Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Fully Experiencing Joy

It’s been quiet around here on this blog but things in my life have been less than quiet. Things have been joyous, and I have been soaking it up and basking in the belief that this life is so wonderful. It has not been without challenges, by any means. But after facing something like cancer, the definition of a challenge changes. I am incredibly grateful for where I am in this very moment.

Before I go too much into what I’ve been up to, I want to bring a concept up that sits in the back of my mind and reminds me to feel the joy I feel deeply, without foreboding. 

I have shared many times that Brene Brown is one of my very favorite public figures to follow. Her research-based approach to people and how we interact with the world around us has been life changing for me. One topic she discusses frequently is foreboding joy. She describes joy as the most vulnerable feeling humans can experience. The best example she has shared is that feeling of looking at your child sleeping, and you’re in awe of how much you could possibly love someone and how incredibly happy you are that they are in your life. Then immediately you imagine something awful happening to them. Basically you imagine your incredible joy being ripped away from you. In that moment of foreboding joy, we interrupt the full experience of joy out of the fear of losing it. That is the vulnerability associated with the feeling of joy.

Brene also explains that the antidote to this as gratitude. In those moments when I am snuggling with one or both of my boys and I breathe in their sweet smell and cannot imagine what my life would be without them, that feeling tries to sneak in, but I don’t allow it to. Instead I think about how grateful I am that they are in my life at all. I genuinely cannot imagine what life would be like without them, but I can promise that I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve had with them for anything in the world. If my story would include losing one of them, I wouldn’t do anything different. I would never go back and choose to NOT have them even if I knew I’d lose them. I, and the world around me, is a better place because they have been here. I am so grateful for every minute I have with them, and I will not waste one of them imagining something that hasn’t yet and very likely will never happen.

So all of this to say, I am fully experiencing the joy that is in my life right now. I have a job that is challenging and makes me work hard. N and I are adjusting to his new schedule and are enjoying the quiet life we have built for ourselves. The boys are strong and healthy and happy. I am running more miles and feel stronger than I maybe ever have in my life.

N bought me season tickets to the Broadway series at a St. Louis Theater for my birthday, so I saw some awesome musicals this season.

We added this handsome boy to our family.

I completed another 50 kilometer ultramarathon.

(Photo credit: Mile 90 Photography)

I ran the color run with this incredible group of ladies. They are strong and supportive and my own unicorn tribe.

I was invited to speak at the hooding ceremony where I went to graduate school.
From that talk I was invited to speak at another upcoming event.

I raced a 10k race and set a 2-minute PR.

I have made friends with a group of trail runners who I connect with in a deep and beautiful way. They make me laugh everyday and have offered to change my dirty socks during a run. Now that's friendship.

My heart is happy and full.

Life is good and I am enjoying it as much as I can. It’s funny but as I write this I feel how vulnerable it feels. As though since I am putting this happiness out there it is somehow going to curse me and make something bad happen. Isn’t that crazy how we do that? It’s the knock on wood theory, right? If you say something hopeful out load you have to follow it up with an understanding that it might go away. How crazy is that?

It’s the fear of fully experiencing joy, and I won’t entertain it. I will practice gratitude and recognize all who are hurting right now. I am not hurting, so I am not going to waste my time worrying that I might hurt later.

The new job I started earlier this year is going so well. I work with people with ALS, which is a terminal illness. There is no cure, and there are very few treatments. ALS causes a series of losses that slowly but surely take away all physical abilities from a person, ultimately including the person’s ability to breathe. I work with people in their homes and at their doctor’s office. Sometimes, I am the first person they see after they are told they have this awful disease. 

Can you imagine that for a moment? Seriously. Read this and then close your eyes and imagine what it would be like to sit in a doctor’s office and be told that you have a disease with a prognosis of 2-5 years. A disease that will take your ability to walk, to talk and eventually to breathe. Pause and try to experience what that might be like. Who would you call? How would you tell them? What would you tell your friends and family? What would that pain be like?

I have sat with people who have this disease and I have looked them in the eye as they face their pain. Seeing this kind of pain makes the rest of the world look pretty bright. Being invited into this intimate moment of their life is an honor. Not being able to fix it feels helpless. I cannot fix it, but I can sit with them and assure them that I will not look away. I will not look away from their pain and leave them there to hold it alone. Being able to give them this is one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be in the position I am in to be able to do this. It feel like it is what I am meant to do.

I practice something similar at home. My LBZ is 7.5 years old now (WHAT??), and he is what I would call a very emotional little guy. When he feels something, he feels it with his entire self. He wears his happiness like a colorful cape that follows him around and shines in the sunlight. His fear and pain come out in bursts of uncontrollable tears and yelling. He is full of big and beautiful emotions.

While he is mostly happy, occasionally he is overrun with sadness. It often happens at night, and his little tears flow and he tells of all of the horrible things that happened in the last few months that feel like they happened in the last twenty minutes. He wraps himself up into a ball of tears and sadness and it can make me feel so helpless.

In these moments though, he doesn’t need me to fix those things that happened. He doesn’t need me to problem solve or tell him that everything will be okay. What I say to him is always the same:

“You are so sad. Everything feels sad. I am so sorry that you’re feeling so sad. I am going to stay here with you so you do not have to feel sad by yourself.”

Isn’t that what we all want when we are feeling sad and overwhelmed? We don’t need someone telling us how to fix it, that only communicates that the person giving advice is better at life than the person struggling. What we want is validation and the knowledge that no matter how bad things get, the person will not turn away from it. It’s a gift we can give someone, to be willing to sit with them and their pain.

So my job is a unique combination of holding space for feelings and helping them to solve the problem. I need to be able to do both, which is a nice fit and combination for my personality style. One of my favorite things to do is problem solve. A man I work with loves to cook but gets very tired when he stands in the kitchen and was looking for something to help him conserve his energy and allow him to keep doing this task that he enjoys so much. We talked about a wheelchair but he doesn’t need that yet. We decided to try an office chair that he can perch up high and roll around from the kitchen to the dining room. I’m excited to see if this works.

Another man I work with explained that he felt incredibly tired after his last doctor appointment because of the long walk from the garage to the clinic. We talked about a manual wheelchair and he is resistant to doing this because the wheelchair means that things have declined. This is a very common issue for people who need adaptive equipment. They see a cane or a walker or a wheelchair as a sign of decline. I work with people to reframe their outlook on the equipment and to try and see it as an avenue for independence, not a sign of things worsening. If he uses the manual wheelchair, he will have the energy to make it through the doctor appointment with a clear and fresh mind. Although as we talked we decided it would be much cooler to have a golf cart driving around the doctor’s building giving people rides. That was a fun discussion.

I know firsthand what it’s like to sit in an office and get news that I didn’t want to hear. My disease had a treatment. My disease had a cure. I can honestly say I have put it behind me, although I do feel a loss I didn’t expect. While N and I were clear that we didn’t want more children, there is a big difference between choosing not to have more children and being unable to have more children. It is a loss I didn’t anticipate that shows up as sadness occasionally. Sadness for what might have been had things been different.

Not that I really wanted more kids anyway. Starting all over with an infant would be SO HARD! 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

My World After Cancer

The world looks different after cancer.

It's a bit hard to explain but I’ll try. First though, while I consider myself quite lucky since I didn't have to go through actual cancer treatment, I still feel that I faced something most of us fear - the potential loss of the dream we have of a long and healthy life.

I find myself feeling the need to justify the impact this experience had on me since my experience was pretty mild compared to what many people facing cancer go through. I am going to try and just speak for what this has been like for me, without comparing it to the experiences of others. It is difficult for me to talk about something being bad for me when others have it so much worse. I also feel that I need to honor the impact this experience had on me so I can own it and move forward.

Being off work for 7 weeks after my surgery was absolutely wonderful. I loved being home, having no deadlines or requirements, and basically just managing the day-to-day operations of my home. Once I gained my strength back I went on walks, cooked lots of meals, followed up on all of my doctor appointments, and most importantly, I met the boys at the bus stop every day.

I have always done the morning drop-off and while hectic, I love the extra time with the boys in the morning. Getting them off the bus though, with their big smiles and huge hugs and desperate need to talk over each other in an attempt to be the first to tell me about their day...that is the stuff of life. Seeing this part of their day was so wonderful. I was really, really sad when this ended.

The first couple of weeks back at work were really hard. The work I do is not hard, so I don't mean that the tasks were hard. Readjusting to life after an experience like cancer has been really, really hard.

As I struggled with the first few weeks back, I was desperate to figure out why I was so unhappy and what on earth I could do about it. At first I thought that the answer was I wanted to spend more time with the boys. That my life was meant to be defined by how well I raise these beautiful little people who are growing and changing before my eyes. I reached out to my boss and talked about reducing my hours. As I shared with her what I was struggling with, I realized it wasn't just the amount of time I was away from the boys that was bothering me but rather what I am doing when I am not with them.

I have been yearning for something more from my job for a while. As a counselor, I enjoy being with people and helping them grow. As a leader, I enjoy supervising a team and seeing professionals in my charge provide excellent services and grow in their careers. My current job does not allow for opportunities for either of these preferences.

I knew this when I took the job, and wanted the reprieve of this type of job after my last experience that while wonderful, left me feeling stretched thinner than any other job I've had. I also feel like that job I left challenged me more than any other and forced me to grow.

The world looks different after cancer. I am no longer willing to do a job that I don't enjoy. I am no longer willing to spend time away from my boys that is not spent doing exactly what I want to be doing. I am no longer scared of the uncomfortable conversations and conflicts that come up when managing a team. I am no longer unsure of my own strength and no longer afraid of what might happen if I try a new thing.

There’s a running joke in my house that I always start sentences with “I was listening to this podcast”… N even got me a t-shirt with this as my catch phrase.

I love learning new information, and I don’t enjoy reading. Mostly because reading forces me to sit down and I’m not great at that. I am great at taking walks though! Walking and listening to podcasts is how I usually spend my lunch hour.

I listened to two very influential podcasts in November and December that gave me the push to change the thing in my life I seemed to want to change. I started to include some specifics about those podcasts but it is super long and can totally be a post on its own. Stay tuned for that.

Since listening to these two podcasts and doing some pretty serious self-exploration and self-development, I applied for a job as a director, interviewed, easily found six references willing to support me, and was offered and accepted the position.

I showed up to both interviews as completely myself. I didn’t dress up, I didn’t pretend to be something I wasn’t just to get the job. I was me, take it or leave it, and the ED nearly hired me on the spot.

My sister came in town for the holidays, and she and I are both tattoo fans. I got this new tattoo, without really realizing the statement I was making until I was visiting with another survivor friend a few days after I got it. She said, “Doesn’t it feel like you don’t give a shit what people think after you go through cancer?” Man, if that is not true I don’t know what is. It’s like a badge of honor. Every time I look down at my wrist I am reminded that I am exactly who I am, and not only am I free to show up just as I am but I have a responsibility to do so.

The recruiter who worked with me for this job asked for six references. Six!! That’s a lot of people. As I thought back to my previous jobs it was actually pretty easy to think of people to ask. Each of them said they felt honored to speak on my behalf. I have such a strong and supportive tribe surrounding me. Here’s a fun fact I didn’t realize until I was writing the references down...all three of my personal references are women, and all three own their own businesses. I’m surrounded by some pretty amazing women!

I found a job that will allow me to supervise a team, to have direct contact with people who are dealing with an illness, and that will give me access to clinics within hospitals so I might share how to better treat and care for people who are sick. Plus its more money, which is a plus :)

This job is the culmination of the skills built throughout my career combined with my new knowledge of what it feels like to be diagnosed with a disease. I have spent the last 19 years supporting people with various disabilities with only my empathy to help me understand what it must be like. Because of cancer, I now understand disability more than I ever have before.

A survivor friend’s cancer has returned. Once a person finds and rids the body of cancer, a fear it will return always lingers. My heart is heavy for my friend. Not because I feel sorry for him, I certainly don't, his strength is something to be coveted. I simply feel angry that he has to go through this again. Isn't once enough!? His experience also brings up the fear that accompanies the reality that what I went through isn't necessarily the end. Therefore, I will waste no more time being unsatisfied with any aspect of my life. This is the beginning of whatever is next.

My world after cancer.

More beautiful,
more trust,
more courageous,
more open,
more vulnerable…

…and just beginning.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.
Live the life you have imagined.
~Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Wrapping up 2018 and my word for 2019

I think it is safe to say that 2018 was one hell of a year. I have learned so much about myself this year, and about life, really. The biggest lesson is that there is always meaning to be found, particularly in the negative events in our lives.

Before I get too much into that, I want to talk about the word I chose for 2018: STRETCH. Each year I choose a word that is the focus for my year. This year I wanted to stretch myself both literally as in stretching to keep my muscles loose and healthy, and also figuratively as I intended to stretch myself beyond what I thought I was capable of. 2018 stretched me in more ways than I ever could have imagined. I ran not ONE but TWO ultra marathons, saw my chiropractor on a regular basis, volunteered for a bunch of races, threw down a ton of trail miles, and even got a story published on Ultra Running (dot) com! I also faced the biggest health issue of my life so far when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Through it all though, a theme emerged. As I stretched myself beyond what I thought I was physically capable of, I also faced some of the biggest challenges of my life and quickly realized that I must also stretch what I believe to be true in the world. I hold a strong truth that the universe is a friendly place that is on my side. There were more times this year than ever that I had to stretch this belief far to find the meaning behind what life threw at me.

The year began a bit uneasy when N was essentially laid off from his job. It wasn't sudden, and we had plenty of time to plan for the potential of him being out of work, which was all for nought as he quickly leaned into the change and decided to go into business for himself as an independent consultant. This was the first of many experiences that showed up to challenge us and to test our perpetually optimistic attitudes towards life, which includes the strong belief we both hold: that the universe is friendly and wants us to succeed.

It was much later in the year that I realized how necessary it is to look not only at the perceived negative event, but also to the positive that came of that negative, which likely would have never happened without that first crappy thing. Case in point: while N's new job required a lot of travel every other week, when he was in town he set his own schedule, making it feasible for us to cancel post-care for our boys and provided for extra time with N when they got home from the bus. Plus the time alone gave me complete control over the TV a few nights every other week, which was actually pretty nice. I also had to deal with the raccoon situation, which ultimately helped me feel like I could handle a lot more going on at the house than I realized.

Fast forward to mid-year when we lost our beautiful dog, Delilah. She was 13 years old and lived a long and happy life. I am so grateful to have spent almost her entire life with her. What a sweet girl she was. I miss her terribly.

The loss of Delilah was devastating. I could barely walk into the house without breaking down in tears. She was our girl and I wasn't sure how to go through the day-to-day life without her. Around the same time that she died we were hoping to remodel our kitchen. We moved forward with the remodel after she died, and there were workmen in and out of our home for 8 weeks, which never could have happened when she was alive. While we loved her dearly, she was an aggressive dog and we could not allow her to be around other people. We would have had to kennel her to get this work done, and that would have been very difficult for her.

It was also in her loss that I realized how much it means to me to have animals in our home. In August we welcomed our new kitty, who became a light in the darkness of our animal-less home. N might beg to differ, but even with torn up pieces of paper and kitty footprints on the counter and early am wake-ups and the overall annoyances of a young cat, we are smitten with him. He is teaching the boys what it is like to have a friendly cat and has brought a light to our home that even I didn't realize had burned out. If not for the loss of Delilah we would not know our sweet new kitty.

And of course the biggest issue we faced this year, and truly the biggest challenge I have faced in my life so far, my cancer diagnosis.

I am still searching for the meaning in this. In the previously mentioned examples, the meaning became clear sometime after each experience. I am still waiting for the meaning of my cancer to be revealed. I feel a strong sense that life cannot just go on like cancer never happened, or that it can go back to the way it was. There has to be some deeper meaning for what I went through. I have no doubt that this meaning will reveal itself at the right time. It might be subtle, or it could hit me like a ton of bricks. I'll wait patiently knowing that the universe is friendly, and trust that there is something to come of this.

I am so looking forward to what the new year will bring. More stretching? More adventure? More opportunities to be vulnerable? When I think about power and strength and all that goes into the way I make decisions in my life, I realize how much fear I have as I approach the world. I have spent a lot of my life afraid of what might happen. What am I so afraid of? Failure? Success? Feeling too vulnerable? Things not going perfectly? Any of these and more, I suppose.

I have learned two very important things this year. First, the universe really is a friendly place, even when it doesn't seem so. So what is there to be so afraid of? Second, I do not want to spent my life allowing fear to keep me from doing not only what is possible but also what might just bring me the most joy in this life.

My first word choice for 2019 was fearless, but this really is inaccurate. To operate without fear is inhumane. We are wired to be afraid in order to stay safe. While I would like to face the world with a sense of fearlessness, I do not think this is exactly what I am going for.

As I explored words that would capture what I hope for myself in 2019, one kept coming to mind...

1. firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something

I have to trust that no matter what life throws at me,  I have the strength to handle it. I also have to trust that all that happens in life has meaning, whether I find it immediately or after waiting patiently.

If all of this is true, what do I have to be afraid of?

"I truly believe that everything that we do and everyone that we meet is put in our path for a purpose. There are no accidents; we're all teachers - if we're willing to pay attention to the lessons we learn, trust our positive instincts and not be afraid to take risks or wait for some miracle to come knocking  at our door." ~Marla Gibbs

Bring on 2019!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Feelings. So Many Feelings.

First and foremost, I am so happy to share that my doctor confirmed today that I am officially cancer free! All of the pathology came back clear, so I am at no more risk than anyone else for cancer in the future. Hooray!!

I have so many feelings today as I process this news and all that has happened in the last few months. It is officially over, it seems. Yet I feel that I have more processing to do. While the surgery was the end of a fairly long story, it also feels like it all happened very quickly.

I read the pathology today, which was more detailed than the other reports I have read. The report described my uterus and fallopian tubes in detail. It described the colors and even the measurements. As I read this description, I became very, very sad. I imagined the doctor who was looking at the specimen as just that, a specimen. I understand science and that my uterus looks the same as anyone else’s. That the cancer growing on it was the same as anyone else who has had cervical cancer. Yet it came from my body and served such a huge purpose.

I wondered if the pathologist thought about me as the person whose body once housed that incredible organ. I wondered if she had an appreciation how magical that organ was, or if it was just another part of her day as a scientist. I wondered if she would appreciate the fact that it twice grew from the size she saw into huge as a tiny embryo stretched it to house a beautiful 8+ pound baby boy.

What I read was the science behind it all, and it sort if hit me that my uterus really isn’t there anymore.

Ultimately, I am glad it is gone. It was to serve no purpose going forward. It was the source and cause of a lot of stress and worry over the past 5 years. So much worry that I can now put behind me, but interestingly enough, I am not quite ready to do that just yet. I suppose it makes sense though. I mean, I have been very aware of its existence since August 13, 1991. Does anyone else remember the day of their very first period? I don’t even know how I know that, but I totally do.

I have more healing to do both physically and spiritually and am looking forward to four more weeks of rest and recovery. I am still on orders of taking it easy and no running and will hopefully be able to try some light impact exercise soon. I am missing the way exercise helps me cope with the stresses of life. Although there isn’t much stress in doing word puzzles and binge-watching Netflix 😊

So for now I will spend some time in introspection and reflection, in hopes of getting to a place where I can genuinely say that all of this really is behind me.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Hospitals are not Hiltons

I am home. I had my surgery. And I am so humbled by this whole experience.

So much happened in the last 4 days. It feels like both the longest and the shortest days of my life. Is that even possible?

This was me at about 10:50am on Monday outside of the hospital.

N and the boys got this shirt for me as a nice way to keep the experience positive and light-hearted. While the photo was taken when I arrived, I waited to share it until after the surgery. I figured I’d want to share it when it was over but some thought this was after the surgery. Heck no! I didn’t wear real clothes until sometime late Tuesday morning and I sure didn’t look this well as I hobbled from the wheelchair to the car!

Anyway, I felt pretty good going into the surgery. It’s funny though, going to a hospital I figured they would just be the experts and know everything that needed to be done and I would just be able to relax and let them take care of everything. Not so much. Hospitals are not Hiltons, after all.

The consent form they handed me was the first clue that I will always have to be my own advocate. The form included the removal of my ovaries, which was not part of the plan. Needless to say, I did not sign that one.

Next, while a very kind nurse was trying to give me an IV, a very impatient phlebotomist came in to take some blood. She actually wanted me to hand over my right arm while the lady was trying to start the IV in my left arm. Settle down lady, can’t you all just get the blood out of the IV line so I am only stuck once?

Theoretically yes, but the woman trying to start the IV couldn’t. She set the IV then the impatient lady got my blood with one stick and was out! Then I noticed my skin burning at the site and a big bubble pooling under the site. That IV was definitely NOT in the right place. The main nurse restarted the IV in my hand with no issues.

At about the same time the IV was finally restarted, a tall doctor who introduced himself as the anesthesiologist came into the room with his rolling computer and began talking really fast and clicking buttons. I looked at him and realized I hadn’t heard one single word he said. So I interrupted him and said “I am going to need you to start over again and slow down so I can understand you.” He stopped clicking and looked at me, then he actually saw me. He answered all of my questions (like would I need a catheter and would I be awake when they took the tube out, yes/no FYI).

The rest is a bit of a blur. I signed the right consent form kissed N goodbye, and as nervous as I was I ept thinking about how happy I was that this was me and not one of the boys or even N. Inside I wanted to run away from it all. I wished the pregnancy test had been positive or that the doctor would have been called away for an emergency. But I also wanted to get this over with. It was a constant dichotomy.

Even though the rest is a blur, I will never forget the way I felt right before I drifted off to sleep. Nicole, the anesthesia nurse, looked me in the eyes each time she spoke to me. I crawled up onto the operating table and scooted to where they needed me. I laid my head back and she put the mask on my face. Then she placed both hands on both sides of my face and said she was right there with me and that they would all take very good care of me. I let out a little cry of relief and fear and thanked her. I closed my eyes, which started to water, took some deep breaths and fell asleep.

Next thing I remember is opening my eyes in the recovery room. My nurse spoke to me and I tried to talk but my throat was sore from the tube. The more I spoke the easier it was. I drifted in and out of sleep and felt really good. I had no pain. My mouth was pretty dry and she gave me ice chips to suck on. Apparently general anesthesia shuts off all body systems including the creation of saliva. It takes awhile for that to return.

It was about 4:30pm when I first woke up and my pain level was never more than a 2. It was very well controlled. Long story short, I finally made it to a hospital room at 8:30pm. Yes, I was in recovery for 4 hours! I should have only been there for 1-1.5 hours. It was actually a very entertaining 4 hours. I’ll have to share that part of the story for another time.

I was so relieved to see N in the hospital room. I was really sad that it was too late for the boys to come to the hospital, but we talked through FaceTime, which was nice. I was also really disappointed that I couldn’t eat anything. I was starving! I was NPO then in clear liquids. Tea never tasted so good!

Not a great photo, but you get the idea.

I didn’t sleep well overnight but enjoyed the peacefulness of the empty room and the TV to myself. I was anxious to get home and was released at about 10am on Tuesday.

I’m slowly gaining strength each day but man, this is SO HARD! I have a whole new understanding of and respect for surgery. I have often said that BBZ’s whole personality changed after the surgery he had at 9 months old, and I believe that even more now. I am an adult and this experience was traumatizing. Don’t get me wrong, I am okay, but this experience was no joke and has been harder than I could have predicted.

I think the worst part for me has been the pain from the gas they injected into my abdomen to make room for the laparoscopic surgery tools. Apparently the gas irritates the diaphragm which is on the same nerves as the shoulders, so the pain radiates from my front to my back and doesn’t seem to be helped by any medication. I was not prepared for that! Tonight was the first time I have really had much relief. Luckily I am just taking ibuprofen now rather than a Tylenol/ibuprofen combo. I tried taking the Tylenol 3 but it didn't seem to be any different and I hate taking prescription medications.

As should be expected, I am having a hard time with the lack of activity. I am so used to being crazy active with 13k+ steps daily and this drastic reduction seems like a shock to my body. I am getting up and moving around, but I get tired really quickly and have to sit back down.

The good news is I am feeling stronger each day! I am just not good at taking it easy. I am trying though. I don’t really have a choice. My mom and dad have come over to keep me company and make sure we are all eating well, so many friends have reached out and I have received some really thoughtful care packages with goodies to enjoy post surgery. I’m working on word puzzles and binge watching Netflix and trying to remind myself that I will be able to run again sometime soon-ish. I walked around the little circle outside a couple of times, but I get light headed and I can’t go alone and it kind of freaks me out.

I’m trying to listen to my body and not think about my fitness, but it sure is hard to turn off the part of my mind that is so focused on finding health through movement and activity. I am trying to focus that same health-seeking mindset on resting and allowing my body the time it needs to heal but man, it is hard!

I’m on strict no driving orders until next week and I see why. My abdomen is sore and my reflexes are a bit delayed. Hopefully all of that will be back and in order for Monday when N travels again.
Thanks to everyone who has helped so far with thoughts, prayers, positivity, cards, messages and stuff to keep me occupied. I genuinely appreciate it all.

And I really, REALLY can’t wait to run again. I should probably focus on being able to walk around the block first.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Rockin' Rockwoods 53k Ultra Marathon

“The measure of a person’s strength is not his muscular
power or strength, but it is his flexibility and adaptability.”
~Debasish Mridha

Photo credit: Janzow Photography

I have had a beautiful relationship with one particular race here in St. Louis, MO. The 20k distance of the Rockin’ Rockwoods Ultra Marathon was my very first taste of the ultra world back in 2016. I returned for the shorter distance in 2017, which was increased to a half marathon, and loved it as much as the first year.

It is one of the most challenging races in the area, with an impressive elevation of over 2000ft for the half and over 5000ft for the longer distance, which is the 53k. For many reasons, this is my all time favorite race. It’s challenging and in a beautiful park with gorgeous and tough trails. It has been a dream of mine since 2016 to one day complete the longer 53k distance.

Well, my dream came true and I completed the race this past Saturday! And as should be expected from a super challenging course, completing it was not without its challenges.

I ran the first 6 miles feeling strong. I was averaging about an 11 minute mile, which I knew I could maintain until the steep climbs came after mile 15. Then out of nowhere at 6.5 miles, I began to have some knee pain deep down inside my right knee. I stopped and stretched it out and tried to walk it out. I was able to keep the pain at bay by giving myself frequent walking breaks until about mile 10 or so, then I took some ibuprofen to see if it would allow me to run more and finish the race.

The time between mile 10 and 13 were really rough. I was having some serious doubt that I could finish. I had a long way to go and I knew I could drop at the next station at mile 15 and walk back to the race start. I thought maybe I could cheer everyone on and still feel good about the situation. Maybe my body would do better for my upcoming surgery if I wasn’t recovering from a full race. I cried a little as I realized how hard it would be to go into the surgery shortly after my first DNF. My emotions were all over the place.

I hoped to get some guidance from my friends who I knew were at the 15 mile aid station, but I needed help sooner than that. So I texted N.

When I sent him that first text, I was sure he'd text back that it was okay to stop if I needed to. As soon as I saw his response, which was simply a request for more information, I turned straight to problem solving mode. I had tried to compute the distance but I just couldn't wrap my head around it. He's awesome at math so as soon as I saw that I could walk and still finish in the 10-hour cutoff time, I was golden.

Once I let go of attempting to run I was able to throw down a decent power hiking pace. I averaged about 16-17 minute miles for the rest of the race, with a couple of exceptions at the main aid station at mile 20 and during some of the steepest climbs.

Doing my best to make it look like I was running :)
Photo credit: Janzow Photography

I could have dropped. I wanted to drop. I had a lot of pretty valid excuses. I have cancer. I am having major surgery in nine days. My knee is in serious trouble. No one would blame me for dropping. I could cheer on my friends. If I was ever going to DNF, I had plenty of excuses lined up to make it a valid choice.


What if I finished this race despite all of those excuses? How strong would I feel? How good would that be for my psyche? I am forced to rest after the surgery anyway, so I can push my knee beyond what I typically would knowing I'll have extra time to let it heal.

Making the best of not running. Eating while power hiking!
Photo credit: Janzow Photography

The decision was a no-brainer. I pushed on and power hiked and felt pretty good through most of the race. People passed me and checked in on me to see if I was okay. I managed to choose music that I wanted to hear as opposed to music that would pump me up. I spent 9 hours in the woods on a beautiful day, texted with my husband to arrange when I'd finish and thoroughly enjoyed the course of my very favorite race.

 Rock and roll hands as I rocked Rockin' Rockwoods
Photo credit: Janzow Photography

Bee stung, scraped and blistered at the finish line.
Thrilled by the realization that this trail didn't break me.
 Photo credit: Janzow Photography

 09:01:44, two hours past my goal time.
I'll take it over a DNF any day.
 Photo credit: Janzow Photography

I am so grateful for this lady and her no bullshit take on the ultra running sport. During her race meeting the morning of the race she said no one should drop on this beautiful day. She said we all had 10 hours to complete this race, and she sure didn't want to have to pick any of our asses up at one of the stations, so no dropping.

Her words echoed in my head as I contemplated dropping. Letting her down would have been letting myself down. She and her crew design these races so we can push ourselves to the brink of failure, hoping that each of us succeed. Shalini and Jerod (Jerod is the mystery hand in the photo) and this moment are very special to me.

 Photo credit: Janzow Photography

These boys. THESE BOYS!! (and N too, he's just hiding) They both have referenced back to this race and the pride they feel in me. I am so happy that I am showing these boys that great things come from refusing to give up, and from being willing to adjust our expectations in the moment. As the quote above says, we must be willing and able to be flexible and adaptable to our experiences.

 Photo credit: Janzow Photography

I told N when I got home that night that his question back to me in that text is what changed the course of my mindset, and he said that he knew I was banking a lot of my strength for the upcoming surgery on my performance in this race. He knew what it meant for me, and he helped me figure out what I needed to do that was best for me, while also giving me an out at the end if I went that way. I sure do love him.

My other thought was when I do this race again, there's no doubt I will set a course PR as long as I can run it. Guess I can't put this race behind me just yet after all :)

Official stats:
53k (33 miles)
27th of 30
9th female of 11

My regular chiropractor is out on paternity leave so I saw his fill-in today. She stretched me out and helped me see and feel how incredibly tight my entire body was. It's unclear if the tightness was in place before the race and contributed to my knee or if the race made me tight all over, but nevertheless, it seems that the stress I've been under likely contributed to my body being "off" leading into the race.

The best part is she doesn't think the knee injury is anything long-term. As long as I can deal with my blistered feet, I'll be able to squeeze a few more runs in before my time off for the surgery.

I feel so lucky to have this life of mine. To be able to run a race like this is more than many people can even imagine. I have so many wonderful things in my life, and I can't wait to see what is up next in this incredible journey. Thanks for reading friends, and for going along with me in this little life.

Monday, September 24, 2018

I Found My Surgical Pacer

I met with the new oncologist this morning, and to say it went well would be a huge understatement.

N went with me this time, which was really great. I wish he went last time so he could compare the two experiences, but considering how ready I feel to take on this challenge with the support of this doctor I know seeking another option was the right thing to do.

We talked for a long time about what I've been through so far, and she helped me understand why she is recommending a simple hysterectomy. She drew pictures and answered every question we could think of. She even remembered a pen!

She noticed my socks and recognized them as a preference for running. She shared that she is a runner too and we chatted about running and upcoming races. Mine is this weekend, and she is training for the New York Marathon later this year. There is just something about talking about running with another runner. It creates an immediate connection and a shared language that is difficult to explain to people who are not runners.

As we discussed the details of the procedure and what I need to do to lead up to it, she said I have likely spent more time and energy preparing my body for the race on Saturday than I will need to do for the surgery. As we continued to talk and she referenced race training and prep with the surgery, she either said or I picked up on the fact that the the preparation for and execution of my race this weekend will likely be more difficult than this surgery.

So there it is. All I really needed to hear. Not only can I do this, but I have already done something more difficult than this and have done it well. I will be back on my feet and ready to put this all behind me in a period of time comparable to recovering from an ultra marathon.

And I've already done that once!

She did an incredible job of helping me feel confident and strong and not only able to handle this surgery, but that I would likely be back to running fairly quickly because I am in such good shape. Not once did I feel like she thought I needed to be taken care of. She pointed out my strengths and reassured me that they would carry me through this with ease.

I wrote a couple of days ago that although I feel surrounded by people supporting me and cheering for me, I am doing this alone. Well, my visit with this doctor totally challenged that thought. She and her team will be there with me the whole time. It's like she's my surgical pacer who will do everything she can to ensure a solid finish. I am so grateful that I held out hope and found someone who makes me feel this confident in the decision to move forward with the surgery.

We are working on the scheduling and it could be anywhere from 2-4 weeks away depending on what the nurse finds out. I should know by tomorrow.

They will do pathology on the uterus once it is removed to see if there is any further treatment needed. I am holding out hope that everything will be removed with the surgery and I will be able to put this whole experience behind me soon.

This has been a whirlwind of emotion and coping since July. I have spent a lot of time feeling fearful of this surgery and unsure of it all. For the first time, I am thinking of how much better it will be afterwards. I am able to see myself sailing through and actually feeling better once it is all over. It's a beautiful and much needed fresh perspective.