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.  


  1. Loved this post. I think you are amazing and awesome and everything in between. Thanks for the perspective, and make sure you pack a big snack if you are rooting for me... I'll be coming around the mountain late in the day :) :)

    1. M, A friend and I were just saying the same of you on our bike ride this morning. So, "HA"! Right back atcha! I am totally bummed that we are not gonna be there after all. Joe booked our hotel like we always do every year since the first go around. Alas, he booked it for the wrong weekend (last weekend). Grrr. Then, he decided that he wanted to do Six-Gap. As much as I want to get up at 0300 to drive over to Augusta to watch you and many of my friends/training buddies race (and I totally would!), I'd rather slam my hands in a large Funk and Wagnall's Dictionary repeatedly than drag the kiddos out of bed, make them drive to Augusta and watch a race that neither of their parental units are racing in. It's bad enough getting them out to watch us race a sprint. Boo me!!!! Still, know that I will be avidly watching your progress throughout the day. Praying for cool temps, no aquatic life, no mechanical issues and no wardrobe malfunctions. Go get 'em, Girl!!!! Cheers, G =)