Friday, June 10, 2011

Outrunning Cancer

Earlier this week both my inspirational running friend, Amanda and my sister asked me if I had received this month's copy of Runner's World magazine. I had not yet checked my mail so I confessed it could be waiting there but I hadn't seen it yet. They told me this month is a special issue with the headline "Outrunning Cancer" on the cover. On Tuesday evening, after a discouraging day of napping after a short, slow, very difficult 1 mile run left me exhausted, I checked my mail and picked up my copy of the magazine. Inspirational is an understatement. The issue is full of stories of amazing athletes who did not let cancer prevent them from running and stories of how cancer and fundraising races came together. The personal stories and even the snippet quotes make me tear up. They also inspire me to run.

I'm a new runner. I ran my first race just two years ago after using a version of the Couch to 5K training plan as a guide. My sister was my inspiration, as was the urge to just spend more time being active outside a gym. My two-year history of running is a slow and bumpy one riddled with injuries and obstacles. But I have grown to love it. Running is something I was told I couldn't do because of problematic knees - I made some modifications and made it work anyway. I have asthma and terrible seasonal allergies - I worked with my pulminologist and have learned to run through it. In fact, running has strengthened my lungs and helped my asthma.

So cancer, is that going to be the thing to stop me? Not if I can help it.

I am one week post-chemo and I ran two miles this morning. That second mile sucked. But it sucked in the same way a second mile would suck if I had stopped running for a 8 weeks for no reason at all. I had to stop running during my fertility treatments which meant all the training I had been squeezing into my once chaotic schedule were all but wiped out. I had to skip the 10K I was looking to run in May for the second year in a row. And I had to give up the goal of running my first half-marathon in June. But to me, those are temporary bumps in the big picture.

My doctor told me I can run. My body reminds me to run. My friends and family encourage me to keep running. And one professor of gynecologic oncology quoted in Runner's World this month claims "Researchers have found that people who remain active during treatment - exercising when they feel good, resting when they feel bad - tolerate their treatment better than those who try to exercise every day or don't exercise at all."  Judith K. Wolf, M.D., University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Next week is the Corporate Challenge fun run/walk in Central Park which my firm runs in every year. It was my first run two years ago and I am registered to run it again next Thursday. After today's run, I know it will be hard to push myself more than 3 miles but I also know that breaking it all into 1/2 mile segments with walk breaks and a slower pace makes it more manageable. And ultimately, I think the timing couldn't be better. I will be 13 days post-chemo treatment and I am optimistic I will be feeling even better than I do today.

As for other running goals, I have some.

I am co-captain of a relay team in September - the Red Rock Relay to Zion. My sister has volunteered to be my shadow/back-up runner. If I can run, she will pace me. If I can't run, she will run for me. If all goes as planned (and I recognize that is a big if), the race will fall the weekend before my last chemo treatment.

About a week later, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure comes to New York City. I have latched onto the pink cause with all my might these last few weeks and have devoured the unbelievably useful information contained on the Susan Komen website. Other resources have been informative and helpful but this one has been invaluable. I want to form a team and throw myself into fundraising for that particular race and will likely bring that up here some more once I get more organized. The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure has raised $1.4 billion since it started in 1983 and let me tell you, a stage II breast cancer diagnosis in 1983 was a completely different animal than it is today thanks to all the research that has taken place since then.

In terms of an update on how I am doing 1 week after my first chemo treatment - I'm doing better than expected. Those first few days were challenging as I worried about all the terrible things that were going to happen to my body that never actually materialized. Last night I asked a friend who works in oncology if it is true that treatments can just keep getting worse and he told me to just stay positive and not worry about it. If I am doing well then I just need to focus on staying in tune with what is happening to my body and stop fearing the worse. He was so right. He gave me permission to stop preparing for misery and enjoy where I am at.

And where I am at is a pretty good place. I have stopped using an alarm clock and learned that my body needs 9 hours of sleep a night instead of my usual 7. And some days - like Tuesday - I will be struck with heavy fatigue and malaise and I need to just give myself a break and sleep if that is what I need. I was completely disinterested in food for several days but my appetite has returned to normal and I haven't experienced any noticable shift in taste or smell. My skin looks the same as always and I am wearing extra sunscreen daily but haven't noticed anything different.

Every morning as I shampoo my hair I wonder how many more days I will have that pleasure. If my doctor's calculations are correct, I get another week of hair before it starts falling out. I'm shaving it all off the first time I pull a clump out. No reason to let it shed and fall out in clumps for weeks like I'm molting. Besides, I'm more afraid of the day my eyelashes fall out than the hair on my head. Also, I have this deep fear that I will be bald, with no eyelashes or eyebrows but still need to wax my upper lip . . . how awful would that be?

Mostly I'm trying not to worry, focus on the positive and make fun plans with friends and family to enjoy my new found free time. My spirits are high and I owe that in a very diret way to the phenomenal support of family, friends and strangers on the internet :)


Kelly S. said...

One nice thing about chemo my friend told me was no need to bikini wax! And the skin on her legs and in her arm pits did great not having to have a razor slide and cut across them every day. Silver lining!

Christy said...

Wow, I am learning so much from you.

Becky said...

Erik and I are cheering for you- I'm so glad to hear that you are handling chemo well. Thanks so much for sharing this journey with us!

Anonymous said...

I caught up on these new events about 2 weeks ago - my RSS feed had been neglected for a while. I was initially shocked to read what you are going through. I am so happy that you've had such great support from family and friends, and that you're still running, and plan to. Thank you for sharing this with your readers - I've often found inspiration from reading your stories. Thank you! My best wishes are with you as you continue through this part of your life - I can't wait until the day you're able to decide to have a baby, and can look back on this time and be glad you were able to go through that process. And I sure hope that you'll share that story with us, too!

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