After the Crash

The following was originally written on December 4, 2011, but not posted until today, August 11, 2012.

Dear Pat,

Once again I’m apologizing for taking so long to post you a note! You’ll understand, I’m sure. My last note was written on the eve of Petit le Mans, which I had to miss for the first time EVER this year. I did keep up by whatever coverage I could attain (TV, ESPN3) and wow, once again you guys drove like demons possessed to your 2nd place finish.

In the bigger picture, that was one of your team’s three podiums for the year, if memory serves. Fourth in points for the championship. I followed your various updates over the season, and while it was rough for everybody’s exemplary efforts not to be rewarded with more podium finishes and points standings, your resilience was inspiring. Because while your ALMS season was rough, you were doing so many other things. In many cases, your exemplary efforts yielded the pinnacle of results, such as your World Challenge Championship. This is what I was thinking about in my last post, “How You Look at It.”

My driving year was very up and down as well. My one accomplishment, and for me, it’s huge, was to be signed off to drive solo at Barber. Due to various intervening factors, like car problems, and health issues, my novice season stretched from late 2008 until Spring 2011! To be quite honest, taking up competitive driving for the first time at the age of 50, I really needed all of that novice time to get good habits truly engrained. I didn’t grow up throwing karts around, or piloting a scooter. Yeah, I had a bike, and a car when I was 16, but soccer and swimming were my sports. I followed motorsports from early on with my dad, and loved attending races. But it wasn’t until my 30s that I started to get the bug to take up driving as sport.

So I’ve really relished this extended novice period. As I’ve been able, I’ve focused on getting as much seat time as possible, both driving, and riding shotgun with some fantastic drivers (something I would love to do with you…my car and yours!). The competitive driving principles my dad taught me as I sat in his lap behind the wheel starting around age 5 (“The car will go where your eyes go…the way to drive curves is to straighten them out…”) came in handy. Many brave, patient souls rode shotgun with me as I got my head around the whole thing. At the end of my three-year novice season, I may not be fast, but I am smooth. Smooth hands, smooth feet, smooth moves. Heh! I have much yet to learn, and I am looking forward to what’s to come.


Autocross is something I really enjoy, but the year was fraught with conflicts, and I made it out for ONE event all season long. Several Porsche Club folks ganged up and went to the October SCCA Solo event together and we ran in a club class. That was a huge bag of fun! I wasn’t very competitive. I was so happy to be out with my buddies, and hanging with the cars and the noise and the vroom and the squeal and the whoooooa-slides…but I had a hard time getting my head in it. In fact, my being there that day turned into an unintentional middle finger at the gods of fate.

The day before, I had found out that I had colon cancer, and the autocross event I was so looking forward to was on the Sunday before my hastily scheduled Tuesday surgery. There was no reason not to go. My cancer was discovered via routine colonoscopy – I never had any symptoms and was not “sick” or anything. But once you find out you have cancer, there is this time of abject terror and fear between the initial diagnosis, and the point at which they have enough info (from surgery, radiology, pathology, etc.) to say how advanced it is, and what your survival odds are. And whether you will need chemo and/or radiation that can make you wish you were dead.

Anyway, all of a sudden, in my mind, this one little autocross event took on HUGE proportions, and it became massively important to me to just be there, JUST DO IT. The fear and terror lurking with my cancer diagnosis kept trying to remind me that this might be my last. Autocross. Ever. So I went, and it was a cool, beautiful Fall day, and my friends were there, and I told a few of them, and got my introduction to The Cancer Eyes. The Cancer Eyes are the eyes that look back at you from a person who’s just gotten tragic news that their dear friend has cancer.

To me, the hardest thing about having cancer is having to tell your loved ones that you have cancer.

So the fact that I’m writing this is all you need to know about how I’ve survived so far. And I’m lucky in that they caught mine pretty early, and I have pretty good survival odds: 88% chance of living five years, 84% I’ll make it ten years. The jury is still out on whether chemo would help or hurt me; I’ll know in another week or so. But even if I need chemo, the kind they use for my cancer is not known for awful side effects, other than “thinning” hair.

I went to my first post-surgery social event on Friday, the Porsche Club holiday party. I finally figured out how to describe my experience. Other than a few rough days recovering from the abdominal surgery, I have not been “sick” at all. My insides have been seriously re-plumbed, and there are challenges related to that. But I snapped back from surgery like a rubber band, was released with no restrictions on activity at three weeks, and other than getting a little lazy from lying around in my fuzzy slippers and robe, I’m good!

So when talking to people at this party, they would grasp my arm and give me The Cancer Eyes, and I’d say, “Really, I’m good now! Other than having a lump of cancer cut out of me, I have not been sick a day.” Then they’d give me the You Are Joking Eyes, and I’d have to reassure them, “Seriously, I know cancer has the potential to really wreck a person, but they got mine early, and other than recovering from surgery, I have not had any symptoms or illness or anything.”

That really is the truth. I’ve got cancer, but I haven’t been sick. So, what a year, huh? This wasn’t the end I expected to my year, I’ll tell you that much. Travel is tough, being in the car any length of time, certain things about how I go about the day have changed, probably permanently, but I can live with the changes.

Crazy damn year. Catch you on the flip side!

x0x0x
VroomGrrl

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