August 7, 2002

On bikes and illness

Category: Health — Biella @ 12:16 am

So, just as I say goodbye to an old addiction (caffeine), I already have another one lined up on my doorstep to replace it, IRC…

In Defcon, I didn’t really have a chance to chatter away on irc nor partake in another one of my passions, riding my bike. On Monday, when I returned to SF, I happily rolled out of bed and logged on to my favorite irc channel but after a couple of hours, I decided that I really needed to get out of my house. Once on my bike I got a taste of the difference between passion and addiction. Of course, there are passionate addictions : ) but the sense of balance and enjoyment I get on my bike is quite unlike some of the more frantic qualities of my past and present addictions. I think it is the simplicity of riding a bike, in which the sole focus is getting from point a to b while smoothly stroking away at the pedals that makes riding such a comforting act even while I feel the pain of climbing up a steep hill. On a really good ride my body extends into the frame and out to the landscape blurring the lines between in and out, self and environment and even pain and pleasure. You are in between it all, just sort of hanging in that nice warm space in between hot and cold.

Unfortunately, these days I don’t have all that much time for biking nor casual reading but I managed to finish “It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life” by Lance Armstrong who just won the Tour de France, for the 4th time. Though the book can be very cheesy at points (like he when he calls his wife “a stud” over and over again), his account about his battle with cancer at the age of 25 and then his subsequent return to cycling was pretty incredible and moving. The dude was…. SICK as hell. Cancer had spread from his testicles, to his lungs, and even into his brain. Yet, as the cancer ate away at his body and then the chemo choked the cancer cells and poisoned him in the process, it also planted the seeds for his emotional and psychological growth, one which gave him a much deeper appreciation for life, taming his Texan brashness and machoness with a kinder more reflective disposition.

I was surprised to find out that he rode when he was undergoing cancer treatment at least before his last round of very harsh chemo:

“Why did I ride when I had cancer? Cycling is so hard, the suffering is so intense, that it’s absolutely cleansing. You can go out there with the weight of the world on your shoulders, and after a six-hour ride at a high pain threshold, you feel at peace. The pain is so deep and strong that a curtain descends over your brain. At least for a while you have a kind of hall pass, and don’t have to brood on your problems; you can shut everything else out, because the effort and subsequent fatigue are absolute.

I spent a 3-4 month period of my life trying to figure out why the hell my body was giving out on me, wondering in the process if I was dying. The one quality that never seemed to leave me alone at the time was anxiety and it was when I let go of the deep anxiety that I could finally get around to figuring out what was wrong and do something about it. I guess riding during cancer was one means that he was able to reach that state of peace and let go of the anxiety that tends to creep in and really overpower you when you are deathly ill. He never really talks explicitly about the lack of anxiety although it is the unstated theme of his healing path. Nearing the end of his narrative, he talks about how children with cancer have higher cure rates than adults, which he credits to their “natural, unthinking bravery.” In other words, they are totally in the moment with what they need to do which is to get better. They may be scared, sad, but are less prone to the cynicism, anxiety, and sense of and for failure that adults fall into later in life.

Though the experience of illness has innumerable facets, many of which are difficult to capture through words, one of them is that the path to end illness, that is, healing, is a map or metaphor for living a not a dis-eased life, but a healthy one. And I think that is why I liked this book so much. It beckons you to approach illness for what it is, and give yourself over to healing with passion, dedication, and sincerity just as you would for anything else you love to do.

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