Tuesday, September 27, 2011


When it was discovered that my white blood cell count had dropped to under 3.5 parts per million per liter I was referred to the hematology department at Dartmouth Hitchcock Keene. Given that I have taken so much time off following my success at The Circle Triathlon I have been attributing my fatigue on runs to my lack of fitness. Obviously something is or was wrong with my blood so it was very important that I keep this appointment.

I was in high spirits all morning and mostly just figured that I was going to another doctor appointment at another office and that nothing would be solved. Walking into the Norris-Cotton cancer clinic was one of the most abruptly sobering experiences in my life. Clearly I was not in Kansas anymore.

After checking in at reception my senses went in to a super hyper sensitive mode that made the experience even more surreal. As soon as I sat down I was instantly hit with the feeling that I had seen a ghost when a man obviously on an off cycle of chemotherapy desperately clutched trekking poles to walk to the reception counter. I could feel my heart race and all of the color leave my face. Fight or flight is an incredible evolutionary response but what happens when you have to sit and wait to face your fear. Moments later another women bearing the bald head of cancer treatment walked to reception. Sitting there watching this brave women make an appointment to show up and get poisoned within an inch of her life in a desperate ploy to cleanse her body of this vicious attacking disease. Somehow still managing the summon the strength to march on with their lives in the heart of this great battle. An instant dose of perspective hit me like an out of control semi and the arbitrary worries of athletic endeavor felt more like a selfish pursuit driven by vanity. There are so many incredibly brave people fighting for every day right under our noses!

With an imagination that lies somewhere to the left of Where the Wild Things are my mind raced with thoughts and worries. I tried every trick in the book to put the word cancer out of my mind but somehow it crashed back in like a guillotine severing every positive thought with the images of the sick. Surrounded by the sick some struggling for every breath and being keenly aware of every inch of my own physical and mental limitations presented a paradox that I could not process. Hours, mph, splits, and mileage were a foreign currency in this land and I was clueless about the exchange rate.

Finally I was able to meet with Dr. Steve Larmon himself a runner about my current woes. Steve is unquestionably the best doctor that I have ever met and had an assuring bedside manner that instilled safety through reason. The exam lasted nearly an hour and I walked away with mind boggling amounts of respect for Steve and his colleagues in Hematology. Basically Steve is a detective that searches for clues to put together the puzzle of what is happening in blood. We talked at length and reviewed extensive charts that showed the history of my blood work. One interesting detail is that leading up to the Vermont City Marathon in 2010 my hematocrit was 50%! A great stat for any endurance athlete and an obvious marker of natural elemental genetic luck. Aside from my white blood cell count my numbers are the picture of health so Steve believes that I need not worry. Steve's best hypothesis at this point is that I had a virus over the summer possibly similar to epstein-barr and only noticed the symptoms because of my high activity level. Steve wants to stay on the path of full understanding so we are going to continue to monitor my blood levels for the next couple of months. If the WBC continues to decline we will take a more in depth look at what is happening by examining the bone marrow. If the numbers rise and I continue to feel ok as volume and intensity increase we will chalk it up to a virus.

Undoubtably this was a sobering experience that will have a lasting impact on that way I tally wins and losses. When I get my lab results in a few days I will give an update to keep everyone informed.



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