Half way through chemotherapy!

This past Monday I had my 9th chemo infusion. I am getting a total of 18, so that means I am half way through! I am on a 3 week on and one week off chemo schedule. So that means I have completed 11 of 24 weeks. My husband and I continued with our pre chemo tradition of running 10 miles in the morning before heading to the cancer center. I was nervous going in on Monday. I do not normally get particularly nervous, but I had some pretty significant nausea the week before. Just thinking about how badly I had felt scared me. This week my fears were happily unfounded, because I felt fine Monday night, other than being tired.

I have learned to expect the unexpected throughout chemo. I was only mildly nauseous this week, but I was completely exhausted most days. I had some weird arm pain and swelling going on which was bothersome. Still, I managed to run or run/walk all week. Tuesday and Wednesday I ran by myself.

 On Thursday, I met up with a girl friend and really struggled to keep up for the first couple of miles. Eventually I was able to settle in and the run was enjoyable and therapeutic. On Friday, I met two of my ultra running girl friends for an easy run that just about killed me. I kept thinking I would feel better, and I never did. I felt like I was really gasping for air through the entire run. At one point, I stopped to walk up a hill, tripped and fell, cutting my finger open. Yes, I trip and fall when I walk.

I had planned to try a little longer run on Saturday with my friend who is training for a marathon. I went to bed feeling nervous about it, since I really struggled to finish 7-8 miles this week. Something happened on Saturday, though, and I felt pretty good. I felt comfortable the whole way and wasn’t out of breath and struggling. My friend ran 20 and I finished 14 miles. I was very happy about doing my longest run since just prior to surgery in November. It seems crazy that in November I thought nothing of running for hours on end, and now I was not sure if I had 14 in me or not. 

Today Steve and I went out to run ten miles and I felt exhausted and breathless again. I never know what each day will bring, but I am learning to deal with the physical effects as they come.

So now I have finished half of my chemo infusions. This week is an “off” week for me and I am looking forward to hopefully feeling more like myself. I still feel like I have a long way to go, but now I am beginning to think about life after chemotherapy. When I first started this adventure, it felt like it would continue forever. While going through treatments and making twice weekly visits to the cancer center, it is hard to think about a whole lot other than just making it through each day and taking care of my family. Cancer takes over a lot of time, physical and emotional energy. Now I am starting to think, “What’s next?” Just thinking about the future and possibilities is exciting and exhilarating and also a little scary. I am looking forward to moving on and moving forward, and of course, planning my next race!

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Running in Tutus

Yesterday I read a disturbing story involving Self magazine. Apparently Monika Allen was contacted by Self magazine. Self wanted to use a picture of Ms. Allen running the LA marathon in a tutu. Monika Allen consented to the use of her image in the magazine thinking it would be great publicity for her company Glam Runner. Glam Runner makes tutus and a percentage of the proceeds supports the girls running program “Girls on the Run”. Ms. Allen was mortified when she found out that she was featured in a segment called the “BS meter” that belittled running in tutus, saying they were only successful in making people run away from you faster.

    The thought of any female runner being ridiculed in a women’s magazine was upsetting to me. I will never understand why women think it is appropriate to be unkind, hurtful and cruel to one another. The aspect of this story that was personally horrifying to me is the fact that Monika Allen was undergoing chemotherapy for brain cancer when the photo in question was taken. When I first read the story, I thought, “Whether or not she was undergoing chemo is irrelevant.” However, I could not stop thinking about this story over the last 24 hours.The fact that Ms Allen had brain cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy does matter. I will address that in a moment.

   Magazines that are aimed at women often attempt to keep their readership loyal to their content by using thinly veiled fear tactics. The message is that women have to keep reading the magazines in an attempt to be pretty enough, sexy enough, thin enough and stylish enough. For any woman to find herself featured in the way that Ms. Allen was would be horrifying. As someone who is currently undergoing chemotherapy, seeing her being publicly shamed makes me feel outraged on her behalf. Cancer or not, it was wrong for Self to do. The gross insult of what cancer does to our bodies makes it much worse.

     Cancer survivors have already had to endure so much indignity. We have our bodies cut open. We have organs removed. We have multiple tests, some of which are quite invasive. We have radiation treatments. We have chemo ports inserted into our bodies, sometimes for many years. We endure chemotherapy. Though the chemo drugs have different side effects, we often deal with outwardly obvious issues, such losing our hair, weight loss, weight gain, nausea and severely changes. Our bodies are altered forever both internally and externally. 

     While I have not been shy about showing people my surgical scar or my port, I have, in my moments of insecurity, wondered what people think. I remember when I first got my port put in, I wondered if people could see it or if I somehow just seemed different. I have wondered if the chemotherapy is going to have life long effects on my body besides just the cancer it is targeting. I am not ashamed of my scars, but I am aware of how different my physical being right now is from what it was six months ago. As a cancer survivor, we are proud of ourselves for fighting, and yet we still can find ourselves in a state of disbelief over the rapid changes we have physically endured.

     There are other seemingly small aspects of life that may make cancer survivors feel like we stand out. When you have cancer or any other serious illness, you have to take steps to protect yourself from getting sick. I know when I go into school or go grocery shopping, I often wear gloves to protect myself from acquiring an illness. Having been sick already once during chemo, I am hoping to avoid being sick again. Wearing gloves attracts unwanted attention, though. I think at first, my kids were embarrassed to see me coming to their schools that way. I understand this because I know I hope no one notices them when I am out in public. This week I had not one but TWO grocery store employees comment on the fact that I was wearing gloves. I was very embarrassed by what felt like negative attention and a reminder that there is something “wrong” with me.

     Because I understand the physical and emotional impacts of surviving cancer, I do think it is somehow “worse” that Self’s target for snarky insults was a woman who was undergoing chemo. Monika Allen is both brave and beautiful. That she chose to tackle a marathon while undergoing chemo makes her a rock star in my book. That she chooses to wear a tutu that she designed because it makes her feel empowered and pretty is pretty damned cool. Furthermore, the fact that she has used her negative circumstances to financially support a running program that benefits young girls is commendable. Women’s magazines should be showcasing women like Monika Allen for exhibiting strength and grace in the most difficult of circumstances.

    Publicly humiliating any other human being is wrong. Publicly shaming a human being who has already suffered enough insult and injury is cruel on a whole other level. To my fellow human beings, please do not tolerate this kind of nastiness no matter who it is directed towards. To those of you who have lived through cancer or any other serious illness, I say let’s follow Monika Allen’s example. Be proud of yourself for surviving. Keep living full lives, challenge yourself, hold your heads high and take every opportunity to turn a negative situation into a positive. I have never worn a tutu in a race, but thanks to Self magazine, I just may start.

    

Attitude and fighting battles together

As I go into chemo infusion #9, I am reminded how we are all in this world together.

   Over the course of the past months, I have talked about the fatigue and the nausea. Other side effects have developed. They are more unusual than really troubling. I itch so badly all over. The chemo does a real number on the skin. I apply lotion several times per day, and yet I still itch. This is not a fatal side effect, but it is annoying, especially when no one is home to put lotion on my back 🙂

     I had also heard that chemo patients can get anticipatory nausea. When I get chemo and for a couple of days afterwards, I get a metallic taste in my mouth and get nauseated. The day prior and the day of chemo, when I just think about going to chemo, I can actually taste the metal in my mouth and I get waves of nausea. It is for sure a Pavlovian response, and I know that. I thought that kind of anticipatory nausea would not effect me, but it has. Luckily, I know what is happening and I can laugh about it. This is irritating and yet fascinating to me. The mind is such a powerful organ.

     This bring me to topic of attitude. I have people comment on my positive attitude. I know positive attitude helps us cope with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Positive attitude can impact our body and health for the better in the same way that have a negative attitude can make things worse. I do not think that having a positive attitude can will away cancer, or prevent a recurrence. Rather, having a positive attitude can help us feel emotionally and physically better even in seemingly terrible circumstances. Having a positive attitude makes in difference in the quality of our lives. It helps us make the most of whatever time we have left on earth, whether we are ill or completely healthy.

    Finally, I am not the only person going through a serious illness. Right now I have several friends who are fighting their own battles. Some have cancer. Some have autoimmune illnesses. Some are care givers to people who have cancer, or neurological illness, or autoimmune diseases. I love the fact that these people have reached out to me during these challenges. Certain diagnoses can seem devastating, but there is power and comfort in community. I am so thankful that these friends have shared their stories with me. I do believe we were put on this earth to help one another. Keep sharing your stories,  my friends. We can prop each other up, lean on one another and make it through this journey together.

People Who Make Me Happy

Last Monday was treatment #8. As usual, Steve and I started off our day with a run. The weather was beautiful and we managed to get in ten miles before going to chemo.

So far, my husband has been able to go to every chemo session with me. I know being in the infusion room is not particularly exciting, and I appreciate him coming along to keep me company. I am grateful to have him along. He likes to play Flappy Bird when I get tired.

This week, I was hit with nausea pretty badly for a few days. Monday night I felt like I was in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. Three members of my family hopped in bed with me to keep me company.

Still, I managed to keep up with everything I needed to do this week. I ran with my friends and with my husband.  I attended parent teacher conferences. I had my daughters’ friends over to our house. I went to Denver for my teenaged daughter’s track meet. In short, I am continuing to live my life.

    This week reaffirmed how much I gain from my connections to others. My life was touched by some special people this week. I was fortunate enough to have runs lined up with three girl friends this week. I know I have slowed down. I know I am not the bundle of energy I normally am. I really appreciate my friends’ willingness to meet me, encourage me, and keep me company. I know some people may not understand why I would want to keep running when I feel tired or sick. Running is so much a part of who I am that I just need to keep doing it until I no longer can. I may not be running long right now, but I continue to get out there. It makes me feel happy and whole. I may have been dragging and tired during each run, but I know I came home filled with the joy of having passed miles with people I love dearly.

     Not all friends are close enough to run with, though. This week I was fortunate enough to share long phone calls with two special women in my life. One is a childhood friend. Our friendship was founded in the trials and tribulations of middle school and high school. We spent countless hours at one another’s houses growing up. Though we lost touch for a long time, when we reconnected, it was like we had never spent time apart. Here we are as freshmen in high school.

     The other friend is someone I met locally a couple of years ago who has since moved. We first met at the gym, and while we did not dislike one another, we did not become friends after that first meeting. We met again later through our kids’ school. On a run one day, we talked about our first impressions of one another, and how wrong they were, and we laughed about it. I am so glad my friend and I had the opportunity to really get to know each other, because I have gained so much from knowing her and her entire family. I love this woman because we laugh together and discuss deep and complex issues with mutual respect. I have missed her every day since she moved away.

It amazes me how just a simple phone call can leave me feeling so genuinely happy. Take the time to connect with people you love by phone, if you cannot see them in person. I know, we all get busy but the people we love won’t always be around. Make the phone call. Plan a running date, or a coffee date. Our connections to others bring meaning and joy to our lives.

   Lastly, I have to mention a random connection from my run this morning. I was running with my husband and just having a really hard time. I stopped and tried to compose myself. I was embarrassed. I did not want to be emotional in public. A woman was running towards us, she stopped and said, “hey, I know you!” She was one of the nurses from the cancer center. She stopped to say hello. I told her I was having a hard time and burst into tears. She hugged me and said, “It gets better.” That hug, that phrase and that chance encounter created a sudden shift in my emotional state. I was suddenly able to let go of the overwhelming emotions I had been experiencing. Such a simple gesture, but it was exactly what I needed in that moment. I knew she understood without my having to explain. She was right. It did get better.

   Onwards to tomorrow and treatment #9. I feel badly for my kids that while many of their friends are going away for spring break, we will be here and I will be receiving and recovering from my chemo treatments. I am sorry it won’t be particularly fun for them, but I hope they know that in time, it will get better.

Body image and parenting

This week, we enjoyed some lovely spring like weather. For the first time since last summer, I took my shirt off during a run.

The cool thing about my scar is that from a distance it makes me look like I have an ab. I don’t. I also have a little pooch beneath my belly button where my stomach is soft and squishy 🙂 I had to take quite a while off from doing abs and lifting weight after my surgery. I have lost muscle mass and tone. Frankly, doing abs and having a rock hard stomach/body is not my priority at the moment. I feel like things are “good enough” and if someone doesn’t want to see my cut up torso, they can just look the other way!

Let’s talk about body image again. To my friends: are there any of you out there who did not beat yourself as an adolescent over what you perceived your physical shortcomings to be? I know I did, as I have discussed here before. I know that as I have grown up and aged, I realized that my body as a teenager was never perfect, but it was pretty darned good. As I have gotten older, things have started to wrinkle, droop, sag, etc. Right now my hair is thinning and turning gray due to chemo. I have made peace with my body and it’s various imperfections that I never had during my younger years. Yes, there are things I wouldn’t mind changing but I know at this point, certain things are not going to change for the better no matter what I do (unless I resort to surgery and that is not going to happen). It was a long process to get to where I am today, but I have a very healthy relationship with food and my physique. 

     As a parent, my policy has been not to engage in fat talk around my kids. I talk about healthful eating and exercise for both physical and emotional well being. Still, kids get bombarded by images and negative body talk from other sources. How do we as parents combat these harmful influences? 

    I would love to hear from women (and men) out there. Tell me about your body image as a teen. Were you hard on yourself? Have you made peace with your imperfections? If so, how do you think you achieved that sense of peace? Are you happier with your body as an adult than you were as a teen? If so, why? If not, why not? If you have kids, how do you try to encourage a healthy body image? Talk to me about your body image, how it has changed over time and how it influences how you parent.

Chemo treatment 7 week in review

This past Monday, I received my 7th chemo infusion. As usual, Steve and I started off the day with a run. It was lovely and we covered 10 miles. I am finding that I get winded very easily these days. Hills that I used to breeze up can now leave me gasping for air or dizzy. Sometimes I just walk up the hills. I am having to slow down and adjust but I am still running and covering ground.

    The infusion itself went smoothly. I came home and tried to take a nap but my neighbors dogs were all barking and then another neighbor decided to serenade me with very loud music. Sleep seems elusive these days. Riley had a track scrimmage but I was too worn out to attend. It makes me very sad to miss my kids’ activities. Fortunately Steve was able to attend and cheer her on for me.

     The first two cycles I had some unexpected side effects crop up and I wondered what this cycle would bring. So far, all I have experienced this cycle is nausea and the severe fatigue. It does seem that Wednesday seems to be the worst day for fatigue for me. Still I managed to keep up with my obligations and get in a few running dates with my friends. By Friday of this week, I was thinking, “I really don’t feel too bad. I feel kind of ok!” Any time I more or less feel ok, it’s a happy occasion.

    On Friday I got my Brooks running Run Happy team gear. Everything looks amazing and fits perfectly. I am excited to be a part of the Boulder Running Company/Colorado Springs brooks run happy team.

In happy family news, Riley got to run in her first varsity track meet this weekend. I am proud of her for working hard and for learning to put forth her best efforts even when her lungs and legs may be screaming at her to stop. No matter where her running takes her in life, the lessons of hard work and perserverence will always stay with her.

    Tomorrow is chemo infusion #8. But first, I will run.

 

My off week and you are only as happy as your unhappiest child

This past week was my week off from chemo. I really love having a week away from chemo and my twice weekly trips to the cancer center. As nice as all of the employees are, I prefer not having to go to the cancer center! I won’t miss it when I am done.  I have now completed two cycles, with six treatments. I have 12 left to go. I admit that the 12 still seems like a daunting number at this point. I know, I have made progress. But, it still seems like a long way to go. I am ready to start feeling more like myself. I miss the energy I typically have and wonder if I will ever get back to feeling like me.

    There is a saying that “you are only as happy as your unhappiest child”. The past couple of weeks have really hammered home the meaning of this saying. Having a sick parent turns a kid’s world completely upside down. Being sick is not my fault, I know. But, I cannot escape the fact that my illness has caused stress and fear in the lives of my children.

    Much of my time and energy has been spent trying to mitigate the effects of the stress on my kids. This is the hardest part of my cancer diagnosis by far. It is not the lingering effects of surgery, or the fatigue or nausea from the chemo. The worst feeling in the word is seeing the pain, stress and fear that my illness has caused for my children. I am trying to find ways to help them through all of this and make the world seem normal, but I admit that I feel helpless at times. Their pain is my pain and I feel it deeply and acutely. As a parent, I have known that I could not protect my kids from all of the painful events they would experience in life. Nor would I want to protect them from every source of pain. A big part of being a successful adult is learning to bounce back from difficult experiences, and my goal as a parent has been to help my kids learn to be resilient adults. That being said, I never expected to be the cause of one of the most traumatic experiences of their childhoods. It is a challenge to help them get through this really difficult experience, particularly while I am living it. I am a resilient person, though. I hope that leading by example through this will somehow help my kids see that this may take us down, but it won’t knock us out.

     I am forever grateful to a couple of teachers who will remain nameless. They are teachers or former teachers who my kids have bonded with over the years. These professionals have taken time out of their already over scheduled lives to connect with my kids. They let them know that while times are tough, they are not alone. I can never express how much these acts of selfless humanity mean to me. I know it is not their job to emotionally prop my kids up during my illness, but I am so thankful they have reached out to my kids. The greatest impact we can make on the future of our the human race is to help children become better human beings. These teachers can rest assured knowing that my kids will become better people because of their caring and compassionate interactions. I am so thankful for their assistance in helping my family get through my illness.

    In lighter news, for fun this past week, I got in some running. This wiped me out for several days afterwards, but it was SO worth it.

Friends came to visit me from Boulder. This afternoon of conversation just left me feeling happy. There is no other way to sum it up.

On Friday, I had to go back to the cancer center for a blood draw and a doctor’s appointment. It always seems harder to go back after a break. My husband has been going with me to my chemo appointments, but he cannot make it to the blood draw and doctor’s appointments. I think the fact that I have been away for a little while and then I go back by myself after a break contributes to the sadness I feel. This past Friday, there were a lot of very sick people at the cancer center, and I heard about two who were relapses and who did not have a very good prognosis. We never know what the future holds for us. I am keeping these ladies in my thoughts and hoping for a miracle.

   Today will be a day of a run, housework and errands in preparation for chemo treatment #7.