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AUTHENTICALLY BOLD: REBECCA

BETTER, NOT BITTER

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Cancer

Never Say Never

Another weekend has come and gone, much like the fleeing of those two days of rest often seems to disappear like the fog in the early morning.  Typically, my weekends are filled with the activities of your run-of-the-mill parents:  sports activities of the children, errands necessary to maintain a household, and some type of relaxation activities if there are not upteen birthday parties or family parties to tend to.

This past weekend, I chose to spend the bulk of my “down” time with eleven other adults, five of which were crammed in the same tight quarters of a twelve-passenger Ford Transit van for over 36 hours.  Trust me when I say I’m not quite sure how TWELVE passengers would fit in this vehicle as it was just barely doable with five other adults and our belongings for the 36 hours.

What were we doing that required the rental of a large van and our belongings for 36 hours?  Oh, right.  I signed up for another Ragnar Relay race.  What….on….earth…is…wrong…with…me?

A couple of years ago, I was conned persuaded to join a 12-person relay team to run a 200 mile road race in 24 hours.  I enjoyed the experience tremendously; it was unlike any other race experience and I knew I would do another one someday.  Twelve people sign up to run three times in 24 hours; six people in van 1 and six people in van two covering 36 legs of the relay route by foot passing a wrist bracelet “baton” to one another at pre-arranged transition areas continuously until the entire team crosses the finish line.

Flash forward to May 2016, I completed the Ragnar Relay Cape Cod with some Crossfit and running friends of mine.  As hard as it is to run multiple miles in 24 hours, the adventure afforded by the Ragnar event leaves you feeling an enormous sense of accomplishment, but also, the memories of doing something outside of your comfort zone and an escape from your everyday burdens life.

At the time, I recall saying repeatedly that I would *never* do Ragnar-Reach the Beach New Hampshire.  No way.  No how.  That race is full of MOUNTAINS.   You know…never ending inclines, hills, and did I say MOUNTAINS – as in the WHITE FREAKING MOUNTAINS?   Yes.  No way am I ever doing that!  NEVER.

Oy vey.

In the immediate after-glow of Ragnar Cape Cod, in my delirious and over-tired endorphin laced stupor…..I somehow agreed (it still makes me wince) to do Ragnar-Reach The Beach New Hampshire.  Yes.  Remember I said never?

I was duped. 

I was conned. 

Two of my Ragnar Cape Cod teammates/friends must have batted their eyelashes at me and wooed me while I was inebriated on serotonin.  What kind of friends ARE those; I ask?

Fast forward again to this past weekend, somehow, suddenly a mere four months had vaporized into the time machine and here I was again, sitting in a large white passenger van en route to the deep, dark woods of New Hampshire’s lake region on a Thursday after work.

Why a Thursday you ask?  Because the team I was on was assigned a race start time of 6:45 am on Friday.  We decided it would not be in our best interest to leave at 2 am on Friday to make a three-plus hour trek up to the starting line located at Bretton Woods when we would then have to be awake for however many hours it took us to complete 200 miles to Hampton Beach at the finish.  Fortunately, one teammate in van one and one teammate in van two had homes in the lakes region so we could stay and sleep for a little while before continuing onward North and to higher altitude (aka MOUNTAINS).

Instead of that dreaded 2 am wake-up call from home, we woke at 4:40 am to get the final hour drive up to our race starting point for the safety meeting and check-in of our team.  My nerves began to intensify and my belly reminded me multiple times over that my brain was indeed on crack, or something far crazier than serotonin.  My Gremlin came out and started with her negative banter:

“You are too old for this!” 

“You are not in shape for this!” 

“What WERE you thinking?”

“You are way too fat for this!” 

“You are so slow, you will hold the entire team back!”

“What on EARTH (or any other planet) were you thinking?”

“You are going to fail.” 

“You won’t be able to complete your legs, someone else will have to pick up YOUR slack.” 

On and on and on this terrible self-torture went on.  ENOUGH!  I would shout to myself once in a while.  That sneaky slimeball Gremlin would weasel back in:

“You think Crossfit training is enough for you to run all these miles? HA!”

“Maybe you should have focused on more training runs and not lifting weights!”

“Seriously?  400 meter runs at Crossfit, a few longer runs around town and you think you can do this?”

It was too little, too late; I was committed to a team and fidgeting nervously, anxiously, at the base of Bretton Woods waiting for Runner #1 to go off and wonder if I could start my race with a decent enough run to shake off the demoralizing Gremlin.

I started to look around me and I shivered; but it was only 39 degrees at the base of this particular mountain.  Thank goodness it’s not hot and humid, I gently reminded myself.  Look at that sky!  Look….at….that…sky!  The crisp sky was such a brilliant shade of blue contrasted by the dark green of the mountains around me.  There were hardly any clouds except for a wisp here or there.  As I took in a deep, cleansing and calming breath, I knew it would be okay.

Once the baton was handed to me, I reminded myself to start off comfortably as I tend to want to bolt out – partially in anxiety and anticipation, but partially because the old running star still thinks it resides in my brain and has yet to meet this 42 year old body.

Brain, meet body (again, for the thousandth time).

Body, meet brain (again, also for the thousandth time).

Not only am I 42 years of age now, but my body still suffers from the collateral damage of breast cancer treatment and the never-ending gifts that delivers.  Three different types of chemotherapy have left life-long residual effects such as neuropathy and a post-cancer diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.  Have you ever tried to run several miles on numb feet and with massive joint pain?  For some reason, I do – and for fun!

My first leg of the Ragnar was simply a four and a half mile excursion from Bretton Woods to the Grand Washington Hotel and back to the base of Bretton Woods.  As I took off from the base of the ski lift and the grassy knoll it calls home, I headed into a trail that consisted of a sandy, uneven and rocky bed.  Deep cleansing breaths ensued as I kept my feet steady on the shifting and moving foundation underfoot and I chuckled as I read the “Beware of bears” sign I wobbled past.  Because it was cold, my muscles started to threaten to cramp (damn, why didn’t I warm up more?) and I shook off the pending fear that tried to take over.  Before I knew it, I was out on pavement on Route 302 distracted by the glorious peak of Mount Washington before me.   I continued on and met the Nordic cross country ski trails to run on; again, somewhat of a nightmare for feet impacted by the nerve damage of Taxol.  I found myself chuckling again as I remember what a disaster my one and only cross-country skiing excursion went two years ago at my work retreat on these very same trails.  Why would someone try cross-country skiing when they have severe neuropathy?  Oh, why the heck not?

Distracted by my own laughter, I suddenly found myself at the base of the rear of the Grand Washington Hotel.  It was majestic in its white and red glory against that radiant blue sky. img_5711

The trail evened out and was sure-footed as I wrapped around to the other side of the hotel and around the Nordic Ski Center itself where the front of the Grand Washington caught my breath again.

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Knowing my teammates were waiting, I scaled the uphill driveway to find myself following several other runners scattered along the exit and back out onto Route 302.  As I blasted into the transition area, my team was eagerly and happily waiting for me and I was so pleased to learn I had finished that leg of my race a little faster than I had anticipated.  *THIS* is why I do this, I said to myself.  I *CAN* do this.

My teammates in Van 1 plowed along through majestic mountains and scenery until about 11:30 am where we handed off to the rest of our teammates in Van 2 for them to start their adventures.  We had a few hours to eat, rest and regroup before starting up again for leg two later that afternoon.

By 5 pm or so, the temperature had soared to around 73 degrees and sweat was coming off everybody coming into the transition area for runner #12 to pass off again to runner #1.  My Gremlin started to undermine me and cause me uncertainty for my next leg; the same of which was 6.8 miles.  While runner #1 was out completing his mileage, I worried about what I had gotten into once again.  The pesky questions of self-doubt started to rise and my stomach flip-flopped making me question my lunch choices.  The angel on one shoulder was reminding me of my efforts ten hours earlier and giving me words of confidence.  The devil on the other shoulder was chastising me, berating me, and trying to convince me that I would be unable to do it for a myriad of reasons.

A little after 6 pm approximately, I trotted out of a sandy pit and onto a winding, country road to start my longest leg of the race.  The sun was starting to set with brilliant pinks, reds, and oranges disbursing through the green leaves of the trees.  The farm animals lent their smells to the warm mountain air.  I practiced breathing as I found myself withholding from the anxiety that still remained in the early mile and I tried to shake out the stiffness from sitting in the van for so long coupled with the remnants of rheumatoid flare the week before.

The rolling hills started to turn into much larger rolling hills; with me trying to make up time on the downhill with my friend gravity as I slowly and steadily plowed my way up, up, up the seemingly never-ending and growing hills.  Panic set in as I realized I was only about three miles in; I questioned how I would get through more.  Slow and steady.  Slow and steady.  I recited this to the different beats and tunes surging through my earbuds.

The hills got longer, steeper, and much harder.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted to call my van and plead mercy.  I give up.

No.

Keep going.  You have more.  Slow and steady.  Slow and steady.

I can’t do this.  I can’t.  My feet hurt.  My joints scream.

You have beaten cancer.  You have more.  Keep going.  Slow and steady.

The conflicting dialog continued on in my brain as my body detested the motions I pushed it through.  Suddenly, I hit town and more vans were approaching.  I must be near the transition area.  I can do this.  As I turned the last incline, I saw the crowd of people waiting for their teammates to approach and I knew my very own team would be there waiting.  I did it.

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My van-mates were done around 12:15 am before passing the baton off to van two again.  We had the luxury of getting a shower, a meal, and about two and a half hours of sleep at a family member’s house nearby.  Another 4:40 am wake-up call and we were en route to the final and third-leg runs for our van.

The long and short of it is my body was by now, very sore and achy from the 11.3 miles it completed in the hours before.  Getting in and out of the van was now a challenge, my knees and hips telling me they were not a fan of my activity and my muscles stiffening.  I modified by getting out of the van backwards each time.  Thanks to a wildcard leg for runner #1 and runner #2 in these legs, the mileage was to be determined by both of us.  Runner #1 felt good enough and was a trooper enough to accomplish over 6.4 miles, leaving me with the remaining 4.5 miles to track down for the transition to runner #3.  My van-mates reminded me it looked to be mostly downhill, as words of reassurance and confidence.  Early on, I knew my final leg was going to be a challenge simply because we had lack of sleep, we had too many miles thus far, and my stomach would not tolerate enough fuel for these last miles.

As I tried to maneuver the downhill grades with a faster clip, my quads started screaming at me.  I may have told them to “STFU” and used that momentum for the continuing hills I ensued on this last leg.  Are we not getting closer to the freaking ocean?  Why are there still so many hills I pondered?  My piriformis muscle really let me know it was angry; angrier than my nerve-damaged feet and with more intensity that my quads tried to bail out with.  I walked.  “Just to that telephone pole and then you get your ass moving again, Rebecca!” I said.  I would run until near tears.  I walked.  “Just to that telephone pole and then you get your ass moving again, Rebecca!” I said yet again.  Over and over and over until the final hill of the leg was standing before me.  At this point in time, it looked as if it were Mount Everest before me and I nearly burst into a full on girl cry.  One more massive hill.  I had no choice.  Quitting was not an option.  I walked the entire last hill.  I felt shame.  I felt guilt.  It took me a long time.  I apologized to my teammates who were just so glad I was there.  I started to chide myself again for my lack of performance as I nauseously stepped my sweaty mess of a body into the van.

As we drove to the next transition area, I made a decision.  I had completed 15.8 miles over three legs in 24 hours.  Does it *really * matter how fast or slow I went?  Does it *really* matter if my legs were hilly or not?  Does it *really* matter that I walked some of those big hills?  Really?  No.  It does not.

I said I would never do Ragnar-Reach The Beach New Hampshire.  Yet, here I sat……sore, broken, exhausted, but yet, done.  My never had turned into a reality.  My never had delivered forty-eight hours of memories and adventures with good friends and new friends.

My never had once again reaffirmed that despite the negative Gremlin that lives in my head, I have the power to overrule the nasty words she spews.  My never had also reinforced the belief that despite my sadness that I will never have a “normal” like I had before cancer, my current state of “normal” is okay.  My never allows me to be alive and live…truly live by doing things that are not only a test of my physical body, but my mental ability to overcome.

Putting myself aside, I saw friends of mine take on this endeavor and crush every mile  Friends of mine who are not “runners” as they label themselves, are now the owners of bragging rights for completing distances equal tonor greater than a half-marathon!  What a sight to see!  What pleasure I gained from seeing their smiles and sense of accomplishment!

Life is always full of challenges for all of us, that will not change.  Instead of saying never in the future, I will look at challenges with an open-mind and I will know that I am responsible for whether I choose to accomplish or overcome those challenges as I see fit.  Instead of saying I will *never* do an ultra Ragnar (only six runners for 200 miles, instead of twelve); I now firmly, confidently, and emphatically say, “I choose NOT to do an ultra.  I have zero desire to consider that challenge.  I will look elsewhere for a different challenge.”

Anyone in for Ragnar Cape Cod 2017?

 

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Forgiveness, A Year Later

With death, one often shares thoughts and memories of a decedent to hang onto their love.  Remembrances of past experiences comfort you with a soft embrace and perhaps, warm your heart or bring a ticklish smile to your face.  For me, little signs and occurrences have been sparking my more positive memories as of late. Negative weight my mind harbors has been slowing wedged out of the way like a plow, leaving behind a glistening, fresh road of positive recollections to relish instead.

My dad passed away in March 2011 and my mother died suddenly in April 2013.  Having had severe medical ailments for most of their adult lives, their deaths were not surprising but they were unexpected.  At first, my feelings were of relief for each of them.  Relief, you ask?  Yes, relief.

My father was wasting away in a nursing home, sharing a room with two other nursing home residents.  In my opinion, one of the most unfortunate ways to spend your last moments here on Earth.  The smell of the nursing home: a bizarre mixture of sanitation, fecal matter, urine, and cafeteria food is strong enough to make my hairs bristle.  The visions of countless old people sitting, biding their time until the Angel of Death swoops in to take their last breath is disheartening as you wonder what their life stories are that led them to this “waiting room”.  The relentless sounds of incessant beeps from a multitude of alarms emanates from room after room after room waiting for the over-stressed staff to come and hit the reset button for the umpteenth time.

My mother, on the contrary, was still living independently, albeit in a senior housing facility.  Despite a life filled with codependency and unhealthy relationships, the final years my mother lived were empowering to her on many different levels.  Instead of wasting away in a trapped room, my mother had a social circle in her apartment building and despite using a scooter to maneuver around, she had suddenly become the most active she may possibly have ever been.  Her apartment was a time capsule when my husband and I walked in with my half-sister (*that* is another blog in and of itself) to take care of my mother’s affairs post-death.  The radio was still playing in the living room, set to the oldies station my mother was so fond of and used to sing terribly off-key to.  The dining room light remained on, with light filtering and highlighting the notepad with her blood sugar results she posted the morning of her death.  Her nearly empty tea cup sat cold next to the pen she used to keep track of those aforementioned diabetic readings.  My mother had plans to return home.  She never did.

Despite a very dysfunctional life, the life I grew up with is *MY* life.  For all the horrible memories I retain, from the searing childhood abuse from my mother and the pressure to be that perfect child from my father; my experiences molded me into the person I became.  See Not All Mothers Are Created Alike and I Miss My Dad.

Last year I posted about Forgiveness. Would I be able to forgive my parents for the behavior and treatment they doled out from the moment they moved in with my young family in late 2003, through my cancer battle in 2007-2008 while pregnant with my third child, to the ensuing years up until their respective deaths?  What has happened in a year’s time, you ask?

Alas, I have not completely forgiven or have I been able to resolve all of my conflicting inner-most feelings about my parents.  While my anger and more so, my disappointment, has lessened with the passage of another 365 days; my ability to completely absolve the words and actions of my parents has not been entirely fruitful.  However, I choose to focus not on the negative feelings that reside within me and instead I find myself carrying out acts that implement the more positive acts of each of my parents.  Instead of letting the harboring weight hold me down, little and effortless acts appear in my weekly routines that allows me to pass along the warm memories of my parents to my young children.

My kitchen has lately embraced the smells of recipes that my mom used to make for me; dishes so warm and *huggy* that my children are now enveloped in Grandma’s love.  Recently, I was compelled to make a spinach lasagna so I drove to the grocery store for the very ingredients that will meshed together a fond memory of my childhood into a full bellies and hearts of my own family.  We talked about Grandma that night.

My boss’s mother-in-law saved a special piece of her homemade South African fruitcake post-holiday after hearing my fond recollections of my dad having a love for fruitcake; an odd trait that was passed along to me.  As I savored the small piece of the holiday delight, each morsel helped navigate my brain waves into the cistern of retrospect and suddenly, it was as if my dad was there enjoying a piece with me.  My kids laughed at me rolling my eyes into my head in enjoyment of this little treat, but they understood that the indulgence of these ingredients meant far more than my theatrics and taste buds would allow.  We talked about Grandpa that day.

My ability to forgive may remain challenged, at least for now.  As I embark on my quest to live more authentically in 2015, there is comfort in knowing that with the passage of time, more and more memory *hugs* (as I like to call them) will surface.  Each reminiscence will envelope me in the love I know my parents had for me; even when they were most challenged to show it to me.  Each recollection will allow me to expand upon my own parenting with my children; offering each of my kids a tidbit of the very threads of my being that is now being woven into their beings.  Perhaps, these offerings will equip my young family in their ability to forgive in their years ahead.

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Accountability – Do We Owe It?

Personal accountability seems to be at an all- time low. Do you agree? Owning our actions, our words and every aspect of our daily lives seems to be tantamount. For everything that goes wrong in our lives, we seem pretty quick as a society to cast blame outwardly. Perhaps, it is time we start to reflect inwardly and own up to our personal responsibility for holding ourselves accountable.

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My intention is for this to be a several part series as accountability applies to many components of our lives: from work, to health, to our children, and to each other as a society.  My first post hits a sensitive nerve on a topic way too close to home:  our health and cancer.

Nod your head in agreement as I casually comment on how the cancer diagnoses seem to be rising; or rather, how you know of this one and that one who has battled or is currently battling some form of cancer. Yes? Of course! Even though I am a cancer advocate, I am meeting someone new each week – EVERY @#$&%@ SINGLE WEEK – to whom I am introduced to by someone who wishes for me to offer the “been there, done that” spiel to their friend, their neighbor, their colleague, their aunt, or even themselves.

Personally, I am beyond frustrated as each year BILLIONS of dollars are poured into the various cancer fundraising vehicles….and yet, every week as I mentioned above, I am talking to *new* people with cancer regularly. The so-called quest for a “cure” makes me even more nuts as I do not believe the solution is on the horizon. I wish for the scientists to continue looking for the elusive piece of the puzzle, but in the meantime, what do we do *NOW*?

Why are we not talking about the responsibility we owe ourselves in ensuring our good health?

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What is *CAUSING* these seemingly higher incidents of cancer? Why are we not looking for the root cause just as much, if not more than, the cure?

Cancer is normal. Yes, cancer is very normal. Cancer happens to our cells as part of basic biology; always has and always will. What appears to be different is that our immune systems have become somewhat compromised and our ability to fight off various cancers has diminished. What on earth is compromising our immune systems? Where do we begin………

Whereas I do not wish to get into a scientific debate here, I simply want people to recognize the power of accountability. If we know something carries a higher risk of causing cancer, why do we do it?  Why do we not take a more preventative approach to better health?  Why do we take our bodies for granted?

Prior to 2007, I was one of those people who took my health for granted. I most certainly did. I was barely into my thirties at the time, why would my health even be on my radar aside from regular physicals?

Did I ever stop and think about what I put into my mouth? Sure, when I felt my love handles being more than a handful or when my folds of my stomach climbed upward into flabalanche status. I thought more about eating healthier for a few weeks at a time, but purely for the sake of losing weight for vanity sake. I never once thought about extra weight putting me at a higher risk for breast cancer.  Wasn’t I too young?

Did I worry about microwaving plastic, melamine, or using other modern day items of convenience, including Styrofoam? Why would I? I was much too busy and chaotic to worry about things that made my life faster, quicker, more convenient, more on the go and just *easier*.  Why would these things possibly impact my health?

Did I think about the lotion I rubbed vigorously into every inch of my skin post-shower? No. Why would I? I smelled good and my skin was soft. Did I think more about the different face cream I smoothed into the creases around my eyes or my smile lines? No. What about the cleanser I used at the end of the day to remove my make up?  Who cares what ingredients were in all of these different products?

Did I worry about the stress in my life? Sure, sometimes I did but not as a Mack Truck about to steamroll my very core being into a fight for its life. When I thought about the often times incapacitating stress in my life; I did not picture being able to make choices to *fix* my chaos, I only daydreamed about an escape…..or more so, a *time-out* so that I could focus on just me for a moment.

Oh, I got that so-called time-out alright.  What went wrong in me that I was just shy of a Stage three breast cancer diagnosis at age 33?  I have had plenty of time to consider all the potential *causes* of my cancer.  For a while, I racked my brain thinking of what *it* was that directly caused my disease:

  • Was it all the McDonald’s, Bagel Dogs and ramen noodles I ate in college?
  • Was it the chemicals I was exposed to all the times I spent hanging out with dad at his construction sites?
  • Was it the mercury I used to roll around in my hands after breaking an old-fashioned thermometer?
  • Was it all the body care products I used that were chock full of parabens?
  • Was it the insane amount of stress I was under from a ridiculously demanding job coupled with being a care-taker to my aging and high-maintenance parents while managing my own young family?

Who knows?  The list could go on and on and on…………

I will never know the precise *trigger* of my cancer and I am okay with that. However, I now know my health really begins with ME. I have to be accountable and held responsible for ME.

My children have a much higher rate of disease now, thanks to my diagnosis. I want to enable all three of my kids to be pro-active and make better choices than I was ever equipped to make. I want my friends to be pro-active instead of reactive. Why go through the horrors that I did?  Having watched my best friend go through a much different cancer battle in the past year makes me want to SCREAM this at all of you!

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Do we not owe ourselves some level of accountability? If we knew a battle lies ahead, wouldn’t we run out and get whatever weapons we could in our arsenal, to help us protect and defend our home lines; the very place where our most beloved reside? Of course we would! Why are we not using the same concept with our bodies and our health?

We *KNOW* that eating a palate of fresh vegetables, clean meats and plentiful amounts of water are ideal.

We *KNOW* that regular exercise is good for us.

We *KNOW* that exposure to certain chemicals increases a multitude of health concerns and issues.

We *KNOW* that stress wears us down, makes us sick and causes friction in our daily lives.

Where’s the accountability? What can we do to effectuate change *BEFORE* it is too late?

For me, I do not want to get cancer again so my changes have been pretty dramatic. I want my children to learn from me now, post 2007-2008 and post-cancer. I want my babies to be equipped to make better life choices than I ever did. Will they? I do not know but I want them to have a balance. Yes, Slim Jims are disgusting and totally unhealthy for you. However, having an occasional Slim Jim through-out the year will not cause extensive damage because you are eating your healthy nutrition all the other times, coupled with regular exercise, stress maintenance and using the lowest possible chemical exposure on top of it.

For you, promise me that you will *think* about your accountability here and there. Give yourself a handful of reasons why you should be pro-active when it comes to YOU! We live in a fast-paced, uber-convenient society that takes nearly every luxury for granted. Find five…….. (5)……only five (!) ways you can be more aware in your life. What matters most to you or what is easiest for you to own accountability for in your life?

Here are some easy examples:

Check your grocery cart before checking out. Are there any products that you can find a better version of that has less processed or chemical ingredients? Maybe you do not need that product at all.  Read your labels.

Check your personal care products. Find safe products or perhaps find ones that will work for you with less toxic chemicals. What are your children using? You will find them safer products, right?  Read your labels.

Check your exercise routine. You do not have to be all insane and crazy like some people we know. (Ahem, are you looking at me?) Even if you *despise* exercise, there are so many ways to incorporate a little more in your daily life: park further away, take the stairs, or find a friend to take a walk with before you share that bottle of wine.  What works for you that you will create a habit of?

Check your daily stress. Many of us feel trapped and unable to make a change. Sometimes, a lower paying job or reducing the household bills will make all the difference in the amount of stress taxing you on a regular basis.  Change begins with YOU.

Find a buddy to help keep you accountable. Write your five goals down and share it with your spouse or your friend. When you hit those five goals, aim for five more and before you know it – you have made massive lifestyle changes and you are paving the way for your children, our future generations, to live in a *hopefully* healthier, less cancer filled world.

Are you in?

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Before My Eyes (My Life Flashed)

Before my eyes, last week, my life flashed in front of me. The anxiety that permeated my very being is different than the scare I felt yesterday, when a giant extension ladder fell off the top of the box truck in front of me on the highway. Sure, my heart catapulted upwards into my throat providing an instant gagging feeling and surge of adrenaline as my mind processed the speed of the escaped ladder careening towards my vehicle at least sixty miles per hour or more. As I swerved to avoid the now skidding trajectory, I thanked my guardian angel for allowing me the sense to have at least four to five car lengths between my car and this truck. Scary? Yes. Was I more freaked out with my medical incident of last week? You bet I was.

What happened last week, you ask? I thought I may have cancer again. My life literally flashed before my eyes and the fear of my children and husband growing up without their Momma and wife became surreal.

People assume because I remain in remission from my cancer, that all is well – including me. Heck, that girl is six years out from finishing her treatments…..why is she *still* talking about her cancer? Another friend innocently remarked, “Well, you hit that five year mark, why would you have cancer again?”

Recently, in the past year, I finally graduated to what I call the “big girl” schedule for my oncology follow ups – I only have to go annually now. Yes! Once a year visits to ensure my health remains solid going forward versus the every three month schedule I was on for five years. As much as I wear these oncology graduation milestones as a badge of KickAss, there is a little piece of me that has a heightened sense of anxiety that I only see my miracle workers once a year. A year is a VERY long time in Cancerland.

Last week, I confidently announced that I was going to walk into my oncology visit for my first annual checkup in my typical badass style. I was going to give love to my beloved doctors and be on my way in a half hour or less. After all, I have been working out at least three to four times a week and my nutrition has never been better. I finally have my joint pain under control, whether it is from the remnants of my chemotherapy collateral damage or actually from the rheumatoid arthritis. It has been several years since I have felt this good.

BOOM. CRASH. SREEECCCCH.

The sounds of my world coming to a skidding halt after I pointed out what I thought was a little nothing lump on the back of my neck.

On sight, my medical oncologist believed it to be clinically benign, but in Cancerland everything has to be proven otherwise…meaning a biopsy has to be done to ensure that a strange lump is non-cancerous. In triple negative breast Cancerland, I have recently learned that all bets are off – this disease is a beast in and of itself and everything, I mean everything, must be ruled out for cancer regardless of how much time has elapsed since treatment. Oy.

My doctor said she would schedule a fine needle biopsy for me and we would get it done. Fine. I was calm and collected. No big deal. I remain healthy, I thought to myself. Moments later, my doctor came in and announced that pathology was on their way over within fifteen minutes. Cool.   Let’s just get this done today.

The pathologist walked in and promptly asked if she could perform the biopsy with no lidocaine, as it causes the area to swell and make it harder to obtain a sample. Sure. I have had three kids with no pain meds, what’s a little needle to the back of my neck. Eek.

After jabbing the needle around the lump in my neck, the pathologist seemed slightly frustrated. The lump was hard and dense, not allowing her to get any tissue sample to review under the microscope. Did I mind if she tried again? Sure. The latest images of The Walking Dead entered my mind again as I let this sweet, petite woman jab yet a second needle around the back of my neck. Thoughts permeated my brain like: “Is she close to my jugular?” “Boy, I have been hanging around the gross kids and their stupid movies too long now!” “Oy, what the hell….why is this lump hard and what does this mean?”

The pathologist was not successful in obtaining a tissue sample from the second biopsy. Two neck stabbings down and no results on what this thing was in my neck. I kept my cool. Previous fire drills (aka medical scares) have allowed me to try to remain calm and collected until my medical team gives me a reason to be otherwise. (Okay, my bowels were starting to gurgle!)

My medical oncologist returned and said we need to figure out how we will biopsy the lump so we can know exactly what it is. After she left the room again for a brief period of time, she returned but this time with my beloved surgical oncologist a step behind her.

“Ohhhh, look who I happened to find strolling down the halls!” She exclaimed. The partially retired Chief of Surgical Oncology, two steps behind my doctor; the man who helped to save not only my life, but the life of my unborn child. After I jumped up to give my beloved doctor a hug, I then took pause……they’ve brought the big guns in. Holy poop. I started to debate myself: Dr. Q and I have a special bond, is he here because he loves me and wants to be sure I am okay? Dr. Q is top notch and knows his way around Cancerland….did my other doctor bring him in because…..well, you know……my heart-rate quickened.

Long story later, the big guy decided I needed a punch biopsy and right then and there. He would do it himself, in fact. As relieved as I was to have my savior there and to do the procedure himself, my nerves were on high alert. In fact, during the biopsy itself, I had what I consider my first panic attack. I nearly stopped the biopsy because my heart was pounding OUT OF MY CHEST. If I ever felt like I was having a heart attack, it was at this very moment when my doctor was carving a hole into my neck.

After the punch needle biopsy, my doctor sat down and sighed. With that sigh, he shared with me that triple negative breast cancer can metastasize to the skin. Wait, what? What the what, what? I fiddled with my hearing aid to be sure I heard him correctly.

Post treatment I have been coping with the fear of a recurrence; after all, triple negative breast cancers usually come back in the liver, lungs, brain, bones…….but the skin? That was a new one for me. A quick jaunt to my Triple Negative Breast Cancer forum on Facebook and the question posed was met with countless women who have had skin metastases from all over the world, including those with neck nodules. Holy crap. I quickly jumped off the internet for a bit as it is not the most reassuring place for someone who thinks they may have cancer.

Fortunately, for me, I have some of the best care in the world and despite the fact that my life flashed before my eyes while waiting for results, I got the call from the Big Man himself and heard the magical words every cancer survivor longs to hear: your tumor was non-cancerous. Phew. Phew. Phew.

Despite being six years out from treatment and feeling as healthy as I have been in a very long time, the journey through Cancerland is never quite done. Despite my risks of recurrence going down significantly after five years post-treatment, there is still a risk of recurrence of my disease. I will carry that with me for some time forward.

The thoughts that I am beyond my cancer were resurfaced last week and the feelings made me very vulnerable. Wait, I am the advocate now! I help mentor women through their breast cancer! I am sooooo done with my cancer.

Eff. I had a bit of a reality check last week. Any thoughts I had of moving on from the pink world were firmly re-implanted in my very core. Despite the fear and the vulnerability, I do hope that my experiences shared will alleviate the thoughts of another who is going through the same thing. In the meantime, I will press on and continue to make healthier choices for me and my family. There’s way too much life to live before it flashes before my eyes.

2014-10-21 13.22.21

Have You Ever Looked….*THERE*?

During a recent vacation, I was forced to take an indoor shower. Yes! The horror of an indoor shower while on Cape Cod when the luxury of a warm temperature, blue sky, and ocean salt air infused outdoor shower exists.

outdoor shower

Let us not discuss the reasons behind why the indoor shower was utilized, but instead, let us ask the reason(s) why on EARTH the owners have a full length mirror hanging daftly on the wall just outside of said indoor shower.

While brushing my teeth on our first night, I was reminded that the beautiful farm house we rented has a large mirror above the bathroom commode and when your eyes boringly scan the horizon, there is suddenly a reflection of your backside – a full length vision – courtesy of a full length wall mirror behind you.

mirror

This year I promised myself that I would not go through the typical, annual charades of self-loathing on my body while on vacation. Yes, the constant, internal verbal bashing that occurs every third week of July was NOT going to happen this year. Enough is enough.

As I sat on the beach, the Gremlin started up and I would envy an athletic looking mom that walked by, before telling myself that I am also an athletic mom – albeit with a very different body. That is all. Enough!

When I reached for my cover up to literally cover up after a swim in the ocean with my children, I paused for a moment and I asked myself if I truly needed the *safety* of hiding behind my thin piece of cloth. Yes, yes, I did need it at that moment. Keep your judgments to yourself.  My flabalanche is rather invisible behind these threads.  You do NOT see it.

Ok, I thought I was doing fairly well until the unfortunate Great Indoor Shower event. As I bent over to dry myself off, I happened to inadvertently take a peek .

Ohhhhhh Myyyyyyyy GAWDDDDD.

shock and awe

Oh. My. Oh….heavens. Oh….geesus….. Oh. Oh. Ohhhhhhhhhhhh. Whoa.

You see, as I took my terry towel on the insides of my legs and ankles to dry off from washing; I was not-so-graciously bent over.  I *MISTAKENLY* peeked behind me, through my legs and, and, and….there was *THAT* mirror.

Shock and awe!

shock and awe lucy

Should I stay or should I go?

peeking

It is not every day that a woman gets a full-sized view of the entire tundra of where the sun does not shine. Part of me was horrified and I could not stand to peek for a millisecond longer.  Even with an imaginary thong on, the view was nothing remotely close to the recent social media images of Miley Cyrus and her nethers. A piece of me then halted; I realized that three of the greatest human beings on Earth had humble beginnings in this far part of my world (and yes, god forbid they read this they will cringe and crumple in disgust at their Momma.  Sorry, kiddos!)

miley cyrus

My eyes were suddenly magnetically drawn to the quarter-sized mosquito bites that singed red on my artic white ass cheeks. Literally, I told you, the sun does not shine………well, at least the fear of ass melanoma is likely slim-to-none positive. However, I am now pondering the random thought of whether a mosquito takes a bite into my gluteus maximus with the same ardor that one would chew on a succulent morsel of a rump roast. Anyone?

As my vision shifted and focused like an electron microscope, the scattered hairs demonstrated a need to take better care while shaving – slow the heck down and graze that razor over the vast land of skin, lady!  The latest issue of Cosmopolitan at the hair salon does not promote the mangy, homeless cat look, am I right?  The very chemotherapy that left me bald and looking like a pre-pubescent eight year old, well, my hair follicles are now pretty pissed off. Yes, there is hair……here, there, everywhere……and I must take better care to razor-fy myself with every future shave. No, I cannot bring myself to my nearest hair removal salon and ask them to……….   Did you know my toes and feet could likely resemble Sasquatch if I did not keep my razor near? Since when did *THAT* happen? (I redirected your attention there, intentionally so.)

Enough is enough.

Somehow, I came out of the reflective stupor I was mesmerized by and decided to very quickly get the heck out of the upstairs bathroom. Clothes went on and my thoughts recalculated as we drove to the beach.

Remember that promise to myself? Mmmmhhhhmmmm. Yes, yes, I do. My brain fought the urge to go down the self-destructive path.  Instead, I had to muscle up every ounce of inner strength; and I chose to focus on all that this body HAS done again (please recall I have a hearing impairment….I need things repeated repeatedly in order to *hear* them).

Instead of the flabalanches, cellulite, stretch marks, surgery scars, radiated tissue, extra weight and aging spots upon my being, I decided the mirror reflects only what I choose to see.

My vision of this body has earned every notch and then some over 40 years; my body has:

  • birthed three babies and lost two others early on
  • fought off an aggressive form of breast cancer and won
  • run a marathon
  • completed a triathlon
  • run several half-marathons and countless other road races
  • regularly picked up heavy things and put them down at Crossfit
  • hiked mountains
  • cuddled tears
  • belted out ridiculous laughter
  • advocated for others
  • championed for a better world for all of us
  • hugged friends, and still
  • sprouts way too much hair.

What’s your reflection in your mirror?  Will you be a kinder, gentler person to yourself?

be kind

Recently, I became so frustrated with the amount of money flying out my front door that I decided change must occur in our household. With children in multiple activities that cost nearly an arm and a leg, we have to start making some other sacrifices because I do not want to live in a yurt when I am 65 (unless that is the choice I make, not the only option I have because of a non-existent retirement account).

The first place I looked was our “Triple Play” statement. Are you kidding me? Are you #*&$@ kidding me? Every month we pay for a home phone that we NEVER use (because we are NEVER home). Every month we pay for a cable package that does not include the premium channels, but has 652 other channels – yet, constant complaints about how nothing is on are daily mantras from the creatures that reside in our dwelling. Every month we pay for internet speed which drives nearly every form of technology; namely technology that household members are ON while complaining that there is nothing on the television.

Enough. I called our provider and said to nix the home phone (911 will be fine from our cell phones and THAT hefty bill we have been paying for the past three years while in this home). I asked our provider to nix the cable, with the exception of the basic news channels for a much more comfortable $10/month. I asked the provider to please leave the internet alone (and promptly signed up for Netflix for yet another comfortable $10/month). We are saving over $115/month! Yes, that went out the door for another new bill almost as soon as I told the provider to cancel those aforementioned services (damn kids)!

With that, we started watching the series, “Breaking Bad” as we had heard so much about it and I am a fan of Bryan Cranston since his “Malcolm in the Middle” days. Honestly, I had no idea or any expectations of the AMC drama – as I knew it involved Bryan’s character, Walt White, making and selling meth. I had no idea that Walt would be making and selling meth because he has lung cancer. Nor did I have any idea the flooding emotions that would overcome me with many of the passing episodes.

“Breaking Bad” is one of those shows that sucks you in with a magical force; a deep drawing breath pulling you closer and closer – not unlike that of a Dementor pulling the life out of Harry Potter. You cannot get enough and you are conflicted: making and selling drugs is bad, but Walter White wants to provide for his family before he succumbs to what appears to be a terminal case of lung cancer. You find yourself shaking your head in disgust because of the process and community involved with methamphetamine; but you find yourself rooting for the family as their dad sacrifices to ensure their future without him in it to provide.

In my own cancer battle, I recall wanting to make the best decisions for my family and not necessarily me. I knew I had to stay alive at any cost because I had two young children and another on the way. Every single sacrifice had to be made in order to ensure my children did not lose their mother prematurely; that was my driving factor and I did not feel there was any other choice. Perhaps when Walt was being pressured by his family to make that same decision that I had to (saving yourself regardless), my tears flowed heavily because now, six years post-treatment, I understand that a choice of treatment plan is precisely that – a choice, a decision that ultimately needs to be made by the person diagnosed with cancer themselves. Every situation is different; every family is unique and will do whatever they need to do in order to keep a loved one alive. However, at the end of the day, the decision on what poisons, or surgical procedures, or costs to incur is up to the body the cancer resides within. I learned this the hard way when a friend of mine battling stage four breast cancer met with me to tell me she was done. My own brain could not fathom the selection of words she was conveying to me; the side effects and quality of life were not worthy enough to warrant another year or so on this planet. But your kids! She quickly and firmly retorted with a resounding explanation of how she did not want her kids to remember her last weeks/months/years as a supremely sick being. That night, in our local restaurant, my friend gave me a priceless gift of a different perspective, an empathy if you will, but also an empowerment in realizing how important it is for each of us to have the choice in what we do for our bodies; particularly when given a cancer diagnosis.

breaking bad chemo

I cried for Walter White; a fictional character on a television series because his family was not giving him the right of a choice of what was best for him.

Every time Walt vomits, my eyes well up as my own vivid recollections of spasmodic, wrenching, chemotherapy induced projectile vomit rifled through in lighting speed to the front of my memory banks. My oldest is exceptionally compassionate to the scenes because she remembers her mom clinging onto the kitchen sink calling her father for help in between the heaving.

breaking bad walt vomit
Photo courtesy of AMC

As Walt gears up for surgery and acts loopy from the pre-surgery drugs, I laugh with him in recalling my own silly pre-surgery moments; such as when I was in for my wire localization lumpectomy. I laid nervously on the table in radiology waiting to be wheeled into surgery with a very thin, long wire standing up approximately five inches or so out of my left breast. Since it was early December, I joked about how I looked like a remote control car my young son would be getting for Christmas. Or the time the Chief of Radiology wrote a very large signatory initials on my left shoulder to document the proper side for my sentinel node surgery and I clumsily teased him if he autographed all of his art work (he did not find it funny, but I laughed from a drug induced stupor as if I were suddenly on the same caliber of comedy as Lily Tomlin).

I feel every ounce of Walt’s anxiety as he nervously awaits dreaded diagnostic test results, such as an MRI. Ask any cancer survivor and they will tell you, the waiting game is nearly enough to derail you and force you into the fetal position until THAT call comes in or you drag your feet into your oncologist’s office. Even my husband comments on the scenes waiting for the doctor to convey the news, with a repulsive feeling of the dread that accompanies the inevitable words outlining the good or the not so good.

My emotions bubbled up when Walt first held his newborn baby; because I knew, I knew what was going through his head.  After all, I lived it by birthing my own baby smack dab in the middle of my cancer treatment.  The first thought you have is, “Will I live to see this child grow up?”  Yes, I was relating to a fictional character who makes meth!

breaking bad new baby
Photo courtesy of AMC

Watching the show regularly (one plus of streaming your television is instant gratification and not waiting another WHOLE week before the next episode), I question why I suddenly have such strong cancer emotions six years after I finished my treatment. With each passing year of good health, one would assume that I am well on my way to putting the cancer behind me. If it were only that easy!

Not only did I focus so much on getting the cancer OUT OF ME, I neglected to let myself feel the emotions that come with the territory. I shoved those ugly feelings wayyyyy down deep within. Yes, I did. However, the real lesson here is that you may never assume anything in the cancer world. You cannot control what you feel and when you feel it. Six years later, I am still sorting through unexpected emotions just as my body still struggles with the “Collateral Damage”. More so, now being in a position to support my childhood best friend through her cancer battle allows me to process some of the emotions I buried. For what I did not feel for myself, I feel for her…..my eyes well up at the injustice of it all – the cancer world pounds the crap out of you and stays with you for the remainder of your life.

As we pore through Season Three, my heart breaks for Walter White and his “Breaking Bad” family because the pain they portray is very real. The writers and the actors have done a supreme job at conveying the realistic and compromising world of cancer, the unexpected and often times inappropriate reactions as well as the assumed responses from those affected.

In particular, the conflict of right versus wrong (is it okay to make/sell drugs to leave a legacy for your family because you think you are terminal) toys with the obscure reality of whether you may live or die when you are diagnosed with cancer. Would I do the same as Walt has chosen to do? Would you? Would I make different choices in my cancer battle now versus what I did back then? Would I choose to handle my emotions in an altered manner had I known then what I know now?

breaking bad bad good

There are no answers. I am now awake, however.  I choose to live in the now and experience, feel, cope with the emotions that may surface. I cry at the television when it strikes a chord with a relevant cancer scene. I get angry watching my friend going through six hundred and fifty three seemingly never-ending chemotherapy treatments. I am anxious when I plop my boobs on the cold tray as they are about to be squished and scanned for any sign of recurrent disease. I also feel the energy kick of the kale surging through my vein. I experience the strength of cut and weakened muscles as they pound through a WOD at Crossfit. I hug my friends who are struggling to get through their journeys. I laugh at the amount of money we are saving by reducing our spending; and know that even though my children have this new savings spent before I actually touch it that I do not need to sell any meth to buy more time with them. I have it, even if some of it is spent watching “Breaking Bad” together.

breaking bad I am awake

Fly Free – Revisited

Last weekend, within moments of  when I sat down at my oldest’s soccer game, I had a visitor:

baby dragonfly

Yes, a baby dragonfly!  Hundreds of people at these fields and here I am within moments of arrival…..you have to believe.  Although, this dragonfly will grow up to be one of the gigantic variety that I compare to that of a pterodactyl and is not quite as beautiful as some its opalescent counterparts that shimmer in the sunlight; I took the visit to heart – literally.  Cara came to mind and my heart momentarily squeezed tighter as my recollection become more vivid.  I wondered to myself:  Is she now able to Fly Free

dragonfly

Shortly thereafter, I revisited my former blog,  Confessions of a Curvy Girl link “Fly Free” and I know the answer.  I now daydream of a world that may not necessarily be cancer free, because that is simply how our bodies work, but perhaps, a world where there is much less cancer, better treatments for those that do get cancer leaving little or no Collateral Damage, and the ability for humans to revel in the vastness joys of life!

I am re-sharing the content from the original “Fly Free” post from August 2012 here:

I will never forget the day, approximately three years ago when I was sitting at a local watering hole (a pond, not a drinking place people) and a beautiful dragonfly landed right on me. The beach was filled with people, but yet, this beautiful, metallic blue creature landed on me and stayed with me for an uncommonly long time. My friend commented on this unique moment, as did others – while I simply embraced the peace and beauty his magnificent creature brought. Why did it choose me?

Shortly thereafter, dragonflies were very common around me – and in my presence. Of course, I took particular note of them after the pond incident, but big, beautiful, bird sized dragonflies and small, fragile damselflies hovered around me with an odd frequency. My family even noticed their increased company around my being and I could only wonder what it meant.

Of course, google now being my best friend – I researched the various meanings of dragonflies and what their significance could mean in my life. Here, I’ve summarized them:

  • Change – change in the perspective of self-realization and understanding into the deeper meaning of life (looking beyond the surface).
  • Power and Poise – ability to accomplish objectives with simplicity, effectiveness, elegance and grace.
  • Clear Vision – discovery of one’s own self; by removal of self-created illusions. Iridescence being the property to show oneself in different colors or lights.
  • Living IN the moment and living life to the fullest – by living in the moment you are aware of who you are, where you are, what you are doing, what you want, what you don’t and living moment-to-moment. Living without regrets.
  • Uninhibited Vision – open mind and ability to see beyond the limitations of human self.

Wow. Right?

After my cancer battle, my perspective was completely different than before. As cliché as it is, my self-realization of how precious and how short life truly is was magnified as if under an uber-powerful electron microscope.   I tend to over-analyze things in general; however, a clear vision certainly guides one down their destined path.

Another source indicated that dragonflies may often symbolize the appearance of a deceased one in your life. Am I being visited?

Dragonflies are known to live a very short time; hence, the correlation to living in the moment and living life to the fullest. Do dragonflies make the most of their short time on Earth? It’s certainly a good reminder to us humans to make the moments count.

Despite the flight of the dragonflies, I struggle and I have yet to learn how to cope with the shortness of life in people. Some of us die way before our time – before our flight is over; this I understand. I also comprehend (albeit with much frustration), that we will never know the “why”. However, I cannot seem to come to grips with those who die at a young age, particularly because of cancer.

People have offered me various explanations: Scientifically, it’s survival of the fittest – we cannot all live to be 100. Religiously, it is all a part of God’s Master Plan. Medically, his/her body cannot outlast, outwit or outplay cancer and it’s deviance to all modern medicine.

With news of another local warrior entering hospice earlier this week, I have been consumed with heavy thoughts. Every little moment of my day, I am in her shoes. Every moment is a BIG moment.

For example, my daily shower is shrouded by thoughts of how this woman will soon be unable to take a shower and bathe herself in the latest smell of Bath & Body Works shower gel. My morning cup of coffee is savored knowing that the simple pleasure of enjoying a favored drink will soon be no longer an option for her. The latest pop song on the radio may be one of the last enjoyed by her ears. My tears flow heavily for her.

I hug my children so much tighter; knowing that soon, the warm embrace of this beautiful woman will only be a fond memory that her children will have to cling on to. I tell my friends I love them, because I know that in due course, the wonderful friends that have supported this kind soul will cherish all the times they were honored to have with her.

I cry. I cry. I cry.

I only went to high school with her and with her husband. I have taken the small measures that I could during her battle, to try and offset the burden that comes along with a cancer diagnosis; as many in our tight community have done for their family. I am not close enough to this amazing soul that I should be feeling the amount of pain that I do feel.

I cry. I cry. I cry.

Perhaps, my heart is breaking because of my own experience with cancer and my own threat of the possibility of death. I am in her shoes for the time being. I cannot fathom the pain that she and her family are going through as she prepares to finalize her journey. I only know that every time I see a dragonfly going forward, I will think of her. I will know she touched the lives of so many people in her brief stay. The strength she showed during her darkest days; her relentless courage; the brilliant and iridescent smile she afforded everyone in her presence; the vision throughout that life should be lived in moments and memories made………she will fly free.

Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston

boston rjs numberThe journey to the Boston Marathon is truly unlike any other experience. Sure, there’s the twelve week (or longer) training programs you follow to pave the way for your body and your mind to start preparing for race day itself, but nothing, truly prepares you fully for anything and everything that can happen.

The winter of 2013-2014 was known as the one plagued by the Artic Vortex; many of us runners had no choice but to log mile after mile after mile in temperatures that would barely break the freezing point. We were layered upon layered with clothing, gloves, hats, face masks, wool socks, Yak-Trax and more to muscle our way through what Hal Higdon told us to for each respective week.  Our plans revolved around when we had to run, how long we had to run and life in general simply had to follow that course.

We runners try to do everything in our power to prepare for the big day, whether it’s the veterans who have done countless marathons, or us newbies who have only ventured as far as our half-marathons and our longest training runs have taken us. We use body glide to lube up every part of us to avoid the dreaded chafing everywhere that skin may rub.  We clip our toenails super short. We find clothing that makes us most comfortable, often ditching the undies and running commando in the simplest way to prepare. We carb-load the week before and we drink gallons upon gallons of water or Nuun-laced water to be sure our glycogen stores and hydration levels are prime come the day of the big dance.  We double, triple, quadruple check our supplies and make sure in our typical OCD style that EVERYTHING is ready and we are PREPARED.  We are a neurotic bunch.  We check again.  Yes, we do.  (Okay, we check one more time, too).

Many of us are not talented enough to qualify via time for the prestigious Boston Marathon, so we offer to fund-raise and pray for a spot on a charity team. I was fortunate enough to land a spot on Team Eye and Ear for the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Institute and given a minimum (eek) balance I had to raise in exchange. Coupled with the intensive training that lied ahead for me back in December, I also had the challenge of raising several thousand dollars.

boston team eye and ear jerseyFast forward and suddenly, April 21st was upon all of us – race day was here. Carefully laid out clothes were put on after pounds of body glide was applied. For me, I body glided nearly everywhere because at the Disney Princess Half-Marathon I experienced some horrific chafing on my inner arms due to the excessive humidity.  Deodorant was forgotten (and yes, I noticed profoundly of that forgotten task around mile 20 – peeeeee uwwwww). I apologize to any and all people I hugged smelling like a rotten rhinoceros.As luck would have it for me (TMI ALERT!!!!!), my period showed up just in time.  @#&%$@?, thank youuuuuuu body.  (Yes, I can hear all the women uttering complete empathy for me at this point whereas the unfortunate men reading this are raising eyebrows and saying we could have done without that piece of information).  Running with your period sucks okay and it changes EVERYTHING.  Fortunately, for me, I only had to relieve myself ONCE during the race so I chose to ignore whatever else was going on down there until I got home that night.  Your assumptions are correct, I last peed about 12:30 pm about mile 5-6 of my run in Framingham and I did not go to the bathroom again until 9:30 pm that night.  Welcome to the land of Marathon running.

Filled with nervous energy that morning, we shuttled to Athletes Village in Hopkinton, which looked to me as Woodstock should have looked, except we were bouncing around to a nervous energy, not some hippie style music, and no one was smoking anything (maybe we should have been?). We made the half-mile trek with literally thousands of others to find our way downtown to the most profound starting line of my life. All this preparation for months, and here I was, quite unsure of what lied ahead of me and what to really expect.

Just like that, we were off…and running, as fast as thousands of sardines packed in a 29 foot stretch of starting line and road would allow. I was overwhelmed by the amount of spectators already screaming my name and ringing cowbell for me. Before I knew it, mile three was approaching and I realized I better start grabbing some water as it was much hotter than the weatherman had prepped me for. As soon as I started worrying about the weather, I spotted some of my family on the sidelines freaking out! My sister-in-law, her husband, their children were so happy and cheering for me – so I stopped for a selfie with them and on I went.

Somewhere along the way, I grabbed a drink of Gatorade (against my better judgment) because we were coached to alternate water/Gatorade every other mile. Having this be my first marathon, I thought it would be wise to listen to the professionals. I should not have. I know my body better and I have always used JUST water. By end of mile six, I was feeling particularly hot and incredibly nauseous.

The week prior to the marathon, I woke up with a massive chest cold and barking like a seal.   #@#(*&%@#$#(@*!!! All winter I remained healthy, with the exception of a one day stomach bug, but NOW, one week prior to the race of my life, I am hacking up a lung?!? I did not prepare for that.

After ingesting the Gatorade, I began coughing and felt like each cough would end in a projectile of vomit. The phlegm from the chest cold seemed to be hovering behind my trachea covered with sticky, sweet Gatorade.  Trust me, have you ever felt like puking in front of thousands of spectators? Not a good feeling whatsoever and I struggled to keep the contents of my stomach from surpassing the hollow in my throat. The last time I puked in a race was the Falmouth Road Race in 2003 when it was ninety degrees out and 90 percent humidity. Somehow, as the coughing worsened, I found a small stretch with no spectators and a bush – I ran over, gagged a few times and dry heaved into the bushes until the Gatorade was no longer in my system. Onward, I went.

My friend, Michael, had caught up to me earlier in the race, and we were running together as I started to gag on Gatorade.  I apologized for having to cough, gag, sputter, puke and we continued on. Poor guy. (Believe me, I *tried* to get him to go ahead and leave me be).  Within minutes thereafter, I felt a sharp snap in my right hip. @#(*$&#(*@#. A few minutes later, four more snaps in my right hip and the excruciating pain ensued.  I was having a panic attack about being able to finish the rest of the race, as I was only one-third of the way in. As the pain progressed, my weaknesses surfaced and I thought strongly about bailing out of the race at mile ten and again at mile twelve. As we passed two medical tents, I was lured by the premise of listening to the pain in my body but I knew too well that the medical attendants would not let me re-enter once I stepped out. Onward I went. I had no choice.

Race day hit nearly seventy degrees at its warmest point. Only a fellow Team Eye and Ear teammate from Florida was adequately equipped for the pools of salt and sweat that rushed down our faces last Monday. Several people I know were struggling with staying adequately hydrated, perhaps battling severe nausea thereafter or even having to drop out at a certain point because of confusion and disorientation.  Others simply had to take more walking breaks or slow their pace in order to persevere through the afternoon highs.

The finish line of the Boston Marathon is much more symbolic to me and to many of my friends. Sure, the famed marathon is bigger than life and surreal. However, for me, to cross that finish line meant so much more – as I blogged previously, 26.2 Examples of Inspiration, finishing this trek from Hopkinton to Boston was the completion of a few chapters of my life allowing me to move forward. The venture over the vinyl mark on Boylston Street really does mean I am done with cancer, those steps forward are more steps away from my deceased parents, the tumultuous years and ensuing bad feelings that linger, but more importantly, my triumph in crossing that finish line gives other cancer patients *hope* – and I will say it again, I am living proof that cancer can be beaten and we are able to take back that control we lose during our experiences.

Cancer is a very scary world and those of us who have been afflicted often have fears of recurrence, despite all sorts of statistics thrown our way and milestones that we strive to hit. Knowing that I took my body back and completed the Boston Marathon may just give someone else the little bit of hope that they need to persevere in their own daily marathon. For if I have given one person that teensy bit of hope, I will feel very good about taking my journey here.

Needless to say, the race carried on and I saw friends and family and critical mental points. I knew after the twelve mile mark that I could really not ever bail; and with Michael’s encouraging words (“We will walk the rest if we have to!”), I pushed through the pain. My mind constantly battled with my body; and yet, as soon as I thought of a few of the names I had carefully written on my shirt, I found more strength to put one foot in front of the other for another mile and another mile thereafter.  I saw beloved friends at mile 6, mile 15, mile 16, mile 17, mile 18, mile 19 and again at mile 21 before those on the final stretch.  Thank you for helping to carry me forward.

boston friends picboston iacaboni pic boston mile 18 pic

My last meltdown was at mile twenty-two, not only was my hip slowly about to come out of its socket, but the blisters on my neuropathy-filled feet were popping with every step. Thinking we had just two miles ahead of us, I forced myself to quell the pain. Suddenly, an awesome cheerleader on the side yelled, “You’ve got this guys, only four miles left!” I angrily turned to Michael and asked him to repeat what this spectator had just screamed. He confirmed alright that we had four miles left to go. Mentally prepared for two more miles of extreme discomfort had just doubled before my eyes.  Yet, I must go on as the Prudential Tower was in sight. Moments later, I passed a man with a prosthetic leg and reminded myself that I had NOTHING to complain about.

I thought about Jackie and Cara; I knew they would need me to finish this race.  I pulled up my blue and yellow Boston Strong inspired Athleta running capris, courtesy of my best friend, Karen who is currently undergoing treatment for leukemia.  I thought of her literally…on…my….ass…..  How fitting?  Karen was riding my ass to get to the finish line.  Suddenly, I could HEAR her voice telling me to dig deep and finish this damn race.

We *finally* turned right onto Hereford Street and I looked up the slight hill to see that the crowds were still in full force on Boylston Street. Despite the hours that had transpired, the message of Boston Strong rallied through shortly after 6 pm, when the majority of the other runners had long since completed their race. Michael and I charged on and looked at each other – we both verbally announced that once we turned onto Boylston Street, every step of the remaining two-tenths of a mile would be RUN to the finish line.

Michael pulled ahead of me, while I was trying to soak in every face that was then screaming my name, clapping for me, and ringing more cowbell for me. I heard my name in a familiar voice from behind me and across the street, which with my hearing impairment is something of a miracle in and of itself, only to see my good friend Deana and her significant other, David cheering me on. I could not stop or go backwards, for fear I would not finish with my injury, so onward I ran.

As the crowd got louder, I threw my hands up in the air in triumph! Twenty four years after I first wished to run the Boston Marathon at the age of sixteen, over six and a half hours after I first stepped over the starting line in Hopkinton, and here I was……..running down Boylston Street. The tears escaped me and the inconsolable sobbing began. I had runners before me, I had runners behind me, but here I was in the middle of the street with thousands of people cheering my name and applauding my finishing efforts. For that brief moment in time, this was MY race and I felt as if I were Meb Keflezighi about to soar across that finish line.

I spotted my family in their red Team Eye and Ear shirts in front of Crate and Barrel, I ran over to hug them and sob all over their happiness-filled faces. My oldest quickly proclaimed, “Momma, go finish YOUR race!”  I hobbled on another 200 yards to the blue and yellow line that signaled the completion of my journey. More tears, uncontrollable sobs and a feeling of victory oozed from every ounce of my body.

boston official finish

A fellow Team Eye and Ear teammate had finished at the same time and we were instantly interviewed by an unknown reporter before I was greeted by my exuberant family and a couple of work colleagues. I had a compelling need to go get my medal and hobbled down further until I could see my beloved friend Lauren waiting for me. Lauren is a volunteer who distributes medals every year and I knew I could get my medal from NO ONE but her.  I had fears that she had left earlier in the day since I came in so much later than planned. However, I saw her standing in the throngs of medal presenters and I dragged my leg to get there as quickly as I could.  Upon Lauren’s notice of me coming, I burst into yet more tears and sobs as she grabbed a medal to place around my neck. I hung on to that poor petite girl for longer than necessary, embraced my hours-long body odor all over her tiny being.  I could not stop, I cried hard tears for finally being at this point of closure.

boston lauren rjs meda

I do not remember much thereafter, other than my NEED to get to the medical tent for my hip. I demanded ice and some ibuprofen from the kind medical attendants after they laid me on a cot. I was given ice in no time, but told they do not disburse medicines of any kind. I was slightly annoyed because this *was* the medical tent after all (I realize afterwards why they do not distribute, but in that moment, I NEEDED ibuprofen). The physical therapist refused to work on me and the doctor came over to evaluate. I insisted that if he could not give me ibuprofen, then he better damn well give me a shot of vodka for the pain. Unfortunately, they denied me that as well but they did get a good chuckle out of me. The doctor suggested I had a stress fracture, despite my description of feeling something actually tearing in my hip. He gave me crutches and ordered me to call my doctor the next morning. I declined the crutches with a disgruntled “no, thank you!” and a nurse told him I had injured myself at mile seven. He looked at me with a wide-eyed gaze and asked in disbelief, “You just did 19 more miles with that injury?” I smiled and said, “Yes, we ARE a special breed, aren’t we?” The doctor discharged me from the tent and I met my loving family to find our way home. Little did I know that not only was the Copley T station closed, but all surrounding stations were also closed for safety. It took me another hour to walk from the medical tent to Park Street station so we could catch the T to Alewife for our car ride home.

April 21st left me feeling pretty beat up: blood blisters on three of my toes and I will lose at least two of those toenails; a foot sized blister on the ball of my left foot (over-compensation for the right hip injury?), and a torn hip flexor. However, all of these injuries will heal quickly as the body is a remarkable machine.

legs tired run heart

My memories are rampant:

  • Participating in the 118th Boston Marathon in the year after our city was shown some of its darkest memories helped add to the display of perseverance, strength and determination shown by those affected last year, as well as those that trained through tough New England weather to be ready.
  • Raising nearly $12,000 for Massachusetts Eye & Ear Institute and meeting some of the kindest people on earth on my Team Eye and Ear; but also by securing donation after donation from the good people I have in my life who wanted to not only be a part of this historic day but to carry me along in this journey of a lifetime.
  • Taking that *stroll* down Boylston Street to the finish line……. these memories and my finisher’s medal will last me for my lifetime.

Thank you.  Thank you for reading this.  Thank you for supporting me in my never ceasing talk about the race or my training.  Thank you for your donations.  Thank you for being the world’s best cheerleaders.  Thank you for making me feel like I am a superhero and that I can do anything I set my mind to doing.  Thank you for positively changing the world we live in and helping Mass Eye & Ear in making their strides to help each other as fellow human beings should.  The 2014 Boston Marathon has restored my faith in humanity.

It is not too late to continue to make a change, donate here:  http://www.crowdrise.com/teameyeandear/fundraiser/rebeccasoulliere

Now, we move on to our next, as of yet undefined, adventure!  Any ideas?

(No running quite yet, thank you very much.  I just cannot wait to get back to my crew at #Crossfit 978.)

boston believed she could so she did

P.S.  If your stomach can handle it, here’s the physical toll 26.2 can take on you:

photo 5 photo 4 photo 3 photo 2 photo 1

26.2 Examples of Inspiration

In my opinion, April 15, 2013 is similar to September 11, 2001. A regular day taken by cowards who sought to invoke extreme forces of evil on innocent people by bombing a sporting event; a world renown road race nonetheless. Fear was instilled on thousands as bombs went off and ripped apart bodies and lives. Immediately, however, the strength and determination that is not only the bond of the running community, but also of the Boston community, proved to be tantamount to the acts of stupidity carried out by two lost souls seeking to gain their moment of fame for an extremist view.

 

boston strong all

A year later, resilience and perseverance shine brightly as the families of those who were lost that tragic day last April find their ways to navigate a world without their own. The injured survivors remain in search of new patterns of *normal* with missing limbs, damaged hearing, and constant physical pain, all of which are daily reminders of how their lives were forever changed by simply being a part of a bond; an inspirational race which delivers its own form of resilience and perseverance.

After watching the horrific events unfold last year from afar and feeling the pain, the suffering, the anger, the disbelief, and the entire range of emotions that surged through my heart, I knew I had to be in Boston in 2014. The gravitational force, if you will, that pulled my heart strings back to Boston were intense.  I somehow had to find a way to not only be present in Boston in 2014, I had to make the 26.2 mile trek with purpose, with strength, with determination, with resilience and with perseverance.

Aside from being emotionally pulled by the lure of my home state, the signs were ever-present; symbols compelling me to face my fear and participate in the 2014 Boston Marathon. In less than two months after the bombings of last year, I reached a critical milestone in my breast cancer battle – five years with no evidence of disease. I would be cancer free, crossing what my oncologists deem most important finish line – the golden ticket for a form of breast cancer that statistically has the highest rate of recurrence.

In January 2014, I turned forty. Yes! Forty! My sister always told me her thirties stunk and that life truly started at forty. I was ready……a lot of garbage happened in my thirties and I was ready to close the chapter on that phase of my life. Forty! What better age, nearly twenty-four years after my first proclamation that I would someday do the Boston Marathon, that I seek to cross that finish line. Now or never, people.

boston strong all marathoners

My mother passed away suddenly, two days after the bombings last year. She and I had had a tumultuous few years since she and my father had lived with my family during some health crises they both had. As a result of her mental illness and her abusive behavior towards me, particularly during my breast cancer battle and pregnancy, we were somewhat estranged when she passed away. We had evolved to a cordial relationship post-breast cancer, simply so that my children would be able to have better memories of their grandmother than what had transpired during her residence with us. However, I kept my distance from her solely because it took me losing a few pieces of my heart to understand that just because she was the woman who birthed me, that fact alone did not give her the entitlement to treat me poorly. In any event, the emotions that surfaced with her unexpected passing caught me a bit by surprise, perhaps because I was already so emotional by what had transpired just a couple of days earlier in a race so near to me and on my home soil.

I am going to run from Hopkinton to Boston in less than a week, simply because I can. As much as running this race may be about me: all the emotions, all the signs compelling me to be there, all the adversity I have faced and conquered……this race is really not about me. Each mile will progressively get harder than the last and the pain will surface, causing me to question my ability to undertake such a monumental effort. After thirteen miles in or so, the mental game will kick into high gear and the self-doubt will try to shift into place.

boston strong run

There are so many reasons why………..and these reasons will carry me through. The factors that compel me to put one foot in front of the other are as follows:

Mile One:  Dedicated to my friend, Jacqueline Skinner LeBlanc. Jackie just recently lost her battle to her breast cancer. We became friends and bound by the ties that bind in the brutal world of fighting breast cancer. Our journeys were parallel; yet, for some reason our destinies were vastly different. I will start this race with the strength of Jackie to propel me forward for the long haul.

Mile Two: Dedicated to Cara LeBlanc Kelly. Cara was younger than I was in school, but I could never forget her beaming smile. Fast forward some years and this smile was present again as she taught my oldest daughter at her elementary school. Our paths crossed yet again as Cara was diagnosed and fought a tremendous cancer battle of her own. Despite the valiant battle Cara waged, she managed to give me her radiant smile with every meal that I delivered. We shared cancer war stories and again, our destinies were vastly different. My mind does not quite process the reason behind who gets to survive and who does not, but I do know that this early mile of my journey to Boston will be fueled by the energy of Cara’s smiles that I banked in my memory.

Mile Three: Dedicated to the remaining cancer warriors that fought their own valiant battles and little do they know, they continue to give me strength when I am looking for it the most:  Dad Dickinson, Tony Menendez Aponte, Donna Fontaine, Patti Brown, “Robie”, Ruthie Tumenas, “Ro” Boissoneau, and Rhonda Richards.

Mile Four: Dedicated to Roseann Sdoia, one of the first survivor stories that captured my heart as I drove up I-95 last year to return to Massachusetts from a week away. For some reason, Roseann could have been me and I latched on to her story of recovery shortly after my donation to her GoFundMe account.  My decision to follow her thereafter resulted in a continuance of inspiration and perseverance as she began life anew and with a new leg. Roseann was at the finish line to watch friends come by, an annual tradition. Read more about her here: http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/losing-part-my-leg-doesnt-change-who-i-am

Miles Five, Six and Seven: Dedicated to Jaqui Webb, JP Norden, and Paul Norden, who were all watching the 2013 Boston Marathon from the sidelines waiting for a friend to pass the finish line when they were impacted by the second of the bombings to go off. Both JP and Paul, brothers, lost a leg in the explosion whereas Jaqui was significantly injured and required several surgeries. Today, on this one year anniversary, the Norden brothers are walking the marathon route – on their prosthetics because they can. Follow them here: https://twitter.com/WCVB/status/456061394266251266/photo/1

Mile Eight: Dedicated to Martin Richard who was 8 at the time he lost his life in the explosion on Boylston Street last year. My heart breaks still for the Richard family of Dorchester. How do you ever move forward with the loss of your young son? How do you not harbor extreme hatred towards those cowards who carried out this disgusting and inexplicable crime? How do you pick up the pieces of your shattered hearts and help Martin’s siblings enjoy their lives, now also riddled with reminders of that day as young Jane demonstrates her new prosthetic leg? You just do. Support them here: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/martin-richard-family-healing-year-bomb-article-1.1755927

Mile Nine and Ten: Dedicated to my breast cancer while pregnant girls, Rebecca Byrne and Adrienne Toth. When diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at fourteen weeks pregnant, I thought to myself briefly – boy, what did I do wrong to deserve this? Are there any others out there that would have the misfortune of having to battle cancer while pregnant? Of course there are! Statistics show that it can be as common as 1 in 3,000! I recall when my littlest was two, a woman from Framingham reached out to me and wanted to chat because she was newly pregnant and had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was adamant that we meet; not because I wanted her to see how well I was doing, but that I wanted her to see my little miracle and have that reassurance that her miracle would be okay, too! Rebecca’s little peanut is beautiful and Rebecca is doing rather well, herself. A high school classmate of mine made the connection via Facebook for another young woman who was also battling while pregnant. We chatted and I wanted to give her hope, give her inspiration, and make sure she knew it would all be okay! Her little miracle boy is quite possibly the cutest baby I have ever seen! Unfortunately, Adrienne’s cancer has recently returned – simultaneously with her boy turning one. My heart hurts for her, but I have no doubt that she has the strength, determination and perseverance to prevail. ❤

Mile Eleven: Dedicated to cancer survivor, Danielle Russo. Danielle beat stage 3 melanoma last year but has remained riddled with the “collateral damage” that cancer survivors deal with after their treatment has ended. A form of post-traumatic stress disorder, if you will, “collateral damage” is the pain that continues physically and emotionally once the chemotherapy stops coursing through your veins. “Collateral damage” is the new “normal” one must persevere through as their body, once taken for granted, no longer acts or moves the way it used to before that dark day when you were told you had cancer. Beating cancer is not a sprint, but in fact, a marathon – a race for your life, in which the best way to put one foot in front of the other is by taking it day by day. Danielle is inspiration for learning how to cope and by putting that best foot forward day after day.

Mile Twelve: Jeff Bauman, a hero in so many ways but namely for helping to identify the scum that targeted our city, April 15th, 2013. I will never erase from my brain, the post-bombing images I first saw of Jeff. However, this says it all: http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2014/04/jeff_bauman_thank_you_boston.  And to Carlos Arrendondo, for showing the word how to embrace humanity and care for one another, just simply as we humans should.

Mile Thirteen: Dedicated to my little buddy, Tommy Joffrion and his family; particularly his doting momma, Maria. Tommy is battling neurofibromatosis and chronic myelogenous leukemia. He’s seven. Whenever I think back on my arduous cancer experience, the chemotherapies, the surgeries, the endless testing and needles, my heart just breaks for Tommy and his family. My cancer appears cured; whereas, Tommy’s will be an unrelenting battle. I am an adult, whereas, Tommy has known this cancer world for nearly half of his life. Mile thirteen will be a pivotal spot in my race, where I know I am halfway through and I will think of Tommy, his precious smile and his determined momma, Maria, as I push through to persevere myself.   Read more and help them out here: https://www.facebook.com/TeamTommy2010.  Help generate funds for pediatric cancer research here, by supporting my friend, Candace – who is shaving her head as part of the St. Baldrick’s efforts to CURE childhood cancers:  http://www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/11195/2014.

Mile Fourteen: Dedicated to Adrianne Haslet, a bombing survivor who’s demonstration of strength, determination and perseverance in the face of adversity has been on display by her refusal to let adversity stop her. Adrianne, a dancer, recently danced again for the first time after losing her leg on Boylston Street last year. Her inspirational message is fuel for those of us who know what it is like to be knocked down, but the only option is to get back up and rise again.  http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/category/adrianne-haslet-davis/

Mile Fifteen: Dedicated to Marc Fucarile, also a survivor who was spectating at the 2013 Boston Marathon and has a trying year after losing one leg and now begging to lose the other. Marc is friends with the Norden brothers and has a long recovery ahead. Help him here: http://www.gofundme.com/marcfucarile

Mile Sixteen: In memory of firefighter, Lt. Edward J. Walsh, one of Boston’s finest and bravest.

Mile Seventeen: In memory of firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, one of Boston’s finest and bravest.

boston strong there is

Mile Eighteen and Nineteen: Dedicated to Sydney and Celeste Corcoran. Sydney is now eighteen, a year later, after the explosion nearly almost cost her life as she bled from a severed femoral artery. Like Roseann above, I was drawn to both Sydney and Celeste – a daughter and mother duo that had come to watch a loved one run the race, like thousands of other spectators that fateful day. Celeste lost both of her legs. Images of bystanders applying their body weight pressure to a fallen Sydney on the sidewalk of Boylston Street in Boston remain vivid in my mind. How easily could that have been my oldest daughter, who is now sixteen, and I if we were there watching the historic race? Their story here: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/boston-bombing-anniversary/boston-bombing-strangers-ran-toward-chaos-not-away-it-n78376

Mile Twenty: Dedicated to Team Hoyt, Dick and Rick Hoyt, father and son duo who have been racing together since 1977. I will never forget lining up to run next to them in the Christopher’s Pub 10k in Leominster circa 1990 and thinking to myself that I would finish before them. Finish before them, I did not and I have been a fan of these two ever since. 2014 will be their final Boston Marathon and I am honored to be in the same race as these two inspirational men. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/team-hoyt-run-boston-marathon/story?id=23288967

Mile Twenty-one: In memory of Sean Collier: http://boston.cbslocal.com/2014/03/27/in-tribute-officer-sean-collier/

Mile Twenty-two: In memory of Krystle Campbell. http://boston.cbslocal.com/2014/03/27/in-tribute-krystle-campbell/

Mile Twenty-three: In memory of Lu Lingzi. http://boston.cbslocal.com/2014/03/27/in-tribute-lu-lingzi/

Mile Twenty-four: Dedicated to my family for putting up with my crazy ideas and for supporting me in such endeavors. My family makes me believe I can conquer the world, super hero style and make a movie out of it. Without them and without their patience as I spent hours of training for April 21, 2014, I would not be able to gear up and set out on my mission. I love them dearly.

Mile Twenty-five: Dedicated to all of you who helped me fundraise and make a difference for Massachusetts Eye & Ear Institute. While I am certainly crazy enough to run a marathon, I am certainly not within means to obtain a number by qualifying for the elite Massachusetts race. Thankfully, Team Eye & Ear had faith in me and offered me a coveted spot on their team! The fundraising amount seemed monumental, but I knew I would be successful. Thanks to the goodness of people out there, I not only exceeded my minimum due but I nearly doubled the amount required! Mass Eye & Ear continues to treat the bombing survivors, as well as make a difference in the lives of so many others. Perhaps, someday, Mass Eye & Ear will have an option for me to have better hearing myself. There are so many to name, but most importantly, a genuine note of appreciation goes to the ladies of Trinity Salon in Fitchburg, MA for their fundraiser which vetted over $2,100 for Mass Eye & Ear. As of today, we have raised in excess of $10,600! WICKED STRONG!

boston strong wrong city

Mile Twenty-Six: Dedicated to the girl who became my best bud at age thirteen, Karen Luchini. Karen *gets* me. What I was to running back in the day, Karen was to swimming. We spent years laughing, crying, farting, laughing some more and prevailing in our sports. Karen went to Northeastern University, so many years were spent shared on Boylston Street watching as the inspirational runners came across that famed finish line. Numerous times, both Karen and I were propped up against the metal barricade that kept us off the street but cheering for the participants; and each time, I remarked that *someday* I would be there….on that street, making my way to the finish line. Karen was one of my supporters during my darkest breast cancer days. She has dedicated part of her PMC Challenges to me in the past.  Ironically, Karen was diagnosed with a form of leukemia this past October and I have had to put my big girl panties on to be her biggest cheerleader as she battles for her life. I am honored to cross that finish line with her in mind as she wraps up her treatment for her cancer simultaneously. I am living proof that cancer can be beaten and life truly begins again. I will run 26.2 miles, but that last mile will be for Karen – so she knows that she’s approaching her own finish line in her toughest race yet; her race for her life and good health. The finish line is in sight for her and I know I will be by her side triumphantly as she crosses to the other side; just as I know she will be with me in my heart as I cross the blue and yellow finish of the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Boston_marathon_finish_line_136016193

Mile Twenty-Six Point Two: Dedicated to me. The gift I am giving myself is the two-tenths of a mile down Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts, amongst thousands of spectators rallying for me to get my feet across that finish line. My life has come full circle: from the loss of my hearing as a young child and the subsequent torment I experienced growing up; to the verbal and physical abuse I suffered at the hands of a mentally ill mother; to the horror and fear of fighting breast cancer while pregnant; to being knocked down again and again and again…..and rising to my feet once more.  We can fall seven times, but we must simply get up eight!

April 21, 2014 is for me, for you, for all of those that wish to take this journey. Adversity has nothing on us as long as we have the courage to dust ourselves off and try, try again. Boston and the running world were knocked down on April 15, 2013. We have dusted ourselves off, we have come together and we will run together stronger as we soar on Patriots Day.

Thank you for taking this run with me. ❤

boston strong darkness

Suck It Up, Buttercup?

suck it up buttercup

Maybe I do not want to suck it up! Seriously, how many times do we just dig deep and cast our feelings aside in an effort to appear strong and resilient, when all we want to do is break down and cry?

I do not know about you, but I hate to cry. I do. I cannot stand the way it makes me feel, I detest the tell-tale swollen and puffy eyes, not to mention it ruins your contacts. The only way I try to describe it is some people do not like to drink alcohol because of the feeling of loss of self-control; well, crying is my kryptonite.

I have cried more in the past week plus, then I have in the past several months combined. I *nearly* cried at Crossfit this week. Can you even imagine THAT spectacle? Phew, what a close call.

crying

Two of my friends are struggling; they have finished or are finishing their cancer treatments. Everyone thinks they know about compassion in the cancer world, but little do many know that the actual real battle begins when treatment winds down and immediately thereafter. It is a misperception that once a person finishes their cancer treatment, that they are okay and on their path to stronger living. In these now much quieter months of recovery, without daily medical visits and with the sudden cessation of meal deliveries or regular check-ins, cancer survivors start to go nuts. Yes, we do.

Many times in our path to recovery, we are unable to resume our regular lives that we had pre-cancer; recovery has placed newfound limitations on our careers leaving us with part-time work, if at all. The financial implications of reduced or non-existent work hours leave massive piles of bills, many of which are medical in nature – the procedures or treatments that may have saved your very life.

The fatigue and residual pain is a constant reminder that you have just waged a monumental war on something nearly larger than life. You struggle with your premature and uncomfortable sense of “normal” in a post-cancer era. The pulling and tugging on tight scars has you slowing down and remembering to be gentler.

The mental games begin: fears seem to shift and expand overnight, not unlike those small capsules you put into a glass of water and have grown 1000x their size while you were sleeping. Fear of recurrence, it follows you everywhere…..and I mean everywhere. Suck it up, buttercup? I think not.

All it takes is seeing a stranger in the grocery store wearing the scarf on her head and lacking eyebrows, you know….you know she’s engaged in her own battle. Your heart rate starts to increase and that nagging headache starts to worry you a little more; you wonder if a call to your doctor for some reassurance is in order.

As people start to lose their battles around you, from cancer, even if it is a type totally unrelated to your own, you start to unravel. Wakes become harder to attend as your own mortality and your fears escalate into their own sense of *normal*.

Another friend of mine has been fighting hard; okay, she has been fighting harder than hard and is in a losing battle. I did not expect the intensity of the emotions I have been trying to process over the past week. I have guilt, a lot of it. Survivor’s guilt. Friendship guilt. Mother’s guilt. You name it. I have lost control and cried harder than when I was even going through my own traipse in cancerland. Suck it up, buttercup? I. Just. Cannot.

I am over five years out since I completed my treatment, yet, I still have many of the same fears that my more recent cancer counterparts are experiencing. Sure, with time, the fear subsides and with the magic milestone of hitting five years, I rest a teeny bit more reassured. However, statistics are just that – numbers that are there to purportedly help seal your fate, but in reality, sometimes life has a different plan that what the measurements of data predict.

Learning how to cope is just that, each different life experience is a true test of how we cope. We cannot control our cancer diagnoses, the side effects, the residual pains or even the day to day fears. However, we CAN control specifically how we cope in all of our steps in cancer land.

Everyone of us can also control all of the stresses in the general demands of being an adult; such as those weekly challenges in crazy and rude family members, irrational bosses, needy parents, and arduous children or balancing that full plate with work, family, you-time and more.

control the sail

Once a former boss of mine sat me down and crafted a drawing after I was complaining about being a control-freak and having several instances where things were rampantly out…of….my…..control. I learned a lot that day, but it took my cancer diagnosis to really ingest the value of the lesson learned.  My REACTION to what happens around me is the best ACTION to undertake.

control

We are in control, believe it or not, of whether we feel sad or happy.  We can think happy thoughts, or we can be consumed and swallowed by sad thoughts.  We will be dealt a hand of cards that is just a mystery and we will never know why it happened.  Instead of getting caught up in the negativity of not understanding the bad things that happen to us all, we have to find the light – the guiding force whether it is a new friend met through a cancer diagnosis, a lifestyle change, or the chance to slow down and smell the roses.

How do I reassure my newer cancer warriors that it gets better? You just do. You pull up your big girl pants and you pave the way. Suck it up, buttercup – shed those tears, pound more weights and skip, trip, fall down and get back up again, and again, and again, and again.

control surrender

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deerutty

Daily Life - coping with Depression and recovery from Breast Cancer

The Heart of Healing

My journey of healing mind, body and spirit

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