Being “Strong”

People talk about being “strong”. I hear, “you are so strong” a lot. I know it is meant as both a complement and a way of encouraging me to remain “strong” (whatever that means). It is not that I do not appreciate people believing in me. I need people in my life who have my back. We all do. However, it all makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I wonder, if I express fear or sadness, will I no longer be “strong”? I wonder how our society made it shameful to express a full range of emotions? When did it become a sign of weakness to say, “I am afraid”, or “I hurt” or even, “I am sorry”? I get the sense that only people who never express fear or grief or distress are the ones somehow deemed as worthy of admiration. But how can we be strong without experiencing weakness? We cannot. I want my daughters to always remember that just as we cannot really experience joy without knowing sadness, we cannot become “strong” human beings without facing things that make us feel fearful or anxious.

It is important to experience those uncomfortable feelings but not wallow in them. Find what makes you feel stronger and hold it close to heart. I gain a lot of my strength and support from the people I love. During long races, I make a practice of thinking about people in my life. I know as I ran my 100 mile race last summer, I made a conscious decision to think of each person in my life who has been supportive and loving. Every time I had a tough moment, I turned my thoughts to specific people who I knew were with me in my heart along the way. I know some people channel anger, but I find it is more effective for me to channel love.

These last few months, I have been very open about this whole process. Sometimes I question why I have shared my story, because honestly sometimes it is difficult to expose myself publicly. A few things that happened this week reaffirmed my decision to “go public”.

Last weekend, a woman approached me on one of the local trails. She is someone I have met in passing but seen many times. She stopped and asked if it was me, and then told me she had read my blog. She, too, had cancer last year and within a couple of minutes we were showing each other our surgical scars and talking about our experiences. She said she cried when she read my blog, because she understood the feelings I was experiencing. That ten minute conversation of connection, mutual support and understanding was so powerful. It felt so wonderful to have my own feelings validated. If she had not read my words, we would have probably continued to smile and wave each time we saw each other. We probably would never have had a reason to stop and make that powerful connection.

Monday was Boston marathon day. I had several friends running, volunteering and spectating. One of my dear friends was there. He had come to visit me in the hospital after my surgery. We walked the halls together at a snail’s pace. Tim has run lots of marathons and two 100s. His visit meant so much to me. Tim decided he wanted to wear a shirt in my honor as he ran Boston this year.

While he was there, Tim told other athletes about pancreatic cancer and got them to sign his shirt. Now, he is sending the shirt around the country to other runner friends of mine so that they can wear the shirt at a race and sign it. I appreciate the love and support from my friends, but what I really love about this is that it shows that special sense of community and friendship among runners. What I hope is that my friends around the country who do not even know one another will develop new friendships and cheer each other on because of Tim’s kind and giving heart.

A childhood  friend of mine reached out this week. She is one of the first friends I ever made in life. Now she is a professor at a university in the northeast. She knows cancer all too well, after losing someone very beloved to her. She is also a runner, and her husband was running Boston on Monday. I had no idea she was reading my writing, but she contacted me this week and said that when she needed a lift, she read my words. She told me that she used me as an example in her public health class when she was discussing people who find motivation to do difficult things. Working off of the #Bostonstrong theme, she and her class sent me this picture:

She reads my words for an emotional lift, and this week I re read her email and looked at this picture many times. Thank you, my friend.

I wore my Boston marathon shirt and jacket to chemo this past Monday. My jacket was the starting point for a conversation with another patient. This gentleman also has pancreatic cancer. Our conversation had a profound impact on me. I have thought of him every single day since meeting him. We exchanged emails, and then phone numbers. I hope he knows whether he feels strong or weak, I am here.

Finally, this past week, I ran and sometimes I walked. I ran with Tracey, and Debby, and Phil, and Vanessa, and Tim and my husband. I appreciate all of them for encouraging me to stay strong, but for allowing me to express my weaknesses. I appreciate them for allowing me to be human. Now I have a week off. I need it.

Advertisements

Riding out the storms of Life

As we do every week, my husband and I went for a ten mile pre chemo run on Monday. It had snowed over night and was cold to start, but the snow was truly beautiful. I snapped this picture of Pikes Peak from the car on the way to the trailhead.

I had treatment number 11 after our run. I tried to nap that afternoon but sleep was elusive.

I had a couple of difficult days this week. I am feeling really tired and run down. I had some muscle aches and pains that were keeping me awake at night and causing some discomfort during the day. Steve also got sick this week. He never gets sick. I know he was feeling poorly and I was worried about picking up his illness because he had a nasty cough. I missed one of my daugter’s activities this week because I just did not feel up to attending. It bothered me that I felt unwell, and I felt badly about missing out on an important day in my child’s life.

I know I am making progress towards my treatment end date. It is a whole lot closer than it was in January. It still seems far enough away and the prospect of having a couple more months of feeling not like myself is emotionally draining. I want to feel like myself NOW. I am growing impatient.

Wednesday morning, I was feeling so frustrated that I decided I needed to go somewhere beautiful. I only had about 90 minutes, so I chose the Garden of the Gods. I was alone, so the only person I had to keep up with was myself. I could run, walk, hike and just enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Looking at the rock formations and Pikes Peak always leaves me feeling amazed at the spontaneous beauty of our surroundings. I can never leave the Garden in a bad mood.

On Saturday, I met up with three other running friends. We had planned all week on meeting on Saturday. Since I had not been feeling great, we waited until Friday evening to finalize our plans. We decided to start off in Stratton Open Space and then run through some of the trails in Cheyenne Canon. All last year, while I was preparing for races. I felt like those trails were my home away from home. I love Cheyenne canon. It is my favorite place to run in Colorado Springs. Leading up to my races last year, I did a weekly all day run there. I cannot remember the date of my last run there, but it was likely in September of 2013. 

Saturday morning, Tracey, Meghan, John and I met up at did a 14 mile loop. In my pre surgery and pre chemo days, I would have run every step of the way. Right now I just cannot do it. There was enough hiking the uphills to make me feel a little discouraged. I had warned the group ahead of time that I would likely be doing some significant hiking. But still, it bothered me. I used to be able to run the  all of the trails we had run and more. Somewhere on the Columbine trail, I looked up and out. The scenery is so spectacular. I thought about how much I just loved it there, and how happy I was to be back, no matter how slow. I felt the sting of tears coming to my eyes, but they were tears of happiness and gratitude. I was suddenly not feeling sorry myself or frustrated anymore. Now I was just feeling so thankful to be back where I loved to be, no matter the circumstances. 

I love these ladies. They are tough, smart and funny and a pleasure to be around.

This week, I want my daughters to remember as they grow up that they will be tested in life. There will be circumstances that will be incredibly difficult to deal with. They will want to run away or hide under the covers some days. I want them to learn how to find peace of mind in the storm. That peace will never come from a pill or a bottle. People use substances to temporarily mask pain. In the short term, that may make you feel better or forget your troubles, but over the long term substances will never solve your problems. In fact, those things may significantly add to your pain. Find what brings peace to your heart and mind. I find it by exploring the beauty of nature. That is what calms my mind. You may find it in yoga or meditation or cycling or dancing or knitting or sewing. I encourage you to find out what it is that soothes your soul and practice it regularly. In the eye of the storm, that ability to bring yourself to a place of internal contentment will help you ride out the rough waters. 


 

Week 10, running and thoughts for my daughters

This has been a fun and busy week. Last Sunday, my husband, daughter and I went to a group run/Easter egg hunt hosted by Boulder Running Company. There was a great turn out and it was a lot of fun. I love seeing families out running together. Here is a picture of the group that I led.

 There was a party at the store afterwards.

In the afternoon, my husband and I ran through the Garden of the Gods. In typical Colorado fashion, we had sun, rain, snow, thunder and lightning. We got to view bighorn sheep and deer among the spectacular rock formations.

On Monday, Stephen and I enjoyed our usual pre chemo 10 mile run. I had my treatment and went home for a welcomed nap. This week I had some significant nausea Monday night and Tuesday. The fatigue has been a consistent every day nuisance, but life goes on.

Wednesday morning I enjoyed a group run with some of my favorite runners. I was still dragging, but being surrounded by this great group of people made the run so much fun. I know I am slow and tired, and running is really hard. But the joy has not disappeared, and I appreciate people slowing down and spending time with me right now.

Thursday morning, I had told my friend who is training for a marathon that I would attempt 16 miles with her. I knew right away that I was still not feeling great and my legs felt like led. Still, the weather was nice and the company was fabulous, so I wanted to go for it. I probably should have stopped at 12, because the last four miles felt like the end of an ultra where every part of your body hurts. Still, I finished the distance and 16 miles is now the longest distance I have run since prior to my November surgery. Debby is the first friend I made when I moved to Colorado Springs in 1999. Back then we pushed our kids in the baby joggers together on our runs. Now I want her to push me in the babyjogger but she just won’t go for it.

  

Thursday was also my younger daughter’s 11th birthday. 

My kids are now 11 and 16. While walking the dog the morning of Peyton’s birthday, I was thinking about how in five more years they will be 16 and 21. I want nothing more than to be here with them to celebrate those birthdays in five years. Of course, I plan to be here then but I am well aware of how there are no guarantees in life. I enjoy a close relationship with both of my kids. I hope that the conversations we have shared over the years will always stay with them, whether I am here or not. 

   

Throughout Thursday and on my solo run on Friday, I decided that I need to write down some of the important things I want my daughters to know. This is not because I think I am going to die but because no matter what happens in life, I want them to remember our discussions. What does any of this have to do with running? When I run, I often contemplate the complexities of life. I think about what I have learned through trial and error and I think about what I want to communicate to my kids. From time to time, I will write here about those thoughts.

To my daughters (and any other young woman who may read this): As you grow up, a lot of people will try to define you and tell you who or what you “should” be. Do not listen to them. Listen to yourself. You alone are responsible for defining yourself, not me, not your dad, not your peers, not your future boss or your future spouse. As women, we want people to like us. We become “people pleasers” all too easily. It is important to be a decent human being, of course, but you can be a good person and still take care of yourself. You will never be content with your life if you do not care for your own needs and make your own choices. People may not always like or approve of your decisions, but those other people do not have to live your life. Please do not make choices based upon other people’s expectations. Live by your own values, make decisions for yourself and choose your own path. 

Now I am heading out the door to run in 16 degree weather prior to chemo #11, because that is what feels like the right thing to do.