The Significance of a Dog

We added a new member to our family this week. Meet Willy, the Australian Shepherd rescue.

At his foster mom's house

At his foster mom’s house

I recently have thought about how I spend a lot of time alone on the trails. I never used to think twice about going out on the trails solo, but as of late, have been hesitant to do it. I wondered why I suddenly got spooked while out alone on the trails. Was I just getting wimpy? What has made the difference? I thought back to when I first started running a lot of the more remote single track trails in our area and realized that I used to run with my big white German Shepherd, Klondike. He was my companion on my solo adventures and I never felt frightened or alone when we were together.

Klondike

Klondike

Klondike was my best friend who went everywhere with me. I still miss him, even though he died years ago. While I know I cannot rely on a dog for protection, I just feel safer and more secure with a canine by my side.

So I began the process of looking for a running companion. The dog would ideally be between 1-2 years of age, and of a breed that is built for the long haul. This brought me to the Western Australian Shepherd rescue organization.

http://www.westernaustralianshepherdrescue.com/

I filled out an application and we were matched with Willy (originally known as Riku, but he did not answer to that name). Willy was a stray that was found wandering the streets of Houston. He was brought north to Denver and lived with a foster family for 2.5 months. They kept getting lots applications for him because he is beautiful, but most of the people who applied had no understanding of the amount of exercise that this type of dog requires on a regular basis. Then we came along. I sent in an application that said I was looking for an intelligent and energetic companion. Soon, a match was made.

Willy & Riley

Willy & Riley

Willy came home with us Sunday afternoon and has settled in well so far.

Willy & Peyton

Willy & Peyton

He and I have developed a running routine already, which thrills me. He loves to run perhaps as much as I do.I  know over time he will become the best running partner.

It occurred to me after we got Willy and brought him home that there is something significant to my adopting a dog at this point in time. It means I am not putting my life on hold to see if I will be well long-term. It means that I am confident about my health and my future. It means that I have let down my guard enough to stop wondering about the “what ifs” everyday. In fact, I now rarely ever think about my cancer coming back. I would not have adopted a dog if I thought I might be too sick to care for it properly. I thought for a brief moment, “What if I have a recurrence?” But, I immediately put that thought out of my mind. It is not going to happen. We will be OK. Adopting Willy means that I just know that I am going to be fine.

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My heart feels happy and whole. Welcome home, Willy.

Winning the Lottery

A relative sent me an email yesterday. In it, she described a recent dream. We all had lottery tickets and we were checking the numbers. In her dream, as we checked numbers, it became apparent to her that I had won. As I read the email, it made me smile. I automatically thought, “Well, yes, because I have won a metaphorical lottery of life!”

I am healthy, and no one can underestimate how blessed that makes me feel. I have extended and immediate family I love so deeply. I have an amazing network of friends who know every detail of my life, the good and bad, and still love me anyway. Out of my experiences over the last year and two months, I have become part of a network of people who have been affected by pancreatic cancer in some way. I have never met a group of people more kind, loving and giving. I have never met a bad person through my connection to pancreatic cancer. I always wonder if experience with this illness somehow transforms people to make them better human beings, who are more loving, giving and appreciative of what they have than the “normal” population.

Through my personal writing, I became involved with the organization Project Purple. I have been writing a blog for them for the last couple of months. Every single interview I have done for Project Purple has been so inspirational and moving. Each family’s story is unique. Every person I get the chance to talk to makes me feel so grateful that there are selfless people who are so genuinely motivated to make the world a better place for others.

http://www.run4projectpurple.org/tonias-blog/

I am so excited to announce that I am bringing a Project Purple affiliate to Colorado. We will be hosting a 5k fundraiser in Colorado Springs on April 26th. We will also be working with Boomer Cover to assist with his golf tournament “The Doc Cover Golf Classic” in June in Pueblo, CO. Boomer Is an amazing young man who I wrote about recently for the Project Purple blog. I was so moved by his love for the father he lost to Pancreatic Cancer in 2007. Boomer was only 22 when his father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As we were talking, I kept thinking how he was not that much older than Riley. My heart ached for his loss, but I was incredibly inspired by how he chose to take action to honor his father. I am looking forward to working on these events and other programs that will be announced in the future. You can find the Project Purple Facebook page here:

https://www.facebook.com/ProjectPurpleColorado

I feel so fortunate to be a part of an organization filled with wonderful people who are all dedicated to changing the trajectory of pancreatic cancer. I have written before about struggling with survivor’s guilt. I have wondered why I am here, when so many other amazing people were not lucky enough to make it. Through my involvement with Project Purple, I hope to contribute something meaningful for those affected by Pancreatic Cancer. Out of the worst circumstances in life, we have the opportunity to grow and impart meaningful positive change in the world. I am lucky that I am well enough to be able to make some good come out of the bad. I am thankful for the opportunity to do so.

In other news, my come back to running continues. With the help of a 17 mile run last weekend in Cheyenne Canon and an 18 mile run on Saturday in Monument at the Team CRUD club run, I brought my weekly mileage up to around 75 miles. I have been doing some intervals once per week to try to get my fitness level back. I also have been doing weights twice per week, and have committed to doing core work every day for a minimum of ten minutes. I lost so much strength after my surgery and through chemo, and am trying to build it back up. Progress is slow but if I just keep plugging away at it, it will come.

photo courtesy of Meghan Cogswell

photo courtesy of Meghan Cogswell

Picture from Team CRUD run, courtesy of Tracey Anderson

Picture from Team CRUD run, courtesy of Tracey Anderson

Photo courtesy of Tracey Anderson

Photo courtesy of Tracey Anderson

I am feeling lucky these days. So many good things are happening. So, yes, while I have won no money (cancer sure is expensive), I do feel like I have won the lottery in so many other, more meaningful ways.

My Birthday & a Year since chemo began

I celebrated my birthday on January 11. Today, January 13, is the anniversary of the day I started chemotherapy a year ago. Thinking back to last year, on my birthday, I was honestly just so thrilled to be alive. I proudly told everyone that I had made it to 45. We celebrated and had a great day, but when January 12th/13th rolled around, I was truly terrified. I wondered what the next six months of treatments would bring for me.

This year, there is no terror or fear. I am happy to be here, but no longer worried about what tomorrow may bring. Of course, there is that tiny bit of me that worries about the cancer coming back, but that is no longer a predominant fear in my every day life.

My birthday weekend this year was a celebration of the “normal”.

Perhaps one of the most exciting moments of the weekend for me was having one of my heroes in life and running say that she will come help crew and pace me at Bryce. I will write more about that in the future as our plans come together, but I went from feeling very stressed about this race to be head over heels with excitement! With my new found sense of excitement and purpose, I went for a 17 mile run in the hills with my husband.

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I came home and had cake and got some gifts from my family. My favorite gifts were the letter from Riley. I will not disclose the contents except to say that she made me tear up in a good way. Here is a cute picture she drew at the bottom. I love that kid!

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Peyton made me another one of her fabulous cards.

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The inside had pictures of things I love.

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We watched Peyton compete in a karate match.

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I worked a few hours and attended a Girl Scout troop meeting with the kids.

It was the simple, quiet celebration of normal life that brings me the most joy.

I woke up today thinking about the responsibilities of my day-to-day life. I am relieved that these are the things that are now occupying the space in my head, rather than living with the daily fear of what cancer or chemotherapy may do to my body. But I have several friends who are still engaged in the battle for their lives. My birthday wish is for those friends to be able to regain their health and to have their lives return to something as close to normal as possible. Their fight is my fight and they are always in my heart.

“Beating” Cancer

As I went through my cancer treatments, people often said, “You kicked cancer’s ass!” or “You beat cancer!” I always felt a little uncomfortable with these phrases. Frankly, I never felt like I kicked anything’s ass. In fact, during my treatments, I felt like I was getting my ass handed to me on a regular basis. I had no other choice but to keep moving forward, no matter what nasty side effects cancer and my treatments kept throwing at me. Like many people confronting a deadly illness, I would have done anything in the world to get one more day, one more hour, one more minute with my family.

Right now, and hopefully forever, I show no evidence of disease. If it comes back and I am not so lucky the next time around, does that mean that cancer beat me? As I have watched many wonderful, amazing, kind, loving, vibrant human beings die as a result of having had cancer, I never once thought, “Boy, cancer sure beat that person” or “Cancer kicked that person’s ass!” I have only thought how unfair it is that we continue to lose so many wonderful people who fought so fiercely and valiantly for so long.

I know the people who say these things are doing so out of love and kindness. I have appreciated every single person who has been supportive as I have navigated this journey. I just find the language we use in regards to cancer to be interesting. We don’t hear people talking about “kicking ass” in regards to other illnesses. Yet we often talk about cancer in fighting terms. “Warrior”, “fighter” and “battle” are all terms that we use in regards to cancer, and for good reason. The treatments that we undergo to save our lives continue to be nothing short of barbaric. We undergo extreme surgeries and pump toxins into our bodies in order to save our own lives. It is a battle. We are fighting to for our lives.

Where it makes me squirm a bit is when we start talking in terms of winning and losing. The implication when someone says, “You kicked cancer’s ass” is that somehow I was tougher, stronger, or a better fighter than a person who died as a result of their illness. This is simply not true. I would like to think I am a tough person, but I really attribute the fact that I am still here largely to luck. I got lucky. At least this time around. If my cancer comes back and ultimately kills me, I am still the same person. I am still the same fighter. I am still the same “strong” person with human frailties and vulnerabilities who just wanted to live with ever fiber or her being.

I woke up yesterday to the news that Stuart Scott, of ESPN, had passed away. Stuart Scott had fought cancer since 2007. He gave one of the best speeches about living with cancer that I have ever heard. You can listen to it here.

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=11225895&ex_cid=sportscenterTW

As Stuart Scott says in his speech, “When you die, it does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.” I could not agree more. So while I am so saddened that the world has lost Mr. Scott, I never for one minute think cancer beat him. He was an inspiration to so many survivors. He was strong, while not being afraid to express his own human vulnerabilities. He acknowledged that he relied on the support of many people while going through his treatments. I appreciate his honesty about how much we need other people while facing a significant illness, because it is true. He demonstrated that you can be a tough fighter while still needed help from others. He expressed how desperately he wanted to see his children grow up. I can relate to all of the feelings he articulates because I have experienced them myself. Stuart Scott demonstrated how to live a full life in the face of adversity. Cancer did not win. Cancer did not beat Stuart Scott, just as it does not beat any of us who have fought to save our own lives. We will all truly “beat cancer” when we find a cure for the many diseases that fall under the “cancer” umbrella.When we find real cures, then I will rejoice and say, “We really did beat cancer!”

 

 

 

Rescue Run 10k Race Report

The big New Year’s Day running event in Colorado Springs is the Rescue Run 5k/10k. Stephen has run the 10k several times. Last year, we volunteered at packet pick-up and then ran the 5k with Peyton. This year, the weather forecast was so bitter cold that we decided it was too cold for Peyton to come and stand around at packet pick-up for two hours. So, Stephen and I both registered for the 10k and ran it solo.

I had very poor sleep the night before because our neighbors decided to shoot off fireworks throughout the night. When we got up, it was freezing cold and I felt hung over despite not having had anything to drink the night before. I believe I said, “This is stupid. I don’t want to go to the race.” Or it was something along those lines with some more colorful language involved. Nevertheless, we loaded up in the car and off we went.

At packet pick-up, my feet became so cold within minutes that they burned. I was afraid that if I stood outside for two hours, I would end up with frostbite. I had to sit in my car for a few minutes with the heat on full blast until I could feel my feet again. Remember, if you are running a race on a cold day, there are lots of volunteers who are even more cold and miserable than you are. I was thankful at that point that I was actually running and not working the whole race. Thank you to the many wonderful volunteers who stood out there for four or more hours so the rest of us could enjoy the race.

As Clark Kent transformed into Superman in a telephone booth, Stephen and I transform into runners in our minivan. We shed our many layers of clothing, put on race numbers and made last-minute decisions about whether to wear traction for the race or not. We opted to go with no traction.

Getting ready for the race in the van.

Getting ready for the race in the van.

Five minutes before the race start, Stephen and I jogged to the start line. There we saw tons of people we knew. What I love most about this race is seeing so many familiar and friendly faces on the first day of the year. New Year’s Day always feels so full of promise and joy. New Year’s brings the anticipation of new beginnings and fresh starts. Everyone seems to be happy on January 1. I love coming to the Rescue Run, even when it is freezing outside.

The gun went off and I ran most of the first uphill mile with my friend Meghan. We chatted and caught up until she took off ahead of me. It was good to take the first uphill mile fairly easy because if I run that hill too hard, my whole race could be shot. The race itself is run half on roads and half of trails, though the trails are not technical. That said, there was enough snow on the trails to make conditions feel slow. My goal for this race was to run as fast as I could without doing damage to my recovering body. I ran comfortably hard for the conditions.

What is most important to me about this race is that I did not feel horrible. The pain that had me limping and hobbling at the Rock Canyon Half-marathon just one month ago was so much better. I guess the PT and dry needling is already helping me. I am nowhere near 100% but this felt like an improvement to me. I haven’t cared about how relatively fast or slow I am. What I care about is feeling good at whatever pace I am running. Hopefully I can keep on this trajectory and continue to improve.

In any event, I ended up finishing in 52:36, which earned me second in my age group. As we finished the race, it really started to snow. It was very cold, and I was sweaty, so I got chilled very quickly. I had to drag out my big ugly coat that I have had for probably 22 years or so. I don’t care if it is ugly. It is warm!

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The highlight of the race for me truly was getting to see all of my running buddies at the finish line. I love the running community. I really do. It makes me happy to be out with friends at a race. There is nothing I would rather do on the first day of a new year than be out with the other crazy runners. They make me happy and I just love them!

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