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/

Project Purple Denver Marathon & Half Marathon

I started this blog nearly two years ago when I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I went searching the internet for blogs written by other young, athletic PC survivors and was devastated because it seemed that all of the others out there “like me” had passed away. I remember locking myself in the bathroom and crying one day when I found yet one more blog of someone who had passed away too soon from pancreatic cancer. That is when I decided to write about my experience. I wanted to be here, living a good life, healthy and strong, so that when someone else “like me” came along, they would have at least one long-term survivor who could provide some hope. This weekend, I found hope and inspiration in a whole new venue.

I love to run and I love to race. Perhaps even more, I love to help others find their love of running. I spent this weekend in Denver drawing inspiration from an amazing group of runners. Almost a year ago, I became involved with pancreatic cancer charity Project Purple. Since Project Purple is a charity that runs to beat pancreatic cancer, it was a perfect fit. What better way could I bring my two passions of pancreatic cancer advocacy/fundraising and running together? Since I became involved, I fundraised through Project Purple’s Pioneer Program, with the Bryce 100 being my goal race for the year. I directed a 5k race this past April in Colorado Springs. This weekend, I was in Denver for the Rock n Roll marathon and half-marathon with our newest Project Purple team. If you love to run and you want to become inspired, run with a team for a cause. You will find other people who are united by the same passion and who are willing to dig deep to make big things happen.

Dino and I worked at the Expo all day Friday and Saturday. There is nothing I like better than to spend the day with a bunch of runners. I love working race expos and races.I especially loved meeting the people who came by and wanted to tell me stories about how pancreatic cancer has touched their lives. While it is heartbreaking to hear how many people have been impacted, it is a gift to be able to tell others that there are organizations that are committed to helping change the future of pancreatic cancer.

Expo booth set up and ready to go.

Expo booth set up and ready to go.

On Saturday, Marathon Goddess Julie Weiss and equally awesome Project Purple runner Shawn Veronese came by to help at the Expo.

Julie, Dino and Shawn

Julie, Dino and Shawn

We showed Julie’s movie, Spirit of the Marathon 2 at a team event Saturday night and enjoyed some time together relaxing before the big race the next day.

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

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

When I stood in front of the room Saturday night, it literally took my breath away. I have such a sense of gratitude towards all of our runners. I have been told that by surviving, I provide inspiration for them, but really, it is these people who inspire me. Most of the people on the team have family members who are currently fighting pancreatic cancer or they have lost a loved one to pancreatic cancer. I had several friends who joined us just because they are my friends and they wanted to support my cause. Whatever their reasons for joining, they really provide me with a sense of hope for the future, and not just for pancreatic cancer, but for humanity. These are people who wanted to give of themselves. They wanted to train hard, raise money and run to help others. They want to make the world a better place for other people. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about how amazing they all are.

We had a team of 25 runners who came together from the east coast, the west coast and several places in between. The half-marathoners started out on a wave start at 7:15 am. The marathoners were bussed out to their start. The gun went off for them at 8 am. For the half, we had perfect weather conditions most of the way. The temps were in the 50s and overcast. The course was scenic through downtown Denver. There were a lot of runners running the half and since I spend a lot of time running the trails, I forget how fun it is to run in a crowd in a city. I particularly enjoyed the points on the course which were out-and-backs, as I loved seeing other teammates in their purple singlets. We all high-fived or yelled encouragement to one another out on the course.

I had several people ask me how my race was. The weekend really wasn’t about my race, and part of me wishes I had not even signed up to run so that I could have watched every runner come in to the finish. My recap of the race will be very brief. I liked the half course very much. I am not fully recovered from the Bear Chase Trail race 50 three weeks earlier, but I ran as comfortably as I could, enjoying the crowds, music and sights. I finished 13th in my AG of 463 with a finish time of 1:49:52. Several runners asked me how my race went and I told them, “It was fine” or “It was OK”. After the fact, I thought about it, and hope that it didn’t sound like I was disappointed in any way. Truthfully, I just didn’t care about my race. I cared about THEIR races. I wanted to talk about their experiences.

Larry, Laura, Jaclyn and Diane all finished ahead of me. Sadly, I did not get pictures of Larry or Laura, but I got photos of the rest of the runners. I crossed the finish line and ran into Rene, who got a couple of pictures for me.

At the finish.

At the finish.

With Diane, who finished ahead of me.

With Diane, who finished ahead of me.

Right after the finish, I jogged back to my hotel to check out, and then jogged back to the Project Purple race tent so that I could watch the runners come in. After the two-hour mark for the half-marathon, the clouds burned off and the temperatures started to climb. It would ultimately get brutally warm later in the day.

We had very experienced runners on our team and we had several people who were completing half-marathons and full marathons for the first time. We had some PRs, and we had some people who struggled with the heat and/or the altitude. I was so proud of each and every one of them. I was proud of them for putting in the training prior to the race. I was proud of them for how hard they worked to raise money. I was proud of them for finishing their races. Every person on the team crossed that finish line. I am exceptionally proud of each and every one of our runners, for the speedsters to the ones who had to dig deep in the remaining minutes of the race.

There is a saying, “If you want to change your life, run a marathon.” I would argue that supporting other runners also changes your life. It feels good to run for a cause. It gives purpose to those countless training runs. It also feels so good to celebrate other runners’ successes. I enjoy that as much, if not more, than my own finishes.

One moment stands out for me: I was hugging the members of family who recently lost a loved one and was told, “Thank you for all you are doing. You give us hope.” I cannot explain how much I appreciated those simply and kind words. That is a moment I will never, ever forget. No matter what you do, find something you are passionate about and find a way to give back. Surround yourself by people who inspire you. Make the world a better place for someone else. That is my definition of success in life.

Diane, me, JoAnne

Diane, me, JoAnne

With Jaclyn

With Jaclyn

With Vanessa

With Vanessa

With Faby

With Faby

With Marisa

With Marisa

With my middle school/high school friend, Lynn

With my middle school/high school friend, Lynn

With Julie Weiss and Shawn Veronese

With Julie Weiss and Shawn Veronese

With Matt, who ran a marathon PR!

With Matt, who ran a marathon PR!

Kristina and Eric.

Kristina and Eric.

Boomer & Felicia

Boomer & Felicia

Marshall & Kelley

Marshall & Kelley

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Carolyn and Colleen

Carolyn and Colleen

Paige, Julie & Lisa

Paige, Julie & Lisa

Phil & Kristen

Phil & Kristen

Alisa & Kim Lindsay

Alisa & Kim Lindsay

Kim, finishing her first ever marathon, finishing for Dixie, her mom, who passed away from PC two years ago.

Kim, finishing her first ever marathon, finishing for Dixie, her mom, who passed away from PC two years ago.

Thanks again to all of these fabulous people. I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of this team.

The team has raised almost $25,000. If you would like to make a donation, you may do so at the link below.

https://www.crowdrise.com/fundraise-and-volunteer/the-team/RocknRollDenver

Bryce Canyon 100 Race Report

The Bryce Canyon 100 was incredibly beautiful. It was also very challenging.The race features close to 19,000 feet of elevation gain and loss and most of it sits between 8,000-9500 feet of altitude. The Bryce 100 course tested every runner out on the course, including me. Though it was very hard, I would not change a single thing about the entire weekend.

The key to success in life is to work hard and surround yourself with the best human beings you can find. This was the strategy I employed to hopefully bring success in Bryce. Months ago, when I signed up for the race, Steve and I tried to figure out logistically how we could pull off a 100 mile race and a family vacation in the same trip. I knew that I could most likely finish the 100 on my own, but since having half of my pancreas removed, my body is still a bit of a mystery to me. Since I seem to have some blood sugar issues, I knew I would feel more comfortable having a pacer with me on the course through the night. The only person I really wanted with me on the course, besides my husband, was Lisa Bliss. I “met” Lisa through online running groups. Over the years, we started having conversations via email and Facebook, and then eventually over the phone.

I asked Lisa if she would come help and I really honestly could not believe she said yes. Somehow I, a slightly faster than average 46-year-old genuine nobody in the running community, had scored an endurance superstar to help me out. I jumped around the house yelling and screaming with happiness when Lisa said she would come. Silly, I know, but I really, really wanted her to be there and could not believe she said she would do it.

After a month or so, Lisa said she did not think she could pace me, but she wanted to crew. She offered her husband Tim as a pacer. Tim and I really did not know each other at all, but I figured that if he was Lisa’s husband, he had to be just as awesome. Thus, we planned he would run about 33 miles with me and my husband would run the final 17. The goal was to keep my blood sugar stable so I wouldn’t wander off and die in the woods.

We piled the family into the car and drove out to Utah on Wednesday. The drive was uneventful and the scenery was beautiful. The first obstacle came as we arrived into Bryce Wednesday night. Apparently there was a controlled burn going on. Smoke filled the air. After living through two summers of forest fires in Colorado Springs, I know that my lungs do not handle fire very well. Forest fire was not something I had considered in my race preparation and I was very concerned about potential lung issues if the fire continued to fill the air.

We met up with Tim and Lisa at the race host hotel, Ruby’s Inn, Wednesday night. After taking some time to chat and catch up, we all headed off to bed knowing the next couple of days would be very busy. Somewhere around midnight, I woke up. Our room smelled like the fire and it made me cough and choke. I tried to go back to sleep, but never did. This was not a good thing two night before a 100 mile race.

Our amazing race team!

Our amazing race team!

On Thursday, when we got up it was still smokey. Stephen, Riley, Peyton and I headed into Bryce Canyon in the morning to take in some of the sights. Photos truly cannot do the canyon justice. It is breathtaking and spectacular. I wanted to loosen up a bit, but not spend too much time on my feet, so we just did a couple of short hikes on the canyon rim that morning. Despite the beauty, I was still nervous about the smoke. We all had headaches and scratchy throats from breathing in the irritants. I just hoped the winds would be favorable come race day.

After lunch, we met up with Lisa and Tim and went to the race check-in and meeting. I loved the feel of the Ultra Adventure event right from the start.We had a very informal and casual meeting where everyone hung out, eating make-your-own pizzas. We enjoyed chatting with the other runners prior to listening to Race Director Matt Gunn speak.After the race meeting, we headed back to try to catch some sleep.

At the pre race dinner with Adrian Stanciu

At the pre race dinner with Adrian Stanciu

With RD Matt and Cherri, who is part of the awesome UA team

With RD Matt and Cherri, who is part of the awesome UA team

I set my alarm for 3:30 am, but was up at 2:30.

My special Project Purple shirt.

My special Project Purple shirt.

The whole crew wanted to see me off to the start, which was very sweet.

The family at the race start.

The family at the race start.

One last hug

One last hug

With Lisa, who means the world to me.

With Lisa, who means the world to me.

Going into the race, I had three goals: 1) to finish, 2) to finish in under 30 hours and 3) to finish in under 28 hours. As we arrived at the start, I was pleasantly surprised to see and smell only a little of the smoke from the controlled burn. I hung out in the car with Lisa, Tim and my family until 5:50 and then walked over to the start. We started promptly at 6 am and headed up a dirt road. After the first couple of miles, we turned off onto some single track trails. We climbed several switchbacks, and were rewarded with spectacular views of pink hoodoos. I passed the first early miles talking with Helen Pelster, of California. She took off ahead of me and I settled into running my own race.

As the miles ticked along, I chatted with a few other runners, but mostly just kept to myself, enjoying the sights. At mile 18 or so, we came to the first crew station. I was very excited to see my family and friends. I refilled, or should I say, over filled my pack. Lisa and Riley asked me if I wanted a hat and I said no. I also tried to refuse to take a rain shell with me, but Steve and Lisa both insisted. As soon as I left the aid station, it started to thunder and rain. I would not see my crew again until mile 41 and I wondered if I had made a very big mistake by not bringing the hat. As we climbed a hill shortly after leaving the aid station, it started hailing on us. One runner commented that he did not think it would last long because the sky was not very dark. I hoped he was right.

Fortunately, a few miles later, the sun came out. We continued on a long section of uphill. As it warmed up, I shed my long sleeve shirt and hoped that the nice weather would hold. The weather forecast had called for scattered rain and thunderstorms, which was good in terms of helping keep the smoke at bay. I just hoped that it would not rain for the entire race.

The sun shined brightly for the next several miles.I happily took in the scenery but was pretty much out by myself at this point. I enjoyed the solitude and the beauty of the area. I went for miles without seeing another soul. Off in the distance, however, I could see the sky was black. I wondered if the  storm was moving towards us or away from us, but could not tell at that point.

Miles 30-50 can be a mentally difficult stretch for me. I have already gone a long way, but know I still have a ridiculously long way to go. I listened to some music for about 8 miles in this stretch. I arrived at the Kanab Creek aid station and saw Adrian there. Adrian is a speedy guy who runs a lot of hundreds. I had figured that he would be one of the top five males, but he was not feeling well. I asked him if he needed anything. He was going to wait at the aid station and try to get some food in his stomach before moving on. I wished him well and hoped he would turn things around for a finish. I headed out on my way, knowing I only had about five miles until I could see familiar faces again.(Adrian did finish, but I will let him tell that story in his own blog post).

Finally, I came into the Straight Canyon aid station. I had been counting down the miles til when I knew I would see my crew again. It really provided an emotional boost, though I tried to keep each stop to the bare minimum. I knew there was a big climb coming out of Straight Canyon to the Pink Cliffs, which would be the high point on the course. We could hear thunder rumbling off in the distance. I vaguely remember saying that I needed to hurry to try to beat the storm. Once again, shortly after leaving, the thunder and rain picked up in earnest. Being out in thunderstorms scares me. I am not ashamed to admit it. I am afraid of being struck by lightning. I did not survive cancer to be killed by a lightning strike.

Steve calls this my going to battle look.

Steve calls this my going to battle look.

The trip up to the Pink Cliffs is almost all steep uphill. I was alone as I headed out, but a man came flying down the hill towards me. I was not thinking clearly at this point and I asked him, “Are you OK?” He said, “Yes, I am good.” That’s when I realized he was the lead male. I laughed at myself for being an idiot. The lead eventually set a blistering course record for the 100.

I trudged up the long road leading to the Pink Cliffs. The thunderstorm moved in with a vengeance. I was still alone, but I could see people ahead of me. I was afraid. The lightning was striking very close. The ground shook with the thunder. The flashes and bangs seemed simultaneous.The hail hurt as it pelted me. I heard later that one runner who was using trekking poles had gotten knocked to the ground when lightning hit very close to him.

I finally caught up to Linda, Todd and another lady whose name I cannot remember. We kept plugging along towards the next aid station, wet and weary, but the company alleviated some of my fears. Eventually, I caught up with a gentleman named Bruce. He and I made it to the Pink Cliffs Aid Station at mile 46. I have never been so happy to see an aid station in my life. There were several runners crowded inside the tent around a space heater. People were talking about dropping at the turnaround. I ate some chicken soup to warm up, changed my wet shirt and told Bruce that I wanted to move on. He did too, so we took off on the final five-mile section to the turn around. Bruce was a super nice guy from Michigan, and we would run off and on all night until nearly reaching the finish.

The storm had rattled all of the runners, including me. I knew people would be dropping due to the weather, but I had no intention of dropping. I had come to run 100 miles, so finishing 50 was just not an option. It was really nice during this section to have Bruce’s company to take my mind after the scary patch we had just been through.

I was so excited to get to the turn around. Bruce and I pulled into the 50.5 mile Crawford Pass aid station in just about 12 hours. I was way ahead of schedule. Lisa made me change all of my clothing at this point, which was smart because I was soaking wet down to my bra. The big highlight for me at this point was that I would be picking up Tim as my pacer. Because I continue to have blood sugar issues, I really did not want to be out on the course all by myself in the dark. I thought it might be dangerous for me with the unknowns of my body still creating issues for me.

Tim and I did not know each other at the start of the weekend. While Lisa and I have spent plenty of time texting, messaging and talking on the phone, Tim and I had never spoken. If you really want to get to know someone, though, go for a run with them. Over the course of the next 33 miles, Tim and I would get to know a lot about one another. He was perfect. Tim was a great conversationalist, without being pushy when I needed to be quiet and focus. He helped me keep my head straight when I needed it. We shared serious stories and lots of laughs. I appreciated his company more than I can ever really express.

Still smiling as we head out of the Crawford Pass aid station (Photo courtesy of Tim Englund)

Still smiling as we head out of the Crawford Pass aid station (Photo courtesy of Tim Englund)

As soon as I came out of the turnaround, I started experiencing stomach problems that would plague me for the next 40 miles. I had a ton of food but I could barely get any of it down. I knew I had to eat, but every time I put anything in my mouth, I spent the next several miles trying not to throw up. This was not good and I knew it could potentially end my race. Why did I have stomach problems? I have no idea. I have never had this happen in a race before. Was it because my digestive system reacts differently now since my surgery? Or was it something simple like I ate too much salt? I don’t really know and I will likely never know the answer.

Tim and I had a couple of hours of light when we took off together, which was nice. He got to see the beauty of the pink cliffs. I had expected that he would be running entirely in the dark, so I was happy to be able to share in the beauty of the course with him. Eventually we turned on our headlamps when it was close to pitch black. Shortly after that, the rain came back, along with some thunder, lightning and hail. I put my rain jacket back on and prayed that the storm would not be as bad as the one between miles 40 and 50. Fortunately it was not. It lasted for a while, but then moved on. I was not soaked and shaken like I had been earlier in the day.

Soaking in the scenery (Photo courtesy of Tim Englund)

Soaking in the scenery (Photo courtesy of Tim Englund)

Bruce had caught up with us, and ran with us off and on for sections throughout the night. We rolled in and out of the various aid stations as quickly as we could. I still could not get much food into my stomach. I had to walk way more than I should have due to nausea. For quite some time, we heard two female voices in the distance ahead of us. I wondered if I could catch up to them or not. Eventually around mile 80, we did pass them. I was determined to put some distance between us and ran as much as I could in the following miles. As the night wore on, we started to count down the miles until we would return to the Proctor Aid Station where I would pick up Steve as my pacer for the final 16-17 miles. My Garmin had died a long time ago, so I kept asking Tim what his watch read to figure out where we were. After what seemed like forever, we got to Proctor. It was a little after 3 am when I arrived and I was still ahead of schedule. This was a big mental milestone. I looked at this section as the final push.

Lisa was great about getting us in and out of each station as quickly as possible. We spent maybe five minutes in the aid station. As we were leaving, the two girls I had passed a few miles back walked in. I knew I had to step up my game. We ran as much as we could going out of the aid station. It was about ten miles until the next aid station. I had borrowed Tim’s watch to help me track the miles, but it died, too. I was tired, I knew I had a big blister and pretty much everything in my body hurt at this point. I was not the conversationalist I had been earlier in the day.

After what seemed like an eternity, we got to the final aid station. They told us we only had 7.5 miles to go and I was ecstatic. I also knew this section would take some time, as there was a climb of about 1000 feet at mile 94-95. Once again, we saw Bruce, who was now running with his wife. He looked incredibly strong, and pulled away from us going up a hill out of the aid station. I was very happy for him.

The sun was now coming up, which was great, because even though I knew this last section would be really hard, I also knew it would be really beautiful. I wanted Steve to see the hoodoos. He snapped some pictures as we went.

The final long, steep climb

The final long, steep climb

I suffered greatly on the big climb. That is when we heard the voices. The women I had passed were behind us. Because we were in the canyon, it was hard to tell how far back they were, but we could see and hear them. I had to really push it now. I was in second place, but if they both passed me, I would miss the podium spot. Mentally, I had thought I was done. I did not think I had a whole lot of running left in me at this point, but now I had no choice. I ran every step that I could, as fast as I could.

Steve kept me informed as best as he could as to where they were. While I need no external motivation to keep pushing, he made helpful little comments like, “You didn’t run 96 miles to get passed at 97!” Where the hell was Tim? I didn’t want this slave driver. I wanted my nice and encouraging pacer back! I kept pushing, up over the final climb and then down to the final miles of switchbacks to the finish. I was not sure at that point how far I actually had to go. I just know the switchbacks nearly broke me mentally. I kept thinking the finish was around the corner, only to turn and see more switchbacks. Still, I wanted that second place finish so bad I could taste it. I pressed on and on and on.

Then, finally, we saw Peyton in her pink jacket. We yelled to her and she said the finish was just around the corner. I really hoped she was right. We went up one final hill, made the turn and saw the finish link in all of its glory. My whole family crossed the finish line with me and we ran to see Lisa and Tim. My official time was 26:31, which far surpassed all of my goals. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. We all hugged and were a little teary. Matt Gunn, the race director, came out to congratulate me. He seemed pretty blown away and said that he had hoped to see me finish but he did not expect to see me finish so well. Neither did I, but I was thrilled that I did.

The family crossing the finish line with me!

The family crossing the finish line with me!

The third and fourth place women came in within minutes after I did. It was nice to be able to cheer them on. They made me work much harder than I had planned over the final miles and I appreciated having someone push me.

With my amazing and spectacular team at the finish.

With my amazing and spectacular team at the finish.

With my belt buckle and 2nd place award

With my belt buckle and 2nd place award

This was the most special race of my life for so many reasons. Obviously, it is amazing to come back from cancer and run so well. I remember in November of 2013, wondering if I would ever run again after my surgery for pancreatic cancer. To come back and be possibly the first PC survivor to run a 100 mile race is just so wonderful. Having my husband, Riley and Peyton out there to celebrate my comeback with me was just incredible. Seeing my kids out on the course made me so happy and proud. I love having them see their mom go out and bust her butt doing things that most other moms (and dads, for that matter) do not do. Finally, spending the weekend with Lisa and Tim was absolutely one of the most special parts of this race for me. They are such selfless, giving, kind and fun people. Their presence made this a weekend that I will forever cherish, no matter what happens to me in the future. I can never express the full depth of my gratitude to this wonderful couple. This is about so much more than crewing and pacing, which Lisa and Tim did perfectly. This is about love and friendship. Spending the weekend together and enjoying every single moment of it created a special bond that will last forever.

My phenomenal crew and pacers! Indebted to this amazing group of people

My phenomenal crew and pacers! Indebted to this amazing group of people

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

As Lisa said several times, everything went perfectly. Truthfully, the crew and my pacers did everything perfectly. I made mistakes. I suffered with stomach problems. The weather was a real challenge. I carried too much stuff in my pack and that slowed me down. I saw that only 76 people out of 120 registrants finished the race. The conditions were very tough. But all of those factors (the weather, my stomach, almost getting passed at the end), made the finish and the placing all that more sweet. I would not change a thing. The difficulty made it all that much more gratifying.

I am so thankful to everyone who has followed my progress over the last few months and supported my endeavors. I am so grateful that I have had so much support from family and friends. I appreciate all of the support I have gotten from Project Purple. Thank you to Brooks Running for the shoes. I wore the same pair of trail ASRs through the entire race. I am grateful to Dirty Girl Gaiters for sending gaiters for my whole crew. I am thankful to Matt Gunn and everyone from Ultra Adventures for putting on a fabulous and challenging event. I appreciate everyone who has donated to my Project Purple fundraising campaign. I plan to take a little time to just enjoy the sweetness of this whole journey. I feel good and plan to savor the moment before gearing back into training for some fall events.

Thank you all for following my journey back. This is what pancreatic cancer survivorship looks like for me.

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https://www.crowdrise.com/survivortoniaruns/fundraiser/toniasmith

Tonia’s Run & the Lincoln Marathon

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind. Anyone who follows me knows that I was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in November of 2013. I have tried to express many times what an impact my diagnosis has had on my and my family’s life.I have written about how lucky I have been. I am grateful to be doing well, despite the surgery and chemotherapy treatments. I have made no secret of the fact that I have struggled with survivor’s guilt at times. My way of dealing with that is to try to do what I can to help others who have been affected by this illness. It is my passion and mission in life.

I have become involved with Project Purple, whose motto is “Running to Beat Pancreatic Cancer”.

http://www.run4projectpurple.org/

I am so fortunate to have found a charity that I believe in so completely. As a runner who cares about improving the survival odds for Pancreatic Cancer, Project Purple completely aligns with my own passions in life.

On April 26, 2015, we held the first annual Tonia’s Run to Beat Pancreatic Cancer in Colorado Springs, CO. We had over 120 registered entrants for the race. Despite the weather being overcast and rainy on race morning, the event went on as planned and the runners and walkers had a great time.

Runners waiting to start the 5k

Runners waiting to start the 5k

Top three male winners, Brooks Williams, Jesse Mascaranes & Jon Teisher

Top three male winners, Brooks Williams, Jesse Mascarenas & Jon Teisher

Top Female, Kristina Mascarenas

Top Female, Kristina Mascarenas

Having fun after the race!

Having fun after the race!

With JoAnne Kienle

With JoAnne Kienle

With Vanessa Shawver

With Vanessa Shawver

We had a great first year event and are looking ahead towards next year’s race. I will be announcing a date very soon.

This past weekend, I traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, to run with the Project Purple Marathon team. I was originally asked by my dear friend, Elli Zadina, to come and speak at the dinner. I thought about running the half-marathon but then decided I wanted to run the full as a training run for the Bryce 100.

My wonderful friend, Jenny, said she would also come to Lincoln and run the marathon with our team. We left Colorado Springs on Friday and stopped along the way so she could visit her son who attends college in Kearney, NE.

Jenny & I on our way to our Thelma & Louise weekend, but sadly, we did not find Brad Pitt anywhere.

Jenny & I on our way to our Thelma & Louise weekend, but sadly, we did not find Brad Pitt anywhere.

We arrived in Lincoln mid-morning on Saturday. I volunteered with the Project Purple team booth for a couple of hours that morning. I love nothing more than spending time with other runners. I especially love being around other runners who care about Pancreatic Cancer. So, that was pretty awesome!

With two incredible people, Elli Zadina & Project Purple founder, Dino Verrelli

With two incredible people, Elli Zadina & Project Purple founder, Dino Verrelli

With Coach Jane, who also happens to be a pancreatic cancer researcher!

With Coach Jane, who also happens to be a pancreatic cancer researcher!

With runner and all-around great guy, Travis Russell

With runner and all-around great guy, Travis Russell

With Brian Reeves, who is on his way to running a half in all 50 states!

With Brian Reeves, who is on his way to running a half in all 50 states!

We had a wonderful team dinner Saturday night!

I had the pleasure of speaking to the team.

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Dino gave me purple Shwings for my shoes!

Dino gave me purple Shwings for my shoes!

Most importantly, this amazing team of 88 runners raised over $100,000!! What an incredible group of people.

Race day was going to be warm, with predicted highs in the 80s. I finally fell asleep at 3 am Saturday night and my alarm woke me up at 4 am, so I was not well rested going into the race. Since my big goal is to run the Bryce 100, I did not taper, except for the final four days before the race. I honestly did not know how the race would go.

I decided I would just go out and see what I could do. My secret goal was to run a Boston Qualifier, but my big goal was to finish and not get injured. I must have put down a predicted finish time in the 4-4:30 range when I signed up. I was not too happy with myself for low-balling my finish time, because that meant I had to line up farther back. Since it was supposed to be hot, I wanted to get moving as quickly as possible. I think we started about 15 minutes after the gun went off.

The first hour or so went well. It was sunny, but we were running through neighborhoods that were lined with trees. Soon, the sun moved higher into the sky and I could feel the heat and humidity. I knew this would play a factor for everyone. I knew it would be a factor for me, since it has been cold in Colorado Springs recently. Over the first half, I ticked off miles in the 8 minute range. I had a few that were faster and a few that were slower, because I stopped for water. The first half of the race, we ran with the half-marathoners. That was nice, because there were lots of people and big crowds lining the streets. As the marathoners split off, the crowds became more sparse. It also became blazing hot. My mile splits dropped into the 8:40s and higher. I tried to hold it together. I saw a woman lying on the side of the road getting an IV. I saw a lot of people walking. Somehow, I managed to keep running.

At about mile 20, the runners turn back and head toward the Nebraska football stadium. It is a net downhill on the way to the finish, so despite the heat, I was able to bring my mile splits back into the 8:20s. The course had plenty of aid stations. I ran through each one, drinking water and dumping a second cup over my head. I also stuffed ice in my bra in several stops.

I eventually finished in 3:39:45, which is about a 15 minute Boston Qualifier. I also got 3rd in my age group, so that was exciting and unexpected.

Holding my award plaque and award winner's shirt

Holding my award plaque and award winner’s shirt. My race & awards are dedicated to Virginia & Gina, two  PC warriors

With Elli & Dino

With Elli & Dino

With Jenny

With Jenny

Finishing in the football stadium was very cool. My hat is off to the Lincoln Track Club for putting on a fantastic event. I would definitely recommend the marathon. The course is pretty and quite flat, and there were plenty of aid stations.

I am thrilled with my results and finish time, especially considering the fact that I have done maybe three speed workouts since before I had cancer. I think the long runs are building strength that I have been unaware I had. What it comes down to, though, is I am stubborn and determined. In cancer circles, people use the phrase “Never, Ever Give Up” and it is a phrase that I often think of in running, also.

These last two weeks have been so incredible. I have met so many fabulous and inspiring people. I have feel incredibly blessed and lucky to be surrounded by so much love and support. I just ran a solid marathon and I plan to go back to Boston in 2016! Now I have to focus on my last few weeks as I prepare for the Bryce 100. I am happy and grateful for so many reasons.

Surround yourself with good people who inspire you to become a better person. Work your butt off. Enjoy your successes. Have fun and make time to play. Practice gratitude daily.

I have 32 days until Bryce 100. I have to rest and recover for a couple of days and then hit it hard for the next couple of weeks. I am trying to raise a minimum of $5000 for Project Purple. If you can, please help me to reach my goal.

https://www.crowdrise.com/survivortoniaruns/fundraiser/toniasmith

Running to Save Lives

I used to be cynical about “raising awareness” campaigns. I remember wondering, “How does raising awareness actually help to accomplish anything?” That all changed instantly when I was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in November of 2013. Pancreatic Cancer has the highest mortality rate of any cancer, yet funding from the federal government for pancreatic cancer research is among the lowest for any cancer. While death rates for other cancers are declining, death rates for Pancreatic Cancer are expected to grow in the next several years. It is projected that pancreatic cancer will be the second leading cause of cancer deaths by 2020, surpassed only by lung cancer. The five-year mortality rate continues to be about 6% for all four stages.

After getting my diagnosis, I suddenly understood the point of “awareness” campaigns. We desperately need attention brought to this extremely lethal illness so that the general public will care enough to give much-needed funding for research. Those of us who have been affected by the pancreatic cancer want to scream from the rooftops, “Please help before one more amazing human being dies!” We are in a race against time. We desperately need new and better therapies. We need money to go into clinical trials. It truly is a matter of life or death. So, when we talk about “raising awareness”, please understand that we are talking about bringing attention to an illness that is highly lethal and we really are talking about trying to save lives.

It is because of this that I decided that I must personally do something to help others with Pancreatic Cancer. My contribution is what I am calling the race trifecta of 2015. I will be running the Lincoln Marathon in May, 2015. In June, just a month later, I will be running the Bryce Canyon 100. Then, in October, I will be running the Denver Rock N Roll Marathon.

I have established a Crowdrise fundraising link that you can follow here. Please consider making a donation. All funds raised will go to Project Purple, which has a mission of helping to fund cancer research and help those who have been affected by pancreatic cancer.

https://www.crowdrise.com/survivortoniaruns/fundraiser/toniasmith

Running for the cause of helping others inspires and motivates me. I know of no other pancreatic cancer survivor who has run  a 100 mile race. Sadly, most people who have been touched by pancreatic cancer have not been as fortunate as I have been. I hope to use my own good health to bring much-needed attention to the illness that has affected my family and so many others so deeply.

I put in 94 miles of training from last Saturday through this Friday. I ran in snow. I ran at 9500 feet of elevation in the mountains.

In the snow about 9000'.

In the snow about 9000′.

I did a speed workout. I ran when I was tired. I ran during every spare moment I had. I ran when it hurt. I ran alone. I ran with friends. I ran with my husband. I ran with my dog.

Running with my dog in the snow

Running with my dog in the snow

I ran for every person whose pancreatic cancer story has touched my life. I ran for the people who are still fighting. I ran for the people who have been lost. Every time I felt like not running, I thought about all of the reasons why I needed to press on anyway.

I have met so many amazing people who have been affected by Pancreatic Cancer in the last 16 months. As long as I continue to live, breathe and have “fight” left in my body, I will do what I can to continue to bring attention to this disease. We need a cure now. Too many people have been lost already. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to my campaign. Your money can help save lives.

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.