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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Rock Canyon Half Marathon race report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.bbolder.com/

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

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