Running, Hiking & Raising Young People Who Can Think for Themselves

After a few days in Breckenridge last week, it was back to our regular lives in Colorado Springs. The kids have less than one month left of their summer vacation, so we are trying to make the most of our time off.

I don’t know if it was spending a couple of days living and breathing at 10,000 feet or if I am starting to really recover from chemotherapy, but I felt energetic the first few days of the week I started my running week with a 17 mile run on the Santa Fe trail. This is the farthest I have run since before I had surgery in November. It seems like a lot of hardcore trail runners around Colorado Springs like to make fun of the Santa Fe trail. They say it is not a “real trail”. While it most certainly is true that it is more like a dirt road than a trail, the Santa Fe allowed me to continue running through chemotherapy. The soft surface was very forgiving when I developed wide spread pain. Also, my breathing was so labored that If I had tried to run hills through chemo, I would have been reduced to walking a whole lot more. While I love walking and hiking, I did not want to be a walker. I wanted to be a runner. The rail trail allowed me to continue to be a runner through treatment.

So, I set out to run whatever I had time for on Monday, and that ended up being 17 miles. I actually felt good and really ran the entire distance, which pleased me greatly. My legs felt good and I felt like turnover is improving. Getting out for a good steady state longer run just makes me feel good. I love to run long no matter if it is in the hills or a straight out and back. It is the experience of getting out and working hard over that extended period of time that makes me feel alive, strong and healthy.

On Tuesday, I went on a hike with my daughters. We did Section 16. I have run Section 16 more times than I can count, but it was fun to bring my kids out and see the beauty through their eyes. They seem to enjoy hiking and I hope we can enjoy many more ventures in the woods together in years to come.

The blue Colorado sky never gets old!

Tuesday night, Steve and I went down to Jack Quinn’s and ran the 5K together. On Wednesday and Thursday I ran at the Garden of the Gods. I ran an 8 mile loop with Tracey on Wednesday and was still feeling pretty good. There was minimal walking involved and Tracey, who wore her garmin, said we were running faster than we had been previously at the Garden. By Wednesday afternoon, I was starting to feel my energy level dropping off. My run at the Garden with Debby on Thursday was as fun and therapeutic as always, but my legs were feeling like lead and my breathing felt too labored.

My husband and I set off for Cheyenne Canon early Friday morning. Our goal for the day was to go as far as we could knowing that I had to come home by late morning to take one of the girls to a doctor’s appointment. We parked at Stratton Open Space and then ran up the road to the Columbine Trail. We had done this same run two weeks ago, covering 15 miles. This time around, it was much warmer and I was carrying 100 oz of water. The climbing on the Columbine trail is never easy because I am very slow to warm up, but this week it felt much more difficult than it had two weeks ago. Considering how much I have bumped up the difficulty of my runs over the past couple of weeks, I am not entirely surprised that I was working harder. My ability to climb seemed to improve as the morning went on and we ended up finishing 17 hilly miles. The good news is that the downhill felt much less punishing than it did two weeks ago. That is progress and I will happily accept it.

This was a good week of running. I am happy with the increase in mileage and the fact that I have been able to start adding hills and harder efforts back into the mix. My goal is to continue to push the envelope enough so that my fitness improves but not so much that I get injured. I would be devastated to have run all through chemotherapy and then derail my comeback by doing something idiotic and getting hurt.

In non-running news, my time and conversations with my kids have got me thinking a whole lot about my parenting style. Maybe it is because I had zero experience taking care of younger kids prior to have my own, but I have developed my own somewhat unorthodox parenting style. I believe in talking to kids about everything and repeating those conversations often. I believe in bringing humor to even the worst of circumstances. My kids often comment that they bet none of their friends have the dinner conversations that we have. Even though this may or may not be a compliment, I am proud of the fact that we enjoy some rather “unique” conversations.

I have always thought of my children (and all children) as inherently intelligent beings who need to be guided rather than directed. It always makes me sad when people make comments about teenagers “being stupid”, as if that is the automatic default setting for teenagers. I believe teenagers will do foolish things, of course, because they are biologically wired to take risks and chances as they grow towards independence. This does not mean that they are “stupid”, or that they are incapable of making smart, informed and intelligent decisions. Young people do need guidance, and they need people to encourage them to think about things much greater than themselves, and that their actions have consequences on both themselves and others.

I do not believe that it is possible to control another human being. I am not interested in controlling anyone, including my children. Parents often think they have control over their children, but dealing with a colicky baby or one full on temper tantrum from a three year old should convince us otherwise. We have control over how we respond to their behavior, but we do not have control over their thought processes or over what they ultimately choose to do. I communicate my own expectations to my daughters and try to help them navigate their lives as they grow up. If we set up the expectation that our kids will behave intelligently, then hopefully they will rise to the occasion. This does not mean that they will not make mistakes along the way. Of course, kids need to know what their parents’ expectations are, but I never assume that just because I establish a rule that it will automatically be followed. I remember having a conversation with Riley when she was in 8th grade where I told her that SHE would choose how much freedom she had growing up. If she was making wise choices, there would be few restrictions on what she was allowed to do. If she made poor decisions, then she would spend her adolescence at home reflecting upon her choices. So far I have had to set few limitations upon my 16 year year old because she has set the bar of expectations high for herself.

Maybe I have just been lucky so far. My kids are not grown yet and I know things can change in an instant (plus Peyton is only 11 so she could really give me a run for my money). I would like to think that allowing them to have a voice, to make independent decisions, and to have viewpoints that may differ from my own encourages them to really think about who it is that they want to become and what is truly important to them. I want my kids to develop their own opinions and determine their own value system. I do not want them to become little mirror images of myself. While my daughters definitely know what my beliefs, values and standards are, they also know that I expect them to develop their own as they move from childhood to adulthood. Debate and discussion are a healthy way to encourage and challenge all of us to think more deeply, and I try to encourage respectful critical thinking in our home. I love the young people with whom I share my life and I thoroughly enjoy the times we spend talking and exchanging ideas. Hearing their opinions and seeing them grow up into their own is my favorite part of being a parent.

Obviously, having cancer has brought forth a lot of soul searching and reflecting upon what kind of parent I have been over the years. November 18th changed all of our lives instantly. We will live with a sense of uncertainty about the future for a while. I hope that the knowledge, guidance and lessons I have tried to provide to my children will stay with them no matter what happens in the future. My wish is that they will remember the respect we gave one another, even when we did not agree. I hope that they will always remember how I encouraged them to show respect for themselves and for others. I hope they always remember that I love them for who they are and that their opinions truly mattered to me. I want them to remember that they have to answer to themselves at the end of the day. They will know in their own hearts whether they did the right thing, and that is what matters most. I hope that they remember my telling them to go out in the world and be good human beings. We cannot fix the big problems of the world on our own, but if they each do their small part, the world will be a better place. They are already well on their way towards making that happen.


Breckenridge Getaway

rarely ever say the words, “I deserve”. I do not think the world owes me a good time or a reward. However, I have felt that after enduring more than nine months of the world revolving around my surgery and chemotherapy, my family does “deserve” some time to relax and have fun together. We have earned the right to set aside regular everyday lives and worries and to escape together to rediscover the simple joys in life, and to set aside the day to day stress and fear. This past week, we escaped to Breckenridge for a couple of days. A good friend who knows everything that has transpired over the last few months graciously offered us her space in the mountains for a few days, and we gratefully accepted it.

We loaded everyone in the van and drove up late in the week.

Just seeing how excited my kids were made me so completely happy.

Even our dog was beside herself with excitement!

Our first day in Breckenridge, we spent time walking around the shops and down by the riverwalk.

Having limited internet connection was actually pretty awesome. We played board games in the evenings and just relaxed, read and talked.

Our second day there, we went for a hike. We decided to hike a 6.8 ish mile hike that goes by old mining cabins, waterfalls and two mountain lakes. The hike has approximately 1900 feet of elevation gain. It starts at 10,400 ish feet and goes up over 12,300 feet. I picked this hike because it sounded like it would be a workout for everyone, but more importantly because it sounded beautiful. One thing I have learned about hiking with kids is if you can motivate them by having specific landmarks as goals, it is a lot more fun and manageable. Just as distance runners learn to do, kids break things down into smaller attainable goals (1/2 mile further to the first cabin! One half mile to the waterfalls!) Also, when the young hiker starts to grow weary, bribing with chocolate works miracles.

We were on the trail before 8 am to try to beat any potential afternoon storms. It was a chilly 40 degrees when I first got up, but had warmed to 45 at the start of our hike. The first two mile segment of this hike is a gradual uphill. It’s a good thing, too, because it has been a year since I have been at elevation. Just sitting around in Breckenridge, I could feel my body working harder due to lower availability of oxygen.

During the first two mile stretch, you can see and hear cathedral falls in the distance. Our hike would eventually take us to and then above the falls. Here is a close up of the falls. The picture below shows how far we actually were from it at this point.

A close up.

After two miles, we crossed a jeep road and then continued up the trail. This is where the trail gets steeper. There was only about 1.5 miles left to go, but most of the climbing is in this segment. Fortunately, there were lots of cool sights. This is the first old mining cabin that we encountered.


Another mining cabin.

Mining car pulley system.

Finally, we reached lower Mohawk lake.

We ventured up the last bit of trail to upper Mohawk lake.

A marmot came by to say hello.

An old mining car.

It was very windy and cold at the upper lake, so we hiked down to the lower lake to eat lunch. We then ventured back down the trail and into town, tired and happy and in search of chocolate.

Our last day in Breck, my husband and I went for a short run in the morning. We ended up at this lake.

After our run, we took the girls to the Breck adventure park. We rode up on the gondola and tried out a few of the attractions. Aside from the rides, I think the most enjoyment came from the ability to play on a big pile of snow in July. No one loves snow more than Peyton and Steve.  They both had to take turns sliding down the hill before getting into a snowball fight.

After lunch we had to pack up and come home. I loved being away for even a short period of time without the intrusions of every day life. It was a quick trip but it was a reminder, as Riley said, of how fun it is to just hang out with our family. There has been a lot of fear and sadness in our house. Taking even a short period of time away without distractions can at least temporarily help us leave all of that behind.

Now it is back to reality. My husband had to work on Sunday. I did a training run with Vanessa, then went grocery shopping and took the kids to do some school supply shopping. Today I have to return to the cancer center for the first time since my last day of chemo to have my port flushed. I am glad I have some good memories to hold in my heart.


Cancer, Running and the Gift of Friendships

I have been toying with running a race this fall. I am still trying to determine what distance I am capable of training for and completing. I will likely either attempt a 50k or a 50 mile. My preference would be the 50 mile because I love that distance. However, I just do not know if I am capable of getting adequate training for a 50 miler between now and race day. This week, I did two medium distance runs a few days apart. I ran a flat 16 miler alone one day, and then a hilly 15 miler in cheyenne canon with my husband four days later.

I am not concerned with my running pace right now. I am just allowing how I feel to dictate my pace. The only time I break out my Garmin is if I am just interested in figuring out how far I have run. The heat continues to be a real issue for me. I am hoping that I will adapt with time. Monday was particularly warm, but I managed to log 16 miles.

On Tuesday, I ran four miles with Phil, who is coming back from an injury. Even though he has taken six weeks off from running, I still feel like he could potentially leave me in the dust. That evening, my husband and I went sans children to Jack Quinn’s running club.  It was almost like a real date! We ran the 5k and hung out in the pub for a bit, chatting with other runners.

On Wednesday, I met up with Kathy and Clancy for a ten mile run and conversation. On Thursday, I suffered in a way I had not all week. I guess my exuberance was starting to catch up on me. I cut the run a little short, and added some walking breaks in because I knew I had a more ambitious outing planned for the next day.

On Friday,  Steve and I headed off to some of my favorite trails in Cheyenne Canon. I had originally figured we would run 10-14 miles. I surprised myself in that I felt better than I thought I would and I did not have to hike as much as I had anticipated. We knocked out 15 miles Friday morning. My legs got pretty tired on the downhill on our way back to the car, because my hill running has been very limited for months now. I have really missed these views and am so happy to be physically able to make it back here.

Saturday morning, my husband and I ran together again. Friday’s adventures had caught up with me, so I did a fair share of walking. By Sunday morning, I had recovered enough to not have to walk at all during my ten mile run with Vanessa.

The pattern, if it is not already obvious, is that I seem to have energy just about every other day. I am thinking that this likely will mean I end up signing up for the 50k instead of the 50 mile. I think I will be able to get in some progressively longer runs as long as I allow myself time to rest and recover. I do not know if I will have the physical energy to do back to back longer runs that I deem personally necessary to run a decent 50 mile race. I still have a little time left before I have to make a decision, but I feel like my body is making it for me right now.

One issue I dealt with over the last couple of months of chemo that continues to give me problems is mouth sores. Prior to chemo, I never had problems with these painful sores. Towards the end of my treatment, I started developing them. This week I had another bunch crop up. Eating, drinking and even talking have been extremely painful all week. I hope the sores subside and do not come back beyond the fact that they hurt like hell, I really hate missing meals.

In non-running news for the week, I got to have a “girls night” with Riley on Thursday.

Since it was just us that night, we had intended to watch a movie and go to bed early. Instead, we ended up staying up late talking. I feel so fortunate that we have the kind of relationship where we enjoy discussions about meaningful concepts (love, marriage, relationships, as well as illness, death, God). It is far better to lose out on a little sleep and be present in those moments when they come. I hope I am always able to be here for my daughters. I am pretty sure when my girls are grown and gone, I will always remember and hold dear the conversations we have shared.

I have long had a network of close running friends. Somehow, my cancer diagnosis seems to have widened that circle of friends. I continue to be humbled by the love and openness of the friends I have known for many years, and by the new friends I have made over the last several months. I have wondered at times why anyone would want to start a friendship with me while I am dealing with something so time and energy consuming. I have worried that my “baggage” would frighten people off. Yet it has not. Instead, I have forged several new and wonderful friendships over these last few months. Maybe it’s because I feel that my experience has helped me to cut through formalities. I don’t want to waste time on superficial discussions or meaningless pursuits. Or maybe it is the realization that my time is not infinite. I feel the need to fill my life and my heart with good people. Or maybe my experiences have just helped open my heart more, and to make me seek out kind and giving people. Whatever it is, I am glad my circumstances have deepened older friendships and brought the gift of new ones.

I started my blog months ago in large part because when I went looking for other pancreatic cancer survivors, there was not a whole lot that I could find that had a positive outcome. I started writing and sharing my story because I wanted to find a way to connect with other people in my situation or in a similar situation. I was hoping that somewhere down the line, my story would give hope and comfort to another person facing challenging life circumstances. Since I have started writing, I have been contacted by several people who have been newly diagnosed with cancer. Some have been fellow pancreatic cancer patients. Others have had other forms of cancer. The common theme is that people want to connect with others who understand the fear that comes with being diagnosed with cancer and the uncertainty of what the future might bring. I feel privileged that so many people have chosen to contact me and share their stories with me. Please keep connecting with me and honoring me with your stories. I have enjoyed being inspired by every person who has chosen to share their struggles and challenges with me.

Trying to regain fitness with post chemo fatigue

Last year at this time, I was coming off of a string of weeks where I had run 80-100 miles per week in preparation for the Vermont 100. I was doing back to back long runs every week, spending hours and hours running hilly single track trails. I felt like Cheyenne Canon was my second home. I was tired from the training, but feeling fit, strong and happy knowing I had done basically all I could to prepare myself to run 100 miles.

This coming Monday will mark three weeks since my final chemotherapy treatment. I am still exhausted. These days I am struggling to run up anything that resembles a hill. People keep asking me if I am feeling better yet, and I am. I am no longer nauseous and my muscles and joints are no longer hurting. My friends and husband say that my mind seems sharper (“seems” being the key word). My husband has noted that he no longer finds clumps of my hair everywhere.

I just cannot seem to shake this overwhelming feeling of being tired in every fiber of my being. The fatigue brought on by chemotherapy does not seem to be relieved by getting more sleep. Furthermore, I have dealt with insomnia since I began treatment, so I haven’t felt rested in months. When I finished treatment, I was not sure how long it would take for that feeling to go away. I really thought I would bounce back quickly. What I have found is that I still have to really pace myself and be selective about what I take on. I know my energy will gradually return, but for now I need to limit how much I try to pack into each day.

Over the last nine months, I pared my life down to the essential elements. Taking care of my family was my top priority. Next came basic household chores. A lot of tasks that were not imperative did not get accomplished. I started tackling some of the neglected projects this week. I had to pause over two items. One is the binder of medically related paperwork I have accumulated since January.

This is a giant three ringed binder that I have filled with insurance paperwork, bills, etc. I had no idea the amount of paperwork I would accumulate over a few months period. For many months, it seemed like I got something every single day in the mail, either from a doctor’s office or from the insurance company. I started developing a conditioned fear of checking the mail. The amount of paperwork is truly overwhelming and it feels like it will never stop coming.

On the other hand, I found a folder where I had been collecting these.

These are the cards, notes and letters I have received since I had my surgery. I took some time to read through a few of the cards today. The words remind me of how blessed I have been by love and kindness from people both near and far. I plan to reread each one and keep them always as a reminder of light in a time of darkness.

I continue on in my so-called running comeback. Last week I overdid things a bit. This week I pulled the reins back in to try to recover. I met Vanessa for an easy run on Monday. I am cheating and using an older picture of us, but this picture just makes me happy. Vanessa is such a fun, interesting, and entertaining lady. I have really enjoyed getting to know her over the last couple of months.

Monday afternoon, I took Peyton to the pool for the first time this summer. I am much more sensitive to heat and sun than I used to be, but it was a beautiful day and I wanted to get out and enjoy it with my little buddy.

Tuesday morning, I did a short run around my neighborhood by myself. My husband, Peyton and I had planned to meet at Jack Quinn’s Tuesday night for the club run. Peyton and I were both feeling exceptionally tired so we walked most of the route, but had fun anyway. Riley is in Texas so we took a selfie to send to her.

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of running with two other really special ladies, Jenny and Tracey. I would love to describe what we talked about, but it was all completely inappropriate and not fit for polite company. But this is exactly why I love them. I would not bust my butt struggling to keep up with people if they were not fun and great company.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday, my husband and I ran together. We did 9 miles on Thursday morning. We ran 8 on Friday, which was the fourth of July. We had considered running one of two races that were within driving distance that morning, but ultimately decided to pass. We just did a quick run together so we could spend the rest of the day with Peyton at the zoo. As much as I enjoy racing, I need to conserve energy for things that are really important in the grand scheme of things, like taking my daughter to the zoo. It is not that racing is unimportant to me. I plan to toe the line again in the future, but first I need to regain some strength.

Ssaturday morning, Steve and I ran 12 miles together. On Sunday, I ran ten solo.

So no speed workout this week, and no run longer than 12 miles.  I did put in over 60 miles this week, however. I have been working on improving my hill running. During chemotherapy, the slightest incline made me feel like I was going to have a heart attack. I often ended up walking up most hills. Now I am trying to get my hill running ability back by running small hills. If I have to walk a bit after I reach the top of a hill to catch my breath, that’s ok. As the saying goes, you won’t get better at running hills by walking them. I will continue to plug away and hopefully soon I will not need any recovery from smaller hills. I do know the proportion of time I have spent running versus walking has been increasing over the last couple of weeks. Despite my fatigue, I am starting to see glimmers of hope and I am beginning to feel more like a runner again.