Thursday, January 31, 2013

Training for a Marathon

As you know, I participate in the Avon Walk with a team from my Law School. Our team is the Concord Law School Team, and members are alumni, students, faculty and staff, as well as friends and family. We started walking in 2011 in memory of our dear friend and fellow school mate, Jan Keith Harper. In 2013 our destination city is San Francisco and it is our third walk.

Back when I first agreed to walk I knew I would need to train. While I had been exercising some as part of my recovery, I really was not in shape to run a marathon, let alone walk a marathon and a half over two days. So I put myself on a training plan and I did the best I could. I committed to walking a full marathon over two days; 13.1 miles each day. My walking partner and I were the caboose, but we did it. We walked the first half of our marathon on Saturday. Until you experience it, you cannot know the thrill of making it to the 13 mile marker.
Last year the Team walked in Washington, D.C. Again, I knew I’d need to train. Training was a bit easier. There was a sense of “been there, done that” so I did not feel anxious about the weekend or the physical requirements. Again, I committed to a full marathon knowing that I was in better shape in 2012 than I had been in 2011. However, I did not want to commit to 39.3 miles and fall short. I mentally prepared myself with the idea of 13.1 miles on Saturday, and if I felt good at the midway mark I’d keep going until I knew I needed to stop.
The Washington, D.C. walk was physically more challenging. There were hills. But ultimately I did not feel that the hills were all that bad. However, I did stop at the 13 mile marker knowing that I would have to do it again on Sunday and I wanted to be able to climb those hills.
So now I’m facing San Francisco in less than nine months. In December, as we looked toward the New Year with resolutions (and long winter months) I decided to set a goal for the month of January. Not a New Year’s resolution. Just a January goal. The goal was to walk one mile a day six days a week. (Monday through Saturday). It meant getting up a little bit earlier every day in order to have time to visit my treadmill before starting my day.
I am told that it takes 30 days to form a new habit. (I’ve also heard 21 days and three months). Well, my body is now used to the new routine. I am waking up on my own before the alarm most mornings. On days when I can sleep in I’m usually up by 6:30 a.m. I guess that habit has been formed.
I started December 31. Today is January 31 and so far I’ve stuck to my routine. I just have to walk tomorrow and Saturday to make it five full weeks. And that’s the hard part. Not the walking, though some days I’m stiff. It’s the mental discipline. It is so easy for me to try to talk myself out of walking. I’m running late. I’m sore. I’ll do two miles tomorrow. When I start down that mental path I admonish those thoughts and tell myself “Just a mile. That’s all. Just a mile. If you want to walk two miles tomorrow, that’s ok. But that’s tomorrow. Today it’s a mile.” And believe me, some mornings that mile is longer than others. However, as of today, from January 1 – January 31, I have walked 30 miles. (32 miles if I count December 31st).
Now it’s time to set February’s goal.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Looking Fear in the Face

I hadn’t intended to write this post, but I’m just too angry to keep silent. I’m going to share with you part of my mother’s story. It’s ok. She has often said I can tell her story because her story is part of mine. In some ways it is. In other ways it is her own. And together, it is ours.

As you know, I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in November 2007. My treatment consisted of surgery, followed by chemotherapy, followed by radiation. While undergoing radiation treatment my mother called one day, in the middle of the week, to tell me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. It took me a while to understand what she was saying because it sounded so foreign. Additionally, she had given no indication that she was going through testing. I know her reasoning; we had just been through so much with me and I wasn’t even done treatment. The last thing she wanted to do was worry us if it were not necessary.

I ended up taking one day off from radiation so that I could go with her to a doctor’s appointment. One week after my radiation treatments ended, she had her surgery.

Recently, I’ve been reading more about breast cancer and treatment options. It is part of my own education and acceptance process. I’ve read articles, blogs, and I just finished the book Surviving Triple Negative Breast Cancer. In all these resources the authors have had this to say: if you live near a major city, get yourself into the city and one of their hospitals. Go to one of their cancer treatment centers. That’s what I did. I am forever thankful to our friend who gave me the referral that helped save my life.

My mother had the option of coming to Boston or traveling into Hartford. However, she chose to stay close to home at the small, country hospital that serves the county where I grew up. I went with her to appointments and liked what I heard based on my own research into her diagnosis. The doctors were not contradicting what I gathered through my own research, as well as my recent experience. Additionally, the hospital is associated with Hartford Hospital as part of a network. Her oncologist is from Hartford Hospital. My comfort level was certainly increased.

My mother’s diagnosis was completely different from mine. If there could be opposites, it was ours. As part of her treatment she has had to take hormone blockers for the past five years. About two years into the medication cycle she started experiencing bone pain, along with some other symptoms that were of concern to both me and my sister. My mother dismissed the back aches as a flare up from an old injury, being on her feet for two long at a function, and a recent car accident. All of these things were (and are) probable explanations. However, the aches and pains went on for too long and I decided to go with her to her next oncology appointment. My rationale was twofold. One, I wanted to make sure her doctor got a complete picture of her complaints and my concerns. And two, I wanted to hear what the doctor had to say. As I told my mother at the time, it’s always good to have a second set of ears.

The result was a physical exam, blood work, and ordering a bone scan to make sure the cancer had not come back. That was my fear, but I couldn’t say it. Or even ask her oncologist. It was her doctor who said, “Let’s address the elephant in the room.”

Her oncologist also switched her medication. It turns out that in the majority of cases if a woman is going to have severe side effects from Tamoxifen or Arimidex they usually do within the first three to six months. However, in a small percentage of cases, women have limited side effects until approximately half way through the five year cycle. It turns out that was the case with my mother.

Now you’re probably thinking this wasn’t a very angry post. My anger comes when I learn of substandard care. When a woman’s complaints are not heard. When concerns are dismissed as “normal” for the medication she is taking. When the usual standard of care and treatment is ignored. My message here is to speak up. Ask questions. Seek answers. If you don’t like what you are hearing, keep looking for answers. You are your own best advocate.

And to my mother’s doctors: thank you. Thank you for providing the standard of care that all cancer patients deserve. Thank you for listening to her. Thank you for speaking our fears and looking for answers when we weren’t able to ask the question.

To anyone struggling with finding the answers: don’t give up. You deserve the best.

Have you ever looked fear in the face and said “I just don’t care.” ~ P!nk


Friday, January 25, 2013

Brothers & Sisters

The relationship between a brother and sister is unique. I have an older brother. William. We were bonded while I was in my mother’s womb. Back before ultra sounds and being able to tell a woman the gender of her baby, my brother announced to the world that he was going to have a baby sister. At least that is the story my mother always tells. I don’t remember, but maybe William does.

We were inseparable. Even when “the baby” arrived it was us against the world. I think we must have referred to her as “the baby” for the first two years of her life. She was an outside entity. She was not part of our world.
We grew up. And then we grew apart. We made different life choices that lead to our current lives. I get a sense that neither of us expected to be where we are today. I sometimes wonder what people think when I tell them I have an older brother. Do they imagine a male version of me? Do William’s friends envision a female version of him? That is probably the case because how else do we judge others except by what we know.
Over the past few years my brother and I have reconnected. He lives in Maine with his wife. We exchange emails. He occasionally writes in one of his blogs. That’s something we now have in common. Through his emails I see the brother that I left behind. Our exchanges are intimate in a way that only he and I could possibly understand. He has a depth, an intelligence, and a brilliance that he doesn’t often share. He has remained sensitive and insightful. I hope he continues to write. And maybe pick up the paint brush again.
The world, my world, is a better place because of my brother. I love him for who he is and am glad that we are once again connected.


Monday, January 21, 2013

The Associated Press Reports

June 26, 2008, Raleigh, NC. The Associated Press reports: Thanks to some text message-savvy grandchildren, North Carolina drivers whose license plates have the potentially offensive "WTF" letter combination can replace the tags for free.”
Now you have to understand that I am 48 years old, so I was almost 45 when the above made the news. I am just young enough to adapt to and use technology as it develops. However, I am just old enough to not be able to keep up. While I have friends and colleagues ten years older than myself who can create websites, use computer programming language and are quite tech-savvy there are those of us who use computers and technology as a tool. My philosophy is simple. It should just work. I can barely navigate Facebook so you can imagine that I rarely “text” (though I’m beginning to do more of it lately) let alone understand all the short-hand lingo of the era. I read the whole article off several times and still did not understand what “WTF” meant. I asked my husband. Now that I know, I cannot get the phrase out of my head. It can be so useful.

My friend KMJ uses what my grandmother would call “colorful language” on her blog. But it is tasteful, in context and clearly expresses her current thoughts and feelings. She taught me a new word and I really like it. It starts with the letter “F.” It is so handy and descriptive.
I went through a lot during the first two years after diagnosis. Since then I’ve processed what happened and am moving into “acceptance.” There was very little anger, but when I think of all I went through from diagnosis, chemotherapy, radiation and then a second surgical biopsy I sometimes think: WTF.
Anger can be destructive. It can also be very powerful and wonderfully healing. WTF.
What fresh hell is this? – Dorothy Parker


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Jackson Browne

Last night I heard this song on the radio. I was reminded of a friend who once quoted me a Jackson Browne lyric. (I think it was in an email). At the time, the quote made me think of the boy I once knew and I felt as if he were sitting next to me, reading me poetry.
Good music is like that. We understand the notes, the words, the magic. The classics, like Mozart and Handel speak to my heart. Country and folk music tell a story. For me, jazz is happy music. And even pop culture or rock music can take me to a place that is worlds away. It’s poetry in sound.

May you find poetry in the music.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Think Pink

I follow a number of blogs. Some for fun. Some because they are written by a friend. And some because the author writes about issues related to breast cancer. Some who blog about breast cancer have a strong opposition to the pink October, buy pink ribbon products, breast cancer awareness propaganda. While I follow a blog entitled “But Doctor, I Hate Pink,” I actually don’t hate the color. In fact, pink has been my favorite color for as long as I can remember.
However, I am not here to write about the preference of one color over another. Rather, I’d like my friends who object to the pink ribbon campaign to consider another perspective. I agree that the “awareness” campaign can go too far and therefore lose meaning. We’ve all read in the news how buying a product with a pink ribbon does not mean that the company that put the ribbon on their product is going to donate millions of dollars to breast cancer research. Also, I think the NFL was a bit over the top this past October. First, there was too much pink. Second, it was the wrong shade. I appreciate the sentiment behind the “support,” but I’d rather that the owners of each NFL team donate 100% of their October profits to a hospital, clinic or research facility in their home state. It is the financial support that makes the difference.
Now getting back to my “please don’t hate the pink ribbon campaign” message, which is the real reason I am writing this. I’d like to say, please do not dismiss the work of foundations and nationally recognized research hospitals. As you know, I support the Avon Foundation. I walk in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. (This year’s destination city is San Francisco). When I first decided to walk for fundraising and awareness my co-captain and I did our research. I had already researched the different foundations that support breast cancer research, support services and education. In fact, I had researched them several years before I was diagnosed as a result of being asked to donate to several fundraising efforts of friends. I wanted to know where my money was going. In researching the different foundations and trusts I realized that if I were to ever become involved with a foundation, it would be Avon. So when my friend and fellow walker suggested a walk in memory of our school-mate I already knew how each foundation spent its money.
Yes, a portion of the funds raised via the Avon Walk go back to the foundation itself to pay the expenses associated with the walk. While the Avon Foundation receives much of its support for the Walk through corporate sponsors who donate materials, the generosity of the host cities and numerous volunteers there are still costs associated with the Walk. (I am always impressed by the delicious and healthy food that is prepared and donated by local restaurants). However, what is most important is that 80% of the funds raised are given out as grants to local hospitals, clinics and organizations that do research and provide services to patients and their families. The other 20% goes toward underserved areas across the country. This past year, one of the grants was given to the University of Maryland, Baltimore where they are researching treatments for triple negative breast cancer. As a survivor of triple negative breast cancer I was thrilled to learn that some of the money I helped raise will go to this effort.
The Avon Foundation is not the only nationally recognized organization to think about. Dana Farber and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, along with the Mayo Clinic and others have worked hard and contributed significantly to both research and treatments for cancer. Without them we would not have the current treatments available that are saving lives every day.
I also advocate for giving locally. There is an annual fundraising walk for the North Shore Cancer Center, which is where I received my radiation treatments. I know many women who have received all of their treatments through the Cancer Center. It is important to me to support such a facility so that others may receive care and treatment that is local and convenient.
In some ways, the pink ribbon campaign has lost its meaning. However, it is a reminder of how far we’ve come in terms of treatment and education. It is also a reminder to think about charitable giving. If you don’t have an annual plan, think about giving. And research where you would like your dollars spent. But please, don’t hate these reminders that there are women and men who are struggling with a horrible disease. It is through the generous giving of national foundations that we have new and better treatments every year.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

January 11, 2008

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
~ Hebrews 13:2 (ESV)

Today I encountered an angel. Yes, there are many times that God has used people I know to send me a message, but this was a true angel.
I had lunch with the women from the Enrollment Division. It was not the usual crowd. Toward the end of lunch I shared with Jenn and Nancy the blessings I’ve received and the lessons God has been teaching me about letting people in. God has shown me His love and support through those around me. God is not going to come down in robes of white, flashes of light, and a big halo. It is through the people in my life that I experience His grace.
These were the thoughts I shared with Jenn and Nancy. As we were leaving the cafeteria we heard a voice. “Excuse me ma’am.” We stopped, thinking it was someone who needed help or directions to an office. It was a woman in a brightly colored blouse who had gone unnoticed during our lunch. She said, “I could not help but overhear your conversation at lunch.” I thought she had her own story to share. Instead she continued, “I want you to have this book.” She handed me Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
I have never seen this woman before – and I know most of our students. I never did ask her name. Will I ever see her again? Could she afford to give away a book that obviously means something to her?
I asked my companions if they knew her. Neither had ever seen her before. Nancy commented on the random act of kindness. Jenn commented on coincidence and the universe. I called it fate; and an angel from God to give a gift.