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

The Love Affair

Our family spent the last two weeks in upstate NY visiting our relatives. Last year, I felt almost desperate to get there shortly after completing chemotherapy. At that point in time, I still was not feeling completely confident about my future and I had a strong need to see and touch my family. This year, still feeling strong and healthy following my recent 100 mile race, I looked forward to seeing my family not out of desperation, but out of the simple desire to see the people I love. We had a wonderful time relaxing, getting away from the stresses of our daily lives, and reconnecting with our families and friends.

Hair blowing wildly in the wind on the Lake Champlain Ferry

Hair blowing wildly in the wind on the Lake Champlain Ferry

Today is my two month anniversary from having completed the Bryce 100. Since the race, I have had plenty of people tell me that I no longer have to do ultras anymore. However, a funny thing has happened since Bryce. I seemed to have remembered how much I love running and racing. In the lead up to Bryce, I kept telling everyone I knew that I would never run another 100. I meant it with complete sincerity. I was tired and worried. I was afraid that some nagging pains I was experiencing would become serious injuries. I thought that maybe I had not put in enough miles in training. I was concerned that perhaps my heart was not completely into finishing 100 miles.

All of those worries ended up being completely unfounded. Instead, while I was out on the course, I remembered how much I just love to compete. I love to run, but I had forgotten how much I love the thrill of hunting down other runners, and of pushing myself to see what I am actually capable of accomplishing. I have never been an elite runner. I have no idea what that experience is like. But as a slightly better than average runner, I still get incredibly fired up over testing my limits. I love pushing myself as hard as I can to see how my body and mind will respond. It makes me feel completely alive.

I have run many races since I started running in 1998. I remember the thrill of crossing the finish line at my first marathon. I could not wait to do it all over again, and so I ran my second marathon just seven weeks later. I remember the first time I ran a 5k and a 10k at an all out effort. I was not sure if I could sustain the pace without passing out or throwing up, but I did and I was so proud of myself for giving everything I had. I remember the excitement of running the Boston Marathon, which to this day is the only big city marathon I have ever competed in.

Boston Marathon 2000

Boston Marathon 2000

I remember the joy of finishing my first ultra, a 50k. I remember the apprehension leading up to my first 50 mile race, and then the elation as I crossed the finish line. I remember the incredible pride I felt after finishing my first 100 mile race, as I experienced the payoff of months and months of hard work and dedication. This year, I returned to road marathons in Lincoln, Nebraska. I had not run a road marathon since 2007, and as I ran through crowds of people, I remembered exactly why I fell in love with marathons so many years ago. I returned to 100s this year, in Bryce, and my love affair with trails and ultras was reignited.

But racing is never easy. On numerous occasions, I have engaged in an internal battle with myself. There have been several races where I have wondered if I would be able to finish what I had started. During one trail race that had gone poorly almost from the start, I sat in a mud bank and debated about whether I could go on. I decided that I could. Nothing was broken, and I was not in physical danger. I was just having a bad day. I am tremendously proud of those race finishes that I really had to fight for.

Every distance I have chosen to run over the course of my lifetime has proven to be a challenge in a very different way. Every race has been hard and painful and wonderful and beautiful all at the same time. I have never regretted having shown up to run a race. Each experience has been unique and has taught me something new about myself. That is the beauty in running. Every outing provides a new challenge. Each distance is hard in its own way. No two racing experiences are alike. Just thinking about facing those difficulties gives me a jolt of mental excitement. I love it all: the competition, the challenge, chasing down other runners, and trying to fight off those who are attempting to beat me. Perhaps most of all, I love battling against my own demons.

When I finished Vermont, I thought I had officially closed the book on running 100s. Then I got cancer. It became an important part of my psychological recovery to push those boundaries again.I am still so happy about my experience at the Bryce 100. Part of me wondered if my experience at Vermont was a fluke. My second 100 mile finish made it all feel more legitimate in some way. More importantly, my time at Bryce reminded me how much I enjoy the whole race experience. In the lead up to Bryce, I often felt tired and I had some nagging aches and pains. I think I was not yet 100% following my battle with pancreatic cancer. I hope I have finally officially turned the corner on the road to a full comeback. More often than not these days, I am excited to go out and run. That feeling was often lacking a few months ago.

Vermont 100 finish, 2013

Vermont 100 finish, 2013

Like all long-term love affairs, feelings will wax and wane over the years. The secret is to learn to be patient and weather the difficult times. I am thankful that I have never given up over the times that running was less fun. These days, whether I am running up in the mountains or am pushing for a long flat steady-state run, I have rediscovered the fun and joy. I have three completely different races coming up in the next three months and I am very excited for each of them. Beyond that, I am really looking forward to finding out what new adventure the 100 mile lottery gods have in store for me in 2016. 

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Breckenridge Getaway

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

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

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

Even our dog was beside herself with excitement!

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

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

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

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

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

A close up.

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

Waterfalls.

Another mining cabin.

Mining car pulley system.

Finally, we reached lower Mohawk lake.

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

A marmot came by to say hello.

An old mining car.

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

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

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

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

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