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As they wheeled me into surgery, I thought to myself “If this is the end it has been pretty amazing.” This is a photo my brother Daniel took of me just after they wheeled me out of the recovery room and back into my little cubby hole where Amy and Daniel were hanging out. While I don’t remember any of this, probably due to being under the influence of Versed (a truly amazing drug) at least I had the right attitude in response to Daniel saying “take that kidney stone!”
I had an 8mm kidney stone removed using Laser Stone Surgery using Flexible Pyeloscopy on Friday 11/16. While not a major surgery, I still went under general anesthesia for two hours for the first time as an adult. Amy describes this as “they take you to death’s door, open it a crack, let you peer in for a while, and then pull you back and close it.” I probably didn’t need her to tell me that description prior to the surgery.
On Sunday 11/18 I went to Cabo San Lucas for a two week vacation which included my 47th birthday. I don’t remember much of the first week – I was stoned on Vicodin and in a happy, warm, cuddly, very constipated, fields of golden retriever puppy haze. I stopped taking Vicodin on Thursday 11/22 but it still took a few more days to start feeling normal. I dropped off the grid entirely for the week of 11/8 but resurfaced to do some email and writing the week of 11/25. By 12/1 (my 47th birthday) I felt about 90% and was very relieved to have the surgery, and the prior three months behind me.
This period started off on 9/5 in Kobarid, Solvenia with a bike accident. I broke a tooth, got some stitches, and badly bruised my ribs. It was entirely my fault and my partner Ryan McIntyre, who I crashed into, saved me from much more severe damage. I then proceeded to spend the next three weeks on the road, totaling a month away from home. That was mistake #1, as I underestimated how tired I’d get from it. Mistake #2 was underestimating the damage from the bike accident. I ended up running the Detroit Marathon on 10/21 and did fine, but I was completely wiped out physically by the end of October. I continued to spend a lot of time in October and November on the road and found myself exhausted and depressed by the end of it. And then our dog Kenai died.
Oh – and Amy and I wrote the bulk of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur during this time period (it’s done – we submitted the final page proofs over the weekend.) I recognize the irony of completely burning myself out during the writing of this book – fortunately we talk about this challenge plenty in the book and we communicated extraordinarily well as a couple during this time frame about what was going on. Finally, I do have a full time job and spent the bulk of my time working on that, so all of this other stuff was the extracurricular activity that filled in the cracks around the 60+ hours a week of VC work I was doing during this time.
I had a lot of time to reflect on this last week after I came out of my Vicodin-induced haze. At 47, I realize, more than ever, my mortality. I believe my kidney stone and depression were linked to the way I treated myself physically over the 90 days after my bike accident. While the kidney stone might not have been directly linked to the accident, the culmination of it, the surgery, and my depression was a clear signal to me that I overdid it this time around.
I’m back in Boulder and very refreshed. I’m also determined to learn from this experience. Amy and I spent a lot of time last week talking about changing the tempo on some things, including adding in some new daily habits like yoga that prioritize higher than other things. And I’ve accepted that part of my travel pacing has to include being home over the weekends to so I can recharge my extrovert.
Thanks everyone who gave me well-wishes and support the past few weeks. It means a lot to me. I leave you with the sunrise from Cabo that I saw each morning during the past two weeks.
If you’ve been following along at home, you know I’ve had a tough fall. It started with a bike crash in Slovenia, followed by a few weeks in New York where I physically felt awful. Fortunately I was with Amy for her birthday (we celebrate her birthday for most of September), but I underestimated how long it would take me to recover. I ended the three week trip in San Francisco for my mom‘s 70th birthday, which was wonderful until I got a terrible stomach virus on Sunday morning. I can’t remember the last time I threw up – and as I somehow managed to get home that day, I’m sure I looked like warmed over shit. After a week at home I hit the road again around the release of Startup Communities and spent almost all of October on the road, reaching Boise, Oklahoma City, Chicago, Des Moines, San Francisco, Seattle, Detroit, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Lexington, and Louisville. While I had a great time, ran a marathon in Detroit in the middle of it, and met a lot of awesome people, I totally shredded myself.
I turn 47 in a few weeks. I’m extraordinary lucky to be married to an amazing woman for 22 years. We’ve figured out how to have an awesome relationship in the context of an entrepreneurial life, and we are wrapping up a book on it that will be out in January. I have extremely meaningful work with three partners who are my best friends. I get to work with incredible companies and entrepreneurs every day. And I get to define how I spend my time.
But I’m totally and completely fried. And I did it to myself. I already spend 60+ hours a week working with the companies I’m an investor in. So – all of the stuff I’m doing around Startup Communities is extracurricular activity. Writing Startup Life, while super important to me, is an extra curricular activity. Travelling all over the place is part of my work, and I have a lot of fun doing it, but plenty of the places I’m going are extracurricular activities. I feel like I’m getting all of my primary work done, but I’m neglecting one big thing in the mix – me.
I’ve found myself in a similar position every year. This is nothing new for those close to me – I run extremely hot and often up to the edge of my capacity. I keep adding stuff on top with some fantasy that my capacity for new stuff is unlimited. There is so much I want to do and I just keep going after it. I have a good internal algorithm for making sure I get all the “urgent / important” stuff done and I’m very aware of what work to prioritize over other things. When I start reaching my capacity, I focus more on the important stuff – both urgent and non-urgent, and insert a tighter hierarchy around my work, making sure my partners and the companies I’m an investor in are at the top of the stack.
But I neglect me. And that’s what has happened again this year. My extrovert is completely used up. While I’ve got a few more commitments between now and the end of 2012, I’m resetting my priorities for the balance of the year and focusing internally, on me, my health, my physical self, Amy, my partners, the companies I’m an investor in, and the writing I want to do.
I’ve been through this before – well – about once a year for the past 25+ years, so I know how to deal with it when it happens, although I clearly don’t know how to prevent it from happening. Maybe I’ll figure that out in my 48th year on the planet.
Our beloved dog Kenai died Wednesday at 10:20 am. He was at our house in Eldorado Springs with Amy and our other dog Brooks. It was sudden and unexpected – he went quickly and painlessly. He was 12.
My last moment with him was the day before when I left the house to go to the office. I had my bags with me as I was heading out for an overnight trip to Oklahoma City. He always followed me to the door whenever I left town (he knew what my Filson bag meant). This time he was lying on his dog bed near the door downstairs. He looked up at me with one eye – in that magical way he sort of doggie-winked at me all the time – and I patted him on the head as I walked by and said “goodbye old man – see you soon.”
Kenai was a magnificent dog. 110 pounds. Beautiful. Extremely well tempered. He loved to be with us and he loved to run wild in both Eldorado Springs and Keystone. We’d let him out and he’d run off for 30 minutes, or an hour, or sometimes a few hours. He’d always come back, sometimes with a deer bone and a big smile, and demand his treat with his signature “rrrr-rrrr-rrrr” bark. It made me laugh every time – he knew what he wanted and damnit he was going to get it.
Until a few years ago we regularly went to the Reservoir. This was one of my standard short runs when I was home and a walk that Amy and I often do together. Kenai has this drill mastered – he’d cover about twice as much distance as us as he’d jog ahead 100 yards, turn around and come back to us, and then jog ahead again. When we got to the Reservoir, he’d always be in it already, going for a swim, chasing the ducks which he never caught, and just enjoying being a dog alive in the wilderness.
Like me, he was an excellent sleeper. I remember waking up late on many Saturday and Sunday mornings with him still asleep, often where Amy used to be in the bed. On weekend days after I’d worn myself out from the week, he’d just hang around close to me, doing nothing but keeping me company.
When we got Brooks, Kenai was six. This was the same age his older brother Denali was when we got him. There was something beautiful about the symmetry of this and, after a short adjustment from being the young dog to the old dog, Kenai played his role as older brother perfectly. He taught Brooks how to run around on our land, chase deer, elk, and squirrels, bark at the occasional bear, sleep through pretty much anything, and give us golden retriever eyes in an effort to get just one more treat. They played rough with each other – just up to the edge of too much – and Kenai would always back off when he knew it was getting out of hand. He loved Brooks, just like he loved Denali, just like we loved him.
Kenai – you were an amazing companion. I didn’t think I could love a dog as much as I loved you. I’ll miss you dearly. Thank you for making my life a better one. Enjoy the giant treat yard in the sky.
It’s never is ok to have a brain fog slowly lift and realize you are bleeding all over yourself. It’s a calm moment when you are in that state where it takes another five seconds to realize what just happened. No pain, no panic, but no understanding. Just observation. “Something just happened. I’m bleeding. What happened? Where am I?” followed by “Oh shit I just had a nasty bike crash.” A terminator style system check begins to ascertain damage when all hell breaks loose.
In my case it was a very controlled chaos. One of our guides – Marko – was whatever the Czech version of an EMT is. By the time I realized who I was and where I was, he was in my face, telling me not to move, stabilizing my head as he directed someone else to untangle the bikes from me. As the fog lifted, I felt ok, could talk, and he realized my jaw wasn’t broken. He commanded me not to move yet as he emptied his emergency kit. He looked in my eyes and made sure they responded. He asked me a few questions which I presume I answered correctly. He made me move my jaw around more. He did a scan of the rest of my body, especially my legs, and then started taping up my still bleeding chin.
By this point the fog had completely cleared and I knew what had happened. I was on vacation for a week in Slovenia celebrating my partner Seth’s 40th birthday. Seth is a huge cyclist so his wife Greeley gave him a wonderful present of a week bike trip with seven of his cycling buddies and his three partners. We were on day four of an outstanding life experience together.
Until this summer I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was in high school other than a few random times on vacations. I’d never done any serious cycling and had completely missed the cycling craze of the last decade. Six months ago Seth helped me buy a bike – I’ve been mixing it in all summer with my marathon training, discovered Strava, learned how to shift gears properly, had started to learn what gear I should be in, experienced several back to back 30 mile training rides, and started to learn about how doping worked since that seems to be the central theme of many cycling conversations right after detailed descriptions of accidents.
The rides in Slovenia were awesome. The first day was 70 km – mostly flat. I took the second day off and then had another great 70 km day – by this point I was in a groove. On day 4 we had a huge 20km 2500 climb and descent, so I decided to run the hill which ended up being just about a half marathon. I started before the cyclists and finished 15 minutes before they did.
The first crash happened about 1 km from where I was waiting. Seth got a flat tire on a steep downhill and bit it immediately. He was ok beyond bruised hip and severe road rash – he shook it off and at this point I rejoined the group and got on my bike. I started off tentatively and was in the back of the pack as everyone else took off.
In hindsight there was no way I should have gotten on the bike. The next 1.5 km was a steep downhill and as I picked up speed to 40 km / hour I thought to myself something like “wheee this is fun” as I caught up with everyone in front of me. I then noticed a bridge coming up that corresponded with a sharp left turn. At this point, I have very little recollection of what happened. I’m sure I started braking but I knew I was going too fast. My partner Ryan was directly in front of me and I was coming up on him fast – I remember him saying, in a very calm, rational voice, “what are you doing?” The next thing I remember was blood dripping from my chin.
Those that observed what happened tell me that Ryan let out a blood curdling scream, I crashed into him as I was trying to make the turn, my bike got tangled up in his, and I went over the handlebars. The visor on my bike helmet was broken, so I clearly landed on my head – probably first since my chin only needed four stitches and my jaw wasn’t broken, although a molar was.
Thankfully Ryan was fine. He broke my fall and ended up with a few scrapes but other than being shaken up by his partner attempting to mate bicycles, he was ok. I had a daydream the next day about the two of us going over the side of the bridge tangled up together which just reinforced how glad I was that I hadn’t caused him to be injured.
Marko and Ron – the leader of our tour were awesome. Marko got me cleaned up and Ron tossed me in the van and took me to a local clinic in the next town (we were several hours away from a major hospital.) The doctor saw me in 30 minutes and stitched up my face in five, charged me 52 euros, and sent us on our way. We went to our hotel where I found out there was a dentist who had an office behind the hotel. Remember – this is a tiny little town in Slovenia (Kobarid). The dentist was amazing – he had better equipment than I’ve ever seen in the US, used a laser scanner to reconstruct my tooth, printed a new tooth on a milling machine in a back room, and within an hour sent me on my way with a new tooth for a mere 250 euros. From now on, I’m doing all my elective dental work in Kobarid.
All of that was on Thursday. I’m back in NY where Amy and I are planted for the next ten days. Other than stitches, a pair of nasty road rash cuts, and bruised ribs, I’m fine. I’ll be back on the bike again – I was having a lot of fun until suddenly I wasn’t, but the memory of that moment will fade with the scars. I guess I’ll be growing that beard I’ve been avoiding for a while.
I was going to write something about a new book I’ve just published but I woke up this morning and that felt trivial so I’m going to save it for next week. Instead, I’m going to talk about my day yesterday.
My long time friend (dating back to the mid-1990′s) Andy Sack has testicular cancer. Before I get into things, he’s in the middle of chemo, has a 95%+ cure rate, is open and public about what he’s going through, and has an incredibly positive attitude.
I’ve tried to call or write Andy every day since his diagnosis. I’ve probably done it 80% of the time (I know I’ve missed a few days.) Every day at 5pm my iPhone gives me a reminder to “call Andy Sack.” Most of the time I get his voice mail and leave a message, other times we talk for a few minutes. While I was off the grid last week in Hawaii I sent him a postcard every day. Either way, I get a chance to tell him that I’m thinking of him and give him some additional energy from out in the universe, wherever I am. But this was the first time I’ve been able to get to Seattle to spend time with him.
I took the early flight from Denver to Seattle and we met up at the Kinect Accelerator where the program has just started. We found a room to just sit and talk for about 45 minutes. After a hug and a heart felt welcome, we started talking about how things were going. Our first 15 minutes were filled with lots of tears and emotion as I gave Andy a gift from a few of his friends including me and Amy and we connected physically for the first time since he was diagnosed.
I was curious about the experience he was having and he was very open about chemo, how it impacted him, and what the process was. We talked some about the dynamic of a loved one being sick or hurt since Amy’s had a broken arm for the past few weeks. While the broken arm isn’t in the same category as cancer, it has changed the way I’ve thought about caregiving as it’s the first time I’ve had to be – in Amy’s words “her man servant” – in our relationship. Amy called during this time and when the Imperial March (Amy’s personal ringtone) started playing on my iPhone Andy laughed a good belly laugh. I put Amy on speaker, the three of us had a nice talk, and then we wrapped up and had a TechStars related meeting.
We went to lunch with David Cohen, the CEO of TechStars. We talked about work, but we also talked about life. Andy was total present – he was having a good day physically and emotionally – and it was great to be around. After lunch David got in an Uber and headed to the airport to go back to Boulder; Andy and I walked around the corner to his office and BigDoor’s office (he’s on the board of BigDoor with me, their office is on the first floor, his is on the second.) I said hello to the BigDoor folks, hung out for a while and caught up on email while Andy had a meeting upstairs, and then he drove me to my hotel and we said goodbye for the day.
I had a few more meetings and then ended back up at the Kinect Accelerator for the Mentor Mixer. The program started on Monday and this was the first meeting of all the mentors. I gave a talk about how to be an effective mentor during the introduction to the program and afterward noticed Andy in the back of the room. This was a nice surprise as I didn’t expect to see him again on this trip. We hung out at the mixer a little and then took off to go have another meal together – this time alone. We talked about a few experiences in the distant past and I vividly remembered a dinner in Brookline in the 1990′s with Andy, Alexa (his wife), and Amy. I couldn’t remember the restaurant, but I had the visualization of the entire experience in my head and shared it with him (he remembered it also). We talked more about a wide range of things – some business, some personal – and just enjoyed being together.
I got more than my fair share of his time yesterday. And it was awesome. As I was laying bed at 11pm drifting off to sleep I thought of him some more, some of the ups and downs we’d had together, and how much I treasured him as a friend.
We’ve been through lots of things together. One of the first things he said to me when he saw me was “your support of me through this period eliminated any fears I had lingering about our relationship in the context of any money that I’ve lost for you.” I’ve invested in a number of things that Andy has done dating back to his first company (Abuzz, which was a success and acquired by the NY Times for about a 4.5x of my investment.) But we’ve also had lots of things not work (Bodyshop.com – 0.5x, Judy’s Book – 0.25x.) However, I never, ever have worried about it – my willingness to keep trying and working with great people trumps the specific returns of any individual transaction. And more importantly, my personal friendship and loyalty is built on trust and a long term arc of honesty, not transactional results. While we’ve both screwed up plenty of things along the way and had our share of disagreements, we always resolve them and move forward. I’ve told Andy this several times in the past, but when you face mortality you have a chance to really understand (and express) this.
I wore my Fuck Cancer shirt all day. Several people gave me positive comments on it and one stood out. Near the end of the day, a woman who I didn’t know said “great shirt.” She looked at me with acknowledgement and a real spark of connection occurred. I realized, at that moment, that cancer is a disease that defines many people at a profoundly deep level, especially when they survive it.
On Saturday I’m running a 50 mile race in Sacramento. I’ve been thinking about this all week as I try to get my mind into it. It’s been hard to get real focus on it because I’ve had a busy week and I know that Friday will be my transition day. But as I sit here, the 50 mile run doesn’t seem that hard. Sure – it’ll be a physical and emotional challenge, but it’s not surgery, a 64 day chemo regimen, and the emotional challenge of “beating cancer.”
Life is short. And uncertain. Live it every moment. Andy – thanks for being you and letting me be part of your life.