Cheyenne Mtn Trail Race 50K

I divide a lot of my life into ‘Before’ and ‘After’. We all have plenty of ‘befores’ and ‘afters’ in life, of course. For example, there is before/after marriage and before/after having children. For the past couple of years, it most typically refers to ‘before’ and ‘after’ my pancreatic cancer diagnosis. I last ran the Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race 50k in the ‘Before’ era of my life. It was April 2013, and I was gearing up to run the Vermont 100. I was in great shape and healthy and strong. I had been training hard for months. I ran a 5:48, finishing as fourth female, first master. I was happy and proud. I ran pretty much the entire race and finished feeling good about my fitness and my ability. That was ‘before’.

CM2013 podium

I had some misgivings about returning to a race that I had run in my ultra prime, so to speak, but I love the course, love the Race Directors, Tim Bergsten and Michael Pharis, and enjoy local running events. So, I signed up in January with every intention of training to get into hilly, ultramarathon shape. Unfortunately, a foot injury has kept me off of the hills and family commitments have forced me to cut my runs short. The training just has not been what it should be. I knew that I was physically incapable of turning in a good, competitive race effort, but I knew I could finish the 50 k as a training run.

I am going to subtitle this post as “The Race Where I Carried a Bullmastiff on My Back.” For every ultra I run, Peyton, my 13-year-old, makes me a little good luck charm. I have become superstitious about having my good luck charm. As I was running out the door to the start of the Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race 50k, Steve said to Peyton, “Did you make anything for mommy?” I had forgotten to ask and she had forgotten our tradition, but she did not want to let me down, so she ran off to her room and came back with this:

shrinky dink

It is a shrinky dink. She said enthusiastically, “It kind of looks like Greta!” I believe that it was actually a pug,  but for the sake of providing a sense of meaning, let’s just go with it and call it ‘Greta the Bullmastiff’. I stuffed the Bullmastiff in the back pocket of my new running skirt. Little did I know that I would soon feel like I was carrying an actual mastiff on my back.

The best part of local races is seeing all of the familiar faces out there and also finally getting to meet people I have heard about for a long time. I took a minute to snap a selfie with Kristin who I connected with on Facebook via a mutual friend quite a while back. This was a great way to start my day!

CM with kristen

Meeting Kristin (r) for the first time was a highlight of the race.

The Cheyenne Mountain Trail Races are deceptively hard, in my opinion. While the elevation gain is certainly not the most of any ultra, it is a relentlessly rolling course with plenty of roots and rocks. There are roughly 3600 ft of ascent/descent over the course of the 50k. When I am in shape, like I was in 2013, this course is tough but runnable. This year, with three flat 20 mile long runs under my belt, I knew I would not be able to run the whole thing. However, I also knew that if I didn’t make the jump to hilly long runs now, Run Rabbit Run 100 will not happen in the fall.

I started off running just fine. I was having fun and enjoying myself. I chatted with an amazing guy who is preparing to run his 9th Leadville this summer, along with Hardrock and a bunch of other races. We started talking because he noticed my Project Purple shirt and he had lost his brother to pancreatic cancer. It amazes me that everywhere I go it seems that someone has a connection to the disease.

Mile 8 begins a roughly three-mile stretch of significant uphill. I was hanging with my buddy Tim Gore and his friends at this point. We had switched to hiking and were talking, but my chest started to hurt. I was working way too hard and something did not feel right. I back way off and let them go. At mile 10, I seriously wondered if it was wise for me to continue. I thought, “My first DNF cannot come in a 50k, but I don’t want to be stupid.” I had not eaten anything up til about 10 miles, so I ate a gel and took a salt pill to see if I could right the ship.

Soon, I met up with Allisa. She was down from Lakewood and she was not feeling particularly well, either. So, we hiked the uphills and ran the downhills. We briefly got separated, but then joined up again at the start of the second loop. Unfortunately, I had to walk hills at the beginning of the second loop that I ran easily the first time around. I was still working way too hard. Finally, we parted ways and she continued on ahead.

The volunteers on the course were a highlight of the day for me, and they were all doing an amazing job of taking care of the runners at the aid stations. It was great seeing so many people I knew out there and hearing them call my name when I rolled in. I seriously needed those wonderful people to uplift  my spirits.

CM 50k

Coming into the Achilles International Aid Station. (Photo courtesy of Denise Flory).

tonia Aid station CM

Photo Courtesy of Tim Bergsten & Pikes Peak Sports.

I was particularly thrilled to see my good friend, Tracey, out on the course. I just love her. She popped up in seemingly the middle of nowhere and made me laugh. She was volunteering for the race after having completed the 10k. I was nowhere near the finish line in this photo, but I was so happy to see Tracey. It was a great excuse to run a few steps with my friend AND to stop to pee. What more can a girl want?

CM 50k tracey

As I ran the remaining miles solo, I listened to music, tried to stay on top of eating and drinking, and continued with my mixture of hiking and running. For quite a while, I felt at peace. I love company, but I also love being alone on the trails. I feel best when I can allow myself to fall into the rhythm of my own body. Once again, I turned things around for a bit, but then the fatigue returned..

Eventually the sun came out and it got very warm.I started losing my mind a bit out there, honestly. I was wearing a vest-style hydration system and I kept forgetting to refill it at aid stations. I just could not remember to check my water supply.  I ran out of water. I made stupid mistakes that I normally would never make. Finally, I closed in on the finish line. I had passed one runner in a late-in-the-game burst of energy and was running as fast as I could when Karen, a volunteer, ran up and said, “There’s a rattlesnake in that bush.” I thought to myself, “I came all of this way to get bit by a freaking rattlesnake. This is how it is going to end, isn’t it?” Karen told me she would stay between me and the snake but I also did not want her to get bit. What a bizarre way to finish a race! Fortunately, neither of us got bit.

CM 50 snake

Photo courtesy of Tim Bergsten

I crossed the finish line somewhere around 6:42 (by my watch. Waiting for official results to be posted). I immediately had to lay down in the shade for a bit after finishing. I talked with a couple of guys who had finished a few minutes ahead of me, then went back to the drop bag area to collect my stuff. I was feeling pretty emotional at that point in time. I knew I was not in shape to run fast today, but I did not expect chest pain and delirium. I wonder if this is some lasting effect from my chemotherapy. I wondered several times on the course why I was still running ultras. Bryce was so amazing last year, but Bear Chase was very rough and CMTR 50k was also quite rough.. I wondered if I could get myself in shape for Run Rabbit Run 100 in the fall. I mourned the loss of the body that could run a 5:48 on this particular course. I doubt that I will ever get that conditioning back.

I spent a couple of minutes talking to Race Director and all-around great guy, Tim Bergsten, at that low moment and let a few tears escape. “My running is so up and down these days and it feels so much harder than it used to be,” I told him. There is really nothing to be said. It just is. There are things I can improve (my fitness), but there are things that are different that will never be the same. This is the ‘After’. The reality is that I had major surgery and poison pumped through my body. It prematurely aged me. My body is changed and I am changed. I want to be gentle and forgiving with myself but I am having a hard time with that because I also really want to kick ass and take names. I am thankful to be here and be able to run at all, but this part of ‘before’ and ‘after’ is emotionally tough to deal with sometimes and makes me question a lot. I often say that if I had to choose, I would choose to go through what I went through because it changed me in a lot of positive ways. However, the lingering physical effects are something I could do without.

So, I carried the Bullmastiff on my back today. It was hard but I made it. I finished. I went through an incredibly full range of emotions out there. I think I experienced as many low and high points as I have in any 50 or 100 mile race. Those highs and lows are part of what I love about running ultras. There is something so intrinsically rewarding about problem-solving on your feet, digging deep and trying to find a way to turn things around when they are not going your way. I was not proud of my performance yesterday, but today I am very proud that I was able to fix my problems enough to finish.

cm 50 finished

 

 

Advertisements

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.

2015/01/img_4105.jpg

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!

2015/01/img_4125.jpg

Peyton made me another one of her fabulous cards.

2015/01/img_0728.jpg

 

The inside had pictures of things I love.

2015/01/img_0729.jpg

We watched Peyton compete in a karate match.

2015/01/img_4089.jpg

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!”

 

 

 

Rock Canyon Half Marathon race report

I ran the Rock Canyon Half Marathon today. My husband, Stephen, loves this race and has run it several times. I, on the other hand, have not run Rock Canyon since 1999. I had nothing against the race. Rather, it was more a matter of us having to divide and conquer when the kids were younger. We both love to run but we each picked a couple of races each year and called it good.

I have only a handful of half-marathons under my belt. I honestly had no idea what kind of pace I would be running today. I knew that it would not be easy for me to run this race at a fast (for me) pace. I have been nursing some nagging injuries since I finished the Bear Chase 50 mile race back in September. Of course, there was also that little cancer thing that I dealt with this past year. Between my leg and my lungs, I cannot remember the last time I really was able to run “fast”.

In any event, Steve really wanted to run this half and wanted me to come along, too. I reluctantly allowed him to sign me up. I felt fairly ambivalent about running the half leading up to the race. Then, on Thursday, I woke up feeling sick with a sore throat, cough and overall fatigue. On Friday, my body was aching all over. I wondered if I should bother to go to the race at all, but I knew I would end up running somewhere, whether I went to the race or not. I figured I ought to at least give the half-marathon a shot.

We arrived at the race start by 8 am and proceeded to race number pick-up. One thing I like about this race is that it always draws a ton of people from the Springs. We milled around, chatting with other runners who we knew or recognized. I was pleasantly surprised to run into two of my former chemotherapy nurses. We caught up with them and snapped a couple of photos.

IMG_3647.JPG

IMG_3648.JPG

I did not think that it was a good sign that I was still not feeling well and that I was actually yawning while waiting for the race to start. Nevertheless, I said good-bye to Steve, and I lined up somewhere in the middle of the pack. As the gun went off, we walked and jogged across the start line. I quickly realized that I had lined up too far in the back. I had to struggle, bobbing and weaving around large groups of people. The first couple of miles are run on city streets and I was running somewhere around an 8:15 pace. It felt comfortable. But by mile two, my hamstring started to hurt badly. I knew this was not good, but there was nothing I could do about it. I just wanted to finish without doing too much damage.

So, I pushed on as best as I could, watching my per mile pace drop to 8:20, then 8:40s and eventually to just over a 9:00 pace. Worse than that was just how much literally every single step hurt. I lost focus. I forgot to drink and forgot about the gel I was going to eat mid-way through. Pain clouded all of my decision-making processes. I was getting passed by way too many people, but I was limping and there was no way I could give chase. With about two miles to go, I seriously wanted to cry. At this point, I just wanted not to have to walk.

As I approached mile 12, I happened to see a guy who I run into occasionally around town. He had finished and was out doing a cool down. He made a comment to the effect of, “Come on! You can do it!” I was at a really low moment. I was in a lot of pain. I was feeling miserable and on the verge of tears. All I could think to myself was, “Do you know what I have been through this past year?! Of COURSE I can do it!”

I had no idea what my finish time would be going into this race, but I definitely wanted to break 2 hours. I was starting to wonder if that was possible, but my ability to do math was now completely out the window. I crossed the finish line in 1:54. I was 5th in my age group of 33 women. I am not upset with my time or placing. I just wish I felt good while I was out there.

As I crossed the finish line, I saw Steve and Meghan waiting for me. Steve could tell I was hurting and it really was all I could do not to cry. I said a few bad words, and then announced the pity party was over. I was glad I went. I was glad I gave it my all. I was also really happy that I was able to celebrate my husband’s accomplishment with him. Steve finished in 1:34. I am so happy for him and super proud of him.

IMG_3649.JPG

IMG_3651.JPG

I also got to chat with my chemotherapy nurses at the finish line again. They both did awesome and it is fun to see them outside of the Cancer center!

IMG_3650.JPG

After the race was over, I invested in a couple of headbands from Bolder Bands.

http://www.bbolder.com/

I am lucky that I never lost all of my hair when I went through chemo. I did, however, lose a lot of my hair. It is growing back in now and I am very happy about that fact. However, I am a little self-conscious about how crazy my hair looks when I put it in a pony tail. I have a full on shrub growing out of the top of my head and no amount of hair spray can keep it tame. It is the little things in life that make us feel good, and I am excited to have a way to try to make my hair look a little less bizarre while it grows back.

This will be our last race of 2014. The Rock Canyon half is a nice event. It is about as flat and as fast as a half-marathon can be in Colorado. Though I really struggled, I am happy that I ran today. I enjoyed the ride down and back with my husband. I loved seeing lots of familiar, friendly faces out on the course. I am glad that I was able to tough it out when I felt really miserable. I am really proud of my husband and am happy that I got to celebrate with him, even if I came in 20 minutes after he did! I have to get a handle on these lingering injuries. My immediate goal right now is to just feel good and healthy again.

I Guess I Really Did Have Cancer

Yesterday marked exactly one year since I found out that I had pancreatic cancer. The date was November 22, 2013. I will never forget the date, in part because it is also my father’s birthday. I still feel badly about delivering that news to my family on my dad’s birthday.

A couple of weeks ago, I sought out a second opinion from another oncologist. This has nothing to do with the care I have received. It has everything to do with my own peace of mind. I really should have sought this opinion last November or December, but my insurance company fought me and denied me so many times that I just gave up. For some reason, I could never shake the feeling that I should have gotten that second opinion. This may sound silly, but there was even a little voice in my head that wondered if the original pathologists had been wrong. Perhaps I never had Pancreatic Cancer after all!

On November 21, 2014, one day shy of the anniversary of my original diagnosis, I heard back from the doctor’s office where I had sought out a second opinion. Not surprisingly, my original diagnosis was confirmed. I honestly felt only relief at hearing the news a second time. I was happy to hear that I could now put to rest any lingering questions I had. Yes, I had Pancreatic Cancer. Yes, I am glad I went through surgery and 18 rounds of chemotherapy. I have no regrets about the path I took, and though I am sorry my family had to experience so much pain, I know it was with a purpose.

Denial is a powerful thing, but I think my continued sense of denial helped me through this last year. I rarely thought of myself as a Cancer patient. I thought of myself as a really healthy runner who had a touch of cancer. I think that is part of why I was able to do the things I did all through my chemotherapy. I was not “sick”. I was a healthy person in a temporarily unfortunate set of circumstances.

I have written previously about seeking peace of mind. Even though I got my second opinion much later than I would have liked, and I had to pay for it out of pocket, it has helped me achieve some of the peace of mind that I have been seeking. It was truly worth every penny simply to hear, “Yes, your original diagnosis stands.” To anyone facing a major medical condition, I highly encourage seeking out that second opinion. There is no price tag that can be placed on knowing that you are on the correct path.

One of my goals going forward is to eliminate from my life things that take away from my own sense of mental peace and calmness. During treatment, I was pretty good at establishing my boundaries, and most people respected them. As I have gotten healthier, I am allowing obligations to creep into my life that in no way contribute to my own sense of emotional well being. I take ownership of this. It is my own fault when I find myself agreeing to responsibilities that do not add to my own quality of life. On the one hand, I am pleased that I am now getting healthy enough that some of the lessons Cancer taught me are not always in the forefront of my mind. On the other hand, those lessons were so valuable to me as a person, and to my family as a whole, that I will do everything in my power not to forget what I have learned. As a mother of daughters, I try to live my values and lead by example. I know I personally struggle with attempting to please others while honoring my own needs. As I work towards my second year as a Pancreatic Cancer survivor, I owe it to myself and my family to continue to evaluate the choices I make. What adds to our lives and what detracts from the time we have together? I sure hope I have another 45 years of healthy living, but I cannot afford to take one day for granted.

Remembering on My Cancerversary

There are certain moments that you will always remember in your life: your first kiss, your wedding day, the birth of your children. I can add to that otherwise happy list the moment I heard the words “Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma”. November 18 is the day I had surgery one year ago for what turned out to be Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma. I went into the surgery thinking that I had a precancerous lesion. I did, but there was also cancer present. This past year has been an amazing journey.

I remember seeing my primary care doctor and being told I needed some additional testing. I remember the moment when he got the report from my CT scan and we went from laughing and joking to a very sobering conversation. I remember feeling like the air had just left the room. I remember thinking that my then 10-year-old daughter Peyton was in the waiting room and we were headed to a high school cross country meet. I remember wondering how in the world I was going to pretend that everything was good around my children.

I remember calling my husband at work and saying, “Do you have a minute?” He knew instantly that something was wrong. I remember going into a state of denial, and feeling convinced that I was completely fine. I remember texting my friend who is a PA and asking her if it was really necessary that I get a follow up MRI. I remember her telling me that yes, I had to go and that often these things were “nothing” but sometimes they are something.

I remember expecting the MRI to be fine, but finding out that it was not. I remember going in for the Endocscopic Ultrasound (EUS). I remember the warm and funny nurse who tended to me. I remember being in the operating room waiting for the procedure and talking the nurses into looking up the Screaming Goat video on Youtube, because it made me laugh. I remember the doctor walking in and not looking amused.

I remember waking up and being told that the doctor thought the lesion was pre-malignant, but that it needed to come out as soon as possible because it was showing “worrisome features”. I remember being terrified thinking about the major surgery coming up. I remember reading about the high rate of complications with pancreatic surgeries, and wondering if I would come out of surgery alive, let alone if I would able to run, take care of my family or work.

I remember the somber drive down to the hospital on the morning of November 18, 2013. I remember trying to joke with the nurses to mask how terrified I was feeling. I remember waking up in the recovery room and staying there for hours because there was no hospital room available for me. I remember finally getting to a room and being hooked up to an epidural for pain, a catheter because I could not get out of bed, leg sleeves to prevent blood clots, an oxygen tank and numerous other wires.  I remember spending days in the hospital. I remember seeing my scar and having my surgeon tell me that he had sewed me up in that particular fashion in case he had to go back in.

IMG_3232

I remember first hearing the words “Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma” from my surgeon on November 22, 2013. I remember having to tell my husband that I had Pancreatic Cancer. I remember that it was also my father’s birthday, and I had to call him and tell him the news. I remember not knowing a whole lot about Pancreatic Cancer. I remember googling it for the first time and being absolutely astounded by the abysmal survival rates. I remember how surreal it all felt. I remember thinking this was not my body or my life.

I remember pulling each of my daughters aside and breaking the news to them that I had, in fact, had cancer. I remember feeling like I had betrayed them. How could I get sick and shake their sense of security? I remember wishing I never had to have those conversations but that I had promised my kids I would always be honest with them.

I remember how my relationship with my husband changed over night. We went from being loving but not overly demonstrative to laying awake curled up together night after night, seeking solace and comfort and intimacy. I remember thinking that maybe if we could just hold each other tightly forever, we would be feel safe and confident again.

I remember walking hunched over like an elderly woman because it hurt to stand up straight and stretch my incision. I remember those first extremely slow walks around the neighborhood, first with my husband, then with my parents and daughters, and finally with the friends who came to walk with me. I remember feeling so grateful to have people willing to walk with me now that I could no longer run. I remember friends bringing meals and gifts and books. I remember not being able to focus long enough to finish a book, whereas before my surgery I would read at least one per week.

I remember telling a friend, “I know what is going to kill me now.”

I remember seeing my oncologist for the first time and discussing treatment options. I remember deciding to do chemotherapy.  I remember telling my mom and her breaking down in tears. I remember feeling terrible about that conversation because it broke my heart to make my mother cry.

I remember when my parents went back to NY. I remember thinking that I knew we all had to get back to our lives, but I did not want to let either of them go.

I remember counting down the days until I could run, and I remember that first painful and yet blissful run I took with my husband, just shy of a month post-op.

IMG_1261

I remember running every day even though it hurt after a month layoff, because I did not know how much running I would be able to do during chemotherapy. I remember feeling so incredibly grateful that I could run at all. I remember thinking I had to be as physically strong as possible before I started my next round of treatments.

I remember getting my chemotherapy port installed and how much it hurt the first couple of weeks.

FullSizeRender (1)

I remember being very afraid the night before chemotherapy started. I remember the nurse telling me not to be surprised if I did not make it through the first cycle without a delay in treatment due to my blood levels being off. I ended up never missing a treatment.

I remember taking a chemo selfie with Riley.

IMG_1352

I remember being nauseous. I remember losing a lot of my hair. I remember being exhausted all of the time. I remember having pain in my limbs. I remember having to go to the Emergency Room because I was sick. I remember setting a goal of running at least two times per week. I ended up missing only five days over the entire six months of treatment. I remember running the Super Half Marathon with Debby.

IMG_1407

I remember running the Greenland Trail 25K with Steve.

IMG_1880

I remember how my husband never missed going to a chemo appointment with me.

IMG_2130

I remember that final 18th round of chemotherapy, and coming home to a decorated house.

IMG_2134

I remember my friendships deepening with long time friends. I remember making new friendships and being amazed by how kind and generous people were towards me. I remember all of the people who were willing to run slowly with me.

IMG_1267

IMG_1717

IMG_3115

I remember watching my scar heal.

IMG_3764

I remember finally getting my chemo port removed.

I remember my kids feeling anxious, stressed and angry. I also remember lots of long, thoughtful conversations and how much I loved just spending time at home with them. I remember learning a lot along the way. I remember feeling mentally calm and focused because I just wanted to live and enjoy each day. I remember going from thinking I may not see my kids grow up to thinking that there were so many positive things that had come out of my diagnosis. I remember being grateful for every day, for the opportunity to run, and to spend time with people I loved. I remember thinking that my perspective on so many things had changed and I hoped that I would never take a day or for granted or worry about insignificant things again. I remember re-evaluating everything in my life, and how I learned to cut back and streamline my obligations. I remember thinking that I would only choose to do things that were truly important to me. I remember thinking that as long as the cancer did not return and kill me, maybe this would ultimately be a positive experience for all of us.

image (5)

There is so much I could write about this last year. These are the moments that are etched in my mind. I have survived for a whole year, which 75-80% of Pancreatic Cancer patients do not. I am incredibly lucky. I hope I always remember all that we have been through this last year, the good and the bad. I hope the lessons always stay with us. I remember feeling better and not wanting to forget, but starting to move forward.

Waking Up Happy

I am really excited about the direction my life seems to be headed in at this time. I have lots of things going on that are keeping me busy in a good way. I have a new writing assignment which I am absolutely thrilled about. I am so pleased that I am physically well enough to be working. It makes me happy to be using my brain and to feel productive.  I have been enjoying fulfilling my duties as co Race Director for the Pikes Peak Road Runners Fall Series. I was also interviewed for an article this week and am looking forward to seeing the final product when it comes out.

On the physical side of things, I have started a concerted effort to regain the strength I lost over the last year.  I promised myself after the Bear Chase that I would make strength training a priority. I had a setback due to getting my chemotherapy port removed, but I finally was able to take the first steps towards fulfilling that goal this week. Finally, I am happy to be getting my running mileage back up. I was able to run the rolling 13 mile Falcon Trail on the Air Force Academy twice this week. I hit 70 miles this week for the first time since running the Bear Chase 50 mile race.

image4

image5

I approached the Colorado Springs City Council about issuing a proclamation making November Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. They were happy to oblige. It is a symbolic measure, of course, but because Pancreatic Cancer has received so little funding and attention, the symbolism really means something to those of us whose lives have been forever changed by this disease.

image3

The Team Tonia Pancreatic Cancer Awareness shirt continued to travel across the United States. My friend Jodi F. finished her first ever half marathon wearing it. I am so proud of her for running the entire distance!

image2

 

This week, I also did something that I should have done months ago. I sought a second opinion on my Pancreatic Cancer case. This is no way means that I do not have confidence in my local doctor. It is actually recommended that anyone facing cancer or any major illness get a second opinion. I wanted to go in for a second opinion back when I was first diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, but my insurance company fought me at every turn. I was physically and emotionally drained from my surgery and I honestly just gave up. I have always regretted the fact that I did not get that second opinion, though. I have had lingering fears surrounding my circumstances and I just needed to hear from another medical professional that we are on the right path. I needed reassurance. One thing I have found in talking with other Pancreatic Cancer patients is that we often struggle with fear post diagnosis. There is so much uncertainty that comes with Pancreatic Cancer. Even those of us who were diagnosed at an early stage and are currently showing no evidence of disease worry about what is lurking in our bodies. We all know that the survival rates for Pancreatic Cancer are abysmal. No one can tell us if we will be one of the lucky few long-term survivors. We live with those lingering fears. It is just part of the territory.

I knew that by seeking a second opinion, I would not be eliminating my concerns. I hoped I would get some reassurance about the treatments I have already done and the path the we are taking as we go forward. What I am finding is that there is not a whole lot of evidence to tell the doctors how to optimally treat early stage Pancreatic Cancer. The doctors are doing absolutely the best they can with the information they have, but there have not been enough studies done on early stage Pancreatic Cancer to be able to adopt any real standard of care. Because Pancreatic Cancer is often found so late, most studies have been conducted on patients who are at stage 3 and stage 4. It is difficult to generalize the efficacy of those treatments for patients who are stage 1 or 2.

I came out of my second opinion appointment with some good and helpful information. I feel reassured about what I have chosen to do so far. We also discussed in-depth what this doctor believes my risks are going forward. I will be receiving more information towards the end of this week about what he recommends in terms of follow-up care. I think it was well worth paying out-of-pocket to discuss my case in person with another doctor. While no one can fully give me peace of mind, the visit helped ease some of my fears. I highly recommend seeking a second opinion for any major medical decisions. I wish I had done this months ago, but it is truly better late than never.

With all that has transpired over the past couple of weeks, I feel good about where I am right now. I feel happier, healthier and my confidence is coming back. Before cancer, I used to wake up excited about every day. During treatment, all I could do was focus on day-to-day survival. Now, that excitement is coming back. It feels so good to be moving forward instead of running in place.