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

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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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Super Half-Marathon Race Report

In December, I ran the Rock Canyon Half-Marathon in Pueblo, CO and suffered in pain the entire way. Since then, I started seeing a Physical Therapist for my back pain related to a disc problem. Right away, I felt some improvement. On New Year’s Day, I ran the Rescue Run 10K and felt much better. Today, I returned to the Super Half-Marathon in Colorado Springs.

Last year I ran this race with a friend after completing my first cycle of chemotherapy. This year I was hoping to push the pace and see what my legs had in them.Since my long-term goal is an ultra, I just trained as normal this week, although I ran slower since I was getting used to running with our new dog, Willy.

This morning, I knew Willy wanted to run. I took him out for about 2.5 miles prior to heading down to the race start. I had wanted to get a long run in today, so I figured I would add a few more miles on with the dog after the race. I got down to the race venue just ten minutes before the race was to start.I found bathroom so I could pee right before the start, lined up with a couple of friends and then we were off.

I have run very few half-marathons, and of course, I am still in cancer comeback mode.I honestly had no idea what pace I should run. So, I figured I would shoot to keep the pace comfortable on the way out and then either just hang on or push it on the way back, depending on how I was feeling. It was cold at the start, with temperatures only in the mid 20s and with a bit of a wind, but the good news is that there was very little snow on the course. I ran, monitoring my garmin more out of curiosity than anything.I seemed to be running in the 8:15-8:20 range on the way out.

As we hit the turn around point, the course begins a gentle downhill to the finish. My splits were a little more scattered, but generally were in the 7:50ish range. I found myself running with a couple of guys for the last couple of miles and we pushed each other,so that was nice. I ended up finishing in chip time of 1:45:54, which put me 3rd in my age group and 29th out of 265 women.

3rd in 45-49 AG

3rd in 45-49 AG

I am happy with my results. The biggest bonus for me is that I felt good. After being in pain for a while, it felt awesome to be able to test myself out. Pain was not my limiting factor, my fitness level was and that is something that I can work to improve. I ran 9 minutes faster than I did in Pueblo, at an elevation of about 1000 feet higher. Hopefully this means that things are starting to turn around for my running.

I spent a little time at the award ceremony at Jack Quinn’s after the race. It was great seeing so many of my friends out on the course, running, volunteering and celebrating afterwards. When I got home,Willy was waiting by the door. He ran another 5 with me, and I got my 20 miles in for the day.Life is good.

Good News, Bad News

This is the longest I have gone without writing a blog post. Part of the reason why I have not written here this week is because I have been writing for a Pancreatic Cancer charity called Project Purple. Project Purple raises funds for medical research as well as to assist people who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Project Purple’s motto is “Running to Beat Pancreatic Cancer”. So far, I have been mostly writing features about the people who run to raise money for Project Purple. I am also working on entries featuring pancreatic cancer survivors. Each story is inspirational and I feel so honored to get to interview these amazing individuals and share their stories. I am grateful for the opportunity to help make a difference in some small way for the future of this disease. Please check out the Project Purple website, and read the stories on my blog page.

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

My writing is part of the good news. The other good news is that I had a CT scan on Monday and there are no masses or lesions in my abdomen, chest or pelvis. This is obviously great news and a nice early Christmas gift for my entire family. Each CT scan that shows no evidence of disease is a relief. I feel good about my odds for staying cancer-free about 95% of the time. I still get the occasional doubts and fears that creep into my thoughts, but they are fewer and farther between these days.

The “bad” news that I got this week is that what I thought was a minor hamstring injury is actually not my hamstring at all, but something altogether more problematic. The week following my horribly painful Rock Canyon Half-marathon, I decided to take some action. My leg has been hurting since I ran the Bear Chase 50 mile race at the end of September. I tried to rehab it a bit myself, but the pain would migrate. My hamstring hurt, then my butt hurt, then my psoas hurt. I could never quite pin down what was truly the problem. So I went to see a physical therapist this week. He asked me how my back pain was, and I replied, “My back doesn’t hurt.” He repeated his question, and then I remembered that I have a herniated L5-S1 from many, many years ago. Though the initial injury was very painful, I eventually turned it around enough that I completely forget it ever existed. My pain all makes sense now. I was experiencing numbness in my butt down into my foot but I guess I did not want to acknowledge it might be anything more complicated than a muscle issue.

Truthfully, my running has been generally pretty painful and not a whole lot of fun lately. Between the pain in my lower body and the ongoing issues related to my breathing, I sometimes wonder when running will be fun again. I have no answers for the breathing issues yet, which is frustrating, but at least I have a reason for my lower body pain. I figure that understanding the problem is half the battle. I hope that if I am diligent about following the physical therapist’s recommendations, I can at least be out of pain again in the near future. I really hope I can turn things around soon, as I have several races I plan to run in the coming months. I am trying really hard to keep my spirits up. I do not have cancer, and I am grateful for that. I just want to feel good again. I wonder if I will ever feel as healthy and strong as I used to feel. After my surgery and 18 rounds of chemotherapy, I was really looking forward to getting back to my old self. It seems to be taking longer than I thought it would. It has been six months now since I completed chemo. I had hoped by this point, that most of the residual side effects would be a distant memory. Unfortunately, it just seems like the fatigue and breathing issues are continuing to hang on.

In the mean time, even though I sometimes wonder why I continue running when it feels so darned difficult every single day, I refuse to give up. I have to believe that all of this struggle will be worth it in the end. At some point, things will improve and I will be so glad that I never gave up and did not lose faith. Finally, I got to run here this week, and it was beautiful.

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Remembering on My Cancerversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I remember taking a chemo selfie with Riley.

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

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I remember running the Greenland Trail 25K with Steve.

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

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

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

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I remember watching my scar heal.

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I remember finally getting my chemo port removed.

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

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

My first week off from chemo

This was my week off from chemotherapy. Last Friday I didn’t have to go in for blood work. I wasn’t sure what it would be like to skip a week of chemo because this was my first week off. What I found was I was less nauseous, but still feeling pretty exhausted.

    Nevertheless, I have tried to pack in as much fun stuff as possible. Last weekend, it was a pleasure to watch my daughter and her friends perform in Ramantics, the variety show at Rampart high school.

On Sunday, Steve, my friends and I went and ran the Super half marathon. It was 10 degrees at the start and there was snow on the ground. I ran with  my very good friend while my husband raced and won second in his age group. Running with my friend was exactly what I needed to do right now.

Debby and I after the race.

Steve and I.

Steve and his award.

The Broncos got crushed in the Super Bowl that night, which was a bummer, but we enjoyed some amazing food with great friends.

     On Monday, Steve and I hiked and ran in the snow on Section 16.

The rest of the week has been so cold, with temps near or below zero. The kids had two snow days so we got to spend some quality time together.

      I woke up with a sore throat and cough today. I haven’t had a cold in a few years so I hope I can just shake it off. I know my immune system is working over time, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that this is just a minor irritation. This afternoon, I had to go back to the cancer center for a blood draw and an appointment with my oncologist. I really like my doctor and the people who work in the cancer center, but I enjoyed having the week off. Cycle two starts on Monday.