…One Year Anniversary: A Time to Reflect

Today is my anniversary. One year has passed since I had my bilateral double mastectomy. A year ago today, I was up at the butt-crack of dawn and heading to the hospital with Mom, Dad and Liz. Check-in was at 5:15am and surgery was at 7:00-ish am. Two surgeons, along with two amazing teams, and 7 1/2-ish hours later, I was “out” of surgery.    Continue reading

Prepping for Surgery 101

As I’m reminiscing on the week before my one-year mark, I think back on all the things I was doing to finish prepping for my surgery. I’m in a really good place right now (physically and emotionally) and excited to celebrate life; even though I’m sure I’ll have a few tears to shed next week. I started writing this post after the first surgery, but never published it for whatever reason. The week before surgery, I was frantically trying to get all my ducks in a row to get my home “child-proofed” and everything tidy at work so they were in a very good place. Continue reading

Ragnar Relay Chicago

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Leading up to this weekend, I was extremely nervous. I had trained and felt pretty good, but I also had some training runs that led to some self-doubt. What the heck did I get myself into? Did I bite off more than I can chew?

Rewind back to about October/November…

A friend tagged me in a Facebook post about doing Ragnar Relay as an ultra. I immediately said to sign me up. This’ll be fun! Now, remember, during that time I was about 6-8 weeks out from my initial double mastectomy. I spoke with doctors and they were 100% confident I’d be able to do it. Afterall, they reassured me the upcoming second surgery would be a piece of cake! Ha!

I had the second surgery and had complications – fat grafting issues and nerve damage in my stomach at the donor site. There were several times I wanted to back out of Ragnar.

I didn’t. I started “training” once I was cleared 100% by my doctors back in the middle of February. I remember texting a friend freaking out because I had only been able to run one mile. Then I upped it to two miles. How the heck would I be able to run 31-ish miles. I slowly started getting back at it. My pace was more like a turtle running through molasses. I did a half marathon in April and was two minutes off my PR (personal record). I had only done 9.5 miles leading up to that and most training plans have you doing anywhere from 10-12 miles the weekend before tapering.

Well, my motto for the year is to wing it. I definitely winged that one. It gave me a huge boost of confidence and exactly what I needed. If I could pull 13.1 miles outta my rear, I could certainly train for Ragnar but no pulling that out of my rear.

I continued training and doing double runs in a day and a few times a week. I also signed up for a few half marathons that also fell on back-to-back weekends or every other weekend. One of my teammates said the ultra could be done on simply half marathon runs. She’s done several Ragnar relay ultras, so I had that to fall back on.

I wanted to do Ragnar Relay for myself, team, and as an inspiration to other double mastectomy ladies. I needed to do this to prove to myself that I can do it. There’s nothing holding me back but myself.

Anyway, Thursday afternoon, everyone (but Susie) met at my house. I had the van packed with our food container and cooler. My dad made us some car decals and we were putting them on as people got there. The van looked pretty cool!!!

We headed to Madison and picked up Susie from the airport. From there we grabbed dinner and went straight to the hotel to settle in. I was exhausted. I hardly slept Wednesday night and woke up super early Thursday morning. I took vacations days and wanted to sleep in.

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I was runner one so I got all my stuff ready and organized. When I packed for this, I put all of my running outfits in gallon zip lock bags. Then when I was done I could throw my clothes back in the bag and no sweaty or stinky clothes out. Imagine what the smell could end up being like after all of us being in a van for two days!

Friday morning, we woke up, had breakfast and headed to the rainy start. We arrived, got our race bags, went through the check-in process, and hung out in the rain.

Next thing you know it was 7:50am and I was about to embark on one of the craziest things I’ve ever done! We took a few pictures and the announcer was shouting out team names. Eek! I was runner one and my first leg was 10.5 miles. We decided as a team to do back-to-back legs to have more down time. We all still had three legs to do, just double the miles than your typical twelve person team.

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Leg 1: Run through Madison in the rain!

I started off nice and easy. I put in my average pace as 10:30/mile, and figured that would give me a little bit of a buffet as time went on. It rained/misted for about 6 miles.

Leading up to Ragnar weekend, I never ran in the rain. I would skip running outside and run on the dreadmill. I know, such a diva! My friend Anna laughed at me all the time when I told her I wasn’t running outside. I bumped into her at REI one rainy day, and she said, “what if it rains Ragnar weekend. What’re going to do?” Yeah, WHAT IF!!!! Obviously I would have no choice but run in the rain.

It was extremely relaxing running in the rain. There was this calmness about it and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had to chuckle at myself though. Here I didn’t train in the rain but ran in it. I watched people prance around the puddles delicately and hop over some like they were playing hopscotch. I was already soaked anyway, so I just ran right through them! Can you say the joke was on me? Thanks, Mother Nature!

For the first leg, my average pace for the 10.5 miles was 10:22 a mile, and I was ahead of my arrival time by a few minutes. Yay!

I had a few kills and felt really good. A kill is when you pass another runner. It doesn’t count when you pass an ultra runner, at least that’s what we said!

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I arrived at the second exchange and met Cat who took on the next two legs. I changed and got out of my wet clothes and we got to the next exchange to wait for Cat and drop off Melissa. The rain cleared and it turned out to be a nice, cloudy day which is perfect running weather. We met Melissa to give her water and a snack. She was running over 16 miles total for her first leg. Crazy, huh? Then it was Susie’s turn to run. She ran, and then we picked her up and off Jenni went.

We went to the next exchange point and I got ready. I was next up.

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Leg 2: 8.7 miles on some trail

Prior to this leg, Cat taped up my knee with KT tape because my right knee was bothering me. I started running again around 8pm and the next thing I know, the tape was falling off. Ugh.

I’m totally a fan of running at night because it’s so peaceful listening to nature and looking at the stars and moon. It was overcast and foggy so none of that happened, but it was still an incredibly beautiful and relaxing.

During my double training runs, I tended to do better in my second run. Leg two was no different. I averaged 9:47 for my 8.7 mile run. Yay!!!

Next thing I knew I was arriving at the exchange and slapping the wristband on Cat’s arm. I felt really good and actually wanted to keep running!!

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I felt great for a while afterwards, and then it hit me. My stomach felt like crap. I couldn’t eat anything and only water tastes good. I started downing tums, but it wasn’t doing anything.

We continued meeting at the exchanges to drop off the next runner and pick up the previous runner. We had a blast in the van driving and hanging out. We laughed, joked around, and at one point attempted to sleep.

I still felt like absolute crap no matter what I did. Oh well, I had to suck it up and prepare for my final run.

Leg 3: 12.1 miles.

My third leg was running through Racine and ending in Kenosha. How extremely boring…the only exciting thing was the rain I was running in. Yes, Mother Nature had a laugh at my expense.

I felt okay the first few miles and then it hit me – my stomach hurt and my quads were screaming and cursing my name. Holy crap.

I took a walk break and texted my mom telling her I was dying. She texted back asking if I won the race. It’s a joke between her and I. Anytime I do a race, she always congratulates me and follows it up with “did you win?” We both laugh and laugh.

I started laughing and texted back saying “no, but I’m not winning and am letting my team down.” I was averaging 10:30 and progressively getting slower. No matter how many shot blocks I ate or water I downed, nothing was helping me! I was bonking.

I didn’t want to let my team down and felt I was (even though I know I wasn’t – the games the mind plays).  I texted them saying I was sorry and averaging an 11-ish mile pace. There was nothing I could do but suck it up and put one foot in front of the other.

I got to exchange 25 and the volunteers were shouting my number out. I kept yelling I was an ultra and running through. They didn’t comprehend until I ran to the exchange thing and ran back out to the trail. Everyone started cheering for me and telling me how I was crazy! When they passed me, they all told me I was awesome. It gave me a little boost but didn’t help with my dead quads.

Pretty soon I spotted the “one mile left” sign. Yayyyy!!!! I took a selfie with the sign and got a little emotional. Holy crap. I just ran 31.3 miles in 24 hours! No freaking way. I picked up my pace a little bit and attempted to finish strong. But, that didn’t happen :/

I couldn’t believe it. That run felt like it took me a million years to make it through, but was all a blur when I reached the exchange and passed the bracelet on to Cat.

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My teammates met me and off we went to the next exchange. We received messaged from Cat saying she was hit by a car, okay and going to continue trying to run. She was hurting badly, so we drove and met her and Melissa graciously agreed to take her last three miles. Melissa’s total mileage for the two days was 37plus miles.

We continued dropping and picking up runners. Jenni was the last runner and would take the last two legs to Chicago finish line.

We drove to the finish line area, parked the car and scrubbed the van decorations and sayings off the car. We all hobbled to the finish line and cheered other runners and teams to the chute.

We started getting nervous. Next thing we know, it’s raining and lightening out and no sign of Jenni. The stupid stop lights were interfering with her agenda. Honestly, it’s so hard stopping and going. It’s difficult to get the legs going again especially when you’ve already ran such long distances already.

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Jenni made it and we all ran across the finish line, only to be tossed our medal package and a few pasta cups. We took one picture and were instantly told we had to leave and get to our vehicles! No finish line party or free beers for us!!

Once in the van, Jenni got a text saying the race was called and teams had to get their runners off the road.

All-in-all it was an amazing and fun experience. I learned much about myself mentally and physically and I wouldn’t trade those things at all. I also learned much about everyone else, too! It was an absolute blast and an amazing girls weekend. Who goes on a girls weekend and runs an ultra relay? All of us crazy chicks!

Running 31 miles is no joke on the body. Take that and throw in no sleep and it makes for some delusional and funny moment. In the end, I’m extremely happy with my performance and would do it again in a heartbeat. I recorded most of my runs and between the three I averaged about a 10:30 pace.

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Priorities and A New Normal!!

I’ve been silent on FB and my blog for many reasons. One of the big reasons is, I’ve opened up to close friends about how I was really doing and shared my fears/thoughts of life in the future, only for them to freak out on me, tell me to snap out of it or that I was fine, and was overreacting. At that time, all I needed was a listening ear, no responses and someone I could simply talk to and be honest. Getting that kind of reactions from close friends really put me on edge. It’s one thing when strangers and acquaintances say mean things; it’s another coming from close friends. I clammed up and haven’t really opened up since.

Anyway… I hope I don’t offend anyone with this blog post. It is not my intention to point any fingers or call anyone out. I’m strictly being completely honest. I don’t say the following for any sympathy, empathy or anything of that sort. Honesty 101.

You have no idea how the simplest things (or luxuries as I call them now), can be stripped away. I don’t wish my situation on anyone, nor do I wish anyone had to go through what I did. Sacrificing something that defines one as a woman isn’t something I’d ask or wish upon anyone. Not even my worst enemy (which I don’t have any…ha, that I know of). I don’t regret my decision at all.

I only wish my life could go back to the simple days. The days I could fully extend my arms, do 50 big-girl pushups without stopping, pick up a pack of water and not drop them, etc etc. You have no idea and hope you never will. I don’t expect people to understand or comprehend my life now. I’ve been extremely quiet on Facebook and my blog. Part of me died at my initial double mastectomy. I’m finding that part again. Life with implants, pain and all that comes with the territory. As much as I try to go back to the person I was before my surgery, it’s not possible. I can’t pretend or live in the fantasy world. I did for a while, and snapped out of it because it only brought me more frustration. It’s not healthy by any means.

Sometimes I get really mad at what I lost. Nothing comes simple anymore, but I’ve learned to find beauty and patience in that. My new normal will hopefully continue to get better. My range of motion will hopefully improve. My pain will always be there, but maybe it will someday not be there. Someday I’ll be able to sleep more than 3 hours at a crack. Hopefully someday I can get out of bed without feeling like I’m 90 years old. Jogging a mile won’t feel like I just ran a half marathon. Gosh, running and not having pain would be a milestone for me. Gosh, no pain in general would be an accomplishment. There’s pain – physically and emotionally.

I struggle with things every day. I’m honestly not doing as well as I thought I would be doing after this second surgery. I’m two months out and still dealing with things, some I just don’t want to talk about or bring up. I was told it was simple and easy with less complication. I had no idea I would not bounce back physically. Gosh, 6 weeks after my first surgery I ran a 5k. 6 weeks after this second surgery, I was benched still and letting the nerve damage/pain heal. Quite frankly, everything recently is wearing me down mentally. I’m making the best of it and seeking things out like yoga, which is gentler on me. I can cycle on the trainer, and that’s my happy place; my first love. I’m doing that 2 times a week. Yay, for the little things. Even still, I still struggle with certain aspects of yoga and cycling. Some days I have no problem picking up my bike and putting it on the trainer. Other days, I’m in pain and have almost dropped my bike. My new normal.  Such is life. Yay!

I want to go back to when days weren’t consumed with scary thoughts and what-if’s. Knowledge is power. There are days I wish I never went through the reconstruction process. There are days I want the implants out. I still worry and have my moments with the next big decision I’ll have to make, a hysterectomy. I worry about upcoming doctor appointments with my oncologist and gynecologist.

I am not upset with those people who complain or bitch about their daily struggles, being sick and not being able to run or workout for days, having a bad day at work, and the list goes on. I’m not pointing fingers, but it’s frustrating. If that was all I had to worry about, my life would be pretty darn perfect. Being sick isn’t that bad. Inconvenient? Yes.  Not being able to run really isn’t that bad. Inconvenient? Yes. Having a child dump cheerios on the floor isn’t that bad in the scope of things. Inconvenient? Yes! Grandma wants to send your son to school with a Mohawk and that’s your mountain for the day? It’s truly trivial in the scope of things. Don’t worry, the gel will wash out. That Mohawk isn’t really a problem after all when something more serious and legitimate comes up. PS: Live a little and send your son to school with a Mohawk! Lol J

Honestly, it’s nothing in comparison to losing your breasts to prevent cancer. If I could take that sickness or bad day away from you and put it on myself, I would.  The biggest thing I struggle with is listening and hearing friends and people complain about such minimal things in life. I complain. Trust me. Ask the few close friends in my life. Please find patience and gratitude in your life, and think before you speak or post things on Facebook. Your life truly isn’t that bad. Be thankful for those little challenges that cause you to step back and have a little break in this race called life.

So what if you can’t workout? My workouts consist of crap. I can’t do what I once was able to do. I do a minute plank, and my chest and upper body feels like it did a killer upper body workout that night and the next few days. I jogged .25 miles, and according to some that’s not technically considered running, and my chest felt like it was being ripped in all places. It’s my new normal that I hope gets better in time. I’m not bitching about that on Facebook, Twitter or whatever. I would love it if I could find a personal trainer who has experience with double mastectomy patients. No one wants to touch me with a 10-foot pole. There’s more to life than working out.

Physically I will learn to accept this new normal and figure out how to move forward. I’m coping and having fears. I’m learning patience with myself and my limitations. I’m slowly getting back into the game, but it’s more like a tortoise walking through peanut butter, if anything. I’m constantly being asked when I’ll be back to things or if I’ve just completely given up. If only you knew! I started doing yoga, a very basic introductory kind of class, and it’s been great. I cried after the first class because I couldn’t do everything and there was pain from random movements. It was a great class, but hard accepting the new normal and limitations. Hard seeing my chest deflate and become pinecones while in down dog because my pec muscles pop out and contract randomly and oddly. I did what I could, and didn’t do what I couldn’t. I knew my boundaries and the instructor was great with helping me modify.

I have gone through the grieving process. I still go through random moments, and think I will for the rest of my life. The simple fact is this BRCA gene doesn’t define me by any means. I won’t let it. I don’t want you thinking I’m in some black hole or dark, horrible place. I’m not. I have my days – More so lately, than ever before. Sarah’s one-year anniversary from her diagnosis is coming up. My one-year of finding out I was BRCA1 and my roller coaster of events and decisions is coming up. I find myself reminiscing, wishing I could go back to life before this surgery. I find myself stuck in one place, like standing still, while watching the world spin around me. I feel like I had this huge support system in the beginning, only for it to dwindle down. I’ve lost friends throughout this because I made the decision and they didn’t support it. I’ve lost friends because of comments and reactions to blogs. I feel alone at times. No one around me understands what I’m going through and will have to continue going through in the future. People don’t understand.

 “If they only knew. If they only knew what they couldn’t see. If they only knew how hard she worked. If they only knew the struggles she’s overcome. If they only knew the battles she fights everyday. If they knew, that behind her smile, was a story you would never understand. If only they knew…”

I don’t regret doing the surgery at all. Please do not think that. I do have to say, whoever said implants were squishy, lied! LOL. I am extremely thankful and blessed that I had the knowledge I did. The knowledge to be proactive. I’ve been told it gets easier over time. I am blessed to know and be able to have amazing doctors and surgeons operate successfully on me. I am thankful for my current state of health. I’m grateful for all the people I met along the way and continue to meet.

I would love a time machine and be able to go back to a time when I thought life was tough.

I guess I say all of this to emphasize not taking the simple things in life for granted. It’s stupid to complain about some of the things complained about. Perspective. Not everything needs to be blasted or complained about on Facebook or on the next Social Media site. Everyone has bad days and days where they aren’t feeling the best. I get it. We all complain. Your life isn’t ending. That run will always be there for another day. The gel will wash out. Use that garbage disposal, called the dog, to help you clean up those Cheerios. Sometimes, you just have to accept that which you cannot control. Doesn’t mean it needs to be treated like the world’s going to end. I’ve had friend’s text or email with this or that, and honestly, I have to laugh. Yup, it sucks. Unfortunately, that’s life – full of unknowns and curveballs. If only you knew. If you cannot workout, listen to your body and let it go.

I’m alive, healthy, breathing, blessed, and thankful for my journey and what it’s taught me. This is my journey and my new life. I will find my new self, continue to move forward and become an even better person.

There’s plenty to take from this blog post. Some are going to attack me personally for what I’ve written, feel like they can’t come and “complain”, some may even stop talking to me for my bluntness. I don’t care, that wasn’t my intention at all. I’ve learned there’s more to life than that petty and insignificant ant hill standing in the way. I’ve lost plenty of friends, even best friends, that losing one more won’t offend me. It’s a reflection of you and you’re character, not mine. I have stepped away from social media. When I’ve gone on Facebook, I’m happy to see friend’s successes and failures, and life events. It’s hard to weed through people’s complaints because I’ve gained a perspective and wish so much so that others could be gracious and thankful for their accomplishments and minimal setbacks instead of having to go through something like my sister and I have had to go through. Get a grip on life, step outside your world, and gain a bigger perspective. Being consumed with the trials and difficulties in life causes you to miss the blessings that are always present. It may take some looking and may not always be as bright as we want, but they are always there… just have to open your eyes!