Thursday, November 24, 2011


Bacon!  Surprisingly or not, turkey bacon just isn't as good as regular bacon.  Oh well; I have both in my fridge.  Things could be worse.  November 24 and I am sitting on my veranda in a tank top.  Listening to classical music and eating barbecue chicken pizza, I can't help but marvel at where I am and how I got here.  Most importantly, I am alive.  This time of year, late November/early December, is typically a strange and introspective time for me.  Five years ago at this time, I was pretty much dying, and then two weeks later I was diagnosed with cancer.  I was a sophomore in college, and I was so deluded.  Depressed and sick, I honestly thought I was living the good life because I was working 40 hours a week and going to school.  Independent!  It still bothers me a little when I consider just how naive I was.

People grow and change over the course of five years; it is normal.  I just can't believe how much my life has changed since I was 20.  Honestly, how much my life has changed over the past year.  It is the strangest thing, too: I have a public record of my feelings and thoughts each year for the past five years.  I kept a cancer-blog pretty much from my date of diagnosis until earlier this year, and my posts from around Thanksgiving are eerie to reread.  Last year, my writings reflect a serious discontent with my life.  I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing; I was still so lost and so uncertain about everything.  Yet, somehow I powered through that depression and even more strangely, somehow I ended up in Denver, Colorado.  One year ago, I had no idea I would be here right now, sitting outside wearing a tank top on Thanksgiving, watching people come home from a day skiing or snowboarding in the mountains.  Literally: A lady just walked into my apartment building carrying her snowboard and a six pack of Fat Tire.  I love Colorado.

True gratitude: this moment, right now.  I am beyond thankful for this, for where my life has magically delivered me.  Certainly, everything is still difficult; I'm still not working in a job I want to be, and it would be nice to be with my family today.  But there are glimpses!  Last night, I photographed my first concert in Denver for HeyReverb, the Denver Post's music website.  I wasn't paid for it, but shoot, I am published and on the contributor's list for a Denver Post affiliate!  My heart was a bit broken a week ago, but even since then, I can feel it healing, and I am grateful for what will one day be a solid friendship.  Grateful to my family who, even if they didn't quite believe I'd be able to make it out here on my own working as a barista, have never stopped supporting me.  I have lived here nearly seven months, and I am not going anywhere.  Five years after my cancer diagnosis, I can say honestly and with no delusions that I am Healthy, capital "H."  The cancer nonsense still isn't over; in fact, it's going to be a part of my life for a few more years than I expected (thanks, FaceTumor!).  But it is no longer holding me back health-wise.  I actually did Two pull-ups yesterday in addition to some halfhearted intervals.  Thankfully, today is a rest day.

A strange thought occurred to me the other night as I was lying in bed, contemplating my next steps and whether or not anyone will ever actually want to date me...  I realized that this is life: this is what it feels like to grow up and have experiences that normal people have, unrelated to cancer and fast-forwarded maturity.  Having a cold and then it going completely away after a week; dating someone then it not working out; struggling to figure out how to pay all my bills without completely giving up delicious cheese.  I hope I never grow up, but I am starting to feel more "adult," and I am okay with that.  I have entered into the second half of my twenties, and I am pretty sure they are going to be a lot better than the first half.  I am grateful and amazed to be alive to see and experience everything that comes my way.  I am probably still pretty naive.  There are a lot of things I know nothing about and many different types of pain I have yet to work through.  But just because I look young (am young...) doesn't mean I don't know a thing or two about life, and it certainly doesn't mean I don't have a different perspective and my own survival techniques.  I am grateful for that perspective.  I am grateful for what the past five years have brought me, where they have led me to, where my life continues to go.  In particular, the people who have come into my life and brought me more joy than I could have imagined.  Friends are the best thing.  Laughing, smiling, enjoying This Moment, Right Now.  Thank you all for spending some time reading this, if you have.  Thank you for humoring my ramblings.  I hope you are enjoying your Thanksgiving, or finding something to enjoy about your Thanksgiving, even if it's only that tomorrow, it will be finished.  Thank you, thank you thank you!!  Fill your hearts with gratitude for what you've been given today.  Mine is practically bursting with everything I've been given, filled with the knowledge that life is difficult and will always be in some way or another, but I am Alive to greet it all and continue to grow and most of all, continue to love.

Love from me, today.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"You look like a runner."

Hubba, wha??  Yet so said my nurse this morning as she was setting up the IV in my left arm-crook, prepping me for the maintenance drugs I receive once a month to keep the cancer-beasties at bay.  She had asked me if I was an athlete, and when I replied, "Yes, I run," she nodded knowingly and told me I look like a runner.  I am taking this as a tremendous compliment, especially the 'athlete' part.  I live in Denver.  There are Real athletes out here.  I don't consider it fair to count myself among their ranks.  Yes, I am a tiny bit more than a recreational runner, but I am certainly no "athlete."  Apparently, though, I look the part, and I am starting to feel the part. 

Yesterday, with only a small amount of trepidation, I went for a run in the morning.  I ran all four of the miles that my training plan called for.  That makes twice in three days I've run over four miles, the first time I've done that since August.  After August's Colorado Relay, I burned out pretty hard.  I was dealing with the facetumor and a tremendous amount of stress at work and a vague but persistent Sickness.  Running regularly was not high on my to-do list, although I still biked everywhere and walked quite a lot.  I managed to maintain something of a level of fitness so that when I finally started feeling Amazing about a month ago, that whole running thing wasn't such an epic battle to begin again.

So I look like a runner for the first time maybe ever.  Surely that's a good first step on the road to being a marathoner, rocking Boston in less than five months.  As long as you Look the part, right?  But in truth, I can't believe how strong I feel.  I've said this before and I will probably say it many more times, but it never ceases to amaze me the things we can do, particularly in terms of physical feats.  I was sick for so long - for five long years, I have struggled with feeling unwell.  Now, here I am, almost exactly five years after my diagnosis with acute leukemia, training for a marathon, biking everywhere, eating so healthily, and feeling like I can take over the world.  And apparently, looking like a runner.  Five years.  But that's a post for another day (probably Thursday, actually).

I really hope everyone is having a Spectacular week.  Do you have your turkey thawed out yet?  Did you find something to look forward to today?  Tomorrow?  I'm looking forward to a concert I'll be photographing tomorrow night.  Keep on keeping on, and happy Thanksgivings a wee bit early.  Peace.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

This is only the beginning

Yesterday I had the run I had hoped for on Friday.  4.2 miles after work on a brisk November afternoon with clouds scudding across the sky and the wind cutting over the mountains but not into my new cold-weather running shirt.  My breathing was easy and my legs weren't hurting at all.  My muscles were a tad sore later in the afternoon, but after a dinner of sockeye salmon and roasted vegetables, I felt good to go all over again.  Today was my so-called rest day, which involved work in the morning and football and beer in the afternoon.  I'd say it was a successful rest day, although I certainly could have eaten better.  Soon enough, I'll be heading to bed for hopefully some good sleeps.

Tomorrow, the week starts all over again.  Here is my question to myself: will I be able to get out of bed and run again in the morning?  The only way to get better is to keep trying, keep pushing myself.  Historically, though, I have had a hard time pushing myself into and through difficult situations.  No, really!  With few exceptions, notably ones involving poetry analyses and photo opportunities, I have tended towards the easy road.  Even with the Chicago Marathon, I could have trained harder, tried harder and maybe finished in less pain.  I want this so badly, but it is going to be So Hard.  Everything is important - staying healthy; stretching properly; the amount of sleep I get; properly fueling myself; maintaining a level of confidence in myself; believing this is possible.

Believe in the possibility that this will all work out the way it is supposed to...  I can't afford to doubt myself, but there are many weeks ahead and many early mornings and long slogs through possibly not-so-sunny afternoons.  I am full of uncertainty and candied pecans (thanks to my roommate...) and life may still amaze me every day but it isn't great right now.  Tomorrow brings with it so much potential.  Basically, this post is just to throw it all out there that I am so terribly human, and this is one hell of a difficult task I've given myself.  But it will all be worth it, in the end, if I can make it happen.

Best of luck with your tomorrows.  Hopefully you can find something to look forward to...  I work at a coffee shop and like to ask my customers while they're waiting for me to finish their delicious beverage: What are you looking forward to today?  Most people don't consider that question on their own; I truly like to know and to get people thinking about something awesome in their lives.  Everyone has something awesome to look forward to, even if it's only sitting for 10 minutes with a chai and some good music.  So.  Figure out what you've got to look forward to tomorrow or today or whenever.  Good luck.  We all need it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The thing about pain

There are so many different types of it.  A friend of mine has been in an absurd amount of pain this week because her wisdom teeth are giving her too much grief.  She is on some heavy duty painkillers that are causing their own difficulties, particularly the side effects.  Sadly, there isn't much she can do about it until she has the teeth pulled, in two weeks.  Yesterday, I went for a run for the first time in 13 days, and I felt great.  I ran 3.5 miles at a moderate pace, and I was amazed that my body could do such a thing after so valiantly battling the Sickness.  Yet today when I tried to run, there was the pain; there, the fatigue.  And later today, I realized my legs were super sore because I had asked them to pick right up where we left off two weeks ago.  My body may be mostly recovered from the cold, but I can't ignore that I was pretty much inactive for a decent period of time.  So much for easing back into it.

Physical pain: we feel it, acknowledge it, then do what we can to push past it.  We take the Advils and Tylenols and whatever else to reduce the inflammation and the discomfort.  We recognize that our bodies are hurting from lack of use, but we stretch it out and walk it off.  We run again tomorrow.  That stuff is easy.  There are other types of pain, less obvious, more sinister for their sneakiness.  The pain of loss; the pain of heartbreak.  I've been dealing with that pain today.  I thought I could run it away, or run away from it, but 20 minutes into my run this morning, the fact that I'm "out of shape," and hardly slept last night caught up with me.  My legs were hurting, but that discomfort did nothing to take away the numb tightness in my chest that had nothing to do with my heart rate.  What do you do with that pain?  Drugs don't do a thing for it, really.  Running may abate it for 20 or 40 or 70 minutes, but then it comes slouching back in, snuggling up where that warm fuzzy feeling used to live.

I have heard that Time helps.  Eventually, feeling returns and the little pieces of yourself that you'd given away gradually heal over.  In high school, I started running as a means of avoiding my personal demons.  Those specific demons are long gone.  I run now for myself and for my health, and if I can, I run to inspire and do something for others.  Right now, it would be so easy and so much more comfortable to crawl in bed and stay there, nursing these stupid emotional wounds, filling the tiny holes in my heart with hot chocolate and refined carbohydrates.  But that would be counterproductive and beneficial to nobody, least of all First Descents and the people I have supporting my running endeavors.

The thing about pain is that you can only give in to it so much before you have to take a step back, reassess the situation, and figure out what else you can do.  If it's physical pain that you know won't go away for a while, you grin (if you can) and bear it.  You still have a life to live.  If the pain is much deeper than that and emanates from somewhere dark and private inside you, you still have a life to live.  I still have this crazy life to live and a race to run and the more I train, the stronger I become, in general.

Last night, still in shock over the sadness wrench that had just been thrown in my previously extraordinarily happy life, I asked a very good friend what on earth I am supposed to do now.  She, in her fantastic, straightforward NorCal way, replied, "No one ever knows what they are doing, and it's a miracle that any of us survive any of this kind of shit at all."  Who knows why any of us are still here, with all the small tragedies that happen every single day.  I believe everything balances out, and I have to hope that things happen for a reason.  Although I still have no idea what I'm doing, really.  I know tomorrow I'm going for a run; I know I'll still be writing about running and life and so many other things.  I know it's going to be sunny in Denver tomorrow, and I have a lovely little sockeye fillet waiting for me when I get home from work.  I know for sure that most every pain comes and goes, and this is no different.  It will just take time.  Meanwhile, the road is beckoning, calling louder than my bed and self-pity.  Although I don't know how right now, I know this, too, shall pass.

Thanks much.  Happy weekend, Please!! enjoy it. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Things you should maybe read!

While perhaps only touching the surface of so many young-adult survivorship issues, there was a pretty good column by Ali Ansary in the Huffington Post earlier today discussing the idea of establishing "A New Field of Medicine: Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine."  What saddens me is that this is a relatively new way of thinking, but it makes so much sense.  We, the AYAs, are neither children nor "old people," and we don't deserve to be treated as such.  Cancer survival rates for my demographic haven't dramatically improved since the 70s, but hopefully that will soon be changing.  We are growing more vocal as a whole; we are beginning to realize we can demand proper care.  And the children who were treated for cancer in the 70s and 80s and survived are now young adults themselves and are finding latent side effects of the crazy chemo and radiation they received.  It never really stops, but hopefully, soon, we can reduce the reach of cancer into the lives of young adults.  It starts with Awareness!!  It continues with you being your own best advocate.  And it keeps on going with the support of physicians across the country.  Change is unquestionable.  This ball has already started rolling, and I cannot wait to see where it goes.

So that's my PSA for the day.  No run this happy hump day...  I'm saying it here though: tomorrow, I'm running.  Right.  Also!  In case you haven't seen it, the link to my First Descents Boston Marathon fundraising page is below.  I'm also putting it up on the side of this blog, to your right!  Look to your right!!  Check it out; share it; love you all so much!  Enjoy your weeks and many thanks from here.  More running; less coughing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What limits?

Are you a cancer survivor?  A trauma survivor?  Have you gone through something in your life that has inherently changed who you are and how you view the world?  Sadly, I know too many people who can say "Yes" to any of those questions.  Yet the thing about (some) traumas, it is possible to come out on the other side and be thankful for the experience.  It is possible to survive something that literally breaks you down until you can feel nothing, that strips away your essence and the person you had spent years assembling.  It is possible to experience that and somehow, find a way to rebuild yourself.  You won't be the same person you were before; I am nowhere near the person I was five years ago.  If you are lucky, though, you might actually like this new person better.

When I was back in school and only receiving maintenance therapy, I spent months trying to deny the fact that I had cancer, that I was no longer just like every other student on my college campus.  I cracked multiple times in my attempts to act like nothing had ever happened to me.  Finally and fortunately, I recognized that I was not taking care of myself and my lifestyle was not sustainable.  I started seeing a psychologist who helped me work through some old issues and a lot of new issues brought on by the cancer.  A "breakthrough," for me, came in the fall of 2008, right smack in the middle of my first battle with the facetumor.  Basically, I had an assignment due for a class that I hadn't finished.  Between barely being able to speak, not eating, and all the uncertainty surrounding whatever mass was growing in my sinuses, I was completely out of my league.  My academics weren't quite suffering, but I was struggling just to get everything done.  The deadline for this paper - I don't even remember what it was about - was growing ever-closer, and I had few ideas and fewer words on paper.  There was a constant weight in my stomach and a pressure on my chest as my stress increased because I had to finish this thing!  I didn't want to admit to my professor, much less myself, that I was sick and needed time to finish the stupid essay.  And yet...  I had spent the past few months working with a therapist, listening to her tell me that it is OK to accept that you are sick.  It is OK to ask for help.  People will understand, and you need to take care of yourself First.

This professor, this stalwart of the communications department, terrified me.  Yet I knew I wasn't going to have the essay finished on time.  So maybe a few days before the deadline, I visited him during office hours.  I walked in and said, "Hey, do you by any chance have a minute?"  I proceeded to tell him in as few words as possible that I had been in the hospital pretty much once a week for the past month and a half, and I was actually quite sick and basically, I am so sorry, but I hadn't finished his essay and there was pretty much no way I was going to have it in on time.

Of course.  Of course, he was Completely Fine with it.  He told me to "take as long as you need; don't worry about it; I hope you feel better soon!"  And that was it.  I thanked him profusely, probably saying too many times that this is highly unusual for me, and I really appreciate his understanding.  I walked into the hall, up the stairs, out the door and promptly started crying.  Pretty much hyperventilating.  It was not a big deal to anyone but myself, but to me, it was a huge deal.  I was taking care of myself first, and others were helping.  Long story shortened: I did finish the essay.  It wasn't my best work, but I got an A- on it...  And I am certainly not asking any questions about that grade.  My face tumor melted away; I graduated on time with my friends and a solid GPA.  I came out on the other side of cancer-based college stronger for having gone through it and much more willing to take care of myself, to occasionally ask for help.

Life is funny, sometimes.  You go through all these little experiences every day, and you have no idea if or how any of them will affect you.  The big, life-changing events you can't know in the present tense how they will affect you down the road.  That's for self-reflection and retrospection months and years later after you've hit the bottom and slowly, haltingly and painfully allowed yourself to regrow and discover who you are meant to be.

Long post, I know.  Basically, I've been sick this past week, and it's lame, but I have worked hard not to overdo it.  It is still a relatively new concept for me, that whole "take care of yourself" thing.  People will understand, and the marathon is still 152 long days away.  Allowing myself to fully heal, to embrace myself and drink as many liquids as possible, will only benefit me in the long run.  Only good things can come from acknowledging your temporary limitations and working with them to come out stronger, healthier and ready to go.  Thank you for reading and bearing with me.  Happy Tuesday, sad toad.  Life will necessarily get better, and if it's great, I hope it stays that way long enough for you to enjoy it.  Here we go.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Funday

Which, for me, entails sitting in front of a fire with coffee and chocolate (and Emergen-C).  Even better, today's SundayFunday is taking place in the middle of a snowstorm in the mountains.  I am toasty and so happy with life.  A friend and I drove to the mountains last night - he is skiing today, and I am relaxing.  But really, there is no better way or place to chill out and try and keep pushing this sickness as far away from me as possible.

I have not run in one week, and apparently (according to Dr. Mom), colds last 7-10 days.  Hopefully this is only a small setback and I'll start feeling normal soon.  I need to start training hardcorz!  Because......  On April 16, I will be running in the 116th Boston Marathon!

It's official: First Descents received a handful of charity spots for the marathon, and I was lucky enough to be given one of the spots.  In April of 2006, I was a freshman at Boston University and a sometime runner, though never running much longer than 30 minutes or so.  I did not understand what "Marathon Monday" meant to the people of Boston and Massachusetts in general.  Yet on that Patriot's Day, when I was walking down Comm Ave and Boylston Street on my way to work, I was swept up in the energy of the crowd, the mass of runners making their way down the avenues I walked every day.  My friends and most of the college students in the city were all drinking and cheering on the streets; people had beer pong tables set up in front of their brownstones.  Children held out orange slices and were overjoyed when a runner took one.  It was a huge party for 26.2 miles through Massachusetts, with everyone turning out to support a bunch of crazy runners.  When I ran Chicago, I got some of that energy from the city, but I don't know if anything can come close to Boston.

I certainly wanted to, but I never believed I would ever actually get the chance to run the Boston Marathon.  I run, but not quickly - the chances of my qualifying get smaller every year as the times keep getting more difficult.  But this!  This is an opportunity to take part in one of the most famous marathons in the world and to do it with an organization that has facilitated so much of my acceptance of survivorship.

I am attempting to raise $7000 for First Descents.  I have a new Fundraising Page! that, if you feel kind enough to donate, you should use instead of my former FD one.  Share the page, share the good news.  This is going to be so difficult.  Honestly, I am freaking out already even just thinking about the months ahead.  7K is a Lot of money, and 26.2 are a LOT of miles to not only run all at once but to also train for.  Yet, something in me is telling me that I can do this.  We shall see...  I hope you'll follow along with my progress and updates on here and on the Twitters (@cc_bridges).  So much excitement ahead.

Thank you so much for your support, and here we go!

Fundraising link:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Cold

Both the external and the internal cold...  The first means I wore a toque; the second that I didn't run today.  I did, however, brave both colds and go for a walk...  It was 9 a.m., 30 degrees and crisp despite a warming sun.  The highest of the mountains to the west were covered in snow and stood out in stark relief against the brightest blue sky.  I tried to run, really, I did, but after literally two minutes, I felt like my chest was going to explode and the coughing was not far behind.  I suppose it is okay though.  I would rather allow my body to heal than push myself too hard and not be able to get over this thing quickly.  Which is actually a rather novel way of thinking for me.  Historically, I have been known to ignore any and all warning signs my body issues, which has led to excessive fatigue, stress, and even cancer.  (I couldn't have stopped the cancer, necessarily, but we probably could have caught it a lot earlier.)

Last year while training for Chicago, I went for a moderately long run, 90 minutes I think, and I bonked Hard after maybe only 30.  Turns out I really hadn't been consuming enough calories for pretty much the first half of my training.  Or, if I was eating enough, they weren't the right kinds of foods.  My body finally just stopped and basically said, "I have no energy.  I cannot run nine miles, much less three.  Eat better!!"  So, I started eating more protein and more whole grains, and my energy levels changed dramatically, as did my ability to run the longer distances.  Anyway, the moral of this is that I don't feel great right now.  It's the beginning of my training; I haven't started running serious distances yet.  I am allowing myself the time to mellow, to drink tea and eat oranges and turkey chili and sleep 10 hours per night.  Soon enough, I'll be out pounding that pavement and putting the miles behind me.  Take care of yourself and you'll be amazed at what you can, in turn, ask of your body.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Woah, life updates are in order

Sitting in a coffee shop, sipping chai and munching on a chocolate chip cookie, I am neither running nor cross-training at the moment.  In fact, my body decided it would be a great idea to go and find a cold and hold on to it for a few days, so I am taking it as easy as possible to expedite the recovery process.  Because, I have embarked on yet another crazy adventure....

In FIVE MONTHS!!, I am going to run a marathon.  Run, finish, and rock a marathon.  I began training last week, which, for me, means getting in the mindset of running more regularly and running with a purpose.  No excuses, no injuries, no turning back now.  I am doing this for First Descents, a non-profit based here in Denver.  Their mission, as taken directly from the website: "First Descents offers young adult cancer fighters and survivors (ages 18 to 39) a free week-long outdoor adventure experience designed to enable them to climb, paddle and surf beyond their diagnosis, defy their cancer, reclaim their lives and connect with others doing the same."  A succinct way of saying, basically, we do awesome things for awesome people.  FD changes lives and perspectives and gives YA survivors the opportunity to push themselves past boundaries they didn't even know they'd established.

My first experience with FD was at a rock climbing camp in Jackson, Wyoming.  Climbing and rappelling from cliffs in the Tetons, my world expanded far beyond the limits I had unintentionally set for myself as a young adult survivor.  I met other young survivors who believed in me even when I didn't have much faith left in myself.  From there, my entire perspective changed.  Two years later, and I am living in Denver, CO.  I never imagined I'd be living here, and honestly, five years ago when I was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, I don't know if I fully believed I'd still be alive today.  Yet here we are: I've rock climbed in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, all with FD; I packed up my life and moved to a brand new city with only a handful of contacts; I finished the Chicago Marathon; I ran an 18-mile road race in Canada!  Shoot, who does that?  Actually, I know a lot of people who have done similar things, and most of them I know through FD.  An FD camp gives survivors confidence; it instills in them the belief that they can do anything.  Camp also establishes a network of friends who are there to bolster that belief whenever it starts to lag.  A friend I met through camp in Utah was actually waiting for me at mile 25 of the Chicago Marathon, and she gave me a cinnamon roll when I stumbled across the finish line.  It was amazing (both her support and the cinnamon roll).

I want to give back to this group, want to do whatever I possibly can to help other survivors have the same experiences I've had.  So, the opportunity has arisen for me to fundraise for FD with the goal of ultimately running (and rocking!) a marathon this coming April.  I'm not exactly sure which one yet, but I'll be sure to update as soon as I know which one.  I haven't been posting regularly on this thing, but all that is about to change.  Writing about my running gives me a little bit more accountability.  So, follow along as I train through a Denver winter!  Please, please, if you can donate to my cause, do!  If you're unable to donate monetarily right now, I'd love some positive vibes.  Tell your friends about my quest!  Tell your friends about FD!  And definitely check out some cool events I'm planning for the near future.  Thank you so much, and I'll see you at the finish line.  Keep on plugging away!

My FD Fundraising Page: