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.