Saturday, August 13, 2016

Baby Steps or How I Manage To Do Anything

I'm working through some writing prompts lately, just to get myself writing again.  This one is near and dear to  my heart, and after writing furiously for several minutes, I ended up having to take it off the written page and into a blog post.  Longhand is awesome. I do it often.  For this, though, I decided to save a tree. 

It all started with Ironman training, I think.  Looking at the big picture of swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and then running a marathon (26.2 miles) was overwhelming. "All in one day?" a friend asked. Seriously overwhelming.

Coach helped me pull together a training plan that, in a nutshell, focused on three swims, three bikes and three runs per week.  The workouts increased in duration over the course of several months, until finally, some time "tapering" at the end, to rest up before the big day.

Sitting in his office on that winter day, I peeked ahead at some of the taper workouts scheduled for seven or so months in the future, and my eyes bulged.  "This is the taper??!" It was more than I was doing in my current off-season triathlon training.  Before I could fully grasp what I was in for, he suggested, "Don't look ahead. Focus on the here-and-now. Focus on what you need to do today and this week." Allowing myself to think ahead to spending an entire day swimming, cycling and running was to invite overwhelm and have to deal with getting my head back into the game. Keeping a healthy mental game is just as important as the physical training.

I don't know about you, but being overwhelmed can stop me in my tracks. It can truly be paralyzing.  

Since then, when I've had a major task or situation to get through, I have gone right back to this Baby Steps Training Philosophy.  Any time I think, "How am I ever going to do this?!" my automatic response has been to answer with, "Baby Steps."  Coming back from an injury or launching a new website at work, or, most profoundly, getting from cancer diagnosis and treatment all the way to come back was all a matter of tackling the task in front of me day by day.

The practice of using baby steps to accomplish monumental goals is as easy as developing a training plan.  Doing each day's work between today and the goal date is not overwhelming. In concert with a plan composed of baby steps, keeping track of your daily progress by writing about it or keeping a simple log helps immensely. I kept a log during cancer treatment that my oncologist said was the biggest reason for my positive attitude.  Even when one day was not too great, seeing it in context with all the progress I had made was encouraging. The best way to see proof of how well using baby steps works is to look back at a log.

If you are facing a challenge or want to achieve something wonderful but feel overwhelmed with the thought, and someone says to you, "Baby Steps," this is what they are talking about.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Five Year Plan

Today I was inspired to break my adult life into 5 year increments. A lot of life happens in a short period of time. Add it all up, and you'll think, I did all that?! I highly recommend this exercise! When I was 25,  I left college to take a dream job in San Diego.  I looked about 12; I had braces on my teeth.  I was so excited to be moving to such a wonderful place! There were 250 candidates for this job, and *I* got it!! By the time I was 30, I had battled through the depression of homesickness, compounded by the realization that even though I was getting three times the salary as previously in Kansas, the cost of living was about four times as high.  San Diego’s not much fun if you ain’t got the dough-ray-me.  Eventually I settled in and adjusted.  I met Dave & we were having a good time on the free cultural events that were perks of his job at KPBS.  At 30 years old, I was recently married and preparing for a move to the Cincinnati area for a job Dave was taking.   Looking back, it seems like the changes between age 30 and 35 were the most profound. The difference between life in San Diego and life in Northern KY (Cincinnati burbs) was like two completely different lifetimes!  We went from theater, orchestra, and opera tickets, dinner out regularly at a favorite restaurant (The Gathering in Mission Hills), and frankly, not many responsibilities; to being a month from finally finishing my undergrad, 3-year-old Robin with us, and Eben on the way, and being just about as broke as I’ve ever been in my life (only this time with kids).  The only thing that was similar was the number of really good friends we  made along the way. By the time I was 40 years old, Robin was 8  and Eben was  5½. We were still broke, but finally owned our own home, a rancher with a TON of character.  That one-story house with a basement had FIVE doors! I was almost finished with graduate school and we were looking for a move to someplace with better schools.   My mother, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law had battled cancer over the past couple of years, and my mother-in-law passed away a couple of months before my 40th birthday.  My own mother was recovering, but my father-in-law was sick again.  I was feeling the loss of my mother-in-law most heavily through the eyes and lives of my kids. Their loss was far greater than mine, since I had been blessed with so many more years of knowing her. By the age of 45, we had made that move to a place with better schools three years ago.  My father-in-law  passed away only four months after my mother-in-law, and their absence made the whole world look differently. Suddenly, WE were the old folks. I remember noticing this change in my world view while driving down the highway the day after I learned of his death. Not a single thing looked the same as it had the day before. Not the bend in the road, not the Cincinnati skyline. We decided to move to the Philly burbs, into their house, which was a good move on most levels.  I began my new career as a college librarian at a job I got just two weeks after the move. But it  took me that much farther away from my own parents in Kansas. By the time I was 45, three years after our move, my mother had been dealt a second round of breast cancer, and had passed away as well. When I turned 50, my hair was only about a quarter of an inch long after breast cancer treatment.  I had been diagnosed the previous February, after an incredible year of training for and then racing Ironman Lake Placid.  Over the course of this five years, I had rediscovered running, and taken up triathlon after learning to swim.  I qualified for the Boston Marathon running Richmond, to prove to myself that I could do an Ironman.  As I swam Mirror Lake in the rain for the Ironman, fog rising off the water, I thought about my Mom and how she would NEVER have believed this!  Between surgery for breast cancer and the first chemotherapy treatment, I got to run Boston, an incredible experience.  After chemo and radiation, my Dad passed away. I hadn't been able to visit while in cancer treatment, and he never knew of my diagnosis, a decision I made to allow him to die a bit more peacefully. These 5 years more than any previously turned me into the strongest, most optimistic version of myself yet, and taught me what true friendship is.  I learned to slow down and really experience life. It's nice that this year's plans are centered around the theme of "giving back." I decided to to that before I wrote this, but it seems logical now, having done the exercise. Who knows what the rest of the current five years will hold? I can't wait to see what's next!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Maybe there is more?

Well, now that I have posted all of those email messages from last year, maybe I'll just keep on posting and updating because, what do you know? It doesn't end just because the treatments are done. There's some weird stuff that happens to your head after some time has gone by and it might be worth mentioning.

For example, I had kind of a panic attack a few weeks ago that I was thinking was just a strange, one-time thing, but then it happened again the other day when I posted all of those email messages. The first time it happened, it was this sort of a-ha! moment in which I suddenly realized that what I had last year wasn't just a bad case of the flu. Sheesh! I had cancer?! From the diagnosis all the way through treatment, I was so busy and very well-distracted that I successfully avoided the "big picture." So, when it hit me, I was sort of amused at having my mind bent like that. But it was more disturbing when it happened again on Friday, and I wonder if it has anything to do with the upcoming anniversary of my diagnosis.

I sort of approached cancer treatment the way I approached Ironman.  If you think about the entire Ironman event all at once, you'll freak out! Swim a couple of miles, cycle over a hundred miles and THEN run a marathon? Are you crazy?  But if you create a training plan that you have confidence in -- and realize that you have to be flexible with that plan because stuff happens -- you only have to focus on what needs to be done today, and you'll be fine.  When race day comes, you'll be ready both physically & mentally. So, during cancer treatments I kept that modified "training log" I wrote about. I just did what was right in front of me and didn't think much about the enormity of it. Not until it was all over.

But now, after the fact, I have had flash-backs. I see the whole thing all at once. And I can't believe I did all that. After Ironman, thinking back on the day was also overwhelming. The crucial difference is that Ironman is something I wanted to do. Something I have souvenirs from. I even got the tattoo. Cancer treatment is something I was forced to do against my will. It is possibly -- obviously -- the very last thing I ever would have wanted to do. For some reason there is no sense of accomplishment. Maybe if there were, I could stop having these panic attacks. But thoughts like that would feel arrogant. I wince when someone says, "you beat cancer!" Shhhhh . . .  I like the idea of challenging myself again in long-distance triathlon, but I have no desire to challenge cancer again with arrogant thoughts. I'm planning to sign up for another Ironman, but I don't ever want to see cancer again. That's the difference.

I know! ha! Maybe if I think of it as, "beating cancer treatment!" that would have the effect I am looking for? Can I be proud of that without feeling arrogant or like I am challenging it to a rematch? Hmmn . . .

Friday, February 3, 2012

"The End!" Yeah! (Message 21 of 21)

2 Sept 2011
TGIF y'all! 

August 29
 Finishing treatments at the beginning of a holiday weekend is probably dangerous, but I plan to take full advantage of the situation. Celebrations started yesterday!

After the final radiation dose, I was handed a "diploma!" So funny! And I was directed to ring the bell three times. Now THAT felt good. Wish I had brought a camera. When I got home there were champagne & flowers waiting for me. First toast at home, and then I brought the celebration to work. It was only fitting. Everyone at work has been so accommodating and generous this spring & summer, and it was the academic summer that provided the book ends for my post-surgery treatments. I wore a wig for almost the first time at graduation last spring and now, as classes are starting again, I have enough hair to lose the hats & scarves if I want to. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I still like to wear them. 

I hope you don't mind if I ask one more favor!   I haven't been able to participate in a triathlon since Ironman a year ago. My first "triathlon" of this season turned out to be a mudrun, which was fun and all of that, but it wasn't a triathlon! I am registered with my team for a huge party-of-the-decade triathlon at Lums Pond, DE on September 11. If you have any sway at ALL with the weather-gods, PLEASE put a word in. I really don't think it is too much to ask to be able to race ONCE with my team this summer ...  a triathlon, with the swim AND the bike AND the run all in there.  Thank you for petitioning!

Okay, so here's my last "what's next" update:

* Next Tue. - Dr. appt to get a referral to a medical ophthalmologist for a baseline eye exam to track potential changes during the five-year course of tamoxifen, which begins now. 

(September 11 - Diamondman sprint distance triathlon)

* Two weeks - Followup with radiation oncologist (skin check)

(Sept 24 - Make-A-Wish olympic distance triathlon, Bethany Beach, DE ... still looking for a room mate!)

* October - Followup with medical oncologist 

* December - Followup with surgeon

And that's IT!  I'm done! 

I believe this is the 20th message I've sent since all of this began the first of March. While the mailing list grew some as time went on, most of you have been there talking me down, through & around it all for the entire six months.  I am so blessed to have so many generous people on my side. I hope you never have to slog through something like this, but if you do I will be there the whole way, you can count on it.


† Call me if you ever need a recommendation for a doctor of any sort. It's possible I will have met with one this year!

Almost Done! (Message 20 of 21)

23 Aug 2011
Hi there,

I'm in the home stretch! Today I got two MORE tattoos for the final few radiation treatments, which I think end a week from Friday. The last 8 or 9 treatments are targeted right on the sight of the surgery. Today was my last full-breast treatment. Over the course of the treatments, I had none of the skin problems that a lot of people complain about, just a 7x7 inch square, slightly "sunburned," pink area that defines the field being treated, and one tiny break in the skin by my collar bone that certain shirts aggravated. Absolutely no big deal. The only thing that bothered me was the relentless fatigue that began about three weeks in. I have had spurts of motivation since then, usually early in the week after having the weekend "off" of treatments, but nothing to really write home about. There were a couple of days where I would lie down on the porch for a "nap" after work and sleep through a very noisy thunderstorm, wake up some hours later because I was cold, and go to bed! I learned pretty quickly that I needed to do the nap-until-morning thing on Thursday to avoid needing to sleep all weekend. 

I did get to do Triathlon-Turned-Mudrun a couple of Sundays ago. The weather cancelled the swim & the bike, so I have yet to do my first triathlon this year! I am holding out hope for better luck on Sept. 11. However, this past weekend, I did get to participate in the Philadelphia Livestrong Challenge. Many of you contributed and sent me supportive messages and I could feel your good vibes all weekend long! It was really a ton of fun, I met lots of very interesting people and I heard some amazing stories. It was a very meaningful weekend to me and reminded me (again) how lucky I am to already be able to do something like this. On top of that, my times for the 10k run on Saturday and on the 45 mile bike ride on Sunday were great confidence-boosters. Each week I continue to win back some of that lost fitness. It is a huge mood boost when I am tired as a dog to know that I *am* improving.

Saturday, before the 10k
Team Slow Spoke, after the ride on Sunday
I am including some pictures from the weekend. You'll see that the run on Saturday took place in the fog & light drizzle. The sun DID come out for the party afterwards. It was perfect! The ride on Sunday was very hilly and we had some rain off and on. Lucky for me I hooked up with a fun group of cyclists, mostly from upstate New York, wearing Livestrong Jerseys with a great looking logo & the team name "Slow Spoke." They were NOT slow in my book! They turned out to ride a very challenging but do-able pace for me and we just had a ton of fun. They invited me to their team's tent after the race briefly, before the rain showed up. The photo from the ride on Sunday is of me and all but one of the guys I rode with. Do you recognize that guy in the dark glasses in the third photo? We finished a few minutes before him, but only because he rode 70 miles and we rode 45!! What a kick it was to cheer him through the finish line!

We beat Lance (but he rode 25 miles farther!)
Then I went home and had a nice Sunday afternoon nap on the porch while the rain poured down in buckets! ... but I didn't have to sleep until morning! Dinner and a movie with a friend was way more enticing, even if it mean that I am having a heck of a time staying awake this week! 

Thanks again for all of your contributions and good wishes. I will write again in a couple of weeks when I can finally write "The End."


Just a quick note . . . (Message 19 of 21)

3 Aug 2011
I received a couple of phone calls & text messages this week suggesting I pen a quick update; it's "not like you" to clam up and folks might might think something's wrong if I don't say otherwise!

Well, today I am six weeks post-chemo. Two weeks after each treatment I had additional hair loss, and for the last one I lost quite a bit of my eyelashes and more of my eyebrows and the small amount of regrowth on my head. Now, four weeks after that, the eyelash/eyebrow situation hasn't improved, but the kind of sparse hair that I have on my head is almost long enough to pinch between my fingers! I'm taking photos every month (an inch a month, said Dr. M!) and today's was the first. Not attractive at all, but progress! [can't find that photo; must have deleted it! 2/3/12]  I am looking forward to a covering thick enough to hide my bone-white scalp, maybe in a couple more months!
Me & Coach cheering on the Tri-Dawgs at Lake Placid

I have no lingering symptoms from the last chemo. I am slowly regaining some fitness.  I had my 11th (out of 32) radiation therapy treatments this morning. I had four treatments the first & second week; this week and every week until I'm finished I will have five, except for Labor Day. RT is going very very well. Yesterday (Aug 1) I finally got slammed with the "fatigue" I was told I could expect in the third week, and what an odd beast that is! It's not like being tired from working out or from staying up too late the night before. It's like a heavy blanket and it comes on suddenly. The first hit was right after my treatment yesterday morning as I was driving home. I went for a walk when I got home and when I got back to the house the fatigue was gone! I took advantage and had a good workout, and then around 3:30 it happened again! This time I did try to nap, but after a sleepless hour, I was good to go again! So strange! Hey, if that's all I have to deal with, I'm happy! 

Just for perspective:  In radiation therapy, I am on the table getting treatment for maybe four minutes each weekday morning. I am getting "two fields" of therapy, that is, the machine (I think it's called a 2DXRT ... two dimensional xray therapy) aims a beam for a few seconds to one targeted spot, and then it moves from that side over me so that it is aiming the beam from the other side of my body for a few seconds. That's it. When I arrived one day this week, for the first time there was a patient ahead of me. Her appointment ran over by 20 minutes because of the complicated nature of her *20* FIELDS!!  Can I tell you how lucky I feel with my two fields? I really got off easy. 

So things are rolling right along. I am NOT wishing for a quick end to summer. Even though I am not on vacation all summer long, I like the easier pace. But when summer ends, so will all of this, so I've got something to be grateful for as the fall semester rush begins both at work and at home.


Cancer Treatment: Out with the old, in with the new (Message 18 of 21)

15 July 2011

I hope this message finds you well and enjoying summer even if you have to work (like me)! 

Well, Wednesday this week was three weeks since my final chemo. This time I had no major side-effects except for a short summer cold with a three-day fever that never went as high as the time I wound up in the hospital. Recovery from a lingering breathing/coughing issue has been slow and frustrating for running, but other than that, I am very gratefully, healthy.

Since the treatments were three weeks apart, Wednesday was a great milestone. It's funny that with all the various complaints that the body comes up with during chemotherapy, the one that I hated the most was NOT the sores in my mouth or the fatigue, the bone & joint pain, or even the fact that I couldn't be out in the sun (although that rates REALLY high on my "ugh" list). The thing I hated the most was that metallic taste in my mouth, along with a generally dry mouth, that would kick in about two days after a treatment and last for about a week & a half.  It made most things taste wrong and some things downright inedible. I hope to never have to deal with that again. Life without enjoying food is just not living. This week I am celebrating the return to my diet of red wine and various forms of cooked tomatoes like tomato based soups and sauces. Pizza!! Life is so good.

(Side note in case, god(s) forbid you are ever in a similar situation: I had been putting mint & lime juice in my tap water in order to somewhat successfully hide the taste of the metals that are naturally in water, and during the last treatment I discovered that the Mojito is even better, since it also acts as a mood-enhancer.)

Yesterday I got tattooed in prep for radiation therapy, which begins on Monday and lasts a little over six weeks, M-F mornings for about 20 minutes a pop. They really are REAL tattoos. I thought the term was being used loosely, as in "temporary tattoo," but no. I now have three additional permanent freckles... one that actually looks like a mole! I have one freckle about three inches below each armpit and the third, bigger (mole-sized) dot is right over my sternum. Ouch, that one did hurt! Connecting these three black dots creates a boundary for the radiation beams. 

I am told that radiation therapy is a walk in the park compared to everything else, so really the only downside is that it's hard to get away for any kind of vacation. Other than missing a trip to blazing-hot Arizona when Robin moves into college, I'm okay with that, if just a bit stir-crazy. Getting away to Lake Placid next weekend to cheer on some friends at Ironman will be a GREAT break, and then October (after the initial "rush" of the beginning semester at work has passed) will be a good time for a short vacation.

This week I biked three times, including my first bike commute to work since last summer. I had forgotten how much fun it is to ride in traffic at rush hour! I'm going to try to add a second bike-commute next week. I also ran two short races this week, on Wednesday & Thursday. Every time I pull on the running shoes or get on the bike I feel a leeeetle stronger than the last time. Last night a running club friend/genius/inspiration/icon : ) couldn't count the number of times he's had to recover from scratch and reminded me to be grateful that I still CAN run at all, much less feel improvement each time, and to be patient with the slow process. Conversations like that have been sustaining and motivating throughout all of this.  I truly am blessed to have had you all to lean on & learn from.