I ran into an old friend the other day who also happens to be a fellow breast cancer survivor. When she asked how I was doing I told her that I was still cancer-free since my mastectomy a year and a half ago. After congratulating me, she instantly responded with “We’re not cancer-free, we’re in remission.”

Yeah…but… “in remisson” sounds so much worse, doesn’t it? It means I still have cancer and that it’s just not showing up right now. I don’t want to think that way. I really want to be cancer-free. What I actually am is evidence-free. As long as there’s no signs or symptoms of the cancer, I’m considered to be in complete remission.

But I’m not cured. See, it’s like alcoholism. You can stop drinking but you’ll still be an alcoholic – you’re just a non-drinking alcoholic. We removed my cancer and stopped it, but I’m still considered a cancer patient – I’m just a cancer patient in remission. Cancer cells could still be in my body, without showing any signs, even for many years. Then someday, like a sip of wine by an alcoholic could trigger disaster for him – one stray, rogue cell that grows out of control could trigger cancer recurrence for me.

So, because the words “cancer-free” implies your cancer will never come back, and there’s never a guarantee of that, most doctors will not give you that diagnosis. Instead, we are N.E.D. No evidence of disease.

It’s interesting what I hear – people tell you to forget about it- be grateful that you survived – go on and live your life. Okay. I get it. I should be happy and move on, forget what I went through. Don’t think about the small chance that the cancer may come back.  Let’s just say that it’s easy for someone who’s never had cancer to give that sort of advice.

Cancer changes you. As I’ve said before, never again will you think it won’t happen to you – because it already has happen to you before. I know I fought it off once, but if it comes back, can I do it again? Mostly, I do give myself the same advice the non-cancer people give me –  try not think about that. But I do. And I’ve found most other cancer survivors feel the same way.

It’s getting better. Other than the daily reminder when I shower that I only have one breast, and the variety of issues I continue to struggle with – I don’t think about it as often as I used to. It pops into my head more fleetingly now – a stray thought that I’m able to push away fairly easily most of the time.  Before my chemo treatments, my friend had told me that someday I would look back on all that I went through as an abnormal blip in the timeline of my life. That the time would go by fast.

They were right about that- I can hardly believe a year and a half has gone by since my surgery. In September it will be 2 years since I had my last chemo treatment. (and yet I still get nauseous at the sight of red or pink clear liquids :/ – only those who have had the chemo drug Adriamycin will understand that one 🙂 )

At my last visit, my oncologist said that after December, we’ll be switching from having checkups every 3 months to having them every 6 months. A milestone on my way to the coveted 5 years in remission.

During my morning run, I saw one of the homeless ladies that I regularly see on Grand River. She, as always, was wearing a coat and a smile. In contrast, I was wearing running shorts and a sleeveless shirt, sweat running down my face as I ran past her. I was burning up from my exertion, she had very likely been out there all night and needed the warmth of her coat.

She had been leaning on the bus shelter as I approached but hurried to move her cart off the sidewalk when she saw me. She said “I’m so so sorry.” I told her it was okay, I could go around. We exchanged our normal “Have a good day!” and smiles as I continued on past.

What if this lady was to have cancer? Would she even know what to do if she found a lump in her breast? Could she get to a doctor? Does anyone ever check on her? It reminded me also of Carmella and how I first felt when I realized what her situation was like for her.

It was a gentle reminder that life is good for me. Sure, I battled cancer and struggle with the aftermath, but I have a job and healthcare and a family to care for me. Life is good, even when you’re just in remission.


Good for you!


It’s one of those statements that I know is meant to be encouraging, but somehow it feels judgmental. This morning I was about 1.5 miles into my 3 mile run when a guy on a bike rode past, and as he did, he gave me a thumbs up, then held his arm out with a fist (like he was flexing his muscles). I know what he meant. Good for you, keep it up, you got this, etc.

And I know he meant well- and when people do things like that, I take it in the vein it was intended. He was encouraging me, and I did appreciate that. It’s just…

Well, no one does that for the skinny in-shape people. No one says “good for you” to the fit people who are out running.

So, I take it as – “hey fat ass, it’s good to see you got off the couch and are doing something to get in shape”. I know, I know. Be positive. Be happy people notice what you are trying to do. Bleh, bleh, bleh. I DO get it. It’s just…

Well, it feels demeaning. Like they think if someone doesn’t encourage me, I won’t keep doing it or something.

I have to remind myself that they don’t know what I’ve been through. About how the cancer treatments rob you of all fitness. How the steroids they give you at every treatment keeps you from losing weight, even when you are barely eating due to nausea. How the anti-cancer medicine continues to rob me of sleep, which causes increased stress levels, which makes it nearly impossible to lose weight, regardless of how much I exercise. :/

Hey, he noticed I was trying my hardest and he wanted to let me know that. He meant well. That’s what matters, right? So, I yelled out “Thank you!” to him. And I smiled for a while as I ran.  And I remembered that what other people think of how I look doesn’t quite matter that much to me anymore. So, good for me!

I wanted to also let everyone know who may be wondering- I remain cancer-free! The radiologist said that all looked normal, nothing to worry about! Thanks for all your support.

The next test


On Tuesday, I have to have an ultrasound. On my “left axillary area” officially.

I had my next “every 3 month” checkup with a doctor from my cancer team this afternoon. She was surprised when I told her I still had pain in the left side of where my surgery was. You can feel a small lump there near the mastectomy scar, near where that monstrous drain was (see A day that started out badly). It’s actually quite painful to the touch. She said it did not feel like a mass and she was pretty certain that it was just from the surgery scarring, but she wanted to have it checked out. I, of course, being a worry-wart, completed agreed.

So, on Tuesday, I’m scheduled to have an “ultrasound, with biopsy if indicated”.  Which means that if they think the site is suspicious they will do a biopsy right then and there so I wouldn’t have to wait.

It’s reassuring and yet terrifying all at the same time. Used to- when I had to have a test for something, I always could tell myself “that won’t happen to me”. See, once it does happen to you, it’s almost impossible to believe that it won’t happen to you again. I won’t even pretend that it is anything like PTSD from being in a war or assaulted or anything like that. But it is PTSD just the same.

It’s a constant stress that hangs over you all the time. Everytime you hear the word cancer (which is A LOT) your stomach drops and you relive that moment when they first told you that your life would never be the same (The first post…). I try to remember what my chemo doctor told me – she said that I needed to go live my life and not worry about it coming back, because the chance is very small. I try to do that. But… it’s always there.

Like a shadow, it follows me wherever I go and whatever I do. Other people get to forget, you know. They were worried about me when I was really sick and healing, and they prayed a lot. But once I got better, everyone was relieved and … Well their life goes on much the same as it did before. My life is irrevocably changed. Mentally, physically, emotionally changed.

I deal with the after-effects of the cancer on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy to be alive and to be considered cancer-free. It’s just that when you face something life-threatening like this, when at one point in your life, you weren’t sure if you would survive- well, you always feel like you are one step closer to death than the person next to you. And that changes you.

And beyond the mental and emotional issues comes the physical ones. My surgery scar is completely numb in some spots, uncomfortable in others, and as I said above, quite painful in that one place. I have not yet recovered full mobility in my shoulder, though I stretch daily. I tried to do 5 pushups today for the first time since surgery. I did it, but ended up with some mild pain in the surgery area. (Before cancer, when I was training for my Tang Soo Do karate test, I did 25 pushups a day.)

I take Tamoxifen daily. It’s the anti-hormone pill that I’ve talked about before. Since I’ve been on it, I’ve dealt with seriously painful leg and feet/toe cramps, most likely caused by the medicine. I now eat a banana, eat yogurt, drink milk or take a calcium supplement, take a magnesium supplement and a multi-vitamin, and drink at least 80 oz of water a day. I run 3 miles a day at least 4 days a week. And still, some nights, like the last 3 nights, for no reason whatsoever, I wake up anywhere from 1-4 times an hour all night long (no exaggerations, ask my husband) so that I am unable to sleep for days on end.

Maybe the hotter weather has something to do with it. Maybe it’s just random, I haven’t yet figured it out. But for anyone who has sleep issues- you will understand the kind of stress it puts you under to not get enough restorative rest for such a long time. I’ve spent years with sleep issues, and I have always heard (well-meaning) advice from people- make your room darker, cut caffeine intake, go to bed at the same time, get up at the same time, exercise, etc etc.

I’ve really heard it all. I even had a sleep study done. Results? There is absolutely nothing wrong with me. According to their data, I slept all night long. Which is really quite funny (and yet not) because I was most definitely awake for a lot of it. I spent most of the night checking my phone for the time, then finally fell into an exhausted slumber around 2 am and slept for a few hours before my alarm went off. Yet their results said I had slept just fine for 6.5 hours. Hmmmm….

But what am I going to do? Stop taking the Tamoxifen? Of course not. I’m grateful to have it even with the side effects.

The chemo caused nerve damage as well (What is Taxol?), and recently I’ve been showing some signs of Restless Legs Syndrome. It’s where your lower leg muscles feel like they are twitching and pulling, but when you reach down to touch it, there’s absolutely nothing moving. It’s like a ghost nerve impulse. You feel it mostly when you are sitting still or trying to sleep. (You know, because I needed just one more thing to disturb my sleep 😦 )

And mine is severe enough that it results in leg cramps. My leg muscles will twitch and pull and twitch and suddenly, a severe and excruciating cramp in my calf or the front of my lower leg happens, which has me leaping out of bed to try to stretch and relax the muscle. Anyway, I will likely always have this issue due to the nerve damage from the chemo. But again, I am alive and grateful for the chemo meds that were able to kill the cancer cells.

And I’ve mentioned “chemo brain” before. Yes, it’s real. Yes, it’s frustrating. If I ever see you and call you by the wrong name (or not call you by any name at all), please be patient. I’m doing the best I can right now, and the lack of sleep makes it even worse. A friend at work had the same issues a few years back and he has since recovered, so I am hopeful that within a few years I won’t feel so mentally dull anymore.

So, why am I telling you all this? To complain? No.

As I was driving home today, after getting the news that I would need an ultrasound and possibly a biopsy, a man in a truck was doing an awesome job at tailgating me on the highway. For no reason – I wasn’t driving slowly, hadn’t cut him off, nothing. He was just driving like a bully in his big truck, riding the tail of my small car. When he was finally able to pass me, it was a great relief. So much so, that I got tears in my eyes.

Normally, that sort of thing doesn’t bother me, but today, because of my lack of sleep, and my news from the doctor, it did. And it made me think about the day I received news that my Grandpa had died, and there I was 5 months pregnant, with 2 year old Chally in her car seat, driving to Lansing to try to find some little girl dress shoes so she would look nice saying goodbye to her great-grandpa. And as I made my way south down Business 27, I had a similar incident with an “out of nowhere” road rage. Obviously someone having a bad day and taking it out on others. They had no idea what devastation and pain I was in about losing my Grandpa, and of course they’ll never know the effect they had on me that day.

So, the reason I’m telling you all this is because I hope you will stop and think about the people you pass each day – at work, on the street, in your car. You have no idea what they might be carrying with them, just like I was today. Just like I was 18 years ago on the way to my Grandpa’s funeral. Something that makes them need some empathy, some tolerance, someone to show they care. Something small even, like yielding in traffic or holding the door for them, a simple smile, that will help brighten their day some and remind them there is still good out there. That someone cares.



Do the Hard Cider Run – check.


It’s been a whirlwind of a month for me. It started with having the one year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. At first, it was hard to think about – one whole year had passed since my world went crazy. But then, I started thinking – one year ago, I had a very steep mountain to climb. I had just begun to have all the tests and had been given more information than I could take in. I had months of chemo that was about to start. And at that point I couldn’t even think farther than just getting through chemo, even though I knew surgery and then radiation would follow. This summer promises to be a much brighter, more enjoyable one for me. I made it through to the other side! I plan to enjoy every second.

Then, it was time for my annual mammogram. On my right breast of course, since there’s nothing left of my left. I had been doing self-exams, but of course I was still worried. I mean, I used to believe it was never gonna happen to me, and then it did. So nowadays, I don’t feel so invulnerable. So they did the big squeeze, and a week later, I got the letter. All’s well!


So, I walked the Survivor’s lap at the Relay for Life a week later feeling pretty good!


Of course, that’s an event that is very emotional. I read all the tributes to those who didn’t make it. I thought a lot about my Dad and my mother-in-law – who both succumbed to lung cancer. I thought about a friend from work who very recently was diagnosed and lost his battle before he even had a chance to try to fight it. The father of my daughter’s teammate who did the same. A friend from church who has already outlived the doctor’s expectations. My Grandma who fought it off and lived to be 93.

My friend Kristina and I walked it together. She said that the woman who gave an inspirational survivor speech last year, passed away before this year’s event. At several points we put our arms around each other and cried as we walked. It’s difficult to explain the range of emotions to someone who has never been through it. Relief, anger, sorrow, joy, worry, guilt, all wrapped up in one big stressful event. Why did I live and not Bill? What if my cancer comes back? Who will still be here next year?


I did see alot of people I hadn’t seen in a while and they were happy to see me looking healthy 🙂 it’s still amazing to realize how many people were thinking of me and praying for me while I was sick. It was also amazing to see many other survivors in the same place for the same reason. To support each other, to give hope to those who are still in the battle, to be alive. You can see it on each other’s faces. They feel the same things I do.

Today was the Hard Cider Run – the goal I set back in January to run the 5K without stopping to walk. I have been running at least 4 days a week since my radiation treatments ended at the end of January. As I mentioned before, I started at 1 mile a day, then added a lap or two every week or so until I reached 3.3 miles a day. I figured that was a good level to maintain and would make the 5K seem easy since it’s a little shorter than that.


This morning started with me waking with a terrible headache from not sleeping well. Tim and Chris were off to a PKSA karate training seminar with Grand Master Kang Uk Lee, his possible last visit to the U.S. As I rushed out to my car to head to the race, I found this on my car hood:

image  image

My daughters Challis and Kelsey happily volunteered to make sure that Rea got to her softball pictures and game, and that Andy was taken care of while I went to the race. Then, I was blessed to not only have two friends who ran by my side through the whole race, but had three more friends waiting at the finish line to cheer me on with big signs and give me hugs, a trophy, a ribbon, etc. I ran the entire race without stopping. Goal reached! This was an incredible end to a fairly stressful month for me.




France Got a Haircut (The People of Jenison)


So, France got a haircut the other day. It really changed his looks. More like an American male now, rather than that European look he usually has going. But I can’t change his name now.

There’s an interesting mix of people who come into Jenison when I’m there to run each morning. I realized recently when I was telling my husband about these people that I take after my Dad – he had nicknames for people when he didn’t know their name. I’ve done the same for my fellow Jenisonites.

What is it about France that makes him look European to me? Honestly, I’m not really sure, except suffice it to say that he wears long legged running tights and a sweatshirt or long sleeve t-shirt tucked in when he runs. It just smells of “stylish” and European. Anyway, he’s France to me.

I’ve already talked about Paul and the ROTC kids in an earlier post.

There’s also Official. He confused me for a while – I would see him one day wearing his t-shirt that says “Official” on the back and he was always walking. The next day he would be wearing a reflector belt and he would run a few laps then walk. Of course since I only ever saw him from the back as I either ran past him or when he ran past me, it took a few weeks for me to realize that these were two different people whom I’d morphed into an amalgam. They look alike from the back but definitely not from the front. Oops.

Reflector Belt, as might be expected, wears a reflector belt. Why he wears this to run on an indoor track, I’ve not yet figured out. We chatted one morning on the walk into the track about why the main doors to the track are locked requiring us to walk completely around the entire building to get to the one unlocked door. He told me that for a while, MSU thought it was a good partnership with one of the local high schools to allow them to use the indoor track to get ready for track season before the weather allowed them to do much outdoors – even though officially Jenison use is restricted to only students and employees of MSU (as most MSU facilities are). This led to other area high schools starting to use the facilities also.

Apparently, some local parents then thought it was a good idea to start dropping their kids off there without supervision. Even very young children!  Of course, tragedy of the commons can predict what happened, but I’ll tell you anyway. It became a free-for-all. Some of the kids that were being dropped off there starting using sidewalk chalk on the flooring and vandalizing and destroying some of the equipment that was in there. Needless to say, MSU had to lock the entire facility every night now so that no one can get in after hours. It should be enough to have the signs that say “For use by students, faculty and staff only”, but I guess only locking it works when people have that entitlement mentality and have no respect for common property. 😦 Sad.

There’s a couple that comes in together. I call them the Professor and his Wife. She told me her husband used to run with his colleague every morning. For 35 years. Then this past year, his colleague retired. He felt a little lost without his running partner, so now he bribes her every morning with a trip to Bake-n-Cakes, after which they come to Jenison where she walks around the track while he runs. Sometimes he runs outside, but only if someone else is there in Jenison. Once he sees that I’m there and she won’t be alone, he waves at me and then takes off outdoors. Not sure what he’ll do when the mornings get warm enough for me to run outside again without triggering my asthma. Anyway, I’m really quite blown away by the Professor’s story. Thirty-five years – just imagine that for a minute.

And then of course, I have to tell you about my boys. It’s a group of 9 guys who all come in together. Some are tall and skinny, some are heavy, some obviously fit, and some not so fit. They run, do pushups and situps and most especially, they encourage each other. 🙂 I love it. The “fit” ones will jog slowly alongside the heavy ones as they try to keep going around the track. At first they pretty much kept to themselves, but I worked on them over time. 😀 I greeted them every morning with a “good morning gentleman”, and I commented sometimes when I ran alongside one of them – like “you guys are awesome how you support each other that way”. After a few days, several of them started greeting me and wishing me a good day, or even giving me a “keep it up!” call of encouragement.  Like I said, they’re my boys. 😉 They haven’t come recently though, and I miss that daily interaction.

A few weeks ago, I thought about what nickname someone might give me and I puzzled over that for a while. Old lady with short gray hair? The slow lady with one boob? And then I remembered an incident from a couple of years ago when I was running at the IM East indoor track regularly. There were a lot of students that would come in the morning, especially after the 1st of the year when everyone makes their New Year’s resolutions 🙂

One day, I was trundling (Yes, this is a completely made-up word. It’s one of my super powers 😉 and if you saw me run you would immediately understand the definition I’ve come up with for it.) along and noticed two girls that were running alongside me. They’d run a few laps really fast, then walk for a while to catch their breath, then run some more. They were both holding their hands in a “thumbs up” signal and laughing. Then I realized they were looking slyly over at me as they laughed. And I looked down and realized that I was running with both of my thumbs in an up position.

You can imagine the shock I felt that someone would so openly make fun of me like that, but I recognized that they were just immature kids with not much real life experience. Quite often my stance is to protect someone else from being bullied or teased, but this time I was actually the victim. I didn’t say a word to them – just continued on past them and a minute later, I heard them coming up alongside me as they switched from walking to running again. So, I sped up. They sped up again, and so did I.

Each time they would start to come alongside me, I would speed up again. At that time, I was running 4 miles a day and averaging 10:45 minutes per mile for that distance. So, yeah, that’s slow. I’ll never be a racer. But I had tons of stamina. 🙂 At one point, I heard them starting to whistle as they tried to suck in enough air to keep going that speed, and when one of the girls started grunting, I turned around and smiled at them as I pushed myself just a little faster. They stopped to walk then, and as I looked back at them, they scowled at me. So of course I smiled again 😉 I continued to run at that pace for at least another several laps before stopping. So, I may run funny, girls, but I beat you. 😀

Anyway, I decided the other day that if someone had to describe me they would probably call me “Thumbs Up”.  Because I still run with my thumbs up, no matter how hard I’ve tried to change that since being made fun of. (yes, I ended a sentence with a preposition 😉 )

But that would be a pretty good nickname, don’t you think? I’m okay with being the Thumbs Up girl.

I approve. image

Things are okay. image

I got this. image

Thumbs up! 😀

My Giving Key


I almost didn’t finish my run yesterday morning. Just before I hit 2 miles I lost all my energy and felt like I could barely lift my legs. The bottom of my feet, and especially my heel started hurting really badly. I know why – I had a very stressful day at work the day before and so I didn’t sleep very well that night. I had dreamed all night of the work that I needed to get done the next day. But I kept going around the track – one step, then another. Trying to breathe, to focus on something other than how incredibly tired I was. Almost there, three more laps, keep going.

I ended up finishing my run. 🙂 I kept reminding myself that I can do this and that I have strength.

The same thing happened this morning. I slept terribly last night with lots of restless dreams and leg cramps. 😦 So in my run today, I felt the same drag right around 2 miles, but again, I persevered. I was able to finish it yesterday, I told myself, so I know I can do it today, too.

I have strength. I’m not sure I was inherently born with as much strength as I believe I possess today. Much of it has come from life along the way. Especially from this past year, from the support of my family and friends, and even complete strangers.

The Giving Key necklace that my beautiful new niece gave me for Christmas reminds me of that. Strength. Someone at work asked me the other day about the meaning of the key I was wearing, so I thought I’d share about it here.

The Giving Keys is a company which was founded by someone who was wearing an old hotel key as a necklace during her concerts. She decided it would be cool to engrave old unused keys with inspirational messages.  From the website : in a way, we are all like these keys – unique, flawed, scarred, and sometimes discarded by others – she wanted these keys to have their purpose renewed over and over again.

Pretty cool idea, but it gets better. She met a homeless couple and decided that The Giving Keys could be more than just inspirational, it could be actionable as well. She and the homeless couple together founded the company with the intent to provide people a transition out of homelessness. There are stories about some of the people they’ve employed over the years and how this second chance has changed their lives.  It’s really pretty awesome and I am grateful to my niece for having given me this Giving Key necklace so that I could feel like I’m a part of it as well.

If you’re ever looking for a gift to give to someone who seems to have everything, or someone who needs some inspiration, go to The Giving Keys and help others in the process!

In the meantime, last night I purchased a new pair of running shoes. My feet did not hurt today like they did yesterday, even though I was still just as weak and tired. 😀


I continue to struggle with some anemia, and dehydration is always a threat, especially now that I’m running. Even though I’ve been focusing on drinking cup after cup of water every day, and trying to eat a diet high in iron, I still have that tell-tale pounding in my ears (a symptom of both anemia and dehydration). I just have to keep working at it. I saw my surgical oncologist today for my first post-cancer treatment 3 month checkup – all looks good so far.

I am now running 2 miles plus 2 laps each day. I’m slow, but I don’t care. I’m running.

Side effects #1,428 – 1,431… but who’s counting?


I started running a mile a day the Monday after I finished radiation treatments (Feb 1)- like I promised myself I would. After four days I ran just under a 13 minute mile which for me is within my “normal” range when I’m in really bad shape. Hard to believe that a week before I was still doing cancer treatments. But when I’m running it’s very noticeable to me because of the side effects.

    • my armpit got extremely tender and sore (They warned me about this ahead of time. The radiation, as you would expect, causes extremely bad sunburn. It damages your skin. Of course the benefits of reducing cancer recurrence outweighs the risks of it causing skin issues, including melanoma. They had told me not to do anything that would require me to swing my arm against my chest and armpit on that side during radiation. So I promised myself I would start running as soon as radiation was over. Then at my last appointment they told me to wait another 2 weeks, but I decided not to wait. I’d already waited so long- since last April when I was first diagnosed with cancer. Now, I get it. I dried myself slightly non-gently after my shower that first week and it inflamed my armpit scar so badly that it still hurt nearly a week later. Each day that I ran (with my arm dragging against my armpit and chest area with each step), it got more sore. My husband was horrified when he saw what it looked like.) 😮
    • my bra and running shirt no longer fit correctly (After a lap or two, I found my bra slid over towards the “still have a breast side” and caused my strap to keep sliding down. It also caused my shirt to spin on my body. For someone who has extreme sensitivity issues to anything that is slightly out of place, it can seem like torture. I am slowly adjusting.) :/
    • I feel, sit, stand, walk, run lopsided. This goes along with what’s listed above. Things don’t seem to fit correctly anymore (which is understandable), and I find my self looking down to see if I am standing twisted (sometimes I am…). I am working on my posture to be certain I am not hunching.
    • I am tired. I am tired. I am tired.

While I’m running around the track, all of the above things go through my mind. I think I’ve decided I will never wear a prosthetic. I wonder how many other people out there are hiding the fact that they had breast cancer and survived. I want people to know when they see me that you can survive this too. Of course when I’m running here at Jenison it’s full of young ROTC kids who wouldn’t notice the chest of a 49 year old gray-haired woman who’s running around the track with them, but of course it’s on my mind the entire time- I feel the pain, the discomfort, the lopsidedness. I felt self-conscious at first, but then I reminded myself not to care what others think. They don’t know my story and if they judge without knowing it, well that’s on them. I’m a warrior, I tell myself.

Yesterday, as I was running my last lap, one of the ROTC captains told me “You’ve got this! Keep it up!” as I ran past him. It reminded me that I have more people supporting me than I even realize. Wow.

As I run, I also think about all I’ve been through in the past year and wonder where I’ll be a year from now. My life was irrevocably changed that day last April when I first found the lump. For the better maybe. I mean I’m much more aware of what is important in life and I am learning how to live better, I think.

That first week I ran one mile a day. I tried not to time myself, but instead to focus on not stopping until I’d run one mile. The first day, I had some chest tightness. I sort of expected that. I’d been fairly sedentary for many months, and I knew that the chemo can affect your heart and the surgery had affected my chest wall for sure. But I did it. The first week I ran 5 miles. Last week, I added a lap. So I ran one mile plus one lap each day, except Friday (which I took off of work to help my husband prepare for our weekend trip so that he and my 10 year old son could take their Tang Soo Do black belt test, also known as Cho Dan test- but that’s a story for another time). This week, I’ve run one mile and two laps each day. I’m not fast, I’m not pretty, but I’m running without stopping. Good enough for me for now.

I almost didn’t run that 2nd Monday, thinking I needed to let my armpit heal over a long weekend. But I’m glad I went, because that was the day I met Paul.

Paul says he is 68 and he is built like my husband – very tall and fit. I had seen him at Jenison each day before we officially met. He runs for a while then does sets of chin ups on a bar near the track. My first contact with him was simply a smile. That camaraderie type of – hey, we’re both here trying our hardest to get/stay fit. The day we first officially met, he was sitting at the first aid table where he usually rests between sets of chin ups. He was wearing what appeared to be work clothes. You know, the “maintenance worker” type work clothes. It made me think he might be an employee of the Athletic Department or Physical Plant and that he came in here to exercise each day before he started work.

And that day, in my opinion, he was looking a bit forlorn. As I started to stretch out before my run, he told me his problem. “I got all the way here and realized I forgot my workout bag that has my clothes in it!” Then he went on to explain that if he went all the way home to get them, he wouldn’t have time to get his workout in. I thought maybe he had to get to work, but then he told me he was retired.

His time crunch? He wanted to get home in time to see his daughter off to work like he does every morning. He explained that she was an adult who was living with him after having graduated college. Every morning, he drives into Jenison to get his workout in and then he always makes sure he gets home before she leaves for work to tell her good bye.  And in case you’re wondering, she does not travel long distance for work or go overnight somewhere where he might miss her. He simply finds it important to tell her good bye each morning before she goes off to work for the day. He finds value in being there with the people he loves, even if it’s just for the small simple moments, like wishing someone a good day before they head out of the house.

It was very interesting to hear his story. He’d gone to school somewhere in the East (New York maybe? My stupid chemo brain doesn’t allow me to remember details for very long unfortunately.) 😦 He said he had a Master’s degree and had lived here in East Lansing for years, finally retiring. He said he had spent a lot of time here working out with his son, who had now long since graduated and gone on to his adult life. He was telling me about his back issues. That it frustrated him to have been so fit for so many years and then to struggle now sometimes with back pain to where these last few weeks he had to really push himself to just run a few laps. I explained how my husband had also struggled with back issues and that a trip to a physical therapist had done wonders for him. I also told him about the transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine that my husband uses to control pain when he does have an issue. The machine basically stimulates the nerve that is causing your pain and according to my husband it works to block your brain from feeling the pain.


And I encouraged him to see his doctor to get a referral to a back specialist, rather than continuing to suffer and get more physically degraded each day he couldn’t do his full workout. He asked about me and I explained that I had just started back to running after fighting off breast cancer. He called me “one tough lady” which sounded so incredibly like my husband that I had to smile. 🙂

Though Paul and I share nothing more than a “good morning” and a smile, or “run a half mile for me today, Gina” or  “did you see your doctor yet, Paul?”, it’s the fact that we connected – that we take the little bit of time each morning to share encouragement, that makes his friendship valuable to me. Again, he finds value in being there for someone even if it’s just a small simple moment. I’m learning from people like him how to value my life better. How to see the beauty and pleasure in the small things. It’s always there, I just don’t always remember to look. I’m working on that.

So far, in 2016, I’ve run over 13 miles. It doesn’t sound like much, but I am proud of that accomplishment. There were times when I didn’t know for sure if I’d see 2016. I am 13 miles into 2016. And 13 miles into the rest of my life.