A detour on the road to Paris-Brest-Paris

by Raymond Parker on August 4, 2011

in Autobiography, Cycling, Health, Randonneuring

L-R: Nigel Philcox, Carol Hinde, Stephen Hinde

(click to enlarge)

In 1995, I resumed riding with local Vancouver Island randonneurs and organized an early spring training ride that got me branded a sadist.

That only served to embolden my ambitions. The next edition of Paris-Brest-Paris was just months away.

Not that I had the money to fund such an expedition; I’d racked up Visa bills on my sub-arctic trek. I hopefully bought lottery tickets and ingratiated myself with wealthy benefactors.

My dream soon took a back seat to a painful condition that settled into my right buttock and lower back, turning me into a near-invalid over the next two years.

In 1998, I finally got a referral to the University of British Columbia Sports Medicine Clinic, in Vancouver.

Now I was going to get to the bottom of this pain in the ass … before I turned, irrevocably, into the Michelin Man.

The doctors there, all svelte and sinewy, put me through a battery of tests, running electric currents through, and sticking pins into, my quadriceps, passing me through a scanner whole, eying my gut, I imagined, disapprovingly.

Yes, there seemed to be a problem: probably a trapped nerve, the experts agreed.

Over the next year, I occasionally hobbled over to watch my long-time friend and mountaineering buddy Tom Hocking prepare for PBP 1999.

And that’s how it went for another 4 years. I limped around; tried to sleep on my left side, awaking often to drink tea, alone in my misery. I rode my bike to the store. I moped.

In 2003, the next edition of PBP arrived and went. I was in no shape to suppose I could enter anyway. In fact, that spring, I was diagnosed with cancer.

I’d been feeling under the weather all winter. A couple Gulf Island day tours in the spring had felt like alpine traverses. I put it down to my beer gut and a virus. After all, I had a large swollen gland on the right side of my neck.

You know that public service TV ad, where the doctor says, “I’m sorry, you have cancer,” then the sound goes all muffled? That’s exactly what it’s like; after the “C” word, you don’t hear much more.

The rest of 2003 unfolded in a blur of doctor’s offices, hospital corridors and the sci-fi radiation machine that saved my life, if not the “normal” functions of the organism known as Raymond Parker.

Beam me up!

(click to enlarge)

I survived the tumor on my right tonsil, and the secondary metastasis in associated lymph nodes. I exited treatment weighing under 100lbs. Thank goodness, I started with that extra weight that embarrassed me in front of the athletes at UBC!

The “treatment,” intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), was another matter. “You’ll find a new ‘normal’,” a kind radiation oncologist assured.

In early 2004, still under the cloud of “remission,” I decided I had nothing to lose. I wanted a change of cities. My wife, without whom I might have taken an overdose during the brutal radiation treatment, accented and we sold up in a matter of days.

In our new home, I built my strength first on renovations, then on short bicycle rides.

There was still the matter of the pain in my hip that became excruciating after more than about 10 kilometres in the saddle. There had to be an answer.

I made an appointment with a surgeon and physiologist.

Steve Martin lay me down on his examination table and, twisting my legs into pretzel- shapes, asked for feedback.

“Owwww!” I replied.

Martin walked over to a bookcase and returned with a thick medical encyclopaedia. He opened the tome on his desk, stabbing his forefinger at a coloured illustration.

“See that?” he said. “That’s your problem.”

The drawing of a pear-shaped muscle, running from the sacrum, under the glutes to the greater trochanter—the top of the femur—represented the culprit.

A spasmed and scarred piriformis was trapping the sciatic nerve, a condition commonly referred to as “sciatica.”

There was a simple though demanding answer to piriformis syndrome, as my problem was properly called: religious stretching. I became a devotee, prostrating myself several times a day in positions prescribed by my physiotherapy guru.

I spent the winter slowly lengthening my right piriformis and my bicycle forays. I bought a good lighting system, delighting in stary night rides along Saanich’s Lochside Trail.

Perhaps there was life after cancer.

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