Saturday, January 27, 2018

Choose your own Adventure.

Winter is a difficult month for me. If I were a bear, I'd be hibernating like a boss, sleeping in and through the day, living off my own fat stores.

But I'm not one of those lucky hibernating mammals. Just like you, I am oh, so human. And right now, I find myself mired in what has become an annual struggle - my health is mediocre, my motivation levels are low, and sometimes, forward progress seems more than a few steps a head of me, backsliding on an icy sidewalk.

On Thursday night, I attended a panel presentation by five women - strong women leading the way in various aspects of the outdoor industry. A theme emerged: know your truths, and live your adventure. Georgina Miranda, the CEO and Founder of SheVentures, spoke about her truths and it was all I could do to keep from crying because nobody ever has it easy, but some people push through their barriers and radiate this immense confidence and self-assurance that I wish I could harness. I left the event with a new hat and a profound sense of discomfort in my own fear of pursuing true adventure.

Adventure means different things to different people. For me, it means taking a chance on a situation or circumstance without knowing what might happen. For the past few years, I have been adventure-averse. I am certainly not complacent in my life, but I have let fear of the unknown dictate my existence.

Now, finally, I have Zero interest in continuing to live this way. I am still fighting my fear of change, of taking chances, but I am not living my truth, which might be the worst way to live. My Truth - embracing the unknown; pushing myself to my physical limits; finding joy in the small beauties surrounding everything. Caring for myself. Spending as much time as possible out of doors. Loving more than I knew I could! And running; always running. (this is sort of, kind of, technically still a running blog, right?)

In this heart of winter darkness, I am committing to a change. I am choosing adventure - choosing to keep moving forward. If you want to help me, I am looking for inspiration and maybe a training buddy or two. I'm going to build up my physical strength and my endurance. I want to be able to literally haul myself over a 5-ft tall fence, which I couldn't do last summer (Spartan Race = humbled). I want to run a 15-mile trail race in June and spend the rest of the summer enjoying the high-alpine trails I've never explored.

For some reason, I'm still here, still kicking and screaming my way through this life. The past few years haven't been wasted, but they haven't been particularly fulfilling, either. With everything going on in our world, now, why not take this opportunity to define some dreams and then go after them?

End of page. To choose a life lived fully, turn to page 95. {shuffles through to page 95...}

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Days like these

Nobody told me there would be days when the sun stays in bed. Wakes up, sure, but pulls the covers far overhead to keep the waking from overcoming the sleeping, too quickly. Days where the grey wind makes its way down wide city streets, pushing hearty cyclists either forward or back and bundled-up pedestrians deeper into their winter puffies, muted tones moving along like leaves on a mission.

Of course, this would be the day I return to the Windy City - this the day I stand with others grasping for our best memories of our best friend. The last time I was here, more than a year ago, was for a wedding. This time, of course, a funeral. Surprisingly, in one week, my heart hasn't stopped hurting; this void a new, tangible addition to my day-to-day.

The nature of my grief manifests itself as the pain of my cracked ribs, cracked from the car crash I lived through the day before I learned my friend had died. I can't inhale deeply without pain radiating across the left side of my body and down to my elbow. Which is poor timing, as I would like to be able to inhale to fuel the sobbing I occasionally give in to. But my heart hurts; why shouldn't my ribs hurt, as well?

I don't know how to process this type of grief. I know broken hearts, but those crimes' perpetrators still live on, somewhere, oblivious to the small scars they caused. This is a different beast, altogether. This brokenness won't be salved by online creeping and reassurances that his new woman isn't really all that attractive. For heartaches past, I've numbed the pain with sugar, caffeine, exercise, cigarettes, whiskey, repeat. But I'm learning that self-medication isn't the best option for me. I haven't had a cigarette in nearly 10 years, and I can't hold my liquor like I used to (nor do I want to). Caffeine makes me anxious and shaky, and while I still run and love it, that whole rib thing. My fail safes have failed for now, and I'm left questioning best next steps in light of these considerations.

Will your memorial service bring some solace or only more pain? I'll know one way or the other, in a few hours. For now, I'm so nervous and so close to my edge. And I stupidly put on mascara this morning. At least some bit of me will be running today.

My dear friend - thank you for being a part of my world, however briefly. Thank you for all you brought to this world and the impact you had on everyone you met. My heart breaks further to think that you didn't know how deeply you were loved by so many. But I pray that you've found some relief, wherever you may be. And I know you'll always be with me in some way, riding on that wind and pushing me to adventure and release of inhibitions. You're totally right - they're not always a good thing.

I love you; I'll miss you; I wish I could have said goodbye.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Three-mile run and a Giant turkey sandwich

Bald eagle on the trail.
Hard to see, but (s)he's there!

Three weeks ago, I ran one mile for the first time in an embarrassingly long time. It was short, and it was slow, but it happened. I went for a run. Over the past three weeks, I have run a few more times - still slowly, still not very far.

I first started running in highschool, when I was 15 or 16. I have never been fast, but I do consider myself a Runner. Running has been many things to me over the years: the enabler of my eating disorder in highschool; a way to lose weight and forget about my broken heart in college; proof of the resiliency of my body after cancer; and recently, a faster way to explore the trails and wild areas of my beloved Colorado. Also, and most importantly, it has always been my primary method of decompression. I turn to running in times of stress and distress, and it is perhaps the only thing I still rely on for my own health and happiness, as various other strategies and coping mechanisms have come and gone again.

I have had a number of running-breaks over the years, most notably during that whole cancer thing. But I slowly jogged my way back to health, and even went and limped through a marathon two years after finishing two years of cancer treatment. Somehow, I hobbled through another marathon, a year and a half later. So the last marathon I ran was in April, 2012. I have run a few more trail races since then, of which I am most proud of finishing the 2014 Imogene Pass Run.

In 2014, though, the strangest thing happened - I got a corporate desk job. I launched into a career with one of the biggest companies in Denver, blindly assuming that this is what I really wanted, what I was meant to do! Never mind that I left Boston, DC and Chicago to get away from high-stress, high-pressure companies and the individuals who value work as the end instead of as the means to an end. I have been at this job for almost three years, and I have begun to draw a few correlations between that job and my overall health and happiness. Let's just say that I believe my job has had a direct, negative impact on virtually every aspect of my Health.

But this post is about running. I'll save the story of the sad, stressed and sick Caroline for another day. Today, I ran straight through for 30 minutes. Well, to say I "ran" is incredibly generous. I felt like I was shuffling along a dirt trail, barely more than jogging. And yet, I was surrounded by prairie dogs, prairie hawks and a glorious bald eagle, and there were no other humans on the trail. For the past three weeks, I have had to come to terms with the fact that I am truly and unavoidably starting over. All of my Healths - mental, emotional, physical, etc. - have slowly been destroyed over the past three years. Perhaps not least of all, I have barely run in over a year. Finally, sadly, I have reached my rock bottom. The good news is that I didn't end up in the hospital, but I think I would have, soon.

I am changing my life. I am putting myself first. Among many other things, this means that I am running again. Slowly, and for only a few miles at a time, I am running again. I refuse to give up on myself and the "being-aliveness" that I love so dearly, and I will continue to put one foot in front of the other and remember to stop and take a picture of the nesting bald eagle because how often do you see that on a run??

Stay tuned because I have a whole lot more to share as I head down this particular life-trail. I am so scared, but I am so excited because, finally, I am going to acknowledge and prioritize the one person I can never escape - myself.

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This is the most Me I can be.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sunday afternoon musings - hopped up on chai and sunshine

What have I been doing these past five months? Clearly, I haven't been writing. I was working and hiking and running and backpacking and wedding-ing (my brothers'), and generally doing lots of things that were not writing. I have also been trying to heal. As I alluded to in my last post, my body was in sorry shape, earlier this year. I went to Italy in January, and on my return, everything seemed to spiral out of control for me, health-wise. I started losing weight because I had chronic diarrhea and extreme fatigue. I was falling asleep at my desk at work and Lord knows I couldn't run. By May, I had met with a naturopath and was trying to not eat grains and not eat sugar and slowly get back into exercise and gradually get over my fatigue.

The thing is, my health seems to operate as one of those Whack-a-Mole games. You can only whack one mole at a time, and as soon as you do, there's another mole waiting to be whacked, and another and another and you inevitably miss one or two and then the game is over and you may or may not have hit enough moles to get a few tickets spat out at you that can be redeemed for something Made in China. But I digress. My gut is healing (*Knock Wood!!). It no longer starts bubbling after every single thing I eat. I have gained five or six pounds, so I'm about back to a normal weight. But the moles: my hemoglobin count is falling.

Yesterday, I went for a pretty stout hike, and the mountain nearly broke me. My generation has embraced the notion of collecting experiences versus things, and we share everything cool with everybody who follows us on social media. Don't get me wrong - I do it too. But yesterday, it occurred to me that if I posted the selfie I took after finally making it to the saddle between the mountains, as the sun was setting and the mountains and the plains were both glowing, if I shared that moment with my social media world, it would be wrong. It would be a pretty picture of me almost on top of a mountain seemingly celebrating four miles and 2,500 feet of vert! Totally badass! And yet, that was one of the most brutal hikes I've ever forced myself through. I did it, but only because I would have felt even worse if I had turned back. But for four miles and 2,500 feet, I couldn't breathe; I felt like I could barely move.

I've come a long way since the end of May, but all the sneaky moles that pop up keep reminding me that I am sailing uncharted waters. None of how I feel is normal, and I haven't yet found any sort of precedent for these sicknesses. But it is all I can do to just keep pushing onwards and upwards. Even if I have to take a break to let my heart rate chill out every few minutes; even if I have to remind myself to drink water and stay fueled. I am not ready to turn around or just quit because if I have learned one thing from my years here, the view from up high is Always worth it.

Here's to another five months of living!!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A long time coming

I have halfheartedly sat down to write an update on here a number of times over the past few months. Something always comes up to keep me from finishing more than a paragraph. I'm braindead after work; The Voice is back on; the sheer bulk of thoughts and experiences I want to share is overwhelming. How on earth will I condense everything into one post when there's so much I need to get out onto the Internet? But for the sake of my sanity and hopefully to help someone else out there, I am committing to starting to write again. I realize that not every post needs to reveal some epic, thought-provoking "Come to Jesus" moment, though I am certainly working through plenty of those. In writing for a public forum though, I think the most important part is to stay focused and stay true to your purpose. For a long time, I had an easily defined purpose - to share my cancer journey. My cancer journey is no longer the focal point of my life (thank goodness), but my experiences as a survivor, I think, constitute a decent reason to keep writing publicly.

Here's my plan, and here's why: I'm going to keep writing, and I am going to keep writing about my survival. I hereby dedicate my blog to writing about running and hiking and living as much of my life outdoors as I can, despite the fact that my body is close to the edge of wrecked. We have all survived something, and the most thrilling part about it is that we continue to survive and get to enjoy this phenomenal world in which we live!

Cancer destroyed my body's secondary immune system. My blood can no longer produce a specific type of b-cells, immunoglobulins. Various doctors and specialists ranging from immunologists to gastroenterologists to the naturopath I'm currently seeing have all tested my blood extensively to determine the extent of my deficiency. They all agree: I don't make any immuoglobulins. Diagnosis? Hypogammaglobulinemia. Gezundheit. This, they agree on, once each has run the exact same test and seen the exact same results. After which point, their agreement ends. It's pretty amazing and strangely universal in Western medicine - medical tunnel vision. "I specialize in this one thing and so will treat the symptoms you are experiencing for this one thing." So, the immunologist monitors the immunoglobulin replacement therapy I receive at home, monthly. And the GI guy monitors the steroids he prescribed for "nonspecific inflammation" of the intestinal system. And my new naturopath is at least looking at my entire system and trying to figure out why my liver enzymes are elevated while my blood glucose levels are totally normal and my cortisol levels are off the charts and in the meantime, I just desperately want to stop pooping everything out of me that I put into me. More than that, I want to run a full trail marathon in Moab in November, and I'm genuinely not sure my body can pull it off. 

With all of that on my mind, I'm going to write for other people to read about it! In case you've ever wondered what it's like to dive into the GAPS diet and try to consume little to few carbohydrates while training for a summer's worth of backpacking with a potential trail marathon cherry on top, this is the spot for you! There's no way I'll be able to write daily, but I commit to a bit more regularity. How's that for just vague enough?

This will be exciting. Hopefully, it will be cathartic. Even more hopefully, at the end of this grand experiment, my gut will have healed more and my True Health will be back and here to stay. Thanks in advance for your support and for your patronage!!

Friday, December 11, 2015

How many lives do we live in a lifetime?

Nine years ago, today, I wrote my first blog post at My (B)log - forum for my fears, frustrations and exalted successes during my treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia. Nine years was a lifetime ago, and yet, as many survivors might tell you, there are few sensations like the passage of time after a personal tragedy. Undoubtedly we are living, growing, forging a new path through unfamiliar woods. And yet I can't shake the feeling that I was stuck for so long and have only very recently begun to develop into my adult self.

When you are diagnosed with cancer at age 20, you are robbed of the opportunity to mature in tandem with your peers. You miss out on so many familiar experiences, both positive and negative - college house parties infused with that unmistakable jungle-juice aroma of college student invincibility. Mac and cheese and two-buck Chuck during those few lean post-college years, busting ass at whatever job you have and then closing down the bars that night, celebrating the little bit of independence you've eked out since graduation. Love and mistakes and heartbreak and the mostly inconsequential relationships sparked through Tinder. Finally, a salaried job and the sense that you might finally, maybe, be starting to Make It. Life in your 20s. It is different from any other decade - though I suppose all decades have their own distinct flavor.

This week was my nine-year "Cancerversary," the anniversary of my diagnosis. I have spent the past few weeks pestered by an intermittent pensiveness, occasionally considering where I am and whether this is where I want to be. First and foremost, I am Alive. There: the crux of my internal struggles of self identity and accomplishment. If you are reading this, you, too, are alive. Do you realize what that means, every single day? Do you inhale deeply when you step outside and see the sun rising once more, unbidden, in the east? Most days, I do. Most days, I wake up and am awestruck for a moment that here I am, again. It was only maybe two or three years ago when I realized that I could plan for a future. I had spent years just existing in the present, afraid of more disappointment when my plans would inevitably shatter.

The return of my confidence in myself has been so incremental, so snail's-pace slow that at times I still question what I am missing, what I must be doing wrong. I survived Cancer! I can do Anything! And mostly, I'm pretty sure I can do anything, but that isn't the point. The point is whether or not I am doing the right thing. Not necessarily right in the moral or ethical sense, but what is right for me. I am not so naive as to think this plight is unique to me or to cancer survivors. Most individuals struggle with these questions of self and direction, and I'm sure many people never come to an answer.

My adventures and experiences from the past nine years have taught me strange things, broadly. I have learned that our lives are continuations of days. One leads into the next and the next and that sun will continue to rise no matter what our human selves do to ourselves and each other. I have also learned that our bodies and our souls are more resilient than we tend to give them credit for. My body might be broken, but it will still begrudgingly oblige when I ask it to perform ridiculous feats of athleticism. I have learned that at the end of the day, regardless of friends and family and lovers alike, you have to be at peace with yourself because you are your sole biggest supporter in everything. And this seems like the hardest lesson to put into practice.

We are beautifully, tragically, amazingly human, which classification does not lend itself well to ease of living. Life is difficult. Every day, we are surrounded by struggles - private, public, global. Every once in a while, we assess our own lives and ask ourselves if what we are doing is meaningful, sustainable, worth it. In 10 months I will turn 30. Gasp! I'm so young! And the thought of quitting my stable, stressful corporate job and trekking across Spain keeps rolling around in my brain like a marble whose texture enchants me but I don't really know how to play the game and so don't know what to do with besides roll it around. Confidence in myself and my future self. Toss the damn marble and see where it rolls. I am not fully the adult-Caroline, but nine years after heading down this road, I get to keep growing and breathing and learning that we won't get anywhere exciting without taking some crazy chances. I pray for the confidence and faith to discover what living truly means, for me. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Survival requires tenacity. And so much more.

I am eight and one-quarter years out from my diagnosis with acute lymphocytic leukemia. By medical standards and definitions, I am "cured." As part of my treatment plan those many years ago, I signed up for a clinical trial that included follow-up for a number of years post-treatment. I don't know how many years they follow us for, but I do know that once a year, I get a phone call from some research assistant at the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center wherein she asks whether or not I am "still alive?" The first time I received one of those calls, I was flabbergasted. "That's all you want to know?" I queried. But they didn't care about the extensive long-term side effects I was dealing with, just whether the drugs or the cancer or something else had killed me. Maybe the side effect issue is part of another clinical trial I haven't heard about yet.

I haven't really written about cancer in a few years. I actually don't really even think about it all that much. My medical issues have morphed into separate demons, and cancer has become so peripheral that it is almost part of a past life. That isn't to say I don't think about the medical issues because I do. I think about them all the time. I think about them every time I eat a meal or a snack because my stomach gurgles ominously, warning me that in about 15 minutes I'm going to have to find a bathroom. But anyway, over the past week, I have read a few articles that women have written about their own survivorship. One of them, by Suleika Jaouad, you may have already read. She's a celebrity, basically: a strikingly beautiful, young woman who writes about her cancer experiences for The New York Times. I haven't read any of her articles about her life as a twenty-something with leukemia. I didn't want to. But a friend linked to this specific article on Facebook with the caption, "Yes Yes Yes." So, I clicked through. What I read saddened me, more than anything else. She is much more eloquent and honest with herself than I was when I was a year out of treatment. At that time, I still believed I could charge forward with my life, break down walls, inspire others to push through adversity.

My life slowed to an unexpected and drawn-out pause. I lost everything that I once believed I was: driven; motivated by goals; fearless; powerful; confident. Yes, I had a remarkable appreciation for the beauty of living day-to-day, but I also felt there was a significant part of me that wasn't realized. I am grateful for the time I had living at home, and I appreciate so many things about my years at Starbucks and Hyatt. But I wasn't hungry for anything. I was drifting, and it was brutal. It was even worse when I realized that that piece of me was missing, and I had no idea how to either get it back or create it from scratch.

Suleika is barely in her first year post-treatment. Hopefully she will adjust better than I did; she is already heading down her path of recreation. I am seven years post-treatment, and I feel like I am barely getting a handle on my hunger, on my future. That drive is there; that burning in my chest to just Rule the world I inhabit, is Back. I wrote in a post on here, months ago, that there are no absolutes, no black and white situations. Maybe that isn't quite true: You Absolutely Have to believe in yourself. You Have to Want to live and Want to experience everything that this world has to offer. If you hesitate or forget or are dragged from that living river of excitement and emotion, it is its own struggle to find your way back. But we are resilient. We are tenacious. We are all survivors of something, and we are all fighting to find our ways in the world.

It may have taken me longer than some to dive back into myself and what I want from my life, but I am finally beginning to figure it out, once more. And I am not giving up.