Thursday, June 29, 2017

2017 Vasculitis Foundation Symposium Recap

What a weekend!  I can't believe it came and went so quickly.  For the last several months, I've had the International Vasculitis Symposium on my calendar.  It was the only thing on my calendar for months.  Since I'm used to traveling and racing all over the country for about 2/3 of the year, sitting at home since January has been a far departure from my normal chaotic lifestyle.  For someone who finds so much comfort in his routine, I sure do like to travel a lot.  Besides looking forward to the travel part of the weekend, I was also excited to get to share my experience with other young adults through a presentation as well as meet many members of #VFTB (Vasculitis Foundation Team Brandon).

Myself, along with 3 other incredible young adults (Ben Wilson, Kate Tierney, & Allison Lint) were giving the chance to do a presentation for young adults, which we titled "No Parents Allowed."  The goal of the session was to pass along some of the knowledge of dealing with a Vasculitis disorder and navigating the waters of young adulthood (ages 15-30).  So the 4 of us old geezers (some of us wouldn't qualify to participate in the session if we weren't presenting haha) set out to make a lovely presentation to impress these young budding minds.  Well after 2 sessions (we were only scheduled for 1) and over 3 hours of talking, we never even got halfway through our slides.  We couldn't be happier about that.  For months leading into the presentation, we were all worried about making sure that we kept the presentation "real" and not lecturing in order to encourage the group to participate and get involved.  I can't speak for the others (Ben, Kate, & Allison please chime in), but I was blown away with the attentiveness, intelligence, and personality of everyone that attended the session.

As someone who has given many talks, lectures, and even a few teaching lessons in my day to this age group range, we always struggle to find ways to make it fun for this new generation of iphone kids.  After this weekend, I actually have some... faith, for the future.  Luckily the hours that the 4 of us spent to get the presentation ready, wasn't wasted.  We got to do far more than was on those slides.  So if you are one of the 25 or so kids that attended the session, participated, shared, and encouraged the group I'd sincerely like to thank you from the bottom of heart.  It's my desire that you all got as much from listening and asking as we all got from being able to share our pitfalls and successes dealing with life and a crazy rare disease.

Over the last 6 months I've said time and time again, I have been completely overwhelmed with the response and the level of encouragement that #VFTB members have shown for myself and for each other.  The original goal of #VFTB when I started was to use my platform as an athlete training for the Olympic Trials to inspire others to chase their dream no matter their lot in life.  What I never expected was how much everyone would inspire me.  That couldn't be more true this weekend.  It was amazing to get to meet so many of you face to face.  I want all of you to know that you are all responsible for how I've handled this relapse that I am currently suffering with still.  If it weren't for the encouragement and constant uplifting responses you all have shared, then the last 6 months would've been a lot darker.  My heart was filled with warmth getting to hear you all share your stories and how #VFTB has lifted your head up and put you in a better place.

I'd like to thank everyone at the VF for their tireless work and assembling a group of doctors and speakers that are leading the way in Vasculitis health.  As a scientist, it's incredibly encouraging to see the work being done in so many fields as it applies to our disease.  Thanks to these people, the life of vasculitis patients worldwide are improving every year.  While obviously the goal is always to find a cure, we are all aware that that day may be further in the future than we want, we have faith that there are doctors and scientist out there working diligently to get there.  Science is the future!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Why Exercise is Important

With exercise under attack by our president, I've felt the need to discuss why I think exercise is an important teacher.  NO EXERCISE DOESN'T USE UP ALL YOUR ENERGY!!!  But I'm not here to discuss science with you, I'll leave that to the millions of articles and research hours spent explaining it's benefits.  I'm going to talk about a few of the things outside of health that exercise has taught me and can teach you.

Exercise isn't just my profession and drug of choice, it's legitimately saved my life.  The lessons I have learned from working out as an athlete have given me great tools to succeed in life.  In fact without those tools, I might not be here today.  Although modern medicine and scientific data is amazing, there is no gadget that can explain a feeling.  No Garmin watch or FitBit activity tracker can tell you what you are feeling inside your body.  While they are both incredibly useful tools, they are just data.  Wellness and feeling are intangibles (or haven't yet been quantified).  And that's where the key lies.  Most people start exercising because they know it's good for them, they need to lose some weight, want to live healthier, look better, etc...  but almost all of these points come back to feeling.  Weight lose is a number that can be measured, cholesterol is a number that can be measured, but feeling better, feeling more confident in your body, and understanding what your body is capable of, cannot be measured.  This is one of the reasons I advocate for exercise among Vasculitis or sick patients.  Learning how your body is supposed to feel and react can be a huge help for information gathering for your doctor.

With that intense understanding of what your body can accomplish also comes the understanding of what feeling off or bad is like.  As often as I have pushed through the pain in training, there has been times in my life that understanding what my body is supposed to feel like has possibly saved my life.  Twice I was able to catch relapses with my Vasculitis very early on and possibly avoided some of the physical suffering by catching the relapse before I was scheduled for routine blood work.  The difference might have been small and unnoticed in an inactive person, but to someone who trains everyday, I understood how my body was supposed to feel and knew something was amiss.  My story isn't the only story of people catching things, a man in NYC recently realized he was having a heart attack before it came on because he could feel something was off while he was out running.  So exercise can literally save your life!  But once again I'm bias.

One often overlooked aspect of all fitness training, regardless of discipline, is learning the skill of pushing yourself.  Doing difficult things teaches you valuable life lessons and skills.  We spend so much of our life avoiding difficult or painful things.  Exercise and training are a direct contrast to that.  To get better and see results, you have to push your comfort level.  Learning to be uncomfortable is a learned skill.  During times of inactivity and breaks in training, I have even forgotten how much running can hurt.  We can't make it through life without making tough decisions or challenging ourselves.  Exercise can be an effective tool for teaching the skill.  If I hadn't had running and exercise to teach me over the last 20 years, I don't know that I would have been as effective at making life decisions, dealing with my Vasculitis, or growing as a person.  As we learn new things and our views are challenged, it takes understanding and discomfort to change your habits or views.  Having failed and been forced to learn from those mistakes on the track and in the gym, I've learned to accept that failure and challenge are necessary for growth.  I truly believe this may be the most valuable skill that exercise can teach a person in life.

If you have never felt what your body is capable of doing, then it's hard to truly understand what feeling good is all about.  That may sound a bit silly, but when you exercise your body gets stronger (contrary to what our President said about it using up all your energy).  Even now, there are days where I feel like absolute shit, and I have to force myself to get out and move, but getting out and pushing myself always makes me feel better.  One of the reasons that I am so addicted to racing and training at a high level, and yes it's an addiction, is because of the shear power you feel in your body when it is in peak physical condition.  I wish that everyone could experience the bliss that comes through something like crushing a grueling session on the track or running the perfect race.  I know there are tons of avenues to experience the "zone," but my favorite is by far the track.  I really can't put into words the feeling of your foot hitting the ground and recoiling off the track as you summon the power to complete the intense demands of training and racing.  Just because you may not be capable or even want to run, there are equivalents for each and every person out there and I challenge you to find yours!


PS - if you are interested in starting an exercise program, getting advice, or help setting a pr in your next race, visit to become a #HudginsTrained athlete today!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Fear of Getting Better?

I have to admit I may have found the most irrational fear imaginable.  Over the last few days I noticed an anxious feeling I couldn't quite place.  After some careful examination, I realized I was afraid of getting better.  How could that possibly be?  It makes no sense at all.  For the life of me I can't figure out where the fear is materializing from.  Why would I not want to get better?  That's all I've wanted for the last 3 months specifically (and last 9 years more realistically).  Sitting inside, feeling like dog shit all winter and watching my friends kill race after race really made me miss my sport and my life.

Tired of the pill life
It's been 6 weeks since my 4th final Rituxan infusion, a month since my follow up visit that turned out to be a failure, and 3 weeks since my last Emergency Room visit.  My body has physically been a wreck since December.  My body has literally been fighting itself for 5 months now and I'm tired of it.  After a Vasculitis patient starts treatment rounds it is just a waiting game.  You take some drugs, get some test, adjust some drugs, and then you either get better or worse.  Well over the last 6 weeks I've gotten better and worse but I may have finally started to see some small signs of some physical improvements.  Of course in my screwed up brain I'm worried that they are fake.  Which I guess is a better fear that every Vasculitis patient has, that you will never find remission again, which I was battling up until a week ago.

Where and why is this fear metastasizing?  Have I gotten so used to being sick over the last 9 years and feeling bad that I don't want to feel good?  That can't be it right?  I've felt trapped and closed off from the world the last several months.  Nothing is worse than the brain energy to want to do something but having no physical energy to do it.  So that can't be it right?  I'd like to be able to enjoy myself again, go out with some friends, have a drink and not worry about whether my body was killing me if I did.

I've suffered through so many aches, pains, infusions, drugs, etc... all while just wishing I could step out my door and run free.  Exercising has been a complete drag, when you know that you are going to half to fight hard every single day for every minute you are out there.  It's like gearing up for a race effort each and everyday just to get out the door.  Now at the slightest signs of starting to possibly see some signs of improvement, I get scared?  What the hell?  Aren't supposed to be super tough and ready to be healthy so I can get my active lifestyle back?  I'm a man right?  I don't get scared! I can't get stage fright before I even get ready to go on stage.

But I'm not.  I'm human.  I have fears.  I have anxiety.  I have depression.  But I've also been learning.  I've learned what to give my energy to now.  I've learned which thoughts need to be feed, which need to be ignored, and which need to be acknowledged and chewed up and spit out.  This fear of health can't be feed and I know that now.  A younger more immature me would've gotten stuck in the trap of this fear.  Learning to work through these mental hurdles is one of the biggest differences in how I have handled my Vasculitis over the past 9 years.  I was young and dumb at 21.  And 25 and 26 was just old enough and bitter enough to get lost mentally.  Now through lots of trials, errors, conversations, books, and self exploration, I've gotten myself on stable ground.  That's not to say that I still can't lose my footing.  I'm one wrong step away from getting stuck in a trap, but I'm much more careful with where I walk and I feel more secure with each safe step along the way.  But with all the mental stuff aligned, it allows me to be more objective about my physical condition.  While I am not out of the woods yet, it has to mean something that my mind is being allowed to worry that I a small sign of getting better might be fake.  If you believe in the power of the mind/body connection, the thought that my body would be experiencing something that would allow my mind to think this, should say a lot for my new direction.