Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sleep fast

In the few minutes I have before I have to get to sleep--and I'm already late for that at 10 p.m.--another first for Jewel and some other scatterbrained notes from the last few days for those of you keeping score at home or, like Mama, in India.

Today, Jewel started running. Hey, once you've been walking for all of two weeks, you might as well test these legs out, see what they've got in them. Turns out, they've got quite a turn of speed in them.

For about five steps.

After that, stability control appears to fail, the differential locks up, tires blow, shocks sag...who knows, but it results in a return to a 4 x 4 state of affairs. Not in a bad way. So far.

Those seven folds down the back of her legs weren't just hiding yesterday's cookies, it turns out.

As you've seen by the pictures of her, Jewel also has been loving climbing ladders, stairs and anything else that she can get her hands on and leg over. She also, like her brother before her, only wants to walk down stairs. On two feet. Facing forward. And you thought the Leaning Tower of Pisa looked perilous. This is like watching someone try to pogo stick through a room full of golf balls. Handcuffed. Blindfolded.

She also loves the cat here, who should be sainted by the time we leave. Fortunately for all, Mickey is patient. And declawed. But mostly patient.

As for 3B, he's really in the swing of 1-2-3 Magic--all thanks go to Mama for that, I'm just continuing her good work--which makes hanging out with him a joy. The KISS concert in the basement, his love of Pink Panther cartoons, his expanding vocabulary--often through the addition of words he makes up himself, and our many expeditions as archeologists uncovering Cleopatra's tomb in the sandbox under the clubhouse also make my time spent with him fly by.

Also making the time fly by is the sheer fatigue that sets in after a daily 5 a.m. wake-up call, followed by 14 hours of playing, refereeing, feeding, watering, cleaning, dressing, undressing, changing of diapers and so forth. And yet, after they're down, there's still so much to do, although I truly feel that I should be going down with them. That leaves me up at this hour, remembering what Mom and Dad used to wish each other instead of sweet dreams: Sleep fast.

And so it is that after this brief update, I'm off to bed. More later.

If I can remember any of it.

I'm working to make cancer history. Will you help me?

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Friday, August 20, 2010

I miss the cats with thumbs

I admit it--the kids sometimes drive me crazy with the clutter. I feel like the Grinch for saying this, but seriously, the drums, guitars, flutes, ukulele, wagons, trikes, tractors, bikes, chain saw, swords, dresses, paint, Play-Doh, spatulas, knives, chopsticks and the books, books, books...there's no end in sight.

One morning Mama called me at work and said that she felt like she should just wake up, upend all of the toy bins, pick them all up, upend them again, and then pick them up again because that's what's going to happen anyway.

Even growing up as a Californian, which involved living through major earthquakes, didn't prepare me for this. Probably because my Mom twisted my DNA around so that it's genetically impossible for me to leave a room without closing all the cabinet and closet doors, just in case the big one strikes while I'm taking a leak.

The problem is compounded by the fact that our house is as big as a phone booth, and the kids and their toys aren't getting any smaller. Jewel sleeps in our room, which means that almost any time I'm home, I can't get into my own room, unless I'm slinking in to sleep. Over the last week, I didn't even do that, because I had a nagging cough. So, I was out on the couch, replacing Mama, who'd been out there for two weeks before that because Jewel can smell milk-laden boobs like zombies can smell brains, which meant that when she would roll over at night, she would instantly awaken, stand at the edge of her crib and start in with the caterwauling of the undead.

All of that couch surfing meant that not only was our room--which has been taken over by the Sta-Puft Mini Marshmallow Girl--a disaster zone of clean, dirty and somewhat nebulous laundry, drifts of papers to be filed or mailed or who knows what at this point, precarious stacks of CDs, DVDs, photos and books on parenting...but also our living room was in a similar state, because it was becoming our bedroom.

And it was already the playroom, concert hall, keirin track (google it your own lazy self), fort, cave, bouncy house and so forth.

Just as babysitting is a surefire means of birth control, picking up toys is a surefire means of curbing conspicuous consumption. Because even if it's not their toys, it's whatever they can get their busy little hands on. It's like living with cokehead cats with thumbs.

What's this?

What's that?

Where did I leave that?

Who cares?

What's this?

What's that?

Let me amend that: cokehead cats with thumbs...and diapers.

But I digress.

The point is that last weekend I spend about 12 straight hours picking up, organizing and trying to finish some big projects. I felt great. I filled countless bags of recycling and trash and overheated our shredder innumerable times getting rid of old files and junk mail.

And all of that got me through just about half of our bedroom. Only four and a half more rooms to go.

But I also got everything picked up enough that our cleaning lady was able to get most of the house clean, rather than just dusting the precarious stacks of CDs yet again. Yes, cleaning lady. You want to talk about that, find me on Facebook, or wait for another post about that.

So the house now is livable. I know that there are closets I shouldn't open, and the stacks of debris atop our bedroom dressers give me hives, but it's livable.

Except that I can't stand being here.

Just a few minutes ago, I was marveling that the same towel I'd gotten out of the closet and hung up on the bathroom towel rack on Sunday was the same one I was using tonight, that it was still on the same rack, that it was still folded neatly, even though I had refolded and rehung it over 12 hours ago.

And then I realized that's because there was nobody here all day to take it down and throw it in the tub full of water, use it for a bathmat or smear their paint-covered hands on it. This is the same reason why I can leave the TV remote on the arm of the couch in the morning and know that it will be there when I come home at the end of the day, and that it won't be lost among the drums, guitars, flutes, ukulele, wagons, trikes, tractors, bikes, chain saw, swords, dresses, paint, Play-Doh, spatulas, knives, chopsticks and the books, books, books.

And then I remembered how much I miss opening the front door at the end of a day and hearing 3B sing out, "It's the man of the hour!" (Mama has him well trained, no?) And watching Jewel turn, grin, drop what she's chewing on, and truck on over to me as fast as she can crawl. And seeing Mama, and watching her relief that finally there's someone to help her out (forgive her forgetfulness...every day she mistakes me for a competent parent before she remembers).

And yes, I admit it. I miss the craziness.

I'm working to make cancer history. Will you help me?

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

The miracle you made

One week ago, I met a miracle. A miracle that wasn't made easily, and that wouldn't have been made at all if it weren't for you. That miracle is Vampboy, the boy on the bike in the picture above. You can read all about him on his dad's blog.

Briefly, however, VB was 16 months old when diagnosed with ATRT, a type of brain tumor that occurs almost exclusively in children, and was almost always fatal. Both of these characteristics mean that it's not profitable for pharmaceutical companies to research treatments for ATRT.

Fortunately for VB, he was able to get treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which counts its profits in lives saved, and he is now a happy, active five-year-old. VB is one of the main reasons I rode the Pan-Mass Challenge this year, and I was lucky to meet him at one of the rest stops on the first day.

The entire Vampfamily was a joy to meet: Vampdaddy, Vampmommy and Vamppuppy were all in attendance, waiting to thank each of the riders on the team that partnered with Vampboy this year. Having read about them for so long, it was nice to finally see them in the flesh. It never ceases to amaze me how much in common I have with people who I've only known through this blog over the years.

The ways that VDaddy and VMommy talk with VB were so similar to the way Mama and I talk with 3B and Jewel that it was like a slice of home hearing them all. And, of course, the way that VB responded, although he's a year older than 3B, just made me laugh because of the similarities in their personalities: sweet, strong and self-assured.

Of course, the purple bike, much like 3B's pink ride, was fun to hear about--how nobody thought VB would be able to ride a bike for awhile due to some lingering weakness he has, but how he pulled it right off the rack, rode it around the shop, rolled up to VD and said, "I want this one."

As VD said, what can you say to that, but "OK"?

Having lost my father to a brain tumor, watching this pint-sized pistol of a survivor ride his bike around was like watching a miracle on wheels. But this miracle didn't come easily. It was made through tremendously difficult work--VB's 50 weeks of chemotherapy with 12 drugs at adult dosages, then six weeks of radiation, coupled with another six weeks of chemo, and all the attendant care that treatment requires. The work continues now, with regular scans to check for recurrence or new cancers as well as speech therapy, physical therapy and other services to help VB recover from the cancer and treatments. All of that work was made possible by people like you, all giving a little to make something greater than the sum of your gifts possible.

But watching VB ride around and laugh and hanging out with his parents, my newest old friends, made all of that fade away. My long training rides alone down empty roads, away from my children and wife, through the darkness of morning, into the dense, hot, humid tangle of Southern woods--it all faded away. Here, the sun was warm, the breeze was cool, and there was nothing to do but help Vampboy open his packet of goldfish crackers, watch his dad steal one--of course--and watch Vampmommy walk a frolicking Vamppuppy across the grass.

VB is doing better than anyone expected, but he still has a long road before him. However, he doesn't walk alone. He carries with him, and is carried by, the hopes of everyone like you who supports Dana-Farber.

Thanks to all of you who made this miracle possible.

The more of us who work together, the more likely we are to make miracles happen, so if you haven't already, donate today.

I'm working to make cancer history. Will you help me?

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

What she said

The Pan-Mass Challenge, by it's very nature, is a public event, but there are portions of it that you can't easily see.

We ride on open roads, through hundreds of cities, towns and villages, past thousands of homes and people. If you want to see what's happening, you just have to show up and look. Or, if you're in New England, tune into NECN to watch us.

However, you can't be everywhere along the route, and if you're not a rider, you can't get into certain areas, like our camp at the Mass. Maritime Academy or our finish area at the Provincetown Inn--the ride's gotten too big to accommodate anybody but riders in those places. And, even if you watched the official opening ceremonies on NECN, you missed the preshow.

You didn't see the more informal gathering before that, which was not as scripted or polished. It was, however, just as powerful a reminder of why we ride. Thanks to NECN, you can watch for yourself what this was like. If you have half an hour, it might be worth your time, but to get to the heart of it, skip ahead to about 15.40, and listen to what Carrie has to say.

Sturbridge Exclusive Kickoff 2010 from David Hellman on Vimeo.

I'm working to make cancer history. Will you help me?

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Waiting on angels

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm no angel.

But you, my six loyal readers, are angels. You donated over $6,000, one hundred percent of which went to the Jimmy Fund to support the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

The doctors at Dana Farber used the money you donated to continue working to save lives once thought surely over due to a cancer diagnosis. Lives like those of Declan, who I met on the ride, and Julia, whose father I met while riding.

Both of them offered me thanks for riding several times, as did Declan's parents. For once, I was polite and accepted their thanks, but I was really accepting it on behalf of you. You donated the money, you made it possible for Dana Farber's work to continue...me? I just sat on my ass spinning my wheels for a few hours, which is about all I'm good for most days.

So, from them, and all the others whose lives you saved, many of whom lined the route, thanks.

And, because you couldn't come along, here are some photos of the ride along with some of those among us affected by cancer, many of whom are living proof that cancer research is working, it is worth what we pay for it, it is letting more people live longer lives.

For that and all of the other support you gave me, you all are truly the angels the patients at Dana Farber have been waiting on.

I'm working to make cancer history. Will you help me?

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Monday, August 09, 2010

Signs of hope

This weekend, after raising over $6,000 with your help, I rode 192 miles to fight cancer. I owe great debts of gratitude to all of you who donated to the ride. Those of you who haven't yet donated, there's still some time to make your donation.

The long journey to get to this weekend almost made the rides seem short.


The first day was 111 miles and the second was 81, and among 5,200 riders and 3,100 volunteers, there were more stories in each day than I'll ever have the time to tell, but I'll spend the next few days sharing a few that will give you a feel for what the ride is like. Some stories are big and some, like this first, are about the smaller details.

Over such long courses as these, there are many signs along the way, some directional, many inspirational, and a few puzzling ones. Before we even turned our pedals once, there was a sign of...well...I'm not quite sure what, when we heard that, for perhaps the first time ever, Senator Brown (MA-R) might actually say to Senator Kerry (MA-D), "On your left."

Then there were the road signs, most of which I didn't stop to take pictures of, but some of which I puzzled over for miles after passing them. This one was more straightforward and I stopped to take this shot mostly as a tribute to my longtime companion. He didn't die of cancer. Or perhaps he did. I'll never know, although I choose to believe that his seemingly ceaseless supply of cussedness ran out.
Then there were the puzzlers...and I admit that I'm not from New England, so there is a language barrier to contend with, which might explain some of my confusion.

The first puzzler was

Thickly settled
To which my first reaction was, I know that I've put on some weight, but who are you calling fat, buddy? But then I saw the second sign, attached to that one. Together they read
Thickly settled horse crossing
I guess it's a good thing that horses can't read, because I'm pretty sure you'd get a kick in the head if that horse could read that sign.

The next puzzler was
Slow nursing home ahead
I sat down for over an hour for that one...and damned if that nursing home didn't move an inch in that whole time. I guess they were right--it really does move slowly.

The next one was confusing because I finally felt like I understood the local lingo when I came across it, and I couldn't believe the misspelling in it. We were coming off one sharp turn down a hill, all moving pretty fast when we whipped past this sign
Wicked hard right
I was so proud of myself as a Californian for being able to translate that on the fly, while banking around a gravel-filled turn in heavy bike traffic at over 20 miles an hour. I think I did see one rider shoot straight ahead into the crowd of supporters while trying to pull their New England Berlitz phrase book out of their jersey pocket.

But what confused me was that second word...there's no "r" in there. Everyone knows damn well that it's spelled "hahd," as in...
It was wicked hahd to not cry seeing all the signs lining the road for all the kids who were saved with the money you donated, and wicked hahd to not cry when I met this dad in the last few miles of the ride and talked with him about his daughter:

I'm working to make cancer history. Will you help me?

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

You can't roller skate in a buffalo herd

I'm leaving my family for four days, and as I'm walking out the door, 3B is sobbing in his bed, still asleep, wrapped up in night terrors. Mama is in there, lying next to him, but it still takes all of the strength I have to not go in and lie alongside him...or to not weep as I walk down the hall to the elevator.

At times like this, all that pablum about carrying loved ones in my heart is as useful as a paper cocktail umbrella in a hurricane.

I'm a literal guy, so unless I can see them, hear them, smell them (yes, even the poopy smells), kiss their little bellies, or spread my hands across their warm backs, I am lost. Not lost like I made a wrong turn or two and the GPS will recalculate and get me there five minutes late, but lost like Moses leaving Egypt, thinking the Red Sea thing was pretty cool and then...hey...waitaminnit, didn't we pass that tumbleweed yesterday? Or thirty years ago?

But while I can't have Mama and the kids with me, I will have with me other family and friends. In fact, on Sunday, they'll be wrapped around me as I ride, reminding me why I sweat and ache and strain, reminding me that my suffering pales in comparison to what they've been through.

Mothers, daughters, granddaughters, grandfather, sister in law, aunt, niece, nephew, brother, Dad, son, uncle, father, brother...they all have many labels and names, but they all share one history. They've all been touched by cancer. In some cases, directly, in other cases through those who they love, live with, share blood with. It's been difficult, sad, and for those who survived, life-changing.

And in some cases, it's been fuzzy.

And all of them have helped me along on my journey. It's not been easy, going out with nobody but my bike for company for four, five, six, even eight hours at a time. That comes to an end this weekend, when I'll ride with 5,000 of my closest friends across Massachusetts, but I will only be able to do that because I've had all of you along for the ride during all those lonely training rides at five in the morning--and yes, one at three in the morning.

Together, we will make cancer history. No, cancer isn't going away quickly--certainly not this weekend, and probably not even next year, but day by day, dollar by dollar, we're able to chip away at it, and eventually we will overcome it.

We will overcome because we won't stop working. We will do it together. We will do it for as long as it takes. We will do it for those who went before us and can no longer be with us.

No matter how lonely it may seem, we take this journey together. I know that I could not have succeeded without all of you, and I pledge my support to you in your journey, wherever it takes you, and I wish you all the best. In the well-worn words of this blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

But remember, wherever the wind is coming from, you can't roller skate in a buffalo herd.

I'm working to make cancer history. Will you help me?

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Always and forever

Eight years ago at about this time, Mama and I were sleeping peacefully on the morning of our wedding day.

At least, I imagine it was peaceful. I was asleep at the time, so I couldn't tell you for sure, but we had certainly sorted out all of the final details of our wedding:

  • I had recovered my ring after Mom had, in jest, dropped it as if losing it, only to see it roll down into a grate in the floor.
  • Mama's brother--who, along with Grammy, had acted as our wedding planner--had found our lost wedding license after we had all spent a day driving from place to place around the farm looking for where we left it.
  • Mama and I had sat down at Great Grammy's table at just before midnight the night before our wedding and drafted our vows. We had recently settled on the idea that we'd base them at least loosely on lyrics from a Dylan song to reflect our shared love of his music and to echo our first conversation, when I was informally interviewing Mama for a job and started off with, "So, what's your favorite Dylan song?"
We've celebrated the fact that we did sort out all of these details and did get legally married by our friend, the Right Reverend R___, in many ways. So far this year, we've celebrated by spending from 2 to 3 a.m. trying to get Jewel back to sleep, which is almost as fun as some of our past celebrations.

Perhaps tonight it will get more rowdy, since Mama got two bottles of Spanish wine last time she was at the store, to remind us of our first date in Madrid, when we saw Aida in Italian with Spanish supertitles...a bit like Sweeney Todd with American supertitles, no? What better portent for lifelong love than watching two doomed lovers be buried alive under the Egyptian desert?

But we'll enjoy that wine--you know, the first two sips before it puts us to sleep. And I'll enjoy it even more knowing that she bought me wine, not boots of Spanish leather, because wherever she goes, no matter how far apart we may be--and she is decamping for India later this month--I will always love Mama. Always and forever.

I'm working to make cancer history. Will you help me?

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