Game On

After hunkering down in Houston for Tropical Storm Bill, I spent last week being chased by tornadoes in Iowa. More accurately, I spent the night before my flight glued to the hotel TV as the warnings and watches rolled through (nobody chasin’ me boy). Fortunately, the few tornadoes that were spawned were relatively small, and I don’t believe they did much damage.

Ah, the joy of sleeping in one’s own bed. ‘Tis one of life’s true pleasures, and one that I have too often taken for granted. The weekend was nice, and punctuated by the visit of one of my brothers. While he and I fought like dogs and were ultra-competitive in our youth, we have mellowed a bit in our old age. Mellowness aside, the highlight of the weekend was an impromptu head-to-head sprint. Goaded on by our children, we faced off over a distance of about 40 meters. In full view of God, our wives, and our children, I beat him by a good 2 strides. Yes, little brother was beaten in a sprint by a cancer patient in chemotherapy. Did I mention that my brother is a sheriff’s deputy? I hope the criminals of Pitkin County don’t discover running as a valid means of escape. The stage is now set for a September rematch when the family gets back together. Is it possible he can lose to guy who has been on chemo for 6 months?

If you haven’t figured out by now, I love to compete. I love testing myself against standards, and against others. This whole cancer ordeal plays right into that. I get to compete against the cancer and use each of my scans and labs as a scoreboard. There are two ways to judge whether or not I win*. The first is to live long enough to die of a cause other than this particular cancer. The second is to live longer than my original prognosis (1 year). In the spirit of competition and evaluation, I offer the C.Rushing Big C Countdown Clock. The clock is ticking down to the one-year anniversary of my year-to-live prognosis. If I’m still ticking after this clock stops doing so, I win. Game on.

In other sports related news:

I got a card from Nick Saban’s charitable foundation this week. I must admit that at almost forty-three years of age I felt a bit awkward getting a card from Nick’s Kids. Receiving an autographed card from Coach Saban (that's actually autographed), however, made me feel like a kid again, so I suppose it’s ok. Regardless of the age issue, it is always nice to know that others are praying for you and thinking of you. Big thanks to the Coach and all of the people at Nick's Kids.

For the past couple of years I have been involved in a regular golf game with some of Chattanooga’s finer gentlemen. We play weekly (and weakly) during the season and end the summer with a Ryder Cup style tournament. That this group of very creative people could do no better than “The Ryder Cup”, as a name for our tournament was one of life’s great mysteries. In my absence last week, however, the group rectified the situation by renaming the event “The Rushing Cup”. I am honored and flattered, but must remind the gentlemen that I’m not dead yet. This also raises several questions: Do I have to hit a ceremonial first drive to start the tourney? How many additional strokes does this honor come with? Am I now on the hook for purchasing an actual Cup? Does one still get to play in tournament if it’s named their honor? If so, and we lose, how awkward will that be? Do they know that there is already a Rushing Cup and that I retained it via a forty-meter sprint on Saturday? While questions remain, I appreciate my friends thinking of me, and I look forward to getting back out on the course this week so they can take my money.

*Note: The game is rigged, and I’m going to win- even if I have to redefine victory in some hippy, bleeding-heart, liberal way in which losing is actually winning, and everyone gets a trophy. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.

This week's chemo listen courtesy of Hot Chip.


Bring on the Summer

After leaving the Mouse and Wizard behind, we headed to the ATL for the last soccer tournament of the spring. The CFC u-10 boys acquitted themselves well against some of the best teams in the Southeast, and the boy scored a few goals (with a couple of gems). After sitting in the sun for a couple of days, the family went in four separate directions- the youngest went to my in-laws, the oldest went to the beach with his friend, D headed to Chi-town, and I took off to Houston to see the kind folks at M.D. Anderson.

We were all a bit tuckered out. Shout out to Clark Griswold.
 Even without chemo, a week of walking through frenzied theme parks in the June heat of Orlando would be enough to wear me down. Throw in a couple of days of Atlanta heat, several hours of driving, a couple of delayed flights, and I was limping into Houston. I caught an Uber from the airport straight to the medical center for my first CT scan since we started chemotherapy.

As I was waiting to be called in, I got a face-time call from my oldest. (Did I mention that he was on his second vacation in as many weeks?) I knew I was in trouble as soon as I heard his voice. I was tired as hell and totally unprepared for his call. I probably looked like shit (believe it or not, it does happen), and there was a room full of cancer patients in the shot behind me. He was very sweet in asking about me, but I could tell that seeing this version of me in this setting disconcerted him. I managed to hold it together just long enough to get through the call. I told him I loved him and hung up. Before the echo of my goodbye faded, I lost it. Fatigue from the past couple of weeks, the fact that I was eighteen hours into a fast, and anxiety over what was to come in the next few days contributed to that moment of vulnerability. That’s the first time I’ve lost it throughout this whole ordeal. I must say I was pissed off at myself. Not necessarily for crying, but for doing it in front of people who are in the same boat. In the three months of coming out here I haven’t seen anyone else cry. I had to be that guy. Tsk, tsk.  On the bright side, however, I held it together in front of the boy, which is far more important.

After that sucker punch, I put on the headphones, listened to some pre-game music, and managed to get my swag back. After the scan, I repaired to the hotel and treated myself to a movie and room service. I ordered so much food that it took two stewards and two carts to wheel everything to the room. The food buzz and dulcet tones of Tropical Storm Bill contributed to a great night of sleep.

My first appointment of the next day was with Dr. Javle to review the results of the scan. The scans showed what I had suspected all along. My cancerous tumor is orange and white checker-boarded and shaped like a 102,455 seat shithole. The CT techs also reported that it appeared to be emitting sounds in the form of an annoying song played in a non-stop loop. God, I hate this cancer. Thankfully, the chemotherapy is delivered on a tide of my Crimson blood.

What my tumor probably looks like.

Fortunately, it appears that my treatment has been working to some extent. The tumor marker is down by about 40%, and the tumor appears to be shrinking. There is no evidence of metastasis, and the rest of my blood work looks good. The plan is to continue chemo for the next three months and then get in front of the tumor board at MD Anderson to review progress and establish next steps. The hope within the C Team is that the tumor responds in such a way that the surgeons will feel comfortable with resection. Fingers crossed.

What my chemo probably looks like.

Everyone seems to be pleased with the results. This is definitely better than the alternative, but I’m not terribly impressed. I fully expected that the tumor would be responding. I’m not content with just good news- I wanted great, F’ing outstanding news. I suppose this is one of the dangers of having high expectations.

I will remain true to my original promise, however, and celebrate every victory along the way. It appears that I have been gifted another three months of relatively normal life (with the obvious caveat that tomorrow is guaranteed to none of us). The summer should be fun: I will be spending time with D and the boys; I’ve got plenty to accomplish from a work standpoint; I intend to play a bit of golf; and I have some travel planned. I will try to try to keep up the blog, but may fiddle with the length, frequency, and/or subject matter. Who knows what the summer holds…

Last week's pre-game music at MDA included a C.Rushing all-time favorite: Take me into the night, I'm an easy lover. Take me into the fight, I'm an easy brother.


Breaking the Cycle

So sorry I missed ya’ll last week. I took the family on a road trip to Orlando to see the see The Mouse and The Boy Wizard. Over the course of the week I saw things- great and terrible things. The upshot is there is no hope for human civilization. I will most certainly write about the experience, as the list of potential blog topics is long. Alas, that must wait, as I need some space and time to digest what I saw.

That was my first trip back to The Happiest Place on Earth since my father took my brothers and me in the early ‘80s. Speaking of fathers, I’ve wanted to write about this topic for years, and what better time than the week leading to Father’s Day. This post may contain TMI, but these days I simply write about what I want. The topic never seemed appropriate in the context of a blog dedicated to urban design, but the events of the past few months have changed my writing focus (and put a potentially tragic twist into the tale I wanted to tell).

Like many boys, I grew up revering my dad. On the plus side, he was a handsome, charming, intelligent, and athletic man. On the down side he was an asshole with a temper. My father has two brothers, each of which he was estranged from. I also understand that his relationships with his parents were strained. He and my mother separated when I was eight (I think) and divorced when I was eleven (I think). (He went on to have a prolific marriage career. After divorcing my mother, he got married again. Then he got divorced again. Then he got married again. Then he got divorced again. I have heard that he is now married again.) After the initial divorce I saw him every other weekend for a couple of years until he took a job in another state. After that we would stay with him for a week or so each summer. While in reality he was not a major presence in my life, I made him one in my mind.

Despite his shortcomings, I idolized the man that was a thousand miles away. I wanted to be a banker like him. I wanted to dress sharply, as he did. I wore bow ties like he did (long before the fad I might add). I played basketball like he did. My longing for fatherly approval went essentially unrequited. He just wasn’t there to provide the type of validation that young men seek of their fathers. Through my teen years and into college I got to see him once or twice a year. In hindsight, however, there was no real relationship there. He had his life and I had mine.

The spring before I was married, he had a dust-up with one of my brothers via email that I somehow became entangled in. In the end, he said that the lack of any relationship between him and his children was because we didn’t make the effort to establish it. We are all entitled to our opinions, but I had a hard time fathoming that a grown man could actually believe that the primary responsibility for establishing, cultivating and maintaining relationships lies with the child rather than the adult. He then offered us an ultimatum on the terms under which we could continue a relationship. I told him, in so many words, what he could do with his ultimatum. That was the end of that.

The point is not that my childhood or up-bringing was poor, or that my life is somehow worse for these circumstances. In fact, one could argue that my life is far better and richer for it. The endeavors I originally hoped would earn approval have ended up being rich life pursuits. Had my mother not divorced, I would have never established the deep and loving relationship that I have with my stepfather. I offer those impressions of my father for context only- he is not the point of this particular story. As usual, this is about me.

After we fell out, I didn’t spare him any thought. There just wasn’t anything there. It was only several years later, when my own children were born, that he sprang to mind. My relationship with the boys was a mirror that showed what my father and I lacked. In my weaker moments of parenting I could see echoes of my father in the ways I interacted with them. In examining our dysfunctional son/father relationship, I learned lessons to make sure they're not repeated in my relationship with my kids. It’s not as simple as doing the opposite of what my father would have done, but that’s not far off.

The original version of this story ends with me patting myself on the back. There are at least two generations of dysfunctional father/son relationships in this strain of the Rushing clan, and I was going be the one to break that dreadful cycle.* Not only do I get to lay claim to being a better man, I  get the more important and fulfilling benefit of a long-lasting, loving relationship with my children.

With my current situation, this victory is in jeopardy. What a cruel twist of fate. I'm utterly devoted to the boys, and can’t imagine going through life without them. Should the cancer win, however, their father won’t be there for them. This was the case for my dad, the case for me, and a fate that the boys mY share. What a gut-wrenching, soul-crushing prospect.

The failed Rushing relationships of the past boil down to choices made of free will and out of selfishness. In my case, however, it takes death to separate father from child.

Father’s day has more than one meaning. It's not only a day for the family to acknowledge the role of the dad (and buy him ties and soap-on-a-rope), it's a day to celebrate the most splendid role I could ever play. In the end, all I can only continue to love my boys, and make sure they know it. I'll do this until I draw my last breath, and after. 

*More accurately, my brothers and I will be the ones to break the streak. Despite being the ugly ones, they're both devoted husbands and doting fathers. Obviously, by going three for three, credit for breaking the streak extends to my Mom and Stepdad- well done!


Sorry Folks, Park's Closed

Hey ya'll! I'm off on another adventure and I'm taking the week off. In the meantime, I will leave you with a link to an excellent essay. This is something I might come up with if I was smart and a good writer instead of just handsome. Enjoy and I'll be back with you next week.


A Metaphoric Marathon

I have now officially seen it all. Over the past several years the boys have lost a great many things: towels, goggles, homework, jackets, water bottles, balls, slippers, and toys too numerous to count. When I collected my youngest from the first day of soccer camp at Baylor today, he wore a shoe and sock on one foot while the other was bare. He managed to lose a single shoe. One shoe! How in God's green earth is this even possible? ONE SHOE! Please pray for the kind people at Baylor this week, they will have their hands full.

Being red-blooded, young, and American, my boys’ least favorite activity is going to bed at night. Every evening they do their best to delay the inevitable. Their favorite tactic is to use my good-night kiss as an opportunity to introduce a topic that they think might lead to a long conversation. They’ve figured out that if they hit just the right subject on just the right night they can extend the inevitable for some time. Pick the wrong conversation and it’s nighty night (the boys are very bright, but their daddy didn’t roll in on the last watermelon truck.)

Last week, we watched one of the outstanding ESPN 30 for 30 films- 9.79*. The film details the rise and fall of Ben Johnson, the sprinter who lost his 1988 Olympic gold medal after his failed drug test. My young one’s simple question “Why did Ben Johnson take drugs?” led to a full-on discussion about the spirit of competition, the nature of chemicals and drugs, and eventually the role of drugs in fighting cancer. Before we knew it, it was past my bedtime. Ok, they’re smarter than me.

If you haven’t figured out by now, I love sport. It’s a big part of me, and it is one of the filters through which I process life. Aside from being a fun and rewarding diversion, sport is a great analog for life. The observation of sport can also provide insight into bigger lessons in the “real world”.
My track career was short but distinguished.
I took up the 300m hurdles as a sophomore
while living in CO. I won the finals of my
second ever meet (with an abysmal time).
Embracing the role of underdog is one of the great joys of sport. It is also central to one of sports' core tenets- if favorites always won, we wouldn’t bother playing the games. We love to root for the underdog, and some athletes thrive in that situation. Unfortunately, underdogs are such for a reason- most of the time a superior team can press their advantage over the course of a game and prevail. As we know, however, this is not always the case.

What we often see in the start of big games that the underdog comes out and makes an adrenaline-fueled run. Unfortunately for the dogs, they often succumb to the favorite. The adrenaline wears off, and the advantages of the favorite team are applied over the longer term of the game. This is an instance where life rhymes with sport. There are many people who can get excited to start a new (fill in the blank). It is often difficult, however, to be disciplined enough to sustain that excitement and enthusiasm over time.

By the time the District meet rolled around, my time improved
enough to make the finals (despite the fact that my technique
was still poor).  Unfortunately, my sub-:43 race wasn't enough to
qualify State that year. I moved back to Alabama the next year
(where sub-:43 is nothing special), and opted to focus on basketball.
From the beginning, I've known that this will be a long-term ordeal. Unfortunately, it is in my nature to look for the singular moment to perform- the game, the race, the charrette, the speech. I want to get myself prepared and focused, to listen to the hype song before the event, and then take the field. I really want to meet a foe and have a fight. I want to have my moment when the game is there to be won or lost. Unfortunately, in this particular fight I cannot instigate a single moment to go toe-to-toe with cancer (indeed, there is little I can do to affect much of anything).

The cancer does not care how psyched up I am or how ready I am to fight- it simply does what it is programmed to do. The cancer does not care if I’m not ready or if I'm tired- it simply does what it is programmed to do. The game is on, and it doesn’t stop. There is no pause button, and there are no time outs. This situation doesn’t call for a dramatic or heroic moment. This will be a grind. The challenge (which I accept) is to maintain my resolve and bonhomie over the long term. Obviously, the trick to sustaining that over time is in keeping an even keel through both good and the bad. We'll see how that works out. Perhaps Judge Smails said it best at the christening of the Flying Wasp:

It’s easy to grin, when your ship comes in
and you’ve got the stock market beat.
But the man worthwhile, is the man who can smile
when his shorts are too tight in the seat.

(Get your foot off the boat!)

That said, I’m not going to get cheated out of my “game time” moments. I approach each treatment session and each trip to Houston as a Big Game. I psyche myself up, listen to my music, and do my best to win each session/appointment (I’m undefeated so far). If the cliche is that this is a marathon and not a sprint,  then I am the anti-Ben Johnson. My race is not measured in seconds and taking performance-enhancing drugs is highly encouraged.

This week's chemo soundtrack is a listing of awesome pre-game hype music. Witness: A Classic, the remix version of this; "I never try anything, I just do it"; Obligatory egomaniac; just the first 2:40; It's on; "Refuse to lose". I know I've missed many- if you have any suggestions, please pass them along...