Thursday, October 31, 2013

Three years and counting…

Happy NED day to me.  Happy NED day to me!  Happy No-Evidence-Of-Disease day to me.  Happy NED day to me!!!!

Wow how time does fly.  We’re already back to the end of October and I am celebrating yet another NED day.  This is only my third one, but I always seem to be in a contemplative mood on my NED day.  Perhaps it’s because, I know what could have been if Joe had been deployed when my tumor reared its’ ugly head.  I still go back and read my previous blogs/posts.  It’s amusing to me to see what I wrote about - what seemed or was important. 

It’s funny too that I still remember writing those comments, emails, and blogs, curled up in bed, bandaged, sore and nauseated.  I had to type with only one hand in the beginning as my left arm was in a sling.  Dr. C didn’t want me using it for a few days after surgery due to the incisions and the swelling in my underarm and arm from where he had to take out my lymph nodes.  I remember that incision and area hurting a lot more than the actual mastectomy incisions.  It’s probably because he had to dig around in my armpit to get the lymph nodes out, whereas with my mastectomies, he just cleared the breast tissue off of the chest muscles.  I know that it was probably a lot more involved than that, but you get the gist.   

Three years.  Wow.  I look at all three kids and I’m amazed at how they’ve grown and changed.  Josie isn’t a baby anymore; she is still so curious, but has more mature thought processes.  Jamie has gotten taller and I can now see the bone structure of his face changing as he enters adolescence.  He is still reflective and quiet, but has so much going on in his head.  Michelle is almost as tall as me and wears the same size clothes as me now.  She has learned some hard lessons in middle school, but there are days when I can see light at the end of the tunnel.   They all have inherited our sense of humor and enjoyment of discourse and debate.  Dinner conversations have gotten more and more lively and sophisticated with each passing year. 

Three cherished pets have gone across the Rainbow Bridge and two more have joined the family in the past three years.   Even though it’s been two years since my beloved Sneakers died, I still sometimes look up, expecting him to come padding toward me making his little chirpy meows.  We, as a family, put Tessa to sleep this February.  It was a conscious decision to help her along before she was in horrible pain like Sneakers was.  Although I know it was just days before that day would have happened, I’m still so incredibly sad.  We were all with her and the kids handled it so well.  I miss her sweet little presence daily.  I look to the end of our bed expecting to see her sleeping there and I get a little catch in my throat when I realize that she won’t be there ever again. 

Murphy was Michelle’s cat who, since we moved to Georgia, had been getting progressively meaner and naughtier.  We tried to give her as happy a life as we could, but unfortunately, it made little difference.  Michelle made the very brave and adult decision to put Murphy to sleep earlier this month.  Joe and I were with Michelle and Murphy in the end.  I know that Michelle wrestled with her decision, but as we told her over and over, she and we had done all that we could to help Murphy, but to no avail.  Words and hugs don’t mend a broken heart so easily, but we did our best.  It was one of those parenting moments that sucks; letting your child experience pain and hurt, but not doing anything to stop it from happening. 

I’m so thankful we have our furry boys to ease the loss of both Tessa and Murphy this year.   I can’t even imagine a home of mine without animals in it.  Three years ago at this time, Beau was probably a roly-poly, fat, fuzzy, little ball of energy, gamboling around with his siblings.  Louie wasn’t even on the horizon; his mom was probably just a kitten herself.  Providence brought both boys to us and with us is where they’re staying.  And, as our house always seems to have not just three kids, but three pets, one more will most likely find its’ way to us sooner or later. 

Joe and I have soldiered on, appreciative for each anniversary, but busy parenting the kids and keeping the household running, as well as ourselves, literally.  We’ve had our ups and downs, but who doesn’t?  We don’t talk much about our little cancer adventure or its’ effects, but my Becky quietly pointed out to me when we were there for Ironman Wisconsin last month, that while Joe may seem a bit crusty on the outside, he is all soft and gooey about me on the inside.   Let’s hope that he has lots and lots more years of being gooey for me!

I went for my regular check-up earlier this month and, to be honest, it was a rather boring appointment.  Boring is good.  All of my blood work came back fine and my tumor marker is holding steady at 12 (anything under 40 is okay).  After my February appointment, I graduate again to only seeing my oncologist every six months.  Whoo hoo!!!!

In the words of the Steve Miller Band, “Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'

Into the future.”  And that, my friends, is a very good thing.

2013 Ironman Wisconsin - Redemption!

Ironman pack

Thanks to some dear friends (you know who you are…), Joe and I went to Wisconsin for his race by ourselves this year.   The last time he raced Ironman Wisconsin, I flew up with the kids the day after my diagnosis.  That time I think I was so focused on making sure everyone was gonna be okay.  This time,
however, I was a nervous wreck, leaving the kids behind as we traveled out of state.  This year, the excitement of race activities was the main focus.  I was healthy.  Joe was healthy.  The kids were healthy.  Life was and is good.

I had two leisurely flights up to Wisconsin, but I hit the ground running once I got there.  The first night was the Endurance Nation, Joe’s IM team, dinner.  Many people from the team had kept tabs on my cancer adventure from afar and Joe was happy to finally “show me off”, healthy and happy.  Gosh, I really dislike meet and greets, but I gritted my teeth, wore the outfit that Joe asked me to – a very flattering low-cut dress that Becky had picked up at Goodwill and had given to me because it didn’t fit her.  I wore it even though I would have MUCH preferred to have attended in jeans and a t-shirt simply because I knew it was important to Joe.  I ended up having a nice time and made some new friends.  We definitely sat at the “fun” table and I noted that I was not the shyest person in the room.  Whew!

The next day, Joe really really really wanted to take me on a ride to show me the bike course.  I really really really was very neutral about it until Becky made a very insightful comment.  Thanks, Beck!  She pointed out, as only very old and very dear friends can to one another that Joe was so adamant about showing me the bike course because he wanted to share part of his race with me.  Aha!  I then went willingly along for the ride, a beautiful ride in the gorgeous fall countryside of Wisconsin and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I marveled at the HUGE hills that he would be riding, the lovely wildflowers and at the weathered old barns and cows in the pastures.  My mind took a thousand pictures of all the beauty around me. 

The night before the race came quickly.  Becky and I plotted our best viewing spots and planned our own race day agenda.  Joe, had his planned out to the “T”.  He even had labels on his nutrition bottles as to when he was to drink them.  He ate and showered.  I put on his tri-tats (his race #s) and sunscreen and sent him to bed.  About midnight, I realized he was up.  He was due to get up at two to take in some nutrition so I was confused as to why he was up so early.  Joe was not up to eat, but up to, well, throw up.  After that, he was up every hour, on the hour, to throw up until we officially had to get up.  It was not shaping up to be a great start to a very important race. 

Three years earlier, Joe had raced Ironman Wisconsin, three days after I was
diagnosed.  He was really looking for some redemption, as he did not have his best race that day.  We were both on such an emotional roller coaster that day, trying to get through the day and not think about what was to come.  This year was supposed to be different.  I was healthy and done with treatment.  Joe was fitter, stronger and faster. 

Not one to quit, we headed to the race venue.  I calmly told Joe that I thought he should race; to let go of his plans and salvage what he could.  Secretly, I was thinking about all the stories I’d read and heard of athletes who overcame illness to have fantastic days.  If Joe could get through each leg of the race, I felt sure he could have a great day.   I didn’t tell him that though; no matter how he did, I wanted him to know that I was proud of him for even getting out of bed and getting down to the venue. 
Tri-sherpa duties start early!  Love my Becky for being there with me!

I truly am in awe of people that do full Ironman races for fun.  While I don’t doubt that I could do an Ironman, I have no desire to.  I don’t want to train that hard.  I don’t want to be away from my family that much.  I don’t want to put that much stress on my joints that are already beaten up from years of overwork and then cancer treatment on top of that.  And, I am too lazy and undisciplined to train that hard.  So, I am the consummate cheerleader of my friends and family that race Ironman particularly, Joe.
My favorite Ironman!  Both of us healthy and happy. :-)

He was almost as pale as me!
Zippping up the wetsuit
By the time we got to the swim start, Joe was looking slightly better.  On the way, I ran into a friend from high school that I had recently reconnected with via Facebook.  She now lives in Madison and was going to be volunteering at the race and then getting in the volunteer line to register to race next year (IM MOO is a VERY popular race!).  Of all the THOUSANDS of people down that the lakefront, I ran into Julie!  I stopped to chat for just a minute causing me to get separated from Joe and Becky and almost caused me to miss giving Joe some last minute encouragement and zipping him into his wetsuit.  While it was great to see Julie, I caused Joe more undue stress than he really needed that morning.   Sorry, Joe!

Can you guess what he just saw?
Our day of tri-sherpaing was fast and furious.  After we saw Joe join the queue of other racers at the swim start, we staked out vantage points on the Monona Terrace and even toyed with the idea of going on to prohibited parts of the terrace (namely a roof overlooking the bike transition area) for even better vantage points.  We, along with Mark and one of Joe’s teammates’ wife, Sheri, went out to the bike course and joined the throng of people on one of the major climbs where I again ran into Julie yet again, who during the course of our short time together, got to witness the flashing of the Frankenboobs (an IM MOO tradition).   Bless her!  She took it all in stride and so, apparently, did the guy riding behind Joe.
Sheri - a great tri-sherpa

Wheeze, much?
Joe had told me about the climbs; that they were really like the Tour de France with people crowding the cyclists while wearing crazy outfits, the music, the energy.  WOW!  He was not kidding.  It was insane and insanely fun, despite the need of my inhaler once I got to the top of the hill.

Becky and I, at Sheri’s suggestion (BTW, Sheri was an absolute hoot to
hang out with and really got into the spirit of our tri-sherpa duties.), got a gig volunteering in the medical tent while Joe was on the bike and part of the run.  We had the wristbands of POWER!  Our bands said we had “All Access” and they weren’t kidding.  We could go anywhere just by flashing our nifty wristbands.  It was like Ben Kenobi when the storm troopers were looking for Luke.  “You can’t go there.”  <Flash of the wristbands>.  “Oh, sorry.  Go ahead.”  We didn’t abuse the privilege, except at the end of Joe’s race to go into the finishers’ chute area.   More on that later…

During our stint in the medical tent, Joe came in on the bike and headed out on the run.  The medical tent happened to be situated right next to Run Out so we just trotted out of the tent, watched him run by, took a few dozen pix, I gave him a kiss and a hug along with some encouraging words, and back to work we went.  He’d made it to the third and final leg with plenty of time to walk the marathon if he needed to.  He was staying fueled and hydrated without it coming back up so we were optimistic that he’d finish despite the rather dicey start to the day.

When our time was over, we hopped on our bikes and headed out onto the run course.  Madison is such a bike-friendly town, it was easy to navigate (and we had Becky’s mad navigation skills and phone), and so we were able to see Joe and lots of his EN teammates several times on the run.  Joe told me to tell every ENer that I saw to go get their “cheeseburgers”.  Only two of them got the inside joke.  Ah well, at that point in the race, I doubt I’d have a sense of humor either.

The last time we saw Joe on the run was at about mile 23.  Based on his paces, we knew he could get a PR (personal record), but he wasn’t in a mood to talk.  Each time before that, when I asked him how he was, he’d responded, “Better than expected.”  This time, however, I think he just mumbled something about being in his “dark” place.  Me being me, I pedaled alongside him, chattering away, ignoring his very intentional ignoring of me.  I didn’t take it personally, as I knew he was focused.  I’ve been to my own dark place and, it ain’t pretty! 

We left Joe after about mile 24 to go drop the bikes off at the car and still have time to get to the finish line to see him cross.  Suddenly, we saw Joe go over us on an overpass at a much faster pace than we expected.  Kicking it in to fifth gear, we got to the car, threw the bikes on, locked them and then sprinted to the finish line.  NO kidding – we were probably putting down a five minute mile for the last quarter of a mile to the finish line. 

Little did we know it, but we were running parallel to Joe as he crossed.   I heard Mike Reilly announce “Joe Matchette”, but then he said some random city in Illinois after his name.  “That couldn’t have been Joe’s name then,” I thought.  Becky assured it was and that the city I heard was for the racer immediately after Joe (a lot of racers come in at that time).  We flashed our super special wristbands, moved into the finishers’ chute area and suddenly Becky spotted Joe, already with his finisher’s medal around his neck being led to me by a sweet volunteer who realized I was Joe’s wife. 

Joe had earned a five-minute PR and smashed his previous
A proud job WELL-DONE!
Wisconsin time by over thirty minutes.  Despite my abhorrence of hugging him when he’s hot and sweaty from a workout, I threw my arms around him and kissed him soundly.  I wish that Becky had gotten a shot of that to compare to the one she had previously snapped three years ago.  This year’s shot would have shown joy and excitement as opposed to 2010’s shot of us in which a trained eye can see the tension and anxiety.   Redemption indeed. 

We will never know what caused Joe to vomit so profusely the night before and morning of the race.  He thinks that he over-hydrated and therefore, got his electrolytes all out of whack.  We doubt it was food poisoning, as no one else got sick.  I think he had a bad case of nerves.  He had such a bad experience in 2010 (getting my diagnosis right before the race, pushing too hard on the bike and then bonking on the run) that he put a lot of extra pressure on himself to do well this year.  Regardless of what caused his upset tummy, he rocked his race, putting the demons of 2010’s race to rest!  I couldn’t be prouder of him!

Thanks to Scott for getting this screen capture!

SOOOO proud of my Ironman!!!!
Med-tent for some ice for his knees

ENers that came out to watch the very last finishers come in
A well-deserved beer!

Time to celebrate!!!!
The Ironman sleepth.