3 strange weeks

It’s been a tough stretch lately. But the events in May and June also reinforced a couple important life lessons: question everything and pursue what you’re passionate about.

In my case, both lessons are attributed to the rollercoaster related to Riley, my nearly 8-year-old Golden retriever.

It was more than 3 weeks ago, on a morning I had hoped to be out running 18 miles in an attempt to whip my undertrained body into salvageable shape for Grandma’s Marathon, that I took Riley into the veterinarian. Something wasn’t right, and if you know your pet as well as I do, it was clear that he knew something wasn’t right.

And then the tests came back with the blood marker that almost always means trouble. An elevated calcium level, along with the other results, assuredly leads to one diagnosis: cancer. And, most likely, he had lymphoma, based on the vet’s experience and the test results.

How could my dog, a very healthy pet for more than 7 years, suddenly have cancer? Apparently, an alarming percentage of Golden retrievers develop cancer. In fact, a massive $25 million effort is underway that is expected to be a groundbreaking study of cancer in Golden retrievers, tracking dogs over the course of their lives in hopes of understanding the disease in dogs.

To make sure I understood the vet, I asked her whether this summation was accurate: Riley is certain to have cancer, but it isn’t confirmed. She agreed and so I asked the obvious follow-up question. How can we confirm it?

A handful of days later, I took Riley back into the vet’s office for more testing. The results they collected, along with a radiology scan, did nothing to change the diagnosis, but it did prompt the vet to pause. There were no obvious signs of cancer other than the calcium reading (the body is a finely tuned and regulated organism, which is what provided confidence in the diagnosis).

So then a waiting game began. It was supposed to take up to a week. After 8 days, I called and was told the sample hadn’t been sent right away. I was told to wait another week. With no word or results this past week, I couldn’t wait any longer. I wanted answers and each explanation didn’t make sense.

Eventually, the vet told me that the lab hired to perform the highly specialized tests had thrown the sample out. Really? Someone had thrown out the sample?

The vet, whom I respect and trust very much, offered a few scenarios to accommodate drawing another blood sample. Instead, I agreed to bring Riley back into her office this past weekend. A few hours after the visit, I received a call from her. They still planned to run tests, but the calcium levels dipped well back into normal ranges, virtually ruling out a cancer diagnosis.

The events turned my personal life upside down. I stopped training for Grandma’s Marathon, my first ever 26.2-mile race and a staple of my year. This weekend’s race will be the first I miss since I started running marathons in 2008.

A few months ago, after the Boston Marathon bombing, I rededicated myself to excellence with a determination to run both Fargo and Grandma’s with renewed energy. Life has a way of getting in the way. Moving from city to city, taking on a new job and the topsy turvy news for my beloved pet has been a challenge. But there will always be another race.

Now mostly free of personal distractions, my hope is to focus again on my running to get back into racing shape. It won’t be easy, but I’m looking forward to the journey. There will be new paths, new adventures, new boundaries. The experiment of one and the exploration are all part of the course. And thankfully Riley will continue to share it with me.

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