Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fair warning: a long and rambling post

What is it about late fall and early winter that heralds this weird despondency into my life? Why, come mid-November, am I suddenly so lethargic and unmotivated, so willing to give in to self-pity and even a little self-disgust? I blame SADness, even while acknowledging that doing so is a bit of a cop-out. True, this time of year means only about 9 hours of sunlight, leaving 15 hours of darkness behind. True, too, the shortened days and way below freezing temps we've been having mean I am much less inclined to run outside, even though running is one of the few fail-safes I have against total Caroline-shut down. But it is more than seasonal depression, and this year especially, for whatever reason, it is more than something a sun-lamp can fix.

The end of November and December are no longer "the holidays" for me. Four years ago, they became the jump-off point for the rest of my life, the time when I was diagnosed with cancer and every thing changed. A beautiful, wonderful woman I met over a year ago posted on her own blog recently, "maybe tomorrow I’ll be one step closer to the place of true acceptance that I’d mistakenly thought I’d already reached." Maybe I've placed her quote a little out of context because she is one of the few people I truly and deeply admire for her total annihilation of cancer, but it illustrates that we all have these days. I've been trying to figure out just why I've been so down lately. I've realized that I am deeply dissatisfied with myself and my life, but I am at a loss as to how to pick up and organize all the pieces that are right in front of me.

For the most part, I have come to terms with having had cancer. I have accepted it. I am happy with who I have become as a person, the insights I have gained and the perspective I have been granted. It's just that around this time of year, when I'm struggling to balance my lack of running with my excess of eating, I can't help but remember four years ago when I could neither run nor eat nor do anything much besides wait for my hair to fall out and watch my legs shrivel up. Hopefully he won't mind, but I've been conversing a bit over e-mail with a close friend of mine recently, and the other day, I had this really disconcerting realization. He had asked me if my cancer diagnosis caused me to reevaluate my life and live it differently, perhaps more fully, than before. Was I granted some existential clarity that most people only glimpse when reading good literature?

My realization (and response) was that I have been fundamentally changed as a person, much more self-aware and deeper, which I didn't know was possible. But nothing became any clearer. I was diagnosed smack in the middle of college, college, its own, strange, insular world where ephemera like college hockey and GPAs and the grade on your post-modern analysis of a neo-classical Irish poem are important. But I got through cancer and managed to quash my doubt that GPAs held any lasting import and I got through college. But that was it. When I was diagnosed, I didn't know what I wanted, and my life certainly wasn't on any sort of path. Four years later, I still don't know what I want, and whatever path I've found myself on is so twisty and disconcerting because I have No Idea where it is taking me. "True acceptance" is hard to come by because I still harbor resentment towards this disease for what it has taken from me, and because of what it has taken from too many other people. I'm pissed. And lost, which helps no one.

I am putting all this out there on the Internets knowing full well that my issues are selfish and a bit petty. But a personal blog is, by its very nature, a self-serving venture. I guess I'm just struggling because I know a number of cancer survivors whose diagnosis caused this seismic shift in their lives, and now they've changed everything and are happy and successful and blah blah blah (we see what we want to see). I feel mired in a sludge of self-doubt and uncertainty and fear heaped on this belief that no one's ever going to actually hire me for a real job because I'm not qualified for anything.... Like I said, I need to be running more.

So many young adults struggle every day with the direction they want their lives to go. Very few of us know what we truly want to do with ourselves. Or maybe that's just me because I spent the past four years healing myself physically and mentally from cancer and only now am I starting to look forward but all I can do is grasp at darkness. Arghhh, I'm sorry; I'm frustrated. But this is life, and believe me when I say that I am so much in love with living. Not that this resolves anything, but I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and it will all work out eventually. Someone will realize I'm pretty cool and want to pay me to do cool things.... Right. In the meantime, for whatever reason, I'm still here. Four years later, and I'm still here against all the odds. And I sucked it up and went for a run earlier today, and I am going skiing in Colorado in less than three weeks. Life is Spectacular if only for those two things. So thank you for bearing with my silly grumblings today. Tomorrow will bring its own new adventure. Peace.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pace yourself.

It has been just over two weeks since the Chicago Marathon. I popped my last, most disgusting blister a few nights ago (so epic). I started physical therapy for my bum knee. And yesterday, for the first time in 14 days, I went for a run. A surprisingly speedy run, albeit a considerably shorter one than recent runs. Life goes on. We continue with our everyday motions because they are what we know and what we are comfortable with. We fold up our yesterdays and past excitements and put them on a shelf with mothballs, air them out every once in a while for nostalgia's sake. Sometimes, though, something - some event or idea or person - comes along and jars our complacency all out of whack. Anyway, that's what happened to me.

Two weeks ago, I finished my first marathon. Finishing, however, was absolutely nothing like I expected it to be - hence the out of whackness. I have honestly spent the past two weeks in a weird post-marathon funk/depression, partly because, well, it's over..., but also because I have been beating myself up a bit about the whole thing, wondering where I go from here and how do I improve? Instead of feeling proud of my accomplishment, satisfaction at having completed a goal I have had for almost 10 years, I feel frustrated. I feel somewhat that I let myself down here. And I also feel strangely unsettled.

The race itself was sensory overload: People Everywhere, smells (I swear there was chocolate somewhere right outside of the Loop), screaming spectators and signs ("Your feet hurt because you're kicking butt!"), bystanders with hoses spraying shockingly cold water on runners dehydrating in the 84 degree heat. My story is that I was doing super well. On pace for the entire first half. I hit the 13-mile clock exactly where I wanted to be. Sadly, that is just about also when the pain in my left knee became nearly unbearable. I started walking. And I did not stop walking until about maybe 100 meters from the finish line, when I started jogging again just so I could cross that stupid line "running."

So my frustration stems from the fact that I walked basically the last 10 miles of the marathon. One of my coaches, to whom I will be forever grateful, joined me at mile 16. I'm sure he saw the look of absolute dejection on my sweat-stained face, noticed my slogging limp as I tried to keep moving forward. He stayed with me to the end. I don't think I would have given up if it hadn't been for his help, but who knows... Around mile 18, I sure as hell wanted to stop. A curb on a Gatorade-cup-strewn street in downtown Chicago had never looked more comfortable. Yet I shoved the "oh God; there are still eight more miles to go?!" thought to the back of my brain and focused, instead, on my breathing. Interestingly, deep, concentrated breaths actually diminished the pain in my leg a bit, added just a little bit more range of motion to my hips. That, or it was just helpful to try and shift my focus off my leg.

Some time later, I trotted across the wide FINISH line, stumbled down to where smiling volunteers were putting medals around finishers' necks, grabbed a HeatSheet for posterity (it was already warm enough outside), walked another quarter mile to the gear check, got my stuff, and flopped onto an empty patch of grass to take off my sneakers and call my friends. And that was it. I found my jubilant friends waiting for me by Buckingham Fountain; they were a huge reason I got myself to the finish. We walked back to the Team in Training tent where I did not have a beer but did have a fantastic cinnamon roll an amazing friend thought to bring me. Seriously. Best post-race snack ever.

And here we are: my world has been shifted because I Finished the Chicago Marathon, but I did not do well. I want to do better; I know I can do better. One year ago, when I decided to train for and run this race, it was for so many different reasons. This marathon because this is the city in which I received the most hellacious parts of my cancer treatment. This race because if I could run 26.2 miles through the streets of Chicago, I could literally and figuratively run down my cancer demons. This year because I was back living in Chicago, and I needed something to work towards. Needed a tangible goal to shoot for because otherwise, I would just be right back home in the suburbs with only a vague plan to get out of here as soon as possible. So I did it! Running has, once again in my life, become one of the most important facets of who I am.

My hitherto unspoken expectation that completing this race would be the absolute end of my relationship with Chicago has proven unrealistic. I am definitely still here, still don't have any definite plan to get out of here. And running certainly did not usher cancer out of my life forever. But I want to do better. I want to run far again, and soon. Instead of being a cap, a tidy end to an extremely untidy past four years, I am confronted with a wide-open path or trail or whatever this race has led me to. This is not the end of anything, really. It is the beginning of an overwhelming desire to keep pushing myself, to actually run the whole 26.2 miles of a marathon, although probably not Chicago again any time soon.

No, I am not satisfied with merely finishing a marathon. I get that it is a big deal; I get that a whole lot of people cannot fathom running any distance anyway. But I also feel that I am more than just finishing and putting my medal in a sock drawer of stories to tell. I am stuck, now, with this running thing, but like I said, it is a question of where to go from here. My world was shaken up when my life-expectations were, per usual, trounced. Nothing ever turns out how we expect it to, apparently.

So what's next? Who will employ me somewhere far away from here? What races will next I run? I've started slowly, haven't yet burnt out. There have been setbacks, injuries and whatnot, but I'm working them out and will not give up. Not yet. There is still too much ahead of me to give up. I turned 24 three weeks ago; I have so much to experience! So much I need to do with my life, not the least of which is run long distances. But anyway, that's my marathon story. Good story, right? I have a 15K race in two weeks and a new Photo Project on the internets. And I can't help but get excited about the possibilities approaching, even if I don't know what they are yet. Like I said, I can only get better. Right on long posts!. Peace.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Self-perception. Or a lack thereof...

Is it possible to recognize ourselves in the present tense? Can we ever be fully aware of life as it happens to us, cognizant of the changes every single experience forces into our psyches? I don't think so. Awareness is found in retrospect: looking back at major events and being able to acknowledge how we as individuals have changed with respect to the past. Hopefully we can say we have grown and become better people in the ensuing months or years, but it probably does not always happen that way. Sometimes people regress; sometimes people simply stagnate. They become complacent. Or they take where they have come from and stare it down and laugh. They laugh and run and bike and try hard to move on with their beautiful lives.

Five years ago I was a freshman in college with a dopey boyfriend who would break my heart over Christmas break. I was so young, so naive. I suppose we all are, though, as freshmen in college. We are allowed to be innocent and illegally drunk on Friday nights on very, very bad beer and even worse vodka-based questionable cocktails. Five years ago. What were you doing five years ago? Were you such a completely different person that you no longer recognize the shadow you once cast? One year later, finally a sophomore in college, I turned 20 and was ecstatic to officially no longer be a teenager. I celebrated with a couple close friends in my dorm room with a Godiva chocolate cheesecake and a bottle of Southern Comfort. My body was already being overtaken by cancer, but, of course, none of us knew that yet. We were all still cracking jokes about my need for more iron in my diet. That was only four years ago.

And then I was diagnosed with ALL, and I started treatment for it, and, as I wrote in my personal journal, "then they cut my legs off." Hospitals, clinics, drips, pills, catheters. No studying, no drinking, no biking, absolutely no running. No running... I lost weight; I lost my hair; I lost my identity on so many different levels. Medical waiting rooms became their own sort of void: It was a Dali dream world where time melted off the clocks and half-closed ears tried to pick out which bouncing announcement carried their own name so they could float over to a plastic recliner and watch as lines were strung up between their fleshly bodies and sacs of caustic fluids attached to even thinner metal bodies.

It was cancer; these were the treatments. And then it was over, but it wasn't quite over. Just about exactly two years ago, my doctors allowed that the growing pain in my face wasn't actually a sinus infection. The face-tumor! But that was two years ago. It feels like a lifetime ago. It feels like it all happened yesterday. That the vice-presidential debates were on my birthday four days ago as opposed to on my birthday two years and four days ago. So time, what, flows? Moves, progresses, doesn't ever stop doing something? "Time" passed, and I quickly grew up and looked back at what I had experienced and decided I was proud of the person I was becoming. I had gone through a hell of sorts and was living a much better, fuller life than I had pre-cancer.

Finally, one year ago, following a bit of an epiphany in Jackson, Wyoming, I started running again seriously. One year ago I promised myself that this next year, this year following my graduation from university, this year that I found myself without options and with little hope and living with my parents again, this year would lead me to the Chicago Marathon. At last - the denouement!

Changes in the present tense. Physically, I hadn't noticed my body morph into that of a semi-athlete's. And yet I look at myself in a mirror and am awed by the muscles I can actually see defined in my body. I have biceps?! What? When did that happen? Emotionally, I haven't really been thinking about this week every single day for the past year. The marathon itself is never far from my mind, but the reality - the actuality that here I am, three days removed from actually running this thing - that was never much a concern. And yet here I am, mentally freaking out, finally, because in three nights I will (ideally) just be getting ready for bed the night before running 26.2 miles. Running a marathon I honestly did not think was possible three, two, almost even one year ago.

Five years after my freshman idealism; four years after cancer; two years after face-tumor; and One Year after promising myself that I will do this. This is happening. My God; I am actually going to do this. Who knows what will happen on race day, on Sunday (will it seriously be 80 degrees...??). Perhaps my knee will decide, as has been its recent wont, to screw me and sideline me and crush me. Or maybe I will reach my physical and emotional breaking points and push through, push through all of the limitations I have allowed to fester over the past four years, the setbacks and letdowns and disappointments that I haven't fully been able to let go of. Run straight through and beyond and away from everything negative the past four years have brought me.

Like I said, who knows what will happen on race day. All I Do know is that I will be standing (or nervously hopping around) squished between 45,000 other runners near the start line when the gun goes off for the Chicago Marathon this Sunday, 10/10/10. I am 24 years old; I am a runner. I am a cancer survivor, and one day soon, I am going to break out of the little stagnant hole I have found myself in, and I am going to summit mountains. I am deliriously happy with who I am today. I love my life and the people in it without reservation, and I am scared out of my mind to run a marathon 84 hours from right now. But this is LIFE. This is me being Alive, and it amazes and frightens and overjoys me every single day, whether I consciously admit it or not; every single day I am beyond thankful to still be alive.

Thank you all so much for being here with me through this. I promise to update post-run. Possibly a few days post... Incidentally, my most recent scans (one month ago) were all clear. Haha. But really, I could not have gotten this far without your support. Thank you. Peace.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Seeing the world through Fridge-colored glasses

Unless you are a member of an elite group of amazing people, I don't expect you to understand this post's title. Luckily, I explain! Just over one year ago, I participated in an outdoor adventure camp for young adult cancer survivors. First Descents offers cancer fighters and survivors between the ages of 18-40(ish) the opportunity to spend a week kayaking or climbing in any number of different locations in the western states. So in 2009, I opted to go climbing in Jackson, Wyoming, where I was promptly (and questionably...) nicknamed the Fridge. I am a Chicago Bears fan, after all.

My experiences that first week climbing in the Grand Tetons altered my entire perception of myself as a cancer survivor. I met a group of people whose love and support and unconditional acceptance were unlike any type of friendship I had ever experienced. The connections were immediate and lasting. What is it about having had cancer that we were all able to identify with each other, regardless of our general interests? Perhaps we were all searching for a camaraderie that had been lost with the onset of our illnesses. Whether we accepted it or not, cancer took a part of our lives: it took my college years. It took someone else's senior year of high school. It denied yet another woman of her ability to bear children. We lost our identities, and those are difficult ephemera to quickly redefine. So, Jackson introduced to me the idea that we truly are all in this together. That first camp allowed me to step back and allow another person to be there for me, to pick me up when I was feeling the post-cancer blues. Much more powerful than any pill and more effective than any workout, I was blessed with a beautiful, new family.

My winter brought with it a bit of an emotional backslide, but luckily, I was signed up for another FD camp, this one in Moab, Utah at the end of April. Once again, I laid my heart bare to a group of relative strangers, and once again, I was buoyed by their support and love. Not to mention one woman's insistence that every time I look in a mirror, I wink at myself. Self-confidence: a notoriously elusive force in my life. And yet, somehow, perhaps when I was free-rappelling from a 100-foot sandstone arch, I thought, "All of these people can't be that mistaken. Maybe I can do this whole 'life' thing..."

Flash-forward through an oppressive Chicago summer to this past Friday and me getting a little emotional during the final descent into Midway airport on an uneventful flight from Denver after an exhausting and amazing week as staff photographer for an FD climbing camp in Estes Park, Colorado. After I put my personal photographs from Utah online, someone in the First Descents office thought it would be a swell idea to ask me if I would like to attend one of the camps as the official photographer. Well, for me, a no-brainer, although nerve-wracking.

Last week I had yet another amazing experience with FD, but this time, it was for a different reason. While I still have a few of my own cancer-demons lurking, this week was an opportunity for me to give back a small bit to the organization that has already done so much for my personal healing. It was amazing to be able to observe and try to capture each camper's experience on the rocks. The entire time, my goal was to help each person have as amazing a week as I have had at the previous camps. I desperately wanted to shoot fantastic photographs that they would be so happy and proud to have as reminders of their amazing week climbing in Colorado.

This time around, I was present to help facilitate the "FD experience," and I honestly could not have felt more honored. It is one thing to stare down your fears and face your perceived limitations while hanging from a skinny rope, feeling around for a foothold that extends more than two inches from the rock face... It is a different experience altogether to be able to witness the transformations of 13 individuals and the growth of the group as a whole. To witness friendships being made, to truly see the unconditional support I had previously felt. To watch a camper's face as she placed her implicit trust in the person belaying her and stood up on a toehold that by all accounts should not stick... As a photographer, I could not take enough photographs. Someone staring at a rock or laughing at a joke or releasing everything while standing on the literal top of a mountain, 13,000 feet above sea level.

Like I said, I only hope I was able to adequately capture the struggles and emotions and love of the week. (that whole self-confidence thing creeping in...) I really did not want to leave Colorado this time. But I have to thank First Descents with everything that I have for helping me grow and figure out who I am post-cancer. And I am so grateful they asked me to attend camp as the photographer. I hope I did the week justice in my photos, and I cannot wait to see what the next year will bring. So much awesome, and hopefully a lot more rock climbing! Peace.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Insomnia, hormones and survivor's guilt

And so I find myself unable to sleep and with steel-tipped butterflies filling my stomach. Tomorrow brings my semi-annual PET/CT scan, my six-monthly descent into the underworld, into my personal medical Hades. These scans remind me that I am still embedded in that first circle of hell, still in Limbo. Not yet free of all of this yet no longer defined by my diagnosis: "Lost are we and are only so far punished/ That without hope we live on in desire." Virgil was referring to the unbaptized and "virtuous pagans" who inhabited Limbo in The Inferno, but I feel similarly. Maybe I am being dramatic; perhaps an allusion to a Christian allegorical epic poem is a bit much, but I am freaking out.

I am freaking out because I found out earlier today that an old friend of mine's mother passed away two weeks ago after an ugly fight with cancer. Freaking out because following this news, I was looking at the blogs I follow on blogspot, and I came across this recent post by a woman who had beaten Ewing's sarcoma. She was just diagnosed with a second primary cancer. Now, I don't know her and I am pretty sure she has no idea I follow her blog, but her blog is witty and frank and I respect and appreciate her outlook during her own adventures with cancer. But now she, this absolutely gorgeous and talented young woman, has been diagnosed with cancer all over again. What? Seriously? Why and how and to what ends does this happen? Why does one woman die and another have to stop her young life Again and stare down a cancer diagnosis?

I am struggling with survival. Almost exactly one year ago, I returned home from Jackson, Wyoming, having just met some of the most tremendous and strong and utterly inspiring young adults I will ever meet. I had no meteoric self-revelation after my initial week with First Descents, but it changed me in ways I am still trying to define. Among probably more important things, it at least sparked my running back up. After I came back from my week with FD in Moab this past April, I was affected even more powerfully. For better and for worse, in some respects. The survivors I met in Utah are Exceptional. I am super small potatoes compared with these men and women: leading their own young adult cancer survivor kayaking adventures; running and biking miles and miles and then a few miles more; living life with unimaginable fervor just because they Can, because they are alive to do what makes them happy. Even their daily adventures and activities are awe-inspiring to me. One of them can update her Facebook status that she went to Whole Foods or something equally banal, and I feel a surge of pride that I have had the honor of meeting this person.

And I fear I am not living up to their examples. Every day I wonder if I am living my life as well as I should be. For some reason, I am still here, still kicking and screaming through each day, but I am filled with a tremendous restlessness, a Knowing that I am not meeting my potential but an uncertainty as to what exactly that means. Maybe it is because I am so young... 23 is pretty young (although I will be 24 in a month!). Perhaps it is because I am once more living in the bedroom where I had some of my worst battles with cancer and the effects of treatment (ugh, the suburbs). Maybe it has to do with my lingering and annoying medical issues. Relatively serious immuno-deficiency, anyone?

Ahh, and I know none of this is helpful to anyone. No one wants to read about my own lack of confidence. Self-doubt doesn't make for very good dinner table conversation. So I'll just wrap this rant up and say, I am sure tomorrow's scans will go smashingly. Happy Tuesday, sad toad. Perhaps one day I'll find my way out of this bog of uncertainty and inadequacy. I just hope that day comes sooner rather than later... in the meantime, still searching for


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Full Circles? What is a "full" circle?

The two photos above are from August 25, 2006, not quite four years ago. On August 25, 2006, I had decided the time was ripe for a new haircut. I walked to the awesome hair salon in my downtown and told the stylist I was open for anything. We decided to go short, and I decided I wanted to go short enough that I could donate my hair. For no reason in particular other than I figured it was a nice gesture, and why not if I was already going to get a drastic new do? I was about to begin my sophomore year of university and was completely oblivious to the little cancer cells that were gradually taking me over.

I have thought a lot about that haircut over the past four years. The symbolism of innocently donating my hair to Locks of Love; my reluctance to shave my head the first time I lost my hair; my refusal to wear a wig. I actually even blogged about that haircut one year after the fact in August 2007, when I was mostly hairless and going through treatment. In retrospect, it only confirms my belief in the fact that everything happens for a reason.

This here fun photo was taken right now (woo!). Obviously, my hair is all back. Curlier, but otherwise exactly the same. And vain or not, I love it. Short hair was, for me, a constant reminder of the physical side effects of the chemo. As were the intense chemo curls I used to have, but those have mostly grown out as well. These days the hair is long and healthy and, actually, in pretty dire need of a trim.

So full circles: I had an idea a few days ago. Everyone knows (I hope...) that I am training for the 2010 Chicago Marathon with Team in Training. I think about my training and running and the marathon every single day. It is only 2 months away, and it scares me to no end. Anyway, I mentioned to one of my coworkers this crazy idea I had: I am throwing around the notion of holding off on a haircut until October, until the marathon. At that time, I would chop it all off and, once again, donate it. My coworker's response: "That's a great idea. It would be like everything has come full circle for you." Donating the hair; losing it; regrowing it; donating it once more...

Full circle. I don't like that image. In fact, it threatens me: to have gone through so much the past four years, hair being the least of it, only to end up right back where I started... But then I realized it's just an expression; don't take it so literally. I am training for a Marathon, for goodness' sake. Absolutely nothing is the same. I graduated college. I am not the same. Cutting my hair in anticipation of the 26.2 miles I will run for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society would be the end of the past four years, not a return to the beginning.

Maybe I put too much emotional emphasis on symbols in my life. Running this race is a symbol. Donating my hair. Turning 24... If I can do this one thing, I can finally let go of something else. And yet I need these milestones, these tangible reminders of how far I have come in four years. So I probably will wait for my haircut. Anyone want to join me....?! Haha, thanks, as always, for reading and putting up with my silly vanities. I think I'll go for a run now. Happy Wednesday. Pax.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mind games.

Also titled:  Was Jerry Garcia, perhaps, a runner?
Also titled squared:  Am I a runner...?

This week's training run was a "cut back" week.  Only 90 minutes.  TNT's training schedule sporadically alternates between running set mileages and running for a set time.  So for me, today's 90 minutes meant 8 miles and a couple desperate 5-minute walk breaks.  Because today, for me, was an Epic Struggle.  I say that not in my usual, Oh, it's no big deal, self-deprecating way, but in an honest, this run was forced and ugly, kind of way.  I haven't been able to pin down the reason, but I can try and explain what I mean.  Perhaps someone can tell me where I went wrong with this...

Usually when I run, my brain turns off.  It is my time to totally decompress, to not have to think about or process anything.  I zone out in tune to my footfalls and the rhythmic sloshing of my half-full and warm water bottle.  Random ideas pop in and out, but nothing sticks, and I literally do not think.  Today, however, my brain did not shut down.  Thoughts kept popping up; I spent most of my first two miles trying to tell myself to focus on my breathing, clear out the distractions.  But two miles in, my legs were leaden, struggling, and my brain was loaded.

Right around 2.5 miles, this thought fired up: "I can't do this."  Rarely, very rarely, does that little "c-word" pop up for my consideration.  There is not much I can't do, and even less that I am not willing to try.  And yet, here I was, 20 minutes into a 90-minute run, thinking I can't do it.  Thinking my legs were just going to stop propelling me forward at a mediocre pace.  And then I thought, as smiling runner after smiling runner kept passing me, "I am just freaking jogging.  Not even running."  That thought lasted probably a good 3 or 400 meters before I managed to shut it out and let it go, focusing on the packed gravel trail we were running on.

I did not let myself stop until just over half-way through the run.  But stop, I did.  Who knows if I would have been able to keep running for another 45 minutes, if I could have forced a way through my mental roadblock...  Here is what I think though: this was not entirely mental.  As I turned around at about mile 4, I literally felt like I could fall asleep on my feet, right there.  My body was completely exhausted, utterly worn down.  I had this mental image in my head of my hip joints as rusty, ineffective gears, the type that takes a lot of physical effort to get turning.  I think our bodies know what they need, but we have to listen to them.  Mine was telling me that as much as my breathing was easy, as much as I mentally wanted to keep running, my legs were just not going to do it.  So I adapted to it.  I poured some cold Gatorade into me; I walked.

And then I was able to start up running again.  Two more miles and another water break, then a mile and a half to finish it off.  I think I ultimately ran for about 80 of the 93 total minutes clocked.  So, well, it is what it is.  To round out this post, my brain successfully quieted down on the second half of my run, thanks in large part to random Grateful Dead lyrics about running and trucking that kept popping up.  It was a pretty sweet mash-up actually.  But anyway, next week is a "long run," which, apparently, is any run over 10 miles or 90 minutes.  I would like to politely disagree with whomever decided that...  Pretty sure anything over 3 miles is a long run.  Hopefully, though, it will go better than this week.  Sleep might help...  A better pre-run meal; a better night-before dinner?  Sleep will help.

Hope you are staying cool wherever you are this weekend.  It is supposed to be 90 degrees with 90% humidity in Chicago today.  Movie day, anyone?  Thanks again for reading and cheering and laughing at my silliness.  Also, I know I am a runner.  My brain was just scraping the bottom of the barrel for reasons to get me to stop.  It is all good.  Pax.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Long-distance runner, what you standing there for?

The 2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathon is three months from today.  From Today. 10/10/10 is just over 90 days away, and, fittingly, my Team in Training group ran 10 miles this morning.  Somehow and somewhat surprisingly (at least to me), I actually ran 10 miles this morning.  Every Saturday at 7:00 a.m., the whole training team meets up for our weekly "long run."  And every Saturday morning I stand around with everyone, waiting, almost shaking in my sneakers with nervousness.  Sleep is rubbed from eyes; good mornings are exchanged.  We listen to each week's "Mission Moment," where someone shares their story or a friend or family member's story about their experience with a blood cancer.  The Mission Moment is basically a few minutes for us to reflect on why we are putting ourselves through this; it is a reminder that, whatever our personal reasons for running are, there is a greater purpose behind all of it.  And then we push ourselves out of the parking lot and begin the journey to a set mile-marker and back.

This morning, prior to our running 10 miles, I offered up the Mission Moment.  I briefly shared my story, my diagnosis and subsequent remission.  I also brought up the importance of running in my life.  How the worst part of treatment was being unable to run, sometimes even unable to walk from exhaustion and all the other stuff.  And now here I am, three years later, preparing myself to run the longest distance I have ever run.  I told my team members that I have trouble finding inspiration from myself; others' stories and accomplishments keep me going.  But I realized and tried to express that I am surrounded by inspiring people.  Watching my teammates run, knowing why they are running and that they are pushing themselves to their physical and mental limits because they can, That inspires me.  That is amazing.  People will do amazing things for the causes they believe in.

When we signed up to join the fall Team in Training program, we were all given TNT technical shirts to wear during our runs.  They are a bold purple and have TNT in large, block letters on the front.  On the back of the shirt, on top of the list of sponsors, is the phrase, "Creating a world without cancer," a pithy summation of the LLS mission to cure blood cancers.  I was just about at my eighth mile, and, while I wasn't exactly struggling, my body was wearing down.  (8 miles having been, so far, the longest I'd ever run...)  Anyway, I passed one of our run/walkers, and, for whatever reason, her shirt's message really struck me.  If you'll please excuse my language, basically, my immediate reaction was, "F*** cancer.  F*** it for screwing up my life and putting me in this position where I can have such deep-seated anger at something."  And then I clenched my fist and gritted my teeth and ran just a little stronger.

Because here I am.  I finished the run in about 1 hour and 45 minutes, which is about a 10:30 min/mile.  Certainly not fast, but, whatever; I finished strongly.  I am proud of myself, and I am proud of my teammates, and who knows...  Maybe I will actually be able to run a whole 26.2 miles.  You never know what life will offer you in the form of opportunity.  Maybe it's a job offer; maybe it is cancer.  Either way, I would not be who I am and where I am right now if the events of the past four years never happened.  Maybe for better or worse, but here we all are, so I guess it is all about getting up, getting off, and getting out of that door... to finish this post's title.  Thanks, Grateful Dead.

So that was this morning.  That was my running update.  As for everything else, the colonoscopy went well...  The biopsies were all negative, so now I just have a wonky colon and no good reason why.  It's fine.  It is hot in Chicago; I guess it is hotter in Boston.  I drink an ungodly amount of coffee, and yet I still desperately want to find a job where I don't get as much free coffee and coffee-based beverages as I want...  Oh Starbucks; what would we do without you?  Life is life I suppose.  I hope you are enjoying your summer, staying cool!  Thanks for checking in, and when was the last time you checked out my Training Page??!!  Thank you So MUCH if you've donated...!!  Happy Saturday; Happy July.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Two dinners and Joseph Heller

In one and a half days, I will be signing in at the gastroenterology department of my local hospital ninety minutes before my first-ever colonoscopy.  For the record, this procedure was not on my early-twenties bucket list.  Then again, neither were most of the things that have happened to me over the past three years, so I suppose that really doesn't mean much anymore.  Regardless, tomorrow I will be taking all kinds of crazy laxatives to empty me out.  I guess the doctors need a clear view of whatever it is that they are looking for up there...  I really hope they find something.  I hope their little scopes, as they check me out from both ends, come across the source of 10 months worth of intestinal drama.  Yet I hope they find nothing.  Because who knows what they might find.  Having already had cancer once and a half (facetumor!), cancer is my knee-jerk reaction to anything wrong with my body.  Although if they do find nothing, then we're back to square one, so I hope they find something.  My rational mind, though, is fully aware that it is Highly Unlikely this will take the cancer route.  Whatever is going on with my gut may be a latent effect of my cancer and treatment a few years ago, but it is probably a totally different type of illness.

So I won't be at a bar cheering on the Blackhawks tomorrow night because I will be scuttling back and forth between my couch and my bathroom.  Although, beer is a clear liquid, right?  Haha, no, I'm not that dumb.  But I did just eat twice, knowing full well that there will be no solid foods in me for the next 36 hours.  Woooo hoo.

Anyway, I just wanted to quickly update because I'm a little nervous and a lot frustrated about this whole thing.  I hope it all ends soon.  And my apologies for not being a bit more positive.  There really are only so many good things you can say about some random person sticking a flexible, lit microscope up your bum and down your throat looking for what, we're not even sure.  Exactly how I want to spend my Thursday!  In all seriousness though, besides this little snafu, life has been pretty awesome lately.  Things can only keep getting better; this I know for sure.  So hopefully you're enjoying your weeks as well!  Happy Tuesday, sad toad.  Someone loves you in Chicago.  Peace...  and Go Hawks!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It's Hump Day!

When was the last time you checked out my Team in Training homepage??  I am officially Half Way to my goal!  Let's make it all the way, yes?

In case you've forgotten, I will be running the 2010 Chicago Marathon with Team in Training, for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  I set my fundraising goal at $1500, which is a bit over the $1000 minimum.  But together, I'm pretty sure this is an easily achievable goal.  If you are in and/or around Chicago, stay tuned for potential fundraisers possibly involving music, possibly involving photography.  Who knows; there are so many ways we could go with this.  In the meantime, once again, check out my Page.  It's pretty interesting...  :)  Thank you so much to everyone who has already donated.  You Are The Best Ever!!  Alright, happy hump days.  Enjoy yours; I'm intending to.  {Pax}

Monday, May 10, 2010

t.m.i. ...

Once, some time ago, I mentioned to my oncologist some random pain or ache or other that I was currently and inexplicably experiencing.  He responded, oh so reassuringly, that everything I was feeling, all the unusual and frequent sicknesses, all the random and probably harmless ailments, were a direct result of either the chemo or having had cancer or both.  I posed this question while I was still in relatively active treatment, still receiving some chemo once a month.  Now, 20 months after finishing any and all chemos for ALL, I can't help but wonder if I can still pull the "C" card as an excuse for current and inexplicable sicknesses.

Generally, as a rule, I don't like to bitch.  Grumbling serves no purpose to anyone and usually only reinforces all the negative energy that seems to run rampant.  That said, cancer sucks.  Rather, cancer Still sucks.  Everything that has been wrong with my body for the past 20 months, barring the one running injury, may or may not be a result of having had cancer.  I honestly feel like I haven't been really and truly Healthy since probably months before my diagnosis.  Case in point, I have spent the past two weeks alternating between feeling just OK, and feeling like I am dying.  Haha, and that is only a bit of an exaggeration.  After I returned from Moab, I came down with a gnarly little buggy that destroyed me for about a week.  While I know everybody loves bodily fluids, my own body was doing everything in its power to purge every drop of anything from my insides.  Pretty sure I'm still somewhat dehydrated.  Although I did manage to lose about 5 pounds, so Bonus?

Then, just over a week ago, I went to see a GI doctor regarding the intestinal problems I am still having.  (I brought them up in a post a few posts ago...)  He thought I might have IBS and prescribed me some anti-spasmodics to help with the irregular bowel spasming.  Well, those were a bad idea.  The spasms certainly didn't get any better, and, in fact, I'm pretty sure I just became more dehydrated.  The tips of all of my fingers actually started peeling, which, while interesting, was probably not a good sign.  He had also done a blood test to check my thyroid as well as to check for markers of Crohn's disease.  Supposedly, my thyroid is fine, but the Crohn's test came back with funky, unusable data.  I guess my blood or something has been affected by my ALL.  I'm shocked?  The nurse told me this information over the phone, and I didn't understand it, but she didn't need me to come back in, so I hope it's all good.  What isn't all good, though, is that following the little plastic-coated blue pills I took for my supposed IBS, my muscle cramps got worse, and Awesome!  I've broken out in a sick rash on my buttocks.  There's the tmi for ya.  Bam.  Haha.  Buttocks.

So, once more, I have spent my entire day in bed, wondering what I did in a past life to warrant so many random and inexplicable sicknesses that are preventing me from running, from eating, from going to the bathroom like a normal person.  The reason I bring this up isn't because I am looking for a sympathetic audience.  Nothing like that, because seriously, whatever; all this will pass.  What I am more concerned with is that there is no playbook for young-adult ALL survivors two years post-treatment.  Can chemo give you IBS two years down the road?  Or can it lead to an increased risk of developing shingles?  Or will it give you the colon of a 72-year old man?  I am 23 years old.  My knee shouldn't be busted; there shouldn't be wicked rashes on parts where the sun don't (usually) shine.  So who knows.  This is all new territory for me, and it is extremely frustrating.  I can't help but question whether I will ever feel "healthy" again, for any extended period of time.

In Moab, I had the privilege of rooming with a beautiful and strong woman, Phoenix.  Phoenix has chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), which means she lives with her cancer and its effects on her body and mind every single day.  This woman, quite literally, Owned the rocks out in Utah.  She was a natural climber, and if she was afraid at all, she certainly didn't show it as she pretty much just scrambled up cracks and over some serious overhangs.  By the end of the week, her fingers and her feet were torn apart, blistered and bruising.  Yet she persevered, ignoring the pain and proving to all of us that a little pain wasn't going to do Anything to interfere with her FD experience.  She has, like all of us, since returned to her "real" life in the city, waking, working, drinking coffee, and heading back home to her apartment at the end of the day.  She has also started running since she returned from Moab.  At camp, she had talked about how she frequently went to the gym anyway, but she biked more than anything else.  Now, though, for whatever reason, she is throwing running into her mix of awesome.  This woman's strength of mind and body blows me away.  Chronic leukemia be damned, she is going to Live her life.  I'm sitting here, feeling angry and sorry for myself, and for what?  Because my butt itches?  That's stupid.  Like I said, I have no precedent for these physical ailments, but if this is what life will be like for a while, I guess I'm going to have to take a page or two from Phoenix's book and get over it.

So those are my mid-May grumbles.  Hopefully you're all feeling better than I am, and if not, Feel Better!  Sickness stinks.  Nobody likes sickness.  But thank you for reading, as always.  :)  Peace.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

motivation. (a vaguely self-indulgent running post...)

But first...  V-logs!!!  I recently became aware of a huge number of video interviews on the Dana-Farber website that cover pretty much any survivorship topic you can imagine.  Check out the link HERE!.  Dana-Farber has a Lance Armstrong Young Adult Survivorship Clinic, and they have really been working hard to increase awareness of the clinic as well as offer more support to young adults.  I've looked at some of the videos, although not all, and they seem pretty helpful as far as information goes.  Obviously the advice and info offered by the interviewees will not apply to everyone, but I think they've got the right idea at least.  The nutrition video was super interesting, although the chemo brain video peeved me a bit because my memory still fails me All the time, and I know I get enough sleep and eat well and take anti-depressants, so that wasn't much help.  Haha, but I digress.  I continue to be amazed by the resources available to young adults and the growth in awareness that has occurred even over the past three years.  A lot of this stuff was around three years ago, but there is so much more information now, and there is (I truly hope) a greater willingness from young adults to take charge of their lives in light of cancer diagnoses.  Amazing.

Segue to: Motivation.  Over the past six or seven months, this concept has been on my mind a lot.  Last August, First Descents sparked my running fire, which had been mostly dormant for a while.  In Jackson, I met a lot of runners and a few marathoners.  I realized these people are no different from me, really.  And they're running and accomplishing goals I have, so far, only dreamt up.  So I returned home to Chicago and decided I would run in the 2010 Chicago Marathon.  My motivation was at an all-time high because I was still riding the First Descents wave of awesome.

Of course, waves crest and fall, and mine fell pretty far beginning about January.  Treadmill running, the beginnings of an injury, and general winter-induced malaise all contributed to a gradual reduction in my marathon training.  And then in the beginning of March, my IT band pain got completely out of control, and I stopped running altogether.  For just about two months.  And then (timing being everything), it was time for me to once again meet up with my FD family, this time in Moab, Utah.  Once again, I met more of the most amazing people: funny, encouraging, generous, unconditionally accepting.  Oh and they run too.  In fact, our camp photographer, Bear, who I had the huge good fortune of getting to know a little bit over the week, is actually an Ultra runner.  I had a suspicion of this the first day or two we were there, and when I finally gathered my courage to ask if he was a runner, and he told me, Yes!  and I run ultras!, my mind seriously exploded a bit.  

I've recently been reading a bunch of running-related books, some on marathoners and a few on ultrarunners, and here, out in Moab, Utah, I actually, somehow, had met one.  We talked some about running, and I admitted, rather sheepishly, my goal of running the marathon.  I also voiced my growing fear that I won't be able to do it because I hadn't run in two months and my knee has been so super wonky.  He, like so many of my fellow campers that week, expressed his confidence in me and my ability to overcome the obstacles ahead.

Flash-forward to this past Thursday...  Having battled a Nasty stomach virus and come out on the winning side, my body was almost screaming at me to go outside and run.  My mind resisted, but my body was all like, "Girl, you can do this; I'm ready!  Remember that you seriously can do anything!"  So I did.  I ran.  Haha, I ran two whole miles!  But, but but...  My knee didn't hurt.  I don't really believe in miracles, especially when there is a physiological explanation for the recovery of my IT band (I've been using a foam roller).  But if I wanted to follow a mystical tack for a brief moment, whatever happened out in Utah, whatever I learned or realized that I still can't quite define, whatever motivation I found from meeting an ultrarunner who thinks I can run a marathon, any and all of those things combined to heal my leg.  It's still twinge-y, and I'm walking a fine line right now between desperately wanting to jump right back into training and not exacerbating the problem, but I still ran on Thursday.  I ran again on Friday.  And then, this morning, I saw Bear's Facebook status that he had run a "quick 14 miles," and, even though earlier I had talked myself out of going for a run, I quickly threw on my running shoes and went for Another run.  2.5 miles today.  And still no pain.

Good things are happening.  So many good things.  Not just with the running, but that is all I wanted to mention today.  There will definitely be more updates soon with other good things going on.  Let me just say that while I am talking about literal running, it is also a metaphor for my life over the past year.  Buncha waxing and waning, but now I am ready to go.  People are my motivation.  People's stories, their interests, their insecurities.  We are all in this world together, and who is to say that one person can run 14 quick miles before breakfast and I can't?  (I can't, but it's only a matter of time.)  So what's your motivation?  What gets you out of bed and running into your day?  I hope it's something good.  Peace.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

There are no words

Well, there are many words, but most of them are inadequate; they will fall far short of acceptable enough to describe the past two weeks.  How is it that the events of a certain group of 14 days can change everything you feel about yourself, change your entire future?

But first, some context:

One year ago yesterday was my last day of college.  I was in Washington, DC, still taking pictures, running through Rock Creek Park and around the National Cathedral.  I was 22 and had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life.  I was no longer in any sort of active treatment for cancer, and so I thought I was done with it.  I thought I could just move on with my life having beat cancer and graduated from college all in four years.  But when I graduated on May 17, when I walked onto and across the stage at Agganis Arena at BU with my family watching me on the Jumbotron and all of my best friends sitting on black folding chairs on the arena floor, I had no plan whatsoever for the next day.  The funny thing about having no plan is that you will not accomplish anything with it.  So I floated through the next few months in Boston, shooting concerts and bartending.  And then my mom told me to pack up my life; I was coming back to Chicago.  It was either rent or health insurance, and, well, one sort of trumps the other.

And then, at the end of August, 2009, I showed up in Jackson, Wyoming, for a week-long climbing adventure with a bunch of other young adult cancer survivors.  First Descents didn't really change my life; it would be unfair of me to take that away from some of the others whose lives it did change.  It did, however, change a lot of things about me.  I started blogging again; I realized how truly important it was for me to recognize myself as a cancer survivor.  I also instantly found a new family, my FD family, and I would be in a much worse place now if it weren't for them.

So.  Two weeks ago, I flew to Boston to speak at a young adult cancer conference.  I went into the conference tremendously intimidated because the keynote speakers the past few years have been these amazing, successful women who have published books and been on television and pretty much set the cancer-survivor bar pretty high.  Me, I am just another person who has struggled with a whole lot of personal issues.  But that's what I brought to the table.  I am someone you pass on the street and not normally think twice about.  I work at Starbucks.  Yes, I blog, but there are a lot of better-known or better-worded blogs out there.  So I shared my experiences as any other person.  I joked about struggling at college parties, and I tried my hardest to say something relatable.  And it was a success!  The conference was all kinds of amazing.  I met other cancer survivors, other young adults who Got what I was saying.  If I may be a little immodest, I want to share some of the conference feedback:

"Loved her, really related to her as a college student!" 
"She was awesome!" 
"Caroline was wonderful! She was a voice for some specific feelings and thoughts that I have had.  I truly appreciated her courage to share her experiences and genuinely felt inspired by it, thank you"

This may sound silly, but I don't really have a lot of deep-seated confidence.  It's a process; I'm working on it.  But to have someone actually Underline that I'm awesome?  Haha, that's cool.  I can only hope the other young adults left that conference feeling something of the tremendous pride I felt.  We are all a pretty amazing group of people.

And then, one week ago today, I hopped on a plane to Grand Junction, Colorado, where I would be meeting 12 other cancer survivors.  Once again, I was going to a climbing camp, this time in Moab, Utah, with First Descents.  I thought, erroneously, that I had learned everything there was to learn about myself at camp in Jackson.  I thought this would just be another opportunity to make new friends and climb and take some stellar photos.  All of this ended up being true and then some, but I was also shocked into the realization that 12 people I've only known for a few short days can know more about me than I know about myself.  That to actually hear someone tell me they are proud of me and they believe in me means a whole lot to me.  That someone pretty much yelling at me that I am "effing awesome," while I blush and shake my head, can actually penetrate my intricate shell.

This time, these people changed my life.  I am actually tearing up right now remembering the tremendous amount of love we shared this past week.  I am still trying to process everything that happened, everything I learned and came to terms with.  So there will probably be another post sometime to try and word-vomit all of that out.  But I needed to write something now.  This was the beginning of something new for me; I can feel it.  I don't yet have a solid plan, but I am so ready to go.  It has been a year of waffling, but no more.  Things will only get better, and in the meantime, I am just about to explode from all of the emotions I am still feeling.

So that's my update.   Sorry it is so wordy...  But I figure you only get one of these things every so often; a longer post makes up for it.  I hope everyone is enjoying their spring so far.  It is almost May!  Where is this year going?  Best wishes from Chicago, though, and if you're looking for a photographer, give me a holler.  Right on.  Peace.

photo courtesy of Barry Reese c. 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

Please leave your shoes (and your modesty) at the door

Have you remembered your (large) towel?  Are you wearing little and lightweight clothing?  Have you brought your own water bottle?  Oh, no?  Well, don't worry; we have a refrigerator chock full of Zico, now in environmentally friendly tetra-packs!  It's like yoga's Gatorade.  Grab your mat, head into the hot-room, and calm your mind in anticipation of sweating out a few gallons of water.

If any of this sounds vaguely familiar, then perhaps you, too, have experienced the unique experience that is Bikram yoga.  My first experience came just a few short hours ago.  Recently, I decided to give yoga a second chance, especially since I haven't been able to run and my new bike is still in transit.  (I dismissed yoga the first time around as ineffective.  That was before I learned how to calm the hell down.)  My gym offers a few yoga classes throughout the week, and I have been going to some of the 7 a.m. "gentle" yogas, unsure of where I stood technique-wise or even whether this stretching/breathing/focusing thing could work for me.  The early classes have been pretty good as far as getting a handle on the basics, but they were far from challenging for someone who is already fairly flexible.

A few days ago, I was talking with a woman at my gym following a sub-par bike workout, and she mentioned that there is a Bikram yoga studio only a few towns away.  Now, I had actually been playing with the idea of looking more into this whole "hot yoga" thing.  Learning there was a studio mere miles away provided the impetus I needed to take that first step.  So today, I showed up wearing running shorts and an Old Navy tank top and signed my name to their Bikram yoga release form.

I did my homework.  I knew the classes take place in rooms heated to around 105 degrees F.  I knew to drink plenty of fluids all day, and I hadn't eaten for three hours prior.  I was prepared to sweat like a maniac; I was prepared to stretch like a maniac; I was even prepared to breathe deeply.  And so for 90 minutes, I did all of those things.  But I also completely forgot about everything that wasn't directly related to keeping my balance or remembering to breathe.  It was the strangest combination of relaxing and heated hell.

Sweat poured from my, well, pores, I guess.  When you first walk into the room, the heat isn't overwhelming.  It embraces you while it gradually insinuates itself into your body.  Even just lying on your mat waiting for class to start, finding your center, you begin to perspire.  When the yoga instructor walked in and directed us to stand to begin, I could feel my sweat beginning to mass.  And then possibly ten minutes into our Warm Up (!), I looked down and saw that my thighs were beading sweat that was already letting gravity have its way with it.  For a minute, I freaked.  While a totally natural and healthy cooling mechanism, sweat is still kind of gross, still slightly embarrassing.  Then I slyly glanced around and saw that everyone else was in the exact same boat.  Hands clasped together, arms above our heads, chests out, breathing deeply, as deeply as you can and then just a little bit more, we were all already sweating.  And this was the warm-up.

Needless to say, the poses became more intense with more complicated names.  Standing on one leg in a 105-degree room, trying to hold your other leg at 90 degrees with your clasped hands in front of you ("So your legs look like a perfect 'L'!"), you become acutely aware of your body.  You have no choice but to focus on your positioning and breathing if you want to keep your balance and not cramp up.  With yoga, it is all about total awareness of your body and your placement in the present.  You are in this world, but not of it.  As it was though, I know my limitations and with about 20 minutes left of the class, I was starting to bottom out.  My heart was pounding furiously from the relentless heat and the sustained poses.

I am proud of doing as much as I did though.  I don't know the names of most of the poses, besides the most basic: triangle, tree, sphinx.  Like they say too, the best part really is when the class is over.  Walking out of that literal sauna into the cool entry room was the best part of my day.  I toweled off and drove home, singing along with the radio and feeling all kinds of accomplished.  Dare I say, relaxed, even.  Hopefully, I can convince my body to go back.  It seems like my sort of yoga: intense and athletic but with a big focus on breathing and placement.

So that is my account of my first experience with Bikram yoga.  Any other stories out there?  Yoga or otherwise...  Everyone loves stories!  Hopefully I will have a running update soon, but for now, my knee is still not cooperating.  Who knows, maybe all of this will help.  Either way, enjoy your Tuesdays, and thanks for humoring me once more.  Peace.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A confession.

A few days ago I wrote that I was doing splendidly and moving on with my life, etc., etc.  Which is all fine and well and good and mostly true.  However, on rereading said post, it occurs to me that A: I come off as super narcissistic and B: there are a lot of things I did not mention that deserve to be mentioned.

In response to qualm A, well, it is my b-log, so I suppose I am entitled to write about my goings on.  My problem with the post stems from the fact that, as written, it "tells" rather than "shows" how I feel, which pretty much directly violates the instructions of every writing class I have ever taken.  The writing is bland, boring.  Some of my posts from bygone days have literally made me laugh out loud or physically cringe when I reread them.  Tuesday's post makes me want to cringe too, but not in the good, oh that is some crazy descriptive writing there, way.  It is funny because it was all pretty much good news; I just totally dropped the ball with the writing.  To my college-sophomore COM 201 writing professor, I apologize.  Thanks for passing me.

As to qualm B...  Here is the truth:  I am going a bit nuts.  Don't worry; I haven't started talking to the little men who live under my bed.  I have, however, not run in over two weeks.  As in, almost Three weeks!  Three weeks??  And the shameful reality is there is a small demon voice in my head whispering no way I'll be able to train to actually run 26.2 miles.  Two weeks ago my three months of relative health caught up with me, and whatever bug has been zooming around my family and coworkers found its way into my system.  Coughing, sneezing, labored breathing, the whole usual bit.  And then a few days ago, just as I was feeling better, the sickness resurfaced in my sinuses.  It is currently residing in my nose and lungs, but it is also slowly diminishing.  So.  The point is that I haven't run for the past two weeks with good reason.  The problem is that I am too hard on myself.  Par for the course.

The broader picture: I find it very interesting to read and hear some of the motivation offered to us runners with Team in Training.  Obviously, I support Team in Training and what they do and where they direct their funds.  But I would be interested to hear from or talk to other runners who have actually survived their own diagnosis of a blood cancer.  I would like to know why they are running, what motivates them.  Personally, I am running for me, to prove to myself that this is something I can do.  I would assume (possibly incorrectly) that many of those running with Team in Training (who have not had cancer) are running for someone else (who has).  Please do not misunderstand me: I chose TNT because of their mission, because I know some amazing people who have been diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma, and their struggles pretty much tear my heart apart.  No One should get cancer, and if I have to run to do my part to help eradicate it, then so be it.  I am just struggling with will and motivation.  This may sound strange, but other people's running provides me with a lot of motivation.  I have been stocking up on different runners' memoirs and crazy accounts and histories of races.  The science behind running is my motivation, nutrition, the effects running has on our bodies.  Does that make me strange?  Probably, a little.  Whatever I have though, is it enough to get me out the door every morning when my knee is killing me and I have a Nyquil hangover?  Is it selfish to think, "Hey, I've been there, done that cancer thing.  I am not running for the cancer"?  So much, then, for empathy.

And finally, a few weeks ago, I was flattered and honored to be asked to speak at an annual young-adult cancer conference at Dana-Farber, the "I'm Too Young for This" conference (not associated with the i2y organization; just a funny coincidence of names).  Three weeks from tomorrow, I will be standing in front of a crowd of young adults who will probably think I am some kind of nutter and wonder if they can get their money back for this free conference.  Self-deprecation will abound!  Thinly-veiled requests for a job from the sponsors will fly!  And somewhere buried deep in my speech will be a desperation to connect, to make an observation or raise an issue that will resonate with whomever hasn't yet fallen asleep.  Surely, with everything I have experienced, I can find something to say that won't be total bollux...  But we'll see.  I still have to write the speech.

And so that's my real b-log update.  Tuesday's post may have been true and all that, but those were just words.  This here is good, solid, unresolved conflict in my brain.  Happy Spring.  Peace.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The mysterious case of the missing blogger...

Resolved!  I apologize for, yet again, dropping off the board for a while.  Although, when I don't blog, it is mainly because I don't have anything cancer-related to report.  Which means - and this is important - my cancer diagnosis and treatment are rapidly becoming another part of my past.  This past is hugely important to me, and it has pretty much defined who I have become, but it also no longer controls my present.  My anger at my personal cancer has basically disappeared; my body is back to normal; my energies are focused elsewhere in my life.

I am a year and a half finished with my treatment, and as of one week ago, I am still cancer free (!) and clear for another six months of straight chilling.  I do need to note, however, that I have chosen to make cancer a part of my life.  Perhaps "chosen" is a strong word, but after everything I have gone through, I have found that I cannot just ignore the fact that I had cancer and move on with my life in some unrelated direction.  I volunteer with Imerman Angels; I am looking for a job working at a non-profit; I am running for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society!  The social effects of my illness have made me realize that I can use my experiences to help others, and I want to help.

So, cancer, I hope you have enjoyed your day in the sun, because your influence on my day-to-day living has ended.  I would like to thank you for everything that you have given me: amazing new friends, countless opportunities to help others, a voice with which to blog, a level of maturity and self-awareness I might not have found for years.  For all this and more, I thank you.  I know everyone's cancer-story is unique, and many people possibly don't share my sentiments towards this disease.  All things considered, I got off pretty easy.  A little depression here, some hair loss there, but I've gotten through it and am stronger for having survived.  I can only hope that people with a similar situation can one day have a similar response to their cancer.  That's the funny thing about this world: it keeps turning, the days keep coming, and all we can do is respond so that hopefully we can enjoy the days we have.  Or something.

It has been a super long winter for me, and my words cannot do justice to how happy I am to finally see things growing again.  To run outside.  To (hopefully) invest in a mountain bike and pedal all over these crazy suburbs.  So that's what is up here.  Happy Tuesday, sad toad. 

Friday, January 22, 2010

Generally ridiculous....

For a few different reasons, I was recently doing a very small bit of online research on William "The Fridge" Perry.  Perry is a former Chicago Bears defensive lineman, well-known not only for his size, but also (and particularly in Chicago) for being a member of the 1985 Super Bowl Bears winning team.  As this year's Super Bowl draws ever nearer, Chicago Bears fans are reminded, yet again, that we, yet again, didn't even make the playoffs.  But I digress.

This past August, I had the luck and privilege of attending a climbing camp for cancer survivors in Jackson, Wyoming.  One of the stipulations of the week-long adventure was that every camper was given or earned themselves a nickname.  One of the amazing things about First Descents is that once you arrive, the person you were before camp, all of the pain and uncertainty that marked your life, doesn't matter.  You are given a new name; all that matters are the people surrounding you, the friendships you make; the literal mountain to climb.  On my first afternoon in Jackson, I mentioned to one of the group leaders that I was a pretty big Chicago Bears fan.  (FYI, I don't remember statistics or names or most of the football minutia.  I am unable to identify plays and only recently learned what a "pump fake" is.  In short, I am a terrible football fan.  But I also spent a lot of time in a hospital bed about three years ago with nothing to do and not much to look forward to other than playoff games and a Super Bowl in which my Home Team was playing.  Those games got me through a pretty long mid-winter in Chicago and solidified my allegiance to the Chicago Bears).

So I was dubbed "The Fridge," Fridge for short.  William Perry and I have very little in common.  Sadly, I do not get to run people over for a living.  I am also nowhere near 6'2, 382 pounds.  I do like to eat though, so I suppose that is something...

This all ties together, I promise.  In Jackson, for whatever reason, more than a few of the survivors there were runners.  Meeting them, even, once, running with two of them, I realized, hey, maybe I really can do this.  These women and men have triumphed over cancer, and now they are running marathons and participating in triathlons.  They took their illness and what they learned from it and ran with it.  Literally.  I couldn't stop thinking about them and their strength once camp was over.  I returned to Chicago and on October 11, 2009, the day of the 2009 Chicago Marathon, swore to myself that I would be among those runners in one year.

As of January 20, 2010, I have taken the second step.  I, Caroline "Fridge" Bridges am now officially registered to run with Team in Training for the 2010 Chicago Marathon.  I know it is official because they have even given me my very own Fundraising Page!  I am not soliciting donations (yet), just pointing out that I am Going to do this.  Although October and 26.2 miles seems a damn long way away from January and three miles...

Sitting in my bedroom, pushing through some SADness, I know the winter doldrums cannot last forever.  It helps to have a long-term, solid goal.  It also helps that I am running with Team in Training, and I know that everything I am doing, all the running-pain I will be willingly forcing on myself over the next eight months will (hopefully) help another person with leukemia or lymphoma.  I'm all about paying it forward, that is, once I figure out the best way for me to do it.  Which in this case, means running like a maniac for an organization I strongly believe in.

So that's what is up.  Hopefully you are surviving January....  Go for a run or something!  Haha.  Alright, happy Saturday.  Peace.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

True confessions of a shamelessly lazy bum

I have a health dilemma.  Or possibly my body is just confused.  Either way, I do not know what to eat.  It has now been over a year since I finished all chemos, but I am still having diet issues.  Not weight issues, but issues with what I can and should be eating and how those foods are affecting my body's precarious internal balance.  This past August, I began having some GI problems: cramping, gassy, mostly unpleasant and definitely not dinner-table-conversation symptoms.  I stopped eating meat pretty much altogether because I thought my symptoms might have something to do with eating meat.  I also mostly stopped eating dairy (although I have had a lot of trouble dropping cheese...).  Neither of those diet changes did much to help my colon conundrum.  

Around October, I tried to stop eating wheat/gluten based products, knowing that gluten allergies can affect the bowels.  There, however, I came across a huge challenge.  I was hungry all the damn time, and frankly, I just couldn't do it.  I could not drop three major food groups from my life.  Especially when one of my personal dietary staples was (is...) pizza.  So I have retained wheat in my life, although primarily the whole and unbleached variety.  Honestly, I don't think it was the wheat anyway. 

The other thing is that I have always had a dangerously soft spot for sugar and chocolate.  Even now, even this afternoon, I would just as soon have a cookie and a Starbucks sugar bombe drink than eat food with any nutritional value.  Well, maybe that isn't quite true.  If there had been tasty and satisfying food handy, I would have gladly eaten it.  As it stood, I was super hungry at work, and, well, I work at Starbucks.  Like I said, I am lazy; I also forgot I made some delicious pasta last night and it was just chilling, all alone, in my fridge.  It's funny though because I am not ignorant.  I know the amount of sugar I consume is Not Good for anyone, much less someone who has already had a slew of sugar-hungry cells take over her body for a little while.  In the most basic of layman's terms, from what I understand, sugar stimulates cancer-cell growth.  From there it gets a whole lot more technical for my liberal arts majoring self, but I get the gist of it: too much sugar = bad for cancer patients, especially those with tumors.  Too much sugar is not healthy, period, but how does it affect former cancer patients, those of us whose tumors have (hopefully) disappeared?

I am sure all of this is somehow connected: my stomach troubles; my low-energy levels throughout the day; my sugar affinity; my lack of motivation to go to the gym.  What I am not sure of, however, is how this all connects to my having had cancer.  Because, of course, this is all cancer's fault...  Haha.  I am also not sure where to go from here.  Meat?  No meat?  Wheat?  Or not?  I'm sure we all can agree that I should get rid of all the sugar...  But that is easily the hardest part.  Does it all come down to motivation?  And, if that is the case, any suggestions on how to stay motivated....?

In all seriousness, I would really like to hear what anyone else has experienced in a similar situation.  Did cancer (or illness) force you to change your diet for good?  How and to what end?  Perhaps the best thing for me to do would be to meet with a sports nutritionist.  Or a hypnotist...  Either way.  I'm sure one day all of these things will straighten themselves out.  Or you can help me straighten them out...?  Or I will straighten them out.  Or, something like that.

also:            HAPPY NEW YEAR.  Here's hoping 2010 brings only and many wonderful things to everyone.  :)  Peace.