four and a half months. The F3 brotherhood has rallied around me emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically.
The liver is a regenerating organ and a large percentage of it can be removed without significant long-term disruption. If there’s a cure for what I have, it’s surgery. The issue is that ideally there should be at least some section of the liver that is healthy, before removing the unhealthy sections. So the treatment plan for me has been intensive chemo, to shrink and hopefully melt away the spots on my liver. We need a portion of my liver to be healthy enough to justify surgery on the unhealthy portions.
My chemo schedule is one treatment every other Friday. I leave the hospital on Friday afternoon with a small pump that I carry with me and that continues to give me small doses of chemo over the next two days. My wife unhooks me on Sunday.
I was fortunate to get in a study at UNC where I get two times the “standard of care” dose of chemo. I am convinced that my physical fitness has allowed me to tolerate the higher doses. I’ve been training.
As of today I’ve got 9 treatments (4.5 months) of chemo behind me. Number 10 is Friday March 13 at 8:30 am. (I’ll be at Bastille at 5:45 am.)
Sometimes life throws us curveballs. How we respond is up to each of us. I have come to believe – firmly believe – that it was not an accident that Au Pair dragged me to that F3 workout last spring. I needed F3 in my life for many reasons; I just didn’t know it yet. In the backblast for my maiden Q, I wrote what so many of us have learned: that F3 had filled a void in my life that I didn’t know was there. In addition to whipping me into shape physically, I’ve found a new group of friends – brothers – who support and encourage me (and also make fun of me). And I try to do the same for them, as they are going through their battles.
Like all of us, I’ve been training.
People who have serious diseases often say they are going to fight like hell. Cancer in particular is often described as a battle, and words like “heroic” and “courageous” are used to describe the way people fight cancer. For me, though, I don’t know exactly what it means to “fight” cancer. I’m doing what the doctors tell me to do. I’m going to my infusions. I’m trying to stay mentally positive. In some sense that is fighting, I suppose. But none of that feels heroic or courageous, at least to me.
However, what I have learned is that when I’m out there in the gloom – shoulder to shoulder with my brothers – and we are working, sweating, living – I feel like I’m actually fighting. F3 has become the battleground for me. It is where I can visualize my fight.
So I’m working out as much as possible. I’ve been able to make it to about four of my normal six MWF workouts during each two week chemo cycle. While my endurance isn’t what it once was, I am getting out there and sweating and working – and fighting. I am tolerating the chemo (the doctors are telling me what I already know: my fitness is critical in that respect). My F3 brothers are encouraging me, and I am encouraging them. We all are in training. Some of us train for the Blue Ridge Relay or a mud run. Some train for a GoRuck or a marathon. Some don’t know yet exactly what they are training for. Right now, I happen to be training to beat cancer. I am fighting the battle, in the only way I know how.
Three weeks ago I got good news – the chemo is working as planned. My first surgery (of what might be several) is scheduled for early April. This won’t cure me, but it is a huge step forward. We continue to have hope. We plan to win.
As I said, my cancer story started on May 10, 2014, six months before my diagnosis. I’m still not sure when or how the story will end. But I know this, with absolute certainty: for me, beating this cancer is not possible without the support of my family and friends, my work colleagues, and my doctors and nurses. And, F3. I simply can’t imagine fighting this fight without F3.
Editor’s Note: This story is very personal and was shared with me by Sweeper. Lo Pair also wanted us to also include this message:
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the US and the second leading cause of death from cancer. The most effective way to prevent colorectal cancer, in addition to exercise and avoiding smoking, is proper screening. If you are age 50, get a colonoscopy. If you have colorectal cancer in your family, get a colonoscopy sooner. If you notice blood in your stool, don’t ignore it. Talk to your doctor.