Friday, September 14, 2012

Pursue: Running

When I chose "Pursue" as my one word this year, I knew that health and exercise would be part of what I was going after. But I never dreamed it would lead to RUNNING. I am not a runner. I never wanted to be a runner. I think people who love running are insane or at the very least lying. But as I participated in more healthy living groups and read more about exercise I couldn't continue to ignore running. So many people talked about how much they enjoyed it, what a difference it made in their stress levels, the boost it gave their weight loss and their sense of accomplishment at completing their first races. So, back in January I bought these shoes - and my BEST FRIENDS LAUGHED at me. (What are friends for?) I couldn't blame them laughing at the idea of me running much less running in ridiculous shoes. I started walking but there were a lot of starts and stops - mostly stops. The brutal summer heat this year didn't help. But as the weather cooled and I felt frustrated at the lack of progress I was making in some of my healthy living goals I decided I had to give running another try. 

Day 1

After strapping on my new shoes and downloading two different Couch-2-5K apps, I set out on my first "run" today. After a 5 minutes warm up the Double Run app lady announced, "begin running now".

And I laughed out loud at the confusion between my brain and my body.

First my brain was like "huh? Did someone just tell me to run? Um, okay then...". 

It tried to tell my legs to run and they were were like *crickets*. 

Then my brain was like, "No seriously, come on, toddlers can do this. You know how to run, we used to do it all the time!" 

And my legs took on a slightly faster pace and my feet lifted up off the ground a little higher but they were still pretty much like "Mission abort! Danger Will Robinson!". 

I'm sure I looked as crazy and confused as I felt.

I honestly can't remember the last time I ran intentionally. I've occasionally sprinted after a run away dog or a impulsive child over the last 10 years. But I'm sure it was sometime in high school before running was something I attempted. And even then I was cursing at the gym teacher and walking when I figured he wasn't looking. But today I ran for a total of about 8 minutes total. The C25K program starts with 8 sets of 90 seconds of walking alternated with 60 seconds of running. By the last interval my body was a bit more like, "I vaguely remember these motions". I was tired but not exhausted and I was pretty darn proud that I did it. Let's see if I make it to Day Two!

Day 2

I cursed the skies all day today as it rained pretty much non-stop. Not just because I don't really care for rain unless I can lay in my bed all day. But because I was supposed to go running this afternoon! Its not that I was actually looking forward to it but I didn't want the weather to be the reason I give up on this program. I know myself - if I didn't run today, I'd give up. At least until next week. (Why do we think we can only change habits if we start on a Monday?) 

But the cleared enough that I got to run. It was much easier this time. My legs remembered what "run" meant and I could focus more on breathing and finding a rhythm and pace. I am sticking to my original path - which pretty much consists of going down the sidewalk in front of my house crossing at the end of the street and then running back on the sidewalk across the street. Unadventurous I know, but to be completely honest I didn't want to have to hobble far if I hurt myself. If you know me, you know this is a completely founded fear. But no injuries yet! I took a epsom salt bath after my run today to attempt to ward off the minor soreness I felt yesterday. I'm still a little amazed that I've stuck to this for even two days. We will see if Saturday trips me up - hopefully neither figuratively or literally!

Day 3

It was ROUGH today. Not only was I tired from not really getting enough sleep plus PMS is making cranky. But at 7pm I dragged myself off the couch, much to the dismay of the pups, and put on my running shoes. The first time the C25K lady told me to run I almost refused out of sheer obstinance. 

But I ran. 

For the first time I actually feel like I am running - or at least jogging. The first couple days were more like a really fast walk where I feared falling every time I lifted my foot off the pavement. I tried to push myself today and I was amazed at what I could actually do when I tried. I revved myself up on the last interval and finished huffing and puffing but still feeling really good about myself.

***********************************

This was started a few weeks ago, I'm now in week 4 of the program. I've also signed up for my first 5K - the RocStar 5K - which supports Ovarian Cancer. I'm not sure I'll actually be able to run the entire race by then (I won't be completely through the C25K program by that time) but I am excited! My friend Lisa is running with me and has promised not to leave me behind! I am definitely no where near fast yet. But I do feel so very accomplished every time I finish a run. Its amazing to me that 10 months ago I was diagnosed with cancer and 8 months ago I could barely stand after two major surgeries. I never could have imagined back then that I would be at this point today.

I still hate running. 

But I love that I can run.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

OVCA - Treatment and My 2 Cents

The day I was diagnosed, I was told that I had to have a hysterectomy and then would need six rounds of chemotherapy. As a relatively young woman, and one who had not yet had children, I was devestated by the idea of a hysterectomy. I was also terrified of chemotherapy - how would I be able to work? Would I lose my hair? How sick will I be? It was completely overwhelming, especially since I was being told that it needed to happen immediately.

Before I get further into my experience, here are the basic facts about the most common types of treatment for ovarian cancer:

1) Surgery - Surgery to remove the cancerous growth is the most common method of diagnosis and therapy for ovarian cancer. It is best performed by a qualified gynecologic oncologist.
2) Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer using chemicals (medications) that travel through the bloodstream to destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing both in and outside the ovaries. Chemotherapy is used in the majority of cases as a follow-up therapy to surgery.
3) Radiation Therapy - Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.

But according to my first doctor, I needed a full hysterectomy and chemotherapy. Immediately. And by immediately, I mean that she originally wanted me back in the OR within a few hours of telling me I had cancer. Without giving me time to process. Before my mom or any of my support system could be with me. Without even discussing any other options.

Luckily, my first response was panic and to dig in my heels.

For the next three days, my first doctor pressured me around the clock to allow her to take me back into surgery. She told me that I could be developing an infection and go into septic shock because the cyst had ruptured. She told me that the cancer could be spreading as we spoke. She told me no other doctor would tell me any differently. She told me it would take weeks to get a second opinion and that was time I didn't have to waste.

I was so very scared.

But I refused to accept her words and sought a second opinion anyway. Thankfully, I was able to get into to see Dr. R that same week. And we all remember his famous first words right?

Calm down.

Even after my first appointment with him, I had to go back to my first doctor for a incision check. She told me that Dr. R was misleading to me, that a hysterectomy was unavoidable. That there was "no being conservative" with ovarian cancer.

I felt so confused and hopeless.

Because of her words, when I went into surgery I was convinced that I would not be coming out with my reproductive system intact.

But she was wrong.

So, here are my 2 cents - for anyone out there who has recently been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. (Really for anyone who has recently been diagnosed with ANYTHING.)

Seek a second opinion.

For ovarian cancer, it is imperitive for you to be seen by a GYN Oncologist. For anything else, seek out specialists in whatever you are facing. Medicine is so specialized these days - find someone who really knows what they are talking about. I don't believe my first doctor was purposfully lying to me or leading me astray. I believe she didn't know any better. In her experience, women with ovarian cancer are almost always in a late stage and always require a hysterectomy.

But if I had believed her and followed her direction, I would be absolutely devestated right now. Not only because I had lost my ability to bear children. Not only because I would be in menopause at 32. Not only because I would be undergoing chemotherapy.

But because it was ultimately unneccesary.

So, please do your own research. Be your own advocate. And seek out a second opinion.

You will not regret it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

OVCA: Symptoms

This week is going to be education week here on the blog! The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2012, about 22,280 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed and 15,500 women will die of ovarian cancer in the United States. So feel free to read and pass this info along to all the women in your life. Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all gynelogical cancers.



Ovarian Cancer is known as the the disease that "whispers" because its symptoms are often subtle and go unrecognized for far too long. In an effort to encourage advocacy, I'm going to list the common symptoms and then talk about my own experience.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer:

Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating
Pelvic discomfort or pain
Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
Loss of appetite or quickly feeling full
Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
A persistent lack of energy
Low back pain


So, did I have any of those symptoms? Its so hard to say, hindsight being 20/20 and all that good stuff.

First, lets get past the ones I don't think I ever experienced:
- Abdominal pressure - not that I can remember
- Persistent indigestion - nope
- Bowel issues - not really
- Bladder issues - no
- Clothes fitting tighter - nope
- Low back pain - nope

 But there were a few that I think I might have:

- Feeling full quickly - I would sometimes feel full after eating a relatively small amount of food. Not just a little full, but that "I just ate way too much" feeling. But it wasn't consistent. I could still put away a bowl of pasta with the best of them when I felt like it. :)

- Persistent lack of energy - another one I wonder about. I was EXHAUSTED in the weeks right before my emergency surgery. But I was also working two jobs - usually more than 70 hours a week. This wasn't anything unusual, I'd been working two jobs for years, but two weeks prior to that first surgery, I actually quit my second job. Despite the free time, I was collapsing on my couch at about 8pm every night, unable to find any motivation to move again until I dragged myself to bed a couple hours later. Was it just adjusting to having free time again? Or the cancer? I wonder about this...

- Pelvic pain - of course I was feeling pain the night I went into the ER. But I'd had a very similar (though not as long lasting) pain the month before. At the time, I thought it was just bad cramps mixed with some constipation. (TMI, sorry!) But now I'm convinced it was the tumor on my ovary flaring up. Even more than that though, I've had that same pain (again, only lasting 4-6 hours each time) two other times during my life. Not any time recently, both were back in college, but it makes me wonder if it is all connected. Despite the absolute agony, I never went to the doctor any of those prior times. I'll be honest, this is one of my regrets. I wish that I had gone to the doctor about that pain in the past.

All in all, I had very few symptoms. Of course, my cancer was also caught very early so its hard to say if I would have developed more as it grew. But I definitely think we need to be paying better attention to our bodies. I was very cavalier about my health. I figured I was young, had few risk factors for developing any major disease, and I explained away some of the possible symptoms.

Please understand, I am not suggesting you rush off to the doctor for every little pain or tired day. But I have decided to take my health a lot more seriously these days. I no longer think its normal to be tired all the time. I no longer think persistent (or any acute) pain is "just getting older". And I'm certainly taking what I put into my body (nutritious food), products I use on my body (shampoo, lotions, etc), and what I surround my body with (chemicals, etc) a lot more seriously these days.

I encourage everyone to take charge of their health. Pay attention to what your body might be telling you. And if you truly feel that something is wrong, don't stop until your doctor can tell you what it is and what you can do to treat it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Lucky Life List

Thanks to everyone who gave me ideas! I've settled on calling it my "Lucky Life List". If you read my post about being the Luckiest {unlucky} Girl, you know that I don't really believe in luck. But I do believe in blessings, gifts, and incredible moments of joy. So, while I'm calling it a "Lucky" list - its really a list that will keep track of all these blessings!

The list could already be a hundred pages long - filled with sweet stories, hilarious adventures, and quiet moments of peace. Just off the top of my head I would include:


1. White-water rafting - both times! Oh the hilarity!


2. Every summer at Camp C - I owe a lot of my faith to that place.


3. Being a bridesmaid - I know some people cringe at the thought, but I've loved being a part of my best friends' special day!


4. Last Christmas in New Orleans - it was a great vacation during a stressful time.


5. Childhood vacations at my Grandparents' farm - that place was magic.



6. Becoming a Godmother - such an honor, I love my godson and goddaughter so much!



7. The time a stranger complimented my besties and I in Panera because we "brought such a great energy to the room". Nice to know that even a stranger can see that we have something special going on between us!



8. Getting my first dog - its a long story, but gosh I love this little mutt. (And the second one!)



9. Three graduations - High School, College, Masters - each a major turning point in my life.



10. Hearing the good news after my second surgery.



I'll definitely be adding to this list over time - I'll be so excited to look back at it over time and remember what a lucky (blessed) life I've had!

Monday, September 3, 2012

OVCA Walk 2012

 
Even though September is offically Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Chicago's branch of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) holds their annual Walk to End the Silence in May.

When I was first diagnosed, I naturally attempted using the internet to gather information. Unfortunately, most of what I read was absolutely terrifying for someone who had just been diagnosed. Especially since I didn't yet know what stage my cancer was (although I'd been led to believe it must be in the later stages) the information I came across was completely overwhelming.

Luckily, I happened to find the NOCC website and they have a "newly diagnosed" packet that they will send out to anyone. It was honestly the first time that I read anything that gave me hope. They have a booklet full of "survivor stories" that helped me breathe a little easier and believe that just maybe this wasn't a death sentence. I was so grateful.

Then I had my second surgery and recovered and went back to work. I tried to push cancer as far out of my life as possible. It wasn't until after they found the cyst that I went back to the NOCC website looking for some support. I found good information and also learned about the annual walk. I hesitated for a minute before sending in an email to volunteer.


I woke up bright and early to work at the registration tents. I did not really know what to expect but it ended up being a very profound experience for me. I was heartened to see so many people come and support bringing awareness to a disease that I really had barely known about 6 months prior. But I was also devestated and overwhelmed by some parts of the day.

I worked with two young women, no older than myself, who had lost their mom to ovarian cancer. I watched "teams" of people arrive with matching colorful shirts or signs that announced they were walking in honor or memory of a loved one. It was usually easy to tell if a group was an "honor" or "memory" team.

Teams walking in "honor" of someone often had themed shirts or posters that focused on the fight. They were sometimes humorous and always inspiring. There were some pretty awesome slogans made up for the team - I wish I had written some down!

The teams walking in "memory" broke my heart a thousand times over during the morning. Their shirts spoke about God needing more angels and usually featured pictures of the loved one. There were also stickers that participants could pick up and write their survivors names. I was shocked to watch time and again as people would stop and write the names of multiple loved ones they had lost.

There were a number of cool pieces of the event - including a survivor's picture and huge banners full of survivors' handprints from past walks. I didn't participate in most of them for a number of reasons that I'll blog about later, but mostly because I was busy volunteering. Once everyone left to begin the walk, I wandered through the booths and talked to a few people. Anytime I shared my experience, I was surprised by the thrilled look on people's faces when I told them I was Stage 1. Don't get me wrong, most people who hear my story are glad that it wasn't "too serious" but few really understand the significance. But the people at this event know exactly how miraculous it is to get diagnosed early. To not have to undergo chemo. To not have to have a hysterectomy. To have a good chance of long term survival. As hard as it was to witness everyone who hadn't been as "lucky" as me, it was amazing to be around people who "get it".

As I was about to leave the walk, I ran into someone I'd been hoping to meet...


I found Kathleen through a very old blog that she had started when she was first diagnosed. I was specifically looking for women like myself - young, diagnosed early, minimal treatment needed. Kathleen's blog not only struck a chord of familiarity, I learned she lived in the area. So, I tracked her down via email and then she stalked me back on Facebook. She has been an absolute lifesaver during the aftermath of surgeries, bloodtests, ultrasounds, and follow up appointments. Always willing to answer a million and two questions! I'm so grateful to have met her - both online and in real life!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

September

Well, its here

 - September -

also known as

- Ovarian Cancer
Awareness Month -

I'm not going to lie, I'm reluctant to spend any more time thinking, talking, least of all writing about ovarian cancer than I absolutely have to right now. I hate the idea of any more of my time being taken up by cancer.

But it would be selfish not to recognize how important it is for other people to know more about this disease. Because unlike many other cancers, there is no routine screening or test done to attempt to diagnose it early. Many people find out by complete accident - much like I did. But unlike me, most people still find out when its already in its very advanced stages. And as I've noted before, the survival rates for later stage ovarian cancer are extrememly poor.

So, I'm going to blog a little bit more than I'd like to about ovarian cancer this month. About the signs, symptoms, and a little bit more about my own thoughts and experiences. Hopefully, getting the information out there will help women be more aware of how they can protect themselves.

Welcome to Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month!