7 January 2020 began and ended differently for me. I knew the plan, and I wasn’t scared, mostly excited for the expected outcome. Surgery was coming, called the Whipple Procedure, I’ll let you read about it instead of explaining- https://www.webmd.com/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/whipple-procedure. Yes, it’s that complex. I searched for success stories from recipients of this surgery but found few positive stories. Why did I want to continue?
Hypoglycemia never sounded like a serious condition, had a friend in high with it, didn’t think it was terrible, even after he passed out and crashed his car. He never made it sound bad. I was sort of diagnosed with it in January 2016, after passing out on 6 December 2015, with a blood glucose level in the low 30’s, as the paramedics stated. That didn’t mean anything to me. Rode the ambulance to the emergency room, and the physician there asked the same question as the paramedics: “Where did you get the insulin?” They were convinced that I had somehow taken insulin, by accident or intentionally, and that resulted in the outrageously low glucose level. A few years later, I found out why it happened.
From that date in 2015 until November 2019, I’d had a few “fades”, meaning I was getting low and experiencing the symptoms as I had known: loosing coherence, couldn’t talk so I couldn’t explain what was happening, but able to keep waking or riding without balance issues. Early November 2019 things changed.
I was riding with a friend, planned to be about 60 miles. About 40 miles in I had a bad experience. I lost track of what I was doing, dismounted and was walking, but not following my partner. A little later, I start coming back to consciousness, my legs and arms are flopping as I lay on the sidewalk. My friend gets there, starts talking to me, he said I was banging my head on the sidewalk also, (cracked my helmet). I recover as expected, because about 5 minutes before I faded, I consumed a 200 calorie pack of Cliff Blocs. I was a bit surprised that I faded after eating. We rode about a mile and jumped the train and went home.
With this incident, first one during an activity, I realized I needed help. The medical world here in South Korea is amazing, and I knew they would be able to help me understand what was happening, and maybe fix it. I spent a week in the hospital, testing, testing, testing. Diagnosis was insulinoma, benign tumor in the pancreas. This explained why I was producing excessive insulin and at odd times, (many fades over 4 years that were not related to having eating anything with significant glucose). Tumors grow, and this explained the changes in my condition over the years. 2009 was my first symptom!
I am one of those odd people who enjoy riding all day. I started doing the New Mexico Endurance Series races, in addition to other shorter events. But the long ones were definitely my favorites! The first symptom I remember was during the Cochiti 100 mountain bike race, 2009. This was a 100 mile 3 loop climbing race at altitude, only a couple retraces in the loops, most with noticeable different routing. https://nmes.wordpress.com/nmes-bragging-rights/2009-nmes-bragging-rights/cochiti-100-bragging-rights-2009/
Deep into one of the loops, there was a beautiful climb up through a long meadow, that ended with a steep climb (walk) into the dark forest. As I entered the forest and started pedaling again, my eyes started doing weird things with the surroundings. Everything I looked at jumped around and not in the right places. Later I discovered the best way to describe this was like a Picasso portrait, everything shuffled. Every time I blinked the layout changed! I started walking again, as I could not guarantee I was on the trail. I had been eating and drinking all day, and I did a little of both while I was walking the bike then. My vision cleared after a couple minutes, I began hammering again. No more symptoms that race, and I pulled off a descent performance!
After another occurrence, I decided I would see a doctor. My primary physician focused on the vision issue, I couldn’t provide any other helpful information. After going down that useless path a bit, I just gave up. I had a few similar experiences over the next couple years, nothing serious. And then came 6 December 2015.
That low sugar crash got me into more serious medical help, but the time it was taking to crawl through the medical insurance process led me up to a major job change, from New Mexico to South Korea. I had my condition under control, I knew the current symptoms, and I always had quick sugar food with me. For the next four years I always had a gel with me, sometimes two, depending on where I was going. I did a lot of panic or preventative snacking, but I was riding quite a bit and running.
Today is 14 March, a little over two months after the surgery. I will never declare that I’m fixed, I know there are possibilities of developing diabetes. But I can now go a few hours without eating, and I don’t have food in my pockets always, and I don’t worry about eating. I do sometimes have a PTSD attack- “When did I eat last?” It’s scary too, and after a second or two, I remember that I should be ok.
After a few weeks of riding the sofa, doing absolutely nothing but putting together snack sized meals, I decided I needed to set an exercise schedule and establish a bike ride date on the calendar. I designed a four week training program, all at home, that should get my full body moving and build some strength and endurance. 30 minute treadmill sessions, mild upper body weight training, and sessions with an app called 7HIFIT. I alternate the activities- treadmill one day, strength the next, each about 30 minute sessions, with only one day off per week. The treadmill sessions were all walking, with intervals, the first two weeks and progressed to running on the third week. I began riding the bike on the rollers the third week also.
Although the exercise has been tough, my first session produced a funny, but shocking, action. The 7HIFIT movements included lunges and squats, I hate both of these equally, never liked squats and rarely did lunges, but pre-Whipple, I could confidently perform each without difficulty. Time for lunges, counter is ticking, GO! I drop the right knee to the floor, and I CANNOT GET BACK UP!!!! I knew I lost a lot, my legs and arms were uncharacteristically thin, but that shocked me! The road ahead just got a little dark, but I knew I could get through it.
I was surprised that planks were easy, but I cannot do crunches. Maybe rolling up the new plumbing in that movement just doesn’t work yet. In fact, when I lay down for the bench press, I have difficulty getting up, have to roll over and use my arms, (I’m sure this would cause laughter if anyone were watching!).
My planned ride date is 21 March, one week away! All the years of riding and racing, I had established training plans, so many times, in preparation for certain events, and never stayed with the plans. Right now, I’m 3 weeks in to my planned 4 week schedule, and I have stuck to it! I’m ready to ride, but I know my desire is greater than my capability, so I’ll go short on the first one. Well, I’ll try to!
I’m still taking a few pills each day, and I have pain pills if needed, non-opioids. I haven’t taken a pain pill in a week and a half. There are occasional random pains somewhere in the newly designed plumbing, but they go away. I do fear a gut shot. I am excited that the hypoglycemia is possibly gone, but that’s not what I’m most excited about. I know that my wife has worried about me every time I left on the bike or in the running kit, although she never said anything. The suffering of the surgery and associated darkness, and this recovery period will have been worth every fear and tear if she never has to worry again.
I’ve picked up a few new bike accessories, while setting up another CX frame as my primary, and I’ve set up the “old” bike again. I had moved many parts from the old bike to the new one. I’ll talk about many of those new bits and pieces in the future, but that’ll be when I find time to get off the bikes, or loosen the strings on my running shoes.