I haven’t written a blog post in about eight months. There are lots of reasons. I have a bunch of stuff to talk about, but I’m going to write about all that’s happened, which is why I have not been writing on here.

Over Christmas break a year ago, we (five close cycling friends and I) decided to register for the 24-12-6-Hour World Championship Time Trials in Borrego Springs, California. Five of us registered for the 12-hour race, and Mark Skarpohl, of course, registered for the 24-hour race. So training for that hung over my head, mostly in a positive incentive, but sometimes in a discouraging way, through all of the upcoming events.

First, the spring semester started out too busy to allow for writing, either here or to work on the novel I’ve written that needs editing. I trained–rode the trainer almost daily–or rode outside when the ice on the roads receded enough to allow it because my body and soul need that, but between school and riding, I didn’t write.

Tom and I went to Jamaica at the end of January for a week with his brother Rick and sister-in-law Paula, which was heavenly. An absolutely blast. Sun, sand, snorkeling, great food and drink. We came home to a blizzard and three solid snow days off from school. We had so many snow days last winter, I sort of lost count.  I was constantly scrambling to figure out how to keep students caught up online.

Two years ago, Tom’s mom was diagnosed with cancer. She’s still doing remarkably well, but when that diagnosis hangs over your head, you want to make every day together count–every chance to be together, so that affects free time, too. Time starts to run together. We celebrated her 87th birthday in March, 2019, a year after her diagnosis.

On Tom’s mom’s birthday, I was in excruciating pain abdominal pain, but went out with the family to Red Lobster to celebrate. I couldn’t imagine what could be wrong, and figured I ate something I shouldn’t have, but there was not an obvious explanation for how I felt, so I just did life as usual. Turns out, I had shingles that hadn’t ruptured into blisters yet. Two days after the party, I was still hurting, but since there seemed to be no excuse or reason for it, I went for a 100-mile ride with Carol and Liz and Skarpohl, thinking some weird abdominal muscle thing was going on. I had NO idea I had shingles.  I rode as well as ever for the first 50 miles, and was feeling cocky and strong. Then exhaustion hit me with a capital E on a big hill up into New Ulm, and I could hardly keep the pedals going. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It was all I could do to finish the ride. The next day, I found shingles blisters all over one side of my midsection. Shingles. At least there was a reason for riding like crap the day before.  I did not feel like writing then. It was all I could do to teach and come home and get in the chair for awhile.  And the doctor told me to get plenty of rest and I should only ride the bike moderately, and if it didn’t wear me out. My training ground to a screeching halt. 

I didn’t ride at all for a couple weeks. And I did NOT feel like writing. Then on April 1, I decided to do the 30-days-of-biking challenge, even if I could only ride two miles a day. At least I would be getting out and feel like a human on a bicycle. That’s what I did. I rode 2, 3, 4, 5-mile rides most of the month. I rode 20 a couple times toward the end of April, nearing 6 weeks since the shingles diagnosis. A couple of these rides at the end of April were with Lisa Pottenger and Sam. We had a blast every time. Tom and I also took a bunch of short fat bike rides, which was fun and perfect for April riding. We found an Eagles’ nest on the Minnesota River and were able to watch the fledglings stick their heads out of the nest and watch their parents bring them food. That was all great. It just didn’t do much for my confidence when thinking about a 12-hour time trial in November, but at least I was outside and riding.

May. I felt better. I did a 50-mile solo ride, and though I wasn’t as fast as I wanted to be, I felt good and felt like I could really ride again. I rode a 30-mile faster ride at a pace that made me think I could still do this.  I survived finals and grading research papers, and school got out, and I focused on training for about two weeks.

And then I got violently ill. Throwing up without cease, with a stomach ache that was relentless, Tom finally took me to the emergency room, and I was admitted immediately. Diagnosis: Intestinal blockage that they couldn’t explain. After three days, they shipped me to Rochester, where they still couldn’t figure out what was going on. In seven days in the hospital, with a stomach tube and NO food or water, I had lost well over 10 pounds, and my legs were the skinniest they’ve been in years. I could make my fingers and thumbs meet around the highest part of my thigh. (Maybe in sixth grade??? I could do that?).  One night, I turned over in bed, and my knee locked up at a 90-degree angle. Scar tissue/torn cartilage, or a bone fragment had fallen into my knee joint! Usually the muscles all around my knee are strong enough to hold my damaged knee bones and scar tissue in place. I’d gotten so weak that everything fell apart. Literally.

Long story shorter (but still long): I had to have knee surgery to remove the scar tissue one day. I had abdominal surgery the next. Everything got fixed. (Abdominal issue was scar tissue closing up the colon from the outside–easily fixed once they figured it out).  So after 11 days in the hospital, I was ready to go home.

That very day, my daughter called near tears. A bone marrow biopsy was being done on her husband, my son-in-law Tom. Turns out he had a relapse of leukemia, and was headed to chemo in two days.

The rest of the summer was sort of a blur. Nikki and Tom’s kids came to visit while Josh and Emily and Audrey were here. We had a great week together, but we did miss Nikki and Tom.  ThenI spent a month with them in Calgary, helping however I could. By August, I had permission to ride my bike again, but with strict restrictions, so I rode in Calgary on the bike trails when I could.

I made another trip to Boston/Lynn, MA to see Josh, Emily, and Audrey in late summer/early fall, too.

I started training in earnest, finally without restrictions, in September. I decided that if I could still ride 5000 miles for the year by the end of October, I’d still be okay for the race. I pulled it off .

September, Tom finished chemo, had radiation, and then had a bone marrow transplant. What an absolutely hellish ordeal. I can’t even recount details. It’s too hard and painful to think about.

But slowly, he got better. Slowly, he got stronger.

I went to California and rode my race, and my son-in-law reached his birthday, slowly getting stronger.

I won my age division. 60-69 Women’s 2019 World 12-hour Time Trial Champion. That race deserves its own post, so check back for that story.  It was crazy, dramatic, much fun, very hard, and absolutely rewarding. And I was in Southern California for the race with the best of crazy wonderful friends, and my son Josh who came to crew for us.

Son-in-law Tom reached his 41st birthday three days later. Getting stronger.

I flew to Calgary to see Nikki and Tom and Alec and Lia for Lia’s 5th birthday party in mid-November. It was a wonderful weekend, but Tom was still fighting to maintain and to be strong. What a trooper. What a hero.

In Decmember, my father-in-law, Harvey Brooks, passed away. Oh, yeah, that’s the other thing that was going on all year. Harvey was diagnosed in Nov. 2018 with dementia. That’s another story, but the whole family pitched in to help. He fell in Sept. 2019, and finally needed 24-hour care. Before that, we took him to Vine for adult respite care three days a week, and that helped slow his decline, but it did add to the hecticity of daily life. “Pete,” (Alvera whom we all call Pete–a nickname given her by her brothers when she was tiny), is a trooper. What a lady, who saw Harvey through all of that while living with her own cancer diagnosis.

My Aunt Ruby died on Thanksgiving Day. I got to go to Iowa to see her just four days before she passed away. I’m so glad I got one last visit with her. Her funeral was so sad, but such a celebration of what an amazing woman she was. I loved seeing my cousins and my brother Bill and sister-in-law Cathy. That’s the blessing of death. Ruby got us together one more time.

The day after Ruby’s funeral, my father-in-law Harvey died. He’d gone downhill in the last weeks so much that his quality of life was diminished. Harvey lived life, and he would not have wanted to continue as he was…but it’s still hard to say good-bye. 

Amid all this death, there’s new life.

Son-in-law Tom’s transplant has been successful. His new stem cells are “fully engrafted” and his blood levels are all normal or getting in the normal range. Nothing else in this entire year seems significant in the scope of life by comparison. Yet, it was a very full, very dramatic year. We lose some dear, dear lives, and life is preserved and continued to its fullest. I’m so grateful for Nik and Alec and Lia that Tom is healthy again. Selfishly, I’m so grateful. Tom’s a guy I wanted for a friend the day I met him. If he weren’t my son-in-law, I’d want to be good friends with him. I feel so lucky. Just writing this brings tears to my eyes again.

My Tom and I went to Calgary for a week over the holidays. Josh and Emily and Audrey came too; so did Anissa from Seattle. We had an amazing, wonderfully fun and relaxing week.

I’m just grateful.

And now, I guess I better get back to work. School starts again on Monday.

Becky Avatar

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