Radiation – Part 2: Mohawk, Marathon & Moose!

IMG_0761Despite the adages to ‘take it easy’ during radiation, Luke continued to go as full steam as his body would allow and was unexpectedly up until 4:30 am on his last night of treatment – processing a moose. Luke moves about a thousand times faster than these updates; so first, I must recount the marathon he ran in 4 hours, 25 minutes – less than one week before the moose/radiation finale.Luke continually trained for the marathon when time and energy allowed. On October 3, our family left at 6:45 am to make his 8:15 daily radiation appointment in Idaho Falls. The team, who has clearly come to love Luke, greeted us with smiles. When we walked Luke back to the treatment area, we were delighted by the super thoughtful banner across the doorway – “Good Luck Luke!”. They have been consistently wowed by his constant level of activity and have deemed him their most inspirational patient to date – even bringing in doctors to meet Luke at one point. Afterwards one of the nurses, who’s recently taken up face painting, asked if she might paint Elsa’s face. Of course Elsa was delighted by the prospect & the finished product. At 8:45 am we made our way to the Salt Lake airport, with our new pink kitty-faced daughter in tow, ever eager to show her painted face to her Portland cousin upon our arrival, a mere 12 hours away… In turn, Luke was also planning on surprising our hosts with his new mohawk – the only hair-do choice left, aside from shaving it all off, once it started falling out. Luke’s sister, Anna, her husband Chase & their kiddos one-uped us when they picked us up from the airport dressed in their Canadian team regalia – race ready and so perfect.

 

We had one day to relax in the warmth of sunny Portland before Sunday’s marathon. We donned the team hats that one of Anna’s friends super thoughtfully made – trucker foamies that say “Luke Would Go” – and we all know he would! Luke, Anna and Chase made it to the downtown start line early Sunday morning – Luke thoughtfully moving back to their start gate, as first-time marathoners (this is his 2nd), so that they might all run together. Team spectators, with kids in tow, met the running party at the 12 mile mark with signs, high-fives, musical instruments & cheers. Everyone was looking good and moving fast – which was not necessarily the goal.

 

At mile 18 we were able to reconnect again, but this time with a surprise. One of our groomsmen, who we hadn’t seen since our wedding (6 years), had recently moved from Juneau, AK to Portland. While Luke didn’t think we had enough time to spare between the race, family and getting back for radiation, I couldn’t stand it and reached out to him. Ben, trooper that he is, saddled up and met us at the 18 mile mark to run with Luke for a couple of miles! It was a terrific surprise at a good point in the marathon for a pick-me-up. Thanks to all the friendly coordination by Portland peeps, I also jumped in for 3 miles and ran with the team during an “open” portion of the course. It was great to get a taste of the signs, cheers and camaraderie of the runners.
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We were able to reconvene at the finish, where at the bottom of the last hill, Luke told his compatriots that they should slow down… as he sped up. Then he declared that they should “sprint” with what they had left to the finish line – which they did! A huge thanks to Anna & Chase who took up the challenge of the marathon and more so, the challenge of running with and containing Luke during the marathon.  Chase was the perfect anchor and kept the team aiming for and sticking to their allotted 10 minute miles. I know that it’s not an easy task to contain a Neraas (let alone two!) and am ever grateful for his efforts, which resulted in no small amount of personal soreness. An amazing family & friend group rounded out a spectacular day – with ice baths for the athletes, of course. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay in Portland as long as we originally intended due to the constraints of timely radiation, but we did have the good news that coming back meant the last week of treatment.10.10.14 was the last date of radiation. As I’ve pointed out, Luke’s appointments have been early in the morning, giving him the rest of the day for recuperation or the opportunity to do something else with his day. On this particular Friday, in celebration of the finale of radiation, Luke and Shane – another past groomsman and a terrific hunter, went on a ‘scouting outing’ for a moose. Luke has put in for five years to get his once-in-a-lifetime Idaho bull moose tag and drew it this year. As he’s been consumed with the marathon, radiation/transportation, some work, and life-in-general, he hadn’t put much effort towards the moose tag yet. It’s a longer season and also thought it would be better to wait until the weather was cooler to hang the meat, etc. In short, there was no plan for the aftermath of getting a moose just yet, but that doesn’t mean people won’t rally if and when plans naturally change.Shane readily called in a bull moose from the ridge they were on, however; despite it’s decent size, the good location and easy shot, Shane called Luke off the shot since the moose was not deemed “big enough”. They ended up having to shoo this moose away. They are not their brightest during their rut.  Not too far down the ridge they called again and after seeing the bushes shake and getting a good look, Shane gave the thumbs up. Luke took aim and fired two shots within an inch of one another. The moose fell. Then he rolled down the ridge, thankfully in the right direction. Unfortunately, as he rolled, he hit the only rock on the hillside and broke off a portion of his antler paddle – easily fixed.Moose are big and I’m thankful that Shane was there to help on a number of fronts. Also, Shane’s phone got reception and they were able to call in four ready, willing and awesome reinforcements to pull the meat out that night. Six glorious guys carried out 600+ lbs – everything but the hide, caracas & guts.  We went back for the hide the next day. I, personally, was so shocked by the call, lack of proper planning and quickly sinking sun, that it was a long while before Elsa & I rallied, but rally we did.  We walked into the site around 11:00 pm. Elsa slept in the truck, but cheerily chatted as I carried her on my back discussing moose and how thankful we were for the coming meat as we walked in the light of the just-waning harvest moon. We arrived just in time to catch the fellas as they loaded their ridiculously heavy packs. Elsa and I carried out the broken paddle. It was a late & memorable night by the time the meat was to the truck, home and hanging. The mission is not quite over, as we will hand process the meat and package it ourselves, which is no small undertaking; however, it will be wonderful to have a freezer full of organic, grass fed meat this winter – especially when it’s so important to Luke’s diet this year.

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Luke does get tired and has the occasional difficult day or moment, though he readily comes back and apologizes for them later – par for the course I say. Fatigue was a huge disclaimer of both the radiation and chemo, and no one is top notch when they’re tired or hungry (especially with his constantly refined “best” diet for brain cancer). He also can’t help but run a touch in ‘fast forward’ with the given diagnosis and the knowledge that this kind of cancer has an extremely high likelihood of returning and could limit his time – this, of course, gets complicated quickly. In the interim, he is determined to play as much as possible and enjoy life – to all our benefits… If we can keep up!

After a generally restful week following the above events, Luke is officially back to work this week and two weeks out of radiation today. Our next step is to have a meeting with a nutritionist who’s been working in the field of food’s effects on cancer for 15 years and has some good GBM survivor statistics – we hope.  The goal is to “create an environment that is less conducive to the growth and progression of cancer”. The notion of cancer nutrition has been a point of contention throughout this process, but we hope to have it nailed down shortly – as best we can. November 3rd will be the first official MRI since surgery. We’ve opted to get the scan done locally with a reading by JH doctors and a phone consult/reading with UCSF. Of course, we are also hoping and planning for the best. There will be scans every 2 months going forward.

Our sincere thanks goes out to all those that made the marathon & moose such terrific experiences. It’s all been a team effort and we so appreciate your ready support across the board. Thank you!