Good for you!

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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.

France Got a Haircut (The People of Jenison)

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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

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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. 😀

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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?

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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.

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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.

Challenging myself

I’ve decided to challenge myself to run The Hard Cider Run that’s coming up at Uncle John’s Cider Mill on May 21.

Hard Cider RunHard Cider Run

 

I haven’t been able to run since I first found the lump in April. There was no way I could have run during chemo, recovery from the mastectomy, and now radiation- as they won’t allow me to do any activity that would make my arm rub against the side of my chest (so no rowing machine, no running, etc). I thought about skirting the rules and doing it anyway, but each day my chest and armpit gets a little more tender, so I decided it would be best to wait. 😦  My last radiation treatment (assuming no delays) should be January 26th, so it’s only a couple more weeks.

Right now I am carrying a lot of extra weight from not being able to be very active all this time, and I am sure my asthma will flare up. But I’m not challenging myself to run fast or place like the last run I did a couple years ago (I placed 4th in my age class in that one 🙂 ) My challenge is just to run it. For me it will be one of those “getting back to normal” things. Being me.

Of course, my normal has changed. My life and body has forever been changed by cancer, but I am gravitating towards my new normal. The post-cancer me. That’s the one thing cancer gives you, its “free” gift – a long hard look at your life and who you’ve become. I’ve learned a lot about just letting things be. I get anxious about things so much, and I’ve finally come to some peace with that. I still worry, but I find ways to calm myself and put it into perspective. Another gift from cancer – perspective. Does what is bothering you really matter in the whole scheme of things?

I’ve had people tell me that before when I was anxious, and it never worked for me back then. Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m worried about, so putting it in perspective seems impossible. What I’ve done instead is put the fact that I have anxiety in perspective. Worrying = time and energy wasted. That’s enough now to help me release the anxiety (sometimes it requires a little exercise too but that’s okay 😉 ). Like I’ve said before, worrying in May didn’t change that I had cancer – it just caused me a lot of sleepless nights and distracted days. If my life threatening illness ever turns into a terminal one, God forbid, I certainly don’t want to have wasted my precious time sitting around worrying about something that I can’t change.

So instead, I try to spend my time enjoying my life, enjoying my family and friends. I’m working on doing a lot less complaining (except for gripes about feeling crappy and sore… sorry, I’m working on that too!).  I play with my kids, read to them, write. Things that I used to feel too busy or stressed to do. I had too many other things that needed doing. Not anymore 🙂

Anyway, back to my original point. After my daily radiation treatments end, I am going to start building back up my running. Obviously, I’ll be slow and have to do short runs, and build up slowly, but it will be good for me both physically and mentally.

So, I am planning to run The Hard Cider Run on May 21st this year and I would love it if anyone wants to join me 🙂 I won’t be running fast, but I’ll be running, which is something I couldn’t even consider for the past 8 months. I’ll be the one wearing the “Cancer is a big fat Doodiehead” shirt (assuming it’s long enough to cover my rear 😀 )

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