The Next Adventure

Breaking News

Today, Saturday, October 2nd. 2021, Brad and I registered for the GoodLife FITNESS 10KM.

This event is scheduled for the morning of Sunday, November 7th, 2021. The start times have yet to be announced.

Yes! You’ve read it correctly. Brad and I registered for the race and yes, I am fragile, weak, and have difficulty walking. There is no way I can walk 10km and running? My balance is so bad there is no way I can run.

Our plan is that I will start the race on my feet and end it on my feet. Brad will push me the rest of the way in an adaptive wheelchair. There may be short sections in the race I will walk to give Brad a break but we plan to start and finish this adventure together. If it goes well, it may prove the be the first of other races in the future.

Brad announced this plan in Facebook here is a short excerpt:

In under two years he (Phil) has gone from an active and energetic man of 185 lbs to a man who is living every day like it is his last and experiencing life like no other. Today he was 122 lbs and struggling to walk. His spirit and passion for life is stronger than ever. This morning (he comes to workout and chat with me three mornings a week) I surprised him with an entry in the Bluenose 10km race and we both registered. I am pushing him in an adaptive wheelchair although and I asked him that we agree he would walk to start the race and walk on his own to feet to finish it. We are doing this as one! We may not have many opportunities like that moving forward but will milk every moment. The Bluenose officials helped make the surprise happen and are allowing us to ‘compete’! Phil was very pleased leaving my place this morning. I couldn’t be more happy! Thanks to our family and friends for your love and support. @wphilipohara

The Back Story

In the fall of 1976 I started my first full-time job as the Physical Education Teacher at G.K.Butler Elementary School in Spryfield. One of the stand-out Grade 5 students was Brad Crossley who was a good athlete, funny, charismatic, a leader among his peers, and usually the first to arrive to before-school activities and the last to leave when the after-school activities were over. At the end of Grade 5, his Mom relocated to downtown Halifax and Brad made the move to an inner-city school.

Late in the school year a student at my other school, Holly Drive, asked me if I’d consider becoming his Big Brother. For me developing a one-on-one mentorship relationship with a young person was a natural fit so I investigated what was involved. I was approved for the program. However, the student who initially asked me to get involved would still be a student in the upcoming year and the team at Big Brothers did not think that would be an appropriate match. They shared with me other young people waiting for matches and Brad was on the list. He was such a good student through my first year of teaching that it became an obvious choice. Our relationship dates back to September 1977 when our first outing involved him helping me move into my first apartment. Although I know we moved furniture all day for some reason I wasn’t able to spend the night so I ended up sleeping in Brad’s bed and he slept on the floor. That started our long-lasting loving relationship which has endured more than four decades and is as strong today as ever.

For my five children, he is Uncle Brad; for his four children, I am Uncle Phil. My first born son is Adam Brad and his first born son is Brett Philip. Although they haven’t spent a lot of time together over the years, all are children are comfortable in each others’ company and for all practical purposes, we are one family.

Janet and I raised all our children in Dartmouth’s Portland Estates. Just a few kilometres east, Leslie and Brad raised their children in the community of Cole Harbour. We all had busy lives and only got together two to three times a year but it was always with wonderful familiarity.

So turn the clock ahead to 2017 …

Alexis is Brad’s oldest child. On completion of her Grad Studies at Boston U, she proposed they team up and compete in the Trans America Bike Race. This race departs from Astoria, Oregon in early June and travels east to the finish line in Yorktown, Virginia. It is known as a Self-Supported Ultra Distance bicycle race. That means you carry all your own gear, there is no support team, you can camp or stay in hotels along the way, pick up food whenever you can, and take care of all repairs to your bike (and yourself) along the way. You must carry a satellite tracker which updates your location every few minutes and is mapped by the race organizers. If you go off course, which can happen if you get lost or perhaps you decide to stay in a hotel which is off the course route, then you need to return to the point you left the course and resume from that location.

It took Alexis and Brad 33 days to make the dash from the Pacific to the the Atlantic. In the picture you can see them at the finish line in Yorktown, Virginia. From start to finish they travelled 6,752.0 km (4,195.5 mi).

I cannot tell you how or why it happened but over the years I packed on a lot of pounds and was pretty much a coach potato. My weight went from around the 88.5 kg (195 lbs) when I was younger to 127 kg (280 lbs) in June 2017. The irony is I should have known better given I started my working life as a Gym Teacher.

Brad proposed a plan which I agreed to. He loaned me a top-end bicycle while they were on the race and I agreed to ride it every day. It seems like a reasonable plan.

Although I never admitted it, I wasn’t happy with my appearance or my size. Being obese introduces life challenges and is a gateway to ill health. I was ready for a change but didn’t have the discipline to take action on my own. Brad was the catalyst which started me down an entirely new life path.

On the day that Alexis and Brad started the race, I drove to the end of my street and home; a distance of about 2 km (1.25 mi). By the time I got home I was sucking wind, my heart was racing, I’m sure my blood pressure was up, my face was flushed, my butt hurt like hell, and my legs were burning. All I could think was, “What have I gotten myself into?”

But a deal is a deal and the next day I headed out again and rode to the end of the street and home. Same distance but not as tough as the day before.

The next day I went a little further. There are trails in our neighbourhood. By the end of the week I was doing between five and ten kilometres. Each day got a little better than the day before.

I avoided all hills so my routes were limited. None the less, I made good progress and before long I noticed my weight started to drop.

My wife and I discussed my weight loss and we decided to make a number of lifestyle changes starting with our diet.

We started by reducing our portion sizes; not all at once but a little more each day. Next we started making more meals from scratch with a goal to eliminate processed food (which by the way is almost impossible to accomplish).

To the right is how I looked when I met Alexis and Brad at the Finish Line in Yorktown on July 9, 2017. That shirt is a 3X. Although I’m clearly huge in the picture, I was about 7 kg (15 lbs) lighter than when they started the race.

I really started to enjoy the rides and the trails near our home are natural and inviting. A ride of fifty kilometres was routine and between rides, Brad and I were doing early morning workouts at this house and occasionally going to the 6:00 am workout at 360 FIT. A year after starting these lifestyle changes my weight was around 97 kg (215 lbs). The shirts and shorts in the picture on the right are the same as on the left. As you can see, my face, chest, belly, and are a shadow of the man I was. My whole world was different as obesity no longer placed barriers or limitations on my existence.

Turn the clock ahead again to December 2019 …

Since you are reading this post, you are aware that in December 2019 my life headed in a new direction. I was having difficulty swallowing and after a few tests I was diagnosed with Esophageal cancer. Treatment started early in 2020 and at 8:00 am on May 22nd I was rolled into a surgical theatre to have most of my esophagus and a small section at the top of my stomach removed, what remained of my stomach stretched up to reattach to what remained of my esophagus, where the goal was to remove all the tumours. As it turned out, the spread of my cancer to my stomach was more than expected so on the fly the procedure changed which kept me on the table close to ten hours. About half of my esophagus was removed, all of my stomach was removed, the valve at the top of my small intestine sealed, and a section of my small intestine was harvested to rejoin everything together. The before/after map of my Gastronomic Intestinal (GI) track was very different and in the future I would have to eat numerous meals throughout the day but all had to be small portions. Plus I needed to conscientiously chew my food more before swallowing to make it easier to digest.

In spite of the change to my GI and how I’d consume food in the future, my medical team was confident they had removed all the cancer and I was on the road to recovery. To my regret, that is not what happened. My esophageal cancer metastasized in my liver. That is medical speak to say there was no path to a cure for me. Officially I became classified as a palliative care patient with stage 4 cancer and no chance of survival.

Instead of survival, what remained were options which may extend my life. I elected the most aggressive treatment with a drug called Oxaliplatin (also known as Eloxatin). It was effective. It stalled the progress of my disease. However, some patients, myself included, suffer the side effect that it destroys bone marrow in the process. In February 2021, my Oncologist advised me that I must stop treatment as he feared even one more session might destroy what little function left in my bone marrow. If you don’t know, the bone marrow is where blood cells are manufactured in the body. Once destroyed, the bone marrow cannot heal or recover. There are no alternative treatments to replace blood cells other than natural production in the bone marrow. The body cannot sustain life without functioning bone marrow. No bone marrow, no life.

There are less aggressive chemotherapy drugs but they are also less effective. The new plan was to start a drug called Capecitabine (also know as Xeloda). It will not effect my bone marrow. There is an additional advantage. It is an oral drug. That means I don’t have to go to the clinic at the hospital and be hooked up to a pump.

My treatment was four pills in the morning and and four later in the day. It produced the undesirable side-effect of killing my appetite and subjecting me to diarrhea. I lost some weight while on Oxaliplatin but I nose-dived while on Capecitabine. At the start of chemo in the fall of 2020, I was about 82 kg (180 lbs). By August 2021, the scales put me at 57 kg (125 lbs).

And then I got bad news. I am chemo-insensitive This means my body is simply ignoring the presence of the chemo and not just the Capecitabine but with all chemo drugs on the market. There are no more chemo treatment options. There is no point in continuing to take chemo drugs. My Oncologist is so distraught sharing this news. He is a huge hero for me and he tells me I am his favourite patient.

And where Brad fits in the picture …

From when I learned I had cancer, even before my scope in December, Brad was the first to know as he drove me home from my appointment with my family Doc to review the results of the Swallow Test. Since then he has been my constant companion and my biggest support pillar. My wife Janet ranks high in this regard but Brad and I talk about my cancer in a different way. He is more prone to question the information I’m getting and opens the door to new questions for me to ask.

This should come as no surprise given we have been hanging out for over forty years. As in all important and loving relationships, it goes both ways and that’s been the case with us for as long as I can remember. We are true kindred spirits in every possible way there is. I count my blessings he is a part of my life and he is among the first to hear when there is any new news about anything in my life.

Brad knows I expected to back in the bicycle saddle after treatment but I suspect given how things have unfolded, that is unlikely unless I have a miraculous recovery in the next while.

Ads are running on American channels for the Boston Marathon through the last few weeks. It is coming up in early October. Brad aspires to run this race sometime in the future. As a chirp, I said he’d probably get in it sooner if he pushed me around the route in a wheelchair. He has yet to run a Marathon he needs to do in order to record the official qualifying time he needs to get in the lottery for his age group.

Today, Saturday, October 2nd, Brad surprised me with an email dialogue he initiated with the organizers of the ScotiaBank Bluenose Marathon. Brad is going to push me around the GoodLife FITNESS 10KM event in an adaptive wheelchair on Sunday, November 7th, in the morning. I will start and finish the race on my own feet but he’ll do all the work the rest of the way and he plans to run. I don’t know that there is a category for this so odds are he’ll post a winning finish. He hopes to average 6:20 kilometres.

As he said in his Facebook post, “We are doing this as one! We may not have many opportunities like that moving forward but will milk every moment.”

As always, I thank you for taking the time to wander through my ramblings. This will be a huge moment for me in November and I will share the experience. Events like this give me purpose. Perhaps you might share this story with someone who could use a lift. It continues to inspire me to have you at my side and motivates me to keep looking for ways to live large.

Peace, Love, and Laughter

PS – Only 23 days to my birthday on October 25th. Have you booked a blood donation with Canadian Blood Services as a gift alternative?

3 Replies to “The Next Adventure”

  1. What a wonderful story to share Phil as all you posts are. Thank you. I would just like to say that sadly you may be physically weak and compromised, but there is nothing fragile about you – you have such amazing personal strength, faith and spirit. A true hero and mentor to us all.

  2. I plan to be at the start and finish line to cheer for you two…I am amazed at your attitude and the continued zest you have demonstrated through this chapter of your life. You are in my thoughts daily.

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