Sunday, August 8, 2010

Summer of Love

. . . and Loss!!

The other day the artist posted this picture on his blog with the caption "When it Rains, it Pours!"

The cuteness of No. 3 belies the real challenges, heartbreak, and tragedy of this summer: it certainly has been pouring. And as long as we're starting this post off with cliché proverbs i will continue with that theme and also acknowledge that every cloud has a silver lining, and the worst storms sometimes bring the best rainbows.

So where to start? Let me provide a synopsis of some of the summer, much of which i will try to develop in subsequent posts in the future.

Back in May right around the end of the semester, in fact, it was the day of the Honors scholarship, graduation award banquet, my mentor and the most supportive boss in the world had a blood vessel burst in her eye just hours before she was supposed to present at the banquet. Marti was undaunted, and with the courage that marks so much of what she does, she went ahead with the program. This, unfortunately, was just the beginning of the eye problems. A few days later as she was working in her garden she suddenly lost sight in one of her eyes. A visit to the Dr. confirmed that her retina had detached in one eye, and the retina in the second eye was also in danger of the same thing. A couple of surgeries and lots of recovery later, she is just now getting back into the groove of things and will be heading back to Honors this week, much to the delight of all of us who work with her.

About the same time i started noticing a pain in my big right toe. A few weeks earlier i had gone to Santa Fe for a conference, and since i hadn't taken my bike, but wanted to get some exercise in, i ran one morning. I thought the pain was just a result of running (something i don't usually do), and ignored it for a month or so, but it persisted and started to get worse, so finally after i couldn't stand hard enough on it to clip into my bike pedals i set an appointment with the Dr.
The other real indication that i couldn't ignore it anymore was when i was in Oregon supporting T-dub at the Elkhorn classic and we had a little misunderstanding at the first feed zone and i had to run alongside her to get her a banana. That short little 50 yard run put me in a world of hurt. so i went to the Dr. two days later, still thinking, however, that i probably just had tendonitis and he'd tell me to stay off the bike for a month, and that would be that.

Fortunately i have a very good Dr., Dr. Backman at the University of Utah Madsen Family Clinic, who ordered a set of x-rays and discovered that i had a pathological fracture in my big toe. I had never heard of such a thing, so i didn't know what that meant, but he explained that a pathological fracture is caused by a disease or something in the bone, rather than by blunt trauma. Lots of scans and MRIs later i was eventually referred to Dr. Kevin Jones, an orthoepedic oncologist, at the Huntsman Cancer Center. Dr. Jones laid out the best case and worst case scenarios for me as we approached surgery to find out what was actually going on. Best case scenario, i had some type of infection that had damaged the bone, but this, he thought, was unlikely since i have not spent much time in humid, tropical zones recently where these types of infections thrive. Worst case scenario, it's an aggressive bone cancer and we will have to amputate my leg below the knee. To cut a long and somewhat complicated story short, at this point all indications are pointing towards the worst case scenario. There has been some ambiguity about what the tumor is, but Dr. Jones has now done two surgeries to remove two tumors from my foot and believes they are epithelioid sarcomas, a rare, but aggressive cancer. I'll be meeting with him again this week after the the biopsy on the second tumor is done, and will most likely be having a below-the-knee amputation possibly even as early as this coming friday.

T-dub's rendition of "my rotten toe" and the bone graft surgery the Doc did to replace the part of the bone that had been destroyed by the tumor.

The second tumor, just removed this past friday from right in the middle of the ball of my foot.

My right leg (still attached)!

In the midst of all of this just a week or so after the first surgery, T-dub was heading to Europe to race with the US women's cycling team. As we were loading her stuff into the car to take her to the airport i got a call from my sister. You always know when someone calls you at 7:00 in the morning, at least in my family, it's either to find out why you're not there to meet the group bike ride, or probably not good news. Since my sister does not ride, i assumed the later. My sister told me that my sister-in-law Bunny had been hit by a truck while cycling with a group of women and was being life-flighted to university hospital. This began one of the most heartbreaking days of my life. About 10:30 my sister called again to say that Luke had requested that we all come to the hospital. My dad and brother Zach and his wife Brenda were out of the country, but they all immediately made plans to come home. As a family we united at the hospital and waited in the ICU waiting room, feeling hopeful that Bunny would pull through with every little piece of good news that came from the Doctors, though most of it was not good, the swelling in Bunny's brain from the direct impact with the truck was impeding the ability of the Doctors to do anything else.
Tayler called me from JFK while she had a layover and i gave her updates until she boarded the ten hour flight to Pisa, Italy. Finally at just a little before midnight Luke called us together with Bunny's family to give us an update and ask for our help in making a decision about what to do. The doctors did not think she could survive without the life support and would not come back from the massive head trauma. After a difficult discussion with the families, I was able to walk back with Miah and Erin and hold Bunny's hand and hug my brother before he told the doctors that they could take her off life support. We were hoping against all the odds that she would be able to take a breath on her own, that she would present some sign of hope. We went back to the waiting room and waited for another hour or so until Luke walked into the room, sat down, put his head in his hands and just asked, "what do we do know?" Unfortunately i don't think any of us knew.

Soon afterwards the hospital was making arrangements for organ donations and I called Tayler's mom and a dear friend to let them know the news. Unfortunately Tayler was still betwen NYC and Pisa, so i wouldn't be able to talk to her until she landed the next morning. At about 3:00 in the morning i got home and went to bed, dreading the knowledge that i would have to tell Tayler as soon as i woke up. The last update Tayler had received before she got on the plane was a relatively positive one, so when she arrived in Pisa she had no idea that Bunny had passed. When we talked after a few minutes of catching up on her flight and travel she asked me if i was going back to the hospital, and i had to tell her that Bunny had died. Though Tayler wanted to come home to be with the family and be present for the funeral, we all encouraged her to stay in Italy and race. Tayler summed up her courage, and in a foreign environment without any family or friends, she quietly and privately mourned Bunny's death, but stayed and did what we all wanted her to do.

Immediately after the funeral Zach took me to the post office and i express mailed Tayler the white ribbon i had worn during the viewing and funeral, and she wore it in rememberance of Bunny at the Tour de Limousin Feminin on the day she had her best race.

In addition to the cancer and Bunny's death, (i know you can't imagine that there could be more), two of my closest colleagues and dearest friends from the University of Utah are leaving. I am ecstatic for them both because they are taking jobs that will allow them to move back to their homes, but their loss at the University of Utah will be felt tremendously. It has been an incredible honor and pleasure to work with both of them, from whom i have learned so much and with whom I have been able to do some amazing work. Thanks David and Cait. I love you and will miss you and Gina!!

In the midst of all the heartbreak, pain, and challenges, however, it's amazing how much good, beauty, love, and hope spring forward in some of the most unexpected ways. It's been a rough couple of months, but at the same time, I have learned, grown closer to many, even my own family members, and am grateful and touched by so many things, including the love and support of my wonderful friends, colleagues, students, and family; doctors, nurses, and even strangers. Your collective and individual gestures of kindness, support, and love have been felt and appreciated by me and my family!! Thank you!!


Courtney said...

This explains a lot about your photo blog shots. Your family has been in my thoughts and prayers these past weeks and will continue to be. It seems like so much to bear - I am glad you have such good friends and family around you.

matt b. said...

Thanks Courtney!! Good family and friends count for a lot!!

Reuben/Bob said...

What a few weeks you and your family have been having. You and your whole family have been and will be in our prayers. Among other things about you, I am amazed by your strength. I am proud to be your uncle and love you.

Mimi said...

Caity sent this to me to help me gain some context for the news about your upcoming operation. I am so sorry about Bunny. Thank you for sharing all of this. My eye will be on this site for further news about your recovery. much love, alice ps sorry i mis-posted a bunch of times! i don't think I've ever done this before!

lonnie said...

Dear Matt:
You know that you have always held a special place in my heart, and I am sorry that you are having to deal with such difficult challenges. In our office we have a framed quote that says: “To believe in God is to know that all the rules will be fair and that there will be wonderful surprises.” In my own life, I have sometimes added “wonderful and terrible surprises.” You said it well when you wrote, “Every cloud has a silver lining, and the worst storms sometimes bring the best rainbows.” Yet sometimes it takes great patience to see the beauty in the rainbows again. You are a remarkable person and will be able to weather these storms. Our love and prayers are with you and your dear family.
Aunt Lonnie

Ski Bike Junkie said...

Your attitude through all this is admirable. Couldn't believe how upbeat and positive you were during the ride yesterday. All my best for a speedy recovery and rehab. Look forward to seeing you in that cross race later this year.