Thursday, December 30, 2010

A note to readers

Chris feels that I should continue to post my entries in the Addiction to Life Marathon.

I had stopped posting late May because I felt some of the material was sensitive and I didn't want to 'expose' Chris to the public domain any more than I have, until he is an enthusiastic and willing participant.

Yesterday, after reading some responses to the Christmas letter, he wanted me to post more. We made a deal. I will post if he reads and approves of the material first.

The words may be mine but they are for him, not the world.

Like any present, once given, it is then the receivers to do as they wish. I guess this gift is not different. He swayed my thinking on the subject with these words: "It could help someone now, why wait until later, post the entries now. Reading about this journey could help someone today.” He made a good point. I suppose that someone somewhere may benefit from the insights that we have collected in the pages of this journal.

So I will be posting again, intermittently. I have continued to journal everyday since that weekend in May and have accumulated over 200 pages. Chris and I will post the entries together.

We hope that the words will find a heart, or hearts to heal.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

May 30 Cabot Trail Relay - leg 11

Sunday May 30

It turns out the CTR was amazing for you. Your team rallied about you and gave you all the support you needed … both physical and emotional … and by the look of the van when it got home – a sufficient supply of Tim Horton’s 4X4.

The Tidal Boar Runners, Team 29, were responsible for a water stop. Each year the water stops are farmed out to the teams to man. Your team always takes a stop. This year was no exception.

There is a prize for the best water stop and so the competition is fierce to make your team’s water stop memorable. Generally there is a theme to the stop. The stops during the night legs are harder to make impressive then the daytime stops. This year the theme for the Tidal Boar Runners was Baseball.

A few months ago, you had an idea that you had worked on for your teammates. You bought them baseball shirts with the Tidal Boar Runner logo on the back and Team #29 on the right sleeve and the last name of the runner on the left arm. You handed these shirts out to the runners of the team and when the water stop was set up, everyone was wearing the shirts, throwing a baseball about and handing out water. Teammate, Jodie, worked out a system for you to hand out water to the runners. After a few practice ‘run-bye’s’, you and Jody had an efficient water distribution system.

The relay was ticking along well until it became apparent that there was no runner for leg 11. Leg 11 starts shortly before midnight and with no runner the team would get an incomplete on the race. The unexpected often happens in events like this. The CTR organizers have a loophole rule that allows a team not to default. The rule allows a team to place a runner in the leg and if the leg isn’t finished, the time given to the team is the time of the slowest team plus 5 minutes.

Martha kept the idea from you until close to the last minute, so that you would do it for the team. As expected, you did. You took leg 11 without hesitation. Just like other years when you would go that ‘extra mile’ for the team, this year was no exception. You didn’t just start the leg but you also walked a good couple of hundred metres. The teammates had a special finish-line for you to cross… which you did… of course!

Who would have thought a few months ago that this would have been possible. It hasn’t been lost on me that your team 29 needed you on the 29th and you came through. You inspired the team and all the people at the CTR.

After this leg, you smoked your last cigarette. You decided that this is your pivot point. In the highlands of your beloved Cape Breton Island, you made a conscious decision to take charge of your life and health and not smoke.

At the banquet in Baddeck, later today, your name was announced. The announcer talked about the health struggle that you had over the past several months and that you have not let it define you. You took part in every aspect of the race and even took a leg! There was a standing ovation by all the fellow runners. You were overwhelmed with emotion at the outpouring of support. The clapping seemed to last forever … it was probably just a minute or two. You wept uncontrollably. Tears of Joy. (I teared up too.)

Several runners who you respected and admired for a long time, came up to you with their own words of encouragement. Some with tears in their eyes too.

Rami, a very good runner who has done Boston a number of times and places near the top on his age bracket, came up to you after the banquet. He spoke about his weekend experience. He ran a difficult leg (leg 5) and he wanted to get first place. He did. A few legs later, a teammate was injured and so he ran that leg too (leg 10). Just as you would have. He said that during the run he was starting to feel it. So like most athletes of that calliper, he didn’t reach to his legs for strength, he reached to his mind. He thought of you. He thought your courage and determination to overcome what, at one point, was hopeless, and he pushed on. He placed second out of 70 teams!

By this time the three of us are feeling pretty emotional. For his big finish with you he said “I got a trophy this year at Boston for placing third in the division. It’s glass and sort of looks like an ashtray. I want to give it to you.” You wept.

After the emotional high of the CTR, there was a long drive home. Chris G and you drove home in the van and the children, Annie and I drove home in the fit. On the drive with Chris, the two of you relived the highlights of the weekend.

Chris made a very good point to you. The standing ovation represents a small number of the people who are standing on the sidelines, cheering you on. People from every aspect of your life. Your childhood friends in Ottawa, your family, the families at the church, at the school, baseball friends, runners and everyone who has crossed life paths with you. They all want to see you make the best recovery you can. They want a happy ending. Only you can make this happen.

The ending of your Marathon is yours to finish. We are only your cheerleaders.

Chris G’s peptalk seemed to hit a note with you. I think that you are starting to realise that many people are standing for you. They are invested in your recovery. You are an inspiration ... in the making. You have to keep the recovery going to continue to be the inspiration.

Christmas Greeting's 2010

Chris's Christmas letter 2010

Wow!! Another year has flown by and boy, are my stem cells are tired! It seems like just a few months ago, cartilage from my knees was being weighed for use in Spiderman. Thank God my life-force sense started tingling.

We had a big year. Gwen or ‘Gwen the glue’ as I call her, kept everyone on their very busy schedules. I wish I had the wit to make a joke about how important to her family’s survival is to Gwen was but sadly it would “tank”. Just like General Rommell did in Northern Africa during WW2.

I think Gwen was greatly relieved to get back to work in September but I am sure our loss was Truro Vet’s gain. She did get out in the garden a couple of times this summer but both times I dragged her back inside to talk to a salesman (1st time) and a Jehovah Witness for the prosecution (the second). For Christmas, Gwen wants an amphibious garden on a giant carrousel with a large moat around it. You also have to be able to leap 6 inches to a small platform to gain access to the garden. Good luck getting that in here, Santa!

10 year old Tara is growing and maturing at a phenomenal rate. She is involved in everything musical. If she hears a song on the radio or CD player that she likes, you are guaranteed to find her plucking away on the piano and figuring out the tune with amazing success. She is really becoming a mini Gwen in that her values and scruples are very sound and she forces them on the rest of us almost relentlessly (much to her Dad’s frustration)… Wake up Dad. She is right just like her Mom. She will be a “Star” as long as Dad finds the sense to get stay out of her way.

Jungle “Quinn” is an athlete in every sense of the word. He is very dedicated to his gymnastics. He played baseball this summer for Texas. They won all their games, as did all the other teams. He is a natural at everything he tries. Sadly his Dad tries to take some of the credit for this. Hopefully he will be the start of a new and very much improved gene pool. Quinn has one other magnificent trait I want to share with you. Day or night, good mood or bad, Quinn, our precious little boy, will help his Dad. Whatever I ask of him, he tries his hardest. No matter what the task, he is always there for me. Small wonder he remains my “Hero” in great standing.

I, Chris, am home and currently working on exercising (or excising) my many demons. It is slow going and I question every couple of minutes if I an am up to the task. Progress is far slower than I want it to be. I complain and whine muchly. I feel as if I need another miracle to save me. It just hasn’t fully sunk in that ‘I have to be that miracle’. I hope 2011 is an incredibly wondrous year for everyone and I hope that next year’s letter makes you laugh and cry at the same time. Much love to you and yours.

Now a note from me(Gwen:

We are sending you these letters because in a small or big way, you have played a role in helping Chris and our family recover. It may have been lifts to the hospital, food at the door, visits in the hospital or at home or it may have been a phone call with the right message at the right time.

As a person who has a good understanding of life sciences, it continues to amaze me how I have only just learned that the human species is a functional biological mass that enables us, as individuals, to achieve things that we would have never thought were possible. There is a group effort for every individual accomplishment. Miracles would never happen without the help of others.

This year, Tara has asked the question that all children ask. There comes a point in a child's life when one doubts the magic. This 'right of passage' transcends culture and religions. At this time of year in our culture, belief in Santa often comes into question. There have been rumblings at school that Santa is not real. Not wanting to believe this, she came to us and asked. "Is Santa the real thing?"

My reply was automatic - I didn't even have to think. "Of course he is. It is a matter of belief. If you believe in him ... then he is real. Believing in something makes it real ... believing in something makes it happen. People call these miracles but miracles can and do happen all the time because someone, somewhere, believed that they could."

I will be the first to admit that some days Chris's recovery doesn't seem like a miracle. Chris may argue that he is the first to admit to these lapses in faith. But when our faith wains, other people's faith takes over and allows our miracle to continue.

This is a letter of thanks to all of you that have filled the gaps of belief and allowed for Chris's and the family's recovery to continue.

Chris has been home since late April. He has, and continues to make improvements everyday. Physically, he is healing. Emotionally he is healing too but that has been a struggle. The emotional damage left by the stroke impedes his belief in himself. Thankfully, that too is starting to change. It has been an emotional roller-coaster ride since he has returned home. On his good days or moments, he talks about the future with a positive attitude, can see the progress he has made and imagines more improvement as time goes by. Bad days are ... well, just bad days - nothing more.

He has far more independence now within our home. A large part of this improvement must be given to Kim. On June 25 (his birthday) he got Kim, his own 'personal trainer and coach'. Kim has been working with Chris on the days that I am at work and has coached him to improve in many little tasks. There are many more basic day to day challenges ahead of him so she will be busy. She is very dedicated to his recovery, possibly more than I, which is impressive since Chris may improve to the point where she is out of a job!

He is now a proud owner of a trike. Triking is physically demanding exercise. The peddles are positioned so that Chris must peddle parallel to the ground. Gravity is no help in pushing the peddles. The trike and walking are his main forms of exercise and help him burn off the Tim Horton's 4X4. Smoking continues to be a challenge that he is trying to battle. Thankfully his pain is under control, as are most of the other daily demands that one makes of their body.

Chris has had a few significant moments during his recovery this fall. At the end of August, Chris was the honorary race marshal for the Cobequid 10 k and Half Marathon. One year ago this race marked the start of his journey. He spoke to the runners and shared with them some of his epiphanies of the living experience that he has had since his stroke.

Late September, Saint Andrew's Church organized a family walk to raise money or the Nova Scotia Brain Repair Centre that is being built across the street from his room at the NS Rehabilitation Centre in Halifax. The church raised over $3000 for the centre. Despite her poor health, Chris's Mother and Father flew down for this event. They did some of the walk and soaked up the local support that we have all around us.

Lastly, in early December, Chris was the motivational speaker for the Provincial Boy's Volleyball Tournament. He hooked the volleyball players with his unique sense of humour and then he spoke of his journey. He spoke of the life paths he had taken and how he could have done things differently. He spoke about the poem 'If" by Rudyard Kipling and the impact it made on him both before and after his stroke. He spoke ... and the boys listened. I had to read the last few sentences of his speech because his emotions got the better of him. There were over one hundred young men there that heard his message and if he helps just one of them, then the tears were worth it.

This was an extra special event. 'King', Chris's new service dog made his first public appearance. He is a dog that is being trained as a service dog by women at the Nova Institute, a local federal prison for women. It has a program called 'Pawsitive Directions' for the woman to participate in that involves adopting dogs from shelters and training them to be special skills dogs. To date they have matched many people to special dogs that make their day to day life a little easier. King lived in the Charlottetown SPCA shelter for seven months when he was saved and put into the program. He has lived at the women's prison for a year being trained. He is the most recent miracle in our lives. Now Annie, our dog, has a new best friend, when he is not working.

I continue to journal almost everyday. I use it process my feelings and document Chris's recovery as well as acknowledge the steady stream of inspiring people who enter our lives almost daily. Two of the most important inspiring people for Chris and I are Tara and Quinn, who continue to give us strength to continue this 'marathon recovery' everyday.

We hope these letters find you well and most importantly, that you are continuing to believe in the miracles that exist in your lives. Miracles are everywhere. You just have to believe.

Thank you for being part of our miracle

Chris, Tara, Quinn and Gwen.