Progress and Finishing PT
Well, things have continued to get better as I’ve reached the 3+ months post-HSCT. After working one month of light duty at the Las Cruces Station, my blood work said that my white blood cell count was finally high enough to stop my PT at Southwest Sport and Spine and my public pool ban was lifted. Because of that, I have now been able to start swimming at the NMSU swimming pool! I am extremely grateful to Marcus, Bridget, and Andy for the great job they did on getting me back on my feet and helping me get my stamina up so that I am now able to swim, walk, and ride without feeling like I was going to have a heart attack. When I started there, my heart rate would get into the 180’s just walking through the parking lot or by doing the simplest of exercises in the pool.
Swimming at NMSU is a totally different story than being tethered and swimming in place at PT. Fortunately, my stamina is up enough, because each length at NMSU is 50 yards. When I calculate it, it is 15 laps for a mile. I try and swim 1-1.5 miles at least 3-4 times a week. My stamina is good, but my speed needs a lot of work.
Back to Full Duty
I’ve also returned to full duty at the Santa Teresa Station and it is good to be back among people I know. I was very well taken care of during my time at the Las Cruces Station and they really looked out for me over there. A couple of agents that I was able to become friends with during my time there even donated weeks worth of annual leave to help me get back pay for the weeks I was not getting paid. This is saving me from being in the hole on my leave for over a year. I can’t say enough about what a blessing this is to me and my family. Having people donate weeks of vacation time worth thousands of dollars is just an example of how the agents in the Border Patrol really have each other’s backs! Returning to the line has been a bit of an adjustment. It is a lot busier than it was when I left for Chicago and it has been challenging at times trying to get used to the midnight shift hours while trying to heal. I feel really drained some days but for the most part I feel really good.
Luke Michael Barrow
When we started 2015, we knew it was going to be a crazy year. The transplant was obviously the big obstacle that had us feeling overwhelmed, but the other big story of our year has been the baby boy due in July. When I found out I might be getting HSCT, we were told one of the side effects would be becoming sterile from the chemo. They tell you to use a sperm bank, but we really wanted to avoid this and get it done the easy way before it came to that. We were worried about this because I had done infusion steroids in September and this can really lower the sperm count. It took us a year and a half to get pregnant with Olivia after a cycle of infusion steroids. Fortunately, we got the job done and went to Chicago knowing we were expecting a baby boy. Northwestern even bumped up my transplant so that I could be healthy enough to be there when he was born! Everywhere we walked and went this little guy was right there with us getting bigger and bigger. All the nurses at Northwestern knew my wife was the pregnant blonde lady that was constantly coming and going from the hospital. They also made me promise to send pictures of the baby when he was born. Getting myself well enough for this has been one of my biggest motivations to push myself to be strong enough when he gets here
On Saturday, July 18th 2015, Luke Michael Barrow was born. He was 8lbs 9oz and 20” long with a head full of dark hair! I gotta say, Luke is one handsome little guy! We are so excited he is finally here and now the whole family can start focusing on recovering. Liz had to be in the hospital a couple days because he was a C-section birth but fortunately Luke was able to stay right in her room. Thankfully he is a very chill baby and enjoys his sleep! It’s pretty exciting to be able to have this happen 3 1/2 months post-transplant and to be feeling so good. I even had a decent amount of hair in the first baby pics!
Unfortunately, a couple weeks after Luke’s birth, Liz kept swelling and started getting fevers so she had to go back to the hospital. She had an infection because there was still a piece of placenta inside her, so they had to remove it. She had to stay the night in the hospital and once again, 2015 had pulled one of its stunts on our family! Fortunately, Liz is out and doing great.
Return to triathlon: RELEASE THE KRAKEN!
At 3 months and 3 weeks post-transplant and through a lot of hard and grueling work, I was able to compete in the Roadrunner Triathlon at White Sands Missile Range. Returning to triathlon this year exceeded all of my self-expectations. This triathlon was no easy sprint ether. It started with a 7k run with a long, uphill climb on miles 2-4. I hadn’t ran in over a month, until that week, but the run went well considering. I managed to run averaging a 7:50 mile pace (much slower than my normal average but I thought it would be much worse!)
I had some swelling in my knee from my run earlier that week, so I took half of one of the painkillers they gave me for bone pain while I was on Neupogen. This worked well for getting through the run, but totally destroyed my bike. The bike was a 40k (26 miles) and I felt good for the first half and started catching a lot of people. But on the way back, I was hurting. I felt like I couldn’t get my adrenaline going and didn’t have my normal burst that has dominated this bike course for the last few years. I even caught a guy, passed him, and then after about a minute, he passed me back. This has never happened to me on the bike in triathlon!! I started to bury myself to catch back up, but remembered that he is a really bad swimmer, so I let him go. I then started trying to conserve my own energy for the pool. I caught him within the second lap and left him far behind. I was so exhausted that once I got far enough ahead of him, I slowed my pace and went into survival mode. The next guy ahead of me was too far to catch, and I wasn’t going to be caught from behind. When I got out of the pool, I sat there for a long time trying not to puke. I have never been more exhausted on a triathlon of that distance, but I finished it! I was way off my normal time but still managed to finish 5th overall and 1st in my category.
Being able to complete this race really says a lot to me about what the transplant has done for me. None of the weakness I was feeling was MS related from any new symptom, but all from the chemo and meds. My body is still trying to heal from going through a serious ordeal and it’s going to be awhile before I’m back to where I was but I definitely feel ahead of schedule!
The First Test of my New Immune System
I went to a gymnastics class with Olivia, so she could run around and jump on the trampolines and foam pits. Apparently I didn’t sanitize myself fast enough afterwards, because I started feeling the symptoms of a cold later that night. Since HSCT, I had yet to have any kind of sickness, so I was a bit nervous that my body might take a while to kick this thing. I made sure to get plenty of rest and really laid off the workouts. Unfortunately, I still had to go in to work because my leave balance is still drained from Chicago. Fortunately, after a few days, I started feeling better and was able to have about a day of feeling normal before the next race!
Chile Harvest Triathlon. The Rocky Mountain Regional Championships
A week after the Roadrunner Triathlon, I headed up north to Socorro, NM to compete in the Chile Harvest Triathlon. This race is much more competitive and has a couple hundred more people. Last year, this was one of my best performances and I broke the course record on the bike by being the only person to finish the bike in under 30 minutes. This year that was out of the question, but I still wanted to race it so I could build off my momentum from the previous week. This one went better. The swim was a bit rough, but my bike was on point and much better than last week. This bike course also has a lot of climbing so it tends to hurt a bit, but I was feeling good. It was a 20k course, but I managed to beat riders by a couple of minutes that beat me by a couple of minutes last week on a longer course.
The cold I had been fighting all week made itself known on the run and I struggled a bit and felt a little dizzy. I started the run right behind my buddy and training partner Norm and passed him in the first mile, but he stayed right behind me the whole way. On the third mile, he pulled away and whooped my butt. This was the first time Norm has gotten me on a run, but in my head I was loving it because I told him not to ever go easy on me if I was having a bad day. It was great to see him having a great day and showing that killer instinct that is always so fun watching when he’s using it on other people! This kind of thing always helps me push a little more in my training so I can get better in the areas I’m struggling.
I was over four minutes slower overall than last year but I managed to win my category. A couple of people beat my bike time, but my course record from last year is still holding strong! It’s funny because I keep saying that the biggest thing about recovering from transplant is that it’s a rollercoaster. This is still the case. One week it’s a bad bike, good run, the next week its good bike, bad run. One week I will feel really good, others I’m dragging a bit and really have to work hard to find my motivation.
“Shut up Legs!” –Jens Voit
This last week has been one of those weeks that I have really struggled a bit with energy. I have had to alter some of my workouts from the monsters I had planned into active recovery rides until my energy comes back. I’ve been trying to get my miles back up, because Bike MS is right around the corner and I am going to be riding 100 miles day 1 and between 50 and 60 miles on day 2. My ability to climb on the bike is still taking its sweet time on retuning to me and that has me a little nervous. Bike MS and a couple of other bike rides I have coming up are packed with some pretty big climbs. I keep working on climbing, but my muscles are really fighting me on this. My flat speed is coming along nicely and I’m as strong as most people in the group on the flats, but every time I climb, my muscles scream and burn and its torture to push through it. I am feeling improvements, but I still get a sick feeling in my gut when I know I have a big climb ahead of me that wants to hurt me.
I went to Cloudcroft with a couple of cycling buddies/teammates to work on bigger miles and high altitude climbing. They worked me over good! By the end of our ride, I was pretty smoked, but it was the workout I needed. It’s always a hit to my pride when I’m the guy that is being waited for, but I’m grateful they helped me out and I’m looking forward to overcoming this climbing problem! Hopefully, my legs will be recovered from this and ready for Bike MS. My longest ride post-transplant has only been around 70 miles, so 100 is going to be a nice little jump.
Before most of my harder workouts and the triathlons, I have been watching the ten minute Jon Blais clip on YouTube from the 2005 Ironman. This is an Ironman he did when he already knew he only had a short time to live. I’ve talked about this before, but it really motivates me. You can really learn a lot about life from a person that knows they are about to die.
The other day was the second anniversary of the day my dad died and that got me thinking about life and how mine is going and all that has happened since he’s been gone. Two years ago, I was at work and got a message saying that my dad was dying and to hurry home. I drove over 100 mph and ran every red light and made a 45 minute drive that usually takes 30 minutes. Unfortunately, when I got there I was already too late. We knew this was coming and it wasn’t really traumatic, because he had been in that hospital bed for a long time. My mom, my brothers, and I sat with him for a bit and told stories and laughed about some of the good times. It was a good goodbye, despite just missing being there with him at the exact moment he died. It was his time to go and although it was sad, we were relieved that he was free from suffering and from his crippled body.
Every day of my life my dad was crippled. He had been crippled for most of his life too, but he did all he could to exercise and keep walking. He stayed out of a wheelchair until the last few years. As a kid, I have memories of him walking all through the mountains, taking us hiking, camping and teaching us how to ride bikes. Although he had to use walking sticks or even lean on us to get up stairs, I never once heard him complain about his condition. How he could do this still amazes me.
Just two weeks before he died I went to go see him at the hospital he was staying. I was leaving right after that visit to do the Boulder 70.3 half Ironman and wanted to give him my info so he could track me during the race to give him something to do. In all my years he was never able to see me race, so I thought this would be good. We had a lot of great conversation that day, but one thing I really remember him saying was “Mike I know you’re really worried about this multiple sclerosis thing and you’re doing a good job at doing what you’re doing to beat it. You’re going to make it.” At the time I just thought he was trying to be positive and keep me going. I didn’t know anything about HSCT or anything that could stop the progression of this disease. Being crippled and wheelchair bound like him was one of my biggest fears. I would get mad at him when he would give me that kind of advice, because I didn’t want advice about how I was eventually going to be crippled like him and how to smile and take it.
While being interviewed before the 2005 Kona Ironman, The Blazeman, Jon Blais, who had been diagnosed with ALS and had only two years left to live said “My version of the Blazeman is he’s just an underdog that’s had to overcome obstacles, and he’s still doing it.” I think my dad was like that. I think my life has been like that as well. Trying to beat a disease that has had no cure definitely makes me an underdog. Making it five years and having both of my beautiful children and an amazing wife that supports me. Having multiple flare ups, but still managing to keep a physically demanding job was a long shot. Also, switching from mountain bike to road biking and triathlon when I lost my depth perception. An underdog continues to find ways to overcome. Despite frustrations of climbing, running, fatigue, and leg muscles that hate me right now, I have no doubt I will find ways to do this. Part of it is because I’m ridiculously competitive and stubborn. Part of it is because it’s in my DNA.
I’m now 4 months post-transplant and feeling better and stronger every day. Yeah, I have to give myself a lot of pep talks at times and I am still having a lot of hard days, but now I have a son that’s going to be watching everything I do. My daughter already does and I love it! I wish he could have met his grandpa. My dad only got to see my daughter Olivia a couple of times. One of his last requests was to have her and our Labrador Barney brought to his hospital window so he could see them though the glass. Olivia couldn’t go inside because he had been sick with something and didn’t want to get her sick. I get a little sad thinking about this, but at the same time I’m happy knowing that in my life, I had things that made the day of a person that was in their final days. He would have loved Luke.
“The meaning to life is to live life. The meaning of life is life.” -Jon Blais