Why I keep running

I used to think nothing of running 20 or 30 miles at a time. I could run a marathon or even a 50k on any given weekend. A 50 miler would be cause for butterflies in my stomach but I never doubted finishing one. A 100 miler was daunting, but I did it with a smile on my face.

    These days I am not up for super long distances. A lot of the time I am completely exhausted. Yet I keep choosing to run most days. I am running for my physical and emotional well being. I am running because even on the worst days, when all I want to do is sleep, going for a run makes me feel better.

     More often than not, I find myself wondering, “Can I run today?” Or “Should I run today?” Today was no exception. The last couple of days have been very stressful. I have been dealing with some non cancer related issues which are weighing heavily on my mind. After attending to some business this morning, I really wanted to take a nap. I found sleep elusive after handling phone calls, taking the dog out, etc. I decided to just get up and go out for a run.

    The first half mile, I thought, “I am so tired. Why did I come out here?” Then a mile into my run, I thought, “I am still tired and slow but maybe not as slow as I thought”. By mile two, I thought, “I can probably run 4 miles.” By mile 3, something kicked in and I started to feel better and dare I say, maybe even happy? I ended up running over an hour and my entire physical being and mental state had shifted. The exertion felt good physically and my mind had a sense of calmness that had been lacking all day.

     It is that positive shift that I experience from running that keeps me coming back to the roads and the trails day after day. Running is not effortless these days. Running is hard physically and mentally right now. I feel slow and tired. It is not easy to push myself out of the door. It isn’t easy to keep going when my runs are a struggle. Yet somehow I keep going because I know that even when it is hard, at some point that positive shift will come. Some days I don’t actually feel good until the run is over…but I always feel better after my run. I have yet to think,  “I should have stayed home today.” Maybe that time will come. For now, I will keep running as often as I can because it still makes me feel better, happier, and calmer. Running helps me tackle life’s problems when nothing else makes sense. I don’t have to be fast. I don’t have to run far. I just need to run.

Week Five Fatigue and Life’s Essentials

I had chemo treatment number 5 this past Monday. I have still been trying to kick the respiratory bug I got a couple of weeks ago. The cough has slowly gone away, but I have been left with some lingering fatigue, stuffiness and a general sensation of my chest and lungs not being 100%. At this point, it is hard to figure out what is chemo related and what is illness related.

     I knew I was going to feel crappy after chemo anyway, so Steve and I went for a run in the morning. It would end up being the longest run of the week. The kids were out of school again, so Peyton went to a friend’s house and Riley came along to the cancer center with us. The infusion went as anticipated. The chemo nurse asked the doctor about my chemo induced amenorrhea. I guess he was surprised that it had happened, but I can vouch for the fact that it has. He seemed to think my cycles would start again once chemo is over. I hope so. 

    I am not sure if it is the chemo or the anti nausea medication, but I am always very tired after chemo treatments. I look forward to getting home, putting on my pajamas and crawling in bed. I was not as sick this time as I had been the previous week. I laid down for a while, and when I got up, I found that the friend who had watched Peyton that afternoon had made me some “chemo moonshine” to help with the nausea. I do think sipping a little of this helps with nausea. No, there is no alcohol in it 🙂


     On Tuesday, I had to take Greta in to the vet. She has had a growth on her leg for a while now that we have just been observing for changes. The previous Friday afternoon, she had jumped up on the bed with me, and I noticed a big red spot that alarmed me greatly. You can’t tell from this photo, but it is raised. 

I took her to our long time vet, Dr Mohr, at the Black Forest Veterinary Clinic. Last summer, the BFVC burned to the ground during the Black Forest fire. I was devastated for our vet. I also selfishly was sad for myself because I did not want to take Greta anywhere else. The good news is, Dr. Mohr found space directly across from where his clinic had been, and he is back in business. He did a fine needle aspiration of Greta’s leg and said he had been concerned about it being a mast cell tumor, but he did not see any cancer cells in the FNA fluid. We have enough cancer in our house right now. Greta is nearly 10, but she seems to still be a very healthy dog. I am looking forward to sharing a few more years with my girl.

   To celebrate, we came home and snuggled in my bed together. 

     The theme of this week has been fatigue and taking care of the essentials. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I crashed and slept during the day. I am not and never have been one to take naps. So, if I fall asleep during the day, I am truly exhausted. I think the previous week of not sleeping due to my cough just caught up with me. I really felt like life has just kicked my behind the past couple of weeks. Some days, it has been all I could handle to get my kids ferried around to school and activities. What I did appreciate from catching a few daytime Zs was that napping enabled me to stay up past 7 pm to spend some time with my family in the evening. There is nothing more important to me right now than supporting my kids to the best of my ability. My having cancer has been obviously very distressful for both girls. The fact that I have had to go to bed so early many nights has been a constant reminder of illness and of life being turned upside down. Being able to hang out with the family after school and practices and activities and homework is a gift. I don’t want to sleep through six months of their lives. I am all too aware of how fast the clock is ticking for all of us right now. Being ill is robbing me of precious time with my children who are growing up much faster than I would like.

    Going through surgery and chemo has taught me that sometimes you have to pare down to only the essentials in your life in order to survive. I have had to really set limits and prioritize how I spend my time right now, since my energy is so limited. My family, my friends and taking care of my body through rest, exercise and nutrition are the most important things right now. If that means I only have the energy to get my kids to school, go for a short run or walk and then come home and nap so that I have the ability to see my kids and husband in the evening, then so be it. Maybe I will feel better after I am completely over this illness and I am just dealing with chemo side effects, but maybe not. Maybe this is the new normal for the next few months. Either way, I am learning that life is very short and precious. I have no idea how long I have left on this planet but I plan to spend my time with people I really love, doing things that I consider essential and joyful. Maybe it shouldn’t have taken me 45 years and a cancer diagnosis to figure these things out. We spend too much time thinking about all of the “shoulds” instead of what is really crucial to our own well being. Think about what and who you consider essential in your life. Spend your time with those essential people doing those things that give your life meaning. 

Recap of the week of treatment #4

Last weekend, I had a sore throat. I have not had a cold in several years and hoped that the sore throat would go away. I knew being on chemo would make me more susceptible to illness, but I was hopeful I would shake whatever little bug had infected me.

     On Monday, Steve and I went to the cancer center. Our usual corner of the room was occupied, so we went to a far corner of the room where no one else was sitting. I settled in with my book and my iPad while the nurse hooked me up to the IV drip. Not long after I started, a woman came in and sat across from us. She proceeded to talk loudly on her cell phone for the entire duration of her, and my, treatment. Chemo makes many people not feel well. Many other patients are slumped over, trying to sleep. Cell phone patient goes on to have a very loud conversation about people in jail and on work release. So much for trying to find some peace while sitting in the chair.

     When I got home that night, I developed some pretty significant nausea. I laid in bed with bed spins. I skipped dinner and stayed in bed all night. I also now had a stuffy nose and cough to go along with my sore throat. I coughed much of Monday night. I attended a meeting that morning, but had to leave early. That afternoon, I started a fever which lasted all of Tuesday night and into Wednesday. My cough kept me up again all Tuesday night. On Wednesday, I called the oncology office to inform them of my fever and cough. The doctor phoned in an antibiotic and a cough medicine. My fever came down on Thursday morning, but my cough continued to keep me awake each night. The cough is exhausting and painful, especially along my incision line, but I think it is finally starting to improve.

     So, the week of treatment #4 was pretty much a wasted one for me. I laid in bed a lot and didn’t see much of my family. My poor husband had to come home from work and pull double duty cooking dinner, Etc., several days last week. I know the kids miss me when I spend the bulk of my time in bed. I feel guilty when I cannot keep up with my normal duties. It was another tough week. On a positive note, I spent a little time with friends, had one kind person bring dinner, spent a little time with Riley outside on Saturday and took her for a driving lesson on Sunday. I had my weekly blood draw on Friday and was a little concerned that the numbers would be off because of my illness. I have not heard from the oncology office, so I guess Treatment #5 is this afternoon. I wonder what this week will bring. 

First chemo cycle done and my changing body

I have finished my first cycle of chemotherapy and am about ready to start my second cycle. A cycle for me is three weeks of chemo and then a week off. I have noticed several side effects already.

     First of all, the exhaustion is just overwhelming. I have never been so tired in my whole life. I would love nothing more than to just lie in bed all day, every day, but that just is not in my personality. 

     Secondly, I get nauseous. I have not thrown up yet, but I often feel queasy. Thirdly, I have had digestive problems. One week this sent me to the ER to get straightened out. Fourth, I can tell my immune systems is working over time, because I have gotten sick with a respiratory bug for the first time in a few years. Not a huge deal right now, but I hope the cough, sore throat and stuffy nose do not evolve into something that might threaten my treatment plan. My blood levels are still in the normal range, but they have dropped already from where they started. The oncologist said not to be surprised if we have to alter my chemo schedule at some point.

     Fifth, my skin is very dry. This is common and not a serious problem, although sometimes the itching makes drives me a little batty.

     Sixth, while I have not yet noticed hair thinning on my head, I have noticed that I rarely have to shave my legs and underarms these days. I used to shave every day and now I could get by probably once per week. I am sure this is affecting the hair on my head, but I have so much that I have not yet noticed.

     Seventh, I think the chemo is messing up my menstrual cycles. I have not gotten a period since before I started chemo. This is also a normal side effect, but unlike many women who wish to be rid of their periods, I want to hang onto mine for as long as possible. I hope my cycles come back after the chemo is over and that I am not being permanently pushed into an early menopause. I have come to find a certain comfort in the routine of my body’s cycles, and I know that there is a protective effect for bone health that goes away when a woman goes into menopause.

     Finally, I get muscle cramps. This is not the end of the world, but it definitely limits some of my physical activity. I asked the doctor about this side effect at my appointment this week, and he thinks the chemo is affecting my glycogen stores. My electrolytes are still in the normal range, so he thinks my glycogen is being depleted. 

    My doctor asked if I had noticed any changes in my body. Well, yes, of course. I have not really gained weight, but the insult of major abdominal surgery followed by the start of chemo has resulted in a new softness to my body that was not there before. I used to routinely run 70-100 mile weeks depending on what I was training for, and lift weights 3-4 times per week. Now the longest run I have done is a half marathon. I couldn’t lift anything over 10 lbs for six weeks following surgery and now I find I am so exhausted that I may get a run in but I have trouble following that up with weights. Furthermore, my port makes a lot of upper body exercises uncomfortable or downright painful.

     I have always had a conflicted relationship with my body. When I was young, I could never have a low enough body fat level. My thighs were too big. My stomach was not flat enough. I was horribly cruel in my own self assessment. 

     When I got pregnant for the first time at age 28, allowing myself to grow large and round was mentally difficult. I had worked in the fitness industry and spent a lot of time in front of people in front or a mirror. Giving birth to a baby girl changed something in my brain. I remember having an epiphany one day and telling myself, “you don’t have the right to screw up your daughter with body image issues.” 

     It was around this time that I had become a runner. I ran my first marathon, the Mississippi gulf coast marathon, when Riley was 11 months old. I was so incredibly proud of myself when I crossed that finish line. I went on to run the Mardi Gras marathon seven weeks later. I was hooked. More and more races followed, and I started to appreciate my body more for what it could do than what it looked like. Getting away from that gym mirror and being outside to challenge myself was liberating and helped me to over come a lot of my body image issues.

     This past summer, I finished my first 100 mile race at the Vermont 100. Running that far is definitely not something you do for health purposes. It is hard on the body. I remember the morning after the race, prior to going to the awards ceremony, looking at my bloated belly and swollen feet and ankles. I absolutely did not care what I looked like. The puffiness somehow became a badge of honor. I wondered how in the hell I could have ever been so cruel to my body when my body was capable of doing such amazing things. 

     That feeling has carried me through until now. I look at my abdomen that looks like a jigsaw puzzle. I have a scar from having an open appendectomy years ago. I have a scar from my breasts to my navel from when half my pancreas and spleen were removed. I have a large lump and scar in my chest from my port. So far my body has not failed me. Yes, I have been invaded by an alien life form (cancer), and it has beaten me down a bit, but it has not defeated me.

     I know the changes I see in my body over these next few months of chemo will not be positive ones. I hope I can continue to be in awe of what my body can do, rather than what it looks like. Prior to my surgery, I thought running 100 miles was hard. Little did I realize, it was just the warm up for what was to come. I hope as time goes on, that I can continue to be kind to myself. Getting my diagnosis, and going through what I have already gone through has made me realize that the people who love me will never care about the size of my biceps, the flatness of my stomach, the girth of my thighs. I know they, and I, just want more time together. We need more time.

   

     

   

 

My first week off from chemo

This was my week off from chemotherapy. Last Friday I didn’t have to go in for blood work. I wasn’t sure what it would be like to skip a week of chemo because this was my first week off. What I found was I was less nauseous, but still feeling pretty exhausted.

    Nevertheless, I have tried to pack in as much fun stuff as possible. Last weekend, it was a pleasure to watch my daughter and her friends perform in Ramantics, the variety show at Rampart high school.

On Sunday, Steve, my friends and I went and ran the Super half marathon. It was 10 degrees at the start and there was snow on the ground. I ran with  my very good friend while my husband raced and won second in his age group. Running with my friend was exactly what I needed to do right now.

Debby and I after the race.

Steve and I.

Steve and his award.

The Broncos got crushed in the Super Bowl that night, which was a bummer, but we enjoyed some amazing food with great friends.

     On Monday, Steve and I hiked and ran in the snow on Section 16.

The rest of the week has been so cold, with temps near or below zero. The kids had two snow days so we got to spend some quality time together.

      I woke up with a sore throat and cough today. I haven’t had a cold in a few years so I hope I can just shake it off. I know my immune system is working over time, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that this is just a minor irritation. This afternoon, I had to go back to the cancer center for a blood draw and an appointment with my oncologist. I really like my doctor and the people who work in the cancer center, but I enjoyed having the week off. Cycle two starts on Monday. 

World cancer day/Pancreatic cancer

Today’s post is in honor of World Cancer Day. Over the last few decades, most forms of cancer have seen survival rates increase. For some forms of cancer, survival rates have increased substantially due to increased awareness of symptoms, better screening and increased funding for research into optimal forms of treatment.

   For pancreatic cancer, survival rates have not increased substantially over the years. In fact, the latest figures show that the five year survival rate for ALL STAGES of pancreatic cancer is only 6%. For stage 1, it is estimated that five  year survival is between 20 and 30%. Long term stage four survivors are few and far between. Sadly, most cases of PC are diagnosed at either stage 3 or stage 4. Pancreatic cancer has the lowest five year survival rates of any form of cancer. In 2013, there were over 45,000 cases of PC diagnosed, and over 38,000 deaths from PC.

   Currently there is no way to detect PC in it’s earliest stages. Treatments are often aimed at keeping the patient comfortable rather than at curing the illness.  Surgical resection offers the best chances of long term survival, but most patients are not candidates for surgical resection.

   I would love to see Pancreatic Cancer receive the attention and funding that other cancers, such as breast cancer, have received. Please help spread the word about pancreatic cancer. Check out organizations such as the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network to learn more about this deadly form of cancer.

For further information on Pancreatic cancer, please see