Posts made in 2018

Today I got to do the coolest thing ever

Posted on Mar 27, 2018 in General | 0 comments

SAVE A LIFE! And it was easy. I’m so unbelievably honored to have been given the opportunity. Where does life even go after something like this? I kid… Enough emo. Let me tell you all about it!

Step 1 – The Call

A few months ago I received a call that felt like a scam. First, it was from Florida. I don’t know anyone who would call me from Florida (that’s right, Jamie, you wouldn’t call me). Second, they mentioned an event I had no recollection of. Third, the offer was too good to be true.

The first part? Nope, nobody I knew from Florida.

The second? After some deep digging, I recalled that in May 2010, one of those insurance people
came into work to explain our benefits. He, or someone close to him (I can’t remember) had had leukemia, received a bone marrow donation, and lived happily ever after. Would we like to swab our cheeks to get in the database? Having witnessed a “niece” battle (and beat) leukemia right around that time, it was a no brainer.

The third? The chance to save a life for so little effort. I’d be inconvenienced a few days, maybe feel crappy a few more, but SAVE A LIFE. I wouldn’t have to stop a bullet, run in front of a speeding train, or anything truly heroic. Having lost Mom to cancer, Rebecca’s Dad (day after my donation – he was terminal at the time) to it, and knowing too many others who have beaten its ass, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

On this call I found out the recipient was a 37 year old female with acute leukemia (I don’t know the subtype). That’s all I may ever know.

Step 2 – The Wait

Someone looking for a match can have several matches. You’re not informed how many they may have, but further bloodwork must be done in order to find the best one. I had this done at a clinic near home and waited. During this time (it was a month) I scoured the internet for all the information I could find. Conclusion? The chances of donating at this point were still pretty slim [ref.]:

  • To start, only 1 in 40 on the registry ever receive a call
  • After receiving a call and doing more bloodwork, only 1 in 7.5 are determined to be the best match
  • After being determined to be the best match, only 2 in 3 actually donate

A podcast [linked below] provided a great metaphor on the likelihoods of all of this. Think of the recipient as a golf ball in flight. For them, the chance of landing in play is good, and that is akin to finding a match. The donor? They’re a blade of grass. The chance of that golf ball landing on them specifically? Ridiculously small.

Step 3 – The Physical

Once I was determined to be the best match, a date was set for the donation – three weeks out. Two weeks prior, I’d have to go to the donation site for a physical and more bloodwork. Since my safety is in their hands, the previous bloodwork combined with the physical I had received on my own just a few weeks before would not suffice. Conveniently, the donation site was in Annandale, VA, where all my college pals still live, and an area I’m very familiar with since Dad worked basically next-door to the place for near thirty years.

The physical was a simple physical plus blood draw and paperwork. In and out in less than two hours. The back and forth across the country in less than a full day was less than ideal, but I survived.

Step 4 – The Shots

The shots last for five days, but let’s back up a few days. Roughly (depending on when the transplant is) three days before my shots, the recipient undergoes what I believe is the most intense chemo and/or radiation possible. The goal of it is to basically kill her and allow “me” to grow inside her without any defense. While we have matching “defense” proteins (and I think really close DNA? Haven’t verified that), the body still recognizes foreign matter and wants to fight it so they destroy her immune system. If for any reason I wasn’t able to donate, she would die. Wild. Friend, if you’ve been wondering why I’ve not been on sunny day group rides, now you know.

My shots are of a drug called filgrastim. It’s most often used to boost the immune systems of folks following chemo, suffering from HIV/AIDS, or to give people donating stem cells super powers. It tells your body “Hey, we’re at war! Mount up!” My limited understanding means this tells your bone marrow to create the heck out of white blood cells and stem cells. It does so to a point that they actually leak out of your bones and into your bloodstream.

I had my first shot at an urgent care, the second from a home nurse, and the final three at the clinic in VA. On day one I could tell something was a little odd, but nothing acute. By day three I had some very light throbbing in my chest, lower back, tightness in my hips, and the most mild headache imaginable. I didn’t need Advil, but they recommended staying ahead of any possible pain so I took it anyway. By day four the symptoms were mostly gone and day five they were even less. One of the five shots burned for 30 seconds in each arm, but it’s unclear why.

There were some lifestyle restrictions while drugged up, but they weren’t too bad:

  • No strenuous activity. I continued with my daily no-sweat riding, but the drug made it clear I didn’t need to do more than 20-30 minutes a day so I got some walking in.
  • No alcohol. The day I found out I was doing this I tried to live life as cleanly as possible and cut it out completely. Not a problem.
  • Be safe. I had to miss a couple of amazing team/group rides and some races I would have liked to have done, but a small price to pay. A couple of them had garbage weather anyway so having a badass excuse to not go do something terrible was a-ok.

Step 5 – The Donation

No coffee that morning. Probably the hardest part of donating. Ugh.

30ish minutes following my fifth shot, it was time to hook in. An outlet went into my left arm and a return in my right wrist. In between is a centrifuge. The process is called apheresis and is the same as you’d experience if you were donating platelets, plasma, or a number of other things that can be separated out of your blood. While being fit has the advantage of making my veins incredibly easy to hit, it also means there’s no fat in which to smooth them out; they turn at hard angles that the needle had trouble coping with. We’d have to proceed at low speed until they were able to get my body temp up, which resulted in my veins relaxing.

From there, it was about 3.5 hours of laying in bed and farting around on my iPad. I got a bit restless, but I think that was mostly because I had to pee and knew that was an ordeal so I held it for two hours (they urged me to not drink anything morning of… I thought they only meant before and not during).

And then it was done. Unhooked, bandage up, received discharge instructions, and then I was released to a pretty normal day. Ate well, got some exercise in, and as I write this I can tell the drug is still working its magic, but I feel close to normal and am eager to get back to 100% in the next two days.

Step 6 – The Contact?

The information I mentioned above regarding my recipient is all you’re given for a year (anonymity is required for the first year to protect both parties as future donations may be needed) or possibly ever (some countries never allow contact and even if they do, both parties must opt-in). Yes, I would very much like to get in touch with or meet my recipient.

Regardless of laws or desires, I will receive a 1-month, 3-month, 6-month, and 1-year update on my recipient’s well-being. I think they might go yearly after that.

You probably have some questions. Good, I have some more things to say AND have a few answers.

  • Dad came up the day before donation. Was great to have him here and get to spend time we otherwise wouldn’t have had together.
  • I got to see SO MANY friends’ kids. Such a great time.
  • A lot of recipients call their transplant day their second birthday since they’re effectively brought back from the dead.
  • Data on transplant success is all over the place and dependent on more specific information I don’t have, but figure 50-70% survival after one year, and 40-65% after three years. Kind of disheartening, but way better than it used to be.
  • Everything was paid for and handled for me. Last minute flights, food, transportation, hotel. I would assume the recipient’s insurance paid for it.
  • Everyone I’ve spoken to has been scared of the donation process. We all grew up hearing about drilling into your hip bone. Fake news. They only drill into hips 10% of the time anymore. Everything else is PBSC (glorified blood draw that I went through).
  • 250 million stem cells were extracted. That’s apparently a low number and is the product of my recipient not weighing much.
  • Only the recipient’s blood and bone marrow are rebuilt from my code. That means she will receive any allergies I have (none), and probably get my flu shot for free, but nothing else will change.
  • Overall, the process was not at all painful. Uncomfortable at times? Sure, but .5 out of 10 on the pain scale.
  • My white blood cell count was “28” (I don’t know the unit of measure). Normal is 4-11. Someone with leukemia might be at several hundreds.
  • There are no known adverse effects from the process, but there isn’t much data beyond five years. The science in me says the risk would be an increased likelihood of cancer, but I’d imagine if no mutations were found after five years, they’re not going to happen. I was comfortable with this, but it’s probably the biggest hanging point. I’ll also participate in any long term study if they ask (I think they will).

Shoutouts and Links

  • Gift of Life is a great organization. Everyone I had the chance to interface was great. Loretta, Ana, Hildy, and Sarah, THANK YOU FOR MAKING THIS SO EFFORTLESS AND SAVING LIVES EVERY DAY. I also got a sweet pin and hand-signed blanket from the staff.
  • AANOVA Apheresis is great people. Added bonus was a good friend’s mom worked there for decades so I’d like to think I got more of the family treatment. I’ve been told they’re likely the best place to donate since they’re able to get lab results so quickly (this gets you out the door faster).
  • Reddit has a really good AMA from three donors if you’re more curious about the process.
  • Radiolab has a good podcast on the subject. It gets a little spiritually heavy, but still good.
  • You should totally get swabbed. It’s free. I’m planning to setup drives at work and for my bike team.

Note: I am not a doctor, just a guy who is really good at the internet and needs to know how everything works. That said, it’s likely something I wrote above is not entirely correct. Are you an expert? Did I get anything wrong? Let me know.

Board Games, they’re what’s for lunch

Posted on Feb 8, 2018 in General | 0 comments

The following is a post I made to our company-wide intranet, a highly trafficked space for our 12,000 global employees to share things from their lives, work, research, etc. “Adult” board gaming is a subject a lot of folks don’t know about, but are intrigued and hooked by when introduced so here’s me trying to intrigue and hook you.

Our daily Slack interest gauging poll

If you’ve ever found yourself in [my office] at noon, chances are you’ve seen a group of employees crowded around a table lying, cheating, stealing, and sometimes threatening ruin upon one another. Other days, things are a bit more friendly as they expand medieval kingdoms, colonize the far reaches of space, improve Caribbean islands, or construct the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Regardless the theme du jour, they’re having fun, flexing their brains, and building a stronger team via board gaming.

If “board gaming” evokes fond childhood memories of Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley favorites, and nothing else, that’s okay, but allow me to introduce you to “Eurogames.” In 1995, Settlers of Catan was released in Germany, and reinvented board gaming as most of us knew it. It introduced deeper strategy, advanced mechanics, less randomness, and a universally appealing (or acceptable) theme; characteristics shared by nearly all games in this category.

Over the decades, Eurogames have spread across the world like wildfire with some estimates showing ~30% year over year growth in the US. No longer are board games and board game stores the sole purview of the prototypical male geek toting their collection of hand-painted miniature figures and Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks. My own anecdotal data reveals these businesses visited by a healthy dose of children, families, women, and hygiene! For years here in Portland we’ve had numerous Meetups for board gamers, but recently we’ve had a bar open specifically for them! Conveniently, it’s on the bike route home for a number of us.

The benefits of board gaming are numerous. They improve relationships, lower stress and blood pressure, improve cognitive ability (logical reasoning and critical analysis skills), reduce the risk of mental disease, and in our own case tend to encourage employees to bring their own lunches; saving a few dollars and [usually] calories. Beyond the science, these daily sessions have done wonders to build bonds within our team and opened relationships between teams that would have otherwise been unlikely to occur due to the nature of how we [as human beings] work.

If you’re interested in learning more about this type of gaming be it for home or with your work team, you’d be well served starting with a “gateway” game. These have simpler mechanics, more universally enjoyable themes, and many are cooperative. Titles to look for are Ticket to Ride (my personal favorite for new players), Settlers of Catan, Forbidden Island, Carcassone, Codenames, Pandemic, Splendor, King of Tokyo, For Sale, and Sushi Go! If you’re looking to dig even deeper, BoardGameGeek is the site for all things board games.

Please accept this post as an open invitation. If you find yourself in [our office] for lunch, grab your meal at the cafe downstairs and join us for a game. We are experiencing a golden age of board gaming. Are you in?

Special thanks to hand models [redacted] and [redacted]

The chances of seeing Rebecca’s purple yoga pants on TV

Posted on Jan 16, 2018 in General | 1 comment

Days I watch the morning news… 1 in 30
Days my TV is accidentally still tuned to Fox (days after football games I cared to watch)… 1 in 182.5
How often a plane is hit by the deicing truck… I’d like to think this doesn’t happen often
How often someone makes the news without knowing it… Rare
How often someone makes the local news while on the other side of the country… Rare

So it was pretty wild to see her purple yoga pants on TV this morning.

EDIT: The chances were even slimmer. I’ve been informed those are not her pants. Damn! So close. Anyway, still her flight.

Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial

Posted on Jan 10, 2018 in Books | 0 comments

Did you know your posthumous options are greater than pumping your heavy metals into the atmosphere and enclosing yourself in many thousands of dollars worth of metal box inside a concrete box only to turn into a hot stewy mess? For the most part, I didn’t.

This book dives into those alternatives, provides the history of them and the current funeral industry (hint: it’s mostly a product of the past century), and ultimately left me curious to find out more. How can I save my family money, time, effort, and give back when I’m already gone? All of these things are appealing and there are ways.

I won’t go into the various methods that are better than what we currently have at our disposal (hah), but suffice to say I have reached out to a local cemetery that is the largest in the country [and that I happen to often ride my bicycle through] performing “natural” burials.

With the subject of death being taboo in general, I found myself unable to put this one down as I was learning new things left and right. I won’t lie, I’m fascinated by the mortuary arts, but only in text; absolutely no desire to do that stuff. Anyway, after a few days, I did find myself a bit burned out on the subject of dying and decaying so my reading did slow, but the author wrapped it up nice and tight and drew things to a close before dragging on.

Highly recommended read. Even if you don’t, you should probably think about “life” after death. Never hurts to have plans. We’re all gonna die.

Raw Notes

  • The idea is to allow the body to rejoin the elements, to use what remains of a life to regenerate new life, to return dust to dust.
  • Cremation, with its consumption of natural gas and electricity and release of mercury and other potentially hazardous emissions into the atmosphere.
  • Brackish blood streams from the tube and spills into the gutter that rims the embalming table. From there it flows into a porcelain basin at the head of the table called a “slop” sink and gurgles down the drain on its way to the city sewer system.
  • No federal law requires that a body be embalmed.
  • The few studies that examine the public health benefit to embalming show decidedly mixed results.
  • The state of Hawaii prohibits the embalming of a body infected with any of half a dozen communicable diseases.
  • Formaldehyde is nonetheless a human carcinogen, and because of its potentially toxic effect when released into the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates it as a hazardous waste. The funeral industry, however, legally buries over three pounds of the formaldehyde-based “formalin” embalming solution every time it inters an embalmed body.
  • The growing middle class worked to emulate the refined lifestyle—and the more involved funeral etiquette—of its “betters.”
  • When it came to elaborating on the simple funeral, capitalism and gentility proved a winning combination.
  • Areas of Anglo-Saxon Britain, where the dead were burned upon the “bone fires” from which we inherit the less funereal English word bonfire.

2017 Year in Review

Posted on Jan 3, 2018 in General | 1 comment

Life – Sold my first house, bought another, went for a hike with a girl in May and still go on them regularly with her (we even do sleepovers sometimes!), lost a job after ten years, got a new job, happily bid farewell to my last client, became comfortable on a snowboard, exercised every day of the year, and did a bunch of bicycles.

Travel – Snowboarding trip with the college guys (January), a weekend in a freezing cold cabin on Mount Hood (March), wine weekend in California (April), a few days in Boulder to bid farewell to my old company with the old coworkers (April), DC for Race for Hope and VA Beach to visit friends (May), camping cycling weekend at McKenzie River (June), annual rafting weekend in White Salmon (June), camping weekend at Stub Stewart (June), weekend in Bend for road bike racing (July), long drive to and weekend in Tahoe for mountain bike racing, (July), week in Leadville for mountain bike racing (August), B&B weekend in Hood River (October), weekend in Bend for cyclocross (October), week in North Carolina for Christmas (December).

CyclingI’ve already written all there is about cycling. Ended the year with 8,005 miles. +24.5% over last year. 2,552 of that was on the trainer. Sorry, haters, that’s still 5,453 outdoors.

Running – Ran 6x more than I did last year (74 vs. 12 miles), but it was mostly at the end of the year and those numbers are laughable. Still managed to eke out an 18:28 5k.

Hiking – She’s all about this so I had to step up my game big time, which I wanted to do anyway. 6.2 hours last year was crushed by 26.2 this year. Up to Tilly Jane, The Flatirons, a first date in Forest Park, Elk Mountain, coordinated a group hike up Mt. St. Helens, made it halfwayup Mt. Adams, Dog Mountain, and Hamilton Mountain.

Health – Yearly average weight was more or less the same as last year (168.8 v. 169.1). Burned 435,095 calories – 26.6% more than last. I think that means my body composition should be much better? Haven’t been tracking it. Maybe I should. I think I look more fit.

BooksRead 25. Absolutely loved Modern Romance and Dreamland. I Love You, Michael Collins was the surprise of the year.

TV and Movies – Netflix has gone full idiot with their rating system so it’s hard to look back on the year and gather any real data. I can’t recall really loving anything. Ozark and The Great British Baking Show (spoiler alert!) got some pretty solid attention.

Losses – Lost two former coworkers unexpectedly. Both young men. One was in the “friend” zone. Most “gentle” (shut up, peanut gallery) guy I’ve ever met. He’ll be missed.

Next Year – How about a little bit more of everything? A good bit more running, a tiny bit more riding, some swimming, Mount Adams will be conquered, an upgrade to Cat 3 on the road (seriously, why does this elude me?). Aiming for same number of books because it’s not feasible to do more of everything forever.

Previous years in review: 20162015201420132012201120102009200820072006.