Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What a Difference a Year Makes!

A year ago today, I was sitting at the Cancer Center short of breath and exhausted waiting to get a treatment.  I had just raced Iron Girl Atlanta the day before.  I had never been that close to aborting a race in the five years that I’d been doing triathlon as I was that day!  I had overheated in my wetsuit during the swim and proceeded to have a panic attack.  I somehow managed to pull myself together and, with lots and lots of rest breaks, I finished the race.  When I went to get my treatment the next day, I figured they’d tell me my continued shortness of breath and chest tightness was all in my head.  It wasn’t.  After a simple test of having me walk fifty feet and watching my oxygen saturation levels drop dramatically, they swiftly sent me to the hospital to make sure I wasn’t having cardiac issues – a common problem with chemo for breast cancer.

Turns out that I didn’t have any cardiac issues.  I have exercise-induced asthma.  I’ve had mild symptoms for years that I’d never addressed and that I’ve been able to compensate for, but the chemo pushed me over the edge.  In the past year, my pulmonologist has been trying to get me onto a regime that doesn’t leave me short of breath and with a tight chest every time I have a hard workout or race.  I suspect that he doesn’t work with young cancer survivors who are also endurance athletes. J  He finally got me sorted out shortly before the Nashville marathon in April.  Still, I was nervous to see how I’d fare at Iron Girl since last year was a bit “challenging” to say the least. 

Bald, boobless, and breathless
Busty, breathing and cruising!
Wow!  What a difference a year makes!  Last year, I was sporting a GI Jane hairdo, compliments of chemo, was as flat chested as my Jamie, and could barely breathe.  This year, I filled out my tri top waaaaay better than I expected to and had full head of hair.  Breathing?  Well, I had to take two puffs on my inhaler, once during the bike and once after I finished, but I did it!  I actually p.r.’d on the run – got my best 5K time ever!  While I didn’t place or even make it into the top 100 like I did in 2009, I was excited about my performance!

I’ve raced the Iron Girl Atlanta race three years now.  Each year, I’ve raced it with a friend.  The first year, I raced with my very first Middle GA training buddy, Stefanie.  Last year, I raced with my marathon and now tri buddy, Lynn.  This year, I raced with my friend Linda and one of my cycling buddies Kim who was doing her very first tri.  I love racing with friends.  Not to see who comes out on top, but for the camaraderie of the experience.  I absolutely love seeing my friends out on the course, giving them a high five and cheering them on!
Linda, Kim and me at the finish. Hooray for our newest triathlete, Kim!

I like Iron Girl Atlanta in that it’s so welcoming to women, all women, no matter what age, body composition or ability.  Everyone has her own story of how she ended up at the starting line.  There is a feeling of oneness among the racers.  Case in point – I hugged a random woman standing next to me shivering with cold and nerves while we waited for the swim start.  We started talking and others joined in.  Before we knew it, it was our turn to race. 

I’ve found after racing triathlons for the past five years that tri people are generally a very friendly group, so the atmosphere of IG doesn’t surprise me.  Almost everyone is happy to be there and to be sharing the experience with other women.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind racing with guys (If you’ve never been to a triathlon, the “eye-candy” is great!), but it’s nice to not have to worry about getting bowled over or kicked in the ribs during the swim, passed constantly on the bike and chased down on the run.  While those things do happen in women’s only events, women are usually nicer about it when they run into on the swim or pass you on the bike or run. 

The swim is in a nice little inlet of Lake Lanier and is relatively shallow.  While many ladies wore wetsuits this year, I chose to forgo mine.  It would have made me more buoyant (translation: a bit faster – a definite plus when you’re a slow swimmer like me), but I was trying to vanquish the ghosts of last year’s swim.  That, and the water was the perfect temperature for a nice 600-meter swim at seven o’clock in the morning with a few hundred new friends. 
Waiting for the swim start

I had two objectives for this year’s swim: 
1.) Avoid a panic attack and overheating 
2.) Keep my heart rate way down to “save my strength” for the bike and run. 

I have always had trouble with pacing.  I have to set strict parameters on my Garmin when I’m training so that I don’t go too easy or too hard on the bike or run.  Swimming is a little harder since I don’t’ wear my Garmin for that part, and I am not a naturally gifted swimmer. 

While I made steady progress and kept my heart rate down, my swim time was slower than it was last year.  I’m not sure why that was.  Last year, I had to stop repeatedly because I couldn’t breathe and was overheated.  This year I had no excuse.  Perhaps it was the wetsuit last year that helped, but no, my time from the year before with no wetsuit was even faster.  I got kicked multiple times in the ribs and other body parts which was new, but that shouldn’t have slowed me down too much.  Perhaps I was focused so much on keeping my heart rate low that I was just too leisurely.  That darn pacing again!  Oh well, it’s just something to work on.

As transitions from swim to bike go for sprint triathlons, Iron Girl Atlanta isn’t what I’d call “super-fun” to quote Elle Woods.  Transition is up a steep, albeit short hill.  Most people are a bit wobbly and slightly disoriented when they come out of the swim and then you have to run up a hill to find your bike among hundreds.  My goal for T1 (as it’s called) this year was just to run up that hill and all the way to my bike.  Did it.  Last year I was sucking wind and walked almost the entire way to T1. 

As triathlons in the South go, this race is a bit hilly for the newbies.  There are a couple of hills that you always see ladies walking their bikes up.  I always try to cheer them on because as any of my tri buddies will tell you, I am not a big fan of hills on the bike!  Even I resort to “granny gear” on a couple of them and then have to standing up to pedal going up the last little hill into transition.  Yes, there is another hill going into T2 (bike to run).  It’s the same area, but you come at the transition area from a different angle – street vs. beach.

Because of my marathon training, I have not been devoting as much time to my bike training as I normally would at this point in the season.  While my bike time was not bad, it wasn’t as good as I would have hoped.  On the bright side, I clocked my fastest maximum speed ever – 39.9 mph.  There’s a hill midway through the bike course that’s a doozy of a downhill.  That’s the fun part.  The bad part is it goes into a left turn.  The bad part for me is that I hit a bit of traffic (other cyclists) on the way down and had to hit my brakes.  I’m a bit of a speed junky, so I loved the rush of going that fast!  I wonder how fast I could have gotten up to had I not encountered those other racers…

On the way in from the bike leg, I saw and heard an ambulance heading out.  I always say a silent prayer for whomever it is they are rushing to help.  I found out later that it was a young woman, Kirsten Walker, who had a horrible crash and is still in ICU with multiple fractures and a head injury.  Thankfully, several other racers that were near enough stopped and assist her until the EMTs arrived.  Those ladies probably saved her life.  If you would like to follow her story you can check out the story on the Swim.Bike.Mom website:

Swim.Bike.Mom has set up a donation site to help the family cover Kirsten’s medical expenses. 

Her family also has a Facebook page: Please check them out. 

While it’s great fun to race, injury is always a real possibility.  Life is precious.  Enjoy it!

So, on to the run – I clocked my fastest 5K time EVER!  That’s even including stand-alone 5Ks.  Granted most of my 5Ks these days are with at least one of the kids, but still…  Poor Joe who was playing tri-Sherpa almost missed me coming into the finish chute because he wasn’t expecting me for another five minutes.  He was wearing his bright pink Go, Gen. Go shirt so I saw him through the trees when I was still about a quarter of a mile from the finish so I have him a MFS (Matchette Family Salute) and a shout out and then sprinted to the finish smile intact and breathing relatively well.   A little puff on my inhaler at the finish line and I was back to normal. 

Isn't the medal pretty this year?
Another race is officially in the books.  I finished in the top twenty percent overall.  Not a bad way to start the day. 

Linda and Kim both finished strong.  It was so great to see them at the finish line, to hug them and welcome Kim into the fold.  She’s already signed up for another race and Linda’s contemplating her next one.

Ready to head home!
After a quick bite to eat and hanging out with Kim and Linda’s families, I took some wipes into the bathroom, cleaned up a bit, rinsed out my hair (Why is it that just having clean hair makes one feel cleaner overall?) and we were on our way.  Josie and Michelle had music recitals in the afternoon that we couldn’t miss. 

Special thanks to Lynn and Al for keeping the kiddos overnight so that Joe didn’t have to try to wrangle kids and play tri-Sherpa at the same time.  Next up – Old Capital Sprint Tri in Milledgeville, GA

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What's in a name?

I know.  I know.  It's about time you're probably all saying.  But that title, Gen?  Really?!  As usual with me, there's a story behind it...  

We have only been at three Air Force bases in the past sixteen years.  After several years at each base, Joe and I joke that we're getting "sand in our boots" and that it's time to move on.  At one of my recent follow-ups with my all-time favorite surgeon, Dr. C (also a military member), we were laughing and cracking jokes about my new boobs being full of sand.  Silicon is basically - sand.  The next day, Joe jokingly said that I have "sand in my boobs".  I loved it; it was quirky and catchy and, to me anyway, funny.  And thus, the name of our blog was born.

So, dear readers, read on.  This blog will be a continuation of our Caring Bridge blog that we started when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  We'll keep you abreast (hehe) of any new, funny, sad or titillating (hehe#2) details of our on-going cancer-life adventure.  We're hoping that the cancer part becomes just a side note in our life's adventures, but you never know.  

I will try to pull all of our old Caring Bridge posts  ( here so that if you're a new reader, you can get the low-down on why we started this blog.  I have asked Joe to contribute to the writing duties since some of his Caring Bridge posts were so poignant and funny, but we'll see...

Thanks for visiting!  Please feel free to share this site with others, make comments, suggestions or ask questions.  I'm an open book when it comes to this disease and how it impacted our lives, so fire away...

We truly appreciate the outpouring of love and support that you've all given us before, during and after my diagnosis.  We can only hope that other families touched by this disease, or any hardship for that matter, are as fortunate as we are!  

Remember, do your monthly breast exams or, as Joe loves to tell the guys - "Save a life, grope your wife."  


Gen =)