Out There: I’m Not Alone

Thanks to a close friend, the writer is never truly alone. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

“Life’s too short to go so bleeping slow.”

“You can drop me, you know.” I coughed as I shifted gears on my bike.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Susan,” Carlos replied with a kind smile. “I’m not dropping you.”

“I’m serious. Go ahead, I’ll meet you at the top of the mountain.” Carlos stayed by my side, barely breaking a sweat as he took in the scenery around him. Meanwhile, I panted like an asthmatic gorilla trying to keep up. “You’re supposed to have cancer, man. Start acting like it.”

As we climbed further up the mountain, my speed and his patience waned.

“Oh, for bleep’s sake, Lacke,” sighed Carlos as he stood up out of his saddle and pedaled away, “life’s too short to go so bleeping slow.”

I rolled up at the top of the mountain, 20 minutes later. As soon as our eyes met, we exploded with hilarity. I don’t think either of us had laughed that hard in a long, long time.

***

Last year, Carlos and I signed up to race Ironman Arizona 2013. The race, to take place three years into his fight with Stage IV cancer, was to his statement of victory — 140.6 miles of Eff you, Cancer. I just wanted to spend the next year riding bikes with my best friend.

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At first, our training rides happened without fail — every Sunday morning, we’d meet up in a parking lot midway between our houses and take off for South Mountain together on our tri bikes.

In January, the scar tissue from four liver and lung surgeries made it too uncomfortable to ride his tri bike. Carlos bought a road bike, where he could ride in a more comfortable upright position.

By March, the frequency of our rides together declined as he went through six more rounds of chemotherapy.

Our last Sunday morning ride was on April 28, to the top of a mountain, where we laughed so hard we cried.

***

Carlos has gone through several more surgeries since then — on his heart, to remove blockages caused by his chemo port; ablations, to remove the tumors that return to his body like invasive weeds. Last week, they cut him open yet again to remove tumors from his liver. There have been over 20 rounds of the most toxic chemotherapy treatments his body can stand.

We swap battle stories each week — I tell him about bonking 60 miles into my ride, he yells at me for making stupid mistakes in my eating schedule; Carlos tells me he walked around four hours after invasive surgery, I yell at him for being a showoff for the nurses when he should be resting.

He tells me he misses our Sunday morning rides. I miss them, too. In his absence, I’ve tried riding with some of our other friends, but it’s not the same. Even in a peloton, I feel like I’m alone. The plan was for us to train for this race together, and I feel guilty for riding without him. So instead, I ride my bike to the parking lot midway between our houses and wait for a minute before rolling out — just in case.

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***

Last week, I broke my bike.  It was a stupid, random occurrence, but a debilitating one. As I scrambled to find an affordable replacement, I heard from Carlos:

“You fit on a 54cm bike, right?”

“Yes,” I replied, “Why?”

“Take my tri bike.”

The offer gave me pause. Carlos loves his bike — in fact, every time I’ve come near it, he’d wedge his body in front of the frame defensively. No one touches his bike, ever.

“Take my tri bike,” he repeated, “I haven’t been riding it. Swap out the pedals, get it fitted to your body, and make any adjustments you need to make.”

“Are you sure?” I knew I had to ask the question we had avoided for so long. “But what about Ironman?”

“The doctor wants me to do more chemotherapy. I can’t do the race.”

We both sat in silence, uncomfortable with the reality we had tried so hard to avoid.

“Take my bike. Do our Ironman. You better go fast, though…”

I smiled knowingly as I finished his sentence in my head: Life’s too short to go so bleeping slow.

***

I’ve got 100 training days left before Ironman Arizona. I won’t be spending those days chasing Carlos down on my bike — he’s got bigger mountains to climb.

We’re still getting together each week to swap battle stories. He’ll tell me I’m going too slow, and yell at me not to break his bike. I’ll roll my eyes and tell him stress is bad for cancer recovery. And on Sundays, I’ll ride to the parking lot between our houses and wait for a minute, just in case. But when I ride off on his bike, one thing is for certain:

I’m not alone.

****

About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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