I had an opportunity recently to attend Wanderlust Squaw Valley on behalf of Fordcares.com Warriors in Pink. I wasn’t sure what to expect — I don’t do a lot of yoga, I’m not a really introspective person, but I was up for talking at a couple of yoga classes about my experience and how they could help others facing cancer.
My second day at the festival I came across some bracelets. Each had a charm with a word stamped on it. I picked up the first one I saw. Badass. I put it back and continued to look. Then I came back. Badass. I’d been hearing that word used to describe me recently. I’d been avoiding it. But there it is again. I realize that while I may not be a TOTAL badass, I can be a badass. I’m courageous, strong, smart, a role model. So I embrace the badass side of myself. I love wearing that bracelet. It reminds me to not let myself get in my own way.
Later I attend a class about meditation. The master speaks about letting go about what others think, and I realize how tightly I hold on to what I perceive others thinking about me or how they see me. I make up stories that others must be thinking — “how can she be an athlete – look at her body!” But, dammit, I am a badass. And I need to allow that to carry me. I also made a talisman to remind me to trust myself. Trust my instincts, my body and my strength. Geez. I just rode 203 miles. I must be able to do something!
So a major learning for me that weekend: trust myself, I am more than I give myself credit for.
Would you do it again? That seems to be the first question people ask. Then they ask if I’m sore. What hurts? I finished, upright on my bike on my own power. That was my goal. 10 hours on a bike seat on Saturday and 7 on Sunday. Would I do it again? I don’t know. I put a lot of hours into training. Many Saturdays I’d leave the house at 7 or 730 and not get home until 4pm. As it got closer to the event, I’d often go out on Sundays too. And at least a couple nights during the week. Leave work at 4, head to Log Boom Park, get on my bike and do 30-40 miles, and then head home. Some nights that was fun. Some nights it was hard.
I read recently about perceived effort. It was an interesting article. It was talking about how hard to push yourself to make a difference. The upshot was if it feels hard, don’t push. Do what you can and call it good. But if it feels easy, push. You can go harder. I have to say STP felt easier mentally and physically on Saturday than on Sunday. Sunday I was trying to change my inner voice, and get comfortable on my bike seat. Crossing over the bridge into Oregon meant only 30 more miles. But those were, mentally, the toughest miles I’ve done. But I couldn’t quit. How can you quit when you’re so close. And I hate to quit.
Training for an endurance bike ride is so different from the training I was used to. When you train to walk a half marathon, you know you’ll be done in 3-4 hours. You subsist mainly on gels and chewy blocks; maybe an energy bar. But your body doesn’t crave as much fuel. When you do a duathlon, each section is short – run 3.5, bike 12.5, run 3.5. I would eat half a banana as I ran out the chute for my second run, or eat part of a protein bar as I changed shoes and got my gear for the bike ride. But, again, my body didn’t need as much fuel. I fueled up after the event. But distance biking? Figuring out how to fuel my body before, during and after was a challenge. I realized halfway into my training that the reason my legs were giving out was that I wasn’t getting enough protein. So I started trying to eat more lean protein and added a protein shake on training days. That helped. But I need to start that fueling process earlier in my training. Now I know. And it will make a difference for my next adventure.
So would I do it again? Maybe. I know I’d train a lot differently. More hills. More back to back days. Figure out my fuel needs earlier. And get out of my head. Way out. So maybe not STP. But I will do another endurance event … just not sure what the next adventure will be. For now, I’m scheduled to do a triathlon relay in Vancouver WA in August and then Cycle the Wave in September. I might throw a couple more in there. And I’ll be back on my bike next week.
That’s it. 203 miles. Too many hills, busy highways, rude drivers, and stupid riders. A lot of it was fun. A lot of it was a slog. What I’m proud of? Maintaining a strong pace. Making it up almost all the hills. Powering through when I wanted to quit. Crossing the finish line. As soon as I’m able to walk normally I’ll get back on my bike. Bit not for a couple of days. More musings and photos to post. For now, rest.
There were times I wanted to quit and parts where I flew. I tried to remind myself to stop and enjoy the ride. My body gave out before my energy. And I added and extra 4 miles and a couple of hills when I overshot our stop. So spending the night in winlock. Final 83 miles tomorrow.
This wasn’t supposed to be how my night before was supposed to go. I was going to get on a 330 pm flight back from Spokane. Instead the flight was cancelled, and I embarked on a 4 hour road trip with a co-worker down I-90. It was better than the alternative — the 5am flight they offered me for Saturday morning. So instead of a relaxing few hours checking over my packing and loading my bike, I’m scurrying around. Oh well.
Do I have everything? Am I ready? I’ve trained. I’ve made lists. I’ve studied the route. If I forgot something, I’ll get it on the road. I might be making a stop at a Starbucks down the road for more caffeine, but I think I’m set.
I have everything staged in a corner of my living room. I have my luggage tags set. I have my STP numbers in place. My bike is on my car.
My strategy? 25 miles at a time. The rest stops are strategically every 25 miles. I may only stop long enough to get more water or hit the rest room. But it’s a mental game. So 25 miles at a time.
I’m nervous. But I usually am before a race. So, yes, I’m ready. Now off to set my alarm for 430. We’re going to be on the road before 6am.
I’ll post pictures and notes as I can. See you soon …
I had an opportunity to be on King5 and talk about diagnosis, cancer, and exercise. Taking advantage of opportunities wherever I can to promote and educate.
After hearing Diane Keaton sing “Make new friends, but keep the old …” it made me think about where my friendships have gone the last couple of years. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery and later when I was going through chemotherapy, I had to learn to sit and allow other people to help me. It was humbling to have friends rally around when I needed them most. When my daughter graduated from high school and went off to college, I realized (as do many parents) that I suddenly had no life. Or friends. Or any of my own activities. (Those of you with young children can laugh now, but just wait!). I realized that my activities and friendships revolved around my daughter’s activities and school. The realization hit me a few weeks after she moved into the dorm – I needed to make new friends, and renew my old friendships.
Friends=Community and Accountability
The last few years have been about proving that I can do it – even if I didn’t really enjoy it (hello swimming!). And I proved to myself that I can do it. My focus this year isn’t just about seeing how many miles I can log. It is more about finding people who enjoy being active. This helps hold me accountable to getting out and moving – given a choice, I would much rather sit on my couch and watch Downton Abbey. But being of a certain age, spread happens. And I not only want to be healthy and active as I go forward, but also manage that dreaded spread. My challenge this year is to find things that help me build a community and keep me engaged in an active lifestyle. It really is all about finding things that you love and doing them … and not being afraid to try something new (with your new community) because you just might find something new you love.
I’ve been instagramming my journey the past few years. It’s a fun way to be accountable, document the fun I’m having, and see the milestones I hit along the way. My goals are small: do an event a month, run my first 5k, find new friends and activities, and encourage others to begin their own journeys.
According to Holley Mangold, her recent ouster from “The Biggest Loser” was because she was allergic to running. Let’s look at some of the core symptoms. Do you break out in a sweat when you exercise hard? (that means you are exercising your heart!) Do you have hat hair after exercise? (this is an easily remedied issue – don’t wear a hat!) Does your nose run when you exercise? (mine too! I just bring extra tissues and measure how hard I worked based on the number of tissues I used) Does the cold make you shiver? (layers, people, layers) Does the rain make you wet? (and you live in the Pacific Northwest? See hat hair and layers; if you don’t exercise because it is raining, you might as well not exercise at all)
For me, the real issue is that we are led to believe that unless we run, we aren’t exercising. And that’s just not true. I have walked 5 half marathons in the past 2-1/2 years. Didn’t run. Walked. And there were a lot of people that walked with me. And walking that half marathon made me feel like I could do anything!
Walking doesn’t require a lot of fancy gear or equipment or a special location. You can walk your neighborhood, walk the mall, walk the dog, or find a trail. I feel inspired when I take a walk with an amazing view or a new neighborhood. My favorites include Alki, Discovery Park across the Magnolia Bluff, and the Sammamish River Trail. All are paved with lots of other people. A good rain-resistant coat is a must. A hat or umbrella. And a good pair of shoes. That’s it. You just walk out your door and start.
If you aren’t up for a major walking adventure just yet (you do need to work up to the mileage), start with the mall. Do a lap or two around an indoor mall. Park far away at work or at the shopping center. I try to add in an extra set of stairs whenever I get up to get tea. And the weather. Do you ever feel like the weather is always better when you are working? If you can carve out 30 minutes in your day, get outside. Keep a pair of shoes in your desk (also good in case of natural disasters) and go out around the block. I have a standing walking meeting with a co-worker every week. Sometimes we just walk stairs. But we try to get outside and just catch up. I used to have a twice a month date with a friend and we would walk the high school track for 30 minutes. It wasn’t long, but having that date made me a lot more likely to get out there.
So suck it up and deal with your ‘allergy.’ Set a goal – walk around the block in 15 minutes; walk the dog for 30 minutes at a fast pace (choosing some good music can help keep your pace up!). Find a buddy and walk. Sing my favorite holiday song from “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”: ‘Put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking out the door …’ That’s really all it takes.
To be honest, I wish there was a real reason I struggle with exercise … but let’s call it what it is – I’m not allergic, I just don’t always like it. But part of living healthy is not just eating right, but staying active. I have learned to wear layers, bring lots of tissue when it’s cold, and get outside whenever I can. And you know what? The more I get outside and walk or run or trot or wander, the more I want. I can see why people call it an addiction. So here’s to a healthy addiction to activity!
So admittedly I am not an athlete. I walk – fast – but I walk. I’m not really sure what came over me when I announced in front of a group of women cancer survivors last February that I was going to do the Danskin Triathalon in 2012. It felt great to make that statement. And then fear creeped in. This post is about that fear – recognizing it, acknowledging it, fighting it, and doing it over and over again.
I didn’t realize just how big a commitment a triathalon was when I went to the first group meeting in May 2012. I was one of two newbies and sat next to a 70+ woman who does one a month. Talk about intimidating. Still, I felt I could do anything. I made it through surgery and chemo – a triathalon should be a piece of cake! Wrong idea number 1.
Wrong idea number 2 was thinking that my 20 year old Sears bike would be just fine for my 15 mile rides. I wasn’t willing to spend a lot of money on something I wasn’t sure I was even going to make it through (fear is starting to creep in). But biking was an incredible high. I loved it and felt in control, except in traffic, on sharp curves, or steep hills. But still … I made the commitment and bought a lighter bike. Still not high end, but it made a difference to me.
Wrong idea number 3 was the one that almost put me over the edge. Swimming. I know how to swim. I swim. Just not very often and not very far. Jumped in that lake in mid-June and swam out to the kayak and grabbed a float and went right back. Made it one lap. I thought okay, I can do this. Tried it again. Started having a hard time getting my breath. Especially on Monday night swim practices and Saturday full practices. After a month of total stress, I acknowledged that I was not going to make the swim. Total relief. No more pounding heart. No more struggling to get my breath. Just relief.
But I still wanted to do the triathlon. Another training partner just found out she would not be able to run or bike due to injuries, so we partnered – she handled the swim and I did the bike and the run/walk. I felt so powerful and alive when I crossed that finish line! It didn’t matter that I ‘only’ did two of the events – I did it, I wasn’t last, I didn’t crash, I felt incredible! And I committed to doing it again in 2013. And this time, I would swim!
A Cautionary Tale
The first question most people ask when given a cancer diagnosis is: “Why Me?” My first question was: “How did that happen?”
So take a trip back with me: I’m a busy working mom. Work, travel for business, too busy to do any kind of annual check-up, and besides I had no risk factors – slightly overweight (who isn’t), ‘medicinal’ red wine and dark chocolate (my self-prescribed health program). There really was no need to go and get poked, prodded and squashed.
The economy tanks, my job gets eliminated, (it was 2009) and I all of a sudden have plenty of time to exercise and take care of myself. I keep saying it was 5 years between my last annual and the one I finally scheduled in late 2009. But that is just to make it sound better. It was a lot longer. Which just goes to show you how well my self-prescribed health plan had been working! I step into the machine, the tech looks and re-adjusts; takes another picture; re-adjusts; takes another picture. Then a biopsy. My biopsy confirmed the diagnosis: Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS).
With DCIS, there are no lumps, no telltale signs; it tends to be considered a pre-cursor to full-on breast cancer. It is diagnosed through a mammogram screening. As I blithely traipsed along in my life, the thought never occurred to me that I might be at risk. After several more screenings, my doctor recommends a bilateral mastectomy as the DCIS was extensive. Instead, my post-surgery diagnosis included not only the DCIS, but two small tumors in the center of the breast – unseen, unfelt, unnoticed because of their size and placement. Good news – no radiation! Not so good – chemotherapy. Six months of a 3 blend cocktail, and then a single shot of chemo for another 12 months.
It was during this time that I made the leap to a better, healthier me and joined Team Survivor Northwest and started walking. That group of women cancer survivors knew what I was going through and kept me sane through the months of chemo-induced fatigue and bloating.
It never does any good to second guess or ask “what if” – but I do ask myself that question. What if I had continued with my own self-prescribed health program and hadn’t decided to finally get my annual? My story isn’t meant to scare you, unless it scares you right into a screening. It is a cautionary tale about the importance of annual check-ups, even when you have no risk factors and are healthy. You need to take charge – and isn’t that what thriving is all about?