Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Happy Tuesday, once again!

Breakfast: kale/spinach/tomato/basil and goat cheese omelet, iced mate with honey.  Woke up this morning to (finally!) a sprinkling of sparkling snow and the tantalizing prospect of maybe eventually beginning studying for a final exam on Thursday instead of using my day off to escape to the snowy mountains.  Ah, to be a busy, working adult/student in Colorado in the winter.  Oh well, soon enough there will be lots more snow and many more days to ski.  Meanwhile, I need to pass my chem exam.

I also woke up with sore abs.  What? you ask.  Don't sore abs require some sort of activity to actually work those abs?  Well, yes!  Since I updated last week, I have run four more times and twice done lift-y things at the gym, including incline sit-ups, hence the sore lower abs.  I have decided to try something just slightly different.  Instead of running with the intention of gradually increasing my mileage for some long-distance race, I am focusing on a broader goal: strength and a solid base fitness level.  I have only been running between 2.5 and 3 miles, which is actually working out pretty well.

Here is a fun update: it has been six weeks since I last received IVIg.  (Immune-replacement therapy I'd been receiving since June 2011.  The chemo sapped my body's ability to produce its own secondary immune response).  I wasn't making my own immunoglobulins, so my doctor out here determined it was in my best interest to receive an infusion of someone else's immunoglobulins every three weeks.  Okay, fine, good, I stopped having chronic sinus infections, slept through the night, changed my diet, stopped having debilitating intestinal issues, blah blah.  And then, six weeks ago, I transferred my care from the children's hospital I had been going to to the adult hospital across the street.  The adult hematologist/oncologist I met with six weeks ago had a different plan for me.  He wanted me to NOT receive the immune therapy every three weeks, reasoning that it isn't necessarily that healthy to so frequently receive blood products.  Are they really doing all that much for me, anyway?  I have this long-term goal to eventually be off all medications and hospital infusions (including IVIg!).  So, while acknowledging my trepidation of just letting my immune system slowly get worse concurrently with flu season, I agreed to pause the IVIg and see what happens with the directive to contact my doctor Immediately if I started feeling sick or if any of my old symptoms came back.

Like I said, it has now been six weeks, and honestly, I haven't felt great, but I also haven't fallen deathly ill (or gotten sick at all, actually).  I go back in on Thursday for another PET scan, labs and a follow-up with my adult doctor.  I am interested to see where my IgG levels are - higher, lower, how much lower... But anyway, the point of all this: with no external help for my immune system and a massive reluctance on my part to rely on any antibiotics, I am focusing heavily on shoring up my body and my immunity naturally and nutritionally.  I am going back to school for nutrition to gain some credibility so I can help others do this very thing, but I am still going to start with myself and start now.  So, while I would love to train for another marathon, I know that running those distances throughout winter is not the smartest choice for my body.  Much more important is to focus on overall health - shorter running distances, strength training, perhaps yoga... Skiing! 

And, of course, food.  I would really like to add more vegetables to my diet.  Comparatively, I already eat pretty well.  (see: breakfast!)  But there is so much room for improvement, so many things to learn about nutrition and immunity and incorporating it all into a sustainable lifestyle.  I still have a sweet tooth; that isn't going away.  I love baking and am having a blast learning how to make healthy, gluten-free snacks.  (Side story: my roommate last night mentioned he tried a piece of the coffee cake I made the other day.  "Is it really gluten free?"  "Yup, sure is."  "It doesn't even taste like it!  It's really good."  Sweet.  I love when that happens.)  I have also found I have trouble fueling myself adequately if I run any longer than half an hour.  For some reason, my metabolism has skyrocketed, and the last thing I need is to lose any more weight.  As winter sets in here in Denver, other people can go ahead and get sick, but I will not be one of them.  I have too many more important things to worry about than viruses and bacteria.  Letting go of stress, maintaining a healthy weight, running, eating super well, and listening closely to my body.

We would all be a little bit better off if we ate more kale.  As the holidays progress, I just hope you can figure out a way to relax and take care of yourself.  Throw some garlic and spinach into your morning omelet!  Make an effort to drink more tea and less coffee (less, not none...).  I'm going to eliminate sugary beverages to make room for delicious homemade baked goods.  Hooray, here's to your health.  :)

Running just a little more, breathing deeply.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It is a Tuesday

Which means: jazz on the radio, garlic and rosemary sockeye, white sweet potato roasties, and, now, organic hot chocolate.  There is a mini Christmas tree glowing in the fireplace-space of my apartment, nestled beneath a large glass jar stuffed with some more glowey Christmas lights.  You cannot have too many Christmas lights glowing all around.  Standing in the corner, right next to my jam-packed bookshelf, are a pair of lime green and black and orange (?!) crazy, ridiculous powder skis that, every time I look at them, make me think of my crazy, ridiculous boyfriend powder skier. (I look at those skis a lot.)  There is a 1950s-era fully functional record player across the room, hanging out beneath our vintage disco ball.  It's time to bust out the Beach Boys Christmas album! which we do have.

I am blessed.  I am grateful and lucky and beyond amazed every day that I am here, living this life.  A blog I was reading earlier today contained this statement: "Life can change, powerfully, in six years."  She was referring to having been diagnosed with celiac disease six years earlier.  Six years ago, for me, I was diagnosed with cancer.  Life changed, powerfully, in the course of one week.  Six years ago, I had no idea what the next months, weeks of my life would bring.  I knew only that I had to do everything possible to stay alive, to go back to school the next year.

I don't think there is anything in this world that can prepare you for a life-shaking, paradigm-shattering event.  Doesn't matter if it is celiac or cancer or lupus or the birth of a child or whatever.  Other people say things like, "I couldn't do what you've done."  But that isn't true.  If you want it badly enough, you will do whatever it takes to adapt to this new challenge.  Even though I used it once, I really don't like the term "new normal."  Can anyone define for me "old normal?"  Is it normal to sleep 4 or 5 hours a night, depend on caffeine and processed foods to sustain us during the day, use alcohol or substances as a means of relaxation?  Don't tell me that is normal; don't even try.  We are all so individualized.  The glory of our lives is that we have the freedom to choose how we want to approach our days.  We really can choose our attitudes.  There is no science to confirm or deny that my (mostly) positive attitude helped me beat cancer, but I am cancer-free six years later despite still consuming mass quantities of sugar.

It's funny: most high school and college kids have a plan for their lives; they have at least a vague idea of where they'll be in five years' time.  When I was a senior in college, five years ago, I had no remote vision of my future.  I was still entrenched in the reality that I might not live to see the next semester.  Everything has gone in a completely different direction than I would have thought.  I always thought my younger brother would live in Colorado, not me.  I would have said, "Oh wow, that's super cool!  But so unlikely!" if someone had told me by 2013 I'd have completed two marathons, Chicago and Boston.  I'd have climbed in Wyoming and Utah and Colorado, photographed the President and countless bands, friends, mountain bikers.  Worked at Starbucks.  Still worked at Starbucks...  If someone had told me that in five years time, I would decide to go back to school for science.  Like, for real.  Science.  Who does science??

And yet here I am, six years later, doing science.  Doing science because I want to know what happened to my body and how I can fix it nutritionally.  I, too, was diagnosed with celiac, but it popped up as a result of the immunodeficiency caused by chemo.  Chronic inflammation, sinusitis: things that I can control with diet and exercise, things I so badly want to help others understand and control with diet and exercise.  "I couldn't do what you've done..."  What, couldn't eliminate gluten because it was a life or death situation?  Of course you could!  And discover quinoa and quinoa flour and garlic rosemary sockeye and white sweet potatoes!  Life is worth figuring out how to make it work.  It might even end up infinitely better than what you imagined.

In the meantime, so much for running and blogging about it.  I haven't been running almost as much as I haven't been writing.  I have been running a little bit, but not enough and with no motivation behind it.  I think I need something to work towards.  I'm not one of those people who can just Run.  I need to train, even if it's half-hearted.  I need a reason to haul out of bed when it's dark and cold when I would much prefer to sleep a little longer.  So, if anyone wants to suggest a spring/early summer race, OR, if someone wants to train with me, please let me know!

There are so many beautiful things in this world, in my life.  Again, so much to be grateful for.  I am normal (hah) and lose sight of that perspective sometimes, but I also always come right back to it.  It's been six years, and I am still kicking, and kicking it in Colorado, no less!  I have my very own pair of gnarly skis!  I have a plan and a vision for my future.  It's an incredible one, too.  I have No Idea how any of it will work out, but it is there, at least.  It is something to work towards while still living every day and appreciating everything I have.  We are all so lucky to be here.  I only ask that you consider everything you're blessed with, realize that nothing is permanent and it is all we can do to appreciate what we have right now.  Thank you for tuning in, hopefully I'll be back sooner.  There has been a lot on my mind lately; maybe I'll share some more of it.

Trying to run more; thinking less about the small stuff.  Love!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

No good place to begin

Too frequently, I forget that I am not actually in this alone.  I forget that others have shared these experiences, these emotions.  People I know are, right now, fighting the same fight I am struggling with.  They are winning gracefully and embracing the new lives they have been gifted.  Less than three years ago, at a climbing camp hosted by First Descents in Jackson, Wyoming, I met a group of young adult cancer survivors.  I was utterly overwhelmed by the experience and by the other survivors themselves.  They all seemed so well-adjusted to this survivorship thing; they all seemed like they had their lives back on track and were living every day happily and purposefully.  And a few of them were regular and fairly serious runners.  I was none of those things at the time, and I didn't understand how one could possibly reach that point.

I learned over the course of the week that my initial conceptions were not exactly right...  We were all struggling with adjusting to being young-adult cancer survivors; not one of us quite knew what that even meant.  There was still so much pain and resentment, still so many questions that none of us could answer.  One woman, in particular, impressed me as someone I would like to strive to emulate.  Again, over the course of these past few years, I have learned she is just as fragile as I am; her own cancer struggle was ruthless.  Yet I still look up to her and am inspired by her wisdom and ability to verbalize pretty much exactly how I am feeling.  She blogged the other day, and while her story is completely different from mine, her words hit home, hard:
"Recovery seemed to go on forever, in a kind of horrific slow motion.  Time stopped.  During treatment, there are at least markers and milestones to let you know you are moving toward something.  Once it ended, it often felt as if the limbo would never end.  Life in the immediate aftermath of cancer is suspended animation."

For me, it has been five years since my diagnosis and treatment, and all of those years I have spent suspended.  Cancer took something from me that I have only recently been able to define.  I used to have this deep, burning energy, this drive I could never really explain but innately knew as part of me.  Those who have known me since cancer would probably say I am driven and full of energy, but I am talking about something a little deeper.  This energy was almost a cosmic pull from the future, something hooked and taking me as fast as possible into an incredible and limitless future.  I was going to be a singer! a journalist! I was going to travel the world, taking photos of sick children in Africa, making a difference!  I lived my whole childhood and teenage years believing that everywhere I was going was taking me somewhere new, that everything would lead to something else, unknown and wonderful.  So many years ahead, so much potential.

And then, when I was 20, I got sick.  All of those feelings and beliefs and unconscious understandings were stripped away and I was left bare of everything but a day-to-day struggle to live, to remember to wake up and inhale.  I lost my drive.  I lost my belief in a limitless and spectacular future.  And then when the cancer was finally gone, I think that drive was replaced by fear.  I graduated from college but had no idea how to plan a future because I didn't truly believe I still had one.  I spent a lot of time asking God and the Universe in general, "Where am I supposed to go from here?  What am I supposed to do with this experience; surely there is a reason for my still being here...?"

I know a few people now who would say that First Descents marked a shift in their view of themselves as survivors, changed their lives.  FD certainly changed my life, but I think my epic turning point started just about a year ago.  Just about a year ago, something sparked in me, very quietly.  Whatever that spark was, it brought me to Colorado.  I still had no direction, but I was going to live directionless on my own.  One year ago, I began treatment for immunogammaglobulinemia (basically no secondary immune systems.  Chemo was too effective).  Gradually, my quality of life increased to levels I hadn't experienced since I was 18.  I literally hadn't felt healthy in over five years.  And then I kept kind of getting sick, and it turns out I have celiac disease.  And it turns out my bones are osteoporitic.  And I have high cholesterol.  And I ran the Boston Marathon this past year.

This past year...  I made friends; I learned that I can actually support myself.  I changed my diet, and I feel Incredible.  And recently, within the past six months, the most important things have happened: I developed this crazy relationship with someone I actually want to have a future with.  Really?  Is that what it comes down to, this whole "love" thing?  My heart is growing in directions I honestly didn't think were possible for me.  But it is so much more!  All of these things, the immune issues, the celiac, finishing the Boston Marathon, hiking up a mountain at 14,000 ft in the air, and now this blowing open of my heart and soul for another person - this year, I realized pretty much two days ago, has reignited my drive.  This deep and growling fire in my chest was a feeling I thought was gone.  I thought the antidepressants were stamping it out or cancer had killed it for good.  But unimaginably, there it is.  Finally, painfully, almost reluctantly, I am looking to the future once more, allowing myself to be pulled into it once more.  I am still terrified of the unknown, the lingering threat of sickness, whether mine or someone else's, the fear of losing everything I've built up (again).

It does seem, though, that the most important thing a person can possibly do is define and face their greatest fears.  It isn't easy, and when you're living in suspended animation, sometimes it is actually impossible to pull yourself from that state.  Sometimes it takes a sea change of events to wash away our restraints: a beautiful, incredible, seemingly impossible baby (for my friend) and a family bursting with more love than seems possible but it is because of everything they have overcome.  For me, it took allowing myself to fully entrust myself to another person, to being diagnosed with celiac, to finishing the Boston Marathon though totally untrained and consuming no gluten and to pretty much fully recovering in about three days...  That stoked this ambition to go back to school for nutrition (?!).  So I am going back to school for food science and human nutrition!  It is going to be at least four or five years before I'll be finished with everything, and then everything Really gets exciting.  But look: a plan.  A long-term, long-distance, future-based plan.  A plan based around healing myself and hopefully, ultimately, helping others heal (and walk and run and eat lots of kale).

And fear, still, but fear tempered by love.  I don't know what will happen at any point down this line, but I know what I dream about; I certainly know what I am hoping for.  And so, like my friend, I have to end with this, because it is a universal something we all seek: Hope.  There is hope for a future and whatever it holds and whatever it throws at us.  I know this is supposed to be a blog about running, but humor me this post about running headlong, finally, again, into whatever is coming my way.  Running through the snow and the rain and the 95 degree days and the perfect, breezy spring mornings and running next to someone who won't leave me behind and loving it all just for the sake of being alive and moving and breathing and Oh My God, it's gorgeous outside today!  There is so much, and life is still hard too often, but it is all so worth it.  It really is nice to have Me back.  I feel so fully complete now, now with a purpose, with some ambition, with this love guiding me forward.

Thank you for reading, if you've made it this far.  Promise, more running and nutrition-related posts to come, just had to get all this out.  Love you, love me, love life.  It's all good.  Now go live a little!  And happy summer...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A strange victory

As of this morning, I am officially "in remission" from the lymphoproliferation that had been growing in my face.  A non-cancerous tumor in the lymph tissue in my sinuses, this little bugger wasn't exactly harmful, but it was growing and who knows where it might have grown to if left to its own devices.  They discovered the mass in late August, and I began a 6-month course of treatment for it in October.  Had my last drug sesh just after the marathon in April, and today I had my PET scan to determine whether the treatment worked.  Supposedly, the treatment worked!  Targeted B-cell therapy - not technically chemo, but a drug with the same idea: seek out any rapidly reproducing and growing B-cells, attack and kill them!  Hilariously, though, this is the second time I have gone through this.  So, please forgive me if I'm not jumping all around in ecstasy because, I'm in remission! 

Yes, I am happy, beyond happy that the facetumor is gone.  But I suppose it could come back.  It has happened before.  Also, this past December was my five-year anniversary of cancer diagnosis.  This past December was when this was all supposed to be finished, five years worth of treatment and follow-up care.  Today, though, marks the beginning of another five years worth of follow-up.  Scans every three months for a year, then every four months, then every six months for the remaining three years.  Get all that?  It is a strange feeling, knowing that you have a doctor's appointment in three months to make sure there are no foreign masses growing somewhere in your body.  Cancer wipes out any sense of security we have about our bodies.  It gives root to a very deep, mostly ignored fear of betrayal by the one thing that is supposed to be impermeable: ourselves.  A tumor physically removed is tangible proof that we actually have no control over what happens to us.  Yes, we can quit smoking; eat more fruits and vegetables; remain active; wear sunscreen.  We can take actions to Lessen our chances of cancer or sickness, but no, we can't stop it.  I had leukemia, a blood cancer caused by a defective gene.  Doctors don't know what causes it or why it manifests in some people at certain times and not others.  Why did I get ALL when I was 20 and not three?  Why did my facetumor return without the presence of any viral instigator (as was the case the first time)?  Why does a 28-year old woman with absolutely no genetic predisposition and a healthy lifestyle develop a lump in her left breast?  There are no answers to these questions, at least not today, but we are still allowed to ask them occasionally.  I think the key is to not dwell on them, though.

I just had an interesting visual: my body is constantly at war.  I always considered this cancer thing a war, that I was fighting for my life with a little help from my chemotherapeutic friends.  Now, I have an autoimmune disorder where my insides are beating up my other insides.  I get to help this fight by eliminating the main catalyst, gluten.  But then I also ask crazy things of myself: wake up every day.  Bike to work every day.  Run 3, 6, 26.2 miles, Right Now!  In a sense, I don't want this battle to ever end.  I don't want to ever stop pushing my limits, testing the waters of recklessness and endurance.  Now with the gluten thing, I get to get creative with my diet and nutrition and fueling all these crazy adventures.  It is all very interesting to me (cue up another post on that...), and I like being in control of the madness that is my body.  I don't like tumors and uncertainty and having to rely on drugs to stay healthy.

There are also days (sparingly), when I feel like I cannot plan my life too far in advance.  I have a doctor's appointment in three weeks for my immunoglobulins.  I'll have another one in another three weeks.  I'll have a PET scan in three months.  I'll have another colonoscopy in three months.  Life lived incrementally, plans made around requisite hospital visits.  Forgive me if this post sounds ungrateful or whiney.  I've written loads before about the fact that I love my life, my world, am so thankful for the experiences that have led me here.  But I am ready for this medical nonsense to be finished.  And it won't be for at least another five years.  So, today, I get to grumble a little bit.  We always get to grumble a little bit.  Like I said above though, none of it is worth dwelling on.  We live the lives we have and make the best of it.  I am planning a vacation to my happiest place on earth in two months, thinking about grad school (there's that other post teaser again!), baking delicious gluten-free foods.  Life goes on.

And I'm planning on going for a run tomorrow morning, after the pint of ice cream I ate earlier settles down a bit.  So, awesome.  And I'm going hiking/camping/off-roading with good people this weekend!  And, haha, I'm in remission.  Again.  So, yay, life.  Thanks for stopping by...  Keep on running.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

So many wonderful things

Raspberry sorbetto after a sunset photo-walk after a wild rice/pork tenderloin/coconut-curry sweet potato goulash repast after a nap.  Atmospheric distortion: dark violets to light greys with each successive mountain range as the sun sets behind them all.  Realizing that confidence is beautiful.  Realizing, too, that the person I used to be before the Boston Marathon, before celiac, before Colorado and certainly before cancer, is not the woman I have become and not particularly someone I want to emulate.  Realizing the neighborhood in which I live is extremely lively and interesting when you're strolling around it on foot in the evening.  (There's a Buddhist temple/house/bookstore three blocks away?!) Finishing that pint of delicious raspberry sorbetto and you know what? I don't even feel bad about it because it is gluten and dairy free and I ran yesterday...  Oh yeah, and running.

Yesterday after work, I flopped onto my bed with every intention of closing my eyes and napping for a bit before I began the adventure of cooking my dinner.  My brain, though, didn't shut down.  Instead, it reminded me that I hadn't really run in about 2 weeks, hadn't moderately exercised in a few days.  Also, I just wasn't that tired.  So I popped up, put on my shorts and wicking t-shirt, laced up my sneaks, and headed into the wind.  3.6 miles later and that was it.  Run and done.  For a while last night, I couldn't stop thinking about how soon I became winded (after, like, 5 minutes) and how the run really didn't feel that easy.  Then I realized that I have this ridiculous double standard for myself.  I had just run for 35 minutes straight, two days after nearly passing out from exhaustion at work.  So many people don't run, period.  My roommate reminded me that of course it wasn't particularly easy; I've only run twice since the marathon a month ago.  You don't just stay in shape because you want to be in shape; you have to make an effort.

Every day I have to remind myself to make an effort.  Whether concerning running, what I'm eating, how I approach my job and coworkers, or how I approach the day in general.  Maintaining a positive attitude can be difficult, especially when it seems like everyone else is in a bad mood or no one will ever want to hire me for a "real" job.  I have to remind myself that there are So Many Wonderful Things! and that I am incredible and indestructible in a way that has nothing to do with twenty-something obliviousness.  It isn't that I can do stupid things and suffer no consequences; it is that I have survived so much that I know I can conquer any fear or challenge.  I know too many wonderful people who doubt themselves or who don't give themselves nearly enough credit as human beings.  Of course, there is a line between confident and cocky, but why are too many people afraid to believe in their own strength and beauty?  It has taken me years and a whole lot of self-doubt (that I still struggle with) to reach this point, but seriously, we are all so amazing, so capable of grabbing life by the horns and making it our own.

I really can't emphasize enough that there are so many wonderful things in our worlds, so many small or huge or seemingly insignificant things that can only bring you joy if you make an effort to see them.  Walking underneath a giant flowering tree that smells Amazing!  Knowing that somewhere out there, maybe close by, possibly not close enough, there is another person who loves you and believes in you even when you doubt yourself.  Think about it: you have that person somewhere.  At the very least, you have yourself, and often you can be your own greatest source of support in tough times.

If you don't run, you won't improve your endurance and lung capacity.  If you don't take a moment to breathe and love yourself, you might come to the end of your day questioning what exactly you accomplished, and was it worth it?  I didn't accomplish anything measurable or necessarily lasting today, but I told someone I love them, and I sat for a stunning sunset, and I reminded myself, Again, that my life can be so stupid hard sometimes, but it is all worth it.  Even the pint of sorbetto.  That was definitely worth it.  So.  How was Your day?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Huffing and puffing.

There's nothing like a little mountain-hiking in Colorado to school you in fitness.  Yesterday, on my day off, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to go and hike Mt. Sanitas in Boulder.  It was a wonderful idea, but at over 1300 ft. of elevation gain in 1.2 miles, it is a pretty stiff hike.  I also thought it would be a great idea to run as much of the downhill as I could.  I tried, but there was No Chance of my running up the thing.  Boulderites being crazy, there were actually a handful of people running the whole 3-mile loop, though there were more of us breathing heavily and stopping to "take in the view."  It is a beautiful view.  Today, though, I am sore.  Running downhill and hiking up a whole lot of stairs took its toll on my legs.

Actually, my whole body feels out of whack.  My question becomes, did I fuel properly for this hike, short as it was?  Or was I possibly dehydrated and undernourished?  I just don't feel well today.  Additionally, I think somewhere in my consumptions over the past day or two, I ate gluten.  I haven't felt this crummy (haha...) in maybe two months, or since this whole game started.  Really, I don't know what else it could be.  The symptoms are the same: gas, nausea, heartburn.  Lame.  A whole lot of lame.  The issue is cross-contamination.  Obviously, I did not consciously consume gluten.  No whole wheat bread or delicious, delicious beer.  I did, though, eat out at a restaurant that cannot guarantee their food didn't come into contact with a gluten source.  Where does one draw the line between caution and calculated risk?  If I go to a Mexican restaurant and eat the corn tortilla chips, I tend to trust they are 100% corn.  But maybe I'm too trusting; but more likely I'm just still getting used to all of this.

So.  Let's summarize: a hearty hike and a speedy run.  Something funky going on in my gut yesterday and today.  Too much coffee yesterday and not enough water and ultimately not enough quality sleep.  The result?  Total-body and brain fatigue.  Of course, this is all pure speculation based entirely on how I feel, but I imagine that my body was unable to process and absorb the nutrients and vitamins necessary to heal and rebound after a (moderately) intense athletic session.  This is all silly and frustrating, but it is also interesting to me how my body responds to certain stimuli and restrictions.  Our bodies are so finely tuned, and I have been working hard recently to make sure mine stays healthy, that it becomes much more obvious when something is wrong.  I guess the key, then, is to acknowledge that "off" feeling, try and root out the source, and fix whatever the problem may be.  I ate a lot of vegetables and very little coffee today.  Still, probably didn't drink enough water...  Baby steps.

So anyway, the adventures of celiac-runner continue.  Hopefully my gut will be a bit better tomorrow...  I just signed up for a month of yoga, and I can't have intestinal issues while I'm stretching and strengthening and clearing my mind of all negativity!  Thanks for checking in; happy hump day; happy spring.  Thinking less; eating more; running sometimes.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Miss me....??

A most ridiculous thing happened today: my shorts nearly slid off in the supermarket.  It sounds absurd, I know, but as I was walking out with my shopping bags and orange juice, these size-2 Gap shorts kept inching their way down my bum, and any amount of wiggling I tried could not halt their descent.  I stopped and tucked my sweater into my shorts (oh, Colorado weather...) and was good to go for the 6-block walk home.

I share this anecdote not to highlight the reality that I need either new shorts or a new belt or both, nor am I trying to illustrate how I don't have much padding around my hips/butt.  No, I'm sharing this because my new reality is that I don't weigh much, and it is actually quite frustrating.  My weight has become a very visible representation of a larger, darker issue: I am not gaining weight, and I am not absorbing nutrients properly.  The adventures of a newly-diagnosed Celiac athlete!  Trying to eat healthily but also adequately fuel my body.  It's harder than it looks, folks.

It is now nearly three weeks since I ran and Finished (!) the Boston Marathon.  The race was beyond incredible.  So many thousands of runners, all of whom had worked so hard to get to Hopkinton.  Standing around in the athlete's village prior to the start of the race, sipping Gatorade and coffee and water, I could not believe I was there.  With everything that happened these past few months and years, I never imagined I would be wearing a bib number for the Boston Marathon.  Five years after I was sitting in a hospital bed in Chicago wishing I was in Boston drinking with my college friends, I was about to take off running in the race as an official entrant.  I wrote a little bit about this on here, but I had not properly trained for this marathon.  Between being sick and dealing with my GI issues and then having to overhaul my entire diet and way of thinking about food, I just had not put in the miles necessary.  The longest long run I did was about 10 miles, and that was in February.  Which isn't to say I wasn't fit: I bike every day; I still do live at altitude; I was running a little bit.  I had also spent the month before the marathon focusing on nutrition and putting on weight so that no matter what, at least I'd have a little bit of fat or Something to give me energy over the course of the race.

My attitude was basically, "Hell, I have an entry to this crazy marathon.  This may never happen again.  No, I haven't trained well; no, I have no idea what is going to happen; yes, there is a good possibility I won't be able to finish for whatever reason.  So what.  I'm going.  I'm starting.  I will enjoy the experience, whatever that means."  And so I did

A few weeks earlier, I had seen Scott Jurek speak at the REI here in Denver.  He was really interesting, and I wish I could have picked his brain more, but one part of his presentation stuck with me.  He talked about how he managed to win the Western States 100, 7 years in a row, and how such a thing is even possible.  Essentially, his takeaway point was 1: you have to want it, and 2: you have to Really want it.  I wanted this race.  I wanted to be there, and I wanted like crazy to finish.  I hadn't beaten cancer and the face tumor and no B-cells and the face tumor redux and celiac disease only to drop out halfway.  So I took off running when it was finally my turn to cross the start line, and I kept that sentiment with me the entire time.  And even though I ran/walked the thing after about 10 miles in, never once did it occur to me to stop.  Notably, never once did my GI give me any trouble, either.  I crossed the finish line in Copley Square and promptly started sobbing because of every single thing I had overcome to get there.  Because I had just finished the Boston Marathon; because I had once again proven to myself that I am stronger than I give myself credit for.

We all are stronger than we allow.  Our bodies are incredible, and I know so many people who just laugh when the odds keep stacking against them.  Really, if I can run a marathon without adequate training and actually Beat the time of my first marathon (that I did train for...), if I can feel completely back to normal two days after the race, biking to work and getting on with life, if I can get through every single day with a lowered immune system and an allergy to gluten, what can't I do?

Sometimes I don't understand why I am still here, what I am supposed to be doing with this ridiculous life I've been given.  Life can be so hard, and it seems like it would be easy to give up too often.  I don't know what to eat; I have to take supplements and medicines because no matter how much kale I eat, my folic acid levels are just too low.  Etc., etc., etc.  None of this is important.  What matters is that I am still here; I can still run and bike and do one whole pull-up.  There are all these wonderful things and even though I am struggling with celiac and my weight and energy levels, life is So Good!  I guess I'll just keep working on it, eating steak and Greek yogurt and maybe just suck it up and go buy new shorts.  Thanks for checking in; that's what's been on my mind lately.  Hopefully I'll write more frequently about how this whole celiac/nutrition/running/biking/hiking mountains thing goes.  I've given myself a three-week break from running, but I miss it so it's time to start running more, eating more, thinking less about the negative, focusing on the awesome.  So much awesome...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

This game.

I hate this game.  I hate the one rule of this game dictating that whenever I finally start to feel healthy and normal and happy with my life and my level of activity, I get sick.  Some random virus is constantly lurking in the wings, waiting until I am least on my guard and probably a tad stressed.  It waits until the most inopportune of times and then, BAM, comes and kicks me in the teeth. 

Six weeks before a marathon is not the time to be dealing with a cold or the flu or whatever the heck is going on right now.  Six weeks before a marathon is when you're supposed to be running 18 miles on Saturday morning, eating lots of lean protein and complex carbohydrates, and rolling out that pesky IT band.  Six weeks before a marathon is where I find myself right now, wearing two sweaters and not running on a 60-degree day in Denver.  I am so frustrated!  I honestly thought I could do this, could train and stay healthy and rock the Boston Marathon.  That last goal is becoming so much less likely, and I am left wondering why.  Is this all my fault?  Shouldn't I have powered through all this medical B/S from the past few months, forced the miles out of myself knowing that I had no other choice?  Earlier this afternoon, I had the thought that perhaps I expect too much of myself.  Perhaps all these lofty goals of marathons and health are just mirages I conjure in order to set myself up to fail.  Perhaps my mental expectations and my physical limitations are just so disconnected that there is no way to reconcile the two.

Funny story: this past Tuesday, a week after my so-much-fun colonoscopy and endoscopy, my GI doctor called me with the news that I have celiac disease.  My intestinal villi are extremely damaged, and I am no longer properly absorbing nutrients, so hey, happy day, autoimmune disorder most likely brought on by my lowered immune response these past few years!  Cancer just keeps on giving.  So all of the intestinal issues that were limiting my runs (har har) these past few months are a result of an inability to absorb and process gluten.

Okay, great, celiac is manageable, nearly curable.  All I have to do is completely eliminate gluten from my diet.  Beginning right now, six weeks before a marathon.  I acknowledge that being a celiac and an endurance athlete are not mutually exclusive, and, especially around Denver, many people run for hours at a time without ever consuming gluten.  But it hasn't even been a week yet for me, and I am still in shock over the whole thing.  I am still saddened every time I consider Chicago-style pizza or Colorado craft beers.  The other thing is, though I have already begun living gluten-free, it will still take time for my body to heal.  I guess there is a substantial bit of damage to my intestines, and while living gluten-free will eventually allow that damage to heal, it takes time.

So, like I said, I am just frustrated.  I keep getting confirmation e-mails from the Boston Athletic Association, keep plugging away at my fundraising, and keep questioning my decision to sign up for this in the first place.  Regardless of how well I have (or haven't) trained, I am going to be at the start line in six weeks, and I will do What Ever It Takes to get to the finish line in Boston.  I just wish I was more confident.  I wish I didn't have a cold right now; I sure wish I didn't have celiac disease.  BUT.  Here we are, and life keeps coming at me.  These are my realities, along with the reality that I just don't have a normal immune system.  That's just what is up.  I would apologize for all the griping, but I am legitimately at the end of my rope with all of this, and I set this blog up to chronicle my running adventures, and this is one hell of an adventure.  So, if you have any advice for a runner six weeks out from a marathon who hasn't gotten in any significant long runs (I comfortably ran nearly 10 miles 2 weeks ago...?) and suddenly has to change her diet and get over a cold at the same time, I am open to anything!

Thanks for checking in.  P.s., the fundraising is still going!!  If you haven't donated to this crazy, stupid challenge, now might be the time.  Or tell your friends or go drink a beer for me or both.  Right.  Going to try and make it through this week...  Good luck to you all as well.  Peace.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

9 weeks.....

In nine short weeks, it will be the night before one of the most storied and historic road races in the country, if not the world.  The night before a race that covers 26.2 miles of western Massachusetts' rolling hills, passes countless universities, and ultimately ends in one of the most beautiful cities in the country.  The Boston Marathon is rapidly approaching, and I have an official charity entry to it.

I am 25 years old; I have been in remission from acute lymphocytic leukemia for five years; I have already completed one marathon.  And someone thought it would be a great idea to offer me a highly sought-after charity entry.  Someone believed I could train through the winter, log in the necessary miles, and show up in Boston in April physically, mentally and spiritually prepared to conquer this marathon.  They also believed my pledge that I could raise funds for this charity, an organization I so strongly support that I committed to doing something I still have no idea if I can do.

So there, then, is the crux of all of this: I have written before that I struggle hugely with self-doubt.  That hasn't gone away...  In fact, as the marathon approaches, my doubt is only growing.  Truth: I am not running nearly enough miles (I don't think).  Before today, I had only run Once in the past two and a half weeks, a run truncated by debilitating stomach cramps.  For whatever reason, the past three weeks have basically just sucked for my general intestine.  I don't know the cause of the issues, but I do know they have really been sidelining me.  None of this excuses me, and I am not trying to justify anything, but do know that it takes a Lot to bring me down.  I did finally see a GI doctor, and he recommended trying a few things to at least alleviate some of my symptoms.  We scheduled a super-fun colonoscopy next week though, so maybe, just maybe, we can get this figured out.  It was heartening though to finally meet with a doctor who was concerned about my weight loss and wants me healthy for this marathon.  (Yes, I've lost weight because I'm just not holding onto the calories I eat.)

Now that I've gotten all that out, the Good.  The good is that even though I didn't run the past two weeks, I haven't lost nearly as much of my fitness as I imagined.  Today, I laced up my bright green sneakers, pulled on shorts over my running tights, yanked on my toque, and headed out my door with the intention of covering 6 miles even if I had to run/walk them.  And I did!  I ran all 6 miles and at my normal pace, no less.  So, that's good.  I felt great, too.  No pain, no muscle fatigue, and relatively easy breathing.  Yes, I have not yet gotten in a good long run.  Yes, that is Hugely important and I kind of really need to get on that.  But yes, I may actually have a pretty solid base mileage, and I am actually in pretty good shape/fitness.  I am still fighting all the self-doubt, but I am done with letting it hold me back.  And also, I am Healthy (GIssues aside), which is beyond awesome.

On March 1 from 7-10 p.m., at the Bannock Street Garage in downtown Denver, I am hosting a fundraiser for First Descents and this marathon challenge.  Finally, the details are coming together for this event, and it is going to be a blast.  Stop by if you're in town!  My miles are accumulating; my fundraising is coming along; the sun is coming out from the clouds just in time for a stunning sunset over the mountains.  We all struggle with something, be it doubt or fear or uncertainty whether we can accomplish what we have set out to do.  The key, I think, is to stare down that emotion.  Acknowledge its presence, accept what it means in your life, then do whatever it takes to persevere and push past it.  Setbacks are an expected part of this life.  It is how we approach them and deal with them that matters.  So I am going to keep fundraising and keep running as far as I can even when I don't know how any of this is going to turn out.

Thanks for checking in; have a wonderful week!!  Running more and more and more....

Monday, January 30, 2012

Cigarettes and chocolate milk

No, no; that's not quite right.  More like, herbal tea and clementines.  And yet, I wish I could sit here throwing down Horizon organic chocolate milk and puffing away on American Spirits (tempering vice with virtue).  For the past four days, I have been on a "vacation," which, for me, entails taking a week to myself back home in Chicago.  No plans, just totally vegging out.  Shoot; I had Chipotle today for the first time in a Long Time.  I have not had a straight week without working in nearly two years.  My life has been what it has been, and I will say nothing one way or the other, but I have gotten pretty tired.  Tired of working at a job that I enjoy but don't love and cannot see myself remaining in for much longer.  The past two years have brought their share of ups and downs, neither necessarily trumping the other, but life is still exhausting when you don't stop, when you do not take a minute to slow everything down and let yourself breathe deeply into yourself.

We get so wrapped up in the day-to-day difficulties of existence and pushing ourselves toward some generally unknown goal or future that we forget to take care of ourselves in the present tense.  We forget that we are alive Right Now, and that matters so much more than whatever life we may be living in the Future.  Right now, my life is full of so many wonderful, terrifying and stressful things, and I just don't quite have the energy to fully appreciate and acknowledge each of them.  I am struggling with this running, struggling to stay motivated, struggling beyond belief to start amassing those so-called "long runs."  I fear, too, that my fundraising has stagnated and I will end up disappointing the organization that took a huge risk with me.  Blah blah blah, job un-fulfillment, nagging food issues, blah blah.  Here, please let me take this opportunity to verbalize every mundane and stupid gripe I have with the world.

No, no; that is definitely not right either.  I am falling in love; I am filled with hope for my future.  I cannot wait to get back to Denver because being here has reminded me just why I was so eager to leave in the first place.  The Midwest is beautiful: there is beauty in the barren trees and fields and snow-covered tracts of land hinting that spring is not really so far off if you can just hold out a little bit longer...  Appreciate the rare, fiery sunset in January in Chicago.  I needed this break so badly, even if I feel guilty for the amount I have Not run.  It was nice to be able to sit in my old Starbucks, say hi to some of the regular customers, reflect on how different I feel today.  But I am certainly not a suburban girl, and I have made a home for myself in Denver.  Denver, a city I moved to on little more than a whim, has taken hold of me and has no plans to let go any time soon.  Maybe four months ago, I was looking out a window at a snow-capped mountain, and I had this overwhelming sensation of Rightness.  That everything I had gone through and experienced, all of my choices and mistakes and unconscious decisions had led me right to this exact place and life was exactly how it should be.

I still have glimpses of that sensation every once in a while, but they have been rare this winter.  Not that I have forgotten, but I, like most people, have gotten away from truly appreciating my present and where I am right now.  My winter has so far been emotionally draining and physically tough, and I have no idea if I can do all of this, and I have even less of an idea of where my life is taking me.  My life has changed and I have grown so much over the past year; it is unbelievable.  Last year, living in Chicago, I was just trying to survive.  Now, I am surrounded by mountains and so much love and so many possibilities...  We can plan as much as we want or need to, but really, life is going to happen how it does and we just have to appreciate what we are given and where it takes us.

And love.  We have to love so much, appreciate everything and everyone that comes into our lives.  Better or worse, we are stronger people for the experiences we have, for the way we are touched and touch others' lives.  So sure, it would be much easier to give in to cravings for cigarettes and chocolate milk and self-destruction, but it is so much Better to stop and look around and acknowledge that life is crazy and wonderful and why not just let it wash over us and appreciate all that we have been given.

Thinking less.  Trying to run more, but also not really worrying about it....

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Writer's block?

Maybe, kind of, sort of, but not really.  Really what happened is my computer has been acting completely out of control lately.  Basically, it won't stay on.  I am not quite sure why any of this is happening, but for the past few weeks, I have been without a computer.  Life without a laptop is terribly disconcerting, especially when a significant portion of the reason for your existence is centered around your computer. (Okay, maybe that's a stretch, but I am a photographer and if I have no computer, I have no way of doing anything for or with my images and it is a bad scene.)

Besides being unable to upload my photography, I have not really been able to do much in terms of fundraising for this marathon I am running in nearly 3 Months.  I am still nowhere near my goal of $7000, though I have already raised a lot of money and Thank You!! if you have donated.  But I am trying to organize a benefit in early March, trying to write letters of solicitation and find organizations willing to donate items for an auction, trying to find a venue to host this entire shindig.  All of these things are possible without a computer but they are infinitely more difficult for a person who has grown up with a keyboard at her fingertips.  Also, I have basically no idea what I am doing, and for whatever reason, I at least feel like I am accomplishing something when I am Googling things and typing letters and reading about training plans on different running websites.

Oh, running.  Of course, there has been running.  At least, there had been running up until about this past Saturday, when I started getting that obnoxious scratch right at the back of my throat, surely you know the one: you swallow, and your throat burns and itches a bit; it becomes more difficult to consume solid foods because there seems to be a little swelling happening at the base of your tongue.  And it can all only mean one thing: despite all my best efforts, prayers, and vitamin C consumption, I have fallen prey to the dreaded winter cold.  I know exactly what happened, too.  I stayed out too late on New Year's Eve, worked too many hours the following week, started running farther distances (8 miles!), and I walk or bike everywhere regardless of the time or weather because I don't have a car.  On top of all this business, the reality is that my immune system is depleted, and there is nothing I can do about it.  So, while maybe not inevitable, the chances of my catching a stupid bug are pretty high.  The good news is that I am babying myself, drinking absurd quantities of water, and I had my three-weekly infusion of immunotherapy yesterday, so that should hopefully help.

I was supposed to have run 10 miles this past weekend.  I did not.  I actually ran 2 miles yesterday before stopping, doubled over in pain because had I thought it would be a good idea to eat not-exactly-lean chicken thighs and some avocado as a pre-run snack.  It was not.  Fats: not good to eat before a run.  Fact: your gut will hate you.  Today it is snowing all over the place in Denver.  It will be a nice walk to work, but no run today, either.  Hopefully tomorrow I can get my stuff together and make it happen.  Otherwise, it will be back in the 50s this weekend, and I still have to get my 10 miles in.

So, life.  This life we live is full of obstacles and setbacks and too often things don't go exactly how we would like them to.  But we are still here, still living and breathing (and coughing?) and running and getting through each day as best as we can.  Which, really, I suppose is all we can ask of ourselves.  So, best of luck to you today.  Like I said, it is a winter wonderland in Denver today, and I am in love with life even though it is so frustrating all of the time.  10 miles will happen eventually.

Less thinking, more running....