Time and Health

 

These last few years have shown me the precious and fleeting nature of time.  Sure, money makes life easier, but time and health are what we need most. We need time for experiences which give meaning to our lives. We need time to love and give to those who mean the most to us. We need physical and emotional health to be able to create those meaningful relationships and experiences. If you have neither time nor health, you will wish with every fiber of your being you could go back in time and change something, anything, to give yourself more of both.

For the latter part of 2016, I realized that I needed to take a step back from many things so I could take better care of myself. Last year was full of moments in time that were both joyful and emotionally draining. My oldest daughter graduated from high school. When I was diagnosed with cancer, one of my top goals was to live to see my daughter graduate. Luck was on my side. We both made it to this day. I was, of course, proud of all of her accomplishments and reaching this milestone in life. But I also knew it meant my daughter, my friend, would be leaving our home soon.

Growing Up and Leaving Home

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How do you go from holding a tiny helpless baby in your arms to saying goodbye to a young woman who is literally a part of you but also very uniquely and wonderfully her own person? But this is a parent’s job and we have known this all along. We who get to see our children grow and fly the nest are the lucky ones. Not every parent has that privilege.

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And though I heard many times, ‘The high school years go by so quickly!’ I now know in my own heart how true that is. I have 4.5 years left with my younger daughter. I plan to make each one count.

Summer

The summer of 2016 was full of bittersweet moments. I had the pleasure of traveling with Peyton to spend time with my family in New York State.

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I traveled to Montana to spend time with my husband’s family. Steve, Peyton and I spent time enjoying the beauty of Glacier National Park.

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Iceberg Lake

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Moving on to College

Through it all, I knew that our lives were about to significantly change. In August, we brought Riley to college. While I was excited for her to enjoy this next step in life, I felt like a piece of my heart was literally being ripped from my body. It was very apparent that all I wanted was more time with her. I knew we would talk and see each other again, but I knew it would never be the same. She had to adjust to being ‘on her own’ and we would shift to mostly being a group of three on a daily basis. I wonder when will be the first time she tells me she is not coming home for vacation or not coming home for summer. I wonder where she will ultimately end up living.

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Sisters saying good-bye at the end of their summer vacations.

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Saying goodbye to my baby on move in day.

As our car drove away, I waved to my daughter until she was out of sight, and then the tears came. I wished I could go back in time so I could hold her little hand, read her bedtime stories and play more games with her. As my daughters grow older and move on to the next phases of their lives, it is these little moments I wish I could experience again, because now all I have are photos and distant memories.

The Importance of Time and Health

We all tend to feel invincible when we are young. We are surprised, shocked even, when we first face our own health crisis. Though it feels like time is endless when we are young, we are mortal, after all. Time does not come to us in unlimited quantities.

Health crises come in different forms. We all know people who have died much too young from an illness. A long, slow protracted death from cancer cells ravaging the body. A sudden, shocking end from a heart attack.

Mental illness robs many of joy and fulfillment in life. It steals time and happiness from people in a more insidious way than a physical illness, but is often no less devastating. If the mental illness is severe enough, it can be deadly.

There are other health problems that may be not as deadly but can be equally destructive. As we age, we find out our bodies or our minds are no longer capable of doing some of the things they used to do. We may be forced to give up things we love to do. Eventually we may find we have problems with basic tasks or mobility. It seems cruel and unfair.

Growing Up and Growing Old

We watch our parents age and realize someday we will have to navigate the world without them. If we are lucky, we still call our parents well into adulthood asking for advice. We wonder why we live so far away now and wish we could go back and right some of the wrongs we feel responsible for.

We wake up one day and see our own wrinkles and gray hair. We experience the failings of our own bodies. Confronted once again with our own mortality, we wish we had more time. We wish we could go back and do the things with our young, healthy bodies that we can no longer do now.

All of this brings me back to time. Spend your time wisely. Spend it doing what is important to you. Spend time with the people who are important to you. This past year was exceptionally difficult at times and I found myself mentally and physically completely drained. I faced many difficulties that I did not want to discuss with others. The personal struggle too real and too raw.

Saying ‘Yes’ to Saying ‘No’

I have always been one who has trouble saying no. I don’t like to disappoint people. I feel like I should be strong enough to ‘do it all’. I spent days volunteering for events and then went home and had to lay in bed the following day because I developed a fever. I smiled and gave to others while taking away from myself and my family. I have always been a giver. I finally realized that what I was giving was physically and emotionally destroying me. I have my own battles that I am not done fighting. I need time and energy to take care of myself and my family.

For years, I spent so much time saying ‘yes’ to other people that I had to say ‘no’ to my own needs. While I do not do New Year’s resolutions, as 2016 moved towards 2017, I knew there was no choice. I needed to pull back and focus on my health and my family.

I have pulled back gradually and I know it was the right decision. I need to make 2017 the year of saying ‘no’ to things which draw my time away from my family and make it more difficult to focus on my own emotional and physical health. For someone who is so used to saying ‘yes’, this is not an easy undertaking. This is not a New Year’s Resolution. It is a gradual, but necessary, process. I have to treat it like my life depends on it, because right now, I feel like it does.

Time and health. Those are the things that matter. You don’t get second chances with either.

 

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No Air

I felt secure in my health. Invincible. I knew I was not immortal but I pictured a long, active, healthy life surrounded by people I love. I had a follow-up appointment scheduled with my doctor on a day when my husband had training for his job. He offered to change his training days, but I was so confident all would be fine that I told him not to bother. I would go alone. It would be fine. I would be fine.

As I  waited in the oncologist’s office, I had some mild pre-report jitters, which is normal.. The doctor came in and we engaged in a couple of minutes of idle chit-chat. I was waiting for the words, “Everything is fine. I will see you in three months.” But, instead, he opened his mouth and told me there was a lymph node near the celiac plexus that needed to be biopsied. As we looked through my scans together, he showed me another spot, this one on my liver. He emphasize that both could be nothing. However, he was recommending further testing to be sure.

As I listened to him, I kept a half-smile on my face, because I don’t want to show that I am rattled. But, I can feel the air leaving the room. I have a deja vu. I am back in 2013  when I first heard bad news about a tumor in my body that needed to be checked out further. I feel the same half-smile on my face, nodding in agreement to a voice that sounds a million miles away. No air. I hear the tumor board will discuss my case and let me know what will happen next. I think: I am alone. WHY did I come alone? Because I thought I was fine. I AM fine. But I thought I was fine in 2013, also. I don’t know what is real. I cannot trust my own instincts. I am afraid and so very alone.

I think, ‘What am I going to tell my daughters?’ I cannot tell them everything is fine, but I don’t want them to worry needlessly. After all,  I am going to be fine.

I leave and am, fortunately, able to speak to my husband. He sounds like I feel. A punch to the stomach. Fear. Disbelief. We are both desperate to be together, but are over 100 miles apart. I cry on a bench by the hospital elevator and I don’t care who sees me. I can’t drive. I can’t breathe. He has to return to class. I drag myself downstairs for the ride home but I just can’t do it yet. I sit on another bench and cry for 20 minutes, watching the rain pouring down outside. What am I going to tell my daughters?

Eventually, I pull it together enough to drive home. I talk to my parents. I talk with a couple of very close friends. I get home and sit on the floor, unable to move for 20 minutes. I am so thankful for Sadie, my Boston Terrier, who is licking my face. When my daughters come home, I tell them I need another test, but I do not elaborate. We have too little information. I am scared but I do not want to cause them unnecessary stress. There is no point. It seems cruel. They will know as soon as we know for sure one way or the other, good news or bad.

Sadie on my lap

The doctor calls the next day and says a biopsy is recommended. I vacillate between thinking I am totally fine and feeling fear that comes from seemingly nowhere. It consumes me on a visceral level. It does not seem to be triggered by anything in particular. I can only assume it is a response to the old wounds and fears coming back. One minute I am fine and the next I feel like the earth is swallowing me whole.

I cannot think about possible treatments. In fact, I don’t. I think about the test and just want to get through that. But when Stephen and I start discussing plans we have…races we have signed up for and trips we will take to see family, I become choked up. “But I have PLANS,” I think. “I have so much stuff that I want to do!”

The waiting is the hardest. Neither of us sleep well. We walk around, distracted zombies, trying to go through the motions and fulfill our daily duties and obligations. There is no time to emotionally deal with our personal crisis. We are so busy, we wish we had time to just sit and hold each other. When there is a moment of down time, our thoughts become our own worst enemies.

Steve & Tonia Santa Fe

I have the test. They biopsy enlarged lymph nodes. I go home and I wait and wait and wait. i try to figure out what it means. Why haven’t I heard anything? Is no news good news or does he not want to deliver bad news over the phone? I over analyze.

I actually think that I am healthy and fine. The logical side thinks I will be OK, but since I thought I was fine prior to my initial diagnosis, that leaves the door slightly open. Wednesday comes and I am supposed to see the doctor. A blizzard arrives, shutting down essentially every major road on the Colorado Front Range and I am stuck at home waiting to see if I will learn any news. I work and play games with my kids, but I am anxious and distracted. Finally, my phone rings and I get the news: I am fine. There is no sign of cancer in the lymph nodes.

There is relief and joy when I tell people, but after two-and-a-half weeks of living in some alternate universe, my own personal little time in hell, I am mentally exhausted. The news comes to me not as a surprise, but as a confirmation. I am fine. I knew it.

Today, as everything sinks in, I celebrate a new day of continued good health with a run. There is air. I can breathe again.

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I refuse to be a helicopter mom. Don’t judge me.

I have a confession to make. I don’t check my kids homework. I don’t look at their assignments. I do not log into the various on-line places that the schools want me to check their grades. In a world where supposedly “every” parent is a helicopter parent, dooming their children to be clingy and dysfunctional, I sometimes feel like a bad parent. As much as we hear “don’t be a helicopter parent” from schools, colleges, and various media sources, it really feels like society and schools are pushing parents into the role of helicopter parenting. I am fighting back against it as hard as I can but I admit that sometimes I feel like a loser for nothing constantly logging on to see what my kids’ grades look like. That said, so far, I think my strategy is working out just fine for my kids. But sometimes I wonder if I am a secret loser of parent who is not being as “involved” as I should be.

When Riley was in elementary school, I used to check on her homework. I would go over her math answers and make sure they were correct. I tried to help her when she was struggling with something, but even though I was doing my best and my heart was in the right place, I think my “involvement” caused more harm than good (my poor first-born “test” child). I am now embarrassed when I think back at the time I spent standing over her shoulder correcting her. But, I was trying to help, be involved, be a good parent. That is not to say that I think parents should not help their kids when they are struggling. But, it really is OK if they make mistakes. We do not need to point all of these mistakes out to our kids.

When Riley moved on to Middle School and Peyton went to elementary school, I went back to work.  My  husband works very long hours and I was working a health care setting. I frequently worked swing shifts and was not there when Riley got home from school. I started relying on the on-line grade book to see how she was doing. This only served to increase the loss of control that I felt over what was happening in my kids’ lives. I was barely seeing them as it was, and I could not be there to help or monitor what was going on in their lives. This prompted me to ask questions based upon electronic information. “You have an assignment missing in this class? You went from an A to a D over night! Where is this assignment?” I was at turns exasperated and afraid and angry. Most of these conversations took place over the phone or in the brief, bleary-eyed few minutes that I had with my kids in the mornings. I felt our relationships slipping away. I realized that I thought I had some semblance of control over these people with whom I lived, but in reality, I cannot control what other people are doing. I can only control myself. I decided to back off. When cancer decided to visit my life, it really hit home that these two girls that I am raising will have to function on their own in life. I may not always be here for them. I need to make sure that they are equipped to face the ups and downs of life on their own. They need to believe in themselves.

Unfortunately, I feel that the expectation in today’s world is that parents will be available at all times and will be constantly monitoring their children. When Riley went to high school, she did not have a smart phone. Right off the bat, at back-to-school night, a teacher started talking about how they will use their smart phones in class. WHAT?! I was very upset. The district policy was “no phones” in class, but the teacher said essentially, “The kids use them anyway, so we might as well harness the technology for academic purposes.” While I understand that sentiment and realize that teachers are playing whack-a-mole with the ‘no phone’ policy, I felt that my own parenting was being undermined. Suddenly, I felt that I HAD to get my daughter a smart phone or she would be at a disadvantage in school. Shortly thereafter, we had an emergency where she had to miss a sports practice. Because I, myself, had no smart phone and I was not at home at my computer, I had no way to communicate to the coach. I bought myself a smart phone so that I could be a “good parent” and essentially be available 24/7. I resented feeling like I had to be “on call” at all times and like I had to purchase expensive technology that I did not believe was necessary for a 15-year-old or for myself (how quaint, I know, but that’s just my personal belief).

Riley's birthday

Now, as Riley prepares to graduate and Peyton is in middle school, things are very different. I am determined to be as supportive but as un-helicoptery as possible. I ask them every day, “What did you do at school today?” and “Do you have much homework?” I never check their homework unless they specifically ask me to read something that they have written (which is almost never, because apparently writing professionally affords me no gravitas at home!). Sometimes we talk specifically about what they did in classes, but only if it is something that they want to share. There are no inquisitions from me. They choose what they want to talk about. Sometimes we talk about friends or activities or what is going on in the news, the election cycle, or the universe. I want to hear about whatever interests them. I want to talk to my children about their lives. I want to learn more about who they are and what they care about. I am more interested in who they are as people than what their current grades are looking like. A funny thing happened as I backed off from the role of monitor and enforcer: our relationships improved and their own personalities started to develop and really show themselves. I started learning more about who my daughters are as people and about what they actually think about and believe in. They put enough pressure on themselves to succeed academically. They do not need me adding to the pressure that they face. They need me to help put those pressures into perspective.

But, here is my problem: I feel constant pressure from the academic world to not be the kind of parent I want to be. Every week, I get multiple email reminders to check this app and that app and the on-line grade book and the team and class web pages, etc. I do not blame the teachers one bit. They have pressure from everywhere to COMMUNICATE with parents. Parents demand to know what is going on every single day. But, does that make me a bad parent if I do not feel like i have to be constantly informed as to what is happening in the classroom? I trust the teachers to do their jobs. I trust my kids to do theirs. If my kids do not do their jobs, the natural consequence is that they will get poor grades. If a teacher is not doing his or her job, my kid will also suffer consequences, but no website or app is going to tell me anything important about what the teacher is doing. If my kid comes home and tells me, “We are talking about X in class and it is really interesting!”, then that is what I feel like I really need to know.

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My kids are fortunate enough to be in a school district that consistently performs well by all metrics that I have available to me. I know that they will be prepared for college. I am well aware that we are “privileged” in this regard. As important as I believe parent-involvement is, I just do not think it is something that can forced. I consider myself to be a very involved parent in the ways that truly matter. Signing papers and looking at apps will not make me more involved in any meaningful way.

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I want to make sure that my kids are hungry to learn and excited about education by the time they get to college, because ultimately that is what matters most. I want my kids to learn to monitor their own work loads on their own. I want them to be responsible for themselves. It is a process, of course, and I will provide support for them when and if they need it. But, I am not interested in looking over their shoulders every day to see what grade their received for behavior or on any one particular homework assignment. I laugh when I have to sign off on a homework calendar for my 18-year-old. (Really? How the hell do I know whether she did these assignments or not? “Hey Riley, did you do these assignments?” “Yes”. “Ok, I guess I can sign it then”). I expect that they will do their jobs and do them as well as they are able.

So, by bucking the system, I hope I am teaching my kids not that I do not care or am not involved. Rather, I hope they see that I am involved in the stuff that matters. My job is to be the support system and help shape and guide them as they grow up. I am actually more interested in guiding their ethical and moral behavior than I am in driving them to get good grades. Their desire to get good grades needs to be internally-motivated, because I sure as hell am not going to college with them.

So, to my teacher friends. I love you and respect you and would never want to do your job, because I know it is really, really difficult. I also trust that you are doing your job. This does not mean that we should not touch base on occasion, because I actually really like you and enjoy chatting with you. But please forgive me for not looking at the apps you set up. I ask my kids how they are doing and when they answer, I assume they are telling me the truth. If my kid is a problem, I want to know about it and I assure you that it will be dealt with, as I am in no way a pushover. But, my expectation as a parent is that they will do the right things in life. If they don’t, then they have to live with the consequences and learn those lessons. Trust me to be an involved parent but not one who is constantly looking over my daughters’ shoulders. They need to learn to be independent. I want them to go out into the world and feel strong and confident and competent. I want them to know that they have a mom who is interested in hearing what they want to share but it not interested in micromanaging their lives. I want them to learn the lessons that they will fail and fall down and make mistakes and that they will be able to brush themselves off and continue on with their lives…and that i will love them no less.

 

 

Two Year Cancerversary

November 18, 2013. That was the day I had surgery for pancreatic cancer. I was one of the lucky ones. I could have surgery. Most people with my diagnosis cannot. Half of my pancreas and my whole spleen were removed and then shortly thereafter I went through 18 rounds of chemo. It was a long road that I have previously chronicled here, but I made it through. Most pancreatic cancer patients do not survive the first year. In fact, 80% do not make it to the one year mark.

When I planned my surgery, I did it strategically. In our house, November is a busy month. Our oldest daughter, my husband and my father all have November birthdays. I remember scheduling my surgery between my daughter’s 16th birthday and my husband and dad’s birthdays. I knew my illness cast a dark cloud over all of our celebrations that year, but I wanted to try to give enough time so that we could celebrate everyone else’s special day.

Last year, as the birthdays and my cancerversary approached, I admit that I thought a lot about my own anniversary. I was excited for the birthdays and so grateful that I got to be there for them, but I thought a great deal about my own anniversary and what it meant to me. I thought about everything that it signified and all of the stuff that we had experienced over that past year.

This year, as my cancerversary has approached, I have been aware of it, but in a significant mental and emotional shift, it has become less important to me. I have been more focused on other stuff in my life: Riley’s 18th birthday, my husband’s 50th birthday, my daddy’s birthday, my work and the race series that I am currently wrapped up in co-directing.

Still, it is an important anniversary and one that bears marking, because so much in our worlds changed two years ago. At this point in time in 2013, our worlds were rocked by my diagnosis. We did not know how much time I would have with my family. I think about the things that I have gotten to take part in over the last two years that I might not have had I not been so fortunate throughout my diagnosis and treatment. There have been birthdays. The girls were 10 and 16 when I was diagnosed. Now they are 12 and 18. Riley is legally an adult. Riley got her driver’s license. The college decision has been made (Go CSU Rams!) There have been homecomings and a prom. For Peyton, there have been karate belts earned, selection for a club volleyball team and a number of other successes in athletic and academic areas. She moved from elementary to middle school as I finished chemotherapy.

With Riley & Peyton on Riley's 18th birthday

With Riley & Peyton on Riley’s 18th birthday

Steve and I celebrated another year of wedded bliss. My family and I took an amazing vacation together, where I also happened to run a 100 mile race.

The family crossing the finish line with me!

The family crossing the finish line with me at the Bryce 100

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

I ran a full marathon and a half-marathon with Project Purple charity teams.

With Elli & Dino

With Elli & Dino in Lincoln, NE

With Jenny

With Jenny in her home state of NE

Several of the Project Purple Denver team members at the event.

Several of the Project Purple Denver team members at the event.

I ran a 50 mile race this fall at the Bear Chase Trail Race.

Lucky girl getting a hug from both RDs, Ben Reeves (l) and David Manthey (R). Notice the missing glass lens.

Lucky girl getting a hug from both RDs, Ben Reeves (l) and David Manthey (R). Notice the missing glass lens.

I ran a mountain race with my husband and friends.

Breck Crest with my honey

Breck Crest with my honey

With Debby, my friend since I moved to CO in 1999!

With Debby, my friend since I moved to CO in 1999!

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I race directed a charity 5k for Project Purple and continued working with our local club, the Pikes Peak Road Runners.

Having fun after the race!

Having fun after the Project Purple 5k!

With my PPRR Fall Series crew

With my PPRR Fall Series crew

We gained a new family member when we adopted Willy in January.

Our newest family member, Willy

Our newest family member, Willy

And last week, we said good-bye to the Grand Dame, Greta, who passed away..

She was a natural beauty

Greta, the Bullmastiff

I got to spend time with our wonderful extended family back east over the summer, which is something I never, ever take for granted.

Through all of this, I have met so many amazing and wonderful people that I simply cannot name them all. I do hope they all know the positive impact they have had on my life.

I often think in long-term thoughts now, which is something I did not always feel that I could or should do. I wonder what college will be like for Riley and what high school will be like for Peyton. I wonder what new adventures are on the horizon for Steve and me as our kids grow and prepare to move on to live their own lives independent of us..

Not everything is easy or joyous, of course. You never get through cancer without any long-term repercussions. I saw an endocrinologist recently and  we agreed that it was time to try a medication to help stabilize my blood sugar levels, which have been all over the place. I have not felt like my normally energetic self for a while now and I am hoping that this will help return me to where I used to be. I am still trying to make peace with this recent turn of events. I would never have been in this position if I had not had half of my pancreas taken out. While I know that I am so very lucky to be here, I am also frustrated by how I have been feeling. If pancreatic cancer had not chosen me, I would not be facing the health issues that I am facing now.

All of the above being said, I know that pancreatic cancer gave me many gifts, too. One of those gifts is the gift of friendship from so many people I would not have otherwise met. I will relay one story now because it demonstrates to me the serendipity of life. In September, I was running the Bear Chase 50 mile race. I was wearing my Project Purple shirt which says “Survivor/Running with half a pancreas” on the back. I passed a woman who was running the 50k (different courses that converge over time) and she asked me, “Why are you running with half a pancreas?” I told her my story and she told me that she was a type 1 diabetic. We chatted a bit, but eventually parted ways. I had hoped that I would see her again after the race was over, but I did not.

Three weeks later, I was working the Project Purple booth at the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon expo. Guess who stopped by?

With my new friend, Jen.

With my new friend, Jen.

Jen and I were meant to meet. I believe that fully in my heart. As it turns out, she had a friend who was battling pancreatic cancer. Sadly, her friend passed away shortly after we met in Denver; another tragic loss to this dreadful disease.

When I met with the endocrinologist a couple of weeks later, he told me to make friends with Type 1 diabetic athletes. I believe we met because we both needed each other at this point in our lives. She needed to see someone living beyond PC and I needed to meet someone who could show me that distance running and diabetes can co-exist. It all seems overwhelming right now but I know that I will figure it all out in time.

So much has happened in the past two years. I am so grateful that I am still here. I have been given the gift of more time with my family, and I have been given the gift of new and meaningful friendships. This year I look forward to seeing my eldest graduate from high school and go off to college, and to seeing my youngest enter her teenage years. Even though it has not always been easy, I am excited to see what year three brings!

You can read last year’s cancerversary remembrance here:

https://mypancreasranaway.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/remembering-on-my-cancerversary/

Saying Goodbye

Today we said good-bye to a member of our family. Our beloved 11.5-year-old Bullmastiff, Greta had to be put to sleep today.

She came to us many years ago. I had two young kids and I wanted a low maintenance dog who would be good with children. Greta was all of that but she was so much more. She was a tiny puppy who became a larger-than-life companion.

Riley was 6 and Peyton was 1 when we brought Greta home.. Peyton has no memories of life without Greta and Riley has few. We got her from Goldbars Kennel in Holyoke, CO.

Greta's litter. Her mama, Maddie, from Goldbars kennel

Greta’s litter. Her mama, Maddie, from Goldbars kennel

Maddie

Maddie

Greta's daddy Alden

Greta’s daddy Alden

Greta as a tiny puppy

Greta as a tiny puppy

Peyton & Riley with Greta the day we brought her home

Peyton & Riley with Greta the day we brought her home

Riley holding Greta

Riley holding Greta

Peyton loving her new puppy

Peyton loving her new puppy

Riley content to snuggle

Riley content to snuggle

One member of our family was less than thrilled with the addition of a new puppy.

One member of our family was less than thrilled with the addition of a new puppy.

Peyton and Greta really grew up together. Greta quickly demonstrated that she had the patience of a saint. She also LOVED children. She loved everyone, but she had a special place in her heart for kids. We could not walk by a playground without her tail practically wagging off of her body. She would give kisses that would completely drench a child’s face. This was either met with amusement or horror.

Peyton & Greta

Peyton & Greta

Peyton & Greta spent many lazy weekend mornings together.

Peyton & Greta spent many lazy weekend mornings together.

She had a lot of personality

She had a lot of personality

She always wanted to be with us.

She always wanted to be with us.

Greta sometimes (Ok, often) got into mischief. Her appetite was legendary. At the age of 8 months, she ate the side of our love seat. As she got older, she ate tennis balls, packages of balloons, Peyton’s tooth that was packaged for the tooth fairy, children’s vitamins that contained iron (she had to get her stomach pumped), a tampon, Peyton’s birthday cake, an easter basket full of candy, multiple barbie dolls, an avocado seed, plastic bags, silly band bracelets (rainbow poop as evidence), entire loaves of bread, my friend’s tooth-brush, headphones, and part of the kitchen floor among other things. When she first started eating random objects, I used to panic and call the emergency vet. After hearing several times, “Due to her size, she should pass that OK”, I learned to relax a bit. She was honestly very lucky to survive her culinary adventures.

Her love of Barbies was legendary

Her love of Barbies was legendary

greta barbie help

the living room often looked like a crime scene.

the living room often looked like a crime scene.

Friends even brought Barbies to Greta as peace offerings.

Friends even brought Barbies to Greta as peace offerings.

She was a natural beauty

She was a natural beauty

But when I think of Greta, I think of that stuff with a wistful smile. I remember her for being a gentle giant who was always full of love. Despite her large size, she had a sweet and loving disposition. She was welcoming of everyone who came to our home. She loved my children. She adored their friends.

And a lap dog.

And a lap dog.

And a lounge lizard.

And a lounge lizard.

No one could relax like she could.

No one could relax like she could.

There was that day last winter when she decided to dismantle the Christmas Tree.

There was that day last winter when she decided to dismantle the Christmas Tree.

In 2014

In 2014

greta bone

She has helped me raise my kids over these last 11.5 years. She helped me when I mourned the loss of our German Shepherd, Klondike, and my cat, Tribble. When I was diagnosed with cancer, she was a source of constant love, comfort and companionship. She was always up for snuggling on the couch or my bed. During my treatments, she started showing real signs of age and wear and tear. I prayed to God that she would survive until I at least finished treatments. She did. She was sometimes naughty, but she was truly an amazingly good and special girl.

And when I went through chemotherapy, she was always by my side.

And when I went through chemotherapy, she was always by my side.

These last couple of weeks, she starting showing significant distress. We tried a few treatments, but the reality is that she was a big girl who had outlived her projected life span. Most Bullmastiffs do not make it to over 11. She could no longer get out to go to the bathroom, among other issues, and we knew it was time. We said goodbye to her this morning. We surrounded her and told her we loved her. The girls cradled her giant head in their laps and we eased her way across to the Rainbow Bridge. As sad as this is for all of us, I am grateful that we could ease her very obvious suffering. I know that during her last night in our home, she was so ill that Steve and I would have done anything to take away her pain.

For now, there are many tears and the emotional toll is hell, but ultimately it is all worth it in the end. That’s part of the bargain when you love a dog: You know that you will have to say good-bye much too soon. It seems so strange that all of the creatures that inhabited our home, our hearts and our lives early on in our marriage are now all gone. It feels like the end of an era in many ways. The little six-year-old girl who carried Greta in her arms all of those years ago will be 18 in days. The other little girl is on the cusp of being a teenager. In many ways, it feels like a lifetime ago that we brought her home.

We loved Greta so deeply but, more than anything, we were so lucky to be loved by our Greta.  Our hearts, our arms and our laps are currently empty but I know that, with time, our memories will become more of a source of comfort and less of a source of tears.

Greta dog jail

The Rebel Females of Ultramarathons

I was a bit of a rebel growing up. I liked being a girl, but I was not always accepting of societal conventions. I grew up in a fairly small town and I never really felt like I fit in. I wanted to be bold, daring, and did not relish the role of being the good, quiet, compliant female. I wanted to see the world, explore, experience life, warts and all, from an early age. I had a yearning to see what else was out there. I decided to graduate early from high school so I get just get on with my life already. I wrote my college entrance essays about ground-breaking women like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. In my adolescence I learned that girls were still expected to be “nice”, “polite”, “undemanding”. It was important to be a “good girl” in the traditional sense: Pretty and attractive and friendly but somewhat asexual. None of it felt right to me. I had a wild and reckless side to me. I felt like I could not be who I was expected to be.  I often felt badly about myself, because I didn’t know why I couldn’t just conform.

I looked for socially acceptable ways to burn off my energy. While other girls played volleyball or were cheerleaders, I took up weight lifting. While I started off with the little cutesy weights, I ended up eventually benching 155 pounds and squating 200 pounds. I loved it. I felt powerful and strong, and sexy. I was often the only girl in the gym. I worked out with guys who pushed me hard and never told that girls couldn’t lift heavy weights.I had always felt like I had big legs and I hated them. Eventually I realized that I might as well make them really big and strong.

Channeling my inner Madonna with the bleach blonde hair as a young 20 something.

Channeling my inner Madonna with the bleach blonde hair as a young 20 something.

As life went on, I settled down in marriage and parenthood. I was the Military Officer’s Wife who could just not be the proper officer’s wife. I didn’t do teas. I wanted to spend my time at the gym. I started to get the itch again. I had to expand my experiences and try new things. For a variety of reasons, I started running just days after Riley was born. Suddenly, I had a new avenue to express myself and experience life. When we got stationed in Colorado, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. I discovered trail and ultrarunning and felt rejuvenated. I met Cathy, a complete badass female, who had run may 100 mile races, stage races, done the Eco Challenge, etc., and she opened my eyes to new possibilities. She was the first female ultrarunner I had ever met. I knew there were more out there, but they were a rare species in a sport highly dominated by men. She trained with male running partners because that is all that had been available to her.

It never bothered me that ultras were a male-dominated sport. I like men very much and enjoy their company. However, there is really something unique about being able to see other women doing something that really pushes boundaries in an unconventional setting. Cathy, like me, was different. She has always chosen to live a life that is a little outside of the box. I love that about her. We could run together, tell stories, laugh, spit, swear, stop to pee and feel 100% comfortable. However, Cathy lived far away. our chances to run together were few and far between. Her inspiration stayed with me, though. She showed me that I could do anything I wanted to do.

Over the next few years, I took a break from ultras while my life went through some major changes. My first husband and I split. Steve and I met. We had Peyton. I was caring for two young children instead of one. He works long hours. Running ultras was just not in the equation for me for a while. Then, suddenly, it was. I ran a few 50s, a 100k, a couple of 100 milers. Steve and I continued running together, but I also started meeting other women who ran ultras. I was so happy to meet other ultrarunners who looked like me. Women who wanted to experience big challenges and push themselves. But they are also runners who have similar life experiences simply because we are women. I love my female friends and really enjoy sharing miles and time with them on the trails. There is comfort in that familiarity of experiences.

Nevertheless, ultrarunning is still a sport dominated by men. Women make up a much larger percentage of road runners. In some shorter road races, the number of women now exceeds the number of men. But for ultras, particularly the 100 mile variety, the number of women is still very low.

This opinion piece came out in Irunfar.com recently:

http://www.irunfar.com/2015/10/sugar-and-spice-and-too-nice-for-the-trails.html

In it, the three very well-known and well-respected female ultrarunners talk about why they think we have fewer women competing in ultras. A big theory that they float is that women don’t feel comfortable getting dirty for long periods of time.

In Ellie Greenwood’s earlier post, the 27%, she also wonders why more women don’t compete in ultras.

http://www.irunfar.com/2012/10/twenty-seven-percent-why-arent-more-women-running-ultras.html

I really believe that the fact that we don’t have an equal number of female participants has nothing to do with not wanting to get dirty and everything to do with the demands of working and raising children. Most of the women runners I know can find time to train for a half-marathon or even a marathon. But finding time to commit to longer distances seems impossible. Women tend to feel guilty for pretty much every choice they make in life, but we really feel guilty for taking time away from our kids. We feel like we are not entitled to time to ourselves. We are not being good mothers if we have our own needs and goals in life. I am certainly no different. I waited until my kids were at a sweet spot in their ages, where they could stay home alone but they were not completely over scheduled by their own activities. I only train for a couple of long races per year, but I find time. I make it work because I need to for my own mental health.

With Lisa, who means the world to me.

The other reason why I believe more women are not running ultras is because the thought of being out alone on the trails for a long time seems scary to women. I would argue that being out alone on a trail is far safer than running through many city streets, but I can understand the fear of the unknown: creepy people in the middle of nowhere, animals, getting lost, getting hurt outside of cell phone range. Women have been conditioned their whole lives to be careful, to fear what “could” happen, while men have always been taught to be bold and unafraid.

But this is where ultramarathons hold a great deal of appeal to me. I LIKE the fact that I am in the minority in the sport. It appeals to that rebellious part of my brain. I am a happily married 46-year-old mom who still harbors that bit of a wild child. I love my husband and my kids and I go to bed at 9 pm every night. My life sounds like a snooze fest to most people. But, I do things that other people are afraid too take on. I love the thrill of doing something that most other people perceive as nuts, crazy or risky (for the record, I think running 50s-100s is none of those things). Go ahead though, and call me crazy. I consider it a compliment.

Steve calls this my going to battle look.

Here is part of why ultrarunning appeals to my inner rebel: I get to run around in the woods. I get dirty and sometimes bloody. I get to run with and compete against the boys AND the girls and no one thinks anything of it. I do not have any idea what I look like, nor do I care what I look like when on the trail. Running has nothing to do with my size or shape. It is all about how I feel and perform. I can spit, blow snot, swear, pee, etc., and no one gives it a second’s thought. When you realize that less than 1% of the population has finished a 100 mile race, just entering one feels subversive. When you realize that only about 20% of that 1% is female, well, it feels almost revolutionary.

With Kathy, who finished her first ultramarathon! So proud of her!

I love my female ultrarunning friends. I also love the fact that it feels like we are part of a small, special sacred tribe. We are housewives. We are doctors. We are scientists. We are writers. We are teachers. We are single. We are married. We are partnered. We are moms. We are child-free. We are all expressing that little bit of rebellion within ourselves. We are tackling things that we did not think was possible. We are taking our passions to an extreme. It is exhilarating and thrilling and scary all at the same time. If more women want to join us, we will welcome them with open arms.

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My New World

In the weeks since my last post, I signed up for three races. I will be running the Breck Crest full with my husband at the end of August. Next up will be the Bear Chase Trail race 50 at the end of September. Finally, in October, I will run the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon with my Project Purple team. These races could not be any more different, but I am looking forward to a late summer/fall of running in beautiful places with my husband, my friends and teammates.

In the meantime, we have been keeping busy with travel, work and important milestones.

Riley got her driver’s license yesterday.

Outside of the DMV

Outside of the DMV

If we had been on target, she would have had it a while ago, but when one person in the family gets cancer, the whole family suffers consequences. When I was sick, I was not well enough to practice driving with Riley most days. So, while her friends, one by one, posted happy pictures outside of the DMV as they got their licenses, my daughter had to wait patiently for her turn. Sometimes she was distressed by the fact that it was taking so long, but she never made me feel guilty about my own limitations. It took us a long time to get her mandatory driving hours completed. But we finally did and the big day was Tuesday of this week. We waited for close to four hours at the DMV but I would have waited in that office for a week just to be there with her for that special rite of passage. It was one of those moments that happens once in a lifetime and I got to be there to witness it.

I know this is an exciting moment in most families, but for me, it was a joy that I can never fully convey. As I lay in the hospital after my surgery for pancreatic cancer, I wondered whether I would get to witness all of these milestones. I said to myself repeatedly, “I just have to make it to graduation.” Every dance, every ceremony, every college visit, every “first” or “final” day is something that I celebrate with an enthusiasm that I probably would not have had before. For every significant moment in my kids’ lives, I think to myself, “I didn’t know if I was going to get to be here, but here I am!”

After we went through the paperwork at the DMV, I teared up. Standing in a sea of people in the dirty and crowded room, I cried and hugged my daughter. I didn’t care who saw or what they thought. The truth is that I cry a lot these days. These tears are not from sadness, but are from a place of profound gratitude. Really feeling every single emotion has been one of the gifts of the last 20 months. I have always been an intense person. Whereas I used to try to downplay intensity, now I celebrate it. It is such a gift to fully experience love and joy and excitement and even sadness in this new post-cancer phase of my life. I never thought that my emotional world was muted before, but now it feels like it most certainly was in ways that I did not recognize. My emotions are often right at the surface. Simple things bring such profound joy. I see everything through a new, different and clearer lens. I went to sleep in a world filled with blacks, whites and grays. I woke up to a world that was an explosion of vivid and vibrant color.

Could this have happened without having experienced something so life-altering? I do not know, but I do think it is a fairly common phenomenon for some of us who have been affected by a life-threatening illness. Just last night, I spoke to a friend of mine who has been battling lung, adrenal and brain cancer. He shared with me that he experiences the same raw emotions all of the time. Neither of us feels ashamed of our new heightened emotional state. The biggest similarity I see between the two of us is the profound sense of gratitude that we have for every minute we get on the planet.  Every time I look at my kids, my husband, my dogs, or the beauty of nature in my home state of Colorado, I feel like my heart may just burst with joy and love. For all of the difficult moments from the last 20 months, I do not think I would change a thing. I get to be here on this beautiful planet for another day. How wonderful is that?

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