The Long Road... #2014reboot

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

#303: Steppin' Out For My Baby


Cancer Boy and Sugar Girl... What a team.
 One of the best things about running in organized events is the opportunity to help organizations that do great work in the community. In March, I'm running in the Shamrock Shuffle 3K for Lexington Habitat for Humanity and the Race to Read 5K for the Episcopal Disocese of Lexington Reading Camp program. Those are valuable and important organizations, but there's another one in June that strikes especially close to home.

On June 4, I'll be participating in Lexington's Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes. This one is personal. Three years ago, the doctors told us that Mrs P has diabetes. It's a condition that runs in her family so we half expected it to happen eventually. She checks her blood sugar, watches her diet, takes her medicine. She's doing her best to control the disease, but today there is no cure. There should be.

I'm asking folks to join Team Pennsy to raise money to fight Diabetes. We did this in 2008, and raised almost $600. In exchange, I taped up my aching ankles, (I had strained both achiles tendons trying to keep up with a pair of coeds in my first 5K a few weeks before,) and limped the walk. Then I hooted the names of Team Pennsy from the hills of Keeneland. Here's the video I made of the events of that day. Every one of my sponsors has been rich, happy, and good looking ever since. You can join that happy throng. Let's shoot for $1000 this year. Public funds can only do so much, and from the looks of things, there are going to be fewer and fewer public funds to go around. We who care about science, social services, and the arts are going to have to pick up the slack. Here's a chance to do that.

Go to my Step Out web page to learn more about the event, and find out how you can help.

Peace,

Pennsy

Thursday, February 24, 2011

#302: The Sage Lets Go of That and Chooses This

The five colors blind the eye.
The five tones deafen the ear.

The five flavors dull the taste.
Racing and hunting madden the mind.
Precious things lead one astray.


Therefore the sage is guided by what
he feels and not by what he sees.
He lets go of that and chooses this.
Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu

Something big is changing today. A new chapter. A letting go. A taking up.


Timothy James Hull and Pennsy in
Actors' Guild of Lexington's
Glengarry Glen Ross
 Today, I open in Glengarry Glen Ross at Actors' Guild of Lexington, the theatre I love, perhaps more than any other. While I was sick, my prayer was, "God, let me live to see my wife grow old, and to play again at Actors' Guild." Tonight, that second prayer will be answered. It's time to let go of wishing, and take up the work I love most in the world.

It's hard for me to find the words to describe how I feel today. I've been trying for a while, but I just can't make it come out right.

I'm grateful, certainly. I don't recommend a brush with death to help you appreciate your life, but I have to admit that it helps. I wrestled with God daily during my illness. We still have a few things to work out. But I know that God is the one who sent the doctors and the family and friends. God inspired the prayers and the phone calls and the hot meals. God's grace allowed me to accept my situation as it was, and grace put me in the 40% of head and neck cancer patients who live through the disease. And now, God has put me in the place I love the most, in the theatre, on stage, on opening night. Yeah, I'm grateful.

And I'm in awe. I'm working with some remarkable artists and technicians. Some of them are old friends, some were born after I started my professional career. When I'm not on stage, playing with them, I sit in the house, watching them work through scenes or paint scenery or swing from ladders focusing lights. There isn't a job in the theatre that I haven't done at one time or another, and it gives me such joy to see people loving the things that I love.No theatre has an easy journey, and Actors' Guild's has been rougher than most. But she survives. It amazes me that any theatre company can endure. It gratifies me that a company I have loved so much, and given so much of myself, keeps on making theatre, against all odds and obstacles.

I'm proud. Proud of the work I'm doing on stage, and proud of the men and women with whom I'll share that stage tonight. I don't like to brag, but we are a hell of a company. Each of us has a story. Each of us has struggled to reach this place. And we carry the scars we earned in those struggles with us as we play together to tell our story. That's what I've always thought theatre is, really. A community gathering in the dark to tell stories, to share what it means to be alive. That's my job. I'm proud of that.

I'm so in love. I love the people I'm working with. We have shared so much, offered so much of ourselves to one another. I love the theatre. She has been my home, my lover, my nemesis, and my best friend since I was 10 years old. Everyone who cares for me knows that they have to share me with her, and the ones who love me best are happy to do it. And Mrs P, Most of all, I love Mrs P. She stayed by me when I was sick, She celebrates with me as I get well. She tells me she's proud when I run a little farther or lift a little heavier in the gym. She helps me learn my lines. And she never misses an opening night. She is my biggest fan. How I love sharing my work with her. How I love the embrace after a good show. How I treasure the consolation after a bad one. A teacher once told me that every play is a love story, and I believe it. My story is one about love, that's for sure.

We who love the theatre are more than her children, we are her stewards. We delight in the pleasures and rewards she offers, but we are charged with her care and preservation. What a priviledge to play on the stage that generations of artists have kept alive and thriving. What an honor to breath life into an art form whose precepts were firmly in place two thousand years before chemists stopped trying to turn lead into gold. What a joy to preserve a culture that will allow future generations of young people to wish one another "break a leg," and to chide one another for whistling in the dressing room.

My God, but I love the theatre. Thank God, I have the chance to play in her light again.

It's a great day to be Pennsy. It's a great day to be alive.

Peace,

Pennsy

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#301: Where There's Smoke

So I'm walking into the gym this morning and there's a cloud of smoke hanging around the front door. Young men and women in their twenties and thirties are hanging out in the cold smoking. What does this tell me? It tells me that the gym will be filled with pre-schoolers. These smokers are people who get up early, put their kids in the car, drive them to the recreation center, send them out on the gym floor to run and laugh and be healthy... then pop out into the gray winter morning to suck on a paper tube filled with burning leaves.

OK, look. I was a smoker. I'm not anymore. I quit soon after my Dad had his second heart attack. The one that killed him. You can probably guess how a throat cancer survivor feels about smoking. But that's not what was on my mind this morning. What I was thinking about was those little kids.

They want to grow up to be like their parents, just like I did. They watch to see what it means to be a grown-up, just like you did. They imitate their parent's virtues and vices, just as we all do. So if you're a smoker, and you have kids, I have a question for you...

What kind of a stupid moron do you want your kid to grow up to be?

I know, I don't have kids. I don't know what it's like. Childless people love to give parenting advice to people who actually have children. So let me do an equal opportunity thing here. Say you don't have kids. No matter how much of a failure you may think you are, no matter how lonely or guilty or disappointed you are in your own life, I guarantee that there is someone who admires you. Someone who would like to be just a little bit like you. There is something about you that is worth imitating. You are some one's teacher.

Do you really want to teach someone to commit suicide by tobacco?

It isn't my Dad's fault that I smoked. It isn't his fault that I got cancer. Those were my choices. In some ways, I guess it was easier to imitate his vices than his virtues. I never thought I could be as good a man as he was, but at least I could be as cool as he looked as he took a long drag after dinner or flicked a butt out into the night over the porch rail. My relatives smoked. Some of my best teachers smoked. Nearly every actor I admired smoked. All the people I really wanted to be like were smokers. I chose to smoke.

I want to grab those parents outside the gym door and shake them. I want to scream, "They're watching you. They want to be like you. They want to act like you, eat like you, relax like you. Be the kind of man or woman you want them to grow up to be!" I want to scream that, but I don't. I hold my breath and I walk through the smoke and I hit the locker room. It's none of my business.

But up in the weight room, I can still hear the kids playing basketball. They're laughing and running and shouting. And not one of them has that raspy cough.

Not yet.

I want you to quit. I don't want you to have fist sized lumps cut out of you or be shot with radiation or pumped full of poison that will kill you if it doesn't kill the cancer first. I don't want to work in a theatre without you or attend a reunion without you or just watch you disappear from facebook one day, never to return. I don't want to go to your damn funeral. I want you to come to mine, after I die of old age.

So cut it out. Whether you believe it or not, someone out here needs you more than you know. We need you. I need you. Stop it.

Peace,
Pennsy

Monday, February 14, 2011

#300: Pennsy's Tricentennial Post

Yep, this is the 300th edition of Fat Man Running. I don't run as much as I used to, but then, I'm not as fat either. I intend to reverse one of those trends.

Ran two miles today at my best pace of the year, 16:28/mi. Still not up to ramming speed, but rowing at a pretty good clip for this big old boat. I ran intervals, a quarter mile lap at 4.0 MPH, then a quarter lap at 3.5. There's a little dot that blips around a track on the screen on the treadmill, that's how you keep track of how far along you are. It's funny, but when I think of distance as laps, I always think of the old cinder track back at Keystone Oaks High School in Pittsburgh. I'm sure it's some kind of red, rubber synthetic surface now, but back then it was cinders, potholes, and mud puddles. I never loved running much back then, but for some reason, I always think of that track when I run now. What a blast it would be to knock a couple miles off on it now that I can actually get around the thing.

My body metrics are moving. I was a little dismayed to see that my weight actually went up a couple pounds this week. I don't see how that's possible given the fact that I'm working out and I barely eating anything more substantial than protein shakes. Then I checked my body fat percentage. It's down significantly. I'm gaining weight because I'm building muscle! That's very good because 1) muscle burns fat all the time, not just when you're working out, and 2) muscle is heavy, so the amount of weight I need to lose goes down the more muscle I add. Sometimes it isn't what you weigh, it's what you measure that counts.

I guess I should have something profound to say for post #300. You know how sentimental I am. A lot has happened since I started writing Pennsyltuckian back in 2007. If you've been with me that long, you don't need a rehash. If not, you probably couldn't stand one. I know I couldn't. Guess I'll just say how much I appreciate the fact that you care about my thoughts here. Knowing there were folks out there on the interwebs who thought kindly about me was an invaluable support through my cancer treatment. Even now, as I work to get my body and mind back to a healthy place, your comments and kind energy help me to get through the rough spots. I am grateful for you.

There. That's as much mush as I can work up. I'll save the rest for tonight with my Valentine.

Peace,
Pennsy

Friday, February 11, 2011

#299: The Loves of My Life

Some days, the gym is like church: you don't feel like going, but you're always glad you did when it's all over. I'm just not feeling it today. There's a part of me that's purring, "Just take the day off," and I'm thinking I may succumb.

It isn't that I feel like quitting or anything. I love the work and I'm seeing results inside and out. I'm not even particularly depressed or sad or even tired. So OK, I did make myself a rubbery omelet this morning and it isn't sitting very lightly in my belly, but I think that should settle down by 1:00 or so. I'm not sore. Not discourage. None of my usual excuses apply. I just feel like hanging out at home today. I think I'm cool with that. Besides, Mrs P has a "honey-do" list for me on Saturday, and I'm thinking I might should rest up a little before that.

My Bride and I have a date tonight. Well, sort of. We're going to the theatre with a bunch of friends from the play I'm rehearsing right now. They are a super bunch of actors and men and I know we'll enjoy our evening together. I've been loving the rehearsals. We're playing Glengarry Glen Ross and it is one of the most remarkable casts I've ever been a part of. It isn't just that everyone is good, (which they are,) it's that they're so confident. They are a shockingly secure and mentally stable group of actors. I mean, usually, when you get three actors together, at least one of us is stone crazy. I'm sure there are nuts in this cast, but if they are, they don't bring it to work with them.

The whole time I was sick, I kept thinking, "If I live through this, I'm going to act again." That hope helped get me through the drugs and the radiation and the surgeries and the puking. It's the reason that the first thing I asked when my CT scan was clear was, "When can I get my teeth?" Working on the reading in January was great, and just what I needed to prove to myself that they hadn't cooked away my acting chops with all that medical poison, but now it's time to stretch my wings a little more. God has given me the chance to be an actor again. I'm not going to miss it.

When I told my therapist, Mike that I was struggling in the early rehearsals, he asked me to tell him about my character. I started to describe him, and Mike's eyes got a little wider. "You aren't doing Glengarry Glen Ross,  are you?" See, my character, Shelly Levene, is a faltering salesman in late middle age with a severe bout of depression and a desperate need to be saved. Sound like any Pennsyltuckians you know? After taking a minute to digest the ironic terror of the thing, Mike said he thought that the journey might be good for me. It's funny, but I look at it just the other way. People who don't act always seem to assume that we do this for therapy. I guess there's some truth to that, but from my perspective, my personal demons are there to serve the play. I'm always looking for ways my madness can help the character, not the other way around. Maybe this is why I find it so noteworthy that everyone seems so sane. 'Cause these characters are indisputably nuts. All that loonyness is coming from somewhere, but it's being channeled productively and I like being around it.

Mty Wife and my Art. The two great loves of my life. The reasons I decided to try and live through cancer. I feel immersed in them right now, and I have to tell you... it's great to be alive.

And just a little bit crazy.

Peace,

Pennsy

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

#298: Loving the Weight Room

Got some great feedback on yesterday's blog. One in particular gave me pause and a little bit of relief. Turns out that Fish Oil has anti-coagulant properties. Chances are good that my doc is going to recommend that I not take it since I'm already on Cumadin. That's a relief since I don't want to bleed to death by accident, and besides, the things taste terrible. My mouth tastes like cod liver oil for hours after choking a couple of the big things down. Thanks for the tip, Suzanne.

Right now, my legs feel like rubber bands, (that's "gumbanz" for the homies in the 'Burgh.) Had a super workout in the weight room today. I used heavier weights and did simple sets.

ExerciseSetsRepsWeight
Woodchopper31030
Dumbbell Deadlift31030's
Dumbbell Squat31030's
Dumbbell Chest Press410, 5, 7, 630's, 30's, 25's, 25's
Bent Over Row31025's
Single Leg Presses3 each side10100

This is light weight compared to what I have done, but today, it kicked my butt. It felt great.

There was a guy doing squats on the Smith Machine behind me. He was really knocking them out. At one point, when I was gasping for air after my first set of woodchoppers at the cable machine, I heard the rhythm of his breath stop. He was "in the hole." It's what happens when you go down into a squat, and can't press back up out of it. If you're just unlucky enough, you can snap yourself in half from this position. Another lifter and I jumped in to help spot him and we got the bar back up and on the hooks. He smiled his thanks, and we all nodded. We've all been there.

Here's the thing. The guy did three more sets. He would not be deterred. He wasn't embarrassed or ashamed. He laughed it off an went back to work. He even cheered me on when I was struggling with the last few reps on my own workout.

I was never one of the jocks. I've never even been very good at being "one of the guys." But there is a fellowship in the weight room that I'm not sure I've ever experienced anywhere else. We're all at different levels of strength and fitness, but we all share some things, too. We know what it is to fail at a lift. We know how it feels to have too much weight up in the air and not be really certain how you're going to put it down without killing anyone. And we all know how great it feels to pull out that last rep when your muscles, your lungs, and your common sense are screaming at you to stop. I don't think I'll ever stop being surprised at how much I enjoy hanging out at the gym with a bunch of lifters.

Peace,
Pennsy

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

#297: What Goes In...

Did some tempo work on the treadmill today. I only ran a mile, but cranked the speed up to 3.4 MPH. That's about 17.5 min/mile. Not ready for the marathon yet, but closer to the pace I would like to run in March.


What Goes In...

I've been thinking about how to get my nutrition. Balanced meals are more of a challenge for me than they used to be. I have a rough time with really crunchy vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, for example. And no matter what I eat, it takes me a long time. And things like nuts and grains are a special treat when those sharp little pieces work their way up under the bottom dentures. I guess what I'm saying is that eating is kind of a hassle. But I know I need to eat. Not just to stay alive, but to build the kind of muscle mass I'm going to need to replace all that was lost during treatment. so I've put together a sort of eclectic plan.

Protein and Other Good Stuff

This is the stuff muscles are made of. I don't eat a lot of meat, but I do try to get plenty of dairy everyday. I also mix up shakes with soy or whey powder. I can eat eggs, though they don't always taste very good because so many places overcook them. I'm good with fish, and get lots of beans and meat sauces and things. With that collection, you can see that I'm in no danger of getting too little fat, and my carbs are from cooked vegetables, pasta, and hot cereal in the morning.




Supplements and Other Chemical Stuff

I don't take a lot of muscleman stuff. I do like to have a little creatine before my workouts. It's supposed to improve my stamina. It may do that, but it also tastes like Tang, which is cool.

I always have plenty of water when I'm working out. My choppers get particularly dry when I run, so I keep plenty of wet nearby. Of course, gulping water while running also makes them fall out. It's a funny little tongue-juggling act that can tickle me a little, once I stop choking.

After a workout, I always try go get some quick protein like chocolate milk or even a shake from Wendy's. I used to like a cheeseburger after the gym, but burger buns are very high on the "eating's a hassle" list. I might also grab a Gatorade, though we have a couple cans of the powder at home, and Mrs P usually has a jug mixed up for me.

Pills and Other Medical Stuff

There are my prescription meds. Two for depression. Two for blood pressure. One for keeping my blood thin. The psych meds don't have much effect on my workouts, unless you count the days when I don't want to get out from under the covers. Since I started treating my high blood pressure, I have observed that my heart rate doesn't get so high. That's cool. The blood thinners are a very big deal. I've talked about the bruising I experience. I also bleed a lot more from little nicks than I used to. I grazed the inside of my ankle with the sole of my shoe while running the other day, and my sock was bloody by the time I was done. I need to be really careful about getting banged around, especially my head. The other effect the blood thinners seem to be having is that my recovery time is a lot longer. I don't know if this is true or not, but it feels that way. I see the doc Thursday, and we'll chat about this.

I have tried a couple of prescription meds to help me sleep, with modest success. The best thing I've found is Melatonin, a hormone tablet you can get over the counter. It helps regulate my sleep rhythm without the hallucinations that make Ambien so much fun, but only for the person who takes it.

I take a handful of vitamin-type stuff to make up for my imbalanced diet as well as my imbalanced life. A multi-vitamin on general principle. Vitamin C to fight off colds. Vitamin B-12 cause Mrs P says I'm supposed to, I don't remember why. Vitamin E because it helps muscle growth and is supposed to make you a tiger in the sack. The jury is still out on both counts. Glucosamine and Fish Oil for my creaky joints. Somewhere in there, some of these things are also anti-oxidants which are supposed to keep my brain from rusting, I think.
One advantage of having cancer is that you develop this whole network of medical genius-types who don't mind throwing you a freebie now and then. I run things past the nutritionist and the GP and anyone else who'll listen. I even have a friend who's a Personal Trainer who drops pearls of wisdom for me now and then. I don't know how much any of this helps, but it certainly doesn't seem to do any harm. I'll be sure to let you know if I start to change color or if anything inappropriate comes out of me.

As always, remember that Pennsy is not an expert at anything, least of all fitness and nutrition. I'm just feeling around in the dark and telling you about the things I stick my hands into. Do your own homework and consult your own experts before you decide on any kind of plan, especially with stuff you swallow.

I don't have a lawyer, but if I did, they'd probably make me say that.

Peace,
pennsy

Saturday, February 5, 2011

#296: Back to the Weight Room

James Harrison also likes throwing dumbbells around.
Especially when they're from Green Bay...
One of the things I like about working out with dumbbells is the versatility they offer. you can slip easily from one exercise to another, even combining them into a single move. This allows you to make your sets last longer, and increases the cardio benefit as well. It's a very efficient way of strength training.

I resumed weight work today with a routine of my own design. I'm just not ready for the stuff in the books yet. I need to work my way up to even the beginner level. Till then, I'm doing what I can. I did 3 sets of 10 reps of each exercise with 30 second breaks between sets. I started standing up with two 15 lb dumbbells. Holding one in each hand, the combination was a squat into a curl into an overhead press. Then reverse the three movements back down to the bottom of the squat. That's one rep. These went smoothly

The next combination was on the bench in a prone position, again with a 15 lb dumbbell in each hand. I started with both weights at my chest, pressed them up, lowered them to the sides for a fly, then raised them back up. Finally, I lowered them together up over my head and then back up for a dumbbell pullover. Returning them to my chest counts as one rep.

Then the machines. I'm not a fan of the leg press, but my hips really needed the work after yesterday's run and I felt a little unsteady about doing heavier squats or deadlifts. I put 140 lbs on the machine, and pressed the foot rest all the way out. At maximum leg extension, I pointed my toes, pushing the weight just a little farther, and giving my calves some extra work. I did this combination leg-press, toe lift in three sets of ten reps, again with short 30 second rests between.

I decided to forgo woodchoppers today, I don't remember why. Instead, I did three sets of lat pull-downs on the cable machine. Tried to start at 100 lbs, but I could tell after the second rep that I wasn't going to make it. The last set at 75 was tough, but I grunted a little harder and pulled them all.

I woke up with that same old hip pain that I experienced back in December. I was determined not to let it stop me today. I warmed up with an easy walk on the treadmill, then did my workout followed by a gentle walk around the track a couple of times. When I was finished, I was a little wobbly, but not nearly as sore as when I started. When I got home, Mrs P helped me to stretch my legs a little and that helped too. I've never been one of those "No Pain, No Gain" guys, but this time it turned out that working through it was just what I needed to do. I may know more in the morning.

We had a good rehearsal today. I'm working on a production of Glengarry Glen Ross with Actors' Guild of Lexington. We ran through Act 2 today and it went more smoothly than I expected. I know about 35% of my lines which is way behind where I want to be, but not a crisis yet. As we spend less time looking at the page, we start paying more attention to one another and there are moments where you can see the play start to emerge. This is one of the great joys of making theatre and I was so grateful to be able to be there.

The day wound up at church, performing in a murder-mystery sketch for a dinner to raise money for a couple of very important local ministries. Mrs P and I both had roles. Much scenery was chewed by all.

By now, I'm pretty whipped. It's been a good day, filled with a bunch of the things and people I love. Now I'm going to try to sleep if I can, while visions of a seventh super bowl trophy dance in my head. Who knows? A little more time in the weight room and Coach Tomlin might even have a helmet for me.

Ah, what's life for if you can't dream a little?

Peace,

Pennsy

Thursday, February 3, 2011

#295: You Can't Get Started Until You Start

My Therapist says not to worry about what I used to be able to do, or what I might not be able to do. Ask rather, what can I do today that is of value toward my goals? So here's my next big fitness goal. I want to run in the Bluegrass 10,000 on July 4th here in Lexington. It looks impossible. Right now, it is. I can't run 6.4 miles at any pace. I'm not sure I could walk it. But I knew I could do something.

Today, I finally got up the nerve to find out what.

The guy at the desk was friendly and gave me a good-hearted needle about my Steeler's sweatshirt. Silly man., but the warmest I've enountered there so far. It was a good start. My lucky locker, #27, was occupied, so I slid my bag into #29 and made my way up to the workout room. I got on the treadmill. I find counting laps tedious, expecially when you're trying to run miles around a basketball court. The treadmill counts for me. It also helps me to regulate my pace. I'll be better able to measure my progress. Like the business writers say, if you can measure it, you can manage it.

I ran 2 miles at 3 mph. That's a ridiculously slow pace. That's a slow pace for a walker. It took me 40 minutes, plus about 15 minutes to warm up and cool down. It was laughable, but I kept good form, and I made it all the way without any breaks. I actually surprised myself with both the distance and the duration. The other day, a half hour walk around Kroger left me spinny headed and weak in the legs. I'm going to train at that distance for a while in preparation for the Habitat for Humanity Shamrock Shuffle in March. This is a 3K (about 1.8 miles) race through the streets of Lexington on what is usually a cold and rainy morning. Sounds miserable? It isn't. I loved my last one. It was actually the last time I ran in an organized race, so it's going to be a sort of homecoming for me. After today's workout, I feel confident enough to register. Soon there'll be a new tee shirt in my drawer!

I got on the scale last night. I now weigh 291. Just over 100 pounds less than I did last April, the day of my surgery. If you're tired of that spare tire, and want to try my $1500 a pound weight loss program, call 1-800-CARCINOMA Our counsellors are standing by.

Yes, the weight loss is the silver lining of this whole thing. I am now a recovering food addict, not likely to ever relapse unless I develop a taste for drinking bacon grease. Wouldn't it be crazy if cancer saves me from having a heart attack?

When life gives you tumors, make lemonade...

Peace,
Pennsy
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