Angelsong is an amazing experience

Going through cancer and chemotherapy leaves most people with some battle scars – both those you can see and those you cannot – and there is often a heightened sense of anxiety at times.  During my own journey,  I have explored all sorts of alternative therapies including diet, herbal supplements, yoga, meditation, and music.  All of them have been very positive experiences for me.  I am open to just about any alternative idea that does not involve hallucinations or drugs.  I also believe that people cross our paths for a reason.  I have met many wonderful people in the last couple of years and one of them is Amy Robbins-Wilson.  

She literally lights up a room when she walks in and has the ability to draw people towards her.  As I’ve gotten to know her, I’ve learned that she possesses two Master’s degrees, she is a Reiki Master and Awakener, and she has the voice of an angel.  One of the more fascinating aspects about her is that she performs Angelsong Sessions for individuals and Angelsong Circles for a group of people. Ah, and what is Angelsong, you ask?  According to Amy’s website (link is below), Angelsong is “a form of energetic singing that is a combination of live a capella-inspired song and healing techniques. Amy opens transformational space through music” to assist people experiencing stress, grief, loss, or those looking for a sense of balance.  She sings over the person/people and smooths out energetic auras.   No, this is not based on science as we know it and it may sound wacky to some.  However, I have been able to experience an Angelsong session firsthand it was unlike anything I have ever experienced.  

The session began when Amy sat me down in a chair that faced a window overlooking the beautiful outdoors.  I closed my eyes and she started singing and moving about the space.  I have no idea how long I sat there because I got lost in her voice and my own meditation.   Afterwards, I felt such a sense of healing and peace.  The best analogy I can draw is that it is a spiritual yoga.  When I do yoga, I am so focused on what I’m doing and on my own breath that I cannot think of anything else and when the class is over, I feel a sense of peace.  This is the same feeling I had during and after the Angelsong session.  No anxiety, no jitters, and surprisingly, the nearly constant pain in my chest where my port had been was gone.  I have a back injury that has gotten worse over the years.  After the Angelsong session was over, my back pain was nearly gone, too.  It’s been a few days and neither pain has not come back.  I still feel centered, peaceful, and feel that I have found another method of healing.   I know, I know….some may say it’s a placebo effect or this can’t really happen because it makes no sense in the scientific world. Whatever it is, IT IS REAL.  If you get the chance, I highly recommend trying one of these sessions.  It is perfect for new moms, cancer patients, those in hospice, or anyone who needs some healing and balance.  It is one of the best therapies I have experienced and if you keep an open mind, it can help you, too.   Check her out at Amy’s website and if you’d like to hear her angelic voice, check out  Amy sings “I Remember You.”

 

 

lake yoga

Got de-ported – Now what?

I was de-ported last week.  Not in a Justin-Bieber-kind-of-way but in a medical-sort-of-way.  I had my one remaining IV mediport removed.   When I was originally diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I qualified for a clinical trial which required two ports – one was IP (intra peritoneal) and one was the traditional IV power port in the chest.  Due to clinical trial protocol, I had the IP port out as soon as I finished chemo.  My trial included Avastin treatments which went on for several more months so I kept the IV port.  Once Avastin treatments were over, I thought I’d have the IV port taken out right away.  However, after thinking about it, I opted to keep it.  I felt that it was my umbrella, so-to-speak, so that I could keep the “rain” away which means if I kept the port, maybe I’d never need again.  Ovarian cancer has a high recurrence rate and I was late-stage when I was originally diagnosed so it’s very possible that it will come back.  

However, I have decided that 2014 is the year for change.  Since I put so much effort into staring down cancer, after treatment was completed, I started getting involved in advocacy through the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (see my previous post with former Miss USA Olivia Culpo).  Now that my port is out, I feel even more passion for continuing the advocacy efforts to educate women, medical professionals, Capitol Hill, and anyone else who will listen about the signs, symptoms, and unquestionable need for an early detection test for ovarian cancer.

This is why my efforts will now be with the GrassTops Program through the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. I have enjoyed being a part of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance’s annual conference for the last two years.  This new opportunity with GrassTops will allow me to continue to speak for young girls, teenagers, and women of all ages who have lost their lives to this disease (including my grandmother) as well as to speak for those who are still in the fight and those who have not yet been diagnosed.  I am committing the next two years to help the Alliance raise awareness and research dollars.

Since this is my year for change, I have also been blessed with a charity fundraising slot in the 2014 Boston Marathon (as a former resident, Boston is my adopted hometown).  Boston is a HUGE marathon and has always been a goal of mine.  I completed five marathons prior to my cancer diagnosis.  The Boston Marathon will my first marathon post-cancer and post-chemo.  My body is built for endurance, not speed, so I will never be a time qualifier yet I was truly lucky to gain a charity slot for South Boston Neighborhood House a.k.a. The Ollie.

I feel strong – both physically and emotionally.  I cannot dwell on the probability of recurrence.  I need to enjoy TODAY.  I will not let cancer sap any more of my happiness nor will I be saddled with “what-ifs.”   It’s time to move forward and put cancer in the rear-view mirror. One day recently I awoke and said, “I’m all done with this mediport.”  So out it came last week and I have no regrets.  I am so excited to be healthy enough to be training for another marathon. Boston will be a homecoming of sorts for me and it will be a dream come true.

This is the year for change – the Boston Marathon is a life-long dream and I will realize that dream very soon. If you are able to help me reach my fundraising goal for South Boston Neighborhood House, please do so through this link.. Even $10 will go a long way to help this fantastic organization that does so much to support the South Boston community.  Thank you in advance!!!  I also dream of an early detection test for ovarian cancer.  I will continue the fight for all women. I will do all of this without any more mediports in me.  So long, cancer!!

ovarian-cancer-ribbon2.jpg

 

My Favorite Charitable Event

So it’s definitely been a while since I’ve posted anything and I apologize for the long wait. I have been busy with work and raising my son and trying my darndest to stay in remission (so far, so good!).  Last weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in The Dempsey Challenge.  This was my second year doing so.  This event runs all weekend with the running events being held on Saturday and the biking events are held on Sunday.  In addition, there’s a ton of activities to participate in leading up to the big weekend which are all totally optional but they really add to the spirit of this very sincere and generous cause.  Let me backtrack just a bit…

When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer two years ago, I did not know any survivors of this insidious disease.  My own grandmother had passed away from it nearly 14 years prior to my diagnosis.  It’s known as The Silent Killer for a reason.  I didn’t want this cancer to take my life and prevent me from raising my son and seeing him graduate high school and college and see the man that he will become.

I was careful in my searches on the internet when I was first diagnosed because of all the terrible stuff out there about this cancer. I tried to learn about the disease but didn’t go too deep since I didn’t want to scare myself.  I realize that’s naive but that’s what worked for me at the time.  What I really wanted was to know someone who was a survivor and thus began my search on the internet for any survivors in my area.  The only one that I was able to find was Amanda Dempsey, mother of three.  Not only was she a survivor, she had battled several times and was still around.  So this is what I held onto – a woman that I had never met but she lives in my area.  I “knew” someone who had battled ovarian cancer and won so this added some fuel to my fight.

Since there was no cancer-specific support group in my area, I turned to the internet and was blessed to find some very giving women who offered loads of support in a safe and confidential setting even though they’d never met me.  With their generous sharing of information, I was able to gain enormous knowledge and emotional support from survivors who told me that I was more than a statistic.  Between them and the support of my friends, family, and co-workers, I was able to navigate through the surgeries, chemo, and all those lousy side effects.  During this time, I had heard that there was a cancer support center that was being planned in the central part of the state and it was inspired by the same woman who inspired me – Amanda Dempsey.  This was good news to me since it sounded like it would be a place that was very much needed but didn’t exist yet.  I wondered if it would be too good to be true but I kept my hopes up.

In the meantime, thanks to these generous women on the internet, I learned of the annual Ovarian Cancer National Alliance that is held each July in Washington, DC.  In July 2012, I went to DC and was fortunate to meet some of these wonderful ladies in person.  It truly gave me a passion to help others and once I came home,  I decided that I wanted to participate in a fundraiser for this new cancer center that I had heard about. The fundraiser is called the The Dempsey Challenge and all of the money raised goes to the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing.   I have had the pleasure of going to the Center which offers support, gentle exercise, massage, information, and a lot of hugs for all cancer patients and their families and caregivers regardless of the type of cancer one has.  The bonus:  the Center does not charge anyone for any of the services they offer.  It is truly a safe and welcoming place to go to heal.  Having cancer leaves us shunned at times because those not familiar with the disease just either stay away or don’t know what to say to a person who has no hair and a swollen chemo face.  This is NOT the case at the Center.  Everyone is accepted and valued and they provide so much support and information.

The Dempsey Challenge is a truly wonderful event to participate in.  There’s no competition (the events are not officially timed) and the generous support of all the participants and volunteers is top-notch. Survivors are recognized and sincerely welcomed and celebrated (just like they are at the Center).  Not one cent that is raised by the participants goes towards putting on the event.  They have a lot of sponsors who generously cover all of the costs for the weekend which is a lot of fun for families, survivors, and caregivers.  It is by far one of the best organized events I have ever participated in.  This is the second year that I have participated and it’s something that I plan on being a part of every year.

It is also at this fundraiser that I have had the pleasure of seeing the beautiful Amanda Dempsey, ovarian cancer survivor and mother of 3. She’s such a fighter and I doubt she knows how many people she inspires.  She inspires me each and every day.

To learn more about the Challenge and to donate, please go to:  The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing

To learn more about this wonderful place that was inspired by Amanda, please check out this video:

 

Some tips on preparing food for a cancer patient

So you want to prepare some food for a cancer patient?  This can present some unique challenges if you have never been through chemo yourself. If you have been through it, this will likely be a refresher for you.  I am very much in favor of someone preparing some meals but it is very important to follow some guidelines.

1.) WASH ALL PRODUCE BEFORE CUTTING IT.  Chemotherapy compromises the immune system so it is vital that all produce be washed thoroughly before cutting it. It should be washed with a food-safe wash (a vinegar and water combination works very well).  If produce is cut first and then washed, then the bacteria on the outside has already been spread to the inside by way of the knife and it is much harder to clean.  Many oncologists discourage their patients from eating raw produce due to the difficulty in cleaning it properly.  Even if it’s going to be cooked, it is very important that the produce is properly cleaned.  If you purchased ‘triple washed’ produce, wash it again.  That stuff is usually washed in some type of bleaching chemicals. Also, do not use ingredients from any sort of buffet (e.g., salad bar, olive bar, etc.) in meals meant for a chemo patient.  The sanitation is a very real concern and it’s not worth the risk.

2.) Prepare smaller meals.  Chemotherapy wreaks havoc on one’s appetite.  It is recommended by many oncologists that patients eat more frequent but smaller meals.  This helps to provide energy and helps to stave off nausea.  Rather than preparing a big tray of lasagna, prepare a couple of smaller pans instead.  This way, the patient can heat up a smaller portion.  I recommend this even if the patient has family because chemo messes with the taste buds and it is likely that not everyone will eat the same food in the house at the same time.  In addition, fatigue sets in the more chemo a patient has and a smaller pan is easier to carry and maneuver.  Honestly, my last two cycles of chemo wore me out so much that I couldn’t even carry my laptop.  My son had to put it in the car and when I got to work, I had to request help from co-workers to carry it inside.  A big casserole or lasagna would not have been an option for me to move from the freezer to the oven.

3.) If the chemo has deadened the taste buds, go for texture.  I chose toasted pecans, almonds, walnuts, and granola.  This gave me some sense of being able to discern something while eating.  Make a batch of homemade granola and package it in small containers or baggies.  If texture isn’t appealing, it may be helpful to include some type of acidic drizzle on the side like a zippy vinaigrette.  I would drizzle a bit of vinegar on top of my soup or sautéed vegetables so that I could taste a smidge of something.

4.) Be careful with spices.  I grew up in San Antonio so I always liked spicy food.  However, during chemo, I had to tone it way down even though I had trouble tasting food.  Spices were hard on my stomach so you may want to tone down the curry and jalapeños.  You can get creative and instead of adding them to the food item itself, maybe make a cracker or biscuit with a bit of spice in it that can be served on the side.  This way,  the person can break off a piece and if it doesn’t sit well, the entire meal isn’t a waste.

Some other tips to keep in mind:

Label everything.  List the ingredients and how to prepare it (temperature, time, etc.).  Even if seems logical that chicken noodle casserole has chicken and noodles in it, there may be other ingredients in it that may be a concern to the patient over time like some spices or garlic or even milk (chemo makes it hard for some people to break down milk products).  For me, I couldn’t stand peanut butter or chocolate.  I didn’t have an allergy but I really could not stand the taste of either and I had loved both prior to chemo.  And even though I’ve made lasagna all my life, my lasagna may not be made the same way you would make it. Spell it all out and how to warm it/cook it/prepare it.  This will also allow the caregivers who are cooking-challenged as well the kids to be able to help.

Think outside the box for meals:

  • Make a soup but deconstruct it if needed.  For example, make a broth-based soup.  Cook pasta separately, drain, and drizzle with olive oil to keep it from sticking together.  Package the cooked pasta in a ziploc baggie, put the soup in a separate container, and have some crostini or croutons in another baggie. (I mention broth-based to reiterate that milk may be a problem for the person undergoing chemo.)
  • Make the fixins for a burger quesadilla.  Stay with me here because this is actually fun and tasty.  Cook up the ground meat and/or veggies (no need to make patties).  Shred some cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, etc.  Package the meat in one container, the toppings in another, and add a bag of tortillas.  All that needs to be done to prepare them is to warm up the meat/cooked veggies (the microwave will do just fine) and then load the tortilla with the ingredients, fold it in half, and cook it in a skillet on both sides until the cheese melts.  Everyone can fix it his/her own way.
  • Instead of making a big 3 lb meatloaf, make meatloaf muffins by cooking the meatloaf in muffin tins instead.  Make a batch of scalloped potatoes the same way.  Pop ‘em out, put them on a baking sheet, and freeze as individuals.  They can then be placed in ziploc baggies and labeled accordingly.  Smaller portions are great and kids will love the smaller size, too.

Sweets are great in small doses. For me, I loved apple crisp because I could detect the slightest hint of cinnamon and the crunchy topping was great even though my taste buds were on the fritz thanks to Taxol.  Keep them small, e.g., smaller cookies or slices of pies/tarts. One of my gal pals made triple chocolate cookies with a cake mix and my son loved them so there’s no need to spend lots of time making things from scratch if that’s not your thing.

If you can afford it, please purchase organic and local food.  Organic is better for all of us and if it’s local, the food will be fresher and is oftentimes a much better quality than you will find in the big grocery stores.

Hydration and protein are very important.  Chemo is terrible on the kidneys and it also breaks down healthy cells so hydration and protein are important at every meal if possible.  Water tasted terrible to me but I found that a mild coconut water was tolerable.  If cooking isn’t your thing, buy some small boxes of coconut water or your patient’s beverage of choice.  Include some small protein-packed smoothies (Odwalla and Naked make some good ones) that can be kept in the refrigerator.

Lastly, I want to say how grateful I was to have food brought to my house. Several people pitched in and provided meals for us throughout my chemo  and having those meals ready to go with minimal prep was truly a blessing.  We preferred those to the heavily processed frozen foods in the grocery store.  Don’t ask for permission – just do it.  Whatever you decide to prepare or purchase will be very much appreciated by the patient and caregivers.

Charlie Brown

What they never told me

When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I had the benefit (if you can call it that) of having seen every woman in my family battle breast cancer along with seeing my step-dad battle colon cancer.  Therefore, I was blessed with tons of support from family members who had been through it (some more than one time).  I was given tips and tricks for dealing with chemo, hair loss, foods to eat, etc.  I am also blessed by having the support of friends, co-workers, and my bosses as I near the end of my routine treatments. With any luck, I will stay in remission. However, there are things that I have learned during my journey and I’d like to share some of them in case anyone may benefit from them.

No one ever told me (in no particular order):

  • Some of my friends and family would distance themselves and while others I didn’t expect would be a source of support.
  • How unimportant some things are when my life was on the line.
  •  I would have a ‘front butt’ after tumor debulking surgery and that my belly button would be moved in the process.
  • My incision from the surgery would not heal right away and I would end up with a seroma.
  •  I would find a new use for maxi-pads when my seroma started gushing on a Saturday.
  •  I would teach oncology nurses and a resident how to ‘wick’ a seroma.
  •  Potential side effects of chemo included removing my ‘filter’ when I had something to say.
  • How nice it was to not have hair.  I could not have a ‘bad hair day.’ I went from 20 minute showers – shampoo, conditioner, shave, rinse out the conditioner – to being able to shower in 90 seconds flat.  I had no hair to style, no eyebrows to pluck, and no lashes to put mascara on so I had more time to sleep.
  • I would save money because I was not buying hair products.
  • I would look in the mirror and not recognize myself.
  • How really big my head is.
  • It’s o.k. to sleep at odd hours.
  • I could stay clear of negative people.
  • It’s o.k. to go to the store in my pajamas.
  • I could do things I want to do and not feel guilty.
  • Once I was in remission, people would stop calling me, emailing me, and asking me how I am doing.
  • Being diagnosed with late stage cancer doesn’t mean terminal cancer.
  • Being ‘sick and tired’ takes on a whole new meaning.
  • Losing energy and stamina so quickly when chemo started did not mean that it would come back as quickly.  In fact, it takes a very long time to return.
  • Complete strangers would pray for me.
  • I could sweat so much.
  • My fight against cancer would serve as inspiration to some people to eat healthier and to exercise.
  • I could have pain from numbness.
  • I’d be labeled for the rest of my life. My own PCP has the sphincter police answer his phone and I have to be assertive to get in for a regular visit.
  • About the kindness of strangers, random acts of kindness, & the power of prayer. I can truly feel those around me.
  • If there’s ‘a small chance’ of something unexpected that might happen, it would happen to me.
  • Some people stared & others made no eye contact when I wore a scarf.
  • It’s o.k. to ask for help.
  • I would go to a conference where I knew absolutely no one and leave with many friends.
  • I would go to Capitol Hill to speak with the staff of U.S. Senators and Congress to advocate for research dollars and awareness of ovarian cancer.
  • I would meet Miss U.S.A.
  • I would complete a half marathon exactly one year after my tumor debulking surgery.
  • Being on a dance floor with a boatload of cancer survivors belting out Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” would be one of my most-treasured memories.
  • There are no more bad days – there are now only good days and great days.  As far as I’m concerned, the only bad day I’ll have is the day the good Lord takes me to His home.
  • My teenage son would not be embarrassed to be around his bald mom and would also wear a teal ‘Fight Like A Girl’ t-shirt to school on my chemo days each week for 18 weeks straight.
  • My retired Navy sweetie would keep his head shaved in support of me, also wear a teal ‘Fight Like A Girl’ t-shirt on my chemo days, and be my biggest advocate.
  • I would start a blog – for myself as a form of therapy – and that it would be read around the world and help people.
  • I hadn’t truly lived until I realized I might not be around to see my son grow up.
  • I’m stronger than I knew.

These are just a few of the many things that I’ve learned.  If you are a survivor, I encourage you to share your thoughts here as well. We all have something to offer to help others who are on this journey with this insidious disease.

Video

Getting outside of my comfort zone

This past July, I had the privilege of attending the 15th annual Ovarian Cancer National Alliance conference in Washington, D.C.  I did not know a single person before going but I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and see what this conference was all about since I’d heard great things about previous ones.  The weekend was full of information about clinical trials, the latest research, and loads and loads of support from numerous organizations as well as fellow survivors.  I had the honor of meeting – in person – some of my “teal sisters” that I’d met through an online support group.  The energy and positive vibe throughout the weekend was fantastic.  I learned so much from other survivors from how to deal with side effects to how to deal with stress to nutrition guidelines to getting involved in advocacy.

We had fabulous speakers including the physicians with the latest research, people who spoke about their personal journeys or the journeys of their family members, and Jack Andraka also spoke to us.  He is the 15-year old who won the Intel award for developing a simple test (which only costs 3 cents) that has so far been 100% accurate in detecting pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancers.  His test hasn’t yet been entered into human trials but he hopes to do that soon. He is a down-to-earth person who truly wants to find an early detection test for cancer and he may have found it.  I, for one, am very grateful for his research. If you would like to see a bit more about him,  please click the link: Jack Andraka Interview with Diane Sawyer   Our keynote speaker was Miss USA, Olivia Culpo, who had been crowned a few weeks before the conference.  Her mission for this year is to raise awareness about breast and ovarian cancers.  She is a very well-spoken, kind, and intelligent young woman who will work tirelessly to promote this awareness.

In conjunction with the conference, I participated in Advocacy Day. I went to Capitol Hill with about 70 other women and families – including Miss USA – to advocate for research dollars and to advocate for September to be officially recognized as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.  This was a totally new experience for me but it was very gratifying.  I met with the staff members of the Senators and Congresswoman from my state.  They were very receptive to my cause and listened to my story with concern.  I told them that mortality rates have not changed in the last 40 years for women dealing with ovarian cancer and that this cancer affects all ages including 3-year old girls, teenagers, women in their 20s, etc.  This is not an ‘older’ woman’s cancer.  The statistics are grim but hopefully, in some small way, I hope I’ve made a difference to raise awareness and get research dollars to find an early detection test for this insidious disease.

I felt like I had met a whole new branch on my family tree during this trip and I was so bummed when the conference ended because I really enjoyed meeting everyone and sharing our experiences.   Therefore, I jumped at the chance to attend a smaller conference in Boston this weekend that was organized by Ovations for the Cure.  Again, I went to the conference not knowing anyone. (As it turns out, I met up with a woman I’d met at the DC conference and there was also a woman from my church who attended.) It was a one-day event but it also provided information and I again had the opportunity to meet other survivors.  There was no cost for this event which was held at the Four Seasons in Boston.  The conference was very informative and we were treated to a fabulous lunch in Aujourd’hui. After all the poking, prodding, needles, surgeries, chemicals, etc., of the past year, it was so refreshing to have had this opportunity to participate in a local event and have lunch in a 5-star restaurant at no cost to me.

What I learned at both conferences is that there are a lot of women living with ovarian cancer.  I want to stress the word LIVING.  These women and their families have such positive attitudes and they do not let anyone rain on their parades.  They are intelligent women who ask intelligent questions and they will keep fighting to beat cancer.  They will find the best clinical trial or the ‘right’ oncologist to work with to get into remission. Some are fighting for their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th remissions.  They are the most open, considerate, and generous people that I have met.

Ironically, getting outside my comfort zone and meeting cancer survivors has provided a great deal of comfort to me.   My goal is to continue to help women and provide support just like the women who have helped me.  Yes, we are statistics but we don’t let statistics define us. We will beat the odds!

Advocacy Day 2012

Boston Lunch Menu

Miss USA Olivia Culpo and me at the OCNA conference

If I can do it, so can you

In the mid-90s (March 1995 to be exact), I was in my local big-box book store and I saw Oprah on the cover of Runner’s World. It said, “Oprah can do it, so can you!”  I bought the magazine – for the first time ever – and learned about her marathon training program.  Because of this article, I started running for fun.  I entered 5Ks and 10Ks and even ran a leg of the White Rock Marathon with my employer’s team.  I never ran to win the race but I enjoyed the camaraderie of the sport.  I also found that the more I ran, the more I enjoyed the longer distances.  Eventually (a few years later), I decided that if Oprah can do it, I could, too. I really wanted to complete a marathon!  To me, the marathon seemed to be a goal that a lot of people had but they didn’t really try for it or they didn’t stick to a training program so it was an unattainable goal for them. I wanted to reach that goal and earn a finisher’s medal.

So I’d made the decision that I wanted to complete 26.2 miles.  TWENTY-SIX POINT TWO MILES.  BY FOOT.  No car, no bike.  All 26.2 miles under my own power in a pair of sneakers.  What now?  How do I DO this, I thought?  I did a little research and I signed up for former Olympian Jeff Galloway’s training program.   The people in this program were an eclectic group of folks who came from varied backgrounds – there was a podiatrist (who became quite the expert that we all called on), elite runners, retired grandparents, and working moms and dads like me.  Jeff’s program is a run/walk program and I had my own individual program all outlined for me to work on during the week and then we all got together for the long slow distance runs on the weekends.  I lived in Texas at the time and no matter what time of year it was, it was bloody hot to run.  Either that, or it poured down rain.  There really was no “nice” weather.  But I loved the idea of working towards my goal of completing a marathon.

After signing up for the 6-month program, I was grouped with the grandmas who’d never run a marathon.  I was a new mom but I was o.k. with being with the grammies since I didn’t have a time goal – my only goal was to finish.  I learned quickly that I would need to be self-motivated and disciplined to work the program that was laid out for me.  Honestly, it looked easy on paper and in the grand scheme of things, it was easy as long as I followed it.  My favorite part was the long slow distance runs.  I learned a lot about the lives of these strong women.  Some were old-fashioned and had never worked.  One these ladies wouldn’t make a single decision (I’m not even sure she knew that might even be an option) – she deferred everything to her husband who was also training but he was in a ‘faster’ group.  Another one was a widow and had raised her kids on her own.   And another lady – 75 years young – was training for a half marathon rather than the full marathon.

These ladies all inspired me and I looked forward to our weekly runs because since the long slow distance runs were at a slower pace, we could carry on conversations.  This training took place in what was the height of the ‘Furby’ craze so I got to hear about how each grandma was going to have THE favorite gift for the Christmas season (apparently the black-and-white ones were the prized ones to have way-back-when).   As a new mom, I would never ever consider such a gift for my kiddo but I learned all sorts of tidbits about patience and choosing my battles during my journey through parenthood from this ladies.

What I found with the training was that there would be easier days like the tempo runs and tougher days like hill training. OK, let’s be real….where I lived in Texas, there were not many hills but we managed.  If I was careful and didn’t overtrain, I could stay on target and not get injured.  Jeff’s program suited me perfectly because his philosophy with the long slow distances is to keep pushing ‘the wall’ back – each week, gradually increase the distance.  And each week I did.  Each week I was able to go farther and farther and my self-confidence grew with each passing week.  We all entered the White Rock Half Marathon for a training run (we were scheduled to do 16 miles that day so we started with a 1 1/2 mile warm-up and continued after the half for another  1 1/2 miles).

Jeff came to a few of our training runs and critiqued our running styles, made corrections as necessary, and offered an immense amount of knowledge and support to us. I remember after our 24-mile run, he was snacking on a Snickers bar.  Before anyone could criticize him, he said with a sincere smile on his face, “As far as I’m concerned, if you complete 24 miles, you can eat anything you want.”  As a Snickers fan, I heartily grabbed one, too, because as far as I was concerned, I couldn’t believe I’d just done 24 miles and there was no doubt in my mind that I would finish my marathon now.  What a mental high that was for me and such a boost to my self-confidence.  I was an athlete who was about to enter and complete a marathon.  That’s right….I, with the silhouette of a penguin, was finally an athlete.

Through the course of the training program, I also learned that training for a marathon is a lot like life – there will be tough hills to climb and obstacles, but with patience, consistency, and perseverance, I can always reach my goal. I had tons of support around me and the people who’d run marathons previously were very generous in sharing their expertise.  If that left brain kicks in and takes over, most people will reach the logical conclusion that paying money for a marathon entry fee and then actually choosing to go the distance is a bit wacko.  However, once the entry fee was paid, I committed myself to showing up.  As I lined up at the start (in the back, of course, because I’m a back-of-the-packer), I was nervous.  I wasn’t nervous about finishing because I’d already completed the distance a few weeks earlier when I completed the Galloway program.  I was nervous because this was IT – I was finally going to reach my goal and earn that finisher’s medal.  All the work, all the training…I kept telling myself, “Just trust the training.  You can do this.”  

It took me some time but I did finish my marathon.  Not only that, I did it again four more times.  That’s right – I’ve entered and completed five marathons.  So when I was diagnosed with cancer, I was consistently told that I was doing “so well” with the surgeries and chemo.  I didn’t know why people were telling me that and one night, I was chatting with my best friend about this.  She said to me, “You’re a marathoner.  You know about the long race.  You know about consistency and perseverance and most of all, you know about finishing.  You have your goal here.  You want to beat cancer. You want to see your son grow up.  You will do it because you already have the training inside of you.”  I sat back and said, “OK, if you say so.”  

The more I thought about it, the more I figured she was right.  Marathons are much more mental than physical. The fight to beat cancer is very mental – if chemo gets a hold of a negative thought, it will run away with it and that can be a dark hole that is hard to be pulled out of.  So I went into marathon-training-mental-mode and made it through chemo relatively unscathed.  In March, I was told I was in remission.  I was thrilled. When I went into remission, I signed myself up for a half marathon. I signed up for the very one that I had to pull out of last year a week before the race due to being diagnosed with cancer.  I wanted that finisher’s medal that I was unable to get last year.

The chemo has lasting effects and it’s taken me quite a while to develop any sort of physical stamina.  I am getting stronger each day and I’m proud of myself with each new accomplishment. A year ago yesterday, I was on an operating table having tumor debulking surgery and was staged with late-stage ovarian cancer.  Yesterday, exactly one year later, I was lined up at the start line for the Bar Harbor Half Marathon (my favorite race of all – I’ve done it many times) in my Fight Like A Girl shirt, the shirt I wore to every single chemo treatment.   Just like my battle with cancer, this was a family event.  My sweetie also entered the half marathon and my son entered the 5K.

I started the race early with the walkers (the runners started an hour later) and met up with a beautiful 85-year old woman who said she was “as slow as molasses” and I told her, “I doubt that.  You’re looking strong to me.”  I got passed during mile 5 by the first runner who wore nothing but his Under Armor compression shorts and sneakers.  His number was pinned to his hip because there was not another stitch of clothing on him. A few minutes later, another gentleman and the first woman zoomed past me.  Runners continued to catch up and pass me for the next few miles but I didn’t care.  I was doing my own race.  This wasn’t a competition for me.  This was a day of celebration in how far I’ve come in the last year.

On the dreaded mile-long climb in the middle of the race (I still haven’t gotten over my phobia of hills), some friends of mine who were running the race came from behind and said hello and asked how I was doing.  I said I was doing great – and I was – and they continued on.  Every volunteer shouted, “I LOVE YOUR SHIRT!” and I got applause from volunteers and runners who passed me and said, “Keep going!”  My sweetie, who started with the runners, caught up and I heard him holler from behind me. We crossed the 9-mile marker together and then he zoomed ahead of me to finish his race.

At mile 11, a lady at the top of the hill said, “If this was easy, everyone would be doing it. You look fantastic!  Are you having a good half marathon?”  I said, “I’m having the best half marathon.  It’s sure beats where I was last year and I will finish no matter what.”  She gave me a thumbs-up and then I was joined by a wonderful lady who asked if she could walk with me part of the way.  Since I was the slow one, I had been by myself much of the race so I said she was most welcome to walk with me.  I learned that she lived in the area and she is a 22-year breast cancer survivor. We chatted for almost a mile and she hugged me before jumping off the course. I only had a little over a mile left and then I’d be at the finish line.

I was also joined by the ‘bike sweep’ who is a volunteer who stays with the last person in the race to ensure everyone is off the course so that the mile markers and water stops can be packed up and the wonderful volunteers can go home. He would have also radioed for transportation if I wanted to abandon but I didn’t.  I told him my story and I learned about his 72-lb weight loss over the last year and his journey to fitness. I was starving and he was so generous – he zoomed over to the golf course on his bike and bought me snacks and water to get me through the last mile.  I didn’t catch his name but I will never forget him.  My sweetie had already finished the race and came back to finish with me while my kiddo, who had completed his 5K earlier in the morning, took photos.

I walked every step of the half marathon since I’m still not up to running. Just like my battle with cancer, I never once thought about abandoning or quitting. Once again, I met incredibly generous people along this course who offered me tons of support just like people who have helped me through my battle with cancer.  Much like life itself, I saw everyone that passed by me has his or her own style of running.  Whatever that style is, it works for them.  They were smiling and they each finished the race. I waddled like a penguin across that finish line and I got my medal. I am still an athlete.  I covered the same distance as everyone else and I did it with my own style. I don’t care how long it took.  My goal has never been about time.  My goal has always been to finish. Thank you, Jeff Galloway.  Your training program has served me well over the years not only in completing marathons, but it has also helped me face my toughest battle yet.  I finished that battle and intend to keep it that way.

Whatever your goal is, don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way.  If I can do it, so can you.

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