Tom’s Last Post on “Caring Bridge” 5

Tom Landis

Tom Landis

Dear Friends.  Our dear husband, father, brother and friend went over the final pass early Thursday morning, February 25th, at 6:26 AM.  Because you have followed our blog post for six years, you knew the struggle he was going through.  A few days earlier Tom had announced that he was …”on his last legs”.  [A note from Tom’s wife, Madeline and their family]

Lung Power Now & Then

Last “Caring Bridge” Journal Entry byTomLandis—January 12, 2021


January 8th was another milestone, the sixth anniversary of my being diagnosed with esophageal cancer. I must say, in spite of all the health challenges I have overcome since, I am very grateful for those six years of life. There has been a lot to live for!

Six years ago, although the cancer started in my esophagus, my lungs were also severely tested in getting rid of it. I won’t go into detail about that. Suffice it to say, my lungs have been the source of most of my medical problems ever since. Their degradation has been almost imperceptible at times. I measure it by my lung capacity; that is, how easy or difficult it is to breathe. In late November it reached its nadir, as I communicated to you in my last posting.

Today my lung capacity is still not all that great, but it is significantly better than it was. My doctors theorize about what caused such a shocking downturn, but the results of myriad tests don’t show any clear answer, but their best guess was drug toxicity. They stabilized the downturn with antibiotics and then put me on a 14 day course of steroids (Prednisone). During that time I gradually regained lung function as I will detail below. And, equally important, I’ve gained about 5 pounds! There’s room for improvement there too but we’re happy and grateful. (More thanks to Barb, Lisa, Jane, Karen, Dean, & Mad for cooking, and family sending sweets!) Right now I feel pretty good. In fact, I’m going to take a walk before I continue writing.

I am back. I walked about two miles through neighborhood and forest at a slow enough pace that I avoided suffering. In early December I could not walk a mile without suffering. A few days ago Mad and I walked three miles along the river, with a little uphill thrown in and I felt pretty good. No suffering except when I climbed a short hill. That was right at the end of my steroid course. And… we saw five playful otters!

What do I mean about suffering, you ask? There are lots of definitions, but for an athlete it can be injury, muscle pain or, most of all, aerobic. For me, pushing myself to the limit aerobically is suffering, even though I have done it all my life and get satisfaction from the sense of accomplishment it brings.

This is something all athletes learn. Heavy exertion may not be much fun, at least for me it’s not, but great rewards can be realized, whether they be climbing a high peak, surfing a big wave or setting a world record in swimming.

Some athletes enjoy pushing the limits, enjoy working out, because they get an “endorphin high”. I have never experienced such, so workouts and suffering aerobically are always a drag. For me, the motivation has always been the competition, whether against person or nature, and I have busted my butt to accomplish my competitive goals. Now I can’t really even work out. I am still competing, but against diseases that are out to destroy my lungs. Eventually they will get me, but I’m competing as hard as I can to put off that day as long as possible.

Sixty-five years ago I started to learn about suffering on a boy scout backpack trip. It was my first long trip, seven days in the High Sierra. The first day we climbed Piute Pass, seven miles and about 2,000 feet elevation gain. As my backpacking “career” has progressed through adulthood, I realize that it is one of the easiest passes, but on that day it kicked my 14 year old ass. I suffered getting over and might have just lain down by the trail if older scouts had not been there to goad me on. Our route was ambitious, entailing two more passes much harder than Piute. The younger boys, of which I was one, were so slow that the leaders eventually threw in the towel, shortened the trip and retreated back the way we came.

Not a very auspicious beginning to my backpacking career. Since then I have learned to gain fulfillment from pushing myself physically to get over high passes. I’ve been over Piute Pass many times. I’ve had to goad a lot of kids over many passes, the same way older boy scouts encouraged me. I took particular pride in watching teenage girls who had never really pushed themselves physically morph from whiney wimps to studettes as they learned to push themselves aerobically.  My mantra: “You can make it! All it takes is a little suffering!”

Tom Landis

Tom Landis

Ten years ago Mad and I decided to do a 10 day trip starting over 11,352’ Taboose Pass. I had avoided this pass throughout my adulthood because it is such a bitch. Go figure why I waited until 69 years of age to attempt it. It’s around 10 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation gain, starting at relatively low elevation in Owens Valley and climbs all the way up to the Sierra crest. We were in great shape, having done two 10 day backpack trips right before that. We did the whole thing in one day, grunting our way up, up, up. Slowly, step after step, cursing the 45 pound pack on my back with ten days’ worth of food therein. Talk about heavy breathing as the air got thinner too. In this sort of situation one is always on the aerobic edge, setting a pace that can be maintained hour after hour. I was totally spent by the time we got over the top and found a campsite down a ways on the other side. [Mad: we ate a celebratory piece of Jane’s pan forte on top!] But the exertion, the aerobic suffering was worth it. Never mind that the next day we only hiked two miles in recovery mode. What great memories!!

Why am I telling you all this? It’s because at 68, for my age, I had super human lungs, but now I don’t. It’s because day before yesterday I walked a three mile flat route along the river and by the time I got home I was almost as tired as I had been ten years previously when I topped out Taboose Pass. It’s because I want to put into perspective for you what age and disease can do to diminish one’s power.

Mad and Tom at Thanksgiving 2020

Mad and Tom at Thanksgiving 2020

I don’t want you to think I am complaining; I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. It’s just what is. And I am trying to live my life with gratitude for what I have right now. I have so many great memories about suffering for lofty goals. That they are only memories that I cannot duplicate anymore is okay.

Some of you like it when I open a window into my head, my mental state, when I get off on tangents like this that don’t have a lot to do with the details of my medical challenges. Whatever you may get from my ramblings, I love you all for your caring support and wish you a happy, healthy new year!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 thoughts on “Tom’s Last Post on “Caring Bridge”

  • Elke Asleson

    What an amazing story… I know I take my good health, & even life, itself, for granted. At 69 now, I’m slowly learning that the journey of our life is exactly what we make it. .mentally & physically..
    Tom made it to a level of life I can only hope to attain a portion thereof.. it has been very timely to share how quickly things can change. Thank you for the inspiration to keep going, in your honor, Tom.. OMS is a family, & we will all miss you terribly.

  • Peggy Whiter

    I am very touched by this wonderful rambling, which, so often when coming from Tom, is incredibly helpful. My last experience like this with him was at a National swim meet, a few minutes before the 200 free, one of his many specialties. He talked about how he paces the 200, how he feels on each 50. I thought about what he said, trying to integrate his suggestioons. I swam the best 200 free of my life and made a National top 10! What a special person. All of us are special in our own way, but Tom was truly exceptional in so many ways, and spending time with him was always so comforting.

  • Marci Shindel

    An incredible human… his story is hard to read as it puts mortality in spite of fitness in the spotlight. I only saw Tom at meets and remember his face and the fact that I was shocked at what age group he swam in because he looked so much younger than the heat sheets said he was; and that he was still so fast… Amazing legacy, and wishing comfort to his family and those who knew him better. Appreciate the sharing of his story.

  • Eric Johnson

    It was September, 1969. I turned out for the Water Polo team at Fountain Valley High School on the very first day. The 2:30 announcements said, “any boy that wants to be in water polo please see Mr. Bray at the pool immediately after the last Period.” Mr. Bray (Raymond Bray) had been my Huntington Beach Junior Lifeguard Instructor since 1965. Tom Landis was at the pool also but was the Varsity Coach. Bray, being his first year as a teacher, was the Frosh-Soph and Junior Varsity coach leaving Tom for the Varsity coaching position. I had Tom for a social studies class as a freshman. He was larger than life. He entertained his classes with non-stop hair-raising stories of swimming in shark cages in Australia. His big smile and Adonis looks were mesmerizing. During the season, he was constantly cheering on the younger teams with his booming voice. By the time I was a junior, he had taken the assistant role with Mr. Bray now at the helm for all the teams.
    I really miss him and his amazing aura of positivity, huge smile, and the constant praising the results of our meager academic and physical activities. I deeply regret not reaching out to him when I had the chance.
    God Bless you Tom.