A reader suggested I consider renaming my Zero Cancer blogs with a heading that’s an affirmation. I liked his suggestion, so henceforth I will publish occasional posts under the Health and Vitality heading. These will report on empowering swim experiences that also strengthen my immune system and sustain an indomitable spirit. This post reports on my evolving prognosis and several exciting and enjoyable open water swims over the past two months.

I had a PET scan Sept 12. It showed no tumor activity in organs, but revealed continued spread of cancer in my bones, with extensive scarring in my pelvis plus spots on three vertebrae and two ribs. Also, blood tests since then showed my PSA and two enzymes which reflect cancer activity rising aggressively.

My cancer had become resistant to chemotherapy during my last two treatment cycles. Even before the tests, I could sense this was happening–more days of feeling poorly and an increase in pelvic pain–however not to the point of needing pain relief.

Yet, while chemo was no longer effective in treatment, it continued to sap my stamina. During pool practices, I felt a burning sensation in arm muscles and across my chest. I could control this by swimming very easily, but with impeccable form. I seldom swam farther than a mile.

Despite all this, I enjoyed striking high points in open water. On Sept 17, I swam a 5K race at Coney Island. I experienced no burning sensation and relatively little fatigue. However I did feel quite drained the rest of the day. On Sept 24, I returned to Coney for a 2-mile race and felt even better. The following week, on Oct 1, I swam 1.5 miles in San Francisco Bay to raise funds for cancer research, which I described in this post. Despite feeling limited in the pool, I seemed to have ample stamina to cover long distances in open water.

I also enjoyed several informal swims with friends on Long Island, in the ocean at Rockaway Beach and in L.I. Sound. I was exhilarated to feel comfortable in water temperatures in the high 50s (14-15C), a tolerance I’d lost last spring.

My eighth and final chemo treatment was Oct 10. On Nov 15 (today) I begin a new treatment regime, receiving monthly injections of Radium 223 (commercial name Xofigo) and an anti-androgen called Xtandi in capsule form. Both treatments have a good record with men whose prostate cancer has behaved like mine. So I’m hopeful of feeling–and swimming–better. I was even confident enough to enter a 1650-yd freestyle race in a Masters meet on Dec 11  and to look hopefully at the possibility of breaking the Adirondack Masters 65-69 record.

Two Marathons in Two Days!

Oct 31 through Nov 8, I was in Israel to celebrate–and gain insights on–the fast growth achieved by TI-ISR head coach Gadi Katz and his team of 40 coaches and administrative support group. I scheduled my visit to coincide with their annual open water extravaganza, 3Days3Seas, which features 10K group swims on three consecutive days.

For two months prior to my trip to Israel, I’d swum only 3000 to 5000 yards per week so I doubted my readiness to complete even one 10K (an official swim marathon). But I’d swum in this event five years ago. It had been a lifetime highlight, an experience I wanted to repeat.

So I planned to swim within my capacity, continuing until I began to tire the first day, probably rest on the second day, then swim again the third day. I’d be pleased if I could swim as much as 6000 meters (a bit less than 4 miles) on the first and third days.

The first swim, Nov 3 in the Mediterranean at Tel Aviv, was cancelled because of high winds and rough seas. So if I was going to swim twice I’d do it on consecutive days, without a rest break between. On Nov 4 and 5, we’d be swimming in the Red Sea, starting in Eilat, an Israeli resort town, and proceeding south to within 300 meters of the Egyptian border.

Leaving Eilat at 5:40 am before sunrise

Leaving Eilat at 5:40 am before sunrise

On Friday, I started with the slowest of four groups–one projecting a pace of 24-25 min/km then joined the 3rd group (22-23 min/km) after they overtook us at around 6K. I still felt fresh so I saw no reason not to carry on.  With the aid of a moderate tailwind I completed the swim in 3:38. I did feel somewhat weary the last 2K, but finished without difficulty and felt no residual fatigue the rest of the day.

Roni and Dolphin

Creating a ‘Live’ TI Logo

On Saturday, I anticipated that fatigue might overtake me earlier, but I seem to have gotten a second wind–plus our tailwind was stronger. We had two planned feed stops at 5K and 8K.  At 5K, I ate 2 medjool dates and drank about 8 oz of a diluted isotonic drink. I felt so strong when we reached the next planned stop at 8K that I passed on taking more calories and indeed felt fresh enough to quicken my pace over the last 2K. My time was 3:03.3D5

Following the swim I marveled at what I’d just done. It seemed almost miraculous. But my ‘tireless’ swimming had nothing to do with miracles.  Rather there were four concrete reasons for my being able to complete two marathons on consecutive days, and still feel fresh afterward–something utterly beyond the realm of the possible on land.

  1. Being weightless. In the water, we experience only one-tenth the gravity we do on land. And when you balance and streamline well–as in TI technique– swimming requires remarkably little energy.
  2. Put on a ‘stroke clinic.’ While TI technique gives you the potential to swim with unmatched economy, I went even farther, striving to put on a stroke clinic. I swam most of the way with partners, sometimes one on either side. I stayed with each partner or set of partners for between five and 20+ minutes, before finding new partners. I consciously tried to demonstrate my very best technique, hoping that my partners would try to imitate something they observed in my stroke. I heard many times how helpful this was.
  3. Start slowly.  The group with whom I started on Friday turned out to be a bit too slow. It found it a challenge to swim slowly enough to stay with them. But I’m convinced that swimming the first 5K (of my total 20K) super-slowly made all the difference. Studies have shown that marathon runners whose first 10K (of 42K) is their slowest have the best performances.
  4. Draw energy from the group. On Friday I swam with a group of 40; on Saturday with about 25. In both cases, we were committed to staying together for at least 8K. I’ve swum many 10K races, and have generally endured, more than enjoyed, them. Swimming together feels entirely different. It’s a collaboration, not a competition. This aspect makes every stroke a pleasure, and everyone draws energy from the group.

    Keeping the group together

    Keeping the group together

On Friday, I’d swum near the front of the pack. On Saturday, I swam mostly in the middle for the first 8K, often in quarters as tight as a peloton in a cycling race. That meant I was drafting most of the time, using almost no energy while maintaining a steady 20 minutes/kilometer pace. When I went to the front of the pack during the final 2K, I felt as if I had boundless energy.

Guided by our Paddler

Guided by our Paddler

The finish came far more quickly and easily than I’d dreamed might be possible. Afterward I told many of my fellow swimmers that Saturday was my best day in the year since my diagnosis. Health and Vitality Swimming indeed.

I plan to return to Israel this time next year for a ‘Swim-Together-Marathon.’ I hope some of you will consider joining me.