Thursday, September 15, 2011

Red Rock Relay and Chemo #7

Recovering from my last chemo treatment felt long and drawn out. Harder than my prior treatments not just physically, but mentally. I went nearly ten days without eating solid meals due to flush and mouth sores which destroyed my appetite and ruined all taste buds. My concentration and patience were shot and I just wanted to curl up and sleep through the middle of October when all of this chemo stuff would be over.
Lucky for me my visitor that week was my dear friend Shannon - a psychiatrist and excellent care taker. She was perfectly content to sit and read in my apartment and listen to my whining and tolerate my moods. She was also at the ready when I needed to talk me through my dilemmas about medicines to take and frequently pushed Ensure and Boost shakes at me when I didn't realize hours had passed without any desire for food. Oh, and she tolerated me forgetting that maybe she wanted to eat despite my lack of appetite.
But the best thing Shannon did for me was near the end of her stay when I started seriously questioning my decision to not go to Southern Utah for the Red Rock Relay race I as supposedly captaining. I did my first relay race last summer a couple of days before my 35th birthday and surprised myself with how much I enjoyed spending over 24 hours in a van driving and running through the Wasatch Back mountains between Logan and Park City, Utah. I bonded with old friends, made new ones, learned that I could run three separate challenging runs in roughly 24 hours and discovered a 2 hour nap on a blow up mattress in a teammate's family cabin plus a steamy shower and the most delicious egg sandwich ever was fuel enough to get me through a gorgeous run in Heber Valley with hot air balloons rising on my left and the snow capped back side of Mt Timpanogous to my right. I knew I couldn't run but I felt this emotional draw to just being at the relay I had been planning for close to a year with my oldest friend - the one I met in junior high gym class, the one who gleefully ran her laps around the junior high "track" while I cursed every step and wondered what was stabbing me from the inside of my side while she trotted along with me after she was finished to encourage me.
With only a week to go before I needed to be in southern Utah for the race I looked up flights to St. George - which also happens to be home to my grandparents and some other relatives. I was suddenly craving the opportunity to see them along with the race and my sister and the friends who I had helped talk into running this crazy relay. I knew I couldn't possibly run. The race started at Brian Head ski resort at an altitude over 11,000 feet and ran past Cedar Breaks and over to Duck Creek Village on top of Cedar Mountain - a mountain that is near and dear to my heart from childhood camping trips and my early years of independence as a freshman and sophomore at Southern Utah University when I would escape up that mountain at every possible opportunity. The race runs down Cedar Mountain to my college town of Cedar City and then continues west into the desert to the tiny hamlet of New Castle before turning south to Veyo and on toward St. George before turning east through such towns as Washington, Hurricane, La Verkin and finally to the finish line in Springdale - just shy of the entrance to Zion National Park. I have memories as far back as my chronology reaches of these places and roads and scenes. I ached to see the mountains, the red rock, my little university where I showed up as an 18-year old in search of mountain air and independence, and maybe a little education. In my head I ran through the hikes I had memorized from Cedar Mountain with the thin air pounding in my chest and glimpses of red rock through the pines, Navajo Lake, the view of Zion from the top of the mountain and it was hard for me to imagine anything more bolstering. My soul reached out and craved it.
A flight to St. George from JFK via Salt Lake City turned out to be only $400 with only a week to go. It was a sign. I wasn't going to be financially punished for my procrastination. Plus, I could see my grandparents. I couldn't remember the last time I had seen them and I longed to sit with them and look out the front window toward the Red Hill I scrambled all over as a child. Simple, familiar sites called to my soul.
Before hitting purchase I called my sister. No answer. I called my mom. No answer. I called my co-captain, Amanda, who for the last few months had taken over all captaining of our team as I pulled the covers over my head, depressed that cancer was taking yet another planned event from me. Amanda answered the phone and as I blurted out that I wanted to come my enthusiasm was matched and she told me she knew before she picked up the phone that I was coming. She just knew it despite the fact that a few weeks earlier I had confessed that I didn't see how it was possible. When I called her I still wasn't eating solid meals. My last run was a week prior but it was a slow, plodding trot at sea level. I knew I couldn't run hills at altitude. I was lethargic and in danger of spiraling into the worst wallowing period since I heard the words "It's cancer." I didn't want to go to that place and talking to Amanda pulled me out.
I booked my flight and began studying every page of the Red Rock Relay Zion website. The next morning, September 1st I was inspired to try and run. I made it one mile in 13:59. Slower than slow but I did it. A few days later I ran a mile and a half in 20 minutes and missed my two mile goal when I just couldn't manage to put one foot in front of the other again without fear of collapsing or puking. So I bought an ice cream bar to cool my mouth and sat on a park bench to watch the river and the people. People who were healthy. And I thought to myself, it can never be as difficult as it is right now to run. If I can get through this next month I will be so much stronger for it. I will never again be this slow. It can't possibly be as difficult to run a mile as it is right now when I have to stop every half mile and walk and then every quarter mile only to collapse before my simple two mile goal.
I was closing in on two weeks post-chemo and I managed to return to the office for brief appearances and by Wednesday I began eating solid food. I also met with my surgeon. That visit bolstered me. He examined me and confirmed that the lump was no longer palpable - chemo was doing what we had hoped, shrinking the tumor. He reminded me of my favorite statistic (the one I have tried not to pin all my hopes to for the last few months) - that 25% of lumps disappear when chemo is administered prior to surgery. He then said he is "due" for one. These were magic words to me. Words we urge my mother to iterate during tight sporting events because my family has a superstitious belief of their power when she says an opposing team member is "due" to miss a free throw or field goal. I wrote the words in my notebook with a smiley face next to them and tucked them away in my hopeful heart.
He described the outpatient surgery in detail, including the part about removing the sentinel node from my armpit and answered all my questions about the dreaded lymphodema reassuring me how closely he would monitor that and how rare it is in his patients. I asked when I could start exercising after surgery and he said as soon as possible I should return to all my normal activities. I liked that answer. I asked about incisions and he calmly walked me through a book of photos and showed me what his incisions look like and how they differ from some in the book and why (so as to not pull the nipple off center). We made an appointment for October 5th after my last chemo treatment to set a date for surgery and all of the other scans and whatnot that will have to be done.
That night I packed for Utah and exchanged a flurry of texts with Amanda and my sister. My enthusiasm kept me up too late and my 415 am alarm went off far too early Thursday morning. I was upgraded to first class and ready for my 7 am departure. Unfortunately we managed to taxi out to the runway where we stopped. This isn't so unusual but as I finished the end of the first book I had with me I noticed that other planes were passing us in line and the captain hadn't made any announcements. Plus the flight attendants hadn't sat down yet. Not good. When we finally turned back onto the runway the flight attendants sat down without prompting from the captain and I thought it was time to take off. Unfortunately the captain finally decided to deliver the bad news - we had some sort of check engine type light illuminated and we were heading back to the gate. Ugh.
Nothing to do but sit and wait and open book number two and chit chat a little with my seat mate. Oh, and call Delta to rebook my connecting flight I was sure I would miss. Bless the iphone and the Delta app for having easy access to flight schedules so I could be reassured before I even had an agent on the phone that there was a later flight available. We were delayed about two hours, just enough time to land when my connection to St. George was taking off. But I was confirmed for a 3 pm flight which gave me plenty of time to have lunch with my dad at Su Casa during my layover. Thank goodness for the timely return of my taste buds.
I kept in touch with my teammates as they piled into cars and vans for the drive to Cedar City as I waited for my flight and looked around to see if anyone else appeared to be heading for the race. When I finally boarded the tiny little prop plane I had already noticed the woman who was talking - far too loudly for my taste - to everyone she encountered, including the gate agent while I impatiently waited for a seat assignment. I should have listened to her a bit more carefully because as luck would have it, she was my seat mate for the flight. She was already talking when she entered the plane and didn't stop until I hurried down the ramp to leave. When she stopped pestering the poor boy returning from his mission in the row behind us she turned as asked me "who are you?" I was trying to bury myself in my book and was caught off guard by the question and told her she doesn't know me, I'm not from the area.
But I didn't guard my southern Utah roots closely enough because she continued to ask questions and I eventually confessed to staying with my grandparents. And of course this woman knew them. And went to high school with my aunt. And had opinions on them and others in my extended family to share. She talked without stopping and without transitions as she flitted through whatever thought passed through her head on the 45 minute flight that felt significantly longer. She overshared about every piece of family information that entered her head, never pausing to consider that maybe I wasn't interested. Eventually I gave up on my book and gave in to her ceaseless monologue despite enduring questions such as "why are you bald? Is it cancer?" that seemed to drop out of nowhere and to which she really didn't want an answer. Welcome to the small town world from which I am only a generation removed.
My aunt and her new husband (both of whom knew my seat mate from high school) were waiting in the airport for me and they paused to greet this woman briefly and we laughed about the whole thing all the way to my grandparents house where I was able to visit for an hour or two before getting a tour of my aunt and uncle's condo which they had kindly offered as a home base for my relay team while they were away for the weekend. Then Amanda and her mom picked me up and we drove to Cedar City to meet up with our teammates who were gathering at the Spring Hill Suites. My sister was there with the team t-shirts and a surprise "Pink Power" tank top she made for me to run in. Amanda's husband, Matt, my high school friend Michele and a couple of returning teammates from last year's relay team were also there as well as new relay friends. We had two suites we all piled into for the night after decorating our team vans - an Excursion affectionately known as the Canyonero borrowed from Michele's generous and trusting parents - and the very awesome Sprinter van contributed by a new team member who also gave me a Honey Badger t-shirt (for my team code name) despite the fact he had never met me. I was exhausted but adrenaline kept kicking in and pushing me forward as team Technical Running Ponchos bonded in the parking lot and prepared for our first sleep over.
The next morning I woke up far too early. I could blame east coast time or hearing cars pulling out of the parking lot since I was sleeping next to the window or the air conditioner that was too cool when on and not cool enough when off. But really, I was just so happy to be there that I was ready for it to all get started. So I got up way too early and showered which prompted others to rise earlier than planned as well. Our room was full of "van 2" runners and while our first van of runners had to be at Brian Head before 8 am, according to my rough timeline estimate we didn't need to be at the first exchange at Duck Creek Village until 130 pm. But we were up and eating breakfast and packing up long before then. Afterall, we needed to get gas, a few extra grocery supplies and, of course, stop at D.I., the local thrift store, so a few of us could fashion some ponchos from ugly blankets and, in my case, an odd shower curtain. I also discovered a little ceramic mule/burro which fit our van theme rather well who got strapped to the tray on the back of the Canyonero next to the coolers where he stayed until the last leg of the relay when it was his turn to run and cross the finish line.
I drove up Cedar Mountain and was overwhelmed by memories and the beauty of the mountain in the morning. I pointed out whose running route we were possibly driving through and warned my teammates when we were close to an especially impressive vista so they wouldn't miss the sites - like the view of Zion where we would be finishing our race the next day.
It was sunny and cool and just a little breezy when we reached the exchange. The parking lot was packed with festively decorated vans and people in a variety of running clothes and costumes. We donned ponchos to keep the breeze at bay and snacked in the parking lot and our in-van barista made coffee for the caffeine addicts. When the breeze took a sharp turn I joined Michele under her extra large, authentic poncho from Tijuana and we all watched the dark storm clouds approaching from the west.
Before we knew it, they were on top of us and the lightening and thunder that had been off in the distance was cracking within seconds of where we were standing. By the time our first van reached the exchange to wait for their last runner it was pouring rain, thunder was bouncing around the mountains in rolling succession and lightening felt nearly instantaneous. They opened the back doors of their van and most of our team stood in or just outside the doors while people took turns staring down the road looking for our sixth runner. I had layered capri leggings over my running shorts, pulled on my hoodie and a rain jacket and still was chilled. Soon it was hailing, just to make the whole thing a bit more epic. The parking lot had thinned out significantly and when we finally saw our runner, we yelled and cheered and the team met her with hugs and sent van 2's runner off into the elements. Her husband wrapped a fleece around her and despite the goose bumps and having just run her longest distance ever in her short running career in thunder, lightening, rain and hale, she was smiling. Inspirational, right from the start.
My half of the team said goodbye to van 1 until Cedar City and piled into the Canyonero for our legs. After two more exchanges it was my turn. I was running with Michele for a 2.9 mile leg called "Top of the World". I didn't know how much of it I could run and warned Michele I would be super slow. We were running back up to the summit of Cedar Mountain starting at an elevation of approximately 9,700 and finishing at 10,000 feet. The terrain was primarily open fields just past Navajo Lake with sheep grazing peacefully, except when Michele happily ran through a cluster of them to make me smile at one point as I walked to catch my breath. I started out running for a solid half mile. I needed to warm up in the chilly mountain air despite the fact the rain and thunder was gone, the sun wasn't out and it was possibly as low as the low 40s or high 50s and I longed for the long sleeved shirt I opted not to bring with the sleeves that reached over my hands with thumb holes. After that first half mile I was never able to run for long. I walked until I could breathe normally again and trotted along slowly with Michele dropping behind me when a car approached as we were running on a narrow shoulder in reflective vests. Before we reached a mile and a half I was entertaining thoughts of quitting. My lungs were burning and the distance felt insurmountable. Our support van was stopping every half to one mile to cheer us on and crossed the street to offer water and words of support and an excuse to stop for a moment. But I didn't get back in the van. I gave myself permission to walk as much as I needed - and that was most of the way. Other vans cheered for me. Perhaps for my bald head, perhaps they could read the "Suck It Chemo" mantra I had my sister write on my back that was half-hidden by my reflective vest. Perhaps they were just nice to weak runners. We were passed by many runners but one will always stick out in my head. A woman ran past and then paused. She explained that she is a ten year cancer survivor and was a beacon of hope. She had had a brain tumor and yet there she was - running. Running with strength. I thanked her and wished her well on her run. Her team van was the most supportive in yelling out support each time we saw them.
With just a few hundred yards left to go I told Michele I was running it in. I took the slap bracelet baton from my wrist and pushed and pushed. I heard Michele comment over my shoulder that I really was picking up the pace as my heart pounded harder and harder out of my chest and I took short, gasping breaths. When I finally made it to the exchange I wanted to collapse and there was my team mate waiting to receive the baton but instead of sticking out his arm to take the bracelet and run, his arms were wide open ready to receive a hug. I collapsed into his embrace and fought back tears of victory. I took 45 minutes to go just under 3 miles with an average pace of 15:37/mile. A far cry from my 3.6 mile corporate challenge race back in June which I completed in 40 minutes just two weeks after my first round of chemo but the important part is that I finished. I didn't quit. And my team encouraged me and supported me and was just proud of me for showing up.
I took a leg to recover and then resumed my driving responsibilities to witness my sister's fastest run ever down a steep and fast 6.6 mile stretch called Speeder to Cedar. She barely waved to us when we stopped to offer support. After just one more runner we were at the next major exchange around 7 pm to pass the baton to our first van and take a break.
While we were there I ran into one of the race directors, Matt Ward - one who shortly after I registered as captain early this year sent me an excited email asking if I was really coming all the way from New York City to run the race. Despite confessing to my Utah ties, he still sent me a free hoodie for my travels (a hoodie I wore most of the flight there). In April I stopped in Utah for a weekend after a work trip to San Diego and went to the Salt Lake Marathon expo with my sister while she picked up her race bib and met Matt Ward in person. We introduced ourselves and expressed our enthusiasm for the still far off relay. That was April 15th and despite a grueling work and travel schedule I was training for a half-marathon and my sister convinced me to sign up for the 5K that was the next day along with her marathon. I ran that 5K at an unaccustomed altitude with some not so insignificant hills in 32 minutes. The following Tuesday my doctor discovered a lump in my left breast and within 12 days I was told it was cancer. The 10K I was registered for in May was missed due to fertility preservation efforts, the half-marathon I was to run in Seattle was canceled and every run grew slower and harder as the summer progressed and more and more chemicals were pumped into my body on a bi-weekly and then tri-weekly basis.
In Cedar City, I had dinner with my van-mates and then wished them luck over night as I returned to St. George to pick up groceries for breakfast and supplies for Saturday and then some rest. I talked to my mom on the 45-minute drive to keep myself awake and after wandering through the grocery store with "Suck It Chemo!" still emblazoned across my back. I was at the condo by 1030 pm and ready to pass out. I showered and set up an aerobed with more difficulty than it required in the front room and drafted a note to Van 1 about 3 times explaining where the beds and bathrooms were. I set an alarm for 3:45 am hoping to get up in time to make them some breakfast before their 5 am start time.
But I never saw them. Never even heard them. I missed them by about 15 minutes. I don't think they made a sound as they came, showered, slept and made breakfast. The only reason I knew they had been there was a note apologizing for the dirty pan on the stove. I dozed for another hour or so until I heard the sucking of air that came from the front door opening announcing the arrival of my van - apparently I was much more tuned into their movements. I poked my head out over the loft railing and whispered - despite me being the only one sleeping in the place - that I was awake. They stared at me dazed with fatigue. I went downstairs and explained where the bedrooms were. They stared. So I pointed at people and directed them to bedrooms and told them where they could find showers and towels. They collapsed.
A couple of text updates from Amanda in Van 1 made me nervous about being late for the exchange in Washington but after consulting the routes I knew there wasn't too much rush. Her husband wasn't quite so reassured and, as he explained it later, he was in a bit of a "dither" cooking eggs, making coffee and packing supplies back out to the van as I roused various teammates from their 1.5-2 hour naps asking what they wanted to eat. We managed to get everyone awake and fed and into the van with near perfect timing since we drove the short 15 minute drive to the exchange only to arrive at the parking lot at the same time as our first van. We caught up on overnight happenings and warned them how we had left the condo in much poorer shape than they had and congratulated the on finishing all three of their legs and they wished us luck on our last leg of the course - a grueling 37.2 miles across the heated red sand desert in the sun. No one dreaded their last leg more than my sister. We had a long morning and afternoon ahead of us.

But we stopped for ice and slurpees (at least I made my sister drink one) and once again enjoyed the camaraderie of our van-mates and made sure to stop frequently for our runners to squirt them down with a spray bottle and dump water over their heads and encourage the drinking of water and electrolytes. I was proud of every single one of them but mostly my sister for facing her greatest fear - running in heat. She ran 7.5 hard miles in the heat and ran them better than she anticipated - with a cold. Her perseverance inspired me as I geared up for the last of my running - the last mile of the last leg to Zion.

But before I get to that I have to share one of my favorite anecdotes from the race. Humorous anecdote, I should add. I was driving the Canyonero during Erin's last leg and pulled off to the side to wait for her. I was sitting in the driver's seat glancing in the rear view mirror as other teammates stood in the sun watching for her approach from behind the vehicle as well. A man from another van pulled off in front of us paused at my window and asked if he looked sunburned. I told him he wasn't quite red but probably could use some sunscreen in the brutal sun and at this altitude (which had dropped from the 10k from the day before down into the 3-4,000 foot range, but still, this is the desert - when in doubt, add more sunscreen). I offered him some of mine that was readily at hand. He declined and then added, with a sarcastic smirk "I'll just get skin cancer some day." I quickly removed my hat and retorted "I've got cancer, trust me, you don't want it." I was trying to be funny, mostly. But his face fell. I know he felt foolish and he said he would take some sunscreen to make me feel better. I squeezed a generous amount into his palm and wished him well. Then, after he disappeared I told my teammates and we all had a good laugh. I mean, what are the odds? We say those types of things all of the time but when do you ever imagine you will say it to someone with cancer? I saw the man again after the race and he approached me and said something very gracious which I forget because I was so dazed and overwhelmed by emotion at that point. But I appreciate the interaction all the same.
When our last runner set out, there was the tiniest bit of cloud cover and a handful of rain drops fell. Michele took over the driving and I readied myself to run. I told Matt I would meet him for the last mile of his 6.7 miles to the finish. We parked in a familiar parking lot in Springdale near a restaurant I love for its bumbleberry pie. I didn't think about it then but now I wish I had picked one up, it is so rare I have the opportunity to eat it. I had time to nervously go through my pre-running routine with a little tai chai and active stretches. I sprayed down a few passing runners and watched for Matt's approach. Nervous. And bubbling up with emotion. I was already a little teary in anticipation of finishing the race.
When Matt reached me he slapped the bracelet around my wrist and we took off. He slowed down but I was full of adrenaline and started to fast - close to a 9 minute mile, way beyond my abilities. I warned Matt I needed to slow down and he complied. I also warned him this would be emotional for me and I would probably cry. He said "yeah, me too." And we continued in silence until he asked "did you ever picture us here when we were in high school?" again, my emotions were caught in my throat and all I could say was "no" and we continued in silence again. I made it to a half mile before walking and cursed the fact that the last mile had to be uphill. I alternated walking and running for that last half mile and paused once to pluck a sunflower from the side of the road to place behind my ear and Mumford & Son's lyrics to "After the Storm" bounced around in my head "And there will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears. / And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your tears / Get over your hill and see what you find there, / With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair." I knew I just needed to get over the hill, I felt grace in my heart and now I had a flower, despite my lack of hair. We made a left turn off the highway towards the finish line and ran into our teammates piling out of the van. I was walking to catch my breath and the sight of them flooded my heart and we all started running together despite the fact I kept saying I couldn't run anymore. We made a right turn and on the other side of a short downhill and uphill dip I saw the rest of my team - showered and rested and beaming at me. The tears poured down my face and I believe I once again said I couldn't do it but someone took my arm briefly and at the top of that last hill I was told to just make it across the grass. I pushed through the first gate where an announcer gave our name over the P.A. system and we ran across the grass to the finish line where I collapsed with my team members surrounding me, hugging me, kissing my head as I cried tears of joy and tried to slow down my heart. That mile took 13 minutes but it felt so much more epic than that. I felt I had overcome so much more than a short little mile. I completed a modified version of a goal I thought was unattainable for me this year, after 6 rounds of chemotherapy. The ending was such a blur of emotions. I stuck my head under a sprinkler set up for cooling runners before posing for team photos and various combinations of teammate photos. Time stood still and raced ahead all at once.

I needed to swap t-shirt sizes at the gear booth and waited for Michele and Erin to retrieve my size small from the car while my team members browsed through the gear for sale and sucked on snow cones. I secured a size medium as I waited, promising to give the volunteer my small as soon as my friends returned from our van as a girl smaller than me glared at me for getting the last medium. The emotions swelled back up and I started to feel abandoned. I sent another teammate off in search of my sister and stepped away to get a snow cone, promising the volunteer I would be right back. Eventually another team mate took my space while I looked around a bit and she convinced the volunteer to just let me have the shirt without waiting. Of course, eventually, Erin and Michele arrived and added our too small, small shirt to the pile. Our team congregated once again as we readied to head back to the condo for food and rest when I spotted Matt Ward, the race coordinator I met at the SL Marathon Expo.
I walked over to thank him for the experience, for the beautiful scenery, for the chance to participate against all odds, to explain what had changed for me since I met him and to commit myself to returning to run for real next year. He greeted me with a hug and said he had seen my bald picture on facebook and had his suspicions. He introduced me to his dad and then told me I could run for free next year. I thanked him profusely and once again my emotions swelled as I returned to my team to inform them of his generosity. As tears streamed down my face once again, he was back at my side, asking if I would mind joining him as he made an announcement. I have learned over the last few months that the more I put my cancer out there, the more I share it with others, the more I gain in return so I had no choice but to say yes. This journey of mine was not meant to be mine alone.
We ran across the grass to the P.A. announcer and after asking the DJ to turn off the music, Matt Ward took the microphone and began telling his version of the story of meeting me, interrupted from time to time to announce the finish of other teams, including the team with the cancer survivor who encouraged me at the top of Cedar Mountain the day before. I do not remember reminding him of my name but he introduced me as "Alyssa Englund, my friend." It touched me deeply that he knew my full name. It touched me even more when he choked on his words as he describing meeting me months ago, before cancer was discovered, while I still had hair. And I nearly collapsed when he told me I was welcome to run his races for life. Amanda got it all on video and I honestly do not trust my memory of all of it until I am able to watch it because I was so overcome with the beauty of the moment.
I still am.
I often feel guilty for sucking everyone I encounter into the black hole of cancer that has dominated my life since April. I find myself repeating symptoms and prognosis and treatment schedule and anticipated surgery and radiation schedules ad nauseum. I don't want to be one note. I don't want to pull everyone into this dark place.
But the surprising thing is that it isn't always a dark place. By opening up to others, by sharing this journey, my load is lightened and grace enters my heart and I am buoyed up to a point where I am now a stronger, better person for it. When I left for the Red Rock Relay I hoped it would be a salve to my wounded soul and what it gave me was so much more than that. I returned to New York with the positive dedication to kicking cancer's ass that I shouted out at my diagnosis. The lull I felt through August is behind me.

I went to chemotherapy treatment number 7 yesterday with a smile on my face and no anxiety. I had - no, I have - no fear of the side effects to come for I know they are temporary and I know that I have each and every one of you cheering for me along with countless strangers, some of whom made comments to me as my team returned to our van. Some of whom include people like my drycleaner who Tuesday commented how often he thinks about me as I dropped off my bag of laundry despite the fact that I don't recall the last time I saw him. During music therapy yesterday I sang with abandon, especially the words to Mumford & Son's Timshel of "you are not alone in this / you are not alone in this" and Tom Petty's words "Because I'm free!! / Free falling!!" I do not have a good voice, I never have and that was confirmed years and years ago as a freshman at SUU when my sight singing professor grew frustrated with the fact that I knew where the words should be but couldn't make my voice follow. But yesterday I felt I could sing. Nurses commented on my voice and I felt grace in my heart again. I actually felt a slight twinge of sorrow that I only have one more music therapy session left, despite the fact that the reason for that is I only have ONE MORE CHEMOTHERAPY TREATMENT LEFT!!!
My journey isn't yet over, my side effects from yesterday's treatment are still ahead of me but my doctor reduced my dosage by 25% so I am hopeful that means I will feel 25% better than before in the coming days. My greatest hope is that I will be able to make it to the Susan Komen 5k on Sunday in Central Park to greet - and possibly slowly walk - with the co-workers and friends who have registered on my team. I have not yet had an opportunity to thank all the individuals who have donated but know that I appreciate every cent and someday I hope to thank every single person who has stood by me through all of this. Your love and generosity and support is more meaningful than you can ever imagine. There is still time to donate and/or register for the race. I would love to see you there on Sunday morning as I anticipate it being one more bolstering moment in this journey to carry me through my last treatment.
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