Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Marathon Mamas

A while back, my sister-in-law Julie contacted me and shared her experience of running her first half-marathon with me.  I cried reading the email; I was just so proud of her!!!  She expressed surprise at what a significant emotional event it was for her when she crossed the finish line.  For those of us that have run one or two or a dozen long-distance races, that feeling is all too familiar.  While any race can be a significant emotional event, that first “BIG” race is a doozy.

Julie's Marathon Mama Medal
Julie had been watching my cancer adventure from afar and expressed her admiration that I’d come through it so well.  She also wanted to know if I’d like to run a race with her someday.  I was so touched that she reached out to me and excited at the opportunity to run a race with her.  “Of course!” I emailed back.  I also suggested that we ask my other two sister-in-laws to join us to make it a family affair.  Julie, Jennifer, nor Becky are crazy runners like Joe and I are crazy runners. Still, I thought they just might join in the fun.

At the family Easter get-together, Julie again told the story of how awesome her first half-marathon was and invited Becky and Jennifer to join us.  After a time, Jennifer politely declined.  Becky, however, was on-board.  We decided to do the same race Julie had run the year before – the Lady Speed Stick Women’s Half-Marathon in Phoenix.  Whoo hoo!!!  Let the good times roll!

Initially, I thought it would be really fun to run all together, but Joe quickly schooled me and I had to face the facts.  Julie and Becky run much slower than I do (sorry, girls).  If I ran with either of them for the entire race, I’d risk injury to myself.  Okay.  When you say it like that, Coach Joe…
I'm ALIVE... and running!

The months passed and I continued my ridiculous race schedule.  Yes, I said ridiculous.  I can say that now, but at the time, I was so gung ho to be getting back up to speed after a year of just trudging along while I was going through treatment, I didn’t care.  Four half-marathons, one full marathon, numerous 5Ks, four sprint tris and one half-Ironman in eight months is a bit much, and yes, you can call me crazy.  But… I have Dr. Frankenstein’s voice running through my head… “She’s ALIVE!”  Ridiculous yes, but important for my psyche.

I had two big fitness goals this year: 
  1.      To complete a half-Ironman in under six hours – didn’t happen (the race report is still coming)
  2.      To complete a sub-two hour half-marathon.

Glad to be finished, but no PR 
I came sooo close to achieving goal #2 at the Albany Half-Marathon.  My time was 2:01 and change.  My downfall was not the rain, thunder and lightning or the tornado sirens going off.  Nope.  Au contraire.  I think those conditions actually made me run faster as I’m sure most people would have.  What slowed me waaaay down was that I had an asthma attack at about mile 9.  Grrrr!  Ah well, like the Farmers’ Insurance commercials – “Moving on…”

Since the WHM was my last chance to achieve my running goal this year, it was game on!  I came to the realization that I needed to ramp up my training and, ugh, incorporate the dreaded interval runs.  I formally and finally acknowledged that I was no longer a “novice” runner.  I was truly and officially an “intermediate” runner.  I know.  I know.  To me, “intermediate” runners are much faster than I am.  I forget that most of the people I compare myself to are weirdo athletes like myself.  Anyhoo, I backed off on my swimming and my biking a bit to focus on running.  I was ready, but the proof would be in the running on race day.

Meanwhile, in AZ, Julie and Becky were getting ready for the race as well.  Bless those two girls for running in the crazy AZ summer heat.  It is a dry heat and all, but it’s still HOT!!!  They were both doing fine until Julie ended up needing knee surgery in July.  Major bummer!   Julie felt so badly when she told me that she’d only be doing the 5K; that she wasn’t prepared for the half.  While a small part of me was disappointed, I was relieved that she was able to still run and that, despite the distance, we’d still be out on the course together.  It’s about the journey, not just about the race.  Seriously, Jules! :0)

The first Friday this month, Joe happily sent me on my way to AZ and, BONUS, got me an additional ticket to stop off in Las Vegas for a few days after the race to see one of my BFFs – Carolyn and her crazy busy family.  Swweeeeet!  I’m so lucky that I’ve got a hubby that gets racing like I do and understands the importance of “girl-time”.

Ah, the stories these lovely ladies could tell...
Before getting together with family, I HAD to see my old work buddies.  We had a couple of snafus getting together and not everyone was able to stay the entire time, but GOSH was it wonderful to see these ladies who have been in my life for so very many years.  These are the gals that were there when I was just starting my career and my adult life.  They have witnessed many of my crazy life’s ups and downs and not ratted me out.  For that, I love them dearly, and, that’s all I’m gonna say about that… ;0)

Kylie, Will and Aunt Genny 
There are certain places where I always feel at home.  Becky’s house is one of them.  Despite one furry little face that was sadly missing, it was comforting to be back at Casa de Drost.  The kids haven’t seen me in quite a while (I was bald the last time Will spent time with me), but neither skipped a beat.  Whenever I walked out of the room, one or both would immediately ask Becky or Matt, “Where’s Aunt Gen?!”  On the second day of my visit, Kylie started calling me “Aunt Genny.”  Huh!!!??  Where they pulled that one out of, I have no idea!  Oh well.  If it sticks, it sticks.  Niece and nephew prerogative, I guess.

Saturday morning, Becky had to work so I kept myself busy until it was time to pick her up and hit the expo and lunch with Julie and Jennifer.  While I am not uber-religious, in times of great stress, I find comfort in going to church and taking a few minutes to quietly reflect on life, to center, to meditate, to pray.  I prefer to go between Masses, when the church is quiet, so quiet that I can hear the outside world passing me by.  Sitting in the sanctuary was, even for a few minutes, what I needed.  It was warm outside and the doors were all thrown open so that you could hear the fountains bubbling and gurgling outside in the courtyard.  Peaceful.

Candles at church - the way I remember them
I really don’t remember when I myself started lighting candles, but it’s something that we Catholics do for those that are sick, in need or who have died.  My friend Yaz’s husband, Alex, died from leukemia a few weeks ago and our friend Melody passed away from ovarian cancer a couple of months ago.  Their deaths still saddened me and I felt compelled to light a couple of candles in their honor.  I looked around for the candles and couldn’t find them in the sanctuary.  “Ah,” I thought, “They’re in the chapel.”  Sure enough, there they were, but when I tried to find the wooden skewers that one typically uses to light the candles, I was baffled.  There were none, only little buttons in front of each “candle”. 

I’m sorry; I understand the need for safety and reducing the risk of a fire hazard, but pushing that little button instead of watching the wick ignite and then snuffing the skewer out in the sand, just didn’t do it for me.  Ask anyone that knows me – I’m a stickler for TRADITION!  My dad used to sing the song “Tradition!” from Fiddler on the Roof to me.  I miss the smell of the candles burning.  I miss the movement of the flames, the way the light danced on the colored glass votives that they were carefully placed in.  I could go on and on. 

As I pulled out of the church parking lot, I realized that my visit did what I had hoped it would – it centered me, calmed me, revitalized me, and eased some of the ache in my heart.  Exercise does the same thing.  To me, the great outdoors is God’s original church.  Since I was in taper-mode and couldn’t go out for a long run, I had my chat with God and myself in the manmade representation of God’s church. 

Tiff, Jen, Jules, me and Becky after lunch and race expo
The expo and late lunch afterwards were quite the raucous affairs.  In addition to Becky, Julie and Jennifer, we were joined by Jennifer’s lovely niece Tiffany.  Bobby, the SPI Belt vendor at the expo, will forever remember me as the “330 Gal” because of our no-holds barred discussion of my breast reconstruction implants in front of his stall.  I’ve met him before and he’s a pretty cool guy, but I think he got more than he bargained for when he listened in. :0)

The next morning dawned clear and cool.  Temps were predicted to be in the 80s by the afternoon, so Becky and I donned our Athleta tank tops and shorts (well a running skirt for her, but same difference) and jumped in the car.  Matt and the kiddos would come down later to hopefully get some snaps of us as we crossed the finish line.  Julie was meeting us at the finish line after her race.

Giddy with pre-race excitement
We got a primo parking spot at the race start and then… <cue angelic trumpeting>, we got to be the first ones to use the port-a-potties.  This is a HUGE deal!  I literally got to rip the wrapper off of the tp.  I was giddy with excitement!  For those of you that don’t race or are not athletic supporters, port-a-potties get a bit “ripe” rather quickly before races.  Race nerves and all, if you catch my drift…

Before we knew it, it was time to get in our respective corrals.  Since I put my estimated time at less than two hours, I was in the first corral (yes, it really is like a corral that they put animals in to keep them contained).  Becky was four corrals back.  I hugged her hard, said something encouraging and then she was gone in a sea of other runners.  The National Anthem played, I teared up like I always do, I said a little prayer for us and then, we were off! 

I ran this race for Melody and Alex
Before his Ironman races, Joe always has me write inspiring messages on his arms to help him when the going gets tough.  That morning I put two names on my arms – Melody and Alex.  I was running this race for them – because they can’t anymore.  I ran the first two miles for them.  Every subsequent mile, I ran for someone.  It’s something that I started doing a while back.  It makes the race more meaningful for me and it helps me stay on-task and motivated.  That morning, I ran for the people that helped me through my cancer adventure.  I ran for those that are still going through their own adventures.  I ran for the ones I love - my friends and family.  It helped the miles go by, one by one.  Usually, the last four miles I run for the kids and Joe.  This race though, I ran the very last mile was for Yaz, Lexi, Maddy Rose, Bella and JT five people whose lives will never be the same.  It was my tribute to them and their beloveds.  

Almost done!
I am terrible at pacing, but I have a function on my Garmin that allows it to “remind me” if I’m going too slow to meet my goal pace.  Thank goodness.  I managed to keep myself on pace to the point of when I hit the last four miles; I knew I could make it in under two hours.  Since I only wanted to go sub-two hours, I eased up a bit.  On the last out and back, as I was heading into the last half-mile, I looked in earnest for Becky heading out on the last four miles.  Suddenly, there she was - cruising along with a smile on her face!  I ran across the boulevard and joyfully hugged her and gave her some encouragement.  I KNEW that she would finish at that point!!! 

I crossed back to my side of the course and picked up the pace.  I could hear the noise of the finish line.  I focused and ran a little harder.  I never saw Matt or the kids.  I never saw my brother-in-law Michael or my nephew Nathan as they cheered me in.   As Matt said, I had the 100-yard stare as I came into the finish.  But, I did it!  Official time: 1:59:29.   While I was pleased with my accomplishment, I was more focused on getting back out onto the course to cheer Becky on.

Thanks, Matt for such an awesome finish line pic!  Wish
I could have run like this for the entire race!!
Julie and I - all smiles
Well-deserved medal for a job
Julie and I hugged and laughed and talked and hugged and laughed some more at the finish line!  I was so stoked that we were there together!  After a few leg cramps and some water, we headed back out onto the course to find Becky and run/walk her in.  She finished in just over three hours and I couldn’t be prouder of her!!!!!  I just wish Joe could have been there to see her cross the finish line!  To go from not-really-a-runner to marathon mama in just over six months is so incredible!  Will she run another half marathon?  I don’t know, but NO ONE can ever take that accomplishment away from her!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to my sister-in-law Julie for suggesting this!!!!!  What a wonderful experience to have shared with both of you! :0)
Marathon Mamas!!!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Two Years and Counting...

Happy Cancerversary to ME!

Two years ago today, I spent the majority of my day sacked out on the couch or in my bed, slowly trying to climb out of the post-surgical fog that I was in, but mostly letting the world do its own thing.  I had just gotten home from the hospital the day before after having my bilateral mastectomies and removal of my lymph nodes on the 27th of October. 

Trying to nap between x-rays and surgery.  
Oddly, I remember most of what happened on that day, well, the parts where I was conscious anyway.  I remember those darn shots of radioactive dye into the left side of my chest – four in number.  The third hurt the worst, even with Valium on board!  I remember waiting and waiting to get x-rays and then finally being taken back to surgery.  Joe, Mom and Dad were there.  Friends also stopped by and called.  I remember chatting with the anesthesiologist about my bleeding issues and then moving myself from the gurney to the O.R. table.  I remember waking up in recovery, being in pain and alarms going off because I was breathing too shallowly and because my heart rate was too low.  Everything seemed so loud and so bright. 

Late in the afternoon, I remember being wheeled into my room and “Friends” being on the television.  I remember looking over at an anxious Joe and saying, in my best Joey voice, “How you doin’?”  The nurse cracked up!  Joe only cracked a smile. 

The kids checking out my drain lines and all my other gear.
Josie's face speaks volumes of what they all were thinking.
Mom and Dad brought the kids to see me in the hospital that night.  Their smiles didn’t reach their eyes as they walked into the room.  They were not used to seeing their mom hooked up to all kinds of machines and lying in bed.  I was in pain, pale, and probably a little bit loopy.  They did think seeing my pretty turquoise blue pee was cool (a side effect of the radioactive dye).  The night was long and uncomfortable.  My nurse’s name was John. 

Everyone (two & four-legged) was happy to have me home.
The day I came home from the hospital was really a blur.  I remember Dr. C coming to see me and the nurse taking off my bandages so I could see my scars.  The scars didn’t freak me out, but the drains sure did.  They were stitched to my skin – ewww.  I remember getting discharged from the hospital and getting creamsicle slush from Sonic on the way home. 

The house was quiet when we got there.  I vividly remember the look of relief on Joe’s face once he got me situated on the couch, him taking me into his arms and weeping with relief.  I didn’t realize until that moment just how scared he’d been of me going under the knife, worrying if the doctors would be able to keep me from bleeding too much. 

I don’t remember what happened after that, other than the kids coming home from school.  I guess the pain meds kicked in and my adrenalin pooped out.  According to Michelle and Joe, I guess I spent most of that day asleep in bed. 

I thought it would be hilarious to
go as a cow for Halloween.  My costume had udders but I didn't anymore.
I spent the next few days sleeping, recovering and getting back into the daily routine as much as I could.  I had to finish Joe’s costume, we had to carve pumpkins, go to soccer games and go trick-or-treating.   I started walking around the neighborhood two days after surgery.  Joe busted me five days post-op swiftly walking on the treadmill, my drains pinned to my shirt.  It’s hard to keep this chick down!

Surfing in O'ahu w/Becky and Matt
on Becky's b-day.
Last year, we celebrated my one-year “cancerversary” early with our trip to Hawaii, watching Joe compete in the Ironman World Championships with about twenty family and friends.  It was quite a memorable way to celebrate quite a tumultuous year!

My beloved boy
On the actual day of my first cancerversary, I had an appointment with Dr. C.  We talked about how much had transpired in a year, how much I’d overcome.  Mainly that day, I remember grieving the loss of my beloved Sneakers who died the day before.  I sincerely believe he hung in there to see me to that day, and for that, I’m so incredibly thankful for his giving, sweet soul.  Not a day goes by that I don't think about and miss my furry boy. :0(

This year, I came home from running errands on Friday to find a pretty bouquet of flowers sitting on the counter.  I assumed they were a bit of an apology from Joe since he and I had been having a bit of a tiff a few days earlier.  I did that is, until I read the card.  Somehow, my cancerversary had completely slipped my mind, but not Joe’s.  He obviously still doesn’t take my good health for granted.

Lynn & I ran the Half-Marathon
to Finish Breast Cancer on a
COLD February day in Jacksonville, FL.
The local Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure was this Saturday, my actual cancerversary.  I had been planning to run the race, but hadn’t planned on my calves and my right foot being in almost constant pain for the two weeks prior.  We were going to be camping with Jamie’s Boy Scout Den for the entire weekend, but the campsite was really close to the race site.  No problem.  I figured I would run/drive over to the race and then run/drive back to the campsite.  Darn injuries!  I am running a half-marathon with two of Joe’s sisters this coming weekend so I wasn’t going to do further damage just to run a 5K, regardless of what cause it was for.  The race next weekend is to benefit breast cancer and the one of the half-marathons I ran this past winter was also to benefit breast cancer so I think I’m good. :0)

Anyway, Joe surprised me yet again and had a bag of truffles and a heartfelt card in the morning.  Part of me felt very guilty for not running the race, but I spent the day with my family – the people I love the most and who had the most to lose if I hadn’t made it to this day.  We didn’t have a fancy dinner or do anything super-spectacular; that’s hard to do when you’re camping.  We were together and that was the best and most important part of this or any cancerversary. 

These are the people that I love the most!
I am blessed to spend another year with them, healthy and disease-free.
I am grateful that we’ve made it another year.  We could not have done it alone!  As always, I am thankful for all my friends who helped us get here.  Yes, this means YOU!  :0)  I try not to take my health and those I love for granted.  I’m still working on becoming more patient, but methinks that will be a never-ending project.  Anywho, here’s to another year of health, love, laughter, and NED (No Evidence of Disease)!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Just Plane Musings

I’ve been up waaaay too long, but I had a plane to catch this morning.  I’m the lucky duck with a kitchen pass that is flying to Colorado Springs, CO this morning.  As it always happens when I’m working on limited sleep and too much coffee, my brain is on over-drive.

As we were getting ready to taxi out to the runway, I assumed my usual pre-flight occupation – people watching.  Airports and planes are great people-watching venues.  The expression of, “It takes all kinds…” really does apply!

“Her eyes were dark like huckleberries.”  Huckleberries?  Seriously?!  That was the first sentence in the synopsis on the back of the book that the women across me was reading.  “Bodice rippers” is what my mom calls them.  Love that term.  It tells you all you need to know about the book, among other things…

The woman two rows ahead and across the aisle I had observed in the boarding area.  She initially caught my attention because she had a travel blanket that she kept wrapping and rewrapping around her feet.  She continued this behavior once we got on the plane and then proceeded to add a large camouflage blanket for her shoulders.  Her purse must be like a clown car.  

The guy I’m sitting next to was another one that I noted in the boarding area.  He had “PERSONAL TRAINER” emblazoned across the back of his jacket.  Gee, I wonder what he does for a living?  He surreptitiously also observed me while we were waiting to board.  I found this odd until I realized how I was dressed.  No, I wasn’t wearing anything outlandish or that would get me kicked off of my Southwest flight.  Nope, just jeans, tennies and a tech shirt.  But… it was the tech shirt and tennies that I was wearing that probably caught his eye.  I had on my Merrill “minimalist” running shoes and my National Breast Cancer Half-Marathon tech shirt that has “SURVIVOR” written down the sleeve. 

I like to wear comfy clothes when I travel (and most days to be perfectly honest), jeans, tennies and preferably a tech shirt in case I have to do an OJ Simpson-like sprint to catch my flight.  Since today was a travel day to a chilly locale, long sleeves and running shoes it was, but I really did seriously consider wearing my beloved cowboy boots.  Anyway, I had forgotten that my choice in attire screams athlete and cancer survivor in one fell swoop.  Oddly, I sometimes, for very short intervals of time, forget that I’m a cancer survivor.  My constant aches and pains never let me forget that I’m an athlete.

I was trying to think about the last time I flew anywhere.  It’s been awhile, unlike Joe who flies every month.  I had forgotten just how much I actually like to fly.  I love watching the ground drift away from the plane – the steep angle of the plane – the view from the windows – the view of the sky as we travel into the clouds.  And, the people watching.  Some people, like Joe, close their eyes and immediately tune out; some stuff their faces in a book.  Others, like me, watch and occasionally will engage other passengers in small talk.  Then, there’s always a mom soothing a fussy little one.  I remember doing my fair share of that, but honestly I don’t miss it.  I’m thankful that the kids can carry their own bags, snacks, and bodies to and from the plane. J

While I love the anticipation of travel and the actual flight, I really dislike the getting to the airport hassle.  There are two types of people in regards to getting to the airport – those that are relaxed and those that are not.  The relaxed people are those that don’t stress about when they get there, they don’t stress about parking the car, checking the bags, security, nada.  Joe and my mom are in that camp.  Then there are those of us that wake up hours before we need to leave, if we even sleep at all.  We MUST get to the airport ninety minutes or more before our flight leaves.  We pack and repack our bags days before our flight.  We check, double-check and triple-check that everything is in place and continue to do so until we are at a “comfortable cruising altitude.”  My dad and I drive Joe and my mom crazy with our plane travel neuroses, but the feeling is mutual!   

This flight is the first one I’ve made by myself in -- I don’t know how long.  I’m so used to having the kids with me.  There’s no one to tell to stop fighting or hand out snacks to.  I’m not quite sure what to do with myself.  I feel somewhat discombobulated.   

Oh wait –I just remembered the last time I flew solo – when I flew home for my cousin Michelle’s graduation from college over a year ago.  Then, I was flat-chested, forgetful, puffy and bald from chemo.  I’m no longer flat-chested, puffy or bald, but I guess I’m still a bit forgetful. J

The last time I flew with Joe and the kids was when we went to Hawaii last year for Joe’s Ironman.  That time, we flew with the Setos and had the kids sitting in a separate section all together.  One would think that the plan would have been fraught with peril, but all of our kids are great travelers.  Besides, there were plenty of other kids on the both flights over who were traveling with their triathlete parents.  

Triathlon is a very family-friendly sport; I pitied the people who were on our flight that were going for something as mundane as to sit on the beach and get a tan.  WE had a mission – to celebrate Joe’s accomplishment with friends and family and were ready to PARTY – family-style, of course.

Incidentally, if you want to do some people watching, take a flight with a bunch of triathletes – talk about “interesting” wardrobe choices…

My flight today is a precursor for future celebration.  I’m flying out to Colorado Springs to look at land.  Why Colorado Springs?  After years of thinking that we would move back to Phoenix when Joe retired from the Air Force, we came to the realization that we both wanted to move somewhere green with mountains and a more laid-back vibe than Phoenix has become.  We both love Colorado and both of us have made many happy memories there, so Colorado became our goal.  We are planning to move there when Joe retires or gets a job there, whichever comes first. 

A couple of weeks ago, Joe was in C-Springs for the retirement of his boss from his Aviano days, which was held at the Air Force Academy.  He was there for a week, hanging out with Lynn, Al and the kids, reconnecting with old Air Force buddies, and looking at land.  Lynn and Al have just purchased a large plot of land in a quiet subdivision next to a regional park, close to the Academy and with gorgeous views of Pike’s Peak.  Sounds good to me!  Where do I sign up? 

Joe prudently decided that before he put in an offer on a plot of land that he thought would be perfect for us, wanted me to fly out to see it for myself.  Plus, it was a good excuse to see Lynn, Al, and the kiddos.

So, I’m sitting on a plane watching people read their bodice-rippers, play on their iPads, bundle up their feet, getting grief from the sassy Southwest flight attendant, and giving it right back at her. J  I am slowly relaxing, making mental notes to myself about my weekend wardrobe choices that are limited since I only brought a carry-on.  I was thinking about changing out the jeans I’m wearing today when I arrive and then just re-wearing them on Monday when I fly home.  OMG!  I just realized that I have “plane pants” like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory’s “bus pants”.  I really am a neurotic traveler.  Perhaps moving to Colorado will cure me of that... I doubt it though.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cancer Check-Up, September 2012

Two years ago today, I was in Augusta, GA racking my bike in the transition area for Augusta 70.3.  The incision from my breast biopsy had healed and I was in probably the best shape of my life.  I was working my way through the stages of grief over my diagnosis.  I wasn’t quite at acceptance, but I was getting there.  The next day, I would be racing Augusta 70.3, my second half-Ironman.  Joe and a bunch of my training buddies were there with me.  Joe was there to be our tri-sherpa (carry our gear, take pix, encourage, etc) and the friends were there to race with. 

Lynn and Al had graciously offered to watch the kids so that Joe and I could have one last “fling” before my surgeries and treatments started.  We didn’t know what I’d be able to do once everything got going, but we knew it was going to take many many months.  Most people would consider racing a half-Ironman an odd choice of “flings”, but that’s just how we Crazy Joes roll. 

The weekend was full of friendship, laughs, hard work and rain.  Lots and lots of rain!  It literally rained throughout my entire race.  It started with a steady downpour at the start of the swim.  Sometimes it slowed to just a sprinkle, like during the run, but there were plenty of times when it was raining so hard on the bike that I could barely see.  Through it all, I was laughing, asking Mother Nature if that was all she had for me.  I had CANCER for God’s sake.  A little rain wasn’t gonna stop me!  It really didn’t; I went on to post my fastest half-Ironman time to date.  

Part of me wishes that I was gearing up for Augusta again as I type this, but I’m not.  I did consider it; believe me.  Mob/Crazy Joe mentality almost got the better of me.  Thankfully, Coach Joe was, yet again, the voice of reason.  I have had a very busy triathlon and running schedule this year.  I have one more half-marathon in November and possibly a few more 5Ks before the year is over.  A second half-Ironman was just not in the cards for me.

I really would like to meet my goal of running a sub-2hr half-marathon before the year is out.  I only have one more shot – the Lady Speed Stick Half-Marathon in Phoenix this November.  I will be running with two of Joe’s sisters.  Coach Joe stressed that, as much as I wanted to race Augusta with my training buddies, I really needed to focus on my running to meet my half-marathon goal.  I came sooooo close at Albany; I know I can do it. 

To those zippy-fast “I’m trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon” types, a sub-2hr half-marathon probably seems like a laughable goal.  To me, it’s a great “Screw you, Cancer, I’m still alive and kicking” kind of goal.  As I’ve mentioned, my body is not genetically engineered to go fast zippy-fast; it’s more suited to puttering around a kitchen baking goodies to hand out to those genetically blessed zippy-fast runners with the uber fast metabolism to boot after the race.  Still, a girl can dream.

You are probably wondering what the heck all my ramblings have to do with the title of this blog. 

As part of my follow-up care, I go in every three months to see my oncologist, Dr. B, and my surgeon, Dr. C.  They check the frankenboobs and my blood values to make sure that my tricky little cancer cells are still indeed dead and gone, and that, somehow, they haven’t been resurrected to take up residence in another part of my body (usually the lungs, bone or liver).  I just had my third check-up of the year, but only with Dr. B as Dr. C is deployed to the Middle East with his reserve unit.

The general rule of thumb with post-treatment cancer patients is if you have a new pain or symptom for more than two weeks, you need to go in and have it checked out.  Okay, that’s great for most “normal” people.  You all know that I am not “normal”.  I am Gen and I am an athlete.  I always have aches and pains.  If I followed the doctors’ advice (like I always do – nudge, nudge, wink, wink), I would forever be going in for them to check on some ache or pain. 

That is why I’d been seeing the massage terrorist for my back/shoulder pain.  Alas, it wasn’t getting better and I actually started to get a bit concerned.  Perhaps there really was something going on…  Then, I started having shortness of breath, even after using both of my inhalers.  I chalked that up to all the allergens floating around Middle GA and that I was really ramping up my running.  A few days before my appointment with Dr. B, I started having some chest pain and “discomfort” at the bottom of my ribcage.  “It’s nothing,” I kept telling myself, “It’ll be like when you take your car in with a rattle and it’ll be nothing.”

I dutifully went to my appointment and mentioned my symptoms, ignoring the accusatory glare from Joe when I admitted to how long I’d been having symptoms.  I’ll admit it - I purposely try to keep him in the dark so that I don’t worry him needlessly.  The nurse practitioner didn’t think it was anything either (she knows me all too well), but she wanted me to get checked out just to be on the safe side.  Twenty minutes later, after donating three vials of blood to the cause, I was getting a chest x-ray.  The next day, I got an echocardiogram. 

Just like the mechanic, the docs could find nothing wrong with me.  The chest x-ray came back normal.  My echo was normal.  My tumor marker was normal – a nice normal 11 (0-40 is WNLs).  I did have some abnormal blood values (particularly, my liver function values), but essentially everything was “normal” for me.

Aches and pains are just my “normal”.  I am an athlete and a cancer survivor.  Perhaps they are more prevalent and take longer to go away since my cancer diagnosis two years ago, but they are my normal.  This is why I don’t tell Joe or rush to the doctor.  More times than not, my aches and pains are absolutely nothing, nada, zilch.  They are just my body’s way of retaliating for all of the work I make it do. 

And so, I’ll continue to log more miles until it’s time to see Dr. B and Dr. C again in December.  By that time, I’m sure some new ache or pain will manifest itself.  This weekend though, I will ignore my own aches and pains and I will root for my friends as they race Augusta 70.3 nursing their own aches and pains.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

KT Tape Junkie

Hi.  My name is Gen, and I am a KT Tape Junkie.  I wasn’t always this way.  It came on gradually, but now I’m at the point that whenever I have any kind of ache or pain, I reach for a roll.  The rolls I use these days are the professional strength ones and are usually pink and purple in color, but I have also used black, blue and red.

One of my fabulous wrap
jobs on an ankle sprain
My addiction probably started in middle school.  Gymnastics is hard on growing bodies, and I was already one of those kids that had not only growing pains, but was prone to overdoing it.  If the coach said to do it ten times, I did it twenty.  Needless to say, I put my body through the wringer.  (Sound familiar?)  I suffered several sprains and one fracture during my middle school years.  I was a pro at wrapping ACE bandages around ankles or wrists.  The ACE bandage became my gateway drug.

In high school, I moved on to cheerleading and soccer.  I continued to push my body and had the injuries to prove it, spraining my ankles or hurting my knees more times than I can remember.  I had graduated to taping by that point in addition to using my old standby, the ACE bandage.  By my junior year, my soccer coach was using almost a whole roll of athletic tape to tape both of my ankles before each game.  I spent one whole football season cheering with my knee wrapped and taped up.  Back then; physical therapy and strengthening were for pro athletes or for rich kids who went to private schools that could afford to hire a real trainer.  I was neither, just a public school kid with an addiction to sport and taping.

During my young adult years, my addiction waned.  I was more focused on school and starting a career than pushing my body to the limits.  After that, came babies and tending to their needs.  So, despite being active, I was relatively injury-free. 

And then came triathlon and marathon training…

Knee taped before the
Nashville Marathon
I got my first taste of KT Tape in a goody bag from some race several years ago.  I’d been getting by with just taping and wrapping my injuries with my old standbys, an ACE bandage and white athletic tape.  KT Tape was different.  It was stretchy and came in cool colors.  It was less bulky than my ACE bandages.  It didn’t leave a sticky white residue like the athletic tape.  It was more versatile than both.

I don’t remember when I tried the KT Tape for the first time, but I know once I tried it, I was hooked.  I started out slowly, using it here and there for minor muscle pulls or strains.  And then came cancer.  The barrage of injuries brought on by training through chemo caused a huge ramping up in my KT Tape use.  Now, I’m to the point where I’ve used it on my legs, back, arms, even my butt to ease muscle pain and strain. 

My latest taping
Some people have scoffed at my use of KT Tape.  Perhaps it is just a placebo effect, but I really do think it helps ease the pain and helps my muscles heal.  I don’t use it alone though.  I compliment my use of KT Tape with physical and massage therapy as well as icing, stretching and strengthening.  I’ve also had to make some adjustments in how I work out.  Case in point: I run a lot more on the treadmill now instead of on the pavement to reduce the wear and tear on my knees.

Most people, when faced with chronic injuries would just bag the whole thing - quit cold turkey or switch sports.  I am not “most people”.  I love to run.  I really really like the sport of triathlon.  So, I continue to train and to get injured and to use my KT Tape Pro. 

Like Vanilla Ice said, “Will it ever stop?  I don’t know.” 

My favorite color of KT Tape
Perhaps I should just stick with “Ice, Ice, Baby.” 

Want to try out KT Tape for yourself?  Here's the link:  You can also buy KT Tape at most major sporting goods store or on Amazon.  

Need help figuring out just how to use KT Tape?  You can find great instructional videos on YouTube -  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Biopsy Day, Two Years Later…

Two years ago today, I went to sleep on an operating room table.  I woke up a short time later, sore and bandaged.  The only definitive information that I got from my soon to be favorite surgeon, Dr. C., was that I had tolerated the procedure well and that he had just removed a mass from my left breast.  He wouldn’t tell Joe and Joe’s best friend, Keehn, an Ob-Gyn who drove from Birmingham after being on-call the night before to sit with Joe while I went under the knife, anything other than he was “concerned.”  In medical-speak, that’s never good.  He may not have been positive, but I think he suspected that he had just removed a cancerous tumor from my breast. 

Less than two weeks earlier, I had seen the color ultra-sound pictures.  I had seen the tumor and the blood flow that snaked out from it on the ultra-sound screen.  I sensed the urgency in the radiologist’s voice telling me that, “This needs to come out,” when he brought me into the reading room less than two months after he’d first showed me something he wanted to “keep an eye on”.  I’m not stupid or naive; I suspected what I was facing. 

Dr. C removed the tumor that day, but, unfortunately, the damage was already done.  We didn’t know it at the time, but cancer cells were already in my lymph nodes.  It was only when he did the sentinel node biopsy and axillary lymph node dissection seven weeks later that we found that out.  I went from Stage I to Stage III in the blink of an eye.

Dr. C gave me my diagnosis of breast cancer on September 9th, my best friend from growing up, Alissa’s, fortieth birthday.  She hates that I got my diagnosis on her birthday, but I reminded her that if I hadn’t gotten it, I might not have been around long enough to wish her a happy birthday again. 

September 9th is my official “cancerversary”, but I always remember September 3rd as well – my biopsy day.  This year is especially poignant to me because a friend will not see her next biopsy day or her next cancerversary. 

Our friend Melody died this last week after a hard battle with ovarian cancer. Melody was an old friend of Joe and Becky’s.  Mel used to babysit Becky when she was little and was a fellow speech pathologist.  She was so creative and kind and caring and upbeat, despite all the treatments and pain she endured.  Melody always tried to put a positive spin on things.  She would have turned forty-seven this coming week.  Mel leaves behind her husband, Jay, and two beautiful little girls – Maddy and Bella.

I remember walking around Disney World after running the WDW Marathon in January 2010.  It was freezing cold, literally, and we were walking across the bridge that leads toward Liberty Square from Cinderella’s Castle.  I chuckled to myself as we passed a woman talking animatedly to her daughter while wearing a large pair of pink earmuffs in the shape of poodle heads.  Shortly after that, we were standing in line to get on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with Carolyn and her crew and Lynn and her crew when I heard a woman joyfully yell, “JOE MATCHETTE!” at the top of her lungs.  It was the crazy lady wearing the dog earmuffs.  It was Melody. 

Melody and her husband had taken Maddy to Disney World to celebrate a year of finishing treatment.  Bella was too young and stayed at home with the grandparents.  I’m so glad that Melody got to go on that trip with Jay and Maddy.  I hope Maddy always treasures the memories of that trip.  I hope Bella too has some memories of her precious mama to hold on to in her little three-year old brain. 

When I got my diagnosis, Melody was one of the first people to reach out to me.  Despite being back in treatment herself at that point, she sent me a HUGE box of breast cancer goodies – shirts, sox, hat, robe, etc.  She called to check up on me.  She laughed with me about chemo and its’ side effects.  We made plans to go skiing when we were both recovered.  I recovered.  She did not. 

Joe was lucky enough to see Melody occasionally when he was in Texas to fly with his squadron.  Joe said that the last treatment the doctors tried to get rid of the stubborn cancer that had taken over Melody’s body made even her hands hurt.  I’m glad she’s not hurting anymore, but I still wish she was here.  I wish Jay had his wife and the girls had their mom.

Mel’s death has been hard for me to digest.  I have been fortunate enough to not have many people in my life die yet.  I think Melody’s death has affected me so much because she is the first person I know to have died of cancer since my own diagnosis.  Her death reminds me of my mortality.  My cancer was Stage III.  I have a twenty-five to thirty percent chance of recurrence within the next eight years.  I, like Melody, want to see my kids grow up, to get married and have babies of their own.  Her death reminds me that I may not get that chance.  I like to think that I will though.  As Dad says, “Think positive and you’ll get positive results.”

So, as I celebrate the second anniversary of the biopsy that removed the source of my cancer, I can’t help but smile through the tears as I remember my friend Melody walking around Disney World wearing pink doggie earmuffs, living life to the fullest!  I like to think she’s in Heaven laughing along with me. :-)

Thinking of those earmuffs always make me smile.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

King of Pain

Recently, I went to see my massage terrorist, Ron.  I’d scheduled my appointment a few weeks prior figuring that I’d need a tune up after the half-marathon that I ran at the beginning of August, which was, incidentally, only three weeks after Racine 70.3. (Yes, I’m still working on that race report!)  Thankfully, my legs were feeling pretty good after my last tune-up just a week before the marathon.

I’d been having some on again, off again pain on the left side of my back near the bottom of my shoulder blade.  It’s been going on for several months, but it’s gotten worse since my fall in Ohio.  I know, I know.  I need to get that race report done!  Long story short – Joe and I were cycling in Ohio and I lost my balance while stopped at a stop sign and fell, still clipped onto my bike.  I had a few cuts and bruises; my biggest injury was a gouge in my hand from landing on a sharp rock.  Or, so I thought.

I attributed the back/shoulder pain to swimming.  I cut back on my swimming to no avail.  I stretched and stretched some more.  Nada.  I was more focused on rehabbing my legs than my shoulders and back so I didn’t mention it to Ron before the race.  Besides, being an athlete, I’m used to little nagging aches and pains.

The half-marathon was great.  I was a bit leery of doing it for several reasons.  Number one reason being why would anyone want to run a half-marathon in the Georgia August heat?  Number two – Joe was TDY and the kids would be by themselves for several hours on a Saturday morning.  Big whoop for them – can you say television?  They could have cared less if I was home or not, but I’m not a big fan of them sitting in front of the television for hours on end watching the likes of Jessie, Pok√©mon and Phineas and Ferb!  Aha, though!  One of the Girl Scout leaders was running a water station at the race and offered to have the kids help man it.  Perfect – the kids will love me!  I softened the blow by offering to buy them donuts at the local “specialty” donut shop if they were good.

My cheering squad!
Reason number three was only a minor one since this was to be a “C” race for me, meaning I was just going out and running it like a training run.  “A” races are, you guessed it, the important ones.  Despite it being a “C” race, I was running it in memory of Joe’s teammate’s wife, Sandra, who had just passed away earlier that week.  This race was touted as a “partial trail run”.  I had never done a trail run.  I am very leery of running on uneven terrain since I sprained my ankle pretty badly several years ago.  Since it was a “C” race, I figured I could take it slow.  I wasn’t going to win anyway.

The race went well.  The kids were well behaved and cheered like mad when they saw me.  I had to take water from all three of the kids and begged off from several more kids who knew me.  The heat wasn’t bad since the race started at seven and over half of the course was shaded.  The trail part wasn’t bad at all and we even had a canine escort for a couple of miles when a sweet, but unruly black lab left her campsite as we passed, eager to join in the human fun.  I ended up getting a cramp in my leg about a mile out from the finish, but I pushed through and ended up getting third for my age group – my first ever running trophy.  Yay, me!  As promised, the kids got donuts.  Overall, it was a win-win for everyone.

This is NOT what my massages feel like.
So there I was two weeks later – curled up in a fetal position while Ron worked over my ribs and back like a semi-truck rolling over cookie dough.  He pushed, prodded, stretched and who knows what else.  He said he thought that I pulled my inter-costal muscles.

This is what they feel like!
Ladies, you know that point in your labor when you start shaking because the pain is so intense?  Yeah, that’s what I felt like.  I could barely breathe, much less talk to ask Ron to stop.  Whatever he was doing, it made even my chest hurt.  And to think that I thought it hurt when he worked on my hip.  Ha!  Silly me.  Like the song “Dynamite” – it went on and on and on…

Most of you are asking yourselves, “Why in the heck does she put herself through this kind of pain and suffering?”  Well, it’s obvious isn’t it?  So I can run further and with less pain.  Seriously.  Short-term pain for long-term gain.

Within a couple of days, everywhere but that one stubborn spot was back to status quo.  I don’t have any more races scheduled for a while so I guess I really need to address this.  Ron’s a great guy and really knows his stuff, but I’m just don’t think I’m ready for another session with the King of Pain.

My first running trophy and in a "C" race at that!